Intrepid Girl Reporter

Sunday, 6/8: on clothes
June 8, 2008, 1:52 pm
Filed under: life progress, the future, travel, U S of A

When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already,…and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was.

– Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That”

I have this feeling that when I open my suitcase in Johnson City, all the things that I bought in Korea will turn into dust. Never mind that I did this once before. This time I’m coming home for good, at least for a little while, and I can’t imagine that the colors will stay, that I’ll be able to pick up my clothes without watching them disintegrate in my hands.

I have a little less than a month left here, depending on when I finally decide to leave. I’ve been putting it off. I can leave as early as July 5th, after which I’ll take classes at the state university in my town, and…then what? I know I can’t stay here, but I haven’t heard back from a single job (except for the one that told me that they would interview me if I were only in the States). I know that if it weren’t for my friends and my family here, my time in Korea would seem like a dream, so far removed is it from the region its promoters so optimistically name The Mountain South. I’m pretty distant from the Eastman Kodak plant here.

I have no problem going home as long as I have something new to which I can move on. I’m not ready for this to be the pinnacle of my life. I’m a little scared of how fast I’m afraid this experience is going to disappear from my life, but I might be more worried that once those shirts and dresses that were so beautiful here disappear, I’ll have nothing to hold in their place.

Sunday, 4/27: choose your own adventure
April 27, 2008, 4:00 pm
Filed under: life on Jeju, MSYDP, the future, travel



  • call travel agent to reserve KoreanAir tickets
  • write cover letter for Museum Fellows program
  • plan out Green Eggs and Ham lesson
  • ASP lesson
  • work on diplomacy sim: official problem
  • mail package (if in Sicheong)
  • send off questions for article for [publication]


  • for sure mail package
  • cover letter for Janaagraha
  • work on diplomacy sim: country profile
  • Japan ideal itinerary
  • finish 1 article for [publication]


  • cover letter: Sonoma
  • work on DS: country profile
  • Japan hostels
  • at least start article 2 for [publication]
  • t-shirt design?

On the bus back from Seogwipo today I listened to We Are Scientists, thinking that I had not, until I realized that a) I did know these songs and b) it really just made me want to listen to Bloc Party, instead.

For the Ultimate tournament party on Saturday I was Hillary Clinton, Arkansas and Scooter were Secret Service agents, Oregon was Chelsea, and Transy was a Bosnian sniper. I took lots of pictures which I cannot share here, obviously. We danced a lot and ate some not-very-good food – I’m still not sold on Gecko’s, and La Vie makes a far better burger for much cheaper – and drank free Cass all night, and then we had a sleepover at a motel near EMart. Then today Oregon and Transy and I went to see Soccer play Frisbee. She’s quite pan-athletic. We left before Hallim’s game because it was starting to rain and, more importantly, we wanted some sujebi. Sorry, Hallim.

The applications for MSYDP will be on their way to Seoul by tomorrow, after which point we merely have to: find a way to get students there, arrange for their transportation, create programming that will appeal to them, make up some sort of diplomacy simulation, and ensure that they are fed. And design some t-shirts. Also, I got in a minor scuffle with Host Fam today because Host Parents wanted HB to apply for the program, even though, you know, he doesn’t want to go, because HE DOESN’T WANT TO BE A DIPLOMAT. He wants to be a judge. The deadline had passed, anyway, so he couldn’t apply without accusations of nepotism, but Host Parents are less than happy.

Friday, 4/25: the days of miracle and wonder
April 25, 2008, 6:05 pm
Filed under: Cheki, lists, MSYDP, photography, the future, travel

Post-travel recovery plans:


  • get out of bed by 9 AM
  • call KoreanAir to reserve MSYDP tickets
  • mail package home
  • write another stupid cover letter for another stupid job
  • things I can spend money on: paying Arkansas back, book club, maybe one coffee wherever I go to work (which rules out Hollys, as is far too expensive), splitting hotel room with Oregon for the night


  • start reviewing diplomacy simulation stuff for conference
  • plan lesson-ish
  • make list of stuff to do in Japan
  • no spending of money allowed

That list just took me about ten minutes to type. I sort of hate WordPress’s formatting a good deal of the time.

Anyway, on my travels, I bought this:

I AM EXTREMELY EXCITED. This is an excellent toy.

