Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What exactly are you trying to sell me?

I've become far too accustomed to life here. My roommate when I lived in Cincinnati, Katie, is currently in Taiwan with her boy, and she's sent me the most precious things about how funny the locals are there. As I read about her adventures, I realized that I see those things every day; I've just forgotten to be amused by them. With only two months to go in Asia, I'm going to try to rectify that a little bit.

Everywhere I go, there are advertisements. That's not unexpected; I live in a huge city and people gots to make the monies. Unfortunately, as someone who doesn't understand Korean and isn't familiar with every Korean product, I sometimes have a really hard time figuring out what, exactly, the poster is trying to sell me. And thus, we get the aptly titled game, "What exactly are you trying to sell me?"

I'm going to show you a handful of ads, and you're going to tell me what you think they are trying to sell. If no one plays, I'm not posting the answers, and I'll feel awfully rejected - you don't want that, do you? Good. Let's begin.

Poster 1:

Poster 2:

Poster 3:

Poster 4:

Poster 5:

Poster 6:

Poster 7:

Marlene, you're not allowed to ask for Augustine's help. Happy guessing, everyone! I'm looking forward to seeing your answers!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I really do miss America, sometimes.

I know I've been awfully heavy on the "Korea is my soulmate" posts lately. I'm not going to try to make excuses for it; Korea has been the peanut butter to my jelly, the macaroni to my cheese, the trash can to my kimchi (that's what I do with kimchi, anyway). I suppose it's not actually Korea that I'm desperately in love with; I could write a whole post on how the Christian ex-pat culture is a perfect fit for the way I tend to make and keep friends, but that would bore you all to tears. I know everyone in my family is freaking out, trying to figure out how they can get me deported to ensure that I will, in fact, return to Ohio sometime before menopause. Don't worry everyone; I'm coming back in September whether I like it or not - to zap through grad school so I can get a better job, uh, here.

That said, there are a few things I miss about America. Aside from the obvious (my family and friends, being able to understand when people talk to me, and Chipotle), here are a few other things you don't know matter until you're not in the country anymore.

1. I can't wait to buy produce in normal quantities.
This one is huge for me. I love eating fresh fruit all the time, but it's really hard to buy that kind of stuff here. I can find nearly anything I want, but not in a quantity that makes any sense for a person living alone. Bananas come in bunches of thirty, grapes are sold in giant flats, and strawberries come in heaping bowls. On the flip side, a small watermelon is 20 bucks and a half a cup of blueberries will run you around 7.50. I miss Kroger.

2. I can't wait to see the stars.
Apparently light pollution is not only a thing, but it's a big thing. I know this is a problem in many American cities as well, but I've never lived in any of those cities, so it feels like a Korean problem to me. When I look up, I just see an endless expanse of... smog. On a very rare occasion, I can find the moon up there somewhere, but I miss being able to lay in the grass and stare at the sky, feeling very, very small.

3. I can't wait to shower without getting my whole bathroom wet.
I don't think this one needs an explanation. I complained about my shower right after I got here, but for the most part, I've adjusted. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize I probably needed to wear plastic sandals in the bathroom when I dry my hair after a shower because standing in a puddle of water and holding something connected to an electrical outlet is actually quite dumb. I'm lucky I never zapped myself, and I'm wiser now, but I'm still really looking forward to having a real shower. And bathtub.

4. I can't wait to use a dryer.
Air-dried clothes are crunchy and wrinkly, and I'm far too lazy to actually worry about ironing them. I'm looking forward to not looking like a hobo anymore.

5. I can't wait to listen to the radio.
If Korea suddenly banned iPods, I'd leave immediately. I couldn't survive a day without that little box of sound attached to me somewhere. I listen to it when I'm walking, when I'm on the bus, when I'm on the subway, when I'm in stores, when I'm grading papers, and sometimes when I get home and I'm too lazy to put it away and turn on my computer. My iPod is my best friend... but it's getting a little old. I've started listening to sermons instead of music because I'm tired of all the same songs. I'm so excited to get back and see what new music is out there to... download for my iPod.

