Thursday, August 30, 2012

So, that was an interesting 65 minutes...

Working as a teacher in Korea, I've experienced some fairly crazy things.  Sock racing, not withstanding, I am going with "staff meetings" as the most ridiculous.

If you are a teacher back home, you know the drill: snack, snark, and sharks...wait, now, I was just going with alliteration.  Try again: snacks, snark, and then getting down to the proverbial brass tacks, although I quite prefer push pins over tacks, but that isn't important.  I actually found some of my staff development days enjoyable, but that was usually when I sat with Nancy, and we both recognized that, in situations like that, there will always be too many cooks in the kitchen.

I digress, so, today, there is a staff meeting with some muckity-mucks from the uppity-ups of Busan Metropolitan Office of Education. Usually, I am graciously dismiss, and I can go into the office and nap or claim adult responsibility and do work But, lesbie honest, who does that?

However, today is different.  James, my co-teacher, says, "Maybe, you'll have to stay for the meeting?" Blerk, mmmmkay.  "Do I hafta understand it?"  Evidently, not.  I just have to be there.

If you take out the snacks, snark and sharks of American teacher's meetings, add Korean, a seven page agenda AND be sitting directly port-side of the principal, you have my life. Right now. At this very minute.

Now, I can imagine my mother's face right now, "Kathryn Marie! How can you be writing while you're in a meeting?  At least look like you're paying attention."

Oh, crap, I missed a page turn while my Brain-Mom was berating me.  And, the pop sound a Snapple bottle makes just happened.  From my orange juice. Resounding through the room. I catch the eye of the new guy who smiles at my noisy juice debauchery.  Shoot, I missed another page turn.  These sneaky Korean, flipping pages like it's their job. Like they're stealthy wild cats sent to...flip...pages...quietly?  What? Doesn't matter. I can't even pretend to keep up. Blast it all!

Now, one of the Muckity-Mucks talks  She seems like a lovely woman.  She makes excellent eye contact, but listening to her is like hearing a song.  She has one of the most fluctuating speech patterns I have ever hear. And I watched Gilmore Girls.  She just did the action for an alligator catch in Ultimate -OR- the "Teenage Shark" motion, if you're privvy to the Shark Song.

I think if I had a super power (other than water control), I would like to dabble in voice throwing.  If I could throw my voice to the other side of the room right now, I would probably whistle or play the harmonica and confuse the crap out of the people here.  Miss Kim, if you're reading this, I didn't ever throw my voice.  Not even once.  Mostly, because my only super powers are my humor and wit like a rusty trap.

Ahhhhhh! I make eye contact with the other Muckity-Muck...and nodded! I might have just agreed to sell my soul or bear a child and name Him Buddy Christ.  Although, both of these scenarios seem unlikely. I do not think I would be a good mother to a Messiah.  I have trouble watering my plant.  I probably just agreed to use only the squatty potty for the rest of time. Forever and ever. Amen.

Side note: knuckle/elbow cracking is frowned upon.

Segue. No one is doodling. This seems rather weird. Maybe, doodling isn't a thing here.  I mean, I have never really been much of a doodler myself (mostly, because everything I drew looked like a Georgia O'Keefe painting. Foreshadowing?  Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?). But, let me tell you, during staff meetings in America, I got my doodle on. Abandoning Georgia, I specialized in geometric shapes and color dimensions. Wow, so not the point.  All I am trying to say is everyone is doing a damn good job of pretending to pay attention, or, even more disturbing, actually paying attention.

Oh, crap. I hear my name.  Now, James is talking.  My head swivels, following the back and forth of the speakers.  Every one laughs.  Oh, man.  There is a difference between being completely clueless and knowing someone is talking about  you and still being clueless.  It is times like this, when I try to conjure up Spaceman Spiff and escape to unexplored planets in my super awesome red flying saucer with a bubble canopy.

End of meeting. What. Just. Happened.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

So, this has just been a weird, weird 168 hours.

There were lotsa firsts last week, friends.  I will not bore you with all of them, but I have a few I would certainly love to highlight.

All of last week was a lounging around beach vacation week.  Except on Monday, which was the only day I had planned on going to the beach.  I was supposed to meet up with some friends from out of town, and do some home-grown, good ocean swimming.  Mostly, because I wanted my hair to behave, and it does that after a dip in the salty waters.  But, alas, it was raining.  So, the most decisive crew of which I have ever been a part (said with extreme sarcasm), met up at a coffee shop to figure out what to do. We decided on a Wii Bahng.  Let me tell you what this is, if you're a bit fuzzy. True confession, I didn't know my own self. The only Bahng I have been to here, is a Norebahng (singing room), everything else is this magical unexplained mystery.  And, finally, I got to be a part of it.

