Friday, December 15, 2006

Bit of an oops moment

So, as I mentioned in my last post, last night I was going to take my brother and others out for Korean BBQ. It's a little ironic how excited I was, considering I just fled Korea like I was on the lamb. Still, I do love me some galbi, not to mention kimchi chigae, both of which were available at the restaurant I picked. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to sharing that part of my Korean experience with some of my loved ones.

When taken in that light, the way the evening unfolded was especially tragic.

The day got off to a rocky start, so I should have known the gods were against me. My Uncle Max and Aunt Sets picked me up around 2 so that I could get out of the house for once and pay a visit to this super-cool travel bookstore. My brother had discussed the location of the bookstore with Max, so I assumed that my brain could just check out on the whole process. Right before we left, I had a brief moment of, "Hmmm...maybe I should write the address down..." which I quickly ignored in our haste to leave. Mistake.

We drove to the intersection that Stephan had told Max was nearest to the bookstore. It was the correct intersection, but we weren't sure which way to go to find the bookstore since it wasn't just right there. Well, we went in every direction but the right one, unfortunately. So, for the time being, we decided to just carry on to the travel agent's office that Max and Sets needed to visit for their upcoming trip to China.

This travel agent has an office on one of the busiest streets I've seen since I got here. Needless to say, no parking. Plus it was pissing down rain, which does nothing to improve one's mood even when not desperately searching for a parking spot in heavy traffic. Eventually, Uncle Max vetoed the whole idea and decided that we'd have another search for the travel bookshop.

Once we were back in the right area, we parked near the intersection and went to look in a phone book at a nearby motel. Lo and behold, we had just not driven up the street far enough. OK, problem solved, so we skipped off to the bookstore. It was pretty neat, although not as big as I had imagined. I got a couple books on Turkey, foregoing a cool book I had seen on their website ("Vroom with a View" a story of driving a '61 Vespa through Italy--how cool!) in the spirit of financial moderation.

After spending close to an hour there, it was time to either feed the meter or find another place to kill time until our 7pm dinner reservation. The crappy weather, and my never-ending headcold, prompted me to suggest that I'd like an Irish Coffee. Unbeknowst to me, Irish Coffee was actually invented in San Francisco. So, fast as sin, we were on our way to try the original at The Buena Vista.

Located near Fisherman's Wharf, this place was too too adorable. Quite cozy and inviting, I must say. Through the windows, we could see tables of businessmen and women enjoying a post-work drink, the ring of camraderie in the air. Not to mention the twinkling white Christmas lights doing their bit to set the scene.

The Irish Coffee turned out to be a whole lot of Irish and not much Coffee, which was just fine by me. But, even though we had ordered potato skins to kill some time and a bit of our appetites, we couldn't sit there forever. So, back into the van for the drive over to the restaurant, an hour ahead of time. Figured we'd get some drinks and just hang out in the restaurant until our reservation time came up. Ha.

We were driving down the street, looking for the sign for Brother's Korean BBQ... Finally, we spotted it, and--lucky us--there was a parking spot right in front. We got out of the car, practically singing at our good fortune, only to find that the place was locked up tight and black as midnight. Chain on the front door. But no note indicating why they would have taken my reservation that morning, only to be shut down that night. Did the health inspector get them in the interim? Was there a death in the family? Peering through the windows didn't help, because everything looked alright inside, not torn up or anything. Menu in the window, hours sign posted up. Baffling. And goddamn fucking horrible. I was SO mad, I cannot even tell you. I wanted to throw a brick through the window, with a note saying "Thanks for nothing." Grrrr...

But, we still had to wait for Stephan and Julie to get there so that we could decide what to do next. (Max and Sets didn't have a cell phone, and pay phones are non-existant here, so we no choice but to wait.) Sets had noticed an Irish pub just before we came to the restaurant, so we headed back there. Wow, what a nice place. Totally mellow, great imports on tap, Irish music playing in the background, old wooden furniture. It was a place I would definitely visit with my friends on a regular basis.

Eventually it was 7, so we returned to the vacant restaurant to wait for Stephan and Julie, but they never came. We waited like 15 minutes and then decided to eat at the Vietnamese place right next door, where we could see them walk by. But they never came. I was getting seriously worried by the time we were done at 8.

