Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No sudden movements

I inadvertently disappeared from the world for the past few days. First, it was just forced bed rest, but after succumbing completely to the guilty pleasure of watching Grey's Anatomy online, I finally had my first extended totally solo time since I've landed here. I was so boobed out that I didn't even consider blogging or emailing. My excuse is that it's good practice: this weekend, I'm moving to a motel that has NO INTERNET. I can't really consider the repercussions of that right now b/c I'm gunning to get in more episodes before beauty sleep. I have to go pay my new year's respects w/my family to my great aunt and her husband, the former Korean prez & Nobel Peace Prize winner. I would SO rather get through Season 3.

I feel much better, though today I went outside and tried to run a zillion errands and only got so far before getting all hot and runny nosed. I picked up my mail (cards from NYC and Japan, a new issue of Hand Papermaking w/an article that Rory wrote, which includes my work, treats from JL, and a book from Frank) and rambled on and on to the last remaining staff member in the Fulbright office, which closed early today. I found a sweet little taco shop and started to feel better about where I'm living (neighborhood-wise), and then randomly ran into a guy from Manchuria that I had met last month on my cultural heritage trip. It all felt really good, besides the feverishness, and I treated myself to a bunch of mandarins since this is when they are in season and taste the best.

Oh, and I woke up today and realized it was new year's eve. WHAT?! Totally not prepared for that. Though all of today's unexpected nice encounters made me think, hey, I can do whatever the hell I want, and if that means turning back into a boob and forgoing all the other possible plans, that is great. Being all alone is GREAT.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Being a dreadful patient

I've just had a remarkably ridiculous few days that I won't even go into b/c it's so embarrassing (aka drama ridden). I've been thinking about an old friend who used to remind me that I make all my own problems and make my life harder for myself than it needs to be. Oh, wait, that would be what ALL of my friends and family tells me repeatedly. I'm not sure how to rewire myself, but I know I have to. Being a drama queen is something I should have grown out of a long time ago. My sister called from Sweden today to say hi and I recounted the events of the past 24 hours and she said, "I think that you HAVE a common sense button, but you just choose to turn it off most of the time."

I'm propped up in bed, running a fever, and bored to tears by bed rest. I've cancelled all of my engagements, but tried today to pick up books that had been at the Frankfurt Book Fair and get groceries. I don't know how I did any of it b/c my fever started to spike while out. I have a week before I move to the country, so I'm nervous about getting better in time (I can delay my arrival, but I'd rather not). I'm going to try and think about all of this as a detox - all the bad stuff can hit me now but it better go away for the new year.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I ran away from home for about 24 hours. In the midst of grabbing my things and throwing them into a bag, I felt exhilarated, and realized that I have a very unhealthy addiction to running away. It feels really good. Luckily, I snapped out of it quickly and turned around the next day. I had planned on being away for days, probably until the very end of the year.

The neighborhood is ugly, but I've moved my desk, cleaned a little more, did a grocery and trash bag run, and am just stocked enough to make myself soup since I am SICK. I had hoped that it was just a scratchy throat when I first arrived, but alas. I haven't been able to shake it. I even took melatonin last night but ended up passed out for three hours and then bolted awake for another 2.5 hours. I was hoping to go out tonight but soup and crawling into bed is likely a better idea.

Hyesun recommended wearing layers of long underwear but I'm doing that now and it just makes me feel like a sausage and not any warmer. Time for the bed crawl, since I have a big day tomorrow (again, I'm not quite sure what I will be doing but it involves a TV station and an outdoor market).

Friday, December 26, 2008

"to kiss her, after. "

[the very last fragment from the very last installment of my collaboration with Ching-In. We exchanged twice a month for a year, and I can't believe it's already over. We switched from mail art to email art halfway through b/c I left the country.]

I am sitting here in a dark, cold apartment, second guessing myself heavily. I'm not sure if I made the right move. What was a good idea two months ago feels like a very bad idea right now, and I'm wondering if this is like when I was in Nebraska and felt bad and moved away to a different house on the farm, couldn't sleep, and then moved right back the next day. That was a little easier b/c there was no contract broken, harder b/c I had to have a difficult conversation about why I had felt so compelled to flee. The complications in my current situation all revolve around family and lies, both of which I've never been so steeped in before.

