1. Makes it impossible for me to remember to blog. I think it’s my job… I’m at the computer so much, I want to be away from typing most days.
2. Still a racist effing place. Can’t BELIEVE the level of institutionalized racism that exists here, the lack of understanding about what it REALLY means to be multicultural. However, I see in my students the hope of coming change… they are trying to learn, see the value in difference, and realize the world extends past the peninsula… Not sure I can always say the same thing about Americans who are pretty confident the USA is the center of the universe….Progress, still like watching your hair grow – it takes time to see the improvement.
3. Korean Tour Guides. I’m not sure exactly how these women get their jobs, because their English jokes are really uncomfortable, but a Korean student has now told me that these tours are NOT the same types of guided tours that native Koreans take, that the quality is low for foreigners. Sad. TT-TT
4. Jindo Gae (Gae = Dog). I WANT ONE. I almost brought one home, but my apartment is just too small, and Wagger-Grace promised she would never die if I never got a different puppy while she was alive. Sigh. I WANT ONE, but instead made a lengthy fact-pattern about Jindo Gaes which is making most of my students cringe.
5. Politics are everywhere. I’m beginning to realize I am not cut out for academia. The type of politics is the same here as at my other academic jobs, and I’m just no good at this game. I’m not making any vast proclamations, just noting that there are reasons why I decided to work for myself… maybe I’m just not good at working on a team or playing nice with others, or answering to any boss anywhere ever. That’s reasonable, right?
6. Mosquitoes are no joke. It’s 30 degrees at nighttime. WHY ARE MOSQUITOES BITING ME, BUZZING NEAR MY EAR, or … ALIVE????? Really? WHY?
7. Soup is delicious. Koreans think it’s boring, but I could eat the many common varieties of Korean soups everyday and be completely happy this winter. For awhile I thought I could live off soondooboo jigae. Then, I realized I could not. Then, the next day, I realized there are about five million trillion different cheap semi-homemade soups in Korea, and I could just try those. =)
8. My Korean eyesight. Just found out my eyeglasses prescription is SUPER wrong, like almost a full diopter in one eye, and a half diopter in the other. Since it’s highly unusual for your eyesight to improve before the age of 40, AND it only improves through retraining the eye to avoid bad eye habits, this means I’ve basically just been wearing the wrong prescription for… I think FIFTEEN YEARS. WTF? Also, my eye test was FREE in Korea. America – you might be on my s%^tlist. I can buy TWO pairs of glasses without insurance for LESS than one pair WITH insurance in the States. AND the frames will probably stay on my nose!
9. Fishing, Fish, and Seashells. I’m learning to re-like the taste of fish, since it is inevitable that you must eat it. I’m not sure how people with shellfish allergies survive in Korea, because it’s in the broth, in the sauce, in the stock, in the side dishes. So last weekend, I ended up going to this tiny fishing village, and catching mudfish with a bamboo fishing pole, and digging for clams, and doing a bunch of stuff that regular Ginger would hate. But, since I’m here, I just have to do it – everything and try to find the fun… so the rest of the Korea experience doesn’t swallow me whole.
10. Friends. My friend Erica and her son recently moved to Seoul, Pia came to visit, and I went to visit Gimhae. It was so great to see familiar faces, and be greeted by people who are already invested, interested, and understanding about my own idiosyncrasies Over and over, “Korea-style” takes its toll… it’s why I KNOW I will never be a lifer here. I HATE “Korea-style;” people say “embrace the culture!” but, there are some things that I have made an informed decision NOT to embrace (like most things having to do with male-female hierarchy, workplace (non)strategic planning, child/social welfare perspectives, and race-relations. You know, the stuff I basically built MOST of my career/life around up until I moved to Korea?) But, anyhow, I need to focus on reaching out to my own people, having them here makes it easier for me to be a better version of myself – my authentic self – whatever that means to me… in this current, Korean incarnation… TO BE CONTINUED.
Something shiny is over there!
Yup. I just now started doing 11 things at the same time, including: starting a PowerPoint for tomorrow’s AM class, outlining Thursday’s class, beginning a semester outline for tomorrow’s afternoon class, dialing to call my mom (the magicjack is not working), uploading pictures, starting a new blog on my writing site, grading papers, making tea, cleaning the bathroom, and writing this blog. WHEW. Now, none of them are finished, but I did manage (importantly) to change the profile pic on Facebook.
So, I decided I’m probably not gonna love where I am in Korea. This might be because I miss the beach, or because I miss the sunshine, or because I miss all the things that are bad for me at home (yeah, we all know who he is), or because for the most part, working according to someone else’s rules and opinions is not really that much fun. And I’m getting really tired of people telling me it can’t be that bad, because guess what? When I’m having a conversation with someone in America, only one of us is in Korea deciding that I don’t like it here in Korea. Wait, what? You are in America? Then it’s probably me who gets to decide if I’m not having fun in Korea.
