Monday, December 22, 2014

Lost in translation...?

Translating Korean workplace English into Western workplace English...coworker to coworker edition.

a) No. Definitely not.
b) I have no idea and therefore don't know how to respond, but I don't want to lose face so I will just say this!
c) Yes. Most definitely, but I cannot tell you  because I have not been told to tell you yet.

What do you think?
a) Whatever you say don't expect me to care unless it matches what I think, verbatim.
b) Please read my mind and tell me what I think or, if I've already told you what I think, just agree.

Can you do this for me?
a) You will do this if you want to or not. The only way you can get out of this is to die or quit. Questions? Didn't think so.
b) If "I'll owe you dinner." is added at some point: I am asking you to do something above and beyond the above and beyond that you already do. I'm aware that this is a favor and you could possibly say no and make my life a living hell, but you won't because if you do you'll be known as "that person that never does anything."
c) If a compliment about your person or personality is added: I'm such a nice person and you're such a nice me. Please for the love of all that is good, help me!

Are you sure?
a) I think you may have misunderstood something along the way because you don't seem to be fully agreeing with me. AGREE WITH ME THIS INSTANT.
b) If following "Can you do this?": see "Can you do this?" (a) and be ready to say "yes, of course" each of the two to three times they will ask, or suffer the consequences.
c) I am unhappy. You better change your answer RIGHT NOW before the sh*t hits the fan.

Is it clear?
a) I don't even know what I just said, but I expect you to understand through ESP or some other supernatural force.
b) I have exhausted my ability to explain myself. Please don't make me continue.
c) Just say yes. If you say no it will become even less clear. Are we clear on that?

Is that ok?
a) If you do not respond in the affirmative there will be a gap in the time-space continuum and the Time Lords will be able to enter and kill us all.
b) I have not told you many details and you are probably confused, but you must make a decision with little or no information. See a) as to what depends on your decision.

It's not so important.
a) This is the most important thing that you could possibly need to know, but you will probably have to weasel it out of me.

That's all.
a) That is most definitely not all, but I'm unwilling to tell you any more. Have fun trying to figure out what I want!
b) I have told you nothing of what I actually want you to do, but for some reason I feel that our conversation is over. Do not ask me any questions or seek clarification. Why are you still standing there?
c) I've just asked you a monumental favor, but will now act as if it is inconsequential and expect that you will act the same.

You look horrible today!
Also phrased as: You look much worse than you did yesterday. or Are you sick? You look sick. or Wow, you need some rest.
a) I am concerned for your well-being. Please feel better! (But don't you even think about taking a sick day, unless you are dying, maybe then you can take one.)
b) You might be working too hard. Take it easy. But don't neglect your work.
c) You have neglected self-grooming to the standard we require. Why aren't you taking care of yourself? Have you no shame?

That sounds good.
a) That sounds horrible. Do not ever say anything like it again.
b) I will agree with you and then do as I like, which will probably be the exact opposite of what I just said "sounds good."
c) Nothing will change no matter your or my feelings on this matter. No need furthering the discussion.

Whatever you think.
a) Your idea is horrible.
b) I resent you having a say in this matter at all.
c) We all know that we will go with whatever I think in the end.

And my personal favorite that everyone is taught from childhood in Korea...
Take a rest.
a) Take a break.
b) Take it easy.
c) Go take a nap on your desk.
d) Go home and don't do work.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Poetry Teaches Us All

This week I had a poetry lesson with my seniors.  We studied Keats' When I Have Fears, because he's my favourite Romantic. Then we studied Yeats. I'm not actually sure why I chose Yeats. Maybe I thought it'd be quite a bit easier since the language is simple and straightforward. It went pretty smoothly, up until Friday. 
In my first class on Friday, we reviewed the poems, analysed them, and then got to the point where I felt like the students were just about finished trying to give input. We were on the last line of Yeats, here's the full poem:

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
W. B. Yeats1865 - 1939
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
The students made some great observations and did well for ESOL seniors in high school, really for any seniors in high school. Then one girl ruined it. 
In the last five minutes of class I ask, "Who would you be willing to lay your dreams down for, for that person to walk on your dreams?" Immediately shouts of "Lover." and "Best friend!" go out. So I do a little stompy dance just to show what could happen, then I walk softly to demonstrate that either outcome isn't the most desirable for your dreams. Both shout outs are swiftly rescinded. In the last minute of class, just as I think everyone is finished responding, one girl quietly says "A parent for their child."  
I am speechless.
I stutter, "Yes, um, uh, that's...well, that's brilliant. I've never seen it, uh, interpreted that way. I... well, um, and I think that's the best idea I've heard... Uh, wow."  Yeah, super eloquent English teacher response. 
The bell rings. 
In the next class, I wait to see if any of my students come to the same enlightened conclusion...none do, nor can they think of ANY situation where they'd lay their dreams at someone's feet, let alone beneath.  I decide to go for it, and share the awesome student's perspective (of course giving full credit to the student). We have about five minutes left in class,"What if it's a parent talking to their child?" 
A girl bursts into tears. 
Bewildered, I start talking about some grammatical device in the poem so she can save face. However, I don't want to abandon the really good interpretation. I only got that one sentence out so after two minutes I go back to the parent interpretation. I re-read the last two lines asking them if they could imagine a parent doing that for their child. 
Three more girls burst into tears. Not dabbing tears. Sobbing tears. 
This was the most amazing thing EVER! My students crying because of the beauty and understanding of poetry! It was one of those rare moments where you actually feel successful as a teacher.  
So thank you Yeats. You were never my favourite. Although I have always appreciated your talent, now I appreciate it even more.  Even more so, I appreciate the student who actually shared her brilliant idea! My students are really, really smart (geniuses really), but it's so infrequent to get them to express their amazing ideas. So thank you girl who shared her poignant thoughts. 
But most of all: Thank you to my parents. Because after all, parenthood really is the truest, deepest, and greatest form of love. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snowboards, Logic, Small Children and TKM

This week I've started something new. Fitting right? New year, new you, new resolutions...blah. I don't do new years resolutions because I don't believe in waiting to change something. But as it so happens this new thing coincided with the start to the year.

I went to the "oriental medicine" clinic (no, I'm not being insensitive, that's the name of the place). It's on the way from my home to school. I'd seen chiropractic tables in there as I walked by, and figured if I ever needed it I could probably get adjusted there.  I haven't had any back pain or any other issues really until...

