Long in City Pent

I kid you not, our guide on Jeju was a Russian from Vladivostok. His name was Viktor, which was also my name in Russian class. Obviously, I’ve gotten way ahead of myself but I had to tell you about him straight away since I was literally taking about Vladivostok in last week’s post. Anyway. Allow me to backtrack a sec for you.

This week I have some family visiting: my younger brother, step-mom, and her mom who is Korean but has been living in the US basically since the Korean War. So we’ve done a bunch of touristy things (including a number of things I’ve been meaning to do but had been to lazy to do alone). It’s been great so far.

We started on Monday with a pretty full schedule of running around Seoul and seeing as much as we could. We visited Gyeongbokgung Palace (the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty), a number of mountains around Seoul, Namdaemun market (where I had actually been before), and a variety of little sights around the city. Lots of driving. Like I said, very full.

Now they had booked an actual tour deal, but it was just us. This meant basically that we had most of our time fairly scheduled, but that we got a cool, personal guide. It is very different from how I usually travel–I also usually travel alone–but it was great. Our guide in Seoul is rad and it’s nice to have someone who knows where they’re going and can take you there witout much ado.

On Tuesday, we flew out to Jeju Island, which some have called the Hawai’i of Korea. It was absolutely lovely. As I’ve stated, our guide on the island was actually Russian, do that was neat. But mostly, Jeju is just wonderful. We visited natural wonders: waterfall, lava tube, cliffs, crater, beach ect. We also saw a wonderful temple (all the way from the 1980s!), historical governor’s palace thing, a stone park with lots of cool rocks and stuff, and a traditional folk village. We had some tangerines, for which the island is famous, and some fried chicken, for which it is not. I got sunburned (thankfully not too badly) and we climbed a mountain in torrential rain and strong wind.

Nothing we did was actually super impressive or absolutely amazing (not to disparage it at all) but the thing I loved most was just being out of Seoul. It was astounding how much I reveled in being surrounded by green. I guess not astounding because of course, but still. Sea breeze. Trees that are actually true green. Everything so, so lush. Driving along country roads with the windows down.

Everything was made of black volcanic rock. There were some columns that looked like a baby Giant’s Causeway, some cliffs that reminded me of Carrick-a-Rede. There was a crater on the coast that, from a distance, looked like Howth, even with the little low-lying isthmus connecting it to the main island. So basically I was in a hot, Korean Ireland.

I truly had a wonderful time there, in all the different weather. It really felt like a vacation. But I’ve just flown back from Jeju tonight, a couple hours ago, and I’m sort of pooped. So I’ll write more next week, I promise, and maybe include a few pictures. Tomorrow we’re going to the DMZ and I probably won’t say much about that, but we have a few more things to see on Saturday, and my brother and grandmother are leaving on Sunday and my step-mom is leaving on Wednesday.

Anyway. I know I talk a lot about city/nature but golly. I really needed this green. If you have green around you, please appreciate it on my behalf. I won’t be leaving Seoul (at least not for more than a day or two) until March. So read some Keats (that’d be the title) and nature as much as you can.

Childhood; Dreaming of the Ocean

This week held nothing much of note for me, other than a great deal of wonderful weather. I’ve done more walking around than I’ve been wont to do of late and it’s been much to my benefit. I found a beautiful Buddhist shrine and a temple not far down the trail I normally take, just the other direction. There’s also a nice little part of the city that extends into the park a bit. It’s very quiet and pleasant since it’s so cut off.

On Wednesday, I did another test prep class but this time with the slightly younger kids doing the next level lower. It mostly involved picture identification from sentences and included a disturbing question about a man touching the boy kneeling in front of him. So that was not a great moment in test reading for me.

Only one more month of my first term. It’s at once insane how quickly it’s come and how slowly. It seems to always be like that, slow as it happens and fast looking back. It’s been an incredible learning curve and there’s still a ton more, obviously. It’s going to be going full steam until next February. It’s taken so much to figure out things, and I’m just doing two courses and three levels. There are other courses and levels that I haven’t even begun to tackle. So. But let’s not think of that for now. One more month with this. Let’s just get through that.

Anyway.

A small childhood reminiscence: did any of you have that mail subscription to Top Secret? It was those little magazines with puzzles and information about different countries. It was actually a lot like Carmen San Diego (another childhood favorite). The criminals all had fabulous names, the kind my AP Calculus textbook was also fond of. Izzy Sinkin, Sharon Sharilike, Ella Vader (Darth’s daughter). That last one, I kid you not, appeared exactly like that in an AP Calc question.

