Bad blogger, no biscut

April 29, 2010

I want to say I haven’t posted because my life is just a whirlwind of adventure and glamorous doings. But that would be untrue.  I have been busy, just not with activities that are glamorous or adventurous.

I did have a very good week.  I found a kitty cafe.  I can see your eyes glazing through the ethernet; but I’m not talking about a coffee-house with the ubiquitous Hello Kitty paraphernalia.  No. This is a coffee-house with coffee and cats. Lots and lots of cats. Real cats. Furry cats, sleek cats, fat cats, elegant cats. We went during feeding time, so all the cats were in one place, patiently sitting facing the kitchen, so we drank coffee and tried unsuccessfully to  distract the cats with shinny objects ( a ploy that under normal, i.e. non feeding circumstances would work) but they were pretty focused.  I will definitely be back since it is next to my favorite curry house in Hongdae. (the one with the Bollywood movies on the wall)

Then on Saturday I went back to Coex and the aquarium with some friends. One of whom I haven’t seen in  a very long time.   I love the jelly fish, and decided that when I finally become a quadrillionaire  I want an aquarium that takes up my entire wall – 80’s Miami drug lord style.

After the aquarium, we thought about going to the dinosaur museum, but it was getting late, the museum would close before we got there, and we were getting hungry.  So we stopped for dwege galbi.  It is a marinated pork that is cooked over coals right at the table. Very delicious.  My friend didn’t like the kimchi, but that is because she works at my old school and the owner’s wife is a really good cook, and she brings kimchi and other side dishes for the teachers every night ( that is not usual for most hagwons)

Then on Sunday I finished 1/2 of the first chapter of my novel. That is right kids, I’m writing a novel.  Not a Great American Novel, but a trashy action/sci-fi/horror novel. The kind I like to read even if I don’t like to admit it.  I don’t think I’ll be able to work in hot alien-werewolf action, but it should still be fun to write.

The rest of the week was rainy, dark and dreary.  I did some research online, and wrote out a chapter by chapter summary of the Not Great American Novel.   My school still wants me to do an activities workbook, and the deadline is in May, so I have that on my plate too.  I’m still happy about doing it.  I love doing stuff like that. They have also asked me to renew my contract, so it is official I’m staying for one more year.

And May 1st is my new Quit Smoking day. Wish me luck. (again)


things change

April 21, 2010

Korea is in many ways still a very conservative country. It is changing though. When I first got here, I was in my 30’s and it was considered very strange that I never got married.  It was made very clear too.late. to find my one true love, get married and finally grow up.  I was asked why aren’t you married? You are very cute; a little bit fat but very cute.

Now it is true, I am a little bit fat. Actually I’m a little bit fatter than I was 10 years ago.  But other things have changed as well. Two other teachers in my school are my age and not married. Plus it is obvious that since I’m over 40  It is quite the relief to be honest.  So I was talking to one of my co-teachers, and I forgot what exactly we were talking about, probably clothes, and I said – yes, but I am a little bit fat.  One of the other co-workers said, no, you’re not fat, we like you.  I didn’t know body weight was determined by popularity.  Actually it is kind of sweet, and does lend weight to one of my theories of attractiveness.  The more you like someone, the more attractive they are.  Their objective attractiveness is immaterial.  We look upon those we  like with a softer eye.

In other news, I’m teaching my students to play the game “Clue”.  The students are having a mid terms next week, and I thought it would be fun to have something other than study. Plus students have to ask and answer in English. Bonus. They had a great time, once they figured out the point of the game.  The first class I tried to explain first. That didn’t work that well.  So I put a chalk outline of a body on the board, named it Ms. Teacher, and said it was murder! Murder! – I then introduced all the character cards (and I am the queen of google, and I found photos of the original cards) – then I introduced them to all the weapons and rooms. Then I gave them the worksheet, and we played the game.  I coached them a lot, and by the third round, they were into it.   My students are fun. They had strategies, they tried to fake the other team out, they were serious.   I am quite proud of them.   Clue rocks, and my students rock.

The rest of the week was a bit boring, to be honest. I finally got to go on a walk with a friend I met last summer, but it was a bit sad as she is leaving for the States in one week.  That is probably the most difficult part of living here; people come and go so fast.  However, even when you are just walking around, there is always something interesting to see or do. Case in point: a scooter with a doghouse.

