several thousand words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here are several:

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Because food is the most important, here is a picture of the not-quite-a-Chimichanga I ate at a nearby Mexican place. I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was to find it.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

And the chips. And the sauceless salsa. It was still delicious.

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We made plant books in science class a few weeks ago. They pressed flowers and leaves and wrote about stems and systems. My favorite is the magnifying glass. Such creativity!

Christmas

Christmas has come to my house! This is a little light-box thing I got from a place called Butter. They have cheap home stuff like towels and candles and decorations, and they finally put out their holiday stuff. I was lucky to get out of there with only this.

Fabrics

I’m getting addicted to flowers and fabric. Everyone in my school and friends circle knows it now. I’ve become the Floral Mania. 

Rainbow Socks

Finally, the socks I made. First time I’ve tried socks in several years. They actually fit! 

ottermei.

autumn in Korea; biking by Paldang Dam

A walk in the park...

The beautiful park near the dam; definitely the best picture, which is probably why I put it on the homepage…

I realize my last couple of posts make it seem like I’m slipping into a melancholy and grey-tinted depression…and that’s not at all true. Sure, life is murky and strange these days (part of adjusting), but I’m not dour and weepy and quite as poetically philosophical as I sound.

On the contrary, when I have fun, I really have fun. Fall here is incredible. Coming from Texas, whose version of fall tends to be, “Hey, it’s November! Time to bring the temps all the way down to 80 and kill the trees! Whoooo!” having any kind of transition to winter is a treat. I never knew what fall was. Here, I call it Autumn, because holy pancakes, Batman, the colors and weather are sublime.

I feel like Anne of Green Gables, with the shining waters, warm reds of Octobers, and now the promise of a chilly, mystical November. Perfect for my writing and tea-drinking desires.

PaldangDam2

The dam itself. Dam.

In honor of the season, my friend and I went biking by the Paldang Dam, about an hour outside of Seoul. You can rent bikes there cheap; 10,000won ($10) for the day. We got the cute ones with baskets, and trundled off. Now, my friend is a marathoner, so she probably considered our five hour outing a light jaunt. My sedentary thighs were not so happy, but I muscled (ha) through and had a grand old time. The leaves were just beginning to turn, and the mountains were a beautiful ombre of every tree color imaginable.

Fallcolors

Lotus2

I’d never seen lotus in its natural environment. Those strange roots they serve at school come from these? Incredible.

Restaurant

It’s a big touristy spot, so there was a really nice restaurant about halfway down with bibimbap and really incredible pajeon. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the name of the place was. I was too hungry to care, so I had some tunnel-vision going. Food.

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The off-roading; where we lugged our bikes up a very steep hill. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

 

We also had a bit of an off-road adventure to get to a nearby park. The bike path doesn’t go to it, as far as we know, so we lugged our bikes up and down forest trails, slipping and sliding and being laughed at by the men behind us. Hey, you guys arrived twenty minutes after we did. Take that.

It was so worth it though. The park was quiet, lush, and right on a kind of peninsula into the dam area. It looked more like a lake, really, and with the mountains and lotus leaves, you could believe you were in the middle of nowhere. Never mind the ahjumma’s next to you dancing to their trot music.

 

PeacefulRiver2

We stopped for coffee and to rest a little at the park; I got mine iced, which flummoxed the vendor, but it was warm in the sun. And I really, really wanted a picture of the man selling chestnuts. He had the most incredible beard I’ve seen here. But in beard-language, it could have meant “nice old grandfather” or “seriously creepy.” I didn’t want to take the chance.

It was a nice way to spend Halloween, at any rate, since Korea doesn’t do much for the holiday. And as it’s beginning to be really cold here, it was the perfect opportunity.

ReadyforKimchi

Cabbages getting ready for kimchi.

Floof

The floof. That’s what I named it.

PaldangDam

Tis me. I’m very happy.

otter.

a little update; a list

Grey Days

Grey days

I’m not settled. And that’s okay. I feel bad and out of sorts and scattered all over the place, but I’m giving myself grace to take longer than two months to settle into a new life, new job, new country.

What’s going on with me, people ask. How’s life in Korea? I say inane, good-sounding things because the honest answer is weird.

“I don’t know.”

I don’t know how life is here. I haven’t lived much of it yet. All I’ve done is get a little used to my new job, visited a few places, gotten better at reading Korean, been terribly sick several times, discover that kids can be completely irritating…

Most of my comments about life here are complaints, which I refuse to entertain or share. That’s why I don’t write much. I have a lot of worries and complaints, and if I share that negativity it gains force.

