A Year in Seoul - video by Maddy

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Moments of 2009

I'd like to think about my goals for 2010 while I am away for the next two weeks in the tropical paradise that is Boracay. This will be my last post of 2009, so I thought I would choose my favorite moments of the past year...

1. Coming out of a laid back rooftop bar in Chiang Mai to find a baby elephant trudging along up the road, which we then proceeded to pet and kiss like crazy.

2. My Italian dinner date with Lacy and Maddy in Chiang Mai - it was the origin of the A Team, a collaboration prophesied by the ancients and written in the stars.

3. Swimming to a deserted island on Koh Chang. We swam in the open ocean for an hour, all the while thinking about sharks and ugly black rock crabs. Then we had to drag ourselves over slimy rocks in only inches of water for what seemed the length of a football field because we the rocks were to slippery to walk on. We made it to the beach eventually and broke coconuts with rocks then drank the fresh juice.

4. Standing at the observation deck of the world's tallest building, Taipei 101

5. Covering ourselves in mud for hours on end at Mudfest.

6. Our idyllic mountain top bungalow in Koh Phagnan where we met our "shaman" and passed a magical night celebrating his birthday.

7. Standing in the sea on Tsushima, Japan after surviving an arduous bicycle odyssey.

8. Luxury noraebanging with our new friend Kevin in Busan (noraebang is a karaoke room)

9. Bungee Jumping- it was horrifying, but I did it.

10. And finally, writing my 100th blog post today and discovering that I have had 2,000 profile views this year. Thanks to everyone who finds the time to read my ramblings, I hope they've been somewhat amusing. Here's to more adventures next year!!

Happy Holidays

Monday, December 21, 2009

20 '09 Resolutions Revisited

I started off my blog by making 20 resolutions/predictions for the year ahead. Let's take a look and see how it all went...

1. to see a bamboo forest. Hmmm, well, no, didn't do that... To be honest I'm not really even sure where to find a bamboo forest around here... maybe next year in Japan.
2. to stand on the Great Wall of China. Okay... off to a slow start. No China yet.
3. to go swimming in the ocean in every place possible. Thailand, Japan, Korea, the Philippines... not bad, not bad.
4. to hear wild elephants trumpet in Chiang Mai. Saw, played with, kissed, fed and heard plenty of elephants in Chiang Mai... magical
5. to smell the cherry blossoms in spring time. I even took a picture, Korean style...
6. to taste sushi in Japan. I did this just in time, as I've now given up seafood.
7. to touch an ancient Buddha. I have had my Buddha fill over here and it never gets old.
8. to learn to meditate in a temple. I never wrote a post on the temple stay I did in Korea recently, but we did in fact practice several types of meditation in a temple.
9. to remember how transient life is. A work in progress. I still try to be mindful of this whenever possible.
10. to forget my limitations. Did that on more than a few occasions... Sometimes it doesn't have quite the desired effect...
11. to keep up with my yoga! Happy to report I have done this. I took an amazing Hatha (hot) yoga class with Maddy just last night!
12. to read at least five modern classics. I've read about 45,000 books so far this year, so I'm going to consider this accomplished. The best? Tropic of Cancer, Murakami's short stories, Shadow of the Wind, and The Heart of the World by Ian Baker
13. to find new friends in unusual places. This I have done for sure. (Read my blog for proof!!)
14. to write about fear and loneliness. My blogs seem to be overwhelmingly positive, which has matched my mood this year. I have to say I have never been so consistently and overwhelmingly content and my writing has reflected it. I think I was very nervous (and still home!) when I made this list. Still, I'd like to delve into these emotions.
15. to travel to a place whose name I don't even know yet. Koh Chang, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Busan, Tsushima, every suburb/dong in Seoul, Boracay... the list continues...
16. to teach with passion, commitment, and silliness in proper doses. I couldn't begin to comment on this. I love teaching, I want to be a good teacher, I try to be a good teacher. There are also days when I just can't find the motivation.
17. to conquer the Korean language... or maybe just learn a few conversational bits... BA HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! No, but seriously.... BA HA HA HA HA HA!!
18. to say yes to new opportunities even when i feel like being a hermit. I'd like to thank Maddy for helping me accomplish this one...
19. to organize a trip to Bali. Oh Bali, plane tickets to you are very expensive, so your cousin the Philippines won out. I want to see you so bad. Let's play next year. Your friend, Brittany
20. to plan another year as if it were my last. 20 '10 Resolutions doesn't have the same ring to it, but I'll have to come up with something equally genius before I fly off to paradise.

10 Ways I've Become Korean This Year

1. I enthusiastically use scissors to cut up my food. Maybe it's not elegant but it's just so convenient.

2. I use phrases like "same same," "it is your privacy," and "Oh! Do you know?!?" in everyday conversation.

3. I am horrified by wearing shoes indoors. Unless, of course, they are indoor shoes.

4. I don't find it strange when five different students fall off their chairs during one class period.

5. I feel really guilty if I'm tired and want to leave the bar before the sun rises. "I'm so sorry guys, I just can't hang. It's 4 am and I really just need to go home."

