Sunday, November 6, 2011


 or, "How My Master's Thesis Ruined My Life."

Many of you know that both Rebecca and I had finished the coursework for our respective MAs before we left the US for Korea. We both had also made significant headway on our theses before we shipped out - Rebecca had turned in a full draft of hers, and I had defended my prospectus and been given the green light to finish my analysis (which should have been the easy part). We got on the plane with laptops and backpacks full of data, and plans to finish up and defend in the summer. 

Once we got here, all that changed. We had new jobs to figure out, new foods to try, a new city to explore, and a new language to learn. We left the frozen wastes of Wyoming while it was still wintery and arrived here in time for the full bloom of spring, the season that many consider the most beautiful in Jeonju. We just couldn't sit in front of computers everyday while everything was green and flowering outside. Slowly, we let go of our summer graduation plans, and set our sights on December. 

We established a schedule that called for us to rise each day at 8:00AM and dedicate hours to our theses before working out, showering, and heading in to work at 2:00PM. This meant returning home after work and basically heading straight to bed, which is completely counter to my natural rythms. We were quite dedicated to this schedule for a time, but then we met and befriended other ex-pats in Jeonju, and like us, they got off work late in the evening. Going out for dinner with friends until 1:30AM makes it hard to get up at 8:00AM and generate quality academic writing.

Local friendships led to us becoming more active in the Jeonju internet communitites, which led to volunteering at orphanages, a Dinner in English group, and the final straw - taking a Korean class at Chonbuk University. The class met daily, and moved quite quickly. Eventually, trying to keep up with the new grammar and vocabulary was taking up all of my spare time. Everything else fell off (including posting to this blog), and soon I realized that three weeks had passed without me even looking at my thesis. 

My thesis glares at me from a dark corner of my mind constantly, like an ugly and unloved doll on a dusty shelf. I know that I should fix it up and get it ready to present, but there is always something newer and shinier clamoring for my atention. In the light of my new suroundings and new interests it seems ill-concieved, trivial, unneeded, and broken somehow. Yes - my thesis now lives on the Island of Misfit Toys, and my intended graduation date has slipped away to next May.

Although I have embraced every distraction that has come my way, I have finally realized that my unfinished thesis is sucking all the joy from my life. In my college career I never failed to turn in a paper and I never took an incomplete, so the thesis dragging on feels like a huge failure. I have reached the point where every moment of free time that I spend doing anything else, no matter how important or valid it is, is tainted because the thesis is not done. Everything - volunteering, movies, shopping, hiking, clubbing, literally everything we do for fun - reminds me that I have the debt from a Master's degree, but not the diploma. It is beginning to keep me from sleeping - I have dreams in which I face a committee that demands my paper, but there is nothing in my folder but old bus tickets and empty gimbap wrappers. This must end.

I have several friends who participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year. They crank out around fifty or sixty thousand words in 30 days each November. I don't need anywhere near 50K - I'm just about thirty pages from done. Another form of inspiration comes from Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm School (she is inspirational in so many way) who has declared this to be her "Finish the Damn Novel Month." So, to keep myself from descending any further into this pleasureless spiral of avoidance and annoyance, I have declared November to be "Finish My Master's Thesis Month." We shall call it "FiMyMaTheMo."

I am done with Korean class and I am returning to a strict schedule of writing 5 days per week. I will allow myself to play on the weekends only if I have put in the time Monday through Friday. Let this serve as notice to my friends - I will be turning down any new social engagements during the week and staying in my cell until it is done (I am still having midnight pancakes this Tuesday with the cool kids from Junghwasan-Dong because it is already on the calendar - but after that I'm like a nun).

This should allow me to finish the damn thing by December 1st. I will not be able to put together a defense before the university goes on Winter break, but I should be able to corral my committee sometime in January or February. Hopefully by my birthday in March it will all be just an awkward memory.

After that, I will be free again. Food and friends will be guiltless again, and I will enjoy the sleep of the righteous (or at least the sleep of the exhausted teacher, which I heartily deserve). The writing project that Rebecca and I have been discussing can get underway, and perhaps I will finally have time to sign up for Taekwondo or Hapkido classes like I had planned when we first got these jobs. 

Wish me luck, and don't invite me to anything cool for a while...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Halloween Blues (Or Should That Be "Oranges"?)

Normally, I read the latest post at Gothic Charm School with delight. Today, however, scrolling down the page only gave me a sinking feeling, as the Lady of the Manners gleefully describes how the Halloween season offers the chance to stock up on macabre housewares, skeletal jewelry, Halloween-themed clothing, craft supplies, stripy tights (which I desperately need - the last pair is wearing thin!), and various other necessities to maintain that "Every day is Halloween" spirit all year round.

And it's true - about this time last year I was running around the stores with my wallet held upside down. Bad for the budget? What budget? I was having fun!

This year is quite different, however. I'm ashamed to say that my enjoyment of Halloween is largely based on cheap, corporate cr...I mean, on the way every business in America joins in the Halloween spirit. I like walking into Wal-Mart and seeing all the terrible, cheesy, plastic costumes. I appreciate being able to order a pumpkin latte in a ghost-covered cardboard cup. I think funny Halloween t-shirts ("Witchy!" "Bats-tastic!") are a wardrobe essential.

