Monday, April 28, 2014

What We've Been Eating Lately + Carrot Cake Protein Bars

Dear Friends,

I like Korean food. I really do. Well, some of it. And while some expats can live by eating out at Korean restaurants every day and eating unidentifiable meat, sometimes, I'm just not in the mood. I really appreciate that we have a nice kitchen for cooking. Creativity is important when you're preparing food in a country that may or may not have the ingredients you need.

Here's a real-life conversation I had with a co-worker: I had Googled "lemongrass in Korean" and it said: 레몬 그라스. 

So I asked her, "Do you have laymon geulahsugh in Korea?"

She said, "Yes."

Me: "Great. Where can I get it?"

Her: "It grows in...I'm sorry. What do you want?"

Me: "I'm looking for laymon geulahsugh for a recipe."

Her: "You are cooking."
Me: "Yes. Here is how it's spelled: 레몬 그라스.

Her: "What are we talking about?"

Me: "I need lemon grass for a recipe I'm making."

Her: "What's lemon grass?" 

Finding specific things can be tricky. That's why we are grateful to friends, like Becca, who mail us dinner in a box. Chocolate bunnies. Candy. Peeps. Explaining marshmallow peeps to our friend, Jong, and why we eat them at Easter time was...impossible.

I found dried chickpeas at the world market, so I've been cooking with them a lot lately...

Curried Chickpea snack

Hummus (Jong's new favorite "American sauce")

Chickpea Peanut Butter Cookies
(Yeah, things got a little bit crazy)

We're also eating our fair share of tofu lately (or "doo-boo" in Korean). Each week, we go to the farmer's market and basically clean-out their tofu supply. They don't seem too upset about it.
Tofu Hijiki burgers

They were yummy!

Tofu Tikka Masala

And I've been trying to make coconut milk with my fancy immersion blender-dealy, however, I haven't had much luck and usually end up chewing the last few sips. If anyone has been successful, I'd love to hear about it.

Thanks to the WWOOF CSA (community supported agriculture) program we found in Korea, we've been able to get fresh, organic produce sent to our door once a week. It's been fun to try to identify the different things that show up. And usually, if we don't know what something is, we just cook the hell-out-of-it and call it dinner! But these salads were good, too.

We have pretty epic Saturday morning breakfasts around these parts. Jeremy makes the coffee and I make the grub (we're rationing what's left of the coffee a friend sent us from The Mill in Lincoln). Bless her!

Strawberry/Applesauce protein pancakes

Strawberry Banana Coffee Cake

We've been trying to up the amount of protein we eat, so this week I made these protein-packed, 
Carrot Cake bars. 

One bar has 10 grams of protein and they're loaded with lots of other good stuff, too! It may be hard for you to wrap your head around putting chickpeas and sweet potatoes in carrot cake, but trust me, it tastes pretty darn good. 

chickpeas, sweet potatoes, carrots, coconut, etc.

Carrot Cake Bars

Oven: 350 Fahrenheit
Makes: about 16 bars

  • 6 cups grated carrots
  • 2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
  • 3 cups cooked and mashed chickpeas
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 4 scoops of any vanilla whey protein 
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 egg whites 
  • 5 tablespoons sugar 
  • 4 tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Any add-ins you want: chocolate chips, raisins, dried cranberries, slivered almonds, or pineapple. Start in 1/2 cup increments.

STEP ONE: Mix everything in a large bowl.

STEP TWO: Separate the batter into two 9x13 pans. Bake each pan for 45 minutes, or until fully cooked in the middle. If they are looking too soft after 45 minutes, keep in mind that they will harden as they cool.

STEP THREE: Allow the bars to cool in the pan before eating. Slice each pan of bars into 8 pieces (which yields 10 grams of protein per bar). I recommend wrapping each bar in plastic wrap AND foil and popping them in the freezer. If you grab one in the morning, it will be thawed out around lunch time.

You can make any substitutions you want. 

No sweet potatoes? You could try bananas.

No whey protein? Try soy or hemp. 

No protein powder at all? Leave it out. Add more oatmeal if the batter is too wet and keep in mind that the protein content will be more like 7 grams per bar.

No eggs? Use an egg replacer, like Ener-G or even pulverized tofu works well (1/4 c. per egg).

No sugar? Use honey or agave necter cup for tablespoon for tablespoon.

No flax seed? Just leave it out. Or use wheat germ or chia seeds for a nutrient punch.

If you would like to have any of the recipes from my cooking adventures above, just leave a comment and I'll post it for ya. 

