Sunday, March 29, 2009

Visiting with Kim

As I mentioned in the previous, this past Saturday I went to the Sharing House from 8:30 am- 4:00 pm. After learning about their sad story, I then separated from my friends who were heading back home while I was on my way into the heart of Seoul to meet up with Kimberly Grojean! What a small world huh! (Explanation for those who are scratching their head: Jen is my best friend. Kimberly who I will now refer to as Kim as it is easier to write, is Jen's younger sister. I emphasize younger because as long as I have been friends with Jen, which is about 10 years now, Kim was always that little sister. She wasn't the annoying type or the nagging type, but she was completely out of our peer group. It is funny how when we are children our peer groups extend only as far as one or two years and nothing more, however as adults (*shudder**I still don't really like the sound of that word adult) three years is nothing. We find ourselves equals, not "my older sister's friend" or "that little sister" but friends. So anyways, Kim is teaching English in Japan and decided on a whim to come and visit her neighbors- the Koreans.

An hour and a half by subway, I found myself amidst a sea of black hair and thousands of cell phones being used for one of the following: playing games, watching television, texting, taking pictures of oneself similar to how one might use a mirror or just stroking it like a pet. Ok, so Koreans don't actually stroke their cell phones, but it is definitely an extension of their arm. I think babies in Korea might be born with cell phones attached to the umbilical cord. But in all seriousness, children in Korea often have cell phones. Just so you have an idea, I will tell you a little side story. Saturday programs are a little different than our normal weekday camp. During the week, we have sixth graders from one to two schools from the surrounding area come to stay at the school for English fun. However, on two Saturdays a month, we open the fun to all ages. So this past Saturday program, I taught first and second graders. We were going around the circle telling our names, and one of the little girls who was so adorable I wanted to spread icing on her and eat her up said that her name was Hayoon. I asked if that was her Korean name or English name and she assured me that it was her English name. To prove it, however, she pulled out her purple cell phone from her little purple purse, opened a text message that read "Hayoon, don't worry, be happy. I love you." all in English. I asked if that was from her mommy and she said "No, my daddy." How adorable is that, and also strange that a little first grader has a cell phone and is receiving text messages from her parents. My mom can't even read a text message let alone send one.

But the odd thing about this trip was how foreign I suddenly felt amongst so many Koreans. Generally, I travel in groups and generally it is to areas in Seoul where there are plenty of other foreigners, but on my subway and in the paths following my exiting of the subway station, there was but one other foreigner. For the first time since I have been here, I felt like I stood out, and that people were staring at me. In my interviewing process, I was warned that all eyes would be upon me any time I opened my front door, but as Korea is changing, I felt less conspicuous than I expected in the beginning. Korea is now seeing an influx of foreigners; nearly 1 million expats are making their home, even if it is a temporary home, Korea. However, this Saturday, I felt foreign. I felt out of place like a sapphire among rubies. The reassuring thing about Korea is however, how safe this country is, so although I felt alone and like a stranger in a strange land, I did not feel unsafe.

On my way to the hostel, I stopped to buy some strawberries! I can't tell you how excited I was to find a box for $3.50! In our supermarket recently, strawberries have been $12! Who pays $12 for a regular size box of strawberries that wont last more than a couple of days? That would be like paying nearly $1 a strawberry. I nearly broke out dancing the jitterbug when I saw the delectably ripe and succulent red strawberries for THAT price! My mouth is still watering just thinking about how delicious each bite was, and even more lush especially considering all of the money I was saving!

I followed the directions, which were surprisingly good all the way to the hostel and stepped inside. A sign above says to take your shoes off at the door, and I stood there for a while trying to decide what I should do? I see about thirty other pairs of shoes on the shelf and surrounding the shelf, but I was torn as to whether I should try and check in and find Kimberly or take my shoes off first or after, but then I hear, "Vanessa?" and there she is. It's strange to see your friends from back home on the other side of the world. The last time I had seen her was in her father's living room and there we were in Korea. Kimberly had another friend whom she had met in Japan arrive at the hostel nearly at the same time. After settingly in, we decided dinner was our next step. I suggested that we ask at the front desk because locals often have some of the best suggestions. He asked what we wanted to eat, "Chicken" was Kim's answer and he said, "I know just the place. Follow me." And out the door he went. As we were following him, I thought how kind he was to take us to the restaurant guarenteeing that we didn't get lost, but once we arrived, he ordered a table for four and sat down to dine with us. We loved it! And, it is always so much better going to a Korean restuarant with Koreans since they know what to order. Even when there is English on the menu, I still most of the time have no idea what I am actually ordering.