But there are other, less consumerist joys of the season, too: mounds of little pumpkins at the grocery store; small tots dressed as princesses and pirates, two weeks before any actual trick-or-treating can take place; carved pumpkins on every doorstep; haunted houses, corn mazes, and pumpkin launchers; and, most importantly, the general air of spookiness that seems to settle in around October 1st.

That is all...not here in Korea. The only two businesses with any sort of Halloween theme are Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts, and I can only save so many decorated cardboard cup holders. Pumpkins are yellow in Korea, not orange, and I haven't seen any tiny ones that our students can paint. Our students are clearly wondering why we're so Halloween-obsessed when it's so far away, and I haven't even spotted a Wolfman mask outside of the foreigner district in Seoul. Add all this up, and October in Korea is about as spooky as "My Mother the Car."

Sure, Linus and I have decorated the school within an inch of its life (we'll post pictures, I promise), have forced Halloween into every lesson since October 1st, and will have an absolutely smashing Halloween party next Friday. But there is definitely something lacking to our Korean Halloween. Would I trade my amazing job and my life here for black lipstick and plastic bat headbands? Of course not. But I have to admit, this is the first time I've had a legitimate craving for home since I got here.

Thank goodness for Mom and Dad, who sent me a care-box stuffed to the brim with glow-in-the-dark spiderwebs, Halloween stickers and tattoos, a light-up pumpkin and ghost, spiders, sparkly pumpkin garlands, and other Halloween essentials. There's no Halloween-y gloom that a cute li'l plastic pumpkin bucket can't cure.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

10.5.11 Everything Shiny and New In Our Lives

In honor of our fortieth follower (welcome, Raphael!), I have gotten off me lazy bum for another post.

As many of you are already aware, I have taken the Big Leap into Real Gothdom. No, no, I didn't get that pierced. I dyed my hair black.

I've always been pretty experimental with hair colors - my all-time favorite was dark purple - but I held off on black for two reasons: 1) I wasn't sure it would look good with my skin tone, and 2) I didn't want to look just like every other little goth girl on the Internet (not to mention most Koreans). But as the Lady of the Manners wisely points out, we're all walking stereotypes anyway, so why not embrace the cliches? As it turns out, black hair looks much better on me than my natural hair color. Koreans, or at least the Koreans I know, are very outspoken about personal appearance, and when I was brown-haired I would get told about every third day that I looked sick, tired, and/or like I'd just cried. I've been ebon-haired for a week now and have yet to be accused of ill health or constant weeping. The black stays.

Linus took a less conventional - and also less intentional - route to awesome hair.

This was supposed to be a dark golden blonde, close to his natural hair color. As you can see, this is not dark golden blonde. That's fine by me; I always fancied gingers. This is just one of the steps Linus is making towards modifying his appearance. We visited Seoul for the first time recently and Linus bought many fancy items that will dress up his patent-pending Tactical Goth look. Less "Blade," more Great Gatsby... if Jay Gatsby had been a day-walker/hit man/sketchy priest, that is. It's hard to describe, but he has a clear picture in his head, and when his custom-made clothes are delivered (I told you they were fancy!), he will post a photo shoot.

The other primary piece of news is that we have welcomed two brand new members into our family. They're beautiful, pale-skinned, hermaphrodite twins. Beneath their tough exteriors they're truly delicate creatures, vulnerable to the slightest touch of a cruelly unmoistened hand. No, we haven't adopted circus freaks (although we're open to the possibility - you know how to reach us). Actually, we bought two pet snails from Home Plus. Have you ever had a snail ooze up your thumb and gently nom on your knuckle with its cat-like, raspy tongue? Trust me, it's a much more adorable experience than it sounds. Their names, of course, given our current TV obsession, are Barnabas and Josette. How do we tell them apart, you ask? Barnabas is whichever one looks bigger at the time. It's an imprecise system, but I'm pretty sure our albino lovelies don't mind.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9.21.11 My New (Old) TV Boyfriend

Edit: We're further along in the series now, and my evaluation of Barnabas is steering away from "likeable" and closer to "crazy, creepy, control-freak d**k." He's still fun to watch, though!

My life is full of Remarkably Bad Timing. In this case, Linus and I have simultaneously started our new (good, but stressful!) curriculum at school, a demanding Korean language class, and getting serious about our theses again. So when do we get so obsessed with a new TV show that it actively interferes with us getting anything done? Right now, of course!

"New" is actually not a good way to describe this show. It's "Dark Shadows." No, not this one:
That one hasn't come out yet. No, we're talking old school:

For those of you who don't already know, "Dark Shadows" is a cheesy, melodramatic, poorly acted supernatural soap opera from the sixties. Like a lot of the things Linus and I watch (Flash Gordon, anyone?), part of the entertainment value is how bad it is, particularly at the beginning of the series, when there isn't a whole lot of plot to distract us from the high-school-play feeling of some of the performances. The music is pretty hilarious, too. As Linus puts it, "Roughing the theramin - five yard penalty!" Yet as we've continued to watch, we've slowly grown more and more fascinated. Forget being intellectually amused by the shoddy, yet adorably gothic product of a bygone era - this stuff is good.

The best part is trying to untangle the mythology of the "Dark Shadows" universe. The most famous character, and the one who popularized the show, is Barnabas Collins, a two hundred year-old vampire recently released from his coffin by general ne'er-do-well Willy Loomis. Much of Barnabas's story (so far) pulls heavily from the classic Dracula plot: vamp meets girl, vamp makes her sleepwalk, vamp repeatedly drains her blood, she dies and comes back as a vampire "bride," etc.

