Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Beds?I Don't See No Stinking Beds?

Some of you who have known me for a long time (and even those who have could probably guess I would have had some sort of neurosis) know that I'm a bit precious when it comes to sleep.

As a young child, I would wake up in the middle of the night, disoriented and sleepy, launch myself into a full fledge panic-anxiety attack and wake up my hardworking parents, who, through sleepy eyes, always tried to comfort me and let me know it was okay to just 'go back to sleep'.

I have been through bouts of insomnia, which always resulted in me eventually becoming so exhausted that I just fell a asleep after a couple of weeks or so. In my twenties, a bottle of Chardonnay usually did the trick.

I remember distinctly when my sleeping patterns became 'abnormal'. It was on a New Year's Eve, sitting in the tv room, doing the traditional V new year's party - movies and more food than you could eat in a month - and I begged to stay up with my parents to watch their movie, Purple Rain.

The problem occured when I fell asleep on the couch and woke up, only to see the last 5 minutes of the movie.

I had no real conception that I had been asleep and I demanded to know why the movie was only 5 minutes long?? What kind of movie was that? What kind of magician trick had just occured??? (perhaps this is also where my hatred for magicians comes from) Why were my parents tryting to PRETEND they had watched the movie, only to REALLY watch it again when they thought they had fooled me back to bed!!

WHY WHY WHY??????????

So began the saga of my delicate sleep patterns. Insomina hit me again when I moved in with D and I had to get used to sleeping next to someone full time and also the fact that we didn't read our books before sleep but watched TV.

I put my foot down after the 3 week bout passed and have been a bedtime-reading, no-tv-in-the-bedroom type sleeper.

And I haven't had a problem since.

And the story does not now go in the direction of 'but now i am' but it could very well if the heat doesn't die down just a little bit.

Our apartment, luxurious, spacious and so wonderful, is fitted with an air con unit that only leaves the TV room cool. Since the heat wave hit we've taken our mattresses and placed them on the floor of the living room.

It's a bit disconserting for me to basically LIVE in one room. I keep joking with D that I AM going to go postal if we can't at least get back to the bedroom.

(and again, I do, in NO WAY mean that I want it to get cold. Just cooler. You know, cool enough to get our living room back)

But, dedicated readers, have no fear. Because I have found the solution to trick myself. Just take look at this picture.

See? FOLDING the blankets and PLACING them at the end of the beds really just makes the whole room feel like WE'RE NOT SLEEPING HERE!

Move along, these are not the beds your looking for.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Happy Birthday Mr. D

As many of you remember, my 30th birthday was spectacular.

When D and I made the decision to come to Korea, we realised that I may be limited in creating the type of magic he did.

Although I think our weekend away in Busan was a good touch of magical, I figured the only other thing I could do was write to him about why I'm glad he's having his 30th birthday.

I'm glad you're 30 because it means that you were born and if you weren't born we would have never met and I would probably be a much more neurotic mess that I usually am.

I'm glad you're 30 because now I am no longer a cradle robber.

I'm glad you're 30 because this means we have passed the decade birthday mark together and that just seems so much more significant then when we both turned 20, were broke and probably drinking watered down pitchers of beer in a student bar. Funny as this sounds, I'm so glad we have those memories together too.

I'm glad it's your birthday because I'm excited to see the look on your face when the little kindergatens sing 'Happy Birthday' to you, hopefully a surprise!

I'm glad, that no matter what day of the year it is, you always wake up beside me with a smile and warm hug to start the day.

And I know that that is the best birthday present I could ever hope to have. I hope you feel the same way.

Thank you for always making me laugh, putting up with my ever changing mind and for being the bestest friend any girl could ask for.

Happy Birthday, Mr. D.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

This is the Life

If I told you that as I type I was sitting in a bathrobe that I got from my five star hotel room, overlooking the beach, with a late checkout so that I could take advantage of the most amazing spa I have ever been to, would you believe me?

And if I told you yesterday afternoon I sat by the pool, reading my book, waiting for 5pm to go for one of the best massages I've ever had in my life, would you call me a liar?

