Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to take the opportunity to wish all of my family, friends, and readers a very happy Thanksgiving. I sincerely hope that each of you are blessed with many things to be thankful for today.

Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Korea, I don't get the day off. I don't mind working, though, since I would probably get a little homesick if I weren't working today. Most of my friends here are not American, so I will be celebrating alone with Jasper tonight. No, don't feel sorry for me! I'm honestly not sad about spending the holiday alone. I'm planning to buy myself a rotisserie chicken (turkey is unheard of here), and then I'm going to have my very own mini-feast.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to take the opportunity to list the things I am most thankful for:

1. A benevolent, sovereign, and loving God. I could go one for hours, and use thousands of words, but I could never fully express my gratitude.

2. My family. All I seem to have in common with them most of the time is a bit of DNA and some shared memories, but it's enough. I love them all very much and I know that if I lost every single worldly item that I possess, at least I'd still have my family, so I'd still be a wealthy woman. They're loud and crazy, but they're full of fun, and they're mine. I thank God for every one of them every night.

3. My friends. Some of them I get to see every week, and some of them I haven't seen in years, but they're still each important to me, and I love each of them. With friends like mine, distance doesn't matter. In particular, I am thankful for my three closest friends, Duper, Brittany, and Jenny - three of the finest women I have ever known. Because of knowing each of them, I have been changed for the better.

4. The opportunities I have been given. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but I have had many more than my fair share of memorable, wonderful experiences.

5. My health. Sure I keep catching annoying viruses, but I have limbs that work well, an alert mind, and the ability to do the things I enjoy. I'm not in debilitating pain, nor am I in any way restricted. That's a lot to be thankful for right there.

I could go on and on, because I do have a lot to be thankful for, but in the interests of not wearing out my readers, I have decided to just list the top five.

Thank you, God, for everything.

My Crazy Dog

I was previously under the impression that it was an accident whenever Jasper got his head (or body) stuck inside boxes. However, after observing him last weekend, I have learned that it is actually on purpose! I gave Jasper a tissue box to play with on Saturday, which he promptly got stuck on his head (he chewed a hole in the back of it). After pulling it off for him, I watched as he deliberately stuck his head back inside! He spent over two hours with the box on his head, even taking a nap with it! I'm wondering if wearing that cone collar made him feel that he needs to wear something around his face. Later in the day, he stuck his bone inside the box, then put his head back in and used the box as a sort of purse. Yes, indeed, I do have an odd little doggy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Great News

Time to post my big news: I have been accepted to the history master's program at Liberty University, my beloved alma mater! Naturally, I am thrilled, albeit not surprised (I had already been assured by a professor that I would be accepted). Still, it's nice to know for certain that I'm in for fall of '09. I won't hear until March whether or not I'm going to be offered an assistantship, but I have been told that my chances of getting one are excellent.

I'm finally getting over the whatever-it-is virus that I've been battling. In its place, I have a new Mount-Vesuvius-sized cold sore growing out of my upper lip. It's been invading my face since Saturday, although it is not nearly as bad as it could be. I found an excellent remedy for cold sore pain, which is also making it heal quicker. The minute I noticed the cold sore forming, I started alternating putting ice on it for five minutes at a time and then holding a damp tea bag on it for five minutes. The ice numbs the pain, and since cold sores grow best in heat, affects its ability to grow larger. The acid in the tea also helps with pain, and has made the sore heal faster. I completely by-passed the "oozing" stage and am currently in the "ouchy scab" phase. Today one of my coworkers gave me some cream that she recommends, so hopefully I'll have this mountain completely gone from my lip very soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My "New Look"

A few people have been asking me to post pictures of the new hair-do, so here you go. They're not great photos, but they're the best I could do on my own:

It's C-C-C-Cold in K-K-K-Korea!

It has been bitterly cold outside lately, and being sick isn't helping. I have been freezing constantly this week. Yesterday I wore a hooded sweatshirt over my sweater (with another shirt under that), two pairs of socks, and gloves all day and I was still almost shaking from the cold. Unfortunately, our school isn't heated, so between classes, we all huddle around the small space heater in the office. I'm so attached to the heater that on Thursday I joked about considering marriage to it!