As we left the restuarants, droplets falling from the blackened sky slowly began to dot our faces and clothing. By the end of the evening, my cloth shoes were completly soaked and my feet had turned into purple prunes from being cocooned in wet socks and shoes the entire evening. The next morning, before our day began, I went shoe shopping as they had still yet to dry by morning and walking around in wet shoes for an entire day was not an option.

Our day was spent shopping in Insadong, the traditional shopping area in Seoul. Getting there was an interesting feat however. At one point, we stopped in the subway station to assess our location and whether we had gotten off at the correct stop. We saw and information sign and looked around for an information guide only to find a large map instead of a person. We stood around for a few minutes obviously looking lost and confused because once we looked up, we realized we were surrounded by a gang of old men. Around ten grey haired, hat, loafer and high-waisted pants wearing old geezers had padded over to our lost threesome. Our theory was that there was an old man recreation gang in the subway station with activities such as gawking at the stone faced Koreans running from subway to subway and surrounding blond haired foreigners who look lost rather than feed pigeons in a park on Sunday. It was sweet really. These crusty old men, had come to give us advice but spoke no English, and we spoke no Korean. The more they tried to explain, the more old men would gather until I was sure this was a bonefide dying men subway club.

The tea house where we drank our very expensive tea.

Insadong was great fun. Shopping is almost always fun when you have money to spend. And one of the most interesting things that we did was to go to a tea house called the Flying Bird tea house that had actual birds flying around inside. The tea was WAY over priced- $6 for a cup, but the atmosphere was lovely and amazingly, I saw no poop. Can you train birds not to poop when they feel the urge? All in all, Kim's visit was tons of fun! I guess now I will have to visit Japan! Oh darn!

Walking up the steps to the tea house

A cool picture of the lamp in the tea house

A bird flying around the tea house over head

Friday, March 27, 2009

Happy Birthday darling!

A letter to my parents-in-law

Dear Kay and Mark,

It is Kyles birthday today, and although it is important that I wish my husband a "hakey birdday" as he said when he was a child, I feel a need to express my thanks to you. For if it weren't for you, Kyle would not be walking this Earth. As your son, you probably see few faults in him, but in my opinion and as his wife, I think I have the authority to say that you raised him extremely well. For starters, my family is in love with him. I think if given the choice they might trade me in for Kyle. He is respectful of all living things. He is attentive to a fault. He is always listening, not just hearing, but really listening. And he is probably the kindest soul I have ever met. For all of these things I thank you because many of these traits I attribute to a good up-bringing. Thank you for having a wonderful son. Thank you for sharing him with me. Today is the celebration of the day he was born. The day he was brought into this Earth. And celebrate I do! Kyle is a wonderful husband and I don't know what my life would be like without him. You have been terrific parents to him and I don't take that for granted. Thank you for giving me my husband.

your daughter-in-law

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Sharing House

"We must record these things that were forced upon us"
Kim Hak Soon Halmoni

8:30 am Saturday morning, I was walking out the door with two other teachers to visit the Sharing House. The Sharing House is a place where the surviving "Comfort Women" from WWII can come together and live together. Prostitution in Japan has a long and complicated history. In 1932 the Japanese military army set up a system of sexual slavery, otherwise known as "comfort women." In theory, they were hiring prostitutes to regulate the spread of STD's, and to prevent the soldiers from raping women in occupied territories and prevent further tensions. On paper, regulating with whom your soldiers consort is a logical idea considering the rampant deaths caused by STD's , especially in wars. However, with the start of the Pacific War, and the expanding need, the Japanese were not able to find enough willing prostitutes to serve the entire military. Because of this increasing demand, they enlisted help by any means necessary including abduction, kidnapping and trickery. Korea at this time was a colony of Japan. They were poor, extremely poor . So when Japanese military came enticing Korean women with factory work, women jumped at the opportunity to make money. But they weren't taken to factories, they were taken to rooms that were more like cubbies and rapped by as many as 30 soldiers in one day, every day seven days a week. Koreans were seen by the Japanese as nothing more than animals, and Korean women were even less respected.

In our tour of the small museum set up by volunteers and charitable organizations, we were shown a map of Asia and of how wide spread these comfort houses were. These houses were situated across all of Asia from China to the Philippines and remained there until the end of the second World War. Conservative estimates of the multitudes of comfort women are as few as 200,000 and as high as 400,000 women, 80% coming from Korea.

We were then shown an example room in which the women were given to live and serve. The room was a basically a hovel with a hard wooden, sometimes concrete bed. The military issued one condom that was to be re-used by all of the men. Doctors came in for health inspections and when STD's were found, the women were given a shot of Mercury basically killing anything in their body.

When the war ended, however instead of the women being able to return home, they were abandoned in foreign countries with no money, no ability to speak the language and no means of returning to their home. Because of this many were displaced permanently, never returning home.

