Sunday, February 26, 2006


The last weekend of February was a strange and busy one, and March promises to be busier still. Saturday, February 25 was basically given over to the preschool graduation. I love how the time commitment miraculously expanded. When I originally heard about preschool graduation a couple of months ago, I asked what time on that Saturday it would be. They looked at me like I'd asked them to take me to the moon in a taxi. I assured them that on the contrary it was a reasonable question. Well, they said, "evening." I was thinking, 'Why? Why do we keep these poor kids up?' So many of our students, including even some of the preschoolers are already filled with activities that keep them going and studying and academy-ing 'til all hours.

I spent the next month or so asking for a specific time. I originally wanted to know because I'd thought I might be going to Seoul afterward and would have needed to make the last train time, but even after that plan was cancelled it became a matter of principle: it's really not that odd of a question. In each weekly foreign teachers' meeting when they said, "Any questions?" I would ask, "What time is preschool graduation?" Finally, they told me, "4 p.m. to 8 p.m."

One teacher I know from another school has now said they probably gave me an answer just to shut me up, and the evidence is on his side. After the last month of having 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. in my head, and written on my little calendar, and making plans for the afternoon before the event as well as that night...suddenly a few days ago in our meeting they said, "OK, be here at 2 on Saturday." Two? What happened to four? Guess I'll cancel my plans for the early afternoon! Shortly after that, they came back and said oh, and we're having a staff dinner afterward. Argh! I mean, on the one hand, it is nice that they took us out to dinner after all the graduation festival madness, but it was just so typically hilariously Korean that no one else seemed remotely fazed by the fact that they all implied I was the crazy one for asking what time and asking were they sure. Of course I'd known they weren't sure! But in the end, from 2 p.m. on my soul was Ding Ding Dang's.

Rant aside, however, the festival went fine. The kids had been put through the paces rehearsing and it's actually pretty amazing all that they memorized. Some classes did better than others. My kids did their speeches all right, but they clammed up on ALL the songs. Something about being onstage under the bright lights with a crowd of real faces staring back unnerved them, I guess. Their restless, bratty, bold rehearsal behavior was out the window (if only that stuffy theater had any windows) and they froze. Each song was accompanied by a tape of the music, including vocals, but that's all you could hear was the voice on the tape. You could barely see anyone's mouths moving, even.

Backstage it was a marathon of getting each class in and out of each costume for their next play, song, or poem. The kids were pretty well behaved. I think they were wiped out. Sometimes we English Native Teachers helped with the costume changes, and sometimes we stayed out of the way watching the show in the auditorium and taking pictures. Or laughing amongst ourselves. I must tell you, even though it was just a silly little (or not so little) preschool graduation event, it was fun to be involved in a theatrical spectacle, as always, and I was excited for my kids to be involved in a production, complete with lights, curtains, makeup, dressing room, costume changes, scripts, and so on; I hope a love for theater has been born in one or two of them.

And for those of you on the edge of your seats, The Enormous Turnip went fine. The turnip that the Korean teacher made looked more like a leek, according to my Brit co-workers, so they were joking I'd have to change the script at the last minute. It was all pretty anti-climactic. That play came just past the halfway point of the show, so restlessness and fanning oneself with the program were at an all-time high.

At the end of the evening, they handed out diplomas, many pictures were taken, and then it was finished.

Dinner afterward wasn't bad. We went to a traditional Korean sitting-on-the-floor style restaurant for galbi beef and pork that's barbecued there at your table. So I just partook of salad and tofu and any vegetarian side dishes I could find and beer. A couple of the teachers were cool about trying to send more of the tofu toward our end of the table and procuring me some rice, so that was nice.

The kicker was that the beer and soju were freely flowing and people were getting completely liquored up! Not me, as I am so not fond of the soju, but some of the teachers including my favorite cool assistant director and a few others were definitely feeling no pain. So THEN a bunch of us went to the noraebang (karaoke room) and the director even went! and paid for a couple hours of singing and dancing and shaking and bouncing and slapping the tambourine. There was even some dancing on the tabletops. Again, not by me. I was just coolly coasting on my frosty beers and being entirely amused by the spectacle of my co-workers cutting so loose. GOOD times.

