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The view from Kelley's apartment.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand, 
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space...
-Walt Whitman


Yeah, I'm the first person ever to make a pun about Seoul. 

Where to begin? Seoul is like a big amusement park. My friends, Jessica and Winston, live nearby this shopping center/disney land hybrid complete with groceries and an ice skating rink.
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My friend, Kelley, lives right down the street from this:
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In fact, most streets seem to look like that. In a huge city dotted like the pox with metro stops, it seems any one you get off at will hold some incredible slice of city. I spent the last five days stumbling around and ooohing at all the pretty lights.

Seoul is a futuristic city of heated floors and restaurants in any theme imaginable. In this one city I was able to eat traditional Korean food (kimchi!!!!) for lunch, and have my choice of Mediterranean, Indian, or Mexican for dinner. This was a dream come true to my palate, which has experienced a steady stream of Chinese food for 5 months.  I became quite the fan of the traditional Korean alcohol, mackeoili, imbibing almost daily. My swell hosts even found and took me to a mackeoili themed restaurant where you can get a sampler of different kinds for something insane like 2 american dollars.
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Photo by Jessica
Seoul life seems to me to have a lot of personality. Aesthetics and the details are considered in a way I haven't seen in China. The way the dishes in the mackeoli restaurant are served on rustic wooden boards and in woman-shaped decanters. Seoul also has that seemingly contradictory balance of ancient and new that I've grown fond of in China. You can sit quietly in a temple and overlook the skyline, then walk across the street into the biggest mall I've ever seen. 
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My friends were incredible hosts, opening up their one room apartments to me and my oversized luggage, and entertaining me even when they had to go to work the next day. 

We socialized.
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I think Winston always carries that pillow around? Photo by Jessica.
We shopped (Dongdaemoon!!!!).
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My first and only korean phrase: Kaka juseyo-- Give me a discount!
We ate (falafel!!!!!).
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Photo by Jessica.
We publicly bathed (Dragon Hill Spa!!!).
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And it snowed.
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It was a tantalizing little sample of Seoul, of which I am determined to taste more of some day. Hopefully when that happens, it will be in just as good of company as the lovely folks I just left!
 

snow days

01/19/2011

1 Comment

 
It makes me kind of nervous because I'm planning on a big trip starting tomorrow. But gosh it sure is purdy. Sometimes I say I hate snow and I even convince myself.... But then when it gets here, I can't resist it; looking back at my footprints,  touching it with my bare hands to see what it feels like, and even having a taste of a nice clean looking pile. I think I actually giggled out loud when I opened my curtains and beheld a world whitewashed overnight, soft and sparkly. Crunch crunch crunch...
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Conflictingly, I feel both estranged from my homeland and more poignantly aware of my "Americanness" than ever in the wake of tragedy at home. Hearing about the events in Arizona brought about a kind of lonesomeness for my countrymen that I haven't even come close to feeling since my life abroad began. I feel removed from my country, finding out about the weekend's events as one in another room overhears news of a catastrophe via muffled voices through a wall. I imagine back home, awareness of this tragedy would be unavoidable, that people are awash in it in dinner conversations and media over-coverage, sharing in the rage and the finger pointing and just plain frustration. Yeah it may seem like people are dividing over it and taking sides, but from my perspective looking in, I see that it is still "our" thing to feel so emotionally charged over... like I'm looking into a fishbowl where the fish are fighting but I can see they are still in the same bowl....if that makes sense. Here in China, it seems most Chinese people haven't even heard about what happened in Arizona or if they have, don't have much to say. My fellow foreign teachers here know about it, but not much more than a scanning of a Yahoo news page. I have nowhere to channel this need to talk about it, to hear more about it, to share in some mutual sense of horror that can also somehow bring people together. It's not that I blame my fellow foreign teachers for lack of curiosity; it's not like I've taken any interest in Ireland's financial crisis or that I could even tell you one thing about Sweden's current events. But it does make me feel for the first time and with a pang, the existence of my national identity.  

I'm not sure why, maybe for some kind of comfort, I had to download the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I lay in my bed and watched it this afternoon. His speech about the massacre, much to my own surprise, made me cry a little bit, I feel like a cheese ball for admitting it. What he said... it's just so exactly how I feel. I suppose I downloaded the Daily Show because when things are crazy and mixed up, I need help processing it, to make sense of it as Jon Stewart said. I'm a part of a community when I watch his show, a community of Americans who feel comforted in hearing one of our own put our crazy country into perspective, help us deal with that vague sense of what it "is" to be an American because it is something. It's so hard to put my finger on it, but I think Jon Stewart captures that sense for me, that feeling of being on the brink of either crying or laughing at the absurdity of us, us Americans or us humans or whatever it is. 

