photo essay: one saturday

I took a walk around Jeju-Si.

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Oh my darlin ‘

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)

Quick Update

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.

First Day On Jeju

Wednesday, February 20, 2010

Was easily spotted (I was literally the only non-Asian in the entire airport)and picked up at the airport by Jimmy, who works for Jeju ESL Consulting. Flying in over the ocean, I could see a beautiful snow-capped mountain in the middle of the island which I correctly guessed to be Mt. Halla.

As I stepped out of the airport, I was greeted by sunshine, warm salty air, and huge palm trees!

I soon discovered that we were headed not for my new apartment, where I hoped to take my long-awaited shower and maybe a nap, but straight for the school. In fact, after helpfully unloading my bags and carrying them in, Jimmy left both me and my bags at the school.   Struggling to adapt to this unexpectedly rapid introduction to my new job, I tried not to nod off in the cute, colorful office where Agnes, the school director,  excitedly explained my teaching schedule, showed me where my university diploma now hung proudly on the wall, and beamingly asked me if I could observe a few classes today after meeting all the kids in the entire school. I explained that it was close to midnight in US time, and  she kindly postponed the class observation until early tomorrow morning (when apparently I’ll also be meeting all of the parents ).

I didn’t realize that I’d actually be going to the school on the pitifully few days that I have to adjust before I officially start work, but I guess it will be good to get a sense of what the school is like I start teaching.  

I was soon being ferried to my hotel room (I don't actually get to move into my apartment until Friday afternoon) by Lorenzo, a curiously Spanish-named Korean man who also works for the school.  

Later this afternoon, I went for an exploratory walk around Shin-Jeju. It’s not a very scenic town. The buildings are all very modern in a late sixties/seventies concrete kind of way. I think that in order to see the good parts of Jeju (i.e. something that looks like the pictures I saw) I need to get out of town. You can’t really see the ocean from this part of town- maybe you can from my apartment. I did see a tangerine tree full of fruit, though, and the ride from the airport was pretty.  

Korea seems to be full of pleasantly hot and spicy food. I ordered something from a streetside vendor that was a complete mystery (was it fish? Eels? Turned out to be thick noodles and some sort of tofu-like curd) in a delightfully hot, spicy broth. To my surprise, the soup was dumped into a bag and handed to me with chopsticks! So I touted my plastic bag of soup back to the hotel and funneled it into a a bathroom cup.  

Later, I ordered another mystery food at a cafe- it turned out to be cold buckwheat noodles in a *very* hot sauce. The cook handed me a pair of scissors to cut it with and a pair of metal chopsticks to eat it with, which was a challenge. It required a lot of snipping before I could adequately maneuver the chopsticks without sloshing wet noodles all over my face.  

I also attempted to find a power adaptor in a five story Korean department store…without success but with much aimless wandering and halfhearted questioning of salespeople, none of whom spoke English. I gave up after one misguided (by me)  salesperson went over to the store’s computer and googled the word “shape” because he thought that’s what the thing is called after my botched explanation….  

Untitled Update

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. 

48,796 Words To Go

Monday, November 3, 2010  

So, now that I've begun this month-long writing project, I think this blog will be seeing a lot more of me. You see, I am writing, and while I'm rambling on here, important ideas are brewing in my head that will somehow organize themselves. Or at least make someone out there laugh. That's all I hope to achieve, really. I hope that someday, one person reads something in this book that I'm writing and laughs as much as I did when I read the first page of  "A Confederacy of Dunces." Oh, wait… that's actually a pretty lofty aspiration.

I've actually gotten really, really productive since I signed on for this thing. Last night I created an entire new photo site and uploaded hundreds of pictures, cleaned my apartment, called my parents, and decided to join a gym.

Which is funny, because usually I procrastinate about going to the gym. And by procrastinate I mean….I think about joining one.

I did join a gym for a month this summer.

It was in the Vegas Casino, which is also a hotel. The lobby is an assault of gold and glitter, and the elevator to the gym is paneled in fake velvet. In order to get to the floor with the gym, you have to walk right past a bakery, which wasn't really a problem since I'm pretty safe from baked goods as long as I stay at least 50 feet away from them. I joined the gym because it has a pool, which immediately presented a problem.