And that after our massages, we were treated to a Korean 'happy hour' in the executive lounge, overlooking the beach from the 15th floor, that included not only a wide variety of snackies and things including sandwiches, fruit, mini battered fish but ALSO your free choice of drinks and finally FINALLY some real gin and real tonic? Would you think I was having a hallucination?

Go ahead, I'm too chilled to care what you say.

D's 30th birthday celebrations have kicked themselves off right.

More later. I think I may fall alseep from all this relaxing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Picture Friday (otherwise known as 'I'm a lazy ass blogger'

Figured this will give you a bit of a taste of what we're seeing

In Seoul, a replica of an old village. I didn't get the best shot of the two old men but I wish we had stayed here longer.

Traditional kimchi pots. Keeps it at the correct temperature. Nowadays, they actually have kimchee fridges. Talk about modernizing.

A rare shot of the two of us together on holiday. Looking hot and sweaty and I think generaly in quite a state of bliss.

Until Monday...

Letter to the Kid#...#...oh I can't I drunk?+

Tyeger - did you think I would forget your birthday? You're a big boy of two today. I can't believe it. So much of your little life I have missed. There are so many littler people than you now too and that makes it even crazier to think I've been away so long!

I'm sure you're talking up a storm and being cuter than ever. This year your birthday might be a little easier on your mom, as the first year is always tough (er, so I hear, what do I know?)

Another bell beckons me (seriously kid, I'm becoming Pavlov's dog) so I must go but not before I do a little singing. Hell, that's what I do all morning, what's one other song?

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear Tyeger
Happy Birthday to you

Hugs across many oceans, your crazy, mostly sober Aunt A

Lunchy Lunchy 1 2 3

One of my favourite times of the day is when I get to go for lunch, or as they say it in Korean, lunchy. See? All you doubters that thought I wasn't going to make an effort to learn the language. I'm already able to say specifc words such as lunch in Korean. It was a hard translation.

It's not because I get to stop teaching but more because I know the food is going to be good. I know that I'm going to get a home cooked meal by an authentic Korean woman who uses fresh ingredients to feed the minds of the future.

Back home, cafeteria food is, well, nothing usually to write home about. Maybe the Koreans feel the same way about the lunch they get at school. For me, it's like the best food I get to eat.

The soups are always good - in Belfast I was a soup lover and had it every day for lunch. With some oat cakes and cheese. So I suppose it's kinda the same here in Korea, except instead of oat cakes it's rice and instead of cheese it's kimchi and many other things to fill my cafeteria-style tray, with it's 5 different compartments for food. A picture would probably be good in this instance but only just thought of that now so use your imagination.

The many other things range from octopus-seafood-hot-sauce mix to breaded fish to the local vegetable which can or cannot be hot, depending on the day. You kinda take your chances, like Russian roulette when you take a bite and considering my track record in Korea for 'most obscure ordering choices that are always hot' I usually tend to load up on the supremo spicy stuff.

The rice-soup concept makes so much sense now and yet I never would have thought to put the two together. A spoonful of rice, dip in the soup, you have a yummy combo. No need for extra sauces, although considering soya sauce is cheaper than dirt here, it's not a problem to splash a bit on it every once in awhile.

At home our cooking habits have become a little more exotic, ever since the purchase of the toaster oven.

As a rule I tend to know things get done if they 'become' D's idea so instead of pressing for this when we first arrived, I decided to wait it out, knowing Mr. Anal Kitchen would break down and realise $60 is not that much of an expenditure to have our food stop drying out in the frying pan and our arteries stop clogging from the worst type of cooking you can do.

(okay, deep frying is worse but who VOLUNTARILY goes out to buy a deep fryer? I have seen these things and it blows my mind. Like hello? A heart attack waiting to happen)

Who knew you could love a toaster over? The chicken tasted soft and juicy and well, perhaps a bit too lemony (note to self: 3/4 of a lemon's juice is TOO MUCH for 5 pieces of chicken. still learning this whole cooking thing)

We can also now cook pizza! I stopped liking pizza in about the 12th grade after I had worked at a pizza joint for too long and just got sick of it. Now, I seem to eat it at least once a week. Must be the comfort food-ness of it.

