Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hospital Edition

I'm going to apologize in advance if my writing style isn't up to par. I have seen far too much of this morning for my liking.

There are many things about Korea that rock. The wireless Internet in the hospital is my current favorite thing about Korea.

I showed up yesterday, and after a minimum of fuss found myself in a hospital room with four sick old ladies, two old men, and one healthy old lady. I should give credit to my friend Lisa for making my check in as painless as it was. Her small amount of Korean plus the hospital staffs small amount of English combined to create communication.

Korean hospitals are a wee bit different than the ones back home. One of the biggest differences is that they don't really care if you leave. You tell a nurse, "I'm going to run down the street/visit the hospital restaurant/take a stroll," and off you go. The hospital is also running a million tests just to make sure everything is good for my surgery.

Last night I was scheduled for a x-ray at 8pm. Lisa and I walked out to the nurses station at 7:50, leaving ourselves plenty of time for a quick pre-x-ray pee. A nice Korean woman was waiting for us at the nurses station, but all the nice in the world didn't allow her to understand 1st pee then x-ray. After a quick phone call the head nurse, who speaks a considerable amount of English, tells me that my x-ray is now moved to 9pm and if I could please return to the hospital my then. I tried to explain that I was ready now, if they'd just let me pee first, but it did no good.

My other hospital adventure took place this morning. Somewhere in the dark time of the morning I was awakened by a very friendly nurse who informed me that my nail polish just had to go. It also seemed a good time to have me change into my special surgery hospital gown, which features ties up the entire right legs. So I attend to these things and promptly fall back asleep. I had just begun to get down to dreaming when the nurse returns. She feels that now is a good time to start my IV and check my blood pressure. After all of this I have to pee. On the way across my hospital room I happen to glance at the clock. Oh ya, it's 4:55am.

I finally settle back down into sleep. Somewhere in my sleep there was the turning on of over head lights, what I can only assume was the sponge bathing of my neighbor, and the delivery of a humidifier. Yet I manage to stay mostly asleep through all of this. And then the translator shows up.

The hospital translator is a very nice woman whose English isn't really all that good. I met the translator when I came in to find out about my leg. She gave me her card and wrote a number on it that I was supposed to call if I had questions or needed help with hospital stuff. Yesterday I realized I still wasn't sure about being able to get on the Internet so I called her up. Aside for being pretty sure that the translator thought I was asking her for her computer, not much came of our conversation.

Then she shows up at 8am. She wakes me up to tell me that she's here! Hurray! Oh, and she was in a deep sleep because of stomach discomfort yesterday when I called and woke her up. Have a great morning. See you in recovery.

Ahh, the sweet vengeance of a hospital translator.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Edition

"How's Korea?"

Well, let's see:

My boss decided at the last minute that our school should have a Christmas themed open class on Christmas Eve. Of course the expectations were unclear, and of course everything is being done last minute, and by last minute I mean last night. Oh, and in typical Korean fashion expectations for both the children and the teachers is all kinds of out of whack.

Can you get two sets of 11 six year old to write three complete sentences and draw amazing pictures? Oh, and every kid needs three different sentences so that there is no repetition? Oh! and what they did the first time isn't good enough so drop your lesson, ya know the one that gets them ready for the open class in three days, and do the whole thing again.

That was the beginning of my week. Merry f-ing Christmas to me. AND I got yelled at in front of six year olds for not knowing how my manager wanted the writing samples changed. THEN I got told two days later by the same woman that I'm not allowed to say I don't know how to make a worksheet using Power Point in Korean.

Right, and last time I checked Christmas and it's eve don't really move around a lot. That means, at least to me, that if you have an event every year on Christmas Eve then you can plan the shit out of it way in advance, right? So the fact that my boss got the ball rolling on this planning last week should give you an idea of the kind of woman I'm working for.

So how is Korea...

Well, I work for frustrating people. BUT on a positive note, I keep getting Christmas packages from America! Hurray!!!!!! I love getting mail here and all the Christmas love has helped me get through the school drama. I'm also spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with two of my friends and that should be all kinds of a good time. OH, and I've heard rumor that you can get on your laptop and use the Internet in hospitals here. SO, sweet Guild Wars and Skype while I'm chillin for my surgery.

So Merry Christmas all.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Long Overdue

So, let's see, a blog entry...
There are many things of interest here in Korea:

1. My Thailand vacation is cancelled. Instead I will be spending December 27-30 in the sunny, though not so breezy, overly warm, hospital three subways stops up. I have a fatty, harmless tumor on my shin. I figure I should probably get it out while I'm here and it's mostly affordable. Hey, at least I get to sleep a lot in my PJ's and take pain medication. See, there is a silver lining.

2. It's getting cold here. It's snowed once or twice, but it doesn't stick.

3. My phone cord is slowly becoming hopelessly tangled. I knew, I damned well knew, I should have spent the extra 20,000 won and got the cordless phone.

4. I rocked Christmas shopping and wrapping. I, however, have failed at the labeling and shipping of said Christmas presents. Maybe if I keep forgetting them I'll just open them myself on Christmas and pretend I'm back at home and people like me enough to buy me things.

5. I'm an old person. I go to bed early, and I don't really like to do much on school nights. When did this happen?

6. I started doing hot yoga. I hang out in a room full of really skinny, and flexible, Koreans and let a tiny woman who doesn't speak English kick my ass for an hour and a half. I turn seven shades of red, and the Korean women look like they're ready to go out. I also experience a strange sense of victory when the old Korean ladies can't do a pose, and I rock it.

