Published: August 29th 2010August 29th 2010
A year goes by in a flash. And even faster as I get older. Most days this past week consisted in goodbyes, but there have been a surprising set of hellos as well. I know many travelers have heard of or experienced couch surfing, but I only recently tried it out. To be honest, the Incheon group seemed evacuated, dried out and moldy with the sound of dying crickets in the wind. So, I figured, why not light a fire and organized a couple gatherings.
It turned out to be a great experience. It's like a traveling melting pot: a lovely couple from New Zealand, a couple local Koreans, my friends from Germany and Korea, and native teachers from Ireland, England, and the States, all of whom love to travel. I learned that what sounds like "sweet ass" in New Zealand is more along the lines of "sweet as (sugar or something nice)." And, so far, every one of my Irish friends and acquaintances enjoy drinking alcohol on a stereotypical level that I'm trying to break, but I have yet to meet the exception to the generalization, sorry, no offense intended. I find it hilarious. One of my new
Korean dongsengs (little sibling) reaffirmed my belief that Korea is becoming more and more open minded, modern, and connected with the international world with younger generations. Her English is so perfect as to sound native, and her thinking so open to the world that we couldn't help but bond quickly, so I'm grateful for that opportunity.
Besides new hellos, I've been going into denial about leaving my friends and family. I'm not a goodbye person. I'm not good at it. It doesn't feel real when I say it because it feels more like, I'll see you again
. The moment where I feel "goodbye" is when I'm sitting alone on the plane and literally leaving. And when the plane arrives, that's when I feel the adrenaline rush that accompanies new adventure.
My friends (old and new) have been inundating me with, "I'll miss you!" "Don't go!" "You're a b*tch for leaving!" "You'll be back!" and "Staaaayyyyyy." In rare moments, tears rush to my eyes, but my denial takes over and I think, Let's have fun now, in this moment, without thinking about tomorrow's goodbye
. And I squeeze back and think, "I'll see you again." Warning: cheesy statements surround
this warning. Wherever I go, I do carry my close ones in my heart. And as much as I miss them, I don't feel that those closest to me are ever too far away. I love the moment when I see a good friend and it feels like I never left. For those I was unable to meet up with before leaving, I know we'll meet again!
My friends have taken me out to eat so much patbingsu, my favorite Korean dessert consisting of shaved ice, sweet red beans, fresh fruit, vanilla ice cream, condensed milk and perhaps a little flavoring at my favorite joint. This and other meals of Washu Steak, Chinese Cold Noodles (with seafood and peanut butter in a cold soup. Sounded terrible, tasted delicious, and even many Koreans do not know of this food around here), Shabu Shabu, and loads of coffee, coffee, coffee. But more than the food (I'm not lying, I swear!), I've come to cherish the company of old and new friends. The rare moments when my friends come together and form new relationships amongst themselves has probably been the most memorable moments for me.
One friend gave me
the best present for a sentimental person like myself. She grabbed all the facebook photos she felt represented my time in Korea and printed them out and framed a picture of all of us when we went to see Yeoido/Yeoinaru Cherry Blossoms. Such a present may not be expensive, but it's priceless for a cheese like me.
My family surprised me today with a birthday dinner celebrating both my cousin's and my Virgo birthdays at a unique restaurant named 페삭 aka the Teppan Cuisine Room Chef's House. The English name gives a hint to its interior. Everything is cooked teppan-yaki style (teppan = steel grill, yaki = broiled) at one table. I mean, there is only ONE table in this restaurant. It's as if you've been invited to the chef's home. The eleven of us sat around the table ready for dinner. From what my cousin mentioned, you have to arrive on time otherwise you lose your reservation because the dinners are timed to provide a perfectly paced mouth-watering meal and allow for the following reservation once you are through. This was by far one of the best meal's in Korea this past year.
The renown chef began
with slices of asparagus, mushrooms, and eggplant. Not only were they perfectly grilled, the dipping sauce added a sweet and tangy flavor that made my mouth salivate for the next bite. My plate cleared up fast. From the oysters, scallops, flaming shrimp with crunchy tail and succulent head, lobster, to the heartier steak seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled to tender perfection, I was so full but couldn't stop eating. The chef entertained the kids with his salt and pepper acrobatics and lit the grill to their wide-eyed delight.
There are some foods they cook in Asia that you rarely find in the States. For example, lightly cooked kidney with a popping liquid texture that will make people gag as they read this. I haven't tried a lot of kidney, but this was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The tofu looking kidney slices were sketchy but dipped in the mysterious sauce gave an explosion of unforgettable and new flavor that I just about died in my seat. Or sea cucumbers, one of my favorite foods that I find most often in Chinese dishes.
We ended with mangosteins/mangosteens. I've never seen this fruit in my
life or perhaps I never noticed because I wouldn't have known what to do with it. My middle cousin, who lived in Singapore for a year, said these fruits are imported into Korea only if they are frozen, but in Singapore are usually maintained at room temperature. I think she preferred the type she tried back in Singapore, but, for my first time, I felt like I was licking frozen ice cream off a fruit seed. It was sweet, icy, and blew up my taste buds like fireworks! We capped off the evening with a Tiramisu cake and nice coffee. As the next round of visitors awaited, we stood up with our round stomachs and strolled satisfied out the door.
