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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The Wheels on the Bus, They Go.

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There hasn’t been a lot going on since the last post 2 weeks ago; the wheels are indeed going round and round (round and round). Last weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday on a solo walkabout at Seomun Market, reveling in the fact that I’m living in Korea, a completely foreign country. Riding the subway in a car with 70 people, and I’m the only foreigner. Walking among fish heads and baby clothes in the market, not one word of English to be heard. And reminding myself, “there’s nowhere I need to be. I’m here, in this moment. I’m doing the thing.” 

Which, even to my own ears, sounds ridiculously cheesy. But it’s been very empowering to know that I’m able to get downtown, to the subway, add money to my transit card, get to the stop, walk a couple miles around with people who I’ll never see again, speaking a language that I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of, and get back to the village, alive and in one piece. After living in Korea, I kind of think I can do anything. 

Right now I don’t have any big plans on the horizon; then again, I didn’t plan Seoul or Busan more than 4 days out anyways. Hopefully the weather will stop acting like Hades soon and I’ll be able to visit some parks and mountains without sweating fresh to death.

This week I conquered the first out of 13 weeks of P90X and you know what? I’m really proud. I never sat down. I never stopped. And now I’m looking at Monday and a whole new week with a bit of a groan (and tight calves), if I can do 1 week, I can do 13 weeks.

Apologies that this isn’t more exciting–sometimes life isn’t the big festival 5k, it’s the day-to-day grind and sweat–and it’s about pushing play every day and probably buying more sports bras to go along with it. 

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You Say Potato, We Say Kimbap.

We don’t really. Kimbap has nothing to do with potatoes. But here’s a list of things I’ve noticed thus far that are different from how we do in the U.S.A. I’m sure it’s only part 1 of many.

