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It was a tough week on many different levels, and I’m glad that it’s over. Between the week’s headlines, the orphans at school and family issues back in the States, I feel like I’ve been emotionally pulverized, just put in a blender and turned on high. If there is anything that I’ve learned this week, it is that the world can be cruel, ruthless, scary, punishing and unfair.

But deep down I think Anne Frank was on to something. I think that over the past week, we have all become more appreciative of what we’ve got. There is a silver lining in all of the pain and suffering that exists. We just need to find it.

On that note, upcoming in my life (and blog):

-a post about the hockey game I went to tonight

-our good friend Simone is coming to Seoul tomorrow and staying with us for a week as she heads back to California after working in South Africa for several months. Pictures and blog updates to come!

-lots and lots of cooking class this week-I think something like 14 classes of it over the next five days. But I’m not complaining–that class is great!

-a blog entry about the cute letters the kids write me. I’ve been stockpiling the best and taking pictures to put online over the past few weeks.

-Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (of last year’s Once) are coming to Seoul in January and I am so, so seeing them. From the time I wrote that last sentence half an hour ago until just now, I have been trying to find the clip of their Oscar performance, which I watched curled up on my couch in my apartment, reduced to tears and on the phone with Erin. Anyway, this is one of my favorite movies. Nothing beats Euro love, a killer soundtrack and an unsubtitled line that makes the movie (though I guess it does a better job of doing that when you know Czech…). Here’s that famous scene, complete with gaudy green and red translation:

-Winter camp teachers should be coming in the next couple weeks, which will be awesome. Fresh meaaaaaaaat!!

-contemplating getting a pair of UGGs. Because I am jappy. Well, maybe not. But my feet were freezing by the end of the hockey game, and that made me realize I need something to keep my fish-bitten feet warm in the coming months. Like UGG moccasins. Why? Because I’ve wanted moccasins for awhile. Let me be!

I started this post in November, and now it is December. Time flies when you’re living in the future, doesn’t it?


Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday, for a variety of reasons. One, when I was in college, it was the first time in several months that I got to go home and see my family and friends. Two, in addition to the traditional Turkey Day fare, birthday cake was always on the menu. Three, my favorite day of the year is Black Friday. Nothing makes me happier than walking through the Hudson Valley Mall, seeing all the holiday sales and listening to the Christmas music (Yes, I like Christmas music. I actually like everything about Christmas except for the day itself. Mostly because all my friends celebrate the holiday and I have nobody to play with.). Even after working two holiday seasons at Kingston’s Target, I find something about Black Friday to be absolutely magical. But maybe that’s just because I shop too often.

Thanksgiving outside of America? Totally different story. In Prague, my program had a dinner for us at a swanky hotel. After dinner, some friends and I went to see Borat on its opening night in the Czech Republic (fitting, no?). Aside from that, it was a normal day, classes and all. Oh, except for a drunk girl who threw up all over my bedroom floor and then kept me up until 3 a.m., four hours before I was supposed to meet my visiting family at the airport.

This year has been even more untraditional. After work, some of us went out for dinner. Since turkey is not native to Asia, we decided to forgo the traditional meal in favor of something a little more, eh, spicy. Yep, we had Thanksgiving dinner at On the Border. This should not surprise anyone who knows Erin’s love of Mexican food and her powers of persuasion.

While our dinner venue might not have been the most traditional, you can bet we went around the table and said what we’re thankful for. It’s that tradition that everyone loves and hates and loves to hate. I love it all the time, and posed the question to my dinner companions.

A week ago, I would have answered with the basics. I’m thankful for my friends, my family, for the opportunities I’ve had this year and for an easy transition into this post-graduate phase. I’m thankful for Kraft mac and cheese, the World Press Photo exhibit and the ability to watch shows illegally online while out of the country. I’m thankful for the travels I’ve been fortunate enough to have this year, for the weeks I studied in yeshiva in Israel last winter, for not dying in a plane crash and for having a great summer job. That would have been my answer last week.

