Monday, June 27, 2011

The Last Days

I know that everyone (the proverbial everyone) tends to look back on the last series of whatever it is as they are walking out the door to their next adventure; and honestly, I always mock them for being so basic. However, now that it's my time to depart, and I've actually moved halfway around the world, learned a new language and eaten dog soup I feel like these people (the proverbial they) might have actually had something in this whole looking-back thing.
I started off in Korealand completely amazed, a little overwhelmed and absolutely breathless. I vividly remember that first day, the brilliance of the neon lights, the breathtaking heights of the buildings and the consistent bustle that is Korea. I remember eating 김밥 and the sensations that surrounded that first bite of sticky sweet, neon yellow radish.
Afterwards, the year goes a little bit fuzzy, there were people, parties and cities. Journeys about the entire country, mud, island hopping, new peeps and settling into my school routine. The end of three months and being finished with Korea: ready to move on to my next adventure. Getting a piss shower in China and walking my legs off with Alex. Following that I met Nerina and everything changed. I remember a sad and lonely feeling that encapsulated the Christmas holidays. Vowing to never spend another Christmas without my family. Then Thailand, riding an elephant, the river, ladyboys, obscene shows with Rich and Tim and the Earth mother with Lauren and Nerina. Does it hurt? What? Digestion. 
Jamarcus. Then there was the ever-present pull of homesickness- 9 months into my journey after the glittery facade of travelling faded and I needed to go home. A whirlwind trip in the desert then back again. Saying goodbye more times than necessary and the shitstorm
Now I sit here, books in piles, clothes in piles, dishes in piles. Glancing around this little two bedroom space that has been my secret lair for the last year. I've been slowly saying goodbye to all 1,000 of the students that have made me giggle, smile, scream, cry with joy and exhaustion. I look at all their little faces in front of me, their groans of sadness when I declare this is the last class we will ever have together.
I go home and I feel the weariness pulling at my bones. I'm. So. Done. I look back on the year as a whole and I feel so much glory and happiness from the entire experience. The children have taken my heart and ripped it into pieces, a little bit for each of them. Regardless of what happened, the things we may have said or done, these children will forever maintain so much of me. They ultimately helped me grow- pulled me from the hair straight out of a wandering adolescence into the sometimes cold embrace of adulthood. I would give and do anything if these children so much as looked at me with need.
The idea that I could actually care about 1,000 small children, from a community, a country, a culture so distinctly different from my own is grounding. I know what I need to in order to survive successfully in this world. I may not have had a man (to their great dismay and speculation) to hold my hands through this experience but I've built a relationship with a community and forged a relationship with Nerina that will forever buoy my soul. Whenever I'm down all I have to do is think back on this time and remember that ultimate happiness. 
As Shakespeare put it, "Parting is such great sorrow" but isn't the bittersweet feeling of knowing that you have achieved something greater than yourself the ultimate goal? I know that I've given these children a gift, regardless of whether I actually taught them anything I know that I've made a difference because I made English fun. For myself, I know that I've accomplished several of my own personal goals and I'm working on ticking off the lists on my bucketlist
Life couldn't be any better. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Faces of Busan, South Korea.

But it was cool, and I adore Mikee so I don't mind following his example.

There are few things in my life that I consider more poignant or precious than a photograph. With one click I can forever affix a mental reminder to a place, day, time and emotion in the short span of my life. When my grandparents used to show me photographs I was mesmerized, seriously how cool was this? I was able to glance back at their lives and within a mere second I could feel their expressions as if they were my own.

A photograph takes all the things that words cannot say and expresses them into a delightful medley of experience for me. Without a photograph how would I ever remember that 10th birthday where my parakeet Obalina Ickus Jones sat on my shoulder while I blew out the candles? Priceless moments are the fuel for my life. I carry at least one camera in my purse at all times, ready for anything.

This is a mini-project I did in Busan with a friend of mine (named Mikee). We walked around Busan for about 2 hours and asked people if we could take their photos. Most of them looked at us as though we were nuts, but we did get some good ones and overall we mostly just had an absolute blast doing it. More photography projects to come! (hopefully.)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Motorcycle Diaries

There is something incomparably free to the feel of wind ripping through my hair on a motorcycle. Akin to unbridled passion, but not the same as the feeling of loss of self while engaging with another. In any case, the feel of flying cannot be compared to such paltry distaste as lust lends itself to in the eyes of the populace. Riding a motorcycle is like taking all of your inhibitions and putting them into a blender. Forcing them to remold themselves, to take up the uniformity of the most dominant. The rules of the road are simple, Busses rule the road, semi's are slow moving but unmoveable, cars are erratic and unpredictable and motorcyclists have been relegated to the same tier as pedestrians: potential roadkill.

