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Archive for October, 2010

For weeks now, the staff at school have been prepping things for the first big party of the year — the Halloween bash! The mid-morning soiree included the parents of our kindergarten classes — who pay more every year to send their kiddies to a hagwon than the tuition at UCSB post-tuition hikes. So naturally, the posh parents had high expectations, and I feel confident we delivered.

First, the school was covered with decorations. I mean, every inch had a smiling jack-o-lantern, or a cobweb, or a fluttering bat. It was the most amazing decor display I have seen at any school, anywhere. For the past three weeks, we have been making Halloween decorations to put up, and the end result was quite impressive.

I handed out pamphlets and schmoozed with parents as they entered, while my fellow foreign teachers got to work carving pumpkins with the children as parents chatted, sipped coffee and tea, took videos and snapped photos of the tykes. During this mingling period, two professional face-painters also gussied up the kids’ faces with whatever their hearts desired.

Once everyone was assembled, the show began. Two of my students acted as the emcees of the festivities, reciting a script written by Evan. They were so good (and looked adorable in their costumes, I’m just sayin’). Abe and Da Yeen introduced another one of my students, who had to recite a speech on her dreams (I wrote it, but she said it well). Two of my other students also got through speeches I had written, about Halloween and healthy eating.

The first group performance were the songs Skidamarinka and The Bear Went Over the Mountain — complete with accompanying exaggerated choreography. We sang with the children, and I just tried not to laugh at the little ones (about 2 years old) who would just wander around, jumping, doing their own moves, or bawling and calling out for their mothers in the audience. Since we had some downtime between sets, we took some glamour shots.

Greg wrote a play for the students to perform, The Ugly Pumpkin, which tells a story similar to that of the ugly duckling. The children all memorized their lines beautifully, much to my delight. They did a great job.

Two more songs, Down By the Bay and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmitt, made up the finale. We bounced and smiled and shouted along with the students. It was silly and fun.

Afterward, the children “trick-or-treated” by knocking on the classroom doors and receiving goody bags assembled by us the previous evening — and when I say “assembled,” I mean we spent four hours decorating oranges as pumpkins, making suckers into ghosts, counting stickers and pencils, and basically giving each child enough sugar to cause the equivalent of a major caffeine kick. It worked too, the kids ran around like banchees during the following potluck lunch, zipping around and screaming indistinguishable jibberish as they climbed on bookshelves. It was nuts!

The only benefit of the kids basically turning into wild, crazed monkeys is that when I dialed the students for phone teaching later that afternoon, four were sleeping off their sugar rush, giving me a bit of free time. Good stuff.

Now, it’s Saturday and I am feeling well-rested and fully prepared to celebrate Halloween the adult way.

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On Sunday, the morning after Rock Lottery, our beloved Radio Star was once again transformed — this time into an authentic British fish and chippy, all in the name of holiday spirit.

The volunteer group Neighbourly, Neighborly, 이웃 사람답게 Jeonju fried fish fillets and potatoes for the masses during this fundraiser, to raise money for the children in Jeonju’s orphanages — and give them the kind of Christmas that every child deserves. Well done, chaps!

Not wanting to miss out on a great cause (and great hangover food, mmmm) Evan and I paid a visit to the bar in the afternoon. It was only 2 PM, but the place was full of patrons (friends, friends of friends, strangers) and a load of volunteers peeling and chopping spuds.

We each ordered a batch of fish and chips, and a Hoegaarden to wash it all down with. I was tempted by the English tea, but beer sounded like a much more suitable partner for the deep-fried fare.

Candles and newspaper tablecloths, along with a mellow mix of music, created an inviting atmosphere. We snacked, sipped, and chatted with pals, generally enjoying the setting.

A group of our friends preps the potatoes for the fryer :)

The group ended up raising over 1.3 million won for the children — almost half of their goal on the first fundraiser! These kids are going to have an unforgettable holiday season.

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Every year, Radio Star hosts a Rock Lottery, where musicians from all around the city enter their names into a drawing, bands are randomly selected, and the rockers have about a month (I believe) of practice before taking the stage together.

On Saturday, we pregamed with some liters of Hite at Chris’ apartment while watching a truly hilarious show called “An Idiot Abroad.” Basically, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their pal, comedian Karl Pilkington (who is ridiculously funny) around the world to experience new cultures. Very funny — download it now.

After wetting our whistles, we snagged a front-row table at the bar, grabbed some pints, and waited for the show to begin.

While the lottery participants prepared to go on, the opening band DillyTangs took the stage. This is a band that we’ve seen at Radio Star quite a few times, and they kill it with their covers. Quite entertaining.

Our buddy Dave took the stage first with his troupe, Mormon Vampires. Looking snazzy in their suits, the men played a variety of songs, including an interesting mash-up of Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wonderwall — and my personal favorite, Johnny Be Good.

