Archive | May, 2011

Annoying People on the Group Trips

26 May

Alternative Titles:

A Sociological Study on God’s C-listers

Mein Kampf

People Who Came to Korea Because They Were Exiled From Their Home Country

1. The Stage-5 Clingers

The S5Cs are people who immediately coupled up upon moving to Korea, mainly for fear of spending any time with themselves.  Immediately upon meeting and engaging with a S5C, you will be introduced to their significant other, so that you do not confuse them with one of The Singles.  You will also be  forced to listen to the “totally crazy/random/fateful” way in which they met at a foreigners’ bar, which isn’t random in all.  Much like a high school field trip, these couples treat every moment as an opportunity to hold hands/cuddle/giggle/kiss/make everyone else uncomfortable and annoyed.  According to S5Cs, the above mentioned behaviors are acceptable: on a charter bus, during a group tour, while praying/eating/sleeping, in front of a monk, and while hiking.  Do not befriend the S5Cs if you are A Single, because they will mistake your friendliness for overt flirting with their non-attractive partner.  S5Cs prefer only to befriend other Couples.

2. The Aging Fratter

These gray-haired bros are under the misguided impression that Korea is their answer to that fraternity formal weekend they never had.  Mainly because they were never chosen to pledge.  They see their time here as an opportunity to drink all the time, do incredibly stupid and annoying things, and fail at picking up girls.  While most their age would find this behavior embarrassing, the AF sees these behaviors as Totally Awesome Stories to loudly brag about in group settings.  While the AF does help in proving Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, they are to be avoided at all costs for fear of encountering a bad pick-up line, a drunk fight, and/or projectile vomit.

3.  Bernadette Peters

4.  The Itchin’-To-Get-Offended People

This particularly fun group loves to party be overly politically correct.  Despite being immersed in another country and culture, they cannot discuss it for fear of Offending the Koreans.  They cannot discuss their job with any humor because All God’s Children Are Sacred. (trust me, they aren’t.  I teach a whole roster of future B-teams.  I also find all of them hysterically funny.)  Despite being in a temple, they cannot discuss religion because their parents would get mad at them That’s Private.  They also do not appreciate cursing, drinking, or laughing.  If the town from Footloose was a person, it would be like this and it would try to ruin my trip.  Luckily, much like Kevin Bacon, I’m here to party and start the revolution.  And dance.

5. People Who Make You Feel Bad About Yourself

These people already have a Master’s/Ph.D/ functioning adult relationship.  They awake at dawn to exercise vigorously for an hour because if they don’t, they “just don’t feel right, you know?”  They ask insightful questions on the group tour, in both English and Korean, which they have mastered during their time here due to intense study.  They make friends with everyone.  They read approximately 5 newspapers a day, including both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, to stay balanced.  They are members of various after-work activities, including sports clubs, dance groups, and other things you didn’t know were available to you here.  They volunteer. At 6am on Saturdays.  They go to church, but aren’t preachy or easily offended.  They Skype with all their parents and friends at least 3 times per week.  They have a great social life because they are great dancers, know all about music, and can hold their liquor.  They will never be hungover. Ever.  They have visited every country on your wish list, and speak all of those languages.  They plan to return to their home countries and better it. These people will simultaneously exhaust you and shame you.  Avoidance at all costs is key.

Please print this out and use it as a field guide for any future group tours.  You’ll thank me.

Monk Livin’

24 May

*Please note that once again, all pics are stolen from Megan.  It’s recently come to my attention that my camera is old and in need of replacing, so I’m now relying on other people for documentation of my awesome life. Thanks Meg!

Last month, Ms. Megan and I teamed up once again.  This time the excursion was a temple stay – a program that allows outsiders to live like a monk for a weekend.  This was one of my must-do things before leaving Korea, and spring was a great time for it.  The weather was perfect – and most of the temples are up in the mountains, so it was really beautiful. This was also a good excuse to not wear makeup or play Carmen Sandiego all weekend.

Saturday morning we boarded another charter bus, and headed about 3 hours outside of Seoul, to Magoksa Temple, located in Cheung Chong.

Partial view of the temple grounds. Please notice the lanterns, which were strung all over the place.

As soon as we got there, we were divided up into boys and girls, and then given our monk clothes for the weekend.  The clothes consisted of khaki parachute pants, and a pink jacket type thing.  And yes, I did the MC Hammer dance immediately after putting on my parachute pants.  These outfits were insanely comfortable.  Paired with my black converse sneakers all weekend, I looked pretty fly for a monk white girl.

