Yes, and watch me now.

I’ve graduated from several things. High school, college, CELTA, potty training (debatable)–and today, I graduated from Second City’s Improv Program.

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10 months ago I moved to Chicago. I had no long-term housing, only 10 hangers, and didn’t know anyone. On a muggy Wednesday last August, I sat in a room with 19 strangers and wondered if this would be my tribe.

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Was I right in having moved halfway around the world from Korea for this? Would they get me? When would I eat Korean BBQ again (still unanswered, which is unacceptable)?

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Then…a woman with a foreign accent slammed open the door and shouted “You must get out of building, the roof is on fire!”

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And ever since then, we’ve been stuck with each other. Sure, we’ve subtracted and added some members as the months went on; scheduling and life and new jobs and such, but overall, these people were my lifeline.

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I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to Wednesdays so much. From 11am-2pm I got to see these stone-cold weirdos, then eat lunch and frantically scribble nonsense for my 4-7pm Writing class, which will continue until August.

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It feels pretty unreal to think that next Wednesday morning I won’t see them. Not Jolie’s I-just-came-from-the-gym-but-I-probably-look-better-than-you-did-at-prom stylings, nor Scott’s this-is-just-improv-but-I’m-singing-this-operatic-scene-like-the-pro-I-am and Patrick’s I-broke-my-kid’s-ankle-beating-him-in-capture-the-flag moves.

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These people have supported me, loved me, encouraged me, let me cry on them (even ugly cry) and championed me in ways I haven’t deserved. We were all just a group of strangers trying to follow our fear or defeat our anxiety or live our dream and our willingness to be open on this journey and love each other has changed my life. Not a joke.

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I promised myself (and my family and friends and the rest of y’all) that I was going to give this comedy thing at least a year. I owed it to myself to try it. To see if it’s a real thing, a true thing, or if it’s a fling.

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I think it’s a thing, guys. And I’m not going anywhere yet.

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Baguio, Baby! Reincarnated Dogs and Questionable Meats

So, I’m as bad as a network season finale cliffhanger for that last post, am I right? “I’ll post tomorrow,” I said. It’s only been (counts on fingers)…it’s been more than “tomorrow.” My bad. I have excuses, but most of them are flimsy and since y’all all WHEN YOU GON’ UPDATE, sit your Bellatrix selves down for the rest of the #PhilippinesAdventure.

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You’ll recall that day 1 in the Philippines, was, to use the colloquial, a shit show. I was seriously looking into tickets back to Korea that night, but I didn’t want to face the peanut gallery of “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST GO TO EL NIDO I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU” and since I am a dumb woman who repeatedly forgets that pride goeth before the shit falleth, I couldn’t have that.

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I asked my new AirBNB host, Nick, for some advice, and what I got was advice AND DINNER, y’all. At a place that was like “The Hangover,” pre-hangover.

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AND HE PAID. Yes, y’all. This dude definitely paid more for my dinner than I paid at his hotel. And it was crazy delicious. He (and his business partner) both recommended that since my first choice place of Sagada was supposed to be raining all week, I should try for Baguio, which was “just 5.5 hours away.”

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My main goal in this unplanned trip to the Philippines was to relax and unwind and just be around green things, which, in a nutshell, was what it was like in Jeju for me just 5 days before, and they assured me that Baguio was like that, and they had contacts there. So I folded myself in half in a tricycle, YES a trike, and went to the bus station. I then proceeded to think “don’t pee don’t pee don’t think about peeing you definitely don’t have to pee, you’ve never peed in your life” for the next 5.5 hours, which I am sure my sister the nurse would not be proud of.

Watching the scenery go by, I saw more and more green, making my heart excited. However, I’ve got to tell you guys that the ratio of Celine Dion songs I heard to hours I spent on that bus was just unreal. I was in love with the guy next to me by the time our ride was finished. Upon arriving to Baguio, I checked into my new AirBNB place and promptly got rained on. But the view, even in the rain, was magnificent.

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Originally, I’d just planned on staying 2-3 days in Baguio, and getting ideas for somewhere else. But, like all places, there were people that changed my mind. My new AirBNB place was hosted by Robert, who was convinced that his dog, Bruno, was reincarnated and could tell bad people (barking) from good people (no barking), and that since Bruno and I got along like gangbusters, I was a good egg. Just look at this fool, who clearly has superpowers.

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Robert fed me, answered questions, and let me just chill and be myself on his balcony for hours. I also met 4 girls who lived in the house–they are from neighboring provinces and are in Baguio for jobs/training/schooling for a temporary time, and they are awesome–they took me to night market, to bars, on walks, and got me to eat new foods, all while chatting and talking about life. They completely made my trip worth it.

