Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summer vacation

We get one day off for summer vacation at school, which is today. I leave in about an hour and change to head east for another suit fitting and dinner w/family friends. I woke up today at 6:30am and could NOT fall asleep b/c the cicadas were insanely noisy, so I had to put my earplugs in for a few more hours of sleep. Last week, I couldn't decide if I should do laundry b/c it had been raining, but then my aunt said, the cicadas have started up! They only start singing when it's not going to rain anymore. So then I did my laundry. I love that I get to be around people who know things like that.

I met Diana, a current Fulbrighter and a poet, yesterday for tea time, and it was great to finally meet her in person after harassing her for over a year w/questions re: Fulbright. I had just realized on the way there that the stipend is pretty much below the poverty line and how it will be a challenge to budget the coming year. The only way that I'm more comfortable now is thru family and friends, which has always been the hallmark of Korean culture: going all out for people in your circle. It's kind of amazing, even when it can be difficult.

Then I met my language exchange partner, which was really nice. I attempted to explain asiaphiles to her as well as the impossibility of people who are conditioned a certain way to see Asian women as just people - that they can't separate "Asian-ness" from personhood. We talked about the recent controversy over Dokdo, a bunch of tiny rocks/islands between Korea and Japan. Both countries have claimed them for a LONG time and just yesterday G.W. Bush made a statement about how they need to decide it once and for all.

Time to catch the train.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Western medicine back east

I have work in two more shows opening this month, one in Denver and one in Japan:

August 1 - September 13
Abecedarian Gallery, Denver, CO
Artists' Reception - Monday August 25, 6-8pm

Your Documents Please
August 2 - 17
ZAIM, Yokohama, Japan
(with the rest of the show down the block at Galerie Paris

I had a fantastic experience today at the International Health Care Center at Severance Hospital. I walked in, filled out a tiny half-page form w/basic info, was asked to return at 2pm (30 min later), did some homework, and went back. After waiting a few minutes, they took my bp and temp, had me wait a little more, and then I saw the doctor. She was super nice, fluent in English, very calm and reassuring, and didn't condescend or NOT listen or scoff at my concerns. She also didn't act like she had a million other things to do, or that there were other people waiting that she had to get to right away. Then an escort took me to the sampling place, showed me what to do, and took me back to the clinic. I paid for the lab work, and was told to call on Friday for test results, and that was that! Done in 30 minutes flat, with courteous service in a clean, well-lighted place. Soothing music, too. Also, the hospital was nice and fancy and clean and generally just a nice place to be - no weird smells or glaring white walls - almost like being in a museum, with way more people.

I am SO happy to be out of the hands of the American health care system right now. Just delighted.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I know, it took a million years for me to customize my template. It's not like I have any more time now than I ever did, but it just had gone on for too long. I had kept the tacky green one only out of deference to Polarchip, who inspired me to blog a few years ago. She had started w/the pink version, so I went w/green, and then she went on to change her template about a million times. And I just got stuck in my ways. I meant to change it once I turned 30, and then once I got to Korea, and so on. Now I am going to sleep through grammar lessons tomorrow. My excuse for staying up so late is that I have to wait for the mosquito spray to take in my bedroom.

Last night, I stayed up late trying to finish all the pieces for my subscription series. It felt good to work again but then I had to get up at 6:30am today and take two more exams. Today, I met with Jeong-In Cha, an artist and illustrator who also makes books and does amazing things to support the book arts community in Seoul, namely Artistbookseoul. I also met her sister, Gina Cha, who curates books as well. The studio was SO gorgeous and lovely. I was just happy to sit in a studio for an afternoon and hear about the artistic community in Seoul, how artists are viewed in Korea, and get the inside scoop on the recent book arts fair in Seoul. Funny, since many of my old colleagues from Chicago won prizes at this summer's fair, and it was nice to exchange info - fun for them to hear about how the books were made, and for me to hear about how positively they were received when they arrived in Korea. Hopefully I'll get to visit again soon, WITH my camera so you can see how amazing the space is.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Promises kept

I'm back from Incheon! Apparently, the Pentaport Rock Festival piggybacks on the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, and is one of the biggest in Korea. I waited for about 20 minutes for my cousin after riding the subway for an hour+ and sleeping most of the time. Hilariously enough, my fear of getting eaten by mosquitoes at the festival was a little off. The only attacks that happened were on the air-conditioned subway en route. I was really angry when I woke up from my dozing to see the mosquito that had just bitten me, so I killed it. I know that this is how wars start, but I figure I wouldn't automatically kill a person w/my bare hands if s/he bit me, so I can differentiate between blood-sucking bugs and blood-sucking people.

This is a window grate at the subway station, right near the major river that runs through Seoul. Of course, the sun came out full force right as we arrived at the site, but since it was late afternoon, it only lasted for an hour or two and then calmed down. We went right to the main stage and set up camp. I had never heard of any of the bands (no surprise) that we saw: Hard-Fi, Delispice, and Kasabian. I spent the sunny part of our stay photographing people and being really thankful for zoom lenses. Once we snagged a spot, I did more people watching and then took out my trusty knitting. I knitted for the entire rest of the time.