The light changes to red, the cars begin to slow down, their red tail lights flashing through my lenses. I peek over my shoulder and recognize the pattern of the slowing cars, I shift my weight slightly and begin to zip through the cracks; avoiding mirrors and shifting tires I quickly make my way to the front of the pack. The light is still red but there's no one around, the motorists behind me are patiently waiting for the machine to decide when they will be allowed forward motion. I crank the throttle, my wrist protests at the sudden movement but readjusts, my butt slides backwards slightly and the wind rips my hair from my lips. The road is full of imperfections that I deftly dodge, shifting my weight and adjusting my speed, another traffic light looms, the cars behind me have begun to move forward. I watch them start off slowly from my mirrors, as if from another place in time.

I've surpassed the second stoplight and am on open ground, I've become enveloped within the swarm of the cars. The buzzing of their engines and the bouncing of beats from within my headphones create the soundtrack of my drive. Unlike that of those around me I'm experiencing every change in temperature, wind speed, light and road conditions. I hug the right shoulder of the road for safety, keeping an ever watchful eye around me. The car in front of me brakes swiftly, I glance to my left and slip into the space between the braking car and the moving car behind me. The exhilaration of the move emboldens me and I begin to smile. Next thing I know I'm humming to the beat of the soft music in my ears, as I crest the first hill to home I'm belting the words.

The freedom of the motorcycle is unlike any I've felt before, the change in temperature, the feel of the road beneath you, the cars around me. All are potential dangers, there's no sitting back and firing off a quick text, there's no adjusting your seat or mirrors. Each little movement inspires a reaction by the bike. Careless movements could be the last movements you make. This feeling of complete knowledge of the things I am experiencing around me is so unique, I think that I've become colder, less sensitive to the changes around me. I live abroad and see quirky things everyday, I experience odd things daily and I've grown accustomed to it. The bike strips me of the layer of protective uncaring allowing me to feel again.

I was on the final stretch home, the semi in front of me was causing a bottleneck, it had slowed to an impossible speed. I set my feet on the asphalt beneath me and sighed deeply. I glanced to my right and saw my opportunity, I twisted the throttle and felt the bike speak to me, you can make it. I darted through, following the wide arc of the cab as the semi began it's final turn. I shot through to the other side, the glow of the apartments on the sides of the hill around me created an ethereal-like feel. My heart caught in my throat and my music sang to me "Escape."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Haeinsa Temple

I stood there as the rain poured down over the top of my dark umbrella, sluicing towards the ground and pooling at my feet. I glanced at Kate's white hand firmly clasping the umbrella, holding the handle as if it were her only lifeline. The staccato pounding of the large drum reverberating off the back of the temple wall into my ears. The click and clack of the wooden sticks bouncing off the wooden rim, the deep booms off the center of the massive drum. The drummer sped up until he was rapidly pounding out the beat, calling the monks and spirits to prayer. To my right a wizened old walnut of a woman shifted from foot to foot, behind me three women walked briskly through the lotus flower-strewn labyrinth; their breathless chanting mingling with the booms of the drum.

We were ushered forward and left the repetitive beats of the drums as we climbed up a series of steep, rough-hewn stone steps into a dimly lit, but brilliantly colored and adorned temple room. I left my shoes at the front of the door and entered through the green wood door. I bowed halfway and then placed myself on a mist grey rectangular pillow, legs tucked underneath me. In front of me sat several monks, the rust brown of their outer robes contrasting sharply with their inner silver robes. They too, had their legs tucked underneath them, toes peeking out from underneath their stiff backs. They had tucked their robes up underneath them as if tucking a small child into bed; the love and attention adorned upon those toes made me feel almost as though they had equal respect for every last little toe as they did for the Buddha. They all sat unmoving, staring at the large statues of the Buddha in front of them. I followed suit, I closed my eyes and began to count, 1...1,2...1,2,3...When I reached 10, I reversed my direction, my breath slowing and my mind focusing on the numbers. 1,10,9, 8...

A ting of a bell and the clack of bamboo upon itself roused me from my focused counting. A low, deep, rhythmic voice began chanting. Shortly thereafter the entire hall filled with the rush of breaths being inhaled, then the whole hall was lit up with the harmonious blend of voices. In front of me, strong, clear and low the male monks chanted to their Buddha and their devotion. Behind me, in cracking, guttural, yet oddly soft and enchanting came the voices of the villagers. Those old women whose backs have been bent by years of hard-work and toil in the fields, those old women who had trekked up the steep side of the mountain at 2am in order to offer up their devotion for their Buddha. I closed my eyes and inhaled the slight scent of incense and unwashed skin. I heard rustling cloth and opened my eyes, those monks in front of me were finishing their first half bow, I followed suit, eyes firmly fixed upon the rust and silver forms in front of me.