I went snowboarding a few weeks ago. It's been ages since I've snowboarded (really it's been a decade, but that makes me feel old). I did quite a bit of falling before I got my breaks back. Eventually I got the hang of it though and I had a really good time... for a while. Here is where it's tempting to stretch the truth or gloss over details, but I'll go ahead and give you the less-abridged comic story.
After several hours of snowboarding, and successfully navigating a couple runs with no falls I get to the last 100 meters of the run at the very bottom of the mountain. As I start slowing down, this small child slices right in front of me and stops so that I have to A) swerve wildly to miss him and probably fall or B) physically move him out of my way, because he's honestly that close and he's stopped (WHO DOES THAT!). So I obviously choose B and gently grab his shoulders and move him about 30 cm to the right. Now as I do this I'm smiling, and thinking unpleasant things about young children.
**Reminder: Yes, I teach 'children', but I do not teach small children for reasons such as this. Small children have no logic. This infuriates me and doesn't work well. I teach adolescents and they have logic combined with heavy doses of hormones. This is much better. It's an interesting combination.**
After I move him, the small child looks at me like I've just thrown a rock at him or shoved him on the playground. I smile pleasantly and say "thank you" in Korean, because I'm a really nice person (and I don't know anything else appropriate in Korean under those circumstances. I really wish I could have said "Respect your elders, even on the slopes!" but I'm not that advanced.) So, I continue down thinking that I'll go back up for one more run, and the same kid slices in front of me AGAIN. But this time he stops at the end of the slope, turns around, and stares/glares at me. At this point I'm about 50 m from the end of the slope, he just stares me down as I slowly advance. So I do what any self-respecting adult would do and I stare right back at him...
and then I fall flat on my face.
I swear the kid was sending me ancient Korean curses, or manipulating the snow under me so that I'd fall. But probably I just wasn't paying attention and didn't adjust my board to go over a drift... either way I was face-first, wind-knocked-out-of-me, could-have-bitten-my-tongue-in-half laying in the snow. And to top it all off this kid was still staring at me.

Now here I am weeks later and my neck is still hurting from that epic fail. Which lead me to the Oriental Medicine Clinic! Let's just say I have made myself a lab rat. More on my experiences there next time.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Time Avalanche

One more day and the year is done. They seem to do that, go by. Passing faster and faster like a time avalanche, the more that gathers the faster it goes. I assume one day I'll feel over taken by it. Caught up in the time avalanche: afraid for my life, happy in the memories, unable to look ahead.
So we start another story in the series (if it can be called that). This one a touch sadder and more dear.

There is a lady that lives next to me with her son. She is elderly and her son is in his forties with a disability of some sort that leaves him unable to work. It's common in Korea to live with your parents until you are married. But you have to understand one thing: I live in a studio smaller than most hotel rooms. For me this is do-able, I actually have a bit of a thing for tiny houses so this is right up my alley. But for an elderly mother and middle-aged son... I'll just say I can't imagine this being comfortable. They seem fine though, no squabbles or fights, believe me I would know.
The day I moved in we (3 of my wonderful co-teachers, a wife, a daughter, and I) were cleaning the apartment and left the door open a crack. Next Door Neighbour was there in a heartbeat. Asking questions, wanting to know where I was from, who I was, what I was doing here. I, of course, understood none of this and my co-teachers prodded her away with smiles and polite answers as they shut the door.
Every day Next Door Neighbour and her son go out to collect cardboard to sell to the recycler. I see them walking. Sometimes he's in front, sometimes she takes the lead with her makeshift cart made from an old baby stroller. Whenever I have empty boxes I leave them in the hallway, on top of the pile of broken down cardboard that continually transitions from collection, to doorstep, to recycler. Each time I see them in the elevator or walking up the steep hill to the apartment I bow a greeting and say hello. Next Door Neighbour usually regales me with some story or questions, none of which I can understand let alone provide a response to.
I once saw Next Door Neighbour in a group with several other ladies that spend their days collecting recyclables. I had never seen her look so content, animated, and happy. I bowed my hello and she didn't notice. It was the best thing I'd seen in a while.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Umbrella and the rain

The first happy elderly person story. A little late, but still on time.

On a rainy morning in September I left my apartment with my usual 4 minutes to get to the bus stop, stepped on to the elevator, and was promptly greeted by a bag of food waste held by a woman who would come roughly up to my collarbone if she had been able to stand up straight, but since she was in a permanent semi-hunch she was a little taller than my elbow.  I nodded a greeting as I got on the elevator and then thought about my lesson plans. When we came to the bottom I let her get off first, as I arranged my jacket and umbrella. As I walked out of the entrance, I noticed her standing on the steps looking out at the misting rain, down at her food waste, and then back in at the elevators in a worrisome fashion. She did this several times as I took the few steps to meet her. Once I was next to her I motioned to my umbrella and smiled. She returned the gesture by taking my arm with a huge smile and a lot of words, only a few of which I understood. Let's just assume she was grateful because "thank you so much" was repeated several times. As I walked with her to the food bins she bantered on and after disposing of her food waste patted my arm and hand in what I can only describe as a grandmotherly fashion. I left her on the steps, having gone a total of 20 meters out of my way, and received the biggest smile and most cheerful "thank you. have a wonderful day." I may ever receive. She made my day. 

Friday, November 22, 2013


I promised stories. This week hasn't felt too much like a week for stories though.

There's this one that I could tell, but it doesn't have a happy ending:
Six hundred students go through my classroom on a bi-weekly basis. It's hard to remember all their faces, let alone their names. Though there are always some students that stick out for teachers. There's one class- all girls and one boy- I would tell the boy that he was so lucky to be surrounded by so many girls. I don't think he ever believed me.
He would go out of his way to talk to me after class, ask me a question, just say hi. A smile was always quick to flash across his face and he was constantly helping without being asked. His dreams and ambitions were good and pure. He didn't just want to 'become rich' like so many of the six hundred (unfortunately) nameless faces. He wanted to be great at something. He had passion. It was unmistakable.
To put an end to the story, my class is all girls now. I no longer have anyone to tell how lucky they are.

I guess I should tell you another story side by side with the one above. This story is a little older, but like emotions they don't have a shelf-life, do they. The ending of this one has yet to come, and that is a happy thing.
In a different country at a different time, I taught about a hundred and fifty students a week. They were in and out of my class several times per week and I knew each of them by name and character. There was one student that was unruly, clever, and for lack of a deeper term- dangerous. He had wit that could cut you in half before you'd opened your mouth. His intelligence was matched only by his empathy, the later of which he would rarely let anyone see. He was loyal to a fault. He had so much passion sometimes it was like he was literally on fire, the way he'd send sparks through a room. He was also harder on himself than anyone in their teens should know how to be.
Now, every few months I look forward to poems and stories from a brilliant writer who has already far surpassed this teacher. His amazing traits are combined with optimism now, and his empathy has become unbound.

I am so grateful to be able to know both of these young gentlemen. They have made such a difference in my life. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cultural Reveration

In Korean culture age is revered more than talent, success, ability, fame, beauty... basically more than anything. What this translates into in everyday life is, simply put, old people get a ‘free pass.’ This goes beyond others giving up their seat on the bus or helping someone cross the street. These are actions done by others to show respect generally not actions carried out by the elder in a show of their status. In Korea the social status of age is demonstrated more by the actions of the older people and the choice of inaction or reaction on the part of the younger. The older the person the more this applies. Yelling, burping, farting, pushing, poking, sleeping in public, slapping, spitting on people, etc… anything goes if you’re old enough.

Those who are the oldest in a certain group, even if they are quite young, will get preferential treatment in that group. I’ve seen it among high school students in the same grade. The oldest gets served by the youngest and then up the chain. A younger group member would never contradict or correct an older group member. If an older group member wants to eat a specific food all group members will eat that food. If an older group member wants to talk about a specific subject the group will talk about that subject.

