43 days left

I cant believe I’m saying this but I have only 43 days left in Korea. I have no idea where the time went, or how I managed to get here with my sanity relatively in check. 2017 was a roller coaster year, with many difficulties, challenges, fun days, amazing opportunities, and new experiences. I think this past year I was forced to confront things about myself that I didn’t realize. I should have anticipated this I suppose. I was not entirely ready to deal with those things but living abroad for a year will do that to you. That’s part of the appeal I guess.

Anyway, I am finished with my teaching now. I keep hoping to see my students around town because I haven’t seen them in a week and I kinda miss them already. They’re just so hilarious and cool. At the same time I’m ready to go home and carry on with my life. I’ve been making plans and talking with my friends and family and its causing me some confusion. You know that feeling when you have mentally checked out of a place way before you have physically left? Part of me has already returned to the USA but the other half is still trying to enjoy my time here in Yeongwol, and savor the things I know I will miss in the future. Its incredible to me that Korea became such a home. I struggle to  remember what its like living anywhere else. I can remember what its like living in the USA but it seems strange, not my life but maybe someone elses. In just a year I bended and folded to fit into this space that I inhabited. Like a contortionist or something. I saw an old photo of me from a few years ago and I was wearing shoes inside the house. It looked so wrong. Such bad form and soooooo 2016. The new Amalia takes her shoes off at the door.

There are many things that I am eager to get away from, such as  my terrible shower. I came very close to ripping out my shower and defenestrating it from the balcony. But then I’d have no shower at all so I controlled my rage. In all seriousness,  the last few months I’ve been mentally collecting things about Korea that I will definitely miss and I want to use this post to list them, so I don’t ever forget.

1. All the friends that I’ve made this year, and how they all helped me feel at home in this small town. Its so nice to walk to town and meet up with everyone. Movie nights, Game of Thrones, rooftop parties, Pizza parties, Piksa parties, bonfires, trips to Seoul, trips to Jecheon, Sokuri, writers workshops, Karaoke etc. It has made this year fun and has helped me get through some tough days.

2. Running into students outside of school is still so incredibly funny and weird. The students are so excited to see me and are usually very interested in what I’m doing, where I’m going and who I’m with. This can obviously have its disadvantages.

3. Korean fashion is so interesting and specific. I didn’t know much about it before I moved here, but their style is very prevalent throughout Asia. One of my favorite things about it are the strange English phrases printed on shirts and sweaters. My favorite is the hoodie I saw once that said ” FLUFFY BLANKET” in block letters on it.  WHY?

4. The nice high school girl that works at the CU who is always so happy to see me so she can practice her English. ” HELLOOO!” ” Four thousand two hundred won!” and “Do you want a bag?”

5. My friendly neighbor with all the pretty plants and fishtanks. He gave me a box of juice once.

6. The music that plays in the bathroom at school. It plays automatically when someone walks in. You feel like you stepped into a happy forest with deer and rabbits and squirrels and chirping birds. Very pleasant.

7. The Ondol. Its the best. Its wonderful. Its a lifesaver. The pipes that run beneath the floor in my house that heat up the floor and make it nice and toasty for my feet. You can nap, sit, dry your clothes, heat your tea, fry an egg, whatever you want. I’m kidding about the egg.

8. The love for stationary, pencil cases, and writing utensils. The creativity and silliness in simple things like sharpeners or rulers is so ostentatious but it makes me happy. Why not have a ruler shaped like a giraffe?

9. All the snacks. No matter what the food is, if someone at work has something to share, they will share it. Even if you think its not shareable, they will find a way. I have been given persimmon, watermelon, chicken, pizza, dried squid, rice cake, fish cake, regular cake, tofu, coffee, hard boiled eggs, corn, potato etc. All as I sit at my desk in the Teachers office.

10. The mountains and hills around Yeongwol. The landscape continues to fascinate me, and it is easily distinguished as Korean. The mountains, fog and trees have worked their way into my drawings and I will continue to think about them when I return to Florida.

11. School lunches, and food in general have been amazing. Yes it has been hard to eat rice every day all year, but Korean food tastes so good. The soup is delicious, as are the sauces, spices, side dishes, and street food that you can find. I cant wait for tacos though. I miss them.

