Friday, March 29, 2013

It was the better of times... was the worse of times.

Our school has been having its spring break this week, and some of my colleagues have been jetting off to Malaysia or Thailand (or, in the case of our counselor, Brian, a honeymoon in Italy--but he's a Cornell graduate, and you know how privileged they are). But I feel I've made good use of my time at home.

Qin Jie and I had a Korean class on Monday and reviewed together on Tuesday; we've gotten to the part where we're supposed to remember which verbs go -어요, which ones go -아요, and which go -애요 in the present tense. "Supposed to" is the precisely appropriate term here.

On Monday, I went to Itaewon for a farewell drink or four with my departing hashing friend ToT and other friends.

On Tuesday, I went to Itaewon for dinner and my first good talk with Tori, another hasher. She's a good example to me about prejudices; I didn't take to her at first because she's a heavy smoker, her arms are completely covered in tattoos, and--because she's Southern and in the Navy--I jumped to the contusion that she's a redneck. Turns out, she's a terrific person and very well-read and interested in the same kinds of New Thoughty, Buddhish spirituality that I am. Shame on me for prejudging her like that, missing the mark so widely, and losing out on months of good conversations we could have had.

Then, after dinner, we had drinks with ToT et al (whoever he is) again, because why not?

On Wednesday, Qin Jie invited me to her apartment, in the building next to mine, to show me how to make fried rice. You wouldn't think a Chinese person would suggest putting ketchup on fried rice, but she did, and it was good. Then our new colleague Dave--who incidentally is a great running partner and is becoming an enthusiastic hasher--was passing by on the way up to his apartment and invited us up to join a couple of our other friends/coworkers for drinks and pizza.

Yesterday, I went to Bongeunsa, the Buddhist temple across from the COEX Mall, which once a week holds a 2 1/2-hour Temple Visit program for foreigners. But I'll post about that soon. Then I came home and made fried rice; it's probably not as good as Qin Jie's, but I didn't get sick or burn anything down, so good on me.

Today I rejoined the gym near my house, which in the past I've only used for running during the coldest winter months; I need to build up my gerbil-like upper-body strength. Dave, who speaks excellent Korean,went with me and he was so damn charming that the lady at the desk let me start today, even though the membership is for April. The downside is that I worked out and now my arms are quivering as I type.

Meanwhile, I've also done spring cleaning to the point where the cat has space on the floor to lie down. Hey, it's not as bad as it sounds; he's a pretty big cat. (I exaggerate the messiness for humorous effect.) (Not by much.)

(Happy Easter, by the way!)
So I've been making strides at getting my house (mentally and physically, as well as literally) in order. It's the better of times. But, also...

All of my closest friends here are about to leave and who knows if I'll ever see any of them again? This, as I've said before, is the hardest spiritual lesson of all for me: learning to let go, knowing how to say goodbye. I have leaned on these people, Kat, Jane, and Val, when I've needed someone to lean on, and tried to be there for them as well. I'll miss them--Kat's leaving in a couple of days, Jane in a couple of weeks, Val in a couple of months--very much. And Tori, whom I'm just getting to know and care for, is gone in a few days as well.

There's uncertainty at school, as Ron, our principal ever since I've been at St. Paul, is leaving. I've enjoyed working with him, as he trusts his teachers, and his laissez-faire attitude has allowed me almost free rein to teach the way I want to. If you know me at all, you know I bridle under close supervision. I think I'm a pretty good teacher and I've enjoyed being my own department head. I'm grateful to Ron for that.

A few weeks ago, two men jetted in on different days to see the school and be interviewed, and Mr. Park hired one, Dr. Wilder, to take over in the fall. But now he's going to start *this Monday* instead. It's always a little stressful (though often in a good way) to get a new boss. Dr. Wilder is obviously very well qualified, but the uncertainty of how things will change...

And then, of course, everyone in Seoul could be evaporated in a nuclear fireball any day, so there's that.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Totally serious this time, guys"

It's a little odd living in a metro area of over 20 million people, just 35 miles from the Crappiest Place on Earth(tm). I can't deny that I get a little nervous from time to time, and last week, for the first time in 60 years, the North announced it would no longer recognize the DMZ and the cease fire. (You did know that, technically, the Korean Civil War is still going on, right?)

