Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Fond Farewell to 2011
Days 4.5 - 7 of our Southeast Asia Odyssey

And now here we are in Siem Reap, ready to kick off 2012 with our Habitat for Humanity Global Village Build. I love New Year's Eve. I like resolutions, festivity, out-with-the-old-in-with-the-newness, and party hats. I'm less fond of amateur hour in the bars, but I actually do like crowds and pubs and street parties and the like. From the looks of things, the market/restaurant area just across the little bridge from our hotel here in Siem Reap is getting ready for one big shindig tonight. I will definitely be shindigging!

A recap of the second half of this week:

Day 4.5: Wednesday night in Sihanoukville post-baguette, we mostly relaxed our sunburned tired selves. It was wine Wednesday in our Beach Road Hotel bar, and we enjoyed our glasses on one of the wicker/cushioned couches near the bookshelves, from which I plucked Heart of Darkness and finally read it. (Totally a Book You Should Have Read in College that I never did.) I finished it the next day and can't say I entirely understand it.

Day 5:  The last full day in Sihanoukville...sigh. I enjoyed breakfast and iced coffee on the second floor of the restaurant in a hanging cushioned/wicker swinging chair that overlooks the Beach Road activity. The day consisted of sun, the refreshing hotel swimming pool, good eats, and of course a sizable chunk of beach time. Have I mentioned that the beach in Sihanoukville is lined with restaurants and bars and you can either sit under the roofed part of them or in beach chairs on the sand where they will bring you menus, food, and drinks? It's really quite fantastic. As were the barbecued prawns we ate there on Thursday. In the evening we relaxed, had some more food and drink (falafel at a Middle Eastern place on cushions, rum/pineapple mixers while we packed) and then saw live music, a band of three middle-aged guys playing all sorts of classic rock. I am fascinated by these Sihanoukville long-termers, I tell you. Fascinated.

Day 6: Friday the 30th, we returned to Sihanoukville and we had air conditioning for the first third of the bus ride. Yes, that means we did NOT have air conditioning for several hours, including the crawling-through-traffic-on-the-approach-to Pnomh Penh part. But that's OK because they left the bus front door open for air flow as we sped down the highway. (For the record, I think that was the right choice.)  It was fun to come back to Phnom Penh - I like that city! - and back to our same guesthouse from last weekend.  In the afternoon we visited the Tuol Sleng museum, which is a building that was used as a prison and torture chamber for 20,000 people during the evil Khmer Rouge reign. It was simple, sparse, and haunting. The evil people who ran the place took photos of every incoming person they subsequently tortured and slaughtered, so the museum displays just row after row of mug-shot-like photos. You just walk up and down these rooms staring into the eyes whose fate you unfortunately know. There were seven prisoners who survived Tuol Sleng (seven! out of 20,000+!) and the paintings of one of them are displayed, depicting torture that happened there. It's all pretty grisly, and important.

After that we had another delicious, cheap dinner and a drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club, or the FCC as they say in Phnom Penh. Have I mentioned the lizards? I am overly fond of the lizards on the walls of these airy tropical courtyard restaurants (mostly because they eat bugs, but also because lizards are fun). The FCC, our guesthouse, and a ton of other eateries and watering holes are along the riverfront, and it was a lively gathering spot on Friday evening. We enjoyed our stroll past soccer-like games, break dancing, other group dancing, and the like. Later on we met up with another member of our Habitat for Humanity team who was also in Phnom Penh on Friday.

Day 7: The boat to Siem Reap is a marvelous thing. I mean marvelous in that there-are-no-U.S.-tort-lawyers-in-sight way. A bit cramped inside with no sign of emergency exit procedures (or even emergency exits), the boat was a little stuffy. But were we sealed in? Oh no! As the high-speed -- keep that in mind, that's an important detail -- boat travels from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap in five or so hours, passengers are free to stroll outside on the foot-wide ledge and clamber up on top of the long, tube-like speeding vessel. Railing? Seats? No, no, don't be silly. Just twenty or thirty travelers splayed on top, sprayed by waves if you lean too far over, and not inhibited by anything so mundane as safety precautions. It was a great way to breathe fresh air and watch the country pass by. And, you get to wave and be waved at with all the people in fishing boats along the way. A bit of a wild ride, but communal, convenient, and kind of awesome. Brian took a video so we can share our peril fun with you.

And then we were in Siem Reap. Such a different feel from Phnom Penh but already charming with its small river, our incredibly friendly hotel staff, and a slew of restaurants all packed together and clearly getting ready for the big New Year's wingding hullabaloo this evening. And now I will also go get ready for said whoop-te-do. Off I go, then.

Let's make those resolutions. Until 2012, y'all!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in Cambodia
Days 1-4 of our Southeast Asia Odyssey

Brian and I departed Korea on Christmas Day after a year of teaching in Andong. As I have previously mentioned, the time flew and we can't believe it's over, or that we aren't exactly sure where we'll be working next year (although it is likely to be teaching English in Asia again). Unfortunately, my laptop has been having some persnickety issue in connecting to certain wi-fi networks, namely those in our guesthouse and hotel, so I have been unable to blog for my adoring fans before today. I will have to give a brief summary. Just to set the scene, Brian and I are sitting on the second floor of a French restaurant on the Beach Road in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, enjoying free wi-fi and about to enjoy some fromage, salade, pain, and so forth.

Day 1: Incheon-Hong Kong?-Bangkok-Phnom Penh...Christmas mostly consisted of flying. We didn't realize until we were at the gate in Seoul that we were going to be stopping in Hong Kong. We did have to deplane there, but despite the free internet I was unable to post an update from there because the browser did not satisfy Google/Blogspot. Then it was on to Bangkok where we walked a LOT around the airport, and then finally to Phnom Penh for a most wondrous evening welcoming us to Cambodia. Lots of people were wearing Santa hats, like in the airport in Thailand and in the bars in Phnom Penh. Good festive times. We stayed in the Waterview Guesthouse on the river in Phnom Penh (including a balcony!), walked around the night market, and sample a few watering holes, including one where Brian could watch a bit of the NBA Christmas day game.

Day 2: After another spell walking around Phnom Penh and sampling its delights, including cheap breakfast and iced coffee and crowds and street crossing (the trick is to saunter, not try to dash through the motos), we headed in a van with other traveling types from various guesthouses to the bus station to catch our bus to Sihanoukville. After a long wait at the bus station ON the bus, and a several hour bus ride, we pulled into this ridiculous tourist beach town, found our hotel, and found the beach. My initial impression of Sihanoukville is one of just being generally startled that it exists. I mean, two months ago I had never even heard of it. I know that some of you have heard of it, but most of you have not. And yet, here I sit gazing out over throngs of travelers from all the Western world, strolling to their hotels, beach bungalows, restaurants (French, Greek, Indian), used bookstores, massage parlors, bars-a-plenty....bars with, like, 75-cent beer, I might add. Cambodia is cheap, including this developed, backpacker-laden tourist beach area. We got in some beach time, some food-in-one-of-the-many-restaurants-on-the-beach time, some hotel bar time, and some DJ party-in-a-bar-on-the-beach time on that first night.

Day 3: Tuesday I got to sleep in with no alarm for the first time in ages, and after several nights in a row of few hours of sleep, thanks to leaving Korea, packing, final noraebang night, etc. Tuesday was relaxing. We sat on the beach for a long time. That is, after all, the main event here. We sat on beach chairs, ordered lunch, read, splashed, sunned, and watched scores of other travelers do the same, comfortably, with chairs and beach umbrellas and open patio establishments stretching in both directions. Night consisted of the fabulous Beach Road Hotel bar again, then dinner at a wonderful guesthouse bar called Monkey Republic across the street, where we had delicious burgers. Mine was of the vegetarian variety. I have already declared that I am so happy, these past 72 hours, to be back among the vegetarians, and the acknowledgement of vegetarians, after Korea. We ended the night a few doors down at The Big Easy, another guesthouse with bar, this one showing Brian's Arsenal game on the big screen, and several small screens.

Day 4: Wednesday was boat trip day. For $15, you get a boat ride to nearby islands, snorkeling, and breakfast and lunch included. We boarded the small boat with 20 other people - and mind you, this is not your typical ferry, but rather a long fishing-type boat that looks like this, very Cambodian/Vietnamese, and wooden. And small. But, nice breeze! - and set "sail" with the outboard motor chugging in my face since I was lucky enough to land in the back row. We stopped for brief snorkeling off one of the islands, where you couldn't see much but I did get to see a bunch of black sea urchins nestling on the rocks, and one of our boatmates stepped on one, getting a spiky part embedded in his foot - ouch! We spent the midday on the main island where there are some "services" (bungalows, a kind-of bathroom, and a kind of bar, at which Brian could order what I think was a green coconut to drink - for real, a straw in the top), and where our crew cooked our delicious lunch while we lay around on the beach chairs reading and relaxing, occasionally getting up to swim or snorkel. On the way back to Sihanoukville we stopped off of the third island for some more subpar snorkeling (but yes, with sea urchins).  Now we are back in Sihanoukville, where we just ate wonderful baguettes and fromage, thanks to those awesome French for colonizing the place.

I wonder if anyone who doesn't get my sense of sarcasm is reading this? At any rate, today on the island I finished the book I started reading on the plane to Phnom Penh, First They Killed My Father  by Loung Ung, which details the horrible things she and millions of others experienced under the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. I highly recommend it to any of you who are grappling with the concept of Linda in Cambodia, trying to work out what is this place and what happened here and why have we been so scared of it since the 1970s - it's an interesting look at a history that has been pretty much ignored in the U.S., as far as I can tell.

Sihanokville trips me out by its very existence. Also, I feel like I could be anywhere. There's nothing paticularly Cambodian about it, other than that it's here. It's one of those places that would make Julia Sugarbaker say she wants to see "the real Cambodia," with Suzanne replying that she was perfectly content to stay on Serendipity Beach. Part of me is looking forward to going back to Phonm Penh and then on to Siem Reap so I can remember what country I am in. But there is a small part of me excited to lie on the beach and do nothing again tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

And then there were two...

