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.