My cousin got this for us to eat. The hot dog was super spicy! He told me about the Budweiser buy out and we had a good laugh. I have been on the computer too much today so no more typing; here are the pictures.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Playing catch up

I still haven't figured out why mosquito spray is called "F Killer." I'm bracing myself for an afternoon/evening of heavy fire by mosquitoes: I'm going to a rock concert with my cousin and his wife in Incheon, a city west of Seoul and the location of Korea's major int'l airport. It's outdoors, and hopefully my cousin will have picked up a pair of boots for me b/c it has been raining for the last 3-4 days in a row, with the sun coming out today. So it will be muddy and steamy. Can't wait. I'll take my camera, now that I've figured out that I need new batteries (I haven't been taking new photos b/c I had a panic attack several days ago when the thing wouldn't turn on. I had just recharged the batteries but obviously it's time to get a new set, since these are 4-5 years old and not holding a charge. I went to a Canon store in Seoul to ask about the warranty, which wouldn't have been honored here, so thank goodness it's just a power issue).

These are our lockers at school (if you put a deposit down for one). I feel like I'm in junior high b/c whenever I have lunch w/friends after class, I always say, "I need to run to my locker!" Right now, it's holding two bags of crackers, my gift book from Clover, all my homework, a plastic bag, a textbook, and a workbook. That's right, I have two days of exams coming up (Mon/Tues) and I decided to leave my books at school. I figured that even if I study all weekend, I won't get much better at grammar, so why bother? Our teacher must have been concerned on Friday b/c we looked so unhappy during test review, and she said, please don't stress about the tests! Just have fun.

The day before (Thursday), I met another family friend (who has known me since I was a baby) and spent the entire afternoon and evening with her, catching up, eating, getting measured for a new suit (she's a tailor), going to the local market to look for a hanji doll maker (he closed shop a while ago), and watching her make tons of phone calls for me (re: housing in the fall and places to study hanji). On Friday, I had lunch w/a bunch of students from the program: 2 from Japan, 1 from China, 1 from Singapore, and 1 from the US. Then I hiked up the mountain to visit my cousin's friend and met her children, who are crazy beautiful. She's my new local standby b/c my cousin is in Florida for a month w/her kids visiting her sister.

After iced tea, phone calls to random Koreans, and a tiny nap, I went to Sinchon to run errands and meet Kelsey &c (aka 1. her long-lost friend from high school who had moved to Australia and married 2. an Aussie, 3. this friend's cousin who happens to be living in Korea with his 4. Korean gf, and 5. a Korean guy who just spent 10 years in Hawaii and is friends with our Japanese classmate b/c they are in a Chinese-speaking group together). We went to a chicken place for dinner (click here for an image-laden explanation of the food) and then to a club for drinks, where Kelsey's friend (a modern dancer who was in NYC before moving to Seoul five years ago) joined us.

Since everything that I just talked about happened in the kind of rain that makes umbrellas nearly useless, I took all yesterday to sleep in and do calm, at-the-desk activities like studying and working on my first subscription piece. I'm frustrated b/c I wanted to send it out two weeks ago, but have not had the time to sit down and engineer it and make multiples. But hopefully I'll get it done this week. I would do it today, but sometimes you just have to put things off in favor of muddy rock concerts.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ah yah yay!

I am really really really not as present online as I usually am, which is nice in many ways but also crazy stressful b/c the rest of the people I need to communicate with are still I'm behind, way behind! Still in the throes of planning next year, which means negotiating dates w/Fulbright, the gallery I will show at right after I get back, and the residency I will go to right after I get back. Agh!

BUT in the meantime as I am scattered (I will post more soon about all the things keeping me busy), watch this video of Clover! I met her in grad school, and she's been an amazing friend and colleague and collaborator. A real, dedicated, true performance artist. And artist, period.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Turning Korean (or just turning into Paulette)

Finally! New eyes. I had the same lenses for about five years, so it is really nice to have new ones that aren't all scratched up. The prescription is (amazingly) the same, but they feel much stronger. I was lucky to have my mom's friend meet me near school and take me to the market and haggle with the salesperson. Otherwise, who knows how much I would have paid (though regardless, it would have been less than 1/2 the price I would have paid in the US). It was really nice to meet my mom's friend - she said it was like seeing my mom again b/c I resemble her. Tomorrow, I meet another family friend, which will also be nice. In the meantime, I'm in a crazy scheduling rush for 2009. I am trying to figure out when to return to the US, and thought I had to return early but I might not have to after shuffling dates for a show. It's so hard to know what I will want/need a year from now.

I just had my role play exam today, which I partially bombed by trying to improv a new line and not delivering. Oh well. I had lunch today w/a woman who went to college with my sister - she saw me last week and thought I was my sister. Very random that we're in the same place at the same time. I didn't make it to the opening, but am hoping to hit that museum on Friday afternoon. The weather has not been too oppressive this week, which has given me seemingly boundless energy.

Oh! And I met my language exchange partner today. She's just three years younger than me, and is a psych grad student. She seems really nice and also seems to have values similar to mine, which surprised me (things like not wanting to get married until she finishes school, and doing what she wants to do NOW so she doesn't regret it later). The funny thing is that I feel really weird speaking English to Korean people. Using it with her will be good practice for me, and she's already corrected my Korean a bunch so I'm hoping this will help fill in some of the gaps that classroom work isn't able to address.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Brief bettering

I was just telling Melissa that weather is a real presence out west in the States, and now I realize that I can easily remind myself of the same reality here. I feel GREAT tonight b/c a breeze has come in and it swept away the humidity after the three straight days of rain. After beating myself up for the past month, I forced myself to leave school with all my books and get to Insadong, the area of Seoul w/the folk museum and village and tourist traps, so that I could find the hanji (Korean handmade paper) shop that I've heard about for over a year. I FOUND IT! Bo Kyung Kim of FIDES had given me good directions and even though I was terrified about going and introducing myself, it wasn't so bad. These are the three large sheets that I got for about $45 total.

