Saturday, December 25, 2010

메리 크리스마스!!

Circa June, 2010:
Me: "Will I be able to come home for Christmas?"
Ben: "You're not going to want to. You're going to love Christmas in Korea."

It's Christmas evening here in the ROK. My family will be waking up in about an hour and a half to celebrate Christmas morning, but I've already had more Christmas in the past forty-eight hours than it's fair for any one person to have. I'm currently sitting in my new Christmas jammies listening to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (because it's tradition). I just packed a suitcase full of sundresses and flip flops; JoAnn and I are leaving in nine hours for Indonesia, but I wanted to document my Christmas before any of it slips out of my mind.

Christmas started on Thursday night. After school, I headed with JoAnn up to Seoul Station with people from her church to feed some homeless people and spread Christmas cheer. We met at Lotte Mart (the Korean version of Wal-Mart) to pack up little bags of food before heading out into the station. I met about two dozen people whom I immediately adored, and we set up an assembly line to stuff the food bags. In no time, we were ready to go back out in the station.

Last time I went to Seoul Station, it was still warm outside. We handed out vitamin drinks to people who were hanging out around the station and went back home. Despite the fact that it was below freezing outside, I, for some reason, assumed the activity would be exactly the same. After we packed the bags, however, the group leader started us off in the direction of one of the exits. When we turned the corner, I kind of lost my breath. Right in front of us, in a freezing cold subway exit, was a line of cardboard boxes. Cardboard boxes that were people's homes. The team marched up the middle, preparing to distribute food from the coldest end first, and I numbly followed along. I knew I had signed up for a homeless outreach, but my upper-middle-class suburban mind wasn't ready for what I saw. I know, theoretically, that poverty exists... but I've never actually seen it. I've volunteered at soup kitchens and grocery hand-outs and mitten and glove distributions, but I'd never actually looked at the raw emptiness of being without a home. For me, living in Seoul is a huge blessing. I'm well-paid and I have access to an entire continent that I've always dreamed of exploring. I guess it didn't really occur to me that not everyone in Korea is living out their greatest dreams. We get so consumed in our own problems and concerns that we forget how much we truly have to give thanks for. I'm typing this blog post on a computer that cost more than most of those people will see in half a year; I'm leaving tomorrow for a week of snorkeling and elephant-riding. And people right here in my city are falling asleep tonight in homes made of cardboard on tile floors. God have mercy.

Christmas Eve morning, I woke up embarrassingly late and finally finished my grad school application. After taking ages to get moving, I finally met JoAnn at the GS with noble intentions of running to the bank to exchange our won for... Indonesian moneys. Unfortunately, we arrived at the bank about an hour after it closed, so we instead decided to head to Kyobo and pick out books to take on our trip. In case you're keeping a really strange record of the things I read, I bought Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (I know; I'm in for some deep philosophy). I headed down to the church to practice our Christmas morning play, for which "hilarious" is a gross understatement, before the Christmas Eve candlelight service.

My mom's side of the family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, so my Christmas Eve traditions include a White Elephant gift exchange followed by my uncle and cousin reciting all the lines along with Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation. I've been to one Christmas Eve service that I can remember, but it was a midnight service and all I recall is trying desperately to stay awake. I was actually really excited to participate in a candlelight service with my family at Jubilee, and it was every bit as wonderful as I dreamed. Not being with my parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents on Christmas is impossibly hard, but knowing that I'm surrounded by the body of Christ makes it so much easier. Trying to describe it won't do it justice, I'm sure, so I'm not going to taint the experience by assigning it insufficient words. Just know that Christmas carols sung by candlelight while wrapped in the arms of a family of believers is a truly beautiful way to celebrate the eve of our Savior's birth.

I finished the evening at a little restaurant with my fabulous friend Angie, where we each ate an entire pizza and made fools of ourselves by treating a couple of napkins as if they were legitimate magic. I could explain that better and make us sound less crazy, but I kind of like it the way it is.

This morning, I woke up early to make a skype-appearance at my family's Christmas Eve festivities. My bag of random Korean crap was a hit in the gift exchange; my cousin was thoroughly disappointed that my dad stole his "solar-powered monkey on a toilet," but I promised him that I'd send another one when he graduates from grad school in May. I had to leave my family behind and rush to the subway to get to the Geon Children's Home for what turned out to be my favorite part of Christmas. Jubilee sponsors the home every year for Christmas, buying a gift for each of the seventy-seven children who live there. I purchased my gift a few weeks back and signed up to be on the team that delivered them, a team that turned out to be the biggest one who has ever served there on Christmas morning.

The chapel was so packed that most of the Jubilee members who came had to stand along the walls. The kids were stuffed along pews and piled in on people's laps; it was amazing to look out over the room and see so many lives colliding for just a brief moment on a freezing morning in December. My group performed their skit (which got a lot of laughs and strange looks - I'll post some of it for you later), and we set out distributing presents. The volunteers lined up on the stage, each clutching the gift they brought, and the children's names were called out over the microphone. The older kids casually walked to the front, too cool to be excited about presents, but the little ones were overjoyed. When it was my turn at the mic, a little tiny guy, smaller than any of my students, flat-out ran to the front of the room. He threw his hands out and whispered "kamsamnida" before disappearing back into the crowd. By the time I had grabbed my camera and located him in the mess of wrapping paper, he was surrounded by his friends, yanking the ribbons and paper from his gift. I stood off to the side, taking pictures and deeply appreciating the moment.

As soon as he got the wrapping off, he frantically tried to open the plastic on the book. I had been told he wanted a children's picture book, but I picked one that had a toy truck attached to it because what five-year-old just wants a book for Christmas? Everything in that little boy struggled to get at that truck, and when I warily slid into the pew beside him, he handed it over to me for help. I'm pretty sure that truck was better guarded than the crown jewels, but I eventually got it open and handed it to him. He rolled it up and down the pew a few times then used it to "get" my nose. I took it back and drove it across his shoulders to the top of his head while he giggled and curled down in his seat. He grinned at me and said something in Korean, but I couldn't answer him. A precious little girl beside us leaned over and translated for me: "He wants to know if you can speak Korean." My heart broke, and there was nothing I wanted more in that moment than to be able to say yes. I shook my head no and stared down at my feet; he frowned and drove the truck into my nose again. We flipped through the pictures in the books I gave him, laughing at the green noses of the Wemmicks. When the director of the home announced that it was lunch time, Min-Ho thanked me in English and said Merry Christmas before running off, but he didn't make it far before coming back to give me a hug.

I said before I left that the only thing keeping me from bringing home a Korean kid was my aversion to being a single mom... suddenly even that doesn't sound so bad... I know logically that now is a completely impossible time for me to adopt a kid, I mean seriously... but it tore me up to leave that precious little boy there. Mark my words: one day, there will be tiny Korean feet pattering around my house. No child deserves to be without a mom or dad. God, please give Min-Ho a family for Christmas next year. Please.

