Thursday, April 30, 2009

Goodbye April

I would like to say farewell to April 2009. You served up some great spring-ness with warmer air and greener scenery. But you also made a change in my life which hasn't been fun.

So long April, hello May I wonder what will happen. Before this month ends it seems others are in the contemplative mood. Over at Scribblings of the Metropolitician there was a post about what it is like to date Korean woman. I guess he had a lot to say because it was fairly detailed. As I was reading I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like if I wrote up something similar to have dated a Korean man.

But then I realized it would end up being too revealing and personal. Besides I didn't really jump into the dating market here and meet several Korean men to have a good sample to talk about.

All I have to say is that yes, you will encounter cultural differences. As a fairly liberal and open minded person myself I was able to go outside my box and accept the cultural differences. But as we all know my Korean boyfriend wasn't able to do that. Really what I am saying here folks is that the cultural differences will come with the relationship like a string to a kite. It's part of the package.

But knowing that challenge I haven't given up on finding love with another Korean. Just now I have more understanding and foresight.

Anyways...goodbye April 2009....goodbye.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Facts of Life

After living here for almost a year I can feel confident to spout out my own list about life here. Mine is going to be themed "The facts of Korea"

It is the kind of stuff you can't avoid no matter how hard you try. The stuff that is stitched into the culture. That on some days bother you and others you hardly notice. I will try my best to reproduce in words some of these experiences for you.
  1. Staring: You are going to get stared at no matter the color of your skin, size of your body or whatever. You are not Korean and that means you will get 2nd and 3rd glances.
  2. Culture Shock: Feel this the most at the beginning, but in reality it never goes away. Sometimes you still find yourself at odds with the culture.
  3. Not Everyone Speaks English: Let's face it you came to a different country to teach English, so people here haven't gotten it down perfectly. You might think that young kid behind the counter knows English, but usually not. So learn your Korean in some way.
  4. Food is cheap, but good quality and well seasoned food is expensive: Yes you can go get a kim bop roll for under 2,000 Won and feel good about yourself. But if you want to go out and get something gourmet or well-prepared in a familiar way than you must pitch in the big bucks. Yet there is a middle line here where some places cater to good familiar food for middle of the line prices. And some will likely argue this point.
  5. Your house is not a luxury condo near the beach: If it is than you are blessed. Fact is that it depends on how much your employer has to spend on your house. But a free shoebox is a free shoebox after all.
  6. Public Transportation is a snap: After a few trips on the subway you become comfortable enough to use it. You can follow the color lines on the wall half-awake and still make it home. If the subway isn't working for you than a bus can be taken easily. Taxis are prevalent and cheap.
  7. Curly Hair = Perm: If you have a curly haired head (like myself) than you will get the question "Perma?" And they will be in awe at the sight of a naturally curly head. But be careful you could be mistaken for an Ahjumma.
  8. Ahjumma's: For the most part they aren't a bad part of the culture. I have had several encounters with Ahjummas who smile at me and give me candy. But like everyone some people are having bad days. So if you run into an Ahjumma who is in a bad mood of course you are going to get burned in the process. They aren't going to go away no matter how hard you wish their generation would change.
  9. Ahjusshi's: Old middle-aged men with come-overs. Typically are drunken. You can smell them approaching your area. But not all of them are like this of course. They are just the older generation. Some are Dad's carrying their baby and 5 bags of groceries.
  10. Crowds: There are a lot of people here densely packed into Seoul and other cities. During peak hours of travel you can find yourself crammed in. If you are in a hot spot shopping area there are crowds. Getting over that lack of quiet space is a hard one but not impossible.
  11. High Heels and Fashion: You might as well give up trying or go broke in the process of catching up with the ladies here. But you can be inspired and even tickled pink with the choices.
  12. Ambiguity: You can never be entirely sure about the policies or procedures at work. In public you also can't be to sure about the price of things or what is going on. You learn to use your best judgement and go with the flow. If you are really smart you learn to use it to your advantage.
  13. Smells: Some may enjoy the smell of roasting pig flesh coming out of a restaurant while others will find this annoying. Walking past piles of garbage can entice unpleasant feelings too. Korea is a bit of a smelly place. Sometimes the aromas are nice and cozy other times alarming.
  14. Random Bathroom-ness: Don't be surprised if your TP can't go down the toilet. Or there isn't any TP at all. Or you have to squat. But they flush...right?
  15. Blaring Music: Outside shops and inside restaurants you will hear blaring pop music. A quiet solitary moment is cherished.
  16. Random "Hello's": Teens and College kids will randomly say hello to you and than run off into the distance, giggling all the way.
  17. Winter: You can't avoid it and it exists here. Sometimes feels like it is never going to end.
  18. Night life: It exists and lives in full throttle, however this blogger would not know of it fully.
  19. Mountains are big: I am going to end with this, because through all the facts of living here seeing the large granite mountains brings peace to life here. You can take in how tiny city life is compared to the breadth of nature here. So as a fact of life I think it is important to remember the entirety of Korea and all that it has to offer.
I am sure there are more and I hope these weren't too negative. I think as time passes you think of these things and want to write them down. If you have your own lemme know.