THESE are the fakey fakey sheets that I got for $4 total - this area has a lot of shops that sell paper that they call "hanji" but is actually just paper made in China for super cheap. Sadly, it's replaced most of the high quality Korean paper, and tourists don't know the difference. The real sheets I got are made in the tradition where two sheets are couched together to make one. This particular shop that I visited is a family-owned one. The father and son work further away in an area with good clean water, making the paper, and the son's wife runs the shop. The father is in his 70s, I think, and learned papermaking from his father, whose father also taught him. So far, it seems like I won't be able to see the real nitty gritty of the mill (family secrets) or apprentice there, but I should be able to visit later in the year since they sometimes have groups of people come by for tours. The woman was very informative and even gave me an article in English written about the family practice and she was happy to have someone come by who knew about papermaking and specifically about hanji. The struggle I'm hearing over and over is the same: cheap Chinese paper undercuts the market, and well-known Japanese paper overshadows the Korean tradition. So more and more Korean papermakers have stopped working (this has been going on for a loooong time; I'm not trying to say it's a recent thing, just that it's a continual pattern). Which is sad, b/c the paper is superior.

Anyhow. I'm feeling better even though my teacher scolded me today for making the same spelling and grammar mistakes over and over again in my homework (I'm one of those notorious phonetic spellers; I just get tired of looking things up and end up guessing). We'll see if I'm motivated enough to go to an opening tomorrow that I just found out about today for thisAbility vs. Disability at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art. I hope I will be, b/c the show seems really interesting. The rumor is that Pauline Oliveros will be there! I haven't seen her perform since the Cat in the Cream at Oberlin almost 10 years ago.

Suddenly frantic

[From the same park near home. I liked this outdoor piece a lot.] Last night, I started to get a little crazy in my head and had to take some melatonin and do some journaling. I've been feeling incredibly limited by my own limitations, wound up with a dissatisfaction with who I am. I realize that my freaking out about my age in comparison with everyone else is just a small indicator of how much I do that in general, and how constantly comparing myself to other people in all aspects always makes me miserable (yet I continue to do it). I feel like I'm not doing ENOUGH here (broken record!) and that everyone else is always doing a million things. So I had all these plans to run errands today but now have to run home b/c I just found out about a print deadline that requires jpgs, which are all at home.

I also realize that I'm out of sorts b/c I'm not doing what I would rather be doing - which would be having a studio, privacy, and time to make art. But yesterday, our class had a funny practice session for the song we have to perform in a few weeks: we went for karaoke! The place was kind of outrageous, with decor, and glittering lights everywhere, self-serve ice cream, and huge teddy bears in each private room. We practiced the lyrics and figured out who gets which, and then a couple of students worked on choreography.

Oh, and the rains have started. Friday night, the rain started and never really stopped. I guess right now we're in a lull and will have a few days w/o rain, but it was pretty hardcore.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Maybe July will just continue to be a rough month

Life is eating me alive! I spent Thursday night with Kiwon and an entire herd of Yale musicians, which was scary. It made me really happy to be in Korea and not in the US. I learned again, for the umpteenth time, that I am not cut out for hanging out w/large groups of people, steering people thru Korean bbq, or witnessing loud drinking games. But I did get a really nice shower at a fancy hotel near City Hall. I had to RUN to school the next morning to get there on time and was totally exhausted from lack of sleep, but it made me realize that I can still operate w/o that much brain and body power. Which means that I need to stop freaking out about language study b/c it basically will cause me to fail miserably. It's like flailing around in water and drowning versus laying down and floating.

Ellie's grandmother passed away a day or two ago from a series of heart attacks (I can't tell anymore w/the time difference), and I feel like all I'm hearing about since July 1 is scary and sad news. I'm hoping whatever weird retrograde is going on will pass soon. I'm babysitting again (very badly, since I'm blogging and my nephew is watching TV) and trying not to stress about how little I'm getting done in my life right now. Because it's true, what Ellie says, that it's your heart that matters.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

School makes me stressy

[Mai on the left, my dialogue partner, and Yuko on the right, my birth year partner.] I just found out that Kiwon wants to meet an hour earlier, which cuts deeply into the time I thought I had to make up these silly role play scenarios. Agh. I finally ventured down the hill today for lunch w/Kelsey, my first meal near school but not AT school. I think...

Anyhow. All this cramming is making me crazy. My jaw is wound up like crazy, but at least I know the word for hippo and narcotics. Helpful, right? The grammar is harder for me b/c I have a hard time engaging - I wish we could learn it with English explanations (like tenses, conjugation, particles, etc.). But then when I try to have perspective, I figure it's a much easier life than other people. My aunt told me a couple nights ago about how her entire family migrated from the north to Seoul, and about crossing the border, and how they were incredibly lucky that not a single relative died in the crossing. Though her father passed away at age 50 b/c the suffering later in his life was too hard to bear (they had been well off in north Korea, so he was not accustomed to hardship). I see how hard she STILL works now in her 60s, and how what would totally land me in bed for days is like a normal day's workload for her. The generation gaps here are enormous because the changes in this country have happened at the speed of light. Faster, it seems.

So, trying to get language study done faster before meeting a good friend from NYC so that we can have a fun night out in Seoul might actually just be cake.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hand cramps

[The student rush that I have to navigate when I get off the second bus that stops near school.] Aaagh. I'm about 40 words away from being caught up w/my vocab. It's making me crazy and I think I'm taking in about one word for every 20 that I write over and over and over. I think I know "smoke" but am not so good on "to be hazy, foggy." Definitely don't know "pattern" but am okay on "gossip."