12. Kai-Bai-BO. One of my favorite things about Korea, and a topic of much discussion amongst the other foreign teachers here. Kai Bai Bo translates to Rock Scissor Paper. This game has taken a new life and is everything to Korean kids and many adults too. This is how everyone makes decisions here. I witness about 10 rounds of Kai Bai Bo in a day at school. Once when we were hiking, we noticed a group of twenty somethings trying to decide who was going to get the last drink of water in the bottle. To be fair, they settled the matter with Kai Bai Bo and no one argued over the result. Settled fair and square.  There is a science to it too. I used to play with my students and always lose in the beginning, But I’ve gotten the hang of it now and my students cheer when I win.

Those are some small things that have made my days in Korea special and interesting.

#whatthefipple

 

 

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Boats,water, fish, and mud. But mostly mud.

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I’m not really sure what I expected from the Philippines, I think I tried not to expect anything in case I was disappointed. But disappointed I was not. The Philippines is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited, and I was honestly astounded at how natural and untouched the island of Palawan is. Maybe Manila let me down a bit, but we barely scratched the surface of that huge sprawling madness of a city, so I can hardly judge it. Cities that are so old and that grew so quickly tend to make very little sense and can be overwhelming. Of course Cairo, Athens, Hong Kong, and Chennai are confusing. They are ancient compared to American cities. The Old town of Manila had a very distinct Spanish/abandoned fortress feeling to it. I enjoyed seeing the buildings taken over by moss, erosion and ivy. We even got to walk through Manila’s Chinatown, which happens to be the very first Chinatown in the world. This reminded me of a class I once took called “History of Immigration” in college, where we studied the social or political patterns that cause people to migrate. It amazes me how the Chinese have created a small cultural niche in almost every major city in the world. That’s quite an accomplishment.

 

After a short rainy day of being whisked around Manila in tuk-tuks, we got back on the plane to go to Palawan, rumoured to be the most beautiful island in the world.

And SURE ENOUGH, when we got there we were greeted by warmth, sunshine, greenery, and hot air as we rode 6 hours on a bus to get to El nido. On that ride, I stared out the window and could not believe the untouched beauty of the WHOLE ISLAND. I saw a honey stand on the side of the road, and a man sleeping in his hammock. That’s basically it. For almost 6 hours. The rest of the island was just lush greenery, streams, rivers, and fields.

 

Our beach cottage in El Nido was a quiet spot right on the water a few minutes outside of town. There was a breakfast spot next door and other beach cottages around us. Our host was so friendly and happy to help us with anything we wanted to do. We spent 3 days on boats. We island hopped around the bay and explored the coral reefs and limestone formations around El Nido and Port Barton.  We saw lagoons, amazing rocks, caves, coral, and probably every single fish in the Philippines. Our tour guides took us all over and even pointed out cool caverns, sea turtles, and coral for us to see. They took our pictures and grilled fish and chicken for us right on our boat.  By the time the 5:00 rain storms hit we were absolutely done for the day. Exhausted, full, swallowed too much salt water, and sunburnt. I love being on boats. Any boat any time.

 

But one of my most vivid experiences in the Philippines is the day we decided to hike up to a waterfall. Once again we had 2 guides who offered to drive us to the mountain and then take us through the jungle to the waterfall. Shortly after we begin our hike we come across a rocky river that our guide just casually waded through. The water not that deep. I think it went above my knees. I was not aware that river-wading was part of the itinerary for the day so I was wearing sneakers and socks. I had to take them off, put them in my backpack and go through the river barefoot. The guide behind me helped me through the slippery rocks and water. I managed that fine, and was going to put my shoes back on when I saw the same river twist back around and cross our path again in front of me. In fact we crossed the same river about 8 more times before we reached the waterfall. I ended up doing the entire jungle hike barefoot. I was terrified of getting bit by scorpions, piranhas, snakes, tarantulas, leeches and I don’t know what else. But as we climbed higher the trail changed from being rocky and dirty to very muddy and squishy and suddenly I was walking barefoot through muddy pools and patches of bright red clay. I’ve missed clay a lot these last eight months and I really enjoyed seeing the bright color and feeling the squish between my toes. Its silly things like that that make me feel like my days are predetermined. I forgot about my sore feet and the scorpions and instead took joy in the squelching mud and dirty puddles I waded through to get to this mystical waterfall. It was a very pretty waterfall by the way, but the journey to the waterfall was far more memorable to me. That was so cheesy but it can’t be helped I’m just telling it like it is. On the way back to civilization it started pouring rain so our tour guides got us enormous banana leafs to use as umbrellas. I guess they thought these silly American girls had a problem with a bit of rain (we were still wet from swimming in the waterfall) but we loved them and held them over our heads anyway.

