Herein lies the long delayed update on February 2009...

Korea - Month 6

February wasn’t nearly as eventful as March but it definitely foreshadowed positive changes on the horizon.

The first weekend of the month, I accepted an invitation to a birthday dinner of a fellow I had met at a mutual friend’s going away party. I partially accepted because everyone attending was 30 or over. It’s a rare weekend in Seoul when I’m not one of the oldest folks in my crew!

We met up at a little Thai-fusion restaurant for overpriced, mediocre food—but interesting company. Our host was Pakistani and had invited a mix of friends and coworkers: Koreans, other desis, a Chinese friend, another African American girl and myself. I was highly amused by an Indian American by-way-of Trinidad who initially told us his “ancestral homeland” was Brooklyn in a clipped “New Yawk” accent.

The idea of traveling an hour into town for dinner (or some other random activity) with relative strangers has become a bimonthly ritual it seems. It’s not something I wouldn’t have done back in the States. (Lunch in NYC B.Fugly ladies?) But it’s something I hadn’t done with any noticeable frequency. Part of my draw to life in one of the largest metro areas in the world is the opportunity to meet interesting people and have new experiences.

Still, with all the extra time on my hands, and so many friends having February as vacation time rather than January, the month seemed to drag on and on. On a positive note, I was pretty healthy. I made it back from the Philippines with only some minor peeling from light sunburn and was back to school for Winter Camp. My school doesn’t actually do overnight camps—thank God!—just three weeks of class sessions. For me, that meant a 90-minute class with 2nd graders (juniors) and a 1-hour with my 1st graders (sophomores) after which, I could leave school at 12:30 p.m. I had no complaints about that!

My winter camp classes were VERY small. About 12 – 15 girls had signed up for each class and eight was the most who ever showed up! Because of that, it was much easier to give the girls individual attention and use creative lesson plans that would be more difficult in a larger class setting. At the end of each week, the girls interviewed “a foreigner” using the vocabulary we had been learning in class. (Thanks to my sister Ashley, and friends Kanya and Bianca!) The last class of the session, I talked about popular American dances and taught the girls the dances of their choice. (Salsa and Cotton-Eyed Joe, even though I was rooting for the Electric Slide!)

For Valentine’s Day, I organized a ‘Friends Night Out.’ After enduring the unflinching assault on my singleness that is Christmas-in-Korea, I wasn’t going to sit idly by while Valentine’s Day made an attack. A group of us headed out to All American Diner—nothing like comfort food for…well, comfort—and a night of dancing at a nearby salsa/meringue bar.

[I should note that I was terribly disappointed at the lack of love I saw on V-Day. Perhaps it’s because some marketing genius divided the days of love into one for girls to give guys gifts (Feb. 14) and one for guys to return the favor (Mar. 14)?]

Despite our motley crew, the evening of dancing was fun. After brushing up on my basic steps via YouTube, I got to play expert to my less skilled friends. (a sad sight, I must admit…) Most of all, it was nice to proactively address a situation that could have been needlessly depressing with good friends and great food.

Since February was still quite cold, I had promised myself to get in a weekend of snowboarding at one of the bigger resorts before the season was over. At the same time, since my last boarding trip, I had been experiencing a little tinge of pain in my chest whenever I contracted the muscles in my back. Because of my track record with nasty spills, I thought it would be smart to check it out before throwing myself down a mountain again.

Since this was my first time traversing the Korean medical field alone, I travelled a bit out of my way to an “international clinic” at Yonsei, one of Korea’s best universities. It was also my first experience at a teaching hospital. I remember hearing stories from folks back in Nashville who’d been subjected to some of Vanderbilt’s less experienced medical students and always made it a point to avoid having my body used as a classroom. As with so many other experiences since I’ve moved to Seoul, I bit the bullet and went for it.

two interns were very nice girls, cute and pleasant. Not at all jaded and bitter like one too many doctors I’ve had the misfortune of visiting in the past. Then again, they aren’t exactly doctors, yet either. lol. After asking me a random series of questions, several of which I’m sure weren’t on their standard questionnaire, (but hey, they were nice). I got the usual abdomen poking and it was suggested that I get an x-ray to determine if indeed, I had a fracture of some kind in my sternum (not my rib as I had supposed).