[This hill looks puny from the picture, but it is no fun climbing it every morning.] We just got assigned our partners and told our topics for next week's oral exam. Already??!?! It's all role play (things like inviting people to a party, introducing friends, and buying things at the market or ordering delivery). I drew one of the best students in the class. I hope she doesn't get annoyed at my almost complete inability to memorize boring dialogue.

[The school facade.] I just got a call from Kiwon and she's just landed today in Korea! So I'll see her tomorrow at the Plaza Hotel. Wohoo. Though I hope we're not out forever. Getting up at 6:30am every morning is really starting to wear on me. I also started to realize yesterday that I think that my eyesight is already starting to get worse from all the studying. Hahahaa. I had a hard time seeing the TV last night while watching some trivia game show. One of the questions was about the title of Michael Moore's last doc, and I loved that one of the choices (it was a multiple choice game) was "Gecko."

[The map for the park near home.] I feel like I'm on this marathon that is kind of neverending, but one where I'm constantly falling behind. So I guess I need to get back to vocab. "Chalkboard," "ceiling," "telepathy," "sweltering night," "addiction," "DWI," and "PSA" are all waiting for me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Feeling the heat

I forgot to ask earlier: what is it with kids always being sticky, and then always wanting to rub their stickiness onto you? I was sneezing and had a runny nose this a.m. and my aunt thought that I had a cold but I think it's just my body being scared of germy children. Or maybe b/c I slept w/the window open b/c it was so hot. I've been sleeping on the bus to school lately b/c I'm so tired and in our last hour of class today, I had a sudden slump where I was just crazy tired. Luckily, we're learning something really easy (how to speak to people informally, rather than formally), so it didn't affect my performance too much.

{Kelsey is on the left.) I just had a nice long lunch w/Kelsey and we swapped nightmare-ish ancient history stories. Mostly, it was me telling her about mine. We also talked about how vicodin is something I might want to try someday. We have a lot of similarities, and the ways that our brains operate constantly at light speed is one of them. I tried today briefly to just take notes and not re-copy them (I've done this ever since I started undergrad), but it made me feel like a lazy slacker. I think I'll have to hold onto that habit, even if I'm not learning grammar any better that way. I did manage to finish the picture book from my cousin and am almost done w/my extra grammar book. I started doing hardcore vocab drilling, but am not sure how well it's going to work.

Oh! The fun news: I just found out today at lunch that I am NOT the oldest person in my class!!!! There is one person who is older than me by 2 months. I found out that the 19-yo boy is NOT the youngest one, either - there's an 18-yo girl!

Okay. Time to study.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I've become one of those people

who takes pictures of strangers and then posts them online. I know, dreadful. These are kids at the park I went to near home a week ago, not anyone that I'm related to. The lake is manmade, not a beach or sea or ocean. The same kids as the ones on eyes everywhere. It's just easier to take pictures of everyone else, since I'm not doing anything that requires visuals (commuting, sitting in class, studying, running away from mosquitoes). I just had lunch w/Kelsey today, which was a nice change of pace. I'm thinking that I will skip doing my homework at school, and will just tear out pages from my textbook again (b/c it's so heavy), hit the post office, and then head home. If I'm able to get apples and shower tonight AND get all my homework done, that that will have been a decent day's work.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Poor planning, but I'm no DP

Whoops. I took my camera + an extra set of batteries to the beach and both sets died before I could get out of the condo (called Ocean Castle). So, no pictures! Sorry. It's fine, though, b/c it was just a beach, nothing particularly stunning about it. Just the landforms at the ends were different from what I usually see. It was a REALLY quick trip, 24 hours from door to door. But I'm still glad that we went. After leaving school on Friday (this is the monstrosity I have to look at when I arrive, M-F. Makes me laugh every day), I walked uphill forever to get to my cousin's house. We had lunch and cleaned a little before going shopping w/her son. That alone was an adventure. Classic things like fighting about what toy he would get, wanting to sit on the floor, and dumping a half-closed bottle of Gatorade into our shopping bag. After rushing through three noodle dishes for dinner, I met my other cousin at the hospital to catch a cab to the subway to the street where we met his brother and his brother's wife, who then drove us all the way to the west coast.

[This would NOT be the west coast, but the cooking studio at school where we made a traditional Korean noodle dish during the first two hours of class.] Mystic's "W" was stuck in my head on the 2-3 hour drive west to a large island, once covered in dense pine forests, but chopped down by the Japanese for the quality of the wood right around the beginning of the Japanese colonial period in Korea. It used to only be accessible by boat but now there's a bridge. We ended up on the west coast of the island, too, in a condo w/a view of the beach. Most everyone stayed up (except for the two kids) and we had a funny conversation about how to raise kids re: language and pronunciation. It made me realize why my dad is the way he is - b/c HIS father was like that, which is why my uncle is like, which is why my cousin is like that w/his daughter right now. I like hearing family stories from other family members. It's nice to replenish the family myth bank. I hardly slept and the kids woke up at 6am just about tearing down our doors. I managed to escape the first trip out to the beach, but ended up then doing full-time duty at the swimming pool/sauna. I think I was only able to do so much swim time w/my niece b/c the pool only came up to the middle of my ribs. Then we had an amazing Japanese lunch - soooooooo much seafood. Things I've never seen before. Totally gorgeous. That was the only thing that made me sad about not being able to use my camera.

