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The 12 Stages of a Korean Spin Class

29 Aug

There is nothing like taking a spin class in Korea.  Nothing.  It’s a cross between biking, disco dancing, and the 4th circle of hell.  Much like I imagine women do with childbirth, I keep forgetting how terribly painful it is, so I keep going back.  Mainly because I can’t think of a good excuse not to.

*It’s worth noting that much like every building in Korea, air conditioning and heating are used minimally.  It’s actually hotter inside the gym than in actual nature.  Gross.

The 12 Stages of a Korean Spin Class:  A Cautious Endorsement

Stage 1:  Tepid excitement: Regular lights off, spinning disco lights on, door to the tiny jam-packed spinning room closed, causing sweating to begin.  Sidenote: Today my spin instructor turned on the strobe lights, which was fun until I almost had a seizure and fell off the bike.

Stage 2: Smugness.  No matter how ridiculous you look, you will always be a better dancer than the moms and dads in this room. And if not better, then at least, you know, younger.  Also, you know the songs.

Stage 3:  Overheating.

Accurate.

Stage 4:  Overwhelming regret.  It’s been 15 minutes. TOTAL.

Stage 5: Bargaining silently with the instructor to: 1) go easy on you 2) unexpectedly stop the class after 5 minutes 3) actually kill you

Stage 6: Irrational anger. Thissucks, thissucks, thissucks, thissucks.  Bonus:  Most of my instructors make let us yell to keep up general enthusiasm and momentum.  What they don’t know is that I’m just screaming the name of whichever student pissed me off the most today. I would bet money that my coworkers could name the top 3.

Guess what bitches? Surprise spelling test tomorrow!

Stage 7:  Envy.  Why is my androgynous spin instructor in such bangin’ shape?  Do I have heat stroke or is she getting way hotter? Also, we have the same haircut. Also, her English name is Gun.  GUN.

Stage 8:  Daydreaming, which helps block out the excruciating pain in your thighs and ass.  I like to mentally run through my fall shopping wish-list. (polka-dot skinnies? Don’t mind if I do!) If I get really bored, I make lesson plans.

Stage 9: Evaporation.  My eyelashes are sweating.  It was a poor choice not to bring water – in that it could result in my actual death.

Stage 10: Party rock! Heat stroke be damned, I love K-pop and I love dancing.  And I look good.  This is also the point where I convince myself that I’ve lost at least 6 pounds so far.

Surprisingly, not that far off.

Stage 11:  Awkward stretching while on a bike. The main goal is not to slip off.

Stage 12:  Avoid the 40 naked old Korean women in the locker room.  Crawl home.  Attempt to drink Vitamin Water, but instead pour it all over your face.  Lie on floor and will your body to clean itself.  Weep.

*Tonight we full-on recreated the dance moves from Gangnam Style (recent internet sensation and the story of my life) Gun knew all the words.

Losing My Religion

18 May

So I was all set to finally write my baseball post, but then I went shopping after work, to spend those gift certificates I mentioned earlier.  So I apologize to the 3 male readers of this blog, because it’s basically another fashion rant but sweet jesus you guys I have looked into the face of evil tonight, and it was made of polyester.(as most evil things are)

Here are my thoughts, so that I can unburden my mind, watch some Community, and put my pretty little self to bed.  Because I work on Saturdays, which is almost as upsetting as the other things I’m about to tell you.

-Shopping for jeans, or any pants, in Korea is the 7th circle of hell.  Living in a world where all pants stop at size 6 (sometimes they have 8’s, for the pregnant Korean women) is the slowest form of torture.  This is why foreigners shop at foreign stores – Zara, Mango (my new jam), H&M, Forever 21, etc.  Korean stores can kindly kiss my larger-than-size-6 sized ass.

