Intrepid Girl Reporter

walking in the air

So I downloaded The Snowman, which is only THE BEST CHRISTMAS MOVIE OF ALL TIME*, for use in my classroom, during these last two useless weeks after exams. Playing it, I noticed that this version featured a live action introduction with a narrator who looked oddly familiar. Google reveals that this mysterious fellow is, in fact, DAVID FUCKING BOWIE. Perhaps more importantly, his presence does not improve the movie at all, aside from the fact that you get to see David Bowie.

Moral of the story: The Snowman > David Bowie > the rest of us

I’ve had the past three days off, effectively creating a five-day weekend, which was nice to say the least. “Nice” might not even be the best word for Saturday, where Aewol’s co-teacher’s boyfriend proceeded, at noraebang, to rap along with popular artist G-Dragon, as well as 2Pac. Also, his name was Steve Son. As in, “My name is Steve, son.”

Of course, five free days without drama is an impossibility for the Jeju Crew and for my host family too, I think. We can’t help it, really; being thrown into this immediate closeness, spending so much time together, it’s almost inevitable that we’re going to make mistakes sometimes. When you finally start to know people, it’s so much easier for you to hurt each other. I got in a massive fight with HB; I got into another fight, not as large but just as difficult, with Scooter. I didn’t want either of them to happen. But these things, they feel like fires: you can avoid them, yes, but the brush collects and blazes later. And I’d much rather burn them out now.

But later HB told me that he likes me, although he doesn’t love me, which someone told me means that he does, really. And Scooter and I went suit shopping on Tuesday and had just a good friend day – we ate pizza, and Christmas shopped, and made fun of the guy at Zini’s (who is now – if you are interested – featured on the poster outside the cafe. He is reading earnestly), and split a chestnut 빙수 (sundae). Then today I had lunch with Oregon and Transy, and went to the five day market with HM, and she told me to sleep in the car as the Weepies played in the background. Then we went out for 갈비 and 냉면 to celebrate HS’s finish with finals, and I know it’s such a tired theme, how lucky I am. What should I compare this to, my favorite pair of shoes?

Speaking of shoes: I went into Athlete’s Foot this morning to try to get a pair – I currently have NO shoes that protect me from the rain – and I asked the guy if he had my size in these shoes, and he was like, “Yes.” Silence. After an uncomfortable pause, one that went on far too long, I was like, “…Can I try them on?” Then he seemed to take it as a personal affront when they were too big. As it turns out, they’re for men. Who knew? (Not Korea. Take that, gender stereotypes!)

Now I have a personal statement to finish – I have, rather suddenly, decided to apply to what the Koreans call 대학윈 now that TFANY is out of the picture. I’m applying to Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), which is quite a long shot, but it’s also the only program I’m pretty sure I’d attend sight unseen. I don’t know if I’ll get in this year or not – if I don’t, I’ll just apply next year, although getting in this year would be pretty much unbelievable. It’s so terrifying to think that This Is What You’re Going To Do With Your Life, but as Miguk Oma (in her infinite wisdom) pointed out, one has to make some sort of choice at some point. And as the life of Miguk Apa has proven, you don’t have to stick with it.

In two weeks I’ll be home. But the days here feel so bright sometimes.

Finally, someone found my blog by searching for “burnt toast poem,” and I feel obliged to provide.

Eating burnt toast or kimchi –

The decision seems easy to me.

Beautiful it is not,

But toast don’t smell like rot.

I sure hope that this breakfast is free.

I’ll be here all week, kids.

Today IGR Recommends: The Snowman, and concurrently, bittorrenting. I cannot actually share a copy due to filesize, but I can direct you to Azureus, and from there recommend that you Google “the snowman” + torrent. And realize just what has been missing in your life all these years.

