Like I mentioned in my last letter, I returned to school on the heels of a pink eye infection and stumbled through the week's lesson plans. I hadn't taken the time to prepare lessons before I left for vacation and out of haste, when I returned, I had mistakenly planned a lesson from the wrong book! It was a bumpy ride to say the least.
I had done my best to set up my new apartment and found myself constantly cycling between home and local superstores for miscellaneous items. When the weekend came, I was quite content to stay home on Saturday and attempt to out rest my fatigue. I met up with an old friend for dinner and considered that my "event" for the day. On Sunday, I returned to the small Baptist church I had been attending (SIBC) to meet up with old friends. The vast majority of folks who had attended the church last year had completed their teaching contracts and returned home. I greeted the family that had hosted the Sunday lunches/prayer group then spent the rest of the day lesson planning.
The second week of the month passed much like the first, save the fact that I now had a bicycle by which I could explore my new neighborhood. I don't think I had ridden a bike in at least 15 years or so and I found I enjoyed it as much as I did when I had Huffy bike. ^ ^
The second weekend I met up at an upscale buffet for a friend's birthday on Saturday night (and had a little incident with missing the last train home and wandering the streets after 12am looking for an ATM to get cab fare). The weekend was otherwise mild. The new express subway made it possible to visit Sarang Community Church, a friend in LA had recommended--(thanks Monica!)--since the previously 1hr 45min trip is now only 30mins. It's one of the larger Korean churches in the city and they hold three English services every Sunday. I enjoyed the service. It was interesting visiting a majority Korean church for a change...
After work, I took the time to do something I had been contemplating for a while...sign up for Chinese classes! Some of you may know about my self-study in Mandarin and my interest in China. (I'm actually sitting in a Beijing Starbucks as I write this.) Despite that, I have yet to take a Chinese class. One of the community centers in Seoul offers classes for only $10 each 3-month session!
While I was signing up, the community center volunteer noted my inability to fill out the form written in Korean and suggested I sign up for Korean classes that begin just before the Chinese ones. I tried to decline, considering I've taken three months of Korean and judging by my speaking ability, it isn't doing me much good. In the end, I agreed to the beginning class which means I'll be suffering through five chapters introducing the Korean alphabet again...*sigh* If I still can't fill out a basic questionnaire after this one, I quit! lol.
Since last year when my Pomeranian ran away in the States, I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to get another dog...in Korea. I had also made up my mind to adopt a rescue dog. I have never seen so many purebred dogs in a pound until I got here!
The second weekend of the month, I visited a rescue to meet dogs that were up for adoption but didn't "click" with any of them. Since I had a half day Thursday of the following week, I took it on myself to visit one of the largest Korean animal shelters in the area and see what dogs are available. An hour-and-a-half subway ride, a 30-min bus ride, a bunny trail down a partially gravel side road--which I'm pretty sure provided some very old people their entertainment for the day--I arrived at the shelter. The staff looked shocked to see me as none of them spoke English.
After visiting all the dogs, as heartbreaking as it was, I narrowed myself down to two, an adorable Yorkie mix who looked like a miniature Benji and a brown poodle that was so happy at a few moments out of her cage, she bounced around like a little lamb! I was assured a Seoul veterinarian would examine the two dogs and transfer them to his shop so that I wouldn't need to repeat the long trek to the shelter. The rest of the week, I kept thinking about the two little dogs and wondering which I would end up with.
On Saturday, I headed across town to the vet's office. I quickly discovered the cute, previously mild-mannered Yorkie mix was a little bully as he challenged every male dog he encountered! He refused to walk consistently on a least and barked at every other thing in sight. He was a great dog...for someone else!
The poodle was just as pleasant and even-tempered as she had been on first meeting. She adjusted to my walking style on leash after only a few minutes. The choice was easy. I named her Choco Peppero after the Korean candy sticks and made plans to bring her home the following Saturday after she was spayed.
With exams beginning the last full week of the month, time flew by quickly. The weekend brought a goodbye to another friend returning to the States after the end of her contract. Her employer had scheduled her departing flight just 12 hours after the end of her last working shift, so there wasn't much time for goodbyes! A group of us met up for some salsa dancing then headed off to a jjimjilbang (찜질방).
