I took a walk around Jeju-Si.
Sitting tonight in my favorite make-your-own bibimbap place on a rainy night. Rainy nights seem to be good for reflection. Maybe it’s the meditative rhythm of the raindrops, or maybe it’s the underlying metaphor of the world being washed. I think, for me, it has more to do with childhood walks in the rain, deep in the woods. Rainy days used to be an event- rather than staying inside, I got to put on my rubber boots and coat and wander through a world made new by water, looking for bright orange salamanders.
So, I’ve never disliked rainy days like some people do. They’ve always seemed a little magical to me.
They play very interesting music in this bibimbap place. When I walked in, the little old lady and her husband were listening to ragtime. I picked a table right next to the toasty woodstove and stood with the old lady, who smiled with me as we rubbed our hands together over the stove. Soon, they started playing old American folk songs, starting with “Clementine.”
That got me thinking about being a little kid again. Growing up in a succession of rambling old farmhouses around the country with no TV, I found a lot of other ways to amuse myself. My father had this small paperback book called “The Backpacker’s Songbook” that I used to pore over as though it were a storybook. I knew every one of those songs by heart. My father would get out his guitar and we’d sing them, too, but I liked to just sit and read the lyrics. They always started off sort of sad and pretty, but by the third verse or so, some poor girl was getting dragged down to the river by her one true love.
As I sat there in front of my tray of neatly arranged Korean dishes, I began to wonder how much those tragic songs planted seeds of mistrust in my child’s brain. I sure didn’t want to end up like Clementine or Little Maggie. Even “Beautiful Brown Eyes” turns out to be a tale of woe. But on the other hand, I wondered what it felt like to “lay ’round the shack till the mail train comes back, a-rollin’ in my sweet baby’s arms.”
Those songs taught me a lot.
Willie, my darling, I love you, Love you with all my heart. Tomorrow we could have been married, But liquor has kept us apart. Chorus: Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes, Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes, Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes-- I'll never love blue eyes again. Down through the barroom he staggered And fell down by the door. The very last words that he murmured: "I'll never get drunk any more." (Chorus) Seven long years I've been married, And I wish I was single again. A woman never knows her troubles Until she has married a man. (Chorus)
I finished moving all the old entries from my mobileme site. They go back to last February, when I first came to Korea, but I couldn’t find a way to import the blog and keep it archived by month. So, all the posts are in “November.” You can go back to the beginning by clicking on “November” and then a list of entries should come up. I had fun reading through them and re-living the first couple of days on Jeju.
Side note: One of the little things that I really love about Korea is that you have the option of smoking in the bathroom.
By that I mean on the toilet.
Most bathrooms have a thoughtfully-placed ashtray (which is often a beer can with the top cut off) right there at seat-level. I don’t actually smoke (at least not anymore..not for five or six years) nor have I ever wished I could smoke while sitting on the toilet, but it’s so nice and accomodating.
That just kills me.
Today I woke up bright and early at 4:30 am (not my choice) and jumped right into life at the Bambini School.
Lorenzo picked me up at 9:30 and we headed to the school, where I met the other teachers and helped them get ready for the Kindergarten Graduation. I have to say, it was cute overload. These teeny little kindie kids wear special cap-and-gown outfits, and are handed portraits of themselves in their graduation caps after they each give a little speech in English and bow to everyone.
There were also a lot of well-heeled Korean parents there (I learned today that this type of small English Kindergarten costs more than a typical college…) Most of the private schools are much bigger and the kids don’t see the same teacher more than once a week. The public schools are even less personalized. The kids at Bambini receive tons of personal attention from the teachers, who get to know each kid’s quirks and talents, as well as any issues they might be having. On a sad note, I took a walk with April, the teacher that I’m replacing, and we passed by a dog farm. I don't think I would have known what it was if she hadn’t pointed it out. It was just a fenced-in area with a whole bunch of wooden shacks and a lot of barking. We turned around before I was able to see very much, which was good because it was hard enough just listening to the dogs howling.