Driving down the street after dinner, Sets spotted a Korean BBQ place across the road, and we decided to check it out in case they had gone there by mistake. Nope. I thought I had seen a sign for Korean BBQ too, so we turned around and checked that one out. Goddamnit. There it was. Not two blocks from where we had been waiting was the NEW Brother's Korean Restaurant. Oh, I wanted to set the place on FIRE, let me tell you. And, of course, there were poor Stephan and Julie, who, like us, had been waiting all night, worrying about where the hell we were. Unlike us, though, they didn't eat anything, which made me feel double bad. What a fuck up from start to finish. I would like to say, however, that it would not hurt for the Brother's people to put a note on their old door to direct people to the new restaurant. How could one guess that there would be another one just down the block???

Today has been much less of a fuck up. I actually got some errands accomplished, and Stephan and I enjoyed some Vietnamese food *together*. We did cut it close on the time, though, so I'm sitting here typing this in the library of his college while he's in class. Not so bad. It reminds me of my own time at university. :-) At least *I'm* not the one with all the papers due (or past-due, as my own college experience went). That's at least one good point about being almost 30!!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bay Area goings-on

The jet lag has its grip on me, so I might as well take advantage of being awake at the crack of dawn and write a bit here.

So far, I've been having a great time in San Francisco, hanging out with my brother, Stephan, and his girlfriend, Julie.

I suppose the one, not-so-great thing about being here is the hill by their house. It's fucking ridiculous. When I spoke with Stephan about staying with him, he told me that we would take the BART from the airport to his house, and that the BART station was at the bottom of the hill he lives on, a hill which is pretty steep.

Do you know what a switch-back is? If you've ever driven in the mountains, you know that you cannot just drive straight up a fucking mountain; you have to zig-zag back and forth across the mountain because it's so steep. Well, Stephan did mention that he sometimes has to switch-back up the hill to his house, so I was mildly prepared. I was not prepared, however, for the series of hills that one must climb in order to get to the final, switch-back hill!

It was a nightmare walking up those hills with all my luggage. Stephan pulled the big suitcases, and I carried my heavy-ass backpack and computer case. Jesus. He's in great shape; I am not, despite all my walking in Seoul. Still, I did better than I thought I would, and I know this is because I am fresh from a stair-ridden, walk-everywhere city.

The switch-back hill was insane, worse than the steep hill by where I lived at SEV. Falling over backward is a serious consideration. As soon as I can, I'm going to post a picture of it. Good grief.

Anyway, on my first night here, I decided to take advantage of being in America for once, and ordered pizza, subs, and wings for everyone right off the internet. Sweet. And for only $30, it seemed like a miracle.

Last night, we went to this amazing grocery store. It's strictly vegetarian, and it was so cool. If you've ever been in a health food store, or hip grocery store, you know that bulk food sections can be limited to things like a few dried beans, some rice, and dried fruits. Well, this place was bursting with the most incredible selection of bulk goods I have ever seen. Jars of dried roots, herbs (I bought some mugwort--thought to increase dreams of your past lives if put in a sache near where you sleep), teas, not to mention a never-ending selection of beans, rices, and mixes (like the hummus mix I bought). Just truly fantastic. This isn't including the other areas of the huge store, which has a specialty cheese section, where the cheesemonger helped me select a lovely goat cheese gouda. Or the produce section, with piles of the freshest California goodness. As I have said before, California truly is the land of milk and honey... It's stores like this that make me wish I lived here.

After the vegetarian grocery store, we decided a little juxtaposition was in order. So, we ate dinner at a burger joint said to be the best ever, the In-n-Out. Holy crap, this place was good. I was dying for a real cheeseburger after being away so long, and I was not disappointed. Yikes, that was a damn good cheeseburger. Better than Seoul's Kraze Burger, to be sure. After sucking down our burgers and fries, it was a quick stop over to the Krispy Kreme for one of their fresh, hot doughnuts that essentially melt in your mouth, and then home again. What a lovely evening out.

Tonight promises to be just as fun. We're going to a Korean BBQ place with my Uncle Max and Aunt Sets. It's supposed to offer delicious and bountiful food, so we'll see how it compares to galbi in Seoul.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A little backtracking

OK, so I know I've made it safe and sound back to the old country, but I do want to take a moment to write about my last few days in Seoul. Time flew by so quickly...before I knew it, I was waking up Monday morning in a bare room, my 6 month existence completely erased from the surface, as though I'd never called it my home. I hope, though, that all the happy moments that happened there will live on and bring positive experiences for the next person. Goodness, why am I being so new-agey? Could it be the San Francisco air is taking its toll? Entirely possible.