-I saw something more disturbing than, well, the last time I saw this.  Skorts(skirt and shorts)  Few things disgust me more than skorts (Crocs, social conservatives, aggressive Southern accents, airports without free WiFi, etc).  I mean where the F are you going that requires you to dress up (skirt) but still need the flexibility of shorts?  Possible answers: A fancy playground, 1995, a pep rally where you will be cheering, a wedding at an amusement park, or Wimbledon where you will be playing.  I refused to buy anything in this store out of principle – if I don’t stand up for the sovereignty of shorts and skirts, who will?

On principle, roller derby scares the shit out of me, but here’s another example of a skort.

-Jeggings, jeggings everywhere.  Real talk (no spin zone style) – if you wear jeggings you’re telling the world that you’ve given up.  It’s a  cry for help.  End of story.

-Non-airconditioned stores + fluorescent lighting + teeny tiny dressing rooms have forced me to reconsider pregaming my shopping trips.

Sorry to be so real just then.  Don’t worry, I found what I desired at Mango and Uniqlo, and hauled it out of there.  Thanks for sticking with me while I worked through some stuff.

…………..

Now, feel free to laugh at this exchange between 2 of my students yesterday:

Girl 1: “What’s your bear’s name?”

Girl 2: “Bear Bear.”

Girl 1: “That sounds Chinese.”

……………

Today I’m thankful that I live alone.  Because I only like to sleep during the day, and my domestic skills leave much to be desired.  I would take a picture of the pile of laundry I have to do, if I wasn’t already bored from talking about doing laundry.

Have a good weekend!

Mudfest!

28 Aug

Last month we finally got to take part in Mudfest – an ex-pat right of passage, and something my friends have been talking about all year.  But since it involved lots of mud and foreigners, my expectations were fairly low. . .

. . .And it turned out to be one of my favorite weekends in Korea – and one of the few moments in my life where I knew, while it was actually happening, that I was having fun simply to have fun.  This is why I travel: the rare chance to stumble into new, ridiculous adventures, that remind you just how young and unencumbered you are.  Oh, and there was mud.  And a lot of drinking.

You can read about the details of my weekend here, where I wrote about it for the Go! Girls site.

And here are some of my favorite pics:

There was nowhere for this day to go but ridiculous

Day 1

Beach scene

After watching the fireworks, I wandered off and stumbled upon heart-shaped glowstick glasses AND a motorized scooter. Winning.

Megan and me on day 2, where we played in the mud for hours

Suwon’s Hwaseong Fortress

16 Aug

. . .where I got my tourist on.

Ancient temple in the foreground - modern-day Suwon in the background.

Sometime last month when it was still raining, but hadn’t yet flooded, some lady friends and I headed to the nearby Hwaseong/Suwon Fortress.  It’s basically Korea’s “great wall” (without the communism), and with a lot of good photo ops and small buildings along the way.  It’s about 40 minutes from where I live AND it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it was about damn time I went.  Rain and all.

First and foremost, I totally underestimated the size of this thing. (that’s what she said)  I figured a few hours was more than enough time, but you could easily spend a day here just walking along the wall.  Or posing with an umbrella:

This is as Korean as I get.

The upside of the rainy season, is that everything is so lush.  Which is also the single most delicious word in the English language.

There were lots of things to climb:

. . .and lots of territory to defend:

In the future, this is how I will protect the world from zombies. Or Scientologists.

We also find a really pretty shrine to hike to.  The statue is of a very important king, whose name I have absolutely no recollection of and which I’m far too lazy to Google right now.

At the shrine, we also found a very inappropriate baby Buddha:

Thus, the Legend of the Pantless Baby was born.

All in all, a good touristy experience.

Well done gal pals.

4th O’July

8 Jul

For the first time in my life, I celebrated the Fourth of July outside the US. . . which was fine by me.  As most of my friends at home know, I do not like this holiday. I never have.  I like America, but it’s special day has always seemed more like a pain in the ass than an excuse to party.

