Friday, December 2, 2011

A Student's Can of Beer

Today one of my students had a giant plastic Hite beer (Korean Brand) sitting on his desk. At first I thought it was a pencil case because sometimes they can be a little out there, but it wasn’t. Just a giant plastic can of Hite… I couldn’t help but crack up upon first noticing it. I had walked into the room and he raised it as high as possible. Nobody, not even my co-teacher, thought anything of it.

Classroom etiquette in Korea is different than in the states. This was okay. Running is okay. Wrestling and hitting is okay (as long as no one gets hurt). Wearing an animal hat that covers ones entire face is okay. Telling the teacher she is ugly is okay (not to me, thank God).  Talking about dieing and killing people is okay. I’m not making any sort of assessment; I can’t say whether it’s good or bad. It’s just so different than what I'm accustomed to and there are moments I see or hear something and either a. laugh hysterically or b. think to myself, “Where on earth am I?” 

It reminded me of a time when Shannon and I were working in the summer camps at Garden Home. A camper’s mother accidently packed a beer instead of a coke in his lunch. This, of course, was hilarious, but something the mother was mortified about since even talking about beer around children in the U.S., especially in a place designated for children, is totally taboo.

Then again, when I lived in Oregon City, my brother and I used to walk to the nearby hospital gift shop just to buy bubble gum cigars, but didn't we all?  Hmmm…

Happy Friday in Korea :) 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

20 Questions

20 questions with a 7 year old-

Is it a boy? Yes
Is he older than you? Yes
Is he older than me? I don’t know
Is he a singer or a movie star? No
Is he a president? Yes
Wait, so is he older than me? I don’t know (confused look)
Is it Obama? Yes


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Home is Where I Want to Be on Thanksgiving

It's Thursday morning and I wake up, not to an alarm clock, but to the meows of the one cat and four kittens living with me in my studio apartment. It's not just any Thursday, but it's the fourth Thursday of November, which means it's Thanksgiving Day. Sure it's not yet Thanksgiving in the states, but I'm used to considering Korea time my reality and USA time a concept only important for determining when I can contact those I love from back home.

I'm running late, so on my way out, I rush to grab all things that look warm: A sweatshirt to wear under my jacket, some gloves and a hat. I haul my bike down nine stories on the elevator and out the door. WHAM, I'm stricken with a giant gust a freezing air. Yup, it's officially winter and in Korea, it gets really cold. My muscles tighten as I pedal my bike as fast as I can. I'm torn because pedaling faster means getting to school earlier, but also means more intense winds that bring tears to my eyes and a pins and needles feeling to my hands. A man riding on the back of a truck hauling cabbages shouts "hello" as we cross paths. The trees are bare and the remains of the crunchy, dry leaves flutter across the sidewalk. The neighborhood is quiet except for an occasional driver holding down their horn for a reason surely not to be solved by the awful ear piercing sound occurring much too early in the day. 

I guess you could say it's an ordianry day, but I can't help but feel a sense of emptiness. This is how the holidays go when living away from the place you truly consider home. There are occurrences throughout the day that evoke an array of emotions. Happiness when my students basically maul me in the halls just to get a chance to say hello. Sadness when I think about something I need to do but have been procrastinating. Confusion when a student writes a word in Korean on the classroom white board, which I'm pretty sure is inappropriate. Anger when a co-teacher shows up 30 minutes late for class. Excitement when I check my e-mail and find a message from my dearest Amy. But the overall undertone is a feeling of things not being quite right and that just can't be changed...that is unless I could snap my fingers and be in Oregon. I don't  usually even care much for Thanksgiving, but when I'm gone, the tables are turned.

In the evening, I have a spaghetti dinner with a Korean family. Not just any spaghetti, but it's cooked with fresh shrimp, 12 different vegetables, and within a loving home. And this weekend, I'll share a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with Shannon, Jeff and some of their friends down in Daegu, so it's definitely not a matter of food. I guess it's just that so many of the people and things I am thankful for are back home and to not be in their presence on a day dedicated to giving thanks feels strange. If I can't be home, thought, being with Shannon is the next best thing. She is the company that makes me feel most at home. 

