Settling in

Yesterday, I was in a mood, and it hit me: this is the reality of moving abroad.

Moving abroad seems to hit (me) in stages. Stage 1 is AH MAH GAH MY LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER HERE THAN IT WAS AT HOME, which is true because back home a perfect storm of external factors were brewing on US soil to make the past three months really really shite for ya girl.

–except for having some of the best friends in the world, hands down. And as someone who’s done a little traveling, I can say that with even more certainty. Being home was such an amazing chance to reconnect and bond with friends whom I will never ever give up, sorry guys you’re stuck with me–

Nonetheless,

Stage 1: AH MAH GAH MY HOST COUNTRY IS PERFECT MY LIFE HERE WILL BE SO MUCH BETTER THAN HOME

Stage 2:…..cracks in the surface.

Yesterday, we new teachers had to get our medical done, so our morning consisted of us rushing around Doha getting poked and prodded basically. We had to get bloodworm drawn (testing for HIV/AIDS); we had to get a chest x-ray, then we had to go to a separate facility to get ANOTHER prick (on the finger but it hurt! walaah) to verify our blood type, because obviously they couldn’t test for that when they were testing for HIV?

Welcome to being in a foreign country folks, where shit just don’t make sense sometimes.

Your first lesson will be being dropped somewhere crowded with an important task to accomplish and no guidance. For us, this was at the medical center. Our transport (and honestly, it was above and beyond for them to even provide transport; I’ve been handed directions in Korea and told git’er done) dropped us at the medical center, and our group of ladies just kind of stood till someone figured out where we needed to be.

We completed the pony shuffle of phlebotomy and chest x-ray, where I saw a little side boob because most of us ripped our bras off right there in front of each other (it was all ladies), then went into the x-ray room, where some random woman came in with a nauseatingly sweet-smelling incense to burn the stink away.

After, we headed across town to get our blood type verified in a place that smelled faintly like the projects: stale piss and concrete. I spotted a plug and began charging my phone immediately, which was down to 6% at that point (anyone noticing a pattern here?). The guy and woman teachers were reunited at this point, so we got to chill and talk shit for a while, but our numbers were literally coming up–one by one we were called to go into the back office and get a prick on the finger, which doesn’t sound nearly as foreboding on print as it actually was.

“Broney?” they called, and we all laughed.

I went back there and the guy jams a needle into my poor, tender, sensitive ring finger, and that shit hurt, I’m sorry. Giving no fucks, he then squeezes some droplets of blood onto a glass slide and sends me on my way with an alcohol swab and a shrug.

I come back out commiserating with the only other woman who has nerve endings at the end of her fingers; everyone else was like “that didn’t hurt at all” but I swear even typing this now is inflaming my poor sensitive finger lol.

Anyway, after all that settled in, I was kind of in a mood.

Then, one of the women was talking about her plans for the evening and all of her friends and all of the places she’s gone so far and how she’s met some man who’s super into her already,

and that shit just hit me: Stage 2. Cracks in the surface.

It’s funny what comparing ourselves to others does to us, right? Like here I am, sailing along, deliriously happy to have a job and an apartment and a friend or two,

Then this chick is just casually talking about her weekend plans and my brain starts going YOU’RE INADEQUATE.

And then my brain goes REMEMBER HOW NOBODY TOLD YOU WHERE TO GO FOR THE MEDICAL CHECKUP THIS MORNING. REMEMBER ALL THE TIMES IN KOREA WHERE NOBODY HELPED YOU WITH STUFF AND YOUR COTEACHER WAS SO MEAN? IT’S CUZ YOU’RE INADEQUATE, LEST YOU FORGET.

But of course in the moment I’m not smart enough to realize I’m just reacting to this lady; I’m just suddenly pissy, right? So we go home and I’m pacing my apartment thinking about every boy who didn’t call me back, until I decide I need a nap. Then I wake from my nap and I’m still sitting here like “it doesn’t matter that I only moved a week ago! Why isn’t my life perfect?!” (although, let’s be honest, it pretty much is).

So I go for a swim, because at this point I’m figuring out that it’s something inside of me and I just need to put this energy somewhere. So back and forth, back and forth, I’m lapping around this pool, hating everyone who’s come to sit and enjoy the lovely 100-degree weather (no sarcasm–after a heat index of 133 for the past two weeks, 100 degree weather is downright balmy), until it’s time for dinner.

