Christine and the horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day

January 28, 2010

I think it happens to us all.  I’ve had one coming to me for a while.  Life is basically good, but… Yesterday was horrible.  It started when I spilled my coffee on the floor (the floor I had just washed).   The cement caulking on my toilet crumbled.  My oatmeal exploded in the microwave.  I slipped on the way to work, and although I wasn’t hurt, it wasn’t fun.   I asked my seat mate to call the apartment office  and get a repair man.  She had to go to the hardware store to buy the cement caulk.  (I was a bit put off because I think, I pay a maintenance fee, these things should be covered.)   The maintenance man was two hours late, and I missed my martial arts class.  Of  course that might have been a good thing, since with my luck, I could have really hurt myself.  I had to go to the bathroom outside the building, getting a key from the gate man each time.  It was like all the Friday the 13ths and Mondays of last year rolled out and bit me. It was a very, very bad day.

But bad days do happen, and I try to be philosophical about them.

When I cycled through China there was a period where I was in the mountains.  I couldn’t go around the range, I had to go through it. Those were days that hurt.  I got chased by a duck.  Really I did.  There was no shortcut, no easy way, just slog through.  But there were cool villages and breathtakingly, heartachingly beautiful sights, and random people encouraging me along the way.

I think this year is going to be a lot like that.  Lots of slog and beautiful vistas.  I have a plan to quit smoking and that is not going to be easy, and this is the year I clean out my life. I clean out the clutter both mental and physical.  It will be a long hard slog, with I hope pockets of beauty.


On Lazy Days

January 25, 2010

Saturday was quite busy. Seoul meet-ups had a board game meetup, and I went.  It was a nice group of people and I haven’t played board games in years.  That night I met some friends for dinner, then went home quite early for a Saturday night. However, I was tired, well fed and quite happy so it is all good.

Sunday was a very lazy day.  I left the house twice, and didn’t bother to get out of my jammies until afternoon.  I think we all need days like that, where we don’t really talk to anyone and don’t do anything.  OK, I did a load of laundry, but  I don’t think it counts because all it entails is putting clothes in the machine and turning it on.

I did do some thinking. I’m quite proud of myself right now.  I have a plan to quit smoking on my birthday a few months from now.  I made a plan that included slowly weaning myself from some of the triggers I have.  I started smoking only in one place in my apartment, right by the stove where the vent is.  I have to get up from my computer, or from my comfy reading corner, and go to stand up and smoke.  At first I thought of going outside, but I know that the third time I froze instead of smoking less I would just start smoking inside again.  I want to succeed this time, so I’m doing my best to make as many small success first.  I’ve been very good.

I’m weeding out the things in my life that don’t give me pleasure; the things that don’t add to my life.  I’m weeding out the thoughts that keep me down, the habits that hurt me, and the clutter that seems to overtake me.  This is the year.

I decided that this year I would finally quit.  Wish me luck.

Good things

January 21, 2010

I tend to be a bit misanthropic and grumpy. I am a pessimist by nature. I have to stop and remind myself of the good things in my life, and this week I’m working a bit harder than usual.

You know, my life is actually quite good most of the time.

This week was pretty good – My students seem to like my class, although there are only 6 of them.

And a friend came back from Canada. I’ve missed him- he always makes me laugh, no matter what else is going on.

And I got tickets to Malaysia.  For  a while I was very worried about getting them. I could get tickets to, but returning.. not even for the love of money or God.  It will cost much more than I want to pay, but then I obviously want to go bad enough.

The sun came out today after days of clouds and gloom.  Sunshine is very good for the soul.

I have a trashy novel and hot chocolate, and that makes for a great Thursday evening.

A good friend got her interview, and I am going to send all my good thoughts out to her.  I hope she gets the job, because I know how much she has worked towards this goal.

And if you are feeling generous, you can donate to the Haiti relief fund through Doctors without Borders-

because in the end, if you can read this post, you have so much to be grateful for.

10 years after

January 17, 2010

This post is  for a friend of mine I met in Korea 10 years ago.  We have managed to stay in touch, and personally I think that is very cool.  We were talking, oh several months ago, and she said she would like to know how Seoul has changed in the last 10 years.  I said I would send her an e-mail, but then I changed my mind, and am writing this instead.