7. Sometimes I make myself a really elaborate, wonderful dinner. Then, after I've eaten it and gone back for seconds, I feel a bit guilty. I feel like maybe I should have invited someone over to share it. I don't feel too guilty though. I certainly don't feel guilty enough not to make myself nice dinners. Screw everyone else, if I don't share then all the yummy goodness is all for me:)

I know there are other things I should put in here, but I'm slowly slipping into my post dinner food coma and the Shawshank Redemption is on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More of the List

8. Combo meals are called sets.

9. Free stuff is called service. You often get service when you buy things in the many convenience stores. Sometimes you will end up with two coffees, a granola bar, and a sea weed wrapped ball o' rice in a nifty triforce shape. Service.

10. Chinese food is amazing here.

11. Pizza usually has corn in the sauce. Potato wedges also tend to show up on pizza. It really grows on you after awhile, but I don't think I'll ever request Dominos to put corn in my sauce.

12. You don't tip cab drivers or waiters. Both of these jobs pay a normal, livable wage and so there is no need to tip.

13. 4 packages of Craft mac and cheese=14,000 won (about $13)

14. Koreans look at you weird if you smile at them on the street.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

About South Korea

I enjoy lists. Don't know why that is, but it is. SO I will now share a list of some of the odd things that go on in this country. Hurray!

1. Koreans love head bands. They sell head bands in every shade, with glitter, and with bows in the super market, on the street, in clothing stores, in stores that specialize in electronics, in short everywhere.

2. You can drink everywhere. You can drink on the bus, in a taxi, on the street, on the way from one bar to another at 5am, but no one in an alcoholic in Korea because Koreans only drink at night? (not true, they also drink at 7am and at any point in the afternoon that strikes their fancy)

3. The subway is, for the most part, clean and quiet.

4. Old people will push you out of their way, and then look at you like, "What the hell is your problem? Can't you see that I'm old and I want to be walking/standing where you are?" They will also throw an elbow or two just to get the point across.

5. There are a lot of signs in English here.

6. There are convenience stores EVERYWHERE. There is one in my building, in the building that touches my building, one in the building behind mine, and another 5 within a two block radius. EVERYWHERE!

7. People yell at you in the grocery store in an attempt to entice you into buying meat. You can also make a meal out of the free samples they serve in all the isles, and that includes an after meal shot of beer or wine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Promise to Me

Since I can remember, I’ve been writing. I’ve been writing journals that never get filled. I’ve been writing short stories that never get finished. I’ve been building and writing a novel that never got very far at all.

I remember the first time I showed Mr. Young a poem. As I held out that poem my heart pounded, my throat seemed to close, and my hands were sweating. I remember feeling like handing that piece of paper over to that blonde, over weight man, who had the patience and understanding of a saint, felt like I was about to jump off a 30 story building.

It took me a year in middle school, and a year in high school to work up the nerve to submit a poem to the literary magazine. In both schools, my poetry was almost always accepted. I even got nominated and won a literary contest in eighth grade. I recited my poetry in high school, and managed to dominate the literary magazine staff. And I kept telling myself that I needed more life, I needed more time before I could be serious about my writing. I figured somewhere in college or shortly thereafter, I would have what I needed to try and get published. I figured I would have found that “something” that “it” that made an author worthy of publication and serious consideration as a writer.

Then came college. Again I was told I gifted. I was good. I should write and put it out there. I worked on the literary magazine in college. You can find my name on the publication page my senior year, but you won’t find my name in the table of contents. I never submitted anything for scholarly publication, though my advisor did everything but submit my work for me. I even tried to set myself a goal of publication with my honors project. In the end, the part of the paper where I talked about my own experience trying to get published was a lie. I never sent anything.

When it came time to put my work in an envelope and send it off to a stranger, I thought of all the authors I’d ever read. I thought of the words, the phrases, the works that had moved me to tears, to convictions, to passions, to hopes, to love and I thought of my own words. What I found between what I loved in literature, and what I wrote terrified me. I felt like a fraud as I held envelope and manuscript. I felt as though I hadn’t developed or learned anything since high school. I felt like I was still that 12 year old kid handing a piece of my soul over to a man who could crush it with a cruel word. Except this time I knew that the person on the receiving end of that envelope wouldn’t be so kind and patient.

Mr. Young and all the other people who have told me I had talent, who accepted my work, and praised me where very kind. I appreciate that kindness and I do think that I understand that some of it is earned. But I’ve always kind of wished that Mr. Young would have looked at that poem and laughed. That had he torn down this dream before it got so damned big. Now I feel like if try, and I fail that it will put the truth to all the kind lies. But if I never try, then that kindness can remain. The potential for this pastime to become something more can remain potential if I do not try. I don’t want to feel like the one thing I was always good at, the one thing I always had, was a lie.

