Tuesday, June 30, 2009

School Daze: A Response

The last time I was a student was three years ago. The last time I was in a classroom was when I guest lectured in an international media class at Columbia College this spring. Needless to say, Mike and my perspectives on going back to school have been a little different.

For me, school was always about getting the best grades and consuming the most knowledge. While I may have succumbed to short cuts my 3rd and 4th years of college (ie, doing only the readings that mattered), I have always considered myself a steadfast student, eager to learn.

Now, for the first time in my life, grades don't hold any sway on my future. They won't determine whether I get into grad school or whether I'll land my dream job. What I hope to take away from this class is a better understanding of Korean language and culture -- and by turn, a better understanding of my husband and his family. I've always said that I want our children to know Korean. I don't know whether we will have the energy to do that once we actually have kids, but I think it's a nice goal to have. At the very least I want to make sure they have a strong sense that there is life outside of the U.S. and that they are a part of that.

With worries of grades gone, I have been free to get to know my classmates without feeling the pressure to study during breaks. They all are interesting in their own way. There's a Senegalese man who speaks two native languages, French, English, and now is learning Korean. And there's a Texan who I just found out was in the U.S. Army and on the frontlines of the invasion in Iraq. There's also an Australian farmer who spent the last 15 years raising cows and sheep and now is living in the 11th largest city in the world.

Class is challenging, but I feel like I'm learning a lot. And hopefully I'll have a few more friends by the time semester's over!

This post is dedicated to Albert, signed Debbie Upper.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

To All The Teachers

I haven't sat in a classroom as a student for more than six years (excluding the one or two times I've had to go to traffic school). The last few memories I have of class are either from college or high school -- and in both cases I would not call myself a stellar student. I've always been kind of a goof-off in class, maybe even a slacker. Pretty much from grade school to college I had a mouth that loved cracking wise and tried its damnedest to get a laugh at the most inopportune moments. In spite of all this I never had a problem pulling off decent grades, but for the most part, I never took school all that seriously.

Now, as an adult, I've become one of those studious kids my teenage self would probably scorn. I come to class ready and eager to participate, and I quietly dismiss the kids who don't have the same M.O. And seriously, some of my classmates are essentially kids. I'd have been able to tell from just looking at their bright, young faces on the first day of school and listening to their conversations about college and majors, but I also got a glance at the class list with all our respective birth dates and was pretty disappointed to find I'd been alive a full decade by the time some of these fetuses were born. Still, I look at the mop-haired, acne-pocked teen from Argentina slouching in his chair, or the girl with the blank look in her eyes who mumbles all her answers, and I think, "Grow up, already. Why are you even here? Don't you want to learn something?"

I also don't think I've ever noticed until now how vast the range of human intelligence is. There are obviously some sharp people in my class, like the sophomore from Princeton, who absorb information on first hearing. Then, there are the average learners, who make up most of the class. Then... well, to put it lightly, then, there are the complete idiots. Or maybe they're not idiots, but they obviously don't give a damn. And their incompetence and irreverence for learning creates a sort of black hole for knowledge that, I think, absorbs and destroys a small portion of the collective intelligence of the class. Yes, what I am saying is that these people are harmful to others around them, like second-hand smoke.

I've seen my teachers give extra attention to these students, prod and plead with them, and sometimes just give up on them and leave them choking on chalk dust. I can only sympathize. It's hard to imagine how you're supposed to manage so many differing needs at one time and still herd the entire flock toward the general direction of "knowledge". I'll admit, I might've strayed from the herd a few times during my school days, and I hate to think about the tug of war (between stupidity and enlightenment) I forced on my old teachers without even knowing it. I plead ignorance and youth. It probably doesn't do much, but I'm trying to make up for it now.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Korean Cooking: Kimbap

Last night I made my first foray into Korean cooking: kimbap! When we were staying at their house, Mike's cousin Haegkyung showed me how to make this simple, sushi-like dish. Usually you eat this with ramen, but we were pretty ramen-ed out yesterday, so we just had it with some Hoegaardens. It turned out pretty well, but I'm going to try to use less salt next time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day and Night

While our apartment is still not organized enough to reveal to the outside world, here are some photos of the view from our gigantic, dirty windows.

