Sunday, March 28, 2010

OK? 5K? Que?

I've always been lucky with my health; I rarely get anything worse than a cold. On the other nostril, my colds wipe me out. My throat started feeling scratchy on Monday and I was glad enough that our cross-country outing was obviated by thick snow. (This has to be the last snow of the season... doesn't it?) By Wednesday, I was exhausted and lightheaded and from my voice you'd have thought I was the lovechild of Kathleen Turner and a Canada goose. I should have called in sick, but the $400 bonus for not using any sick days all year was too tempting. Also, I only had one class to do. My fellow teacher Susan Kim went out running with the cross-country kids after school so I could go home and crawl into bed.

Every day, people asked me if I was OK and the answer was always no. I admit I showed a few movies and made a few classes into study halls to survive the week. Now it's Sunday and I feel like crap, which is better than the hammered crap of midweek. My head still feels as if it's wrapped in gauze, but... well, I'm not OK, but I'm not KO'd.

In the midst of my mummified miasma, it seemed inconceivable that I could ever again run a 5K (3 1/8 mile) race; walking to my classroom was a challenge. But the registration deadline had come for the Bundang Marathon/ Half-marathon/5K, which is being held two weeks from this moment (coincidentally, in the suburb where SPPA stood last year). There are surprisingly few races listed online for Seoul, and this is the only one I've found with a website in English, so I went for it. Susan's also going to run it, as are two or three of my CC kids. (Incidentally, I'm very pleased that I have four runners and two walkers who are apparently in CC for keeps.)

As soon as I get over this damn cold, I will have the energy to start getting psyched for the race. I ran a couple of dozen 5K's from '99 to '04, but haven't raced since the Gate River Run (15K!) in Jacksonville six years ago. My standard time for the 5K was always around 28 minutes, which was good enough to consistently finish in the 33rd or so percentile. Now I'm hoping, if the week off from training doesn't knock me back too much, to do it in 30 minutes and to not finish last in the field. I am 56 years old, after all, and I don't know if slower, older Koreans run in these things.

Unlike every race I've ever run in the States, they're not giving out commemorative t-shirts, which is blasphemous. Those shirts made up half my wardrobe for years.  But I'll be there.

If I'm anywhere.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thanks for the memories

I got up today at 3:40 a.m.

Now it's 5 a.m. and halftime, with Cornell leading Wisconsin by 12 points. In my last post, I mentioned that I remember that the first Big Red basketball game my parents took me to, when I was six, was an 84-80 double-overtime loss to Colgate. I just looked it up: exactly right, in the first game of the 1960-61 season. I've kept space for that in my mind (probably crowding out something that would actually be useful) for 49 years and three months.

Great honk, my mind is an odd thing.
Update: Cornell crushed a supposedly superior team again, this time by 18. (It wasn't that close.) No matter what happens next, this goes on my all-time short list of great sports moments, next to the Giants-Pats Super Bowl, the '69 and '86 World Series (Serieses?), the 1980 US hockey team, and the time I made a home run by kicking the ball all the way to Mrs. Bell's kindergarten classroom in 1959.

Now I just have to survive a school day after the adrenaline and caffeine wear off. Totally, totally worth it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Seeing Red

This is my fiftieth season as a Cornell basketball fan. I checked today; I remember seeing Ron Ivkovich play, and he graduated in 1961. I don't know how this is possible (since I usually don't remember my phone number), but I remember the score of the first game my parents ever took me to: 84-80, Colgate wins, two overtimes, 1960-61 season. I remember all those years in cavernous Barton Hall when hardly anyone went to see Cornell play basketball; I didn't miss a game for ten years. I remember the Cracker Jack and Cornell orange drink in the little cartons that always tore wrong. I took road trips, two consecutive years, to Penn and Princeton when each year we just had to win once to win the Ivy League and we lost all four games. And all the years when Cornell never came close to winning the title.

So you can see why I wasn't going to miss the first-round NCAA tournament game against Temple. No matter that it started at 1:30 a.m. Korea time today. I went to bed at 11, set the alarm for 1:15, half-woke up when it went off, and drifted back to sleep till 2. By the time I woke up and lumbered to my computer, we were up (!) by seven with seven minutes left in the first half. I didn't miss a second the rest of the way, and Cornell (seeded 12th) dominated Temple (seeded 5th) the rest of the way. We deserved to win by more than the 13-point margin that went in the books.