That’s right, the whole time I’ve been sitting here woe-is-me-ing, I’ve had dinner plans with some awesome fellow noobies. So I go in, take a shower, and get ready to meet them. We head to the traditional market (called a souq) and walk around outside, watching praise and worship (for lack of a better term) at the Islamic cultural center and eating traditional Syrian food for dinner at the most gorgeous restaurant I’ve ever been too–swooping textile cloths covered the ceiling, and beautiful lights stringing around wooden poles for the closed-off balcony. Then we got to watch a traditional Syrian dance as we were leaving.

And in the end, we friends were standing outside the exit of the souq, talking about our dreams, and I realized that I didn’t have much to contribute because I am currently living mine. Teaching at a college, living in a fancy apartment in an exotic location within walking distance of the beach. Traveling. All I really want to do now is get this book published and I will seriously be hitting on all cylinders as far as professional dreams go.

And I am so thankful for that. It’s a really cool place to be at 29.

But living out your dreams doesn’t mean every moment is easy. It just means every difficulty is worth it as hell, because you’re wading through the bullshit to live the life you’ve created especially for yourself.

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Doha so-fah

So about 8 days ago, I upended my life again, got on a plane, and 12 hours later I landed in Doha, Qatar.

After waiting at the airport for a while, I got sectioned off from the other noobs and taken to my accommodations–

When we promptly got into an accident.

My driver–by the way, in the first three days that I got to Doha, I said the words “my driver” more than I’d ever said in my entire life–

My driver suddenly slowed so as not to ram into the back of a car that had hit the breaks, and as a reward his car was promptly slammed into.

Lol.

It was fine; everyone was fine; his car was fine.

On we went to my accommodations, an apartment that was apparently in the desert version of the trap–corner stores out the wazoo and mofos with nothing to lose wandering the streets, although he told me I might be moving. Lol might.

See, my school has some kind of weird set-up, where you can either win the housing lottery and live like Drake in the city center, in towering buildings that overlook the Arabian Sea if you are on a high enough floor,

Or you live in the damn trap.

Usually they stick the single men in the trap, but for some reason they also stuck me there. Maybe they just know me…I’m happy to live near the single men 😉 😉

“Wait,” the driver told me, as he parked and left the car running in the 100+ degree (fahrenheit) heat.

Thirty minutes later he reappeared.

“Wait,” he told me again.

He disappeared again.

All this time, I was texting my good friend A, who already lives in Doha about meeting for dinner. “I don’t know if I’ll make it,” I told her. “They have me waiting in a car.”

More time passes….my driver reappears. “Your apartment is not clean….wait.”

My name must have got changed to wait on that plane I’m thinking, but if there’s anything this summer has taught me it’s how to chill out in inconvenient ass situations,

so I sat and waited, periodically plugging my phone to my macbook to give it a little charge–naturally, alone in a foreign country with my living situation unsorted in the dark and extreme heat my only real concern is my phone dying.

Eventually another man comes to the car and knocks on the door, gesturing for me to roll the window down.

OK.

He introduces me and tells me he’s driving me to a hotel for the night and that my apartment will be ready tomorrow.

So we go to the hotel and get checked in. Funny enough, the restaurant where my friend wanted to meet for dinner was in the hotel anyway, so with the help of overly helpful doormen I was able to drop my luggage in the room and meet up with the ladies.

Wrecked and exhausted, I drop my tired bones on the bed after dinner and promptly drop into a deep and restful sleep…for all of four hours,

At about 3 a.m., my eyes spring open. “It’s 8 p.m., psycho!” my circadian rhythms were telling me. “Let’s do stuff!”

For the next four hours, I dicked around on my phone and stressed out about it dying–unprepared traveler that I am, I never bring adaptors–then I dragged my corpse out of bed, picked out my most professional “nervous about my new job” outfit and headed to that free hotel breakfast.

My driver came for me promptly at 7:10, and we headed to the cafeteria of my new school, where all the teachers were downing instant coffee and trying to stay awake. I happily joined them. We had a two-hour meet and greet planned, which was both incredibly helpful and incredibly “I could still be sleeping.”

At 12:30, they rushed me from work and over to the hotel so that I could check out, then I went to my new digs in the trap, although I was told again that I might be moving the next day to the de-luxe apartment in the sky.

In the meantime, though, I got settled in the hood and met my neighbor, M, this cool ass fellow teacher. A picked me up and took me to the mall so that I could get some swanky ass work clothes (it’s Doha; sue me), then the three of us ended up having dinner at Vellaggio mall, which is made to look like a cross between a street in Venice and the Bellagio in Vegas.

The next day, they actually followed through on their word and moved me into this fancy ass apartment. Yo, your girl got four bathrooms now, fuck with me.

