Intrepid Girl Reporter

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.

in the realm of the library king
October 9, 2007, 3:05 pm
Filed under: host dad, Korean classifications, life on Jeju, okay seriously Korea

In case you were wondering what a Stone Club meeting is like, it’s old Korean dudes sitting around drinking soju and arguing about rocks. Unless you’re wondering about tonight’s meeting, which was old Korean dudes and me, just sort of sitting there, admiring the slenderness of the cigarettes these men were going through. We’re talking fifties-starlet, smoking-was-cool slender. And some pretty old ajushi. I met: a former English teacher, a man Apa introduced me to as “jjimjilbang captain,” and one who introduced himself to me as “the library king.” He was wearing a mauve shirt. Apa went to great pains to assure me that these were not his friends, they were old men, which I did not quite understand until I got there and saw that he actually was the youngest (at 45) by a good ten years. I’m pretty sure he’s the lowest in seniority. They kept making him collect money and write things down.

I’m not entirely sure why my presence was requested tonight; they thought it was cute that I tried to speak Korean, and they kept foisting fried meat and naengmyun on me, but really, that could have been any meal with anybody. Maybe they wanted to meet the foreigner? Or maybe Apa thought it would be a good cultural experience, or that I would learn something about rocks? (I didn’t. The only word I could understand, throughout the lengthy debate, was 중국, and all that means is “China.”) One of them, inexplicably, told me that I looked like I had been to Hawai’i. After we left, I told Apa that they were very nice, and he looked at me and said, in English, “Why?”

The stone exhibition is in a few weeks, and will presumably feature rocks that look like things, since that’s what Apa has been collecting for the past fourteen years.