Monday, November 30, 2009

Birthday Tribute

On this day, I want to extend big hugs and warm birthday wishes to my Grandma Terri. It's her 80th birthday, and she sure makes eighty seem young. Not only can she Skype and send emails, she can do them both while juggling calls on her cellphone and land line. She has logged more time and miles visiting her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren than anyone else I know. The plays, recitals, and graduations she's attended (and endured!) are too numerous to count.

Grandma:  I've said it before, but it's worth repeating.... even though you don't have favorites, you've always made me feel extra-special. I have such fond memories of celebrating holidays and other occasions with you. You're a warm, dynamic hostess, always ready with a funny joke or anecdote. And your food -such glorious food! I've always loved your fried zucchini, lasagna, and incredible sauce, and now that I'm living in Seoul, I find I crave those dishes even more. May this upcoming year be filled with unexpected blessings and much joy. I love you loads. Happy Birthday.  xo

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chestnuts Roasting

It's beginning to feel like Christmas in Seoul....
  1. Chestnuts roasting* on an open fire -check
  2. Jack Frost nipping at [our] nose -check
  3. Yuletide carols being sung by the fire -not yet
  4. Folks dressed up like Eskimos -check 
Three out of four... not bad. And it's still November.

It's fascinating to watch how Christmas is unfolding here. Extensive lights and colorful light shows are up at the major department stores (a rainbow of colors, I might add; not just red, white, and green). Haven't really noticed much else. It's only been in the last week or so that I've seen any lights or decorations -and very few decorations at that. Haven't come across any Christmas trees for sale, although I did see one on display in the Cheong Gye Cheon district. Am curious to see how the next few weeks play out.

*I love the smell of chestnuts roasting. I loved it in Manhattan, and now I get to experience it here. If you stop to think about it, Winter has many charms, and I'm choosing to focus on all of them. 


Just popped out to get some water as part of my weekly routine. Usually on Sundays I visit a nearby bodega and buy an economy-sized, six-pack of 2 liter bottles which lasts me the week. Anyway, I smiled big during the transaction because piping through the sound system was Janis Joplin screeching her way through a tune. So in and out of place at the same time.

Now getting ready for my other Sunday activity. It's off to church I go...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving, Round Two

This afternoon I ate my second traditional Thanksgiving dinner of the week. Today's was at the home of my pastor and his wife. Ironically, most of the food was catered and came from Yongsan base, so it had a familiar taste. It was nice to fellowship with other Americans over mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pecan pie. Apparently the guys at the base can eat like this pretty much whenever, but for me, it'll likely be a long time before I ingest those heavenly carbs again. Kinda wish I'd gone for a second slice of pecan pie....

After dinner I took the subway to Insadong and had fun walking the main street. There are tons of vendors selling Korean trinkets, and I bought little souvenirs for some of you. It's hard not to go crazy when it comes to shopping here. There are just so many cute things, particularly relevant to young girls and/or anyone else who's mad about Hello Kitty and pink and white polka dots.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Peculiar Practice

There is a peculiar practice here that I've resisted writing about since week one. The first few times I encountered it, I thought maybe I was being hypersensitive -observing something that wasn't really all that common but that I happened to notice. However, two months of incidental observation combined with anecdotal information from other westerners make me think this could actually be a local convention. I apologize in advance if I offend anyone, but for the sake of posterity, I'd like to record this observation.

The practice involves men who seem to be at least 30 years (I've seen older women do it as well, but this is much less common). At all times of day I've witnessed them clearing their nasal passages in a loud fashion and then spewing the outcome onto the ground. The sound is immediately recognizable and far from melodious. On several occasions, it has woken me up in the morning and kept me awake at night. For the record, it does not appear that all men take part in this practice. But the ones who do are hard to miss.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Happy Thanksgiving.

Hope this post finds you well and surrounded by loved ones (or at least by foods you love). Unsurprisingly, this Thanksgiving has been unlike any other I've had (actually, one year I was in Istanbul on Thanksgiving Day, but that was nearly 20 years ago, and I can't recall anything specific about it). It's tempting to expound on how I'm missing loved ones and wishing I could devour my mom's pumpkin bread and grandmother's lasagna while laughing with my sisters and cousins. And while that's true, I can't really go there with this post because all day I've felt incredibly blessed and overwhelmed with gratitude.

