Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Tonight I took a long walk through my favorite part of Seoul. The art districts in Insa-dong and Sam Chung Dong are nestled between the bustling financial and shopping center of central Seoul and the historic palaces of Gyeongbuk and Deok Sung. This part of Seoul is full of cherry trees, lilac, azaleas, forsythia and newly budding Maple and Ginkgo trees. It's a special time of year in Korea, with lots of reasons to celebrate and as you walk through the streets, there is definitely a festive air. Since Buddha's birthday is coming up, colorful paper laterns line the streets and adorn the already lovely sprind green trees.

While walking through the winding streets, you can stumble upon fancy guest houses in traditional Korean buildings, hidden art galleries, funky little boutiques, and Buddhist temples are practically everywhere you turn. The streets are full of couple holding hands; monks with their shaved heads and grey half hanbok, half monk uniform. And, of course, there are tourists. On the main road in Insa-dong, there are lots of street vendors selling roasted chestnuts, special candy, rice cake sweets, kitchy tourist wares, handmade paper, art supplies. And there are entertainers. Tonight there was band playing what sounded like New Orleans-styled Jazz. (go figure)

This part of Korea feels a lot like a certain place at home to me. Except that in Insa-dong, the chances of running into someone you know are pretty slim. And as I was walking, I was thinking about how I have already been here for more than 2 years and no one has come to visit me. And probably no one ever will.

Lil sister was supposed to make her way over in May with her hubby the Mr. LS, but they bought a house and well, that's that. (No Lil Sis, this is not a guilt trip)...

I just wish someone could come here to share this crazy place with me, to see what my life is like. To judge for themselves what they like and don't like about Korean culture instead of taking my word for it.

Doesn't anyone want to know what my life is like here? Can't you come to me??!!

Monday, April 23, 2007


As per Not So Little Sister's advice, I went and browsed the online Anne Taylor Loft catalogue. Well, I can tell you that I am well pissed because until I looked at that, I had forgotten that I actually like clothes. I had forgotten that there are actually cute clothes in this world that come in my size. And then I was reminded: No more credit cards for me. Which means no online shopping. Which means wearing the same old ugly clothes that I have been wearing for the last 3 years.

I need to leave this country just so I can go shopping!!! Maybe I'll go to Hong Kong or Singapore on my summer vacation for only that reason. Damn you and all the skinny girls with naff taste, Korea.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mama, You Been On My Mind

So today I watched High Fidelty. Anytime I see a John Cusack film, it gets me thinking about a certain ex-boyfriend.... The one who was like a big brother to skinny monkey girl and CB; the one whose family was sure that we'd marry; the one who had "rescued" me from the misery of our home that first year in Vermont before my step-father made his great escape without a goodbye; The first one I was really in love with.

This film in particular reminds me of that boy because for one thing, he loved John Cusack. And this film. And for another, it is in a way about relationship karma. After a rather long, tearful and slightly cruel break up with first love (yes, it was definitely me that did some pretty serious heart-breaking) , all of my relationships felt doomed. What I mean to say is that I just kept falling for these guys who had no interest in a real relationship with me. I was fun to hang out with, great to talk to, whatever, but in the end, friendship was the only thing that ever came out of those relationships. I held a steady pace of falling for guys who weren't into having a relationship. At least not with me. And because of the way that I had treated first love, I began to feel like I deserved it and when I had re payed my karmic debt, maybe someone better would come my way.

Well, I don't know if all that karmic debt stuff is true. Over the decade that has spanned the bridge between first love and the GS, I had some pretty serious heartbreak, disappointment and even a few regrets. The regrets have more to do with not handling a situation as gracefully as I could have; not being kinder to the ones who were open to me that I shut the door on. I think that Cusack kind of absolves himself of his relationship sins- he owns them, addresses them and gets over it. And now I'm going to do the same.

One last thing: Cusack says something in the film that really strikes a chord with me. This is not an exact quote, but it's something like "Real love feels like coming home." It's not always spectacular and amazing, but it is good, really good. And I realize now that my relationship with the GS is the first time I've ever felt like I've met my match. He doesn't intimidate me. I don't feel like I have more power than him, or him more power than me. In fact, for the first time I can ever remember, I don't even think about the power dynamic in the relationship. We respect each other, challenge other, have fun together, seek each other's advice, but at the end of the day, it just feels like coming home.

