moving and moving on

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Since I'm no longer living in South Korea, it's difficult to be domestically blissful (or blissfully domestic) there. Matthew is also an authorized poster for this blog, but I don't know if he'll post here, since he already has another blog of his own: That's Good Engrish!

I'll be blogging about motherhood and other things at A Not-so-quiet Life. If you're interested in the minutiae of raising Monkey Boy and Super Chunk, feel free to follow me there.

Thanks for reading my blog!

homeward bound

Our trip home by the clock:
8:30 a.m.: Left Sokcho on a bus to Gangneung
10:00: Left Gangneung on a bus to Incheon Airport (Seoul)
2:00ish: Arrived at Incheon Airport
3:30ish: Said goodbye to Matthew & went through security
6:20 p.m.: Flight from Seoul to Vancouver, B.C.
noonish (PST); about 10 hours later: arrived in Vancouver, B.C.
7:00 p.m.: Flight from Vancouver to Portland, OR
8:00ish: Arrived in Portland

Highlights of the trip:

*After staying up until 1 a.m. getting my three large bags to weigh in at EXACTLY 23 kg, with a fourth lighter bag full to the point of exploding with toys, books, and goodies to share...Matthew checked the Korean Air website again just before we left. The baggage limit was 20 kg per bag for Liam and I, with Rowan allowed one 10 kg bag. We brought another smaller empty bag and did some rearranging at the airport. We just scraped by with no exorbitant extra baggage fees.

*Rowan fell asleep before the plane too off. Perfect. We were seated behind the bulkhead with a bassinet so I didn't have to hold him all night. Great. We hit turbulence right before dinner time, so I had to pick Rowan up, which woke him up, and he thought he'd had a great nap. He wanted to play during dinner time. Lame.

*Despite taking a Benadryl before boarding, Liam stayed awake through "Finding Nemo" and half of "Ice Age 3," then woke up about two hours before our 10-hour flight landed. Rowan went back to sleep after dinner and woke up just before...breakifast! I'm not complaining too much though. Both of them did well, with very little crying...unlike the 8-month-old baby beside us...

*Wandering around the Vancouver airport trying to find an elevator that would take me (wearing Rowan in the Ergo), Liam and the stroller loaded with carry-ons down to Canadian customs, but only finding ones that took me to dead-end boarding gates. Finally giving up and taking the escalator down.

*Standing in line for at least 30 minutes with a tired antsy toddler (and a fortunately sleeping baby), then getting snippy with the young female customs officer when she wanted to know
(a) was I traveling alone with my children today
(b) did I have sole custody of them
(c) if not, did I have a note from their father giving his permission for me to fly with the boys today
(d) if not, why? (Um...because I didn't even think about that.)
The snippiness came in when I wanted her to just tell me if she was going to keep the boys and I in custody somewhere until Matthew could be reached. She was not. She just had to question me about it. I realize it's just her job, but I was not in the mood for beating around the bush, especially since said tired antsy toddler was running around in circles by this point.

*Having to pay a porter $20 CAD because there was no way I could haul all five bags from the International Terminal to the U.S. Terminal by myself, let alone with all the above-mentioned gear/kid. He was a really nice guy, though, and I was able to just follow him in a daze rather than having to navigate through more confusion.

*Switching to a single flight from Vancouver to Portland (instead of two separate flights going through Seattle) which was supposed to get me into Portland five minutes earlier. This worked well for the most part, as it's easier to stay in one place with two little boys, instead of boarding and deboarding an extra time. However, when I went to board the plane, it was delayed 30 minutes.

*Having to call my mom collect...internationally (even though it's only like a 5 hour drive)...because the pay phone wouldn't accept either my credit or debit cards, and I only had $2 coins which the phone didn't accept and the coffee shop wouldn't ("there aren't any $1 coins in the till") exchange for me.

