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And now more than ever, I’m living on a prayer.  I arrived in Seoul on September 30, just over six months ago.  It’s been an insane journey, to say the least.  I never imagined spending a year in Korea, but now I can’t imagine not doing this.  There have been good times and bad times, but the highs definitely outnumber the lows.  And while it’s sad to think that this adventure is halfway done, I can now begin the Melissa-Comes-Back-To-America/Endless Mac and Cheese/Subaru Forester countdown.

Leaving things, people and places is sad.  And though my time here is far from over, I can’t help but think that I won’t miss Seoul like I’ve missed other places.  There is much about Korea that I don’t necessarily agree with, but that’s a post for another time.

I do want to address what’s going on with North Korea, because, well, how could I not?  When news of North Korea’s rocket launch made waves on CNN a few weeks ago, South Koreans didn’t pay much attention.  At least, not the ones I know.  It gets minimal coverage in the Korea Herald, which is distributed for free at school.  Only today did I seriously talk about it with Donny, SEV’s recruiter.  He said a war is possible, depending on what happens in the coming weeks.  While the situation is clearly nerve-wracking, I’m trying not to dwell on it.  Impending doom is a small part of life here, yes, but living in Seoul is about much more than worrying about our neighbor to the north.  In Israel, it was easy to forget that I was in the middle of a country in a constant state of unrest.  It was only when I checked out an American news outlet or spoke to people at home that I even gave the situation a second thought.  That’s exactly how I feel now in Seoul.  So seriously, don’t worry about me.  If anything happens, I’ll either be decimated in a matter of seconds, or I’ll hightail it back to America, far away from [that turrible knucklehead] Kim Jong Il.

I know I’ve been terrible with the updating recently, but if you spent your days chasing around orphans, I bet you’d be the same way.

That being said, the kids from the Aloysius orphanage are back. This week, we’ve had about 200 fourth graders from the orphanage, in addition to 50ish regular students, three Russian students from Vladivostock and two dozen Japanese students who are here for a few days. As I said to a friend yesterday, SEV has turned into a miniature United Nations.

Because of the mix of students, emotions have been mixed. On one hand, these orphans have been here before and know the rules. Because this isn’t their first time here, the staff and teachers are better prepared to deal with them. Schedules have been tweaked, special lesson plans have been written and potentially dangerous situations have been easily avoided. Unfortunately, the Japanese and Russian students are getting special treatment every day and are being followed around by TV cameras filming special news segments.

In my art class yesterday, the orphans were having a lively conversation/debate. It was in Korean, so I didn’t have a clue what they were saying, but all of a sudden, the kids started to say some familiar names: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Lee Myung Bak. These kids were having a political discussion! At least, I’d like to think they were. Toward the end of class, one girl asked me how I felt about Lee Myung Bak, the current president of Korea, who is widely disliked because of Korea’s failing economy. I said he was “so-so” and asked the kids what they thought about Barack Obama, to which I got several thumbs up, reminiscent of when I discussed McCain and Palin in Airplane class. Oh, by the way, Korean kids probably know more about American politics than their teenybopper counterparts in the U.S. do.

That was one of the brighter parts of the week. While it’s been really cool to see the Russian students getting along so well with the Koreans (verdict is out on Japanese/Korean relations; the Japanese students only got here yesterday, but judging by the decades-long strained relationship between the two countries as a result of the occupation, I’ll just be happy if nobody throws a punch), that’s only been a small part of the week. A majority of my classes have been with the orphans, and I’ve got the scratchy voice and bags under my eyes to prove it.

When the Aloysius kids come here, I start out on such a high. But as the week drones on, my excitement and energy and drive to help these kids wanes. By the end of the week (read: NOW), I’m tired, angry and frustrated. I’m sick of holding kids back from fighting each other, tired of yelling “Ya!” to get them to stop screaming at each other in Korean and upset that these kids, who obviously don’t belong here, are dumped on us every month. It’s so clear to everyone here that SEV is not the best place for these kids. The teachers don’t have the proper training to deal with teams of hyperactive, unruly kids with emotional and behavioral issues. The situation is only exacerbated by the fact that we can barely communicate with them most of the time. I’m not sure what the point of sending them here is. I know that above all else, I work for a business, not a goodwill organization looking to give foreigners a party. The school needs to make money, and so they take these kids in, even if it means considerable stress, wear and tear on both the physical building and the people who work inside it.

