Wednesday, December 29, 2010

English Tests

I gave one of my beginner English classes a final exam today.  One of the sections of the test I wrote was a 'fill in the blank'.  Choose  a word from the word bank and complete the sentence.  One sentence was:

A zebra is _______________ and white.    (black)

Another sentence was:

A boy is alone. He is _______________.     (afraid)

One of my students answered the last sentence like this:

A boy is alone. He is black.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Hello Hello, Hello

My absence deserves explanation.

I freaked out a little bit.  This last month pulled me into a semi catatonic state. I did not feel like doing ANYTHING. Not because work became busier, or life became more demanding, or sickness forced me down. I was trying to live with the pause button pressed. I had gotten over the novelty of living in a new country and had yet to accept that this new place was really my home. My mind hadn't accepted that this Korean lifestyle was permanent. I have had so many distractions adapting to a new environment and working full time that I never fully mentally gave myself the space to move into Asia.  I know it sounds strange, I mean, I knew I was going to be here for a year, but I hadn't really accepted that idea fully. I stopped cleaning my house, I stopped writing, I stopped going out on adventures into Seoul, and  I really missed my friends, family, and lifestyle back home.

Then I was offered a promotion. But it would require me to stay another 6 months longer then anticipated.  I took a few days to think about it but after some mental debate, I accepted it; with enthusiasm.
I finally started to realize that this is my home. This is where I live. This isn't a vacation. There is no thinking about doing this or changing that when I get back home. Its time to actually make friends, go to the gym, write everyday, decorate my house, fluff out my life a bit. I totally fell into the lonely tourist role. I was thinking short term. It took me a bit, I guess I thought I could escape these long drawn out (stupid) adjustment periods, but  I guess not. Apparently not.


I joined the gym that I live right next to, put up a fabulously colorful doodle by yours truly on this one huge bare wall, bought a semi-nice fountain pen, warm boots, and I am going out this Thursday night for Ladies Night with some friends from the office.

I'm not coming home anytime soon.

except for that visit I have planned for May....

A Pause in Time

A pause in time
Is where I want to exist.
That moment
When the world around you is quite,
When the breeze lifts itself off the wave
Rolling into the shore and
Brushes up your face
Leaving your skin damp
And salty
Bringing to your soul
Memories of the endless ages and ancient times
On the bottoms of the seas.
That sinking sun
Into the ocean
Fills your eyes
And still without sight
You feel safe and warm
On the edge of reality
Fully immersed  in the wildness of living.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Green Food Zone

I drove...well...I was on the bus that someone was driving when I noticed a sign outside a school playground that said "Green Food Zone". Now I can only imagine that what was meant to be said was that they recycle and compost their food, but if not, that school's cafeteria is where I am going to be on St. Patrick's Day for sure. Even if I'm the creepy older person there trying to get at all the kids greasy green cafeteria food in their loudly marked Green Food Zone.

On the off chance, what was meant by that was that they compost, you may want to know that composting is a really big thing over here right now.  Coffee shops leave their used grinds outside their store for other people to use and in that way 'recycle'.  Hey, free once used coffee grinds? I'm there!

I went to the grocery store the other day and wanted to buy bananas for my cereal. So I went to the huge bunches of bananas in the produce section of the market, and broke me off three bananas. No one ever buys a huge bunch of bananas. For obvious reasons: A. they go bad quickly and B. they make your bread taste like old banana if your not careful and C. you usually only get around to eating one banana of the three you bought and then you wait so long to eat the others that they turn black and then you wait even longer past that to throw them away because you think that you may still may be able use them by making banana bread, but deep down you know thats really just a lie and your bananas have been doomed since day one, but sometimes you really want a banana so you buy them anyway thinking you will beat the viscous banana death cycle. So I went to buy my three, huge by the way, bananas, broke off three from the bunch - And suddenly people started to freak out. Oh no no no! Ahhhh what is she doing? She can't do that! (Again, I don't speak any Korean so I can only imagine that this is what they were saying)


