Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Kind of New Years

The holidays aren’t really my thing, but I’ve decided I don’t mind New Years in Thailand too much. It was 80 degrees and sunny all day with plenty of time for reading, writing, running, badminton, necklace-making, napping, more reading, and more writing—all before the sun went down.

When it did, I and the other Westerners here (I need to do yet another cast of characters soon; my apologies) trooped over to the other girls’ home on the property just in time for dinner. It was a special night with two kinds of protein (egg and chicken!) as well as the ever-present and always delicious rice. Dessert was rice with sugar. Delicious.

The evening festivities began at eight with all the people present taking turns saying what they were thankful for. It took a while because every person required a translator. The adults took forever to say the tiniest things, but the girls were eloquent in their succinctness. They thanked God for keeping them safe and fed and bringing them to this home. They spoke about God’s love and his blessing in their lives. They spoke with conviction I’ve rarely heard in such young Christians.

I heard some of their stories, so I understand why. Our youngest girl, Tati, is only 16 months old and was brought to this girls’ home only a few weeks ago when her mother was selling her on the streets of Chiang Mai. Dora, once little more than a skeleton now a mini Dora the Explorer with chubby cheeks and big, round eyes, was found taking care of herself at the age of two while her alcoholic mother spent all the money she had on drinks. Nana, a little girl who loves to sing “Happy Birthday” and say “I love you,” suffered from a fever when she was seven that stagnated her mental capacity and her physical growth. She was too poor to go to school, but soon she hopes to enter a small school for mentally challenged girls.

After the serious stuff the girls watched a Thai movie (it looked hilarious) while the westerners sat and talked around a campfire. Around ten-thirty the movie was shut off and suddenly everyone was playing games and screaming and laughing. Everyone who lost got their names written down and had to act like a chicken when all the games were finished. By the time we’d all calmed down to have another snack—rice soup and jello, not mixed—it was quarter to midnight and time to light off the lanterns.

Have you seen Tangled? It was like that.

Then fireworks were set off while we were only feet away. The little girl next to me snuggled close and squealed (all right, I squealed a little too) when they banged only twenty feet above our heads. When the last lantern was launched and the last firecracked sparked, we all hugged and said “Happy New Year” and “sawadi pimai ka!”

As one of my little Thai sisters in Christ reminded us, “The Bible says that ‘the old has gone and the new is here!’”

Amen (so be it).

Friday, December 30, 2011

Only, Already, Still: Always

Flower seller at the bottom of the hill.

Flower supplier.

Smoke break at the waterfall.

Roasted crab. yum.

Everybody loves youtube

Thai tea: gamechanger


Everything happens so quickly. Everything happens so slowly. It seems odd that we have only one word for week and month and year. You can count them in days or minutes instead, but numbers are such constant little things that can’t be flexed and flopped into what they really mean.

And five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes—as Jonathan Larson has already discussed in great length—is not an accurate measurement of a year.

As an English teacher, it makes me think of the importance of the words “only” and “already” and using them correctly when describing the inconsistencies of the time continuum.

I only moved to Korea four months ago.[1]
I already miss Korea like it’s home.[2]
I only came to Thailand three days ago.[3]
I’m already used to living in a Thai girls’ orphanage.

At least there are still plenty of “stills” and a couple of “always’.”

I still can’t read a word a word of Thai nor take an efficient Bucket Shower, and I’ll always write about and gape at the spinning of the world. Time the destroyer is time the preserver...

[1] I spent more time in my mom’s tummy—and more hours on the soccer field—than I’ve spent in Korea! (Guesstimate for the second one, but I’d guess the first is fairly accurate)
[2] I miss its gimbap its almost-discernible language, and its Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday Soccer Boys.
[3] Cobras seen: 0. Success.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My New Thai Life

I woke up to the sounds of 45 little girls scraping their plates clean with bent-up metal forks and spoons. There was chatter and hand-games and crisp school uniforms for about three different schools (based on the girls’ ages). Devotions were next, which I watched through bleary eyes and my glasses and mechanically swallowed my egg and rice breakfast.