At the same time, "Dark Shadows" has a unique take on many aspects of vampirism. For example - Barnabas drinks from Willy at least once, and clearly has some sort of control over Willy's behavior, particularly at night. In addition, Willy is unable to eat or drink anything after his first encounter with Barnabas. So Willy appears to be well on the way to vampirism. Yet Willy recovers from his near-draining and regularly goes into sunlight. However, he still feels compelled to remain near Barnabas and work for him, while at the same time his free will remains quite strong, even to the point of his defying Barnabas on occasion.

Wait...what? we asked bemusedly as the series continued. What is up with Willy? Is he a World-of-Darkness-style ghoul? Does Barnabas actually control his movements, or is Willy just too frightened to run away? Barnabas keeps sending Willy out at night to do a "job" for him - so is Willy the one who's draining the local cattle of blood? If so, how, and how does he bring it back to Barnabas? And, and, and...

I apologize; this probably isn't too terribly interesting to most of our readers. But to a vampire lit. nerd like myself, it's fascinating. And the questions about Willy are only the tip of the fang, so to speak. There are so many interesting aspects of vampirism to be found here - everything from an induced aesthetic appreciation of night to heavy-duty brainwashing to the ability to control doors. For the life of me, I can't tell if one of the writers spent a long time considering vampirism, or if the show just keeps randomly throwing out ideas and Linus and I are the ones over-complicating things.

A lot of the fun is that Barnabas Collins makes such a likeable vampire. He's romantic, he's smooth, he seems genuinely interested in and fond of his descendants, and he has a touchingly vulnerable streak. True, he beats Willy with his cane and tries to turn a local girl into the living personification of his dead lover. But hey! For a vampire, that's really not that bad! I wouldn't bet on Barnabas Collins against any of Laurell K. Hamilton's or Anne Rice's far more terrifying vampires - but I absolutely would be rooting for him.

Monday, September 12, 2011

추석 잘 보내세요! (Happy Chuseok!)

Chuseok is the biggest holiday of the Korean calendar. It is a time when families gather to give thanks for an abundant harvest. As far as we can tell this involves offering food at the ancestor's graves, eating songpyeon (rice cakes) and fried foods, and wearing hanbok (traditional garb). This little lady is clearly ready to get started.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wait... What?

Once we moved to Korea, I put a picture folder on my desktop labeled, "Puzzling." Here are some of its contents.
One of these things is not like the other...
This a common issue for coffe shops. I have another picture (unfortunately too blurred to post) that offers "fresh wapples."

I love these examples of hybrid copyright infringement.

There is an AD&D joke here, but it's not funny enough to justify the several paragraphs that it would take to explain it for the RPG impaired.
Initially, I thought this was the biggest box of tampons I'd ever seen...
Two gaming jokes in one post? Yeah, I'm a dork.
Not just happy - mighty happy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Our Triumphant Return (you did notice we were gone, right?)

I realize that everyone's just frantic to know where we've been, but don't worry! North Korea hasn't invaded yet, and Linus and I already killed the half-dozen zombies staggering around our neighborhood.

Actually, Linus and I, along with The Indispensable Kate, have embarked upon an exciting project: the complete reformation of our small hogwan. We have the technology. We can make it better. Faster. Stronger.

Previously, the school's students rotated between one Korean teacher and one waygookin teacher. I had three classes that I saw on a daily basis, and the rest studied with me every other day. But now, we're moving to a four-day rotation. That means I'll see most of my classes once a week, and the rest every other day. Stay with me - it's not as stupid as it sounds. Before this schedule change, all of the teachers were trying to teach a little of everything - grammar, writing, speaking, listening, vocabulary, etc. But now, each teacher is specializing in one subject. I teach Writing, Linus teaches Speech, and the two Korean teachers are in charge of Grammar and Reading. This way, we make sure all areas of English education are covered in depth. We're also coordinating all of our classes so that we're hitting on the same themes in different ways, instituting a huge end-of-the-month test, cracking down on homework, testing the students on twenty new vocabulary words each day, and starting a pen pal program with my old elementary school back in Fort Collins, Colorado. All of this fun starts after Chuseok -

Oh, what is Chuseok, you ask? Well, that really depends on who you ask. Some of my students will tell you that that Chuseok is a harvest festival during which one gathers with the family, visits the ancestors' tombs, bows to the grandparents, receives money from said grandparents, and plays with one's cousins. For others, Chuseok can be summarized in one word: PC bang. That means the "PC room," which is like an Internet cafe but darker, smokier, and for gamers only. Though when our students have time to game I don't know. Clearly, they require more homework.

But I can tell you what everyone is doing for Chuseok: eating. This is songpyeon, a rice cake dish that's a staple of Chuseok.

I've recently laid off the rice cakes, difficult though that is to believe. My loyalties have switched to dakgalbi (chicken, kimchi, rice cakes, chili AWESOMENESS) and shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu is like a three course fondue meal that costs about ten dollars a person, and should be fed to me at least once a week. For health. Yours.

We also took pictures of my new necklace at this shabu restaurant. This was an incredible lucky find in Cheonbukdae, the university district. I was attracted to the skull on the front...

...but what sold this necklace was what it says on the back - which is, unfortunately, NSFW and also NSF for the kids reading this blog. Here's the link.

