Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Remaining Rainy Days

It's pouring. Yesterday was typhooning. But today is just the rainy season, which is apparently a little different from monsoon season. I still haven't learnined the exact difference.

She was standing in one of the double-glass doorways --not in the usual uniform but orange oversized t-shirt and the school plaid skirt. They think the shirts can only fit dolls or students when they first enter high school. She's a second year.

My head cocked to the side, mirroring hers as I watched her feel the rain's wind and perhaps think about the class she was skipping. As I was about to walk on, she turned, gave her shy shrug and "hi." Her voice is so cute, but I have always wondered whether she makes it that way, that's really how it comes out, or perhaps it has become naturally hers. They have so many voices; they're not schizophrenic, but there's a voice for "Hi, Teacher. I love you, please give me candy, " and "Teacher! Why no movie!!"

We exchanged whys and whats. I write this because I remember when she was a first year and the crew she sat with. The four of them scared me at first --the bigger girls in the class, and though it seemed they banded together just cuz they were tougher, perhaps it was the social momentum and mechanics of a homeroom classroom mixed with puberty and the pressures of conformity. They wanted to do work, but never really did. They're all separated into different homerooms now and are some of my best --at least sweetest and most attentive-- in their respective classrooms.

They call me clever for remembering their past homerooms and all the names, but who can forget? Especially when they change so much, mature in just a few months, become so sweet as they grow more comfortable. Of course I will try to remember those things.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The New Homestay Dog

It's probably not too fair to write too much about my homestay family, but I have no problems writing about the big white rat they call Tenny, their maltese.

Sure...at times his face may be cute, but I don't care much for him when I am forced to give him the last bite of my fudgesical.

Everyone knows the last bite of a fudgesical or anything chocolate, yummy, or desert is the best bite. Apparently my host-mother is not aware of this. Or maybe she is, but thinks the dog is more deserving.

We are all sitting on the couch. Everyone has enjoyed their ice cream (the host siblings, the mom, or I will take turns bringing a bag of six bars home) and I am the last to finish mine.

Host Mom: "Jackie-ya~~ when you're almost done, don't finish it. Just give it to me so I can give it to Tenny, ok?"

Me: (mortified and scrounging my brain for an answer)"Ummm...well, chocolate is actually very bad for dogs."

HM: "Really? Well, he eats chocolate so well all the time!"

Host Sister: "It's true, mom. They will die early."

HM: (with lots of dramatics and flailing of the head and arms) "Oh no! Our Tenny can not die early or I will just die myself! No, no, no! Don't give him any!"

Me...very happy and satisfied, secretly thanking God for my host sister, kept on eating my fudgesical.

My guard was down, it was the last bite, my mouth was going for last bit of dripping, cool, cholatey-ness and a hand comes SWOOPING in on my stick and next thing I know, the dog-size rat is licking up the chocolate and chomping on the wood.

A very good example of the strange dynamics in the house. Take it for what you will. Ok, so it wasn't as much about the dog, but there isn't much to be said for a dog that hits you to remind you to feed him. I don't feed him table scraps except for when I can no longer take the whining from the rat-dog's mom, "Te~~nny~! Is Ja~~ckie being mean to you? She's not feeding you fo~~od?" Yeah...and he growls at me when I come in the door and then sits on my lap when no one's home. I think he knows I see through his tricks and that I think he's just white stuff compared to our yorkies at home!!

Tenny the Maltese, my nemesis...his silent begging brings on the whining that will eventually drive me out of the house.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Worldcup Nationalism, er, Fever

Kristofer mentioned the other day, "Damn, the Koreans are the loudest fans!"

That was in reference to the World Cup games. If you've been watching any maybe you noticed the the red T-shirts, cymbol-like instruments, and constant cheer of "Dae~~ Han Min Kook!!" clap-clap, clap-clap, clap (always only 5 claps). A few songs are usually thrown in, too.

Today some of my co-teachers asked what I thought about the over one million people gathering in front of City Hall in Seoul (the picture beside) as well as the other additional 6 million Korean fans across the globe. I haven't actually thought about it too much. Said it was interesting, and perhaps borderline scary.
Man with a "sogo" (hand held drum)

Not actually scary, just...perhaps borderline. I mostly see it as the school spirit our colleges would love for us to have, but it's completely different because this is motivated by nationalism.

