Lost in Seoul

It's pouring outside right now so I've been watching Grey's Anatomy for most of the day. I woke up and went running and stretching. That's about it. But last night, I went to Seoul again. At first, I wasn't planning to go at all. I was supposed to go with this girl, but I didn't hear from her so I was content in not going. But some of my other friends convinced me. I knew I shouldn't have gone, but oh well.

On the subway headed to Yongsan, a crazy drunk guy started talking to me in broken English. I can't even begin to describe how awful his breath was. It was like a mixture of fish and whiskey. Ew. He was yelling questions at me like, "WHERE...YOU...FROM!!!!????" and "YOU...MILITARY?!?!?!?!" A young Korean woman who was standing nearby saw my horrified/confused expression and she said "You don't have to answer him. I'm so sorry. He's really drunk." And that's when I thought "You know what?! She's right! I don't talk to drunkies back home so why in the hell was I trying to engage one here!?" At one point, he actually fell asleep in the middle of saying something...so with that, I just got up and moved. And he fell back asleep. Haha. No more drunk old Korean dudes talking to me!! But I was a little afraid that he would get violent so I moved all the way to the next car. Better safe than sorry :)

I met up with my Hampton friend, Sheron. There's an army base in Yongsan and she was hanging out there. I wasn't in the mood to go to the smoke-filled clubs of Itaewon. I just wanted to chill. On base, there was an old school Alpha party. YES! Greeks galore...but mostly older people. They were all dressed up in 70's/Halloween costumes. It was cool. But I just wasn't feeling it. I couldn't really concentrate on having a good time because I knew I'd have to get home soon. I feel like Cinderella when I'm out in Seoul. The last subways leave at midnight and until I get paid, I can't afford the $50 taxis back home at 3am. So I left Sheron around 1145pm. I had to catch a taxi back to the subway and of course we got caught at every light. I got there at 12:03...and yes I'd missed the last train running back home. So, I didn't freak out...there was a train running to Guro. I had no idea where Guro was, only that it's a stop I've passed before heading into Seoul. So I just took that train. Then I called Steve and asked him what I should do. He said I'd have to take the 905 bus back to Bucheon. Buses stop running at 1am so luckily, the station was very crowded and easy to find. However, it's strange because the actual bus stops are sometimes in the middle of the highway! At least this one was....so I stood out there with a bunch of folks and just waited. When the bus finally came, it was a 30-40 minute ride to my neighborhood. I was so glad to be home...and if it weren't for Steve, I probably would have been sleeping on a park bench somewhere last night. But now I know one more way to get around!! :)

One other thing...some of these teenagers around here are PSYCHO! I realize kids are gonna do stupid things to feel adult...or feel cool. Or impress some chick or their friends. But last night, I saw what must've been the most idiotic pasttime ever. A gang of kids on these tricked out mopeds rode by the bus stop several times. Two people on a bike, no helmets or anything, just swerving side to side really fast. Dipping and twisting, skidding the wheels and such. Music was just blasting. They run traffic lights and generally just don't give a damn. One kid was literally eating a bag of chips while his friend nearly killed him. Unbelieveable! And these bikes have obnoxious clown sounding horns to boot. I couldn't believe it....I was just waiting for one of them to fall off and have his brains splattered all over the pavement. Some people on the bus stop were looking as shocked as I was and others were ambivalent. I just thought it was so scary....and then I wondered about their parents and if they know they're gonna get a phone call one day saying how little Soo jin or Hyun jung is being scraped off the road right now....just awful. Oh well. School of hard knocks I guess. Well, back to Grey's! Just wanted to update real quick!!! Adios! <3 J


Asian Haircuts & Hello Immigration!!!

What a loooong day...I'm actually yawning as I post this. I woke up at 7am to go running. It was cold as a witch's teat outside, too but I stuck it out. I was basically heaving by the end of it. So I went to Seoul to get a trim from Steve's hairstylist friend. He didn't cut off all my hair but he got a little scissor happy. He spoke English and overall he did a great job. He wore like a gun holster of scissors, which I thought was awesome. I couldn't take my eyes off them. He'd whip 'em out like they were his six shooters or something. Straight from the Wild Wild West you know?? So I sat down in the chair and he asked me regular questions like when was the last time I got a trim and how do I normally style my hair, etc. Mind you, I had already done my hair that morning so I thought it wouldn't be a problem. But oh no...then, he took a spray bottle of water and spritzed it all over my hair!!! I was like "Oh dear God...this is gonna be bad.." That's never happened before...so all the while he's trimming, he's chatting me up about where I'm from and what I think of Korea, and blah blah blah. But you know I'm steady watching his hands. He's making random comments about my hair like "Ohhh, your hair is very thin....very prone to damage. And you have no perm right?" "Yes...yes I do have a perm.." "Oh yes, I can see your hair is very curly!! Your hair's really soft...very thin" Then he said something about thinning out my hair because it was very "heavy"....and I'm like "wait, what? it's already thin..." I've seen this done before, mostly on non African-Americans OR like when I had a weave, she kinda "shaved" the weave hair to give it more style, more weight so it would hang nicer. I get it. HOWEVER, on my already thinning hair, I don't need you cutting out chunks of it just for effect. He literally cut a chunk or two starting from the scalp in his attempt to thin out my hair. Obviously something got lost in translation here and I said "NO! STOP!! That's okay! I don't need that...no, really, just a trim..." Hahaha...And he backed away slowly with the scissors. :) He didn't seem to understand that I curl my hair, I don't wear it straight. Because THEN he tried to blow dry it out and it's already frizzy from having water sprayed on it. What an ordeal. When he was finished, he put some Korean product on it called "The Essence". The essence of what I have no idea but it smelled amazing...

