Friday, December 28, 2007

Leaving for Seoul...

...on the early bus with Se Jin. We couldn't get KTX tickets because we were waiting to see if her sister or brother would be joining us (they have cars, you see). Meh... I'll just sleep for the 4 hour trip. I won't be updating for a few days unless I get really bored and wander into a PC bang, which seems unlikely. I'm excited. It's not really often you visit one of the largest cities in the world. Plus, I get to go skiing. I love skiing!

I will continue to resist illness in order to thoroughly enjoy my New Year's trip. See you all in 2008!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Could there be a connection?

Maybe my negativity yesterday has something to do with this nasty cold I seem to have developed.

I feel bad enough that I'm considering braving the Korean hospital experience because I need to go on this trip tomorrow... Hm... This is the debate in my head. You know. When I'm not moaning in pain.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Blindsided.

Warning: I don't really do negative posts that much because I'm a dopey optimist, and I don't like to dwell on bad shit. Plus my life is pretty awesome most of the time. But right now I'm sad. And it's ok to be sad. So my inner cynic is deciding she wants to speak--and personally, I don't think she's the best part of my writing self. She likes to use obnoxious language over saturated with bad cliches and mixed metaphors. Possibly, you don't want to read this. You've been warned. Finish warning.

Now that I've paused to breathe again, I'm soaking in and reflecting on my experiences with a holiday that is extremely culturally significant to my country, but I've always been kind of "whatever" about, mostly because I'm not Christian and my family is super informal about everything. And I'm really glad I've been whirlwinding with my life the last couple weeks because I think otherwise I would have been really bummed out for much longer than the last few hours. And not at all for the reasons I expected.

You see, Christmas in Korea is not a holiday for getting together with the family and reflecting on goodwill towards men and whatnot. Christmas in Korea is a couples' holiday akin to Valentine's day in the States. It took me awhile to realize this because it looks like the cheesy over commercialized capitalistic glut I have come to know and tolerate. But apparently even if it looks like a duck, sings like a duck, and glows in the dark like a duck, it might actually be an elephant. A big, fat, ugly elephant that has a strong urge to trample the tiny, happy people walking around in their matching couple hoodies and bear hats with matching cutesy paws.

I'm used to Christmas as a single person sucking ass. But at least back home it was a time for families to be together and piss each other off in familiar and wonderful ways. You could actually avoid feeling like the last solitary loser on the planet (until the tactless aunt asks why you haven't found some nice man to settle down with yet... as a side note the words "settle down" should NEVER have been applied to love lives. that's more depressing than being single, really). But Korea--land of cutesy couple behavior--has found a way to make people feel just that. With the added annoyance of carols blaring everywhere. Not even good carols like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" but pop song wannabe carols like "Last Christmas."

It makes Diana wanna whip out her newly acquired taekwondo skillz and break some bones.

The sad thing is that I love seeing people in love... I do. Well, I should clarify that I love seeing awesome people in love with other awesome people. And even when I see couples holding hands and stuff in public who are obviously in love it makes me all warm and fuzzy (especially if they're much older for some reason). But I don't think the branding of another person with cutesy things qualifies as an expression of love. Maybe I'm alone in this, but given how many other people want to puke when they see the matching fuchsia with yellow letters approach I think I'm not.

And it's not the jealousy factor. I don't want what they have. I want my own special unique and wonderful bond with a guy equal in awesome to me who may or may not actually exist. I just feel sometimes like the overstated romance of it all is an attempt to make me feel jealous and lonely. And it kind of works. It pisses me off that it makes me even momentarily question my fabulousness. That's just bitchy. I always feel like people in love should feel magnanimous, not like immature, spoiled brats who like to show off in front of others.

Walking home after work listening to "Time" by Timbaland (about an overly complicated chick who the guy singing both hates and is intrigued by at the same time) in the downpour, exhausted and alone it hit me hard. Wham.

Wham. Wham.

I'm alone. And very, very far away from... what? I don't know. Just far away.

But then a kitty greeted me at the door. And messages from several amazing friends and a funny holiday picture of my family greeted my inbox. And I had a fantastic conversation with Amanda. And I ate the cookies Kirsty gave me. And now I'll call Meesh, watch Elf, and go to bed hopefully to dream about skiing with Se Jin and New Year's in Seoul...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday coping strategy for expats:

Merry Christmas, folks. Sorry for the lack of updates. I will explain momentarily.

Christmas so far from home and familiarity could be rough. I know Thanksgiving me gave me some random, unexpected anxieties that resulted in both positive and negative experiences, so I wanted to prep myself for the inevitable ups and downs of coping with the much bigger holiday of Christmas where I knew sadness was pretty much inevitable.

Here's been my rule for the last week: Accept any and all invitations where it is physically possible to attend (I had to turn one awesome thing down because I was working--boo!) to do stuff that sound even remotely interesting. Especially stuff that involves hanging out with cool people. The results? Excellent. I had some amazing times, no sleep at all, and didn't update my blog for days. I missed writing here (and I'm sure you all missed my witty brilliance, right?).

I may at some point share some of the cool stories over the last few days, but I will give you just an outline of the highlights:

Saturday night: Dinner with Yumiko and David at Rama and Bavana's (a yummy Indian food place downtown near cell phone street). Followed by coffee and chatting with Yumiko at Angel-in-us coffee until her boyfriend Jin-oo got off work and joined us. We had a nice conversation and I may have found a good Korean language partner in him. His English is pretty bad (like my Korean) so we could actually help each other learn more. I lost the napkin notes from our conversation, but I learned Korean words for scientist and other stuff. It was great. Next it was off to T-birds for drinking and dancing with Sarah. I don't even remember when I got home. It was late.