There is even more deference given if the oldest person is male. I don’t really want to get into gender roles and treatment yet, but let’s just say an older male is king. He can do no wrong. For example, I have seen an elderly man walk in off the street and start drunkenly yelling at people in a restaurant. The diners sat, saying nothing, not making eye contact with the man. He then escalated to spit on the younger diners at their table. Still no one did anything, no response was given by anyone at the table or in the restaurant.  After the man did not relent and continued for 10 minutes, an older woman (roughly the same age as the older man) came out of the kitchen and yelled at the man to leave. He left momentarily then came back and repeated the same scene three times. After the third time the police were called. So I guess there are some boundaries, but they are very extreme.

Anyway, I tell you all of this to set up a string of more pleasant stories. I want to preface this by saying that even though extreme actions by elders are tolerated in Korea, it does not mean they are socially acceptable. When I related some of these same stories to my Korean co-workers they listened in horror and said, “I’m so sorry. That is not right. I think maybe that person is uncultured or uneducated. It’s not acceptable to do that, but what can you do it is an older person.” So I guess you could relate this behavior to that of someone making vocally racist assumptions in the US- everyone feels uncomfortable, everyone knows it wrong, but generally everyone keeps their mouths shut and doesn’t do anything about it and if/when you do people are just as mortified.  In learning about a new culture you can’t help but see the reflection of your own (and really you should try to; cultural self-awareness is a wonderful thing).

In the coming weeks, get ready for some awesome, hysterical, awkward stories!
P.S. I'm really only doing this to keep up with Goal 1 in my last blog post.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Recently I've been feeling complacent, lazy, bored. So I decided to set some new goals! But this time instead of making them easily attainable I'm stretching completely out of my depth.

Goal 1:  Participate in and complete NaNoWriMo, or national novel writing month.
This means I'll need to write 50,000 words by the end of November. Have I written a novel before, you ask... No. Have I even attempted one...No. Have I ever set a words per day goal for myself...No. Can I even keep this blog updated regularly.... well you get the idea. This is going to be a challenge, as true goals should be.

Goal 2: Planksgiving.
I have a  love/hate relationship with planks. I'm not talking boards here, I'm talking about the exercise where you keep your body as stiff as a plank while in push-up position. It strengthens your core muscles, an area I have always had problems keeping strong. While I already workout on a regular basis I continually neglect my core muscles (horrible I know). So starting this month I'm doing planks everyday, increasing my time each day/week until I get up to a 3 min hold by Christmas.  (I'd really like a 2m 30s hold by Dec 1st, but that might be a bit too ambitious. We'll see.)

Goal 3: Spend less, save more, be happier.
I'd like to eat out less. What's with my eating out habits? I love cooking! Cooking is a stress release for me, so I have no idea why I've started eating out 2-3 nights a week. I'd like to get back into the habit of cooking and eating what I already have on hand. That should, inadvertently, help me save more money and be happier. Win-win.
I've been taking the bus to work every morning even though it's only a 25 minute walk. I like sleep what can I say. But now I'd like to start walking to work at least 3 days a week. Save some money, get more exercise, enjoy the crisp autumn air. It's a better start to the day than a stuffy bus ride.

Those are my goals for the month/rest of the year. I figured sharing them with you would help me to keep them instead of pretending like I wasn't actually serious when I said I wanted to do them... which is what usually happens.
Why start in January with resolutions when you can make new goals all year round? 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Look Alive

For a long time I have lived with a certain philosophy that directs many of my choices. Directs and not dictates because one philosophy should never dictate a life, but life should be built on the balance of many philosophies and good advice, but I digress.
Whether we realise it or not we all have a view, philosophy, specific thought pattern about money. It directs or defines so many of our choices in life. Money is such a concern in each persons life, yet I wonder how many people have stepped outside the bill, paycheck, mortgage, loan, food, clothing, shelter cycle and looked at money as an idea, as something to have a philosophy about. How first world, how secure do we have to be to do that? (and again a digression...)
I would never have mulled money over and truly thought out a philosophy if it hadn't been for my favourite university professor, Hugh Crawford. In one simple (in it's brilliance and this guy was always brilliant) lecture Prof. Crawford presented the concept that debt is a non-necessary. The idea that debt hinders creativity, joy, decision making, passion, fulfilment, and basically everything that I want in my life was so obvious... but as a daft 20-something it took me quite a bit of thinking, philosophising, and talking to those older and wiser (my parents and a few others) to figure it out. From that I created a very complex philosophy: no debt. ever. It's directed my life for better or worse, I can't say (I always like to think better, but hey I'm an optimist).
I want to live where there is never a choice between doing what makes you come alive and living. Thankfully (so sincerely thankfully) I have been able to choose what makes me come alive. And when I made a choice to live in a way that was "living,"but did not making me come alive, I was able to change it.
So the next time you see me and I'm out of fashion, my apartment is on the bad side of town, or the tangible things are falling apart a bit, it's ok. Just know that those are not the things that make me come alive and I choose what makes me come alive!
Now, what makes you come alive?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

For Bulgaria

This is it.
Peace Corps Bulgaria is no more. Well that's not entirely true,  because for as long as there is a person alive whose life was touched by it then I believe Peace Corps Bulgaria is still alive. That at least gives me some comfort today as the volunteers are no more, the office shuts down, and the last employees leave for the last time.

I'm quite sure that most people don't really care, or know why they would care about this subject. But I'm equally sure that each person to go through PC BG, even for a short while, cares and knows why.

Thinking  back on my experiences throws me into a wash of emotions: Excitement for the unknown that became the familiar. Hope for the apathetic students that somehow allowed that spark to show through every once in a while, and still keep in touch. Fondness for the harsh and consonant dripping speech that became the language of my dreams. Appreciation for the winter that came on strong with its thick snow for thick bread. Fear of the blood sucking beasts, because I never knew humans could get fleas and never imagined they would be as vicious as they are. Joy for the toughness, roughness, hardness I learned, then learned to let go of.

And above all there are two emotions that completely overwhelm me:
Thankfulness for a staff so dedicated and diligent I know I will never, NEVER see their equal in my lifetime.
And Love. Love for a country that became my home in ways I am still trying to understand, for a people that accept me without question and so completely that I have more mothers/ sisters/ brothers/ babas than I can count, for a culture so rich that I'll be learning horos for the rest of my life-
for Bulgaria.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How shockingly unshocking.

When I came to South Korea I thought I was flying solo. No group, no built-in support network, no easy friends. It's probable that there has never been a more incorrect assumption in my entire life. Upon arrival, not only was I put into a group of fellow native speakers who would live in my area but it also turns out we all hit it off quite well (yay! for group 3). Thus a support network, a vast array of friendships, and a community was born.  So pretty much immediately my mentality was shifted from 'flying solo' to 'group,' which can make a huge difference. We've all been here for a little over 5 months now. Some of the friendships have grown stronger, some have dissipated; which is bound to happen in any group of 40 people. Overall they're amazing people and I cherish the time I have to get to know them. But in the last few weeks something odd has been happening....

Between three and five months in country something special starts to happen... the culture shock down-slope then bottom out. It's inevitable. When I was in Peace Corps Training they gave us this chart of emotions telling us how we would feel across the timeline of our service. We laughed. We made fun of it. We joked around about people thinking they could predict how we would feel not even knowing us. We were not predictable or chartable... or so we thought. Four or five months later and we all were bottoming out. Someone pulled out the emotions chart, in a fit of irony, and wouldn't you just know it: Month 5 to 6- Rock Bottom. (I've just gone ahead and posted the chart, because it's useful. Seriously useful.)

