Thursday, August 29, 2013

I'm back, did you miss me of cooooouuuurse!

Today's music is some old-time Korean music, an artist who reminds me a little of Simon and Garfunkel. 바람이 불어오는 곳 (The Place Where The Wind Blows) by Kim Kwang Seok.

It's really been a while, eh? I wasn't about to try my less than average touch screen skills at writing a blog posts on my ipod, so no news for a couple weeks.

So here is part one, beginning with August 15, Korean Independence Day.

My host family invited me to go with them to a family function with my host father's side of the family. I was a little hesitant at first because I could foresee it possibly being awkward, meeting a lot of new people and not being able to speak Korean.  But, on the other hand, I could also see it being really fun, and so I decided to go. We headed out early in the morning, everyone piling into the car, even Choco the poodle. My thought that it would be quite a crazy ride, going so far with two kids and a dog, but since it was so early, the kids fell asleep and without kids to egg him on, Choco was calm too. Well, all except for  barking at every toll booth operator. We drove for around 2.5 hours towards the west coast.

I just listened to the Studio Ghibli concert I had downloaded for basically the entire ride. It's hard to explain what that music does to the scenery. Somehow it makes everything a little more magical. I was feeling pretty drowsy by the time we got there and wasn't sure I would be able to concentrate well enough to understand any Korean, but it was fine! The family was very friendly and some of them were very good at English too. During the course of the afternoon, they even brought out a cousin on Facetime who had just graduated from University of Buffalo and was in the States so that I could say hi and congratulate him. It was pretty hilarious, because as soon as they passed the phone back to his sister they grilled him on what he thought of me and whether I was pretty or not in Korean. Following that my host father asked what I thought of international marriage. Real subtle there bud. The matchmaking never stops here.

After the rest of the family arrived, the BBQ started--ribs that were out of this world good, shrimp and some shellfish that I passed on. I'm still not a big fan of shellfish...they just taste like mud and are kind of gritty, or at least the ones I've had here are like that. The cousins all played together in a pretty big blow up kiddie pools and had some intense water battles. It was funny to least until in the hullaballoo the hose was pointed in our direction!

The adults sat around talking for a while, and my host father spoke for a long time about what he's learning about anabaptism and his vision for creating a community living place seemed like a really long time for just him to be talking, but I found out later that it was the first time they'd met in a while and his family doesn't really understand why he's so interested in this weird anabaptist thing. Basically anything other than Presbyterianism here in the protestant circle is looked at as a little weird at best and heretical at worst. So, it was a chance for him to catch them up and get their support.

After we ate, we all rested for a bit, and some people even took naps on the floor of the air conditioned office (the whole shindig was at my host father's uncles' plastics factory), including yours truly. The real kicker was the singing contest after napst: I was one of the judges, surprise! I wasn't really given the option, I was just told that was going to be my role, so I tried not to be too awkward about it. HA. I was supposed to rate the acts and say which ones were best. The kids were most involved...about three renditions of the Larva dance were performed, as well as Gangnam Style, but even the old great uncle sang a song while one of the aunts did some pretty fantastic backup dancing. One of the younger neices was also a really good dancer, all though she was pretty shy and only did some sweet popping to some Black Eyed Peas for like ten seconds. My host father tried to get me to sing a song in a Korean, but I got out of that pretty quick by claiming not to know any songs. Which wasn't a lie, I know lots of songs, but not really any more than a line or two of the lyrics, so didn't have to do that. They gave me a gift for my efforts though, which was so sweet and kind of funny: a little hand mirror with a pretty design on it and a serving tray from Lotte Mart. Actually pretty useful.

We ended the day with dinner at a Chinese-Korean restuarant eating some Jjambbong, which was pretty delish. I also got invited to see Namsan with one of my host father's younger cousins, so maybe sometime she'll contact me about that.

