원주여행 / Wonju Trip

A friend I met through a language exchange app lives in Wonju, which is located in Gangwondo, a giant province which spreads from the eastern border of Gyeonggi-do to the East Sea. He came to visit me in Seoul last weekend, so it was my turn to visit him out there for a daytrip this weekend.

The bus ride was relatively short, about an hour and a half, and the ticket was only about 7,000 won. We spent Sunday driving around, eating lunch, and going to a cafe with a really nice view of the city.

It was nice to get some fresh air. Whenever I see nature in Korea, I realize that I hadn’t realized I needed a break from the city hustle and relentless stacks of people and buildings. I love Seoul, its busyness, its many cultural offerings, its shopping, its food, music, cafes, transportation… But as a California native, nature is part of my constitution. Going into nature feels comfortable, like I can breathe a little deeper than I could before. The cafe we visited was on a mountain. As we began the ascent, I kept exclaiming “green!” because it was lush, verdant, and bright green like you can really only see in Spring in punctuated, organized scenery in Seoul. Geongu thought that was funny, but I couldn’t help it.

When we were sitting on the rooftop of the cafe looking out over the view of the whole city, nestled into the mountains, with the gray cotton wool clouds descending into the stacks of apartment complexes, everything looking kind of like it belonged there that way, a breeze was blowing and I found myself almost crying. I refrained from tears for the sake of Geongu. I’m pretty sure it’s distressing to see a new friend cry the second time you meet her.

This trip also made me realize that I’m slowly getting better at conversing in Korean. I’m slowly becoming more confident and speaking even if I’m not sure how to end the sentence, which was something I was absolutely incapable of even six months ago. I wouldn’t even be able to say the beginning of a sentence because I knew I couldn’t finish it. These days I’m picking up speech patterns and intonation and repeating them. I often make mistakes and am aware of it, but there’s a comfortableness that’s arisen out of my willingness to try to say what I want to say, and this often gives rise in turn to the occasional outburst of English vocabulary that most Koreans are too shy to display. While meeting people like Geongu who speak little to no English but have been forced by the education to memorize words, I notice in them an increasing effort to use their known vocabulary within the familiar context of a Korean sentence structure.

Wonju is a place I’d like to visit again, if only to go back to that rooftop on the cafe.

Laptop Story

As most of you are probably aware, I spilled water on my laptop in June which was just one of a string of traumatizing events which I detailed in other posts. At the time I was recovering from a string of anxiety attacks brought on by the sudden disappearance of a guy whom I’d been seeing, which amounted to betrayal in my somewhat innocent (or rather, up to then, lucky) experience with men. As I was struggling with sadness, anger, and disbelief, I spent most of my free time watching the few palatable shows available to me on Netflix in this are of the world, and I ended up trying out the Anne of Green Gables remake at that time. It was part-way through the first episode that it happened—my 2L water bottle fell over, taking a bowl of instant ramen with it, onto the keyboard portion of my laptop. The power immediately cut and although I sopped up what I could, what had been done had been done. The next night I took it to an authorized Apple repair center in Myeongdong, where they spoke English well enough for me to understand perfectly that the repair costs for this particular strain of damage would amount to 1.2 million won as the base charge, with other possible charges for other “surprise” repairs that they couldn’t anticipate now. They said I needed to replace the logic board and keyboard component. If you don’t know your won to USD conversion rates, that’s basically a $1000(+) repair.

I went home feeling conflicted. I wanted to be angry and upset, but the logical part of my brain wouldn’t allow that: every time I came close to feeling something like frustration it turned into resignation, because I knew it was my fault. I’d made a mistake and this was the price.

Over what would turn out to be a very long and comically complicated process, I ended up sending the laptop to my dad in California. His company has branches in Seoul, so rather than try to ship via Fed Ex for $200+ I traipsed down to Guro-gu, handed off the laptop to a complete stranger who had agreed to help me send it via company shipment to my father’s company branch in California, and paid $0.

In the end the laptop didn’t end up getting shipped with the company shipment at all. A manager from my father’s branch who happened to know the situation went to Seoul on business, and met the guy I left my laptop with. The laptop exchanged hands, and when the manager went back to the States he acted as courier. This all happened in kind of secret, with no updates from the Seoul guy or the CA branch manager, so when the manager suddenly appeared one day bearing the laptop, it was a total what…? moment for my dad, which continued for him after he opened it to see that I’d used clothing for packing material (what’s a girl with an excess of clothes and no idea where to buy bubble wrap to do…?).