Sunday: Had a Christmas party at Kirsty's. I was responsible for vegetables so I had to go shopping and chop stuff up pretty much as soon as I woke up. I made it there at around the time I'd planned to be there (4 p.m.). It was lots of fun. I have pictures, so I may be doing a photo post about this one later on. I love the people I met there (and the ones I knew from before).

See how exciting Stealing Secret Santa was? God, I'm a dork.


After the party, Yumiko was headed downtown to meet Jin-oo for his friend's birthday party and invited me to come. Note the policy above to understand why I accepted even though I looked like crap and had a backpack full of leftover vegetables in need of refrigeration. However, I'm really glad I did because I had some fantastic times and met some awesome people (who I will forgive for being younger than me and calling me Nuna and Eonni all night) and got tons of practice speaking Korean. I even sang a Korean pop song in a noraebang with Yumiko! The girlfriend of the birthday boy was an Economics student at Yeoungnam named Seong Min who kind of wants to do a language partner thing, also. So that would be really awesome because she was a sweet girl.

Monday: I had some stomach issues all night (I think I ate meat in something at the holiday party or out with Yumiko) and couldn't make it to taekwondo, but then Anne called and we had a fantastic conversation so it was ok. I'll go back on Thursday.

Work was rough. Between the illness and being exhausted and having to work on Christmas Eve and a mild money crisis because I thought I had lost my money I was saving for next weekend's ski trip (I hadn't... I'm just an idiot), I wasn't even pumped up about our (Se Jin and I) big night on the town. But we went downtown, drank a ton of coffee, and then had fantastic times. Really--Christmas Eve was the best night on the town I've had in downtown Daegu (no details at this time...). Thanks to everyone involved.

Tuesday: Yeah... um so I got home at 6:45 a.m. and at some point had decided to go to church on Christmas Day with Se Jin (again, see this week's policy) so I had to wake up 2.5 hours later and attempt to look fabulous (guess who attends her church, right?) on no sleep at all. It turned out to be lots of fun. I sang Christmas carols and followed along with the sermon in the dual language Bible. Also, I participated in this cool tea-service communion for Christmas (yeah, I was the white person on display, but it's a small church and they were good people). I had my one moment of near crying because during prayers, I tried to think about all the people I love and wish them happiness for the new year which just made me miss them tons--but this was quickly remedied by Se Jin's mother who reminded me that I was her daughter.

After lunch and chatting with the Kwons, Se Jin dropped me off at the subway station so I could meet Kirsty, Laura, and Gil downtown for Christmas dinner (she had to go meet her professor from university). I was a little early, so I bought ridiculously expensive, fancy ski pants. Now I will have to find as many excuses as possible to use them...

Dinner at Dijon was exceptional. The company was brilliant, the wine great (by FAR the best I've had in Korea), and the food delicious. I don't even have words right now for how grateful I am to have met Kirsty and Laura, so I won't try. They are wonderful.

Afterwards began what I shall dub my Sex in the City phase of Christmas because I met up with Sarah, Becca, and Kelly (a friend of Becca's from the States who I met a couple times but got to know better on Christmas Eve and last night) and we had an evening of girl talk. Lots and lots of highly entertaining girl talk in several venues throughout downtown. There may have been some other strange things that happened--and there may or may not be photographic evidence of it that will prevent any of us from being elected to office in the future. But I'm not saying that's a definite fact.

Oh yeah, and I got tons of Christmas love on the handphone because that's the way things go down in Korea-town. As it were.

Now at least you know why I haven't been writing. I'm sorry, blog readers. I really do love you, too. I'm just about to drop dead from exhaustion and I have to work in about an hour. Please forgive me. And have some wonderful holidays of your own.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Soju; Graduation; Gravity?

Last night the teachers of Oedae went out for a dinner party, and in true Korean fashion, all hell broke loose when the soju came out. Well, not really. But we did end up at a noraebang and staying out until three am. It was fantastic. My co-workers are the best people EVER. And shockingly, I was completely fine when I woke up the next day all excited about the final Korean class for the YMCA.

Most of our class, with the cute teacher(standing next to me). I realize this is a horribly unflattering photo of all of us, but I blame the fluorescent lights...

Instead of regular class with the Sogang texts, we wrote our New Year's resolutions (yes, in Korean). Then the cute teacher gave us Christmas cards, and we gave him chocolates. We got together with the beginner class and had a little graduation ceremony and pizza. I'm so proud! (Note: Also, as a public service announcement--since people have asked--the new round of classes at the YMCA begin January 12 at 11am. Get out at exit 14 of Banwoldong station and it's a little to the left on the second floor. Feel free to e-mail me for more info or if you need someone to meet you and show you where the place is.)

And Samantha told me that the beginner class doesn't understand our fascination with/eternal love for the teacher. But, after taking some photos of him, I can understand that. His hotness is so about mannerisms and personality and amazing brilliance as a teacher and only a little about physical appearance--as most of my prolonged Korean crushes seem to be.

Then on my way back home for Saturday taekwondo (which was awesome), I was distracted by a random dance show at the underground mall (Metro Center) around the Banwoldong station. I took some really awesome pictures of bellydancing and b-boys:

Bellydancing is such a craze here. These ladies were quite good (I've seen a range of talent at this point with the Korean bellydancing)


I love these floaty things that remind me of the ribbons from rhythm gymnastics...