It was a surreal experience, sitting alone in my apartment in Korea at 2:30 and 3:00 and 3:30, eggbeatering my fists in the air with every three-pointer and layup, not wanting to make any noise because of my sleeping neighbors. The game just got better and better and I loved every second, though I wish I'd had someone to share it with. I was so wound up when the game ended at 3:33 that I couldn't fall asleep till 5:00.

Still so tired. But 50 seasons of happy trumps one day of tired. And we play again Monday my time, when I have planning periods all day except for 90 minutes.

The rest of my day turned out really well, too. This is my month to pick places for the Seoul Veggie Club to eat, and today was the first trial. As I headed out at noon, the weather was very dark, cold and windy, and spitterspattering rain. I was afraid nobody would come to the Dubai restaurant in Itaewon; I had made a reservation for 15 people. But, as it turned out, 16 showed up, most of them newbies, all of them really nice, and it worked out great. Good food (baba ghanoush, falafel, hummus, and yogurt for me), new friends, and I, who have always defined myself as shy, managed to not stammer or wet myself while talking to 13 people I'd never met before.

Then it was off to Insadong to scout out a place for next weekend. Insadong and Itaewon, while both attractions to foreigners, are completely different. Itaewon is all bars and restaurants, US soldiers and Turks and Africans and Arabs, very  busy and pushy. Insadong is full of art galleries and traditional shops, and it's completely devoid of cars. One is a mini Times Square and the other a maxi Ithaca Commons.

Anyway, I arranged for dinner next Sunday at a traditional Korean (but vegan) place in Insadong-- which, in my case, will mean 90 minutes of dining and 30 minutes of getting up off the floor cushion-- and came home.

So... life is good. And the Big Red takes on Wisconsin in two days. (Badgers? We don't need no stinkin' Badgers!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March gladness

(That's a basketball pun.)

Things are looking up... outside the classroom anyway. (As far as that goes, my schedule and two difficult pointless classes are making my work life blah. And blah blah blah.)

But this is going to be a happy post, dammit!

Let me rephrase that...

Actually, a lot of little things are going very well right now. Here's my list of  Trivial Happiness Generators That Matter Not at All to Anybody but Me, in more or less random order.

THGTMNaAtAbM #1: I've been following Cornell basketball for nearly fifty years, and they finally have a terrific team; they've won the Ivy League three years in a row and have finally gotten some national recognition. (President Obama even picked them to win their first-round tournament game.) I think that they got a very unlucky tournament assignment in Temple, a much tougher team than the Big Red deserves to face, but till the game starts (1 a.m. Saturday here, and yes, I'll be up to watch it) it's all better than good. If they actually win, it'll be better than better.

THGTMNaAtAbM #2: Mr. Park, our director, asked each teacher to pick a poster representing our homes, and this is the one I picked, Taughannock Falls near Ithaca, near our one-time house.
The prints have come in from, and they are gorgeous (or gorges). They're matted and framed, most of them three feet by two, and I love mine. Every time I come into the school lobby, where the prints are until they're put up on the walls, I stand and gaze at it and feel... what, nostalgic? Is that better than homesick? It's odd; it makes me feel proud to be from Ithaca, as if I personally designed the topography.

THGTMNaAtAbM #3: Cross country is purring along nicely; I have four kids who are into it (three girls and a guy) and two more girls who are basically in it to walk. Yesterday we went out in the wind and cold and within a few minutes small but insistent snowflakes began to fall. Once again it was the best kind of snow, the kind that blankets the trees and grass and melts off the pavement. The mountains are beautiful in the snow. But I'm ready for spring (and baseball season here starts in a week! [THGTMNaAtAbM #4])

THGTMNaAtAbM #5: I'm planning to run my first race in years, a 5K in the suburb of Bundang in three weeks. Susan, one of our teachers, is also going to run it and I think a couple of the CC kids will as well. I think I can still do it in a half hour, compared to my standard 28 minutes six or eight years ago. If it goes well, I may consider a half-marathon in the fall.

THGTMNaAtAbM #6. Yesterday Nikki, our new art teacher, and I were alone in the faculty room after my CC session and she looked ill. (No, that didn't make me happy.) She told me she's pregnant. That, or rather the fact that she and her husband are really happy, made me happy. What made me happier was that, even though we haven't known each other long, she trusted me with the information. Today she told everyone else. But I knew it first. Nyaaah!

THGTMNaAtAbM #7. Tug's a good little patient: he hops on my lap, I drop junk in his eye, he gets a treat. He asks for the medicine now and his eye's looking better.