After that it gets weirder. I don’t want to go into details but I ended up not paying ANYTHING NEAR $1000 for the repair. Not anything near it. I found that out on my birthday, which was the best gift I could have received. Hearing that the laptop’s logic board, keyboard component and battery had been replaced at NOTHING near the estimated cost.

The problem was now getting it back to me in Seoul. It took a long time to try to figure out how to send it (valuable object, insurance, customs fees, etc) and in the end Dad ended up shipping it via USPS. USPS “returned” it to him because there was a lithium battery STICKER on the box (not because of the actual battery). But to find out why it was returned and even exactly WHERE it was returned took over an hour on the phone with the post office and even when he got ahold of them, they were all confused as to what happened too. He ended up having it re-shipped and escalating the case to the point where he might even receive a refund for the shipping cost. I’m not saying that would make all of this free… but…. maybe I am.

The laptop reached the Incheon Airport Customs on Saturday. I know this because they sent me a mysterious text at that time. It told me the package had arrived and I had to fill out a request for it to be processed. There was a link to the customs website, but no directions on how to even find the application on the site and search though I did, I couldn’t find it. I gave up at the time (it was Saturday) and decided to ask my coteacher for help when I got to work on Monday.

So when I asked her for help, even she couldn’t figure out what to do. We spent a day trying to figure it out between class preparation and somehow made it until Wednesday before there was time to start calling people. First we tried calling the number the text had come from. But they said it wasn’t the right number to call in this case and gave us another number. After calling that number my coteacher was able to find the form online and help me fill it out. We submitted it and I got a text the next day telling me that I could receive my package within a day or two. Which confused me.

Because this whole time I’d been expecting to get an invoice for the customs tax and suddenly there was no word about it… During this time the mailman had also been attempting to deliver a “letter” from the international mail center during the middle of the day to my home (which apparently I had to receive in person) so I also had to have my coteacher call him and explain that I was at work at 12.30PM on every week day, and to change the delivery address to the school…

So by the time I get the letter, it’s Friday at lunch time. The mailman comes to find me in my office and I have a proudly flawless conversation with him in Korean, open the letter, and see that it’s a paper copy of the exact same application I already filled out online the day before… no sign of a bill anywhere.

Then I get a call around 3PM from the mailman who’s delivering a package. I’ve ordered a pair of pants online so I assume that’s what he’s calling about since he texted me earlier to tell me he’d be delivering it that day. I ask him to leave the package outside the house (which they usually do) and think no more of it until I get home and discover that he not only delivered the pants but also the laptop.

I can see that the box has been opened and resealed by customs because of the re-packaging tape and I can barely even believe that the laptop will be in there, so I’m nervous until the second I see it and pull it out of the box and confirm it’s mine and it’s working. By this time it’s been over two months since the water / ramen accident in the first place.”

As a writer, I depend on my computer. All of my story notes and half-written poems are in here and before I didn’t have it I never even thought twice about the ability to look back on all of that while I was trying to make new writing. But not having it, I would be walking on the street and suddenly have inspiration for a scene from the novel I’ve been writing for five years and then realize that I couldn’t write it into the never-ending Scrivener file and then I’d just store the inspiration away in my mental file. Luckily I often remember story ideas more than other things I file away, so I’ve been able to write a rough outline of that scene already, and I’ve only had the laptop back for just over two days.

While FaceTiming with Dad about this, how nice it would be to get the laptop back and not have to worry about it anymore and the absolute fiasco that went into getting it back to me, he paused and said “and DON’T—”

He didn’t even have to finish. “I know,” I said, ashamed. “I won’t.”

채식주의자 도대체 뭐예요

채식주의자 종류

  • 비건: 고기, 해산물, 유제품, 계란, 동물성 식품을 전혀 안 먹는 (김치도 안 먹는 그 만큼 정도로) 사람. 동물성 제품도 (예: 가죽, 콜라겐, 등) 절데 사용하지 않음.

 

  • 베지테리언: 고기, 해산물, 동물성 식품을 먹지 않는 사람. 계란, 유제품을 먹을 수도 있음. 동물성 제품은 가끔씩만 사용하고 필요할 때는 신경 많이 써요.

 

  • 페스카테리언 (pescatarian): 베지테리언과의 차이점은 해산물을 먹는거에요.

 

Continue reading

Birthday

My friend Clara and I share a birthday weekend, which is something we discovered when we first met and which was just one thing on a list of similarities which we would discover was actually quite long, lending a slightly spooky vibe to the already-rainy and grey June afternoon on which we first met.