Guess we're living in the right country

I saw this insightful chart this morning on The Economist's website:

Unemployment during the downturn: Underworked | The Economist

According to national reports in each country, the U.S. has a 9.4% unemployment rate today, while South Korea has 3.9% unemployment. The U.S. unemployment rate has gained nearly 4 percentage points in the last year, while Korea has gained less than 1 point.

Having lived here nearly 3 weeks now, we have seen evidence of this difference everywhere. There is a gluttony of English-teaching jobs for those who want them. And -- imagine this -- media outlets are actually hiring positions here, instead of cutting!

Who'd have thought our youthful adventure makes so much economic sense!

Addendum: More good news: The World Bank says that South Korea will make the quickest recovery among major economies.

Back to School

I took my Korean language placement exam at Yonsei University yesterday. Funnily enough, when I showed up at the building there was a team of lab coated men and women wearing face masks and taking the temperature of all the new students before letting them in. Swine flu, foreigners -- you know. After clearing security, I headed down toward the auditorium. About 300 people, mostly college age, were lined up and down the basement hallway waiting for the doors to be opened. It was the first "first day of school" feeling I'd had in a long while. I was eager to strike up a conversation with someone but slowly realized my classmates were from all over the world -- and the chances we spoke the same language might be slim.

I can't help talking to white people when I run into them here. It's just such a fail-safe way to know you can expect a conversation to take place in English. I was sitting next to a guy at the bank the other day while waiting for a teller, and before introducing myself, I sat there for a good minute, realizing I looked like most everyone else in the room, and thinking, "This guy has no idea I'm American." It feels like having a secret power sometimes. I hate to pick someone out for conversation based solely on their appearance but I don't have much choice these days. Anyway, it turns out the guy was a professor who'd been living and working here for seven years and probably knew more about this country than me. So much for my secret power.

When we got into the auditorium, the head of the language school spoke to us in Korean for about ten minutes. Basically, what she said was, "If you can understand me, you'll be taking a different test than everyone else." Which made me wonder what kind of Korean aptitude test you could take if you couldn't understand this woman. About half the room stood up to leave for the testing rooms and take the separate written and oral exams. A few minutes later, I found myself sitting quietly in a school desk four floors up. A white guy, who looked roughly like Jim from The Office, sat down next to me. My secret powers waited patiently for the right moment... until he busted out some Korean on me. It was something along the lines of, "Where are you from?" but all I could blurt out was, "Sorry?" Again, so much for my secret power.

The test was supposed to take two hours. I was done with both the written and oral portions in about 30 minutes. I think it's pretty sad my knowledge of Korean can be summed up in about half an hour. Jim was still scribbling in Hangul when I left.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The almighty won: Part II

Seoul's version of capitalism is complex. While some call it a merchant culture because of the thousands of independent store owners crowded in the subways and markets, a few gargantuan companies seem to dominate the scene. Unlike in the U.S. (think GE). these companies keep their brand names throughout their assets. Lotte (pronounced Low-tay) is one of the biggest. There's Lotte department stores; grocery and household stores; a fast-food burger chain; orange juice, cookie, soda and many other food brands; a baseball team; apartment complexes; and a large amusement park.

Lotte World
is one of the largest amusement parks in the world. We haven't been there yet (it's on the southern edge of Seoul), but it looks to be a dead ringer for Disney World. Even the custodians of the park, Lotty and Lorry, dress like Mickey and Minnie Mouse. This is no coincidence. Disney and the Mouse family are extremely popular here. It's impossible to go a day in Seoul without seeing a woman in her 20s sporting a Mickey Mouse shirt.