The body paint jobs on these guys were what first caught my eye...


...And then they started to do crazy, impossible-seeming dance moves. And even though they are probably 16, I think I'm in love.


I realized that as a photographer, I seem to have an obsession with photographing performances. Maybe it's my love for theater. At any rate, I'm pretty sure that the laws of gravity don't apply to b-boys, which you can see if you want to check out the full album:

Gravity?/YMCA Graduation...


Saturday TKD rocked again. I feel so good about being strong and healthy. And I really did start this post at the time it says, so I'm keeping it. Sorry about the lack of updating. It will be explained soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Breakfast.

Resistance is Futile. I will be assimilated


I'm a sick, sick woman. When I got here almost exactly four months ago, the thought of kimchi and rice for breakfast, probably the most common 아침식사 (achim shiksa or "breakfast") here made me laugh. Why on earth would anyone eat that as the first meal of the day, I thought.

And then yesterday I ran out of cereal and Nutrigrain bars. I need to eat something before TKD but it can't be too heavy or I'd be sick, and I had only a few minutes. So I made a broth soup with rice and a side of Sa Beom Nim's homemade kimchi for flavoring. I had it again today.

Turning Korean? Perhaps. Perhaps.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Korea is a strange and wonderful place. Part 2 (Adventure).

When you get off the KTX at Busan Station, you are right next to a very interesting part of Busan that apparently gets a little sketchy and red-lighty at night. It's called Texas Street and has a big sign in several languages identifying it as a "Foreign Shopping Area." Most of the foreigners here, besides us of course, seemed to be Russian or Chinese, so it is sometimes called the Russian District.

The Russian District--complete with Russian signage everywhere

A week or so ago a friend teased Samantha about eating delicious pierogies in this area of Busan, so we went off in search of the restaurant that would give us 감자 만두 (kamja mandoo, or potato dumplings). Samantha was on a serious mission, here. We had some trouble locating it off of the directions from the Daegu friend who was trying to help us, so we asked some friendly Russian gentlemen if they spoke English or Korean so we could find pierogies (if only Shelly or Jane or even Se Jin whose Russian is about like my Korean had been there...). One of them spoke English ok, but he couldn't understand our butchered pronunciation of pierogies until I said it 5 or 6 different ways and hit on one that he understood. Then he sent us off in some direction...

And we found them--YUMMY!

After our adventures downtown, we hopped the subway out to Haeundae beach. I enjoyed the practice reading/listening to travel related Korean that I just studied last week on the long subway ride. However, I did not enjoy the creepy man obsessed with my hair I was terrified might follow us all day so I told him I didn't know where we were going. But we made it down to the beach with little incident and the need for only one cup of hot cocoa at Dunkin Donuts after the journey.

The weather was actually quite lovely (albeit a little cold) for a beach day--in the middle of December.

The seagulls and pigeons roved in gangs on the beach and tried to kill us.

Yes, I am standing in the ocean with a winter coat on. Don't ask.

Anyhow, our real mission was the Busan Aquarium, which is an almost entirely underground facility. It was quite impressive, and this is from a girl growing up spoiled by the incredible wonders of the Baltimore Aquarium. I did appreciate the ability to take pictures inside, even if the lighting made conditions less than favorable. However, it was still very Korean fashion--meaning that most of the displays were more cutesy and cheesy than natural. Oh well.

I got to touch starfish... although it kind of felt like I was bordering on cruelty to animals


Zebra Eels are beautiful creatures


There was also a tank of (I kid you not) Jackass Penguins and a shark so malformed Samantha and I nicknamed him Gimpy you can see in my full album, as advertised on yesterday's blog.

Finally, we emerged from the underwater paradise and the sun was setting, but since Rebecca had gone off to find her friend and take her through the aquarium I was bound and determined to find the mermaid of Busan I remembered from reading Jane's adventure in Busan. We did find her and travelled on the sketchy rock stairs to take pictures.

The mermaid looks out over the beach


Being near water is very relaxing. I think I need to live near a beach someday. I miss sailing.

Later, we rejoined Rebecca and her friend Shelia and ate dinner at an overpriced Turkish restaurant before hopping a train home. It was a fantastic day and has me thinking a lot about what I want to do if I stay in Korea for a second year. I really like my life here, but I need to evaluate what I would want out of a second year if I did it. I will probably get all reflective about this later this week/month/whatever. For now, I must prepare for teaching and stop listening to Timbaland.

Korea is a strange and wonderful place. Part 1 (Humor).

An ad for a plastic surgeon in Korea: Small Face, Lovely Breast


I am too tired right now to do full justice to the magnificence that was today. So the last 24 hours may warrant more than one blog entry. You see, today was election day in Korea, which is a national holiday. That means I had no work and no taekwondo today. So when my friend Sarah asked me to come downtown to celebrate her birthday, I readily agreed. The evening was made more entertaining when our local Busan celebrity who just can't seem to get enough of the 'gu Rebecca joined us at Commune's. Many silly occurrences happened before we wound up dropping it like it's hot at Frog. I ran into Yoshi there, which was awesome because I hadn't seen him in a few weeks and he's one of the few people who will keep up with my dancing.

Even though I had plans with Samantha (and Rebecca) to go to Busan at 10 am today, I still managed to stay out until 5:30 am. Yikes. Needless to say that Rebecca and I woke from our evening of revelry feeling substantially less fabulous than we usually are. But no worries--we recovered our awesome quickly.

