So much to tell… and I’m going to China on Saturday

Hello once again faithful readers. This is another mammoth post on my life, so please forgive me if I have already mentioned any of the following. I have been jotting things down as they come to me and brought all my scraps with me so it may be a little disjointed. I apologize for that. Shall we…

Jan 7-13
This week – or rather this Monday through Wednesday – were my Winter holidays. We get 3 days in the winter and 4 in the summer (strange but true). The whole school closes down for those days so we don’t get any say in when we take our holidays which sucks because I would have much rather had them in the spring but oh well. It’s weird having to return to work for 2 days this week but not as weird as it will be in the summer returning for just Friday. We are going to try to get that day too so we can have a proper long holiday. But enough of that, what did I do during this break you ask?

Nothing much to be honest. I had decided to not plan (strange for me, but…) anything and just do what I wanted. As the time approached I really felt the need for both some down time and some alone time. I love people but I am always with someone here and sometimes I need Cindy time. So instead of going to Seoul with Craig and Josh, I stayed in Ulsan and explored the city at my leisure. I ended up going to see King Kong with April – finally, we had tried to go see it on at least 3 other days). It wasn’t bad – I’m a big fan of Adrian Brody and the ape was a very sympathetic character. We also found a really good Thai restaurant in the food court. Afterwards we went shopping – mostly grocery – at Walmart (it stills makes me laugh saying that I went shopping at Walmart in Korea). The Walmart here is huge – 3 floors and the bottom floor is all groceries. The clothing section sucks but the rest is pretty decent and the prices are great. I actually bought some beef for a reasonable price, which is saying a lot in a country where a 1/2 pound of hamburger meat is more here (like $4-5) than 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts ($3.50). Guess what I eat more off here?!?! After the groceries were put away, it was another night at Benchwarmers.

The rest of my time I slept in, read books, walked around Ulsan, explored and shopped. What a hard life, eh! I found a great purple tweed skirt. Hey, I have a reputation to uphold at school where I am the “Purple Queen” – and no, I didn’t pick the title. It’s really funny when they come up and count how many items of purple I am wearing and yes, jewelry counts. It was nice and relaxing to do what I wanted – plus it was very cost-effective which means I can afford my trip to China, more on that later.

Before I knew it, the vacation was over and it was back to work. Which is not a bad thing as thankfully, I still like my job and sometimes I even love it. There are loads of teachers here that don’t but I really enjoy it most of the time. There is only one class that I dread – they are annoying little shits – but there are 2 kids (neither are in the dreaded class) that give me the creeps. One is 8 years old and the other is 13 but strangely enough I like both the classes they are in as the rest of the kids in them are cool. This month I have been working tons of overtime so I can buy my laptop – next Saturday baby! – and some of the extra classes were fun. But enough about school – I talk about it all the time it seems!

Okay, so most of my readers won’t understand why I am writing about my next topic but… There are PANSIES here! Only yellow ones but they are still pansies. They are obviously the icicle version as they are still in flower in the street-side planters (it’s winter here too). I’ve been meaning to write about them since they planted them back in early December. To explain the significance – pansies are my absolute favorite flower. As in, I’d rather receive a planter of pansies than a dozen roses. Yep, I’m odd (I don’t like diamonds either).

Jan 14-20
There is so much juicy stuff I could put on the blog this week but I decided that I wouldn’t put any personal stuff about my friends or specifics about my school – I just can’t but there is still loads of other stuff, don’t worry. Wow, that was a run-on sentence. The reason for this is that anyone can log onto this blog and I would rather not get myself or anyone else in trouble because I love to talk/type/write. But I am keeping track of it all in my journal – it will make great fodder for my book on teaching and traveling in Korea that I want to write (in the dream world where my dreams live). Whether it will ever get published is another matter but there is a need for one – I can’t be the only anal person who likes to read and research about where they are traveling/moving to.

But back to what is happening, in the past month we have seen a ton of Korean teachers leave and new ones come. Some of the teachers that left were cool so it really sucked when they left but the new ones seem quite nice and they are more approachable to talk to. They are much more likely to talk to us – read foreign teachers – than most of the remaining ones. In fact one of the new ones commented the lack of conversation and Patrick told her how much better it was now. Some of the new Korean teachers have invited Kelly and I to go to jimjilbang (not sure if it’s spelled right but it’s a Korean bath house) with them. I really want to go – they are suppose to be really relaxing and neat – but I am of two minds about whether I want to go in a group or by myself. Why you ask, when I am generally a social creature – well, I am not sure how I will do with public nudity (yes, there are separate ones for men and women but still…) Okay, call me a prude but… On the other hand, it would be nice to go with someone who knows the score.

