Travel

Europe Dunn Right Episode 2: Athens

We arrived at the Athens airport around 11:30 PM on June 8th after spending the day flying to Istanbul and then sitting in the airport there for several hours. Our first step was to file another lost bag claim for Jonathan’s bag, which we already knew had never left Atlanta. We hoped we’d get it before we moved on to Italy on the 10th, but it wasn’t looking promising.

We took a 30 minute bus from the airport to the city center where our Air BNB host told us we could take a 5 minute taxi ride to our apartment. It was well after midnight by this time and we were exhausted. We got into a cab and gave the driver the address along with a map and directions the host had provided in Greek. The driver was friendly and chatty, but soon began putting on what we later realized was an elaborate show of not being able to find the place. He drove us around for about 20 minutes, getting out of the car at several points to poke his head down alleys.

Finally, we passed the street we were supposed to turn on, and our host, Lydia, saw us and ran towards the taxi waving her hands and yelling. He quickly turned the corner and let us out, asking for 15 euros. As we grabbed our bags from the trunk, Lydia, a bad-ass, no-nonsense true Athenian woman, marched up and started screaming at him in Greek. He yelled back, and we stood awkwardly holding our bags as they argued in the middle of the street. Then she turned to us and said pleasantly. “Only pay him 5 Euros. He knows the cost is 5 Euros. He pretended to be lost on purpose. It’s only two turns from the town center.” The taxi driver protested that this wasn’t fair, that he’d been driving around with us for 45 minutes (false) and that her directions were bad. They argued some more. Lydia called the police and reported him. I think we ended up paying him 10 euros and he left. It was 1 AM.

Corrupt taxi drivers aside, Lydia was a wonderful host and made sure we had everything we needed including directions to the major sights, which were within walking distance of us. Since we would only have 1 1/2 days to explore Athens, we wanted to pack in as much as possible.

The next morning we set off to see the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Gate, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Agora. I really enjoyed the way these ancient ruins were tucked into the modern city, and how the Acropolis still rises above everything else as it did in ancient times. We were both in awe of the size and the age of these ruins. It’s genuinely hard to comprehend just how long they have stood and how many generations of people have visited these places. Although the Agora is mostly rubble at this point, it was still amazing to walk to through it and think about Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, spending their time on the very same ground.

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Temple of Zeus

 

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Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora

We had lunch in a restaurant in the touristy area near the base of the Acropolis and later stopped for a drink and a slice of lemon pie at a charming café built into the side of a staircase. There were restaurants and cafes on both sides of the stairs  with little bench-like tables for people to sit on the steps with their food and drinks. The neighborhood around these famous sights were adorable and everything you picture when conjuring up images of Greece.

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Storybook Athens

We were surprised to find that the Greek people we met in Athens were the warmest and friendliest people we met on our trip. My only regret about Athens is that we did not have time to eat more Greek food. My father is of Greek heritage and I grew up eating Greek food, which I love, but we were only in Greece for one dinner time.

After our full day in Athens, I developed an impressive migraine (likely triggered by air travel, dehydration,stress, and general tiredness) and had to put myself to bed early to sleep it off. In the morning, we had coffee in a cute café and then took a walk through the National Gardens. When we returned from our walk, Jonathan’s bag had miraculously arrived from the airport, just in time for us to get on the Metro and head back to the airport for our afternoon flight to Rome.

Other than the big sights in Athens (which were amazing), I wasn’t particularly enchanted with the city itself, but  I now have my heart set on a trip back to Greece to visit the islands. (This is the problem with me, every time I check a place off my list, three more pop up). Although we had an incredibly short visit, we enjoyed our time in Athens, scheming taxi drivers aside. It was a great first stop after a rocky start to our trip.