And now we are a little past month five in South Korea.

This time I knew it would come. A couple weeks ago it started happening. I'd be talking to someone and then the conversation would turn to how we were both having a tough time. The same conversation happened over and over again. Each person's difficulties were a little different, unique to them, but the feelings are the same every time. It is hard to separate a crappy work week, indifferent/mean/demanding colleagues, a lack of social options, a distaste for the food, bad weather, feeling homesick, missing important things back home... I could go on... from the ups and downs of culture shock. Sometimes we just feel like it's all jumbled together and we're not sure if we can take it. Usually at those times we give up, in a small way or in a big way.

There's nothing wrong with giving up. Sometimes it's part of accepting the new culture and moving on, "No, I won't do all your work for you, but I give up trying to explain why. Now I'll just do my own work and when you ask me to do yours I'll say, 'no.'"  Or in my case "Ok, Mr. OMT I give up getting mad at you. Now you can interrupt me, then shove something in my face and ask me a series of demanding personal questions, because the whole time in my head I'll be singing 'Then I threw it on the ground. I'm an adult' while I nod and smile at you." Not to get personal or anything. But sometimes giving up is so complete that there needs to be a clean break, and that's when people decide to go back. And that's ok too.

Honestly, the culture shock is not that bad for me. Having hit the culture shock rock bottom three separate times in the past ten years has helped ease its intensity and helped me understand it and cope with it better. Knowing it would come, that it was inevitable, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it (or more importantly with me, for feeling this way) has helped me immensely. For me, just identifying that I'm in the throws of culture shock has helped.
Now I give myself a break every chance I get. Bingsu is this ice, fruit dessert and it's something I LOVE about Korea! The best break is an afternoon bingsu with a good book or a good friend. Taking time to sit down and reflect helps me remember all the things I like here, which are numerous. My goal is to keep perspective. That's it. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Celebrations and Independence

This year July 4th marked the end of exams for my students, and that was about as exciting as it got. In doing a lesson on independence I discovered that Americans are quite a bit more visibly enthusiastic about celebrating independence than the people in my current country of residence. Of course right now I rely solely on the opinions of my students and I won't truly  know until August 15th (Korean Independence Day), but after showing them excerpts of fireworks shows in Boston and New York a consensus formed that nothing like that ever happens in Korea for any holiday.
*Note: I'm asking to be proven wrong. Please, please, please tell me of an event that I can go to in Korea where I will be able to experience the communal excitement of the picnic/bbq/house party/concert/firework/baseball game in some exciting combination.*

The other weekend I got to visit a good friend of mine in Seoul and go to a baseball game with her and her husband. You can see us goofing off and having fun in the picture. The stadium was packed even though it was raining on and off. The fans had choreographed cheers. There was a section that produced a team flag that actually covered that entire section of the stadium. Songs were sung in unison; chants were shaking the stadium; the wave went back and forth in fast and slow motion perfectly synchronized. It was a wonderful experience. And honestly after seeing this amazing display of collectivism I was shocked that nothing like it exists on a national level in celebration of something other than a corporately sponsored sports team. Are Koreans really bigger fans of their sports teams than they are fans of their country? Not sure that I believe that. While they don't seem to be as nationalistic as Bulgarians, Koreans still seem to have a great sense of national identity and pride. So why the lack of show for it? Or substantive show? Am I just missing the way they show their national pride?

I also found it very interesting that a collectivist culture (steeped in communal values and dependent on mutual understanding) would have a void of community events celebrating the largest communal victory: Independence from imperial rule. Each city has a festival celebrating that town, but when I asked about a national celebration only one student (out of several hundred) could think of one, New Year's Eve. But New Year's Eve is a global holiday not a national one. Does NYE bond people together here and provide a sense of community? Maybe, maybe not.

In the few months I've lived here I've noticed an almost co-dependence of societal relationships and that Koreans feel inextricably linked to each other based solely on being Korean. Seeing how these two factors permeate every corner of society  I can't fathom that Koreans don't have a large, celebratory, social holiday that binds them further together in their Korean-ness. I'm baffled and I would love it if anyone could shed further light on this for me!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chicken or the Egg

Hello again, or for the first time. I'm international but this time is different, isn't every time. I'm in a super modern country making a very livable wage with a community of people who are doing the same and also speak my primary language. Really, it's inherently different than any situation I've been in in the past.
For my first post back after...years...I should probably write about the cultural difference of South Korea and Bulgaria and America or my adjustment to the new country/job/culture or any number of culturally comparative topics. But instead I want to write about people.
A friend recently shared with me that she felt I was more perceptive and a better communicator than most people she has known. The more I thought about this the more I wondered how traveling and living internationally affects perceptiveness and communication style. In thinking back to the myriads of global citizens I've crossed paths with, I wonder: Is there a marked difference in how we perceive what is happening around us, what is said, and what is not compared with those who only live in one country?  What skills and character traits has our international life imparted on us? And most of all, I wonder if it is the choices that have shaped the traits or if the traits were always there and they shaped our choices.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New year new ideas

Well it's been a while...

I'm still in the USA, and working through it (it's like i need culture rehab). I have a new job that I'm happy in, and I get to make my living helping others, which is pretty amazing (severe understatement). As for the disillusionment/ despondence I feel towards America, I think I may have found something to help (perhaps culture rehab? Nope, even better, sub-culture infusion!)
While wandering aimlessly around the internet I stumbled upon this blog, which introduced me to a new idea for a concept that I already practice in many ways. I'm already a simplist (think minimalist, but not quite down to two pairs of pants and two pairs of shoes), but I'd never heard of the tiny house movement. The more I read about it the more the lightbulbs start going off in my head.

American culture norm conflicts with me:
#1 Long-term contracts (phones, mortgages, etc). Which to me mean long term debt, inability to be mobile, upkeep, dependence on markets, reliance on/indebtedness to big banks or companies.
#2 Focusing on stuff more than people. Loss of relationships because of things or money, and choosing stuff over people. Building relationships solely around 'stuff': what you have, what you don't, what you buy, what you want... this seems to be rampant and openly accepted in the current American society.
#3 Having more than you need, or over-consumption, which I am fully guilty of but would like to rectify.
I could go on but I won't. The problem with spending more time living in foreign countries in the last ten years than you have in your 'home' country is that you no longer fit anywhere fully (and you're always missing people all over the world).

Tiny House sub-culture solutions:
#1 Long-term contracts. With a tiny house the mortgage (if you even need to get one) is 1/10th that of a 'regular' house and can be paid off quickly, thus no long-term mortgage only short-term. Perfect! Also you can build these things on wheels meaning you don't have to worry about selling if you need to move or what the market is doing. For now, I have no kids and I don't need much space. When I do need a bit more space and my parents are getting up in years I can use the tiny house for them, allowing for autonomy but keeping them close. That's one long-term contract I can't get out of.
#s 2 & 3 Focusing on stuff more than people. & Over-consumption. It's hard to have too much stuff when you don't have room to keep it. Less stuff means less focus on stuff and less consumption. Plus the overall footprint of the house will use less materials than most garages, and I'm going to try and use salvage materials to build it as much as possible.

