Apr 29, 2013

Temples, Bibimbap, and Motel Tea Ceremonies

Disclosure: I contracted a nasty cold on Thursday and have been suffering ever since, so I'm a little doozy on cold medicine as I write this. You'll have to excuse me for not being able to string words together the way I normally can. 

As you may have gathered, I'm back from my weekend trip to Jeonju. Aside from a really nasty head cold, I had a lovely time. The Pagoda Temple and Stone Pagodas of Mount Mai were absolutely incredible. Looking at it gave me one of those moments where I just think, "Wow. I live in Korea."

This sentiment was reinforced by the ajummas and ajosshis who turned out en masse in their high tech, coordinated hiking gear to schlep the half hour "hike" (read: stroll along a paved road) up to the temple. I managed to snap a few pictures of some of them. Oh, Korea.

So I went on this little trip with my friend Regan, and we met some very nice people in our tour. One woman is a yoga instructor just outside of Seoul, and held a little tea ceremony with us in our motel room.

We also learned how to make Jeonju bibimbap, which apparently is different from regular bibimbap. I will say this: It was DELICIOUS. I got to show off my secret culinary skills, which mostly consist of being able to slice things quickly. Oh, the skill sets earned from years in the food service industry...

Anyway, enough writing. I'm on too much medicine to be able to put sentences together. Enjoy the pictures!

Also, can we talk about how this is my THIRD post today? You're welcome.

Crazy Awesome Korean Drumming Girls

I took this video at Maisan Temple. These girls were incredible! Watch and enjoy.

Also, be sure to check out my pictures from this trip.

Springtime Nights

They are just lovely, especially when you get to walk around an old palace at night. When I go to places like this I like to pretend I've gone back in time to when it was being used. This is Changdeokgung palace.

Apr 26, 2013

A Whole New World... of Allergies

Guys. I'm dying.

Ok, not really. My body is just throwing a temper tantrum. Holy allergies, Batman.

I was kind of a sickly child. I was the kid who always had to carry her inhaler around in case of an asthma attack (spoiler alert: still do). I was the kid who got allergy shots.

In case you don't know, the idea behind allergy shots (and other forms of allergy treatment) is that your body slowly gets acclimated to the thing(s) you are allergic to, so it doesn't freak out and throw a hissy fit every time it encounters the allergen in nature.

It's my understanding that this happens to a certain extent naturally if you are frequently exposed to an allergen... like the ones that occur in the environment you live in.

One thing you don't think about when you up and move to a different continent is that you are immersing yourself in a completely different ecosystem from the one you left. That means there are a WHOLE BUNCH OF NEW THINGS for your body to be allergic to!

My god, my allergies are going absolutely bonkers. It's not even just the normal "watery eyes and sneezes." One day I'll be fine, the next day I'll have a full-on allergy attack, completed with stuffed sinuses, a repulsive cough, and a faucet nose. Oh, and because I have asthma, that adds an extra level of fun to the occasion. Yeah, I'm real treat to be around.

So I'll feel on the brink of death for about 3 days, then suddenly, POOF! I'll snap out of it. Wait 2 weeks, wash, rinse, repeat.  I'm calling them allergy tantrums.

I'm in the middle of an allergy tantrum now. I almost called in sick to work today because I'd barely slept and my asthma was so bad.  But then I took a bunch of medicine, started trembling and bouncing off the walls (a fun side effect of combining asthma meds with Korean decongestants containing caffeine), and thought, "HEY, I HAVE A GREAT IDEA! I'M GOING TO GO TEACH SOME CHILDREN SOME ENGLISH!"

Bright side: Coteacher convinced school to give me the afternoon off so I could go home and pull myself together. Hello, early weekend.

Don't do drugs, kids.

Apr 22, 2013

Eight Months, Future Plans, and Other Difficult Things

Saturday marked my eighth month in Korea. Let's just stop for a minute to consider the ramifications of that. I have been living in Korea for two thirds of a year. I only have 4 months left here. That realization came with a double-edged fear:

A: OH GOD. I only have 4 months left here. I still have so much to do!
B: OH GOD. I only have 4 months left here. What ON EARTH am I going to do when I get back?

I've started working on mitigating part A by planning trips around Korea and making a point to participate in as many shenanigans with my friends as possible.