I’ve got two more classes with these kids before they leave in a few hours, and I’d be lying if I said I’m disappointed to see them go. It’s not good to feel this way toward people, especially kids, who can’t help the way they are, but loving the unlovable is one of the most difficult things most of us will ever have to do, and I know I’m not there yet.

A lot of you said I was crazy when I told you I was moving to South Korea to teach English.  Well, like I’ve been saying, it’s a really popular thing right now.  This CNN.com article pretty much sums up my life at the moment.  I see my friends at home losing their jobs, or sitting around stressing about losing their jobs, or not being able to find jobs at all.  That’s not something I want to have to deal with.  Can you blame me?  It’s not just that teaching here is a great way to save money, Korea is also a pretty good place to ride out the economic storm.

Just wanted to let my fans–kidding, friends–know about something really important going on back in Kingston.  Current Ulster town justice Marsha Weiss has officially announced her candidacy for the Ulster County Court bench.  I happen to care about this enough to post about it on here because, well, she’s my mother.

Yes, I know we look alike (even if she disagrees).  And I know that the article says that she’s a Republican. Stop rubbing that it in, all of you! And oh yeah, I get a shout-out.  Holler!

More on this in the coming months.  And I will start taking this more seriously soon, I swear. But for now, remember this: Judge Weiss is a strong candidate.  After all, she expelled me from her body 22 years ago.  Now that takes strength.

Like the title says, this post is entirely unrelated to South Korea. Why? Two reasons. One, it involves my beloved Terps. And secondly it’s about basketball, and Koreans are both short and terrible when it comes to playing sports.

In honor of the Terps actually making it to the NCAA Tournament this year, I wanted to post this video I found on Lauren‘s blog a few weeks ago. I remember watching the last big prank, a fake proposal at Yankee Stadium. But this video, my friends, might be even better. And not only because it was shot at a Terps game at the Comcast Center on the Maryland campus. Check it out for yourselves.

I returned from the Philippines just in time for every Jew’s favorite holiday. No, not Chanukah. Not Lag B’omer or Tu B’shvat, either. Last week was…drumroll, please…Purim! After several years of College Park Purim festivities (which are really no different from regular college weekend activities, except for the fact that everyone is dressed in costume and reading from the Megillah), I was worried that this year would be a letdown. Fear not, friends. Purim in Seoul is everything that you would expect and more.

The Talmud instructs us to become inebriated on Purim until he doesn’t know the difference between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.'”

And who would I be to ignore the teachings of the Talmud? I missed the first Megillah reading, but stayed through the second one. This was the first big event in the new Chabad house, and the place was packed. It cleared out a bit by the second Megillah reading, which meant my camera came out and started taking as many videos as possible.

Several bottles of whiskeys in, I daresay we got a bit ridiculous.

Here are some of the glorious, glorious videos from the night:

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And lastly, no Purim would be complete without a rabbi pouring whiskey and orange juice down someone’s throat:

Among the costumes were Buddha, a couple ajummas, a cowgirl and an Arab. I dressed as the jungle–I wore a black and white-striped dress and a big necklace with animal prints on it. Not bad for the last minute, eh? However, the best costume of the night goes to the rabbi’s two-year-old daughter, Yehudit, who donned a yarmulke and had her pigtails curled to look like peyas. That’s right–Yehudit dressed up for Purim as an Orthodox Jewish boy. The rabbi posted a gallery of photos from the night. About halfway down the page is a picture of Yehudit and I–we’re pretty easy to spot.

Purim in Korea was much more exciting than I expected it to be, and I’m glad I shlepped all the way down to Itaewon for it. I’m already excited for next year. The question is, where will I be celebrating it?

Rabbi Litzman reading the Megillah with Mussy and Menachem looking on

Rabbi Litzman reading the Megillah with Mussy and Menachem looking on

Some drunk, dancing Jews

Some drunk, dancing Jews

Two ajummas

Two ajummas

Totally the best picture of the night

Totally the best picture of the night

Back in Maryland, Chabad had a very different function in my life. It was where my friends and I would go for dinner every few Friday nights. With hundreds of people going every night, there was rarely that small, intimate feeling at dinner. But here in Seoul, Chabad has become more of a second family than I ever imagined it being. I’ve met some truly great people there and have formed my Jewish circle outside of the SEV bubble, which was the best thing I’ve done for myself here.