The prices of items at places owned by Lotte are firm, just as in the U.S. But smaller stores are another story. One of the interesting things to watch here has been the degree of flexibility of prices at these mom and pop style stores.

Saturday we visited Techno Mart to buy a wireless router and an air cleaner. Techno Mart is an intimidating 8-floor mall with over 2,000 electronics shops. Instead of having separate rooms, these retailers mark out their territory with U-shaped shelves. It's not always clear where one shop starts and the other one ends. To me, it looked like Best Buy times 10. As in a lot of these malls where small retailers congregate, the salespeople were very aggressive. It was impossible to glance at anything without being leaped on.

The first merchant we met didn't have the air cleaner we wanted. But he had another which he said was just as good with the tag price of 350,000 won. It was too much for a filter we knew nothing about, and him enough.

"How about 270,000?" he says, dropping 20 percent from the original price.

We talked it over -- it did seem like a steal. Still, the one we saw online was just 220,000 won. So we decided to keep looking. As we walked away, he shouts "How about $250,000?" "We'll think about it," we shout back.

In the end we got a different air filter from a different retailer. He didn't give us much of a discount -- only 5,000 won -- but we felt this salesman was much more trustworthy than the first one. In fact, one of his customers told us as much while we were waiting for the air filter to be brought from the warehouse.

I think this is the lesson to be learned here. There are so many small merchants here that once you find a good one, you should stick to them. I found a housewares merchant a good 30-minute walk from our apartment that I'm planning on visiting again. He gave me a wok, cutting board, two mugs, fifteen plastic hangers, a medium-sized glass Tupperware container, three cleaning rags, a cooking spoon and spatula, and metal tea kettle all for 40,000 won ($32).

Our space-age air cleaner made in Japan.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Things you won't miss in Korea #4

Pizza. Domino's to be exact. I was pretty proud of myself for being able to order this successfully over the phone last night after running into the delivery guy downstairs earlier and getting the number from him. The choices were medium and large. This is a medium (about half the size I was expecting). I'm still not used to the portion sizes yet. But it was still great, and it came with hot sauce, pickles, and a garlic mayo sauce. I love condiments.

There's actually tons of pizza places in Seoul. We tried one a few weeks ago called Mr. Pizza and it wasn't so great. Domino's, though -- their number's staying on my phone.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cider vs. Saeeda

I came to Korea assuming a few things. I knew it would be hot and humid in the summer. I knew meat would be a little more expensive, thus I'd be eating less of it. And I also knew hundreds of English words had made their way into the Korean language over the last 50 years -- words like "Internet", "supermarket", and "pizza". I assumed this hybridization of English and Korean might make communication a little easier for us in the beginning, that because of the, shall I say, bastardization of the language, we'd have a sort of crutch to lean on for a little while. I assumed I'd be able to order a Coke, buy a Big Mac and ask directions to the nearest 7-11, no problem. That, unfortunately, was an entirely incorrect assumption.

The beautiful thing about Korea's written word, known as Hangul, is in its simplicity. 24 letters in all (14 consonants, 10 vowels), it elegantly maps out the sounds of speech in a carefully designed series of patterns. Each letter's design has a logic, and as you move through the Korean alphabet, a single stroke here and there alters a letter's sound, but also keeps it in relation to others. It's also phonetic. In other words, if you learn to read it, you can sound out nearly anything and hit fairly close to the mark on a word's true pronunciation.

But the Korean language has sounds we don't have in US, and vice versa. Take the English letters "L" and "R", for instance. There is no Korean equivalent to either of those. Rather, it's a sort of combination of both those sounds -- an "R" sound with a slight, single roll of the tongue -- that makes up the letter ㄹ (pronounced "lree-uhl"). I'm discovering the Hangul letter ㅅ (pronounced "shee-ote") has neither the hard "ss" sound of a word like "skate", nor the softer "sh" sound in something like "shoe". It's somewhere in between, and I still haven't really figured out how to pronounce it yet.