We walked into this large, dark room.  On every conceivable wall, there was a HUGE television screen, with these dark pleather couches reclined in front of them.  On every single screen, there were high school boys playing Fifa soccer.  We, the big scary way-gooks that we were, promptly pointed to MarioKart, and they took us to our own screen.  In the way far back, sequestered from all other people. It was probably a good thing they did that, because we were way-gooks, we were loud and generally socially inappropriate for Korea (see any and all times I have been yelled at on the subway).  And, Good Lord, were we loud. Examples:  "Holy Shit, why'd I just get squid inked? Who does that.?"
"Now, now is the time I need that speedy bullet to get me the hell out of 12th place!"
And my most favorite, "Not the hole again! Why, why do I always fall off right at this damn spot."

Our noise level was egregious.  They put us in the back, knowing full well, they would hear us in the front, but resigned to the fact that there was nothing they could do about it.

Tuesday night.  What a trip.  I went to meet some friends in KSU, a way-gook hang out area.  Hell, that's not true.  It's an everyone hang out area, where humanity reeks of gin and bad decisions.  That isn't always the case.  There is also a kebob man, to whom I have several times over professed my undying love and affection if only I could have a lamb kebob.

ANYWAY, so I was in KSU, and my friend suggested darts.  And, I was bad.  That wasn't the weird part.  If anyone has ever played darts with me (with the exception of the one time when I played Beer Darts), knows that I am pretty crappy at them. At this particular dart board, we had to keep our own score.  This was a little weird, although not unheard of.  The ACTUAL weird part was that as I was adding up the scores and tallies, I started to be bad at math.  Now, I have never really enjoyed math, but I was always good at it, or at least competent (unless the problem involved fences and rivers banks and finding the most productive use for the space that could be contained.  My answer was always "tree fort," which generally was not correct).  But, seriously, I would look at the numbers and they would refuse to add in my head.  It was a super strange out of body experience.  I wasn't even drunk!  That is the craziest part.  Frankly, sorry Mom, if you're reading this.  But, I was NOT drunk and still bad at math.  And, I feel like a failed you a little bit.

Moving on.

Wednesday was a day off for everyone, not just me.  It was the South Korean Independence Day. I played some pick up on the beach, and then just waited around for open mic night.  We walked into the club around 11:00 only to hear Jen playing one last song.  I was a bit bummed, because (although she doesn't know this), she is my favorite.  I love, love, love hearing her music.  She is incredible.  Then, a couple of other acts went on, and then a woman whom I had never seen before got up to the keyboard.

Her fingers hit the keys and incredible jazz riffs leaked out of the speakers, slowly at first and then exploded into bright moments of happiness, longing, peace, and unadulterated joy.  I closed my eyes, and just felt the music course through me.  Compartmentalized everything going on in my brain into its neat little box so that I could wholly feel the music. After the first two songs, she said, "Hey, anyone a drummer?  A guitarist? Get on up here.  Blues in C Minor."  After a little cajoling from friends and company, a bassist, drummer and guitarist strode up to the stage.  These people have never before played together. But, they just started wailing.  Each instrument-its own independent part, but together, they made something completely and intangibly phenomenal.  The onlookers  could do nothing but just take in the notes.  There was such a sense of general consciousness that no one has ever experienced this time, this moment but us, and that is something worth having.

Thursday and Friday passed rather uneventfully.  We had our weekly Ladies night, at which my friend Kendall asked me, "Hey, whatcha doin on Saturday?" I had planned to go to the beach and just be lazy, so I obviously said, "Not a whole lot. What's up?"  Then she asked if I wanted to be in a movie.
"Ummmm, yes. Question mark?"
To which she responded, "Awesome, meet me at 7 am in Namcheon."
"Oh, yiiiikes, I am busy that day...aghhh, okay, I will be there." I am a sucker for the stage, errrrrr, film.

So, I wake my butt up at 6 am on a Saturday (not like I had been working all week, but it was a Saturday). And, found my way to Namcheon.  Now, I didn't know exactly where I was going in Namcheon, and I was already 3 minutes late, so I ran amuck like a little ferret trying to figure out where I was supposed to be.  Kendall was on the phone not knowing where I was, and so therefore could not give me proper directions.  Neither of us had had coffee, and we were both grumpy pandas.  Anyway, I figured out where I was supposed to be, and I load up into a van. For three hours. What?  I didn't know that there was a three hour drive involved. Meh, well, I was there, and it was happening, and there really wasn't anything I would do about it. Kendall, Jil and I just girl-talked the whole way and watched youtube videos to help us get into character: missionaries trying to start up a school for the needy children in the Choseon Dynasty. Anyway, so we arrive at the place where they were filming, and we had an hour or so to explore this beautiful village.  Then, we got called to come back to the set. And, Harley, a man so confident in his swagger that he would try to charm a tree, (he would also fail to charm said tree, and anything with Lady Parts, and probably man parts, too.  Brother had no game. That's all all trying to say) handed each of us a dress.