So, that's what we've been up to! Slaving away at our totally meaningful and fulfilling jobs, paying almost nothing to eat amazing food, and not playing with the dog enough to satisfy her.

I'm being summoned for walkies. However, regular posting will at last resume!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Weekend in Busan

WARNING: Link to video of crabs possibly doing something NSFW below.

Since Rebecca and I like to pretend that we are dutiful little members of the clerisy, we spent the bulk of our one-week summer vacation locked in our cell working on our theses.  Neither hers - an examination of science fiction through the lens of 18th Century sentimentalism - nor mine - a discussion of rare instances of legally exempted felonies - are exactly driving us to write night and day.  I fact, I am so tired of my topic that I had to bribe myself with the promise of retail therapy in another city just to drag my fingers to the keys.  We agreed to spend the weekdays in Jeonju writing and editing, then give ourselves an out-of-town adventure on the weekend before returning to work.

Our original plan was to hit Itaewon, the famous shopping district of Seoul. Unfortunately, the day before our planed departure, Seoul was hit with over 17 inches of rain (440 mm) in two days, and looked like this:

With over 40 dead, and billions of ₩on in damages, we thought it best to head elsewhere. Our friend in Seoul, Eunhyoung, who had offered to act as our tour guide while we were there, agreed to reschedule with us.

Then began the search for a new destination. We decided that since it has been quite hot and humid, a trip to the beach was in order - but which beach? Living on a peninsula means there are plenty to choose from, and the entire country is just slightly larger than the state of Indiana, so everywhere is within a half-day bus ride.

Not knowing that it was the first weekend of a major beach holiday in Korea, we opted for the booked solid city of Busan. Busan's Haeundae beach is quite famous, and the area around it feels a bit like a combination of Las Vegas and Santa Monica. We worked on the web for a couple hours to find a hotel and then buy bus tickets for an early Saturday departure.

After a false start caused by dogsitting arrangements that fell through, we finally got on the bus around 12:50. We slept for most of the bus ride, then I fell asleep again during the 20,000 cab ride to the hotel. After a quick shower and change of clothes, we headed out into the city armed only with a subway map.

We did so much in the next 24 hours that I can't really keep it straight in my head. There was the underground markets, dinner, fancy fountain with dancing water in Lotte Departent Store, several subway rides, and a quick trip to the foreigner district where they sell clothes in the freakishly large (by Korean standards) sizes I require. This area used to be known as "Texas Street" back when there were tons of GIs in Busan (it is also where one will encounter Russian prostitutes vying with Thai, Filipino, and local girls for business). After that, we took off our shoes and walked on the beach, strolled through the live seafood market, got lost in a construction zone, and eventually found an amazing little restaurant facing the water with cheap desserts and expensive drinks that was still hopping around 1:00am. I figure we walked about 5 or 6 miles that night.

The next day we headed back to the beach in the daylight. Koreans do the whole beach thing quite a bit differently. As you will see in the photo dump below, they carry their irrational fear of the sun right down to the shoreline. I spent my teen years in a beach community, and I have never seen 1) so many umbrellas, and 2) so many fully clothed people on a beach in summer.

We went to the Busan Aquarium, which was quite nice, and blessedly air conditioned. Here is where I acidentally videoed large crabs fighting... or possibly engaged in the act of making more crabs... I'm just not much of an authority on crabs (See video here. I am including this link mostly because the audio gives a pretty accurate portrayal of our relationship and the kind of conversations we have on a daily basis).

For our final act in Busan, we opted for the ultimate in terrible tourist behavior - we ate at TGI Fridays. We actually like to eat at Western chain restaurants to see how they stack up to their counterparts back home. As usual, the Korean version was an amalgam of East and West that improved on the original. Yes, they had the usual TGI Friday's drink specials and fattening dishes, but they were all slightly tweaked to be more Asian in flavor, and served by adorable girls in tiny skirts, knee-socks, and cat, mouse, or bunny ears. Much more entertaining than your ordinary happy hour basket of wings.

I attempted to make some sense of these pictures, and arrange them artfully within the text of the post, but Blogger was bent on frustrating my layout. Instead, you are getting a raw dump, straight from the iPhone. Enjoy!

Monday, August 1, 2011

8.1.11 Hurray for Hats!

I couldn't resist bringing out this number for Victorian Kitty's one-day hat theme. I bought it from a vendor at my university, removed some of the foofaraw (yes, there was originally more fanciness), and added the purple ribbon and the needles. Because you never know when something or someone is going to need sewing.
I didn't wear the little hat today, but I did wear this. I bought the pocket watch and the pearls from a street vendor here in Jeonju, then removed the works and substituted this cicada I found while walking one night. Don't worry, it was already dead. I'm not that mean. The kids love this necklace. And by "love," I mean "are totally squicked by."

(Thanks to Linus for all the lovely photographs and nifty filtering. Every girl should be lucky enough to live with a photo nerd.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

7.23.2011 Rapunzel, Rapunzel

(A rare shot - wearing neither black nor lace in order to go hiking.)
So I'm in the process of growing out my hair. And because I don't want to wait for layers to catch up, I'm basically growing it out at all one length. That's right - no "freshening my layers," no "slight changes in style." I'm not even planning on getting it trimmed until at least my birthday (January).