I realize that the whole Polaroid thing might be a little done already, and to be totally honest this was a complete impulse purchase – I was with my roommate from the Embassy internship, Wallenda, who had come to meet me in Daegu, and we were on the first floor of the Kyobo Bookshop and they had this beautiful display of cameras right by the entrance for people with no willpower, like me. To my credit, I managed to wait until I had bought a bunch of other stuff before going back and investigating.

The Cheki, at any rate, is unavailable in America, or so it appears from a cursory Google search. And Korea’s obsession with “name cards” (i.e. business cards) means that a million albums exist for them, which is convenient, as name cards are the exact size of the pictures my new camera takes. I bought the simplest one, which was also the cheapest; it wasn’t exactly cheap at ₩57000 (roughly $60 USD), but the only place I can find to get them in the US is eBay or, which, not being exactly a discount site, sells a “special edition” for $200. Still, it was not money I needed to spend, and instant film is notoriously expensive, but it’s pretty beautiful anyway.

Anyway that makes three cameras I have here in Korea – my good one, my old digital point-and-shoot (which is what I took to the mainland this week) and the Cheki. I wish I could have my lovely Holga here with me, but I can’t use it until I live somewhere where they can process my 120 film. Hopefully that day will come sooner rather than later. I’m rather embarrassed that I’m not a better photographer, to be honest – I haven’t studied photography in any way since high school, and I’m always afraid that my photos are too dependent on trite emotional manipulation and rely on the same old tricks. Nonetheless, I’m excited to play with a new way of taking pictures (well, for me at least). There’s a big expat party tomorrow in Jungmoon in honor of the Ultimate Frisbee tournament, and we’re all going to celebrate Arkansas’ birthday and cheer on Soccer and Hallim. Oregon has urged me to have my camera make its debut.

The mainland was surprisingly wonderful. I ate candied strawberries and Italian food and had my feet eaten by fish in Daegu, I saw The Host in Yeongcheon with Grayshifter, I went to a sports day at Jeonju Girls’ High School, and I met my summer roommate and her friend in Andong. I got a lot of one-on-one time in, a lot of surprising bonding, and I managed to get myself around the mainland without getting lost, which is more than I can say about my home here on Jeju.

One final note: Interest in the MSYDP is almost unbelievable. We’ve gotten a truly staggering number of applications, and I’m really excited. From my own school, however, I’ve only received six, and the truth is that my students’ English is just not that good. I mean, I know I shouldn’t be surprised; I teach at one of the lowest-level middle schools in Jeju-si. At least one applicant from my school will go, and I guess the rest is up to the judges.

Monday, 1/21: Singapore, without a soundtrack
January 21, 2008, 12:38 pm
Filed under: Apple, host brother, looks like, travel

hi (IGR)! you are really go singapore… but I’m never lonely!!! because you are not here I can’t hear your noise and you are not disturb me. so now Iam very happy …… hope you are having a good day~~

(Host Brother).

(. .)

If I could review Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport as a place to sleep, it would compare favorably with (God forbid) Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. Actually, I believe I will review it.

SLEEPING IN AIRPORTS: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi

The first thing to note about Suvarnabhumi is that it’s brand new. The second is that it’s full of backpackers who have the same idea you do, unlike certain other airports we could mention, which are full of homeless people who accuse you of nonexistent offenses. This means that there can be fierce competition for the cushioned benches – unsurprising considering the facts that the airport is also quiet and free of ugly carpet (are you listening, Atlanta?), has restaurants and Starbucks open 24 hours, and doesn’t smell. Aside from the absence of free Internet access and a few issues with climate control, Suvarnabhumi makes a fine place to nurse a 4AM Tazo Shaken Black Lemon Tea (Iced) before eventually passing out on a chair while you wait for your budget flight.

Singapore is humid, but thanks to the kindness of Hallim’s friend from college, we have a very comfortable place to stay, one in which Hallim is passed out right now. This is probably due to the fact that our flight left at 10:15 yesterday morning. We had some time to kill in Seoul, so we met Soccer, Quagmire, and another Program friend of ours I’ll call Earthy Fellow in Itaewon, a district in which I have no desire to ever, ever set foot again – it reminded me of Bourbon Street with a dash of colonialism, except much larger. At any rate we went to some place called Foreign Restaurant, which, as one might guess, was not any good, really. But the company was excellent. We tried to go see a movie, ended up browsing in some weird supermall, and took the metro back to Incheon, which was not, I discovered too late, the same as Incheon Terminal. Incheon Terminal is actually 40 minutes away from Incheon. We had to get on a bus, and then we had to tell the bus driver to hurry, and we ran through customs, etc., and then we discovered that the boarding time had been delayed. (Note: this was my fault. I should not attempt to navigate anywhere.) So we made it to Bangkok around 1:20, got our stuff, had some SB and crashed. Our AirAsia flight left around 7:30, and we were at Hallim’s friend’s apartment by 12.

