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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Unemployment Day 1: Let’s talk about Cheesy Thunder Thighs

It was with the happiest, Disney-villain gusto that I woke up at 9:24 this Monday morning to no alarm. No dulcet tones of BigBang’s “BaeBae” (it’s grown on me, guys), no “Cruella DeVil” 5-minutes-before-the-bus-leaves-get-yo’-ass-UP alarm, nothing. It’s like vacation BUT IT WILL LAST FOREVER or at least until August-ish. I hope. You know what time it is, y’all, it’s time to:

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I’m curled up in the mothership, enjoying a horse-sized iced vanilla latte after going to the bank and transferring money home LIKE AN ADULT (after staying in bed until 11:47am LIKE A CHILD), and I feel good. Sure, this latte cost as much as the cab ride over to this side of town but I’m happy with it.

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LOOK AT HER SEXY VANILLA CURRRRRVES.

It’s so strange to think that there’s nowhere I need to be. I have these 5 days to move stuff out of my apartment and into suitcases/friends’ caves before I leave for Japan for 10 days next Monday. I have no idea what I’m doing in Japan, which is a terrible/wonderful thing according to my Philippines vacation 2 weeks ago, wherein I landed at 11pm and my AirBNB host went COMPLETELY AWOL and I was stranded, sticking out like the tall, sweaty, uberwhite uberwomensch that I am.

But we’ll get to the Philippines in the next post. Right now, I need to back up and tell you about winning the field of dreams of Jeju while getting fantastically maimed.

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It was Thursday, May 16, and I had just landed in Jeju for my second “Jeju Furey Beach Volleyball Tournament,” where my team’s name was “William Shatner Face” (say it 3 times fast and you’ll get where our minds were at), where we sweat, sunburned, got bit by a host of radioactive spiders, and I got scalding cheese on my lady bits AND THAT WAS JUST THE FIRST NIGHT. Here’s a visual of what was dropped on me:

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You know like, when you get fajitas and it’s all steaming and they’re like, “do not touch this hot metal thing in the middle of the wood trough we brought you human piglets?” Yeah. Like that. Dancing front the table onto my uncovered, lily-white, Snow White-esque upper thighs and into the stuff of LEGENDS. If you’ve figured out the gist of our team name, just imagine the kind of jokes we made of THIS incident–which, by now, is past the “blistering fields of delicious, cheesy thigh pain” phase and into “Pink post-surgical scar where they hid the drug-filled condoms” phase, aka it’s definitely almost healed. Also, I artfully hid the burns in following picture because Photoshop.

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Friday was spent on the southern side of the island as I got my tourist self on and visited all 3 big waterfalls of Seogwipo and wrote a lot in a journal and had generally awesome solo white girl travel times while sipping on tea and meeting Mr. Darcy and then traveling on a bus full of 35 high school boys practicing their English on me “YOU LIKE DRAKE?!”

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I really loved these places, chock-full of tourists (like me) as they were. There’s just no bullshitting with a waterfall. It’s not a museum or a monument or something man-made. It’s powerful and peaceful at once. The color of the water here is just unreal. It feels like you ran into a Totoro tunnel and came out in a different world where your other worries and cares are gone. I could have sat for hours except rocks are not the most comfortable seats, y’know? But if you are lucky enough to get to Jeju, screw any other tourist spots (except maybe climbing Hallasan, which I have not done:( but heard is also naturally wonderful) and just get to these waterfalls and bathe in their serenity.

Saturday began volleyball times. I’d played with a different team last October and had only met one member of my new team, so you know I made a great first impression with le cheesy thighs of power and grace. We slowly warmed up on Saturday, getting to know each other’s positions and strengths and alcohol tolerances. I’m very proud to say that I drank an entire bottle of Hallasan soju (한라산 소주) in a scant 6 minutes and 43 seconds, beating everyone else on my team and establishing myself as alpha wolf of the drunk tank.