After we left the Children's Home, our group headed out to the subway. We rode to the part of town where the giant church service was being held, and when we got there, we stopped in a little restaurant for lunch. There were so many of us that we took up almost the entire place, and yet again, I rejoiced in being surrounded by family on Christmas. We rushed through lunch and marched out in the cold to the church, where over fifteen hundred English-speaking Christ-followers had gathered to celebrate our Lord's birth. Just like at the Christmas Eve service, I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the opportunity to worship with people from all over the world, and I'm afraid again that my words will be insufficient. Since my family will be waking up soon, and I'm dying to share Christmas morning with the people I have been missing all day long, I'm going to leave you with this:

"Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'"

Rejoice! The Savior has been born in Bethlehem! Glory to God in the highest heaven! Our lives are truly blessed.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ain't no valley low enough

My kids talk a lot. I mean, they're six. But today when I heard a tiny voice while I was trying to explain setting, I didn't go off the handle and tell it to quiet down. That's because the little voice sounded like this:

I have no idea where a six-year-old in Korea learned that song, but I'm so very glad he did. I stopped class right there and had a dance party. Here's the original in case you're in the mood to boogie too :)


Monday, December 20, 2010

A few of my favorite things

Because tonight was our Christmas concert, the kids and I didn't have to be at school until 3 PM. I slept in, watched a few episodes of Community, then talked to Smelly on Skype. Thus far, I've done an incredible job of pretending to not be homesick on camera. I've cried for a few other reasons, but I always make sure to never show even an ounce of regret over my decision to move to the ROK. Today, however, I failed miserably. As Michelle told me about her plans for New Year's Eve and other events going on at home, I just couldn't handle pretending to be happy anymore. In that moment (and thousands of others these past few weeks), I just wanted to be at home, and I knew I couldn't be, and that tore me to pieces.

Fortunately, I didn't have a lot of time to be homesick. I had to pull myself together and get ready for work so I could look like the cookie-cutter white American the parents pay good money to parade in front of their children. I got dressed, stopped at my favorite Paris Baguette to get a snack, and headed in to see my babies.

The kids arrived shortly after I did, and my new co-teacher and I got them all set up for their final dress rehearsal. They look crazy-cute in their costumes, so I snapped a few pictures of them before we headed down to the gym.

And then when we got to the gym, I, uh... went a little crazy with the pictures. I won't make you look at all of them; I know that they're my munchkins and therefore I'm the only one who really wants to look at a hundred pictures of them standing on a stage, but I'm still going to make you look at some because it's my blog and I do what I want.

After the rehearsal, the kids and I returned to the room to kill time while the parents arrived and took their seats. I had set out some pictures for the kids to color in case the parents came in to check on them, but it quickly became apparent that no one really cared what we were doing. So we did this:

When the time finally came to herd my tiny people down to the stage, we lined up and marched to the gym. They took the stage while I manned the music, and they performed their concert so very well. I made videos of, um, all the songs, but yet again, I know that no one else is as obsessed with them as I am, so I'll only post one.

In case you're curious, they're signing along to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, courtesy of yours truly (and some help from Rosie since I'm not actually that good at ASL). We've been practicing it for the last three months, and they were spectacular. They did a wonderful job on all their songs, and I was so ridiculously proud of them.

After the concert, the parents provided food and drinks, and we all stood around to "mingle." I don't know if you've ever tried to mingle with a room full of people who don't speak a lot of English, but it's a tiny bit challenging. Basically, Kelly and I stood huddled together, watching the kids stuff their faces with sugar then run laps around the building. In the middle of the dinner, the mommies presented me with a present. They gave me some crazy expensive shampoo and conditioner, a gift certificate to a mall I can hardly afford to stand next to, and a hand-made card from the kids. The card contained a message from each of my babies...

"Ms. Nikki sorry for not listening to you. Robin"
"To. Ms. Nikki, I wish you could have a merry christmas. I love you. from Sun"
"Nikki Teacher Merry Christmas I love you Nikki. Because, I love present and singing to. from: EunYool"
"Dear Miss Nikki, you great and I presheted (translation: appreciate) you and Merry Christmas. evelyn"
"To Miss Nikki, can you wear red coat that I will be really happy and I will say wow to you. Brian"
"Dear Ms. Nikki. You are a good American and you are a good teacher. from David"

Can you guess which present I loved the most? I might have started crying. Okay, so I cried a lot. You would have too.

Warning: this post is about to get stupid sappy. Stop reading if you have a weak stomach.

As you've read in my last few posts, I've not been having the best time the past few weeks. I still love my life here (for the most part), but things have gotten kind of hard. I didn't expect to have to defend my character to the woman who hired me. I didn't expect to get to the point where seeing "Procter & Gamble" on my toothpaste tube would make me tear up. And I didn't expect to have to have an evacuation bag packed just in case we got bombed. When I look ahead to my future, I always see it as a movie montage of all the high points, but I forget that real life is a lot messier than the movies. Sometimes you get really sick, and sometimes you're in a bad mood, and sometimes you get your heart broken, and sometimes you forget why you're doing any of the things you're doing at all. And then you crack a joke and one of your kids responds, "Teacher, are you being facetious?" - because you taught him that word! - and it suddenly all seems worth it.

Teaching is really hard. I knew that when I was in the thick of student teaching, and that's why I gave up on it. If you look back on my journal from that semester, you can literally watch my spirit die as the weeks progress, and there's a letter at the end to the Eaton High School class of 2008 that blames them wholeheartedly for killing my dream of wanting to be a teacher. Aside from clearly being too melodramatic for my own good, I truly thought that would be the end of my attempt at being an educator. I've known a lot of people to judge teachers for having such "easy" jobs, but being responsible for the psychological and emotional well-being of dozens of children is a ridiculously daunting task. Unless you've actually spent time in a classroom, I don't think you can really know how frustrating and maddening and discouraging it can be to listen to yourself say the same things over and over and over and over until you're not sure if "getyourfingeroutofyournose" is actually a sentence.

But teaching is also the most rewarding job I could possibly imagine.

When the kids were on the stage, every parent in the audience had a camera zoomed in on one individual kid, but I stood in the back and watched them all. I knew which ones shimmied the best during "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and which ones would giggle when they tried to say their lines. I knew which ones couldn't keep their costumes from falling off to save their lives and which ones always slipped in their tap shoes. The parents each had one child to be proud of, but I had eleven. Every single one of those kids on that stage made me so ridiculously proud tonight, and I can't imagine ever dedicating my life to anything other than this. I'll say it again: teaching is hard. It's harder than you can possibly imagine to give every part of yourself to a room full of typically ungrateful little kids. It's frustrating to spend weeks trying to convince your kids it's a "quarter" not a "quater" then have to defend your own credentials to someone who has never spent even a full minute watching you teach. But the high I'm on from watching those kids tonight could get me through a dozen unfounded accusations from my crazy boss. Yeah, I deal with a lot of crap here. But this is what I see every morning when I come in:

and that makes it all worth it.

One last thought. People always talk about how you don't fully understand God's love for his children until you have children of your own. I kind of always put that in the "I'll experience that later" file in my mind, hoping that one day I'd understand what people meant by that. Tonight I think I got a little glimpse of it. If the way I love these children isn't even close to how much their parents love them, and in turn that's insignificant compared to how much my God loves me... then I'm humbled beyond words at how much I'm adored. If looking at those little faces can literally bring joyful tears to my eyes, then how much more am I loved by the God who designed and created me? It'll take a whole lifetime to understand it, I think, but I know it's beautiful.

Friday, December 17, 2010

No pants, the sequel

If you're really good at keeping track of the time zones, you'll notice that it's Friday night as I write this. Normal people go do things on Friday nights, but me? I'm in my pjs watching the second season of Community. That's because I'm sick.

