Thursday, April 22, 2010

Surrounding Yourself with the Right People!

Today I got arguably the nicest e-mail I've ever received.  Sitting at my computer waiting for some students to finish up an activity I checked my Gmail account.  Up popped an message from one of my favorite people, Jo Anna Popielarski.  The e-mail included a short note from Jo Anna and a forwarded message from a newsletter she receives.  

Her message read: 
This is who you are to your friends.  That's why we all like you so much ;)

The attachment said the following:
Surrounding Yourself with the Right People It's easy to recognize a perfect candidate for your support team. Just look for someone who has a way of making everyone else around them better: someone who succeeds by developing other people and letting them in on the fun; someone who is genuinely happy when other people succeed. That's the person you want on your side. The pages of history are heavy with tales of the misguided who were proven wrong while insisting something couldn't be done. Why put up with that? Believe in your goals enough to know that you shouldn't stomach people who don't. It's okay if you're the only one who believes in your dream. But someone who truly believes in YOU should help you believe that if anyone can do it, you can. 

I have always said that one of my absolute best qualities is my ability to surround myself with good people.  I have amazing friends, all over the place, who are a wonderful mixture of talented, well traveled, smart, attractive, funny, passionate, and supportive.  Or all of the above.  I am insanely blessed to have the people in my life that I do, and I truly feel I was fated to meet all of my most important friends.  What if Carl, Erin or I rode a different bus?  What if Liz or I had been placed in a different ninth grade biology class?   What if I hadn't gone to hang out with that eccentric group of boys in the hallway and I never met Gabe and Greg and Bruno and Jason?   What if Marywood housing hadn't fated Monica and I to be neighbors, or Amanda to be our prospective?  What if we had ignored the urge to talk to Toni and Shannon during welcome back week?  What if I hadn't been an MG, thrown into a group with Melissa Lees, Meghan and Susan?  What if the timing had been off and I missed the only six months Renee and I have ever lived in the same state?  What if I hadn't decided to rush Zeta Phi Delta and had never met Jo Anna?  Or gone on that crazy adventure called Semester at Sea where I met countless inspiring and fantastic people, including the lovely Lyndsay Aspell?  What if I hadn't lucked into my job at Hilltop, connecting me with Debbie and Charlita and Kara?  And if I hadn't had that job surely I wouldn't have been looking for roommates allowing me to reconnect with Christina or meet Sammie.  And then we have my trip to South Korea.  What if I had come six months earlier or later or worked for a hagwon?  I never would have connected with Julia, Ayzia, Dana, Laura, Erich, Brigid, or the other random friends who brighten my days here.    The world is full of a million and one what-ifs, I suppose.  

Whenever we discuss how stressful and obnoxious my high school experience was, my mom always tells me that I should have gone to one of the other schools I was looking at and that I could have been happy and made friends anywhere.  But I can't help but feel that going down that road would have resulted in a completely different person from the one who sits here tonight, typing away on the other side of the world. 

And all in all, I wouldn't change a thing.  Certainly not if it meant that I would have missed out on meeting even one of the people mentioned above.

So, moral of the story, thanks for being my friends.  Thanks for supporting me and providing me with some of the greatest memories and inside jokes a girl could ask for.  Even if we aren't in constant contact, know that you've had a profound impact on my life and I love you all to pieces.

And while I'm in this weepy, self reflective mode, I have to share a postcard I just found in the new PostSecret book, Confessions on Life, Death, and God.  It has a picture of some kids playing in the background, and the text simply says "I hope I can give my kids as great of a childhood as I had.  I'm looking forward to the challenge!"   Replace "childhood" with "mom" and you'll have a sentiment that has been echoing through my head especially frequently this week.  After a being in a shitty mood for almost a week, I come home to find that a huge package from my mom has finally arrived.  Composed of the gifts for my students and coworkers, new clothes and jewelry to add to my stale wardrobe, Girl Scout cookies and REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER EGGS, this package did wonders for my mood and the ache that I feel being away from my mom, who is truly my very best friend.  I know I sometimes take her for granted, but when I think of how lucky I am to have her...there really just aren't words.  From the care packages she sent before I ever left the house so they'd be there when I arrived at Girl Scout camp that first summer before second grade to the marathon video chat conversations we have from halfway around the world, she's been a constant support and motivator and role model...even when I surely didn't deserve it.  Love you, Mom.

