Friday, November 22, 2013


“Take full account of what Excellencies you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not.” 

All of a sudden it is late November. It’s hard to understand how 3 months have already flown by. Rather than being very good about chronicling my endeavors, I have been much more consumed with experiencing them. But, today it snowed for the first time. I have settled down and feel much more able to write and reflect on these past few months, given the shift of energy and perspective that always accompanies autumn, maybe winter, now...

The first posting I made after coming to Korea reflected the excitement and elation I was feeling, having just arrived, in experiencing all the fresh wonders and energies of a new place. Life felt fast, absorbing, and incredibly beautiful. It is still beautiful, but in a different, more peaceful (perhaps real) way. Things now have slowed and cooled; I have as well.  Still, I do have a few exploits to report.

I’ve been to a couple of festivals that have included parades: world celebrations with music and performers from every corner of the world.  I’ve always been a sucker for a nice marching band, and the energy and fanfare aren’t lost on me!
Not sure why I was trying to be her height. I'm at least 2 feet taller

In the street in Cheonan, very close to where I live

Flag corps!

All-female marching band at the world food festival in Seoul. Amazing!

Gorgeous traditional (ceremonial) dress of Singapore. Beautiful women!

In the final dog days of what turned out to be an exquisite Indian Summer, I (along with friends) went ocean kayaking on a beach named Mallipo.
The air was crisp, but sun hot, enough for one last, slight sunburn.

Somehow, a nice day in boats turned into gladiator fights and pirating. SO much fun!

The kayaking crew
A couple that was in company is from South Africa, and afterwards, introduced others and myself to the concept of  “braai” which is the South African answer to our American “BBQ.” There is a restaurant in Seoul named Braai Republic that serves the best lamb I’ve ever had. The owner sends his chefs to S.A. for a year for them to train and learn authentic South African methods.  Needless to say, I am a fan!
Braai brothers

South African brews

A group of guys and I went hiking the mountains of the East Coast in Sokcho, at Seoraksan National Park, in the midst of the leaves’ peak season.
Hiking buddies
Being from Nebraska, where the foliage just kind of dries up, turns brown, and blusters off its source unceremoniously, I have never seen such vibrant fall colors. It felt like a different world; almost like being underwater, except I was suspended amid hues and swirls of colors and aromas, rather than bubbles and liquid.
Simply stunning views

The light, through these leaves, was almost red

Made it to the top, and don't know what to do with my hands!

So vibrant!

Feasting after our trek. The hostel owner took us to a local dive and it was AMAZING (note, the TP hanging for quick access)
About a month ago my school called off classes for the day so the whole student body could go to a soccer arena and have a “games” day. I enjoyed watching the boys play, but my favorite part about this day was the “garden picnic” custom I was introduced to (I’m sorry to say I didn’t get any pictures of it). Alongside the field, there were trees. The mothers of the students made an incredible spread, put blankets down, and it was a feast! All the adults just piled in and plunked down anywhere there was room and dove right in. I was also introduced to Makkoli, a Korean wine derived from chestnuts, or acorns (I forget which) and customary at any celebration. I had one sip and that was enough, but many teachers and mothers had plenty. Fun times had by all!

Cheonan Tech. High student body at the soccer arena
I have explored Cheonan a bit more and made it up to a monastery that’s a short 15-minute bus ride away. The compound is made up of about 10 different temples, and is home to one 3-story Buddha. The sounds of a chime accompanied by the familiar and mesmerizing undulating tones of monks chanting, and the scent of pine word burning in a bakari (wood burning stove) somewhere in the distance- they conjured deep sentiments and nostalgia about Bhutan and Nebraska at this time of year. My former statement that I don’t “miss” the places or people I have left no longer applies.

Compared to Bhutan, although there are SO many more foreigners here (everywhere you look, actually), but I haven’t made those kinds of connections. Bhutan was 15 hand-selected people, salt-of-the-Earth, every one of them, and although geographical proximity and travel were considerable hindrances to how much time we got so spend together, I bonded and appreciated every single one of my fellow BCF’ers. Here, on the other hand, it’s such a mixed bag. I am starting to come to understand that the ex-pat life and community is quite different from anything I have been in before, and quite different from where and how I’d like to end up. I, thankfully, have made close relations with a couple of people. I don’t exactly feel lonely, but I do spend time alone. I’d rather that than join random and various crowds and/or individuals for mostly-drinking centered get-togethers, simply to avoid isolation. I am quite a social person, but only with the right crowd, and I prefer solitude to unsavory company. I spend that time cooking, which I am getting rather good at, despite my slow beginnings, listening to music or the news, reading, Skyping, or the occasional weekend outing. I do want to find a yoga studio and/or start taking some art classes. It’s a bit difficult with my schedule, but I still hope to be able to immerse myself more.

The first month of life here felt so full and consuming, I have felt the need to rest and repose. As I become more accustomed and settled with my life and work, the heightened energy I had in response to the newness of everything has subsided, and I feel a bit more subdued; but that’s also more natural for me. I have developed a strong sense of home in my little apartment and put a lot of time in there. I love waking up on a Sunday morning, putting on a turtleneck, listening to NPR, and letting the city be outside as I make myself tea and do everything and nothing within the confines of my little den.

Teaching remains challenging. I have ascertained that the English of my students is such that some, many in fact, can’t read, let alone understand or speak. As in any new teaching job I’ve had, it has taken me a while to gain a realistic understanding of the true levels and needs of my students, and how to effectively communicate and teach within that context. I still don’t have it down to an art. There are days when I think I’m really great and making a difference, and then there are days I’m quite sure I haven’t actually taught a single thing in the 3 months I’ve been here. Both may be true. As I predicted, I will never have the pleasure of teaching such sweet students as I had in Bhutan, regardless of proficiency levels.

Thus, life ebbs and flows. I have to say I was surprised by the changing of the leaves, and then by the temperature, and now by the snow outside my window today. Feeling that marked passing of time in such a visceral way can make me long for home, because (I think) I have only experienced that in Nebraska, really. It is these factors, I believe, that have left me feeling slower, calmer, and longing for the comforts of my home and family, wanting to be home by the warm stove, with something roasting in the oven, maybe a dog or two near by.

The holiday season is already here, and I am acutely reminded of how blessed I am. To you who are reading this- my family and loved ones- I am abundantly joyful to have your amity and care. The thing about “missing” home and people is that it just means they’re very good, and worthy of being returned-to. I wish you all the warmest of things this holiday season, and always. Spend time together- eat, drink, laugh and enjoy. Know I am there in spirit. I have so much to be grateful for. And I am.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” 
Marcel Proust

1 comment:

  1. You sound like you are really doing well Reidi. I am glad to read that you are not part of the expat scene. I think it is a bit of a trap that keeps you from the real community of the country you reside in. Just my personal opinion. We have spent very little time in Korea but it was Autumn and I too loved the vibrancy of the colours especially in the temples. It is my most endearing memory of the country Keep writing We love reading it!!