So, a list of what is good;

  • School lunches; seriously, having one really good, healthy meal made for me every day is wonderful. I’m not cooking much and eating out is hard alone, but at least I get one good meal a day.
  • All my internet and phone set up; for the first month, it was hard to feel really a part of life here. When I lived in Taiwan, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I walked around blind. But when I’m out here, I can check bus lines and information and it’s amazing.
  • Walking places; this one is kind of a mixed blessing. I don’t like having to walk when I just need eggs or milk or something, but it’s nice to walk around and not feel unsafe, and it forces me to get exercise. A bonus.
  • English speaking co-workers; had I gone the traditional route and ended up in a Korean public school, I would have most likely been the only foreigner, and who knows how well I could have communicated with my peers. At my school, I’m one of many foreigners, and even the Korean teachers speak really good English, so I can communicate easily and get close to them. Plus, they hold barbecues for us at school. Meat win.
  • My American friend; she’s the one who introduced me to the job, and she lives in my building. She also occasionally invites me to do things. Often enough I feel like I have a life, rarely enough that my introvert self isn’t overwhelmed.

I heard somewhere that when you don’t know what to write, write a list. As I’m so fond of them, I thought it was a good idea.

Hopefully I’ll start writing again. It’s cathartic, but difficult to know what to share and what not to.

otter.

 

 

the first days

Sketch of Every Night

Where I’m to be found every night…

I wrote this about a week after I came, so not all of it is still true, but here are fresh memories of after I just arrived, and how I was feeling and what I was thinking.

~

I have come to Korea.

Before I left, I heard a lot of things like “Boss, Courageous, Totally Brave.” It doesn’t feel brave, to be honest. Those words hit me and fell off like nothing. I didn’t feel encouraged, I felt a bit of a sham. “It’s not brave!” I wanted to tell them. It’s not brave to go back to the side of the world where I don’t feel judged and am not pressured to conform to society. Teaching is easy for me; it would be braver and harder for me to stay in America and go through the twists and turns to get a job; Master’s, recruiters, networking, entry-levels…Maybe, on that path, money would come more quickly, but I’ve never yearned for wealth. I yearn for peace and comfort, and teaching in Korea gives me that. Or it will. It’s too new yet to be peaceful or comforting.

I arrived five days ago. I had one full day of rest to clean and organize and unpack, then it was right to work. Which is good. By Sunday afternoon I was lying on my bed trying to figure out whether to read more or just listen to music. Life without internet stretches.

I’m so incredibly lucky in my arrangement. I have a friend in my building who works with me, so she’s been able to show me to school, show me the grocery store, lend me toilet paper, and generally transition me smoothly. I thought about what would have happened if I didn’t have her and I think I might have panicked. It would have been terrible. Much braver for those who come and don’t have that support in place.

As it is, I feel like my path has always been just a little different. Not totally unique, of course, but always outside the mainstream. In America, my circle of friends are not in Asia. They are in retail or other jobs or still in college looking at business jobs, worrying about boyfriends and gas prices and finding the right vase at Ikea. And I was looking to Korea the whole time, finding it hard to relate and not feeling comfortable sharing all my excitement and fears. Among those who do go to Korea, most go through EPIK or another program first. Or they find a job at a Hagwon. I think this job at an intercultural Christian school is unusual. Perhaps it only feels that way. Either way, I’m lucky. I have a friend at my school. All my students and co-workers speak English. I’m even sharing 3rd grade with my friend, so we’re lesson planning together. I mean, could I get any luckier? I feel embarrassed. I have it so easy compared to what others have to do. But I thank God and accept it and do the best I can.

wax on, wax off

From the other side of the dream, the hazy pastel perfection is muddied. The grass is green but brown tipped, moisture-less. The people are starry eyed and their shoes are patched from neglect.

My friends, my fellow quarter life crises-goers, it is not dreamy wonderland living the dream life. It is reality, same as usual, and there’s no cake and no fairies bouncing around to make life a living paradise. No, reality is still the same. Still gritty, occasionally terrible, occasionally transcendental. Of course you know that. Of course you knew, really, that living your dream wouldn’t be all fun and games. Someone will spill the mayo. Every time.

I had a dream to move to Korea and teach. It was going to be an everyday miracle, to wake up in another country, see my students’ smiling faces, share something joyous and wondrous with them, awaken desire for learning, experience culture in a beautiful nation…

I don’t want to rain on my own parade, but it’s hardly like that. Waking up at 5am anywhere is torture, and my students are just kids, not figments of my imagination, so they cry and get in fights and ask me to repeat myself fifty million times…less sylvan glades of learning and more crowd control in a mob.

But that’s not to say I’m unhappy. Of course I’m happy. I’m working a fulfilling job, and I am in another country, surrounded by the language I love and living independently. All those are part of a dream. But it’s not rosy, self. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it, says my self. A chant for the sidewalks as my feet strain against the 9 hour days.

