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Kindergarten March 9, 2011

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 9:13 am
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Teaching, without any formal training, 3 and 4 year olds who don’t speak a word of English is a very difficult thing indeed. Mary Teacher fighting!


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.


An Open Letter October 21, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 7:07 am
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Dear parents of the world,

I understand that you love your children and think that they are precious or whatever. The cold hard truth is something different.

Your children are gross walking bags of germs hell-bent on getting anything that educates them infected with their cooties. Good job birthing the most effective means of biological warfare. I’m still not sure why you declared this war on teachers, but you’ve clearly decided to make tiny people so that you could ensure that I would have a perpetual cold.

Congratulations on a job well done.


Teacher Mary


Sweet Home South Korea, Lord I’m Comin’ Home to You October 18, 2010

When you move to a country that’s the size of Indiana, getting stamps on your passport becomes much easier. Case and point, I got to go to Japan. Living in Ohio on a bookstore salary, a weekend getaway includes Lexington, Indianapolis, or Columbus. Thanks to the Korean holiday of Cheusok, I spent three days between Osaka and Kyoto.

Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, is second only to Rome for most World Heritage Sites in a single city. For any of you with art history degrees, I don’t have to tell you how rad this is. For the rest of you, picture, I don’t know, Lady Gaga wearing the Ug Boots or whatever you kids are into now a days. Bonus: I got to meet up with my cousin Craig who just happens to have lived in the city and speaks fluent Japanese.

My day in Kyoto was spent jetting around from temple to temple and restaurant to restaurant via rented bikes with Craig as our guide. I am so much happier when there are wheels below me. I’d prefer eight, but I’ll settle for two any day. Poor Doug however, has not ridden a bike since, well, since I’ve known him and we met when he was 14. So, it’s been a while. He was not nearly as joyous, but felt far more accomplished when all was said and done.

Kyoto is a beautiful city that has gone to great lengths to preserve its integrity against the crushing modernity that has swallowed and now makes up Osaka. There is a height limit on the buildings so you can still catch glimpses of the mountains. The architecture, my God the architecture. Coming from Seoul where the exteriors of building looks shockingly like the interior of buildings, Kyoto was a breath of old, traditional air.

Day two was spent meandering through Osaka’s shopping district. Let me be clear, Japan is the single most expensive place I’ve ever been to. There are 85 yen to the dollar. I saw nothing for under 100 yen. Not one thing. I wasn’t there for the shopping though. I was there for the experience of it. I didn’t bring back many souvenirs, but lots of memories. Most of all a feeling of accomplishment. Just eight months ago I was working two jobs, struggling to pay my rent, asking for parental help every time a medical bill creeped up. Now, I can afford to go to Japan for a few days, all with my very own money.

Osaka was very much my style: big and bold and funny. I never grow weary of things that are typically small represented by things that are huge and made of fiberglass, and Osaka provided. Osaka’s mascot is Billikin, the God of things as they ought to be, and that sucker was everywhere. He looks a lot like a Buddha but with a pointier head and the bottoms of his feet sticking out. Scratching his feet brings good luck. I took a picture with every single one I saw.

The food in Japan is amazing. I like Korean food just fine, but I could eat Japanese food everyday and it would never get old. The Japanese have had a history that allows them to develop culinary, architectural, and artistic traditions that are sophisticated and rich. Think of Japan as France and Italy combined. My beloved Korea on the other hand, is a lot like Poland. It’s spent so much of its history fighting off invaders (including the Japanese thank you very much) that survival has been a bigger focus that fanciful food and buildings.

The Koreans are just now reaching the point of continuous stability in which they can choose to foster these qualities. I think that they will and very successfully. The Japanese may have more creativity, but the Koreans are determined. I love them for that. As an art history major I value artistic traditions in a culture, but as me, as myself, as the person who has gotten me this far through this much fire, above all, I value determination and persistence. If the Koreans decide to develop an artistic legacy, they will because once their minds are set on something there is simply no stopping them.

My favorite thing that this trip gave me was a feeling of coming home and that home was to Korea. Beautiful, mountainous, spicy, hard-working, stubborn Korea.


Mind Games September 8, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 12:18 pm
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As the puppeteer of my classroom I like to make my students dance for me. A little competition here a little reward system there a viola! We are all paying attention.

Not only are they children, so they buy my bullshit, but they aren’t American children, so my bullshit is shiny and new to them. In the first three minutes of reading class, the last class of a long, sunny, hot day, I could see that my hard workers were worn out and tried and most of all chatty. So three minutes in, I asked them if they wanted to play a game. Holy shit! Did you say game? I don’t care what it is. Sign me up for a game. We are going to play the quiet game. Had these been American kids, they would have seen right through me, but they were delighted to spend the rest of the class trying to find out who would win.