Those of you who know me well will understand how completely torturous I'm finding this process. For those of you who don't: it's very torturous. No, seriously, I am addicted to haircuts. I just love that freshly mowed feeling. After I decided to ditch the pixie four years ago, I have been "growing my hair out," which really just means that I dialed my monthly haircuts back to every six weeks.
It's even worse in Korea. Everyone's hair here is immaculate - even the little boys I work with get their hair dyed and permed - because the prices of those services is so low. Linus and I pay 10,000 won (less than 10 dollars) to have our hair done by our neighborhood hairdresser, and according to the indispensable Kate that is, and I quote, "too much." 10 dollars. Too much for a haircut. Is this what culture shock feels like?

But this time I really mean it! I promise! I am growing my hair out, and no ridiculously cheap haircuts or awkward phase or humidity-induced poof on Earth can stop me. With Loepsie of Youtube fame and the lovely ladies of The Long Hair Community at my back, I believe that I can finally kick the scissor habit.

Only problem is, I have no idea what to do with my new length. I'm still loving braids, but I'd like some more options. Especially options that don't require curling irons (I'm scaaaaaared) and that don't involve spending hours slaving over a hot hairdo, because I think if I spend any more time in the morning obsessing over my hair, Linus is going to snap and shave me in my sleep.

Any ideas? Then fire away, Internets.

Like this. But with brown hair instead of red, and my face instead of Lily Cole's.
So not like this at all.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

7.17.2011 Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dog?

As far as cultural differences go, the ones between Koreans and Americans are pretty mild. Already I've absorbed many of the cultural mores of my new home. I no longer blink at almost-showing-panty-length skirts in the workplace, while visible cleavage startles me. The American tradition of three months of summer vacation seems like a monumental waste of everyone's time. Kimchi goes with everything, the best dishes are bright red with chili paste, and even lollipops taste too sweet to me now. But there's one thing I just still don't see eye-to-eye with Koreans about: dogs. And I'm not talking about in the soup.

"I just want to be your fwiend..."
I don't come from what you would call "animal people." We always had a dog when I was a child, but only one at a time. My sister and I kept a few of the pets traditionally given to children, usually hamsters. This is in strong contrast with Linus's attitude towards pets, which has traditionally been the more and varied, the better - including dogs, cats, ferrets, multiple parrots, lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and pot-bellied pigs. So it's understandable that Linus doesn't get why a lot of Koreans are afraid of dogs. But I have to admit, I'm a little confused myself.

It's not like there aren't dogs in Korea. There are tons! There are even a number of quite large dogs - Huskies are pretty popular (though I don't know why, considering the climate). And while we've seen a few strays, nearly all the dogs we've met have owners and are well-cared-for. Some very popular reality shows center almost entirely on animal stories, particularly dogs.

"... or do I?"
Nevertheless, every time we go for a walk, many of the people we meet react with fear to our ten-pound, tail-wagging Jack Russell. They skirt her on the sidewalk and clutch their boyfriends' arms, despite us keeping Friday on a very short leash. When they do approach her, they shriek when she tries to sniff the hand they're using to pet her. By far the saddest cases are the children. Multiple times in a single walk I held Friday as still as I could while mothers encouraged their three-year-olds to pet the puppy, only to have the children scream every time she moved her head and refuse to come within touching distance. I don't think that ALL of these children - or their adult counterparts, for that matter - can have had previous bad experiences with dogs. I'll be the first to admit, Friday can be a bit of a butt-head sometimes, but you won't meet a friendlier, happier dog with strangers. So what's with all the fear?

My totally uneducated stab-in-the-dark answer is this: it's about familiarity. Most American children are taught, from an early age, how to approach dogs and handle them safely. Most urban Korean children are not. Although there are a lot of dogs visible in Korea, most families still don't own one. The dogs that people see regularly fall into two categories: small lapdogs that, as far as I can tell, are usually very poorly trained, and large dogs that are kept strictly outdoors and never mingle much with the family. If your only encounters with dogs are with big barking ones in people's yards and tiny, crazy, probably nippy little five-pounders, being approached by an uproariously happy and rather large (by Korean standards) terrier can be kind of scary.

So it's not that I don't understand, but I do wish it was different. I firmly believe that animals in the household are an essential ingredient to a happy and healthy life, and I admit to being ethnocentric enough to stand by that idea. Now I just need to figure out how to smuggle Friday into my classroom...

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Hunger

When we decided to move to Korea I promised myself that I would endeavour to enjoy the local flavor. In Jeonju this means temples, mountains, amazing produce, fantastic food, beautiful paper products, and the coolest cell phones available.

Both LG and Samsung are Korean companies, and they are so powerful on their home turf that the world's largest cellphone manufacturer, Nokia, has stopped even trying to sell their phones here. Getting in on some of that gadgety goodness was high on my list of things to do once we got here.

Although we got a phone almost immediately after arriving here, it was an older flip-phone with an awkward texting interface and a mediocre camera. I hungered for a smartphone, and nothing else would do.

I tried to tell myself that I was being silly and overly acquisitive - I am not exactly a corporate jetsetter in need of a crackberry to manage my portfolio. I knew I would only use a smartphone to waste time on Facebook and to play "Angry Birds" but I could not reason myself out of the lust. My situation was not aided by the fact that there is literally a cell phone store on every block. In our eight-tenths of a mile walk to work, we pass no less than 3 cellphone stores, and that is in no way an exceptional concentration - it's pretty representative of every major street in Jeonju. Many are far more saturated. There is one street in the university district where Becky and I counted 10 cell phone stores in a single block, and that was all on one side of the street - there were several more on the other side. I honestly don't know how they all stay open. With that kind of pressure, how long could I be expected to hold out?

