Monday, April 1, 2013

Final Update

Now that I've returned to the US, the kimchi part of my Kimchi Chronicles has drawn to a close.  I want to thank everyone who followed me on this five-year journey around the world to Korea, and on the little side trips along the way.  When I first started this blog I never imagined the response it would evoke, nor that so many people would come to check it out.  It was merely a way for my family and friends to stay up-to-date about my life overseas, but it became so much more thanks to all of you!  Thanks for taking an interest in my life in Korea, Korean food, culture, and for sticking with me through all the ups and downs.  I hope it has been just as much of a learning experience as it has been for me.  I know I will never be the same Heather that left NC in 2008 for a place she had never seen before.  It was well worth the change.

What will your next adventure be?  Be brave, be bold, and don't hesitate to take a leap of faith!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Food Cravings...

The closer I get to going home, the more I start thinking about what foods I am looking forward to eating again.  Korea has welcomed a lot of new foods and avenues of cooking in the past few years, but there are still a few things that it doesn't have just yet.

I'm fortunate enough to be arriving home in time for Easter dinner, which means I can try and combat my impending jet lag with my mom's ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, corn, and collard greens.  But what about after that?

Instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, I think it's more like Bojangles biscuits, pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, and frozen yogurt that fuel my food fantasies.  With every day crossed off on my calendar, I think of another food that I can't wait to eat.  It's said that being in Korea can erase a lot of your food cravings, and that is true.  But some cravings never go away, no matter how much time or distance you put between yourself and those treats.

When I sat down and actually thought about making a list, I was surprised at what ended up on the list, especially when I let my mind wander to all the things that you can't readily get over here.  For example, I am stoked for Mexican food at some of my favorite restaurants at home--with fresh cilantro and limes!  Korea has a bevy of different places you can eat Mexican food (or some version thereof), but most of those places are located in Seoul, which can be quite a trek for anyone not living nearby.

And while I've become used to the Korean version of Chinese food, what I wouldn't give for some "American food court style" Chinese, complete with egg rolls and spicy mustard.  I'm crossing my fingers that the delicious buffet near my house is still open.

The one thing that I haven't been able to have in Korea since Hard Rock Cafe in Itaewon closed:  pulled pork barbecue.  Whether you take it with the tangy vinegar sauce or on the sweeter side with a tomato-based sauce, either way it's delicious with some coleslaw, hush-puppies, and a cold glass of sweet tea.  Give me that or a Bojangles chicken biscuit for a pregame meal, and I'm in heaven.

I also am looking forward to having more variety in the cereal aisle.  As anyone who's ever gone shopping in a grocery store in Korea can attest, the range of cereal available is sad.  Most of the options are the sugary kinds geared towards kids, with few options in the healthy category.  It's gotten better over the past few years with the addition of more Tesco brand cereals, but I am still missing brands like Cheerios, Kix, Chex, and Raisin Bran.  (A box or two of Lucky Charms would be nice, too!)

Another thing I miss a lot is a variety in chocolate candy.  Chocolate you buy here tastes different than chocolate you would get back home, and lacks that "oomph" in the flavor I enjoy.  I recently received some mint chocolate that was made back home as a gift, and the taste between that and a Market-O chocolate was quite different.  Plus, there are some candies that haven't made the jump across the ocean yet. I've only ever come across Reese's Peanut Butter Cups twice in my time in Korea, and both times the price was shocking.  That's the beauty of places like Target and WalMart I suppose!  I also miss York Peppermint Patties and Baby Ruth's.

