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Archive for August, 2006

I’m Headin’ On Home

I’m leaving Wonderland at the end of November.

My supervisor, C, asked if I would consider riding it out with her until March, which is when the kindergarten kids graduate. I was seriously considering it–but my family wants me to spend Christmas with them. And when I say “spend,” I mean more than the five vacation days the school gives me in the winter.

I’m feeling guilty. Maybe the Korean mindset has gotten to me, but when your employer (especially one who has been understanding, as flexible as professionally possible, and like family) asks you to do something, you do it. C has gone out of her way to accommodate me, like reserving airline tickets, finding Taekwondo and yoga schools, acting as an interpreter for The Instructor and me and rewriting Wonderland’s “preparation” requirements to make my work easier.

At the same time, I am feeling lonesome for my family, my old friends and my hometown.

This weekend I have to start looking for a new job. I plan to work in Korea for another year. (Not two, because I’d like to work towards attending graduate school, and I have lots of catching up to do.) I’m still leaning towards Busan, because I can’t imagine spending another winter in the north.

Added bonus: M and her husband Y (otherwise known as my Korean parents, or my Samoan mommy and Nigerian daddy) are planning on heading down south too.

***

As mentioned earlier this week, EmperorCharon was generous enough to buy me a Flickr Pro account. I have to repay him with my firstborn, but it’s totally worth it.

I uploaded about twenty “Japan” photos on Monday, and I think that’s a good average for every week, since I do tamper with the shots a bit and would like to get to bed at a decent hour. These first were taken during my first two days in Kyoto, Japan–and those aren’t even all the pictures from that day! I took about 1,800 shots in eight days, so posting the nice ones on Flickr might take a while.

Taken at Ginkakuji Temple.

Next week I’ll post the photos of one of my highlights in the city–The Path of Philosophy.

***

I’m seriously in love with my Yoga/Pilates class right now. I just feel much more, uh, capable after each class. I signed up to take five classes a week, and my flexibility has improved a great deal. Although my hips are way too tight, but I read that’s common amongst runners. I’m working on it.

And while I hate to brag, I’m a superstar with the balancing poses. The only downside is that I’m extremely competitive–especially when there are men in the class. I feel like I’m getting too ambitious and may overdo it, but yoga isn’t too strenuous. You just have to have patience and know your body well.

I’m still interested in doing a yoga retreat in India. I checked Lonely Planet’s guidebook on the country, and there are loads of schools–now all I have to do is find the right one. Scheduling will be a bit of a problem, since my school vacations fall in the summer and winter, and supposedly the “ideal” time to visit is in the spring or fall.

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Birthday Cake

My Birthday Cake! Hurrah!On Thursday my coworkers bought me cake.

We were decorating the school for the monthly activity event, so we didn’t get to celebrate that night. We had five minutes to pose for pictures and sing.

The lights went out, and I was left staring into the candles.

“You blew the candles fast,” C told me after I began to slice the cake. “What do you wish for?”

***

Two nights later I was celebrating my 25th birthday at an Italian restaurant. I was surrounded by my three dearest friends, their boyfriends, a co-teacher I could barely stand and her adorable son, and two admirers.

I tried to chat and entertain everyone, but I went out of my way to avoid T, who sat to my right. I didn’t know why I invited him. I suppose I wanted The Instructor to be at my side so badly, and any guy would do.

When he wasn’t looking, I stole a glance. Attractive, true–but in the cocky way I could barely tolerate. He dressed and carried himself off like he was from SoCal (he wasn’t), and for some reason that bothered me the most. After he professed his loyalty to the Lakers, though, I sat back and relaxed. Surely I would not fall to the charms of a Kobe fan.

He caught me staring and smiled. I swung my eyes in the opposite direction and frowned. He responded by buying me a drink. As I checked my cellphone for messages, he noticed the DVDs in my tote bag.

“You bought The Lover,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I said with a little laugh, embarrassed by how corny it sounded.

“I love that movie. Jane March was so intense as a fifteen-year-old.”

“I guess. I bought it for three bucks today.”

“You were here early, weren’t you? What did you do in Gwangwhamun?”

“I went to a cafe and read “Love In The Time of . . .”

“Cholera?”

“Yeah. You’ve read it?”