The first woman to come out publicly wasn't until 1991. Kim Hak-Soon's testimony soon led to many more women coming out publicly about the atrocities commited by the Japanese military forty years earlier. Most of the women have died by now, and there are only 234 comfort women who have identified themselves as comfort women to the Korean government since 1992. Of these, many women have since died, and the comfort women who are still alive, including ones that are not included in the government’s statistics, total about 106 as of December, 2007. Seven of the women, who are now referred to as "Halmoni" which means Grandmother in Korean, currently live in the House of Sharing waiting for the day the Japanese government issues a formal apology. (

We were fortunate enough to be able to hear one Halmoni's story, but unfortunately it was her last telling of her tale. She is old and frail, and for her health, it has been decided by she and the house that she should no longer stress her body and mind any more with the re-telling. She began by apologizing to the Korean audience for her strange dialect. After the war, she was stranded in China and only returned to Korea a few years ago to join the sharing house and to become active in spreading the truth. We sat in a circular room on the wooden floor as she sat on the couch next to our translator sipping her tea between breaks in her story. She was a young girl, ( I cannot remember now but between 12-15 years of age) walking home from the store, when two Japanese soldiers grabbed her, bound her and threw her in the back of a truck with 5 other girls. At first the girls were forced to do manual labor clearing an airway lane with little food or drink in an encapture surrounded by an electric fence. After a while, the girls decided to protest because they wanted to go home and were tired of the poor treatment. At first they thought their protest was successful because they were taken away from the camp, however they weren't taken home as they had hoped but rather to a comfort home. They were given clothing and told that they needed to pay back the military for their gifts of food and clothing. Those who refused were beaten to near death or death. She talked of how she ran away one evening but was discovered and was beaten and left for dead. The officers were the cruelest of the customers and she described how one general took his knife stabbed it into her arm and twisted. When the war ended she was left in China and wasn't able to return to Korea, eventually making her home in China in one of the many Korea towns. She was a spunky old lady who chose to leave her home in China to become active in the Sharing House. The purpose of the sharing house is to educate the world and record the truth of the atrocities committed by the Japanese military. They also wish for an official apology and restitution for their horrible acts which have changed these women's lives for ever. However, the Japanese have thus far refused to admit that it was government sanctioned and have offered only a general apology that these women were abused but have taken no responsibility for their actions.

It was hard hearing her story and the story of others like her. Many of the comfort women have not come forward because the women carry much shame. One thing the volunteers said in the beginning was one reason they felt this fight was important because the Japanese were not the first to have sex slaves and they are certainly not the last. This is something that happens all over the world and the sharing house is fighting not only their own fight but for all women around the world who may share tragedies such as theirs.
(Titled: Justice)
(Paintings by the Halmoni's expressing their feelings)
(The top picture represents what happened, guns, knives, and violence while the bottom picture represents what life ideally would have been like, marriage, children, family)
You can click here if you wish to learn more about comfort women and their fight. After hearing stories such as these I sometimes feel guilty for my daily blessings. Blessings that I take for granted. But because of these moments in my life when I am taken out of my bubble and out of my comfort zone to remember those who may not have had my fortune, I am able to gain a greater perspective. There is much sadness in the world and although we can't help everyone, every little thing helps, even if it just giving a small donation or spreading awareness.Protesting outside the Japanese Embassy like they do every Wednesday

The Halmoni who shared her story

Monday, March 23, 2009

I don't know what the subject of this post should be

So the non-productive Vanessa took over my body today and refused to release me from her strong-hold. Good news; I finished my book. Bad news; I think I have melted into my bed and officially become part of it.

I had a great weekend, but as non productive Vanessa is still in control, I will have to wait to tell you all about it in another post. Lots and lots to tell though and oh so many pictures to share. I just wanted to let you know that although I haven't posted in several days, I am still alive.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Productive self vs. non-productive self

Productive self vs. non-productive self

There is a constant battle occurring internally, meaning in my head. It is less of a battle like you might see in a war film, and more like a cat fight in your middle school. And if you have ever seen a girl fight, you know how vicious they can be. Today the fight raged on over "To work out, or not to work out"