But the absolute best? The piece de resistance? The most satisfying thing about getting this toaster over? We can cook whole chickens in it. Yes, you heard me A WHOLE CHICKEN. (okay well it was pre-made at the store and we just warmed it up but i'm telling you, the microwave would have made it all rubbery and this was like taking a chicken out of the oven.)

Do you know what it means to me to have a whole chicken? Back to Belfast Sundays, with our roast chicken, potatoes (okay, french fries now) , carrots, cauliflower, broccollis (D hates them but they're good for him!) and of course to top it off, some good old gravy. Swiss Chalet gravy from the Mother Ship to be exact.

Sunday night dinner is back.

Since I'll probably run out of gravy soon, anyone interested in sending me some chicken Bisto, I'd be much obliged. I know that Swiss Chalet is like gold so will settle for second best.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Down Came the Rain..

Simple pleasures, people. The typhoon off the coast on Saturday created enough rain and wind for us to open all the windows and let the fresh air in!

It didn't last long but at least it was nice to get rid of some of the stale air. I'm still not happy with the living room floor sleeping arrangments but just a few more weeks D keeps saying.

I'm definitely in a bit of the culture-shock-slump stage, where your excitement and exhilaration begin to wane a bit and you begin to settle into life.

I'm a social person and I love to be around people but it makes it difficult when you not only have to meet people but also learn the proper way to socialise.

It's all about who invites who and who pays and who goes and who the hell knows. But I can tell you coupled with the usual culture shock paranoia of (sing it now) 'nobody likes me everybdy hates me I'll just go eat worms', it can become a bit trying.

At least I have D. And also the American couple, who we tend to hang out with quite regularly. As I've said before, though, if you're hanging out with someone from home, it makes it much more difficult to integrate yourself into the culture.

I know this will pass. I'm certainly not meaning this post to be a woe is me as I know I'm a very lucky person but there is no point in portraying this experience through rose coloured glasses.

And I know I will have an opportunity to mingle and meet. Funny enough, the heat keeps us inside. So what can you do? I'll be happy when September is here - I'm not really sure why, I just will.

On a funner - and more challenging - note it's D's birthday next week - the big 30 and I'm hoping it will end up being as memorable as mine (everyone remember my NY glee?).

Maybe I can learn to order his favourite Korean dish? Mini book and food court here I come!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

You Stink

There are many types of smells that tend to begin festering in a home when the weather will not drop below 30C degrees.

There are bound to be any smells anyway when you are a culture that decides to compost.

Especially when that culture lives in 1000 sq foot apartment buildings. In high buildings. So high that going downstairs 10 flights to throw your apple core out doesn't seem like an easy option, especially since you have to leave the 'trifecta of cold' that is your apartment in the air conditioning.

So there are buckets. Buckets that you empty all that food garbage in - egg shells, vegetable scraps, rice. This seems like an easy way to contain the composting smells that would begin in your house except once you've got MORE food, you have to open the bucket.

Smell stank ass number one. Do you know what egg yolks smell like after A DAY of festering in the heat? I can't say that I'm glad that I know.

And it's not just the food. Hot air rises and being at the top of a buildling, that air does not come up smelling like roses. So why open your window? Between that and the heat, you might as well stay closed in.

Stank ass smell number two. In heat people sweat and in Korea we have a lot of people to sweat and the only place for that sweat to vapourize? You got it, in the air. Stand at the top of all that hot air rising and you've got another smell I'm not quite happy to admit I have experienced.

Oh and let's not forget about the cooking. When you fry everything, with a mediocre fan, and a vacumn sealed apartment, the food air has little place to go but everywhere in your little apartment.

Stank ass smell number three. I love smelling the food I just ate for the entire evening.

I have been longing for hot weather and let me tell you I am enjoying many parts of it.

The smells? Ya, not so much.

Just Read the Sign

In the elevator to our apartment building, there are always paper signs posted up listing various bits of information that I knew eventually would become relevant but never really paid that much attention to.

D and I continually joke about the information and occasionally sit in a panic wondering when the kind security guards will come baning on our door again.