I then ran out to the beach alone and then we drove back, in time for me to feel really sick and take lots of meds and go to bed early. I only started to feel better late this afternoon after two naps, three rounds of cold medicine, and a whole carafe of homemade Korean citron tea. It was probably a mix of too little sleep, too much babysitting, too much sitting in the back seats of cars, too much A/C, and too much raw fish. But I still managed to get my homework done, even though I still don't think I've learned a lick of vocab. I keep INTENDING to 1. read the new picture book from my cousin, 2. re-write and memorize 10 pages of vocab, 3. learn grammar on my own, and 4. skim 11 volumes of Korean history. I'm just so impatient to get through books in Korean the way I do in English that I forget that I'm about 1,000 times slower at everything in Korean. I'm having a hard time accepting this.

I also feel super out of touch w/things going on back home. I just found out this morning about a high school classmate who was in a bad biking accident (he was hit by a car) and tonight's dinner conversation was mostly me trying to explain to my aunt why Angelina went to Namibia to have a baby. I feel like I'm not on my feet at all w/my language studies, not anywhere I want to be w/my research (even though I'm not technically on my research grant yet), and still confused about who I'm supposed to reach out to amongst all my family and my family's friends. I feel like I NEED so much but I'm not sure where I'm supposed to get everything I need, and not sure who I'm supposed to ask for help. Since there's so much etiquette that I'm unaware of in terms of asking for help and receiving it from specific people.

But beyond the extreme exhaustion and ungrounded feeligns, the best part about being here for a while is watching my cousins' children get to know and trust me. As cold as it was in the pool yesterday, it was important for me to hold this girl in my arms and not let her feel like she was going to drown. The fact that it would have been impossible didn't matter (she was tall enough to stand up w/o the water going over her head, and she had floaties on her arms). She was on her back and I had her back and legs supported, and then I would bounce her butt up every time it sunk down. A few times, she gripped me b/c she was scared that she was sinking, and those were the times that I would make sure that she knew, through my body, that I would never let that happen (I have a childhood experience of drowning, and drowning is actually ancestral baggage on my mother's side of the family).

Ellie-Jo and I have been emailing about vulnerability and how to find people who can let you be that way. I think I have gotten so way beyond letting myself go soft that seeing an 8-year-old totally trust me, someone she has only seen three times in her life, makes me super conscious of my responsibility to others.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Amazing what mail art will do

I've been wading through a thick inbox. Not just email, but real mail, and other things that fit into the category of things that people make to put out into the world that touch me. I am so tired from running around today and trying to do homework after that, but am so impressed by what everyone has been doing. My dad scanned mail art from Joseph and sent it to me, which was exactly what I needed to see/read. I got my second e version of Ching-In's and my collaborative. 1,000 Artist Journal Pages is going to have a show in California soon, and 500 Handmade Books is available, too.

And then after all the sweating and back stress and subway transfers and searching for buses in the haze of construction and police units and making nice w/Fulbright staff, I fell into a bus seat with the A/C blasting and opened my packages. MAGIC! I am so unaccustomed to having people send me the kind of things that I send them, so it was hard at first to take it all in. Renata sent a lovely monoprint and letter from Portugal (with fantastic stamps). Clover sent a book by Murakami, a book that I had made a long time ago and given to her that she turned into a beautiful letter/artists' book, a DVD of her thesis performance, and a little bit of nature. I'm not really able to articulate properly how excited I was by the feeling this evening of all these artists who are working SO HARD all the time, always trying to be better at what they do, learning more, sharing with others, collaborating, being honest about what they need, and putting themselves out there.

Really putting themselves out there. It makes me so happy to know that I am connected to all those people all across the world, and that there are more that I will never know, and more that I will meet soon, and more that I will meet in the faraway future, and more whose work I will fall in love with over and over again. And of course I will fall in love with them, and love them the way I love the ones who are in my life right now.

And in new ways. Makes me excited to kick off the subscription series this month. And, hello - I will get to see my first friend from NY in Korea very soon!!! Kiwon comes w/a Yale orchestra next week for a Seoul concert and Asian tour. YAY.

Pop stars in training

Agh. My schedule is all thrown off today b/c I have to run an errand today (which I don't want to do b/c afternoon is the worst worst worst time to walk around) - I have mail waiting for me at the Fulbright office. I know one is mail art from Portugal (yay!) but the other...I have no idea what it may be. So I'm going to skip doing my homework at school and have to lug books around. Tonight, I have to pack for the beach, too. I was told a couple days ago that my family is going on an overnight trip to the beach and they're taking me! Wohooo. So, tomorrow I go to school, cook Korean food for two hours (it's part of our study - we already read a chapter on how to cook this particular kind of noodle dish, and tomorrow we'll go to the kitchen in the basement and make it and eat it - one of the "fun" parts of learning Korean here), have class for two hours, and then do my homework...or go shopping w/my other cousin. Then, I'll meet my doctor cousin at the hospital and we'll go and meet his younger brother and his wife, so we can drive together to the beach. The other two carloads (or one?) will go in the afternoon.

So I am REALLY looking forward to some time away from Seoul & the vicinity. Plus, I'll get to spend more time w/the niece that liked me for having pen and ink and is REALLY smart. It's nice now that I've been here for a little bit and the kids are getting used to me - I stayed w/another cousin last night, and when her daughter came home and saw my shoes in the entryway, she said, "can it be?? Is Aimee here???" and then got all excited when she found out that I was spending the night. We had really good homemade bibimbap together for dinner and then we sat at the dining room table and drew pictures and swapped. I did a bagpipe player w/the Taj Mahal as a backdrop (he was on the cover of one of her books, and she asked me to add the Taj Mahal, from the back cover, to the drawing), and she did a flower. And then we taped them into our books. She wants me to make her one, so sometime when we have more time, I'll totally have a bookmaking session w/her.

