Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cheonan Memorial

Today is the memorial for the 46 sailors who lost their lives when their ship sank due to an explosion. They are still determining why but of course it is speculated that it was North Korea.

At work today around 10am the school played the live broadcast of the memorial when they were doing the moment-of-silence part. I was in my 4th grade class and they properly stood up and bowed their heads. Although a few snickered and made remarks when the Korean President came on screen. Altogether they were well behaved and seem to recognize what was going on.

Tomorrow is our open class, again, this time with the parents as spectators. Since Monday I have been coughing and last night it kept me up now and then. Today my chest felt heavy and I was still coughing. My face showed this when I came in to work and I was promptly asked about my health. I politely said I didn't feel good. Then a few moments later requested to see a doctor after my classes. They understood and asked if I could teach my classes, and I said that is no problem. I coughed around the office and showed my pale face, which was convincing enough to get a half-sick day. I told them that I didn't want to be coughing in front of the parents so really want to get better.

I finished classes and went to the doctor. I came home and put in some laundry then settled down in front of the TV.

As it turns out the memorial was still going on and nearly every channel is broadcasting it. They really don't spare anything. They laid out pictures of the dead sailors and the families came up and gave their respects. You can see close ups of their mourning. Later on they carried the urns to a mass grave area and the families came up and with their hands put in the dirt.

It is really sad and tragic and also hits home on how much Korea has suffered and continue to do so.

My condolences to the families affected by this tragedy. Your pain and loss is mine too as I share this country with you.

*For an interesting analysis on this situation check out BBC's article.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's a Start


Something I can do at home, in my time frame, and would probably help with stress release.

Friends and Fun

Last Saturday I headed to Seohyun (Bundang) to meet up with my long time friend here in Korea to frolic around.

On the way I got some lemonade at Krispy Kreme and admired their straws.
We browsed around looking for a new pair of shoes for one of her sons. Then headed towards a nearby park for a kids event.

The cherry blossom petals were blowing about and making the ground look like it had snowed.
It was a gorgeous day, unlike today which has been cold and rainy. The temperature got hot enough to make my face feel burned. Most of all it was just nice to see spring in full bloom everywhere.
The kids event was an artistic one with a drawing contest. If you had kids then you got a free goody bag complete with water bottle, banana and sitting mat. There was a bounce house and even clowns.
Then it was time to catch up with JH for lunch. Certainly this was a fine spring day with friends and good weather. :)

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Home is an Island

I had this dream awhile back (forgive me for those who despise dream posts) that I was visiting a very old relative at their house. Yet the house was like a floating island. It didn't look like a typical island. Islands usually have a mountain in the center with sandy beaches all around them. This island, the one in my dream, was a typical American house with a green lawn around it and even a mail box, but surrounded by calm water. The shape was like an "L" and the house was situated on the long part of the L while the mail box was on the short end. I got there by boat and docked myself near the mailbox.

Although I am not going to go into more detail about the dream, I will say it left a memorable image in my mind. I dream every night and they are always vivid. I am capable of being "awake" in my dreams, which means I can control things. But nowadays I just sit back and watch instead of trying to take control since when I usually do things end up messy.

Anyways, I usually spend a lot of my thinking time either in the morning or before bed time thinking about the images in my dreams. This one of the floating house made me realize how as an adult living abroad in Korea I am in search of my home.

Even if an adult is not living abroad I think they spend a lot of their adult life looking for a place to call home. It doesn't meant that it is a house that they buy or mortgage out and grow a family with. I think it means a place that they feel comfortable living. Or perhaps a place in our minds where we know we have come far enough and will not go any further...basically that we become settled with ourselves.

Now I don't mean to get psycho-trippy here but I just want to reflect on this "elephant in the room" issue in my expat life.

Living in Korea past your first contract year kicks up a lot of life questions, especially when you are in your late 20's. Should I make Korea my permanent home? Should I try to find a way to live back in America? Should I go live in other countries?

I have to say I feel almost like I am settling down here in Korea. Take for example the way my office-tell looks. I assume that most expats living here don't have a lot of stuff in their house. That they wouldn't have a favorable lamp collection, or just things that people have in a home that they keep to make it nice. I would think that an expat lives lightly not buying certain cooking devices or having 4 different winter blankets. What I am saying is that when I come home and enter my place it feels cozy and home-like. Not scattered and spare like it would look if one were a transient.

