Tag Archives: United States

Looking Back

19 Dec

It’s hard to believe it… but its been a year since I first arrived at Gyeonggi English Village!  It was July of 2012 when I first saw the posting for the job on Dave’s ESL Cafe.  I was in France at the time doing a work exchange at a bed and breakfast.  I knew that I wanted to keep traveling. A friend encouraged me to explore jobs teaching ESL (English as a Second Language).  I perused many jobs on the internet and I applied for one. The job here at English Village.  And here I am.

After I applied, it was a month or so until I heard from them.  I happily had a brief Skype interview at 4am my time. Shortly after I was offered the job and then began the quick rearranging of my world and life in the direction of South Korea.  This needed to include a return to the States for the lengthy Korean visa process. I quickly needed a new place to go as my current arrangement in France was nearing the end.  Thankfully and luckily, I made plans to do a work exchange with a family in the States through the website helpx.net.  I booked a cheap last minute flight with a German airline called Condor and within what seemed like the blink of an eye I was back in the States.  And so began the process of getting a Korean visa, which took me in total nearly 4 months.

When the visa finally came through it was almost a shock… so many months of preparation and planning and then… suddenly… I actually needed to BOOK a ticket to Korea!  I was exhilarated and nervous all at the same time!  As some friends and family know, I am not one of those laid back, calm, cool and collected travelers.  I get nervous. Really nervous.  And while my heart, mind and spirit truly love the excitement, adventure and experience of going to new places… the journey for me often comes with good helping of anxiety.

I can still remember the night before I was to leave for Korea.  I was at my parent’s house where I had been visiting for a few days prior to my departure.  Suddenly I had this thought that going to Korea was just a crazy notion.  I called my friend, Reiki teacher and often co-pilot on this journey and asked… “am I crazy?  Is this a crazy idea?” Her response, as it often is, was, “what does you gut say” and truth be told… my gut was really okay with it.  And so the next day I got on a plane and flew to Korea.

When I arrived I was also really nervous.  Happily for me the school arranged for me to be picked up by taxi at the airport to drive me the hour or so journey to English Village in Paju City.  At the airport the taxi driver held a sign with my name on it and took my hand as he led me to the taxi.  He was a friendly older man and I was grateful for his parent-like support.

My beginning at English Village was cold and  a little rocky.  My first day of work there was a major ice storm and I spent my day carefully walking up and down icy steps waiting for the HR staff to return to the office and direct me where to go.  But in time, slowly, I began to find my way and collect the people, places and things I needed to be warmer and more at home.

As I began teaching in the classroom I was also… really nervous.  With a background in higher education and professional experience leading students and workshops, I knew I was a good teacher.  But it had been over ten years since I had done that.  In the wake of that was a decade of personal challenges that had my confidence and nerves more than a little shaky.  In the beginning I did my best, I showed up, and I did the work even though I was scared.

In a short amount of time my confidence increased and I felt more satisfied and capable in the classroom.  I did my best to pay attention to the teachers I thought were good and adapted my technique accordingly.  In time I took on some additional projects creating curriculum for the program and continued to develop myself personally and professionally.

This past year has also been a big year for me in my spiritual development.  About three years ago I became a member of a Buddhist organization called SGI (Soka Gakkai International).  I discovered the practice when I still lived in New Orleans.  A Buddhist friend there introduced me to the practice and suggested that I explore chanting “nam myoho renge kyo” for things that I wanted.  Surprisingly, as I began to chant I found the things I was chanting for gently appeared in my life.  When I became a member, my life began to change quickly and within a few months I left New Orleans and had a ticket to Europe. I took this new practice with me on the road living in Germany and France.  I connected with a few local SGI groups while in Europe, but it wasn’t until I came to South Korea that I found an SGI group where I became a regular member.

With the support of English-speaking expat leaders in South Korea, I have learned a great deal more about the practice and about myself.  I have been inspired to increase my regular chanting, the foundation of the practice.  I see now more clearly that regular chanting is a bedrock I can rest on to continue to meet and overcome challenges in my life and to usher in new and good things for myself.  In my life as it is, with so much opportunity but also challenges and uncertainty, the foundation of a good spiritual practice makes all the difference in the world.  It makes the impossible… possible.

Here are a few photos from the year:

And so, a year has come and gone.  And now the question that beckons is… what’s next?  Well, as you can see, I am still at English Village!  I have learned on this journey that it is best to be open to and take action for new possibilities and then be prepared… for the unexpected.  Sometimes things stay the same but sometimes when you least expect it they have a way of changing on a dime.

Thanks for being a part of this journey in whatever way you may be… a friend or a family member, a curious reader or fellow traveler.

I am writing from my cold office in English Village, hesitant to take off my gloves to type on the keys as there is an icy cold lingering in the room. The snowy weather has quieted down the campus with fewer teachers, fewer students and less activity.  As the holidays grow closer, they will nearly be missed at English Village.  We will be working through it all.