Love you all.  Miss you.  Mean it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flowers and Frustration, Horse Racing and Happiness!

Well, its unusually quiet in my office (everyone disappeared...hopefully there isn't a fire or something, haha) so I figured I'd update my journal...even though all I really want to do is go sit outside and enjoy the beaaautiful spring weather we'ere having today.  Alas, I am stuck inside until 4:40pm rolls around in another hour and a half.

Let us rewind to last Wednesday, April 14th.  To some that is just a random day.  To my brother and Christina, and Meghan Mileski, it is a birthday (happy birthday again, you three!).  But to Koreans...April 14th takes on a new and special meaning.  April 14th is Black Day in Korea when (and I could not make this up) single people are supposed to wear all black, get together, sulk, eat dark colored foods, and lament their lack of a significant other.  I am so not kidding.  Black Day comes at the end of a succession of holidays starting with February 14th, Valentine's Day, when girls are supposed to give guys they like chocolate.   March 14th brings us White Day, when boys are supposed to give mints to girls (three times the amount of chocolate that they received, by the way).  And finally, just to stick it to single people ONE MORE TIME, we have Black Day on April 14th.  It is pretty bizarre, I won't lie.  I really think this article sums it up so well...especially the line about crying over her jjajangmyeon (black soybean noodles).

In an effort to become truly global citizens (lol), Dana, Laura and I met up in Gangnam to delight in some jjajangmyeon of our own.  I arrived early and got a table at Starbucks to suck down some caffeine before meeting up with the girls.  I sat down with my chai and powered up my Kindle to continue reading David Sedaris' book Me Talk Pretty One Day (which I've read before, and loved, but I digress).  I happened to be on the chapter entitled "Jesus Shaves" which ranks amongst the funniest things I've EVER READ.  It is especially hilarious as an ESOL teacher, because this is the type of conversation I'm surrounded by on a daily basis.  This part of the story takes place in David's French class after he moves to France with his boyfriend.  He is in a class full of people from various countries, none of whom have the vocabulary necessary to have the conversation they are having.  They've been asked to describe Easter to a Muslim classmate and as I read on, I was literally crying I was laughing so hard.  Here is just a small snippet, but really you NEED to read the whole thing.

"The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability.  "It is," said one, "a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus...oh shit." She faltered and her fellow country-man came to her aid.

"He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two...morsels of...lumber."

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.  

"He die one day and then he go above my head to live with your father."

"He weared himself  the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples."

"He nice, the Jesus."

"He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today."

I am sure that I looked ABSOLUTELY insane as I sat there alone at my Starbucks table, laughing and weeping over my Kindle and chai.  It was therapeutic.  Overall, Black Day provided an excellent evening among friends, even when the bitchy lady from the Chinese restaurant kicked us out to make room for higher paying customers.  After convincing Laura to skip her Korean class (hey, at least we were doing something Korean!) we headed over to a bar where we spent some time drinking and talking about all sorts of stuff.  I definitely got a little choked up thinking about August when everyone is leaving.  I am stressing out about it a lot since Erich is the only other person from our crew who is definitely staying. Ayzia has a job and boyfriend to go home to, Julia is going back for her masters, Laura is unsure what she's going to do and if she decides to stay it will probably only be for another six months, and Dana is applying for some jobs in China which may or may not work out.  It is so stressful to think about the prospect of having to make all new friends...and not even having an orientation at which to network.  The thought seriously blows.  

짜장면 or Jjajangmyeon.

Laura is at peace with her singleness, but Dana isn't, apparently.  Haha.

Noodle bowl cheers!  I LOVE this picture!

Last week was fairly uneventful at school.  My kids were on a field trip on Friday so I spent most of the day coloring.  True story.  I'm sick AGAIN, which could be due to the seasons changing, me being generally allergic to Korea, or that guy on the subway ride home from Jeju who was breathing all over us after hacking up a lung.  I'm self medicating with some left over antibiotics so hopefully I can just kill it and skip yet another trip to the doctor.

Bored at work.

