12 March 2015

teach Korea: watching the tv, playing the game

I ate lunch at school with someone new today, which doesn't happen often. When it does, the following occurs: they let me go first in line so they can talk later about what food I took and how much. They sit across from me and next to Bitna (my sweet co-teacher who is my usual sole lunch buddy) and comment about why I put a little bit of salt on my rice, whether or not I like the fermented soy bean soup and if I enjoy kimchi. Usually they comment about how good I am at using chopsticks, which I know as well as they do that comment is like the southern "bless your heart" - I'm not really good at eating with chopsticks but it's a "oh she's trying" sympathetic comment. They also notice and ask about my water bottle that accompanies me during lunchtime. It's a habit I have, and feel like many Americans do, to drink (or have) a water bottle or other beverage while they're eating lunch, but to the Koreans it is very strange and prompts a series of questions. (Apparently they're taught that drinking water during a meal, or too much after, makes you fat - in reality, I think it makes the food harder to digest, but it doesn't surprise me that to Koreans, drink during a meal equals obesity) This took me off guard the first time when Yongsan asked if I was on some special diet, or if it was special water. I say that I like to have it with me in case the food is too spicy, which is mostly true. They also go on to ask if I like Korean food and what do I think of the food in the cafeteria. None of this lunchtime exchange happens in English, by the way. I sit across from them and watch their eyes to see what part of my tray they are talking about and how I should respond next. Fortunately, for the most part, Bitna and I are treated like lepers in the staff cafeteria and we can usually eat in peace, so I'm not being scrutinized (at least not so obviously) and Bitna doesn't have to explain my barbaric behaviors.

Typical lunch in the cafeteria: (actually, a couple of these were taken on Fridays, when the cafeteria does a "special menu" - the drinks aren't typical. The white blob in the middle picture, top right compartment, is sweet potato salad with carrots and corn).

It is so hard to comprehend that I've been teaching at this school for almost 10 months. We just started a new school year (the Korean school year ends in February and begins in March) and I have said goodbye to 160 students and hello to 160 new 1st graders (high school sophomores) the new students are much smarter in English than last year's 1st graders, now 2nd graders. When I introduced myself with the usual "Dan-YELL" and it only took them 3 practices instead of 7, I knew they were special. It's actually a lot more fun having students who understand what I'm saying and it's great to not lose my train of thought because I'm talking so slow. I think we're going to have fun together in the next couple months. If only I could remember their names. I do remember one kid's name- he introduced himself as "Handsome Guy" because his name is "Han Sun Gyun" or something like that. I was impressed with myself for catching him being funny because after 100 kids saying some kind of "Yun Song Park", it was all I could to not be totally spaced out.

Fortunately, it's warming up in Korea and I think spring is right around the kimchi pot. That's a relief - this winter was chilly. It's not that outside was actually too frigid, it's just that everyone treats the hallways as part of the outdoors (as in - windows and doors open) and the classrooms and teacher's room are the only things that get heated. The insulation is non existent, so nothing actually stays warm and if you sit anywhere near a window, you will freeze. It was a weird couple months - November/December through February - teachers were coming to school to sit in the teacher's room (I'm the only one with my own classroom - but I usually do my work on my English computer in the teacher's room anyways) and brought blankets and wore their ankle-length down jackets with finger-less gloves to type on their computers. I didn't go quite that far, but I wore cuddle duds under my pants everyday from the first of November until March. I also wore the same top all 5 days of the week, because I never took off my jacket so no one ever saw what was underneath. I did purchase my own personal tea kettle, which probably saved me. I drank anywhere between 12-20 cups of tea per day, which kept me warm at my desk but also sabotaged my comfort because almost immediately I'd have to go outside (in the hallway) to get to the bathroom (that was of course not heated) and then upon returning be cold enough that I'd turn the tea kettle on to do it all over again. My classroom was a real treat - I had the heat on full blast during the first couple weeks of December but they must have gotten the heating bill because they sent 3 men in to put on a timer, which took all of them a total of 3 days. So from the end of December and even now, my large, non-insulated English room's heater turns on at 19 degrees Celsius (66F) for 5 minutes at a time and takes a ten minute break to turn on again for another 5 minutes. I get a lot of complaining from my students so I taught them how to say that utilities are expensive and the school is cheap. Soon enough the cafeteria will start serving their chicken soup to "cool the body down" and I'll be complaining about the A/C not turning on.

