Monday, December 28, 2009


I’m sitting in an open air coffee shop, banana shake and coffee in front of me, Russians to my left (with an odd obsession for toast) and plants in all 360 of my vision. Amanda and I arrived in Bangkok 2 days ago. To be honest I threw Bangkok onto the itinerary because A. Amanda still giggles every time she says our location and B. it is blasphemy to travel Thailand and not sneak a peak at its Bangkok.

The waitress just answered her, bejeweled pink I-phone in the middle of my trying to order a coffee…yep still waiting….the caffeine deprived dirty looks are not phasing her…is a pinch inappropriate? Ok victory…refocus.

We got off our morning Air Asia flight and I instantly felt like I had dunked my head underwater. The absence of sound was deafening. I hadn’t realized how acclimatized I had become to constant commotion. The energy, I felt lost without, is best explained through Saigon's circular streets. Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) has a couple of main round-abouts. The Circle of death in the city center, this is the Pacific Gyro of Saigon, everyone in the city is collected in the gyro, violently mixed about, then thrust at random back into Saigon.

Side note: I have a manual motor bike, forces beyond my control sucked me into the gyro, my roommate (Sian) was on the back, I stalled four times in succession, I may have peed a little, I swore I saw the bright light of death, turned out it was just truck headlights coming straight for us, I still have night sweats about the experience, Sian just thought I was pausing to help her conveniently light a cigarette.

Anyhow, I expected Bangkok to be a huge Gyro of death the likes of which I had never seen. Not the case. It is…organized, clean and as previously stated, quiet. I think it helps that Thai is not as harsh as Vietnamese. A Vietnamese person could be having a conversation 100 yards away and it still stabs your ear drum repeatedly and sadistically. Also, I am sitting in a “real” chair right now: if I were in Vietnam I would be sitting in a lawn chair. Additionally, I am looking into a stream of traffic and can distinguish between those traveling north or south. I don’t like it… I prefer Ho chi min.

I am trying not hold its well maintained exterior against it…Amanda and I have had a glorious time. Two of my best friends from Korea have been living here for a month or two, so we have meandered with their guidance. Huge open air markets, fresh fruit, tattoos, dread locks, morbid manikins, pad thai, banana shakes, disturbing inanimate objects (I’m making a collage) tin cups and hues of orange… are Bangkok. Our favorite meal was given to us by Kitty, the taxi driver, (his mom made it) and our latest, great, conversation was instigated because the guy (the attractive guy) farted so loud, I couldn’t let it go uncommented.

Tonight we leave Bangkok. 7pm to be exact…we then are traveling down the coast by longest and cheapest means possible on route to Koh Pangan/the full moon party. The full moon party is a monthly party (obvious alert), started by travel hippies in the 60’s it has grown to a traveler’s spring break (exchange the drunk blonds for drunk blonds with dreads). There are live bands, “creative” fire games, and buckets of redbull and vodka. This year, the new year coincides with the full moon, this happens once every 26 years…this could be a bad idea. Nonetheless, we go armed with our rules (ok just one…stay away from the fire!) and other handy tips the farting foreigner bestowed upon us (the taxi drivers do not sell ecstasy).My only goal is to NOT add third degree burns to Manda’s laundry list of injuries!

PS I added this picture of Amanda's awesome sunburn...just as an added bonus. I will be constantly entertained until it evens out!