You had to solve the puzzles and each one would help you figure out who the criminal was, what they stole (it was always theft), and where they hid it. Like Clue too, I guess. They were so much fun. And you visited loads of countries before the subscription ended and you became an official sleuth or whatever. They had a board game too, though I don’t remember it much.

I was thinking yesterday about this, for no apparent reason, and thinking about what my younger self would think of me now. It’s a common question but not one I’ve actually thought much about. Small child me had a lot of interests. At one time or another, I wanted to own a nursery (the plant kind), be a history teacher, be an author, or be an Egyptologist (like Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities whose name I knew from a very young age).

Sometimes I think I’ve wound up doing just sort of random things instead, from high school until now. But that’s not really the case. I think in many ways I’m very much the same person. I wanted to travel the world and learn as much about it as I could. I’ve certainly seen a good chunk of it with hopefully more to come. And I’m teaching (though that one I honestly did not expect). I’ve studied languages–without achieving fluency…yet. I’ve seen a lot of history and, though I’m no archaeologist, I’ve gotten some rad opportunities to be hands on.

[Little story time on that last note: In Turkey, I visited the ruins of Ephesus and got to actually like touch everything. In England, one of my classes had a field trip to the cathedral library where we actually got to touch thousand year old manuscripts.]

It’s somehow comforting to realize that I haven’t come so far after all. Knowing that my childhood passions are, in fact, still alive and well makes me feel like maybe what I’m doing isn’t so unreasonable. Little Keegan would not, I think, be so disappointed as I sometimes fear. At my core of cores, from then to now, is a desire to know as much as I can about this pale blue dot. Sometimes that means Wikipedia browsing and other times actually traveling. I’m working on it.

Unrelated to everything above, but I was reading this morning and encountered a wonderful sentence that I have to share. Oh, how I ache sometimes!

To see the ocean once is to learn how to miss it.

368

I’m going to write this post as a day-by-day account of my training week, just to give you a taste of what’s been up since I’ve arrived.

I landed at Incheon on Sunday afternoon and, after a bus and taxi, arrived at the hotel around 7:30. I did not sleep at all on the plane because I am foolish. I was able to stay up for a bit, eat a cinnamon roll from SeaTac for dinner, and go to bed at 9:30.

Monday morning I was due to leave on a shuttle at 7:30 for a medical exam. It was incredibly comprehensive in that they tested really everything (and recorded my chest measurement because…?) but was also pretty cursory. From there, it was to the training center, an introduction and overview, then down to business. The format will be mock teaching in the mornings and prep in the afternoons. Back at the hotel, ate an actual dinner, still have homework. Super tired. I thought I was done with homework.

Tuesday. I’m feeling so much better about things than I was last night. This training really is pretty brutal but also they’re trying to make us into teachers in four and a half days. So. Anyway, we’re moving through material and learning stuff. Homework for tonight (and the rest of the week) besides prep is to watch videos of ourselves mocking and write up an evaluation. Joy of joys. Korean experience of the day, I rode the metro and got my metro card. I also saw Gangnam Square (with a statue commemorating the eponymous style) because the hotel we’re staying at is just outside the Gangnam metro stop.

So Wednesday held pretty much more of the same. I’m feeling more and more confident with the material so naturally I’m more and more nervous. How does that work? I had triangular kimbap today for lunch which was good. Have not done homework yet. We’ve spent this whole time preparing one lesson and now we have to do two for tomorrow morning. Cool cool cool. Also, it snowed a teensy bit this morning, but mostly rained. It’s cold, but not as cold.

And here we are on Thursday. I can write this at the end of the day because in seventeen hours ahead of Washington. I’m late enough that it’s your Thursday too, if only barely. So. Training is essentially over. We have an evaluation tomorrow morning then it’s off to the branch itself and, I’m pretty sure, moving into the apartment. This week has been pretty grueling and the with aspect has dragged on and on. But in other ways, this week has absolutely flown by. I hope I am a teacher now, I guess, because there’s nothing else. I’ve gotten my schedule, I’ve gotten my room number. On my next post, I will have had almost a full week of teaching. I just hope I’m ready. And that I survive.