I ignored the outburst because I just wanted three bananas and went to pay at the register. At which point a produce lady followed me with the rejected bananas of the bunch. I put my items down  in front of the cashier and separated three bananas. Held up my fingers and said "Three". I got the whole bunch pushed towards me. "No. I - only - want- THREE - bananas." Then they started laughing, a lot, and rubbed their bellies which I came to interpret as "Oh you better get hungry for bananas because your buying the whole bunch today" sort of belly rub.
I bought (wasn't forced or anything) the whole bunch of bananas.
They are turning brown.
I would make banana bread if i had an oven.
I'll make sure I put them on the street tomorrow and 'recycle' them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Taxi Notes

I have to wake up every morning at six and there is no day light savings time and having to start your day in the dark just totally sucks. Why, why, why am I even awake right now? Oh, yes, so that I can wait in line to get on an over crowded bus with no sitting room for the 40 minuet commute I have to make to get to the recording studio by 9 am.  How fantastic! To do all this commuting and to make sure I don't get lost, I have been given a Korean dog tag, that I can give to anyone I see and they will know who to call to get me home all safely. I also have a card that I give to the bus driver  of whichever bus I am on, so that he can let me know when to get off the bus at the right stop, one card to give to strangers I see on the street so that they can point me in the right direction, and then my most valuable cards, which I have had laminated:  the Taxi Notes. One Taxi Note has my home address on it, one has my school address and another has the address of the school's office in Seoul  that I sometimes commute to. I'm thinking I may have lost some pride. I no longer look at my cell phone and pretend to have a call when I turn around in the middle of the street and start walking back the way I had been going. If I really look lost, I totally have a help-me-card in my pocket to give to anyone who asks me if they can help me. Really. I do. It's even laminated. (I LOVE the lamination machine at work!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hippies in Korea

At work, we have "open schools" which is when we invite people to come in and sit through different classes we offer so that students can see if they like our school or not. We had such an open school last week. The students that I taught for this open school were named : Peach (a boy), Snow (a boy) and Jessica (a girl). Peach and Snow are twins. Really? Twin boys named Peach and Snow? They must have been named by the only hippies in Korea or else some English teacher was getting a huge kick out of naming these clueless korean children. I'm going to name my next kid Lamp. Or Sprout. Dip Sauce. I know I thought that almost anything went when naming new kids, but really, apparently ANYTHING goes. Good to Know.

Since we are a new school, everything from the curriculum to class tests has to made from scratch and it is really demanding. I have just been asked to do the voice recording for the english workbooks for our school. It is way harder then it seems and I am not a voice actor by any means and saying things like "Animals are living beings, too" over and over and over again is tortuous. I was told I had to talk in a higher voice, a slower voice, and end each sentence on a high note. So, I sound like a prepubescent robot. On the upside, I get to be the voice on the CD. On the down side, there is no way I'm walking away from this without sounding like those off hour television hosts for children that everyone hates and wants to throw food at.

Monday, November 15, 2010

meat eating pets and tight jeans

I saw my first Korean gay guy! I went to this hair salon next to my house in desperate need of a trim (my hair had grown down to my bellybutton and it was kinda gross) and this dude was standing there in all his fantastic Asian glory beckoning to me to take a seat. He was wearing tight acid washed stretch jeans, a tight red and white three quarters length sleeves baseball shirt with the number 24 on it.  Team name : The Slashers. Rawrrr. Some cool kicks with neon trim, and then, his hair.  Hair down past his shoulders, straightened with full on side bangs and dyed that really dark yet shiny purple color. It was actually quite stunning hair. I wanted to creepily reach up to him out of my plastic bag haircutter's shawl and stroke it. But I didn't. And the only reason I didn't was because he had an equally creepy mustache trying to survive on his upper lip and I wasn't sure if the small space between us would be able to handle two such creepy moments to exist at the same time.  
The moment passed and he ended up  giving me the most fabulous haircut, and then charged me... thirteen dollars.  What? Yes. I got an outstanding haircut,  got it blown dry and curled,  got to see my first gay, watch him work in those tight bleached pants,  and have it only cost me 13 dollars.  What a day.

on a different note-
In my reading class, we read about animals today, and I had the kids write down a pet they had or an animal  they would want as a pet and here is what happened:

Joshua : (picture of a hamster with a mouth and teeth you would find on a shark) This is my hamster Sars. Sars eat door and die. He eat my skin. Sars is cute.