Good bye for now from the cold and frozen land of Paju English Village.  Sending warm holiday thoughts your way!

Featured image at top, a snowy bouquet of flowers outside a Seoul subway station.

Winter Fun

12 Dec

Well, it seems winter has come to Paju.  And I have to say, I find myself greeting it with a bit of child-like enthusiasm.  For the most part, I am prepared for the winter.  I have warm clothes.  My refrigerator and freezer and filled with food.  I have delicious herbal teas, some good movies, a book or two, and a strange life living and working at English Village that is (mostly) easily sustained even in the midst of the winter snow and cold.  As I, and all foreign teachers, live right here on the English Village campus, even with a few inches of snow… it’s an easy commute to work.

Paju is in a strange pocket of weather in South Korea.  With a full spectrum of four seasons, it is known for having a surprising dive into seasonal extremes.  It is unexpectedly hot and humid in the summer (but in truth it ain’t got nothin’ on New Orleans!) and the winters are long…long… and cold.  The winters here are cold even compared to our neighbor just an hour to the South, the grand city of Seoul.  Paju has a biting humidity with a cold winter wind that can chill you to the bones and an exorbitant amount of snow.

So today, with a healthy blanket of snow already on the ground and a fresh batch of snow scattering in the skies, I am staying inside.  I am already well-underway with my winter hibernation activities.  I have been busy cooking healthy, yummy food, practicing yoga and reiki, reading books and watching movies.  I have even broken out the watercolors and started a little light painting.  Winter fun.  What more could a girl ask for?

Alas, this is just the beginning of the winter season.  It is possible my lighthearted winter attitude will fade as winter and the snow drifts grow deeper.  The winters here are extraordinarily long.  Last December when I first arrived here in Paju and South Korea, my first day of life and work was met with a was a terrible ice storm.  I wore my long down coat doing my best to keep my frozen New Orleans body warm, still in shock from the cold weather.  I didn’t take that coat off again until April…. we will see how I and the weather fair this year.

This past weekend I made two very yummy dishes that helped keep me warm, happy and satisfied.  The first was spinach polenta lasagna.  I followed a very simple recipe I found online, modified it a bit to suit my tastes and cupboard, and easily assembled layers of gooey wonderfulness.  What a treat it was.  It tasted delicious and is an easy way to eat Lasagna gluten free!  I also made some carrot soup.  I basically followed a recipe from the foodnetwork.  It is a very easy carrot soup enhanced with fresh chopped onions, garlic and I added some fresh ginger.  It is sautéed in a curry paste and then cooked up with some stock with a hint of cayenne pepper.  About an hour later with a little help from my immersion blender and a dollop of greek yogurt on top, it was a smooth and satisfying winter treat.  Delicious!

I continue to lead a weekly yoga class for interested teachers at English Village.  The winter weather provides a few challenges as we begin our yoga class in the early evening bundled up and huddled up feeling at first unable to move.  We practice in a nice size room with a heater that doesn’t come close to heating the room.  I begin the practice with my wool scarf tied around my neck, in layers and two pairs of wool socks on.  Slowly as we warm up it gets a little bit easier… and in truth I get so interested in the yoga I forget that I am cold.  But it is still cold nonetheless.  At any rate, it is a really nice mid-week diversion particularly as we are coming into the sometimes isolating land of English Village in winter.

I sang Christmas carols with my students this week.  It wasn’t a planned thing.  But in one of my younger classes a few of the girls started singing the carols they knew.  So I jumped on the boat, wrote the words on the board to perhaps help them with their English, and we sang a few songs.  In truth I find I like singing with the students.  I like it perhaps… more than they do…  Lately I have had some fun teaching my youngest students songs from my (and most americans’) childhood.  My repertoire includes the hokey pokey, the itsy-bitsy spider, and of course… “head and shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes…)”… you know the one.

I suppose Christmas is just around the corner now.  Even though there is a bit of Christmas energy on the EV campus, its easy to forget being here in South Korea.  As best as I can tell, many people in South Korea celebrate Christmas but it’s not the all-encompassing seasonal experience it can be in the States.  I am told that many folks in South Korea simply go out to dinner to celebrate, much like we would on New Years Eve.

Good-bye for now from the newly frozen and snow-covered land of English Village in Paju City South Korea.  Doing my best to keep it simple and stay warm!

New Nest

14 Nov

It’s a chilly day in Paju, South Korea.  I am taking a little break hovered around the electric heater like a campfire.  While true, it is not yet winter, the icy cool Paju weather has begun to make an appearance. The long cold winter is just around the corner.

