Saturday, October 23, 2010

Blind Man's Massage

Note: Nothing at all like Blind Man's Bluff.

So I met up with Audrey this afternoon to use the vouchers we got from the speed dating night. I couldn't actually find my voucher in the end, so instead of going to the posh spa that we originally intended to go to, we went to a massage parlor that she had been to before. Where 90% of the masseurs were blind.

Yeah. When she told me that I went, "Whoa. Really?" But it makes sense, right? Your other senses are supposed to be stronger to compensate for the lack of sight, so you'd think a blind masseur would be better than a sighted one, that they would be more finely tuned to what they're feeling. And honestly, I can't complain - it was a really good massage, and I don't particularly care for massages. And it was cheap (they are, here), only about $15 for a back and foot massage. But the best part was when the guy who was doing her feet figured out I was American and started telling me (through Audrey) that he LOVES American basketball. He knew all the teams and all the players. It was fun.

And then afterwards I spent a half hour trying to catch a cab in the rain. I learned that it is not always possible to intimidate someone into NOT stealing your cab - this morning when I yelled at the guys doing it, they backed off, but this evening the bastard ran for it. Who says chivalry is dead? Thank goodness I am home in my flannel jammies and supersoft fuzzy Korean socks. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't leave the house tonight for love OR money!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Shanghai American

You've gotta understand something. For the last year, I've mostly associated with Brits. I'm not going to lie and say I haven't enjoyed it, because I have (mostly) - normally I can figure out what they're talking about and I quite like their dry sense of humor - but there are times when I've felt a little outnumbered, and even though I know what THEY are talking about, the reverse often proves not to be true (how can you not know what a cougar is? Or how to teabag?) A typical Friday-Thursday in RAK would be me, Socrates, our married friends, and the school drunk...who are ALL British, and actually all of whom have degrees in one science or another, so while they were nerding out on things like gravity I sometimes found myself wishing for someone who would understand why the joke about Toulouse-Lautrec and the prostitutes* was funny.

Oh, how the tables have turned! Last night was myself, Socrates, and two musicians from Minneapolis. It was nice to have someone laugh at my "your mom" jokes and to not have to translate. I could get used to this!

We went to see them play last week - they had a gig at one of the restaurants on Hongmei walking street. This is the "scene" in Hongqiao/Gubei, if indeed such a thing exists. You can get just about any kind of food on this street - Mexican, Indian, Thai, Japanese...not Korean, actually, but I've got enough of those on my street - and there are plenty of bars as well, many of which have life music. It's also a little artificial, as this is whitey central and you will bump into any foreigner in the area, if you wait long enough. Michael plays guitar and Joann plays cello and they both sing, so it was quite different from the electronic shit we suffered through (for all of ten minutes) the week before.

Before we went out last night I needed to make a run to the bank and Carrefour. The bank closes at five and I didn't want to waste money on a cab, so as soon as we were allowed to leave school I was off like a rocket. Uhh. A bicycle-powered rocket. In fact, I was in such a hurry that I ran over someone. Yep. Well, he wasn't at the crosswalk and he was crossing against the stoplights, so what did he expect? It could have been worse - I only hit him because he hesitated and I slowed down, so it was not enough to throw me from my bike or get more than his foot. If you're thinking that this did ANYTHING to the way I ride, the answer is no. I continued weaving in and out of the traffic like a drunken bat out of hell, and in fact, discovered that it is just as fast to pedal to the intersection of Yan'an and Hongmei roads...one of the families I teach left the school at the same time I did, and we kept passing each other, which the kids thought was pretty hilarious. I lost them at Hongmei.

Anyways, I made it to the bank, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a LOT of money left (possibly enough to afford that spontaneous trip to Beijing my partner in crime suggested last weekend), and went to Carrefour, where I wandered for a half-hour before I remembered what I wanted (as I was next in the checkout line...grr) - a mosquito plug-in. I am declaring mosquito jihad on the little bastards as they've kept me up twice this week. I always found it a little troubling when my Dark Lord and Master used to set them on fire while we sat on the smokers' deck at GDA talking, but after two months in Shanghai, I've learned. I am still trying to figure out what else to do to take the fight to them - for now, decorating the stairwell in the gym with their splattered bodies and getting a good night's sleep is enough. But I'll keep you updated.



