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Hold on. Wait a minute Mr. Postman January 25, 2011

When I went to camp, my mommy sent me Cheez Ballz and Twizzlers. Now I live in South Korea and my mother sends me Pine Club salad dressing, Esther Price chocolates, and Twizzlers. I must be the camp counselor in charge of sophistication.

P.S. Mom, I sure would like some more Twizzlers. I’ll be sure not to share them with my students who, “just don’t know how to eat this.”


What to pack when you are moving to South Korea January 15, 2011

1) Home stuff

Little things to fight the inevitable homesickness you are bound to face. Make room for pictures of family, holiday decorations, your favorite cup, anything that makes your little slice of ROK feel like home.

2) Pants

Pack pants that fit you now and pants that are one size smaller than you currently wear. You are going to loose weight, but not so much that you’ll be able to fit into impossibly small Korean sizes.

3) Underwear and bras

If you’re anything like me, you are already packing your own biological stadium cushion. Unless you’re prepared to get your delicates from the ajumma section of E-Mart, then best stock up on your unmentionables state side.

4) A gift for the new boss and a yummy local treat for the staff

A nice gift makes a good first impression, which is important everywhere, but is year long contract defining in Korea. We brought our boss a gold ornament in the shape of the Wright B Flyer since we are from Dayton, Ohio. A nice, non-political local history gift. For the staff we brought a box of Esther Price chocolates, a Daytonian delicacy. You don’t have to spend a heap of cash. Something local and edible will do just fine.

5) Two sets of sheets

Chances are you will have a washer in your Korean apartment, but no dryer. You can buy sheets here but they either won’t be what you’re used to or very expensive. They don’t take up much room in the brand new suitcase your mom bought for you. Toss in the extra set. When you aren’t sleeping on dry enough sheets, you’ll be glad you did.

6) Over the counter medications

Cold and headache remedies aren’t universal. I could sell NyQuil tablets for $20 a pop on the street in Ieteawon to red nosed, sleep deprived Americans. When you get sick, and your students will get you sick, you will crave nothing as much as a NyQuil endused unconscious state. If you need a little extra help dozing off at night or need to sleep off a headache the extra large bottle of Tylenol PM you brought will come in quite handy. Go over board here. If you end up with extra at the end of the year, you can always pass the extra along to your co-workers who weren’t smart enough to take my sage like advice.

7) Prizes

Bring some goodies for the kids. Some holiday or American flag themed pencils, stickers or erasers will do. The students are aware of the mass marketed American holidays but they are still exotic and new. Pencils topped with erasers in the shape of ghosts, hearts, or snowmen will be a big hit come flash card game time.

8.) Shoes, but only if you have big feet

If your walking on an average size 8 like I am, then don’t over pack shoes. You can buy them here. There’s a Converse store on every corner in Seoul and there’s even a Doc Martin’s store at the Coex Mall. The high heel selections are endless. However, if you are above a women’s size 9, pack shoes. You will be able to find shoes that fit if you look, but you’ll have to look and the selection won’t be stellar. Remember, your shoes should be easy to kick on and off. I highly recommend packing a pair of winter boots that zip up and go with everything.

9) Money

You need enough cash to float you until your first paycheck. Clearly this varies from person to person depending on lifestyle, region, and the generosity of your school. You can get by on $1000. Even if your in a couple, you’ll never spend more than $3000 unless you go wild in one of the foreigner only casinos.

10) DVD’s

While you can watch Hulu and Netflix with the use of a proxy server, they may not have the selection that you wish they did. Stock up on TV shows you haven’t seen but have been meaning to get around to, movies that you haven’t seen yet or could watch again and again. Don’t bring the boxes. Just put them in a CD folder. Nothing will ease the soul of a homesick American quite like an episode of King of the Hill.

What not to pack:

1) Toiletries

Believe it or not, people bathe in Korea. You don’t need to pack shampoo, conditioner, soap or hair spray. There are two things you may want to consider packing though they aren’t totally necessary: toothpaste and deodorant. The toothpaste here is slightly different. If you have picky dental needs, stock up. Aside from finding a taste you can stand you won’t be able to read the box to learn it the tube will whiten or protect. I’ve been using Korean toothpaste and have no complaints, but it took a couple of thrown out tubes to get there. I packed my deodorant, because, dainty flower that I am, I needed a particular brand, which it turns out you can buy here. It’s more expensive, but not ungodly so.