*Feeling grateful to the nice ticket agent who had earlier played Thomas trains with Liam (while I switched flights), then carried sleeping Liam and his Thomas backpack onto the airplane for me, since I was wearing a sleeping (again) Rowan and carrying two diaper bags and Liam's stuffed dog. Both boys slept through the entire flight, even though we were right next to the propeller. I enjoyed a complimentary NW microbrew from Octoberfest and dozed during the flight, then managed to wake Liam up enough for him to walk off the plane to the (still collapsed, thanks Horizon) stroller.

I think it would be difficult to have an uneventful flight when traveling alone with two small children. Overall, everything went quite well. The staff was friendly and helpful. Even that darn customs' agent was well-meaning.

*when traveling on Korean Air (or any other non-western airline), order the Korean (or other local) dinner option. The bibimbap was pretty good for instant airline food. The western-style beef dish did not look appetizing.
*you cannot overplan. I had a schedule planned out in my head before leaving, including when they were going to eat dinner, get into their pajamas, etc., etc. Mock me for my anal-retentiveness if you want, but I think everything went smoother because of that.
*make sure you have smaller bills in all types of currency. I had to visit the currency exchange counter with the porter because he didn't have any change available and I only had a $50.
*bring plenty of new exciting toys for kiddos. Liam got three new Thomas trains and a carrying case of small dinosaurs, which helped immensely. He also had new crayons and stickers from his friend Alex (Thanks, Brian!).

That's all (HA!) that I can think of at the moment. We've been back almost three days and, after several really busy days, the jetlag is catching up with me again. I feel like I'm on cold medication, even though I'm not. Hopefully, I can get a good night's sleep tonight and get back into the swing of things.

freaky footed fish

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Since Liam loves looking at the fish for sale here (as in to be cut up and eaten fresh, fresh, fresh), we've seen pretty much every species of fish eaten in Korea. We've seen these ugly guys (not the ugliest, however, that title belongs to the Pacific Lumpsucker) around before, but just realized recently that they have FEET. What kind of crazy, mutant fish has FEET? No, that's a real question. When I google "Korea fish feet," the results I get are all for "doctor fish," the fish I wrote about yesterday which nibble the dead skin off your feet. Does anyone know what these fish are called?

(I apologize for the poor quality of the photo. The fish were in a weird-shaped tank.)


Monday, September 28, 2009

How did we live in Sokcho for almost 27 months (combined total) without going to Waterpia? Yes, it's a bit expensive (at W33,000 full adult price, with price drops later in the day) and can be quite crowded at times; however, our family had a blast! If we were staying longer, we would definitely go again.

When my friend invited us to join her family, I was a bit apprehensive. I don't have a swimsuit here and didn't really want to buy one just for a few hours at a water park. My friend reassured me that she just wears a t-shirt and shorts, so I could do the same. In retrospect, it would have been worth it to buy a swimsuit. Suits are also available for rent, but this strikes me as a little strange.

As soon as you go through the front entrance, you remove your shoes and take them to the locker with the number corresponding to a number on your receipt. You then take the key from that locker to use for the same number locker in the changing room. The key is on one of those spiral cord keychains that you can put on your arm or ankle while you're in the pool. It's all very well organized, which is typically Korean.

Matthew decided to wear his shirt, since my friend's husband was wearing his. As you can see, not everyone did this. The dads & toddlers spent most of their time in the shallow end of the wave pool, which was only on about 20 minutes out of every hour. (Matthew did get to go down the huge slide -- no toddlers allowed -- while the rest of us were having a snack. He went about eight times in a row, until his legs could no longer carry him up the stairs.)

That's my friend's nephew (her husband's second brother's son) catching a ride by hanging onto Matthew's shirt.

Rowan also enjoyed the wave pool during the brief time he was wearing his swim trunks. We ended up changing the babies back into normal clothes after a bit so they would be more comfortable in their carriers and not soak us. Also, I kept thinking Rowan was going to take his long-overdue nap. He finally did...after several hours.

I tried the "doctor fish" pool, which I'd added to my "Korean Coop List" after Mama Seoul suggested it and Kwangdong Brian confirmed that Waterpia had such a pool. It was a blast! My feet are EXTREMELY TICKLISH. INSANELY TICKLISH. At first, the sensation of dozens of little fish nibbling the dead skin off my feet and ankles (as far as they could reach) was almost unbearable.

