Archive for October, 2006

These Old Green Heels

It’s time to throw these heels away.

Green heels in Seoul

They are so old, right?

We’ve been through a lot in the past nine months–barhopping, catching trains, bookstores, reaching the top shelves of supermarkets, just barely scraping myself off the “little person” list–but my entire wardrobe has revolved around these shoes. Sweaters, shirts, blazers, jewelry, whatever–suddenly I’m in this sea of green, and it has to stop.

Plus it is so cold right now, and I need to buy the most offensive Ugg knockoffs so my toes remain attached to my feet.

The sad thing is, I’ve been looking for green boots for the past two weeks. Green, pointy, three-inch-heel boots. Am also considering cowboy boots . . . Obviously, I lack simplicity, sensibility and good taste.

And I’m shopping for an MP3 player. Mostly for running–since I quit Taekwondo, I haven’t worked on my speed and stamina. I’m a lot stronger and flexible, thanks to yoga, but I know I’ve gotten a lot slower since I left California. I’d also like to download Korean lessons off the Internet.

My techie knowledge is on par with my fashion sense. That is to say, it’s non-existent. I own a Compaq, for crying out loud. Right now I’m looking at the new iPod Nano (in green, wheeeee), but it doesn’t have a radio. Of course, why would I listen to the radio here in Korea, but that feature would be nice to have while watching TV in a gym in California.

Another possibility is the SanDisk Sansa e270, which has a radio and recorder–the latter will be really nifty when my mom’s hairdresser begins tutoring me in Korean.

What do you all think? About the MP3 player, not the shoes.


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Congratulations are in order for my baby sister, Marbs, who is one of three singles players on her high school tennis team with an undefeated record. 19-0, and this is only her second year playing the sport! (Like, seriously. She only picked up a racket last year.)

Her photo was in the paper today, and I’d link to it if I wasn’t anonymous. But she looks so fierce. I’m proud of you, kiddo.

With the AP classes, orchestra, college and scholarship applications and job, I don’t know how you have the time to do it all. Must be something in that NorCal water . . .


In other news, I posted more Japan pics on Flickr.

Can’t believe I was there just three months ago–it seems much more time has passed. I miss Kyoto.

Otoyo Shrine 7

Click on the picture above for more shots of Honen-In, Otoyo Shrine and a sad little tempura dish that set me back six bucks.

The latest batch (as well as the first, of Ginkaku-ji) were taken during my first day of sightseeing in Japan. I devoted that time to Tetsugaku-no-Michi, “The Philosopher’s Path.” The road, sprinkled with delightful little cafes and shrines, wasn’t too crowded–but I followed a few tourists when I got lost. And I did get lost.

Back then it was hot. I wasn’t dying like the other foreigners, yet it was hot enough that I lost five pounds of water weight by the end of my trip, in spite of a diet of waffles and green tea ice cream.

I spent the majority of the day on foot, and by nightfall I had blisters on my feet. My bright pink purse was heavy with my Lonely Planet guide, Japanese phrasebook, camera (with four spare batteries, and I still ran out of juice in the middle of the day), paper fan, water and five pounds of coins I wouldn’t be able to convert to Won upon my return to Korea.

I prefer the tiny shrines like Otoyo, because there are less visitors, which means I have more time to just sit down and take too many half-assed pictures. Anyway, as usual my pictures don’t do the place any justice. It was so peaceful, so unexpectedly quiet for a hot tourist spot like Kyoto.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about Japan and their temples, so if you want to add notes or define stuff in my photos, feel free to do so.

On this particular night I downed sake shots (straight out of a carton!) with awkward Germans, a dueling Swede couple, a short-haired French girl I totally crushed on, some Canadians who were also teaching in Korea, and two Catalan siblings I’ll call “Lucy” and “Linus.”

I hit it off with Lucy and Linus right away, fascinated by how many languages they spoke with ease. Between them, they knew Catalan, Spanish, English, German, Latin, Japanese, Italian and I’m sure they were fluent in more.

I was starstruck, because I don’t even know Tagalog.

“In Spain, when we have drinks, we say chin-chin,” Lucy explained after pouring my third drink. “But when we said this in Tokyo, our Japanese friends were so embarrassed. Chin-chin means penis in Japanese! So for our first week here, we were yelling penis in bars, with no idea why people were staring so hard.”

