You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2008.

By the way, today marked my monthiversary with this crazy country. More on that some other time. While reading my favorite newspaper from around the globe this evening, I came across a great editorial in the Jerusalem Post. Granted, it’s yet another editorial about the demise of print journalism. We’ve heard it all before, far too many times to count. We’ve seen friends who are just starting in the business get laid off after a year or two. We’ve read the angryjournalist rants. And we’ve watched the old-timers take buyouts, while silenting praying to ourselves that their jobs will open up for us, the cheap(er) labor.

But back to this editorial. Now, I love JPost for several reasons. First of all, I have friends who have worked there in the past, and every JPoster I’ve met over the past few years has been absolutely wonderful and helpful. Secondly, the main newsroom in Jerusalem is cluttered, dirty and slightly chaotic–i.e. my type of place. And lastly, because they ended the editorial with this:

Ours is perhaps the luckiest of generations. We can relish the traditional newspaper, even as we reconcile ourselves to the technologies that are replacing it.”

Mmm, sigh…I suppose that if I’m going to eventually enter this dying industry, I should probably begin to learn how to use the Internet for things other than watching the entire West Wing series online…

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An 11-year old girl in my airplane class wearing a shirt that said, “B is for Biotch”

Even though North Korea is threatening to preemtively “reduce everything opposed to the nation and reunification to debris.”

I’m just posting now because several people have messaged me over the past hour or so, worried about my safety and well-being. I do appreciate your concerns, but short of actual invasion of my adopted country, I will not be coming home (unless you tempt me with something awesome, such as a lifetime supply of free mac and cheese).

I have realized, however, that unrest and turmoil seem to be fixtures in my travels.

January 2005: Palestinians vote in their first elections in nine years. I arrived the day of, and stayed in the same hotel as Jimmy Carter, who was in Israel just to be there for the elections (and annoy me), though I think he checked out the day we checked in. No comment on how he checked out politically decades ago…

December 28, 2005: Katyusha rockets rock the town of Kiryat Shmona, in the north of Israel. Days later, I spent an afternoon eating great falafel and shopping in a large shuk there. Also, I bought a really cute bag that day, which I still have.

January 4, 2006: Ariel Sharon suffers career-ending stroke. I was on a bus coming into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and really had to pee but we were stuck in traffic the entire way. After returning to our kibbutz hotel that night, my friends and I spent the night watching the news, crying and discussing what this could mean for Israel. We had no idea what would come that summer.

October 2006: Kidnap plot concocted by Islamic extremists in the Czech Republic. Set to occur during the High Holidays, Jews were to be kidnapped from a synagogue in central Prague and subsequently murdered. I spent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur under the watchful eyes of the excessive police presence in Prague’s Jewish Quarter.

November 2006: Riots rock Budapest, Hungary. Despite multiple warnings from our program director not to go to Hungary, I spent a long weekend in Budapest mid-November, when the worst of the troubles had already subsided. Well, en route to a large public bathhouse, a friend and I got on the wrong bus, and somehow wound up on a bridge over the Danube, right in the middle of the protest. I got some great shots on my camera; unfortunately, my beloved Canon met its demise the next day and never recovered. And so all of my Hungary pictures are lost to the wind.

On the plus side, I think I managed to avoid trouble for the better part of this year’s travels. My third trip to Israel went relatively smoothly, FOR ONCE. The only riots I got caught up in while in Europe in June were the Eurocup ones, and they were great fun.

And so now I’m in Korea, a couple of hours from the DMZ. Please don’t worry about me–stuff like this happens all the time, and as my overpriced Hadaya ring says, gam zeh ya’avor. This too shall pass.

OK, not my actual ring.  My Hadaya ring is on my finger though.  It's just dark and late and I don't want to hook up my camera and everything.

OK, not my actual ring. My Hadaya ring is currently on my right index finger. It's just dark and late and I don't want to hook up my camera and everything.

I think I’m going to start posting some of my favorite English names every week, mostly because I crack up every Monday afternoon, post-SEV immigration.

