Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Another day of fluttering around like a busy butterfly. Copious amounts of candy, plus trick-or-treating, judging costume contests, and practicing + performing endless rounds of the UCLA cheer (I'm even tiring of it and can only imagine how my colleagues feel; most of them taught 5 different songs to each of their classes whereas I took the lazy route and coerced all of my students to feign Bruin pride). In any event, the day flew by, at least until the sugar wore off and the inevitable crash kicked in.

To help you visualize, here are some photos:

one of my students placed in the costume contest

fellow teachers/contest judges

Friday, October 30, 2009


Just got home from a night out with colleagues. It was nice to unwind after an unusual day at work. We're celebrating Halloween at school, and today was pretty fun. Costume contests, trick-or-treating, and candy galore. I taught my students the UCLA cheer, which they then performed for all of the teachers in order to earn candy. It was cute watching them form the letters and listening to them chant:  Fight, Bruins, Fight. Round Two is tomorrow (Friday) which means I'll be sporting my butterfly costume two days in a row.

After work, a few teachers and I headed to a restaurant in our neighborhood for some darn good, fried chicken. The place is about 50 yards from my apartment. During our meal we were approached by a local who was holding a dried squid. He was desperate to know what the English word was, and so we coached him in the spelling and pronunciation of "squid." It was actually a very funny scene (I can't really do it justice here), and it culminated in the guy returning to his table and beginning a belching contest with his buddy. Yeah, you probably had to be there, but the four of us were amused all the same.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Things switched up at school today to accommodate a colleague's abrupt absence due to illness. I wound up teaching one of her classes while a substitute teacher covered mine. All in all, it went smoothly. Although I didn't have much time to prepare, I kept things afloat and even got the students to laugh. 

Am grateful for answered prayers regarding my teaching aptitude. Still have a ways to go, but am amazed at the progress to date. Moreover, I'm increasingly appreciative of the many improv drills I did during high school drama classes. Am learning that while thorough preparation is a worthy goal, sometimes you really do have to wing it. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Matter of Time

It was only a matter of time that, despite amazing technology, living thousands of miles away from loved ones would present poignant challenges. Digesting some sad news, but remaining hopeful. I love you, Grandma.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Greatest Love, Seoul Style

Just had a funny, surreal moment. On the bus coming home from errands after work, I couldn't help laughing. There I am, groceries in one hand, partial Halloween costume in the other (big, blue butterfly wings), and playing on the sound system is Whitney Houston belting out "The Greatest Love of All," set to an uptempo dance beat no less. I remember when that song came out, I was in third grade. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined then that 25 years later I'd be living in Korea with that song now incorporated into my Seoul soundtrack. I'm still laughing about it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Flower Show

There's an annual flower show to celebrate Fall, and I got to see it today:



Not to be outdone, the trees cooperated, displaying gorgeous hues of red, orange, yellow, and green:

Today's most random shot (actually, two tied for first place):


Temple Visit

I spent the afternoon with my manager today. She invited me to accompany her to an annual flower show at COEX mall, but first we stopped by a Buddhist temple. Both COEX and the temple are located on prime real estate in Gangnam, a high-end commercial and residential area. The temple grounds are huge and include several buildings where locals pray and bring offerings. Out of respect, I opted not to take close ups of the people praying, but it was fascinating to observe them. I learned that this is an especially busy time for temple prayer because parents are concerned about their kids' upcoming entrance exams for various school levels. 

In this shot, you can see people bowing and praying:

My manager explained that people leave a stone behind after making a prayer, which explains why there are small rock towers all over the area:   


Imposing figures at the entrance and throughout the grounds are intended to ward off evil spirits:


On display were paintings and poems about this particular temple:

Taken from the grounds, looking out, with COEX mall in the background:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Grading, Grades, Gray, Grrr....

The title sums up my mental state as 2 a.m. fast approaches. I'm in the midst of entering grades into the school's online system and marking essays submitted last minute. At least I'm at home. My iTunes library has a decent shuffle going on, so I can't complain. I got home about three hours ago and seem to remember feasting on tofu, cucumbers, ramen, and salt water taffy (thanks again, J + M!). Will resurface soon with some good stuff to share. Until then...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ode to the Roti Bun

Proust adored the madeleine. And while I don't doubt his sincerity, I just can't fathom how a madeleine measures up to a roti bun. Maybe next time I'm in Paris, I'll think differently, but for now:  the roti bun reigns supreme.