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After a restless, sleep-ish night, we went on to win our bracket/division and I promptly ran my championship exhausted ass into the ocean and waved at you guys…what, didn’t you hear me? from the sandy, gorgeous, alcohol-infused sands of Hamdeok Beach.

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It’s my second time going to this tournament, and both times, it was stupid fun. The typhoon of last October and the glorious weather of this round, the people who I recognized and those who remembered me as “Dan Quick’s friend,” it was all awesome. Thanks to the other members of the heroin centipede (really, you don’t want to know) and here’s to cheesy thunder thighs forever.

Bonus pics:

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*post ocean run WHY WAS THE TIDE OUT THE WATER WAS SO SO FAR AWAY model look*

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*Sunday morning 6:30am sunrise. Magical.*

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*Hamdeok Beach being a lovely little volcanic wench*

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*I might have had a slight little extreme sports crush on this Korean guy’s skills*

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Next time: Adventures of Ma’am in the Philippines!

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Pre-Grieving

I should be home by now. In fact, I’m sure my coworkers are already snug in their Woobang nests. Instead I got off downtown for 2 fake errands…and I can’t really tell you why I did it.

I guess I’m starting to get nostalgic.

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Which…is dumb, because I’m still here, right? I have over a month to go. It’s like I’m pre-grieving someone or something that hasn’t died yet. But I feel it slipping through my fingers. Another week went by, then another, and another and it’s already almost the end of April.

I’m sitting in a cafe I’ve never been in that has open-air windows and I’m on the second floor, overlooking one of the busiest intersections downtown. Couples, kids, couples with kids, college students in letterman’s jackets (although I couldn’t tell you what on earth they lettered in), high school kids in their dark colored uniforms, and the occasional sore thumb foreigner walking by.

The weather is gorgeous, 68 degrees (20 for y’all metric/celsius normals) right now, at 7:44pm. There’s a slight breeze and there’s lights everywhere still. I’m facing another coffee shop (sans open-air windows, BOO), and I see 2 no, FOUR cellphone stores from my vantage point. Is it creepy to people watch this much?

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I think 98% of all the dudes walking by are drop-dead beautiful. I wonder if I will find Korean guys so heart-stoppingly lovely when I’m not surrounded by them 24/7. Sorry, all Korean guys. I’m watching you. You’re gorgeous. Don’t worry about stereotypes. If someone doesn’t want you or doesn’t like “Asians” then they are the idiots, not you. That said, try not to be dicks to women about their weight/looks (not that you all do that). It’s ok if you’re not into a certain type; just say someone’s not your style. Don’t be an asshole and point out exactly what it is. You’re not all Kim Woo Bin either. And if you *are* Kim Woo Bin, just. Message me. I’d like to punch you on the shoulder like a 8-year old boy on the playground and pull your pigtail and shout “I LOVE YOU” and then run away and tweet about our moment forever.

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I’m eavesdropping on all these conversations right now. I understand zero of them. I’m sitting with one headphone in and frantically typing this nonsense, looking busy. I look totally professional, right? RIGHT? I wish I could understand; I pick up words and verbs here and there but I’m like level 1-2. I know, I’ve been here 2 years and my Korean is still shit, despite all the kids being like “TEACHER YOU KOREAN SPEAK WELL” and my frantic “Shhhh don’t let a Korean adult hear that I”m talking Korean to you in class” mode.

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I’m so deep into pre-grieving that I’m looking into grad schools in Seoul despite the fact I’m A) definitely going to Chicago for at least a year to study at Second City Improv and B) I don’t even know what I would *want* to study. I’m all “I would maybe spend thousands of dollars on that major, sure, or maybe that one,” which obviously makes a lot of sense.