My big English Village news this week is that I have moved into a larger apartment.  This is not a small event for me.  As someone who has been traveling for the past three years, often living in the grace and space of other people’s homes in a variety of situations (the most unexpected of which was a mattress lovingly placed on top of a table in an extra storage room)… my two-room apartment (an upgrade from my one-room space of the last ten months) feels like a castle.  I could hardly hide my joy as I was moving in.  So much room.

I have a tub in my new apartment.  It is a most loved addition as it seems I am part fish and need a regular immersion in water.  This is, however, no ordinary tub.  It is a Korean size tub.  Quite simply it means… it is small. No room for long “western” sized legs.  No room to expand and relax or even move side to side.  But it does have a cumfy built-in head rest. The best part is that it holds hot water just the same and, thankfully, at least I can fit in.

I continue to teach, entertain and negotiate my relationships with my new young students. Mostly… they are so cute.  This week I explored doing a little yoga with them to try to focus some of their endless spritely energy.  Their willing nimble bodies moved and grooved happily into a variety of child-friendly yoga poses.

One student who I teach one-on-one I am learning is a bit of a joker and likes to play games with me.  She will often say a different name from what something actually is in the spirit of her own little fun.  The other day she decided when reading a book about a variety of creatures, that I was the octopus and she was, of course, the princess.  Alas, who can argue with that!

One of my student’s loves to play the game hangman.  You know how it goes – you guess a letter and if that letter is not in the word you get a body part drawn on the classic hangman post resembling the number 7. When she plays she adds her own twist.  She draws the hangman in typical Korean cute fashion –  a delicate girl head and body, with fancy hair,  bow and dress.  Too funny. Another student recently showed up for class in a sweatshirt with a Ninja face hood complete with see through eyes on the hood.  I was pretty impressed and very cool as far as kids things go.  And still, another student when drawing a picture of a turtle had to include the much loved Korean ponytail often drawn by little girls in pictures and drawings.

Earlier this week I attended the local Korean chapter of my Buddhist group, Soka Gakkai International.  It is quite a system we have established to negotiate connecting with our obvious language barriers.  There is one young member who went to college in the United States and speaks excellent English.  We begin the journey with her contacting me via text. She lets me know when the meeting is and what time to be ready.  Then a different Korean member picks me up at English Village and takes me to the meeting.  The ride is friendly but often quiet with little to communicate.  A few stops are made along the way, picking up other women SGI members.

Arriving at the meeting, its always a joy to experience the excitement and love I feel from this group even though we can’t communicate.  Often young members are excited to see me and I wonder if some of them have ever seen someone who isn’t Korean before.  And so I listen to the meeting, with the help of my friendly translator who meets me there.  In no time at all the meeting is over and once again I am whisked back safely to English Village.

As the weather turns cooler and with my new big apartment, I find myself more inclined to nesting and staying warm at home. Cooking soups.  Feeling somehow like I want to prepare myself for the winter.

But for now, it’s an afternoon of classes.  It’s just another day at English Village.

Photo: The bright Fall lights on the English Village Campus.

Settling In

3 Nov

I have been back in South Korea for over a week now.  While my sleep, for the most part, is back on Korean time, it seems my mind, body and being are still assimilating to life back in South Korea.  Admittedly, my six-week stay in the States has me remembering now the things that are familiar and good in my home culture.  The ease of movement in a land where, mostly, I know the rules… and the language. Quality built and well insulated homes.  Easy access to healthy food.

That said, I still feel a certain element of independence and spark of excitement at just being in South Korea. Today was my first trip into Seoul since returning.  I appreciated the foreign familiarity of staring into the many Korean faces on the subway, all of us united in the study of our smart phones.  The recognizable but still indiscernible to me sound of the Korean language.  The simple pleasure of walking in Seoul on a perfectly moderate fall day, catching a glimpse of the Seoul Tower in the background.  Despite missing things about home, I can’t deny that I am also grateful to be here.

My first week returning to English Village has been a bit bumpy for me.  Thankfully my week-long sleep adjustment finally resulted in success – sleeping all the way until 5am… Hurray!  While not quite cold yet, there is a new damp bite in the air… a chilly reminder of the winter months that lie ahead.  A daunting prospect for me at best.  And then there is the mold. My newish work assignment at English Village has me working in a building that has some mold problems.  Since returning, one day I turned on the heater to warm up the place and doing so must have launched a variety of unwanted things in to the air.  What resulted for me was a very painful allergic reaction.  This experience has me hesitant in my new work environment.

But bumpy as its been, I can’t help but stop to smell the roses.  I continue with my pre-US departure work assignment now teaching small classes of young children learning to read.  This is quite a change from the busloads of adolescent youth I was teaching in my previous assignment.  Days now include a quieter tone and the innocence and genuine enthusiasm of the children I work with.  Additionally, we get to see the same kids each week, so I have some time to get to know them.