 

And that was only the first half of the day. The second half of the day involves a tuk-tuk ride from hell, an appalling amount of mud, a mild case of dehydration, flat tires on the side of the road, and ziplines. Contrary to my belief at the time, I survived all of those things ( I opted out of the zipline as the tuk-tuk ride and mud was just too much to handle for one day) I ended up passing out on the beach under an umbrella for an hour before heading back to the safety of our beach cottage. Days like that are when you grow the most from traveling. When you are forced to experience things that you didn’t know were coming your way. While the island hopping tours were absolutely breathtaking, they are planned and geared towards tourists so you can see the highlights of the bay. This day was a totally spontaneous adventure hindered by the rain, bad roads, and my lack of good judgement when picking sensible footwear. But when you get home you have this amazing feeling of accomplishment, that you had a real experience in that country, not something prepared in advance for you to see. The more I travel the more I understand what kind of experiences I’m looking for in a country. It’s important to balance the trip with variety so your experience is well-rounded. I have to say that the Philippines is one of the best countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and I encourage anyone going to Asia to give it a chance. I know it’s out of the way but you will not be disappointed.

 

Now I’m back in Korea sitting at my desk. The mountains have turned to a dark green color and there is a heavy layer of fog around them every morning. The leaves are slowly turning yellow and the huge moths have all died. That is the first sign that summer is definitely over, when you see enormous dead moths all over the sidewalk. I’m trying to mentally get through the next two months of teaching. So i’m planning some adventures to Greece (Dumpsters get readyyyy) upon my return to the USA. Im also putting together my grad school apps and planning an art show in south Florida for next summer. Those things should keep me busy enough until February. I have a feeling this winter is going to be really brutal.

#winteriscomingforrealthistime

 

P.s. I meant to talk about the really cute monkeys we got to play with, the mosquitos, the fishbites we got, and the overprotective dog friends we made. I never even mentioned the food or the sunsets! Just go to the Philippines I swear you’ll love it.

 

The Bali adventures of John Lemon

Well, I’ve just returned from probably the greatest trip of my life. We ( Irina, Kayla, Ngozi, Vanessa, Shannon, and myself) spent ten days exploring Indonesia and making the most of our summer vacation. You know the feeling when you’re so exhausted from your daily work schedule but you plan a vacation that is even more draining and tiresome than work? That’s what we did. We woke up early, we hiked, we walked, we ran out of cash, we slept in airports, we got lost, we fell in holes, we cut our toes, we dropped our phones in the ocean, and we got sunburned. But it was so so soooooo fun. Totally worth it. Indonesia is such a warm beautiful country filled with bright colors, happy people, delicious food and lots of incense.

We spent the first leg of our journey near Jakarta exploring the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, and then continued to Nusa Penida, a quiet undiscovered island close to Bali. We thought this would be a nice place to see the real Indonesia and get away from the crowds. We got a driver to take us around the entire island for a day, and he showed us some of the best beaches, cliffs, and views. He liked my sunglasses, and said I looked like John Lennon so obviously I thought he was cool. It was so great to drive around in a van listening to Bob Marley and Shakira as our driver showed us around. We stopped for some fresh coconut, hiked to secret beaches and took lots of photos.

The next day the people at our hostel helped us set up a snorkeling excursion, which turned out to be the highlight of my entire trip. I don’t have any photos, but believe me when I say that swimming next to an enormous Manta ray can change you. It was an amazing experience to see this creature effortlessly glide by you in the deep ocean, surrounded by colorful fish of all sizes and huge reefs of coral and rock.  I wasn’t even scared, I was just speechless.  The sea snake was a little scary though.

The next part of our trip was 4 days in the insane town of Ubud, which is located in the jungles of Bali basically. This town is a mecca for hipsters, yoga enthusiasts, monkeys, smoothie enthusiasts, mango juice lovers, and purveyors of anything handcrafted or artisinal. We spent most of our money here just shopping and eating delicious food. We visited the nearby rice terrace, a coffee plantation, a waterfall, the monkey sanctuary, and did a lot of walking. This is when Vanessa fell in a deep hole in the sidewalk, and I had to pull her out. It was pretty scary and she did scrape her legs but we sort of laugh about it now. There were tourists from all over the world, especially France, Germany, Australia, and Russia. I did hear one person speaking Greek which astounded me. One of my favorite things about Indonesian culture is that they place a small plate of flower petals outside their homes/shops every morning as an offering. They burn incense with it for good luck. They looked so pretty I couldn’t help but point them out each time I saw them.