I thought I'd get back home in time to re-curl the rat's nest on my head before work but no such luck. So, you can imagine what I looked like walking in there. I just blamed it on humdity! So, I also had a run-in with Korean immigration today. For the record, you don't wanna deal with immigration in ANY country. You just don't. They're miserable people. I'm sitting at my desk doing lesson plans and all of a sudden, these 2 men and my Director walk in. "We are from immigration" (they had badges, too) "Please show us your ARC (Alien Registration Card)". A lot of teachers are here illegally (I am not) and so obviously, they're trying to crack down on them. They do these random searches quite often. Luckily, my ARC was processed as soon as I arrived, BUT I didn't have it on me because my Director asked for it back in order to do a police check. Yes, South Korea and Asia in general is also a haven for child molesters, pedophiles, and sexual deviants. So schools are running police checks now. My record, obviously, is clear. So I explained to immigration that my Director had my card and thankfully she whipped it out for them along with my passport which contains my 1-year teaching visa stamp. Thank Goodness!! Now, had I been there illegally, I wouldn't have necessarily been kicked out of Korea. Immigration officials can be bought. You grease their palms for a nice little fee of say, $1,000 and they're off your case for a year or so. Quid pro quo!

So, hopefully that's my first and last run-in with the law here....I'm keepin it nice and "Kopastetic" as Jar would say :) Speaking of my brother, where the DEVIL is he?! I haven't talked to him in weeks!! He just forgot all about me huh?! Jive turkey...Anyway, I'm going to sleep cuz my eyes are closing, my brain is shutting down, I'm through...<3 J

Ding Dong, That Little Jerk is Gone!!

Remember that devil-child I was forced to teach???! Well, he QUIT today. I've never been so ecstatic. I had to stop myself from doing cartwheels all over the office. I don't think it had anything to do with me personally. I think his crazy parents didn't think his English was improving fast enough. Korean teachers really get all the blame for that stuff. I'm teaching English and I'm the only foreign teacher at my school, but there are two other Korean teachers who also teach English. And mind you, only one of them is actually fluent. Weird right?? How in the world can you teach English when you don't even speak it well?! That's like me trying to teach Swahili. Ain't happenin! So anyway, yes, the little bastard is off my hands. :) Now I officially love all my classes and my students. I'll have to take pictures of them one day. I'm really getting attached to them. If any of my other students leave, I'm going to be pretty bummed. But thank God for God....He/She really answered my prayers on that one....

So, alright, let me break down how English works in Korea. About 15 or 20 years ago, Asia got really into English. English is the "lingua franca" of the moment, meaning it's used internationally for business. If you wanna do business in today's society, learning English is a top priority. The lingua franca is determined by which countries hold the most power I guess. So, not surprisingly, the US and England are big players internationally. Centuries ago, it was Latin so guess what everyone was learning?? That's right...Latin. If Chinese becomes the lingua franca, well....just get ready, that's all I'm saying. Anyway, Japan, China, and Korea pour billions of dollars into making sure their little ones are properly educated in the English language. I actually believe Korea was first on the bandwagon, but they didn't have backing from the government until recently. Then China and Japan. Other Asian countries are into it too now, like Thailand and Vietnam. I even got an offer from Dubai to teach English! And Argentina called me briefly, too. See how this works?

For South Korea, English is now a requirement in the public school system. The most lucrative teaching positions are through the public schools. The hours are more flexible and the vacation time is much longer, but you can have huge classes with 50+ students (especially in Seoul). This necessity to learn English also means a lot of privatization. Crazy parents pay BIG money to enroll their little kiddies in private language academies (where I work). I'm talking $100 a month or more per child. In certain affluent areas of Seoul like Apgujeong and Gangnam, it can be over $200 per kid per month. That might not seem like a lot and maybe it's not initially, but let's do some simple math. If you have 2 kids, you're shelling out $200/kid per month. $400 a month x 12 months = $4,800/year. Some of these English schools start in pre-school. YES, pre-school!! So multiply that by 12 years....yeah, you're taking English classes until high school. $4,800 x 12 = $57,600 worth of English school. Luckily in South Korea, college costs aren't skyhigh like back home. Even the top universities are quite affordable.

English schools are big business here and parents are the drivers. Kids go to public school from 8-3, they get a short break, then they go to a hagwon (private academy) from 4-930ish. Then they go home and study some more. But not surprisingly, most students' English does not improve significantly. Why?? Because there's no immersion component. If you're with me twice a week for 45 minutes and that's it, how are you supposed to become fluent?! You won't! But parents expect perfection and they make that very clear. I had one girl's father call and complain that my test was too hard for his daughter. She got the highest score!!! Ironically, his daughter happens to be the brightest student in her class, but because she didn't get a perfect score on the test, he's all crazy about it. It's obvious that some parents do not place value in their child learning the actual language. They really only care if they test well. Even some of my most advanced students can't speak in complete sentences. They just spit out phrases. They cannot communicate effectively. I ask a question and they pull random phrases from their mental Rolodexes and hope it makes sense. Often, It doesn't.