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fault and Guilt and Ferry Boats

A week ago, a ferry boat carrying almost 500 people capsized off the east coast of South Korea. Most of them high school students and teachers on a school trip. As of this moment, 174 have been rescued, 128 are dead, and 174 are missing.

It's an awful tragedy and the news has been covering the incident non-stop for the past week. Everyone is handling the accident in their own way. My co-workers talk about it every coffee break. Public school teachers are encouraged not to take sides or speak in too much detail to the students. The parents of the victims are sad and angry and distraught. The Korean prime minister delivered an apology to the parents who then threw garbage at him. Another government official giving an update was slapped by an angry parent. The ferry boat captain is being investigated for negligence. The vice-principal of the school commit suicide. Two other crew members have tried to commit suicide. President Park called the actions of ferry boat crew "murderous." The Education Ministry banned all school field trips until June.

That's what brought on this very interesting discussion today with my co-workers over coffee:

"Heather," my co-teacher says, "did you hear next week's Sports Day was cancelled?"

"Yes, I did. Because of the ferry boat accident, right? Are people concerned about safety?"

"That and it feels disrespectful to have fun at a time like this." She continues, "Did you hear that the vice-principal commit suicide?"

"Yes, I did. It makes me so sad."

"I can understand him. I think I would do the same thing."

"Really? But it wasn't his fault. He didn't cause the boat to crash."

She thinks, "Well, yes, but he was responsible to those kids. To those families. In America, you are an individual. In Korea, you are part of a group. It was probably good that he commit suicide. The boat captain will probably kill himself too."

Pausing cautiously, I ask a question I already know the answer to: "Is suicide common in Korea?"

"Yes," another teacher chimes in. "We have some of the highest rates in the world."

"Why do you think that is?" I ask.

They all chime in with different responses: fierce competition, wealth and education as status symbols, intense pressure to get good grades and a good job, shame from your family, lack of acceptance surrounding psychotherapy, etc.

But my co-teacher offered an idea I hadn't thought of before. She said, "In the last sixty years, Korea's economy has grown very quickly from one of the lowest in the world to one of the highest in the world. Our economy has grown very fast, but our minds are still behind."

I inquire, "Do you mean, like, mental health? Emotional health?"

"Yes! We are so busy working hard, we don't have time to worry about our mental health. Our happiness. Our relationships. We just work and try to be successful. It is very important to be successful in Korean society. So people commit suicide if they feel like they have failed and everyone will judge them for it."

Another co-worker explains that this competitive atmosphere is why Koreans work such long hours, dress so nicely, get plastic surgery, and drive fancy cars they can't afford. It is very important to at least appear successful because life here can feel like such a competition.

"Wow, that sounds exhausting!"

All the women around me have different stories about their struggles to keep up with this kind of competitive culture. Everything from unkind mother-in-laws to distant husbands, extra tutoring hours for kids to judgment from friends and family members.

I ask them, "What would happen if you just quit? If you didn't care about the competition."

They all laugh. One teacher says, "I would be ostracized! People would be disappointed in me. I would lose so much of what I've worked so hard to gain."

America has some of it's owns problems surrounding this kind of competitive culture. People wanting to measure up, to look good, to make money, to get the job, to have "the life." But, I realize, America is very big and Korea is very small. The rules are different. As an American, I can say, "I give up, society. I'm not playing your game anymore." That requires far less bravery from me. I can find other people to be friends with. I can move somewhere else. I don't belong to a homogeneous racial group of fifty million people squished into a country the size of Indiana.

Context makes all the difference.

"That's why the vice-principal commit suicide," my co-teacher says. "It doesn't matter that the accident was not actually his fault. He knows that Koreans will judge him. His family will be ashamed of him. That he made a mistake that will haunt him forever."

I am not an expert on Korean culture. Eight months here has left me with far more questions than answers. I can only tell you what my very patient, Korean friends have shared with me about their experiences. But, as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better." And hopefully, what we learn from each other is constantly making us better.

Please keep Korea in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


There are several cool things about living in Korea. But possibly one of my favorite parts is getting to meet so many interesting people. Foreigners. Locals. Amazing.

A primary way that foreigners meet other foreigners in Korea is by going out to the bars on weekends. But Jeremy and I are not big drinkers. We don't get a lot of enjoyment out of going to smokey bars and socializing. So a few months ago, I posted a plea on Facebook asking if anyone would be game for playing Ultimate Frisbee on Saturday afternoons.

