8/31/2008

Minor Annoyances...and good news!

There are just a few things on my mind so I'm gonna air them out while I've got some temporary sanity.

1) Uhhhh, really John McCain? I smell something. Oh yes, what's that?!! It is the smell of.. **sniff, sniff** .. desperation!! It reeks. It is stinking up the entire country. You are making a fool of your fellow Americans and your Republican constituents alike. Ok, you're a "maverick", a rebel but this is downright foolishness and I demand you cease and desist!! If you were hoping to stir the pot, you did a helluva job, Sir. If you were also hoping to reel in some of the displaced Hilary fan base, I don't believe this was the right way to go since Palin and Hilary pretty much disagree on every issue. If and when your health decides to betray you, I think a lot of people (myself included) are doubting that this 44-year old governor from Alaska will be able to handle your duties. That's my primary concern. I can't speak for anyone else, but in my eyes, you haven't calmed anyone's nerves or squelched anyone's fears in your choice. And the fact that you have no idea how many houses you own is also despicable. But I guess we will see how this all plays out. As for me, I'm hoping his "strategy" (the loosest available translation of the word) backfires. And I will eagerly await a "debate" between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin...oh please please please??!! **giddy**

2) Had an incident in my other kindy class on Friday. So they're learning about different nationalities and cultures. Hooray! They had a nice little map with pictures of cartoon people from different regions of the world. Japan had a woman in a kimono. Cute. England had a man in stockings or something colonial looking. Oh, and India had a woman in a sari. But lo and behold, what is this in Africa? A half naked man in a grass skirt with a bone through his nose and a spear in his hand.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....more hmmmmmmm.....

About 3 silent moments of hmmmmmm. Now, I haven't been to Africa (yet). And I realize that there are some groups of natives that may still look like this and that is perfectly alright with me. The same goes for native Amazonian tribes or the tribes in Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The point is that this image does not represent an ENTIRE continent. So I went ahead and taught my classes. I didn't freak out and get angry. I wasn't actually surprised to see an image like this in a kindergarten given Korean culture and perceptions. But I did say something to the only English-speaking teacher there. I pulled her aside and said something like this:

Me: Hey Hyun. I saw that they're learning about different cultures. That's really fantastic! But I think your image of Africa is a little off.

Her: Oh really? Have you been to Africa?

Me: No, I haven't been to Africa, but it's a diverse continent, just like anywhere. This isn't the one image that should be associated with it. Maybe you should display more accurate pictures, like with traditional African clothes. A bone in the nose and spear in hand seems wrong.

Her: Hmmmm...I see. So, you're saying they don't look like this?

Me: Um, yes. That's what I'm saying.

Her: **no response, but looks deep in thought**

Me: Ok, I will bring in some pictures next week. How about that? Just so you can see what I mean.

Her: Ok. Sure.

Well, how did I do this time? I didn't pitch a fit. No no...I'm only offering a different perspective. It's not my place to rearrange this kindergarten obviously, but since I am Black and I'm teaching them, they should at least have more accurate depictions. Right? I mean, c'mon. No other country had representatives without clothes on...why just Africa? These early associative images only propagate ignorance. They even showed Egypt, a country which some folks just love to exclude from the rest of the continent, with regal garb. I also noted the bronzed skin tone for Egyptians whereas the other image was dark brown. I could get into this, but I won't. I'm just going to Google some pictures and bring them in next time. If you have any pics of traditional African clothing or images, just let me know. I may use them! :)

3) My Directors threw a hissy fit about my plane ticket home. Since I'm going to the Philippines for a week, I wanted them to pay for my flight from Manila to JFK. They kept insisting they didn't want to pay for it, that they'd only pay for a flight from Seoul to JFK. Here's my reason for pissivity - the Manila flight was waaaaaaaay cheaper than the other one!! They were bitching because it was expensive ($1500 for a 1-way) YET the flight from Seoul to JFK was $1800! I'm not a mathematician but damnit, I just saved you $300! And I'm flying into an airport which is a full 2 hours out of the way so give me a break! So, after 3 days of arguing back and forth, I actually found an EVEN CHEAPER flight from Manila to JFK for just $1000. They finally shut the hell up...and bought my ticket. :)

4) Yeah, my Directors are also playing games with my life. Turned out they stopped paying my health insurance back in January. My contract states clearly that they are to pay half and I pay the other half. So guess who has been steadily paying it every month? Yes...I have. All alone! And how did I find out? Going for a routine gyno check-up. I whipped out my insurance booklet and they said to me, ever so nicely, "Uh, Miss Joia...you don't have health insurance..." Words that you just never want to hear.