THGTMNaAtAbM #8 is that I ordered some stuff from the States that finally came in, two running shirts and the world's goofiest baseball cap, which features a patch of Mr. Met running. (Mr. Met is the team's lovable/ridiculous mascot. His head is the same size as Kelsey Grammer's.) Here's the cap:
(Stylish, yes? At least it's probably the only one of its kind in Korea.) Also, I've ordered a book that has been listed for months as soon to be released: a 400-page opus about the writing and filming of Doctor Who. (Don't call me a nerd! Would a nerd wear a Mr. Met hat?! Ah, never mind...)

Also, I've been wanting to go to Jeju Island ("Korea's Hawaii") for the last 18 months, and apparently it's really on; we've gotten the school trip's itinerary, which packs the following into two and a half days includes a teddy bear museum, the columnar joing (I have no idea), Mt. Sanbang, the Japanese Cedar Forest, Seongeup Folk Village, the coastal area, Seongsang Sunrising Peak, the Female Diver Museum, Ilchool Land (?), the Maze Park, and Jeju Stone Culture Park. Dang, I'm exhausted just typing it. But count it as THGTMNaAtAbM #9.

In fact, so many little things are going well that I don't feel pressue to come up with a snappy ending to this entry. I guess that's THGTMNaAtAbM #10.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Eyethiopian Caturday

After a bit of a mix-up, on Friday I semi-volunteered to host this month's Seoul Veggie Club get-togethers. Hosting involves scouting restaurants, choosing one, and making arrangements.The problem was two-fold. (Yes, I am aiming at the record for most hyphenated words in an opening paragraph.) Rapid-fire. Camera-ready. Cats-eye. (That'll come up a little later in this entry.) Smoot-Hawley.

First, I know virtually no veg-friendly places other than the ones the Club has introduced me to, and nobody would want to go someplace we've been in the last couple of months. Secondly, we usually have two schmoozefests a month, two weeks apart, and it was already the twelfth of March, so I'd have to either arrange just one or do two on consecutive weekends.

So both before and after my (50-minute! Hooray for me!) run, I spent way too much time online, investigating dozens of places on the veg restaurant map Ken of the SVC had kindly provided through Google Maps. Every option was too far away or too expensive or too hard to find from the nearest subway stop. Finally I stumbled on a really cool blog about being vegan in Seoul. It provided me with a lead on an Ethiopian restaurant, which would at least be a novelty, in Itaewon. Just in case, I also picked out a backup, a Middle- Eastern place in Itaewon called the Dubai.

That seemed right up my alley, as every time I go to a store, a little voice whispers "Do buy this" and "Do buy that".

But before I could go scout in Itaewon, I had to get Tug to the vet. It's a boring story about a boring two-plus hours of my life, so I'll just say he's got conjunctivitis, it cost me 25 bucks for the vet and almost 20 for the cabs, and now I have to drop and oint (shut up, I'm declaring that a word) his eye a cumulative 16 times a day (an oint oint here, an oint oint there, here an oint, there an oint, everywhere an oint oint...)

A vet in St. Augustine once busted my cat JP's eye. (Nuff sed.) Tug is virtually JP's identical twin, so messing with his eye brought back some bad memories... at least so far Tug's been quite cooperative, although the cab rides did get a bit old after his thousandth plaintive cry.

As soon as I got Tug home, I took off for Itaewon, which is a unique area. I've written about it before, but let's just say it's right by the biggest US Army base in Asia and it's chock-a-block with street vendors, restaurants, bars, convenience stores, storefront food stands, and people from Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan, Russia, Kuwait... every place in the world, I guess, but Ithaca, US of A. I stopped, as always, at What the Book and the Foreign Food Market, where you can get Bollywood DVD's, Lebanese spices, and Kraft Mac and Cheese.

Club Zion, which in the daytime allegedly hosts the Ethiopian restaurant, was just a block away from WTB and FFM, but the restaurant was gone; apparently they were only open for a few months. Perhaps the fact that the proprietor and his girlfriend are the only two Ethiopians in the country cut into their business. But the Dubai will work out fine; us vegheads love us some hummus and falafel, though if you eat too many of those, you feelawful.

Some of the SVC members are really strict vegans and they may not want to go to a place that serves lamb, so for the following week, I'll book a vegan buffet. At least the restaurant I picked is, for once, impossible to miss: Itaewon subway, exit 3, walk a block to the corner: it's right over Dunkin Donuts, with a huge red sign in English.

