Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seasons Change


I arrived in Korea during the final stretch of winter.  When I got off the plane I was greeted with blistering winds and a cold that bore deep into the bones.  The kind of cold that those pajamas, saved for this exact weather don't quite measure up to.  A hot shower just doesn't do the trick. Even that piping hot cuppa 'Joe doesn't go deep enough.  I arrived here during the tail end of winter.  Somehow, Korea is already nipping at the heels of the next winter.  An entire year of seasons have been experienced by me and I find myself trying to recall what they were and where they went.  Spring was a short season this year, marked only by the cherry blossoms that briefly reminded us that warmer weather was on the way.  A hot, humid summer soon followed and the long days were enjoyed beachside with friends, on summer holidays at exotic locations and sticky summer nights at our favorite haunts.  The calendar shows that November is just around the corner and along with the turkey it will bring, coldness is sure to follow.

I have extended my contract until almost one year exactly from today but am already beginning to wonder if I will escape this season intact.  The weather has only recently shown its cold shoulder to Korea and already that familiar ache is reappearing.  The ache that makes me want to squeeze out any remaining warmth from the sun and try like hell to hold onto it until warmer weather appears.  When the night sky creeps further and further into my day and forces me to change my routine.  Forcing me to abandon my recently purchased bicycle for fear of impaling myself upon something or someone while biking along the downtown streets.  When leaving the warmth of my bed each morning becomes more and more difficult when the wind howls through the shut window.

I catch myself waiting for someone.  For something to jump start me.  To make me finally feel the spark that has been absent from my life for so long.  However, that other spark still gets to me.  The spark that only a teacher knows.  That spark that sometimes flickers but is never fully extinguished.  Knowing that even though there are those days where students are obnoxious, coworkers grate on already frayed nerves and the tiredness after a long day becomes all know you wouldn't trade them.  You wouldn't trade having the opportunity to change the life of that little girl in your early morning class and seeing that imaginary lightbulb when she finally understands.  That "A HA!" moment.  Knowing that it was me who helped her FINALLY get the right answer.  I would rather go through the bad days to get to that moment than be where I was before this journey began.

Prior to really embracing myself as the  person i've become, I was ordinary, beige and uninspired.  I did the exact same thing, with very little variation.  Every. Single. Day.  Very little influence.  Nothing to motivate me.  Nothing to remind me that my full potential wasn't being utilized.  I was a server at a local restaurant.  A recent college graduate.  I had become the things I did instead of letting those thing become a part of me.  I had lost who I was.  Lost what I loved.  Lost the importance of altering the path I was on.  Thankfully, I had my own "A HA!" moment.  One that has irrevocably changed me.  I realized I was meant to do more.  Be more.  Experience more.  To quote from one of my favorite bands (Switchfoot), "I was meant to live for so much more."  I am so glad I realized this when I did.  That this bolt of inspiration didn't hit me when I was in the kitchen with my future, nuclear family.  Doing a sinkful of dishes.  Daydreaming out the window at the coveted white picket fence about what might have been.

Thank God I opened my eyes and saw my potential.  On the day of my own "A HA!" moment, I filled out an application to be a teacher in Korea, pumped out my new resume and took that leap of faith.  That leap of faith changed my life.  Here, I feel free.  Healthy.  Content.  Inspired.  Motivated.  Encouraged.  The combination of being pushed at work, cultural differences and just the knowledge of what could have been if I would have continued being content with mediocrity...makes me feel a rush of belief that maybe i'm where i'm supposed to be for the first time in my life.

Even though I know that the decision to come to Korea was a bit extreme in order to get a new breath of inspiration, it was exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Weather Whining

#141.  Here in Korea, teachers are not called "Miss" or "Mr."  There is no formality with using last names.  The kids call us (name) Teacher.  I am "Jenn Teacher."  Now while some teachers here hate being called (name) Teacher,  I not so secretly like it.  Okay, I think it's adorable and I love it.  I hate being called Miss. Comer.  It makes me feel like the lady with glasses and wiry gray hair that can't get married off and who wears bright dollar store pink lipstick and rocks a snaggle tooth.  Yes, that is specific but it's what I think of.  No thank you.  Jenn Teacher works just fine.

#142. Here Taxi drivers assume that because I am a foreigner I can't understand Korean when negotiating fares.  No, I will not pay 15,000 Won for a trip that should have been 7,000.  I can read the meter and (shockingly) I can pronounce it in Korean.  No thank you.  I can understand a majority of what you say so quit taking the long way to my desired destination, charge me the correct fare and give back the proper change.  Please and thank you good sirs.

