Category Archives: ranting

on the road again (or in the sky…)

When I was a kid my grandpa would sing that old Canned Heat song every time we got in the car, regardless of how long the trip was really going to be. It always kind of amused me and even today I often think of him singing that song whenever I embark on some sort of journey.

I’m picking this blog up again for another adventure on an ozone-depleting jetliner (Someday I’ll figure out how to catch a ride on a trans-atlantic cargo ship so that I don’t have to feel so guilty about wasting all of that fuel.)
I’m going to Bosnia this time. That’s right. Go ahead and laugh. It is actually pretty amusing though, given the fact that I have yet to keep the promise I made to you (and the random Harvard graduate student I met on the plane from Tokyo who had lived in Japan for 10years+ and still hadn’t learned the language…) about going to Canada this year. I always dreamed of visiting tropical islands and classic destinations like the UK, central Europe, India and South America. Instead I have ended up travelling to obscure destinations of political unrest and uneventful climates. South Korea, Bosnia, what’s next, Kyrgyzstan? Perhaps. I don’t believe anymore that one must see what everyone else has seen before being able to understand the obscure or esoteric.
On this trip I have, however, managed to integrate some more popular destinations. I’ll be flying to Dublin for several days and then to Munich for a week where I will galavant with high school pals. Somehow I will wander down to Sarajevo from there, reading, writing and spending university money along the way. I will spend a month in Bosnia-Herzegovina studying with several other American students and history and political sciences professors from UWS. I’m also bringing a fancy video camera from the video-production department and plan to shoot enough footage to compose a documentary.
I’m leaving in a few days here, but am just sick as a dog today. I’ve finished almost all of my finals, etc, but feel so entirely shitty that it’s hard to be excited. But it’s nice to force myself to relax, all the same. Right now I am scoping out hostels in touristy Dublin and trying to plan an escapade with a UWS friend in Munich… I’m not looking forward to that lame tourist feeling and am not afraid to pretend that I am Canadian. Everyone in Korea always thought I was Russian, so I think I’ve got some sort of exotic (or just plain strange) look that somehow gives me an edge in the foreign context. Being American is always the most embarrassing when abroad. Sinclair Lewis asked, “Why is it that traveling Americans are always so dreadful?” and also pointed out “Do you think it’s so snobbish, to want to see something besides one’s fellow citizens abroad?”. Needless to say, I am looking forward to another solo-trip….

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a chance to breath

is it ironic that I am trying to read one of the Dalai llama’s books right now but am being distracted by the kunsuhnim’s (head monk) TV next door? hilarious.

I had a relaxing weekend in Seoul, visiting friends and staying at Ji-in and Gwan-oo’s house (the two of Hay-gyung’s friends who came to the temple earlier this week). their parents are just ridiculously awesome and the family is so peaceful. Ji-in came with me yesterday to meet with Eun-hye, Song-bo, Min-chur and Jae-hun. it was a really sweet time, and it was especially wonderful to see Eun-hye again. friendship here means so much. part of me feels like I’ve never been gone (to the US) but part of me is brutally awakened by all of their comments about my physical appearance. while the comments are to be taken as compliments; I have grown so unfamiliar with Korean custom in this regard and it makes me feel more uncomfortable than anything.

hmmm.

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살앙해유 침칠방!

we spent last night at a warm jimjilbang in nearby Young-ju which was a welcome change. there were so many rowdy young people at the temple that it was probably a relief for all. the other kids woke Xiao and i up at 7:30 though, which was a ridiculous decision being that we actually had the chance to sleep in until at least 8! needless to say, we were slightly irritated. i slept in the wierdest jimjilbang accomodation that i have ever come across – a cavernous hole in the wall built for one. i felt like a polar bear, a warm and happy one…

Hay-gyung being molested by one of our high-schooler companions this morning, she screamed “piunte!” (pervert) at her, but it had little effect –

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my deliciously cavernous dwelling –

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we are visiting the nearby Bulseoksa temple this afternoon with the kids for a fun little excursion. i’ve been there before and it really is a striking ode to korean buddhism and buddhist structures, being the oldest standing wooden structure in the country. i really wanted Xiao to see it before he leaves (tomorrow) and coudn’t think of any other way than to take the whole class. so. each student must write down ten things that she/he sees on the excursion in english and then we’ll talk about what we saw.