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Europe Dunn Right Episode 1: When the Worst Thing Becomes the Best Thing

We started our great European adventure in the Atlanta airport. We’d bought tickets with Air Canada that flew from Atlanta to Toronto and then on into Istanbul. Our plan was to spent 12 hours in Istanbul, doing a mad dash through the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque before continuing on to Athens. Over the past few years Istanbul has become a source of fascination for me, so when I found out that the cheapest way into Europe was to fly through Istanbul, I was all about it.

We spent the night in Atlanta so we’d be able to arrive at the airport bright and early before our 11 AM flight. We were among the first people to check in. When we checked in we were told that we had no seat assignments, but not to worry because they would be assigned at the gate. We got coffee, went to our gate and read for a while, waiting for an agent to appear.

When the agent showed up, we politely asked for seat assignments. She said to sit down and wait and she would give them to us as soon as she had them. We politely and patiently sat down. 30 minutes later, we checked back in with her and were given the same answer. I tried to be calm, but I was starting to get nervous.

A few minutes later the gate agent announced that the boarding process was beginning. We stood at the desk and said, “We still don’t have seat assignments.” She asked us to wait just a minute until she was done boarding these people. At this point it became clear to me that we were not getting on this flight. As the final passengers boarded the plane, the gate agent finally told us, “You purchased tickets, but not seats, so we’ll have to put you on the next flight.”

I collapsed into a chair where I tried to do deep breathing exercises while popping anxiety pills. In spite of being fairly well-traveled and very flexible in many ways, I am not good with travel delays or changes in travel plans. Any type of travel where there is the potential to miss a connection–a flight, a train, etc.–makes me physically anxious. And when things go wrong, even though they are usually fixable, I freak out.

Once everyone had boarded our flight and the door was closed, we waited for the gate agent to give us a new itinerary. The best they could do was a flight that got us into Istanbul late in the afternoon–not leaving enough time for us to leave the airport and see anything before our evening flight to Athens. We asked if we could just fly directly to Athens since we wouldn’t have time to see anything in Istanbul anyway, but the gate agent said she could only book us tickets to our original destination. I angry-tweeted at Air Canada for a while while being very polite to the gate agent. We were both disappointed to realize we’d miss this whole day of our trip and end up spending two full days sitting in airports.

And then, the agent had us sign the paperwork for the airline to send us compensation for being involuntarily removed from our flight. Because we’d been bumped from that international flight, the airline sent us large checks (not travel vouchers). When we added everything up later we realized these checks covered almost exactly half of the cost of our entire 18 day trip to Europe. Which means we got a 1/2 priced trip to Europe.

I know. We’re still in shock.

The thing that seemed like the WORST THING EVER to the anxious traveler in me turned out to be an enormous blessing.

We flew to Toronto and then to Istanbul where we sat in the airport for about five hours before flying on to Athens. Since Jonathan’s luggage didn’t make it to Istanbul, we got to spend part of that time getting him Turkish boxers and t-shirts to tide him over until his bag arrived.

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Here’s Jonathan, killing time in the International Departures lounge in the Istanbul airport, waiting until we can check in for our flight to Athens.

I can’t finish this post without talking about how close to home it hit to hear about the Istanbul airport bombing, just 3 weeks after we’d been there. I think about the 36 people who died and the 147 more who were injured and know that it could so easily have been us. I am grateful for our safety, but I do not believe we are entitled to it any more than anyone else.  Today Turkey erupted into chaos as the military attempted a coup. I can’t help but thing of all the lives that have been and will be lost as the government and military struggle. I pray for peace and it feels inadequate. As-Salaam-Alaikum.