I hate this part. The tearing apart part. I put it off for so long that I pretty much just bleed when it happens. There’s no slow tapering off. It is violent and gross and I’m kind of worried how I’m gonna be those first few weeks back. Leaving Arkansas…I mean, it’s been two years and I still miss most of them with all of me. I sent them dorky care packages full of weird makeup samples and even weirder socks, and they returned the favor. Sure, the magic of technology keeps us tenuously connected, but it’s not the same. And I’m going to miss THESE idiots (lovely idiots) fiercely. I’m already planning on spending my weeklong Philippines vacation next month just sitting in an hammock writing thank you/goodbye letters to everyone (and that’s a lot of everyones). Or maybe I’ll just kidnap you all and put you in my suitcases. I’ll poke air holes.

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I know in my sad, sad, banana strawberry smoothie-filled heart that its time to go, though. Today I was walking to class and one of our Korean staff leaders asked me to take part in a group picture that I had no part of. In that, I didn’t know nor was I interacting with this tour group all day, they just wanted a foreigner face in their group shot. And I got so…angry. Just immediately, 1-60mph/96kph anger. We jumped over irritation immediately. In the past, I wouldn’t have minded. And I wasn’t having a bad day; I was doing ok. I was just immediately DONE. It was like “do you not see me walking to class? Do you think I must just be free since you see me?! WHO DISTURBS MY WALKING SLUMBER?!” And of course my customer service self said “sure” but when I walked away after the picture I looked at our Chinese intern and we both made the most irked bitch face at each other about it. And 20 minutes later, our photographer is in my classroom for 5 minutes taking “action shots” as I have a rude posse of 6th-graders ignoring me and I almost asked him to leave (super faux pas) before I yelled in Konglish.

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DGEV has been a good part of my life the last 2 years. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount of slang/Korean and met wonderful people both Korean and foreign, I’ve learned that I can handle just about anyone for 45 minutes and that I’m ok in front of crowds of people I don’t know. I didn’t think it was possible after working retail, but I’m even more comfortable introducing myself to seriously, anyone. Bus, street, doctor’s office, doesn’t matter–there’s always someone in your face asking “where are you from?” since the answer clearly isn’t “here.”

In a glorious way, I’ll probably never be rude to an immigrant again. Not that I think I was…I just now would have more grace with people. Being an immigrant/non-native you guys–it’s like pulling your skin off everyday. You’re putting yourself in an uncomfortable environment BY CHOICE and saying “I will make it work and I will become a better person through this.”

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I’ll never forget in my last 2 weeks at the fruit retailer, a guy came in and asked for “Opis.” I was like, “I’m not sure what that is, can you repeat it?” “Opis, OPIS.” *thinking* “Is it an acronym? I can google it for you” and he’s frantic, loudly saying “OPIS OPIS for computer, OPIS” and I’m like “can you spell it for me I must be doing this wrong” and he then turned and his eyes lit up when he pointed at a yellow box on our shelf that said “Microsoft Office.” A half-second later I realized, having read Roy-Gene’s post about f/p sounds for Korean ESL learners (wherein he found out that his hospital Visa visit “check finished” was definitely not “check penis”) that this guy was Korean and just wanted Microsoft Word and I was just in the way.

I cannot tell you the THOUSANDS of Korean people who have had buckets, mountains of grace with me. I accidentally swear in Korean, I mispronounce, I use the wrong level of honorific (or none at all) and they are unending in grace. They laugh at my bad jokes and over exuberance at K-Pop. They try their best to use English with me and walk me far, far out of their way to help me get where I’m going (even if I just got lost around the corner). They help me buy tickets and text cute boys and box up my groceries so they won’t be squished on the bus. So helpful.

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Maybe I could have gotten away with more time here. Maybe I could just change jobs and stay in Daegu. Or make the big leap to Seoul and do comedy with some of the Stand up Seoul people there–who are equally awesome. Maybe. But right now, I know that DGEV has been a good chapter, but the DGEV chapter just has a few pages left.