Part B is proving a bit more tricky. I have an idea of what I want to do with my life, and I guess now is as good a time as any to share it.

When I was little, I wanted to be a pediatrician (well, first I wanted to be a mommy with a baby. Then I found my inner 5-year-old feminist). Then I changed my mind: I wanted to be a memoirist (despite lacking the word “memoirist” in my child-sized vocabulary). Then I wanted to be a marine mammal biologist. Journalist, asthma researcher, screenwriter, psychologist, cellist, news anchor... until I finally got to college and had to make a decision. I went with a dual degree in journalism and linguistics, but I never forgot my deep, abiding, nerdy love for all things science-y. So I've decided that I want to combine my love for journalism and my love for science... and pursue a career in science journalism. At Old Job (hi, nightteam!), I loved writing the science stories. I loved the challenge of taking something as complicated as the discovery of potentially arsenic-based life forms and explaining it in a way that not only made it simple, but made it sound really, really cool (which, obviously, it was).

So now my next step is to decide how to pursue that. There are a few graduate programs that offer a masters in science journalism, notably MIT's Science Writing program.

However, I'll have a long road ahead of me if I decide to pursue grad school, so I have to figure out what to do in the meantime. I'm toying with a few different options right now, which I may or may not disclose at a later time.

One problem I've started running into is that my writing style is not exactly cover letter material. I keep telling myself, "Tone down the snark, Meg. Lock it down."  It's tough going.  Job hunts are the worst.

On a happier note, I'm off to Jeonju this weekend! Gonna see some temples, cherry blossoms, and an international film festival. Will report back at a later date. 

Apr 19, 2013

A Question for Dzhokhar

Sometimes, words just don't quite cut it.

To that effect, I have one question for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the captured suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings who led police and SWAT teams on a grueling manhunt and caused my journalist friends to have an extremely long day:

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, do you like apples?

Do you?

Oh, you do?


Apr 15, 2013

In the Face of Tragedy

I should be working right now. I'm already behind on lesson planning this week and I have an open class tomorrow.

But I can't ignore the ache in my heart. If you don't know, I'm from Boston. At least, that's what I tell everybody here. I grew up in a small town in Montana, but I went to college in Boston. While I was there, my family moved away. Now, we're scattered across the country.

My point is, Boston is the closest thing I have to a hometown. Boston is where I saw a world beyond my small Montana upbringing. Boston took me in, taught me about life, and molded me into the person I am today. Montana may have raised me, but I grew up in Boston.

I woke up yesterday (Monday) morning with an ache in my heart, wishing I could be back at home for Boston's biggest holiday. Sure, Christmas is important, and Saint Patrick's Day is legendary, but you can get those anywhere.  Nothing quite compares to Marathon Monday. It's a holiday all our own.  On Patriots Day, the day of the Boston Marathon, the whole city shuts down. We line the streets to watch some of the finest athletes in the world fly by along with thousands of runners who are chasing their dream of completing this iconic race. The faces at the finish line are those of people in the midst of one of the highest moments of their lives. It hurt me to have to miss it.

Today, I woke up with a different heartache. I woke up to find out that the joy of Marathon Monday had been shattered. After frantically scouring Facebook to make sure my loved ones were accounted for, I turned on the news. As you may have gathered from a few posts back, I have a personal relationship with Boston news. I immediately found the live stream for my old station. Obviously I wanted to find out what had happened, but mostly, I just needed familiarity. I wanted to see the faces of my friends and hear their voices and reassure myself that they were ok. That they were alive. I have never felt quite so far away from home.

As I continued looking for information, I went to CNN's homepage. Right underneath the bombing was an alert that North Korea has said something provocative and threatening about Seoul... again.

My heart sank even lower as I allowed myself to feel the fear that I've been keeping out for the last few weeks. I allowed myself to acknowledge that the world is, in fact, a terrifying place. There is so much hatred. "Why?" I asked myself. Why do we hate each other so vehemently? Why do we insist on inflicting the same harm that has been inflicted on us? Deep down, we're all the same. We all have the same fears, the same hopes, the same loves. We all care about our family and want to be happy. We all worry about the same little things.  Why, then, does humanity insist on killing itself? I saw many posts on Facebook and Twitter about finding the person or group responsible for today's tragedy and exacting violent, painful revenge. But will that help? Will that heal the hurt in our hearts? If a broken limb is set incorrectly, it heals crookedly. A broken heart healed by retaliation won't heal properly either.  But how is there any way, any possible chance of ever stopping this cycle of violence?