If you never try, you can never fail. If never try, you can never succeed. I know I am scared. I’m scared of all the normal things that anyone doing something big is afraid of. I am choosing to believe that I have to do this. I know that the odds are against me. I know that it might take awhile, or that publication may never happen. This is my dream though, and not everyone has the ability to chase their dream by simply putting an envelope in the mail. So, this very long entry is my promise to myself that I am going to do this. If I tell everyone who reads this that I am going to do this, then I can’t really back out. I was honest so that I can’t make any excuses as to why I’m letting my dream get stale. So thank you for putting up with this long entry and thank you for unwittingly forcing me to chase my longest, most dear dream.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Communications Dry Spell

I've got no good reason why I haven't felt like posting, or communicating in general, the last couple of weeks. My life has taken a turn for the hermit like. Maybe it's the fact that my apartment is beginning to look less like a box and more like a place to live. Maybe it's the nice cool weather that's making me enjoy the company of myself. Whatever the reason I'm going to try harder to stay in contact, and check my email. I've really been sucking at checking my email.

So what have I been doing with my time?

Well, I've been amazing myself with my ability to stick to, and more often than not coming in under, a budget.

I've been devouring books. Unfortunately with how expensive books are here, reading as much as I've been might be what ends up ruining my budget. I'm trying to limit myself to one trip to Kyobo a week. We'll see how that works out.

I've been spending a foolish amount of time thinking about my Christmas trip to Thailand. Oh how I long for a day on the beach and elephant tours.

I've been exploring my new found urge to clean by, you guessed it, cleaning! Cleaning almost everyday...sometimes before and after work...sometimes again before bed...I think I have a problem.

I've been cooking. I am downright amazed by how much I can do with chicken. Where has this talent been? Where has this desire to cook been? I find myself longing for an oven because if I had an oven I could do so much MORE with chicken. I've also had to forcibly restrain myself from photographing my dinner every night. I don't understand my desire to photograph my food. It's not like I'm some sort of celebrity chef whose food is going to appear on the cover of a magazine. I really don't get it.

I've been watching Dexter. I've watch the first three seasons in under three weeks.

I think I'm developing a serious problem with moderation. I should work on that, but oh my floor looks like it needs swept and my bathroom mirror definitely needs cleaned and I'd like to do something with that pasta in my cabinet...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Sorry about my failure to blog recently. I need to head off to work, so for now here are some pictures.

This view of the city was very cool, but I just couldn't do it justice. However, you can see one of the giant neon crosses that are everywhere.

This night club was WAY too crowded so I ran away.

Fun beer glasses that you keep in the refrigerated hole in the table.

This guy gives me the creeps.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I've been in Korea for a month, and one of the most surprising things I've learned about myself concerns language.

When confronted with someone who clearly doesn't speak English my brain does something like this:

Oh, shit they don't speak ANY English. Ok, not English...not English...not English...
I got it!
Hola! Me llamo es Rebecca. Como te llamos? Cervesas por favor. Gracias.

At this point some other, more in touch with reality, part of my brain kicks in with:

You're an idiot. They don't speak English and the only Spanish they might know is Corona. DO NOT attempt to speak SPANISH at the KOREAN!

Which leaves me with pointing at whatever it is I want. If and when my pointing and pantomiming fails I am left with my one and only Korean word:

Gamsahammida (which means thank you)

"Thank you" seems like the kind of phrase with a fairly straight forward usage, but when you find yourself needing to communicate and that is your ONLY phrase it comes to have new meaning. The meaning I try to force into that simple phrase more than any other is:

"Oh god, thank you for still smiling at me even though I am a dumb American who came to your country and doesn't speak your language. Please don't swear at me as I leave your store because my only recourse will to be smile at you and say thank you again. I really do mean well."

Last weekend I found myself trying to convey something entirely different with the word gamsahmmida.

I went out with some of the students mothers. What started as a nice dinner ended with 10 or 11 us at a local bar. Those wonderful women just kept ordering food and beer and soju until our two tables were not only covered, but were beginning to acquire a second layer. At some point the women decided that our bars food just wasn't going to cut it, and so they walked across the street and ordered a whole new spread from another restaurant, which was delivered to our bars table, and cleared by the other restaurants serving staff. Weird, I know.

After accepting these generous women's food and beer all night long, I didn't hesitate to give what was introduced to me as "sea squirt" a try. The initial chew revealed a not too terrible taste accompanied by the texture of a one inch long and 1/4 an inch think piece of snot. Gross, I know, but all things considered I wasn't too upset by the experience. And then the after taste hit me.

I can only imagine that sea squirts after taste, tastes something like dead skunk that's been seasoned by a week in the July sun and then served to you raw. The worst part is that this after taste will haunt you for ten to fifteen minutes and nothing, and I mean not soju (kinda like cheap Vodka), not beer, not water, not other food will abate the taste. About five minutes into this after taste I seriously considered going to the bathroom and rinsing my mouth out with soap. The only reason I didn't was because I figured I just end up with the taste of soap AND sea squirt in my mouth.

After the taste left me, I figured I probably wasn't any worse for the wear and went back to chatting with my table mates. One of the mothers, however, didn't see my sea squirt adventure and insisted I try it. I tried to politely decline, but there is no refusing a drunk Korean woman offering you food. In the end I choked down my second, and hopefully last, piece of sea squirt.

I looked at the woman and managed to get the word "gamsahmmida" out of my mouth with what I hope conveyed, "You are the meanest bastard I've ever met for making me eat that again. I hope you know that if I throw this up it's going in your lap."

Which brings me back to the point of my entry:

I really need to learn more Korean.
I need to move to a Spanish speaking country because I know more Spanish than I thought I did.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm glad I never have to drive here

My first experience in Korea was with a van driver. At the time I thought he was perhaps new to the act of driving. Now, however, I know the truth.