For now, I am confounded. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be doing with myself now that I'm cold and in the dark. I went out to meet a family friend, who helped me get THE MOST RIDICULOUS ski pants. Yes, that up there is the pattern. Let's hope the papermakers don't kick me out for looking so insane. But I decided that ski pants = waterproof + warm, which is what I need. It was either these or bright orange or purple. If I ever need to look crazy on the slopes, I'm set. For now, I'll just scare off hanji makers. And perhaps crawl into bed b/c I'm feeling a little ill.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Half-full glasses + insomnia

merry christmas from Boram from boram hong on Vimeo.

I can't sleep even though everything is ready to go in 7 hours. I wanted to share this sweet video by my last roomie. She's much better than me at being optimistic and cheerful.

Laundry is done, pots are scoured

My final night in the lap of luxury. I'm hoping that tomorrow will be my last BIG move in country. I started counting how many times I've packed in the past 2-3 years and it was ridiculous. I got a bunch of concerned about moving + xmas calls this morning from my parents and their friends who are here. I had a really good talk w/my cousin's wife today about family. It's kind of amazing to learn about them like this. Little things, like how my dad's side of the family is always insistent on eating w/chopsticks and not their hands.

I love that xmas is so understated here. LOVE it. It's so great to escape from the US version. Also, I have no idea what my internet situation will be after this, but I imagine that very soon I will be posting less than usual.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Not very clever traps

Yesterday I learned the word for how to make things right when being ripped off, and another descriptor for me: too weak/soft (referring to overripe fruit that bursts after going to mush). Then I watched "Island" and felt like I was re-hating Never Let Me Go all over again. I started to have an anxiety attack about moving to a new apt, moving to a motel, and leaving the former vacant, but Hyesun snapped me out of it, reminding me that I always run away from the things that I wanted so badly in the first place.

Today I wrote my homework about the classic problem of wanting X and then NOT wanting X once you get it. My two are 1. having my own place and 2. learning how to make hanji. I did lots of studying and laundry today (fourth load in the washer now), and lots of silent fretting b/c I think I am caught up. This may come bite me in the ass soon, but I'm on track - no glaring items to cross off the list, nothing major that has to happen in this very moment.

So, of course, I freak out. All I wanted was some down time, but now that it's here, I can't sit still. I tried to overcome a strong desire for chewy food, and should have gotten some octopus, but instead got ice cream and yogurt and crackers. All categories of food that I should have avoid (dairy, sugar, wheat). I've been thinking about what Brian said to me last week: that traveling to a new place throws the same old you up against a new backdrop, and suddenly all those flaws become that much more glaring. It matches my environs: Korea, constantly under construction. Me, having nightmares about scaffolding and people falling from it on huge planks of wood.

I move the day after tomorrow, bright and early. I don't need to pack today but I wish that I could, just to have something to do. My tutor suggested traveling 5 hours to the East Sea to watch the sun rise on New Year's Day, go to hot springs, and go sledding, but then I found out that I have to go w/my family to pay our new year's respects to my great-aunt and her husband, the former prez.

While drying my bedding, I found that I've been sleeping on this since October. SO appropriate.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice and pizza

The weekend just whizzed by. After burning Friday's productivity to bits, I tried recovering on Saturday but ended up just napping and buying a fancy chocolate and chestnut cake for my uncle to take to Chinese dinner (yum, but too much food, as always) for his bday celebration. It was nice to see my niece and nephew after not seeing them for a long time (different ones from the ones I saw last week), but it just made me all tired.

But then, I finally figured out that the art opening that Bum told me about happened tonight b/c of the solstice! Duh. I'm slooow w/these things...I got the email and wondered, in a cranky inner voice, "why is this art opening on SUNDAY?" I was going to go, and then not, and then a new Chinese friend from my trip a few weeks ago called last night to invite me, and I'm really glad we went.

Here are the pictures.

Here is why I am glad I went:

1. I got to hold hands w/someone for the first time in A MILLION YEARS (I'm excluding small children, where you do it so they don't get killed while crossing the street). I used to do this w/my cousins in Korea over ten years ago but all I do now w/my girlfriends is link arms. It was so weird to hold hands tonight but also wonderful.

2. It was actually kind of fun to trek up to the hanok (traditional Korean house, the last one standing in that hood) - I had drawn this ridiculous map that only I can decipher, and managed to guide us all the way from the subway to the opening. It felt just like following breadcrumbs, too, since they had a few signs that were only visible b/c they were white (it was dark by then). Of course, I couldn't explain that to my friend, since I don't think China has a comparable story to Hansel and Gretel. Please let me know if it does.