Most of my students are really sweet and enthusiastic.  They range from a very young age of about four years old to 9-year-old.  Their English level spans from still learning their ABCs to quite conversational.  As I get to know them, its fun to consider what they like to do and choose activities and games that best suit them.  At times they are wild with their unbridled childlike energy… which can be fun and contageous… and other times a bit of a challenge in the classroom.

This week’s adventures in the classroom included a bit of a scavenger hunt – roaming the campus looking for words we read in our book “Under the Sky”.  Along the way, we stumbled upon the two resident turtles at English Village.  They were a big hit with my little student who found them while looking for rocks.

Also, while the leaves are changing color here in Paju, some of my students created some colorful trees of their own.  I was impressed with their bold selection of colors!

Today I made my way to Seoul for the chapter meeting of my Buddhist SGI group, known as Morning Sun.  I can always count on this group to provide a friendly face, a good hug, as well as some wisdom and inspiration.  Three years into this practice, I continue to appreciate its consistent message of never give up and of making the impossible possible.  I also am fed by the reminder that part of the happiness of life is the joy and growth in overcoming life’s challenges. It helps me to keep an attitude of never give up when surrounded by the spirit and energy of this Buddhist group.  I particularly appreciate the spark and enthusiasm of this Seoul SGI group that to me feels so vibrant and alive.

After my day in Seoul, I am now settled in a bit for a little relaxation.  On my way home, I stopped at the local Home Plus store and treated myself to a few familiar goodies.  Sometimes the little things make a difference.

And with that I will leave you for now… settling in for the night on a quiet cool evening in Paju City, South Korea.

Top photo is a snapshot of some bright bold Fall leaves on the English Village campus.

Sunny Fall Days

12 Oct

Another week has passed here in the quiet mid-west.  My home-town St. Louis Cardinals baseball team are competing to be National League champions.  The US government has been shut down now for nearly two weeks.  And despite a hint or two of cooler weather,  it continues to linger in warmish great big sun shiny days.

It’s Saturday and I am grateful to prepare for a little outing with my sister and a few members of her family.  Her oldest boy has a double-header baseball game and I will take a break from time and life with my parents to hang with them.  The weather couldn’t be better with bright clear blue skies, sunshine and an expected high in the low 70s F.

This past week has continued much of the regular syncopation of life here.  There were some health challenges with family to be present to and tend to.  There was the occasional (and sometimes more that occasional…) viewing of HGTV.  I can’t forget my favorite escape of late, attending classes at the wellness center at my parents church just down the street. These classes have really been a breath of fresh air for me.  I attend yoga on Mondays and Fridays and strength training classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  At the center I am surrounded by kind and friendly faces.  While, yes, I am usually the youngest face in the room, I am certainly in good company.

Earlier this week, a friend of my mom’s was generous enough to invite me on an outing.  Currently without a vehicle and in a town with no public transportation, some good company and new scenery are more than welcome.  I joined her and her daughter as well as another friend of theirs at the local arboretum and botanical gardens.  I couldn’t have picked a better spot!

The weather that day continued its spectacular streak of perfect fall weather.  We were greeted with blue skies and sun as we meandered through the gardens and tree-covered pathways.  There were so many blooms and colors even in mid-October in the area called Monet’s Garden.  As we wandered through the trails nestled in the trees, we did our best not to get lost.  When day was done we departed to a near-bye restaurant for lunch.  Returning to my parents home,  I felt happy and refreshed.

I now have just a little over a week left in the States before returning to work and life in South Korea.  The time has slipped away leisurely but also quickly.  I am really grateful that I had a chance to come home and visit with family.  I am also glad for a break, some time to take it easy and indulge in some cushy conveniences of American life.

But for now, off for the day.  Good-bye for now from the still neighborhoods and stunning fall weather of the mid-west United States.

Update from the Heartland

7 Oct

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon in small town mid-west USA.  All is good.  The air is fresh and  crisp.  The scene is quiet.  There is a hint of Fall color in the trees and Halloween is not far around the corner.

As you may know, I am immersed in an unexpected detour from my life in South Korea, now in the mid-west USA where my family resides. I learned recently of some serious health challenges of a family member and since have ridden the wave that landed me back home in the States for a visit. When I say home, I suppose I say that loosely.  I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri but haven’t lived there for nearly 20 years. I spent my last thirteen years in the States living in New Orleans. Almost ten years ago, my parents left St. Louis and diverted to a different neck of the woods to be close to family and grandchildren.  So my visit home, while surrounded by family and a place I have visited, is in many ways unfamiliar to me.

Daily life here is simple but not without some much-needed joy and exploration.  How fortunate I am, particularly without a vehicle, that my parent’s church just down the street offers a yoga class three days a week!  I have also connected with local members of my SGI Buddhist organization.  They have been so friendly and supportive. One member even picked me up this morning to attend the monthly World Peace Gathering. It did me a world of good to spend a little time out in life connecting with new people and chanting as well.

