Tuesday, February 26, 2013

SPOL & Seollal & Valentine's Day

Hello everyone! It's been a while since I posted a new blog, but life has been too crazy and exciting and fun for me to sit down at the computer for an hour or two! Two somewhat major holidays happened last week--Seollal, also known as Lunar New Year, and Valentine's Day. But before I talk about those, I just wanted to give you a little peak into my work place at SPOL English Academy.

1. SPOL English Academy
My coworkers have been sick lately. Below are pictures of them with their medicine. It's very easy to get pharmaceutical stuff here. In fact, there is a pharmacy on the ground floor of the building we work in. Charles may or may not have had strep throat, and all he had to do was walk into the pharmacy show them pictures of his throat and mime that he couldn't swallow, and BAM! he was given some stuff to put on his throat that worked like a charm. Dan actually had to go to the doctor because he has torn cartilage and a cracked something, and his drugs were super cheap (the doctor visit, X-rays, and drugs were under $100).

Prescription pills come in little packets that you can tear open.
You don't have a million bottles and you never have to wonder
if you forgot to take them, just count how many packets
you have left. Good system!
And just to give you a little peek into what it's like at school, here are some pictures:

The kids mobbing Dan in our office.

 My favorite adorable twins, Liana and Cloy.
The office where the teachers have their desks
is encased in giant glass windows.
They were standing right outside of them.

Dan with Nana and one of his other students.

Charles at his desk in the corner of the office.
Sometimes I feel like a zoo animal,
all the kids stand outside and stare in
(or they come and chat with us inside).
2. Seollal, aka Lunar New Year's
Monday, February 11 was Lunar New Year's Day this year. The new year typically falls on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. This is considered a national holiday in Korea, so I was fortunate enough to have the day off of work! For Koreans, this is a holiday to be with your family. When I asked my students what their plans were for the Lunar New Year, most of them said that they were going to their grandmother's house. They typically meant their father's mother, because when people are married here they join the man's family and the women seldom see their own family for holidays.

During the new year, people perform ancestral rights called charye. They dress in colorful traditional clothing called a hanbok (pictured left).  They eat tteokguk, which is soup with traditional rice cakes, which the kids said is quite tasty. Eating the soup is a right of passage; after it is eaten, the person who consumed it is another year older. Another tradition is called sebae. In this right, children wish their elders a happy new year by performing a deep bow, and they are rewarded with a gift of money. Some of the kids made out like bandits (the highest amount I heard of was about $300).

Koreans use the same animal zodiac as the Chinese do. People have certain qualities based on the year that they are born. This year begins the Year of the Snake. According to the Chinese zodiac, people born in this year are philosophical, organized, intelligent, intuitive, elegant, attentive, and decisive. I was born in the Year of the Ox. According to the zodiac, I should be loyal, reliable, thorough, strong, reasonable, steady, and determined. If you want to find what you are, go to http://www.whats-your-sign.com/Chinese-zodiac-signs.html and see for yourself!

And what did I do to celebrate on New Year's Day? I hosted trivia back home at Shoot the Bull in Manitowoc. I guess people were missing me, so a few people got together to figure out the technical aspects of having me host over Skype. They could see me on one of the large TV's in the bar, and a camera was set up so that I could see part of the bar and the people as well. The current trivia host, Heather, was there to tally the scores and keep everyone in check. It was absolutely fantastic to see so many of my friends from back home, and of course it was fun to be able to have a few drinks with them as well. I can't say how loved I felt knowing all the trouble people went to in order to ensure that it happened and that so many people stopped in just to say hi. I couldn't have asked for a better start to my new year...

3. Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day in Korea is a little bit different here than it is in the States. Unlike back home, Valentine's day here is about women celebrating the special men in their lives. Men typically reciprocate in March, but it is not unusual for Korean men to do something nice for their women on this day either.

Chocolate is, of course, an important part of this holiday. The stores anticipate this by having huge displays of chocolate both inside and outside. Many convenience stores set up displays to lure in girls buying last-minute chocolate for their sweeties, and the bigger shops have many displays as well.

Outside a convenience store on V-Day.
A huge pink and white balloon arch and tons of chocolate.

Another convenience store display on the way to work.
Also, there are tons of Paris Baguettes here,
one on every corner that there's not a Dunkin Donuts or phone store.
Buying chocolate from the store is a bit of a cop-out, though. Most girls that really like their significant others wouldn't dream of giving their sweetie chocolate that wasn't homemade. Apparently the girls here are quite adept at melting chocolate and molding them into different shapes with messages iced on the top, or by creating chocolates that look like their boyfriends. That is dedication.

