Monday, August 30, 2010

Q & A: Non-white women; Internet hook-up; long flight tips; Marine base in Vietnam; Korean Tuesdays

It's been a long time since I've answered my formspring questions. Sorry to those of you who'd been waiting on an answer.

Do you see colored girls in Korea? Like blacks, Hispanics or mixed girls? I mean I often here stories of Caucasians dating up there but...I'm curious.

I'm not exactly sure what perspective you are coming from (are you a man who wants to hook up with "colored girls" or what?), but I will answer. There are many non-white, non-Korean girls living in Korea. The largest groups I've encountered are Chinese and Filipina students and African-American and Hispanic soldiers. In the English teaching community, they are about proportional to what you would find among college grads from the seven countries eligible for E-2 visas, except that there is about a 70/30 male/female ratio and a much higher percentage of people with any Korean blood within that teacher community compared to a normal population. I come from a very, very diverse part of America, so I tend to think the foreign English teacher community is not very diverse (mostly white, middle class). However, people from less diverse areas think that the expat teaching community is very diverse. So I guess it depends on your perspective. If you actively seek out non-white women, you will find them, but I seriously doubt you will be impressed by the number of them you find (except in certain areas of very large cities). I will say that in Korea, more of my non-Korean friends were white than anywhere else I've lived/worked in my life except during college.

My husband is thinking of going to South Korea to be a teacher, I was wondering how long it took you to get internet hooked up in your apartment?

Your husband wants to go to South Korea, and the only question you have is about length of time for internet hookup? You have some restraint, m'dear. Depending on which service you choose and how well supported you are at your school by the teachers who take care of these things, it could take between 3 days and 2 weeks from the time people start asking around. However, in my first apartment, internet was already set up. In my second apartment, Min Gi shopped around for good deals for about a week and then found one and a week later, I had internet. In the last apartment, we transferred the contract from the second apartment, and I think I was without internet for only a day or two. South Korea prides itself on being the most wired country in the world. It's not for nothing.

How did you deal with the long flight over there? I want to travel but I hate to fly. Any tips for getting through it?

I like to deprive myself of sleep and fatty foods for the 36 hours prior to takeoff. I sleep better on the plane that way, and sleep so well the first night that I usually only experience mild jet lag after. On the plane itself, I read, listen to music, doze off, get up and walk around/stretch, play with the in-flight entertainment center, and always ask for at least 2 cups of water when they come around and offer. Sometimes I find the free red wine helps me zonk out even more quickly, but be careful about hydration. Planes are nastily drying environments.

Are there any remains of the Marine base at Marble Mountain???

I was not specifically looking for the Marine base at the Marble Mountains in Vietnam. However, I recall there was a marker for the lookout point the Americans used and the platform was there and my motorcycle taxi driver mentioned the base (he was a South Vietnamese soldier during that time). The effects of war there struck me more in the extreme shell damage to the temple sites and ancient carvings.

I remember reading how you and your husband speak English at home and every Tuesday it is Korean language day. So now that you are coming back to America, will you do a language swich-a-roo to keep in practice? I would think speaking Korean back in the US [would be helpful].

As you recall correctly, we usually speak English at home and for awhile we were doing Korean on Tuesdays. Right before I left Korea, Min Gi was in hardcore English study mode because he hopes to be able to work and function comfortably in his new country, so my Korean studies were sadly neglected. Currently, we are in separate countries, so I am not speaking much Korean at all these days, with him or anyone else. We will probably speak English at first in America because we are going to stay with my parents, and it is a little rude to speak another language around people who don't understand it when everyone is perfectly capable of communicating in the host's language. I would like to re-start the Korean Tuesdays when we are set up in our own house and then perhaps increase it to 2-3 days a week, as my Korean studies pick up more and I grow my skills.