By the time my friend took this picture, I had adjusted slightly, but still couldn't stop laughing and grinning like an idiot:

After a few more minutes, I became even more accustomed to the feeling and could hold steady enough to shoot this video:

MinJeong had tried the doctor fish briefly before, but had thought it felt too weird. When the attendant offered to let her stick her feet in for free (I paid W6000 like every other adult -- W4000 for children), she decided to give it another try. Her reaction:

Back in the wave pool, Liam rocked the pink flotation device that MinJeong borrowed from another friend:

Liam conferring with JunMin and his cousin JunHo (the H is pretty much silent):

Liam wound down a little in the kiddy pool while Matthew changed back into street clothes:

You could easily spend an entire day in the waterpark. There is so much to do (see the website for proof) and various eateries in the food court and scattered around the park, including a "well-being" Lotteria (which means it has a limited menu and doesn't serve french!), a "Sand & Food" sandwich shop, and -- curiously -- at least two hot dog places, as well as more traditional Korean food.

We were there for about four hours, including snack time, but excluding changing time. Had we gone earlier in the day, Liam & his friend probably would have lasted longer. As it was, JunMin fell asleep on the car ride home and Liam went to bed quite soon after arriving home. (This was awesome because MinJeong and her husband came over to our place for fresh salmon and gourmet macaroni & cheese. We had a peaceful dinner with adult conversation as the babies quietly played together.)

Changdeokgung (palace)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The top thing on my "coop list" was to visit a Korean palace during our final trip to Seoul. Based on a number of recommendations, I chose Changdeokgung, which was just a short walk from Insadong, where we were staying.

You can read all about Changdeokgung elsewhere on the web, but here are my thoughts:
*palaces in Korea are very similar to temples (as my friend J.E. pointed out) in architectural style, just a lot bigger
*an English tour might be more interesting (than the Korean one we took), but unless you're right up with the tour guide, it probably wouldn't make much difference
*the last tour of the day is pretty lame, because the staff is trying to lock up behind the tour group. It's not really a relaxing stroll.

I won't try to narrate the pictures, because I couldn't really tell you what anything is. Even if my Korean was good enough to understand the tour guide, I lagged behind most of the time after having to take Liam to the bathroom right after the tour started and staying behind at another spot to nurse Rowan.

Matthew & his mom -- in the background, you can see N'Seoul Tower on Namsan.

sokcho's downtown facelift

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sokcho has recently (like over the past year, with project completion projected for December) reinvented her downtown shopping area as "Rodeo Street." In Hangul, that's 로대오, like the shopping district in Beverly Hills. Yeah... At any rate, the renovations look great. If you'd like to read more, there's a Korea Post article including a picture of the mayor (who is not the man who posed with Liam at the walking festival).

the sign at the beginning of downtown:

The boys, Matthew's parents, and I walking down the street:

a new water-sewer maintenance cover featuring the Sokcho mascot:

continuing the rodeo theme, I think this is supposed to be a bull painted in the intersection:

all the bus stops have been replaced:

another wide street view:

I think this is the "lovers' plaza" mentioned in the article:

really cool sidewalk art:


one of the water fountains in the middle of the four-lane road. (This is an accident waiting to happen, as Liam desperately wants to play in those fountains whenever he sees them. He's not the only toddler I've seen straining to escape mother's grip.)

Matthew prepares to cross a snazzy crosswalk:

the bull at "Sokcho Plaza" represents how well-endowed Sokcho is ; )

I don't think this is actually new, but I enjoy the random bull-with-Korean-flag, most likely decorating a restaurant that serves hanu beef.

And this guy, the owner of a local eye glass shop, proudly proclaims his love. Sorry, I'm too lazy to bother translating the rest of the sign:

dunkin' donuts: korean style

Dunkin' Donuts is a little different here. Although some of the "normal" donuts are still available, they also have unusual options, like sweet potato muffins, glutinous rice donuts, and most recently (as part of an "international line" kimchi or "lentils curry" croquettes.