On the way home, an American couple approached me on the subway platform: could I help them get to Express Bus Terminal? I could; my stop, Yangjae, is one stop past EBT. He's in the army and they had taken a four-hour train ride from Busan, and were going to take a four-hour bus ride back, because she wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe in Itaewon. The "Hard Rock Cafe" in Itaewon is actually a little t-shirt shop that stole the chain's name and logo:
But he'd never been on a train before, so he was happy with his day. They were almost like little kids; it was kind of sweet. Also cool was that I actually know enough to help somebody over here. I wrote "Seoul Station" in Korean for them in case the bus was full and they had to take a taxi back to the train depot.

Today, Sunday, has been a little more low-key; I had coffee at *bucks with Lauren and bought a basketball and some bananas at E-Mart. (By the way, in a triumph of commercialism and overpackaging, you can now buy a "Starbucks Premium Banana" in a plastic pouch for only a dollar. Starbucks is okay, but Bananabucks? A fruitless expenditure.)

And now I guess I gotta do some dishes and some grading. Or I could sit here all day and try to come up with a clever final line for this post... wait for it... nah. Bye!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Han, solo

A word you see an awful lot of in Korea is han. South Koreans call their country Hanguk, the language Hangungmal, and the alphabet Hangeul. The Han River flows through the middle of Seoul; South Korea's astonishing economic rise is called "The Miracle on the Han River". In the Korean-derived number system you use for counting items (as opposed to the Chinese numbers you use for bus numbers, money, and such), hana means "one", but you drop the second syllable when it precedes the item you're counting: han sagwa, for example, means "one apple."

Han generally means "great" or "leader", as in the country's name. But it also is universally used to mean a basic component of the Korean character that is hard to explain clearly in English, a kind of permanent melancholy, a sadness mixed with touches of both resentment and perseverance. Some say it comes from the numerous invasions, forced subservience, and crushing occupations the country's endured over the centuries. Others believe it stems from literally millennia of a strict class structure in which the mass of people lived short lives of hunger and backbreaking toil.

Either way, book after book says that han is a cornerstone of the Korean mind. In general, to my eye Koreans seem rather glum. They may be given to loud bursts of anger or celebration, but the default mood (as much as 50 million people can have a default mood) seems to be a certain stolid resignation. That's certainly an overgeneralization, but that doesn't mean it's not valid. Hanguk, then, could be read as "One Country", "Great Country" or "Melancholy Country".

This blog is called "SJCintheROK", and I realize that the "SJC" part (that's me) has become more and more my topic; I guess that sometimes I write it as much to give myself emotional therapy as I do to tell you what I see here in Hanguk. I know that's self-centered, but, hey, that's nothing new for me. Thanks for reading it and for the kind words I've received about my writing here. (Send more! Will Write for Praise.)

Anyway, when I wrote the recent blog entry about the Sunday in which I went to the veggie lunch and Dongdaemun Market, I forgot to mention that I decided to walk across the Han River in the heart of Seoul. I took the subway to Apgujeong, the last stop on the south side of the river, and walked across one of the many bridges to Oksu Station on the north bank. I had crossed the river many times on the subway, which comes above ground and shares the bridges with a whole lot of automobile traffic, but I wanted a better feel for the river and the city, and I had time before the lunch, so I footed it.

It was a gray, chilly, damp day (darker than in this file photo) with a strong headwind; by the time I got a hundred yards onto the half-mile bridge, I was ready to turn around. I'm a total wimp about heights and I kept wondering how old the bridge was and how much those trains going by weighed. The wind kept trying to blow me backward or, in my mind, over the edge. I was the only pedestrian on the whole span. But I kept going.

Along with my nervousness, though, I felt han on the Han. (On the other han...) I felt small and alone. But, if I understand han correctly, it also entails an odd satisfaction with that sadness, a sort of "it's okay" that's hard to explain. I love Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night", about long, lonely, nighttime walks. My favorite word, I guess is "solace"; I love the sound of it, I love Scott Joplin's slow ragtime song, I get solace in some strange way from the solitude that isn't far from isolation.

(Melodramatic, much, Steve?) Sorry... this entry is more for me, I guess, but I need a reader or two for the self-therapy to work; if you've read this far, thanks again.

Anyway, the worst thing that my circumstances sometimes bring out is the feeling of being really alone. Tug isn't enough; for one thing, he's more self-centered than I am, and that's not easy. A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with dysthymia, chronic (lifelong, I guess) mild depression. Overall, I really am better than I've ever been; I have fewer moments of melancholy, more self-confidence, a more philosophic frame of mind. I'm always okay; I'm usually fine. The han is there, lurking in the background, but it doesn't run my life anymore.