It really does seem surreal that my time at the school is running out. Each one of my classes has at least one kid who is a little bit sharper than the rest and makes me laugh - as soon as one can understand humor in English, it seems like my work is done. When that happens, I am literally thinking in my head: THESE KIDS ARE HILARIOUS. THIS IS AMAZING. I WISH THEY KNEW HOW FUNNY THEY WERE. And of course, sometimes I am screaming the other sentiment: I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU JUST SAID BUT I CAN TELL THAT YOU JUST MADE FUN OF ME AND I WILL MAKE FUN OF YOU IN ENGLISH AND LITERALLY NO ONE ELSE WILL UNDERSTAND AND I WILL LAUGH AND IT WILL BE FUNNY. In those moments, I'm not so high on life. But, the latter seconds are more rare, and even then they're fun in their own right. I know I'll laugh later at the kids who knocked my coffee mug over but were too shy to tell me.

In the meantime, Tyler has had a pretty busy schedule at work since he's going through an upgrade. I haven't seen him during the week in a while, but I know he's coming home because the food I cook disappears slowly. Next weekend, I'll be heading up to Seoul for a Fiendette girl's weekend aka "Pink Flag". I'm super excited to be in Seoul for a whole weekend and to get some good shopping in!

Thanks for stopping by - maybe next time I update I'll be able to say where our next assignment will be!

23 February 2015

playing catch up

Thanks, grandma, for reminding me it's been since November since I've posted. Shame on me!

I promise we've been busy - Tyler got home from a month long trip to Singapore and our December flew by. Before we knew it, we were celebrating our first Christmas away from family and ringing in our 6th new year together, and our 5th wedding anniversary. I've had time off from school in January and February, so Tyler was also able to take the same days off so we could travel. January took us to the temples of Cambodia and the islands of the Philippines. Last week we skied the most powder we've ever seen, it only took a trip to Hokkaido, Japan for that to happen! I've also been told that's all Tyler wants for his birthday, so it sounds like I'm off the hook for March! ;)

I've also finished a school year with the Korean high school and will be starting their next on March 2nd. It was entertaining attending their graduation ceremony, of course I didn't understand any of it, but it was a neat experience. This drum performance was done by a few of the special education students.


It's hard to believe that I have 3 short months left teaching and then we'll be off to Minnesota for Little Brother's wedding! I will also be able to stay for Maria's on June 20th - it was so thoughtful of them to plan their weddings around me ;)

Here are some favorite pictures of our last couple months: (and thanks to my awesome uploading skills, they are in no particular order)

We saw a crocodile farm in Cambodia. The babies are the ones that get sold - these mamas and papas are just there for breeding until they get too old (what happens then, I don't know)
My little brother got engaged to his sweet girlfriend, Taylor. We can't wait for her to be a part of the family and I am so excited for their wedding this June!
This was outside a market on our bike tour in Cambodia. A herd of water buffalo had just passed through which explains the...brown stuff...
This was probably the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. We were on a remote island in the Philippines on our sailing trip and were absolutely amazed.
this was our home for 5 days. We sailed around the islands, camped out and didn't see any other tourists the entire time. We met amazing people and I still can't believe how lucky we were to go on this trip.
Tao Expeditions has a farm where they get all the produce for the boats - we stayed at the farm one night and were able to meet the founders and see what amazing work they've been doing for the local villages.
Tyler couldn't get over their cooking method - an old barrel fueled by bamboo.

This is a pretty good depiction of what the days looked like on the boat. There was a lot of reading and chatting.
Emerick, a crew member from the islands.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia at sunset
It took me until the last day to figure out what an awesome nap spot this was at the front of the boat.
We saw over 10 temples in two days in Siem Reap. And were always back in time for an afternoon of relaxing by the pool.
I couldn't get over this lady and her daughter, traipsing across the temple lawns with their rolly suitcases and taking pictures with her ipad.

Many, many tourists. Apparently January is (not) a good time to visit.
Tyler climbed the ladder to bring you this selfie of him and the sailboat.

