Three Month Update/Thanksgiving

As of the 28th, I’ve officially been in Korea for three months! That means I’m a quarter of the way through with my contract. Crazy to think about it that way.

On Thursday, I wasn’t able to properly celebrate Thanksgiving because I didn’t get out of work until 10. So, I decided to host Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment on Saturday for Aisling and Rob (from Ireland) and Steve (from Scotland). It was kind of funny being the only American at my holiday.

Anyway, my plan was to go to Costco in the morning for a rotisserie chicken. I took the bus, which took about 30 minutes. Once there, I grabbed a chicken and… A PUMPKIN PIE! I was so surprised they even had one. I also grabbed a five pound bag of frozen broccoli and a bag of pre-cooked boneless chicken breasts. I paid and treated myself to a hot slice of Costco pizza, as well.

Back at home, I also had a baby brie and crackers, dried cranberries, Stouffer’s stuffing and gravy (from my friend Candice), and I was going to make homemade mashed potatoes!

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Steve brought some wine and beer, and Aisling and Rob brought a cheesecake, some more wine, and potato chips. We were ready for a feast.

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It was so nice to sit down to a really Western meal. We ate and drank and laughed for hours. Heavy metal was played and Irish and Scottish Youtube videos were watched. Overall, I think it was a lovely Thanksgiving away from home.

And now, I will sit in bed for the rest of the day and eat pie.

Highs and Lows

I know that living abroad is not without challenges. However, sometimes I feel like I can go from being extremely happy to extremely sad in an instant. I don’t know if I’m homesick, or sad about missing Thanksgiving, but today was just horrible.

First of all, I’ve been kind of sick for the past week. It didn’t help that when I was feeling particularly yucky last week, I wasn’t allowed to go home. To top it off, two days later I came in to find out that a Korean teacher was home sick and it was my responsibility to cover her classes in addition to mine. Like, what? Here comes the cynicism and feelings of exploitation…

Anyway, back to today.

I woke up in a bad mood. Steve and I went out for brunch. It was just so cold and windy, though, and I was not having it. I pretty much complained through the entire meal. Finish up, go home, whatever. I Skyped with my girlfriend Alysa which was really nice. Bitched some more.

I got to work and the office was freezing, windows open. Why? Whyyy? I had to keep my coat on! I also discovered that there was some kind of testing going on so I didn’t even have most of my classes. I tried to read some Huffington Post, but I was starting to feel stuffy and dizzy and terrible.

Naturally, I went to the bathroom to cry. What exactly was I even crying about? I don’t know, but it helps sometimes.

When I finally emerged, the head teacher came and asked if I was sick. I just told her yes (in the hopes of going home early) and we went to the hospital. What a mistake. Long story short, they gave me a shot in the butt and prescribed me a series of horse pills that I absolutely refuse to take because I have no idea what the fuck they are.

I had to pay for them, too.

I got to go home at 7, instead of 10. Which I felt was still ridiculous because we went to hospital at 4 and I had nothing to do for another three hours. So I sat at my desk, in my coat, and read about Thanksgiving leftover recipes online.

When I got home, I made myself a pot of macaroni and cheese and ate the whole damn thing, about which I certainly have no regrets.

I still feel like shit and I’m seriously fighting to urge to pack up everything I have here and get on the first flight out of this country.

 

Let’s Take the Stairs

On Sunday, I invited my friend Aisling to come with me on a quest for treasure (read as jellied cranberry sauce for my makeshift Thanksgiving dinner.)

So, we met up and took the bus to Ilsan Beach. The ride was about a half an hour, mostly standing. When we arrived, we decided to head straight for the beach. It was a beautiful day. Blue skies, not too cold, a slight breeze. Amazing for the end of November. After we walked to one end of the boardwalk, we noticed a massive staircase leading up into a mountain.

With little question, we decided to make the trek.

About halfway up, we were pretty much out of breath. Naturally, we stopped to take pictures of the sea. We walked quite a bit more before reaching the top. There were paths and coffee shops and what resembled a children’s playground (but with a huge dragon to climb on!).

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Lots of people were out walking around, so we followed the crowd. We still had no idea where we were of where we were headed. After a while, we saw a sign for a lighthouse. I love lighthouses! We stopped to take more pictures. The trails wound around the wooded area. We got to what I assume was the main path and I stopped, stunned.

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Out of the teal water, clay colored rocks jutted up towards the sky. In between, you could see a bridge. There was a man fishing down below as well as some people having a picnic. The scene was beautiful and almost surreal. We walked closer to the water where the wind grew harsher.