We spent the afternoon in the Arab Quarter, which was lots of fun, aside from the fact that we ended up eating Malay/Indonesian food, which was good, but now I’m fiending for some baba ghanouj. At first I was being a bit too guidebooky, dragging Hallim to this street of hipster stores, before she pointed out that while they all differ, such boutiques can be found anywhere, and the kitsch was sort of what made the area unique. So we ate some baklava and found this place that sold telephone-shaped oil lamps and bags of old photographs of Singapore “ago,” as Host Fam would say. They bear a pretty strong resemblance to the photos we have of my father’s family in Saigon, and on vacation, and in Cali. So I picked up a few of those and wrote letters on the back, and then I found a Slurpee (!!! – yes, I am aware that these are not native to Singapore, but they are both hard to find and delicious), and then we went home.

The only downers so far: Rain jacket came out of outside of Scooter’s loaned backpack, i.e. is lost forever in AirAsia’s luggage claim, was rather expensive and more importantly a gift from Miguk Oma, and iPod seems to have stopped working. I’m going to try a few things with it, but I don’t think it’s under warranty, which means purchasing a new one, eventually. I had downloaded some Dengue Fever and White Shoes & The Couples Company, which I thought would be suitable travel accompaniments, but now I am forced to sing in my head.

1/17: in which Superboy dies
January 17, 2008, 2:10 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, students, teaching, travel
  • tickets to Bangkok: check
  • tickets to Singapore: check
  • tickets to Phuket: check
  • tickets back to Bangkok: check
  • voice: not check, since I chose now to get sick

I suspect it was the sip of my coffee I gave Arkansas the other day. Whatever it was, I now have one cold and no vocal capacity, which is rather inconvenient, as we’re scheduled to leave on Sunday. Oops. Oma just gave me a ludicrous amount of pocket money for the trip, money I’m not even sure my family can afford, which means that I should probably humor her and get some sort of medicine tomorrow.

This is what Korean medicine entails: You go to the doctor and they give you a set of like five pills that you’re supposed to take three times a day. The pills are usually different colors. If you’re me, and you ask people five or six times what you’re taking, they’ll tell you which one is which, for the most part. Also, you should only drink hot water, and according to Hallim’s host mom, being sick is not an excuse to not eat your pork shabu shabu, as pork is good for colds. This sounds suspect to me.

Anyway, assuming I make it out of bed and to the airport on Sunday, our itinerary is as follows:

SUNDAY Fly to Bangkok

SUNDAY PM/MONDAY AM Fly to Singapore (this was the cheapest way)


THURSDAY PM Phuket (maybe trashy, but all we really want is the beach, although not The Beach)

FRIDAY NOON Fly to Bangkok, meet up with Intrepid tour

FRIDAY – WEDNESDAY super awesome Thailand

WEDNESDAY PM fly from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Planning this trip has taught me a valuable career lesson, namely that I have neither the inclination nor the patience to ever be a travel agent. Nonetheless: Thailand. (And Singapore, too.) Because we booked the Intrepid tour pretty late, we managed to get 20% off, which means we have 8 days for $444. My natural suspicion of package tours was tempered by the fact that a) we will be hanging out with hill tribes, b) we will be bicycling around ancient temples, c) Intrepid claims to promote “responsible travel,” and d) I don’t speak Thai. Someday I will speak every language and navigate among many cultures with ease. Presumably on that day I will also, somehow, have become Indiana Jones.

Camp is going along – I should have assigned essays, should have quizzed them over the reading, but really, aside from the fact that I didn’t think of it, these kids do enough work. They’re already slogging through Matilda, and while I know they like it, I also know that a chapter takes them hours. They’re also finishing their comic books, polishing the stories of JoKo and Hacker Genius and HighBred. The one I’m most excited to read involves Jupiter, whose story appears to somewhat parallel that of the Crow. All I know so far is that John Mike was borned in Korea, died because traffic accident, and then a meteorite hit the Earth and somehow he was reborn in a costume that looks very much like some sort of Kabuki outfit.

