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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

Rehash, Rewrite, Refresh

1 Jul

As my sister-in-law says, “When you’re not writing, I know something’s wrong.”

So I decided to stop being lazy and catch you all up.  In my defense, I haven’t written this month because my mind has been elsewhere.  About 6 weeks ago, my personal life literally imploded.  I’m talking my love life, my relationship with my friends, everything.  And I feel like I’ve spent the weeks following working through all that.  And I don’t write about that stuff, or at least I try not to.  So I’ve been avoiding y’all, while slowly moving things back on track.

Without further ado, Awesome Things I’ve Done While Not Writing:

1) EVERLAND!!!!  To celebrate Teacher’s Day, which was anticlimactic to say the least, some of the ladies and I finally ventured out to Everland, which is basically Korea’s own Disneyland.  Everland is an amusement park, zoo/safari, and full-on entertainment venue, with performers, parades, singing, dancing, and of course, lots of merchandising.  It was beautiful, and SO FUN!  And unlike Disney, it didn’t cost a million dollars:  we got in for $19, and all the food was about $5.  Please for a minute imagine if Disney or anything theme park in the US was like that.  You can’t, because it will never happen.  But don’t worry, we’ll always have Everland. And I finally rode the famous T-Express roller coaster – a huge wooden monstrosity, that has the scariest vertical drop EVER.  And it.was.awesome.  Honestly worth the nearly 2 hours we waited in line for it.  Oh, and it also gave me infinite street cred with my students – most of whom are too scared to ride it.

Bad things don't happen here. That's a fact.

T-Express: Please note the pee-in-your-pants drop at the beginning

2) Buddha’s Birthday/Lantern Festival

Earlier in May, we headed out to Seoul for the annual Lantern Festival and parade.  It was really pretty, colorful, and tame – meaning we sat in chairs and no one got into a fistfight because this is Korea, not the US.  Happy Birthday Buddha, you look great!

Not Buddha

 

3) The sweet escape:  Earlier this month we had a 3-day weekend for Korean Independence Day (or something like that, my students weren’t exactly clear, or helpful).  We decided to take advantage of the time off and head down to Busan, a huge city on the southern coast.  And while the city is broken up into many different parts, we really only explored Haeundae Beach, which kept us more than entertained.  We spent our days relaxing on the beach, which was hosting all kinds of contests and activities because this was a huge weekend for travel.  And we spent our nights partying.  Please note, I saw more foreigners this weekend than I have in the last 10 months.  White People Spring Break 2011 was a great success.

The ratio of Koreans to umbrellas is approximately 1:1

4) FINALLY going out in Hongdae, the university party area in Seoul.  (Also home to Korea’s 2nd Taco Bell, but that’s another story) Hongdae is just a huge, winding maze of club and bar-filled alleyways.  It’s full of foreign teachers, military guys from the US, and more drunk Koreans than you can count.  While Koreans are the epitome of prim and proper during the day, they have no shame in their drinking game.  It is absolutely normal and acceptable to get black-out drunk, stumble around while balancing on a friend’s arm, or just straight up pass out in the street.  No one will look twice, or rob you.  My favorite of the night  was a guy driving a Vespa, with his comatose friend sleeping on him on the back.  That is love people. And that is Hongdae.

5) Getting my early morning meditation on: the ballet studio changed owners, and so we are now taking yoga class 3x/week.  While this is not “hot yoga” it is a veritable sweat lodge in there, due to my sadist teacher’s aversion to air conditioning.  Oh, and did I mention it’s now at approximately 300% humidity here?  So despite losing at least a pound in water weight every morning, I’m loving the class.  They’ve finally hired a replacement ballet teacher so next week we start ballet on Tues/Thurs., meaning I will be working out before work every day.  I will pause for my parents to express their surprise, pride, and utter delight.