We also walked past a beautiful tangerine grove framed by a small wall made of black volcanic stone. I wish I’d had my camera but I will be here all year, I suppose.
At 4:00, it was time for my health exam at the local hospital. It turned out to be a full physical exam, complete with urine and blood samples, chest x-rays, etc. The doctor didn’t speak any English whatsoever, so I had to figure out what she wanted me to do. It went pretty smoothly, except for when I thought she wanted me to emerge from the changing room once I had my hospital gown on. With a stricken look, she gestured me back into the dressing room. I thought it was because I was slightly indecent in my gown (but I had to get from there to the x-ray room somehow) but it turned out that it was because I was barefoot. Once I had my shoes on everything was cool. The whole shoes on/off thing is confusing. Apparently shoes on inside is bad, slippers are the norm, and barefoot is horrifying. My question is: what about barefoot in slippers? I need to figure this out before summer arrives. Based on the weather today, it isn’t far off. Oh, and the little boys want to call me “Sereni T Rex” because they learned about dinosaurs recently….and just because they are little boys and they love dinosaurs.
I went to a huge Korean store that is right next to my hotel to get some dinner tonight. I was feeling adventurous again and went into a few Korean restaurants, but had no idea what to order and am now afraid of accidentally ordering dog after I saw the farm today. Also, the first place I went into had English translations on the menu, which consisted of “oxblood hangover stew” along with some other odd choices…so that, coupled with the confused stares of everyone when I wander in to these places, made me head for the grocery store. It was enormous, fascinating, and full of strange things- especially the seaweed department, meat on a stick department, and a few department that remain a total mystery. There were heaps of things covered in red goo. Meat? Vegetables? Sea creatures? Still not sure. So, back in my room, very tired, think it’s time for a movie.
*Update: I have since discovered that it is impossible to "accidentally" order dog. It is served in very specific restaurants and is quite a pricy item.
Have I really been here for three months? Well, almost. I have to say that it definitely feels that way. Time has not been flying by, and a lot has happened in the last three months. I realized how much adjusting I’ve done while sailing down the busy streets of Jeju-Si today on my scooter, which I’ve become a lot more confident on. I love that instead of waiting in slow traffic, I can weave around the cars and drive on the sidewalk to bypass everyone and jump back in after the light. How many times have you gazed longingly at a sidewalk and wished you could do that in a car? I also love that I can park anywhere I feel like throwing down my kickstand…I’m not sure if this scooter lawlessness works the same way back in the US, but I like it!
I joined the food co-op today (which I found completely by accident.). I don’t really get any benefits (well, 2% less on food) but I got a membership card! I also have a few favorite restaurants near my house now. There’s a place near my gym where I can get a salad with raw tuna, a bowl of miso soup, and fried sweet potatoes for about $4.50. The salad comes with rice and a spicy sauce- you put everything in the bowl, douse it with sauce and mix it around. There’s also a vegetarian restaurant near the arboretum (a 5 minute scooter ride away into a land of meticulously labelled gardens and greenery) where dinner is about $5. Everything is served in rustic pottery, and the bi-bim-bap (like the tuna salad, but with vegetables) comes with tea, a salad, soup, tofu, 3 side dishes, kimchi, and rice. I went there after work yesterday and my table was covered with dishes. There’s also a soup place that’s my other favorite. All of this food seems really healthy. I also discovered that my favorite frozen yogurt (pinkberry-style) is from Korea.
On Friday, I discovered another Korean holiday that I think we should definitely adopt in the US besides Children’s Day (which everyone gets the day off for)…..Teacher’s Day. We don’t get the day off, but teachers here are showered with presents and of course cake. The Korean teachers get stressed out because they feel the burden of heightened expectations from parents after such blatant bribery. I however got a nice pile of loot. Apparently it used to be pretty out of control, but the government made the schools put a moratorium of gift giving/teacher bribery because the education system was suffering as a result. I don’t think public school teachers are allowed to accept presents anymore at all.