They're also using such snappy phrases as "rain fire" and "sea of flames", and much as the winter chilled me, that prospect is strangely unappealing to me. If they came over the border, there'd be many, many thousands of human deaths, and a cat.

But we haven't gotten any warnings from the US Embassy, unlike a year and a half ago after the North shelled the South's Yeonpyeong Island. At that point, the embassy sent out an email saying, basically, "We don't think anything's gonna happen, but if it does, come to the embassy and we'll put you on buses to Busan and fly you out of here." So, until we get something like that again, I'm not overly worried. (Although the doctor told me my brain was too tense: "Too tense the size of a normal brain.")

Nothing on a large scale will ever happen here unless the guys up north are totally nuts, because it would mean their complete destruction. They've shown over and over that they don't give a damn about their people, but they do care about themselves.

I've likened the situation here to living in Florida or California: you know there could be a 'cane or a 'quake, but you just go about your life.

Sometimes I think we should just give the rulers a billion gazillion dollars and one of those islands that Survivor has been based on and tell them to go away and lie in the sun. They're nasty little baskers.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things were slough all over

Dante began Inferno by talking about how he had been lost in a dark wood. I know what he meant; I've been stumbling around quite a bit myself lately, and all the impediments I've tripped over have come from inside me. Since November, I've had just enough will and energy to do my job and come home and slump (in more ways than one) in front of the computer while eating all the junk food in East Asia, trying to stay awake till 10 p.m., and waking up a 4:30 or 5:00.

I know what you'll say, O Hypothetical Reader: must be the Winter Blues. That is a factor; I cut way back on my running and general outside-being, which is always my favorite state. I holed up and ate a lot of synthesized food-like substances and got a little rounder.

But the downswing started before the weather got bad, and it ended before the first tentative hint of spring. I suspect the proximate cause was finishing the marathon; the training gave me structure and purpose and something to look forward to, and meeting my goal left me aimless. (I wonder how Neil Armstrong felt right after he got back from the Moon...) Then again, I was obsessively following the US election, and that ended a few days after my race. And maybe, just maybe, I've been lonely.

But in the last few weeks I've pulled myself out of my slough and sloughed off my malaise . (I like to preen over my knowledge of our language, but I never knew that "slough", as in swamp, rhymes with "cow"; I thought, like "slough", as in cast off, it rhymed with "tough"... didn't you? Don't think you can avoid answering just because you're hypothetical.)

Anyway, I'm doing much better.

What changed?

Mostly. energy or not, I got out and started doing stuff, rediscovering that there's life beyond the cat and the keyboard. My friend Kat, whom I've mentioned here recently, has been a great inspiration. She goes and does stuff, the more adventurous the better. Her inviting me to hike Bukhansan gave me a great jumpstart. And I've been going out for lunch and merriment on Saturdays after the hash.

In the last few weeks, I've hashed a bunch of times and had some interesting experiences:

Well, we laid that meme to rest for good.

Yes, I slid down the slidewalk too.

 Yeah, I would love to drink that, but I'm a vegetarian. It's a shame.

...and took part in a surprise 30th-birthday party for our friend HHIT; Two dozen of us hid in Foo Foo's little kitchen as HHIT walked in, thinking he was going to help Foo Foo move a TV, saw us, muttered a rude word, and we erupted in laughter. The only implement we had for him to break the pinata with was a golf club, and as Foo Foo has a big-screen TV and a light hanging from the ceiling...

...someone just threw the pinata to HHIT, who broke it open with a single punch

And then he had his nearly waist-length hair chopped off for Locks of Love:
Adult beverages may have been consumed, in moderation.

The next day, I hiked the silent hountain near my house...
 This is my church on Sundays.

and hurried back to change clothes and head to Itaewon, where I played a bartender in my friend Lost-a-Lot's indie film...
Stars have chiseled cheekbones; extras have bow ties.