Today may be my first Thanksgiving in Seoul (complete with ramen for breakfast, rice for lunch, and tofu for dinner), but it's also the first time that I attended BSF on Thanksgiving Day. How wonderful to stand with other women this morning and sing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," "How Great Thou Art," and "It Is Well with My Soul." These hymns particularly move me, and it was an exceptional joy to sing them today.

So much to be thankful for, I hardly know where to begin. New mercies every day; immeasurable grace; a victorious Savior whose Love is abounding; the remnant; dear family and friends; good health (and a right arm that now stays in its socket); interesting, meaningful, challenging employment; new adventures and character-building opportunities in Seoul; deepening Faith...the list is endless.

I'm thankful for you, too. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Schedule

Just a quick post as I am exhausted. We began a new month of teaching today, and with it came a few schedule changes for me -different students, courses, and work hours. I was actually nervous about getting new students -what if they don't like me? What if I don't like them? What if they don't participate enough (or at all) during class? What if I can't keep up with them?

As is usually the case, anxiety was futile as things generally went fine. I am wondering though:  just how much energy did I have back when I was eight?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hair Care

Today marks my first haircut in Seoul. I was growing tired of how scraggly it's been looking in pictures, and so I took matters into my own hands. This is definitely an Emmons trait as my dad is legendary for his personal cuts. Must say I'm not disappointed with the results, especially considering that my cutting tool was a pair of cuticle scissors. Plus, I don't have a three-way mirror to help guide my vision.

On a related note, my hair has fallen out so much since I arrived in Seoul. I've heard different reasons for why this is happening, but so far I've not found any remedies. If you have suggestions, please send 'em my way. Thanks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Happy (early) Thanksgiving

Have just returned from Yongsan Military Base where I celebrated Thanksgiving with a colleague and her church friends. There was a large group of us -at least 100- and a ton of food. I think my body is now in shock from all the western delicacies I consumed including, but not limited to:  sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes, turkey, ham, cherry pie, and pumpkin pie (2 slices!). The food was good, and I waaaaay overdid it although I managed to skip the kimchi -got such a kick out of seeing a big bowl of it at the buffet.

I had to smile on the way over; here I was en route to a U.S. military base to have Thanksgiving dinner with a bunch of Canadians, Australians, Americans, and Koreans. Yet we were united by One crucial common denominator.   God is good.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Korean Hospitality

Another bustling Saturday, this time with my Korean friends. They met me in Apgujeong and introduced me to their extended family. Such kind, warm people! They were all so loving to each other and towards me, and it was nice to spend the day in their company. We had a long lunch together:  traditional Korean BBQ with pork. It was excellent, and I even tried pork skin. Not bad!

After lunch, we stopped at Baskin Robbins and brought it back to one of their apartments. Lots of visiting, followed by a group trek to Dongdaemun Market. It was good to be back there with locals since they showed me the highlights which I completely missed on my solo visit last weekend. I stocked up on some Christmas gifts and am excited to return, especially now that I know where to go.

I'm back at home, trying to motivate so I can finish writing up students' grades. This batch is due on Monday, and I'd love to knock them all out tonight. Just treated myself to a few more Christmas carol downloads and really have no more excuses to procrastinate.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Weather

Talking about the weather gets a bum rap. As in:  you must be incredibly dull and unoriginal to discuss weather conditions at length, or ever (no offense to any meteorologists out there). Yet, coming from Southern California where weather can basically be summed up as Perfect or Overcast Though Nearly Perfect, the weather in Seoul is indeed novel subject material.

Anyone who's from here will proudly tell you again and again that Seoul has four distinct seasons. What they don't always mention is that Fall lasts about 2 weeks, or at least that was its duration in 2009. Although it's only November 20th, Winter appears to be here, one month early, or right on schedule depending on your perspective. I heard that we actually had snow flurries this evening -some of my students and colleagues observed them, though I did not. Regardless, the temp is certainly suitable for snow. Currently it's 2 C, and tomorrow's high is projected at 3 C, with the windchill bringing it down to -2 C. Just thought you'd want to know. Something I'd like to know:  where is the key to denote degrees on my laptop?