Chocolates featured in the K-drama "Boys Before Flowers".
(This image from Travel Pants Korea.)
Another popular activity for couples on this day is to make something together. There is a cafe in Hongdae (part of Seoul) that features ceramic dolls that customers can buy and decorate together. It's a nice sentiment to make them in the image of each other and make a gift of them. There is also a place where you can create a mold of your lips, and turn it into a cell phone charm or key chain to give to your lover.
Beautiful lip molds.
(This image from Travel Pants Korea.)

(This image from Travel Pants Korea.)

Koreans are also very into declaring their love to the world. There are a few locations where you can write notes and make these declarations. One such place is Namsan Mountain, and there are a few cafe's that do the same thing. Many people write love notes, confessions, make sketches, or write the typical 'X loves X' and hang it up for all the world to see.

Another fun couple thing to do is to wear matching outfits. This has been termed the "couple look". This appears to be more prevalent in warmer months, but it is a way to let anyone who crosses your path know of your coupledom. Word on the street is that matching jackets and couple sneakers are all the rage right now.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Flash Fiction Story

So, one thing that I've been trying to work on while in Korea is writing more.  I still plan on continuing my education in the field of English/Creative Writing, so I feel that this is a very important task for me. There are always distractions in life, and I always seemed to allow myself to find better things to do than to sit down and write. I have been taking an online writing class, which has helped me with motivation. So I thought I would share something that I wrote recently. It was just a little timed writing (only 10 minutes!) concentrating on writing in second person (the "you" voice), but here it is. Enjoy!

The car wash has started. Your heart is beating at high velocity against your rib cage as the water starts sprinkling against the hood. As it comes closer, you realize you have no idea what temperature it will be. Do they use hot water? Wouldn’t that get really expensive? But the water is coming closer, then it’s hitting your face and shoulder, and you realize it’s cold. Frigid. Like it just barely melted from the polar ice caps and somehow miraculously got piped into this Kwik Trip car wash.
The need to get out is excruciating. As soon as the sprayers go past the car door, you open it and step out.  Excess water spills out, echoing loudly as your sneakers hit the concrete. You take a quick step back and appreciatively take in the stupid paintings the stupid asshole you were dating get incredibly, stupidly wet and smudged. Then you take a few more steps back, and center yourself in front of the hood.
You watch as your mother’s beautiful gray convertible gets irreversibly soaked. And ruined. The paintings, too big to fit in your trunk, are standing awkwardly up, anchored by straps from the wind. And then you touch your face, and realize you’re weeping because the water on your hand is warm.
Is it too much to ask to not be betrayed? You think back to how things have been in the past few weeks. It didn’t seem as if anything had changed, not really, and maybe that’s it. Everything’s the same. The very definition of being in a rut. But couldn’t that also be happiness?
The suds are starting. The foam is coating everything, making it almost impossible to make out the ochers and oranges of a sunset. The painting of you, smiling softly, is fogged over with chemical cleaners. The view from your kitchen window is almost indistinguishable, but you can see it clearly because he hadn’t gotten all the colors right. It’s a lot louder standing outside a closed car.
And finally, the Turtle wax is beginning. Because this destruction certainly deserved the Ultra Deluxe package. This makes them high-gloss paintings, and certainly not high caliber. The paint is running in rivulets onto the seat, down to the floor in little brown puddles.
You laugh a little, wipe your wet, furrowed brow.  You had never been grounded in high school, but holy fuck are you in so much trouble right now.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Two Months in Korea...

...and what have I learned? What have I done? What do I miss? These are all very good questions, thank you so much for asking!

I think I'll start by saying some things that I miss:

 1. My friends. Of course my friends! Most of them seem to be a little bit crazy, just like me, and there are so many memories that I have with them that holds a special place in my heart and my mind. (Especially Kelly Seim, who has coerced... ahem, I mean mentioned that she would like to see her name mentioned here.) So here are a ton of pictures of friends from home, and I hope none of them are offended that I am posting these.

Friends at my going away party.
The gang at Traveling Tuesday.

Heidi, Natalie and I doing a poker run on the way to pig wrestling.
Yes, you read that correctly, and no, we did not wrestle any pigs.

The girls on the way to pig wrestling.

At the Brewers game on the Capone's bus.

Some of the main people who made trivia what it was.
Love you guys!

Jenny and I checking some things off the list
during a treasure hunt.

Me with Erin in her full stage makeup for Evil Dead.
Probably my favorite show on the UW-Manitowoc stage,
everyone was fantastic!

Maria and Jenny decided to draw chalk outlines of each other
on the sidewalk after finding chalk in the bathroom.

From Halloween one year...
At least my friends can be as creepy as I can!