Her little brother, when he first met met, was mad that I was taking his mom's attention away from him, and he said, "go away! Leave now!" But I think he likes me better. The last time I saw him, we took pictures w/my camera phone, and this time I was able to drag him to the bathroom and trick him into brushing his teeth and changing into his pjs. He's still light enough and agreeable enough to pick up and carry. We did some abc's, too.

The other "fun" thing we do in this language program is some kind of musical competition. I am NOT excited about this b/c it involves each class getting up on stage and singing a Korean song for everyone else and then being judged. We were trying to figure out a song, and I of course have noooooo idea what is popular right now. We were thinking of this song (w/better dancers, of course), but we decided to go with this one instead. I'm kind of mortified by both, but I guess it should be fine since EVERYONE will have to play the fool. The first song is way more fun but the dancing is hard and the words are even harder - Koreans have a hard time singing along! So we have to go w/the one that is sung in an old man style by a young man, whose title, if pronounced incorrectly, becomes an obscenity. At least, that's what I heard.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sticky seats

When I went to the park this weekend, I saw this rainbow and it was like, "wow! I don't have to make this anymore!" I had been wanting for over two years to make an outdoor rainbow piece but couldn't figure out how to rig it w/o a rigid structure, since I wanted it to be made out of paper and just float in the air. If I could train flying creatures, maybe. But I can't. Then I saw this and realized how easily this artist dealt w/the engineering - to make two legs on one end! I mean, it's made out of metal so it's plenty rigid but I'm just glad that there's a big perma-rainbow that exists SOMEWHERE.

I'm getting a little faster at getting my homework done at school, but not much. Well, maybe not at all. It always seems so endless. Then again, I have to admit that I add a lot to the pile that no one else does: I copy all of my notes after class into a different notebook, write all my vocab words four times (as in, the words I picked up in class - both the ones I didn't know and the ones I did know but wasn't solid on the spelling), transcribe the dialogue and reading for the day, and do all the exercises for each unit in the workbook (which is a book just as huge as the textbook, but w/exercises only, no lessons). What's assigned is to make a sentence from each vocab word we were taught (different from what I do on my own), three sentences for each grammar rule, two pages in the textbook, and one longer written piece. Optional is to keep a diary in Korean. That's the one thing that I keep NOT doing since writing is such a struggle for me.

Today, I was thinking about how I now REALLY empathize w/my former violin students who struggled w/reading music. There was one in particular who had a really good ear and had been able to fake his way pretty far, but you can only get so far, esp in an orchestra setting. I would fight w/him all the time b/c I could see that he'd just listen and not read the notes. I had learned how to read music from day one of piano lessons, so I had no basis for understanding what it's like to start out all ears. Now, I am that student. I grew up HEARING Korean. I was forced to read and write a little, but hardly. It was easy to limit my exposure, too, whereas I couldn't make my parents stop speaking Korean to me. So I get by, but my grammar is all wrong and there are words I only know by ear and not by sight. It's hard to even everything out! REALLY HARD.

I also found out today that I am TOTALLY the oldest student in this class. It's kind of nice, though, being one of the slowest ones. It's a different pressure from being at the top of the class (which I am used to - it's good to have a big change).

Last night, I had my big first bout of homesickness. I couldn't sleep and finally just put on my iPod and listened to Josh Ritter for an hour, had revelations about recording engineering's value, and remembered how amazing it was to be in Nebraska two years ago. I had this huge poetic post all composed in my head about love and the smell of laundry (I get sad now whenever I put on a new piece of clothing that hasn't been washed yet in Korea - b/c once it's washed, the familiar smell is gone forever), confessions and learning to be at peace w/never being at peace, and so on, but the heat makes me just want to hydrate and lay on my back while studying vocab.

I will say: I think the homesickness is hitting now b/c it's just after two weeks here, which in my "normal" life is when I'm heading back home, or halfway through a residency. Two weeks in Maine = sea changes. Two weeks in Mexico = sea changes. Two weeks at Ragdale = two seasons, two private performances, one baby grand, and one stalker. But this is my longest stint of commitment to one place since I started grad school five years ago.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Severe dyslexia

I'm unsure as to why my slight dyslexia has now manifested as all over the place dyslexia, but it's kind of a drag. I constantly misspell words in Korean and when I transcribe things, I'll say one thing in my head and write another, over and over. I'll even mis-write things that I've already written myself correctly before. It's crazy making! I feel like I can't trust myself at all when I read and write, and it's even making me falter a lot in English. I was thinking last week that b/c it's SO HARD to understand each other (even when sharing the same language), communicating well is pretty much a miracle. The norm is misunderstanding. So I guess I'm thankful for language, as flawed as it is, since it sometimes works better than charades. Though sometimes charades works better...

I was able to finish all of my homework today in about three hours. That's pretty fast. Except that I don't think I actually took any of it in. I know that this program is really grammar heavy and I wanted to really bone up on my grammar, but the lack of continuous speaking practice makes me feel stunted. It's all a kind of halting, awkward practice for me, and I don't see myself getting better at this particular kind of instruction. Two nights ago, I had dreams of being held hostage in the US and I was begging to be released so that I wouldn't miss my flight to Korea and miss language classes. I woke up all startled and it took a while for me to realize I was ALREADY in Korea and already in classes. Clearly, my anxiety levels have not subsided. I'm feeling burdened by my to do list that never gets done, mostly b/c of the weather. It's sooooo grossly hot and humid that I have no inclination to run any errands in the afternoon b/c I'd just fall over and be cooked on the pavement. But I need to get things! For now, I'm running around dressed inappropriately (all my clothes are too low cut or sleeveless or too hard to wear/wash in this weather).