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Before we left, we happened upon an exercise park. These are very common in Korea and are always filled with different exercise equipment. I think they’re fantastic. I also noticed that this one had a HUGE rack of hula hoops and I just had to go play with them. I haven’t hooped in a while, but I used to do it at home. These were big and weighted, but so much fun! I got Aisling to hoop, too, while some ajummas looked on. It put me in such a good mood.

After we climbed back down, we stopped for gelato because Aisling had never had it before! Then, we finally walked to the store I had wanted to go in only to find out it was closed. Oh well. We grabbed some dinner and headed back to Samsandong for a little shopping.

Surprisingly, I was able to find a pair of jeans that actually fit me! I also did most of my Christmas shopping.

What a wonderful way to end a wonderful weekend!

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

Those of you who know me know that I am an ally and supporter of the LGBTQ community. I have been for as long as I can remember. In college, I was an active member in our Allies group and every year, I attend the New York City Pride Parade with a core group of the friends I made there.

In Korea, awareness and acceptance are a little harder to come by for the LGBTQ community. When one of the expats in Ulsan, Dorian, suggested hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance here in our city, I knew I had to be a part of it.

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For those of you who don’t know, here is a little history about TDoR:

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is recognized every year on November 20 as a way to memorialize those who have been killed because of transphobia and a lack of understanding about the transgender community.
In 1998, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a trans woman, began the “Remember Our Dead” web project following the murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman of color.
In 1999, the first Transgender Day of Remembrance was held in San Francisco, California with a candlelight vigil and a reading of the names of those who had been lost.

A group of us began meeting via Skype in order to help bring this event to life. We spent several weeks arduously planning the following: speeches, spoken word, poetry, interviews, brochures, flyers, t-shirts, and even an art installation.

Oh, and one of the participants was even gracious enough to translate everything into Korean!

On Saturday, November 21st, at 8PM our event was hosted at Cima Bar. Most of us had been there since 7 to help set up. Folding brochures, hanging posters, setting up tea lights and tables. It was finally happening!

I was so happy to see such a large turnout. Everyone was kind and respectful of the space. There was laughter, and tears, and a range of emotions in between. After the poetry, spoken word, and videos, it was time for the reading of the names.

This was probably the most difficult part of the night. Several speakers began reading the names of the trans individuals who have been killed over the past 18 years, from all over the world. Most of them were younger than I am now. Behind the speakers, I helped cover the window in Post-it notes with all the names as they were being read. The Post-its were the colors of the trans flag.

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A huge thanks to Dorian for their vision and for putting on a beautiful event. Additionally, thank you to everyone in the planning crew. I know I don’t know you all very well, but I am grateful to have been part of something so wonderful!

6 Things I Love About Korea

While my last post was admittedly negative, no one can possibly love everything about a particular place all the time. With that said, I am also creating a list of the things that make me really enjoy living in Korea.

  • Food

– Korean food is legitimately amazing. First of all, it is almost always cheaper to go out to eat than to cook at home. And eating out is an experience here. It is social. You spend time eating and talking with friends; a meal just isn’t over in 30 minutes. It’s nice. At most sit-down restaurants, the food gets cooked right in front of you. If you’re in the mood for street food, there’s an abundance of it. It’s cheap and delicious.

  • Cosmetics

– Appearance is very important to Koreans; they always have to look their best. And although I am lazy and don’t exactly look like a human being all the time, I love makeup! I’ve found that the quality of products here is exceptional. Especially for the price. Lip stains for about $3, (adorable) hand cream for about the same. Also, face masks. These are so popular here and you can get very nice ones for about $1 each! Most shops also give you free samples with your purchases and I will certainly be buying some full size versions very soon.

  • Efficiency of public transportation

– Maybe I have a death wish since I spent my last post discussing how bad Korean drivers are. But. Public transportation here is so cheap! A local bus/subway costs about $1 per ride. Most places I want to get to by taxi cost less than $5. For me to get from Ulsan to Busan, about $6. Ulsan to Daegu, about $7. At home, for me to get from home to Manhattan, it’s $15 one way!

  • Daiso

– Daiso is pretty much the dollar store of Korea. And. It. Is. Incredible. Especially for me, since I’m cheap as hell. Every time I walk into one, it’s like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. But better. 12 rolls of toilet paper for $3? Adorable stickers and post-its and notebooks for $1? Cleaning supplies, cooking supplies, pretty much anything else I could ever want for mostly under $5? Here, Daiso, just take all of my money.