Anyway, I wanted my last weekend in Seoul to be spectacular, but, as ever, when you really want something to happen in a certain way, it invariably never does. As I think I already wrote, graduation was weird and a bit of a let down. Kane's show was great, but he didn't win, and the dancing afterwards was in a near-dead bar. sigh

Saturday night, I went for dinner at a Greek restaurant, called Santorini, in Itaewon. I'd been there before, and I was dying to snork up a gallon of their tzatziki one more time before I left. So, I made plans to go with Daniel, Bron, John, Mary, and Kyle. Tragically, Kyle ended up having a dental emergency and wasn't able to come with us. He really missed out.

When we had been before, the restaurant decor was charming and the food delicious. This time, the atmosphere was just impossibly romantic, decorated with twinkly white lights and lanterns. The food was equally delicious, if not romantic (hard to find garlic dip romantic). :-)

In spite of Kyle's absence, we had a really good time. :-) Our waitress was super-sweet, in addition to being one of the biggest Korean women I saw in all my time there. (Which is honestly not saying much, considering that the rest are mostly the size of a bicycle spoke.)

Sunday was my designated day for packing and room cleaning. God, what a fucking trial. I truly didn't realize how much stuff I had acquired until I attempted to pack it all. Thankfully, I was able to foist many things off onto my generous co-workers. Daniel took the brunt of the foisting, though. :-) Thank you Daniel!! And thank you to everyone who stopped by to say goodbye. You guys are great!

Too soon it was Monday morning, and time to say final goodbyes. I hate goodbyes, almost as much as gym class and shrimp. But, they had to be done. It was really hard to say goodbye knowing that, more than likely, I won't see most of my friends again, despite our intentions. The statistics are just against us, even though I don't want them to be. Here's a note to all of my SEV friends: you are welcome to look me up at any given time, whether it's when you're done at SEV, or 10 years from now, and I will be ecstatic to get together or have you come for a visit wherever I am. Even if we've lost touch--no hard feelings, promise.

Kyle called for a taxi to take me, Ryan and Daniel to the stop for the airport bus. Unfortunately, when the taxi arrived, the driver had, shall we say, a mentally challenged look about him. And, unbeknownst to us foreigners, he had discussed my bus plans with one of the security guards while we were loading the car, and they had made new bus stop arrangements for me!

So, we take off, Daniel and Ryan in the back, buried under the luggage that Kyle artfully arranged. Soon, it becomes evident that the driver is not taking us to Suyu station, the nearest airport bus stop. We tell him "SUYU please" and many other varients, all involving the word SUYU being stated quite clearly and at varying degrees of panic and volume. All the man does is laugh and say "Gireum!" Which is a station further away, and a place where we have no idea how to get to the airport bus.

We assume there must have been some misunderstanding. We're a bit panicked. I remember shouting something about being hijacked. And all the while, the man just kept laughing at us and shaking his head, like, "Boy, are you guys some fucking foreign idiots or WHAT?!" Eventually, Daniel got Kyle on the phone and had him talk to the man. Lo and behold, the man knows where the airport bus stop is at Gireum and it's a much better choice than Suyu because it's not on a busy road. Well! If only someone had told us that, I wouldn't have been shouting at a mentally challenged cabbie!

The real tragedy of the story is that Ryan was there, when he should have clearly been in bed, mending his flu-like symptoms. Instead, he had generously made the journey with me specifically because of his knowledge of the Suyu bus pickup spot, knowledge rendered entirely useless by the change of plans. I'm sorry Ryan, and I hope you didn't catch your death standing out in the cold!

Eventually the bus came and it was time to say the saddest goodbye. Daniel, I'm going to miss you so much!

Then I got to enjoy a bus ride through the ugliest parts of the city. I remember thinking, "Could I come back here? Make a life here?" The answer, surprisingly, was yes, depending on the circumstances. It was unfortunate to have that revelation on the bus to the airport, but there it was, unbidden.

And then, thanks to my flight being delayed, I had 4 hours to kill at the airport.

Plenty of time to eat at the Ritz-Carlton of airport restaurants, where I paid W12,000 for the privilege of eating the most delicious kimchi chigae (or however you spell it) that I had in all my time in Korea, as well as an extortionate W5,000 for a tiny glass of milk to help quell the spiciness. It was wonderful. :-)

Plenty of time to sit and think about all the things I would have done differently in Korea, given a second chance. Risks I would have taken, words I would have said, things I would have done...all the wasted time. Images floating through my mind of good times, and bad, and thinking about how they've changed me. The people I've met, and how I hope we're all able to keep in touch, beat the odds. Just enough time spent reminiscing to make me wonder if I've made an enormous mistake.

Damn it all.