But that doesn’t mean I downplayed it here in Korea.  On the contrary, I went on the offensive – when in foreign lands, you have to represent. (write that down)

Sunday, July 3rd the foreign teachers and I enjoyed LOTS of US-only food and Korean drinks at a bbq/party.  Unfortunately the torrential downpour forced our would-be balcony party to become an apartment party, but the food made up for it.  Sadly, I did not get pics of Diane squatting under 2 umbrellas while grilling hotdogs and hamburgers.  That was true patriotism.

Monday the 4th. . . was a normal work day.  But I tried to represent by wearing a red & white skirt, and with my AWESOME nails.  (cracked nail polish has changed my life.  I’m a one-woman manicuring machine right now):

Awesome nails + striped skirt = Happy Fourth of July from Korea

And Tuesday the 5th, we celebrated once again on a friend’s rooftop.  His parents were visiting from the US so they brought a ton of US candy with them.  I nearly went into a diabetic coma upon tasting my first Skittle  and M&M in nearly a year.  Worth  it.

So while it was definitely a different kind of Independence Day (and while I unabashedly celebrated  Canada Day much harder), it was not without its highlights:

Cla Teacha Tries to Explain Independence Day to Korean 8 year-olds:

Me: “Today is a very special day.  It’s my country’s birthday.”  (ps: history buffs, don’t go getting all technical on me until you’ve spent an hour teaching ESL)

Boy: “Teacha, it’s your birthday?!”

Me: “No, it’s not my birthday, it’s America’s.”

Another boy: “It’s Erica’s birthday?!”  (looking at Erica, a student in our class)

Me: “Noooo, it’s not Erica’s birthday, it’s the United States’ birthday.  My home country.”

Girl: “Your home?  It’s your sister’s birthday?”

Me: “Nope. Nevermind, let’s take out our books.”

 

Can’t say I didn’t try.  Sorry ‘merica.

Blame Canada

5 Jul

I have never celebrated Canada Day.  And much like “Boxing Day” and “Flag Day” I have no real concept of what goes on during these supposed “holidays.”  If I’m not getting a day off work/school, or at least a present of some kind, the day doesn’t exist.

Until now.

In Korea, we celebrate Canada Day.  Why?  Because if you don’t, or if you even show a slight reluctance to celebrate the day, your Canadian coworkers will beat you with hockey sticks will guilt-trip you with so much good cheer and northern friendliness that your natural American shame will force you to celebrate. (That and I’m pretty sure Canadians outnumber Americans here by like 5 to 1.  The irony that I have met far more Canadians in Korea than in the US does not escape me.)

So, for all the shenanigans that happened last Friday night – Blame Canada.

. . .

Two of my favorite people - this was also before I got too sweaty to take pictures.

Literally the entire office staff went out on Friday – and most of the foreigner bars we go to here (not in Seoul) are owned by Canadians, so the places were packed.  And nothing is more fun than drinking with your Korean boss, and I say that with absolutely no sarcasm.  My boss is a no BS woman, who’s completely unfiltered, inappropriate, and hilarious.  We get along famously.  Especially when there’s alcohol involved.

Unfortunately she deleted the only pic I took of her that night, but she made up for it by insisting we do Flaming Dr. Pepper shots.  Well twist my arm, I’d love to!

After that, the night was a blur in the way that only Korean nights are:  too much singing, too many heart-to-hearts because we’re all wandering hippies deep down, too many arguments-turned-almost-fights with rude, ignorant US military guys, too many discussions of college with Jenna, too many new Canadian friends. . .and Korean dance clubs at 4am, where the techno is loud, the Koreans do hipster line dances that are impossible to learn, and where I sweat like the filthy American I am.

It.Was.Awesome.  I was having so much fun that I was hardly annoyed by the Canadians who ran around draped in their country’s flag, singing “Oh, Canada” at the top of their lungs.

So as the sun came up and I finally released my feet from my high heels while in a taxi, I thought. . .where the hell are my coworkers?

And then I remembered: Everything’s fine.  Just Blame Canada. (Which I did all day Saturday)

PS: I was going to title this post, Whatever You Do, Don’t Say Bruins, but I felt it was too soon.

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.