Friday, April 24, 2009

Be kind- Rewind

I was inspired by my current book, The Power of Kindness, to write a little about the random acts of kindness I seem to experience here in Korea on a daily basis. People warned me that Koreans could be cold and impolite but I have found quite the opposite. Well besides that the fact that bumping into someone in completely normal and never requires an excuse. Bur I actually embrace this custom. I walk fast, so it’s a relief to be able to make my way through a crowd not having to apologize to every person I innocently tap.

But back to kindness, it always surprises me. From the girl who politely informs me that me backpack is slightly open on the subway or the overly accommodating waitress or the fact that I have yet to leave my house without someone yelling “Hello” at me. Old men who want to chat, women who are curious why I am in Korea, and the high school girls and boys who see me walking down the street and always say “Hello.” It cracks me up when I quickly respond with “Hello, how are you? ” they immediately get flustered and run away giggling.

You’d think being the stranger in a foreign land I would be the one who is embarrassed by the miscommunication at restaurants but that is never the case. Every waiter and waitress bends over backwards to try and understand what we are ordering and they often get very shy and apologetic that they don’t understand English. This blows my mind, I should be the one who feels like a moron for not speaking their language and I don’t think any waiter in America has every felt guilty about not understanding a foreign customers. Another reminder of the difference in cultures.

I had my first official failure in speaking Korean. A group of us flagged down a taxi on Saturday night, so I decided to take charge and hop in the front seat. I confidently directed the taxi driver to take us to “Hongdea”. He quickly nodded his head and repeated back to me “Hongdea”. After 15 minutes of driving, a raising cab fare and unfamiliar sights I said “Hongdea nay .. University?” He replied, “no, no… you say Bongdik” Without the exact pronunciation or accent Korean words can easily be misunderstood. He turned around and drove back over the river. In the end we got to where we wanted and the driver kindly reduce our cab fare, even though I am sure it was my fault.

Later that night a very nice guy gave me a stuffed pencil that he had won. It was about 4am, we were just leaving the club and we stumbled upon a group of Koreans trying to knock down a pyramid of bottles with a baseball. Well, I guess my enthusiastic cheering helped and he gave me his pencil! Yet, another example of random kindness.

I was so happy last weekend to finally do some real hiking. Brittany and I took as easy night Friday so we could wake up early (i.e. noon) to actually do something productive on Saturday. We climbed these two small mountains on the Westside of Seoul. We got a great view of the city and little workout too. We did manage to somehow get lost and end up off the trail, probably because we couldn’t read the signs. We had to scale a fence but luckily there was a very sweet Korean lady monk to help us down and point us in the right directions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Maddy Day!!

Wow! I am exhausted from my birthday, actually more like birth-week. This was the first time I have ever woken up and actually forgot it my birthday until I got to work. I think that means I am getting older and birthdays are becoming another reminder of how time flies.
The teachers in my English club threw me a little party with a nice cheesecake and traditional Korean rice sweets. One of my six grade classes even made me birthday cards, so cute! They each wrote (or attempted to) me a little message in English and drew me a picture of a gift they would have like to give me. One kid even drew me a very elaborate 2004 Roils Royce Phantom, I wish!
That night a few of my friends from my neighborhood and of course my besties Lacy and Britney came over and we all went fro dinner. We had some celebratory Soju cocktails and beer. My new Korean friend, that lives in my building even came, good thing because ordering vegetarian at Korean restaurants in always a process. It was a nice little get together but it was only a taste of what was to come….

Friday was dubbed “Maddy Day” by my friends here in Seoul. My very gracious friend Sarah and my roommate from orientation hosted a fabulous party at her house. She shares an apartment with her boyfriend so they got double the funding and in turn a super sweet pad. She really went all out with decorations, party hats and nice spread of appetizers. But the best party of the night was flip-cup showdown between team Hello Kitty and Rainbow ponies; unfortunately I was on the losing Hello Kitty team. For those you have not been to college in the last decade, flip cup is a drinking game the consists of two dueling teams of four or more players basically trying to out chug their opponent and then flipping their cup over. It can get pretty intense and always results in some tipsy behavior.

Look they spell my name!

After a few rounds and team Hello Kitty ultimately admitting defeat we moved the party onward. The details of the rest of the night are blurred for me, thanks to the bottle of 151 brought by a certain friend that will remain nameless. From the pictures I know we danced, somewhere and there was singing of some classic America tunes and fried street food. I know I had a great time because waking up on Saturday was painful.
I was not sure I would be able to make it to night two of the festivities but like a true solider I rallied. Well, the girls and I didn’t fully recover until 9pm that night; we actually almost missed the last trains we went out so late. After a very long and late dinner we didn’t end up walking into the club around 2am. I love this! Nowhere in America can you arrive at 2am and still get severed a beer. We went to a swanky club in the posh area of Seoul and danced till 5:30am, going home just in time to catch the first train back. I didn’t make to my bed until 7:30 this morning, probably the time I should have been getting ready for Easter mass. Oppss!

Good thing I don’t have work Monday because I think I am going to need that extra day of rest after all this celebrating. Ohhhh being born is ruff! This is my first year away from my friends on my birthday but I couldn’t have imagined a better weekend. I am blessed to have such good friends especially in such a short period of time. Thanks everyone! I might actually be looking forward to turning 24.

