Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turkey Ginger Cookies


Ingredients:
-3c flour
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
-1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ginger
-Cinnamon  and nutmeg to taste
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 medium white sweet potato, peeled, heated, and mashed
-1/4c butter, melted and mashed into the sweet potato
-1/2 c dark, wildflower honey
-1c white sugar
-1 Tablespoon lemon juice
-1 teaspoon vanilla
-1 egg

-1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
-1 bag white chocolate chips
-handful of blackberries

Procedure
-In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. 
-In a large bowl, combine the sweet potato mixture, honey, and white sugar. Blend in lemon juice and vanilla. Beat in egg. 
-Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until it forms a dough. 
On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it's around 1/4" thick. Cut into the shape of handprint turkeys. 
-Bake at 375F for 5 minutes. 

-Put chocolate chips in one microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for one minute. Stir. Microwave for another fifteen seconds. Stir. Repeat until all the chocolate is melted. In another bowl, crush the berries and melt the white chocolate into them using the same method. 

-Draw lines of the chocolate across the turkey feathers. Drag a toothpick down each feather. 
-Let cookies sit out for the chocolate to set. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Confessions of a Culture-Shocked Pansy

I'm going to take a break from continuity.  I promise I'll finish updating about Thailand when I have my computer back, but right now it's just another stress I don't want to think about.

I've been settled into my new/old home (What's up, Nashville?!) for about a week now.  I've got a great apartment to live in... at least until June, a car that I trust with my new niece (well... cousin's kid, but "1st cousin once removed" is too long), and I'm in the process of finding a job.  I have been Stateside for nearly a MONTH now... crazy, and I am officially experiencing "reverse culture shock."  As such, I'd like to present you with a list of things that I've noticed (good and bad):


  1. Americans, in general, are a lot bigger than the rest of the people in the world... especially the people I met in Asia.  Sadly, I don't really mean taller here.  As a whole, we're an overweight people.  It's kind of overwhelming sometimes.  For example, I was sitting at the airport, and I kept feeling like a wall was walking toward me.  Yes, there are fewer people in our airports, but they're more dense.  It's a whole different kind of claustrophobia.
  2. Driving is one of those things that you don't forget.  I've been rather nervous about this step, especially considering the accident I was in just before I moved to Korea, but I've now driven up and back down the East Coast, into the sunset, in the rain, at night, in the wind, and in decent conditions, and I've not hit anything.  To be honest, I'm a bit proud of myself.  Though I have noticed that when the niece is in the car, I drive about 20 mph / 30 kph below the speed limit.  I've been told that makes me a "pansy"; if that means my niece is more likely to be alive, I'll wear that title with pride.
  3. People talk louder here.  They really do.  I know that's one of those things Americans get tired of hearing, but it's true.  It's a little on the obnoxious side.  I'll probably slide back into it sooner rather than later, though.  And then I'll be irritated with myself whenever I go back abroad.
  4. I miss the language barrier. I walked into a coffee shop to have breakfast with a friend, and I could understand everything that everyone was saying.  I've so trained myself to listen for English that when I hear it now I can't tune it out.  Want to talk about things that are overwhelming?  Try that.  I also noticed that I so miss speaking in Korean that I was talking to myself in Korean last night.  I'm hoping that I can make some Korean friends here and solve that problem... Maybe they'll be willing to do a language exchange or something?
  5. I like teaching. Sigh.  I mean, we knew that already.  I played "school" instead of "house" growing up.  Nevertheless, I think tutoring rather than teaching is a better direction for me.  I've applied for a couple of tutoring jobs to try and fill the gap that I'm sorely feeling in my life right now.
  6. America is really very beautiful.  Like I said, I've been doing a lot of driving since I got back.  I hit Virginia the first week that the leaves were really changing (or so I was told), and it was breath-taking.  Even though I lived there for many years, I never really appreciated how pretty it is.  Seriously, of all the places I've been, no where else has done Fall like Virginia (and yes, I've been up to New England to see the leaves in the Fall.  Vermont doesn't even come close).
  7. American food is ridiculously greasy and heavy.  I acknowledge the greasiness of Korean food, especially the "snacks," but American food is greasy in a different way, and I've already gotten sick off of it.  Granted, that's not totally the food's fault; I did allow myself some meat.  However, until I'm more used to it, I'm cooking almost all my own food.  Luckily, there's an Asian market very close to my apartment.  I'm going to go later this week (maybe even today?!) and see if I can get my hands on some kimchi and tteokboki.  (Yes.  I'm craving kimchi.  I don't want to talk about it.)
  8. People say things that they think are kind that really just aren't.  I know people mean well.  At least, the people I'm thinking of do.  I'm trying to credit people for their intentions rather than their actions.  It's not always easy, though.  Please bear with me.
  9. Americans really like guns.  Like.  Whoa.  Holy cow.  Was it always like this?
  10. Americans really like nudity.  See above.
  11. Gas prices are a lot cheaper than I was expecting them to be.  Seriously, aside from the way I felt when the man at Immigration welcomed me home, seeing gas below $3.00 (and not having it be a closed gas station) has excited me more than just about anything.
  12. Speaking of which, Hearing the words "Welcome home." feels really good.  I can't explain it.  America has never felt like my home until now.  It's a really weird thing for me, and it's causing a lot of confusion in my life.
  13. Reverse culture shock takes its toll on your self-esteem.  There's really not much that's more degrading than realizing you're not sure what to do in a social-setting in your home country.
  14. Friends who understand are the best thing ever.  Those people who will just sit there with no expectations... who show up at your door with pizza in hand... who lay around and watch endless hours of movies even after you fall asleep... They're amazing.
  15. It's easy for me to forget that Korea ever happened.  I'm back in the same town I was before I  went to Korea.  I'm doing a lot of the same things I did before I left.  The only thing that keeps reminding me that Korea happened is that I recognize far fewer people now than I did before.  It's really quite disorienting... to the point of nausea, actually.  It's kind of like that feeling that comes along with a strong medication: Everything's a little foggy... as if it could all be a hallucination.  It's rather unpleasant.
  16. There are at least three different versions of Family Feud that air on a daily basis.  I think two of them may be in current syndication???  There is little that's going on that confuses me more than that does.
  17. I constantly am afraid that people think I'm showing off when I read things in Korean.  I'm not.  I read things in Korean for two reasons. 1) It's the only way to get the information I'm looking for, and 2) What I'm reading is different and/or more interesting in Korean (like Harry Potter).  I'm not very good at it, and I probably can't translate it word-for-word for you or anything, but I'm getting the gist of it at least.  I'm not a poser.  I just adopted a second language that I really like and am trying to continue studying.
  18. Eating out is expensive in America. And then you add TAX and a TIP... Actually...You have to tip in America.  That and non-included taxes.... gets me every time.  I miss being able to eat out for $5 a meal.  Kimbap Nara... come back to me!!!
  19. Peppero Day and Veteran's Day are the same day.  How am I just now realizing this?
  20. Last but not least (for now)... People decorate for holidays... specifically... Halloween??? I was at the airport just before Halloween, and decorations were EVERYWHERE.  I didn't realize that was a thing.  Or maybe I did and I just forgot.  I don't know... but it seems like a little much to me.
  21. Edit: Bonus-American health insurance has nothing on Korean. I literally just started crying as I realized I can't afford a basic plan that would still bankrupt me if I went to the ER. I miss Korea. 
And there you go.  Twenty confessions of a very culture-shocked pansy.