...days left of teaching in Andong! Can you believe it? Can I believe it? Furnishings have been sold, final gatherings have been somewhat organized, favorite restaurants have been frequented, glasses have been raised, clothes have been piled neatly for packing purposes.  Perhaps most importantly, I only have to have two more showers-that-don't-stay-hot-very-long in the coldest bathroom ever. I think I have concluded that it is preferable to have a cold shower in a hot bathroom (hot, i.e., the tropics) than a hot-two-minutes-warm-one-minute-cool-cold-hurry-out in an ice cold bathroom. In fact, even a hot hot piping hot shower that would stay hot long enough to actually, say, wash and condition one's hair is still totally negated when the bathroom is ice. Two more mornings of this! I am sorry, new people who are coming to teach at Avalon, whoever you are, but you will be taking short showers for January and probably most of February. But hey, it's Korea, which means the sa-u-na and jimjjilbangs are just down the street.

I know the biggest news this week has nothing to do with our impending departure from Korea, but rather Kim Jong Il's departure from this mortal coil. (Granted, he did most of the coiling...) I talked about it with my students who were of a certain age/fluency, and they all mentioned economic worries before war worries. There is a little war worry, though. Sigh. Seriously, people, how many deaths will it take 'til you know that too many people have died? (as a certain wise troubadour once wrote)

Come to think of it, as long as I'm quoting wise troubadours: "And so this is Christmas..."

I am off to Cambodia this Christmas day. For those who didn't get the memo, Brian and I are ringing in 2012 with a Habitat for Humanity trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to be followed by a sojourn in southern China and the Yangtze River, and then a month in Thailand doing our CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). Knowing we will be spending the bulk of this winter on the beach and in tropical climate cities has made it impossible for me to really settle into this freezing-bathroom, poorly insulated apartment that we were moved into on November 1st, or to happily hunker down in coat and scarves the way I would if I were actually spending the winter here. I am just ready to go be warm. And so we shall...after a few more slightly terrible Korean beers, and noraebang tunes, and one fine train ride from Andong to Seoul...and maybe even some farewell Outback cheese fries.

My second Korea stint draws to a close! And, I spent another year living out of the U.S. -- I'm allowed to move back to California now.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Ajumma Coffee-Sharing Protocol

Less than two weeks left in country and I'm still having confusing cultural experiences. (This is a good thing, btw.) So a couple days ago there I am riding the bus back from Seoul to Andong. How it works when you ride the express bus in Korea, usually, is that you buy your happy little (affordable!) ticket and then ride a decent, clean, comfortable bus to your destination. You get an assigned seat. In this case, I was number 12. The seats are two seats together on the left side of the aisle, and one seat alone on the right side of the aisle by the other window. In other words, the first row is 1-2 together, then seat 3. The second row is 4-5 together, then seat 6. And so on. When you get a multiple of 3, you know you will be in the seat alone on the right side, so I knew in seat 12 I would be in the fourth row in the single seat.

I boarded the bus and noted it wasn't too full. In the fourth row, an elderly couple were sitting together in my row, in seats 10 and 11. There was a suitcase placed in front of seat 12, in the area between the seat and the seat in front - where my legs would be when I sat down. I stopped in the aisle, showed them my ticket, and they hurried to move their small suitcase, wedging it between their legs on the floor of their pair of seats. It would have been nice for them, obviously, to have it in the seat they had thought would be empty, but they quickly moved it when they saw I'd be occupying the seat.

Within a couple minutes, the bus was ready to leave and there were still only seven or so people, total, on board. I thought to myself, "Self, you can move to the seat behind you, the couple can put their suitcase back here, you can have a bit more privacy, and everybody wins." (I hate sitting right next to people in a movie theater, too, when there are other empty rows. Why do people do that? When someone comes and sits right next to me, I totally move.)  And so in this case, as the driver began to reverse, I moved to the seat behind me (15, as you know if you are paying attention) and signalled to the elderly couple that seat 12 would be free after all and they could go ahead and put their suitcase back there. Of course they said thanks and stuff, and I tried to say "It's OK, no problem" although I was worried that the phrase I know for that, "Kwentchanayo" is not formal enough, because it is a polite form but not honorific. So, afraid of having not been respectful enough to my elders with my verb ending, I sat in seat 15 and started reading my book.

A bit later, here came Ms. Elderly Suitcase, to the seat behind her, with their thermos of coffee. It's one of those stainless steel, colored, sturdy thermoses people take on trips, with a lid that doubles as a cup. She sat down and held it out to me, offering me a cup of coffee. I tried to politely decline, once again fretting about my verb endings. I was trying to throw in a sup-ni-da or a su-seyo somewhere to make it all formal and honorific, but still I kept saying "Ah-ni-ye-yo" (No) and "Kwentchanayao" (It's OK). Anyway, I think she thought I was just doing the polite refusal thing, twice, and a third time she insisted, poured the coffee in the cup, and gave it to me. Then she went back to her seat.

So, what on earth is the protocol here? I mean, I had to drink it. (I think?) Would I drink it in the U.S.? No way. I'd think a fellow bus passenger was trying to poison me.So there I am sipping this random coffee and wondering about the etiquette. Do I drink it all? Do I drink a sip and then give it back to her? There's a thing in Korea about not totally emptying the dishes or pots or side dish bowls in restaurants, I heard, because it indicates you want your host to serve you more. I definitely did not want to be served more, as I was overwhelmed even being served the one cup! I drank half of it (tasty! mixed with milk! and apparently not poison) and then really tried to decide what to do with the second half. Meanwhile, Ms Elderly is back in her seat with headphones listening to music and oblivious to me. Finally I was like, whatever! and I drank the whole thing, then went back in the aisle, crouched next to her, got their attention, handed the cup back, thanked them a lot, and went back to my seat.

I mean, there was really no need to thank me for moving my seat. Anyone would have done the same thing, seriously! There were so many empty seats on the bus! And it was better for me anyway! I was so overwhelmed by the coffee thanks.

The funny thing is, I am reading the book Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, in which the new bride is totally out of her etiquette element at Manderley and has no idea what's going on with servants, menus, protocol, wings of the house, and whatnot. I was just reading it and thinking to myself, "Wow, I don't have to worry about fancy rules like that" when Ms Elderly comes and rocks my world with her proffered coffee thanks.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The view from here!

Have I mentioned the view from our new building? I mean, it really is a great view! I love looking out over Andong, nestled as it is in its hills, whether day or night. The view is probably the best thing about living in our new apartment. (Note: there were not a lot of contenders for this title.) Anyway, I try to take a moment every day to appreciate the view, because I love it. I don't know which time of day is the best. Many times I have found myself on the back stairway between my 5-6 p.m. classes, gazing at a glowing peach-pink-purple sky and the city lights that glow softly as dusk approaches. The front of our building faces downtown, and when nighttime has fallen over the city, the red sparkles and neon splashes punctuate the darkness and highlight the rectangular buildings. At midday, the decidedly non-rectangular buildings are the ones that catch my eye. Those are the traditional Korean houses of Andong, which are in the next block in either direction, a flat layer of old-style Korean rooftops in between all the modern apartments, stores and offices. The mix of old and new perfectly encapsulates what Korea seems to be all about. The ring of hills around the city and the river add their natural beauty, and I have come to know the line of trees atop a far east hill as well as I knew the E-Mart sign when we lived in Ok-Dong. In short, I try to not take for granted the view from our Dang-buk-dong digs.

I know what you're thinking: that I could post a picture of said view(s) to share with you all. You might be one of those a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words types. Well, not me. I am more of the belief that a thousand words are worth a picture. (Or, you know, 260.)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Oh hello there, December

"J'ai souvent constaté chez d'autres cette espèce d'instantanéité dans l'emploi d'une langue étrangère, après un travail inconscient d'incubation préparatoire ; il est remarquable d'ailleurs combien peu de mots suffisent pour exprimer les pensées les plus usuelles." - Arnauld d'Abbadie, Douze Ans de Sejour dans la Haute-Ethiopie
December! What!  And I have not even learned Korean yet, or sung nearly enough songs at the noraebang. And yet, here we are, with only three weeks more in Andong, Korea. I have to pack!

Today, I read the passage quoted above and it rang true.  Roughly translated, he says that he is always telling people that there's a revelatory moment when you can all of a sudden sort of use a foreign language that you have been working at learning, and that it's amazing how few words you really need to express the most common thoughts. Naturally this resonates with me the most from my Spanish, which I learned a-travelin' just as this author was learning Arabic on the road back in the day. I totally remember observing my brain make rapid progress in Spanish; in fact, it was almost as if I could note the physical occurrence and see my brain improve from Sunday morning to Monday night. There was a sudden moment where I just understood more. I totally get what my boy Arnauld is saying here. As for Korea - sigh. If only we used the language at all in our daily lives here! This is the same problem I ran into in 2005-06. All day I am paid to specifically not speak Korean. Then I go home to my apartment. Really, restaurants and stores are the only places I use the Korean language, unless I make an effort to set out to do so, and even in the shops and such people English us a lot. I've learned a bit - I learned to read and say a few phrases last time I lived here, and I've learned a bit more this time, but it's just crazy how little Korean the expat English teachers get away with knowing. I mean, even in Daegu many teachers don't read 한글 (hangeul - the Korean script), and in Seoul? Those people could probably get away with not even learning 맥주 (maekchu - beer) and 감사합니다 (kamsa hamnida - thank you)! Although everyone should always learn "thank you" in every language wherever they go even if they are just there for a day. I even learned it for my brief (wonderful!) stint in Turkey - then promptly forgot. (Ahh, right, teşekkür ederim - thanks for the refresher, Google translate!)

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes. December. It's beginning to feel a lot like winter, especially inside my classroom. Yes, I said inside. I have been teaching class in a coat/jacket for three weeks. We have heat now and everything in our newly "renovated" building but I have windows that are maybe like the thickness of a Ziploc of them doesn't even shut all the way...lots of my students just wear their jackets in my classroom. Our apartment upstairs has some draft/insulation issues, too. But have I mentioned we have only three more weeks here?

There will always be more things to do in Korea, but for now it is time to wrap it up and focus on our upcoming trip to Cambodia where we will see many wondrous things and help to build a house.

