Monday, June 25, 2012

Lunches with Grammy

Before I came to Korea, I had just graduated college.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher. It is my passion and my priority above all other things.  When you are in college you are focused on getting your degree, getting good grades, learning, and having fun.  Yes, you know you are preparing for your future beyond college, but how much of our college career do we really spend thinking and planning for exactly what comes after you walk across that stage on the day of graduation. You got the grades, you know the career path you chose, but it's not just a job after college, it's your life, and your future. 

I realized during my senior year of college that I wanted to do something different.  I had this urge in me to go somewhere, do something big, or experience something different.  I looked into a few programs that gave me the option to move somewhere else to teach and played around with a lot of different ideas.  It wasn't until I actually graduated, however, that my urge to do something different really turned into more of a strong pull. I'm not sure anyone really understood my desire to go away, and many people fought me on it. However, most of them knew that I had a strong mind and that it was senseless to talk me out of it. My desire to go away was strong and bold and I was not giving up on the idea. Moving away was not because I wanted to be away from everyone, but more because I wanted to find myself and make my life purposeful and worthwhile.

Something I always enjoyed at home, during and after college, was having lunch with my Grandma.  When I was young I always looked forward to going to grandma's house, eating toast and jelly with cereal in the mornings, going to the YMCA with her, decorating her christmas tree, picking strawberries in the garden, and playing in the yard.  When you are young, your parents take you to grandma's house to do these things.  When you are older, however, it becomes more of your own responsibility to make time with her.  As I got older, I really valued my personal time with my grandmother, regardless of how seldom or often we had time to spend together.  We would go to olive garden and sit and talk over a nice lunch and usually a delicious chocolate dessert of our choice and some coffee.  It was during these times that I was really able to listen to her talk about her life and her past and really truly cherish the memories she would share with me.  It was during these times that I realized, I was not the first in the family to have a strong minded will to do what I wanted and do something different.  It was during these times that I realized that I got my strong heart and my passion from her.  She may not have up and moved to the other side of the world, but she ran away for love because she knew it was right for her.  She was the first in her family to go to and graduate from college during a time when women did not even go to college. She has made it a point to travel and see different parts of the world, and she has a heart that gives love regardless of circumstance. 

And so, I came to Korea with my grandmother's heart, because I think we share the same heart in ways.  Every day I am here, I wish that I could share things with her and I know that she is proud of me. I make it a point every weekend to go to a cafe and have some "me" time.  I often think that my grandmother would really love how beauitful the cafes are in Korea, and sometimes I think about how nice it would be to share lunch, chocolate dessert, and coffee with her here as well.  Last weekend, as I sat in a cafe in Itaewon, all of these things came to mind.  As I sat looking out the window and thinking about her, the song, "The Rose," came on, which was the song my sister sang for my grandmother and grandfather at their 50th wedding anniversary.  It was a strange coincidence or an act of fate... or maybe God's way of telling me that Grandma, even though back home, is in my heart here always.  So this update is dedicated to my beautiful Grandma Galloway. I love you, miss you, and think about you often! You are my hero. Come to Korea and have lunch with me at some of these beautiful cafes! :)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"MAY (you have many adventures.)"

Seoul tends to give me this feeling of utter bliss every once in a while.  I feel happy here all the time, but there are also days where it just exceeds happiness and I just feel pure goodness.  I don't know how else to explain the feeling. They say when you smile while alone, that's when you really mean it... you are truly happy.  I am truly happy.

May was a low key month for me, yet still wonderful regardless.  I have seen myself start to break away from people and I don't think it's for any given reason, other than the fact that I am really coming into my own here.  I honestly enjoy my alone time because it leaves me without restrictions.  If I go out exploring or wandering on my own, my mind and feet can take me wherever they wander.  It's often these times when I feel the most free. I enjoy my time sitting in cafes blogging (as I am now) or reading with an iced latte.  I am happy with what I do with myself and my time because I find it plenty fulfilling.  I go to boxing three times a week, teach five days a week, and explore (and sometimes party) on the weekends.  Sunday's are always my catch up days to lesson plan, clean, and do laundry.  I have continued to build good relationships with my Korean friends and my other foreign friends.... and so, I feel good.

May is Buddah's birthday, which is a national holiday in Korea.  There is a big festival with a parade, lantern festival, a lot of fun cultural things to experience, and a nice three day weekend! I attended the night parade with some of my girlfriends and then the day festival the following Sunday. The parade was the longest and most incredible parade I have ever seen.  Countless people marched through the streets with lanterns glowing in hues of orange, pink, red, purple, blue, and white. After the parade, there was a big concert where they released confetti into the night sky while the music played and people danced and frolicked .  It was actually incredible. Falling confetti has always had this strange affect of making me feel both lighthearted and invincible. The following day I spent the morning in Sinsa alone reading a book at a cafe, having lunch, and wondering around my favorite area of Seoul with my camera trying to capture everything. Later, after I had my fill of some "me time," I met Kimberly, Aileen, and Breanne at the Buddah festival.  We wandered around for hours, going to various tents, listening to, seeing, and trying some real Korean culture.  It was there, I planted a seed to cultivate happiness and I tied a prayer for my family and friends to an enormous balloon.  The balloon was swaying in the breeze while hundreds of people wrote prayers and wishes and tied them to the dangling strings. They would later be released into the sky.  I wrote my prayer and tied  it on. Something about this made me feel so complete and fulfilled. After the festival, we ended the night at a very unique traveling wine bar.  We all shared a bottle of wine and had some nice girl talk.  What a wonderful way to end a Sunday. A simple Sunday, and still, probably one of the best days I've had because it was filled with personal time, time shared with friends, unique cultural experiences, good conversation, and good places.