Not just Seoul, but all of Korea has changed a huge amount since I came here for the first time.  I remember reading an editorial in one of the English newspapers complaining about Star TV, the only satellite and only English station at the time.  The complaint was that by showing western shows, Korean society would lose its Korean-ness.  There was a lot of angst about modernization. Many older Koreans and even quite a few younger people were quite upset and worried about the westernization of their country and their culture.

In a way their fears have come to pass.  Korea is a very modern country, and there are a lot of western influences in the culture. But. The essential Korean mind hasn’t changed that much.  Many of the changes have more to do with urbanization than with modernization or westernization. Koreans are much wealthier and more urban than before. Seoul is huge, and growing.

I was talking last night to several young Korean women about the changes I’ve seen and what they thought about them.  They don’t like it when the government follows America too much, and they are very proud of their country, but they do like a lot of the changes.  I think many of the cultural changes do benefit young women very much.  There are a lot more opportunities for them, and they have much more freedom than they had before.  Korea is still pretty conservative, and very patriarchal, but women are making a lot of progress.

To really understand just how much Seoul has changed you have to remember that 60 years ago this city was rubble. Really. Most of the buildings had been bombed or mortared or generally destroyed. One friend went to one of the palaces and complained because it wasn’t “authentic”. It had been re-built in the 60’s.  But nothing in Seoul is “authentic” because most of the city was destroyed by the war.   Before the Korean war it was a colony of Japan, and the wounds from that are still evident in the minds of most Koreans. They are still angry that Japan hasn’t apologized, and there are protests every weekend at the Japanese embassy.   The Korean people have endured more than most Americans can imagine. And like a phoenix, they have risen from the ashes and created one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in the world.

Seoul has several distinct districts, and each has its own personality.  There is the University District, with Hongdae, Yongsi, and Ewha all within walking distance and within 3 stops on the subway.  This area has fringe festivals and sidewalk art galleries, there is a film festival every year now, although it doesn’t rival Pusan’s yet.  There was even a gay pride festival/parade. Something unimaginable 10 years ago.

Hongdae is the art university, and that area has a lot of small clubs for dancing.  One of the differences I’ve found is in the nightclubs and dance clubs.  10 years ago I went to a night club with some of the women in my school.  At that time clubs used to I.D people, not to keep young people out, but to keep old and young people separate.  Some night clubs were for old couples and some were for young kids.  Fair enough.  When we went I thought it was very strange because even if the group was mixed, on the dance floor there was a wide line. The women would be dancing on one side, dancing with each other, looking at the men, who were dancing with each other on the other side of the line, looking at the women.  I caused a minor scandal when a man asked me to dance, and I said yes and danced with him.  Apparently this was just not done.  Now I go to the dance clubs and couples who come together dance with other couples and everyone dances together. The wide line separating men and women have disappeared and no one would care if I danced with a man I met there.  A lot of teachers in my school take cha-cha and tango lessons, and they dance with those who are not their spouses.  It would have been a major scandal 10 years ago. Now it is a teacher’s activity club.

Gwanghwamun is one of the nicer districts with Insadong just a hop skip and a jump away. Gwanghwamun has the river walk now. It was  a road, but they tore it up and put an artificial stream and planted trees. It is gorgeous in spring and fall, and for Christmas they strung lights and put up a huge tree.  Very beautiful. There are two bookstores that have a huge choice of English books, and although you have to pay a premium for them since they are imported, the variety and selection is huge.  10 years ago finding a book in English was quite the treasure hunt.  The area has a lot of nice coffee shops where, when the weather is nice, you can sit outside and watch the people go by.    Insadong is the ‘traditional’ area, and it is a bit touristy, but there are a few really nice tea houses, and you can get traditional products, modified hanboks and traditional ceramics.  It is nice to walk around the area.

