Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Story Presentation Class, level 2

This week, I finally posted about 250 pictures and videos from the past four months in Korea (and Hong Kong!) onto my flickr account. Just click any picture in this blog, on any entry, and they will take you to the rest of them via my flickr photostream. Here's a video of my little kids in class from when my mom was visiting. This is on presentation day, so they have to memorize a little story and recite it for the class. They're the cutest!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Since the last time I've posted, I've been a busy girl! I had visits from my mom, as well as my dear friend Katie, made a trip to Hong Kong, and made another trip to philly to surprise another dear friend, Chelsea, by showing up for her wedding. An added bonus of that particular voyage was the chance to see my aging Grandfather in what unexpectedly became the last few weeks of his life. What a gift it was to have that time with him. It's been a few months of a lot of ups and downs, to be sure.

I've also settled more and more into this relationship with this boy, Hoopie. I haven't said a lot about our relationship here, but I will say that he is loving, generous, kind hearted, and more than I could have imagined. I'm really amazed that we have come across each other through language barriers (his English is better than mine), cultural differences, and thousands of miles. The universe is crazy in it's complexity and possibility! The relationship is really positive, and it's bringing about some major growth and transitions in my life and his.

At this point, I only have 6 weeks left on my contract with my school, and I am making ready my plans for the future! My contract finishes on July 29th at midnight! At that time, I have a whole slew of travel plans that I look forward to with eager anticipation. From July 31 to August 12th, Hoopie and I are headed to Japan. I'm thrilled! I have not yet been to Japan, and I have been hearing so much about it since I have been living just across the sea from it. I actually had plans to travel there several months ago, but the tsunami changed that. I have been keeping tabs with a friend who is very connected to Japan, and she says I should come--Japan actually is promoting tourism a lot since the tsunami, and their struggle with recovery. She says they are really in need of the economic stimulation.

At any rate, Hoopie and I are still working on details of that trip, but we have ferry cruise tickets reserved--we are going! We will likely stay in Kyoto and Osaka for the bulk of the trip. I figure, I would rather have a relaxing vacation in a few majorly awesome foreign cities than a hectic (but probably still awesome) one, jumping around all over the country. That, and I really think I will be returning to Japan again in the next year because... I am coming back to Korea! Crazy. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After our trip to Japan, I will be flying to JFK, and spending the next month on the east coast. I'll be seeing friends and family in NYC, Philly, DE, all over Virginia, and in D.C. It will be quite the trip. I've never been old enough to get a rental car, and I plan to do that there. I'm really excited about the freedom and flexibility that affords. Being an adult can totally rock sometimes. One of the major highlights of this trip will surely be meeting my new nephew, Aidan Cormac Meehan. He was just born on the 14th of July! He is beautiful. My sister is certainly looking forward to seeing me, but also to having the extra help. :)

At the end of this trip, I will be finally heading back to Oregon. By that time, it will be near the end of September. At that point, as I refresh by seeing family and friends and getting a good dose of home, I plan to live with Katie and her roommate while I search for sublets. I'll really take anything cheap and month-to-month located in NE Portland. (Portlanders, keep your ear to the ground for me!) I will be staying in Portland from the end of September until the end of end of January, most likely. Why? Well!

Let me say, that I miss the place. I miss my friends and family, I miss the food, I miss the blues dancing, I miss the bridges, the parks, the river. I miss the zines, the arty DIY of it, the microbreweries and fine wine. I miss Mississippi, Belmont, tabor, NW 23rd. I miss forest park and the bluffs, karaoke at the alibi tiki bar, riding my bike through the streets and the smell of basil, pine trees, and delicious food wafting from windows in the summer. I need my Portland fix. And during this time, I am delighted to welcome my boyfriend for a visit as well. He has never left Korea! I have so much of the great Northwest--my home--to share with him.

Don't get me wrong--Korea is great! But it's not home. I'm loving so many things about being here--the culture, the kindness and generosity of the people, the food, the beautiful mountains, my Korean boyfriend (haha), but I am so tied to Oregon, I just can't do without it for another year without a good dose to keep me going. During the time when I'm home, I plan to live it up. I will get part time work if I can, but mostly, I will hang out with my parents, my brother, and my friends, take short trips around the west coast, do volunteer work, eat delicious food, cook, dance, play my guitar, and make zines. I have saved a good amount of money this year, and though I don't want to squander it, I want to take advantage of the fact that I can afford to take it a little easy while I'm home. If I can break even on income and rent with a part time job, that would be ideal.

