Monday, November 29, 2010

It begins!

Yesterday marked the start of my last full term....on my initial one year contract. Woop woop. I'll still work (at least) 8 weeks of the last term, but this does feel a bit momentous. A bit.

I thought, going into the day, that it would be a breeze. I'd been through it all before, right? Oh no, my company always throws curveballs--and this term it is a dramatic change to our writing section. It's going to take the kids (and teachers!) a few classes to get used to the new format.

Last weekend I went shopping for xmas gifts in Insadong. I have almost everyone checked off my list. No guarantees of arrival dates for the packages, though. I can either send things EMS and fork over a lot of money for gifts to arrive by the 25th, or regular Korean post, pay close to nothing, and hope they get there before my contract ends. In April. Hmmmm.

The big excitement of the weekend was the first snow on Sunday night!  I did not witness the actual flakes falling from the sky, but I did glimpse a little snow on the ground! It melted by the morning. Just how I like it. Each day feels cold cold cold and I am rather ill-equipped. I'd better fix that soon!

Well, that is all of my news. The birthday is on Friday, so I only have 3 more days to be 25. Wow.

Happy Tuesday!

A group of Korean drummers!

 Insadong is great for this kind of thing


Here we go, Winter. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

giving thanks

I am thankful for all of the usual things: my FAMILY, my FRIENDS, my LIFE, freedom to be ME, and my HEALTH.

This year, though, I've been thinking about what is different. I'm reflecting on the uniqueness of my situation and am giving thanks to my current experience.

Sure, it's been up and down. I definitely had the "I do not want to be in this situation" mindset far longer than comfortable. Now, though, I am happy with where I am and what I am doing.

Teaching English to Korean kiddos is pretty great. Last night we had a speech contest and the entire time I couldn't help but grin stupidly at the dedication and strength those kids have. I was proud of past and current students who put themselves on stage to speak in a foreign language infront of their parents, peers, and teachers. Let's be honest: my heart was bursting.

Each day, I interact with a unique set of coworkers, Korean and native-English speakers. The situation is special because we are not really there for a shared set of beliefs. Since college, I have worked only in the arena of social justice, etc. My coworkers generally had the same sentiments as me and we were working toward a common goal. Conversely, while most of us are in Korea to travel and teach, we have a range of backgrounds, personalities, and mindsets. Some are here as a means to an end and others are making a life of traveling and teaching.

I am thankful to have met these individuals. I am thankful they are teaching me to be a less judgmental person. I am thankful my job is teaching me to not sweat the small stuff. I am thankful the kids are cute. I am thankful that because of them, I am living in a foreign country and experiencing a new culture.

There is a lot to be thankful for in this world. I am beginning to live my life by this mantra, and it feels pretty damn good.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

This time last year, we were making sweet potatoes and broccoli casserole to take over to my good friend, Nikki's house. It was quite the Thanksgiving--she instructed us to make hats out of paper bags, i drank a bottle of wine myself, and we played Rock Band.

Two years ago, I was flying to Hawaii. 

Three years ago, I was preparing for my team's roadtrip to Biloxi, Mississippi. 

This year I am heading to work to teach my smarty kids and to judge a speech contest. No turkey (obviously...haven't had that for 5 years!) OR cranberry sauce. A little different, but still good.

It's been a few years since I've been "home" for Thanksgiving.

I'll be thinking of my friends and family today and, subsequently, tomorrow (I'm a day ahead) and wishing for a wonderful day full of love and laughter. I miss you all.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Art, Insadong, Saunas...

Another great weekend.

I had training in Seoul at headquarters on Saturday, so had to run up early and sit through (mostly mindless) talk about the changes to my Junior Master class for next term. I haven't decided yet if it was a waste of my time. Regardless, it got me up to Seoul to meet Vy and a couple of her friends at the National Museum of Korea. We wanted to see an exhibit of Buddhist painting. By the time I arrived after training, Vy and her friends had already gone through the exhibit. Luckily, Quinn got there about the same time I did, so we breezed through it. I can't say I was all that excited about what I saw. Mostly this was due to the exhibit area's dim lights and the masses of slowwwwww moving people. Meh. Outside of the museum is beautiful---

The "Reflecting Pool"

 Pretty Pretty

 Seoul Tower. I still need to cross that off the list...

The only picture I could take inside---

I've been posing in the classic Korean way lately.... it's getting on my nerves.

 Quinn! Me! Reflecting Pond!

After the museum, we headed to Insadong....hoping to do a little xmas shopping. I forgot to get anything. Maybe next weekend?

Scaaarves. So many scarves.