Max : (a picture of a black dot) This is my pet Virus named Virus 1. Virus 1 eats space. He is the color I don't know.  Lions scary my Virus 1.

Hold up. One of my students owned a carnivores hamster named Sars? Awesome.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ok. So I know that listening or reading about complaining is just boring. And I also know that everyone who has a salary, or doesn't for that matter, also has a lot of work to do and stressful months and six day work weeks, so that all my complaining falls on bored deaf ears. So I have been searching and searching for some things to say that don't fall in either of these categories and of late, I have come up with nothing.

Hence my lack of blogger postage.

How horrible is it that I really don't have anything to say that's exciting or strange in my new home. I am even writing a post about how I have nothing to say. No funny comments from students, No awkward grocery shopping stories, No new adventures in Seoul. Just lots of work. Although on the bright side, I am noticing that I am getting to be a better teacher. I am learning (wow), and I am becoming more confident in myself. So my classroom hours are paying off and that's good.
I was in a photo shoot today. Well.... that's what I'm calling it. It would probably be more accurate to say that I taught a class that a photographer for a magazine took pictures for 40 minuets. Had I known that I would be photographed for a magazine, I probably would not have worn the shiny blue eyeliner I put on this morning. (OK I totally would have worn it anyway! If I have to be photographed as a kindergarten teacher, I want to seem at least a little bit out there.) After some of my more ... degrading classes,
ie. having to sing the song lubby loo and dance and then repeat to the students the new vocabulary words in a robot voice and then a doll's voice type of class...
(Yes, I actually do this. I did not make this up. Those are my directions. I have to teach and I have to teach like that.)
...I just want to wear black hard rock tee shirts and drink a beer!
Whenever there is any PR to be done for the school, guess who gets to be the Face of the School?! yep. thats right, the two white girls.
Apparently we are a big deal.
Although I wish we weren't because then I would have free Saturdays and I really really miss them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

what a musical memory!

When I come home from work I have kid songs still stuck in my head from the Music classes I teach. It's horrible! I sit down to relax and eat dinner and watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother (I love Barney), but I can't because I have a pirate themed bathtub song chorus that goes "wishy washy weee!" all over my internal brain waves.  I just want to get away from being a kindergarten class teacher (the fact that I am one is already terrifying enough. For me, the kids, and anyone who knows me) and my mind just won't relent! Dirty Rap Songs and Anarchist Rock seem to help my problem.

I have to babysit rich kids for work tomorrow while their parents get forcefully lured into sending their kids to my classes; and just thinking about spending my Saturday inside is already making me sick. I already don't get to photosynthesize five days out of the week. And giving up one of my two days to play in this ecosystem designed for me makes me Crazy. I need to be outside. I am not a houseplant. I am an exotic  lily. (As long as I'm going to turn myself into a plant it may as well be a sexy one.) Maybe I will be late to work tomorrow. What a rebel.

"wishy washy weeeee....... " dang it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Social Studies

One of the classes I teach is Social Studies, except it is not History like you would have thought. It is literally the study of being social. The Head Teacher ("head teacher" doesn't actually teach any classes. No one really knows what she does...) gives me a "monthly plan" of what the classes will be for the up coming month (I make my own monthly plans for my other classes, I don't know why this class is different. (probably to stop me from getting crazy in the class with my ideas of things these little korean pure-as-of-yet minds should know)).
The 'plan' I am given should be explained. I get a little three sentence class description of what the theme of the class is and a title for the day. I don't have a book to teach out of, or previous experience, so classes have gotten pretty inventive some days. (One class we drew what we ate for dinner last night and one of the students ate bean sprouts. Do you know what bean sprouts look like when drawn on a paper plate by a six year old? Sperm. A huge plate of it.) Some of the classes I am supposed to teach are just ridiculous. How am I supposed to teach a class about that?! Did she even think about this before writing it down as a class description?!  For example, last week, I had to teach about the importance of cleaning up after ourself in the classroom, which is fine when giving a ten minuet lecture, but trying to keep six year olds engaged and paying attention for 45 mins about cleaning up paper? Maybe I just don't have the skill set to do that, because for me, it's impossible. I changed it slightly to waste awareness and recycling and it was actually one of my better classes. This week however, no, no this month's theme had me drop my jaw and do all those typical shocked expressions and sound effects. (Whaaaaaaaa?! What the hell is this!?) I got my November class plan and it looks exactly like this:

Theme: Toilet Use and Things I Can Do

Toilet Use
- to talk about the inconvenient experiences of using toilet
- to learn the sequence of using toilet
- to set the rules for toilet use in school and house

I can't wait to talk about my inconvenient experiences of using toilet in class. And then discuss.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Good Luck Thing

I have to go to work on Saturday making tomorrow Monday number two. How horrible is that?! Two Mondays in a row. Good Lord.  What makes up for it is this wonderful coffee shop right next to my house. I go there to read and write almost every other day. I go there in the morning before work or after work and hang out for a couple hours. I don't know what I did right, besides become a regular, because the owners totally dote on me. In the morning, I always get free refills on lattes. I got to taste several different types of coffee to determine my favorite one and thats the one they always give me without me having to ask. When I go after work, they ask me if I have already had dinner and if not they feed me. Or give me dessert. All on the house. Its awesome, but kind of awkward. Sometimes I want to say no, no thank you so much, but its fine. I need to ask about the cultural thing going on here. Am I supposed to do something else besides  buy their coffee and hang out? I hope not, because they just gave me the most delicious chicken sandwich and apple pie!

Also - I caught a falling leaf yesterday which is supposed to bring the catcher a full year of good luck as long as you keep the leaf around. I've actually been trying for years to catch a falling leaf. It's way harder then you would think. And I finally have! Let's go lucky year! And then I found a beautiful long, black and white feather which I picked up right after catching my leaf. So I know this good luck thing is true.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Party

The Halloween Party!

I only have a few of the pictures taken from the party, so I will be posting more after the weekend when I get them from work, but here are some that I have right now. 

My favorite! He's so awesome and never has any idea what I'm talking about.

This kid is cries ALL the TIME! But definitely had the best  costume at the party. I wish I had a picture of him in his pirate hat! 

 Hey look, it's Cinderella! Yeah.
(I didn't get to choose my costume. Should I be glad they thought of me and then tons of glitter? ) 

She copied me 
Sooo the animal suits are way cooler then I had imagined. Next Year for sure.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

it's the chopsticks!

I was talking to a student today and said that I had a lot of work to do after his class was over. He said he had a lot of work to do when he got home. I said,"yes, you have a lot of work in elementary school and then you will go to middle school,  and have lots of work, then you will go to high school and have lots of work, then you you want to go to college?" "Yes." "So then you will go to college and have a lot of work, and then you will have a job for the rest of your life and guess what you will have to do at that job?" "Lots of work?" "Yes, lots and lots and lots of work forever!" "But,  I won't have work when I am a grandfather." "No, I guess not" "Except for sweeping." "Yea, except for sweeping. But you will be old,  Sucka!"  Ok not not really, but I did say everything else up to that last word.

I ate spam, black rice and seaweed today for dinner - by choice. And it was delicious. I am digging the spam scene out here. And the seaweed. It's like a huge salty thin chip! That you use your chopsticks to wrap around rice balls and pop into your mouth. I like using chopsticks. They are really useful for eating salads and making mini seaweed tacos. I also had this 'ah-ha!' moment when I realized that one wouldn't be able to eat rice with chopsticks, unless it was sticky. Oohh so that is why asians have sticky's the chopsticks!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I could be spending a whole year in the winter season