It's kind of hard to believe that my homestay time is almost up--I'm moving on Sunday. I've gotten to have some many "real Korea" experiences like this outside of Connexus, which has been really special and I know will be some good memories to keep. I'm sorry to see it end, but also glad to finally really be a part of the Connexus community life. I feel like this homestay has given me so much knowledge about how to feel at home in a strange place, and how to relate interculturally too. The bottom line is, both sides have to compromise, but we're not that different in the end.

Thanks for reading, next part soon to come!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Learning curve

Today's music is actually listening music for more than just reading my blog. It is the Studio Ghibli 25th Anniversary concert and I have been pretty much listening to it solely for 2 days now. Joe Hisaishi is right up there with Howard Shore, Murray Gold and John Williams as a favorite film/t.v. score composer.

So, I feel like I've learning many things about myself lately, or being reminded of them, at least, as well as just different things about living here and from living here.

Things about me:
1. I am a morning person...but only if the morning is quiet. If it is quiet, then I enjoy it so much more than the evening. Everything seems bright and new and just beginning. I can begin fresh with the day. But if it's noisy, it feels like the day has rudely begun without me. It can get louder as the morning progressively, but if the first 1/2 hour of the morning is I didn't realize it was such a big deal until this past week, we had a few rare quiet mornings at my host family's house and I felt so good.

2. It's harder to be a creative fun teacher when you're the type of person who totally loves textbooks and just writing on the board. I've realized that my learning style doesn't require lots of bells and whistles, but that of my students often does, so teaching in a way that is different from the way I learn takes more work than I thought. Kids like games, not grammar explanations...kind of obvious, when you think about it, but there it is.

3. I didn't realize before I came to Korea how much music I listened to. Because now that there are not as many opportunities to listen to music as before, I can feel that it's missing. There are no more long commutes to work in the car where I can turn up the music loud and sing along. It's hard to listen to music at home because it feels disruptive, and at the office, same thing. If I use my earphones I sometimes feel like I'm being uber antisocial and blocking out the world, but I guess I kind of am to an extent. But because of that, music has become a really big "self-heal" remedy. If I am feeling stressed, nothing is better than listening to a Jon Foreman album, or if I'm feeling tired, turning up the old Big Bang.

4. I like having expectations of me coming from one group or at least from related groups, not from several different parties. Never have I felt so pulled in two directions than this situation of living with a host family and being a part of the teacher community at Connexus. On the one hand, I feel obligated to spend time with my host family, because they have opened their home to me and it's a great opportunity to make a lasting connection here in Korea, but on the other hand, let's be real, hanging with the teachers is much more fun, and I hate to feel like I'm missing out on things, or making it tougher for the other teachers because they have to make sure to plan things ahead so I can let my host family know, instead of being fun and spontaneous.

Things I've about/from living here

1. I'm missing stuff. There is a lot happening at home and I am completely not a part of any of it. I guess things are happening here too, but nobody knows what they're missing. It's kind of scary, because anyone who knows me knows that being left out is one of my biggest dislikes. So here I am, left out, not on purpose at all, and there isn't anything to be done about it. Maybe it's time I grew up.

2. It doesn't take long for the new to feel every day. I wouldn't have never said that after only 2 and 1/2 months, Deokso would be the usual, that taking the bus or subway by myself would no longer make me feel super nervous (ok, at least during the day and on semi-familiar routes), that eating meat and rice and kimchi for breakfast would feel totally normal. But it is.

3. It is really hard to be frugal here. There are a lot of fun things to buy, a lot of good food to eat, places to go and movies to see and it all costs a lot. Some things are cheaper, like clothes, other things are more expensive, like movies. And I'm realizing I need to be really careful if I want to return to the U.S. with enough saved to give me time to find a job. *gulp* maybe it's time for a budget. 

4. All the indirectness here sometimes makes me feel like being even more direct, which is usually not my style. Instead of trying explain indirectly why I'm not eating dinner at the house and going out with the teachers, I just want to say "I want to hang out with them because it's fun and I can speak English at a normal pace," or "No, I really don't want to go out to eat hot chicken soup right now because I am totally wiped and it's a million degrees outside." Not really helpful, but sometimes it feels like I can never say what I really mean, even in English, poor Korean skills aside.