After a year in Korea, I still hadn't been to one of the public bath houses. Those of you know me well are probably familiar with my general distaste for public nakedness. It's not you. It's me. I find it a larger violation of my personal (visual) space than I'm generally willing to permit. In addition, given the Korean public-at-large's propensity for disregarding boundaries of personal space and staring, "get naked with staring, space-violating strangers" wasn't exactly on my 'Life List' (nor was "naked with friends.")
All that is to say, I was still wavering on the experience when we stepped on the jjimjilbang premises around 3am. (The baths are open 24 hours and people sleep over.) One of the other girls was a first-timer as well so we kept motivating each other to go through the experience.
To answer the big questions: yes, the bathing areas are single-sex; yes, children are permitted; no, they don't use chlorine; and no, I was neither the only black person nor the only non-Korean. (When we arrived, half the people were foreign.)
Fortunately, 3am isn't exactly prime bath time so the facility wasn't anything close to crowded. Fortunately, my mind slows down a bit after 2am so my thoughts about hygiene and closet lesbians and peeping toms couldn't fully materialize between my concerns over where I had last lain the two little hand towels that I was supposed to dry off with later.
It was an interesting experience. I can't say that I'm "a believer" now because I already know I'd get crazy in a space like that with more than 10 or so folks inside. And, only one person has to stare at me and/or say something inappropriate before I snap. With that in mind, I think I'll stop while I'm ahead. :D
After the jjimjilbang, everyone said their goodbyes, my friend headed off to the airport, and I went home to sleep. After a mere 3 hours, I dragged myself out of bed and headed to the vet where Peppero was waiting. WAY too much money later, me and my furry sidekick headed onto the subway to meet up with friends in Incheon for the Annual B-Boy competition. I had heard about the competition from some folks who went last year and were pretty impressed. The event featured dance crews from Europe, North America and Asia.
Keeping a dog in a carrier when she's been in a cage for at least a month is not a fun task. Getting to the park was quite a relief. Incheon has a "City Festival" going on through the end of the October. Vendors of all sorts are set up near the entrance to Incheon's Central Park. Peppero was quite a hit with little kids as she pranced by. She has a bouncy gait and thankfully isn't bothered by squeals of "mong mong!" or the rough sort of petting the 2-feet tall set tend to give. :)
When I finally reached the display area of the park, I was barred entry because of my sidekick! You can imagine the flash of emotions that rushed over me after just having gotten my dog and traveled over 1 hour by subway! The boy at the ticket counter did his best to communicate the reason with his limited English but in the end he walked me over to...the Pet Check.
Yes, boys and girls, the Pet Check is exactly like a Coat Check, sans coats. It was inside a small air-conditioned trailer with an attendant and cages for about 20 or so small dogs and the service is completely free! I was quite surprised, relieved, and disappointed---surprised by the fact that the city had been so thoughtful toward pet owners, relieved that I wouldn't have to miss the competition and disappointed that Peppero and I were being separated after a mere 2.5 hours together! With a heavy heart, I headed of to join my pals.
The competition was really cool. Most of you know how much I like dance (despite being a mediocre dancer myself) and these teams were insanely good! By the time I arrived, the competition was well into the final rounds. A Russian team, some guys from New York and a Japanese team were left.
The boys from New York had no chance against the Japanese team. Break dancing originated in New York but it doesn’t live there anymore! The NY team was a full head taller than their counterparts, a fact that severely undermined their ability to do the kind of precise acrobatic moves that have become standard fare.
The battle between the Russians and the Japanese was pure electricity. (vids here) Their styles were quite different and each seemed to up the ante at every turn. The Japanese guys ended up taking the title through questionable technique. Their dancing was superior but they also violated the team boundary line and were accidentally—-if you can call 3 incidences accidental—-dropping small hand towels at the end of their turns. It was a distraction at the least and at worst, a hazard for the other team who had to dance in the same space.
In between rounds, there were some top notch performances as well. A Korean break dance crew did an interpretive dance. (I know the words interpretive and break dance don’t typically go together but trust me, it was awesome!) A couple of guys from Europe did a weird / scary / cool Cirque-du-Soleil type piece that was amazing.
