Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Haunted by Thoreau

A few days ago I was whiling away time I didn’t have (“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity,” says Thoreau), and I came across a post from several months back wherein I lauded the beauty of the first day of school. “The first day of school makes me improbably happy,” I wrote. “I love the first day of school because it’s school.”

Now, as a professor of English in Korea, I can affirm that this is still true. Admittedly, there were downsides. Finding mouse excrement suspiciously sitting where no mouse excrement had been sitting when I turned off the lights and went to sleep: these were unsettling happenstances. So was finding my office was still a trashed mess and yet to be cleaned/furnished. I will admit I wasn’t excited about not having any textbooks to teach from, nor knowing where I would be teaching, nor having any idea what to teach for six of my fourteen credit hours.

But the love of a first day dies hard. Even when I began my teaching with a class of 57 chattering girls (Okay, so eight of them were guys, but they were pretty chatty, too)—even then I enjoyed myself. I had a particularly good laugh over the group names of “Team Curry” and “Team Funfun” chosen by two of the clusters in said mob. “Team A+,” though not subtle, is also…endearing.

No one showed up for my next class. I asked the Minhee, our shy and only slightly fluent English Department secretary, if I had gotten the room wrong. “Oh, that crass? They are not coming. I got a call dis morning…*mumble mumble*…orientation…so…”

Flexibility, I remind myself hourly, is a virtue.

Perhaps my biggest challenge this semester will be the aspiring foreign divinity students. My job—me, a first-year fob with virtually no educational background—is to design a semester course that will bolster their English up to graduate-level.  They are personable guys, the seven of them, but they are needy in an English way.

It is now—when my eyes are drooping shut and the lesson plans piling haphazardly on a hard-drive—that I remember my whiling of time earlier and feel just a little bit haunted by Thoreau. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Korean Hospitals 101

To a traveling American, foreign hospitals equal death and maiming, the likes of which resemble Civil War surgery tents. It always seems like the best (re: most horrifying) tales from abroad involve either local bars or “doctors,” so yes, I had a pang of anxiety when I entered a Busan hospital yesterday.

The hospital workers were polite and assiduous and terribly confused as to why I was visiting them. I couldn’t help them much.

All those boats (ships??) sit out there,
floating just the way bricks wouldn't.
“Hi! I need blood-work.”
“Mmmm. Write your name?”
I wrote it. They checked their computers and frown. Apparently I’m not in the database, yet.
“Hmmm. What is your [somethingsomething] number?”
“Yes, yes! I think that’s what I need to get. An Alien Registration Card. So I need blood-work.”
“Hmmm. Yes. Where does it pain?”
“Nowhere. No pain. I just need blood-work.”
“Hmmm, yes.” Everyone behind the desk (and probably all over the lobby) exchange politely baffled expressions. “Please, third floor.”

Luckily, they warned the third floor of our imminent arrival and they were ready for us with a Konglish-speaking doctor on hand.
“You need blood-work?”
“Yes! Exactly! For an Alien Registration Card.”
I tried not to picture Kang and Kodos and failed. The doctor tried not to look baffled and failed. So he made some intricate phone calls. Ten minutes later:
“I see. So you need blood-work?”
“Yes, please? For an Alien Registration Card?”
He nods. “Good. Good. Please follow.”

I live on that mountain!
I followed. When we arrived at the next stage of our journey, we slipped off our shoes, left them in cubbie holes, and slipped into oversized slippers. There, more half-understood questions and answers were given until I was directed to a mini-locker room and instructed to change into a flimsy hospital shirt. When I emerged, I was tugged to and fro by polite waves of a nurse’s hand accompanied by “Please follow,” “is finished,” “this way,” and “please take off your bra.” I suspect she had to look up that last one, after my apparently lead-based bra blocked the chest x-rays.