Up next were Tae Sang and the Terrific T’s, who belted out some jazzy beats and a particularly nice version of Hotel California. The lead guitarist, as you will see shortly, is hands down one of the best I have ever seen. Seriously. He’s incredible with that thing.

The Serene Sex Wailers took the stage next, and unfortunately, I missed a chunk of their set to run and grab two BLTs from Little Jakob’s, a coffee shop down the street in Jungwhasadong (we skipped dinner to get good seats at the show) — which happened to be one of the first decent sandwiches I’ve had in Korea! But more about that later. Here is the band’s rendition of When You’re Strange, courtesy of my buddy’s YouTube channel.

After them, ladies took the mics during the Liquor Art set, and they played The XX which made me so excited that I only ended up filming a bit of them so I could start to dance and sing along, and not be bothered by my camera :)

The last act to perform was In Your Eyes, but I wasn’t feeling 100% and bowed out of the club early to get a good night’s sleep before a Skype date with my bestie in the morning. I missed most of their set, but liked what I did see! The afterparty sounded like fun though, so I wish I had seen that.

Here are some highlights from some of the performances — mostly early ones, since my mind wasn’t on my camera later in the evening :)

It turned out to be a really fun night, full of awesome music, friends, dancing and singing. Really and truly, is there anything better than live music to liven up an evening?

Maybe a story about how later on that evening, Evan and Chris went to McDonald’s five minutes before breakfasttime and were forced to get “real food.” LOL.

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I love everything about autumn — cool, crisp air, trees changing into rainbows of red, yellow and orange while their leaves fall like rain, sweaters and knitwear, winter squash and brussel sprouts. It truly is the most wonderful time of year.

Halloween is right around the corner, and I’m getting quite excited. Ever since I was a kid, Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays. I love to dress up (what child who grows up dancing doesn’t?) but it is also amazing to have a holiday dedicated to eating candy and scaring people. Every October, I would go home and make Halloween decorations to put up in the living room window, daydreaming about hosting the best black-and-orange party ever, and count down the days to October 31. Our apartment needs some sprucing up for fall!

Jill and Steve, Evan’s parents, apparently read my thoughts and sent the most wonderful autumn care package, complete with Calvin and Hobbes books, nuts, beef jerkey, various fall-themed decor, a sweet card and a full bag of holiday candy corn — including the best candy corn, the pumpkins. Thank you so much for spreading the holiday cheer all the way over here in Korea! We love you guys!

Last week, I found out that my kindergarten class is growing up. Next week I will begin teaching them science and social studies, which sadly means the end of Friday crafts :( I was so bummed to find that out, since doing creative things on Friday had been a really great outlet for me and the children both. I’ve consoled myself with thoughts that science experiments would be cool too, but they just won’t be the same. To top it off, the kids don’t know crafts have been nixed, so I’m the lucky one that gets to tell them.

Since last week and this week are the last crafts we’ll make together, I wanted to do some over-the-top, spooky decor for our classroom. Each classroom in the school has a different theme for Halloween, and my class has vampires and bats. Two weeks ago, we made paper draculas.

They were cute, but nothing compared to the bats we made last week. I found the outline of a bat wing online, blew it up and had the kids each color some for their bat. From there, I took their colorful wings, and glued them to a piece of black construction paper, wedging a pipe cleaner (cut in half) in the middle. After, I stuffed black socks full of newspaper for the bat bodies, then stapled the ends shut. From their, I hot-glued eyes, pipe cleaner mouths and construction paper ears on to the socks, along with the wings. The final touch was made by hanging them with fishing line from the ceiling. Not to toot my own horn, but these were a lot of work, and absolutely worth it. They turned out terrific!

This weekend, I am going to poke around to find a suitable costume for Halloween festivities at school and around town. There will be raging parties at both Radio Star (where we spent the World Cup) and Deepinto (home of the amazing brunch) on October 30, and a horror movie marathon (and taco bar) at Radio Star on Halloween proper. Lots to look forward to!

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Ever since I was a kid I had trouble subscribing to church every Sunday — week after week, the same thing, the same people, the same indoctrinations I didn’t believe — so I stopped going. Then, in college, a new religion was born: Sunday brunch! My friends and I would clamor into cars around noon, hungover and hungry, and gorge ourselves at anywhere from the beachside favorite Sambos to the outrageously delicious Tupelo Junction to the guaranteed party at El Paseo, or one of Santa Barbara’s many other fine breakfast and brunch establishments (always washed down with a bloody mary. always).