Devotions were concluded by the only word I recognized—amen—and in the subsequent scurry, everyone grabbed pencils, notebooks, and backpacks for the school day. It feels like any other school morning—except this time I will stay at home with the moms, watching the girls get on the bus one by one.

Except the bus is a hardy but dirty Mazda truck with benches in the bed, and I can’t understand a word of what the girls are saying as they climb over the tailgate.

As we sit here and wait for the final bus to come and take the oldest girls, some are studying (I heard there’s a big chemistry test today), others are playing with the two girls who don’t go to school, and others are ribbing each other—slaps and points are universal language.

I’m starting to recognize numbers and names in Thai. Yesterday Nan and I covered numbers as swung together on the porch swing. Nan is twelve, but was never allowed into school and now she’s too old to start. She’s bright, though, and learning English quickly. She loves to sing the Happy Birthday song and play hand-games. She has burn marks on her wrists and her eyes are permanently damaged from a severe fever when she was younger. She’s not a patient teacher, but she drilled me on my numbers, one through fifty.

I’m still getting everyone else’s name mixed up left and right, though. They all seem to start with a b. Brie, Bang, Bot, Bo, Betty, Becky Beckham. Okay, so Becky and Beckham are two of the dogs, and I made some others up. But Brie is one of the house moms, and the girls call her “P Brie.”  The p is added to the front of names and is sort of a sign of respect and love.

It's so very green here.
Roosters do crow at the crack of dawn here and the sun glazes into the trees quickly once it decides it’s up. Nature’s first green is a silvery gold, with grey mountains in the background and a pale blue sky. It smells fresh here, raw—the way summer nights camping sometimes smell, if the park’s good enough, and exactly the way Korea, with its cement ground and skyscrapers, does not.

The house seems so empty and cheerless now without them all pattering around. P Brie and I watched the last of them ride off in the Mazda minutes ago. The roosters stopped crowing and now I can hear the low menace-buzz of the bees above me. An unknown bird cackles in the flower tree by the swing. I wait and I watch the sunrise in what’s left of the home.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Greetings from Thailand

Twelve hours is a long time to be on a bus. Especially after a full day of stress, only half a night’s sleep and a 45 minute taxi drive at eight in the morning. But I signed up for that option (instead of a plane) because it allowed me ample time to stare out the window at the Thai countryside.

Yeah, I’m in Thailand. O_o

My brain is still processing the abrupt switch of cultures—neither my own—so my blog post today will be scattered at best. Right now I’m impressed by the world’s bigness and my smallness and the remarkable similarities between cultures. Mountains are mountains, trees are trees, buses are buses, and—as always—people are people.

But Thai people are excessively nice. They love to help you, even if there’s no reason to. I must have asked to borrow ten different peoples’ cell phones and no one hesitated to start dialing the number I showed them on my palm. I didn’t even need to ask a couple people and they just started to call for me. Also, they get to ride on top of service vehicles and it seems like everyone and their pet dog (full size dogs, too! Not just the little toys they have in Korea) seems to own a moped.

Also, Thai goods are cheap. My 45 minute taxi ride cost about $6. My train ticket across the entire country cost about $12. A good meal is $2, tops.

Finally, Thai land is green and gold. A lot of it is brown, too, of course, because it’s dry here right now. But the grass—and let’s not underestimate the beauty and homeyness of having grass!—is practically neon with healthy green color. Occasionally some tall spire or statue of Buddha will jut through the roadside foliage in a shocking display of gold.

Maybe I’ll write more coherently tomorrow. The last twenty-four hours included Busan subways—Shanghai layovers—an overnight in the squalor of Bangkok—every Thai city between Bangkok and Chiang Mai—Thai bathrooms (more, obviously, on that later)—and Chiang Mai where it’s idyllic and, as yet, virtually unknown.