Bad news, a book review, and Shabu shabu for Raymond

April 18, 2010

The bad news. I started smoking again.  I’ve lasted a total of 80 hours, but not in a row.  I feel like a split personality, like there is a part of me that is determined to sabotage my best efforts.  I see my addiction to nicotine like a giant demon monkey, with red eyes and sharp teeth and a voracious appetite holding the chains that I struggle against.  My first plan failed.

I do not despair quite yet. I’m nothing if not stubborn.  I come from a long line of stubborn women – on both sides of my family. And I will stubbornly get back on the wagon again.  There is a second plan. And if that fails a third plan.  I don’t have a fourth plan yet, but if the second plan fails I will try a fourth – and if I need to, a  fifth and a sixth.  But by the time I turn 45 I’ll be an ex-smoker.  Come hell or high water.

Despite the utter misery that is quitting smoking, my life in general is good.  I just finished reading “Let The Great World Spin” by Colum McCann –  I was supposed to read if for a reading circle that I haven’t had a chance to go to yet ( not my fault; the first one was on the same day a s writer’s workshop, and they didn’t post a place, and the second one was canceled.  I do hope for a third one)

Anyway,  the novel is kind of, sort of, about a tight rope walker – but it isn’t really about a tight rope walker at all. Not really. The tight rope walker is just a conceit, a trick to lure you in.  All the people in the story are connected, not in an 8 degrees of connection, closer to an  immediate, intimate, yet unknown connection.  The story is about a radical Catholic priest who works among the prostitutes and low lifes in  the Bronx.  He is definitely a Christ like figure even as he falls in love with a South American nurse.  He is killed in a car crash as he is driving one of the prostitutes home from jail, and the woman in the other car, the car that kills him, meets his brother and they fall in love.  Meanwhile the prostitute’s children are taken in by a woman from Missouri who loves opera and lives in the projects two floors down from their mother.  She lost three of her boys to Vietnam, and through a group that meets to discuss their losses, she meets a Park Avenue gentile, genteel lady who is married to the judge that sentences both  the two children’s grandmother to prison and the tight rope walker to community service.  It’s all convoluted and twisted, and really it doesn’t summarize well.

The plot was complex, and McCann handles it very well, but what I really enjoyed about the book was the language. There were words and phrases that I kept re-reading, not so much for clarity or to understand, but because I appreciated the beauty and poetry of the passage.  And it really doesn’t summarize well, so do your self a favor and just read the book.

And now, for Raymond, who e-mailed me and said he liked  it when I mentioned him in my blog, Shabu Shabu

Shabu Shabu is a Japanese food that has been modified for the Korean palate. (in Taiwan they call it Hot Pot) It is a large metal bowl with boiling water that has been seasoned with herbs and spices and peppers.  Once the water starts to boil, you put in meat, seafood, vegetables, mushrooms, or tofu.  Let it cook for one or two minutes, then take it out, dip it in one of several sauces, and eat.   Simple yet wonderful.

I should be doing something productive

April 14, 2010

But …. I’m not.   I just don’t feel particularly motivated;


That is all.

Off and On

April 12, 2010

I walked along the street near city hall and noticed that they were having a celebration.  This is not unusual, plus it is spring and I was feeling pretty celebratory as well.  Then I noticed the music.  It was Arirang.  Now, Arirang is the kind of unofficial national anthem.  It is one of the saddest songs ever written or sung.  At the celebration they I almost didn’t recognize the song because they decided to “update” the performance.  They made it into a pop song.  Now, I don’t want to be imperialistic and I really don’t think I have any right to say what another culture should do or not do.  And yet.  (You knew there was a ‘And Yet’ in there, didn’t you)– Arirang as a pop song with k-pop dancers? That is just … well, I guess it is their song so they can do whatever makes them happy.  It just doesn’t make me that happy.

This is the way I think the song should be played

Now I have a confession to make.  I lasted exactly 3 days. Sunday was my downfall.  I went downstairs and bought a pack. Smoked one cigarette.  Then I put the cigarette out, threw out the rest of the pack.  I did this six times. Six.  I feel like such a fool.  But I am not daunted. I quit again. And so I’m now back on the wagon.  A friend of mine said that it is all a journey. That I should be in the now.  She also said it was hilarious that I went off the wagon.  Six. Times. I am somewhat less than amused.