I don’t have words for how nervous I am about this Second City chapter. It’s scary and weird and what if I can’t make it in America anymore? I might now be as funny as many of you have said, but I want to try. I want to be a shriveled up, awesome old woman in sequins saying at least I tried it and didn’t wonder “what if”—OH MY GOD I just want to be Betty White, don’t I?! Well, that just clicked. But anyways, improv…I think it’s like Korea. I’m throwing myself somewhere uncomfortable and saying “I choose to make this work for me and I will become a different, better person through it.” Or at least look cool while trying.

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You are not perfect, Korea. Nowhere is. But you have been very, very good to me. You’re trusted me with your children, with your time, with a very lovely sum of money. You write English on your signs for me and smile when you see me like I’m someone famous. You’ve let me eat your food, blog about you and fall in love with your people. Thank you. I mean, I doubt Park Geun Hye would read this, and if she did, that it would mean much, but it’s been very, very good, and I’m grateful.

I’d like to come back sometime. If you and Kim Woo Bin would have me.

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Thailand.

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At exactly 6pm everyday all Thais stop moving and stand still. They do not talk. They do not blink. Having had ZERO warning about this, I naturally assume 3 hypotheses: 1) Rapture: ruled out because all their clothes were still on, also, bodies still here. 2) Doctor Who/Torchwood aliens-are-on-our-frequency/Children of Earth: ruled out because no one started talking with alien voices demanding blood or nukes or kryptonite. 3) Someone just hit puberty and their X-Men power is stopping time for JUST Thai people, not foreigners.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the Thai national anthem plays at 6pm and all Thais have to stop moving and walking and like stare straight ahead until it’s finished. Me and the 2 other foreigners I could see just gingerly stepped around the Thais and made wary eye contact saying “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING HOW IS IT NOT AFFECTING US” in eye language. Then they just suddenly started walking again and it was back to normal…BUT FOR THAT 34 SECONDS IT WAS TERRIFYING.

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>>>>

Thailand is booze and cheap souvenirs and cheaper viagra and hookah and ladyboys and studying and river and lights and more studying and then teaching and street food and good people and sweat and muay thai muscle and cabaret and magic. This is Thailand.

It’s hard to wrap up the 4 weeks in words, but here’s a video link below to get you started. I rode on the back of a bike, got a (reputable) Thai massage, walked where Bradley Cooper has (State Tower: Hangover 2) and got to meet the most awesome people from all over this earth. It was hot and humid as Hades (I imagine) and I didn’t once feel like I was gonna get murdered or robbed.

I can’t wait to go back and be a proper tourist: temples, tigers and sand between my toes. See you soon, Thailand. ขอบคุณค่ะ

PS: A CELTA wrap up post is coming!

I Promise This Post Only Mentions Miley One Time.

Wow. Been awhile, yeah? Having just passed my 11-month anniversary here in Korea-land, it’s getting harder to write about the everyday. While I still like this place, it’s not all LOOK ANOTHER INSANELY CUTE COFFEE SHOP and OH MY GOD THESE PEOPLE ARE TINY I AM SHREK and ANOTHER TEMPLE?! everyday. Because that is true everyday and my head (and yours) would explode if I wrote about it weekly. Or monthly.

Really, what I have now is mostly emotions, which Roy-Gene has told me that no one wants to read about. How I feel about life. Love. (And other mysteries, am I right early 2000s Christian gurlz?!)

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Well, in things that have happened recently, I joined a boxing gym. I know. I will be looking very J.Lo in “Enough” with my tight, tan, Latin body in black Lycra any day now. Have I always been such a big sweat-er, you guys? I mean, I could wring out my clothes and hair every night leaving this place, which is just a 10-minute walk from my apartment. My co-worker Angela talked me into going with her, and I’m glad she did. Although I will confess that going to a Korean-speaking-only gym freaked me the heck out. Sometimes I just look at Angela (who is half Korean and brilliant), our 샘 (“saem” being the Korean shorthand for teacher) and two other Koreans in our class laughing in Korean and feel like the most brilliant ghost-pale, fish-out-of-water ever. Then again, sometimes I feel like a tall, unbeatable Amazon as the teacher chants “jab, jab, double jab, 1-2” and I beat the hell out of the training mitts.