There are 368 days until my contract ends so, barring some dismal failure or unforeseeable event, that is how long I will be in Korea. I say this not as though I’m counting the hours until I’m outta here, but because I know too well how short time truly can be. I still have no idea what I’m doing here (at this company, in this country, with life in general) but I want to count my days carefully. I don’t want to come to the end and find myself to have gained useful work experience but in every other way to have wasted a year. I want more than that out of this time.

If you’ll permit me another Harry Potter reference, I’ll direct you to Dumbledore’s directive to Harry upon giving him the cloak of invisibility. My time here is limited. I want to use it well.

Quite Ready for Another Adventure

Last week, my post was quite late and for that I apologize. I’ll give you a bit of a run down on recent goings on and perhaps you’ll forgive me. Also, I know I’ve been slacking on the cat pictures, so I’ll remedy that as well.

I almost moved to Korea last Saturday because of a whole chain of events centering around the timing of my visa application. So last Thursday evening I drove up to Seattle so I could be at the consulate first thing in the morning if need be. Need wasn’t. So I drove home, made sure I was packed, and said a final few rushed goodbyes. Then, a little before I was going to go to bed, I got the email that said wait until Monday and, lo and behold, Monday was the day! I drove back to Seattle, turned in my application, and everything has fallen into line for me to go this Saturday. This is my last post from the US for a while. Hurray that things have figured themselves out.

And here I am, once again moving to a foreign country and writing a blog about it. Just before going to Ireland, I had just barely secured housing (that, in the event, wasn’t available for like a week so I lived in hostels…) and was extremely nervous about doing a graduate degree program. In this case, my housing is secured (though the first week I’ll be staying in a hotel, I don’t have to pay for it!). I’m extremely nervous about teaching but I expect I’ll get over it. I just hope it doesn’t involve the same agonies of ‘getting over’ my dissertation. Anyway.

Details: the first week is just intensive training while stationed at a hotel, then I begin teaching on the 27th. Also, how remiss of me, I’ve been placed. I’ll be teaching and living in Seodaemun-gu in the western part of Seoul. Is it odd that I’m sort of looking forward to my Facebook updates being tagged in Seoul?

One of my biggest worries, obviously, is what the cracker situation is going to be like. I’m still a little raw over losing Tesco and I’m just not sure that I can handle a dearth of solid crackers.

I say that partly because it’s true and partly to obscure the panic I’m feeling about leaving. Don’t worry, it’s nothing too crazy, just the standard feeling whenever I go somewhere. People have told me how cool it is that I’m grand just to go gallivanting around the world and I’m like, “Yeah except I feel every bit as awful about going as you do.” I guess the difference is that I go anyway. I don’t know. But I’m leaving on Saturday and that’s that. At this point, at least, I’m pretty good at knowing what I need to take and what I can do without. There’s a lot that I have and do without even though I have it; over the course of my trips it has become easier to just not bring it. So that’s nice, I’ve managed (with substantial help from my mother) to get everything into a large suitcase, my ‘luggage’ garment bag, and a carry-on suitcase. Which is good, especially since I probably will not easily find clothes once in Korea, seeing as I’m 6’2″ and wear size 12 shoes.

On a totally non-Korea related note, I finally watched The Giver this week. I had put it off on purpose because I assumed that it would be terrible, having so enjoyed the book. If you haven’t read it, can recommend, it was required reading in eighth grade. Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, definitely surpassed my expectations. I do not think that our current world is in particular danger of erring toward the dystopia depicted in the story, but all scenarios are worth remembering. Certainly, it’s been a long time since I read the book so I can’t say how closely the movie adheres or how my perception of the story has changed. A takeaway that I’m just now thinking of, at least in these words: ignorance is not bliss–ignorance removes the possibility of bliss by also removing the possibility of pain. We cannot choose, we must simply accept it all.

Also, a quick look at the cats before I leave them again : (

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In her natural habitat. Can you spot her?

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And him in his. Much easier to see.

General panic mode coupled with an intense distaste for doing things has made for an interesting last week, but I’m grateful I’ve had this week. And I’ll recover as I always do. For those of you who followed this blog while I was in Ireland, you already know about what to expect in terms of tales of my international exploits. For those of you who are new, prepare yourself. I don’t really… do things. Being abroad is enough for me.

Anyway, onward and upward. The road, I hear, goes ever on and on.

On Failing and Succeeding to Combobulate

I hope you all have been having a wonderful holiday season. As it comes to a close and we face the looming prospect of another go-around with the world, I have some thoughts I’d care to share. Per usual, they’re not the most coherent thing in the world but they’re thinks that I’ve thought.