After the competition, I caught up with my buddies and convinced them to hang around for the fireworks / multimedia / water show that closes out each evening at during the ‘Incheon Festival’. It was definitely worth viewing. There were also pyrotechnics and what looked like human holograms projected onto streams of water. Cool stuff!
Afterwards, the 5 of us + dog squeezed into one taxi for the 30 minute drive home. Back in Seoul, we had some “king samgapsal” (barbequed pork) and Peppero enjoyed nibbling at the bones.
I spent Sunday morning convalescing at home. I was surprised to discover that Korean couriers not only deliver on Saturday (which was how I was woken up the previous day) but also Sunday! I received the last of a series of items to decorate my apartment: a rug and what I thought was going to be a couch. What I actually received on Sunday was four cushion covers!
I had previously been patting myself on the back for placing several orders on GMarket (Korea’s Amazon.com) by myself. I had received several items without a hitch and somehow managed to take phone calls in Korean confirming delivery. You can imagine my disappointment as I’m waiting for a cute little floor pillow 'couch set' to complete my living room décor and I receive a small square box!
I had misunderstood the item listing…the covers themselves where 70 Korean ‘dollars’…the actual cushions were an additional 50! I don’t know when I might have to move again and $120 worth of pillows doesn’t exactly sound like it'll have a good resale value!
Sunday evening, I met up with a couple of girlfriends for the Heritage Mass Choir’s monthly worship service.
[During one of the months I had neglected to write updates, a friend’s friend who was visiting from the States asked us if we’d seen the Korean choir “that sings black gospel.” Negative. I would definitely remember something like that!
So, being the Google Diva/’online stalker’ that I am, it didn’t take me very long to find them. I happened upon this video and emailed the guy who posted it. I asked where there church was and if the choir sang every Sunday. He responded the next day saying that they were all from different churches and got together once a month for a worship service. The next one would be that weekend. Score! What he hadn’t mentioned was that they were recording for their new album and DVD! My first experience with the Heritage Choir was pleasantly surreal. The seven of us who attended were all black Americans and they were quite happy to see us! lol.]
The Heritage Choir members definitely have some of the best voices in Korea. (vid here) So long as I’m in town, I won’t miss their service. It’s rare to see Koreans worship so freely since most of the churches here range from conservative to uber conservative. (Um yeah, not a wide range.)
After Sunday’s service, I was happy to pick up a copy of the new CD/DVD so I could look for me and my friends in the audience shots. (We’re in there! ^^)
On Monday, I tried to head off to work and Peppero was in a panic. They say dogs have the mental capacity of a two-year-old and having worked in a preschool, that sounds about right...the fact that she had food, water, a doggie bed and plenty of room to prance around meant NOTHING if she was going to be left alone forever—-as she perceived it anyway.
It wasn’t long before building management called my school--(I had missed the call to my cell)--and a third-hand message made it back to me via my primary co-teacher. I was on freak out status! [When I had mentioned to her in passing that I was getting a dog, she had said no pets were allowed in my building as per the lease (that I totally couldn’t read since it was in Korean). Peppero was already waiting for me at the vet's office at that point...oops!]
I was completely tense and prepping myself for a showdown with my building. But as with so many other things in Korea, the conclusion differed from my expectation. I stopped by my building office to check on another issue and was told, “Your dog was really loud. The neighbors were angry,” followed by a tsk tsk.
I apologized. Surprised at the laissez-faire response, I asked them to send my apologies to the neighbors and let them know that my dog wouldn’t be a problem after September 30. The manager took it in, nodded, and that was that.
I had forgotten I was in the land of “contract as guideline” rather than “contract as law.” Up until now, that fact had worked against me, but I’m glad this one worked in my favor. The first few days of October were Chuseok, Korea’s thanksgiving celebration. I had promised to solve the problem before then. I had a lot of planning to do...
Here’s the preview of October 1:
Taryn finishes a half day at school and leaves to the joyful sound of “Happy Chuseok” spoken in the halls. She meets a fellow teacher to make a clothing donation then dashes home to get Peppero to the vet. She has to complete a consultation on major surgery and be at Incheon International Airport by 345pm. It’s 115 and her clothes are still all over the place, as are her emotions...
Miss you guys. Talk to you soon.
Love and hugs,