We had decided a while ago that we would join a WorknPlay group to go out to Namsan Park in Seoul and check out the cherry blossoms on Saturday.  Steadily the group attending grew and we decided that we'd have a fancy pants picnic amongst the cherry trees, featuring chocolate, fruit, champagne, croissants and the like.  Originally we were supposed to meet the group at 10am, but thanks to many attending's late night out on Friday, we decided to meet at noon instead.  When everyone finally arrived at 12:45pm (seriously, I attract late people like moths to a flame, haha), we headed out of the metro station and towards the National Theater of Korea where the WorknPlay people had indicated there would be "an entire road of blossoming trees."  Um...apparently no one told that that with the cold temperatures this year NONE of the blossoms were open.  It was seriously depressing.  We found ourselves a little covered area to sit in and enjoyed our killer picnic before heading off to a second location in hopes of actually seeing some flowers.  I knew that the trees near my school were blooming, so we headed over to Jamsil and actually ended up a church's street food festival about a block and a half from my school.  We got some more food and spread out over a nice area of grass, surrounded by kids playing and families out enjoying the beautiful weather and food.  It was great.  I saw a bunch of my kids, but it could have been worse.  After the sun started to set it got pretty chilly, so we decided to go catch a movie at Lotte World.  Our only two choices were Clash of the Titans and Book of Eli.  Since some members of our group were opposed to Clash of the Titans, we were left to see a religious post-apocalyptic movie starring Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis.  I would...not watch it again.  Haha.  Some people enjoyed it, but I thought it was preachy and had a plot line that was questionable at best.  Eh, oh well.  You win some, you lose some.  After watching some hilarious skaters out on the Lotte World ice rink we all said our goodbyes and headed home.

Beautiful, bright, crepe paper-y flowers at Namsan.

Oh yeah, I could make a wedding bouquet out of that.

Champagne cheers at the picnic!

Classy picnic buddies: Erich, Dana, Laura, Boram, Ayzia

Cherry blossom lined street near my school.

Sooooo pretty!

Light pink and lovely.

Lanterns decorate the trees for the festival.

Posing on the street between cars.

Ayzia, Laura and Julia enjoying picnic numero dos.

Sunday morning I woke up to go meet Julia, Dana and Laura for our new bi-weekly brunch date.  We met at Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam and it was the most relaxed and empty I've ever seen that restaurant.  We got there at 11:00am and there were a ton of open tables.  When we left at 12:30pm, there was a huge group of people waiting.  I'll have to remember that for the future.  Brunch was delicious (I don't think I've ever been dissatisfied with anything that can be called brunch) and after we were done Dana, Laura and I said our goodbyes to Julia and headed down to southern Seoul to hit up the Seoul Racecourse Park and bet on some horses.  (And, as with any racetrack, Meghan Mileski was on my mind.  I mean, what the hell is a racet rack anyway? <3) We met up with Laura's friend Melissa and her friend Diana (who also happens to be the Diana that came to Seoul with Ayzia from she said "its crazy how incestuous the foreigner community is here in Seoul" true).  From what I understand, Melissa had read about the race track in Lonely Planet and they mentioned that there was a special foreigner area where English speakers could help you figure out how to place bets, etc.  We walked around forever trying to find it and eventually were led up to the fourth floor where there is a lovely little information desk staffed by English speakers and what used to be the foreigner lounge.  Apparently just this past week it was changed to be an area where anyone could sit.  Bummer.  After pouring over the English language forms, we placed our bets for the first race, which happened to be the foreign bred horses, or the waegook horse race as I liked to call it.  In the end I bet on three different races, spending a total of 15,000won (less than $15).  I earned back 12,800won,  leaving me with a loss of less than $4.  Not too shabby for an afternoon of excitement.  The races seemed really short (they were only 1200-1800m, so barely around the entire track) and it was very, VERY smoky, but it was a lot of fun and a nice way to enjoy the spring weather.  It was also nice to get to know some new people, especially Diana who is planning on staying another year.  Gotta start networking with renewers now!    The five of us left the racetrack and went out to dinner at Pizza School by Dana's school before splitting off and heading to our homes all around Seoul.

Seoul Racecourse Park, with a mountain backdrop.

Horses coming around the bend (via jumbotron).

Real live horses.

The craziness inside.

