Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: A year of firsts

The end of 2013 is here, and like many, I like to look back and reflect on the year's main events and how I've changed.  (Why do you think I blog and journal so much?  I learn an enormous amount when I go back and read my thoughts months later, physical proof that I've changed or why I shouldn't have worried so much, etc.).

I started off 2013 with remnants of reverse culture shock, still feeling somewhat lonely and unexcited after moving back to Madison from Madrid earlier in the fall.  Also, it was the middle of a Wisconsin winter.

Now looking back, knowing how the year both started and ended, I think I did a good job of turning that feeling around.  Rather than thinking about where I wasn't, I took advantage of where I was and who was around at that particular period in time.  The result?  New friends, new experiences, and new knowledge: a year of many "firsts".


I had my first ultrasound, though it was for a research study, not because I was preggers.

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I enjoyed Madison's Restaurant Week for the first time ever -- three times: The Bayou, Johnny's Italian Steakhouse, & Brocach on Monroe.

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I went to Frank Warren's Post Secret event at UW-Madison with my brothers, finally, after wanting to go to one for years!

Post Secret Madison WI 2013

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My joy of snail mailing became a full-blown hobby with some birthday goodies: stamps and washi tape.  I also discovered there are communities of letter-writers like me.  I joined the Letter Writers Association. did a post card exchange, and had a More Love Letters letter-writing birthday party.

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I went to my first American-Norwegian wedding in July when my dad's cousin got married (my first wedding since 2009).  I enjoyed seeing so many relatives that weekend!

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I went to Canada for the first time in a 2-week trip to Hudson, Quebec where I reunited with my close friends last seen in Madrid, Spain.  Firsts here included (but are not limited to): watching a regatta, eating a beavertail, going sailing, and going to Vermont!

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My German friend Max came to Madison as part of his big post-Master's degree Canada/U.S. summer trip -- my first international visitor!

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I went to Chad's cabin for the first time with the fab four in August.

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I played in my first ultimate frisbee tournament in the states, went to ultimate frisbee camp (Camp I Wanna Huck It) in Illinois, and was on a spring & summer MUFA league.

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I moved to South Korea and began working as an elementary school English teacher.  Living here I've experienced a pile of firsts since September.


I need to learn from myself and do the same in 2014: take advantage of where I am and who I'm around now.  What else can I learn?  What experiences can I have?  What is unique to my current situation?

Lately, the eight months left on my teaching contract have seemed very long in my eyes, but I know when August arrives I'll wonder where the time went.  I need to shake up my routine a bit and keep progressing this year, especially making good use of the next eight months in Korea.

What were your best memories of 2013?  Did you have any firsts?  
• • •

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sookmyung Saturday #11: Korean games and crafts

Yes, I haven't been to Sookmyung University for Korean class since November 9.  But knowing that today would be a cultural event after an hour of class (our last cultural event was a trip to the National Museum of Korea), coupled with the fact that I hadn't seen my friends since the jjimjilbang weekend, I went into Seoul.

I met up with Anne for lunch beforehand, and then we found a big art shop in Hongdae so she could get some materials for her winter camp.

When we got to class a little late, we found out that the Level 1 test was today - not next week.  There was absolutely no reason for me to take it; I had only been to the first 2 of 8 classes in the level.  So the teacher said of course it was okay to sit out on the test, but to stay for the cultural event afterwards.  Yay!

So after the 15:00-16:00 class, we were sorted into different classrooms for some cultural fun and games.


Our first event was yunnori (also "yut-nori"), a Korean game often played on the Korean New Year.  My 6th graders had a reading about yunnori in one of their last units ("How do you say ~ in Korean?", that lesson), so I was excited to play for real.  It's a simple game that involves throwing four sticks into the air to determine how many spaces you can move on the board.

I don't know how, but every single time it was my turn to throw the sticks for my team, I got "yut," which means all four sticks landed with the flat side up.  So you get to move four spaces and throw again.  Our teacher was so excited when I kept throwing "yut".  (It felt kind similar to when I got that hole-in-one on the mini-golf hole that won me a free game in Vermont.)

Our level one class won both games!

Origami Hanbok

Next we made some origami hanbok, which is the name of traditional Korean clothing (another word I had learned during that same lesson with my 6th graders).

Then we wrote New Year's letters, and we were supposed to glue the origami hanbok to the letter (I didn't have room).

Korean Name Cards

In the final room we made Korean name cards (business cards?).  We were supposed to write our name, occupation, and other contact information if you want, and then decorate it with the handmade Korean paper they had available.

Mine says my name (in black), and "teacher" in blue (saun-sang-nim)

Rice Ball + Kimchi & Tofu

The food afterwards was a lovely surprise.  The volunteers had made 주먹밥 for us (one for each of us!), which they called rice balls.  They taught us that the first part of that word, 주먹, means "fist", and then 밥 is "rice", so it's like a fist of rice.  Apparently it's a common eat for university students, since it's quick and cheap.  There was tuna and kimchi inside, and the rice ball was wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed.  It was good and filling, but I could barely eat half of one since I was still full from lunch.

The other item was kimchi and tofu, and then we were served hot tea and cookies afterwards.  A great Saturday, but probably one of the last Sookmyung classes I'll attend for the foreseeable future.  (I'll make more progress with the self-study books I have, plus my weekly conversation partner meetings.)
• • •

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013: A year in books

Last January I set a Goodreads goal of reading 32 books in 2013, and today I met my goal!  Here are the books I read this year, starting with the most recent:

If you recall, I started out 2013 reading some children's novels: books I had never read and favorites from my childhood.  Since those were obviously fast reads, I'm keeping my book goal at 32 for 2014.

Top 5 books read in 2013

My top five from these 32 are (in no particular order):


The 4-hour workweek (Timothy Ferriss)

This book articulates the life I hope to create for myself, as well as instructions about how to get there.  Probably not for everyone, but the lifestyle that the author promotes really struck a cord with me, and I think I'll reread this book in January or February.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Barbara Demick)

I actually wrote a post about this book when I finished it.  Highly recommended.

Give and Take (Adam Grant)

Let's see, what did I say about this book on Goodreads when I finished it this summer?   "Excellent, excellent! Five stars without a second thought. Enjoyable to read, thought-provoking, and further strengthened my views about giving. Highly recommended!"  Well, there you have it.

Paris to the Moon (Adam Gopnik)

I read this memoir back in March, and it was a pleasure to read.  Really great writing, and I got to be in Paris while I read (you know, in my mind).

Wild (Cheryl Strayed)

I read this book pretty quickly - it's a captivating memoir.  So well written, what talent.  If I do walk the Camino de Santiago fall of 2014, we can all thank this book for strengthening my desire.

What was the best book you read in 2013?  What should I add to my reading list for 2014?
• • •

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Korea

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Christmas is not a big holiday in Korea like it is in the states, but we do have the day off.  I've heard it's almost more of a couple's holiday here - a do something sweet with your significant other type of day.

For me, today just feels like a regular Korean December day.  A Saturday or Sunday at home, to be exact.  You might think it's sad for today to not feel like Christmas, but it's actually a lot easier this way.  This has been the case for my other two Christmases away from home, as well.

