Chai Tea and Clinique

So, today is my day off and it is the first time that I haven’t had anything particularly planned for a day without work.  It occurred to me when some of my friends were asking what I was going to do today… I had no idea!  Time has really been flying by lately – can you believe that it’s almost been three months?! I have been especially busy with work.  It is almost the end of the first term (each is 3 months) so the students are completing their iBT Testing, similar to IOWA tests and any other kind of standardized testing.  My elementary students have been surprisingly upbeat, but my middle school students are even more lethargic and disinterested than usual.

I ended up sleeping in very late today, but then again, I was up late last night.  I had the choice of going out to a club or staying in and I did neither.  I ended up hanging out with my friend Jason, who I might be studying for the GREs with, if it happens.  I’ve been doing a lot of book and music-swapping here lately with other instructors.  If you revert back to the photos of my room, sometimes, I close my sliding door slightly; Zooey DOES need access to his litterbox.  The last few mornings I have slept in because it hasn’t been very sunny lately, so it is difficult to discern the time of day: when I think it’s probably 8 or 9 A.M., it’s really almost noon!

So after berating myself for wasting some of my day, I did some laundry, cleaned my bathroom, and set out to the mall.  The mall really wasn’t on my agenda, but people I have to tell you: the air here has caused my face to break out terribly.  Not really all over, but in certain spots on my face.  I can owe this unpleasantness to the air and the fact that my hands probably get dirtier than they ever did in the States, so I touch my face a lot with them.  So, to remedy the irritation, I stopped by the Clinique counter at the mall.  I usually wouldn’t spend a whole lot of money on Clinique, but I think that saving my face (literally) is totally worth it.  I purchased an anti-blemish three-step cleansing system and also got tons of free goodies! (I forgot how plentiful the goodies are)

The other great part of my day was finding chai tea.  All the Starbucks have it in the city, but I really wanted to buy some to have at home so that I may brew hot tea or make my favorite, chai tea lattes.  I stopped inside a random Starbucks and realized that they did, indeed, sell in next to the coffee mugs and such, so I broke down and bought some Chai Tazo Tea.  As I type, my face is refreshingly cleansed and I am sipping a latte as well.

Not bad for a day’s, well not work, but play. 🙂

A Little Homesick

I have been having a lot of fun lately, but things are beginning to wind down.

I have been living in Seoul for over two months now and am realizing that I will be here for much longer.  I meet new people at work every single day, students and instructors, so it helps to have a close-knit network of people who are seemingly in the same position as I am.  But sometimes I miss everyone from home.

A lot of people are wondering how long they are going to stay in Seoul, so the questions get aimed at me a lot as well:

“Are you staying for just one year or two?”  “Are you thinking about grad school?” A few instructors are taking their GREs soon and applying to grad schools, but I don’t think that I am ready or willing to take more classes in my life right now.

I hope that I am using this time more wisely than I think that I am.

Indeed this experience has a lot to do with self-discovery, and the pursuit of money to pay off student loans, but I am wondering if the cultural aspect of living in Seoul has begun to wear off.  Initially, I was really into checking out ancient palaces and learning as much of the Korean language as I could, but I think that I have relied too much on the fact that this city is much more Westernized than most areas.  Many Koreans can speak enough English to point me in the right direction when I am lost.  A lot of signs and directions are in English.  I think that some part of me gave up on challenging myself… I hope that it’s not true.

On the bright, I have been reading a lot.  I finished Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in two days and now I am reading a novel called Perfume.  Several instructors have entertained the idea of starting a book club, and Perfume is our first selection.

Well, today is my day off of work, so I’m going to stop moping and find something productive to do. So far I have only cleaned my bathroom, yelled at Zooey, and purchased facial wash.

Megooks (Foreigners) with Money

Part Two


    Riding the subway has transitioned from an anxious experience to a familiar one. I remember once being fascinated by the number of people who slept on the subway. Bus riders would be sitting straight up, with their bags and belongings on their laps, but their eyes would be closed and they would be peacefully sleeping. I was always amazed by the fact that each sleeping rider always knew the second that they had to open their eyes to get up and off at their stop; I’ve missed stops while perfectly awake and conscious. Sometimes Seoulites reminded me of “The Stepford Wives,” seemingly human on the outside, but actually programmed humanoid robots.

I watched subway stops flash in front of my eyes out of the window. I hadn’t been to too many places outside of the jurisdiction of my neighborhood but I recognized names: Jamsil, Sincheon, Sadang. I knew that we were heading towards Chungrang-gu, but neither of us knew exactly how far CostCo was from the subway exit. As the guys talked politics, I rummaged through my purse to assure myself that I had everything that I needed. Since taking public transportation, I have developed a sort of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder where I have to always check my bag and pockets for my things: money, ATM card, Alien Resident Card, passport, etc. I never worried about pickpockets, but imagined scenarios of leaving things in taxis and on buses, forever discarding my identity. In many ways, I felt like a flop or nomadic bum, carrying her life history on her person.

