My younger female students regularly telling me I'm beautiful.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
I'm not talking about terribly attractive women, here.
In the saga that is my Korean journey, I've encountered many a last-minute duty/ assignment/ obligation/ announcement/ what have you, and for the most part, I have learned to adapt to this world of frequent... adjustments. Let's face it, some notice is better than no notice at all. There have been times when I showed up to school to find out that we didn't have school, or we had several-hours delay. Multitudes of classes have been cancelled without any indication coming my way. Students don't show? I guess this class got cancelled. Co-teacher didn't show? Maybe someone will eventually tell me about how she had to take her son to the hospital, so I'll have to wing it. Maybe.
My point is that I've learned to get used to these last-minute or utterly-absent announcements. More or less. When these things come one at a time, they're practically a breeze. Possibly sensing my need for a challenge, however, my co-teacher dropped three bombshells on me today.
- My contract states that I should teach 22 classes per week at regular rates. I was only teaching 21 classes, so my extra time slot will be filled from 3:00- 3:40 on Tuesdays. Starting today.
- I have to pick a day for a mandatory training session in May. My co-teacher picked May 18th for me. This isn't too awful, I guess. At least I do have a month and a half's notice. Baby steps.
- I need to tell my co-teacher now whether or not I plan on re-signing my contract for next year. Right now. This is problematic. My current answer is "no" and I'm pretty sure it will remain that way for the rest of my contract. However, I don't want to announce that to my school yet because it might strain my relationship with the school and coworkers. I still have many months to go to deal with uncomfortable working conditions. And what if I do change my mind? I can't tell them "yes" now, then go back on it at the end of my term. I'm sure there'd be repercussions. Plus, though I feel a definite "no" at this moment, who knows how I'll feel four months from now? Not me. I told my co that there was no way I could make the decision right now. She told me she could wait as long as April 15th for my answer. I tell you what, forcing my hand like that only fuels the fire for my negative response.*
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Sometimes, working with someone who doesn't quite speak your language can be difficult.
Me: "Actually, I wanted to use that activity for tomorrow's lesson."
Jeong-In: "What do you mean?"
Me: "I thought you wanted me to come up with an activity for tomorrow's lesson."
Me: "Okay. Well, you used that activity with this class."
Jeong-In: "Yes, you pick activity for today."
Me: "Oh, but we only used that with one of the classes today, so I'm confused. Should we do the activity with other classes for tomorrow?"
Me: "So you want me to find a new activity tomorrow?"
Jeong-In: (confused look.)
Me: "Only one class did this activity today. Should the other classes do it tomorrow?"
Me: "So you want me to do an activity tomorrow, too, or was that today?"
Jeong-In: "Today, this activity."
Me: "Right. Do I need to make new activity for tomorrow?"
Jeong-In: "Oh. Yes."
(We had this conversation after class. In a /somewhat/ professional manner.)
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
This could be merged with Potent Quotables, but it's not that potent. It's just an exchange that occurred a while back.
Some Guy: "Oh hey, I remember you."
Me: "Uh, really?"
Some Guy: "Yes, from orientation. You were wearing that same red shirt. You told me how much you love Ireland. Then we sang karaoke together- 'Zombie' by the Cranberries. I think you were drunk."
Me: "Okay, clearly we've met."
Yesterday, I visited the hospital again. The doctor didn't recoil this time, so I assumed things were on the up and up. He told me I could go back to work. Boo. Also, he diagnosed me with tonsillitis. No tests were run to back this theory, but the illness seems to be ebbing away with antibiotics, so that's something.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Sunday, I woke up with a terrible sore throat. Didn't I know it was coming? I did. I'be been unusually tired for the past few weeks, resorting to naps after work, staying in, and generally taking it easy. A week or so ago, the lymph node on the right side of my neck ballooned up. A couple days ago, the left side followed suit. Hmm.
It wasn't until yesterday that everything caught up with me. I couldn't talk or eat, not that I had any appetite. I could barely move. In fact, despite my sister's presence, I couldn't motivate myself to get out of bed at all. Around five PM i managed a shower, but that tapped most of my energy reserve. Fantastic. I dragged myself out for one last dinner with my sister (a Korean take on Chinese food), but didn't even consume much of that.
I know my way around a sore throat. I get them all the time. Unfortunately, for me, they're never your run-of-the-mill sore throat. Mine alway get infected. Crazy, swollen, red, white dots on your tonsils, painful sore throat. I've tried to let them run their course in the past, but it's pure agony for days and I usually have to get medicated. Antibiotics are the only thing that help. I could tell that this time was no different. Being more proactive than normal, I decided to text my coteacher and let her know that I'd be missing work today, in favor of going to the hospital.
I feel pretty guilty about sick days. If, for even a second of time, I'm not feeling every single symptom, I think I'm cheating the system. So, when I didn't feel chills this morning, I felt like a complete jerk. Then I swallowed. As difficult and painful as it is to swallow just my own saliva, I kind of got over my feelings of guilt. Okay. Time to go to the hospital.