The response was small, but eager. We met an enthusiastic cluster of folks who were open to learning and they caught on quickly. We found an empty field. We taught the newbies the basics of the game and since then, it's been a quickly growing community of fun people who like to run around and laugh a lot. What I like about Frisbee is that it's a great way to get to know a good group of people without setting up dinner dates and "getting to know each other."

We've been playing every weekend ever since. And this week, a generous couple invited us all over after the game for a BBQ. A mid-size apartment capable of hosting guests is rare and a teeny side-yard is exceptionally more rare. What a treat! What started with our twenty Frisbee players, grew to include a few neighbors and extra friends amounting to about 30 of us crammed into their back yard. And there was salsa, folks. Salsa!

This may all sound like business-as-usual to people who live in the States. But this get together was the first time in eight months that Jeremy and I have been in the presence of this many foreigners at one time. It was a little overwhelming, but also a blessing.

It's a blessing because never in the States could I so easily engage with so many different kinds of people.

Like people from Scotland who do yoga and work on organic farms in different countries.

People from Missouri who taught me all about political science and libertarians, and described Cambodia as "so much more calm than Vietnam." Psssh.

People from Ireland who have a fantastic sense of humor and teach us the differences between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

People from England who met and married a Korean wife and now have a baby.

People from Connecticut who have spent their 20s traveling all over the world and are figuring out what to do next.

People from Southern Africa (not South Africa, mind you) and more specifically Namibia. What?!

People from South Carolina who have settled in and thrived in a country that is largely unsure of what to do with people with dark skin.

People from Egypt who have come on educational scholarships with hopes of bettering their own country and describe South Korea as "peaceful" in comparison.

People from Syria who moved here with spouses and the dreams of research grants.

People from Texas who introduce themselves as "Texans" first. People who bring their country pride and cowboy hats right along with them.

People from India who settled down, got married, speak half-a-dozen languages, and found a way to get all the essential ingredients that make Korea feel like home.

And my Korean friends who teach me new things every day. I thought for sure my friend would just watch Frisbee, but she jumped right in and played. I thought she'd definitely peace-out for the BBQ because she's often so nervous about her English abilities, but she jumped right in and chatted it up with all kinds of people. So proud of her. I realized how uncomfortable it can be to feel at home amongst a brash group of foreigners. I wouldn't have understood the fear in that. The bravery in that.

I feel greatly fortunate to be able to encounter so many different kinds of people. Not because we all agree, but more so because likely we don't. These kind of experiences make you question how singularly awesome your ONE narrative really is. Considering there are just so many narratives out there.

And maybe one the greatest lessons of travel has less to do with learning about another culture and more about just realizing there is more than just your own. More ways to eat healthy. More ways to parent. More ways to pursue an education. More ways to be human. More ways to see the world. Somehow, someway--people are flourishing in environments and cultures so vastly different from your own.

We all seem to figure it out on our own terms. Without agreeing. Without collaborating. We all find our way. And it's really quite beautiful.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Things That Make Us Laugh in Korea

Sometimes I wonder if I'm getting smarter living in Korea.

Not because I devote the time I should to diligently learning Korean. Or because I've been taking some kind of challenging college course. But simply because we live in a country that is not our own. A place that is new. A place that is constantly teaching us.

And sometimes it's exhausting, but most of the time, it's fun. Here are some memorable moments from the past month: at school and everywhere else.

At school...

  • There was a time a few weeks ago, when each morning as I walked into the school building, they were playing Carley Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe" over the PA system. Well, that and "Let it Go" from Frozen. Why? I have no idea.
  • One morning as I walked to my classroom, I noticed a student walking directly beside me and staring. I looked down and said, "Hello." Without hesitating he said--in perfect English--"What's your mother's name?" Surprised and confused by this question, "Vickie. Why?" And then he walked away.
  • As a class warm-up I asked my kids, "What did you eat for breakfast?" and because "L"s and "R"s are often confused in Korean, one student said, "I ate lice."
  • I rarely teach 4th grade. But when I did last week, I walked into a new classroom that was not expecting me. One little guy in the front row, blurted: "Oh. My. God." with good long pauses in-between, and the other 26 students just stared. Awkwardly. Have I mentioned Korea is not quite used to foreigners yet?
  • My co-teacher said: "Heather, quick. The parents are coming. Did you know?" I explain that no, I didn't know and ask what I should do. "Bow," she says. "Just bow. Always bow. And smile. Smile and bow."                         
  • Last week, a 6th grade girl asked me I was pregnant. I said no. She looked me up and down again quite unconvinced and said, "Nuh uh!"
  • There's a little girl (no more than seven) who regularly finds me in the hallways with a big grin. She walks beside me chatting in Korean. I tell her (in Korean) "I don't speak Korean." She keeps talking in her sing-song voice. I say (in English) "I don't know what you're saying." She continues un-phased. I think we're friends. 
  • Jeremy's co-teacher recently told him she thought he was from England. When he asked, "Why?" She said, "Because I thought all Americans were fat."
  • Jeremy used a picture of Phil Dunphy (the dad from the TV show Modern Family) in one of his Powerpoints at school. And one of his students, probably not recognizing the character nor the show, pointed at the screen and said, "Jeremy teacher?"