2009 - Christmas in Madrid, Spain

My first year away from home for the holidays was in 2009 when I was studying abroad in Madrid.  On Christmas Eve I went to my friend Asad's house for lunch.  We made pizza and fries, went for a nice afternoon walk, and then watched the movie "Taken".  We cooked lunch together again on Christmas, and then he worked on scholarship applications while I did research for a paper -- so I really didn't feel like I was missing out on the holiday, since it didn't feel like a holiday to begin with.

Christmas lunch with Asad, 2009

2011 - Christmas in Válor, Spain

My second year away from home on Christmas was in 2011 when I was teaching English in Madrid.  I'll never forget that Christmas, because I was at a 2-week HelpX gig in southern Spain and we actually did celebrate the holiday.  The weather was glorious; I soaked up the sun and played fun Christmas games all day long with new friends.

Christmas Day hike, Válor 2011

2013 - Christmas in Korea

And today, on my third year away from home on Christmas, I stayed home and enjoyed the break in my week.  I did some G+ Hangouts in the morning with the family and boy, and tried to make it feel like Christmas.  After opening some boxes during and after the video calls, I set up my Christmas cards on display on the fridge -- my heart burst full of gratitude.

That positive burst sparked some productive cleaning followed by cooking.  I watched "A Christmas Story" while cooking in the kitchen, my next attempt at making it feel like Christmas.

That afternoon I wrote letters, read, blogged, and watched some Grey's Anatomy.  That night I had a G+ Hangout with Hannah and Hermann in London, during which we played a board game (Associations: The game of quick connections).  Last Christmas we played the board game Sorry via G+ when I was in Wisconsin and they were in London, so it feels like a new Christmas tradition.

Playing Associations on Christmas, 2013

It still didn't feel like it had been Christmas when the day was said and done, but that's okay.  It was a great day.  Being away for big holidays makes them all the more special the next time I am home to celebrate them!
• • •

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Getting a Korean library card: 19-day journey

Korea's day-before-Christmas present to me today: a library card!

It was harder than I anticipated to get a library card here though (but nothing compared to how long it took me to get all of my banking set up!).   But don't let that stop you; your experience could easily be a lot smoother than mine, depending on your library's computers!

My library card quest actually began on Friday, December 6.  Here's the detailed timeline of events if anyone is so inclined to read them:

Friday, 12/6/13 - Go to my elementary school's library (outside, disconnected from main building) to see what children's books they have.  One of my co-teachers was in there with the librarian. They told me the public library has lots more English books.  The librarian mentioned to my co-teacher in Korean (who then translated to me) that I need to request a library card online first, and then three days later I can get the card.

I go to the public library after school.  I ask the librarian about a library card and she leads me to a computer. She does some clicking, until I get to an application page in English.  She goes back to her desk.  I fill everything in and click "submit".  The page does not submit.  I try clicking "submit" again. And again. I refresh and type all my information in again, submit.  The page does not submit.  The librarian has disappeared and I've spent enough time trying, so I leave and figure I'll try another day.  Or maybe it went through and I didn't know.

Monday, 12/10/13 - Go to the library after school and ask the librarian about the library card.  She asks what I assumed to mean, "Did you sign up on the computer?" and I said yes.  So she asked me to write down the username I had chosen.  I write it down on a piece of paper and hand it back to her. She searches on her computer and doesn't find anything, though I'm not surprised.  It was a long shot.  So I need to go back to the computer and try and submit the application again.

This time she doesn't come with me to open the site, so it takes a bit of searching and clicking on random Korean words before I find the English application again. "i-PIN" is what you should look for.  I type in all my information.  The submit button still doesn't work, same thing happens: nothing.  But this time I go back over to the librarian and kind of lead her over to the computer to watch me hit submit.  She tries clicking submit. The page does not submit.  In the end, she tells me that it's not working today, come back another day and try.

Tuesday, 12/17/13 - I hadn't planned to go to the library after school today, but as I walk by I decide to go in to see if the computer would work today.  While going up the stairs I stop a floor early and decide to try on a computer in the hall first, before going all the way up and bothering the librarian again.  I enter my information. I click submit. The page does not submit.  I decide to copy down the url and try later at home - maybe that will work.  As I'm typing the url onto my phone, all of a sudden I feel a presence beside me, and then a touch on my arm.  I assume it's a student and turn to look.

It's "Sarah", the librarian at my school who told me (through my co-teacher) two Fridays ago that I would need to sign up online first to request a library card.  She says hello, then asks if I got a card.  I show her my screen and say no, it doesn't submit. I try to explain (in the simplest English possible) that I had just tried yesterday and the librarian told me to try again today).  I don't know if she 100% understood what I was saying, but I decided I would go upstairs and try to "talk" with the librarian again.  Uh, so I head to the stairs and Sarah comes with me.

I don't know if she's agreed to come with, or if she had to go upstairs herself.  I'm also now realizing that I don't know what to say to the librarian at the front desk, because in case you've forgotten, I don't speak Korean!  Can I communicate to her with gestures and simple words that I just tried on a computer downstairs and it still didn't work?  As we're walking up the stairs, Sarah tells me that she used to be a librarian for the city, so she knows the system.  Aha! Wonderful!

So she does talk with the librarian when we get upstairs.  The librarian calls some number and talks with someone.  The only word I recognize while she's on the phone (of the ~20 I know) is "waygook", which means foreigner (that's me!).  We go over to the computer together, all three of us, and I enter in all of my information again.  Still doesn't work.  We spend 15 minutes trying different things on the computer.  I hope Sarah was in no rush to get somewhere, I feel bad (and grateful) that she has stuck around this long to help me get a measly library card.  The librarian is back on the phone with some help line.  Then it's communicated from the librarian to Sarah to me that I need a public certificate file on a flash drive from the bank.  I need to go to the bank and get this electronic certificate.

My first thought is that'll never happen because the bank opens after my workday starts, and closes before my workday finishes.  Also: are you kidding me? I just want a library card.  Then I wonder if this certificate could be the thing I use to sign into my online banking.  Because that's an electronic file on my flash drive.  I have no idea if this is what they need, but I tell them that yes,  I do have the certificate, and pull out my flash drive.

We spend 15 more minutes trying to get it to work with the flash drive.  The computer isn't cooperating.  Finally Sarah tells me to come to the school's library tomorrow and she would help me try on the school computer.  I hope I had the right file on my flash drive...

Wednesday, 12/18/13 - Go to my school's library in the afternoon and sit down with kind Sarah, the librarian.  I bring my flash drive and ID card.  She calls a help number.  I plug my flash drive into her computer.  After talking on the phone for a while the computer freezes, Sarah restarts it, and then the help people on the phone access Sarah's computer remotely in 2 seconds (it was amazing!).  From what I saw, they downloaded the newest version of Java.  The help person went back to the library's site, but clicked on a different link before we started the application.  This used the certificate on my flashdrive and had me type in the certificate's password.  (It worked! Thank goodness.)  Then, we went to the application that I'd probably filled out over 10 times by now.  I filled it out once more, we hit submit.  It went through!  Then I had to do one more step, make a user name and enter some more information.  I probably spent 20 minutes at the computer with Sarah that afternoon.  And now it was time to wait 3 days.

