Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spread your wings and ...fly

BEAUTIFUL springtime in So Ko  is here!

These butterflies and flowers are right in front of my country school in Chudong. I love being able to be so close to nature and the earth. Back home I loved to dig my toes into the soil when I was planting my sunflowers.  My soul feels at peace when I am connected to nature.  Everything and everyone on earth are so delicately connected. Sometimes I am in awe of the beauty around me.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Being Black in Korea

Being Black in S Korea is like being an exotic giraffe just walking around the country, going about your normal day activities. Imagine if you saw a pretty, graceful giraffe walking down the street in your neighborhood. It was going grocery shopping then waiting for the bus while listening to music on headphones.

Would you stop and stare?
Would you try to touch it or take pictures? 
Would you laugh (or giggle) uncomfortably?

That is what it is like to be Black in South Korea. I am a beautiful, graceful giraffe going about my business while the locals react to me based on their lack of experience with beautiful, graceful giraffes. So, you see, their reaction to me is their problem, never mine.

Image result for giraffe

Image result for giraffe

Hey Doc. Can you PLEASE put on gloves?

If you read my post from orientation two years ago, you will remember that our blood tests at the hospital were taken with NO GLOVES.
That's right. No. Gloves.

Well, two years later, nothing has changed.

First of all, the Korean government sends out health check coupons. Yes! Coupons for medical tests. My friend told me about it last year so I kept an eye out for the mailing and it finally arrived!

Yesterday was the school's birthday so we had off. No school. YAY! I called my friend who works at the big hospital in Suncheon and made an appointment to meet up with her at 8:30 yesterday morning.
I had to fast so no breakfast. (I did sneak a piece of gum in my mouth before getting on the bus. Heck, my stomach was growling.)
I met Ji Young in the hospital lobby and for the next four hours I had EVERY HOLE in my body inspected. 

I had blood tests taken for liver, cholesterol and kidney issues. Hearing, eyesight, dental and EKG exams. Weight and height checked. Chest-x ray. Mammogram. Cervical cancer exam. My final exam was an endoscopy to check for my stomach.  I had this same procedure performed last year so it was familiar to me but that still did not stop me from gagging as the 12 inch long pipe, with a camera down one end, was inserted SLOWLY down my throat. The doctor kept saying, "Stop gagging. It only delays the exam."  Really, Doc? That's your advice to me? Stop gagging. Honestly, I squeezed Ji Young's hands so much, I am sure I left a mark. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he pulled the ten foot long (well that's what it felt like) pipe out of my throat.  I had tears in my eyes, drool on my shoulder and was weak in the knees but it was the happiest I have been in a long time. Nothing like a long pipe down your throat to remind you to count your blessings! LOL. 

All of those tests were...wait for it...FREE! Free! Free!
That's right. F. R. E. E.
I did not pay one. Red. Dime. Or rather, I did not pay one. Green. Won.

It is a part of the government's initiative to keep its public workers healthy. The health tests are incentives and, based on your age, are sent out every two years.

I am happy to have health insurance right now and to be blessed enough to have these tests taken in this country. It would have been a small fortune back home. All of those tests would have cost over two or three thousand US dollars back in the states.

After Ji Young and I had lunch in the hospital cafeteria, she had to go back to work and I went to the eye doctor. I wanted to see if I was eligible for LASEK surgery. After twenty minutes of waiting and then having a very brief exam by a technician, they told me I was not eligible. Sigh. I am trying to look at the bright side. That money can be used to get new glasses. Win win, right? The glass is always half full.  

After being rejected by the eye doctor, I got on a one hour long bus ride from Suncheon to Jungma dong to try and catch the immigration office to renew my visa for another year. I got off the bus and walked into the office at 5:05pm. Thank God they closed at 6pm. After that I waited for another bus to take me back across town. I got off the bus at the bus terminal in Gwangyang-eup to buy tickets to Gwangju this Saturday for the essay judging contest.  Then I stopped by the NH bank near the roundabout to transfer money for a trip coming up next month. Finally I was at the bus stop to go back home at 7pm. Exhausted.