It was really, really nice to hang out with them as real people. Not everybody went. The two Brits and I went; the Canadian marrieds went home, as did some of the other Korean teachers. But lately I've been becoming more friend-like with some of the nicer KTs so it was good to have fun bonding times with them. Crazy fun.

Sunday was decidedly more mellow and included productivity and one of the most interesting conversations I've had in Korea. I'll try to get on the stick and write about it tomorrow...

E.T. Phone Home

OK. So I totally have not been watching the Olympics, but I have been discussing them in my classes: teaching sports vocabulary, awarding points in my various games & activities in which the winner gets a gold "medal" drawn on the board, and assiging my upper-level special class to write a composition about something that has happened in Turino. What I have learned is that, if anything, my kids are watching the short-track speed skating, as well they should, since their country was doing well in the event, it seemed. Tony's composition is as follows:

I watch TV for Olympic skating, skiing. I think we are best. I know who have the gold medal in Oympics. Her name is Juin Sun-ue. She knows me. My teacher teaches her, and my sister. I am so surprised because she's very fast. And skiing is very nice. Spinning in the sky is so nice. 120 degrees in the sky. I can't do that. I think it is very dangerous but Americans like it. Like football/soccer is best friends, snowboard as well as skiing. I have ridden a snowboard. It is easier than skiing. Riding a snowboard is very excited.
Fighting, my sister, Juin Sun-ue!

For some reason I was ridiculously charmed by that essay. I don't know why. I rather like the notion of thinking of football-soccer and snowboarding-skiing as "best friends." Plus at the end it was kind of like he was saying "Fight on!" which of course melts a USC Trojan's heart. We talked in class too about how his skating coach also coaches the medalist. Fun times! Everyone here has been very excited about how the Koreans took gold-silver-bronze in one event, but they are simultaneously angry at I think his name is Ono, who pushed another Korean in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake, costing the other guy the gold. It is a sore point here!

Of course Tom, whom I've previously quoted in a different blog entry, also wrote an Olympics essay, though he clearly sees more excitement in other sporting contests:

Today's subject is Turino Olympics. Now Korea has gold 3 silver 3 bronze 1. I think Korea doesn't have a good soccer team but Korea is succeed. I love Korea. We are 5th now. But Linda teacher's nationality is U.S.A. So U.S.A. Olympic ranking was 1st, U.S.A., and Russia is 1st now. I think very fun sports are soccer and speed skating. I want the World Cup to hurry, please...

And so on. I really enjoy teaching this class! I get to start another "special class" of pre-teens who've completed the Ding Ding Dang curriculum this week, when two more level 11 classes graduate. Perhaps I have found my niche here. It's fine with me! One of the level 11 classes graduating this week is my evil MWF evening class I've previously vented about and I'm super-glad it's dissolving. Only a few of the students are sticking around for the new special class, thank God! and then I get a few students from some other teacher's graduating class as well.

This has been an amazing, busy, successful weekend including the preschool graduation festivities and acquiring a cell phone, among other things. Big accomplishments. I am so very excited about having the cell phone I can't even tell you. It's rather an ordeal here to get one because they are expensive ($300-400) so most foreign teachers find a used one, and have to do pre-paid, and there's more to it and it was actually a really cool experience getting it and I made a new friend. But I am far too tired to write any further now and I am going to collapse in a heap. I'll try to catch up on Monday!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Blogs on the Side

So in the margin there, to the left, are links to a few blogs. Don't know if any of you have clicked on them, but I thought I'd take this opportunity to say a few words about them.

My War and Peace blog is where I occasionally -- too occasionally, so not as often as I should -- post a thought or two about Tolstoy's tome. I'm on page 1000 now! And I haven't posted much on the blog at all! But I'm forever meaning to do better. What I really want is for people to comment on it. Even those of you not reading the book. So, click on the link and read a post or two and share your philosophical/political insights. You so don't have to be reading it. Seriously. You'll see. Go on, click on it. You can link back to here from there when you're done.