6. I can't wait to have breakfast options.
I'm a creature of habit, so I usually choose a cereal and stick with it for a few months. This method worked well for me when I first got here; Frosted Flakes were all I recognized, so they were all I bought. However, nine months of Frosted Flakes and peach yogurt for breakfast every single day can kind of get boring. I've mixed in Honey Nut Cheerios from Cost-Co once or twice, but my breakfast routine has basically remained the same. I seriously can't wait to eat those little chocolate donuts, Lucky Charms, and Toaster Strudels... all at once.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"Hiking" doesn't mean what I thought it did

This doesn't come as a shock to most of you, but I'm from the midwest. Born and raised in Ohio, I call it pop and never soda, carry an umbrella, sunscreen, and mittens year-round, and hate the colors blue and yellow. This weekend, I learned that I also misunderstood the word "hiking."

My family used to go "hiking" when I was younger, and my friends and I went "hiking" all the time in college. "Hiking" for me meant walking along a relatively flat trail in some tree-filled location, occasionally climbing over a fallen tree branch or medium-sized rock. I loved going "hiking" out at Houston Woods when I wanted to hang out in nature in Oxford, and I frequently met friends at Winton Woods in Cinci to explore the "hiking" trails. As I understood it, "hiking" was fun, relaxing, and peaceful.

Enter Korea.

Earlier this week, my friend Jay asked if I wanted to go hiking this weekend at Bukhan Mountain. Using the definition I just described, I determined that hiking was, in fact, something I wanted to do with my friends. A few days later, Jay emailed me some details of the trip, explaining that the peak we were going to ascend was rated an "intermediate level" climb and checking to be sure we were all up for the task. Never one to overestimate my physical capabilities, I emailed Jay back to ask what exactly an "intermediate level" trail might look like. He replied that as an American girl who grew up playing sports and is in shape, I should have absolutely no trouble climbing up the mountain.

Let's all take a moment to laugh about the fact that Jay assumed I'm in shape and have ever played a sport in my life.

After an email like that, I couldn't hardly respond and say I'm too out of shape for the climb; my pride is much, much stronger than my laziness. I happily agreed to the challenge, assuming "intermediate" climbing was as challenging as "intermediate" Dance, Dance Revolution: harder than I'm used to, but still entirely doable.

Do any of you see where this is going yet?

We met at the subway station at 9:20 in the morning, and we headed out for the trail. Our group consisted of four guys and four girls, and everyone seemed pretty chipper despite it being before noon on a Saturday. The entrance to the trail was up a set of stairs, but the ground leveled out fairly quickly after we reached the top. All was well.

Our group chatted happily and enjoyed the trees for a while, but sooner than I expected, we came to a bit of a climb.

My friends and I jokingly referred to it as "level 1" and headed to the top. After each set of rocks, the ground would level out again and we'd resume our cheerful banter, sometimes stopping to be annoyingly American.

On one of our stops, someone hilariously commented that a nearby monstrosity (Baekundae Peak) was actually our planned destination.

"Sure," I said. "That's pretty and all, but you can't actually climb that part."

"Yes you can, and we are! See those little dots? Those are people climbing!"

I started to get a little nervous. And by "a little nervous", I mean, "it's a good thing I was sweating so much or else I'd have peed my pants."

Much sooner than I'd have preferred, our dainty nature hike turned into actually climbing a frickin mountain.

Every time we would get to the top of a particularly treacherous part, I'd feel a little rush of adrenaline, and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, only to realize we had another stupid chunk of rock to climb up.

There were tons and tons of people doing the very same climb we were, and most of them were much older than our group, but they still all managed to be handling it far better than I was. In fact, they were quite amused by the fact that I always appeared one misstep from tumbling to my death.

I mean, really, look how delighted that man is by my imminent demise.

After three hours (THREE HOURS) of walking straight into the sky, we finally reached the top. The peak was beautiful, and in theory I should have been praising God for the majestic view I was witnessing. Unfortunately, all I could think about was how if I lost my balance even a little bit, I'd have fallen half a mile. Okay, I probably wouldn't have fallen the whole 2700+ feet; I bet a tree or something would have stopped me. Nonetheless, when your legs are shaking and everything around you is made of smooth rock, you're much more concerned with the placement of your feet than the pretty view.

If the way up was panic-inducing, the way down was flat out terrifying. On top of trying to maneuver across the slippery rocks at a downward angle, my legs were shaking like mad. A bunch of ajusshis (older men) snuck in between the rest of the group and me, and I had a little panic attack knowing I couldn't grab hold of any of my friends should I start to slip. Just when I realized this, my foot slid a little down the rock, and the ajusshi behind me grabbed my hand. They all used their limited English to encourage me to "take it easy" and "please be very cautious" as I tried desperately to get back to my friends. Now that I'm safely sitting on my apartment floor, I can look back and declare it precious and kind of amusing. In the moment, it wasn't much fun.