But this week at work, we got about 150 students from the orphanage who sent us kids last month. The kids we have this week are a few years younger, but no less angry, loud, destructive or violent. At the end of one of my classes Tuesday, some of the kids I had just taught knocked down a classroom white board and a large wooden divider that took two teachers to be put back up. This was after 40 minutes of them running around screaming, kicking and throwing plastic food around the classroom. After another teacher and I got the big wooden thing back up, I walked into the office, sat down and the tears flowed. I cried. I actually cried. I don’t cry very often, and when I do, it’s usually about more important things (such as people dying or sad movies or the Sarah McLachlan/ASPCA commercial).

After lunch that day, when I went to get my kids, I went on a hate-filled diatribe about the orphans to one of the other teachers. I was so full of anger and rage that I don’t even remember what I said, but trust me, it wasn’t nice. He stared at me after I finished my rant, in shock that I had it in me to say those things about these poor kids. He said a few things in response, but this is what I can’t get out of my head: “Could you even imagine what one day is like for these kids? They don’t have anyone.”

I replayed his words over and over for the rest of the day. Lying in bed that night, I realized that when I said those things about the kids, I was so angry and frustrated and upset and I didn’t really know why. Was I mad at the kids, who can’t help the way that they are because they’ve truly been victimized by the system? Was I mad at my school, for letting these kids come here without giving us any training for dealing with them? Was I mad at myself, for the way I treated the kids when they didn’t act like all of the other kids we have here? I couldn’t answer those questions, and then I realized that the way I felt in that moment, that state of utter frustration and helplessness, that is what those kids feel every single day of their lives. My anger and unhappiness would pass when the bell rings and the kids are gone, but their anger stays with them all the time, wherever they are.

Paul’s words are echoing in my head as I type this. “They don’t have anyone.” They don’t have anyone. And so that is what I’m thankful for. Having someone. Well, having lots of someones. I’m not just thankful for my family and friends this year, I am thankful that they’re there when I need them and even when I don’t need them. I am thankful that, despite how it may feel otherwise at times, I am never actually alone in this massive, massive world. Even though I’m thousands of miles away from most of the people I truly love, they are with me and a part of me and everything I do.

On a timely note, I am also thankful that my friend Ariel, who is currently living in Mumbai and who I will hopefully be visiting this spring, is safe and unharmed after today’s events.

I hope you all have a good, meaningful Thanksgiving, wherever you are and whatever your plans may be. And to my dearest and only sister, you’re not an only child (no matter how much you wish) and should be thankful to have me (and my fantastic wardrobe), so unblock me from Facebook and AIM already! Oh right, hey world–my sister won second place in Marist College’s talent show…check it out:

I LOVE MY BIRTHDAY. And I get that not everyone loves that one day a year that serves as a reminder that they’re one year older, fatter, balder, etc. But a mon avis, birthdays rock. Especially my own. Having gone from 1999 (the Bat Mitzvah extravaganza that is, to this day, still agreed upon as the best of all of my Hebrew School classmates. OK, so there were only five of us. Whatever.) to last year without much birthday fanfare, I am now all about doing it up for this very special day.

I’ll be totally honest, when planning to move to Korea, I was a little bummed about my birthday. I was concerned that, since I would only have been here for eight-ish weeks, I wouldn’t have people close enough to celebrate with yet. I was also a little bummed about being away from my family and friends. Well, all my concerns were totally off-base. My birthday pretty much rocked.

Well, most of it did. This week, we’ve got about 150 kids from the same orphanage as last month. After one of my classes with them today, I cried. Actually cried. OK, that’s totally lame, I know. And I cried on my birthday. Who does that? I’ll talk about that later this week, though.