Other blogs I've linked to include some friends of mine in the U.S. as well as my friend Bryan I met here, who made his debut in this very blog of mine the week of Thanksgiving. You can catch up on reading his entire blog pretty quickly because he NEVER POSTS and I harass him about that as much as possible. He's back in the U.S. now, and his reflections on here from there are just as amusing as were his reflections on here from here. Read it! I'm in that one, too.

Caroline is someone I don't actually know except via e-mail and reputation, because she is one of my predecessors at Susung Ding Ding Dang. She and her husband finished their year of indentured servitude last July and were replaced by the Canadian marrieds who currently work there with me. So the Brit I work with and the Candian who just left in January also worked with her, see. Her blog is righteous fun and it's particularly interesting for me to see so many similar observations of so many things, so many common experiences. In fact I haven't gone back and read her entire blog, but have read the current stuff back in Canada and the entries from her first four months or so in Korea; I'm reading it as her timeline mirrors mine.

Well, that's all about that. It's Friday night...I got another phenomenal food and treats package from my dad today, wow! So that was amazing. I am a lucky, lucky girl.

Seriously folks. I AM a lucky, lucky girl. And I want you all to know that I know that. I know that I could (should?) get by without so many luxuries like tortillas and shredded Mexican four-cheese blend and pop tarts sent from home. I know that sometimes I'm barely living in another world, like right now as I sit here e-mailing and blogging and web surfing entirely in English and listening to Boston's WBOS streaming live on the Internet with random New England commercials and everything . This is the amazing modern wired world we live in.

By the way did you know Korea is like the most wired nation on the planet? We've heard it has more high-speed Internet connections than any other country. Not per capita -- just, more!

There are so many purely genius things about this country. When people aren't spitting everywhere I think I could get used to being here for a long while...but that would preclude me from being elsewhere, so I know I won't stay more than a year. There are too many things to do, people to see, places in this great big wide world to go! Too many adventures to have! Remember when I finally reached my escape velocity from L.A.? I was hoping to do "seven years, seven cities." Then I accidentally stayed in Boston nearly three. It was good, there, though, and I built a nice little life and community and activities and my own little world that I kind of miss, actually. So maybe it will end up being more like "seven years, three or four cities, two countries, one law school." Or, something totally different and as yet unpredictable. Who's to say?

"Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look,
skip to the final chapter of the book
and then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took
to get us where we are this far

But the question drowns in its futility,
and even I have got to laugh at me
No one gets to miss the storm of what will be

just holding on for the ride
The wood is tired, the wood is old,
and we'll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds, we'll have missed the point
That's where I need to go." ---Indigo Girls, 'The Wood Song'

Thursday, February 23, 2006

1 little, 2 little, 3 little ...

My aunt sent me this quote which, in an exquisitely timely fashion after my last post, appeared as quote of the day in the NY Times on-line headlines:

"It's something wonderful to get a letter. The paper, the stamp, the envelope. It is not just a piece of paper. It is something sacred. "
Ibrahim Ismail Zaiden, a postman in Baghdad, Iraq

You should absolutely click on that link and read the article.

Today was madness. During preschool time we all piled in the Ding Ding Dang vans and went to the auditorium place where preschool graduation will be held this Saturday. We rehearsed for two hours and didn't get through the whole program. It's like herding cats, really. Five preschool classes, and each does four or five events like a song, a play, speeches. The Korean teachers keep them all lined up and ready for their cues and so on, ostensibly, but there was so much fiddling with the microphone and "who? what? what are we doing next?" and useless emcee interludes and crappy recordings of music and every other piece of nonsense you'd expect. It was awesome.

And four of us English Native Teachers just sat there in the back row of the auditorium being useless, the fifth teacher having unluckily been drafted to emcee so he has to stand on stage the whole time. This also means he gets to say ridiculous things that make the five of us cringe. After one class sings "10 Little Indians" in Chinese complete with one-hand-up-one-hand-to-the-mouth-yelling, he says, "Wow! Don't they look like real Indians?" I dared him to throw in the line, "And don't I sound completely racist saying that?" to see if anyone would notice/understand.

