Friday, December 26, 2008

Actual Conversation

Day 96

There is no snow, but a damp cold. Warm floors oh, you warm floors. Temporary PC rejects printer drivers and then decides to reject me. Mystery ports can't find mystery hardware. Windows will not to open.

Day 97

Young Me and I go out for Golbenggi Noodles after work. She needs to tell me something, she says. She's leaving for good in exactly four weeks.
You, Young Me? The only person in the Hagwon who can acutally hold an English conversation?? You're leaving???

Day 98

Christmas Eve is like Valentine's Day in Korea. It is a day for couples. I remain nearly unaware of this fact until the day-end conversation class.

"Ted, how are you today?"

"Oh! Teacher! I am so sad! I am solo."


"Yes, today, I think we are all solo in this class. Maybe those who are not here are with their girlfriends."

"HA! Yes, Raphael, you're probably right. Well, hah, okay, we can call ourselves 'The Lonely Hearts Club'. How's that?"

"Teacher! Oh! That is good, that is funny. But Teacher! I NEVER have a date for Christmas Eve"

"Well, Ted, it's not really the end of the world, right? You will someday."

"Ted maybe will, but Teacher what about you? Do you have a boyfriend?"

"HA! No. I don't. But, that's fine. I don't need a date for Christmas Eve."

"But you must be the loneliest! You have been solo the longest!"

"Raphael, have you ever had a girlfriend?"


"Okay, well, I think it works a little differently in the United States. Let's go to paaaagggge 38!"

Day 99

I reach for some deep thoughts while biking next to the river. Egrets flock the gravel road ends. I turn back to find another route. I drink "Decent Coffee Blood of Southern French Style" at "Hands Coffee". This is Christmas, and I am delighted with my bicycle - a present to myself.

9 pm - Waiting in the train station for a friend.

9:30 pm - Student calls to see if he can join us. I inform him that the "us" is "me" for now and there is no need to hurry. I know his main motivation is actually to meet the korean women I am friends with.

10 pm - He shows up with his cousin, I recieve a "sorry, maybe next time" text from her. "Ted" and his cousin try to hide their disappointment and Ted takes me to his favorite Hof (pub) for a Christmas Beer. A fruit plate is served, we snack in near silence (Ted's cousin speaks next to no English) and dutifully finish a pitcher. We are all ready to go home. It is a good thing Ted is hilarious.

Day 100

Back at the Hagwon, I breeze through the day holding onto the knowledge that I will have all next week off. FREE!!! FREEDOM!!! Now what to do? I start making loose plans, I know what my "plans" are actually like and decide to keep it non-comittal. A couple days in Seoul perhaps, maybe a trip to Daegu, I'd really like to visit Gyeongju, and Pohang has been suggested to view the New Year's Sunrise over the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Longest Night

Day 91

I think about how I should get up early. I think about it before pulling the covers back over my head to block out sunlight.

Day 92

The season is stuck in November weather.

Day 93

I raised my voice at the students today. It was unexpected, and I felt as shocked as they looked. But at least they stopped screaming. Not many classes are badly behaved, but there are one or two that show next to no respect for me as a teacher. It's not their fault, I think. They can't understand my instructions, they're in classes all day, and the precedent of foreign teachers is to play games and let the kids run wild for a half hour. I've changed that slightly. I try to create a fun learning environment, but I am not a babysitter. That's never been my disposition.

Day 94

Handstands in the kitchen

Roots in my soup.

Over dinner, I learn that Winter Solstice lore includes eating red-bean soup to ward off evil spirits and a superstition that one's eyebrows will turn white if one falls asleep overnight.

Day 95

Today is the shortest day of the year. I use the brief light to venture to Daegu. Walking through the parking lot, I see a student standing outside. We chat and discover that we are headed to the same place. I decide to wait for him, and soon we set out together for the station. With standing room only, we head for the cartoonish cafe car. Multiple shades of green and various saturation levels of hot pink surround us as we discuss whatever comes to mind.

Arriving at Daegu, we set out for Kyobo. A Korean textbook and a brief conversation with a Chinese-Canadian who drills me on Korean numbers later, we are back out on the street. It is the Christmas season and shoppers are out in full swing on Dec. 21. A stage holds a passionate singer backed by a dedicated rock band. We stop for Ommuk between the stage and a cell phone store, struggling to lure customers in with pop songs while the rock blasts from across the pedestrian street. He heads for his family's house, and I head for the station. Today's company was a pleasant surprise.

I return home to the question once again: what is a good activity for 12/13 year olds? This time the answer is making Christmas cards, watching a Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer animation. Oddly enough, I find myself longing for candy canes and tinsel as Charlie Brown's creator tries to remind me of what Christmas is all about.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trot along

Day 89

Monday, Mondaaayyyyy. Gas heaters are in several rooms in the Hagwon. I'm not sure how much more it would cost to use the ondol (floor heating), but I am sure it would be much more pleasant, and much less pungent.

Day 90

Trot fills the air as I write letters and prepare packages to send to the States.
Did I mention the music stand I stopped at in Seoul? Perhaps not.

The search for Insadong...not much of a search. More like the half-hour it took to orient myself after getting out of the subway. Anyway, during the search for Insadong, I noticed a mini-throng of adushis (old men) crowding an umbrella covered table filled with cassettes and cd's in boxes. I joined the masses and took note of what the fellows beside me were picking up. I followed suit and grabbed a couple others with attention grabbing covers. Among the chosen was the image of a couple in Latin Ballroom costume, dancing on a keyboard, with a technoid-grid background.

The style of music is called Trot, and it is a variant of Traditional Korean music. However, the instrumental sections have been transcribed to Casio and the music has been put to a Casio demo beat. It's pretty great.

Work follows the peaceful morning, yoga follows work.

An invitation to chicken and comraderie follows yoga. I accept and spend an hour and a half vaguely understanding the discussion surrounding "saturi" aka "dialects". The fact that I can even vaguely understand what is being said is amazing to me. Thrilling. I know that once I leave the scene, there is little chance that I will remember much of what was said, but that doesn't matter. For the moment, I laugh with the rest as "anneyo" is changed to... changed to.. i forget, but I followed! I could follow along. And it was good.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

one, two, skip a few...

Day 81

The 111 Bus stops in front of my apartment building. The 111 Bus goes to Jikjisa. I put two and two together and wait for the 111 Bus in front of my apartment building. When it stops, I ask..."Jikjisa?" "anneyo (no). haha! anneyo!" Is he serious? Why is he laughing. I don't understand. I just want to go to the damn park! Take a breath. It's not that bad. This has happened before.

In fact, the reason I believe that it is possible to go from my apartment directly to Jikji-sa, is because the ONE time I took the bus, I ended up going halfway out to Jikji-sa before the bus driver stopped and told me to get off. (See Special Edition Post)

I have a plan. I will go get the 111 Bus at a different stop. I don't know what the difference will be, but I will try it. It works. 20 minutes later, I am dropped off at Jikji Park. A short walk past resturaunts and green space filled with weird sculpture, I am in the peaceful temple grounds. The air is cold and fresh, wet snow crunches softly underfoot, the occasional cat crosses my path, and then there's the chainsaw. I'm not sure where, but it is present. A chainsaw.

After a couple hours, I make my way home. I upload photos to flickr. I say goodbye to my computer. I go to bed.

Day 82

What does one do on a day of rest? What is rest?

The battery has finally died on my Mac. I keep trying to plug it in and see if it will charge or if the computer will turn on again. Ever. My trusty Mac. It kind of survived a drop...a screen breaking drop early on in life. And it's been with me since the end of 2002. It's old. It's like an old dog. It was like an old dog. Now it's like a dead dog. A dead dog that contains information.

Angela left a laptop when she left Korea. She had purchased a new one to replace her old DELL Inspiron. The keyboard has a mind of it's own. CAPS LOCK goes on and off at will, generally staying on for numbers and punctuation...which eliminates numbers and proper punctuation. I'm shocked that it's working now, but maybe it has decided to be kind. In any case, I'm thankful to Angela and the keyboard right now. So thankful.

Day 83


Day 84


Day 85

skip a few...

Day 86

Attempt to sign up for pottery at Gimcheon Women's Center. Fail. Thwarted by complete rudeness. Am so frustrated, I struggle to hold back tears and one or two escape as I stand at the curb waiting for a taxi. Young Mi makes an attempt to comfort me, but she is also shocked at our reception. It was nearly their lunchtime, I tell myself. They don't want things to be difficult for the teacher, I tell myself. They don't know he knows I want to take the class. These things are true.

Must work now. I try to forget about the morning's setback and build up my energy to match that of 8 year olds. In comes a package! It's from my Grandmother! My heart is warmed. I decide to open it right away...and the gifts inside...even though it's not Christmas. I unwrap a quilted wall hanging made by her, and looking at the stitches, I am overwhelmed. I feel a knot form in my throat and my eyes well up. I frown and try not to cry again, but I can't help it. TWICE!!! Twice in 3 hours! I hate crying. This is ludicrous. I must pull myself together! I can and do so.

10 minutes later I am teaching. During class, the secretary interrupts to ask what she should do with a second, larger package I have received. CHRISTMAS! It is Christmas for me on December 12th.