We did KTX down to the city to the south (the first city besides Daegu I voyaged to oh so long ago...) and had a wonderful day that I will detail tomorrow when I have more energy for such things. But here is a quick photographic sample, as above, that will also explain why Korea makes me laugh so hard that my abs hurt at least as much from that as from the hours and hours of dancing with not enough sleep.

More Free Hugs people. I asked her (in Korean) why she was doing it, and she said "Mission" in English, although said yes when I asked in Korean, "For fun?" Who knows?


The Aquarium boasts "The Longest Underwater Santa Claus Village in the World." Now here are a people who know how to celebrate the holiday season... with drowning polar bears?


The literary shark... A kinder, nerdier cousin of the loan shark.


And I guarantee this is the cutest giant angry cigarette man you've ever seen. Am I wrong?


For a preview of what I will describe in tomorrow's entry, you can check out the album from today's trip taken off my husband a few hours ago:

Busan Aquarium, Haeundae, and Russian District


And now to catch up on some much needed sleep. More tomorrow...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Please Borrow My Husband.

We have a new Korean teacher at Oedae. She introduced herself as Song Teacher and was reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose in Korean, so of course I instantly approve of her. However, after yesterday, she must think we are all a little insane. Apparently the crazy from the weekend carried over in my attitude and the other teachers were a little loopy, too.

I have nicknamed my camera (you know, the love of my life) my 남편 (nampyeon), which means husband in Korean. See, you think I'm joking. If only a man could make me as happy as my 남편. Or chocolate (aka 남편 #2). Maybe one day a guy will be lucky enough to land a distant third.

Anyhow, this led to some hilarity.

Jenny started it. "Oh really, can I borrow your 남편? Just for the night?"

"I want to borrow him, too," Se Jin pipes in.

This is turning into a cat fight, so I try to calm the situation down. "Oh, ladies, there is enough of my 남편 to go around."

Jenny insists. "Yeah, but I want him first!"

And so on.

Then Jenny sent me a text last night, but I only got it this morning: 다이애나 남편 너무 멋져요^^ 빨리 빌려 주세요 농담 ^^ 좋은밤 보네세요. [Roughly, badly translated by me without a dictionary] Diana's husband is too handsome. Please let me borrow him quickly. Joke! Have a good night. (The ^^ are the Korean :-) )

So I wrote her back that she's too funny (in Korean). Oh the insanity, the random, the beauty.

Poor Song.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fashion Sense?

I've been slowly allowing the Korean notion of fashion (at least the one where you dress up nice most of the time) to seep into my wardrobe. First wearing my hair down, jewelry, and makeup most of the time... Then the coat... Then a purse instead of the backpack... Then a cute hat/scarves... And finally last night, I bought my first pair of long boots in Korea (after my book club meeting, of course). Although you can't see them fully because I'm wearing jeans over them, you can see how cute I've become. This was taken in front of the store where I bought the shoes.

Are you scared yet?


The funny thing is that no matter how girly cutesy I get here, I will never, ever come close to matching Korean women in this department... Never. I'm not sure it's possible to do. But maybe Korea is changing me a little at a time... in strange and interesting ways.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Apparently, I don't really need sleep...

I have had the most bizarre and busy weekends I've ever had in my life, which is impressive because 1) it's only two-thirds over and, 2) Korean weekends are spectacular debacles about which I have already blogged several times.

Friday after class I met up with Rebecca, my friend from Busan who I hung out with the night of the charity event, and we tore up the town, dancing and causing mayhem everywhere we went. It's just in our nature. Anyhow, I didn't end up getting home until the subway opened in the morning and was kept awake for several more hours and it wreaked havoc on my health so my stomach felt really weird, and I missed Korean class for the first time ever.

A couple hours later I did feel better, and since I had made plans with some of the girls for after class, I threw on clothing and dragged myself downtown to go have lunch and see the new John Travolta Hairspray (which was awesome). I had lunch at this fantastic Italian restaurant with Kirsty, Laura, and Amanda. Then Laura and Kirsty showed me this amazing bakery/coffee shop that has the most beautiful cakes you have ever seen.

Like this one. Amazing, right?


Kirsty and I split a miniature version of what can only be described as a chocolate orgasmic manna from the gods.

At some point adrenaline kicked in big time because when Yumiko texted me and asked if I wanted to meet up for dinner and to see her friend's concert, Kirsty and I happily accepted. This turned into an awesome girls' night (and of course, this means that three of the guys I've had mild flirtations with are all calling me and texting me at once to see if I wanted to hang out on a night when I had much better and more fun things to do... stupid men) that ended with delicious Vietnamese food and my being even more in love with my camera because the shots I was able to take at this concert were incredible. It was fun because Kirsty, Yumiko, and I were the only foreigners in the place, so the bands kept doing random shout outs to us (it probably helped that Yumiko's boyfriend's brother was dating one of the lead singers, so we met some of the band before the show), but they were good. Lots of American rock covers (including "Back in Black," to my delight).

This was the first band. They were pretty good--mostly punk/rock stuff


Yumiko's friend's band had a really cute bassist... but I do just have a thing for bassists...


The male lead singer of their band was insane--really. He had the most energy of any adult person I've ever met. He even introduced himself to me as "crazy," to which I replied 나도 (Me, too).


And Yumiko's friend, a lovely person and singer.