After work, eight of us went out to dinner at this great little restaurant in Suyu. The funny thing about restaurants in this country is that, unless a particular establishment is part of a chain, it doesn’t seem to have a name. So I don’t know the name, if there even is one, of the place we went to. My friends call it the chicken soup place, so let’s go with that. After you walk in, take your shoes off at the door and sit down on mats at low tables, the owner or his wife brings out a pot of water and a raw chicken. Then, right in front of you, they cut the chicken up into pieces using super sharp scissors and turn on the water, so the chicken actually cooks in front of your eyes. While it’s cooking, you have some veggies and spices to mix and eat. When the chicken is ready, you mix it with the spices. You can also mix it in with the water that the chicken was cooked in, which has by this point been turned into chicken broth. Every time we go, we always get noodles toward the end, to mix in with the chicken and broth. It’s a cure-all for the common cold, as well as anything else that might be ailing you.  I recorded a few videos at dinner, just to give you folks a taste of what I was tasting (ha, I’m so clever!).  And yes, I know that the video of Heather explaining how to mix the spices is sideways.  Sometimes (often) I forget that my camera should only be used to film things when held horizontally and not vertically.  My bad…

The owner cutting up AN ENTIRE RAW chicken

The owner cutting up AN ENTIRE RAW chicken

The pot after noodles were added

The pot after noodles were added

After dinner, we hit up Dr. Fish around the corner.  I’ve mentioned Dr. Fish here before, and have promised (threatened?) to take anyone who comes to visit (and will be making good on that promise when Simone comes from South Africa next week).  Turns out, Nick, Diana and Kate had never been to Dr. Fish before and were all down for a trip, so off we went!  I went a bit camera happy there, but if you saw Americans screaming and shrieking like my friends were, you would have done the exact same thing.

On the right, Diana is hesitant to stick her feet in.  Kate has already made the plunge.

On the right, Diana is hesitant to stick her feet in. Kate has already made the plunge.

Andddddd Kate starts laughing.  And by laughing, I mean squealing and squirming.  Welcome to Dr. Fish.

Andddddd Kate starts laughing. And by laughing, I mean squealing and squirming. Welcome to Dr. Fish.

I think the award for best reaction goes to James, who looks like he’s making fun of everyone in all of the Dr. Fish documentation, yet his frequent jolts, scrunched face and clenched jaw are all 100 percent real and unmocking.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get some of his initial reactions on video, but I got the second wave, which is almost as good.


Yeah, in case you couldn’t hear my disgusted, “I’m not even laughing!” in that last video, just know that I was incredibly let down by the tub with the bigger fish.  More toe suction does not equal a more ticklish feeling.  However, bigger fish DO equal cool pictures.



Oh, bonus about Dr. Fish: They forgot about us (though I’m not quite sure how you can forget about seven loud white people in a quiet cafe) and we got an extra fifteen minutes tacked on to the 20 that we coughed up 2,000 won (less than two bucks) for.

Post-Dr. Fish, we swung by Baskin Robbins to get me a birthday cake.  After two longs months of no cake, some BR was totally the right choice.  I wanted to get a cat cake (because a. such things exist at Korean Baskin Robbins and b. CATS CATS CATS), but the ones they had weren’t big enough to feed all of us, so I settled for a chocolate and vanilla ice cream cake.  In America, I feel like I would have bought the cake and then scrambled to get home to eat what was left of a melty mess.  In Korea, totally different game plan.  They put the cake into a large styrofoam box, then packed the box with dry ice and tied a bow on top.

Birthday glee!

Birthday glee!

Once we got back to campus, we headed over to Heather and James’ apartment.  More friends showed up bearing gifts and we ate the cake and hung out for a few hours.  Here’s what the cake look like minutes before being devoured:

BR even gave us candles!

BR even gave us candles!

I just wanted to show off my gift from Jeanette.  She gift-wrapped a toothbrush, which will totally come in handy in another couple months when I need to toss out my current one.

I just wanted to show off my gift from Jeanette. She gift-wrapped a toothbrush, which will totally come in handy in another couple months when I need to toss out my current one. Oh, and I didn't even realize the incredibly attractive face Erin was making. Fantastic!