It continues to be an easy breeze being back in the States.  My body and being are more than grateful for a big helping of cushy conveniences and American luxuries.  That said, there is certainly a part of me that now feels in some way at “home” in South Korea.  I noticed this when an SGI member today bowed and said “annyeonghaseyo” which is Korean for hello.  My heart leapt and my eyes lit up in recognition.

I was seriously tickled the other night by my youngest nephew, now 7 years old.  We were playing a game of charades of sorts.  He would act something out and I had to guess what it was.  One time he did a dance… and I was thinking… there is no way I am going to recognize this dance.  I am so out of touch with young American culture.  I asked him to hum the song and still didn’t recognize it.  “Okay I give up!” I said. ” What is it?”  It was none other than “Gangnam Style” the mega-hit by Korean pop star Psy.  “That song is from South Korea!” I told him.   “Did you know that?”  His eyes lit up and he took off in excitement to tell his brothers.

Life here has been good but also challenging.  There are the basics challenges of the health issues that are facing my family right now.  Additionally are the challenges (and blessings) of three adults (that would be my parents and myself) living together when we haven’t done so since they were the parents and I was the child. While we have had a few ups and downs in our adventure of co-habitation, it is still certainly worthwhile to be here at this important time.

And so with that I will depart from my nearly weekly update of my gypsy life, looking less gypsy-like nested comfortably in the heartland of the States. Please feel free to write and share what is up in your life.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Change of Plans

23 Sep

It’s a Sunday evening….almost midnight.  Typically way past my bedtime.  But I suppose this is not a typical evening for me… as I am not nestled in my bed at English Village seeking respite on my hard Korean mattress.  I am in the United States.

It’s an unexpected turn indeed.  Truthfully I didn’t see it coming.  I recently learned that a family member is facing some health challenges. Since then the idea of vacation time in some foreign or exotic location just seemed dull and lifeless to me.  What did appeal to me, however, was taking my vacation and a little extra time to visit with my family.  Within just a week of that realization, here I am back in the States.

My place of employment in Korea couldn’t have been more supportive.  “Family comes first,” they said when I shared my news and request for some time off.  After that it was just a matter of booking a flight and I was on my way.

I left South Korea on Tuesday September 17 at 5:00 pm… and miraculously arrived in San Francisco on the same day at 11:25 am.  Try doing that trick at home.  I took a few days in San Francisco to rest and meet with an alternative healthcare doctor for some of my own health challenges/concerns and then was on my way to the mid-west where my family lives.

After living in Korea for 9 months, my return to the States has been pretty smooth.  Like fitting back into an old shoe or a well-known and loved pair of jeans.  Comfortable beds and mattresses, clothes dryers, dish washers, and an abundant choice of fresh foods and restaurants. Staying with my parents I am enjoying some relaxing time that is almost decadent in a childlike sort of way.  Morning trips shopping with my mom, afternoons spent watching a movie together, resting in the comfortable chair that is so soft and relaxing that my body is practically in ecstasy.  Did I mention that my parents have a bathtub?  And not just any bathtub, but a great big one… with jets!

Of course while there is some much-needed rest and relaxation on my end, this trip is about more than just me needing a vacation or taking a break.  It’s about being present and being available for a family member’s health challenges and being connected to my family during this time.

I will leave it at that for now.  It’s time for me to go to bed and act like I am going to sleep… and perhaps sleep indeed for a few hours before lying again restlessly awake as my body protests that it is not night.

Good night (or good morning or whatever time it is…) from the cool earnest land of the Mid-West United States.


30 Jun

It’s been over two years now since I left New Orleans and took a leap and headed for Germany.  Who knew that original six week adventure would extend into a transformative journey… first in Germany, next in France and now nestled in the hills of South Korea.  You know what they say, wherever you go… there you are.  And here I am!  In Paju now for over 6 months! As my international escapade continues, with all the new people and experiences, new food, and new languages, the one common character cast in this odyssey is… me.  So it seems for my own good I had better pay attention and learn my lessons as I travel the road of this “Grosse Lebenscchule”, German for “big school of life”.

I went to the chiropractor yesterday.  My typical weekly appointment in the ebb and flow of healing my injured ankle.  But this week there was something a little different.  My neck… it was so tight!  I generally have a habit of holding my stress in my shoulders and my neck, but this was something a bit over the top.  I could feel myself holding on so tightly in my neck and feeling like I just couldn’t relax or let it go.  My chiropractor dug his hands into my neck, made a few adjustments and then expediently shot some sort of gun into my neck a few times.  He instructed me to put an icepack on my neck when I got home and then sent me on my way.