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In sadder news, I’m sure many of you guys (I hope all of you) have no doubt heard about the absolutely horrifying ferry disaster here in Korea a couple weeks ago. It’s easy to think we’re removed from all that, but we’re not. If over 200 hundred high school kids had died in an accident in the states, you guys, we would be losing our shit. Sorry for the language, but it is overwhelming to think about children, CHILDREN really, with so much life to live, going out in this way. Something preventable. Something that could have been handled so different. Texting their parents from inside the ship as they’re trapped. It’s horrifying. And just as horrifying is the kidnapping of over 200 high school girls in Nigeria right now–parents not knowing if they’ll ever see their kids again. This ferry disaster has reverberated so much through the country; the government has actually forbidden all school trips until the end of first semester, which is the end of June.

Because the Village (DGEV, aka my workplace) is a week-long intensive immersive camp-like overnight experience, we’re included too. This has caused no small amount of problems as BAM, we have no students. There are teachers who have already been hired and ready to fly out here that had to be delayed by 6-8 weeks because there’s no kids to teach. We’ve still got a few Kindy programs (as they’re not overnight) and the occasional 1-day field trip and (THANK MY STARS) the Adult Programs as they’re exempt. But it leaves us with a lot of time on our hands to lesson plan, clean classrooms and create unnecessary drama, of course. Which I am *far* too classy to go into. Right now. Because I don’t really care about it and kind of want to talk about happier things.

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So, due to boxing taking up 7:30pm-around 10:30pm of my nights this past week…it’s safe to say that I’m spending a lot of time with these people. Angela, Irene (who has FANTASTIC English, and who’s Korean name is Da Som 다 솜) and No San (노 산 aka the Machine because this guy jump ropes for TWENTY MINUTES without stopping JUST TO WARM UP. Seriously. Before I knew his name I just called him “Machine” in English and Korean. His box jumps are like watching someone dunk from the free throw line. I’m in awe. And a little bit of unrequited crush on his skills.) We all worked out 5 nights this week, M-F, and then we went karaoking (karaoke-ing?) after working out on Friday. Do you recall me saying how sweaty I am post-workout? Still have NO idea why we went, but we left the gym at like 11 and went to karaoke, then drank makkoli (rice…alcohol? it’s sweet milky goodness served in like a Winnie-the-Pooh pot that you ladle out) and ate chicken and more alcohol. We got home around 3, comfortably drunk, still in said workout clothes…and I promptly woke up at 7:30. Stupid body clock.

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THEN THESE SELF-SAME FOOLS are all “let’s go hiking tonight” and I stupidly, stupidly agreed. I finally dragged my butt out of bed around 11 to have Roy-Gene and his plus 1 make me breakfast, went downtown on a ladies day with Brooke and got my nails done (I look like 12-year old Ke$ha did my nails) and headed home to get ready to go hiking AT 8:30PM AT NIGHT. Yeah, I think the alcohol was still in my system. Because the Machine is not hot enough to make me break a leg on a Korean mountainside in the dark (although I will confess that I *did* do my hair in a really cute ponytail and put on some winged eyeliner so sharp that it could cut glass) and I clearly had not thought it through. It hurt.

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It hurt. It hurt so bad, you guys. My toes. My calves. My butt. Things I didn’t even know were like, growing in my legs hurt. And of course all the Korean old ladies are trucking by with their murderous ski poles and professional hiking gear as I’m trying really hard not to alert everyone in a 5 kilometer radius that I’m sucking wind and am convinced that my lungs are going to like, invert or something. At one point I did legitimately wonder how they would airlift my body off this damn mountain.

