Thursday, 10 September 2009

Safely Landed and Lessons Learned

After many melancholy good-byes and the final night out in Hongdae with my closest friends, I found myself back in "The America." The initial onslaught of culture shock, was at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. For the first time in a year, I was able to follow the majority of conversations around me and I felt like I easily blended in to my surroundings. Furthermore, I finally see why all foreign nations say "America is fat," and we need to stop eating at McDonald's and hop on treadmills.

I arrived into Chicago at 9:00am on Friday, September 4th. Being that I had almost four hours until my flight home, it was time to eat a Real Cheeseburger at Chili's. With my carry-on items, I scooted up to the bar and was able to properly convey to the server exactly what I wanted without using gestures. To my right was an elderly couple. As they each ordered a sandwich, the waitress barked at them and said that the sandwiches are too big for each of them to have their own. After they were so graciously instructed by the attendant with fried locks the color of cherry kool-aide, they couple shared a club sandwich. Maybe Kool-aide hair had a bad experience with forgotten dentures post-meal or another run-in I didn't know about it. Darn hasty she was though.

After my glutenous, American meal (Delicious), I shuffled over to my gate to board my flight to Cleveland, Ohio. Oddly enough, my seat mate from Tokyo to Chicago was on this flight as well. Shinske was from Osaka. He had the eccentric Japanese style going on with his bright orange New Balance tennis shoes, mauve cargo shorts and bright pink shirt with a full red apple on the front and the same apple was eaten to the core on the back. I knew Shinske was an M.D. as on the Tokyo to Chicago flight, a doctor's presence was requested over the intercom as a passenger had briefly gone unconscious and Shinske offered his services. Although his English was not entirely advanced, Shinske and I had a nice conversation as to why he was taking a transnational adventure to Ohio (In all honesty, I don't think I would have made such a trek if that were not my home). He was headed to Akron, Ohio for a mere three days. A rockstar party awaited this Japanese fellow on Saturday, followed by a 70's rock concert on Sunday and Monday. Shinske was to return to Osaka to resume his medical duties on Tuesday. After the hour flight, we found our luggage and parted ways. Shinske taught me to work hard and play hard...even if it means fly to a far away land to get my party on for 48 hours.

Post-Korean adventure, I am taking a rest in my little American house, in a little American town by the name of Wooster. Part of me feels as though I've never left and the other part of me feels as though I am now in another universe. I see Amish buggies driving to the local market and the leaves are beginning to fall in the colors of autumn. I am now at home, but each day I feel empathy for the people I see in this rural town who have never left and have no hope to ever leave, or to experience anything other than this predominantly white, comfortable, English-speaking town. For me, escaping my comfort zone challenged me to re-evaluate the way I view the world and the different people I interact with each day. For my experience as living as a pelirroja (red head) in Asia, I am tremendously grateful. It now seems as though "uncomfortable," for me is most comfortable and I thrive on it because it is where I learn the most about myself and the awesome world that surrounds me.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

"Don't Go to the America!"

The following are photos of various pieces of artwork I have received from my students who have strongly protested my departure from the Republic of Korea to "the America." Although these pieces of mail touched my heart, I must leave. I have a family and non-rice edibles to 'tend to!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Wrapping Up My Korean Life...

My time in Seoul, Korea is now coming to a close. Eighty percent of my being is comprised of pure exuberance and the remaining twenty percent is caught amidst utter chaos and perplexity. At no other point in my life have I concluded an entire year of my life as both having taught me significant life lessons and having propelled me not a single step in terms of future aspirations.

International cultures, people and ways of living are by far things that fascinate me the most. I knew that coming to Korea would by no means provide me with experience of any academia I pursued throughout university or build on any pre-existing experience I've ever had. In my mind, Korea was a large unexplored territory to me and I wanted to tackle it. Through the utilization of my senses and without the knowledge of the Korean language (a whole other conversation, but I felt it wasn't practical enough for me to learn), I witnessed one year of life in Korea from an outsider's perspective.