Day 87

Morning train. Seoul station 11:30. A short wait and I am greeted by Myeong Hee, who happened to be coming to Seoul separately. I get lunch with her then leave to meet the friend of a friend I've exchanged a few texts and a phone call with.

The friend of a friend is great. He has two visitors aside from me and he's decided to be tour guide. Our first destination is not open, so we wander the crowded streets of seemingly endless Namdaemun Market. Knick-knacks, kitchen ware, pants, shoes, sweaters, slippers, ginseng products, candies, food stands, people, coats, repeat. Post Namdaemun, we wander some more and head to 'Seoul Int'l Photography Festival 2008' which is taking place in the former Seoul Station. Wallpaper crumbles, paint peels, concrete and pipes expose themselves next to crystal chandeliers and chamber ceilings with painted motifs. I love this place.

Hongdae follows, bringing a wild bus ride, a graffiti filled park, an atmospheric hookah lounge, and a (delightful) club (of sorts) that resembles a Dr. Seuss village minus all color aside from red and white. Santas on a bar crawl make their way in and add to the bizarre nature of the moment. Wandering, dancing, people watching, more dancing...we wrap up the night in a club that seems more like an 80's movie than real life. I really wouldn't have been that surprised if Emilio Esteves and Judd Nelson had shown up with Molly Ringwald between them.

Day 88

I part ways with my new acquaintances in the early afternoon, and after a day of not quite aimless wandering of the streets of Seoul, I catch a train home. I arrive, make some soup, and sit down to type.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Day 76

Half of postcards #2 go out in the mail. The other half must wait until I can get a new ink cartridge and more stamps.

Synchronicity in action:

One day I look up "blue people" on the internet a.k.a. "Googled it". My hands are turning blue, is it the cold? I find the Blue Fugates. A strange genetic occurrence in the Appalachian Range results in a family line of blue-skinned people. Huh, who knew?

10 days later, I find out who knew. Writers of an English education book series in search of something interesting enough to hold the attention of a 12 year old for an entire hour.

Day 77

New books and new classes provide a new wall for my students and I to climb.

The Dictionary Quandry:
In looking up a word A, one must occasionally look up words B and C to fully understand the definition of word A.
Change "occasionally" to "almost always" and you may know the problems my students face. When a word like "wrap" is defined by the book as "to roll or fold" even I am confused.

Day 78

A new student joins the golfer and I. He happens to live in the same apartments as I do, and so I have company on the walk home. Fortune smiles!
In other arenas, I attempt to organize a book swap, with tentative results.

Day 79

Mental block for numbers and days of the week in Korean. WHY??? Why does it seem so impossible to memorize and retain numbers and weekdays? I need to tell time, I need to know what day it is, this shouldn't be such an insurmountable task. I fight frustration and struggle to remain the kind of person I'd like to be around. This shouldn't be so difficult. I close the book and stop the lesson early.

Myeong Hee and I turn the discussion to what to do for a weekend away.

Day 80

Friday night:
Popcorn, sweet potato, T.V. on the internet.
then I make a drawing and go to bed. It's nice and quiet.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Short and...Short.

Day 71

The Hagwon is freezing. I must master the art of layering. I MUST. Children wear their coats, electric heaters are in many classrooms, but not all. A hot cup of tea is constantly in hand. The new student in my Conversation class is preparing to take the test to become a Professional Golfer. A Test! His English is fairly good, so it is a pleasure to have him join us. Classroom conversation actually flows a little more like...well, conversation.

Day 72

I go to the Waegook Cook in Gumi, briefly, to watch a friend eat the mountain of turkey he is served. I re-embrace technology and update my Skype account. I speak with family for the first time since my arrival. I print several test postcards and address them. Sort of a family activity, right? It involves others, albeit unawares.

Day 73

Cold. Why is it so cold? Printing, cutting, and addressing postcards until the printer runs out of ink...which happens all too soon. An early evening capped by The Daily Show.

Day 74

The weather of the day is one weird metaphorical mix of foreshadowing for the evening to come. Unprepared for inclement weather, I step out into a warm sunny afternoon, which changes into cold quick rain, which is followed by thick wet snow. The pattern repeats itself and is in the warm stage when I reach the train station.

Day 75

Day of Rest

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jazz & Theater vs. Seaweed Salad & Sugar Cookies

Day 66

Excitement of Friday has kids bouncing off the walls. Apartment is re-arranged, but it still feels like a hotel. Bare walls, perhaps.

Day 67

Afternoon train to Gumi, I meet the woman I met last Saturday. We pace the streets of downtown Gumi together until it is time to get dinner. We meet a woman from Chile selling jewelry on the street. She and I speak for a while. She seems glad to speak Spanish. My friend debates coming to Daegu. Ultimately, I board the train alone.

Evening train to Daegu, I meet the man I met last Sunday. We get directions to Club THAT. We ask several times along the way to ensure a correct path. We are way off.
Eventually we walk up to a building that is almost large and noticeably set back from the main street. The first floor has the atmosphere of an arty coffee house, we follow signs to the second floor. Musicians are taking the stage as we find a table in the crowded room. Apparently the second floor is the "Jazz Lounge". At one point, the bassist switches to something that is almost an upright base, but the body is very slim. I've never seen the instrument before.

Foreigners start filing in and are asked to pay a cover for the music or leave until the theater performance begins. Apparently the THAT has a tight schedule. We pay W5000 and keep our seats. We are soon joined by two others I know and some strangers.

The ensuing 10 min plays are reminiscent of a Bedlam Romp or No Shame Theatre. Only tamer. Once or twice, while shaking my head, I hear a quiet, "Give it a chance." I hadn't expected genius, I came in search of new experience, new people. I wanted to be an observer, and I was. And perhaps the purpose of this event was to create interest in Daegu's first Expat Theatre Troupe...which it did. The final play ends and scorecards are handed out.

The last play finishes as the last train pulls away from Daegu Station. My friend goes home to rest up for an early morning; I decide to stay up until the first train 4am. It's already 12:30, so it shouldn't be too difficult. There is a small dance floor upstairs, which is where I head. No one is dancing. I attempt to recruit several others, and there is relative success. I split my time between the dance floor and perusing the DJ's mostly indie dance rock collection, hoping something will catch my eye. It's 2:30. A couple I met a few weeks ago happened to be in Daegu this evening as well. I go with them to a different club. We stand outside as people they know stream out shaking their heads and muttering about awful music. We linger until the music ends, then head downstairs. We leave. 3 am, back at THAT, I say goodbye. No, I don't want to stay. No, I don't want a drink. I'm just waiting for the first train, I'll see you later.

I step into the now quiet streets of central Daegu. There are a small groups of people walking here and there. Armed with my camera and sense of direction, I walk toward the train station. "Don't worry, I can read Murakami in the station, if nothing else," I'd said earlier. That is my plan now. Buy a ticket, read in the station until the train comes. Buildings, lights, advertisements with flourescent lighting are the foreground, with a black sky behind. I feel as if I'm in an abandoned city.

Near the station, a young man, maybe 18, approaches and hands me a stick of grape gum. He asks if I speak Hangul and asks me to kiss him. I have to laugh. Really hard. This is a dare, maybe? When it is clear that my answer is a serious no, he grins and runs to catch up with his friends.

I catch the 4am train and read on the way home. Train to taxi to door to bed. 5:15.

Day 68

10 am phone call. A date in Gumi with my student, Bonnie.
12 pm, I am again on a train to Gumi. I take video of the train ride. camera looking out the window pulling away from Gimcheon station, intermittently capturing the farmland and country-side until Gumi.

Bonnie meets me at the station and takes me out to lunch. DDukbokki at stalls in the market. We get coffee and then head to the Sticker-photo Store. We walk into a wonderland of glitter, pink, and purple. Add some green-screen, blue-screen, yellow-screen, and black-screen...and you have the Sticker-photo Store. Oh, and costumes. She grabs me by the hand and we race around the store, ducking into empty photo booths, trying to decide which one. Greenscreen.

The Result (actual size):

Day 69

Yoga. Work again. Electric heaters in the rooms create a unique scent. I'm not so sure it's a healthy one. A purchase of warmer lighting after work. I am convinced that flourescent lighting is partial cause of poor eyesight. Christmas lights now line my ceiling.

The hotel feel is diminishing.

Day 70

Weather is cold and rainy. Or cold and foggy. It's like being in a dense cloud.

1:30 Teacher's Meeting. Everything is in Hangul until my presentation begins. English Time! Teach, teach. Hey, teach. I wish someone would call me that. I don't. Nighttime comes and I make two attempts: seaweed salad, and sugar cookies.

two problems...
1. wrong seaweed. This seems more like algae scooped up from the pond rather than the transparent green delicately flavored salad I bought from the Russian Market. I would never be served something this weird at a sushi resturaunt. Horrible. The word "Disgusting" comes to mind. Fail.

2. Too much flour. I knew the instant I put all the flour in at once. Too much. Cookies like bricks. Fail.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Day 62

Sneaking sentences of new books between classes, I finish the day.