“I loooooove you,” I slurred. “I never had Spanish friends before. Will you be my friends?”

“Yes, but you must know we are Catalan, and not Spanish,” Luis pointed out.

“Uh-huh whatever. Chin-chin!”

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I probably won’t be posting as frequently as I used to–maybe once or twice a week? The new foreign teacher is here (she’s cool, but I miss M terribly), and I’ve been showing her around, taking her out to dinner, the train, bars–you know, what my friends did when I arrived in Korea last November.

It’s rather time-consuming, but validating for myself, because I never really knew how familiar I am with Korea until Shelly arrived. Not that I’m some sort of guru on kimchi or anything, nor can speak Korean half-decently, but it’s nice that I know little things. Like how to order food, where to find the only decent cup of coffee in my area and the fastest way to get to Seoul.

Hmm, what else. Oh yeah, I’ve been a lot more social lately, which is quite the feat given how I’ve dropped the booze. Dancing, shooting the shit with foreigners and Koreans alike, going to random little pubs and just sitting back and listening to really bad songs from the 80s that no one would ever admit to liking back home. If we got any more emotional whenever Bon Jovi played, we’d be in tears.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, I kicked ass during open class. Dressed immaculately–ironed, flowery blouse, knee-length pencil skirt and green, pointy heels . . . so Korean, and the more we say about my yellow-tipped French manicure, the better. It was so nice to get all dolled like that, and all my late-night preparation paid off. The moms loved me.

Even the director congratulated me afterwards–and she rarely addresses me because she’s embarrassed about her English.

I don’t plan on working for Wonderland ever again, but I have to say that I’m really proud of my work here. More important, I’m proud of my kindergartners. They really showed their parents their progress and the great potential they have as English speakers.

I’m not the best teacher, and to be honest I don’t think I’m even a decent instructor. I still have a lot to learn. But no one can ever say I don’t love my kids.

P.S. Just started getting into 100 Bullets–awesome comic. If you like excessive amounts of sex, violence and profanity with your antiheroes, this is your next favorite book.

I was so psyched about getting the second volume that I didn’t notice that the cute guy I’d been eying was hitting on me.

“He was waiting for a sign!” Shelly said after we left.

“Huh . . . which one?”

“The cute one, in the brown shirt . . . not the fat one,” she sighed when I drew in my breath. “He said he’d start reading comic books for you!”

“Oh, he was hot! Not Korean, but hot!”

“Uhhhhh, yeah . . . so why didn’t you say anything?”

I smiled sheepishly. “Because I was really excited about this comic book?”

She shook her head, laughing. “I’m beginning to understand why you haven’t dated since coming here.”

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“Teacher,” my darling little John tells me during science class. “My father go to America. He say, American people eat maaaaaany hamburger.”

I smirk to myself. “Well, yeah, I guess they do.”

“He say, American people berrrrry fat!” He stretches his arm out. “Many hamburgers. Many fat American people!”

“Not all Americans, John. I’m American, and I don’t eat meat.” Then, softly: “And, I’m not fat.”

“You American, Pia Teacher?”


The new foreign teacher, Shelly, arrived today. Tall, blonde, with that familiar look of Oh shit, where am I?

“Aren’t you hungry?” I asked her after lunch. I noticed that she’d only eaten half of her bibimpap.

“No, I’m fine.”

“It’s okay if you didn’t like it. It takes a while to get used to the spiciness of Korean food.”

“But I liked it. But there was so much rice!”

M and I smiled at each other. We’d both finished our bibimpap, and polished a few side dishes as well. After a while, you just crave kimchi and rice so much that a day without it seriously fucks with your head. You can never have too much of the white stuff.

“How do you little Asian women eat so much?” she gasped. “You just eat and eat and eat . . . Where does it go?”

M, her friend T and I took her out for manicures and drinks after work. I served as the tour guide, asking for food and prices in Korean, giving directions, informing the newbie about cool clubs and warning her about how her blond hair and smoking in public might make people mistake her for a Russian prostitute.

On the way home, I was suddenly hit with the realization that I actually have a life here. A decent job. A nice bunch of friends I care about. Favorite tourist spots. A (tiny but growing) grasp of the language. I even have favorite soap operas.

Most important, I have plans. I know what I want to do in two weeks, two months, two years. I know what makes me happy and what hurts me. I have responsibilities and frivolous expenses. I’m always doing something.

