Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving in Korea

[I have decided against writing specifically what I am thankful for this year.  Instead of writing that super-detailed list that will almost certainly leave out someone incredibly important, I am going to simply say, "I am thankful." I am thankful for everyone and everything that has impacted me in a positive way during the past almost 10 months.  Thank you.]

This past weekend marked my first (and hopefully only) Thanksgiving away from home.  While the multiple Thanksgiving parties (four to be exact) did help take my mind off of my family, it did help me realize that being away from home is not what I want to do for the Thanksgivings to come.  Thankfully I was able to do a big skype call with my extended family.  It helped me feel connected and as if I were a part of the celebration even though I was 7,000 miles away.  Now you may be wondering why in the world I would do four Thanksgivings.  My answer?  Why the hell not.

My parties included the actual Thanksgiving at my favorite bar, TILT Bar and Grill, where a Thanksgiving meal was prepared with as many of the western trimmings as could be found.  This included (amongst other deliciousness) two huge pumpkin pies and a large and in charge turkey.  Yum yum yum.  Number two was at my school.  They had each parent prepare something to share.  Included were all the Korean favorites with a few western dishes (buffalo wings) thrown in.  맛있다!  (Delicious!)  The next was a potluck at a good friend's house.  Not as many western food were present but it was just as delicious.  Included in the decadency was an apple cake (thanks Frank), guacamole dip (Anna rocks) and bulgogi  (Ryan the host) to name just a few.  The final Thanksgiving (my waistline couldn't handle any more food) was at the American Marine base.  A few of my good friends are in the military and it gave us an excuse for another meal (like any of us needed it) and celebrating what we are thankful for.

Clearly I had a pretty good Thanksgiving.  I had good friends, good food and didn't have to be on a boat headed for Japan after an attack from our friends to the North.  Success.

Korean Thanksgiving complete with salad, kimbap, dok boki,
chicken, glutinous rice cakes, sticky rice and yellow curry. 

Amazing apple cake

Anthony annihilating a hamburger kabab

Matt being ingenious making a "brownie pancake"

A military Thanksgiving

With one of my best friends, Jen

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stop Fighting You Two

South Korea is back in the news.  Sorry Mom,  it's not for kimchi this time.  This time it is for our lovely friends to the north and their "beloved leader", Kim Jong Il and his inability to play nice with others.

I am sure if you have turned on a television in the past few days, it has been plastered with headlines regarding the battling Koreas.  The question in all of our minds:  What will happen next?  I have no clue.  Kim Jong Il, is one crazy tiny man so it remains uncertain what his next act will be.  For any of you who are a little hazy as to who the beloved dictator from the north is or why people think he's out of his gourd, here are just a few glimpes into his land of make-believe.

#1: He had a supernatural birth.  

According to North Korean historical literature [Kim John Il was born in a log cabin, inside a secret base, on Korea's most sacret mountain, Mt. Paekdu.  At the moment of his birth, a bright star lit up the sky, the seasons spontaneously changed from winter to spring and a double rainbow appeared.]  Hot damn.  Well well, aren't you supposedly special. Funny how this glorious story is contradictory to every single other account of his birth.  Other accounts state that the dictator was born in a guerilla camp in Russia, while his father was on the run from the Japanese.  Now, KJ.  I understand why you wouldn't want your starving...whoops...beloved followers to know that you were a nameless child who was born in a camp while Daddy was fleeing from the Japanese, but come on now.  Not only can you manipulate mother nature but you get your own personal star AND a double rainbow?  No one likes a liar. 

#2.  Kim Jong Il has a distinctive appearance.  

No one ever has to ask, "Who is that tiny little man with the ill-fitting glasses and khaki windbreaker?"  It's obvious from his signature hairstyle and carefully concealed platform sandals (he's 5'2'') that it's North Korea's favorite dictator.  

#3.  Kim Jong Il is multi-talented.

He claims to be the worlds best golfer, composer of 6 operas, choreographer of elaborate musicals and a world renown Internet expert.  Sure.  In a closed off, communist country that is a complete mystery to the rest of the world.  Golf, compose, choreograph and internet surf away.

