Tuesday, April 26, 2011

4.26.11 Goth in Jeonju

If you're someone who's used to participating in a vibrant goth scene of clubs, concerts, and alternative clothing stores, the lack of visible gothic culture in Jeonju might be off-putting. But if you come from a barren wasteland of jeans and cowboy boots like myself, Jeonju is a great place to goth it up.


I occasionally carried a lace parasol in the States (I hate sunscreen), and brought it with me to Korea. Turns out I could have saved my time, because every little accessory store here stocks them in the dozens, in every shade of the rainbow. And I don't even have to feel ridiculously pretentious when I carry mine, because every sunny day I see at least three or four proudly upheld parasols on my way to work. Granted, the parasol-carrying seems mostly to be done by middle-aged women, so I'm still not exactly fitting in. Same issue with the skirts...


In general, Koreans dress much more nicely than Americans. Since my wardrobe is on the formal side, this means I rarely feel overdressed.

Skirts are de rigeur for Korean women (skinny jeans are the other option). As a result, in every department store, boutique, and roadside stand there are a plethora of gorgeously lacy, frilly, tulle-y skirts. I can't walk down a street without spotting another skirt that I would have pulled teeth to obtain when in the States. Though I'm short on money and space I already caved and bought one, a lovely knee-length, gray, tulle skirt. It only set me back 5,600 won, or about five dollars, so I don't feel too guilty.

The only difficulty is that while knee-length skirts are available on the rack, they are far from common on the street. The skirts of schoolgirl uniforms are shorter than mine, and my co-workers regularly wear skirts of a length considered only appropriate for clubbing in the U.S. I'm actually beginning to feel like a frumpy old lady in my prim knee-length skirts. And to think that I was worried that they were too short for teaching...


Makeup, in terms of eyeliner and lipstick, is applied pretty lightly here in Jeonju. Foundation, however, is another matter. There is no fake-bake in Korea - in fact, our friend Kate laughed pretty hard when we described it to her. Pale, perfect skin is everything, and to this end there are a myriad of excellent products available. I'm very fond of Skin Food, whose Black Sugar Scrub has smoothed and softened my skin quite a bit in the week that I've been using it.

If you don't have perfect skin, however, Korea is still your friend. The standards here for how much foundation is acceptable are quite different than in the States. In the U.S., I tried very hard to make it look as though I were wearing no makeup at all. Here, a certain level of visibility seems to be expected. I certainly see many more girls whose foundation is applied very heavily than I ever did back home. As a result, I'm applying my makeup with a freer hand, resulting in a paler complexion than before.


The one thing that's really lacking in Jeonju is gothy housewares. Fortunately, Linus and I brought some things to make our apartment feel more homey. One purple tapestry, two black metal suncatchers, and some creepy stuffed animals go a long way towards giving our compartment a cheerfully dark air. We did, however, spot some amazing black clocks downtown, so soon our apartment will have a touch of made-in-Korea gothy goodness.

Monday, April 25, 2011

4.25.11 Top Dog

We decided to try the mountain again yesterday. Equipped with proper clothing and footwear, a bottle of water, and snack for a picnic at the top, we set off. Although Becky and I enjoy our hikes, they are really Friday's outings.

She insists on being out front, both going up and coming down. Today we put her in her flyball harness because the last time we went, she was pulling so hard on her collar that she was choking herself the whole time. She covers each stretch of trail a minimum of three times; racing ahead to the end of her 10' lead, then coming back to hurry us along, then racing out the end again. I have no doubt that without us primates slowing her down she could run to the top and back again twice before we reached the halfway point.

The trail is deeply wooded, insanely steep, and consists mostly of roots and rocks strategically placed to be used as stairsteps. In some more precarious places there are handropes along the sides to keep folks from falling off, but for most of the way up you are on your own. At several points along the way there are scenic vistas, but the view from the top is worth the wait. As you can see here, it's pretty impressive, regardless of which way you look.

This is what Koreans consider a "small rural city." I've tried to explain to my students and our coworkers that Jeonju is a sprawling metropolis compared to Laramie, but they have a hard time getting their heads around the idea of a "city" that is smaller in population than any two blocks of their downtown...

