A Year in Seoul - video by Maddy

Friday, November 27, 2009

I know I post a lot of NYTimes stuff, but... Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy, it really captures how I'm feeling this Thanksgiving (and everyday)

November 26, 2009
New York Times Global Edition

A Thanksgiving Toast

Sitting down with friends and family today, there will be thanks for the steady currents, flowing out of the past, that have brought us to this table. There will be thanks for the present union and reunion of us all. And there will be prayerful thanks for the future. But it’s worth raising a glass (or suspending a forkful for those of you who’ve gotten ahead of the toast) to be thankful for the unexpected, for all the ways that life interrupts and renews itself without warning.

What would our lives look like if they held only what we’d planned? Where would our wisdom or patience — or our hope — come from? How could we account for these new faces at the Thanksgiving table or for the faces we’re missing this holiday, missing perhaps now all these years?

It will never cease to surprise how the condition of being human means we cannot foretell with any accuracy what next Thanksgiving will bring. We can hope and imagine, and we can fear. But when next Thanksgiving rolls around, we’ll have to take account again, as we do today, of how the unexpected has shaped our lives. That will mean accounting for how it has enriched us, blessed us, with suffering as much as with joy.

That, perhaps, is what all this plenty is for, as you look down the table, to gather up the past and celebrate the present and open us to the future.

There is the short-term future, when there will be room for seconds. Then there is the longer term, a time for blossoming and ripening, for new friends, new family, new love, new hope. Most of what life contains comes to us unexpectedly after all. It is our job to welcome it and give it meaning. So let us toast what we cannot know and could not have guessed, and to the unexpected ways our lives will merge in Thanksgivings to come

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan's dramatic face

Korea's rolling mountains

sitting Buddha

Mountain Temple

Fall foliage

Cave Temple

Resident monk

Falling leaf reflection

The ascent

The Summit

Red Peppers drying in the sun

Mountain meditations

Three wisemen in the forest

Leaves collecting on the water's surface

Cascading water

Forest paradise

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

빼 빼 로 Day!

Today is 빼 빼 로 (Pepero) Day in Korea, a holiday managing to be just as lucrative for the Korean candy companies as Valentine's Day. The holiday, most likely started by mega corporation, Lotte, is celebrated by exchanging Pepero (a Lotte bran) sticks and other small gifts. A Pepero is a cookie stick dipped in chocolate and other toppings. The celebration came about as a clever marketing tool because the date 11/11 resembles the Pepero. I've come to learn that Koreans adore anything related to love and cutesy gifts, so it's not surprising that this holiday took off.

There is at least a dozen other holidays celebrating love and friendship in Korea. And stores having been showing elaborate Pepero displays for two weeks now. I loved watching the Korean men scramble to buy Pepero for the girlfriends last night. I'd love to see what would happen to the poor schmuck who managed to forget somehow.

I came to school this morning and was immediately swarmed with students flinging chocolate at me. Luckily, I came prepared with plenty of 빼 빼 로 to exchange. Check out my stash in the picture above. Assah!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A cold breeze, a cup of tea, and a plan

Beautiful Boracay

More Boracay... be jealous (pics not mine, obviously)

Suri mountain, view from my window

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan (these pics not mine either, you'll see my version next week!)

It only took one night to go from walking to school with no jacket to wearing a winter coat. One night like any other in which the icy winds crept in replacing the gentle breeze with biting gusts. The cold weather brought something with it other than chills, however, it brought a nagging feeling that my year here was coming to a close and I needed to begin planning for the future.

If you know me at all, you know I am not a planner. A schemer, maybe. An impulsive day dreamer who dives headlong into recently concocted, half planned adventures...sure. It's my nature, so I go with it. Besides, it hasn't steered me wrong yet. Nevertheless, staying in Seoul requires some forethought and I am certain I want to remain where I am.
Sure, a huge part of me wants to move on and continue journeying. I can teach anywhere, right? Well, not with massive student loans breathing down my neck. The huge financial benefits of working in Seoul mean not only that I can pay off my debts, but that I can afford to travel all over Asia whenever I get the chance. Plus, I have a lot of friends here and I am only just starting to feel at home. There is more time to be put into Seoul.

