Monday, December 27, 2010

Let it Snow!

In the world of international teaching, a break from school is nearly always equated with travel. Rather than asking what dishes one is preparing for Thanksgiving or whether or not they have wrapped all of their Christmas presents, the question that hums off of teachers’ lips as we near a break is, “Where are you going?” After all, it is the love of adventure and desire to see the world that brought us over here in the first place. It only makes sense that we would get out of dodge every chance we have. Chris and I have gladly been a part of this wandering population during our time abroad and we have seen and experienced some incredible things.

This year is a bit different, however. Christmas break came slightly too late for travel for me this year as I am quickly approaching Hindenburg status. So, as all of our friends made their travel reservations either back to the States to visit family or to some warm beach somewhere to find refuge from the cold Seoul winter, Chris and I regrettably sat by and waved them all goodbye. I’ll be the first to admit that I looked forward to this break with a certain amount of apprehension. The first few frigid days served as chilly reminders of how we might be warming ourselves at some Australian winery or, better yet, near the fireplace at our families’ houses in the States. Happily, these despairing attitudes didn’t last long. Though the guest lists were short, we found ourselves attending Christmas parties, impromptu dinner get-togethers, outings with friends, and other things that we simply haven’t had time to enjoy during the school year.

Here has been the best part. We woke up this morning to a few good inches of untouched, fluffy snow. You know how much I had to shovel? None. You know where I had to be today? Nowhere. You know what I had to get done today? Absolutely nothing. And it feels awesome. We decided to venture out around campus where we ran into a few families sledding down a deserted hill. No one had anything but that on their to-do list for the day. Later in the morning, the snow came back and was falling in giant, soft flakes. We got to do what everyone wants to do when it snows like that. We made hot chocolate, turned up the heat, and sat and watched the snow float down from the sky. Now this is what vacation is all about. I think I might go read a book… because I can. Let it snow!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Don't Take "No" For an Answer

Asian culture is a funny one. On the one hand, they are extremely friendly and go above and beyond to help ignorant foreigners make their way in a strange land. On the other hand, they are rule-followers who are quite unable to think outside of the box. This is often frustrating for Americans who have learned that thinking outside of the box is usually a very admirable trait to have. One such frustration has occurred during our most recent trips to Starbucks.

If you recall, holiday season at Starbucks is an event that is marked on expat’s calendars across the peninsula. The snowflake cups and coffee-drinking penguins at the cash register create a sort of haven of Christmas cheer in no matter what corner of the globe you find yourself. This year’s holiday season has been made extra special by the addition of the peppermint mocha to the list of holiday offerings. In the absence of my mom’s sugar cookies, few things come closer to tasting like Christmas than this delicious beverage. Here is the downside. As I have lamented before, Starbucks in Korea does not offer decaf versions of their liquid Christmas cheer and as I am staying away from caffeine during pregnancy, this is very sad news indeed. However, there exists a suitable alternative to the peppermint mocha in such a time as this: the peppermint hot chocolate. It seems simple, right? No peppermint mocha, just order the peppermint hot chocolate. Here is the problem. The peppermint hot chocolate is not on the menu. “So what?” you scoff, “Starbucks takes great pride in customizing beverages for its high maintenance clientele.” While this is true in the outside-of-the-box part of the world, it is far from the case in the collectivist follow-the-rules part of the world. If it is not on the menu, it is impossible to create. End of story.