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I ended up spending 5 days in Baguio–and I have to say, I never anticipated in my life being crammed into a Toyota 4 Runner taxi with 4 Filipino girls, eating corn kernels that were coated with macaroni cheese dust out of a plastic cup, and rocking out to “Gangster’s Paradise.” Sometimes when you just let the journey take to the weirdest places, it treats you to pretty wonderful experiences.

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Highlights in Baguio:

-The night market–at 11pm they close down one of the main streets in Baguio for a clothing, shoes, and trinkets free for all that is manic and wonderful and super cheap. You should all know that I really restrained myself in not buying you all vintage Nike tees. And then I ate some weird foods that I’m still not sure about.

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-Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary–aka one of the weirder things I did in Baguio and I…I’ll just show you some pictures. This is touted as a garden, and as I was here to see green things, it seemed logical…To start with, this is how this starts:

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YES. Am I right?! I  swear, if there was just a weed scent, this would be right at home in the Pacific Northwest. This place/garden has a “history of the world” theme, and it did not disappoint with the weirdness. There were dinosaur eggs, mini-caves, and even weirder religious motifs. I wished so bad that RoyGene had been there to livetweet it with me, because it was glorious. Also, there *were* beautiful flowers, but I was too lost in the hilarity of strange.

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-Mines View Park–WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING BADGES to look at a bunch of hills that once had mines that produced valuable stuff. Not the most exciting pit stop, but a cool view indeed.

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-The Mansion–aka where the President goes to get away from the oppressive heat of everywhere else in the Philippines. I know it looks like the gates to Arkham, but I swear this is the summer white house.

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I returned to Korea, a little wiser and with mostly healed cheesy thunder thighs, and missing the one guy who knows me inside and out: Bruno. I mean, seriously, look at this fluff basket. He knows what’s up.

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TL;DR: #PhilippinesAdventure

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So if you go to the Philippines, either 1) plan better then I did or 2) just go to El Nido already and you’ll probably love it. I don’t regret going on my journey of strange, as it’s made for some awesome and horrific stories but I could have saved a lot of hours and several inches of chewed of fingernails if I’d planned better. But the Filipino people made my trip a glorious bag of experiences and for that, I’m pretty damn grateful.

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Next post: How to end your job gracefully without crying, by Not Me, #JapanAdventure and OWLS. Yes, Anderson Cooper, OWLS.

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How Not To Start A Vacation: Philippines Style

You know how people are like, “don’t plan out your vacation! Just let it take you where it will and you’ll discover blah blah blah its the journey, not the destination?”

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Such crap. I mean, like, half crap. At least when it came to my Philippines trip.

*sidebar: this coffee shop I’m at right now has an amazing, killer iced Vanilla latte. Think Sonic cup ice and creamy, glorious vanilla tears of a mermaid–it’s great. However, I was like, YES, I would like a chocolate muffin with it and this muffin tastes (and has the texture of) ground up Cheerios boxes. Not Cheerios. The cardboard box that holds and smells faintly of Cheerios. Like, I wouldn’t feed this to chickens my worst enemies anyone. But I bought it so I am damn well gonna eat it. Stupid pride. Anyways…*

Philippines. I finished up my aforeblogged Jeju trip on Monday, May 18 (happy birthday, older bro! You’re 30! I should shut up now!) by flying back to Daegu in the morning, then showering and discovering I’d been attacked by what looked like angry gnomes…I had countless bug bites, scratches, scrapes, tiny sunburn on the tops of my feet (knew I’d missed somewhere…) and the cheesy maiming of my thunder thighs. Everything hurt in that shower. Did I really want to leave the country again for 6 days? I mean, sure, the $168 round trip flight from Seoul to Clark was too Dutch to pass up and I am an adult female woman person who has pride, power and is a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody so HELL YES we are going to go and…have fun…and whatever. Also, it was my last week of vacation at K.Hogwarts, so I *had* to use it.

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Everyone who knew I was going to the Philippines was all “OH MY GOD EL NIDO EL NIDO PALAWAN (that’s it, right? I have a sneaking suspicious it might be Padawan but that could also be a Star Wars thing) YOU’LL LURVE THE BEACHES” and I’m all, “please look at my skin tone and tell me about how perfect I am for beaches and snorkeling, please.” No. I was going to the MOUNTAINS and having HIKING TIMES and FINDING MYSELF like that lady from Oprah…stuff.

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So I get to Seoul, get on the flight, and immediately, start to have a weird feeling about the trip. Not enough to break aviation law, but I did have a “which sickness gets me off of here without thousands in fines” thought and I will confess to thinking about throwing nuts at a steward but I did not because I am not a chaebol lady pre-apology. I shrugged it off and said to myself “IT WILL BE AN ADVENTURE,” confirm texted my AirBNB host about the car picking me up, and then departed from Korea.

I landed to…nothing. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. I landed, went through customs, whole shebang, got the stamp, got my bag searched, walked out the doors to…nothing. No sign for the car I had previously arranged. No person saying any version of my name, mangled or otherwise. Just looking at about 200 Filipino people looking at me as they were sitting, and waiting, for other people that were NOT me in the 84 degree heat at 11:22pm at night.