Today I was freezing cold. I became aware of all the tips of my body that I usually never have any reason to pay attention to, like the tip of  my nose. I was acutely aware of the tip of my nose all the way from my stoop at home to the archway of my work. Fingertips got attention too,  as did the fact that I wasn't wearing any socks. Where my shoe ended and my pants began was this little sliver of skin running around my ankle that got a ton of attention as it froze in the air. And its only October! Tonight as I walked home in my ridiculous outfit sans scarf or warm jacket, from work, and I was told that it was 39 degrees outside and it was expected to freeze overnight. Awesome. I remember saying, more then once, how much I liked cold weather, not that long ago. I said that, when I was living in Santa Barbara. And cold weather meant that you no longer woke up in the middle of the night to kick off that sheet causing you to sweat as you slept. Liking 'cold weather' here means liking to live inside when it is way below zero outside. I'm going to have to get some serious winter weather clothing. How do people even care about fashion at this season?! I want to wear a ski mask on my walk to work and its not even really winter here yet. I better get to toughening up to the cold. Doing all my serious living in California has left me ill prepared for any actual winter season. (I am becoming aware that I may not even really know what a 'winter' is.) One of my co-workers just got back from living in Australia and said that she just left winter there only to come back to it in Korea. So it could be worse. I could be spending a whole year in the winter season.

One of my students asked me if she could touch my teeth today. I said No. Seeing as that would require her to stick her hand in my mouth and that would be weird. I told her to touch her own teeth. Then she asked me if she could measure my hair. No, do your work! Then she asked me if she could wear my belt. So I let her wear it for five minutes. Whatever.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sure There Is One

I have fallen up two flights of stairs while I have been here. Not down, going up, and not once, twice. I also cut my middle finger with my really rally sharp knife and its been almost a month and I still can't curl it closed all the way. Im developing a lovely thick scar around my knuckle. The first flight of stairs I fell up was at the subway, obviously, because you can't fall up stairs in private. The second time I fell up bleachers just as I was ending my run and there were all these families around, and I didn't just fall on my knees, I totally ate shit. I think my cheek may have even ever so slightly touched the earth. And then, with the knife,  I wasn't even cutting when I cut myself. I was washing the knife. Seriously? Yeah. You know I used to think that all those time I fell and got hurt randomly in college was because I was drinking, but no. Im totally sober out here and just as clumsy.

OK couples are so down with being cute it is unbelievable. They stand in front of things, like old peanut shells, and take pictures together making a heart shape with their arms. Meaning, the man holds up his left arm in a 'C shape over his head and the woman holds her right arm over her head in a 'C' shape and then they point their hands down and fingers towards each other to make a heart out their bodies. And they do this all the time. Dudes do this with each other too. Two man friends will do this arm heart thing and its totally acceptable. It's the cute factor out here, it is way high.

And, men ALWAYS carry their girlfriends purse. You will see couples where the guy is holding his girlfriends purse, ALL THE TIME. And if she is shopping he will carry her shopping bags also. In fact, if she has anything to hold, ie. baby, baby carriage, stroller, food, clothes, jacket, the man carries it. When it gets warm and the woman takes off her coat, into her man's arms it goes to join her already being held purse. Personally I think its great. I just wonder what the trade off is, because you can be sure there is one.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Monday Mornings are the absolute WORST! Worst time of the week for sure. Finished my last October Monday today. Sweet. Can't wait for next weekend to be over so I can relive my next monday morning. How do people do this their whole lives? Dang. I must be lazy. Anyway, I rode the bus again today and the bus driver asked me if I would be riding his bus every Monday. I said probably, and he said, "Oh, I am the lucky one." Yes, hmmm. Then he asked me if I was a Christian. Like the millionth person to ask me out here! NO. I'm not a Christian. I AM that white heathen teaching your children that you have all been warned about. So he changed the subject to more neutral territory and asked where I am from.  I tell him Santa Barbara. Apparently he's been there and is going to Los Angeles next week to meet up with friends and ... go to Vegas to gamble, obviously. He says he goes to Vegas "every year, for the slot machines! Good Party Vegas!" Yes. Good Party Vegas. Wait, Are you a Christian?