'Again' because the first day of our week holiday our apartment phone rang. The apartment phone is a security phone and even has a video that lights up when someone rings the doorbell.

Going from a place in Belfast with no peephole to a full fledged video security system was quite a treat. But hearing the phone ringing and NOT seeing the video light up meant only one thing - okay two things. One, it was the security desk and two we were not going to have a clue what they were saying.

I picked up the phone anyway and after a brief conversation (consisting as usual of me 'ahhh...I don't know' and lots of Korean rambling on) I thought perhaps they had the wrong number.

Okay, okay wishful thinking. Two minutes later the phone rang again except this time the video screen lit up to reveal the security guard at the front door.

After a bit of the A language, we figured out he wanted our phone number. Easy done. Thought it was for his records in case, you know, for emergencies.

With that language nightmare over, we settled into the couch only to have our mobile ring five minutes later. Guess what? MORE KOREAN!

I won't bore you with the scenario because just imagine the taxi one from last week except a female voice and significantly nicer but I finally hung up the phone after she let me know that she knew the school I taught at. Okay. Great.

(turns out she phoned the school to tell them that all we needed to do was to update our names and numbers with the apartment office)

So, if worrying about the nice non-english speaking security men comign to the door wasn't enough, we tend to have a niggling feeling that the signs posted could sometimes be relevant.

We're not sure but we can only guess that when they decided to turn off all the water in the building unit, they would have probably alerted everyone by some kind of notice.

And being able to read that notice would have helped us a lot before last night when we had defrosted chicken and D lived in fear the entire evening that we were going to poison ourselves because we had not cleaned our hands properly (thank goodness again for Purell and the Mother Ship that sent it).

When I ventured up to the security hut last night, I was expecting it to be difficult to communicate. But all I needed was 'no' and 'water' and he immediatly knew.

'All' he said in english. 'tomorrow. 12'

That's all I needed to know my water would come back on at 12am. Excellent.

What would have been even more perfect is if it HADN'T gone off again this morning.

Guess I'll just have to try and read that sign.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Baby Steps

Life is getting busier here in Korea and I have been quite tardy - not posting for almost a week! So to make it better, I thought I'd post a picture. This is a little area I walk towards when I'm going to the gym. I find it so peaceful and calming.

A few things before I rush off to another class:

Class: We have had another class added to our schedule, twice a month as we will rotate, so not that bad but this does mean less preparation time for classes. I will be happy when the schedule is just SET but perhaps this is what I'm learning about teaching - it is never really set.

Triumph 1: I had a mini triumph on the weekend. We went to the large grocery store which has a food court at the top on Saturday. We needed lunch, so armed with my handy list of food in English and Korean (c/o good ole mom and Lonely Planet) I spent a good 10 minutes looking for bibimbap - in Korean. I had the hangul symbols memorised (don't ask me them now, but I had them then) and guess what??? I SPOTTED IT! Ordered it. Ate it.

Here is the proof (notice the HUGE stack of kimchi to the right of the big bowl..yummmy!!!):

Triumph 2: I managed to look at a map of my small town, located an area I wanted to go to, hop in a cab and speak to the very nice female cab driver in the EXACT way to get us to the EXACT market we were hoping to get to. I am getting GOOD AT THIS!! (ya, and not too full of myself at all)

Triumph 3: I FOUND PANTS! Well capris pants that I have been searching for everywhere and I ended up finding exactly what I was looking for in my small town. AND THEY HAD MY SIZE!! Which, by the way, if you're Western, is 'largey'. Pretty direct translation eh?

There goes the bell. Time to practice how to say 'th' a million times with the little squirts.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Taxi Ettiquette is Universal

This is a lesson in 'jumping to conclusions'.

My Gemini impatient self on many occasion has reacted too quickly and not allowed myself to actually THINK about what the situation is.

I'm not sure if I make a good first impression but I know that I'm bad at getting them. Thank goodness for my D-o-meter, which is mostly always right about people, sometimes to my annoyance.

(As a side note, there have been people I have continued to try and think differently of FOR YEARS, stubborning insisting that he is not right. And yet, he always is)

So it comes as no surprise that when I got out of a cabby last week, indignant and annoyed at his lack of helpfullness.