**leaning forward, listening intently** "Um, excuse me? Yes, I do. I pay it every month..."

Well apparently, my bosses hadn't been. So I went into work that day, madder than a raccoon in the daytime, and cussed them a blue streak. And now they will be paying me back 8 months retroactive for these shenanigans, about $400. Some Korean hagwon owners are just sooooooo sneaky!! You really have to stay on top of them because they will try to get over on you. If I'd never gone to the doctor, I never would've known that they'd just been pocketing my portion. That really pissed me off and it still does.

Alright, it's Labor Day Weekend back home and I know yall are GRUBBIN' so I'm headed to a BBQ out here in celebration! I'll be home October 11th so mark your calendars! That is the good news by the way. Hahaha. :)

Until then,

J

8/21/2008

Lost in the Sauce

My mind has been on a swivel lately. I just have too much swimming around on my plate so I will be taking a short break from my blog. Not too long, just a week probably. But here are the main sources of my stress. Yes, you knew it was coming - A LIST!!! :)

1) I talked to my Mom a few days ago and she told me that my grandfather, an abnormally sprite and healthy 70-something year old man, is having health issues. Something with his lungs and doctors don't know what it is and he needs to be sent to Jupiter for more testing. Who knows? But I'm pretty down about it and hence, not in the writing mood.

2) GRAD SCHOOL, GRAD SCHOOL, GRAD SCHOOL! I come home in roughly a month and a half, but I've been trying to prep for this transition now. I'm planning to go to grad school in Fall 2009. At first, I thought I was just going to get a Master's in International Relations, but now I think I should get a dual degree with an MBA, too. That requires much more work on my end. I've finally narrowed down the schools so now it's a matter of doing EVERYTHING else - application, references, GMAT, etc. I've even tried to refresh my math skills out here, but it's proving quite difficult. So, if you know any excellent math tutors in the tri-state area, please let me know! :) I'm gonna need one as soon as I touch down.

3) I need a job. Back home that is. Reading about the pitiful state of our economy is not really an encouraging sign either. And trying to land a job when you're 15,000 miles away from the intended destination is even harder. But I will keep on truckin...damnit, SOMEONE is going to hire me!!

4) Organizing more trips. Right now, China is on the radar for Chuseok in September (Korean Thanksgiving-ish holiday). China is normally an affordable country, but this ordeal has proven to me that it isn't. Aeja and I are looking at a 4-day, 3-night all-inclusive kind of tour and it's close to $1K. Then we have to throw in that lovely, inflated Chinese visa for Americans and the price stretches to over $1K. So that's a blower, but my desire to hug the Great Wall and party in Beijing is really fueling my need to go. We shall see....

5) Back to Boracay...yes, that's right. I'm planning to spend a week down there once I finish up and I cannot wait! I plan to do some relaxing activities though. I want to get my mind re-focused on being back home and adjusting. Plus, there's no telling when I'll be on a beach again so may as well soak it up now. I really want to get Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth". I've just been dying to read it. I think it's a book that I'm ready for now, as I close one chapter and begin another. My only dilemma in getting to Boracay is all the crap I have in Korea. I've got to start sending stuff home, which will be expensive. I can't be lugging 4 jumbo suitcases to an island! I actually think most of my stuff will either get thrown out or given to friends staying here longer. Guess I should figure that out now huh? I love traveling and hate the planning. That's why I need to marry a travel agent...or a pilot.

6) Dating is on hiatus until...forever! Lol. Just kidding but I have to focus on other things right now. And yeah, the "new guy" that I mentioned awhile back? We will call him Dex. He was really, really cool but every girl has her dealbreakers so he got cut loose. And, as my luck would have it, he's also moving to Australia!! What in the heck is in the water down there?! I guess he and Robert can have a great ole time together! Speaking of Robert, he's fantastic! Here are some more pics of his adventures in Aussieland!