Friday, November 20, 2009

I'm not in Korea anymore

I came to Vietnam for an edge. So whenever I am clearly scammed I can't contain my jubilation. To be fair, at the time, I wasn't as thrilled as I am now. I had my first episode last week. This course is intense when it comes to work-load. So I left the coffee shop at 7am, to make it to my school by 7:05, to finish printing for my 9:00 class. Way too much time, but I had other work to do after I printed. I got into a cab thinking of the listening lesson I was about to teach... and paid no attention to the brand of taxi. Here you should only pick certain taxi avoid the story I am about to tell. The man started taking a different route. I told him he was wrong, and to turn right at the next street. "No, no, short cut, you relax," was his annoying response. 20 minutes later I was completely lost and hyperventilating. "Too much traffic," the taxi driver said. "You get out here, and walk straight, you school on left, very close." The school was neither close nor on the left. He had dropped me off in the middle of the city, 30 minutes from my school. I wander the street looking for a legitimate taxi, couldn't find one, so I hopped on a motor-bike taxi. This time, I negotiated my fare ahead of time (fool me once...etc). We get no more than 20 yards when the motor bike's back tire blew out. I billy-goated off the bike, luckily unscathed but I can't say the same for the driver. The man was livid with me. I think his gestures implied it was my obesity that ruined his bike. I wanted to to tell him I was just in America for 2 weeks, so a little weight gain was inevitable...but I swear I've been doing Yoga every day to compensate. We argued. I refused to apologize for my love handles and pay for the tire. In order to escape the escalating argument, I simply jumped on the next motor-bike I saw. I didn't negotiate the price...just told him the address and to hurry. We get to the school. I have less than a half an hour to prepare my classroom. Flustered I thrust the usual fare into the motor man's hands. He grabs my wrist. "60,000 dong," he says forcefully. This is more than motor bike's charge for an entire day of tooling around the city. I refuse. He is still grabbing my wrist. All he sees is a dissheveled blond. Here a damsel in distress is meant to be exploited not assisted. This is the first time I have used my Hapkido out of a play fight with Matt. I hoshinsel him...then run heals. Please don't think me naive. I am vigilant, but I slacken in the morning. No one scams before 10:00 am. False.

I was so flustered and pissed by the time I taught my morning class but I couldn't take my aggression out on anyone but the poor man who my listening lesson was about. I was so mean, my teacher asked if I knew the man, whose life we were listening to, personally. So, Jeff Norman...if you are out there.... I'm sorry. I'm sure you're not a Micheal Moor wanna be, I'm sure your mom enjoys you living in her basement and there is nothing wrong with being a paper boy at 43. It could always be could be a soul sucking taxi driver in Ho Chi Min City. Move over Korean 50 bus drivers...I have a new arch nemesis.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Alright. Vietnam four days...and go.

I had taken all of Thursday to wander the city, I basically started with small squares around my hotel then expanded them. A geometric approach to exploring the city is essential. The energy and overall activity is so intense it is as if you jumped into a "Where's Waldo?" book. Crossing the street became my greatest challenge. I would describe it as trying to pick your way between two invading armies. I literally stood on one corner for over 10 minutes, trying to make myself man-up. The overwhelming anxiety induced by street crossing, provided me with my first competition for this county. The street soon became a bully on the playground...and I refused to eat his bugs. I forced myself to practice crossing by zig-zagging down the busiest intersection. I feel as if all this exercise did was expend my luck. It was after my third or fourth traumatizing zig-zag that I stood on the sidewalk, doubled over, thoroughly dejected with an apparent false sense of security. At that time, I was suddenly thown over by a motor bike who had jumped to the sidewalk to skip the street traffic. The fall was nothing fatal--obviously. But I now see the sidewalk as that croney who stands behind chearing for a bully who is beating a poor kid to a pulp. Then once the victim is broken and defensless the sidewalk comes in and gives the final blow to my ribs. I shall have vengeance. A large, 63 year old biker, who insisted I call him "Big Lez", saw the entire "episode" and bought me a drink. I needed it...almost as much as he needed a shower. He then went through the finer points of how to cross the street. Soon I shall put the bully in his plae.
Thurs. night I met up with my couch host. His name is Matt. He is awesome, quirky, brittish and has an amazing apartment. He is a life saver...he crosses the street with me.
Friday, was another day for exploration. This time I hired a guide (for less than 10 dollars) to take me on his motor bike around the city. New day: new traffic analogy. Matt described it best. While on the bike, in the traffic, it is as if you are a school of fish. No longer individual bikers with individual mind.
Matt is a great host and took me out that night. I feel this warrents more than a blib, but the worst/most interesting part of the night was the people watching. Namely, white elder males courting young Vietnamese women. There is a distinct difference between Vietnamese women who are out to enjoy themselves and those who are clearly trying to hook some western money. Along the same lines, there is a creepy quality to the old men who enter a bar, circle it once or twice, then leave, obviously only there for "business".
Saturday and Sunday have been more of the same with the added demension of trying to find a place to live for a month. We found one (we: a couple buddies of mine that will also take the CELTA course). So I am currently sitting in my new room procrastinating doing my CELTA homework. I have so much more to say. I also know I will have no time to say it until this CELTA course is over. I think this will be my last blog for a month, which is sad because I feel it is fragmented and does not paint the proper picture of my elation.
They also blocked facebook here. I feel like they just cut off my arm.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm Alive

I HAVE ARRIVED. I am currently sitting in my hotel room in Vietnam tingling from head to toe with excitement. It is 9:00 am. I have already had two breakfasts and two showers. I am sitting here grappling with leaving half my clothes in this hotel... even my sun dresses are made of too heavy a material.

