Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lately

Lately, we've been settling into our new home, making new friends, and adjusting to the new school year.

Lately, we made our tri-monthly trip to Costco in a neighboring city. Because these waygooks gotta have their tortilla chips.

Lately, we been having friends over. You know, because now we can do that! They're helping to make this strange place feel more like home. We had spring rolls and homemade hummus (compliments of Trish) and played Spoons. Well, Chopsticks. But same difference.








The Chopsticks/Spoons game escalated quickly to include abandoned party hats that found a new use as dunce caps. 



And while Bob may have been cheering a little prematurely, the ladies team ended up winning!



Which is why we'll have this stellar photo to remind us for all of time...


Lately, we've been having Korean class with our friend, Jong. He's pretty great. How we were so lucky to meet him, we just don't know, but we're keeping him! Once a week he comes over for food and we always sometimes practice our Korean. Last week, over a bowl of mac and cheese, he said, "It's like I am in America." We so appreciate his friendship.

Lately, we've been playing Ultimate Frisbee. Because we assumed that surely there's gotta be some other people wanting to play in this nice spring weather. And we were right! It's the way Saturday afternoons were meant to be.




And lately, Jeremy's been taking pictures of my cooking adventures. Usually because he says, "This is so good! You should blog this stuff." So I'm thinking about it. Here are a few of my recent escapades.


Hand-made Sweet Potato Gnocchi

If someone's got a pronunciation on that one, I welcome it. 
We call it gah-nosh-ee right now. Or gee-nee-yotch-ee if we're feeling sassy.
Save us.


Gnocchi with Broccoli and Garlic Brown Butter


The next night (post-Costco run where we got CHEESE!), I made 
Gnocchi and Cheese with sauteed Mushrooms.


Then Pinterest got me all excited to make a Lime cake with Whipped Coconut Creme.


The cake turned out great.


The coconut creme, not so much. 

But we had some pretty good cake with coconut pudding and toasted coconut on top.


And that's just lately...more to come.






"Foreigner"

When I was ten, my family took a cruise. I remember the Cayman islands. I remember snorkeling and sightseeing. I remember fancy dinners and shows. And--more than most other things--I remember our stop in New Orleans.

We wandered around the French Quarter, munched on beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and eventually we made our way downtown. I will never forget standing on a bustling street corner in New Orleans, looking around, and realizing--for the first time in my life--that I was the minority. I had never (ever) been the only white person in a crowd. I had never experienced what it felt like to be the "other" and to be honest, I'd never really thought about it either. And while it was a brief encounter lasting maybe twenty minutes, I still think about it.

I still think about how uncomfortable I was.
How unsure.
How nervous.

And I wish I hadn't felt that way, but I did. Not because of who the majority was, but simply because I was no longer the majority. It made me think long and hard about how it must feel to regularly be part of a group that is not the norm.




Since that moment, when I was ten years-old, I've had plenty of other experiences
where I have not been the majority:
mission trips to Belize
vacations to Mexico
a year living in Cambodia
and of course, this experience in Korea.

And even after seven months in Korea, it's still not comfortable being the minority. I've found that sometimes, I feel outnumbered. I assume people are looking at me. Talking about me. I get defensive. I get frustrated when I don't understand the language. I tend to label and talk generally (=unfairly) about those around me. I feel isolated. And lonely.

And I don't tell you these things because I'm proud,
I tell you because I want them to teach me something. 

I want these rare occurrences of being the minority to remind me what it feels like
to live in a world that doesn't speak my language.
to feel helpless.
to be judged.
to have little kids stare at me.
to know locals make assumptions about what I must be like.
to hear people let out an audible "Oy!" when I come around the corner.
to live where I feel like I don't belong.

Because soon enough, I'll go back to being the majority again. We'll move back to America and I'll get real comfortable walking around in public and not thinking twice about my skin color nor the privileges that come with it.

What I've experienced being a temporary "minority" does not begin to compare with what many people encounter on a daily basis. I get to walk in and out of this status as quickly as I can get on a plane. So when I'm feeling weary of constantly being labeled a "foreigner" in Korea, it's important for me to remember what Pema Chodron says about pain:

"Millions of people all over the world have this discomfort, this fear...this feeling of not wanting things to be this way. This is my link with humanity."

And being closer to humanity can only make us better.
It's making me better.

















Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Call Me In Seven Years"

This week, near the end of the day, a co-worker said, "Heather, I have a headache."

"Oh, I'm so sorry."

"Yeah, I hate my husband."

Oy. And again I said, "Oh, I'm so sorry."

She smiled a toothy smile and replied, "It's okay. I just try to focus on his good qualities. He just has so many bad qualities." Another big smile.

I never know what to say in these situations, particularly with the language and cultural barriers standing between us.