Otherwise, it was pretty normal: pee in a cup, draw blood, putter around in slippers, clutch a hospital shirt closed, eye test, hearing test, height, weight, bust size. I like to think I held my composure when she wrapped a tape measure around my chest, because after all, what’s an odd quirk like that compared to rusty needles and sawing off a shrapneled leg?
It was near a school zone, if that helps anyone
figure this one out...

On my way out, I saw an elderly Korean man standing next to a motorcycle. In one hand was his IV pole and in the other a cigarette, a slight smoke haze around his face. Then I almost stepped into a lady’s bucket of live eels for sale and had to start watching where I walked.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Can't Pour Your Own Soju


I have been on the Korean peninsula for forty-eight hours now. Thirty minutes before that, I was spilling orange juice onto me and the longsuffering guy next to me; an hour before that I was reading American Shaolin in Japan (great read); thirteen hours before that I hugged my parents good-bye; and an hour before that I spent a heartening morning with three of the people I love best in the world.

I am very blessed.

Sometimes it’s almost like I can feel peoples’ prayers on my skin, like bug-spray warding off the mosquitoes. Maybe that’s not the most flattering metaphor, but I have a healthy respect for the efficacy of both prayer and DEET. So, thank you for your sticky prayers, everyone! They are doing their job.

Despite a healthy dose of jet-lag, I’m still on my feet and figuring things out piece by piece here in Korea. My first night, I was indoctrinated into Korean culture with my first glass of soju (Korean vodka, basically) and the killing of two cockroaches in a friend’s apartment. Yesterday I got a Korean phone and extracted Korean won for the purchasing of all things foodlike. Today I lost my Korean phone and stopped by the hospital for some required blood work and to provide the resident Koreans with entertainment and concern (more on that later).

Tonight I enjoyed theological discussion with my fellow teachers over Costco pizza, before calling it a day. I hope to write more tomorrow. There is much to tell, even more to process, and jet-lag to conquer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Nothing stresses me out as much as packing. I can have three finals, four papers, and a couple of interviews without racking up the amount of stress that the empty suitcase and piles of clothes currently littering my floor are causing.
Luckily, I do yoga.

Or at least, for the past three weeks I’ve dabbled in it. The impetus for this little trial run was the battle cry of laziness as it warred against an appetite rivaling Takeru Kobayashi's (six-year world record hotdog eater, for the uncultured among us). If I wanted to continue consuming enough cookies to sink the Titanic, I was forced to work out. But after eight summers of training for soccer season, something in me rebelled. And thus: yoga.

I wasn’t sure what kind of a workout these Utnahasanasawasa posses were offering, but I did not care much since it assuaged my cookie-guilt. Luckily, when I rolled out of bed the next day, I felt sore in parts of me I didn’t know existed. As I held Mountain Pose during that day’s session, I pondered whether it was Downward-facing Dog” (Agnoshawasna) or “Warrior 2” (Takeshitasanananana) that made my shoulders feel like mush. My roommate, who had joined in, wondered if I was trying to kill her with yoga so I might steal her books. (Maybe)
Warrior 2 is a "strong pose." Huge fan.
Feeeeeel the stretch in your back heel!

Then our dvd instructor told us to twist into a pretzel (Pretzelesana) and focus on the “soft gaze of our eyes” while this stretch “fanned the flames of our digestive system.” Giggles aside (and believe me, there are many giggles), relaxing the muscles around my eyes feels great and my digestive fires are stoked (!!!) that my body is bothering to workout.

Gracie's not impressed with my "Downward-facing Dog."

But she greatly approves of "Upward-facing Dog"

So while the packing anxiety (and accompanying traveling-to-a-new-country-while-holding-down-the-first-job-of-my-life anxiety) piles up, I am grateful that at least the muscles around my eyes can relax. And someday I might be flexible enough to bust out a full Lotus.
Until then, I call this the Schnabel Oreo Lotus.
Or "Oreoschnasana."
P.S. If anyone's bored and wants to read an essay about how awesome Twilight vampires are and  spend a little quality time disagreeing (and picking at my essay), send me an email. I'm looking for readers who fight back.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Mom Can Beat Up Your Mom

My mother is a legend at her gym. My second Christmas back from college, I went with her for a couple of workouts, and that was when I realized that the woman who gave birth to me, hitch-hiked across Ireland, and beat cancer has never stopped being badass.

