Sunday, May 20, 2012

My first (and probably only) birthday in Korea

I'm sorry I've neglected you.  I just haven't done much worth documenting during the past couple of weeks.  The weekly routine is pretty static now, but there are some exciting things coming up. Please stay tuned :)

My birthday was last week, and I am so lucky to have made friends here who wanted to celebrate with me.  The Saturday before my birthday (it unfortunately fell on a Tuesday this year) was spent in Seoul.  Kyle and I walked around Itaewon for an hour or so checking out restaurants and the menus they post outside their establishments.  We finally settled on Praha - some sort of Bohemian restaurant.  The menu boasted many German and Polish dishes, which sounded like the perfect way to soak up any remaining kimchi and red pepper paste lingering in my system from a week of school lunches.  We both ordered tall beers and discussed the mammoth portrait of Franz Kafka on the wall.

Here's Kyle's meatloaf, not as good as Kesia's, but he still cleaned his plate.

And here's my chicken schnitzel with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, mm mmm.


 After dinner we visited one of our favorite restaurants for dessert.  I enjoyed red velvet cake, while Kyle took down something called chocolate mud.

To no one's surprise, I ate it all.

Arm in arm, we met up with some friends and hailed a cab for Hongdae.  We found the nearest convenient store and grabbed as many beers as we could carry.  Others chose Soju, which I've sworn off since our first weekend in Korea.  Among our friends, Soju's nicknamed "the bad ex-girlfriend."  You never want her around, but for some reason she always shows up and spoils everything.

We wandered into a park with our purchases and sat around enjoying one another's company.  We heard some music not too far off, so a few of us went to investigate and stumbled upon a drum circle.  There were a dozen or so college-age guys banging on various drums, creating catchy tunes.  A small crowd filled up the surrounding benches and some people danced along to the music.  We packed up our plastic bags of refreshments and joined the spontaneous party of strangers. 

The drum circle turned into a dance party, and eventually everyone was getting in on taking a turn on the drums.  I've been told I took part in a dance off, but my memory's been tweaked by the alcohol or embarrassment... Here's the only remaining evidence of such an event:

After the drum circle dance party faded out, we took off for another bar that was literally like an open garage with a few folding tables lined up to separate the bartenders from the customers.  We took a cab home, but the driver never turned on the meter and tried to rip us off when we finally got to the apartment.  He was a maniac driver and we feared for our lives during most of the trip home, so we threw a few 10,000 won bills at him and got the hell out of there.  I collapsed into bed and stayed there for much of the next day.

On my actual birthday, while trying not to wake Kyle, I snuck out of the apartment to get ready in the apartment next door. I returned to fresh coffee and breakfast waiting for me.  We didn't have much by way of groceries at the time, but in my opinion, grilled cheese and tomato soup tastes great for any meal! Kyle started my birthday off perfectly that way.  Later that evening, I also came home to a spotless apartment with all the dishes washed and put away.  Why can't every day be my birthday?! :)

On May 15, we were also celebrating Teacher's Day at school.  Our boss bought us pizza to enjoy after a long day of preschool, and many of the students brought in cards and chocolate.  All the teacher's sang "Happy Birthday," to me and we shared a birthday cake.  The preschool teacher's took me into Bupyeong for a celebratory dinner and ice cream (of course).  I ate well over my weight in junk food that day, and the remains fill my desk drawer.  I dig into that whenever I'm stressed (every day). 

I received two amazing packages on my birthday, one a week before, and several very sweet birthday cards.  I am so lucky to have made great friends here in Korea who took time to celebrate my birthday with me, but I am even luckier to have amazing friends and family back in the states who planned ahead and made the extra effort to send something for me all the way to Korea! Thanks to everyone who made my day extra special - it was a spectacular day! I love and miss you all dearly.

Dinner with most of my fellow preschool teachers

My collection of gifts and cards!

The strange/adorable cake my Korean co-teacher got for me. Oh, Korea...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Post-Honeymoon Grumblings

Humans are strange.  Why is it that people experience major life changes in nearly identical stages? Even people who have never moved away from their hometowns were able to predict the phases through which we'd pass during the year in Korea.  First, the honeymoon stage.  Everything was new and exciting for a few months.  We missed home, but we were much more focused on the sparkly newness surrounding us to notice. 

We were distracted by the new job and all its intricacies,
the new living quarters,
the new friends and co-workers,
the new food and culture,
the new lifestyle.

After the dust settles, you start noticing you're not in Kansas anymore.  The loogies in the street that once humored me now revolt me.  Now I find ordering a meal based on a nothing more than a blurry photo frustrating instead of exciting.  Nothing sounds better than a strong, steaming cup of black coffee.  When walking into the grocery store, I wish I could find whole grain bread, oatmeal, and normal cheese, then get the hell out.  I want the simple comforts from home I never even realized were comforts.

It's coming on three months since our arrival, and I've certainly hit a wall.  I'm by no means miserable or even regretful.  I just miss home.  With the newness worn away, conversations now turn to plans for the future (along with a fair amount of pissing and moaning, of course). What do I want out of life?  Where do I want to live? What job can I envision doing day after day? What most influences my overall happiness?

Though it can at times be unnerving, overall I find this stage even more exciting than the honeymoon stage.  These are big decisions. I can do (within reason) whatever I want. Only three months in, and I already feels my eyes opening.  Who knows what ten more will reveal.  I feel more confident in my decision making partly because my first big life decision (coming to Korea) has turned out so well.  It was precisely the right decision made at the right time.  Also, being here on my own, suddenly every decision is up to me.  I can't and shouldn't phone home with every prodding dilemma.

I used to think, "I can do whatever I want in life. I just have to figure out what I want."  I realize now that I never truly believed that.  I have a much better and stronger perspective compared to when I started college.  And that's when I was supposed to choose what to do with my life.  Obviously I wasn't ready then; I kept changing paths until I eventually just stalled. Now, my mind is clear.  No graduate program is left unexplored, and no interest is ignored. I'm contemplating whether some career out there can fulfill a strong majority of my interests, or if rather, I should find a job that gives me freedom to pursue my interests outside of work.  No decisions have been made, but no doors have been closed either.  This will be a more stressful and complicated phase, but a much more monumental one. 

I can't say I'd have this same philosophical experience if I were into my second year working as a nurse or just finishing a graduate program in Education.  Some say I'd be more accomplished, whatever that means, but I just think I'd be less content.  Who knows if I would have encountered this phase at all.  I'm growing up and gaining wisdom, which in turn will lead to the sort of lifestyle I'd call accomplished.