That's really it. My school semester is finishing which means tests and evaluations. Nothing good ever comes outta that. I actually fell asleep grading a test at work. Mouth agape, flies setting up shop, the whole bit. Then when my Director walked in, I pretended to be coherent again. Wow...a little sleep deprived are we? Indeed....see yall in a week!!

Until then,

J

8/16/2008

Goodbye, Margot!

So, we sent Margot packing last weekend. Her year in Korea was filled with lots of school drama, but she made it through! I think pretty much everything that could've gone wrong with her situation did go wrong - like her first school closing and having to find another job, crazy ass roommates, and a shady new school. Her perception of teaching in Korea is much different than mine, but it was one helluva experience and I was glad to be along for the ride!

The rowdiness started during dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. When a group of 15 people get together, you just know how the night's gonna go and it didn't disappoint. We all drank a whole lot and I attempted to eat a Cobb salad but I just couldn't finish it. I was so disappointed because I've wanted a salad for a long time. But oh well. And it cost 15,000 won...moving on...




After dinner, we all piled onto the subway and headed to Hongdae. Margot's only real request was to do norebang so we decided to get drunk first! We ended up at the Ho Bar...yes, indeed. There are many degrees of Ho-ness like Luxury Ho Bars and Ho Bar 1-4. Terribly funny name but a great atmosphere! You should never be allowed to buy entire bottles of tequila though...just seems wrong. But we did and we started a nice, little ice war. So, if you ever go to Ho Bar in Korea, just know that it's okay to throw ice around and make a big scene because they won't kick you out! This is that one time where we were those obnoxious foreigners. Guess everyone's gotta do it once, right? We weren't rude though, just loud.






We showed up at the Premium Luxury norebang quite twisted. And this place was sooooooooo nice! I'd passed by it many times before and you can't help but notice it because there are huge, glass rooms facing the outside so if you get one of those rooms, everyone can see you. But those rooms also come with crazy costumes to dress up in! I've seen a giraffe, a panda bear, some rockers, just random shit. It's so weird but seems incredibly entertaining when you're three sheets to the wind. Unfortunately, we didn't end up in one of those BUT we still had an amazing time singing the night away. We snuck in some soju, which they found out about, but we still kept it anyway...hahaha. Oh, we are rebels.





After singing way out of tune, we went to a club of course! Had some more shots and danced like no one was watching! Around 5am, we went to yet another club but it was pretty terrible. I think including us, there were about 10 people in there. Everyone went their separate ways by 630am. I went to Burger King to try to absorb all that tequila with a ginormous burger and fries, but amazingly, that did absolutely NOTHING for my state. But sleeping all the way back home on the bus did... :)

One last thing we did before Margot left was go to a jimjilbang, a 24-hour Korean sauna thingy. But oh it's so much more! It's a very family-oriented kind of experience. You see little kids running around with grandmas. There's a men's side and women's side and most Koreans just hang out there and relax after a long day. You can watch tv, buy facial packs, sit in the 200 degree sauna, or a cool-down pool. It's really quite amazing and all for the low price of 6,000 won! So one night, four of us went out there after drinking yet again. At 2am, there's really nothing better than sitting in a hot tub. I was quite impressed. We'll go ahead and add that to the list of "Things I Wish I'd Done Sooner". :) I'll miss you, Margot....see you back in the US of A!!!

Until then,

J



8/11/2008

And New Baby Makes THREE!

Alright, before people go freaking out thinking I'm knocked up out here, I'M NOT. But I was so affected by the kids in the Philippines that I decided to sponsor a child there. I've already been sponsoring a little girl named Patricia in the Dominican Republic for 2 years. And now, I'm a proud Mama-sponsor of Jay! He's a really cute kid who loves basketball and dancing. For $22/month, Jay gets food, clothes, books, medicine, etc. And you can send money throughout the year for holidays, birthdays, or just because. I know there are so many ways to help and it's such a small thing, but I felt moved by it so I went with it. I really LOVE kids, all kids, all races and sizes. I actually think I've developed a hypersensitivity to children since being in Korea. I have no doubt that I will continue working with the disadvantaged youth all over the world. Maybe this is the cause I was so desperately searching for 10 months ago because nothing really makes me come alive like helping kids and seeing them grow.

