Ni hao, Taiwan!

8 11 2011

It’s been ages since I’ve written!  I feel I really should start it up again; at least it’s some small bit of discipline.  But we won’t get into that.

It seems appropriate to end my hiatus by reflecting on my new environment and the one I left behind.  I was able to visit America for a few months before arriving in Taiwan, but as I unconsciously compare my new surroundings with the ones I am used to, the comparison automatically lines up with Korea.  Asia has, in reality been my home for the past year and a half.  A life that was nonexistent in any reality I had before all just seems normal to me now.  Standing on the bus or subway amongst a sea of black hair, picking up fruit at the outdoor market on my way to work, buying things at the grocery store and guessing how to cook them, playing Frogger across each and every road as to not be hit by the hoards of scooters and buses that have the right of way over pedestrians, and all the extra attention and freebies.  Not much surprises me here anymore, which is a big reason I have been so lazy with keeping the blog.  I will have to take it as a challenge to dig deeper!

Since leaving Korea, I only remember the good things.  In fact, my first week in Taipei I had a few moments of running through whether or not to just go back – go back to my easy life there, my friends, my free apartment and well paying, insanely easy to find jobs, comfort of knowing where to go and how to get there.  This whole new city with long ridiculous names over each MRT stop, impossible bus routes, no way to communicate with taxi drivers and no friends seemed looming and lonely.  Those moments were few, but they were there and were strong.  But I can never forget the strange satisfaction I get when I realize that I am familiar with this street, district, bus route that felt so alien only a short time before.  Like the map in my head has expanded to include this place that did not exist to me before and can never go away.  That feeling has been driving my life for the past 3-4 years and it’s undeniable to me.  Of course I wasn’t going to let myself go back to Korea.  Afterall, I KNOW that although I never think about them, there are plenty of reasons I was so happy to finally board that plane out of Busan.

I was going over those reasons today, trying to remember.  Though I never allow myself to dwell on the negative (Rule #1 of living abroad), it is a big part of the experience and probably should be given the most credit in regard to personal growth.  With respect to Korea, culture was definitely the biggest hurdle.    This word, “culture”, is something quite opaque when you are constantly surrounded by your own.  Not even in America’s melting pot do you really see or feel this intangible thing as you do when you are outside of your own and submerged in one completely foreign for the first time.  And the strangest thing about this feeling is that you are the foreign factor in this equation; the one that’s got it all wrong.  It’s something I could have never prepared myself for, and something impossible to convey through words to others.  It felt insanely lonely.  I felt out of place, unsure, self-conscious, and wasconstantly walking on eggshells.  But it really does thicken your skin, build your confidence, and grant a whole new (very necessary) sense of humor.

Taiwan I don’t feel the culture shock, really at all.  My first few days in town, walking around Taipei’s massive subway stations I remembered that feeling of self-conscious – that everyone is looking at me and knows I have no idea where I’m going even though I’m desperately trying to act as if I belong.  That feeling quickly subsided here and now, quite honestly I feel right at home after only 2 months.  I can’t quite decide if it’s more the culture or because it is my second time living in a big Asian city.  I”m sure it is partially attributed to both, but I also know that people here are much more open minded to cultural diversity than in Korea.  The overall mindset of Koreans is still set on preserving homogeneity of the culture, and recently graduated English teachers from the West do NOT by any means help forward that agenda.

My life here is great so far.  The Taiwanese might be the friendliest group of people I have ever come in contact with, I have a job teaching kids that I love so far at a school that I really like, a fabulous apartment in a perfect location, good roommates, a growing base of friends, and am overall stress free (which most of you know is very high on my list of essentials!) .  I’ll keep you posted!





Pensive Poultry

25 11 2010

Technically Thanksgiving Day.  I feel as if I should be a bit more nostalgic or homesick maybe, but to be completely honest it’s not phasing me in the least.  These emotions could possibly be pacified by the knowledge that I will be celebrating with some friends this weekend to simulate the whole experience I would be having back home, or maybe the whole thing just doesn’t seem real at this point considering the lack of indication by my current surroundings that such a holiday ever existed in the first place – maybe all the warm memories are a construction of my vivid imagination…

With this admittance out in black and white, I am not sure whether to credit my seemingly heartless detachment as an example of strength and independence, or take it as a sign of some sort of borderline anti-social personality disorder.  Or, just maybe, in some between-the-lines reality things like Thanksgiving Day are never really meant to be missed.  The whole fiasco seems so easily to become more a grudging chore to everyone involved than something that is really appreciated.

