Treating Myself: My First Facial and Massage

I’ve never had a manicure, pedicure, massage, or facial, so when my co-workers insisted I join them for facials, I was very apprehensive.

Turns out, the doctor is more like a psychologist and doctor wrapped in one.  She had a consultation with me which turned into a whole psychological discussion about where my stress might come from.  I wanted to tell her the truth, I so badly wanted to blurt out the truth.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m being held hostage.  It’s a lose/lose situation right now.

After fighting back tears, we went onto another discussion…about religion.   I told her I studied religion in college and she seemed really intrigued and wanted to get me in contact with her mother who is really into the new-wave Buddhism.  She also told me in order to help with my stress, I need to talk more.  If only she knew the truth, if only she knew the things we can’t talk about.

She said my facial would also include a massage to help with my stress.  The whole process took about two hours.

My facial consisted of some type of strong cleanser followed by some intense machine that looked like a huge electric razor spewing steam.  I took one look and closed my eyes.  It turns out, this machine takes off all the dead skin.  So, in a way, it’s like a razor.  After the razor, Dr. Sophie came back to work on spot treatments, in other words…popping one pimple at a time.  After my facial, I had a massage and it was anything BUT relaxing.  Apparently, I have two huge knots on either side of my neck that the doctor had to put all her weight on to try alleviate.  Needless to say, the knots are still in my neck and I’m still super sore.  After the massage, I had one more mask that looked like slices of yellow cheese and my face was wrapped in plastic wrap.  While I laid there all wrapped up in plastic wrap like dinner leftovers, I had a wonderful leg massage!  They put what Monica claims looked like astronaut socks on my legs and the magical socks did all the work!  The socks would fill with air and the air systematically get tighter and loose depending on the focus of the massage.

All in all, it was a great experience and I will be back to visit Dr. Sophie.

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Post-facial. My skin has never been so clear!

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Post-facial dessert: lemon tea. When life gives you lemons, it’s tea time.

“Sometimes, carrying on, just carrying on, is the superhuman achievement.”—Albert Camus

Happy New Year: A 4:55 AM Hike Up a Path Less Traveled

This year I decided to forgo the fancy dress and high heels for something a little more practical: flannel, boots, and a backpack and I think it’s turned into my favorite New Year attire!

The evening started off with a traditional Korean BBQ dinner at our regular establishment: the lovely Oso.  We eventually wandered back to Alicia’s apartment and hung out while she made banana bread and cookies.  I was determined to pull an all-nighter until around midnight when I no longer could keep my eyes open and I decided to pile into Alicia’s bed between Dalena and Natalie. Before we knew it, 3 AM quickly approached and we scrambled with our microwaved coffees out the door.

The taxi dropped us off at a part of Mudeung Mountain that I had never seen before, loaded with mobs of excited faces all bundled up in hiking gear walking in the same direction, and not really knowing where we were going, we followed the crowd.

It was pretty straight forward, follow the crowd to the peak, right?

Well, it turns out there are many paths up the mountain….and well, we took the one less traveled.

I wish I could say it was a result of our rebelliousness and sense for adventure, but in all honesty, the path we took was less of a hike.  We also began to realize that it was also less defrosted and lit, too.

Pure darkness...the only lights were our tiny flashlights!

Pure darkness…the only lights were our tiny flashlights!

Thankfully, I had packed a tiny flashlight that led our way up the mountain.  We were climbing rocks and icy stairs in pure darkness.  Luckily, we didn’t run into a pair of glowing eyes within the deep forest.  The craziest thing, was when we found ourselves on a literal cliffs as we climbed over huge boulders!  If it wasn’t for the dark, I think I would have honestly rethought the path we took.  The darkness actually proved to be our saving grace; we didn’t know what was ahead, all we knew were the couple feet of light shining from my tiny flashlight.

As I was jumping ahead of the group to check out the path, I became strangely grateful for the darkness.  How beautiful is it that the trusted guidance of a tiny light in a massive forest of darkness gave just enough courage for the next step to keep going?