Ok, well, I don't think the gatherings mean Korea is on the verge of blind, fanatic, devotion worthy of backing any dictator...unless that dictator would turn out to be Park Ji Sung. That's not to be worried about since he'll be returning back to Manchester when this business is over. Besides, until last night when he tied --and saved every Korean fans' heart from cardiac arrest-- the score with France, Koreans were beginning to forget their golden, "Three-lunged" boy. Anyway, the million people gatherings of devils in short skirts and red painted families have become a tourist attraction for 3,000 (or some large number beginning with 3, I can to higher numbers in Korean) tourists from South East Asia.

Waiting for the City Hall party to begin

Still, I doubt there is a World Cup movement like this in any other country or for any other team, and that is because of the nationalism feeding and binding the Korean fan base.

I attribute it to the (fairly) homogenous culture. Before I came, I didn't think I would be saying that, but it's partly true. Please show me another country in which all its people speak the same language and dialect, minus some minor differences in accents and slang; share the same cultural/indigenous music; and know the same historical songs which are adapted for chanting and cheers. The pop culture is also uniform throughout this small country (which is about 2/3 the size of New York State).

Go Red Devils

My co-teacher also wanted me to keep in mind that Korea is not used to such large-scale, world-wide success and luck. For Koreans, their name is doing doing its job: Dae Han Min Kook translates into "Big Country of Han People". Or as my co-teacher extrapolated for me, it's a small country with a big name so that it may be a Big Country. Doing so well in the world's sport is a manifestation of Korea's somang --hope.

**pictures taken from Han Kyeo Rae newspaper online from their "World Cup Cafe"

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Strike Two

A bubbly voice.

"Well, I can't come to tha phone right now, so leave a message, k??!"

That's what I got when I tried to call the second number I searched on the internet for in hopes of finding the long lost sister.

Everyone knows I have two sisters and a brother. There is also another sister and brother I never mention because they are my father's kids who have pretty much written me off and have never been around for me. So why give them the same titles I give to my other siblings who have put a lot of work into me. hmmm...

Anyway, this sister has helped in the past, but marginally. Thing is, we haven't been in touch for almost 6 or 7 years, and she probably knows where my aunts in Korea are and at least my father's birthplace.

In Korea, apparently if you know someone's birthplace and name, you can find them and they're family. This is a wonder to me since my family is so mysterious and our history seems to continue to alude us kids (my other brother and sisters have their own inquiries about our family history).

So...yes, Strike One was when I tracked down my "sister's" old pastor in Bedford, Massachusetts to ask him for my sister's phone number. That number was disconnected. Then through google phone search I found another person of the same name in a nearby area...but then I got the bubbly girl voice.

So...39 days left in Korea and still no actual "blood family."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Visa, Vomit, and Family Search

Back in Seoul getting my visa for Brazil--woo! I'm in the small common room of the Hostel Korea, coughing like I've been smoking for 40 years. This cold has been doggin me. Last Sunday night (not the other day but a week ago) I was throwing up at my friend's house and then at my homestay because I think because my host mother overfed me. Gosh...I sound like a goldfish (hahaha, Kristofer calls me a goldfish cuz my memory is so bad). Then for a few nights I couldn't sleep because of bad gas (how embarassing) and another few nights I stayed up battling with this one mosquito in my room. We tried fumugating my room, but he survived and one night I had to leave the lights on and I caught him! haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

But now...I'm weezing and coughing. It's strange. My body is never usually this weak. Please pray for me.

Also keep your fingers crossed that I find my family. I came here with the goal of finding my father's sisters. I just finally started trying harder. But first I have to track down my half sister who I have not spoken to in about 7 years. In order to find her I had to hunt down her old pastor in MA. This is turning out to be quite the saga. Like the good pastor he is, he emailed me with her address and number in Portland, Oregon and....tomorrow I will give her a call. We never had a good relationship so me showing up again after 7 years asking for a favor may not go well...but who knows. She's the only easy link I have to finding my aunts (because as you all know, my parents have passed away....people still ask about them!!). I'm this close from going on one of the many reunion shows on Korean television...