Monday, 12/23/13 - Go to the library after school to get card.  Library is closed.

Tuesday, 12/24/13 - Assume the library will be closed today, but as I walk past and glanced at the door, it was open!  The librarian totally recognizes me when I walk in, so I hand her my username that I wrote down so she can copy it.  I know she knows that I need.  She asks for my ID card, which I hand her as well.

She does a little typing, then lets out a smile and a nod - my name was in the system!  Yay!  Woo hoo!  Some printing magic happens, and then she hands me my library card!  I'm in the middle of a book on my kindle, with two more from the digital library waiting to be read, so I took the card from the librarian and went straight to the door and left.  I grinned and laughed in my head, thinking about what the librarian must think of me.  Why had this foreigner spent three weeks trying to get a library card if she didn't need to check out anything? Hah.

I'll probably need a book by mid-late January, and I'll figure out how to check out a book then.  But for now, my wallet gets another card!
• • •

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Meeting with King Jeongjo: Part 7 - Lunch and royal tombs

A month ago I went on a cultural trip to Suwon, put on by the Korean Culture and Information Service.  I've already written about these parts of the trip:

After leaving the temple stay where we'd learned the importance of not wasting food, we walked half a block to a restaurant where we were served a Korean feast impossible to finish.

It was around 12:30 when we left lunch, and sleep-deprived me wanted nothing more than to be magically transported home to my bed.  But before our Meeting with King Jeongjo would come to a close, we had one last visit: his tomb.

Joseon royal tombs: Yungneung & Geolleung

We drove for about a half an hour, arriving at the tombs just after one o'clock.

In 2009 the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list, a fact our tour guide was understandably very proud of.  These royal tombs include 40 burial grounds, but we only visited two of the tombs: Yungneung and Geolleung.

Yungneung is the joint tomb of Crown Prince Sado (1735-1762) and his wife Lady Hyegyeong.  There was a small building at the bottom of the hill, where ancestors would bring offerings.  A red fence surrounded the hill, to keep present-day visitors from walking up to the actual tomb.

When we were given free time to walk around the grounds, our tour guide walked back in the woods and around to the other side of the red fence - on the hill with the tomb.  We can go there? I thought, and then followed him with the group of us that were nearby.

All of a sudden a siren alarm went off.  There were blinking red lights down by the building.  But we kept walking across this hill with our guide, because those couldn't be for us; he must have had special permission to take us on the hill.  Soon royal tomb workers had made their way over and were shouting at us in Korean.  Our guide (also Korean) talked with the tomb workers as we were shuffled back down the hill, to the other side of the fence.  Whoops.

After calming them down and talking with the tomb people some more (no idea what he said), our tour guide was able to lead our whole group through the woods and up to the actual mound of the tomb, on top of the hill.  No one else could go up here, so it felt special and also strange, as if we were in a graveyard standing on the ground directly in front of the tombstone:

Then we walked through the woods to the second tomb, Geolleung.  Geolleung is the joint tomb of King Jeongjo (1752-1800) and his wife Queen Hyoui.

It had the same layout as the first tomb (with the building at the bottom of a hill, tomb mound on top of hill, red fence keeping people out), though this time we did not trespass to the other side of the fence.

It was 3 p.m. when we boarded the bus and left the tombs, and then we were dropped off at Saturday morning's pick-up locations.  I don't think I got home until sometime between 7 and 8 that night, utterly exhausted.  It was a great (free) weekend trip though, where I gained new experiences and cultural knowledge.
• • •

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Exciting news! I'm debt free!

A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders as I joyfully crossed off a life list item yesterday:  I paid off all my student loans!  I'm debt free!


Want to see?

My original life list goal was to be loan-free by 2015, but 2013 will just have to do.  ;)

How I paid off my student loans in 2 years:

  • I'm super frugal; not a big spender to begin with.
  • I did not defer my loans when I lived in Spain; I was able to pay more than the minimum monthly balance despite my low income because I hunted for (and found) an apartment half the cost of regular Madrid rent.
  • I left Spain after a year to make more money in Madison.
  • I didn't have car payments; I walked/biked/bused places.
  • I worked a seasonal part-time job in addition to my full-time job for three months during tax season.
  • And a majority of all that income always went straight to my loans.

The life of my loans:

May 15, 2011: I graduated from UW-Madison with four student loans, totaling over $23K.  (While in Madison as an undergraduate I worked at a part-time job throughout all semesters.  And winter breaks, spring breaks, summer breaks.  I was also able to study abroad for a year, during which I made very little from private English classes, but had enough saved up from my part-time job to cover my rent, tuition, food, etc. that year.)

September 23, 2011: Moved to Madrid, Spain where I'd work as a North American Language and Culture Assistant, making 1,000 euros a month for nine months.

November 15, 2011: I got a nice email from Great Lakes saying my grace period was up.  Time to start making monthly loan payments, which I did.

March 15, 2012: I received an email saying my 9-month grace period was up, time to start paying on this loan.  What?! I have another one?! Hah, didn't even know this loan existed.  It was from that stupid ECSI website.

September 24, 2012: Moved back to Madison, WI.  Got a 9-5 job at the university.

January - April, 2013: Got a second job during tax season, working Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays. Worked 7 days a week for three full months.

February 13, 2013: I paid off my first student loan.

April 10, 2013: I paid off my second student loan.

August 8, 2013: Last day at my university job.

August 27, 2013: I paid off my third student loan.

September 1, 2013: I moved to Korea to teach English.

December 18, 2013: Finally got money from Korea to the USA, so I could finish off my fourth and final student loan!

Throughout those past two years I've been tracking loan payments methodically, keeping a detailed excel spreadsheet.  I think it would be really fun to make some graphs so I can visually see how they changed over time.  But I've got to get to bed now -- maybe this weekend I can fool around and make some pretty graphs.
• • •

Transferring money from Korea to the USA: A 4-month journey

I just now (4 months since arriving) was able to successfully transfer money back to the USA from here in Korea!  The money actually hasn't made its way to my personal USA checking account yet, but that should happen in 3-5 days (I'm on step 5):

Here's the final process:

  1. I get paid from my school directly to my NH bank account on the 17th of each month.
  2. I go to an NH ATM and transfer money from NH --> my CitiBank Korea account
  3. I go online at school (must be on Windows with Internet Explorer) and transfer money from Citibank Korea --> my brother's CitiBank USA account
  4. I add money to my personal paypal from my brother's Citibank USA account. Wait 3-5 days.
  5. I withdraw the money from paypal to my USA checking account. Wait 3-5 days.
  6. Success! Now I can transfer the money to my online savings account. Phew!

Anyone prefer visuals?  I've got you covered:

So, kind of round about, but it works.  Using paypal makes it take a little longer, but keeps the cost at $0.  If the USA CitiBank account were in my own name, I could transfer it to my other checking account for free.  But since it's in my brother's name, I would have to pay a ridiculous amount per transfer ($25 or $40).