At no other significant point in my life have I felt so strongly about being so, well, odd. When I refer to myself as an oddity residing in this Asian land, I do not strictly refer to appearance. Although I possess bright "orange" locks, green eyes, eyelids, white skin and specifically a "non-Asian" body type, that has not bothered me the slightest bit. My thoughts and perpetual yearning to do what I want, when I want and how I want are unheard of. For example, my Korean female counterparts and I seem to diverge profoundly in our thought processes. These girls would pay any price for the perfect face, shoes, bag and fiancé (and they do). It is not just any face, shoes, bag or fiancé, it would be the most European face including full eyes, a nose with a sizable bridge and a thinned jaw. It would be the same shoes and bag being worn or carried by the television stars and by which these young woman are defined by and subsequently judged. In terms of the fiancé, he would be the lad who landed the most promising and highest-paying job immediately after university graduation. The only reaction that I feel towards these young women is sympathy. Society instigates this mentality and as a result, these women wake up each day and must fit through a cookie cutter.

In terms of myself, I have been thankful each day to have been raised by a mother who emphasized my worth and acknowledged each person for their god-given, individual beauty. I am most content for having a nose that can smell and eyes that can see. I love shoes and bags, yet I will never claim any of my possessions and defining, or in turn, owning me. I would assume that fiancés come in all shapes, sizes, colors and salary brackets, however TBD...I'll give updates in about ten years.

Upon my return to the U.S., I anticipate seeing my friends and my family. It is those people who love me for nothing more than who I am. Coming from a society that is made up of so many people of various economic backgrounds, physical attributes, personalities and dreams has made me miss home the most. It is much more common for groups of friends in the states to consist of various types of people than in Korea, and I am so thankful for that. Much of my pride comes from my strong friendships with individuals who rank all over the board. The only relationships that I ever wish to engage in are those where I do not feel judged, envied or taken for granted.

As I am eagerly awaiting my flight to Cleveland, Ohio in the first week of September, I will be very sad to leave those behind who I have met and became so close to after this year. This crazy thing called life casually carries people into our lives and may or may not gracefully remove them from our lives as well. From each person, we learn a lesson, be it big or small. Since we each possess a perception and set of life experiences different from any other, much knowledge can be attained from anyone living in a manner that is not identical to your own.

One would think that this time away has polished my future aspirations. No way. When I was ten years-old, I wanted to be a teacher. When I was sixteen-years old, I realized I wanted to be a boss. All I can say is that this past year taught me that my ten year-old dreams were crushed, lit on fire, flushed down the toilet and now fluttering in the Pacific Ocean. It's time to step it up to my sixteen-year old dreams. Even though my family is now in the process of moving and living between two abodes, I'm going to go home and be the boss of the couch, remote and English television.

Peace and love^^

Friday, 31 July 2009

Busan, Round Dos

This past week has been my "Summer Vacation." I utilize the quotation marks because this is the first summer vacation in my life that has been ONE week long (or short, depending on your personal views). The sweet and glorious days of summer which entailed rushing to tidy the house for my mother and immediately followed by watching Bob Barker's The Price is Right and giving Papa John's a holler with our pizza order, with my sister, Rachel and brother, Chris, are far gone. This summer, two of the three Denbow children are employed full-time and the third just got his driver's license so he can bop around the corn fields in the Denbow children's '99 Black Honda Accord. I will give Chris credit, for he mows a lawn or two and accrues significant funding. That being said, he is so successful that he may have to look at hiring me too when I get home!