If you’ve been keeping up with my Twitter, Gchat and Facebook updates, you’re probably aware that Seoul is experiencing a meteorological phenomenon known as yellow dust.  Basically, sand form the Gobi Desert gets picked up and carried east, affecting the air quality of nearby regions.  You can’t stick out your hand and see the dust, or hwangsa in Korean, but you can definitely tell it is there.  The sky turns cloudy, gray and hazy and all of the Koreans don face masks.  I even bought one last week and have been wearing it outside on occasion over the past few days.  If I’m outside for extended periods without it, my throat gets scratchy and sore.

Today during our lunch break, Heather, Jeanette, James and I went up to the sports field to enjoy the warm weather and toss around a frisbee.  And all of us, save for Heather, wore our masks the entire time.  I’m telling you, few things are more difficult than throwing a frisbee when your sunglasses keep fogging up from exhaling into the mask.

Other teachers have reported sleeping poorly and waking up congested since the storm hit the other day. (Just as I typed that, Erin sent me a message telling me that her throat hurts from having her door open this afternoon.)  Today during lunch, I went to sit outside, and my Korean friend Chloe gasped and said, “Melissa!  You cannot eat out here!  The yellow sand is very bad today.”

According to the Yellow Sand/Asian Dust Monitor System, which can also be found on Erin’s blog, we’re at about 300 right now, which falls into the blue section, or “Unhealthy.”  The site advises people not to do any outdoor sports or lawn mowing.  What I find curious is that even though Koreans tend to be a little nutso when it comes to their health, we are still holding some classes outside.  Case in point: Ultimate Frisbee, which I’m watching James teach at the moment.  And nobody is wearing a mask!

All I know is that I’m eager for the yellow dust to pass so that I can enjoy the beautiful spring weather that’s finally bringing us all out of this long, bitter winter.

Or, “My trip to the Philippines.” For those of you who don’t get my angle, I’m referencing Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I mentioned earlier that, shortly after getting from the Phils, some friends told Erin and I that we reminded them of Vicky and Cristina, respectively (obviously). And yep, our friends were so, so right.

Anyway, you’re not reading this to hear about how similar to Scarlett Johansson I am. (Though I did just see He’s Just Not That Into You, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sympathize with her character. Oh, and I liked the movie.) You’re probably reading because I came back from my Filipino vacation last week and have yet to post about it.

Well, I’ve uploaded the pictures and gone through them a million times. While it wasn’t the greatest place to vacation, I’m very glad I went there. It was a necessary trip on so many levels. And I got to eat chocolate cake.

Our first day was spent in Cebu City, which is, for the most part, similar to southern beach cities in America. Here are some shots from that day, including Fort San Pedro, Basilica del Santo Nino and various other sites we happened upon:

Shot looking out from the basilica

Shot looking out from the basilica

Garden inside the basilica

Garden inside the basilica

Basicila del Santo Nino

Basicila del Santo Nino

Puppies for sale!  In Korea, we call this "lunch."

Puppies for sale! In Korea, we call this "lunch."

Fort San Pedro

Fort San Pedro

Gardens inside the fort

Gardens inside the fort

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Cannon on top of the fort!  Yikes!

Cannon on top of the fort! Yikes!

Magellan's Cross...actually a huge letdown.  The actual cross is encased in this metal thing.  Weak!

Magellan's Cross...actually a huge letdown. The actual cross is encased in this metal thing. Weak!

Jeepneys lined up in traffic

Jeepneys lined up in traffic

Packed jeepney

Packed jeepney

The guy in front of us had a very, very dirty back

The guy in front of us had a very, very dirty back

The view from our first hotel

The view from our first hotel

On the cab ride from Cebu City to Mactan Island, where we spent most of the trip, I busted out the little pink camera and took video of what we were driving past. The first video clip gives you an idea of the poverty that exists in Cebu City (much different than the slums and shantytowns in Mactan). The second video clip is our cabbie locking the door (cue me: “Did he just lock the door?”) when he realized I was filming, and then explaining how dangerous it is to display expensive things.