Then I thought about the people who rushed in to help. Within seconds, without a second thought, they ran towards the danger to help those in need. Can you imagine that? Running towards carnage, towards your own potential death without hesitation? I thought about the marathon runners who crossed the finish line and just kept running right up to the hospital, offering to donate blood. So many people rushed to give blood that local hospitals had to turn them away.

It helped me remember that as much hate as there is in the world, there is more love. There are many whose hearts are full of malice and violence, but there are more whose hearts hold kindness and compassion. We can't let our desire for revenge consume us. We have to rise above. We can't let ourselves succumb to the fear and the hatred that permeates the world. There's more good than bad. But we have to keep believing in it.


Just for perspective, that's like if the entire population of my hometown looked at my blog .5 times. Or if half the population of my hometown looked at it once.  Or if my parents each looked at it 10,000 times. Actually, come to think of it, that's probably closest to the truth.  Either way, I'm still pretty excited.

Don't Panic

No, really, don't panic. Nothing has happened. I'm fine.

Side note: I would like to point out that it is 5:15pm on the day when North Korea was allegedly planning to shoot something (at someone?) in honor of Kim Jong Un's grandad's bday, and so far... nothing. 

I'm telling myself not to panic because believe it or not, the end is approaching. I just got my summer camp dates, which means I can now start planning my last trip. On top of that, I'm rapidly approaching my 8 month anniversary of arriving in Korea. 8 months. The year is 2/3 of the way over. I now know exactly when my last day of teaching will be, when my remaining days off are, and when I will most likely be returning to the US. I've even started looking at tickets.

I feel like I still have so much to do and that I won't possibly be able to fit everything in. Already I've signed up for a cherry blossom weekend in Jeonju at the end of the month, started planning a trip to Busan next month, booked my tickets to the Boryeong Mud Festival in July, and secured a place at the Ansan Valley Rock Festival later that month. I still need to find a weekend to get down to Jeju.

And that's just in Korea.

Now I'm trying to figure out where to go for my last vacation in August. The way it works out with vacation days and federal holidays, I'll be able to be gone for 10 consecutive days, starting on August 9th. Theoretically, I could be gone as long as I want because my contract ends after that. However, I'm pretty sure I have to be back by the 21st to move out of my apartment. Also, I'm going to want to take a few days to say goodbye...


*blows nose, pulls self together*

SO, the question is: where to go? I'm thinking Cambodia and either Vietnam or Southern Thailand (or both).  I definitely want to hit up Angkor Wat, but seeing as that's pretty much all there is to see in Cambodia, I don't intend to stay more than a few days. So I can either go get fabulously tan on Thailand's beaches, or add another stamp to my passport and go to Vietnam. Or, I could try to do both...

God, I'm really going to miss having these problems.

Apr 13, 2013

Seoul's Secret Ghost Town

Confession: when I was taking these pictures, I very seriously considered playing a joke on the internet by claiming that Seoul was being bombed and these were pictures of the destruction.

They are not. I repeat: they are not pictures of destruction being rained down upon us by Kim Jong Un and his minions.

Although, it did give me an idea of what the heroine was feeling in every post-apocalyptic movie ever.

Today I went on an excursion with a group of photographers to an abandoned neighborhood just outside of Seoul. I missed most of the pre-excursion background talk about it because I was busy with more important matters (read: getting a snack), but the basic story is that this area became abandoned for one reason or another and was slated for demolition, but some residents refused or couldn't afford to leave so it's just been slowly crumbling into the ground for years.

Boy, was this place creepy to walk around in. What you can't get from the pictures is the smell. The whole area (about 25 square blocks) smelled like an attic. Or an antique shop. Or your grandparents' house. You know the smell. That "old" smell.

The other really strange thing was the silence. Seoul is a very noisy city, but you don't really notice it until it stops. This place was utterly silent, save for the crackling of broken glass under our feet or the swish of a plastic bag drifting across the road like an un-biodegradable tumbleweed.