6) Preparing for the apocalypse: and by that, I mean the rainy season.  As I said, the humidity is stifling, and it’s been raining for the last week.  Every day.  All complaining aside, I really do prefer this to the cold.  And since everyone has been warning me about this for months in advance, I knew what was coming.  This weekend I bought my first pair of real rain boots (in eye-assaulting teal), and my 3rd umbrella in Korea (while buying rain boots, I LOST my umbrella in the store. . .only to have to buy another one in the same store.  Both ironic and cruel) Either way, I’m now fully outfitted for this season, which is best described by Forrest Gump:

“One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night… “

This is basically how I look and feel everyday.

At least it’s given me a plausible excuse to wear my hair in a ponytail every day, and whittle my makeup routine down to eyeliner and chapstick.  What can I say, I’m a sweaty kid.

7) Reading like a mad woman.  I’ve been geeking out, and devouring books left and right lately.  Currently finishing up the 19th Wife, and just finished an engrossing non-fiction book called Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, written by an amazing journalist.  Like I said, geeking out.

8) Contemplating how the hell an entire year has gone by since I graduated.

9) Crying over pictures of my nephew (no really) and getting really excited to see my parents and younger brother in LESS THAN A MONTH!  I might literally pull a Scarlet O’Hara and faint with heatstroke emotion.

10) Freaking out that I am the next teacher to leave.  Granted, that’s not for 3 more months, but it’s still pretty weird.  There is absolutely no other word to describe it than bittersweet.

11) Bungee jumping!  Some of the teachers and I peed our pants had our first bungee jumping experience at Yuldong Park in Bundang.  It is insane how long the free fall feels (say that 3x fast).  It’s just like falling. And falling. Forever.  Then you bounce up, and do it again. And again.  And finally, we were lowered into a  row boat, with a less than enthused teenage driver, that would take us to shore.  Nothing makes you feel more like cattle than being lowered via crane, into an awaiting boat.  I also used this prepaid harness time to work on my Circ du Soleil moves, but like I said, the boat guy was less than impressed.

Peer pressure: If all your friends jump off a bridge-type building, are you going to jump too? Why yes, yes I am.

And lastly, I’ve just been trying to figure out what the hell happened the last 6 weeks.  Not that it has been terrible, or in any way unbearable, just confusing and at times sad.  And like I always try to explain, everything is magnified when you’re in another country.  As my very wise friend Betsy said, “You just feel so vulnerable here.”

So, onward and upward.

Rehash.

Rewrite.

Refresh.

While I was sleeping. . .

22 Apr

An entire month passed.  Without a single post.  And with many an angry Facebook post on my wall about said lack of blogging.  I apologize. . . at first I was just completely uninspired and I didn’t want to force out some super lame posts.  And then the days sort of turned into weeks, and now it’s been a month, and that’s just stupid.  So here we are.

So during the last 30 or so odd days, I’ve been:

-Watching NCAA basketball. . . at least until both Arizona and Kansas lost on the same weekend.  But I did log some pretty fun (early morning!) hours watching the games via laptop here. Highlights include a 4am watch-party date with Bossman, and a few (loud) expletives shouted while watching Arizona play Duke – while I was at work.

-Finishing my 30 Day Shred, which seems like a million years ago. That was possibly the most anti-climactic workout moment ever.  I finished the 30th day and thought “now what?”  Turns out, now means a normal workout routine to avoid any future 30 day shreds.

Owned.

-Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day:  . . . at a festival in Itaewon with hundreds of my closest, drunken foreigner friends.  In order to pay homage to the Irish in the most authentic and sincere way possible, we got good and day-drunk.  We drank, listened to the bands, laughed at people, got 3rd degree tongue-burns while trying to eat some street food, and fell asleep on a bus.  And of course I also (once again) extolled the virtues of the Boondock Saints to Lauren.

Soju on the left. Orange soda on the right. Someone who's going to regret it in the middle.

-Going on ridiculous adventures: A few weeks ago, some friends and I joined a group tour to the south of Korea, where we hiked Jagged Ridge and went to the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.  What was supposed to be a relaxing, nature-loving weekend turned into the near-death experience of a lifetime. More on this later, once my PTSD subsides.