Do you have anything you'd like me to try while in my culture-shocked state?  Let me know in the comments or via any other means of communication you have for me, and I'll see what I can do.  And, of course, I'll write about it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Phuket Town


Though many people pick Phuket, Thailand for their vacation destination, I will be the first person to tell you that if they're in Phuket Town they've probably done it by mistake... like me.  However, it's probably one of the best mistakes I've ever made.  I loved my time there, and by the end of my week and a half, I didn't want to leave.  I was seriously contemplating cancelling my life and staying there to continuing studying Muay Thai (another post entirely).  I made some friends, and even had restaurant owners who knew my order and about what time I'd be by.  It's a small town, but I - surprisingly - fell quite in love with it.
These little guys lived right next to my favorite restaurant, so we became good friends.
Too cool for school.
Big Buddhas seem to be a global phenomenon.
The bay

This man and boy were too cute, out fishing.  The man was happy to bait the line and pass it off to the boy to real in a fish.  Between the two of them, they had a pretty good system going.  The man also was more than willing to teach some other young men who looked like they were on a tour of the area.  He was incredibly friendly about letting me take photos, too.

Flags in front of a temple at the bay
 

Behind the gym where I had my Muay Thai classes, there was a fair going on every night, so I usually ate my dinner there and people-watched.  One thing I realized: kids are kids all over the world.



Me and the motorbike I rented.  Let me tell you, nothing keeps your prayer life in tact better than renting a vehicle you've never before driven and trying to drive on the other side of the road.


Some friends from the hostel and I went to a party at a beach in the woods.  (Actually, the hostel manager went too...)  We had a lot of fun, dancing quite literally all night.
Food.  So good.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

We'll be back

I had all these grandiose plans of posting every day while in Thailand. Well, that turned out well... I leave Thailand tonight. Just so you know, my computer finally died. There's a plan to fix it in the works, but no guarantees. I do plan on updating soon, but please bear with me while I try to get settled in. In not even 72 hours I'll be back in the States! Crazy! I'll be seeing you soon!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Carpe Diem and “Nae Soneul Jaba (내 손을 잡아)”

I want to take a moment to jump back to Korea.  I've been sitting on a secret for a few months now, and I can finally tell you:  My music students partnered with new, Philadelphia-based record label, FeedbackLoop to write and release an original song.  It's out this month, obtainable only by subscription.

The sign that adorns my music students' practice space also declares the name of their band.
It’s confusing, I know - What was I, an English teacher, doing with music students? Sometimes, it hits
me all over again, and I chuckle all the harder. When I originally came to Korea from Nashville two years ago, I thought I had left the music industry behind me. But, as the old saying goes, you can take the girl out of the industry, but you can’t take the industry out of the girl.

Every day, I’d sit at my desk waiting for it. I’d dread it. I tried to love it, but it wasn’t happening. I mean, there’s only so many times a girl can take hearing Gangnam Style wafting up through the floorboards. The school cover band met every day in the room immediately below mine, and I was starting to lose my mind. Winter break came and went all too quickly, and I soon found myself back at my desk, tensing for the opening notes of Psy’s hit that I knew would inevitably come… but was greeting instead by the opening strains of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” For a couple of weeks, I listened through the floor, and then I contacted Justin.

video
The moment that started it all

The kids couldn’t believe what I was telling them when I explained to them that I, their English teacher, had worked in artist management before coming to Korea, and that I, their ENGLISH teacher, wanted to help them write and record a song to be put on a label in America. I’m still not convinced they believe me.

Kim (right) collaborated with another girl in the band, Ji-Hye Lee (left),
who quickly proved her musical worth as well.

