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I so do not deserve this.

Hours on the beach, jumping into warm waves, slurping green curry while watching motorbikes speed past, digging my feet into the cool, wet sand as the still-warm water laps at my toes under a starry sky. I’m officially in paradise.

The food is amazing, the beaches beautiful, the water inviting. We leave Phuket on Saturday, which gives me more time to soak in the sun’s goodness (and take a surfing lesson or two). No solid plans this week, just going where the breeze takes us.

Oh, and have I mentioned that Thais love K-pop? Holler!

Can I stay here forever?

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That phrase is as ubiquitous in my house as “What’s for dinner?” or “How are you?” I can’t tell you the number of times my father has said “Oh, Melissa” while shaking his head and giving a small laugh. “Oh, Melissa” is always a response to me doing something irresponsible. If I tell my father about it before I resolve the problem on my own, “Oh, Melissa” turns into “You think!”–said in an angry tone. “Oh, Melissa” is said in a fake-exasperated tone, almost always accompanied by some laughter. You’d think that after 22 years, my father would be used to me doing stupid things, no?

Needless to say, a lighthearted “Oh, Melissa” is probably the best reaction I’ll ever get.

That all being said, what I’m about to tell you is hopefully going to elicit an “Oh, Melissa” and not a “You don’t think!”

When Donny booked my ticket to Phuket, I was stoked to see that the flight was only four hours long, much shorter than I’d anticipated. So I left SEV at 4:30 p.m. to catch my 10 p.m. flight out of Incheon, giving myself plenty of extra time–just in case. I blame my need for extra time on my father, as well. My father is a half hour early to everything, my mother half an hour late. When my dad dropped me off at JFK to catch my flight to Prague, we were a full six hours early. I didn’t even have a gate to go to!

Got off-topic, oops. So like I said, I departed SEV more than five hours before my flight. On the 01 bus headed into Suyu to catch the limo bus to the airport, I checked my e-ticket one more time, just in case. Sure as shit, the only time (IN A YEAR) that I failed at reading military time (which is pretty standard outside of the States), was when I first looked at my e-ticket last week and saw I was leaving at 10 p.m. So imagine my shock when I checked on the bus and saw that my flight was scheduled to depart at 20:00, or 8 p.m.–three and a half hours away. I knew the bus to the airport would take at least two hours, and Saturday evening traffic would slow things down even more. I spent the entire bus ride nervously tapping my foot and watching as the clock changed from 5:15 to 6:08 to 6:45 to 7:00. At 7:10 (yes, the airport bus uses a 12-hour clock), we arrived at Incheon. I bolted to the check-in counter, made my way through security and went through customs–all in about 20 minutes. Kudos to Incheon, demonstrating yet again why it is the best airport in the world.

I slept for much of the six-hour flight, then caught a cab to the guesthouse where Jeanette’s been staying. Sleeping in the company of snails and lizards, but that’s what this is about, right?

Woke up this morning and had a hearty banana pancake breakfast, as recommended by Erin. Looking forward to indulging in pad thai and green curry in the coming days. We’re planning on staying in Phuket for at least a few more days before heading up to the northern city of Chiang Mai.

For now, just hoping the sky clears up a little bit so we can head down to the beach! So far, loving Phuket and the fact that Korea is hundreds of miles away. I can guarantee that no child will be calling me “Melissa Teacher” while I’m here.

Signing off now…let’s hope I don’t do anything to warrant an “Oh, Melissa.” Oh, and speaking of which, happy belated birthday to my sister and a happy early birthday to my father!

Just a quick note to say that I blogged every day since I began the challenge. You all owe me a drink. Get ready to pay up in November!

The journey begins now: Phuket, Thailand in four hours and 10 minutes…

I’m unemployed.

I haven’t been unemployed for more than a few weeks since…ever? I’d say the beginning of freshman year at university. To now have no obligations, no work to get back to–it blows my mind. I leave tonight (my time) at 10 p.m. and land in Phuket just past midnight local time.

It’s been a trip, friends. Thank you for reading and commenting throughout the year, giving advice, calling me out on lapses in judgement and letting me know all of my grammatical errors. I’m not sure how frequent my posts will be once I get to Thailand, but I’ll try and get on WordPress fairly often, if only to make you jealous by talking about the delicious and cheap pad thai I’m planning to eat a ton of.

As per the rules of my blogging self-challenge, I owe the world one more post. You’ll get that as the plane wheels touch off the ground tonight.

Take care of yourselves [and each other] and I’ll see you Stateside in a couple of months!

Last night was my final night out in Suyu, and I spent it where I spent one of my first nights–Penelope, the local foreigner hangout. A bunch of coworkers and former SEVers came out and enjoyed one of the few nice nights left before the weather turns. While we were there, we made the acquaintance of two Canadians who have been living in Seoul for a few years. One of them brought her dog and sat down with us for a bit. Lemme tell ya, I’ve never seen a dog like this before. Apparently, they’re native to Korea, which would explain why I’ve last night was the first time I had seen that kind of dog. They’re called something along the lines of “tiger dog,” though my memory is a bit fuzzy. Not having played with an animal since my visit to Tokyo’s Nekobukuro in January, I jumped at the chance to pet the tiger dog.