#4.  KJ loves films.  Not likes.  Loves. By the 1970's his film collection had grown to more than 15,000 films (these were on the huge reels for theaters) and has a special place in his grinch-sized heart for Hollywood movies.  His favorites are said to include Rambo, Friday the 13th and all of the James Bond series.  He loves movies so much that in the 70's he kidnapped a prominant South Korean filmaker to make him his very own film.  The film was basicaly a communist propoganda version of Godizlla.  Sounds fun right?  After the lucky escape of the film maker, the communist leader gave his second-string film makers one demand:  make more cartoons.

Now this post isn't to make you think that I am not taking the attack on South Korea seriously.  I am.  I am just trying to show you the crazy man behind the attacks and maybe make you giggle.  Really, Mom?  Not even a little one?  A tiny Korean man who loves wearing platform sandals (probably bright pink with hello kitty), wearing oversized sunglasses and is the best choreographer of all time?  There you go.  I knew the kitty would get you. 

To all those who are worried, know that I am prepared and well informed.  Think of it this way.  If something does happen (God forbid) it just means that I get to come home all the sooner.  

I knew that would do the trick.  Smiles all around. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankful Kiddies

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the kids were asked to write down things they were thankful for.  Their answers ranged from the sun, puppies, toes, Hello Kitty (of course), Cinderella and tomatoes to Jenn teacher.

I guess this means they like me.  I'm thankful for them too.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Over the weekend I was one of the20 lucky Waygooks (foreigners) to be asked to go to a 1 year anniversary party for our favorite wine bar, WITH WINE.  The theme for our attire was "colorful."  We played with this and added face  painting throughout the night as the wine began to get the better of us.  Along with more than 40 wines from who knows how many countries, we were given scrumptious itty bitty sandwiches and entertainment galore.  It was by far one of the classiest places in Korea I have been to thus far and somewhere I hope to return to again.

Congratulations to WITH WINE on their 1 year anniversary.  May you be blessed with many years to come!

face painting for a little color

So much wine

My new random Korean friend who insisted on a picture.
Complete with the kimchi pose.

Claire and Frank

Anna and Luke, complete with face paint and wine.

Quick shot with some of the wine-goers

An anniversary party isn't complete without swing dancing

Trevor providing entertainment for the evening

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

First and foremost, happy birthday to the best mom a girl could ask for.  I hope it is amazing and just remember that in exactly one year from today I will be in an airplane on my way back to you.  I love you.

So, a few weeks ago, myself and a few friends decided to find a little culture around Korea.  We had gotten into a rut of doing the same thing weekend after weekend.  Dinner.  Bars.  Sleep.  Dinner. Bars. Sleep.  It gets old so we made a pact with eachother that we will visit a new cultural place in Korea once a month.  Here are some pictures of our trip to Andong, Korea.

Heather and I in our "couple clothes"

My ladies of the day

Totem poles outside the Andong Folk Museum

The  leaves make it my favorite time of year

The best swing ever

Again with the fall scenery

In Korea, a picture just isn't a picture until a Korean wants in it

Group shot:  (back row) Heather, Teagan, Dan, Mike
(front row) Tanya, me, Frances

With the two symbols of the folk village

One of the entryways into the home of someone in the village

Discarded prayer tablets

One more shot of the ladies

Even a casual Saturday afternoon stroll doesn't stop
the Korean men from dressing up in a full suit and tie

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hot Yoga

Today I found a new love.  No Mom, not a man, Yoga.  More specifically, Hot Yoga.  I know, I know.  "Jenn loves Yoga now?!"  A few of my friends have been talking about it for awhile now and I decided see what it was all about. I like my gym but it has been feeling a little monotonous lately so I decided to at least try it out.  For one whole hour, I was twisted into positions I never thought possible and sweat more than I ever have in my life.  And yes Chili's kids from Muncie, that includes all of our softball games during the summer tournaments.  Combined.