So back on the wagon.  And the knowledge that the only way there is through, and it isn’t the destination, it is the journey.

44- double death and rolling trousers

April 6, 2010
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

T.S. Eliot

Well,  it won’t be long.  In a few days I will turn 44.  That is double death in Chinese.  The Chinese believe the number 4 is bad luck, because it sounds the same as the word for death.  So.. double death. I don’t quite know how I feel about this.

On the one hand, I’m looking forward to the new chapter in my life; and on the other I mourn the past. Just a little.  I will quit smoking the day of my birth. A re-birth of sorts. I don’t quite know how I feel about this either.

On the one hand, I’ve been smoking a long time, most of my adult life. I’m a little nervous giving up something that has been a part of me for so long.  On the other hand, I’m looking forward to freedom from addiction.  I feel the weight of the past, and I think quitting is what I need to lighten up.  I’ve been doing a lot of research about quitting, mostly online, and I think I have a good plan.

44 is a weird year for transitions, but then I’m a weird kind of woman.  I feel the need to change some things in my life.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I have, what I want, where I am, and where I want to be.  Professionally, I’m very happy.  Teaching is exactly what I want to do with myself right now.  I’m also in a pretty good place geographically.  Korea suits me well.   Personally there is a lot I want to change.  I want to get rid of some very bad habits, and some of the thought patterns and some of  things that no longer give me the pleasure they used to. I want to get rid of the things that no longer make me happy and no longer keep me healthy.

After a lot of thought, I know what I don’t want in my life.  I need to clean out a lot of clutter in my house, my mind, and my soul.  I’m just not sure what I want to replace the clutter with.  I’m not even sure I need to replace everything I’m trying to get rid of.

I know I’m growing older, and most of the time I’m happy about it.   I’m glad of the experiences I’ve had, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  I don’t know if I’m ready to wear my trousers rolled.  I will dare to eat the peach, and walk along the beach. Even if the mermaids don’t sing to me.

Jinhae Cherry Blossoms

April 4, 2010

6:30 a.m. and the foreign, barbarian hordes descended upon Seoul station. It was a rather drowsy horde, but we gathered nonetheless.  Introductions were made, and coffee was consumed. We marched onto the platform and because we were a fairly large horde, we had a whole train car all to ourselves.  Everyone settled in and we were off to Jinhae, a small town on the east coast, 5 hours away. The sun was kind enough to come out, and everyone was in high spirits despite the early hour.

The train chugged along, and I looked out my window and watched the world go by.  The ground started off in shades of brown, tan and black.  There were hints of green, that turned into whispers, then murmurs. An exclamation of yellow or purple flowers would punctuate the landscape as we moved further south.   The river’s black water reflected the sky and flowed past the memory of ice.

We arrived in the station, gathered to get directions and times of meetings, then the barbarians dispersed for lunch.  The big parade and main festivities were canceled because a navy ship had gone down last week.  No one is really sure what exactly happened, but it lent a somber air to the festival, although the blossoms still managed to show beauty in the face of all.

I walked around and seriously contemplated eating  roast pig, but since it was very overpriced, decided upon a street food munch along.  There were little tents and stalls set up along the main road, selling everything from cotton candy, coconuts, kebab, and corn dogs.  Vegetarians had a bit of a dearth of options, but us meat eaters were pretty well catered to.

After we gathered the horde again to go see the turtle boat.  I don’t think it was the original turtle boat of Admiral  Yi, but it was an excellent reproduction.  ( Admiral Yi Sun-sin is one of the great heroes in Korean history– He was one of the greatest naval tactician that ever lived, and created a fleet of  the turtle boat, an iron clad flat-bottomed boat that does indeed resemble the turtle it was named after. The boat was used to repel the Japanese navy in the late 1500s )

After the trip to the sea and the tour of the turtle boat, we climbed thousands, no, millions, well not really that many, but sure felt like it, stairs to go to the top of a mountain to see the town.  I think I would have been better off to have stayed down, as I didn’t see anything spectacular on top, and I realized that I am indeed out of shape.  After the climb, the horde gathered again to go to the romance bridge.  It was kind of romantic, and is famous because it was used to film several romantic films and tv shows.  It was indeed beautiful, and the blossoms strained to bloom over the small creek running past.

All in all a beautiful day.

More photos