Here is how it went:
Productive self (p): Come on, you can do it. Why don't you just do a short work out. It will be good for you!
Non-productive self (np): Stop your squawking. I have better things to do.
P: Like what?
NP: Like lying in bed.
P: You have been lying in bed all day.
NP: We went out and partied last night for Jon and Chrisy's going away bash. We got home late. I am tired. Leave me alone!!
P: You are going to regret this. (muttering under breath) lazy butt pansy, always making excuses!
NP: (flying into a rage!) I AM NOT LAZY! I worked all day yesterday.
P: Making pet rocks with little kids is hard is it?
NP: Listen, I will have you know that little kids, paint, rocks and super glue is a dangerous combination. Plus I have already worked out three times this week already, shouldn't that be enough?
P: Excuses, excuses. (using a taunting voice) You said you were going to work out four times, what happened to that!
NP: I don't want to! I don't want to!(Ready to lunge for P's throat) So what if I do absolutely nothing all day long. I deserve it don't I?
P: Sure you do, but doesn't your body deserve to be healthy as well?
NP: I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! Go away!!!
P: Fine, but I am taking this piece of chocolate with me!
NP: What...chocolate...wait...
P: (with a 'I gotya now' smile NP wants to slap right off) Yeeessss?
NP: ( in a meek voice) I want that chocolate.
P: You gotta work for it. (dangling it in front of NP like waving a juicy steak in front of starved lion)
NP: Ok (mouth drooling)... right after I check this email.
P: You need to check your email for the nth time today when you know that most of your friends and family who send you email are tucked away in their beds at 4 am their time?
NP: Yes, I need to do it right now or else I forget. I am trying not to procrastinate.
P: Really? You are trying not to procrastinate by checking your email which you do a zillion times in a day? There are no new messages, surprise, surprise. So you have checked your email, now let's go!
NP: Wait, wait... I have to... check the weather
P: What does it matter! Get your butt out of bed.
NP: But I have a stomach ache!
P: How many excuses do you have up those sleeves of yours?
NP: They aren't excuses, they are valid concerns.

At this point Productive self gets fed up with Non-productive self and starts to pull her out of bed. NP slaps P, P slaps NP right back. They start screaming like hyenas in heat, the claws come out, hair goes everywhere and they are rolling on floor among the shoes, socks other messes NP has failed to pick up. The outcome is uncertain, either could win, depending on who has the most strength for the day. For the past month, my Productive self has whipped my non-productive self into serious shape, encouraging all sorts of behaviors such as cleaning dishes immediately, writing more often and working out regularly, but it doesn't take long before the non-productive side starts to lash out ending up rolling in a cat fight. Today, the productive side won, but after 8 hours of excuse making and serious claw scratches before finally relenting to work out and most of the time it requires serious bribing.

What do you do to motivate yourself?

Also, watch this hilarious video. I felt that it went nicely with the post as this is sometimes how I feel about working out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Yellow Dust

As I was immersing myself in my yellow comforters, luxuriating in my laziness of my day off, in the back of my mind a little voice has been pestering me to get off my lazy butt and do something productive with myself. First thing I did when I woke up this morning was to put on my work out clothes witch is typically half the battle, however, I remembered that my Ipod was dead, and as I was planning on a rather long run, I decided I should wait until it was charged enough to last. I plugged it in and jumped back in bed into the sea of yellow covers. Yes! ("but eventually you will have to get out of this bed" said the voice in the back of my head) I did get out of bed, but for lunch. As we were coming back from lunch, we noticed several of the kids covering their mouths. "Weird kids!" we said, but it struck us as odd that so many of them were doing it, so we stopped some of the Korean staff to ask them about it. They told us something about 'yellow dust' which I understood to be pollen. "Koreans can be so paranoid" someone said as I nodded my head in agreement. Nestling back into my indented bed, I decided, 3 hours from now, I will do the deed, go for my run. As I was preparing, and procrastinating for the run, I checked my email which alerted me that the yellow dust comes in from China and outdoor activity should be avoided on days when it's count is high. Score! No run- but that doesn't mean I can't do stairs inside does it... man, I can't find a valid excuse.

Yellow dust (More info from good old wiki!)

Asian Dust (also yellow dust, yellow sand, yellow wind, or China dust storms) is a seasonal meteorological phenomenon which affects much of East Asia sporadically during the springtime months. The dust originates in the deserts of Mongolia and northern China and Kazakhstan where high-speed surface winds and intense dust storms kick up dense clouds of fine, dry soil particles. These clouds are then carried eastward by prevailing winds and pass over China, North and South Korea, and Japan, as well as parts of the Russian Far East. Sometimes, the airborne particulates are carried much further, in significant concentrations which affect air quality as far east as the United States.

In the last decade or so, it has become a serious problem due to the increase of industrial pollutants contained in the dust and intensified desertification in China causing longer and more frequent occurrences, as well as in the last few decades when the Aral Sea of Kazakhstan started drying up due to a failed Soviet agricultural scheme.


Sulphur (an acid rain component), soot, ash, carbon monoxide, and other toxic pollutants including heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead, zinc, copper) and other carcinogens, often accompany the dust storms, as well as viruses, bacteria, fungi, pesticides, antibiotics, asbestos, herbicides, plastic ingredients, combustion products as well as hormone mimicking phthalates. Though scientists have known that intercontinental dust plumes can ferry bacteria and viruses, "most people had assumed that the [sun's] ultraviolet light would sterilize these clouds," says microbiologist Dale W. Griffin, also with the USGS in St. Petersburg. "We now find that isn't true." [1]


Areas affected by the dust experience decreased visibility and the dust is known to cause a variety of health problems, not limited to sore throat and asthma in otherwise healthy people. Often, people are advised to avoid or minimize outdoor activities, depending on severity of storms. For those already with asthma or respiratory infections, it can be fatal. The dust has been shown to increase the daily mortality rate in one affected region by 1.7%.