Fast forward to life in Los Angeles — brunch was the new ritual. It became my favorite meal of the week. Not only were breakfast and lunch menu items offered, but restaurants would cater to you long after the last early bird wandered out. It was the best of both worlds. I’d daydream about this luxurious weekend fare, and whether or not I should eat at one of my favorite spots on the East side, or venture over by Katie’s to see what was cooking in West L.A. Would it be Eggs La Conversation, with flaky, buttery croissant and perfectly cooked steak at chic cafe in Beverly Hills? The Healthy Egg White Omlette at Home, served with dabs of sharp goat cheese and smoky turkey, conveniently located across the street from my old place in Los Feliz? The Taste-y Breakfast Burrito from the posh joint on Melrose? The French Vegetarian Panini, fluffy eggs sandwiched between grilled foccacia with mouth-watering veggies, eaten on the gorgeous patio of my stomping ground The Alcove in Los Feliz?

My options were endless. Every restaurant served up a fine selection on Sunday, and choosing was almost impossible.

Now that I’m in Jeonju, saying that American breakfast is hard to find is an understatement — and not the gourmet breakkie fare you’d find in L.A., but simply any combination of eggs, toast, and some breakfast meat. Koreans have an obsession with coffee shops that serve waffles and donuts, but it isn’t the same as being served a hot meal. For five months, the only “breakfast food” Evan and I ever had was McDonald’s — and that was on the five occasions when we were up early enough (or late enough…oops).

Enter Deepinto! Deepinto is an upscale wine and coffee bar, the classier sister of Deepin, a popular expat dive in Gaeksa. They serve brunch on the weekend until 3:30, and when we finally went it completely changed our weekend routine, and life as we know it in Korea.

Deepinto offers four different brunch sets: Brunch A comes with french toast and fries, Brunch B comes with eggs, toast, sausage, and fries, Brunch C comes with eggs, toast, bacon and fries, and Brunch D is fish and chips (with coffee, ew).

Right away, I fell in love with the french toast plate. The toast was cooked perfectly, seasoned well and served with maple syrup. The fries are crisp on the outside, and soft in the inside. For an extra delicious meal, I added buttery eggs with herbs. This has become my go-to meal, along with the complimentary coffee and orange juice. Per-fect-ion.

The coffee is in a league all it’s own. It is served black, with a side of sugar and a shot of cream. I skip the sug, but am quick to add the cream — it can be hard to find. In Korea, it is quite common to drink instant coffee that is loaded with powdered milk and sweetners. The coffee at Deepinto is the best I’ve had here — and so strong that if I drink more than one cup, I will have trouble sleeping that night!

Evan’s favorite meal is the french toast platter as well, but he adds bacon to his dish instead of eggs like me. It is extremely hard to find good, thick-cut bacon at the supermarket here, so it’s definitely a treat. I’ve heard they have it at Costco, but we still haven’t hopped aboard the train for the 45-minute ride to the closest one.

To top it off, the restaurant serves Dr. Pepper, which we haven’t seen since Harajuku in July. Ev orders it every Sunday — his weekly treat.

Not only is this the place to get good ol’ American breakfast grub, it also happens to be the place to be on a Sunday afternoon. I have yet to go without running into at least one of my friends, bleary-eyed and happily chomping down some food.

I’m looking forward to visiting in the evening, trying out some wine and a few of their Western appetizers. Their annual Halloween party is coming up on October 30, and I have a feeling it will not disappoint!

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How has it been six months? Each week is slipping by more quickly than the one before it. We are so settled in our routine, moments of novelty in this captivating country have become more few and far between. It is home.

When we first arrived here in April, I was sure that this experience would affect me in a profound way — even if I wasn’t sure how it would just yet. Six months in… and honestly, I don’t feel too much different. Same interests, same clothes, same hair, same general life views. Same best friends. Same family I miss all the time. Same love and affection for my Boy. A slightly better understanding and appreciation of Korean culture and cuisine, but if that weren’t true I should literally just go home right now.

Same person… minus a huge, unrelenting mountain of stress that I never knew I carried until settling into my new life here.

The stress — this giant mass, which boiled over my body, suffocated my spirit with “what ifs,” and poisoned me with doubt. I was so trapped and didn’t know it until the toxic weight was lifted. Just…gone. Soothed. Quieted by reassurance in myself. The person I am, and already was when I came here.

There are two massive differences between my life in Jeonju and my life at home (other than finally living with the Boy, which has been magical). One — I make more than enough money than I could possibly spend each month, thus allowing me to pay down debt and put away a nest egg for the future (or a Christmas trip to Thailand, whatevs). Two — other than my better half, I am quite alone. Friends and family are an arm’s stretch away, and despite how amazing modern technology is, no Skype session will ever be quite enough when all you need want is to hug your mom. Here, I have been forced to rely on myself during times where I would normally turn to someone else for guidance — situation-imposed self-reliance, if you will.