 

 

 

 

What I’m Into: June 2016 Edition

This June was probably one of the best months of my life. I started a new job, took my dream vacation to Athens, Italy, and Paris, read eight books, celebrated Jonathan’s birthday, and ate gelato almost every day. This may have been a record high. I am linking up with Leigh Kramer to share some of what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The first sentence of this book reads, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” The book goes on to tell the story of a interracial family (Chinese father, American mother) in 1970’s Ohio, and the way the parents’ dreams play out in the lives of their children. It’s not a mystery, and in many ways it’s not even about Lydia’s death, but it was a fascinating look at family dynamics, the things that motivate us, and how our actions can have unintended consequences.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. A Gatsby-esque novel about one year in the life of Wall Street secretary and social-climber Katey Kontent in late 1930’s – early 1940’s New York. On the last night of 1937 Katey and her roommate Eve happen to meet the dazzling Tinker Grey, an encounter that changes both of their lives in ways they could never have predicted.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I read this one with my book-club this month. When 7-year old Lavinia is orphaned during her Irish family’s journey to America, she is taken on as an indentured servant by the captain of the ship and taken to live on his tobacco plantation where she works with the slaves in the kitchen house. Although she is white, the slaves adopt her as their own and raise her, but as she grows older, she is drawn into the world of the big house where she walks a precarious line between her race, the slaves who have become her family, and her position in society. This book had an intriguing premise – a little different from your run-of-the-mill antebellum fiction, but it was undeniably heartbreaking.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Shout out to my friend Kim for recommending this one – this book is a pure fun summer read. When Nick Young, heir to one of the largest fortunes in Asia, brings his ABC (American-Born Chinese) girlfriend home to Singapore for a wedding, all hell breaks loose. Poor Rachel, who knew nothing about Nick’s family or financial situation, must navigate the gossip and games of the Chinese elite in Singapore society.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. This was a very fast read with a major twist at the ending that I still can’t decide my feelings on. When 25-year-old Mia Dennett goes missing, her mother assumes the worst, but a few months later she returns with no memory of where she’s been and insisting that her name is Chloe. The story is told from three alternating perspectives – Mrs. Dennett, the detective investigating the case, and the captor himself –and jumps back and forth in time to the time Mia is missing and the time after she’s returned home.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Listened to this on audio. If you think David Sedaris is funny, you will like this. It’s very true to his other slightly strange humorous essays, mostly about his family.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. No words. This is the final book in Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and there is nothing I can say to express how amazing this whole trilogy is. It is considered YA fantasy, though I don’t find anything particularly YA about it except that the characters are young. Sort of. It is creative and intense and haunting and beautifully written and I can’t recommend the series highly enough.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Even though I’m happily married and have been out of the dating game for 10 years, I found this book very interesting. Although Ansari is a comedian, this book is a well-researched sociology project about how modern technology has changed the way people navigate the world of dating, romance, and marriage.

Currently reading: Who Do You Love? by Jennifer Weiner, All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

For more of what I’m reading or what’s on my To Read least, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

I caught up on Pretty Little Liars, my guilty pleasure show, and FINALLY got to find out who “A” is. I also watched a few episodes of season 10 of Bones, a show I go back and forth on watching. Jonathan and I watched the new season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt together and enjoyed it.

We didn’t watch that many movies because we were traveling, but I did watch Room on the airplane (upsetting, but interesting) and we went to see the new Now You See Me movie this week (didn’t like it as much as the first one). I’m hoping to see Finding Dory soon.

What I’ve Been Up To:

I started my new job on June 1st, but don’t have much to say about it at this point since I only worked for about a week before we left for Europe.

The bulk of June was spent on our amazing trip. We spent two days in Athens, 3.5 days in Rome, 5 days in Florence, 1 day in Venice, 1 day in Cinque Terre, and 3 days in Paris. It was spectacular. We celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary in Rome – we actually spent that day at the Vatican and were able to see the Sistine Chapel. As far as ways to spend your anniversary, this may be the best one we’ll ever have. 🙂

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We were beyond grateful to have this experience. It is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a young girl and it was surreal to see with my own eyes some of these places. We were able to go for 18 days including all the travel and we loved every minute. I want to do some individual posts to share my travel tips for those who are interested, but here are some photos of the highlights.

