Vanity, thy name is Korea

In a nation of 45 million people who look remarkably very much a like, there has to be a few consequences, one of which is a complete obsession with appearances. I’d like to delve into this topic a bit more at a later date, but one of my absolute favorite beauty ramifications (for men) is the invention of “magic shoes”. It’s nothing more than a sole to insert inside a shoe- a sly method for a man to appear a couple of centimeters taller without walking around in platforms (which also exist here).

These magic shoes are being sold on the stairs of a subway exit. Their price ranges from 3,000-8,000 KRW, or $2.68- $7.16*, depending on the thickness of the sole.

I once asked my good friend Alex, a Korean I met through a language exchange club, if he wears magic shoes. I asked it more of a joke, thinking it was a fad for the middle aged men of Korea who can be a bit sensitive about their short statue when compared with the younger, taller generation of men raised on imported beef and dairy products. But after some prying, he fessed up to owning a pair or two– for interviews and first dates. Ironically enough, he had a first date on the same day I took this photo and later saw him for our language exchange. As we discussed his new potential love over coffee, I asked him if he was wearing his magic shoes. Indeed he was. Unfortunately for Alex, the girl chose to eat at a traditional restaurant, thus requiring him to remove his shoes and reveal his true height. No word yet on the second date.

*As a side note, it’s been a good month for the Won-Dollar ratio, which currently hovers at 1000KRW: $0.90. Thanks, America.


March 5, 2011. Tags: , , , . culture, fashion, korea. Leave a comment.

Korean Street Food: Dongdaemun

Check that out.

A hotdog wrapped in french fries. Now you can have your cake and eat it, too.

March 4, 2011. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

One (sprained) hand in the air for universal health care.

I got hit by a bus.

It’s true.

The event occurred Tuesday afternoon at an intersection near my school, approximately 50 yards from my apartment building. Ecstatic to be escaping the confines of my cold classroom, my grubby little munchkins, and the frustrations of teaching 50 children that actually have no intentions of learning, I pranced home two and a half hours early with a definite pep in my step. And then I got hit by a bus.

I can’t tell you how it happened, aside from the obvious. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. There was no deer-in-the-headlights look. I never saw it coming. I stepped out onto a crosswalk, heard a loud thud, and then realized that I was on the ground a couple of feet away from a bus while an audience of Koreans looked on in horror. Remarkably, I walked away from the scene of the accident unharmed. Not the smartest decision I’ve ever made but let’s chalk that up to shock and adrenaline.

I later went to the hospital to have a few aches and pains checked out and x-rayed. I saw the doctor who very kindly wrapped up an ankle and a wrist and sent me away with a prescription for some pain killers. 10 minutes and 5,500 KRW ($4.95) later, I walked across the street to a pharmacy to get $1’s worth of pain medicine. My co-teacher even treated me to a sympathy dinner afterwards, which remained largely untouched due to my inability to use chopsticks with my left hand. But that’s beside the point. I got hit by a bus and it only cost me $6 and two day’s worth of hobbling around like an old lady. Beat that, America.



(Apparently this is a really common occurrence here. Come visit me. You, too, could have the opportunity to share in this once in a life time experience. Free some-what clean housing available.)

January 28, 2011. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Give me a break.

Japan has an obsession with Kit Kats.

Weird Kit Kats.

This was first brought to my attention back in September when Mary and I visited Japan. Mary frequented a lot of convenience stores in search of Cherry Blossom flavored Kit Kats, a gift she previously received from her friend Nick. We were unsuccessful. They all sold milk chocolate and occasionally dark chocolate Kit Kats. How disappointingly normal. At the end of a week, I began to question Mary’s choice of words. Perhaps what she meant to say was that the Kit Kats had a pretty picture of a Cherry Blossom on them- you know, as a seasonal promotion to celebrate the arrival of spring. (Sorry Mary, I never meant to doubt your intelligence.)

How could I be so ignorant?

I had an extra couple of hours to kill after we went our separate ways at Narita. There’s nothing exciting about this airport. It’s small, it’s boring, and it’s eerily quiet. I stumbled upon an origami museum. I counted the number of bathrooms and water fountains. I wandered into tacky tourist shops-and then I found them. Massive boxes of them. Not just Green Tea- Cherry Blossom but Wasabi, Soy Sauce, and Sweet Potato, too. Dreams really do come true.