Mactan was much different than Cebu. Though the drive from our hotel to the beach resort was only about 20 minutes, the things we drove past seemed worlds apart. We passed huge buildings, mansions that would dwarf houses in the States. Small sheds, barely standing, crowded with people just trying to escape to shade, were literally lying in the shadows of these megahouses. It was hard to stomach, to say the least.

Then, after 20 minutes of listening to Christian rock or Selena or whatever else the cab driver had going that trip, we’d arrive at the resort. Hadson Cove was where we spent most of our time, mostly because it was one of the few places where we didn’t get ripped off. We were lucky enough to get virtually cloudless days that weren’t miserably humid. Not to make you jealous or anything, but here’s what we got to enjoy for a few days:

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Laughing.  And yes, I appear to have a snorkel coming out of the top of my head.

Laughing. And yes, I appear to have a snorkel coming out of the top of my head.

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Completely unposed.  Erin stole my camera while I was hanging out on the rock.

Completely unposed. Erin stole my camera while I was hanging out on the rock.

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On our final day, we hit up a different part of the island to see Magellan’s Marker and Lapu-lapu Monument. I could Google the importance of those things, but it’s late and to be frank, I’m exhausted.

Magellan's Marker

Magellan's Marker

Lapu-lapu Monument

Lapu-lapu Monument

We also ran into a group of kids on a field trip. And for whatever reason, they wanted to have their picture taken with these half-lobster, half-human aliens that had descended upon their island.

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And of course, a blog about this vacation wouldn’t be complete without documentation of the horrific sunburn I was obsessed with telling people about/showing people for a solid week.

Simon says take a picture of your sunburned foot.

Simon says take a picture of your sunburned foot.

Simon says take a picture of your sunburned hand.  And yes, Simon knows that it doesn't look as bad as it was/felt.

Simon says take a picture of your sunburned hand. And yes, Simon knows that it doesn't look as bad as it was/felt.

Simon says take a picture of your incredible sunburned hip (which is, by the way, currently peeling like crazy)

Simon says take a picture of your incredibly sunburned hip (which is, by the way, currently peeling like crazy).

Simon says that Melissa is a lobster who sucks at putting on sunblock.

Simon says that Melissa is a lobster who sucks at putting on sunblock.

On our last day at the beach, perhaps delusional from prolonged sun exposure, I convinced Erin to take a tuk tuk from the resort back to our hotel. Tuk tuks come in many different forms around the world. Ours happened to be a doorless carriage attached to a motorcycle. Seeing as how a regular taxi ride from the beach to the hotel took about 20 minutes going twice as fast as the tuk tuk, I couldn’t believe the rickety old motorcycle made it all the way back with two Westerners inside. The tuk tuk took (haha, that’s funny!) a different route to get back to the hotel, one that avoided the main roads, which tuk tuks and bicycles aren’t allowed to go on. The back roads took us through the slummiest of the slums. The plywood shantytowns that we zoomed past in our air-conditioned cab all week were now mere feet away, with nothing but the thick, moist air separating us. Dust caked onto us as we drove and the sunlight hit our burns in all the wrong places, but I knew how lucky we were. For us, this was a quick trip, a stamp in the passport, a chance to eat as much non-Korean food as possible. For the residents of Cebu and Mactan, this is eternity. One one hand, they seem not to know the luxuries that they’re missing. Cell phones, laptops, iPods are all part of another world to most of the people we encountered., despite the Apple store and countless European boutiques that even I couldn’t afford existing just a few miles away in Cebu City. Yet–and Erin agreed–Filipinos, in general, seem quite happy. All of the people we spoke to were content where they were, with little desire to leave Cebu.

But on the other hand, if these people didn’t know what they were missing, then why is everyone trying to rip visitors off? From the woman at the Internet cafe to the taxi drivers to the restaurant manager, I swear, the list goes on and on. All week, we noticed young Filipino women, girls younger than me, seek out old, wealthy, foreign men. As Joseph, our cab driver from the first day in Mactan (who screwed us out of about 800 pesos) put it, these girls are with the men for the money, obviously. It’s heartbreaking that Mactan Island is, as islands tend to be, surrounded by water, yet children don’t play in the ocean. They play on the sides of busy roads or chase foreigners down, begging for money. The beachfront properties are mostly owned by hotels too expensive for the average Filipino to afford, and that hardly seems fair.