That's all the formspring for now, but feel free to ask me a question anytime. I'm less crazy stressed now that the move to the U.S. is about 50% complete, so I should get to answering them faster.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sentimental Possessions

I've mentioned that I'm becoming more and more attracted to low-impact living and minimalist lifestyles, especially after the consumer shock I'm experiencing returning to the U.S. from another country (albeit a fairly consumerist one). While I'm not quite ready to shuck everything except what I truly need and live out of a backpack, I am going through the already pared-down possessions I stored in my parents' basement when I left for Korea three years ago and purging many things I no longer need or want. I'm selling a few, but mostly I'm giving things away on Freecycle, to friends, to the library (media) or to Planet Aid (clothes).

Unfortunately for me, most of what remains in my possessions are papers/items that have sentimental value for me, but little meaning/value for another person, such as letters I exchanged with friends in elementary, middle, and high school or the seven half-filled blank journals I kept through the same period. I've been pretty ruthless--recycling the letters after reestablishing contact via Facebook with my elementary and middle school friends, taking two of the notebooks that I'd filled less than 1/4 of that were falling apart at the seams and ripping out the pages that contained my bad poetry and musings about boys then recycling the rest. I have plans to scan the pictures onto my hard drive so that I can get rid of the physical clutter.

What are impossible for me to deal with right now, though, are letters and cards from students. Unlike the letters from a young person sent to my young person self, I feel a special responsibility to those "thank you" and kind message cards entrusted to me by the students I've had the joy to work with--maybe even to encourage or inspire just a little. Perhaps it is because I may be in a transition of moving away from teaching as my main form of paid employment (though I'm sure I will continue teaching in some way throughout my life) that I am so strongly attached to these items.

So to preserve my sanity, I am fiercely limiting myself to whatever will fit in a shoebox. Any other purely sentimental item that is not re-usable (like the journals I will finish filling in--I began last night! haha), beautiful (like some of my decorations I've gathered in my travels and want to display in my home), currently useful (like the purse my friend Leah gave me before I left Korea), or I know will have a use in the near future (like the 5-6 children's books I loved because we want to start a family soon) must fit in the box. I am filing all old writing I wish to keep (the stuff that's not electronic) in one plastic portfolio-type folder. Everything else that I want to keep for emotional reasons must go, in one way or another.

Allowing myself to keep a few of these items is helping this process feel good. It makes it easier to decide what really makes me feel the strongest by keeping the physical copy and what I'm ok with digitizing and/or letting go. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to let even more go, but for now, I'm content with this solution.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Unemployed Teacher

In the DC area, tomorrow marks the first day of school for many districts, including Prince George's County, my old haunt. As you know, I've been looking for work in the US since way back in February. It's been a frustrating, humiliating, desperation-making, humorous, and slow experience. The end result of it all is that I have now joined the ranks of the US unemployed. Not that I'd even be counted in the statistics, since the job I left was in Korea (and I left it voluntarily), so I don't qualify for benefits. Plus, I do have part-time work as an editor. But my career? The one for which I hold the highest certification the State of Maryland can bestow? The one that would give me health insurance and enough money to support me, my immigrant husband, and his mother back in Korea and allow us to consider starting a family? Yeah... I guess that's "on hold" for now.

Way back in college, I made the decision to become a teacher for several reasons.  First was that I love literature and writing and want to share this joy with as many people as possible.  Up there as a major secondary reason, though, was a virtual guarantee of a livable salary and work available just about anywhere in the world I wanted to go.  I didn't ever want to end up where I am now, unemployed, living in my parents' house, so rather than pursue some other more "unstable" lines of work, like freelance writing, acting, or publishing, I became a teacher.  After all, year after year in America they were practically begging bums on the street to fill their classrooms.  Fellow teachers and I regularly joked about how they almost preferred "warm bodies" to competent people because of the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through for certifications and the like. I figured teaching would always be "safe" from an employment perspective.

Here I am, six solid years of experience and a Master's degree later, unable to get a job.  I am an unemployed teacher.