Over the course of the semester, we practiced various songwriting techniques, and then we got down to business. One girl in particular, 김주향 (Ju-Hyang Kim), showed a particular interest in the project and came to me with half a song in nearly flawless English. I brought in a fellow Nashvillian-turned-English-teacher Ashley Harden to help guide her in the process (sadly, I have never been much of a lyricist) and sound engineer (also turned English teacher) Adam Thomas for engineer consultation and to direct and shoot the music video, and the rest is history.


Kim taught each player his or her part, down to the last
detail.  No chord bend or slide was there without her
having intended it to be.
Kim quickly proved her musical prowess, writing not just the lyrics but going on to also collaborate with 이지혜 (Ji-Hye Lee) in writing parts for each instrument. They made my job much easier than I thought it was going to be, leaving me with only a couple vocal coaching sessions and the recording process to do. Of course, I also had quite the job to do in refocusing the band, from time-to-time. After all, it is made entirely of 14-to-16-year-olds. The kids have exceeded every expectation I had of them, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Carpe Diem is a band comprised of and led by middle schoolers in South Korea.
Read more about what provoked my long-time friend Justin to take us on and bring you “Nae Soneul Jaba (내 손을 잡아)” - and how you can get your very own copy of it - here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nine Hours in Shanghai

Recently, I came across some interesting information, announcing that China had decided to allow international travels up to 72 hours within Shanghai and/or Beijing absolutely cost and Visa-free.  Thrilled at the prospect of saving $200 on the Visa, I jumped on the bandwagon, booking myself, as I so often do, a long layover in Shanghai.  My anticipation of my time behind the Silk Curtain alternated between excitement and trepidation, as all I had in my head was this very Americanized idea of iron-fisted communism, very wealthy upper classes, very poor lower classes, and a superiority complex.  Despite my efforts to have no opinions on things I've never actually experienced, China and all the stories I've heard about it has grown some ideas for me.  I knew this was just a stereotype, so I tried to put it aside, and succeeded to for the most part.  However, a few things still managed to surprise me.  My friend warned me that Shanghai is rather Westernized, so I'm a bit reluctant to form any opinions (or even completely toss out my stereotypes) about China, but this is what I saw.

The Big Three of the Far East are conveniently now
stamped on adjoining pages in my passport.
Getting through customs was surprisingly easy.  I expected people to know less English than they did and to know less about the 72-hour Visa than they did.  There was a moment when I was pulled off to the side and I worried that I was going to be detailed for questioning of some sort, but it didn't happen.  They just apparently needed a little more time for processing, since the 72-hour Visa isn't approved in advance or anything.  I was incredibly impressed that they had no problem with inspecting my itinerary off of my iPhone (Somehow, my printouts had gotten lost).  Everyone who worked at the airport, from the desk attendants to the security guards were incredibly helpful.  Way to win, Shanghai.

I was amused, I may note that the first thing I saw in China (not counting the airport, of course) was a McDonald's.  My word, they're everywhere.  I technically wasn't even off airport property, yet.  In fact, I was following a very "Secret Garden"-esque path to find the subway (note the green arrows on the road directing me to the line I needed).  I didn't stop because, anymore, even the thought of McDonald's turns my stomach (though I do partake in it occasionally if the right friend asks me to go).  I did notice that their menu seemed incredibly different from the rest of the McDonald'ses that I've seen in other places in the world, but I expected that after doing a case study on the franchise for international marketing.  (Just a tidbit worth noting if you actually do like McDonald's: Every region in the world has a unique McDonald's menu, catering to the specific preferences of the people there.)

I opted to take the subway (line 2) through Shanghai, as both airports are on it, and I needed to make an airport change.  I had read that you could pay a shuttle to take you across in about an hour, but I found the subway first, it was cheaper, and I figured I'd get a feel for the culture better on the subway than in a van.  So I put my Shanghai Subway Map app to work.  Not that I really needed it... like I said, both stops were on the same line.  In fact, everything I wanted to do was on that line.  But it was comforting to have nonetheless.
Things worth knowing if you ever decide to do this on your own: You cannot change from the 10 line to the 2 line at Hongqiao Airport T2 without paying again.  You must go one stop past T2 to do this.  Somewhere in the middle of the Line 2 (I don't remember exactly which stop), I had to change trains.  It wasn't hard at all.  I just got out and hopped on the next one going the same direction.  Everyone has to do it at that point, so just go with the flow.

While I was spending time on the subway (maybe about an hour and a half, give or take 15 minutes), I was surprised to run into a goodly number of German people.  Well... I guess that's relative.  I think I saw maybe 5 non-Asian people the whole day.  I struck up a conversation with one man that was pretty interesting.  He gave me some good tips on what to see.  I kept wanting to use my Korean to talk to people, though I knew it would do me no good, and I only know two words in Mandarin, though I doubt my tonality is correct.  Nevertheless, I used my two words.  For everything else, I smiled and bowed a lot.  This, however, seemed to go over well, and an older couple on the subway adopted me, praising my ability to get a seat in spite of being foreign and lugging some pretty serious luggage with me.  When we switched trains, they took up extra space on the bench to save me a seat.  It blew my mind that they would do that for me.  In my experience, that kind of kindness to a stranger is nearly unheard of in the East.  Let me emphasize nearly unheard of.  It's not that people are being mean or anything... it's just a cultural thing.  The two were so sweet.  We spent a lot of time smiling at each other, and the grandmother (I want to call her 아줌마, or 할머니, though neither of those are really appropriate as, once again, she was not Korean) made sure I saw that there were white people on the TV at one point (They were German, but it's the thought that counts).  Seriously, they just melted my heart and made my day.