A lot of people are misled into thinking that Asians in general are super smart, especially in Math and Science. I would disagree that Asians are any smarter than anyone else in those areas. What you're seeing a lot of times is the ability to memorize large amounts of information. This is the byproduct of a society obsessed with perfection. Most schools in Asia focus on something called rote memorization. Many students can regurgitate information, but they have difficulty applying and analyzing it. Now, granted, US school systems definitely need help. We are falling behind in certain areas like Math & Science because of a lack of investment, but don't be so quick to assume that China, Japan, and Korea are producing all these geniuses. They are not. They are producing generations of young people who test extremely well and who can memorize numbers. Below I've linked an article about South Korea's skyrocketing suicide rates. It's pretty real.


On a happier note, I'm headed to Seoul in the morning to get a trim. Steve's good friend is a hairstylist so he's gonna help me out. And his friend apparently speaks English. Pray for me!!! Goodnight! <3 J


Ah, There's the Awkwardness....

So, have you ever felt like someone is watching you???

I don't mean in a creepy, FBI stalking sorta way...no, just staring. Quietly observing you. I went out running on Sunday because the weather was unseasonably warm. Scratch that...WHAT seasons?! The seasons no longer change. They just grind to a halt and before you know it, you're wearing a fleece down jacket on Saturday and shorts and t-shirt on Sunday. As if we needed any more evidence of the destructive warpath global warming is on.....I digress.

Anywho, I went jogging at the big park I like on Sunday afternoon. But from the moment I stepped outside, I just felt...different. Now, granted, perhaps people were staring because of my outfit. I had on a long sleeve black tshirt, black leggings, and red shorts on top of the leggings. In the US, this might not look too funny (then again, it might). I've actually never tried that outfit before, but all my other workout clothes were dirty so I had to be resourceful. Didn't wanna show too much leg! It's almost like when you let your small child dress themselves for the first time and you know it's looking awful and you know they're gonna get teased at school but you let them do it "their way"?? *ahem, Dad...* Well perhaps that's what happened to me. But nevertheless, I felt a little freakish on Sunday. I mean, it seemed like EVERYONE was staring at me. And not in the "oh, she's pretty and different" kinda way but in the "oh my god what IS it?!" kinda way. I felt really out of place for my first time here. I'm sure it won't be the last either. I'm not normally paranoid, but all of a sudden I was. And anyone who passed by me and just happened to be laughing, well I just KNEW they were laughing at me and saying mean things about ME - the foreigner!! The black girl!!

But, here's something to further explicate my point. I went to the movies later that night with my friend, Steve. I was dressed completely normal - black trench coat, Chuck Taylors, and a hat. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. And I STILL felt people staring at me!! What in the world is that all about??? Did someone place a "KICK ME" sign on my back?! I'm not combative by any stretch of the word, but I really wanted to haul off and smack the smugness off a couple girls' faces. Ladies here looooooove to dress up and wear heels. Everyday. No matter the weather. And I'm sorry, but busted up feet aren't my idea of a fun time. So they may chuckle at my Chucks, but I love them! And I dont apologize. On my way home from running, a group of teenage boys busted out laughing. That's cool. Whatever. I get it - I'm different. But not even 10 feet later, a group of young girls smiled, waved at me, and said Hi. When I smiled back, that got an amazing reaction. It was like I'd made their day, which kinda made my day.

So, this all leads me to one specific point - Koreans are out to get me!! Just kidding. :) Quite frankly, it takes a lot more than a group of teenage boys to dampen my spirits. I think it's that mob mentality. Had any of those boys been alone, I'm quite sure it would have been a different scenario. But you have your pals egging you on and that's what happens. Big deal. I realize I'm in the most homogeneous society ON THE PLANET (yes, it is...). Most people here just aren't used to seeing people like me. And that's okay...it's my job to enlighten and educate :) Yes, educate. It is NOT my job to be the ugly American and go badmouthing South Korea. No, not at all. Because at the end of the day, I've been called much worse in my own country. At the end of the day, I've been teased unmercifully for things I cannot control. And I'm still here...and I'm still Joia. Warts and all. :)