So my mind turns again inward, to further dreams, wilder dreams, and again my imagination is caught and swept away from the present to bounds of freedom unrealizable.

Again I wax poetic to cover up the dismal mundanity of real life.

School daze

  
I arrive every morning around 7:15. I’m usually the first person to arrive, and I unlock the doors and bounce up the stairs, listening to music, before prepping whatever I need for the day. Lately that means just printing or making copies. I don’t know if my preparation will increase, but thus far I’ve been able to keep on top of things. School doesn’t start until half past eight. Most students arrive at eight, their loud, insistent feet pounding up the stairs. Cries of, “Hello, Teacher!” assail my ears. A few small bodies collide into me, seeking hugs as usual. 

I feel a little bad for the kids; I’m still teaching from the textbook so there’s not much fun and games to be had. Although, that may be my conditioning as a camp ESL teacher showing through. Perhaps most normal schools are like this. We did do some decorating of the classroom, however, which the students really enjoyed. 

  
Funny thing, I didn’t realize how bad kids are at decorating. We made a word wall for vocab, and none of them got an edge straight when they attached the papers to the board. I had to fix it for them. But we have a student profile wall with pictures and drawings. I like having a personal touch. 

Teaching third grade is fairly easy, subject wise. I don’t need to brush up on my math much, except on terms, and the science is basic life science. I can grade without looking at the key. The hardest things are the small teaching things no one thinks to tell you. Like remembering to write down test grades somewhere before giving them back to students…

But it’s an easy learning curve and today felt nice and brief. Right now I’m sitting at a coffee shop with wifi, drinking hot cocoa since my throat is a bit sore, chowing on a cream puff. Am I in a foreign country? Who can tell?

 
Another day’s treat. This is becoming a bad habit.

  
The walk to my school is lined with gardens. Tiny blue flowers, a persimmon tree; I’m surrounded by creation. 

otter. 

I’m in Korea…

…at last. Actually I’ve been here over two weeks. But I’ve been so busy and so without internet that I haven’t had a moment to write. 

Where to begin? Dragonflies are everywhere, darting between pedestrians, over the river near my apartment, past the cyclists. The humidity shakes the air and makes it feel like the earth is sweating. I close my eyes and I can hear my students’ voices; after only a week their personalities are ingrained in my head. 

The walk to my school is variegated, like a patchwork quilt of different sights; a church with nuns in full habit, a Burger King/gas station, a seafood store with live fish in tanks, a construction site, gardens in the space between the sidewalk and fences…and my friend tells me that the trees I see are cherry trees. Spring is going to be something else.

For the second time in my life, I have moved around the world and not felt it. The hardest part is always the trip over. Asia itself doesn’t faze me. I was thrown in the deep end here, having only a day before starting work full time. Jump and swim. Now the walks to school, the stores, and stations seem familiar. I’m blessed to have a very good sense of direction. Now that I’m used to how my area looks, I can go to a place once and go again no problem. 

There is so much to say now, it’ll take weeks to tell it all. At least I won’t run out of material for a while.


The river near my apartment. It’s about a quarter mile walk. The water is so shallow you can see the backs of the fish swimming. 

  
  

On the way to my apartment. Paris Baguette of course. It’s as common as Starbucks, and contrary to the sign on the door, does not open at seven. 

Until next time,

otter. 
 

perspectives

There’s this particular curve in the highway on the way to my apartment. Texas is really flat, but from this curve you can see across the landscape and off into the distant horizon. This evening, as I was cresting the curve, I looked at that horizon – it was misty and hard to see because the sun was going down beyond it. It looked like a bad Instagram filter. Darned hipsters.

It was so beautiful to me, and that thought stopped me (not literally – I was on a highway going 70 – dangerous). Why was it so beautiful to me? I love beautiful views, and for all intents and purposes, it was not a particularly beautiful scene. A lot of houses in suburban squares, roads, some shopping complexes; just typical Texas. Thanks to my lightning fast deduction skills, I decided the reason it was so beautiful to me was because it was familiar, and that familiar things are beautiful because they are peaceful. Beautiful new things are also beautiful, but they are beautiful because they are new and shocking to the eyes, which try to take in every new thing and make sense of it and tend to leave the brain reeling a bit.

But the eyes love familiar things because they can rest on them, skip over the unimportant details and just sit there without freaking out. Bless my eyes. Texas will always be beautiful, in that regard, because it will be peaceful, even though, at the same time, it bores me to frustration.

Korea will be beautiful but shocking for a while. I will crave that familiarity. I think that’s why there’s so much power in bringing things from home to look at. Even the smallest bit of our old life gives the eyes a stopping point. A period at which to pause and breathe (eyes don’t breathe, silly).