I'm good.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Snow place to run

You may recall that a few weeks ago I posted a lyrical ode to spring, which I was sure was about to knock on our collective metaphorical door. (If you don't recall, feel free to go look it up; I'll wait here.)

Well, much as I did, Old Man Winter headed to Korea to prove it's not too late to make an impact. I looked out my window late Tuesday evening and gazed in wonder at lovely wet white snow covering the trees and the park across from my apartment. The snow kept falling overnight and we ended up with an inch or two of the stuff.

The forecast on Wednesday called for more snow not quite warm enough to be rain, followed by rain not quite cold enough to be snow. When I got to school, I canceled cross country due to sloppy, icy sidewalks. (That, by the way, was not the usual challenge when I ran with our team in August in St. Augustine.)

I have a little balcony alongside my classroom, and the view Wednesday morning was gorgeous.
(The mountains in winter are so much more beautiful dressed in white than brown.)

Incidentally, right outside my classroom I can see the world headquarters of Hyundai/Kia:
That is not something I anticipated a few years ago when I bought that little Kia Optima.

The best thing about the snow, though, may have been the way it covered the reason I don't spend my free periods, even in nice weather, sunning myself on my balcony...
...the school is kitty-corner from the Seocho-gu recycling center; what you are looking at here is 20,307 full garbage bags. Even they are almost pretty in the snow.

After lunch, I went for a little walk; it turned out that we had The Perfect Snow: completely melted off the sidewalks and streets, ideal for packing, and covering every tree and swath of grass with a... um... snowy-white blanket. Note to self: come up with a fresher metaphor before anybody sees this.

So I canceled the cancellation of cross country. I'm glad I did. It was a beautiful day to run.

It's not exactly really genuinely authentically cross country; it's only on Mondays and Wednesdays, only one of the kids can run a half hour, we don't have anything resembling an actual course, enough people for a team, or any schools to run against, and I keep gaining and losing people from week to week and day to day:

(Deep breath...)

Timmy came out but isn't passing anything so he can't keep doing it, though he showed up dressed to run on the first day he wasn't allowed to and I had to tell him he couldn't..
Booyoung (the girl who's the one real athlete-- see previous paragraph) was failing math last week and this week forgot to get her approval form signed. (All the teachers have to sign that the kids have C's or better or they're disqualified for the next week.)
Jee (boy) had to quit because his mom insists he take TOEFL classes instead.
Ecllid (boy) is the only one who comes out every day.
Laura said she wanted to but now is too busy with study.
Geoff, the principal's son, went out once and decided that screen golf was more his style.
Hanbyel (girl) just joined.
Sheelin (girl), Jenny, and Lanie, BFF's, wanted to join, but only to walk, but Jenny couldn't get her mom to agree anyway, but, oh wait, she did. I insisted they run at least a little, so they do for a few minutes before gossiping and giggling the rest of the way. I'll try, as with all the others, to get them to run a little more each week.

(Whew! Breathe!)

So I think my roster, in the first three weeks, has numbered 4, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I think. I think I think.

As long as anybody comes out, I can help build up their self-esteem and (ssshh...) get paid overtime for going out running, which I would do anyway. Among the teachers, my friend Chris has been meeting us each day, which leads to giggly "Helllllooo, Mr. Fontanaaaa" from the girls, who think he's a dreamboat; Susan came out with us once; Nikki and Lauren have said they will. It may turn into a nice little community-building thing.

And meanwhile the run yesterday, in the park and along the creek amid great swelling mounds of pure white snowy snowy snow, was just. really. nice. So very pretty.

Okay. NOW I'm ready for spring. Tomorrow, please. Play ball!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Weak ends

My weekends generally aren't slam-bang thrill-a-minute affairs. Sometimes something or other happens, sometimes not; about the only thing I can generally count on is Sunday morning coffee or brunch with Lauren.

This past Friday, I went to Gangnam (ritzy shopping/dining neighborhood not too far away) with Chris and Zach for burritos and Corona at Dos Tacos, a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place, followed by a refreshing beverage at Castle Praha, the hofbrauhaus where we had spent New Year's Eve. Saturday, I think I bought some soy milk and maybe bananas; I forget the details in the excitement. Sunday, Lauren and I had coffee and went to Yangjae (nearer, less ritzy area than Gangnam) to the dollar store, which is great: on my last two trips, I've bought two plates, a serrated knife, a belt, a tie, two oven mitts, two glasses, a wastebasket, and some fridge magnets; total cost: fifteen bucks. And that was my thrilling weekend.