We also celebrated Jonathan’s birthday at home on the 30th. We had dinner with friends from his grad school program and I made banofie pie (banana toffee), something he discovered he loves years ago while doing study abroad in England.

Now that we are back and getting into our routine again, I am hoping that July moves a little more slowly. I’ve got a lot to figure out and get organized before school starts again and it feels like every time I blink another week has passed.

Hope your summer is off to a great start!

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure #43: Living It Up in the City

A few weeks ago my little sister called me and asked if I wanted to take a trip with her. Her birthday was coming up and she had the idea that maybe instead of a gift or birthday money my parents would be willing to give her some frequent flyer miles to fly us up to NYC for the weekend. Since I’m under-employed and was being offered a free trip I said, “Heck yes!” Which is how I found myself on a plane bound for New York this past Friday.

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I love New York City and even applied to schools there when I was looking at colleges. Somehow, even though I was accepted to Fordham and NYU with scholarships, my heart was set on Wheaton. It’s strange to look back on those big life decisions and wonder how life would have been different if you’d made a different choice. I met my husband and made some of my best friends at Wheaton, so it’s hard to imagine my life without it, a fact I remind myself of as I continue to pay off those student loans.

Anyway, I love New York City and since I had had two major hysterical meltdowns in the past few weeks, it seemed like an ideal time to get away. My sister Maggi flew up from Baton Rouge and had a layover in Charlotte, NC. I met her at the airport there and we flew the rest of the way together. My awesome and generous father let us use his hotel rewards points and we were able to stay at a hotel right in Times Square for free.

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The last time I was in New York was Jonathan’s and my first wedding anniversary and on that trip we made it a point to see a lot of shows. Not just Broadway musicals, but comedy shows and regular plays as well. We had a blast. This trip was for my sister’s birthday and what she really wanted was to have a fancy-pants dinner at a very ritzy restaurant instead of getting tickets to a show. She made reservations for us at Jean Georges, a three Michelin star restaurant  in the Trump Hotel.

We got to Manhattan around dinner time on Friday and spent some time walking around and had truffle fries and cocktails and tried unsuccessfully to selfie.

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On Saturday we took the subway down to Battery Park so we could see the Statue of Liberty. We didn’t take the ferry out to the island, we just saw the statue from the park. Maggi couldn’t remember ever seeing it before and wanted to at least catch a glimpse.

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There was an apple festival going on in Battery Park that day so we walked around and sampled some apple-themed cuisine and beverages and enjoyed being out by the water.

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From there we walked up to the 9/11 Memorial and the new One World Trade Center. The last time I was in New York this was all still under construction, so it was my first time seeing it.

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It’s hard to get a good picture of this, as it is so massive, but this is one of two pools that mark where twin towers once stood. There is a waterfall pouring from the edges down into the middle and then down the hole in the center. It’s meant to give the illusion that it goes on forever.

We did a little bit of shopping in the evening and had a fabulous dinner at Il Forno Hell’s Kitchen where I ate a parmesan mushroom risotto that I’m still dreaming about.

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On Sunday we went to the Chelsea Highline, an elevated park built on an old railroad track that runs for about twenty blocks down in Chelsea. This was my first time there and I recommend it to anyone visiting the city. It’s relaxing and lovely and is a unique way to see some of the city from a bit of an elevation.

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Sunday evening was our grand meal. Our reservations were for 8:45 and we didn’t leave until just after midnight. We each had a 7-course prix fixe menu. Maggi had the classic Jean Georges menu and I had the Autumn themed menu. We tried to act casual, like we did this sort of thing all the time, but we failed miserably. The food (which was mostly French in style) was divine. I’ve never been so full in my life.

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I took pictures of each course and tried to remember all the things they told me about each thing, but there were so many components to each dish that it’s hard to remember. Also, the pictures aren’t great because I couldn’t use my flash and it was really dark in there, but trust me, all of the courses looked and tasted very gourmet.