Although sand itself is not necessarily harmful to soil, due to sulphur emissions and the resulting acid rain, the storms also destroy farmland by degrading the soil, and deposits of ash and soot and heavy metals as well as potentially dangerous biomatter blanket the ground with contaminants including croplands, aquifers, etc. The dust storms also affect wildlife particularly hard, destroying crops, habitat, and toxic metals interfering with reproduction. Coral are hit particularly hard. Toxic metals progagate up the food chain, from fish to higher mammals. Air visibility is reduced, including canceled flights, ground travel, outdoor activities, and can be correlated to significant loss of economic activity. Japan has reported washed clothes stained yellow.

Korea Times has reported it costing 3 million won, 6000 gallons of water, and 6 hours to simply clean one jumbo jet.

Friday, March 13, 2009


It rained all evening yesterday. I love the sound of rain. It is so soothing, the soft pitter patter of water tap dancing on the roof, trees and concrete down below. It is almost like a symphony made entirely of water droplets drumming different surfaces of the Earth. Kyle told me it was raining in Texas at the same time it was raining here. Somehow, the fact that it was raining both here and there, we both experiencing the same natural phenomenon, made me feel closer to him. Like I should be able to reach out and touch him. But of course I cannot reach out and touch him as we are on different continents.

This is going to be a short post because I have guest posted on a fellow Texans blog. It might be of some interest to those who were interested in reading further about the sexism issue I wrote about a few posts back.

I hope your week is going well. Happy Friday the 13th!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder or Soceity?

I was chatting with my Korean co-teacher the other day about comments that some of the children had noted about me:

small face "ooh teacher face so small!" is what they actually say.

As I have said in the past, they always like to note the redness of my face. I LOVE that! Who doesn't like to be compared to Rudolf?

And my voice. But it hasn't just been children who have commented on my voice, but taxi drivers and other random adult Koreans.

Grace, my co-teacher, explained that they find my features attractive because that is what they find beautiful. Koreans typically have wider faces, but what they desire are thin faces. And rather than seeing high cheekbones as an attractive trait, when they have plastic surgery, one of the procedures they ask for is a shaving of those cheekbones. So when they see my tiny face, they find it pretty because it is small. They like my voice because it is girly and light. It is important to be feminine, even child-like (hence why they like the sound of my 12 year old like voice)

Korean women put a lot of stalk in beauty. I guess I shouldn't just say just women, Korean society puts a lot of stalk in beauty. So much so that they will wear next to nothing when the temperature outside is so cold it is likely to take off any skin it touches. Beauty is important, and if you don't have it, then you need to get it. One of our co-workers has mentioned that even when she goes to the grocery store, her mother will insist that she put make-up on or else she won't be seen with her.

Me: How many Korean women get plastic surgery do you think?

Grace: Of my friends, at least 50%. Most girls want to get their eyes done. (Koreans want round eyes so the most common plastic surgery is the double eye-lid procedure)

Me: What else do they want? What do they see as beautiful?

Grace: Koreans have flatter faces, they idolize the Western look so they want fuller noses, narrow chins and small faces. Probably nearly 100% of celebrities have plastic surgery.



" The researchers found that eight out of ten Korean women over the age of 18 feel they need cosmetic surgery, and that one out of two has undergone cosmetic surgery at least once. 69.9% of the respondents said that they suffered stress because of their appearance. In addition, 81.5 percent of women between 25 and 29 felt the need for cosmetic surgery and 61.5 percent of that group said they have already had it. Only 20.4% of respondents felt that surgery should be avoided if at all possible. Asked to identify which areas of their appearance they were most dissatisfied with, 17.1 percent said their lower body, followed by the abdomen (14.6 percent), body weight (12.5 percent), height (11.6 percent), skin (11.1 percent), face (9.6 percent), and upper body (9.5 percent). 55 percent of those surveyed agreed that “external factors, rather than internal factors, are more important in defining a person’s beauty.”

"At 18, Saeko Kimura was a shy, sleepy-eyed university student. Until she discovered a secret weapon: if she applied a strip of glue to her eyelids, her eyes became wider, rounder, prettier. "Men noticed me," she says. "I became outgoing. Suddenly, I had a life." Her new looks also landed her part-time work as a hostess in an upmarket bar, where she gets top dollar on a pay scale determined by beauty.