I'm here to tell you that anyone who thought "10 Little Indians" was a particularly American song, you are so wrong. And while you may have thought, being in the land of the politically correct (if still home to the Atlanta Braves), that that song had gone out of fashion, think again! It is alive and kicking in Asia! I found out a while ago how much Ding Ding Dang loves it, complete with the whooping and hollering motions, much to the surprise of us foreign teachers. It's even one of twelve songs on our company calendar that we each got free at the start of 2006 -- a song for each month. But it's just this week I learned "10 Little Indians" is big in China too. From our peanut gallery in the back row there today, I commented to the other ENTs that maybe it's about India, really, what do we know? But then the whooping it up kicked in. An India-Indian dance comes later in the show, when one of the preschools does a fashion show of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian traditional clothing.

I rarely go anywhere without a book anyway, but I wisely made sure to bring it with me today to the rehearsal, and so I sat there reading War and Peace in between making sardonic comments to my co-workers. I was reading the big Borodino battle scene. Did I mention the theater is in a fitness center? Don't try to understand it; I don't. I just know I was surrounded by a cacophony of screaming children and the aroma of sauna sweat as I turned the pages; cannons fired, shots rang out, Russians and French fell by the thousands.

"There was something about this life that I did not and do not now understand." -- says Prince Andrei on page 975

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Here's the thing: they totally have oranges here in Korea. Loads of them. And why did I not know this when I first arrived? Well, it was apparently not orange season yet. My first two months I never saw one. I was inundated with tangerines and desperately craved oranges. In December, my dad sent me a delightful food package that included oranges and it was heavenly! (Also quite heavy, and I thank him very much for sending it.) Slowly but surely, however, I started seeing a few oranges in the grocery stores and occasionally even in the corner market near our house.

Then, they began to appear at the true Korean place of fruit business, the sidewalk vendors. Both the lay-out-your-goods-in-bowls-on-the-ground variety and the park-your-screaming-fruit-truck-on-the-corner type. Tonight in the food/drink establishment near my house, along with the free peanuts, the server brought me a plate of fresh fruit (they do that sometimes, bring you random free food with your drink), and it included an orange.

They seem to like eating them in winter here. I have this on good authority. In our pre-school play "The Enormous Turnip," which has its world premiere this Saturday, seven of my students play fruits or vegetables, and they get to say a line before assisting Boy, Woman, and Man to pull the turnip from the garden. Jinny, who plays Orange, says the following: "I am orange. I am a pretty fruit. You can eat me in the winter." I want to protest! It's an outrage! When it gets warm -- and then oh-so-hot -- will I not be able to buy them anymore?? But it's so sad...

On the subject of packages though...Catherine was bummed I didn't blog about the Eclipse gum package she sent me. (You may have read this in the comments section of my post a week ago.) I kind of thought I had mentioned it before? Apparently not. Well, after I wished for Eclipse gum months ago, Catherine said she'd send me some, and she sure did, boy! I opened the box and there was just pack after pack of the stuff. It's lasted me a good long time, too. It's been wonderful! I'm only just now nearing the end of it. My mother was also kind enough to throw a couple of packs of Eclipse in her Faquil package. She sent me magazines, too, including The New Yorker! I swoon!

I've said it before and likely will say it again: getting mail is the best! And the thoughtful, creative, often delicious mail I have received has warmed the cockles of my heart.

Lest you think only packages do the cockle-warming, I'll spell it out for you: I love getting letters!

Plus it's cheap, so cheap, to send mail: a mere 84 cents for a first-class letter from the U.S. Even if you're not a letter-writer, you can, like, draw a picture or cut out little thoughts (thanks, Maija!) or send me my horoscope or something...and I totally reciprocate! I send mail to everyone who sends mail to me! And even to some people who don't!

Wow, am I begging for mail? I didn't mean to. Just - um, clarifying. Yeah, that's it. People who've sent me mail ROCK.

By the way, this post's title is "Orange." In Korean you say "o-ren-ji." Simple enough.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Let there be art!

Good evening!