As I said before, I'm still sick. My voice has been alternating between resembling an elderly frog and a porn star. The kids have been quite amused all week, needless to say. Fortunately yesterday was a pretty easy day at school: We cooked fried rice with the kindergartners, which was both fun and delicious, and then I gave games to each of my older classes. Two of my classes had final tests on Thursday, which meant they were rewarded with pizza parties yesterday. Whenever we give classes pizza parties, we stick them downstairs and let them watch American television. Unfortunately, that meant that I was subjected to a full half hour of "Hannah Montana" yesterday. I think my IQ dropped a full thirty points from having to watch that idiotic show! Honestly, I can't believe the Disney channel stays so popular when they are putting out such dreadful, mind-numbing programming. No wonder people are getting progressively stupider!

After school, I went home to rest for an hour, then met up with some of the other foreign girls for dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. I really didn't feel like going anywhere, but I knew I needed a decent meal. The fantastic soup had just the right amount of spiciness to help my swollen sinuses a little, and for the first time all week, I actually felt warm. The other girls decided to go out for drinks afterward, but I felt a migraine coming on, so I went home and straight to bed, where I spent most of today. I haven't had a migraine like that one in a few weeks, so I'm not about to complain. It was a little disappointing that it had to hit now, though, as I had been planning to go to Seoul today to meet with my book club (two members of the book club were classmates of mine back in college).

I'm planning to spend the rest of tonight and tomorrow holed up here with my ondol (under-the-floor heating) on, curled up with Jasper and some good books. Jasper has been very sympathetic to my illness, and has been content to alternate between cuddling with me and quietly amusing himself with his favorite bone and his stuffed giraffe (which has been so thoroughly "loved" in the week since I bought it for him that it is now missing two legs, both ears, and both horns). Honestly, I think dogs are the most marvelous creatures in the world to have around when one doesn't feel well. They have such an instinct for knowing when their owners need comfort.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Dog Is a Little Strange Sometimes...

My Jasper is a funny creature. He has the oddest talent for getting stuck inside of things! Last night, he managed to climb into the pot where I keep my umbrellas. I have no idea how he managed it! I was busy getting ready to host my cell group, when suddenly I heard him whimpering. I took one look...and ran for the camera!

Tonight, I gave Jasper a box to play with (I have never seen a dog so completely nuts about boxes). About ten minutes later, I heard him growling and looked up to see him with his head stuck in the box! Luckily, I once again had the camera handy, so I managed to get several pictures before rescuing him:

Yes, indeed, my dog is a certified clown!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sick People Shouldn't Grocery Shop...

I needed to buy trash bags and pomegranates today, so I biked over to Home Plus after the kindergarten classes. Since I only planned to buy two things, I left my marvelous shopping bag at home. BIG mistake!

I'm still sick, and I think maybe it's affecting my judgment. Either that, or maybe it's just that Home Plus feels so much like Wal-mart that when I go there I forget I'm in Korea and don't have a car anymore. Either way, 90,000 won later, I had two bags full of heavy groceries to lug home on a bicycle. When I'm healthy, that's a challenge, but when I'm sick, it's like running a marathon with an SUV strapped to my back.

I found a marvelous new piece of exercise equipment that is positively guaranteed to either kill or severely maim me. It's a device that one stands on and then twists around on, similar in design to the "Slim Twists" that were sold in the USA in the 1950's, but with the added benefits of bumps and magnets that are supposed to be therapeutic on the feet. Of course I had to buy one! It will undoubtedly injure me within a very short time, but it'll be loads of fun until it does. I can't wait to play with my dangerous new toy after class today! Best of all, my new toy is small enough and light enough that it will be able to accompany me back to the US, where I can continue to injure myself with it.