Off to bed cuz I'm downright exhausted...<3 J


Itaewon'd Out...Sorta

I'm 3 for 3! Three weekends in Korea and all three weekends spent in Itaewon. I hung out with my new gay boyfriend, Oscar. :) He's really a great person...we were chatting about his most recent love interest and he stops and says "You know, I'm so glad I finally have someone to relate to!!" And I said, "But Oscar, I'm not gay..." Hahaha. But he meant having a friend of color. All of his friends, as I saw tonight, are Irish. I met up with them all at a cozy Irish pub called The Wolfhound. Cool place...great (sorta pricey) food. I paid $10 for some chicken fingers and fries but they were delicious so I have no regrets!! Then we went on a "pub crawl". This is something a lot of kids do in college. I'm a bad pub crawler because 1) I hate beer 2) I hate walking in the cold and 3) I hate smoke-filled bars. So my crawling stopped after bar #1 (they hit up 3 or 4 all over town). It was for a good cause though and I paid my 15,000 won. I had fun honestly! I got to meet most of Oscar's friends and they're all so nice. Just a good group of people who've been here for years teaching English. They get together to play Irish football every weekend. I was invited to join the team but really....can you see ME playing any sport called football???? Ummm...I think not. I will stick to tennis, thankyouverymuch. Some of them just started taking Korean classes so I will be joining them next weekend!! I'm so excited!! They just started learning the alphabet so I'm not too late. I've gotta make sure though to find a way to keep up my Spanish...I suppose Oscar can help with that since he's Mexican and all. I'll ask him. If I do become somewhat fluent or at least conversational in Korean, I'll be very proud of myself. I think I can do it. One language at a time...

So, I'm pretty impressed with my ability to get around on my own. I know others would beg to differ, but I have an incredibly good sense of direction. I think I have a photographic memory. Not sure when I discovered this...probably a survival technique and nothing more. But literally, I can go a place once and I perfectly remember how to get back there. Or I can reverse my directions and re-trace my steps very easily. I don't know. I just kinda noticed since I've been here that I'm not completely confused like I thought I'd be. I think my senses are heightened obviously and maybe also because I know that stopping and asking for directions is not gonna get me anywhere. I kinda have to know where I am or I'd be in big trouble.

I love Koreans for one reason right now. ONDUL! What's ondul, Joia??? Oh, I'll tell you about ondul...thanks for asking. Ondul is a floor heating system. And it's freakin awesome!!! Take note, Americans!!! It's gotten pretty chilly the last few days and I like being a snug bug in my bed. So, Steve explained that I've gotta turn on my ondul. Basically, hot water pipes run beneath the floors here...not a central heating unit like back home that takes forever to get warm. So I can walk around barefoot and my feet are all nice and toasty. I can get outta the shower and step onto a warm floor. It's truly great. I've even slept on the floor a couple nights because it's so great. It's one thing I'll miss for sure. I do kinda miss carpeting, too though.

Nothing else new otherwise. It's 330am and I'm just listening to some mellow John Mayer. I'm getting better sleep lately despite this crick in my neck that won't go away. I've had it for...*counting* 3 weeks now! I think I'll go to a massage place and have them work on it for me. It's really annoying that I can't turn my head completely to the right...

Oh well....I'll sleep on it! *wink* Night...<3 J


Mama Needs A Gym!!!

Yeah, me and my overactive metabolism. I have withdrawal from working out the same way heroin addicts do. And it's getting so bad. Let's break it down...I have about 200,000 won to my name right now (roughly $200). I don't get paid for another 2 weeks or so. Why am I seriously considering taking 150,000 won and joining a gym for 3 months versus say....oh, I dunno..buying food?!?! I'm a total junkie or gym freak, as Michelle so lovingly calls me. This is a sickness, people!! A sickness!!! It's obviously my Mom's fault that I'm like this. This woman used to work out 7 days a week. And do you think 2 hip replacements have slowed her down????? NO!!! So basically, I see how my life is going to turn out. :) Hahaha....I'll be back at the park in the morning sweating it out I guess. I need my fix.

Anywho...it's Friday night and I'm chillin in the room. Where does the time go? Every night, I'm mysteriously up until 3am. Doing what? I have no idea. Browsing websites. I rarely watch tv at all anymore. In fact, I haven't even turned on my tv in about 5 days. I either watch movies on my computer or....there is no "or". I dont know how I spend my time. It just goes. Lol. I listen to music a lot. I read my friends' blogs. I check and answer emails. I write occassionally. I dunno...perhaps I shouldn't worry about it so much huh??

So one of my classes is driving me bananas. No, they're not rowdy. They're...well, I think they are brain-dead. Almost catatonic. Yeah thats a good word for them. They suck. I can't seem to get them to TALK! It's one of my most advanced classes, too which is why I'm in such shock. Either they are just completely freaking lazy or they hate me or they hate English...I can't put my finger on it. But I've gotta figure it out because I have an entire year to deal with them. I mean, I literally want to scratch my eyes out. Tonight I just got angry and gave them major attitude. I think they could feel my frustration but it didnt seem to matter. They still sucked. I've gotta get through to them. I guess this is where I will hone my real skills as an English teacher. This is my challenge and I will not lose!!

My plumbing is much better, thanks for asking. Apparently, it's all normal when adjusting to a new place. I get it, but it still sucks. So much for my stomach of steel. I'm going to E-Mart this weekend with my coworker so he can help me buy good vegetables. I think I'll go ahead and buy food with that money. Because at the end of the day, I'd rather not pass out at the gym where no one speaks English. :)

So it looks like I may be headed to Itaewon yet again this weekend.....my new friend Oscar has invited me on a pub crawl with some folks. Doesn't that require drinking and such? Yeah, I'm not a big fan. But I do want to meet new people. Oscar's really cool. He also told me about a Halloween party coming up. Wow. I haven't dressed up for Halloween in a long time. I think I'll go as a black woman in Korea. That's pretty original. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

And I'm off to watch a movie and get some rest. I miss my friends and family. :( And NYC. And the boo. And grits and eggs. Mmmmm...if I find some grits out here, it's about to be a wonderful year!! LOL *sigh* Goodnight!!! Until next time...<3 J


My Plumbing Sucks...