The last part of our trip was the sleepy surf town of Uluwatu at the southern peninsula of Bali. Our airbnb was not anywhere near the actual main town, nor did I ever totally find the main town, but honestly we were all so exhausted that we had no problem with just finding the secret beaches that the surfers enjoy and laying in the sand all day. We visited Padang-Padang and Uluwatu beach. We also went to a luxurious beach club ( Soooooo, Sunday Beach Club????) and for a very reasonable cost we got to spend the day like Kardashians. We spent the rest of our time at our beautiful villa that we had to ourselves, cooking, eating mangoes, napping, having synchronized swimming competitions, and playing the hits of Celine Dion.

Now, I am back at my desk in Yeongwol Korea, trying to prepare myself for the beginning of this next semester. I kinda did miss this town. I like the routine that I made for myself and im happy to be back for the most part. I am missing the ocean air, the incense, and the fruit of Bali.  But luckily there are only six weeks until the Korean Thanksgiving holiday in October, so stay tuned, because we are hitting up the Philippines next.

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725 precarious stairs

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worth it
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Nusa Penida
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album cover
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red tuna
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Sunrise at Borobudur
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Borobodur
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Prambanan temple
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Prambanan
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snorkeling day
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flower offerings
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Lemon fish in banana leaf
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staying hydrated at Alchemy

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Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud
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confronting my fears
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Holy Water Temple
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Ubud
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Shannon at the Coffee and Tea plantation
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Waterfall in Ubud
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sketchbook
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Crispy duck
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beach foraging
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Sunday Beach club
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the walk to our condo in Ubud
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the squaaaad looking fresh

The art of Deskwarming

Today is the last day of classes here in Yeongwol. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, trying to finish all the material the students need to cover before summer. You can sense how excited they are for a break. Honestly its just too hot for school. Or anything really. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m almost hoping fall comes fast, because summer in Korea is pretty brutal. The air is hot, heavy and smelly. I can’t wear short sleeves to work because I have to keep the tattoo on my arm covered, lest my students see it and mistake me for a gang member (makes perfect sense..). The only relief you get is late at night, but that’s when all the enormous bugs come out, make an enormous racket and fly around  the streetlights. Baby dragons. Even in my apartment the air is so humid I’m worried about mold. I got my fan and my A/C but they are turned off when I’m not around (which is all day).

I’ve also had several encounters with spiders. Literally the spawn of Aragog the Acromantula was in my house and I was up at 3 am trying to kill it for almost 2 hours. Eventually my shoe ended its miserable existence. Then I threw my shoe away because there was no salvaging it from all the spiderguts. I kept the other shoe for future spiders. When you live alone you have to step up and take control of the situation. I was reminded of Kevin in Home Alone when he was preparing to fight the Wet Bandits: “This is my house, and I have to defend it!”  I knew I wasnt going to sleep until the spider was dead. I’m sorry, but that’s just the reality. If he (Aragog) had stayed in his corner and out of my way, we could have coexisted. In fact, Louise Bourgeois has been on my ceiling for a couple weeks now. We get along fine. She stays out of my way and I stay out of hers.

For the next few weeks I will be at work just sitting at my desk. I still have to go to school even though I have no classes to teach. Its called Deskwarming and it’s part of my contract. I will be drawing, reading, and putting together my application for graduate school. I do have a week of English camp to teach, but that will be relatively painless. Just three hours a day. More important than that, a week from today (Friday) will be my 27th birthday.  I’m really excited to have a birthday in Korea. I’ve been thinking about all the stuff Ive accomplished at 26, and I can’t believe I got myself here. It’s easy to have an idea, but to actually stay motivated and go through with it is a lot harder than it seems. I’m so glad I chose to come here despite my many uncertainties. I definitely was not ready for this Korean adventure, but when are you ever ready for anything that happens to you? Never. In one week I will be 27, and in less than two weeks I will be on my way to Indonesia with my friends. We have temples, waterfalls, monkeys, elephants, and lazy rivers waiting for us. 27 is going to be even better than 26.

 

Amalia

 

*Thanks Mom/Dad, and Christian/Paige/Maria  for the excellent birthday presents and cards you all sent me. I had so much fun opening everything. I have snacks and candy for dayyyyyyys ❤

**Another thank you to Irina who helped me with my keyboard when it was suddenly possesed by demons during the making of this post. I was at my wits end if you can imagine that.