 Blessings, my friends.
Welcome to Chiang Mai. Leave your flip-flops at the door.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On the Road Again

Familiarity, like belching in public places, does indeed breed contempt. Familiarity breeds other things too, like dependence and comfort and relationships. Hilary, my college roommate, and I had no business being friends based on our perfectly contradictory Meyers-Brigg scores. After a year, however, neither of us gave a thought to finding someone else to live with. By year four, my favorite time of the day was coming home and hearing Hilary’s, “Well hey there, missy. How’s it going?”[1] The stress of the day—stress that’s unknown until the moment it’s gone—melts away with a greeting like that.

As I’ve mentioned before, familiarity is a hot commodity for travelers. We’ll pay top price for a real American-tasting hamburger over here, for instance, and this morning’s conversation with my parents on Skype was the best present of the holidays.

I’ve been a little stressed recently, what with my first Christmas away from home and a subsequent trip to Southeast Asia. Flights were cancelled and rescheduled; money was transferred and exchanged and so on and so forth; goodbyes were said and my bag was packed all of 2 minutes before I left for the airport.

I spent the hour and a half ride to Gimhae (possibly smaller than even Grand Rapids’ terminal) praying and playing calm music and trying to think of things I’d forgotten. I made all my transfers—from bus to subway line one to subway line two to airport shuttle train without a hitch and the only bump going through security was forgetting I had an Exacto knife in my backpack (30 cents down the drain).

I emerged into the terminal, and breathed a sigh of relief. The sun glared through the floor-to-ceiling windows onto the uncomfortable landmarks of travel purgatory—rows of poorly-cushioned grey chairs, the Duty Free shop, numbered gates, and neon-numbered departure boards. “Well hey there, Gimhae. How’s it going?”

[1] That’s a Hilary-phrase that I probably didn’t hear until year three and a half, when we knew one another so well that our embarrassing colloquialisms rolled off the tongue like they do at home.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Party in the Subway

Japanese book in hand, I stepped onto the subway. Even though I only had two minutes of a ride until my transfer station (Seomyeon), I automatically glanced through the car to see if there were any easily accessible seats. I’m a city dweller now, and practiced in the art of scanning for subway seats. I looked first for the rare space of two or three open seats, then for the prized seats nearest to the door where you only have to touch one person on either side of you. Eopseoyo.[1] There were only a couple of half-open seats neighbored by puffy-coated Koreans trying to cover as much of said open seat without being rude but simultaneously defending that precious bit of breathing room for all they are worth.

I didn’t even glance to my left at the special seats reserved for the elderly, the pregnant, the handicapped, and me during my first week here when I didn’t know any better. But I do know better now, so I calmly stood by the closing doors and waited for the two minutes to pass until I could hop onto the orange line and home. I opened my Japanese book and started deciphering the once-familiar symbols into half-remembered words. I heard some rickety Korean by my left elbow.

The area of special seats on the subway is often empty, or maybe only one or two seats are filled by slightly smelly ajeosshis[2] (old men) or babbling ajummas[3] (old women). But sometimes—sometimes!—they’re packed with old folks who may or may not know one another and whose shouts and laughter ring out throughout the otherwise quiet subway car. At times like that, the rest of us glance up from our i-phones, i-kindles, and i-newspapers—maybe even remove an ear bud—in order to observe the raucous impromptu party we weren’t invited to due to our lack of dentures.

Gyu says, “That is the ajeosshi and ajumma way of talking. They like to be loud and they don’t care if anyone else is really listening. They are always yelling and they are self-important.” And they’re definitely having more fun than the rest of us. They’re the cool kids at the other lunch table who are always laughing about something while your table is quietly munching on your lunchables and ham sandwiches.

Looking gangsta. Nbd.
So you can understand why I felt so shocked and honored when the ajumma behind my left elbow scooted over and patted the special seat beside her. I sat—hesitantly—by her side and nod/bowed in her general direction. She smiled and half-nod/bowed back at me, and I opened by Japanese book once more.