*I do not make such statements lightly.


the truth is

…that I am hungry now, and I probably wasn’t a very good sport earlier, and my room needs to be tidied firstthingtomorrow, and my blog is the first thing to come up in a Google search of the word “hotchken.” And I’m coming to peace with all of that. Today I woke up late and I ate some soup, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same soup we’ve been eating since Monday, and while I haven’t gotten sick yet, I still have to get over the mental block I have that says that cooked beef is only good for three or four days at the most. (Or do I?) Then I ate a pretzel at the new, revamped Tom and Tom’s in Sicheong (City Hall), which now features an extensive variety of soft pretzels – I can think of ten off the top of my head – and is so pleased about these pretzels, in fact, that a detailed explanation of what pretzels are (it starts by describing them as “a salted biscuit”) is permanently written on the front of the shop. Then I ate at Bagdad with Aewol (my friend who teaches in Aewol) and Transy, a Program kid out in Seogwipo who went to the university of the same name. (Incidentally, I made him my de facto brother in the second week of the Program’s training, but “Transy” is shorter.) So that’s one meal today, pretty much. Now it’s midnight and I just spent five minutes deliberating over whether or not I should make myself a piece of toast. The whole situation seems to parallel every problem I have in some deep way, but I’m not entirely sure how.

Scooter and I went to Expat Ultimate Frisbee today, which was fun, except that – if you know me personally – you know that I have absolutely zero hand-eye coordination, and also no experience with Ultimate. I was not a top pick, shall we say. The problem with me playing sports has always been that I have trouble focusing enough to be coordinated – I can do solo things better, because then it’s just me, but when I’m with other people I get self-conscious about the fact that this sort of thing just doesn’t come naturally to me, and then I’m really in a bind. Point being that at one point I forgot the rules and completely flubbed the one chance I had to do something worthwhile, and what I really wanted to do was stay on the sideline and watch some more so I could get a feel for it, but they convinced me to stay in and practice, which is difficult to do when you’re not sure what’s going on, and then they definitely felt sorry for me as The Girl Who Couldn’t Play Frisbee. (Who Can’t Play Frisbee?) And if there is one thing I cannot abhor, it is people feeling sorry for me. So I played until I could get a sub and then got out – I’m afraid that getting out, and the fact that I was visibly a little frustrated with myself (even though it’s just a game!), probably meant that I came off as a bad sport, so I’ll have to go back and redeem myself. I mean, I got back in, but I still wasn’t any good, and although it’s immature, part of me will always want to be good or go home. I need to grow out of it, but I’m thinking it might just be a part of who I am.

At any rate the Expats were v.nice – I recognized many of them, after all, from rhymeswithjeju, the mailing list for English speakers on the island – and it’s not their fault that they were concerned about a person with such appalling athletic skills.* To be honest, I think the language barrier has been getting to me a bit lately – I find myself increasingly frustrated with people who are only trying to help me, like, you know, my pottery teacher. Or my yoga teacher, for that matter. They know I speak very little Korean, and I know their English is equally limited, but sometimes they’ll just start speaking Korean and be surprised when I keep messing up, because I don’t know that my foot is supposed to be flexed or that I’m pulling the clay too hard. Maybe it’s the relatively stressful week I’ve had, although I might just need to come home for a bit.

It was a good day for Frisbee though; the sun was up, the sky was blue, it was beautiful (and so were you). Scooter coached me on some basic Frisbee catching technique after learning that I didn’t learn to catch anything until I was six, and to his credit, didn’t laugh at me too much when it bounced out of my hands. I also crashed a pickup soccer game between these two boys who were probably in fourth or fifth grade; I meant to just play, but they ended up giving me some technique tips for my kicks. Overall, it was an educational afternoon. Afterwards we went to Tom and Toms and met some Jeju National University students, one of whom is going to be my language partner. She has a puppy and the same name as Teddy Bear Barrette. Interestingly enough. Soccer’s been sick all day, so I visited her later with some Gatorade and some leftover naan, and we watched Muhan Dojeon and made one of those sewing kits that they sell at the stationery stores here – this was a stuffed cell phone charm in the shape of a bunny’s head. Mine is blue.