On Monday, I left for Busan, Korea with my friend Anna. Prior to our departure and with the wonderful help of Korean friends, our KTX fast train tickets and accomodations were booked. On the train ride to Busan, and just as my last trip to Busan, other passengers complained that Anna and I liked to chat. I could have a) apologized to the mute Koreans surrounding us or b) not have cared and continued to rattle my gums at a steady pace where non-native speakers would have no idea as to what I was saying. I opted for the latter. When I am on vacation, I am going to carry on an adult conversation at an appropriate decibel level with my travel buddy without notions of guilt. Just because I was surround by meek little beach-seekers did not require me to wear a muzzle for a 2.5 hour train ride.
By the time we arrived to Busan, it was about 5 p.m. and Anna and I hailed a taxi to find our accomodations. I was responsible for where we stayed and amongst all of the hotels in Busan, not many of them have English websites. I found an establishment with great reviews and it was entitled "Busan Beach Tourist Hotel (BB)." Now, from the name, one may assume that this hotel is directely in Busan, on the beach and hosts tourists potentially of various nationalities. Now if you were a character who also hypothesized such, you, as I, were incredibly wrong. First signal that something was not right: the taxi driver had no idea as to where we were headed. Second signal: the area hosted an extensive stench of unappealing fish. Third: In order for us to go to the beach, it was a $20 and almost 30 minute cab ride...

The accomodations were very nice with splendid linens and a great bathtub, however being 30 minutes away from any hint of Western cuisine and so close to 60 year old men who did nothing but fish all day caused us to reconsider our location. After we dropped our belongings off at BB, we ventured 30 minutes in a taxi to Benigan's for dinner (which is still so delicious although it no longer exists in America...) and then to the beach! Further contemplation caused me to give a ring to the very kind gentleman I am seeing by the name of Kang Sang Ho, for he speaks Korean. I briefed Sang Ho on the situation Anna and I faced. As I pouted and emphasized my inability to have access to Western food while on vacation, dear Sang Ho called to make reservations at a different hotel for the next two nights so we would be closer to the beach and non-octopus dishes :) After all of that was settled, Anna and I went to BB for the night to prance in our robes, drink wine and watch the Top 10 Celebrity Breakups. Korea only has the finest television shows in English.

The next day, we got an early move on and spent the next two full days, Tuesday and Wednesday, on the beach. We each rented a chair under an umbrella all day for about $3.50. Tuesday was extremely overcast and although I knew we would get sun, I had no idea that having gone an hour without an umbrella would leave me completely charred. Anna and I did make friends with Jin, a university student who was selling chicken on the beach. He gave us his card and told us that when we wanted lunch, that he would deliver to our spot. Jin is awesome. The chicken was scrumptous and Jin also made sure that we became friends on facebook. After beach side beverages and lunch, Anna and I packed up for the day and headed to get massages for only 15,000 won (less than $15)! I had been there before and they leave me with bruises... but in a good way.

Wednesday consisted of more beach time, as well as a boat ride on the ocean! It was a beautiful day for such an excursion being that it was a bit overcast and not too hot. After that, we had lunch at TGIFriday's (and a colada!) and then hauled it to the beach for the rest of the day!

The final day of our beach adventure arrived much too quickly! We were able to enjoy the last bit of the ocean, eat lunch at McDonald's and then board the train again. It will soon be back to the normal routine of work, but I have only four weeks left of work! I am very anxious to wrap it up and return to my friends and family in the states!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Trip to the "Blue House"

First I'd like to congratulate one of my closest friends from Wooster, Ohio, Molly, on now becoming Mrs. Corey Sipos! Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the glorious festivities last evening, however due to mobile text updates from my siblings Rachel and Chris, it almost felt as if I were there. Best of luck to them both as they head to San Juan, Puerto Rico for their honeymoon this week!

Secondly, my flight has been booked and I will return to the rural Ohio parts on September 4th! I couldn't be more excited to see my friends and family! This next week will be very busy, but then I will have a week vacation and will return to Busan with my friend Anna. There are many places in Korea that I'm sure are fabulous to visit, but Anna really wants to see Busan and I am not picky, other than my need for sun rays and a piña colada.