The new hairstyle was a big hit with the kindergartners today. They were full of enthusiasm over the change in "S-tep-ahnee-Teacher" and drenched me in compliments. I'm pretty happy with it myself - I've always loved curls. I'll try to post some pictures after I'm once again healthy and have lost my "Rudolph" nose.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Busy Day for a Sick Girl

I spent the week trying to pretend that I wasn't getting sick again, but by Friday, there was no hiding it. Whatever I had before is back, and it is just as awful as it was the last time around.

Today I needed to teach a demonstration class at school for prospective kindergartners. I did a short lesson in which I taught the seven kids how to introduce themselves and the names of five colors (red, yellow, blue, green, and orange). We then made alligator puppets. I concluded by teaching them the "Alligator Song" (it's a song that I made up one day when my youngest class wouldn't sit still and was driving me mad). The kids all seemed to have a good time, so hopefully Cate will have a nice batch of new kindies new year (I'll be gone when the new class starts).

After the demonstration class, Cate took me out for lunch. While we were eating, I mentioned that I needed to get my hair trimmed (the last trim was back in the US - yikes!) and asked if she could write out some instructions for me in Hanguel. Cate suggested that she just take me to a hair place and explain in person what I wanted. Since neither of us had plans today, she offered to take me right after lunch. So, joined by Cate's daughter Rosie, we headed off to the hair salon as soon as we finished our delicious lunch.

On the way there, we got to discussing hair styles...which led to Cate suggesting that I should get a perm today. I've been thinking about getting another one for awhile, since I loved having curls, but was going to wait until I got back to the US. However, as is the case with most services, it is much cheaper to get a perm in Korea.

The women (there were two working on me) who styled my hair were geniuses. They shampooed it (with a nice head massage), trimmed it, re-layered it, thinned it a bit (it needed it, actually), and then permed it. Then they showed me how to style it. They even brought me a delicious cafe mocha while I was sitting with the chemicals and rods in my hair. I absolutely love my new style - and I only paid 60,000 won!!! Right now, that's about $42. Cate, being the unbelievably gracious person that she is, stayed with me the entire time, as did Rosie, who kept me entertained (she's a chatterbox). Aside from being sick, I had a great day!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Peppero Day!

Honestly, Korea has some of the neatest holidays! Tuesday (November 11) was Peppero Day (no idea if I spelled that right, but that's how it's pronounced). Pepperos are cookie sticks covered in chocolate that vary in length and width. They are quite tasty and are a favorite treat of Korean children. Apparently, the makers of these delicious snacks decided that 11/11 resembles they created a holiday in which people give each other pepperos. My students gave me enough of them to start my own shop! With proper rationing, I should have enough pepperos to last me until I leave Korea!

I haven't been posting lately because I have once again been really busy ad exhausted. I am working an extra hour each night this week in order to prepare Tracy, a seven-year-old child prodigy, for a huge speech competition on Sunday. Since her heart really isn't in this, it hasn't been easy coaching her. I'm really glad that this week is almost over!

On Monday of this week, I took the cone collar off Jasper, who was thrilled to be free of it. Then on Tuesday, I took him for his first walk outside. He was very bewildered at first and couldn't figure out that he was supposed to walk. Finally it all clicked in his little mind, and he had a wonderful time walking on strange new terrain (grass and pavement) and smelling all sorts of new smells. I'm going to try to start taking him out at least every other night.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Regarding the Election

I was glued to for about three hours today, checking in on the American election. I won't bore everyone with my political views, but I will just say that obviously, the results did not make me cheer. Granted, since my candidate never even got the nomination, I didn't expect to be thrilled with either outcome. Ho hum, time will tell...

Still, the election did have one positive outcome for me - it was a great conversation-generator with my classes. Korean kids are far more informed than American kids. I doubt that even one in one hundred American kids have any idea who the President of Korea is, or even if Korea has a President. My Korean students, however, were all aware not only that today was election day in America, but that Obama won. They know all about him, McCain, Palin, and Bush (although they know nothing about Biden, and I figure they're happier that way). I had some really great discussions in the two most advanced classes that I teach. I came away from those classes once more in awe of my kids - they are so bright!