We were then introduced to the basic bows and chants.  While a half-bow is super easy (simply bending at the waist) a full-on monk bow is a work out.  To do this:  place your hands in front of you in a prayer pose.  Bend your knees, lowering yourself to the ground.  Place your forehead and elbows on the ground, along with your knees so that all 5 points are touching.  While keeping your elbows on the group, lift up on your hands.  Then return to kneeling, then standing pose, all without using your hands.  Repeat.  A million times.

We then took a tour of the grounds, which consist of a lot of small temple buildings, most used for praying, and some for sleeping.  The whole place was decorated in colorful lanterns, in preparation for Buddha’s birthday, which was May 10, a national holiday.

One of the temples, which housed 1,000 Buddhas.

Next, we went to the stream, where we were treated to an exercise in trust and patience.  First we had to partner up, with one partner wearing a blindfold.  We then had to hold hands and guide our partner over the stepping-stone rocks across the stream, which was actually a good distance.  We then switched and repeated this.  Thank god I trust Megan.  We got a good system going, which consisted of a lot of “little step, little step, little step, ok BIG step!”  And thanks to her, my feet stayed dry.  So did hers, for the record.  We also had a great time watching other people sticking their feet out and blindly moving it around, hoping to find a rock at the end.  Some got their feet wet, but sadly no one fell in.

I even trust Megan enough to take a good pic of me.

Then it was craft time.  No, really.  Under the supervision of monks who laughed at our sub par motor skills, we made lotus flower lanterns, and prayer bead bracelets.  While my lantern was a hot gluey mess, my bracelet is pretty sweet.  I wear it when I’m feeling all spiritual and what not.

Then it was gong-ringin’ time. After watching a highly skilled monk play a huge drum, we were allowed to go up and ring the gong, 2 by 2.  Which was pretty bitchin’.

Megan, in front of the beautiful structure that housed the drums and the gongs.

We then went to the pagoda statue/monument, where we said a prayer, and walked around the statue for about 15 minutes.  In silence.  Which was very peaceful.

We then had dinner.  All of the temple food is strictly vegetarian.  Also, the monks believe that not even a kernel of rice should be left on your plate, so you must only take what you will eat.  It is also frowned upon to talk during meal time.  Unfortunately, I misjudged the kimchi, and wound up with a lot of it on my plate.  I just couldn’t do it.  So I quickly gave my plate to the monks, apologized, bowed, and ran away.  (shrugs)

We then had tea time with our monk, a big jolly guy we got to hang out with all weekend.  Fact: I had to fight the urge to hug him all weekend.  We asked him questions, and a lot of the information was actually really interesting.  For example, most monks don’t decide to enter into the lifestyle until they are in their 30s or 40s.  And for the record, there are lady monks as well.  And monks are divided into 2 groups: those that meditate all day, and those that do administrative type tasks for the temple.

Fact: I love this man.

Divided once again into boys and girls, we retired to our separate rooms and went to sleep. At 9pm.  And once again, we slept on the floor.  Sunday, we were woken up. . . at 3 am.  Which just means it’s dark and kind of cold, and everyone is highly disoriented, but too tired to complain.

We went to the temple where we chanted and bowed with some of the monks.  Then we spent 30 minutes learning the art of mediation.  And of course the monk gave us a topic to think about, which of course everyone thought about for 5 minutes. . . before drifting off into thoughts of caffeine, internet access, and what to wear tomorrow.  Or was that just me?!  Either way, at least I didn’t fall asleep, like our program director who, impressively, snored loudly while maintaining his mediation pose.

Then we got hardcore.  It was time for the 108 bows.  Remember earlier how I described the full-on monk bow?  We did that.  108 times.  We bowed to an audio recording, which explained what each bow was for.  There were 4 sections, some asking for forgiveness for past transgressions, some discussing acceptance of our present lives, and some offering prayer and hope for our future.  And while I am highly skeptical of all religion, I thought this was extremely beautiful.  Mainly because the 108 different sayings and vows were so applicable to everyday life.  They were simple things we can all do to be better people; things like selflessness and getting rid of our own egos.  This was, surprisingly, my favorite part of the weekend.

It was also my cardio.  It took us 30 minutes, and by the end we were sweating.  So it was spiritually and physically cleansing.  And I was just proud to say I did it.