I arrived late last night after the longest successive plane rides in existence. On my final six hour flight I was finally able to sleep. I was so stir crazy by that time, I dreamt that I couldn't sleep and was still stir crazed. The dream was vivid and surprisingly accurate but I imagined my own passengers on the plane. When I awoke, not realizing I had dreamt I freaked out because the passenger next to me had apparently shape shifted. I continued to fall back asleep and have the same dream within a dream, to the point where I'm sure those in close proximity thought me autistic. It was a terrible cycle of wake up, pitch myself, peak out of my blind fold, gently poke the poor girl next to me, establish I had again joined reality, then doze once more. I think I need to start traveling with people.

This morning I woke up at 7:00 am, called my parents, then ventured into the world. Vietnam is sooooooo f*ing cool. Scooters dominate the roads and sunglasses vendors run the sidewalks. In Korea you are elbow to elbow with people, yet the energy seems to be that of a simmering pot. In Vietnam, the pot is at full boil.... the lid is clanking and steam infiltrates the entire kitchen. All of the restaurants are open air with no wall street-side. While I ate breakfast I was not a spectator sheltered in a building, I still felt immersed in the general hubbub of the street. I watched men drink multiple pitchers of beer, people ride by with nitrous oxide tanks on their scooter racks, a prostitute shamelessly proposition street-side, a dog defecate three times in succession, vendors carrying their entire product lines around their necks and I watched white people! I am no longer a shining beacon of blond…other races exist in this Asian world! On my walk home from breakfast, I was pulled into another. I sat and ate with a cool Filipino couple until the need for another shower brought me back to my hotel room.

I have been in Vietnam for less than 12 hours and I already feel saturated with the energy. I'll check out of this room at noon and hopefully meet my couch host at five. I was nervous, I loved being home, I was starting to miss Korea, I was feeling crazy for leaving two great worlds behind. Now, I realize why I do scalp is tingling, I feel like Aladdin (I know the imagery makes no sense because he is Arab and I'm in Asia, but I have a loaf of bread in my purse and wish I was wearing a turban.) So please excuse me as Abu and I go rob the rich and feed the poor, now I am Robin Hood.

....I should start traveling with people.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homage to the Ajuma

In my closing hours in Korea, I think of why we travel. Specifically, why am I uprooting myself once more, why am I going to another foreign land, why I am fleeing familiarity. I could stay in Korea--stay in an established life. I could roll around in the comfort of having figured out a once frightful place. I could have the money to buy luxuries such as colored underwear and pears. I could go to the grocery store ask for dried skin then happily douse myself in the shower I have yet to master. But I don't, and won't, and can't.

My conclusion, I leave in search of adventure. This conclusion, however, begs the question-- "Haven't I just experienced an adventure?" Answer: Yes. So what kind of adventure would it have been, had I not also discovered a rare and allusive mythical creature. This blog is an homage to the Korean living myth--The Korean Ajuma. I'm going to guide you through some awkward imagery, so stay with me and follow my instructions with your minds eye.

Imagine a pride of male lions, lounging-lazily, on a multi-level rock fixture. The pride's rock is central to an expansive prairie--the prairie is littered with dozens of other animals, all of which give the lethargic lions a wide birth. Now, lets break reality, transfix spiraled horns to the center of the lion's foreheads. The horn size denotes the animal's status within the pride, the larger the horn, the more intimidating the animal. Retain the aura in the air-- the feeling of raw power in suspension, now, replace the rock with wooden benches and platforms meant for outdoor lounging. Pave the surrounding prairie and sprout twenty-story high rise apartments where trees once grew. Our lions look oddly out of place in this newly built cement jungle but lets get a little weirder. Dress the lions in full track-suits and head-visors that are just long enough to reach the tips of their horns. Don't skimp on the color, you should have visors and suits that represent the entire spectrum of the rainbow. Watch, as the lion's manes recede and curl into a dense, wiry, afro. Now let the lion facade dissolve into the physique of an elder, Asian woman. This is how I envision the Korean Ajuma.

Please know I mean no disrespect, in fact, I wish I could bottle essence of Ajuma. I am sure it would contain the same miraculous properties as unicorn blood. Ajuma is the Korean term simply meant to signify a married woman or woman over the age of 35. As I hope the above excerpt exemplifies, this definition does little justice to this other breed of human. These women are oddly homogeneous in their characteristics from their overly large visors to their demeanor of unbridled authority.