“Yeah. I enjoyed it.”

I sat up and leaned forward. “Have you read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?”

“Not yet.”

“You should. It’s easier to get into. I tried to read One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it was too far out there.”

“Yeah, but I think the best books are like the best actors. A little eccentric.”

I sunk back in my seat. How pretentious! Pushing my plate back, I drawled, “I ate before coming here, and now I’m full. You can have my pasta.”

He’d already finished a whole pasta dinner, and I still had a half of it left. Truth be told, I was still hungry. But I wanted him to get sick.

We locked eyes, and I smirked a little, nodding at my dish, which weighed the same as a liter of water. Finally he shrugged and took my bowl.

“You never told me if you were still engaged to that naval officer,” he said after he finished, holding his stomach and wincing a little.

“One, he was a computer programmer. Two, I was never engaged. I only told you I was seeing someone to spare your feelings after I left you waiting in the bathroom on New Year’s.”

D, who’d been chatting with her boyfriend, threw me a disgusted glance.

T laughed, and I colored. “I must be more drunk than I thought,” I mumbled.

After we left, half the group had to catch the train back home. “Be easy on the poor guy,” M said after she pulled me aside. “Even after you ditched him on New Year’s, he still likes you. And you’ve been a righteous little bitch, to everyone, for the past few weeks.”

I hugged her tight. “I’m sorry, M. I just–”

“I know, darling. But you have to put all that behind you. You only turn 25 once! Just have fun . . . Try not to think so much.”

After they left he offered to carry my cake. I let him carry my tote bag instead.

“You aren’t worried I’ll run off with your money?” he teased.

“Cake is more important,” I said softly, hugging it to my chest. “It’s very sweet.”

As we walked to an ice cream shop, he said, “I wanted to apologize to you in person.”

“You? What for?”

“For ditching you and Z that night. I really wanted to eat breakfast at Gecko’s with you.”

“It wasn’t a big deal.”

“I didn’t sleep with her, you know. She kissed me at her apartment, but then it was really awkward, so I left.”

“You idiot. She was cute.”

“Believe me, I know.”

I shrugged. “Well, cute but not that pretty, really. Her accent made up for it. I guess I should apologize, for calling you a slut. I’m sorry. I guess.”

He nudged me with his elbow. “Let me buy you an ice cream and we’ll be even. They’ll sing and dance when you tell them it’s your birthday . . .”

***

I didn’t want to intrude on D and her boyfriend, so we slept at Z’s place that night. Z offered his bed, but I dragged a sleeping bag on the floor. “I’m more comfortable like this, really,” I insisted when T laid down across the sofa next to me.

“Did you have a good time?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, and it was the truth. It was, for the most part, a drama-free birthday. It had been rather nice talking to him–we have more in common than I’d suspected. We want to be writers (although I didn’t tell him that), think the Killers are awesome but way too overplayed, believe exercise is essential for the mind and want to travel through all seven continents.

I felt myself warming up a little.

Then, in the dark, he said, “Pia, did you date anyone here?”

“No.”

“That’s a surprise.”

“Then why did you ask?”

“You just look a little . . . uh, sorry . . . lovesick.”

I chuckled, careful not to wake Z up. “No, I haven’t dated here.”

“And you seem different. Do you still want to convert to Buddhism?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seriously thought about it for a while.”

“You seemed really happy about it when I met you. And how are your Taekwondo lessons?”

“I gave him up. Uhhhhhh, it. I gave it up.”

“Why?”

“Because I just had to,” I said through my teeth. I nudged his knee with my foot. “Anyway, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m way stronger than I look.”

Sniggering, he asked, “How tall are you?”

“Tall enough to kick your ass.”

“Just tell me this: Was he Canadian? American? The guy you fell for?”

“You mean, my fake naval officer-computer programmer-boyfriend?”

He laughed softly. “The guy you’re in love with.”

I rolled over, turning my back to him. “I have to wake up early.”

“Korean? Hey, Pia,” he whispered, reaching over and pushing the back of my head. “Was he Korean?”

I buried my head under my blankets and feigned sleep.

He shoved me one more time before giving up. “Happy twenty-fifth,” he said.

***

“You wished for him, didn’t you?” M had asked me on Thursday night. We’d had a drink at a little pub near our apartment, and I was gazing up at the sky, holding on to her for support.