After the show and dinner, Kirsty and Yumiko departed with their respective Korean boyfriends (sigh), so I headed out to T-birds. It was quiet, but I met a cool girl Sarah who was celebrating her birthday. We both got buzzed and decided to go dancing at some of the clubs. Good times. Even if my stomach is still having some weird issues.

And then I crashed. I almost fell asleep in the cab home I was so tired. So Palgongsan this morning was not really an option. Plus I need to finish prepping for the book club meeting tonight. So I'm off to do that now.

Check out my amazing camera in the whole album from yesterday's adventures:

Korean Rock Concert and Cake.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kicking my ass...

That's what taekwondo is doing... and I love it. I adore the feeling of being drenched in sweat, breathing hard, trying desperately to contain your heart in your chest because it's beating so hard you fear it might escape. I used to hate that feeling because it made me feel out of shape and ugly. It still does, but now I know it's the feeling of getting stronger and healthier. It takes my body less time to recover from exertion than it used to. I think that's the strongest sign I've had yet of improved fitness.

Today I did these leap frog things with Sa Beom Nim. What you do is one person bends over and makes a gymnastics vault with their back for the other person to straddle jump over them. Samantha and I have done them before and I always feel bad because I'm so heavy and awkward I know it can't be easy, but today she was a little sick so Sa Beom Nim filled in. I swear the man is made entirely of muscle. It's amazing how solid his back is. If I have a quarter of that muscle tone when I leave Korea--or at any point in my lifetime (let alone when I'm 40 like him), I'll be thrilled. Seriously.

As a green belt, I've been learning the sa jang pumsae (품새 사장) or the fourth of the eight color belt forms before black belt testing. I realize that it's pointless to say that this is a really hard form compared to the first three because I'm figuring out that each form is progressively more complex than the previous ones, incorporating more stances and moves than the previous forms. Nonetheless, this one feels like the biggest leap from the previous form. It has a totally different rhythm and feel from the first three forms (which all begin with the same basic first move). It has side kicks (which are just entirely evil beasts unto themselves) and all kinds of back stance moves. Working on it has definitely improved my back stance, but at the beginning I felt like I might never master this one. It can be such a beautiful form and I butcher it so badly...

But the good news is that Sa Beom Nim said he's giving me a new belt Monday and we'll start the fifth form. Yay! It's amazing how much progress I've made. I guess going every day will do that to you, right?

And for those of you concerned that I sounded "down" yesterday, I was a little. I meditated for the first time in months last night. I feel a lot more centered and at peace. I reminded myself of the spiritual growth aspects of why I'm here--testing myself and my ability to survive and thrive independently, learning new things especially new perspectives on the world, focusing on improving my writing, finding some inner peace and getting to know myself better--and I realized that indeed, I am making a lot of progress on those fronts. I am even more grateful for blogging as it has helped both with advancing many of these goals and reminding me that I am achieving them.

I think the ups and downs of life so far from here feel more dramatic being so far from what I've known all my life as "normal." And that's ok if I recognize it for what it is. 주말 잘 보네세요, everyone! (Have a good weekend).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Internet is not healthy...

Seriously. I've wasted so much time doing absolutely nothing in the last couple days, it's disgusting. It felt so good to go to TKD and do something moderately productive that I realized I should probably cut back on this here wired thingy. I mean, I love keeping in touch with people from back home and all the writing I've been doing because of my blog and some other writing projects, but my recent Facebook obsession and reading stupid articles on MSN make me feel about as useful as when I start to care who wins old re-runs of America's Next Top Model on Style. Which is to say, not useful at all.

And then I got some bad news about a friend from back home who was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's hard to believe and feels harder being so far away at such a difficult time. I think this weekend I will climb Palgongsan to pray to the Gatbawi Buddha for her health. The weather is supposed to be lovely, which will help.

I've been thinking a lot lately about spirituality since my conversation this weekend at Kyobo, my never-returned e-mail to the pastor of the English speaking church here about volunteering, and going with Se Jin to church last Sunday. I'm not exactly comfortable posting in my blog about these things (mostly because the vast majority of my good friends and family members would mercilessly mock anything remotely resembling spiritual beliefs), but I do keep a spiritual journal (with my dream journal and general private thoughts journal next to my bed). I haven't written in it much lately. I was trying to think about why not.

I feel a little out of sorts with myself, and I think it's because while my job is teaching still, it's not a position where I am as needed as I was in the U.S. Yeah, I got stressed out and blah, blah, blah, but I did it like I did because someone had to; those kids needed so much from me and I tried my hardest to help them. Here, I'm a foreigner. Even when kids need something, they wouldn't come to me for it and it's hard to reach out to them. And so while my life right now is very busy and fun, it sometimes seems a little empty.

How am I making the world a better place? Right now, I don't think I am. I think I'm making myself a better person, which could help me eventually make the world a better place and I know that, but I feel just a little useless. And that makes me a little lost.

I wish I thought my writing was good enough to be my contribution.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I meant to be productive...

This morning TKD was cancelled and I totally meant to wake up early and get all this stuff done. But of course, I stayed up late playing around on Facebook (if you want to see the pictures from my Gyeongju trip off of Se Jin's camera like the one that is my new blog pic at the right of your screen, go here), and kind of hoping an e-mail I sent last night would be returned. I had some fascinating dreams though, so I guess not all was lost. It's the first time my friends from Korea showed up in my subconscious. I don't know exactly what that means, but I think it's good.