My plan from back in Korea was that if I couldn't find a job, I would just substitute teach for a bit and get my name known around at a few schools so that when an opening did come up, I could slide in, no problem. Well, even that plan is blown. Montgomery and PG have no subbing openings. And I don't really have a car (I borrow family members' cars), so I can't commute many other places--not for subbing (I'd figure it out if I was offered a permanent position).

My backup plan--to change careers into public relations, editing, or writing--is moving slowly because as few contacts as I have in education here, I have even fewer in those areas (although, as I said, I do have a part-time, freelance editing gig that's helping keep me sane).  I have one very exciting, very promising lead, but it's moving at a snail's pace.

I'm lucky.  I have a family that can support my basic needs while I try to figure out a way to become independent again.  It's not ideal, but I have a place to sleep and food to eat and transportation most days.  Mom has offered to help out with health insurance if it looks like the unemployment will last for awhile, and it looks like I will have to take her up on that offer, though I really, really don't want to (um... point of moving back to US being to HELP my parents, not be a burden on them).  And I am truly grateful to them for their help and support.  I'm trying to pay them back in ways I can--cooking dinner for everyone (maybe even saving them money by doing so), helping out with the remodeling projects around the house, organizing and minimizing the stuff I put in storage before I left for Korea--but my number one priority is becoming independent of their care again.  It's ridiculous that a married career woman should be this dependent on her parents.

It's hard on me.  I'm a planner, but with no idea of what the future looks like, it's nigh impossible to actually make plans.  I have two dependents, Min Gi and his mom back in Korea.  We have a plan figured out for the financial support of his mom, but he and I are moving back to dependency--which also means we're putting our plans to start a family on hold (bad idea to get pregnant with no health insurance, no job, and no house).  This is depressing.

I'm staying positive.  I'm trying to enjoy my unemployment time by reading more, experimenting in the kitchen, and staying active.  I've taken on a number of self-improvement projects, which I will be blogging about as I go through them.  I'm considering just making the leap into self-employment, but unfortunately my health situation (unless we figure something out there) makes that an untenable plan for the long-term (stupid America's stupid lack of appropriate, affordable health care).  I just have to learn patience.  Patience is not a strength of mine.  But this whole experience is schooling me in it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Review--We Married Koreans: Personal Stories of American Women with Korean Husbands

We Married KoreansI know I haven't done a book review in a long time; rest assured that it is not because I have gone the last few months without reading. Quite the contrary. In the last few months, I've been in a mad reading frenzy in an attempt to rid myself of all the books I had accumulated in Korea that I did not wish to bring back with me to the U.S. Fortunately, I discovered Bookmooch and an English used book cafe called Buy the Book (Downtown Daegu, above the Mr. Pizza on the main street with Communes and Billibow and the like), so all of my books went to loving homes.

One of the books I did want to keep with me, however, was We Married Koreans, a collection of 12 true stories of interracial, intercultural marriages between American women and Korean men in the 1960s. The collection is edited by Gloria Goodwin Hurh, whose own story appears in Chapter 5.

If you have any interest in American or Korean cultures during the last 50 years or in intercultural marriages in general, you should read this book. Do not be put off by the fact that it is self-published and therefore contains some errors in grammar and usage that (hopefully) would have been caught by a professional editor or that the women are not professional writers. It tells a fascinating history, both personal and cultural, of Korea as it struggled towards democracy (one woman's husband was imprisoned for anti-government demonstrations in Korea) and America as it struggled towards racial equality (many of the women speak frankly about some of the racial epithets hurled at their children). The couples mostly met, married, and lived in America, but most lived for at least a short time in Korea and one missionary couple spent most of their marriage in the Korean expat community in Brazil. I feel like I just sat down and read 12 very good personal blogs about Korea.

Each woman speaks positively of marriage and praises intercultural marriage, despite the challenges they have faced. None of them have divorced and most stories are accompanied by a picture of the couple from within the last five years, graying and wrinkled, but still together. I was particularly moved by the stories of Faye Moon, Dixie Whong, and Sharon Shin, but I got something new and interesting from each story. Many of the women were Christian missionaries or united to their husband by a strong faith, which did not speak to me as much as it might have to someone from their era, but I still enjoyed reading the book very much.