While living in Korea has eliminated some of my cravings, some can never be forgotten.  Not only am I looking forward to enjoying those foods soon, I get to try and exercise the important skill of moderation with re-introducing those foods to my diet.  Unfortunately, I learned the hard way during my first visit that it isn't easy to go back and eat the way you used to at home.  Certainly more prepared this time around.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Final Stretch

It is now March, and not only is spring starting to make its way to Korea, I've entered the final stretch of my time here.  This past weekend was a long weekend due to the March 1st Independence Movement holiday.  That same day coincidentally marked 5 years in Korea for me.  In celebration, I headed into Seoul to meet Gail and Travis for a jam-packed and fun weekend.  It was a weekend full of food, good conversations, and new experiences.  I always enjoy getting to head to Seoul and enjoy some different food from the norm.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Tim Burton exhibit at the Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This exhibit has been making a trip around the world to different museums, and is concluding its tour in Seoul.  There were even some special additions made available to just the Seoul leg of the tour, from what I was reading online!  It was amazing to get to see Tim Burton's ideas from the time he was a child to today.  There were lots of pictures on display with ideas that I don't think had even been put into reality onscreen yet.  The coolest part was the room with actual memorabilia and models from all of his popular movies.  You could see the cowls that were used in Batman, the costume worn by Johnny Depp in "Edward Scissorhands", or the models for the creatures in "Beetlejuice".  It was well worth the trip.  If you're interested in checking it out, the exhibit runs until April 14th.


Today was the first day back at school after spring vacation.  I only have 19 more days at my school before I leave; and 27 days left in Korea.  It's weird to think about, being on the home stretch of things, but I am trying to keep everything in stride and get things done.  The last month or so of a contract is usually spent packing, getting rid of unnecessary things, closing out accounts, and saying goodbyes.  I don't want my goodbyes to be an overly morose affair.  Rather, I'd like to say "see you later" as we never know where our paths will cross in the future.

Now off to go pack some more things...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Another Year Older

Sometimes you just gotta take a break from it all and relax.  That's what I've been enjoying the past few weeks while on vacation from school.  There's been plenty of time for sleep--which I desperately needed to finally kick this cold I've had for weeks.  And also time for reading and catching up on all the TV shows from home I'd fallen behind on over the past few months.  Not to mention plenty of time to clean, pack my things, and go to the gym without worrying about lessons, classes, or school schedules.  It almost feels like being a kid again, waking up during school breaks without an alarm and deciding what to do with the day.

While I've been enjoying the time off and a lack of stress, I've also been looking ahead.  I just celebrated my 29th birthday on Wednesday (and now I'm 30 in Korea!)  But I'm not worried about it; I neither feel nor look old so that's a plus.  It is weird to think about, however.  A lot has changed since I was 24 and new to Korea.  I've changed a lot.  I've watched a lot of things in Korea change as well.

What does it mean to get older, though?  Is it adding another candle to the birthday cake?  Relishing in signs of age or trying to hide them?  Is it shedding old behaviors/ideas/goals and gathering new ones in their place?  Do we change the people who are a part of our lives or try to change ourselves to fit better with them?  I have tried my best to not change myself for other people, but I have made a few mistakes here and there, and learned from them as much as possible.  These days I've been trying to think about what I need to do for myself, to make myself happy instead of trying to make everyone else happy first.  A friend of mine recently remarked that I had spent so much time accommodating everyone's needs that I forgot about my own.  So this year, the last year of my twenties, I made a pledge to myself that I would take more time to focus on "me" things: goals, happiness, inspiration, creativity, emotional & physical health, and knowledge.

Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.  
- Lucille Ball

I had my three and four month post-surgery check-ups recently.  Everything is still going well with the healing; my eyes are clear and there are no problems.  The dryness is getting better as time goes on and winter starts to wind to a close, so my eyes are getting clearer.  My next (and last) check-up is at the end of next month before I go home.  Can't believe that it's been over four months already since I had surgery, and less than two months until home, but the past few months have passed quickly thanks to reduced teaching time at school and vacation.  I'll head back to school for a week next week, then onto a few weeks of spring vacation before the new school year.  Right now my current (slight) irritation is working out flight details, and trying to find a compromise with my school.  Crossing my fingers that it will work out in the end!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Welcome 2013

Time to turn over new leaves, make new plans, pledge new resolutions, and begin another year with fresh outlooks.  I hope the new year is getting off to a good start for you, and that this year will bring you what you want to accomplish.