Basking in the falling confetti. Photo credit: Kimberly. ^^
This is my fan, hand painted, with my name written in Hangeul on it.
 Aileen dressed in traditional Korean clothing called Hanbok. 

Planting a seed for happiness.

My prayer for my friends, my parents, my siblings, and my grandparents. 
 Folding up my prayer and kissing it before I tie it up to the balloon string.
 Tying my prayer onto the balloon.
The hundreds of prayers and wishes attached to the giant balloon.
Wine bar with the girls.

Last weekend I went away to visit the East Sea at a beach called Sokcho.  It was a nice little getaway with my friends Kim and Grace.  I had my first jimbjilbang experience... which was quite interesting and yet, not as  strange as I thought it would be.  A jimbjilbang is like a spa but it is nothing like a spa in the US.  It's literal translation is "public bathhouse."  Basically, you pay 8,000 won, to shower in a public shower room, and sit in hot spas naked with other women. Then you can pay extra to get a body scrub and massage (which I did!). The body scrub experience was somewhat weird, as you literally just lay naked on a table in the middle of the room while an old lady scrubs all the dead skin off your body and then oils you up. After you are all clean, everyone finds a spot on the floor in the common room to sleep with a mat. Basically, it's a cheap alternative to staying in a hotel or hostel.  If you feel comfortable enough to be in a room naked with other woman and you don't mind sleeping on the floor surrounded by strangers, then it's something you may actually enjoy.  It sounds strange but it is something that's very popular in Korean culture.  At first, I thought being naked in front of everyone was weird but once you get past the initial shock, the awkwardness just somewhat fades away.  The fact that Korean women stare at you because you look different... well that's still a bit strange. Our last day Sokcho, some of our other friends from Seoul ended up coming out and meeting up with us.  Grace, Kim, and I went on a speed boat ride.  They literally just picked us up off the beach and took us for a fast and exhilarating spin! On Saturday night, me, Kim, Grace, James, and James rented these mini motorized bikes and had a blast driving around the bay for an hour.  It was such a random spur of the moment idea, but it seems in these moments you tend to have the most fun.  We rode around laughing and  driving off sidewalks and over hills and drag racing like we were five years old.  What a wonderful feeling is it to do things like this that make you feel young again. Sokcho= SUCCESS!

Motorized minibikes in Sokcho!
On the beach with the girls! <3

Grace, Kim and I came back to Seoul early on Sunday, although our friends spent the day on the beach there.  On Monday, I was lucky enough to have my first horseback riding experience in Korea.  I was convinced that I would have to spend a year away from horses, as it is a very uncommon thing in Korea.  However, my good friend Eunhee, has a special connection to the KRA facilities because her cousin is a jockey trainer.  The first horse I touched, I spent a good five minutes just standing at his stall stroking his face and coming quite close to tears.  It felt so good to be in a barn again and feeling a connection that I have missed very much.  The horse I rode was a big handsome thoroughbred who went by the name JaeJae.  He was amazing with a big stride but a comfortable ride, still.  I was able to ride around for about an hour and I just basked in how great it felt to be back in the saddle.  I was so happy to see how well taken care of the horses were. It was this day that I also made a great new friend.  Eunhea has a cousin who is the same age as me.  His name is AhnSung and he came along to the barn with us... and took pictures for me! He speaks English fairly well and I enjoy talking to him.  After riding, he and I ventured off into the city of Ilsan to have coffee and hang out together while everyone else stayed behind.  I had a really great day with him, drinking coffee, having ice cream, shooting Airsoft guns, and talking.   I am so glad to have made another new Korean friend.

He had such a beautiful face and spirit. I just wanted to capture the feeling shown in his eyes.
Handsome baby boy :)
 AhnSung and I at the horse farm!
AhnSung kicked my butt at shooting. His score 1400, my score 140... FAIL.
Me and JaeJae<3

Yesterday I spent the day with my Kimberly, which I always enjoy.  We went to Myeong-dong and went shopping, went to a dog cafe, and went out to Hongdae later at night. I have never experienced an animal cafe in the states, but they are very common here.  You pay 8,000 won to go in, get a table, and a drink of choice.  The dogs just walk around freely and play.  They give you a menu with all the dogs' names and you can just enjoy your drink and have some quality pet therapy time. It was such a fun experience. I had a little dog curled up in my lap and taking a nap while I sat and drank my coffee. It's nice to know that when you just want some animal time, you can go to a cafe for a small fee and get your fill.

Kimberly and her Puggggyy

Sleepy boys<3

...and so May has ended, and it was filled with many adventures, new experiences, good feelings, and good friends... let June commence!