Though we knew what kind of trouble we might be getting ourselves into, I went ahead and tried to order a peppermint hot chocolate. The girl behind the cash register looked very confused. I clarified that I wanted a hot chocolate with one shot of peppermint syrup. “No,” she replied simply. We encouraged her that it was actually okay to do. Just make the hot chocolate and put in one shot of peppermint. She turned to the person making the drinks and confirmed her previous negation. “No, I’m sorry.” Still smiling and friendly, we continued to explain to her how to ring it up on the cash register. Put in one hot chocolate and then press the key that is labeled “extra flavor shot”, come on, you can do it! She turns to her manager, obviously in distress over the foreigners who don’t seem to be understanding her. Was she mispronouncing the word “no”?. The third “no” inspired us to pull out the big guns. Hands placed firmly on what remains of my waist, I accented my giant pregnant belly and explained that I am unable to consume their caffeinated drinks of choice. After quite a bit of hemming and hawing in Korean, they finally decided to grant the poor pregnant foreigner her Christmas wish. Goal achieved! Peppermint hot chocolate made. This exact scene is played out every single time I decide to torment the unfortunate barista and every single time we end up wearing down their resolve and getting the peppermint hot chocolate.

Most recently, I have tried a tactic that has cut down on the time between ordering and acceptance of the order significantly. Jumping straight to the big guns, I whip out the belly and order a peppermint mocha… without espresso (gesture to baby bulge). Confusion often melts into understanding without any of the middle men and I get my peppermint mocha without espresso. How’s that for thinking outside the box?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

BOGO Update

In case you were interested, I thought I would update you on the Buy One Get One free (BOGO) babies. This week we got to marvel at the amazing technological advances that have come about in the last few years by getting a 3-D ultrasound. The best part was that my parents are in town this week so they got to get a sneak peek at the little cuties as well. Here are a few of their best shots:

She's a little shy, this is her hand and the side of her head

A little side profile

Okay, this one I have to explain. If you look closely, you should see one baby's face. Right in front of her face is the other baby's foot. Looks like it is getting to be tight quarters!

That's all for now. Thanks for indulging me!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


During the past five and a half years of our married life, Chris and I have used quite a few different addresses. In addition to our various houses and apartments, we’ve also experienced hobo-like summers making our residence under myriad roofs (thank you, by the way, for everyone who has offered your homes to transient gypsies). This kind of existence has caused us to contemplate the idea of what “home” is and where, exactly, it can be found. The previous two years, Chris and I spent quite a bit of time and effort making our home in Taiwan. So, when we first came to Korea, we had to admit that our hearts were still in Taiwan and that most of our homesick feelings were for Taipei, not for the U.S. Many culture shock moments arose not because things were different from America, but because they were different from Taiwan. As we start to learn our way around our new city, our wistful longings for Taiwan have dissipated somewhat. However, when the chance arose for me to go back “home” over Thanksgiving, I jumped at the opportunity. Chris had a basketball tournament in Beijing and, not overly excited about staring at the back of Chris’ head for three days, I decided to book a flight down south.

The comforting feelings of home came upon me as the plane hit the runway and I made my way to customs. The weather: warm, sticky, and rainy. The language: Chinese (believe it or not, this sound was unbelievably consoling). The airport: traveled through at least a dozen times over my two years. Starbucks: has decaf Toffee Nut Lattes. First order of business: buy an umbrella. Three years ago, I would never have imagined that I would associate these things with comfort. Yet, I did. Easily, I made my way to the apartment complex where we used to live to meet up with my hosts for the weekend. The next few days were filled with catching up with friends and filling my belly with food that I also never expected to be “comfort food”. Then, something strange happened. I began to miss little things about Korea. I missed the bigger sidewalks and the lack of canine excrement scattered about. I missed the crisp fall weather and the trees with all of their brightly decorated leaves. Most of all, I missed my partner in crime, my travel buddy, my husband with whom this place had become home. Don’t get me wrong, I had an incredible time with friends and I remain convinced that Taiwan will always hold a piece of my heart. However, it caused me to contemplate a little more deeply where “home” was for me.