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I could not figure out what brand of cross-cultural muckup I had walked into here. I frantically tried to connect to the semi-shady free wifi spots at this tiny, useless airport (that $168 ticket price tag is starting to make sense, isn’t it?) to check my AirBNB app for something, anything from my host to discover why my already exhausted, possibly hungover, bug-bitten, sunburned, cheesy maimed ass was alone in a new country and up shit creek. To add insult to these various injuries, I was an IDIOT and forgot my foreign credit cards. I know. I blame it on the Jeju magic; I’d still been in Korea in Jeju, so I was able to use my Daegu bank cards and Korean ATMS (my Korean cards wouldn’t work here. I checked). I was now in a foreign country with just under $404 in Philippines pesos FOR THE ENTIRE 6 days.

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I used 400 ($9) of my precious pesos to buy a SIM card to contact the AirBNB host, since she’d given me her number to call her in the event of…anything. Nothing like hearing the message “this call cannot be completed as the receiver is either out of service or this number has been disconnected” to make your heart sink. I hadn’t eaten in almost 9 hours, and it was just past midnight and hot and dark and I was, to be frank, scared. Yeah, I was. I was alone, and knew no one in this country. I don’t want to lie to you guys. I wasn’t totally in panic mode, but I’ve seen “Taken” and I couldn’t go back into the main airport without a ticket (which I wouldn’t have for 6 more days) and I was rapidly approaching some unattractive tears. I had no credit card to get any more money, I had no sleep options (this airport is 15 minutes from anywhere), and I was feeling really dumb about the whole trip.

I frantically tried to book different places on AirBNB, since I could use my credit card number online to pay, but since it was past midnight, I couldn’t book for the night I was currently living (18th/19th), but rather the next night (19th/20th). I still hadn’t cried by this point, but this wasn’t a moment of pride for me. In desperation, I posted an SOS on Facebook, which prompted a text from my best friend saying “you know your mom is going to freak out, right?” Yeah, I did. But it felt like a legitimate post to throw up there since I was literally sitting against a wall in a strange airport in a strange land without any plan other than “don’t get kidnapped or robbed or sold into slavery.”

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At this point, a guy wearing an official-ish badge walked up to me and asked in a not-unkind way, “what are you doing?” By now, I’d been pacing around with a constipated look on my face for about 2 hours. It was just shy of 1am and as I blurted out my story, he said he knew of a close hotel. I informed him that I didn’t have much money, which probably was mostly sold by the fact that I only had a small backpack on and smelled like anxiety. He said his job was “taxi chief” and that he knew of a good, cheap place that was safe, including “guard have gun,” which, after living in Korea for so long…is kind of unsettling…but whatever. I’d already created a frightening backstory for a lot of the guys walking around the airport, so the word SAFE SAFE SAFE was circling my head like little Disney birds. He bundled me into a cab (500 pesos) and told me the hotel would probably be about 1200 pesos.

It is possible that in the dark of the cab, to the dulcet tones of 1980s Whitney, that I maybe shed a few tears of thanks and frustration but I hid it real real well under all the makeup I was not wearing. But you can’t prove that.

10 minutes later, upon arriving at a hotel that looked not unlike the motel/gas station from the movie “Cars,” I paid 1400 pesos (you win some, you lose some) and collapsed in twin bosoms of air conditioning and fast, fast wifi and actually, did, cry for about 30 solid seconds. I opened my messages to read replies and tips from friends from all over the world, plus family who was praying for me and a message from a college friend who hooked me up with names and numbers of her dad’s missions contacts in the Philippines. It was almost 2am in Angeles, and I was exhausted in every sense of the word. Despite the fact I was 88% sure there was a lipstick cam in the ceiling (it just had that vibe), I stripped down to my underwear and tried not to think about the sheets as I passed out.

I woke up 7 hours later to some emails from AirBNB customer service (awesome, awesome people) and messages from more people (yet, never ever heard from my original AirBNB host by email, messenger or phone). AirBNB hooked me up with some credits and helped me book a place that night. I spent the rest of the morning lazing about in the air conditioning and watching some form of an “Underworld” movie before deciding to check out and walk to my new place. But since this is getting long, I’ll save the rest of the story for tomorrow–including tips on how not to pee yourself on a 5.5 hour bus ride!

TL;DR First night in the Philippines:

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5 Korean Husbands. 13,000 Fans. And Me.

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Through a magical twist of timing and fate, my favorite Korean boyband, BigBang (yes, I know, people, I have betrayed my NSYNC roots hard) had their first comeback in 3 years and first concert in Korea in over a year, last weekend. The weekend before last. April 25-26, in Seoul. Naturally, I was ready to leave some bodies in the streets in my quest to see them live.