We stopped a little ways down to have lunch, and that was my favorite part of the climb. We sat on a mostly flat area that still had a great view of the mountains around us, but there wasn't really any risk of falling. Although we were all exhausted and covered with sweat, sitting on the side of that mountain eating lunch with my friends is going to be one of the best memories I have of my whole year here.

It took nearly as long to climb down as it did to climb up, and I would say it was actually harder on the way down (shaky legs and lightheadedness don't make for an easy climb). Luckily, my friend Stephen was fantastic. He made sure to place himself between me and another girl who was also terrified out of her mind, and he bounced back and forth, grabbing our hands and lifting us down off the rocks. Honestly, I wouldn't have made it up or down the mountain without his hand to hold onto. He always seemed to know exactly where we would slip and was ready to grab us when we did. At one point, he was a little ways ahead of me and I got stuck between two rocks. He realized I wasn't behind him and started climbing back down to find me; I made it out before he got there, but seriously, what a great friend.

When we finally got to the bottom, I was still feeling lightheaded, so people kept offering me water. Every time I drank more, I'd feel sicker, and I nearly passed out on the subway ride home. After I finally made it back to my apartment, I immediately fell asleep, and when I woke up, I still felt really dizzy. I ate a handful of M&M's and voila! I felt better almost instantly. I suppose if you climb a mountain for seven hours and only eat an apple, your blood sugar, um, tanks. Lesson learned: when climbing a mountain, everyone else needs to bring water. I need to bring candy.

It's been over thirty hours now since the mountain trek, and I can say with 100% certainty that my muscles - every last one of them - all hate me with a vengeance. Muscles I didn't know I had are screaming out in pain every single time I move.

And it was totally worth it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A love letter

Dearest Korea,

We're finishing up this crazy adventure in just a few short months, and I don't want to wait until I'm boarding that plane home to realize all the great things about my life with you. I want to take a minute while there's still time to make more memories to let you know that I appreciate everything you've done for me. Thanks for the hilarious moments and the sad ones; thanks for the incomprehensible joy and the occasional confusion. Thanks for always being right outside my window, comforting me with smog and the smell of rotting garbage as I struggle to fall asleep with people shouting angry words I don't understand in the street below. Thank you for the million ways you make me smile each and every day, like...

... when I see flip flops with Obama's head on them...

... when I pretend to be Oz while I'm "teaching"...

... when signs are inappropriate in the most hilarious ways...

... when ketchup comes in a smiley face...

... when I get to make Harry Potter at a cafe...

... when people exercise in the weirdest places...

... when you offer me really sound advice...

... when my kids show up to school looking awfully dorky...

... when the view is just too pretty...

... when Journey becomes our mantra...

... when there are too many friends to fit in one picture...

... and when dancing at lunch is the best thing to do...

... thank you. Thank you for these moments and these friends, and for the countless other reasons why two and a half more months just isn't long enough to take in all this joy.

Thank you, Korea, for being you, and for teaching me to be me. Here's to eleven more weeks of us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Learning to be sassy

I don't know how to wink.

Okay, so that's not entirely true. I understand the concept and my muscles respond appropriately when I concentrate on the task. I guess my issue isn't with the act of winking as much as it is that I don't have any idea what to do with my face while I'm winking. I don't know to what extent I should wink.

When I try to wink, one of two things happens. I either wink too much:

or not enough:

Maybe I should have titled this post "Reason 742 Why I'm Single."

Anyway, so this week, our letter was W. Naturally, I decided it would be a great idea to teach my kids how to wink in honor of our letter. I'm the last person in the world you want teaching someone how to wink (see above pictures), but I'd say it went over pretty well. Better than the time I thought I would teach them how to read, at least.

Not all of the kids were confident enough in their abilities to pose for a picture, but here are a few of the really good ones. And by really good, obviously I mean hilarious.

Lest you think I like any of these kids more than Brian, I asked him to join in the fun too.

I may not be the best at teaching trivial things like spelling and math, but I'm teaching them how to flirt really, really badly, and that's all that matters in the end.

*Note: The first picture I post always ends up as the thumbnail on facebook's newsfeed. I've been debating this whole time whether I should add an irrelevant unicorn or something at the beginning so people don't see those terrible pictures unless they click the link. Screw it. Let's call it a lesson in humility. Or humiliation. Either way, a lesson.