To be completely honest, the most awe inspiring moment wasn’t the sun rising that morning, but climbing the boulder and turning to see a trail of flashlights and candles lighting the way up the main part of the mountain (the path we should have taken) – this simple view was probably the most beautiful and powerful thing I’ve ever seen and for a few seconds I stood there absolutely speechless, mouth wide open, simply gawking.  I eventually managed to stumble back and call to Dalena and Natalie to check out the incredible caravan of lights shining through the trees all forming one gigantic path up the mountain.  We all stood on our empty path in awe.  This is when taking the path less traveled makes all the difference.  I tried several times to capture pictures of this moment, but cameras couldn’t capture the trail of light, it will forever be just a beautiful memory.

We climbed steep muddy hills and ran into a couple Korean men sporting caving helmets that assisted us up the muddy pathway and our last leg of the path.  Two hours later, we made it to the peak and just in time to plop down and indulge in some of Alicia’s homemade molasses double chocolate cookies before the sun graced us with it’s presence.

Around 7:40, the sky began turning a warm pink and we were greeted with the first day light of 2014.

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Trying my hardest to capture the moment, but no photo will ever do it justice.

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Nothing like a mountain top to make you feel so tiny!

The first light of 2014

The first light of 2014

Climbing down the mountain was the scariest part of the journey as we saw in pure daylight the reality of what we faced blinded by the darkness only an hour earlier.  We traversed edges of the mountain that probably should have had some sort of safety rail, icy stairs, muddy hillsides, and found ourselves on hands and knees climbing rocks.

To the left was a complete drop off.  It's incredible we walked this in pure darkness!

To the left was a complete drop off. It’s incredible we walked this in pure darkness!

Looks like a dried up waterfall, but it was definitely a muddy, steep part of our path.

Looks like a dried up waterfall, but it was definitely a muddy, steep part of our path.

It truly was the experience of a lifetime.

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The edge is the best part.

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The high rock in the background is the edge I was hanging out on in the previous photo.

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The whole crew!

I can confidently say that I’d gladly trade a dress and heels for flannel and boots any New Year’s eve.

“May you find the courage to walk your own path. May you dare to venture into the uncharted domains of your own heart. Here is my advice to you, the adventurers – fear will show you the way; walk steadily toward it, for otherwise you will always be running. Have trust & faith to guide you like a torch piercing the darkness. Do not believe & do not deny, but find out for yourself – for there is no truth but the one you have earned in your own experience.” -Yossi Ghinsberg

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Climbed that!

SIMON, CATCH!

Sometimes I think I should constantly carry a notepad with me at school because of all the random stuff the children say.

Yesterday, the kindergarten student that I tutor had an extremely hard time focusing in class.  How did I make him focus?  When he finally had a question for me, I answered his question with a question (Socrates was such a wise man).  We did this for forty minutes straight.  Only stopping for a minute, to put our “thinking” hats on (he has a hood that he disconnects from his jacket…it kind of reminds me of a blue storm trooper helmet the way it bobbles on his head, haha).

Also, months ago I taught the Torch Kindergarten class how to play “Simon Says”, but now every time we enter the gym, I morph into this “Simon” character.  Yesterday, we were doing an obstacle course and the boys needed to keep a ball in the air as long as possible as one of the “stations” and whenever they’d toss the ball to me, they’d say in a almost whispering voice “SIMON, CATCH!” and I don’t think they knew they were doing it because they were getting so into the game?  So, now whenever we’re in gym class, they always want to throw the ball to (in an intense, whispery voice) “Simon” because they know I will (usually) catch it and get them extra points.

Coming to you straight from the breakfast table (aka my kitchen counter),

This is (in a intense, whisper voice) Simon signing off!  Happy hump day, everyone!

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Gwangju International Food Fest

Never play with your food, unless you’re planning on making a 10 foot cookie sculpture.

I love my neighbor: the Kim Daejung Convention Center.  Whether it’s a lunch break spent outside gawking at the international men in suits or random adventures within the convention center itself, the KDJ center keeps me entertained.

This weekend, a bunch of teachers and I all visited the KDJ for the international food festival.  It was overwhelmingly crowded with people and booths from all parts of the world.  You enter the festival and one of the first booths welcomes you with several different flavors of beer.  Then, one weaves through a maze of baked goods (I was in heaven with the amount of carbs at the festival since they’re hard to come by here in Korea).  My favorite part was the candy sculpture area, I felt like a child lost in Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, all that was missing was an endless stream of chocolate and Oompa Loompas.  