So that was my 22nd birthday.  Tears, peers and no beers.  Though in order to be a truly Melissa birthday, it would have to stretch over a period of several days.  Friday night I’m going to Penelope, the local pub I’ve mentioned before, for a few hours.  I received an invite yesterday to go out this weekend with one of the Korean staff, Beyonce (no joke, that’s her English name), who shares my birthday.  So plans abound for this 20something girl (woman?), fear not.  I want all of you to know that I really appreciate all the e-mails, Facebook messages, IMs and cards I’ve gotten this week.  If you’re lucky, maybe I’ll be spending my 23rd with you!


It’s Friday evening here in Seoul, and that means we just said goodbye to another group of kids. At the end of each week, SEV holds a two-hour graduation. During graduation, the teachers say goodbye, the kids with the most passport stamps get candy and certificates, we watch a slideshow of the week and then have a little dance party. Actually, to call it little might be to diminish its awesomeness and hilarity. Here is the video I took this afternoon of Kyle, one of the head teachers, leading the kids in the always-exciting YMCA. Poor Paul got pulled into dancing on stage. His reluctance can truly be felt just past the 3:10 mark, when Kyle yells out, “Chicken, okay?”

After the YMCA jazzes everyone up, we all start to do dance trains. I’m sure there is a more official name than that, but I don’t really have the motivation to do the research to find out what it is. Anyway, I usually dance and wiggle around and the kids laugh at me because I have no rhythm, but I don’t quite care. Today, I only stuck it out in my dance train for a few minutes before I retreated to higher ground with my camera in hand. As I have learned from World Press Photo, there are some moments in time when you just get lucky and capture a truly fantastic moment. I experienced this firsthand while standing on the stage watching hundreds of dancing children. I would like to thank Sony and Youtube for allowing me to share this special moment in time with you:

In case you missed it, about 10 seconds into the clip, one of the teachers jumped out of line and scared a bunch of kids. Priceless, I tell you. Absolutely priceless.

I used to think graduations were just about getting money and attention and having lots of wine/happy hours to celebrate (I credit the last two weeks of college with making me believe that). I have learned that here at SEV, they are very different. For one thing, they’re partially about signing autographs for dozens–nay, hundreds–of children swarming around you. Don’t believe me? Check out this quality photo of David, being hounded for autographs:

He's like a Beatle!

He's like a Beatle!

This is what the end of every week is like for the teachers. During the week, kids wave to us, try to buy us drinks, grab our arms and hands and try to get our full attention. Come Friday, it’s all that and a bag of autographs. I tried to take some video of the last few minutes of graduation. Included: autograph signing, crying girl wearing pink around 1:13 (the tears are caused by the unnecessarily sad ABBA music being pumped through the sound system…I love it!) and a ton of kids saying “Bye, teacher!” I didn’t realize this as I was saying it, but I had a funny little quip when the kid asked me to sign his skin. So enjoy, and try to get past the first 15 seconds, it gets lighter-I swear.

At orientation this week, I met at cute little boy named Bill. He basically tried to find me during every single break throughout the week, and succeeded most of the time. I grabbed him for a picture, then ruined it, as I do with most pictures.

Sorry, Bill

Sorry, Bill

Oh, and lastly, Karen found a list of rules that one of the students made. No idea who originally wrote it, but it’s hilarious. Let me just remind you of the five SEV rules:

1. No speaking Korean.

2. No fighting.

3. No running or shouting

4. No eating or drinking in the classroom.

5. Listen to the teacher.

With that in mind, I present to you the new list of SEV rules:

That about does it for this girl. Working tomorrow (and I get to teach grammar–YES!!!!!!!!), then enjoying Sunday off. Plans for Sunday include shopping in a nice area of Seoul and then going out for food and billiards with some people.

Oh, and a special shoutout to Joel Cohen, who sent me the greatest package I have ever received (that’s what she said?). I got a nice, new copy of The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide. If any of you have worked in the newsroom with Joel and I, then you’re probably aware of how the evening progresses. When sports stories finally hit reads, the two of us would duke it out to see who would get stuck with inch upon inch of statistic and weird sports term. Usually it was Joel or a third copy editor who found the two of us to be incredibly immature and annoying. Regardless, it always ended with the sports editor throwing his hands up in the air and letting out an exasperated sign, clueless as to how we could have absolutely no interest in Maryland women’s volleyball.