Laura, Dana, Melissa, Diana and I enjoying a day at the races.
(Photo stolen from Diana)

Posing in the downtime between races.
(Photo stolen from Diana)

If we're being honest, I've been in a pretty bad mood for the past few days.  I've been easily annoyed with many aspects of Korean life and even with my friends.  Last night I video chatted with my mom for about an hour and after bitching and crying and laughing, I felt a lot better.  A major part of my foul mood is absolutely stressing about being here another year and everyone leaving.  As my mom said, I don't have to stay, but I don't know what I would possibly do if I went home.  Moving home once after college was hard enough...moving home twice is just an admission defeat.  And I couldn't get an apartment without means to pay for it.  Jobs aren't just there for the taking anymore, everyone is feeling the shitty economy and struggling to make ends meet.  While I'm sure I could find a job teaching somewhere, the problem with that plan is that I don't want to teach!  Well at least I don't want to teach in a testing grade at a Title I school.  I don't know what I want to do.  As I told my mom, I'm just terrified that I'll never be content with where I am and what I'm doing.  I have this irksome habit of being unhappy with one or more aspects of my life and letting it get to me.  And the truth of the real world is that you can't just tailor make a job for yourself and have everything work out flawlessly.  That's just not how life works.  I just need to suck it up and deal.  

There are lots of things about Korea that drive me crazy, for sure.  I swear to god, the spitting is liable to make me hurt someone.  The other day I almost threw up on the train, like literally gagged and had to turn away, when a woman seated on a bench (and sandwiched in by two people, mind you) took a ziploc baggie out of her purse, proceeded to clear her entire nose and throat and hock phlegm into the baggie before sticking it back in her purse.  I was aghast.  On the way to work I dodge, without exaggeration, at least 30 piles of phlegm on the streets, steps, sidewalks, etc.  Yesterday I got really angry as a middle school aged asshole cut me off as I exited the train just so that he could purposely hock a giant loogie onto the BENCH in the subway station.  I mean that is just disgusting.  I am so sick of the hacking and gagging as people spit.  I'm also sick of the lack of personal space.  I am only half joking when I say that the next old person who pushes me on the train for NO REASON is getting slapped in the face.  So sick of it.  Hate the spitting, hate the pushing.  

I am not the only one who gets driven crazy by some stuff that happens here, and that ensures me that I'm not crazy.  There is a foreigner living in Seoul (actually in Ayzia and Brigid's building) that makes HILARIOUS cartoons about being a waegook in Korea.  Some are so spot on...including the ones below.

Being stared at remains awkward for me too.  It certainly doesn't help that it is probably due to the fact that invariably I am the fattest one in the room, subway car, what have you.  Thanks for making me even more self conscious, Korea!

These loud trucks selling everything from fish to oranges often prowl my street.  Especially annoying early on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

Soooo true, and SOOOO FUNNY.

I miss dryers with the burning passion of 10 million suns.
Kids (and co-teachers alike) mispronounce the word "finish" as "pin-ish-ee!" all the time.  It wouldn't be so bad if they didn't feel the competitive urge to tell me when they finish EVERYTHING THEY DO.

And I can joke about kids mispronouncing things, but another thing that drives me CRAZY here is the whole issue I have when pronouncing things in Korean.  There are some sounds in the Korean language that I truly think I will never be able to make simply because when learning speech my brain and mouth were not wired to make those sounds.  There are also sounds that are made that I cannot distinguish between at all (d and dd being an example).  English is HARD, I completely understand that, and I am thankful every single day to be a native English speaker.  However when someone says something to me and mispronounces it (which happens daily, if not hourly) I am able to use context clues, a general understanding of my language, etc, to figure out what they are saying.  If you mispronounce anything here, even if it sounds EXACTLY the same to you, you are met with only blank stares.  I know you readers at home are thinking I am being over dramatic or I'm just caught up in my funk, but those of you reading who live in Korea know what I am talking about.  Someone asks you where you live and you say "Gildong" and they look at you like you couldn't possibly be speaking Korean (in addition to the fact that you have just sprouted a second head mid-word).  So you say it again, making the "i" a little shorter and the "d" a little harder and still nothing.  Repeat it seven or eight more times and finally they say "OHHHHH, you mean Gildong?" and say it EXACTLY LIKE YOU SAID IT THE FIRST FREAKING TIME.  It is enough to drive you mad. I am not super motivated to learn and speak Korean since every time I do say something I get totally blank stares of non-comprehension. I feel like I'm living this scene from Pink Panther: 