My favorite Christmas movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. You may recall it is in my top 5 movies ever. Watching it on Christmas day, I was basically teary-eyed the whole time. One of my favorite things about it is this: it’s not about how one moment, or a thousand moments, can change your life–it’s about how a life can change a thousand others. In fact, it’s not even really about how it can, it’s about how it does. George Bailey is a pretty extraordinary character (though he’s plenty ordinary, too) but every life has an impact on countless others. Because that’s how we work. We’re inherently social. Even if you were abandoned in the woods as a baby and never encountered another human being, you still have effects on, for example, your mother and, through her, a variety of other people.

There is no wasted time because all time spent is time spent, if you catch my meaning. Anything that is done is a thing that is done. Even the decision not to decide is still a choice. We are always moving and doing and spending time, whether or no. And in all that moving and doing and spending, we are among others. It’s like that tale of the thread tied to everyone’s ankle connecting them to everyone they ever connect with, forever.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is. Something. I’m not sure. So we’re going to abandon that and move on to story time instead, perhaps that will make things clearer (for the both of us).

My sister was planning on flying in from Genado, Arizona on Christmas Eve. Instead, there was a blizzard, the airport was closed, and she was stranded in Flagstaff. Naturally, we video called her and played Scattergories. The next morning, she walked two and a half miles through calf-deep snow to the train station where she caught a shuttle to Phoenix where she caught a flight to SeaTac where she was picked up to be driven about two hours to home. Upon her arrival, we had Christmas #3 with #4 to follow the next afternoon. With all the comings and goings of family and things, it was a bit hectic, as I’m sure many of your Christmases were.

With such things being such things–things. That’s what I feel about it. But at the same time, it is absolutely extraordinary that she was able to a) come despite a spate of cancellations and b) we were able to talk with her and play a board game while she was still in Arizona. I don’t understand the people who think technology has made us less social. Differently social, no doubt, but no less. Indeed, I think these technological means are critical to a young generation raised in an increasingly mobile and global world (at least, for middle-upper class Americans, but that’s another issue altogether). Of course while I’ve been very concerned to spend as much in-person time with her while I can, I’m so extremely appreciative of the time we spend together virtually.

As I said last week, Christmas is just a strange thing. That post mostly talked about the strangeness of the first Noël, if you will, and this week I’m struck by how strange it is still today, even outside of the religious sphere (if one could say such a thing). Coming home for Christmas, there is much competition for your time and it can be overwhelming. At the same time, though, there are a scattered (sometimes few) moments of complete and perfect combobulation. Many are familiar with the ill effects of discombobulation, but when you get the combobulation just right, sitting with your family, eating cookies, watching a movie, playing a game, just talking… there is nothing quite like it.

As I head into this new year, I will hold onto that feeling which I fear will be felt all too seldom in the months to come. None now know the next or the next or the next and for me, I’m feeling much more intimidated than excited for things new. However, knowing that combobulation can be achieved is perhaps enough to see me through periods of irksome discombobulation.

At any rate, I at least have some candy to last me a few weeks, if I scrimp.

I’ll see you on the other side of the closing of the year. I wish for you all the happiness that can be wished, not because I want your life to be easy but because I want your life to be joyful in the midst of discombobulation.

I am Seeking Battersea

Well, I’m home.

I had a lovely day in Vancouver, B.C. because I flew there instead of directly to SeaTac. My parents and I had a fabulous dinner at Legendary Noodle, a restaurant of some renown that I first enjoyed in 2010. I particularly recommend their chrysanthemum tea. Also, while we’re talking about Canada, I would totally move to St. John’s. I had a layover there and it’s gorgeous. So if someone could get me a job and a visa, yes please, I’d do it in an instant.

And then it was Labor Day weekend which involved lots of food and seeing some people. It was nice, but I misjudged the weather a touch–it was definitely sweater weather. What are you gonna do. But at least there are cats. In person.

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Looks at her eyes! The other one wouldn’t sit still for a picture.

Anyway, a while ago I read an interesting post on G. K. Chesterton’s views on travel. He is known for once saying,

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

The post goes on to discuss, with great art and insight, Chesterton’s other, perhaps paradoxical, views on travel but this initial quote has stuck with me as someone who has just returned home to a foreign country.