Now that we've rolled over into the new year the reality of going home is getting much closer, and more tangible.  The last day of classes for the semester was Friday, December 28th.  Right now I am in the middle of English camp with a handful of students and a few co-teachers, but once that ends next Tuesday I'm on vacation for the rest of January.  During that time I'll have to start my packing for real, instead of just sorting things into piles for selling, donating, and mailing home.  I also plan on checking out both the Tim Burton exhibit at the Seoul Museum of Art, as well as a performance of "Phantom of the Opera" if I can swing it.  Not to mention picking up some last-minute gifts for people at home.

In February the students will come back for a few days prior to the Grade 3's graduating, then there are two more weeks of spring vacation.  The new school year starts March 4th, and by then I will only have four weeks left!  I am trying to figure out what I will do with the students because we will have such a short time together, and they won't be getting a replacement foreign teacher after I leave.  GEPIK cut their budget again this year, and is discontinuing most foreign teachers in middle and high schools in Gyeonggi Province for the 2013-2014 school year.  Only positions that were funded by city halls or the school's own budget will be kept on after this current contract.  I saw that about 200 jobs in Suwon alone were cut, including my school. Not only that, but my school also cut the entire department that I am a part of--the international department. Next school year the students won't be studying any languages other than Korean, whereas this year they could study English, Chinese, or Japanese.  It seems that there will be a lot of changes coming up at this school, and I hope that they will start to think of the students' education more than before.

What are your goals/plans/desires for 2013?  Have you made a list of resolutions yet?  I'm working on a set of goals and things I'd like to do this year:

  • Travel more in the US
  • Go to NYC
  • Go to Washington, D.C.
  • Visit Arlington to see my grandfather's grave
  • Go to San Francisco
  • Visit my grandparents
  • Be a big kid and go to WDW/The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Go to the beach in NC
  • Homecoming in Chapel Hill
  • Re-visit Franklin St and all my favorite places with friends
  • Become fluent again in Spanish
  • Learn more songs on the guitar
  • Write more
  • Visit a new country
  • Work out at least 3 times a week
  • Learn a new skill/hobby
  • Improve on current hobbies
  • Start a new job/get started in my career
  • Read 15 books
  • Ring in 2014 with people I love
These are just the things that I can think of at the moment.  I'm sure as the year goes on, I will add more goals and things to this list, as well as check them off one by one.  And on December 31st, we'll see how successful and fulfilling the year was!

*pictures from WeHeartIt*

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!

I hope this finds you enjoying the holidays with friends, family, and loved ones.  Even though I am far from home, I still find ways to enjoy Christmas here in Korea.  While I might be solo (and Christmas a couple holiday in Korea) I did get to spend time with friends, enjoying food and laughter.  I also remember that while I am missing the holidays at home, I smile because this time next year I will be in NC enjoying my first state-side Christmas in 5 years.

To help alleviate some of the sadness, I called my family on Christmas Eve.  We ended up talking for about 3 hours (which thankfully due to Skype credit, is cheap!).  It made me feel better knowing that I will be seeing them all again soon.  And they are happy that they will have me home from my long stay in Korea.

My Christmas celebrations started early with some caroling in downtown Gwangju to raise money for charity.  Our group started small but swelled to about 30 people later on in the evening, all enjoying singing Christmas songs for surprised and happy Koreans who walked by.  At the end of the evening, we were able to raise 250,000 won ($240) for charity--a great success!

The next day was "Les Miserables" with Gail and Amanda.  The three of us sat in awe and utter silence watching the story and music unfold onstage.  I felt a little bad for the Koreans who were watching who had to read the subtitles to understand what was going on in the movie.  Though music is a universal language, there is just something special about being able to understand the lyrics in their original context than through a translation.

Afterwards we headed over to the Alleyway where the staff was setting up for the 2nd Alleyway Christmas Dinner.  Tickets for this event were like golden tickets to the chocolate factory; everyone wanted one and they sold out in roughly an hour and a half.  Thank goodness I just happened to be on Facebook the same time that the event was posted.  We played cards and 20 Questions while we waited for the other guests to trickle in and the food to be brought out.