Skipping forward, as this is already getting long, and I haven't even begun to talk about my sightseeing yet, I decided to go ahead and check in for my flight as soon as I got to the other airport.  It seemed like the easiest way to ditch most of my luggage, and, since the line was gigantic, I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
Asia never leaves you room to doubt where you are.  My word, there are PEOPLE in Asia. 
It actually moved faster than I feared it would, so I was able to grab a locker for my carry-on stuff and hit the Mag Lev train within an hour of my arrival.  In case you don't know what the Mag Lev train is, it does this:
Me, super excited about how fast we were traveling.
video

As a result, I was able to chop about half an hour from my travel time.  Maybe more.  I didn't pay enough attention on the way in.

I had thought about going to see the infamous Bund at E. Nanjing Road, but I wasn't really feeling it by the time Lujiazui Street came up, so I hopped off on a whim and figured I'd look around.  It turned out to be a good choice, because the Oriental Pearl Tower was right outside the exit.  It is my opinion that the Pearl is on of the coolest looking pieces of architecture out there, and it's certainly one of the most distinctive buildings in Shanghai, so I was thrilled with my choice.  I was so thrilled, in fact, that I dropped most of my spending money on a ticket to the very top of the thing.  That turned out to be okay, though, because it was incredibly time-consuming.  I didn't have a chance to go anywhere else, and I somewhat wish I'd had more time to spend within the Pearl.  Nevertheless, I'm very glad that was where I chose to spend my time in Shanghai, mostly because it felt like I could see the whole city from the top, but also because of all the cool things that I kept finding on each level.  I do wish I had realized they were there so I could have paced myself better.  I ended up getting so frustrated as I was having to bypass things on the way out to make it back to the airport on time to catch my flight.  I did make time for a quick peek at the various observation decks, though.  Each one had a different view worth seeing.

I still got to see The Bund... just from a different angle than people had suggested.

The downward-facing observation deck was somewhat panic-inducing, to the point that I saw several people flat out lay down on the glass once they looked down, but I am proud to announce that I stayed upright (though I did walk incredibly slowly and lightly to get my way back to opaque ground).  I'm not sure why people don't really think about how high up they are until you put glass under them, but that seems to be the norm.  I suppose that's why we're always advised to "don't look down"... not that that ever stops anyone, but it at least makes a little more sense now.

I had thought ahead enough to make sure I grabbed a dumpling (For those who know what it is, this was definitely a 왕만두 and not anything remotely resembling what I imagined a Chinese dumpling to be.) and my customary new country Coke (another company that changes its recipe from region to region) to eat as I waited to get into the Pearl.  This turned out to be excellent planning, as I ended up needed to be one of those obnoxious people who asked if they could cut in front of everyone to make it back to the airport.  There was definitely some self-loathing that happened then, but I sucked it up and did what I had to.

Outside the Pearl, there were taxis waiting, just as I'd read there would be.  Even though I was positive (and I'm still pretty sure I was right) that the subway would be faster, my anxiety about the potential to miss my flight had me jump into the nearest mode of transportation I could find.  I was proud of myself for the ease with which I haggled with the driver over the price.  I didn't even stop to think about it.  It's not like I haggle all that much in Korea, but I guess living there has just made me more confident with the idea of doing it.  Once in the cab, I managed to convince myself to relax, and the driver and I had a nice chat about how awesome he thinks President Obama and Americans in general are.  I smiled and thanked him, then spent the next few minutes trying to figure out what America could have possibly done for China to make this man think our country is all that cool, but gave up on it when I realized that I could be taking advantage of the fact that I was now above ground for a part of the city that I'd only seen below ground and film my cab ride.  One incredibly close call between my hand and the front end of a bus later, we got this:

video

Welcome to China friends.

Getting back on the Mag Lev was amazingly easy, especially since my driver literally pulled up to the station stairs for me, proclaiming his love for Americans the whole time.  Getting through security at the airport was only marginally more difficult.  My customs security man was very chatty and curious about what I was doing in Korea and Thailand, but I just kept on smiling and answering.  I didn't even check my watch once (which, after estimating the time wrong in London and missing out on the London Eye during my first ever long layover, I had set for China time before I ever left Seoul).  Be proud of me.  I ended up having enough time to shop for a couple little people who are in my life before feeling the need to go wait by my gate.  Sadly, you have to have access to texting in China to get the airports free WiFi, but I can survive unplugged (usually), so it wasn't that bad of a wait.

Incidentally, I noticed  a family with what looked like twin young girls on the Mag Lev the second time.  I actually noticed several families throughout the day that were clearly Chinese and clearly had multiple children.  I had been under the impression that Chinese families were only allowed one child, but now I'm starting to wonder if that also was a misconception.

I will say, however, my experience with my airline, China Eastern, was not one that I ever intend on repeating.  A weight debacle that ended up costing me $200 and a lovely reinterpretation of the definition of "special vegetarian meal that you ordered" (confiscation of the main meat dish without replacing it with anything else) was enough to make me add them to my airline blacklist.  (Also on that list are Delta and Virgin, in case you were wondering.  Airports that made the list are Bangor, ME; Sofia, Bulgaria; and Jakarta, Indonesia... not that you can completely vow off an airport, but I'd like to avoid them as much as possible.  Incidentally, Turkish Air and American Airlines have made what I'd call a graylist for various reasons... Just proceed in booking with them with caution.)

All in all, for the traveler with the short attention span like me, I think this 72-hour Visa is definitely worth while.  I fully intend on taking advantage of it to see Beijing when I get the chance, especially now that I know how to anticipate things (though, let me tell you, it may take the full 72-hours just to navigate the Beijing airport, from what I hear...) and feel more confident that I'm not going to get arrested for simply thinking Western thoughts in China.  Hopefully this new Visa policy is going to be around for a good while, because I'm really liking it. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

The last bite of Korea

So remember how I said I made a quick trip to America? 

