It's Thursday afternoon, and I'm sitting in my office at school enjoying watching my elementary school's baseball team practice from my third floor window. (I recently moved offices to sit with the rest of the subject teachers. It is a nicer office and the women in here speak English, so although I have a half desk and am crammed into a corner space in the tiny room, I am enjoying my new space. I have a feeling the vice principals were worried about my lonliness downstairs...) I am enjoying my afternoon, and since I recently told my school I would not resign my contract in August, I have been reflecting on my life here in Seoul.
Such an amazing city!
There are days, such as today, when I am perfectly happy. I wake up at 8am, I come to school, sing songs about "Nice to meet you," play charades, give a survey, and watch students draw pictures about their favorite types of weather. I hang out in the afternoons until 4:40, workout, and then enjoy Seoul. It's a really cushy life. Yesterday after work, I attended an exciting basketball game at Sports Complex station where the '88 Olympic games were held. I saw the KCC Egis' beat up on the Samsung Thunder (I have no idea what an egis is.) Today, I will get an approximately $5 manicure from the women down the street while other days I indulge in $7 haircuts. In about an hour, the women in my office will tell me "together time," and I will stand in a semi-circle of nine women while we drink tea or coffee and eat a snack (like rice cakes or fruit). This weekend, I will watch March Madness with a friend over brunch, celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a parade, and attend a 6month anniversary party for my recruiting class of teachers. I love my life in Seoul, I love my students (particularly the one today who asked me for a thesaurus while drawing her picture about the weather), my job, the fact that there is a fresh market within a 3 minute walk of my apartment, the new cupcake store that opened up down the street with a friendly Korean lady who gives me free cookies when I buy a cheese tart, my great friends, the fact that I can buy food at a restaurant and be rewarded with multiple free service beverages, the generosity of the faculty at Gil-Dong Elementary school, the cheap shopping, the nightlife, and living in one of the largest and fastest advancing cities in the world. It is a wonderful life, and I am incredibly lucky.
It's not the Demon Deacons, but it was still quite exciting...
Rice Cake! Although many of my friends equate this to eating Elmer's Glue, I really enjoy my afternoon rice cake breaks with my co-workers. This is an example of what it usually looks like. This one has red bean in the middle (my favorite!)
However, there are things I thing about that I know I will not miss when I leave later this summer. For example, it snowed yesterday. If I never see another flake of snow or feel the biting cold of a wind akin to something off of Siberia that will be fine with me. I am eagerly awaiting spring (and the cherry blossoms!); however, I am quite nervous about the Yellow Dust phenomena that is about to befall me and the city. Apparently, yellow dust from Mongolia begins to blow in the springtime. As it goes over China, it picks up pollutants from the factories. This means by the time the dust reaches Korea, it is a polluted and disgusting dust that burns your eyes and harms your respiratory system. Great. My coteachers have told me that some Koreans like to go to Mongolia and plant trees in order to thwart the dust, but I am skeptical.
Apparently, this is what I have to look forward to this spring...
Other things I will not miss include how it is socially acceptable for men and women to cough up loogies anywhere at any time. (And I mean at ANY time). It's particularly pleasant to hear while you are eating or right after lunch (yummm). The fact that it is also socially acceptable to not ever cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze equally grosses me out.
One thing I miss very much from home is my gym. As much as I enjoy going to my small neighborhood gym, it never ceases to amaze me how many people are there and not actually working out. Although it's entertaining, recently this has started to annoy me. While I toil on an elliptical or treadmill, I like to observe the members who strap themselves onto a board named the "inverse motorized machine" and flip upside down for an extended period of time. Sometimes, they attempt to read the paper while hanging around strapped upside down. My other favorite machine to observe (an there are several of them) is a machine that has a strap that goes around a member's legs or waist and moves up and down rapidly as so to jiggle your body. Members also read the paper while jiggling their muscles. Following their intense workout of hanging out upside down and jiggling, most members head to the sauna (which luckily has a window for more of my observation and entertainment) where I have seen members actually bring in takeout and enjoy dinner while sitting around in the sauna. Following this spectacular workout, members can enjoy a hot cup of coffee from the machine (and sit chatting on the weight benches) or either head to the showers. (Although I wear my own workout clothes, the gym has eliminated the issue of getting ready to go to the gym by having shelves of gym issued clothing so everyone works out wearing the same thing. After you shower, you put on what you came to the gym in and leave your issued clothing there to be washed.) Because I wear my own clothes to the gym and prefer not to shower communally, I head home after my workout. I try and make my locker time brief because no matter how hard I try, the cultural issue of walking around naked weirds me out. Women come out of the shower naked as the day they were born and don't bother getting dressed while they dry their hair or put their make-up on. They all talk to each other while standing around stark naked. I always have to remind myself that I am the only one uncomfortable with the situation.
An example of the hang out upside down to workout method...
My last issue involves school lunch. I am toying with the idea of bringing my lunch, but I am seriously afraid of offending my school. I am incredibly tired, however, of rice. Many days this is all I eat for lunch because the rest of the food is so unappetizing. Every single day there is rice, kimchi (fermented cabbage in red pepper paste. The cabbage kind is okay, but the raddishh kind is absolutely horrific), and soup. The soup ranges from hot soup with potatoes and beef (alright) to cold soup with fish and fish bones in it (not alright). Usually, however, it involves fish and tofu chunks and seaweed in some sort of combination. The other dishes vary; however, it usually includes something involving mushrooms, seaweed, tofu, or french fries that have sugar on them and are cold. Some days we get meat which is nice, but the type of sauce it is in varies. Today wasn't so bad- we had fish filets. The fish is small and is about 60% bones. Sometimes on fish filet day I think it might be a joke - like everyone hey look! the foreigner has to pick tiny flecks of fish flesh from between all the bones using only chopsticks! hahaha! I have no idea how everyone around me can literally take every piece of fish from between the bones cleanly and neatly without dismembering the skeletal system of the fish. Today was the first fish filet day I didn't swallow a bone (obviously quite an improvement!!), and my fish bones were scattered around my plate. Here are some examples of what my plate usually looks like:
Luckily, the things I love about Seoul far outweigh my daily grievances. It is hard to believe that I have only 5 short months left here, and I intend to try and enjoy every single day. Happy St. Patrick's Day and have a great week!