The highs, the lows, the crowded subway, the yearning or the west, the emotional roller coaster.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Sometimes I joke about not wanting to get older and I’ve even felt a rush of anxiety prior to every birthday post 23-years, but in reality, I’m quite content with aging. With each year, I feel more like myself, more confident, wiser, more willing to open up to others, more in tune with what makes me happy and what does not, and more aware of what I feel is important in life. What others think about me becomes less important and instead, I care more so about what I think about myself. At 26, I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever felt before…well, not counting those earliest hooligan years when I was certain the most important thing in life was proving big foot and aliens existed, but you get my drift! I’m still a whole bunch of messiness and a little bit insane and probably always will be, but I’m okay with that and those that matter to me are as well. I think some are even starting to understand it, perhaps better than I do. 

Fortunately, messy and insane or not, I’m realizing the more I know myself, the deeper and more meaningful my friendships become. People like real and real people are better at making and maintaining relationships. This year I felt extremely loved by these special people in my life, both those in the U.S. and those previously or currently in Korea. The birthday festivities spanned over a week and I felt like the luckiest person alive.

11/11/11; 2nd birthday in Korea; Peppero Day; Veterans Day

The Pyramid of Giza was closed and Walt Disney World hosted 11 weddings.
But the world did not end and there was not a Mayan apocalypse.
Some believe it marks the end to greed. Who knows? I doubt it. 

For me, it went a little like this…

The Siddartha Bakshi visited Korea from the U.S. I saw and experienced the country through a true foreigners perspective once again. 

Co-workers surprised me with a cheesecake the morning of my birthday. That's a pregnant belly behind the cake :)

Really lucked out with these folks- Birthday Dinner

All That Jazz, Itaewon

Shannon and Ficken visited from Daegu with CONFETTI CUPCAKES AND FROSTING! FYI, I can't buy confetti cake mix nor do I have an oven, so this was such a wonderful treat :)

I belong to the coolest hiking/climbing group around and the leader, Mr. Kim, organized a birthday party on the mountain that included an awesome hike and lunch celebration on Bulamsan (불암산). Two separate worlds of friends merged. 

Another tasty cake thanks to Sunil (in the blue above)

Grand finale of Sid's visit- The Seoul Lantern Festival

I really hope that all those nearest and dearest to me know just how much I love you.

And finally,'ll be home or the holidays. See ya soon U.S. peeps!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Biggies in Two Weeks: Seoraksan and Jirisan

My hiking group does these trips identified as overnighters. Don't get the term confused with a weekend trip, say, departing on a nice Saturday afternoon, staying in a hostel/motel/hotel, a brisk hike the next day and then going home in the early evening. No, they are definitely not that. Instead, they entail meeting at a rented bus at 11:30pm on a Friday night (after a full days work), traveling 3-4 hours in the night/"sleeping," and starting a climb up a mountain at 3-4 am in the dark. The hikes will last 12-16 hours and we'll head back for home late in the night.

I have a love/hate relationship with these overnight trips. ZZZzz on a bus just doesn't happen for most and so, realistically, you are pulling an all nighter and then climbing a very difficult mountain on no sleep. It's insane, but the internal and physical strength you gain from completing such a trek outweighs the tribulations. You sweat, swear, sometimes cry, curse the mountain for being so damn steep, wonder why Koreans hike almost directly up a mountain instead of at a steady incline, and sometimes want to quit. But you get through it. Sometimes it feels like just you and the mountain and other times you are leaning on or being leaned on by someone else in the group. It's emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting and for that, rewarding. 

I took two of these trips to mainlands Korea's tallest and most difficult to get to peaks in just a little over two weeks. 

What doesn't kill you, definitely makes you stronger. 

Seoraksan and Dinosaur Ridge

We started the hike at about 3:30am. Human traffic was pretty much stop and go for the first couple hours. It's the most popular time and place for seeing the changing fall colors of Korea's beautiful maple trees and I knew this, but I was still shocked to see this many people on a mountain. When it started to get light, though, I understood; The colors and view were absolutely breathtaking. 

There were three of us that kind of grouped together for the hike: Claudia, Seongmin, whom we had just met, and myself. We were having such a great time chatting it up and taking photos, we found ourselves a bit behind from the rest of the group. It didn't bother us until we had made it to the top of the mountain and then to the shelter where we were to decide to take either the shorter descend or Dinosaur Ridge, a much longer and more difficult ridge hike over a shape similar to that of stregasauraus's back. Despite there being an advisory not to start Dinosaur Ridge for the purpose of time (it being later in the afternoon), our leader still encouraged (err, kind of forced with our best interest in mind) us to take the trail. He kindly agreed to wait for us at the intersection where we'd descend..