So the tiny house answers my biggest housing qualms with typical America, but is it actually doable for me...
I'm not 100% sure that it is, but I really do want it to be.

Here are the reasons I think I can transition into tiny house living:
1- For four years I lived in about the same amount of space, or less actually, than the tiny houses i'm looking at (i'm looking at between 110 and 150 sq. ft. for my house). Now I only occupy about 100 sq.ft. of my available living space (shared), so spacewise it's a lateral move and one I'm already adjusted to.
2- I hate paying rent and having nothing to show for it. Bye-bye apartments and landlords.
3- I'm handy. Being my father's daughter, I've learned a lot about fixing things, home repairs, and upkeep. I would also like to build this tiny house myself, with help of course. And if you're wondering, yes, I have experience building houses. Now if my dad would only teach me how to build an engine I could make my dream car.
4- I thrive on challenge and wilt when it's easy. Easy bores me, challenge makes me strive to become better and adapt. Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the life I chose early on, but this is one quality that is consistent (that and my horrible spelling, I'm so glad no one sees the first draft of these things).
5- Introvert. I'm not a hermit, nor could I ever be one for long periods of time, but I sure do need short periods of time away from the world. Not only is a tiny house all my own (no roommates, which I will actually miss because I've had some amazing luck so far, but I've also heard some horror stories, the stuff nightmares are made of) but I can take it to the mountains or the beach and "get away from it all" when I'd like to. I wouldn't need a power or water source for a weekend trip, so I could be completely isolated if I wanted/needed to be.

These are some of the issues with a tiny house I've thought up so far (feel free to add to them or dispell them):
1- parking. I'll have to have a place with water and power to sit my home. It can't be too far from my workplace (I hate long commutes) and right now I work and live in a city. The only options I can see are begging for/renting a backyard (hello again landlord, grr), trailer park (not going to happen), or buying a lot (see reason #1 America and I disagree).
2- hosting, which hinges on 1. I love hosting people. If I don't find a space where I can do outdoor hosting then I'll be limited to inviting 2 people over at a time. That's about where I am right now with mymliving situation, but I'd love to have the capacity to host more.
3- hauling it. Am I going to have to buy a truck just to take this thing anywhere, or is it more feasible to rent one when I need it?
4- aren't I already different enough? This might just draw too much attention and make people more curious than I'd like. I love people, but I value privacy and alone time too.

The ideas of simplicity and minimalism are what appealed to me the most and I can start to adopt those without moving. So I have, and I'm starting to pare down. As all who know me come to realize, I change my mind and have a "brilliant, life-changing idea" about once every six months so we'll see if this one takes hold, many of them do (why do you think I lived overseas for five of the last ten years) and some of them don't (I never did go live off the land as a hermit). Let me know what you think about this idea and if you think it's brilliant or that I'm crazy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

America... land of the easy.

So I've been back in America for six months now and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.
At first it was wonderful. I went on a couple of shopping sprees to refresh my wardrobe after choosing from the same twenty pieces of clothing day-in and day-out for four years. The shopping euphoria wore off quickly as I remembered I never did like shopping, nor the bills that come with it. At least I had clothes to wear now though and more than three pairs of pants. After the consumer in me feasted the foodie in me really started to come to the table. I could now cook Thai food, eat Mexican everyday (if I wanted to), and find almost any ingredient my heart desired. I had "the world" at my fingertips except the things I really wanted, like sugar sweet just-from-the-tree mango, extra-wide rice noodles, fresh fluffy tamales, chipati, goat samosas spiced just right, olive oil so good you want to drink it, and tomatoes so delicious you eat only them for at least two meals a day. But alas you can get the tasteless poor-man's (or blind-man or ignorant-man) version of all of this right around the corner of wherever you happen to be in America. America the vast, America the fast, America the easy.

It's not that I hate the land of my birth. There are good things here. I love the diversity and the fact that we are a melting pot, or salad bowl depending on your school of thought. I love the opportunities provided for those who seek them. I love that you can get one-off versions of just about anything you've had anywhere in the world... but they just never seem to measure up. Maybe my memory paints a better picture, but I'm pretty sure that some countries do/make/grow specific things better than other countries.

America may "have it all" but that doesn't mean it has the best of it all. Vanuatu still holds my heart for beaches. Thailand has the sweetest, purest tasting fruit I've ever wrapped my lips around. East Africa has the brightest smiles and the most regal, awe-inspiring landscape I've ever laid my eyes on. Bulgaria has the best vegetables and quaintest villages I've had the privilege to garden in. Italy the best cappuccino and espresso. Brazil the best caparina. Mexico the most vibrant colors and colorful nightlife. All this is only my humble opinion and based on my limited experience.

I am young, a tempered idealist, and a fish-out-of-water. I feel uncomfortable anytime I am comfortable. Whenever life is easy it makes me uneasy. There is something in me that hates complacency and the strive to have more while forgetting those around us. I do have to admit though I strive to have more... rarely it's more money, usually it's more experience, more time, more love, more friends, more family, more quality time. I find that no matter how much of these things I have I always want more. I doubt that will ever stop...

Sorry if this meander through my mind has been a bit hard to follow.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Closing Services

We're still learning.
We always will be.
Learners in a land full of information.
We seek understanding only to be...
Listening is our best tool.
Few are adept. Few care to be.
I hope you are those who care, those who help,
those who share the need.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Change the cheat

Think you can't change the world? Think again.

Why do all my friends find cheating to be absurd and immoral?
Because someone along the way (or many people) told us that cheating hurt no one but ourselves. We believed them, we didn't cheat, and (if i may say so) we all have very successful lives and careers now. And we have gone on to teach the same 'no cheating' moral to our children, students, nephews, and nieces.

Why do almost all of my students find cheating to be not only acceptable but necessary?
Because the society reinforces that cheating isn't a bad thing. There is an echo throughout society that there is no harm in cheating; look at the successful businessmen, the politicians, the leaders. They all cheat or have cheated to get to their claws into the high rung they now hold.

The more I live here the more I'm disgusted by the corruption, the cheating, and the mindset about these two evils. From bus drivers to CEOs, cents to millions go missing daily.

The 'average man' seems to be despondent about corruptions on a large scale that affect them. They see no connection from large-scale corruption to their social reinforcement of cheating starting in grade school.
Sad. Tragic. Exasperating.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Books, Clubs, Motorcycles

I'm in a book club now. There aren't many book clubs in Bulgaria (read: this is the only one I've heard about in the entire country). I'm the youngest member and the only one, so far, who does not have children. We read everything from The Sound and the Fury to The Jannisary Tree (the former I recommend, the later I don't). Reading has always been one of my outlets and I've always enjoyed it but there's something about the book club that makes it better. While reading, I know I'll be able to ask questions and discuss the things I find interesting, or uninteresting, with a group of people who have different views and opinions but the same knowledge of the book (as long as we've all read it through *ahem*). So I recommend you all go start a book club!