In three of my classes I teach beginner beginner English, so the children that come to those classes are either still in kindergarten or first grade.  This is their first venture into English speaking territory and as such are unequipped to answer some of the most basic English questions such as "What is your name?" and "How old are you?" If they say their name is Sung Cheong, I say, "No. What is your English name?" And if they don't have an English name I have been told by my boss to "Just give them another name in English." Wait, You mean that part of my job is naming little Korean kids anything I want? Yes. Yes, it is. And it is as awesome as you are imagining right now.  I was telling this to a friend of mine and he said, "No wonder those kids are confused. They walk in to the room, don't know anything that is going on and are then expected to respond to a totally new name." like Agatha. (Koreans can't pronounce the TH sound very well. Or Z sound, so you can only imagine what my name sounds like here.) And another thing, Koreans are born age one so Korean ages and American ages differ by a year. So a kid can come to school and say he is 7 years old and named Gweong Han and then will be corrected and told that his name is George and he is 6.

10 bucks to get a Korean kid named after you. thought I'd just throw it out there. Let me know.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Changdeok Palace and the Secret Garden

Last weekend I went to the Changdeok Palace which was the "Queen's Palace". Inside this palace are the Secret Gardens which were just inaugurated into UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This meaning that now instead of being able to wander at ones' convenience through the beautiful landscape you have to be accompanied on a tour that costs extra money and attracts clusters of annoying tourists. (I say that like I have been here longer then two months.) It was an extremely beautiful place besides the awkward group of people I got stuck with (tour groups are awkward in general I think) and some of the sites have only been open to the public for five years. Considering the gardens have been forbidden to anyone not an immediate member of the Korean Royal Family that has been in existence for almost five hundred years, five years is infant hood. Here are some pictures of the garden and the palace. 

Potted Rocks! I loved these! 
The archway said "eternal youth" and it is said that anyone who walks under it will never grow old.  Im currently trying out that theory. 

In the center are two dragons fighting.  We weren't allowed inside this pagoda so I wasn't able to get a better picture unfortunately. 
On the rock face is an inscription about something that I am sure is wonderful but have no idea what wonderful thing is being talked about.  Koreans believe that fountains are adverse to the laws of nature because of the way that water is pushed up into the air fighting gravity, so the only sounds of water you will here in a Korean garden is that of the waterfall. 

Cool Root
Sweet hang out spot

750 year old tree!! Its top got taken off in the last typhoon.  Poor tree, getting disrespected by a storm. Although we haven't found out how to age storms so we don't really know which one was older. Either way I'm sure my 24 years of age is a joke to both the tree and the storm. 

Palace entrance
Korean Romeo and Juliet balcony
 Tiny door! 

Another tiny door! 


One of the boys in my class has started kissing all the girls in his class. Not to be shown up,  one of the other boys in the class started copying him by kissing everyone in the class, including the boy who started the kissing trend. When the kissing trendsetter got kisser by the copycat...He cried.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Day Slices

They have this banana flavored cream drink here that is absolutely delicious. Its my favorite thing to get for dessert over here. I like to think that is healthier then some chocolate American sinfulness, but I highly doubt it. They also make these wonderful rice, peanut shaped, pastas that are very chewy and fun and I made spaghetti out of them today for dinner. All the pastas here are totally fresh and refrigerated and take five minuets to cook. Also, the garlic is already shucked and peeled and ready for slicing. In fact, I haven't seen an actual whole garlic at all, but it just might be my tiny local grocery store. Where the woman who works there still asks me questions in Korean to which I still stare blankly at her and smile, then turn around to leave, get bumped into by a seven year old who looks at me and says,"Oh, I am sorry" and smiles. The grocery shopping is well priced if your going for a Korean immersion diet. Cheese,Peanut butter, Butter, Bread, all tend to be expensive so I buy them in shifts. One expensive item per shopping trip. So far I haven't gotten too desperate over here for these lost food items ... so far. Although I do get my fair share of bread, since there is a bakery under the school, and parents buy pastries, etc. for the teachers all the time. One time I came back to the office to find just a loaf of white bread on the snack table. Half eaten. 

Two old women sharing a box of candies stopped me on the street the other day to share their food with me. I ate candy from a stranger. I'm fine and they didn't follow me home. 