Here is my cool thing for the day: the New York Times wedding section. No, I don’t know why I read it, but yes, I always do.

*How unathletic am I? Here’s a story: The summer before my freshman year of high school, I swam competitively for the first and last time, on my neighborhood team. I had no natural talent and no experience. All the girls in my age group had been swimming for years. Ergo, I could not keep up with them; ergo, I had to practice with the elementary schoolers. No joke. But, in the crowning moment of my summer, there was one race in which I did not come in last, which meant that I was not the slowest, and let me tell you, fifth place has never been so sweet.

daily thing I like, #3

Bright Eyes – Bowl of Oranges (mp3)

Look, I know I just put a song up, but a) the link didn’t work – I’m still trying to figure it out – and b) today I really like/need this. In a way I feel like “Bowl of Oranges” has become one of those code words used by students of a certain age, i.e. one of those things that people use to identify themselves as A Certain Kind of Person who Listens to Music and Likes Certain Other Things – which might be Dave Eggers, or Wes Anderson movies, or, you know. There’s a person I don’t know anymore, but I knew him once, and he told me that when most people talk about music they aren’t really talking about music at all. (Although – for the record – I like both Dave Eggers and Wes Anderson.)

I wish my low-level weeks didn’t keep me feeling like I’m running on empty. Today 1L – probably my smartest first graders, and definitely second in my list of favorite classes, although honestly after Wednesday they’re in more like first and a half place – did a really good job speculating what they’d bring on the Mayflower, and the low-level second-graders I had were incredibly loud, but then most of them did the worksheet, which was a plus. It kind of makes up for the fact that I’m pretty sure one of my students had a seizure in class yesterday, which everyone but me seemed to know was due to epilepsy. Would it kill them to tell me these things?

no one wants to pay to see your happiness
November 7, 2007, 2:31 pm
Filed under: host fam, how we roll, Jeju crew, life on Jeju

“I get socks and a bus schedule? This is the best day ever!”

– an easy-to-please Soccer*

Oh, the glories of no school…says the girl who just received her Teach for America assignment. (It’s secondary language arts in New York City, in case you were curious.)** I’m not sure if the Board of Education realized that the weather today would be perfect for them to schedule mandatory standardized testing – I like to think that they did, and that they wanted to reward those of us who regularly find trash strewn on our classroom floors and desk graffiti that depicts us pooping. As it happened, the sun shone, the birds called, and I found myself on time – on time! – to meet Soccer for our journey to the five-day market.

On this day we just happened to have a beautiful walk, and just happened to pass Scooter, who was returning (scootering) to his home after having been forced to travel 25 minutes to his school, 인사 (bow) to his principal, and turn right back around to go home. It was the sort of day when I stood outside waiting for Soccer and found myself thinking about the wind on my back in ways that would be profoundly irritating to the less happy: Have you ever really thought about wind? How it’s air, but then it’s, like, moving? Wind is incredible! And we walked back towards SinJeju and listened to Neutral Milk Hotel together, and then we met Scooter for lunch, and Soccer went home and Scooter and I stayed for four more hours and got absolutely nothing accomplished and talked about the futures we want and Googled useless information. Then I bought glasses with ₩12000 frames***, and went out with the Host Fam to celebrate Oma and Apa’s anniversary, and ate beef and raw fish and white kimchi and soup and I told them how lucky they were to have each other. Somehow, not counting the glasses, I managed to spend ₩40,000.

At this market there were so many things I couldn’t even identify: roots, nuts, fruits, fish. There were entire stands that were devoted to nothing but – and I am not making this up – edible bark. I want to find someone to teach me about all of this, someone who cooks and speaks English, and I want to go everywhere and eat everything and write a book about it. I bought a dress for $4 and a stocking mask for Scooter with eyes and a mouth cut out, so that he is prepared to ride his scooter in the winter or alternately rob a bank, should the need arise. In the lot next to the market there was a house and in front, near the road, a tiny bed of lettuce.