I'm usually pretty whiny when I finally acknowledge that I'm not in tip-top condition. I'll deny being sick (or injured - anyone remember last week's concussion? I don't - bahaha!) until I positively can't stand up anymore, and then it's like the world is ending. I complain about being sick to everyone I see and I can't really be trusted to do simple things, like eat or shower. This time I'm not all that upset about it, though. I only have a cough and a sore throat, but since I'm leaving for Bali in NINE DAYS, I wanted to get myself checked out on the off chance it might be something worse than a cold.

After school, I headed down the main street in Gangnam. Hana and I met Jeanne outside a building once that she claimed was a doctor's office, so I set out in that general direction and hoped for the best. I had no idea if it would be open on a Friday night, but I wasn't sick enough to go to an actual hospital. The plan was to find out whether it was open, possibly get checked out, and return home with McDonald's. Simple.

The doctor's office was precisely where I thought I remembered it to be; unfortunately, it was on the fourth floor of the building. Whose cruel idea was it to make sick people trudge up four flights of stairs? Anyway, when I walked through the door and smiled at the receptionists, both their faces dropped. I immediately realized no one spoke English in that particular office. I approached the desk anyway and said, "Doctor? Sick." while pointing at myself. One of them handed me a form and circled the top portion. Although I have mastered reading Korean, my vocabulary is limited to "thank you" and "really?", so I had no idea what to write on the lines. The other receptionist waved her hands around in the shape of a small rectangle, and I knew she wanted to see my alien card (because that's the only thing I possessed that she could have possibly cared about). I handed it to her and she took the paper away from me as the other woman jammed a thermometer inside my ear. When it beeped, she looked at the number and waved me away to the waiting area.

I waited only a minute or two before one of the receptionists got my attention and directed me into the first exam room. The doctor looked at me and sighed. He said something that sounded like "Hangul," which is the name of the Korean alphabet, so I assumed he was asking me if I spoke Korean. I shook my head and he replied, "What is wrong?" I said "cough" and waited, beginning to regret my decision to seek medical attention. Fortunately, my lungs chose that precise moment to spasm out of control. When I calmed back down, the doctor looked inside my throat and declared it a "tonsillitis injection." Allowing for the translation error on the word "infection," that would be a pretty good diagnosis... if I had tonsils. I shook my head and pointed at my throat then mimed throwing something away. He rolled his eyes and pointed at his throat, which I took to mean, "Look, white girl. It's not actually tonsillitis, but that's my favorite English word. Just roll with it." I nodded and let the receptionist guide me into an adjacent room.

She indicated that I should set my things onto the table before starting to prepare a needle. I took off my coat, assuming she'd need access to my upper arm to administer my shot, but she looked me right in the eye and tapped herself on the butt. You've got to be kidding me. She flicked the end of the needle to get the air bubbles out and waited for me to remove my pants. When I unbuttoned my jeans and offered her my hip, she grabbed the back of my pants and yanked them down, stabbing the needle right in the middle of my buttcheek. When she pulled the needle out, she reached for my hand and wrapped it around a cotton ball then left me alone in the room. Usually when a nurse makes you hold cotton to a recent injection site, she means for you to hold it there for at least a little while. However, when she returned a few minutes later, it was immediately clear that my pants were expected to have returned to their normal position long ago. I sheepishly tossed the cotton in the trash and buttoned my jeans back up before following her out to the counter. She typed a few things in the computer, printed out a page written in Korean, and asked me for 5,900 won.

Most of my readers aren't familiar with the current exchange rate, but that's about five bucks. Five. Last fall when I had poison ivy, it cost me nearly $300 to get rid of it. But tonight, my tonsils magically regrew and became "injected" and I was able to take care of it for less than I paid for the chicken sandwich I got on the way home. Korea may have the worst education system I have ever seen, but they're onto something with health care.

The paper the nurses gave me turned out to be a prescription; I took it downstairs to the pharmacy and traded it in for about thirty pills of all different shapes and sizes. I thought maybe since the doctor's visit cost me next to nothing, they'd screw me on medication, but the pills totaled a whopping three bucks. The lady at the pharmacy told me when to take the pills, not to drink coffee, etc. and sent me on my way.

Despite having diseased yet non-existent tonsils, I'm actually feeling quite well, but I'm still going to use this as an excuse to avoid going out in the cold. I'm proud to have stumbled my way through my first solo visit to a Korean doctor, but I sincerely hope that next time I'll be able to remain fully clothed for the entire duration of the visit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Anyone still out there?

So it's been a week and a half since I last posted. I'm really not in the mood to post now, but I'm kind of afraid people will stop caring about my blog (read: people will stop caring about me) if I don't post things. I still have fun and hilarious stories from Japan (my airplane sounded more like a rocket ship on the way home and I sincerely thought I was going to die), but I'm really not in the mood to tell fun and hilarious stories. I'm whiny and sad and homesick... so those are the kinds of stories you're going to get.

On Wednesday, I fell in the bathroom at school and hit my head. Although I'm sure you're imagining a cartoon-like fall where my feet flew into the air and I crashed onto the floor, I assure you it wasn't that amusing. I slipped on the way out the door, and the side of my face slammed against the door frame. I kind of laughed it off, but when I still had a headache on Thursday afternoon, I diagnosed myself with a concussion and a slow bleed that would surely kill me in my sleep. I spent all of Thursday night watching the second season of Modern Family until Tiffany came upstairs to make sure I was still alive and sent me to bed.

Then Friday might have been the worst day I've had in Korea. When I came into the school, the principal commented on how my classroom was not as plastered with Christmas decorations as the others. She asked me what I thought of it - to which there is no correct answer. If I said it looked fine, she'd have freaked out, saying that I didn't care about the decorations and thus didn't care for my students' well-being. If I said there should be more, she'd have gone straight to Hana and told her that I demanded more decorations and that she wasn't doing her job. So, as nicely as I possibly could, I asked her if it was my job to decorate the classroom. I knew that my comment could be viewed as sarcastic, so I said it as genuinely as I could, but she took it as a direct insult to the entire Korean education system. As soon as Hana arrived, she pulled her into her office and told her that we do nothing and we are terrible teachers. She told Hana that she'd have to make an extra backdrop for the Christmas musical and eleven choir robes (out of felt and glue). Hana said that she didn't think there would be time to make all of that, so the principal told her that she would just have to stay late and come in on the weekends. Keep in mind that the Korean teachers are paid about half as much as the foreign teachers and make no overtime. Hana came back to the classroom nearly in tears and said that she'd be staying until midnight every night next week to finish the backdrop and that the principal had told her I should be helping. The next time I saw the principal, I asked her if I would get overtime if I stayed late to work on the backdrop, and she exploded. She pulled Hana out of the room and yelled at both of us in the hall for pretty much our whole lunch. When we went back in the classroom, Hana curled up in a ball in the corner, and I told her that she needed to quit. Hana's wanted to leave since September, but she stayed because we're really good friends and I told her I'd miss her. She packed up her things, and when the shuttle left in the afternoon, she took everything with her. As soon as the kids were gone, I set my head down on my desk and cried... until the vice-principal came in and told me that the principal wanted to talk to me again. I spent an hour in her office. During that hour, she told me that Hana was crazy and that I should never listen to her, that I don't have a brain and don't know how to think, that I don't care about my students, and that she's never had a problem with a foreign teacher before, which must mean I'm a racist. She also stamped her feet like a child and threw a pillow at me. I ended up walking out of her office.