Sigh. It had been a looooooong day but at least it was very productive. I got a lot of stuff done so I was tired but happy. By 8pm last night, I was showered, in my pajamas and eating dinner. It would have been nice to relax on my day off but it is very rare that I have a chance to get things done in the middle of the week. 

Oh, yeah. 

I barely blinked with the guy drawing my blood had no gloves on and only used hand sanitizer between patients.  That's when you know you are getting used to this culture. When things that used to shock you, become too normal to you.

Unlabeled meds. Buses running through red lights. No gloves used while drawing blood. Yup. Very normal.

Oh, Korea, I am becoming a native!!  FIGHTING!!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

We are experiencing TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES...sigh...again

Hi, Readers, I am having trouble again with my photos dropping off the blog.

I checked a few of my earlier posts and the pics are gone!! I have un-synced my email account from my Samsung phone to see if that will help. Last year I did not realize that because I had synced my email to my Android phone, every darn picture I posted onto the blog was duplicating onto my cell phone's photo gallery. I had erased a bunch of them and - BAM - just like that I lost almost 200 pics from the blog. So now I have to go back and add the pics again.

Please be patient with me. It will take a while for me to do it. I have saved the posts with errors as drafts.  I will revise them a few each day until all the stories are back up for you to read.  Until then you can enjoy all the wonderful new stories I have posted recently.

Hey, read the one about the new principal at my main school. LOL.  You may like it.

Another quiet Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday 2016. 
If I was back home, I would have attended church with my family, came home with a palm branch and eaten Sunday dinner surrounded by people I love. Instead, this weekend, I decided to hibernate and clean my 2 room apartment. Yesterday my friend invited me out for coffee with one of his friends. I forced myself to go out for two reasons. One reason was to meet him and socialize and the other was  because I knew that if I did get out the house, then I would have more energy to clean once I came back in. I did have more energy and did clean half of my apartment on Saturday and the other half today.

Two of the people I talked to on kakao regularly left South Korea last week. So this leaves a void that I am not eager to replace just yet.

I chatted with a few friends on kakao but did not feel like socializing with anyone. There is no one here that I am close to since my friends left last April. Most of the people I meet here, have major issues and sometimes I do not feel like being a therapist for their problems. I am not an open person so I only tell someone about my problems when I learn to trust you. If I do not trust you then you will only get the "surface me" nothing deeper.  The "surface me" is the person who is always trying to look at the bright side and who drinks from a glass that is always half full.

Last year, I thought I had found a real "friend" and told this person about a problem I was having back home. Well, this "friend" basically told me "I am sorry about your problem but I do not want to hear anymore about it.  It would upset me too much".  LOL. That taught me to stay away from people here! People will pretend to be there for you until their selfish needs get met and then they are on to the next sucker. Do I sound a little bitter? Yes, I am. I really miss having real friends who have your back no matter what. That is why it is so isolating here. There are tons of people to take trips with, to drink with and to have mindless fun activities with but the substance is lacking. Real connections are hard to come by.

So I listen to problems and give suggestions and, rarely, share my problems with anyone here.

Why share if there is no real connection? I know that most of the people who come here have their own demons they are fighting. Not everyone wants to place their demons center stage for all to see and judge. Not everyone wants to share their demons.

Sometimes it is okay to be isolated here and only let others in occasionally but sometimes it is very lonely. I learned a big lesson last year when I tried to meet new friends and ended up meeting devils instead. Lesson learned. No need to repeat those same mistakes. Now I just want to go on trips, enjoy traveling, write on my blog and take beautiful pictures. I am choosing to be happy regardless of the situation that I find myself in.

I do wish I could meet a person here that I could trust who was not flaky, a user  or crazy.

Or am I the crazy one?

Is this my best side?

The photo above is famous.

Most Westerners are familiar with the image even if they do not know the full story. A photographer took this picture of an Afghan refugee.  There are so many stories reflected in her eyes. The photographer won several national and international awards for this one amazing shot.  