She leeeeeeeaned all the way over my shoulder to look at what I was studying. Koreans are remarkably comfortable rubbernecking on the subway and ajummas are the opposite of the exception, but rather the intensification of the rule, as so often is the case with age in Korea. The following took place in a garble of English, Japanese, and Korean. I’ll translate the important parts:

Ajumma(Korean): Japanese garblegarblegarble?
Me: (Korean) Uhhhhhhh (Japanese): Yes, I’m studying Japanese.
Ajumma (Korean): Russian garblegarblegarble?
Me (Korean): uuuuuuuhAmerican person!
Ajumma (Korean): Ahhhhh. Korean garblegarblegarble know?
Me (Korean): I am studying Korean. GarbleIcanonlythinkoftheJapaneseword...(English) But it’s difficult.
Ajumma (Korean): garblegarble?garblegarblegar?blegarble
Me (English/giving up): uuuuuuuuh—gotta go! My stop!

My two-minute ride was up, as was my ability to speak in Korean. With yet another nod/bow thing I slipped off the green line and onto the orange grinning like a mad thing. Clearly I’m well on my way to both fluency and fame. If I can break into the ajumma circle of popularity, who knows what will happen next? I might even get invited to all the coolest subway parties!

[1]없어요 = Don’t have
[2]아저씨 = old man, but in a respectful way
[3]아줌마 = old lady, but in a respectful way

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas in Korea

Traveling is a worry sport. It’s a decathlon of planning, packing, tickets, transfers, layovers, flight times, train schedules, bus routes, and where’s my wallet? Didn’t I pack my passport in this pocket?! There’s plenty to be scared of: I have missed a flight and lost my sister’s camera, plenty of my friends have been pick-pocketed (mostly in Spain) and it’s only too easy to misplace your passport.

We know to be scared about all those things; we know to worry. But no one told me to watch out for the holidays. Boy do they sneak up on you too—no matter what country you’re in. But when you’re traveling, you get more than a momentary panic about getting presents bought in the next week.

Here in Korea you can see fear in our expat eyes when the upcoming holidays are mentioned. No one wants to be alone on Christmas. No one wants to have time to sit and think about decorated trees with presents getting tangled in the lower branches like children underfoot. No one wants to think about the hearth and the stockings and the wreaths and homey-ness of it all, because that’s exactly what we’ve given up to come here. We gave up familiarity for novelty.

You can travel the world, but you'll always think of home.
We like talking to crazy Koreans about fan death and their absolute refusal to jaywalk. We like meeting other expats who come from all around the globe and we like sharing stories. We love hiking in new mountains and eating weird food at restaurants. We love the new, the unexpected, the impromptu, and the freedom of it all. But there’s a price for all of that and the holidays are when we’re forced to remember that.

We’ve done it willingly and knowingly and I, personally, have no regrets. But in the decathlon of traveling: travelers be warned. The holidays are coming. It’s time to batten down the hatches and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel" because Christmas is coming...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quiet Concern from the South

Last week I was talking with Kate, a Korean friend who works at Kosin, about the death of Kim Il-Sung.

“I heard it on the radio and I thought it was a joke or something,” she said, laughing a little. “I thought it was wrong, or it was a lie from the North Koreans who were messing with us for some reason. Then I found out it was real.”

You can imagine my skepticism and surprise a couple days later when my friend said, “I have big news. Kim Jong Il is dead.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“I am not.”
“Where’d you hear this?”
“CNN, and the BBC.”

An hour later.

“You were joking about the Kim Jong Il thing, right?”
“No! He’s really dead!”

I finally accepted the Dear Leader’s death and texted a few friends to see if they’d found out and what their reactions were. Some hadn’t heard yet and most others are at least a little worried about peace. The reports say that Kim Jong Il’s successor Kim Jong Un is unpredictable, and I heard one Korean woman describe him as “cruel” (despite the difficulty in pronouncing a word with both an r and an l). According to reports, it was Kim Jong Un and not his father who ordered the attack on the island of Yeonpyeong which resulted in the deaths of two marines and two civilians.

The on-the-ground feeling here is one of quiet concern. The South Koreans are a subtle people and, what’s more, have been under threat from their Northern counterparts for more than half a century, so it’s untenable to expect an overt reaction.[1] Military personnel have obviously been called to work and the people I’ve talked to are praying for peace. A vast majority of South Koreans want reunification, but they are worried about losing lives and skeptical that so much change could happen in their lifetimes.