Even Becky supported this particular obsession of mine, but I think it was largely so that I have a hobby that is as costly as her "shopping problem." I began to rationalize...

Rationalization #1 This phone will help me identify with my students. Most of my older students have smartphones of some kind, and they are on them constantly. Whenever they have any free time on campus they all whip out their phones and begin texting, chatting, playing games, or watching TV. Talking about the apps they like is a great way to build rapport. So you see, it's actually good for my job...

Rationalization #2 This phone will make me more productive. I can check email and Facebook on the fly, so that when I get home to my actual computer I can work on other things like this blog and my thesis. So, you can see how it will help me get more done...

Rationalization #3 This phone will help me learn Korean. I can downloaded several free apps that teach Korean vocabulary, verb conjugations, Hangul handwriting, and sentence structure. When I have a problem with the pronunciation of a word I can listen to recordings of native speakers to get it just right. So it will help me fit in here...

There were several others, even more tenuous and contrived than these, but eventually I allowed myself to give in to my lust. Early last week I asked out handler, the indispensable Kate, to help me get a smartphone (everyone should have a Kate, by the way. She is simply the best.).

Behold. The iPhone 4, in classic black. This picture is the exact model I have, but mine has a nice blood red case on it now. My hunger is sated, and my gods is it good!

Although I am a Mac user, I have never had an iPhone until now. I wanted one, but when they first came out I was relegated to a backwater which lacked AT&T service. Now, not only do I have one, I also have an unlimited data plan - for less than I was paying in the US for just a simple shared calling plan with unlimited texting. (The cost of cell service in the U.S. is just ridiculous when I see how cheap it is here. Makes me really want to go throw stuff at a Verizon building.)

I won't bore you with the techy details, but this device has simultaneouly unemployed my still camera, my video camera, my Nike Sportband, and my trusty iPod touch, not to mention reducing my time on my laptop significantly as well. It has also removed my desire for an ebook reader and my nagging want for a GPS watch, and even obviated my 25 year habit of carrying a compass in my bag. I've had it a week and already it's like oxygen to me - I literally panic when it's not in my pocket or within arm's reach. It's my Swiss Army knife, except for the knife part - I still carry that in my other pocket.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

7.3.11 Becky's Quest

I come to you, oh Internet, with my hands extended imploringly, for I require thine help in a Great Quest - the Quest for the Perfect Eyeglasses.

Actually, the Internet has done (ahem) "fudge" all to help me (I want you to appreciate how PG I'm keeping this blog, Mom.) which is why I'm turning to you folks. Although my fourth-grade experiences involving a pair of huge, round glasses - this was before Harry Potter made them cool - left me despising the, uh, "gosh-darned" things, I've recently been rethinking my prejudices. I admit that looking at pictures of Victorian Kitty and Jillian Venters with their unique, perfectly suited frames has had some impact on me.

So, I wore my glasses today. And it was a nice, though not earth-shaking, change. Looking into the mirror, I couldn't help but think that this would be so much more fun if they were just a little more...interesting. Severe. Slightly fanciful. You know, like these to the right.

Unfortunately, this particular pair of frames is just cheap costume...crud. I need real glasses. I've already got an English-speaking optometrist lined up to do the lenses, so if anybody catches a glimpse of some fabulous spectacles, let me know!

Alternatively, I did find here in Jeonju a pair of black eyeglasses that are very flattering - they're just a smidgen too plain for my taste. Has anyone had any luck modifying/decorating their frames?

If you guide me to the realm of the Perfect Eyeglasses, I will in turn offer you all the native resources of Korea: thousands of gem-studded hair accessories, hundreds of pots of potent skin potions, and enough kimchi to feed your family for three generations. Actually, nix the kimchi, that stuff is too smelly (in a tasty way) to ship. Better stick with less organic compensation.

Friday, June 24, 2011

6.24.11 The Great Escape

In our experience, Korean students are good kids - but they are by no means perfect angels. Allow me to explain...

Girl A and Girl B are middle-schoolers in my class. Though smart and adorable, they wreak all kinds of havoc: ceaselessly talking in Korean (which is against school policy), showing up late, and recently, completely derailing class debates. Their behavior worsened significantly yesterday, when Linus and I were baby-sitting our friend Kate's class so that she could attend her father's birthday party.

Girls A and B showed up, and were told that they were supposed to be in another teacher's room. I sensed trouble as they darted out the door - no children look THAT happy when they're actually on their way to class.

Sure enough, I caught them in a darkened, empty room.

"How stupid do you think I am?" I demanded.

There was the requisite whining, and then: "We have to go to the bathroom!"

"Then go," I said. And then I stood in the hall, arms crossed.

The looks on their faces when they came out of the bathroom to find me guarding the exit were priceless. I literally shepherded them into their assigned classroom, much to their dismay.

Class went without a hitch until break-time. I was just about to get back to work when I saw a familiar figure trying to hide in the recessed elevator doors.

"OUT," I said. Girl A came out stomping and swearing in Korean.

The school didn't need me to stay, so about five minutes later I entered the stairwell. Instead of going downstairs, however, I stayed in the darkened hall for a minute. I had a hunch.