“You don’t know how to relax,” M said a few weeks ago. But the work, the travel, the yoga, the nights in Seoul–this is how I rest. It nourishes me, and keeps me eager for the next day.

Do I think of California? Of course–it’s always in some nook in my mind, beating steadily. I’m totally aware of what I’m missing back home.

But can I see myself with an actual life in California?


“Don’t you ever miss home?” I asked the European monk two weeks ago after yoga practice in the temple. Since my dream about him all those months ago, I felt comfortable asking him touchy questions–although he probably was a little confused about my candid nature.

He handed me a cup of green tea. “Yes. Of course. But . . . I’m always busy. I’m too busy to feel like that. That is the way here in the temple–to occupy your mind, so you’re thinking about the present, and not so much on things that aren’t important, or out of your control.”

Moving across the Pacific, without knowing the language, the food, the customs, the people or anybody–I must have been crazy eleven months ago.

Yet I find myself with a bit more weight in the land of the morning calm.

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Open House

It’s one in the morning. I’m still in the office.

Does a teacher’s work ever end?

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The Motherfucker isn’t going to Pusan anymore, and Z can’t afford to go either. Jason and Angela, knowing zip about the film festival (or any place outside of Seoul for that matter), dropped out.

And there’s just something so depressing about doing something by yourself, when you’d originally planned to do it with friends.


Now it’s half past four in the morning, my bags are packed and I’m left with a weekend of nothing to do.

Some people would love this. Considering how we have an orientation for the students’ parents and the new foreign teacher this week, I should revel in my two days of lounging around.

But . . . next Friday I end work at 7 p.m. The Jay-Z concert starts at 8. I’d miss a huge chunk of it.

Not to mention this will be the newbie’s first weekend in Korea, and it would suck to be like, “Well, its Friday night in a country in which you know nobody and I’m going to this awesome shindig in Seoul but I will totally take you out once I get over the fact that I was in the same building as Jay-Z! Help yourself to the sliced cheese in the fridge! Peace out!”

So I’ll most likely end up ditching the concert as well. Christ.

I had so many plans, and now the only thing I have to look forward to this weekend is that What The Book received my order for the sixth volume of Fables. But even my favorite comic book series can’t make up for missing the largest film festival in all of Asia.

And I know I should be happy because I’m saving money, but I hate doing nothing. Especially after spending four days of nonstop activities in Gyeongju.

There’s got to be something major going on in Seoul this weekend. If not, maybe I’ll take that Korean proficiency test. I should buy some new sweaters, it’s getting too cold. I should clean my room, because there’s mold growing on my backpack.

I’m getting sick of the capital.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to lie on the sofa and hate my friends. But only for five minutes. There’s a whole lot of nothing to do.

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My fellow bloggers in South Korea probably received this email from The Washington Post and Oxford International Review:

In the wake of North Korea’s first successful nuclear test, The Washington Post’s PostGlobal and Oxford International Review are sponsoring exclusive blog responses to a question posed by former South Korean President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kim Dae-Jung:

Why do you think the current US Administration has refused direct negotiations with North Korea, despite North Korea’s proposal to do so?

OIR posed this question to a panel of students from the United States and Asia gathered at Hong Kong University to participate in the Asia Institute for Political Economy, a program conducted by The Fund for American Studies. Click here to read their commentary, in light of recent events:


Because of your interest in the region, you are invited to join the conversation and pose questions to our panel. OIR and PostGlobal would love your input.


I’m not very articulate when it comes to current events, so I’ll leave the commentary to those more capable.

Let me just say this: I don’t feel threatened. And aside from a protest in Seoul, I haven’t noticed any worried or angry South Koreans or foreigners either–and our city houses many U.S. and Korean army bases. Not to mention the DMZ.

Of course the test is newsworthy, but nobody’s stocking up on bottled water and canned goods just yet.

What I am concerned about is how other countries–the United States, Japan, China and South Korea in particular–are going to react.


In the meantime, here’s my favorite article written on the situation in the north, written by Selig S. Harrison. He’s the director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington.

More important, he has actually been to North Korea and has a more balanced view on our northern neighbors.


Going to Pusan for the film festival. I really need a weekend out of Seoul.

Good thing too, because I’ve been hooked on Full House for the past two weeks. I love KDramas so much . . . I could seriously spend a whole month watching them on YouTube.

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