It's not merely because it melts in your mouth, although it does. The roti bun is so much more. Light, airy, yet packed with flavor. From the instant upon inhaling its delectably sweet scent, you're a goner. Hooked. I know I am. As one colleague phrased it:  it's something that actually tastes as good as it smells. Not many foods can pass such a test. After initial trials, I was convinced that molasses was a key ingredient. I've since learned, however, that the buns are topped with a mocha creme which then permeates the dough. I don't yet know all that comprises a roti bun, but I'm sure butter tops the list. Until I have more knowledge to impart, I leave you with these images of a happy baker assembling a batch. Perhaps you can discern his palpable enthusiasm. Then again, if I were enveloped by this exquisite aroma all day long, I'd be grinning, too.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Banner Mail Day

It truly was. When I arrived at work today, my manager told me there were three packages for me on her desk. I thought I misunderstood, but sure enough there were. Chocolate and taffy from Joanna + Morgan, and some excellent entertainment options from Jeremy. I was/still am so excited by the windfall. Thank you, thank you!

It got even better. I then walked into the teachers' break room to find two letters waiting for me -from Mom and Uncle Fog. So nice to hear from you, too! I hope I'm not embarrassing anyone by calling you out, I just really appreciate your thoughtfulness. I will now sign off to watch Anchorman (or The Office or Mad Men, Season Two -can't decide!) while savoring a bite of Ghirardelli, intense dark. As we say in Korea:  Kam Sa Ham Ni Da.

Whirlwind Weekend

Backtracking, rewinding, going back in time... they're difficult to do in Seoul because seriously, so much seems to happen on any given day. I promised a weekend recap, so here it is in a nutshell:  On Saturday I met up with a friend and her cousin at Seoul Station (it's huge and easy to get lost there). We grabbed lunch at Shinsegae department store (another steamed pork bun!) and then strolled around Myeongdong before heading to Gangnam. We later attended a housewarming party for some expats who teach together at a hagwon. Lots of fun. It was nice to meet new people and trade stories on adjusting to Korean culture. I bowed out early at 2am so that I could be in decent shape for my Sunday activities. Chief on my list was attending a seminar given by Philip Yancey at Young Nak church. I'm glad I went -he spoke on Grace and what's so amazing about it. One point particularly resonated:  it's easy to to be gracious when we're surrounded by people like us; the challenge lies in extending grace to those who offend us. 

After the service, I ran errands in the area. I happen to love Myeongdong which is loaded with stores and conveniently located near Young Nak. I picked up some essentials, then headed home. But....! Not before I made my now-weekly pilgrimage to buy a roti bun (disclaimer:  I also purchased one on Saturday. I am trying to limit my roti bun intake to weekends only... as many as I want, as long as it's on a weekend. Thank goodness I don't live near a roti bun specialty shop; there's no way I'd be able to keep up this resolve.) Haven't forgotten about devoting a post to the roti bun and its awe-inducing essence. Expect it later this week.

All in all, a busy weekend. Not very restful, but I appreciated the opportunity to meet new people, see interesting places, and listen to a highly-relevant, applicable seminar.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saturday Superlatives

Too tired to write much tonight but rather than skip another day, I'll do a quick post. Am planning to bring things up to date tomorrow after a good night's sleep. In the meantime, I'll leave you with some images from yesterday. 

Most Inviting Storefront:

Most Charming Pub Interior:

Favorite Slogan:

Most Random Festival:

Best Michael Jackson Tribute:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cliche Dinner

Just polished off a bag of some sort of salty shrimp snack (alliteration unintentional, but amusing nonetheless). My dinner turned out to be a complete cliche, albeit an accidental one. Here's the evidence:

salmon sashimi, purchased on sale for 4,900 won (about $4)


  shrimp snack

Can't begin to imagine how much sodium I've ingested but am remaining hopeful I'll return to more heathful eating soon. Must admit, however, it was all very tasty and effortless. 

There's a terrific thunderstorm going on, and I am thrilled. I stayed in this evening and am hoping to log in a solid 8-9 hours of sleep time. Be back tomorrow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Motley Day

It's not for lack of material that I'm struggling to write. Today alone brought plenty of nuggets to share. The difficulty is in deciding which one to focus on given their varied natures, coupled with the fact that it's going on 2 a.m. How about this:  I'll make a list, and then later figure out which items merit elaboration:
  • Another fabulous start to another Thursday, courtesy of BSF.
  • Deranged man follows a colleague and me into the subway station (in the movie version, he would've hopped the turnstile and jumped onto the train at the last second).
  • Military jets still flying incredibly low, and now they've got pink, blue, and yellow contrails.
  • Another colleague and I check out a fantastic spot in our neighborhood after work. We could've been anywhere, but the place was called Seattle.
  • I send an email via Facebook to an artist whose music has literally changed my life, asking him to consider performing in Seoul.
  • Another day down:  no coat, no sauce.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Keeping Tabs

For those of you keeping tabs, I've used neither the coat nor the pasta + sauce. However, that may all change tomorrow as it's gotten very chilly, very quickly. Back on Sunday, I thought for sure by the week's end I'd be whipping up a pasta dinner with Andrea Bocelli playing in the background and that the winter coat would remain where it is now:  folded neatly in its shopping bag (haven't bothered to hang it up, perhaps in an attempt to stave off Winter by keeping it tucked away....?!). Now, the thought of going coatless much longer seems, well, dumb.