Without further ado, here are the pictures:

In other news, my nose has turned into a leaky faucet and my head feels like it's all full of ick. Since I LITERALLY JUST FINISHED being sick, I've decided to blame these most recent symptoms on yellow dust. Stupid Asia. 

Apr 9, 2013

Old Job, Meet New Job

In light of all the crazy stuff happening (not really) around here, my former employer interviewed me about what life is really like here in Kimchi-land.

It's weird seeing a non-mirror image of one's own face. I look backwards.

Former 7News Employee in SKorea Talks About Tensions

Things People In Seoul Are More Worked Up About Than North Korea:

Breaking News in Seoul: The city is launching a new late-night bus service. AND IT GOES RIGHT PAST MY HOUSE!!

This is huge, guys. You have no idea. Forget nuclear war. This is the possible end of a time-honored Saturday night tradition: staying out till 3 and then deciding to just tough it out at the all night KFC until the subway opens at 5:30.

But, let's be honest: I'm going to probably keep doing that anyway.

I know.  Life in a potential war zone is rough.

If You're Wondering Whether Or Not I'm Scared

Here is my list of life concerns at this moment (ranked in descending order):

1. It's raining and I forgot my umbrella.
2. The powerpoint game I'm trying to download for next week's lesson is taking too long.
3. I still need to figure out what I'm going to play at open mic tomorrow.
4. I should probably be saving more money.
5. I hope the cherry blossoms don't bloom before I get to go on a cherry blossom trip in 2 weeks
6. I'm afraid I won't be successful in my career goals.
7. What should I read next?
8. I hope this season of Game of Thrones lives up to its usual standard.
9. What will I eat for dinner?
10. I'm hungry but the hidden snack drawer in my classroom is empty.
11. It's empty because I already ate all the snacks.
12. I'm out of ideas to write about for my Get Off That Ondol column on ESL101.com
13. Plane tickets for when I fly home in August/September are already really expensive.
14. I miss my cello.
15. I hope it's sunny for Sunday Funday frisbee in the park.
16. My back hurts.
17. Should I go for a run today?
18. Who am I kidding? I'm definitely not going for a run. See number 1.
19. I still can't go home for 15 minutes but I don't have enough time to start watching a new TV episode.

50. North Korea.

Apr 3, 2013

Why I Probably Won't Die Today

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be any kind of expert in political science or international relations. The following is my own interpretation of the current situation between North and South Korea. Believe me, if my evaluations turn out to be wrong, I'll have much bigger problems than some snarky internet comments.

In light of ongoing tensions between the two nations, and increasingly concerned family members wanting to make sure I'm okay (resulting in some very early morning Skype sessions... mom), I wanted to spell out, to the best of my ability, why I probably won't die from a bomb in Korea.

First of all, let me remind you that the western media loves (and I mean LOVES) to take all the really interesting bits of a story and mash them together without regard for context or background. I would know. I used to be one of them.

The latest news with the Korean tensions is the locking of a joint factory complex that sits just north of the border. This is, understandably, making some people nervous. More than 800 South Koreans work in the complex, and the fact that they've been able to go to work like normal every day despite all the bombastic rhetoric has been a prime example of South Korea's lack of genuine concern. If the South Korean government were taking Northern threats seriously, they would never allow 800 of their own citizens to cross into the North every single day.

So when it was announced that the factory is being closed, naturally, some people got worried. However, the key detail is that the North is closing the factory, not the South. What difference does it make, you ask? All the difference in the world. If the South had decided that it was no longer safe for its citizens to commute across the DMZ into North Korea every day, then yes, we might have a problem on our hands. But the fact that it's the North closing the factory just means that they're being belligerent. In all reality, the factory probably won't even be closed for very long. It's a huge cash cow for currency-strapped North Korea. More than 50,000 North Koreans work there, producing hundreds of millions of dollars in goods and providing the state with more than 36 million dollars in annual tax revenue. A state as poor as North Korea isn't going to ignore one of its biggest sources of domestic income for very long.

