Sunday, August 31, 2014

When Animals Attack

Cats are better than dogs, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a jackass (unless they are one of my students, in which case, they are merely misinformed).  Reason #1,000,001 is that cats feel no need to prove they are dominant.  They are confident in the fact that they are superior.  How can you tell?  Because you can look a stray cat in the eye without it going postal on you.

I've lived in Mongolia for two years now without facing down the #1 public safety threat - wild dogs.  I've always wondered what I would do if I was in a situation with a wild animal.  My father taught us from a very young age that you should never approach the babies, because their moms won't be far away and they will NOT be happy with you.  And growing up with Shaggy there were inevitably stories of how you should try to make yourself taller with this animal, or not to climb a tree with that animal, because they'll just follow you.  But none of that was applicable this morning.

When I went out today for my 6 a.m. hike up Zaisan (fourth day in a row!), I made the mistake of making eye contact with one of the dogs that lives in the street beside the school.  He started barking.  I stopped looking at him and kept walking, not slowly, but not quickly.  I'm no animal expert, but I know better than to run from a predator. However, this didn't do the trick.  He kept barking, and came over to follow me.  I could tell by his noise level that he was getting closer and closer, and finally I felt the tug of teeth on the back of my pants.

Thats's right.  I got nipped in the butt.

I stopped and gave him a death glare.  It was not, exactly, super effective.  It made him move away a little, but his incessant barking called one of his buddies over, who also started barking.  I don't consider myself a particularly logical person, but in a situation like this my first instinct is to think it out, and my options briefly flashed through my mind...the gate of the school was around the corner and up the street, but I am NOT a runner.  I could climb over the fence - I've done it once and this time I wasn't carrying snacks for a school party...

My glance briefly slid over a Mongolian man walking toward me, and I can only imagine that I must have looked panicked.  He, however, was not.  He must have been the Mongolian equivalent of a Boy Scout, because he was prepared with a rock in hand, which he lobbed it at my two attackers.  They were, no doubt, discussing in their stupid doggy barks the best way to team up against this slow, fat human and which part of me would taste best, because they failed to notice that the rock didn't come anywhere near them.  They didn't look to see that the guy only had one rock, and that I had none.  They just ran for it.

Which is reason #1,000,002 that dogs are inferior to cats: they're cowards (and stupid, but that's reason #1).  Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for it in this instance, and after giving the man the most heartfelt bayrlalaa I've ever said, I picked up my own rock.  It turns out that's how you deal with a wild dog (along with not making eye contact in the first place unless they are chained up on the other side of a fence). 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2014

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." 

I read Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky in 2006 when I was doing my short, second stint in Korea.  It ends with the above quote, and even though I wasn't planning on moving home then (and haven't really been on planning on it since), I fell in love with it, because to me, it meant that "coming back" wasn't a failure or an ending...just a new chapter.

Of course, it doesn't prepare you for how hard coming back can be, and it definitely doesn't make it easier when you leave again.  The thing is that when you see people every day, they don't seem to change much, but when you come home twice a year (or less) the little differences add up.  And while you may get used to how your parents and siblings change after one year, niblings grow up quick.  The Princess (in Mongolian mode this summer thanks to Aunt Becky the Great) turns five this fall.  Five!  I have this fear that they'll forget me before I come home again, and this is probably why I've noticed that the leaving has become increasingly difficult in the last several years.  (Not that this means I'm going to stop, Mom...)
What I mean to say with all this babbling is that my "ten-years-an-expat" countdown ends tonight back where I started - in Missouri.  I was really looking forward to coming home and seeing the family, and through email we planned to come down to Shaggy's farmhouse (it has a pool in its favor!)  The only person who couldn't make it was...Gameboy (I just realized I've never given my other brother a code name!  How lame am I?!?)...who had to work, which was a bummer, but, you know what's going to win in a battle between true family togetherness and a pool.
Once your parents become grandparents, it's all over for the spinster aunts and uncles.  Nothing you do ever was or ever will be as cute as what your niblings will do.  Luckily for me, in my family the niblings are actually as cute and smart as my mom tells her Lunch Bunch buddies, and although it's kind of weird (even after five years) to watch my parents be grandparents, it's good to know they are enjoying their retirement years.
Last spring I had one of my darling juniors (now seniors!  I'm not ready to start thinking about them graduating!!!) tell me I'd make a great mom.  Since her statement was provoked by my suggestion that she use a better pair of scissors to cut the legs off her pants, I had to laugh and tell her I make a much better aunt.  Not only because my advice was somewhat dubious (maybe she shouldn't have been cutting the legs off her pants), but because I know what great moms look like.  Exhibit A:  Abby, my sister-in-law.  Sticky floors and happy children (except without the sticky floors).  Exhibit B:  My Mom - hell, she's gotta be great if she raised me!  Finally, Exhibit C:  Babysis.  My Babysis can be - how can I put it delicately?  I probably can't, so we'll leave it at, "Takes one to know one."  That said, I pity the person who messes with Bunny.  Babysis is organized and determined, and she would do anything for Bunny.  She's also a helluva cook and gorgeous - it's a good thing I'm the older sister or I might have an inferiority complex (the size of Canada's).