I do love the kids here though.  They make me laugh all the time and are usually so earnest when they try to talk to me or answer questions.  They live in this pressure cooker society that is pushing them to be the best, be the best, and yet they somehow take it all in stride and manage to keep smiling.  From the chorus of "Hello Magon!"s I hear every time I walk down the hallway to the girl who gave me a high five as I was waving goodbye to everyone at the end of class today, the kids are absolutely why I do it.  Even when driving me crazy by talking through my class or deliberately not following directions, they are one of the most positive parts of of days here.  I figure I'll end the entry on a high note with some pictures of my kids in class and work they've done.   I can't believe I've been here almost 8 months.

Third graders are super cute.

Different third grade class.

Playing a game where they had to find the hidden picture.

Fourth graders making fortune tellers full of target questions.

Sixth grade decorations I mentioned earlier.

Brightening up the room.

The season is in the middle, surrounded by words associated with that season.

You know you like that Korean flag artistically waving in the background.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I Heart Jej!

This weekend, Dana and I took a trip down to Jeju Island (or, Jej, as we liked to call it) with Adventure Korea, an organization that basically runs trips for expats living in Korea interested in seeing some cool destinations, festivals, activities, etc. I had signed up for this trip over a month ago and I can't believe how fast it came! Jeju is a large island off the southern coast of Korea that has warmer climates, volcanic craters, palm trees and beaches. While it wasn't quite summer weather down there yet, it was still at least a little warmer than Seoul. I wish it had been sunny...but we did alright in the overcast and rainy weather. It was still a lot of fun!

We flew out of Gimpo Airport (the little airport that is actually in Seoul) and since we had to meet at 8:10am, I left my apartment at 6:40am. Too early! But, as my brother was fond of reminding me when visiting, I basically live in New Carrollton, not DC. Haha. (I know most of you don't get that reference, but I take comfort in knowing that at least my Mom reads and knows what I'm talking about!). Anyway, I got to the airport about five minutes early and I was the last to arrive, which I thought was pretty stunning. I'm so used to expats being late, I was impressed that we all arrived before the scheduled departure. But I would soon find out that we had a pretty awesome tour group so that really helped things move smoothly. Originally there were supposed to be 40 people on the trip, but Adventure Korea couldn't get enough plane tickets down to Jeju (as the temperature finally begins to warm up people are going down a lot more frequently for hiking, etc) so there were only 20 of us. More than once over the course of the weekend we discussed how happy we were that there were only 20. It was a great number. Almost all of us were teachers (save for one person working at a construction company, one guy who was a computer programmer, and a girl who didn't specify what she did) and we hailed from the US, Ireland, England, South Africa, and Indonesia. Everyone was really laid back and a lot of fun, so that was awesome. After arriving at the airport and finally getting in line near our boarding time we found out that our flight out was going to be an hour delayed. Later we learned that a fire truck had overturned on the runway in Jeju and they needed time to clear that off. The flight was only about 55 minutes in the air and fairly uneventful. I will say that every time we hit turbulence I thought of Lost...not the greatest association, lol.

When we arrived in Jeju we boarded our bus and headed out to lunch at a seafood restaurant. Seafood (and by that I mean fish) was a common theme in meals over the weekend and I'm not sure whether our diet was more affected by the fact that we were staying on an island or the fact that we had a couple vegetarians with us. This lunch was a huge pot that came out boiling with big chunks of fish, potatoes, etc. Then there were the ever present side dishes. It was pretty tasty, if not difficult to grab with chopsticks. I am fairly certain I ate about 40 fish bones, but I think I padded it with enough sticky rice to protect my insides.

You might think that those things in front are fried shrimp, as we did. Wrong. They are fried whole anchovies. Something about crunching through entire fish skeletal systems is less than appetizing to me.