I had a chance this week to have my picture taken by a professional photographer, Simon Bond. He is not infamous, yet, but has real, true talent. I have decided to continue to embrace all opportunities that come my way during this journey. 
That includes showing off my inner Beverly Johnson and Iman!

Take a look at the pictures and tell me what you think.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Beautiful hanboks and lots of swag!

Beautiful hanboks in Namyang, a traditional village in Suncheon.

Yes, I had swag, y'all.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thank you, Readers.

Shout out to my readers!! I hope you enjoy my stories of life in South Korea. I hope the posts make you smile, laugh or think. Please leave a comment or send me a direct message. I will answer any questions you have.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Blind Soccer

This morning on the Arirang channel, I saw a story about blind soccer. I have never heard of it. It is apparently a very big sport and has famous players in So Ko and the UK.  Wow. Interesting. There are amazing and courageous people in this world.

Blind soccer
 (also known as blind football) is  designed for players who are blind or visually impaired. It is currently a Paralympic sport, and the International Blind Sports Association also organizes a World Championship.
Generally speaking, the rules of blind soccer are very similar to the rules of futbal. There are, however, some important exceptions:
·         All players, except for the goalkeeper, are blindfolded
·         The custom-made balls have been modified to make a jingling or rattling sound
·         Players are required to say "voy", "go", or something similar when going for the ball; this alerts the other players about their position.
·         A guide, positioned outside the field of play, provides instructions to the players.

Shout-out to Brothas and Sistas of South Korea fb group (BSSK)

Sometimes when you are not sure you can do something, the best motivator is to see someone else doing it.  

When I was researching jobs in Asia, I felt overwhelmed with the possibility of living on the other side of the globe, so far away from everything that was familiar. Then I stumbled across the "Brothas & Sistas of South Korea" fb group. It had over 5000 members (people of color) at that time. (It now has over 7200 members.) Members who had lived, currently lived or were about to live in South Korea. I spent days reading the files. It was a safe haven for those people of color who lived in Korea and needed a place to share information, vent and laugh about their shared experiences in So Ko,  the country of the morning calm. 

After about a week of reading the stories in the group, I was confident that I could survive and maybe even thrive in Asia. If over 5000 Black folk could go halfway across the world and teach English, then dammit, so could I! It really helps to see others doing what you are initially scared of starting. 

2 years of living and thriving in So Ko.  I hope that anyone reading this blog understands how do-able it is to live and work outside of your home country. 
It is okay to have fear, but don't let that stop you from living a bigger life. 

Don't let anything (or anyone) stop you from living a bigger life

Take a risk. 

You never know what is on the other side of that passport.

Lesson 1: I am from Africa. I am African.

The first lesson in our 5th grade textbook is "I am from Canada".
The book lists quite a few countries (China, USA, Australia, India, etc) and does not mention the African continent. 

Not.  Even.  Once.

Well, I made sure to include the continent during my lesson today. The longer I am here, the more I feel the extreme need to teach my students what is so lacking in this society. Diversity.

I need to make sure that my students learn more about Africa than the commercials on Korean television that show people who look like me as diseased and needy. That is part of the reason the students call each other "Ah-pree-kah" as insults. You are dark, so you are ugly and dirty.

No, not acceptable. 
Not on my watch.

I received many comments that my lesson should have referenced specific African countries instead of just the African continent. I was initially reluctant to do it during part 1 because the home room teachers were not in the classrooms to translate.  I do, however, agree and will add that to part 2 of Lesson 1 this week.

Rock that hanbok, girl!

Me in a traditional Korean dress during orientation April of 2014. 
The traditional dress is called a hanbok. They can cost about $1000 USD.
Most women rent them for weddings and traditional ceremonies.

Hanboks are beautiful and colorful and made me feel connected to the Korean culture.

Goodbye, bring me back some kangaroo steak!