“We’re almost there,” Greg said. “Two more stops.”

“Everyone got cash?” Victor asked. We each nodded. Apparently, CostCo was a great place to shop, but they didn’t take credit cards as payment, which was a disadvantage to those who swore by plastic and not paper. I brought eighty-thousand won with me, which was roughly ninety dollars.

“Well, what I really need to get is sheets,” Colin spoke. “I have only been able to find duvet covers and comforters… does this country not have sheets?”

Greg laughed. “Sheets? I’m not sure what kind of sheets go with a mink blanket!” When it became obvious that this was an inside joke that only the both of them understood, Colin explained that he had found a gorgeous mink blanket when looking for a comforter a couple of weeks ago somewhere out of the city.

“Do you know how many mink they had to kill for your blanket?” Greg asked heatedly. Colin shook his head, probably contemplating the mink, as I wondered what the hell a mink was. “It probably looks like something out of Dr. Zhivago.”

“Well, I cannot credit my decorating skills to Pasternak, but I do feel influenced by Martha Stewart,” Colin joked. “If it could keep me warm in Russia, then I want it on my bed this winter.”

The subway slowed to stop for the hundredth time it seemed, but this time Greg and Victor walked towards the subway door. I patted my pockets again and when I felt content, I looked around the subway. All of the Korean riders seemed to have his or her nose in a book or perusing the Hangul type of the newspaper. I wondered if once the four of us walked off of the subway they would all start chattering about us, talking about our big noses and big feet. There was a time when I was naive to think that I could somewhat melt into the Seoul population without sticking out as an American. At a bar one night, a Korean friend once asked me how I felt about the Korean response to Americans being in Seoul. I told him that I felt as if I were less than a blip on their radar, hardly making an impact. He laughed and then leaned forward: “Trust me, you are hardly a blip. They do notice you.”

We probably sounded as if we were winners of the Golden Ticket, skipping away to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. But we were just expatriates craving junk food in bulk sizes for a decent prize. It was true that any convenience store or grocery market in the city charged much more for American products than Korean. American toothpaste could cost anywhere between five-thousand and ten-thousand won, or between six and eleven dollars. Meanwhile Korean toothpaste was three-thousand won; it’s not that the Korean brand was bad, but sometimes it’s hard to switch from Colgate. A better example would be deodorant; Koreans are known for not needing it because they don’t emit smells or seem to sweat as profusely as other nations. So it’s hard to justify paying eight-thousand won when you know that you could get it for three bucks at your American Walgreens.

As we walked, Greg broke down the structure of CostCo to me and Colin, the newbies.

“Bedding and housewares are on the top floor. There are also some clothes too, but there are probably going to be way too many people shopping, so you won’t be able to get past them. But our target area will be the bottom floor, where all of the food is…” he looked from me to Colin with a grave look on his face. “… there’s no way to prepare you for this.”

Colin and I shrugged at one another. All that I really needed to get was cat food and litter. Zooey seemed to hate to see me leave the apartment because he would chase after me crying and then proceed to nip my ankles and feet. I had been doing all right with the amounts that Zooey’s previous owner had given me, but lately I had made a habit of feeding Zooey entirely too much food in order to occupy him every time I left for work. And cat litter, well, needless to say, one necessitates the other.

“Here it is guys, on the right,” Victor beamed. Each of us looked towards the direction of Victor’s pointing arm to see the luminous red CostCo sign.


What the Book?!

Yay! I spent most of my day in Itaewon today. Itaewon is pretty much Foreigner Central and I am already regretting not looking there for a place to live. I know it’s where all of the Westerners live and it’s very touristy, but it’s all very Bohemian and chill. I took Zooey there before to see Tim’s vet, but today I really took the time to explore. Before I embarked on my excursion, I looked up some used bookstores. There aren’t many, but I found WHAT THE BOOK?

It is a bookstore owned by an expat, a Canadian, I think. I took the subway and followed the directions. I found it tucked away behind some Indian restaurants (which I noted, because Indian food in the city is expensive). I walked down and immediately, I felt as if I was in a porn store: no one made eye contact and customers walked up to the register with their purchases tucked beneath their crooked elbows (I guess Bridget Jones’ Diary is the new Penthouse). Obvious western customers walked around hurried, digging through the stacks of books like greedy children. Instantly, I became part of the herd.