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Slight damper, because nothing in life is perfect, these swank ass apartments are infested with roaches. Thankfully the heaviest infestation in mine is in the maid’s room (does not actually include maid), and it could be worse–one of my coworkers has an infestation in her fridge. They eat her cheese.

*Pause to gag*

The first week was full of meeting new people and getting too drunk, which is odd considering it’s the Middle East, but that doesn’t keep westerners from alcohol.

We ended the week on Thursday (because the workweek here is Sunday – Thursday) with a coworker happy hour. Naturally, I skipped dinner and got shitfaced off bargain $6 drinks and woke up with a phone full of selfies, a bit of chagrin…and no passport.

That’s right. On the lovely cab ride to school (went in with coworkers to try to do some extra prep for the first day of classes), I noticed that I was minus one the most important document in my life at this moment in time.

However, I have had a lot of practice at being extremely buddhist this summer and keeping calm when the house is on fire. I began texting everyone I was with and A advised me to call the hotel we were at. One major difference between Doha and Korea: The ability to call places because English is spoken.

Phone calls were made, and after a couple hours spent of me trying not to shit myself, my precious passport was found and recovered. No harm done.

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And that, ladies and gents, was my first week in Doha.

This is going to be a fun year.

Haphazard thoughts while on holiday

Forgive this post.

 

im sitting in a bar in ubud, Bali, Indonesia. I’m here because I saw Eat, Pray, Love, ok? I admit it.

I’m sitting in a basement bar drinking palm wine, of all things, because I read about it in a book. I thought it would be sweet, but it’s actually pretty bitter

as a child, I was a pretty avid reader, and as an adult I would literally have no idea who I am or what I were doing without that background as a reader. To say that books have shaped my life is an understatement.

but I digress.

I am alone right now. I came to Bali alone. Yesterday was this incredibly synergistic experience where I checked into the hostel, met like 7 friendly, cool an open Dutch people (and one German),  and had an amazing day surfing (body surfing) and having intelligent discussions with them. I hope I remember it forever.

Today I  alone as hell and I hate it. 

I don’t know when I started to hate my own company this much, but it’s all over me, how badly I want to meet 7 new strangers who I can spend te day with, but that’s not the kind of thing that happens twice in two days.

while we were surfing yesterday, we talked about death a little. The boys I was with thought I’d drowned at one point (I hadn’t–I was totally fine, they had just lost sight of me). 

I told them that body surfing in Bali wouldn’t be the worst way to go,, which sounded incredibly morbid until I explained that I don’t want to die but there are better and worse ways to meet ones untimely death.

better way: pulled under by a massive wave whilst on vacation.

worse way: die by asphyxia from looping a belt around ones neck while masturbating. Just saying. 

And I realize how much I think about death while traveling. I’m on these planes out of Malaysia, which has just had the worst luck lately, and I’m just thinking like what if this was it? I’m in these taxis (always legitimately got through the airport or my hotel but still) and I’m wondering about the possibilities. 

The world is at once both a better place than we think and a place where anything can happen, and somehow traveling exacerbates the “anything” in my mind. 

Now in sitting in this bar with the smell of lime on my fingers, itching from Mosquitos I pray don’t have malaria and listening to the staff speak Balinese, thinking about how much Korea really does feel like home to me.

last night I stayed in a hotel with world cable and I spent all night watching te Korea broadcasting Network because they finally had English subtitles and it was familiar. 

Now I’m watching waitstaff pay their respects to a Hindi shrine whilst tapping this stream of consciousness out on my iPhone.

If you take nothing else from this trip, here are a few billet points I think we can all benefit from knowing:

1) money change here are the worst and you really gotta shop around to get one that respects the strength of the KRW. 

2) seminyak > kuta. A money changer tried to cheat me out of like $40 bucks but I was like HELL NAW GIMME MAH SHIT

3) ubud is far as shit and Bali is legit huge. I think it’s bigger than the entire Republic of Korea. Plan your trip and budget and taxi fees accordingly.

4) I want to go to the Netherlands so bad!

5) uh they sell magic mushrooms in seminyak like really casually. I didn’t buy any but you could really really easy order a shroom drink from the bar.

ps I love you. 

Tomorrow I’m taking a Balinese cooking class because duh.

 

 

 

 

 

talking to my kids

one of my students is named Joel (that’s his English name), and I am starting to realize how shy he is. maybe i’m not very perceptive (this is a pretty probable maybe; my Korean coordinator is always bringing up classroom intricacies that have escaped even though they were right under my nose), but I’ve only ever noticed him with his friends. And yeah, he does kind of hang back and let them take the lead, but being shy and being not-Alpha aren’t necessarily the same thing, so I never thought much of it.

today though, he asked me for bonus stickers (because this is elementary school and they get stickers for answering questions well), and he really did have an excellent day where he spoke a lot and gave impressively insightful answers, so I was all for giving them to him.

he just had to answer one question: why.

