Archive for the ‘California (and The Orchards)’ Category

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.


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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.

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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–

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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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“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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So today, while looking around WordPress, I found out that you can post videos from YouTube.

I plan to abuse this in the best way possible.

So, for your viewing pleasure, here is one of my favorite music videos, courtesy of Kenny Chesney!

Because who doesn’t love a farmer’s tan? 

If you ever see me driving on the highway, shaking my shoulders and grinning like a dope, I’m most likely listening to this song. 

Hmm. I will probably regret this in the morning.

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Before meeting some girlfriends for dinner in Sinchon, I take a long look at myself in the mirror.

When I started this blog a year ago, I was clad in my college sweatshirt, baggy jeans, thick glasses and hole-ridden socks.  Wet hair clung to an unmade face, cuticles grew over bitten nails. I didn’t spend more than fifteen minutes getting ready for a night out.

Now it takes fifteen minutes just to mentally prepare myself for a night out.

I’ve buttoned up a red, cropped cardigan over two long tank tops, skinny jeans and high heels. As usual, my face is white, my cheeks and lips are a deep red. Three coats of mascara widen my eyes. Twenty bucks have been spent on a French manicure.

A country mouse, painted like a city cat.

Shortly after I started working at Wonderland, a coworker said I would eventually morph into a Seoul girl.

Now I can’t imagine myself as anything else.

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