"Hurry up, monkey!"
We have decided to climb this trail several times per week as a part of our exercise regimen. Tomorrow we will climb it in the cool of the morning, and time it to set a baseline. Then with each week we'll see how much faster we can do it. Regardless of how many minutes we shave off our times, I am sure it will never be fast enough for Friday.

It is time for some spicy noodles and a good night's rest. Friday is already crashed out, resting up for tomorrow's climb.

You Might Be a Waygookin* If...

Top ten signs you're living in Korea:

  1. Paying more than five or ten dollars for anything - food, clothes, haircuts, taxis, acupuncture, sex (just kidding) - begins to seem outrageous. Which means that...
  2. When your partner points out a Starbucks, the first words out of your mouth are, "Oh, no. Very expensive."
  3. You eat what your Korean friend describes as "It's like soup, but with syrup, and red beans, and rice cake," and think it's delicious.
  4. Actually, you think everything is delicious. Except for bugs.
  5. You stop making fun of Korean mountains. Sure they're not as big as the Rockies, but those things go straight up - and so do all their trails.
  6. You establish a "Short Skirt of the Day" contest, and argue over the winners.
  7. You didn't order the fried squid and popcorn combo at the movie theater, but you probably will next time.
  8. You get all excited when you see a girl with dyed hair and a facial piercing (because they are SO rare).
  9. "Because it's cute!" becomes a perfectly good reason to buy something.
  10. When your partner tells you that you can't live off of rice cakes, you respond, "But I can try."
*Korean for "foreigner"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Our First Weekend in Jeonju

Last weekend we were very excited to have two days off to explore our new city. Spring is upon Jeonju, and there are wildflowers everywhere. The picture at left was taken on the mountain that is across the street from our compartment (that's not a typo - it's so small that calling it an "apartment" is an exaggeration).

Yes, there is a mountain (well, a very large hill with steep trails) across the street from our place. We tried to walk to the top of it last Sunday, but we were not dressed properly for it and it nearly killed my stubby legs. We are going to take it on again this Sunday, equipped with proper footwear and a water bottle.

As you can see, the trail is made of natural logs and rocks, and it's basically straight up with almost no switch-backs. There are spots along the way that are a bit wider so that you can stop and rest. The first time we attempted it I was amazed by the numerous ajumas who breezed right by my sweating, wheezing bulk. We will make it to the top today if it kills me...

We also did a day of urban sightseeing. We began by investigating the Jeonju Hanok Village, a section of town that consists of several hundred traditional Korean houses, many dating from the 1500s. Most are still used as private residences, but the main streets are a major tourist atttraction. There are tons of restaurants, coffee and tea houses, and shops selling Jeonju crafts, as well as museums and historical sites. I have been to several historical towns like this (Colonial Williamsburg, Old Salem, etc.) and this one is by far the most extensive. There are so many tiny winding streets that one could spend weeks exploring it - we commented that it needs to be the site of a James Bond chase scene...

No post on our Korean outings would be complete without mentioning what we ate. Thus far, there is a very short list of Korean foods that I would prefer to not eat again, and the "cup o' bugs" is at the top. For a mere 2000 Won ($1.85), you too can acquire a cup of silkworm pupae boiled in some kind of broth.

These are the same bugs of Steve, Don't Eat It! fame, except mine were not canned and thus fresher... which, to be honest, was not much of an advantage. They were salty and cruchy with a squishy center that tasted a lot like slightly burned celery. The legs are an issue, as they tend to get lose in your mouth and end up between your teeth. I will not order them again, but I heartily recommend that everyone try them, just for the experience. Although our Korean friend Kate has never tried them, Becky was a hero. She popped one into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. This picture tells you everything you need to know...

The remaining pictures are of various historical sites in and around the Hanok Village. We were just wandering from one neat thing to another all day, so these pictures lack the kind of explanatory material  I'd normally give - I have vowed to be more organized about recording the names of the places shown in the future.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

4.20.11 Eating Constantly

I expected to experience massive culture shock in Korea. Instead, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much I feel at home here. It took me a few days to figure out why, but it's the food. It's not that the food is familiar (it's definitely not) - it's the attitude about food that feels just like home.