I perused the website inventory first and found many books that I have been looking for:

Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle – 5,000won

CultureShock! Korea- 9,200won

A Concise Treasury of Great Poems- 4,000won

Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House- 3,000won


Jonathon Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- 13,950won

I found Chuck Palaniuk’s new book too, but I had to stop somewhere. I could have been there all day sorting through buried treasure, but I know that I will be back again… soon. Foer’s book was the only one that I paid full price for and it just came out in 2005.

Of course, there were also clothes to be looked at. Itaewon actually has real womens’ shoe sizes, but I didn’t look at them. Instead, I found a nice fall/winter jacket for 68,000 won (seventy dollars) and a mock turtleneck shirt for 10,000. I don’t have many fall clothes here and it is going to start to get chilly. I am very glad that I brought my boots with me, for sure.

More later… and I promise to finish “Part 2” of “Megooks with Money.”

Megooks with Money

I decided to write a short narrative about my recent Costco excursion with Greg, Victor, and Colin.  I, for one, am very excited and you should be too….

Part One

Poor Greg was sick as crap, but he was a man who could not be deterred; we had a Costco to traverse to.  He strategized between slurps soup across from me.

“I figure we will take the subway there and then cab it back.  We’re going to have so much stuff that it will be impossible to carry it all back on the subway.”

I nodded in agreement, pouring over the subway map that was folded out across the food court table.  It was funny to recall that there was such a time when the map was a code that I simply could not crack- now we are experts. We had chosen to meet our friend Victor at the CoEx Mall, but he was running fashionably late.  As it happened, another ESL instructor named Colin was in the exact same location, waiting in line at Sbarro when I ran into him.

“Well, I simply don’t need to buy any more things, but I am intrigued by this ‘Costco’ that you all keep talking about,”  Colin spoke, moving his fork around his plate of asparagus.  Colin is from England and is considerably older than each of us, having taught at various places before settling in Seoul.  I could let Colin talk about anything, so long as he never lost his English accent.  Every time he spoke, he sounded like John Cleese.

“Well, that’s the thing about Costco,”  I replied, pushing my half-eaten pizza slice away from me.  “You buy things in bulk that you know you will eventually need: gigantic frozen pizzas, tall jars of jalepenos….”

“Exorbitant amounts of condoms,” Greg continued.  I smiled, beginning to understand why people said that we could finish each other’s sentences, though he did always have to add a sexual flare to really own what he said.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a man walking over with a khaki baseball cap on.  I didn’t have to look head on to know it was Victor – he wore that goddamn American flag hat everywhere.  With the hat, Victor was also wearing a red fleece jacket, seemingly the only one in our group who was aware that the weather was changing from sweltering to cold and rainy.

“You guys are eating?” Victor exclaimed, incredulous.  “What about the free samples at Costco?”

Greg looked at his half-eaten bowl of soup.  “No worries, amigo.  Saved plenty of room for the free food.”

We pushed away from the table and picked up our trays.  Something about food courts always took my mind back to high school: maybe it was the trays or the silly conversations.  But indeed dining in a food court in South Korea, sitting at the same table with an English guy, an El Salvadorian, and a Jewish guy, was one of the last scenarios that I could have envisioned for myself before coming here.  Spectators must have wondered why such an eclectic group had such hopeful expressions on their faces as they exited the food court.  They didn’t know that we were going to Costco.

Greg and Victor argued subway routes while me and Colin talked about literature.  Colin had gone to the mall bookstore to pick up some novels when he ran into us.  Books written in English were referred to as “Foreign books” here and were much more expensive than other publications.  We talked about Samuel Coleridge, Jorge Burgess, and the origin of my cat’s name.

“Do you intend to get another cat and name her ‘Franny?'” Colin asked.  “Because you cannot have a Zooey without a Franny.”

I laughed and shook my head.  “Zooey and I are most pretty egocentric, so it should be fine with just us.”

The four of us walked down the subway steps with purpose.  It was raining lightly outside but no one or nothing could rain on our parade.  Neither of us had a list or a budget; just cold, hard Won in our pockets, waiting to be passed over to eager service clerks and cashiers.  Let it be known that I had never been to a Costco in the U.S. but I imagined that the Korean Costco was just as magical as I thought it was.

To be continued…

Learning Korean

God, I need to learn more Korean. There are trucks that go up and down my street selling fruit. They advertise by talking into megaphones, aggressively yelling what they are selling. It’s eerie, really. Sometimes the voice is monotone and other times, obnoxious and demanding. I only hope that when Seoul is under attack, they don’t warn people with trucks and megaphones… Meg the mee-gook would not know if the guys were warning about nuclear missile attacks or harping about bananas and apples.