I enlisted one of my Korean co-workers, Ara, to help me, and we made plans to go to a Starbucks and buy the tickets. But that didn’t happen; another friend recommended a PC Bang (bang=baang=room, aka what we would probably call an internet cafe), where the internet connection is super fast due to all the people playing MMORPGs and trolling the respawn, Jeremy. We planted among the horde of unwashed college guys screaming creative curses while playing “League of Legends” (also known as just “LOL” here) and pulled up the ticket-buying website, G-Market. Ara and I looked like totally out of place with our work clothes and ovaries.

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We pulled up a clock and the website and then proceeded to fight thousands of other people for seats. By that I mean that EVERY SINGLE ONE we clicked on that was free, disappeared immediately? Our conversation was “yes!” “gone” “none” and “ahhhhhhh…” Finally after about 15 minutes, we found one on the 3rd floor and we were both shouting “BUY BUY BUY” among the curse-hurling, ramen-eating college boys. I was elated: it was really happening.

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I spent the next 2.5 weeks preparing emotionally and physically for this concert: bought train tickets, booked AirBNB, and purchased an external battery so my iOS stuff could just keep going and going and going. Friday, April 24 couldn’t come fast enough–so I jumped on the train with a dream and a cardigan (a yellow one. The cardigan. Not the dream).

I arrived in Seoul and made my way to the AirBNB and had some potato wedges and take-out beers whilst watching kids screaming for their mothers across the lake at Lotte World amusement park. I found myself waking up at 7:30 the next morning to start the process of sexy-ifing myself. Which of course took less than 5 minutes. You know what Tae and I are about.

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I headed over to Olympic Park early to get in line to pick up some merch for friends and found myself in line for 3 hours…alone…surrounded by Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese speakers. It was a multicultural love fest of sharing umbrellas and interacting on Twitter with other shameless BB lovers.

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After the line came some lunch, then waiting, more waiting and then finally, I got in line as we heard the thumping bass sounds of dress rehearsal. We got in and I found my nosebleed seat on the 3rd floor, section 33, #231.

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And then, at 6:34pm, April 25, the BigBang 2015 Comeback began.

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Glorious, dorkery. And then I went back the next day, to suffer through standing, pushing, rib-cracking, fainting women for a chance to see these idiots’ faces.

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Notes:
-standing area tickets are like volunteering to be tribute to die in the arena but there are no hot Hemsworths. I have never been so sweaty for a non-sport event, ever. It was like a sauna that you paid obscene amounts of money for. I saw at least 10 people lifted out of JUST MY SECTION for fainting.

-Their video teasers and filler videos were AMAZING. I was so impressed; the Sergio Leone vibe was strong in music, in the look and style and the Tarantino influence was tangible and awesome. I would just flat-out buy the music from them. So impressed.

-YG Entertainment does not play around with photos/video. I had the girl next to me pulled the first night and they deleted all her photos/videos and let her come back. Another girl on Twitter said she got pulled from standing and was forced to delete everything AND kicked out. That said, I felt for our section’s security guy, who was jumping on the barrier screaming in Korean to put our cameras down. I wanted to pat him on the back like “you tried, bro. There was no stopping us, but we know you tried. Nyah, nyah nyah.”

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-The concert was awash with their hits; opening with “Fantastic Baby” and running through “How Gee,” favorites like “Haru Haru” and “Cafe” as well as the VIP anthem, “Lies.” Each member did a 1-song solo stage (with the exception of Seungri, who had 2 songs/a mashup) and I got to dance along with people who knew every.single.lyric.

-you really can see all of their faces and joy watching fans sing along with them. It really was cool to see them respond and point at people, to throw water on fans and towels and then take their mics away to hear us sing *their* lyrics back to them.

-These idiots are hilarious and put on a huge, big, insane show, and I am so, so glad I went. I know it was a lot of money, but I tried to remember–when am I ever going to do this again?! Thanks to everyone on Twitter (@alyssa_bailey), Snapchat (baileysayswhat) and Insta (@a_bailey) for the love and translations! Until whenever, VIP nerds.

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PS: Taeyang. Stop trying to steal me from TOP, you thankful little shit. King of fan service, indeed.

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Thingamabobs (you know, I got 20).

In the words of my Korean non-husband (WHO IS HAVING A COMEBACK ANNOUNCED TODAY), “long time no see long time no see.”

