Friday, March 31

thoughts on community

I'm up at the office on a Saturday, trying to get stuff done, but not exactly succeeding. The internet is being impossible slow and I'm not motivated to get a lot done in terms of grading. I've only got two sets of homework to grade before Monday, though, so things aren't looking too bad.

The "boss" of our office had some teachers over for brunch this morning. She's been having us over in groups big enough to sit around her little table. She made French toast, eggs (WITH CHEESE!), cornbread, and good coffee. It was very enjoyable.

I finished reading Blue Like Jazz the other day. I know, I'm a little behind the times. Everyone was reading that last year, but that's what happens when you live in a foreign country. It was a good read. Honest, funny thoughts about things that matter. Some of the last chapters were on being alone vs. community. He talks about how being alone is good and necessary, but can also be harmful if taken to the extreme. He talks about living so alone that he hardly ever saw people and then moving into a house with several other guys and how challenging it was, but how good it was for him too. I started thinking about my experiments with community and aloneness. Roommates in college were always a blessing and a challenge at the same time. I wouldn't do any of that differently, though, if I had to do it over again. Roommates are necessary and good.

In Korea, when we first lived there, we had a very interesting situation. It was me, three single guys, and a married couple who lived together for about 6 months. I remember at the time that we thought everything was OK. There were people who kept telling us that we had to split up fast because it was going to get bad, but we kept telling them that we were OK. It did get pretty bad at times, but there were also good things about it. We learned some submission. Some of us learned more about how to be direct and some of us learned more about how to be kinder and not say everything that came to mind. Some of us learned submission and some of us learned how to take control. We definitely learned things about others that we wouldn't have learned otherwise. I don't think I would do it over again though, if I were going to move back with a team again.

I moved into my own place after that and it was wonderful. I had two apartments on my own in Korea and I didn't get lonely but a few times, and sometimes loneliness is a necessary and good thing, too. Just before I moved to China, I lived with a Korean family, and they gave me more space than I expected. After the first few days of the girls being with me every moment they could, we all retreated into our normal routines and just saw each other when we could. I would definetly do that again, for the language practice, the insight into the culture, and the ability to save money.

Now, I'm here in China and I feel like I'm in this mix of living alone and living with others. I have my own room/apartment, but I have people over almost every day for different things and I live so close to everyone else, it's a little like being in college again. This time, I'm the teacher, but I still live in a dorm. Most of my friends live just down the hall or a short walk up some stairs or outside to the next building. I can knock on a friend's door to borrow an egg, share some bread, or chat. I'm still more living alone than with others because there's definitely no one else I can get mad at if the bathroom is nasty or the floor needs to be swept, but I think it's a good mix.

The author of this book, though, makes a great point for living with people because of the submission factor. Of having to give up certain things you think you're entitled to. I have given up the idea that I need a quiet place to sleep. Outside my room, there are often people talking, refilling their hot water bottles, or moving chairs around in the open space where there's a TV. But, really that's nothing to deal with. I think living with people again would be a good opportunity. Of course, if I had the opportunity to move in with that one special guy who is hopefully out there somewhere...that would be the best possible next move!

English funnies

I watched a Korean movie yesterday with some of my students. The English title is 100 Days With Mr. Arrogant. It's about a high school girl who has to repay damage she does to a college student's car. Through the 100 days, they fall in love, etc., etc. It was sorta cute. Afterward, I read the review on the back of the DVD case. I type it here word for word.

The Hayoung is already through is a high inside three year classes learn to
living, however and still and often and often white daydream of hair. Not
over at solid now living the male friend that live inside, Hayoung out the
cent's hand. The Hayoung harms the heat of the difficult heart head, in be
the street disorderly beat the vapor car. Her ruined male learn to living
the Hy all and new to run the car, Hyungjoon to beg the Hayoung tpensate the.
The Hayoung did not have money, then not wish the gnd sign to down owe single,
and need to be wanted the for inside yungjoon make on days for repair the.

Maybe you can understand why we have to read real English books just to keep our English at the same level it was when we came. The level of English we use can deteriorate quickly, but we have a lot of fun reading this stuff and catching our friends in their errors!

Monday, March 27

a contrast

I went to Korea on Friday morning and got back yesterday at noon. It was a great trip. I got to see a lot of friends in Korea and that was really a blessing. I went to my Korean (girl) friend's and my American (guy) friend's wedding. It was impressively beautiful and it was great to see so many people I knew there.

I was surprised at how different Korea felt. I was surprised at the availabilty of things, how nice things were, how expensive things were, and how much had changed, both in Korea and in me. It was nice to experience the conveniences. I got to eat Mexican food with real sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and cheese not only once but twice! With all the friends I got to see and all the conveniences I got to experience, I was happy to return to China. I'm not trying to paint the picture that we're in the dark ages here, but it is very different from the lives most people I know lead. I am glad to realize again, though, that this life I've chosen is good. I love the simplicity of it. I love the purposefulness of it. I love it.

As I landed in Korea and rode the bus to my friends' house, I thought about the contrast just between the arrival at the airport.