Day 63

Post-yoga coffee leads to lunch.
"It's delicious soup, I just won't tell you what's in it, okay?"
"Um...okay." I'm pretty sure we're going to eat intestine or liver soup.
We walk into a restaurant near my home and are seated by the owner, who seems quite amused at my presence.
"Smells like liver! Right?"
I sniff the air and the 6 year old inside me screams "OH NO!!!" recalling a chicken liver and okra episode. "Right."
My friend orders and says something to the owner, gestures to her own body, then looks at me. "I was asking him...what part exactly is this soup? Becaauuussseee I don't know how to say it." This is a surprising statement, as her English is better than perhaps anyone else I've met.
"Intenstine?" I ask, "Liver? Small intestine? Gall Bladder? Stomach?..." Each guess earns a tilt of the head, this way or that and something between a smile and a grimace.
"No, that's not it. It's good, anyway. I promise you'll like it."
Broth boils in hot pots as the owner brings our soups to the table. The meat is very dark and it looks as if there are sections of a deep purple sausage amid green onions and spice.
"It's vegetable," she says. Are you kidding me? Why is it so dark? "Yeah, you know, the sweet potato noodles and vegetable stuffed inside the uh...intestines." I'm not sure I totally believe her, but I will tell myself I do. (Some internet searching later adds blood to the recipe.)
"western sausage is intestine stuffed with meat and spices," I reason. When the soup cools a bit, I nearly finish the bowl and she is laughing.
"You love it!" Maybe love is a bit strong, but I do like the soup and it is a meal I can have alone, although I'm not sure I will. It's a possibility.

As I walk home after work, I pass the orange vendor. He smiles and walks me over to the Odeng vendor by the elbow. He gestures toward the skewered fish cakes in their broth and walks away. An old man next to me asks, "Where are you from?" I point to myself and reply "Meegook. America."
"Soju!" he says, and I nod. "Odeng!" he says, and I select a skewer. "Odeng, Japan. OMMAK, Korea," He corrects himself. We sort of chat as the vendor insists I stay close to the warm cart. I watch as he pours batter from a teapot into fish-shaped cast iron molds, adds red-bean paste, and pours more batter on top before closing the lid, flipping the fish over, and rotating to the next empty one.
People are starting to crowd around the vendor and his warm food. He is laughing, filled with happiness from soju and good business. I hear the Hagwon mentioned and a woman looks at me as she says "Oh! My son!" I smile and nod at her.
"It's snowing" I say to the old man beside me. "AHH! Ahh, Chung Noon. First snow. C H U N G - N U U N." "Chung noon," I repeat his words. I nod and finish my soju, allowing a woman with a baby strapped onto her back nearer to the cart. The vendor catches my eye and hands me a red-bean fish as I leave to continue my walk home.

Day 64

Attempt at new technology: denied

Attempt at learning Hangul numbering systems: limited access

There are so many ways to say a number in Hangul it baffles my mind. There are numbers for mathematics, which apply to money. Numbers for counting objects, numbers for counting in general, different numbers for telling time. Perhaps I will understand in time.

work work work

Day 65

Going downtown to buy a new cell phone leads to a walk, which leads to the market, which leads to an herb man, and then to the library, which leads to a library card. Leaving the library, I stop to buy sweet potato for lunch and head to the Hagwon. Students notice my new phone. "Oh! Beautiful!" They open the phone to hear the sounds it will make. "BEEeeautiful! Good phone, Candida, Oh, SKY." They give each other nods of affirmation. Great, I'm glad they like it. I prefer it to the other, but I can't really figure out how to do anything with it. Eventually. Maybe. Maybe not.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

7 days

Day 55

Really? I have to go to work again? New schedule. Our classes are shifted around and around. We have a new secretary.
I open a bank account and am PAID!!! I finally get a full paycheck.
Leaves are falling off of trees, and I wear a coat on my walk to school. I don't need it during the day, but after work it is cold.

Day 56

After a failed attempt at financial transfer from South Korea to the U.S.
I buy a camera and rush to class. Something positive will happen today.

Day 57

After yesterday's pointless hour and a half at the bank, I decide to translate phrases I will need, and hopefully that will help. It does. After only 50 minutes, financial transfer is successful.
I go for a long walk. Into the woods again, out. I take photos of the trucks I see.

I decide to go to Bruce, the Traditional Medicine doctor. I will ask if he can do anything for sadness.
He calls the dentist from the first floor up to his office on the second. He hands me an orange. The dentist speaks English with more fluency, and he can help Bruce understand the nature of my sadness. I try to explain that my meloncholia is caused in large part by the high percentage of misunderstanding and miscommunication in my daily conversation with the world around me.
He prescribes Moksa treatment. I lay down on the table and he places small clay pots filled with burning mugwort on my skin. It is related to accupuncture in that stimulation of key points on the body will help the flow of energy in the body. I don't know exactly, but I'll try it out. He also give me herbal teas. I vow to find a book in English on Korean herbs.

Day 58

Yoga, coffee, and Sam-Gye Tang (a small chicken stuffed with white rice, ginseng, and a daechu berry sits in a bath of broth. Mashisayo.) with Myeong Hee before I teach.
Work is going okay. I feel that I've reached a good balance. I am strict enough to keep them from going crazy, easy-going enough to play games and have fun. The new secretary is kind of delightful. Not kind of. Delightful. "Candida!" she says, "Your hair! Like Hagrid!" "Candida! I LAh-Vuh YOU!"

Day 59

The students are trying to get me to read in Hangul for them. Every syllable I utter, no matter how stilted, earns a "WHAAAAaaaooooow". After work I walk to Bugok Dong, the other side of the city. It's not intentional, I just keep walking. Eventually I turn around. I'm restless.

Day 60

A walk to town precedes my 5 o'clock date with Sally, a Korean teacher from the Hagwon. She picks me up promptly in her small white car, and we head to a restaurant. She treats me to barlbap, a mixture of barley and rice served with soup and side dishes. I treat her to coffee at a nearby coffee-house. It is a sweet place. I would take my mother and grandmother there. Sally helps me read from a magazine, but we only get through about two or three sentences before it is time to go.

We drive up to a large building with strange architecture. Strange in its cubist shape style. We climb stairs to the entrance and wait for doors to open.
Walking inside, I am transported to 1998. The auditorium is structurally identical to that of the Community College in my hometown. Perhaps the only difference is that there are Korean characters on the seats denoting row and number, rather than English.
We listen to music until the electronic gong tells us that the show is starting. It is exactly like waiting for the Mohawk Follies to begin.

"Dalgona" is a dramatic musical that uses popular songs from various decades to evoke nostalgia in the audience. It works. The audience around me was clapping to the beat as teenagers ran from their teachers, singing along softly with ballads as a young woman waits for her sweetheart's letter, watching in silent reverence as song accompanies video footage of protests in the 1980's. During intermission, I reassure Sally that I understand what's going on, even though I don't understand Hangul. We go back and finish the show. I am kicking myself for not buying a tape recorder earlier on in the day.

She drops me off at home around 10:30 and I decide that my night is not over. I will go to Gumi. I met the new owner of a bar a few weeks ago, and the official opening is tonight. I can go have a beer, maybe see some people I've met, and come home in a couple hours.

Where is the bar?
I follow the directions, but I am unsure. I had counted on seeing people standing outside (forgetting that smoking is allowed inside). There is a foreign woman approaching. I ask if she knows where "Corona" is. As it happens, it is just across the street and she is going there herself. We walk in together and shortly decide to leave to see if anything is going on elsewhere. Neither of us are familiar with the crowd in Corona, both of us were hoping for more dancing. We head to Psycho, and linger in the doorway, as the bar is nearly dead. We are cajoled inside, and hesitantly step in. Once those few steps are taken, we are being watched over by a giant man, who apparently wants us to come all the way in and go to the bar. Okay.
We go up to the bar.

What do you want to drink? Do I have to? I feel a little uneasy.
She and I ignore the others and talk with each other. We eventually decide to dance by ourselves. As I turn around, the Giant hands me a pool cue.

"A Game! Pool, you play pool. What do you want to drink? A Budweiser?"
I look at her and shrug. I'll play a game, then dancing. The game proceeds with the usual amount of talking down the opponent, but I win.
"He let you win."
I am feeling more at ease, and the dance floor opens up. Impromptu synchronized dance with the giant gets the bar laughing, and I am having a good time. Oh no! What time is it? Okay, I have a few more minutes. OH NO!! TIME!! I HAVE TO GO!
I grab my bag and jacket and sprint out the door. The Giant runs down the stairs after me.
"Where are you going? Why you have to running??"
"TRAIN! I have to catch my train!"
"Catch next!" He catches my hand to slow me down.
This continues to the train station, where he assures me that I won't be able to buy a ticket. I shake my head and quickly walk down to the platform. I will just not buy one. A bus! take a bus! There are buses from Gumi to Gimcheon, take a bus!

I narrowly miss the train. NARROWLY.
"This is your fault," I say. Of course it's not entirely his fault, I could have left earlier. I should have. But maybe I can take a bus. I'll take a bus. We run into someone I know, who informs us that yes, there is a bus, but it won't run until 4am.

There is a collective gasp as I walk back into the bar. An upside to this turn of events is that I can get the woman's phone number. There wasn't time before.