Then we had breakfast, which included a lot of ceremony.  We had to place our food in certain bowls, in certain ways.  We had to help pass out the food to each other.  We ate our small, vegetarian portions in silence (but please note, breakfast was delicious).  We then did a cleaning ceremony, in which we used a yellow radish (the bane of my culinary existence in Korea) and water to clean each bowl, before eating the radish and drinking the water in the last bowl.  Which was disgusting.  Because I hate yellow radishes.  And because the water tasted like yellow raddish, mixed with bits of leftover food from the other bowls.  So I thought of it like a shot – breathe out, drink it fast, and try not to puke at the end.

Surprisingly delicious.

We then did a few chores like sweeping and cleaning the dishes, before having free time, in which I napped.  Megan of course took a picture of me, because: “You looked like a dead child.  Or like a dead Ooompa Loompa.  Don’t worry, I took a picture.”

Zen.

Next was our hike.  Please note, all of this is happening before 11 am.  Our monk led us up into the nearby mountains, for a fairly easy, relaxing hike.  We took a lot of pauses, where he asked people to sing songs. . . so we heard everything from Nelly to kindergarten chants we use for teaching.  The monk loved it.

The hike took place in the most beautiful woods I’ve ever seen.  It was straight out of a Disney movie.  The trees were huge and twisty, and the whole place was covered in purple flowers.  It was exceptionally beautiful.  And very peaceful.

Perfection.

After the hike, we had more free time, where I slept again.  Then another meal.  Then we changed into our regular clothes, turned on our cell phones, and boarded the bus.

After exiting the charter bus in Jukejon (much closer to my home than going all the way into Seoul) I wandered into one of Korea’s largest department stores, Shinsagae. (like Nordstrom’s rich, Asian cousin)  Despite being dirty and exhausted, I made my way to the Starbucks, where I finally injected some caffeine into my veins.

I was home napping and playing Carmen Sandiego by 4pm, despite having done a full day’s worth of activities, which made the weekend feel very, very long.  But wonderful.  It was peaceful.  And rejuvenating.  And I was proud of myself.

Another thing that keeps jumping out at me from the weekend was a particular girl on the trip, whose mom had come to visit her from America.  The mom was always joking with her daughter or playing with her hair.  And I couldn’t stop staring at the mom.  And then it hit me:  I haven’t seen my own mother in 8 months, and I miss her more than I even realize.  I was so jealous of this girl, whose mother was with her – I honestly didn’t realize how much I had missed those simple maternal gestures; like how my mama always touches my hair, or complements my outfit, or gives me a hug.  Let me tell you, it is very strange to go without that for so long.  Especially when, on a day-to-day basis, I find myself doing those same things to my kids (well the ones younger than 13, who still think it’s cool to hug the teacher).

Strange.

That one time we tested fate

23 May

Ok, so this whole Rapture business got me thinking:  I’m pretty sure we all know I’m not going to be a “chosen” one, so I better blog the hell out of my last days/months/decades on earth.  It’s the only way I’m going to successfully get myself on a reality show and make my D-list mark on the world before my time is up.

So, without further ado, here’s the story I hinted at last month, the weekend that left me with PTSD.  But also a really good story, so it’s a wash.

. . . . .

In March, a few gal pals of mine and I signed up for a weekend excursion, about 6ish hours south of Seoul.  The plan was to spend Saturday hiking around an island called Jagged Ridge, and then spend Sunday at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.

The Facebook message about the trip said the hike would be fine for anyone who “exercises regularly.”  Having just finished my 30 day shred, I overconfidently persuaded my friends that this would be cake.

So our trip began Friday night, where we all boarded a charter bus in Seoul.  After an awkward say-your-name-in-a-microphone-to-break-the-ice-game, we all settled in to try and sleep.  Which is impossible on a Korean charter bus.  So we mainly all just shifted around a lot until sunrise.

A few minutes after 6 am we got off the bus at Yi Soon Shin Admiral Park in Tong Young to watch the sunrise.  While this was really pretty, it’s going to take a lot more than the sun to get me all jazzed at 6am after spending the night on a charter bus.

Please note: all pics stolen from Megan's blog, which she stole from Andrea's camera. Just try and sue me bitches.

Our bus then made its windy way to the ferry station, where we then traveled the 40 minutes to Sa Ryang Do Island, where we would hike.  We were given maps, and told there were 4 peaks, and if all goes well, we should be finished in about 4ish hours.