Some of the highlights this week:

Tom Cruise

Michael Jordan

David Beckham

Cindy Crawford

Mickey Mouse

Obama

Amy Poehler

Sarah Palin

Eve Ning

Wu Tang

I gave my group of nameless kids options before they hit immigration. Those options? Angela, Pam, Karen, Holly, Michael, Dwight, Jim and Andy. I wasn’t the only one with that idea, apparently. I saw another team of kids, all with Office names. Next week I need a new group of names. Any ideas? I’m thinking 1970s divas. Or members of the Kennedy clan. Or world leaders. Or give them the names of the baseball players from A League of Their Own.

One of the cool things to do is name kids after staff members. Last week, one of the kids was named after a teacher named Mark Wilson. The immigration officers thought it was funny, and so this week there are at least seven Mark Wilsons here, both male and female. Expect that number to grow infinitely as the weeks progress.

By the way, here is a picture I took last week of Mark Wilson and Mark Wilson. But who is the real one!?

Well, Carly Simon I suppose I am not. Also, no horse of mine won. I have terrible luck at horse races, which probably explains why I don’t really enjoy going to them. Though a Maryland resident for four years, I avoided Preakness every May. I blame this on my early experiences at the Saratoga Race Track (hot, humid upstate New York summers, the time the power went out at the track for hours, etc.). My mother and sister love it; however, I cannot say the same. I think my favorite part of going to the race track is getting dressed up and taking cute pictures. My mother and sister could care less about that and just want to make some money off the horses. And so, yet again, I am the black sheep of the Weiss family. The well-dressed black sheep.

Anyway, last weekend I went to the Seoul Race Course, site of some of the 1988 Olympic events, with some friends, and I had a surprisingly good time, to which I credit the warm weather, good company and the free-flowing wine that we smuggled in and drank out of dixie cup-sized containers. The track itself, in addition to having gorgeous views, was gigantic (seating for 40,000, I believe. How ’bout that, Byrd Stadium at Chevy Chase Field!).

Inside was floor after floor of squatting, spitting Korean men watching the races. We ended up spending about half the time in the “foreigners’ box” before moving outside to get a closer view. The foreigners’ box, in contrast to the rest of the area for watching the races, was awesome and had extremely comfortable seats, not to mention a ridiculous view of the mountains beyond the track.

You would think that because I grew up in a family that loves going to the track, I would know how to, by the age of 21, pick some decent horses. Well, wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong! I suck at it. In fact, I’ve gotten so bad at picking horses according to their stats that I have resorted to picking my ticket according to horse name. Which would explain why I didn’t win a single thing at Saratoga this summer (damn you, Crazy Cat Lady…I had such a good feeling about you!). It would also explain why I didn’t win a single thing here in Seoul. Only a couple people I was with won anything, so I wasn’t the only loser.

Horses doing their thang...losing my money

Horses doing their thang...losing my money

Suited up Asian dudes waiting for the next race

Suited up Asian dudes waiting for the next race

Cool horse-esque design mowed into the grass outside the track

Cool horse-esque design mowed into the grass outside the track

The weather was really nice, and the company very good, so even though I left the race course a few thousand won poorer, my previous disdain for the races had vanished, and while I’m not sure I’ll go back to this course, I’ll probably give Saratoga another shot. That is, provided my family looks cute.

Speaking of looking cute, we worked up quite an appetite at the track and then went out for Indian food in Dongdaemun. After dinner, while walking back to the subway, we came across a sidewalk vendor selling clothing and shoes. Having been blessed with Asian-sized feet, I had to stop and browse. Browsing turned into buying when I spotted a pair of gorgeous red pumps, which I snatched up for 3,000 won (around 2 bucks).

These shoes were made for walkin'...or not walkin', they seem pretty uncomfortable for long-haul days

These shoes were made for walkin'...or not walkin', they seem pretty uncomfortable for long-haul days

No idea where I’ll wear them, but I’m sure there will be an occasion eventually…

Which totally blows. I hate being sick, it’s the most miserable feeling in the world. And after the six-week flu/bronchitis saga that threatened to ruin my last semester of college, I’m extremely worried that it’s back with a vengeance.  But for now, I’m in bed, eating real food (well, Outback. It’s as close as one can get here.) and drinking lots of water. Oh, and uploading pictures!