On January 28, my sister gave me a nephew. He is Luke William and perfect in every way (says the person who doesn't have to get up in the middle of the night with him). It kills me I won't get to hold him until the end of May, but hopefully by then he will appreciate all the toys I'll bring him and I'll win favorite Auntie.
Ikea Seoul opened in December so I ventured there one day with a couple friends and baby Jack. After driving in the wrong direction for twice as long as it takes to get there, we were finally enjoying the Scandinavian furniture and Swedish meatballs.
This boy at one of the temples was too cute to not take a picture of.
We walked through the local market on our bike tour outside of Siem Reap and saw a lady in the beginning stages of making coconut milk.
We also watched this lady eat her corn on the cob with the same dirty hands with which she was handling all that raw meat.
This lady was grinding up all the parts of fish people don't usually buy and sells it like ground beef. I think we have something similar in the form of hot dogs, right? :)
This was the little town of Coron, where we left on our sailing trip.
This was our little hut on our last night, tucked up in the trees. The mosquito net was a lifesaver and those mattresses were way more comfortable than they look.
My students made Valentines and these were my favorites, especially "I wish you healthy body"
We crossed "skiing in Japan" off the bucket list. The first two days there was so much snow and wind that most of the lifts were shut down. We still enjoyed the fresh powder, though!
This is not a great picture of it but this was literally the most snow I have ever seen in my life.
There is a cozy bar behind this refrigerator door. We both had to hunch way over to get through.

Taking a little longer lunch break than Tyler...

Our dinner view was half street and half snow :)
On the 3rd day, the snow stopped, the sky cleared and we were finally able to see the beautiful volcano that was in front of us the whole time.

I think that about sums it up! Our winter here in Korea has been cold - it's been several years since we've experienced a real winter and it has definitely taken getting used to. We reached our 1 year mark of living here on February 10 and while I feel like we've missed a lifetime of occasions back home (including my sweet grandpa's 90th birthday in December), the last year has gone by so fast. We will be finding out our next assignment soon and before we know it, summer will be here. I am so thankful to be surrounded by friends who make Korea feel a lot more like home. Of course, this would be a millions times harder without skype and facetime. 

Thanks for reading!

17 November 2014

the 5 year report: issue 1

It's hard to imagine Tyler and I will soon be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary. I don't think 5 years is necessarily earth-shattering or an Everest-sized milestone. If nothing else, I am saddened by how fast the last 5 years have gone.

A few months ago over a skype date, my dad said something that I still get choked up about. I don't remember the story exactly, but he was on his milk route and saw a young mom getting her two young daughters out of the car as they went on with whatever activity that keeps families busy. In his mind, he saw his young wife and new mother helping my older sister and me get out of the car, which tugged at his sensitive heart. It is a common sentiment that kids grow up too fast, and one that I share from the opposite side. We truly grew up fast.

I would love to strangle the "wise" people who tell young adults that the best is just ahead. "Just wait until you graduate", they say. "You have no idea how hard it is being in a relationship," pleading for sympathy. And if they're happy: "Your life really isn't complete until you have someone to share it with, let me set you up with someone!" As if they have found their missing link, and now whatever they have must be what everyone else needs. And then you are actually in a relationship and the "advice" shifts, "Just wait until you have your first fight, then you'll really know if it'll work out." "I miss dating, life is so much simpler before you're married." And then you get married and you're finally on the same playing field: you grew up, you are sharing your life with someone and you are a "real adult" with shared bills and a standing date every Friday night. Like a slap, you realize you haven't arrived yet. Now you need kids. Strangers and family alike will tell you when, why, and how much you need them. And it's not going to stop there. As soon as you create and birth a miracle that is the perfect combination of both of you, you're going to get the "Is so-and-so going to get a little brother or sister soon?" (Am I right, parents??) Before you know it, your schedule changes from middle of the night feedings to play dates to cub scouts to track meets. You blink and all of a sudden, you're my dad telling his grown daughter via video chat on the other side of the world that his nostalgic flashback confirms that life truly, seriously goes by fast.