I’m no good at reporting and anyway there’s quite a flurry of articles on this subject anyway, so I’ll let you do the big-scale reading on your own. If you want a more interesting and creative approach that will give you the same information, I recommend my friend’s open letter to Kim Jong-Il on his blog:

Have a good day! Stay dictator-free!

[1] It is interesting to compare the American reaction—the facebook statuses and the wild texts we ex-pats have been sending back and forth—to the Korean one.

Big City Adventure!

I’ve used this quote before, but it’s A.A. Milne (like the template of this blog) and appropriate at the moment.

I found the Bear of Little Brain in Seoul!
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

I confess that I’ve been a little lazy about traveling ever since I came to Korea. Call me self-satisfied, but I felt pretty happy with my bold move across the globe. Since it’s impossible to settle into a new place while hopping from here to there, I chose to making a home in Busan: a life with friends, family, a job, and a decent understanding of the local public transportation. I’m happy with the choice, but it’s time to stray from my corner of the Korean Forest.

So I bought my KTX ticket to the opposite corner of Korea: Seoul!

Minor Korean Pronunciation Lesson: “Seoul” not pronounced “soul” as in patch, unfortunately. There are two syllables: “Seo” and “ul.” The “eo” sound in Korean is like the “u” of “jug.” And “u” is more like “oo.”

This is Seoul's mascot Haechi. He's
supposed to be a dragon?
Saw—ool is close.

But remember how I said there were two syllables? You have to slur them together into one. Seoul.

Okay, lesson over, but keep trying. I’m not very good yet either. I’ll give you plenty of “Seoul’s” to practice with in this next paragraph:

Seoul is big, but not shocking in a vertical way like New York or Tokyo. Seoul (saw—ool!) is, in a word, sprawling. Seoul’s skyscrapers, shopping districts, parks, and population of 10 million or so are spread out over 605 square kilometers, so unlike most megacities of its caliber, Seoul’s impressiveness is more about breadth than height. (Can you say it yet? Seoul? Seoul. Seoul.) Today I ventured up Namsan Tower (N Seoul Tower) and saw Seoul’s Sprawlage: it is vast.

I thought Busan was big. It takes me an hour and a half to cross the city, after all, but Busan has only four subway lines. Seoul has upwards of fifteen with a total of 328 stations and 6.7 million people riding daily. Vast, I tell you. Sprawlage.
So. Much. Subway.

Also, with everything written out in English, there’s actually no reason to learn Hangeul here in Seoul, unlike Busan where it’s often essential on bus routes and in restaurants. Yesterday I heard Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese, and (I think) Cambodian and Viet bandied about like 500-won coins[1]. One friendly Korean staff member of a theatre I went to finished speaking fluently in Japanese (ぺらぺら pera pera, they say) only to greet us in English and proceed to explain the reservation process with flawless grammar and listening comprehension.

Seoul is a marvelous place: impressive and metropolitan and intricate and it has a magnificent array of theatres.

After only a short weekend, I find myself missing Busan’s gawking, monolingual people and its ambiguous “b” or “p” initial consonant, and its hoddeok. I think I like my corner of the Forest just a little better.

[1] Maybe one of the more difficult transitions to living not in America: using paper money and coinage on a daily basis.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Your Local Waygook Celeb

Have I mentioned yet that I’m a celebrity? A minor celebrity, anyway. Really more like those dogs in storefront windows that everyone pets and pokes and waves at.

“Hi!” I get constantly. “Hello!” “Where are you from?”
“Chicago[1]. Where are you from?”


They only talk to me (and, in one case, put me on television) because I have double eyelids, a high nose bridge, and a small face, which—I am informed by my Korean friends—is cute. I should have moved here in middle school to boost my self-esteem! Reverse racism really has its perks. Last night Izette, my friend from church who harkens from South Africa—and plays the viola!—and I made some new friends at my favorite hoddeok[2] stand in Nampo.

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet rhapsodized about hoddeok, but let’s just say that we stood in line—outside the in freezing cold—for about ten minutes, took one bite of our hoddeok’s and swiveled around to join the back of the line again.