So, even though I am mentally curling into a fetal position over some of the election results, and even though I am extremely concerned about one of the proposals that passed in my home state, I am glad that election day has come and gone. At last the candidates can stop throwing around money like confetti in an attempt to win, and at last I can hear about something new when I check the American news online. Plus, despite my feelings about Obama, I am pretty happy to be from a country where a black person can be President.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Stephanie the Plumber

Apparently, I may have a future as a plumber. I've had a clog in my kitchen sink for the past month (maybe longer, actually) and have tried three different drain cleaners with no success at clearing it. I really didn't want to bother my boss, since she has been so busy, and calling a plumber on my own wouldn't work, owing to the language barrier. So, last night I tackled that drain armed with a wire coat hanger and a bottle of Clorox bleach. I am happy to report that the clog ran for the hills when faced with such an onslaught. Victory is mine!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Oh Jasper!

On Saturday morning, I took Jasper in to have his stitches removed. When the vet flipped Jasper over on his back, however, we got quite the surprise: Jasper had taken it upon himself to remove all of the stitches the night before! That little rat!

So, now Jasper is on another week of medications, and I have to clean/disinfect his little "area" every night. Best of all, Jasper gets to spend a whole week wearing a ridiculous-looking cone collar to prevent him from licking anything that shouldn't be licked right now. He looks so funny!


Friday was a ton of fun, both for the kids and for me. Before telling about what we did with the kids, I should explain that while Halloween is a very popular holiday in the US and a few other countries, it does not exist in Korea.

In the morning, the kindergartners dressed up in adorable little costumes, and we took them "trick-or-treating" to the homes of the Harry, Jay, Amy, and Cali. The kids and I got tons of candy (almost a full night's worth in the US!) and each mommy put out quite a spread of snacks for us as well. At Cali's house, our last stop, we were treated to a selection of seven different types of sweet breads, eight types of fruit, and assorted nuts. I have never been so glad to have skipped breakfast!

After "trick-or-treating," we went to a great little Chinese restaurant, where we had one of my favorite meals: jajang myeon (homemade noodles in a black bean sauce with onions and beef - delicious). After lunch, I thanked Cate and went back to my apartment to get ready for the afternoon festivities.

Since the kids really wanted me to, and since I am still a kid at heart, I dressed up in costume. I had a terrific long black skirt and black blouse, which together looked very "witch-like." I braided and twisted my hair into a rather elegant style, then stuck about fifteen black plastic spiders in it. For the finishing touches, I added huge silver spiderweb earrings and a ton of eye makeup. When I finished, I looked like a very elegant, evil witch. The kids were really impressed, including the several who were frightened by my appearance.

For Halloween, we canceled classes, and instead set up the classrooms into a series of "stores." Each kid had play money to use at the "Creepy Stationary Store," "Cruel Grocery Store," and "Scary Restaurant." We also had a game room and a movie room (for which Cate had rented Chuckie and Chuckie II - I told her she was nuts for choosing those films). At the restaurant, where I was stationed, we served up two types of noodles, mandu (stuffed dumplings), duck-bukki (a really spicy, tasty dish involving rice cakes, lettuce, and fish cakes - one of only two instances in which I will knowingly consume fish cakes), Vienna sausages, and soda. The kids had to use only English to purchase things, and we rewarded particularly good English usage with candy. By the end of the day, we teachers were exhausted!

Cate took us for food and drinks afterward, which was quite fun. I really enjoy spending time socially with my co-workers. By eleven, though, it was time to say goodnight and head home to bed. I think this was one of my favorite Halloweens.

Pictures from My "Treat Weekend" (Part 2)

Here's the rest of the photos from my weekend in Seoul:

Part of my lovely hotel room.

The name of this restaurant made me do a double-take and erupt into giggles.

This one also demanded to be photographed. Where do they come up with these names?!

Yet another sign that made me burst out laughing, to the surprise of several Koreans.