...and attended Kat's pre-departure house party and ran a bunch of times with my new friend and colleague Dave, who's really very smart even if he only graduated from Cal Berkeley, and... you know, it all runs together. I know I've forgotten some things...

In the last week, I have literally had more social engagements than I did in a full year in Daegu:

Friday: poker with the guys from work

Saturday: hashing
 Some of them are my close friends; all of them are family.

Sunday: Coffee and Korean practice with Qinjie:
Friends don't have to have a single thing in common.

Monday: Korean class, then pancake dinner with Kat.

Tuesday: Chinese dinner with Qinjie, Kate, and Ms. Jeon. (See previous post.)

Wednesday: Mexican dinner signaling transition in mismanagement...
I'm upper management now... time to set my fiendish plan in motion!

Thursday (today): Nothing! So I'm gracing you with my wit and wisdumb.

Friday: Our course counselor Brian's bachelor party. (We are anticipating such decadent activities as bowling and darts.)

Saturday: Kat and Jason's going-away party.

Sunday: Coffee and Korean practice with Qinjie.

Monday: Korean class.

So, as you see, I've been a busy little corndog. Tug is slacking off and not doing the dishes as he should, or the cooking--and he's already got the oven mitts built in! So the place is a mess. But otherwise things are hopping and I am well.

(The following denouement is a bit overly rosy... the best friends I have here [Kat, Jane, Val] are leaving soon and school can be a grind--30 four-page papers to proofread--and the Mets still haven't called to give me a tryout at first base, but still, I love an upbeat ending, so...)

I'm  looking for fun and feelin' groovy.

Also dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep. Good night!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Secret Asian man

Possibly the three prettiest girls I've ever dated simultaneously. Possibly.

So... there's a lot more money in producing K-pop music than in teaching, so I've quit my job and am seeking my fortune choreographing, writing music for, and producing these three lovely ladies. They're called Corngirl 21. They're currently number six with a bullet on the Korean Billboard chart.

Okay, that's a total lie. The truth is that I've found one woman isn't enough to handle all my manly manliness, so I'm dating three.

Okay, that's a total lie, too, though clearly more credible than the first one. Actually, this is Kate Yook, our school counselor, on the left; Qin Jie, our Chinese teacher, on the right, and Ms. Jeon, who comes in once a week to teach Korean to Qinjie and me, in the middle. We all had a dinner date tonight, in the Konkuk University area, which is famous for block after block of (genuine) Chinese restaurants. (If you're used to American "Chinese" food... yeah, that ain't Chinese food... notice, in the photo, the huge yin/yang-shaped pot of two kinds of soup; there were spiced sliced potatoes and corn salad with a touch of hot peppers and a couple of bottles of Tsingtao beer... no veggie fried rice or General Kapow chicken here.)

It was an exhilarating and enervating dinner; Qinjie speaks Chinese and English, Ms. Jeon Korean and Chinese, Kate Korean and English, and I English and Elvish. So the conversation sped ahead, halted, limped forward, looked over its shoulder, scratched an itch, and hopped on one foot. Mostly Ms. Jeon (Jeon Seonsangnim--Jeon Teacher--in Korean terms) would ask me questions in Korean and I would understand a quarter of the words, or Kate would explain something to me, or... well, once Qinjie told me an American friend had taught her a French term: "menage a trois". I explained what it means: "When three people love each other very, very much..."

It was really nice, being invited out to someplace I haven't been and just sharing food and time with these women, none of whom I ever would have met in my "real" life.

The Korean class is going well. Qinjie and I had coffee on Sunday and studied together. Both Kate and one of my students told me yesterday that my pronunciation is really good, almost without accent, and Kate and Jeon Teacher agree that I have enough vocabulary (mostly nouns) that when I get a little more practice with verbs and grammar, I'll actually be intelligible in simple, basic conversations.

I feel that, after many false starts, I have the key in my hand and I just have to fit it in the keyhole and turn the knob.

And I'd long forgotten the satisfaction of working to learn something. It's nice to have that feeling back.

And to be dating all the members of a K-pop girl group. That's cool too.