Let me explain something about clothing here.  Korean sizing and Western sizing are two very different animals.  One, is like a mewing little kitten, and the other is like Sarabi from The Lion King. I take one look at the dress, and think to myself, "There is no way in hell that shit's gonna fly." Outloud, I gave a skeptical look, and said, "Maybe, too small?"  But, of course it was all they had.  So, we traipsed to a hut and got changed.  And, it did not fly. My dress zipped about 1/4 of the way up my back, and the shoulders were so tight, I looked like an East German swimmer. The back of my bra was on display in front of God and everyone.

Then, we got our hair and make up done.  And, for the first time in my life, in my ever, I had the longest hair. That got real weird. They floofed it up and pinned it back.  I looked like a real live Martha Washington. Then, we had make up. I needed to look "Put together, but not professional."  I was a missionary of course, chaste and what not. We trekked back to the set, all dolled up in out 19th century garb.  The set people handed us a tray with food on it.

First rule of thumb in life, Know. Thy. Self. Katie + White Dress + any other variable= Disaster.  I told the director, I didn't want to eat because I would spill on my dress. But, he insisted.  True to form, I spilled hoisin sauce on myself, and swiftly stumbled to the water fountain.  I did this with the same amount of grace as a drunken duck-billed platypus, what with the absurdly long-not fully zipped-too tight dress that made me look a little bit like an olde fashioned lady of the evening.  Not very missionary like.

Finally, they called Kendall, Jil and me to the set.  And, we rehearsed our lines, and tried to keep our acts together.  All of our dresses gaped in the back.  We were duct taped into them. And our lines didn't really make sense.  So, after several takes, and about 12 close ups, we finished our taping.

At this point, I would like to say that is was hot. Like, hella hot. And we were filming in this little room with nothing but the light of day. It was stagnant heat. It was like breathing in solidified Jell-o.*  Captain Harley, wooer of white women, told us we were done filming and we could return to our base.  Within seconds, Kendall had changed out of her dress, and I was well on my way.  And Harley said, "Wait, wait. They might need another shot of you."  We all gave him the teacher stare and waited in our half garbed state to see if we needed to stay in costume.  We didn't.

After a long hot day in the sun, in time period sensitive garb, we drove three hours back to Busan, and I have never felt more content to just pull a Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin and do, "Oh, nothing."

*Any and all rights to this metaphor belong to my friend Kathy, who was featured in a post last month.

Monday, August 13, 2012

So, my mother is kifing my blog for this one

I have tried to write an account of how beautiful and amazing my week with my family has been.  However, I am prideful and verbose and far too in love with my own language that the words that tumbled from me became too convoluted and complex.  But, my mother, with her ability to balance logic and emotion, reflected on the week.  It is far better than anything I could write about it. So, from this point forward, you will read the wonderful words of my wonderful mother.


I desire to describe the sights and sounds of a world thousands of miles away, yet  is now called home by my baby girl.  I will try to gather the moments to savor them, but fear the memories too beautiful to capture.

My scrapbook of memories begins the first day with visiting Katie’s class, and the joy as her students laughed at our jumbled greetings in Korean, described their school days, shared places we should visit and taught us how to play Kawi Bawi bo (rock, paper, scissors on steriods).  Katie is so blessed in her school with teachers/staff that have helped and befriended her.  Our family was so grateful for the many acts of kindness and friendship shown to us by her fellow teachers. 
Nature abounded as we hiked one of Katie’s favorite mountain paths, complete with a rock outcropping perfect for pondering life as we drank in the beauty of the crashing waves below.  Or as we hiked the path of Oedo Botanical garden, I was sure only God can paint in such vivid and gorgeous colors and patterns.  Or as we took in four different beaches, each with its own atmosphere and beauty.  Or as my son in law Brian scooped up a fish that escaped its tank at Jagalchi Fish Market to the applause of the locals.  Scenes we thought only came about by special lighting and photography for shows like National Geographic or Planet Earth, but we reveled in these times and places.

We were honored to learn more about this proud country as we wandered through palaces, temples, museums and burial grounds.  Lotus lanterns symbolizing the hopes and prayers of so many, bigger than life carved statues guarding temple gates, stern faces of the palace guards as they march a ceremony that spans hundreds of years, treasured pagodas and our sheepishness as we realize the pagodas we had been searching were statues and not buildings!