The stories of the girls are also surprisingly engaging and touching – well, I shouldn’t say surprisingly, as I ought to expect no less at this point. But “American Monster,” the story of the monster who ate people only to be sliced open by Help Woman, is pretty stellar, as is Super Angel, who constantly fights the Devil until he one day gets a cold and she nurses him back to health. Superboy, however, vanquishes his monsters…and then dies. Is this a statement on our ultimate vulnerability? This girl, after all, when doing her metaphor quiz, wrote, “Superboy is as important as water.” Or, like the teddy bear museum and the wedding, does it make no sense I’ll ever understand?

Monday, 1/14: doctor, heal thyself
January 14, 2008, 8:29 am
Filed under: host fam, life on Jeju, students, teaching, travel

Sitting here waiting for Hallim to call me back – this is my fault for having waited so long to figure out the travel plans, for delaying things when it feels like I can’t deal with anything – to see if we’ll make it to Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year, which I can’t help but imagine would be anything but transcendent. Transcendence being something I could use a little of – I’m not sure why things have been hit-or-miss since I got back here, but I find myself more easily irritated and unsettled, more frustrated, more apathetic. The following exchange should illustrate both my triggers and my failings in this regard.

HB: Can you help me read?

IGR: I can. But I’m waiting for Hallim to call me back to talk about travel. I’ll help you as soon as I’m done.

(five minutes later, HB comes in IGR’s room)

HB: (stands there)

IGR: I’ll help you as soon as I can.

HB: Okay. (touches lamp) Why you leave on? So hot! (turns it off)

IGR: Because I need it to see. Can you turn it back on?

HB: But will explode!

IGR: But it has to be used sometime. I think it will explode if you leave it on for a really long time, but that’s all.

HB: Use this light. (motions towards switch)

IGR: …Okay. Can you turn it on?

(Slowly, HB goes to turn it on.)

(five minutes later, from the other room)

HB: Do you know “Make Me A Supermodel”?

IGR: Yes.

HB: It’s on TV!

IGR: Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.

HB: No.

IGR: But I want to watch it. I’m coming.

HB: No.

IGR: But –

HB: No.

So you see. It’s a bit ludicrous to be driven to distraction by a twelve-year-old, especially when you’re twenty-two (maybe twenty-three, Korean), but at the same time: he’s absolutely maddening. Nonetheless. He shouldn’t be bothering me this much – and he’s not the only one. At this point, I’m positively twitchy. And frustrated with myself for a multitude of reasons and –

I just had the following conversation with HB.

HB: We will read from this book.

IGR: What happened to Ender?

(HB starts reading from book)

IGR: I mean, we don’t have to read Ender, but tell me so I stop asking you. Do you not want to read it?

HB: No.

IGR: You don’t?

HB: (hyperventilating) NO! (gets up and puts book away)

IGR: Okay, we can read that book instead.

(HB turns on television)

IGR: Do you want me to help you?

HB: (watches television)

IGR: HB. You are hurting my feelings when you don’t talk to me.

(HB ignores IGR)

IGR: I want to help you read, but I can’t help you if you won’t even talk to me.

HB: I am sorry.

IGR: Okay. Let’s read, then.

(HB gets up and goes to room)

IGR: Do you still want me to help you?

(HB ignores IGR)

IGR: HB? Do you still want me to help you?

HB: Ago. You said you could not help. So I will work with my father.

IGR: I said I couldn’t help you because you wouldn’t talk to me.

HB: No. You said could not help. So.

IGR: If you change your mind, let me know.

Naturally, five minutes later he comes in and says he wants me to help him – but at this point I’m too frustrated, and I have to write this down so I don’t forget it and think my latent frustration is just craziness, and here we are. He also told me that he did, in fact, want to read Ender, but that the other story was his homework – I forgot that “no” in that context is the equivalent of the American “yes” (really), but he didn’t bother to explain, what with the standing over me and breathing like a rabid bull and all. I asked him why he does this and he didn’t answer. We just struck a deal where he will talk to me when I talk to him, even if it’s to say he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to answer, for a week. This deal was brought about in part because I threatened to have ACT talk to Oma.

