Sunday, July 31, 2011

Four Days!

This is what parts of Seoul looked
like last week. 
Four days until I am out of this never ending rain in Korea and in Palawan, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. CANNOT wait!!!!! For those of you reading this as an update on my life I will probably be somewhat internetless from August 5th-22nd. Instead I will be enjoying the beach, scuba diving (hopefully), delicious food, hiking, swimming and running and simply being away from Korean children. My fellow cheap traveler and I have already made contact with some fabulous couchsurfers and booked ridiculously cheap accommodations! The countdown is on! Hooray! In three weeks hopefully my still white winter sun-starved skin will be golden brown (but in reality I will probably just be roasted).
Mt. Agung, Bali. Active volcano and tallest mountain on Bali. I will hopefully be climbing this. 
El Nido, Palawan Philippines. If it looks even half this beautiful Rachel will be very happy. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Guess what I'm doing right now? Yep, procrastinating. Somehow I'm really good at it while still managing to "efficiently" get my work done. My time is rapidly winding down in Korea and I actually have lots to blog about but mainly I'm too busy lazy to write. Lately there is one aspect of life in Korea that has come to my attention particularly after my friend came to visit from the States: fashion conformity.

Fashion staple: big black belt. 
While preparing a lesson on fashion and ads for my English teacher lessons (a lesson that I never actually taught), I found this quote: fashion is evolutionary not revolutionary. Think about it. Now that I'm getting older I can already see the validity in that statement. I now wear things that even just five years ago I would have laughed at someone wearing. My mom has this big fat black belt that she used to wear high on her waist and I used to laugh and laugh at her lack of fashion sense. Well now I should laugh at myself because one of my current favorite outfits includes a black belt strikingly similar to the very belt that my mother used to wear. And this belt is an integral part of my wardrobe. Oops. The rule about saving your clothes then re wearing them fifteen or so years later is probably not a bad idea. So fashion is evolutionary. I'm sure experts in fashion might argue that they're being revolutionary by wearing some new piece but give it a few months or a year and that piece will be considered fashionable and "trendy" and everyone will be wearing it.

But let me now connect all this talk of fashion to Korea. I think most places in the world go through phases of trends where MANY people will wear similar clothing and now that the world is connected these trends are also connected and similar around the world. But in the U.S. and virtually every other country I have been to there are still signs of individuality within fashion. If mini-skirts are "in" that does not mean that almost every American you encounter will be sporting a mini-skirt or even the same mini-skirt. In the U.S. fashion is definitely regional, where in big cities people are more fashionable, and generally speaking in the Midwest people are less fashionable (sorry Midwesterners but I'm afraid it's true). But even within these broad generalizations there is individuality. We can further classify people's fashion as preppy, bohemian, sophisticated, casual, classic, sporty... While mini skirts might be "in" you will still see many (and perhaps far too many in my opinion) people wearing sweats, baggy t-shirts, plain old jeans, running shoes and jeans (my least favorite American clothing combination), and many more combinations. If bangs are in style you won't see every single American female running to the nearest hair salon to get bangs. I feel that I can still say with some certainty that there is still individualism. I can say the same for Germany. While people generally were more put together looking than many Americans, there was still a large variation in people's styles.

My "exotic" dress. 
In Korea any variation is almost impossible to detect. After a while I became accustomed to seeing almost ALL young women wearing similar dresses, skirts, tops, and ALL (seriously probably 90%) wearing heels. Yes, heels are considered fashionable but no other place in the world (even Taiwan and Japan) have I seen so many heel wearers. Meander through the underground shopping center in my neighborhood and you will see store after store selling virtually identical clothing, shoes, and accessories. If bangs are in style every Korean girl will rush to the nearest hair salon (and they won't have to go far). Mini-skirts are currently the latest trend so seeing any youngish female wearing any skirt that goes below the knee is an uncommon sight and the shortness of some of the skirts is shocking to your average western onlooker (especially given that even showing your collar bone can be considered "too sexy"). Most recently I received (what I took to be a compliment) comment that my dress was exotic and was asked where I got it from. I think the teacher assumed I had brought from the U.S. and was flabbergasted when I informed her that I had in fact bought it in Korea. What? Where? Well... I bought it in Hongdae. The one part of Korea that still maintains a creative somewhat independent spirit. Her surprise was not unfounded however, because I too have yet to see anyone wearing a dress similar to it in Korea.

Okay, the dress is cute but let's scarp the skulls.
Can't get over my idea of skulls being goth. 
In Korea when something is "in" it is IN. Fur is in style. So let's put fur on every single item of clothing. Animal print apparently is also trendy so let's slap it on every piece of fabric possible. The most bizarre one for me? Skulls. Skulls are also a new trend so I will often find them on dresses, scarves, and other accessories. Sooorry. I won't be sporting any skull print attire anytime soon. I'll remain the non-conformist minority thank you very much.