Rebe, you may be asking, why didn't you just open up a CitiBank account in your name to save the hassle?  Or, why can't you transfer money home from your NH account? Why have two accounts in Korea? How many bank accounts do you have, don't you still have one open in Spain? (Hah maybe, whoops.) Answers below:

Here's why that's the final process:

I'm going to start from the very beginning.  A very good place to start.

9/4/13 - My co-teacher went with me to NH bank and helped me open a bank account with my passport.  I felt lucky because weeks later I was one of the only UW TTG participant with a bank account.  Others were told they couldn't open one until they got their ARC (Alien Residency Card), which didn't arrive for me until October.

10/2/13 - I receive my ARC, which is vital for bank things.

10/4/13 - My school happened to have off this day (Friday), but it was not a national holiday - meaning banks would be open. (Normally banks close at 4 p.m. and are not open on weekends, so it is impossible to go during the workweek.)  Since I have my ARC I bus into Seoul to an NH branch in Gangnam that lets you sign up for internet banking (through which I can transfer money home).  Note: You can't do this at all branches, which is why my local branch couldn't sign me up.

10/7/13 - I need to register the online banking stuff within 3 business days of last Friday, but it must be done on Internet Explorer, so I must wait for a gap at school.  I registered this day or the next.  Since we get paid on the 17th each month, I decide it would be best to transfer money home after I get paid for October.

10/18/13 - I try to transfer money home using the NH online system.  There's a glitch/error in the part where I enter my home bank's routing number.  When I try to select it from their list instead of entering the number, my bank does not appear on their list.

10/22/13 - I try three or four more times to transfer money online with NH.  Same thing happens, I can't get to the next page after entering all my bank account information.  Do more searching, think my home bank might be too small to make their list or something.  Start looking at other options.

10/25/13 - After reading many waygook.org banking posts, I decide maybe I should give Citibank a shot after all.  Many had recommended Citibank because it's free to transfer money from one Citibank account to another globally, and it's instantaneous.  I nixed this idea back in September when I saw that U.S. Citibank basic checking accounts had a $10 monthly fee.  You can open a Citibank checking account online, which is how many other expats in Korea have done it.  The idea sinks in.

10/28/13 - I realize Citibank student checking accounts do not have a monthly fee.  I look into requirements and find that a fax of a student ID is enough evidence of being a student, which I have.  I have also read online that some non-students were given student accounts when they explained their situation (that they were teachers in Korea and needed to transfer money from Korea to pay student loans), so I didn't feel bad about the little lie.  Also, Citibank is a huge company and doesn't need my $10/month.

10/29/13 - I apply online for a student checking account at Citibank.  I email some documents to my mother to fax them (photo of my driver's license to verify my address, and photo of my student ID (actually a staff ID) to verify enrollment).

10/31/13 - I get an email from mother saying that Citibank called today and I needed to call them.  I called that night and the lady said my account had been closed yesterday by the fraud department because it was opened overseas.  Also, she said the fax of my license was too dark to read, and they couldn't get a hold of me by phone.  I asked what I could do to make sure the account wouldn't be closed when I tried to open another one.  She recommended I just go to a branch in person to do it.  But added, "and when we call, we need to reach you not your mom." Fine lady.  In hindsight, I should have turned on my Hotspot Shield when opening the account, so my computer would have appeared to be in the USA.

I apply for another account that same night, and send mother some more documents to fax to them.  This time I attach a pdf of a credit card statement with my home address instead of a picture of my driver's license to verify my address.  They should have no trouble reading that.  I cross my fingers.

11/2/13 - My parents get some letters from Citibank in the mail with a debit card.  But it's from the first account that was already closed.

11/5/13 - No school because it's my school's birthday, which again is a very rare and lucky thing to have off on a day that's not a holiday.  I spend the day busing into Gangnam and going to Citibank to open up an account.  I'm there for over two hours, both waiting and being helped.  Many, many papers to sign.  But I leave with a second Korean debit card and bank book.  Success! So close to the finish line (I thought...).  How was the Korean end easier than the U.S. end?

When I got home I had an email from my dad.  He faxed and sent me some of the letters from Citibank.

11/8/13 - I call my parents via G+ Hangouts and they give me the card number and account number of the second account I opened.  While we were G+ing I asked my dad if he could call and activate the card, since you can do that by punching in numbers and talking to a computer.  Except when he typed in my card number it transferred to a real person and they wanted to talk to me.  So after the G+Hangout I called the verification number to speak to the woman.  I had all of the numbers I would need written down from my parents.

The lady tells me that this account has been closed by the fraud department.  Say whaaat?!  I opened this one with Hotspot Shield on, meaning it would not look like I was overseas.  So why did they close it?  Well this lady could not tell me why.  She had no reason; didn't see any details in the file.  I was on the verge of tears.  How can I open an account without having it get closed? I asked her.  Just go to a branch in person, she said.  I cannot do that, I'm out of the country, I said.  Well you'll just have to wait until you're back she said.  I was so frustrated.  How had all those other expats on waygook opened a Citibank account online successfully before?

11/9/13 - I email my younger brother, a real college student, and ask him how he would feel about opening a Citibank student checking account in his name, and then letting me use it to transfer money to the USA.

11/16/13 - We touch base and the younger brother says yes, he can open the account.

11/17/13 - I email back some details and a link to open the account.

11/28/13 - Update email from younger brother: He's opened the account and sent in all the documents needed to confirm the account.  Waiting to receive card/account number in the mail.

12/8/13 - Younger brother receives letters in the mail from Citibank and sends me the account number and relevant information.

12/10/13 - At school I successfully transfer money from my Korean Citibank account to my brother's U.S. Citibank student checking account (after transferring money from NH --> Citibank here in Korea).  Thrilling!  Except then I realized I didn't know how to get the money from my brother's Citibank account to my personal checking account.  Withdraw cash from an ATM and deposit it into my bank account?  (A transfer to another bank account in someone else's name -- my name -- would cost $25 or $40 per transfer, I forgot which.  Either way that's ridiculous, Citibank!).

12/14/13 - Younger brother sends me the routing number for his account, so I can finally  make my final student loan payment.

When I lived and worked in Spain, I used paypal to send money to myself from Spain to the USA, using two different paypal accounts hooked up to my separate bank accounts.  I look into using paypal in the same manner, and find it (should) be even simpler.  A paypal account can be connected to two bank accounts at once, and my U.S. paypal account was only hooked up to my personal checking account.  In theory, I could also connect it to my brother's Citibank account.  Then, I could add money to paypal from my brother's Citibank account, and later withdraw money from paypal, transferring it into my checking account.  So I did just that and initiated the first step of the process: Add money to paypal from brother's Citibank account.

12/18/13 - The money finally appeared in paypal, so I initiated a transfer from paypal to my checking account.  This should happen in 3-5 days.  My loan payment also went through today, meaning I have a big announcement: I'm debt free!

Lessons learned from banking in Korea:

  • Open a Citibank student checking account when you're still a student in the states.  It will save you many headaches down the line.
  • If you have a day off during your first two months that's not a holiday, do whatever bank things you need to do.