And everywhere else...

  • When we greet people, we often try to bow our heads and say, "Ahnyoung haseyo!" but often some equally kind Korean will wave and say, "Hello!" So what ends up happening is this incredibly awkward exchange of head nodding, sudden recognition, switching gears to a too-late wave, and "Oh, ugh...hello."
  • The news anchors on TV bow at the beginning and end of broadcasts.
  • The advertisers on the side of the street wearing sandwich boards bow to the oncoming cars at intersections. No silly dancing here, folks!
  • With recent mayoral elections coming up, I witnessed a whole row of probably 12 men in suits holding signs and bowing to cars on their morning commute. So fascinating!
  • A Korean friend of mine recently told me she has been sick. She pointed at her nose, sniffled, and said, "I have a rainy nose."
  • The cherry blossoms have been blooming. Their beautiful and bright. They are also called "butt goat" in Korean which regularly makes us giggle.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I'm Right Here

I've been thinking a lot about sex lately.


How, for some, it's this thing that enables us to create life, but also this thing that creates intimacy and love.

How it's a definite part of my life, but when someone asks, "What did you do last night?", we all know instinctively to skip over that part of the narrative. So instead, we just kinda talk about it with our best buds and sisters.

How it's considered to be so simple to some and yet it's incredibly complex to others.

How it both elevates us and wounds us.

How none of us come to it without baggage (or at the very least expectations of how we thought it would go).

And how I'm certainly no expert on the topic being that my sexual history is pretty short and yet we all have stories, don't we?

(If you have no stories and/or don't prefer to read the stories of others, I give you permission to stop reading)

Not surprisingly my struggles in life and in the bedroom are one in the same: 
feelings of absolute shame surrounding my body.

(And if immediately this notion feels simple or insignificant to you, you obviously don't regularly interact with women on a deeper level, because I can tell you right now, I am the majority. We are the majority. It will be downright difficult for you to find a woman who does not, quite often, feel dissatisfied with her body.)

It's the same struggle that made me into a chronic perfectionist.
It's the same struggle that had me laying in tanning beds and counting calories when I was 13.
It's the same struggle that led me into the arms of anorexia and bulimia.
It's the same struggle that makes me question my worth with my husband.

As if my only value is my appearance.
As if my only purpose is to be attractive.
As if that's all men want.
As if that's all he wants.
As if it's that simple.

I can easily trace back my initial feelings of shame to 5th grade. Middle-shool boys. One encounter after another of sexual harassment, inappropriate touching, and unwanted attention. I get why I feel this way, but, at times, I have absolutely no idea what to do about it. How to "get over it." How to stop believing the things I've spent years believing. How to move forward.

I recently finished reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. It's a collection of inquiries and responses conducted online. My favorite correspondence was the chapter called, "Tiny Revolutions."

The letter is from a woman in her mid-fifties who, after decades of marriage, is separating from her husband. She's at peace with the divorce and both eager and anxious to move forward with new relationships. She wants intimacy but she's scared that--at her age--it will be difficult to find a partner who will accept her body as it is. The letter is signed: Wanting.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Sugar's eight-page response (Warning to sensitive readers, Sugar likes bad words, but I'm not editing them because, I think they work. I warned you):

"My impulse is to...pretend that droopy-fleshed women in deep middle-age are lusted after by droves of men for their original and seasoned beauty. 'Looks don't matter!' I want to shout in a giddy, you-go-girl tone. It wouldn't be a lie. Looks really don't matter. You know they don't. I know they don't...And yet. But still. We know it's not entirely true."