By home, I don't mean Wyoming; I mean my childhood home, the South. Just like there, people here are always planning their next meal, discussing their last meal, and making sure that everyone around them has eaten. Our boss has bought lunch or dinner for the teachers at our hogwan almost every day since we arrived, and our liason and translator, Kate, asks almost daily if we are eating enough, if we need more groceries, and what we had for each meal. My students come in with treats frequently, and they share everything. Today I was walking down the stairs and one of the younger boys I teach (he's about 9 years old) stopped me to give me a bit of the sweet bread he was eating.

The way it's presented makes it hard to refuse - they don't say, "would you like some?" They say, "here, eat this." If you refuse, then they immediately try to find something else that you will eat, as if the reason you refused is because of an allergy or some religious restriction, not that you are simply full. It's charming and endearing - it creates friendships in record time.

The two ladies shown here are our Korean coworkers, Scarlet and Lucy. This picture was taken today at (yet another) lunch that our boss bought for us all. They are both very sweet; Lucy is very shy and quiet, while Scarlet is the "party girl" of the office - she told us that she was out drinking until 4am last night with her "oppa" (boyfriend). These two teach English phonics, vocabulary, and grammar, but their classes are taught mostly in Korean (even though both speak English pretty well). They give the kids the foundations in English that they need to then take classes taught by us. In our classrooms there is an "English only" policy, at least for the older, more advanced students. They have to ask for permission to speak Korean, or to use a Korean/English dictionary (which they all have on their cellphones).

This is Kate, our liason. She is the daughter of our boss, the director of the school. She is quite fluent in English, and she has been completely indispensable to us during our settling in process. Whenever there are forms to be filled out, arrangements to be made, or customs to be explained, Kate is our go-to girl. She is remarkably organized for a woman of 21, and she has handled our paperwork like a pro. Without Kate, this past week would have been very rough - impossible, actually.

She and Becky have really hit it off. They have a movie and shopping date planned for this weekend (I am invited, but I refuse to go see another damn version of "Jane Eyre"). I imagine that through girl bonding they will happily do significant damage to each others' bank accounts in the coming months.

Next post - pictures from our first weekend in Jeonju!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

4.12.11 We Have Arrived

We have arrived safely. We left Fort Collins at 4:30AM on Sunday, the 10th. It's now 12:23AM on Tuesday the 12th. This picture of Friday sums up perfectly how we all feel. We are going to bed now...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

4/9/11 Exodus

In about 9 hours, the adventure begins! We will be in transit for about 24 hours, and then we will need to establish an internet connection, so we expect to post again in roughly 48 to 72 hours. This is the first of many pictures - the baggage train. Each of the big bags is just shy of 50 pounds. The animal crates are loaded with food and water, and the iPods and laptops are charged.

There is a strange liberation that accompanies reducing your worldly possessions to two checked bags and a carry-on. Although I settled into a pattern of acquisition during my stay in Laramie, I used to say that I felt too tied-down if I had more possessions than I could move in one trip in my car. This is a significantly more stringent limitation, and yet I almost feel like ditching even more stuff would be great. Although I agonized over what to pack and what to leave, I realize now that most of it is superfluous. In my current loopy/exhausted state, I feel like I could go to Korea with nothing more than my girl, my dog, and a spork. The cat can come too...

Friday, April 8, 2011

4/8/11 VISAS!

Final vet visit for Quinn and Friday = $120
USDA Health Certificate = $36
Travel crate, live animal stickers, water bottles, etc. for pet's travel = $90

Coming home to find that our Visas have arrived = PRICELESS!

They were supposed to interview us by phone... apparently they decided to waive that requirement. Because they hadn't called or emailed to set up the interview, we had given up on receiving our visas until sometime next week. Naturally, we were pretty relaxed about getting everything done - we had plenty of time. With visas in hand, however, we may be able to get out of here on something resembling our original schedule... thus, I am terrified. 

We should be getting a call from our travel agent very soon to set up flights. We will keep you posted...