However, sometimes my annoyingly well-intentioned, intelligent, reasonable friends have good meaningful points that seep into my self-righteous rightness from time to time. I don’t know how. What I do know is that I was once a terribly reasonable person, and I can reinstitute reason for a few months/years. To that end, here’s a list of things that are going well in Korea:
1. My hair is growing out. Yes, it’s because I got three bad haircuts in Korea last spring and I’m scared to get my hair cut. And it might also be because Not BF told me it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to resist cutting it when I got back to Korea. Quote: “You’ll never make it. You will cut. You just keep cutting.” I think he knows reverse psychology does not work on me. But a CHALLENGE always does. I’m gonna win.
2. I got paid.
3. Wagger-Grace has not died of broken-heartedness in my absence. Shit. I hope that’s not why my dad was calling me yesterday. Dad, if you read this, just lie and say Wagger-Grace is alive and well and happily eating lots of people food. And, just to make me feel even more secure, also lie and say her dog ear is all better, she learned a new trick, and she has regained her sprightliness.
4. I have eaten so much ramyeon I may be completely made of msg and noodles. Ramyeon is delicious.
5. Etude House had a 30% off sale today.
6. My friend Lynne made me homemade soup because I felt sickly.
7. It is not 100 degrees outside.
8. I go to visit Inje Dey-hahk-gyo in two weeks and have a 5 day break from my 16 hour work week.
9. I have a 16 hour work week.
10. I finally finished The Girl Who Played with Fire (except now, I have run out of English books. I’ll have to read my textbooks for fun).
11. I do not have to read/hear/listen/see any campaign propaganda except on Facebook, where I just block people left and right. Pun intended.
It might not be much, but it’s a start… I know more challenges are to come as I begin the next goal in my Korean Adventure… With all my might, I regard myself as an observer in Korea. And it appears it will take all my might and resolve to remind others that that is my perspective, my philosophy about my current status, and my desire. Not all returning adoptees want to be “remade” or reintegrated or re-Koreanified. Right now, I’ve been kind about my stance. Soon, I will dig in. (All of my loved ones just sucked in their breath). But for now, I’ll just observe, breathe, and take a nap whenever I can…
OKAY, I must return to the 11 Things I started 15 minutes ago….
Ever notice how some themes repeat? Life cycles through and sometimes we make the same mistakes again, have our hearts broken by the same person twice, fall down in the same place. And sometimes, we pack our suitcases for Korea way too soon and have to pack and repack them 5 times. Yup, I said it: FIVE EFFEN TIMES.
So, yesterday, it dawned on me that unlike the burn of The Desert, there are actually distinct seasons in Korea. After a little wikipedia/google searching, I realized that once I arrive in Korea, summer will almost be ready to expire in Daejeon. This means that packing five hundred sun dresses with little cardigans will most likely not suffice as appropriate wardrobing. Last night, I took out some stuff, then added in other stuff, then replaced that stuff, then repacked some stuff I had taken out. This morning I realized that the reason I had more space last time is that I stuffed my purse in my backpack and brought a laptop bag. Then I took stuff out of the suitcase, put other stuff in my backpack, threw some stuff away, and then replaced items in the suitcases.
Final Weigh-Ins: Super Huge Suitcase = 49.8 lbs; Semi-Large Suitcase = 46.5 lbs. YAY! Success.
Except I still have 3 days to overthink it. Aiyah.
Moving my entire life to Korea has been more about resolving to move forward than it has been about an opportunity I cannot resist. Somehow, my life here has been about repeating mistakes, languishing in expired affairs, and falling down without ever fully getting up again. I truly believe that a change of scene can change your life, and I was presented with an opportunity to change my scene in a tremendously difficult, challenging, beautiful, overwhelmingly drastic way. It’s a chance to be braver than I know I am, stronger than I think myself to be, and grow more than I might be able to if I stay in the box where I’ve always felt restless and safe.
Of course, leaving the safety of my box means I need to pack lots of stuff. So, the moral of the story is: changing my life means I am entitled to over-pack. At least a little…
If you plan on staying for awhile…
1. Pack the following hard-to-find or exorbitantly expensive items: toothpaste, tampons, emergen-c/vitamins, OTC medications, shampoo/body wash (especially if you have perfume allergies!), salty snacks, french roast ground coffee and coffee filters. There’s probably tons of other stuff, but these are the things I missed.
2. Beauty/Skincare/Nail Products are EVERYWHERE and on EVERY street. These items are high quality and low cost – stock up! And for the record, my battle with my one eye wrinkle? I’m winning thanks to Innis Free’s Eco Science Skin (a toner goopy gel) and Lotion (a deep moisturizer).
3. Keep toilet paper handy. Public restrooms and toilets at restaurants are generally disgusting and often have no toilet tissue in the stall, so bring your own. Also, in Korea, toilet tissue is generally not flushed in public toilets, but disposed of in the trash can. This means all restrooms smell like an outhouse, even if they have plumbing. Also, learn to use a squatter toilet – they are everywhere! http://www.wikihow.com/Use-a-Squat-Toilet.