But Kimura lived in fear of discovery, rushing off to the bathroom several times a day to reapply the glue and never daring to visit the beach. And so, at 21, she finds herself in a doctor's office in a Tokyo high-rise, lying on an operating table with her fists nervously clenched. Plastic surgeon Katsuya Takasu breezes in wielding a cartoonishly enormous needle. "This will hurt a little," he says cheerfully. Once the anesthetic is administered, Takasu brandishes another, hooked needle and threads it through Kimura's upper eyelids, creating a permanent crease. He then injects a filler fluid called hyaluronic acid into her nose and chin and pinches them into shape. Takasu inspects his handiwork. "The swelling will go down in a few days," he says. "But even if you went out tonight in Roppongi, you'd be a hit." A nurse hands Kimura a mirror. Though red and puffy, she now has the face she's always dreamed of: big, round eyes, a tall nose, a defined chin. The entire procedure took less than 10 minutes. But Kimura collapses with an ice pack on her face and moans, "Oh, the pain."

What we won't do for beauty. Around Asia, women—and increasingly, men—are nipping and tucking, sucking and suturing, injecting and implanting, all in the quest for better looks. In the past, Asia had lagged behind the West in catching the plastic surgery wave, held back by cultural hang-ups, arrested medical skills and a poorer consumer base. But cosmetic surgery is now booming throughout Asia like never before. In Taiwan, a million procedures were performed last year, double the number from five years ago. In Korea, surgeons estimate that at least one in 10 adults have received some form of surgical upgrade and even tots have their eyelids done. The government of Thailand has taken to hawking plastic surgery tours. In Japan, noninvasive procedures dubbed "petite surgery" have set off such a rage that top clinics are raking in $100 million a year....

The culturally loaded issue today is the number of Asians looking to remake themselves to look more Caucasian. It's a charge many deny, although few would argue that under the relentless bombardment of Hollywood, satellite TV, and Madison Avenue, Asia's aesthetic ideal has changed drastically. "Beauty, after all, is evolutionary," says Harvard psychology professor Nancy Etcoff, who is the author of Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty—not coincidentally a best seller in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and China. Asians are increasingly asking their surgeons for wider eyes, longer noses and fuller breasts—features not typical of the race."- Time Magazine

"South Korea is even more competitive than it is conservative. And with so many young people having themselves remade, parents are afraid their children will fall behind, not just academically but aesthetically. "Parents make their kids get plastic surgery," says Dr. Shim Hyung Bo, a plastic surgeon practicing in Seoul, "just like they make them study. They realize looks are important for success." Which means that in today's Korea, getting your eyes done can be easier than getting the keys to dad's car." (Time Magazine)

One thing I learned in my communication classes is that one thing in common with almost all "beautiful" people is the symmetry of their face is far more accurate than us "common folk." I am not sure if this ideal spilled into other cultures or if it only covered western culture. But regardless it seems that Western influence is continuing to touch all facets of life all over the world. Whether this is a negative or a positive, I do not know. What is your opinion on this matter?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Congrats cuz!!!

We now have a new addition to our extended family. Cody Jonathon Fink was born March 5th to Kyle's cousin Chrissi and her husband Asher. However, HE, the baby, was a bit of a surprise because not only was he early, HE was supposed to be a SHE!! There was evidently some late blooming with little Cody or there was a major miscommunication with the sonogram, either way everyone is delighted that he and the mother, Chrissy, are doing just fine! I am only sad, that I will not be there to meet the little dude. Anyways, Congrats Chrissi and Asher!! I wish I could celebrate this moment with you guys, but that is what happens when you leave for another continent, it is a little difficult to get home :)
No pictures yet to show off the lil fella- maybe laterz! Hope everyone's week is going well!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A letter to my body

Dear body (specifically the digestive system),

Let me first start by saying, I am sorry, and I humbly ask your forgiveness. Forgive me for the amount of junk I have inhaled over the past week. I was wondering, however, since it is partially your fault that I ate the many treats I was tempted with, if you could possibly consider overlooking one or two of the more calorie-ific goodies. It would be great if you could consider just letting them pass through without actually extracting the fats or sugars. You could let the acids in the stomach break them down as usual but secretly inform the stomach that attempts at extracting nutrients would futile, since there probably aren't any, and to let them pass without further inspection.

One of the items you might think about for rejection is the delectable hot cocoa we had while shopping last weekend. You know the hot cocoa we rummaged the town for, drooling over the description that if you let it sit in your cup too long, it will solidify. And since we ate the moist brownie as we sipped the melted chocolate in a cup, while sitting in this shop filled with only women devouring chocolate treat after chocolate treat, you might as well take that off of the list as well. After the hot cocoa, and after dinner, we treated ourselves to that deliciously greasing pancake thingy with a name that sounds kind of like the French pronunciation of "hot dog" with cinnamon filling inside. I am sure the pancake thingy wouldn't really be too hard pretend didn't happen as well.