Since I know some Hangul, I've been able to read, albeit slowly, most of what I see out on the street. Problem is, 95% of the time I don't know what the heck it means. But often, a word will read out into something vaguely familiar to me. "Tu-ran-su-po-muh"... "Transfomers". "Gu-ran-duh"... "Grand". It feels like a flickering light bulb taking a second or two to snap into full brightness. But in a world where I can't understand much, those moments are sublime.

The difficulty, though, comes in saying some of these Koreanized English words back to Koreans. I tried to order a Sprite-like drink here called "Chilsung Cider" (which is written in English on the can) at a restaurant the other day and the conversation took about seven rounds before the kid behind the counter and I were in agreement. Nissa and I went to a coffee shop two nights ago where she was trying to order a peppermint tea... Ah yes, "pep-uh-meen-tuh" was the word we were looking for. The really shameful part of all this is that, in an attempt to fill in all the Korean I don't know, I've begun assuming certain English words have been Koreanized, when they really haven't. So the bank teller has no idea what I'm saying when I ask for a "tu-ran-su-puh" (transfer), my aunt is confused when I say our new apartment is by two "moo-bee" places (movie places), and I can't get my point across by saying this is my "poyn-tuh" (OK, that one's not real, but the possibility is there).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two Week Update

So we've been in Korea for almost exactly two weeks now and if I had to assess, I'd say we're doing pretty well. We moved into our new apartment on Monday with most of our luggage (we left some at my uncle's - it wouldn't all fit in the cab) and have started making it a home. It's still pretty empty right now; we've been sitting on the floor much of the time and I've been watching Korean TV on my new cell phone. I've found that I don't get most of it, unless it's baseball. We bought a "yo", basically a floor mattress, to sleep on in our loft. It gets a little warm up there so I'm a little concerned about that, being that we're barely into summer here. I'm definitely getting us a fan soon -- and will probably leave it on while we're asleep. Gasp!

We live in an area called Sinchon in Seoul. It's near two large universities so there's a lot of people and a lot of blinking lights. The shops down our street tend to be of certain categories: pets, plants, wigs and appliances. And I swear if I'm not careful I'm going to buy one of those puppies in the window. I've already stopped a few times to watch them play with each other. The Korean language school we've enrolled in is just north of us, though I haven't figured out exactly how to get there yet. We'll probably take a test walk over there before school starts next week. And there are two big movie theaters, each within a block of us, though we haven't taken advantage of them yet. What I love about the theaters here, like in England, is the choice of sweet, salty or a-mix-of-the-two popcorn. I had the mix at a Korean movie we watched with Haekgyung a couple weeks ago. It was called "마더", or "Mother", and it was amazing. I really hope it finds its way to the States; it deserves to be seen.

While it's been an exciting two weeks, I'm also feeling more unsettled than I have in years. I have to admit I kind of miss the comfort and stability of a steady job and paycheck, not to mention our old place (and o, that couch!). But I guess that's part of the reason why I wanted to come here, to shake things up a little. Back home, it was hard not to worry about getting stuck where we were, both personally and professionally. Now I feel like we're in a sink or swim situation where all that philosophical stuff seems like such a luxury. It's really forced me to think about my values, both in life and work. One thing I have discovered (or, I should say, Nissa has noticed) is that I have a marked affinity for couches. I've been obsessively searching on Craigslist Seoul. And I hope to get one as soon as possible.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Family Ties

We've been living with my cousins Haekgyung and Hyunjun for the last week and a half or so. Most of the time it's just us four -- my aunt and uncle live and work a few hours from here and aren't home much. Most mornings, Haekgyung's out the door by 7:30, which leaves the house to Nissa, Hyunjun and me for a few hours. Usually Nissa and I get up around 9, cereal and OJ close at hand, and go online to check e-mails, look for jobs and see what happened on the other side of the world while we were asleep. Hyunjun gets up anywhere from that same time to a couple hours later, depending on when his classes start that day at Hongik University. When he's got some time to kill he slays orcs and demons in World of Warcraft.