She continued, "He's so frustrating." Laugh. "He doesn't listen to me!" Smile. "I stay for the children."

Don't we all tend to chuckle awkwardly when we're grasping at the end of our rope? We are without hope. We don't know what to do next. We've gotten angry. We've gotten sad. Now we just try to smile the pain away.

And now walking out the door, she said, "You talk about your good husband, Jeremy. You have been married for two years. I have been married for seven. Call me in seven years. You will be miserable like me."

And then she smiled. And chuckled to herself. And walked away.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

It pained me to see her so desperate. So unhappy. So hopeless. And also, at the same time, it was hard for me to separate what she was feeling from what I was feeling. I don't think my co-worker meant any of this to be unkind. I don't think she was trying to hurt my feelings. However, this kind of conversation always feels like a bit of a jab.

I've lost count of how many times an older, married woman has told me (essentially),
"You're happy now, but just wait. He'll change. 
Then, you'll be unhappy like me."

And I don't know what to do with this.
I don't know how to respond.
What is the appropriate reaction?

Am I supposed to be unhappy?
Am I supposed to see misery as indefinite?
Am I supposed to prepare for the worst so it doesn't hurt so much?

I don't know. But how I want to respond is:
"Hey, I'm sorry you're unhappy, but what are you trying to accomplish by telling me this?"

Because I feel like this kind of comment comes from a place of discontent. These women are not trying to offer me helpful advice. I feel like they are saying, "You're happiness makes me long for what we used to have and the thought of that absolutely breaks my heart."

And for that I'm truly sad for them.

Maybe I'll feel differently about marriage in seven years.
Maybe I lack "credibility" now because we're only 22 months into this thing.
But frankly, it's not worth arguing about who's right.

Because regardless of the state of my marriage years from now, I will never tell a newly married couple--all rosy and joyful in their glee--that "This is temporary and it's all downhill from here!"

Because our lives are our own.
They are built out of our own decisions.
Made painstakingly every single day.
The words we say. And don't say.
The behaviors we repeat. And those we let go of.
The beliefs we hold on to. And the ones we let slip away.

And today, I am choosing to celebrate the love that we have right now.
And the love that will carry us through.

















Friday, March 7, 2014

A Declaration of Independence

(written with a few liberties)

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for me--as a woman--to dissolve myself from your expectations, World, I assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal foundation to which the laws of nature entitle me.

I hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain non-negotiable Rights, that among these are
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But I am not Liberated in my womanhood, there is little freedom here.
And I am not often Happy, either. I am tired.

I am plundered by your demands, World.
Of all the things I am expected to be:
Sweet.
Pretty.
Thin.
Innocent.
Virginal.
Quiet.
Submissive.
Even.
Calm.
Kind.
Mothering.
Gentle.
Follower.
Listener.
Sexy.
Bikini-ready.

Not too emotional.
Not too "hormonal."
Not too crazy.
Not too masculine.
Not too slutty.
Not too competitive.
Not too needy.
Not too successful.
Not too demanding.
Not too old.

And how dare you attack me with things like:
Diets.
And low-fat.
And low-carb.
And sugar-free.
And eating disorders.
And Spanx.
And control-top panty hose.
And high heels.
And push-up bras.
And plastic surgery.
And Photoshop.
And make-up.
And hair extensions.
And false eye lashes.
And tanning beds.
And tight clothes.
And women who tell other women that this is what it means to be a woman.
And street harassment.
And sexual abuse.
And domestic violence.
And rape.
And rape jokes.
And female genital mutilation.
And child brides.
And sex trafficking.
And men who tell other men that this is how you should treat women.
And.
The.
List.
Goes.
On.


So, this is me telling you, I quit. 
I'm done. 


I want my soul back.


I'm not letting go of being a woman. I am letting go of what you think a woman should be.

Because all-in-all, I think I would like being a woman, free of your demands. I'll keep my lady-parts, I'm fine with the body I was born into. But when a long train of abuses and trespasses attempt to reduce me under absolute tyranny, it is my right--it is my duty--to throw off such customs, and to be fully free.

So, call me a traitor to my gender.
Or tradition.
Or culture.

But I'm going to walk forward and look you in the eyes.
I'm going to tell you how I feel.
I'm going to fight for what is right.
I'm going to lift that heavy box. Yes, all by myself!
I'm going to work out and I'm not going to apologize for being stronger than you.
I'm going to take another helping of cheesecake.
I'm going to cry.
And I'm going to get angry.
Because both are available to me.
And I'm not going to laugh at your sexist joke.
I'm not going to apologize for my size, whatever size that may be.
I'm not going to wear make-up everyday.
Or teeter-tottering stilettos.
But if I do, I'm not going to do it because you want me to.
I'm going to do it because I want to.
And I'm going to pretend that the World sees me this way too, because if I don't, I will simply shrivel from the weight of it all.