Many dumplings, one strawberry ice, three decaf lattes, and countless memories retold and made for the first time later, I was headed back to Korea. I deplaned into an unfamiliar language in an unfamiliar airport about to find my way back to my apartment for the first time by myself. Bus found, I settled in for the drive. About halfway home I looked out the window and saw something that I hadn’t seen in far too long. It was snowing. And it was beautiful. This conjured up a whole new slew of feelings of home. As I disembarked from the bus and made it up the final hill to our new apartment, I breathed in the cold air and watched as the soft flakes decorated the trees and street. I finally made it inside to my anxiously awaiting husband who had just returned from China. Though late, we stayed up exchanging stories, laughing over cultural blunders, commiserating in travel pains, and enjoying each other’s company. It was at this point, that I found my answer. Home will never be a place for me. Places have touched my heart and left strong imprints there, but it isn’t what makes something home. Home is where you make it. Home isn’t made of weather, food, or language. Home is made of moments shared, memories made, and people loved. In short, as trite as it is, home is where your heart is.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Great Crib Quest

As you are probably aware, we need a crib soon. In fact, we need two cribs… soon. As it turns out, cribs are not quite as common here in Korea as you might expect. The various baby stores that we checked have piles of bottles, blankets, and 12-month-old clothes, but not a crib in sight. We were somewhat hopeful when we ventured to Toys ‘R’ Us a few weeks ago when we saw a sort of oddly shaped crib on display. These hopes were dashed when we discovered that this crib was only a platform from which the store was selling more blankets. Asking employees for cribs often turned frustratingly humorous as the word “crib” sounds exactly like “cream” to all Koreans so we were quickly escorted to the baby lotion section of the store.

After several arduous hours on Google, I found my answer. Evidently, there is an online store that sells every baby product I could ask for. Enthusiastically, I typed in the promising URL and waited. What I found was indeed a site that sells cribs, strollers, car seats and anything else you might need or think you need for baby’s big debut. There were two catches. The first one, I expected. In order to be able to buy these items, you need to speak Korean. Not too big of a problem as we have a few Korean-speaking friends kind enough to help us. The second catch I didn’t see coming. Apparently, the makers of this site think that it is a good marketing strategy to induce seizures in their clients whilst they are browsing the hundreds of pages of baby products. Each tiny thumbnail picture of a product changes and flashes with such frequency, it is exceedingly difficult to actually distinguish what, exactly, the picture is advertising. As I am unable to read the name of the product in Korean, I was forced to stare at each picture for several minutes before determining whether or not it was an item that I desired. Shop a moment in my shoes here. But seriously, watch out.

After several dizzying hours on this site, I finally determined the items I wanted to buy. We were getting our cribs, a rocking chair, a dresser, and a changing table. A friend of ours was kind enough to help us through the equally as dizzying purchasing process and we awaited the arrival of our items. Having never received any sort of confirmation of our order, I was a bit worried. However, sure enough, random delivery men began knocking at our door. Cribs, check. Rocking chair, check. Dresser, check. So far, so good. I was feeling pretty confident about ol’ seizure-inducing G-Market. Then, the changing table came. This is what we received:

I’m not sure if you can tell the scale from this shot, but this piece of furniture is not large enough to change anything but your daughter’s Cabbage Patch doll, and that’s pushing it. My favorite little quirk to this little treasure is the dog and bone handles. I never quite determined what the exact purpose of this item is supposed to be. However, after a few emails and very broken phone calls, we evidently communicated that this was not what we ordered. Yesterday, the nice delivery men came and picked it up again. We haven’t received the changing table yet, nor have we seen a credit to our checking account. It is kind of exciting to live on the edge and just wait and see which prize will be selected for us. Will it be door number one with the changing table we ordered? Will it be door number two with a refund to our account? Or, will it be door number three with another item delivered to our door, a kitty cat version this time? Only time will tell…

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fall in Seoul

As I've pointed out before, in Taipei we only experienced two seasons: hot and rainy and cold and rainy. Seoul has reminded us of what October and November are supposed to be like. The mornings are nippy enough to require a cup of hot chocolate to warm your insides and the evenings have enough of a chill to make a campfire with friends the perfect way to spend a Friday night. Daytime has revealed the kaleidoscopic variety of colors in the leaves of the trees with increasing brilliance. Not only that, I but I can't even remember the last time it rained. We snapped these pictures on our walk to church this morning.

I think I'm going to like it here.