You are required to shower before and after using the pool, which means increasing my agonizingly uncomfortable public naked time from the 20 seconds it takes me to  change while crouching behind the door of my locker to MINUTES before and after the shower.

I embrace nudity at home. I don't mind being naked in front of one, or maybe even two people. But being naked in a roomful of matter-of-fact strangers really freaks me out. People were just going about their business, heartily slapping on lotion, drying their hair, and happily chatting away while I darted back and forth from locker to shower, clutching my possessions around me like someone in a refugee camp.

I was sure that any minute, my deepest fear would be realized and I would run into one of my students' mothers. So, the gym turned out to be kind of stressful.

I haven't been back since my month ran out. But if I do join tomorrow, I'm going home sweaty.

this is me..don't I look stern? look, there's the computer I should be working on.

 

Monsoon Season Hath Begun

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No. more. rain. I am melting into a sticky puddle. Only 3 more weeks of hot, humid rain. Side note: apparently I live next to a small pond full of insane frogs. It sounds like they live in my bathroom (all 500 of them). On a related note, anyone know how to bomb a frog pond?

” Bad Teacher! “

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

All right, so I’ve been very lazy concerning my blog lately. I do remember making very strong promises to I would write every day, no matter how mundane my activities appear to be. I guess I’ve been sort of afraid that my daily life here won’t be interesting to anyone, so unless I do something special, I haven’t been writing. Then I remembered that the primary reader is most likely my mother, who is the only person in the world who wants to get daily updates about buying weird Korean toothpaste and daily escapades with Korean schoolchildren.

They are quick to notice when I do something wrong, and I am swiftly reprimanded with a chorus of “BAD TEACH-AH!” I usually beat them to it, pointing to myself and saying it in an exaggerated accent. Yesterday I scolded them for forgetting their books, took butterflies away from almost the entire class, and even had Agnes give them a stern talking to. After class, I saw the books neatly stacked on a table near my desk. Bad teacher!

My classes are falling more of a rhythm. Afternoons are easier because the kids are a year or two older and discipline is less of a problem. They stick to their workbooks, and I am basically there to explain how to get through the books. There isn’t enough time for me to present the information in a lesson; they barely have enough time to get through the units on the schedule. My morning reading classes revolve around a reader that is so easy, the kindergartners finish it in less than one class period. I’ve been having them read it over and over all week, working on pronunciation. I realized yesterday that there is room in that class for creativity and lessons that I can plan, so reading class might be my chance to be a real teacher and create some lessons of my own.

This week, I’ve done a few things that are completely uncharacteristic, like play soccer and join a volleyball team… I felt pretty out of place and useless on the soccer field, so I don’t think I’ll go back, but it was fun to check it out. There was only one other girl, so I was also afraid of the ball since most of the guys were very, um, enthusiastic kickers.

Those of you who have been reading my blog may also notice that there aren’t any pictures of Korean Finn. As most of you know, her owners came and found her at the shelter. I was disappointed all day, but then I realized the perfect circle of action that had occurred. It would have been very hard to have a dog here, but I wanted to rescue her. I saved her from certain death long enough for her real owners to find her since the shelter was keeping her alive until I could come get her. It was the best resolution for everyone. 

I stayed at the shelter and ended up helping to walk the dogs- it’s kind of like giving them their last meal. Sad, but they get one last walk or two with a nice human before they meet the end.

Afterward, I went out to lunch with some of the other volunteers at a small restaurant that serves temple food. It is near a Buddhist temple. The food was very light and delicious, and the restaurant itself was beautiful inside, with hand-carved wooden tables and handmade earthen dishes. It was a nice antidote to the sadness of the shelter.   All of the food in the picture, plus tangerine tea and fresh local oranges afterwards, cost about $6 a person. The plate in front is my lotus rice. It came in a bundle with the leaf tightly wrapped around it.   On a final note, I spoke to Agnes about my return flight and the train trip is on!

Learning Korean and Avoiding Fan Death

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Today I made some extra money by appearing as Resident Native English Speaker (I actually did nothing except listen to kids stumble over books in English in front of a crowded room and stamp these little booklets) at another English school. At this particular school, teachers go tothe students' houses for lessons, so the annual Market Day gives them a chance for them to get together and pretend to buy things with fake $1 bills.

