Wash and Wear

Yesterday I spent over 250 bucks to ship my books back to the states–and those weren’t even all of them. Today I put down 175 to send back random knickknacks, ranging from USB cords to half-finished scarves to paper fans from Kyoto. They should arrive in mid-January.

After much deliberation, I’m giving most of my cardigans and purses to the school so they can “sell” them during their annual Market Day. It will take all my willpower to part with my hot pink handbag. Not that I would ever carry that thing around the land of Uncle Sam, anyway.

I’ve found that a lot of stuff that I bought in Korea would never be worn in the U.S.–long shirt-dresses (over pants!), bright tote bags, sparkly blazers . . . the only thing I can see myself wearing are my silver and green heels, and that’s only if I pair them with something low-key. I was surprised to see my fashion sense shift during my stay here, and even more surprised to see it shift back once I started to pack my suitcases.

So yeah, I’m giving/throwing most of my clothes away.

Monthly tests, monthly syllabuses (those I haven’t started), presents for the kids/teachers, packing . . . and I’m leaving tomorrow.

No sleep.

And this just in: Two bloggers met me, and were understandably underwhelmed. In my defense, I’ve been having bad hair days. That zaps my mojo.

Cute hipster Bonnie Conquest takes me out to Hongdae.

Despair over how beautiful K-boys are with Amanda.

Also, spent Saturday night with the girls in Itaewon. I’ve finally accepted that the ‘won was my hood. Yeah it’s dirty and you come up with all these strange characters. Yet I drank there, I fell asleep in its seedy clubs, I binged on Thai and Indian cuisine, spent way too much money on books and even spent the night at a run-down love motel (cramped next to a condom dispenser!). I’ll remember it fondly, and with a tad of embarrassment.

Tomorrow is my last day. I will only teach the kindergarten classes, and I said farewell to the elementary students today. Received a few gifts (my supervisor told me not to tell the students I was leaving, but a few found out), took photos and exchanged emails. The hours passed by in a haze–I didn’t even tear up. Maybe because I’m so exhausted and have so much more to do by tomorrow afternoon.

Something doesn’t feel right. I have everything sorted out, everything’s scheduled and I’ve said good-bye to all my friends. But something’s wrong, something’s lacking, and I can’t put my finger on it.


Mosaic One

Mosaic One

I’m really getting into Flickr again. I’m supposed to be phone teaching, but all I can do is mess around on it.

After I get back to Cali, I should have a lot more time on my hands. So expect more photos around the holiday season!

Until then, check out my trading card.

I'm so tough.

P.S. I’m taking advantage of the new Sonific widget for WordPress. If you don’t like it, just go to the sidebar, scroll down and hit the pause button. But give the song a chance–it’s fitting for my site right now.

The washer tore the beading off my favorite shirt.

I should have expected this, since it was only 5,000 won (around five American dollars), and this happened to another cute shirt a few months ago. But oh oh oh. So sad.

The fake stones on the front reminded me of the stones my parents would buy us from Monterey.

Sweet blouse, you did me good.

(Yes, that is a Winnie/Tigger sticker on my bathroom wall. And no, I did not put it there.)

Oh yeah, before I forget: Just found a new favorite travel blog, Coconuter. This young Filipino-American left his Ivy League university to get back to his roots–without financial support from his family. He’s living on just three bucks a day. Wow.

I scanned his entire site in two hours, and not only is he a good writer (and, um, easy on the eyes), but he really does the motherland some justice. His articles are really in-depth and he includes tons of photos. Check it out.

Dinner’s On Me

For the first time, I wired money to the U.S.

Bonnie Conquest said it would take only 40 minutes, but I sat at the manager’s desk twiddling my thumbs for an hour. Next time should be faster . . . but I’m closing my account on Friday, so maybe not. Anyway, I sent transferred 8 million won, which is almost 8,600 American dollars. And my boss still needs to pay me for December, not to mention my bonus (which is the equivalent to an extra month’s pay) and Thailand airfare.

I have spare cash in the apartment, hidden in an old pair of granny panties. (What? I. Am. Not. Getting. Laid.) So when I return to California I should have around eleven or twelve thousand in the piggy.

“You’re rich!” my mom exclaimed when I told her.

Not exactly, when you consider how much I made in the past thirteen months. I suck at saving money. And there are my future plans. I remain totally in the dark.

Right now I’m torn between education and social work. If I do go into teaching, it would be for preschool/kindergarten, because those are my favorite classes to teach. Then again, I assume classes in the U.S. are a lot bigger, thus there is more potential for me to lose my cool and get all military on innocent rugrats.

