Monday, September 24, 2007

long and overdue

Which is correct? In the past week, I have:

a. Survived a typhoon
b. Received a wrapped present of cooking oil and tuna
c. Folded and colored 15 paper "cootie catchers"

Answer: all of the above.

Explanation for a. (typhoon):
Typhoon Nari hit Korea last Sunday. I was in Jeju City, a town an hour north of Seogwipo visiting friends for the weekend. We had a great, relaxing Saturday together: a movie, a visit to the English-language bookstore, Indian food, and an evening trip to a jjinlilbang (bathhouse). It rained some, but not enough to warrant any changes to our plans. I spent the night with my friends Glypie and Hillary at Hillary's host family's apartment. We woke up the next morning to heavy rain. As short bouts of rain are routine here, we took no mind and set out to walk to a grocery store two blocks away. Hillary had promised her host brother she would make pudding for his birthday, and we needed supplies. Within ten seconds of being outside, however, we were drenched. Completely soaked. Sheets of rain and powerful swirls of wind made it hard to see. Out umbrellas flipped inside and out. The top of mine broke off in the parking lot of the apartment. We stumbled in, dripping, to the grocery store and bought pudding stuff and another umbrella. The new umbrella broke fifteen seconds after stepping outside. Our plan to walk to a further store for dry clothes was quickly aborted when we realized that not only was it difficult to walk in a straight line, it was difficult to see across the street.

We showed up at Hillary's apartment with pudding supplies, food for breakfast, and four broken umbrellas between the three of us. We changed into dry clothes, trashed the umbrellas, and started on the pudding. The rain pummeled the sides of the apartment; in the kitchen, rain sneaked steadily under the windowsill into a bucket below. The power went out. We lit candles. Over the next six hours, we finished the pudding, took a nap to the sounds of heavy rain, played cards, and regularly had Hillary's host sister call the bus station for us to see if the buses were running to Seogwipo or Glypie's town, Hallim. By 8 PM, we still had no power and still no answer at the bus station. As a last resort, Hillary's host dad drove us to the bus station to double-check. The station was flooded and lit by candles. It had lost power and phone service, but the buses were indeed still running. I got on the next one to Seogwipo. Though the rain had eased up, power was still out throughout the majority of the city. With no street lights or traffic lights, the ride home was dark. I did manage to see some the typhoon's damage, though-- fallen trees, broken windows, papers suctioned to fences. When I made it home, Kumju informed me they had moved my bed from its spot next to the window when rain started coming into my room-- a pretty impressive feat as I live on the sixth story of one of the nicest and newest apartments in the city. Typhoons are common on Jeju Island, but apparently this was the worst in 80 years.

Explanation for b. (gifts):
Gifts are a funny thing in Korea. While in America our thought is usually, "what can I buy them that they wouldn't buy for themselves?", in Korea this is a ridiculous notion. Practical/survival-necessary gifts-- socks, food, soap, underwear, and shampoo are the norm, even for people you don't know well at all. This weekend is a holiday for Koreans, and in honor of it my principal had identical gift bags for all of the teachers. I picked up mine on the way our of school. "Do you like fish? How do Americans eat tuna?" my coteacher asked me on the way home. Thinking she was making conversation, I answered without much consideration. Later, I opened my bag. Inside was a pretty cardboard box that contained a nicely packed gift set of...six cans of tuna and two big plastic bottles of cooking oil. Harry and David look quite frivolous by Korean standards.

Explanation for c. (cootie catchers):
This week, along with many of my friends, I taught a lesson on the future tense and fortunes. We folded paper to make handheld fortune tellers, or "cootie catchers." If you think you don't know what I'm talking about, you do-- think back to your own middle school and I guarantee you've seen one. As I teach every student in my school, this meant that I demonstrated how to hold paper into cookie catchers 10 separate times for my first and second-graders (equivalent of 7th and 8th grade in the U.S.). I also listened to the same pop song for my third grade class 18 times on Thursday and Friday. Korea is great for building patience.

The cootie catchers were pretty fun, though. Most of the girls wrote things like, "you will travel to Seoul" and "you will marry ____ (Korean pop star X)" in theirs, but I also got the following:

"You will become Nate's (my little brother) girlfriend."
"You will watch your boyfriend propose to another girl."
"You will be ugly for all time."
"You will die in 10 seconds."

And the one that made me laugh the hardest:

"You will get constipation."

I guess poop jokes are universal.

PS-- public shout-out to awesome people at home or abroad (Maryann)! I got some mail this week and it really made my day. I'm blessed to have my friends and family. Thanks!

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