Alright so this might be WTMI....but I've gotta talk about it. So, for the past few days, I've been having plumbing problems. And I'm not talking about my bathroom. No, I mean MY pipes. Yeah, my digestive track is all screwed up. But not in the bubble guts kinda way. No, it's in the I-havent-gone-number-2-in-4-days kinda way. I'm scared shitful. Sorry, now is not the time to pun. But what in the world do I do?! I'm very regular. Once a day like clockwork. But now all of sudden, I can't go. And yes, I've been eating. Once I realized I hadn't gone since Saturday, I tried to eat less because I fear this is going to be awful when I finally, you know, go. And my period also appears to be totally out of whack, too. I'm not liking this at all. This did not happen in Mexico or France! Why is Korea so freakin different?! Anyway, just wanted to let it out. Metaphorically. Since I obviously can't do it physically. Goodnight. -J


Seoul Shakin'

Alright so I got home around 6AM...Needless to say, I've been pretty lazy all day. I had a pretty good time in Seoul last night. I met an interesting cast of characters. :) So, all day Saturday, I didn't do much. I woke up and went running in a big park I recently discovered. It was really nice because they have a real track. Much easier on my knees. There were a million people out there this morning. It looked like a kiddie festival as they had closed off roads and all I saw were Korean kiddies riding around in their electronic toy cars and acting crazy. But I loved the atmosphere. Some vendors gave me a "thumbs up" as I went running by. And two old geezers attempted to talk to me...in Korean! So the rest of the day, I did nothing. I was really excited about going back to Seoul, but things were looking a little shady because I hadn't heard from my friends all day. I'm thinking, "Dang, they're totally gonna bail on me...I just know it." And I was right - they didn't feel like going. So, never one to sit by and take it, I called up Ash's cousin, Aaron. I knew he was going so we made it happen. I got in a cab to the subway station and took the subway to Yongsan, all by myself. I wasn't scared but it was overwhelming at times. I just didn't make any eye contact and went about my business. Lol. A couple people on the train looked at me but overall no issues. So I get to Yongsan and it's just chaos. I think some kinda concert or show was letting out because there were SO many people coming toward me. If I were the claustrophic type, I may have passed out. So anyway, hailing a taxi in a busy place like Yongsan is not so easy on a Saturday night. Luckily, there was another foreigner going to Itaewon, too so we shared a cab! His name was O and get this!? He used to work for Bloomingdale's! What a small world! It was so funny. So we talked about retail. Before he came over here to teach, he was working out in LA for Diesel. He's also Mexican-American and his family is from Guadalajara. We had so much in common so we exchanged numbers. He lives in Incheon, about 15-20 mins from me. He told me about a place in Seoul where we can get good pedicures, which I desperately need right now. He said most Korean women scoff at the idea of doing pedicures because only the hookers do them. This explains why I can't find a good place here! I know it's hard to believe since there's one on every corner back home....but the boat doesnt float that way in SoKo. Nope.

While I was on the subway, I got a call from Nic saying that she and K had changed their minds and were coming out to Itaewon! Yay! So anyway, I met up with Aaron and his 2 friends, Christine (Filipino) and DK (Korean). We went to the King Club, a hip hop place. We got a big "kettle" or jug of grape flavored Soju. It tasted just like Kool-Aid, which explains why I was tipsy after 2 cups. They were playing some down south music. I didn't know it but Koreans love line dancing...they went especially crazy for the Soulja Boy and the Cupid Shuffle. YES!! I kid you not! I was in shock...it was very entertaining. And I must say, not such bad dancers. I mean, there were some awful ones for sure. Like one woman who was literally dancing with her own reflection all night. She was freakin weird. But overall, not bad! When I met up with Karen and Nichole, we kinda club hopped. We spent most of our time next door at Club Cancun. The music was better and they had AC. By about 230AM, I was a little wiped out but I kept dancing to stay awake. So, here's what most people do in Itaewon: if you don't live in Itaewon, you've usually taken a subway or bus to get there. These stop running at midnight and don't start again until 530am. So, either you have to stay out all night and party, rent a cheap "love" hotel for $30 US or you can go to a sauna and sleep. The latter is pretty popular. For 10,000 won ($10 US), you can sleep on the floor and rent a blanket for like 1,000 won. Now, I didn't actually do this, but a lot of people do and it's cheaper than getting a taxi back to wherever you came from. Then you just hop on the train at 530am. I sure as hell did consider it because I was so tired, but I stuck it out. The idea seems a little strange to me...but I'll try it for S & G's one day.

Anyway, back to the club. We met a random group of chainsmoking Italian/Iranian guys. One of them, Marco, would NOT leave me alone. Literally, he was all up in my face - a blatant violation of my personal space. I finally elbowed him in the ribs and told him to quit it. When I'm sleepy and cranky, I'm not happy. And his stupid, drunk behind got the rough end. The rest of the night is rather schizophrenic meaning I can't really recall what happened first. My night was really a series of random events. I didn't drink any more alcohol I know my limitations now. Plus I wasn't around people I knew well and I prefer to stay sober and aware. We went to another club, the UN club. Pretty terrible. Bad music and just an awful caliber of people. Mostly crusty old dudes tryin to cop a cheap feel. Not my scene. Then we got some street meat...good ole chicken on a stick! Slathered in some kinda barbeque-y sauce. And little potato balls with salt and ketchup. Basically round french fries. lol. They were delicious though...oh my god. I've missed greasy food!!