We were all a little skeptical (including Rowan), but my mother-in-law decided to buy one for everyone to try.

It was actually really good. So good that later in the week, when Matthew and I left the boys with his parents to go on a morning "date," and realized, yet again, that most coffee shops in Korea don't open until noon, and ended up at DD, I had my own curry croquette and Matthew tried the kimchi one. The kimchi was actually quite delicious as well, confirming my opinion that cooked kimchi is okay.

This is just Liam trying to be as cool as the guy on the advertisement.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The doorbell rang this morning. Liam and I were eating ice cream after a trip to the playground. Matthew & Rowan were taking a nap in the bedroom, so I answered the door.

It was a strange man. The first thing he said was, "아기?" and then in English, "baby?" He was kind of looking past me at Liam, but I couldn't figure out what he wanted. The next thing he asked was, "American?" I answered, "Yes." He then switched to Korean, which I didn't understand and told him as much in Korean.

Usually, unexpected visitors either (a) have the wrong apartment, in which case they quickly apologize and leave, (b) are building maintenance workers there to check the gas line or spray, in which case they show me their clipboard and equipment, etc., or (c) want to convert me to their religion, including the teenage Mormon "elders" (one Korean, one American) who were very shocked to see a white woman answer the door. This guy didn't fit into any of those categories. I couldn't understand what he wanted at all.

"What do you want?" I asked in English. See what a witty conversationalist I am? The whole time he was just kind of smiling weirdly. "I don't know what you want, so I'm just going to shut the door," I said. He was already starting to walk away as I did so.

I realize that living here has made me paranoid, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say he came by just to get a look at the foreign kid. I'll probably never know, though, which is one of the things about living here that is so frustrating.

the story

Monday, September 14, 2009

I alluded to some of the reasons that I'm leaving Korea early (before the end of Matthew's current teaching contract) in "ten signs it's time to leave korea." What it boils down to is that we've decided it's better for Liam to be back in the United States.

From the first moment Liam stepped foot in Korea, he's been a local celebrity of sorts, since he's the only blond-haired, blue-eyed child in Sokcho (or was, before the arrival of his baby brother). Everywhere we go, people stare, want to touch him, take his picture, etc. He's become more aware and affected by this as he's gotten older. When it comes to adults, sometimes he freaks out when people even say hello to him, anticipating them trying to grab him. With kids, it's been a constant struggle to socialize him in some way resembling normalcy.

When we returned from a trip home between contract years, we enrolled him part-time in a small neighborhood daycare, which he seemed to enjoy for the most part, but he was sick way too much. After having been sick only twice in his first 12 months in Korea, he was sick four times in the six weeks he attended and shared several of those illnesses with the rest of us, including the flu and a virus that gave Rowan and I very nasty sinus/ear infections. It just wasn't worth it.

Korea is such a homogeneous culture, children here aren't used to dealing with anyone different. Other children's reactions at the playground and other public areas range from curiosity (staring, trying to take pictures) to fear (running away, even bursting into tears when he tries to play). Older kids tend to treat him like a mascot (petting his head, wanting to carry him around), but a few are actually mean to him. Constantly running interference for him, interpreting, protecting, advocating, left me exhausted and feeling like we had more bad days than good.

Finally, after hearing story after story and witnessing some of it first-hand, Matthew asked me if I wanted to move home with the boys. We discussed the pros and cons, finally deciding this would be best for Liam & I. Initially, Matthew was going to stay to finish out his contract, but seven months apart would have been too long, especially for the boys. Instead, Matthew will be coming home at the end of the year, just three months after the rest of us. Since making this decision, there's been even more craziness on the playground that confirmed my decision and led me to avoid the playgrounds after about 2 p.m. when the elementary schools let out in the afternoon.