We’d been “instagram friends” since at least April, but between our schedules it’d taken quite a while to meet in person. But within a few hours of having met outside Hapjeong station, I was telling her things about my past and my current experience that not even some of my good friends know, as well as my plans to get a tattoo soon (and what it would mean) and my desire to get the same cartilage piercing she has in her right ear.

We kept in touch regularly after that and when I told her that my plans to travel with another friend over our birthday weekend had fallen through, we decided to do something together.

So on Saturday the 15th, which was my birthday, we met at Jongno 3-ga station to go explore 익선동 (Ikseondong), a neighborhood of tiny streets, cute cafes, and a very “Korean” style which Clara told me came from the fact that they’d modeled the neighborhood based on the typical neighborhood in Seoul during the 1960’s.

We ate a late lunch and went to a cafe where I got tipsy on Sangria; then we walked to 인사동 (Insadong), passed through and ended up in 서촌, where Clara found a cute pub (칼리가리박사의 밀실) and we got another drink, which completed my journey into tipsyland. I’d told Clara before that I wanted a cake so she said let’s pretend the pizza is cake and that sounded like a good idea to me. I forget exact details of what we talked about but remember a few things that were said, such as Clara saying this about celery after I told her one of the only foods I can’t eat is tomatoes: “the smell is so scary, and it’s not cooked so I feel like a rabbit.”

We joked that day about “a quarter of a century” and I explained the meaning; there’s a different phrase in Korean, meaning “half of fifty” (반오십). While I’m really a year older than her (almost exactly), depending on how you look at it we’re both twenty-five.

Since I was born in 1992, counting by international standards, I’ve just turned 25 this past week, but in Korea I’ve been 26 since January 1st. Since Clara was born in 1993, she just turned 24 this past week, but in Korea she’s been 25 since January 1st. It took me a good few months of repeatedly asking and frowning at what I took to be incomprehensible explanations before I fully understood the system of Korean age. And it was a total aha! moment when it happened. I still remember the feeling.

Anyway, we joked about it. I went back in time a year so we were both 25.

The next day, Sunday (16th) was Clara’s birthday so we made plans to meet for dinner and drinks in Hongdae. We met outside the station at 6; she’d brought her friend since middle school Chan Woo with her and told me that another friend would join us around 9. We went to a rooftop bar (루프탑 720) and suffered the humidity–it took me until well through my giant mojito to loosen up enough to talk much. We moved to a place I knew for makgeolli and jeon (막걸리 싸롱) and spent a few hours there drinking enough makgeolli to get me a bit drunk before Reina joined. I’d heard a bit about her from Clara because Clara told me that Reina and I were similar and that she’d told Reina about me even before we’d first met, so I’d been quite curious to finally meet her. By the time she arrived I was already a little drunk so I remember staring at her a little bit, something that I wouldn’t have done had I been sober… Anyway although I was already full and Clara said she was too, we headed out for a third round and ended up at a place called 치즈오타쿠김철수 (Kim Chulsoo the Cheese Nerd [?]) where we ordered a giant platter of various things and the inevitable soju.

Because I had to work the next day and I’d already told them I couldn’t drink soju well, they didn’t make me participate, but I was very shocked when I saw the way to make somek. I had imagined something that was more beer (because who wouldn’t imagine that) and didn’t process the meaning when Clara said it was a ratio of 9:1 in favor of soju, and I probably wouldn’t have processed that even if I weren’t already drunk. But when I saw them pour the drinks even looking at the amount of soju in the cups made me feel ill… she hadn’t been exaggerating. I would venture to say that it had even been 95% soju. They poured me a glass of beer instead and said it was a one-shot so I did it in one-shot too, watching in horror as the other three downed their drinks with all the appearance of drinking a glass of water. Only Reina coughed when she finished hers, the way I do after a single shot. As Clara had predicted… culture shock.

We played drinking games that I invariably could not play well–for example, the one where you have to try to flick the twisted part off the soju cap, I could barely muster any strength at all to flick it and almost missed once, and Chan Woo, being on my left which would make me the one who had to drink if he flicked it off, would barely touch the thing before passing it on, having taken pity on me, I guess. (Thank you.) Every time the cap would come to me Clara would beg me to do well–please, Lily… 정신 차려!– but I couldn’t help it. I was weakened by alcohol. Also, by the fact that I am weak.

At some point Clara and I went to the bathroom together and when we returned to the table, everyone was gone. Reina came back after some time–she’d been on the phone outside–and some time later–time is all really difficult to track in memory, as I only really have flashes of things and couldn’t be paid to relate a chronological series of events–Chan Woo came back with a little cake/pie whose candles were already lit. This brought on a half-rendition of the Korean “happy birthday” song and a long series of photos of which I will post a couple below.