-Planning more trips: This weekend I’ll be getting my zen on during a temple stay. And next weekend, our boss is bankrolling a company trip to Nami Island for some moral-boosting fun.  I can only hope this retreat includes both norebanging and trust-falling. More on both of these to come.

-Battling two serious addictions.  The first is with Dexter.  I avoided this steamy serial killer for years, but found myself completely hooked last month. Obviously I had no choice but to stay in and watch all 5 seasons.The first step is admitting that you are powerless to your addiction, after all.

Social-life killer/ serial killer

My second addiction happened just this week.  I have reignited my passion for Carmen Sandiego, travel, trivia, and wasting time all at once!  I’m obsessed – I play it at work until my computer dies.  Only then do I realize that I’m at work, and should in fact be working.

Where in the world is that saucy minx?

-And previous Cherry Blossom Festival aside, I’ve also been enjoying the cherry blossoms closer to home.  Namely, on the way to work everyday, and last weekend at Yeouido Park in Seoul – the place to be (especially if you’re a couple and you own matching outfits. No. Joke.)  I’ve never been much for plants of any kind. . . but cherry blossoms are amazing.  All beautiful and fluffy.  It’s finally spring.  And we finally have pretty stuff to look at.

If only I could have class outside

-Writing for the Go! Girl Guides site:  Despite my lack of motivation over here, I’ve kept up my weekly posts on all things Korea, women, and travel.  You can check out my stuff here

-And lastly, I’ve been battling some hardcore homesickness.  Oddly, it didn’t hit me until around the 6-month mark.  And then it hit me. Hard.  Definitely spurred on by the fact that my family went on an amazing Florida vacation without me.  And that Tator Tot is getting cuter (and chubbier!) by the day.  And that college basketball always makes me think of my parents, some of the most loyal Jayhawk fans you’ll ever meet.  Luckily, I’ve had some good Skype dates with the parents recently, and I’ve channeled the homesickness into excitement for our reunion in Thailand this July (Hooray! Elephant rides and bottled water for everybody!)

So there you go, all caught up on the last month.  I promise not to go all MIA again.   Here’s hoping your last 30 days were as fab as mine!

.

Delayed Gratification: The Boracay Post

18 Mar

So now you know all the effort put into actually getting to this little island. And as I mentioned in the previous post, once we arrived, we went straight to our hostel, which was like a Filipino Swiss Family Robinson type deal.  The hostel is run by a family, although they all appear to be about the same age, and we couldn’t ever distinguish how they were related to each other.

And this family, including their patriarch, Two-Teeth-Jubi, not only run a hostel in the most laid back manner possible, but they do it all while singing.  I don’t think a single hello or good-bye was exchanged during our 4 days that didn’t include a song and dance number.  And you know how much I appreciate a random jazzhand and a little fanfare.  So we instantly fell in our love with our quirky, oral-hygiene-challenged hosts.

The baby-bed we shared, which ironically provided me with the best sleep I've had in months.

After getting as gussied up as possible after nearly 15 hours of travel, Ms. Betsy and I headed out to the famous White Beach. This is absolutely the best part of Boracay; everything is accessible from the White Beach.  Not only can you lie around on it during the day, you can use it as a road/walkway to get to all the shopping, restaurants, and nightclubs.

After dinner, we started drinking, and promptly harassed our young Filipino waiters into showing us where the good clubs were after they got off work.  So at midnight, we followed our very nice new hosts down the beach.  For like 2 miles.  At this point I became convinced we were walking into our Law & Order SVU-style doom.  We passed countless restaurants and bars.  And a few clubs.

But at last, we arrived at the most crowded, loud, colorful club of them all. It was just what we were looking for. The front part of the clubs opens up to the road, and the back is right on the beach.  So if you need a break from dancing or just want to put your feet in the water, you just take a few steps out the back. It’s perfect.