5. I can write about the negative things (which is pretty much all this post is, sorry!) but I shouldn't internalize them. Let 'em roll off. That's kind of this blog post is for, rolling it off. So, sorry it was a little debbie-downer-esque!

This is a good place, these are good people and God is teaching me so much. I need to write things like this to remind myself of those truths.
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Japan Adventures part 3: Feeling at Home

Today's music is a song that at this moment in time almost makes me cry: This is Home by Switchfoot.

Saturday, Hope and I went to the Kid's Gospel Choir concert. She went to a Gospel church while she was there, so it was neat to see a little of the type of thing that she experienced. It was really special to see the kids singing about being friends of isn't very likely that many of them will stay close to God as they get older, but there is a small grain that maybe a handful will, and who knows what God will do in Japan through them? It's a country that needs to experience the grace of God in a big way. Hope told me that the Japanese language doesn't even have a word for forgiveness in the sense of God's total forgiveness, only of "paying back what is owed." Please keep Japan in your prayers!

Later in the evening on Saturday, we headed out with all the missionaries and OMF workers for the festival in Ichikawa. It has been going on for around 200 years! Everyone wears traditional dress and gathers on the banks of the river to watch fireworks. The crowds were ENORMOUS. We all sat on a big blue tarp that the pastor at the OMF chapel had claimed for us earlier in the day. The fireworks were by far the best I've ever seen in my life: an hour and 15 minutes of uninterrupted display. There were so many going off that the huge clouds of smoke would have hidden some of the explosions from sight, if there hadn't been a strong breeze blowing the sky clear between fireworks. I took some pictures, but firework pictures never do anything justice.

Our last morning together, Hope and I decided to just bike to the market and get the ingredients for a nice big breakfast. We made bacon and scrambled eggs with toast and bought pineapple and blueberries to go with it. Milk tea was our beverage of choice, which is basically bubble tea without the bubbles. We had packed the night before (Hope was leaving the next day) so we just ate leisurely and chatted about all the new things coming up, especially for Hope and going to Temple. It was truly a gift to get to hang out with her and give her some encouragement before she went off to such a big new adventure. And of course, we laughed.

I realized something on the shinkansen back to Fukuoka for my flight why it felt so daunting to go back to Korea after such a great week. I don't laugh as much as I do at home there.

That's going to sound super depressing, and I don't want it to sound like it's grim here. It isn't in the least, and I do laugh every day. But it's not yet in the same way that I laugh with Hope or with my friends from home that I've known forever. There is something about laughing from a shared experience that feels like with every laugh you're deepening your connection to someone. It's not there yet because I don't have enough shared history here. When I laugh like that with someone, I feel at home.

That got me thinking then about how, unless I stay in the same place or with certain people for a very long time, I might not have that kind of "home feeling" anywhere. If the people I feel at home with are constantly moving on, or I'm moving on, where is my home? I kind of freaked out a little. Where's the constant? I can't be the constant! I'm a backwards-looking type person, who can get very caught up in the good times of the past and have a hard time believing that good times are coming. If there isn't anything from the past coming with me into the future it feels too rootless, guide-less.

You probably can see where this is going, because it's pretty obvious, but there is one person who is constant. Even though it was silly of me to not think of him first, it was like a wave of relief to really internalize that realization. Jesus is constant. He's coming with me. He's been there for every sad thing and for every moment of laughter, and he'll be there for the ones to come.

And he always, always feels like home.


Japan Adventures part 2

Today's blog music is the theme from Howl's Moving Castle played by Sungha Jung, and amazing Korean guitarist who is only in highschool and arranges and plays tons of songs: Theme from Howl's Moving Castle.

The next morning the plan was shopping in Asakusa, a great tourist-y place with little shops and a temple area. We found some great dresses at a second hand store for 390 yen or less, and later bought some great ice cream and little trinkets. 