Here is a little how it went

A: Anyong-haseyo

Cabbie: (grunt)

A: (in my best non-Korean accent say my building name) Aparta, (then my area name)

Cabbie: (lots of Korean)

A: uhh (see above)

Cabbie (lots more Korean)

A: (finally give in and bust out the small piece of paper that has our Korean address written on it or perhaps it just says 'take this dumbass foreigner to this address')

Cabbie: (grunt and what I think sounds like a knowing nod)

But then he proceeded to simply ask me to direct him to my house. Would have been smart of me to learn 'left here' and 'right here' but hey, I'm busy filling my days trying to figure out how to get kindergartens to not only converse fluently in another language but also to not pummel each other during English class.

He was so annoyed - even more so when I didn't have exact change and he muttered things in Korean, things if I was in Canada I KNOW I would have understood from a rude cabbie but here, I'm at a loss, and got out of the cab.

I felt so defeated. I had not even been able to say the words to get me home. How was I going to survive?

All the cab drivers in this city are jerks, I thought. They don't like foreingers, they're unhelpful and theyr'e rude.

Two days later it was with trepidation that I chose to take another taxi home.

It went a little something like this.

A: Anyong-haseyo

Cabbie: Annyong-haseyo

A:(pleasantly surprised again in my best non-Korean accent say my building name) Aparta, (then my area name)Aparta,

Cabbie: (knowing nod, repeating the EXACT phrase I had just said and we were on our way)

I smiled all the way home and tipped the guy for not being a grunter and making me feel like I DID know what I was talking about.

The moral of the story?

There are dickhead cab drivers everywhere.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Finally a Millionaire

I got my first paycheque yesterday. I'm a millionaire. Just after 30, not bad. (although D kindly pointed out that he became a millionaire BEFORE he was 30 and I gave him a good glare to thank him for reminding me)

The Korean won is roughly 1000 to 1 US dollar. It's not exact but easy to translate how much money you are spending this way. I'm not one to go into salary ever but you'd have to be an idiot to do not be able to do the math and figure I'd need at least 1 million won to survive on a monthly basis.

Anyway, so it feels kinda cool to say that. And I suppose it's a right of passage joke for any new foreigner working in Korea - for those of you reading that have been doing this for awhile, I apologize for the cliche.

What was even crazier was the fact that I was handed a stack of bills. So not only am I a millionaire but I'm also a mobster hustler.

Amazing how Korea is managing to make dreams come true I never imagined even having.

Eventually we will be given bank accounts and it's fairly straightforward. You need a residence card to get a bank account. Our residence cards are not here yet but we're told all we do is take the card to the local bank. To get your residence card, you need your passport with your visa and a filled out form with relevant information.

( I say local bank but I mean the bank that all the other teachers bank at. There are many banks locally but Korea business works so much more on networking that even the North American culture does. I was alwasy astounded in Belfast how it seemed people never were hired because 'they knew someone' or at least not outwardly. Must have been a product of years of oppression of half the society that they went the opposite way and now didn't really value connections as important. In the south of Ireland, however...sorry, this is a totally different tangent)

Networking: Koreans all carry business cards, much like you would for a job and exchange them with whoever they meet. Jobs, food, medicine, services, any goods that can be purchased, are usually done so through 'connections'.

D got us hooked up with a pharmacy. Really glad I hauled all those vitamins from the UK since we get them FOR FREE now.

He also picked up a card from an eye guy. This will come in handy for when my last pair of contacts wears out.

So, once we get our residence cards, we will be giving our business to the guy that Big A gave his business to. And knowing Big A will help us because they know him etc etc

I like this society - it forces people to be social. It also forces them to have something valuable to trade. And forces people to be nice to each other, if only to make sure you continue to get free vitamins for the rest of your life.

Education is so valued here that that is our contribution. We teach their children and small people of their community. They give us good value prices for things we look to purchase.

And food. Always lots of different types of food and treats.

And generous respect. They take connections and friendships very seriously. Friendship are for life and are meant to be cherished and nurtured. It's not just about trading stuff.