Today I covered the Seolmundae Halmang Festival at Jeju Stone Park for the paper. I’ve added pictures from the festival to my albums here, and I’m also adding pictures to my Galleries page on Mobileme. The festival celebrated the legend of Seolmundae Halmang, Jeju’s legendary grandmother who created the island but unfortunately fell into a giant soup pot and was unwittingly eaten by her 500 sons. The ceremony was beautiful, beginning with a dance to clear the way for the spirit of the Great Mother to accept the invitation of the people, followed by a mime performance/dance culminating in paper, representative of silk clothing for the goddess, being offered to get things off to a good start, and then a series of prayers for a good harvest and many children led by a monk and women in traditional brown garb. Then there was a ceremony that involved a lot of chanting and drumming, and an older woman dressed in a traditional costume who I assume was representative of the goddess, although by then my translator had gone so I had to guess. After that, they incorporated a bit of humor into the festival with masks and human puppets. At the end, the life-sized puppets grabbed people’s hands and made everyone join in the dance (even me.) Throughout the festival, they encouraged audience participation and noodle eating, and I was sometimes in danger of being squirted by the teats of the Big Mother.
- My room comes equipped with the following:
one half-used tube of normal-sized toothpaste
one half-used bar of plain white soap
an economy-sized jug of shampoo/conditioner
a nearly empty bottle of aftershave
one bottle of “control lotion for man”
a pink hairbrush
a pair of brown pleather slippers
a small refrigerator with a set of chopsticks in it
2. The proprietors have thoughtfully provided a bookcase of porn (VHS tapes) in the hallway outside.
3. All of the towels are hand towels
4. The bed is quite possibly just the boxspring.
5. I have not seen a single other person since I got here yesterday morning…even in the lobby.
6. I spend a lot of time surveilling the streetcorner out the window (the only way I can get wireless is to perch my computer in the windowsill).
The end result? I feel a little bit like I’m in a spy thriller.
My co-teacher noticed this sign as we were sneaking up onto the roof of a neighboring apartment building during our lunch break to read in the sun. This Saturday, I went 4 hour hike as part of the research for my first newspaper story. The story is on Geomunoreum, which is one oreum that actually consists of 9 peaks. Here is a view from the top of one of the peaks.
The lava tubes running underground create all kinds of strange anomalies, like air currents that come up in different places and create tiny microclimates that are only a few feet apart. Flowers might bloom in one spot but not another, and the leaves on one tree might be blowing and completely still on another. The trees on the mountain are easily uprooted, but continue to live and grow with roots that curl around since they can’t grow into the ground.
The paper set up a private tour with a translator, which made me wish I could bring the translator, Angela, with me everywhere that I go. Next weekend, I’m going to continue my research by going to the underground lava tubes that are open to the public. I tried to get permission to go to the sections that are closed, but you have to be involved in academic research to do so.
This weekend I just felt really lucky to be here. On Sunday, I met up with a couple of other girls and headed to the beach. Hamdeok beach is about 1/2 hour away. There’s a small section where the foreigners go, and it’s really easy to spot. Koreans stay really covered up….as in, they wear their clothes into the water. There are about 15 other beaches to explore, but that seems to be the one everyone goes to. It’s pretty close, and nicer than Iho beach, which is right in town and about a 5 minute scooter ride away. I go there after work sometimes to watch the sunset since it’s so close but kind of industrial.
I found out today that we have May 21 off, so I think I’m going to plan a trip to Seoul for the long weekend. I don’t think I could handle that amount of population density for more than a day or two so a weekend is perfect. Finally, here is one of my favorite signs. Yeah, they really like pig here.
Am now successfully on Korean Air plane. Just opened “Jeju Pure” brand water- good sign, must be a nice place if they’re bottling the water! Trying not to get my hopes up, but I might be next an empty seat…! That, along with the ticket agent who didn’t make me pay for my overweight bag might make up for the nasty bus driver (LaGuardia to JFK) who brought me to the Finnair gate and then actually yelled at me when I said I was going to Korea and told me that I should just admit I told him Finnair and then changed my mind.