I don't want to make it sound like Korean people are horrible in any way. The older people are overbearing and abrupt, but they generally mean well. The younger adults (those currently raising children and younger) are mostly understanding and kind. The children just don't seem to know better. What it really comes down to is that we don't belong here. This is not our home. Maybe if we'd stuck to our original plan to live closer to Seoul (and other ex-pat families), we could have made it work longer, but we liked Sokcho and the people we had worked for during our first stay. I'm not leaving with any hard feelings towards the country or the people, I just feel that it's time for us to leave. I've met a lot of amazing people here, both Koreans and ex-pats, and had many wonderful experiences.

kimchi recipe (and bonus essay)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

(click on picture to enlarge)

As I've said before, I don't care for kimchi. It's not that I don't like spicy food, as most Koreans seem to believe is the only reason foreigners could possibly not like "the most delicious and healthy food in Korea." (See essay at the end of this entry.) I love spicy Mexican and Thai food, just to name my two favorite cuisines. Kimchi is slimy and sour, in addition to being spicy. I've been told that if I keep eating it, I'll eventually grow to like it and even become addicted. To which I reply, why would I want to force myself to become addicted to something?

Many people (including Matthew) do like kimchi, however, and might be interested in making the stinky (seriously, when Matthew opens a jar at home, I start inspecting the boys' diapers to see who made Mommy a present), slimy stuff. A new Korean teacher at Matthew's school wrote out the recipe for him. This is a bit amazing, since most Koreans I've asked don't know how to make kimchi themselves. Their mothers or mothers-in-law do all the kimchi-making. I wonder if it's becoming a lost art among the younger generation of Koreans.

I will do my best to type it below, in case you have difficulties reading the photograph above. Some parts do not entirely make sense to me. Some quantities/amounts she added in to the original directions. I don't really think 2 c of red pepper powder means 2 cups, maybe 2 ccs. Also, she doesn't say anything about letting it ferment. Maybe you can figure it out. Think of it as a culinary adventure.

Kimchi Recipe (by Jane)

1. Cut the cabbage into quarters.

2. Spread salt on the cabbage. And let it be 4-5 hours. (The salt should be bigger one like this [sample salt is taped to page] One handful of salt per 3 quarters of cabbage)

And Now Let's make Sauce
([for] 3 cabbage) Get ready --> Red pepper powder (2 c), well minced garlic (7-8), well minced green onion (3), salted fish juice (2 table spoon per one quarter of cabbage), sugar (2 tablespoon), salted shrimp (2T), 1 fresh oyster, 1 onion, 1 pear or apple.

3. Put onion and pear in the blender.

4. Put everything in a bowl and mix well.

5. Pour half cup of water in a pan, and put 2 tablespoon of wheat flour. Boil it with low temperature. Keep stir it. When it looks like glue. Then stay it to get cold. And then mix with the sauce.

Sauce Ready!

6. Wash off the cabbage and let it water drip.

[illustration of cabbage on a wicker tray]
(It'll take 3 hours to dry.)

7. Finally spread the sauce on the cabbage. Yummy~

[And then an illustration at the bottom. It's apparently Matthew as Dr. House from "House MD," yielding a scalpel and proclaiming, "I'm a surgern." Hmmm...maybe an allusion to his ambition to become an MD? Or maybe she thinks his personality is like House?]

Finally, as promised, a middle school student's essay that I corrected this week. The prompt was, "Does Kimchi have medicinal properties beyond fresh fruits and vegetables at increasing the body's resistance to swine flu, the HIV virus, and other diseases?" I'm typing out the student's original response, without corrections. (Although there are some errors and the student doesn't actually answer the question, you have to admit this student's mastery of a foreign language is pretty darn good for middle school, an age when many American students haven't even begun learning a second language.)

Kimchi has been the most delicious and healthy food in Korea. Many Americans hate to eat it because it's too spicy. However, they will start to it at once if they know how good Kimchi is.

First of all, Kimchi is a anti-cancer food. Many healthy ingredients are included in Kimchi such as cabbage which prevents intenstine cancer and garlic which prevents stomach cancer. those who don't want to get cancer really should eat Kimchi.

In addition to that, Kimchi is a vitamin-containing food. Besides, when Kimchi is passing through the fermenting stage, containment of vitamin increases up to over two times than initial containment of vitamin.

