Friday, April 29, 2011

Phoebe Snow. July 17th, 1950 -- April 26th, 2011.

This is one of my favorite songs. Rest in peace, Phoebe.

The Cat and Coffee

Last week I cautiously accompanied my roommate, Asia, to The Cat and Coffee, a coffee shop with live cats as decor. I was preparing myself for what I might see: cats in party hats and wearing clown makeup, like the hapless felines I saw on a billboard here. Luckily, The Cat and Coffee turned out to be a dignified coffee shop, where the cats seemed happy. They had scratching posts and catnip toys galore, plenty of food and water and escape holes they could jump through if people were harassing them. I laughed at Asia's eagerness to entertain the cats. It looked like she was performing a marionette show with cat toys. 

The first thing I did was order coffee. I sat down to drink it and kept feeling gusts of fur brush the small of my back. It was a wild cat running around and acting absolutely crazy. Asia said she didn't think it was meant to be a domestic animal. 

I laughed spitefully when I saw the crazy cat torment a poor Persian kitten. Then I instantly felt bad. Mocking a Persian cat's wimpiness, just because I once dated a wimpy Persian, revealed a side of me I didn't know existed. The Persian cat climbed up a scratching post and sat on the perch, but the crazy cat latched his claws into the scratching post and shook it. I walked over to pick up the Persian cat and stared pityingly at his stupid scrunched up face. I petted him while drinking my coffee and the crazy cat jumped up and scratched my hand, as if punishing me for rescuing his prey. The poor Persian kitty might have been better off being degraded at the clown coffee shop, seeing as how he had to put up with this bully all the time. But no one should suffer the indignity of wearing clown makeup, not even clowns. Maybe he would have been given an elf costume with jingling bells to wear, or a pirate costume with an eye patch. I suppose there are worse fates.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Longest moonwalk ever!

I did so much walking today my legs are killing me. I just got back to the hotel room after walking around beautiful Suncheon Bay, a Buddhist Temple, a village full of geese and goats, and all over Gwangju with a friend from Canada. Going up the steep hill to the hotel I had to walk backward. I'm sure I looked like a moonwalker with a mission. :)

I'm in a good mood now, but earlier today I was held captive on a Barry Manilow bus, meaning a bus where people are singing along with Barry Manilow and other songs I would rather not listen to. The guys in back of me were having a gross conversation, and combined with the terrible singing and the music playing so loudly, I could feel the bass in my chest, it was just a horrible ordeal. When the group got to Suncheon Bay, we came to a split path. We could either take the "Hard Road" or the "Road of Meditation." I, of course, took the Road of Meditation, but I couldn't meditate. I was just so angry! I was steaming over the gross guys on the bus and other matters beyond my control. I remembered what my friend Cfrances said to me one time when I got angry. She told me I can only control my own actions, and as long as I act with integrity, I have nothing to worry about. It's amazing how the best advice is always really simple. What finally calmed me down was talking Middle East politics with a New Yorker who struck up a conversation with me. I guess the road to meditation is not the same for everyone.

This evening, my Canadian friend and I went to a cool bar called Truffaut, I ordered a Guinness, and browsed the selection of rental DVDs. A jazzy rendition of some Bach tune was playing and I finally felt some peace of mind.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good morning!

I just woke up from the most restful sleep I've had since I've gotten here. I bought a comforter yesterday at HomePlus, a strangely organized store that has basically everything. Some people at orientation were telling me I can return it, since my apartment will most likely have all the bedding I need, but knowing me and how much I love to sleep inside a fortress of blankets, I'm going to keep it. I am still at the hotel, writing in the dark. I want to yank open the curtains and yell, "Rise and shine!" but my roommate is sleeping and breakfast isn't for another hour.

Sitting through presentations has actually been helpful, even 3-hour long presentations where I learn nothing. Those presentations motivate me to think of ways to keep my classes exciting. As it turns out, I'll be teaching high school in Muan, and living in Mokpo, which is just 15 minutes away by bus. I was originally going to teach high school English in Boseong, but Koreans, it seems, change their minds a lot and like to keep us foreigners constantly on our toes.

I don't have much to report besides the people at orientation. I am charmed and delightfully disgusted by my Aussie friend and all the gross stories he tells me. After telling me some vulgar story, he'll act embarrassed if he drops food on his lap and say, "Oh great, in front of a girl!" And he spells out his swear words, which is a wonderful contradiction to his personality.

A couple muscular guys with gelled hair like to strut and preen, and both my roommate and I are getting tired of their obnoxious behavior. Yesterday at breakfast, I asked if I could sit at their table and they said yes. There was one available seat. But when a girl they're both competing for came in, one of them said "Let's go sit with her," and they both got up and left me sitting all alone.