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Dutch beer in one hand, Korean beer in the other!

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I really had to fight the urge to tip an entire tray of these goodies into my purse!

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Incredibly detailed cakes!

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Oh you know, just a dragon sculpture made entirely out of COOKIES!

I also enjoyed the international booths.  I splurged on some Kenyan Mandazi bread which is basically a sweet bread, taste tested some Turkish ice cream, and almost bought a beautiful Pakistani floral scarf, but instead settled for some Korean bamboo wine.  

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Very potent bamboo wine.

In spite of it being an “international” food fest, we still received an overwhelming amount of stares and random “hellos” from people.  I even had an older gentleman ask to shake my hand, saying I looked like a famous person.  It’s always entertaining being in the minority, what’s really funny is whenever I randomly pass a foreigner (someone who looks just like me) in the streets, I now do double-takes as well!  

Midterms and Midnight Haircuts

Mid term season is here.  I find myself getting test anxiety for my students.  I’ve never been a good test taker.  During my driving test, I was so nervous, I knew I would forget “right” from “left” so I ended up writing the directions on my hands.  Honestly, I like the anxiety; the nerves push me and it’s all about using the energy in a positive way.

Anyway,  I thought nothing could beat the feeling of receiving an “A” on a paper or exam, but was I ever wrong.

Watching my students whiz through the exams, then confidently turn in their paper to me: THAT is the best feeling in the world.  The numerous times I had to pound into their heads the difference between an adjective and an adverb, a proper and common noun, subjects verses actions, and watch them unquestioningly speed through those sections, that is what makes this all worth it.   Watching the children grow in their studies and use their knowledge later makes my heart swell up with so much joy and reminds me that I’m where I’m supposed to be.

Friday night at 7:45 pm marked the end of proctoring exams and I sped into the teacher’s room to find the other teachers ready to go get haircuts.  I decided to join in since I haven’t had a hair cut in years.  I quickly googled possible new styles and we were off!

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A salon full of beautiful Korean men primping themselves for the night.

I was one of the first to dive into the haircut experience (That is, after the salon cleared out of all the K-pop boy banders getting their hair styled for the night).  It was honestly quite painless and went something like this:

I plopped into the seat, showed her the picture of Zooey Deschanel’s bangs, pointed to the layers, she nodded, I nodded and seconds later I had several inches of my hair on the floor.  Somehow, it was lost in translation that I actually wanted bangs.  So when she started styling my hair, I had to take out my phone again to point at the bangs, but she eventually understood.  I really enjoyed getting my haircut here, there was no awkward pressure to make small talk with the person cutting my hair (and I DESPISE small talk).  I just sat there, and she cut.  Every once in while she’d stop and gesture for an approval.  All in all, I was very happy with my hair cut experience.  My advice for anyone who wants to get their hair cut in a foreign country, make sure you have pictures of what you want, it just makes everything easier.

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This is my nervous smile.

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Finally, the bangs I’ve always wanted!

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Very excited for my new “do”

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Bangs and berets…my favorite winter combination.

Interesting Facts:

When you get your hair colored here, it’s called a “manicure”.

Salons stay open into the wee hours of the morning.  I had my haircut at midnight and the salon was reasonably busy.

10 Foods I Never Thought I’d Eat

I’m a very picky eater and by picky, I mean I may have been borderline vegetarian the majority of my life.

Coming to Asia has introduced me to a whole new type of cuisine, sometimes not the most appealing but always entertaining.