Tomorrow morning I have to go back into that terrible school and face that horrible woman. I'm not as much worried about that, though; I should be able to avoid contact with her as long as I stay in my room. But I have to explain to all the kids that Miss Hana's not coming back, and I'm not really even ready to deal with her being gone. Work has been so much fun these last three months because I spent forty hours a week with one of my best friends, and now she just won't be there. Of course, I still have all the other foreign teachers (who have all been treated the same way I was by our hateful principal), but it won't be the same. I'm glad she finally quit; the principal treated her so terribly and she was absolutely miserable working there. But it doesn't change the fact that I'm going to miss her like crazy.

So that's where I am right now. Not even the tiniest part of me wants to go into that school in the morning; not only do I not really want to work without Hana, but why on earth would I want to work for a woman who called me racist and said I had no brain? The other foreign teachers keep telling me that she does this; she'll pick a person she hates and make their life a living hell for a few weeks until she moves on to someone else. Basically I just have to let my eyes glaze over when she starts shouting at me and not take anything personally until she picks her next target. I'm probably the most sensitive girl on the planet, so this is going to be a miserable couple of weeks. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, though: two weeks from right now, I'll be landing in Bali, and I won't have to think about GATE school for a whole week. Or maybe I'll cancel my return flight and just live on the beach for the rest of my life. We'll see.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Japan's mating dance (I think)

It's funny how much your desire to write blog posts dwindles when threatened with impending war. I got home from church tonight with the intention of "quickly" writing this out and heading to bed early for a change. Unfortunately, it's been over half an hour, and I still don't feel like typing. I was so excited when I got back from Japan to tell everyone my crazy stories, but they totally slid to the back burner in exchange for updating my google newsfeed every three seconds to find out if North Korea's finally snapped. I have a friend in the Army here, and I've been sending him incessant messages asking if I'm going to die (he assures me that I'm not). Thus, it's been a week and a half, and you still haven't heard the conclusion of my whirlwind weekend in Japan. I'm rectifying this problem right now.

After Fukuoka Tower, I headed back to the hostel to call it a night. When I got back to my room, the other three beds were already filled with snoozing girls I never got a chance to meet, so I snuck in, changed into my sweatpants, and headed to the living room to hang out with the guys. I had met a guy from New Zealand when I dropped off my stuff earlier in the day, so I tracked him down and made him talk to me. Within just a few minutes, though, all the testosterone-driven beings in the place had recognized the sound of a female's voice and congregated in the living room. They took turns telling me HILARIOUS stories of their travels, and I think I read maybe a paragraph of the book I had brought to entertain myself. None of them had been to Korea, so I became the resident expert, filling them in on couples outfits, noraebangs, and kimchi.

One of the guys, a German dude who worked at Abercrombie and Fitch, definitely won the award for most adorable. His English wasn't great, so he'd occasionally start mumbling in German, trying to remember the word he wanted, or he'd just say it in Spanish or Japanese because - that's right - he spoke four languages. And I literally almost fell off the couch I was laughing so hard when he described the interview process for A&F. (This may not be as funny when not told in a German accent, so I apologize in advance... better yet, read the following with a German accent in your head.) He said that someone had told the Japanese management that in America, A&F pays guys to stand in boxers at the doorway and greet the customers. Something got lost in translation with the greeting, though, and they were all required to point two imaginary guns while saying "What's going on?" Apparently this is nearly impossible for Japanese men to master (they must be terribly uncoordinated or something), so my German friend was hired above all the others. He told some fantastic stories about working for Abercrombie in Japan, and his accent certainly didn't hurt my attention span.

After about an hour and a half, the guys decided they wanted to go out to a club. Although they invited me, that was my cue to sneak off to bed. The bed might have been my favorite thing about the whole trip. My bed in Korea is horrendous. I literally had bruises on my hips the first two weeks I was here because the darn thing is like concrete, but the bed in Japan was like a cloud. I could have slept there all day Sunday - but that would have been kind of lame, don't you think?

When I woke up in the morning, the other girls in my room had already left, but I could hear my new guy friends in the room beside mine. When I finally managed to pull myself out of bed, I walked a whole two steps down the hall and started stealing snacks. The room smelled terribly like sweaty guys, but it didn't phase me. I don't have a lot of guy friends in Korea, and that kind of drives me crazy. I've always been the type of girl that just made friends with guys easier than with girls, so I sometimes have a hard time with the fact that the only males I see in a given week are my two coworkers. I miss lewd jokes and never-ending junk food and the sometimes awkward homosexual tendencies (why do you men all like to snuggle with each other so much?). A guy from Georgia wandered in shortly after I arrived and promptly asked me to marry him. I politely declined, but he wasn't deterred. He referred to me as his fiancee the rest of the conversation, and when he got up to leave, he said, "Wife! We're taking a shower! Let's go!" I smiled and said, "No, thank you." He shook his head and said something about divorcing me before he left.

Having accomplished my goal of finding Harry Potter, I had planned to just wander around for the rest of the day - that is, until the New Zealand boy asked if I had heard about the Sumo-Wrestling Tournament. I had, in fact, done some research, and had been heartbroken when the website said all the tickets were sold out. NZ told me that they sold nose-bleed tickets day-of, and I should try to score one. That was all I needed to hear; I grabbed my bag, left my key on the counter, and said goodbye to my favorite little hostel.

Have you ever seen Sumo before? I hadn't. Of course, I knew it involved fat guys in diapers, but really that was the extent of my knowledge. Oh boy was I in for a treat. The ticket was just a little more than the movie ticket had been, and I was pretty far away from the action. I considered quite a few times moving right up to the front and just acting like a dumb foreigner when confronted, but the expensive seats weren't actually seats at all. Only the very top rows had chairs; the rest of the room was filled with mats like you'd find in an elementary school gym.

The tournament had already started when I arrived, so the fighting was already in action. I kind of pictured Sumo to be like an overweight version of WWF wrestling, but friends, it is not. I could try to walk you through it, but I think you'd enjoy it more if I just showed you a video.

Forget the German guy - this had to have been the sexiest thing I saw the whole weekend. I've decided that that beginning part, the part where they kick one leg into the air then smack their own asses, is going to be how I secure my next boyfriend.

I watched the tournament for about two and a half hours before deciding it was time to move on. Watching mostly-naked, obese Japanese men smack into each other is fun for a shockingly short amount of time.

On my way back to the subway, I swung through a few Buddhist temples. I'm positive that I'm the only person I know who has ever seen the biggest hand-carved wooden statue of Buddha in the world, so, um, kudos to me. Here's a picture so you don't feel left out.

It was easy to find, as they had labeled it with this:

I visited a few other temples on my way out and took a bunch of pictures of incredibly random things, but this is where I'm stopping this post. I recognize that that was probably the least satisfactory conclusion ever, but I'm extra lazy tonight and just want to eat M&M's and watch Modern Family. Sayonara (which is actually pronounced "si-YO-na-ra" not "si-oh-NAR-ah" like I always thought)!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Peanut butter, Potter, and the Pacific

This week has been nothing short of an emotional disaster. North Korea attacked us, my principal threw me under the bus in a confrontation with a psycho mommy, and one of my closest friends is leaving very unexpectedly in about four hours. But in the face of chaos and frustration and fear, I also was able to enjoy Thanksgiving evening with two fantastic American friends at an American steakhouse, Hana's face immediately after I talked her into trying eggnog ("Is this made of toothpaste?!"), and late-night hot chocolate with one of my absolute favorite Canadians. Life is just like that sometimes, I guess. The highs and lows all bundle themselves up together until I can't figure out if I'm laughing or crying or some strange combination of the two.