#143.  You can leave your money/bags/purses/wallets/cameras/etc ANYWHERE.  While I don't suggest that you do this often, it is nice to have the option to not have to worry about items being stolen. This is quite the switch from going to the bars or any establishment at home where an eagle eye is on your purse and drink at all times.  Here, it is very common to leave any belongings on the table and leave it without a second glance.  Theft is rare and is unfortunately usually due to other foreigners.

So over the weekend my well-worn Ball State jacket (you know the one) was finally retired.   This jacket got me through the majority of college and my first 8 months in Korea.  I'm frankly shocked to pieces it lasted as long as it did.  I was going to put off a new coat purchase for a few weeks but good old Mother Nature had other ideas.  She decided to completely screw with the weather and throw fall/winter into hyperdrive and force me out to buy a new jacket (which I love but is beside the point).  Yes, I am well aware that it is almost November but Korea doesn't like to ease people into the seasons.  Two weeks ago, I was in shorts and t-shirts.  Last week I was in jeans and a t-shirt.  This week I am in jeans, sweaters (yes plural) and scarves.

Oh, and yes I realize that because it is almost November I should have anticipated the coldness.  I did anticipate it but that doesn't mean I have to like it.  Or not whine about it.

Hence the whining.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


It's nights like tonight.  When it's so quiet I can hear the rain fall on the eaves of the apartments across the alley.  So quiet that I can hear the tick-tock-tick coming from my watch in my backpack.  So quiet that every recessed memory comes out of hiding and is begging to be the forefront of my thoughts.  Quiet.  Still.  While sometimes I love this quiet more than I can even say,  I miss having noise.  The sound of the garage door opening and knowing my dad is getting home from work.  Hearing the dogs bark outside, whining to come in.  The noise of Mom sweeping the kitchen floor.

In Korea the noise is different.  The noise is of construction workers, scrambling to finish the building they're on. Of mosquitoes that somehow creep their way into your apartment at 2am and buzz and buzz until you're awake holding your shoe as a weapon.  Of honking taxis, desperate for your body in their cab so that they can make their nightly fare quota.  The noises are different.  The noises are not as comforting or as familiar.  They are just noise.  Like the sound of a tv when it switches from Golden Girls reruns to the black and white static that fills the screen.

It's weird sometimes the things you miss.  The noises.  The smells.  The familiarity.  Tonight,  I miss the noise of home.  The familiar sounds of family.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Police and Pohang's Biggest Loser

#139.  Koreans and their obsession with photos.  First off, in pictures most Koreans don't smile.  They more often than not just look a little annoyed or like they would rather be anywhere than where they are.  They also take pictures in rapid succession.  One after another...after another...after another.  The quality of the pictures ranges from camera phone quality to the huge telescoping lens that you see on professional photographers.

#140.  The police in Korea are nothing like those in any part of the world I have been to.  Normally when the police are called to a bar fight in the states, they will question those involved, ascertain what damages have been done and then arrest or detain those responsible. Not in Korea.  Here is a prime example.  Last night at a local bar downtown there was a bar fight.  Not just a casual punch but an all out brawl complete with the throwing of billiard balls and glass pitchers.  Punches were thrown, the cops were closed.  Or at least in America it would be.  Here, the cops brought the offending guys outside (where they proceeded to attempt to pummel the cops) and had them hold hands for twenty seconds.  They hugged them and let them go.  Only in Korea. 

So, on a unrelated in Korea we have started our own little version of "Biggest Loser."  There are 4 primary ladies who are determined to get our workout on and lose some poundage.  We try and work out 4-5x a week and mix it up with circuit training every Tuesday night.  We motivate eachother with new recipes, words of encouragement and our monthly ladies nights where we get to get dolled up and paint the town with our newfound skinnyness.

Before I came to Korea I had lost 30lbs and was well on the way to my goal weight/size.  I gained a bit when getting here but have since gotten back to that weight (sans the 30lbs) and then a bit more!  My primary goal is just to get healthy but doing it with my girls and having the motivation is sure helping.  Since our start date of 10/11 I have lost 2kg.  Now for all of you non-kg minded people that is a little more than 4 pounds.  Whoo hoo you may say, she lost 4lbs.  Let's throw her a party.  Not so much.  I am simply saying that by just changing a few parts of my daily life I am getting back into the swing of a healthier lifestyle.