In other news, let's see.. my artistic endeavors in Daegu have ended (for now), I'm still picking up a few scraps of the Korean language here and there, I'm still managing to drag my cold self out from the blanket under which I huddle to make it to kickboxing once in a while, I'm reading about my boy Andrew Johnson and really digging his plebian, common man, pro-labor self. Let me just tell you that if Andy Johnson were alive today he would totes be #Occupying. And he is so not a fan of the organized religion in the USofA, circa 1850. It's pretty awesome. I remain fascinated by the prez bios I read.

Oh, also?  I could use some new music recommendations. What are you listening to?

Hurrah for December!  I love Christmas! I will be on a plane this Christmas Day but I still love it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Black Friday" Whoring

OK, so there are three things wrong with this so-called "Black Friday" madness. I mean, even besides the fact that "Black Friday" is a stupid phrase that people/the media/shoppers use, in order to feel like they are a part of something cool that is bigger than them, when in reality retail workers meant it as an insult to call a day "Black" - as in, hello, this day is so awful and terrible and full of needy, chaotic, and nowadays violent shoppers that we are going to equate it with depression and economic freefall. But even getting past the nonsense of the name and the cult and the wicked behavior (violence is not acceptable, ever! violence in shopping is unacceptable plus crazy!) and the pushing of the start time earlier and earlier until it is now "Black Fri-Thurs-Ruin-My-Holi-Day," even getting past all that, I think you Friday crazy-shoppers need to take a good, hard look at yourselves.

1. Selfishness: I actually like Christmas shopping, a lot. I hate shopping the rest of the year, but I like picking out Christmas presents for people. And when I worked at Borders for many holiday seasons, I liked the holiday shoppers, too. Humanity just generally acts better when people are thinking about others instead of themselves, and customers buying holiday presents acted better than stupid customers the rest of the year who were in constant sense-of-entitlement mode. The problem with what the day after Thanksgiving (or day OF Thanksgiving, awful!) has become is that these people are no longer thinking about others, for whom they are buying gifts, but thinking only about themselves and the dollars they can "save" on this or that deal.

2. Amateur Hour: Much like Valentine's Day in restaurants or New Year's Eve in bars, the Friday has become the amateur hour -- the day when everybody goes out to do something they clearly are not very good at. Their lack of sophistication (or even intelligence) shows.

3.Prostitution: But I think I've realized that what bugs me about this "Black Friday" nonsense is how the  selfish, amateur behavior admits desperation on the part of the shoppers. I'm baffled that people are willing to so freely admit their desperation, and it reminds me of why I don't understand men who go to prostitutes. I mean, my whole take on that situation is: don't you feel bad about yourself, guys? Here you are, wanting to, shall we say, "hook up," and you have to PAY someone to do it? Your looks/charm/wit/intelligence/kindness/graciousness/compassion/any other wonderful qualities are lacking, so you'll just go buy affection/intimacy/pleasure? I find that so pathetic that it is amusing (if it weren't also tragic for the ones who are unfortunately forced into prostitution in many cases). Wow, you're such a manly stud, "banging a hooker." And you had to PAY her to like you for the evening/hour. How do you not feel like a total loser after that? Anyway, that is what the Black Fridayers have come to remind me of. They are so terrible at what they are trying to do (shop), and so clearly incapable of selecting gifts from the heart for their friends and family, and apparently so awful at finding a good deal with their own intelligence and other personal attributes, that they bring about the dismissal of soul/quality/finesse and instead are sold a commodity masquerading as something true.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about people who happen to want to start their holiday shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. That shouldn't have to be a problem. (And hey, it's good exercise for U.S. people to actually have to walk from a farther away parking space for once.)  I am talking only about the crazed Black Fridayers. The distinction is abundantly clear to all of us sane people, but I am afraid that some of the crazies might be in denial about themselves, like someone who believes that a prostitute really loves him.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Post

First of all, I am pleased to report that my Andong, Korea Thanksgiving went well, and the Sam Adams-drinking plan was a success! Although we spent the equivalent of $30 each to have a night out instead of the approximately $10 we would ordinarily spend if we drank cheap Korean beer, I felt justified celebrating in Sam Adams style because it was a U.S. holiday, and the Adams family lived just down the road a piece from ol' Plymouth Rock, you know. There happened to be a big concert event at Andong University last night, which a few of our foreigner teacher friends attended; afterward they also stopped by the "world beers" bar and together we watched some of the replay of the concert. We tried to spot our friends in the crowd and gazed admiringly at the soju ad lady (famous/popular/beautiful) who hosted the event, and so on. It reminded me of something that would happen at a Thanksgiving at home in the States, with the end-of-the-evening group of people who haven't yet dozed off finding something random on television to watch, with whoever is left at the gathering offering (not-so)witty commentary.

As for today, I couldn't be happier to not be shopping, but I wouldn't be shopping if I were back home in the States, anyway. I would, however, be making fun of shoppers from either place, and losing respect for anyone who actually went shopping on Thanksgiving Day. I truly hope that was a bust. Shame on any of you who participated in Thursday shopping! Meanwhile, I really hate the phrase "Black Friday." It's stupid. It's not as offensive as, say, "family values" or one of those other phrases tossed around in political rhetoric that not only doesn't mean anything but is actually used to obfuscate what the talking head is really saying while manipulating voters and/or public discourse. But it's still stupid. I think people use the phrase "Black Friday" to try to sound and feel like they are a part of something, in this case, the day-after-Thanksgiving media-promulgated shopping day. Gaaargh.

I did manage to talk about Thanksgiving in each of my four Thursday classes. In a couple of them, we did a Thanksgiving crossword or USA puzzle. I had my more advanced speakers go around the room to say one thing they are thankful for, turkey-day-dinner style. All in all, it was another decent day at my decent job, apart from the fact that our new building is freezing cold and my classroom is the most  freezingest coldest.

And so November winds down.  I have been doing NaNoWriMo, churning out a spectacularly crappy quantity-not-quality of words, and although I fell behind mid-month, I just might finish/"win." I am starting to get into the pack-up-my-life state of mind. I can feel Cambodia getting closer and closer! We will be there so soon! Thank you so much to everyone who donated to our Habitat for Humanity trip. What a wonderful cause.

I love the holiday season!  I'm so excited to start thinking all sorts of Christmasy thoughts now!

Thanksgiving 2011

Apparently there's some U.S. holiday today or something?  That's funny. I don't have the first clue what any of my U.S. peeps are up to. I have not heard from a single family member about their plans for today. The only news I have? Photos that friends have posted on Facebook of their pies and other concoctions.

Then again, there's been so much going on here in Korea, I had hardly noticed that the holidays are here. A shame, because I love me some holiday season. Most of that "so much" going on in Andong involves us getting ready to leave: arranging the flight to Cambodia, preparing for our Habitat for Humanity volunteer build there, attempting to make some semblance of arrangements for next year, and trying not to freeze in the poorly insulated building we now live and work in, notably in my frigid classroom on the two-exposed-walls end of the hallway with windows that don't shut, let alone seal.  Brrrr.

It's such a contrast from 2005, the last time I was in Korea for Thanksgiving. I was more aware of and interested in Thanksgiving that year, as evidenced by A Distant Nation my Community, that year's T-day entry. Then, I was "new" to Korea - still adjusting and noticing and observing with wide eyes. Now I am on the way out. Then, I was very much in touch with what was happening back home, and dozens of people wrote to me about their Thanksgiving happenings, sharing wonderful stories. I guess I just live a more isolated life now.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Is it some combination of Facebook, people's reluctance to communicate via personal e-mail, and all of us just getting older and more spread out? Is it the intermittently anti-social me, who lives with Brian and therefore never actually craves human interaction anymore? I really have been thinking about that, seriously. Now that I live with someone, it is soooooooooo easy for me to not make the effort to go out and do things and talk to people. How do other people avoid this trap?

Well, anyway, tonight I will drink a delicious Sam Adams beer, because last week I finally discovered a bar here in Andong that carries those delectable bottles. Only ten and  half months here that I didn't know about it, no big deal, right?  As for next year's Thanksgiving?  A mystery!

Enjoy the football, eating, and most of all, the gathering!

Monday, November 21, 2011

And nothing lasts forever...

...even cold November showers! Or, I should say, our November showers most certainly do not last forever because there is not enough hot water in our apartment. So frustrating. For those of you who don't know, Avalon moved on Halloween, both the school and the teachers' apartments. We are now closer to bustling downtown Andong, not that we were that far to begin with (Andong is not that big). Avalon entered into a partnership with MBC, one of the Korean news networks, and we don't really know the details of it except that it means we moved into a new building, expanded our academy's size, increased the number of classrooms and  teachers and subjects, and did all this in a former (small) hotel that has now "been renovated." I say "been renovated" in quotes because I would not exactly say the work was done when we moved in, or even now, three weeks later.

I wasn't particularly excited about living upstairs from work, as I like some personal space, but here we are in the "penthouse" as I very jokingly call it, on the 6th floor, with a two second commute to work on the 4th floor to teach our English classes. The first day here we had no electricity until 8pm, and no hot water, and no stove, and no washing machine and no refrigerator. All of these things slowly but surely trickled in during the first two weeks. Internet has been problematic. There is a wireless network for the whole building, and our computers in our classrooms are fine but up in the apartments there are still continual problems with the internet experience. The other big things are the stove and hot water. The "stove" is a tiny two-burner plug-in hot plate that is about half as big and sturdy as the one in our old apartment (and most other English teacher apartments I've seen in Korea); I really think is the plastic Barbie doll play kitchen version. It takes about 20 minutes to boil some water. Brian the chef is not happy, and I feel sad about this. As for me, I am most miserably because I absolutely cannot take cold showers, so I take 3-minute showers these days. Different tasks get allocated to different days, such as washing hair, conditioning hair, etc. I hate this. I mostly hate it because the bathroom is so cold (no heat in there) that a 3-minute shower isn't enough to get you all warm and toasty anyway, so it is almost as bad as taking a cooler shower. (Almost)

Let the record reflect that I am well aware these are "first-world problems" as they say. But here's my thing about that: you can't expect people to live in a situation that has certain requirements and then not provide them. Maybe everyone doesn't deserve to live in shameless modern luxury. OK, granted. But then, people who lived in previous time periods without hot running water either lived in the desert (the cradles of civilization!) or boiled water, or both. We have a burner that is tiny and doesn't heat up, and no way to make a fire to boil water without burning the building down, and no bathtub anyway. (The shower is a corner of the tile in the Korean bathroom.)  It's one thing to say an airplane or a car is a modern luxury, but you don't send someone up in the air and then say, "Oh, too bad! We're out of fuel! You are so picky and dependent on modern conveniences!" as the plane falls out of the sky.