We munched as the middle-aged group ahead of us smiled at our hoddeok enthusiasm.

“Hoddeok!” The man with glasses pointed to what we were eating and then at the stand where round 2 was waiting for me and Izette. The couple next to him smiled at us. And the fourth man openly laughed at our scarfing.
“Mmhm. Hanbeonda![3] Tashi!”[4]
“You like hoddeok?” Glasses Guy seemed to be the talker of the group.
This time Izette jumped in for both of us. “Masshita![5]” I smiled and munched. It’s a go-to.
Inevitably: “Where are you from?”
“Ahhh yes! Chicago! Yes.” They nodded and made approving gestures. I know the feeling: I get pretty excited when someone says they’re from a place I recognize the name of. Like “Seoul” or “Busan.”
“She’s from South Africa!” I pointed at Izette who munched and smiled. They didn’t quite know what to do with that.
This time Izette explained. Shockingly, I’m a little hazy on my South African geography. I mean, I know where it is in Africa (south), but if you gave me three dots and asked me to label Johannesburg, Capetown, and Durban I’d be lost. However, I’m not certain our new Korean friends knew that South Africa wasn’t in the States. But they weren’t too phased.
“Oh I see. You star. Um, for example...” He looked at me expectantly. The woman smiled at me and nodded encouragingly.
She and the man exchanged some rapid-fire Korean, giving me time to chomp through another few bites. Deeeeelicious.
“Movie star. Do you know? Look like....for example?”
“Um...I don’t know?”
The conversation ended thereabouts with Glasses Guy wishing he could remember the title of any American movie[6] and me wishing I could magically be fluent in every single language of the world so he wouldn’t have to.
I think they exchanged some jokes about us as we double-fisted our hoddeok’s and said goodbye. But I’m not going to complain. I had two hoddeok’s and a little celebrity status.

[1] Sorry, Indianaians. I’ve given up saying “near Chicago in Indiana at the tip of Lake Michigan” because you should see the baffled stares I get. And in the end they just ask me if I know about the Chicago Bulls. “I’ve heard of them.” More puzzled stares.
[2]호떡= awesome
[3] 한번다 = one more
[4] 다시= again    I was doing my best.
[5] 맜있다 = delicious
[6] Starring Meghan Fox, I’m sure. We’re practically twins by Korean standards. I see your doubt. But when you think about how most Americans can’t tell a Japanese from a Cambodian, it sounds a little less crazy. J  

Thursday, December 15, 2011



I have a toilet seat.

Yesterday was a glorious day. I woke up after only 5 hours of sleep[1] to my absolutely obnoxious doorbell. Anybody who knows me will just knock or, if they really know me, walk in. So the doorbell of a thousand decibels means someone real[2]—and most likely Korean—is at the door. By the second time my gong of a doorbell resounded through my cheesebox of an apartment, I had yanked on a sweatshirt, flattened my hair out of its early-morning cockatoo impression, and stumbled over to my mudroom.

I unlocked the door and pushed it open.[3] There stood a Korean man—shorter than me—who said something in Korean and, noting my baffled expression, pointed to the floor. There lay a thin, flat cardboard box. I looked back at the man, noting his workman’s boots, casual clothes, and that capable look in his eye that says, “I can fix anything in your apartment before you know it’s broken” and my hazy morning mind made the connection.

“Oh! Yes! Toilet—! Grbhlf!”

It’s tough to be articulate in the morning, especially when trying to think of words your Korean conversation partner might recognize. Grghlf, by the way, is not one of them. It’s like the first year of Spanish class when you try to speak only in cognates and forget to use all the real words in your lexicon.

I practically leaped back into my room, barely remembering to hold the door open for him, and started clearing a pathway to the bathroom.[4] Luckily, my new best friend carrying the toilet seat pretended not to notice the state of my floor, the bra peeking out of my top drawer, and my unmade bed. He was working in the bathroom for about two minutes before I realized I should turn the light on. After five minutes he had finished with the toilet, and I had tucked my bra back into its drawer, picked up the floor and made my bed.[5] On his way out, he made my sink stop wiggling—victooooory again!—and said a few more things in Korean at me.