UPDATE: We are flying out Sunday morning!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

4.7.11 Overdue

I just got an email from our recruiter saying that our school would like us to arrive as quickly as possible - yeah, we would like that too. Everyone involved would like that. Unfortunately, the instructions from the Korean Consulate seem to indicate that we are not leaving this weekend. If you look at the instructions they sent me below, you'll see what I'm worried about.

Apparently they only do interviews on Monday and Wednesday. If that is true, then we won't be interviewed until next Monday - which means we won't get our Visas until Tuesday at the earliest, but probably Wednesday. So we could depart by Thursday, which puts us into Jeonju on the 16th.

Our recruiter has already told us that the school will adjust our contract start date once we get there, but it is still troubling. I hate to begin a new job like this - great first impression. I'm sure they understand that it's not our fault, but it still feels like there was something more I should have done to expedite things. I'll call the Consulate again tomorrow.

If it takes too much longer, then we have to have Quinn and Friday examined again, as their health forms have to be dated within 10 days of the flight. It will also mean that Becky and I have to knock around the house for longer, which is proving to be unhealthy for both of us. I have spent so much time sorting and selling my belongings that a bonfire for the remainder is starting to sound like a great idea. We could call the city, get a permit, invite friends, roast some marshmallows...

4.6.11 Limbo

Still haven't heard from the Korean consulate or the travel agent. Looks like we won't be leaving Saturday as planned.

In some ways, this is great, because there is still a metric ton of work to be done. We need to say good-bye to everyone, finish selling the expensive stuff, ditch the rest, take old clothes to Goodwill, deep-clean the house, complete the paperwork for the animals, buy a new carrier and the requisite traveling supplies, wash clothes, weather-proof boots, change our addresses, acclimate the animals to their kennels, finish graduation paperwork, and pay my parking ticket. And then, when that's all done, we need to actually pack. And while all this is happening, I'm also trying to get a new key made for my car, do work for my assistantship with the English Dept., and read and take notes on a book that's essential for my thesis. So, in some ways, it's great that we have a few extra days.

And at the same time, it really. Is. Not. Because, emotionally, I've already left the building. I am ready to shake some small-city dust off my feet now, thanks. The prospect of my adventure being delayed, even for a few days, is making me a lot crankier than it should be.

Not to mention that all this indecision makes it hard to actually accomplish anything. I should be busting my butt right this second, sorting my clothes or taking notes or something. But because I have no firm deadline to finish things by, I'm spending my time on other things. Like the Internet. Like I'm doing right now.

Okay, okay, I'll get back to work...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

4.5.11 Dark Fashion for Men

As much as I publicly whimper about my shrinking wardrobe, I really have nothing to worry about. A friend of mine recently reassured me that "Packing is hard, Becky, I understand. Just accept the fact that 8 months from now you'll loathe everything you own and you'll be hitting the Korean shops like a maniac."

My response is: Eight months from now? Are you kidding? That's day two!

But really, I have it easy. As my recent foray into Old Navy demonstrated (yes, I caved and bought new clothes. Don't judge, dammit), I can find clothing items that are both acceptable for teaching and suit my slightly twisted taste at nearly any mainstream clothing outlet.

Linus, by contrast, has difficulty finding vaguely acceptable clothes to wear in general, let alone any that reflect his dark aesthetic. As he frequently complains, it's hard for a man to be fashionably Goth when he's not JtHM svelte, let alone outright broad-shouldered and barrel-chested. All-black wardrobe aside, he says he frequently feels under-dressed and boring. Custom clothing is not a financially feasible option at the moment. So, what to do?

This may seem an incredibly simple and obvious answer, but at least it's a start: I'm replacing the buttons on one of Linus's plain black shirts. It originally came with fake tortoiseshell buttons:

Say it with me: ewwwww.

I am changing these for some antique-looking silver buttons I scavenged from one of Linus's old SCA outfits. This project is slightly more time-intensive than I thought it would be, as I miscalculated button sizes and am having to enlarge the button-holes. That's pretty easy to do: I just cut the button-hole a few millimeters larger at one end and hem (badly) the unfinished edge. I'll see if I can get Linus to model for you all when I'm done.

Swapping buttons is a small change to make, but it's really turning this plain, boring black shirt around. The buttons are small enough that they're not too noticeable, but they add just a little hint of antiquity, romance, and eccentricity. And really, isn't that what we all want?