At least we can work our heat (thankfully it was warm the first day, when we couldn't). I love Korean ondol heating, and I actually come upstairs often when I have break periods between classes because my classoom is FREEZING. While many of the classrooms in the hallway have classrooms on either side and one exposed outside wall, my classroom is on the end of the hallway and I have two exposed outside walls...and more windows than some other classrooms (windows thin as paper)...and a window that doesn't shut...the board I write on in class is ice cold to touch first class of the day. My kids keep their jackets on. We have heat in the classrooms now, which is better than the week before last, now the weather has turned even colder so it's still freeze-ola in there.

The thing about all this is that Brian and I are only five weeks away from leaving!! So part of us has been trying to get settled, and get everything fixed, and all that, and the rest of me is totally in the mindset of "Screw it, only 32 more days!" kind of thing. It's a frustrating way to be thinking. So not living in the moment. Booo!

And it's also so weird that we are leaving so soon!!!!!!!!!!  Can you believe we have finished 46 weeks in Andong? Wow! And we still aren't sure about our plan for next year. But, first things first, we are flying from Seoul to Phnom Penh. We will kick off 2012 volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a kingdom of wonder (that's their slogan, I didn't make it up) that has seen a lot of troubles and danger and floods and problems (although being cold is generally not one of them) but has also got fascinating history, temples, rivers, coast, cities, food, people, and so on to visit.

Meanwhile, in our last five weeks back here at the ranch, we are no longer in the hip, up-and-coming nightlife area called Ok-Dong, so we now live in Dangbuk-dong, near different restaurants and bus routes, farther from the city bus terminal but closer to the city train station, closer to the rows of Andong jjimdak restaurants (the spicy chicken stew specialty) in the downtown market jjimdak stalls, but father from all the fabulous Ok-Dong places we had come to love, farther from E-Mart, closer to the hospital and doctors, farther from two of the three bars where the Westerners mostly hang out, closer to some other bars, closer to downtown shopping and coffee shops, farther from the Tous Les Jours where they love me and Coffee Beach, farther from my kickboxing gym, but still a nice walk home from kickboxing class.

"And so it goes, and so it goes, and so will [we] soon, I suppose..." as Billy Joel sort of sang.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November Holiday Roundup
in reverse chronological order

November 24, U.S.: If you go shopping on Thanksgiving night at WalMart or anywhere, you are part of the problem. Forget slippery slopes, this was a total free fall. 7 a.m., 6 a.m., 4 a.m., who needs sleep when we can just go SHOPPING!, Black Black Black Friday, trampling to death, and now this. You know what, retailers of the U.S.? Forget you! (I put it that way because this is, of course, a family blog. Heh.) And you know what, holiday shoppers of the U.S.? Forget you, too! DON'T GO SHOPPING ON THANKSGIVING. And, p.s., don't go shopping at WalMart. We have been over this.

November 11, U.S.: Veterans Day. I posted on Twitter and Facebook the following great idea: in honor of all the veterans, let's not have any more veterans. The first comment I received was a request to explain what that meant. I didn't answer right away; I thought I would give everyone a little time to think about the simplest way to not make any more veterans.

November 11, Korea: Peppero Day (although I feel like Beppero more precisely conveys the pronunciation?) is here again, and what a doozy! 11/11/11! So many sticks! Unfortunately, they have "cancelled" Peppero Day in some of the elementary schools here. (Isn't that just an old joke? "That's it! We're cancelling Christmas!") My students initially told me a few days ago that one of the elementary schools here in Andong was cancelling it, and we talked about bad behavior and troublemakers running riot with the chocolate sticks. Then I heard from some Daegu teachers about Peppero cancellations, allegedly due to unsafe Peppero being imported from China. Where, apparently, Lotte factories are up to no good. Then someone else said the schools just don't wawnt to deal with all the trash a day of the 11-like Peppero sticks produces. Damn it, someone get to the bottom of this!!! (I am allowed to say "damn" on my family blog. I just made that rule.)

November 1, Mexico etc.: All Souls' Day/Day of the Dead. Oops, I forgot to celebrate. I was too busy on the first of the month enjoying my first full day in our new apartment, waiting to see at any given moment whether we would have any of the following: electricity, hot water, a refrigerator, a stove, know, luxuries like that. I might add that we also don't have a television, which while clearly not essential to life is in fact in our English teacher contract (!) and also at this point hilariously NOT a "first-world problem," as they say.

How will you celebrate this month? Anyone who is thinking of going shopping on Thanksgiving night, tell you what - why don't you donate ten of those dollars to Habitat for Humanity, by clicking here, instead. That's a better thing to do, I promise.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Starkville Indigo

Don't those two words, starkville and indigo, just sound so perfect together? This may be part of why the song "Starkville" is one of the highlights of my career as an Indigo Girls fan. It's a wonderful, perfect piece of them.

"If you were here in Starkville..." the song begins. It is a melancholy song, but also lively. It recalls, and it looks ahead. It's a song about vast expanses between things that are connected, such as distant geographical locations and human hearts.

I put "Starkville" on my 25K training run playlist, because of the steady drumbeat and the "I went running for my health/I watched those headlights turn to moonlight and finally/I was running by myself" part.

"Starkville" is an Amy song on the album Become You, which came out in 2002. I think of Become You as a transition album, a kind of link between two different Indigo Girls eras. It could be that I am projecting two of my different eras of fandom onto the Girls themselves, but I think musically my theory holds up. I think you could play any of the first five or six albums, and then you could play Despite our Differences or the latest, Beauty Queen Sister, and someone might not at first realize it was the same band. (If there's a flaw in my theory it's All That We Let In, but we'll analyze that another day.

There is a lot to love about "Starkville." For one thing, it offers up lines like "I'm haunted by geography" and "My regrets become distractions" and "I call you on a whim just to say/morning birds are singing/but I could not do them justice/so I hung up and I fell back to sleep."

It also has "I'm in love with my mobility, but sometimes this life can be a drag."  That's another thing to love about "Starkville."

And I haven't even mentioned the "I was hell bent on agony back then" part. Really, "Starkville" is a song for people who have ever appreciated someone else and who are now appreciating where they are. And who they are. (The whole of Become You is good for this, I might add.)

My friend Finn, who inspired this post, has a deep, true appreciation for "Starkville." When we all lived in L.A., he and some others came over to my apartment on my birthday. He said he had not got me a present, so he made up a dance to "Starkville" for me instead. 

I cannot provide you a link, because the only hints of "Starkville" I can find online are craptacular videos that "cannot not do [it] justice."  But I can urge you to purchase it from iTunes or (gasp!) buy it on CD in a music store. It's worth it.

A great thing about being an Indigo Girls fan is having spent so many years watching and listening to Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, watching and listening to their growth and contributions to the planet. "Starkville" is such an Amy-esque Amy moment. A link between her past and present, too. A look at all that there has been and all that there is to come and all that is now.

Oh, and total bonus: it has harmonica!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"The rains came down and the floods came up..."

Did you know that Hurricane Irene had a devastating impact on Vermont? Have you been reading daily news updates about the damage, floods, FEMA efforts, people who lost their homes, and years of clean-up work ahead?  Most of us have not been hearing about this at all.

An ABC news report noted that homes, bridges, roads, and the state's emergency operations center were washed away. That's a fine mess to be in. I also read that a dozen or more towns in Vermont and New York were cut off. Like, there you were in your town, with no immediate way to the outside world (short of some far-reaching medieval catapult-like device, maybe?), which is something that I think we all take for granted all the time: that we can just somehow, whether on public transportation or in a car or even on a bicycle or on foot, hit the road and go somewhere else. Oh, and? People died. The governor of Vermont called for "all the help we can get." But within a few days, the media and, as importantly, the public had moved on to other things.

I was here in Korea when Irene did her thing. I was aware of Irene. I read internet updates, scrolled through a gazillion Facebook updates about it on my news feed, and watched tons of live coverage on CNN International -- of the build-up, and of the raging waters. The watching. The waiting. The Anderson Cooper live at the water's edge in New York City. The obligatory reporter clutching a pole to not be blown away. All the breathless excitement with dramatic pictures of crashing waves, with journalists a-plenty dispatched to the scene, for the anticipation and thrill of the event. But reporting the after-effects? Well, that's just maybe too depressing. Naaah, we need to move on and find some nasty, bleeding, volatile coverage of something else to get people riled up, as opposed to a calm, methodical, deep digging report about what people in Vermont and other northeast states are going through after the fact.

The question is not "why don't we see the next several months of devastation and disaster recovery on our TV newscasts?" You know perfectly well  why we don't: because the viewing public would change the channel. The real question you should be asking is why you would change that channel.

Also, I daresay it has become trendy in the years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans to be scornful of FEMA and The Government, in a general, dissatisfied, heckuva-job way. But lambasting any and all public officials is probably not the solution either, because a friend of mine in northern New England reports that it has actually become a political football kind of topic there now. Political candidates are very aware of how they come across on the issue, so the danger is that it becomes all about the stance instead of about the real impact on people, their lands, their homes, their mortgages, and their lives.

My Napikoski family hometown of tiny Millers Falls, Massachusetts is in Western Mass, close enough to the Vermont border that sometimes it was closer to drive to Vermont for dinner or a particular store or event than to the next bigger town in Massachusetts. I am very familiar with the area and have spent quality time in Vermont, both as a child visiting with family, and also on my own when I lived in Boston. Since my grandma died and my dad's generation of siblings sold off the house, I haven't been back to Millers Falls. I'm not sure how the river close by my grandparents' old home fared in the storm. I try to imagine it. I am trying to imagine all of the towns in Vermont and other areas Irene hit. I am wondering if some of the cute covered bridges I remember washed away. I am wondering who the people are that were swept away in the raging waters.