I like to look out the window when I'm in a vehicle, and being in a bus or taxi provides ample opportunity for that. Having to rely on public transportation I've been able to do a lot of window gazing in my two weeks here. At first I focused on buildings and landscapes, but recently I've been transfixed by what passes for driving in this here country.

It seems that in Korea, or at least Seoul, certain driving laws that I always understood to be necessary are taken as only suggestions. Take lanes, for example. Now, call me silly, but I've always felt that the lanes painted on the road were there for a reason. Lanes here are more of a suggestion. If you can fit your vehicle between two other cars, you do. Damn the lanes, you'll make your own!

Another prime example is found in the behavior for buses and taxis. The first time my taxi straight up ran a red light I almost had a heart attack. I feel that anyone would suffer some heart palpitations if your taxi squirted across a busy intersection, barely avoiding being creamed by a bus. Again I thought that perhaps it was that particular taxi driver who was lacking in driving skills. No, if you are a bus or a taxi and you feel as though you can make it across an intersection without killing anyone, you do. Red lights, I've heard, are for pushovers.

My last example takes place on the highways. What happens on highways here is kind of like something out of the nightmare of a parent on the eve of their child's 16th birthday. If you would like to change lanes, well go right ahead. No, no don't wait for a space in traffic! Silly you! Just start changing lanes. Right Now! But be careful, if you pay too much attention you might miss part of the program that is playing on your dashboards TV. After all, there's no one else in the car so you, the driver, are clearly the intended audience. Oh, and if you think this is easy when you're doing 5 or 10 MPH in bumper to bumper traffic, don't worry, in a bit the road will open up. At some point, if those around you are lucky it'll be during a commercial break, you'll get to execute this balls to the wall lane change trick at around 60 or 70 MPH!

I have yet to see a traffic accident, but I've only been here two weeks. I suppose it is technically possible that every driver in Seoul is amazing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


This "kid" looked 12. He's 21 and an amazing dancer

We think they were acting out dances from music videos. Not knowing Korean, we couldn't be sure why

Five men in suits, one stage, a hundred Asian women in the crowd, and four westerners. We laughed, a lot, and the Asian women screamed in pleasure as these men danced their hearts out. I wonder why this sort of thing never happens in Pittsburgh.
After watching this random dance spectacle, we looked around the night market for a bit. I didn't get anything, but I have a feeling I'll be braving the hour long bus ride again.
Ok, I did get something. I bought Sarah part of her Christmas present, but I don't feel guilty cause it was only a dollar.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Because I'm bigger than you

Deep into my second week as a teacher I've found that I am far more patient than I ever thought I was.

Only twice have I lost my cool. The first time was when one of my six year olds kept interrupting class to complain that he was hungry. Now this was the last class of the day so the kid probably was hungry. There's not much I can do about it. After a couple minutes of the child loudly calling my name and feigning debilitating hunger pains (no one get up in arms, the kid had eaten lunch two hours earlier and I'm fairly certain that no one can die of hunger after a two hour fast) my patience reached its limits. I stopped the class, looked the kid in the eyes, and pouring on the sass and attitude asked, "Awww, are you hungry? That's too bad. You get to go home in twenty minutes. Eat there." Six year olds expect to do the sassing, not to be sassed at. With eyes the size of saucers, the kid sat down and kept his mouth shut for the rest of class.

Yesterday I had to deal with the most dreaded of childhood behaviors, the incessant why question. After answering the little girls "why" five or six times I'd had enough. "Because I'm bigger than you!"

I'm not sure if giving a child attitude and intimidation are the kinds of things they teach you in college, but they sure worked for me.

Side Note:
The children say they like me because I'm not mean and I don't yell. I guess that was how their last teacher handled things. I like to think that my unconventional methods are acceptable becuase they mean I don't have to raise my voice. Either way, it's working.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The first day with the kids

Wow. All I can really say about today is wow.

Never have I thought, "Self, lets teach children. No no! Really young kids! Ya, that would be fun." I always kind of thought that teaching young kids was something that happened on the third or fourth level of hell. I really only agreed to teach because otherwise I couldn't go to the other side of the world, experience a new culture, and get paid. I thought I'd grit my teeth and put up with the kids.

Well today was quite the day for me as a human being. In the morning there were three classes of writing and grammar, and then three classes of reading comp in the afternoon. I ate lunch with the kids and didn't get a true moment to myself until 3pm when they went home. Tomorrow another group will come in at 3pm for PK, which is essentially extra English tutoring for 8 and over kids.

By all rights I should have hated every moment of today. I should have floundered and fallen on my face trying to explain initial /f/ and pluralizing nouns. I should have had a lot of emotional responses to today, none of them positive. Instead what happened was a part of me looked over a gym room of 30 or so 6 and 7 year olds and...and...well damn, smiled inside.

The part of me that never wanted to work with kids gave up today. That part of me lasted a whole ten minutes before it threw its hands in the air and stalked off. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I am excited to get back to work tomorrow...

Monday, August 3, 2009

My first day

This is a small park outside of a subway station

These little park things are EVERYWHERE, very nice in a big city

This little dog guards my school buildings parking garage

This is my desk at school

This is my room. Oh my, I have my own school room!