After the detours of the week, I'm going to jump back into my Japan Saga. We left off with me trotting down the sidewalk in Fukuoka with only one directive:

I asked the people at the hostel how to get to the Hawks Town Mall, and I had already accumulated three city maps, so I was completely confident in my ability to locate Potter. Fukuoka is a big city by most standards, but after living in Seoul for the last three months, it felt comfortable and quaint. It reminded me a little bit of Dayton, if Dayton ever built a subway and imported an alarming number of Japanese people.

My favorite thing about Fukuoka was that there were trees along the streets. For a girl who just six months ago spent multiple nights a week wandering around the park after work, nature has been something I've had an incredibly hard time not encountering on a regular basis. You can take the girl out of the corn fields, but you can't take the corn fields out of the girl... or something to that effect... Anyway, I took a lot of pictures of trees because I was so daggone excited, but the vast majority of people reading this blog can look out their window and see something green, so I doubt you really want to look at a bunch of pictures of Japanese trees. I'll show you one picture just to prove I saw some.

Yep, these are trees.

The mall was precisely where the map said it would be, and my first goal was to find the theater and purchase my ticket. The mall, however, was uber-distracting, and it took me nearly half an hour to remember where I was supposed to be heading.

I'm the one on the left.

Japan knows what I like.

When I got to the theater, I again assumed that there was no way I'd encounter an English-speaker, and I was fully prepared to mime out "Harry Potter." I approached the counter and said the name of the movie very slowly because in my head that magically translates my English into whatever language I'm currently needing. The teenage kid behind the counter smiled at me and politely asked if I'd like to see it in English. I considered this delightful new development. American movies in Korea are shown in English, and I had assumed that that would be the case in Japan as well. But seeing the movie dubbed over in Japanese pretty much guaranteed hilarity... until I found out the ticket was $23. I bought my ticket for the only English showing all day (not even IMAX!), and headed back out into the city for two hours.

Although I wanted to shop around the mall, that could be done after dark. The beach, however, was best experienced during daylight; I made a bee-line for the sand.

One of the reasons I chose that particular mall to see the movie was because it was located right along the beach. Technically, the waters belong to the East China Sea, but I think that's stupid because it's the same water as the Pacific Ocean. I'd never seen the Pacific Ocean, and I'm not going to consider this a failed attempt due to a technicality. I ate lunch with my feet in the Pacific, thankyouverymuch, and no silly map is going to convince me otherwise.

I approached the beach cautiously. There was no one else on the whole stretch of land, and it was entirely possible that the signs I passed on the way in said "Radioactive shark-infested waters ahead! Do not enter!" No one came running off the street to stop me, though, so I made my way toward the sand. It was a little chilly outside, but I wanted to say that I had at least touched the water, so I went right up to the edge. For some reason, touching the water with my hand didn't even occur to me; I kicked off my shoes and stuck my toe in. Then my whole foot. Then the other foot. Then I ran through the sand and splashed water all over my pants. Whoops.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time jumping and trying to take a picture of my flying shadow. I'm sure I looked like a complete fool, and I have photographic proof of about a dozen failures. If any of you can successfully complete this task, please let me know. I'll post the picture on here, even if I don't know you.

While I was playing, I noticed a pier jutting out into the water with a few fishermen on the end of it. Naturally, I needed to be there. The pier was covered in signs, but my desire to walk to the very end of it outweighed my concern for obeying the law, so I skipped to the end and pulled out my lunch: a peanut butter sandwich and Disney Princess fruit snacks. 

This moment, eating my sandwich and looking out onto the water, was the highlight of the entire trip. Although I was super-excited to go to Japan on my own, I was a little sad about it all. I love being spontaneous and adventurous, but sometimes life just isn't as much fun when there's no one around to play with. The day before I left, all my friends back home had status updates about seeing Harry Potter at midnight (and my friend Kirsten participated in this, which makes me more envious than you'll ever know), and I was worried that my trip to Japan was going to end up a terribly lonely choice. But as I sat along the water, with no one around to break the silence, I was so glad I'd made the trip alone. I felt like that beach existed in that moment just for me, and I genuinely enjoyed my own company. I was actually quite sad to see the time run out, and I knew as I left the beach that those few hours splashing in the water are always going to be some of the best hours I've ever spent for reasons I don't have enough words to adequately explain.

As the clock counted down the time until the showing, I knew I had to abandon my little paradise and head back to the mall. Fortunately, leaving something that makes you happy for something else that makes you happy isn't too difficult of a transition, so I skipped back to the mall just in time for some cinematic bliss.

My blog isn't really the place for movie reviews, but I will say that this Potter was, in my opinion, the best one yet. I don't say that every time; I left Order of the Phoenix feeling disappointed and a little seasick (who the heck directed that one? a drunk on roller skates?). But this one... oh my goodness. David Yates, you're my hero. The second that movie hits Korea, you can bet I'll be in line to see it again. And again. And again in 3-D. Amazing.

After the movie, I shopped in the mall for a while, visited Fukuoka Tower (which has a floor called "The Lovers' Sanctuary" that's lit in pink and filled with cozy little love seats. It's like all of Asia gets a kick out of constantly reminding me that I'm single.), and headed back to the hostel to call it a night. Up next on the blog: a living room full of adorable accents and fat guys in diapers. I know - you can't wait.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A thankful post

Thanksgiving is already half-over here in the ROK, but you wouldn't know it. I'm at work, just like any other Thursday, and there was something in my soup that looked like tiny brains. My five-year-olds are discussing the current political affairs ("Teacher, did you know four people died? And thirteen more got hurt? It is North Korea's fault!") while they practice Christmas songs and color pictures of what they hope Santa brings them. I'm sitting at my desk, refreshing the google newsfeed every five minutes. My hands are shaking as I type this, but I don't know if I'm cold, scared, or sad. Maybe all three.

Yesterday was one of the worst days of work I've had in the three months I've been here, and I stayed up until one in the morning crying to Carie about how things are just not the way I hoped they'd be right now. It's impossible to not imagine what I'd be doing at home right now; fighting with my family over which Thanksgiving dinner to attend and reading the Black Friday ads to map out our 5 AM shopping plans. It's my first Thanksgiving abroad, and it's harder than I thought it would be. It doesn't help that one of my kids just suggested playing "bomb shelter."

I could write a post about all the things that feel like they're falling apart. I'm sure quite a few of you are curious about my exchange with the principal yesterday, and I probably have more information than the American media is providing you regarding the bullies up north and their not-so-secret uranium plants. But today is a day for being thankful, not miserable, and I firmly believe in the theory of "fake-it-til-you-make-it" during circumstances such as these. And thus, here is a list of things I am thankful for today.

I'm thankful that I have a job to hate. This time last year, I was unemployed and couldn't afford to buy groceries, and now I have a job where I get to listen to "Butterflies in the USA" while watching some really adorable kids try to sing and sign along. Sure, my boss pissed me off yesterday, but doesn't that happen with any job?

I'm thankful that I'm American. I'm not the sentimental, patriotic type, but in light of current affairs, I'm so proud that my passport has an eagle on it. Yes, you could say that the US just has its hands in everyone else's business, but it's because of America's willingness to assist countries who need it that I am safe right now. One of my Canadian friends posted something yesterday about how he was waiting for Obama to send more troops over, and I felt a little rush of pride. No matter how much you hate the US, most foreigners here are trusting America more than their own countries to stand beside South Korea, and that makes me so thankful.