3. The hanok was lovely, w/incredible objects and decor all over. Also kind of depressing afterwards, b/c I went home and watched a film that Bum had worked on about the destruction of all these traditional homes in Seoul, totally condoned by the government even though it's illegal.

4. The tea was amazing. So were the rice cakes that the monk brought for us. He did a ritual in front of this beautiful copy of the Diamond Sutra that some other monk had transcribed on 8 huge panels and told us about tea and life and such.

5. I saw good art!!! Some really freaking amazing prints by Ivanco Talevski, a Macedonian artist now based in Philly.

6. Who doesn't love candles and no electric lights during the longest night of the year?

7. We met a British journalist from the Financial Times, the only one of his kind in Korea, and ended up going out w/him to this cozy pizza place down the winding hill. The headgear killed me: the pizza guy had this old olive hat on and there was a toddler w/a bandana on and I swear it was all staged to make me want to rush in. I felt like I was in the Snoopy strips where he is a WWII flying ace. No joke. The pizza was divine, and he made it right there, to order.

The good news: I locked myself in today and finished the big app. My reward was a shower and then rushing to JL's place to pick up my xmas package from my sister, which was a total treat. It included Little Miss Chatterbox (both the book and a pendant). That's my cue to sign off and go to bed. Happy solstice!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Still shirking

I was one hell of a procrastinator today. It's true that you expand and contract based on the given amount of time - you do things quickly when you don't have a lot, and slowly when you have more. I love feeling like I have more time (I say "feeling like" b/c it's an illusion - soon it will all come tumbling down, but for now I'm indulging in the holiday illusion), and I actually got a decent start to a challenging app, but then got profoundly sidetracked, from about 2pm to 9pm. Plus, I was doing things like documenting my plum-flavored bubble gum and eating two breakfasts before that during "writing breaks."

I had long blog posts drafted in my head, which disappeared during my afternoon nap. I got red-bean-filled ice cream as a midday reward, but then did nothing else until I finally felt guilty enough to do half of my Korean homework. But I DID call the papermaker this morning. The housing deal is that I will live in their "box container" for the month on the premises. NO JOKE. It really is a box. Drafty, but with a heated mat on the floor I should be able to sleep. It's a box with a door, and I have to stock up on AAA batteries for my headlamp b/c there is no bathroom - I have to trek out to the outhouse in the middle of the night. Hopefully the big white dog doesn't bark at me each time. And I thought it was bad getting out from under my electric blanket in my non-heated loft in Nebraska to walk down rail-less stairs to an exposed toilet. As long as I don't fall in, I might survive the 6-day working weeks. Oh, January, you cannot come too slowly.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I didn't think I'd make it out the door today after a long night last night and getting my period a week early (unfortunate timing: this means I'll start bleeding right in the middle of my freezing-cold apprenticeship), but I woke up this morning wanting to run out the door. I managed to burn toast VERY BADLY and delay my exit for various other stupid reasons. I usually never burn toast, but I'm also not very good w/toaster ovens.

I then managed to get on the wrong bus entirely, get off at what I thought was a transfer for a subway station, walk in the wrong direction entirely, turn around, turn around, turn around, and then give up and take another bus going to a different stop, just to find that if I had just walked a little further, I would have found the stop. Frustrated, I spotted a store similar to sprawling "pharmacies" back home, and got off immediately, waited forever to cross, and then browsed all of the FH (I refuse to type that out b/c it's such a ridiculous term) products. I'm going to try everything that's out here to see what I like best. So far, the organic cotton line sucks. I got the Chinese medicine stuff today and so far am a fan.

So despite all of my getting turned around (I'm more frustrated than embarrassed that I STILL have experiences like this on a regular basis after living here for six months), I made it to the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum, where I viewed an underwhelming (huuuge understatement) photography exhibit. The highlight of the show: peeking at all the architecture and the red frames! I couldn't believe I paid money to see the show, but will put "red frames" onto my list for my future home (perhaps I'll add "red toilet seat" to that - I encountered that in a tiny French restaurant in SoHo five years ago and liked it a lot). It reminded me of another aspect of the national museum that I loved yesterday: so many spaces here have built-in nooks and crannies for people. Yesterday, the museum was chock full of "lounges" right off of the main galleries, places to sit and relax, hang out, and maybe watch a video. I love that acknowledgment that it helps to have places to rest, b/c museum-going is no easy task.