Sporty Spice

I think I have almost checked off everything on my "First Month in Korea Things-To-Do-List." I am not sure when my obsession with making to-do-list started but I cant remember so I must have been as an infant. But seriously I am completely dependent on them and unable to accomplish anything unless it is explicitly written as a bullet point under the heading "Things-to-do." So my current list for goes something like this….
• Medical exam
• Alien registration card
• Multiple entry visa
• Install cable and internet in apartment
• Get cell phone (if feels good to text again)
• Sign up for gym
Now that I have cut through all the government red tape, got settled in my new place and signed half a dozen one year contracts (not ending till April 2010) I feel like it would be a waste to just pack up and leave the day my teaching assignment ends. I can ‘t predict how I am going to feel in a year but I do know I am in no rush to repeat to this list.
I am most excited about my latest accomplishment, signing up for the gym! I joined the International Youth Center; it’s just about one block from my apartment. Not sure why it’s called the International Youth Center because I am almost positive I am the only foreigner member because everyone looks surprised to see me there. I am use to the unusually long glances in Korea. I think it is mostly due to the fact that my hair is not black. I am also pretty sure everyone talks about me at the gym, especially the older Korean women in the lockers room, who laugh and mutter American in Korean whenever I walk by. I am not bothered by it. Ignorance is bliss!
I am so thankful I have such a helpful and kind co-teacher who doubles as my personal translator. She set up everything in my apartment and all my appointments all on her own time and after school. She even came with me to get my cell phone. Thank god she was there because we had to go to two different stores, negotiate my contract, open a new bank account and then wait a day to come back to the cell phone shop to sign everything which would have been impossible for me to do alone.
Signing up for the gym was probably the hardest and happiest moments I’ve had here.I don’t know where I got the idea that I would be able to sign up for a gym membership with my nonexistent Korean skills. After 40 minutes of pointing, some physical acting, a calculator, a calendar and 6 phone calls to her daughter who spoke some English, the woman at the front desk and I were able to figure it out. My membership includes access to the health center that consists of some treadmills, a few bikes, free weights and not muck else. The tricky part was getting my swimming membership, at first she I was signed up for swim lessons but eventually we figured it out. I am only allowed to swim from 7 to 7:50 everyday and in one lane with at least 5 other people. It’s not the ideal situation but I will take what I can get and I can never complain about getting a chance to swim.
On Tuesday last week all the staff from my school got to take the afternoon off to cheer on the staff volleyball and table tennis teams. They even started school early and let the kids go home before 2 so we all teachers could travel to the opposing school. It was hilarious watching the vice principal destroy the other school at table tennis. During the volleyball game all the teachers were very enthusiastic, pounding on drums and singing chants. We didn’t win but it was a lot of fun and I think every school in the world should have intramural sports for teachers.
While on the subject of sports, I have determined the official sport of Korea is rock/paper/scissors from young to old. My students use it every 5 seconds and it is the preferred way to settle disagreements by adults. I am convinced that the government uses this method to make executive decesions.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

the Latest

I am officially a registered Alien! which means I can now re-enter the 21 century. I will be ending my 12-week abstinence on cell phones and signing a contract sometime in the next few days. I had the Internet and cable set-up in my apartment yesterday and four of my co-workers came over to help me translate. It was a little awkward entertaining at my place when I only own one cup, one chair and my bed that serves as my couch, dining room table, desk and everything else I don’t have. I am happy to get cable in my apartment. There are a couple American channels but I am really looking forward to catching up on all the Korean drama shows and finding out who all these pop stars are that my girl students have plastered all over their notebooks.
This week was another successful accomplishment, I really enjoy coming to work everyday and pretty much being done with the majority of my work by lunchtime. Wednesday I started teaching English club with my Korean co-workers. Once a week we will meet to discus various topics in English so they can practice listening and speaking. It’s really informal and I don’t have to do any preparation but it’s a great way get to know some of my co-workers and for me to be included in the conversation for once. They basically just want me to talk about myself for a hour, which is pretty easy since I really only get to have conversations of depth on the weekends, so I don’t mind! This week I taught them some very valuable phrases like “chill, what’s up, sugar mama, blow off steam,” haha.. I can’t wait to see what I teach them next week.
I went the Cherry Blossom festival yesterday but the only a few trees had bloomed so it was kind of a disappointment. The weather is still pretty chilly here, I can’t wait for Springtime when I can leave my pea-coat at home. I ventured around last Sunday in my neighborhood. There are a lot of these fitness parks in my area, they usually have a track and some exercise machines. I like to think of them as playgrounds for the elderly. My initial intention was to go for a run but I ended up finding some hiking trails. Hiking is all the rage here; the typical Korean hiker comes complete with hard core hiking boots, two walking sticks, hat and the newest Colombia outfit. So I looked a little out of place and lost in my running shoes, plus I had no clue where I was headed. But I am glad I decided to take the road less traveled because I stumbled upon this great view and amazing bridge, right in my back yard that I never even knew existed.
I really need to get a camera so I can capture all the sights around me, maybe a birthday present to myself this year.