My students often ask for bonus stickers and usually I just tell them no, straight-up, but today I thought what the hell. he did really well and the whole point of my presence in this nation is to get people to speak English so if he’ll tell me why he deserves extra stickers i’ll give them to him.

well, poor kid, he clammed right up and decided it wasn’t worth it. it took some prodding and some reassurances that he would actually get the stickers if he told me “why,” but eventually he did tell me, and i realized that this kid is really really shy.

and then of course, because that’s life, another little girl saw what happened, opened her mouth and effortlessly gave me a compelling case about why she deserved stickers too. she got them, but *eye roll* (she’s a great kid actually).

if i’m being 100% honest, my favorite part of teaching is listening to my students talk. i absolutely love just taking a back seat, focusing on them, and asking gently prodding follow-up questions that get them to talk more.

one of my kids told me about how he rode his bicycle into a bush today. another told me about how she went into a wave pool with a life jacket, only she didn’t know the word for lifejacket and was trying to gesture it out…and i misread and thought she was gesturing that her bikini top fell down and i laughed so hard and she appropriately looked confused.

kids can be such little shits, but at the same time one of the most interesting parts of being an english conversation teacher is the conversation. there’s nothing like being in a non-threatening environment and just encouraging people to talk about themselves and their thoughts and their perspectives. side note: is that a job i could get back home?

i don’t know why i failed so hard as an EPIK teacher. I should have, in theory, been able to plan lessons easily and follow the directions of a coteacher and connect with my students. i’m a fairly creative and agreeable person, and i’m not a dumbass.

i don’t know why i failed, but i did. and this year hasn’t been easy. it’s been a struggle to keep my head above water and i’ve dealt with some challenges i didn’t foresee. but if i’m honest with myself, complaints aside, failures aside, fears and frustrations aside, i come home several days a week feeling actually fulfilled from my job.

Like a kid on Christmas

Last week, I met up with two of my coworkers (who incidentally have the same name–weird) for some kimbap and a general hangout sesh. (Kimbap is seaweed-rice rolls stuffed with egg, radish, and basically anything: beef, kimchi, bacon, you name it. I always get tuna mayo).

It felt good, because generally it’s been slow goings in connecting with the people at my new job, and that’s always a difficult part of adjusting to change. Now, though, the relationships are generally solidifying and more time is being spent, and so I found myself hanging with these two C-named chicks, ordering food in broken Korean and asking for repeated Kimchi and soup refills.

Eventually this scenario moved to my little one-room apartment (which is actually still pretty lavish, compared), and over sparkly wine we got to talking about love, and life.

And there is this one girl. One of the C’s. She’s like 23, and she genuinely feels like working with children is What. She. Wants. to. Do. With. Her. Life (as opposed to me, who just kind of feels like it’s cool). So I asked her about it, and how she likes our current job.

She said that it’s OK, but it’s not enough. She likes it, but she doesn’t feel the way she wants to feel–she wants to feel like Kid on Christmas Eve can’t sleep because she’s too excited for tomorrow about her job.

I laughed, and I just kind of joked like “is that a feeling people feel about work?” (because seriously. I feel like “it’s not bad” is about the peak of the peak that I’ve ever felt about work)

She said that when she was nannying, that’s absolutely how she felt about her job, every day. Like she wanted to move in and be a live-in nanny, because she wanted to be around her kids that much more.

This conversation happened like a week ago, and it’s been on my mind ever since as I’ve been asking myself what kind of work would truly give me that kid-on-christmas feeling.

Crazily, my totally crazy, totally impossible dream would be to work in television. I think that would be it. But I’m 27 and I studied linguistics in Virginia.

Convenience store food

So aside from friends and family, there is one thing that I miss about home more than anything else and I simply can’t get used to abroad:

Convenience store food.

For many people, I’m sure convenience store food isn’t even an issue that really exists. After all, who relies on convenience stores for entire meals?

And that’s exactly my point.

When you’re in a convenience store looking for not a snack, but your whole meal, something has gone wrong with the plan for the day. Things are probably not how you expected them to be at that point, and you are most likely not in the proper emotional space to deal with weird shit.

Like this

Now occasionally, especially now that I’m closer to Seoul, you can find relatively normal (western-pallet-appeasing) things in convenience stores, like tuna kimbap (seaweed rice roll), banannas, or a sandwich with only a minimal amount of seafood on it.