Chat chat chat it 4 yet? no? not even close? chat chat I am tired. chat. I am going to get a hotel room. chat chat. You will get me a hotel room? I will have a SINGLE hotel room, which I will stay in, ALONE. You understand? ALONE. Me. Alone. Nice to meet you, Goodnight.

In the middle of the night I hear screaming outside of my window. I walk over and look out to see a Korean woman wildy waving her arms in general drunken rage. Her friends cannot quiet her, others cannot quiet her, police arrive and cannot quiet her, in fact, at the arrival of the police, her outburst reaches a level of hysteria and continues for an amazing amount of time. I see three men taken into one police car, and eventually she and another are placed in another. Whoa. Rolling Stone Western Bar...what kind of place are you? I go back to sleep, shaking my head at the weirdness of this existence.

Day 61

I wake, prepare for the day, turn in the key, and head for Daegu. Standing room on the train is a falsity, there are plenty of open seats.
I wander through three foot alleys lined with vendors preparing for the day. I have arrived early and few stores are fully open. Not wanting to be the first customer to enter any store, I am a true window shopper. I read somewhere that the first customer in a store sets the tone for the day. Whether or not that's true, I don't know...regardless, I don't want the responsibility. Purchases will eventually occur.

More footsteps lead me to Kyobo, a large bookstore. There is a reasonably sized English section and I head over to find something new. There is another perusing the wall. He looks about my age and I notice that the books he looks carefully at are good, by my estimation. I go out on a limb and ask if he would like to go for lunch.

Over coffee, I learn that although he is newer to Korea than I, he knows about some arts districts in Daegu. Specifically, he knows about a photography show at the Daegu Art and Cultural Center. This is thrilling. We go and I thoroughly enjoy the show. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that some involvement in current art/culture in Korea is possible. It has been a difficulty; not knowing how or where to view or show art. The show itself is very good. It is the Daegu Photography Biennial, featuring new digital work, older photos of North Korea, work by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean photographers.
Outside the station, I pass an old man playing Venture's style guitar through a portable amp. He is accompanied by an old woman, singing into a microphone. I wish again that I had a tape recorder in hand.
New clothes, new books, new friend. Great day. I board the train at 18:54.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It happens to the best of us.

Days 51-55 are hereby postponed until further notice. My obsession with the Korean Drama "Painter of the Wind" is taking priority. Seriously. They're about to paint the King's portrait. When it is finished, his soul will live on forever and there's nothing ANYONE CAN DO ABOUT HIS IMMORTAL POWER!!!! DANWON! Shin Yun Bok! Paint for your lives!!! NO PUN INTENDED! and NOBODY KNOWS that HE is really a SHE! OMG!!! I'm not even joking.
It's the occasional gayagum appearance that compels me to keep watching.

Okay, actually, it's the drama...OH, the DRAMA in this...this...Korean Drama.

Can you even stand it?!? NO!!! Neither can I. That's why I'm going to watch the next episode now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From a Distance

Day 46

8 am wake up
9 am train
Wandering around the streets comprising Gimcheon market, I find the first pair of pants that actually fits me. Probably the only pair in this city.

More wanderings bring me eyes full of dried squid stretched on wicker hoops next to fish speared in groups of 7. An old man sleeps inside his storelet in front of a static T.V. An old woman lays on her mat, waiting for a customer to ask about the fabrics she has on display. Vegetables, grains, side dishes, kimchi, goods, appliances, outerwear, inner-wear, it all awaits the buyer in the market.

I smell like stale smoke.

During the day, I build myself up for another night out. Which scarf braids best into my hair? Draw the eyebrow on now or later? Lipstick now, lipstick later?

Among people I don't know so well, I suppose I operate best if there is something to do. A small project, if you will. I meet with New Orleans once again. The city, really, it knows its daughter, no matter how far I go. Once dressed as Frida, I busy myself with face-painting others. The comic nature of the situation is quietly addressed once or twice.

We go out.
Live music! Covers, but still, Live Music! Drinking, smoking, dancing, shouting to be heard, more drinking, more dancing, some climbing, some shouting, some fighting.
We go in.

Day 47

9:30 am wake up
10:41 am train
On my way to an Outlet Mall in Daegu. Perhaps I should've asked for a raincheck. I need a coat though, it's getting cold. Standing room on the train. Should've eaten something. Myeong Hee gives me her seat. Thank you, oh, Thank You.

Moda provides a coat immediately, along with browsing, browsing, browsing (Did I wash off the eyebrow?), browsing (Yes.), browsing. LUNCH! Dukbokki, mandu, something else? I'm sure there was, WHY oh why didn't I eat before??? SHOPPING CENTERRRRRRRRRRRRR. I am a zombie, and poor company, I'm sure. Worn out from the day, we get coffee. Myeong Hee and I walk back to the subway. Ahhh, yes, Moda Outlet, you've done it again. Two satisfied shoppers.

Day 48

The dissipating smoke in the bar's atmosphere took my voice with it.
Attempting to sound dignified at all when one sounds like an 80 yr old ajuma is impossible in front of 8 year olds. This sucks. Immune system down, the Cold wins a major battle and captures my voice and most of my energy.

On the way work, I stop to buy some mandarin oranges. The vendor is a relatively large Korean man. "Chingu, Matt?"
"Yes! Me, Matt, Friends!" Is this the farmer I heard about? He points toward Prime. "Matt teacher?"
", no. Changee. I am Meegook, Matt Meegook, Anglea Meegook, chingu chingu. All Iowa. Matt go, Angela go, only me."
"AHH..okay, okay. Martin?"
"Ehhh...Martin...yes, Martin sem. Here."
"Ahh, okay okay," he motions for me to go, then grabs my hand for a firm handshake. He points to himself, "Opa, okay? Opa."

Work. Sleep.

Day 49

I find Maangchi and her online Korean cooking guide. This takes up my day until work. On the way, Opa is at the Odeng vendor across the street.
"Ahh!! Anneyong Candida! Here, odeng!"
"uhhh...ahhh..." I prance around like I have to go to the bathroom and point to my wrist, as if I wear a watch. He nods and indicates that he understands, but he won't take no for an answer.
"Odeng," he commands. "Hana, one." He tells his friend I am an American, goes to the truck's cab and brings back two persimmons to put in my bag. I finish the odeng and he shoos me away.

Work. Sleep.

Before bed, I chat with a friend who is on his way to vote. In the morning, 8 hours of day will have passed and the United States will be 8 hours closer to tallying the votes.

Day 50

My voice has returned, the election results are coming in.
Please, oh, PLEASE, do not let McCain win. Obamaobamaobama, the name is running through my head like a mantra. I recall my whereabouts in 2004, huddled around a radio with friends on the Mississippi River.
2008 has me seated in front of my computer alone, running back and forth from the kitchen to the living room of my apartment in South Korea. Streaming video from MSNBC and DemocracyNOW keeps me on top of the latest happenings including McCain's concession speech, Obama's victory speech. The crowds are cheering on a portion of my computer screen. I see New York City and Chicago, I hear about the streets of West Philadelphia, I celebrate vicariously. I am thrilled at the turnout, elated that Barak Obama is the President Elect, hopeful for the future of the country...and I express these sentiments over the computer to a friend who is also online. 4 years brings me into a very different reality.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Will Farrell Life

Day 43

This day is a bad the Will Farrell movie sort of way.

Day 44

The Sequel.

Day 45

"Market Play"

"HOW much is it? TEACHAR!!!" tiny fists punch me in the kidneys. They just want my attention and don't know how to get it.
"WAIT. PLEase, please, wait a minute. Okay?"

Now i'll go stab some pumpkins and call it carving. It's Halloween.

A foreigner with fellow Foreigners.
A foreigner with non-foreigners.

Two very different types of interaction.
The week kind of ends like a Will Farrell movie. Kind of. In a way. In a nice way. Maybe more like an Adam Sandler movie. Early Adam Sandler.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Day 36

Hangul Lesson 2. Double consonants.
When did I mail a letter? I mailed a letter sometime. When will it
get there? Too soon? Late late? Time. Time and timing. Good Grief.

Day 37

Will this week never END!?!?!
I find it hilariously irritating that I am learning today, day two of Parent Day presentations, that I am the only teacher who will actually be TEACHING for every Parent Day.

Day 38

8:20 am, I promptly walk up to the hagwon. Today is "Workshop Day". Actually, it's Teacher Field-trip Day. We load the bus and begin the 2 hour drive.
We reach Hwawangsan and my gaze floats over 4 large coach buses. And the four coach-bus sized crowds. Persimmon sellers, onion stores...the area is known for the sweetness of these things.
Hike. A HIKE I say! Ropes, trembling muscles, rosy cheeks and all. The end is near.
Breath is coming fast but all is forgotten at the sight of fields of silver eulalias.

We spend time walking among the grasses and waiting for our colleagues. Finally together, we select a mat among the grasses and sit down to trays of food. The October sun is shining, but breezes keep us cool. Rice wine and water, odeng, the bus driver's wife has prepared side dishes for all, and there are food carts atop the mountain with an ajuma who serves us hot pa-jun and odeng.