“No. I wish I could speak Korean.”

“You know enough to get along.”

We sat at a bus stop to rest our feet for a moment. She pulled me close and I rested my head on her shoulder.

“I put my gold shoes away,” I murmured as the sound of frogs and insects enveloped us. “You know, those ballet flats I used to wear all the time. He loved those . . . every time he saw them, his eyes would light up.

“‘Pia!'” I laughed, lowering my voice, “‘Shoes! Pretty!’ And he would give them two thumbs up. That always made me laugh. Like, I couldn’t understand why these shoes were so amazing. And then I wore them so often, the paint came off, and now they’re this shitty brown . . . but even as they faded, I wore them for my classes everyday, just to see him smile.

“And now I can’t wear them anymore. I’ll probably throw them away with tomorrow’s trash.”

“Just give them away,” M said.

I swung my legs back and forth. “I need to give myself away.”

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Bow To The Emperor!

A belated thanks to Kevin, aka EmperorCharon, for buying me a Flickr Pro account for my birthday! This is definitely one of my favorite presents by far.

You can check out Kevin’s own Flickr account here. His online comic is also a must-see.

Now I can upload all my Japan pictures without worrying about a limit!

Again, Kevin, thank you very very very much.

P.S. Twenty-five photos from my Japan trip are up! You can access them by clicking on the Flickr link in the sidebar.

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You don’t have to go all the way to Seoul or hike in the mountains to get giddy with your camera.

While I was taking a walk one hot Saturday morning, I came upon a sign for a Buddhist temple. Although I’m keen on learning more about this religion, I had never visited any shrines or temples in my city, so I decided to look around.

It wasn’t much–pretty much the equivalent of a market, adorned with last season’s Buddha’s Birthday lanterns. But there were all these beautiful flowers. I went crazy with macro.

I usually don’t like to spend that much time in my town, because it really isn’t that interesting. We don’t even have a coffeehouse! (And yes, I know how “ugly American” that sounds.) So all these plants were a pleasant surprise.

Click the picture above for more flower power on Flickr.

***

Hmm, other stuff I’ve been up to:

1) Yoga is kicking my ass. Even with my athletic background and past yoga classes, my itsy-bitsy, beautiful (seriously, she looks like a cross between Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh) instructor challenges me. I don’t hurt anywhere, thank God, but she leaves me curious about the next lesson.

2) I’m addicted to last year’s popular Korean television drama, My Name is Kim Sam Soon. I originally started watching episodes to see Hyun Bin, but this show is so tasty. I stayed up til one in the morning last night to see watch more, and you should too.

I can’t do the show any justice. Do yourself a favor and at least watch the first ten minutes of Episode One on YouTube. Look, there are even subtitles!

3) I’m downloading a lot of empowering, “I’m gonna get through beat this heartache into the dirt” songs on LimeWire. Admittedly, some sappy love ballads too. Enough disco and country to kill a baby elephant.

Obviously, I need to get away from the computer as soon as possible.

***

I can’t believe I’m turning 25 on Thursday.

I feel like I’ve aged quite a bit here in Korea–for better or for worse, I don’t know. But in spite of the disappointment and heartache I’ve shouldered these past few days, I feel like I’ve made more accomplishments in this tiny country than I have in my previous 24 years.

I wonder what I’ll be like at age 50 . . . Most important, I wonder where I’ll be.

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Love on the fingertips

While I was visiting an orchard on a field trip, a mother of one of my students collected these flower petals and leaves for me.

The Koreans believe that if you dye your fingernails with these petals, you will receive your true love when the snow first hits the ground.

Because of the language barrier, I don’t know exactly how to do this, but here’s what I remember: Grind the petals in a bowl with a chemical (forgot what it is, but you can get it at a drugstore). Paint your nails with the mixture and wrap your fingernails in the leaves. Wait for a few hours, and when you take the leaves off, your nails should be either a bright orange or pink.

I’ll correct my instructions once I learn more.

(Christ. Even my students’ parents want me to get some.)

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I’ve subscribed to a few artists’ sites, but after seeing the latest art on Dex Mission’s blog, I feel like I’d be doing you guys a great disservice by not sending you in his direction.