I then crossed the street to one of the big palaces in Seoul and decided to duck into the National Palace Museum to hopefully get something more than what I had just seen. Again, there were some really dark areas, but I got to see some gorgeous lacquer work and also a huge chest done in ox-horn, this painting technique where pieces of horn are shaved thin and flattened, and then the painting is done on the backside so it shows through the front surface. I love that stuff. When I crossed the palace entrance, a Korean man asked me to take a picture of him and his English-speaking male friend. Funny, b/c the SAME exact thing happened to me yesterday at the national museum. I have varying degrees of desire to make sure that they both know that I can understand both languages. Though, really, none is required for that kind of request.

I ran some more errands and then finally got to my studio for a tiny bit before my tutoring session. My 2009 planner is all set to go now, extraneous pages removed, extra things glued in, birthdays recorded, and months tabbed. My tutor, happy that I had been inspired yesterday by Korean artifacts (she was a history major before going into language education), gave me a huge history lesson on the creation myth in Korea. Which I LOVED. I realized pretty quickly that I was on the edge of my chair leaning way forward, listening to the whole "tiger couldn't handle living in a cave eating garlic and mugwort but bear could and then was transformed into a girl" story. I am a total sucker for myths. And since it took so much time, we didn't get to textbook lessons, which is even better.

Now, my last weekend before moving into my new place. All sorts of things to do, and all sorts of procrastination temptations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


[I am now officially Korean. This is my phone.] Onto Part II of my dreary day: I got amazing mail art! I went to the Fulbright building to pick up my business cards (again, w/a typo. It's inevitable, I fear. I should have been more adamant when I ordered them, about how I don't need them to say "Korea") and found a few books to read in the library. I'm stocking up for the winter. Then, instead of going home, I got the sudden urge to go shopping. I think this was party b/c I just wanted to hold something in my hand after seeing everything in the museum.

I got a few things and then headed home, reading while walking, w/my back killing me from the extra books and baggage.

My cousin's wife then gave me the most AMAZING toy: edamame!! You can pop out the three beans but they don't fall out due to an ingenious device. The middle one has a face on it, and there are nine different expressions - you don't know which you get until you open the package. I got the angry one. LOVE IT.

She also gave me this hilarious doll. One of a series, this one obviously being part of this year's xmas theme. I like that they're all boys, and always bottomless.

So now I've prepared two packages to mail tomorrow, and have all sorts of new shiny things admire. I've also almost finished the bar of dark chocolate that Andrea sent as my gift this year. PERFECT TIMING. Hopefully I can get over my frivolity long enough to do some homework tonight.


I managed to pry myself from the home to trek out to the National Museum despite the icky weather. I'm really glad that I did - it was unexpectedly perfect for me. I ran through just to map it in my body so that when I go back later I know where to go. There are specific themes in my work that run on the surface and much deeper that make a lot of sense in the context of the art and artifacts that I saw today. I loved seeing the prints and maps and rubbings of inscriptions, and also all the gold ornamentation.

The sad thing is many of the things I really wanted to see were barely visible - they do super low lighting to protect the artifacts. But it makes for headaches, squinting, and feeling like I'm going blind. I kept felt like someone was trying to save on electricity even though I know it's for preservation purposes.

I got a sense again of my home - the one that exists in the future. Of all the beautiful things that I want as part of it, things like ceramics and woodwork, all done by real live people, by hand. These are water droppers, which are used in calligraphy. I love the tools in that form, and how lovely they are - simple things like brush cleaners: a fish sitting up in a shallow bowl. Just fill with water and brush against the form in the middle. Form meets function perfectly.

These are also water droppers.

And this, too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The calm before ... well, for now

This is a bar named after me - my English name, Koreanized (the top three characters in blue). I actually prefer my name spelled out in Korean, b/c for some reason, almost everyone in Korea spells my name incorrectly in English (they switch the "i" and the "m"). It's like a built-in dyslexia that I have no power against. To be honest, I spelled my own name wrong in Korean for the first month that I was here. This is impossible to explain w/o further linguistic detail and diagrams, so I pass.