Now, you may be asking exactly what "Hot Yoga" is and what makes it o so cool and special.  Well here's the jist of it.

Hot Yoga is a series of yoga poses done in a heated room.  The room is usually maintained at a temperature of 105 degrees or more.  As you can imagine, a vigorous yoga session at this temperature promotes profuse sweating and makes the body very warm,  and therefore more flexible.

Hot Yoga may be just a craze of the moment but it is something I am going to be looking forward to now that we have hit the cold weather.  Yes 105 degrees is hot but when it is 30 outside it will be a welcome heat.  Who would have ever thought that I would love Yoga?!  I guess now I know to never knock something until i've tried it.  Lesson learned.

This is sweat, not water and yes, this is how I looked post-workout

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gobble Gobble Turkey Feet

I've come to the sad realization that I am going to be "that" Mom.  We all know who "that" Mom is. This is the Mom that thinks their kid is the best.  The smartest.  The funniest.  By far the cutest.  No, their kid did not start that fight on the playground.  Yes, they did bring in the best snacks to share.  As my little ones say, I am their 미국 엄마 or "America Mommy."  And yes,  I am "that" Mommy to 10 of the cutest, smartest, funniest kids in Korea. 

Helping Christina put her foot on the paper for
her "gobble gobble turkey."

Time out with Prince to do the standard "kimchi" pose

This is Smile.  One of the cutest little boys ever

Final "gobble gobble" turkeys.  Now if only they understood what Thanksgiving really was...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pepero Day

#147.  In Korea they have an entire day devoted to the snack, Pepero.  November 11th is Pepero Day.  It is the one day a year where eating the various chocolate covered cookies is completely acceptable and expected.  It is common to give your employer a package of Pepero.  Students give them to their teachers. Boyfriends give to their couple clothed girlfriend.  It's a delightful and completely superflous holiday that has the sole purpose of ruining my workout regime and diet.  I thorougholy enjoyed my first Pepero Day.

Here is the story behind "Pepero Day."

Pepero Day is an observance that is specific to South Korea.  It is named after the Korean snack, Pepero, and is held on November 11th, since the date "11/11" resembles four sticks of Pepero.  The holiday is observed mostly by young people and couples, who exchange Pepero sticks, other candies and romantic gifts.  According to one story,  Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls' middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Peper."  Oh, Korea.  You would have a wish associated with slenderness that is also associated with chocolate.   Make those poor Korean girls even more self conscious of themselves.

A huge heart made completely out of Pepero boxes

Just a few of the Pepero options

To conclude, the students in my all day kindergarten class were intense about this holiday.  We happened to have a huge cardboard Pepero box that held enough sticks for the entire school and one of the students insisted on wearing it as a backpack.  I know, I know.  He carried it around and was so persistant that we ended up adding tape to the back that acted as straps for him.  Who am I to judge?  I'm sure when I was little I insisted on carrying around much weirder objects.  Right Mom? Needless to say, disaster struck after lunch when someone (likely little Hansu who had been green with jealousy all day) sneakily hid his new favorite toy.  A meltdown ensued and the crying wouldn't stop until the Pepero "backpack" was found

Here are a few photos of "Smile", the little boy who has me wrapped around his little finger. 


Mid-melt down but finally reunited with his beloved Pepero backback

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Korean Emergency Rooms

#144. In Korean hospitals, medical gloves seem to be optional.  Masks are all the rage, but in my experience the part of the body that actual comes into direct contact with the sick is generally not covered.  Glove those hands Korea.

#145.  American ER vs. Korean ER.  In America, when visiting an ER you are given your own private room (or at the very least a curtained off area), forms to fill out and have your basic vitals taken.  In Korea, you are thrown onto a gurney in a large room where those around you are in various states of emergency.  Someone with a common cold is placed next to someone that is being resuscitated by a team of frantic nurses.  Here the word "emergency" is used rather literally.