American sturgeon caviar atop a butter poached turnip with some greens I don't know the name of.

American sturgeon caviar atop a butter poached turnip with some greens I don’t know the name of.

Sashimi with lime juice and radish.

Sashimi with lime juice and pickled radish.

Wild mushroom salad with lightly braised medley of mushrooms and pine nut emulsion.

Wild mushroom salad with lightly braised medley of mushrooms and pine nut emulsion.

Sea bass topped with something and poblano peppers swimming in a coconut cream, mint and lemongrass sauce.

Seared sea bass topped with something and poblano peppers swimming in a coconut cream, mint and lemongrass sauce.

Lobster. There was more, but all I remember is that the little brown sauce on the side was made of hazelnuts and almonds and chili paste.

Lobster. There was more, but all I remember is that the little brown sauce on the side was made of hazelnuts and almonds and chili paste.

Venison encrusted with juniper berries served with venison jou, an emulsion of chestnuts and poblano peppers and caramelized red cabbage.

Venison encrusted with juniper berries served with venison jou, an emulsion of chestnuts and poblano peppers and caramelized red cabbage.

Multiple sorbets to cleanse the palette

Multiple sorbets to cleanse the palette

Dessert dish including Concord grape sorbet, some sort of cookie with cream cheese ice cream on top, a jellied fig thing, and a poached pear.

Dessert dish including Concord grape sorbet, some sort of cookie with cream cheese ice cream on top, a jellied fig thing, and a poached pear.

We finished with these adorable peanut butter and jelly macarons.

We finished with these adorable peanut butter and jelly macarons. They were the size of a postage stamp.

We flew back to our homes on Monday, stuffed to the gills from great food and great company. It’s pretty cool to have a sister who wants to hang out with you and parents who are awesome enough to give up all of their mileage and hotel points so you can take a trip together.

Today I am feeling tired and fat, but most of all incredibly grateful.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about the South Carolina State Fair you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

52 Weeks of Adventure #33: So Long, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Unbelievably, it came. It came the way Christmas came despite the Grinch’s best efforts at keeping it away. It came like the downward plunge part of the roller coaster, where the build-up seems to last forever as tick-tick-tick your way to the top and then suddenly you are plunging downhill and the whole thing is over in a matter of seconds.

So long

Friday was both our final day in Korea and (because of the time difference) our first day in America. We somehow made it through our long trip back to America with our 4 suitcases full of everything we’ve collected over these years. But before we left, we said good-bye to some of our favorite places and some of our favorite people.

We went to Busan, our favorite Korean city, and said good-bye to the water, and the skyline, and the beach, covered in fully-clothed Koreans hiding under umbrellas.

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We ate our last bingsu and our last bulgogi and mandu and (mercifully) our last kimchi.

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We went to the noraebang (like a private karaoke room) for the last time and I bellowed out a painful rendition of Colors of the Wind while my friend Josh performed an interpretive dance.

We sold, donated, or threw out all of our things. And we said goodbye to the friends we’ve made who will now be scattered all over the wide world, to Canada and India and South Africa, and good old Kansas, USA.

We said good-bye to our steaming hot apartment, our twin-sized bed, and our wallpaper with silvery butterflies.

We said goodbye to the cutest children and the pushiest elderly people in the world.

We said good-bye to city living, to daily cultural misunderstandings, to the background noise of screeching buses and old people spitting in the street and unintelligible Korean chatter.

We said goodbye to our home.

And then.

We said Hello.

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My amazing family!!!!

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With my grandparents at their regular breakfast joint.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about my final days of teaching and my English summer camp, you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss About Korea ( and Taking a Break)

Yesterday I wrote about the Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Korea. That post made me a little sad because it made me remember all of the things I love that are soon to be gone. Today I decided to do a companion post that might help me feel a little better about leaving. Here are the Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss About Korea.