I went today to the woman teaching me joomchi and did a ton more work. I was finally able to be honest about what my needs and goals were, so I don't need to go back, which is great, and she understands and no one was offended and no bridges were burned and I can go visit her on the island next year. Relief! Slow and steady assertiveness training. And now I can give my poor back a break - it's hours of sitting on the floor doing work that should not be done while sitting on the floor.

I still need to touch base w/the papermill to get a few more details on when exactly I'll go and where I will stay, but since now all I have to do until then is shop for gear and take Korean lessons, I have time to indulge a little. This week I want to hit a few museums I had meant to visit when I first arrived. It'll be nice to get my art / artifacts / architecture fix.

Monday, December 15, 2008


That's how more than one person I've met here describes the ex-pat community in Seoul. It's really true, and it makes it hard for everyone to invest in relationships. I thought I'd be doing all sorts of errands today but instead ended up finishing Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, making breakfast and dinner at home (dinner was particularly extravagant, with dark leafy greens!), riding the bus to and from tutoring, and talking w/Terttu before she mails off apps and flies to Estonia.

I'm overdosing on sugar lately. Dried mangoes and citron tea (eating all the rinds), the last bit of chocolate, and grape drinking yogurt. I was doing so well for my first few months here, but have lapsed back into my sugar addiction. I will likely have a hard withdrawal next month, but I'll worry about it then. What I need to worry about before then is serious internet shopping, but I don't even know how.

I'm also not absorbing my vocab and grammar. I'm still stumped as to how I'm supposed to apply it all. There's a magical shift from the classroom / textbook / notes to using it in everyday speaking and writing, but I still haven't figured out how to make that shift happen more often. I'm sure that putting off emailing people in Korean is NOT conducive to learning, but it makes me exceedingly cranky.

After discussing my composition about the difficulty of communicating with elders (b/c of tradition and manners that run counter to how things happen back home), my tutor said that I'm not a typical Korean American, which means that I'm not quite Korean but not quite American. She said that my life must be pretty hard. Interesting. Not quite either or. It's funny timing in terms of highlighting my oversensitivity, b/c last night I watched a silly movie on my computer while strewn out on the floor. I haven't watched a movie since I left home in June. But I keep forgetting that the way I process film is by replaying scenes in my head over and over. It's like a flushing, but it really sucks at night b/c then I can't sleep (my worst ever was after watching "The Triplets of Belleville" - it was like I watched the whole thing all over in my head and got about 2 hours of sleep that night). I realize now that I should save the books I have left for January, since I probably won't have internet access and won't bring my computer. If that is truly the case, I will probably go back to Seoul on the weekends just to get my fix (and do my laundry).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Slowly biting the bullet

I left a text for the papermaking son asking if I could spend a month working with his family in January. Until then, I have a LOT to wrap up, like suddenly being taken hostage by a teacher who has expectations for me that are inaccurate. I talked to my parents today, who reminded me that this is MY life and MY project, so that it's imperative that I make my own schedule, even if it means breaking it to people that I can't orbit them. The seemingly obvious revelation followed: I need to make a schedule for my remaining 6.75 months! And stop bowing and scraping.

So. I'm thinking January in the boonies, February doing a few more site visits south, and maybe a 1- or 2-week stint w/the nun? Then I'd feel better about possibly taking a trip to the Philippines to visit a papermaker in March, and more prepared to present to the other researchers in April. That leaves the rest of March and April to do final visits to any sites I haven't made it to, and then May and June to do my own studio work. I may let go of part of my project, which is finding artists who use hanji, though now that I say it out loud it seems like I shouldn't b/c that might become a much more valuable resource in the future.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Moonies in the boonies

And I don't mean that in a derogatory way. I trained out to the country to visit a family-owned papermill (four generations strong) and was feeling fine about it in the morning - it was still early, the hour-long ride went quickly, and my nap was delicious. The papermaker who I've been in touch with (the eldest son of the intangible heritage keeper, the father at the mill) was really generous w/his time and expertise but sadly most of it went to waste b/c he uses tons of vocab that I don't know. As a Canadian diplomat said tonight, "that is the worst kind of fluent to speak," when I explained that I speak well enough for people to think that they can talk to me like a college professor.

So the deal is that if I can find a place to stay near the mill, I can stay and work w/them (and hopefully LEARN or at least get my hands wet, if not frozen, in the process). I just need to tell them when and for how long. This is where all the revolt begins. I don't want to go. I know I have to go. But all this urban living has wussified me and I don't want to go buy work clothes for wet and cold places, I don't want to watch the steam off my pee in the outhouse, I don't want to not have instant internet access 24/7, I don't want to be somewhere where I can't quite communicate to my heart's content, I don't want to work my ass off doing hard manual labor, and so on.