We completed the ridge trek, the most difficult trail at Seoraksan in just about 3.5 hours. By that time, we were beat, but to our surprise, still had at least least a 4 hour descend. Total we hiked 16 hours and 24km (~15 miles). We experienced sun, rain, wind and fog- literally and metaphorically. I cried at the end. 

Jirisan, Halloween Weekend

Jirisan was a whole different story. It was long and hard, sure, but I didn't feel that sense of danger and fear that resulted from being behind on the first trip. There was no rushing to catch up to anyone because, for the most part, we stuck together as a group. Or maybe it was that I had already done the trip (exactly one year ago) and sort of knew what to expect. Anyway, I felt a sense of peace from start to finish. 

I'm really happy I went. Since I had already done it and it's Halloween weekend, myself and some friends had decided to skip and do the whole dressing up/going out. Last minute, though, myself and my dear friend, Claudia, changed our minds. I knew I'd regret missing it. I was kind of sad to miss dressing up, but to compensate for the Halloween loss, I brought a bunch of foam pumpkins for us to pin on our backpacks. I'm getting old...

Friday night, some of us met a little earlier than 11:30pm for some dinner, later loaded the bus and we were off. The hike started at about 4:20am and we reached the peak at 9:00am. Not too shabby a time! And unlike last year's Jirisan hike, there was no rain! Nothing but clear skies and beautiful colors. I'll never forget the view of the reds, oranges, browns, and greens against the bright blue, slightly clouded sky. 

After the peek, we headed for a shelter to eat lunch. There were two different choices for the descend: the shorter trail or the longer one. On the way up, I made the decision to take the shorter one. It wasn't that I didn't think I could do the longer one, but I was still feeling a little beat up from Searaksan. By the end of lunch, I had changed my mind and joined the 14 other crazy heads destined for the long trail. Mr. Kim, the leader, boasted that the longer trail was only that, longer, but not steeper nor more difficult. The gears in my head started to shift. Claudia had mentioned on the way up that she thought she would do the longer one since we're here, anyway. Both her and Mr. Kim got to me. I did the longer one and am extremely grateful they convinced me.

Our trek down felt never ending at times, but set us up for seeing waterfall after waterfall. The water below each was a beautiful shade of green/blue and clear enough to see straight to the bottom. At times, we'd cross bridges that put us dead center of the river we followed. One could look either up or down river and be equally amazed by the colors covering the mountain sides.

About half way down, my legs grew shaky and just as during my last Jirisan trek, the Seoraksan trek and every other large mountain I've climbed, I wondered if I could make it to the end. I always wonder this and somehow always make it. It's part of the excitement- feeling like you might not have it in you to finish, but there being no other option. You begin to realize your capabilities are so much more than that which you had previously imagined. And if your capabilities on the mountain are so much greater than your previous assumption, those off the mountain much be as well. I do believe this is one of the most special qualities of hiking- realizing just how strong you are, and not just physically, but in every other way possible.

Total we hiked 17 km (10.5 miles) in about 13 hours. 

Hope everyone else had a great Halloween weekend! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Oops, did I do that?

Starving after having taught a a whole morning of Halloween lessons, which included reaching into a black plastic bag and feeling brains, eyeballs, and fingers (noodles, grapes, and peppers), I hurry down to the teachers room for lunch this fine Friday afternoon.

I walk in and every one is seated around our large round table. The vice principle and principle are also seated, so I bow and greet out of respect. The principle says: "I Love you, Lana!" "Much, much, much!" What am I to say? I say my "I love you too." wondering if it's at all possible he doesn't understand the meaning of the phrase. He does, though, and follows up with a, "Because you're so beautiful." I awkwardly thank him and proceed through the lunch line. A lot of my favorites are being served so I'm super psyched.

I wanted a little bit more of the mixed vegetables because they are absolutely amazing and get up for seconds. After scooping them onto my tray, I turn around to return to me seat right behind the food. Unfortunately, I don't make it back to my seat before knocking over the entire metal container of rice. Now let me mention, this thing is not small nor light. Awesome. Somehow I was lucky enough to have most the rice stay inside the container rather than all over the floor, which would have made this embarrassing moment ten times worse.

My co-teacher asks me if I'm okay and I say yes, pick up the container and return it to the cart. With a a face the color of a tomato, I then return to my seat. There are about 13 other teachers at the table, all of which look down at their trays, not knowing what else to do. Most can't speak English, so they wouldn't know what to say and the others are just too damn embarrassed for me to even acknowledge what happened.