I was also thinking about the height of Texas. Not elevation or anything, but just the average height of buildings. I know Asia in general has taller buildings because they have to cram stuff into a much smaller space. Of course America has lots of tall buildings, but they tend to cluster in awkward cliques called big cities and don’t let smaller buildings around since all of them would end up feeling a bit self-conscious. You feel big, at least in Texas. I feel rather tall and important as I whiz by three and four story buildings squatting modestly among the roads.

I didn’t get this impression in Taiwan, but I think in Korea I will feel a lot shorter and more apologetic to my surroundings. I will feel more like the mouse scuttling among table legs than the stately…whatever stately animal, deer, I guess, galloping in America. Maybe there’s a metaphor here about perspectives in Korea vs America, and philosophy and the value of independence vs fitting in and so and so forth. Maybe I shouldn’t look for the metaphor. Nasty, slippery things.

otter.

Taiwan–looking back, again

taiwanstreet

Typical Taiwanese street. How I miss you, Family Mart.

~TB to a year ago when I was remembering a year ago…~ This is so important now that I have three weeks until I move.

It’s been nearly a year since I moved back home from Taiwan. CRAZY. Most of the time I forget I was ever there, and when I try to dredge up the memories, they have some dream-like quality to them.

It’s insane to imagine that the me that’s sitting here in my hoodie and gym shorts was once running all over Taiwan with no guides, using the Metro like a pro, buying fruit milk from market vendors and biking with mountains behind me. Cuh-razy.

I miss that girl. I do. She was adventurous and spoke Chinese with ten year olds. She had to make big life decisions and work a real job. She was pretty cool. And then she got home and re-discovered Netflix and junk food and sitting at home all day. For shame.

I need the kick in the pants that my Taiwan memories give me. I need to close my eyes and smell the chocolate mocha drinks, feel the humidity and sweat, feel the rough spongy turf the kids played on, see my co-workers beckoning me, laughing at obscure Chinese jokes, and feel the burn in my legs after a lightning fast late night trip to 7-11 to get my favorite spicy chips and passion fruit juice.

It was probably the best year of my life so far, and I miss it like crazy. Sure, there were some bad times, but man was it ever awesome.

So what’s the point of all this reminiscing, you ask? Aside from sparking my memory troves, recalling who I was and what I did a year ago are really helpful. I get kind of freaked out by my future these days, what with it being all impending…only a year away…(breathe in, breathe out)…

In Taiwan, I was a fully functioning independent adult who made hard choices and survived through some tough stuff. I lived. I thrived. I learned a lot. I can do it again.

I can travel and make new friends and fit into a totally different kind of life. And in Korea, I’ll have some advantages. I’ll be living there long-term, so there’s a lot of incentive to learn the language. I’ve also already started, and I can read Korean. That’s huge. I can pronounce street names and bus stops! Huzzah! I’ll actually like the native food. I’ll be living on my own and won’t need to deal with team-life stress. I will most likely have air conditioning. There will be snow at some point. And I’ll be getting paid a lot more.

Huzzah again. Huzzah a million times, because I lived in Taiwan and rocked it, and I can rock Korea!

otter.

P.S. since it’s been a year. So I was freaking out a year ago about moving in a year, huh? Pretty weird that it’s less than a month away and I’m not freaking out. I guess another year of knowing the fact gets you reconciled. How bout that. I had forgotten how awesome I was in Taiwan though. I mean, I really didn’t have many problems there. Thanks, past self, for being awesome! You’re helping future self in ways you can’t imagine! Muah.

my room echoes

ABM_1436241871

I’m sitting in my room and every noise I make echoes. The books are in piles on the floor, the posters are gone, and the room feels smaller without them.

I’m looking around my room and I see it as it was when I first moved in. It would be right to be sentimental, but I’m not. I took a video today for myself in the future if I ever wonder what my old apartment was like, but I’m not getting nostalgic over anything.

I’m sitting in my room on the computer, wondering how to convey the weird sense I’m feeling. I have less than a month until I move to Korea. I still don’t feel like I’m moving. It still seems like this empty waiting period will stretch on forever, with the tiny bits and pieces of things I have to do falling in between the cracks of the endless days.

I should be scared, nervous, anticipatory…something. Scared would help me study Korean more. Nervous would help me prepare my lessons now. Anticipatory would make me meet all my friends and take more time with family before I leave.

Maybe a week before I leave I’ll feel it. I’m still waiting on my visa and ticket. Maybe once I have those I’ll feel it. Maybe once I’m on the plane, maybe once I’m in Korea…well, maybe I’ll feel it.

In other news, I’m practicing wearing heels. I need to up my game for the land of perfect street style.