I have a feeling this Swine Flu pandemic thing is going to become another craze here in Korea. If my predictions are correct within the next few weeks my students are going to start spouting in broken English...."Teacher...teacher ... he has Swa-wa-i-na-few-ruuu." In response to the coughing kid next to him.

But I know this is serious and I hope it doesn't end up as a global panic.

**UPDATE** Just this afternoon one of my advanced class students came to me and said "Oh Teacher she has the Pig flu..pig flu!!" And of course the student he was pointing to was fine.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sparkle Time

Last Saturday I went out into Seoul to meet with other bloggers and expats for what is called a "Sparkle Down". That is when Roboseyo gathers people from the Hub of Sparkle website for a get together. It was a great time and a good way to calm down those heartbreak blues.

The day was overcast and rainy, so not that perfect for sightseeing but definitely the best day to sit and chill inside a tea shop. Around Anguk station was a lovely tea shop, which Rob describes the location for you.

Instead of blaring pop music overhead we were treated to classical and Korean folk music, so the atmosphere was pleasant. Conversation grew with the size of our crowd and things were off to a jolly start.

Yuzu tea (Lemon like)

After tea we were feeling a bit famished and so strolled over to Samcheongdong where Rob knew of a great bakery / bread shop and a nice Pannini lunch place. The bakery / bread shop was exquisite with gourmet breads and cheeses, I wish I was a step away from this place everyday.

For lunch we sat at the far corner inside the Pannini place and enjoyed more great conversation with tasty food. Here you see a bread soup and the sandwiches we ordered.

The best sandwich I have had thus far!
Insadong and the Lotus Lantern Festival:
After lunch we strolled out of Samcheongdong and into Insadong, the sun was going down. Air was a bit chilly and moist but we trudged on. Celebrations for Buddha's birthday were underway, but were not as dense due to weather. Walking around Rob led us to Jogye Temple where there was on display lanterns. All the lanterns are adorned with a wish. The colorful lanterns are for the living while the white lanterns are for the deceased.

The mood was definitely spiritual and ambient. I enjoyed walking through and seeing the reflections in the puddles. Still it brought about contemplative feelings inside me due to recent events.

After the temple we meandered around a bit and then met up with some more people. On the way we saw parts of the parade. We ended up at a fancy bar where you sit on a large cushion. Wine was ordered and the merriment got underway.

But I was feeling really insecure that night, because being in Seoul made me wonder where BK was and who he was with so I left early for home. It made me come to terms that I have to accept the choices he made and should find my own path in exploring this country.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Mornings

I like Sunday mornings. I like mornings in general, actually. There are people who say " the end of the day...". But I am so not into that, for me it's all about waking up and knowing that whatever you went through the night before is gone. (In this case feeling lonely and angry) And so it makes it sweeter when that morning is on a Sunday.


I seem to feel that Sunday's are task time days. You know... gotta clean this ...wash that. Growing up I enjoyed waking up, eating breakfast and getting my chores done so that I can be free to go out and play. All the while my siblings stayed in bed till Mom came knocking down the door. I wasn't around for that, for I was out rollerblading around my neighborhood.

So it is the same all the way out here in South Korea. Today I feel task orientated. Already I have a load of laundry spinning, going to clean the bathroom and then work on my TESOL.

I guess the one side I don't like about Sundays is that because you are so task orientated you end up spending considerable time inside. So to counteract that I will try to get outside.

Yesterday I had a jolly time with the Hub of Sparkle people and more. I will post more on that later.. when it comes up on the list.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mastering English for Koreans Hopeless?

The Korea Times presents us with another "Opinion" piece, which is of course brilliantly annoying.

John Huer poses the question "Why is English so difficult for Koreans to master?" and comes up with the conclusion that because the Korean language is so different from English and that Korean bases itself on high class and low class that English just wont fit in to Korean society.

In other words, he doesn't believe Koreans can master English. Again why is the Korea Times publishing such pessimistic point of views? Who knows... but let's take a look at some of the highlights from the article.

In the very way the language is structured, English tends to encourage individualism and personal freedom.

Even during the feudal era, English-speaking nations tended to avoid the extreme forms of tyranny or despotism. When bilingual Korean children switch to English, their self-assertion becomes instantly obvious. Unsurprisingly, many Koreans find the intrusion of English a threat to this stratified society that binds their subconscious with one another.
Ahhh English threatens are hierarchical society!! Ahhhhh Don't speak English kids you will find yourself ostracized. But seriously folks if you start to think about this assertion than you can kind of understand how Koreans view speaking English.