It's also weird that most of the Americans here in class are also working as English teachers. I see them scurrying off all the time and commuting everywhere. It's like a guarantee that you'll find a job here teaching English. I feel like I'm out of the game, but that's b/c I'd be deported and stripped of my grant if I did it. It's nice to be prohibited from doing certain things that I probably would end up doing.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Endless studying

My cousin mailed eleven very heavy and very old books to me. They arrived on Saturday, and I had to wipe them all down and air them out but they're still super musty. Each book covers a different area of Korea. He apparently was a HUGE fan of these history/picture books and said that if I go thru them, they'll help in my travels. It will take forever just to look at the pictures (I won't even TRY to read them). Just looking at the stack makes me tired.

Yesterday, I ventured out into the incredible stickiness to walk through the ginormous park nearby. There are all these paths that you can walk or bike, and SO much public art - tons of sculptures all over. There's a section where you can walk barefoot, a traditional flower garden, man-made lakes, of my classmates, from the UK, proposed to his Korean fiancee there. It was PACKED. Also, tons of kite flying! That was nice to see.

I'm almost two hours into post-class studying and haven't made a dent, it seems. I think I might just rip out pages from my textbook (b/c it's so heavy) and take the rest home to do there. Today is my day to hit the supermarket in the department store near home to get soy milk and snacks for class (the sweet potato crisps are my favorite so far). So much for getting all my homework done at school!!

Saturday, July 05, 2008


I'm using the massive amount of language study I have to do (and a sore throat) as my excuse for not going to church today. I just really need some solo time. I knitted three pieces yesterday and wore out my hands. A demon haunted me last night; one that I thought I had gotten rid of. But apparently they travel with you like bed bugs.

Time to hit the irregular verbs. Thank god for the grammar book that I took from my sister's bookshelf; it's saving my life right now (b/c it has English explanations for pretty crucial things. No amount of waving hands and miming is going to sufficiently explain conjugations, tenses, and particles. This is my major criticism of the program that I am in).

Friday, July 04, 2008

Time time time no time

I feel like I'm operating at least a week behind everyone else now that I'm in this time zone. I'm having a hard time keeping up w/blogs b/c I'm on other computers almost all the time rather than my own. So before I forget, Jami sold her next book!!!! SO EXCITING. And Jeff Chang did a great article for Salon on Korean b-boys. I really want some serious b-girling to come out of this country, too.

I just finished up one whole week of language study. After having lunch w/my cousin who is a doctor at Severance Hospital (5 minutes from where I take classes, one of the best hospitals in Korea, part of Yonsei University, also home to the international clinic that I plan to check out soon), I checked out electronic dictionaries at the school bookstore. I feel like such a dinosaur w/my dictionary in book format (I'm still not quite over the fact that these are becoming ancient history), but I think I'll stick with it. It's a good way to keep on top of my ga na da's (the first three "letters" in the Korean alphabet) since I only know up to five characters for SURE in the right order and then things fall apart. Someone needs to teach me whatever abc song they have here. I'm too old to figure out mnemonic devices for myself.

Speaking of old (I know, I'm talking about it a LOT lately, but come on! I'm going from a life where I'm in the youngest/almost youngest bracket of my circle of friends and family to a very, very different life. I mean, all these kids!) - a Japanese boy in my new class is 19!!! Kelsey, the former ETA Fulbrighter, kept laughing at me when she saw the faces I was making when he told us how old he was. The other American, Audrey, is in grad school for East Asian studies at Harvard. And it turns out that Kelsey knows kate hers, who I met online via Pauly, b/c Kelsey is also a Korean adoptee and current Blakemore fellow. I'm totally going to pick her brain for the next two months.

I called Diana today, finally, after emailing her for a while (actually, it started last year during my Fulbright app research). She's a poet on a Fulbright in Korea now that I met online thru Ching-In. She has been super helpful and really good at calming me down re: all things related to Fulbright and moving to Korea. She keeps reminding me to take good care of myself and remember that a lot has changed, so it's fine to take it easy. It was really good to chat today and share our experiences: she also did the extra language grant last year and lives really close to me right now. So we talked about how the commute makes things challenging, and how utterly exhausting the intensive language study is, and the importance of just being present and taking one day at a time.

That said, I feel crazy b/c I haven't visited any museums yet or gone to Insadong, where one of the traditional papermaking families in Korea has a shop. But anytime I think about doing things besides go to class and study, I feel crazy. Especially now that the insane humidity has set in. Grossness. Koreans don't have dryers (which, overall, I think is a very very very good things), but I really wonder if my clothes will dry in this weather. I'll find out soon, since I am about to hang my first load of laundry here once I get off the computer.

It's been a trip to learn so much about how I learn. Today, I figured out that the best way for me to hear and repeat dictation is to stare at a blank wall or chalkboard. If I look at the teacher's mouth or other students or down at my book cover, it's just too much stimulation. I also wonder if I'll ever get to the point where I can see Korean characters and see them as words. Right now, I have a weird invisible shield that goes up and blocks me from being able to read them right away, esp if there is ANY English mixed in the soup. I see everything as pictures, images, symbols (which I know they are, but even more abstracted), instead of WORDS. It's getting to the point where today in class, our teacher wrote a big capital N on the board (to indicate "noun") and then more Korean, and I stared at the "N" for a while, thinking, "did she misspell Korean? What the hell is that character??" I only realized after she wrote another "N" somewhere else on the board that it was an "N"!! This whole 1.5 thing in terms of my language ability is going to be tricky. Since I already feel my verbal English starting to slip.

Good news: all these people I'm meeting at school are potential traveling mates! AND, people to visit in other countries. One woman, who I swear could model if she was half a foot taller, is here from Thailand. She goes back in September and goes back to work for a hotel. How fun would it be to visit?!

