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Mongolian dust storms, such as the one this weekend, affect me. Here’s a shot of the leather chair outside my apartment, with yellow dust clearly visible:

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And that, friends, is what I inhale daily.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve looked in envy at friends’ Facebook albums full of cherry blossoms and Washington monuments. Despite four years of Beltway living and actually working in Washington during the spring, I’ve never made it to the Cherry Blossom Festival on the National Mall. As luck would have it, Korea has it’s own Cherry Blossom Festival! While the cherry blossoms can be seen all over the city, the best place to go is Yeouido Park, an island in the middle of the Han River, right in the heart of Seoul. A couple of weekends ago, at the height of the bloom, Melanie and I decided to check out the festival. I think pictures do cherry blossoms more justice than words can, but unfortunately, my camera battery died after about half an hour.

There are conflicting arguments about Korea’s cherry blossoms. Some say that the tree is indigenous to Korea, as well as many other Asian countries. But another argument is that the Japanese planted the trees during the “occupation” of Korea in the earlier part of last century. It doesn’t really matter where they came from. The beautiful blossoms brighten up your average walk down the street, and that’s about all you can ask from a flower, isn’t it?

Mel and I with our spiffy nametags. I finally learned how to write my name in Korean!

Mel and I with our spiffy nametags. I finally learned how to write my name in Korean!

I bet you never thought to plant flowers in your pants!

I bet you never thought to plant flowers in your pants!

According to Melanie, whose Korean is really good, the ribbons talk about eventual peace with North Korea.

According to Melanie, whose Korean is really good, the ribbons talk about eventual peace with North Korea.

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There was literally a line of people waiting to climb up and pose for this exact shot.

There was literally a line of people waiting to climb up and pose for this exact shot.

There were plenty of other things at the festival–a few art exhibits, people in costume posing with children and musicians playing traditional instruments and dancing. Melanie’s even got a video of me being pulled into a dance circle. Do I know traditional Korean dances? Absolutely not. Was I the silly waegook (foreigner) dancing around with the drunk Korean man? Absolutely. Perhaps someday, that video will surface on this blog. But judging by my lack of posting and the fact that Melanie takes forever to upload things, it could be awhile. Till then, enjoy me pretending to be Asian (like Miley Cyrus, but less offensive):

안녕하세요!

안녕하세요!

Good morning, America. If you come across this today, Tuesday, it is also Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. While the day passes by like any other to most people, it is a time of great reflection for some. For all that has been done for human rights in the 60+ years since the Holocaust, we still have so much work left to do. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech, given earlier this week in Geneva, demonstrates that perfectly. Representatives from more than 30 countries walking out, but even more stayed and applauded the Iranian president.

My peers are among the last generation to hear first-hand accounts of Holocaust survivors, to meet them, talk with them, and to see the scars–physical and emotional–that they still bear. My children will never have that. Much as America’s early wars and events have been relegated to textbook pages and preserved battlegrounds and artifacts, so too will the Holocaust. It is our job to make sure that the deaths of 12 million people, half of them Jews, were not in vain.

With all the chaos that exists in the world today, most notably in the Sudan and Sri Lanka, what are you doing to help? What are any of us doing? What am I doing? “Never Forget” is in your face everywhere you look, but it’s not about us forgetting anymore. Now it’s what happens next. If we can take the lessons learned in Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Treblinka and better the world, then we are not forgetting. But we have eons to go before we’re there.

“I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger.”

-David Berger in his last letter, Vilna 1941.

I went to a soccer game. April resolution: Update this blog more often, so that the memories will be fresh in your head!

So yes, I went to a soccer game, but not just any game. This match was North Korea vs. South Korea.  This was the second the qualifying match between the two Koreas for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. North Korea had won the first time around, and going into the game, most soccer afficianados said that NK was going to try for a draw this game, so it wouldn’t be that exciting. Nonetheless, a bunch of us got tickets to the game and schleped to World Cup Stadium, on the other side of the city.  The massive stadium is absolutely gorgeous.

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Our seats were behind the goal, albeit many rows up. The game itself was mostly uneventful. I’m telling you, Koreans have got to be the most unathletic people in the world. Trust me, I teach dodgeball, soccer and Frisbee. For most of the game, the most exciting part was counting how many different North Korean players had to be carried off the field on stretchers before immediately getting back up and walking back on the field. There was no serious action until a couple minutes before the end of the entire game. Shocking everyone in the stands, substitute Kim Chi Woo knocked a goal past the North Korean goalie, Lee Woon Jae. The crowd went absolutely wild! I filmed the whole thing with my camera, but of course, missed the ball actually going in. However, simply missing it on my camera is nothing compared to missing the actual goal being scored, as I did in Munich in June.

The win not only put the South one point ahead of the North in its division, but landed South Korea at the top of the five-team group.

Opening ceremonies

Opening ceremonies

This giant Korean flag covered a couple hundred people

This giant Korean flag covered a couple hundred people

I should probably include at least one photo from the game itself, eh?

I should probably include at least one photo from the game itself, eh?

Signs held up at the conclusion of the game. I have absolutely no idea whose faces are on them.

Signs held up at the conclusion of the game. I have absolutely no idea whose faces are on them.

A couple of days after the game, North Korea started accusing South Korean officials of poisoning its players. While this is a completely ridiculous claim, it’s not terribly surprising that people could get sick eating Korean food in this city.  Just sayin’…

What I found most interesting about the entire evening was that the match happened at a time when political tensions were at their highest, just days before North Korea was set to launch a rocket, against repeated demands from the international community that the launch be canceled. Despite the fact that a war with the North is a possibility these days, the air at the stadium was relaxed and friendly.  Well, except for when the crowd booed the North. But everyone boos his opponent, right?

And while nobody got nuked at World Cup Stadium that night, I did don sunglasses and a scowl and repeatedly claim, “I’m Kim Jong Il!

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In a nutshell and two weeks later, that was the game. It was definitely a good time, made even better by the fact that we made it out alive and un-nuked. Don’t know whether I’ll be back to another soccer match; after all, it’s baseball season now!

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I have tons to write about these days, I swear. I just need some motivation, I suppose. Anyway, this is just an update to say that I’m still alive and will update about the past couple of weeks shortly. After all, you surely want to hear about the North Korea v. South Korea soccer game I went to, Passover in Seoul and the cherry blossom festival.

Unfortunately, I have to go to class in five minutes, but I’ll leave you with this gem:

During orientation today, one kid came through immigration and insisted his English name was Dancing Chocopie. Amazing.

North Korea has launched the rocket. Still living and breathing.  Let’s see how this unfolds…

This morning after one of my cooking classes, I sat down at the desk in the lobby to talk to a couple of other teachers.  I had three extra cupcakes that I set down on the desk.  Two girls come over to me and start saying, “Teacher beautiful!  Teacher pretty!”  Thinking that they were trying to flatter their way to my cupcakes, I just laughed it off thanked them.  Then one of the girls, perhaps realizing she wasn’t going to get a cupcake, yelled out, “April first!!!!”

Tonight after work, I’m going to a North Korea vs. South Korea soccer match at the World Cup Stadium with some friends.  And that is not a joke. Gooooooo democracy!!