*Q: What did Toulouse-Lautrec used to say to the prostitutes at the Moulin Rouge?
A: Got time for a short one? Get it?!?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Capital Improvements

I know the truth about the size of my body (how can you not, when you've been half-clad and shared a stage with Asian girls on more than one occasion?), but I've managed to put my insecurities far enough aside to get on with life. I do have insecurities, but in spite of being surrounded by girls the size of chopsticks, Korea did a lot for my self image. I could, for example, eat whatever I liked and still lose weight. There was also the fact that I worked for a man who was NOT one to spare your feelings, and when one night at the Beer Halle my Dark Lord and Master told me I was NOT a "big girl," I had to believe it.

And then I went back to America and gained 50 pounds. Life hasn't been the same since, so it was not a complete surprise when a person of my acquaintance called me - not too terribly long ago - a big girl. Still, I'm as human as any of you, so as you can guess, the insecurities were thrust back into the limelight, and now I find myself scrutinizing when I walk past a mirror.

What can you do? Well, I'll tell you what you can do. You can give up pop. Again. (Third time's the charm, right???) And I have - it's been a week since my last soda. You can stop eating chocolate bars for brekke and start eating two nice eggs with a little salsa for flavor (again). Okay, go ahead and laugh, tell me that of COURSE I've got some wobbly bits if I eat chocolate for breakfast, but it's been a staple of my diet. Ask any teacher from GDA between 2004-2008 about the Rebecca Teacher diet and they will tell you snickers and coke are breakfast foods (as I said before, I can eat whatever I want in Korea). But the fact of the matter is, I'm 31 years old now. Although at the rate my life is going I should have lived enough that I'm ready to die by the time I'm 60, I probably will not (as has been pointed out to me...I don't drink, smoke, do drugs or engage in other risky behaviors). And I don't want to be crippled and unable to enjoy sweets guilt-free if I do. Thus the changes.

I've been biking a lot this week, as well, but since most of those bike rides involved a stop at Coldstone's, the positive effect is kind of negated. And last night I went for yet another belly dance class. I've actually been to three teachers' classes now - a week after QiQi's performance class I went to the beginner class taught by Julia (pronounced Yu-lia), who is Ukrainian. She figured out at some point during the class that I was not, in fact, a beginner, and afterwards asked me how long I'd been dancing before suggesting that the following class with Tanya might be better suited to my level. This was the plan all along, so last night I finally (due to holidays and vacation) made it to her class. She's another Ukrainian if I'm not mistaken, and I've got to admit, I was not expecting to be impressed with any former Eastern bloc dancers. What can I say - I lived in the middle east, and except for Katia of Cairo, I've never seen a Russian dancer that was a dancer. If you get my drift. I still don't quite understand what they're doing here, but both Julia and Tanya were pretty decent teachers; whether or not they know all the fascinating cultural stuff that Azhaar knows, they can dance, that's for damn sure. Hell, Tanya put me through my paces so well last night that I've been sore all morning. And it's good to feel it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ramblings

It's never a good sign when you find yourself missing the hagwon (private English academy) business. Hagwon owners are dirty bastards who will sell their own mothers. And yet...there's something comforting about the predictability with which you get screwed over. I had this conversation with my own Dark Lord and Master just a week ago - and now I find myself echoing his sentiments. It's probably not hagwons I miss; it's him, and B, and the comfortable safety of GDA, which, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. But all the same, on this day which found me catching curveballs before 8 a.m., a very large part of me was wishing I HAD walked to the English academy up the street and got me a job, bidding China a fond "zai jian!"

I don't really have anything important to say tonight, just snippets of memories from the last week. Like the importance of A Well-Placed Word, in this case, "chu-go-llae." I was trying to snag a cab to Bundang on Thursday, and some ahjjusshis (old men) on the other side of the street crossed over to MY side to steal the cab that was slowing down for me. I yelled out in frustration, and they looked at me as if to say, "Oh well, next time," as they climbed in the cab. I then shouted, "Chu-go-llae?" at them, it being the first thing that popped into my head. Now why the Korean words for "Do you want to die?" should spring so readily to my lips boggles the mind, I know, but it did, and whether they actually felt intimidated by a buxom ginger or because they were so amused by a whitey shouting death threats, I don't know, but it did the trick. They got out of the cab and sent it to me.

Then there are Things You Never Knew About People. Specifically, the fact that a former coworker whom I will not name used to do editorial work on erotic fiction (until the technicality of it got tedious and they started getting headaches trying to figure out whose fingers were in which orifice). How cool is that?!?