I couldn’t tell you at what time we left–we spent enough time there to have a couple more rounds of drinks–but I remember getting home around 1.30AM and not much after getting home. Although a couple months ago I couldn’t have imagined that I’d spend my birthday weekend this way it was a really nice way to meet new friends and mark the occasion.

In the single language exchange app that I’m continuing to use, although I have on my profile that I’m not interested in dating and I’d rather make friends with girls than boys, predominantly men send me messages. Today I blocked a 31-year-old man who’d asked me where I lived as his first message, and then the next day (today), although he could see I’d read his previous message and had declined to respond, had asked me again in Korean. Is it stupidity, bullheadedness, cluelessness, aggression, a simple lack of regulation of internet behavior?

I block men all the time on that app. These days I admit to being a little trigger happy; it takes the smallest impetus to bring my finger smashing down into the “report/block” button, but even when I look back at the list of blocked people in my account settings I can justify each profile being there.

Yesterday morning I had to block a kid who’d messaged me like seven times over the course of a few months on this app and had messaged me back in February on a dating app. Despite my persistent lack of response he continued to send me messages such as “herro” (hello), a simple :3 (oh, sexy, I’m gonna be all over that … yeah good one), and finally, the straw that broke me– “you there?”

Yes I’m here you creep, yes I’ve ignored the last 7 messages you sent me on this language exchange app and the others you sent me on that dating app that I’ve since deleted.

Before I blocked him I sent him a “do not message me again” so that I could have the pleasure of knowing that he’d probably try to respond to that and then receive the app-generated message: this user has declined to receive any more messages from you.

 

 

There’s a whole host of things that makes this app’s users immature, aside from there being creepy men on there who ignore your profile that clearly says “I won’t date you even if you pay me $10000”–

by the way, while I’m on this subject, what  the heck. Do you think you’re super extra handsome or something so that’s gonna make me forget that I ever said I had no intention of setting up a date through this app? Actually, in Korea, I wouldn’t be surprised if a guy who knew he was handsome also knew he could get away with stuff like that because in Korea he can.

But I was talking about immaturity. For example, someone messages me with a short self-introduction and then their next message is “will you be my friend”?

Um… hello…? There’s a reason that only works in kindergarten? I used to just ignore messages like this but these days I’m feeling slightly belligerent, offended by all of the immaturity and dunceheadedness allowed to flourish around me while I alone seem doomed to live an honest and decent life, so I’ll respond with something like “since I don’t know you at all it’s impossible to say whether or not I want to be your friend but I’m leaning towards the opposite” which of course is way beyond their English-learning level. Which is slightly mean of me but when you’ve got a personality like that that just goes out there and asks something like that you should be surprised once in awhile by someone who’s actually not friend material so that you stop asking that in the future. Only I’m pretty sure that based on the rate that men and women alike ask me this question, nobody else in the whole app’s infrastructure is letting anybody know that it’s very childish to ask someone to be friends with you before you even can know if you’d like to be friends with them in the first place.

This leads into my second big problem. Say I’ve chatted with someone for about a day on and off and without actually saying “look, I’m sorry, this isn’t working out” I’ve sent them quite simple replies or have left long gaps of time between responses, but they’re not getting the message. They insist that we meet up for language exchange or that they can help me with my Korean. They think because they’ve taken a liking to my profile and I seem to be a kind / an interesting person everything’s gonna work out how they want it to and they ignore the fact that my will to continue this is also at play. So then I have to tell them “look, I’m sorry, this isn’t working out” and they get mad at me. Mad! Like it’s my fault our personalities are incompatible or something. Like it’s my fault they’re not my style!

Why, why, why can’t people, I mean these are adults (!), realize that you can’t be friends with everybody…? I feel like that’s a kind of childhood life lesson. You won’t like everyone you meet and not everyone you meet will like you. But this is more subtle than that because it’s a matter of personalities and needs matching up and honestly the likelihood of finding a suitable match online is really low.

 

Luckily for me I’ve made some great friends in this very app (as unlikely as you’d probably be to believe that now) and I keep searching for more. But it’s slow, and along the way I have to suffer inanely boring conversations or plot all day as to how to tell the 56 year old woman who’s asked me to be her friend that I can’t be her friend in this universe or any universe and never will want to be even if I’m reborn as someone who’s her same age. Because she wants to be friends with me in this life.