There I was, a collegiate athlete looking buff in my cutout, ready to run my pentagenerian mother into the ground when I couple of muscular grey-beards approached us at a tricep machine.

“Think you can keep up with her, young’n?” one asked.
I laughed. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls.
“She’s a soccer player!” my mother answered, neatly sidestepping the question and sounding proud of me at the same time.
“Good luck!” said the other.
They chuckled ominously.

When my mother was able to triple my weight on the first three machines, I started to suspect this might be embarrassing. Then she took off around the track—despite an old IT band injury and, you know, cancer—leaving me haplessly chasing after her, and I knew the next two hours (I wish I was kidding) were going to be brutal.

With the agility of a squirrel and the forearm strength of a professional pickle jar opener, she skipped through 800 jump-ropes while I wheezed and tried to untangle myself from my own rope.

In the fortieth minute of a perfect plank position, my mother explained the wussy version of what she was doing, so I—quivering mass of abdominals that I was—wouldn’t look too foolish while she finished up.

“Don’t you bench press?” I asked. I had been working on my bench, and figured there, at least I might be competitive.
“Oh, do you want to?” she said, looking fresher than a raspberry in a Dannon commercial and casually lifting eighty pound weights over her head like they were foam fingers. “Sure! Let’s do some push-ups first to warm up.”

17 million pushups in three variations later, I hit the showers while she stair-stepped up Mt. Katahdin for a cool down.

This past weekend my mom did a triathlon (for funsies!) and placed 2nd in her division. As my dad likes to say: cancer didn’t stand a chance.

Gearing up.

Game face

Take two.

Charging out of the water!
You can't see it from here, but she's smiling.
Exact quote: "The bike was fun!"
Ready to go again!
Biggest fans!

 Also, my mom watches the Kiera Knightley Pride and Prejudice at least once a month and has a weak spot both for Leave it to Beaver and Ghirardelli’s chocolate. And she always asks dad to open the pickle jar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


See it? No? Well, it's there.

I’m home! It’s only for a couple weeks before I ship off to Korea, but it feels great. Home is familiarity; it’s existing without effort. Home is knowing everything is in place. Home is knowing where the refrigerator door handle is without looking. Home is the Westville Dairy Queen drive through and knowing my dad wants to order a Blue Raspberry Freeze like he used to: “extra thick. Paaainfully thick.”

Home is more cornfields than houses. Home is “The Open Flame” sign whose restaurant burned to the ground years ago. Home is knowing the radio stations. Home is our trotting beagle keeping the kitchen floor cleaner with her insatiable appetite than a horde of cleaning ladies (or gentlemen) with mops ever could. Home is that plant in mom’s front garden that looks like an elephant’s hiding beneath it.

Home is highway six and highway forty-nine and Interstate 94 and the corner of 400 and 950 where I almost killed Chris Brahos when racing home from orchestra rehearsal. Home is a speed limit of 40 on C.R. 1050? Puh-lease. Way too low to get me to school by 7:40.

Home is yellow siding and green doors and
a beagle. But what's this? A new
Home is George’s burgers—I’m salivating just thinking about them—and The Port right next door: that ugly orange throwback where the girls wear really short black shorts. Home is the once neighborhood weed-patch (a.k.a. stomping grounds), now someone’s backyard. Home is Liberty Bible Church, all three services, each with their own distinct flavor. Home is Dogwood park—mysteriously 15 degrees colder than everywhere else.

Home is the fourteen steps to the second floor, the six electrical sockets in my room, and that one towel rack that can’t bear any weight since Libby or I broke it back in high school. Huh, nevermind: looks like dad fixed it.

Well, that's scuppered.

Home is Judging Amy marathons with my mom.
Dad is very supportive.