We had a Korean language lesson yesterday and our petite soft-spoken lady teacher veered into stories about her married life. She said her husband doesn't share the household chores and comes home late after drinking. She said she planned to get drunk one night and physically fight her husband but she had a small glass of soju and fell asleep. In the morning, she had forgotten her anger. I laughed at the thought of this tiny, sweet-smiling woman fighting anybody, but I was glad that she was at least trying to establish more equality in her marriage. The fate of many Korean women in this Confucian society is to be treated as inferiors. We've been told we'll witness domestic violence, but there's nothing we can do about it. In the movie Asia and I watched last night, "To Wong Foo," three drag queens taught the women in a small town how to dress more confidently and lend that confidence to their personal lives, not letting their husbands beat them up. So maybe that's what Korea needs: gigantic, glamorous drag queens.

I'm going to get ready for breakfast now. I'll write more when something interesting happens.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Enough orientation already!

This is my 3rd day of lesson-planning, nametag-wearing, sitting-through-presentations-with-scattered-candy wrappers-on-my-desk fun. I've only gone out to explore Gwangju a couple times. I'm not feeling too adventurous yet, not with exploring, nor with food, but I'm still getting over jet lag. At breakfast this morning, I sat next to an Aussie who entertained me with stories about kangaroo fights and his horrific previous job working on a Disney cruise ship. He met all kinds of stupid, lazy Americans who would ask him how to say "hello" in Australian. I brainstormed with him briefly on how we can turn his job into a humorous short story.

I am ready to get settled in my new apartment, so I won't have to live out of a suitcase anymore. This orientation is meant to help us get settled, so I suppose it's necessary. I went through the agency Canadian Connection, and every teacher I've met only has positive things to say about them. Some people at the orientation have been teaching here for years. I'm sure all the presentations are like skipping records to them, so I should try to be more patient and sit still. After all, I'm being given useful information. Still, I can't help feeling restless!

I have to go get blood drawn now and take a drug test. I'm not too nervous about that. Just one more thing to check off the list. One other task I took care of yesterday was getting pictures taken for my alien registration card. I went with a guy from New Orleans and a guy from Capetown. The photographer airbrushed our pictures and erased the dark circles under our eyes, but for me, he elongated my neck, fixed my hair, and gave me a more modest, frilly blue shirt to match my eyes. After seeing beauty shops on almost every corner here in Korea, I'm not surprised that the photographer thought he was doing me a favor by making me look more beautiful.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Asia and me. And we're not tramps.

I’m hanging out in my hotel room in Gwangju. Korea is called “Land of the morning calm.” Listening to the birds chirping, I think that’s a fitting title. My roommate Asia is telling me how she can’t live without A Muppets’ Christmas Carol. I think I’m going to get along with her, because I feel the same way about A Charlie Brown Christmas. I was cold last night, so she let me borrow her care bears blanket. My boyfriend calls me care bear, so her blanket made me a little sad, but at least I was warm.

I feel good about packing lightly. Everyone else seems to have packed 2-5 huge suitcases. On the plane, I listened to the first few chapters of Into the Wild on my iPod and one of Christopher McCandless' downfalls was packing too lightly. Good thing I’m in the Land of Morning Calm and not in the Alaskan bush.

Thursday morning, when my boyfriend and I were getting ready to go to the airport, I was singing, I’m on fire, by Bruce Springsteen. In the car, I told myself, “If the next song on the radio is a Bruce Springsteen song, we’ll stay together.” The DJ came on after The Dave Mathews Band and said, “Let’s hear some Springsteen.” He played, The Streets of Philadelphia. I haven’t been able to get over that amazing coincidence. I guess in a year’s time, I’ll see if my prediction was correct.

My roommate’s watching Sex and the City, and we’re about to go down to breakfast. Our room has a balcony with a beautiful view of downtown Gwangju on one side and trees on the other. I was trying to encourage my roommate to come out on the balcony, but she reminded me she’s from Hawaii, and does not want to stand around in the morning cold.

Everything has gone smoothly so far, except I almost went crazy last night trying to open the lock on my suitcase. I ended up having to break the damn thing off, which took a lot of force, and made me feel like Superman.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I leave for South Korea early Thursday morning to teach English for one year. Yesterday, I had my last day of work at the French bakery, and my sweet co-worker hugged me and cried. Then a customer came in with a big scented candle for me, hugged me over the counter and cried, saying she's genuinely going to miss me. All this emotion has left me feeling like a robot. I wonder if I've turned my emotions off to help myself deal with the changes in my life. Either that, or I have prepared myself for so long, I have realized that going to South Korea is the best decision. I've been to Korea before and I was impressed by the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the country. I'm going to live in Boseong, where all the green tea is grown. I should feel isolated at times, but I will have plenty of time to write and draw.

My mom is picking me up soon and we're driving to the beach with my dog, Daphne. Leaving Daphne is going to be really difficult. With everyone else, I can explain that I'm leaving for a year, but I'll be back. Daphne doesn't understand and she might think I've abandoned her. I'm going to have hope that my dog will still be alive when I get back (she's 13 now) and that my boyfriend will still be my boyfriend, and that my mom and brother will come visit and travel around Asia with me, particularly Mongolia, where we will ride horses, listen to throat singing, and maybe cross the Gobi by camel. :)