Immediately after I met a friend from my Buddhist group in Seoul for lunch.  I was still reeling a bit from my chiropractor appointment and preceding 30 minute massage.  As she asked how I was I found I couldn’t offer a cheery smile and say “great”.  My body wouldn’t allow it.  As we began to talk tears started to flow down my face.  You know the kind – the tears that are going to come out no matter what you do, the ones you can no longer hold back and that a fake smile just can’t hide.  How fortunate for me I was met by her kindness and compassion.  We continued to chat as we ordered the much-loved food at a local Mediterranean restaurant in Itaewon, Seoul.

As we talked the day continued to pour open.  We were joined by two other members of our group, both women, all of us about the same age.  We departed shortly from the restaurant and went to our local SGI community center.  We chanted together for about an hour and then gathered to practice a dance routine for an upcoming retreat.  Afterwards we sat and collected and talked.  It was all light-spirited conversation, but in light of my earlier tears and the tight kink in my neck it was also informative.

At the end of the day it was clear to me that I was in need of a little life adjustment.  On this journey of mine, it seems there are times of rapid growth, times of challenge, and times of relief and new territory.  There are also times when something needs to be done just a little bit different to continue the journey and take things, myself and my life to the next level.  After listening to the conversation mingled throughout the afternoon, I could see clearly that it was time for some change in my life and I could see what it was… I needed to get more exercise and I needed to chant more.

As you may know, chanting is the basic practice of SGI Buddhism.  Members chant sections from the Lotus Sutra and also chant “nam myoho renge kyo“.  Anyone can do it.  I was first introduced to it by a friend in New Orleans just over two years ago.  At the time I was selling organic mushrooms at the local outdoor farmers market.  She said “Chant for your mushroom sales”… so I did and you know what… my sales doubled quite easily and unexpectedly with no additional effort on my part. I began chanting regularly and shortly after my life set sail on this journey.

That afternoon in Seoul, I was so inspired to hear about the challenges of these women and fellow SGI members and how chanting has ushered them through it.  I heard stories of amazing growth and transformation in their lives and families. I saw living proof in front of me of obstacles overcome in the bright spirits and faces I saw.  The afternoon of sharing wasn’t directed towards me or intended to convince me of any correct action.  As I listened and rode the tide of its wisdom I was happy to go to its gentle conclusion.  It was time for a little adjustment for me, recognizing that little changes now in time can lead to big changes.

And so it continues… this journey of a thousand steps and little adjustments.  What about you and your life? Are there any adjustments that you need to make, big or small, as you continue on your way?  Any tiny shifts in your daily way that could add up to a big difference in your life?  If you like, please write and share!  It’s always great to hear from you!

Photos at top: A sea  of umbrellas at a local mall in Seoul.

It’s a Small World

22 Jun

It’s a Saturday afternoon in Paju and I have to say… I feel lighter today than I did just a week ago.  Why is that you ask?  Well, I recently took a two-day journey to Busan and a quick escape was just what the doctor ordered!  This wasn’t just any excursion, however.  I met up with a friend from elementary school who I haven’t seen since about the 6th grade!  She is Korean-American and her parents recently returned to South Korea after living in the US for 40 years!  We reconnected through the magic of Facebook and the rest is now all history.

Busan is located in the Southern-most part of South Korea.  The “B” in Busan actually sounds more like a combination between a “B” and a “P” but because of the limitations of the English language in expressing Korean sounds, “Busan” is the best we can do.  I was told it is the second largest city in South Korea, but it’s less crowded, more easy and laid back than Seoul.  Still, it has a population of three million people! Despite it’s more Southern location, it has a breezier and lighter temperature then the now thick humidity moving into Seoul and Paju with cool breezes moving in off the coast.

My elementary school friend was traveling for two weeks in a quick visit with her and her husband’s family living here in South Korea.  I was lucky enough to connect with her at the tail end of the journey and spent two days with her and her parents at their new apartment home in Busan.  I received stellar Korean-style hospitality and got the special  “mom and dad” tour of Busan.  It was great!

I took the KTX from Seoul to Busan, Korea’s high-speed train.  I read that it reaches speeds of 300 km/hr (190 mph) but to me it didn’t feel as fast as the bullet trains I traveled in Europe.  But it was fast enough as it only took me three hours  to make a journey that by car would take at least five.  I read a little, took a nap, listened to some music and before you knew it… I was there!

When I arrived off the train, my friend and her son and mother were there waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.  After nearly 30 years I could still see reflections of my fun young friend in the grown Korean woman standing before me.  Her mother, who I instantly recognized, whisked away my bag and led us in the direction of the parked car.  As she lead the way she called out “bali bali,” Korean for “hurry, hurry”.  We quickly made our way to the parked car with my friend’s dad at the wheel and within seconds we were off on our quick adventure.

