Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Von came to visit me on Monday, and today, Wednesday, we flew into Tokyo, Japan for our visit our second Asian country.  Our hotel is in Minami-Asagaya on the Western side of Tokyo, on the Maronouchi Line of Tokyo Metro.

Although I don't claim to know Korean language yet, I've gotten used to the sound and rhythm of it being spoken all around me.  It's been a mental work-out to try to listen to a new, new patterns of speech to listen for the information that might be helpful to me in subway and in the stores.  I'll most likely put up pictures tomorrow of our trip so far.  First impressions of our neighborhood:  the streets are very clean and very quiet, there's no smoking outside, and manga is everywhere.

Tomorrow I'm going to Harajuku,  Roppongi, and lastly, Shibuya for a New Year's Eve party at club Womb in the evening. My mission is shopping, then partying. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Definitely the coldest day of the season so far today!  The daytime temp was -3 degrees!  Okay, okay; that's Celcius, but still I feel like it's the dead of winter.  There have been Christmas decorations up for the last two weeks, but it just doesn't feel like the holly jolly season I'm used to experiencing.  I think it's because I don't have the people I love near me.  Part of me is sad, but it's mostly just different.  TV here isn't as saturated with Christmas-themed ad jingles and seasonal warm-hearted mini-series as in America, and it's the first time I haven't been fed up with "Jingle Bell Rock" by the middle of the merry month.  I get a break this year! While I'm sure I'll start missing the exhaustion from all the Xmas glitz come March when I realize it's absence, for now I'm relieved(1).

But, please, don't think I'm forgotten about my family and friends from back home.  I'm giving all my good cheer (presents) to Von when he comes to visit East Asia over the New Year.  He'll bring it back with him on the plane and mail it to you all using USPS.  So, even though you'll get some gifts a little late, I hope you enjoy.  When else are you going to get some authentically cool crap from Korea?  

If you're one of those people who can't live without Christmas, please continue to live it up and have a happy holiday season! 

1. I am really missing Christmas cookies, however. :(

Friday, December 4, 2009

Korean Double Date

Last night my friend Meredith--from Utah, living three subway stops away from me in Beomgye--were invited on a double date.  I've been meeting one guy named Seong Jin about once a week for chicken and beer(1) and sometimes he brings his friends. His English is almost nonexistent, but we both have a sense of determination of communication that I think is uncommon for monolingual Koreans and certainly a rarity among foreigners here(2). Sometimes he invites his friends, who speak a little bit more English, and we always have a great time.

One of his friends asked if I had any other foreign friends that would be good for double or even triple dates. I've spent so much of my life hanging out with groups of guys (I think we more often mesh a little less awkwardly), so I said why not. There was one guy specifically that I wanted Seong Jin to take with us on a double date named Jim.  He's a taekweondo instructor, very fit, and he's got a cute asymmetrical anime haircut that I knew would win over one of my lady friends. 

We met last night at 9.  The friend he brought along, I had never met before, was named Hong Gil.  At first sight I was a little disappointed because he didn't have the same cute Korean style as Seong Jin and his friends--he looked more like an American guy, with a loose-fitting pair of light stonewashed jeans, an olive green jacket and a T-shirt.  We went out for beer, soju, makolri and bar food, which, in Korea, is top-notch non-fried stuff.  It was a little awkward at first since Seong Jin and I both knew two of the party and Meredith and Hong Gil only knew one, but the tension broke when they realized that HG lives in the same city that M trains in Moi Thai (a martial arts fighting style used in the Thailand army) and that HG also does martial arts--taekweondo and Judo.

This was an interesting experience.   It's like regular dating, without having to txt message your friend under the table or having to go to the bathroom together to let one know what the other is thinking about their date.  A "team"--divided by first language--can drop out of the group "conversation" and speak in a slightly coded version of the language to discuss more intimate things the other team doesn't need to know.  The coding consists of a more complex sentence structure, more difficult vocabulary, and slang.  Back in the group, it's like a language and culture workshop for both teams held over wonderful food and plentiful drink. 

1. I might have said this in a past blog post, but it's worth repeating.  Fried and barbequed chicken is one the most abundant and well-like foods in Korea and anywhere you go in a metropolitan area, a fried chicken place is not far.

2. It seems most foreigners band together with other foreigners and kind of cut off from what happening in Korea with Koreans.  Many seem like extended-stay tourists to me, seeing the sights, but not wishing to really observe and go with the flow of the culture.  