Every other time I've been to the hospital, I always went to the ER. I knew this wasn't where I should go this time, but I didn't know how else to navigate the building. How hard could it be, really? I found the lounge, took a number, and the guy behind the desk knew enough English to glean my basic problem and direct me to where I ought to be. Good start.
Eventually, I got called into the doctor's office. I've mentioned before that hospitals in Korea are for a greater range of illness. I still think of hospitals as urgent care centers, but the place I went to this morning felt more like a clinic. Anyway, I sat in the chair of a little doctor cubicle and the doctor inquires what's wrong. "Sore throat," I said, in a hollowed-out, husky tone reminiscent of Brett Butler.
I also told him about the chills and the achey muscles. I'd brought a whole list of my symptoms, compiled from the day earlier. I'm always a little paranoid about telling doctors what's wrong. Like if I don't tell them everything, they'll miss a vital part of my diagnosis. I over-inform. Except, I didn't get the opportunity this time. The doctor didn't ask after all my symptoms. Just jotted down a few before diving into the basic exam. Uh, okay.
Here's the best part: he grabbed a metal tongue depressor, told me to say "ah," pressed down my tongue for about half a second, then literally recoiled away from me. Recoiled.
|A doctor's worst nightmare.|
He shook his head and told me it was very bad. "Very red. Big. Yellow drainage." He then went ahead and asked me to stay in the hospital for two to three days. What now? I told him I lived very close and I could come back, but I wasn't going to stay. I have no fear of doctors or hospitals, or anything like that, it just seemed unnecessary. What am I really going to accomplish at the hospital? What I needed were some oral antibiotics and those don't work any faster in the hospital than at home. The doctor said I could go, but made me promise to come back the next day, stressing his opinion that I needed medical observation. I do appreciate his concern. He wrote out a script for me, then told me to follow some nurse into a separate room. My favorite- the intramuscular hip injection. No idea what she shot me with. Antibiotics? Painkillers? Seriously, no idea. In the emergency room, they strapped me up,
|Yes, I took my camera to the hospital.|
|Is this, or is this not, the exact same|
plasma stuff they pumped into that soldier to
turn him into Blanka in the Street Fighter movie?
After our whaley adventures, my sister and I got to my place to chill out for a little before going out. I had a couple friends with birthday parties in Samsan, one of which was themed (K-Pop Star). If you know me at all, you know how I love a theme party. I was pretty stoked to dress up for it.My mom bought me a new dress, which rocks and it would have gone perfectly withy my tiny top hat. I would've made a great K-Popster.
|Tell me you don't want to go download this RIGHT now.|
|Is that a little cultural insensitivity on your face,|
or are you just happy to see me?
|Damn, it feels good to be a gangster.|
Ulsan is known for its whaling history, that spans ages of time. I'm pretty sure thats what keeps Green Peace out of Korea. Though I'm against whaling, my sister and I still wanted to see the Whale Museum and even -gasp- try some whale meat. The museum wasn't spectacular, though there was a dolphin tank (dolphins are not whales, but who's counting?). Neither was the museum awful. Interesting for a one-time deal. Whale meat (we could only get it raw) doesn't have much of a flavor. It's pretty chewy with almost a hint of fishiness. We were over it pretty quick. In good news, however, I did get to take some panoramas. Score!
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Basking in the Afterglow of a Traditional Korean Celebration of an American-Appropriated Irish Holy Day
aka: Hangover Cures for the Morning After St. Paddy's Day
With such a strong and reverent grasp on our culture, we Americans feel compelled to observe our most sacred holidays. Even when transplanted in new countries, we band together to uphold ancient custom. So, naturally, we couldn't pass up one of the holiest of days: Saint Patrick's Day. In Korea!
There were car bombs, beers, blue drinks turned green, and a double-shot of Reedy Hot Mess.
|Sister: "Well, why do you look cuter?"|
Me: "I flirt with the camera."
Sister: "I wanna flirt with the camera, too!"
|Drunk.Face x 2|
|Huh. About that...|
|Me: "This looks like the right consistency, yeah?"|
Sister: (blank stare) "I'm not the person to ask."
|We're grown women. |
We can add what we want.
|This way, you don't even need syrup. |
|And joy was found in the land of Korea.|
Friday, March 18, 2011
I'm sitting here at my desk, heavily debating between taking a nap and posting on my blog. Life is full of tough choices.
On another note, today officially marks my seven month anniversary with Korea. I fell in teenage love with this year the second I got here. All the potential in the world awaited me. This was going to be a spectacular journey. Still, I wasn't completely naive about it. There was an idea that things might not be as amazing as I'd hoped. My concession was to at least hope that leaving after one year would be a difficult decision.
Then I started work. I'll admit, I am nervous and insecure when I first encounter new tasks. My initial response is worried intimidation. There's always a possibility of failure. But, I don't give myself enough credit. As overwhelming as things can seem, I'm more capable than I let myself believe. Soon enough, I could at least detect the rhythm.