*** I apologize to all the spiders out there. Please dont think I’m a ruthless killer.

 

Meanwhile, in Korea…

Today marks 4 months since I arrived in Korea. I still stop myself sometimes to think  “wow amalia you’re STILL here”.  but the time is going by pretty fast, just like everyone said it would. I feel like it was a few days ago I was sitting in this exact chair looking out the window and just wishing for the mountain to turn green and the sun to come out. Now all the windows are open, students are running around outside, the mountain and the trees are green, and I’m drinking ice coffee (Iceuh-Copi) as it is called.

It is so hot. And it’s hot indoors and outdoors. The a/c is only turned on in extreme situations and for short periods of time. The air is heavy and still pretty dry compared to Florida. I wish we were by the sea so the breeze could be cool and ocean-y, but we are way inland and the air is warm and dusty.

In the past weeks I’ve been pretty occupied. I went to Gyeongju and visited the ancient tombs of the Silla kingdom, I hiked a mountain and almost died on the way down*, got yelled at by a Korean landlord, made a pretty killer sangria at Vanessa’s Mexican birthday party, spent a couple weekends in Seoul, went to a bar in Jecheon and beat some locals at darts, tried pig feet, taught my students to say “hangry”, made friends with my neighbour who’s obsessed with his plants and fishtanks, purchased tickets to Bali for August, became an expert airbnb researcher, went disco-bowling, ripped my favorite jeans, and spent a lot of time lesson planning.

In addition to all of that, I’ve been making enormous progress on the drawing in my kitchen/living room. Ive been working on it for about two months and its been really nice to come home from work and just scribble on the wall for a couple hours. It’s something from my “old life” that I can hold on to, so I dont feel like everything is different. I guess when I finish this wall I can wallpaper something else.

It’s only been four months,and I can sense myself becoming more and more Korean. I am already wondering how weird it will be to return to the US. I’ve gotten used to bowing to everyone, taking my shoes off indoors, making sure my shoulders are covered, drinking mango beer at the 7/11, and accepting everything with two hands. I don’t even remember how to use a fork I don’t think…

Mom does Trader Joe’s sell Kimchi????

 

 

*Kay: Six years ago I said I’d never go hiking again, that was a big lie.

Chronicle of Mountain and Sea

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A couple weeks ago I went to Busan for the first time, and just as I expected, it was the coolest city ever. I’m pretty sure other people know the feeling, but sometimes you just get a good vibe from a place, and you know that you’re going to love it there. You just know. You’ve never been there, but you feel like the second you get there you won’t want to leave. You can easily picture yourself just relocating and staying there permanantly. I’ve had that feeling with only a couple other cities in the world: Seville and Edinburgh.

I get really excited about going to a big city for the first time. Some of you that have travelled with me before might know this already. I’m so interested in the atmosphere, the setup, the people on the street, the geography, the architecture, the art, the public transportation and the overall vibe. Busan really interested me because it felt surprisingly like Athens, where I grew up. What could Athens and Busan POSSIBLY have in common you may ask? They are both large cities sandwiched between the sea and the mountains. They both have vibrant appreciation for street art and color, and even their subways are the same. They must have been made at the same time or by the same people because the stations, layout, and signage are all the same as in Athens. I felt like I already knew my way around.

Speaking of subways, I actually ran for my life in Busan, and I never run. I ran like zombies were chasing me, to get on the last train towards our airbnb. By the time we had all miraculously made it on, all the Koreans on the train cheered for us. I thought I was going to collapse. That was the shortened version of the story, there was more drama, betrayal, rain, and running up escalators involved.

Besides that, I like that Busan was more laid back than Seoul is. Seoul is really incredible but Busan has a chill quality that Seoul lacks. Maybe its because Seoul is the capital, it feels more businessy than Busan. But honestly I think its just the beach. The presence of the beach, the salty air and all the fish markets puts everyone at ease. It puts me at ease at least. People walking around with sand on their feet because they walked on the beach after work. Thats my kind of life.

