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.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

You can call me Nikki Teacher

I didn't move to Korea for the job. I mean, I did, because I wouldn't have moved here just to be unemployed and homeless, but I really didn't want to teach. When I graduated from college, I adamantly avoided working in a classroom - despite the fact that I had teacher roommates, teacher best friends, and a teaching license. I have a whole list of reasons for not wanting to teach, but they can all pretty much be summed up by saying that I was too afraid to fail. If I fail at putting books on a shelf in the proper order, the world really won't come crashing to an end. But if I fail at loving children and teaching them how to be caring, functioning adults, then I could be single-handedly responsible for creating the next Hitler. That seemed like far too big a risk for someone as prone to screwing up as I am, so I told myself I would never teach.

Yet here I sit, in a classroom in Seoul, wondering how the heck I got here. Even more, though, I'm wondering how I ever thought I could do something other than teach and be fulfilled. (I can hear your "I told you so" all the way over here so zip it.) Are there times when I get so frustrated I literally think I might explode? Heck yes. Fortunately, the times when my heart feels like it grew three sizes outnumber those times ten to one, and that's why I keep going.

I don't really have anything more to say, but I wanted to share some stories about things that make my job totally fantastic. Some of them are funny while some are sweet, but all of them together have led me to realize that four little wooden tables and a dry erase board make up my favorite room in all of Korea.
  • I had to use my free period to sub for another teacher who was out sick. We're doing the same lessons, so it wasn't a big deal aside from the fact that I didn't get to play on facebook for that hour like I usually do. I read the story with Meghan's kids and they filled out their workbooks lightning fast, so I let them draw pictures (don't tell Korea!). When the bell rang, one little girl skipped up to me, handed me a folded piece of paper, turned pink, and scampered off. Inside, she had drawn a picture of her holding my hand inside a big heart, and she wrote "Miss Nikki I love you!" in huge letters across the top. I'd been in the class for 45 minutes and she already adored me. Picking up this willingness to love others and express it wouldn't be the worst thing that's ever happened to my personality.
  • Earlier this week, my new student had an accident... all over the classroom floor. This was something I'd honestly never dealt with; when I worked at the daycare, all the kids wore diapers, and when I student taught in a high school, most of those kids wore diapers too. Due to our language barrier, it took me a while to figure out what he was telling me, but as soon as it clicked in my mind that there was urine all over my floor, I leapt into action. I told all the kids to drag the tables onto the rug and sit under them while I went to find the janitor to mop up the tile. As soon as the kids were in place, it occurred to me that my limited Korean skills (hello, thank you, and grapes) wouldn't get the point across. Hana wasn't around, so I snatched the hand of my smartest student and took off down the hall. We literally ran everywhere in the school, looking in classrooms and storage closets, but we couldn't find the janitor anywhere. The school secretary was in the bathroom, so Evelyn and I both frantically told her what was going on. She tracked down the janitor and sent her to the room where Evelyn explained our predicament. I walked around the room, pointing out wet spots, and Evelyn trotted along behind me, pointing them out again (I think my hand gestures would have translated just fine, but you can never be too sure). I had Evelyn ask for a cleaner, hoping to get bleach or some kind of disinfectant, and the janitor sent her down to get the bottle out of the closet. When she came back, she handed me a bottle of Febreze and the janitor nodded. It was the most disgusting and stressful moment I've had all week, but really, how can you not laugh? WTF, Korea? Febreze? Oy vey.
  • We've been having trouble regulating the heat in our classroom now that it's getting chilly out, so our room fluctuates from being an ice box to a sauna without warning throughout the day. I had an extra sweater on just in case, so when the room reached equator-like temperatures, I ripped it off and asked the kids if they were hot too. Brian hopped up out of his seat and shouted, "I am buuuuuurning like the fire, Teacher!" The other kids literally fell out of their chairs they were laughing so hard.
  • The pencil sharpeners here are adorable; they're shaped like little houses or trucks, and they're ridiculously brightly colored. I was a tiny bit obsessed when I got here, but all in all, they just scrape wood off of pencils. The other day, I watched a little boy in Meghan's class sharpening his pencil. When he pulled it out, his eyes got huge and his whole face lit up. "Woah! Teacher, it's like magic!" New goal: obtain child-like joy and never let it go.
  • During fairy tales, I always draw the story we read on the board. The kids usually laugh at my stick figures (I add triangle dresses and squiggly hair to denote females, of course), but my subpar drawings generally suffice. Today, I drew a shoemaker with a funny hat, then the kids told me I needed to draw his wife. I scribbled my standard girl on the board, and I heard a slow clap starting behind me. I turned around, and Brian was on his feet, smacking his hands together in the most proper way possible. "That is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen," he said, drawing out each syllable like he was the first person to ever lay eyes on the Sistine Chapel.
I have some quotes too that are hilarious but don't really merit a whole story:

Evelyn: Miss Hana is very pretty and you are just so crazy. She will always steal your boyfriends. She will have so many husbands and you will have none.