My story isn't unique or earth-shattering. I fall into the ever-cliche "10 years ago, if you were to tell me I'd be here, I would have laughed you out of town" category. When I met Tyler I had moved away from my family to "start my own life", as if space were the only requirement. I was young (I still am, thank you very much) and was somehow surviving on a diet of rice, popcorn, and diet coke. I was barely (if at all) making rent with my random babysitting jobs while running around Colorado Springs with my pathetic resume to every company who might hire a recent college grad with no experience right after the '08 crash. Read: I went on countless interviews over the course of two months and finally landed a less than dreamy job as a cashier for a catering company. I didn't have any options other than saying "yes", but as I set up the salad bar and scrubbed dishes for $9/hour, I knew I was definitely thinking of something better when I had packed up my life to start a new one.

Fortunately, I had a great group of girlfriends, a few of whom introduced me to a group of cute boys who were in their last semester at the Air Force Academy. You know where this is going.

Tyler entered my picture at a Superbowl party. He was wearing a Steelers hat, which he admitted was picked up off the street. I was cheering for the good guy, Kurt Warner, and his underdog team. I was way too into the game, which proved futile for many reasons.

A couple months passed with bowling nights, game nights and trips to the always wonderful Golden Bee at the Broadmoor Hotel and I had grown rather fond of these guys in their final stretch before moving on to better things. I had also counted the register at work wrong a million times, but that was probably my sub conscience reminding me that my work situation was supposed to be better. I was dog sitting for the family I babysat for, and had gotten a voicemail from Tyler (this was back when voicemails scared me and I avoided listening to them like the plague). I listened anyways. In his message, he said he had a little bit of free time and asked if I wanted to meet him for coffee.

This is why I don't listen to voicemails. You find out that the guy you had been flirting shamelessly with for the past couple months had picked up on it and the next thing you know, you're married and have picked up your life 5 times in 5 years. Stay away from voicemails.

I had a minor freak out and took the dog on another walk. When I finally called him back, I had missed my coffee window and dodged what I know now would have been a very delightful bullet. Thankfully, he asked again and I didn't say no to a casual lunch date after church. I don't know why I was so nervous, besides the fact that I couldn't remember the last time I had been on a real date, or eaten a real meal, thankyouverymuch9dollarsanhour. I don't know what I thought our little date would be like, but I found myself more comfortable and relaxed than I had been in a long time. I don't remember covering every factual area of our lives, or having awkward pauses like the ones chronicled in movies or tv shows. When we parted company, I called my friend Waverly and said something that she probably could have guessed was coming, "Well, I wasn't sure if I liked him before, but now I guess I might have a crush on him."

After a couple more dates, I remember feeling like I should fill my mom in. I told her what a great guy he was, but that she didn't need to worry-it wasn't going to get serious, since he would be moving in just a few months. After a few more dates, I called my dad. I told him that I thought it was getting a little more serious than what I had told my mom. I wasn't sure how he would react. But, the same dad who had pulled my sister's boyfriend out of choir in high school to take him out to lunch and the dad who drove three hours to my freshman dorm after I announced I had spent tuition money on a tongue ring, asked simply and ever so gracefully, "Does he make you happy?"

As we were nearing Tyler's graduation from the Academy, I called him from my balcony, even though we had just seen each other. I had avoided the whole "what would life in the military look like" talk because I knew once I found out, I would have to make a decision. I don't know how I decided I was ready for that talk or how I got the guts to ask him, but I did. When he told me, it didn't scare me and I felt relieved. I always thought God had it in His plans that I would marry a Pastor and I would spend my life like my mom: leading VBS and planning potlucks. I didn't necessarily decide that Tyler was "it" after that talk, but I certainly decided that he very well could be. How could I have possibly known that a little fling with the cute wanna-be pilot would turn into so much more? 

There was a rough patch in the beginning of our relationship that lasted all of an hour. Tyler and I had plans which got cancelled at the last minute (a little foreshadowing of my future life as a military spouse?) so a couple friends and I went downtown to talk about it. I remember saying that I could "easily" end our relationship and not feel like I had invested too much. I thought about my life without Tyler and didn't like it. I knew immediately that not only was my life better with Tyler, but I was better with Tyler.

As I have found myself the recipient of more cancelled plans and even more waiting, I know more and more how much he is worth it and how lucky I am to be kept waiting.

Be hesitant to blink. Life goes by so slowly until we see that each day was worth so much more than the 24 hour limit time allowed. I know my dad would tell you to keep your eyes open as long as possible, and even now, as I live each day, I see exactly what he means.