My cousins and I rued the fact I worked in Incheon. As my middle cousin said in Korean, "If you lived in Seoul, we would've hung out so much you would be sick of us!" I replied, "I would have loved to get sick of you guys." So, if/when I return, Seoul will be my destination. As time passes it becomes more difficult to see my family that is spread around Korea and the States. Everybody has work, kids,
Like ice cream~~
and priorities such as life. I miss the huge reunions we used to have when my grandparents were alive. I'm determined, at some point in time, to arrange a family reunion. After all, coordinating seems to be one of my fortes these past few years.
Finally, a story that begins bitter and ends sweet. I had to get my yellow fever vaccine 10 days prior to leaving Korea and go to the bank and pension office after receiving my pay. This meant two requests for early leave. I was arranging things so I wouldn't miss any classes and complete my work, and, believe me, I would rather fulfill my responsibilities than skip out because, frankly, that creates more work for me. My co-teacher and I misunderstood one another as she tried, on my behalf, to squeeze everything into one day, not understanding that my situation was such that I needed to go on different days. We both grew frustrated and spoke out. The remainder of the day was tense, with few words, my patience drawn thin. Coupled with other unexpected events, my birthday was a bit of a damper, which is why I canceled a small dinner and went
home to catch up on much needed z's.
With my previous co, I went and got approval signatures from my headteacher, vice principal and principal for any leaves. I didn't mind this. In fact, I feel that it makes a native teacher responsible for their actions and also able to defend their actions. It also decreases chances for miscommunication. However, on my behalf, my new co insisted that she would get the signatures alone. However, I realized that she felt very uncomfortable doing this and was feeling a burden when facing some of our superiors. She passed this burden and guilt on to me, but still refused my offer to get the signatures myself. What was I supposed to do? It wasn't as if I couldn't get the vaccine or not go to the bank or pension office.
We went together to Incheon Airport to get my vaccination at the Airport Inha Hospital (the only place with the yellow fever vaccine, and I think they can provide any others you may need, just have somebody call them on your behalf if you don't speak Korean). I planned on taking the bus, but my vice principal insisted my co-teacher
take me. I tried to break some of the tension by being civil and friendly, but felt that I was hitting a wall. As the ride went on though, my co-teacher initiated some conversation, too. She mentioned that driving to the airport always made her happy because it reminded her of traveling. I accepted her conversation and the tension was finally broken. Though the previous events remained unmentioned, they were resolved and forgiven in a very Korean style of the unstated. I think some people might judge that this is unhealthy and still unresolved, but these are two different cultures, not one is right and the other is wrong. All I know is we were making jokes and talking again.
The following day, my co-teacher gave me a beautiful Korean mirror with a marble engraving of a tiger--my mother's birth year and the current lunar year--which I loved. She mentioned that she had forgotten to bring it on my birthday. I told her, "I think it's better today. It's beautiful and perfect." And it was a sweet end to our brief hurdle. This was the second or third serious hurdle I experienced with my co-teacher and I would say
that's fairly smooth sailing. Yes, the situation was frustrating, but I understood she was doing things on my behalf, and I'm just glad we've managed to form a mutual respect that overcomes such hurdles. And, as much as this initial story may come across as finger-pointing, my intent is that it truthfully presents my experience and the outcome of gratitude and mutual forgiveness when different cultures and languages do collide. This is a success story.
So, a week's disappeared in the blink of an eye with Hepatitis A and Yellow Fever vaccines, work, my vice-principal's study group, loads of patbingsu and barbecues, my birthday, post office boxes, and phone calls with friends around the world, I'm caught up in the rush and anticipating sleeping in when arriving in Kuala Lumpur.
Overall Work Experience
I think working in Korea has been a life-changing experience. It's a stepping stone that's awakened the reality of traveling the world and continuing to work abroad. What once seemed like an unrealistic dream, seems quite feasible.
My students have been fantastic and made me laugh EVERY SINGLE DAY! That kind of power is unreal. I'm so grateful to have witnessed an all-too-short year
of their growth as little people becoming big people (not meant as an opening for Asian stereotypes that I know is running across some of my bastard friends' minds. And on this note, some of us are simply vertically challenged, thank you very much).
My school seems to have a stronger community compared to the one I entered into and I think it has a lot to do with my awesome principal and vice-principal. They were two of the most welcoming people in my school and I will always be grateful for that. Many other teachers were shier, as was I, and I think I will make more of an effort to initiate conversations and break the ice in the future.
My co-teacher. I must say, we had our small share of disagreements, but she always had my back. Our brief semester together has been uphill and she is by far the best co-teacher my school has ever had. The best lesson I learned from her was to let bygones be bygones and just enjoy what's most consistent, which was her generosity. Even when we had disagreements, it was because she wanted what was best for me in
her opinion, and we would simply disagree on what that was, but in the end, such situations always dissolved and made me appreciate that she's just as independent and stubborn as me. It makes the mirror all the more symbolic. And, when traveling, language barriers do arise. I'm glad we're ending on a positive note.
My vice principal's study group. My vice principal has been too busy to attend the study group the past couple weeks, but I am so happy that he invited me to join. In such a brief period of time, I felt a greater sense of community than I experienced at my school this past year. It's been hilarious and illuminating reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
with the Korean English teachers. I was skeptical at first because I'm not a big self-help book fan. But, I enjoy hearing the couples opinions on Korean relationships, some of the universal outlooks, and also disagreements with some of the author's conclusions. Their warm and welcoming nature guilted me into having another dinner with them this week before I leave. How could I refuse? I'll just have to squeeze it into my already overbooked week.
Besides, I have plenty of time to sleep on the plane out of here.