I also saw a lot of trannies! There's an alleyway in Itaewon specifically for trannies. They all kinda hang out and try to pick up poor, unassuming fools. When we went back to King Club, I witnessed this schmuck totally feeling the "breasts" of one of them. I mean, it couldn't have been more obvious that it was a man. I dunno how many drinks it would take for an Adam's apple to disappear! Aside from the fact that they LOOK LIKE MEN, trannies here are super aggressive. They'll just grab you and start trying to feel on you. Normal Korean girls definitely don't do that.

Around 445AM or so, we just said "Screw it!" We decided to take a taxi back home. Lol. After having inadvertently smoked 85 packs of cigarettes, my lungs were collapsing. Seriously, I am beyond spoiled with the no-smoking laws in NYC. What a wonderful concept!! Unfortunately, that ain't happenin in Korea. Everybody seems to smoke and they do it nonstop! The floors were covered in cigarette butts and ashes. Just nasty. Now I see how I need to dress when I go out. Itaewon is not a grown and sexy place. It's kinda seedy and shady, especially at night. I've heard it's better during the day. Over the next year, I will be on the lookout for classier places. Cuz I'm a classy lady ;) But I had a really fun time! I was glad my friends decided to come. I was home by about 530AM. I sprayed my hair with tons of perfume. There's nothing worse than stale cigarette smoke. Ugh. Well until next time...<3 J


Who Wants a Quickie?!

I know you do....alright so this will be quick cuz I'm pretty beat. My kids were good today except for my last class...seriously, I think they all had lobotomies because they were not feeling English (or me) today. Granted it was 9pm on a Friday and being at school for 12 hours would piss me off, too. Can't say I blame them at all. Even I was ready to bounce. Here's a rundown of some random things I've seen around my neighborhood:

1) Unapologetically-offensive nose picking...I can't even tell you how awful this is. One woman had her HAND shoved so far up her nose, seemed like she was trying to pull a good reason out of her brain. Why, it's almost as bad as the time I saw a pimply faced employee in a Parisian bakery picking his boogers. And flinging it into my pain au chocolat. What, pray tell, is so MONUMENTALLY CHALLENGING about using a tissue?!?!?

2) Toilet paper is used in place of napkins at restaurants...and in general. Yeah, a big ole roll of TP is hangin out on the table. It's going to take some getting used to that's for sure. I can't help but think to myself "Wait, did you just wipe your butt with that???" I went ahead and bought paper towels for my apartment though. Some habits die hard. I'd buy napkins too if I could find 'em...yes, Americans have different paper products for everything...TP for your bunghole (sorry, couldnt resist...i grew up with Beavis & Butthead..sue me), napkins for your mouth, tissues for your nose, paper towels for spills and bigger stuff, etc. To me, that is normal...and admittedly, the result of unabashed consumerism and capitalism but oh well...

3) SPITTING!! Dear God...I can't even begin to describe the chills that run up my spine when I hear that all-too-familiar-I'm-about-to-hock-a-loogie sound. Unfortunately for me, spitting seems to be another norm here. And it drives me completely insane. It wouldn't be so bad if people only spat outside but oh no, people LOOOOOOOOVE to spit INSIDE hallways and elevators, too!!! Pretty much anywhere is acceptable to spit...and I can't stand it. My biggest pet peeves are in fact spitting and dog poo. They are both equally bad. Most people know that I have a dog poo radar and I'm quickly developing one for spit bombs, too.

4) So last night I'm walking home from dinner and I see two middle-aged men holding hands. They have business suits on and nicely trimmed hair. They look nice. And they're even rather tall. Ok, so I put 1 and 1 together and figured I was looking at a nice gay Korean couple. Awesome! No problem there...I thought it was great they're so progressive since homosexuality goes against their Christian/Buddhist/traditional Korean values. I thought "Now THIS is a couple who just doesn't care! Screw society!" Blah blah blah....so today at work, I tell Steve about what I saw. His reply?

They're not gay.

UM.....EXCUSE ME? I know what I saw! New York City teaches you how to spot gay thats for sure. So, drawing on my Western point of reference, two men holding hands = couple. ESPECIALLY holding hands....right? WRONG! Steve explained that it's quite normal for straight, male friends to hold hands. They do it all the time. It's not sexual at all. Quite frankly, I'm still quite baffled by this phenomena. I mean, I just cannot even IMAGINE....I cannot even FATHOM this happening back home. Absolutely NOT! So needless to say, I will keep an eye out for this. Steve said the only way to tell if a man is gay by hearing him talk. So this is me, readjusting my narrow-minded lens...rearranging my point of view...developing a new angle....thats what I'm here for.