  1. Spitting. The man who lives upstairs from us spends a solid 30 seconds – 1 minute every single morning making horrible retching noises followed by enormous spits. It’s the soundtrack of my morning. Of course, different cultures have different standards for what is polite or rude. Some of the biggest differences between Korean culture and American culture (and generally Western Culture, I think) are these standards for politeness. Koreans, young and old, dainty and gnarly, spit with abandon anywhere and everywhere they want to. First they will hock up a huge loogie, by making retching and gagging noises in the back of their throats and then they will spit phlegm wherever they please and should that be where you are standing, they will not even look sorry.
  2. Shoving. It is very rare for Koreans to wait in line. When a bus or subway arrives, rather than waiting for the crowd of people exiting, they will all stampede the door, pushing, shoving, and throwing elbows to get themselves inside before anyone else. The elderly people are especially good at this and will intentionally elbow you or shove you out of the way if they think you are going to take their seat. I’ve literally seen old ladies throw an elbow, run to a seat, and then cackle in your face when they get there before you.
  3. Trash and Trash Smell. The residential streets smell like trash and rotting food all the time because there aren’t dumpsters or trash cans. Instead people set out bags of garbage or small pots with food waste (because all food waste gets composted). These are picked up seemingly at random, so you may put out a bag of trash that doesn’t get picked up for several days. Imagine a whole street with pots full of decomposing food sitting in 100 degree heat for several days and you can imagine the smell I’m talking about.

    Can you imagine this on every city street in America?

    Can you imagine this on every city street in America?