The frigid winter winds also coerced me to start thinking about my winter vacation. Yes, that's right, two months after my last two week vacation I am planning the next (why is it I want to stay??). I found out I have 17 days off starting on Christmas Eve, not coincidentally the same 17 days that Lacy will be off work. So, we've booked a flight to the sunny blue skies and crystal clear waters of Boracay in the Philippines. Flights are cheap and the living is easy, so it was a simple decision.
We want a nice tropical vacation to take us away from the winter chill, but we also need to conserve cash. Why? Well here is next year's plan, still in the works:

After our vacation, winter camp begins. Between Christmas and the end of February, there is only a week and a half of regular classes, the rest being various English camps (and often half days). My contract ends at the end of February and I plan on switching to a new school so that I can get a shared apartment with Lacy who will also be staying another year. Living alone has definitely had its perks, but living far enough from my best friends that I don't get to see them during the week has been a bummer. Being able to come home and cook dinner with Lacy and take classes together will be such a nice change!
Another development is that we are trying to get a job beginning in April so that we can take our end of the year bonuses and go backpacking for a month in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. We figure one of the huge advantages of our job is the flexibility and if we have the ability to do this we can't pass it up. How amazing it would be!! I'm crossing my fingers that it all works out.

So that is the plan, I mean scheme, as of right now. I'm working with a recruiter at the moment to make it all happen and until then I'll just keep living the dream.

Bringing it back to the present, we went on a teacher's hike today on Surisan (Suri Mountain). I thought a "teacher's hike" meant just going for a nature walk, but I was so very wrong. We scaled a beast of a mountain! As we climbed teachers began to drop out, but I was determined to prove yet again that foreigners are not inept, so not only was I going to the top, I was going to be one of the first to get there. Our principal led the way, I assume as a symbolic act, but even though he was the oldest one there, he could really move! After mistakenly believing I had arrived at the summit several times, only to turn and climb more, I made it to the top panting and sweating and was greeted with high fives and looks of astonishment (yes, foreigners can climb). Cell phones were whipped out for pictures, and celebratory cups of makkoli (a milky Korean rice wine) and fresh cucumbers were passed around to "rehydrate." And, even after nine months, they squealed with delight when I said "kamsamnida" (thank you) when they passed me a cup.
After the hike I had my Korean class and then I had to teach an evening class for second graders. At the moment I am exhausted and sore and a little worried about my stamina for this weekend's hiking trip to Seoraksan National Park. I'm excited to enjoy the outdoors in one of Korea's most beautiful areas, however, before winter sets in for good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I just came back from watching my school's 4th Grade Talent Show wearing a huge smile. Not only is fourth grade the absolute best age to teach, most of my individual favorites come from that grade as well. They are still unaffected by the insecurities of puberty but they're old enough to joke around with me and make me laugh.

The half dozen recorder performances were as to be expected... inhumane, but there were some great song and dance routines to all the current KPop. Of course there was a taekwondo performance (for all you non-Koreans its pronounced TAY-kwondo, not THAI-kwondo) in which the students broke boards with their hands. I felt the boards after and I must say, I was pretty impressed. To cap it off was a little piano prodigy.

My absolute favorite, however... by far... was the three boys who did a jump rope dance routine (that's right) to KPop favorite, Heart breaker. Not only was it original, they were unbelievably good at it. I really hope they weren't forced into hours of practice for weeks on end by overeager parents. They really seemed to enjoy it, so I'm thinking not. My heart didn't break, it melted. Once again, I love my job. If only I had brought my camera!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Perhaps a little harsh, but an interesting article on race in Korea.

New York Times Article - Race in Korea