Now, a moment about the food!  Sarah and Brian were ready to gallop through new food experiences, while I with a more cloistered food palette braced myself for eating a lot of rice if need be.  We turned the week into a much enjoyed  international adventure of seafood, Japanese noodles, Korean barbecue (twice!), Indian curry, Vietnamese spring rolls and Pho, Korean fish dinner, seven course temple meal, and a beautiful fait accompli with our last meal being at the only Tibetian restaurant in South Korea. 

How can this tale be complete without describing the people?   The cab driver eager to show us the beauty of his island and picture of his son, the restaurant ladies who kept bringing us food while waiting for take-out (although they were enjoying and laughing at my chopstick mishaps), the teen at the beach eager to speak in English, the hal ahbuji (grandpa or elder) on the subway so excited to visit with us (and called me handsome), the holiness of the monk chanting prayer  at Yonggung-sa, the pleasure and smile of the airport security guard as I said kam seumnida (thank you) for the last time.

Finally, we met so many of Katie’s friends, both Westerner and Korean.  We laughed about being 10,000 miles from home and still can’t walk down the street without Katie running into friends!  We were so blessed with the many gestures of kindness and friendship, and the times of sharing meals, drinks, desserts, games, songs, walks, touring, and visiting.  Suffice it to say I loved meeting you all. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the festival

I know, I know, I know! It has been too long, my friends. After three weeks of desk warming, I actually had a job I needed to do. Right? The audacity!

Anyway, so July 14, I headed to the annual Boryeong Mud Festival. Evidently, this is like college 'spring break' where a bunch of young people come to party and run around and be reckless.

So, on Saturday morning 8:00 am, my friend Sandra and I arrived at the proper subway stop to meet our bus. As we're checking in, my Bus Mama (the ringleader of the motley crew of Boryeong Bus Number 1), offered me a beer.

Now, I am from Wisconsin. Drinking early is not usually a big deal, but it was 8 am. We only drink that early on public holidays like St. Patrick's day, the Fourth of July, and Packer Sundays. So, I declined. But Sandra, a rocking woman from limerick Ireland, said, 'Well, might as well put it in my bag.' Always thinking ahead, that one. Maybe someday I will be as cool as her.  Likely as not, though.

Anyway, so we plus Tegan, whom we picked up on the way to forage for breakfast, wandered onto our bus into the seats my friends Daisy Maize and Jessica saved for us.

Five people, two seats per row, meant one unlucky Tegan. At 8:34, Cooper climbed on the bus with his back pack and cooler and shouted Sprrrrrrrrring Breeeaaaaaaaaak! Sadly, the only seat left was next to Tegan, right behind me. Now, I love this guy, I really do, but those of you who have seen me at 8 am know to proceed with caution, because I might kick you in the shins until they bleed.

So, being trapped in a very small bus with an ever more inebriated Cooper, got a little tiring. Sandra and I hung out and enjoyed the scenic four hour drive through the Korean mountains.

As we arrived to Boryeong, several on the bus were already tanked, and I was just stoked to be out of that place. It was like being so ju hot boxed. Rather unpleasant.

We checked into our hostel, and changed into our swim suits. We followed the way-gooks and smell of fun down towards the ocean. Finally, we arrived at the Mud Mecca. Being formerly nicknamed, 'Mudbucket,' I felt right where I needed to be. We literally painted mud onto our bodies. Strangers came up with muddy hands and painted our bodies for us.One thing I have learned in this country is that physical contact holds so many different connotations than it does in America. People. Will. Touch. You. Get over it.

We bought, swindled, and found wristbands to allow us into the bouncy rides. We waited in a giant line for  a big bouncy slide. It was obvious that this line was super boring. So, we decide to spice it up. Of course, Tegan brought an elephant back pack water gun. So, we decided to sneakily shoot unexpecting bystanders, then look around for the culprit. Our maturity level was maybe that of a 13 year old boy.

So, as the day progressed, we did things like forget to eat, while also lightly imbibing. We didn't really realize how hungry we were because we were having too much fun. Then, we meandered down to the beach to clean off our muddy selves.

On our way to the beach, we found a giant gaggle of way gooks around a beach DJ. Obviously, the only course of action was to dance through the crowd. As we were bustin' our moves, all of a sudden, mud water came flying out of these huge cannons. Mud and rain and debris fell on us, and all we did was lift our arms to the heavens and let it rain.

It was such an amazing experience being surrounded by foreigners, Koreans, mud and joy. The moment in which freedom becomes tangible allows nothing but that time and space to matter.