Have you ever eaten so much food that you hated yourself for it afterwards?  That's how I felt after that dinner.  Everything was so delicious that you couldn't help but want to eat all the things and more of them.  Turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, stuffing, bread, carrots and peas, and cranberry sauce volleyed for space on my plate...and I definitely had to go back for seconds.  For dessert there was cheesecake with strawberry or orange topping.  Add to that some wine and it was divine.  It actually hurt when I got up to leave and go back to Suwon.  And I think I was still full the next day when the school took the teachers out for a pre-Christmas lunch!

Tuesday morning I slept in a bit after my Skype call with my family, then got ready for my second Christmas dinner in Suwon.  A local sports bar, Sam Ryan's, was hosting their own dinner that afternoon, and I had invited along a few new friends to enjoy it with me.  After all, who wants to spend Christmas alone?

The dinner at Sam Ryan's was equally as delicious.  Turkey, ham, baked potato with sour cream, bacon, and chives, cranberry sauce, cauliflower with cheese sauce, bread, corn on the cob, candied sweet potato, and stuffing.  For dessert there was apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and Christmas-themed cocktails.  At this point I think I felt like Violet Beauregard must have felt when she swelled up in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; you probably could have rolled me home for all the amazing food I had eaten over the past 3 days.  But it was well-worth it to have a little bit of home in Korea.  The meals and the company I enjoyed both times definitely made it feel more like Christmas to me.

*pictures from WeHeartIt*

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

100 Days...

Today was the 18th South Korean Presidential Election.  Here it happens every five years, compared to every four in the US.  The main battle was between Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in, but it seems Park Geun Hye is winning the election.  And this is with the ballots all cast by hand, with stamps on paper.  It must be a tiring job for all the ballot counters!  South Korea saw a 75.8% voter turnout among the eligible population.  I saw pictures of people taking boats from remote islands to their voting locations on the local news stations; that is pretty hardcore.  Taking into consideration the current numbers, Park Geun Hye will become the first female president, and is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, a former president of Korea responsible for the military coup in 1961.  While many people in Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, Daegu, and the northern provinces prefer Park, voters in the southern provinces and Jeju, along with younger voters, prefer Moon.  The article I linked to above gives some more detail into the election if you'd like to read more.

I can't imagine how people watching the election results here must feel.  It could possibly be similar to how I was feeling back in November and watching the results of the US election roll in online.  With such close elections, you can't help but sit on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what happens.  I just wish that US voter turnout could be as high as it was here today.  The final number for 2012 hasn't been declared but the estimates I read online put it at around 52 percent, lower than in 2008.  What will it take to get more people fired up and passionate about voting in the States?  And when can we hope for our own female president to be elected?

I asked some of my Korean friends and co-teachers who they thought would be a better president for South Korea and got mixed answers.  Then I asked them who they thought would be a better president to work with President Obama.  They weren't sure.  I suppose we'll just have to wait and see how things work out after the new year and the presidential inaugurations take place.

While I won't be around to experience first-hand the effects of the new Korean presidency, I know that I'll be following what happens to the friends that I will leave behind.  Today, December 19th, also happens to mark 100 days that I have left in Korea.  After almost five years, time is coming to a close for me in the Land of Morning Calm.  Yikes!  I will miss all the great people and good things about Korea, but there are also things about Korea I won't miss.  (Squatter toilets, anyone?)

Now my thoughts are turning to:

Selling my things
Mailing boxes home by boat
Buying gifts for people at home
Studying for the PRAXIS 
Job-hunting in NC
Doing everything in Korea I didn't get the chance to yet
Wrapping up loose ends
Winter camp and March lessons

Months ago I never thought I would make it through this past year.  There were a lot of struggles and problems with this job, days that I was just ready to throw in the towel and get the heck out of here.  Until my awesome co-teacher showed up, I was miserably bored, just waiting for the day to finish so I could go do something fun.  She changed a lot of that for me and made the difficult parts more fun.  Right now she is on bed rest because of an accident and won't be back at school until possibly February.  Luckily it's the end of the semester and the next 1.5 months are vacation.  I hope that she will be well enough to return before I leave, because I enjoy her company so much.  And I hope that in the end, my school and I will be able to be civil enough to complete the contract with both parties getting what they want.

One hundred days, Korea.  Let's see what they bring.

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