Having stuff means it is harder to move around, and a lot of my stuff is sentimental, which means it is harder to let go of. Actually I am up against a paradigm, where for example I have boxes of sentimental things back home in my Father's garage.

Yet as settled as I make myself look here in Korea I definitely don't feel like Korea will ever be (close-to-my-heart) home. For several reasons, one when I look outside my window I see Korean style buildings (neon signs plastered onto gray square buildings). Tall apartment buildings clustered together like a micro-city. When walking to and from places I am reminded this isn't home because the people are entirely unlike the people I am familiar with seeing back home. The basics: I'm not Korean, don't speak Korean well and I function unlike a Korean. I don't mean to make this sound negative I just want to point out the obvious stuff.

However, Korea can at times feel like a home. I have a boyfriend who is helpful, cheerful and very loving towards me. Since he is Korean this helps me feel close to the people and culture. I find myself comfortable in my neighborhood and have become familiar with local restaurants and areas.

And the longer I stay here, in Korea, the further I become distanced with my American home. I listen to the current news via NPR, read the New York Times and the New Yorker but still I can't tell you the mood of my country or what is in or out. However, I could answer those questions about Korea. (What Kpop band is currently big, how Koreans feel about national issues...etc).

Yet even as I get closer to my host country I still feel like an outsider. To sum up I am lost somewhere in the middle between my home country and my host country. My home is an island floating somewhere in the midst of these two places. When I think about it deeply I feel that this island is where my home will be forever. And instead of planting it indefinitely on one country's soil it will visit both now and then...going back and forth.

Who knows if this theory will change over time or that I will have a different dream where my home is on top of a mountain. For now I am going to take a shower and go back to the land of dreams.

Yoga & Lifestyle

At my school they have an activity group for teachers. I chose to do the Yoga class and finally had my first experience of it yesterday. They had met already a few times previously but I ended up not going due to school duties.

About 9 years ago I took a yoga class as one of my first college courses. I really enjoyed it and since then, on occasion, try to brush up on it at home. But I found out quickly, yesterday, just how out of shape I am in.

The yoga class is set inside one of the homeroom classes, where we push all the desks aside. I bought my own yoga mat, a bright pink thing with a swirl of blue on it. I changed out of my jeans and put on my sweatpants (in the bathroom of course).

The yoga instructor looked thin and healthy and very happy. In the class there were about 6 more teachers, all Korean and we got ready for class.

Ambient music was being played in the background as we got started. The instructor taught the class in Korean, but most of what she said were the Korean numbers which I understand. So I wasn't at a complete loss, and I knew that yoga is about breathing. Therefore, I remembered to breath in on one movement and out on the other. She would come up to me as she moved around the classroom and straighten me out now and then.

The moves she did were a variation of what I was familiar with from the past. But she did do a lot of leg exercises. My legs have always been an issue for me, meaning that I can't really lie down and lift my leg all the way in a straight line. It tends to bend inward. I hope that sounds right...haha. My point is that not only am I out of shape but my legs didn't want to cooperate, but I adjusted the movements.

It felt good to take the class, however, now my upper back is in pain and I feel fatigued. Probably worth it since I could use an exercise class in my life.

This brings me to a question, which might have an obvious answer. How should I incorporate an exercise routine into my life?

  • I get home at 5 pm. 
  • I am usually very hungry because school lunch is meager. 
  • I like to cook fresh meals which sometimes take an hour to make.
  • Embarrassing: I typically go to bed between 9 - 9:30. I just get very sleepy and don't push myself to stay awake.
  • There is a gym across from my building, it's a public gym. I haven't been there yet. I have been to gyms in the past but I get really bored just cycling over and over. Also I have a hard time pushing myself.
  • I live near a walking trail that goes around a river. 
The question is, how do I exercise, not starve (pass out), cook dinner and do it all in 4 hours?

My lifestyle so far includes me coming home, making dinner, eating, watching some American drama or doing my art.

I feel that I can't exercise after eating and if I wait a while later that if I exercise before bed I will feel too awake. Really I can't get my head around how to make this work.

Any suggestions would be great.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

After

Getting home at 5pm for some would mean the daunting realization that you have a lot of time to yourself. I love it, however!