As a final note, I would just like to comment on my frustrations with trying to be flirty and subtle in a foreign language. I have a hard enough trying to do it in English and here I have to go trying to write in Korean to a boy I like.

I'm an idiot.

Monday, December 10, 2007

My family is awesome.

Christmas stuff is everywhere. When we put up the tree at Oedae, I started moaning "I miss my parents!" in Korean. Mostly to be cute, of course, but seriously, the holidays can be rough on any single gal and harder still when she's far away from her homeland. But my mom and sister decided to combat any possible feelings of missing them I might be having, courtesy the postal service.

My mom gets really into these craft projects sometimes and makes all kinds of strange and cute things. Yesterday, I got a Christmas package from her that included a stuffed Christmas tree that she and Sarah made for me.

Yes, a STUFFED tree. You can hug it.


And about four tons of stocking gifts that she meant for me to open one each day.


Princess, of course, was fascinated.


She's one cute Christmas feline!


And of course, being the impatient gal that I am, I had my own little ceremony last night. Christmas can totally be December 10th, right? This is the aftermath...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

TKD training...

I noticed today how kicks that were so difficult at the beginning are relatively easy (well, I have to keep pushing to get faster, kick higher, and have more power, but you know what I mean). I can run easier. I recover from exhaustion faster than I did. It's fantastic.

So much about my body has changed in the last three and a half months. I want to push it. Not in a crazy way, but in an add running two times a week and be more regimented about the upper body weight training three times a week way. I've always thought it would be cool to be a "runner" but always just assumed my body wasn't formed for it. Now I think it's more of a mental thing.

I also got some book recommendations about the philosophy stuff from Amanda that I think I'm gonna pick up after I finish the Marquez.

I have a bunch of stuff I want to get done in the next couple weeks--writing stuff, teaching stuff, reading stuff, travel-planning stuff, language study stuff--so I have to go get on that. But I think the best part about all the changes to my body is the increase of energy I have to get all this stuff done. I kinda feel like I spent the last 10 overweight years in a bit of a fog. Now I'm wondering, why?

Gyeongju Adventure: I'm in love...

...with my new camera. I think I may marry it. (Didn't mean to give you a heart attack there, Mom, since you knew I went to Gyeongju with Se Hyun on whom I have an ever-growing crush, but really... I must declare the depth of my feelings... for my Canon Powershot).

See how happy I am looking at my love (the camera... not the boy taking the photo, though he was cute, too!)?


No really, though, today was the best day I've had in Korea in a few weeks for so many reasons. It's been about a month since I've had a real good adventure or taken a bunch of pictures here and I was in desperate need of it. Today more than satiated my craving.

The day began with church. No really. Church. For some reason, Se Jin's been pestering me to go with her to her church for a couple months and since we were leaving right after the service today and Christmas is nigh upon us, I agreed to go. No, I didn't burst into flame. Yes, I was the first white person ever to attend the service. I sang the one Christmas carol I knew (in English, quietly, while everyone else sang the same song in Korean). Se Jin got me the dual language Bible so I could follow along. I used it as an exercise in listening/sight reading. And I got to see her parents, who I adore.

After the service, we went upstairs to the Sunday school/kitchen/art room to have lunch (which was delicious, of course) and talk. I met some of the congregation members, all of whom were exceedingly nice. The pastor is also a talented artist with wood carving (who knew?) and insisted that I make a rubbing from one of his carvings. It was actually really cool. He broke out the watercolors, and I painted it all pretty and then signed my name in Hangul and English. Then he asked if I wanted to write a special message on it. I thought that I'd send it to my parents for Christmas because I was sending home the package this week and they'd like to have it, so he wrote "부모님 사랑해요. 건강하세요. I love you, parents. Please have good health."

He even added Hanja (Chinese) characters to the piece.

When we finished at church, it was off to Gyeongju with my partners in crime, Se Jin and her brother Se Hyun. We went in Se Hyun's car (he's a very good driver) which was a considerably more stylish means of travel than my last voyage to Gyeongju with Samantha. The weather was perfect, the company rather silly, and my camera was itching to be tested for real. First we headed to Bulguksa, a beautiful and huge temple that Jane said was her favorite, so I knew I'd love it. I was right. I wish I could upload all the pics, but that would be insane. I insist you go look at my album though (link at the bottom) and you'll see why I'm going to marry my camera...

My companions--Se Hyun and Se Jin--delightfully entertaining, as always, in front of the temple entrance.


One of the coolest parts of the temple were the awesome dragon figures that adorned the edges of all the buildings--this guy has a fish in his mouth!



This is for you, Amanda: Look--it's a Golden Pig! Just what we need, right?


Next we headed out to Bomun Lake Resort, which is an area with a lot of touristy hotels and a very pretty lake.

And of course, what would a lake in Korea be without Duck Boats. Lots and lots of Duck Boats.


Lots of families rented all kinds of little motorized vehicles and drove them around like crazy people. It was cute


Tree Love. No really... that's what the sign says.


Finally, when the sun was going down, we headed to the Gyeongju Silla museum and looked at lots of cool artifacts from the area (this is one of Korea's big cultural areas, after all). I could have taken more pics in the museum, but unfortunately, I ran out of room on my memory card. Clearly, I need to buy a bigger card. And I need a case for the precious.

This bell is huge and old and therefore, important.


Seriously, this camera is freaking incredible. Easy to use, brilliant, lightweight and powerful. Anyhow, to see more of my new love's picture taking abilities, check out the full album:

Gyeongju Adventure!