Due to the fact that my previous entry significantly lacked photos, I will attempt to compensate and show you what on earth I've been up to the past month...

Armadillo class took a field trip to the "Dibo" Museum. Dibo is a Korean cartoon dinosaur and I cannot pronounce his name correctly. When we first arrived, my students made crafts at the table as they are nicely seated. After crafts, Dibo has a special dance that he taught the children and they were precious as they shimmied in movements similar to Dibo and Friends.
Armadillo class is precious, yet I welcome the upcoming vacation with open arms. And with even wider arms, I welcome the end of my contract. I have one student in particular who loves to scream at the top of his lungs, punch other students, speak Korean while at English school and ignore my directions. This sweet boy's mother told my Korean co-teacher that her son needs love from the teacher in order for him to behave properly. My health is now declining, I get daily migraines and I am ready to never teach another day of my life :)

While in Seoul, I have made some really great friends! In this photo, I am pictured with my friends Jayoung, Leo and Anna.
I met Jayoung at a yoga class close to when I arrived to Korea. She teaches piano and yoga. Leo is a ship engineer and has been friends with Jayoung for many years. I met him at the same yoga class, as he attended not only for means of physical fitness, but to meet women. Unfortunately, I think Leo's membership expired before he was able to meet his future wife. Anna is a friend that I met while at our mutual friend, Erwin's, birthday party in April. Anna is from Illinois and attended university with several friends of mine. She and I will take a short trip together over break and will do our best to steer clear of kindergarten-aged children while in Busan.
While Seoul is a city located in the extreme eastern parts of the world, Mexico is represented of course! A few weekends ago, Anna and I went to see a mariachi band that plays at events in Seoul. The men immediately became my amigos and so we took a photo together. All of the musicians are from Mexico City and they dedicated a song or two to me. I'm certain that my allegiance to Mexico and working knowledge of Spanish were primary factors.

This weekend, I visited "Cheong Wa Dae," with two American teachers and two Korean teachers. It is the home and office compound of President Lee Myung-bak. As we have the White House, it is also referred to as the "Blue House." Documentation of this adventure is as follows:
This is the main office at Cheong Wa Dae. This building essentially houses the office of the president and an array of function rooms. It was finished in 1991 and due to the blue tiles on the roof, this is the "Blue House" of the presidential compound.
This large gray building is Yeongbingwan. This building holds presidential guest gatherings. Inside, it looks like a large ballroom on the first floor. Prior to this building's existance, the events were held in hotels in Seoul, but there was much "discomfort to the citizens and security hazards," so, this was built.
The building that seems to be covered by trees is the Sang Chun Jae ("Ever Spring") House. In this house, the president hosts unofficial meetings and dinners for small groups and foreign dignitaries.

Next to the Blue House, are shrines to the tablets of concubines for previous rulers. The architecture and details of the buildings are spectacular! Enjoy the photos and have a great week!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

I am a Proponent of Privatized Medicine Due to the Following:

Unlike many Saturdays, today was intended for efficient productivity. I awoke this morning at 6:30 am and was on the elliptical trainer at the gym by 7:00. After exercise, I came home to shower and head towards an area called Sinchon. The reason for my adventure to Sinchon early this morn was because through my employer-granted insurance, I was entitled to a free doctor's examination which included blood, urine and x-ray tests. Just to ensure that I am in working order and it was free of charge, I thought it was a good idea to have done. This test was only available at Sinchon Leader's Hospital. What is absolutely hilarious is that the name of the hospital is in English, yet not one of their employees are capable of speaking English. It was the epitomy of what "Leaders" in healthcare should be.