  • History

– While the United States has history, it’s new history. And quite honestly, it bores me. I love old stuff. Show me beautifully decorated temples and massive sculptures of Buddha. Museums with timelines dating back to BCE. This is what I live for. Astronomy towers. Pottery. Clothing. I want to see it all. I honestly plan most of my trips around how much historical stuff I can see. Korea has so much history. And that makes me happy.

  • Cute stuff

– Cute stuff abounds in Korea. Despite the fact that I pretty much only wear black and like a lot of the doomy gloomy, I ALSO LOVE CUTE THINGS. Hello Kitty? I sleep in Hello Kitty pajamas. Stuffed sushi rolls with faces? Give them to me. There are cartoons on everything from restaurants to fire stations. I [not so secretly] love it. Ice cream cone stickers. Kitty cat hair accessories. I recently bought a hand cream shaped like a seal. I’m just going to sit here and squeal about the cuteness. Gah!

6 Things I Dislike About Korea

I’ve been having a hard time the past few weeks. The weather is changing, the holidays are coming. I really miss everyone at home. So, I’ve decided to write about a few things that have been bothering me about Korea.

The following are simply the opinions I’ve developed as a Western woman living and working in a new, unfamiliar society.

  • The apparent lack of hygiene

 – In about 90% of the public restrooms I’ve used, they only provide bar soap and fabric towels. Many don’t even have toilet paper. I’m sorry (not really), but this is disgusting. This is exactly how people get sick. Additionally, no one covers their mouth when they sneeze or cough. Also disgusting. I carry hand sanitizer and tissues in my purse all the time.

  • Garbage

– For a country that is quite serious about making sure that garbage is separated properly (food, recyclables, miscellaneous) there sure is a lot of it on the street. And there are zero receptacles! People just chuck stuff on the ground and leave it there. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s okay.

  • Pushing and shoving

– You will get pushed here. On the street. On the bus. On the subway. Everywhere. By everyone. High school kids. Grandmas. It doesn’t matter. At first, I wanted to scream “what the fuck?!” at everyone in my best raging Jersey accent every time it happened, but now I just kind of roll my eyes and sigh. Loudly.

  • Driving and parking

– Never in my life have I seen such horrendous automotive skills by an entire society. People park on the sidewalks. And in the crosswalks. If you’re crossing the street (even when the little green man says you can), you still have to keep your eyes peeled for lunatics trying to run you down. Oh, and the speed! Every time I’m on a bus or in a taxi, I feel like I’m on Mr. Toad’s Wild Fucking Ride.

  • The way students get treated

– I probably dislike this more than anything else on my list. Every day, I teach students who are too tired to function because it’s 9:30 at night and they’ve had classes all day since 7 AM. I think it’s an incredible disservice to children to make them suffer through 12+ hour days simply for the sake of getting a “good education.” People need sleep and down time. Especially kids. I also watch teachers hit them and yell at them and it makes me want to go home and cry. Sometimes I do.

  • Work culture

– This is something particularly difficult for me to cope with. First of all, I find that there are really no guidelines and my work is not defined. Sometimes, I will come back to my desk to find a stack of journals to grade or a new text book to use for some class. No actual instructions, though. My boss will change my schedule at random and I will have no time to make preparations. Additionally, no one wants to answer questions. Ever. Everything is vague. I’m simply not used to not knowing exactly what I need to be doing. Or not being able to take a sick day. Or not knowing when my vacation is scheduled for.


 

Just a couple of things I needed to get out of my system. Don’t worry, though, this post will definitely be followed by one about all the things I LOVE about Korea. (There are really quite a few.)

Two Dum Dums in Daegu Part 2

Hannah really wanted to go to a store called ArtBox, which sells adorable stationary and accessories. According to the map, we had to take the subway and then the store would be a walk up the road. Ha. We walked and walked and walked. No such store. Our feet hurt. We were hungry. At one point, we stopped for lemonade and chocolate milk just to cope with our situation.

We took the subway back downtown, did a little more [local] retail therapy, and decided to grab some dinner. We found a little barbecue place and had this super tangy marinated skirt steak. It was so good! We finished up, and went out again.

We walked a bit more and, lo and behold, what do I see as we turn a corner? ArtBox. Hannah and I looked at each other, and I couldn’t help but start laughing hysterically. We went in.

After making our purchases, we decided to stop for coffee. We found a 24 hour spot and went in. Hannah ordered hot chocolate, I got a java chip shake, and we split this incredible honey bread thing topped with ice cream. I thought just looking at it would give me diabetes. It didn’t. But it sure was decadent.

Later, we got some Pringles and went back to the room to do face masks. That was a lot of fun. We went to sleep because we had big plans for Sunday.