When Nissa and I finally get out of the house, it always seems to be for something different. One day it was going out to get my alien identification card. Another day we went book hunting and walked around Gyeongbukgung Palace. We've taken a couple strolls alongside the Chungyechung, a beautifully designed stream that cuts through central Seoul. I've had a couple job interviews. Last night, we went looking for a bindaeduk (seafood/meat cakes) place we found in a Lonely Planet guide -- the restaurant was packed and the food turned out to be great. And at the end of every night, we've come back to this house and usually gotten to spend some time with Haekgyung and Hyunjun, either watching some TV together, teaching each other some English/Korean, or cleaning up a horrific bug infestation in the kitchen. It's been a pretty fun time. That's why I think I'll be a little sad to move out on Monday.

Hyunjun helped Nissa and me find an apartment today near the Korean language school we'll be attending in a couple weeks. It also happens to be right down the street from a job I got writing an English textbook for a business language school. The apartment is fantastic -- not very large but large by Seoul standards, it has a living room and a loft, kitchen with a bar and chairs, and a great view of the city. The signing of the lease was a little harrowing, though. Or, I should say, Hyunjun's signing of the lease was. We decided it would be safer for him to sign it because he's a Korean citizen, and the 10 million won ($8,000) deposit would have a better chance of being returned to him in full at the end of the lease. Still, we couldn't have done any of it without him. He talked to the agent and the building manager through the whole deal, translated for us, and ultimately signed the papers for the apartment in his name. It was his first time signing a Korean lease. I told him we owed him a nice, big meal somewhere. But we were all so hungry after the experience, we just got lunch at a McDonald's nearby. I think I still owe him that meal.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Things you won't miss in Korea #3

Cold Stone Creamery. Never really went to it in the U.S. And never really will go to it here.

The almighty won

We've been in Korea for a week now and are starting to figure out how far our money will go here. We've been trying to avoid buying a lot of things until we move into our apartment, since our suitcases are stuffed as they are. But we've definitely seen a trend in the cost of certain things. I've created this chart showing how the prices here compare with back home in Chicago.

Things that are cheaper:
- A meal at a non-chain restaurant: 5000 KRW ($4 USD)
- A meal at a chain or Western-style restaurant: 10000 KRW ($8 USD)
- Cabs: 10 minute ride costs 4000 KRW ($3.20 USD)
- Bottled water from stand: 1000 KRW ($.80 USD)

Things that are more expensive:
- Shaving cream: 8000 KRW ($6.40)
- Apartment deposit for 1 million krw/month apartment ($800 USD): 7-10 million KRW ($5,600 to $8,000 USD)
- Tea and cookies at a tea house: 9000 KRW ($7 USD)

Another cost we'll have to deal with when we get an apartment is potable water. Most Korean homes do not have safe drinking water, so they have to boil the water for at least a half hour to purify it. It is customary to make a wheat tea with the boiled water. The tea is supposed to be good for your health and help with weight loss.

As much as I like tea, getting used to not drinking normal water has been difficult. Right now we're buying bottled water, but we're talking about getting a water purifier for our apartment. I guess it's just another example of how things seem so similar here, yet so different.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Things you won't miss in Korea #2

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts! This location was the first Krispy Kreme in Asia, opened December 16, 2004 according to this historical marker.

Our first week in Korea

As requested, here are some photos from our first week in Korea. To see a description of the photos, click on the maximize icon on the lower right, and then hit "Show Info" on the top right hand corner.

Things you won't miss in Korea #1

The Body Shop. And thank god! I only brought enough Tea Tree face wash to last 3 weeks. Also of note: the Well Being Spa next door is "Spirited by The Body Shop." Sounds kinda spooky.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day 4 in Seoul

I'm finally getting adjusted to the time zone in Seoul. As my mother reminded me today, common wisdom holds that it takes 1 day to adjust for every hour time change. Seoul is 14 hours ahead of Chicago, so the fact that I'm feeling decently well on day 4 is quite an accomplishment!