Near Insadong and Gwanghwamun is the theater district. There are several open run shows, and you can decide to go that night and still get a ticket, although a few have been sold out.   Most of the open run shows are musical/dance extravaganzas, so you don’t have to speak Korean to understand what is going on or enjoy the show. They also have a lot of  Broadway musicals, some with original casts from America or England, some translated into Korean. (Mama Mia with the lyrics in Korean is a bit surreal, but fun)  A lot of concerts come to Seoul now. It is on the tour map, like Tokyo.  The tickets are expensive for big names, but that is true in the States as well.

Jazz is very popular. 10 years ago, you would see “Jazz bar” advertised, go in and be greeted with cheesy pop songs.  Now, there are quite a few clubs that have real jazz with real bands.  There is a lot of live music, from all over the world.  10 years ago it was mostly bands from the Philippines doing covers of pop songs. Now there are bands doing original work, and they even have a country bar (in Itaewon of course)

Itaewon has changed as well. 10 years ago it was only the military base. Few Korean women would go, because they were afraid they would be mistaken for prostitutes.  Now, there is a huge population from Middle Eastern countries. Turkey, Dubai, Iran…. There used to be only American restaurants and clubs, now there is food from just about any country you can name, and a few you might not have heard of.  The military is still there, and clubs and shopping to cater to them, but there is a lot more now.

This is all north of the river. South of the river is very new and very rich and very high society.  There are high-end department stores, expensive restaurants,  and plastic surgeons. Korea has become one of the go to places for getting eye lid surgery and nose jobs in Asia.  There are even tours out of Japan just for getting plastic surgery here.   South of the river is all high rises and high-end.

Along the river has been tarted up to. There is a large park that follows the river, with gardens and walking trails and bike lanes. Cycling is a popular sport here, and one of the things that has not changed is that Koreans dress up for everything. Hiking or Cycling they have all the gear, and it all is color coördinated. They take it quite seriously.  The river is also a nice place to have a picnic, and just hang out.

Seoul 10 years ago was pretty grey, with lots of high-rise box apartments that were kind of ugly. Now almost every neighborhood has a small green area, with exercise equipment you can use for free and walkways and trees, and a playground for kids.  Seoul has gone green in more ways than one.

Seoul has changed a lot in the last decade. Before getting a good cup of coffee was difficult. Now there are coffee shops and little cafes all over the place, most of them quite nice and comfy.  Koreans don’t stare at us foreigners anymore, and the foreigners who do come here are a much more diverse lot.  You would hardly ever see a Korean man dating a foreign woman 10 years ago, and the Korean women who dated foreign men would get a bit of a hassle.  Now, there is still some prejudice but it isn’t as overt.  The supermarkets are full of foreign foods, and not just from America or Canada.  Korea is no longer the hermit kingdom, it has embraced the world.

I think most of the changes have been good,  and although the conservatives fears have come true in one way, they really haven’t in another. Yes Korea is more open to the world, but it hasn’t really lost the ineffable qualities that make it unique.  Korea is still Korea.

Along the yellow brick road

January 16, 2010

Friday was the last day of camp for this group of students.  They were awesome, really working with the material. What I couldn’t believe was how much they loved the book and the original movie.

I was shocked, and not in a snarky, sarcastic way. I am shocked in a sincere way. They loved the original movie. I gave them a survey, and they could have the last day watching Tin Man from the Sci Fi channel, or they could watch “The Wiz” or the original movie.  We watched clips from all three, comparing and contrasting – we also read chapters from the book and I played clips of songs that were influenced by or referenced the movie or book.

It was unanimous, they chose the original.

Watching it again after so long three things came to mind. The songs are cool in a cheesy way, the special effects are cool in a cheesy way, and the story is still sweet. I think that the theme, adventure over home still resonates.

I was surprised though… there is an old song by Judy Collins, “Dorothy”  the chorus goes “Dorothy was a fool to leave; She should have stayed/ She had it all in her hand/ She had it made.”   There is a part about trading all that color for black and white.   I couldn’t find the song online, so I printed the lyrics and we read them as a poem.  When I was a young woman living in Kansas, I would listen to that song and dream about adventures in color. I agreed Dorothy was a fool.  But when I asked my students if they agreed with the lyrics, they said no. She should have gone home.  They would agree that there is “No place like home”    I’m still not sure what home really means to me.  But I still would take adventure in color over home in black and white any day of the week, month or year.


