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.

Amen.

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:

video

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 :)


<3

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.

video

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.

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)!!