I was planning to head down to Seogwipo (“Soggy-po” as the locals pronounce it, which has a distinct flavor that suits its southerly locale) this afternoon for a vigil/information session about a proposed naval base on Jeju (bad for coral, bad for “peace island,” bad for lots of reasons), but I was too exhausted to make the trek down there and then get back in time to watch the World Cup game at 11. Korea has been doing well and it’s sort of an event to go watch the games, even though I am normally the world’s least enthusiastic sports fan.

Koreans are just so proud and excited, it warms the heart.Well, that and the free-flowing soju.

I’m making a lot of progress with Korean. I don’t think I’ll try and learn anything more than some basic vocabulary words while I’m here, just because I’m not sure that the time and effort is matched by its general usefulness outside of Korea. I have managed to learn how to read, though, which is helpful since I can at least pick out words that are English cognates. Ahh, and the other reason that I was so tired today….Jeju mosquitoes! They seem to have a magical and devious ability to invade my apartment en masse even though I have screens.

My fan is equipped with a 2-hour timer to prevent death.  There is a theory widely accepted as fact in Korea (and nowhere else in the world) that a fan, left running all night as they often are by reasonable people wanting to be nicely chilled or at the very least not stifling hot in a nearly-windowless room such as mine causes certain death by stealing all the oxygen from sleeping people. Here are just a few theories as to exactly HOW fans pose an imminent threat:

  • That an electric fan creates a vortex, which sucks the oxygen from the enclosed and sealed room and creates a partial vacuum inside. This explanation violates the principle of conservation of matter, as indoor fans are not nearly powerful enough to change the air pressure by any significant amount.

 

  • That an electric fan chops up all the oxygen particles in the air leaving none to breathe. This explanation violates mass conservation and well-known properties of molecules and gases, particularly that known breakdown energy of oxygen molecules lies in the ultraviolet range. It also ignores the nearly universal human tendency to wake up whilst being suffocated in a moment of sleep. Moreover, the theory makes no justifications for how and why a person will not suffocate whilst awake in a room which contains an operating fan.

 

  • The fan uses up the oxygen in the room and creates fatal levels of carbon dioxide. An electric motor does not function by combustion; unlike a candle, the electric motor consumes energy supplied by the electricity, not from a fuel. The fan motor's commutator does produce a small amount of ozone during normal operation, however most AC powered fans use induction motors, whose brushless design eliminates any possible ozone production. Ozone can be fatal in high concentrations, but any normal room would never allow the gas to build up to lethal levels.

 

  • That if the fan is put directly in front of the face of the sleeping person, it will suck all the air away, preventing one from breathing. This explanation ignores both the fact that a fan attracts as much air to a given spot as it is removing from it, and the fact that most people point a fan towards themselves when using one, which causes air to move past the face but does not change the amount of air present.

  I would like to report I remain very much alive after several nights with my new fan.

Second Week On Jeju

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The rain continues this weekend as it has throughout the week. I honestly can’t believe I’ve only been here  for a week and a half- it feels like it’s been a month. I really got thrown into a whole new life here pretty quickly without much of an adjustment period, but I’m kind of glad that it worked out that way. I’m finally getting into a routine at work (or at least getting a sense of what my routine will by like. My kids are adorable and, for the most part, pretty well-behaved. And if they aren’t then well, I have to remind myself that they are only five years old.

There is a nice view of Mt. Halla from my classroom window. Going to stores and restaurants and finding what I need is getting a little easier. I discovered Kimbap (kind of like Korean sushi). I can get it at the corner store for about $.80! Teaching is so much easier than I expected- all I have to do is follow their workbooks and make sure they do their homework (that’s right…the kindergartners have homework! Their constant need for attention and sharpened pencils is the most demanding aspect of my job. I love the small classes, though. A lot of other teachers here have much bigger classes (my biggest class has 8 students).