In addition to wishing I'd known about Citibank before going to Korea, I also wish I'd had a guide to Korean food/restaurants—like this one!
• • •

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jjimjilbang: Sleeping in a Korean bathhouse

After our Mexican dinner Saturday night we headed to a 24-hour jjimjilbang for the night -- a Korean public bathhouse.  While there are many heated baths and saunas inside, most jjimjilbangs also have a restaurant/snack bar, TVs, exercise rooms, PC bang (computer room), and sleeping quarters.  Families might go there to hang out on the weekend, while many others go to relax.

Since most jjimjilbangs are open 24 hours and the entrance costs 6,000 - 10,000 KRW, some people stay out late in the city and then to to a jjimjilbang to sleep until morning.  We did not have a crazy night out in Seoul, but we did plan ahead of time to sleep at the jjimjilbang.

Dragon Hill Spa and Resort

We went to Dragon Hill Spa and Resort in Yongsan.  I didn't realize until now, but looking at the brochure it says that Dragon Hill Spa is "the largest spa in Korea with 2,3140 square meters of space and 7 stories!"  We arrived around midnight and paid 13,000 KRW ($12.40) to enter.  Upon paying you're handed a t-shirt, shorts, two small towels, and a numbered key to wear around your wrist.

Next you take off your shoes and walk through the shoe lockers until you find your number.  Unlock, insert shoes, lock.  If you are with a mixed-gender group, at this point you'll have to separate to go to the men's/women's locker rooms.

The women's locker room had much bigger lockers to store everything you brought with -- there's space for your winter coat, backpack, and more!  We did not put on the spa clothes yet though, because we wanted to check out the baths.  Clothes of any sort are not allowed in the baths.  I've read that the reasoning is twofold: first, the hot temperatures in the baths and saunas could cause chemicals to leak out of the clothing and secondly, people may be covering up a disease.

The showers, baths, and steam rooms were downstairs, so at first it felt kind of funny to be walking around this building, up and down stairs naked, but soon it felt "normal".  Keep in mind that it's also past midnight, and I usually go to bed at 10:30, so I'm slowly becoming a sleepy zombie and nothing feels real anyway.


When we walked in the door to the baths, my skin was greeted by warm and humid air.  Everything in this room was wet.  It was a big, open space.  There was a wall of shower heads to the right, and different baths along the lefthand wall.  In the middle were two rows of women seated at sinks, scrubbing at their skin with some version of a loofah.

Everyone must shower before entering a bath / steam room.  We showered, then went into some baths.  The baths were all above ground, tiled, and about the depth of a hot tub.  The temperature of each bath was displayed in big red numbers on the wall.  Each bath had a sign saying what it was good for.  Ashley and I tried out the cold bath for a minute after our first hot one.  Only a minute then I was out.

Then we went into the two steam rooms that were against the far wall.  If it hadn't been for the spa day with my sister and grandma in Baden-Baden, Germany two summers ago, my only time in a sauna would have been at a hotel with my grandparents when I was young.  I've found that I rather enjoy saunas - the sweat dripping down your skin as you're completely suffocated by the warm air (in a good way).

Then we turned the corner and saw the body scrub zone.  The cheapest body scrub was 25,000 KRW, so we all figured why not, and headed over to the tables.  The great (and perhaps dangerous) thing about jjimjilbangs is that you can buy things with your key/wrist band, then pay the bill when you leave.  Genius!  I guess it would be pretty inconvenient to have to carry money around with you in the spa... perhaps impossible in the baths.

Body scrub

The Korean scrubbing ladies were wearing swimsuit bottoms and sports bra-ish tops.  I lied down naked on the wet table and this Korean woman dumps a warm bucket of water on me, then starts scrubbing my skin with a -- well, picture those plastic things you use to scrub dishes.  Kind of like that, but scratchier.

Plastic dish scrubbers

She scrubbed every inch of my body: under the arms, behind the ears, the face and neck, my chest, butt -- every inch I tell you!  Then she dumped another warm bucket of water on me to rinse off all the dead skin she had scraped up.  And then she scrubbed every inch again with a different scrub (felt the same).  From time to time she would say something to me, I'd have no idea what, then realize she wanted me to move. I'd flip from one side to the next until I got it right. Sometimes arms were up over my head, sometimes legs were up, folded, and sometimes I was lying on my stomach, other times back or sides.

Although it felt like I could have been lying on a massage table, the scrub was not relaxing in the least bit.  After the last warm-bucket rinse, my Korean lady sat me up on the table, slapped my back a few times, then had me put my head where my feet had just been.  She proceeded to shampoo my hair, which again - could have been relaxing but was not.  She was rough and would often pick up my head to scrub then let it fall down.  I found the whole thing quite comical.  Rinse and boom, just like that I was done.  I wasn't sure if I was done at first, because all the other girls were still at their tables, but as soon as my lady handed me my key bracelet and glasses I knew it was over.

I was surprised by how short it was -- I don't think the scrub could have been any longer than 10 minutes.  I'm sure my skin is now probably the softest it's been in a while, but I don't really pay attention to my skin ever.  So the scrub was an experience I'm glad I now have, but one I won't be repeating.  (I could be wrong, but I think I've heard you're only supposed to do that type of deep scrub once a year or something anyways).

Sleeping rooms

It was nearing 2 a.m. at this point and Reca needed to get some sleep.  So we showered and went back upstairs, putting on the spa uniforms.  It took us a while to find the right sleeping room, but I ended up in a women's sleeping room on the sixth floor.  Since it was so late (or early), all of the mats in the small room were taken.  There were two rows of mats against either wall, and since they were all full, we awkwardly lied perpendicular in the middle, by people's feet.

I had brought my winter coat with me, so at least I had something to lie on instead of directly on the wooden floor.  It didn't help much, but it was something.  Let me just say that my body was not made to sleep on hard floors.  I'd doze out, then wake up, doze out, wake up.  It got colder at one point, and was hard to sleep without anything covering me, since I was using my coat to lie on.  I'd hear someone's phone or alarm go off, or see people coming in and out of the dark room.  When I opened my eyes again around 7:00 and actually looked around, I realized there were now many vacant mats (with little square blocks to be used as a "pillow").  I moved to a mat and pillow block, which was 10x better than the floor (though nothing like a bed or a sleeping bag even.)

When I woke up at 9, there were only two other women in the room.  They were not my friends.  Whoops!  I was in a half-asleep, tired zombie state all morning, but I quickly found my friends in the dressing room, getting ready to leave. We put on our regular clothes, got our shoes from the shoe lockers, and paid our wristband balances before leaving.

We'd all like to spend another day at the spa, but not stay over night.  One of the best parts about the spa was being warm.  Most of us are cold at school every day, and it's cold outside everywhere, so the warmth of the spa was really nice.  There was also a ton more that we didn't have time to explore inside the spa, such as the cinema, fitness club, healing zone, cafeteria, and game zone, to name a few.

I think jjimjilbangs are a neat part of Korean culture, and I'm glad the jjimjilbang is no longer a mystery to me.  I look forward to my next spa day!