I realized that I titled my last post "The quiet city" and never explained what that meant. Silly me.
One of the very first things that struck me as different about Seoul is that it is a surprisingly quiet city. I have been told that the Koreans are a very reserved people, which explains why no one yells on the streets. What is truly odd is that no one talks very loudly on the streets and the subways are almost silent! Of course the traffic makes noise, but it really doesn't seem that bad since no one yells and none of the stores blare music into the street.
There is also a decided lack of graffiti. I have yet to see a single sign or wall defaced. There are also little park like areas with benches, fountains, and art on almost every block. It all kind of combines to create a very...peacefull city. (as peacefull as a city can be) All of the things I dislike about NYC aren't found here. The green spaces and art, along with the mountains peaking from between buildings, help alleviate the sense oppression I feel in NYC.
The people are differant than any other city I have been to. No one really smiles at others as they pass on the street, but if you talk to anyone they are very helpful and kind. If you stand in one place looking confused random strangers will go out of their way to ask if you need help. And pretty much anyone else you see who isn't Asian will go out of their way to say hello and ask how you are.
Non-Asians definatly attract attention. Lisa and I were in a grocery store Saturday and were contemplating eating in their cafe when a small Asian child came up to us. She said hello and told us her name in English. Then she looked at her parents and told us "Mother. Father." I wasn't entirely sure what to say to this random child, but Lisa, without batting an eye, says to her parents, "Her English is very good. Very good English." The parents broke out in huge smiles and thanked us! As foreigners, we are kind of like walking English tests and no one hesitates to use us as such. It's a very interesting experiance.
I can't help but think about how non-English speakers are treated in America. Here, more often than not signs and menus are in English and Korean, and pretty much everyone speaks some English. It's still hard to get around if you don't know any Korean (and thank god for Lisa's willingness to go with me and translate) I can't imagine comeing to America and not speaking English. I also can't imagine moving, not speaking the language, and having people be pissed that you can't speak it! I feel bad not being able to speak Korean and no one expects me to.
So, to recap:
no shoes inside
great public transportation
everything is really cheap
people are helpful
a comfortable city
great food, also dirt cheap
safe, very safe
and of course you walk everywhere so loosing weight is going to be a snap
if I could just get Bob to move here and learn some of the language, I might never go home...I might not feel so positive about it in a month or so when homesickness sets in, but ya never know

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The quiet city

How did this clutter get here so fast?

Korean money is super easy to understand. You just pretend that the first three zeros aren't there and it's basically in dollars then.

The corner store on my block sells this for like 1.50$ and it's like three shots of wonderful espresso.

This is Green Tea Soy Milk. It is a gross as it sounds. Every time I think about it I kinda want to throw up. I think I'll just stick with chocolate from now on.

So, my first day in Korea was crazy. Lisa, a Canadian teacher whose about to start her second year here, spent the day showing me around. I owe this girl a million! She helped me get my subway pass set up, showed me where the grocery store was, and helped me get to know the neighborhood. She also spent like five hours running around to a million stores looking for a three prong adapter for my computer. We finally found it, thank god.

So, in Korea pretty much all the buildings have walkways through them. Everyone uses these walkways to get from one street to another. They also don't cross big streets above ground. Everyone goes down into the subway and crosses there. All the foot traffic means that all of these walk ways are full of people selling stuff. There are stalls for everything from cell phones to produce. It's really cool. I bought my indoor shoes for work from a woman in my subway stop.

I've got to say, I really enjoy that everyone takes off their shoes when they go into a home. You don't take them off when you go to a store or restaurant, but homes and places like my school make you take off your street shoes at the door. I got myself a pair of red flip flops for my school shoes.

So, today is my first day of work. It's nice because it's only a half day and the kids are still on vacation. Tomorrow the kids come back. Before school I get to go and have my health insurance physical. Hurray for health insurance. After that all the teachers are getting together for brunch. I love how all the teachers hang out. After school Lisa and I, and I think another teacher, are going to the post office. I'll put up more tonight.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Entering Seoul

Looks a lot like JFK

One 13-14 hour plane ride and I've found myself on the other side of the world.

After a short trek through the deserted airport I found myself presented with an older Korean man with my name on a card. I know that putting my bags in the cars is the cars drivers job, but it makes me feel weird. I think I annoyed him by trying to help. Or he was just grumpy because it was four in the morning and he had to drive an American around.
We took the express way from the airport and the views from the road were quite amazing. The center of Seoul spread out from below the elevated roadway. To my surprise the city seemed rather dark with most of the light coming from street lights and red, blue, and yellow neon crosses that seemed to perch on every other roof top.
The city, blanketed in a think layer of fog, and dark save for the neon crosses, looked kind of like a graveyard. Each skyscraper and high rise a headstone for a giant. All that was missing were the cement angles and lambs.
Even more impressive were the brief views of dark blue mountains rising over the metal fences blocking the city from the express way. Skyscrapers and mountains were equally obscured by the foggy predawn light, but where the buildings looked dead the mountains looked like something out of a storybook. I wish I could have gotten a picture but my driver was hell bent on getting us killed.
After the first five minutes in the van, I began to suspect that my driver had never in fact driven before. Even before the four lanes began to clog with traffic the driver would suddenly hit the brakes, then speed up, all the while taking up as much of two lanes as he could.
I have much more to add to my first morning in Korea, but with out the proper converter my computer can not be charged and it insists on dieing. More to come.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hotel and Manhattan

I may not do as much travelling as some, but I have stayed in my fair share of hotels. After much detailed testing and experimentation (ok, not that detailed) I have come to the conclusion that hotel lamps are actually designed to frustrate travelers. (Or I am idiot and incapable of using them)

Every time I stay in a hotel the first thing I do is try and turn on the desk lamp. Usually this entails turning some sort of nob first right, then left, then back to the right a few times. I repeat this process with all of the lights in the room. If I am lucky I get at least two of the lamps to turn on. So far I haven't gotten completely unlucky and had no lights turn on. I am, however, prepared for the possibility. I never travel without at least one flashlight, and you can always count on the bathroom light to be a switch.