The excitement died after landfall, but the flooding continued for days after that. The story wasn't over. How can we get people to pay attention to the end of these stories?

My thanks to Kamron for inspiring this blog post. You, too, can choose a topic for Linda Without Borders this month when you make a donation to my upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Interestingly, Cambodia has also recently been hit by devastating floods, with a death toll in the hundreds.

And the world keeps turning and turning...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grocery Shoppers Need to Get in Line!

What is it about grocery store lines that makes people think they have the right to push, shove, and crowd the person in front of them? I'm talking to - well, most of you people. This isn't one of those things where I think "there are two kinds of people in the world - all my friends and all the stupid people." No, regrettably, I fear many of you are guilty of this one. You are so impatient in grocery store lines and when you hit that conveyor belt and the  little space between the gum/magazine racks, you lose your minds. Not to mention all sense of politeness.

I mean, can you imagine that kind of activity in a line somewhere else -- the bank, or Starbucks, say? Pushing up against the person in front of you, advancing to the counter before they are finished, and all the shifting! The impatient shifting!

To be honest, it cracks me up. And you know what else it does? It slows me down. That's right, you impatient grocery shoppers. You are only making it worse for yourselves. As soon as someone bumps me from behind, which usually happens when the person in front of me (sometimes two in front of me!) is still paying, I plant my feet, and I do not move until it is my turn. That really freaks out some of the line freaks: "Oh my god! Everyone moved up three inches but this lady in front of me is NOT MOVING UP THREE INCHES!! What do I do?"  Shove shove shove. But I remain fixed. I have actually had someone tap me before and say, "Ma'am...?" and gesture to the six inches or whatever of space I had not moved up into. I said, "Oh, are you referring to the few inches of space in front of me?"

Then, when I pay, I usually do so with a debit card but as a Visa purchase, not a PIN purchase. You know what that means? I sign my name. You know what that means? I have a really long name. I can sign it quickly, just kind of do the capital 'N' and then a squiggle for the rest. Or, in cases like these, I can neatly, painstakingly, carefully write in beautiful cursive the a-p-i-k-gotta love those cursive Ks, looped back around, neatly, neatly, -o-s-oooh! here's another k!-i. Aaaand, don't forget to carefully dot the Is! I have had clerks in stores reach for the receipt three or four times before I am actually finished. I love it. The person behind me, meanwhile, is having absolute fits.

They need to chill out. It will be their turn when I am finished, and not before. 

This blog post was written because Karen Curtis, who kindly donated to my upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Cambodia, selected the topic of people who crowd her in the checkout lines. But I happen to not only agree with her 100% that crowding in the store checkout line is rude, but also I take it to the next level of actively trying to slow those people down. So, that view is my own, but I had no problem giving you my interpretation of this issue. I think you all need to calm down in the grocery store lines! And don't touch me.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ulleungdo? I Ulleungdid!!

Ulleungdo (pronounced like ooh-lung-doe, as in doe, a deer...) is an island 100 kilometers or so off of the Korean peninsula. Don't worry that you have never heard of it. There are other islands off of the Korean peninsula you have probably not heard of, such as Jeju, a popular travel destination for honeymooners and other travelers around these parts that the U.S.-Korean military industrial complex partnership wants to spoil with a giant useless violent military base, and Dokdo, which is really more of an islet or, you know, rock that is nonetheless extremely important to Koreans who repeatedly remind anyone who is listening that "Dokdo is Korea!" Which is to say, Dokdo is not Japan's. Apparently some small right wing extremist part of the Japanese population actually cares about perpetuating the fight over these rocks in the East Sea (not called the Sea of Japan here!), thus firing up the entire Korean population, while the rest of the world remains blissfully ignorant that Dokdo exists at all, much less that there is a fight over which country it "belongs" to. Korean students will look you in the eye and tell you that Dokdo is an important international issue, and you feel kind of bad telling them that while Kim Jong-Il and the North/South tensions and nuclear threats (real or imagined) are top global issues, Dokdo actually might rank somewhere around 3,675th.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I was in Ulleungdo. For the three-day weekend. October 3rd was a holiday here in Korea, Foundation Day, so we had a three-dayer and Brian and I hopped the ferry from Mukho harbor to Ulleungdo with the Climbing in Korea Meetup group. I like islands, and I liked this one. It was a very Lost-y island, with less sand and beach, but about the right size and cliffs and rocks and an adjacent smaller island and natural beauty and mountainous bits and a waterfall and a basin.  It used to be a volcano. Or, it was formed from a volcano. You geologists let me know the proper way to describe that. Maybe both.

Among our Ulleungdo activities we rode a cable car, gazed in the direction of Dokdo but did not have a clear enough day to see it 90 km away, ate honghapbap, slept in a minbak across the street from the water with the other folks from the group, saw a whooooole lot of squid being dried/eaten, saw the bright lights of the squid fishing boats at night that lure the squid to their doom, and climbed Seonginbong, the highest peak on the island.  The 984-meter elevation hike was the main adventure, although that was a very full day (Sunday) because after our hike we did a bunch of other walking, sanchae bibimap eating, rock gazing, oncheon bathing, and relaxing. We explored the villages of Dodong-ri and Jeodong-ri and Cheonbu-ri and Sadong-ri while we were there. All in all, a good time was had on the island although our best laid plans for returning went agley when the ferry was delayed due to sea conditions, so once we got back to the mainland we couldn't get back to Andong Monday night and instead had to stay the night in Gangneung, on the coast north of Donghae/Mukho, and then take the 6 a.m. train back to Andong Tuesday morning. Good times, just like when I got trapped on Catalina Island off the coast of California for a night and had to call in sick to work. Or, rather, call in trapped-on-an-island. I was afraid that might happen again. Why am I always getting stuck on not-so-desert islands?

Ulleungdo! Just Ulleung-do it!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Comparison to Hitler

Yesterday I mentioned that Hank Williams Jr. did not in fact set out to compare Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, but I also mentioned that if he had done so, it would not have been a mortal sin (as it were), in my opinion. Of course, there's this whole "free speech" thing people like to jabber about (but not actually practice), but there's the additional fact that comparing someone to something extreme to make a point is a valid rhetorical tactic. Also, I frankly think that comparing oneself to Hitler ought to be encouraged. After all, who could possibly make you look better in a comparison than Hitler? If I compare myself to Gandhi, or Voltaire, or Gloria Steinem, or Steve Nash, well, then I have a lot to live up to. But Hitler? Let's take a look:

Hitler: Spoke fluent German
Me: Did very well in German class in high school

Hitler: Leader of Nazi party, chancellor, head of state
Me: Student government secretary

Hitler and Me: Both Tauruses!

Hitler: Wrote a famous book, Mein Kampf
Me: Wrote a lot of stuff, absolutely none of it famous (yet)

Hitler: Responsible for the deaths of millions of people
Me: Responsible for the deaths of dozens of insects, including cockroaches and one particularly memorable centipede in the bathtub

Hitler: Anti-communist
Me: "Communism is just a red herring." - Clue

Hitler: Racially motivated policies
Me: Cheese enchilada-motivated policies

Hitler and Me: Both sang in the church choir when we were young

Hitler: Decorated for bravery in World War I
Me: Pacifist

So those are some of the ways that I am like or not like Hitler. Now, you try!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Write a Song About It, Hank

First of all, I rarely watch Monday Night Football. I don't watch it at all this year, over here in Korea. I frankly could not even have told you that Hank Williams Jr. was part of the show opening, so I certainly won't miss him when he's gone. And I never watch Fox "News." I am not the biggest Obama fan and I am not even the smallest Hank Williams Jr. fan. You might say I don't have a dog in this fight. But:

1. I have serious misgivings about the whole idea of "solving" problems by very publicly punishing certain outspoken celebrities.
2. Did anyone actually take a look at what Hank actually said? 
3. Hitler. Why does anyone still take this bait?

Earlier this year Kobe Bryant, in the heat of the moment of an intense basketball game, called a referee "faggot" and suddenly the entire nation(/world?) was weighing in on what he "deserved" as a punishment. I know, because none of us have ever called someone a name in the heat of the moment, right? And when the NBA fines him some ridiculous amount, we all collectively feel satisfied because - why? What exactly did we do, there? And why is it outrageous for him to say that but not outrageous for men to throw around the words "pussy" "douchebag" and even the more clinical "vagina" as derogatory insults to each other?  I maintain that the answer is the currency, the hot topic-ness, the "It Gets Better" trend, of acknowledging that people need to not be jerks (or worse) to homosexuals. It is not because of any actual sincere reflection about what it meant to use that term or what it means as an insult. The same is true in this situation. I actually fully support ESPN in standing up to Fox and Clowns Friends, and I wish more people would call them out on their 1.outrageous statements 2.lies 3.just plain nonsense. But choosing a political issue to publicly condemn someone for a statement is problematic. It's like this big show. It's not an honest look at what it means to have Hank Williams Jr. be a part of your program - it's just being caught up in the hysteria of the moment.

Furthermore: I saw all these headlines like "Hank Calls Obama 'Hitler'" and that is not what happened! What he SAID was that Obama and good ol' John Boehner playing golf together was like Hitler and Netanyahu playing golf together. This, my friends, is what we call an analogy. He exaggerated to make a point, because that is something that people do in arguments. When pressed (by some talking head who could just smell a controversy, and therefore ratings, on the horizon)  he explained that many people consider Obama and others in government the "enemy" right now, thus cementing in some people's mind the Obama/Hitler comparison. But he didn't actually start running around calling Barack Obama "Hitler."

And here's a question for you: So what if he did?  IF Hank had actually compared Obama to Hitler, so what? Why shouldn't he be able to do that? I mean, sure, he should then have to explain his thinking -- because there has been a U.S. White House occupant this decade who charismatically sucked people in with lies and perpetuated the slaughter of many, many people and his name is certainly not Barack Obama. But seriously, it's like the internet joke that within a certain amount of time someone will bring up Hitler to render any argument pointless. Why do people still fall for this? You seriously can call someone Satan and it goes over better than calling someone Hitler, but everyone still gets all high and mighty and the hysterical response just feeds the hysteria. I guarantee you Hank could have said it was like Satan playing golf with Jesus and no one would have cared and everyone could still have Hank on their football game on Mondays.