  Oh! And then we got stopped to do a fun little quiz for tourists.

After Insadong, we met up with Vy's friend and surprisingly, about 8 other Koreans, at an Indian restaurant. I sat across from an older gentleman who is a lawyer in Korea but is licensed in the U.S. as well. I got to pick his brain about the Korean criminal justice system. He had many questions about my former line of work as a DV advocate, etc. QUITE the stimulating conversation.

I thought I was heading home after that, but Carolyn texted me from Gangnam, so I met up with her and JoJo for some drinks. She and I missed the last bus home but forked out cash for a taxi ride home at about 3 in the morning.

On SUNDAY......... we went to a Korean sauna! Spent about 5 hours relaxing, bathing, sauna-ing, and being scrubbed clean by older Korean ladies. It was my first experience with the scrub and I must say, I will definitely go back. It hurt (a lot) but my skin feels so smoooooooth now!

All in all, a wonderful weekend. This is the last week of the term, so I'm preparing for a bit of restlessness with the kids. My new schedule looks interesting, to say the least. We'll see how it goes.

Birthday is less than two weeks away! Woop woop!

Oh, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all of my American loves!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Home Free

I spent an amazing year of learning and growth working for a profoundly effective nonprofit, Home Free. My role was as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence working in conjunction with the Portland Police's Domestic Violence Unit. This is a video about HOME FREE. I could not be more proud or thankful of the work the advocates do for the community of Portland. Please watch.

The story at 5:01 was one of my unfinished cases when I left the position to pursue this teaching job in Korea. It was my most difficult case of the year and I am very happy to know that Home Free's services were able to assist the participant in establishing safety.

Love to VOA Home Free today.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I did it.

Headed out. Alone.

But then, about half way to Seoul, I got a text from Carolyn. She wanted to go, too! AND, she invited a friend of hers from training...who then invited a friend of his.... and my lonesome became a group of four. 

So, I got to Gangnam and wandered around for a bit waiting for Carolyn. And purchased a new pair of converse....and mascara.....and coffee.....this spending spree must end!

Carolyn arrived and we met up with Jo Jo (from Maryland) and Joe (from Kelso, WA!!...and, who I would later find out, is a WSU graduate/worked in Reslife/IT IS A SMALL WORLD)...and headed towards Cheonggye Plaza.

I had no idea the festival would be so.....busy. We were packed like sardines into a line that was herded, in a very Korean/orderly way towards the stream.

the intended destination

 soon to be among the masses...but first had to go over the river and around

 carolyn, jo jo, me, joe

alllmost there...

 ah! we made it to the stream!

 an awkward self portrait...that turned out kind of neat

joe offered to take a picture. it was still awkward.

 a bit confused by the xmas trees

perfection of the double peace


 saying goodbye...

We ended the night with dinner and beer. We missed the subway (whyyyy do they shut down so early?) and had to cab it back to Gangnam. Luckily the 30,000won ride was split four ways. Carolyn and I managed to make one of the last buses home.

Never have expectations. That's what I learned last night. I had a lot of fun and met some great new people and got to know one of my coworkers much better. Perfection.

And, quite lovely.

i realize there's been more music...

And less Korea....

But let me be honest. Music is a large part of my life. It's cathartic. I dance to it. It gets me through the day. I even play music for my classes when they are writing or working on projects. A day without music is a day without....well, something important.

Music also helps me process. So, when I'm disappointed with myself or my situation, I lean on music to feel. Today, for example, is a bit of a disappointment. My dates for the lantern festival have all come down with what I had last weekend and have (rightly so) bowed out. I go alone or not at all?

I'm tired of doing things alone. I've been doing things alone for too long. Before "youknowwhat" and after... I'm consistently alone. I have crafted my life this way and feel quite proud of my ability to DO things independently. But then, there are those days. Those damn days that strip away all of my self-talk and pride. I'm left with me. Only me. Not as much fun for a lantern festival. Something I imagine could be quite romantic, or at least lovely, with the right company.

For now, I'll listen to my latest Florence + the machine favorite, take a shower, and brace myself for another solo adventure. Maybe the 'solo' is what makes me so great. Maybe I'll be surprised with the outcome. I'm in Korea, after all. It's always an adventure. :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Does Not Suffice, Joanna Newsom


If you know me, you are probably aware that I love socks. I particularly love wearing unmatched socks. It is quite convenient, then, that Korea seems to also have a love affair with socks. Most have cute characters with cute faces in cute colors. (Notice a "cute" theme?) Tonight, I was quite excited to find non-"cute" socks available in multiple colors. Perfect for my mismatched lifestyle.