I’ve always enjoyed the times with family and friends more when they’re not built up so much.  When I’m there enjoying their company because we choose to be, rather than because once upon a time some ‘Indians’ were killed, before helping some Pilgrims pick corn, before Captain America decided I get 2 days off work to pay for a ridiculously inflated airline ticket so I can wait in ridiculously long lines and listen to people complain about ridiculous things like security scanners seeing the shape of their body under their clothing.

It all seems like a bit of a racket to me.  Then again, I never really have been the conventional type…

This year I will be glad for the opportunity to Skype with my family who is slightly less spread out than usual, and then spend the rest of my evening streaming documentaries at home while the ondol floor heating aids the makkoli in warming my belly.

I wouldn’t feel right ending this post without noting the fact that I have an incredible amount to be thankful for this year and every year.  I love you all.





Pepero Day

11 11 2010

Today is Pepero Day.  Each November 11th, Korea becomes a maniacal frenzy of the purchase and trade of chocolate covered biscuit sticks   – Pepero – which are manufactured, heavily marketed and distributed by one of the largest conglomerates in both Korea and Japan: the Lotte Corporation.

Why is November 11th Pepero Day in Korea, you ask?  Well, because when you hold up two Pepero sticks they resemble the number “11”, and what better way to celebrate 11/11 than clearing out every mini-mart, supermarket, and Costco of these delicious treats.  Not only are simple boxes of Pepero available, there is a wide variety of cellophane-wrapped, glittered and bowtied gift baskets lining shelves for that extra special someone in your life.

Lotte – well done.  I thought Valentine’s Day and Christmas had consumer exploitative marketing tactics in the bag, but I realize now there is always room for more, beckoning us into even further absurdity.

When I was informed of this strange ‘holiday’ yesterday by excited students, I promised myself that I would absolutely NOT partake in this ridiculous affair; I will boycott any and all purchase of Lotte snack products for the entire day!

And in vain.  I left work today with 13 boxes of Pepero with “I love you Teacher” scribbled on the boxes.  Awwwww…. I LOVE Pepero Day!!





A day in the life…

14 10 2010

Friday

7:30AM

First alarm goes off.  Hit snooze.  Second alarm goes off.  Hit snooze.  Third alarm goes off.  Hit snooze.

8:00AM

Roll up out of bed to put on water for coffee and check the interwebs for news from the other side of the planet.  Find that not much has happened since 8 hours prior during the last check.  Get on Skype for a chat with Mom, then put down (at least) one full french press of black coffee.  Kill another hour mindlessly meandering social networks and travel articles on the laptop.

9:30AM

Leave the apartment to catch the bus downtown for weekly language exchange.  Arrive at the Western chain coffee shop just in time to wait an hour resulting from his ‘faulty’ alarm clock on a newly purchased smart phone.  Twiddle my thumbs in secret gratitude for the delay as I can now enjoy the beautiful fall weather, $6 Americano, and my iPod instead of struggling with a Korean lesson.  Him – “How can I make it up to you??”  Me – “Hmmm… I guess you can just owe me lunch.”

12:00PM

Head to the restaurant for lunch of beef rib and rice noodle soup.  Kick my shoes off, step up to the eating floor and sit on a pillow at the shin-high table.  Try to avoid sticking out more than I already do being the only white person in the restaurant by graceful use of the eating utensils, with no such luck.  Eating wet, tough ribs off the bone with flat, metal chopsticks is no easy task!

12:50PM

Stop at the corner mart on the way into work to purchase good-behavior-bribe candy for the otherwise hellish kindergartners, and bananas to try to share with my Korean co-workers, though knowing they will most undoubtedly be refused.  No matter how much observation I commit to the curious habits of this sharing-oriented culture, I always manage to make the wrong choice.  Knowing I will more than likely leave work today having regretfully eaten 4 bananas out of guilt of letting them go bad overnight, it’s better to offer and be potentially refused, than not offer at all.. right?