An alternate route to the bottom consists of stairs and stairs. Rocks and stairs and rocks, ending in an adult-sized playground. Mrs. Lee races to beat us to the playground and instructs us through "today's course" as we reach the bottom. Monkey bar races, a wall climb, a battering-ram-like swing.

Finally back at the bus, we sit in the parking lot and play BINGO. It is an exercise in numbers. It is practice for next Friday's "Market Play". I lose my W1,000, but the excitement of parking lot BINGO is worth it.

We pile back into the bus and are taken into the streets of Daegu. We twist and turn through the city to end up in the center of a traditional market. It is enormous. I would love to get lost here for a day. However, we are under time constraints and, I discover, on a mission. Next Friday the hagwon will transform into a market. We are buying items to sell with "Prime Dollars" at "Market Play". Two hours later, we are at dinner, pleasantly exhausted and ready to go home.

Day 39

Sleeping sleeping sooooo tired. Why? Yesterday's activities, I assume. Putter, putter, clean. 5 pm rolls around and I catch a taxi downtown. I meet a friend and we go to Gumi for dinner and a visit to a foreigner bar. Thus far, I've been silently, but staunchly opposed. I'm cracking a little. We have dinner, which consists of more wheat than I've had in the past month and a half. After dinner, we stick around for drinks.
Korean drinking game.
Luckily I don't lose. Loser buys a pitcher. The game consists of standing around a tree-stump and pounding nails into it with the wrong side of the hammer. Each person gets one try per turn, women get two. I am the second out.
Nore-bang. I have done Karaoke twice in my life. I hate it. This is a little different. A little. It is after 3am, for one, and the only person I know in the room is a flamboyant man from New Orleans. The rest are British and Canadian teachers from Gumi. He shoves the microphone in my face and I join him in the chorus of one, two, three songs, more...We met in Gumi before Anglea left. At her goodbye dinner, actually. Oh, Nore-Bang. I am done for the evening.

Day 40

Train back to Gimcheon 2pm, meeting the Bety(sic) Girls (the store we met in is called Bety, the icon is Betty Boop.) I am late, hung over, and hungry. Where is my coffee?

They are also late, it's okay.
The romantic hopeful of one of the girls is driving us to Jikji-sa.Im You Hee, the youngest of us, is my primary company. She speaks English best, and on the way to the park, we dance in the backseat to music from her cell phone.
We stroll along, stopping to drink spring water and stare at the statues of guardians at the entrance to the temple area. They are beautiful. The painting on them and on the ceilings and walls of all of the temple buildings are amazing. Gold? Is the iris of his eye gold? My questions and their commentary are kept to a relative minimum, as the language barrier between us is great. I see 1,000 Buddhas, I see 1,000 paper lotus flowers hanging from the ceiling, I see sincerity and curiosity in the eyes of old women and children with their parents coming to see the perhaps oldest temple in South Korea. Im You Hee takes my arm and Lee Kyeong Eun walks next to "the Hulk" in her 12 cm heels, which make me only a head taller than her.
"You like tea?"
"Come, we get daechu tea. Traditional Korean Cafe."
The server, who knows my friends, brings us 3 hot cups of tea, one iced. The tea is thick, more like a sweet soup. It is opaque and in it float sunflower seeds and dried bits of daechu, which has no English equivalent. The closest I've heard is "jujube". In the bottom of the cup are ground peanuts. We split go-gu-ma (sweet potato) and drink our tea. Lee Kyeong Eun looks up phrases in "the Hulk's" phone and speaks in English through its techno voice. She is telling jokes and our shoulders shake with hushed laughter.
The wind blows leaves in swirls outside. Finally it is getting cold.
We head down to Jikji Park, and go for Stroll Part II. Statues and fountains, cell phone photo ops and a trip to the "rainbow toilet". The building is decorated with rainbows, that's all. Nothing mind blowing. They tell me of a light show at the fountains at 7pm. It is cold and I need to get something done this evening. We leave the park and make pseudo plans for next time.

Day 41

What? What happened? Another day where I wake up later than anticipated, work seems to start too soon, and I lose the night in a maze of trivial information.

DAY 42

Another Parent's Day at the hagwon. Another hour of undue stress and tension so thick it felt like I was speaking into a wall of wet cement. Blank stares as response when I ask the students a question that's not pre-written in their notebooks.

Somehow my count is off. I am positive that I am due for a writing date with myself tonight. It is tonight, the writing date. I look at the calendar and discover that I stood myself up two nights ago. Thinking about it now, I knew it then, but got wrapped up in going to bed early or not...and magically settled on tonight as the raincheck.

cold remedy:

TEA: ginger, daechu, pear.
a far cry from my former ginger, garlic, cider vinegar, lemon, honey, cayenne concoction as far as common palatability is concerned.

Vitamin C: orange juice, kiwi fruit

Sleep...uhh...somewhere between 5-8 hours, right?

SOUP: Kimchi jjigae, daejeon jjigae, the Korean version of miso. Mashisayo.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fire Flowers

Day 31

GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!!! Get out of the house before 10 am, I say to myself. That is the goal. Nearly, 10:10 and I lock the door behind me. A morning walk into downtown past old women squatting on the street shining persimmons and thrusting bags of peeled garlic into the air for me to see. Someone is behind her metal cart filling small dips in a cast iron pan with oil, dough, and bean paste. The sun is shining and I climb the stairs to step onto train yard bridge. I complete my errands and chat with Im You Hee, who wears dark blue contacts. I am back before noon and quickly out again. Werrrrrkkkk.

Day 32

Train station 10:35. I'm late. 10:40. 10:50. Mark highsteps past me asking "Did you buy your ticket yet?" on the way. I barely utter "no" and he's 10 feet away. Nicole walks in explaining that the train we're catching leaves at 10:54.
Our seats are separate and I end up next to "Freddie", a businessman from Ghana. He gives me chocolate bars and offers to buy me an international phone card so I can call my grandmother. "Give me your phone number, I will call you with a phone card number."
Uh...thanks, Freddie, but I don't know..."You will come to Seoul soon?" No.
Haeyundae Beach and Pacific Shells. Coral? Too Beautiful.
I draw them in the sand, making patterns, getting wider wider.
Away from shore, Korean Krishnas (?) drum and gong their way along the walk. No one pays them much mind.
Subway into Busan. Destination: Gwangalli Beach. People People it is 5 p.m. the beach is half full. The streets are half full.
4th Busan Fireworks Festival. Fire Flowers is the Korean term.
7 p.m. peoplepeoplepeoplepeoplepeoplepeoplepeoplepeoplepeoplepeoplepeo
This must be what it is like to be a blood cell. Veins of people are striving to reach their destination in time. Must. Sit. Before. First. Fire. A crowd of 1.5 million people is on the beach. Or trying to be. I am one of them.

8 p.m.
Notes from the show:
Busan Bridge grows a glowing vine first red, then slowly colors cascade to the water.
Battleships or fakes. Shoot, they're shooting at one another with gold and red and smoke and the gold moon hangs low over a cityscape and WHAT are these flying flames?? Bird Kites!!! Glow gold red and stream green flying flaming over crowds and water. Phoenix. Phoenixes? Pheoni? The gold moon climbs higher slightly and stays large. A globe. Lazers? Do you see those lazers in the smoke? On the building! Oh! Light show!
What is this music? I can ignore it. I will listen to the story these "fire flowers" tell with my eyes.

Later...wander, wander, subway, wander, sleep.

Day 33

A morning train takes me home with Standing Room Only.

Taxi! Gimcheon Science Festival, please. I point to a street-lamp with a flag indicating the dates and times of the Festival. A student has a booth, I told her I would go. Too bad I don't know where it is or how to get there.
The driver nods and drives in the opposite direction. I figure he knows where he's going...until he stops at an intersection near my house and asks Right or Left? Stunned, I shake my head neither. He lets me out and gives me a W300 discount. Thanks, Driver.

What do thirteen year olds like? I try to figure it out and end up watching Hannah Montana, Jackass, Funny Home Videos, and Mr. Ed...some clips of Faith the Two-Legged Dog, and finally decide to look into some Mad Libs. I think that's pretty close to what they like. I think.

Day 34

Address postcards. Gluestick stamps to postcards. Post postcards.

Day 35

On the way to work, I remember that today, parents are coming to watch my class. No sweat. They're a good class, I'm a good teacher. It's fine. Until Mrs. Lee appears and is a flurry of nervous energy and Yuna, my co-teacher, is trying to explain to me the lesson plan, but can't fully and so enlists the aid of Cindy.
"What is going on?" the 3 o'clock "bell" goes off. It actually sounds more like a cell phone alarm. I ask for the folder I'm to teach from this hour.
"Mrs. Lee didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"You're supposed watch students. They have.."
"Practice? I'm supposed to listen to them practice for this weekend?"
"Where??" I am guided by the elbow by Sally to a room downstairs. She leaves and students file in. What is going on? I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I ask students in the room to start their presentations. Mid-presentation, other teachers file in and sit down, other students come in and sit down...15 minutes into it all, Mrs. Lee comes in.
"Candida! sit sit sit come come come come, sit." What??
She rapid fires words at the room, sets up a fake podium bustles through the front of the room and instructs students to start over. She motions to me and asks me to go upstairs to practice for the 4 o'clock class.
"Very important day, today." Okay, I'll go practice.