Fashion conformity in Korea is just one example of the prevalence of conformity and community in this culture. I just finished reading an interesting book on Korean culture written in cartoon format by a Korean. I will blog about the book later but I felt that fashion, especially given it's significance in Korea deserved a post by itself. In my opinion, fashion in Korea is anything from revolutionary but merely evolutionary. I anxiously await my return to a country where there are at least a few people who don't care that what they're wearing is not the latest

Friday, July 1, 2011

Open Doors

As usual I'm blogging to procrastinate. If nothing else that's what this blog has been good for. I officially have two months and four days left in Korea and this means two months and four days to make a plan for what I'm doing next, plan a ridiculous number of lessons for all the teaching I'm doing this summer (yep no deskwarming this "vacation"), make some semblance of a plan for my trip to Bali and the Philippines (in true Rachel fashion this is less pressing to me seeing as all my trips are rather spontaneous), figure out packing and shipping my stuff somewhere (since I don't have a future plan or home yet, sigh), figuring out getting all my money sent to my U.S. bank account after I leave, planning and finalizing my visit to my friend in South Africa and seeing my family (or maybe just my dad) in Botswana, and most importantly keeping busy with the awesome activities I've been doing here and seeing important people before I leave. This flurry of activity is also my attempt to reduce the mix of confusion about liiiife, sadness about leaving Korea, and general stress about making a plan that I've been feeling lately.

REALLY don't want to say goodbye to these little guys.
Also, as you can see I have great classroom management skills (NOT!)
Two weeks ago I was forced to officially tell my school that I'm not staying for another year. I was half hoping the renewal notice just somehow wouldn't come and I could keep playing the game where I haven't in fact booked my tickets to South Africa and I am still very much unsure about whether or not I will stay another year (which actually isn't so far from the truth). My announcement brought more sadness than I expected and each day my students (even the devil ones) seem to get cuter and more pleasant, making me wonder if I made the wrong decision. And my after school class doesn't help matters. A few of my little 1st and 2nd graders are beginning to read and it fills me with such pride and joy only to be crushed two seconds later when I get the sinking realization that I'm leaving them in two months and they could be stuck with a terrible, loser native teacher who either doesn't care about them and or doesn't know how to teach little ones who speak almost no English (not that I really know how to either). That's a bit extreme, but regardless I will be creating a VERY detailed plan of everything I've done with the little ones in the hope that their little sponge brains will continue to absorb English once I'm gone.

So even though on a daily basis, I get frequent semi freak out moments of "Where in the world will I be at the end of September?", "I will have no job in September!", "What am I doing with my life?", "Did I make the right decision not to stay at my current school?" I am TRYING to chill out and realize that some things are just not in my control. I've always been the person who at least SEEMS to have her life together. I always have a plan. I always am employed. I always know where I'm going next. I'm obsessive about saving money so that I always have emergency money (that got me far since I have less money in my savings at the moment than I did in middle school). Well right now I'm not going to pretend that I have my life in order any more, because I most certainly don't. I don't have a plan for next year, I am very poor but luckily completely debt free at the moment (adios student loan!), and I don't even know where my family will be in two months. In the midst of my confusion and obsessing I stumbled upon (quite literally stumbled upon) this quote:

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." 
 Helen Keller

I think right now I'm a bit stuck looking at the door(s) of happiness that have recently closed: this year in Korea, wonderful opportunities for travel the last four years, good internships, etc, that I haven't quite found that new door. Or it hasn't opened for me just yet. I've often had the image of being in a waiting room with doors surrounding me and the feeling of being trapped. Which doors are open? Which is the right one to go into? So for now I'm searching for that door by filling out lots of applications and trusting that God will open the right door for me.

But in the midst of my waiting this past month has been filled with lots of wonderful adventures:

-Running my last half marathon (until it cools down at least) in a beautiful mountain city two hours away from Seoul (Hwacheon). Clean refreshing air and good weather even if it was a bit hot! Plus lots of freebies of course!

-Spent the beginning of the month taking advantage of a long weekend to couch surf in the southern coastal city of Busan. Beautiful weather, and wonderful people!

- Two weekends ago hiking the second tallest mountain in Korea in Jirisan National Park with two of my good friends. A weekend completely void of other waygooks (foreigners) surprisingly, and lots of friendly, kind and generous Koreans. From the moment we stepped off the bus there were kind Koreans helping us. We stayed in a minbak which is like budget hotel where you sleep traditional Korean style on the floor in a small room. It was quite pleasant and a good night's sleep for the money. On the entire hike friendly Korean hikers (all AT LEAST 20 years older than us) stopped to chat, share food with us, or get pictures with us. I successfully understood and spoke some Korean and I was once again amazed at how kind and generous Koreans usually are. I'm going to miss hiking in Korea!

-Going to see German films at the Goethe Institute in Seoul with a new German speaking Korean friend.

-Attending Language Cast meetups in Seoul to meet friendly people and practice my German and Korean.

Picnic in the park while learning Korean 
-Continuing to meet with my amazing language exchange partner to study Korean. Usually I compare my Korean to those who speak it much better than me but when I think about how far I've come and how I can now understand quite a bit and have a simple conversation, I suppose I've done well given my sub-par study efforts. My language partner, Eunjung has become a close friend and yet another person who I REALLY don't want to say goodbye to. She has promised to visit me wherever I go next and I most certainly will be returning to Korea in the near future to visit her and some of the other lovely people I've met here. She has been an incredible friend and teacher for me, and I've enjoyed helping her with her English.

Due to my obsessive planning nature all my weekends for the next two months besides three are fully booked. Looking forward to a visit from a friend I haven't seen in two years (this weekend! YES!), mud festival, helping at an English vacation bible school, and couchsurfing in the Philippines and Bali with lots of beach, mountains, scuba diving and relaxing time. But in the meantime, for my friends around the world and those who think I always have my life together: I don't have too much of a clue where I will be or what I will be doing post September, and I REALLY don't have my life together. Just waiting, waiting for the right door to open.