Anyway, we'll see if she's still at that address and what she says. I now have 7 weeks left. Will I see my cousin Gokji again? I remember the last time I saw her, I screamed at her for using a palmful of my Noxema facewash in one washing --it was American and hard to get. Oh Gokji, will you forgive me? I promise you can hold hands with me this time (back then, being the little American brat that I was, I didn't understand the concept of friends of the same sex holding hands affectionately, but it's so common here and in many places of the world other than the U.S.), and you can even eat my facewash if you like (it's made from honey!). (^_^)

keep 'em crossed...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Field Day

Also referred to as Sports Day. I think this usually only happens in elementary and maybe middle schools in the States. Here it's pretty common in high schools because lots of schools don't have sports programs like the ones in the states.

Still...it was so fun. Here are just a fraction of what I took...

Team Spirit

Angels' Team Spirit

Tugging hard

Having Fun

Hi, Teacher!

Behind the scenes: preparing drinks and snacks for teachers.

Team Propaganda: "We will not shrink in front of strong men."

Hula Hooping



Everyone's bag lunch

Highlight of the festivities: The Relay
My students are so beautiful!!!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sunday Afternoon

I’m bad at using free time because I never have it and maybe I never have it because I just don’t know how to use it well. Today when I should have been making worksheets for my lessons this week, I went on a walk to the bus to the other side of town to pick up the necessaries for this blog and many more to come.

On my way, there were the usual street markets, street food vendors, and kids running everywhere.

Street food: Boiled eggs, imitation fish cake on a stick, spicy sticky rice cakes, and a skinny limpy hot dog slinking over to the edge of the stand

Then as I turned the corner of the post office I almost walked all over these guys playing Korean chess,

The models

I actually took this picture on my way back from Electronic Land 21 (where I picked up the cable to connect the digital camera to the computer, a memory stick, and an ethernet cord), which was an hour and a half later. They were still there so I asked to take a picture. The guy on the very right of the first picture was running a vegetable stand and said I’d have to pay 5,000 won (approx $5) per model. "That's all?" I said, then I took the picture and was on my way.

After I left it occurred to me, they were more than willing to chat with me. Most people in Korea are –especially old dudes who are just chilling out on a warm Sunday afternoon. This weekend when Becky and I went to Daeheungsa lots of harabeojis (“grandpas” or if you speak Spanish, a better equivalent is abuelitos) asked us questions and tried to get us to sit on a bench and chat. One lady couldn’t get over the fact at how Becky and I were the same height, and thus had to be sisters.

So then why did I leave and not talk to the chess players? After I left them I replayed what could have happened.

What are you playing?
What do you mean what are we playing?
Well I’m from America, I’m not too familiar.
Yeah! America? No wonder you talk funny. hahahaha….

There would be more talking, and they’d of course give me a picture and I’d have a better story for my picture. Now I’m not just looking for a cool story, but I’m realizing that there’s more potential for taking pictures than just recording my movements and sights. The pictures could be more meaningful to ya’ll who read this and look on. If I would just not be shy and take the time –which could be as little as just a couple minutes—to connect with the people I take a picture of instead of just creepily snatching their picture and running. Even though I asked the second time around and didn’t just snap and run (like the first one, which is why it’s so far away), I still could have spoken to them, like the little scene I just hypothesized. I think that would be more lasting, valuable, and just simply less objectifying. I can’t help but feel like that fetishizing, Western eye catching a very novel, sweet picture of the old men.

Taking the time to talk with the people I take pictures of would also probably also fulfill my need to connect with this world. Like I said, I’m so bad with my free time these days. I usually am, but lately I’m restless and a little lonely. Kristofer left on Sunday and I suddenly had so much free time from work. Free time! My dream fulfilled, but….now what do I do? So instead of just wondering, writing in my journal, and looking out my window, I grabbed my camera and off I went –and you can just see how great that was for my heart and brain. Why be shy? Why be afraid? So what I whore out my cultural difference, I am different, people all are different, when are we going to use it to talk instead of just view, observe, and judge each other?

So that’s my new mission as I fill the restlessness and make something new of my last two months.

Coincidence of Celebrations

At the Haenam Bus Station waiting to go to Daeheunsa Temple.

Children’s Day just happened to be on Buddha’s Birthday, which happened to be on a Friday, which also is the same weekend as Parent’s Day, during a month full of festivals: the Butterfly Festival, Boseong Green Tea Festival, Jindo Island Festival, and countless others.

That’s what this mystery person/traveler’s angels/another Korean (Korean American? maybe she’d identify that way, I would identify her that way) said to my friend and I at the Daheungsa Temple tea gift shop on Friday, Children’s Day/Buddha’s Birthday.