Still, I managed to let myself get bogged down pretty quickly. Between the strangeness of my new surroundings, my struggles to remain in contact with all my new friends, the exhaustion of seodang, and the well-meant, if alarmist, advice of relative veterans, I fell into a mental quagmire. I'd internally hinge the remainder of my contract on insignificant details. Forest, trees, that old cliche. Somewhere in that mess, a tiny bit of rationale kicked in and I decided to be reasonable with myself and my coworkers.
- Step One- cut back on social outings. I'm not talking about weekends. I used to meet friends up for dinners downtown most days a week. I wanted to remain relevant in the friendship. You know, because friends will utterly forget you if you're not constantly around. That's totally how people work. I started giving myself a break. I could focus on weekends, but stay home (more often, anyway) during the week. Well done.
- Step Two- cut back on seodang. I was beyond exhausted doing this job everyday and never getting home while the sun was still out. It was depressing and draining. Simple solution? Reduce my hours. I negotiated with my coteachers and managed to get two full days freed up. It was like I could breathe again.
- Step Three- tune out the crazy. This encompasses the staggering visual loudness of Korea to the auditory cautionary tales of teachers past. I have never felt so sensitive to advertising media. It's all so unfamiliar, from the discordant color combos to the overuse of happy clipart. It was a bombardment, is all I'll say. Then there are the people you meet who've been here a while. Some of them have sound advice, while others have horror stories (hyperbole alert). People will tell you the ways they've been duped by the Korean education system, ways they felt their contractual obligations had been abused. They will pull a "if I knew then what I knew now..." line of speech. They mean well, they really do, but I was already compromised and took too many things to heart. I was suddenly paranoid and angry at my school. No real reason. I don't know if I've since learned to tune out external or internal crazy, but, either way, it worked.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I've seen Micki Herman come and go now. We had the better part of two weekends together, plus a handful of weekdays. In general, the goings on in a typical weekend of ours may be best left a mystery. No scandals and only the mildest forms of debauchery, I promise.
Anyway, the leaving of Micki heralded the arrival of my sister, Kathleen! She came bearing gifts of Turkish Delight (delicious and nerdily-referential) and amazing perfume (which I've been shopping around for for ages).
She's been planning on visiting Korea for months. It was supposed to be Christmas, then Spring Break, but then it devolved into "whenever they give me my time off." Finally, that time has arrived. Much like Micki, my sister is left to herself all day while I work. Being my friend is tough work. I try to make it up to her when I do get home. Most of our ventures have thusfar involved food. She's had bulgogi dop bap, bibimbap, mul mandu, (instant) jjajangmyeon, and some Korean BBQ. And some Baskin Robbins. Very Korean.
On Monday, we sojourned to Seungnam Dong, where we experienced delights of another kind. Namely, the Cat Cafee and that makgeolli bar I've mentioned before.
The Cat Cafee. The name is perfectly descriptive, if a little misspelled. It's a cafe. And there are cats.
|King Cat, allegedly.|
|Cats and dogs, living together- mass hysteria!|
|It's a little more brown in real life.|
|I've had dried squid as a bar snack. I actually like it.|
So, here's the breakdown: I used to work with three different teachers for grades 3- 6. All these teachers had a very strong sense of what they wanted to do for every lesson and I filled in as needed.
Now, I have one coteacher (not one of the original three) and we teach only grade 6. This is her first time teaching English, so she's very nervous, asks a ton of questions, and generally watches me take the lead.
- Sixth- graders are a bunch of rude, rowdy, insubordinate jerks. Every teacher in my school talks about how difficult the sixth grade kids are and no one likes to teach them. In fact, Day One of the new school year, before class even started (the kids were running amok pre-class), Jeong-In (my new co) leans over to me and says, "I don't like the sixth grade." We debate which class is the worst out of all seven.
- New Adjustment. The teaching is so completely different and I'm no pro, so I feel unsure on a regular basis. It doesn't help that there is no Teacher's Guide for my current textbook, so I have no way of knowing what activities/assignments are in the book. Winging it, FTW.
- FaceTime. Each grade is split up into about seven classes. Last year, I saw each class only once a week. It was impossible to recognize a majority of students. This tends to make things pretty impersonal. Now, I see the same seven classes three times a week. This is a boon and a curse, however, since I have to suffer particularly nasty classes three times as often. Oy. For the most part, though, I can start to develop better relationships with the students. This might help with classroom management. Maybe.
- Responsibility. Being accountable for about zero percent of my work last year, I felt completely useless. I was rarely used in class and when I was, it was under heavy direction from my co's. Suddenly, I'm a lead role. I can take charge, I feel more comfortable making suggestions about the lessons and contributing different materials. It's slightly more work, which has seemed to drain me a little more physically, but I'm much more satisfied with my position overall. Still, I do miss some of my other co's.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Please, when you read "BBQ,"don't think of your traditional sauce-lathered, juicy blackened chicken right off the barbecue. I try not to. It's too tragic. About the only thing Korean barbecue has in common with its American counterpart is the grill. Well. Sorta.
|If you call that a "grill."|
(consult: Scott Reedy)
|Personal chef neither included nor guaranteed|
available for individual sale.