So now let’s fast-forward three months to December. I’m back at the same sleepy airport wasting time until I get the privilege of spending half a day on a flight to Chicago. Except now, it’s a scavenger hunt. How many strange flavors exist? And how many boxes can I buy with my leftover Yen?

The answer?

A lot.

There were a lot of flavors and I had a lot of Yen. And I will always be a sucker for Cheese flavored Kit Kats. That is, until I try them.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the starting line-up of the “not-quite-right” Kit Kats that will grace our dinner table on Christmas Day: Wasabi, Green-Tea Cherry Blossom, Cheese, Root beer, Lemonade, and one other missing an English translation. None of them look (or sound) appetizing but let’s be honest- the reactions are half the fun.

December 26, 2010. Tags: , , , , . food, japan. Leave a comment.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas…


Merry Christmas.

December 24, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

A series of Tos and Fors

To anyone who checks this blog on a quasi-regular basis:

I have failed you. My apologies. I’m not even sure I’m averaging a post a month right now. Let’s change that. Korea’s a fascinating place. I want you to learn more about it. Consider it my December 14th resolution. Since I’m not making it on New Years, there’s a better chance I’ll keep it.

To the people who regularly (and irregularly) keep in touch through emails, skype, facebook messages, postcards and other forms of snail mail:

There is nothing better than waking up or coming home to a piece of America. Let’s get real- this time difference thing is a killer. It’s made keeping in touch far more difficult than I ever could have imagined. It’s also served as one of my biggest frustrations. It’s definitely a top candidate for causes of homesickness. But know that it’s always the highlight of my day to hear from you, especially when it’s full of wonderful details of your life. Thank you. I feel the love. And a special thanks to my favorite Aunt Bonnie who made me a killer hat. It’s awesome, and most importantly- warm.

For the people who want to know about my job:

Who would have ever thought that I would be an elementary school teacher? Certainly not me. But I am. And I enjoy it, at least for right now (most of the time). And apparently, I’m good at it- atleast by Korean standards. Every foreign teacher has to be reviewed by the City School District. Our classroom is observed, our lesson plans are scrutinized, and our students are interviewed. Then we’re given a grade from A to D. I received an A. Finally, validation that I’m doing something right. It’s amazing what a little recognition can do to one’s confidence levels. Other than that, the school year’s just about finished. Final exams were last week. My 6th graders are no longer cute elementary school students. I’m ready for a vacation. 8 more days of students, T-minus 11 days until I’m sitting on some beach in Thailand drinking a fruity alcoholic beverage with a little umbrella sticking out of it.

To the people wondering about what I did for Thanksgiving:

I worked. And then I took a half day and played in Seoul with my parents who were in town for a long weekend. We ate Korean food. Squid pancakes, tteokbokki, and rice wine. I bought a five pound bag of frozen cranberries on Saturday. Hopefully, I’ll get around to making some cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes in the near future. I’m sure it’ll go real nicely with a side of jalopenos.

To the people concerned about North Korea:

Kim Jong-Il’s going out with a bang. Don’t be.

For the people who are interested in the ongoing battle between Hilary and the Korean language:

I think the Korean language is winning right now, although it’s not for a lack of effort. 2011 just might bring night classes at Seoul National University. As fair warning, certain Korean words have infiltrated my English vocabulary, along with an annoying tendency to almost grunt in acknowledgement frequently during someone’s story, perhaps as a replacement to the English equivalent of “uh-huh”.

To the people worried that I’m lonely or have no friends:

 That’s silly. They’re lovely people. Come on over and meet them.

For the people who want to know about things like the weather:

It’s cold and unfortunately, that’s not changing any time soon. The high tomorrow’s 27 degrees. I saw my first real snow on Wednesday. There was a light snow a couple of weeks ago when the parents were here but this one was like a down pillow exploded outside of my classroom window. I think I was more excited than my students. That is, until I had to try to walk on the icy sidewalks the next day. Lord have mercy, I think I just might get that cast I always wanted.

Alright, that’s my current life in a nutshell- now for the daunting task of filling you in on the past 8 months. Stay tuned.

December 14, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

A tiny little picture of a monumental occasion

Ladies and gentlemen, my baby brother graduated today.

I can’t believe over a year has passed since I walked across the same stage, praying that I wouldn’t be the fool who tripped, although that could have been the highlight of the event. Let’s face it. Graduation ceremonies are boring. I passed the time by texting with my brother, reading the newspaper, and playing games on my iphone. Although I was not physically present for Sean’s big day, I was hoping to be able to return the favor courtesy of FSU’s live internet stream. I set my alarm clock, put some money on Skype (for sending text messages), and anxiously awaited a two and a half hour ceremony.