Last week, I was talking on the phone on the bus, in English of course (my first mistake). An Ajuma sitting four rows back quickly lost patience with my polluting the air with foreign words. She walked up to me, I froze with fear, she took the phone out of my hand, hung it up, started to walk away with the phone as if she was confiscating it, decided it was too much hassle, sighed, wagged her finger at me and to my relief handed me the phone. So you may ask, "What did you do about it?" Well, let me tell you... I thanked her profusely for giving me back my phone then turned it off. Matt swears Ajuma's sharpen their elbows at night. I tend to think it is an evolved trait along with knowledge of how to disable and opponent by jabbing razor elbows into the space between the third and fourth ribs. Don't ever push by and Ajuma while trying to mount the subway, you WILL lose, you WILL swear your ribs are broken.

To switch gears, there is a little known fact about Ajumas that I would like to share in confidence. Ajumas are great electric fences. Where ever I go, I am swarmed by hordes of children, I get no peace and am constantly watched or awkwardly followed. The Ajuma's of my "hood" congregate on their pride rock just outside my apartment. It is a wooden platform where they smoke cigarettes, eat kimchi and discipline any child within range. I had spent many an hour circling the pride, hoping to gain entrance into their domain. Once I was eventually tolerated in their circle, it was a profound peace. The Ajumas acted as an electric parameter that no child dared breach. I was able to simply sit, or read, or enjoy my meal, while the kids circled like hyenas helplessly waiting for me to leave my Ajuma sanctuary.

Korean Ajumas are women who demand respect, but are also profoundly generous and caring. If they have food, you have food. If you try and decline the food, they will put it in your mouth the second you open it to say no. I will conclude with my favorite Ajuma story.

I was on the train down to Busan (a beach town). I was sitting next to an Ajuma who was disproportionally excited about my ability to converse with her in Korean. After we swapped lunches, my peanut butter and jelly for her kimchi and octopus, I was feeling sleepy. I passed out freezing because I was wearing a sundress and the aircon was on. I woke up, warm and content. It took me a couple of seconds to realize I wasn't coddled in a warm cocoon, but rather, the Ajuma next to me had wrapped us both in her blanket and she was softly snoring on my shoulder.

And this my friends concludes my Homage to the Ajuma.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Four months and one blue belt ago I began Hapkido. I feel the need to quickly profile my experience because Monday I am following our Hapkido teacher to a bigger school in Pyeontaek (the neighboring city). This marks the end of one of my favorite experiences of my lifetime. I can only describe it, so let's go together, starting with the walk from my apartment.