I've been out of NYC too long, and thus it's impossible to think about sunbathing in these temperatures like I once did in Central Park. Dare I say it? I'm actually getting cold. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some Surprises

I've been thinking about the last 25 days and how the adjustment's going. It may surprise you to know that I:
  • have easily eaten more tofu during this 3 1/2 week span than I have in my entire life.
  • am bordering on vegetarianism (but only because I'm currently being extra-frugal).
  • still don't own a full-length mirror.
  • have yet to purchase a hairdryer.
  • usually cannot fall asleep without some sort of sleep aid -still working on blocking out noise from neighbors and the alley below.
  • have not yet consumed food or beverages from any of the following: KFC, Domino's, Starbucks, Cold Stone, McDonald's, or Krispy Kreme (but if I miraculously run across a Taco Bell, that'll be another story).
    • have also avoided Pizza Hut and Burger King, although these two didn't tempt me back home.
  • have indulged a few times at Baskin Robbins and Dunkin' Donuts.
  • have become obsessed with roti bread, a mocha-flavored bun that's rich in butter and over-the-top delicious. It tastes even better than it smells, which itself is heavenly. Rotiboy is a bakery that specializes in this treat. Their slogan? "One is never enough. Buns to die for." Well said. I may actually wind up doing an entire post on this topic. They are that amazing.

(temporarily borrowing this image until I take some pics of my own)

There are other things that have surprised me... I just can't remember them all right now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Sunday Outing

Today I visited Young Nak Church. It's actually the same church that hosts the BSF class I attend. Anyway, it was awesome to walk in and hear people singing in English, and even better that they were singing one of my favorite Chris Tomlin songs ("How Great Is Our God"). That got me a little choked up. 

I enjoyed meeting fellow believers, some of whom traveled far longer than I did to be there. One girl I met is originally from Irvine, CA, and her commute to the church is nearly two hours. So, I felt ridiculous for thinking on the way there that it's an hour commute each way for me. I met the pastor, and he introduced me to his wife. He knew who Tim Keller was, and he's eager to put me in contact with a woman who also attended Redeemer Pres when she lived in NYC. Overall, a very uplifting experience.

After church, I roamed through the neighborhood. It's a bustling shopping area, and even though I'm currently on limited funds, I broke down and made two inevitable purchases. The first involves food (no surprise there):

The second purchase:  a winter coat which had been drastically marked down. I vacillated forever trying to decide between the black coat I ultimately bought and the off-white one I really wanted. It looked so chic and clean -and I knew it wouldn't stay that way for long, given the amount of wear it would get (one point for pragmatism). 

Once again I found myself at odds with saleswomen. These two seemed annoyed that I was taking too much time to decide. They also assured me that I was definitely the larger size (even though the smaller size actually seemed to fit better). I acquiesced out of exasperation. And then later, I surmised it probably was the right decision since I'd likely be wearing bulkier clothes come winter than what I had on today.

Now, the real question:  which will I use first -the coat or pasta + sauce? Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Flowers, Mushrooms, and Rainbows

Today was low-key. Inspired by the recent joy of receiving a letter, I wrote a few of my own. Then, remembering I had promised you a post with pictures, I ventured outdoors, camera in hand. I decided to get a better feel for my neighborhood and am glad I did because I found a few places that looked interesting. One in particular was a coffee shop that sells flowers:

I later found myself on the path I take when walking home from school. Since it's well past dark when I head home, I haven't been able to fully appreciate how charming and well-maintained it is:


Along the same path are these massive concrete mushrooms:

My timing was perfect since I was able to catch a rainbow, too:

I continued walking south and wound up at Rodeo Drive....well, Seoul's mid-priced version anyway. I love the signs:

Even though the streets aren't lined with luxury boutiques, I definitely got the impression I was dressed poorly for the experience. Had I known in advance I'd end up there, I wouldn't have worn shorts and a UCLA tee. Wish I'd have been brave enough to take some pics of the looks I received from more than a few salespeople.