I have to ride the bus with some of the students back home on Mondays and today one of the students ran with their  fingers off the edge of the arm of the bus seat and made a crashing sound, looked at me and said, "Cliff." "Oh no, did he die!?" "Yes"  Then she made her hand hang off the edge of the seat in front of her and said, "cliff hanger". "Two, cliff hangers?!" "Yes" And then she made both of them fall off the imaginary cliff. I obviously copied her doing the same thing. One of the boys jumped in and said, "Ten cliffhangers!" and then made them fall in a loud crash. Not to be beaten the girl yelled, "Twenty cliffhangers!" and then killed them all in an explosion. I yelled, "One hundred cliffhangers!" And this went on and on until we were yelling one hundred thousand cliffhangers falling off the mountains dying in a volcano and avalanche with  populations running off cliffs to meet their ends in loud guttural sounds made by seven year olds. It has been our most imaginative yet morbid bus ride so far. 

One of my students asked how many stickers he would get by holding up his pointer and middle finger to mean two stickers and then asked, "Teacher, how many stickers do I get, one or two? One or two?" Except that every time he would say 'one sticker' he would lower his pointer finger finger leaving this middle finger pointed up at me to mean one sticker. One sticker? 
(He is totally clueless as to what that means, huge cultural divide, making it even funnier. One Sticker Teacher!) 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Korean Bath House

 A couple weeks ago, I went to one of these Korean spas that are very popular over here. They are very cheap, you can spend all day there for a set price, and they offer massages, facials, hair and nail care, etc. The one I went to had seven stories. One floor was a gymnasium and work out center that offered yoga, pilates,  kickboxing, and horse back riding. Well, it said so on the sign, but the gym was on the 4th floor, so I don't really know how they could manage to have horse back riding as we would know it, but then again, who knows. They have car elevators.  There was one floor for the spa, one floor for an arcade/cafe area, the rooftop restaurant and bar, and then of course, the Korean baths. Entrance into this spa is about 10 dollars which includes a uniform that they provide for you and everything else minus massage and facial costs, and food, which is an extra expense. When I went, I ended up spending almost seven hours there.  I was shocked that I had just pampered myself through an entire work day.
I went to the gym first, I had been dying to do some exercise, and it felt to good to run myself back into some normalcy. Plus, getting onto the treadmill carried some memories from home and it felt good. Afterwards, I headed down to the Korean baths.
Ok, The Baths. It is a very cultural thing, and well known throughout Asia like Turkish baths are to a larger extent or the mud baths in Calistoga are back home. So, I knew what I was in for, but knowing something and experiencing it are always very different. 
Everyone is totally naked in the baths. No swimsuits. No clothes. No underwear. Naked. 
Which is totally weird and difficult to jive with. Public Nakedness? What? No. 
Except, if you want to experience the tactile paradise that is the Koran bath, you suck it up and you strip down. 
Note: the baths are completely gender separate.  Each had its own floor. That said, its still not easy getting down to just your skin, even knowing that once inside, your body will be, basically, just one among many. I came back to the locker room after my work out, to change out of the uniform I was given, and go to the baths. Standing there in front of my locker, knowing I am going to just take off all my clothes, place them in the locker, close it, and then nudely walk away, is absolutely the hardest part of the whole spa experience. Even when naked people are walking past you, and you know that the sooner you just jump in line and walk to the bath house the better, I still stalled. I think I even took a deep breath and quickly closed my locker door and walked away as if I was preparing to go bungy jumping or skydiving.  Silly Prude Americans.  We don't know what we are missing. Well, You don't know what you are missing, I know exactly what we are missing out on, and that's  Glorious Group Bathing. 
So I finally made it past my own personal awkwardness, because no one else there cared one bit that I wasn't wearing any clothes, and started to check the place out. It was fantastic. The Koreans have set up a system of about ten different baths alternating from hot to cold, escalating in intensity. At the end of the rotation are three different saunas that you can choose from. The baths, which are really large pools, are all set up in this huge tiled bathing hall with water pouring everywhere. Along two walls are the large bathing pools. One wall has the saunas and next to that is an area that you can get a sea salt or mud massage for two dollars. On the other wall and into the walkway are shower heads and basins of water that are being pumped fully to the brim and then allowed to overflow. Everything is a mess of water and people washing their hair and shaving and showering, now that their aquatic relaxation is all over. I even saw this one woman take her two year old daughter over to a drain in the middle of the room and tell her to pee there. And then took one of the many buckets that was laying around the place and clean up. Awesome.
The first bath is about body temperature,  the next one is slightly colder then the first one.  Then the third on is several degrees hotter then the first one and the forth one is several degrees colder then the second one, and so on, until you reach the last two baths that are : very very hot, and very very cold. I spent around 5-10 minuets in each bath working my way through the bathing system, enjoying the water jets each pool had and the unique design each separate bath had been given. One bath had little dog fountains with water pouring out of their mouths.
I read that this bathing system is very good for blood circulation, and I didn't really know what that meant on a physical level, but wow, improving  your blood circulation feels amazing! After getting out of the last bath of ice cold water, my lungs seemed like they could suddenly take in more air. I had this internal tingling feeling in weird organs like my kidney and liver. It felt great! And then I got to go into the saunas. There was a salt sauna, where the walls were made of salt rock and another oak wood sauna. I liked the salt sauna the best. My newly expanded lungs liked the taste and feel of the heavy salty air.
Sitting in the sauna, I felt so languid, that I wasn't even thinking about how good I felt. The contentment had slid deeper into my body and past a surface thought of contentment. I sat there in a total cloud listening to my toes tell me how good they felt.
After repeating this process another couple of times, I went back upstairs to change into my uniform and get my massage and facial. Then I went up to the rooftop bar, grabbed a beer and a snack, and headed home. Where I was incapable of doing anything productive so I decided to complete my day of indulgence and eat ice cream and watch movies. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Cheonggyecheon Stream