Please leave me your comments of questions in the comment box below or email me at 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My First Korean Class

I'm happy to announce that I have finally started (in)formal Korean classes with a book (intended for 5 year-olds), a teacher (my youngest coworker, volunteered to work with me for free by a senior coworker), and a regular meeting time of Monday and Wednesday mornings from 11:00-12:00.  I'm a little overwhelmed, but I think it's going to be good.  I just need to practice every day and use the phrases I learn in as many situations as possible during my day.  This new gig sure beats trying to construct sentences using my very limited Korean pocket dictionary with the English-less guys I go on dates with, I can tell you that right now.

My teacher is Janice, a 28 year-old soon to be bride.  She's very skinny, energetic, and enthusiastic about helping me learn.  She asked me at the beginning of our time today at Dunkin Donuts what aspect of Korean was my priority to learn: writing, phonetics, speaking, etc. I said speaking, because it doesn't look like I'm going to be writing an theses or novels in Korean anytime soon, and I've studied the alphabet enough to know what sounds go with what letters.  I mostly want to learn the language to form closer relationships with the Koreans I meet.  On her command, I wrote out some simple words.  She let me know immediately that I was doing it all wrong.  Like in Japanese and Chinese, the stroke order for each individual mark in each letter is very important, and she suggested that I make writing my number one.  Kind of bummed out by this, I agreed with her and went to making sure my stroke order was standard.

At the end of our hour, she showed me the pictures of her THREE wedding dresses, first picked out by her, then repicked out by her mother (who said that all her choices looked very cheap).  Before she announced that she was getting married, the director, secretary, and two other coworkers had a serious discussion about how Janice should not attempt to marry the boyfriend she was with.  Their reason: he works for a construction company and he doesn't make enough money.  This was very sad for me to hear because the week before Janice had told me that, unlike most Korean women, she is looking for a kind and generous heart over money.  And now these heartless bitches were trying to break up this sweet young couple!  Since her announcement, I haven't heard anymore negative talk about it, and I won't probe for it either.

Anyway, I'll let you know how my lessons are going.  The pictures in Korean book I bought are priceless.  One says, "Circle the kids in this playground scene who are playing dangerously," and the picture is of kids laughing and playing, along side others who have malicious grins on their faces climbing up slides, grabbing hold of the next kid on the swing with their legs, or standing on the high end of the see-saw.  The assailants has rosy cheeks and wide sparsely-toothed grins.  Fantastic.  I'm excited.

Please leave your comments, reactions--accompanied by a comment, please, and questions below or send them to me via email at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


When I lived in the US, I might have been able to say that I HATED most pop music.  The first time I saw a KPop (Korean pop music) video was in a bar with Brenna and her friends in Incheon on a huge screen. I saw the glittery outfits, the cheesy dance moves, and the boy and girl groups topping off with eight or nine members each, I began to think that pop music wherever I went was not for me.  Since then, I've changed my mind.
Walking past an outdoor dining area near a local hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant, I caught a glimpse of what was on the TV.  The following video spun my head so fast the centrifugal force sucked my eyeballs out and glued them to the screen:

I had heard the song before, but after I saw those delicious Korean men doing that dance, I was hooked.  (Little did I know at the time that they were actually parodying a song and dance by a girl group called Brown Eyed Girls; nevertheless, I've always loved more femininity in guys than most girls, and, man oh man, Korea's got the guys I love. ;))

If you like the music or the guys, let me know, and I can def hook you up with more KPop.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I miss you, Schwinn Sprint!

I really miss my bike. :(  I didn't, really, for a long time, and then like jet engine screaming in my ear, I suddenly do. We did so much together. We went to work, we went out in the country, to class, we went to Mpls, to concerts, to parties, to birthdays.  What a good friend. 

Every time I want to visit my friends, the cab fare is 2500w there and another 2500w to get back (roughly $5 total).  I could save that money and use it to buy a bike here and ride it over there when I want some exercise and a chat. The ride is scenic and most of the way has sidewalks that are wide enough for me to duck off the street if I feel like it's too busy. I'd want a pretty decent road bike, not too expensive, but something that's nice and light.  People have told me that riding bike in Korea is very dangerous, but I do see people doing it.  Not as often as in the Twin Cities, but a recognizable number.  And they're mostly old people, which leads me to believe that it's really not that dangerous (they're the wisest and most experienced, am I right, Grandma and Grandpa?). And to help out just a little, I'll even tell someone special about my plans:

Dear Santa,
I've been a really good girl this year, and I've found the courage to do some things that I previously thought scary and insurmountable.   I think I deserve a pat on the back.  How is the Mrs.?  Tell her she's a helluva woman.  Santa, please bring me a road bike with ram handlebars and pedal cages this Christmas.  I'll be sure to supply plenty of deokbeoggi (Korean children's favorite snack, made with pulverized-fish-bone cake, spicy orange sauce, and chewy rice logs) for when you come to leave it for me on Xmas Eve.  Thank you! 
                                                 Sincerely, Korean Vanny

Monday, October 26, 2009


I was arisen at 2:05 in the morning by two intense itches on opposite arms.  Oh, yeah: by the way: there's also a hole in my screen and bugs get in. 