Seriously, though. Disclaimer: This blog post sounds horribly sad and lonely, when in reality, I am anything but.

Sometimes I forget how young I am. The first time that I was made painfully aware of the fact that I was a good six months behind most of my grade-school friends was in the sixth grade, when I got a note from my elementary school best friend Laura, apologizing for not inviting me to some get-together with our other friends:

“It’s not that we don’t like you. You’re just so much more immature than the rest of us. Sometimes I forget how young you are, because we are six months older than you. I mean, you only turned 11 in November.”

Last I checked, Laura was heavily tattooed, married and living in Alaska, and the last six friend comments on her Myspace are about drinking patron, being a wino and going to a bar. I’m glad to see that eleven years later, she is still so much more mature than me.

OK, I got distracted again. The point of this post is that, just a week shy of 22, I am again reminded of how young I am compared to the people surrounding me. Before moving to Korea, I was under the impression that most of the people who came over here to teach were my age, fresh out of college and unsure of the next step. Upon my arrival, I was surprised to discover several things. First of all, I am the youngest teacher here (by about five months). Secondly, most of the other teachers are in their mid to late 20s, and a few are in their 30s. When I came into this, I did so with the idea that my time here would be like the gap year I never took after high school, but after meeting other teachers here, I am realizing that I could legitimately do this for several years before settling down, and travel virtually wherever I want. And believe me, it’s tempting–spending my 20s traveling the world, being my own Samantha Brown.

On the other hand, I have a degree in journalism and a legitimate love for this dying industry. I miss the feel of a newsroom. I miss editing copy. I even miss late nights spent doing reads and marking up pages. My future is in journalism, not in teaching. There are people who go into education because they love it, but I’m not one of them.

But I think part of being 22 is that I have so much time to figure this all out. I know that eventually I’ll wind up back in the States, and in journalism, but I’ve got to admit, I am awfully curious to see the path I’m going to take to get there.

Today in class, I asked the kids to guess where I was from, as I often do with my classes. Though after today, I might never pose that question again. Why, you ask? Because half the class started insisting that not only was I from Africa, but that I painted my skin white. I asked them why they thought this, and one little girl jumped up and–I kid you not–pointed to my ass. Folks, I could not make this up. We live in a world where nine-year-old Korean children not only know what a ghetto booty is, but feel no shame in pointing it out.

As if that wasn’t enough absurdity for one day, this evening I went to Community Cafe for some hot chocolate and Hemingway, but was distracted early on by a book on one of the shelves. It’s some sort of book about American history that uses cartoons to illustrate the entire thing. While not entirely PC, it was wholly entertaining.

Unbias journalism?

Unbias journalism? Also, does this mean that Ben Slivnick can become president? For the sake of honest journalism, let me just say that this was not in the book, but in a section of the Korea Herald specifically for Koreans learning English.


This is absolutely horrible

As if one cartoon of an Indian being shot wasn't enough...

I'm...pretty sure this never happened.

I'm...pretty appalled by this as well



The history of the Jews, according to the most absurd book in Korea.

The history of the Jews, according to the most absurd book in Korea.

How the Koreans view the past eight years.  I must say, pretty dead-on, no?

How Koreans view the past eight years. I must say, pretty dead-on, no?


There you have a taste of it. The rest of the pictures are posted on Facebook, so feel free to check them out.

In Airplane class yesterday, after making my high-level English students (who are no more than twelve years old) guess what country I’m from, I said, “I’m from America–New York.”

The comments that ensued:

“United States! Barack Obama!”

“Barack Hussein Obama!”

“Obama bin Laden!”

Then I asked, “Do you guys like Obama?”

–Most children responded yes, except for one boy, who lived in the States for a year:

“I like John McCain!”

“Do you like Sarah Palin?”

“Nooooo.” He then shook his head and looked down at the floor, then looked up, and with the most forlorn expression I’ve ever seen on a child, said, “She lost it for him.”