The reason I'm blogging about today's lunch isn't because it's it's extremely out of the ordinary, but quite the opposite. It embodies the awkwardness of every lunch at my school and while it's a bit extreme of an example, this is always the strangest part of my day. I really want to eat, but don't want to face the silence, comments about my appearance, and stolen stares. It's no ones fault that lunch is this weird. If I could speak conversational Korean, things would be a lot different, but I don't,

Anyway, I'm not complaining; It's more funny than anything else. You know what's also funny? This pumpkin named Wilson that I carved with my last class of the day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

^ ^

Absolutely nothing beats packages from home. Not paragliding, not hiking, not nights out with friends. Packages are the ultimate mood booster when living abroad.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paragliding @ Mt. Yumyung

I do a lot of crazy things, but this might have been the craziest. There really isn't any need for writing much because these photos and this video will get about as close to describing an indescribable experience as possible.

Paragliding @ Mt. Yumyung, South Korea from Lana Wright on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Autumn 2011: Achimgari Wilderness Trekking, Gwanaksan, Festivals and Food!

Have I ever mentioned that I love Autumn in Korea? If not, then I should now. I absolutely, with every last part of me love, love, love autumn in Korea. It's beautiful and totally evokes that "I want to be cozy, wear a sweater, feel a little lonely, listen to some slow music, reflect, drink a little whiskey, and eat soup feeling." Sound depressing? Well it's not at all. Besides this feeling, I think another part of me is in love with the nostalgia of my previous autumn here.

Last year it was mid-September when I first stepped foot in Korea. Sure it was crazy hot and humid, but I had missed most of the summer and just weeks later and basically over night, we said so long to summer and hello to autumn. It was also during this time that I experienced many of my firsts in Korea. My first hike with my climbing group. My first great friend. My first concert. My first bike ride. And so many more things that I only remember in the midst of a nostalgic moment when every sense in my body transports me back to that first time experience. It's incredible.

Fall in Korea is relatively short so, looking back on all that I accomplished during the short period last year, I can't contain my feeling of satisfaction. It was Korea and mines honey moon period; I wanted to do anything and everything and I did. But now that I'm settled in and living a semi-normal life (but what's normal anyway?), I'm finding that I'm still doing a ton of awesome things and still experiencing firsts. Nothing I'm doing is really, well, normal. I think it has a lot to do with how much happens here during this season. People everywhere are gung ho about socializing in any possible way and the result is a whole bunch of happy people doing a whole bunch of awesome things. I suppose it's preparation for he hibernation the sweeps the country (myself included) during the long winter months.

Since I've pretty bad about updating lately, here's a look into my relationship with autumn 2011 thus far:

Some friends and I tracked down some tasty Indian/Nepalese food at Everest in Seoul. You might be surprised at how much non-Korean food is available in Korea. 

Achimgari Wilderness Trekking, Inje, Gangwan-do- This was an absolutely breathtaking hike. Unlike any hike I'd done in Korea, it was flat and followed a natural path along the river, well, most the time. Every so often we were required to forge the river and follow along the opposite side. The leader of my hiking group said that we were probably the first foreigners to ever make the trek. Awesome! Oh yeah, and it ended with dancing around a bonfire at a local restaurant. 

Pyeongchon Festival- Whenever I am bored, all I need to do is hop on my bike and something interesting pops up. A couple weeks ago, it was the Pyeongchin Festival. I found a stage with performers dancing around and playing Korean musical instruments in sort a humorous fashion. I didn't really notice much else until the performances stopped and a donation box was set out. Of course, I don't know what they are for and don't add money. A man next to me notices and asks, "Do you know what this is?" And I respond with a no. He tells me it's to help find missing children of Korea and points to women wearing yellow vests, each of whom is missing a child. Feeling like an ass, I quickly get up to drop some money in. Before I make it back to my seat, a vested lady walks right up to me and gives me a giant hug. When we separate, I see that shes crying and I can't help but start to cry a little too. It was a really moving experience and my heart goes out to all the parents of missing children in Korea and around the world. 

Gwanak Mountain Hike

Arugula Soup- It's the weirdest thing; I'm starting to like cooking. 

Had a little potluck party and made some peanut butter cups. Pretty damn good peanut butter cups, might I add.

Daejon Film Festival, Anyang