The 9 1/2 hour flight was pretty decent, despite my complete inability to sleep and the occasional random crying fit. But, as I said to Bron, I don't mind people thinking I'm a tragic international woman of mystery. It's all in a day's work.

Now I'm in San Fran, and my outlook is brighter. Sort of. Seeing my brother is really nice. But, I'll write more about that next time. Right now I need to sleep... Goodnight!


Made it. Finally! After a 9 1/2 hour flight, I'm finally here at San Francisco's airport. I'm so pleased to see all the fat people, you wouldn't believe it! And the food on the airplane was the best I've ever had. I think this may have more to do with the fact that every meal involved real cheese in some way than with the superiority of United Airlines' catering service.

My brother, Stephan, was running late to pick me up, so I paid an extortionate $6 for an hour's worth of internet--only to have my computer's battery take a sudden dive. At the time, I was sitting on the floor outside the BART station (why are there no fucking benches here?!!). Across the way, I saw a plug in the wall and it suddenly occurred to me that my plug works here! No adapter needed (good thing, since I broke mine the last week I was in Korea). So, I picked myself up off the floor and transfered over here.

Over the intercom, I keep hearing announcements that "We are currently at Terror Alert Level Orange". What a difference from Korea. I've also been watching my bags rather closely, as opposed to Seoul, where one can leave one's bags strewn about the room and no one will touch them. *sigh* A trade-off...

Anyway, time to go. Pupusas at the El Salvadorian restaurant await! I'll write again soon!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Painting the town a pale shade of red

Well, tonight was not what I hoped it would be, although it was good in its way. Graduation was weird...some vibe was definitely off, and I couldn't put my finger on it. Not the same energy, maybe...the kids weren't into it like they usually are. Plus, graduation these past couple weeks has been shortened due to required snack time at 8 because these kids are being sponsored by a local business. So, I didn't even have a chance to get wrapped up in the emotion of the moment--my last graduation, saying goodbye to my friends, weeping copiously. I was so busy signing kids' notebooks that I hardly even noticed that the time had passed. Unfortunately, it wasn't the cathartic tear-fest I had envisioned.

After graduation, we went to see Kane play in the finals for the acoustic singing competition at Rocky Mountain Tavern. I wish I could tell you the results, but I shamefully snuck out before the winner was announced. Why? I don't know...smokey bar, tired ass, oncoming sore throat. A combo. We had decided beforehand that we (and when I say we, I mostly mean me and Daniel) would go to Polly's Kettle for a little dancing as part of my going-away experience. If I hadn't left the RMT when I did, I probably would have just headed home. As it was, we went to Polly's for a bit and had a decent time. They play hip hop music, which I like, but the crowd just wasn't there. In fact, after awhile, the place was mostly filled with SEV people. It gave the place an odd Tradewinds-like feeling (that's my dad's bar), because everywhere I looked were people I knew.

My friend Cade was nice enough to spring for a Soju and orange Kool-Aid drink for me (served in a cut-off 1 liter plastic jug), which I had never had before. Thank you, Cade. I'd also like to put a note here for Mitch---Cotter, I, too, will miss our very serious political discussions. I hope the kindie think tank will be substitute enough for a cosmopolitan world citizen like yourself. ;-) And PS-nice dance moves.

Getting a taxi home from Itaewon was an absolute bitch, as ever. Drizzling rain, freezing cold, and no cab driver would stop for us. They would pull past us and pick up some Koreans. I started doing what I always do when cabs pass us by--shouting at them. It makes me look like a crazy American bitch, but I just can't help it. I'm in the street, in the rain, begging them to stop. "Please sir! Please!" It's practically Dickensian. ("Please sir, may I get in your taxi?") When they inevitably pass us by, I scream, "We know how to tell you where to go!" at the top of my lungs. It's not pretty. I'm sure it proves to them that they are wise in not picking up crazy foreigners. of the things I will definitely *not* miss about Korea.

Now all that's left is for me to start packing up my Korean life. My laundry is done, my room is vaguely tidy. I'm hoping that I will have finally learned from repeated experience that it is NOT a good idea to leave packing and cleaning to the last damn day. We'll see how that goes...

Friday, December 8, 2006

Last day at work

It's finally last day of work. I've dreamt of this day, off and on, since my first day of work. Now that it's finally here, I do feel like it's come too soon. This is mostly just because I don't want to leave my friends behind, not because I'll miss teaching Bank class.