We danced our little English-teaching hearts out. The drinks were cheap.  The music was loud.  The people were friendly.  Oh, and they was even an extremely talented midget (little person?!) go-go dancer by the DJ.

Blurry club shot

We walked the 2 miles home – beach front of course – and fell into our tiny bed around 5 a.m.

This would set the tone for our short trip: Wake up to the sounds of the birds/sheep/rooster/goats from the family farm next to us.  Make our way lazily to a restaurant to enjoy delicious Western-style (!!!) brunch/lunch.  Walk 10 feet from the restaurant to a lounge chair and spend the day at the beach.

In the afternoons we would walk around the White Beach, doing a little shopping, and even going down to the White Beach Starbucks. (which is remarkably cheaper and has a security guard check your bags before entering) We both enjoyed a $6, hour-long massage on the beach along with some seriously amazing fresh fruit shakes.Granted, for everything we actually did stop and try/buy, we were solicited for 20 more.  No matter where you are on the White Beach, people will approach you to buy just about anything.

Perfect shot of the main walkway on the White Beach via boracay.com

Oh, and one day Ms. Betsy tried scuba diving, but she quit after an hour with this observation: “It’s just unnatural for humans to breathe underwater.”

Word.

We would then take long siestas, before venturing out for dinner and clubbing. Even if we happened to start at different places, we always ended back up at the club from night 1.  So some obvious advice: Always ask the locals where the good places are! This is also the club where we saw half the people from our Manila flight, which was funny and a bit awkward.

The second night of our trip also happened to be the actual Lunar New Year. So while I chatted with a very intoxicated guy who also happened to be a fellow Arizona alum, we watched a traditional LNY performance that included very colorful dragons dancing around and drinking beer. No really, the dragons drank beer –which really boosts the ancient Chinese up a few points in my book.

That night we also decided to make our way back to the club from night 1.  Assuming we could just follow the same path, we set off down the beach, only to reach a large obstacle: the tide.  Apparently the tide was remarkably low the first night, which allowed us to walk on the beach.  But because we are idiots adventurous, we decided to just walk along the cliffs.  While holding onto a chain-link fence.  While waves crashed up on our legs. No offense to my husband James Franco, but this was my 127 hours people.  Not only did my bum ankle and I make it the 20 minutes across the cliffs, but I did it in flip-flops and a minidress, while holding my clutch.

My only motivation was fear, and my inner monologue sounded something like this:

“If you let go of the fence and fall into the water, you will probably re-break your ankle.  And hit your head. And drown.  And die.”

and

“If you let go of your purse, your passport, your ID, your camera, and your phone will wash away forever. You will never get off this island. You’ll probably die here.”

While my actual voice was shouting things like this:

“Betsy WTF is wrong with you?!  What a terrible idea!  I just got out of my cast Betsy, and now we’re McGyvering over a GD fence in the ocean?! Do you want me to die Betsy, do you?!”

Naturally, she made it across much easier than I did.  Further insulting, were the 10 year-old kids who ran past us to get to the other side.  Rude.

But we made it. And then drank heavily after our near-death experience. Oh, and when we left the club (and for the next 2 nights), we went out the front door and took the street home. It doesn’t really provide the scenery or the death-defying adrenaline rush as the cliffs, but it gets the job done.

Overall, it was the perfect short trip to blow off some steam before the long grind of spring/summer teaching.  Boracay has a distinct feel to it, because it’s not too Westernized. And because it’s not too Westernized, everything is insanely cheap. Like sinfully cheap, y’all. It more than makes up for the expensive plane tickets and hellish travel to reach it.

And although this post will never do it justice, please take away this one point: This vacation was just. so. worth. it. Worth the money, the energy, and the time. Worth enduring a Monday workday that started 4 hours after we got home. And worth cleaning out a suitcase that projectile vomited sand all over my apartment.

I miss everything about this. (sidenote: 2 good ankles y'all!)