4. Learn basic Hangul characters. Hangul, or the Korean alphabet, is actually relatively easy to memorize the shape and sound of the characters. If you can memorize a few key words, and learn how to sound out the characters, your time in Korea becomes exponentially easier. This only occurred for me in the past couple of weeks, so it’s been more difficult to maneuver around, but has in no way been impossible.
5. You will get homesick – or at the very least, home-curious. Buy a MagicJack. I cannot believe how this little plug-in has made my ability to keep in touch at home so much easier. It does feel like an old school landline, so it’s hit or miss if you reach people or if people reach you, but it has allowed me to talk to my friends and family at home virtually for free. Also – I have a googlevoice number that was really convenient for texting!
6. People don’t smile in photographs. This doesn’t mean people never smile or are unhappy. Culturally, smiling in photos is not customary and is not considered preferred. People flash the American “peace sign” which in Korea means “cute”!
7. Restaurant meals are very inexpensive, BUT they are Korean cuisine. Get used to grilled meats, stir-fries, fried chicken, noodles, rice, and panchan! If you can adjust to the sweet and vinegary taste of most Korean food, you can eat well on a tight budget.
8. Korean bus and taxi drivers are crazy. However, I’ve yet to see a traffic jam or an accident. This might be because I’m in a small town, or because of the time of day I travel on the streets, but it’s crazy to me that drivers who see red lights as optional never crash into each other.
9. The Korean Way also involves a lack of forward planfulness. Often, just showing up IS the plan. For Westerners who are used to a scheduled itinerary, maps, agendas, and structured thinking, this can be frustrating (read: infuriating) and lead to a lot of miscommunication. Also, generally asking for these items is confusing to Koreans, and SOMETIMES asking for a schedule/plan creates the perception that you are rude.
10. Your body is not used to general Korean germs, so be prepared to get a common cold that lasts forever. Or the stomach flu. Or weird allergies. Also, Koreans go to the hospital whenever they feel ill and usually get some kind of injection. This is normal, so don’t be upset or baffled when someone recommends you go to the hospital, it’s the equivalent of going to a minute clinic or a general practitioner.
11. Accept that you will not have perfect communication. Even with people whom you feel are fluent, cultural difference will abound and you should expect to be misunderstood. You should also expect to misunderstand. Be patient, keep trying, and recognize when you are difficult to understand to prevent future miscommunications.
1. Americans are water-obsessed freaks. After nearly two decades of hearing I never drink enough water, I find myself in a country that barely drinks any water. The water glasses are teeny-tiny little four ounce cups and most people do not drink water with the meal but instead use it as a palate cleanse after eating. Walking around with my 50 ounce bottle seems ridiculous, but what is even more incredible is that I am not dehydrated AND nothing bad has happened. Ha!
2. Coffee shops are abundant, but coffee shop decorum is completely different. Instead of ordering at the counter, you take a table like a sit-down restaurant. Prices are high, even for drip coffee. There is no soymilk option. Flavors are limited. Thankfully, there is still my trusty Dunkin’ Donuts… but there is no coconut flavor. Boo. SUPER BOO.
3. My skin likes humidity. All of my random skin flaws have healed themselves. Maybe because I never wear foundation. Maybe because my skin isn’t constantly thirsty. Maybe because living in a dorm makes me remember to remove my makeup every night?
4. I still learn by writing, not be doing. Yup, Koreans can repeat the correct pronunciation of a word 50 mazillion times, I will not hear the difference, distinguish the word from other similar words, or remember anything they have just “taught” me five milliseconds later. I must write the word, write the English meaning, write it in Hangul, and also write it in Gingerified phonetic pronunciation. This is kinda like how I had to paper brief every single case in law school while EVERYONE ELSE IN THE LAW SCHOOL WORLD got to book brief. Yup.
5. Boys are still stupid. Just so you know, you can still be on my shitlist from over 6000 miles away.
6. Electric clothes dryers are the best thing ever in the entire world. I miss mine immensely. Especially when you’re a fat fatty, you need dryers to resize clothing to the correct size and shape.
7. I find it terribly amusing to ask people from other countries what dogs say. Here, dogs say: “Bong Bong.” They think it’s funny that dogs say “Woof woof!” back home.
8. My roommate might be the cutest girl to have ever lived in the world. Her personality is adorable, she has an amazing sense of humor, and is extremely smart. I definitely did not have her patience or balance at 21.
9. Its official: AST (Asian Standard Time) is a real thing. I’ve been on it for the past decade.
10. Americans needlessly smile. On the street, people generally do not smile back. I have this feeling I might look like a buffoon goofily smiling at everyone and everything.
11. A girl can never have enough: lip gloss, nail polish, pairs of tights, short dresses, or head bands. This reminds me… I need to buy head bands.