Below is a list of foods I never would have thought I’d touch until I came to Korea:

  • SPAM: it’s in just about everything here so it’s very hard to avoid it.  Just now, I made some rice pouridge for lunch that was labelled “vegetable” but sure enough, little pieces of the ultra processed meat were floating in my bowl.
  • Fish heads and raw fish: I actually don’t mind it as long as the head isn’t facing me.
  • Radishes: they’re everywhere and are used as a source to clean your pallet, but I honestly just eat them because they taste good.
  • Sweet pickles: I HATED these at home, but somehow Korea makes them taste appetizing.
  • Hairy meat: Not sure if I was supposed to eat the hair, or cut it off…either way, I wasn’t too impressed.
  • Seaweed: cooked, dried, by itself, or paired with a dish…I’ve had it all.
  • Unidentifiable pieces of meat: I try to avoid this, but in soups and other dishes it is kind of hard to avoid and sometimes it’s surprisingly good, but watch out for hidden bones!
  • Kimchi: I’ve developed cravings for this famous side dish.
  • Dried Squid: This has replaced my jerky obsession since jerky is so expensive here.
  • Prepackaged Boiled Eggs: They’re surprisingly delicious and some even come soaked in soy sauce!
  • Boiled eggs make a great on-the-go snack!

    Boiled eggs make a great on-the-go snack!

Once a Pirate, Always a Pirate: Halloween in Korea

Who would guess that the best Halloween I’ve experienced would be in a country that doesn’t even officially celebrate it?

It’s been a long week of preparations and decorations, but it all came together last night around 1am.  The people I work with are awesome.  We all spent the last few nights at the school decking the halls with ferocious ghosts and goblins all to ensure the children have a “spook-tacular” Halloween that rivals any other kindergarten class experience in the USA.

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What a late night at work does to you.

We did it!

We did it!

I really think we showed Korea what Halloween is all about.  It was such a neat experience working with all the TN staff members into the wee hours of the morning and watching the whole production come together.  The best part?  The looks on the children’s faces, their sheer excitement for the costumes, decorations, and activities planned made everything so worth it.

Hailey and Brian: haunted house buddies.

Hailey and Brian: haunted house buddies.

Dan the man showing off my sword.  He requested several angles to get the perfect pose!

Dan the man showing off my sword. He requested several angles to get the perfect pose!

These boys are such cuties!

These boys are such cuties!

Emily teacher and I: Tinkerbelle and Captain Jack Sparrow

Emily teacher and I: Tinkerbelle and Captain Jack Sparrow

My last class of the day was brutal, I was utterly exhausted and ready to clean the Jack Sparrow smudges from my face, but as I walked into (and left) the classroom my class began humming the Pirates of the Caribbean theme in unison.  How could one not get a laugh out of that?!  It was definitely the energy boost I needed.

I didn’t even get to the greatest part yet: It’s not over.  We get to dress up tomorrow AND host another festival on Saturday so the older children have the chance to attend.

The kindergartners and teachers after a great day!

The kindergartners and teachers after a great day!

Time to try to attempt to clean the black eye liner from my face.  Happy Halloween!

Making the World a Little More Colorful

I’m sitting in bed bundled up to my nose in blankets, in retrospect…I probably should have spent the day like this, but my day was anything but blankets and bedside lounging….

I started the morning peeved that, once again, my battery operated “high-tech” door lock stopped working.  Turns out, dollar store batteries last about as long as you’d think (not even a month).  I scrambled to get my stuff together, all while my body ached with some sort of cold virus.  I’ve been pretty lucky, most of my co-workers have caught the seasonal cold but I was able to dodge it for a good three months – it was only inevitable.

Emily, Monica, and I made our way to the bus stop after Monica lent me some batteries to repair my stubborn lock.  To our surprise, we made it to the bus stop just as our bus turned the corner.  We hopped on the bus only to find ourselves packed like sardines.  There really is no limit to the amount of people you can cram into a bus here.  We ended up standing, squished and pushed into the middle of the of the bus for a good 30 minute ride.

After making a quick jump off the bus (we were the first at the middle door, so we had to literally JUMP and run to avoid being trampled), we treated ourselves to a BK whopper and met up with our volunteer group.  This Saturday, we volunteered at the local orphanage.  This volunteer group does a lot with this particular orphanage to the point where some of the children recognized Monica from past excursions.  The children were so lively and curious and excited to see what we had in store for them today.

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I ended up getting most my paint ME rather than the wall.

We had a huge group show up all to volunteer time and money to paint three huge murals for the orphanage.  It turned out to be a long day, but the time flew!  It truly was a great time and bonding experience, though I lacked the artsy side and most of my painting had to end up being corrected, or washed off my face I still had a blast with some amazing individuals.