Last weekend we were invited out to dinner by our friend Gabe, who has been in Seoul for almost a year and is the resident restaurant aficionado here at SEV. He took us to Apgujeong to a restaurant called Mercado, a Brazilian all-you-can-eat steakhouse that only costs you 25,000 won. That’s less than $20 in America, with the way the markets have been going. We were even given free Coke and Sprite because we had to wait about five minutes for our table. Here’s how this place works:

They give the table family-sized portions of rice, potato salad, regular salad and a weird pico de gallo-type dish. Then the waiter starts to bring out the steak on skewers and platters. Every few minutes, a different kind of meat comes out.

Top choices of the night: meat wrapped in bacon, giving it a smoky taste, and steak topped with a ton of garlic. Both nearly melted in my mouth. Most memorable dish: duck heart. Erin, David and Karen were the only ones brave enoguh to try it. More power to them, but I’ll stick with my cow (and occasionally pig, apparently). It was described it as “really fatty” (Erin), “not bad” (Karen) and “almost good,” (David) so I don’t think I’ll be trying duck heart anytime soon.

I ate myself into what can only be described as a food coma, yet somehow managed to summon the energy to hightail it to Itaewon with David and Gabe to check out a hotel bar.

Hotel bar actually sounds really dive-y, which this truly wasn’t. The hotel is set up on top of a hill and overlooks the city. The views were absolutely astounding.

View of Seoul from the hotel

View of Seoul from the hotel

Unfortunately, the food coma got the best of all of us and we called it a night fairly early. Mercado was a great time, but I don’t think my stomach can handle too many trips there. That’s not to say, of course, that I won’t be going again. Some of my friends here have yet to go and want to experience the magic…

So like I said yesterday, this week has been physically and emotionally draining on most of the teachers.  Had this been my first week here, I think I might have quit.  We have a couple hundred students from an orphanage, and they are by far the most challenging students I’ve had since coming here.  They’re louder and more violent than the other students, and seem to have no fear.  I had Monday off, so I missed them on the first day, but have had them in my classes every day since.  I’ve seen blood and tears on a daily basis, and at one point wound up with someone else’s blood on me (I don’t know whose and I don’t know how).  On one hand, it’s very agitating because I hate not being in control, and with these kids, I feel like I have absolutely none.  Their English levels are so low and their desire to learn is about the same.  But on the other hand, none of this is really their fault.  They’re angry and hurt and they don’t know why.  Most of the kids who act out are doing so because they’ve been incredibly starved for attention their entire lives.  It’s Psych101.  I just wish I knew how to deal with them in a more positive way.

That’s really it.  The past few days have been crazy and emotional in terms of the work stuff.  Tomorrow is our Halloween celebration, for which all teachers are required to dress up.  I know I said I was going to be Carmen Sandiego, but the costume was too difficult to pull together (I really just couldn’t find the coat) and so I’ll be going as a school-appropriate (read: not slutty) tiger this year.  Infinitely less fun than Carmen, I know, but that just means that I have a whole year to find a hot red jacket.  Halloween 2009, look out!

Well, I’m not blogging in earnest, at least not tonight.  We’ve had a group of about 250 orphans here this week in addition to the kids from regular schools.  We’re all physically and emotionally drained and looking forward to the weekend, when these kids will leave and we get a whole new batch to celebrate Halloween with.

Like a said, a real update will come tomorrow (my tomorrow, not yours.  I don’t really know what day it is anywhere but here anymore), so stay tuned!

Several times since coming to SEV, I’ve taught Song.  In Song, which is a group activity, kids from 3-7 teams listen to a song and try to fill in the missing lyrics on a worksheet we give them.  You know that song “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder?  Yeah, call me uncultured, but I didn’t until I began teaching Song.  Now I’ve placed a temporary moratorium on it.  In my classes, we play a lot of ABBA, which is cool, and Westlife, which I had also never heard of before coming here.  Since last week, I have had two songs stuck in my head.  The first is ABBA’s “I Have a Dream.”