Also, Conversations You Can't Understand and Wish Would End. Emily asked me if I would go to the sauna with her, knowing how much I loved a nice long soak in a tub with staring ajjummas (old ladies), and I readily agreed (I've said it before, and I'll say it again, nothing says friendship like getting naked in a bathhouse together). We found one across the main drag of their neighborhood, and went there, and enjoyed ourselves immensely, even if it was a little ghetto by Bundang standards. Well, we decided to go for the hot room (after freezing our nipples off in the cold bath), and had settled in when an ajjumma decided to strike up a conversation with us. Except she didn't speak any English, and Emily's Korean makes mine look advanced. So I fumbled through, responding to her "O-di-yo"s with "America," then "Korea and China," then "hagwon and wei-guk-en hakyo (foreign school)," before she started babbling about something that I couldn't figure out, and since she wouldn't shut up Emily and I decided it was time to go back into the bath. Escape is always a good option.

A year back I wrote about how I was strong enough to go back to RAK, in spite of the fact that I was still finding my feet, and that when I began this life five years ago, I don't know if I could. It was Korea, all those years ago, and now I find myself longing for it so much - cross at being here. Being there I felt whole - I'd left my partner-in-crime here, and some friends that I have a feeling I will become quite close to, and yet, I didn't feel their loss like a huge gaping hole in my heart. So who knows - maybe after I finish my contract at my current school I'll be able to get back there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Annyeong!

I’m sitting on the bus on my way back to Incheon writing this. It seems unreal that I’m already leaving; one week was not long enough to revisit all the places and people and foods I’ve been dreaming about for the last two years. Part of me is going, “But….but….you could get a job here today. You could walk into the hagwon (English academy) up the street and tell them you’re looking for a job and not have to leave.” Don’t I know it? But there are reasons why I left the ESL industry two years ago, and there are reasons I’ll be happy to be back in Shanghai, and a flight from Shanghai to Seoul CAN be relatively cheap and painless.

“Can” being the operative word there. Thank goodness I don’t have the same flight plan going back as I did coming here. Now doesn’t seem the time to go into THAT disaster; suffice it to say that you shouldn’t plan on staying overnight in a small provincial airport, just in case it isn’t – you know – open overnight.

‘Nuff said.

I told you about seeing friends, and I told you about Penis Park, and I’m not sure what else I should write. I still kind of maintain that just have to experience it to know. I got up each morning and walked to work with Emily, breathing in the “fresh” morning air, walking along the streets of Gangdong and exploring little alleys. I ate galbi (Korean barbecue) and dalkgalbi (spicy fried chicken and cabbage) and tons of little dishes made of tofu and my favorite street foods. Seoul has this great, lived-in feel about it. Dubai didn’t have it because everything’s been built in the last ten years…and sometimes Shanghai has a little too much of it. And it’s gotten even better since I left – they now have 50,000 won notes (before the biggest note was equivalent to about $10, which makes for a pretty fat wallet when you take $300 out of the ATM), AND they have cherry coke and Taco Bell now (I saw the Taco Bell with my own eyes, but I was on my way to Chili Chili Taco, down the street from Noksapyeong – Seoul’s original burrito shop and home of some good looking young burrito artists). Emily took me walking along the Han River with it all lit up at night, and yesterday I walked around the lake at Yuldong Park, and got teary eyed to see Korean anklebiters running around their teacher shrieking at each other in their little voices.

I didn’t go to GDA, though. Some of my last students are there, apparently, but it wouldn’t be the same – and I’m not sure they would even let me in. Nobody’s left from my days there, and apparently they’ve tightened up security since the days when any old looney from the Uber School (a neighboring preschool) could walk in and offer us legal support…

Then I had my lesson with Belynda, but only for an hour, because I didn’t read her directions and went all the way across town from where I was supposed to be. Oops. Just like old times…err…except for the fact that there’s a lot more of me to jiggle when I go into a shimmy. Unfortunately. We did the chunk of “Kashmir” between the intro and what I think of as a taqsim and she considers a drum solo, so when I’ve got those two bits figured out, I’ll have half a choreography. I’ve got half a costume at the moment – the bus ride to Samcheok gave me plenty of time for sewing – and maybe by the time I get the whole thing together I’ll have half a body as well.

A girl can hope.

Then I went BACK to Bundang (like a typical weekend in the old days, traversing the city twice) to see my Dark Lord and his family, hoping that his business trip had fallen through so that I wouldn’t be the only adult speaking English…and it had! I met Jung-Hwa and Michelle at the place formerly known as Samsung Plaza, and later my Master made it home (luckily – because Michelle was so worn out from her midterms that she crashed after we got home).