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Shortly after our new friends left the bar, some of the Koreans headed out, but not before taking the obligatory Boys Before Flowers picture with me:

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So that was my night–Koreans and the tiger dog. Now I’m packing up the rest of my things before heading into Suyu to close my bank account. I sent home my first suitcase today–for 190,000 won. That’s about $175 US. Ugh ugh ugh!! I’ve only got a few more things to send, so here’s hoping it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

Hey, you know what I have time to do these days?

Absolutely nothing.

These last 72 hours are a race to the finish. I’ve still got a day of classes, a ton of packing and major apartment cleaning before I hop on that bright, shiny Airbus.

Spent most of last night packing things up/watching The King and I. You know, to mentally prepare and whatnot.

Here are today’s plans:
-Teach six classes (triple Cooking, Police, Bingo and DODGEBALL)
-Figure out if my local post office ships suitcases. If not, Friday isn’t going to be any fun.
-Meet up with a family friend from Rhinebeck who just moved to Seoul
-Drinks with coworkers one last night
-Return all the stuff I’ve taken from the office this year
-Continue packing
-Write tomorrow’s blog entry

My head is spinning…how on earth am I going to be ready to go by Saturday?

Confession: I have a chicken wing complex. My entire life, I refused to eat wings in front of anyone but my immediate family. As I said in July:

“I won’t eat them in front of anyone I’m not closely related to, which means that up until this point, only my mother, father and sister had seen me eat them. Why? Because eating wings is perhaps the most unattractive thing a person could possibly do, and I refuse to let anyone, except for those who are obligated to love me, see me in such a state.”

Well, I no longer have that complex. Why? Chicken wings are delicious! Especially the ones served at Rocky Mountain Tavern‘s Tuesday Wing Night. My coworkers first got into Wing Night back in July. I was on evening shift that month, and every time I went to RMT after I got out, the wings were sold out. Major disappointment. Last month, SEVers started going regularly, and being back on day shift allowed me to go with them. That’s when I discovered the greatness of Creamy Cool (and Lemon Pepper, BBQ and Killer Ouch).

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Wing Night has become a fun SEV tradition. It also helps that the bar plays Monday Night Football. MNF is clearly a big draw for some:

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Highlights: AMAZING wings, good drinks (I’m talking about you, double Georgia Peach Iced Tea), fairly organized service

Lowlights: Not enough seating for the hundreds of people there (Hundreds? Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Let’s go with one or two hundred.), the tendency to run out of wings several hours into the night

I don’t know what else can be said about these wings except for that they’re the best in Asia. Planet Wings, I’ll be back in America soon. Let’s see if you can match up to RMT’s Wing Night.

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I know I’ve been blogging a lot recently about leaving Korea. How ’bout I change it up? Yeah?

Four months ago, I pierced my nose on a whim. A couple friends were going to a salon in Hongdae, the area of the city where all the college students hang out, and invited me to come along. I took out my first nose ring a couple summers ago at the request of my Ann Taylor Loft boss (go ahead, get your jabs in) and hadn’t thought about it since. But once Sara mentioned the piercing place, I realized I had no reason not to do it. One of the ideas in taking out the nose ring was that I’d be joining the workforce, and most job interviews fare better when you don’t have metal hanging out on your face.

So off we went to Hongdae the next day. Sara was getting her cartilage pierced and Kate was getting a ring changed. I was still on the fence about the nose ring, recalling the extreme pain of having a needle shoved through my nose. But once we got there, I felt the excited, nervous butterflies in my stomach and decided to go for it. It was only $10, so worst case scenario, I take it out when I get a real job (which likely won’t be for a while).

It was only moderately painful. (Falling up the stairs at the restaurant we went to afterwards hurt a lot more. Typical Melissa.) I went to bed that night, convinced I’d made the right choice.

Then I woke up the next morning.

I don’t know how it happened, but the girl who pierced me hadn’t put the ring in well enough, and it had started to come out over night, closing up part of the hole. I woke up the next morning, shocked that something as simple as a nose piercing could go awry. I sucked it up, disinfected an earring and re-pierced my own damn nose, which was possibly more painful than getting it pierced in the first place.

Months later, I’ve recovered from the traumatic incident. Kids gawk at my face and say, “Teacher…nose pierce?” and I let them touch it. Then I show them my tragus piercing and they flip out. Body art isn’t very popular or accepted in Korean society. It’s pretty rare here to see anyone past his 20s with a visible body piercing or tattoo. When we have visitors to school, teachers with tattoos need to cover them up.

I’m not sure how long I’ll keep the nose ring, but after this latest self-piercing experience, I’m damn sure I won’t be getting anything else pierced. And you can quote me on that.