In many cases, English speech has one subject and one verb. In Korea, everything is assumed whereby one Korean tries to guess another Koreans disposition, intention, or mood swings, without getting clear, assertively formulated messages.
This makes sense but on the flip side of things. For example, when conversing in English with my co-teacher or coworkers about something going on at school usually the answers are very ambiguous. In general when you speak to Koreans you never really know if what you are being told is the final answer. I have gotten use to this.

Korea, on the other hand, has two effectively unrelated languages. One for the upper-echelon Koreans in business, news reports, education, government bureaucracy and law, that rely almost exclusively on borrowed Chinese characters. The other is spoken Korean reserved for family interactions, neighborly exchanges, and other street-level encounters.

Those Koreans who learn English find it impossible to imagine that they can speak like that to their superiors or their children, uniformly and simply.
This might shine light into BK's life and cause me to have sympathy for him. Due to that speaking English to me in front of colleagues may have caused him discomfort. But let's not make this personal.

I don't know if this guy is only speaking to a certain generation here in Korea or to all. I would wonder whether the kids who grew up in English hagwons and gone on to University may be more comfortable with English than the older generations.

They tend to verbalize their emotional states quite directly, as in ``I love you,'' ``I am depressed,'' or ``I am angry (sad, happy, whatever)'' and so on. English tends to promote adherence to agreed-on procedures, parliamentary rules of the majority, elaborately written paperwork, self-assertive exchanges of verbal statements and evidence if in dispute.

In general, emotional pleas or outbursts, when presented, tend to be calculated for theatrical effects. In Korea, on the other hand, all is emotion. Koreans have developed themselves into the world's most dramatically effective pleaders of their cases ― all on the powers of emotion and tears, screaming thrown in for good measure.
What the heck is he rambling on about here? Hmm ok I can agree hearing Korean can sound pretty theatrical at times. But I would bet Koreans find ways to assert their knowledge.

Can such a culture genuinely adopt a foreign tongue that is basically cut and dried, with no room for emotional grandstanding (``Please!'' being the most effective plea-making word)? Not very likely.
What the .... ?

And finally...

He said something to the effect that expecting democracy to bloom in Korea is like expecting a rose to bloom in a trashcan. Korea was naturally up in arms over this comment. In a similar vein, I will say that expecting world-class English aptitude in Korea is about as unlikely or just as impossible.
Wow just throw out any hope of optimism. I guess the hagwon kids should pack their yellow backpacks and go back home. But I am sure that there is a feeling amongst Koreans to just give up on getting English perfect. As a nation though I don't think Korea should throw in the towel. And Korea should thank the presence of Foreigners because we give Koreans the opportunity to speak to us in comfortable settings. John Huer recognizes the social blockades that is preventing English from becoming perfected in his nation. Yet he stalls to provide insight to where it has triumphed.

All in all it is just interesting to think about and consider how these two languages clash with each other and make it difficult to learn and use English on the academic and personal level.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some Realization

Today I was sitting in Baskin Robbins with a friend eating ice-cream (of course). It was around the time people were getting off of work from their business jobs.

So in came a troupe of business men and women stopping to get some ice-cream. Dressed in suits and gelled up hair the image reminded me of BK. He is a businessman. As I watched them eat and sit there not really paying attention to one another, I realized this kind of scene was part of the cause of our breakup. I wasn't fitting into his new lifestyle, nor was he fitting me into it. I didn't really feel regret when seeing and acknowledging this, but I just noticed how my life and world was outside theirs.

"No wonder" I thought to myself. However, deep inside I wish I did fit into his life somehow and that if he loved me enough he would have found the way.

Yet that kind of after-work-businessman-stuff wouldn't really appeal to me even if I lived in Seoul and could join BK.

Hmmm even though I didn't fit into his equation on life I still want to fit into some other Korean man's equation....hopefully.

Howl on Kisha

Kisha the family howling dog of dogs has passed on to doggy heaven. Wish I could be there, but will remember you always.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Trying my hardest to not let the depression, loneliness and anger side of this event to get the best of me. But it's hard of course. Also trying real hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and believe my life in Korea has been more than just being with BK.

So I recalled I took several pictures of the scenery outside my school window. As you will see it is great to know we are out of the winter blues here in Korea.

When my thoughts get swirling in so many directions I have been liking lately to distract myself. So far I have been doing this by watching the show United States of Tara.
It's a show about this housewife who goes through Multiple personalities and how her family deals with it. I like it because it makes me feel less crazy. Also I really like the lead actress. So a good show to pass the time with, which I seem to desire a lot lately. ~

Monday, April 20, 2009

What Happens When?