I burst out “I didn’t just change my mind on this bus ride and decide to go to Korea instead of FINLAND. ”
At which point he told me to get off and take the train but then relented and drove me around the loop again, all the while grumbling incessantly, finally dumping me and my three huge bags at the curb.
Bus #174, last run of the night. Duly noted and reported to my mama, who plans to call and give them an earful on my behalf. I have no doubt that she will.
Well, I’m sitting here on Thursday night, contemplating the fact that another week has gone by here on Jeju. I’ve been feeling a bit tired lately, and so I stayed home during the week. Which could also be a way of saying I’ve just been lazy.
I’m not sure whether my persistent sore throat is due to a cold or constant yelling. It’s getting to the point where I have to decide during class whether getting the kids to do what I want is worth the strain on my throat/voice. I’ve been experimenting with different vocal ranges and trying to use different parts of my throat to produce the desired shouting effect with limited success. I’ve also been drinking lots of tea.
Today was cookie-making day. I am beginning to dread these “immersion days” since they invariably involve a lot of chaos, mess, shouting, and confusion. Apparently Koreans don’t really make cookies, so the school’s kitchen didn’t exactly have an excess of baking supplies. We only had 4 pans, a few sheets of wax paper, 2 rolling pins, 6 cookie cutters, tables that are 2 feet high to work on, about 40 kids, and 40 minutes. Also, the lunch ladies needed us out of there and the place had to be clean for snack time, and THEN we had to take turns going back in and baking the cookies in one tiny oven with one rack and no way of telling when it was preheated. Does baking with kids still sound like fun? When the kids weren’t looking, I just cut out as many cookies as I could. At the end of the day, each kid got a little baggie with 2 little cookies in it. We kind of shortchanged them on the cookies, but there weren’t enough of them that had been baked yet.
One of my kids threw a completely irrational temper tantrum when it was time to go home. You may be thinking “aren’t temper tantrums irrational by nature?” Nope, sometimes they make sense. In this case, Andrew (the biggest kid in class, which makes me forget that he’s only five) stole Megan’s fuzzy animal that she brings every day. It obviously belongs to her. So he took it, she (of course) cried, I told him to give it back, and he proceeded to wail and scream at the top of his lungs and refuse to get ready to go home. I decided that not putting up with his ridiculous behavior was the way to go, so I told him that if he didn’t get OFF THE TABLE and go home, he would have to sleep in the school all night.
Apparently hearing the ear-piercing screams coming from my classroom, Agnes came and at least got this kid to go home. My co-teacher Caroline told me that working at Bambini is a very effective form of birth control. So,between the three of us, we are probably saving the world from at least 6 babies.
Now about the Yellow Dust..supposedly Jeju doesn’t have as much of a problem from the dust as the mainland, but I could see it all over my scooter the other morning, so it’s definitely in the air and is probably what’s irritating my throat.
I’m pretty excited about research for my first Jeju Weekly story. I’m going to the Geomunoreum Lava Tubes on Saturday with a translator to get a tour of the tubes and interview a geologist and the village leader, who is an expert on the lava tubes.
I would say that it’s hard to believe it’s been three weeks, but it’s not. It feels like months…in a good way. Spring is here, and the island is getting beautiful. Teaching is becoming easier, too. I’m finding a lot of things to do on the weekends, and I started taking a yoga class during the week. I’m not sure if I’ll even have time to do all the things I want to while I’m here.