6. If I can't get my way I resort to making long whining noises until people give in.

7. Forks feel kind of big and clumsy...

8. "I'd like a cop-ae latte please. Yes, that's right, a coppee"
"Let's drink a few Cass-uh and go to the dance-uh club."
"What time is it? Oh, let me check my watchee."

9. My next boyfriend will have to wear matching outfits with me, hold my purse when we go out, and stage dramatic parting scenes on the subway.


10. It's a holiday and that can only mean one thing: drink soju with your coworkers until someone is dancing with a fire extinguisher while a few others sing horrendous karaoke and someone gets sexually harassed. I forget... is this standard practice in America as well???

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Cove

I recently watched the highly acclaimed documentary, The Cove, and I found myself both deeply disturbed and deeply inspired... by things I didn't know, and by things I've known but ignored.

The documentary was created as an attempt to expose the atrocious dolphin slaughters occurring in Taiji, Japan, where about 23,000 are killed per year. It also points to the hypocrisy and cruelty of the captive dolphin industry and the dangers of mercury poisoning and overfishing to the future of our health and our oceans.

As I said, I had known about Taiji, but hadn't really educated myself. I've also known about the destruction of the oceans due to our inexhaustible demand for fish. This demand, if left unchecked, will lead to the collapse of our oceanic ecosystem, and much sooner than we think.

As a committed vegetarian, I could point out that the dolphin slaughters are easily comparable to factory farming in the United States. Hidden cameras there had the same profound effect upon my conscience and would surely equally shock film festival audiences. But why then, besides a brief stint a year ago, have I continued to consume seafood? How can I support the fishing industry in good conscience?

Growing up on the shores of Rhode Island (the Ocean State) the sea was my playground, my caretaker, and teacher. When I tortured my mother during the last hot months of her pregnancy, she floated in the sea for hours on end for relief. The soft rolling of the waves was my very first lullaby. Growing up by the sea, I learned to contemplate, respect, and love it. I believe the salt is in my blood.

It's difficult for me, however, to separate my idyllic memories of the sea from the smell of steaming clams, swordfish blackened on the grill, and flounder baked with buttery breadcrumbs. These things taste good, but as all things, they have a price. For me I think this price as become too high and I can no longer afford to enjoy these things. I can no longer support an industry that has been allowed to run wild.

I remember the first time I put a mask over my eyes and descended into the underwater world. I remember the first coral reef I ever laid my eyes upon, the schools of fish in technicolor and the seaweed dancing rhythmically beneath rolling swells. Now, I try to imagine descending in twenty years and finding it all destroyed.

A few weeks ago, I watched a short video which upset me enough to stop me from eating seafood. So far it has been a tentative cessation, but after watching The Cove, I've decided to make my New Year's Resolution: No More Seafood.

For those of you reading to learn about Korea, I am sorry this post is off topic. I am writing this now to draw attention to this well made, riveting and very worth while documentary, NOT to convince people to make decisions such as the one I have made. In fact, the documentary does not attempt to dissuade people from eating seafood. It is simply a causal connection I made on my own. One I think I have been trying to make for a long time. I am declaring my intentions publicly as a way to hold myself accountable.

As the film so aptly stated, you can either be one of two things "an activist or an inactivist" and though I feel I've lost my way somewhat this past year. I hope to remain the former.

To view the trailer or find more information please visit:

Below is the film synopsis, taken from the official website:

The Cove begins in Taiji, Japan, where former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry has come to set things right after a long search for redemption. In the 1960s, it was O’Barry who captured and trained the 5 dolphins who played the title character in the international television sensation “Flipper.”
But his close relationship with those dolphins – the very dolphins who sparked a global fascination with trained sea mammals that continues to this day -- led O’Barry to a radical change of heart. One fateful day, a heartbroken Barry came to realize that these deeply sensitive, highly intelligent and self-aware creatures so beautifully adapted to life in the open ocean must never be subjected to human captivity again. This mission has brought him to Taiji, a town that appears to be devoted to the wonders and mysteries of the sleek, playful dolphins and whales that swim off their coast.
But in a remote, glistening cove, surrounded by barbed wire and “Keep Out” signs, lies a dark reality. It is here, under cover of night, that the fishermen of Taiji, driven by a multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry and an underhanded market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, engage in an unseen hunt. The nature of what they do is so chilling -- and the consequences are so dangerous to human health -- they will go to great lengths to halt anyone from seeing it.
Undeterred, O’Barry joins forces with filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and the Oceanic Preservation Society to get to the truth of what’s really going on in the cove and why it matters to everyone in the world. With the local Chief of Police hot on their trail and strong-arm fishermen keeping tabs on them, they will recruit an “Ocean's Eleven”-style team of underwater sound and camera experts, special effects artists, marine explorers, adrenaline junkies and world-class free divers who will carry out an undercover operation to photograph the off-limits cove, while playing a cloak-and-dagger game with those who would have them jailed. The result is a provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and arresting imagery that adds up to an urgent plea for hope.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Annyeong Anyang!