So, today I had to go back into Manhattan to pick up my passport and the books my Little ordered for me. Everything went well. I now am the proud owner of one US passport with one South Korean VISA in it. I also have two William Gibson novels to keep me company and a fabulous book by Lee Iacocca.

After retrieving my books, I stopped to have a smoke on the bench outside of the store. While sitting there a young woman almost got run over by a bike messenger. I confess that an Iacocca rant about GW was holding my attention when the incident occurred so I'm not entirely sure what happened.

The woman, however, loudly accused the bike messenger of running the red light. The messenger, on the other hand, informed the street that any woman dizzy enough to stop dead in the middle of a NYC street deserved to be hit by something larger and heavier than a bicycle. They continued to exchange pleasantries for a couple of minutes and then parted ways.

A scene like this probably wouldn't have taken place in Pittsburgh, but even if it had I feel sure that what happened next would not have.

An older man in a very expensive suit detached himself from the crowd of people waiting to cross the street. He jogs a bit to catch up with the bike messenger and proceeds to begin screaming at the man over the top of my head. The bike messenger stops, and starts screaming back, also over my head.

This goes on for probably 30 seconds. (a 30 seconds that seemed like much longer to me since it was taking place over top of me) Right about the time I decided I'm done having either of these men yell over me, the messenger mounts his bike and starts up the street. Wonder or all wonders, the old guys jogs up the street after the bike, all the while still screaming. The bike stops and the messenger yells back, then tries to move on. The old guy chases him some more. This continued for the length of the block, at which point the bike messenger took a sharp left and sped off.

New York is a strange city full of strange people.

My own personal weirdness for the day was not over, however. On my trip back to the subway two different people stopped me and asked me for directions. Stranger still, they asked for directions to two of the five or six places I am capable of getting. I guess I should be proud of myself for being comfortable enough on the street to be mistaken for a New Yorker. Or I just looked as annoyed and indifferent as the natives. Either way I agree with Jim Croce, "New York's not my home."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New York, New York

If you have to get up at 3 in the morning you'd think you'd get some sleep the night before. Some part of my brain missed that message and kept me up until sometime after 1. To top it off, they let you into Pittsburgh airport at 4:30, but no one turns on the coffee pot.

The flight to NYC went well. I didn't even have a person in the seat next to me so I had lots of room to spread out and enjoy the god awefull hour of the morning. Despite my sleepyness I couldn't sleep on the plane. Which is probably for the best since I'm not sure I could have woken up.

Getting from the airport to the hotel went smoothly. I was even able to check into my room at 8am. I had hoped for a nap at this point in the plan, but the inevitable need to make a million phone calls and sort out the little imperfections in the plan kept me up. Again, this was probably a good thing.

Sometime around 11 I made the decision to trust my street smarts and head to Manhatten via public transportation. I figured that with only one bus and one subway ride it couldn't go to terrbly wrong. I made it to the Consulate, but I ended up missing my bus stop and had to rely on the kindness of two gay men.

After filling out my paperwork I had a couple hours to kill. My wonderful little conspired with my mom to have books waiting for me at a Barnes and Noble near the Consul. In keeping with the vibe of the rest of the trip, they had the books but they were on the wrong shelf. SO, lots of blocks later, one 6$ pair of socks, and a couple of blister spotted ouchy feet later, I found myself bookless and back at the Consul for the interview.

For all the hype surrounding this interview, it wasn't all that exciting. She just wanted to know what I knew about Korea, why I wanted to teach, did I have teaching experiance. The most interesting part was watching her look sadly at her phones blinking light every couple of seconds. She never wanted to give in and answer the phone, you could tell by the weary way she lifted herself from the chair, but answer it she did. In the end, interrupting phone calls and all, she approved my VISA. I get to go pick it and my books up tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


And so it all begins to fall into place.

I fly to NYC tomorrow at 5:45 (yes am. And yes it is a terrible, terrible time to be going anywhere, let alone New York) I have my interview with the Consul at 3pm and hopefully the woman remembers who I am this time.

As for when I'm flying to Korea...well that's supposed to happen sometime Thursday evening. I haven't heard from my guy in Korea about the details, but I trust he will take care of that and let me know.

They are all on vacation over there in Korea. I feel kinda bad about making them do work when they should be relaxing, but there's not much I can do about it. I figure I'll pay Jer back by taking him out for a drink when I get there. Buying someone a drink makes up for all sorts of sins, right?