After lunch we headed over to Bird Island. Honestly, I'm still not really clear as to why they call it Bird Island, but in the grand scheme of things I suppose that doesn't really matter. Jeju has a bunch of satellite islands ranging in size and shape, and this one is connected to the mainland with an interesting bridge. We walked across the bridge and then walked about halfway out on a peninsula made of deathly lava rocks. Then we walked around a little on some wooden walkways, pausing about 100 times to take pictures. We would have explored a little more, but we were pressed for time thanks to the delayed flight.

The bridge is supposed to look like a bird's head? We don't really see it. Personally, I think it looks much more like the Burj Al Arab in Dubai (see photo here).

Dana posing on the bridge.

Walkways through the pretty lava rock formations.

The peninsula of deadly rocks.

Dana was counting to take this picture and just after she said "one" a little, tiny, old Korean lady sprints between us saying "TWO THREE!" Hence the laughter.

Quite pretty. Even with a lack of birds.

After the island it was time to board the ferry and take a little jaunt out into the waters around Jeju. Since it was narrated by a Korean tour guide only, we probably missed a whole lot of information, but it was still quite pretty. We found a spot up on the top deck and I got to talk about one of my favorite subjects: Semester at Sea, so it was a good time for me! We took some pictures of some other little islands and relaxed for a while until our tour guide came up and told us that a performance was going on downstairs. We crammed into the little cabin with about 200 ajummas (little old Korean ladies) and ajosshis (little old Korean men), 99.5% of whom were tuckered out after a day of hiking and were dozing off. The performer played some music at the end, right before we docked, and suddenly we found ourselves in an ajumma dance party! It was...hilarious.

Island, complete with cave created by the Japanese during WWII to store ammunition, weapons, and supplies.
These two island were almost touching.

We couldn't figure out how the hell those fishermen got out there. There was no boat around and no where it looked safe enough to dock. I guess we'll never know.

Hahaha, Dana got pulled into nap time! (This was before the dance party, obviously.)

When we got off the ferry we headed over to the Jeju International Convention Center where they had some big rape fields you could take pictures in. I know...unfortunate name. Rape (or rapeseed) flowers bloom in a brilliant yellow and the fields were absolutely beautiful. There is actually a festival that goes along with their blooming time, but we weren't able to squeeze that into our weekend. It was still great to go take pictures, though!

Profile picture on Facebook? Check.
Dana and I in front of another field. So pretty!

After the rape field we headed to another field, but this one filled with green tea hedges. We quickly popped down to the O'Sulloc Tea Plantation to snap some photos with the green tea. I can honestly say that before coming to Korea I never knew (or, let's be honest, even thought about) how tea grew. I mean, I figured it didn't grow on a tree, but I don't know...I thought it was a closer to the ground kind of plant. You could easily have green tea hedges around your house in America. They are very generic looking. Now when we got out of the bus here I forgot my camera, so you'll have to wait until Dana posts her pictures on Facebook to see me in a tea field. I know...the suspense might kill you. Just hold on.

Basically remove that guy and put me in his place.
(Stolen from a stranger's blog via Google image search.)

After the tea farm we entered the world of the bizarre by attending a Chinese acrobatics and motorbike show. I'm not really sure what was Korean about this...but whatever. The acrobats were all young and were a little iffy at the beginning, but they pulled it together. Then they had the motorbikes riding around in a huge steel hamster wheel. It was intense. In fact, it made me so nervous that I could barely enjoy it. It was nerve wrecking!

A pile of young Chinese girls covered balancing umbrellas, haha.

More crazy balancing tricks.

They made me think of Katie Eisenhart from elementary school.

This was only with four bikes. At the end there were SIX. It was stressful just to watch.

After the show we headed to dinner, which turned out to be my least favorite meal of the weekend. At least there was unlimited delicious japchae! By the time we were finished with dinner it was fairly late and many of us had been up for a long time so we headed to the supermarket to buy some snacks for the next day, including the famous Jeju oranges, which we referred to as nipple oranges.  I think you can tell why by looking at the picture.

Nipples, googly eyes, whatever.