As my trip was to be short, they wasted no time in beginning the tour.  First stop was Haedong Yonggunsa Temple, a beautiful temple by the sea.  It was a maze of winding stairs, beautiful colors and patterns, and lovely views.  It’s known for its large gold Buddha and a place where many still come to pray.  We stayed long enough to explore a bit, begin to reconnect, take some pictures and then we were off to our next destination, Haeundae Beach!

At the beach we took in the sand and the beach nestled in the busy scenes of the city.  My friend’s father told me that the beach used to be much larger than it is now, but over the years has gotten smaller and smaller.  Today sand has to be imported from Vietnam just to fill up the beach.  My friend’s son enjoyed a little wading and playing in the water while we did our best to stay clean and dry.  When we had our fill of the sand, we cleaned up a bit and soon made our way to dinner.

My friend and her family were so generous and gracious with my “no-sugar” needs and general diet concerns.  We decided on a Korean family style barbecue restaurant.  Her parents were wonderfully thorough in being sure that everything we ate didn’t have any sugar in it. We all ate and talked till our hearts content and then we went home.

Her parent’s apartment is in an apartment complex in what seems to be modern Korean style – a collection of high-rise apartments.  They were very proud of the beautiful landscaping in the complex with green space and fountains intertwined in the pathways beneath the towering buildings.  When we arrived at their 19th floor apartment I was impressed by its simplicity and spaciousness.  It is a four bedroom apartment home with a spacious kitchen and a view in the living room looking away from the city to the  surrounding green hills. I was generously offered my own room for the night and slept deep and restfully in the graciousness of their hospitality.

The next day was an early start with a tour of the apartment complex grounds and then back in the car to travel to “the best rest-stop in South Korea”.  My friend’s parents are just mesmerized with the contemporary rest stops in South Korea.  They are complete with plenty of places to eat traditional Korean-style snacks and foods and comfortable places to rest and relax… way beyond the standards in the States.  This particular rest area was indeed beautiful, nestled above expansive scenes of the water and islands in the distance.  There was even live musical entertainment!

Next on the tour, we took the worlds “deepest immersed roadway tunnel” and bridge on our way to Geoje Island.  Within minutes we arrived on the island and made our way through the small island villages to pebble beach.  At pebble beach we spent a little time collecting the beautiful stones and pebbles and tossed some of them into the water.  There was still a cool breeze in the air and it seemed it wasn’t tourist beach season just yet.  By late July when Korean students have a break from school the beach will be filled with guests indulging in the warmer summer air.

We continued to wander by car through the hills of the island, stopped and enjoyed a few scenic views and then once again we were off.  We returned to Busan and stopped at a local store with traditional Korean food for lunch.  I haven’t eaten much Korean food as much of it has sugar added to it.  I am still uncertain which Korean foods are okay for me to eat.  With the help of my friend and her family, I selected bibimbap (with no added chili paste) and happily enjoyed the popular Korean dish.

My elementary school friend and I had a good time catching up… recollecting childhood stories, our grade school teachers and classmates.  She told me that the first time she ever had french toast was when my mom prepared it for her at our house and that today it is still one of her favorite breakfast dishes.  She also shared that I gave her first record album, Stix Mr. Robato.  A true classic.  I told her she was the inspiration for me beginning to take piano lessons.  When we were children she played Fur Elise on the piano and I thought it was so beautiful I just had to take piano lessons and learn how to play it.  She confessed that every Korean child learns how to play Fur Elise.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other… but as we talked I saw glimpses of the familiar friend of 30 years ago.  She currently lives in LA close to the large Korean community there, Koreatown.  She had some interesting and helpful perspectives to share on Korean life, culture and beauty.  Raised by Korean parents who moved to the US, she clearly identifies herself as American… but also has obvious close ties and connections with Korean culture.

In no time at all… it was time to leave!  It was so great to reconnect with a childhood friend, receive a little ‘taste of home’ here in Korea and be hosted by the generosity of her parents.  It was a relief to spend a few days where I had to make no plans or decisions and just go with the flow.  We nearly lost track of time before we departed for the train station.  The KTX arrived in timely fashion and in the next minute I was off!  A good visit with a childhood friend… in South Korea!  Who knew?  Indeed, it is a small world!

Is It Summer Already?

9 Jun

It’s a Sunday morning here in Paju City, South Korea.  The weather is creeping into summer as the temperatures are tipping into the upper 80s.  That didn’t take long.  Yes, it is June, typically nearly summer weather in some parts of the world.  But it seems that winter just recently… ended.  I could swear it was just a few weeks ago that I confidently tucked away my winter coat for good and took an extra blanket off my bed.  It was not long ago that I finally unplugged and put away my room heater. And here we are greeted with summer weather.  I am told the heat and humidity here will give New Orleans, my former stomping grounds of 13 years, a run for its money.  We will see.  When I lived in New Orleans my last job was working at an outdoor farmers market.  During New Orleans summers the heat and humidity is like a wall.  At the market we would sit there with towels dipped in florida water, a cool refreshing cologne water, hung around our necks and try not to move while the sweat rolled down our foreheads.  Hopefully the summer in Paju is not that bad.