This Declaration of Independence is not about being anti-"feminine", it's about being pro-wholeness. Painting a larger picture of what it means to be human. Of what it means to be a woman. And--to be fair--I recognize that I am an incredibly privileged, white woman who has the luxury of typing out such a Declaration. And I do so, in part, for those woman who cannot.

So, I, by the authority of the good people of planet Earth, solemnly publish and declare, that I am, and of right ought to be a free and independent person, that I am vindicated from all allegiance to whatever gripes you may have and that all connection between me and your "ideal version" of me, is and ought to be totally dissolved. I have full power of identity. So, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on all things good, I pledge to the World and to myself, that I am free.



Signed,

Heather Rose Bohlender





Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Whole

Dear Child,

There are a lot of things I could say right now. Things you've heard before. Things that have lost their importance, like: "Don't worry about what they said." Or: "You're beautiful just the way you are." Or: "It's what's on the inside that counts."

And while these things are true, they don't soothe the burn once shame has had its way with you. They don't make it all go away. And nothing really does, I suppose.

So instead, I'm just going to sit with you.

We don't have to talk.
I won't try to fix anything.
My objective is not to put a temporary smile on your face.
My only hope is for you to feel whole.
Again.

And you would probably argue that you've never felt whole, but that's your leftover shame talking and that's okay. Let me assure you, you have. I promise. Let me remind you.

Whole like sitting on your father's lap as a kid and driving back-country roads.
Whole like sleepy Christmas mornings with the family who loves you.
Whole like dancing to music that pulses throughout your whole body.
Whole like standing at the edge of something big to remind you how small you are.
Whole like pounding the concrete for 13.1 miles and taking a hot shower afterward.
Whole like your wedding day.
Whole like driving with the windows down and feeling like everything was going to be okay.
Whole like laying in a bed of tangled sheets and tangled bodies.

Whole like the past.
And whole like the future.
I promise that you will feel whole again.

But not today.
No, that would be too soon.
You're hurting today.
Don't push it.
Don't force it just to make other people feel better.

You are what you are and you're feeling what you're feeling.
Unfortunately, you can't put your entire life on hold.
But you can be gentle with yourself.
You can take it slow.
You can breathe deeply.
You can--one moment at a time--find whole again.

                                                                                                              With love,
                                                                                                                 Grace





Your Eyes

"Heather, you look so much better than you usually do!" my co-teacher exclaimed as I walked in the door.

Unsure as to whether this was a compliment or a metaphorical slap, I simply replied, "Thank you."

She continued as she sat down at the table with a paper cup of instant coffee, "Your eyes, they are...they are..."

"More defined," I helped as I sat down to join her.

"Yes, more defined. Your make-up looks nice."

"Thanks. Usually I do not wear much eye make-up, but I figured that I would for the first day of school."

"Well, you should look this way all the time! You look so beautiful," she exclaimed. Another female co-worker nodded in agreement as she sat down to join us with her steaming cup of tea.

I took a deep breath, weighing the likelihood that what I wanted to express would be received and understood or whether I should just shrug my shoulders and move along, but I leaned in anyway. "I don't really like wearing make-up," I explained. "It makes me feel like I am wearing a mask."

The two women sitting across from me just stared for a moment, computing the words from English to Korean, and continuing to look confused longer than was comfortable.

I tried again, "I don't want my confidence to be dependent upon how I look. I know I am beautiful even when I am not wearing make-up."

"No, you're not," my co-teacher countered matter-of-factly. "Physical appearance is very important. We all need to wear make-up to cover our flaws. It's just what women are supposed to do. And if you don't, you are not beautiful. My husband tells me this all the time!"

Without trying to appear too shocked, I asked, "He says that to you?"

"Yes, he says he married me for my good character, but certainly not my beauty."

"Wow," I say. "Does that bother you that he says those things?"

"Of course!" she responded.

The other woman chimed in, "My husband says the same thing. That I was pretty before we were married, but now I am fat and pregnant. I would not leave the house without make-up because my husband would be upset."

I proceeded cautiously, "Jeremy tells me that I am beautiful with or without makeup."

"He's lying," my co-teacher retorted with a grin. "My husband used to say all kinds of sweet things. But we've been married ten years and now we sleep in separate rooms. We try not to talk to each other."
















Monday, March 3, 2014

This Is The Week...

A week ago, we moved into our new apartment (which is fantastic)! So, this past week was spent settling into our new place. But also adjusting to the change in location.