What is more, Kimchi is a low calory food. It contains a lot of eatable fiber. Thus, it prevents and treat all kind of adult diseases like diabetes, heart diseases and fat, etc.

Now you see how healthy you would be to eat Kimchi. I'm proud of my ancestor who invented a laudable food -- Kimchi. I highly recommend people to eat Kimchi, and hope they like it.

my korean coop list

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Since I'm planning to "fly the coop" in just under five weeks , I've begun composing a "coop list" (my version of a "bucket list") of things I want to do or try before then. (I may write a post later about why I'm leaving prematurely. Matthew is staying until the end of the year and may keep up this blog.)

So far the two I've accomplished have been food related. Both items are uniquely Korean, or at least uniquely Asian, food combinations you just won't find in the U.S., or at least I've never seen them there.

The first is 피자 돈까스 (pizza donkkaseu) a variation on tonkatsu (Japanese breaded, fried pork cutlet). Regular donkkaseu has been a comfort food favorite for most of my time in Korea. I wasn't so sure about the addition of pizza cheese (mozzarella) and (in one of the versions I tried) corn would make it better. It actually does. I had to order it a third time, just so I could take a picture. The first time, we ordered in and I was so hungry by the time the food came that I couldn't wait long enough to take a picture. The second time, I ended up with take-out (that's what happens when two moms with two toddlers and two babies try to dine out), so it was already cut into bite-size pieces. (Most Koreans apparently do not own knives and forks, so take-out is made to be eaten with the chopsticks and spoons that everyone is sure to have.) I think I'm done now, though. Consuming that much fat in one meal does not sit very well with my stomach.

Pizza donkkaseu (served with rice, room temperature corn, cherry tomatoes, and shredded cabbage with pink sauce (AKA ghetto 1000 Island; ketchup & mayonnaise):

A close up of the cheesy goodness inside. Another version is called 치즈 돈까스 (cheese donkkaseu) which has a slice of processed cheese (i.e. "American" cheese) either on top or inside. No thanks.

My second "I really have to try that before I leave Korea" food was a corn dog and one solid piece. I don't actually know what it's called. I always see them being served up at carts near the beach or stands at Mt. Seorak. At first, I thought it just looked weird. Another variation on the corn dog here includes dipping the finished product in chocolate and sprinkles. Seriously. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Why bother having two separate items when you could just have a complete meal on a stick? Y'know...minus any actual vegetables -- do fried potatoes really count? -- or fruit or...well, you get the idea. Health food this is not. (Note the concerned look on Rowan's face. Liam doesn't really want anything to do with it.)

The vendors prepare them ahead of time, then fry it again to freshen it up a bit, before drizzling ketchup over the concoction and serving. Liam almost...but not quite...took a bite. Again, it was actually pretty good, but I don't plan to eat it again because it's not exactly (how you say?) "good for me."

As for the rest of my list, the parts I haven't done yet...there's only one thing:
see a palace or something similarly historic and royal and stuff
I've wanted to do this for a long time. On our one-week, whirlwind tour of the peninsula (or at least the coastline) in July 2006, we went to 경복궁(Gyeongbokgung), but were foiled by torrential rain. 창덕궁 (Changdeokgung) is actually supposed to be more impressive, but can only be seen on a guided tour (3 per day according to Lonely Planet). We'll be in Seoul two weekends from now with my in-laws, so I'm hoping to tour one of those (or another, if anyone has a recommendation) then.

I've been told repeatedly that I should visit a 찜질방 (Jjimjilbang -- public bath house), but I'm just not interested. To say that I'm not into public nudity is an understatement. I waived my P.E. requirements in high school, not because of religious reasons as the waiver request said, but because I HATED showering in front of my classmates. I know that I should be over that now that I'm over thirty and have gone through pregnancy and birth twice, but the idea of old Korean ladies staring at me, and possibly poking and prodding my wobbly bits (a friend has a hilarious, but horrifying story of her jjimjilbang experience) does not excite me.

If anyone has suggestions of other things I should do/see while I'm here, I'd love to hear them. (Just as long as they don't involve public nudity.)
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