**and for those of you who noticed the title and are curious: I'm not sure how many "issues" there will be in this "series" but I would love to share some of my fondest memories of the past 5 years, and hope you don't mind.**

10 November 2014

Veteran's Day: Are our grandfathers proud?

I wrote this last year on Veteran's Day and while my perspective has shifted a little after living in a foreign country, these thoughts still resonate with me, which is why I have chosen to share them again.


Like many people my age, both of my grandfathers served our country in the second World War. I knew this from a very young age and while we learned about WWII in history class, wrote papers and took tests on it, I am sad to say that we were never taught what that meant for us or how WWII affects us now, 70+ years later.

It's hard to put ourselves in the shoes of our grandparents, mostly because we're comfortable with the "world" we've built around ourselves. We're okay with liking (or not liking) what we have now and not thinking about the struggles it took for us to acquire those things, tangible or not. A military draft and a population on food, water and gasoline rations isn't something anyone is anxious to repeat. But do we really understand why an occasion so grim will never again be a reality?

We can never understand what it was like to have an entire country's population of young men be swept away in a sea of shaved heads and somber uniforms. We can never understand the anxiety of reaching an otherwise special birthday and instead of celebrating, being ushered away into the confusion and struggle. Now, in a time where we can't imagine not having instant updates or the latest facts at our fingertips, can never really understand the motivation behind leaving work, school, families and lovers for a war where the country wasn't allowed to vote on, (or make a trending topic on twitter) and it's lawmakers weren't permitted to stand behind the battle lines with gavels and lawsuits. We can never understand fighting at such a young age and being blessed to live a full life, all the while watching the world become bigger, better, and yet infinitely more cruel.

We can never understand the how and why 70 years ago, but we'd like to think we're a part of the end result. We'd like to think we can imagine donning a uniform if the end result is the freedom to enjoy a church service on Sunday. We can imagine it in the beauty of a sunset, or the joy of a new baby. We can see the reasoning standing at the edge of The Grand Canyon, or traveling through the Smoky Mountains. We can comprehend the desire to forever feel so serene when we wake up and enjoy the sunrise over a lake with a warm cup of coffee. It's easy to see why there was little questioning in moments so peaceful and majestic.

It's easy to see why our grandfathers stood up to fight for something that was already there, to defend their title of the greatest country on Earth. But what about what was to come in the future? What about the things they didn't know they were defending? The changes in industry, the shutdowns in government?

I am curious to know. Is this world, 2014, what our grandfathers fought for? Did our grandfathers leave their families and watch their friends die in battle for this? Were they really hoping to save a world that would later reject them, as young men, in favor of equality? Were they glad to have risked their lives and their futures for a world of sexting, scandal, immigration battles and political correctness?

They might not have known what they were fighting for, or what their bravery would mean. But we can ask ourselves something more relevant: are they proud of the country and the world they fought so hard to save?

Are our grandfathers proud of what our food industry has done to our health industry? Or what our health industry has done to our democracy? Are they proud that our clothes are no longer being made down the street, employing our taxpayers but in some (now, not-so-distant) Asian country, employing child slaves? Are they proud that they stood up to fight for women who would later murder their own children? Are they proud that the military is now, although well-loved, used as a ploy in lawmakers' and politicians' conniving games?

We may have a hard time connecting the dots with what our grandfathers did long before we arrived, but it's not hard to see that without the sacrifices they willingly made, our lives would look nothing as they do today. They did not fight so hard and risk so much so that their country can dismiss them and their ideals easily as outdated and old fashioned.

A mere "thank you" is not enough. We are very much past "thank you".

Instead of verbalizing it, let's show our gratitude. Let's rebuild a world our grandfathers not only fought to save, but would be proud of what they fought for.


After teaching English in a high school in South Korea for 6 months, I am even more proud of the country our grandfathers defended. When we first got here in February, I thought it incredible that every head was not only one or two heads shorter than me, but that each one was covered in dark, straight hair. It was like looking down at a sea of black, bobbing lava. I thought how unique it was that everyone was the same. Now, after being immersed in Korean culture (as much as only knowing a handful of words will allow me), there are things I don't care for about the "uniqueness" of Koreans being, in large part, the same. And I think how amazing it will be, when I finally do make it back on home soil, to see not only varying heights but also the beautifully different hair color! And surely you realize that I'm not just talking about how Americans look, but who they are, what they know, where they travel, what they eat, everything. This is not a Korea-bash, by any means. Merely an example of how quickly we take for granted the things we are so used to seeing and having.