hmmm…

i keep having bizarre dreams and dreams about school. a few days ago i dreamt that i missed all of my classes on the first day and didn’t remember anything on campus, so i printed off my schedule and went over it. i think that i am just excited about being home and in charge of my life again, and i miss my kittens and the joy of college. there is such a comfort in knowing what my mission is and what comes next; college is a strengthening, self-fulfilling project that at once yeilds boundaries and goals and also felxibility and personal empowerment. i love it. i miss it. but i don’t want to miss it too much because i don’t want to forget to be here right now, knowing that when i am back i will miss being here and laugh at my own idiocy in being excited for homework and 8am classes. ha! could i know myself any better?

i don’t make new year’s resolutions, but i want to spend more time outside this semester, especially enjoying the lake. life is so short.

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women should be able to smoke and sit anywhere

Hay-gyung’s friend and his sister arrived tonight, and he happens to speak Chinese fluently so he and Xiao are enjoying themselves. he seems really cool and speaks Chinese amazingly fast – but unfortunately speaks no English; its been interesting to hear Xiao speak in his native tongue. Xiao decided to take a ferry to china this Friday, so his time here is coming to an end. I am both saddened and relieved by this. the sunnims finally convinced him to shave his face and I have a feeling that if he stayed on any longer they’de convince him to shave his head too – it’s clear that they wish he’d become a monk and stay here. haha.

meanwhile, I’ve become accustomed to the rhythm here and if anything I hope to take that rhythmic comfort home with me and put it to use. we wake up every day at 7am for breakfast together then we work for awhile, I clean up my room, roll up my bed, brush my teeth, check my email and work on my lesson plan for the day. at 10am we pray together until 11ish in the Buddha hall. at 12 we have lunch together, then I finish my lesson plan, make copies and prepare the classroom. the kids arrive at 1:50, pray, and then we start. at 5 they leave, I take a break, we have dinner together at 6 and then lounge around and talk over tea/coffee. then I have free time, but I usually go to bed around 8 or 9 because I get so tired. this daily schedule is a welcome relief to the sporadic chaos I usually create in my life. I am looking forward to seeing if I can apply this comfort at home…

the morning sunrise is to die for-

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enjoying my rock-like pillow and cozy floor bed –

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my and Hay-gyung’s room (as well as any other women who happen to be staying overnight in the temple, this room can house at least 5 if i give up my wimpy habit of sleeping on the meditation cushons… haha….) –

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the reality of a cold shower in a plastic bowl –

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part of me is homesick. part of me is comfortable and satisfied. part of me despises sexism, namely; the obvious sexism demonstrated at the tables. I didn’t notice the seating prior to Xiao’s arrival, but it has become clear that the arrangement is regimented and structured. Kunsunnim and the other sunnims sit together at the first table, then the men that hang out around the temple or live here sit at the next table, and women sit at the last. my heart began spewing red flames when I realized that even though Xiao has no purpose here, his looks are unappealing to the monks (hair in the face and beard, until today..), and he’s a cultural idiot – he is more privileged and honored than I am because of his sex. so we have been talking of switching seats. I tried to sit next to Apa today, but was booted for Kunsunim’s older brother who is extremely quiet and seems to spend his time digging holes in random places around the temple. at dinner today Hay-gyung was asked to move down a seat to make one closer to the sunnims for a man who arrived late to dinner. I can’t stand this.

how can I enjoy this culture and revel in my newfound passion for Buddhism when so many aspects of both are tied to sexist, patriarchal traditions? should I suppress my American feminism? would this be a way of humbling myself? or should I call the shit, defy cultural norms, trade seats with Xiao and refuse to move?
wouldn’t that be interesting.

this realization of sexist traditions is not a new one for me. I definitely gained an understanding of it during my last semester here through the societal pressures, especially surrounding physical appearance. women are also discouraged from smoking, which causes closeters to resort to smoking in women’s bathrooms – everywhere. at bus stops, universities, national monuments, restaurants, and everywhere else I have visited there have been signs, sometimes obvious, like cigarette butts on the floor and ashes on the toilet, to just a lingering smell. this is just one ode to the discrimination. while I want to conform to this culture and break negative stereotypes of westerns, specifically Americans, I find it increasingly hard to suppress my hatred of sexist traditions and am feeling really fed up with it.