Dr. Fish (is bananas)

8 Mar

As I briefly mentioned in my last post, Megan and I went to a place called Dr. Fish in Gangnam.  It’s a coffee shop where you can also put your feet into a tank of fish that eat your dead skin.  It’s like Starbucks with a twist.

And naturally, I’ve been wanting to go there since I got here. All my friends went in January, but since I still had my cast on, I adamantly refused – on the grounds that I would be paying the same price for just 1 foot. Nice try, Dr. Fish.

But on Tuesday, a blessed national holiday/no work day in Korea, Megan and I ventured out to torture some fish. (at least I did, because my feet are a little gnarly right now) We walked into the coffee shop, which was surprisingly: 1) normal looking and 2) packed with people, most of whom had no intention of actually doing the Dr. Fish part, and were just enjoying some afternoon coffee.

The fish tank part is very small, and can only hold a few people at a time, so we patiently drank our coffee and waited.  Once it was our turn, we rolled up our jeans, and let a Korean man spray our feet with ice-cold water to test our resolve clean them.  Then we were ushered to the tank with the smaller fish.

And for the record, nothing is weirder than watching a bunch of fish open their mouths and eagerly await your disgusting foot looming over them. Nothing.

The smaller fish tickle. A lot. So naturally we giggled like idiots, took pictures, and even removed our feet a few times to avoid completely spazzing out. Megan summed it up best, “It’s like a bunch of little vibrators under your foot.”

Just your typical Tuesday afternoon

Next, it was time for the bigger fish. Which are notably uglier than their smaller, tickling counterparts.  These fish have big mouths, and feel like they are repeatedly poking you.  It doesn’t hurt, but was definitely more uncomfortable than the little fish.  And they were stupid. They were completely unable to understand that there were 4 feet in the tank, and therefore Megan and I had to rotate putting our feet in, just to even things out.  Or, as Megan helpfully offered, “They’re all on your feet – do you just have more dead skin or something?!” Sigh.

Poor fish, their job sucks. (Awesome. Pun.)

I was also convinced that the fish were going to latch on to us when we took our feet out of the tank. I would not have been surprised to find one hiding in my boot later than night.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead we were just blasted with cold water again and sent on our giggling way.  And while I’m not convinced that my feet look less offensive any better, I would definitely go back.

It’s by far, the cheapest, funniest pedicure I’ve ever had.

Friends on 3 Continents

7 Mar

Exactly 2 years ago in Chile, I met a loud, hilarious, open-minded gal pal who I got to know during our 4 months abroad together.  Despite the fact that we met abroad, we attended the same university, and were able to continue hanging out stateside, in both Arizona and New York.  And last week, this amazing lady moved to Korea, where she will be living for the next year.

As she said yesterday, “we’ve been friends on 3 continents.”

Allow me to introduce Megan:

 

Everything about this picture is right.

 

 

You’ll probably be hearing a lot about her in the next 6 months (the amount of time I have left in Korea). I just couldn’t be more excited to have a friend from home move here!

Despite not seeing Megan since this summer, in sweltering NYC, we picked up right where we left off – while eating Hello Kitty doughnuts at a Krispy Kreme in Gangnam, Seoul.  In between gossiping and catching up, I managed to take Megan to a Mexican restaurant, a coffee shop called Dr. Fish, where fish ate the dead skin on our feet, and I helped her get her transportation card for the bus and subway.

And in case you missed my subtle bragging in the above paragraph, let me clarify: I was actually helpful to someone in Korea. For once, I knew where things were located, and how things worked. While the last 6 months have been an exercise in humility, stupidity, and helplessness, I had a breakthrough on that day with Megan.

I also had the pleasure of seeing her yesterday in Itaewon, my least favorite part of Seoul – but the part that has the Taco Bell, let’s not forget.

And while Megan lives in north Seoul, we are only about an hour away from each other, and have already begun planning fun Korean adventures for the upcoming months. The weirdest part about this whole thing: it felt totally normal to see her in Seoul and just resume hanging out.