How proud I will be to tell my children what our grandfathers did for them.

17 October 2014

natural hair washee

It's a quiet afternoon at school. The students have left for the weekend after a few days of seemingly intense midterms and I am prepared to start classes as usual next week after a few weeks of a different schedule. While sometimes there is a deafening realization that our two worlds are not so far apart, sometimes I feel as though Korea might as well be Mars.

It seems to be a pattern of mine that I agree to do things I'm not entirely confident of what they are. Yesterday about mid morning, another teacher (who I had met through my former co-teacher) came to my desk and asked if I would like to make "natural hair washee" that day at 1:30. I said that I would love to, but I would have to leave school at 3:00 for an event I was helping to plan on base. She said "no problem" and at 1:30, I walked to her room, a little excited that maybe Korean was into pure/natural/organic products. There were 5 other women who joined us, (and a man who was in the room, I was told, to talk in English to me but he sat on his phone the whole time and never actually spoke) and before I knew it, we sat around a table that had a handful of bottles with scientific-looking labels on them. 

And then we were told to stand in a circle, still around the table. Of course, nothing is in English except for the occasional single word that someone spits out and the rest of the women giggle about, like "stand", or "happy". Before I knew it, we were circling our arms and stretching. And then we were breathing deeply and listening to soothing music. Finally, after everyone seemed like they had gotten the kinks worked out, we sat down . We watched a little bit of a slideshow presentation that had clouds and the words "heart" and "happy" and "body" on different slides. Then the host brought a ball of yarn to the table and it was tossed to me first, while she held on to a piece of the string (an activity I recognize! wahoo!) The only words that indicated what I was to say were "make happy, you" Assuming I was supposed to say what makes me happy, I said being outside, and cooking (the real crowd pleaser) then I tossed the ball across the circle, while holding on to a portion. Each person took their turn and spoke for at least a minute. Fortunately, someone was always able to summarize what they said in one word, of course followed by giggling. "Reading" "Watch movies" "Eating" were a few words I was able to pick up on. When everyone was finished, we all lifted the web of yarn high above our heads (obviously that meant my end was drastically higher, so the kink I put in my elbow didn't go unnoticed)

We were officially cleansed and "happy" and after watching some sort of science slideshow that was there to prove to us that what we were about to mix together was healthy for the environment, we were ready to make our "natural hair washee", which I told them is called "shampoo" (oooooohhhhhhhhh. ahhhhhhhhhh. mmmmmmmmmmm. shamppooooo.) We had a LONG list of ingredients that included both light and dark colored syrups and liquids (and one powder) and while I have never made shampoo before, I don't remember recalling that "natural" would mean that many ingredients (or with such strong odors) to clean one's hair. After just a couple steps, we brought our science glass cylinders over to a burner and heated it so the powder would melt. Then we brought it back to the scale and measured the rest of the ingredients, after each one stopping to reset the scale. The last three ingredients I recognized-lavendar, rosemary, and tea tree oil. Thank goodness! After this, we bottled the mixtures into 8 bottles and labeled them. 

We watched a little more of a slideshow and then the host brought out snacks-tangerines, dried apples, dried sweet potatoes and crackers (bought from "Coastcoaa-have I heard of it?"  "hmmm...no...OH! 'Costco!' yes!" followed by much more giggling) At that point, I realized I was 15 minutes past my departure time, so I excused myself and said "thank you" a million times. When I got back up to my desk, all three of my co-teachers asked how I liked making the shampoo. I said it was very fun and interesting, which was not too much of a stretch. It likely would have been a little more interesting if I knew a little bit more about the purpose and why it felt like a little yoga/meditation/science lesson. But fun, and a great break from sitting at the computer while the students slaved over their midterms. 

And while I sit here, after lunch and coffee off campus with a few of the same ladies, sipping a hot beverage with scoops of a fermented fruit that grows in the front yard of school, quince, (given to help find the voice I lost yesterday), I feel as if this is, indeed, one of those moments Korea is more like Mars. And I welcome the weekend, where I can do regular chores, cook Mexican food, and not smell kimchi or be worried that I will accidentally eat octopus or seahorse.