What: Dragon Hill Spa
Where: 40, Hangang-daero 21na-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 서울특별시 용산구 한강대로21나길 40 (한강로3가)
Metro: Yongsan Station (Exit 1)
Hours: Open 24 hours!
Price (adult): Daytime - W10,000, Nights/Weekends - W12,000
• • •

Monday, December 16, 2013

Vatos Urban Tacos: Mexican in Seoul

To celebrate a friend's birthday this weekend, a group of us met up in Seoul on Saturday night for a Mexican dinner at Vatos Urban Tacos in Sinsa.

We had a reservation, which was great because the place looked packed when we got there.  Apparently one of the restaurant's best sellers is their "kimchi carnitas fries", a Korean/Mexican mix.  So naturally, we ordered two for the table.  They were good!  The kimchi blended in nicely, and all of that meat with the fries was heavenly.

Vatos Urban Tacos Mexican Seoul

I ordered a carnitas burrito for myself, and although it appeared "small" at first glance, it quickly filled me up, reminding me that my eyes are often bigger than my stomach.  There were some "nutella nachos" on the dessert menu that half of the table tried after dinner.  (I was not that half, so I cannot tell you how they were)

I recommend Vatos Urban Tacos if you happen to be in Seoul itching for Mexican food.  Everyone I went with was very satisfied with their meal, and plan to return another day.


What: Vatos Urban Tacos
Where: Itaewon Vatos: 66-8 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 용산구 이태원동 66-8)
              Sinsa Vatos: 532-11 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:30 - 22:00, Friday - Saturday 11:30 - 23:00
Price Range: $10-30 (My burrito was W 12,000)
Website: Vatos Urban Tacos
Tips: If you don't want to wait, make a reservation!  Many foreigners seem to frequent this restaurant, so someone will be able to speak English with you!
• • •

Friday, December 13, 2013

A heavier snowfall brings thunder and play

As I mentioned yesterday, we had a nice snowfall during the afternoon and evening, which resulted in being told to go home from work an hour and a half early.  Let it be noted that I wore tennis shoes on my walk to school that morning, because there was not a spec of snow to be seen (and I had no idea it was going to snow!)  Here are the kids playing in the school yard after school, and just a snippet of the many umbrellas I saw on my walk home:

Later that evening I swear I heard it thunder - twice!  Have you ever heard thunder during a snowfall?  There were some really big, thick flakes coming down as I watched from my window.

There was no snow here hours earlier!

The snow on my street packed down and had turned to slick ice by morning.  I carefully walked to school and only almost fell twice.

Today at school our schedule was a little different, as it was the one Friday a month that the students have a special "class" during 3rd and 4th periods (kind of like a club/org day).  Those two periods have been lesson planning time for me in the past, while my co-teacher is advisor of a small group that usually does sudoku puzzles during the club/org time.

After 2nd period today, my co-teacher asked, "Rebe, do you want to make a snowman?" I was not expecting the question, nor was I sure how to answer.  Did I have the desire to make a snowman when I saw all of the snow yesterday/today?  Do I miss making snowmen from home? Am I going to make a snowman?  So I think I said "uhhh" and asked a clarifying question.

Then she told me that she was going to take her "club" group outside to make a snowman during the two special periods. Ooooh, now it made sense.  Sure!  So I grabbed my coat and scarf and headed outside with her and the five students.

Unfortunately it was not good packing snow at all.  When we started, I never imagined we would get it as big as we did.  We had to carry over powdered snow and push it together, little by little.  It was impossible to roll a snowball, it just broke apart.  The finished product is in the middle:

Not five minutes after we took the final picture and went inside to warm up a little before lunch, a first grader took the head off of the snowman and threw it on the ground.  All of us who had just spent two hours building the snowman watched its head be destroyed from the second-floor window.  Then, four more first graders ran over to the snowman and began kicking at the base.  (These kids are programmed to destroy, I don't understand it!  The boy who took off the head is in one of my daycare classes, and those kids will break anything they put their hands on).  My co-teacher yelled from the window to a teacher who was outside, who then walked over and made the kids stop kicking.  It was sad that the kids saw their hard work being wrecked just moments after coming inside.

When I left school at the end of the day today, there was no sign that our snowman had ever existed.  So I'm glad we took pictures!
• • •

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 12/12/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

There is much gratitude in my air tonight.  I did 108 prostrations here at home on my yoga mat, which filled me with much appreciation and calmness.  (It also warmed me up and got me sweating!  Meditation + exercise in one? Count me in!)

Earlier this afternoon at school, a teacher from my hallway pulled me into the office next door.  (Seriously, without saying anything he took me by the arm and led me into the adjacent office).  When we walked in, I saw the other 5 teachers from our hall sitting around a pizza and box of chicken!  A tasty surprise afternoon snack.  One of the third grade teachers had bought it for all of us -- I'm so glad they thought to invite me in!

And it was just a few minutes before this that my co-teacher told me to look out the window.  It was snowing! Much more than it previously had, and kids were outside enjoying in the schoolyard (even though their school day was over).  At 3:00, the Vice Principal messaged all the teachers and told them to go home now so they could drive home before there was even more snow on the roads. Early release!  (It still took my co-teacher 2 hours to drive home!)

And for dinner tonight, I had delicious pork leftovers -- but I didn't cook it.  My conversation partner and I met on Wednesday this week instead of Thursday, and he ended up making dinner and forcing the leftovers on me!  Happy Thursday, everyone.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity."
- Melody Beattie
• • •

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

iherb: $4 shipping from USA to Korea

For any American living in Korea, you must know about iherb.com!  This California-based online shopping site sells groceries, bath & beauty products, herbs, supplements, and more, but here's why I care: Shipping to Korea costs $4!

iherb $4 shipping to Korea

Yeah, it's incredible!  A full box of goodies from California to South Korea for $4.  And delivery time is super fast, too.  I placed my first order this past Saturday, December 7 (an early Christmas present to myself!).  It shipped on December 8 (a Sunday), and was delivered to my rural elementary school today, Wednesday the 10th.  iherb, you're amazing!

And even though the wait was brief, I was emailed a tracking link from the Korean postal service on Sunday as soon as my box was shipped.  I'm so pleased with this site, and I had never heard of iherb before a TTG friend told us about it a month ago (in the states I do my online shopping on amazon).

I was given a rewards code (QNK798) that will get first-time iherb shoppers $5 to $10 off their purchase, so I wanted to share it here!

Although you can find almost anything from America here in Korea, it's so much simpler to order the products you're familiar with (in English) and have them delivered to your doorstep days later.  Especially for health products, like my probiotics.
• • •

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Stretching my comfort zone in rural Korea

When living in a foreign country whose language you do not speak, even the smallest of tasks can seem daunting upon arrival.  It takes a lot of effort to do simple things; daily routine forces you out of your comfort zone.  But once you master the necessities (grocery shopping, public transportation, etc.), it's easy to fall back into a comfortable, "safe" routine.  I certainly have:

Ordering pizza from the nice old man at Pizza School?  Safe.  Walking into one of the Korean restaurants alone with an all-Korean menu and knowing what to order?  Scary.  Buying snacks at the convenience stores?  Safe. Getting my hair cut?  Scary.  Paying my bills at an ATM that has an English menu?  Safe.  Trying to return an item to a store? Scary.