This kind of independence is new for me. Although I am a self-sufficient twenty-five year old, I have always been quite a social creature. Even when I lived alone in L.A. I made sure to see my sister, friends and Boy as much as possible. My life used to be full of distractions to fill up my empty time — most specifically, a whole lot of electronic gadgets to make it so my free time wasn’t spent just being. My BlackBerry was glued to my hand, as was the Tivo remote, and I never left home without my MacBook. I was always one click away from someone.

Since being forced to fill my time in different ways, I have grown more introspective. Quiet. I allow myself to think about things, daydream for an hour on the couch, get lost in a book, or just take a walk for an hour on my lunch break. Unsurprisingly, shutting myself off from the millions of distractions has allowed me creative room to write again. I never wrote for fun anymore in Los Angeles — here, I’ll think something over and over again while in bed until I drive myself so crazy that I need to get up and write it down that instant. The blog has certainly been a good outlet for me.

I’ve also learned that it is easier to see your world with focused eyes when you step away from it, and as cliched as it may sound, it really allows you to realize how trivial some things really are. No more tossing and turning, going over and over the daily concerns in my head. It is hard, and damaging and utterly pointless. So what if I didn’t have the most money or those shoes or that apartment or the invite to that party? So the fuck what?

I’ve ridden out the waves of self-doubt to a calm acceptance — and appreciation — of the person I am. What my life is, at this moment. And funnily enough, it was when I forced myself to stop looking for greener grass on the other side that I finally realized how truly blessed I am. I like me. The me I am now, not the person I will be when I have everyething on my checklist.  I have the best family. My friends and I are as thick as thieves. I’ve found my soulmate. I am in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure full of culture and fascinating friends and art and exotic things I never even knew to dream about. I am exactly where I want to be.

So I try to hold on to that. Smile I catch students gossiping with their besties. Stop mid-walk and inhale the autumn air. Sip strong coffee slowly. People watch. Those moments are so rare when I am so present and aware that I can absorb it all in the blink of an eye. Appreciate the small stuff when I’m fortunate enough to remember to. I feel the same, but my eyes have opened just a little bit wider.

There will always be moments of anxiety, sleepless nights — times when the “have nots” seem to overwhelm. Our biggest challenge is accepting that. Instead of kicking, screaming and fighting the uncertainty, I try to ride it out. Let myself feel it, then move on. The feeling always passes when I am once again reminded of how amazing my life is. Even when I struggle, knowing that things will be Okay soon is the best I can do for me.

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This weekend, Evan, Greg, Rachel and I went on a mission up to Seoul for Global Gathering 2010 — a huge electronic music festival held at Hanji Park next to the river in Seoul. The all-night event, in a matter of words, was epic. The first time I have really danced my pants off since coming to Korea!

We hopped aboard a bus from Jeonju around 10:45, which put us in Seoul around 1:45. Since we weren’t planning on going to the venue right when the music started (since, who does that?) we had some time to kill in the big city. We joined a party crew of my college friend Alyssa, who is living in Seoul, for the weekend.

Since Alyssa got stuck with an incompetent cab driver who got lost en route to meet us at the bus station, our new friend Lydia saved the day by taking us back to her apartment. She is totally hospitable and fabulous, with extra cool points for being a fellow gaucho.

After downing multiple drinks and burgers from a joint near Lydia’s place, we made our way to the subway, en route to the festival! We danced, sang, shouted, sipped soju and stomped our way through the subway stations, missing one of our stops on the way.

Evan and I passed time on the train by rocking out to — and occasionally singing aloud — jams from my ipod. Robyn S “Show Me Love” is always a good song to get pumped to! After getting out at the World Cup Stadium, it was another hike to get to the park. Travel time was three hours, but we had fun and didn’t miss Justice, so it was all good.

We pushed our way to the front of the crowd as the French deejays played, swaying and shaking it with the crowd. Alyssa lost her cell phone briefly, but it was found by a nice group of guys next to us.

Lydia gave them a proper thank you.

Fatboy Slim took the stage next, and he killed it. The best thing about the performances is that they were hours longer than I had ever seen any of these artists play. We danced nonstop, as the seemingly endless stream of music flowed out over the crowd.

Armin Van Buren ended our evening (er, morning) with a trance mix. Evan, Alyssa and I got a second wind as we bounced and pumped our fists to the Dutch spinner’s tracks.

We decided to head straight to the bus station after the concert, since it was nearly 5 AM and the first bus to Jeonju was at 5:30. By 8:30 AM, we had stumbled home safely, exhausted and happy, and were able to curl up in our own bed.

The sheer length of the deejay sets made this experience a real stand-out. That, and the food and drinks at the venue were a steal — the quality of the grub didn’t compare to the fare at Fuji Rock, but it was still fairly impressive.

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