I can only hope that Min Gi and I will be as happy together in our future as these couples seem to be.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jeju Island Adventures: Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Rock)


Getting started hiking up the peak, visible behind me.

Our first full day on Jeju Island, we planned to hike Korea's largest mountain, the volcanic mount Halla in the center of Jeju that pretty much makes up the island. However, our plans were thwarted by gathering storms around the peak (though the rest of Jeju was clear and beautiful, Halla was surrounded by storms--apparently the summit is only visible about one day in 10, so this is not terribly uncommon). Instead, we hopped in our trusty rental Kia, Fred, and drove out to the eastern side of the mountain to another famous lava crater peak, Seongsan Ilchulbong, known as "Sunrise Peak" because of it's eastern location. Although we were now several hours after sunrise (at about 8 a.m.), we were still happy to explore and climb this beautiful area.


The views of the sea and surrounding fields as we climbed were spectacular.

Ilchulbong was formed by fairly recent (meaning only 100,000 years old) volcanic eruptions. It rises dramatically out of the sea and connects to the main part of Jeju by a narrow strip of land on which sits the fishing village of Seongsan.


Min Gi at the top of the crater's edge.

At the top of the peak, there is a huge bowl-shaped crater, grown over with many various plants unique to these crater ecosystems of Jeju. The ecosystem in Jeju's Hallasan crater is carefully protected. Also, it is very, VERY windy at the peak.


The crater at the top of Ilchulbong, flooded with the morning light.

After climbing down from the small mountain, we rested in a cove with a haenyo, or the famous Jeju women divers (more to come about them), restaurant and launching site. There were no haenyo to be found, but we enjoyed the peaceful scenery and clear water.


Side of Ilchulbong, from Haenyo Jip area.


With a great start to our first full day on the island, we'd already decided that when we return to Korea, we should seriously consider making this place our home. See the rest of the photos from Ilchulbong:

Ilchulbong -- Jeju Island

Monday, August 16, 2010

First Five Days in America

Wowee...  America is just overwhelming.  On my last day in Korea, Min Gi and I went to the Dongdaegu bus station at 3 a.m. to catch the bus with two cats, two huge bags, and my carry on oversize "purse."  On the five hour ride to Incheon, the kitties mewled the whole time, I'm sure to the chagrin of nearby passengers.  At the airport, we had to take them through Incheon's "quarantine" check station and then check Princess into the baggage compartment, while Saja got to accompany me in the cabin under the seat in front of me.  I said goodbye to my husband just outside the security gate.  The kitties and I made it on the 13.5 hour plane ride in a daze.  My love for Korean Air is vast and bottomless.

Mom and Brian picked me up from the airport.  They proceeded to talk about babies for the next hour.  Mom claims that she only wants to talk about Brian's friend Elizabeth's baby, and that she won't pressure me at all for five years.  She keeps reminding me how she's not pressuring me...  Like every few minutes the first couple days, now more like once every few hours.

The rest of this first day is a little blurry.  I ate pizza and burritos and unpacked in the temporary room with the fold out couch (the basement is unfinished) and played with the shell-shocked cats in the basement and slept at odd hours.

Friday, my first full day in America, took me to an Ethiopian food cafe in Gaithersburg where I met Anne's family for a delightful lunch.  Then Anne and I hung out in the afternoon, doing some shopping and walking around a park, lamenting the absence of young children on the perfectly beautiful summer day.  Why don't kids play outside anymore?  What happened to that?

Then, her friend called to cancel, giving me the chance to attend my first EVER professional football game in America--the pre-season game between the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills!  It was overwhelming (especially understanding everything that the other fans were saying all around me) and exciting (especially watching dancing girls--I mean "cheerleaders"--with actual booties to shake).  The Redskins were winning so overwhelmingly that, by the end of the third quarter, we decided to escape to beat a bit of the traffic.  I forgot how into football Americans are.  It was fun to walk through the "tailgaters"--people who showed up hours before the game to park in the lot and have cookouts out of the back of their vehicles, and to see the painted-up, jersey-wearing hardcore fans.  The whole thing reminded me of World Cup in Korea, but more intense because we were actually in the stadium.