Sure having a vacation on the beach is a good motivator.  Being seen in a bathing suit is usually incentive for anyone to get back on the fitness train.  Another incentive is being able to shop in real clothing stores in February that will actually carry clothes I can fit into and aren't bedazzled with glitter kittens or grammar that can make you cringe.

It's on.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Eat. Pray. Love.

I recently watched "Eat. Pray. Love."  It is based off of a book by Elizabeth Gilbert.  If you haven't read it now.  Stop reading, go to the nearest Barnes & Noble and buy it.   If you haven't read it then head to the theater and watch the on screen version.  It doesn't matter if you are a girl or guy.  Young or old.  It speaks to anyone with an open mind.  The book (and movie) show her life when she traveled around the world after a failed marriage.  It shows how a broken person becomes whole.  How travel, food, religion and love can transform a shell of a person into a better version of who they once were.  I like to think that I am like her in that way.  That we are alike in our zeal for life and desire to collect new experiences and people.  

Here are few quotes from the book that specifically speak to me.  They inspire me on how to live my life, treat those I love and most importantly how to learn to be happy with yourself.  


"I have my own set of survival techniques. I am patient. I know how to pack light. But my one might travel talent is that I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead. If there isn’t anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of sheetrock. That is why I’m not afraid to travel to the most remote places in the world, not if there are human beings there to meet. People asked me before I left, “do you have friends [there]?’ and I would just shake my head no, thinking to myself, But I will." 

"Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit." 

If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are well prepared-most of all-to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself...then truth will not be withheld from you."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Shiny, Red Bike

When I was younger I always thought that bicycles with baskets were for old ladies or children with tiny puppies to sit in.  Today I purchased the bike I always made fun of.  Not only does it have a basket but it also has a shiny silver bell.  It's okay to be jealous. 

Koreanisms and the Weekend

#135. Some Koreans grow one fingernail (usually the pinkie) longer than the rest if they have naturally dark skin.  This long nail proves that they are not farmers who darken their skin with physical labor and that they have culture, breeding, and wealth.  This is common in the majority of Asia.

#136.  At gyms it is very common for people to drink coffee before, during or after their workouts.  Most believe that by raising the temperature of your body, it causes the body to work harder to cool it down and you lose weight simultaneously.  Wouldn't that be nice if that was true.

#137.  Weddings in Korea are just as public as in America...but with a twist.  To hell with the cans and the "JUST MARRIED" sign.    Here the honeymoon car is decked out with pink (or some other very feminine color) and bows of all shapes and sizes while it parades up and down the downtown streets.  In Korea the "less is more" mentaility does not fit with this tradition.

#138. In Korea it is very common for people to pee outside.  It is not a drunken thing.  It is an ALL THE TIME thing.  Here is a perfect example.  Last week during a lesson on how to write the letter "R", I see two grown men in business suits peeing in full view of myself and my children. Only in Korea.

The weekend is unfortunately over...but what a weekend it was.  Here is a quick recap.

Every other Friday one of our favorite bars, LIVESTORY, has an open mic night. This happened to be one of those weeks.  We got to hear our friends play music and dance the night away.  Saturday was an early morning of hiking at one of my favorite places, Bogyeongsa.  The night was spent at Tilt with friends catching up from our weeks and getting into discussions about where we were going for holiday and alike.  Sunday found me at my standing coffee date with the crew at my usual hangout spot, 7 Monkeys.

See.  I promised I would be quick.  All in all, the weekend was fantastic.  Good music.  Good friends.  Beautiful scenery while hiking.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Korea is back in the news.  Mom, calm down, it's not for the usual North Korea vs. South Korea antics. It is for something far less exciting: kimchi.  Specifically, the startling lack of kimchi in Korea. Now I know I have referenced kimchi in my earlier posts but here's a little refresher for any new readers to my blog.  Kimchi is basically a fermented, spicy, cabbage.  It doesn't sound the most appealing, but after almost 8 months here it is something I look for at mealtimes.

This Korean staple has made the news because of a nationwide shortage of this delectable little side dish.  Said best by the Washington Post, kimchi is becoming scarce due to, "a freakish combination of cold temperatures in the spring, an extreme heat wave in the summer and torrential rains in September."  This paticular combination has ruined a large portion of cabbage crops that generally go into making every Korean's favorite side dish.  To make this hit home for those who don't understand the craving for kimchi, just try to imagine if America suddenly ran out of potatoes.  No baked potatoes.  No homemade mashed potatoes at  Thanksgiving this year.  You would be just as sad as these poor Koreans.