In other news I'm thinking about buying a motorcycle. (Flood family comments/concerns here::)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


In my classes we've been doing a lot about creativity and imagination (since it's come to my attention that most children and young adults haven't been encouraged to do this in their academic careers here). Some of my students, no most of my students, amaze me with their vivid imaginations and their ease with the flow of words in a foreign language. For Halloween they wrote "scary" stories about everything from Dracula at a high school prom falling in love with a girl to the last Bulgarian non-mutant zombie trying to fend for his life in an old fortress. I also learned about the kind creatures in Cupcakeland that wanted to rescue young girls from the clutches of the most evil man in the universe and I had a couple young authors write intertwining stories that were complete on their own but intersected to form a complex and rich plot. I was so impressed and proud of my students enthusiasm for their work and their imagination!

Then came the upperclassmen... I asked them to create a holiday that was ridiculous, just complete nonsense. Either I failed with the topic or their imagination is far too hidden away by that age. There was one amazing spark that came out of this though. One of the girls started talking about holding a festival that all the teachers and students could come to that would have different booths and games and activities but that the students would plan it all and organize it, all the teachers and administrators had to do was show up. This might sound like a "normal" idea to those of you in the States who go to these things every year, but here it is not a tradition, nor is it even an occasional event. I've been to one such event here and it was at the "American High School" in country and it was planned by teachers and staff. To have a student even suggest having this type of event, and wanting to take responsibility to plan it, blew me away. When I asked her if she was serious about this or it was just an idea she said, "I would love to do this but we need a group of students, not just me. Would you help me see if we can get a group of students?"
Maybe I spoke too quickly about their imagination being gone, maybe it just takes up with more ambition.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Time turns

This weekend I went up to my old town, Byala Slatina, to pick up all the stuff I left there, and boy was there a lot. I stopped in town along the way and had breakfast with a good friend and took my time getting to Byala Slatina. As I drove through the misty mountains and caught glimpses of the changing leaves through the dense fog I could only think of how fortunate I am and how beautiful Bulgaria truly is.
This whole weekend reminded me of all the intricacies of Bulgarian village life that I miss living in the big city. Of course now I don't have to worry about getting fleas but I also miss out on the 4 hour 'visits' where everything is made-from-scratch. Getting to see both sides of the country, and getting to live both sides, is not something most people have the chance to do. I really love it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vacations Always End

After an awesome two month vacation traveling around Europe and the States I'm back in Bulgaria! Last week I moved into my new apartment and started my new job. The apartment is beautiful and pictures will be up soon (well as soon as I buy a digital camera). My new job is at a private school. I'm the "Native Speaker" and I teach English conversation to grades 8-12. So far I'm wholly impressed with the school and the new lifestyle.
This weekend was a 4-day weekend because of Bulgarian Independence Day. So after the first three days of school, we all got a relaxing four days so that we could go back to school for four more days before another rough weekend. The downside is that this is the ONLY holiday before December 24th. So I'm trying to make the most of it. I went to visit a few friends of mine on the other side of the country for the natural weekend, and then I came back ran some errands and enjoyed the last bits of warm, sunny weather.
Not a bad start to the school year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


On my 'farewell to Peace Corps' tour I've reached the western front...of Europe that is. We've been to Rome, Sienna, Florence, Bologna, and Paris so far on this stretch and have 2 more weeks to go. Without a doubt Rome has been the favorite, just in case anyone is wondering. It just feels like magic is in the air there. Sienna was an amazing town to slow down and rest in. Since Rome was so hectic and packed with things to do it was a nice change of pace to lounge in cafes and stroll around aimlessly. The scenery there was gorgeous too. The Tuscan country-side is breathtaking. Florence was way over rated... sorry to all those people out there that just loooove it but I don't. One less tourist in your way I guess. It had nice architecture, and lots of art, but overall I was unimpressed. The masses of tourists walking around in chaotic zigzags with maps in one hand and gellato in the other, the massive lines for any and all museums, and the serious lack of outdoor cafes lessened my regard for it instantly. Plus it was hot. Real, real hot. I don't do well in extensive stretches of heat and 4-days is my max. Bologna was a quick stop over. Since we weren't expecting anything much from the city we were pleasantly surprised by it. It had a pretty center, with interesting architecture and lots of wide, shaded sidewalks. Basically it was a good shopping and eating town, so we did both and it worked out well.
We felt like we were on the Amazing Race trying to get to Paris though. It was ridiculous. People were pushing, shoving, cutting, and even elbowing us the whole way there...perhaps cheap airlines and the metro are not the way to travel. Once we got to Paris everything leveled out though. It's beautiful, but not quite as magical as it's portrayed to be (at least in my opinion). This is probably another one of those Florence things though, and I'll just say if you find Paris magical and wonderful I'm very happy you do but I'll be one less person in line for the Eiffel Tower the next time you visit. Speaking of the Eiffel Tower we almost saw someone commit suicide off of it. Just as we arrived to check out the line we saw a man with a helmet and lots of gear scaling the outside of the first level up then noticed him wrapping a rope around a person who was also standing out on the ledge with him who appeared to be a fanny-pack tourist (there was an actual fanny pack involved). We were wondering whether they were going to bungee or base jump so we stopped and watched. Then we noticed the heavily armed (i'm talking AK-47s) military and policemen standing along a roped off area at the base of the Tower. When the would-be jumper finally got talked down and climbed back off the ledge over the fence we realized what had been going on. It was crazy (and completely not covered by the media)!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Summer Sizzles

Today we had an adventure. Since we had two extra days in Budapest we decided to take a day trip- to Vienna. We took a train there and had no idea what to see or do. So after randomly finding the most famous church we headed down to the opera house, saw the parliament, got tired touring the fine art museum, then headed to a huge palace and gardens. The day was amazing. It was near perfect, in fact my cousin decided to say that it was the “perfect day” without knocking on wood. Big mistake. So after a wonderful sit at a cafĂ© we headed to catch the 5.50 train back to Budapest. We get to the train station and find our train with 5 minutes to spare. Then I heard some girls speaking Bulgarian and I decided to chat with them. After a few seconds of chit-chat they said, “Oh good, we’re all going to Germany!” and I said, “Uh, no we’re going to Budapest…wait. Where does this train go?” And then we discovered we were on the wrong train. So we jump off with stuff in hands and 2 minutes until our train leaves. Luckily (or perhaps not so luckily) the Budapest train was right across from ours. So we ran into it and sighed, just then a man came up to us and kicked us off the train and told us to go further up. So we walked two or three cars up the train and got in again. Feeling very secure in our situation we actually sat down… then two boys ran through the train yelling something ending in “get off the train” in German. I caught their frantic spirit and rushed to get off the train, Chloe trailing behind me very confused until another man got on the train and said, “Follow me to Budapest!” This made us laugh and we followed. Then we realized that the train we were supposed to be on was in front/behind the train we had been on before and we had one minute to run to it. Finally we got on the right train and found seats and breathed a deep breath and went to take out the train tickets… which were nowhere to be found. As I tell Chloe that I can’t find our tickets she says, “Ha ha, good joke.” Then as I start to freak out she realizes it’s not a joke. After discussion of who will stay on the train, who will keep the bags, how much time we have, what we will do if we can’t find these tickets, and so forth we both get off the train. We decide the tickets must be somewhere on the second train we mistakenly got on, because I remembered grabbing them off the first. We run back to the train and it’s locked, but there was a conductor there who, after a brief explanation, unlocked it and let us look. We looked up, we looked down, we looked side-to-side, we looked back to front then front to back, we split up to look… then a worker found me and said I had to get off the train because it was leaving for maintenance in a couple minutes. Chloe was nowhere to be seen. As the guy asked me if I found the tickets I jumped off the train and shouted, “No! and my friend’s still on the train!” We ran down the train looking in the windows and finally found Chloe and motioned to her to get off the train right then. After reconnecting and realizing neither of us had found the tickets we resigned ourselves to buy new ones, and just as we did another workman (that bring the total number of workmen helping/following us up to 4) started walking towards us with something in his hand. Then he held them up and ta-da! It was our tickets. The man received his daily allotment of hugs in the five seconds following. We were so relived and happy, and then realized our train had left. Luckily the next train was only an hour later…and 20 degrees hotter with no a/c. But we have finally arrived at our hotel safe, sound, and full of adventure.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Busy like a bee