I taught my older students the ancient art of the pinky swear. A few of them were vaguely familiar with the ritual, but none knew the meaning that once a pinky swear is broken, your pinky is cut off. I made every student pinky swear that they would finish their homework this week. Just to drive the point home I told them I would be wearing a necklace made of the pinkies of those who didn’t find time to finish their assignments. I topped it off with maniacal laughter.

We’ve been reading a lot of ghosts stories lately. The ghost is my friend. The ghost is really dad. The ghost is a ghost. This has been great. We’ve learned words like afraid of, scary/scared of, and best of all spooky. This lead one of my students to say
Student: Teacher is angry. Teacher is scary
Me: You think teacher is scary?
Student (smiling): yes
Me: Who thinks Teacher is scary?
One hand goes up
Me: Only one person thinks Teacher is scary?
Students: Teacher no scary. Teacher is kind… and funny. Funny, kind Teacher.
Well shit, my cover is officially blown. Those little buggers don’t even cower  at the sight of me. What is the world coming to?


Roller Derby Saved My Soul April 11, 2010

The best thing that I ever did for myself was to play roller derby. Maybe getting hit so hard by so many women so frequently simply knocked the sense into me, but it was on eight wheels that I found myself.

Last night I attended an old school Gem City Roller Girl reunion potluck and I got to see some people who were very formative for me and who I’ve gotten to be very close to even since our derby days are done.

Before we get into this recounting, let me make one thing crystal clear: I do not care for crying. I mean sure, sometimes something gets in my eye while coincidentally something emotional is happening. That can’t be helped, but I do not cry.

Needless to say, there was a lot of dust in the air last night.

There are people who are really going to miss me. This is a new thing for me. I’ve known all along who I would miss, but it never occurred to me that my moseying on would leave an empty space in anyone else’s life.

You must understand, this is new territory. The hilarious girl you see before you, in the last five years, just figured out how to make friends. I spent my life lucky to have one good friend at a time. I’ve had a bad habit of putting all of my friendship eggs into one overwhelmed basket. After a lot of very deliberate work, my skin has only recently gotten comfortable to be in.

I’ve finally built a support system for myself that I feel confident in. For the first time in my life I have a lot of friends who I am certain like me as much as I like them. There are several people I can just meet for lunch, who ask me if I’m going out dancing. I am fortunate enough to have people who I really like to see, and I get the distinct impression that they like to see me too.

Now I’m leaving them.

The test before me will be to see if this was a fluke, if the only people who I am capable of forming lasting relationships with are women who willingly beat one another. Can I translate my roller derby bonding skills into a Korean social etiquette system that is thousands of years in the Confucian making? Stay tuned to find out…

Seeing as I am in a whirl wind of packing and getting ready, my potluck contribution was my last bottle of Makers Mark. Because my friends are the best, someone else’s contribution was a bottle of Knob Creek. I got to say a proper goodbye to my dear derby family and to Kentucky bourbon.


Crazy, but that’s how it goes April 8, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 10:43 am
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Going into this I knew that the moment I left my job my life would be a whirl wind up to departure, and I was not mistaken. I have two weeks left. How did that happen? I’ve said goodbye to my sister. I’ve spent time with my grandmother. I’ve started reading Korean Business Etiquette. My clothes are being separated into “Korea” “get rid of” and “keep in a box” piles. There is not a moment in which there isn’t something to be preparing for or someone to say goodbye to. Every night isn’t a question of what to have for dinner, but of whom to have it with.

While all of these preparations and goodbyes are keeping me good and distracted, I don’t think that this will feel real until I am in the classroom. It may be starting to sink in, but how can I begin prepare myself for something so totally foreign? How do you begin to wrap your head around everything that moving from America to Asia means?

The cost of getting to Seoul has added up. I will be making significantly more once things get started, but it has cost a lot of money to get this going, and I don’t have my airfare yet! Of course there are the costs of getting there, new luggage, plane tickets, fees for documents, sending everything over night, and as many fried pickles as one human body can safely hold.

In addition, you know that medical check list that keeps getting longer and longer? It’s the most morbid wish list ever because it is composed of having cysts removed, getting broken teeth filled, having basic shots and blood work done… All of that medical stuff that hasn’t been killing me so I’ve been putting it off for years due to cost has all caught up with me. Oh, to be a Canadian on this adventure.

Every moment I am awake, I am overwhelmed. The new language, the Confucian ethics, the shrimp flavoring on chips: fine, all fine. I’m looking forward to diving in. It’s everything leading up to it that has me running dizzy. It will feel so good to put my suitcase down in my apartment, to close the door behind me and to sit and breath.

I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. Of everything she’s been kind enough to pass along to me, I will be taking her adventurous spirit and her practice of conscious breathing with me to South Korea. Without those, this experience would not happen for me.


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