 

 

These days I just want to pick a fight with everybody. Why do you think it’s okay to think this way? Why are you living this way? Why doesn’t anyone want to think their own way and look how they want to look and do what they want to do and just to hell with what everyone else would say to their mom about it? These days out of reaction to ordinariness I become myself aggressively, I pick verbal fights with people who say stuff that needs to be fought over, I challenge the stupid comments or questions I receive daily, I don’t worry about hurting their feelings if they’ve disregarded mine. Aggressively myself. Something boils inside me. Anger is still new to me. I’ve only felt it for the first time as recently as a few months ago. I mean real, seething anger, a sense of injustice on steroids. I refuse to suffer fools, I’ve always said that about myself. But usually that was a silent intolerance, retorts said in my head to myself or mere avoidance of those I found to be foolish. These days I’m waiting, as they say, with open arms. Try me. I’ll probably bite your head off. And I’ll probably do it so underhandedly that you’ll have no idea I’ve done it. Aggressively myself.

Teacher Class

Every Wednesday afternoon various department teachers come to an English Speaking class, usually held in the meeting room beside the language department office. When I first started teaching and my coteacher told me I was going to have to teach other teachers, I was terrified. Although nobody had been unfriendly to me, the language barrier between adults is stronger and scarier, and at that time I was still envisioning a structured class time with lectures and grammar explanations…

During the first couple weeks we left applications open and about ten teachers applied. During the first class I lead a discussion about our hobbies and other introductions; all the teachers were friendly and better at English than I had expected. I was very relieved that it hadn’t been the ordeal I’d been imagining and after the first few classes I began to look forward every week to our 교사 수업.

A couple weeks ago some of the other teachers asked me if we could go outside to get a beer together during class time, so last Thursday (June 15th) we waited until work was over at 4.30 and went together to a chicken / beer restaurant between Gongdeok and Mapo station (and much closer to my home than I had realized).

I had hoped that I would get some photos of all of us together but after we’d had enough beers… we all forgot about that kind of thing. I did manage to get this shot of the Korean teacher who shares our Language dept. Office (who’s always giving me snacks and telling people I don’t eat enough) and the administration department teacher before I had my second beer and forgot about most things.

During the whole evening, teachers made an effort to speak English and we actually had great conversation. I’d been prepared with a discussion topic but we didn’t need it, since the alcohol loosened up everyone’s English. I taught them slang like “tipsy” and “lightweight” and they taught me some Korean in exchange–I spoke Korean in front of them for the first time (with the exception of Korean teacher with whom I regularly exchange snippets) and everyone was delighted, despite the fact that all I’d really done was translate words. They were surprised I knew things like 쟁이 and certain curse words, which was a little funny for me, because as a language student and also a language teacher it’s kind of always been a known to me that language learners gravitate to that kind of slang first, even as they’re forced to learn textbook, overly-formal and proper language.

As you’d know if you’ve been reading my posts, I’ve had a bit of a rough time of it lately. While usually I’m a light drinker and one beer is enough to get me pleasantly chatty and tipsy, I kind of downed my first giant beer and then couldn’t refuse when they ordered a second round… which I also finished. By that time I was speaking freely and at ease and about half the table understood me and the other half had phased out into a beer-headed stupor, but would nod and “ah” if I met their eyes while I was talking.

I don’t know what time it was, maybe 7 or 7.15, but most people decided to go home. The P.E. teacher, music teacher, and I decided to go out for a second round and on the way to the bar, they showed me some places I might want to see–cafes, shops, restaurants. I doubt that I would be able to figure out exactly where that place was again without asking how to get there, but we ended up in a little sul-jib (pub) with friendly staff and a cute atmosphere. When we’d been at the restaurant planning where to go, the PE teacher asked me what kind of style I liked, and sober me would have said it didn’t matter, but tipsy me said “a place with no old men.” They thought this was hilarious, and P.E. teacher said she knew a place. The pub we ended up at fit the bill. Gradually more and more crowded, but no old men.

We talked about anything from renting bicycles, to which mascara to use, to which gym to sign up for, and were there until maybe 9, when we decided to go walk to the Han River Park, which I had always known was quite close to my house but had never known how to get to. They showed me the entrance to the park and we walked along the river for a while, and then they walked with me back to my apartment.

After all the stress I’ve been dealing with it was nice to loosen up a little and get to know my coworkers better. This was also the first time many coworkers became aware that I can understand a good percentage of spoken Korean although my speaking skills are wimpy in comparison, so it was nice to interact with them a bit more like friends.