After the supermarket, we went to our pension (kind of like a self-catering hotel). One of the great things about this trip was that we got to meet some really fun people. Natalie (from Minnesota), Jaime and Angie (both from Maine) shared a room with us at the pension. We had a lot of fun together and got to talk about all the differences between working at a hagwon (all of them work for private schools, Natalie in Seoul- she lives at my metro stop!, Jaime in Daegu and Angie in Busan) so that was really interesting. I had brought "A to Z", an electronic game my mom sent me, and we played that for a long time before watching part of Get Smart on TV and finally crashing. Angie and Dana both talked in their sleep (possibly to each other, haha) but we were all so tired it didn't bother any of us. The pension didn't have any beds and did not have quite enough padding to make it comfortable. I agree with Brigid when she says that she's slept on the floor more in the past year than in the past ten years combined. The only other downside was that the ondol (floor heat) was turned up so high that it got waaaay too warm (especially for me, who sleeps with the windows open every night!).

The next morning we woke up found out that they weren't kidding when they said we were right on the ocean. Our balcony had a pretty view of the sea which we enjoyed for a bit before getting ready for the day, eating breakfast, taking a few pictures, and piling on to the bus for more sightseeing.

Posing with our awesome roomies: Angie, Jaime, Me, Dana, and Natalie

Probably one of the best group pictures I've seen in a while.  Everyone looks like a normal human being!

We started our day of touring at Seongsan Ilchulbong, a huge volcanic crater that you can climb.  At this point it was drizzling and VERY windy, so the rain became a weapon.  It was also quite cold with the wind.  Dana and I took one look at the slippery mountain teaming with ajummas in ponchos and opted not to climb.  We walked around the side of the mountain and took some pretty pictures of of the coast as the wind nearly blew us over.  Then we did a little shopping before getting back on the bus with everyone else.


Look at all those people who were braver (?) than us.

Pretty coastline.  I would love to come back to Jeju in the SUN.

For was windy. 

Upon everyone's return to the bus we headed off to lunch.  We had black pork BBQ and it was soooo tasty. Our table basically combined a bunch of other ingredients with the pork (throw in some garlic? sure.  kimchi? why not.) and ate until we couldn't move.  It was excellent.  When lunch was over we went to a place where you could ride these little horses around a lot or take a go-kart for a spin in the rain.  We opted to stay on the warm, dry bus and read/watch a movie on my iPod.  I feel confident that this was the right choice, haha.  We were only there for a about a half an hour before heading to the Trick Art Museum.  This place was so odd.  It reminded me of the type of place beach/tourist towns on the east coast would have (think Ocean City, MD or Gatlinburg, TN) to entertain your kids when its too rainy to be outside.  Basically this museum consisted of a variety of paintings/art pieces that you could step into, look like you were interacting with, etc.  Many were optical illusions and it was just kind of a bizarre little place.

Why yes, George Senior, I will have some wine.

Dana wants to be a Chinese acrobat.

Trapped in a mirror.

Dana is a giant! (Man, that room was apparently dusty.)

When we had taken our fill of strange pictures we were off to the Manjanggul Lava Tubes.  They are one of the largest networks of lava tubes in the world.  There were about a million wet, uneven, stone steps (my favorite!) leading down into the tubes that go on for about a kilometer underground.  I went to the bottom of the stairs and opted not to go through the rest of the very dark caves where 38 species of cave spiders reside.  Again, I feel confident in my choice, haha.  There have been a few too many mine and cave collapses in the news recently for my comfort.

Entrance to the lava tube.

Korea is clearly a non-litigious society.  I kept walking around thinking "God, its so dark.  Someone could easily get hurt and sue.  Oh...wait...we aren't in the US."

Next, our bus took us on a roughly 1.5 minute ride over to a big hedge maze.  Armed with a map, Dana, Jaime, Angie and I set off and were victorious in finding the exit.  We weren't the first...but I'm pretty sure we weren't the last!  Afterwards we had some interesting orange and cactus blossom ice cream on our bus ride to the most bizarre destination of all.

Maze map.

Jaime and Dana ready to lead the way.

That's the bell you got to ring when you reached the end.

Angie, Jaime and I posing with our ice cream.
Sidenote: Can you tell it was misting all day?  Check out my curls, man.

