Archive for everyday life

After three weeks of teaching English summer camp, my first official school day was yesterday. Some of the kids came back with new eyes (plastic surgery), some with new hair, some slightly taller or tanner frames… and they have that strange mix of excitement and dread for the new semester. And, well, the same is kinda true for teachers too. :p

I’ve been examining my year in Korea, and trying to figure out what I want from this NEW year.

-Shop at the open market more, and EMART less.
-Leave Seoul more. See the countryside. See Jeju-do. See Dokdu!
-Study Korean 2x a week. Go to the Gym 2x a week. Professional development 2x a week (art, volunteering). Synagogue 1x a week. That takes up the whole week. . . hm.
-Drink less (not that I drink a lot)
-I live next to a major express bus terminal, but I’ve never used it – actually, I’ve never gone inside it. I want to take a weekend trip to someplace random from the terminal.
-Exhibit my art. This means I need to be making art. THAT means I need to be about 200x more proactive in finding facilities and getting shit down. This is Seoul – everything you could want is available, for a price.
-Work hard for my students, but don’t get stressed out by work.
-Eat 1,500 Kcal a day (now we’re getting personal, huh?)

Since the A/C isn’t really working in my school, all of the classes have been cut from 45 min to 40~ in an effort to get the kids out earlier. Haha, it’s wonderful.


About two weeks ago, I lost my internet at home.

What I mean to say is that the wireless network that I had been leaching off of for my 10 months here in Seoul suddenly disappeared. I suspect that the owners moved out of their apartment. This reactivated a renewed conviction in me that I was being smited by Gd for my thievery – an eye for an eye, if you will.

However, I’m not so good at suffering, and so after a week of no net I asked my co workers for help. Hopefully, I should have net at home (net that I pay for on a monthly basis) and cable tv by tonight. Now, having TV does seem to be dangerous (picture it: a slack jawed Naomi blissed out on cartoons for hours on end…) but I’m super excited.

The challenge in this no-net time has been what to do with my free time. While I didn’t go to the gym more often, I did read. A lot. I plowed through A.J. Jacob’s book on living biblically for a year. I spent hours laying in my bed, studying Korean. I started writing a collection of vignettes.

And I cleaned my apartment.

I hope that I can keep the intellectual momentum going after the cable guy comes by today.

4 weddings and a funeral

World Cup fever!!! Korea just won the game against Greece, and I yelled with the best of them (much to the chagrin of my Korean friend) at the Hongdae Jazz bar where we found ourselves.
It was there that I told my friend, Hyung, about what on did on Friday.

On Friday, all of the teachers at my school on an email message that a mother-in-law of one of the teachers had passed away, and anyone who wanted to could some to the funeral service.

I’ve been to 4 weddings in Korea, all of varying size and religion, but a funeral? That’s a very different experience. With some help from Seolah, (the art teacher) it was arranged that I would go with my ‘district’ head (Mr. Kim, who is in charge of the area where I sit in the office) and Jess, one of my fellow English co-teachers — after I went home to change. My outfit of the day (think watermelon: a neon pink shirt, black dress slacks, and neon green sneakers) would only just barely fly as appropriate, even on a foreigner.

Just like one of the weddings were the same, I don’t think one funeral is representative of Korean funerals as a whole. ‘Funeral’ is maybe not even the right word- in all intents and purpose, it was quite similar to the Jewish Shiva ceremony.

Mr. Kim, Jess and I filled into a small room and removed our shoes. The closest family members to the deceased stood at attention, receiving guests. At one end of the room there was a framed picture and some flowers. Jess nudged me, and told me to take a flower from the big vase and lay it in front of the picture. Then the guys bowed in respect.

Okay — I feel like I’m writing this out too detailed. This ain’t no anthro study – I’m just another waygookin (foreigner) in Seoul. Point is, we showed our respects.

Then comes the Shiva part: we headed into a different room and had a meal of stew, cookies, sweet drinks and beer, rice and other light snacks. The family members mingled with guests, laughing and talking about their memories. It wasn’t sad, and it wasn’t exuberant; a celebration of a life more than anything else.

And that’s it. We ate a bit and headed out our separate ways.

I guess in some ways I feel lucky to have been allowed in that space as an outsider. Most of the time, I feel very welcome in Korea (despite that pubic opinion of America may be) but I can’t ignore that I am not family/community/etc. And that’s cool.