 I realized this week that being here just doesn’t feel as strange as it should. Maybe it’s because I have access to almost all of the same things that I did at home. I even watch the Daily Show every night and listen to NPR. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the internet is changing our conception of home and making it more difficult to actually separate ourselves from it. If I cut the cord and really disconnected from my life in the US, I think I would be having a much different experience. In a way, part of me is a little disappointed that the culture shock has been so mild, but there’s also no way that I’ll fight the natural  impulse to make my life here as similar to my life in the US as possible. In a lot of ways, I’m better off here. I have healthcare, access to extremely low-cost dental care, and an easy job that pays well. I’m also a lot more active- I’ve been walking everywhere (except for when I take dirt-cheap cabs) and I climbed a volcanic peak yesterday to take a few photos despite the rain.  Oh, and it’s also beautiful here (as soon as you get out of Jeju City). I also have time to focus on photography and hopefully writing this year. So….mission: make life in Korea like life in Vermont. Step 1: while at home, subsist on a diet of yogurt, cereal, toast, egg whites, and coffee. Step 2: acquire Golden Retriever. Yes, you read that correctly. Following the spirit of quickly jumping into life here, I have decided to adopt Goldie, a poor lost Golden Retriever who happened to be at a local shelter. I still haven’t met her since the shelter is only staffed once a week for 2 hours, but she appears to be a Korean mini-Finn. I think she might still be a puppy. I’ll find out next Saturday! I think Finn will be psyched to meet the new addition to our golden retriever family (John, if you’re reading this, I hope you are, too!) She needed to be rescued quickly, as she only had a day left to live when I read about her and quickly emailed shelter volunteers. No time to consult! It just felt like the right thing to do, and I was happy that fate seemed to have tossed me a new dog. If I see any other Goldens at the shelter(which is unlikely) there’s nothing I can do. I’m not planning on starting my own chapter of Golden Retriever Rescue of Korea.  

Today, I’m off to the Five Day Market with one of my co-workers. It’s still drizzling, but I plan on taking some photos there and hopefully acquiring some cool stuff for my apartment. I’ll add photos to yesterday’s (March 6) album.   I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash American III: Solitary Man and IV: The Man Comes Around all morning, which I haven’t listened to in a long time. It’s hitting me in a whole new way. Somehow it all seems sad, tearfully beautiful, and yet not morose. I am oddly uplifted.  

Less Squid, More Blog

This is the summation of my thoughts tonight. Viva la blog.

 

Jeju Weekly…2 articles published.“Honoring Jeju’s Grandmother” http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=751 “Walking Through the Volcano” http://www.jejuweekly.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=773

Also…FIELD TRIP!! That means sleepy bus rides with kids songs on the radio, lunging at kids’ lunches with chop sticks, and hanging out with my favorite girls, who attach themselves to me like pigtailed barnacles and pretend to eat me because they are plants and I am a bug while I protest “I’m a TEACHER! Not a bug!” with the same intonations as “I am not an animal!” Today I bought a modest Korean-style bathing suit as I plan to start swimming laps in the community pool instead of going to the un-air conditioned gym, which has become unbearable and is akin to some form of torture thus I stopped going 2 weeks ago. My new bathing suit does NOT have a skirt (it was hard to find one without) but DOES have tiny molded cups in the chest that stick out quite perplexingly when placed on a non-Korean sized body. Need to alter it…but how?!

Burn It All Down

Thursday, March 1, 2010

It’s been a busy couple of days for me, so I haven’t been writing very much. I moved into my apartment (finally) on Saturday and went to the Jeju Fire Festival yesterday which was thankfully not rained out.

I took a bus there, which was an adventure in itself.

It was really exciting just to see more more of Jeju besides the city. As soon as I stepped off the bus and saw Korean military men controlling the throngs of people with incomprehensible shouting, I was overcome with a reminder that not only am I in a foreign country, but a culture that is completely foreign in every way. My walk to the festival was an immediate barrage of crowded stalls selling strange, previously unencountered (unthought of, even) food. Silkworm pupa, anyone?

I wandered around the festival all day, eventually making my way up to the hill to see the haystacks that were later torched. There were booths set up near the hill where people could write wishes on little flags and attach them to the haystacks. I wanted to make a wish too, but of since I can’t write in Hangul, I decided that it wouldn’t really fit in. I was taking pictures of the haystacks when I was approached by a woman who appeared to be trying to tell me that I shouldn’t photograph the people who were praying, but then I realized that she was asking me to pray! It soon became clear that some Koreans wanted me to enact the part of a praying and pious foreigner. I have to admit, I had trouble looking solemn as I clasped my hands in “prayer”while  stifling laughter. Later, I met some other foreigners and went to get some squid- infused pancakes and soy/rice wine known as Mageoli. When it got dark there was a fireworks show and as they lit the haystacks, the smoke and fireworks merged spectacularly.