Well, I got off the plane and got on a bus.
I got off the bus and got in a taxi.
I got out of the taxi and did this. (So please excuse how tired and unmade I look.)

video


video

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Goodbye, Korea

It's so hard to believe that two years (and one month) have come to an end.  It's crazy to think that in that short of a time I would have come to identify myself with a culture so distinctly different from the one into which I was born.  However, at the same time, I don't really fit there either.

Ever since I got my passport, I've felt my culture slipping away from me.  But never have I felt more like a cultural island than I do now.  I don't really find this to be a bad thing; I like the culture I've created for myself, gleaning from all of those that I've visited.  But it's going to be interesting when I enter back into America, where people will be expecting me to pick back up the American culture.  See, one of the joys of being waygookin is that there isn't very much that's expected of me.  For the most part, I'm free to be whatever I want.  I'm not sure how I'm going to react to being back in the States when that is gone.

Because here's the thing.

The plan has changed.

This doesn't surprise me, because the plan was based on Korean culture, in which things are likely to change drastically, even in the middle of implementation, but it will probably surprise those of you who are unused to Korean culture.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that, due to governmental reasons in India, I would be unable to take up my position there.  At the same time, I was offered a missionary position in Australia, working with Aboriginal children.  As my pastor explained it to me, I became more and more disheartened by the prospect.  They're a group of children that have grown up in an environment that puts no emphasis on education, due to government hand-outs.  The stipends are actually large enough that the people don't really need to value education.  The community is also riddled with drug and alcohol abuse.  My pastor asked me to go and join the effort to convince this community of the value of education, a feat that has been attempted by many and successful by none, save the minimal progress our church has made.  In short, it sounded like all the things I like least about teaching.

With a clenched stomach, I asked my pastor for time to pray about it, and he gave me two weeks.

As many of you probably know by now, during that time, I made a quick trip back to the US.  I was overwhelmed by a desire to be there before I had to make the choice.  In the past, I have always felt trapped in the US, to the point that my family and I have assumed for many years that I would be spending all of my adult life living outside of the States.  Nevertheless, in the past months, I have been growing increasingly homesick.  I didn't mention it, chalking it up to this factor or that factor, but it didn't go away.  I wanted to see if it would if I stepped foot in the mother country, and all the opportunities lined up for me to do just that.  I found an incredibly cheap plane ticket.  Appointments got canceled (without my doing so).  Schedules were rearranged.  And I found myself on a flight back to Nashville.

As soon as I saw the city unfurl beneath the plane, I had my answer.  I've never felt like I had a home before, but seeing that city... I knew I finally had one.  I was so giddy I started giggling and bouncing my legs in excitement.  But I was reluctant to admit I had my answer.  I knew what I wanted, but I needed to make sure it lined up with what G-d wanted.  So I waited and prayed.

As much as everything went right in preparation for the trip, everything went wrong while I was there.  And yet, I was still overwhelmed with peace and excitement when I thought about moving back.  In the end, I gave into it, and though I felt frustrated with many things happening around me, I could center myself in knowing that I was on the right path in my decision to return to the States.

Upon my return to Korea, I spent the greater part of my first morning back in bed, mulling over my trip and my decision... and praying.  Oh, how I prayed!  And, suddenly, a plan washed over me... It was like it was being shown to me in its completeness rather than developing as I laid there.

It is now my intention to go to graduate school to pursue a masters in Music Therapy with the ultimate goal of opening the Jim Foglesong Center for Fine Arts, which will be both a fine arts school and therapy center.  I have so many ideas for it that I could write and write about it, but I think I'd overwhelm you all, so I'll save that for another time.

The moral of the story is this: I'm coming back, and I know that I am on G-d's path.  I don't know if that path will end where I think it will right now, but I do know that it's the right one.

Incidentally, this also means that I will have to make severe cuts to my travel plans, as I need to be preparing for an audition on December 7.

Thank you for all of your love and support.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Foredated: September 11, 2013

I really wanted to post this on September 11 at 8:45 am EST, but life prevented me from being able to do that.  I suppose I should have typed it up in advance, but it wasn't a possibility; I'm sorry.  But these thoughts seemed poignant enough to me to type up and post for you anyway.

On September 11, 2013, 8:44am something monumental happened.  As the clock ticked down, Americans my age - arguably the youngest people on the planet to remember a pre-9/11 life - lived the last minute that they would while still having lived the majority of their lives in relative safety.

I'd like to say that we felt ourselves untouchable until 9/11, but that's a lie.  We weren't, and only the naïve believed otherwise.  Peal Harbor, Oklahoma City, Columbine... We knew better.  But it was something about September 11 that felt so different.  I think it may be because our own assets were used against us.  Whatever it was, America changed drastically afterward; rather than doubling down and coming up stronger, we signed away our rights hand-over-fist and reacted in fear.  I was with everyone else at the time, though... we may want to ask ourselves if it should really be considered an achievement to have a 12-year-old agree with the action our government took.  I remember my mother warning me against it all, and I replied that we'd deal with any problems that arose when we came to them.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, we've come to them (Read: Syria), but that's another story for another time.

My point is this:
I've no longer lived the majority of my life in a pre-Septemeber-Eleventh World.