 i’ve got to find a way to balance my passions with my desire to be culturally sensitive and seperate myself from some of my ideologies. so much harder than it sounds…

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year of the lucky pig

here’s to a brand new year, the year of the “lucky pig”.  apparantly this is a rather rare phenomenon that occurs only every 600 years or so because of the allignment of the stars or something; perhaps this means that somehow korea will be able to wiggle out of the sticky FTA aggreement the USA is imposing on them…. probably not.

well. here at the temple the new year is celebrated like it is at many temples, with a big party and lots of praying and very little sleep. i thought the kun-su-nim was joking when he asked if i would do 1,000 bows last night, but i was mistaken. luckily i have jetlag as a very valid excuse for not participating – i can’t even imagine the pain that i would be in today if i had. but that’s not to say that i got any sleep. after settling down for the night on the floor in a room off the main buddha hall with a pillow that was about as cozy as a rock, we (JK and her adorable neice and i) were made to move to another location to accomodate all of the worshipers. the new room, connected to the kitchen, smelled of cigarette smoke but the floor was as comfortable as any. women came and went all night, making sure to leave the door open to the cold night air and the bright lights on each time. i thought i was going to explode with frustration and lack of sleep, but that wouldn’t be very buddhist of me, would it? i wandered in an out of sleep while i listened to my book on tape and enjoyed my rock pillow as the women that slept next to me pulled the single blanket that we shared in every direction. haha. it is times like these that breed real tolerance and bravery.

the fun part of the whole event was not the act of attempted slumber, believe it or not, but the immense fire that blazed through the night near the foundation of the new buddha hall. i finally gave up and got off of the floor at 6am for coffee (instant…) and to watch the sun rise. we chanted and prayed around the fire as the sun rose behind a blanket of clouds – but we knew it was there. for one beautiful instant it peaked through the clouds like a bright, pink-rimmed eye to bless us in the new year. very nice. then we all had a traditional new year’s breakfast of 떠국, a spicy rice-cake soup with seaweed. JK and her niece had to get on the train this afternoon, so we spent the morning at a nearby hotsprings spa which was absolutely packed with people and i was definately the only white person for miles, reminding me harshly (because of the stares that i earned from said position) that i am, indeed, in korea once again.

i just had tea with a few of my students and their parents, it was a wierd, nervous experience for all. there is a certain immense pressure on youth by their parents to learn english and this is often exhbited when i am in the vicinity of the unlucky young ones. this pressure is unfortunate because, like with all children i meet, i just want for us to enjoy eachother and the last thing i want is for them to feel uneasy around me. we will have our chance for fun tomorrow, if i ever focus and develop some sort of lesson plan. i am really just excited to start and get a feeling for my teaching ability so that i can stop being nervous as well, but i am also excited because of how much fun it will be. i am planning to devise my lessons for each day the day before, that way i can feel out the students (and also be entirely lazy). the temple gave me the impression that they were prepared for the class but in reality the only preparation that has taken place is the aquirement of about 20 desks. there are no crayons or paper. pretty much nothing but desks and a smoky room. and less than 10 students. but i can do this! the less the better for a fulfilling challenge!

that’s it. time for a nap, i’ve earned it. there will be photos on here as soon as i can figure out how to upload them on the korean operating system. happy new year back in wisco! (i think it’s 1am there now…)