I left the Philippines with a lot to think about. Like I said earlier, I’m glad that I went, not only because I needed the vacation after a stressful month at work, but because I got to see something I’m not accustomed to. I know that poverty, worse poverty than what I saw in Cebu, exists all over the world. It’s something that’s easy to brush aside when you’re sitting on silk sheets, typing away on a Macbook and have your iPod on shuffle mode. It’s significantly more difficult to ignore when it’s surrounding you on a busy road while you’re stuck in tuk tuk in the middle of third-world gridlock.

On that last day, as we were stuck in traffic (the result of road work and a one-way street), a teenage boy walked past me. He was wearing a baggy black t-shirt with a picture of Tupac Shakur on it. The writing under the picture said, “Keep Ya Head Up.” It was a gentle reminder to me that day, and again right now, that even in the darkest and saddest of situations, you do have to chin up. I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to Cebu, but this trip will not ever be forgotten.

**If you want to see all of the pictures that I didn’t post here, you can check out Facebook here and here.

Nope, not the official Philippines post. That will come in the next day or two (or so we hope). I’m back in Seoul and, of course, back under the weather because this city legitimately makes me sick. (And I’m not just being a drama queen. Alex has also been sick constantly, courtesy of yellow dust.) Now that we’re back into the swing of things here at SEV, I can continue to relay the funny things that happen to me every day (such as a certain part of the male anatomy–pronounced somewhat like “coke”–being a drink choice on the menu at the Indian restaurant we went to for dinner tonight).

Last night I took a cab home from the Purim festivities at Chabad of Korea. (Rabbi Litzman told me that if I put proper nouns such as Jewish, Korea, Chabad or Osher Litzman in my blog postings, then the link would show up in his Google feed. Now I’m testing that out.) I will most certainly blog about my Korean Purim later this week, because the pictures are too good to leave untouched in iPhoto.

Anyway, back to the cab. The driver didn’t know the intricacies of Suyu, and the only English he spoke was “OK.” Somehow, we made it to SEV unscathed. We did, however, waste much time, mostly because Korea is backwards. Let me explain. In Korea, yes truly means no. Well, in Czech it does. The Korean word for “yes” is “neh.” The Czech word for “no” is also “neh.” And somehow, I keep forgetting that I am in Seoul, not Prague. This was mighty inconvenient when the cabbie would point one way, and I would say “neh” and then he would drive in that direction. Oh, and to make matters worse, “yes” in Czech is “ano.” “No” in Korean is “ani.” Next stop: Complication Station.

So like I said, barring death (and lord knows there’s been enough of it recently), more peritonsillar abscess or orphans, the Phils post (with pictures of the infamous sunburn) will be up within the next few days. I’ve decided I need to watch Vicky Cristina Barcelona before I blog about the trip, as some coworkers have said that Erin and I are Vicky and Cristina, respectively, and I want to see just how true that is.

Oh, and sidenote: I jammed my thumb a few hours ago and it is still throbbing.  I am in a constant state of shambles.

I think once upon a time, I said that I wished everything in the world was pink.  When we landed in the Phils early Monday morning, I was elated to see that my passport stamp was pink.

But you know what else is pink?

Sunburn.

I am still burnt to a crisp, proving that I am indeed a Weiss. (My mother and sister are Solomons.  Bronze Solomon goddesses.)  Many coats of lotion later, I am still in SO MUCH PAIN (that’s so totally what she said).  Feet, forehead, knees, hips, chest, neck, back, arms, armpits–you name it, it’s burnt.  Erin sucks just about as much as I do when it comes to applying sunscreen–getting into and out of bed is a careful process for the both of us.

Lots to blog about, and it will all be done this weekend.  Our flight out is tonight (well, 1:45 a.m.), so we’ll be getting back to Seoul early tomorrow morning.

Oh, and I think I’ll be going to my friend Tobi’s Purim party in Itaewon Saturday night dressed as a lobster.  Do I ever fit the part…