Robin: When I was a baby, my daddy killed bad people.
Me: Is your daddy a police officer?
Robin: No.
Me: Is your daddy Batman?
Robin: No!
Me: Are you sure?
Robin: ... no...

Miss Joann: I asked you to draw a picture of an animal that starts with a "b". What did you draw?
Bella: Egg.

David: How do you spell "Imperial"?
Me: Why?
David: I am drawing the Star Wars.

Me: Who is the tooth fairy?
Brian: She comes in during the night and cuts out your tongue.

To sum up: The school gave me a few of the pictures from the field trip (service-ee!), and I was flipping through them with Hana. She started thinking out loud about how the kids probably aren't going to remember us in twenty years, and I literally teared up. I'm never going to forget the goofy little Asian kids who make my working hours just as much fun as my free time, and I really need to work harder to make sure I'm soaking up every second I've got with them.

Also, I'd give every penny I'll ever make in my life if I could keep Brian. He drives the other teachers absolutely up the wall, but seriously, I'd give the kid a kidney if he needed one. Hell, I'd steal a kidney right out of another human being if that's what he requested. I'm totally wrapped around his little finger, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two month mark

Two months after I moved in with the Wilkinsons, I got a job at the library.

Two months after I started at the library, I started working at other branches on my days off.

Two months after I started the job at the day care, I quit.

Two months after I started the job at iSqFt, I quit.

Two months after I started the job at Amend, I started applying for jobs in Korea.

Two months after that, I moved to Asia.

For those of you who haven't yet caught on to where this is going - I've been in Seoul for two months.

*taps fingers on desk*

The past week or so, I've been fighting a general discontentedness. I mentioned it to my friend, Angie, yesterday, and she told me that most people go through a bout of homesickness/depression/what have you every three months. She said the first one hit her a month early, and it sounded to her like that's what  is hitting me right now. The more I considered it, the more it seemed to fit; that is, until I realized my own pattern.

I can't keep doing something for longer than two months.

I'm not throwing in the towel, and if you offered me a ticket home, I wouldn't take it (sorry, Grandma!). I still adore my job, my friends, the subway system, street food, you name it. But I'm just feeling... I don't know... meh. (yes, "meh" is the best word my college-educated mind can produce. thank you, miami university.) I'm in a routine now, and I'm really, really terrible at routines. I don't like when things stagnate, and I've been here just long enough to start to feel antsy. Every day, I get up at the same time, take a shower (washing everything in the same order), eat the same breakfast, walk the same route to work, and wrangle the same group of kids. I don't want a new adventure or a new life; I just want to be excited by this life again. I don't get lost trying to find McDonald's anymore, and I haven't pulled out my "100 Things to do in Seoul" book in weeks. I can read Korean now, and I finally have enough equipment to start preparing meals at home. Things are starting to steady out, and I'm not good at steady.

This is the part where I get nervous. What if this is all there is? What if my life follows this same pattern every single day until I die? What if I never meet new people or see new things or travel to new places? I'm struggling against the urge to flip my life upside down again. I could break my contract and go teach in Thailand, or sign up for a DTS somewhere in Africa, or go to seminary here at Torch. I'm in the middle of Asia with only two suitcases worth of possessions to my name; I could literally go anywhere or do anything. The thing is, though, I don't actually want to leave. I'm happy here, like that deep-rooted happiness where you can fall face-first into a pile of manure and still think "man, my life is good." I'm growing and changing literally every single day, and if Paris Baguette isn't my soulmate, then I don't know the meaning of the word. For this season of my life, I belong here - I mean really belong - and I wish I could stop fighting against it.

Due to my "meh"-ness, I spent today robotically completing my tasks and teaching my kids. After school on Mondays and Thursdays, I teach an extra class for kids who used to attend Gate but are now in elementary school. Usually it's the most painfully boring part of my day, but today was a little different.

While I was teaching, one of the boys kept peeking inside his backpack. I finally asked him what he was doing, and his eyes got huge, as though he truly thought he had been invisible the whole time. Jokingly, I asked if he had an animal in the bag. The kids all laughed, but David just crept lower in his chair. "Seriously, kid. What do you have? A mouse?" He shook his head. "A turtle?" He stared. I stared. "David, do you have a turtle in your backpack?" He nodded. "Like... a live turtle?" Another nod. "I'm... going to need to look inside your backpack."

Yep, the kid legit brought a reptile to class in a ziplock bag. And I was worried my life was getting boring.