  • Showering: now that we’re in our new dorms, this is hard to explain, but I’ll draw you a picture on this Post-It that is roughly the size of our old (and some current) bathrooms. Basically, think of a half-bath (aka a toilet and sink) and then add a shower. It’s 3.5×3.5 feet. Water gets everywhere and on everything and it’s like…you know when you pressure wash your driveway? That’s pretty much the shower. And when you’re done, it all just runs down everything like a tropical rainforest and even by 8pm that night, you still step in a puddle. It’s like a romcom shower–it’s everywhere and you’re just trying to strangle the showerhead like Steve Irwin (RIP) wrassled a gator and shampoo is in your eyes and its great.
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  • Calling the waiter to your table: in many restaurants, there’s a round button on the side of the table that you push to call the waiter. They smile, take your order, and then you don’t see them unless you call them again or your food is ready. This is great for that moment when you have your mouth full and OH WAIT NO ONE COMES BY TO BOTHER YOU ABOUT HOW GOOD THE FOOD IS, MHMM, RIGHT?!
  • Bowing: clearly a cultural thing–you bow to anyone of higher station than you–a boss, a government offical, always older people to honor that they got so old, I suppose. When in doubt…bow. And the more important the person, the deeper the bow.
  • Driving on the sidewalk: cars will straight up drive up them, park on them, honk at you on them. It’s kind of weird. Because there’s big cities everywhere, there’s parking garages…but they don’t use them, always. 
  • Super dark car tint: like chocolate, it can be as dark as you want. Who knows how many celebrities I’ve missed?!
  • International copywriting is a joke: seriously, I’ve seen so many logos with just colors or letters changed. Its funny until I’m eating something that has no resemblance to KFC.
  • You choose your seat in a movie theater: BEST BEST BEST. You get to see what’s available, you don’t have to ask “hey can you scoot down, there’s a bajillion of us in our group and we want to sit together.” Plus, you know already if you’re going to get the coveted front row bar to put your feet up on. 
  • Beer at movie theater: yeah, yeah, I know this isn’t unheard of overseas, but it’s like, every theater here. You can get whole meals.
  • LOVE COUCH: you can get a 2-seat “love couch” that is exactly what it implies. Two people can platonically sit next to each other without an armrest in between and have privacy dividers separating it from other love couches. Perfectly cool here.
  • Holding hands/touchy feely: which is strange, considering how conservative and image-conscious this country is, but two people of the same gender are totally fine to hold hands up to puberty. This continues to be socially acceptable for women forever, however by the mid-upper teen years, not so ok for guys. 
  • bringing your own food to baseball games is a-okay: big families, rejoice! Not only is it ok, everyone else is doing it too.
  • Cheese stuffed crust pizza: this brought to me by a co-worker who was super excited about the ooey-gooey goodness of stuffed crust pizza, only to discover that like a Russian nesting doll, there was a filling of the filling and that was sweet potato and that was not ok.
  • Deoderant: Koreans sweat. HOWEVER, somehow Koreans don’t smell. Well, they don’t smell like B.O. So I guess the deoderant market is aimed squarely at foreigners–a single “cheap” stick can be $7-8. And that’s the cheapest you’ll find; if you want a Lady Speed Stick or Old Spice, look to spend $10 at the cheapest, $15 gouging.
  • Korean elevator buttons: if someone has been an asshat and pushed all of the buttons, or…benefit of the doubt, someone “accidentally” hit a wrong one, just click it again to deselect. Probably learned after too many late nights in the skyscrapers of Seoul, it’s a great invention. Don’t want to see floors 13-35 on the way to 36? Boop. Undone.
  • Ice cream: the most popular ice cream here is something called “Shooting Star,” and I see it everywhere from the school here to Baskin Robbins and others. It’s as if bubblegum and vanilla ice cream had pop rocks swirled in. It’s exciting and startling and made me jump about 2 feet the first time.
  • X hands: just how it sounds! When saying “no,” or a very emphatic “no,” cross your two arms in an “X” to make sure they know that you mean NO! Sometimes done on a small scale with two fingers comprising the “x.” Sometimes I’ve found that I do it when talking to English speakers too–one of those things you’ll probably see me do even after I return stateside. 
  • Magnetic escalators for carts: I first saw this at Home Plus (aka Korean Walmart), which has 3 floors. When you need to go upstairs, none of this elevator business with a cart; you get on an escalator that is a moving walkway (no stairs, just a long angled treadmill), and when you push your cart on it, the wheels magnetize to the strip, allowing you to let go/not lean your whole body weight to keep it from crushing your toes/innocent bystanders. This is awesome and I don’t know why I haven’t seen it in the states. Of course, multiple floors in a grocery store is rare.
  • show pony: One great thing about America is the differences; rarely are people of other ethnicities and backgrounds stared at. Unless you’re being weird, and then you’re asking for it. Not so in Korea due to the mostly homogenous culture. Big cities like Seoul, Daegu and Busan have populations very used to waygooks (foreigners), and are usually pretty chill. However, it still happens that we get stared at a lot, especially African American co-workers. Kids, adults, doesn’t matter. One of my co-workers has a lot of freckles, and Koreans are strangely weird about her being “dirty” rather than freckled until she tells them.
  • Nobody touches the old people’s seats: There are designated seats on the subways that are for pregnant, injured, sick and old people. And I’ve seen 20 people stand and hold the rails rather than sit there, even when they’re all open. 
  • Everyone wears tennis shoes: doesn’t matter if you’re in a summer dress, jeans, shorts, or a feminine skirt, you’ll see tennies. Of course, you’ll still see heels (and their toes hang off!), but I’m surprised by how many Korean women will wear bright Nikes, Puma, Adidas, or Asics with what we would think is a contrasting color, feminine outfit. It’s totally smart and way, way more comfortable. 
  • Ajumas: if you read my previous post, you’re aware that an ajuma is the Korean word for older, grandmotherly aged woman. Ajumas are a little like a time bomb: sometimes they’re totally awesome and innocent and one gave me a piece of candy on a bus. Other times…they believe they are God’s gift to you and as such, have his permission to eternally jab your boobs with elbows, push past you in lines, hit you with their purses, and gesture and jabber at you until you go away or give them money. Times like these, I wish I spoke Korean…although I’m sure somehow I’d get struck down with lightning.

Like I said, I’m sure this is just part 1 of many. To another week we go–unfortunately, it’s gonna be in the 100s! OH NOES!

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