Now what really needs to happen is that all of you who went crazy on the Dixie Chicks in 2003 when they said they were ashamed of Texas/George W. Bush need to get together with Hank Jr. and call up the Chicks to apologize. And everyone - everyone! - needs to be able to have a feisty political discussion because feisty political discussions are awesome and they don't need to end with public shows of punishment or defriending on Facebook or whatever other simple-minded response people choose that feels good for two seconds but does nothing whatsoever to inspire or illuminate.

OK, maybe I am the smallest Hank Williams Jr. fan. I do love me some country music. But not when it's about "God told me to be a Republican fighting in Iraq." Stick to crying in my honky tonk beer and we can talk.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

Control my blog for a day!

This month, you get the chance to make Linda Without Borders about whatever you want. How, you ask? When you support my upcoming volunteer trip to Cambodia with Habitat for Humanity, I will blog about any topic you choose. Big or small, you name it. Got a burning political or social issue you feel passionate about? Is there a band/artist/book/company that the blogosphere needs to know? Just want me to talk about your favorite pizza toppings? The choice is yours.I know many of my friends and family are already supportive of the wonderful work of Habitat for Humanity, but I wanted to find a way to "give" you something in return for your donation. And so you get a piece of me - my blog!

Make a donation (any amount) by clicking here.
And then, let me know the topic you choose.

BONUS:  While any donation to my Habitat for Humanity cause will get me to blog (and tweet!) for a day about the topic of your choosing, you can kick it up to the next level with a $75 donation. If you donate $75 to our Cambodia trip, I will blog about your choice of topic AND I pledge to read/watch any one book/movie that you name, between now and when I leave for Cambodia.  We all have that book or movie that we insist our friends/family should read/watch. Or maybe you know of one that I have particularly neglected (genre fiction, anyone?) for some reason. Bring it on! Make a $75 contribution, and I will do your bidding.

Brian and I will finish our year-long contract teaching English in Andong, Korea this December. We have decided to take the Habitat for Humanity trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia as our next step. We will ring in 2012 building homes alongside Habitat partner families and doing our small part as volunteers to make a positive contribution in the world.

Just to recap: 
  • Habitat sets a minimum $10 donation, so for $10, my blog will be turned over to your heart's desire for one day.
  • If you donate $25, I will also include a link to your web site or a site of your choosing to promote. 
  • If you give $75 or more, I will not only blog and link to you, but in addition I pledge to read any book or watch any movie of your choosing -- you name it! -- before my Cambodia trip. I will do it, when you make a $75 donation. 
The donation link, one more time:
Thanks to everyone who supports Habitat for Humanity!

Monday, September 26, 2011

China highlights

At long last, Brian and I traveled to China.

We went for our Chuseok vacation. China! A large, diverse country... the most populous...the oldest continuous civilization on Earth... ridiculous amounts of history, culture, nature, cities, was exciting to even contemplate, and truly exciting to be there. Of course, Chuseok vacation is only a few days long, so it was a brief trip. We selected two major cities, Beijing and Shanghai, for our introduction to China. The minute we stepped on the Air China plane in Pusan, I saw the red-with-gold silk of the flight attendant's shirt inches from my face and heard the telltale plucky musical notes. I turned to Brian and said, "It totally feels like we are in China now." The instantly China-invoking music is what you hear at every Epcot Centeresque evocation of China, only this time it was really a Chinese entity playing it.


Day 1: Going to Beijing
Upon arrival at the airport, I watched from the airplane window as baggage handlers loaded boxes and boxes of something into cargo holds. "There go the Wal-Mart goods," I thought to myself. Our first day consisted of travel, eating in airports and planes, reading Chinese newspapers (in English - the papers for expats, I mean) and a long walk to the City Walls courtyard hostel. Because it is very close to the Forbidden City, it is not very close to a subway stop because they haven't built/can't build underground underneath the Forbidden City. Makes sense. I got my first glimpse of a lit up Forbidden City building as we neared our accommodations. We were also staying extremely close to the Hou-Hai nightlife area, and we stepped out for an introductory drink. I instantly fell in love with this scene: in the middle of Beijing, a lake surrounded by bars, lanterns, restaurants, music, clubs, cute pedestrian stone bridges, people walking talking selling things, and so on.

Day 2: Beijing's Sights to Behold
All anyone could jabber about Beijing before we got there was the pollution and traffic. Sigh. They do the same thing with Los Angeles and Washington D.C. sometimes, too (two of my favorite U.S. cities). Look past it, people. We rode the bus to the Summer Palace area, which definitely slowed to a crawl in the congested area of small, crowded streets but also allowed us to see a lot of Beijing streets, malls, the zoo, universities, and so on from our bus windows, giving us a nice taste and feel for the city. We had lunch at a famous dumplings restaurant, then spent the afternoon at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City palace. I think Tiananmen Square was one of my top two must-do destinations in China, along with the Great Wall. It's just SO famous and historical and symbolic and human rightsy and interesting. I couldn't believe we were actually walking there when we got there.

After a brief happy hour drink in our hostel courtyard -- really, this courtyard hotel thing is a must! -- we headed for cocktails at the rooftop bar of the Emperor Hotel, overlooking the Forbidden City and the other lights of Beijing as evening fell. Stunning! If you don't stay at our City Walls Courtyard hostel, stay at the Emperor Hotel instead, just for the view from that rooftop bar. After that, we ate amazing hot pot, which we figured out as we went along, and then we went north for another little pilgrimage to the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, which if you don't instantly remember then I have to question both your sanity and just what the heck you were doing in August of 2008! The best Olympics since 1984, easily! Brian and I had so much fun watching from our Brooklyn apartment three years ago: Shawn Johnson, Michael Phelps, and everyone, really. And now we got to see the spot where it all went down. Our last stop for the night was a walk along Ghost Street, a sea of food, red lanterns, and people milling about enjoying them.

Day 3: The Wall Is Great
Obviously, one goes on one 's first trip to China and one is excited to see the Great Wall. We chose the Mutianyu section, where we spent a couple hours hiking, taking pictures, and marveling at the fact that we were actually at the Great Wall. Oh, also I did cartwheels on the Great Wall, because why not? It's big. It's wide. It's long - even though the idea that you can "see it from space" is kind of silly. It's so important! And the mountains are so beautiful! It was fun to climb and trek around the watchtowers and take the toboggan slide back down the mountain. The Great Wall, as Brian and I talked about while there, is one of the two or three biggest, most famous, most significant and recognizable places to visit in the entire world, up there with the Pyramids in Egypt, we suppose. Wonderful! We rode in a van with our little tour group and then all had lunch together, a meal consisting of various Chinese dishes spun around the lazy Susan in the big round table.

Back in the city, we had our regular evening chill-out drink in the courtyard and then dined on famous Peking duck (have I mentioned I am not a vegetarian in East Asia? I am really looking forward to getting back on the vegetarian train in 2012.) We then enjoyed strolling around the nearby brightly lit street of thronging people and modern shops (as in, Gucci, not someone selling a Mogwai), as well as the other nearby street of a million snacks for sale including snakes, scorpions and various animal body parts. Finally, we went back to Hou-Hai, my new favorite nightlife area in the world for some lakeside music and bar-hopping, capped with a final drink at a tiny rooftop bar.

Day 4: Get Me to Shanghai
We were going to fly from Beijing to Shanghai at 10 a.m., but we missed our flight and ended up spending a lot of time in the Beijing airport that day. Oh well - at least there was a Starbucks. There was also, I might add, a place to use the Internet where Gmail took sooooo painfully slowly long to load that we thought the connection was crap until we loaded a different web page and it took about half a millisecond. Ahhh, good ol' Google's war with China! Finally, we flew to Shanghai and beheld yet another amazing city. Our hotel was an actual, business-y friendly hotel, complete with concierge and doormen and all that, and I must confess it felt wonderfully luxurious after the hostel (although it didn't have a cute courtyard and 30-cent beer!) Speaking of beer that cost more than 30 cents, for our first Shanghai night we headed to the clouds - the Cloud 9 bar on the 87th floor of the awesome and tall Jin Mao Tower, which is right next door to the also awesome and even taller Shanghai World Financial Center. While we sipped our drinks, we gazed at the view of the nighttime city, although the view was occasionally obscured when a CLOUD WENT BY, only to quickly reappear, until the next cloud went by of course. Oh, don't mind me, I'm just sitting up here in the clouds having a peach cocktail.

Besides having our heads in the clouds, we immediately knew we were in an international, mega-cosmopolitan, worldly city because we suddenly a)had French news from TVMonde 5 on the hotel television and b)encountered service industry personnel who - gasp! - expected tips. Man, does spending time in Korea/Japan/even Beiiing spoil you with that whole no-tipping thing. Some of my strongest memories of returning to the U.S. from Korea in 2006 are the outrage I felt in bars after ordering a bottle of beer: I just paid for this! Why do I have to peel another dollar bill off of my stack?!

Day 5: Possibly the Coolest City in the World
Shanghai was a mix of foods, drinks, cuisines, skyline, the most spectacular architecture, interesting buildings every time you turned around, shopping, history, rivers, streets, people, subway, parks, you name it. We did our little walking tour along the Bund (including "Back Bund") and learned about historical buildings by the Brits, French and others who ran the city with their international concessions back in the day. We sipped coffee and tea by the water, watching a flotilla of coal barges pass by on their way to the harbor, while tourist boats darted in between. We ate. We visited the site of the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (Mao et. al.) We ate again. We loved the park. We loved the pond in the park. We loved fruit smoothies at the bar by the pond in the park. We had another amazing view from a rooftop bar for happy hour, this time of Pudong and the super-tall skyline as dusk fell and the place lit up. We shopped. (It's true: even I shopped in Shanghai.) We ate again. We could get used to this.