  4. Korean Work Culture/Emphasis on Appearance. Emphasis on appearances isn’t unique to Korea, but the importance of things looking good over actually being good is more pronounced in the Korean work environment than anywhere else I’ve seen it. To give one example – teachers in Korea often have to do open classes where the principal, parents, and other teachers can observe. These open classes are nothing like ordinary classes. They are scripted out, sometimes even practiced with the students beforehand. One of my friends said her Korean Coteacher actually drew out blocking for them during the class showing where she had to stand when. Much of Korean work culture is about elaborate performances to make sure things look good with very little emphasis placed on real results. In addition, seniority is valued above all else. If the principal decides to do something, no one can question them or make an alternate suggestion, even if it’s a bad idea. You always do what the authority says. This leads to a lot of abuse of power and also to really bad teachers (cough, my CoT, cough, cough) being virtually un-fireable after they reach a certain level of seniority because nobody under them can complain about them. Appearances also matter tremendously in hiring. For most jobs you have to submit a picture of yourself with your application. It is standard practice for these photos to be so heavily edited that they don’t resemble the applicant at all.And of course, there is the prevalence of plastic surgery here which is so commonplace that the #1 high school graduation gift for teenage girls to receive from their parents is double eyelid surgery.
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  5. Stereotyping/Racism. I’m not even the slightest bit going to suggest that Korea has a larger problem with race than America does. America has serious racism problems. The thing that is more unique to Korea is the cultivated ignorance of the outside world, the fundamental teachings of “us” vs. “them” and the acceptance of speaking negatively about other people’s race or ethnicity. Korea’s population is 98% Korean. Anyone who is not Korean is simply referred to as “waygook” or “foreigner.” I constantly hear teachers and other adults tell children things like, “Foreigners are picky.” and “Foreigners don’t like spicy food.” When I show pictures of black people in lessons, students either say, “Oh, Obama!” regardless of who it is, or they say something along the lines of, ‘Teacher, he’s like monkey!” No, I’m not kidding. There are no real enforced laws against discrimination. A few months ago Korea made international news when a school refused to hire anIMG_20141011_175749 Irish woman because she was Irish. They sent her a letter that said, “We cannot hire you do to the alcoholic nature of your kind.” Which is shocking on its own, but is ten times more ridiculous if you know anything about Korean drinking culture in which it is standard for businessmen to be passed out drunk together on weeknights. During last year’s ebola outbreak, a bar in Seoul put up a sign that said, “Due to ebola, no Africans are allowed here.” As though you could contract ebola just from being African. All of these things can be frustrating and disheartening as I have seen them being passed onto the next generation.
  6. Lack of Air Conditioning/Heating. This probably makes me sound like a brat, but it baffles me that Korean schools get away with not using the heat and air conditioning when the school is full of children. The purpose of this is to conserve energy, but it is wickedly hot here and this seems like cruel and unusual punishment for all of us. My school didn’t start using the air conditioning until the end of July, even though temps had been in the 80s and 90s for two months. Nothing better than super sweaty 6th graders in a stuffy room with no air circulation. The same goes for the winter when I wore my coat, scarf, and gloves all day long.
  7. Being Stared at ALL THE TIME. I know, I know, you’ve never seen anyone with such a “tall nose” and you think my eye color has to be contact lenses. But it’s weird when we are making direct eye contact and you are still staring unabashedly.
  8. Being Fat Even When You’re Not. I am an average – small sized woman in America. I am 5’3” tall and I wear an American size 4 (when it’s not holiday season). In Korea, I am an XL. Sometimes the salesperson will just look at me, shake her head and say, “Too big. No fit,” and not even let me try it on. This is mostly because Asian people are generally very petite with slim hips and straight legs, so although I’m not that big, I’m built very differently to most Koreans. Even knowing the reasons behind it, I’m still a woman and it’s still disheartening when I can’t squeeze myself into XL pants
  9. Street Cats. Dogs are popular pets in Korea, but cats not so much. There are feral street cats everywhere. As a cat owner, it breaks my heart to see these nasty, mangy cats all over the place, but the worst is the kittens. Just Sunday on our way home from Busan a little black kitten that couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old came out from under a car and rubbed against my ankles and tried to climb up my leg. It was starved for food and attention and so, so tiny. We brought it a little bit of food but unfortunately there wasn’t much we could do for it besides hope that it found its mother or someone took it in.
  10. Korean “Modesty.” So this one sounds worse than it is. It’s not that I have a burning passion to wear scandalous clothes. The issue is that what’s considered modest in Korea vs. the West is very different and sometimes very inconvenient. Basically, chests are immodest. Never ever should anything below a woman’s collar bone show. Arms are also pretty sketchy, so sleeveless tops and dresses (even if they come up to the collar bone) are frowned upon. It’s OK if you wear a mini skirt to work or if your shorts are so short that your butt hangs out a little. Just keep your chest covered. Probably best to just wear turtlenecks always. This doesn’t matter much in the winter, but when it’s 100 degrees and there’s no air conditioning and you have to wear sleeves and something up to your neck, things can get a bit toasty.

    Cartoon by Luke Martin

    Cartoon by Luke Martin

After making this list I’m feeling slightly better about leaving in two days. I’ll be taking a blogging break while we move and transition to our new life. I will still be trying to upload my weekly adventures since I’ve already made it this far, but otherwise you probably won’t hear from me until September. Thanks so much for all of your encouragement and well wishes. Can’t wait to share life as an ex-expat (just a pat? a re-pat?) with all of you!

Top 10 Things I’ll Miss About Korea

Well, friends, we are down to just three days left in Korea. Three. Days. In honor of our time here I thought I’d make a Top 10 list of things I’ll miss about Korea. Of course, I’ll miss more than this – I’ll miss my cute students and random people telling me I’m beautiful all the time, and maybe even (occasionally) CoT, but this is my top 10 list of things I really enjoy about Korea.