I need to find a more secret place where I can keep all of these things. A catalog of joy would surely be a good thing.

*Note: maybe this is how to maintain good friendships – keep low expectations?

**I deferred TFA, so I knew I’d be placed again, but I didn’t know where. As of now, however, it’s still up in the air, because doing it will require making up part of the training I’ll miss over Christmas, and I’m not sure if they’ll let me do such a thing.

***This is about $12USD. The glasses, with lenses and everything, came to $37.

in which…part 2

A series of stories.



I didn’t intend to see a horror movie simply because it was close to Halloween. Things just worked out that way. It was my sweet, gentle Oma who chose the movie (more on Oma’s likes and dislikes in a minute). It was entirely in Korean, of course, but you know the old adage: sadistic torture knows no language. There was something about an ugly necklace, some sort of supernatural hand that appeared periodically, and some women in court clothes who kept pulling all sorts of medieval/Guantanamo-style treatments on each other (or maybe just on one woman. I don’t really know). I fell asleep for part of it. Oma kept her hands over her face the entire time. Fun night!

Saturday Albuquerque had organized this festival for some little kids at a program at this church that one of her students attended, and most of us had signed on to help, so I found myself hauling thirty small prizes* and a 24-pack of toilet paper across the island.  Oma and Apa were headed to Seogwipo anyway to help with a wedding the next day, so I caught a ride and ate lunch with them and the wedding party, where I received a gift bag containing detergent and brown sugar. I met up with my friends and headed over to the festival site, where we were confronted with an immediate problem: Scooter, in a rare burst of enthusiasm, had invited some of his students, all of whom were at least five years older than our target audience. So we had to make some activities up, most of which consisted of us encouraging them to tell the goriest ghost stories possible (in English, natch). For the little kids, there were mask making, face painting (with poster paint and WATERCOLORS – thanks for not having party supplies, Korea), and various relay race activities. Then we all ate fried chicken and were very happy. Except that, during the haunted house, some of the students spat in Scooter’s face. Oops.

Somehow Hallim (or G) and I ended up back in Jeju-si, running through e-Mart at 9:00 on a frantic search for tofu and bananas and other barbecue supplies, in large part because I am pathologically unable to let anyone do anything for me. After some help from a kindly Anglophone meat clerk (who nonetheless alerted the entire first floor that there were two eccentric foreigners floundering through the groceries), we made it back to my apartment, where we dressed to represent the fair state of Kentucky (I was a cigarette, she was barefoot and pregnant). In retrospect, I should have donned a fat suit and a Philip Morris nametag so I could have been Big Tobacco, but there’s always next year.

We made it out to the pension in Hamdok Beach around 10:00. Here’s where things get – and will stay, for your purposes – a bit blurry. There was fun, and there were adventures; we ate grilled chocolate-stuffed bananas, made friends with a Korean family, watched Africa cook chicken adobo (as Scooter said, “After eating this, I’m gonna wife her”). Oregon had brought a college friend whose name was – and I am not making this up – Ricky Martin. And then there was a campfire, and grass seeds that stuck to our clothes, and an accidental but somehow inevitable discussion with a certain person in my life, one fueled by throwaway comments and cheap Hite beer and weeks and weeks of the unspoken. It happens. We’ll be stronger after this, but it’s going to take a while. To imagine that here I would learn how to depend on others, and at the same time so well how to be alone…well. I didn’t. But now I can, and I count my happiness and my sadness on each hand, and I keep the transcripts to myself.

The next day I woke up on the floor next to Hallim, still wearing a cigarette costume (having forgotten to bring pajamas), still with pampas grass in my hair, and we headed home.


feats of strength

If you have never been to a Korean wedding, let me just say this: Imagine the part in the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” where the synthesizer kicks in. Now, instead of recollecting that as music, try to picture that as flashing plastic chandeliers. Add a fog machine. Welcome to the wedding hall.