But this past Sunday, I was on a three-hour bus ride to the beach to go take some photos. I was up and on the 10 a.m. bus after about four hours of sleep; needless to say I hadn’t eaten. And I was nowhere near Seoul.

Midway through the trip, we stopped at a rest stop and I got off the bus, mouth watering at the thought of a nice, semi-fresh convenience store sandwich a la the 7-11 turkey/jack cheese/chipotle mayo combination that has gotten me through many a rough day back home.

I made my way into the rest stop convenience store, where there was nothing to eat except cihps and candy. I just couldn’t–it was 11:30 a.m. and my first meal of the day, so I went outside to one of the hot food concession stands.

I stood there for a while, mulling over my options. Squid balls, bread filled with (sweet) red bean paste, chicken on a stick, indistinguishable lumps of stuff deep fried and covered with honey mustard and ketchup.

Or eat nothing for the next hour and a half.

My stomach rumbled as I walked back to the bus, dreaming of 7-11 beef patties and hot dogs with the self-service topping bar.

I sat down in my seat, fully intending to tough it out, but the squid balls (or tempanyaki as they’re more aptly known) had gotten to me y’all. Now anyone who knows me out here knows that I have a hate-hate relationship with squid–I hate it so much that I’ve been known to drunkenly rant about it on occasion.

But anyone who knows hate knows that anything you hate that deeply carries with it a sort of fascination. You hate it too much to ignore it. Better to have it near you, in your vicinity, visceral and real, so that you can hate it more vividly, all while protesting that you did give it a shot.

Plus it smelled kind of good and Japanese squid balls are actually amazing.

I'm a weak b*tch

They were as disgusting as they look. The bits of squid were palpable, and fishy; huge and rubbery, all while surrounded by a coat of insignificant airy fried fishiness and green stuff and sauce.

I ate two and shoved the rest of them into a bag, which I then stuffed into the seatback in front of me, where the smell of fishy garbage periodically wafted up to my nostrils for the next hour and a half.

When I go home, before I hit Chipotle or Red Lobster or eat a Reeses peanut butter cup, I’m going to get a beef patty and some wings from 7-11. And a salad. And my turkey jack chipotle sandwich. And a hot dog.

But before i leave y’all thinking Korean convenience food is just totally loathsome and abhorrent, tit does have one redeeming factor: its street food. Little stands on the edge of sidewalks, usually manned by a Korean ahjumma (middle-aged lady), patronized by the young and old alike.

street food

Look at that. Deep fried pork (ddongkats), deep fried prawn, deep fried dumplings, deep fried corn dogs, and a host of other foods that are delicious, cheap, fast, and not weird to Westerners. So, there is that.

Losing your L1

Last night N, my boyfriend, cooked us a lovely dinner since I came up to Itaewon to see him. I live in Gyeonggi, a suburb outside of Seoul (think Virginia’s Springfield/Alexandria to D.C.), and usually he schleps down to my area to see me and I cook him dinner. 

Last night, though, I figured I’d give him a break from shclepping, plus I left Itaewon Monday morning with a feeling like I couldn’t wait for the weekend to see it again (I’ve seriously fallen in love with this neighborhood in Seoul. So many different cultures–AKA cuisines–live and thrive together in harmony. You never run out of new things to try in Itaewon, and everything is within this hilly walking distance, and it’s full of really cool bars and the craziest/cool foreigners).

So anyway, last night N cooked dinner. He’s from Serbia, so I’m always asking him to teach me how to say things in Serbian. Last night, it was how do you say “this is delicious.”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Let me think.”

We’ve had this conversation before, where I ask him what something means in Serbian and he’s not sure how to translate it because he’s trying to translate word-for-word instead of the gist.

So I explain to him that languages don’t always have a 1-to-1 translation rate, and when I ask him how to say something in Serbian, I’m asking him what is the most natural-sounding thing I can say that pretty much means x (Like when I asked him how to say “what’s up” and he ended up somewhat perplexed because you don’t really say “what’s up” in Serbian–you say “Schta ima?” which, I don’t really know what it means when glossed in English, but it pretty much means what’s up).

And he says “no, no, it’s that I really can’t remember how to say ‘this is delicious.’ I need to think.”

And I say “really? I just thought you were being difficult,” at which he laughs and basically calls me an asshole.

“You don’t understand,” he says. “I don’t use Serbian like that. I read in English, I speak in English every day.”

And he kind of looked genuinely troubled.

“I guess that’s the up side to being too dumb to master a second language,” I told him and smiled.

Then he remembered how to tell me “this is tasty” in Serbian, but I forgot.