So, if you would also like to sponsor a child, click the title to go to Children International.

You can even sponsor children in the USA, but there are laws to protect their information so just call or email instead.

Until then,

J

8/10/2008

Paradise Found...Part 3

Our third day in Paradise started off with some heavy rain. Actually, the monsoonish weather came the night before and lasted into the morning. We had planned an entire day of activities like island hopping and parasailing so things weren't looking good. But it calmed down a little bit and we decided to forge on with our plans. And I'm so glad we did because the weather cleared up!

Our first excursion was island hopping. We walked to the other side of the island with our tour guide, Elmer, and got on a small wooden boat. I may as well tell you now that I don't remember any names of the islands! So, before getting to an island, we stopped in the middle of the ocean. I was a little baffled and I thought the boat ran out of gas or something, but turned out we were docked to go snorkeling! I'd never been snorkeling before so I was nervous. I never learned how to swim, which is shameful. But even with the life jacket on, I get such anxiety being in deep water. Too many Jaws movies? It was really beautiful underneath the sea despite the fact that water kept coming through my mask and up my nose. Another cause of anxiety because I kept thinking I was going to drown. But it wasn't totally my fault. We didn't get any kind of tutorial before snorkeling. They basically just put us in masks and jackets and threw us in. But knowing to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose doesn't come naturally so I think that's why I was really anxious.



**Elmer, making sure I didn't die**

After snorkeling, the sun came out just as we landed at a new island. This place had a lot of interesting caves to explore. They weren't very big inside but the water was crystal clear. I was just trying not to bust my ass and float off into the ocean. I also picked a random statue's nose. I have no idea why I started doing that, but it makes me laugh when I look back on pictures.



Then we went to another island for lunch. The lunch itself was amazing - meat kebabs, fresh fish, salad, and a nice, cold beer. Perfect island food. I also spotted this little cutie running around along with some kiddies. The kids would dive for coins if you threw them in the water so I emptied out my wallet!




After island hopping, we went parasailing. I'd been two other times before and it really never gets old. But the wind was especially strong and we were just flying all over the place. It sounds like that would be fun, but it's quite horrifying when the only thing keeping you from plummeting to your death is a skinny ass string. Probably one of the most fun moments was riding in a speed boat. I'd never done that before and it's also a little scary but in a fun way.




Later, we went to dinner at Big Mouth then had drinks on the beach. I have a ritual for wherever I go. I have to listen to Sade. I can be on a plane going to a destination or actually at the location but it's mandatory. When I'm on a beach, then it's quite crucial. But the weather wanted to act crazy once again so as soon as I got my mojito, it started to sprinkle. But do you really think a monsoon is gonna stop me from drinking my mojito and listening to my Sade on the beach?! HELL NO!! That's why umbrellas were invented!



I was sitting out there alone after long because Kayla, not a diehard mojito/rain/Sade lover, wasn't amused by the climate. Ritchie kept coming out to check on me, which was nice. We actually decided to go out one last time. Around 11pm, we met up at Summer Place, a popular bar with live music and a small dance floor. But we just talked most of the time. I learned a lot about Ritchie and the life he's had growing up in the Philippines. Talking to him really humbled me because he's admittedly poor but he's "incredibly happy". He's happy because he has ambitions and dreams and he knows a lot of people can't even afford to dream. He paid for his Associate's Degree by offering to clean the building after hours. He lives for studying and really loves school, something you almost never hear American kids say. I know I sure didn't love studying or school.