All that said, in spite of how hard it is to leave them, not only do I make a better aunt, I think I like it more.  You have the lack of full-time responsibility (like a grandparent) but you're young enough to have fun with your niblings (like a parent).  It's the best of both least until I buy Dirt Devil his first bow and arrow.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2013

The absolute worst part of this rock and roll lifestyle is, without a doubt, saying goodbye.  This is part of the reason I am in no rush to leave Mongolia.  When I left Korea, each and every time, it ripped a big fucking hole out of me.  I left behind beloved friends and students every damn time, and it's really embarrassing to cry in the pension office.  And on the bus to the airport.  And in the bloody immigration line.  Right now I have such a great group of friends that I really don't give a fig about the new teachers.  I'm sure they're very nice, but I lack nothing in the social department.  As for my students, well, I finally got to teach them again today, and it made everything right with the world.

That said, just over a year ago I couldn't imagine how life in Mongolia was going to go on.  I was losing Domestic Goddess, Fire Marshall, and Five, all in one fell swoop.  Mongolia was just "okay" until Domestic Goddess invited me over for dinner and strong-armed me into bringing them into Grub Club.  With the addition of them (and occasionally Goddess and Marshall's son), magically somehow things became different.
As the end of the school year got closer, we all spent more and more time together.  In the last three, student-free days, someone brought up the fact that we never had made our own Apples to Apples deck, and since they had nothing better to do, Domestic Goddess and Five got that done.

We ate at the Moose for the last time, and one game stretched into two.   I don't think Apples has ever been as funny as it was that night.  Even our "saintlier" friends (I've been known to call Five "Mother Teresa" and Engrish the "Dalai Lama" because of how nice and even tempered they are...I, on the other hand, proclaimed myself Stalin last year after a couple of run-ins with a staff member who apparently thought her coworkers should respond to her craziness with warm fuzzies) couldn't help chortling at some of the card combinations that came up.

The next night Domestic Goddess and Fire Marshall were leaving.  Five wouldn't leave until after summer camp, but I would all but miss her, since my flight back from Nepal got in just before she shipped off to Canada.  We dragged it out as long as we could.  When we were finally free to leave school, we headed to California for drinks.

It was hell.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I don't do well with goodbyes.  I get a look on my face like someone just killed my kitten, and while I try to limit the waterworks to the very end, I'm pretty sure I don't make things easier for anyone else.  This is the lowest low of the roller coaster I talked about yesterday, but on the other hand...well, I think Bronte said it best when I left Korea the second time.  I'm paraphrasing, but basically she told me that it was worth the pain of saying goodbye, because it meant that you had lived fully in those moments, those relationships, that you had put all of yourself into them, because otherwise it wouldn't hurt.  I've known expats who basically live the same lives they had back home, just long-distance.  They might be in a different country, but they don't immerse themselves in where they are.  Oh sure, they go out for drinks, but their primary relationships are with their family or even friends back home.  Their standard of living doesn't change - they don't take buses or trains, but instead take taxis (or drive themselves, if they can get away with it).  And that begs the question: what's the point?  When I visited Chengdu last March, the Traffic Inn had a note in their bathroom that said if you ignore a place's customs, avoid its people, reject the food, etc, you'd be better off staying home, that you are like a stone thrown into water.  You get wet on the outside, but don't become part of the water. 