Update on the Living Sitch

So as some of you may know from my recent Facebook status, I had a rough Thursday last week due to further discussion with my director about my room situation.  I had asked before about what she could do to get me into a livable apartment (specifically with enough sunlight to tell what time of day it is).  The first time she said she could do nothing.  I went back to her again with a coworker as translator and she said yes, but I would need to pay W500,000 out of my pocket and would need to FIRST find someone to occupy my place before I could even begin to look for other places to live.  This is a very different method than in the US where it's the landlord's responsibility to all their own legwork, so I was a bit shocked and unnerved at first, no to mention being worried about being homeless for a period in between.

But, at the end of the day, I really needed to assess whether over $400US would be worth getting some sunlight.  I thought on it for about a week, and got a lot of input from other English teachers around me.  Some said I should be very firm and insist that they pay for it or I would find another employer.  Others said I should just put up with it and save the money because directors are there make the decision for you and wouldn't budge due to my low rank in the hagwon.  

I was sick of not making progress, so I told my coworkers that I had made a decision about the room which was this: I would offer to pay 1/4 of the cost of moving.  If she said no, I would bargain at 1/3 and stop at 1/2 and after that I would threaten to quit.  What actually happened was that I did all the bargaining, but they still said no because my hagwon is losing a lot of money right now due to students dropping out and going to the brand new Gunpo Global Education Center (GGC) in the next town over, Sanbon, so they wouldn't have any money to do anything about it.  When told my coworkers that I might quit and saw the look on their faces, combined with my stress of trying to drop this bomb, caused me to tear up in a major way, which I wasn't expecting when planning this all out in my head.  I heard through third-hand conversation that a coworker spoke to my director about it, and she asked me to please consider the school's position in their tough economic times. At that point I really felt like I was doomed.  :(

Then a coworker told me not to be sad later on, which made me tear up again, pretty terrible when you're around kids all day.  So finally after all the students were gone and it was the end of the day, I asked my coworker to accompany me once more to officially give my director, face-to-face, my decision to leave.  I just caved and decided to pay.  Wow; did that ever feel terrible. Not only had I felt depressed all day long, but it got me back to square one. For realz? Whew, and it was a workout, let me tell you.  So everyday I now leave my key with the doorman in the case that someone wants to see my apartment.  Am I hopeful? Yes.  And eager?  Yes.  Do I think that people will also be turned off by their being no window?  OF COURSE, but there is hope.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

North Seoul Tower (Namsan Tower)

Namdaemun Market: vendors selling street food.And granny-panties (with butt pads).Namsan Tower is at the top of the highest mountain in the center of Seoul and can be reached by cable car.  The Sunday we visited, it was extremely busy and we waited in line for a while.  We were right behind this cute backpack with some kind of laminated label on it (P.S. If you can read Korean, please let me know what it says!).The cable-car ride up to the top.  We thought it would be maybe four people to a car, but it was more like 30 and we were crammed.There was a treacherously steep climb to the top.  It was a beautiful set of stairs, though.  I saw so many children falling that day, tripping over the last inch of each step their little legs couldn't reach.  And for the 10,000 won fee, the view was worth it!At the top of the hill, there was a warriors-with-sword-staves demonstration.  The man in front with a blue lower-half sliced though straw things cleanly in half with a single swipe.  At the base of the tower we saw a sign for The Teddy Bear Museum.  Diana said she loved Teddy Bears, so we did some photos near the specially marked "photo opportunities." And went inside.  It was really just a very small gift shop full of teddy bears.  These wire sculptures were awesome. These human forms were sculpted from chicken wire and hang above the outdoor walkways of Seoul Tower.I saw two places of art and memory installation: one, you can buy a tile to stick in a designated area to write a personal message on, and two, you can bring a lock (or buy one of theirs if you need spontaneity) and lock it to the outside railing. You can also personalize it with a message.  The entire outdoor observation deck is covered with locks.  From this picture, you can get an idea of how far away the US is from Seoul.  All the major world cities were listed on the windows, and the direction you face out the window is the direction you need to travel to get there.  Diana is from Washington, D.C., so behind her, yeah, she lives thataway. The river in the background is the Han River, which snakes through the city.  While on the train, I've seen the Han and it looks beautiful.  People fishing, jogging, pushing strollers, biking; the same thing people do on urban rivers in the US.

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