I thought this building was really neat.

My extremely enticing breakfast.

Me posing by the entrance to COEX Mall.

Read the fourth item down on this list of snacks available at the COEX Aquarium.

Yet another sign that caused a chuckle.

Pictures from My "Treat Weekend" (Part 1)

These pictures were taken at the COEX Aquarium in Seoul:

One of the exhibits featured dozens of alternatives to fishbowls, such as this watercooler.

This was my favorite "fishbowl."

Believe it or not, a two headed turtle. And it's alive, by the way. Awesome!

Hanging out with a few pretty squid.

Have you ever seen a turtle with such a long neck?!

I found this fish slightly disturbing!

One seal wanted to play; this one just wanted to rest.

And after an Extended Delay...

I am finally blogging about my "treat weekend" in Seoul (Oct 25-26)! I am so sorry about the very long delay in writing, but as I said, I got ramrodded with migraines last week.

Basically, the idea to have my "treat weekend" occurred to me on Tuesday (Oct 21). On Wednesday of that week, I bought my ticket to Cirque du Soleil's Alegria and looked for hotels online. Because Alegria was being held near the Olympic stadium (where the 1988 Olympics were held), which is in Gangnam (a region of Seoul), I wanted to find a hotel that was also in Gangnam, and large enough that a taxi driver would be familiar with it. I had only been to Seoul once before, so I did not know my way around the city. Since I was going alone, I did not want to have to traipse across Seoul alone at night, searching for my hotel. The only problem was that Gangnam is the most expensive area in Seoul, so hotels there do not come cheap.

I found a perfect hotel within walking distance of the Olympic park, but tarried in reserving a room, thinking I might find a better deal. When I decided to go ahead and book the room (on Thursday), there were no more available at the price I had been quoted, so I could not afford to stay at that hotel (the only rooms available were more than $300 American per night). So, since I was supposed to leave in only two days, I became a bit stressed and desperate. I had decided that Novatel was out of my price range, but had to reconsider finally. In Europe that chain is only three star, but in Korea it is a four star hotel. I decided that splurging once wouldn't kill me (although I did feel some pain).

On Friday, I had to take Jasper in for his "Eunuch-ification" surgery (getting fixed). In all the stress and excitement of planning my get-a-way, I had completely forgotten about Jasper - until Friday evening. I did some frantic text-messaging to a few friends, and my dear friend Michelle happily volunteered to babysit Jasper for me. Oh, in case you're wondering, his surgery went well and cost less than half as much as it would have in the USA.

On Saturday morning, I dropped off Jasper (who was feeling great) at Michelle's apartment, showed her how to give him his medicine, which he actually loved, and then took a taxi to the bus terminal. I caught the 10:30 bus to Seoul and spent the next four hours blissfully napping while my wonderful new iPod Nano serenaded me. When I got to Seoul, my first stop was a Dunkin' Donuts, where I got a hot sandwich and a kiwi slushie. Normally I abhor Dunkin' Donuts, but I had not eaten all day and my low blood sugar chose the restaurant for me.

I was supposed to meet with my book club at 4:00, so I wandered around in the Gangnam underground shopping center for awhile looking for a new bag (with no luck) and then tried to find where I was supposed to meet people. Since I do not know Seoul well, I got lost and frustrated. Finally, my friend Beth tracked me down and the two of us went to the meeting place. After a very brief book club meeting, during which we ordered our books (we're going to be studying Augustine's City of God together), we went our separate ways. Beth and I, along with a friend of Beth's, went out for dinner at Dos Tacos, a really great "hole-in-the-wall" Mexican restaurant. Fortified with a fantastic chicken, avocado, and olive burrito, I set off in search of the Olympic Park.

The Olympic Park is actually quite easy to find, and Beth insisted on escorting me there, so I didn't even come close to getting lost. I picked up my ticket, and in eager anticipation went to my seat. I had one of the most perfect seats I have ever had - fifth row. I was less than twenty feet from the stage! Giddy with excitement, I waited for the show to start.