I made it to Sinchon on an old rickety bus by 9:45 a.m. I arrived to the hospital by 10:45 a.m. Completely shank directions to this establishment were given to me and I stopped for directions approximately five times. Now, I was positive this hospital was on a particular street. Each person I asked for directions, or "helpers" told me to walk down (in opposite directions) for 5 minutes. After dealing with those five Koreans who passed along completely false information, I hailed down a cab driver. I showed him my paper with the Korean name of this place. Surprise! I was in the cab for 50 seconds and my total was still $2.40. Whatever. I hopped out of the scam car and found myself in a fairly low-end healthcare facility. Another surprise, 1st floor did not host the reception desk or English (aka current "Language of the World"). I pressed the "Up" button on the elevator and decided to take a guess and head to the 4th floor. Hand motions and slow talking with employees wearing scrubs directed me to the 2nd floor. The document which had the service I was to receive was crumbled and sad looking. Anyway, I handed that to the receptionist. In return, she gave me another document asking health history and personal information. This was anticipated, the only problem is that I do not read, speak, hear or understand Korean. Excuse me for saying this, but I was entirely prepared to punch someone's face.

I was told to sit down (not escorted nor directed). A woman then summoned me and I followed her to the desk of the meanest, baldest little Korean man I've ever met. He gave me a cup to conduct the urine sample. He scribbled Korean on the cup, and I am positive that it translated to "Stupid girl with orange hair." I went to the restroom and while I took a deep breath and tried to reassure myself that this bizarre "healthcare" situation would be over in 20 minutes, my hands forgot they were holding my pee cup and I dropped it in the toilet.

With my head hung low and troubled because I had no idea how to tell this mean little Korean man that I dropped my pee cup in the toilet, I went back to his desk. He gave me the eye, did not understand a word I had told him and proceeded to stick me with a needle for the blood sample. Next, he scooted me in to have my height and weight measured. After that, he threw me at the woman who took x-rays. After the x-ray, low and behold, this mean little man found an English speaker.

She said, "And where is your urine sample?

I replied "It fell in the toilet."

"Why did you do that?"

"It was completely unintentional. How difficult is it for you to give me another pee cup?"

Seriously. I wanted to find that same cab driver to rip me off again and drive me to the airport with nothing but the clothes on my back.

The woman hurled another pee cup my way and I went to the bathroom. I have never had this problem in my life, but today when I was told to pee on command, it totally wasn't happening. I felt like an abused animal at the circus who was whipped and cursed at (in Korean) and then told to sit, beg, do a somersault and then urinate into a cup.

I finally produced 3 cm. of urine for the mean little bald man and ran out of Sinchon Leader's Hospital like the dancing monkey who escaped the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

This, my friends, is my essay of complete distaste for socialized medicine.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Teaching and Costco...Love or hate?

It has been almost a month since I had my last entry, so I shall recap. Throughout the month of May, highlights have included; having been flowered with gifts for Teacher's Day, I attended an employee retreat with my co-workers, experienced a phenomenal night view along the Han River (Hangang) and ventured to Costco. These experiences have been wonderful to say the least, however I will not stifle my tone of excitement for I have ten work weeks remaining in Seoul!

Teacher's Day happened first amongst the array of events. Teacher's Day was equivalent to...Christmas. Aside from Christ's birth, the amount of gifts I received on this day aroused a tickle of Yuletide cheer inside my heart and made me consider re-signing for an additional year. Then, I came to the realization that such gifts would not be given to me on a daily, or even weekly, basis. Also, I contemplated the crying, whining, bloody noses, tattle-tales and fighting between students that I deal with...therefore no, I'll be home at the end of August. The fabulous items bestowed upon me included soap, shampoo, lotion, pizza, make up and gift certificates. The parents of my students were very generous and of course, I will put forth my best efforts in making fluent English speakers out of their offspring before I depart for the motherland.

The joyous holiday was quickly followed by a retreat provided for all SLP Yongsan and Mapo employees. Mr. and Mrs. Yang transported us on school buses (in seats intended for 20 kilogram students) to an herb farm called Herbnara. En route to this earthy venue, the previous president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun had committed suicide by jumping off of a cliff near his home in Bongha. He was under corruption allegations and many of his friends and family members were on trial alongside him. Two friends of mine were strong supporters of President Roh's administration and it has been very interesting speaking with them about the issues of his presidency and suicide.

