Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Until next time...

On Friday, we shipped home two boxes (which we'll see again sometime at the end of April), and went to the tax office to apply for our refunds. Yesterday, we cleaned out all our kitchen cupboards and our fridge. Tonight, we have filled two suitcases with clothes and miscellaneous items. Tomorrow our Internet will be disconnected, and more will be packed. We are in the throes of dismantling.

All that we do, all that has become so much a part of our daily routine over the past year, we are now acutely aware of, noticing tiny details and realizing that it may be for the last time. Last night, we ate spicy tofu for what was the final time (I'm sure our stomach linings, if they could talk, would sincerely express their gratitude).

There are so many experiences we've had, so many things we've seen and all we've learned about our surroundings and about ourselves. We will be sad to go. We want to come back. We miss it already.

The following, a brief list of all different memories, good and bad, that we'll carry with us, each of which we could easily write a blog entry about....the people, so contradictory in their combination of warmth and aggressiveness, subtlety and painful bluntness, their love of children, the tendency of middle-aged men to dress in expensive hiking gear for a 15-minute climb, just as an excuse to knock back some whiskey (hiking-brand) with their friends...crazy taxis (some with TVs installed in the dashboards so the drivers can "watch their stories" at red lights, or green lights, or while driving madly down an 18-lane freeway) that you exit with a sigh of relief and a greater appreciation for life.....Having had a chance to be in Korea during the World Cup last June, finding ourselves swept up in the unbridled enthusiasm of 48 million people, watching the Red Devils play Togo on a giant outdoor TV, sandwiched between the road and Lotte Mart, (ah, Lotte Mart, how we'll miss your free samples, your raucous Sunday-evening atmosphere, the employees all hawking their wares, giving you little discouts here and there if you bargain for it, or if you have a cute white baby, all summed up so well by Mom when she visited for the first time: "Why is everybody shouting at each other?!")...but we digress.... back to World Cup soccer.... waking up at 6 am from the cheers of your entire apartment block, from the entire neighborhood, many people congregated outside watching the aforementioned outdoor TV all watching the game against France that started at 4 am local time......what else.... did we mention spicy tofu? How about bulgogi (literally means "fire meat", though it's not at all spicy), kimpap from the 24-hour diner down the street, Kimpap Changuk, made by our favorite lady who always knows to make our chamchi (tuna) kimpap with "hame bbego" (no spam), while she throws in some extra egg strips, stuffing the delicious rolls so full of rice and veggies that sometimes they split open. (Dear lord, there's a lot to remember, and it's already 1:30 am). Our jobs teaching "Eengrishee" to children, seeing them over the past year grow taller as they learned to speak better English, introducing them to Mr. Bean and loving their laughter and joy that resulted, hearing them awkwardly stumble through their oral presentations and remembering my own in French class and the misery it caused, the "snack parties" we'd have at the end of terms, and how they'd so willingly share their snacks with the teacher and with other unfortunate kids who forgot to bring anything for themselves, the discussions that sometimes happened spontaneously, allowing me to throw my lesson plan for the class out the window and talk instead about ghosts or Morocco or their personal favorite, how they have injured themselves... and the bad students, the ones who have no fear of authority or are completely unresponsive to discipline, constantly disruptive in class, swearing in Korean and not thinking we understand, etc... Certain students, bith good and bad, come to mind... Geun Woo the 12 year old autistic kid (the one the school forgot to tell me was autistic), brilliant in math but falling to the floor in a screaming/kicking/crying fit whenever someone touched his notebook cover, Hye Su and her ability to be completely distracted by anything, only wanting to sit and draw dragons, Sang Jun, the devil incarnate, another sweet girl (I don't know her real name), who was first Rudy, then Neutron and now Ham, who ate Bugles off her fingertips during our snack party yesterday, the manager's son, Tae Young who "hates Buddha because he's the enemy of Jesus", Mickey, with her fuzzy hair, who makes me origami boxes, Su Hwan, who threatened to disembowel Matt after he threw out the kid's stupid sausage snacks, Teft with his constantly too-small pants, always in a world of his own but one of the funniest kids I've met, and his little brother Spiderman, whose eyes are always shining with mischevious thoughts, the M6 202 class, who has dubbed Matt "SuperTeacher"... etc.... our co-worker and friend Lorena from San Francisco, whom Joe adores and whom we always manage to chase out of our house showering her with desserts she doesn't want (you shoulda taken that Krispy Kreme when you had the chance, "Alena"!!)...there's so much...the thoughts and the memories don't stop...I'm just going to continue in streamofconsciousness-style... riding the subway, standing up, falling asleep, falling asleep standing up on the subway (nothing could be more Korean), Itaewon, el Masry's Egyptian restaurant, bartering with shopkeepers for discounts, the 9502 bus, the constant spitting and horking on the street that I am so accustomed to I don't even hear anymore, the pollution, the Yellow Dust that chokes you and makes your eyes sting and your lungs ache, the constant unceasing buzz of chatter that I simply love not being able to understand, that now when I randomly happen to hear a conversation in English between strangers, I can't help but listen (it's very distracting), the gum-popping ajummas that drive me up the wall, the spicy instant noodles with a slice of processed cheese, spending half our paycheck at Starbucks (damn them and their good coffee!!!), Joe's playrooms at Lotte Mart, Emart, and New Core...how people walk, meandering this way and that, and so easily distracted ("Look!! That dog has a puffy tail! Come here, Puff!!"), following whatever fancy catches their attention (the other day, we saw a pedestrian on a cellphone walk backwards into the path of an oncoming bus - he was OK), the incredible warmth and passion that people are not generally afraid to express, their incredible depth and sincerity, how much they love Joe (all children in general, actually)...Emo and her family, Noona, Hyung-ah, and Ajeoshi, how lucky we have been to find her, this past year she has cared so well for Joe while we are at work, and even though we can't speak the same language, we can communicate remarkably well, learning how to make kimchi and mandu from her, eating dinner with her and her family, making spaghetti sauce for them... from her Joe has learned to speak a second language, and has also become a part of her family, as photos of him adorn their walls and the older brother has been allowed to miss his evening academy classes this week in order to spend more time with Joe....