How did it go? Oh, fine. It went fine.'s fine it's fine, slightly awkward, I mean just fine. great! fine. The kids are great. Timing is a little off and there's extra time in which Yuna and Mrs. Lee are mouthing "Speaking Time again Conversation Time again Sing A Song again" Okay.

After class, I think about the fireworks again. I wish for a camera. I wish for...I want to...the flaming kites. I can't believe they were real. Luckily, total strangers Sheri & Trav were there, too. And they made a video.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Room 1 Room 2

Day 26

What I learn:
insight as tooooo...well, nearly arranged marriage. Insight as to what "Seon" is.
Seon, as per my understanding, starts out kind of like a blind date, with family involved. Two people get together, see how things go, report back to their families...if there's a second date, there's essentially an agreement that the relationship will result in marriage. It's possible that the marriage won't take place for a long while. The romantics will get to know one another, but it's unlikely to be called off.
The woman who teaches me how to make dukboki and kimchi-jigae does so while telling me about her seon date the day before. I (and a multitude of others) had accidentally called her while she was on it.
She's perhaps 3 years older than I am, but there is definite societal pressure on her to be married. Him, too. He's 4 years her senior. People get married, have children, remain extremely close to their families. The families of both are eager for their kin to be wed. And create more kin.

For the rest of the day "seon" is on my mind, until I accept that I just won't understand it. A walk with a friend at the base of Gumosan brings us past a zip-line among the trees. model traditional houses are passed by; clay pots, clay floors, clay walls, wood roof. they're beautiful. so simple.

Day 27

It is rare that I fully wake before sunlight. More common is a bleary eyed stumble to the bathroom at dawn, followed by a second look out the bedroom door at the light splayed across the floors of "room 1" and "room 2". It is yellow yellow yellow. I can go back to sleep now.

Day 28

Giving a presentation at my full time job? Who Am I??? WHO???
I am Candida and I bake apple pies for Korea.


The pie I brought to school is gone before I am back from my lunchtime errands.
I still can't remember which student is Weenie and which is Rudy. Jeniffer and Ansoni I have down. It's okay.

Day 29

Sirens are a-wailing at 2:03 p.m. I don't know why and have no one to ask. I just hear dogs barking and assume it's a test, even though it seems like a long one, and as soon and I write that it seems long, the sirens die down. Tornado sirens...Nuclear Plant warning sirens. Not police or fire department sirens.

printing printing postcards and the ink won't dry on one side.
The paper is not two-sided.
I didn't think of that.

Day 30

In the morning...I can READ! I Can Read. I can read the words. I cannot tell you what they mean. But I can read.

I discover how to use the floor heating system. I turn it on in "Room 1" and "Room 2" in order to figure out which rooms are which. Quite kind, the warm floor.

Later that evening...
Potato Sticks and Pizza snacks.

Both items are actually "potato chips". A friend brought them over. Really. I'll show you. It's like this is the snack bowl at our party.

What's in them? I don't know...outside of enough MSG to make my tongue numb in 5 seconds.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Direct Effect

Day 21

Immigration Office Day: Foreigner I.D.

I wake up.

I go out the door, I go back in the door, grab my I.D. photos, I go out the door.

I hail a taxi. "Anny-esseyo, Gimcheon Yeok, ju-seyo. Nayy," and we're on our way to Gimcheon Station.

I speed-walk into the station at 8:21 a.m. to buy a ticket.

I am on a train at 8:37. The correct train.

I begin to organize my things and realize that my passport, a crucial element in the morning's events, is not with me. I know exactly where it is. In my apartment. But, it's too late, I'm on the train. I send a message to my boss, who will be waiting to pick me up in Daegu Station at 9:20 a.m.

She picks me up with the native teacher for her school in Daegu in tow. Jeff is also getting a foreigner I.D. today. Mrs. Lee is efficient with her time.

We go to the immigration office, we fill out forms, she does her amazing magic talk to the government employees and they agree to letting me apply anyway, she will return with my passport the next morning.

It all happens within 30 minutes. Perhaps the shortest wait in a government office in my history. Most of that time is spent with Jeff watching American Baseball on some sports channel and me pretending to read.

She takes us to Costco (here???yes. here.) for pizza and a Bulgogi Bake. Jeff informs me of a Chicken Bake back in the states and asks rhetorically "Why isn't it cheaper here? it's like $2.00 back at home, it should be like W 1,500 here, food is so cheap..."

I watch a little girl kick a woman in the shins and run behind her mother's legs. They're all friends. It's okay.

Mrs. Lee and I drop Jeff off near his apartment in Daegu and move on to pick up her sister. I am attempting to make conversation with her (her English is not quite fluent) at a stop light when we are rear-ended. It's not bad, a fender-bender with a grandma, no one is hurt. She gets out and they exchange information, we continue on our way to pick up her sister and drive to Gimcheon.

The day counts as "long" before I even start teaching.
I skip yoga and grab a beer with Young-Mee (Veronica) after work.

Day 22

The 2nd Presidential Debate held in Nashville, TN on Tuesday, Oct. 7 was viewed live, by yours truly on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. I watched it(perhaps like many of my many?)at . I've been attending each of the debates in a similar manner. I figure that this was worth mention.

"Oh, pork barrels."

Maybe "pork-barrels" can become the new "fiddlesticks".

Direct (economic) Effect: with the fall of the dollar, there has been a decline in the inflow of foreign currencies to South Korean markets. The value of the Won is sharply falling in conjunction with the dollar...the dollar deficit has driven the value of the Won down so much that I have taken an automatic $400/month pay cut in the past week, actually in the first several days of the past week.
I will simply wait and exist within the local (South Korean) economic market until the heaving and ho-ing of the world financial sector eases a bit.

Night number 2 of skipping yoga to go get a beer...this time I meet my fellow foreigners in Gimcheon. Danny, middle-aged U.S. citizen who has been in South Korea for years. He has a dog. He rides a motorbike. Matthew, a Briton who has been living in South Korea for eight (?) years, in Gimcheon since the Spring, also rides a motorbike. Nicole and Mark, I've previously met. They're from New Brunswick, Canada. She lives in Gimcheon and teaches at Gimcheon College along with Matthew and Danny. Mark lives in a nearby city. A larger city.

Day 23

I meet with my friend, Myeong Hee in the morning. She brings her mother's Sesame Leaf Kimchi** when she picks me up and we go to a bookstore, where she helps me select a children's "learning to write" book so that I can learn to read and write Hangul. The book is good; the images in the book are photographs, the words will be very useful in everyday life. She and I then had our first Hangul lesson in a nearby coffee shop. It was good, it will be a beneficial weekly event on multiple levels. Getting together with her outside of yoga and during the daytime, learning and practicing Hangul, getting out during the morning and doing something enjoyable before work...good things.Positive motion. I've decided to start doing yoga every other day in the morning, every other day at night. Positive motion. Hiking the trail behind my house to have hula-time at the top. Positive motion.

everyone needs a mantra.

**my sentiments are much the same as those presented in the link. I had it upon arrival in Korea and then I was a little unsure, but man, really. So good.

Day 23

Persimmons are turning color from yellow to orange/red.
I dream that I emailed a friend. In the afternoon she writes me.
I dream I I discover that I did neither.

Day 24

Oh, Friday! Morning yoga proves more rigorous than evening. I feel it for the rest of the day. After work, Young-Mee and I meet with Bruce, the traditional medicinal practitioner for soup and a beer.

Something I must mention about Korean restaurants: it is not unusual for the waiter to bring a campstove-like-thing to the table. Frequently, there is small gas range built into the table. The server brings the dish out in a pan, which has curved sides, but is not quite a pot, and lights the range. The dish is brought to a simmer before being served and eaten by people at the table. Quite convenient as far as hot food getting cold goes.

Day 25

I spent the morning cleaning up after the weekly destruction of my home. Not destruction, know, wear. The afternoon was golden. New crispness in the air along with the smell of burn-piles. Clear skies and a yellow ginko tree called me into the outside. I was inspired to go to Jikji-sa, a temple and temple grounds just outside of Gimcheon, one of the oldest in S.Korea, actually. I was thwarted by the bus line.
But that's O.K.!! I walked downtown and wandered through small streets. I took a turn into a corridor where I felt called to front of a clothing store. "Anneyeseyooo," I heard. "Hi!" when they realized that a foreigner was standing in front of the store window.
"Do you speak English (oh please oh please oh please)?!?"
"A little??" accompanied by pantomime.
"Okay, can I look?" again with much pointing and gesturing. The women nod and I enter the store. The clothes! I want to wear those clothes instead of the ones I have on. Everyone here is stylish. The clothes I opted to bring: catchall, non-descript, very plain clothes, are starting to bore me. I motion this sentiment, gesturing the length of my arms and legs, and the general large size that I am in comparison to the average Korean woman. We laugh together as they are astonished, really, when I stretch out my arms.
They make efforts to speak with me, and I use my very limited Hangul to speak with them. I am invited to sit. Our ages are given, and I am the same age as the shop owner. They invite me to eat with them. Kim Mi Mi is the shopkeeper of "Betty" "Because I am very cute! ah?? Like Betty(Boop)! Yes??" And she is. Truly.
"Come back today! Come back tomorrow! Come back forever! I am English Master! You Hangul Master!"