Tonight is graduation, and it's odd to think it's my last one. I usually go, even though we're not required to attend unless we teach nights. I like the dancing and frolicking, and even the part where Kyle puts on the sad music to make all the kids cry. Tonight, I'm sure that I'll be the one crying.

I've avoided packing anything in my room, although I did force myself to do laundry last night to get it out of the way. Tonight I'm having a tiny bit of a going-away thing--some dancing at "Polly's Kettle" after we find out the results of Kane's singing competition. It should be pretty low key, which is what I prefer. I hate the idea of trying to wrangle 50 people to the same place at the same time. Too stressful.

Anyway, I might post once more on here before I leave. Maybe put on some pictures from the going away festivities, if they're not too raucous. :-)

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Creative Day

Today, my work day consists of absolutely nothing practical. My morning was filled with Theatre class, and my afternoon is chock-a-block with Art. After being stuck in Bank class and the Post Office, I am trying to relish every moment. What's more, the students in Theatre today could actually read their scripts. An absolute lucky break for me. One class got into it so much that they all ended up in costume. The father wearing a crown, the mother in a witch's hat, the sailor in full pirate regalia.

I've actually been in a persistently happy mood these last couple days, bouncing around singing showtunes and Christmas songs. It's a little maddening to those around me, I'm sure. :-) But I just can't seem to get that pep out of my step... Even Bank class can't break me.

***Editor's note: OK, here it is, the end of my day, and I am not quite as bouncy as previously mentioned. I just had a group of kids that, while they did not break me, well...I almost broke them. Or, more specifically, almost broke some furniture over their heads. And P.S., Art class is a BITCH to clean up.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Busy work

God, I hate seeing such an empty journal. Just sitting here, waiting to be filled up with luscious or potentially tragic travel stories yet to come. In this moment, I wonder how things are going to turn out for me. Will I read this 6 months from now and laugh at my optimism, or pat myself on the back for making a great decision?

Maybe I can fill some space by telling a little bit here about my upcoming adventure...

Currently, I'm sitting in Seoul. Just finishing out my last week at Seoul English Village. I'm leaving before my contract is up, but it is simply time to go. I am done with the open-mouthed staring from people in the street, "Teacher you so fat!!" remarks from the students, and a cuisine that makes me ache for the Mediterranen and American flavors of my youth. I don't regret my time here; I learned a lot about myself and a new culture, made some great friends, and saw a part of the world I never thought I'd get around to. Not bad. Just not for me, in the end.

As a lot of you know, my family qualifies for dual citizenship with Italy. The last two years have been a nightmare of red tape, trying to collect all the necessary documents to reinstate our ties with the homeland. And to think, our great-grandfather simply had to jump on a ship. Welcome to America--here's your new name. After following the path of misspelled names, different vital stats for the same person, and other paperwork errors that might prevent our family from being accepted back into the fold, I must say that I've developed an appreciation for the simplicity of old-time Ellis Island.

What this all amounts to is a burning desire to park myself in the Mediterranean, but the inability to do so legally. (Americans find it well-nigh impossible to get legal work in the EU.) After two years of wrestling with that ever-elusive EU passport, I started looking for alternatives. Turkey sprang immediately to mind. I've heard so many great things about it, from people who visited and think constantly about going back, to an actual Turkish person who happens to be dating one of my best friends. It just seemed the natural choice.

So, I did my research. EFL teachers there don't have half the opportunity to save money like I do in South Korea, but the style of living (if not the cost) seems more suited to my temperment. Housing isn't entirely paid for, but I won't have to live on a campus filled with small, braying children. The food isn't free, but the fact that I consider it many moons beyond "edible" is a bonus. There are definite trade-offs, but I don't mind.

I started responding to online ads for EFL teachers, and nothing happened. Two ads, four ads, eight ads...nothing. Great, I suck. Then, in one weekend, I got three responses. In a matter of days, I had prospects and hope anew. I set up an interview with the best school I had applied to, and it went well. Sweated it for a week, and found out I actually got the fucking job. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Now I find myself in the position of having to pack up my life yet again, getting ready for the next big thing. I'm eager to get out of Seoul for many reasons, and sad to leave for many others. Mostly, it's because I've gotten closer with my friends here, and it will hurt to leave them behind. Nights spent bitching into the wee hours, shared confidences, a mutual love of taxis over the subway, feasting on greasy fried chicken like it was the last thing to eat on earth, late night binge drinking sessions in one room or another, and more than one beautiful man with a guitar. I hope I get to see them all again, but I'm old enough to know better than that. I'm no high school senior, secure in the belief that I'll never lose touch with my friends.

I hate knowing that.