I only ask this of you because your trickery is what caused these delicious disasters to occur in the first place. My brain and my stomach believe feverently that in order to survive I must have these sweets and without them I would shrivel up in a corner under a light post and die of deprivation. My taste buds scream, "Yes!" as the drippings of cinnamon, chocolate or what other temptation may fall prey to my mouth, hits my lips. The only protesting that occurs from you, Mrs. body, is that of the stomach later, when it takes the fat from the foods that you demand, and distribute it in unflattering ways around my body. What's wrong with pretending I didn't drink that huge pina colada two nights ago or destroying the fat molecules in the doughnuts that were brought into the office Friday morning. Oh the injustice! I couldn't say "No". Who can say "No" to the cinnamon glazed bear asking to be eaten, or the chocolate doughnut with sprinkles when it is place directly in front of my treacherously demanding eyes? No one, I tell you, no one except a person with a heart of salt, a will of hard, cold marble or someone with their teeth wired shut! No one. Therefore, I plead with you, take pity. Take mercy on my poor, soft-hearted soul, which craves nothing but sweets all day. Do not punish my innocent body, for my misjudgement and ill-treatment. I will try harder in the future to resist the temptation of sweets (I say that with no real conviction to keep this promise... shhh don't tell) and I promise to be mindful of my body's needs rather than my taste bud's wants. I will be forever in you debt if you listen and respond as you should to my plea. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

My first taste of sexism

Last night Mr. Lee, our new Korean boss pulled one of the boys into the office and said, "Do the boys like chicken? Tell the boys to come down at 8pm." Mr. Lee has just replaced the old SNET boss and so far, we think he is great. He likes the foreign teachers which is a big step up from the previous man in his position. He is always happy and takes time to smile at us as he passes us in the hallway, another step up from the old boss who refused any interactions with his foreign staff. Mr. Lee is innovative and progressive. He cares about the school and about the teachers' happiness and well being. But like most men in Korea, he is sexist.

I need to back up a bit to help explain this story. Some of the teachers at the school teach Tuesday-Saturday (every other Saturday) while others teach the normal Monday-Friday schedule. Saturday programs are different than the rest of the week because rather than an entire school coming like in the week, students are signed up individually by their parents for a fun English learning day. February is generally a slow month as it is when Korean children are going back to school. And in fact, typically they don't have Saturday programs in February. But SNET decided to try it out this year to see how it went. But, as expected the number of children signed up for the Saturday programs were low, really low. So low, that they only needed half of the scheduled staff for that Saturday. This was a problem because the other half of the teachers would still need to make up the time for not working that Saturday. So Mr. Lee decided that they would hold a football (soccer) match that Saturday and the boys could play in it and that would count as their work day. Sounds fabulous right? Fabulous for the boys who like to play soccer, which is most of them, but what about the girls you may ask. Let the girls work while the boys play soccer and we will call it even. hmmmm.... As you can imagine, this idea did not fly well with everyone in the group. It was entirely unfair and sexist. After a diplomatic email, the soccer match was canceled. I am not sure how the whole thing got sorted out in the end, but they listened to the complaint and responded appropriatly.

However, once again, last night, sexism entered the room. Mr. Lee ordered several boxes of fried chicken, several bags of spicy chicken feet (yuck!), beer, soju (the national liquor) and invited only the boys to partake. After an hour or so, he asked, if they should invite the girls. We felt honored to be a mere after thought, but we consented and decided to partake in the festivities anyway. Despite the fact that we had been invited, the atmosphere was not entirely welcoming. We segregated into a boy section and a girl section. The boys had already been drinking for an hour and were hyped up on soju, yelling, singing and playing rock, paper sissor matches. We sat at our end of the table quietly watching. The feeling was awkward and uncomfortable. It wasn't as if they were rude to us, but I felt little, and unimportant. We weren't unwelcome, because obviously we had been asked to come down, but we didn't feel welcome either. It was one of the first times I have ever really felt discriminated against because of my sex and I didn't like it. It gave me one of those icky feelings that is difficult to brush off, even with much scrubbing.

I don't hold it against Mr. Lee. He is a very kind, and considerate man. I don't think it has ever crossed his mind that his actions of outwardly and obviously favoring and treating the boys over girls is in anyway wrong. Because in Korea, his actions are completely normal. Men are the most important, while woman are an afterthought.