Here’s what you missed in the last 4 months on “Glee:”

  • Pizza Hut is the husband I tried to cheat on with McDonald’s, the evil, non-delivering, dicks and yet Pizza Hut lovingly takes me back like Hosea’s wife and delivers me gorgeous, glorious pizza with no trauma or difficulty or Korean. Website here
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  • me trying to teach kids how to say “freckles” and explaining it in Korean only to discover I’ve been saying “줄넘기 (julnumgi aka jump rope) instead of “주근깨 (jugeunggae aka freckles)” FOR MONTHS. MONTHS. “Hey kids, look at all the cute jump ropes ON YOUR FACE.” Not nightmare-inducing at all, I’m sure.
  • getting into an existential crisis about how I’m now Korean 29 years old (read this for why) and I’m like one foot in Ms. Havisham territory despite the fact I TURNED 27 JUST 3 MONTHS AGO. I’ve slid over into the mental block of being 29 and I can’t claw back out.
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  • doing one of those quizzes where you put your music on shuffle and answer questions to only get “This song describes how you will die: Too Much Food-Jason Mraz” and “This song will play at your wedding: Rollin’ Home Alone – Jason Lytle” which is unacceptable and hence I’m never playing again because my iTunes is clearly out to get me and artists named “Jason” are dicks.
  • met a guy from Bellingham who went to Sehome High School on my birthday in Seoul at a random, hole-in-the-wall bar and he kissed me on the cheeks 3x as he told me to smell a fir tree for him when I went home (I did).
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  • I’ve been writing down my dreams and you guys, you should all try this. There are some real gems, such as “at one point I reached up and touched his right bicep as part of the dance. then we took a weird group photo where someone sat on me and i was their legs. ” as well as “i was at first on horseback and we were like, trying to catch a old murder/solve on a and were riding down the hill behind the now food pavilion in lynden. […] then other people came and i fake slit my own throat and laid down in the water and watched what they did.” Just…even weirder things going on in my sleep, guys.
  • I need to throw out a shoutout to O’Fallon Brewery for spotting me a 6pack, and my former co-worker John Mitchell for draggin it over halfway around the world. I told none of my other fiends about this because you best believe I gollum’d those real hard and told NO ONE MY PRECIOUSES WHEACH BEER JUST FOR ME.
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  • Just was gifted some gummy bears from a student and the bag said “made with real fruit juice” and let me tell you that is a nightmare waiting to happen. I used to work on a raspberry harvester and when the season is done and limping out with its’ tail between it’s legs, that’s when you do “juice” barrels (or some farms just do juice only). If you’re lucky, there’s a sorter sitting there throwing out the weirdest stuff (dead birds, worms, plastic bread ties, mold, unsolved CSI mysteries), but usually, there’s not. They are literally pulling blood from whatever turnips (raspberries or whatever else) go across the belt. So the next time you see “made with real fruit juice,” you better start hoping you get one of the *good* superpowers.
  • Saw my first Korean celebrity, “God of Asia” Lee Min Ho, when I went to H&M for a pair of leggings and emerged empty-handed to about 250 people outside the doors looking expectantly towards the black, heavily-tinted bus in the street. I grabbed a passing Korean girl and, gesturing at the bus, asked “누구세요?” (who is it?) and when she replied I shouted “진짜?!” (REALLY?!) in her face like a grown-ass woman clearly in control of her faculties. And let me tell you, it is unfair for him to actually be so good-looking in real life. There is some weird juju going on there. anigif_enhanced-buzz-14966-1389606273-34 vs IMG_0592
  •  Had an impromptu 8.5-year high school reunion when I was home and everyone is married to everyone else’s somebody and half of the people are showing baby pictures and it was great. Beer and people you used to be afraid of sharing bottomless fries with you is just magical. Also, when you see a guy that 16-year old you had a huge crush on and 27-year old you is still like tumblr_lu5jnkcTFs1qd3x44 then you know it’s time to go before you embarrass yourself and his mom (hi Leslie!).
  • I have less than 2 months left in Korea. I know. It’s weird. I’ve decided to go ahead and pursue a year (at least) of Second City improv comedy training in Chicago. Yeah, dreams! I can’t even tell you exactly what I’m going to do with it, but unless I want to be a shriveled up “what if” grandma wondering about it…I’m going to do it now, before the aforementioned fake Korean husband locks this down. Classes start August 17 and before then I’ll wrap up Korea life, travel to 3-4 Asian countries (Japan, Philippines are locked, possibly also Thailand, Cambodia and/or a Vietnam, China) and then be home for a couple of weeks, Tulsa/Little Rock for a week and then the great migration to the Windy City around August 1.

I’ll let my spirit animal, Adele, close us out.

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Champion Professional Mountain Climbery.

Growing up in Lynden, I kind of hated the Pioneer Museum. Yes, Phoebe Judson is a saint, she named Lynden with a ‘y’ instead of Linden because it was prettier….blah. I realized that there were a lot of places around Daegu that I didn’t know, and started my vacation last week  with a $5 tour around Daegu.  An entire tour bus, a non-English speaking guide, a driver and…just me. Do you see where this party train is going? 

We began by checking out the Bullo-dong Tombs in eastern Daegu (Dongdaegu), which are huge mounds of dirt where it is thought the rulers of the area in the 5th and 6th century AD were buried. My guide was (is?) a professor at Yeungjin College, my employer, and had a laugh or two with me in the sunshine as we walked along a bunch of graves. His daughter is a pharmacist (or going to pharmacy school?) in LA, and he told me how he misses her. 