But I will. I just need to figure out if I'm going to try and get a subletter, or if I'm going to try and get reimbursement. And if I will end up spending my holidays out there, right next to an enormous tract of land owned by the Unification Church. I had considered commuting, but after going to a farewell party for three American friends and running that idea past people, I realize it's not really an option (it would be at least 4 hours in transit daily, rising at 5am or earlier). The frustrating thing is that other leads are starting to come in ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Suddenly, I'm not enough person to go around. I just have to hope the rest can wait and I can just make the rounds. I had had this fantasy of being done w/my hardcore research by February, but this is obviously going to remain an unfulfilled fantasy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


News flash: I am burned out.
Last night I was up until 3am typing all of my Korean notes into my computer. Up until about 1:30am, I was eating cheese, apples, seaweed, and chocolate. Tomorrow early morning I trek to a subway to a train to the boonies to visit another papermill.

Today I learned a grammatical phrase that expresses regret, both present and past. I feel like I am drowning in regret. I also feel like my research has turned into a big blob, a huge soft thing that has no definition and no beginning and no end and I have no idea where I fit into it. When I try to lean against it I get sleepy and it gives me no satisfaction.

I remember being halfway thru grad school and telling Melissa that I wanted to drop out. I think I'm there now, that halfway hump (AKA siesta time or the Wednesday hump). Nothing stimulates me, everything exhausts me, and I feel like I'm standing in space constantly looking forward and back and unhappy with here. I am tired of feeling fat and ugly and stupid and inadequate in ways I couldn't even fathom before I got here. I am tired of fighting that feeling. I am tired of giving into that feeling.

I've always been one to scoff at holidays and vacations, and looked forward to them b/c I'd want everyone else to leave town or empty the studios or just scram so that I could be the only one working, alone, b/c I don't need a vacation! And then everyone would clear out and I'd sometimes get work done but mostly realize that it's no fun to be the only one working during the holiday. Seeing time off as time to work is a twisted perversion of workaholics. That would be me.

I've spent the last few days watching clips of medical dramas and doing everything in my power to not deal with other people in ways that were overly strenuous. But every day, a new "assignment" arrives, a new thing to do, a new person to meet, a new email to compose painstakingly in Korean. It's great, this life, but it's also killer. No wonder I daydream so much about being on the farm in Nebraska. No, I used to do that. Now, I'm in a big haze. I just want to unplug from everything. But how do I do that if I haven't even been able to work at the vat for 6 months? It seems so wrong. And right NOW is when papermaking season is in full swing. Right now, when I am in hardcore hibernation mode. The thought of relocating to the boonies and living in a seedy motel so that I can hang out in freezing cold water during the winter doesn't appeal to my current state of eating everything in sight constantly and wanting to burrow.

I'd like to take a hot bath and then turn into a boob in front of the tube with really good dark chocolate. The problem? No bathtub, nothing I can veg out to (TV in a foreign language is more stressful than mind numbing), no dark chocolate. So I'm going to settle for a hot shower, transcribing more notes, and milk chocolate with hazelnuts.

Oh, man. Now I remember what Joan told me years ago when I complained about feeling totally blank: these are the dark days. And they call them that for a reason. So this feeling is normal.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Piping up and down

Whoa, crankster roller coaster! I wanted really good reasons for things that have been going on lately and I got a lot of answers today. I learned that I am helplessly judgmental and make tons of assumptions (the problem being that I go 50/50 on those, so it's hard to give it up completely since I'm right as often as I am wrong). I also create incredibly intricate ways in which I believe that other people see me - all negative and twisted, of course. I read my horoscope today about how I need to stop worrying about things and just to accept them as learning experiences. So I made a few hard calls today and was yelled at but then things got back onto fine terms and now everyone knows where everyone else stands.