Following the chanting I allowed my mind to be swept away on the breeze of voices in the hall, I allowed my body to follow those monks without thinking, half bow, stand tall, hands met in front of my chest. Drop my knees to the floor, bend at the waist, touch both elbows to the cushion followed by the forehead. Raise both hands, palm up, towards the sky; rock back on your heels and stand tall and straight again. After a few repetitions I could feel sweat forming on my hairline, my leg muscles protesting at the effort being exerted so early in the morning. I ignored my body and focused on the temple surrounding me. We dropped into a lotus flower sitting position and I straightened my back as my legs pleaded with me to return to bed. To my right was a fresco with many faces on it, the guardians of the Buddha. Some of them were pleasant enough to look at, smiling faces gesturing and welcoming, whereas others appeared to be in great pain and anguish, their faces wide with silent screams and grimaces of pain. In front of me were the three Golden Buddha statues, they alone were magnificent, lighting up the hall as if the glow were an internal force being lit by the love and devotion surrounding them. Behind them the walls were festooned with frescos depicting different scenes from the teachings and sutras. Above me, lighting the room with a dull colored glow, were hundreds of hand made lotus flower lanterns. Pinks, oranges and reds with the occasional purple, all of the colors were in neatly ordered rows and lines; strung across the roof as hanging there magically. The roof of the temple was painted in bright greens, blues and yellows: geometric lines and shapes that outlined the squares of the ceiling and highlighted the tiny flowers painted within those squares.
The chanting changed in tone and strength, several of the monks performed a complicated series of three bows before the Buddha as one by one, in an ordered line they gathered up their cushions and marching off behind the Buddha. We were ordered to follow suit, each of us picking up our cushion after half bowing before the great hall. We placed our cushions at the door and filed out into the rain. In front of me, in an orderly line upon the high stone base of the temple were the monks, an arm darted out in front of me and the monks began to pass, in formation; each monk stepping up to the stone stairs, unfurling his umbrella and then opening it with a snap. Taking a step down the first stair and off into the grounds of the temple. They all followed suit: step up, unfurl, snap open, step down, disappear; the monks left, as silently and efficiently as they had come. I looked out across the grounds of the temple, over the drip, drip, drip of the rain off the roof, and out into the vibrant new-growth green of the mountain trees. The sun was rising across the Eastern shoulder of the mountain, the sky was a purple hush and the clouds were steel grey. The air I breathed was clean and clear. Pure.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There's nothing I hate more than writers block.

I keep creating new posts with every intention of writing about something, witty, exciting or tragic that has happened to me today; and yet each time I end up staring at this stupid blank page for around four minutes.

To be precise.

Sometimes I end up ranting about my tragically pathetic life which I then deem too insecure to post to the wider interwebs and furiously drown it within the archives of my personal notes, or I write something shit and post it for about 2 minutes. Thankfully the people that usually read this are 15 hours behind me and I come to my senses and delete the deliriously heinous offender before it assaults too many eyes.

Speaking of delirious stumbling, today in the hallway I was mobbed by about 15 of my 7th grade boys, they came ripping down the hallway at a speed only young adolescent boys can achieve. I froze in the hallway, deer in the headlights look. To my left was the water fountain (more on the absurdity of this thing later) to my right was the wall. I shut my eyes, bent my knees ever so slightly and prepared for contact; certain I was about to be trampled. I felt a little bit of wind and the sounds around me definitely increased, but for some reason I wasn't being shoved under foot like some less-fortunate women on Black Friday at Macy's. I opened my eyes quickly and to my amazement, all 15 of these boys were standing directly in front of me, staring at me one of them asked me "Teachah, what doing?" I stood up fully and looked at them all standing there in front of me. They all giggled like little girls at a tea party and then began pouring past me. I stood there in the empty hallway for a moment contemplating what had just happened.

Sometimes Korealand is so strange.


Monday, May 2, 2011

Tokyo in 2.5

I arrived in Tokyo tired of travelling and feeling sick to my stomach, flying has never been the easiest on my constitution and these 10 hours were no different; not to mention there was one legitimate puker and 3 pity pukers surrounding me as we began to land, 3 crying babies and a snarling Japanese woman as my seat neighbor. I staggered out of the airplane pleased that I had survived what I secretly had dubbed the flight from hell. Whatever past sins I’d incurred during my trip to the States had been absolved after that flight.