Sadly, because I didn't know we were going to do anything super cool and because my brain was (and still kind of is) total mush, I forgot my camera.

Saturday, I was lazy and tired and our internet blew out.  I hung around the house.  Helped Elizabeth's husband, Mike, to mud (fill in the cracks with putty) the dry wall in the room in the basement where Min Gi and I will live temporarily (when it's finished).  Cooked dinner (corn on the cob, mac 'n cheese, bread, fruit salad).  Just tired and lazy and super jet lagged.

Sunday, I was still exhausted, but I was supposed to go to the fair with Anne and Sam.  This did not happen. But I did kidnap Sam from Baltimore in the afternoon and then cooked pizza for everyone at home (including Mike and Elizabeth) and then had a complete breakdown after dropping Sam off at home because when I got back to the house (8:30 pm), I was dead tired, operating on patchy and limited sleep, dealing with the fact that our guests were sitting just outside my "bedroom" so I couldn't go to bed (and all the other beds were currently occupied), and I hadn't talked to Min Gi in two days because of the internet problems.  I just sort of fell apart and started crying and felt really bad and embarrassed about the whole thing.  Jet lag is very evil.

This morning, I've had nearly a full 8 hours (first time in days), took a long walk/jog (I have got to remember how much better I feel after exercise), met a new man in our neighborhood who complimented me on my appearance post-workout (haha), and have internet on my very own computer (so I FINALLY know that Lauren won SYTYCD Season 7).  Finally, things are looking up.

Now... if only I can get hired!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ok, Korea... what do you want from me?

With about 24 hours to go before I hop on the plane to DC (which explains the lack of updates, btw), Korea's trying to send me a message about my leaving, but I can't figure out what it is, yet. Here are the news events from the last few days that are just... bizarre:

1. My school was hit with a major round of food poisoning, cancelling all my classes on Monday. The cafeteria is now out of commission until further notice.

2. The day after we leave Jeju (yes, tons of pictures and blogging from that to come) to return to Daegu, it's hit by typhoon Dianmu. A major one (and the rains from it have made it up to the mainland now, too) that closed down all the airports. Hopefully it will have passed through Korea by tomorrow and not be affecting Incheon... Sheesh.

3. A bus exploded in Seoul Monday, injuring 17 people. It's so crazy because nothing like that had happened to these buses before and now everyone's worried about the safety of these buses that run on natural gas.

4. North Korea. I really don't know if I need to say more since the situation is so charged up right now that it's actually making the headlines in the U.S. again.

So... is 우리나라 telling me to go or to stay or to do a silly dance? Dunno. I'm just trying to go about my business of getting everything done and packed and saying goodbye to as many people as possible without weeping hysterically (Ohmma almost broke me down last night when she started crying and agreed to visit the U.S. for the first time) before we hop the 3 am bus to Incheon with two cats.

Thankfully, my wonderful husband is willing to do the round trip with me to Incheon (five hours in a bus each way) to ease the process of checking in the cats and to say goodbye melodramatically as we separate for the next month.

But for now, I have to go meet Se Jin for coffee. On about 4 hours of sleep with the rain pelting down... Korea... I'll miss you, though you seem to be pouting like a spoiled child at my departure.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My New American Dream

The Crafton family from Severna, MD now rock my world:

Crafton family enjoys rare closeness after seven years together at sea

After living the past seven years in this cabin the size of a hotel bathroom, the Crafton family seems in no hurry to clear out now. On a muggy, sun-drenched morning, all five of them -- knees just touching, lives completely entwined-- sit cheerfully in the sailboat that has been their home since they pulled away from this Severna Park dock in 2003.

Click to continue

Think I could convince Min Gi? Would you read that blog? Something to shoot for...

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