After this stint, I will return to Korea. The plan as of now is to come back to my company, but not at my current branch. I will instead be a "floater" or substitute teacher, based in Taegu, the third largest city in Korea. I will travel to all of the branches (20 are in Taegu, 5 in other cities), week to week, filling in for teachers on vacation and sick leave. I think it's the perfect fit for me. I love the idea that I get to travel around Korea a bit, and having different students and co-teachers every week. I love meeting new people! My company also has a lot of benefits that I really appreciate and value. Being based in Taegu is a huge perk as well, for many reasons. One being that since most of the branches are there, there is quite a community built from the foreign teachers at my school. They have a book club, a soccer team and a frisbee team, regular get togethers, Korean classes, even a gym offered free of charge to Moon Kkang teachers! I think it's going to be awesome.

There is so much that I am looking forward to. Life is so dynamic and exiting! And in my remaining time for this year in Korea, I have so many cool things going on each weekend. Traveling and opened mics, some band performances and salsa lessons, meeting more of Hoopie's family and maybe having one more blow out apartment party before I ship out. So much to do, so little time!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I have had a few emails from people voicing their concern for my safety as Korea is so close to Japan and the tsunami/nuclear crisis they are working through at present. I, much like everyone back home, have been closely following the news. I want to reassure everyone that I am quite safe and Korea has felt no effects from this tragic disaster.

Consequently, a good friend of mine works has close personal ties to Japan, but she also happens to work in the study abroad office at Whitman college. Part of her current duties there are to keep up with the disaster and keep concerned parents of exchange students in Japan up to date on the latest information. I'm finding it hard to know what is sensationalist media and what is accurate at times, so I sent her a questioning email, and this was her response:

"Hey! I'm really glad that you got in touch to ask about this. The past several days I've basically had to talk a bunch of parents down from panicking about evacuating their kids from Kyoto, but at the same time have had to get some plans in place should we actually have to get them out of the country. Kyoto was completely unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami, and continues to be unaffected (for now) by the nuclear situation. I'm completely glad to help, since I've been glued to the nytimes website and NHK news nonstop, and have learned more about nuclear reactors than I ever cared to know.

I just remembered that you said that you would meet up with Katie in Tokyo, right? In that case, I would be much more cautious about travel plans... although Kojiro and I still have friends and family there who are safe and calm, there have been constant aftershocks, some issues with shortages of food staples in grocery stores (though not as severe as the media would have us believe), and then there's the worry about radiation (although Tokyo is also unaffected at this point). The nice thing is that since you weren't planning on going until late April, you have a little bit of time to wait and see what happens. For me, it feels like it's been going on forever, but I have to stop and remind myself that it's been less than a week. So I would just recommend monitoring the situation for another week or so (and please, please, please feel free to get in touch with me again, since I'll be watching the situation closely anyway) before you make any decisions. Our travel agent also says that in times where an emergency is declared, airlines will sometimes refund or waive fees for canceling or changing flights, so you and katie could always try and change your itineraries to take a trip somewhere else (though I know that you were really looking forward to visiting Japan).

I've also been really annoyed with some of the sensationalist headlines that have been coming up, even on the nytimes (i.e. comparing the disaster to chernobyl and using terms like "meltdown" when the actual content of the articles just detail further containment strategies and scary, but non-catastrophic, releases of radiation). It's hard not to panic a little bit just seeing the headlines change all the time, but here are a couple of places that I think are worth checking:

Alerts/messages from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo: http://www.facebook.com/l/54affmPGroY--tTAIkY1AwjwbdA/japan.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-arch.html

NHK (Japan's national broadcasting channel) news in English: (seems to have the most up to date, and measured information available)http://www.facebook.com/l/54affBcKnIYgLYoiE30XIPnK1hw/guides.library.umass.edu/content.php?pid=196478&sid=1645175

I hope that helps! Kojiro is still fine (haha, very calm... and much calmer than me!), so is his family, and our friends in Tokyo. We've been incredibly lucky that this disaster hasn't affected us personally, but of course, the unfolding nuclear situation is always a worry.
Take care and stay in touch!"