Alright thats it for now...I'm suddenly drawing a blank. I'm headed to Seoul again tomorrow probably so I'm sure I'll have more stories for you! :) Until then...<3 J


The Pringles Can is Half Full

No, really, it is. You know why? Because I ate the other half. As of right now, I eat Pringles, PBJ, yogurt, and cereal everyday. Every once in awhile, I eat some meat and veggies. I've gotta get on track here. But since I don't cook, especially not when I have no idea what the hell the ingredients are, times are tough. For whatever reason, I've convinced myself that eating an entire can of LIGHT Pringles somehow negates the fact that I've eaten an entire can. By myself.

But, you smart cookie, you, this post is also metaphorical. My life in general right now is pretty full. Everything appears to be in its place. And naturally, like a good cynic, I am waiting for the bottom to fall out. I have no idea why I do that. While I am suspicious of this unusually calm point in my life, I am able to live in it. I'm able to roll around and get (somewhat) comfy in it. I'm healthy for the most part, thanks to the ridiculous amount of vitamins and random shit my mother shoved in my bag. I like my job....in fact, I really love my job. My kids are so adorable. Except for one jerk. Yes, a 9-year old can be a jerk. There, I said it! It takes a lot to piss me off and he's managed to do it in two classes. He's pretty much trying to make my life pure hell for the next year. But the other angels make up for this annoyingosity. I just look at him like a little dollar sign and suddenly, he's more manageable. :)

****Put DOWN the Pringles, Joia!! Put them DOWN!!!!****

I hesitate to discuss my love life because I'm afraid that verbalizing it will make it disappear. Call me superstitious but oh well. The last time I was in a "relationship", I put it on Facebook only to be removing it 7 days later. Until I'm married, my status will always be single. Haha. So I've learned my lesson. I GET IT, GOD!! Mums the word. Suffice to say that portion of my life feels in order but as I've noticed, time will reveal all flaws and blemishes. Time also tests character and patience. And so I wait...like an anxious little kid who has to pee...for my love tests.

Let's talk about my trip to Seoul last weekend!! So some of my new friends here showed me around Itaewon, aka Foreigner Central. Jeebus! It felt like Canal Street. I didn't even feel like I was in Korea anymore. We stopped at a place called Yongsan. You can buy anything electronic there. And I mean, ANYthing. Hell, they might even sell teleporters for all I know. It's just floors and floors of stuff. I'm pretty slow with electronics so I didn't get the urge to blow all my money....but I can see how you would. We hung around Itaewon for a couple of hours. I saw the Red Light District. Fancy! These hookers have store front windows. All that's missing is a big ole "FOR SALE!" sign. Seriously. They sit there in the window, half dressed, waiting for...entry, I suppose. I videotaped some of this, but one of them got a little pissed and started yelling so I had to cease and desist. We also ate at a burger joint which had AMAZING burgers and fries. Wow...it was about $12 or so. Everything's expensive in Itaewon. That burger was worth the upset stomach I suffered later. I also bought a cute little beret. I bargained them down to $8. I was proud of myself because I usually just pay whatever they say. But, if you wrinkle up your nose and forehead a little and give them a blank stare...they just start droppin the price!! Incredible! Try it!!

What else? Oh, I'd meant to do a separate post for this but since I'm rather lazy with this, better do it now while I'm in the blogging mood. So, before I got here, I kept reading and hearing about all this racism in South Korea. In fact, it almost scared me to the point of not coming. I thought, "Well, why would I go halfway around the world to be treated like crap?? I can get that at home!" I've only been here 9 days so I'm definitely not writing the end-all, be-all on the subject. But I haven't FELT it. Not the way people have described it to me. The pointing and laughing, the jeering and rudeness. I don't know. I get stared at sometimes, but I don't really notice people going out of their way to be mean. Even the teenage boys, who are notorious for being rude. I walk by groups of them and nothing.... mind you, I DO NOT speak or understand a lick of Korean outside of hello, goodbye, and thank you. Oh, a curse word here and there. So I don't know what they're saying. They could be cursing me up and down. But I'm speaking specifically about people's actions. Truthfully, I don't feel that out of place. I don't feel so isolated. If anything, people seem eager to help me out and talk to me. I was out running one day, looking a hot mess...and this guy just started waving at me profusely and blew me a kiss. What???? Yeah, a little strange. Or if I catch someone staring at me, I just wave and smile and suddenly, they're doing it too.

I have come to the conclusion that it is not skin color that offends some people here. They are somewhat curious by brown skin. Some of my students really like my eyes because they say they're big. Having big eyes is popular around here. Some people ask about my height. I guess I'm tall for a chick, especially compared to Korean women. But most people here are very skinny. Not anorexic. It's just the body type. I mean, they eat lots of vegetables here so it's not all that surprising. When Koreans see overweight people, they are completely paralyzed. Let's define overweight here. Not obese. No, no. If you're above a size 8, you're going to have problems here. It's insane. If any part of your body is larger than what they're used to, they'll be sure to let you know about it. Big boobs? Pointing and laughing. Big booty? Staring and gawking. Pooch? You get my message...I'm lacking in many of those areas so I feel like maybe I blend in more. It's almost as if they see right through me. So, in my 9 day old analysis of Korea, that's what I see - an unacceptance of different sized people. My eyes are new and I'll keep them wide open. After all, these are my musings...no one else's. I also walk really fast, like I've always got somewhere to be. Which means I don't have time to see if people are staring at me or not. But overall, people are keen on talking to me and trying to make conversation. I did have one woman who gasped when she bumped into me. Big deal, lady!!! KEEP IT MOVING!!!