  1. Mountains everywhere you look. I grew up in Louisiana which is so flat that parts of it are actually below sea level. Then I spent 5 years in the Chicago area – also completely flat. When we moved to Raleigh in 2011 I was delighted by the slight roll the land, but it’s nothing compared with the legitimate mountains that surround Daegu completely and are present anywhere you go in Korea. They’re not Rocky Mountains or Himalayas, but they are still little bits of beauty poking over the city rooftops and I love them.
    IMG_9074
  2. Excellent Public Transportation. While I sometimes miss the directness of hopping in my car and going exactly where I want to go, I have to admit that buses and subways in Korea are cheap, easy to use, and go anywhere you want if you can stick with it through the lurching, sometimes crowded bus rides. Taxis are also abundant and very cheap making life without a car completely doable. It takes longer to get where you’re going without a car, but I enjoy not having to deal with traffic or pay for car insurance and maintenance.

  3. Skincare and Makeup. Korea is famous for their advanced skin care and makeup products. I’ve become something of a makeup junkie in the last year and have enjoyed trying out lots of Korean products which are generally very affordable. Additionally, my skin is probably the best it has been in my entire life over the past few months so I’m really trying to squeeze backups of my favorite skin care products into our suitcase to take back with me!
    korean-beauty18
  4. Cheap Healthcare. I’ve had mixed experiences with the quality of healthcare in Korea, mainly just the running of unnecessary tests and tendency to over-medicate, but I can’t complain about how incredibly cheap it is (Average doctor’s visit is $3 – $4. Average prescription $4 – $5). I went to the dentist for a cleaning – $14. I went back to have a small cavity filled and while the price for this was comparable to what it would be in the states, it was 15 minutes between the time I walked in and the time I left. Of course, Korea is quite bad about things like basic hygiene which is why I was forced to share an ear thermometer with all the teachers at my school during the MERS outbreak when we had to record our temperature every day. As I predicted to my CoTeacher, this resulted in me getting an ear infection. But, again, the good news is that even though I had to go to the dr every day for a week to have it cleaned out, it only cost me about $15 or $20 total.
  5. Mandu, Bulgogi, Galbi, Tofu Jigae. These are some of my favorite Korean foods. While I don’t like all Korean foods, the ones I like, I REALLY like and I know I’ll miss them. It may take a while, but I will miss them eventually.
  6. Norebang.The word “norebang” is Korean for “song room” and these are basically like private karaoke rooms. These are wildly popular as an activity to do with your friends or with your business colleagues after a night of hard drinking (also popular). I sing constantly, but I have no talent for it. Nevertheless, I love those dark rooms with the disco lights and that mike in my hands.
    norebang
  7. Couples Outfits. Sadly, I never got Jonathan to join in this popular trend of Korean couples dressing in matching clothing. I did manage to get us a set of couples underwear last Christmas and while I can’t get Jonathan to wear them, it makes me happy that we have them!

  8. Feeling Safe Always. Korea is a very safe country with very low rates of violent crime. I have never once felt threatened to walk home late at night in our dimly lit streets or even to go running alone after dark. While I get a lot of attention here for my blond hair and blue eyes, and the staring can be annoying, I’ve never felt threatened by it in the way that I have often felt threatened by (particularly male) attention in America. I’ve never worried about locking anything here or leaving my laptop on the table in the coffee shop while I go pick up my order. During my years in Korea the safety in my own country has decreased dramatically and I am not looking forward to going back to that constant awareness of myself and who is around me and whether my car door is locked and whether that package looks suspicious.
  9. Service! Service is basically when a store or restaurant gives you free things to thank you for coming. It’s the best and it’s very, very common. Free drinks or desserts at restaurants (or occasionally an appetizer), free samples at beauty stores (and not like one or two foil packets, like whole free bottles of things, sheet masks, makeup samples, etc), or even super random things like socks or instant coffee.

    All the free stuff!

    All the free stuff!

  10. Friends, Korean and Foreign. We’ve made some good friends during our time here, both Koreans and other native teachers like us. It’s strange to leave somewhere and really not know for sure if or when you’ll see these people again. We are so thankful for the friendships we’ve made here and I really do hope to stay in touch with many of the friends we’ve made and to see some of them again someday, in America, in Korea, or somewhere else in the world.