And that was it – my last night in Korea. Around 10 he took me back to the subway and we said goodbye and I started the long haul back up to Mark and Em’s, where I sat up til past one, tired, but not wanting to waste precious time in sleep. (Sleep? I can sleep when I’m dead.) And so annyeong for now to Gangnam, to Itaewon, and Namsan and Seoul Tower, goodbye to the Han and the 63 building. Goodbye my wonderfully irritating people, pushing ajjummas and spitting ahjjusshis and screaming children. Sarang-heyo ~ I love you all!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Home!

After being in transit for entirely too long and in entirely too stressful circumstances (a tale to be told some other time), I made it to Korea. Stepping off the plane into Incheon airport was like coming home. I don't know how else to explain it - literally all became right with the world.

I'm here on vacation for our Chinese National Day holiday. This is the first of our holidays, and there was nowhere else I would have rather gone. Even if it hadn't been a cheap ticket, it's been two years since I've been back, and in the week before I left I was actually giddy at moments when I thought about seeing my Dark Lord, and dancing with Belynda again, and the food - OH, THE FOOD!

As I said, I felt at home when I had my feet on Korean soil again. Maybe this means I'm messed up, but I understand the way things work here. I know how to get around, I know what to do in an emergency, where to look for things. During the three years I lived in Bundang, I often had the impression that Seoul was just a big amusement park designed exclusively for me; that is how safe I felt here, and how much fun I had. I'm glad to say that I still get that feeling, and watching the city come into focus as I rode the airport bus through the middle of the city to where Mark and Emily are living was like going past all my favorite rides again (the 63 building, where we watched the first sunrise of 2005...Namsan tower, which Annika and I hiked up to, discovering Chili Chili Taco on our way down...the Han River...Gangnam Dae-ro...) But enough reflective prose. Let me tell you what I've been up to.

I got into Mark and Em's place after two yesterday, and spent a good long while chatting and catching up. We worked together my last year in Korea, and I gotta say, they are two of the coolest people I worked with at GDA. Mark is the most laid-back person I think I've ever know, and Emily is mad in the absolutely best way. We relived our glory days and caught up on gossip until I realized that if I didn't leave I was going to be late to meet Belynda and her students for dinner in Hongdae.

Hongdae is actually a pretty cool area that I've never spent much time in. It's basically a campustown, and as such, is home to THE club scene of Seoul (some people prefer Apgujeong, but it's "trendier" and thus, pricier). We ate dinner and then managed to find a Tom-n-Toms for coffee and dessert (honey butter bread...amazing that I remember this after two years and I only ate it the once right before leaving, but it was just. that. good.) So we caught up and I made plans with Bee to go to Samcheok later this week.

Samcheok is one of those crazy Korean destinations that I never made it to. I'll leave you to ponder why it's special til later this week.

Afterwards I came back here and crashed (and I DO mean crashed), but not before I got ahold of Jill and made plans to get together this afternoon. We met up at noon, talked, got lunch, talked, walked to COEX, talked, talked, talked. (We had a lot of catching up to do). We'll go to Dongdaemun to the bead market later this week. Maybe on Tuesday.

And tonight I got to see my Dark Lord and his family. As I took the Bundang line down and started to hear the old familiar names - Yatap! Imae! Seohyeon...SEOHYEON! - I started to feel nostalgic and a little emotional. Two years is a long time, and this place and this man were at the center of my world for a very long time before that. And yet it's a blink of the eye, and you realize that - oh damn, am I really going to say this cheesy line? - the heart remembers the way. The names of those places were like music to my ears, and the cafes of Jeongja, the neon lights of Samsung Plaza, like art to my eyes. And as for my Dark Lord? My gosh, I missed him, and his daughter (his wife...well, she's a little harder to get along with, but she didn't comment on my weight, so we're making progress). Michelle has gotten so freaking tall - I couldn't believe how old she is! - she gets the jokes that her dad and I make in English and can banter right back with us, she's just awesome. Unfortunately she has midterms on Tuesday, and dinner was just a break in the studying, so after dinner she and her mom went home, and Diablo and I went down to Samsung Plaza (supposedly AK Plaza now, but as he pointed out, nobody's gonna call it that for at least 10 years). He told me that the ahjjushi who ran the convenience store next to our school now owns one there, too, and I was really happy to see him and his wife when we stopped in. Then we sat in Starbucks and compared notes on our current jobs and just shot the breeze until they closed at 11 (I thought this was ideal, because if I left when they kicked us out I wouldn't miss the last train out of Bundang).

And now I'm caught up after lying here on the floor at Mark and Em's and it's past my bedtime, but Seoul doesn't sleep so why should I?