The arts are alive and well in Daegu, not that you'd know it from the choice of flicks at the Cineplex. While Brokeback Mountain and Walk the Line won't be there until March, tonight I had the pleasure of seeing Firewall. It was certainly -- um -- what I expected. Sigh...

But over the weekend, I attended the opening party of an artists' space that this cool expat teacher guy has launched. A bunch of visual artists will be displaying stuff, we're going to do poetry slams (I'm going to perform, judge, or most likely both, eventually), and the opening night party was lots of music, fun, good vibes, wine, artist talk, etc. He's really jazzed about getting us creative types off of our barstools and doing things together, and I wholeheartedly agree! I'm very excited!

Furthermore, I have talked with him about using that space to do a play. So, I think I will be doing a show within the next couple of months here, and I am thrilled about that. It is going to be very informal and small but it is going to be wonderful. Also it is undoubtedly going to keep me ridiculously busy, but there's nary a better busy than the labor of love that is putting up a show! Yes!

Meanwhile, my reading group launches this coming weekend. I'm still reading War and Peace for my own pleasure, but will be reading and discussing the Korean book Three Generations in the book group. If anyone happens to be in Daegu this Saturday and wants to drop by...

The book group will be early in the day; in the evening is pre-school graduation. Now, this promises to be a grand time. Ahem. My twelve 4-to-6-year-olds will be singing "She Wants to Be an Engineer" complete with chorus line dance moves. Then they will make indivdual speeches such as "My name is Thomas. I like robots" or "My name is Christina. I want to be an English teacher because I like markers and erasers" (she refers to our dry erase board markers, as fine a reason to make a career choice as any I've ever heard). Finally they will perform the play "The Enormous Turnip," in which I have a small but pivotal role. At the end, they all cry, "Linda teacher! Linda teacher! Come and help!" and I save the day and pull the enormous turnip out of the ground so we can eat it for dinner. Sorry I ruined the ending for you, there.

Yes, it's all just as delightfully ridiculous as it sounds.

The writing group Rachel and I started has been going well; we have three regulars now and two more hooked for our meeting this week, plus random not-yet-committed interest growing all the time. Unfortunately, last week I seem to have ingested some seaweed somewhere during writing group because when I got home I had my first bad allergic reaction in years! Weird, because we ate at a cafe where we've eaten before, and I even got the SAME entree I got the last time with no problems, a mushroom cream sauce spaghetti. The only place I can figure I got the seaweed would have been at Starbucks before dinner, if they used soy milk instead of regular in my latte or used the soy milk pitcher or something, because Silk soy milk, which is the brand U.S. Starbucks use, contains the seaweed extract carageenan. It was a pretty bad reaction for just carageenan, though. Hives, rash, major itching, swollen hands, the works. Good thing I was clever enough to bring Benadryl! I had to take more the next morning, too! It finally subsided after pre-school.

Also this past weekend, Robin and I traveled to Jinju, a city south of here almost on the coast. It is home to the Jinjuseong Fortress. It is basically a huge, walled park area with lots of paths winding around grassy knolls, shrines, temples, statues, a museum, a restaurant, hills, monuments, and so on. It sits in quiet splendor overlooking the city of Jinju and the Nam River. All in all it was a rather peaceful place, what with it being a fortress and all. It was the site of lots of death during the Japanese invasions in the 1590's. The museum was pretty informative and so were the sites scattered throughout the grounds. One sign's English seemed to be done by a different translator, and we really liked its melodramatic feel, with lines such as: "he gave his dearest life like the feather of a wild goose." It was awesome.

We even lunched on bibimbap in the restaurant and somehow I managed to convey in Korean my request for no meat, and what's more, they complied! I was like, wait, am I still in Korea? But sure enough, they brought one bibimbap with meat on top, for Robin, and one without, for me. Of course, they placed them in front of the wrong people, but we quickly switched and I ate a delicious vegetarian lunch! What do you know?

And now I am beginning week 20!!! That seems like a really huge milestone. Twenty weeks. Wow.