Sometimes it hurts like hell, but I'm proud to be part of the water.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2012

I was so done by Shanghai by February of 2012, for so many reasons, but I was still thinking about staying on for another year.  Considering I had more "China days" than non-China days, this was not a good idea, but it took my Chinese principal's refusal to let me go to the Evil One's wedding to nail the lid on that coffin.  As always, I ended up missing my friends most of all, but even that was in a state of transition in early 2012, and I was struggling to adjust.  It was a season of change, and I've never been one to embrace it, but I've also never been one to stick my head in the sand and let life pass me by.  So even though I felt like life was kind of shitty around that time, I put on my big girl underpants and went to the "World Chocolate Wonderland" that was taking place just down the street from where I went to church every week.

I envisioned a wealth of chocolate samples, and maybe some incredible demonstrations that I'd be able to use in my teaching somehow (hey, stranger things have happened!)  And actually I only remembered the chocolate fashions (as seen above) as I was going through photos for this post, but I might have to pull them out when we start Junk2Punk next spring as an example of how different materials can be used (so there, ye of little faith).
The demonstrations, however, weren't as cool as I thought they would be.  They used a heat gun to help melt it, and scooped the chocolate into molds.  It was kind of disappointing.
There were a few different samples, but not what I was imagining in my fevered chocolate dreams.  When I saw these, though, I decided I had to buy some.  These figures were directly lifted from the erotic temples at Khajuraho, and Evil (who went there with me) was getting married four months later.  You can imagine my disappointment when I got to the vendors at the end, Pralinor Chocolate informed me they didn't have any for sale there - I'd have to either go to their shop or buy them on Taobao.  As one of the poor unfortunates that never did figure out how to use Taobao, that left visiting the shop, and although I tried on more than one occasion, I never did get them. 

I guess some things are just not meant to be.
One part that did live up to my expectations was the display of chocolate terracotta warriors.  I still hadn't been to Xi'an at that point, and seeing the soldiers lined up in row after delicious row...well, you might say it whetted my appetite for the real thing.
One thing you may count on in the far east (whether you want to or not!) is the presence of dancing costumed characters.  I'm pretty sure these were supposed to be chocolate beans, but they were disturbing as only dancing costumed characters can be!
World Chocolate Wonderland was, actually, supposed to be international, and to this end there were displays representing different countries.  Italy, for example, had a chocolate vespa.  The best part, in my eyes, was this poster about Germany's chocolate - not because it was super awesome, but because of where they located Germany on their world map.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least, and I stuck a handful of cacao beans in my pocket before I left, because that day it had become one of my top 10 favorite smells.  I put them in a ziploc baggie when I got home and pulled them out every once in a while to inhale the smell of concentrated chocolate (usually when the stench of too many people in too small a space overwhelmed me).  But sadly, the World Chocolate Wonderland kind of mirrored much of my second year in China, in that it was disappointing.  But no one ever said living overseas was one big party after the next, and if they do, there's a good chance they are stoned.  Or drunk.  Or mentally incompetent.  Or all three.  Expat life is more like a roller coaster - it has its ups, and its downs, and its moments that make you scream, and occasionally moments that make you puke.  In my opinion, in China it's even more extreme, but still worth experiencing.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2011

There is no place in all of Shanghai I love as well as Tianzifang.  My first year there was more than half over the first time I went there, which was for a friend's birthday.  JoAnn was with me - hell, pretty much all of my friends except her husband were there, and we felt the need to remedy the fact that he hadn't come with us about two weeks later.  We ate dinner at the same restaurant, Bali Bali; the food was okay, but we were more charmed by the building. 