I’m also thinking about social work. Like I said earlier this month, I really want to help kids and the mentally handicapped–but I don’t have any experience with this sort of thing, aside from teaching hyperactive Korean kids.

And, I want to keep practicing yoga. It’s actually my strongest commitment right now, and what makes me the happiest and most grounded. I don’t know if I should follow my instructors’ advice and become a teacher (ask me in five years, or at least wait until I can get into Lotus position), but I’m determined to stick with it. I still want to study it in India or Nepal.

So I have to do some volunteer/nonprofit work, see what suits me best. I have to move to the city, because that’s where most of the opportunities are. I also have to go back to school . . . the good news is that some employers are looking for Korean speakers. So now I have an excuse to take Korean courses! I’m also considering Spanish classes, because this is California. But I’d rather stick with Korean, even if I never string together a decent sentence.

Until then I’ve got some dollars in the drawers. Dinner’s on me . . . when you feel like a combo at Wendy’s. Get yourself an extra side of fries while you’re at it.

A Little Older Now

I had a soft spot for my supposed replacement, Jo, ever since I heard of her. Not only did she have the same name as one of my sisters, but she was the same age too and just out of college. And a vegetarian.

A part of me wanted to hate her, because she was going to take over my kindergarten kids. But as I began writing to her, telling her how much money she would need, what toiletries she wouldn’t have to worry about, the best coffee shops and cute little boutiques, I embraced her like a mother hen. I always enjoy showing the newbies around, buying them dinners, teaching them easy little phrases and escorting them to touristy spots.

Then she dropped out, dashing my dreams of a sunny, bikini-clad bliss in Thailand.

But, oddly enough, I never felt anger towards her. I was disappointed, and I was exhausted, and I was filled with so much longing for warmer pastures, but I couldn’t blame her. The job is demanding. I’ve had breakdowns. And I couldn’t imagine someone my sister’s age with this role, thrust into a country in which she doesn’t know the language and is expected to work ten to thirteen hours a day.

Unfortunately for Jo, the drama didn’t just end when she failed to show up to work eleven days ago. Our director had her passport.

Understandably, Jo emailed me several times about this. I told her to come here and pick it up, or at least send a friend over if she was too embarrassed. It wasn’t like my boss was going to hold her down and force her to work at Wonderland.

Nobody was going to insult her (to her face) or even question her motives. True, everyone was a tad bit resentful, because the school’s winter program had to be canceled. But I think we all understood why she left, and as a whole we’d decided she wasn’t strong enough for the job anyway.

Last Friday she arrived with her agency’s representative, thirty minutes after telling me of her arrival via email. (As you could imagine, my supervisor and director were a bit snippy about this last-minute house call.) During my lunch break I went down to see her, while her rep was speaking to the director. I could see she’d been crying.

“I’m sorry,” she kept saying.

“Relax,” I told her, rubbing her shoulder. “Nobody can keep your passport, and the director isn’t like that, anyway. Can I get you some coffee?”

“No, that’s okay. I’m sorry.”

“Did you find a job?”

“No. I’m going to go home soon.” From the look on her face, I could tell that she hadn’t had the most pleasant time in Korea.

“Can I take you out for dinner? I get off at seven-thirty–”

“No, I’m going home soon.”

She looked so young and traumatized. I just wanted to hug her, but with the director in the next room I knew it would be inappropriate.

After lunch I met with my supervisor, C, to discuss her meeting with Jo.

“She just kept saying ‘I’m sorry,'” C sighed with a little laugh. “‘I’m sorry, I want my passport.’ But is she really sorry? She doesn’t know how she changed our school. Because of her, we had to cancel our new winter classes, and you’re leaving early.”

“Well, she’s only 23 and fresh out of college. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting all these responsibilities.”

“Yes, she’s 23 but she’s an adult too. And she has to have some responsibility.”

“Did she get her passport back?” I asked.

“She’ll get it back. But she needs to pay us for part of your plane ticket to Thailand.”

My airfare (including a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai) was about 650,000 won. “And how much does she have to pay?” I asked warily.

“Two hundred thousand won. She has it easy, but she kept asking if she could get a discount, because she worked here for three days.”

“What?” Shelly exclaimed. “It was her orientation. She was only observing us. She never taught a class!”

“I know. So we said no, she has to pay all of it. And she kept saying that she has no money. So I don’t know about her passport.” She gave an exhausted sigh. “What to do.”