Sugar talks about how the values and principles we apply to our emotional lives, must be translated to our bodies: "Yours. Mine. Droopy and ugly and fat and thing and marred and wretched as they are. We have to be as fearless about our bellies as we are with our hearts. There isn't a shortcut around this. The answer to your conundrum isn't finding a way to make your future lover believe you look like Angelina Jolie. It's coming to terms with the fact that you don't and never will (a fact, I'd like to note, that Angelina Jolie herself will also have to come to terms with someday and probably already struggles with now)."  

"Real change happens on the level of the gesture...It's you and me standing naked before our lovers, even if it makes us feel kind of squirmy in a bad way when we do. The work is there. It's our task. Doing it will give us strength and clarity. It will bring us closer to who we hope to be."

"You don't have to be young. You don't have to be thin. You don't have to be "hot" in a way that some dumbfuckedly narrow mindset has construed that word. You don't have to have taut flesh or a tight ass or an eternally upright set of tits. You have to find a way to inhabit your body while enacting your deepest desires. You have to be brave enough to build the intimacy you deserve. You have to take off all your clothes and say, 'I'm right here.' "

If I've learned anything about bravery and sexuality in the last one year and eleven months of marriage, it is this: perhaps some of greatest moments of courage involve taking our clothes off and saying, "I'm right here." 

Not, "Please don't look."
Or, "Let's turn the lights off. Again."
Or, "Don't look at my _____."

Not apologizing. Not backpedaling. Not simmering in the shame.

Simply saying: I'm. Right. Here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How to Thrive In the Plastic Surgery Capital of the World - My Messy Beautiful

South Korea is an intriguing mix of modernization and traditional values. 
Of new trends and ancient customs. 
Of emerging philosophies and age-old rituals. 

And this curious place is our new home. My husband and I are working here as English teachers and the cultural education has been less of a shock and more of a daily teaching. Every day we seem to learn a little more about what it means to be Korean, how that's different than being American, and what it all means.

And surely the most prevalent and challenging theme I've been learning about lately is 
South Korea's infatuation with "pretty." 

And you may be thinking that "pretty" feels pretty, darn important in America, too, but let me tell you one in five Korean women living in Seoul have had some kind of plastic surgery procedure done. Women will get operations ranging from nose jobs and double-eyelid surgery to the breaking and shaving of the jaw to achieve a more V-shaped face. Some parents give plastic surgery as graduation presents. Others raise the funds themselves and undergo the surgery in order to land a job. The procedures are cheaper than in the States and more common. The importance of beauty cannot be understated and in some ways it's a different kind of pressure than any I've experienced back home.

From Business Insider

Especially, being here as a foreigner where the very features I was born with (and admittedly haven't devoted much thought to) seem to be idolized to a strange degree. For example, my face seems to get a lot of attention. Not that there is anything particularly interesting about my face other than that, by-and-large, the Korean desire is to have a smaller face. So sometimes women will cup my face in their hands like I am a child and say, "How lucky you are to have this small face!" Or my curly hair. Most Koreans have glossy, black, straight hair, but they tell me that they would kill to have such curl. "Such waves," they tell me. Little did I know how "lucky" I really was.

I've made some truly wonderful Korean friends and they are not exempt from this perpetual pressure to be beautiful either. Here's a common conversation from the break room at the school where I teach English:

"Heather, you look so much better today!" a co-worker might say.

Compliment? Metaphorical slap? Not sure. So, I usually just say, "Thanks."

She continues, "Your eyes they look...more..."

"Defined?" I help.

"Yes! Defined. Very nice."

"Thanks, I thought I'd try wearing mascara today."

"You should wear mascara every day. You don't look good without it. Sometimes I am surprised by the way you look. You already have Western features. You already have light, curly hair. Why don't you just try a little harder?"

This type of conversation has been tailored to just about every area: my make-up, my skin. my hair, my body, my height, my breast size, my clothes, or my weight. The things about me that most Americans know not to talk about seem to be fair game in Korea. My friends also talk to me also about their marriages:

One woman tells me: "My husband tells me that I was pretty before he married me, but now I am fat and pregnant. I would not leave the house without make-up because my husband would be upset."

"Oh, wow," I say.

"Yeah, you've only been married for two years. Call me in seven. You'll be miserable just like me."

These conversations leave me heart-broken. Frail. Unsure. Unsettled. And maybe it's just a cultural piece that requires some getting used to because I really don't think my co-workers are trying to be unkind, I just think it's common to comment on each other's appearance because it seems to matter so much here.

But my heart hurts for them. To know that they feel so insecure. So ashamed. So insufficient.