When I arrived in Korea, I was greeted by smiling, bowing airport employees, moving sidewalks, and a bathroom toilet that had a button where you could cover the toilet seat with a clean plastic cover. There were soap and paper towels at the sink. I bought my return ticket and applied for a Skypass card and the ladies spoke English well. I waited in a line for the airport bus beside well labeled signs telling me where I could go. The driver of the bus took my luggage and spoke in easily understandable Korean to greet me and ask where I was going. I sat in an airport limousine bus that had wide leather-like upholstered seats that leaned back and had leg rests. It cost about 10 bucks to get to my destination. I travel on nicely paved roads down streets with modern buildings lined up beside them.

My return to China is a little different. People push to get out of the plane as if they're not the first ones to get out they will lose some large cash prize. If I want to use the bathroom I go to a little stinky room with a hole in the floor, no toilet paper, let alone soap or paper towels. I go through a quarantine line with a video camera looking thing that takes my temperature to see if I have symptoms of the bird flu. I walk out to the parking lot through a crowd of people that crowds around the exit and only opens as you push your way through. The taxi drivers are kept to one part of the parking lot and yell and shout not only at possible customers, but also at each other as they fight for customers. I have to haggle the price down from what they ask (around 6 bucks) to what I know is closer to what other people pay (3 bucks). We travel along bumpy roads and pass people in the cold carrying loads of sticks or with carts behind old fuzzy donkeys.

But, like I already mentioned, I love it here. One question I answered a lot was "When are you moving back to Seoul?" I don't see a long term stay there in my future.

Wednesday, March 22


Our office can sometimes be quite funny. A few weeks ago, as the new teachers were getting settled in, we were walking to the only restaurant that is within walking distance (on a cold day anyway) from our campus. The dinner wasn't so enticing in the cafeteria, so on the spur of the moment, a few of us decided to walk to this little hole in the wall restaurant. It was very cold, and I hadn't planned on going out, so I was just wearing a shirt, jeans, and a coat. It wasn't enough. As we ran with teeth chattering to the restaurant, somebody said that we should make a TV show of our life here. Then somebody said, "Well, we could! It seems like anything is possible in Yanji!" We've been quoting that line ever since.

That same teacher often says quite funny stuff. She was the one who inspired me to make a schedule for myself to keep on track as I study Korean, because she had made one for herself to study MCAT. So, I was asking her if she'd kept up with her MCAT study schedule. I have tried to keep up with mine, but I decided to also count watching my Korean drama as study time. So, she said: "Oh, I wish there were an MCAT drama!"

One more, just for good measure. Three of us went to a meeting on Sunday downtown and we saw another teacher there. The next day, one of our group said to the other teacher: "Remember that day we saw you downtown?" It took us a few seconds to realize it, but she was talking about yesterday. So, I said "Do you mean yesterday?" and we all laughed. Sometimes we feel like time flies, but then some days are so long!

We have a board in the office where we put funny things people say. Needless to say, it's never empty.

Tuesday, March 21

I am reading the essays from my intermediate class. They were supposed to make a timeline of important events in their life and then choose one event and write about it. One of my students wrote about her first job. It was a year ago during winter break. She got a job for 3 yuan an hour and worked two hours per day. That's less than one dollar for two hours of waitressing. She said she walked instead of taking the bus in -12 degrees Celsius weather in order to save more money. Wow.

Monday, March 20

good things about warm weather

The high today was supposed to be 48 degrees. It was really a lovely skies, not much wind....
So, I got started thinking about all the good things that go along with warmer weather:

We walked outside from the office to the cafeteria to lunch and back and enjoyed it.
Soon we'll be able to sit outside on the grassy hill after lunch or play frisbee after classes.
They took the extra makeshift wooden door off the outside of the doors.
Soon the nasty, dirty curtains that they have on all the doors downtown (to keep the warm air in) will come off and my hands will stay so much cleaner.
Now, we can take walks/jogs around the school instead of hiking it to the gym everytime we want to do something other than play badminton in the gym or jumprope inside.
We can go outside without two layers plus all the outerwear. So much simpler. We can even wear skirts now!
Soon, we'll be wearing flip-flops and we might even be able to get a little color in our skin. Who knows.

Although, there are some downsides to the warm weather too. One friend was going to get some chestnuts tonight, but the roasted chestnut vendor has apparently packed up for the year. Only a cold weather treat. Also, I bought some frozen stuff at the supermarket tonight and it'll be totally melted if I don't get it back soon. A month ago, it would have lasted quite a while longer. So, I better get it home.

Friday, March 17

already a week!

This past week went by so quickly! I'm spending most of my Saturday, again, in the office e-mailing, writing tests, entering grades in the computer, and trying to get stuff ready so I can leave my classes for a day and a half with another teacher. I got three teachers to cover my three classes for Friday and Monday morning. They were all very gracious, even though they don't get anything for it except what I can give them by way of thank you (like some homemade cookies, or perhaps a special find from Korea).

I finished interviewing all my 80-or-so students except for one this week. That's a big accomplishment. Now I can use my time in the office to get work done.