I've no longer lived the majority of my life in a world where I can accompany my loved ones to their airplane.
I've no longer lived the majority of my life not having to worry about how complicated my shoes are before going to the airport.
I've no longer lived the majority of my life being able to be fully hydrated on a plane.
I've no longer lived the majority of my life in a country where Aladdin wouldn't be feared if he lived in it.
I've no longer lived the majority of my life in a time when I didn't have to worry if the person next to me started playing with their shoes.
I've no longer lived the majority of my life being unable to ask a flight attendant if the small person next to me (or, heck, I myself) could meet the pilot.
I've no longer lived the majority of my life without double, triple, quadruple checking everything I say while traveling.

I've no longer lived the majority of my life in a country that wasn't dominated by manipulation playing off people's fear.


And I'm not sure how to react to that.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The End

It's been one week since I finished at my school...and I've gone back there three times anyway for various reasons.  Clearly I'm not good at this not working there anymore thing.  My kids get excited/upset every time they see me.  "Byeee, Teachah!  I miss you!  You miss me?  You sad, Teachah?"  And... the most uncomfortable of the encounters: "Teachah, you know my name?"  I totally missed the mark on that goal.

I've spent the majority of this week finishing up a project that I promise you will hear more about in the coming days.  Stay tuned, because this is a big big deal, but I'll give you a hint:

You're going to want to do this.

I now have two weeks before I head to Thailand, which means it's a month and a half before I hit the States.  Within that time, I still need to pack, sell most of my possessions, sing one more time at churhc, move out of my apartment (and crash at friends' homes for a week), send directions to my school to my boss, attend/tech a friend's wedding, and manage to get a goodbye event in there somewhere.  It is going to be a packed couple of weeks.

To be honest, this all seems a bit anti-climatic.  I think that's mostly because I was just on vacation, doing a lot of the same stuff I'm doing right now.  I'm not sure it's really hit me yet that I'm leaving... I'm not sure it ever will.  Life does that sometimes... smooth transitions, I mean.  I've had two legitimate job offers to keep me in this city, though, which are somewhat tempting, but only in the sense that change is scary.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll come back some day, but, for now, I know that it is definitely time to move forward.  I'm looking forward to the adventures on the horizon, and will, as always, keep you informed.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Serials kill me.

I've been learning something about myself recently (though, by recently, I'm pretty sure I mean the past year and a half): I really don't like suspense/guessing.  Surprises are cool; since I don't know they're coming, there's nothing to guess about.  But I really don't like trying to guess what other people are thinking or waiting to see what's going to happen next.  If there's one thing I don't like, it's waiting.  People tell me all the time how patient I am, but I just can't see it, because I HATE waiting.

Anyway, I bring this up because I've spent my 4 empty hours at work (Anyone remember when I was so stressed about not having big enough chunks of time to lesson plan?  Not a problem anymore... too bad I don't really need it anymore) reading up on an experiment that was taking place this Spring.  Basically, these two friends decided to try and get past their extremely opposite dating issues by agreeing to date each other for 40 days.  I started reading it thinking that they had already posted everything, that they had actually been posting daily and I'm just really late to the game.  As it turns out, I'm only slightly late to the game.  They've been posting weekly since the beginning of the summer.


This is incredibly irritating to me.  Usually, I plan to start something I think I'll really like after it's all finished.  For example, while all of you were out watching LOST every week, making sure nothing interfered with that sacred hour of your life, I was at handbell practice (work, as I got older).  Then, that night that you all got upset over the ending, I started on episode one and powered my way through them over the course of three weeks.  Overall, I don't really think it's a healthy habit.  I get addicted to whatever I'm doing, to the point that it affects my dreams.  I once even had trouble remembering which was real and which wasn't.  At least I have that as a cut-off line: Now, if I start dreaming about what I'm doing, I know it's time to pull back.

Anyway, the point of that rather disturbing paragraph is that I'm rather annoyed that I have to wait a couple more weeks to get the end of this encounter.

Have I mentioned that I don't like waiting for things?  Or guessing what's going on?

Yeah.  Serial TV shows were not made for me (or they were... depending on how you look at it).

P.S. 69 Days.

Friday, August 16, 2013

And we're back!

School is back on... for two weeks.  And then I'm done teaching (at least in Korea... for now).   Crazy.

The child standing on the chair was the sweet baby who
had to spend the rest of the day with plastic in his ear.
We weren't allowed to send the poor kid home, but that's
how it falls sometimes.
Vacation was pretty straight-forward.  I stayed in Cheonan after the unfortunate need to cancel Italy, and taught a week of extra classes at my old Saturday School.  The kids were cute, but - oh man - I'm so glad I normally teach middle school.  I had one first grader (American kindergartner) shove a straw wrapper so far down his ear that I couldn't see it anymore by the time I got to him to try and stop him.  Those little babies cannot and should not sit still for two hours.  Good grief, planning team.  I promptly disregarded my instructions to give them lots of worksheets and planned a lot of games and songs.  We also read some books, which I borrowed from my first school, and made some great projects, like our very own Big, Green Monsters.  (I really like this book for teaching.  It's good with the littles for
The kids bigger than her were allowed to
use scissors to cut out their body parts.
body parts and colors, and it's made even better, because you revive it when they get older to teach other adjectives.  Every page follows this form: He has [adjective], [color] body part.  Each series is stated twice in the book; the reinforcement is really nice.)

Hanging around Cheonan turned out to be a better break than I expected.  It was nice to not have to deal with the stress of planning everything and getting to the airport on time.  I also got to sleep in without worrying about wasting my time in the country... Since this is the country I live in (Wow... I just started typing this is my country) and all.  I do have a couple more places I think I should see before I leave, but I won't be too fussed if I don't.