This diem has been carpe’d.

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The mural I helped paint, I mostly just painted the pink hearts though haha.

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Staircase to the orphanage complete with a white dove! ❤

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Mural photos credit: Yeoul

Learning is Power

Life has swallowed me whole.  I’ve been busy, not too busy to update, just busy being…enjoying, loving, seeing, exploring.

Shall we begin the long overdue update?

Toward the end of September, we took the kindergarten classes on a field trip to a pottery class.  This day was one of the first crisp, fall days here in Korea.  It was definitely a welcomed break from the humid, 80 degree weather we experienced the majority of September.

Teachers and students all learning the craft of clay pottery.

Teachers and students all learning the craft of clay pottery.

Dan learning how to use the wheel.

Dan learning how to use the wheel.

Kevin and I almost finished with our pieces!

Kevin and I almost finished with our pieces!

Pottery lined the walls of this place!

Pottery lined the walls of this place!

Later, we enjoyed a picnic at a nearby park.  Sometimes, all one really needs to unwind is a crisp fall day, sunshine, and running around with bunch of five and six year olds.

Torch class, these boys are a handful but I wouldn't have it any other way!

Torch class, these boys are a handful but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Brian's expression!  This is probably my favorite captured moment. Photo Credit: Dalena.

Brian’s expression!
This is probably my favorite captured moment. Photo Credit: Dalena.

They say when you find where you’re supposed to be, you just know.   Everything falls into place.  I think this is it, I think I’ve found it.  This is where I need to be.

Learning is powerful.

 

No Such Thing as an Ordinary Moment

What have I been up to the past few weeks?

Many readers may already know because I hardly ever neglect to upload pictures to my facebook.  I’ve had what many dub “blogger’s block” which is basically a streak of writer’s block.  I come home with every intention to write a new blog post, but just like my recent facebook comments to dear friends, I end up backspacing them into internet oblivion.

Two months have flown by here in Gwangju!  I’ve acquired a kindergarten: a class of three fantastic boys!  I will teach them until their long-term teacher comes back from vacation.   At the start of September, our school began a new quarter which means new classes!  I do have a few classes that I taught from the previous quarter, but most are new.  I really enjoy the classes with older children, especially when they push my buttons because I’ve learned to push theirs right back.  One of the many skills I acquired living with my younger sister for so long 😉

I think the children have learned the way to my heart, it seems like every other day I have a latte or americano (sometimes both) waiting for me in my classes!  The children here are so giving!  In one of my classes, ages around 13, I asked what their favorite holiday was and two of the three students responded with “Teacher’s Day”.  From what I hear, this holiday is exactly as it sounds, it’s a national recognition of teachers and the children make special gifts to thank them for all they do!  I thought it was so precious that these students actually look forward to this day so much that they’d say it’s their favorite holiday!

I no longer teach middle school reading but I still have a discussion class with them.  Unlike my other classes, this class allows me to make my own lessons each Wednesday.  This class is basically designed to get the boys talking.  Last Wednesday I showed them this clip about a Syrian refugee girl along with a BBC teen’s guide to the Syrian civil war.  We then discussed refugee life, relating it to a National Geographic story we read last week about the Afghan refugee girl with a captivating stare.  We then related it to North Korean refugees here in South Korea.  It was really interesting to hear their perspective.  Later, we prepared for a debate about whether the US and other countries should intervene in the Syrian conflict.  So far, one of my students says the USA and other countries need to take action.  We’ll see how the debate goes on Wednesday.

One thing is for sure, there is no such thing as an ordinary moment…EVER.  Even on those rotten days when all you want to do is lounge in bed and dive into the pages of a book, even while I’m grocery shopping by myself, I try to savor every second of the moment:  “I’m picking up grapes …in South Korea” …except they’re seeded here 😛

Looking back at everything I’ve done, every person I’ve met and everything I’ve experienced in these past two months and it all just blows me away.   I’m so fortunate to land this opportunity and I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring.

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Making the most of a rainy day: buy an umbrella and go for a walk