I'm thankful for adventure and the ability to chase it. It's mind-blowing that I'm in a geographic location where I can hop to Japan for a weekend just to see a movie, and I'm so incredibly blessed that I had the opportunity to follow this crazy dream of moving to Asia alone. Life is a bit surreal when you're literally in the middle of living out your dreams, and I'm just so grateful that all of this is possible.

I'm thankful for skype and the people who have made time to talk to me on it. It's remarkable that I have the technology to talk to my friends and family on the other side of the world whenever I need them, but in some ways, it's even more remarkable that I have so many people to talk to. I haven't been able to keep in touch with all the people I care about as much as I would like, but that's one of the best problems I've ever had to deal with.

I'm thankful for my family, and it's been far too long since I've seen them in person. I'm so grateful for the way my family has handled this ridiculous adventure of mine, particularly now that things are kind of dangerous. Even though my parents hated the idea of me moving to Asia (and my mom even threatened to put a box-cutter in my carry-on so that I wouldn't be allowed on the plane), they supported my right to make my own choices and dream a little too big. My parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins have been so great these past few months, sending me packages every few weeks, talking to me on skype all the time, and reading this blog religiously. Thanksgiving's really hard without you, but I hope you're enjoying the seaweed paper I sent home especially for this occasion.

I'm thankful for the family I have here. I'm thankful for the other teachers who commisserate when the school makes me want to pull my hair out and for the people at Jubilee who have listened to me cry more times than I'm comfortable admitting. I can't believe I've only known you all three months, and it already devastates me to think about the fact that we'll all be going our separate ways far too soon. Without you all, I'd be heading home right now for sure.

I'm thankful for forgiveness and grace and God. His faithfulness and blessings are completely undeserved, and they are the reason everything else on this list exists. All good things come from God, and I have more good things than I ever thought I'd have.

Wow, that worked amazingly well; I'm much more peaceful and grateful than I was an hour ago when I started typing this. Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Americans. We have a lot to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We interrupt this program with breaking news

I still have three posts to write on Japan (yes, I've already divided the story into three pieces and I've outlined them in my head. me = so dorky), but I wanted to acknowledge the current affairs in Korea before everyone saw it on the news and freaked out.

North Korea fired artillery rockets at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong earlier today. One South Korean soldier is confirmed dead, while at least a dozen others are injured. Many civilians also sustained injuries, and according to a few reports, they've evacuated the island. According to an email sent out by the US Embassy about an hour and a half ago, the firing ceased around 3:30 today, and the US is watching the situation closely.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not panicking a little. I'm from a country that is habitually at war but never, ever on its own turf. Although the US has plenty of enemies, I never once worried that someone was going to bomb Cincinnati. Here, however, I'm in the capital city of a country that has a vicious enemy just a stone's throw away, and it's honestly a little terrifying. People who are far more knowledgeable than I am agree that North Korea is getting desperate, and it's a pretty well-known fact that they have nuclear weapons. I'm comforted by the fact that there are a significant number of American troops here and that Japan will also come to our defense should the need arise. Unfortunately, no number of soldiers can prevent the devastation that a nuclear bomb would cause, but hopefully North Korea recognizes that if they begin a war, they will not win.

While it's quite simple to label the Koreans who had the misfortune of being born north of the DMZ as monsters, that's not entirely true. Yes, I am in a country that has been torn apart with war for over sixty years, but that's not because every last human in North Korea is bloodthirsty. They're ruled by a desperate man, and they live in a country that is just barely hanging on. Experts have referred to North Koreans as "the world's most brutalized people", having suffered through atrocities reminiscent of the Holocaust at the hands of their own government. North Korea is a broken and suffering country, and painting the entire population as evil is as pointless as it is untrue. North Korean citizens need to be rescued, not feared.

I don't want to see war in Korea. Obviously, the biggest reason is because I'm in the center of the city that Kim Jong-il will likely attack first, and if they send a nuclear weapon, there's really nothing that can be done to stop it. However, my own safety isn't the only reason I'm praying for peace here. In a country that's been brutally divided for over half a century, there are people just north of the border that protects me who are being tortured. They don't deserve to be destroyed any more than I do, and war here will lead to millions of unnecessary deaths. War doesn't determine who is right, only who is left.

All that to say: please don't worry about me. The Korean War "ended" in 1953, and they've had issues many, many, many times since. I'm protected by the same military strength you unfailingly trust to protect you from terrorists in the Middle East. And, as people have been doing ceaselessly for the last sixty years, pray for peace in Korea. I firmly believe that God doesn't want to see this nation devastated by war any more than I do, and the only thing that's in my power right now to do is to beg for protection. That, and watch Glee while eating M&M's and folding my laundry. Because in the face of fear, the best response I have is to tell God I'm scared and go on with life. Please, please do that too. Right now, there is literally no fighting going on, and if things escalate, the US government has promised to evacuate American citizens as quickly as possible. I'm going to be fine.

But pray anyway, just in case. :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mischief Managed

One of the best things about moving to Korea was the fact that I'd be living in the future. Aside from finally being able to start my fortune-telling business, this meant that I was going to be able to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a full fourteen hours ahead of any of you suckers back in the States. Unfortunately, my gloating was short-lived. After I'd already arrived here (read: I was stuck here), mugglenet posted the official release date for DH Part 1 in Korea: December 16th.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that's nearly an entire month after almost every other country in the world. 

I stared at my computer screen in disbelief. Warner Brothers, what have you done? South Korea has the fastest internet in the world, and I could have downloaded the entire movie fresh off the cutting room floor months ago. And yet you've decided to make this country the very last one to release the movie? Not only is it unfair; it's not even a sound business move.

Seeing as the worldwide release for DH was this past weekend, I certainly have access to the movie now. Pirated copies are everywhere, and I could download it faster than you can say "accio copyright infringement lawsuit". The thing is, I'm really finicky about my Potter. Watching it on a computer screen just doesn't have the same effect as seeing it in IMAX; then again, waiting until December is practically torture.

Solution? I went to Japan to see it.

This was the first Potter movie that I didn't get to see at midnight while surrounded by a crowd of my nerdiest friends, but seeing it in Fukuoka almost makes up for it. Although I only spent 32 hours in Japan, I crammed as much in as possible, so this adventure's going to take up a handful of blog posts. I got it in my head that I should write these posts based on activity, completely disregarding chronological order, but I spent the last two hours typing complete crap before finally admitting to myself that I'm a storyteller, not a reporter. I can't write about each event one at a time; I need to tell the whole story from start to finish. So I deleted everything I wrote and I'm going to tell you the story the way stories are meant to be told: from the beginning. (Note: I might be the most OCD blogger in the history of the internet. Oh well. Y'all love me anyway, don't you?)

I had to wake up at 5 AM on Saturday to get to the airport in time for my flight. True to form, I decided around 11 PM on Friday that my laundry positively needed to be finished before I left, so I began my hyper-tourist weekend on about four and a half hours of sleep. Thus, here's me at the airport:

I was dead tired but still had to make a conscious effort to not bounce in my seat; I was on my way to see Harry Potter in a foreign country! You could have sawed off one of my appendages and I still would have been grinning like a fool. On top of my dorkiness, I totally love airports. There's just something about being in a place where people start new journeys that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I wanted to run up to every stranger I saw and ask what kind of adventure they were on. Don't worry, I didn't actually do it. I just really wanted to.