You get the picture.  But it's not like I'm living in constant fear of the scary things, nor always consciously avoiding them.  Rather, I've adjusted to a life of the comfortable tasks and those tasks have turned into habits.  Running on autopilot can be dangerous though, like on Friday when it hit me that I've lived here for over three months and had yet to step foot in the town's public library!

Public library

So after school on Friday I stopped at the public library before heading home (it's right next to the elementary school).  I still can't believe it took me this long to visit.  I suppose I haven't been short on books, as there's lots to read on my kindle and I keep on checking out digital books from my home library.  But regardless, I went!

It's a really nice building, I'm assuming it's somewhat new.  I'll have to bring my digital camera next time for pictures; my phone camera would have been obnoxiously loud (it's a Korean cell phone, so it's impossible to turn off the camera shutter noise).

I walked up to the third floor to hunt for the English section. (On the second floor was the children's room -- I'll go there later to look for books I can use in class.)  I walked through every shelf and back before I found the English section.  It was the very first shelf; I had overlooked at the start.  As I found when living in Madrid, it's kind of nice to have only one shelf of possible books to check out from the library.  It makes it way easier to choose what you want to read.  (Less is more!)

I saw many books I would like to check out later, but it takes three days to get a library card after applying online (a teacher at school told me that).  I wasn't sure what website to go to, so I played dumb and went up to the librarian at the counter.  I made a rectangle with my hands and said "I need a library card?" in English... (I hadn't planned for a library trip that day, so I hadn't looked up any new Korean words!).  She led me over to a computer and did some clicking on the website (all in Korean) until there was a button for foreign library card applications that said "English" (next to "Chinese" and "Japanese").

She clicked "English" and left me to it.  I filled everything out, but when I clicked submit at the bottom, the information never went through.  I waited and waited.  Clicked again.  But the browser stayed on the same screen.  I wasn't sure what to ask the librarian (she didn't speak English), but I looked for her back at the counter and she had disappeared.  By now I had spent a decent amount of time looking at books (and trying to sign up for a card), so I decided to leave and pick up dinner (from Pizza School!)  I'll go back this week and see if it worked, or try applying again.

I never intended to grow my "safe" list this weekend, but I ended up pushing my comfort boundaries on Sunday, too.

Chinese take-out

During one of my walks through town this fall, I noticed a Chinese restaurant.  I know that Chinese always does take-out, and I was curious to see what Korean Chinese food tasted like.  But I put the idea in my back pocket, and never found the occasion (or courage) to go in alone.  I decided to do it yesterday, but then I had enough pizza leftovers to last me lunch and dinner (and I really didn't feel like leaving the house).  Ok, so Sunday it is.  This afternoon I'm feeling ready and amped up.

I put on my coat, walk straight to the Chinese place, reach to open the door, aaand it was locked.  What?!  I walk around the building once to see if there's not another entrance.  Nope, this was obviously the only main entrance.  Then I notice a sign taped to the door.  I assume it says that they are closed at that moment, or maybe it says when they would return.  So I keep walking and wandering around. Where will I go instead? It has to be somewhere new, since I'm in this determined mood to push at my comfort zone.  This feeling doesn't come every day, so I must take advantage of it!

There's a small burger place on the main street that I've never been to.  I think they would have a menu in Korean and English, or at least it wouldn't be so busy that they could be patient with my slow reading skills.  Besides, a burger menu can't be so hard to figure out, can it?  So I'm walking back towards that way, and then I look down a back ally I've never walked down before.  It's kind of a street.  I'm glancing around, looking for restaurants. They look closed.  Then in the distance I see "Chai Box TAKE OUT".  Hmm, what's that?  I turn in and walk towards it.

There's a huge "Grand Opening" sign outside, and then I see the magic words: Chinese Take-out.  So perfect!  Good thing I came walking this way.  I head right in and check out the menu.  The big menu up by where you order is in Korean and English.  I order in Korean, reading from the menu painfully slow.  The first one wasn't too hard (chicken fried rice), because the Korean sounds somewhat like "Chicken Ri-ee-ce-uh".

The second thing I ordered was a lot longer (a pork and squash dish), so I took an audibly big breath before I tackled it, while telling myself "Okay, you can do this!").  The guy cut me off halfway through and said the whole thing quickly, with a raised intonation at the end indicating a question.  "Nay" (Yes), I told him, even though I wasn't sure if he'd said what I wanted to order or not.

(Side note: I've developed the bad habit of saying "yes" or "no" in Korean all the time when people ask me questions.  In this situation at least I knew what he was asking, I just didn't know the right answer. But most of the time I have no clue what they've asked me, but my mouth blurts out an answer anyways!")

When I finished paying, I looked at the receipt to double check the second item.  It was right.  I stayed standing, and the guy said some more stuff to me that I didn't understand, but by his hand motion I thought he was telling me to sit down at any of the open tables.  "Take-out" had been the first word I'd spoken to him before ordering, but somehow that had gotten lost in the process.  (A more probable story is that he asked if I was eating there, and I answered "yes"...).  This was quickly fixed, and I heard him yell back in the kitchen "take-out"!

I felt so accomplished walking home with my Chinese take-out bag, and even more satisfied while eating it.

Mundane tasks can be burdensome while living abroad, but it's these very same tasks that can bring about great feelings of triumph and pleasure.
• • •

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Meeting with King Jeongjo: Part 6 - Temple stay activities

Two weekends ago I went on a cultural trip to Suwon, put on by the Korean Culture and Information Service.  I've already written about these parts of the trip:

After dinner we had a little bit of free time so I wrote in my journal, wanting to go along with the do-not-speak suggestion for some quiet contemplation.  Unfortunately for me, others saw it as a moment to finally break silence and talk about everything that had just happened at dinner. Oh well.

19:30 - 108 prostrations

We met back in the main temple stay room at 7:30 for "108 prostrations".  We set up the mats in two rows, facing each other.  We were each given a small cloth/towel to lay out on the floor just in front of our mat, and a dixie up with wooden beads and a plastic string.

The monk came in and sat at the front of the room on the yellow mat, pictured above.  She had us dump out the cup's contents on our towel and count the beads.  There were 27.  We were going to do a sequence in which after every four full bows, we would string on a bead.  (Remember a full bow consists of standing with palms together, kneeling down, lowering forehead to mat, turning palms up facing the ceiling and raising hands to ears, then turning hands and bringing them back down to the mat, lifting your forehead up back into kneeling position, palms together, and stand up.)  This was a smooth, continuous motion because we'd string on the bead after bowing with our forehead on the ground the fourth time, and then stand up.  We would repeat until all beads were on the string.  27 x 4 = 108 prostrations.
• • •

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 12/5/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm on my third cold in three months.  My previous cold lasted over 2 weeks, so I'm hoping to cut this one short.  As I barely had a voice yesterday, my co-teacher forbade me from talking during class.  I didn't feel any better when I woke up this morning and my voice was the same.  Today I teach with a different co-teacher, who said she could take over if I couldn't talk -- but it was assumed that I would use whatever voice I had to start.  At ten to 9 we both go to the classroom to set up.  The bell rings and no one's there.  Every now and then the students are a minute late, so we make small talk and I barely notice that five minutes go by.  This is not normal, so my co-teacher calls their homeroom teacher to see where they are.