For those of you keeping track:  I began wearing my winter coat a few weeks ago. The pasta and sauce remain unopened.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Months

Today marks my two-month Seoul anniversary. People talk about a New York minute -things can change incredibly quickly and the pace is definitely accelerated there- but Seoul takes it to a new level; maybe 5 New York minutes = 1 Seoul minute. In the two months I've been here, I've learned and experienced so much (60+ blog posts can attest to that). Yet in many ways it seems like I've been in Korea for only 2 days (okay, 2 weeks max) because of how insanely quickly the time's passed.  

Although I'm still me, I've adapted to life here in many ways. For example:  I'm writing this entry after having consumed a now-classic, post-work meal:  a mound of tofu and diced cucumbers topped with sesame dressing, and a side of shrimp crackers. Huge change from my pre-Korea days, yet it's been an almost-daily occurrence for the past several weeks. On the flip side, this morning I finally loaded songs onto my iPhone so I could use it as an MP3 player, and I cannot fathom why I waited this long. So much fun to have music on demand! Walking home (alone) from work tonight was absolute joy; I sang along to some of my favorite Christmas carols (shock!) while walking briskly and trying to keep warm. Not all that different from walking through Central Park on a crisp winter day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


My students appear genuinely concerned about my non-married, childless status. It's come up a few times with my middle schoolers, and they look nearly anguished when we discuss the facts, namely:  I'm 34, single, and without children; and yes, I have two beautiful sisters who are married (they always want to know about siblings + siblings' statuses).

As persuasively as possible, I tell them that marriage is a big commitment, as is raising kids, and I want to be certain that if I engage in those activities, it's for the right reasons, with the right person. The students remain skeptical and seem increasingly to view me as some sort of alien -which technically I am, of course.

Maybe I'm taking on too much, but if I can influence their thinking, even a bit, by sharing a positive perspective on what it's like to be single and over 30, I'm happy to do so. Who knows, perhaps I could even help effect a mini cultural revolution in the process.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Few More Firsts

What a packed Sunday it turned out being! Last night I went to bed with every intention of attending Young Nak's 10am church service. However, it wasn't meant to be as I woke up at 11am. Waiting in my in-box was an email asking me to speak at the afternoon service to promote the church's professional young adults network (Meet Up group). I was happy to help as I've been very blessed already through my affiliation with its members.

So, today's firsts included:
  • 1st public speaking opportunity
  • 1st time eating Mexican food
  • 1st lantern festival 
Public Speaking
Disclaimer:  I need more practice. However, some people approached me afterward to inquire about tonight's Meet Up activity (which I'd highlighted in my talk), and subsequently I went from being undecided about attending to co-leading the event, which is how I wound up eating Mexican food.

In this way, Seoul reminds me very much of my days in NYC when I'd walk out the door in the morning for work or wherever, and a myriad of unexpected activities would unfold.

Mexican Food
Not bad! The group dined at Tomatillo's, located very near to Cheong-Gye-Cheon and the Lantern Festival. Tomatillo's reminded me of Chipotle in that you customize your taco, burrito, etc. with the meat and fillers offered; yet also unlike Chipotle because I'd actually go to Tomatillo's again.

Lantern Festival
Not sure about the history of this event or who made the lanterns or anything substantive from a factual standpoint, but they sure looked pretty all lit up. See photos below:


Saturday, November 14, 2009


Hyehwa is really charming and seems like it'd be a cool neighborhood to live in. It has a distinctive, artsy feel and stands apart from other areas with its assorted collection of restaurants, coffee shops, jazz clubs, bookstores, and sculptures. For now, I'll stick to visiting whenever possible. Here are some snapshots so you can go there, too:





A Few Firsts

Today marks a few firsts in my Seoul experience:
  • 1st trip to Dongdaemun Market
  • 1st time buying ground coffee
  • 1st time eating pizza

Here are the recaps for each: 

Dongdaemun Market
Everything I'd read indicated that this was The Place to go for insane, 24/7 shopping. Maybe I went to the wrong section (the market is 10 blocks of shops and malls, thousands of vendors), but things were pretty much shut down by the time I arrived at 5pm. Something isn't adding up. Will definitely do more research on where exactly to enter the shopping arena.