Other than that, life here is pretty chill. Yeongwol is getting hot now. I notice that it rains in the early afternoon and then at night it clears right up and you wish you could stay out for hours. I wonder what its going to be like in July. I’ve felt a change recently, I’m finally feeling like a permanant resident in my town, as opposed to a tourist. It will be 3 months since I left the USA this weekend, and I’m just realizing that I’m a local now. I’m a part of my town, and I’m talking to my neighbors. I’m not constantly aware of my actions in case I offend someone. When you’re a guest in a country you feel like you need to be extra careful with everything you do so you dont give the wrong impression. I’m more relaxed now. My students and I have become good friends. I’ve rearranged the furniture in my apartment to a more Feng Shui set up. (Special shoutout to Irina my non-irritating friend for her interior design skills) I also have started a major drawing project that involves all the wall space in my kitchen/living room. I work on it a little bit at a time after school. Its called the The Chronicles of Mountain and Sea, after an ancient Chinese Geography/Mythology book.

I’m going to end this post with a story from class the other day. I was teaching 6th grade and we were learning the phrase “Dont Worry” and discussing things that make us worried. The students talked about the usual things: math tests, video games, Tae Kwon Do tournaments etc. Then this one kid (his English name is Chris) starts talking in Korean and says a bunch of things really fast. My Co-teacher bursts out laughing and translates for me.

” He says he gets worried when he watches Korean news and politics”

I told this kid Chris I feel the same way when I read about American politics. At that point the whole class went OOOOOOHHHHH TRUMP!!! I nodded my head and made an unpleasant face. We understood eachothers pain.

In case anyone back home has any doubts, the whole world is watching as our government and reputation falls apart. Including 11 year olds in rural South Korea.

HBD BUDDHA

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So many funny and interesting things have occurred in the last month. It’s finally spring, and today is actually quite hot. By no means am I complaining about it, its awesome. Since my last post I’ve done a lot more exploring around Gangwon (the northern region of Korea) and gotten acquainted with my own town a lot more. I made a trip to the beach, and seeing the ocean rekindled my spirits greatly. School has been the usual roller coaster of great days where you feel like a combination of Teacher of the Year and B-list celebrity due to your foreign appearance, as well as the  days where things don’t go as planned, and you wonder why anyone would want to learn English in the first place. I’m learning to find a balance throughout the days of the week, the different teachers and students I work with, and the three schools I teach at. With all that commotion during the week I’m surprised I have energy at all to go traipsing up and down the country, looking for tombs, tea fields, and Buddhas but that’s why I’m here, so obviously it has to be done.

I’m posting some photos of interesting things I’ve seen or funny things that have happened since my last entry. That plate of chicken feet was truly unpleasant. The texture threw me way off and I just don’t get why you would want sweet and sour chicken feet when you can have sweet and sour chicken. WHY???

Also, one day, I go back to my desk after teaching a class and in my back pack (which I had left open) someone had placed a dried squid in a bag with my name written on it. It was really weird/thoughtful/ hilarious. The 2nd grade teacher had gone to a seaside fishing village over the weekend and brought each teacher a squid as a gift. How sweet. Its still in my freezer, I don’t really know what to do with it so if anyone has any ideas let me know. All I’ve done is draw it so far. Koreans really love giving gifts and they also love snacks, so people give you food all the time. Even strangers. That’s one of my favorite things about Korean people actually, because I too love snacks and communal snacking. Imagine every person you encounter at work/on the street/in the park is an old Greek grandmother who thinks you need something to eat or a piece of candy. It’s really nice. It makes you want to give away snacks too.

This past weekend was particularly busy because it was the Yeongwol Festival, commemorating King Danjong’s Legacy and paying respects to his tomb (which is down the street from my apartment) He was exiled to this region for reasons that I can’t remember, and then his uncle decided he needed to be murdered so he could have the throne for himself. He was found dead in the woods by some deer nearby. ANYWAYYYY the festival was really fun, it was much like an American County Fair I guess, but with K-pop concerts, THE BEST FIREWORKS I EVER SAW, better food, and cool traditional costumes. Also no farm animals. So in fact it was much better haha.

We also started having movie nights at Ngozi’s house. We have a long list of films that all need to be watched this year. So far we have crossed out The Fifth Element, Mean Girls, and Stepbrothers. I believe Rush Hour 1-3 is next. I obviously made sure Matilda was put on the list.

Stay tuned for next weeks post, I will have returned from Busan and the Tea fields, with all the latest from the south. This week is Buddha’s birthday (May 3rd) and we all have the week off. So party hard for Buddha everyone 🙂

Emotional Resilience

This is sort of difficult to write about because its always harder to write about things that are bothering you. Which is why I haven’t brought it up before now. In the months leading to my arrival in Korea I did a bit of reading about culture shock, homesickness, and emotional resilience. As a kid and teenager, I was lucky enough to experience many different cultures and even move to a whole new country at 16. Culture shock is not a new feeling for me, and I knew that if i could handle it as an 11th grader in high school then I could definitely handle it as a 26 year old adult. And while I may miss my family and friends, homesickness is something I learn to deal with because it is understood that we all have things to do and accomplish in our individual lives. As far as my physical home, Its probably been about eight years since I’ve been there. Its something I’ve accepted.