As I drank makkgoli tonight and cheered Korea on to victory, shooting fast texts to my coworkers about the game highlights, people joked that I’ve become Korean. Maybe a better of of saying that is that between weddings and a funeral, Korea has let me fit myself in.

a million n one vids


As I finished out my school day, it stared to rain. Now, the weather report had warned about spring showers, but my umbrella was missing from it’s normal place deep in the floor-pile. I was defenseless. Sighing, I zipped up my black fleece hoodie (which, I want to say, I got in 7th grade. It never ceases to amaze me that I remember zipping it up to the prime halfway-up-the-chest point to walk by the guy’s classrooms, carrying laminated hall passes or bones from the science room. This is what I think about while walking to classes as a teacher) and headed out into the rain.
By the gates of the school was one of my 7th graders. At first she didn’t recognize me, and waved hesitantly. As I drew closer, I saw a smile trace across her face.
“Hi teacher!” She asked in Korean, “Do you have an umbrella?”
“Hi!! No. No umbrella.” I answered back in English.
In Korean again, she shot off a list of questions, and confused by her rapid fire, I repeated her question back at her.
Slowly, in Korean, she asked: “Where is your home?”
“I live by Emart. That way~” She nodded, and looked at her own umbrella. I was worried for a second that she would give hers to me, but-
“Bye teacher!” She headed off.
“Study hard!”

Just as I turned my back from her, an ajjuma passed by, slowing to look at me me.
Ajjuma’s (as I might have said before) are women of a certain age (55+) who have kind of a… weird status in Korean culture. They are simultaneous respected and mocked. 😉

[An Ajjuma joke: A woman was pushed off a hill. She died. Ah, the people said, just a woman.
A second woman was pushed off a hill. She got up and brushed herself off.
Ah, the people said, an ajjuma!]

Back to the story: She motioned quickly to me, a little lady, tight perm, shirt flowered. She linked her arm in mine, pulling me close under her umbrella.
She said, in Korean, “Walk with me!”
I let loose some of my broken Korean, using the terms for addressing ones elders to say thank you. Above everything else, I was suspired. It’s rare for Koreans to talk to someone that they haven’t been formally introduced to, let alone a foreigner. As we stamped down the Hyewon-school-hill, arm in arm, bright umbrella protecting us, I felt gratefulness flow warm and deep through me.
She said something else that I didn’t understand.
“Where are you walking? Where are you going? How are you getting there?”
“Oh. Oh. Next to emart, walk.” My Korean is really dreadful.
“No, no! Take the bus!”

I could only laugh.

As we reached the corner she broke our arm-link, and headed into a hair salon. I kept walking through the rain, calling thank you’s behind me.

Even though I ignored her advice and walked all the way home in the rain, it didn’t seem so bad.

There’s always something surprising here. I’m amazed at how much Korean I can understand now. I’m socked whenever people try to talk to me. I’m comforted by the random acts of kindness that I see around me – from the ajjumas to my students talking to me between classes, telling of fathers abroad and their crushes in church.

I just looked under my bed. The umbrella was there all along.

With my impending raise next month, I’ll be entering into the Korean Middle Class. At least based on monthly income. And looking at the low end of the spectrum. Well now, let’s just say I’ve never made so much money before – and, I’m making more than most of my students parents, just because I was born in an English speaking country. Emeth – truth, awkward and fact. In honor of my raise and my recondition of privilege (har har)  and, most importantly, Passover looming ahead in a week, I hired a maid to come in one time to help me out.

This something that makes me really uncomfortable about my economic privilege, the idea that my mess should be delt with by someone else. I know I have a cleanliness problem though. See, mess don’t bug me. When I do clean, most people tell me that there’s still la lotta work to do… but I can’t see it. I’m comfortable with a layer of grim that makes other people bust out mops and tidy up.

So, I bit the bullet and called (with the help of my co workers) up reinforcements: A nice, late 30’s woman who we can call Ajjuma. As she walked into my place, I instantly felt shame. She asked me in Korea if I was the only person who lives here. “Neh…” A mess this large was made by one  foul foreigner. Oh man. Over the next four hours we cleaned together, sorting, throwing away things, eating bananas and drinking tea. While not an equal division of labor.. It was what it was.  My place looks so hot now. . . I just gotta keep it this way for the next week, until the holiday starts (and ends).

In other news, I’m sick – Again. Seems to me as if Korea is chock full of cold viruses that I’ve never been exposed to before – I got no other idea why I’ve been sick just about every month. live n learn!

today I bought deodorant for close to 10bucks, in a dark alleyway. after wearing two American sticks down to the core, I felt like I had no choice in the matter.