Lies.

The hike started pretty well.  Mainly because we were hiking around a beautiful island, so every rocky peak had amazing 360-views of the ocean.  We also met some cool people.  And we also met some people who were fun to laugh at.  But that’s another story.

About an hour or so into the hike, we were feeling fab – it was challenging, but certainly not impossible, the weather was perfect, we still had plenty of water, etc.

Much like Jurassic Park, we had no idea the horrors that awaited us on this island.

2 hours later, we start to get weary.  Mainly because Jagged Ridge is ridiculously unsafe.  Korean hiking is much like a Japanese game show: dangerous, fast, and best left to the Asians.

There are no rails, and few signs.  Everything is steep and rocky. If you fall, you die.  And why you’re contemplating that, 60-year-old Koreans in neon hiking gear are passing you left and right, usually while muttering about your slowness under their breath.  Note:  They also like to stop mid-hike for lunch and alcohol.  Seriously.

One of my fave pics of all time. Please note my 1 arm muscle - COUNT IT!

Time marched on, and so did we.  Slowly.  Complaining.  Mocking the lying Facebook message that got us into this perilous mess in the first place.  We got sunburned.  We were also cold.  We walked down vertical metal stairs.  We walked on the edge of cliffs.  And two times, we seriously had to use a rope to climb up the side of the mountain.

Why would that be a good idea?

I realize this sounds fun, which it is – in theory.  In reality, it’s really f-ing scary.  This is the one time during the hike I just straight up panicked.  Like halfway up, while death-gripping the rope, I looked down and thought “if i lose this rope, I’m going to fall. And die.”  And then I full on couldn’t breathe.  And may have cried a bit.  But thank god for my lady friends who got all motivational-speaker on my ass, and helped me through.  I still don’t know if it’s scarier to use the rope going up the mountain or going down.

Andrea going down the ropes. This was like Survivor with no money at the end.

Of course, the rope was easy for the Koreans.  As Megan so aptly described it: “Jesus, they all look like Spiderman.”

6 hours later, we made our way down.  Only to find that we were among the first 20 or so people finished with the 4-hour-hike.  Hello, validation.  By then my whole body was shaking, and my ankle was throbbing something terrible. . . so we ate ice cream and waited for the bus.  And had a bitchin’ nap on the floor of the ferry.

We then made our way to the pension – a Korean-style hostel, where you sleep on the heated floors, which is much more comfortable than it sounds.  After showering and thanking god for not killing us on the mountain, the whole group had a Korean style BBQ, which was of course delicious.  From what I remember.  I decided the best way to celebrate our triumphant hike was to drink copious amounts of soju.  Hence why I went to bed at 9pm.

But of course, not even bedtime was uneventful.  We found out that sometimes Betsy sleep-screams, where she subconsciously yells at people with her eyes open.  Which is scary.  We also awoke to the sound of 2 men yelling at each other in Arabic, around 4am.  Still thick with soju, I awoke and legitimately thought I was in a dream for about 5 minutes.  Until I saw Megan army crawl her way over to me to discuss our room’s “situation.”

As we learned the next day, the 2 men, who were far too old and unattractive to be pulling these stunts, were completely drunk from the bottle of rum they consumed the night before.  And because they are cavemen, this turned into a half-conscious middle of the night screaming match.  Just for added context: These two life rejects also peed in bottles on the charter bus on our way home.

Sunday was rainy, and we were oh-so sore.  We made a quick trip to see a Turtle Ship – a type of famous ancient ship created to fight the Japanese.  They are called Turtle ships because the round outside of the ship is covered in metal, like a shell.  Get it?!

Turtle Ship > Japanese

We then drove 2 hours to Jinhae, to see the sub par cherry blossoms.  At least we weren’t hiking.  The festival was similar to any street festival in the US: it’s packed with stalls for food and shopping.  That’s about it.  So for a few hours we wandered around, eating awesomely bad street food, and taking pics.  Fact:  I ate a corn dog WITH FRENCH FRIES ON IT.  Koreans are so far ahead of Americans, it’s not even funny.

Lots of tents + pretty cherry blossom trees = festival.

We then spent another 7 hours on the bus, cranky and uncomfortable, before finally arriving home.   Where I collapsed into fetal position. For the next 12 hours.

Much like Pearl Harbor y’all, we will never forget what happened that weekend on Jagged Ridge.