1:40PM – 8:20PM

At work.  Chase a few kindergartners around the desks to physically drag them out of class by the arms and position them arms-up, facing the wall near the teachers’ room.  (Still getting used to the necessity of physical discipline here..)  Next class am told I have “good fashion today” by one of my 3rd grade girls, and soon after, that I have “strange fingernails”.  Next class I must, once again, try to contain my immaturity and inner desire to screw around and talk about video games, hierarchy of cuss words, and words I do and do not know in Korean and keep these three 5th grade boys on track.  Me – “DOES she have black hair?”  Boys – “Yes, she do.”  Grrrrrrrr…

8:45PM

Head out to the little hilltop park near my apartment for a workout.  While using the rope/pulley arm workout thingy, can see the only other patron of this outdoor makeshift gym, an older Korean man, out of the corner of my eye trying to get my attention.  Here we go..  I hesitently pull out my earphones to a barrage of Korean.  Me – “Uhhh.. Hangu mal, choko..” (I don’t know what the hell you’re saying to me!!!)  Didn’t solve the problem.  Me – “Uhhh… Migook?”  (America?)  Him – “Ahhhh USA!!”  Me (in my head) – “Success!!”  After exchanging broken English/Korean life stories I am given an extensive tutorial on how to use the rope/pulley arm workout thingies ‘correctly’.

10:00PM

Begin receiving the usual Friday night texts to head out to PNU for drinks.  I crack some soju while getting ready then head out to catch the bus.  Arrive at one of the many “foreigner bars” of the area to mingle with foreign counterparts and a plethora of Korean women presumably looking to catch a line outta this place.

11:45PM

Usual weekend-night dilemma left in the wake of my refusal to take $20 cabs home: either finish my last drink and dip out before public transit closes, or commit to stay out till 6AM.  Again.  Ehhh, you guessed it; I’m in for the long haul!  Few drinks here, few there, time for second dinner with the group, then norae-bang!  Nothing like a private karaoke room to speed along the sunrise.

5:45AM

Hop on the first subway, haggard and exhausted among beautiful Koreans already crowding the surrounding seats.  Arrive home to a sunlit room and lay on my rock-hard mattress for sleep.





Korean Pajong

10 10 2010

Octopus pajong and mek-ju at a plastic picnic table in the mountains. Mmmmm...

Who knew pancake batter could be so versatile?  Pajong, which Koreans like to call “Korean pizza” is a popular snack or appetizer throughout the country.  It is basically pancake-like batter and egg with a medley of ingredients mixed in depending somewhat on the area of the country you are in.  For example, if near a port there will likely be octopus tenacles, squid, or other unknown sea creatures.  Other places are famous for kimchi pajong, others for special spices and sauces, and so on.  You will never eat the same pajong twice in two different places.  It is sold in restaurants, at street carts and tents, and at festivals, like the ones being concocted at the Jinju Lantern Fest in this video: –Click Me–





For lack of a better word..or any words, for that matter.

7 10 2010

I am a little worried that one of these days I will get a knock at my door to deliver notice of fine for all the banana peels I throw out my 8th story window.  The thing is, I wouldn’t know it if I were holding it in my hands anyway, so I continue to throw them out to avoid the evil little fruit fly infestation around my college dorm room style trash can.    I received an unintelligible notice about a month back, which after staring at quizzically and in slight frustration for a good while, decided to snap a camera phone picture of and send to a Korean friend.  My hope in this was to dodge bringing the mystery notice to work for translation in fear it may be in respect to my garage can window (only biodegradables, of course) or constant stream of houseguests.  Or possibly it may be regarding my failure to respond to the 1984-style announcements that blare through the speaker in my kitchen every so often, never failing to coincide in perfect inconvenience with my sleep schedule.  Either way, I would like to keep my work oblivious to any of these if at all possible.  My friend promptly responded via text message that I should consider paying my utility bills to avoid such future notices.  (Which is my boss’ responsibility, FYI, just to clear my name…)

In other news, my toilet has been broken for about a month now, and my fix for this is to lift the lid and pull up the little black plunger at the bottom when the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule has worn out its welcome.  I am not quite sure how to turn on the floor heater, which might be a handy thing to know real soon considering the evenings are already becoming quite nippy.  I am also pretty sure I am misusing the trash and recycling system as well, but haven’t been scolded yet so I continue on my merry way.

Ahhh… makes me feel young again!





Sexual Soju Korea

5 10 2010

I would like to welcome myself, once again, to the 21st century.  I just uploaded my very first YouTube video!!     …Wooooooooow.  Since I don’t yet have the capability to upload videos directly onto here (because I am too cheap), I will prompt you to click the link below if you would like to see it.  As they say in Korea, it’s “nothing special”, but I found it rather hilarious at the time.  Enjoy! 

–Click Me–