And in a final act of absolution, first love, you've been on my mind. In the words of Bob Dylan:

Perhaps it's the color of the sun cut flat
An' cov'rin' the crossroads I'm standing at,
Or maybe it's the weather or something like that,
But mama, you been on my mind.

I don't mean trouble, please don't put me down or get upset,
I am not pleadin' or sayin', "I can't forget you."
I do not pace the floor bowed down an' bent, but yet,
Mama, you been on my mind.

Even though my mind is hazy an' my thoughts they might be narrow,
Where you been don't bother me nor bring me down with sorrow.
I don't even mind who you'll be wakin' with tomorrow,
But mama, you're just on my mind.

I am not askin' you to say words like "yes" or "no,"
Please understand me, I have no place I'm callin' you t' go.
I'm just whisperin' to myself, so I can pretend that I don't know,
Mama, you are on my mind.

When you wake up in the mornin', baby, look inside your mirror.
You know I won't be next to you, you know I won't be near.
I'd just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind

Saturday, April 21, 2007

reflections on a day when the pollution is so bad, you can't leave your house

I remember how when I first came to Korea, I was filled with such an excitement, a sense of awe and wonder at every new cultural discovery, new friendship forged, obstacle overcome. The smallest bit of understanding gave me the greatest feeling of achievement, while minor misunderstandings would lead to tears of frustration for not being able to express myself in Korean. The first year I was here, just leaving my house was an adventure and a challenge, and I always felt rewarded for striking out into unknown territory.

So what happened in the year since? Well, frankly I have grown bored with Seoul, feeling it all at once an entirely predictable city and city full of madness. The culture differences I relished in noticing at first, I now find annoying. Eating rice everyday for every meal now feels oppressive, like the pollution that hangs in the air and infests your lungs. In short, in enduring the long commutes everyday, answering to bosses who act like dictators, pushing my way through crowded shopping areas and trying to learn how to use the backdoor when you want something rather than stating it directly (including saying yes when there is no way in hell you'd ever do it) have worn me down and made me weary.

I just don't like living here anymore. The adventure is over. It's real life now. And frankly, the quality of life here sucks. This is live to work culture. And my life simply. can't. be. work.

I am ready for a slower paced society. With less uptight people. And more trees. And less pollution. And shorter working hours. But with the same high quality, cheap public transportation. Any ideas, people?

p.s. Just so you don't get any ideas:
Dear family, I am staying here for 10 more months and was just informed about how shitty my "summer vacation" is, so I won't be able to get back for a visit until this stinkin job is over. God, Korea really gets on my tits sometimes.

Monday, April 16, 2007

pollution update

i have been wiping greyish dirty looking stuff from the inside of my nose for two weeks.

my snot has a black-ish tint to it.

just imagine what my lungs must look like.

mondays are for bulleted lists of weekend fun

* i didn't go to a single wedding this weekend! that's right, i skipped out and boy was it nice.

*i did, however, start my roof-top garden which now has strawberries, hot peppers and tomatoes of the small and large varieties.

* the lady at my local garden shop thought i was CRAZY for buying dirt. why oh why wouldn't i already have dirt on my roof? she sold me a couple of dollars worth, but then refused to give me any more. i guess i'll have to hike nam san this week and steal if from there so i can finish planting. i never knew that a garden shop owner would be stingy with dirt and compost...

*my middle school class is cancelled for 2. whole. weeks!! hooray!!! and can i get an amen?!

*on saturday i went to a really fun migrant workers party where a few of us crazy white folks did some crazy white folk dancing which had the whole room roaring with laughter at how darn crazy white folks can be.

*on sunday, the general secretary and i went to maseok (small mountain furniture warehouse town that is reminiscent of shit, i forgot the name vermont, home of buck's furniture warehouse!) to celebrate the bangladeshi new year and ate a lot of good food, played some silly games, bought a few punjabis and i got all henna and bindi-ed up.

*sunday night was a tired, but relaxing veg out on the couch kind of night with an early bed time.

*spring is fully here with the green of new budding leaves, flowers flowers everywhere and people walking around looking relaxed, comfortable, and happy to be alive.