Hey, listen, if one of you is holding that $365 million winning lottery ticket and you're worried about whom you could share it with, listen, I'd be willing to do you a favor and help you out. I'd sure do that for you...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Let Them Eat Steak

Have I mentioned that I actually like my job these days? I know, it's strange, who'd-a-thunk-it during those grueling second and third months here in country. I'm not sure why the change; it must be a combination of 1)comfort level with the job 2)comfort level with my place here in general 3)Ding Ding Dang recognizing my (and other teachers') individual skills and talents and acting accordingly as any good manager should 4)rapport and even occasional triumph with the majority of my students 5)an almost daily escape to the coffee shop across the street during the afternoon break 6)many evening/weekend/out-of-work activities keeping me occupied. I swear being busy can make anything bearable. I mean, look how I managed to stay at the Cambridgeside Galleria Borders for so long: in 2004, it was John Kerry's campaign, MoveOn, house parties and canvassing; in 2005 I had writing group, guitar and softball. I didn't have time to be consumed with hating work!

Among other things I like about my job is the evening "special class" I have recently started teaching. During January, I covered a level 11 class that had previously been taught by the departed Canadian teacher -- you know, the one they took so long to replace partly because they rejected applicants whose interviews they liked once they discovered they were black? Anyway, the Korean teacher who shared that class with me is assistant director Betty, whom I like very much. She also had another level 11 class that met at a different time, and both of those classes completed level 11 at the end of January, thus "graduating" from the leveled Ding Ding Dang curriculum.

Not that that in any way means they are prepared to go forth and speak English in the world. Each level lasts about 15-20 weeks, and you're lucky if your kids can carry on a conversation by level 8 or 9, because some of them absolutely cannot. What does happen after level 11 is sometimes DDD creates a "special class" for advanced learning. I already teach one of those, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, which has been in place since before I got here. But Betty created another one for MWF out of these two recently graduated level 11s, and she basically picked me to be the native-speaking teacher for it. We really like it, and I think she and I work well together.

One of the things we are doing is having them write a composition for homework due every class period. That's three a week, much to the dismay of a few of them, but for the most part they really like English and some of their essays have been creative, although they definitely need a lot of grammatical help and practice. But that's what I am here for. And, I am grading their compositions, whereas usually the foreign teachers don't do any of the homework grading; that's all done by the KTs. I love it. I wish I could grade essays all day. OK, well maybe not all day.

Anyway, this week they had to write about a place, any place, where you use numbers, and a couple chose restaurants. Note, there is a distinction made here between your average, Korean, cheap eating establishment (shiktang) and the nicer, often Western, always pricier restaurants (the borrowed word re-suh-tur-ang). Here is eleven-year-old Tom's composition:

The restaurants is very expensive food but it is very delicious food. Many people visit restaurants. The famous foods are steak and dessert. People visit restaurants in week very much. I think rich people always go to restaurants. America people eat restaurant food so they are fat but Linda teacher is thin. I think Linda teacher is a famous people for a boy. Restaurant food is delicious but I don't eat it very much. If eat much you will get fat. Steak eat all right, but don't eat very much I think. The End

I was so taken aback to see myself mentioned in the essay that I laughed out loud there at my desk in the staff room. Then upon further consideration of the "Linda teacher is a famous people for a boy" line, I realized he is not using the word "famous" as we know it. I think he thinks it means more like "great," and when I looked back at the beginning, that made sense with the steak/dessert line, too. And it dawned on me that he might be saying I'd be a good catch for some guy. Oh my goodness, I thought. Could an adolescent boy actually have a crush on me? I am not sure, but it suddenly made a great deal of sense. He does behave in that feisty-but-just-trying-to-show-off kind of way in was such a bizarre notion. Oh my, work is so amusing. Ever so amusing.

And speaking of work, I need to go sleep because tomorrow is another day. I have a cough and sore throat, so bad that I even cut short my weekend in Seoul and came home to Daegu early just wanting to sleep, but I (rejoice!) have Faquil to chug before going to sleep--thanks Mom! I have sure received some fantastic mail and packages of late. Let me just state for the record, if I haven't done so enough, that you people who send me things are my heroes. Getting mail is the highlight of the day. And this week there was awesome Amy's food package, which included a sea of pop tarts that made my British co-worker a bit jealous. So go read Amy's blog -- that's the Crazy Mokes link to the left, there -- because she rocks!