As I mentioned, our last attraction of the day was by far the most bizarre place we went in Jeju.  In fact, it was absolutely the most bizarre place I've been in Korea and easily in the top three of most bizarre places I've been to worldwide.  (Truly nothing more bizarre comes to mind.)  And I will keep using bizarre because I feel it is really the only word that truly captures Jeju Love Land.  According to their website, Love Land was started by 20 people who graduated from Seoul's Hongik University (one of the most well known art universities in Korea) in 2002.  It is basically a collection of extremely graphic erotic art.  Sculptures, carvings, statues, paintings, clay models, you name it.  As though walking around Love Land with friends wouldn't be awkward and strange enough, the entire park was FILLED with old people.  I do not exaggerate when I say at least 80% of them were over the age of sixty.  And they weren't just walking around, they were posing with the statues, and being TOTAL creepers.   Ugh, it was so awkward and bizarre.  I want to stop thinking about it now.  I was walking around taking pictures and then I stopped, thinking "what the hell am I going to DO with these pictures?"  I mean, I'm not going to post super graphic pictures here for strangers and my grandparents to see; I'm not going to post them on Facebook for students to see; I'm not going to put them in a scrapbook for my future children to see.  So I stopped taking pictures, hahah.

The only non-graphic picture of Dana and I taken at Love Land.

I kept looking for the gross addition to the statue, but upon finding them both completely clothed I thought this sculpture was really cute with the cherry blossoms in the background.

We left Love Land (I wanted to bathe my body and mind with hand sanitizer) and made a quick stop at a souvenir shop to pick up a few things (like cactus and orange chocolate for my co-workers and a little gift for my mom) and then we were off to the airport.

We sat around at the airport for a while waiting for our flight and attracted a LOT of attention.  A single, normal looking white person is something to stare at. But add in a bunch of other people, some with red hair, some with Kindles, one who was black and had her hair in twists and it is a slam-on-the-brakes-and-stare kind of situation.  So that was fun.  Our flight was delayed again, this time for only about 20 minutes, so the foreigner sideshow lasted a little longer than planned.  It was nice just to sit and talk with people and hear their stories.  I also did my best to sell some more Kindles, haha.  I need to start asking Amazon for a commission.

We got back to Gimpo around 10:00pm and juuuuuust missed a train to Sangildong so Natalie and I had to wait for two more trains.  Thankfully Gimpo is pretty close to the opposite end of the purple line so we got seats with no problem.  We sat kind of spaced out and there weren't enough people that we needed to squeeze together until about three stops before Gildong.  Up until that point we had just been talking about life, teaching, Korea, etc and discussing the old man standing in the handicapped area who was hacking and gagging up a lung.  Lo and behold, this man decides he wants to sit down.  Rather than sitting in the open seat in the area SPECIFICALLY RESERVED for the elderly, he decides to SQUEEZE in right between us.  Effectively killing conversation.  Then he proceeds to talk to use, animatedly and with the use of many gestures, completely in Korean.  There were roughly three English words in the hundreds that he said, but I think he was trying to tell us that he was a captain in the Korean army for 13 years.  I got this from the word "captain", a gesture of firing a rifle, and the words "ten, three".  So...really it could have been anything, haha.  The young Korean girl sitting across from us could not stop laughing as we shrugged at the man rattling on in Korean and said "sorry, I don't understand!" over and over again.  She tried to hide it, but I'm sure it was comical to watch.  Finally we arrived at our stop, said our "annyong haseyo"s to our new friend and went our separate ways.  I finally got home at about 11:30pm and crashed soon after.  

Today I didn't have work (thank god!) because it was a school holiday.  I planned on sleeping late, but as though they know when it will annoy me most, they started construction downstairs again.  I cannot WAIT for whatever that new shop is to be done.  Just so they SHUT UP.  They started at 10:00am this morning and are still going strong at 7:48pm.  I do not love.

Tomorrow its back to the grind at work.  I have something planned for every weekend from now until June, so I definitely have lots of things to look forward to.  Next weekend is the Cherry Blossom Festival and Picnic at Namsan Park and we might go check them out at Yeoido also.  We are also having a meeting of the Brunch Bunch in Itaewon on Sunday morning. The following weekend is a visit to the makkolli (traditional Korean rice wine) museum and a make your own makkolli event.  May 1st we're going on the wine train and May 8th is a trip out to some caves and on a ferry ride in the next province over.  The next weekend Monica and Carl will be here (SO SYCED!) and we'll be hitting up the Lotus Lantern Festival and spending a weekend in Jeollanamdo.  After that, its June!  Crazy how time flies.