Back when I barely knew her
(her hair is in a ponytail. Classic Devil)
This is a semi-recent photo of Devil. This was around her first week in seodang. She was new and I wasn't sure about some of these new kids, but here she is, delighting the class with some songpyeon (rice cake dessert) and sour yogurt drink (better than it sounds). I came across this photo today and couldn't remember if I'd ever posted it on the blog. So, this is possibly a reprint.
|I specialize in delicate portraiture|
|And, you know, some Kiwi Maegkolli|
Thursday, March 10, 2011
My Internet at school isn't working, which, we all know, is my favorite place for blogging. As a result, my posts have been... sluggish as far as publication goes. I do have new things to say (they're all terribly exciting, too), but I've been catching up on some serious reading while at work, which carries over to home and, well... actually, I'll go into this a little.
If you have ever really known me (my family, mostly), then you know I'm a feverish reader. I could spend days on end doing nothing but reading. I got all the Book-It prizes (ohmygod, it still exists!!), so many that we couldn;t even redeem all the Pizza Hut coupons. I learned this the hard way, by going through old boxes a few months before I came to Korea. (Mother, I'm still a little angry about this). But I digress. I was also top in my class with PARP minutes, without even trying. That stuff wasn't even about impressing my teachers, I just love to read. Once I get on a kick, it's almost impossible to stop me. I'm actually really excited to be delving back into the land of prose (thanks to my Kindle, which my amazing sister bought for me). Anyway, I'm enjoying the rekindled, pun totally intended, passion for reading and I'm currently 93% into a fascinating book, Room, by Emma Donoghue, so I need to go, but I wanted to say that I will try to keep the posts up outside of school Internet. Key word: try.
Sidenote- are there any adult reading programs? I'd love some more Pizza Hut coupons.
Monday, March 7, 2011
This whole "car accident" business really overshadowed my awesome birthday party of amazement and joy. There were controlled fires, a handful of costumes, drinks, dancing, and all the necessary fuss. Plus, Mo and Erin came in from Daegu, Colie and Adam traveled in from Busan, and there was even a special guest appearance by Ron.Ron "Gwangju" Bernardino.
I encouraged a Halloween costume theme for the event. Only about 2% of people dressed up, but let's be honest, it was really all about me having a chance to reprise my devil costume from Halloween. There's not much to relate about the events, it was a typically wonderful evening. Plus a ludicrous amount of makeup on my face. And some older, married Korean guy licking cake off my face. He bought me many a drink, so I figured he earned it. Sorta. He may or may not have been responsible for this:
|Photo cred: Amy Quinn|
I'd like to preface this post with a declarative statement. My life is fraught with uncomfortable moments. Tonight did not disappoint.
Apparently, Ulsan's No. 1 cab driver kept hounding my dear friend Solo about meeting up with Miss Labecca and I. Our highly creative minds speculated a myriad of motives behind his desire to meet. Perhaps he was going to succumb to a list of our demands in order to keep the whole ordeal under wraps.* Maybe he was hoping to receive the cab fare we owed him for yesterday's ride.** Or, he just wanted to check up on us.
Turns out, it was the last one. We had to drag Solo into the equation because the driver spoke no English and between the two of us waygooks, we have middling Korean skills. We exchanged some polite, if stilted, pleasantries. He's fine, we're fine, the other driver's still in the hospital, condition unknown. The driver didn't know how to handle the insurance situation with his company, so he offered to give us some money. We weren't clear on the ethical implications of such a deal, but we figured it'd be wise to deny the offer. Still, he insisted we take 30,000 won for coffee and our cab fare into town. He stayed for a bit, talking to Solo, then excused himself once he drained his mug. I refused to touch the blood money.
Afterward, at the behest of concerned friends and coworkers, Becca and I paid another visit to the Hogye emergency room. We had some X-rays taken of our skull/neck/spin regions. That was a special experience. I felt like a photo being developed. I lied down on this table, underneath which was the X-ray film. A light flashed above me, exposing the image of my skeleton and burning the image on the X-ray paper. Okay. I'll tell you one thing, my skeleton is pretty sexy. As it turned out, I sustained no breaks or fractures, but I did sprain my neck. What does that mean? An ass-slapping intramuscular injection. Count it. I also got three doses of pain meds for the following day (all for the low, low price of 46,000 won!). Tomorrow, I should be able to get the expense reimbursed by the cab company's insurance.
Yes, friends, I actually went to the hospital, even though I assumed nothing was wrong. I'm a grown-up now. Kinda.
* Our list of demands includes, but is not limited to:
- VIP tickets to a 2ne1 concert
- A penthouse for Yepu (Becca's dog)
- A summer home in Hawai'i
- Free taxi rides for the duration of our stay in Korea
- Free drinks at any bar we frequent
- Buy a drink
- Throw it in his face
- Utter any manner of profanities
- Storm out
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Today, I had my first ever free-of-charge cab ride. Here's how it happened.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Okay, I don't know if this girl realizes she's my favorite student, but she really keeps cementing her position. Not like it was precarious or anything. I ran into her on the bus after school on my birthday. I was carrying my belated Valentine's Day package, with my stuffed dalmatian's head poking out. Naturally, she inquired about the box. I told her it was my birthday and my parents had sent me a gift. Both true, although slightly misleading.