So, despite the fact that I am not failing in any quantifiable sense, I feel like a failure in so many small ways sometimes. Winter camp is only okay; my kids are showing hardly any enthusiasm, even the kids I was really excited about having, even though ACT keeps telling me I’m doing fine. Actually, I take that back; they’re showing enthusiasm in their work, but not in their demeanor, which is to say that they’re putting a lot of effort into crafting their own superheroes, but not into answering questions, looking more than 25% awake, or coming to class anywhere NEAR on time. So I’m glad they at least like the content, but I can’t help but feel demoralized. We probably could have gone to Hong Kong if I’d bothered to try to break into Asiana’s website myself, instead of relying on a stupid travel agent; before, you couldn’t get in without being a registered user and I’d lost my user number, but now apparently you can, which I would have known had I checked. But now (update from earlier in this entry) we cannot, because Hallim can’t do the early flight and neither can I. And friends…I love my friends, I really do. But most of them aren’t around – it’s just Scooter and me on this side of the island right now, and Aewol sometimes. And I can’t shake this trigger-happy temperament, this tendency to have no patience for anything or anyone, least of all myself.

So I can feel myself tempted to do what I always do – push people away and make them ask me to come back, so I can know exactly how much they love me. Which is not only one of my worst tendencies but also one of my dumbest, that I can’t just trust anyone. I keep telling myself that it’s only because I’ve just gotten back, because I’m still spinning inside, looking for a place to settle, but I don’t know how much of it is true.

Thursday, 1/10: where are you when we need you, Mina Kim?
January 10, 2008, 5:38 am
Filed under: actual transcripts, travel, U S of A

By day, he’s Mike Kim, unassuming Hawaiian middle schooler. By night, he’s SuperBoy, whose powers include but are not limited to jumping high and biting with his wolf teeth. This character (reminiscent of Superbad as he may be) was the one crafted by my camp class after a briefing re: superhero mythology (you need a villain, a costume, etc.). Then they went on to create their own. I’ll let you fill in the snarky commentary.

  • NAME Cat Girl
  • AGE 23
  • BOY OR GIRL? girl
  • ALIAS: Judy
  • LOCATION: She lives in forest. It have long river and many trees.
  • DAY JOB: math teacher
  • SUPERPOWERS: She can fly to the sky. She have wonderful guns, cape, belt and glasses. She have mask
  • WORST ENEMY: dogboy is Alien.
  • BIOGRAPHY: She changes cat girl when she looks cat. After change, she help poor people and save Earth from Alien.
  •  NAME: Super Girl
  • AGE: seventeen
  • BOY OR GIRL? girl
  • ALIAS: Sujan
  • LOCATION: She is very poor, so she lives 초가집(ed. note: thatched-roof house)
  • DAY JOB: She is a student
  • SUPERPOWERS: She has a strong power and strong electricshock
  • WORST ENEMY: Worst enemy’s name is gangsters
  • BIOGRAPHY: If she saw gangsters then she changes ‘super girl’ Super girl can fly with cape and give to gangsters electroshock with sharp nails

(ed. note: accompanying head shot featured hand with long nails, electricshock emanating from talons, with a speech balloon reading, “Are you scared?”)

  • NAME: Help Woman
  • AGE: 22 years old
  • BOY OR GIRL? girl
  • ALIAS: Mina Kim
  • LOCATION: In the space
  • DAY JOB: Programmer
  • SUPERPOWERS: Jump, fly, catch the bad people, ring, boots
  • WORST ENEMY: Fire man
  • BIOGRAPHY: She goes to everywhere then fight bad people. She makes a new program. She usually wear a cape. She helps poor people.

More tomorrow. The boys wanted to keep theirs to finish their drawings, which means you’re going to have to wait for the vital stats of Jupiter and Crysis.

Settling myself back in Jeju reminds me that the gift living abroad has given me is a certain discomfort with my original home. I plan on settling in America (unless someone happens to offer me a nice apartment in London, let me know if you’re giving one away). But having been somewhere else, having absorbed someone else’s customs, having visited home and having actually missed certain things about the other place, means that there’s this undefinable small qualm – a change in fit. The size of me has changed, and even though I can’t put my finger on how, something about America doesn’t fit as well as it used to. And I can’t help but think that it would take a superhero-sized effort to change that.