To cut to the chase—skipping the amusing conversation I had with the 24-year-old intern about how she married one of the instructors the year before (!) and her genuine disbelief that I didn’t have a boyfriend (lol, again?)—it was decided that I may indeed have a hairline fracture in my sternum but since the professor needed to verify the x-ray was in some professor
ish meeting, the girls are like, “Uh, just don’t cause any additional injury. Your results will be available on Monday.” *grrr* That was the end of my snowboard season. I just couldn’t convince myself that snowboarding on Saturday, results on Monday was a good plan. For the record, on Monday, I was told “everything’s fine.” Since I still have an occasional pang, I’m guessing that was the “everything’s-fine-‘cause-there’s-nothing-we-can-do” fine as opposed to “picture-of-perfect-health” fine since one’s sternum has to heal on its own.

On the last weekend of the month, a friend and I headed out to a book release party for the first volume of The Seoul Fashion Report, which was created by an acquaintance of mine, a well-known expat blogger in Korea. The event was interesting, not only because I ran into a former coworker’s high school friend there (Arika --> Oscar), but because of the assortment of people who came through the brunch. The
Report is written in both Korean and English and the crowd was equally diverse including a couple of designers and models. As it so happened, in such a small space, a Korean fellow joined my friend and I at our table. When we finally exchanged names, I discovered we had been intending to meet for a while!

He had read my short script for
Chocolate Kimchi when it was forwarded to him by his friend (author of the Report) and had sent me fabulously thorough notes. Seriously. I definitely owed him coffee considering that we had never met. So there we were as “fate” would have it, finally sitting across the table from each other.

We talked briefly about his time as an English teacher through the Fulbright program, his graduate studies in film at Columbia University, and his current work at a local film production company in Seoul. We shared the frustrations of working writers who aren’t yet—for one reason or another—working on our “own stuff” and what that “stuff” might be when it comes to fruition. All in all, a fabulous 2.5-hour chat that my friend Julie had to sit through. I don’t feel too bad. Who doesn’t like to hear people talk about the film industry? The less you know, the more glamorous it is! (Also, for those in the know, he was 1st AD on this independent desi flick.)

Speaking of glamour, February was the first month the “economic crisis” really threatened to put a cramp in my style. Not only had the exchange rate reached PAINFUL record highs, prices on the most random things began to creep higher. Most probably at detriment to my health, I had gotten in the habit of buying a white bread and fried/scrambled egg sandwich with honey mustard Monday through Friday from a street vendor on my way to work. I would stop by a street vendor near the subway and pick one up for 1000 won (which is pretty much $1 in Korean currency). One sleepy morning on my way to Happy Tummy Land, I stumbled upon a sign that read 토스트 (toast) 1200!

Nooo! I thought. That’s two extra coins in my pocket. That’s a hassle. That’s 5 sandwiches for the price of 6!!! And this, from the “toast” ajumma? She’s just as kind as can be! How could she do this to me? I wondered. Yet for many weeks, I had been wondering how in the world she was making a living off $1 sandwiches in the first place.

Should it then have been any great surprise when my hair salon tried to up their price by 10,000 won? Hair salons (at least ones that cater to black clientele) are notorious for randomized pricing. Walk in when the hair dresser is low on rent money and your price might be a little more than you had budgeted. Is your hair longer than average? It’ll cost you. Shorter than average? That might be extra too!

Regardless, I was
royally pissed when a stylist (and I use that word loosely) at the salon I’ve been going to since I moved here quoted me 70,000 for a service that I had been paying 60,000 for and other people I know only pay 50,000 for! When I asked why the price was higher, she said “because of the exchange rate” but if I paid in American dollars it would only be $50. WTH?!? I don’t even get paid in American dollars. How the heck am I supposed to pay her in American dollars? After telling her that was crazy because I get paid in won, I paid with my visa card and posted about my experience online. Passive-aggressive perhaps, but what’s done is done!

Anyhoo, my month ended with an attack of “acute sinitus”. Had I not googled it, I would’ve thought the doctor made it up. Basically, they should just call it “Attack Sinuses” because your sinuses attack the rest of your upper body by making your throat itch, sending thick snot out of your nose, and trying to choke you to death in your sleep. NOT COOL. Fortunately, the worst of it hit after Winter Camp was finished and I had no more public speaking to do. I was able to visit an English speaking ear-nose-throat specialist in my neighborhood who was remarkably kind about sticking two different foreign objects up my nostrils each of the three times I had to visit him.

Despite my inability to breath and/or speak properly, I managed to sign up for (relatively) free Korean classes which—due to overcrowding—I would begin in April rather than March. Still, with no more 11-hour school days in sight, the idea of participating in a regularly scheduled extracurricular activity, regardless of start date, was cause for happy thoughts. I would be turning 31 next month but at least I’d have
something to look forward to! :D


By PhoenixStorm said...

Nice blog, glad I stumbled upon it! Care for a link exchange?