Which is probably the mark of a good friend. Or it just means we are traveling badasses, destined to be friends on more than 3 continents. ( I’m gunning for Australia next, but would settle for Europe)

And, another amazing lady friend of mine just accepted a teaching job a mere 20 minutes away from me, which she will begin in May.

Dare I say I’ve started an expat gal pal revolution?  Yes, yes I have. There is simply no other explanation for this phenomenon of awesomeness.

I am currently accepting applications for the next friend who gets to move to South Korea and hang out with me. Hint: flattery will get you everywhere.

 

Cram Sesh

15 Feb

Picking up where we left off at the end of January, Ms. Ryan left and life trudged on.

And after battling the pain, humiliation, and overall smell of my cast for 3 weeks, it was at last removed. . . revealing a sickly little leg and deformed ankle in its wake.  I have finally resumed my daily walks to/from work (and we walked a few miles on the beach each day in Boracay), so I have eliminated the dreaded “cast cankle,” that I had for the first week.  It’s still a little sore and motion is limited, but things are really looking up and I even wear 2 matching shoes/socks now. Every. Day.

 

I let my students sign my cast the day before it came off. It mainly says "Don't be sick teacher!" Translation: "Don't hurt yourself again teacher, because we are so-over helping you carry stuff. Mkaythanxbye."

February brought brand new (and better) classes, making the days a little more exciting in the rush to finish lesson plans and learn new textbooks and students’ names. My better class schedule also lead me to believe that my boss doesn’t find me totally incompetent. In fact, 2 days a week I now teach a debate class with my coworker/bestie Ashley.  The kids get a new topic each week, and so far things have gone well.

 

February also (blessedly) brought Lunar New Year, and a truly perfect vacation to Boracay – but that will be a separate post to come soon.  Spoiler alert: it’s amazing, you’re going to be jealous, and you should already be planning your next vacation there.

And last Friday,  a few of the teachers and I headed up to Olympic Stadium in Seoul to see Ms. Taylor Swift in concert. And dammit if she wasn’t the most adorable little American thing I’ve seen in months. The concert was smaller than I thought (they didn’t use the stadium seating) and we actually sat for most of it. It was about 50% Koreans and 50% military families/couples. We sat behind 2 little American girls who were seriously having the same reaction as all those teenaged girls in the 60s when they first saw the Beatles.  But we forgave them and their high-pitched screams because the concert was good: lots of sparkly outfit changes, lots of hair flipping, lots of gracious dialogue, and lots of (live!) singing.  She sounded good and we had a great time – it was strange, because I actually felt like we were in America during parts of the concert.

In semi-hilarious news, I began ballet classes today with 2 of the other teachers. (I affectionately call us the Has-Been class). And while the ankle isn’t exactly at 100%, it felt great to get back into a dance studio – although not that great getting back into a leotard. (pictures to come – eventually) We are taking classes from a studio in our work building, 3 times per week in the mornings – and we lucked out and got a private class. It’s just us and our perfect ballerina instructor, who I’ve taken to calling Korean Princess Grace.  The first day went great, and I’m sure there will be much more to report in the coming weeks.

And although this is totally mundane, I would just like to say that our weather has been offically upgraded from “kill yourself freezing” to just “cold.”  Yongin is rocking temps in the low 40s this week – AND I’M SO HAPPY ABOUT IT!  After an entire month of 5 and 10 degree days, 40 feels downright balmy. And the sun is out. And the ice finally melted off those damn sidewalks.  Decent weather + no cast = practically skipping to work these days.

I’m finally catching up with everything now that my post-vacation hangover has subsided and life has returned to normal. We are now entering the grind: 4 months of normal work and life in South Korea. No more whirlwind vacations to plan or holidays to celebrate. Just some time to relax, explore new parts of Korea, and save some money.

But fret not, I’m positive I’ll be able to sufficiently embarrass myself/entertain you during this downtime.