I let you try and unlock my apartment door but the many needless locks confuse you and eventually I have to interfere.
You huff, "Leslie we have been in your apartment for two seconds, Korea is the safest nation in the world, I think the dead bolt would suffice and save you at least 20 minutes a day!"
"I'm sorry but my mother has put the fear of god in me, and unless I lock all the locks, I waste 40 minutes a day trying every combination until the twelfth attempt yields daylight. Did you come all the way from America to bitch, Katchi ga, we're late"
We exit my apartment building which is the same color and design of every other Korean apartment building. You know how in new suburbs, developers take three home models, make small variations, then pepper 100 miles with the same house...Korea did this with 20 floor high rises.
We cross the small playground just outside apartment, Korean adolescents currently loiter, passing the time with K-Pop synchronized moves.
"Those were four teenage boys simultaneously pelvic thrusting to a boy band...right?" You ask with disbelief.
"Yes, for such a homophobic country, I swear half of these men would be a shoe-in for chorus line. Keep moving they are starting to stare at us."
We walk the short block out of my apartment complex.
"Les-uh-lie, Les-uh-lie, Yonga sunsangnim! Yogio! Les-uh-lie"
We are swarmed by four of my students in roller blades and Tykwondo uniforms. Each child carries a dixy cup filled with random, delicious, street food. Three more children ,who are too young to be my students but know my name, join the fray. They circle us like pigeons to bread crumbs, chirping the same phrases, "Oh who this? American? Beautiful, beautiful (insert your gender here)."
One child skewers a bit of tak (Korean thick noodle) with her toothpick and offers the delicious morsel to us. You don't take it, because quite frankly, I wouldn't have either eight months ago. You still recognize, eating off others cutlery exchanges germs and remember that bit about taking candy from strangers. I, on the other hand, accept the second and third helpings she offers me.
"Hapkido, go, now," I say, as I peel a small child from your pant leg.
"Goodbye!" They all say in unison.
We continue walking down the unevenly paved street. You trip and fall because someone cemented one brick into the middle of the slanted sidewalk. Sorry I should have warned you. While crouched on the ground massaging your knee, you absorb the sounds of the street.
"Do I hear.... small children reciting the Korean National Anthem.... a possible concert pianist intimidating Korean male training Tikwando singing the English that the Gettysburg Address?" You ask.
"Yes, in Korea, every single child goes to an after-school Hagwon. Hagwon is a sweeping name for private institute, they range anywhere from piano lessons, to martial arts, to English lessons. In summer, with every window open, as you walk down the street it is like your I-pod shuffle is broken so every step it skips to another song/subject." I explain.
"I think I see another group of kids coming and I can't eat anything else before Hapkido, lets go!" I quickly add.
I help you up and we continue down the street, towards my favorite cafe. On Mondays, I go to the cafe before my Korean lesson and the shop owner corrects/does my homework. He is a little too vigorous with his help, I often spend the bus ride to my tutor rewriting his work so it at least looks like my handwriting.
We pass the cafe, the owner is cooking in front of the window. He gives us a huge smile, points to you and gives me two thumbs up. This means he thinks your cute. We use the same system with my outfits in the morning, only a few of my skirts have received two thumbs must be really cute.
We continue up, in my opinion, a practically vertical hill. Kids pass and yell hello, adults pass and give us a perplexed nod. Your presence represents a 50% rise in the foreigner population.
At the top of the hill I point out my temple...the Aseong Jinjibang (spa). Don't worry, we will go there later, right now we need to rush. My school is on your right, no need for a tour, you remember it from the You Tube video.
We rush down.... a wide ally? My uncertain descriptions can only be explained by Korea city planning, they pave an entire area first. There is no initial flattening of land or preplaning as to what structures will be built upon the cement. If an ant mound existed before the cement, the ant city is forever entombed in the middle of the sidewalk. After everything is paved, in no discernible fashion, they start constructing buildings.
We continue down my short cut, climb over tractors, decline offers to buy lettuce and slip on multiple heaps of litter, until we finally reach the Hapkido door... Ok the entire walk only took us 7 mins.

I will continue with the actuall class tomorrow.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On learning Korean part three

The language stories I shared in the previous posts are a dime a dozen. Sometimes I forget they are funny, they just seem commonplace. So here is the question this blog aims to answer, "With so many hazards associated with not learning Korean, why doesn't everyone just shut up and learn it?" This is a multi-faceted answer so bare with me.
Most Koreans have never heard a none-native trying to speak their language. English speakers are used to a myriad of accents and slang that bitch slaps the Queen's English with phrases such as "Hella good." When I approach, blond hair ablazing, I send Korean listening comprehension running for the hills. Here is a typical scenario, I have taken many liberties but trust me none of the awkwardness is hyperbole.

Scene three: Leslie walks into a restaurant, parched looking to order water. She sits at a table, and a Korean waitress begrudgedly approaches.
Leslie: "Mul juseyo (I would like water please)"
Waitress stares silently at Leslie half shielding her eyes. A voice from off stage narrates the waitress's thoughts.
Waitress: "Ah my eyes! Is all blond hair so reflective? I wonder if it is real, maybe she won't notice if I touch it."
The waitress reaches out and rubs Leslie's hair between her thumb and index finger. Leslie notices, yet reiterates her request.
Leslie: "Mul juseyo."
Waitress: "The hair is definitely real. She is going to expect me to speak English. I hate speaking English, I'm so terrible at it, this is so embarrassing. What is she doing here, I bet she teaches English. I love her nose, I wish my nose was so big. Oh man is she talking again."
Leslie (a little more desperately): "Mul juseyo"
Waitress: "Wait was that Korean. Maybe... I can't tell... it almost sounded like it."
The waitress shakes her head at Leslie and leans in closer. Seeing she finally has the waitresses attention, Leslie repeats her question for the fourth time, pronouncing every syllable and straining her vocal cords with the added effort.
Waitress: "Yes that was Korean. Wow, I'm so happy she is learning our culture, I bet Korea helped wean her off the drugs. Hmmm, but why is she asking for cigars."
Leslie stares at the waitress, dehydrated and dejected. The waitress stares back, dazed and confused.
Leslie (in English): "Water, please!?!"
Waitress (out loud): "Oh water!"