I taught Rascal Flatt's song "Broken Road" to my intermediate class on Friday. It sort of goes with life lessons and the idiom that we learned on Friday was "blessing in disguise." They like learning songs, and it's fun to teach them, too. I'm gonna teach George Strait's "Run" this week to my beginner class. We're doing a unit on entertainment, so they are learning about the different names for genres of music. Most of them say they like country music, but I'm not sure they really understand what country music is. I've played a few samples for them, and I even did a few steps of the two step, which they thought was funny.

I've started watching a new Korean drama this week: 넌 어느 별에서 왔니? And I finally called my Korean tutor from last semester, so we are going to start meeting once a week. I set up a Korean study schedule for myself which I'm trying to keep, and I have the number for a girl who wants to tutor me in Chinese, so I'm gonna start that this week or next. So much to learn!

Friday, March 10

an amazing snow

You can't really understand how impressive this snow was by looking at the picture, but you have to try to imagine this:
Yesterday, it was snowing small flakes as I walked to the office before my 8:00 class. During my 9:00 class, it turned into rain, then at about 11:00, it began snowing these HUGE flakes of snow. All of us who were in the English conversation office lined up at the windows to watch it.
Here were some of the comments:
"If you wanted to have a snowball fight with this, all you'd have to do is catch one flake and throw it!"
"What kind of environmental conditions would cause the snow to come down in such large clumps?"
"I've never seen anything like this before!"

It was all gone an hour or so after lunch, because the temperature has really warmed up in the past week, but it was amazing while it lasted.

Yesterday afternoon, I went on an adventure to try to get a return ticket from Korea to Yanji. I am planning on going for just the weekend, so I booked my return flight on the ticket that I used to get here last summer. Since one way tickets are not that much more expensive than round trip tickets, I just planned on getting a ticket from Seoul to Yanji. I called the three companies that run these flights and found that Korean air had the cheapest price. So, I went to their office and waited for fifteen minutes or so for the ticket to be booked at another office and then was going to pay for it, but it turned out to be much more expensive than the price they quoted to me. They said it was because of oil taxes. Well, why couldn't they tell me that before I withdraw the cash to pay for it? I didn't have enough cash on me, and cash was all they were able to take. So, I went to another company to purchase the same flight from them, because it turned out to be cheaper, but they couldn't book me a ticket that began in Seoul.

A bit frustrated with all this, I walked to the gym to get in a short workout before a scheduled meeting with someone in the evening. I was hungry, because I'd had only a little roll of kimbap for lunch, so I stopped by a Korean style snack vendor for some spicy rice patty on a stick to give me some fuel for my workout. I asked for what I wanted in Korean, because I figured someone selling Korean snacks would speak Korean. She told me how much it was in Chinese, and I thought she said 5 yuan. I thought she was ripping me off because I was a foreigner, so I looked at the little girl next to me with a confused look, and then the little girl translated the price into Korean. Then I realized that she'd said 5 mao (6 cents) and not 5 yuan (6o cents). It's kinda funny that I would even consider paying 54 cents more for a rice patty a rip off.

some things i love now

1. drinking hot water, even with no tea or anything else to flavor it
when i first saw/experienced this in Korea, I thought it was pretty strange. now, i drink it at home, especially on cool nights when i've already brushed my teeth.

2. quail eggs
they have beautiful little spotted shells. you can boil them, peel them, and eat them with salt and pepper, or after peeling, cook and let soak in some soy sauce and eat them as a side dish. i had a friend over last night who helped me peel a batch and she said "i love everything about these things...their size, their taste, the look of the shells..."

3. running to rap music
i never have really liked rap, but a friend gave me some so that she could upload it from my computer to her mp3 and i put it on my ipod and used it for music while running. i don't run for long, but the energy and the beat in the music made the time go by faster

Monday, March 6


So, I decided to go off cokes and coffee for a while as a form of giving something up and to see what extent of detox my body would go through. I guess lent inspired me, but I started a day after lent and I don't think I'll go the whole period of lent. I didn't give up all caffeine, though. I still drink an occassional cup of hot chocolate (a previous teacher sent our office a big box of hot chocolate mix) and an occassional cup of tea. Still, the effects have been interesting. I didn't have big headaches like I thought I would, but even yesterday, on my fifth day of this experiment, I felt a little light headed around dinner time. I read up a little this morning on the effects of caffeine and found this. I took the caffeine quiz, and even at the most I think I would drink in one day, this was my result:
Your total estimated caffeine intake is 280 milligrams each day. This is
equivalent to 3.5 strong cups of instant coffee (where 1 cup = 80mg). For
most adults there's virtually no risk in consuming this amount of caffeine per
day. At these levels it can boost your mood, alertness and physical
performance. However, some individuals can be particularly sensitive to
the effects of caffeine with only small amounts causing jitters and anxiety. If
you're aware that you're sensitive it would be wise to switch to decaffeinated
drinks. For children, even levels of 100mg can cause increased anxiety

So, I guess there's no real reason for me to be off caffeine except for the reason of giving something up in order to deny myself. I guess it's the same with a full on fast. There's no reason to give up food unless you have a higher reason.