The next day, while I'm alone and palely loitering (deskwarming) in my room, she knocked on my door, rushed in and handed me this:
|Might have teared up before |
I even opened it.
|Lotion in a plastic, lemon-shaped jar|
from the FaceShop
- Clean your hand ◇◇
- You feel your hands are very dry,
- Put on the hand Lotion on your hand.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Today is the start of a new school year. This year, I go from three coteachers to one. The one I have now is entirely new to me. She and I will only be teaching fifth and sixth grade. This might take some getting used to. At any rate, today is also my birthday (!!)
Here's a little tidbit that maybe isn't so unique- I get very excited about my birthday. I love it. It's not just about the presents and the attention (which certainly help), but I also look at my birthday as my own personal New Year. I am starting a new year in my life. I'm 24 now and I have the chance to start over again, however I want. I like to usher in the new year with a little bit of optimism, a couple resolutions, and a whole lot of booze. (If you know a better way to wash away the old, well, I don't want to hear it. You do things your way, I'll do them mine. Personal rituals, my friend.)
So what are my resolutions? I said I had a couple.
- Prioritize my life- it's time for me to start whittling away all the things I like to do from the things I want to do as a career. I like doing so much, reading, writing, cooking, singing, dancing, etc. Well, I'm not going to be a dancer. Or a singer. I seriously thought about going into culinary school, but you know what? I can always cook for fun at home and if I really want to learn more about cooking, I can take cooking classes in whichever city I end up. (Sidebar, if you like food and humor, check out my friend Janet's new blog Kitchen and Screaming.) It's stuff like this I want to focus on. Separate the hobbies from the potential career moves.
- Respect my body- it's no secret that my body and I have been at war for ages. I think it's time to start treating my body in a new way. Work with it instead of pushing against it. Not just to lose weight, but to be healthier overall.
- Learn to be Responsibly Childish- There are plenty of childlike behaviors I possess that I appreciate. I'm still an optimist and a hopeless romantic at heart, as disharmonious as that might seem with my love of sarcasm and jaded perspectives. Still, some of my childish ways (passive aggressiveness, letting others take the lead) have grown to annoy me. Time to do some weeding.
When Matt and I arrived at the Incheon International Airport, my best friend from high school, Micki, was waiting just beyond the baggage claim area. We considered staying the night in Seoul, but managed to catch the last KTX train to Ulsan, then a cab to my apartment in Hogye. It felt like a long journey from Seoul to Hogye, but we finally made it. We slept in late yesterday, then I took her to eat some galbi and we went to Old Downtown to drink some makgeolli cocktail. We didn't stay out too late. I had work this morning. Now I'm almost caught up.
Our last real day in Taiwan. We did a whole bunch of touristy things. We found, with the help of some guy at our hostel, a great breakfast place that had bagels with cream cheese, eggs, bacon, french toast, and sausage. It was very exciting. Korea doesn't really have these kinds of things, so when you come across them, well... it's a real moment.
After breakfast, we went to the Taipei 101, which was, until recently, the tallest building in the world. It boasts the world's fastest elevators, traveling at speeds as high as 1010 meters per minute. You get to the top in about 35 seconds. It's unreal. The tower also has a mall with expensive department stores and a book store. The bookshop has a decent collection of English-language books and we were able to browse for hours. Of course, this made me pretty giddy. I love books. In case you didn't know.
After that, we watched the sunset and went to the night market one last time.Taipei had grown busy with the weekend and the market swelled more than we were used to. We had to wait in line for things. Seriously.
Then back to sleep, preparing to leave in the morning.
Kenting Beach. What a place. Beautiful beach town. Very laid back, easy going. Matt wanted to rent bikes and tour around the area. I agreed, thinking nothing of it.
Um, funny confession number two: I can't really ride a bike. Now, let me be clear. I know how to ride a bike. I have vivid memories of being taught. I remember where and when, I can even remember what my training bike looked like. (It was in a little renter's apartment in Mountaintop, PA. I was about eight years old. the bike was white with pink accents.) I think I was older than most kids are when they learn to ride a bike. Kind of a late bloomer. I even remember the Christmas in Buffalo when I got a bike as a present. I was so excited. That bike got some use when I lived in Buffalo. A neighborhood friend and I would occasionally bike around town. I do vaguely recall being a nervous bicyclist. My friend could ride a bike no hands, but i wouldn't even think of taking my hands off. Not ever. I owned that bike for a while, I think. Long enough for my dog to chew the pedals off. But I never used it in high school, I'm not entirely sure why. There wasn't anywhere close enough to bike to, really, and that tendency to avoid physical activity, I guess. (I was a sheer delight as a teenager.) By the time I got to college, the bike was long gone and I just walked everywhere. So, I haven't actually ridden a bike since I was maybe 13.