*if only there wasn't so much darn air pollution this year. i just read in the newspaper that the pollution in seoul is 2x as high as 5 years ago and the military actually cancelled all outdoor exercises because the co2 levels are so high...

* but despite that, gosh, it was a nice weekend.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Just. So. Tired.

For real y'all, I'm bustin my ass working 3 jobs right now and I'm so tired, I can't even complain about it.

But the highlights:
2 cheaters caught in one week. They both used the same incredibly stupid method.

one kinder student who kisses me constantly.

another kinder student whose mother thinks that she should be able to read a whole book after being in english kindergarten for 6 weeks and complains constantly that we are not doing a good job.

that same kinder student is, by the way, incredibly cute and kind of acts like a sweet wild animal. in a good way. and i like her despite her horrid mother.

more schedule changes.

i now officially hate teaching middle school students.

no sleep. no sleep. no sleep.

a wedding last weekend followed by a dinner party. that was fun. but entailed no sleep.

did i mention weddings? yup. i'll go to one every weekend in april and one weekend in may. that's over the top.

i'm a shitty friend who bails on everyone i make plans with. sorry jamie. sorry lena. one day i won't be so busy. one day, i'll be a better person too.

and one day i'll be awake enough to write sentences that make sense.

just. so. tired.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

And Another Thing

I feel stupid lately. Like literally. On Wednesday night, I got into a debate with a Thomas Friedman-esque warm and fuzzy neo-con about the current free trade agreement negotiations between Korea and America and got my ass handed to me on a platter. It was humiliating to have been routed so thoroughly by a totally one-sided argument that is incredibly easy to see through, but I just didn't bring it.

And for some reason I can't stop thinking about how much that rather insignificant incident bothers me.

Is it because I sounded so ill-informed?

Is it just because I know if someone were judging the debate, I would've lost?

Is it because I seemed to have lost all of my abilities to think on my feet and verbally eviscerate?

Why yes, it would be all of those things. Korea makes me stupider.


Some Days, I'm Really Cranky

Like today. And yesterday. And well, pretty much everyday this week.

Ever regret a decision almost as soon as you made it? Ever wonder if you REALLY have to live with the consequences of that decision? I mean, isn't there some way of undoing it?

In case you haven't figured out what I'm talking about, it's work. Again. As usual. I'm so bored with this complaint that I don't even want to write about it, except for the fact that I can't stop obsessing about it.

So you remember the drama about the pregnant girl right? Well, she decided to just drop the whole matter and take whatever the boss gives her, which is fine. I mean, I could have a lot to say about that, but it's her decision and not mine, so whatever. I can't spend the energy being all fired up and pissed off about it if she can't even be bothered. But the drama with the pregnant girl hasn't been the only drama at work. There have been the annoying little issues. There is a know it all boss who criticizes absolutely. everything. we. do. The director hasn't fulfilled all of her contractual obligations to the new teachers. One of the new foreign teachers (a Canadian) is whiny beyond whiny, argumentative for the sake of argument, and a racist, why doesn't everyone like me? kind of guy. Oh, and did I mention exceptionally lazy? Yeah, he's that, too. So you can imagine how I must have felt this week when the director pulled me out of class to have an hour long meeting with me to tell me that I am the leader of the unhappiness at our hagwon; And that everyone is having a hard time with the job because of the things that I say. And that no one trusts her because I told them about how I was fired. Well, excuse Madam Director, but wasn't I fired? And didn't you screw me? And haven't I been working for you illegally for the last 2 months? And isn't one of the teachers working illegally for you now? And don't you listen to everything we say because the whole damn school is miked and on camera and then play it off like one of the other teachers told you those things (which I know for a fact not to be true)?

Okay. I can take some responsibility for telling my story to my coworkers. But it was my experience, was it not? And if she was really worried about it getting out, why would she have hired me again? But isn't she an agent in this situation? She seriously blamed everything on me... Why oh Why do I have to be the scapegoat. Again?

I am sooooooooooo regreting taking this job. I am sooooooooooooo pissed at myself for saying yes. I am soooooooooooooo over working in Korea. And I am sooooooooo not sure if I'm going to be able to finish a year at this school....

And in conclusion, I am soooooooo fucked and confused about what to do.