For the rest of my life, I shall always regard Alegria as one of my most enchanting memories. I have wanted to see the Cirque du Soleil perform since I was eleven years old, and this was one dream that actually gained grandeur in coming true. The music was so fantastic that at intermission, I purchased the Alegria CD. I cannot begin to describe the amazing things the performers did - at one point twelve acrobats were flipping at the same time in different directions, often right over-top one another - so I won't even make an attempt. The costumes, the music, the acrobats, the contortionists, the clowns, and the atmosphere all made for a live show that I wished would never end.

After the show, I went straight to my hotel to check in (it was about 11:00 pm). I enjoyed my first bath in over eight months (I only have a shower at my apartment), rented a very unique Korean film, and then a great night's sleep. I heartily recommend the Gangnam Novatel to any other travelers. My room was gorgeous, the employees were friendly, and I have never before seen so many freebies in a hotel (at the price I was paying, there was no way I was going to leave any of them behind).

The next morning (Sunday), I decided that I wanted to go to the COEX Aquarium, having heard that it was superb. I had no idea how to get there, but I did know which direction it was in from my hotel. Feeling very ambitious, and perhaps even reckless, I decided to walk there, figuring that there would be a sign to guide me sooner or later. I know what my readers are thinking right now - you think I got lost, don't you?! Shame on you for your lack of faith in me! Believe it or not, this time I got lucky. COEX was about a half hour walk from my hotel, and was right off the same road.

I found a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (a terrific coffee shop) right across the street from COEX, so I decided to stop there for breakfast. I had a heavenly Camembert and chocolate tart with a simmering white chocolate mocha to drink. After breakfast, I walked across the street (no easy feat in Korea, especially Seoul), and climbed the stairs down to COEX.

COEX is a HUGE underground mall. By huge, I mean absolutely mind-bogglingly ginormous. The thing must stretch on for miles! The aquarium is underground as well, and was well worth the price of admission. I saw tons of interesting fish, as well as adorable seals and penguins. Best of all, there were actually signs in English so that I could read about the sea creatures I was viewing. The aquarium also has lockers, so I didn't have to lug my heavy backpack and shoulder bag through the exhibits.

Although I normally despise malls with a deep passion, I actually enjoyed shopping at COEX. It's such a unique mall that even though it was crowded beyond what an American fire marshal would allow, and even though it was overwhelming and I was lugging heavy bags, I still had a good time. I managed to find a beautiful gift for my grandmother and a little something for my niece, so I was quite pleased with the whole experience. For lunch/dinner, I ate at a delicious Italian restaurant with lousy service. Since I had a Bill Bryson book as my dining companion, the poor service didn't bother me in the least.

After lunch/dinner, I went to the lowest level of the COEX Mall to visit the Kimchi Museum. When I first heard about this particular museum, I thought it was just a joke, but having visited it, I can now say that there definitely is a kimchi museum in Korea. It's small, but informative, and the lady at the desk was very sweet. I learned all about the history of kimchi, how it is made, and it's many health benefits. I have to say, I'm really impressed that something so fundamentally disgusting (but strangely addicting) can be so important to an entire country.

Around 5:30, I made my way over to the express bus terminal, which is just a few metro stops away from COEX. I caught a 6:30 bus back to Gyeongju, and napped and listened to Victor Borge on my iPod for the four hour journey. I was seated next to a very sweet elderly Korean woman, who alternated between smiling at me and sleeping. At one point, she offered to share her fish cakes with me, but I politely declined (I hate those things - they take fish, which is disgusting, and make it even more repulsive by pounding it into sickeningly yellow flat "cakes").

I was back at Michelle's flat by 11:00 to pick up Jasper, although I wound up visiting for an hour. To my relief, he and Michelle had a great time together, and she was sorry to see him go. Jasper held no grudge about being left behind immediately after a surgery, so he was thrilled to see me. After calling home to chat with my parents, I went to bed dreaming of Alegria. What a marvelous weekend!
"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"