Emotional resilience was something that I hadn’t heard before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this past week. It seems simple enough: the ability to handle situations of anxiety, turmoil, or stress on your own. So maybe I wasn’t too worried about homesickness, but I was worried about my ability to do my job well, and my assimilation to Korea. Will I have people around me also going through the same thing? Will I be able to understand what is expected of me at work? How will I pay my bills? What if I need to go to the post office? What would I do for fun? What are all these weird vegetables at the supermarket? How many times a week is it recommended to eat noodles? If Koreans don’t wear deodorant does that mean I don’t have to either? These are all serious questions.

This past week was the first time that Korea caught up with me and I felt completely overwhelmed. I think the worst aspect of being here is that things that normally would be so simple end up being complicated just because “its Korea”. Communication at work is where I’ve struggled, because there is always a difference between what your coworkers say to you and what they actually mean. They will most likely not say “No” to you, or give you any kind of bad news. Instead they will agree or say “Yes” just to keep things pleasant, but they actually mean no. Its been hard to never know whats going on and have your teaching schedule rearranged 5-6 times in a single day (that happened to me last week) I spent 8 hours planning my lessons for the next day only to be told in the morning that half my classes were cancelled and the others rearranged due to a science fair. This sort of thing has happened already several times, and its bothersome because you feel like your classes and efforts are not valued.

On another note, If you think you are going to get yourself a bag of hot cheetos as a nice comforting snack, you are in for a rude awakening because Korean hot cheetos are not hot, OR cheesy. They are sweetish. They aren’t even orange. They’re like a whitish color. So no cheetos to make you feel better. Also, eating rice at least once a day is 1000% unavoidable. Probably twice.  Learn to accept it. Actually same goes for kimchi but I really like that, so no complaints there 🙂

I think all of us newcomers in Korea are now about to finish the “Honeymoon Stage” of this adventure, and slowly things will start losing their initial excitement and freshness. We will get tired of the food, and we will get bored of the routines that we made for ourselves. This is when we will realize that WE ARE IN KOREA FOR A WHOLE YEARRRRRR OMMMGGGG and we will need our emotional resilience to work its magic. One of the advantages I have in this situation is that I am an artist. How does this help you may ask. As an artist I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about my feelings and actions. I have to in order to explain to people what my art is about. I know what will give me anxiety and more importantly I know HOW to make myself feel better. That is probably one of the most important lessons I learned with my Art degree.

Anyway, I’m just saying that this adventure has been really fun, and I can already sense myself changing as a person. But there is a lot of work and confusion involved. And I do sometimes feel like I just catapulted myself into outer space. BUT, in a couple weeks the hardest part will be over and it will be summer and everything will be beautiful and green. And I can wear shorts again and sit in the sun, which is what I want the most. The bottom line is that I got black paint, I got brushes, and I got paper. I’ll figure it out.

Three times I’ve realized this is a small provincial town.

One of the funniest things about living in Yeongwol Korea is that everyone else lives here too. By everyone I mean everyone that I work with, including all my students, coworkers, and Principal. And they probably notice you every time you leave the house, because you’re that foreign girl (the one that always wears sunglasses) that lives in Sam Ho apartments, and therefore you stick out a lot.  So here are a few instances where I’ve run into people from school when least expecting too.