Nobody does antiquated, romantic, and eccentric like the Addams family.

So, how do you keep in touch with your style while in the workplace? And does anyone have any tips on finding/making Gothic menswear?

4.4.11 Wardrobe Malfunction

We haven't really found any new clothes for me yet. I am, admittedly, difficult to please. I prefer pants with pockets on the thighs (cargo, carpenter, or otherwise), I won't wear jeans, and after wearing kilts daily for several years, I try to avoid any clothing that requires ironing. On top, I favor t-shirts with slightly offensive slogans (inappropriate for teaching) or short-sleeved button-ups that don't need to be tucked in. All of this must be in black (or rarely, charcoal grey). Add to this my stevedorian bulk, generally rectangular frame, and consistent lack of funding, and you have a serious wardrobe challenge.

To make matters worse, I have this hazy idea of how I want to look, but thus far, no outfit I have ever assembled has hit it. In my mind's eye I am well dressed, in dark, dangerous, tactically able yet romantic clothing. If it were up to me, I would just order an appropriately sized version of Michael Wincott's Comte de Rochefort wardrobe, but rapiers are strictly forbidden in South Korea without the proper permits. 

I have accepted the fact that rather than looking like the Cardinal Richelieu's strong right arm, I am doomed to look like the front man of a plus-size psychobilly band. Perhaps I should get some pomade and start working on my pompadour. I need more tattoos featuring dice and hot rods as well. Too bad I just sold my black hollowbody...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

4.2.11 Another Pile O' Documents and Shopping

Today we sent off another envelope of carefully completed and signed documents. This time to the Korean Cosulate in San Francisco, shown at left; they should receive them on Monday. Thankfully, the consulate has a standing policy of phone interviews for people who live in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, so we don't have to go there in person. Once our interviews are done, we just have to wait for our stamped passports to come back, and then we are finally cleared to leave!*

This was another bit of pricey postage for us. To get our documents there and back quickly it was $54.00. Once again, we recommend that you start your document quest as early as possible in order to avoid the expense of this expedited mailing. Because of our tight deadlines, we have no choice. To be honest, at this point we don't really care - we're just excited to finally get going!

Tomorow we are going down to Fort Collins to shop for some teaching supplies. We have been told that simple games and flashcards are great tools, and that little gifts like pencils, erasers, and stickers are like gold in the hogwan classroom. We aren't going to bring a lot of stuff simply because space is at such a premium in our luggage, but we want to have little things to hand out for good work - nothing like bribery to motivate 6 to 12 year olds.

We're also going to shop for teacher clothes for me. I plan on picking up mostly shirts, as I currently have plenty of pants. I am hoping to find some cool short sleeved button ups - we'll see if Spring is close enough on the Front Range for those to be on the racks.

*We still have to get the animals' paperwork in order and our airline reservations are not made yet, so perhaps I am being needlessly optimistic...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

4.1.11 Visa Numbers

As of late last night, we have our E2 Visa numbers. Now we begin the mad scramble to get everything done for departure. Our employer would like us to arrive in Jeonju on the 11th - that means departure by the 9th at the latest. Here is a partial list of what must get done in the next 8 days:
  • Make arrangements for our interview with the Korean Consulate in San Francisco.
  • Finish paperwork for the animals
  • Finalize the sale of my car
  • Finalize airline tickets
  • Get carriers and supplies for the animals
  • Sell, store, give away, or trash everything we aren't taking with us.
  • Convert some USD ($) into SKW (₩)
  • Final packing
  • Pay off the remainder of our lease and bills
  • Clean our rooms (we would like to get some of our deposit back...)
Somewhere in there, we have to shop for new teacher clothes, luggage, toiletries, teaching supplies, gifts for arrival, etc., and find time to say goodbye to everyone. If you're a Laramie local, you can tune into our farewell show on KOCA 93.5fm on this Sunday night (4.3.11) at 10pm.

Because of all of this, posting here may be sporadic. We will return to regular posting as soon as we can - once we get to Jeonju we will need to figure out the internet situation, and then we will bore you all with a photo dump from the trip.