Friday, February 10, 2006

What's Up, indeed!

Here's a little poem I wrote:

O, no rae bang,
what took me so long
to come sing your song?
O, no rae bang.

I composed that masterpiece in the haze of disco ball lights, beer, smoke, off-key singing, big soft couches, and laughter that comprise a Korean karaoke room, or noraebang. (Careful readers will recognize the 'bang' from PC bang, the public computer rooms.)

Many friends can't believe that before last night I hadn't done the karaoke thing here, but I think it's because of my particular affinity for all things karaoke in the U.S., not in spite of it. I *like* the scene, the dive bars, the silly drinking people, the so-called "middle America" element that snooty coasters secretly crave, the absolute bonding it provides, and the sheer fun of getting up and singing like a fool, or belting out an intense rendition, or something in between.

So, unlike many a Westerner here, the notion of renting a room with friends in which to get silly and sing didn't strike me as freeing, a la, "oh, I could maybe do karaoke if there isn't a crowd of strangers watching," but rather as strange: why shut yourself in a room away from all the random strangers?

But now I have experienced it, and it is good.

I feel like I sang about a hundred songs. I went with three girlfriends. The selection of English-language songs was not extensive at this place (but there are about a dozen noraebang on every street, and some have more English tunes, I hear) but we covered everything from Nirvana and 4 Non Blondes to "Kokomo" and "9 to 5," with a healthy dose of the Beatles and some Dylan. They even provide tambourines on the table! There was a whole lot of shakin' goin' on!

My throat and I are just getting up and preparing for Saturday after a very late night, and I have to get to the train station and get to Seoul, so no more noraebang musings at the moment. I will try to post again tomorrow so I can share my delightfully random work musings...

Sing on, my friends!

Monday, February 06, 2006

"I mean to tell you all the things I've found..."

I've been really busy! I haven't posted much, but it's not out of depression; rather, my days and nights are filled. Not to mention that ever since getting on-line at home I am prone to sit web surfing as if I have all the time in the world, as opposed to keeping on track and on schedule in the "PC bang" (PC rooms). (Don't hold it against me, Mac users. That's just what they are.)

What, besides the glorious Internet and instant messaging, has been filling my days and nights?

Well, I have started a writing group with one English teacher I met who is also a writer. It is now officially happening once a week, even if there are only the two of us as we wait for it to build. There are a few people around who have casually expressed interest.

I have also found a literary society, a bunch of expats who like to read and discuss and analyze and think literary thoughts and talk books. I met up with them at their monthly book swap and will be joining them for a reading group as well, starting this month.

Work has been good -- yes, you read that right. I have been doing my share of going out and socializing, still -- maybe a little more lately than during December. I have met some interesting folks at the commune's (foreigners' watering hole), and had great conversation with the owner of the bar as well. I'm reading War and Peace. I've been watching movies when I can and taking a few weekend excursions.

I joined the "foreigners chapter" of Amnesty International. I found the group a few weeks ago; they meet monthly in Seoul. Careful blog readers will have noted that going to Seoul once a month is absolutely part of my plan, so this just means killing Mexican food and human rights activism with the same stone. I have been in contact with the group leader, and this past weekend I attended the annual AI Korea group meeting/planning workshop. It was a truly fantastic weekend.

Simply put, I found an amazing group of people. It was refreshing and inspiring to hang out with thoughtful, activist, bright young things, as well as some bright middle-aged things. It made Korea seem so -- normal. I don't know, it was such a we-are-the-world moment. Eun Mi, who is the totally bilingual leader of the foreigners' chapter, is absolutely the coolest person I have met in Korea, hands down. She is my favorite new friend. We bonded a lot over the two-day workshop. We definitely spent the entire time together, as she was my interpreter. We discovered much in common and are so excited to hang out again. She has done all kinds of cool stuff, worked with Medecins sans Frontieres (that's Doctors Without Borders in English, for those unaware), and is strong and kind and vibrant and wonderful. She is my new favorite friend.