  1. There was that time we all went for duck at the Duck restaurant with the other Native English Teachers (NET’s) and as I was taking my shoes off at the entrance, I notice a boy lying on the floor of the restaurant doing his homework/watching TV. He sees me and says Hello Amelia teacher!!!! That was my first week of teaching and at that time I couldn’t recognize any of my students if I saw them anywhere. So I just blindly waved back and said HIIIII back to him. He didnt think it was so strange though, he went right back to his TV watching. He’s probably used to seeing his teachers everywhere. His parents, who owned the duck restaurant, asked him who I was and I assume he said I was his English teacher. Still cant say which school he knows me from since I teach at 3 elementary schools nearby.
  2. On Sundays, Vanessa and I decided we will go grocery shopping together as an incentive to actually have food in our fridges every week. So we are walking back from the supermarket with our shopping on Sunday afternoon and this car pulls up next to us and it’s the Administration lady at the Trout Academy that I go to on Wednesdays and Thursdays. She doesn’t speak any English at all, but usually we just  smile and say hello, and offer each snacks. We say hello, and she asks if we are walking home from the supermarket, and we said yes (I was carrying a pack of toilet paper along with my food items) We said goodbye and she drove away, and then after she left I realized my outfit was the weirdest, most mismatched combination of prints and colors. I looked like Laundry day basically.
  3. This last sighting is perhaps the funniest, and it happened just last night. Vanessa, Ngozi, and I had gone out for Korean BBQ, and leaving the restaurant we decided to swing by the Donut Grandma to see if she was still making any donuts because they are so good and warm and sugary. We get to the donut place and she is scrubbing all her pans and donut paraphernalia. We were just standing there feeling sad when a bunch of people came stumbling out of the restaurant next door all talking pretty loud. They were older looking important people in suits. Ngozi recognizes one of them as her principal at her school, and then I realize MY principal from Trout Academy is there too, along with my 5th grade Co-teacher. We wave at them and they all come over to talk to us. So we all introduce each other, and several awkward handshakes ensued. We knew they were drunk because many Korean adults will pretend they don’t speak English most of time, but when they’re drunk they have a lot more confidence in their abilities. They asked us what we were doing, and we said “No more donuts!” and made sad faces as we pointed to the Donut Grandma still closing her shop. They said “AAAAaaaaaahhhhh” Then my principal gave us all high fives, and then they walked away.

 

I just keep thinking I’m going to be here for a whole year, and come spring and summer, i’m going to be outside all the time. My apartment is way too cave-ish to be in when the weather is nice. So I guess I have a lot more of these funny interactions to look forward too. My students are probably going to know everything about me, including where I live, what I do on weekends, and where I buy socks. Should be fun.

On snacks, fires, and trash.

There has been a major triumph that occurred this week. One that several of us newcomers are relishing in. We finally mustered the courage to throw out the trash. You may laugh, but garbage disposal in Korea is such an ordeal. You need to sort all your trash, and collect it in specific official yellow bags. If you use the wrong bag or throw things in the wrong bin, something awful might happen. I’m not sure. If you’re throwing out food, it needs to be sorted into its own special bag, and preferably kept in your freezer until you are ready to take it outside. My concern was I didn’t know where the garbage disposal was in my apartment complex. I tried spying on my neighbors to see where they took their trash, but I just never seemed to catch them at it. Vanessa never saw them either. Finally the other day she located the disposal area, where there are bins and specially marked areas for various trash,recyclables and compost. It was funny when we realized that many of us in other towns or regions had been intimidated to take out the trash. CRISIS AVERTED.

This past weekend we had some friends from Wonju and Pyeongchang come to visit. The plan was to go see Beauty and the Beast all together and generally show them around our super cool awesome town of Yeongwol. Since last weekend was so hectic what with travelling to Seoul and being touristy, it was nice to kick back and hang around town. Then we realized the weather was going to be excellent and pretty warm so it was decided to have the first bonfire of the year down by the river, organized by the Yeongwol teachers who had already been here when we arrived. They are a diverse and lively group, some of whom have been here for several years. Apparently there is a rich tradition of riverside bonfires once the the weather gets warm. I never thought that I’d come to Korea and still be able to go to bonfires and eat s’mores, hot dogs and other American snacks. It just didn’t seem likely. We had a fantastic time, and It was very pretty down by the river, watching the speed trains go by every hour or so, and the stars that slowly appear in the sky. It will be even nicer when its not so cold and we have more firewood.

Once the fire died, we made our way back up to civilization with the remainder of the snacks and went to the movie theatre to watch Beauty and the Beast. We were incredibly hyped, and had bought our tickets earlier that day. We all really loved it, and enjoyed watching it together. The film was in English with Korean subtitles. Tickets were only 5,000 Won (5$)  so I’m planning on going to the movies whenever I can, and probably watch some choice Korean films too.  On Sunday morning I took my friends to the bus station so they could get back to their towns and lives.

Walking home from the bus station, I realized how warm, sunny, and quiet it was. Very peaceful and Sunday-ish. I thought about how nice it would be to sit in the park or on a bench anywhere in town and enjoy the sun and draw.  Maybe do a series of drawings around town. I seriously can’t wait for summer.

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