Rachel (I met her in Manitowoc and we were roomies in Milwaukee) and I.

Micaela (one of my roommates in Milwaukee) and I,
I think celebrating finals being over.

With Tom and Jessica.

My Elsa's crew from when I worked in Milwaukee.
Love these guys, sad I haven't seen them in AGES!

Dani (Elsa's coworker) and I.

More Elsa's crew.

Elsa's coworkers, another Halloween picture.

Great ladies from Milwaukee!

Nick and I, friends since high school.
Danny, Kyle and I when we lived in Boston.

Danny, Kyle and I on facial night.

Old school picture... Sadly, I don't have too many pictures of my high school clan.
(Probably because it was before digital cameras became inexpensive!)
My group of theater geek friends in Manitowoc...
We rented out the theater to watch Rocky Horror Picture show,
complete with costumes and all the props.
Kirsty and Natalie, Applebee's coworkers.

Night out after work at Applebee's.
Which is why we're all wearing black.

I love this picture.
This is our normal.
2. My family. One great thing about moving back to Manitowoc was that I was surrounded by family. Everyone is just a phone call away though, and it has been great to be able to Skype with my brother and his family!

3. Working at the Courthouse Pub. It might seem strange to miss a job in a restaurant, but I truly do. I miss walking into a restaurant and knowing half of the guests and being able to joke around with friends my entire work shift. It was like a family, and I miss the place and the people.

The gang dressed up for Halloween.
(Which apparently is the only time I can't take pictures,
which should be obvious from the sheer amount of pictures from that day.)

Working at the Pub street party.
Pub boys after the Domestic Violence Center fundraiser.
4. Being able to read things. One of the strangest things for me here is that I can't read anything. Well, I've almost learned the Korean alphabet, so I can read a few things, but they are in Korean, so I don't understand them. At first it was a novelty to see Korean writing everywhere, now it can be a bit frustrating. It took me 15 minutes a few days ago to figure out whether or not a bottle of juice was mango or some other mystery fruit (thankfully, it was mango juice--the kids at school requested it and I did not want to disappoint them!).

That about sums up the things that I miss, so on to what I have been doing. Seeing as it is winter, which is eerily similar to Wisconsin winter (huge changes in temperatures, some rain, a bunch of snow, below zero), I haven't done to many things outside because it is so cold! Spring should be arriving soon, so I will definitely be having more adventures in the near future. As it is, though, I have been to the toilet museum and the zoo. I have spent some weekends in Seoul, heard a fair amount of live music (last weekend I saw a funk band which was really good), seen street performers and witnessed spontaneous dancing, met a ton of new people and made some new friends. I have gotten lost so many times it's not even funny, but I have always made it to my destination safely with a new story to tell and things learned. I've been in Korea for two months, and it is starting to feel like I actually live here!

And what have I learned?
1. Fantastic people are from everywhere. I was fortunate when I arrived to meet many people that are part of the Byeongjeom expat family within the first week. I have met so many people with such different personalities from such a multitude of countries that it's quite amazing. And the people are quite amazing, as well. I know that no matter where I might travel to in the future, it will be no problem to find friends and people that are willing to help the newbie out.

2. I can read Hangul and speak several Korean phrases. Hangul is the Korean alphabet, and I have finally learned how to read it. It's pretty quick to learn, but I haven't had time to sit down and really apply myself until recently. The unfortunate thing now is that even though I might be able to read Korean, I don't understand it. I can also order food in Korean, and say thank you, please, and hello. I'm working on expanding my vocabulary, but I can get by with the little that I do know.

3. Children are crazy. I've never worked with kids before, so working with students that are anywhere from six to 13 is a very unique challenge. The young ones are always incredibly high-spirited and fun, but the students tend to get quieter and more sullen as their age increases. 

But why are they crazy, you ask? Let me give you an example. School is on the sixth floor of our building, so everyone takes the elevator up. The native English teachers always go down to try to meet the kids as they get off the bus before work. One day, we were waiting for the elevator, and all we heard was high-pitched screaming all the way from the ground floor to the sixth floor. It was terrifying. I thought someone might have gotten murdered, but no, the kids apparently just wanted to have a screaming contest.

4. Korea is one of the safest places in the world. Koreans don't steal. You could leave your iPad on a table in a bar or restaurant, and you would find it there the next day when you go to look for it. There is not much violence at all--I've never seen a bar fight, I've never heard Koreans yell at each other, and I feel quite safe if I'm ever walking somewhere alone.

And that's all I can think of for right now. Life is good; I have good friends, a job that I might finally be getting the hang of, and so many adventures just waiting for me! I definitely think I made the right choice in coming to Korea.