Ground Coffee
I knew this day would come, and I can't say I wasn't warned. I finally ran out of the ground coffee I brought from home, and it was time for a replacement. After pricing merchandise at several places (local coffee chains and grocery stores; The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf), I broke down and went to Starbucks. Fifteen dollars (15,000 won) for a HALF pound bag. Crazy. What's crazier though is me without coffee, so that was the rationale I used as I handed over the money. 

Those who know me, know I'm not really a pizza fiend, so it's not all that surprising I only just now got around to having a slice. That said, I am a foodie, so if I'm going to break down and eat Western food when living in Asia, it'd better be good. I skipped the American chains and went instead for a more authentic experience:  Di Matteo's in Hyehwa. You may remember I passed by that restaurant two weeks ago, and it's been on my mind ever since. I am so glad I returned and actually ate something this time; it was fantastic. I started with one slice, then splurged for another. Delicious.

Side note:  why is it that at age 34 I still haven't learned some basic lessons, e.g if food is hot in your hands, it'll likely burn your mouth? Not sure if it was the excitement of being back at Di Matteo's or the comforting aroma of the pizza in my grasp, but I refrained from waiting and burned the roof of my mouth badly. As if holding out an extra 20 seconds would've killed me...lesson finally learned, perhaps.


Transportive Carols

When they're good, Christmas carols can be transportive, enveloping you in nostalgia one minute, then carrying you to hopeful new beginnings in the next. Confession:  I listen to them throughout the year, although primarily in November and December (which makes me not entirely unconventional). 

Today I bought Chris Tomlin's Christmas album from iTunes because I really like Chris and want to support his music. I am also slightly obsessed with one of the tracks; it's a new song of his called "Winter Snow", and it features Audrey Assad whose voice is lovely. The song works on all levels -melody, lyrics, and vocals. I can't praise it enough nor can I stop listening to it. Every life has its own unique soundtrack, and this song is now part of mine. Strangely, I feel like I'm oscillating between different eras when I hear it, which, coincidentally, is how I generally feel since moving to Seoul. Distant past meets far-out future on a regular basis here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


What is it about being sick that makes one miss her mother more than ever? In this case, maybe it's because my mom took such great care of me as I recovered from shoulder surgery this summer (forever grateful, Mom!).

This week at work has been challenging primarily because I'm trying to learn the art of feigning good health. We've been down a teacher the last 2 weeks, so staying home really hasn't been an option. At the same time, there's heightened sensitivity to any and all illnesses due to the rampant spread of H1N1, so I've been doing all I can to avoid concerning my students with sporadic bouts of sneezing and coughing. The last few days have been real-time training in how to teach English while under the influence of antibiotics, antihistamines, and anti-bacterial wash. Not sure how well I've done; thank goodness tomorrow's Friday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pepero Day

Wishing you and yours a very happy Pepero Day.

Oh! you have no idea what I'm talking about.....? (actually, a few of you native Koreans are probably smiling as you remember this occasion) 

Today, November 11th, is Pepero Day, a holiday allegedly drummed up by the folks at Lotte Corp., a mega-consumer products company. The holiday plays off the resemblance between the date (11-11) and the shape of Pepero Sticks (long, thin cookies covered in chocolate). Basically, it's like Valentine's Day, but instead of swapping cards, you give out these chocolate sticks. I gave out large Pepero Sticks, wrapped individually in heart paper, to all of my students, and they seemed pleased. A few students brought me candy which, of course, pleased me. Will include a Pepero image for your reference asap.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Changdeokgung Palace

When I wasn't shooting leaves and trees during Saturday's excursion, I did take an occasional picture of the palace itself. The grounds are impressive. Based on my reading, this palace was laid out in an asymmetrical fashion, in harmony with the area's topography. While the architecture resembled that of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung's grounds were much prettier and felt more serene.



Glorious Fall

Over the weekend I visited Changdeokgung Palace with my colleagues. Our manager organized the excursion, and it was a lovely way to spend a November Saturday. Although we were on a guided English tour, I must confess I remember very few historical details as I was preoccupied with taking pictures. The leaves were simply spectacular, and I couldn't really focus on anything else. Will return eventually to get all the facts.



