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.
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 Canada...as she said "its crazy how incestuous the foreigner community is here in Seoul"...so 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.