Tianzifang is partly known for this architecture, which I had to look up to find the name...shikumen.  Between these 2-3 story structures are narrow alleys, along which are galleries and shops, some selling communist kitsch, others selling stationery with mangled English.  The narrow alleys are hellish on a Saturday afternoon,  but I've braved them more than once. 
On the night I went back with JoAnn and Michael, however, it was cool and rainy.  We wandered into the museum this fountain is attached to and saw the most incredible glass art.  The prices were pretty steep, but I fell in love with a necklace that I went back for after payday, and never felt buyer's remorse!
Of all the art in this art heavy district, this was one of my two favorites.  This guy makes paintings of traditional Chinese landscapes with ink, but does away with all the fancy brushes...he uses his fingers to get the job done.  It kind of shocked me to see what he could do.  (The other favorite was work by a surrealist/printmaker/illustrator.  I'm still wishing I'd found a way to afford the print of the girl riding the tiger made out of rabbits.  It was cool).
Another favorite was the place that sold ocarinas.  In a former life I was a flutist, and I own more than a couple of these clay whistles.  It was incredible to see them in so many shapes and sizes.
The variety of restaurants was another draw for me, and led to more than one guilty post-church Sunday afternoon side trip (not my fault that a:I was starving when church got out, b: it was right on my metro ride, and c: I was still a ridiculous distance from home!)  Some of them are better than others.  Yes, the sign says Teddy Bear Thailand Restaurant.  No, I never ate there.  I went back to Bali Bali a number of times and was a fan of Lotus Land Indian restaurant, too - but probably would have passed them both by if the New York Style Pizza had ever been open after I finally discovered their Brooklyn.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2010

In August 2010 I moved to Shanghai.  What made this move different from other expat adventures was the fact that I already knew people who would be in Shanghai...not only Socrates, whom I was stupidly following there, but our colleague Meen from RAK as well as a teacher I never actually worked with in Korea, Roisin.  I knew she was cool because she had become friends with MY cool friends during the year I was gone to Bahrain, but I didn't realize exactly how cool she was until I made it to Shanghai and, in spite of not actually knowing me all that well, she welcomed me to China.
Within the first month I was there she asked if I'd be interested in going to the big, fat birthday party of an Irishman named Nick.  Shanghai is chock full of expats, but none bring the craic like the Irish.  In fact, there is a big Irish organization, the aptly named Shanghai Ireland Association, and if they were the mafia, Nick would have been one of their dons.  Thus the big birthday party.  Complete with guys in kilts.  Authentically wearing nothing underneath.  Kilts are Scottish, you say?  Who cares???
Roisin, being Irish, was our link to the Irish mafia (she also organized our tickets to the St. Pat's ball, which was even better craic, even if I did forget my bag o' swag when I left that night).  She even let me bring Socrates and Meen (if that doesn't seem like a big deal, you've obviously never socialized with Socrates before).
If I could change one thing about my two years in Shanghai, I'd want to spend more time with Meen.  She was always up to try new things, and I never had bad Chinese food with her.  My last two weeks there she let me stay at her apartment (the Hami Lu Hilton!) when I had to clear out of mine to make way for a new tenant.

In addition to good friends and men in kilts there were some rockin' tunes, some of which were on bagpipes.  There was also food and booze - which I generously allowed others to partake of in my stead.  It was a really great evening, and it added to the hopeful feeling I had that Shanghai was going to turn out to be a really great place.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2009

I tried to be a homebody.  I really did.  In November of 2008 I moved back to the States, to see how that would work out for me.  It didn't.  I gained back all the weight I lost after moving away in the first place and then some, and had probably $4000 on the two credit cards I had (which had been very nearly cleared when I went home).  I loved working at Barnes and Noble, but it was not good for my waistline or my pocketbook, and I felt fairly disconnected from everyone.  It's not that I don't love my family - I do - but living in Iowa to make them happy made me miserable, and it was only a matter of time before I set out again. 