And, at the same time, I don't know how to carry this either. How to feel about this. 
How to believe I am valuable and worthy in a world that is constantly telling me I'm not. 

And it's not only in Korea. And our triggers are not only physical appearance. I'm encouraged by what Anne Lamott has to say about how to handle hard things:

"It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do."

Usually the most helpful tools are the ones that take the most work to develop. Tools like: self-acceptance, positive self-talk, vulnerability, kindness, and courage. And they feel cliche and outdated, but they are actually solid and true. 

So in order to thrive in the plastic surgery capital of the world, I use these tools to make it harder for me to doubt my own worth:

  • Community: I surround myself with good people who talk less about diets and more about books.
  • Prayer: a little reminder I keep on-hand when I'm feeling like--as Oprah says--a "schlumpadinka": 

  • Journaling: positive mantras, like: "I am a strong, confident, intelligent, beautiful woman."
  • Positivity: When women tell me about their flaws, I tell them about their strengths. Even when it feels forced. Even when it's hard.
  • Self-confidence: I don't criticize my abilities nor my appearance out loud. Ever. The world has enough self-hatred to go around anyway.                                             

In this day and age, tools like this are really blatant acts of rebellion

Little things that say, "I'm done. I'm not part of this competition. But I'll be here with open arms when you're ready to join me."

This essay was written as part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project

To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE

And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pork Belly and Soju

This tummy wasn't built for pork belly and soju*.

This concoction leaves my stomach feeling queasy, greasy, and confused. As if this is normal. As if this is real life. Which it is but I regularly have to remind myself: "This is my life. This is where I live. This is how I roll." Not because my life here is particularly extraordinary or special. It's the little things that bring me to this melancholy place.

Little things like sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by co-workers and samgyeopsal* and alcohol and Korean TV and crying toddlers. Imagining how much stronger my back would be if it were more normal for me to sit on the ground. Missing most of the jokes. But still feeling, in a small way, like I belong. Like when the locals come in and stare, they have to look away because I am with Koreans. This is where I need to be.

Little things like standing in the rain looking for a taxi. Being approached by a local, navigating as best I can with my limited Korean skills, and understanding that they are telling me I'd be more likely to find taxis over yonder. Thanks.

Little things like realizing the word "nay" (which means "yes") can accomplish quite a bit. Just agree. Just nod your head. Nine times out of ten, a friendly local will direct you where you need to go.

Little things like the heavy stop and go of a taxi drivers foot. We're going. We're stopping. We're going. We're coasting. We're braking. Oy.  It kinda makes me sick and it kinda makes me giggle.

Little things like knowing that at any given moment I am completely lost, completely far away from many people who could identify me. That the moon I'm seeing now will soon visit the people I'm missing. On the other side of the world. Whoa.

Little things like laughing with people I didn't know existed a year ago. Engaging with people from all over the world that would've continued being those people regardless of whether or not our paths ever crossed. Whoa! Just think of all the people you could meet...

Little things like sitting under the uninspiring flourescent glow of a city bus as it navigates the soggy streets. An ajuma* blasts her music on her flashy Samsung phone. No one blinks. No one seems to notice. But I keep secretly hoping that she'll sense my eyes and notice how loud it is. No such luck. Not even a chance.

Little things like navigating the streets on my bike, on foot, on a bus, or in a taxi.

Little things like figuring out how to talk to the grocer, the server, the convenience store attendant, and everyone else.

Little things like paying your bills online, setting up your wifi, knowing which text messages are important and which ones are spam, calling and scheduling my own appointments. In Korean.

Little things become big things when they accumulate into a pile.

A pile of knowledge.
A stash of know-how.
A heap of by-golly-we're-doing-this-thing.

And we aren't pros. And we have a long way to go. But we know some stuff and that feels good.

*Soju is Korea's most popular booze. Which actually outsells nearly every other kind of alcohol. In the world.

*Somgyeopsal is popular Korean meal involving pork belly (the name literally means "three layers of flesh"). You grill it at your table with various side dishes and lettuce leaves.

*Ajumas basically rule...well, all of Korea. Ajumas are the older women in Korea. Women who have served their time. They've raised their families. They've contributed to society. And now they just kinda wanna be naughty. Like blasting unnecessary music. Stealing your taxi. Giving you dirty looks. Staring. And they do it because they can. Because in a hierarchical society, who's going to stop you? (sidenote: does anyone else find it so interesting that wikipedia has got their eye on all of these Korean words? I think it's fascinating.)