We finished up at a tasty noodle/shabushabu/seafood place near the E-mart in Gaksan (the one near Banyawol). It was exceptional. We ate a ton.

I had a great time with Se Jin and Se Hyun. Of course, I still have a gigantic crush on him. I asked him at some point (in Korean, which I spoke off and on all day) what kind of girls he likes and he blushed bright red and said something about kind girls. I got his e-mail address to send him the pictures from today. Hm...

Now I'm pooped, so it's off to bed with me. Tomorrow is a new week, and a new adventure!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Kyobo: Place of Random Encounters

After Korean class and a lovely lunch with the ladies, I went Christmas shopping and to find a nice purse that is large enough to fit my study materials in because I was sick of going downtown with my nice new coat and a backpack. (Side note: Oh god, is the next step to crave something other thank my falling apart New Balance sneakers for my feet? Has Korea turned me into a fashion zombie??? Maybe, but for now, I choose comfort over style for my feet. I need them for kicking butt on weekdays.) I finished both tasks quickly to my satisfaction and decided to reward myself with a hard-earned trip to Kyobo bookstore for happy browsing and a caramel macchiato with some relaxing Korean study time with plenty of people watching when my mind wanders.

Anyhow, the Starbucks inside was rather busy, so at some point a gentleman interrupts my studies to ask if he can join me since all the other seats are taken. Am I ever glad he did! His name is Greg and he's originally from Las Vegas, but lives in Indonesia now. He used to teach in Korea, but now he runs an import/export business for southeast Asian musical instruments and Indonesian jewelry. He was in Daegu visiting old friends after successfully selling all his wares in Seoul last week.

He had worked as a music teacher in the states for years before coming to Korea, so we had a lot to talk about. We discussed everything from politics to philosophy to art. And then we parted ways--he was headed to a jimjillbang and I to purchase a new digital camera at a store a friend recommended--but it was a friendly, enjoyable conversation. It's one of the things I love about life as an expat here--the positive random encounters. Most of which seem to occur in Kyobo. Even my bizarre non-date was entertaining. I think I will have to make it a regular part of my routine!

Anyhow, I went to get my camera. The store was this little Mom & Pop operation in one of the underground malls (there are several downtown). It took me a couple times wandering past to find it, but then I did. I'm glad because they were super nice to me (you know, because I spoke Korean... like five words of it). And I bought the nicer of the two Powershot models I'd been looking at. It is the fanciest camera I have ever owned in my life. But it's really easy to use. I will take it to Gyeongju tomorrow and see what it can do! I'm excited!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Why do I always do these things to myself?

I was at school this morning at 8:30 a.m.

You heard me right. After leaving last night at 11 p.m.

Why? you might ask yourself, especially if you didn't know me back in the states.

I pin it all down to the tendency I have to try to do everything that sounds even remotely interesting to me (which is a lot of things), being a horrible procrastinator and yet an obnoxious perfectionist at the same time, and just plain being nuts. You see, awhile ago, I agreed to do the English language newsletter for Oedae because I've done the publications stuff before, and I like (actually, I LOVE) working with student writing. No problem, right?

Well, the only desktop publishing software we have at work is MS Publisher, which I've not used before. This normally wouldn't be a problem... except I'm in Korea. So everything is IN KOREAN!!! And while some of you have been impressed with my ever expanding knowledge of the Korean language, let me assure you that I am nowhere near the proficiency required to understand complex software instructions. So in addition to all the normal editorial duties associated with compiling a newspaper, I've also been learning a new software in what is, to me, essentially gibberish. It's taken awhile. I've snuck in moments here and there at work, but usually when I'm at work, I'm working. Or someone else is on the computer.

Finally, I decided to just kick this paper's butt. And so I told Samson I'm skipping the professional development seminar, but that I'd come in early to finish the paper.

And so I did.

Well, it's almost done. I have a couple more things to finish up on the first and last pages, including my article/message for the opening of the paper. I was going to kill two birds with one stone and compose it as my blog entry for today, but I thought I'd contextualize it for your consumption first. Aren't I generous?

Here we go:

Welcome to the second edition of Oedae Times. Fall is a season of changes, and this fall brought changes to Oedae Academy. We have two new foreign teachers, Samantha teacher from Canada (see page 8 to learn more about her) and me, Diana teacher from the United States. We have welcomed many new students. We had our biggest Halloween party yet! It has been very exciting.

It is hard to believe I've been here just a little over three months. I feel so grateful for all the experiences I've had in Korea so far. I love learning more about Korea everyday and teaching my students about the English language and American culture. When I write home to my family about studying taekwondo or share my pictures from Chuseok in Yeongchon with them, they understand why I feel so happy with my life here in Korea.

While Gwen teacher is visiting her family in America, I have filled in as editor for this English-language newspaper. We received so many wonderful submissions from students at all levels that we didn't have room for all of them here. I have tried to select pieces that demonstrate the skills and creativity of students at all levels of English study here at Oedae. I am so proud of all the writing you see here. I hope you enjoy reading the stories and essays printed on these pages. It represents some of the excellent work from the students at Oedae in Ansim.

Cheers,
Diana E.

If there is room leftover, I may add some more details, but this is probably enough.

Ah, PR. Gotta love it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Homemade Kimchi and Sick People.

I love Sa Beom Nim.

After missing two days of training, he sent me a text message last night. Although I only understand part of it, it said something about my body being sick and hurry to get better and fighting. It was very sweet.