I received a letter today from my sister Karen. It totally made my day. (Coincidentally, a co-worker gave me a sweet note which was another, unexpected source of encouragement). The first thing I did, even before opening Karen's letter, was to smell the envelope. I think it was a subconscious attempt to experience the familiar scent of a loved one. Although my efforts were in vain, the mere act of holding onto something she had held made me feel more connected to her. It got me thinking about tangibility -there really is no substitute for it. Please understand:  I appreciate the modern technology at my fingertips that enables me to communicate with you through blog posts and emails (and calls via Skype when I'm logged in). Aside from the convenience factor though, an email can't compete with an old-fashioned letter, at least in the personal, non-business world. I realize I live in the 21st century and not in a Jane Austen novel, but I'm sure you get the point.

It's probably telling that although I brought family photos with me, I've yet to put them up. I think it's too soon because in spite of these great adventures, the pain of separation is still palpable if I give myself the chance to reflect on it. Ironically, even though I've only been away for three weeks, it often feels like three months or even three years. So much happens in a single day, and I am in chronic sensory + information overdrive. In some respects this is actually very beneficial; it focuses my energy and emotions on adapting to a new cultural system and prevents me from becoming maudlin. This is a difficult topic to write about because I am deeply grateful for this amazing opportunity to live abroad and grow in unfathomable ways, and I want in no way for my words to be construed as unappreciative. 

Tomorrow's post will be more upbeat -I promise. I plan to go on another field trip (not sure where) and will bring my camera... stay tuned, and thanks for reading.     

Friday, October 9, 2009

BSF Shout-Out

In the three weeks I've been here, I can honestly say I haven't had a better start to a day than the one I experienced this morning. (Good thing, too, as the rest of the day was unusually taxing.) I woke up on the early side for a Korean-based ESL teacher and was out the door by 9am. There was a crispness in the air, and it felt good as I walked to Jamsil station. My goal was to arrive at the church on time, and I almost managed to do so even after an unanticipated subway train switch.

Upon exiting my destination station (Euljiro 3ga), I became disoriented. I knew I needed to exit through gate 12 but had no idea where to go from there. Some construction workers noticed my puzzled look and asked where I was headed. They gave me directions and then said they loved me, which amused me but also made me wonder if they were sending me down a rabbit trail. Fortunately, their directions were accurate, and within a couple minutes I caught sight of the church's steeple. My heart began pounding. Looking back, I'm not sure if I was out of breath, nervous or worried about being disappointed. In any case, my anxiety was completely unnecessary, and I realized as much from the minute I walked through the doors. Several women greeted me warmly, putting me at ease. I became overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of joy, peace, and hope, and actually got a little choked up. God is so good. He is such a personal God, meeting us right where we're at. After feeling disconnected the last few weeks, I needed to feel His presence, and He blessed me more than I could imagine. For the other BSFers out there:  the discussion group was lively, and the lecture was insightful, interesting, and very applicable. I look forward to returning next week.

And for those who are still trying to figure out what BSF stands for, let me point you here: There may be a class near you... it's worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Banking and Back to School

Yesterday was a slow-moving transition back into a normal schedule after a long, four-day weekend. The students were particularly disengaged, even for middle schoolers. I was beyond ready for the school day to end at 10pm and arrived home too drained to drum up anything insightful to write about, thus the lapse in posts. I'm quite flattered to learn that a few of you noticed the absence, and I very much appreciate your checking in. Rest assured, I have no plans to abandon my beloved blog now that I've got nearly three weeks in Seoul under my belt.

Yesterday's big event:  I set up a bank account, or to put it more accurately, I signed a dozen forms, all in Korean, while my manager spoke on my behalf with the bank. It's a peculiar feeling to put your signature on official documents written in a language you cannot read. I had no other option though. The bank didn't have any forms with English translation, and the school uses this bank (and this bank only) to pay its employees via direct deposit. Ahhh, trust... it's a difficult thing. Good thing I keep Proverbs 3:5-6 on quick recall.  

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rewind, part 2: Jongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine

After concluding our tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace, my Korean friends and I walked over to Jongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine. Like Gyeongbokgung, this property also dates back to the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). It houses the enshrined spirit tablets of the Joseon kings and queens, and it is where memorial rites are observed in accordance to Confucian tradition. The original buildings, constructed in 1394, were demolished by Japanese troops in 1592; the present buildings date back to 1608.

Due to my limited knowledge of Confucian rituals, admittedly I was bewildered walking around the grounds but was soothed nonetheless by their serene and verdant qualities. Here are some pictures of my observations:

Visitors are not allowed to walk on the brick road as it is reserved for ghosts.