I made friends.

Today was a good day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday's Child

Day 16

My work day starts around 2 p.m. most days. I take my shoes off, put on slippers, and walk into the school.
Classes are 1 hour long. Either I teach for a full hour (later in the day), or I teach for half an hour (earlier in the day).
I have 7 Korean full time co-workers and one Australian part-time co-worker. He and I are the Native Speakers on staff. Mostly, our duty seems to be to facilitate conversational ability. Korean is nearly an exact opposite of English. Learning English is difficult, and most Koreans start in early Elementary. Primarily, the focus is on the rules of grammar (as there are MANY), pronunciation, reading, and writing...but not necessarily comprehension or conversational ability.
I teach people from ages 8 to adult. Not speaking Hangul is a real handicap with the younger students. Luckily, I like to draw. So do they. I've seen a pretty priceless P-U-P-P-Y. it was quickly morphed into P-I-G. "P" words.

Sometimes the kids kind of sound like little robots because Hangul stresses every word equally, unlike English, where there is a cadence to speech. It's strange for them to learn the cadence. Although to be fair, if I even get to the point of speaking Hangul, I will probably sound like a slam poet all the time.

Day 17

Today is day one of a three day weekend. It is the National Foundation Day of Korea. The story of National Foundation Day follows, as told to me by Mercy, a co-worker:

"Hwan-Woong was the ruler. There was a bear and a tiger who wanted to become human. Hwan-Woong said go into the cave for 100 days and eat garlic and mugwort. They went into a cave but Tiger became impatient and left. Then...ahh...defecation? defecation?? is that the right word?? auhh...defecation! (Mercy says with a slight grimace) so..the bear! auhh, yeah..not pretty! but Bear (she moves her hands over her face) and stayed in the cave and came out of the cave a woman. Beautiful. She marries Tan-gun's father and has Tan-gun. His children are the people of Korea, but I don't really believe that. All people are really made by God."

"A myth? Korean mythology."


"It is good."


On this day I go to a traditional resturaunt with a co-worker. Bibimbap followed by a stroll around a pond of lilypads reaching to the sun. A true spectacle. She also takes me to an art store to help me get what I need. I've approached this art store before, and not speaking Hangul, was shooed out. In the evening I eat blowfish.

Day 18

Please see "Special Edition" blog.

Day 19

I feel like leaving the apartment.
No move is made to do so.
Except at 5. Badminton date is canceled.
Rained out.
Try to download The Host...a Korean horror flick.
I go to dinner with Badminton friend.
And we make a date for the morning, instead.

I experience a very "Lost in Translation" moment in the late evening. I have gone to E-Marte, and while being lifted to the second floor on the angled moving walkway, I am struck by the surreal nature of midi-muzak, florescent lights, yellows, and pinks.

Day 20

Monday's child seems as if it has had too much coffee.
If going to shows has not wreaked havoc on the workings of my inner ears, certainly these sweet voices will.

A new adult class in the evening. They are teachers. Milton, the oldest, after learning "Miss, Mrs, Mr, Ms" calls me Ms. Pentagon.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Special Edition

1. I bought a printer/scanner
2. I have a story to share, using visual aids.

Today I took a bus in Korea for the first time. I like the bus a lot. There was decorative fabric hanging around the top of the ceiling and it was more like a coach bus than a city bus. It was too bad that I missed my stop.

A co-worker had invited me over in order to show me where bicycle shops are. I was directed to take the bus to his wife's apartment complex. I told the bus driver my destination and took a seat...
through downtown...
past several apartment buildings...
a few shopping areas...
and finally...
Once the bus driver realized that I was still on the bus, he ordered me off, and returned most of my bus fare.

I first stopped at the nearest apartment complex, assuming that this was the place...but not so. After much confusion, "I don't understand" expressions, and laughter, the elderly security guard told me "taxi".

I started to walk down the street, waiting for a taxi to honk at me. (Philadelphia is not the only place this happens.)

The taxi never came and soon I happened upon two teenage girls. Hoping they spoke English, or at least understood it, I approached and asked for help. After much expression of regret, one of them indicated that I was to follow her. Using her cell phone translator function, we communicated small amounts.

First she asked if I was going to visit a friend. I essentially affirm that.

I try to describe him.

I attempt to convey my misfortune.

Finally after much walking, we reach the Woo Bang Apartments.
I tell her that because I cannot call him, I must embark on leg 2 or 3 or 4 of the journey/adventure. She decides to come with me.

She and I approach a parking lot security guard with the following information. Much pantomiming is involved.

An hour later, she and I are sitting in his office, simultaneously watching a Korean drama and still trying to undertand what's going on...

The security guard tells us that a hagwon teacher will return. "What time?" I ask "I don't know." He wants me to wait longer.

And finally...

...and so, another day in South Korea. Please let me add that although the above story centers around slight misfortune, I and my teenage helper were thoroughly delighted with one other's company. I think. I will take the bus again, and I will get off on the right stop. Without missing my stop, I never would have seen steam billowing out of a handsome drama star's ears and nostrils on T.V. in a parking lot security office! Things are going well, and I'll be posting again in several days.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Amazing Daze

Day 11

They're filming a game show across the valley, I'm serious.
9 a.m. brings cannon fire and cheers.
A charismatic voice fills the air via loudspeaker.
A child's voice follows. I can tell by the voice that this child is VERY key-u-tah. (This is how my students say of the various English words adopted by Hangul.)
Once again, a man's voice fills the air. He exclaims!!! Video game music with heavy bass pushes the little molecules of everything into adrenaline-inspired motion. The contestants, there must be contestants, are spurred into action by the blow of a whistle into the mic.
Cheers and repeat above minus cannon fire plus excitement...if it's possible to get any more excited than they already sound.

This kick-start to the morning is followed by several hours of small errands, some baking, followed by many hours of turnover cleaning. I spoke to no one but myself, save one moment.
Let me paint the picture for you:
I'm standing on the wrong side of the railing to my street-facing porch; one hand clinging to the rail, the other hand clutching a drippy, soapy rag. I'm wearing khaki capris left by Angela, a band T-shirt, and MAGENTA lipstick. Yes, I'm wearing lipstick. Why? Because I found it. I forgot about it being in the bottom of one of my bags, and I found it. And I put it on.
So, anyway, I'm washing the sliding glass doors in slightly too small, left behind clothes, but I'm cleaning my apartment so, who cares, right? Suddenly I hear a soft giggle, and a "HIIEEEE, Hello!"
I turn around with my bright magenta lipstick and wave "An-yeseyo"
I remember: I'm not IN my house cleaning, I'm hanging off the outside. And I'm the weird foreigner.

Day 12

An amazing day.

A friend.


I've made a friend here, which is so crucial. It's good to be able to talk with someone openly. Social philosophy, recent Korean history, traditional medicinals, language; we covered it all and more throughout the day. She invited me to hike Guemosan with her and another friend of hers who, unfortunately, had to cancel.

8:30 a.m. She picked me up.

9:26 a.m. We started hiking.

11:27 a.m. We reach the top with shaking legs,
sit down for an apple and are joined by giant bees.

On Guemosan is a double-walled fortress. I will go back with a camera and take photos sometime. Also, I will stop at the temples. My legs were protesting on the way down. I'll know better next time. Go on the way up.

In the late afternoon, after lunch and coffee, I saw the library. This was a BIG DEAL!!! Actually something I've really been wanting to do, which would have been put off much longer were I totally on my own, simply for the reason of not being able to read street signs or follow directions. Lame, I know, but true.

Day 13

Just Another Manic Monday

Day 14

To the Fitness Room!
In the morning, I hit the very tiny gym-like room with a co-worker. She takes mis-steps multiple times on the stair-stepper, while I fumble with seat-height on the stationary bike and try to figure out why it won't turn on. We work our way around the room relatively smoothly, but we're both very glad that it's only us and a couple of senior citizens here to exercise.

Next, it's to the Photo Place for me!
I need more I.D. photos for the hospital and my foreigner I.D.
I end up calling my gym-partner to have her explain to the photo man what I need. He takes my photo, and for a fee of W1000 (~$1), prints the photos in 15 minutes opposed to overnight. When I go to pay him, he glimpses a photo of The Celebs in my wallet. He's into it. I think it's the diamond background in addition to their diamond smiles.

Okay! Off to the hospital! I get a foreigner check-up for my foreigner I.D. some eyesight, hearing, blood, and urine testing! an X-Ray of my chest, yes I have lungs and there's a heart there too, oh! Don't forget, go see the dentist.

An hour and a half later, I'm back at school and only 5 minutes late for classes.

Day 15

ohmygodicantmovemylegs. they're still so sore from hiking Guemosan. I can barely stand first thing in the morning. Sun salutes do some good, then I putter around the apartment until I leave for school. The schedule changes constantly and I'm still attempting to remember students' names. I'll get used to it.