Then, faster than a mongoose, he slipped his shoes back on and was out the door. I lept after him, and thrust an orange into his hands. “Thanks! 고맙습니다! Orange!”

He smiled and I like to think he understood how desperately happy I was to have a toilet seat.

But that wasn’t all I saw of Kim Lee Park that day.[6] He was fated to enter my life just two hours later. We spent a good three minutes figuring out that I wasn’t Elijah and that my washing machine didn’t need fixing. Then he pointed to the electrical outlet, said “snack car,” and “Monday,” and “pay.”

I’m still confused, but I like to focus on the parts I understood: I have a toilet seat.

[1] Yes, I was up late watching a cheesy Japanese drama like the fangirl that I am.
[2] You know what I mean. “For reals” as in “serious,” “important,” “someone I shouldn’t be wearing pajamas in front of.”
[3] It swings outward and this is the first time I realized that’s not completely normal. Yet another way to maximize space, I think.
[4] In that moment, I looked at my coat that I had flung to the floor, my backpack that I had dropped next to it, the empty shopping bags that, also, had been dumped right in front of the door and finally understood why mom was so frustrated by my high school ritual of sloughing off anything I was carrying within three feet of the doorway.
[5] It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you actually decide to clean your room, it takes far less time than you assumed all week as you were dirtying it.
[6] This is not his real name. You don't just ask people who are older than you what their names are, so I don’t know his real name. Instead I will henceforth refer to him using the three surnames that make up 50% of Korean surnames - cover as many bases as possible.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Busan's Book Alley

I have a theory. My computer is not only sentient, but sadistic and is messing with me all the time. Every time I open it up, it’s changed somehow. Though I have done nothing to instigate this change, Microsoft now automatically displays new documents at 120% instead of 100%. My homepage has changed from Google to some unidentifiable and utterly useless search engine. Also the keys on my keyboard are taking turns not working, forcing me to hit them extra hard if I want to use that letter. Sometimes I completely rewrite emails, status updates, and blog post in order to avoid certain letters. This week it’s my s key and let me tell you, it’s hard to write a sentence without an s.

All that to say, although I’ve embraced technology, I still view it as a necessary evil. I tolerate my kindle because it is light and currently holding 46 books I couldn’t read in Korea without it. Skype is cool—free video calls across the globe still seem like something out of a sci-fi novel—and I love being able to look up the geography, history, and so on of Crimea[1] without going to the library after said area comes up in dinner conversation.

But I’m dumber than a brick when it comes to utilizing anything on a computer beyond basic functions. You may have noticed, all three of you who occasionally comment on blog posts, that I never write you back. I really want to! I just...can’t figure out how yet. Someday!

I don’t trust this new-fangled technology stuff and bother. I much prefer face-to-face conversations with friends, encyclopedia’s in the library, and—relatedly—real books. So a day after I became enamored with the Korean jjimjilbang, I found a new favorite part of Korea: Nampo’s Book Alley.

Mini Busan Geography lesson for clarification:

I live on Yeongdo, which is an island (do, pronounced “doe” as in “doe a dear” means “island”), from which I have to take a bus to the mainland of Korean, where the rest of Busan resides. The neighborhood closest to my island is Nampo (pronounced sort of like “nompo” and spelled 남포). Every area of Busan that is not Nampo requires a bus and a subway and at least 45 minutes, so whenever anything is in Nampo, we give a little cheer for convenience.


Books, books, books were everywhere! It doesn’t matter that most of them were in Korean or that all the shop owners looked at me like I was some kind of white alien. Books! There will be many a trip back to said book alley, particularly when I have a better camera and a little more money on hand.

I’m not going to rapture about books because so many other writers have already done it so much better. The final word is Maya Angelou’s:

 I love the book and the look of words
The weight of ideas that popped into my mind
I love the tracks
Of new thinking in my mind.

[1]  It’s an autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine (pop. 2 mil) which seems to have been conquered by everybody and their pet turtle.