On a more personal note, I took the pirate home yesterday. It seems crazy that I won't see him for a year. We haven't spent more than a month apart since we met, let alone started dating. I hope I remember how to function without his constant humor brightening my day. I'll just have to try and fill the void with lots of Guild Wars and small children I can't understand. I somehow doubt it'll work.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm not going to talk 'bout it

We all, as reasonable people, understand that anyone who works for any government probably doesn't really care about the people they are supposed to, ya know, serve. We also know that they probably aren't going to answer their phones. So, that being said, I'm not going to talk about it anymore. I'm going to try real hard not to think about it because it makes me want to cry in frustration.

Everything is going to be ok. Everything is going to work out and when it does I'll let ya know all about it.

What I am going to talk about is blogging.

Up until my mom strong armed me into starting this blog, I didn't care at all about blogging. I knew what it was. I knew people did it. I knew other people read blogs. I just didn't care. I kind of lumped blogging and reading strangers blogs into the same category as watching E or reading tabloids. Lots of people care about what people they don't know do, and there are venues that cater to that need. I just never really cared enough about anyone I didn't know to make use of those venues.

But then I started blogging. I thought, "Self, if you are going to write a blog you should probably read a few and see what this whole thing is all about. After all, I don't want this to end up like my brief encounter with chat rooms (shudder) Best if I look into what else is out there before I let this get out of hand."

So I looked into the blogs the people who follow my blog follow. And good god, I found a new addiction.

I read the thoughts and day to day stories of people I have never met. I find myself checking my dashboard before I even check my email. I feel like a voyeur peering into peoples mental dialogue and then creeping away to roll those brief moments of satisfaction around in my own head, impatiently waiting until the next time they step close enough to the window for me to peek.

I know that everyone else who blogs knows that strangers might read it. They, like me, are ok with other people reading their thoughts. If they weren't, they wouldn't blog. And so, I should not feel any guilt or weirdness reading the blogs of those I don't know.

It still kinda creeps me out.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Staying Positive

Sooooo, Korea approved my VISA. However, I need the New York Consul to approve it and stamp my passport. This seems like a fairly easy thing to do. After all, South Korea gave me the thumbs up to come on over and teach some children English. But nothing is easy.

The NYC office won't allow me to do my interview over the phone or web cam. I HAVE to go to NYC. Ya know, cause that's just like running up the street. On top of that, getting their office on the phone is not an easy task. They tell you to call at such and such a time, and then don't answer. I left them a message and, hopefully, I can find out how long the interview and approval process takes tomorrow.

What happens next depends on what the Consul says. It seems likely that I will drive to NYC with my Dad, do the interview, and if they approve it, get on a plane to South Korea. If things don't work out this way...well, I'll just figure that out when I get there.

On a positive note, my laptop came today! It was supposed to be here Monday, but shipping errors abound and so it came today. In an unaccustomed act of kindness, the universe made my computer blue! With bubbles and sparkly keys! Does it really matter what the thing looks like? Of course not, but it is nice that it ended up being awesome.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finally, a date

Despite FedEx's best efforts, my document made it to South Korea, thanks to UPS and 53$ American dollars. My contacts in Korea (when I call them "my contacts" it makes me feel like some sort of James Bond-esque super hero) tell me that my VISA should be processed by the 21st. Hurray for that. So, because of this wonderful coming together of a months worth of paperwork, they want me to fly out on the 27th or 28th.

It seems so crazy that I'm going to be leaving for the other side of the world in a week and a half. Don't get me wrong, I am so excited to be going to Korea. I can't wait to have my own apartment, explore Seoul, and have a job again. (not to mention health insurance. I mean, everyone was all impressed with the graduating thing, but what they don't tell you when they hand out the diplomas is that you're suddenly unemployed and that mean no health care. Thanks America) I can't wait to get there and start my life. I am, however, a little freaked out that it is all so close.

Literally everytime I walk out my front door I look around, I look at the trees that seems to go forever, the pond, the garage and vineyard, and I listen to the sounds of the wind and the stream, and think to myself, "Self, soon all you will see when you walk out your door is another apartment door. And, when you walk out of your building, you will see other buildings and hear the sounds of the city."

When we lived in Pittsburgh, I loved the city. I loved listening to cars as I fell asleep. I loved listening to people on the bus and the T. I loved that I could get anywhere I wanted without a car. I loved that there was always something going on. But I've spent the last four years living at least 25 minutes from the city. At school, the noisest things were the frat houses behind my building. At home, the dogs barking at deer are the loudest part of my day. I'm a little daunted by the thought of being surrounded by all that noise.

I think the only reason I worry about moving to a city is because of New York. When I turned 16 my Dad took me to NYC. It was cool to think about all the music, art, and culture surrounding me. It was really impressive to see the city spread out beneath the Empire State Building. But it really freaked me out that the city literally just kept going. Pittsburgh, you drive 15 minutes outside the city and there are more trees than buildings. Even in downtown, the streets are lined with green and the river is only a couple blocks away. But New York? New York just...kept...going. And Seoul is a BIG city.

It's not that I'm afraid to move to a city. After all, where I am living is about a 3o minutes bus ride from downtown. It's also sounds a lot like Mt. Lebanon (read: people with money and over priced stores BUT safe and clean) Plus, I am a laid back kind of person. I am, if nothing else, adaptable. I know that I can make just about anything work (as long as I can A. keep reading B. have unfettered access to a bathroom and C. have a bed that is mine and that I can go back to every night) I can get used to just about anything. If nothing else there will be no more people waking me up at all hours because they locked themselves out of their rooms. I am just a little nervous about the getting used to it process.