Ritchie, much wiser than his 21 years, helps take care of his 6 other siblings and parents. He budgets his paycheck perfectly every 2 weeks, splitting it up between paying for his board, giving money to his parents, and food. There's not much money left for doing fun things, which doesn't matter so much because he loves to work and appreciates having a good job. But he didn't present all this information in a way to garner pity. He was just talking and when he asked me about my life and what it had been like, I was really shy to share. I'm not in any way ashamed of what my parents provided for me. If anything, talking to Ritchie made me that much more grateful. It's just that our lives couldn't have been more different - the have and the have-not. I probably spent in one day what he makes over 3 months. THAT is what brought me down to Earth. And yet, Ritchie is definitely the happiest person I've met. He just has this fire for life and what's out there. I could feel in him the same anxious energy that drives me, too. Just wanting to succeed and do something and be somebody. But he, much like me, doesn't realize that he's already doing so much. I felt really fortunate that I got to meet him and that we'll stay friends. I think he's a really good kid, a young spirit and an old soul living in the same body.




On our last day in Boracay, Kayla, Margot, and I went horseback riding up Mount Luho. For about an hour, we rented horses and had tour guides walk us along the path. I haven't been horseback riding since I was a little girl and now I know why - my ass was sore for 3 days afterwards! When the horse even jogged a little bit, I felt like my brain was rattling around, ready to spew forth from my head. It's just the most uncomfortable ride ever. But my horse, Apache, was really sweet and didn't have any problems. Now, Margot's horse, Black Beauty, was actually injured. My tour guide, whose name I can't remember, said that he had hit Black Beauty or something the day before and sure enough, the poor horse was limping and really struggling. I have a soft spot for animals. Not in a crazy PETA way, but they feel pain too. So I felt some type of way about us riding an injured, potentially abused animal, just for thrills. Anyway, it was still a good experience.





Ok, I'll wrap this up since my retinas are now bleeding. We also ate ostrich meat. Sounds crazy but we put a serious hurtin' on that bird. If you want some amazing beef-tasting, lean meat, I will suggest the ostrich each and every time. I wanted to slap the chef, the sous chef, the pastry chef, the waiter, the busboy....everyone up IN THAT KITCHEN for making such an amazing dish. I actually fell in love with Boracay...and I may be back sooner than you think! :)

Until then,

J


8/06/2008

Paradise Found...Part 2

Day 2 was FANTASTIC! It was raining for about half of the day, but that didn't stop the good times.  Margot and I spoke with a really cool Korean guy named Tony.  He owned a scuba shop next door to our hotel.  Aside from his blond highlights, the first thing I noticed about Tony was his perfectly flawless, bronzed skin!  Just remarkable!  So he let us in on his secret - a spa that was off-the-beaten path.  I mean, we had to walk through the "real" Boracay to get to it and that was a big reason why their business was slower.  So Tony called up the owner, Mr. Koo, and made us an appointment. And at a bargain price for 2.5 hours of bliss.  I won't reveal the price because then anyone who goes will want it, too but let's just say that kinda service back in the States would run about $400-500, easily.   So we walked about 10 mins down the dirt roads and past some chickens and shacks and arrived at YES Spa.  The outside is nothing nice to look at honestly.  Looks like someone's child painted the name on the outside and most of the place is sheltered by coconut trees.  But once you get inside, it feels like you've walked into a secret paradise for royalty.  All the outside noise disappeared and only solitude and peace remained. 

This was my first spa experience and I think it will be quite difficult to top. During the first treatment, she rubbed some mango and papaya scrub all over then wrapped me up in gigantic banana leaves. She massaged my face and put some mask on me so you know I was knocked out. Next came the hot stone massage. Utter...Speechlessness. Then I got into this big, deep stone tub. In the water were rose petals and some other wild flowers. I wanted to bottle up that water and smuggle it back with me. And you know my favorite part - the wine! Then came the regular massage. My masseuse worked some voodoo magic on my ass. I'd had an awful crick in my neck and back for about 3 years and it is sure enough gone. I was in such a hazy state the entire time that I swore they put something in my drink. Margot's lady walked on her back, but I don't really know if mine did. That's how out of it I was. When I left though, I was the most relaxed I've ever been IN LIFE and my skin was dewey and fresh. I wanted to give that woman ALL my money, that's how good she was. Put her children through college or something! So if you're lame like me and haven't gone to a spa yet, please go. It WILL be a part of my regimen now...no doubt about that! :)





The rest of the day was pretty lazy. It was a perfect night so we just drank on the beach with Tony and hung out with Noeme and some other street kids. It started pouring, monsoon-style, around 830 or 9pm and it lasted all night into the next morning. But what's a little rain?! It didn't dampen our spirits! :) Day 3 was the REALLY fun day!