When Matt suggested the bike rental, you wanna know why I thought nothing of it? There's a whole clichéd saying all about it! It's supposed to be one of those abilities you never lose, right? I will tell you right here and now that that is preposterous. I got on that stupid rental bike after over a decade of non-riding and I failed miserably. Here's what happened:
I hop on the bike. This is fine. It's totally fine. Riding a bike's the easiest thing in the world. Then we start to move. Oh, woah, little shakey there, kiddo. Calm down. Oh, shit, why did the wheel turn like that? I didn't steer it that way. That was unexpected. Then we're riding along a road. A road with traffic. No sidewalks. Sweet Jesus, there are cars everywhere. I am going to veer into a car. Oh god, there are people, too. Why are there so many people?! I have to steer through people and traffic? Shit. Right about this time, say, two minutes into the trek, my arms lock into a super.tense state. I can see myself being unable to control the bike and crashing into either people or moving vehicles. Awesome. Then my foot slips on the pedal. Goddamnit, did I just scrape my shin? Sure did. That's great, that feels good. My foot slips a couple more times, same foot, same shin. Why is this happening to me?! During this time, I keep fumbling with the gears and the brakes, basically like a curious infant. Like I have no idea what these things do or what effects they'll have. I am an idiot. What the fuck? Crap, where's Matt? He's probably miles away and I can't even turn down this residential road. Shin slip. That's it. I'm done. I refuse. I cannot ride a bicycle. This isn't happening anymore. I get off the bike and start walking it in the general direction I'm sure Matt went. Eventually Matt turns back and wonders what I'm doing. He figured I was already tired. Not the worst assumption, what with my mountain hiking performance, but no. It's catastrophically more embarrassing. "I can't really ride a bike. I mean. I know how. But. Um. I can't really do it." My eloquent speech didn't precisely relate that, well, yes, I understand the mechanics and process behind riding the bike, but in my years of bike dormancy, the coordination and balance necessary for riding a bike have long since atrophied, rendering my understandings useless.
Between this revelation and the last, I basically feel like a slob. But that's extraneous information.
Matt really wanted to bike around, so I told him he could ride to his heart's content, while I return my bike and do something else. He was fine with this. Partly due to that overexposure itch I mentioned in an earlier post.
I took back the bike, to the confusion of the lady who rented them, then did a little shopping. I bought some white havaianas, a beach dress, and a fake red flower for my hair. I donned my new items and headed for the beach.
I had my bathing suit with me, but it smelled weird from the hot spring from a couple days ago, so i thought i'd just walk along the beach and enjoy a little stroll. Clearly, I don't know myself at all. I love the ocean. The sighing sounds of the waves as the pull away from the shore, just to slap playfully back down. The gradation of white, puffy foam, to the clear shallows, to glassy green, and finally to the deepest blue where the waves meet the horizon. That distinctive salty smell. I am utterly unable to resist the call of the ocean. Being fully clothed wasn't enough to deter me. So in I went.
You know how when you go to the ocean, and the first wave hits you when you're entering the ocean and it's so cold and jarring? Then you have to wade in slowly and accommodate to the temperature? Kenting Beach wasn't anything like that. It was perfectly warm, with just a touch of coolness to feel refreshing. It was wonderful. I splashed around for hours. And, of course, got a sunburn. Typical. I met some other foreigners on the beach and we hung out and gabbed for a while. Then it was time to meet back up at the appointed spot. I was absorbed in my own thoughts (as usual) and didn't hear him call my name as he was getting a pedicure at the place right next to our hotel. That detail isn't at all germane to the narrative, but I think it's funny that a guy was getting a pedicure. He couldn't believe that I've never gotten one before. Surprise, I'm just not all that feminine.
That night we head back to Taipei for the last leg of our journey.
The next day, Matt and I traveled to Kenting Beach. We took a bus, which dropped us off in the middle of the road. We could see the ocean from where we stood, but we had no idea what road we were on. We hadn't booked a hostel or anything. There we stood, debating between food and shelter, when an older women comes riding up to us on her scooter. 800 Taiwanese dollars for some hotel down the road. That's about $26 American. Huh, we can do that if it's just for the night. The woman lingered. We looked at each other, then her, not really knowing what we were supposed to do next. She makes a quick phone call, then grabs my luggage and slides it onto her scooter.
Me: "Why is she taking my luggage?"
Matt: "I don't know."
Me: "Ha. She's jacking my luggage, and I'm just watching it happen."
Turns out, she had a companion, who ended up taking Matt's luggage and they motioned for us to get on the backs of their respective scooters. Uh. Okay. They shuttle us over to the hotel and when we check out our room, it's actually pretty decent. Better than some of the love motels I've stayed in, I'll tell you that.
Then it's time to forage. We find a Mexican-ish kind of restaurant, get small pizzas, and I have my first drink of the vacation. (Okay, maybe my second. I had wine on the plane.) We were both surprised that we never really felt like going out before this. It had been discussed. There was some bar in Taipei were you pay a $20 cover and then it's all you can drink. It sounded irresponsibly dangerous, but we were sure we'd check it out. Just to see. We never ended up going there. Either we were too tired, or wanted to be well-rested for the next day. Most of the time, we couldn't even manage to leave the hostel once we got in. So day seven saw my first alcoholic drink upon entering Taiwan. A very strong mojito.