One of the perks of greatly preferring running with her over running alone.  She makes me wish I had a dog of my own, though I know that's not feasible right now, what will all the moving around I'm getting ready to do.  (Also, I feel really irresponsible saying this, but it's awfully nice being able to sleep in on my non-running mornings, and I couldn't really do that if I had a dog... So I'll just borrow them for now.  Hehe)
Uma
staying home is that I could pet sit for my friend.  I've felt bad having people pet sit for Bunny, but never being able to return the favor for them, but now I've at least been able to pay it forward.  Not to mention, I loved getting to spend time with sweet Uma.  Uma has proved very helpful in my recent endeavor into running.  She only has three legs, but she has managed to keep up with me pretty decently.  I'm not sure if that's more of a testament to her running ability or my lack thereof, but I do know that I

As for the running commitment, I know that many of you are probably checking outside for other signs of the apocalypse, but I promise you I'm serious.  I chased down a bus a couple of weeks ago and liked it so much that I thought I'd give it a serious go, using the 0-5K app my friend showed me for my iPhone.  Another friend recently turned me on to a site that helps people get serious about the goals they set for themselves.  I'm not sure this is actually the site she was meaning, but I ended up making a contract on stickK.com.  Basically, I and a sponsor report my progress each week, and if I miss my goal, I pay money to an anti-charity of my choosing.  Sadly, Westboro Baptist wasn't an option on that list.  I really wish it was, because I'm pretty sure every person I know would get on me to make sure I don't give them any money.  If you want to keep tabs on my progress and offer me encouragement along the way, please join my commitment as a Supporter by clicking here.  I'm already feeling so much better and confident because of this, and it's only been a week.  The program suggests taking break days from working out, but I hate the thought of that... partially because I have a hard time with gray zones and partially because I really like how I feel after the work-outs.  Sooooo I do what I want. Haha.

Finally, the heat wave through Korea has been so bad that my school is started 30 minutes earlier each day and classes are 5 minutes shorter.  People have been using so much air conditioning that the government is warning about impending national blackouts.  Now, personally, I think that turning the AC on at school, where a bunch of people are all in one room would use less electricity than sending everyone home and having them turn it on in their private homes, but perhaps I'm wrong.  Nevertheless, it's a very welcome change for me from the frigid winters here.  I'll take heatwave over ice storm any day of the year.

For now, I think that constitutes an adequate update.  I'll see you (America friends) in 72 days. :)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Love Affair with the Barrier

One thing I've noticed is how much my friends and I talk about the frustrations of living with a daily language barrier in our lives, and, even if we're not talking about it, we're basically always thinking about it.  You never realize what a big deal it is until you try to live in another country.  For example, try ordering food off a menu that looks like this:
You may be fairly sure you know what you're getting, but if you have any dietary restrictions, it gets pretty stressful.  Or maybe you want to find things after a store rearranges its shelves  Heaven help you if you want someone's opinion about an item or if you want to convince a doctor you'd prefer a natural remedy to medicine.  The language barrier changes our lives in drastic ways here, and we frequently find ourselves discontent with those changes.

As my two-year anniversary with Korea has been drawing closer and my time here wrapping down, I've found myself growing increasingly nostalgic and analytical (those may seem like strange bedfellows to you, but I feel confident that anyone with a background in philosophy or psychology will make the connection).  I've been thinking over all my time here, and I've come to a conclusion: For better or for worse, I'm in love with the language barrier.  Certainly, we have our bad moments, our arguments, but, overall, I think it's a pretty good relationship, full of give and take.  I already drew a picture of how frustrating the barrier can be, but let me show you some of its more wonderful qualities.

  • I think one of my most (selfishly) favorite parts of the barrier is it's ability to hide me when I don't want to talk to people.  Thanks to the culture of my city and its particular barrier, I don't have to talk to anyone if I don't want to.  There are, of course, Korean-speakers here, and there are a good amount of English-speakers, but what you don't know is that there is a decent-sized Russian-speaking population here as well.  As a result, I can sit around and ignore all language that comes past me, and people will just assume I don't speak whatever language they've got going.  It's an introvert's heaven (well... in that aspect, at least).
  • I am now much better at charades.
  • Not being able to find things / communicate what I'm trying to find has helped me learn to prioritize: Do I really need this?  Would it be that big of a deal if I can't find it?  I've learned to let go of things that aren't so important and be persistent about that which is.
  • But the absolute best part of the language barrier is this: I have built friendships that are not based on knowing the trivia of each other's lives.  We are friends because we care about each other.  We see each other on a regular basis and we've learned to read each others' body language.  We cobble together our own language for communication, but that's not the core of the relationship.  Smiles, waves, and laughter; frowns, sighs, and even tears - This is the foundation of these relationships.  These people have actively and repeatedly looked out for my best interests.  I may not be able to tell you their favorite food or type of movie, but I can tell you when they're having a good day, and that, I think, is much more important. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If you never read anything else I write, read this.

I may have had the biggest revelation of my life today - just now, in fact - and I'm verbalizing it here for the first time, because I wish I had come to realize this sooner.  So I want to share it with everyone as soon as I possibly can in the hopes that it will click with them and help them not to dismiss things as antiquated rules simply because we don't understand them.

In fact, everything in the Bible just took on new, deeper meaning in light of this.  As soon as I finish here, I'm going back to reread as much of it as I can before I fall asleep.  The more I think about it all, the more excited I get.

It really all makes perfect, simple sense.

Once you can fully (well, as close to fully as possible) wrap your mind around this one fact:

G-d is not a linear being.

Don't get intimidated by the science/math speak and click away.  This is important to understand.