Day 6: Back Home to Korea
We got up early to head via high-speed Maglev express train to the airport for our quick Shanghai-Daegu return flight. Did I mention the high-speed train that takes you from the city to the airport in 8 minutes? Like the Heathrow-Paddington Station high-speed train, but maybe even faster? When is the U.S. going to figure out that this is the answer? ("Never!" cry the corporate oil emperors.) We knew we were heading back to Korea when ajummas started shoving into us at the boarding gate. I left China eminently satisfied and already plotting my return trip. Which, oh yes, there will be a return trip, because I have a double entry visa.

The best:
  • Rooftop bars
  • Beijing nightlife
  • The Wall That Is Great
  • Every time you think "Man, 100 yuan?!" you just have to remind yourself that's still really only like 14 bucks.
  • Me, every time we drank tea, talking about "all the tea in China."
  • Brian joking while we ate that if we didn't finish everything on our plate we could think about the starving children in China - next door! (Our cliche-derived snark is endless, really.)
  • Shanghai. Just, everything about Shanghai.

The worst:
  • Only me being so dumb I didn't learn any Mandarin language. So lame of me!I can sort of recognize the characters for Nii-hao and that's about it.
China! China China China! Those two cities really exceeded my expectations. And mind you, I did not have low expectations. But Beijing and Shanghai have got it going on!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thoughts on Death and Freedom

Naturally, I am sad and distraught to hear that the land of the free and home of the brave -- also known as "my" home country, the U.S.A. -- has killed another of its citizens, officially and in the name of "justice." Killing in the name of justice is just as terrible as in the name of religion. But we do it. (Well, the executioners do the actual deed -- but there are so many more responsible, like when oil companies, defense department contractors and fictitious presidents are all responsible for the deaths of millions in their awful wars. )

But killing in the name of justice when there is SO MUCH DOUBT as to the convicted person's guilt? That is just pathetic and evil. Any 'tween can tell you the U.S. justice system is supposed to find guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." Not so for Troy Davis.

I saw a tweet from Melissa Harris-Perry suggesting "something to do with the pain": donate $11.08 to the Innocence Project, taking the amount from the time they killed Troy Davis, at 11:08 p.m.

The death penalty is one of the most flawed aspects of the U.S. legal system. The way it is enacted, upheld and applied has been shockingly bad. Innocent people have been exonerated too late. It has been unfairly doled out. It is so thoroughly and essentially problematic that multiple states have got rid of it, investigated it, declared a moratorium on it -- and many countries in the world have done the same. Ended it. Ended the practice of killing citizens.

I am donating to the Innocence Project, a great organization I have learned a bit about over the years. But I wish there was something I could do for the innocent people who have been strapped to a chair or gurney or whatever, to see their government -- the people who are supposed to protect and serve and organize and take care of society -- kill them. I can't imagine anything more frightening then watching people calmly, methodically kill you. But when it is the people you are supposed to count on to protect you, like parents or spouses or your society's government? What can be worse than that?

A bit later, with CNN International still playing in the living room as I got ready to go to work, I saw the jubilant U.S. citizens who have been freed from prison in Iran. They landed in Jordan and bounded down the steps from their airplane. They made a statement to the media expressing their profound thanks to those who helped free them, and their hope for freedom for all of the political prisoners and people unjustly locked up around the world.

What an unsettling moment. Some live and go free. Some die. The world keeps turning. What is each of us doing to make sure the part we play leads to peace and actual justice?

Friday, September 09, 2011

To China

Well, the Korean Chuseok holiday is upon us, which means one thing to us foreign English teachers: 5-day weekend! And 5-day weekend means one thing to me: hop a cheap flight to China! At long last I will see Beijing and Shanghai. And not much else, because we have only five days. China is huge, and I wish I could go there for five months right now. Alas, I will have to save that for another time.

There are so many interesting things to think about, when preparing for a trip to China: what will I eat? will I master the tones in the basic Chinese phrases I plan to use? what will it be like to go without Facebook for five days? and so on. All these questions and more will be answered when we return next week. Happy Chuseok to all! Except most of you aren't celebrating it and don't even know what it is, but that's OK, too!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Facebook and Caller ID

OK, who around here remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s? Try to take yourselves back...picture it...all of a sudden there was this thing called caller ID. At first, very few people had it. Prior to caller ID, if you wanted to know who was calling you, you answered the phone. In between answering the phone and caller ID there was the whole answering machine call screening interlude (that was something we did before voice mail. You actually heard the message while it was being left! Good times) but soon enough we moved on to a magical device that told you who was calling when the phone rang.

I thought those people who needed to know who was calling them before saying hello were, frankly, a little paranoid. But OK, so, then the next thing happened: people on the other end were outraged! How would kids spend hours prank calling their neighbors, how would adolescents stalk their boyfriends and girlfriends, without anonymity? So they retaliated with a new invention: you could BLOCK your number on caller ID. Ha! thought the newly blocked callers, triumphantly. I shall save my privacy! A little paranoia from the other direction.

Or maybe, those calls would not get through, because the first set of paranoids quickly upped the ante by refusing to accept blocked calls. Maybe you dialed someone's phone number around 1993 and got a message that you could unblock your call for just this number by pressing some button or other. The paranoia was flying fast and furious, now.

And, then, ten years later everyone got a cell phone and checking the identity of callers became so automatic that all that early 90s paranoia became just ancient history for the kids today -- until it got transferred to Facebook.

The Facebook news feed is the new home for paranoia. "Facebook has done it again!" a friend's status will warn you. "Copy and re-post this so you can warn everyone your privacy settings have changed." There are blocking of friends, hiding of posts in news feeds, and the latest bit, an attempt to not be left in the dust by Google+, of deciding post by post whether to share it with everyone or some people or some other people.

Yet, it's Facebook. Facebook! The idea of being paranoid about one's privacy while on Facebook remains a marvel to me. But then again, I clearly don't understand these things, as I never once in my life shelled out one red cent or spent one minute of effort on caller ID, call blocking or not accepting blocked calls.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August! Fly by she must!

There is just so much I've been meaning to say to you, dear blogosphere.

First of all, I am sad to note that the deliciously hot summer seems to want a cooling off period. "Already?!" I cry, indignant. It is still August. It should still by steamy and sunny and hot and summery and there should be none of this layering and shivering that I experienced yesterday. I can't believe how many people whine and moan and complain about the hot Korean summer when it's over so quickly! But then again, people like to complain about all sorts of things in Korea and lump them into this giant mash of I'm-Better-Than-You-Let-Me-Tell-You-What's-Wrong-and-Nonsensical-About-Korea, even when they are things that have nothing to do with Korea, like weather.

Anyway, so yeah. The time is a-flying and we are quickly approaching the end of the second third of our year in Andong. Also, we are in a three-month period where we actually get some holidays and vacations, which makes this time go even faster! We just had a week off in August for our academy's summer vacation, during which we were able to take our favorite little ferry boat over to our favorite neighboring country of Japan and experience all sorts of Japan wonderfulness again. Much swooning! Next up is Chuseok, in September, a thankful harvesty festival that gives us another 5-day weekend and a chance for a slight excursion somewhere. Finally, there will be a 3-day weekend at the beginning of October, and at that time will also be Andong's famous international traditional mask and dance festival, right here in our little city, drawing travelers and culture lovers and dancers and tailgaters from all around the world. Or maybe I should say, we the foreigners will be doing the tailgating, by the riverside. Our personal contribution to Andong's festival week!

I want to give you a play by play of our Japan trip, when time permits, but the short version is that it is amazing (still) and that we climbed Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is not actually as hard as it sounds. (I knew this already, because I am a savvy traveler, and I have known Fuji things for many years.) While the peak is 3,776 meters, it's not as if you start from 0. You start on the mountainside. And there are so many people who do the climb during the official climbing season, and there are mountain huts where people stay overnight when they climb in time to see the sun rise, and there are people at said huts selling water and other drinks, and the atmosphere at the summit is downright festive, really. Walking around the crater at the top is a bit more wild-like -- we joked that we were on the moon -- but even that walk takes you to a weather station and stuff. You never really feel like you have left civilization. The only thing you really have to worry about is altitude sickness. Well, that and wrecking your knees on the downhill trail. It's a brutal one!

The other accomplishments of our summer? We got in some beach time in Busan, spending a few delightful weekends there. We discovered that our favorite thing to do is go lie on Haeundae beach for the afternoon and then head to the Sajik Stadium in Pusan for a Lotte Giants home baseball game. Although I had been kind of partial to the Samsung Lions, what with them being Daegu's team and having blue for a color and all, it turns out in the end I am a Lotte Giants fan. A good time is had by all at the Korean baseball games. And, like most things around here, it is sweetly affordable for us English teachers. Such a grand life we lead!

The Lotte Giants may even end up in the playoffs, as they have climbed into fourth place in the eight-team Korean baseball league. Meanwhile back at the ranch (the U.S.A.) my Braves are well on their way to securing themselves a playoffs spot, too. Yay!

I will breathlessly rave about Japan as soon as time permits.

Don't even think about switching from iced coffee to hot, people! Summer, summer, summer!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cheongnyangsan aka Mt. Cheongnyang

This past weekend Brian and I had a mini-excursion to a gorgeous mountain/hiking/Buddhist temple provincial park on the outskirts of Andong, a mountain called Cheongyangsang. We've been meaning to go there to do some hiking for months because we've seen friends' pictures of an awesome sky bridge hundreds of feet in the air that connects two of the peaks. However, on our short excursion this past weekend we didn't have time for the sky bridge hike but instead did a different couple of paths. There are half a dozen or so trails for climbing to this mountain's several peaks, and I do believe we could return there weekly for a few months and manage to have a different experience every time. Some of the trails take longer - we went with a short one due to our bus schedule requirements that day.

Cheongnyangsan is beautiful!! I'm talking stunningly pretty with flat rock peering out from thick green mountainsides, uniquely shaped peaks, and a cute little tourist village with minbaks, markets, restaurants, and so on. Our short hike took us up to Cheongnyangsa (note the lack of final 'n'), which means Cheongnyang temple. Now, I have seen my fair share of Buddhist temples in Korea, and I adore them, but this one was really, really well placed in some spectacularly gorgeous scenery perfectly overlooking the mountain as the late afternoon sunlight dissipated. I am a fan.