I ended up back in the Middle East.  This prompted a lot of people to ask, "But didn't you hate it there?"  As a matter of fact, no, I was not a bright ball of sunshiney joy when I lived in Bahrain, but my analysis of the decision to move to Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost of the United Arab Emirates, factored in - among other things - the fact that I was mentally prepared for the things that made my year in Bahrain so hard.  So I went, and that move was where this blog actually began five years ago.  Happily, since I was not as zealous a blogger as I am today, there were plenty of memories to choose from, and I went with the road trip to Fujairah I took with some friends that fall.
First and foremost, I want to thank Melissa for these pictures.  I forgot my camera that day, and if it weren't for the fact that she's a picture taking maniac, I wouldn't have anything to remember it with, and it was a fun day.  She'd just rented a car and was raring to go anywhere and everywhere.  One of the guys we knew suggested Fujairah, which was several hours' drive southeast of RAK.  Along the way we stopped at a beach which Socrates...

...Oh yes, this was the beginning of THAT long, awkward association...

...suggested must be popular with the Russians, based on his translations of the signs in Cyrillic.  In the background you can see "Snoopy Island," which looks slightly like Snoopy lying back on his doghouse (if you are squinting or presumably drunk, that is).  We winced at the heat on the sand, even in October, and piled back into the car quickly enough.
The point of going to Fujairah - other than just getting the hell out of RAK - was that they had an old fortress.  We weren't allowed in the fort, for some reason.  I don't remember if it was just closed to the public or if we went on the wrong day, but we had a good time climbing around it and taking pictures.
There was also a museum nearby, which we did go into.  Did we learn a lot?  Not really.  Did we have fun?  Absolutely.  If I remember right, Melissa was excited to have someone who liked taking goofy pictures, and both of us posed for more than a few!
On the ride back I claimed the front seat.  It was hilarious to see our three guy friends crushed together in the back.  Although it took some time to get settled in Ras Al Khaimah, it was not the disaster that my year in Bahrain was.  Not only was the school a higher caliber school but I had friends, and ten years overseas have taught me that this is what really makes a difference, and what you will actually miss when you do move on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2008

As I mentioned yesterday, I kept coming back to Korea because of the people, particularly Bronte and my Dark Lord and Master.  Well, you can't call yourself Evil Incarnate and not expect your Spawn to follow suit.  This is how he came to have a surprise party thrown for his 39th birthday.
We talked about the idea at school, and later I went to her mom's shop and we worked on the plan some more.  I was sure he was going to figure out what we were up to because that night his wife insisted I stay at the shop until my Dark Lord got there to give me a ride home.  Somehow, we got away with it.
The three of them picked me up at the park in the 'Dong across from GDA - the story was that we were going out for dinner to celebrate.  Instead, the Spawn and I ran off to the playground, and my Dark Lord and his wife got out of the car to follow us.  He got the shock of his life.

The party was a big school secret - all of the teachers were invited, as well as some of his friends that the Spawn had to get me contacts for.  Bronte had already moved on to Greece, but she provided the music by burning us a collection of her favorite tunes - one of the things she'd shared with our Dark Lord.

One of my favorite things about my time in Korea was belly dancing, and since my Dark Lord and his Spawn had been there for my first performance - a hafla that Azhaar put on just for me - it seemed fitting that I would dance at his birthday.  I had two choreographies I'd been working on at the time: Sonia's Art of the Drum Solo (with a few modifications by Azhaar), and the veil routine we'd put together to Massive Attack's "Teardrop" (which I'd first experienced another year in Korea, courtesy of another friend). 
Teaching at a hagwon brought together an eclectic bunch of 20-somethings from all walks of life every single time I did it.  It was absolutely crazy, and I loved most of them even though I often had little in common with them other than the black sheepishness that led us to move to the other side of the world in a career move that I've often thought of as Russian roulette.  There are really no guarantees that the school that you're signing a year of your life away to is going to follow through on its promises. 

But we got lucky.

I found belly dance.

Some people found love.

Others found a new career.  I can't tell you how many people I knew who went home and started working on a degree in education, because that year and those kids had that kind of impact.