I see it in my classes everyday. The boys and girls separate into gender groups automatically, which is normal at their age. But what is not normal, is that the girls are as silent as church mice. They are meek little creatures attempting to blend into the surroundings so as not to be noticed because that is what they are taught to do. The boys are loud, obnoxious and take over the class. I try extra hard to intentionally give more attention to the girls in the classroom when they speak up or answer a question correctly. At the end of the week, we have an award called "the best effort student" and maybe this is sexist of me, but I generally choose a girl unless there was a boy who really stood out. It is my small attempt to bring attention to their hard work, and make them feel valued by someone, even if it isn't their society.

At least in the US, even before the feminist movement, women were generally treated well. What I mean by that is the gentlemanly behavior has always been valued. Opening the doors for a female or moving a seat for her to sit in at the dinner table were manners that were customary for the male population. Here in Korea, men go first through the door, and if they don't shove you out of they way, they are being gracious. A woman must never raise her voice to a man in anger and if she did hitting her in the face for that behavior would probably be acceptable. My male friend who worked at another school in a rural area before coming to SNET told me that once when he was out with his co-workers, his boss asked him, my friend, if he wanted a drink. He said, "sure" so the Korean teacher called one of the women in the group to come from across the room and poor him a drink even though the pitcher was on the table close to him. But the woman did as she was told, as she had probably done her entire life.

An obvious signal of the unimportance of the female population is to look at the gender ratio here in South Korea. Studies from 2007 have estimated that sex-selective abortions have increased the ratio of males to females from the natural average of 105-106 males per 100 females to 113 males per 100 females in both South Korea and China. And it is estimated that by 2010 that number will be closer to 128 men at peak marriageable age to every 100 women at peak marriageable age. South Korea is facing a shortage of marriageable women and not all men will be able to marry Korean brides. Most Korean families want two children, one of each gender. Two boys are okay, but two girls is less desirable. Sex-selected abortions have supposedly been made illegal but it still happens.

By the end of the evening, I had patchwork of emotions regarding what had happened. On one end, I realize that I am in a different culture, and just because I am from a western society I should not expected to be treated the same as I would in my culture. This isn't my culture, and it isn't my place to try and change it. However at the same time, I am a strong, intelligent, independent woman, who deserves to be valued and respected as a human being. I am not lesser than a man, I do not wish to be treated as such. Woman are wonderful and beautiful humans who not only bring life into this world, literally, but enrich it with their many talents. Women should be cherished, and it is hard for me to sit back and watch the degradation of my gender. But what can I do? It isn't really my battle. Gender equality is being fought for in Korea, and although it is a slow and uphill battle, it is moving in the right direction. But I probably wont be here to see it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Guess what!

There are NO Kids this week at school!! How amazing is that! It will be a whole week of silent halls. No running black haired little brats screaming, "teacher teacher!!!" I do actually enjoy being a teacher, but it certainly is a nice relief to have a break from them. What are we to do for an entire week without kiddos at a school you may ask!? Well, I will tell you: tear down old ratty posters that have absolutely no relevance to the class rooms, brain storm for new,better ideas, design lesson plans, and generally have a ball! Can you tell how excited I am by this??!! So excited. So excited I am doing a happy dance right now while I type. Yep, I really am that talented, I can do the happy dance while typing. I am just that cool :)

Sorry that once again my post is about nothingness but hey... I can't think what I should say here to complete this sentence to make it any better that I am writing about nothing, sorry... I tried to think of something, but I got nothing....

Here are some funny names that kids picked last week for their English names:
English Name- yep, we called him 'English name' as his name. He was a funny kid.
Puppe- it was pronounced "poopeh" She came with that name. It is her name used at her Hagwon (actual English school). I didn't have the heart to tell her that her name sounded like 'poop' except with a funny french sound at the end.
Bill Gates
Batman- there can't be a Joker without Batman
Sponge Bob - we had like three different kids with that name last week.
April, May and June- Three girls who were best friends all choose months as their names. It was really cute when they said their names because they sat in order. One of them would say "April." I would say, "Oh that is a nice name." The next would say, "May" and before I could comment the next would say, "June." I loved it! I loved that they were creative enough to do that! They were such cute girls too!
Pig- this was very strange. This little girl who we all mistook as a boy at first because she had a boy hair cut and was overweight chose the name 'Pig' as her english name. She knew what it meant, I don't know why she chose the name. She was a very smart girl who participated in all of the classes. The kids seemed to like her despite that she looked like a boy. But needless to say, I had a hard time saying, "hey Pig!"

Random question: Are boys born with a gene for making better paper airplanes than girls? Why do all boys know how to make one? When we make paper airplanes for one of the evening events, we make two lines, one boy and one girl. The girls' airplanes go about two feet, sometimes they wont even go that far or if they are really "special" they will fly backwards. But the boy airplanes always fly across the room. One girl out of a hundred made an airplane that actually flew. One girl. And that girl wasn't me, because my airplane didn't fly either. So once again, is paper airplane making only attached to the Y chromosome? Anyone know?