I met Carla today, and later her husband and daughter. She's a Fulbrighter here to research traditional lacquer. One of the first videos I saw on handmade paper involved lacquer techniques, so of course my first questions were about how poisonous it is. They only arrived two weeks ago, so I'm surprised at how well they are functioning. It was harrowing enough for me to see her child being scooped up by a Korean fruit vendor and carried over to his stand - it looked like a kidnapping - so I can only imagine how stressful it is for her as a mom to deal with that on a daily basis. I forget that blonde, blue-eyed children are still treated like circus animals here and get insane preferential treatment. We talked about how the transition back for her after a year of this will likely be harder than her parents' reentry. Anyhow, it was good to meet someone who has had her share of nine lives and is here now. I also love that she was a gymnast in her former life.

I got a rush order done in the studio today and was pretty excited to have been surprisingly productive given a late start this morning. Today I was so fired up (in good and bad ways) that I realized that I must make new year's resolutions. I haven't done that since 2002 when I set Madonna as my role model (don't worry, she's not anymore). But this time I have to do it. The preliminary outline involves saying no, setting boundaries, expressing my truth, and worrying less.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Fire rising again

I was feeling this lull after the trip and wondering why I wasn't so stressed out. Of course, once I got out the door, it all started again. I went to the Fulbright office and then had to go back b/c I forgot something, did very unsuccessful shopping for my sister, and was exhausted by the time I hit the studio. I got a last-minute order in this morning and am unsure if I'm prepared for it adequately. I'm frustrated by how people don't even consider meeting me halfway (literally) when we make dates. This reminds me of how Manhattanites have a hard time leaving the island or how anyone who feels like they live in the center can't fathom edging to the periphery. Constantly feeling like I am trying too hard to take care of people at the cost of myself. The. same. old.

Tomorrow I have to make a very difficult phone call. Hopefully it won't ruin my entire day. Tonight I'll get back to my Korean notes. And enjoy the one bright side of today: JL left me a packet of dark chocolate hot cocoa mix. Time to indulge.

p.s. - the trip was good! I just can't seem to write anything interesting about it, esp after writing a 700-word essay for the group.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Back from snow and hot floors

"Danny Boy" played on a makeshift p'iri from Aimee Lee on Vimeo.

[He really, seriously, is playing a drinking straw with holes punched into it.] I got back this evening from a 4-day trip (3 days taken care of by ICHCAP and one on my own to visit a hanji professor). It was great fun. It's amazing how people who are complete strangers in the morning become your roommates that night and confidantes the next. I suppose that's the beauty of timed tours - you know you only have so much time together, so the befriending curve is steep. We went to two cities and it was just a huge barrage of museums, temples, lectures, presentations, eating, making food, performances, riding the bus, and so on. I could go into detail about each site visit but I really should go to bed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The cabbage is outside

[and the paper is inside. Andong Hanji.] I'm still calm. I just did tons of hanji picking/ripping and it's pretty dreadful stuff. So is typing my transcribed notes into my computer. But as I was trying to eat seeded grapes (the fruit stand vendor told me they were seedless, I swear. Lies!), I thought, well, this is what this whole year is going to be like. Doing difficult, tedious things that hurt my eyes and my back and make me frustrated. But all for a bigger purpose down the line - the payoff comes later.

I took a short break to do instant yoga before I pack and try to cram in some more notes. I leave tomorrow morning for a 4-day trip down south - three days sponsored by the Establishment Initiative for the Intangible Heritage Centre for Asia-Pacific (under the auspices of UNESCO), and the fourth for my own research. It's going to be hella cold, which means I am not going in style but rather bundled in a huge down coat and long underwear. I'm hoping that being dressed like a normal person rather than a fashion plate won't lose me points when I meet a professor at the university that has recently started a hanji program.

If all goes well, I should be off-line the entire time. Enjoy the silent holiday!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Miracles and small circles

Well. I think 2am is my regular weeknight bedtime. Tonight might even run later. I just can't stop working. There is so much work. There is so much EVERYTHING. Tonight I met Hyesun for dinner and drinks and later we met her friends for tea. At dinner we talked a lot about friendship, good friends (my bro-in-law had just reminded me the other day that you don't have to talk to really good ones all the time), acquaintances, being shut off, how to identify "real" friends, and two-way streets. I learn a lot about how I let in a lot of ridiculous and toxic things and people into my life and don't really quite get it until it's too late and they've leeched on and are sucking away. Actually, last night at dinner, Stephanie said that I needed to fix up my crazy radar and immediately cut off all crazies when I identify them as such. She said I'm way too compassionate. A nice way of saying that I'm a big sucker.