End scene.

Jokes aside, this is my life. I spend a lot of time trying to learn Korean. It is almost an obsession. I can't stand not understanding the people/world around me. I read children's books to my co-teacher, listen to Korean tapes and complete lessons on Rosetta Stone and Live Mocha. It took me a month just to realized all Koreans were not actually yelling at me. Here are some of my challenges.
There is at least three different ways to say the same thing, which phrase you say depends on who you are talking to you. Lets say someone asks me where I am from. If they are older I have to say, 'Mi guk es aw wa sub ni da." If they are my peer, "Mi guk es aw wa saw yo." If they are younger, "Mi guk es aw wa da." So if I finally retain a phrase, I can only speak to one third of the population.
Koreans pronounce double consonants that do not exist in English. These are called aspirated consonants. The ssal/sal: rice/flesh story is a perfect example of the folly when these consonances are mispronounced. Here is the difference between a Korean listener and an an English listener; if someone says "Tanks very much" after I have just opened the door for them, I realize they were attempting to say "Thanks" based on the context of the situation. Additionally, I had heard my language butchered prior to that moment. Koreans are not prepared for me. If every syllable is not perfect, there is no comprehension. It took me two months to actually receive water in a restaurant.
I'm used to English spoon feeding me things such as subjects and contexts. Korean is so implicit even if I know every word in a sentence, I have no idea what it is trying to say. Subjects are optional/nonexistent, and the same phrase can have a completely different meaning depending on the context or tone. The word for eight is also the word for arm, kwuainchanayo is "are you OK?" and "yes, I'm OK". Koreans often times don't understand each other because the meat of the conversation is what is not said rather than said.
It is for the above reasons many foreigners are not a fool hardy as I and don't learn the language. However, Korea has challenged me to a dual, and I will not leave until I am fluent. I have decided to sign one more year at my school, I have become rather attached to sipping cigars and munching on flesh.

On learning Korean part two

Thus far, I have discussed the hazards of speaking Korean, but it is just as dangerous going the other way--when Koreans speak English.
Scene Two: Mike is one of my foreigner friends who lives in Pyeontaek (the city 10 mins from my apartment). He is a huge grizzly bear of a man but most likely has a stash of romantic comedies under his bed. Mike, Misha (my connection to the group) and their Wonderland buddies (a Hogwon/private English school) have dinner at Mike's apartment almost every weekend. Mike has a roof, grill and inhuman ability to create meat marinades. One time, he made barbecue sauce from grape jelly, Tabasco sauce, and a few other secrete ingredients...for the entirety of the meal I wanted to have his cubs, yes folks it was that good.
Anyhow, Mike bought an oven for one of these weekend meals . Ovens in Korea are not standard, in fact, they are a relatively new phenomena. Those few foreigners who have them, are "the cool kids." Mike was in a second hand store, the sales men told him it was an oven, they spoke "good" English, Mike bought the oven and bragged ceaselessly.
Ok the scene is set. I missed this meal I was out of town. Everyone is gathered in Mike's frathouseesk apartment. He makes chicken with his usual divine seasoning then puts it in the oven. He waits thirty mins, the chicken is not cooked. The red light indicates it is working, so Mike waits another 15 mins and checks it again. Still not cooked. Starvation calls Misha into the kitchen, who also checks the chicken. He looks at the oven, then looks at Mike.
"Mike, are you sure your bought an oven?"
"Yeah dude, three sales people told me it was a f* oven, it just takes a while." (note the defensiveness in Mike's voice)
"Mike there are no working parts, you bought a cup warmer."
"No way dude."
Mike inspects the oven with fresh eyes. He silently removes the chicken from the cup warmer then throws it on the barbecue. I wish I hadn't missed this meal, but the moral is...learn Korean.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On learning Korean