Alright, time to watch a movie and go to sleep. This post should last you a couple days at least! Until next time..<3 J


Week 1 Thoughts

I arrived in South Korea on Monday evening, after a long (but restful) 15 hour flight. For the past 8 months, I've pretty much been dreading that flight, of all things. It was surprisingly smooth. Of course we hit a little turbulence, classically while I was in the bathroom. All of a sudden that little "Return to Your Seat" sign came on. Luckily for me, I have great aim! LOL. Anyway, everything went fine. I got in and was taken to my new school. I was thinking I'd be expected to start working but it was just to meet one of my other co-workers, Steve, and the owner. Then they brought me to my apartment down the street. It's next to the "Mr & Gentle" hair salon. Yes, I'll touch on Korean English (Konglish) a little later. My apartment is a studio but it's big enough for me. My head doesn't touch the ceiling or anything! The owner (pictured above with her 9-month old son, Chung-Mat) had bought a bed set for me, which was really nice of her. So I pretty much dumped all my crap (yes, I had about 4 big suitcases) and went back to the school. I met the other 2 Korean teachers, the owner's husband, and the secretary. Everyone was very nice and welcoming. Then the owner proceeded to give a whole bunch of random stuff for my apartment. I mean bags full of pots, pans, cups, bowls, plates, apples. I couldn't believe it. Steve, one of my coworkers, also speaks fluent English so he's been a lifesaver. He took me to buy an alarm clock and the rest of my night was spent unpacking my bags. I was doing just fine until I opened my polka dot one and a lot of my (very expensive) conditioner had spilled... :( Awful...just awful. It didn't ruin anything but it was just messy and slimy. Fun night!!

My first day of classes went surprisingly well. My kids are all really well behaved...except for a couple but that's normal I guess. I had 5 classes starting at 3:35pm until 9:35pm. My first class were little ones, about 6 or 7 years old. They were SO adorable. Louis, Emily, Gina, Vincent, and Carrie. This is one of my favorite classes so far because they're very vocal and energetic. Most of my classes are middle school. Most of my students are painfully shy and quiet. They are not used to speaking English so my job is basically to get them talking and comfortable with the language. It's much harder than I'd thought! I suppose the key is to get them comfortable with ME first. Their reaction to me is usually "ooooooh" and "ahhhhh" if I flash them a smile. They run into the office and peak around the door, looking at me, smiling...and then they run off when I look at them. It's really kinda cute and funny. Steve told me though they said I'm speaking too fast so I have to work on that. I just have to remember how I felt taking French...completely clueless! But I brought home a bunch of the books so I can work on my lesson plans this weekend.

I've gone out to dinner two nights in a row! Geez, I can't make a habit of that. They have these Korean BBQ places where large groups of people can go and eat amazing food for cheap. I ate something called galbi which is basically meat cooked over a grill in the center of the table. It's served with a lot of side dishes like rice, spicy kimchi (Korea's national dish), spicy bean sprouts, almost scrambled eggs, salad, and other things. It's really quite delicious. But you see, they just keep bringing stuff out!! Which means you just keep eating it. I also drank Sansachun, a bamboo flavored wine. I'm a fan of that. It tastes more like apples but we'll let them think it's bamboo :) It costs about 10,000 won (or $10) per person. I know for sure I'm gonna be a fat ass with prices like that. Considering I just paid 4,000 won (about $4) for a handful of almonds, I've gotta be a little more frugal! I forgot things like that are imported so they'll be more expensive.

Luckily, I live within walking distance of pretty much everything. It couldn't have worked out better. There's a SaveZone (my idea of a cheaper Macy's) and across from that, a 24-hour HomePlus (like Walmart but nicer clothing selection), up the street from that is The Mall (yes, it's called The Mall) with big department stores and a nice movie theater. I actually went to the movies last night and saw The Invasion with Nicole Kidman. Good movie! And every 5 feet, there's a fresh fruit stand, hair salons, pizza places, etc. It's really a perfect sized town for me. It's a mix of all the things I want. There are some nightclubs around here and I'm looking into joining a gym next week. I can't take not working out. It's driving me a little crazy actually. I think I will be able to shop here...the clothes may actually fit me since I'm built more like a 15 year old boy than a full grown woman! Korean women are pretty slim for the most part. Must be all that kimchi. Anyway, I've made some new friends which makes me happy. Being the only foreign teacher at my school can make things somewhat lonely, but I like it. I have plenty to keep me busy and Steve and I are becoming good friends. He gives me all the dirt on people!! Haha. Today I'm headed into Seoul with said new friends. They are black by the way, which is cool. One girl, Nicki, went to any Ivy league school and has traveled a lot of places! I was pretty impressed. Aeri is biracial and went to Howard!! How ironic...HBCU love all day! And Janice is Canadian and newly married. We're all around the same age, too. Turns out Nicki lives around the corner from me. I'll take pictures today when we head into Seoul. Should be madness!! So that's all for now...I'll start updating more regularly. For whatever reason, my computer switched the Korean and I couldn't read a damn thing! So now it's back and so am I! :) Until next time...<3 Joia