So I suppose I should be making lots of changes in my life. Before meeting Hyesun, I worked my butt off on more typing transcriptions of Korean notes, and then went to an artsy trendy neighborhood for my first visit to a clinic that does body typing and speed acupuncture (that's what I call it. I have no idea what it's officially called, but it involves instant needle contact and release, constantly moving, so there's no needles that stay stuck, and the whole thing lasts about 5 minutes). I had been curious and also dreading it b/c I knew I'd get info I didn't want to know. Their big thing is that you are what you eat: ALL body dysfunction comes from diet. There are eight body types and you have to eat w/in your own.

Apparently, my type is Colonotonia (beautiful name, I know. It means that my colon is super strong - so I have to do things to make sure it doesn't work out a lot and overwhelm the rest of my body, while strengthening all the other organs. Especially my weak-ass liver). Good news: I don't have to do strenuous exercise! In fact, it's bad for me to sweat a lot and do rigorous workouts - it's too exhausting. And since my lungs are strong, it would be bad to make them stronger. So, ideal exercise includes swimming, yoga, and long walks. PERFECT. No wonder I've always had aversions to hardcore running and other sweaty activities.

Bad news: I'm not supposed to eat meat, root veggies, dairy, wheat, sugar, freshwater fish, apples & pears, and garlic. Or take hot baths. Or go hiking in the mountains. Actually, that's not all bad. But I've been eating all the bad foods since I've gotten here since it's easy. Oh, and I'm not supposed to drink. How can they say that to people living in Seoul?! The first principle for my constitution is to stop eating meat, and the second is to not use medication. The third, VERBATIM, "is not to get upset." Hahaha!!! I saw three doctors and they all said immediately, "you're very sensitive, aren't you?" and then that I need to not get angry. Interesting. So I came out very calm. We'll see how long that lasts.

Tonight, Hyesun scolded me for complaining about how I have to study harder now to get to the next level in Korean. She said that I have been given an incredible gift of language b/c I grew up in a Korean home, and that I need to just shut up and keep at it. It's true, and I was amazed when I got my evaluations from my language exams (pre- and post-): I went from "advanced" to "nearly fluent" (a two point difference, though I don't know what the scale is). I was SO EXCITED to see that. Nearly fluent!! Does that mean that I could be fluent in this lifetime?! I have wanted to be bilingual for SO LONG. I guess I never thought it would happen in this lifetime. But if Obama can happen in this lifetime, then I can wrestle Korean down.

In the end, my problems are problems of abundance, and my inability to see them as such b/c I'm so trapped in a scarcity mentality. I have been given many, many gifts, like just being here. Like friends who almost make ME cry as if to return the favor. Like a rock solid family. Like a constitution that accepts mostly everything from the sea very well. And even better: chocolate is on my list of beneficial foods!!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Home almost all day

Ambassador Kathleen Stephens gave tonight's keynote speech at the National Press Club for the annual general meeting of the Korea Fulbright Alumni Association. I gave my camera to someone to shoot the group photo but sadly he decided to just shoot half of the group, which excluded most of us researchers.

I wore this necklace that my cousin's wife had made and given to me. She works in glass - that's what the bird is made out of. I love it but of course the name tag covered it up.

Luckily, the meeting was my only outdoor activity slated for today, so I had lots of time at home before I ran out to cross the river and do my duty. I decided last night to type all of my Korean notes from tutoring (starting in September) into my computer. I'm too far along to stop, but not far enough to want to continue. It's HARD to copy notes like this b/c it's in two different languages and I draw lots of arrows and funny charts and use different colored pens. It better be worth the effort, b/c that's pretty much ALL I did today. Besides make myself hangover soup in the morning.

Last night, I stayed up late so that I could receive a phone call for my language exam to test how much better my Korean has gotten w/the aid of this language grant from the State Dept. I had to be available during Eastern Standard Time work hours, which translates to 11pm - 8am my time. Not very convenient. My cousin's wife and her friend were doing hilarious charades while I was taking my test so I had to turn my back to keep from laughing out loud. The questions were something like:

1. What are three things you shouldn't do in the library?
2. What are three things you always do before going to bed?
3. What kind of movies and actors do you like and why?
4. If you were to go to a deserted island, who would you take with you?
5. What do you think about the development of computers and the internet in the past 20 years?

I put up a fight on #3 and 4, but overall did pretty well. Way better than my initial test back in NY before I left for Korea. Which means I've gotten better at Korean. Hooray.