Monday, November 23, 2009

The Dirty 'Po, and a Lucky Break

This weekend, I went to Ben's hometown, Mokpo. Mokpo is a city on the Southwestern coast, and it's a great place to visit because it's big enough to have lots of stuff going on, but unlike sprawling Seoul and Busan, there's a couple of main drags where you can find pretty much everything. I got there around 9:45 on Friday night, and we met up with ETAs and ETA friends (I love meeting the local friends of ETAs all over Korea, we definitely have a great time when the circle expands!) before the exhaustion from a full day of teaching caught up with us.

On Saturday, Ben and Dan and I met at Ben's apartment (which could not be more conveniently located near the middle of town, so, bonus - we got to scope out some of his super cute students) to go through some music that we're going to play at Thanksgiving at the embassy. We're pretty bad at actually working on things, and they may be the only people on the planet as easily distractable as I am.

A List of "Rehearsal" Distractions:

-a rap song Ben recorded in college
-a pop song I wrote in 2002
-the video for TLC's "No Scrubs"
-a shower (that one was just Ben)

After that, we met up with Derek, JJ, and the Davids. We found them outside Dunkin' Donuts, fending off some extra-enthusiastic Jehovah's Witness-ing (in Korean, no less). Once they'd been thoroughly Watchtowered, and before I knew it, we'd decided to climb a mountain.

Mountain Climbing

If you're reading this blog, you probably know me. And if you know me, you know that while I would love to be the sort of outdoorsy, capable feminist icon who enjoys o'erleaping foreign landscapes in a single bound, I really, really hate hiking. My hating it and my being really, really bad at it is sort of a chicken/egg question, but either way, un-ideal.

To be fair, the mountain was pretty small, by Korean standards. And because this is Korea, it actually had stairs. It's pretty much the most friendly mountain you could imagine, and not only did the boys barely break a sweat, JJ, Ben, and David L actually climbed down and then up a different path so they could get to a different peak.

I get the whole different strokes for different folks concept, and I can understand how someone could get passionately invested in mastering the ukulele, or African folk art, or traditional Maori dance. But I seriously do not understand recreational hiking. Whatever the high is that people get from it, or whatever it is that people find enjoyable about it, it just isn't there for me, and never has been. Since, interesting tangent, this guy is my great-great-uncle (did I do the math on that one right, mom?), one might imagine that I'd have it in spades, but whatever the mountain climbing gene is, I ain't got it.

Add to that the fact that I was wearing ballet flats and carrying a dance bag filled with clothes for the weekend (+ hair straightener, makeup, and a book) to get the full effect. After he noticed the pained expression on my face, JJ chivalrously offered to switch bags with me, which definitely did make things easier. However, we were still, like, climbing a fucking mountain.

I tried to keep my whining to a minimum.

I did not succeed.

Fortunately, post-mountain climb we went to a Korean barbecue place where I could get a big bowl of steaming hot, delicious kimchi jigae (kimchi soup), warm up, and recover my dignity.

After a power nap (me) and a really, really bad movie (everyone else), we anted up and went out for the night. I'd tell you more, but it's probably one of those times where the story is better without the details - suffice it to say that I've received 4 text messages and 7 phone calls from a young man apparently named Jihoon, who I wouldn't know if I fell over him on the street.

Sunday Night in Gongju
On Sunday, Keely made an American thanksgiving meal for her host family in Gongju, and it was pretty great, considering the limitations of living in korea include (1) no turkeys (1) no oven (3) 1 kind of cheese (4) a small selection of familiar produce in smaller towns like Gongju. But mac & cheese? That I can get behind.

Also at the dinner was the revelation of my being Jewish, which came up in a conversation about holidays. Keelys host family speaks zero English, so the whole conversation was a mess anyway, but it was quite something. In Korea, you see, if people have heard of Jews or Judaism, the only thing they know about it is a few general facts about the Holocaust. So after I tried to explain the concept of a winter holiday other than Christmas, Keely's homestay father nodded, pressed his hands together in a small bow of respect, and said "the six hundred. Do you know?" Some translation help from Keely later, and it turns out that he's a little fuzzy on English numbers, but he's asking me whether I know about the Holocaust.
Also a guest at this event was Keely's 12-year-old friend, who, like my homestay sister, is way, way different than any American 12-year-old I know. She and her mother came after we'd finished, but Keely fixed her a plate and we all sat down for a pretty long chat. When they arrived, of course, I was introduced thusly:

Keely (in English): This is my friend Dara, she teaches at Chungnam Science High School.
Host Mom (in Korean): She's a Jew.

Ah, yes.

So last night, I got back to Daejeon around 10. When I asked why homestay dad wasn't home, it turned out that he was in a locked room all-nighter finishing writing the entrance exam for the high school where we teach. So I would have to get up at 6 to walk to the subway, to subway to the bus, and to wait to take the bus to school in time for work. Temperature in Daejeon at 6:30 this morning: 37 F

Even though I was tired from having a less than restful weekend, I couldn't fall asleep. At 1am, when I knew my alarm clock would ring in 5 hours, I turned out the lights, turned off the computer, and brought in the big guns - James Taylor's greatest hits album.
So when my phone woke me at 7am, an hour after my alarm should have woken me up, I was terrified. However, today, the gods have smiled on me. The phone call was from my coteacher, telling me that I didn't have to come in to school today because of the entrance exams.
I can't remember the last time I was so happy to have a day off from school. It was full-on snow day magic, without the snow.

I sunk back into the covers, still warm and waiting, and went back to sleep. The next time I woke up, I found that our puppy Chandi had found her way into my bed and was snuggled up next to my chest, happily cleaning her paws.

Best. Morning. Ever.

Well, now it's nearly 1:30, and one can only stay in one's room for so long. It's time to take this show on the road, go grab some belated brunch at the local kimbap joint, and head over to Maya Coffee (the only place I've found so far in Daejeon with free wifi) and work on grad school stuff.

My life is awesome.

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