Unfortunately, the flight wasn't the best. I was seated next to an Air Force guy, and my time in Korea has significantly lowered my opinion of the US Air Force (Bradster, no offense to you, of course). As soon as I sat down, the guy told me he had been watching me in the terminal and hoped we'd be sitting together. Charming. He then looked me over and with a super-creepy smile told me I looked like a party girl. Dude, it's 9 AM on a Saturday and I'm wearing fake glasses and a t-shirt that says "Muggle." In what galaxy do I look like a party girl? I tried very hard to look interested in my book while he told me about the Japanese "chick" he was going to visit. Then the jerk had the audacity to ask if we could meet up while we were both in Fukuoka. Um, "hell no" doesn't even begin to cover it there, sweetheart. After the longest hour and a half of my life, we got off the plane, and I hid in the bathroom for half an hour to make sure Romeo was through customs before I came out. It's really a shame that I spent two days in a foreign country and the most uncomfortable situation I was in all weekend was the direct result of my interaction with another American. It's no wonder the rest of the world thinks we're all assholes.

Once I was sure Colonel Jackass was gone, I emerged from the bathroom and went through the customs line. They stamped my passport and released me into the airport, where I had to locate the subway then figure out how to ride it. Three months ago, this would have certainly been enough to cause a full-blown panic attack. I couldn't read anything, and I kind of didn't know where I was going (my parents are beaming with pride right now). I pulled out my ipod and checked the map the hostel had given me, then I found my way to a ticket machine. I'm actually unreasonably proud of the fact that this:

didn't cause me to immediately burst into tears. I double- and triple-checked my map before purchasing my ticket, then I watched a few people pass through the turnstiles before mimicking their actions. I headed down the stairs to wait for the subway. It arrived, looking thoroughly as a subway train should, and transported me to Hakata Station. Easy-peasy.

The station was far bigger than I had anticipated, and I had trouble figuring out which exit would point me in the direction of my hostel. I had been warned by pretty much everyone in Korea that very few Japanese people speak English, so I wandered around stubbornly for a while before giving up and approaching the information kiosk. When I walked up, I intelligently mumbled "help... hostel?" and waited. The girl behind the desk replied, "Oh, are you looking for the Khaosan Hostel?", effectively making me feel like an idiot for assuming that the desk labeled "Tourist Information" wouldn't be staffed with English-speakers. She pulled out a map, highlighted my route, and sent me on my way.

Before I left, I told my parents about my trip and gave them an itinerary, but I conveniently left out the fact that I was staying in a hostel. I'd never stayed in one before, and I was a tiny bit nervous about it myself, so having my parents freak out wouldn't have been very helpful. Japan is crazy expensive, and you simply can't argue with the fact that $20 for a hostel is significantly better than $400 for a hotel. The hostel, however, exceeded all expectations and was one of my favorite parts about the trip. It was immaculately clean and the bed was a million times more comfortable than the concrete slab Korea gave me; additionally, I got to hang out with people from literally all over the world, and that was really cool. I have a ton of hostel stories, but they don't chronologically fit here, so you'll have to wait. :) You can, however, look at some pictures:

The complete album will go up on facebook eventually, but there's a little sampling.

I checked in, tossed my extra clothes in my locker, and hopped online to let my parents know I was safe before heading out to locate the Hawks Town Mall. I had done some research, and discovered a movie theater, a spa, and something called the Dessert Forest Cafe, all situated right next to the beach. Perfecto.

This post is already pretty long, so I'll call it a night. Up next: lunch in the sand, some sight-seeing, and the Deathly Hallows. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tis the season

My kiddos have been working really hard on their Christmas concert, but I haven't had the chance to pop down to the gym to see them practicing. Today, we rehearsed their lines during class, and they asked if they could "tap". Well, sure, small ones! Tap your little hearts out!

Now if that doesn't put you in the Christmas spirit, I don't know what will :)

They've also been working on something special courtesy of Rosie, youtube, and yours truly, but I'm waiting to show you that one until closer to Christmas. Don't worry; it'll be worth the wait.

Speaking of waiting... there's a certain movie that's being released pretty much worldwide this weekend. Why "pretty much" worldwide? Because Korea is quite possibly the lamest country on the planet and isn't releasing it until December 16. Those a-holes over at Warner Brothers can't stop this girl from seeing Deathly Hallows on the big screen opening weekend... but you're going to have to wait until Monday to read more about that. In the meantime, here's a trailer.

I might be drooling. Don't judge.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

For the dudes

**AUTHOR'S NOTE: This post was written so that the guys who follow my blog wouldn't get too bored with all the hairdresser talk over here at this post. You're welcome, guys.**

Here's a video of a prank that involves a man's head in a port-o-potty.

And here's a picture of a ham sandwich.

That's the extent of my knowledge about what men like.

Gender-specific post: females only

**AUTHOR'S NOTE: This post is for girls only. If you are a guy, please go to this post, written especially with you in mind. Unless you have an affinity for inexplicably long descriptions of beauty salons, I highly recommend you stop reading now.**

I have a dysfunctional relationship with my hair. Sometimes I pretend to really care about it, and I straighten it and style it and wear it proudly. More often than not, though, I don't even wash it, and I just throw it into a ponytail on my way out the door. If it looks really awful, I'll cover it with a hat to buy myself another day of not washing it. (Boys, I told you you wouldn't want to read this.)

When I got to Korea, I found that if I let my hair naturally dry on my way to work, it looked quite good. Some days were better than others (depending on the humidity levels), but for the most part, my hair turned out decent and I was washing it almost every single day!

My hair looked so good on this day that wildlife flocked to me, having mistaken me for a Disney princess.

Unfortunately, it's getting colder here. When I shower in the morning now, I'm left with two options: risk pneumonia and let my hair dry on the way to work or blow dry it. Now, it's not just out of laziness that I avoid hairdryers. I actually don't mind spending the time doing it; my issue with hairdryers is that they leave my hair looking like this:

I know you think I'm exaggerating, but I promise I'm not. Once in college, Kimi walked into the bathroom right after I finished drying my hair and literally started laughing. Kimi also laughs at bellybutton lint, but still. Ruling out venturing into the cold with my hair dripping onto my shoulders, I'm left with two new options: dry it and look like a fluff ball or dry it and straighten it.

I spent nearly all of college going the straightening route. I'd wake up way early to tame the beast on my head, and after half an hour of work, it usually looked pretty good. In fact, most of my friends didn't even know my hair was naturally curly until I got caught in a rainstorm. It wasn't until this past summer that my laziness approached a whole new level and I stopped straightening my hair on a daily basis. In the last six months or so, I can count how many times I've straightened my hair on one hand. It wasn't terrible; as long as it wasn't too humid out, I could let my hair dry itself and it usually worked out pretty well. But when the weather changed and I was stuck with the choice between spending 45 minutes getting rid of my curls or just looking like I stuck my finger in a light socket, I chose the latter. Every day for the last two weeks, I blow-dried my hair, nearly scared myself in the mirror, and tied the frizz up in a knot on the back of my head.

The ponytails got old really fast. Although I hated the frizz and the boring hair style, I refused to waste the time in the morning making my hair do something different. That's where Magic Straight comes in.

Before you get really excited (Rosie), Magic Straight doesn't involve real magic. It's essentially a backwards perm that makes your hair stick-straight and frizz-free. I'd heard urban legends of similar processes in the States, but they always seemed to be tagged with "it doesn't really work though". Here, Magic Straight is the thing to do. Korean girls absolutely love it, and some brave foreigners have jumped on board as well. I did a little research on google and made an appointment to permanently calm my curls.