Cindy makes Dukbuki at school. I try to remember how so I can make it at home. I made pumpkin curry stew today. Cooking for one is really different. The other teachers all share with me, and I want to bring something to share with them...but...what if they don't like it? what if I don't like it? I can't bring it if I don't even like it...maybe I'll bake cookies or something. I did that on Saturday, tested out baking cookies in the toaster oven. it's awful, baking in that thing. The degree markers are worn away, so I can only guess at the temperature, but I think I'm pretty close.

I'm a little lonely.
During the dinner break at work, I just listen to the talk around me. I don't understand any of it. I think of potential social situations where the same thing might occur. I simultaneously dread and look forward to them...I'd like to learn Hangul, and there's not many better ways than immersion, but it is also rather alienating. I've been doing flashcards and a "Your first 100 Korean Words" book, so sometimes a word or two will sound relatively familiar. I'll start the lessons soon. I'll get it eventually.
Until then I'll continue pantomiming, pointing, or calling a friend to talk to someone. The language barrier makes every day an automatic adventure. I love adventures.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Maggot Melon / Oil Ear


Acceptance of this fact: my wake cycle is the sleep cycle of another. There are few hours of overlap.

Also: Duk - some food that is good that has no english name...The Government of South Korea is considering adding some new English names to popular dishes.

*G.I. Soup ~ Spicy Sausage Soup

However, I think this primarily applies to Seoul and other tourist destinations...
The Korea Herald is a main source of my information regarding Korea and beyond. Luckily, one is provided daily by the school.

Day 7

Nonexistent (in my memory)

OOH!! The woman who runs the Hagwon took everyone out to dinner to say Farewell Angela, Welcome Candida. Low tables, floor seating on pads, I learn some dining etiquette, drink soju, and "cider" (think 7-Up). Also, I am told my hair is like a doll's. There is some confusion but we finally spell it out and understanding unfolds.

Oh! OH! MAGGOT MELON! maggot melon and oil ear.
1) I cut into a melon. There are maggots in it.
2) A student in the adult conversation class had a bad day because a mosquito flew into her ear, she put oil in it to kill the mosquito and subsequently couldn't get it out. Neither could the doctors at the emergency room. They eventually put a tiny camera in her ear to see well enough to scoop out the mosquito. After that she came to the school, realized she had no socks* with her and went to buy some so she could come to class. This is D-E-D-I-C-A-T-I-O-N.

This day unfolds like a dream


Day one of teaching. How did it go?

First class: "Tony, stop that."

Second class: "Repeat after me: S Shh She. They are not the same. Good job."

Third-Fifth classes: "Hi, My name is Candida. Are you being shy? It's okay, let's have some Homonym Fun...'does the hare have hair?' I'll draw a picture. 'Your sister ate eight pears and got a stomachache'. Funny, right??"

Sixth class: "Okay, let's read together. I'll be the NARRATOR, Tom, you be Teen Reader, Manfred, you read the part of Miss Teen America, okay? Go!"

Seventh class: "Hi Lisa, nice to meet you. Being an adolescent is difficult, right? Let's read about best friends. Very good! We'll have a good year together."

Follow that with yoga class, and it's a pretty decent day, eh?

Day 9

I finally discover the mountain behind my home. I hike to the top where, lo and behold, lies a mini-gym. Okay, actually let's call it a "mini fitness zone"; chin-up bars, something with little rotating platforms that you stand on and balance (with a place to hold on), something with pegs on it, I don't know, and a neon yellow hula hoop. So, for my moment of mid-day zen, I hula hoop on top of a mountain. This is great.
Classes are fine, if one dismisses utter confusion on the part of teacher and students for multiple hours of the day. We'll work through it. I think they like me anyway. The adult class informs me that I CAN, in fact, use a korean 220V printer with my american 110V computer. (please, let me know if this is wrong before I fry my computer.)
I wear too many stripes during yoga and get dizzy looking at my pants and shirt while in plow pose.

Day 10

All is well. I have taken a stab (chopstick style) and perhaps a slurp at gimbap, duk guk, asian pear, Naengmyun, some mystery vegetarian buckwheat noodle dish, various kimchi, some other pork dishes (including feet).
I will start Hangul lessons in exchange for looking over a friend's English compositions. She and I may also make kimchi together. We went to E-Mart and she pointed out herbs, dried plants, and various rices and grains next to many seaweeds on display in a prominent location. I believe, at one point, I exclaimed, "I love Korea!" and again when I saw the ginseng bedded in moss in the produce section.
MY FELLOW AMERICANS: Jujubes are part of a real plant. They are not just a candy you buy at the movie theater when you are 8 and think it's funny when you can't open your mouth because your molars are stuck together.

Angela left this afternoon. She is headed to Seoul, then on to Sussex for graduate school. I am so glad to have had an introduction to this country. The alien-ness of it is sly. Things seem relatively normal until a truck blaring something drives by at 3 mph with shoes made of rope swinging off the back while the tidiest woman I've ever seen clicks past in her kitten heels.

Concerning my speech pattern: cadence is starting to sound like an ESL tape recording.
For much of the night, I have been sorting through the kitchen, re-arranging, as I tend to do, listening to "This American Life", and the contents of the iTunes library on random. A peaceful evening. I look forward to further furniture arrangements.

*In South Korea, one removes one's shoes upon entering a school, resturaunt, home, etc. It is considered impolite to be barefoot.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

send me some mad libs

I am standing again. The rug pulled from underneath me in the form of a 13 hour time difference has been put back in place. Mostly. My newly illiterate status will take slightly longer to adjust to and correct.

My general habit of immediately orienting myself in the current location has been shoved aside. Instead, I orient myself to a new occupation, a new life while having the luxury of someone to train me. I am a replacement; the woman whose life I'll be taking over leaves in four days. My life will be my own of course, however, I will assume her job, her home, her telephone, her bills, her clothes, many of her acquaintances...they'll be mine. So, let's just say I'm taking her place in Gimcheon, S. Korea. It feels strange.


4:44 am After being in transit for nearly 20 hours, I am off the plane at Incheon. I take a bus to Seoul where I catch a train to Gimcheon. I arrive in Gimcheon at nearly 11. Angela meets me, and we grab a coffee and glutinous rice donuts at Dunkin' before buying slippers, exchanging money, and taking a taxi home. After a shower, we go to Temple Food (where I will take anyone who visits me) for temple food with vegetarian bibimbap and a variety of amazing kimchi. We leave Temple Food and walk past a row of trees inhabited by enormous spiders on the way to a street where we will catch a taxi. I go to Prime Hagwon with Angela to A.) see where it is B.) maybe meet some co-workers and students and C.) perhaps sit in on a class. Angela opens the door to one classroom to say hello. The students all say hello save one boy, who is very into grimacing and gnashing of teeth at me, with accompanying audio.
I do all of these things. I am exhausted. I go home. I fall asleep at 5 p.m., Angela returns from yoga, I wake up, eat something, and fall asleep again until...


6 a.m. I wake. Mrs. Lee once wrote to me in an e-mail "as soon as early," which I dismissed as a mistake, but it does make sense, if one is in a hurry. 9 a.m. rolls around as Angela and I carry on morning activities. We go to "Bruce" the traditional medicine doctor at the community clinic. He is young and fulfilling military duty. I get acupuncture on my shoulder while Angela chats with Bruce and the nurses. She has a knack for getting through shyness. The day goes on, I go to the school at 4 p.m. to meet Mrs. Lee, chat with her for an hour, then sit in on Angela's classes. The first class screamed at the sight of me.


The kids are excited to see me as I walk up. My name has spread by now, some of them shorten it to "Candi", but not most. It's exciting to have a new person around, especially a new foreign teacher. Maybe glitter stickers will rain from her hands. Maybe she's a former gangster whose birds will follow her forever! Maybe she will hold students upside down by their ankles and teach them American parlour tricks while singing romantic ballad style. Oh, and little animal- shaped erasers will fly out of her mouth like a fountain. Or maybe it will be sour gummy candy.

At night we go to a resturaunt. Chusok rice wine is gifted, entertaining converastion is had, giant kimchi pots line the garden outside. Have I made mention of gardens?
They are everywhere. Pumpkins grow on roofs.


8:10 a.m. We are picked up by Mr. Shil and driven to a middle school in rural Gimcheon. English camp with 13-15 year olds will be my first teaching experience. 45 minutes-break-repeat x 4. It goes so well. We play a game similar to 20 questions, we draw on the chalkboard, we play bingo. Great. They all listen, and contrary to a comment made the previous night "middle schoolers? they're evil." These kids were such fun. so much fun. Also I ate some kind of sugared pre-packaged hamburger.

Evening brings Jon Stewart via the internet. Nighttime brings a trip to Gumi, introductions to new friends, shabu shabu, and the Waygook Grill (foreigner bar). It is Angela's going away party and three of us: Angela, Myoung He, and I leave together on a train for Gimcheon.

Day 5

I wake up, I walk, I read, I blog. I wonder how long it will take before I can remember how to tell a taxi driver where I need to go in Hangul (Korean language). Perhaps finding discounted electronics will not be as simple as I thought. I want someone to send me some mad libs.