Anyway, Herbnara was about 3 1/2 hours outside of Seoul. When we arrived, all of the teachers from both schools met in a conference room. Later, the foreign teachers and Korean teachers parted ways to have discussions pertinent to our individual teaching experiences. The owner of Herbnara is a close friend of Mrs. Yang and we were consequently scheduled to stay at this venue the same evening as a very popular music artist, Lee Moon Sae. After plenty of soju that Saturday evening, Mr. Yang proceeded to inform me that the owner attempted to re-schedule the SLP gathering so Lee Moon Sae could stay in our executive lodgings, however Mrs. Yang would not budge. Now, I am very thankful to the Yangs for holding us in such high regards, but tell me, is this Lee Moon Sae character the caliber of say Bruce Springsteen (high) or Nick Lachey (very low)? I'd really like to know. Our time at Herbnara consisted of eating, bonding, drinking and bus riding. I thoroughly enjoy the time with my co-workers, but a weekend of rest and relaxation in my bed (not the floor) is the ultimate.

On a Tuesday evening a couple of weeks ago, my friend Sang Ho took me on a ferry boat ride along the Han River (Hangang). The view was tremendous at night because all of the lights of the city made it amazing! I really need to make it a point to do more Korean things while I'm in Korea...that's why this was a perfect activity. The boat left at 9 p.m. and it ran for approximately an hour. Where I am living is also very close to the river and I enjoy walking or bike riding on the path which runs alongside the river. At this time of the year, the mosquitos are in abundance, but the weather is so nice in the evenings this time of year!

Costco was the most bittersweet experience I've had in South Korea thus far. First, you probably know, I love American things, particularly food. Costco is a haven for people such as myself who have about had it with octopus legs (which I will not eat) and other bizarre cuisine eaten in this land. I hauled my Latina self and my South African friend, Miranda, to Costco last Saturday. My shopping list included: tortillas, cheese, avocados, pineapple, Fiber One bars, V8 and Coke Light. I have ranted about tortillas before, every care package I receive contains tortillas and I cuddle up in my sarape blanket from Mexico every night. I can't shake my Hispanic roots. Cheese and avocados are vital with tortillas and I could live on those three ingredients for the rest of my life. Pineapple is my favorite fruit in the world and I consumed almost a whole pineapple in less than three days. The three remaining items on my list are things that I love and are very convenient when I'm "on the go." Liquor at an acceptable cost is also available at the Costco warehouse if you're curious. I was, so I slipped a little vodka into my cart for the weight of my cart to be balanced. I have finished telling you why Costco fulfilled "sweet" feelings, now I shall go on to describe why it was "bitter" as well.

Saturday is by far the most heinous day in Seoul when it comes to doing shopping or walking in public areas. I will not fib, for there are some weekends when I want to be reclusive in my little American apartment and forget that I am in Asia. That is another reason I went to Costco...I wanted to forget that rice is a staple food and that western items exist. On Sunday, I awoke with bruises because of the amount of shopping carts that slammed into me during my shopping adventure. Just a peek into my cart made my mouth water, so much in fact that I scurried to the check out. Surprise! Cash only! My ability to work under pressure and make instantaneous decisions is strong (just see my cover letter I wrote for job applications). My keen instinct noticed an ATM right outside of the check out so, I omitted the avocados and vodka that had been tightly gripped by my white knuckles, quickly hurled the correct amount of won at the cashier, shimmied to the ATM, did a round-about and low and behold, I was back in line with another pack of avocados and bottle of vodka. Whew. If that doesn't make you sweat, I don't know what would.

That about sums up my most recent Korean experiences. Oh, I also included a night scene of the Han River, but I didn't take it, so please do not feel obligated to "ooh and ahh." I hope all is well and I'll try to blog more often :)

See you soon!