I turn on my live jazz from San Francisco and cook dinner. Yesterday JH came over and he is coming over again tonight...:) He gets a tofu stir fry for dinner.

Wow do I feel domesticated.

A Hit

I brought the pasta salad in today and it was a hit with the coteachers. Now that I have brought in banana muffins and this dish they see that I am sharing my hobby with them. I even gave some of it to the Vice Principal and the 6th grade teachers today.

I am not really a people person but know this helps me play the game to get the things I want in my EFL Career here. Why not do it with food? I wonder what I will bring in next time?
:)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Office-tell Cooking: Pasta Salad

When I first came to Korea my first home was a modest and well equipped office-tel. I was lucky to have a good sized fridge and a working stove area. But at that time I worked till 7:30 pm and when I got home I wasn't in the mood to cook. Then, as you know, drama happened and I moved out of that place and into a really cramped and crappy office-tell that I lived in last year.

It is not that I had no desire to cook or had no experience it was that my kitchen wasn't inspiring. A reminder picture (something I really don't want to recall):

Look closely, for there is NO counter space. That area on the right is where the drain was to dry the dishes. The water always smelled funky and the stove barely had room for a large pot and a sauce pan at the same time. Finally, by the near end of my term at that place I finally got more into cooking, improvising with a toaster oven and making my dining table into a prep table.

Eventually, my term was up in that hell-hole and since then I have been living in my very comfy modern office-tell, which has counter space. I am trying not to get too attached to this place seeing how anything can happen when my contract is up next December, but I am going to make the most of it.

On Sunday, another day that JH was too busy to come by, I decided to do some recipe hunting. I love eating out and finding great food but it is costly and also fattening. I don't have an exercise routine in my life but feel that both exercise and healthy eating are intertwined. My big deal is that I am extremely hungry by the time I get off work, because the school lunch is very meager. (I would make a lunch and bring but don't have time.) So instead of exercising after work I make dinner than relax afterward.

However, I do have time to prepare food on Sundays. Stuff like pasta salad or muffins can be made ahead of time and eaten later at the office. (Also they can be shared with coteachers...)

But what I am also trying to say here is that although you have a small kitchen with no oven don't let it fool you that you can't cook healthy and delicious meals. Also, don't let yourself believe that Korea doesn't have the ingredients you are looking for.

Korea's supermarkets and mini-supermarkets are full of fresh fruits and vegetables. To tell you the truth I love Korean carrots because they are full of flavor and very juicy. Carrots are a hint that you can make great salads from supermarket ingredients. There are a variety of lettuces and other salad materials, including sprouts. Finding a good salad dressing can be challenging but there is olive oil & balsamic vinegar (although pricey) for those innovative types.

Also major supermarkets are carrying familiar Western products like pasta noodles, tortillas, chicken breast...and so on. My suggestion is to check out your local marts and see what they have. If they have large tomatoes do a recipe search on allrecipes.com to see what you come up with.

If you see an ingredient you are not familiar with, which is the case here, take a note of it's Korean name and ask your coteachers or close Korean pal what kind of food is made with it.

Getting into Korean cooking will make your life easier, since the ingredients are usually cheaper than Western ones and also a lot of Korean food is really healthy. Maangcha is really helpful in Korean recipes since she has videos and simplifies it for everyone.

With that said you should not make the excuse, "Korea doesn't have any ingredients I am familiar with" and "I could never eat healthy here because there were never any fresh ingredients." That last statement is something similar to what I read on a blog one time and couldn't believe that the person didn't see all the fresh produce at the market. For Peet's sake there are like a dozen different varieties of mushrooms, some of which cost a lot back home!

Allright, there you have it folks my little tidbit on how to cook, find food and recipes here in Korea and cook in your officetell.

Now let's move on to what I made Sunday afternoon, which was pasta salad.
It came out gooooood.
Pasta salad is really easy to make and a lot of fun, because you can change it up each time you make it depending on what kind of noodles you use, veggies you cut up and dressing that you put in.

Here is my recipe adapted from the allrecipes website.