But I think just about all of us found friends and shared a time that we'll always remember.  Especially those of us that were there that night, 'cause that shit got crazy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2007

I've only got one photo to go along with this memory, but it's a doozy.  July 2007 saw me going back to Korea for round 3, and although the Powers that Be typically get underlings to fetch new teachers from the airport, the Powers that Be happened to be dear friends of mine, so they came to get me themselves.
When you accept an international gig, the person picking you up from the airport may not recognize you, and as a newbie, you're unlikely to know one squinty-eyed bastard from another, so the underling that fetches you will usually have a sign.  Well, even though I was guaranteed to recognize the people picking me up, my flight was delayed (it's a looooooong history, me and delayed flights), and so my Dark Lord, Bronte, and V decided to get creative while they waited.  They went scrounging in the nearest convenience store in Incheon's arrivals hall, and came up with a soju box, a permanent marker, and a highlighter.  When I walked through the door from customs and immigration, this is what greeted me.

English teaching was never my favorite thing in the world.  I worked my ass off when I was at GDA, and although I can't say I loved every minute of it, I kept coming back to it because of these people.  My time in Bahrain was challenging, to say the least, and coming back to Korea, while challenging in its own way, gave me the chance to relax amongst comfortable surroundings, with much-loved people, beginning from that first moment.

Every expat should be so lucky as to land in such a nest.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Set the Wayback Machine to...2006

My second job overseas was in the Kingdom of Bahrain.  It's a tiny speck on most maps, smaller than a crumb, but my Dad knew where it was when I chickened out and called to tell them where I'd scored a job on my way home from the University of Northern Iowa's hiring fair.

"Where's that?" asked my mom.

Loud sigh, "IT'S IN THE MIDDLE EAST, GLENDA," said my dad.  He was not impressed.  I was, though.  I'd started learning to belly dance in earnest when I was in Korea, and I was eager to live in the culture, to learn about it unbiased by the media, relying on my own perceptions and experiences.  Those experiences taught me that no, Muslims are not all terrorists.  Some of them are zealots, some are hypocrites, some are heartfelt believers (so, basically, just like Christians, apart from a few points of doctrine).  The men can be total and utter assholes, but aren't necessarily.  The women may be extremely kind and utterly gorgeous, or they may not.  It isn't my favorite place I've lived - in fact, I think it was the hardest year of my life, but that had less to do with the culture than it did with the school.  But anyways.
Ramadan began in September that year, and school had hardly even started before we were on a shortened schedule.  The non-Muslim teachers had to be really careful not to eat or drink where anyone could see us.  The kids were exhausted from staying up late partying and getting up early for prayers.  Everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - was thrilled when we finally went on holiday for the last week or so of it...and then it was Eid!  I went with my roommates (whose heinous bitchiness I had yet to truly realize the depths of), these two gorgeous ladies (who I still keep in touch with via Facebook), and a couple of the Lebanese staff, and we had brunch in public in BROAD DAYLIGHT!  If you've never lived in a Muslim country, I don't think you can understand how good that feels.  During the month of Ramadan, depending on what country you're in and who catches you (and possibly how hungry they are at the time), you can be fined or even arrested for eating, drinking, smoking, or hell, even chewing gum in public.  So having a nice meal with friends was a great pleasure.

I mentioned in yesterday's post that being Mormon is really helpful when it comes to finding your feet in a new country.  The church in Bahrain organized a sightseeing day during that Eid, and I brought my heinous, bitchy roommates with me (don't let anyone tell you I don't try to be nice).  We visited Qal'at al-Bahrain, the World Heritage fortress on the north end of the island that is one of the few preserved historic sites in the country.  We also visited the "Tree of Life."  Bahrain is one of the suggested sites of the Garden of Eden, with this big tree in the middle of nowhere supposedly being THE tree.  But my favorite part of the tour was the camel farm.  I got to take a short ride (that didn't even remotely prepare me for the camel trek I would go on when I visited Wadi Rum in Jordan) and even did a camel (a belly dance undulation) WITH A CAMEL!
The last stop on our tour was Bahrain's Grand Mosque, which was airy and full of light.  It's not usually open to the public, but Eid is a special time.  Bahrain is a fairly forward-thinking country, and women are not forced to wear the hijab, but we needed to for the mosque, and we were okay with that.  It was a day full of good experiences, and gave me something to lean on as the days of poorly behaved students and passive-aggressive roommates started to add up.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ten Years, Ten Memories

 Next Tuesday marks the tenth anniversary of my arrival in Korea as a terrified greenie - a fact that astonished both myself and my Dark Lord and Master (who was the largest part of the reason I was terrified back in those days - it took me a while to realize he was just a big bunny rabbit) when we discussed it on my way through Seoul at the beginning of July.  To celebrate, I'm setting the Wayback Machine to count down a memory each day from each of those ten years to share with you....