I have started taking Korean classes, this blog is an explanation as to why.
Scene one: I am in the grocery store.
Grocery stores in Korea are like western stores on crack. The constant twitch has left the store's general appearance disheveled; random items are strewn on the floor, including cold products which are often still crated in front of the refrigerated aisle. Frequently, awkward concerts are held on the corner outside the entrance, begging for one more customer-- a desperate plea for just one more bumb. Lastly, there is always a man on a microphone yelling sales with such ceaseless euphoria his energy much be drug induced. This man is the bane of my existance.
I have finally translated my rice cooker, so I go to the store in search of uncooked rice. I have done my homework, ssal aw di eh yo?/where is the uncooked rice? I go up to the slowest of the Sing Sing Market employees. I mean slow in the literal sense of the word-- physically unable to move with speed or alacrity. Korean employees have a tendency to scatter/hide behind anything when they see an English speaker approaching. This poor man's age prevented him from ducking behind the raw fish stand-- no worries though, I am about to speak Korean. "Sal aw di eh yo?" He chuckles (in my opinion too heartily) and takes me to the next employee. "Mat nun mal i ya," he says. I understand he is asking me to say it again, thinking he is so impressed with my Korean, I repeat with added vigor. After, I am paraded to three more employees, all of which buckle in laughter, I know I am missing something. I am mortified, however, when the cracked out man on the microphone is called over and my question is broadcast to the entire store.
In Korean, ssal is uncooked rice and sal is human flesh. The difference to our western ears is relatively negligible. I describe it as; when asking for rice one should sound seven degrees angrier than when asking for flesh. Obviously my pronounciation lacked the proper pathos, insofacto, I'm Hanibal Lecter.
Why, you may ask, don't I simply wander aimlessly and chance taking home the wrong product? Enter Maria stage left. She recently took home a box of questionable cereal, because she lived by the trial and error doctrine. Two spoon fulls in, yes two, she realized it was bird seed.

End of scene one, curtain drops, please enjoy your brief intermission. I must go to bed, just call me Aunt Danette because my bedtime is also 9:30.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I teach in Who-ville. There are times when I sit at my desk, hold my head, and yell "Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!" I am always immersed in a constant state of hubbub. On delirious days, I watch the kids playing with their whosits or whatsits and swear half are riding unicycles and the other half are eating Who-hash (ok Kimpchi). Honestly, Dr. Suis has trade marked half these kids cheeks...I have one student who I swear is Cindy Lou-Who reincarnated.

I understand chaos is nothing new to an elementary school teacher, however, I contend this common commotion is infused with a strand of absurdity unique to Korea. Allow me to describe my day (I wrote this section a month ago, yes I know this proves how behind I am in blogging).

I teach a paid course during winter and spring vacation. Ordinarily, I teach 22 classes of 30 students once a week. Needless to say, before these paid classes I was unable to get to know individual students, and saw them as a collective foreign mass. On breaks, I see twenty kids and twenty personalities for two hours every day.

Today I am in in the classroom jamming to Big Bang (a Korean boy band equivalent to the Backstreet Boys) and doing last minute lesson plan preparation, when Do Hyeong and Jae Min run into class. "Teacher, Teacher, tomorrow you, me, dead!" "Ah, I thought we covered this... tomorrow we WILL die, today we die, yesterday we died. Anyway, why?" Do Hyeong points to himself, "Me Kim Jong Il" he then mimes machine gunning an imaginary crowd while Jae Min pretends to march behind him.

At this time Ji Hyeon comes in eating one of my favorite Korean pastries. I'm instantly angry, "Ji Hyeon what did I tell you about....". "Teacher, Teacher...I know," she says with a grin, she pulls mine out from behind her back. She had intentionally taunted me.

"Good afternoon Undertaker," I say taking a bite of my delicious gift from Ji Hyeon. My favorite second grader had just walked in. This is an advanced class for 3-6th graders, he fought to be in it and is amazing. He sneaks behind my back and puts Undertaker wrestling videos on the big screan while I'm teaching. Its disruptive but hilarious. He also won't answer to any other name other than Undertaker. Well that is until today. "TEACHER NO MORE UNDERTAKER! STAGE NAME PETER!" I was so taken aback by his outburst I spilled pastry syrup all over my shirt. My pets Na Yeong and Shin Ae quickly run to get me a wet paper towel, while Undertaker/Peter/Sun Ho makes his new magician's stage name "Peter" perfectly clear. There is no convincing him Peter is reserved for pipers and not magicians. I love this kid.

For next couple of minutes I am distracted, fruitlessly, trying to scrub the syrup off my shirt. Eventually, I look up and see Hung Goo shimmying on the outside ledge of the school. I open the window, grap him by the scruff of the neck and pull him into the classroom. Once he is in the room, I give him a small bob on the head for good measure, I mean the fall isn't lethal so I can't help but chuckle.