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Next we visited a brass museum, which was a little forgettable since pouring molten hot metal and beating it with sticks *sounds* like my jam, but really isn’t. Well, maybe *actually* doing it would be, but watching videos of it just isn’t. Then we drove to Mt. Palgongsan and Donghwasa Temple, where I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with some lanterns. This is when my Korean and Chinese speaking guide began to warm up to me as she watched me chase grains of rice around a bowl with chopsticks in vain. She has a 4-year old daughter and is expecting her next one, a boy! in just 4 months. Sidebar: I have got to stop hanging out with so many gorgeous pregnant women because I am not carrying another life and I haven’t figured out how to dress as classy.

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By far my favorite part of this tour was the Daegu Safety Theme Park, which might be a slightly tragic translation error for somewhere with a memorial of the Daegu 2.18 Terror incident in 2003. Just like everywhere else I was the solo person accompanied this time by a Yeungjin graduate (YJC IS EVERYWHERE THEY ARE BIG BROTHER), Josh, who took me inside this huge room that was actually a hydraulic lift to watch a super sad video dubbed terribly in English about the attack that claimed 198 lives and injured over 147 more. Hearing a girl call her mom on a cell phone and say “There’s smoke, I can’t breathe, I love you” in Korean just broke me. As the video ended and the lift went down to the floor I stepped out to see the actual subway car they had transported to the park. I can’t really remember a time in my life where I could reach out and touch where someone had lost their life. It feels strange to me that my favorite tours aren’t sunshine and lollipops and aquariums but places like this and Alcatraz. Where life, messy and heartbreaking, happens. (“I’m sorry” written in Korean at the memorial, below)

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So then I got on a bus to Mokpo, 4 hours away, and discovered that I had told my host the wrong week that I was coming. This prompted a flurry of filling out my CouchSurfing profile, AirBNB, Facebook,  and attempting various smoke signals to try and find somewhere to stay that night. I was kind of nervous excited (read: terrified) about maybe sleeping in a jjimjilbang and kept repeating that Helen Keller quote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” I arrived in Mokpo to see Jenna, a high school friend, arrive with blankets and a place for me to stay with friends of hers that night. 

RISE AND SHINE, YO, YOU GOT A TOUR IN THE POURING RAIN TO DO! Another day, another guide with almost no English at all, 4 museums, a lunch where I put a whole clam in my mouth and raw oysters too, 5 Koreans over the age of 50 and then…then…I climbed a mountain. 

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On our Mokpo tour there was a couple in their 50s with maybe 1% English to my 2% Korean. So we had pretty much just done a lot of smiling at each other for about 4 hours. The tour ended and the guide asked me, “you want to climb Yudalsan?” Thinking it was all part of the tour still, I said “YES!” only for him to jump in his car and leave me looking at the two of them as they gestured to get in their (very nice) car. 

Now…Single White Foreign Female 101, Chapter 2: “Liam Neeson Will Not Always Be There” ($39.95 on Amazon) dictates that getting in the car of a nice looking couple with which you cannot communicate is not really the *best* idea. But in the spirit of Ms. Keller and saying “yes” to unknowns (Improv Comedy 201)…I got in. We drove about 5 minutes to the base of the mountain (please, nobody google how tall this mountain is, I know I was no Bear Grylls here but I’m proud of my tiny accomplishment) and the rain is starting to just dump out. I’m in dark jeans, wool socks, Nike Frees, a deep green hoodie and my 8-year old black North Face fleece and my hosts are in full-on Korean hiking gear. If I looked like a natural-colored wayguk bear waddling around, they looked like a flower garden full of the happiest, brightest poppies you’ve ever seen. So we started climbing. The rain got worse. Station 1. I feel good. Station 2, it’s getting slick. Station 3, fog. Summit. A glorious, rainy, happy heart. I wonder how I ever work indoors. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I belong here on top of mountains. It’s in my hair, my eyes, my joy. Rainy, cold, wet, and the Koreans are laughing at how happy I am. I’m thinking of Marty and Mr. Kredit and home and here and wishing I had someone to share it with. But you can’t wait for someone else to live your life, right? At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. 

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Going back down was treacherous but we found a surprise temple as we came back–hello, Indiana Jones, where are you? My hosts asked “jowa Soju?” which means “do you like Soju?” and I answered back with a slang phrase taught to me by Freddy Richmond, the cool, smoking older brother I miss dearly: “hanjan harkayo (lets have a glass).” Which I meant as a joke…and then we started driving around a shipyard and I was quite convinced that I was about to be cut up for parts. They’d tested me out and found I was halfway competent at climbing things (aka lots of stairs) and were going to sell my organs to the shipmongers. Which was fortunately not true as they then took me to a restaurant where we ate live octopus (낙지) and Soju! I only wish I’d taken a photo…but then you wouldn’t have seen all the tentacles squirming, which was kind of the coolest thing ever. I know that kind of luxury isn’t cheap and they wouldn’t let me pay for it either. NakJin and JeongSun: Thank you for teaching me about friendship without words; it’s not something I’ll easily forget. 