With summer weather comes summer wardrobe.  We have a pretty laid back dress code here at English Village and really we are quite lucky to have such a casual atmosphere.  We can wear shorts and tennis shoes and sandals that are at least a little dressy and have a back strap.  We cannot wear sleeveless shirts or tank tops which seems reasonable for work life.  I am still exploring what is appropriate summer dress in general in South Korea. Wearing tight tank tops that reveals shoulders and skin, a summer staple for me, may not be considered appropriate in regular public life.  I asked a fellow teacher about this and she suggested that some girls in the city wear tank tops but it’s still not all that common just yet.  You often see girls and women wearing a very light almost see through cropped cardigan over sleeveless dresses and shirts.  Still learning the nuances of culture.

It’s been a pretty light teaching week here at English Village, although myself and some other teachers are still busily preparing new lessons for the upcoming “semester”.  This week we have several different programs including a group of young Russian children here for two weeks.  I am not one of their “regular teachers” but did have the opportunity to teach them for one class last week.  They range in age from about 9 to about 13.  They are a great bunch of kids with spunky spirits.  But they can, as other teachers have noticed, push the boundaries.  They are fiestier than the Korean students we have in a way that is both inviting and challenging.  When I arrived in the building to teach them on Friday, four of them were downstairs making a train with rolling desk chairs pushing them around the room.  When I arrived in the classroom upstairs students were drawing pictures on the board during the break, some nice and some… not so nice.  It was quite a first impression.  We spent about an hour together playing a game and while the time did have some ups and downs, generally it went well.  I teach them a few more lessons on Monday and Tuesday.

We had an interesting staff experience on Friday afternoon…. Korean Village.  Yes, all of the English teachers at EV attended a class taught by a Korean teacher using Korean language only. The idea as you can imagine is to give us a sense of how some of our students may feel when in our classes taught only in English.  The question this rose for me was “Don’t our students have years of training in English when they come to us?”  That answer…some, yes, but as it turns out not all.  Undoubtedly we see a range of English-speaking skills here from practically fluent to barely any English at all.  But I had always assumed that their training had tucked away some English somewhere and perhaps they were just shy about speaking it or uninterested.  But apparently this may not be the case.  It seems that economic level does play a part in students English-speaking exposure and participation in quality English lessons outside of the “regular school day”.  Also I was told that some students in public schools take little interest in English and are allowed to slip through the cracks.  So its possible that we get students who really understand and speak almost no English.  This is new to me and certainly puts a slant on trying to teach English in English.

I spent my Saturday in Seoul.  I visited my chiropractor and am happy to report that after a fall in France a year ago, my ankle seems to be getting better.  I went to an area of Seoul called Hongdae, a lively neighborhood near Hongik University.  My favorite taco stand is there, Gusto Taco.  I grabbed two delicious fresh chicken tacos, complete with hand-made corn tortillas and soaked in a little of the international atmosphere.  There were customers from S. Korea and the US, a Spanish-speaking couple, an American owner, and French radio streamed over the internet. It was love.

While in Hongdae I also saught out one of the few thrift stores in Seoul and South Korea called The Beautiful Store.  As noted by other visitors and explorers of South Korea, Koreans aren’t really into buying used clothes.  And so the thift store scene is not too grand.  But The Beautiful Store, a local chain, has locations all over Seoul and their proceeds go to charity.  If it wasn’t for the help of a nearby friendly Korean-American, however, I would have never found the store.

I exited the subway, exit 8, and began to scan through my maps and information on my smart phone.  Seeing my lack of clarity with a friendly voice she introduced herself and asked if I needed any help.  Fortunately for me, she speaks Korean and is able to navigate her ways through the maze of symbols and words known as the Korean language.  With just a little misdirection, some guidance from her smart phone, and her knowledge of Korean we found the store just steps away from the train station.  The store sign is written in Korean so it wasn’t visible to my English reading eyes.

It was a tiny shop but a true thrift shop nonetheless.  My new companion for the moment joined me and we both found just a few clothing treasures for low prices.  If you are in South Korea and would like to go there yourself, here are basic directions:

  • Take the subway to Hongik University Station exit 8.  When you arrive at the top of the stairs, look to your right.  There is a building with a door at the corner of the street.  Enter that door and go downstairs.  The shop is on your right.

Today is a simple Sunday for me.  I intend to enjoy a little luxurious walking in the still fairly mellow summer heat, run a few errands, and do a little cooking for my upcoming work week.  I believe I have another lighter teaching schedule for the work week ahead, much needed after so many crazy weeks and more to come in the future.

Good-bye for now from the slowly becoming balmy land of Paju!

Photo at top a quiet evening at English Village at sunset.

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