That's all for now, but I'll leave you with one more informative but light video that another friend posted about the situation with the nuclear plant:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Season's Ripe for Hiking!

In the past few weeks, the weather in Pohang (on many days) has significantly improved, making me feel like I want to be outside all the time! Of course, I have things to do that keep me from fulfilling this wish, but every time I step outside, I am excited and hopeful for spring. It's a little bizarre from time to time, however, as after 3 days of temperatures in the low 50s, we'll have a day where it's 24 degrees, and they're predicting snow. I've heard the weather at home is somewhat crazy as well. I'm sure we have global warming and climate change to thank.

This past weekend, I went with Hoopie for a nice day hike in Gyeongju. Gyeongju is the cultural capital of Korea, and is only 30 minutes by car from Pohang. I haven't spent a lot of time there except to keep medical appointments, so this was really the first time I got to see it. It is beautiful. Even before the hike, riding the bus through the town to get to the temple, I was overwhelmed with how traditional the city looks. It's completely different from everywhere else I've been in korea. Most cities here are spattered with high-rises and industry, and the only traditional buildings you see are temples, usually on the outskirts. Gyeongju, however, is quite different. The buildings are low, with pagoda rooftops and traditional facades. There are mazes of side streets running through the little houses, and hardly any chain stores or large marts. There is a river that cuts in and out of the city, reflecting the sun and making everything green and blue. It's beautiful. It made me feel more like I was in Asia than anywhere I've yet been in korea.

The hike was delightful. The weather was warm, but cool and breezy enough that we didn't overheat as we climbed the steeper parts of the trail. We began at the Bulguksa Temple, one of the most famous temples in South Korea, because it represents the height of Shilla architecture. I never tire of the brilliant colors on the eves of the temples, the spacious interiors of the courtyards, and the easy peaceful feeling present inside their walls. After looking around, we found the trail to Seokguram, another temple just a few short kilometers up the mountain. We took our time and played trail games, occasionally stopping to snap photos of the magnificent views, or just take a wheeze break. (In the midst of this, I realized I'm pretty out of shape!) Seokguram is incredible to see, as it's nestled into the mountain amid rocks and steep inclines--it really is an engineering feat. I want to return there at night to see how it looks when the lanterns are lit, and the view of the countryside below is dotted with lights of scattered cities.
Hoopie and I continued up the trail at my request--though we were getting hungry for lunch, I wanted to see the peak, and it was only another 1.3 kilometers, though quite steep. We munched some trail snacks, sipped our water, and continued on. We breathed heavily on the climb and carefully navigated around wide patches of mud, as well as left-over ice from the last snow. When we reached the top, the payoff was incredible. The trail opened up and we could see for miles. Vast ridges of mountains in all directions, rivers cutting through the valleys, and the ocean in the distance. What a beautiful country this is, I thought.

As the weather is easing into spring, I'm making a personal resolution to get onto the trails as often as possible. There is so much natural beauty here, though this country is so industrialized and western. Korean people really value their mountains, their hiking, and the peace of nature. As a northwesterner, I feel a certain affinity for them through this shared piece of culture.
Where to next?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cold Snow, Warm Heart

Yesterday morning, I woke to find pohang had been hit with it's second snow storm of the year, rendering the city, once again, immobile. I was ok with it, despite the implication that a cancelled school day means a working Saturday make up class (for Moon Kkang, anyway). It gave me a chance to hole up inside my cozy apartment, wash my dishes, grade my school books, catch up on some emails, and read. You see, I've been in a whirlwind the last few weeks, largely due to this new development: Allow me to back track. So I had a party at the end of January, and it rocked. It was the first I've had since I came here, and it really was a long time coming--I was craving it, like mad. I just can't get enough of people as a rule, and large gatherings of everyone I've ever known are kind of a habit I inherited from my family. When your parents have extended families of more than 30 people each, and you grew up with your youth minister mom throwing blow out (wholesome) teenager parties and retreats, it just gets into your blood, I guess.