I’m not even a huge ABBA fan (my knowledge prior to seeing Mamma Mia! was limited to “Dancing Queen”) but I like this song because it fits with my life right now.  I’m at the point where I know where I’ll be for the next year, but past that, I haven’t a clue.  The future is a blank slate, and while it does feel like at times I’m just pushing through darkness, I know I’ll end up where I need to be.

The second song that won’t seem to go away is British sensation Westlife’s “My Love.”  I admit to being a boy-band fan in my heyday (after all, my first concert was *NSYNC) and even today, I don’t dislike the music.  In fact, I like the Backstreet Boys.  There, I said it.  I get made fun of for a lot of the music I like (I don’t care, Meatloaf is still wonderful, no matter what anyone says or how unattractive he gets.  And Willie Nelson is always on my mind.), and that’s fine.  I’ve accepted the fact that I like terrible music, even if my friends have not.

Which is why it’s not the worst thing that I have “My Love” stuck in my head.  Youtube won’t let me embed the video, but I’ve linked to it here, so you can see exactly what has been running through my head every waking second since Saturday (keep in mind that as I write this, it’s Tuesday night here).  I wish I had some deep thoughts regarding this song, but as is the case with so many teen-angst boy-band pop hits, no such luck.

I don’t have Song again until Thursday, so maybe, just maybe, ABBA and Westlife will take a day-long respite.

And if you’re any sort of friend of mine, you do.

In fact, I had no idea there was a stabbing spree in Seoul today until I checked out CNN’s website a little while ago. To be fair, I wasn’t actually in Seoul at all today. Erin and I both had the day off, so we decided to go to a nearby suburb of Seoul called Suwon, which, according to Lonely Planet, has a great folk village. We went with our Canadian friends Mark and Jeanette, who have been here since July and hadn’t had the chance to make it there yet. Luckily, Suwon, despite being outside of Seoul, is accessible by subway, so the trip there was ridiculously cheap (less than $2 American each way), and there was a free shuttle to take us from the subway station to the folk village. The shuttle bus there was a regular Coach-style bus, but had the greatest decor. Check this out:

Erin enjoying the bus

Erin enjoying the bus

No joke, I sort of felt like I was in Aladdin. When we got there, I snapped out of my Disney moment and focused on the task at hand-finding some food. We ended up at a Korean restaurant inside the village that served up halfway-decent food and wasn’t pricey at all. I got bibimbap, which is a vegetable and rice dish. Bibimbap is served in a really hot bowl that doesn’t ever seem to cool down, which means that in order to keep the rice from burning, you have to constantly stir the food around. It was really good, especially with some chili sauce added in. Oh, and I tried kimchi, and–surprise surprise–totally hated it. Just don’t tell Anthony Bourdain!

My lunch, seconds before consumption

My lunch, seconds before consumption

After lunch, we walked around the folk village. I had assumed it was going to be a major tourist trap, but I was pleasantly mistaken–it was only sort of a tourist trap. The re-creations were really well-done and gave a pretty good depiction of what life was like in a Korean village centuries ago.

Display in the village

Your average centuries-old Korean kitchen

Really, really bizarre clay child.  Are his pants down?

Small clay statues of children dotted the garden

A LOT of bamboo

A LOT of bamboo

While there were some souvenir shops, a lot of the stalls were selling cool things at reasonable prices. Erin got a cute little tea set for about $15, and the girl in the shop even threw in a free clay spoon. My favorite part of the day was stopping by a stand where the guy was making “dragon’s beard,” wispy strings of honey no wider than a strand of hair, wrapped around a sweet nut mixture. I took a video of him working his magic:

The end result was delicious, although is sort of resembled a larvae

Dragon's beard deliciousness

Dragon's beard deliciousness

We walked around the folk village and checked out a bunch of recreated buildings, a few artisans and a couple of performances. My favorite was the see-saw girls, who jumped up and down on opposite ends of a see-saw, flinging the other high into the air each time.

I also liked the farmer’s dance show, though I have no idea why it’s called that. The dancers with streamers attached to their hats were fascinating. Throughout the show, they were jerking their heads from side to side, in time with the music and each other, as the ribbons danced around them.

The most impressive, though, was this guy:

Eventually we made our way back to Seoul, but not before taking advantage of the autumn leaves.

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

Fin.

Fin.