It's also interesting meeting people who have both Korean and American names, and which they choose to use in class. I chose Aimee (Koreanized, of course, to something akin to A-ee-mee) b/c I realized a few years ago that I just don't feel much of a connection to my Korean name. I'm glad that I have it, it will be useful when I travel to places where having a Korean name makes sense, and I love that it falls w/in a tradition and generation so that I feel like I'm part of a family lineage. But I just don't respond to it anymore. I used to more as a child. But my whole family calls me Aimee now. Even though I'm learning Korean, I felt like I would misrepresent myself by using my Korean name. It reminds me of my private performances: it has become something just for me now. Not for other people to see or use. And no judgment! It's just how it is.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Trying times for my overheating brain

I kind of wish that just doing language study for 10 weeks was enough for me and I could be okay w/doing nothing else. But I just don't operate that way. I think I would be really sad if that was all I had to live for, though at this point, I can barely keep up with it!! I'm staying w/my cousin tonight and today was exhausting and it's not over yet! I need to have her and/or her daughter (who is 11ish) help me w/my homework. Yesterday, I finally went and complained about being in an overly easy class, and got moved this morning into the fastest class (but in the same level. So our books/content are the same but everyone speaks WAY better and faster and understands more. And the teacher also talks faster and so on). The cons: I have lots of extra catching up to do since they're like three units ahead and it's the most abyssmal classroom. NO WINDOWS. Clearly, there used to be windows, but they were covered with concrete. I am assuming b/c of construction? Whatever it is, it's horrible to sit in a tiny room at those tiny chair/desks for four hours and not see sunlight.

I'm so sensitive.

But at least my brain was stimulated today and I wasn't falling asleep out of boredom. Good times. Also, one of my new classmates was on a Fulbright ETA a few years back, so I'm totally going to pick her brain (English Teaching Assistant). After class, my cousin picked me up and then it was children underfoot for a while. I tried to study but it wasn't happening. I went w/my cousin and her kids and niece, and her mom (my aunt) to a FABULOUS Chinese restaurant for dinner. Yuuuuuum. Now I'm taking a break before I get back to work. Oh, wait. The kids are home from Taekwondo so I have to babysit.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A little rain

[These are all from the home neighborhood this past weekend. Misleading b/c starting yesterday it got all cloudy.] Agh. Four hours of language class and then at least four hours of homework afterwards makes me a little crazy. Plus all the commuting. And getting used to being around international students + gyopos. Yeesh. And then on top of all that, I feel like I should be working on my Fulbright! Even though I'm not officially on it yet.

[Grand Department Store is the closest to home. The silver things are what I walk past to get to and from the bus.] Which means that I want to hit museums and meet more people. But I don't want to commit to it until I get more used to classes. B/c that's the reason I'm here right now, whether I like it or not: to take Korean language classes! I am hating the method, though. I'm totally NOT a rote memorization kind of student, which is what is needed for this kind of program. Unlike French, which I studied for years, I just don't have knowledge of the roots of the language to be able to guess what words mean.

And guess who doesn't know Chinese characters??? Sigh. It's funny to be back in school now that I have a real understanding of my own learning patterns and shortfalls in the brain. I was talking to a classmate and she said her friend's sister went to Oberlin, but that it was a REALLY LONG TIME AGO so I probably wouldn't know her. Well, I did. B/c I graduated that long ago. Hilarious.

Apparently here, they take good care of their trees and lash them together so they don't fall down. I'm going to put my books into my locker and walk to the bus and wait forever for it to come and hope that I get a seat. Wohoo! [oh, I did some extra reading that wasn't required and came across a funny Chinese saying about how people eat everything that flies in the sky but planes and everything w/four legs but tables. My rough translation.]

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Between class and cramming

[Ads near where I live.] I'm still adjusting to the M-F grind and the sitting in plastic chairs attached to tiny desks with name placards classroom life. Yeech. Even though I'm bored by how slow the rest of the class is w/speaking, I somehow always have tons and tons of homework to do writing-wise and workbook-wise and I still suck at it.

[On the corner near home.] But at least the students are nice, even though I feel completely disconnected from them. I'm thankful that I'm in the "regular" program, though, and not the summer intensive mostly for American-born Koreans, b/c then I'd feel reallllly out of my generation. The Americans in my class are more willing to learn while the Chinese and Japanese ones are the slackers (though this is probably more about age and inability for some people to wake up and function in the morning).

[See the tiny people playing soccer?] I think I should stop taking melatonin now, but I REALLY have enjoyed it. For the first time in years and years and years, I just lay down on my bed, close my eyes, and fall asleep. What a concept!! My dreams have been out of control but I haven't been with it enough to record them. Our reading teacher told us today that the monsoon season has changed a LOT in Korea. Thanks, global warming. I wonder if that means the dreadful summers of Korea are now only a memory...I doubt it. I'm sure it will be brutal in a different way.

[the fence that keeps people from bum rushing the soccer field.] Did I say that it was great to see my family on Sunday? The combined child count was five but it felt like five hundred. I can't believe how tiring it is to just be around them. But now all my gifts are out of my hands! Yay for lighter bags.

[this sign says not to smoke b/c a school is nearby.] I realized the other day that I'm still operating at warp speed and haven't had any really good rest/down time. Right now, I feel totally scattered - I'm standing at a 5th floor computer terminal and have to go up to the 6th to get my books from my locker so I can do my homework (boring). I have no idea what is going on b/c I just feel so weird standing at a screen that is embedded into a metal sheet and completely perpendicular to the floor.