Reminds me of when I lived in the motherland. I know my parents and Jo will especially like Dex’s writing that accompanies this particular piece.

***

Also had to respond to this siren call from The Hottest Jew In Cyberspace. I know it’s been a while since you posted this survey, Mr. Long, but I’m on Filipino time, and we’re always late.

Four jobs I have had in my life:
1. Sandwich maker
2. Orchard worker
3. Editorial Assistant
4. ESL Teacher

Four movies I have watched over and over:
1. Speed
2. Beauty and the Beast
3. The Mighty Ducks 2 (stop laughing)
4. The Millionaire’s First Love (Only because Hyun Bin’s in it. And I will never admit to this in person.)

Four books I have read over and over:
1. Watership Down (Bunnies! And some political commentary, if you’re into that kind of thing, I guess.)
2. Y: The Last Man
3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
4. Flowers in the Attic

Four places I have lived:
1. The U.S.
2. Guam
3. The Philippines
4. The DMZ–oops, I mean, [air quotes]South Korea[/air quotes].

Four television shows I love to watch:
1. The L Word
2. Gilmore Girls
3. Everyday Italian, because I’m in love with Giada DeLaurentiis
4. Lost

Four places I have been on vacation:
1. The United Kingdom (if interning for three months counts as a vacation)
2. France
3. Japan
4. Canada

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Cheese bibimpap
2. Kimchi!
3. Cheesecake
4. Pineapple

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Golgulsa Temple in Gyeongju
2. Seoul
3. “The Orchards”
4. my old Taekwondo school

Four people who will steal this meme:
1. Marbs, who will post it on Myspace.
2. Jo, who will also post it on Myspace, only hers will be accompanied by several flattering photos of herself frolicking with the new puppies.
3. Giada DeLaurentiis, if she has read my love letters.
4. Phong, because he just needs to update his blog already. I mean, really. Why else are you still on Friendster, ya freak?

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After a brief scolding from my mother, I’ve decided to add a new category to my posts: M is for Mature.

Sorry if I’ve offended or embarrassed my loving, patient and understanding relatives and friends. I considered setting up another (PG rated) site, entirely dedicated to my travels, but I spend enough time on WordPress and Flickr.

I’ve been lazy when it comes to categorizing my posts, but I will start the rating system immediately. I will work on placing the rating under all my less-than-flattering posts this weekend.

Under the title of each of my posts, you’ll notice one or more titles like “Uncategorized,” “California (and The Orchards),” “Food for Thought,” and “Friends and that Gray Area.” If I publish any posts that contain obscene language or other questionable content, you will read “M is for Mature.”

So if you feel queasy whenever I throw around the four-letter words, I strongly advise you to avoid these particular writings like the plague.

And don’t break out the holy water just yet. At least I’m not torturing puppies. (Yet.)

***

To make up for my foul language, I added more photos on Flickr. These new ones were taken at Beomeosa Temple in Busan.

I don’t like this set as much as the ones from Jagalchi Fish Market, but we reached the temple an hour before it closed. I didn’t have a lot to work with.

The Japan pics will come soon, promise!

***

In other news, C gave me the new schedule for next semester. Our prized student has a full workload, so we had to accommodate his schedule. He really is brilliant, and I adore him to bits, so I don’t mind.

This means that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I’ll finish my last class at 7 p.m.; on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’ll be done at six. (These past months I’ve finished teaching at 6:30 p.m.)

And I’ve replaced my Taekwondo classes with Yoga/Pilates lessons. Three months for 200,000 (that’s about 200 American dollars), not bad. I took a sample class today and the instructors impressed me. They’re a lot skinnier than I am (I’m not complaining, Mom!) but they are so tough.

One of them also studied in London, so she can speak English very well, although she appears self-conscious about it.

As you’ve probably noticed, I miss my Taekwondo school terribly. Not just the lessons and The Instructor, but my classmates as well. For most of them, I was the first foreigner they’d met (well, outside their English classes, anyway), and they were my first Korean friends. Because of the language barrier we couldn’t talk too much–just help each other out and laugh at our mistakes.

But I hold a tenderness for them that rivals the devotion I have for my own students. I miss their endless energy, their genuine enthusiasm for the sport, their glorious handsprings and their innocent sense of humor.

I have to wonder, will I ever see them again?

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