The new group has arrived and it's really interesting to see everything through their eyes just as I'm wrapping up. I can't believe how busy I've been. With the new group's arrival, the 12th graders prom/excursion, finishing up teaching, getting grades together, and all the final Peace Corps stuff that has be done to finish there hasn't been a spare moment. It's so different from my normal pace of life here. I don't think I'll be able to survive living in the States. So for that reason I'm going to stay here.
Just kidding.
But I am looking for jobs here, so that part is serious.
I have an interview with a private school later on this month. If you are wondering why in the world I'd want to stay here instead of coming to the land of the super-size there are many reasons. I've gotten used to living here. I love the fresh fruits and veggies, in season. I like the pace of life and the hours spent in cafes. I love the fact that I don't need a car. Then there are the more substantial reasons: the friends I've made over the last 2 years and the fact that re-adjustment scares me so when I do it I only want to do it once. Hopefully a job will pan out and I'll be able to stay here until I feel like it's time to come back to the states.

Other than that excitement I'm planning a 5-week extravaganza across Europe, which I'm super excited about! I'll be home for most of the month of August no matter what. I'll try to keep y'all updated on the job situation.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A fresh end, a new finish

I've been very slack about blogging so far this year. Since I only have three more months to share my experiences in Bulgaria with you I am going to make an attempt to blog every other week. I'm hoping I can follow through on this. So here's the first of the final installments:

Daily life here has become easier over the last two years. I no longer fear going to the grocery store or bumping into someone I'm supposed to know. The language comes easier, for the most part. The rhythm of life no longer seems foreign. And here I am about to leave and go back to a place where everything that was once so familiar will be foreign. It makes me think about staying... and then I think about the winter.
Leaving will be hard.

Today I wrote up an evaluation of my site and work situation. One of the questions just said "Electricity/Water Regime". Here is my answer:
"In the summer the water shuts off at least one day a week for the whole day. The longest it shut off was 5 days in a row, but in that span there was water for one hour every other night. In the winter it shut off less frequently, maybe once every other week. There's supposedly a radio broadcast saying when it will be shut off but I didn't know the station so I just kept two 11 liter jugs filled with water.
The electricity was pretty reliable. It went out in storms and sometimes for no reason at all, but it would usually come back on in a few hours."
It took me time to realize this wasn't normal, for you at least. Most of my friends in Bulgaria live in towns where their water shuts off almost daily during the summer and only runs for a few hours each night. So to me, I'm lucky.

There were two other answers that surprised me when I put them into words. "How strongly would you recommend your replacement by a new Volunteer?"
I feel like there is a lot of work that can still be done. The teachers are very open and receptive to new ideas... It amazes me the opinions that are stated as facts that no one questions. When I do question these 'facts' my colleagues and students are open to discussion, but have never considered that just because something was their opinion didn't make it fact. To continue this open dialogue another 'outsider' has to be brought in, because the 'insiders' are not given as much freedom of opinion or latitude for disagreement. My community was always supportive of me even when we disagreed. I'm afraid that if I'm not replaced all of the new ideas and opinions that have been introduced will be forgotten and everything will go back to the way it was before."
I have never been able to put into words my fears about leaving, but I think that's my biggest one. That I will not have made a lasting change.

The other question that I had never put into words before was:
"Do you feel that you have been successful in your assignment? Please explain."
"Yes and no. There is that which is possible and that which I desired to accomplish.
I think as far as what is possible- yes, I was successful. I integrated, made friends, shared ideas, exchanged cultures, taught students, and helped the students who desired to learn more learn.
What I desired to accomplish was far more difficult to measure and much harder to obtain. I wanted to change the mindset that racism is right, or even ok. That, I failed at. I hope that I may have made a few people start thinking a little more about a little differently though.

I know most people don't want to read the answers to my paperwork, but I figured just maybe it would help you see where I really am, what I'm thinking about, and how (even though I'm really looking forward to it) coming back to the USA is going to be difficult.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Podcasts...or Friends?

Today I discovered Podcasts have replaced friends for me. While this may sound pathetic or odd, it works. In October my closest friend here moved to London. Which might seem insignificant to most people who have a network of friends, but here in Byala Slatina I have very few friends and this friend was the glue. She made sure we all got together at least once a week and she was also the one that always had time to hang out, go to cafe, pick apricots, or do nothing. It took me a while to realize just how much she had affected my time here. November and December were busy months full of guests, occasions, and vacations. So the gaping hole in my social life wasn't really felt until January when I returned from winter break in Rome to the bleak cold of home. By mid-January it was evident: I had little or no social life.
And life took a turn in this meandering adventure, if I can even call it that now. Other than weekly outings to my fellow PCV's apartment in town I went weeks without seeing any friends outside of work. Sitting in my moderately cold apartment not wanting to walk to the center in the freezing cold dark (which was anytime past 4:30) I realized I hadn't left my apartment except for work in over a two weeks. This is a sad story, there have to be a few.
Fortunately I re-discovered Podcasts. Now I listen and laugh along with those crazy Tapit Brothers on Car Talk. I postulate on the situation of the world with my personal correspondents on The Economist, BBC Global News, The New Yorker, and (my personal favorite) Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me. But sometimes I just relax, forgetting that I'm not in the studio with Jad and Robert, and ponder the scientific wonders introduced to me on Radio Lab. Yes, these are my pinch hitters, my friends in time of need, the people whom I don't even know and yet end up laughing with for hours on end wishing that I could look them in the eye after an especially good punch line. But I can't.
All I can say is that I'm glad to have found company for dinner that eats nothing at all and never complains if I haven't cleaned. To invite a whole cast into my home and then kick them out at whim, never having to apologize or feel bad is quite enticing. Not that I'm thinking of not having friends anymore, but it's tempting.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