The problem with doing one memory for each year you've lived abroad is that unless you moved at the beginning of January, you're really looking at 11 calendar years.  I've solved that problem by ringing in my first memory with the time we rang out 2004.  Another reason Korea was hard for me at first was because I didn't quite fit with the teachers who were at GDA when I got there.  One of the wonderful things about being Mormon, though, is you'll always have a second place to look for friends, and the Seoul English Branch is where I found my first friends overseas.  It was wonderful, because it had the eclectic mix of black sheep you expect to find teaching English in Korea, but with the added bonus of us all sharing the same standards.
We started our New Year's Eve at Bennigan's by Seoul Station, and then packed our way onto the subway to go to Jongno 3-ga.  It's an intersection in central Seoul that has a big bell tower named Bosingak, and that night it was packed with tons of people.  What would New Year's be without some fireworks, you may ask, and that's a great question - we obviously had some sparklers.  What the photo doesn't show you is that lots of people (including my friends) had Roman candles, which we were shooting into the air over this crowded intersection next to an old, wooden pavilion.
There was also swinging.  And swaying.  And music playing.  We were dancing in the street.  Over the three years I lived in Seoul I came to love their traditional drumming and dancing, and it was impossible to resist being swept up into the action.
How much do I love Korea?  SO much.  I've told you so many times you probably want to barf every time I start.  One of the many, MANY reasons is the fact that it's a night owl's paradise.  Not everything is open 24 hours, but it's damn close.  When everything finally ground to a halt in Jongno we went to Hongdae.  It's a university area and the only place I've really ever gone "clubbing."  We found a cafe and warmed up for a while before going to look for a DVDbang.  We picked out a couple of movies and split into the two rooms set up as personal home theaters.  Somehow most of us stayed awake - I remember the movie my group watched being really good.

We ended the night at the 63 building - a skyscraper in the financial district that has an observation deck.  We watched the first sunrise of 2005 from there, and I felt I was finally starting to feel at home in Korea. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Art Teacher in Hong Kong

The fact that there are no penis shrines in Hong Kong is kind of a drag, because I came up with the perfect title for such a blog.  What it lacks in phallus worship sites, though, it makes up for in art.  This is good, since my whole reason for going there during this curst bad time was to check out the logistics of an art-related school trip. 

If you are in HK and you want to get out of:
A.  The Heat
B.  The Rain
C.  Both
I suggest a museum day.  My second full day was my museum day, although I lost interest after the Museum of Art, which was excellent.  Their exhibition of Qing and Ming objets d'art had one of the best exhibition guides I've ever seen.  Throughout the exhibit were curio cards with a picture of one of the pieces on the front and an explanation of the particular aspect of this era's masterworks it embodied on the back.  They made a brilliant souvenir, and, since I went on Wednesday, free.
As I mentioned in my last post, the Museum of Art is on the promenade, and on the ground surrounding the building they have a sculpture park.  The current exhibition is "Heaven, Earth, and Man," and while the title didn't make an enormous amount of sense to me, I enjoyed seeing the sculpture anyways.

I was also happy to find some street art in Hong Kong.  Actually, since it was so bloody hot and I didn't feel like getting heat rash in the name of a school trip that probably won't come here, I didn't end up chasing down any galleries.  That made finding street art a welcome boon.  I was especially pleased to see yarn bombing on this hand rail.  I've never seen yarn bombing anywhere other than the internet.  To see it in the actual world made it a real thing.