Sure enough, down the hall came Girl A, creeping, Mission-Impossible-style, with her back against the wall.

I called her name and she screamed.

"Ugh! Teacher, why? We aren't even in your class!"

"No," I said, as I escorted her back to her classroom, "but you're still my student."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

6.22.11 Thinking on the Run

Running is not a common activity here. The few Koreans who run generally go to a track or they run on a treadmill at the gym. They don't run at night, and they don't usually run without wearing visors, masks, long sleeves, gloves, and track pants to protect them from the sun. They certanly don't stick their hairy legs in a pair of shorts, put on Vibram Fivefingers (AKA "Gorilla Feet") and pound the pavement at 11:30PM with a hyperactive Jack Russell.

While doing just that tonight, something very odd occurred to me. I am more comfortable being an alien.

Back in the US, I was a native but an outsider (note: uber-liberal Buddhists should not go to school in Wyoming, regardless of how afordable the tuition is). I knew that the bulk of the people around me saw me and the few folks like me as wrongheaded, unrealistic, helbound, and/or socialist/communist/fascist etc. In some circles, my kilt wearing even branded me a deviant. I alternated between trying to be an ambassador for the worldview I believe in, and ranting at the ignorant, discompassionate, and outright stupid prevailing mindset of the locals.

Ok, I admit that mostly I ranted, but at a certain point I realized that all the anger just made me a focus for essentialism, and then I felt obligated to try to be a better representative of my side. For me, that involved a lot of teeth gritting and counting to ten as people around me espoused all manner of bigoted and ill-informed tripe. It was exhausting, ultimately futile, and I didn't care for the vigilant/defensive posture it forced me into. In short, it was untenable.

In Korea, however, I am relieved of all that. With my blonde hair, blue eyes, and 2XL shirt size I am clearly, visibly, an outsider, and thus no one expects me to know all of the rules or behave in the conventional manner. In fact, their expectations are so low that I get major brownie points every time I demonstrate even the most rudimentary understanding of Korean language or culture. In a shop or a restaurant, if I manage any Korean beyond hello or goodbye, I get a surprised smile and doting service. If I remember to bow slightly and offer payment with both hands then I am treated with the utmost politeness - even if I drank from the fingerbowl and used chopsticks to eat rice (the latter is apparently very rude... sometimes. We still aren't clear on this one).

It may be a sad commentary on the behavior of other Westerners who came here before us, but is remarkably freeing to know that your behavior is expected to be odd. To most Koreans we are just another couple of crazy waygookin teachers. To the shopkeepers in our neighborhood, we are the Americans with the spastic dog. Either way, we stand comfortably outside the rules. As long as we make even minimal attempts to assimilate, we are accepted as we are. It allows me to be myself in a way I never felt able to pursue in the US. I had to leave home to feel at home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

6.21.11 How to Get Food in Korea, Part II

Earlier we gave you the run-down on some different kinds of Korean restaurants - now it's time to get to the eatin'.

First thing to do when you walk in the door: scan the room rapidly until you locate an employee, then sing out a nice loud, "Anyong hasseyo!" in their direction. If you can't see an employee, just say the same thing, but louder - someone will usually emerge from a back room. This rule actually applies to any store you enter, not just restaurants. Koreans are a friendly people, and their convenience store employees and waiters generally object to being treated like part of the furniture (this is especially interesting when you cinsider that Korea is a country in which tipping of any kind is usually considered an insult).

Next, find a table. Unless you're eating at an expensive restaurant, you're expected to seat yourself. If you choose to sit at a traditional low table, there is often a little pile of cushions near the wall. Take one and get comfy.

There's either a menu already on the table, or a waiter will bring you one. If it has some English on it, you're in luck! If it's not, look at the walls - lots of restaurants post yummy-looking pictures of food to inspire the appetite, and you can point at what you want and tell the waiter, "Chogo jom jusseyo" (please bring me that). No English and no pictures? Then it's time to play what I call the "The Point at Something Random in the Menu" game. Linus prefers to call it the "I Pointed at WHAT?" game. Just try not to accidentally order anything too expensive.

Don't wait for the waiter to come to you. If you want to order, just raise your hand and say, "Yogiyo!" ("Here!") or "Shillehamnida!" ("Excuse me!"). Some restaurants even come equipped with a little button on the table, which when pressed will automatically summon a waiter, no shouting and gesturing required.

Once you've given your order, you can get your water and silverware. Chopsticks and spoons are located in a box on the table. Water is usually self-service. Look for an office-style water dispenser next to a UV sterilizer full of little metal tumblers. If you are brought water, it's generally in a big bottle, which is nice because you'll have to refill the tiny metal cups about three times during your meal (or, if you're like Linus, you should just sit right next to the water cooler).

After you've ordered, side dishes will be brought to your table. No matter what else comes, there will always be mat (cabbage) kimchi. If you're like us, you'll become a connoisseur of kimchi in a matter of days - I prefer mine spicy, juicy, and with enough fermentation to sizzle a little in the mouth. Also frequently offered are various kinds of fermented radishes, fermented radish tops, small salty fish, a variation on coleslaw with disturbing pink dressing, corn, clear soup, boiled fish paste (much tastier than it sounds), fermented tofu, acorn tofu, dried fruit stuff, bean sprouts, little sausages, sweet pickles, noodle-things, and if you're really lucky, the best, freshest fried eggs you've ever had.