#146.  The level of pain is ascertained by poking the area in question repeatedly and waiting for the appropriate response.  You motion that the right side of your stomach is in pain.  Clearly the next logical step is to poke it as hard as humanly possible until the patient cries out in pain.  Again and again.  And again.  One poke is enough.  The cry of pain is a clue that maybe that IS the spot that it hurts.

So you may be sensing a theme from my "Korean-isms."  YES, I was in the hospital and YES I am fine.  Here is the story in all it's Korea-infused glory.

This past Tuesday began as a very routine, boring day.  Taught the kids some English.  Ate some kimchi for lunch.  Had the usual 1:00 coffee.  Routine with a capital R.  What was NOT so routine about my day was the ridiculous stomach pain that started and continued well into the afternoon and evening.  What began as an annoying and slightly uncomfortable stitch in the side, quickly escalated into unimagnable pain.  After assesing the situtation with the help of WebMD, self medicating with a little handy, dandy western medicine and trying to just relax it away, it was apparent that additional help would be necessary.  Thankfully my co-teacher, Heather, was able to accompany me on what would prove to be a very interesting evening.  

Off we went to the first (yes, first) hospital.  The first floor looked dark, but with the doors unlocked we took a chance.  After finding the elevator and figuring out that the emergency room was on the THIRD floor (clearly it's there for easy access) we attempt to find anyone who looks important to tell me what is wrong.  After finding a Korean and having her talk to my Korean supervisor for five minutes, we figure out the hospital is closed.  Wait just a second.  The doors are open.  The lights are on.  There are nurses and patients but it's closed?! Apparently they are overwhelmed with patients but have no doctors staffed at night, just nurses.  Well, wouldn't that just make me feel super comfortable if I was a patient there.  What happens if I go into cardiac arrest in the middle of the night.  Need emergency surgery.  Need any emergency anything that a nurse isn't equipped to do.  So screwed.

Off to hospital #2 and it just so happens to be an old friend of mine:  Sun Lin.  This happens to be the hospital that took such special (sarcasm) care of me when I broke my leg.  Once again I went to the dingy Emergency Room.  Once again I was waved over to a 1945 steel gurney and told to wait.  Once again there were the mysterious brown smears on the walls and floors.  Super duper.  After changing into the o so flattering hospital gown (with buttons that don't QUITE close) they begin to ascertain exactly what is wrong with me.  Five minutes of intensive poking and proding later they figure out that I have abdominal pain.  No shit Sherlock.  I have been clutching my stomach and wincing in pain. That is universal.  They proceed to start an IV, give me a plastic cup to pee in and walk away.  Without any instructions. 

So, now that you have the basic layout of what is happening you now need to know what's going on around me during this whole endeavor.  Now like I said in #145, in Korean Emergency Rooms, you are not special or sectioned off.  You are right in the middle of a triage center, makeshift intensive care unit, last rites site and daycare center.  Bloody bandages are strewn about, fresh and dried blood is on the floor, gloves are rare to see and a general sense of chaos is felt.  Around me are two hysterically crying children, an old woman who looks like she was just recently in a fire, an old man moaning in pain and another indisernible person underneath bloody bandages and tubes galore.

After eventually strapping my IV to a cart, I go and give them a urine sample.  Now in America, one would go to the bathroom and do what needs to be done, put the lid on the already labeled container and deposit it into the hands/or tray of a gloved professional.  Not in Korea.  Here you pee into a plastic cup with no lid or label and give to an ungloved nurse who puts it on the desk.  Puts it on a desk that has papers, computers and important documents in very close proximity.  Very hygenic.  Very hospital-like.

So eventually after the unhygenic transfer, multiple xrays and the mysterious medicine pushed into my IV, I am told that I do not have appendicitis like they previously thought.  Thank you Jesus.  Surgery in Korea is just not something that is on my to do list.  I am told I have an infection and that the medicine they will give me will take care of it.

Sorry Korea.  Though it only took about 1 hour from beginning to end, I still prefer the Emergency Rooms of the good old US of A.  At least there I know my doc will be gloved, know my allergies and speak my native language so that the pantomiming of symptoms won't be necessary.