Another tidbit on the news today is the movement of U.S. ballistic missile defense to Guam. Again, this sounds scary until you stop to think about it for a minute. If the U.S. were trying to defend South Korea from missiles, they wouldn't put missile defenses in Guam. Do you know where they would put them? South Korea. The U.S. has a giant military base smack dab in the middle of Seoul (it's surrounded by some really excellent bars, by the way). But North Korea isn't threatening South Korea. These missile defenses are being moved to Guam to defend the United States, in the unlikely event that the North tried to shoot a missile at you. This is a bit of a ludicrous scenario for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that Korea is really, really far away from the U.S. I mean really, really far. Just ask my family. Any missile launched would have to make it all the way across the Pacific ocean  (oh hey, Guam), before it even brushes the west coast.

Yes, there is a chance that the North could launch a conventional weapon at America. We do know that they have that capability. However, again, the chances of it reaching American soil before being shot out of the sky seem to be slim.

Now, let's talk about nukes.

We know that North Korea has some kind of nuclear capabilities. However, it's very important to remember that there is a big gap between having nuclear technology and being able to use it against an enemy. North Korea has only been able to detonate nuclear devices under pristine, highly controlled conditions, none of which involve shrinking the device down to a fraction of its original size, strapping it to a rocket, and launching it at someone.

So that's pretty much off the table. It is worth adding, however, that an unprovoked nuclear strike on a sovereign nation would bring the full force of the entire world down upon them. No nation on Earth would allow such an attack to go unpunished. The Kim regime would be wiped off the face of the planet before they could say "kimchi."

Speaking of North Korean military capabilities, it's important to look at the statistics with a grain of salt.  Yes, North Korea has a million-man army, but many of those men have been on the verge of starving for most, if not all of their lives. Yes, North Korea has fighter jets that could fly over Seoul and drop bombs, but the government doesn't have enough fuel to get them in the air for very long. No fuel means no planes means no bombs.

Now, let's turn to some of the other factors that are at play here.

For the last few weeks, the U.S. and South Korea have been conducting military drills off the Korean coast. It's no secret that the war games are meant to be a show of force to the North, but these happen every year as part of the ongoing military cooperation between the two countries. The drills will be winding down in the next couple of weeks. Remember this, it will be important in a minute.

Arguably the biggest piece on this diplomatic chess board is Kim Jong Un. The man of the hour. Sir Portly McGoofyhair. A man who became an absolute dictator before the age of 30, making 20-somethings everywhere reexamine their life choices.

Just kidding.

But seriously, he is young, and that is something we have to remember. Traditionally, age is a big deal in Korean society. The nation has a rich history of Confucian values, which place a heavy emphasis on respect for your elders. Ipso facto, if you're not old, you don't get a whole lot of respect.

So here's this young guy who is trying to maintain an iron grip on a country he inherited from his dad, which has been thrown into devastating poverty and left struggling at the back of the line as the world marches forward into the future. He has to get his people to love him and trust him the way they loved and trusted his father and grandfather. How does he do this? By making a big deal out of defending his people against the oncoming storm of American imperialism.  See, here's the thing: most North Koreans have no information about the outside world. They don't realize that they're the weird little country everyone makes fun of. We have reason to believe many actually think South Korea is poorer than they are. But here's the kicker: if there was a war, they think they would win.

So what seems to be happening is that our buddy Mr. Kim is taking these war games happening with the U.S. and South Korea and using them as a propaganda tool. He's trying to make his people feel threatened so he can issue fiery rhetoric about the alleged imminent threat of an invasion. That way, when the military drills wind down in a couple of weeks, he can turn to his people and say, "Look! I made them back down! See what I did for you? North Korea is best Korea!"

It's all an inside game. This young man is insecure in his power, and he's trying to puff himself up in the eyes of his people. But he's not a moron. He was educated in Switzerland. He owns an Apple computer. He knows that any war would end in his demise. There's no question about it.  He may be power hungry and full of hot air, but he's not about to engage in a war that he is certain to lose.

I know it's easy to fall into the trap of reading every news headline about Korea and thinking the end of the world is coming any second now. But remember, don't just read the headlines. Read the details. Read between the lines. Really listen to what is being said, and think twice before you start pooling a "Get Meg out of Korea" fund.

Though I wouldn't say no to a free plane ride...

Much of the information in this post comes from the following CNN article:  North Korea warns 'moment of explosion' nears