These past few days have been a whirlwind of sleep deprivation and adrenaline. I haven't had a chance to feel lonely or totally out of place yet, mostly because I've been just so excited to be here. Mike's relatives have been great -- I keep wondering when their patience with me asking what the Korean word is for this and for that every five minutes will run out. But this definitely would have been a very different journey if we didn't have their support along the way.

My first impressions of Seoul are that most of the things I have been told about Seoul were wrong. Or at least the people who told me those things had different experiences than I have. While, indeed, there are not that many white people here, I haven't felt like people are staring at me or judging me (which is something I was told would happen). Also, the drinking phenomenon is a bit overblown. We haven't had alcohol since we got here (which is good considering our jet leg). And I have yet to feel under-dressed or un-fashionable.

I think all of this goes to show that while Seoul is less diverse in ethnic and racial backgrounds than Chicago, it is still a big city, and its people are diverse in their interests and beliefs.

Yesterday, Mike's cousin took us to the Dongdaemun market. In addition to blocks of buttons, fabric, towels, and basically any household item you could want, they had a mall full of clothes and accessories. I felt like we had come to the megaload of Asian fashion -- they had great graphic tshirts for men, cute dresses, nice shoes, and a whole kiosk of Hello Kitty jewelry! It was awesome! Mike's Aunt bought me some Hello Kitty drop earrings. I'd show you a picture, but Mike's other cousin borrowed my camera.

Mike asked me the other day what I thought about the English abilities of people here. I think this is a good question because Liz Kim asked me to tell her about this to. Apparently some Korean-Americans she talked to said that everyone spoke English well, but some white friends she talked to said that not many people spoke English. I think my input on this matter is that I have been surprised how many transit, business, and tourist signs have been in English. Nearly every conveinece store, bank, and restaurant has their name (and menu) written in English. But just because things are written in English, doesn't mean that anyone in that store, bank, or restaurant speaks English! More often than not, they speak very little or none. So, while I think it would be difficult to live here two years and speak only English, tourists can probably get by with internationally recognized hand motions.

Mike and I are signing up for Korean courses at Yonsei University that will start in a couple weeks. I'm excited to take the class and meet other people, but it will be weird to be in college again. They grade you and give you credits for the course and everything. One benefit on being in college again will be having a gym membership again. They have a huge pool and fitness center on campus.

We decided that we can't do much in terms of our to-do list (find an apartment, get a bank account and cellphone, get jobs) until late next week, so we should just try to see some of the city until then. Speaking of, I should get ready for today's adventure. 다음에 봐! (See you soon!)

Seoul at Night

Two nights this week, my aunt has taken us to Naksang Park. It's a large, sloping hill with several lighted, paved trails (some very steep), staircases, and, surprisingly, exercise equipment. We always go after dark, a time my aunt says is typical for most Koreans to venture out. To get there, you walk some of the steepest roads I have ever encountered, rivaling those in San Francisco. The weather has been perfect each night, cool but not cold, and tons of people of all ages have been out in the park with us. Grade school-aged kids ride their bikes and play badminton. Grandmas power walk along the trails in pairs or by themselves, wearing warmups and visors. Teenage couples sit atop the thick, stone wall that stretches across the top of the hill. It used to serve as the division between ancient Korean kingdoms -- now, from its vantage point, you can see a million lights in every direction, and the murky outline of Bukhan Mountain to the North.