Korea's great.

There's far too much to write about in a single blog entry. It could easily become a book. I guess the important thing to say is how much we've loved our experience living in Korea, and how much we're already looking forward to returning here in the fall. That said, we're also very excited to be coming home to Saskatoon, to see our family and friends, (but mainly Ida, the most delightful dog ever).

We'll see you all very soon.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Countdown to Canada

It has begun... the final countdown. As of today, Friday February 9th, we have precisely three weeks left in Korea (we get home on March 3), divided into the following: two and a half weeks of procrastination, followed by a frantic three days of packing, cleaning, and madly trying to fit 15 months of accumulated junk into Air Canada's baggage allowance. (I feel sufficiently more Korean in that I'm seriously preparing to bribe the employees at the check-in counter to bump us up to first class - though it's certainly not considered a bribe here, but simply a "gift" of Korean goodwill).

Ahh, sweet, sweet procrastination... "I'm sorry, Nathan/Dad/Mom/insert name here. We had the perfect idea for your gift, but you know how fast a year and a half passes... We hope you really enjoy these "Welcome to Calgary" postcards and novelty rodeo fridge magnets."

With three weeks left, we have started to reflect on all the things we have done and have yet to do. Joe's Emo and I have started to get along quite well, and have reached some sort of base level of communication centred in her kitchen, where she shows me the intricacies of kimchi, kimchi mandu (Korean dumplings), and Joe's new favorite snack (I don't know the name, but all you need are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic, roasting innocently in a pan until the unexpected addition of the main ingredient, a large fistful of tiny dried fish, bones and eyes and all). In return, I unveil to her the mysteries of spaghetti and tomato sauce. If only it had been the women of Babel working together in a kitchen instead of the men working on some tower, the world would be a far more understanding and delicious place to be. How does one express the wonderment on her and her childrens faces as I unlocked the magic of garlic cheese bread, or the hidden depths of basil and thyme? (Though I think these will remain two strange spices that exist in her cupboard, much like the strangely untouched jar of curry powder your hippie parents bought to make that one special dish for some vegan potluck back in '73).

So we're packing up, finishing the few final things left to see and do here, and then it'll be home for a week before Matt and I leap across the Atlantic for two weeks to see a bit of Poland and Italy. (Matt is in it for the art, and I'm all about the food and drink, unabashedly in love with any country that will serve you up an espresso if you order a "regular coffee"!)

See you soon!!