Monday, November 9, 2009

Congrats, J + M!

As I prepare to begin a new week of teaching, I'm struck by the fact that across the world, my baby sister is celebrating her first year of marriage with traditional wedding festivities. I anticipated that missing this occasion would be one of the hardest aspects about relocating to Seoul, and my instincts were right.

In any event, I'm sending you hearty congratulations and great big hugs, Joanna and Morgan. I love you! xo

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trip to Techno Mart

Spent Tuesday morning at Techno Mart with a colleague. He offered to accompany me as I began my quest for a new camera, and I appreciated his help. Not only is he an all-around cool dude, but he's conversant in Korean which came in handy.

Basically, I went in knowing what I wanted -essentially the latest version of my previous camera, a Canon ELPH. And that's pretty much what I got. (This model boasts 12.1 mega pixels and can film movies in high definition; also, its instruction manual is in Korean). What I hadn't counted on was bloated pricing. The price of my new camera was substantially higher than what I'd found doing research online the night before. Ironically, I tried to purchase the camera from Amazon, only to learn that this particular item could not be shipped to my mailing address in Seoul (meanwhile, apparently there are no issues with shipping The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season Five DVD set to Korea). I am aware of lingering rivalry between Japan and Korea, and perhaps this is just another manifestation. 

A word on Techno Mart:  it is dizzying. Nine massive floors of electronics, with vendors working off commission at their individual booths. Expect to be wowed by the sheer vastness in selection. Do not go in thinking you'll walk away with an amazing deal. Remember the rule of thumb when buying Japanese products in Korea:  try to get them online from an American retailer instead.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shiver Me Silly

Have been home for two hours and am still shivering. Was hesitant to check the outside temperature, but since I hadn't been experiencing any bliss, I figured it was time to drop the ignorance veil. It is currently one degree C, which must explain why the bottle of water that sat on my table all day seems like it's just come from the fridge. I'm reluctant to turn on the heat (it's only November 2nd/3rd!) but will definitely wear my winter coat in the morning. Heck, at this rate, I may need to sleep in it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Study in Contrasts

I've just returned from an evening that could best be summed up as a glimpse into heaven. After church (which itself was unusually heartening today), I went to dinner with a group of 20 young adults. We dined at a Nepalese restaurant called Everest and enjoyed a delicious meal set against a charming, colorful backdrop. I had the mutton masala with garlic nan...yum. If you come to visit, I'll include Everest on our itinerary. How I wish I'd been able to take photos! (My camera was broken last night, and I'm feeling lost without it. Fixing/replacing it is HIGH on my to-do list.) In any case, here's a link so you can check it out for yourself:

From Everest, the group headed to the Hyehwa area for the evening's main event:  a performance by a renowned Korean gospel choir. There we were, a motley crew of black, white, and Asian believers, packed into the church. We clapped, danced, and sang along in English while the choir belted out (in Korean) modern praise standards, including:  How Great Is Our God, Blessed Be Your Name, Forever, Open the Eyes of My Heart, and In Christ Alone. Close your eyes, and you'd have sworn you were in the Deep South. They were amazing, and even now I get chills thinking about all of it. 

The Hyehwa area is artsy and interesting. I cannot wait to return, particularly because I saw an Italian pizza parlor that was absolutely darling. I went inside to grab a business card and was delighted to see two chefs (owners?) who were native Italians. Will definitely be back soon... the heavenly aroma of Neopolitan pizza still lingers.

Contrast all of these experiences with last night. I don't mean to put a damper on anyone else's revelry, but I attended a Halloween party in Yeoksam and came home feeling empty and depressed. Sure, I can focus on the positives and give the impression that I'm having fun. And truthfully, I did enjoy moments during the evening -I met some friendly people who seemed intelligent and genuine, and the area had plenty of interesting design elements to admire. However, amid all the risque and silly costumes, there was no real joy to be found there. I won't elaborate because many of you know what I mean. As I re-prioritize goals, it's hard not to think of it as an imprudent use of time and talents.