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Sorry, guys. Between Rosh Hashana and goodbye festivities, I have very few pictures of the weekend (due to the former) and very few appropriate stories to tell (courtesy of the latter). It was a good weekend, and I got to see friends from every aspect of my adopted life here. Tashlich was good yesterday–we ended up going down to the Han River. This is my second Rosh Hashana out of the country. In Prague a few years ago we walked down to the Vltava to cast the bread into the water, and ended up being subjects of tourists’ photo shoots. Same happened this year, and you just have to laugh it off. If I was Korean and saw a bunch of white people dressed in funny clothes throwing bread into the river, I’d hope off my bike and whip out my camera as well.

What else? This is my last Monday of work, of Korea, of losing half my lunch break to a staff meeting. I’ve barely packed, and that’s bad news. Must get on that one soon. We’re down to nine foreign teachers this week, I think. Teachers were told they had to use mandatory vacation time this week because office staff anticipated having a small number of students. Well, this week we’ve got 20 teams, which is about right for this time of year, so now we’re understaffed. Factor in that only foreign teachers can teach the adults we’ve got here today and tomorrow, and we’re really screwed.

Just gotta keep thinking Thailand…warm beaches…green curry…massages…ahhhhhh….

It’s a new year, or at least it is to my fellow Jews. I landed in Seoul on Rosh Hashana 5769, and sundown Friday night began the year 5770. It’s weird, but pretty fitting, that I arrived on Seoul at the start of the new year. And now I’m leaving just a few days after it concludes.

It’s been a crazy year, to say the least. Living in Prague for a semester barely prepared me for this year. This was the first time in my life that I’ve been financially independent. In university, my parents paid my rent and tuition. For the past year, the money that I’ve made, spent and saved has been mine alone. Despite jaunts out to the clubs and a bit of international travel, I’ve managed to save more money this year than I ever had before.

It’s weird to think that a year has passed since I left New York. I said last year that there would be births, deaths, weddings and more, and I’d be missing it all. I’ve learned that putting down those words are much different from actually experiencing them. Friends have gotten hitched and engagements have been broken. Seeing the wedding photos on Facebook pales in comparison to actually being there. While there haven’t been any births just yet, I found out a few weeks ago that I’m going to have a new baby cousin come January.

But then there are the deaths.

Having not lost anyone close to me in years, this year was a bit of a jolt. I said goodbye to my grandfather a few days before I came to Korea, knowing that there was a possibility I wouldn’t see him again. But knowing something is a possibility is much different than having that idea actualized. Dealing with his death from across the world was both a blessing and a curse. I wish I could have been with my family for the funeral and shiva, but here I was so far removed from it all that I could still function at work, if only barely. But I wasn’t the only teacher to lose a grandparent this year, and so we became each other’s support systems. Following my grandfather were my aunt, my cat (I don’t care if she’s not human–it’s still hard), my former boss and my college mentor. I’ve never dealt with so much loss in my life–much less in nine months. But having good friends here to talk to made each one a little bit easier to handle.

Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings. A whole lot of new beginnings kick off on Saturday, when I get on that plane to Phuket. I have a feeling that when I get back to the States in November, this is all going to seem like a dream. My life here was never even close to normal. Living in the English Village, teaching classes such as Cooking, Airplane, Post Office and Nature, sounds completely bizarre even to foreigners who teach at public school here. When I meet new people, they’re speechless when I tell them about my job. To go home and have to explain SEV Graduation, aquarobics and the other crazy stuff that goes on here…oy vey. People are going to think I’m crazy.

But for the most park, it’s been a good year. I met incredible people and made my way to places I never thought I’d go. I learned how to be a better friend, and lost a few fair-weather ones in the process. I started doing things on my own and realized that being alone isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’ve learned to be content with myself and my own thoughts, and have enjoyed this newfound independence. I’ve learned that though doing something for the first time might be scary, it’s just about always worth it in the end. Whether that’s something as big wandering alone around a city like Shanghai, or as small as taking a shower in the dark because the lights are broken, I’ve learned to make the best of the situation at hand, because sometimes, that’s really all you can do, right?

A few weeks ago, I asked Erin if she had made the right choice in coming to Korea for the year, and she said she thought so. I’ve got to agree with her–this was where I needed to be this year. Maybe I needed to be so far from home to deal with losing so many people close to me. I’m no good at severing relationships, but thousands of miles seem to have cut the toxic people from my life. The global economy has only gotten worse since last September, but I enjoyed complete job security this year; even when we were down to 40 students, I knew I’d have my job. I know that I’ll come back to the States in November with a newly discovered self-awareness, one that I thought I’d gotten in university, but actually found in Korea. While at times things have been hard here, Korea didn’t kill me. It only made me stronger. I don’t know what happens next, but as Frank Sinatra says, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere.” You may think he was talking about New York, but come on, who are you kidding? Korea all the way, baby.

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Wishing you all a Shana Tovah from Korea!!