Anyways, the whole thing is nearly settled. Soon I should have a plane ticket, monday I will have my own laptop, and next thing I know I'll be in Korea making their bus system my bitch.

Monday, July 6, 2009

If you're closed, don't say you're open

All of my preparing for South Korea has finally reached the point of no return. The background check came in. My wonderful, though Republican, state rep and his amazing secretary sent my background check off to Harrisburg and it has returned to me. All of this hullaballoo over the Apostille seal has produced a rather unimpressive piece of paper, stapled to my notarized background check, that magically makes the whole packet of shit official. Don't ask me, the Koreans make the rules.
The only thing, on my end, that stands between me and a visa is FedEx. So, I find my nearest FedEx, check their hours, mapquest them, and, with 45 minutes till they close, I head out the door. I make it to FedEx, with minimal confusion and fifteen minutes to spare. The hours are posted on their big glass door, sandwiched between a friendly, "Come on in! We are open" sign and a glowing neon FedEx sign. Everything is as it should be. Everything, for once, seems to be going my way. The sun shining on me, full of confidence, and in a great mood I stroll up to the door, grab the handle, take half a step, and barely manage to keep myself from walking face first into their LOCKED door.
Now, I get that it's the day after the weekend of the 4th. If the person at FedEx is a good American, they have spent the weekend drunkenly celebrating our nation. Probably they celebrated yesterday just to make sure that the USA understood that drinking beer=patriotism and drinking beer the day after the 4th of July=super patriotism. If this is the case, then I completly forgive them for ducking out of work early. After all, no one wants to work off their patriotic hangover by shipping packages. But come on, was it just too much to ask that your store front reflect your closed status? Was it really so hard to flip the sign as you locked the door? I almost brained myself trying to open that door, and that is very unpatriotic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

David Eddings Owes me 18.95$

Oh, David Eddings, how The Belgariad and The Malloreon entertained me and fed the ever growing fire that is my love for fantasy! They contained a cast of characters that inspired laughter, love, tears, and sorrow. They broadened the fantasy genre with ten new and inpired novel and then added three more related texts. Oh, how I loved thee David Eddings.
My love for Mr. Eddings has, as love for an author is want to do, led me to purchase and read several more of his novels. The Redemption of Althalus was a let down, I'll admit, but after another avid fantasy reader from Thiel suggested I read The Elenium series, I figured I owed Eddings another chance. After all, The Elenium was supposed to be another sweeping epic tale of high fantasy, and who can say no to that?
Well, as most of you are family and friends of mine I feel obligated to tell you to tell David Eddings, and Barnes and Noble, to suck it. Say no. Running screaming from the store. Spill piles of Jane Austin and Harliquin novel into the aisles to slow down the the weak and feeble. Don't be ashamed to hurtle those large coffee table books like frisbees. And I think I heard Obama say that if you knocked over a display or two of political commentary, you'd actually be helping defeat terrorism and defending America.
The Elenium is what comes out of good writers when they look over their successful novels, shrug their shoulders, and nap until their dead line. I hate to ruin a storyline or an ending, but if you've read The Belgariad and The Malloreon you've already spoiled some of the suprises. Things like, oh I don't know, the plot, character development, thematic progression, and that ever unimportant and meaningless thing called the ending are all going to seem like a badly recolected retelling of Eddings earlier works.
I don't usually bash a book this badly. I just feel cheated. I though the publishers were being nice when they put all three books into one handy omnibus. I happily paid the 18.95 even though all I had wanted to spend was 7.95. And now I am annoyed. I could have spent my 18.95 to buy The Belgariad. Now I own a poorly repoduced copy of it that's missing a couple hundred pages and doesn't even manage to get one single name right. Oh, and did I mention that Eddings uses the Roman Catholic Church, with a little magic and a little less technology thrown in, as a back drop for all of it!
David Eddings, you owe me 18.95! Or The Belgariad.
But David Eddings very sadly left this world in June of this year. That means that Barnes and Noble owes me 18.95 and I'm pretty sure I have a better chance of resurrecting Eddings that I do of getting my money from those people.
Ah well. One more book for my collection. This is why I am the Intrepid Bibliophile. I am not afraid of mixing my masterpieces and my trash.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In the beginning, there was a cold

Blogging has never really held much appeal for me. However, when you plan on leaving the country for a year your family tends to make certain requests. This blog is an example of my willingness to please the powers that be.
So, the process of arranging my visa has stalled on my background check. You should be pleased to note that my sex offender check has come in and I am cleared to work with children. Passing the sex offender check should not really come as much of a surprise. Last time I checked, I have never been arrested and I have certainly never been charged with a sexual crime. Hurray for clean living and a healthy desire to avoid incarceration!
This week will hold for me the wonderful prospect of calling the background check people and demanding answers. My demands will probably take the form of polite questioning and, if necessary, some groveling and whining because I really am not in a position to demand anything of these people. I will also be facing the lovely truth of being an uninsured and out of work college graduate with what seems to be bronchitis. It all started with a cold...thanks little one for soaking up all the lovely germs of all the lovely four and five year old's and bringing them home to share.
Other than that I am committed to packing my life into boxes and trying not to cry over the thought of all my books all alone in those boxes, being all unloved, for a whole year.