As I was saying good-bye to my friends today it hit me. It always happens that way here. Whenever I've had a wonderful time with lots of friends the time comes to go our separate ways and after ten minutes of being without them I feel utterly and helplessly alone. I don't remember this ever happening when my friends and I lived only twenty miles apart and we'd see each other the next week or maybe the next day. Here it hits me every time, more now than in the beginning.
This time as I got on the bus, bracing myself for the 3 hour ride back to my town, I saw a friend that was on her way back as well. I sat next to her, happy for at least the comforting presence of a friend. As we rode away we started talking about our weekends and something interesting happened. The woman I was sitting next to, Emi, is a teacher at my school. She's three years older than me, speaks English very well (all through self-motivation), is married, has a 3 year old son, a house, and a mortgage. I had never talked to her outside of a work-related environment. Sure we're friends; I go to her house almost weekly for language lessons or just a cup of coffee and a chat. Every interaction we've had though stems from school. Sitting on the bus next to Emi I realized how different we were, how completely opposite our lives are.
She had gone into Sofia for the final exam of her voluntary weekend English course (She teaches classes all week and then two weekends out of the month for the past year she's been traveling into Sofia to study English all weekend so she can be a better teacher.) I went into Sofia to watch a silly, fun movie and drink Starbucks (it's brand new here) with my girlfriends. I had had an excellent day of eating, shopping, coffee drinking, silly song singing, picture taking, movie watching awesomeness. She had had a stress-filled day with 8-hours of exams. I was returning to my cat and my cold apartment, my only responsibility to prepare for class the next day. She went home to pick up her son and husband, warm the house, fix dinner, clean, and plan for the next day.
I don't know why it struck me so suddenly, but it was almost as if we lived in parallel universes. Then I realized that all of the friends I have in town have the same story. They are all married, in their early to mid-thirties, have full-time jobs, and children. I enjoy all my friends and the time I spend with them however different it is. But, my friends with children can't do things at night or for longer than a few hours and my single friends and I have weekend sleepovers. So when I'm in my town I spend almost every evening alone in my apartment, since it's culturally unacceptable to go to a cafe or restaurant alone. So when I have something to compare that to, say... going out almost every night with friends, it makes my day-to-day life seem stark. Perhaps this is why I feel the loneliness when I leave my single, mid-twenties, carefree friends. Is there anything I can do about this? I don't really think so. I enjoy my life and my friends in my town, but I also love the group of single girls I get to hang out with every so often. Both keep me here, going, and happy (most of the time). So I guess it's just another paradox of Peace Corps.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Smells like Uncle Jim

The past 24 hours has been quite interesting. But it all started a couple months ago with a broken light.
First the light bulb blew at 10 pm and the whole apartment (all two rooms) went black. Luckily I am one of the few PCVs who has a breaker box, not just fuses. So all i had to do was take out the bulb and flip the breaker. But when I tried to replace the bulb, nothing worked. All the bulbs are fine, so it must be the socket. Oh well, I'll have someone fix it later. They're busy with remodeling now.
Then my faucet started dripping, sometimes pouring... now this could cost them money, so definitely want to get it fixed soon. Sometimes you couldn't turn the faucet off. It would just be running water and no matter what you did to try and turn it off you couldn't until it was ready and then all the sudden viola magically it would let you turn it off.
After various other household incidents (2 more light bulbs, breakers flipping intermitantly, mold discoveries) I finally had 'the big one' last night.
Act 1. I was getting ready to go to bed and washing the last of my dishes and when I went to turn off the water an explosion of watertastic amounts happen. All the sudden water was spraying and gushing everywhere! I didn't know where the shut off valve was so I ran down stairs to the security guard's room, woke him up, and shouted about a big problem with lots of water everywhere. When I got back up to my kitchen it was covered in water. (It's very clean now.) The water was spraying every thing and the floor was covered. The poor, tired security guard ran in and shut the water valve off then ran away while saying "there's water every where! Big problem! Big problem." I thought he was running away cause he just wanted to get back to sleep and not have to help me mop up all the water. He wasn't. Just as I had gotten about half the mess cleaned up he knocked on my door and told me to use the empty room next to me's bathroom and that he called the director. I started wondering how long I was going to have to wait to get my faucet fixed and my water back on... days? weeks??? I started dreading the daily cold hallway walk to the bathroom next door that wasn't heated but at least the water was.
End Act 1.

Act 2. Then at 9 am this morning I was awakened by a knock... as I usually am whenever I have 'surprise' guests, but I had been up until 1:30 am cleaning t mess so this time at least it was justified. There stood fix-it-man #1. He came in, looked at things, and then left. Then fix-it-man #1 brought fix-it-man #2 along with him. I thought to myself, I should have more disasters on Saturdays cause they'll get fixed super fast and without 10 people tromping around my apartment to 'help'! Help meaning look at all the different stuff the american has, even though i don't really have anything different than them, except my family pics displayed every where.
Fix-it-men #1 & 2 start working, then they decide it would be a good idea to turn the water on to see just exacly what the problem is... I stand by with towels. The next half hour is spent with them on cigarette break (and finding parts, i think the cig part only took 10 mins) and me cleaning up all the water from the kitchen.
End Act 2.

Beginning Act 3. They come back with parts and on-looker #1. Fortunately there was only 1 on-looker and he only stayed for Act 3 of the water drama. They work for about an hour, fixing and pondering and telling me about England...not sure why fix-it-man #2 decided to tell me about England, since he'd never been there. They make progress; I grade tests; on-looker #1 leaves. The water gets turned back on and lands only in the sink! Tada!
Then I point out the drip, drip, drip, drip...
End Act 3.

Begin Act 4. Water off again. Parts of faucet are completely taken apart, looked at, and determined fake. That's my problem, a fake faucet. Fix-it-man #2 decides this discovery warrents a 3rd cigarette's bad news. I reteat to my other room to grade tests, hoping they'll come back and put my sink back together again, again.

(yeah, it's in the middle of an act, so what! It's to create suspense. Go make yourself a sandwich or something)

Welcome back. Fix-it-men #1 & 2 are back in action (and making my apartment smell like Uncle Jim, thus the title) faucet fixing. They have found a completely new-to-me faucet that is not fake (i hope) and are working on putting it together. After breaking a couple of parts and looking for replacement one there is .... SUCCESS! Hot water - check. Cold water- check. Drip, drip, drip - nope! All is well and done!
... well except for that bathroom light, but they say they'll get to that next week.
End Act 4.

Now I'm gonna go take a shower.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Long absences

It's been a few months since I've written. Sometimes it's a writing time, sometimes it's a reading time. I'm going through a reading time, but I figured I could give you a not-so-well-written update. In very important and very late news: My cat, Mila, had kittens on July 4th. Then she promptly ran away three months later leaving me with Lula. Lula, formerly known as Luke Skywalker, was the kitten I decided to keep so Mila would have some company. But seeing as Mila ran off a month ago and hasn't come back Lula is now my company... and my leg warmer for the winter.

In other news school has started. Not so exciting.

I went on an adventure through Albania (and Macedonia and Greece, but the goal was Albania). That was very exciting. It took 33 hours to get back from Albania... it was crazy and fun. Here comes some actual writing!
Four friends and I slept on a white pebble beach for three nights. During the day we swan in the Ionian Sea and watched the island of Corfu as it disappeared in the morning haze then re-appeared by lunch. There were no clocks or watches, few people drifted by, and we were left to our own laziness. Every night we had a fire to sit by until we got tired, walked to our sleeping bag ten meters away, and curled up for the night. The sun woke us up with a hot hello every morning. It was paradise. There were expansive mountains behind us and brush-forests leading up to them. The sky was blue and cloud spotted the entire time. At night, before the fire building, we would watch the clouds roll over the tops of the mountains like a slow ocean wave, decend a bit-almost threatening rain- then recede back to the windward side.
The ridiculous amount of manovering to get there and the 33 hours to get back was well worth it. There is no way I'm ever going to be able to get back there, and this time that is a beautiful feeling.