She gets off the phone and tells me that we won't have the fourth graders in class today, so we can pack up and go back to our office.  I don't think my expression changed, but inside I was jumping for joy!  I didn't even care the reason, but it turns out according to some national curriculum guide, the kids were scheduled to have testing all day today: Korean, math, science, etc.  The school changed the schedule and the kids actually don't have to take the test, but instead they were going to have Korean class during what would have been the Korean test, math class during what would have been the math test, etc.  Aka no English class.

Hallelujah!  This could not have been a better day to have all of my classes cancelled!  So my co-teacher and I chatted for a while in our office (which we don't usually get to do -- too busy teaching / planning), and then I got major planning done during the rest of the day.  I never have planning time at the beginning of the week, so to have that much uninterrupted time to plan was amazing!  There's still more to do, but I should be in good shape for the rest of December.

I'm so thankful that my 4th graders didn't have English class today!  Tomorrow my 6th graders are taking their English final exam, so it's just two afternoon daycare classes that will require my voice and lots of energy.  (Please be kind to me, little ones!) 
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

When in Korea, do as the Koreans do

Cover your yawns

Today I learned that it's polite to cover your mouth when you yawn in Korea.  Whoops.  Since I'm basically surrounded by elementary kids all the time, I hadn't noticed this during my first three months here.  (Kids aren't necessarily the best models of "correct" behavior!)  So now I know, and I'm trying to train myself to cover my mouth when I yawn.

Wear a muffler

I also learned that when your voice is raspy and you're fighting a cold, you should wear a big thick scarf all day (a muffler, actually).  I woke up with not much of a voice today (after getting my THIRD cold this fall/winter on Sunday and feeling absolutely terrible last night), but my co-teacher thankfully forbade me from talking during our classes today.

She asked me after our first class, "Why aren't you wearing a muffler?"
"Uhh, I'm not cold?" I said, not expecting to be asked that question.  She told me I should wear one to keep my neck warm in order to get better.  So during the ten-minute passing time I went and got my big, thick scarf and wrapped it around my neck even though I was not cold.  I don't want people to think I'm just asking to be sick!


I was not surprised when this co-teacher used "muffler" with me because I learned the term last week when teaching my fourth graders.  It's one of their six clothing words this unit: coat, vest, T-shirt, sweater, belt, and muffler!  Apparently "muffler" is what they call a thick winter scarf.  "Scarf" is used for the light, silky accessory that women wear around their necks.  My co-teacher had no idea that for many English speakers, a "muffler" is a car part, nothing more.  I did a google images search for "muffler" to show her what I meant.

I'm off to early bed again.  Not 7:30 like last night, but 9:00 is still early -- even for me.  Good night!
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Monday, December 2, 2013

Meeting with King Jeongjo: Part 5 - Eating like a monk

Two weekends ago I went on a cultural trip to Suwon, put on by the Korean Culture and Information Service.  I've already written about these parts of the trip:

After touring the temple grounds, we enter a building for dinner.  We take off our shoes and everyone sits down cross-legged on the floor behind a set of dishes.  There room is set up for four lines of people, with each of the two lines facing each other:

In the middle of each pair of lines were eight big metal pots/jugs, their contents a mystery.  Soon the lady monk came in -- we all stood up and did a bow sequence to greet her.  She (with the interpreter's help) instructed us on how to untie our dishes and set them up correctly.

That blue cloth (above) was just a long cloth whose only purpose was to tie everything together.  We had to set the white napkin on our right knee and unfold the placemat.  Turns out the bowl was actually four bowls of varying sizes that all fit inside each other.  Without making any noise, we took them apart and set them in the correct place on the mat, following the monk's directions.  There were also wooden chopsticks and a spoon wrapped up in there:
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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Resolutions Checkpoint: November

Oh my goodness, who else can't believe that December is here?  This will be my last resolutions checkpoint of 2013 (Original 2013 resolutions can be found here).

--November Focus--

In November I decided to focus on taking my probiotics and exercising.  I had probiotics 15 days of 30 in December!  That's the same as one every-other day, and I'm pleased with that frequency!  I did hang my wrappers up on a wall in the kitchen as a visual reminder, and I've already started a new pile on the counter for December with one wrapper!

Exercising more did not happen.  I think I only went to badminton one or two Wednesdays this month -- the other weeks it was either cancelled or I skipped to work on lesson plans / blogging.  I blame the cold weather.

--Overall Progress--

So here we go, my current progress on all remaining resolutions:

  • (+) Read 32 books -- I've read 29 books of 32, which means I'm still on track (according to Goodreads).  Books read in November include Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Chris Guillebeau's The $100 Startup, and Antonio Orejudo's Ventajas de viajar en tren.  I just need to read three during December to reach my goal!
  • (-) Five of the 32 will be in Spanish -- I have read 2 / 5 books in Spanish. (Hermanos monigotes II and Ventajas de viajar en tren)
  • (+) Five of the 32 will be books that I own in my apartment
  • (+) Take probiotics every day -- I had 15 in November, that's 5 more than October!

  • (+) Write in journal every day -- I wrote 17 of 30 days in November.  
  • (+) Only log in to Facebook 1x/day maximum -- I don't have Facebook on my phone, and I don't go on Facebook at school.  So it's usually just once in the evening or somedays morning and evening.
  • (+) Focus on gratitude

  • (-) Do something physical at least two days a week - Already talked about this in my November focus.

  • (+) Learn Hangul (Korean alphabet) 
  • (  ) Learn food/restaurant vocabulary (nope, not yet!)
  • (-) Learn Korean numbers 1 - 99 -- Same as last checkpoint... haven't made these numbers a priority. Now that I have a weekly language exchange, I'm working on phrases from that book instead.
  • (+) Learn Sino-Korean numbers 1 - 100 -- I'm the same as last checkpoint I'd say -- still can't count this smoothly, but didn't work on it this month either!
I added a new goal for November:
  • (+) Plan a trip for break in January. -- I bought a plane ticket to Bangkok, Thailand a few nights ago!  I booked a hostel too. So excited!

  • (-) Blog once a month on Oh No She Madridn't -- I did not get any Madrid posts written in November, though I have ideas for two.  Maybe I can get both up in December, but minimally I will write one!
  • (+) Comment on at least two blogs a week 

--December Focus--

In December I want to focus on less computer time in the evenings.  I'm hoping this will help me do more reading, exercising, and Korean studying.  Though I feel most of my internet time is actually spent searching for lesson/camp activity ideas or blogging, there's definitely some time wasted that I can could spend more wisely.

Alright, 2014 is just a month away.  Will you make any resolutions come January 1?
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