I then had a handful of students start calling Sarah Palin crazy, which, in Korea, is not a term you can throw around loosely. The closest Korean equivalent to “crazy” is “michida,” which is sort of a curse word. It takes on very serious meaning here, to the extent that in my first week of teaching, one of the first things I learned was to refrain from using the word “crazy” with the kids, even in a joking manner.

Pretty unrelated: If you want to see something good that DOES use the word crazy–a lot– then check this out. Olde English is absolutely hilarious and occasionally genius. I’ve been watching the group’s sketches since I was in high school. Personal recommendations: Food Rap, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Akon Calls T-Pain, Project Runway, Michel Gondry and The Applicant. If you notice a familiar face in Food Rap, it’s probably because you watch The Office and are picking up on the physical similarities between B.J. Novak (Ryan Howard on the show) and his brother, Jesse. Jesse, though no longer a member of OE, still composes music for a lot of the sketches, and B.J. has performed at some of OE’s live shows.

Just realized that I haven’t posted my address here (or maybe I have and just forgot).  Anyway, here it is.  Write me a letter or send me a postcard and I’ll return the favor!  Oh, and my birthday is in fifteen days, and I’m not opposed to receiving gifts.

Melissa Weiss
Seoul English Village
522 Suyu 6-dong, Gangbuk-gu
Seoul, Korea

Walking back from lunch a few hours ago, Erin told me that if I make a tangible list of things I want to do (a bucket list of sorts), I am more likely to do them.  Well, I’m not going to make a bucket list just yet (mostly because I haven’t yet gotten over how disappointed I was by the movie), but I will make a list of things I want to get done by the end of November:

-Clean and decorate my apartment, then finally put up pictures.

-Decongest myself.  My Mac’s automatic spellcheck tells me that “decongest” is not a word.  I respectfully disagree.

-Turn 22.  Should be tricky, right?  I’m going to try not to be a birthday nazi this year.  Every year, I get extremely domineering and by the time the last week of November rolls around.  I believe last year’s week-long festivities included a party in Kingston, a party in College Park, a trip to Melting Pot, Big Ass Drafts at Cornerstone (by the way, the Times had a great story about the other day) and a big dinner with friends.  Some people hate birthdays, some people milk them for everything they’re worth.  I happen to be one of the latter.

-Stock up the kitchen.  It’s going to get cold soon, and when it does, there’s no way in hell I’m going to want to go all the way into the heart of Suyu for food as often as I do now.

-Read the other half of The Sun Also Rises.  Started it over the summer, must finish it soon.  If I had my way, it would be paired with a nice glass of pinot grigio, but that’s not really an option here, and if I drink it with soju, I won’t remember a single word.  Looks like it will be a Hemingway/Community Cafe matchup, which really isn’t the worst thing in the world–comfy chairs and couches, soft music and a mug of hot chocolate or pumpkin latte is the perfect thing for these chilly November nights.  Also, maybe it will help me decide if I want to move to Paris someday.

-Buy more cute shoes.  Korean women are ALL about wearing high heels all the time, regardless of what they’re doing.  My arches can’t handle that, but shoes are cheap enough here that I can snag a few pairs for less than 20 bucks and wear them whenever I want.  So far, I’ve only gotten one pair of heels, which I already blogged about.  Erin and I have had some problems with our Korean bank accounts, but once everything is figured out, more shoes will be bought.  Also, my toes are STILL holding the pedicure.  We’re coming up on two months now.

Today during my first class, I was (unintentionally) whacked on the head with a hard plastic gutter, then slipped while demonstrating a game and wiped out in front of about 130 kids.  Twisted my ankle, but I popped some Tylenol during lunch and that helped.  Now it’s twelve hours later and the second round of drugs is wearing off, as is my desire to post a real blog entry tonight.  Finished the first season of The West Wing a few minutes ago and am eager to start on the second.  But first, sleep, then bank to figure out why they think my Korean card has been stolen (it isn’t, I’m staring at it as I type this) and work until 8:30 tomorrow night.

I suppose my day could be worse.  I could be Reuters’ Jon Decker.