After we left the restaurant, we were walking around, observing the various goings-on of late-night Kenting. There wasn't much. Then we passed by this bar where we could hear a severely substandard Filipino band crooning out a cover of a Lady Gaga song. Obviously, we had to go in. We championed through a couple more of the bands songs while consuming cheese sticks and weird bacon-y food on a stick. Matt ordered a beer, while I went for the Absinthe. Complete with firey sugar cube. Around this time, the entertainment changed. Suddenly, there was a barely-clad Asians woman dancing around on a pole. Uh. What now? When did this happen? The woman kept going into the crowd, trying to compel various men to join her onstage. Once up there, she began stripping them down. They all protested at first, but she managed to take the pants off every one. It was almost impressive. One guy was even convinced to go the full monty. Random civilian men, not dancers. Matt was concerned that the woman might try to entice him to the stage, but the show was over before that happened. We paid our bill and left.
Matt and I decided to leave Taipei for a bit. Most of the day was spent in transit to Tainan. The most we had heard about Tainan was that it's known to have great food. That's spectacular, considering how much we like food (too much). We arrived in the early evening, I think. Still light out, but not for much longer. The lady at the hostel gave us a little map and suggested a few things for us to see. We had a decision to make. We knew we wanted to leave early enough the next morning that we could get to Kenting Beach (the southern tip of Taiwan) and have enough time there to do some fun stuff. So, we could either walk around and try to see what we could in Tainan that night, or get up early the next morning and tour before leaving.
After our mini-breakthrough, Matt and I journeyed to the largest night market in Taiwan. Or so it is said. It was massive. Food, drink, souvenirs, jewelry, gambling tables, carnival games, you name it. Funny story- Matt had his camera for this part, but had completely forgotten the battery, which was charging at the hostel. We roamed around, buying various foodstuffs. I impulse bought a beautiful necklace the sparkled in the corner of my eye. It was a little pricey (by comparison to other market goods), but worth it. So worth it. I love it. I'm wearing it now. That's right, on my birthday. Big news.
When we got back to the hostel, Matt grabbed his battery and headed back to catch last-minute photos as the market broke down. As for me, well, once off the hobbled feet...
When we woke up the next morning, I wasn't shocked at how much my muscles ached. I'm familiar with the whole "massages release all the bad chemicals your muscles hold onto, thus making them sore" idea. Matt, however, was a bit surprised. This is especially weird because I've only ever had one massage before in my life, done by students, while he's apparently had several. He claims this aching phenomenon had never occurred before. Maybe the other guys did it wrong.
That's beside the point. Day five was reserved for a jaunty hike up a volcanic mountain. Anyone who's known me long enough knows I have a sordid history with hiking. In middle school, I was a very active person. I was on extramural sports teams and played all kinds of sport on the weekends with the other kids that lived on my street. I was in pretty good shape. I'm sure I could've hiked all over that mountain's ass at that time. When my family moved to PA in high school, I didn't respond so well. I kinda of caved in on myself, became mopey and inactive, then gained lots of weight. My cardiovascular system took a hell of a hit. When any of my friends wanted to hike in high school (there was a little outlet to do some hiking in the Appalachians), I almost always declined. I was pretty sure I couldn't do it. Whenever I tried to do anything active, my face got extremely red and I basically had to wheeze for air. As a cripplingly insecure teenager, I was beyond embarrassed by this and always opted out of highly physical activities. There's a lot of psychology wrapped up in my current body image. I tried to hide it then, insisting that I hated hiking. Just wasn't my thing. That was, in fact, a lie. I love hiking. I love landscapes and nature. I like being in it, but I'm so ashamed of my lack in physical prowess. Especially when I was a Girl Scout (completed all the way through the Junior level, thankyouverymuch), I went hiking and camping with my troop all the time and I loved it. But, I digress. The gyst is, I like hiking, but I'm mortified by my apparent inability to do it.
Okay, now that we've got that settled, I have to admit, I was feeling the same kind of reservations about hiking in Taiwan. Even though I've done a lot more exercising this year than all my years in high school combined, I know I still don't have much stamina. I still wanted to do it, so I sucked up the pride and agreed with Matt that we should definitely hike up a mountain.
The thing about mountains is that they're pretty high and tend toward vertical. It's not exactly a bunny slope kind of deal when trying out hiking for the first time in a long time. Suffice to say, I was not very good at hiking. In fact, I kind of sucked. The number of breaks I took was circa a billion. I felt self-conscious enough, but Matt, who was kilometers ahead, kept braking and waiting for me, which made me feel worse. I basically wanted him to go at his normal pace and I would just take my sweet time. It was a huge challenge for me. Eventually he did stop waiting, thank god. I guess the most important part of this story is that I did get all the way to the top. I sure as shit wanted to quit, but I didn't. A quiet achievement. It was remarkably beautiful on the way. There were all these spurts of sulfuric gases and they made the scene look like mountains peeking above the clouds. Once at the top, though, the sulfur was so thick that we couldn't see anything beyond the peak we were standing on. Oh well.