8/05/2008

Paradise Found...




I'm a little salty to be back from vacation, quite literally as there is still sand pouring from random crevices, nooks and crannies. But I'm really grateful that I got to celebrate my 25th birthday in paradise. We spent the first and last night in Manila. It's a really busy, crowded city with a good amount of pollution. We definitely got stared at but, unlike Korea where people seem to be wondering what in the hell you're doing in their country, it was somewhat welcoming. Curiously interested. Now, I know absolutely nothing about crime rates in Manila, but when there are signs outside of department stores requesting that you leave your firearms at the door, you can infer that it's not the safest place. And I could feel it instantly when the little hairs on the back on my neck were standing up. Being in Korea is really nice for the simple fact that only military and police officers carry guns. You're never concerned about some random person unleashing his day's frustration on you with guns. I surely wouldn't mind exploring Manila another time, but for this visit, I was pretty okay just hanging around the hotel room.

Naturally, this trip had some bumps! Aeja's luggage was on the wrong flight and we actually arrived in Manila without our friend, Kayla. When she hadn't shown up on our connecting flight in Hong Kong, we just knew something wasn't right. We spent all night in Manila trying to track her down. We almost gave up hope as we were waiting for our flight to Boracay when we saw her come running through the airport. We were all screaming and shouting so loud that everyone in the whole place just stopped and stared. It's also important to note that when traveling to, in, and around the Philippines, there are a lot of additional fees. Entrance fees, exit fees, environmental fees, maintenance fees, breathing fees...and then tips! Tips galore! So, this really adds to the overall cost of the trip, but it was still a very reasonable vacation considering everything.

Onward to Boracay!!

DAY ONE

So our first day, my birthday, we arrived around 2pm and were greeted with welcoming drinks at the hotel. Anyone who contributes to my blood-alcohol content increasing is alright with me! We had a really great beachfront suite. Our beach view was blocked a little bit by the outdoor bar and restaurant but it was still pretty nice. We went off in search of food and stumbled upon Big Mouth, a Filipino restaurant. We ended up eating there pretty much everyday because the food was so good and the owner, Erick, was super nice.


After eating, we decided to hang out on the beach. The weather was heaven and starting to cool down. I noticed Aeja chatting with an adorable little girl named Noeme. Noeme is 9 or 10 and she wanted to braid all of Aeja's hair for like 250 pesos (about $5 US). And every night, Noeme would be out until about 10pm just trying to make money by braiding hair. I informed her that she should be charging waaaaaaaaay more, but I guess that's just how the business goes here. So we hung out with her a lot actually. She took charge of all our cameras and had mini photo shoots! Here are some of her better shots:






Later in the evening, we had dinner at Ole, a Cuban/Mexican/Spanish restaurant. Literally, they just had everything on the menu, including my favorite Cuban dish, Ropa Vieja - shredded steak with rice and plantain. And they made the BOMB sangria which we were more than happy to drink! I think I actually drank the most because it was my birthday AND I was caught licking my plate. These are pretty good indications of my true state of mind.




We were all feeling pretty nice, but Kayla and Aeja couldn't take it. They passed out by like 8 or 9pm. What kinda crazy person goes to sleep at 9pm during a vacation?! They got clowned for that! So Margot and I went out with Ritchie, the cute waiter from our hotel, and his friends. We ended up at Cocomangas, a popular night spot. It was disgustingly spacious and we scored a seating area with big, fluffy pillows. We danced and chatted and drank some lemonade concoction that tasted like pink Kool-Aid. All we kept saying was, "Wow, you can't even taste the alcohol!!" Those are famous last words, aren't they?? Yup. So we all danced the night away and I crawled back around 4am or something. There are like 2 clocks on the entire island so I never knew what time it was. I suppose that was intentional...anyway, on to Day 2...and a new post. :)