On Saturday, I took a bus to the southern end of the island where there is a town called Seogwipo. It’s a lot smaller than Jeju City, and easier to navigate. The bus ride went over the mountain. It was a pretty ride, but the weather started getting bad so I wasn’t able to get a lot of pictures. I went to see Jeungmun Falls, which happens to be the only waterfall in Asia that falls directly into the sea. The next day I went hiking on an Oreum with a group of Koreans. It was interesting to hang out with some Korean people, because I haven’t really spent time with anyone other than the teachers here. My new friend Tim, another American from Minnesota, was invited to join the hiking club by one of the teachers at his school. At the top of the hill, we had a lovely little repast of kimbap, fresh octopus that one of the hikers had caught the day before, tofu and mageoli (sp?), a Korean fermented rice wine. After the hike, we went out to lunch (yes, lunch again) and then Tim and I spent the rest of the day exploring Seogwipo. The weather was perfect for a change, the blossoms were blooming, and we went to see another beautiful waterfall and then walked along the harbor and out to a small island.
Later, we met other teachers and hung out before heading back over the mountain on the bus. I found out where the scuba diving classes are- I think I might take a course there later this spring/summer. Today, I’m off to the dentist after school. I’m actually pretty excited about getting a checkup for the first time in years (it’s ridiculously cheap here) See my “albums” page for pictures of Seogwipo…
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
I think I've figured out that mornings are the best time to write. Speaking of writing, I think that using my blog more like a journal will help me keep to my more general yearly goal of developing a writing portfolio. I finally realized that putting off my writing projects because I need to create the right space is just another way of procrastinating.
I’ve been thinking that I need to turn my balcony/porch into an indoor garden with a table and chair before I can tackle any serious writing projects, but then I realized that it was just my sneaky subconscious creating another barrier to getting down and doing the work that writing requires. I’m glad that I brought my copy of “Writing Down the Bones”- I definitely need to re-read it, especially the part where she insists on the importance of writing every day.
Last week was rather uneventfully interesting. I went to the dentist, which was fun. The dentist was the only one in the office who spoke English, and I’m still not sure of the name, but I emerged with very clean teeth, almost no bill (thanks, socialized health care that includes dentistry!) and a huge amount of worry off my mind (I had been afraid to go since it’s been so long.
On Friday, my school took a field trip to “Psyche World,” a weird theme park that had dead butterflies, glass flower gardens, a hall of mirrors, a sad petting zoo featuring unneutered, smelly tomcats on leashes, and a whole room of diaramas featuring smartly costumed cockroaches enacting scenes throughout various time periods. There were Roman cockroaches fighting little lions in the Coloseum, Medieval cockroaches in little capes and suits of armor, and even Egyptian cockroaches busily building the pyramids. There were also modern cockroaches building things on construction sites. Oh, to have had my camera.
Then it was time for lunch. I truly had no idea that a Korean field trip is basically a feeding frenzy. The kids’ parents pack XL lunches, and the teachers walk around with chopsticks, hover above the students, and then swoop and nab whatever they want. I felt a little weird participating in this strange custom, but one of my favorite students’ mom had made a special lunch for me of delicious homemade kimbap and an orange so I didn't actually have to scavenge that much.
Today after school I’m off to pick up my new scooter! I bought a used orange 90cc scooter. Now I have to learn how to ride it in order to get it home….
Wednesday, April 20, 2010
After a brief hiatus, my Jeju blog is again up and running with a new web address. The only feature that has been lost is the ability to RSS subscribe, so for my loyal followers, I will send a quick email to let you know when I’ve posted a new entry.
I’ve been pretty busy in the last two weeks or so since I last posted an entry. I’ve really missed writing, and I plan to write much more often than I used to.The weather is getting warmer and I’ve been to the beach and frolicked in fields of yellow rapeseed flowers. They grow and harvest them here as crops, so this time of year the island is awash in beauteous flora with a distinctly practical purpose.
I also got a phone a couple of weeks ago, which was a huge step. After living without one for a month and a half, this newfangled communication technology aka “talky-box” was a bit overwhelming, but I soon embraced the convenience of being able to, you know…make contact when not near a computer.
This weekend I am going to begin research on my first story as a reporter for Jeju Weekly, the island’s only English newspaper. I’ll be writing an in-depth article about the lava tubes, which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More on that later, as well as a web link so you can read my story when it comes out at the end of May.