I traveled to Daejeon for the workshop, which is about 2 hours from here by bus. It's south of Seoul. It is a big city (approx. 1.5 million) and the place we ate/slept/workshopped was in the lovely foothills in the Yuseong area on the edge of the city, in the Yuseong Youth Hostel. That might sound bizarre, but it was a big hostel, with a dining room, several floors and a meeting room. Sparse, but fine. I kind of like the notion that this organization didn't waste administrative costs money on a fancy hotel for the conference!

What else? I'm just trying to get all of my financial ducks in a row, and enjoy teaching, and see new things, and hike when I can, and find out which will win out: war or peace. Plus I contemplate the Oscars. I watched Memoirs of a Geisha this weekend. Now, I would like to point out here that while Walk the Line has apparently been pushed back to March, it looks like in February my Daegu cinemas will provide the following English-language movies: Saw 2, Firewall, Nanny McPhee, and Big Momma's House 2. I see. It's good we have our priorities straight. Yikes! At least the other movie slated to open in February is Munich, but there doesn't seem to be any Brokeback Mountain around my bend.

About Geisha, though: it was eye-opening to watch it while living here. Now, I have avoided reading that celebrated book despite it being a perennial favorite among the qulaity paperback crowd these last few years. I have never been able to develop the whole Japan fetish that so many I know have, and I wasn't particularly interested in romanticizing geishas, although since the PHENOMENAL film Lost in Translation I am much more interested in Japan than I used to be (except still not the food). And now, living in Korea, my life is pretty much Lost in Translation meets Dilbert. The point is, I don't recoil at the mere mention of Japan anymore although the food decidedly still gives me hives.

But the other point is that Memoirs of a Geisha was on one level exactly what I've known for years it would be: the latest beautiful, aspiring-to-grandiose lauding of exotic Asia in titillation disguised as homage. Just not my bag. And on another level I was even more put off by that than I usually am because I think, "Why don't we just look at others as fellow human beings instead of that Other?"

Maybe I know deep down inside that I'm just as guilty, that I foreigner-associate as much as the next expat. Reading The Ugly American the same week helps me ruminate this way I think. But (spoiler alert! I'm talking about the end of the movie now! run away if you care! scroll down, scroll down, for the love of all that is holy!) when the American soldiers showed up and totally disrespected all that she was and all that was virtuous and industrious and in fact beautiful about her -- which you realize was way beyond skin deep -- and her friend sells her out, I cringed but I also think I saw it more clearly than I possibly could have before I came here. I mean, the beware-the-clueless-American message is basically spoon-fed to you, but I think I was more receptive to seeing that there was something more, there.

Sunday I talked with a Korean friendly acquaintance who'd also seen it, and all the connections I'd made with the U.S.-Asia dichotomy were revealed to be as naive as can be. She had in in fact noticed that how the U.S. used Japanese geisha paralleled what Japan did to Korea! That is a really big issue here right now, trying to get Japanese apology for using Korean "comfort women," but I hadn't really looked at it as so A-is-to-B-as-B-is-to-C, you know?

Eye-opening. That's all I'm saying. Not some earth-shattering revelation in the content of the film, but a peeling back of my personal layers to reveal once again that my perspective has changed in the last few months. And that, my friends, is why we love living abroad. But the movie itself was kind of crap: inconsistencies, some ridiculous acting, a script that was melodramatic at best. I haven't decided how I feel about its score, though I think Yo-Yo Ma could carry it to an Oscar unless it's All About Brokeback night. I could deal with Geisha getting the costume design Oscar, but I think so far I'm pulling for King Kong for sound mixing and sound editing. (NO Narnia!)

Speaking of American invasions, it was weird that the Super Bowl was on today but it was already Monday morning here. I left for work during the early 3rd quarter, but I know the Steelers won. Magical Pittsburgh!

As of this moment I have been here for 17 and 1/3 weeks. You know what that is? One-third of 52 weeks, that's what! I have been here for one-third of a year! How about that.