After we arrived, HS and HB in tow (they had to wake us up, as we’d fallen asleep on the bus), we were immediately escorted to the nook where the bride waited, where we – not my family, just Hallim and me – had our picture taken with her. On the bride’s camera, not ours. Then we were escorted back to our seats, where I was immediately summoned by some of Apa’s many ajushi cousins to sit with them; despite the fact that none of them spoke English, they all managed to ask me to call them “opa” (older brother; yeah okay). They called me by my host fam’s last name, which was cute, and they kept speaking to me in rapid Korean, which was not. Then we saw the wedding, which involved, in addition to the aforementioned elements, bubbles that shot out at random intervals, a troupe of toddlers dressed like Cupid who performed an interpretive dance, and a push-up demonstration by the groom, who was cheered on by an announcer and his bride. I should mention at this point that none of this appeared to have been rehearsed. At all. Then it was picture time; first the bride and the groom were photographed, and then the bride and the groom and their families, and then the bride and the groom and their mothers, and then the bride and the groom and their friends, and then the bride and the groom and everyone on one half of the room. Hallim and I fell into the last category. We were shoved to the front of the wedding pictures. I felt a little like a trophy wife. Trophy foreigner?

That’s all for today. More tomorrow. There is more, of course. In the meantime, I’m going to take a bath, revel in my newly purchased Time magazines, and try to forget the fact that I have mosquito bites on my hands.

a toast to the plans we’ve made to live like kings

Oma killed the last of the pesto today – she made almost exactly what I had made, fettuccine with chicken. Granted, it was for breakfast, but it was still very sweet. I was going to offer to cook dinner tonight, but maybe one American meal per day is enough.

I was supposed to go to the Jeju United game today with Soccer – note: I have realized that by calling my friends by their initials, there is bound to be some overlap, so I am giving them nicknames – because her dad works for the team, and it would have been fun; today is a good day to watch 축구. But it’s also a good day to go to some sort of flower festival with my family. I am a festival whore. I haven’t seen them much this weekend, so.

The past few days have been good. Friday I went with the first (seventh) graders at my school to a picnic, which turned out to be a Super Field Trip; we started at the set of this historical TV drama, which they had left up after they were done filming, I guess, and then we went to the 핸여 (Woman Diver) museum, and then to this volcanic beach. I’ve managed to befriend this bully girl – Teddy Bear Barrette – simply by remembering her name, so she kept running up to me and screaming “TEACHER! NAME?” and, when I told her what her name was, giving me a high five and grinning triumphantly at her minions. At the Woman Diver museum, the boys of 1J all bought these toys that looked sort of like inflatable swords with the heads of women divers at the end, and they chased each other around and beat on one another. Then I stole one from one of them and did the same thing. GOD I love 1J.

Friday afternoon Scooter (formerly D) and I went shopping, where we found a sleeveless denim vest that, much to my chagrin, he did not buy. Then Friday night I took HB and HS and Oma over to Soccer’s apartment, where most of the Crew had gathered with their respective host siblings, and we played Apples to Apples while my Oma and Soccer’s Oma had coffee. C (whom I’m going to start calling Africa from now on)’s host brother, who was in third grade, told me that I looked so old that my head should be in a museum. Saturday morning I met Soccer and Curfew (formerly known as E) for shopping (again), where I bought THE BEST COAT EVER.* It is a trench coat and it is silver.** Africa met us for a little bit, and then Soccer and Quagmire and I headed out to Seogwipo for the cast party of the play we all did for the English Festival, and we all sat around my friend Albuquerque’s apartment and drank and talked about the world. And now the weather is beautiful.

My former roommate also sent me this link, which expresses my position in the Land of the Morning Calm perfectly:

*In Korea, I have become more cognizant of many of my interests and enthusiasms. See Appendix B.

**This is the most Korean coat in the world. Yes, Miguk Oma, I realize that it breaks the “if it’s shiny, you can’t teach in it” rule, but guess what: I’m not in America anymore.