“Two hundred dollars,” I mused after C left. “That isn’t too much. I thought she would have to pay for all of my airfare to Thailand, and the recruiter’s fee that the director paid Jo’s agency.”

“She’s a lucky girl,” Shelly said. “I don’t see why you feel bad for her. She didn’t even give the job a try.”

“Well, Wonderland’s hard. I quit once, remember? I mean, I finished my contract, but only because I felt loyal to C and our co-teachers. And by then I was so invested in Taekwondo, and had friends and liked living here. Jo doesn’t have all of that.”

“You’re a saint. If I was in your position I’d hate her. You keep saying she’s just a kid, but you aren’t much older. You really aren’t mad at her? Even just a little?”

To be honest, I’m more grateful than anything. As much as I wanted to help C and my school, I knew that it was my time to go. Something was holding me back, and the hesitation is still there. But I’m thankful that Jo ditched, forced me to work through December, and made me realize how tired I am, how much I miss my family. And how much I really need to be in California right now.

This job isn’t for everybody. You’ve got to have a steely resolve, something to save up for (or pay off) and a whole lot of support in and out of this country. You have to have the ability to zone everything out when places get too crowded, chill when you can’t read the menu and smile when locals laugh at your attempts with the language. You might not fit in the clothes, you might not like the food, and you’ll probably hate getting bumped and pushed on the sidewalk. You might realize that you aren’t good with kids.

You have to know that, ninety percent of the time, you’re going to be alone. And you must embrace that naked vulnerability with all you’ve got, or you’re going to feel like you have nothing.

I saw a lot of myself in Jo that day. That deer-in-the-headlights stare, the anxiety, the confusion and fear. She was disappointed in herself. It was heartbreaking.

You come here with a mad desire to conquer the entire peninsula, only to have all those romantic expectations topple on your pretty little head. Reality sets in, and you begin to doubt whether or not you can really live here. You begin to doubt if you’ve got the stomach for it all. I’ve been here for a year, and I don’t know how I did it. There were adventures I’ll always remember, people I’ll forever hold in my heart, and strength I didn’t know I had. But I don’t know how I did it. I don’t think I’ll ever know how I held it all together.

An Itch

As if my month couldn’t get crappier, I forgot to call my baby sister on her birthday (December 6th). I’m such a shitty sister, and all I want to do is kick myself in the teeth.

So sorry, Marbs–you know I love you, and I will totally make up for it.


Two hours of yoga, and all I could think about (aside from how I was out of the running for Big Sis of the Year) was whether or not I really wanted to stay here for another twelve months.

Just canceled my interview. Sorry, Bonnie, I know you pulled some strings for me.

Maybe it’s just the weather, or the holiday season, but between stretches and sit-ups all I did was doubt. Sure, I have a routine here, but is it really a life? Can I really put myself through another hagwon? At times it was rewarding, but it was too stressful. I teetered over the edge more than once or twice. (Keep in mind, though, that I am completing a contract for the notorious Wonderland.)

These days I ache for my family.

I haven’t completely written off another year in Korea. But it is a possibility I need to analyze over and over, and I’m going to need more than a month to decide.

Wish Me Good Luck

I have an interview on Saturday. Lordy I’m a bit nervous.

Cali in fifteen days. Besides seeing my family I don’t know what I’ll do in the orchards. Catching up on favorite television shows and comic books, maybe a trip down south (or east). It’s going to be anti-climatic.

When my trip to Thailand was cut off, I was surprised by how broken up I felt, like a knife to my gut. I never felt safe about going there, but I was thrilled with the idea of going somewhere new, the possibility of getting lost, learning a few phrases I’d never use again, popping blisters, squatting over a hole for a piss.

I’m going back to teach in Korea next year, but I’m not sure if teaching is what I really want to do, in the states or abroad. All I know is that I can be really good at it, and there are days when I really dread it. And then there are the kids–my youngest are total sweethearts, but I can’t help but wonder if they’ll turn out like my older lot, who are rather spoiled and just so tired of English.

I enjoy living in Korea, even in the dead of this bitter winter, but I wish I could take a more physical role, one where I didn’t have to think so much. Fourteen months ago I was working at a bank, and my favorite part was hauling boxes of receipts and checks. A few years ago I boxed peaches, and the pay was dirt but it was worth it, just to wipe the sweat from my brow. I’m pretty small-boned but I always enjoy throwing my weight around. It’s my idea of an old-fashioned romance.

At the same time, I really want to go out and help people, people who really need it.

I know it’s time to plunge my roots somewhere and start thinking about a house, a career and, God willing, a family. If I could only be a few years younger, too green and dumb for my own good–