She noticed us because Becky and I had unknowingly, but very quietly and politely, crashed a gathering of “Who’s Who” of tea at the Il Chi Am monk hermitage near Daeheungsa. It just so happened, lucky for me and Becky, that not even half the same turnout appeared at Daeheungsa, which is probably how the woman was able to pick us out.

I call her one of those angels traveling brings your way because just as she said, there were just so many coincidences this festival weekend, and also because she just happened to have embodied, experienced, mentioned, or encouraged so many things Becky and I talked about that afternoon on our sweaty hike before we met her; thoughts that I had been brooding about lately: the Korean educational system, Korean history and resistance, my future plans which may possibly include dance therapy.

The woman spoke English and grabbed our attention, "You were at the hermitage, right?" She then dropped a bunch of knowledge on the importance of the temple we were at and its significance in the revival of tea and tea ceremony in Korea. Tea ceremony, which is a large part of Buddhism, was wiped out when Confucianism came during the Joseon dynasty. Since tea ceremony –a part of Buddhism—was also such a natural part of all daily rituals in the government and home, abolishing it was a way to ensure Buddhism would be wiped out as well.

She continued on about the rich history of our southern region of Korea, naming places in north Jeolla-do –Jinan and Mai Mountain—as places rich in beauty, legends, and Korean spirit. Just the stuff that I am always searching for and finding here in southern Korea. Most people from Seoul that I meet or talk to my friends, hate on this area –maybe much like how us Yankees in the north write-off the Deep South and all their red states. A lot of people from Seoul seem to hate the accent down here, call the people gangsters, and the only credit they give is the “supposedly good food.” There’s no supposing, the food is excellent, and though people are in some ways tough, they’re always friendly and chatty. As the woman explained, Jeolla-do was historically an agricultral heaven and an important governmental center, I am guessing in the Paekjae dynasty. But as what happens through war and petty politics, this region was left out of its share of resources and development once the Shilla dynasty took over. That extended into modern history as presidents came from the Eastern side of the country. It wasn't until Kim Dae Jung --native to Jeollanam-do and lovingly referred to as "DJ"-- became president. So, if you’re region of the country was neglected resources and development because of corrupt, petty politics, you’d probably be tough, too. I’m sure the history of resistance in this area doesn’t please many conservative folks up north, either. Gwangju City, one hour north of Mokpo, is where the Gwanju Uprising happened, when hundreds of student activists and citizens were massacred for their movement of democracy and conscience against the Park Chung Hee dictatorship in the early 80s.

Anyway, the woman, or Ms. Kim (I’d like to keep her as anonymous as possible) mentioned she had done demonstrations when she was young, studied public policy and danced in college (ha! like me!), taught multicultural education, and was now traveling doing photography and tea. It was vague, but the key is she liked connecting people.

It just confirmed for me that it doesn’t have to just be a dream that Kristofer and I pursue our loves for travel, coffee, and building coalitions between people. When I heard about the many places she had traveled to in search of real tea (artesian, hand-made, gourmet, not sure on the correct term), she had been to so many little-known places where many indigenous populations are forgotten by their governments and the larger country’s psyche. These are places Hilary has been going to, and that Kristofer and I seek out even in the more developed countries. It confirmed for me that I should go for dance therapy. Why not? Sustainable dance needs to remain in my life, and what better way for it to be than in this form, which physically, emotionally, and mentally connects with other people?

Oh…there’s so much to write. Because I realized Ms. Kim wasn’t an angel. She was just another person who had a rich history she knew and was pursuing what she loved, which is something I hope for all people to possess. So in conjunction with our traveling beans blog, Universal Truth #13: angels and miracles still come in the form of people and coincidences.

*I'd love to put the pictures into a much more aesthetically pleasing layout, but they took forever to upload and I am not going through that again. Hopefully they will be interesting anyway. Enjoy.

Dressed in Holiday best.

Waiting for the Daeheunsa bus.

Are we there yet?

A seat on the crowded bus.

Streetside snacks.

Who's on guard?

Always time for food.

Mountain water.

Family time.

Lanterns and greenery.

A moment.

At the Il Chi Am hermitage.

Preparing lunch.

Leftover tea ceremony.

Lanterns and woods.

Becky spotted something.


The baby's awake.


Back to lunch.