Before we could walk most places we needed to go, but now we need to ride our bikes. We---mostly "I"--are getting used to this change. Jeremy found a box to strap to my bike so we can get groceries home. And he's quite handy juggling eggs while riding his bike.






This is the week...

-we worked half days and were grateful for every minute of it

-we played volleyball

-we got an air conditioner installed (for the soon-coming summer)

-we got a new dining room table

-we figured out how to use the washing machine

-I made chicken pot pies that tasted like I imagine a hair salon would. Still investigating.

-we had people over more this week than we have in the last SIX months! Six months. Yay, space!

-we had Korean class with our friend, Jongmin, where we usually just end up speaking English. But we don't mind at all.

-we met some new neighbors who just arrived in Korea as EPIK teachers

-we finally saw the movie Frozen and understood what all the fuss was about (but the theme song is still dead to me). It was a story about a woman--that's right 2014--a woman. And her goal wasn't too find a man. And she was funny and talked about farting. That's right, women and farting! I appreciated that the movie gave women licenses they usually don't have in film.

-I realized Korea is not a biker-friendly place and almost got hit by cars. Twice.








Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bring On The Mountains

The first day of school.

Early morning.

Hustled breakfast.

Gulps digesting en route.

Traffic and congestion.

Anticipation.

Shy students.

Feeling out the teacher.

Looking around at classmates.

Braving ourselves.

Starting all over again.


The Korean school year starts in March. And each new school year, there's a bit of a fruit basket upset among the staff. At least at the elementary school level, home room teachers can become PE teachers and English teachers can become science teachers. Not unlike schools in the states, elementary teachers must be able to teach every subject. But the catch in Korea is that you may only find out on Friday what you will be expected to teach on Monday.

After only six months in Korea, I am no expert when it comes to the public school system. However, I can tell you that in the few conversations I've had with my co-workers about this, February is always an unsettling time of year. You want to prepare, but you don't know what to prepare for. You want to plan ahead, but you can't. So, you just wait.

If the Korean teachers don't get much of a heads-up, we foreigners are certainly out-of-the-loop. As of Monday morning, Jeremy and I still had no idea what was going on.
Would we have the same co-workers? 
The same office space? 
Would we teach the same students or different ones? 
Same co-teachers? 
Same grade level? 
Would we be expected to have a class prepared for Monday morning?

First Day of School photo

We rode our bikes to school with anxious trepidation (much like we did six months ago), because it feels like we are right back where we started. Still trying to figure this out. Still trying to find our way.

Upon arriving at work, I met the new English teacher that I'll be working with primarily. She's friendly and warm. Has a big smile. I'm relieved. My first question, "Do we teach any English classes today?" She said we don't start until next week. Whew! I emailed Jeremy, "So, how does it look for you?" Some new classes. One new teacher. Not teaching until next week. Whew!

Overall, our teaching experience in Korea has been great. Kind and helpful co-workers. Decently behaved students. Reasonable expectations. But some days, I get tired of missing the "joke."

Of understanding.
Of following along.
Of feeling like I belong.

It's common among foreigners to grow tired of being out-of-the-loop. Of having flustered and frustrated co-workers barge in the door and ask where you've been or why you weren't at that appointment no one told you about. Like last week, when a co-worker frantically implored why I wasn't wearing a mask. I didn't get the joke. She said (obviously), "Well, because of the polluted dust from China, of course! The air quality is very bad for your health." Oh yes, of course.

A young co-worker asked me recently, "How is your life in Korea going?"

I explained that any new culture is like a mountain. The locals dwell on top of the mountain. They speak the language. They understand the culture. And they thrive where it's relatively familiar and comfortable. But foreigners must climb from the bottom and it's likely that you will never, ever reach the top.

But travel is about the climb.



As a foreigner climbing this mountain, it's pretty fun. The view is great and the experience of learning new things every day is priceless. It's a blast to even have this unique opportunity that others may not. But sometimes, you're legs get tired. You grow weary of climbing. You feel like you're overloaded with information. You just want to sit down--or better yet--go back to the top of that other mountain called "home" where you got the jokes. There are some days when you just don't feel like translating the menu into your native language because really, all you want is mac and cheese. And they don't have that.

Let me assure you, I love Korea. Ninety percent of the time, I greatly enjoy this climb. After all, this is basically what we signed up for. We learn a lot and the views are spectacular. But no one can express how hard it is to climb the mountain until you climb the mountain for yourself.

And far as the new school year goes and this next important learning curve, we'll find our way. One step at a time. There will be confusion. There will be disappointment. We will miss the jokes and probably offend someone without meaning to. But the climb is worth it, even if we never "arrive" anywhere near the top. We'll be proud just for showing up every day and walking.



"I once tried standing up on my toes to see far out in the distance, but I found I could see much farther by climbing to a high place."

   -Xun Zi