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And then…Seoul. I took the KTX going aaaannyywhere…to Yongsan Station. I putzed around eating kimbap outside a palace and walked around Bukchon and another palace before my 2o’clock tour of the Bukchon Hanok village. The village is full of hanoks, a style of wooden houses that grew in popularity in the 1920s and 30s as Seoul expanded. The area is carefully preserved and yet very modern. For my Arkansas friends, think Hillcrest. Tulsa friends, think Blue Dome district. Old, historic, and full of too many hipster artists to count on both mustaches. I then went down to Itaewon, the foreigner district, for an hour to hunt down a few cans of Diet Coke and a new shirt or two before attempting to rendezvous with my host for the night. As I sat on the floor of Nowon Subway Station…I started to feel…off. I secured secondary housing (the second time this week, if you remember), as my host thought I was again coming a different day (do I need to set my clock differently or something?). And as I walked into her place, I pretty much became *that* scene in Bridesmaids. If you know, you know. I was every character in every place in her tiny bathroom. I nominate me for worst houseguest of the ever.

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After surviving the night, I pretty much crawled home to Daegu and the safety of my bed. Which only took about 9 hours to do, but still. MADE IT. 

I had a difficult time with this vacation. I requested it over 6 months ago to go to Hong Kong with college friends, but plans fell through in January. I only get 2 true vacation weeks of my own (we have to take 2 at Christmas) per year, and here I was, *wasting* it (or so I thought) as I bounced through Korea, a county I already lived in. Work was very slow this week, with people having mornings or whole afternoons off and I was angry that I was gone on an easy week. Angry I had to use this time and felt like it was wasted. Friends were in Thailand or Bali or the Philippines and I didn’t even leave the peninsula. And then I got sick and had to come home from Seoul on Friday rather than Sunday. 

I’m instead trying to focus more of my world on positives: 

1. I didn’t have to teach at all this week. 

2. I climbed a mountain. 

3. I ate live octopus and soju with absolute strangers. 

4. I saved some money! I think!

5. I saw some really old, unique places in this world that I may never have seen otherwise. 

I leaped. A little leap, but it felt kind of good. Next time: bigger leap. 

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Pros vs. Cons vs. Chimek

Few things are more sacred in Korea than chimek. The ritual so awesome it got a celebrity mashup name, chicken and mecju (beer) is known pretty much the moment Korean kids enter the world through the portal of cuteness and stickers from whence they come. It’s super social and frankly, super awesome to have fried chicken and beer as plentiful as Starbucks in Seattle.  

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However…it’s not something you usually do alone. And here I am, solo white female wayguk (foreigner) on her laptop watching Dr. Who, having ordered a $16 basket of chicken and 500ml beer on my own. If I’m being honest, I only know of like 5 restaurants in Chilgok, and most of them are social-oriented. I haven’t really found places for people desperately alone…or maybe I’m just not looking and MAYBE I JUST REALLY WANTED CHICKEN, Y’ALL. 

I got off campus on the 2:20 bus thanks to the generosity of David Brown and 3/8 of my soul sold to the scheduling gods—hanging out with my friend Elins on the ride in as he tries to teach my brain how to not insult people in Korean—so I decided to hit up the CGV and see if there were any movies worth watching. After soothing my soul with the baby blue pools of peace that are Chris Pine’s eyes in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (sidebar: when have financial analysts ever been SO DANG HOT), I meandered over to one of my favorite Chilgok coffee haunts: Coffea Coffee. 

I like it for the cement wall atmosphere, not for the fact that the bathrooms are OUTSIDE and you need a passcode to get in them. I put off peeing for 2 hours until I was ready to eat my own arm off (and also ready to go into kidney shock or whatever [insert Brianna medical term]) and went. Way in…good. Wait 4 minutes as employee having smoke break is chatting on the phone in the stall…painful. Way out…APPARENTLY I SET OFF SOME KIND OF ALARM AND SO I JUST RAN. Yeah. Reaaaaalllly classy way to represent all foreigners: setting off the bathroom alarm in downtown ‘burbia. At one point I pretended to talk on my phone in Spanish. THE SHAME. 

Having run and following the whims of my stomach, I stumbled into Okkudok, gateway to chimek heaven and personal torment. 

Me: “Hi! Aanyong haseyo!”

Dude: “Aanyong haseyo.”

Me: “Uh, one. Hanna. Hanbyeong.”

Dude: (weird look)

Me: “One person. Solo.”

Dude: (holds up one finger) “…hanmyeong?”

Me: “Yes! Neh! Just…solo. Hanmyeong.” 