Written by Hugh Prestwood and sung by Judy Collins

Livin in Kansas/ A life alone

She never married/She’s hardly known

She stares out the window/Far away

Looking for another/ Windy day


Dorothy was a fool to leave/ She should have stayed

She had it right in her hands/She had it made

She could have had it all for keeps/ She was afraid

She could have stayed

It seems like only/ Yesterday

But 40 years have all but/ Slipped away

Since a lonely/ Black haired girl

Was taken for her one/ And only whirl

Repeat Chorus

Same old bluebird/ Flyin high

Over rainbows/ In that Kansas sky

Why oh why/ Oh…. why

I guess it only serves her right

For trading all that color/For black and white

All her sorrow/ All because

There ain’t no way to stand Kansas/ When you’ve been to Oz

I have been haunted by this song most of my life.

Lost in Space: two stories

January 12, 2010

Actually, lost in Korea. But we’ll leave the title shall we?–

I am fully convinced that desire rules the universe.  C. wanted to eat Mexican food ever since we went to Coex.  T. texted us that “On the Border” was right near Coex.  This would lead one to believe that T actually knew where “On the Border” was. We made plans for Friday night…. I arrived at the subway stop…. I called T.  Me: “Where is it?”  T.: I’m not sure, I’ll be there in a few minutes”  Me: ” OK, I’m outside at the subway stop”.

Fifteen minutes later, in the bitter, bitter cold, I call T. again.  Me: “Where are you?”  T.: “I’m in  a cab, it’s too cold”  Me: “No kidding!, Where the hell is it, I’ll walk there.”  T. “Go straight, it is on the corner”  Me: “Do you cross a street?” T. “I don’t think so.”

Hmmm.  I walk one direction to a corner. There is no “On the Border” I go back, go the other direction, cross one street. Go back. Still no “On the Border”  I am now officially frozen.  I call C.  Me: “Do you know where it is?”  C.: “No, but I’m almost there, meet me at the subway stop”  Me: “OK”

I go back to the subway.  One of the gang does know where it is.  We walk, turn a corner, and it is there … in the middle of the street, not on a corner, and not straight.. you DO have to turn.  And guess who was sitting at the bar?  Yeah. T.   I’m a bit grumpy by now. However two margaritas and I feel much, much better.  I also learned that it is better to go online and find a map than to listen to T. when he says he knows where something is.

It has been bitter, bitter cold here in Seoul. I think I would prefer to cocoon myself in my apartment. This is not to be. I don’t know what my karma is, but this weekend was a busy one with old friends. The problem was that I really felt I couldn’t not go, a few I hadn’t seen in a while.   Plus I really like these people.  So I spent the weekend eating and drinking coffee with some great people. It was enough to make me warm inside, despite the cold outside.

Now on to story number two.  I didn’t really get lost this time. Tuesdays are a “free” Salsa dancing lesson in the Hongdae area. I put the free in quotation marks because you still have to buy a ticket to get in, but you can use the ticket to get a free drink. This is the standard for all the clubs in town, so it wasn’t a big deal. Anyway, since the people I was going with actually did know where we were going, we didn’t get lost. Even though the club wasn’t on a main street and you did have to make a right turn.  However despite not being on a main road the class was pretty crowded, and everyone seemed to have a good time.  I learned I have no rhythm whatsoever.

When I left it was still bitter, bitter cold but the stormtroopers from StarWars were out and about.  They were dancing near the subway station.  They did about 5 dances (maybe more, but my face was freezing despite my enjoyment)  Only in Korea do the stormtroopers from StarWars go out in the middle of winter and perform to “Nobody but you”

and for your enjoyment another picture of hip hop stormtroopers:

Hip Hop Stormtroopers

Hip Hop stormtroopers II

A new post

January 12, 2010

is coming soon. To a theater near you!

Wherein I tell how T. gives the worst directions ever, I eat too much and generally have a good time.

I know kinda boring to tell, but good for the living.

And if you are willing to wait a bit I will tell about my attempt at Salsa dancing. Woot.