If you spill on yourself while stuffing all this deliciousness in your mouth, you'll need to get your own napkin. Napkins come in dispensers, like tissue. Sometimes these dispensers are on the table, but sometimes they're on the wall, on the other side of the restaurant, and you have to get up and go get one, which can be kind of embarrassing when you've just splattered kimchi all over your white skirt.

Since Linus dumped all the photos of food, I don't have any pretty illustrations for this post. So, um, here is a cute Korean girl.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

6.14.11 Consider yourself well in...

When you hear the word "orphanage" you probably think of a curly-haired kid named Annie, or maybe Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. Since orphanages have all but disappeared in the U.S. in favor of group homes and foster care, the romanticized musical theatre versions of these characters are all that most Americans know of orphans. In Korea, however, orphanages are still common. Rebecca and I volunteered at an orphanage in Jeonju last Saturday. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the whole experience was surprising.

There were none of the deprivations of orphanage life that you might expect. All of the 40 or so kids we saw were well fed, clean, and comfortably dressed. As with any group of children there was the 5% who are either crying or refusing to cooperate, but the majority of the kids were great - happy, friendly, and glad to be playing outdoors in the sun. Ordinarily, we would have taken pictures, but photography is prohibited to protect the kids' identities.

We played kickball, dodgeball, and had some three-legged races with the kids, then finished up with a balloon stomp.  A few had some pretty annoying behavioral problems; aggressive and recalcitrant, they attempted to run all of the activities to their liking. All of the games invovled significant cheating and an uncomfortable amount of bullying. I imagine this is an outgrowth of the orphanage lifestyle. It seemed there was a clear-cut pecking order beyond the normal stratification of kids by age and gender. There was one boy in particular who seemed to be the boss of the place, and he ruled by threats that he seemed willing to back up. He knew exactly when the adults were far enough away to assert his authority, and he was completely unrepentent when confronted about his thuggery. It was a pretty sobering reminder of how much staff it takes to handle a pack of kids this size. A government that takes on this responsibility has a huge, expensive job at hand.

I urge all of you to do what you can for kids who are wards of the state in your area. Please donate money, clothes, toys, and your time if you can. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

6.9.11 Picture Dump

I've been blogging for quite a while now, and this has happened to me before. You take a couple pictures that you want to put up, and you plan to write a really awesome post to go with them... but then you (insert random timesink here). After that is done you want to post, but you have taken several more cool photos, and you have a cool experience to share - you realize it will take several posts. You plan to write three or four posts on the weekend and then schedule them to post every other day for the next week. Naturally, towards the end of the week you find out that (insert cool event you can't possibly miss here) is this weekend, and you put all posting on hold until it is over on Sunday. Sunday rolls around and you are too (drunk/hung over/sunburned/frostbiten/injured/exhausted/pregnant/depressed/etc.) to write. Rinse and repeat once or twice and then you are where we are today - too far behind to ever catch up. The pictures and half-written posts clog up the pipes until you dread going near your computer.

Thus, we dump. Yeah, this is the blog equivalent of your neighbors inviting you to look at their slides from Mazatlan over wine spritzers. Sorry, but if we don't dump these, we'll never be able to face the keys again. Bear with us...

Papbingsu - amazing dessert. Sweet red bean paste, rice cakes, and fruit over shaved ice.  Amazing.

Teriyaki woodong - very tasty, and seriously spicy.

Becky getting her hair washed with water that was steeped with sweet flag leaves. It's for good luck, and it's a major attraction of the annual Dan-o festival. We also entered a wrestling tournament that day - alas, there are no pictures.

"Our" bakery. It's ours because it's by our house, and the lady who works  there in the evenings loves us. She actually hugs Becky all the time. She speaks Korean to us constantly - we are susually reduced to smiling and nodding as she puts free doughnuts into our bag.

Sinpo soondaboo - the food that is as fun to say as it is to eat. It's tofu, veggies, and a little meat in a spicy chili soup - really good for  chilly mornings.

Choenbuk - the university district. Filled with cool shops, cheap food, and on the weekends, young people dressed to kill. Lots of incredibly pretty girls with amazingly well-dressed boys, strolling.
Dak galbi - chicken, kimchi, rice cakes, and chili sauce, cooked at your table. This is the before picture...

... and this is after it's been cooking for about 10 minutes. It's possibly my favorite thing I've had to eat. Ever.

Dan pat chuk - sweet red bean soup with rice cake in it. It's like a warm pudding, really, with a ton of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Typical lunch. Doekboggi, gimbap, boiled fish paste, and (sigh) a corn dog for Becky.
Lotus leaf rice - the green thing that looks like paper is a lotus leaf . The rice comes to the table wrapped up in it - looks like steaming green baseballs. Delicate flavor - very different.
Pork Bulgogi - very hot, in both spiciness and temperature. Surrounded by some of the side dishes that came with this meal...
...more side dishes...
... and still more side dishes. This meal was incredible, and it was about $9.00 per person!
Our coworker, looking radiant on her wedding day.
Pumpkin roll - Becky's new favorite sushi.
Spicy bacon roll - the name meant I had to taste it. You'd be surprised how well bacon and tuna go together.
Seafod dupahb - basically a seafood omelette over rice. Very satisfying comfort food.

And finally, Star Trek Becky.

Ok, I feel better now. I think we can return to regular posting again.