It was also in Asakusa that we had the Realistic Mushroom Key Chains Adventure, or Hope And Abby Almost Die Of Laughing. We went into a department store for some aircon and to check out a music store, and then found a hallway full of those little vending machines where you can buy toys and dumb little things in plastic bubbles. Japan is a treasure trove for vending machines, whether for weird and crazy toys or for buying food. Anyway, we were perusing the merch, when we saw some realistic mushroom keychains that just seemed like the thing to buy at that moment. So Hope worked on getting out her massive amounts of change, only to proceed to spill about half of it all over the floor. We were cracking up then, thinking that someone was going to turn the corner soon and see the two foreigners on their hands and knees picking up coins like weirdos, but we got it all picked up before anyone came. Then as we were walking back down the hall after making our super awesome purchases, Hope was still trying to get her coins under control. I had just told her to make sure to zip the coin pocket when she lost control of the wallet and spilled every last one of those coins. Yen from an entire month went cascading to the ground. It had to be like 35 or 40 coins EVERYWHERE. Keep in mind we were at the other end of the hallway now...This spillage was followed by Hope hollering “MOTHER OF PEARL!”  and doing an angry karate kick in the air....all in full view of the music store clerk, who not only must have heard the coins falling both times, but now saw the second time and Hope’s reaction. He was completely cracking up, and we ran back behind the wall and about peed our pants laughing. I had tears streaming down my face. I will always think of that memory whenever I see that keychain now. Absolutely hilarious.

Anyway, we went home very sweaty and had to freshen up before meeting Philipa and biking over to Seizaria’s (spelling...?) for dinner. It was one of Hope’s favorite places to eat while she was in Japan, so we decided to have a dinner there and then go to watch the movie Emperor, (which I totally recommend, by the way).

Biking was so much fun! I think it was the first time I had biked extensively (more than a couple minutes) in like 2 years, so I was a little wobbly, and a little nervous going between narrow spots, but I think I did ok! Biking was actually one of my most favorite memories from the trip. Biking with that pink bike with  two baskets along Japanese roads made me feel like I was in the middle of a Miyazaki film. I loved it. 

Speaking of Miyazaki, the next day Hope revealed the secret location of the surprise sightseeing thing she had planned: The Ghibli museum in Mitaka! I was SO PUMPED. I had wanted to go, but it’s really hard to get tickets because they only admit 200 people at a time in 2 hour slots because the place is really small, so I kind of gave up hope on that. I assumed we were going to the Tokyo zoo or something. But then, we woke up and Hope pulled out the tickets! She had got them as soon as tickets for August went on sale, so since basically a week or two after she got to Japan she had planned this. 

It was so wonderful! We arrived and were walking to the museum and from the distance we could see a giant replica robot from Castle in the Sky rising from the can imagine the excitement building! The museum itself was just an awesome looking building, like something out of a Ghibli film. Lots of stairs and stain glass windows with Ghibli characters on them. There was a room for kids with a giant cat bus from Totoro that they could play around inside and stuffed dust sprites to throw around and collect. I really wished I was small enough to play in there. We saw the hand drawn story boards from all the movies in a replica of Miyazaki’s office, and I never felt like learning to illustrate more. I think I’ll try to practice more this winter with Anna’s watercolors. We had a great time there and finished the day off with some Japanese tea and BBQ corn ice cream at the museum cafe. 

We next went to Harajuku and chilled at a rooftop Starbucks while waiting for Philipa to go shopping together. We found some super deals, including some adorable Totoro chopsticks, which I am saving for myself as a housewarming present for when we move house in November. 
I bought more housewarming presents the next day, a Totoro mug and bento for picnics...Totoro themed stuff was the majority of my Japan purchases...Maybe not the most mature thing, but I hope I’m never too old to like Miyazaki films. 

I’ll wrap up Saturday and Sunday and my return hopefully in the next day or so...are you on the edge of your seat?