After what was a grueling hike for me, we went and found a public outdoor hot spring to sink into. There were several pools of varying temperatures. We popped in and out of the pools for a while, the went back to the hostel.
I'm not exactly sure which night we encountered the following, but now seems as good a time as any to relate this. So, we're in the hostel, chatting with other travelers and Matt and I are trying to talk to that Korean French guy. He was born in Korea and lived there until he was about ten, then moved to France and has lived there since. Since Matt and I both work in Korea, we were interesting in talking about the country with this unique native. The only roadblock to an otherwise insightful conversation was this other American dude staying in the hostel. And by "dude," i kinda mean "old guy." Older than you generally see in a hostel, anyway. I'm a terrible judge of age, but he couldn't have been younger than mid-forties. In my mind, he is played by Danny DeVito. This guy LOVED to
interject interrupt with odd gripes about France. When Matt and I reenact the scene it goes like this:
Matt (as the Korean French guy): "Well, what I find really interesting about Korea is---
Me (as American): "FRAAAAAAANCE."
That's basically everything you need to know about this guy. I'm not sure he straight up hated France, like some Americans, but he had a serious bone to pick. With that 20something guy who is clearly a French authority.
Also, thanks to that guy, for filling the void of the "I paid the same price as everyone else" lady, when we got tired of using her line.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
This day was dedicated to the Taipei Zoo, which also exhausted the list of things I really wanted to do in Taiwan. That's semi-relevant later. Maybe.
The zoo was really coo, there were pandas and other typical zoo animals. It was really large and had pretty decent areas for the animals. For the most part. Zoos are always a little bittersweet. I love to see the menagerie, but you can't help but feel bad about the captivity. Even if it's a nice enclosure, it's never going to be as good as the wild. I'm conflicted about my feelings toward zoos.
Tangentially, we didn't get to see the penguins. I don't even know if they had polar bears. The zoo closed before we could fully explore. We really shouldn't have spent that much time in the Nocturnal Animals cave. Pfft, big deal.
From the zoo, there's this 28-minute gondola ride that travels over the countryside. Matt and I waited in line (and paid extra dollars) to take one of the few glass-bottom gondolas... just in time for the sun to set, so we couldn't see anything anyway. And the floor was all scratched up. We possibly couldn't have seen anything even if there was still daylight.At least we got to take a load off our feet for a while.
At the end of the gondola ride is this little town with many a teahouse. One in particular seemed amazing when highlighted by Lonely Planet. We went. There was a koi pond with rocks jutting out, which you had to walk on to get to your table. It was visually stunning. When we got our tea service, however, we didn't really know what to do with it. There were so many jugs and bowls and a strainer, we each had two little cups and we didn't know why. We took our best geuss as to how the whole mechanism worked, later to be told that we were far off base. Whoops. The tea wasn't very good anyway. It kind of tasted like spinach, which I do like, but not in hot tea form. Come on, now. We also ordered what was listed at a barbecue pork roll. Simple descriptions are often the most deceptive. There was a sweet roll, of sorts, and about a tablespoon's worth of saucy meat pushed into the top. Way too much bread in the bread to meat ratio. Not exactly savory or fulfilling. On top of it all, this whole "meal" was absurdly expensive. About $30 total. At least the dumplings were good?
We decided to revive the night by getting massages. We found a place that did foot bath/foot massage/full body massage, 100 minutes for around $35. Solid score. The foot bath was a sheer delight. Hot, penetrating water on our tired feet. Then there was the foot massage.
The foot massage. That Taiwanese masseuse dug his knuckles so far into my muscles that I literally cringed in agony. These subtle signs of anguish prompted him to show me a Reflexology Chart. My sister introduced me to the ancient concept of reflexology a while back and I am genuinely interested in its theories. However, with the stabbing pain in my foot, I started to wonder how one is supposed to distinguish between nerve ending signals of problems in other parts of your body and actual problems in your feet.
I've been having some recurring problems with my feet. Back when I worked at McLanahan's, after a long weekend shift, I could barely wobble the three blocks back to my apartment. For the entire duration of my trip to Ireland, my feet were in constant pain. My feet were certainly aching after a couple long days of walking around Taiwan, but the pain seemed to be disproportionate to the amount of work put in. I felt hobbled. Once I sat down, I was loathe to get back up. The more I think about it, the more I think my feet are always in a state of tension and when I overexert them, they go right toward shooting pain. All in the arches of my foot. I've been wondering for a while if maybe I have falling arches. I should probably look into that.
Right, well after the foot massage, I can't say my feet felt any better. In fact, they might have felt worse. Oy. Afterward, I was directed into the basement of the parlor to have my full body massage. Matt was about a minute ahead of me in his massage, so when I got downstairs, he was already lying prone on the table. Perched atop his back was his female masseuse, walking along and kneading his muscles with the balls of her feet. Matt managed to groan out "Is she standing on my back?" I believe I responded with compassionate laughter. Like he didn't love that some lady was having a stroll on his body. Am I right? My massage was wonderful, despite the parts when I couldn't breathe. You win some, you lose some.