And here’s the Sunday school lesson/point to the title of this post: mountains. And if this comes off super cheesy, I apologize. No, you know what? I don’t apologize. I really don’t. Because this here is my blog about my feelings and if you wanted out, I really doubt you made it this far. And if you did make it this far and don’t like this…well…

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Mountains are weird. All you can think when you’re climbing it, when EVERYTHING hurts is, “when will it be done?” “when can I rest?” “will it be worth it?” And you can’t really see anything through the trees. You’re all “oh look, a peek at the moon through these two huge branches” or “wow, I guess that’s *kind of* where I live with those lights?” but you’re not really getting a good look. You think about how other people are passing you and should *you* be going that fast? and do I look ok? can they tell that there’s a hole in these pants where my chubby thighs are rubbing together? or that other people are coming back down and you wish you were them and how happy they must be.

And then. Finally. When you least expect it (mostly because all the signs telling you how far you are happen to be in Korean so you really have no idea when the torture will end), you’ve made it. You’re at the summit. And it doesn’t hurt anymore. And you feel a little like crying but you can’t because it’s weird enough that you’re the only 2 foreigners on a Korean mountain hiking at night, you don’t need to be the white girl crying in front of Buddha, a couple hundred Koreans who are praying to said Buddha and the 3 people that you get messy sweaty with 5x a week. And my God, but it is gorgeous. The city is breathtaking. The air is different. The twinkling lights are a marvel as you look how far you’ve come and you can’t believe you made it. That you did that. Your two exhausted, sore legs did that. In the darkness. With a couple people you barely know. It’s so worth it. So worth the pain, the frustration, the not-knowing-when-it-will-end.

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And in that moment, I swear we were infinite–but that moment can’t last. You can treasure it up in your heart, but sooner or later you have to go back down the mountain. Which is somehow infinitely worse than climbing…because it’s so easy to slip and fall in the dark (even though the trail is quite well lit, it’s still a wet, stone set of unending stairs and gravity would still do it’s job). And if anything, you have to be more careful because you’re tired from your previous fight.

I just couldn’t help but think as I was on Palgongsan that half a world away, my younger sister, Brianna, was graduating from my alma matter, ORU, with her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing with a crapton of well-fought honors and how we have to choose what mountains we are going to climb. She’s at the top of her justly-deserved mountain, and now has to climb back down and drive across the country (which I do not miss doing just a year ago with her; that is a DRIVE).

And because I’m me, I can’t help but think too about love. YES ITS BECOMING THAT POST. I remember the only other real hike I’ve done in my life, Church Mountain in my senior year of high school almost 10 years ago (OH MY LORD) and thinking the same things now as then. You can’t see when it’s gonna end. You can catch peeks at where you’re at, but it’s not the whole picture. An everyday occurrence in Korea is being asked your name and if you have a boyfriend. And it kind of wears on you over and over as well as being told the reason you don’t have one [SIDEBAR: S Club 7’s “Never Had a Dream Come True” just came on in this coffee shop and I really feel like I am in a rom com with Hillary Duff and like someone needs to come walking around the corner] is “because you’re fat. You know, you have a pretty face, but you’re fat. So, you’re not going to get one until that changes.”

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And of course, I’m working on that with the aforementioned Million Dollar Baby workout business because I’d like *for myself* to be fitter, but I’m trying to remember that someone quite fantastic has wanted me before, when I was just as heavy/big/”unappetizing” as I am now (although I have extremely slowly lost about 20lbs in Korea…somehow) and that’s important to remember. But love lives are a mountain, like anything. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you’re at the top and it’s worth the pain, the tears, the extremely present pain in your butt muscles and you’re incandescently happy, Mrs. Darcy. You can’t stay at the top forever, you’ve got to come back down with your sewing machine leg shakes and drive back to chimek, but still. You I *will* have more than just peeks at the view. There will be a mountaintop that I’m not expecting. And it’s going to be worth all this bullshit. I have to believe that whoever you are, you’re going to be worth it. With all your faults and weirdness, with all my strange quirks and emotional diatribes, I’m going to want to stare at you while you sleep and hold your hand in a movie theater and know how you like your coffee or that you hate coffee and love tea or water or 소주 and you really like my butt in pencil skirts BUT I will draw the line at feeding you because that ish is weird to me. [PS: S Club 7, you LIARS, no one has come around the corner but old people and babies]