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

To Japan and Back Again part 1

Listened to this today and remembered how much I like Fleetwood Mac: Go Your Own Way. Dedicated to Emily Brisbin. Are you reading this, pal? I miss you!

So, the trip to Japan!

Faced with the rather daunting task of getting out of the airport and to the consulate in an hour and 40 minutes, I slept pretty poorly the night before. It's one of those things where you're just running through possible scenarios and trying to figure out what to do if things go wrong: what if my plane is late coming in? what if I get off on the wrong stop? what if I forgot an important document?

The good news is, none of those things happened. I was stressing, so I was on ultra alert mode and also move-as-quickly-as-possible mode. I speed walked in front of the passengers on my plane to get to immigration near the front of the line and was through there in probably 20 minutes. Then on to the subway, where I met a fellow ESL teacher going for a visa run.

Maybe it seems weird, but I was so glad to have a traveling buddy. I felt like because I was navigating for both of us, I could focus better and make decisions, even if the only thing I did was explain the route to her. We both got to the consulate with a half hour to spare.

I thought about doing some sight-seeing in Fukuoka, but after stepping back outside into the heat, I decided against it. It was HOT. Like, drenched in sweat in two seconds hot. The humidity was out of this world. I just wanted to get to my hotel, which I did with surprisingly no trouble! I had written walking directions from the subway based on picture from a google maps walking route, and I got there...two hours before check-in.

I totally just crashed in the lobby in the aircon for that time, reading Three Musketeers and looking at old photos on my compy. Also drinking Vanilla Coke that I found at a Family Mart, SCORE. My favorite soda of all time that I can hardly ever find anymore. Once I checked in, it was bath time for sure in the great deep, barrel like Japanese style bathtub. That hotel was absolutely fantastic. It was a very small room, but had everything I would have wanted, including clothes freshener which my clothes DEFINITELY needed if I wanted to put them back in my bag without stinking up the whole thing.

I may have spent that entire evening watching a Korean drama.

Getting myself to the consulate to pick up my visa would be easy, and I had time to kill after my checkout at 10 am before the visa was ready, so I headed to one subway stop away from the consulate stop and went to Ohori park. Best decision ever. The terrible heat was mediated a lot by the great shade from the trees and the wind off the lake/pond that the park's island was on. I also found a great Japanese garden to look around in for only 120 yen. By the time I had finished my nutritious lunch of a banana and ritz bits and spoken with a Korean tourist in Korean (!! so proud of myself), it was time to pick up the visa and get myself on the shinkansen to Tokyo as soon as possible.

I was able to get on a train leaving 45 minutes later, and was on my way by 3:10.  The ride was going to take about 6 hours, which I figured I would read for most of, but surprisingly, I didn't. I couldn't stop looking out the window! The scenery was so great, and I was seeing a huge chunk on Japan as I traveled across the country from the tip in Fukuoka to about the middle in Tokyo. The mountains in Japan are a bit taller than in Korea, and varying heights, so that you can see mountains beyond mountains instead of just mountains that are more or less the same height. The valleys are also wider, so there are bigger uninterrupted swaths of city surrounds by the mountains. The mountains were especially beautiful because of the varied vegetation on them. Even from far away I could pick out the different colored greens and textures of the trees. There was one plant in particular that looked like groups of giant ferns amongst the other trees, making the mountains look like something out of a little terrarium. I realized when we passed close by that those "ferns" were actually bamboo forests. So beautiful!

Finding Hope in Tokyo station however, was not a beautiful experience. I spent probably a 20 minutes to a half hour wandering around trying to find the right exit and asking people where the store was that we were to meet by. The workers at the station either told me the store didn't exist, or pointed me in literally the opposite direction. So frustrating I finally found her after using a pay phone and calling her cell. Then I was feeling annoyed, so the movie-like reuniting I had imagined was more like classic me style: not being able to find something and feeling stressed. Oh well...the great thing was that Sister Time had begun!

Come back tomorrow for more of the adventure!

Thanks for reading!