To reach a bigger audience, I want to also reference Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.  In the book, the characters utilize something called a Tesseract.  L'Engle's explanation of this (below) has helped me to understand G-d a bit more.



We, like all things on this planet, exist in a linear fashion, with a definite beginning and a definite end (at least while we're on Earth).  We currently exist in the same state as the insect was originally.  We have never known anything outside of that state and cannot fathom anything outside of that state, much like a fetus cannot fathom anything so otherworldly as breathing air.  The latter state, the simplest explanation of a Tesseract, is so far outside of a line, that linear beings cannot really comprehend it.


Now, I'm not so audacious as to claim that G-d exists in a state of Tesseract.  Personally, I believe He exists in a plane beyond that somewhere.  My point is that, G-d exists in a state that encompasses our own so completely that we cannot comprehend it; it could never fit into our understanding.  This also means that He encompasses our entire state of being at all times.

Let me break down what this means a little bit.

G-d is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  Yes.  Of course.  Because all of those times exist simultaneously for Him.  It's not so much that He's unchanging as He's omnipresent.  Those are all the same thing.  A=A.  It's like thinking, "Wow, this bite of doughnut that I'm chewing still happens to taste good!" - It's ridiculous to think anything else.  All of those are subpar explanations, but I hope you were expecting that, because, as I said, we're dealing with something outside of our scope of experience.

Everything the Bible says about sex and marriage that we don't really like... Yeah, G-d knew what He was talking about.  Of course.  Of course it's cheating on your future spouse to sleep with anyone else (Hebrews 13:4, among many others).  In fact, the much debated (even taboo) verse in the Bible that says not to divorce and not to remarry if you do (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) makes sense in light of this.  G-d is in all of our moments at the same time, so, to Him, we are too.  To us it feels like it's all unfolding slowly: things end; other things start.  But not to G-d.  To Him, I was just as married to my (hopefully existent) husband the day I was born as I will be on our 50th wedding anniversary.  Anything I do "before" or "after" I meet him is just the same to G-d.

Sin really does irrevocably separate us from G-d.  And nothing, NOTHING we ever do can change that.  It's not that He wants that.  It's devastating for Him.  But that's simply the plain, honest truth.  Think about the magnitude of this thing: If all moments are actually one moment, then we are constantly committing each and every sin in our lives.  There is nothing we can do.  Nothing.

The magnitude of what Christ did on the cross is heart-stopping.  Every moment for all of eternity in every direction and every plane of existence, Christ is being tortured to death to atone for those sins that also exist on that spectrum.  Every sin we could possible commit is erased the moment we do it, because Christ takes it on in that moment.  We are constantly clean.  We are constantly made new.

All praise to G-d, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Eph. 1:3 NLT)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bummer

Well, yesterday was a bummer.

Due to personal reasons, my vacation to Italy is being called off.  :(

BUT!  Somehow, an overwhelming peace has washed over me about the whole thing.  It's awesome how that happens.

Unfortunately, the airline hit me with a pretty hefty fee, so I'm not going to be able to go abroad for this vacation, but I've been incredibly tired.  It will probably be good for me to relax at home and get some sleep.  I'm going to see if I can get some work *edit: at my old Saturday School* to make up for that fee as well, so it'll all end up okay.  Plus, I haven't explored too much of Korea, so I might go do that; we'll see how I feel.  :)

In the words of Homer:
"Endure my heart, for you have endured worse than this." (The Odyssey, book XX)
It's true.

I found myself wanting to write about how yesterday was "the worst day ever," but it wasn't.  Those of you who know me can wager a guess as to what my worst day was.  I don't really care to detail it again, so if you don't know, just think about your own.  In a way, it's a blessing that I have had such a horrible experience in my life.  Every time something happens that I don't like, I can always think of Homer's quote and that day, and I have something against which to gauge myself: Have I endured worse than this?  Did I survive?  Did it help me in some way?  I have yet to not be able to answer "yes" to those questions.

There's that silver lining, my friends.  I knew there had to be one somewhere...

Lots of love to you.  I'll try to post about my staycation when (if) I do something interesting. :)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Goodbye Time Again

These are growing outside of
my school.  It must be a sign
(seeing as how they're my
favorites).

I've been saying goodbye to a lot of my kids today, and it was so hard!  I'm sure I'll see them around after summer break, but I won't teach them anymore, because it's a new semester after the summer.  Today, my last class was full of all of my favorites, who I've taught the whole time I've been at this school (simply by luck of the draw).  I suddenly am realizing how hard it's going to be for me to leave Korea.  I love these kids (and this school) so much.  

Let me show you a snippet of what's been going on today.

video
I've been teaching a music class during my lunchtime recently.
Today, the schedule switched up a bit, and we got done early, so I popped in next door.
There, I found several of the students I had taught for the last time in the class before lunch.
They also are students I've had for a whole year now.
They played me the song "Payphone" by Maroon 5, mostly because I told them I liked it so much, but a bit because it was a little fitting.
It was at this moment that it became impossible for me to get through my next class without crying.


Luckily, the kids in my next class got a bit crazy, making it easier for me to keep my cool (after I lost it trying to start class).

video
This is what it looks like when I'm teaching my kids how to order food in English.

video
But this kid, he put a smile back on my face.
He's crazy, but I love him, and he knows that.

It's hard for me to leave them, but if I can be smiling as I do so, well, then I'll feel I did a good job.  Unless I'm smiling out of relief... that wouldn't be a good feeling.  But I really don't think that's how it's going to be.  I think it's going to be one of those bittersweet smiles, where I'm leaving, but I'm happy, because I know that I somehow managed to make these kids' lives better because I was there.  That's what I hope.