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the bright side of life

i made it through another day, and finished my hellish powerpoint presentation. somedays it almost feels good when i remember that i am primarily surrounded by people whom i may never see again. but really, i’m feeling a lot more upbeat today.
we took our korean teacher out for dinner, then i went drinking with my philosophy professor and a few of his collegues, along with a bunch of korean philosophy major friends. we drank beer and ate dried bananas, peanuts, fruit, etc while chatting and singing impromtu acapella songs at a comfortable little bar in Maeji-ri. it was really nice. one thing i have really realized here is the importance of having a few beautiful songs in the back of my head to sing on command in front of large groups of people. i have three, two of them are Joplin’s – Bobby Mcgee and Mercedes Benz (short but sweet) the third is one i have known for ages but dont know the name of it. its kind of a campfire song, goes like this: “the river she is flowing, flowing and growing, the river she is flowing, down to the sea…” all you old hippies out there know what i am talking about. its a real charmer.
now – its 2am and somehow i am less fatigued than i was a few hours ago. i woke up really early to finish that project. oh the relief! now i’ve got a bunch of papers to write and three tests to prepare for. arrg. but i am almost halfway there. and two weeks from right now i will be packing my bags and on the bus to the airport. that really sucks. how did that happen? i cant believe its almost over. i’m really not ready to go, this has been such a fantastic opportunity.
but i’m still here now. and its my “ya-dongsang”s birthday (sweet little ingrid, my real reason for going home at all….) she is turning five. its amazing that half a decade has gone by she took her first breath and then that crinkled little hand grabbed my finger as i stood there in my blue medical robe. nothing existed but the two of us for a few long, quiet seconds, even in in the hospital room packed with acoutraments and bustling with nurses…..
Ingrid Gertrude is the love of my life. seriously, and no offense meant to any passionate and silent admirer (if you’re out there, i wouldn’t mind you raising your voice a bit…) but Ingrid is my all-time favorite person in the world. its too bad i couldnt hear her on the phone when i called her to wish her happy birthday, but she was holding it upside down. no biggy. happens to me all the time.
home is sounding sweeter by the moment.

on another note – the ornery roomie, Eun-hye, has rejoined the tegan fan club and we are getting along like peaches and cream. speculative reasons are: fast-aproaching english finals or my stunning victory as “best international student.” or maybe the nasty american girl who contributed to the harsh feelings and overall uncomfortable situation made ammends. though it is more likely that Eun-hye discovered sudden enlightenment and i fall into her newfound peace with all things. (i’m saying its “IMPOSSIBLE”…..)

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“ranting” is a very valid category

Its 1:03am, and as the curfew here ends at 12 – I crept through the window in the laundry room. Which felt surprisingly daring in my new heeled shoes. I’ve never owned a pair before. They make everything seem daring – dancing, walking, typing, sitting, and particularly crawling through windows alone past curfew.
Today was Eun-ju’s (went on the trip to Jeju-do with me) “real” birthday. What does that mean? I’m not sure. She was too drunk to tell me and asked me to ask her later, then proceeded to get me wasted to make up for the difference. She dropped a lot of cash on expensive drinks at one western bar, then dragged me into my first clubbing experience. In korea. It was weird. There were a bunch of scantly clad (guys) up on the fanciily lit stage who danced and sang ridiculously typical songs (including heavily accented American parodies) Eun-ju and I danced together for a few songs, but the whole point seemed to be to get as close to the opposite sex as possible, which just plain isn’t possible for me. I’m not interested. But that’s another story.
Anyhow – Eun-ju proceeded to completely disappear, leaving me with some friend of hers, who let me fall prey to an evil bartender who literally dragged me over to some table with two completely non-english speaking young men who asked me numerous questions in Korean; I tried my best with my limited, drunken skills. Then ended up back at our table drinking beer. Where is Eun-ju? Finally we found her sulking outside after talking on the cell to her ex namja-chingoo, as they are called here. Her friends directed me towards a taxi after profuse hugging and words of well-being. I hope she is okay now.
But I’ve gotta say, there’s something about crawling through that window alone and late at night. I’m sorry to all of the moms that read this, but Tegan is a real-life-young person. Who sometimes does weird and crazy things like all of the other young people in the world. Probably not the best choices to make after a three day fast, but I had a beautiful and very busy day – I visited the temple in downtown Wonju (brought Kevo along, but managed the directions myself. Har har) and as soon as I got back JK called and I spent the rest of the afternoon with her at the horse ranch, paying homage to Inka’s grave and trying to negotiate a visit to a local farm some early morning someday soon. Then we went to a nearby coffee shop where we chatted, drank tea and ate organic muffins and held little golden retriever puppies. I deceided on a plan for the last week of my time here and we talked about how I don’t want to leave Korea. I’m serious – if Lars and Corina weren’t getting married on the 8th I would most definitely stay at least two more weeks to play and explore. I love it here, and one semester just isn’t enough.
Why can’t you guys get married later? Or why do I have to love you so much?
Oh well. “qwen-chan-i-ao,” I am young and will hopefully have many more opportunities for travel….

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