What happens when you can't sleep?

When the thought of all the recent crap in your life keeps you up?

Typically the beds you are given here in Korea are flat, stiff and unforgiving. So I got up and took out my winter blanket and smacked it on my bed to make for a more comfortable insomnia induced sleep....which is hopefully to come.

It's hard for me to go to bed like I usually did considering my early bed-time habit was one of the struggles in our relationship.

Well I am really trying hard to think of something else to write about besides this stuff.

Thanks everyone for your kind words. I am actually so amazed at the amount of warmth I am receiving.

It is like one big cyber hug~~!!

5 Stages of Grief

This isn't my first break up but is still pretty significant. To make sure I am going through this "normally" I checked the stages of grief.

5 Stages:
  • Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.” Been feeling this practically every moment the pain comes up.

  • Anger:Why is this happening? Who is to blame?” Feel this when I realize the nature of our breakup.

  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.” Feel this when I think back on what I could have done. But know it is too late and probably wouldn't have changed anything.

  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.” Of course! But not too severe.

  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.” Waiting for this.

Not all of these occur in a neat little order, you go through it like riding waves. Unfortunately I am trying to just stop myself from thinking he is going to call or write me. I guess I am mostly just trying to understand and accept this is now my reality.

Anyways, I hope these accounts aren't too blubbery for you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Eulogy to Love

BK and I broke up today.

For a while now we have been on the rocks. I don't wish to divulge the whole saga and private stuff.

We just were different people. Culturally and individually.

In the end I didn't fit into his scheme of things.

Our love for each other wasn't congruent either.

But if you are reading this and you happen to not be a robot, then you know what kind of heartbreak I am going through.

For sure I have learned something about myself, love, men and Korean culture.

So since this incident occurred my blogging may be infrequent for a while...sorry.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cherry Blossoms in the Heart of Seoul

Watching spring bloom is a magical experience that can leave you feeling relaxed. Seeing the gray skies clear away to blue, the birds chirping in the trees and leaves covering what were once baron branches is certainly refreshing.

One cannot help but feel peace inside and humility towards life. Therefore it is important to get out there and experience the blossoming of spring in all it's glory.

Throughout South Korea you have several options to see the flower blossoms (especially cherry blossoms) and festivals that go along with them.
The most popular being that of the Yeouido festival near the Hangang river. Where other bloggers have already ventured to. Certainly Roboseyo would tell you that the best pictures can be taken at Kyunghee Uni.

BK and I both wanted to get out there and see one of these places in bloom before the petals blew off in the wind. On Sunday BK first had the idea to go to Yeouido but that quickly changed as he realized the place would be packed with Seoulites and others. So it was that we went elsewhere, somewhere I didn't think of.

Namsan Mountain Trail: Follow the breezeOut trek started by leaving the Donguk University subway station and heading out of exit 6. Above ground you come upon Jangchung park.Source

Wow! We just walked through this place but apparently there is more here than what meets the eye. But going through the park was pleasant of course, families were out on picnics, kids were playing sports and the paths were nicely trimmed.

Leaving the park area you cross a street and start your ascent up the mountain. To your left you can see a little league baseball playing field.

Up, Up we Go!
The trek starts off going uphill, and of course as you go along you get to see trees in blossom.

Do you see that dirt path to the left of the stairs? I decided to take this instead of put more pressure on my knees. If you don't know already Korea likes stairs. Just getting out of a subway station may mean you climb about 4-5 flights of stairs.

Here I go into the woods....


Ah great back angle...


Almost there!

At the top you can see a lovely view of blossoms.

Turn around and you can find where to go.

We took the Namsan Tower path...but...2.8 kinda....
Paved Path Leading to Namsan Tower:
Once at the top of the stairs you can choose which direction to head towards. We headed towards Namsan Tower, not with the real intention of actually going all the way. However, along the way we were graciously rescued from the day's heat with a lovely blossom canopy above our heads.

We just kept on walking and walking taking in the cool breeze and splendor of nature.

Archery Range:

I believe it was at the half-way point that ther was a wall set up where you could wright something on a post-it and place it on the board.

The further we went the more vista points we came upon.
But we got to one point and realized that getting to the Namsan Tower was just too far and so we headed downhill, not knowing where we would end up.

Native Korean mountain pigeon.

After our trek we were beat, so we got on a bus and ended up in Myeoungdong. Eventually we found one of those Can More joints and tried to relax. Except the pop music was a little too loud and the place was crowded. However, the ice cream was delightful.

One of the more special moments to be had during this journey was watching the blossom petals fly about as the wind blew through the trees. All in all, I would say no matter what part of Korea you are in right now, try your best to visit a blossom festival and enjoy this seasonal gift.

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