I always like to take little pieces of places that I've lived.

From Leeds, it was a bit of the 'ta love' attitude. Life is not over if customer service is not stellar.

From Belfast it was 'the craic'. Having a laugh and enjoying people's company without thinking too much about what time you have to get up in the morning or how much money you're spending.

It may be too soon to tell but from Korea, perhaps it will be cherished friendships.

Hey, if I keep this up I can open up the Church of A and everyone can follow my rules.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Back to the Beach

At school and amazed how it doesn't even feel like I've left. I definitely have more energy for the little guys in the classroom and there is nothing like little faces looking up at you as if they haven't seen you in a year and wondered where you went.

Little smiling faces.

Seoul was a fantastic trip, filled with culture, shopping, great food and too much booze.

It was a bit of a bummer when we found out our train on Friday was set to land at the wrong station back from Seoul. We wanted to go to Gupo, near Gimhae but were forced to go to the large city, Busan, further away.

To make matters a bit more complicated, we had planned to go to Busan for the weekend anyway to head to the beach.

And so the karma gods stepped in, forced us (gasp) to find a cheap hotel near the beach and STAY THERE FOR TWO NIGHTS.

This what it must be like to live in the OC. To have the option to buy some alcohol (yes, more Soju) and sit with the rest of the locals in the sand looking up at the night sky and out at the ocean.

By the end of the night I was singing Somewher Over the Rainbow with my feet in the water and my arms outstretched. Thank God everyone else was as drunk as I was.

And what did I get to do the next day?

Get up.

Walk to beach.

Plant myself under a well-worth-the-money-umbrella.

Swim in the sea.

Sit under umberlla.

Eat popsicles.

Swim in the sea.

Sit under the umbrella.

By 5pm, smile all the way back to the hotel.

Sand and surf sit well with me. My skin is radiant. My feet look like they've had a manicure. And the small amount of rays that got through my 30 sun screen have made my face glow.

Next Saturday? Well, it's back to the beach.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Soju on the Street

Seoul has turned out to be the vacation we needed.

Our hostel is quietly located, smack dab in the middle of the fashion district, Bangan Market. As we walk to the subway each morning, we have the choice of paint thinner or floor tile to purchase. And we certainly don:t have any trouble sleeping in AC rooms - or should I say mini fridges.

We have been proper tourists.

Bus tour. Check.

Palace tour. Check.

Visit to reconstruction of ancient village with tacky tourist shop paraphanilla.Check.

Eating local street meat that was more like a fair than the streets of Asia - think Pogo Stick with french fries deep fried around it. Check.

Soju on the street. Double Check.

Soju is a popular drink among the Koreans. You can shoot it or sip it and depending on the mood, I do either. It tastes a bit like Vodka and Zambuca put together. And goes down great with spicy food like Kimchi.

There is no real way to describe the street our hostel is on other than your typcial Asian market street. Tiny alley way with lots of vertical signs in Korean. About 90 percent of the shops are in the market and are fabric or home DIY related.

Except for one little variety store. With plastic chairs outside. And two plastic tables.

This shop sells chips and tea and beer and soju.

After a much needed dinner at a Mexican restaurant (okay, YAY for Itaweon in Seoul which is basically Western Central. I love Korean food, but what a treat. The Outback on Tuesday. Burritos on Wednesday. Sa-weet) we headed home "early" to get a head start on Thursday at the War Memorial Museum.

Two minutes from home and we pulled up chairs at the little conveinces shop for a few beers and a bottle of soju. 4 beers and 4 bottles of soju later, we were experiencing the surreal world of "drinking with Koreans".

The owner, his wife and some random fabric guy sat across from us at the other plastic table, conversing with us in Korean as J tried (quite successfully) to translate.

We also ate her HOMEMADE kimchi. Wow. Another great think about soju is it takes the edge off the spice. See, another reason to drink.

Anywhere else in the world, this was a dark alley. Here in Korea, it is where they hang out.

We stumbled away after spending what was probably a good fortune for the store and with an atmosphere you couldn:t believe unless you saw it yourself. Or you watched too many Kung Foo movies.