I’ve also gotten into a few random conversations recently about dating and attraction. With my ‘western’ friends – here or at home – it’s normal for a group of girls to talk about sex, boyfriends, dating and the like when we get together. But I have also gotten into more philosophical conversations recently about dating with some of my female Korean friends. When I talk about that sort of stuff with my ‘western’ friends, the conversations are frank, funny and full of juicy bits. Not so with my Korean friends, there the conversations seem more aimed at understanding why. It’s accepted that ‘western’ men will date or sleep with (or both) Korean women but my Korean friends (almost all are women) are shocked when I say that I find some Korean guys attractive. That statement always leads into questions about why. It’s a very interesting double standard. I have started to ask them why they are so surprised that I may find a Korean guy attractive and the general response is that the men are conservative and small (read: short). The conservative part is true of the older generations but not of any of the 20 somethings that I have met. As for being small, yes, some are but some are also over six feet tall and most are between 5’8″ and 6′ (which isn’t tall but it’s not short either). My last discussion on the subject started when we were talking about Korean movies (which are generally romantic, violent or both). I was telling Sue (a Korean friend) that I really enjoyed watching this movie even without subtitles (I’m on a mission to find out the name of it so I can watch it again with subtitles) because of the fight scenes, the strong characters and the really cute lead actor. Sue replied that finding a Korean actor attractive was different – I don’t see how, I find both ‘western’ actors and ‘western’ men attractive. I replied that I had met a really cute Korean at Benchwarmers. He was a little on the short side for my tastes but he had amazing eyes and was quite nice. Sue still seemed not to quite believe that I could find Korean men attractive. I thought about explaining that I like men – always have been a touch boy-crazy even if it has mellowed a little with age – but I thought better of it and just left it. Maybe if I get a Korean boyfriend they will believe me.

Next topic is food. As much as I like Korean food – and for the most part I do – there is something distinctly funny about the fact that the majority of Koreans will say that Korean food is all healthy. The implication is that ‘western’ food isn’t. Now, I am definitely not saying that all Korean food isn’t healthy or that all ‘western’ food is, rather that both have healthy and unhealthy components. It is always amusing though when they say fatty meat is good for you (and that you should eat it not cut off the fat). Heart healthy eating is not an issue here that’s for sure. And that is my food rant for today.

To expand the topic, we talked about food and meals in one of my conversation classes and the kids (ages 11-14) were all under the impression that ‘western’ breakfast was unhealthy and one kid actually said flat out that all ‘western’ food is. I had to explain that there was more to ‘western’ food than just hamburgers, pizza, donuts and ice cream – although with all the McDonald’s, Pizza Huts, Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins over here… I see where they get the idea. I think they listened though but I lost them when I tried to explain that chocolate had vitamins. Couldn’t get any takers on that even if it is true.

I did learn something today. Did you know that the liver weighs more than the brain or the heart? Or that the tortoise is the longest living animal? Some of the conversation books have to strangest topics. For example, one day I was suppose to explain Viagra (yep, the impotence drug) among other things. It was right between aspirin and vitamins (both of which were easy to explain). There was no way in hell I was going to tell a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds that Viagra helped the man get it up without blushing. So I left it as a “male drug” or a “drug for men only” and left them to infer what they would. Yep, I am a prude, only not really but there are certain things that I don’t want to teach kids.  Well, now I know that a career as a sex therapist is out of reach, hehehe. Crazy shit.

Jan 21-26
The past weekend was pretty standard except I went out on Friday instead of Saturday – aren’t I a rebel. Dara was playing at Benchwarmers on Friday night so most everyone was there. I’m waiting for it to get a bit warmer before I start venturing on outings to the countryside so I’m still in the socializing at the bar cycle. It’s not really Canadian cold here and there is no snow but it’s always windy. At least it’s sunny 9 days out of 10. But enough of the weather.

Saturday I met up with Kelly, Paula and Anna for Galbi. Galbi is one of my top 3 fav Korean foods – its right up there with Haejanguk (not spelled right but its a meaty pork bone soup with rice) and spicy chicken (which is exactly what it sounds like). What is Galbi you ask? It’s marinated beef or pork which you cook yourself on an open grill at your table (well, if you can call it a table – its about 12″ above the floor, Koreans eat sitting on the floor traditionally). Once it’s cooked, you take a piece, stick it on your lettuce leaf, add a grilled clove of garlic, some red pepper paste and some ‘salad’ (mostly lemongrass in a nice vinegarette-like dressing – although this is different from restaurant to restaurant and city to city) and wrap it all up into a bite-sized parcel and plop it into your mouth.

That was my Saturday because the headache I woke up with – I originally thought it was a minor hangover – turned into a migraine and that cancelled my plans of attending a concert with April and Anna that evening. Oh well, I woke up Sunday feeling lazy and indulged in coffee in bed with a book until lunch time. Isn’t life glorious!! Then I met some friends for coffee and lunch. Who would have thought that over here, so close to where tea originates, that I end up drinking so much coffee. Go figure.

No more early mornings – I am finished my overtime. I will leave you with a funny image in your head. I walked past a pet store the other day and there was a little puppy into he window that would have been cute except that one ear was bright pink and the other was blue. Each foot was a different colour too: yellow, orange, green and purple. Weird!!

Only two more sleeps until Beijing. I am so excited. I am going with 3 friends to Beijing for 4 days for Chinese New Year. Read all about it in my next post. Cheers all.

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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