Office-tell Pasta Salad:
(Makes two large ziplock (gladlock) containers portions)
  • 1/2 package spiral pasta
  •  1  tbsp of Olive oil
  • 10 grape-tomatoes cut in half...or more to your liking
  • Half a carrot, cut up into thin slices
  • 1 cup of black olives, thinly sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, seeds taken out and cut up into small cubes
  • A few stalks of green onions, slicing up the white-ends and few of the green ends
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Salad dressing (I used a balsamic version, but prefer to use Italian, however Lotte Mart was all out)
  • Optional: Mozzeralla cheese cut up into cubes or (if you can get it) Greek Feta cheese 
Here is a look at the dressing I used, which tastes pretty good.
How to make:
  • Cook the pasta but not all the way leaving it slightly hard in the center. Drain and rinse under cold water, moving the bowl around till all the pasta is cool. Shake the colander till the water is gone or (in my case since my colander sucks) take a thick wad of paper towels and dry off the pasta. Place pasta inside a wide and deep bowl.
  • Pour the olive oil around the pasta and then stir, this is so that the pasta will not stick to itself (dumb pasta)...hehe
  • Take the cut up veggies and put in the pasta. Stir till well mixed. Add the S & P to your liking (I used more pepper than salt). 
  • Pour in the salad dressing to your liking. The way I did it was that I put in a little at first and then more later, seeing and tasting what I liked. Since the stuff marinates in it I figured I really didn't need to use a heck of a lot. 
  • Place it all inside the gladlock containers and put in the fridge, usually overnight or eat a few hours later.
  • Add fresh cut up cheese (see above) for extra flavor and *protein.
Depending on your ingredients I figure this is a healthy dish, however for those who count pasta as some deadly carb then I am sorry. I look forward to eating this at work or when I come home as a snack before trying out a fitness routine.

If you have any similar food stories and recipes please do share! I hope this post comes in handy for other office-tell dwellers. ;)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Youtube Search Story: Korea

I made my own and so should you. *Note not all search stories about life in Korea end this way. ;)


And a more lighthearted one ~

Yuldong Park

The answer to my front page photo's source is....drum roll... Yuldong park in Bundang. Ah perhaps, the answer isn't that exciting..haha.

Yesterday I spent the first half spring cleaning and taking out my warmer weather clothing. I didn't finish and found myself wanting to get out. JH had to go down to Gumi (near Gyeongju) for a business trip so I was left on my own.

I knew that the Cherry Blossom Festival was in full swing up in Seoul at Yeoido, but I also knew that it would take over an hour to get there and would be crowded. So I picked a park nearby my area to check out.

To get to Yuldong park I took the yellow line and got off at Seohyun station, exit 2. Then I grabbed a light picnic snack and caught the #33 bus.

Yuldong park has a very large lake (a reservoir) with a lovely view of mountains in the background.
One thing this park is famous for is it's bungee jump platform. 
 I stopped to eat my picnic snack on a nearby bench and enjoyed the scenery. While doing so a group of high - or - middle school girls walked by. As they did so they said, "Hello!" and one seemed brave enough to ask, "Where are you from?" I answered I was from California and they went, "Oooooooooo" while they walked away. It was fun but reminded me how when I go to these special places sometimes I end up being an attraction mixed in with the other sights. Ah well ~ I don't mind helping kids feel more comfortable speaking to foreigners. 

Back to the bungee jumping. It was in full swing with both guys and gals jumping off it. People seemed to like to sit near the area and watch as people jump off, then applaud them. At the bottom was a guy in a boat who collected the jumper. You could tell when some people just couldn't handle it as you watch as they freak out. I know if I go to this park next time with JH he is going to beg me to do it. I will only do it if we can couple jump. But for now I am not sure about it.

Then there were the ducks.
After watching people jump and seeing who was scared and who had fun I turned my attention to the spring flowers in the park. There weren't a whole lot, actually, and I can imagine that the cherry blossoms will show up later this week.
Around this area was a kid's playground and beyond that was the sculpture park. At the sculpture park it was fun to see other people interacting with the works and checking them out.
This is also, of course, where I found my inspiring front page picture.
From then on I rested nearby the bungee jump area and watched a few people go off it. Then I headed to Sunnae for dinner and back home. They say it's going to be a rainy week ahead so I think I will keep these sunny memories in my mind. ~

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bloom

Yes those are breasts at the top of my blog. Ah - hem.

If you can guess where I went today and found this beauty of a sculpture then I will give you...good old fashioned brownie points!

Before I put up my post revealing the answer let me first run you through a few spring photos I took on my way to work last week.

Now the cherry blossoms are out and one can't help but smile seeing their beauty.
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