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Just so you are aware: hanbyeong means “one bottle,” so God only knows how that sounded. 

And then I walked over the bridge over Terabithia, into the Daiso, and bought DB a water bottle because I’m afraid his kids will all be mutated due to him reusing the same cheap, single-use plastic water bottle for the last 4 months and then sat my butt down at Starbucks, ordered a $5 tall vanilla latte and just planted. I’m about 10 minutes away from the bus, which comes in at 9:25 to go back to the commune. 

I totally didn’t start this one as a “let’s do a play by play of the most exciting Tuesday EVER,” but there it is. I started it to talk about my feelings about being 8 months in and needing to make some serious decisions about the future. But in classic me mode, I’ve put it off with rambling about the mundane for 40 minutes. 

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So at DGEV, you need to make a decision about renewing when you are 8 months into your 12-month contract. Which for me is February 1, aka about 10 days from now. In November/October I was convinced I wanted to go to Chicago in June for 4 weeks of training at Second City Improv. And while that’s still something I want to pursue, I’m not 100% convinced it’s the right step for right now. I…kind of like Korea, you guys. 

I’m sitting in a Starbucks and there’s…46 people that I can see in here and all of them are (or at least look) Korean. Not a single foreigner. And that doesn’t scare me. It’s…kind of normal. It’s kind of nice to sit and just listen to the static of not understanding other people’s conversations. And it’s not unlike that game on “Whose Line” where you can make up whole conversations that people are having based on their body language. 

I like the people I work with: Koreans, foreigners, whomever and I finally feel in my stride at work—I’m co-chair of the Adult Program with DB, I’m part of the Social Committee, I have free room and board and gym and heat and water and a HUGE bathroom all fo’ no’ moneys. I can probably name about 100 Korean words or terms, and can slowly sound out words in Korean and write them myself. Most importantly I have about 3 insults I can use, which is gold in any foreign language. 

I told one of my Korean friends that I was thinking about staying another year here and was really surprised when he said, “that is good…and bad.” I said, “Don’t you want me to stay?” “Yes…but you are sad.” GUYS. WHAT. I actually feel mostly happy and good (at least *decent*) at my job now and don’t curl up in a ball and weep missing you all most nights. But it’s totally taken me aback and I’ve been questioning it the last 9 hours. Which would probably freak him out knowing how much trauma that’s caused me. Am I sad? I don’t…think so? I don’t feel any more sad than I did living in Tulsa, or Little Rock. Sure, life is up and down and sometimes you’re in a relationship and it’s great or you’re in a relationship and you’re lonelier than when you’re single and you see couples everywhere and some days the job is magical and you teach an old person how to FaceTime their kid in Afghanistan and sometimes you’re screamed at because a rich, drunk 24-year old dropped his iPhone in the lake over the weekend and OF COURSE it’s your fault as the creator of the device itself and sometimes your students laugh and love you and sometimes they sleep and mumble about how you’re a fat waygookin and sometimes you fall asleep texting someone special and sometimes you fall asleep heart wrenchingly lonely, but that is the same anywhere, not just in Korea. So…what I’m trying to say is that I don’t feel exceptionally sad.

tl;dr that last paragraph: I *think* I’m not sad here. 

I kind of feel like I’m at the point of excitement and joy about Korea, learning Korean, and exploring things and people that I should have been when I arrived…it’s only taken me 8 months to get here. 

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BUS BUS BUS 

I love public transit here. Cheap, simple, reliable DEAR GOD WHY CAN’T I FOCUS WAS IT THE CHICKEN IT WAS THE CHICKEN, WASN’T IT.

OK, so, back to decision time. Let’s list it:

Pros vs. Cons

Pro: free room and board and gym and shuttle and wifi and utilities

Con: it’s kind of out in Egypt and is a real buzzkill on weekends to get into Daegu and meet non-work people

Pro: living overseas! Widening horizons! 

Con: sometimes you’re not really in the mood to stretch and it’s really frustrating, also, language is really difficult.

Pro: new people!

Con: you miss old people (old being relative) a lot. A LOT. Technology is a shallow representation, but kind of better than nothing. Insert clip of “Lonely” by Akon.

Pro: Cash moneys

Con: is there a con? I don’t think it’s corrupted my soul yet…

Pro: build up a resume of international work

Con: have no home base

Pro: Koreans are almost always awesome and loving and kind and funny, especially if you’re willing to try their language.

Con: Koreans are sometimes mean and very blunt and straight up rude to foreigners. 

Pro: re-signing another year means +$1000 bump in pay plus another round-trip airfare to anywhere. As well as a favorable look at my evaluation and potential annual bonus. 

Con: brain dislikes the idea of another year adrift with all things in 3 different states and 2 countries, as well as heartstrings snapping as I spend another year away from relationships. 

 So…clearly I’m not any closer to making a decision, but here’s where my brain is currently at: 

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