I am also a fan of the frog pond at the temple...well, it's not necessarily a frog pond, but it's a little pond in a stone enclosure that sure has frogs in it now. I could have stared at them for hours. There were dozens, and they were black/brown on top, kind of blending with the surroundings, but with orange undersides, and they would flop around in the water every once in a while, turning as if to show off to us their bright bellies. I love frogs.

Cheongnyangsan verdict: highly recommended, particularly Cheongnyangsa.

Afterward, we headed back into downtown Andong and strolled by the park just in time for the evening guards/drums/bell-donging ceremony. I could have stared at that longer too, even though I was being bitten by mosquito monsters, but we were on our way to a delicious dinner at a new-to-us restaurant that served a soup whose name I've forgotten. It's like dongjongjigae - I butchered that, but I do love that soybean-derived soup we get with rice all the time - only with the beans in a more whole form. It's really rice-and-bean-like, which may be why I loved it, although this restaurant also had the best side dishes of any restaurant I've been to in Korea (a statement I don't make lightly!) Brian found the restaurant because he's cool like that; my job is just to eat and then promptly forget the names of things I've eaten.

I suppose that particular mental block of mine could use a bit of examination. Like, some people can't remember dates, or names, or faces - I can't remember food names very well. I don't think it's a Korean thing, even. I am not particularly obsessed with names of foods in the U.S. either. I'm not much for talking about and describing food, although I do like eating it.

This week has been reasonably boring at work. We have two days of testing in our elementary level classes, which should feel like Easy Days at work but instead to me just further emphasized how many middle-school evening classes I have to still teach even on elementary testing days. I'm so looking forward to our new schedule, about four weeks away, although I'm definitely wary in a devil-you-know sense.

Meanwhile, I am entirely fixated on our next adventure, which is barely more than two weeks away: our triumphant return to Japan! Once I get there, I might never leave! (Just kidding, Japanese immigration authorities. Or at any rate, I would obtain legal gainful employment before staying, don't fret.)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Lovely, Dark and Deep

Well, my middle schoolers are back. I guess they couldn't stay away forever, as I had suggested. My Tuesday/Thursday evening middle school class consists of three, sometimes four, remarkably bright eighth graders who look and act to me as if they are more like 15 or 16. They have a good command of English usage, excellent vocabulary, and stellar class behavior. Their reward? Poetry!

'Tis true. Poetry is not dead. Today I needed a lesson plan for them and I decided we would spend the class reading and discussing "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Most people in the U.S. (and the rest of the English-speaking world? do tell!) recognize the last line, "And miles to go before I sleep." They might even know it's repeated, and that it comes from a poem where a speaker and his horse are in the woods. The first line, "Whose woods these are I think I know," is also reasonably well known by English speakers.

So I decided my brilliant Korean middle schoolers could and should handle it. We started class discussing some key vocabulary: snowy, downy, frozen, harness and queer. After having them make sentences with those words, I next practiced the form "Whose ____ this is I think I know. It's [so-and-so]'s" with various objects in the classroom. Then we moved on to plurals, like "Whose pencils these are, I think I know. They're Emily's." So they were prepared to understand the first line.

Man, it is such a great poem. I'm not afraid to say it. Even after reading it many times over the years, I still physically feel the emotional wallop of that last stanza. Luckily, my students know what a symbol is and does. After we read the poem once, we discussed it stanza by stanza. Then I had them read it again, each student reading the whole thing aloud, and after each reading I would ask a different question about it, like "Which words in the poem help you picture the scene?" (frozen, dark, snowy, horse, etc.) or "Why do we say, 'I promise'?" or "What will happen to our speaker next?" We also talked about the man off in the village, and the fact that the speaker is reflecting on what his horse thinks.

After almost an hour, we were ready to move into the all-important reckoning with the repeated "And miles to go before I sleep," to discern why it would be said twice. I love hearing students offer ideas I hadn't thought of. I articulated for them the idea that the first line keeps us in the literal story, but that repetition really makes us veer off into the symbolic, with "sleep" becoming that final sleep.

Naturally, their homework is to write about their reactions to the poem. I think we will write our own poems next week. I had them write weather-related poems when I had most of these same students in an evening class two (academy-)semesters ago. But now we're getting into meaty stuff.

I do have lots of ideas, but if any of you have suggestions for a poem or two that I should teach to my middle schoolers, feel free to comment!

Monday, July 04, 2011

No offense, middle schoolers, but feel free to never come back

The great thing about teaching so many middle school-age evening students this semester is not having to teach them. I think at this point I may have actually had more middle school classes cancelled than not cancelled since this particular 12-week Avalon hagwon semester began.

I previously blogged about my busy(ier) schedule this semester, compared to my first two teaching schedules this year at Andong Avalon. But having so many middle school classes cancelled, I may actually have come out ahead in the deal, even when we had to take on a couple extra classes during our co-worker's brief vacation.

The reason for all these cancellations is basically their semester final exams at regular school -- they spend a few weeks really ramping up their school studying and even when they do come to English academy, it's to work with the Korean-speaking teachers to study for said school exams. So I have been blissfully free - well, comparatively - in the evenings for a couple of weeks. Only a few classes here and there. And I have been loving it! And needing it, since my afternoons are a bit hectic, as are my mornings, my nights, and the space in my brain.

One thing taking up my time, besides reading lots of good stuff, is planning our upcoming summer vacation. I am so excited! We are going to go back to Japan and hit up three or four cities we didn't go to the first time. Yay!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Half and Half

As we approach our halfway point -- I. KNOW! -- it is time to reflect on the first six months of Our Year in Andong, Korea.

I suppose there is an argument to be made that we haven't spent six months here at all, seeing as we spend a good chunk of our weekends galavanting about to other parts of the country. But I do so love to galavant about. At any rate, we are spending the current weekend at home. I'm talking never-left-the-house-or-even-put-in-my-contacts-today at home. That is serious, for me. I actually loathe not leaving the house on a given day and I am kind of creeped out by people who have more than one day every, let's say, year that they don't leave the house. But, I had a lot of things to get done today in the apartment and on the computer, plus the monsoon rainy season has arrived and there's basically a biblical flood outside our window the past three days, so you really don't want to go anywhere unless you have to, and you bring a change of dry clothes.

Speaking of that, I had this handy dandy emergency poncho - and it disintegrated! I bought it several years ago and I've had it with me on my various journeys, especially the Habitat trips to Honduras and Tajikistan, but I never actually ended up using it so it has just sat in the little plastic travel-size bag it came in when I bought it at Target or wherever. Yesterday I got it out of the closet because the aforementioned rain was doing its thing but we totally had to go on an errand and to work, and I couldn't take the poncho out of the plastic bag because it was in tatters! It was made of polyethylene. Wikipedia tells me that it shouldn't dissolve unless it is exposed to UV rays from sunlight (it was in our darkened entryway closet) or maybe if this one Canadian bacteria eats it. I am so confused. What happened to my polyethylene?! So much for having an emergency poncho.

Anyway, back to reflection. For the most part I am satisfied. Our job is very laid back and I love our boss, co-workers, and lack of people breathing down our necks as we carry out our job duties. I like my students and I like the books we use and I love living a three-minute walk from work. I mean, we really have nothing to complain about whatsoever. We are still making our way through trying all the restaurants in our neighborhood, and I seriously have become a frequent EMart customer -- it is so handy having an EMart so close I can see it from our apartment building. Eyeglasses, haircuts, wine, even the occasional Chee-zuh De-luk-suh Pi-ja can all be had a stone's throw away.

It has been fun hanging out in Daegu, taking the Korean class (which has now ended), and occasionally popping into the Commune, my favorite watering hole on the planet. I have enjoyed our weekend sojourns to Seoul and other cities. I was devastated to discover that Mi Casa Loca, the Mexican restaurant in Seoul to which I pilgrimaged once a month during my first Korea tour of duty, apparently closed both its locations, but we ate at On the Border in Seoul on our last trip there. We have enjoyed other weekend trips to Yeongdeok on the east coast, Mokpo on the southwest coast and Jeju Island. We have hiked, attended random festivals, seen a few Buddhist temples, been to at least various norae bangs, hit up an oncheon bath, and otherwise done the basically required awesome things to do in Korea.

As everyone knows, I think, by now, our trip to Japan in February over the Lunar New Year holiday was a mega highlight, and we are planning to go back there for our upcoming summer vacation to see a bunch of cities we didn't see the first time around.

I have been reading but can always read more. My most recent endeavors have been The Aquariums of Pyongyang and my latest prez bio, Franklin Pierce. He was BFFs with Nathaniel Hawthorne and I am really digging learning about U.S. history from 1820-1860. It's fascinating stuff. I think I am in the mood to start reading a bunch of fiction, now, for the summer months. I've been writing a bit but not enough. I recently started a kickboxing class at a gym a few minutes walk from our apartment. It's a great workout and I'm so glad that a friend who also teaches here in Andong told me about it!

I could definitely go without ever drinking Cass beer again, but our local foreigners' favorite bar that we gather in many weekends has some decent imported bottles. I get in feisty political discussions from time to time. We've started having a monthly book swap among the Andong English teachers so we don't have to spend all our money (and room in our suitcase) on books we buy here. There are barbecues and other adventures. It's an OK time in Andong, I must say. I just have had so many other things on my plate - I am never actually looking for things to do. I'm not even going to the movies every week - we've only seen a handful in the theater this year! Super 8, Paul, Source Code, True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Morning Glory, Harry Potter 7.1, and maybe another one I'm forgetting.

So Korea is going well! But now that the halfway mark is approaching, it's time to start thinking about what is next! Craziness. Last time I left to Korea, I moved to Long Island and went to Hofstra for law school. I definitely won't be making that mistake again. Actually, we do have several tentative post-Korea plans, which shall not be revealed at this time.

Oh, and my sister is about to have her baby. Like, in the next 48 hours. A fourth nephiece for me, and I won't even meet her (they think it's a her) until 2012.

Well, keep on keepin' on, 2011.