Or as these poor English teachers who have grown to love their kimchi.  Myself included.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Homigot Fieldtrip

Last week we went on a little field trip with the babies.  We went to Homigot (호미곶), which is home to the famous Homigot hand.  It is in an area along the sea with two large hands about twice the height of a human.  One stands in the middle of the plaza and the other one is partway into the sea.  At certain times of the year the sun sets right over the top it it, making it appear as if a giant hand is reaching out of the sea to pull the sea down.   

We didn't get the chance to go at sunset to see the awe-inspiring (so i'm told) sight of the sun in the palm of the hand but the crystal clear sky definitely showed off the beauty of Homigot in its entirety.

Enjoy the pictures from our field trip.  We had a blast!  

The babies posing before a casual dolphin statue

Hot potato pass it on...pass it on...pass it on

Little Brad's hiding spot during Hide and Seek

For you Teach-uh.  Oh Matthew how I love you.

Posing with my little girls, Christina and Sally

This was take 6.  Christina was done and yelling "TEACH-UH!"

How cute is Hansu?!  So mischievous.

Matthew just didn't know how to play the game
The famous Homigot hand

Corresponding hand in the center of the plaza

If I did my senior pictures in Korea, this would for sure be one of them

Posing for a picture in front of the hand

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Contracts and Thailand

#133.  Koreans throw tissue away after they've used it.  Let me rephrase that.  In Korea, toilet paper is commonly referred to as "tissue."  Most Koreans do not flush the tissue, they trash it.  Now, I understand that they are likely trying to put a stop to sewage problems and alike but to the average foreigner it's just plain gross.  Another person's waste is not what I want to smell when I walk into the bathroom.

#134.  Koreans are helpful when it comes to romantic indiscretions.  At most hotels, there are garages with a curtain that falls just low enough so that the license plate of a car cannot be visible from the street.  Say, you have a wife or husband who routinely checks on you to make sure you're being faithful?  Park your car in one of these handy, dandy parking garages and you're safe from the prying eyes of your clearly-not-so-loved one.

Well, quite a bit has happened since my last post.

As many of you know, I have been grappling (love that word) with the possibility of staying in Korea for another year.  I have weighed the viewpoints from my family and friends, the monetary gains and future experiences and have decided to stay.  Here are the most important parts of my new contract:

1.  I will have an (almost) 2 week vacation from February 2-12 to go home.  Actual flight times will be posted later after the flight is booked (hopefully sometime in November if funds allow)
2.  I have an end date of November 21st, 2011.  Yes, I know that is extremely specific but if you are a member of my family (Comer, Siemonsma, Hay or Brewer) you know how important Thanksgiving is to us. We go all out for the entire week.  Complete with a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, shopping (Black Friday is our own little version of crack cocaine), parade watching and plenty of card playing. It took me the better part of 2 weeks to convince my director that I would not stay until Christmas but eventually he saw the light.  Either that or he realized I wasn't going to budge and decided it was just easier to cave and let me have what I wanted.  My bet is on the latter.

I have also booked my tickets for a THAILAND Christmas.  From December 25th-January 2nd myself and 6 friends will be on the beaches of Bangkok with a cutesy little umbrella drink in hand, soaking up the sun.  While I do enjoy Bing Crosby's classic, "White Christmas", this year I will enjoy the white of the warm beach sand instead of the colder-than-a witches-tit-in-a-brass-bra snow.

What better way to welcome in 2011 than from the beaches of Thailand.

For now, life is good.  Kids are good.  Work is good.  Friends are good.  Family is supportive.  What more could I ask for?

To close, here a few pictures of the cutest kids you've ever seen.  Ok, well maybe the cutest kids I have ever seen.

Sunny stole her crayon.  Christina is not happy. 

The kids showing their multicolored weiner dogs.

Helping Matthew make a fish.  The one artsy thing I can do!

Wendy showing off her "smile."  She was still drinking out of it 3 days later.

How Christina sees me.  I have long, floor length hair, heart shaped
earrings, a crown and a gun at my side.  When she was asked by Jenn Teacher had a gun her reply was,
"But Jenn Teach-uh.  You are from America.  Americans have funs.  Right?!

My whole class.  They loved those straw mouths!