The weekend before was a long one, Monday being Seollal (Lunar New Year), the country's biggest holiday. Sunday was hectic; I chased halfway across the metro area to a Veggie Club lunch, then walked around for a half hour trying to find the place with inadequate directions and the typical Korean jumble of competing signs:
(The swastikas are Buddhist; the Nazis stole the symbol. I admit they are somewhat unsettling to me nonetheless.)

Just as I was giving up, I finally bumped into somebody else looking for the restaurant and she phoned the host, who came out to get us. (The place was down an alley.) Not a great lunch, though, just bibimbap, which I eat three times a week anyway.

Then I took the subway to Dongdaemun Market, Korea's oldest conglomeration of shops, which is hard alongside Dongdaemun ("Great East Gate"), which once upon a time, guarded the edge of the city from invaders and, I guess, middle-aged, moustached  English teachers...
The "market" itself claims 30,000 shops, and is for me both imposing and, for me, pointless. There are massive department stores, ten-story buildings full of shops and kiosks, hundreds and hundreds of storefronts stretching for many blocks (both above and below ground), street vendors, and alleyways full of stalls selling an incredible array of... well, everything: clothing of all kinds, food, shoes, electronics, purses, furniture, all cheap, mostly knockoffs, all piled up like Satan's attic had exploded, none of it anything I wanted and little of which would fit me anyway.

I had gone with the hope of finding Waegook ("Foreigner") Books, which an online site had said was at "Stall 27". This is rather like looking for Tree 3021 in the Black Forest. If the place even exists, it's probably stocked with books like Great Hobbit Linebackers and Sarah Palin, Renaissance Woman.

So I ended up spending seven hours and having a disappointing lunch and buying nothing, but it's okay; I'm pretty good at not having expectations and, as the Carpenters sang, "It's one more round for experience and I'm on the road again."

Usually my weekends are less tiring. Sometimes I get a bit down, sitting in my apartment on the Far Side of the Earth and watching the cat sleep. Generally I'm fine. Like 'most everything in my life, weekends will get better when baseball season starts; with two teams sharing Jamsil Stadium, the Bears (huzzah!) and the Twins (meh), there is a home game almost every day but Mondays, the tickets are cheap, and they have beer there.

Meanwhile, all's weak that ends weak. Or something.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Queen and I

This country is in love.

Kim Yu-na (whose name, by the way, is actually pronounced "Kim Yawn-ah", as nearly as it can be put into Western characters) has fifty million people in the palm of her hand. Although it's hard to tell with the language barrier and the fact that virtually all  Koreans have three one-syllable names and most of them are Kims, Parks, or Lees, I think she was already, before the Olympics, the best-known and most popular person in the country: Queen Yu-na, indeed.

She is in ads all over the place, for everything. The one they show the most is for Samsung cell phones; at the end she makes that 007 shooting gesture, and one person after another clutches his or her heart, leaning back and smiling ear-to-ear. That's exactly how everyone here feels about her. 

The country practically stopped on Friday while she skated. I scrambled at school to find a way to watch it, and finally found the website of SBS, the channel covering the Olympics. As my classes went on, I glanced every ten minutes or so to see if the competition had reached the leaders. Finally, at 2:30, my American Lit Honors class came in and said she'd already won; for some reason, SBS wasn't running it live online. They'd seen it on some other site.

But of course, since then Korean tv has shown both of her gorgeous performances over and over and over and... heck, they're still showing their speed skaters' races- heats, too, not just finals- from ten days ago. For that matter, sometimes they still show Korea's Olympic baseball games from two years ago.

I went to COEX, the huge mall under the Seoul World Trade Center, on Saturday to buy a couple of books, and saw, on the walkway up from the subway, a couple thousand square feet of murals: Yu-na skating, Yu-na stretching, Yu-na thinking, all for Nike.

This is an amazingly tenuous and tangential leap, but my personal gold medal came on that same visit: when I went into the pharmacy at COEX and said in Korean, "Hello... ibupropen, please... thank you," the pharmacist said my Korean pronunciation was perfect. (Little did he know that I had just used most of my vocabulary.)

I guess all of the times I tried to brighten a local's day by saying his or her English was excellent paid off; I practically glowed at the compliment. It's not really a gold medal, but then I didn't have to shave my legs to get it.

P.S. I've got the tv on silently in the background; they just showed Yu-na's Samsung ad and now they're showing her long program again.