My aunt tells me the park gets even more crowded later into the night, around midnight, though I've never seen this for myself (both times we visited the park, it was about 10 o'clock). Still, it was quietly liberating to find out how freely people wander about at night in Seoul, and not just in the bustling, neon-lit city parts that constantly suggest you should be "doing" something.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Takeoff and Landing

Sitting on my aunt and uncle's upstairs porch as I write this... it's a beautiful, sunny day in Seoul. Nissa and I just spent a few hours wandering around the Insadong art district (in a jet lag-induced haze) -- we had some dumpling soup for lunch and some tea afterward. I've realized my Korean is a lot worse than I thought, as I cannot even form the basic sentences necessary to communicate to employees in restaurants and stores. My public speech has devolved into nods and thank you's in response to questions and explanations I never quite understood in the first place. I have, however, been able to understand some of what my aunt and cousins have been saying to us in Korean, which is a start. I'm not really sure what the last few hours have been like for Nissa. A little daunting, at the least. But the drastic change in time zones and sleep deprivation is making everything seem a little surreal anyway, so cuppies (her new word for "couples").

The plane ride over was as pleasant as a 13-hour flight could be. There were a few sick-sounding people in the cabin, which wasn't very reassuring. A kid sitting in front of us was hacking and sniffling the whole way here. I'm surprised the quarantine officers let him through after we landed. The international swine flu scare has spread here to drastic effect -- men and women in yellow vests checked everyone's temperature before letting us through to the terminal. My cousin Haekgyung was nice enough to met us at the gate and take us on the hour bus ride into Seoul. When we got into the city, we packed a tiny taxi with ourselves and all our luggage and finally arrived at her house. Nissa and I will be staying here until we find a place of our own, which is a pretty sweet deal. This is a beautiful house just a few minutes walk from the subway.

There's a lot we'll have to sort out in the next few weeks, in addition to finding a place to live. We don't have jobs right now because the company we had been planning on working with told us a week before we were set to leave that we were being placed in Daegu, a town about two hours from here. Originally, we had asked to work in Seoul or somewhere nearby, so we basically told them no thanks. We've also got to get hand phones (cell phones) and a bank account here so we can move about and live on our own. I've heard both of these things are really hard to get without some kind of resident alien ID (we'll soon find out how true that is). Hopefully, the hour we spent at local the immigration office today will take care of the ID problem by next week. The office needed my passport to process the ID, so for the time being I don't have any form of identification on me besides the yellow traffic ticket I got in Chicago two weeks ago. Be careful at Lawrence and Broadway. And of course, we have to learn Korean, because this whole pointing and guessing thing isn't going to get us very far. We're planning on starting classes by the end of the month. I better go wake Nissa up from her nap.

Monday, June 1, 2009

We're Lookin' for a Home

Nissa and I have lived together for a little more than a year now. One amazing year. But at the moment we appear to be without a home of our own. We moved out of our apartment a few days ago and most of our belongings sit in boxes split up between our parents' houses. They've been nice enough (as always) to let us store our furniture and odds and ends in their basements, garages and bedrooms until we come back to the States. Personally, I really hope my couch survives next winter while sitting in the garage. I'm gonna miss that couch.

Ever since we got married, Nissa and I have been fashioning a way of life for ourselves that's unique to our relationship -- probably something every married couple figures out their first few years. Eating routines, sleep schedules, the splitting up of chores. I like to think we've figured out a way to live that suits both of us just fine. Well, we had, at least. Now we find ourselves taken out of that comfort zone and living in other people's homes (or, for the past two nights, hotel rooms). Granted, we are staying with our families, but it's not the same as our home. The beds are different. The sounds outside are different. The smells are even different.

I guess those are pretty minor changes, though, compared to the ones we're about to face in Seoul. In my mind this must be some kind of ultra-conscious adjustment period in anticipation of the big move. Over the past few weeks, I've found myself looking closely at my friends' and family's faces in an effort to somehow imprint their likenesses solidly in my memory. I've been taking pictures, too, just in case. I've been gorging on fatty, American food to the point of near-sickness but always with a sense of savoring. And I've been ripping my favorite movies to my laptop just in case I get that dependably recurring taste for Will Ferrell or Dave Chappelle. I'm sure none of this will prevent the homesickness I'm bound to feel in a few months. I'm just figuring out a way to cope in advance.