Pronounced 'Chongy Chon', the Cheonggyecheon Stream runs through Seoul along with the Han river.  It used to be a very dirty slum and dangerous part of the city.  The stream was extremely polluted and housed many of the homeless. The previous mayor of Seoul spend millions cleaning up this part of the city, environmentally and socially.  It has taken many years to complete, but is largely considered to be a success.  Ironically, the stream runs through a very affluent part of the city, and is close the the center of Seoul so the Chronggyecheon project has brought the city closer together and many restaurants and stores have opened in this area. There was a festival going on the weekend I went, the "Hi, Seoul" festival. Yes, spelled like that. I picked up from the exhibits and shows going on that it was an internationally themed festival. So, I guess knowing that, the festival's name becomes more acceptable. Apparently, there are different festivals held in Seoul every month lasting one to two weekends. Wonderful news for me! I won't have to travel far to do or see something new. Anyhow- here are some photos of the place.
The Cheonggyecheon

Sick Seoul Truck Art


Man in traditional costume telling the story the tiles are telling

(super awesome)

The Museum Under the Bridge
Told the history of the Cheonggyecheon through photos. It was a really amazing exhibit with some seriously historical  photos of what the Japanese did to the place and the city during their occupation of Korea.  I liked this place. A lot. No trolls under this bridge. Well,  I guess that will depend on the crowd and who you talk to. 

I loved all of these, and I especially loved that red one with the eyes. 

I have no idea.

Members of a world famous (Or so we were told by the announcer) Japanese drumming band. 

They were absolutely ....  I don't know the right word for it... captivating. Their performance  demanded all your attention. You couldn't look away. You could feel their drumming vibrate through your chest cavities. I was standing on the busy sidewalk in Seoul, watching them, and wasn't bumped into once during their show. Even the busy passerbys  slowed to feel their music. I don't know what it was, maybe that this music is so foreign to me, or that is was so seemingly simple, or that it is so old, or maybe all three. I was affected by it, and as I looked around I could see that I wasn't the only one.  Maybe it was the sound of pure passion, and no one could resist getting wrapped up in some passion for only a few songs. 

I love this, always the old with the new. Its nice to feel like not everything will completely fade away into history. Or into nothing at all.