For a long time, Hong Kong's street art was the domain of one man, the self-proclaimed King of Kowloon.   Since his death in 2007 there has been public pressure to protect his legacy, but I was pleased to see that other artists were continuing the tradition - perhaps not in his medium, because he was a calligrapher, but at least were making public works of art.
The last day I was there, I decided to take a friend's advice and ride the trolley along the length of Hong Kong Island, and stop by the IKEA at Causeway Bay for some frames.  Well, on my way to IKEA, I saw a poster advertising an exhibit about the art of Studio Ghibli at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.  This seemed like a start at making up for the fact that I didn't make it to the Ghibli Museum when I was in Tokyo, so when I brought my haul back to the Mansion I went online to figure out where the Heritage Museum was.  It turned out to be "way out there."  (Not really, but considering most of my wanderings were confined to a fairly limited space, Sha Tin is pretty far out of the way).  It was a cool show and I'd wished I could have taken my students who are interested in animation, because I think they could have gotten a lot out of it.  However, my feet were worn the heck out and it didn't seem to be that well air conditioned and I was just kind of done with Hong Kong, so I didn't stay long.

And speaking of being done with Hong Kong, that's all, folks. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Harbor Town

One thing that Hong Kong bests pretty much all comers in is a stunning skyline.  My first evening there I pretty much did nothing but stroll along the Kowloon promenade and admire the island from afar, watching the day turn into night.  (And, okay, look - unsuccessfully - for a Starbucks.)
I don't know whether or not it has anything to do with coming from way the hell in the middle of the US, thousands of miles from a coastline, but watching the water is fascinating to me.  Unfortunately I haven't lived that many places that have a good waterfront.  Bahrain and Ras Al Khaimah each had a corniche, but I never spent much time on either (although the Hilton beach resort in RAK was fantastic). 
The promenade in Kowloon (which includes the "Walk of Stars," which, again, didn't impress me that much), was bustling, and made for some great people watching.  I found that the wall behind the Hong Kong Museum of Art was just the right height to sit on and had a non-stop breeze blowing through, which I desperately needed on that first night.
On my second full day I found my way to the Star Ferry pier and bought a ticket to the Hong Kong side.  The Star Ferry has been running across the harbor since 1888 and is number one on the "Top Ten Most Exciting Ferry Rides" list as published by the Society of American Travel Writers. 
I am an American and I write about travel, but I have no idea by what criteria they were judging.  While my trip to Hong Kong and back on Star Ferry was comfortable and pleasant, I wouldn't call it exciting.  (If you want an exciting adventure, I suggest the ferry from Aqaba, Jordan to Nuweiba, Egypt.  Hoo, buddy, that's one that will stick with you for years!)

My last night in Hong Kong I went on another boat - the Grey Line harbor cruise.  I had to make my way to the other end of the Kowloon waterfront, to Hung Hom pier.  It was around 7:20 when I got there for my7:45 boarding (better early than late), and although the sun had set everything had a bluish sort of glowing quality.  I had to laugh a little at the guys fishing, in spite of the "No Fishing from Pier" signs, and had to wonder about what they were hoping to catch.  I'm sure the water is clean and the fish are healthy, but then again, I always find water in China sketchy, and in spite of the fact that it's open to the ocean, there are a LOT of people in Hong Kong.

The harbor cruise made me wonder what those cruises my family goes on are like.  The main cabin was a big room with a buffet at one end and a Filipino band (I think - aren't all cover bands in places like this Filipino?) at the other, and tons of tables scattered in between.  The food was fairly bland and involved a lot of seafood, so mostly I just ate fruit and marshmallows dipped in the chocolate fountain.  The band accompanied the "Symphony of Lights" performance, which is supposedly a big deal in the world of light shows, the world's largest, but since this is the first light show I've ever been, I've never been to a light show.  Not at the Pyramids.  Not at Petra.  I watched the sparklies on the Eiffel Tower for a few minutes, but I was far away at the top of the hill in Belleville, so I don't suppose that counts.  So I didn't know what to expect.
I might not have known, but I'd hoped for fireworks.  I'd seen pictures with fireworks being shot off the sides of the buildings, and that looked cool as shit, but there weren't any fireworks last week, and this has left a bad taste in my mouth for light shows as well as cruises.  The light show was kind of neat, but it's hard to work up that much enthusiasm when nobody's blowing anything up.