Yesterday I went on my very first job interview in Korea. I must say that I vastly prefer the process over here. It felt a lot more like I was interviewing the school than the other way around.

Taking a step back, I previously wrote about my plans to continue living in Korea next year. I wanted to move to Bucheon or Anyang (satellite cities of Seoul not far from my current location), live with or near Lacy, and begin my contract in April so I'd have time to travel.

Joyce at Korvia Consulting did another phenomenal job finding me a placement meeting all of my conditions (which was not an easy task).

I received word that an elementary school in Anyang wanted to have an interview with me and replied that I could meet with them any day after school or on Saturday. The school decided that they wanted me to come earlier on a week day and informed Korvia that they would call my principal to request that I leave school early on the day of the interview. This was a little awkward for me, as I had turned down an offer to work a second year at my school, but apparently not a big deal in Korea. Imagine that... leaving work early to interview for another job - and not lying about it.

I arrived at Anyang Station and was greeted by a tiny woman in her thirties. Grace Park approached me with a large smile on her lovely face and led me on the very short walk to the school ( First + school is near the subway). After entering and slipping into our indoor shoes we went to meet the principal. Apparently Grace knows the former principal at my school and we both agreed he is the nicest man. She assured me that the principal at this school was very similar and she was right. The principal's character and sense of humor were immediately evident despite the fact that he didn't speak any English (Second + principal and coteacher are both wonderful).

We chatted about life in Korea over coffee and they expressed some concern over the fact that I would be leaving the country between contracts. They told me if they hired me and I did not return to Korea for some reason, their students would suffer for it. To be honest I hadn't even thought of this and all I could offer was my word, but when I assured them of my intent to return they immediately told me that they liked and trusted me ( Third + the school is willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and is relaxed).

There is an element of pageantry in the school interview process and I got the feeling that all they had really wanted was to get a look at me. They had my resume and recommendations already, but looks are very important in Korea, particularly when it comes to English Programs. Once I got the impression that I had passed this test (oh yes, they will tell you right to your face first thing) I pretty much knew it was in the bag.

Grace showed me the English classrooms, which were smaller than the one cavernous room I occupy now. She had seen my school and seemed very worried that I would be unhappy with the classrooms. They seemed lovely to me. Not only were they brimming with artwork and English storybooks, they wouldn't supply students with enough room to run around and hit each other like they do in my present classroom. I told her I thought the school was wonderful and would love to work with her and she told me that she and the principal liked me very much and she was sure they would hire me.

Then she walked me back to the station, took my hand and suggested we get dinner together over the winter break. I told her I would love to and she hugged me goodbye. Really, it was more of a love story than an interview. Ahhh Korea.

Today I accepted their job offer and will be signing a contract shortly. My start date is April 14th which gives me 5-6 weeks to travel Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos before beginning fresh in my new year in Seoul.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 Things I'm Thankful for in Korea

better late than never.... here goes:

10. Being able to zone out or doodle during "meetings" at work and having a perfectly valid excuse (the meetings are in Korean)

9. No longer having to attend meetings at work because I just zone out while I'm there.

8. Being able to wear jeans and big comfy sweaters everyday to school, although I am not thankful that the school isn't heated.

7. Bibimbap - a big bowl of rice, vegetables, and spicy red paste available at nearly all Korean restaurants. Every vegetarian's best friend!

6. The old lady with the walker who I always pass on the way home from school. Every day she stops, gives me a huge grin, and starts speaking in Korea. I don't understand, so I just smile and say hello, but she never gives up.

5. My Friday third grade class. In the middle of a sea of inattentive, too cool, rowdy sixth grade classes, their enthusiastic little faces prevent me from having a break down.

4. Hongdae. Yes, I said it. I might be equally un-thankful for this nightlife hot spot, but those of you who know what I'm talking about, imagine life in Seoul without it...

3. Finally working up the courage to stop eating school lunch this semester. No, I don't like eating octopus tentacles and soup broth that's had beef (or who knows what) stewing in it all day. And unlike most Koreans I don't consider plain white rice and a side of kimchi a complete meal. I've come to terms with the fact that when you are permanently settled in a place, you can compromise between cultural immersion and personal well being.

2. Taiwan, Jeju, Tsushima, Thailand, the Philippines... Getting paid well in a secure job with great benefits - including ample vacation days.

and finally...

1. Taking a huge risk with the potential for colossal failure and ending up living a great adventure, making amazing friends, and loving it enough to stick around for another year.

The Story of Thankgiving... as told by a Korean 4th grader

Answer to the writing prompt "Write your own story about what it would have been like if you were one of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower"
by So-young

"My ship is super and power ship so it was no cold, many food and everyone is happy but we meet a typhoon. Good fortune, we have a many life boat and life jacket and then save indian. Indian is very kind. I sad "we want a ground. can you give to ground for me?" indian sas "sure your my friend, okay we'll be a divide ground. But you don't raise war, okay?" I sas "Ok!" and then one piecese for mine and one pieces for indian. Indian and we're had a party. everyone play game, singing, eat food. and my one pieces ground me is...

United States of America


If only this were how it really happened.