New Pseudonyms, with their old identities

N: Soccer

E: Curfew

D: Scooter

C: Africa

L: Albuquerque

Quagmire: Quagmire


Things for which I could safely call myself an “enthusiast”


Yogurt-based foods



Street food

PS: I saw this on AllMusic’s front page the other day and I remembered high school and the whole thing made me laugh.

no need to argue

My well-documented dream jobs:

1) Working for Sesame Workshop

2) Being Geoffrey Canada

3) Other things along those lines

4) Chubu*/breeder of beedogs**

Today it is raining on Jeju-do, and I am starting to think, with the change of the seasons, about the fact that I may very well need to find a job next year. The big “if” at the heart of my Teach for America deferral is making me uncomfortable – and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that after my last class today, in which this stupid eighth-grader with a perm and a navy cardigan proceeded to imitate my manner of speaking RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I am tempted to never look at children again.

I can’t go to grad school next year. I’m not sure that I want to spend another year in Korea, either, to be honest. I didn’t expect to come here and make American friends, but much to my antisocial surprise, not only do I like everyone on my little island, they – and my family – are what is making my experience what it is. I’m not sure if I could come back knowing that it would be different. Nothing gold can stay, as those famous poets New Found Glory said.

Which isn’t to say that everything is perfect, obv. The extended blog hiatus is largely a result of a trip last weekend to Busan, one that proved rife with misfortune. An abbreviated list of what happened:

– got lost looking for “love motel”

– slept on a round bed

– had entire crew of Program Kids come to the area of town where we were, only to find that there was nothing to do, felt guilty

– found that four tickets bought for Busan Film Festival were useless due to the absence of my co-teacher’s ID number

– saw documentary on butoh, Japanese performance art that exists “on the far edge of death” (yes, really)

– took ₩15,000/half hour cab ride that dropped us off in the exact wrong part of a town we did not know, a part that had nothing but a Trump Tower, some construction, and an apartment building called “Golden Towers” that was actually gold

– took bus ride to Lantern Festival in Jinju; bus ride was supposed to take one hour, ended up taking THREE AND A HALF; meanwhile, Program friends left after us, got there before us, in some sort of space-time warp I don’t care to contemplate

– stayed in this motel that I’m pretty sure was the setting for Psycho

nearly got in fights with: movie ticket clerks who would neither allow us in the movie nor give us a refund, old gross motel man who tried to charge us extra after the fact

– got lost at Lantern Festival

A lot of these, of course, were classic travel mishaps, adventures that – even at the time – seemed funny. Others weren’t quite as humorous. The mixing of the kids from the Island and the rest of the Program caused me some apprehension even before we got there, and the big group dynamic ultimately caused an anxiety attack enough that I had to go home. I’m comfortable with the fact that I have social anxiety disorder, even though I hate the name, and I’m okay with occasionally recusing myself from certain stressful situations; it’s something I’ve come to terms with. Other people, however, are not usually as used to this information as I am, and having to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing is not my favorite thing in the world. There were issues of other sorts as well; I’d love to be able to dish like a real anonymous blogger, to discuss the ups and downs of love, of emotional involvement, of relationships and entanglements and accidental, unintended heartache, the fact remains that this blog is only anonymous to a certain extent – i.e. most of the people who read it probably know who I am. So. Suffice it to say that things have been harder, but they have also been easier.

But the world spins madly on; there was a woman who befriended us as we searched for the subway in Busan, and ultimately told us that the next time we were in Busan we should stay with her and her family, and a restaurant owner who, seeing our sweaty and tired faces, plied us with weird creamy soups and kielbasa covered in mayonnaise, on the house. (Which is good, because we wouldn’t have paid for it.) I spent almost the entire weekend with G and E, and on the way from Jinju to Busan we traded music and watched the mountains.

So I’m not afraid of the future, and I’m not afraid of the present. Apprehensive sometimes. But not afraid.

*Just kidding.

**Not kidding.