I mean, Ireland is not radically different from the US and, in truth, I was gone not quite eight months from Christmas break. I often characterized it (as well as my time in England) as similar enough to be comfortable but different enough to be surprising. But still, some things have struck me as strange. And I’ll try not to be one of those people who gets back from a trip and it’s all they can talk about even when it’s clearly been exhausted as a topic of conversation among your friends. But I probably will be anyway, sorry in advance.

Little things have caught me a bit off-guard, both positively and negatively. For example, I got some food at the St. John’s airport and had to pay more than the labeled price because tax hadn’t been included. Oh, VAT how I miss you. On the other hand, not using adapters to plug things in is so liberating. I got back into driving pretty well, not having had the unfortunate experience of driving at all while in Ireland. On the other hand, though, I miss being able to walk everywhere.

Being home certainly has its benefits but it’s also a struggle. I want to find things to do with my time (besides applying to jobs) but I also am still thinking of this as a temporary time so I don’t want to get too involved. Of course, who knows how ‘temporary’ this will actually be.

Terry Pratchett, a prolific fantasy author, struck real close to home when he said,

Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

And here I am, back at the beginning, waiting for Vizzini. It would be very hackneyed to say that neither I nor Gig Harbor are the same, but it’s true nonetheless.

For much of college, I had a great dread of moving home after graduation. It just seemed like such a defeat. And here I am, not currently with any prospects other than the fact that there are more jobs to apply to. On some level, I do feel sort of defeated. I went away to get a degree, then got decided to go even farther for a second one, and here I am, back where I’ve started, and most of my friends still in the Harbor are high schoolers. But at the same time, I’m feeling alright.

At this point in my life, no experience is really going to be wasted. So if I end up at Safeway for a while (though I think I’d rather move to Gillette, WY before it got to that point), it’s not going to be a disaster. Though I’ve yet to lose a love, it’s a teensy bit like this poem by Elizabeth Bishop. Though it may look sort of like I’ve lost a bunch of things, I haven’t had any true disasters. I can and will manage. And I look forward to whatever may come, knowing that even coming home can be like going on a journey.

Lastly, here’s this week’s playlist. Enjoy.

  1. Tourists – Olympia
  2. Animals – Coast Modern
  3. Everything’s A Ceiling – Death Cab for Cutie
  4. Domino Dancing – Pet Shop Boys
  5. Edge of Town – Middle Kids
  6. Different – James TW
  7. The Wilhelm Scream – James Blake
  8. Ghost of a King – The Grey Havens
  9. We Move Like the Ocean – Bad Suns
  10. In the Shadows – Foreign Air

This Post is Thrilling

Entering the final few days at home, I find that it’s been a lovely balance of enjoying my time here and the urge to go back. People keep asking me about my dissertation and that in and of itself is reason enough to flee the country, I think. But it honestly has been a really good break. It’s been so important to me to keep up with certain people who (without naming names) are easiest to talk with in person rather than any virtual or written communication. One way or another, I think I’ve pretty well made the rounds of friends and family. There are a few I’ve missed just because life is hard, but I feel pretty good overall.

Of course, now I have to start thinking about school again. I do still have that one paper to write, though I have a week back in Ireland before classes start so it should be okay. It’s been particularly pleasant knowing that people are back at work and school already and I’m just hanging out, very much enjoying that. It does mean,  though, that I haven’t really much to write about this week. Like actually. I struggle to recall specific events of the past week, I just sort of have a general impression, mixed with a few details. I caught up with some friends, hung out with some family, watched some Netflix…

I have this unreasoning fear that they’re not going to let me back into Ireland because I don’t have all the necessary documentation or something’s wrong with my card or something. After all the nonsense that went into registering with the GNIB, I think I’m just paranoid that somehow it didn’t work, it’s all a sham, and I’m going to be stranded. Don’t worry, I’m like 97% certain that it should be fine, but there you have it. I’m also perpetually paranoid when I travel that I’ve forgotten something(s). I don’t actually mind the traveling bit at all, even planes and really long layovers generally, it’s the stress of remembering everything that makes me freak out. But there it is. Wherever you go, there you are. It’ll be grand.

Anyway, I really don’t have anything else for you this week. So obviously this post’s title was an outright lie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, titles are hard and it simply couldn’t be helped. I trust that next week I’ll have at least a bit more to say, maybe I’ll finally get around to museuming in Dublin since the weather should be okay and there’s no school. We’ll see. Here’s to crossing a continent and an ocean. I’ll next be writing here from several time zones over.