I begin class and Hung Goo is distraught in his seat. He becomes so clearly upset I take him out of class and call Rahi my co-teacher to console him. After about 20 mins Rahi comes into the classroom looking perplexed. "Have you seen the little boy? I told him to go wipe his face in the bathroom, and I think he climbed out the window because I can't find him anywhere," she says. Class ends and there is still no sign of Hung Goo. Later, I was informed, he was on the ledge because the other boys had taken advantage of Undertaker's outburst and had locked him out of the classroom. He saw his balancing act as a sign of loyalty to my class, as he was clearly trying to enter through the window given the door was no longer an option. My bob on the head showed I was not appreciating his effort/dedication. He had been gone for 40 mins and no one could find him, so I resign myself to waiting by his stuff until he is forced by hunger or darkness to show himself. Unfortunately, I have the bladder the size of a parakeet, I mistakingly run to the bathroom, when I return his stuff is gone. He was obviously well hidden in an area where he could monitor my movements. My list of his possible hiding spots; the rafters, a secrete bookshelf door, or of course the ledge of the building.

All I can say is these kids are amazingly rediculous. When I first arrived I saw teaching as only a vehicle to travel. Now I am becoming deperately attatched.

I hope some people still read this blog. I know I have let you all down in the update department. I will try harder.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Taxi Cab Confessions

One of my key drives to learn how to hongul mal (speak korean) is so I can describe my destination to a cab driver. Most don't know a word of English and some don't even bother stopping for my Caucasian thumb. Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse this language barrier with a sound proof wall, and the following story will serve to remind all...the back seat of a taxi cab should not be used as a confessional.

On Thanksgiving all the foreigners in Anseong gathered to share American food staples...Mac&Cheese, turkey, and jello shots. At this dinner a tri-pod was forged between Tom, a girl name Courtney and myself. Reminder: Tom is the British boy, I met my 2nd weekend out, who unsuccessfully attempted to prevent my tackling of pedestrians/Canadians. I have never met people that I have liked so instantly.

Courtney is a Scooby Doo character with a modern twist. She has an impossibly positive attitude, and is always ready with a "groovy", "totally awesome" or 70's dance move. At restaurants, I'm tempted to order her Kimchi with a side of Scooby Snacks. In her pre-Korea life she was a staunch lesbian with a shaved head and chip on her shoulder. She came to Korea to better understand her Korean/American girlfriend's roots. The girlfriend is history yet Courtney remains in all her bubble gum splendor.

The tripod was solidified after an unfortunate incident with a disgruntled singing toilet. The three of us were at a coffee shop when I came back from the bathroom perplexed, because the toilet had no less than 10 buttons. All I wanted to do was to flush, but Courtney rushed up to show me the toilet also sings. In the bathroom, She and I bent over the toilet to better hear the harmony meant to sooth even the most irritable of bowels. Courtney pressed the "audio" button, and both of us were mesmerized by the small spout that descended from the toilet tank, Courtney leaned in closer to get a better look at what she thought was an oddly placed speaker. The bidet sprayed Courtney square in the face, I screamed and fled the bathroom. When I finally looked back (still doubled over in laughter) I see Courtney trying to block Ole Faithful with both hands, soaking her entire right side in the process. By this time Tom, and the entire restaurant, were craning their necks to locate the source of the shrieks and sputtering. Courtney slowly walked back to our table, not so triumphant and soaked, with me hyperventilating in laughter by her side. After we sit down and explain, the brilliant Brit simply says, "Why didn't you just close the lid?" We have been the best of friends ever since.

Sorry about the toilet tangent...back to the taxi. Courtney and I have weekly dinners where we discuss the weekend and our Korea adaptation. This particular night, both of us are oddly coy about our weekend happenings. After dinner we get into a cab, and I burst..."Ok, I think I accidentally became a Korean mistress this weekend." She replies " Oh thank God, I think I had sex with Tom this weekend and have no idea what to do with a penis, I mean really, I just wanted to make balloon animals or something." Our talk for the remainder of the cab ride was dominated by these two topics. Sometimes I suspected the cabbie laughed after a couple of our more ridiculous/juicy statements, but he was also watching a Korean game show on his T.V. so I thought it was just a weird coincidence. In the interest of my Grandparents still talking to me after this blog, I will not divulge the details of the conversation, but I have never had such an embarrassing, absurd, saucy conversation...and of course when we get out of the cab the man says in perfect English "Have a nice day and thank you for that!" I hope I never see that cabbie again!

Epilogue: Courtney and Tom are dating and I am still ignoring calls from both Bruce and his secretary.