I followed the crowd like a sheep to the food trough, my mind was on other things and I let myself be swept along the grey corridors, noting nothing but the whirring of my sluggish brain. I glanced up and noticed “International connections” and “Domestic Connections,” since I had successfully landed myself in Asia I took the corridor labeled, “Domestic Connections.” I braved customs and a dodged a very enthusiastic Japanese man who was insisting on telling me about the new strains of rice that were being created in Japan to help cure the Asian rice crisis; if there’s one thing I care less about when I’m queasy it’s food, and the fact that the food of topic was rice meant that my interest level was beginning to dip well below polite indifference.

I finally managed to make it to the baggage claim and that’s when it hit me, I had actually allowed myself to leave the airport central and enter into Japan. I checked my passport and saw a 90-day tourist visa attached to my passport. My heart skipped a beat. I stood in the baggage claim trying to calm myself before deciding that I could easily re-enter the airport, surely there must have been other idiots like me? So, I left the baggage claim and found myself deposited in the middle of a busy sidewalk. Busses, taxis and personal cars whizzed past me, my eyes filled up with tears, how on earth did I manage to get stranded in Tokyo? I glanced down at my flight ticket, my fingers trembling, took a deep breath, checked the time and realized I had approximately 45 minutes to figure out where I needed to be and board the airplane in order to get back to Korea on time. Thankfully, while I was standing there, a very kind, balding, wart-faced man approached me and asked if he could assist me, “You help need?” I explained my situation, “I idiot, need international flight. Korea.” He smiled at me and lightly grasped my wrist before toting me back inside the airport and to an elevator “Fourse froor! Frourse froor!” He pushed me into the already crowded elevator and the doors snapped shut on my thanks and his smiling face.

I found myself deposited on the 4th floor of the airport, I explained my idiotic situation to the smiling assistant, she glanced at her watch, her smile disappeared, she gabbled something into a walkie-talkie and directed me to the security area where I was met by a tiny Japanese man who glanced at me with disdain, the audacity of idiotic American women! He rushed me through security and we began to run through the terminal, I caught a glance of the time and realized I had 20 minutes left to make my flight. After an eternity, we were both gasping and struggling to push our way through a line of pre-pubescent Japanese women in matching tracksuits. We finally burst through the pimply estrogen line and I found my ticket and passport being wrenched from my hand as they pushed me onto the boarding walkway and I hustled aboard the plane.

I suppose if you were to affix a moral to this story it would run along the lines of; don’t be an idiot, learn to read or, even though many Asians look alike and sound alike to my American ears, all Asians are not in fact the same.

Ethnocentric karma is a bitch

Monday, April 4, 2011


I realize I have been a miserable blogger for the last few weeks and I just wanted to apologize, I promise I'll do better from now on. With that being said, I've been away working on a new website that I'm showing to my kids today. I realized that my adorable little students don't speak very well but they read and write admirably well SO I created this website/blog space with the hopes that they will actually open up and write about some of their experiences! Anyway, it's here:

I've never created a website before so it should be pretty exciting continuing to figure this out!


Monday, March 21, 2011

It's Basic Science Teacher!

I couldn't get the sound to work in my first class of the day, and it's the first class of the week. I seriously wanted to punch someone, however, my coolheadedness prevailed and I merely crossed my eyes and stuck my tongue out at my class while the sound of a creepy robotic man's voice talked about vietnamese food in the background. One of my students stood up and walked towards the computer stand, he glanced at the computer desk giving it a brief once over, then, he kicked the desk! The sound crackled and began blaring out at the appropriate volume. I winced and rushed to quiet the noise while my students laughed hysterically. Then one of them blared from the back of the class, "Teacher, Scienceuh!"

I love my students.



So, like you all know (because I bothered you to make me a video!) my kids and I are talking about superheroes this month. We walked through a worksheet detailing, organizing, and creating the superhero that all my kids wanted to be. At the end of the period I had a couple kids stand up and tell the class about their superhero, one of my smaller boys stood up a little shakily, glanced around the room, took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and began to speak. There was nothing unusual about his superhero, in fact it wasn't really a superhero at all! Instead this boy was describing a normal human being, as he was nearing the end andI was beginning to wonder how this child had gone so dramatically wrong within the confines of my assignment when he concluded his presentation by saying,

My superhero normal is, BUT he can fist when attacked.

He glanced solemnly about him, his friends agreeing with him by solemnly shaking their head and furrowing their brows. I stared around the room before biting back my laughter.

I mean...isn't that just a punch?
Well, whatever I guess!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Samgye (Sam-gay)

So i've been working on this website for what feels like an absolute eternity and I think that i'm almost finished with it...going to try to start it up the week after next once all my kids are finished making their comics....but here's one of the logo's i've been playing with. Ive been having a hell of a time sizing everything appropriately, my photoshop skills just aren't all that savvy tragically enough. Ah well.