It didn’t happen.

I miscalculated the timing. Oh darn.

Luckily, FSU posted the marathon of name calling later in the day and I was able to see a pixilated version of my brother walk across the stage. I think he might have even gotten a haircut for the event. Isn’t he so cute?

Congratulations, Seany. I’m proud of you. Have a wonderful time celebrating. You did it!

December 11, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Notes from an igloo

Hyperbole- noun.

1. Obvious and intentional exaggeration.

2. An extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, such as “to wait an eternity”.

Just to be clear, that’s not what this is.

Many of my co-workers have unknowingly taken on the role as personal weather forecasters. I’ve found that a couple of the teachers know some English but are too embarrassed to speak with me. Talking about the weather gives both of us a chance to mumble a few words foreign to our native tongues and breaks up the monotony of bows and smiles. Yesterday, I was forewarned that it might be a good idea to take the extra 10 seconds in the morning to put on socks. Tomorrow will be chilly.

By 10:38 am, I’m already on my third cup of tea. There’s still a layer of frost adorning my classroom windows and an unfamiliar tingling sensation gradually numbs my fingers as they brush across the keyboard. Each exhale puffs more smoke than a magic dragon. In the interest of full disclosure, there’s also a good chance that I’m wearing an entire load of laundry right now- long underwear, a long sleeved shirt, two sweaters and a peacoat, stockings, leggings, jeans, a hat from my favorite Aunty Judy, and a scarf. My 5th graders affectionately christen me with a new nickname, Snowman Teacher. Fourth period later changes it to Snowwoman Teacher in the spirit of being politically correct, a fad which apparently extends across the ocean to Korea.

I’m learning that chilly means temporarily relocating to the middle of Siberia. Language barriers can be so inconvenient sometimes.

Friends and family, I know you’re mocking me right now and I want you to know that it’s Ok. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s no heat at my school. Yeah, that’s right. Budget cuts.

The windchill’s 33 right now. Winds are registering at 20 mph.

Baby, it’s cold outside.

And inside, too. I’m certainly not in Florida anymore.

It’s time for another cup of tea.


November 11, 2010. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

…and on the third day, He rose again for an Easter egg hunt.

My how time flies. I’m three weeks into the second semester, still shocked by October’s encroaching presence and the struggles of balancing  unrealistic curriculum with elementary student comprehension (and attention) levels. But I’m pleased to report that the impressionable young minds of Korea are learning English, even if it’s just the ridiculous phrase “Do you want to party?”

Especially after last week, when one unit stood between my after school class of advanced fourth graders and their progression to the next text book: a “cultural lesson” on Easter.

Yes, Easter.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise as I skimmed over the target vocabulary words: Easter bunny, chocolate eggs, marshmallow chicks, jelly beans, basket, dye, yummy, and my personal favorite, toy lamb.

Easter. In September. You’ve got to be kidding me. I passively expressed my objections to my religious zealot of a co-teacher. As expected, she was horrified.

“You should teach about Chuseok,” she suggested. Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, is a major three day holiday that honors the ancestors with food, family, and lots of traffic.

“But I’m an American. I don’t know anything about Chuseok.”

“But it’s in September.”

“Uh… I think I’ll stick with Easter.”

So much to my 11 year olds’ confusion, we learned the difference between die and dye as we transformed our brown hard boiled eggs into muted greens, blues, and reds. We practiced directional steps as we assembled paper Easter baskets to house our decorated eggs. We went on an Easter egg relay hunt that reviewed our prepositions with clues for hidden locations. We marveled over plastic eggs filled with candy and erasers that fit on top of a pencil. We went home excited to learn English, at least for the day.

Happy Easter, everyone.

September 26, 2010. Tags: , , , , . education, english, korea. Leave a comment.

Foreigner’s Day

Irony is a live and well here in Korea, as am I.

I meant to blog about this earlier but… yeah.

Saturday marked the 9th anniversary of September 11th. While Americans around the world remembered the tragedy, Korea lightened the mood by declaring it “Foreigner Day.” And nothing says “foreign” like a soccer game, a pint of beer, and a hotdog for 10,000 won (currently $8.60). Unfortunately it poured all day long so my foreignness went unappreciated. So it goes.

September 15, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

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