Then today he seemed very happy to see me (but he seems that way every day, to be fair). He took it easy on us. At some point he called Samantha and I "sick people" in Korean, which I felt wasn't really a fair assessment, but figured I wasn't really understanding the context.

After class he gave us green tea and we chatted. I tried to explain that in America and Canada we were not sick people, but that Korea is different--different germs. I was unsuccessful, but then he came up with his own theory. He said that in Korea, most people have family to take care of them when they are sick, so they get better quickly, but that Samantha and Diana are alone, so it is harder for us. I think there may be some truth to that.

Then he gave us these cute little stuffed pigs for cellphone decor (a uniquely Korean phenomenon that is very strange--you attach something like a key chain to your cellphone to bling it up, so to speak). He explained that it's the year of the pig in the Chinese calendar (Samantha figured that one out).

Finally, he made kimchi on Sunday and gave us each a large tupperware container full of it. Yay! It's frightening how much I've taken to this stuff. I don't eat it for breakfast... yet.

I've been sleeping on the floor the last few days because it's warmer... Maybe I am turning Korean.

Whoa... that sucked...

I got slammed yesterday morning pretty hard by some kind of illness with a low grade fever and painfully sore throat. It completely wiped me out. I didn't go to taekwondo for two days and went home early from work yesterday. I did nothing with all that extra time but sleep and moan in pain and sweat. Thankfully, I'm feeling a lot better and hope to be back at TKD in fighting form tomorrow morning. My throat still hurts a lot when I swallow, and I'm still battling some congestion and headache, but it's a lot better than it was at this time yesterday.

I feel like I lost a day in there ('cause I kind of did), but it's ok.

I've gotten addicted to text messaging in Korean. I sent Sa Beom Nim a text saying that I was sick and wouldn't be in class, one to a Korean friend in Seoul I met over Halloween, and a couple to Se Jin. It's actually easier to text in Korean with my handphone than it is to text in English... but I suppose that's hardly surprising since it was designed for use in Korea. It's fun, except now Se Jin only writes me in Korean, and I only understand about 1/3 of what she's saying. Ridiculous.

I need to get on this planning for travels thing... I've got some cool plans over the next two months I'd like to enact...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Pay Day Wednesday!

Well, I'm completely broke. I sent home a bunch of money at the beginning of the month to pay off some of my debt, which was awesome, but now I'm almost completely out of won. Fortunately you can live here pretty well without spending much money if you need/want to do so. You just avoid the evil downtown area restaurants and bars and only buy absolute necessities.

However, being broke is making me fantasize about the things I want to buy when I have money again: tomato sauce, a lint brush, a cheese grater, a camera, you know... the basics.

If anyone here is wondering about saving money in Korea, it's ridiculously easy to do, but it does depend on the quality of life you want and your tolerance for risk (by teaching private lessons on the side, which is illegal). I've been living at least as comfortably as I was at home (minus some conveniences that just aren't available here in the same way like a dryer, a car, and a good oven) and sending home $1,200-1,500 each month and I don't have one of the higher paying jobs or do private lessons. I don't drink a ton, but I go out a lot and travel about, so I'm not being a total hermit. I'll probably send back less in December because I'm planning a trip for February, need to buy Christmas presents (and send them home, which costs more than the actual presents), and buy a digital camera, but it's not hard to do well here.

By the end of my year here (thanks also to severance and the refund of pension, which my non-sketchy employers do correctly!), I should have no credit card debt, have made a pretty substantial dent in my grad school debt, and still have some travel money left over.

I'm not here for the money, though. I came for the experience. I think a lot of people here just for the money have a harder time because they keep trying to live like they did back home, which can be pricey here. Some of them get really depressed and develop alcohol problems, which gets to be expensive pretty fast.

Lazy Sunday.

Lazy Sundays are the best days of the week. Except you can only have them once in awhile or you'll go a little crazy. To qualify, they must be truly self-indulgent and unproductive to the highest. You must accomplish nothing more than the absolute necessities of life.

I had one today. Heavenly.

And unlike back home, where I would experience excessive amounts of guilt about taking so much downtime for myself, here it feels... refreshing. Having enough time to choose how to spend it is by far the best part of my life over here, and there are many great things about my life over here.

Someone please remind me never to take another high stress job in my lifetime. Please.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Saturday Taekwondo.

I love Saturday taekwondo. It's a more relaxed atmosphere, for some reason. Sa Beom Nim cancelled class on Thursday this week, so Samantha and I went today after Korean class. It's nice to see Eric and his brother running around the studio. And Sa Beom Nim's wife is so sweet. She cheered us on after our pomsae work. After class we had green tea and chatted about weekend plans. It was a refreshingly pleasant experience after the last few weeks of crazy downtown shenanigans.

Korean class today was pretty good. I asked our teacher how to write "Good luck on your test" in Korean. He taught me "시험 잘 치세요," which translates literally to "please hit well on the test." After class, I sent a text message to someone.

Many people were absent and one girl left early, so it ended up being just William and me. It was nice to get to know him a little better. We went to lunch after class and talked about hot Korean men (like our teacher, who we still can't figure out which way he swings). I miss regularly chatting with gay men. There is something about it that's highly refreshing--like girl talk with less estrogen or something.

Tonight, I'm headed out for salsa dancing and then tomorrow, if it's not raining, I'm going hiking with Se Jin. The hike we have picked out sounds pretty tough, so wish me luck (or at least that I hit well, right?)!

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