Yesterday morning, I woke up early and headed out to Hongdae to experience the magic that would change my life. I grabbed a coffee and hopped on the subway (for the record, I totally got on the wrong train. I eventually found the place, but I could have gotten there in about half the time if I'd taken a different route. Ah well. I happen to really enjoy the subway, so it was fine). I had a little map in my foreigner guidebook, but Hair & Joy was really easy to find. I arrived about twenty minutes early and hung out on a couch reading my book until my appointment.

It's worth noting that everyone at Hair & Joy speaks perfect English. There are tons of hair salons in Korea (hello, stereotypes), but it's surprisingly hard to find a place that knows how to deal with caucasian hair. Hana called the place she usually gets her hair done, and they told her that they would be happy to do my Magic Straight perm, but that they didn't know if they had the right chemicals for a westerner and that they couldn't guarantee that my Magically Straight hair would still be attached to my head when I left the salon. Hair & Joy, on the other hand, was able to answer my questions and quiet my fears... oh, and they had free cookies.

I didn't take any pictures of my hair styling extravaganza, but I found some images on google that will help you to understand the process. You're welcome.

As is common protocol at salons, the first thing that occurred was a washing. When I returned to my seat, Sophia dried my hair before getting to work.

She applied chemicals and wrapped my head in Saran Wrap.

Then she pulled a machine up beside me that melted the Saran Wrap to my head.

I pretended instead that it was melting my brains and made situation-appropriate faces at myself in the mirror. You'd have done the same, I'm sure.

Then she washed my hair again, dried it again, and straightened it. When she finished the straightening, she immediately started squirting some kind of cream all over my head, ruining the hour of work she had just completed. She let me sit for another twenty minutes before, yet again, washing my hair. This time when she dried it, however, there was a miracle. My hair was straight.

That may be the lamest miracle ever recorded, but to a girl who's spent the last decade of her life constantly looking like her hair was recently caught in a tornado, it was magical. Hopefully I won't get too unmercifully mocked for doing this, but here's a before and after:


I mean, holy cow.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In case you were wondering, I'm crazy.

It's been almost a week since I last posted. I've been a little busy, what with fall retreat last weekend and that silly job thing I go to every day, but that's not why you haven't heard from me. I'm kind of embarrassed to tell you the actual reason, but I owe you the truth, don't I?

Two weeks ago, I discovered that my blog has a built-in counter. Google provides me with a "Stats" tab that it took me four months to find (modern day Sherlock right here), and it tells me EVERYTHING about my blog and its viewers. I mean, really, I have your social security numbers and a PDF of your great-grandmother's birth certificate.

When I first discovered this tab, I had significantly more page views than I expected, including regular visitors from Malaysia, the Philippines, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia (to name a few). My teensy mind has had a heyday trying to process this, and I've gone through the following phases:

  1. Pride: I must be the best writer in the WORLD! People from countries everywhere check my blog and it is absolutely because I'm a frickin' champion. I have more fans than JK Rowling, the Olson twins, and Big Macs combined! My words are magical and my jokes are superb, and the second I leave here I'm going to publish a book of all my amazing and unique stories! Now if you'll excuse me, Elizabeth Gilbert's agent is on the line.
  2. Fear: Wait, I have how many people reading my blog? And one of them found it by googling the keywords "health check + my butt"? Oh my goodness what have I done? What if the school finds out I've been posting videos of the kids? Or if I start getting stalkers waiting outside my building? I need to delete this blog and change my name to something less famous, maybe "Angelina Jolie."
  3. Curiosity: I wonder if there are any other people in Korea who had the brilliant idea to write down their experiences? I'm sure I must be the only one, but I'll check just in case...
  4. Self-loathing: There are 191,000,000 results on google for "Korea blog". And every single one of them is better than mine. None of my experiences are original; if my family and friends found out about how many other Korea blogs there are, all of them with a much higher standard of writing, they wouldn't need me anymore. A drunk monkey could type a better commentary on Korean culture, and he'd look way more awesome doing it. I'm a failure.
  5. Self-pity: I can't believe I even tried to write a blog, and I doubly can't believe people actually read this garbage. I bet the thousands of page views are just my grandma refreshing the page every six minutes. If my friends here found out about all the "new" and "exciting" things I've written about (that aren't new or exciting for anyone who's been here more than five minutes), I'd be the laughing stock of East Asia. I also had to google whether it was "laughing stock" or "laughing stalk" - ie, I'm the most pathetic English major on the planet.
  6. Denial: Blog? What blog? Oh no, I'm not the one who wrote that mess. You must have me confused with someone else; my name's Angelina Jolie.
It's quite hard to formulate a coherent blog post when your mind is tumbling around like wet gym socks in a dryer (man, I wish I had a dryer). I considered turning my blog into something "for the masses" and writing about more of the business side of my adventure. I'm sure if I hadn't had a friend to explain everything to me as I went through the application process, I'd have followed random foreigners' blogs too. I could write about the different kinds of schools, what types of restaurants to avoid when you're not with a Korean, and what songs you can put on your ipod to keep yourself from bursting into tears on the subway. But I'm not very advice-y. I tend to write about life as I see it, and my life is messy and hilarious and (if I'm being honest with myself) pretty average. I don't know how long she's had it up, but I realized today that the tagline on my friend Angie's blog says "it's not a blog about korea. it's a blog about me... while i live in korea." Amen.

This blog isn't really about Korea. Sure, I've told some stories that wouldn't happen in the States, and honestly, most of you probably wouldn't be reading if I didn't live in a foreign land where tiny octopi are considered a delicious contribution to a lunch tray. There are hundreds of other places on the internet that you can go if you want to learn what it's like to live in Asia; this blog is about what it's like for me to live in Asia. Some things are horribly commonplace and some things are pretty special to my adventure, but it's all just my life. This blog isn't going to become any bigger than it needs to be because it's already far bigger than I ever dreamed. And I'm not going to stop writing it, no matter how many other Korea blogs out there have already covered my material. I'm not writing for them; I'm writing for me.

I'm reading a book called Bittersweet right now, and there's a little excerpt that I love. Shauna Niequist (who is fabulous, by the way) talks about art and how many people there are in the world who are creating and how we can get lost in the shuffle.
     The world doesn't need another band, per se. It doesn't, strictly speaking, need another book or another photograph or another album. The general world population will survive without one more stage production and one more gallery showing.
     This is the thing, though: you might not. We create because we were made to create, having been made in the image of God, whose first role was Creator. He was and is a million different things, but in the beginning, he was a creator. That means something for us, I think. We were made to be the things that he is: forgivers, redeemers, second chance-givers, truth-tellers, hope-bringers. And we were certainly, absolutely, made to be creators. 
So there you have it. It's funny; I knew conceptually that moving to Korea was going to teach me a lot about myself, but I don't think you can really know what that means until you're in the middle of it. I expected to "grow and stretch and change", but I don't think I ever thought about what that would look like. I find that I'm constantly bombarded with things to consider: business ethics, culture shock, morality, standards of education, my own brokenness and incompetencies. I thought my blog would be a place where I'd post pictures and tell funny stories before they slipped out of my mind, but it turns out my little website is where I rummage through this world of sensory overload and learn what it means for me to become a part of it.

And you're just crazy enough to read about it.