My Korean friend, Julie, is leaving here to live and work in Australia. Last year, her after-school class was right next door to my office. She has been kind to me for two years. We have hung out together and have had fun. I will really miss her but promised her that I would be available for those times when she needs me as she ventures out of So Ko and into a new world. I told her she was very brave since many Koreans do not leave their country, ever.  She told me that I was an inspiration in making her decision to leave. (tears)

There are lots of pretend friends here. Lots of people who want to use you for whatever their needs are but they do not want to give anything back. With Julie, there was always an even exchange. She is a strong young woman who also has a heart of a lion.

I will miss my friend. 

"I REALLY want to buy you clothes."

"I really want to buy you clothes." said my co-teacher.
I blinked as she handed me the birthday cake and colorful blouse as a gift.


Did you just slide some slick words in with the birthday cake?
I sighed and reminded her that it is very difficult to buy "giant" clothes in an itty bitty country that worships stick figures. Sigh again. I had so many bad words swimming in my head and it took a lot not to let those bad words spill out.

Thanks for the cake and colorful blouse, but DAMN!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

School festival 2015

Here are the pics from the 2015 School Festival. Holly, my co-teacher,  spent many hours working with the kids this year. I took a hands-off approach since I did not want to be bothered and was not required to participate. Initially I thought I wanted to dance with the kids but changed my mind after I saw how elaborate the program was that she created. It turns out that the teachers compete very strongly with each other. Yeah, I was not at all interested. No office politics for me.

Our students did a great job again this year. It was good to see these little future K-stars!

Come over and bring cake kiddies!

My FAVORITE 6th grade girls came to visit me at my apartment today. I had promised them in December that they could visit but I only said it because I thought they would forget. I FORGOT that kids NEVER FORGET ANYTHING YOU PROMISE THEM. EVER. So I get back from vacation on Wednesday and one of the girls texted me and ask to visit this Saturday. I was reluctant at first because I really do not like people in my private space. My apartment is sacred to me. It is my "country" away from So Ko.

But a promise IS A PROMISE.

So I let them come to my building and intended to speak with them in the hallway for a few minutes. You know, catch up on their short week in middle school and send them home. Well, the 3 little sweeties bought chocolate cake and pastries.

They bought goodies!

These were my 3 favorite 6th grade girls who graduated last month and started middle school three days ago. Well I hurried and tidied up, then threw my suitcases into my second room, closed the door and let them in.

4 hours later, we had eaten the cake and pastries, taken selfies, braided hair and they had taken a short nap before watching the Korean SNL on the television. Once they got comfortable, they acted like they were home.

Having just come from being home with my family, it felt good to hear giggles and laughter in my house again. It is always so quiet here with just the tv and computer to keep my company.

I finally kicked them out at 5pm after they promised to help me practice my bike riding when it gets warm. 

Don't laugh, You can forget. LOL.
Thanks for the visit, girls.  You are such sweethearts.

Cloudy with a chance of spaghetti

Hey! Do you know if you can freeze cooked spaghetti? How would it taste afterwards?

Why do I want to know?
Umm......no reason....just wondering out of the clear blue sky, that's all.

Okay, so I just came back from vacation and visiting my family. I got used to cooking for a family with leftovers in the fridge for two days. Today I set out to make spaghetti and, I DO NOT KNOW WHAT CAME OVER ME, but I put TWO PACKS of spaghetti on the fire to boil for little ol' me.

There was so much spaghetti that I had to go to the supermarket a block away for more spaghetti sauce ($9,000 won for two bottles) and it BARELY MADE A DENT!!

So now I just finished putting the spaghetti in lots of little plastic bags to freeze it because I REFUSE TO WASTE FOOD. I will be eating spaghetti for at least a month.


So....again...do you know if you can freeze cooked spaghetti? and how BAD will it taste after that? LOL.

Update and disclaimer:
The majority of the native english teachers here are given a one room apartment that has a washing machine. The apartment does NOT come with an oven, just a two-burner stove top (four if you are lucky).

If I had an oven, I would have been able to make lasagna and my world-famous brownies! But no, we do not get the luxury of an oven. So I did not freeze the noodles. I just ate spaghetti ALL WEEK LONG.