I decided to take a couple of pictures for you all to see my fabulous find:

 Great colors, no?

Happy Happy Girl

The trip to Seoraksan has been postponed...again...(probably until cherry blossom time in the spring!) but we are going to the Lantern Festival in Seoul instead. I'm happy about this because I missed a previous lantern festival in the summer when Justin first arrived. SO.... heading to see beautiful displays on a beautiful river sounds like a beautiful weekend! Hooray!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interesting video/speech on current education practices...across the globe

"Changing Education Paradigm
This animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award."

The speech is not in full, as it cuts off at the end...but definitely worth a look:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

check out those leaves...falling...

The obsession with changing leaves continues. Red! Falling! Almost gone!

Happy Wednesday.

it's only when you turn around, full of need, that you realize something has changed. a confidant is gone. the one that knew them all--all of the back stories that make it so tiring to confide in anyone else.

Monday, November 8, 2010

currently listening to...

This wakes me up each morning:

This keeps me feisty (yet is shamefully poppy):

And this speaks to my heart:

Just thought I would share...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The D.M.Z, Teralyn, and the best weekend ever

Despite coming down with a nasty cold by Friday night which left me with an alternately squeaky and manly voice, I had one of the greatest weekends ever thanks, in due part, to my travel companion, Teralyn. We GET each other. Laughter was never too far around the corner and "good talk time" abounded. Oh, yeah, and we went to the DMZ......

I got out of work Friday night as quickly as I could and Alex was kind enough to drive me home to grab my camera (which I had forgotten) before I hopped on the bus. I arrived at the hostel, The Grape Garden House, right before 11, which was perfect, as that was the latest time to check in. Teralyn wasn't going to arrive until 12:30. The hostel was really great! We stayed in the dorm and met a couple of nice gentlemen, originally from Texas and currently living in D.C. We all went for a beer and met up with the hostel owner, Min, who seems like a truly sweet person who loves owning a hostel--if only so he can meet people from around the world. I would definitely recommend staying at the hostel. It's located very close to Hongik University subway station and is surrounded by cute cute shops and restaurants.

Teralyn! She made it!

 The group

We had to get up early-ish to get to our time at the Grape Garden House was short, but sweet. Here are some pictures of the entrance:

Then, it was on to the tour. Photo ops were somewhat restricted, but here are the few I took--

Check out the maple!

 The bridge you can see is called the "Freedom Bridge," which was used to exchange political prisoners after the Korean war.

 Oh! The paleness of my skin! :) (Sickness?)

 These ribbons are prayers for families waiting reunification, peace, and well wishes for the citizens of North Korea. It was quite lovely.

 Hehehehe. He just made me laugh.

 This train was stopped during a battle and sat alone for many years.

 The end point of the Freedom Bridge.


 Sign for the DMZ. Notice the empty empty roads.

Okay, so after the Freedom Bridge, we were taken to the main part of the tour, the "Joint Security Area" or JSA. This is an area that was formed after the historic "tree chopping incident" for important meetings to be held between the countries. In fact, North Korea rarely partakes in talks. The most recent, newsworthy talks were those regarding the sinking of the South Korean boat. I couldn't tell you all of the information I learned on the I apologize if it seems a bit jumbled.

The JSA. The blue buildings are where officials meet. You can see Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers. A U.S. soldier gave us the tour. North Korea has the white building. is a picture of North Korea!

 Inside one of the buildings. I was technically on the North Korean side at this point (SWEET). The soldiers were there for our protection and stayed in this pose the entire time, as gawking tourists (myself included) took pictures with them.

Soldiers chosen for this duty must have at least a Level One Blackbelt in Tai Kwon Do, speak English, Korean and (I think?) Japanese.

 Close up of the North Korean building. See the one soldier? He checked us out with his binoculars every once in awhile...and hid behind the building post...and there is also someone taking pictures from the window to his left.

You can hardly see it, but this is the Bride of No Return, in which prisoners (after the war) were given a chance to go one way or the is my understanding that most chose the country which they were from.

And OF COURSE there was a gift shop. This guy made me laugh.


And those are all of the pictures. I might have more after Teralyn and I are able to exchange. Her camera took better ones.

After the tour we grabbed a delicious Indian/Nepali dinner near the hostel. It lasted about 3 hours and we made it through a delicious bottle of wine. Again, have not laughed so much...

I would definitely recommend going on the JSA tour of the DMZ, as it is quite informative and well done. I'd like to return to go on a tour of the 3rd Tunnel (where N.K. tunneled underground). SO, that might happen in the future. Only about 5 months left! Wow.

Feeling good good good.