You know that feeling a good gathering of people can bring? The feeling where everyone is getting pleasantly buzzed (I don't mean only on alcohol), and new friendships are forming, and the lights are soft and warm, and the music is good, but the conversation is steady and humming enough that you can barely hear the music? It was that kind of good. People started showing up at 7, and then continued in a steady stream until my little apartment was just perfectly bulging with people, but not overflowing. Everyone brought food and drinks to share, and I made my family's potato cheddar dill soup--a tripple batch--and by the end of the night, it was gone! We ate, we drank, we chatted. Some people who came really surprised me by showing up at all, but everyone who made it was awesome.

Around 11pm or so was probably when the number of guest was at its peak, and I believe it was at that point that one Korean friend (Solomon) showed up with another friend in tow. He introduced me to Hoopie (korean name gun-hoo); a bespectacled, fit, handsome 28-year-old in skinny jeans, a hoodie, and a commie hat. When I first met him, I thought he was a foreigner though he looked korean, because he spoke with British English that was fairly polished--articles intact and all. His smile was shy but warm, his eyes were genuine, and our conversation was easy. I remember thinking how kind he was, and how cute he was, and I remember looking forward to further chats through the evening as I stepped away to greet more entering guests. I remember he said to me "you're like a doctor giving out medicine--I feel comfortable and easy when I'm talking to you." I thought he was just being cute (and a little cheesy) because we had been talking about my psych degree, but he wasn't. He was sincere.

The party progressed in a delightful fashion, with a good balance of varied characters coming and going. It was great to see friends mixing in the way I love, and through the evening, I began to feel validated in some of the friendships that previously had only been casual aquaintances. Later, Hoopie and I chatted again in my (opened) bedroom, a few other people wandering in and out, and we swapped a little music on my guitar. He's incredible, but it's long since the time when I would so easily swoon over a decent musician. What struck me was his humility and openess. He wasn't playing for show. He was playing (and asked me to play) to share something with me. I was warmed doing just that with an opened human being. It felt really nice.

Around 4 or 5 am, most of my guests departed, save Hoopie, his friend Solomon, and my other awesome/newish friend, Grant. This part of the evening (or morning) was probably the most memorable. We four stood on my porch drinking wine, as they smoked their cigarettes, and we later came inside and played a few rounds of cards which were more a backdrop to our conversation and easy manner than anything else. We went back on the porch for another round of their smokes after an hour or so, and I was really aware in my heart of the genuinely awesome time we were all having together. As time slipped by unnoticed, it felt real, natural, easy. It felt pretty rare. We laughed as we talked about all kinds of things.

Around 6am, Grant said he needed to go, and Solomon had promised him a ride home, and so they left, with Solomon to return shortly. I remember feeling good about the prospect of getting Hoopie alone, but I don't really know what I was hoping for. I remember I was really curious about him. I really wanted to know what he was about, and I wanted to see how we would do without the distraction of other people around.

As it had been with him all night, our conversation was easy, comfortable, and genuine. I really don't remember what we talked about--neither does he. We were seated on my couch, and I remember a subtle undercurrent of electricity stemming from where my folded knee was touching his thigh. I remember feeling calm. I remember feeling just... good. I remember wanting him to kiss me. But not wanting him to kiss me. I remember a pause in conversation that was not uncomfortable but somewhat pregnant. And just as I was eager to get more of him, Solomon returned. They left together after a few more minutes, and I was happy to have made a new connection. It was now close to 7am, and I promptly went to bed, planning to deal with dishes and cleanup in the morning.

Time is marching on, and as my late grandmother used to say, "it never slows down!" It seems that with each incredible thing that reveals itself in life, I am made aware that my own experience is only scratching the surface of the infinite possiblitiy of the universe. That sounds abstract and somewhat crazy even, but I mean it. There is so much life to be lived, so many things to feel, so much to make you burst at your seams and wonder out loud, "What the hell is happening?!" Nothing really incredible is ever expected, either. You can attempt to plan "mountaintop" experiences, and maybe even come pretty close to them by trying... but I think the most awe-inspiring ones come out of nowhere, often when you aren't ready for them, and land right in your lap. I only hope that my heart and mind and eyes are always opened enough to see them.