2) Half the clothes you think you need

You don’t know what to pack so you’ve packed everything just in case. Don’t do that. They have clothes here that you can buy. You’ll find out what your school expects you to wear and you can pull together work wear here. Remember, it will be hard to find pants that fit, but I haven’t had a problem finding dresses, tops or shoes. Do bring at least one weeks worth of business appropriate attire to make a good first impression. You’ll be making enough money that you can fill in the wardrobe gaps with your first paycheck via a shopping trip to Seoul.

3) Electronics

If you need a camera or a laptop. You don’t necessarily need to stock up before you leave the states. You can get electronics cheaply here. I’ve bought a laptop and a camera for myself. It just means that I’ll need to buy adjusters when I head home and I can type in Hangul. On the other hand, Korean men don’t grow beards, but expats notoriously do. Bring a beard trimmer.

4) More than one or two books for the plane

You can find English books here, especially if you are close to Soul. I’ve always found everything my literary heart could desire at What the Book in Ietaewon. If you are too far from Seoul to make the trip, What the Book will ship to you. Not to mention the fact that foreign teachers have come before you. Most likely, the teacher whom you replace, you’ll also fill their empty apartment and inherit all the crap they’re left behind, including their books. If you are such a book-worm that you won’t be able to survive without constant access to your very own Barnes and Noble, then make the investment in a Nook or Kindle.

5) Socks and tights

Trust me. Korean women love their stockings. There will be enough knee highs, ankle socks, and funky tights to even keep a retired roller girl happy. Make room for more underwear and bras by leaving the socks at home.

Happy packing. Enjoy that last southern style sweet tea and get ready. You’re going to love it here.


ROK around the Christmas Tree December 26, 2010

The American Christmas spirit is a mesmerizing, blinding thing of festivities and unchecked greed rolled together in a heart stopping cheese ball of cheer. We are incapable of quietly enjoying a cold time of year, indoors with friends and family and good food. We need to kill each other as the doors open at Walmart on Black Friday and then stress eat our way through the quest for every little gift that we want but don’t need and probably can’t pay for and if we make other people feel like shit in our wake, so be it. It’s all in the name of the quest to provide each and every American family with the perfect Christmas. To this I say, bah humbug.

I don’t like Christmas. You have to force pleasant family interactions and then feel bad if they don’t come out looking like a Norman Rockwell. I don’t like buying the affection of people I care about with gifts that don’t really speak to them but say I cared enough to spend. I don’t like the mall or the people who shop there. And more than anything on this planet, I hate Kay Jewelry commercials and everything they represent, but that’s a blog for another day. You see, I spent and uneventful, stress-free Christmas in the mountains of South Korea far far away from American malls and American commercials and American parking lots and American greed and American lack of thought for the rest of humanity.

Friday, December 24th came as uneventfully as another work day. My coworkers and I went out for kimchichegae (spicy, red soup with kimchi and pork) and topped off the evening with hour upon hour of noraebang (a room where you and your friends sit and drink beer and sing karaoke). Fun was had and one Christmas song (Feliz Navidad) and a lot of 80’s hair metal was sung.

After Santa flew past and left us the boxes that our families had sent and we had laid to waste days ago, we woke up at an early 10:30 am. Until 4:30pm we sat around consuming nothing except Esther Price chocolates and a free slice of cake from our favorite coffee shop in Hopyeong, Park Avenue. For you see, dear reader, we were saving the precious space in our digestive systems for the most glorious of meals that awaited in Ietaewon. Doug, Kyle, our coworker Kin and I all bundled up and road on the brand new train that as of Tuesday stops in our sleepy little town and trekked for hours to get to Copacabana. We each ate the weight of a 7 month old baby in an assortment of Brazilian meats prepared on swords for a mere 29,000 won per person at an all you can eat steak house whose name brings Barry Manilow to mind. What could say Christmas more? Why topping off the gastric disaster with eggnog at Sam Ryan’s in a room brimming with waygooks (foreigners) who were also away from Christmas, happy and drinking.

Sunday brought a more traditional aspect of Korean Christmas, the eating of an ugly Christmas ice cream cake. Ours was topped with what was, after significant testing, deemed to be an inedible Santa and edible frozen cranberries.

All and all the lack of Christmas was refreshing. After nearly a decade of retail Christmases, I thought that a year or two away from the greed and thoughtlessness would have me ready to join back in the celebration. What it has done is made me aware that, without Christmas the world still spins. You don’t need to celebrate this holiday to be happy. In fact it’s been packaged in such a way that if you feel you must, you can eat a candy cane, go to a party, and be done with the whole mess. Leaving Christmas to the malls of America has made me a happier person. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to return. Not when there is so much joy in simply enjoying December, giving to those who need it, and reveling in the presence of those you think quite highly of.


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