And yeah, that’s strange to type on a public blog about my life and Korea, but hey, if you made it this far, you should’ve known. Because if I can’t believe that it’s going to be worth it someday, there’s really no point in climbing the mountain. I will give up. I will not even try. And that would take away a really essential thing that makes me me, and then I wouldn’t be me. SO META. I hope. I believe. I hate the pain and the burning and the futile, fleeting peeks at things, but I believe that the climb is so worth the journey and the top and the bottom and the in between of this life.

I’m going to cue up Miley’s “The Climb” and blow out of this coffee shop and trip in the crosswalk and not meet some hot doctor-type because right now, I’m climbing this mountain solo-style. You show up when you’re ready, 남친. I’m not waiting for you to live my life. I’ll just keep climbing and you’ll show up whenever you’re supposed to because my world is not defined by this mountain. It’s not defined by you. I’m still me, regardless of when you arrive. But damn, hurry up! My butt hurts.

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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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Acting out.

I should write more often. But because I should, I won’t. I don’t. It’s been over a month now since my last post, and that’s ok. Things here at the Village keep on trucking; we’ve had a lovely and slow 3-4 weeks thanks to exams and grade changeover in the Korean schools. Most of us had the opportunity to co-teach with several different coworkers, giving some new insight and ideas into classrooms and management. I was most definitely blessed to see a big variety of classes and work with some of my favorite people and see how they run their classrooms, which is great. 

I’ve just signed here for my second year at DGEV, which will renew as of June 1. I’ve found a lot of happiness in teaching our university and adult students, and without further education on my part, I wouldn’t be able to do that at a university or college in Korea. I’m really honored to have the chance to lead the Adult Program with my 6-year partner-in-crime-and-chocolate, David Brown. He’s heading out April 1st, but he’ll get me up to speed and then we will have a large ceremony where he will transfer his power to me by the ritual passing of the sock puppet, a hallowed tradition. 

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On a personal note (I mean, clearly this website is all about me, so of course it’s all personal), I am positively chuffed (thanks Brit friends!) to say that I did my first real acting yesterday. After a power-course of rehearsal all day yesterday, Daryl, Nikki, Rae and I produced something beautifully insane and genuinely fun. We were one of 8 groups participating in the first ever Daegu 10 Minute Play Festival. Our story, “The Zister Sisters” was written by someone in the Carolinas, and depicts 3 strange sisters’ attempt to check their mother into a nursing facility. The youngest sister, Edith (Rae), is lovably, laughably lost, 20 and still waiting on her Hogwarts letter. Elaine (Nikki) is the middle sister, and hasn’t been home for 10 years–she’s currently sporting an English accent and some suggestive business wear. The oldest sister, Edna (meeeeee) is fed up with the fact that she has to care for their 86-year old mother, Edith, and herself, having just divorced Ben Isaacs, “a rich old one-eyed Jew man from Detroit” who cheated on her with the produce lady from the Piggly Wiggly. Hilarity ensues as the sisters clash and the director of admissions, Fleming (Daryl) tries to keep the peace. 

I thought I was going to mess everything up. All 3 of my castmates have done acting (Nikki was even in the Les Mis film, SHE SO LEGIT) and I was convinced I *was* the weakest link, goodbye, embarrassed that 10 of my friends from work paid money to see me ruin the thing. BUT I DIDN’T RUIN IT. It was funny and great and magical and I didn’t throw up and my voice didn’t shake and I love, loved hearing people laugh. It was like a superpower. I even got a message from a friend of mine who I really respect as a writer with a lovely, warm compliment and I’m just bursting. I’m so grateful to my friends for coming, for laughing, for buying me drinks after and most of all, for putting up with me. 

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(me, Rae, Nikki and Daryl)

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People I am lucky to call friends and work with (plus Marty and Elins, who came too)!