A Chinese friend once asked me if I felt proud to be an American. I didn't have to think about it much before I answered in the affirmative, but then he asked "Why?". That one was tougher to articulate. I don't know exactly why per se. It's not that I'm proud of everything we've done or are doing, or that I think we have all the answers, or that our political system is necessarily the best one. Where does the sense of pride come from? Maybe it's life-long social programming, a childhood's worth of pledging to a flag. Maybe nationalism is human nature. But I still think it's more than that. I dunno. Forgive me if I'm about to sound conceited but... The rest of the world really looks to us. Often in the capacity of a train wreck, or a crazy drunk aunt at a wedding party (oh my god what is she going to say or do next?), but they're still looking. We have their attention. One thing I've noticed in my experience abroad through multiple countries is that there's something undeniably "cool" about America. The rest of the world devours this covetable coolness which comes in the form of our movies, music, and clothes. We're like the cool kids in school in a lot of ways. The other kids want our cool stuff, sometimes resent us for being conceited and thinking the rest of the world revolves around us... sometimes we're bullies... But the really cool kids are always the ones who stick up for people and do the right thing and constantly try to improve themselves, and I think we have that aspect to our country too. I guess part of my sense of being American is that we give ourselves permission to change, and that we really believe we can fix our flaws and be better than we are. It's why Obama's message spoke so strongly to so many Americans, including me. It's that American ideal.. which by definition is unobtainable since it's, well, idealized. But that has never stopped us for reaching for it anyway. Falling flat on our faces in the reach, but damnit if we don't jump up and keep reaching some more.  I guess that unreachableness is why it's also known as the Dream (you know the one). But to our credit, I gotta say that nobody dreams bigger and better than us! 

Anyway, I feel a little better after writing this. Forgive the unfocused prose and the lack of pretty pictures, I just needed to open my mouth and spew nonsense about stuff that I really know nothing about and don't understand... in that particular way I suspect only an American can. 
 
 
Not that I'm ready to publish any scholarly material on the matter, but I do think some of my ideas in the classroom have led to successful weeks. It really gives me this incredibly cheesy warm feeling to hear my kids singing the songs I make up for them or playing the games I teach them after class is over. Last week I focused on winter clothes, like "scarf" and "hat," and for any other teachers of young children out there, you can try this too.
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My kids already knew the word "snowman" because I taught it with my Christmas unit the week before. I cut out five snowman shapes, then paper-doll style, traced scarves and hats for each one to wear. (For added longevity, I "laminate" them with packaging tape).  I stick the hats and scarves on with wall-putty, the kind you used to hang up super cool posters of The Breakfast Club in your dorm room. 

Then I stick them onto the board, invite the kids to comment on what colors the snowmen are wearing, etc, and I teach them this chant/song with the visual of the snowmen and some accompanying dramatic actions:

Five little snowmen went out one day (march in place)
wearing a scarf and a hat. (grab neck for scarf, pull on a hat for hat)
Out came the sun (fan yourself like it's hot... stick the Sun sticker above one snowman)

and melted one! (hold up one finger)
Blublublublublublu (that's the sound of melting, sway like you're melting of course)
And he was only a scarf and a hat. (remove the snowman, leave the scarf and hat. Look sad).


Four little snowmen......... etc

Once they know it, I let them have a chance to be the snowmen with scarves and hats I bring from home. I just do Two Little Snowmen, and hold my sun cutout over one of their head. They have fun melting and being silly.
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I also show them a card. My kids really like these kinds of cards I make, kind of like a flip book, with something on the front that is changed when you open it up. 
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Then I prepare photocopies for them to color their own. Then they can feel the pride of saying the rhyme themselves and opening up the card to show the surprise of the melted snowman. These are easy to make. I just fold up a piece of paper and draw what needs to be drawn on the front and inside, then unfold it again to make the copies. 
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That's it! Pretty simple and it works. If you're in need of a teaching idea for your young'uns, feel free to steal this one. I'm just sorry if you can't draw because most of my stuff revolves around having a teeny bit of cartooning skills. But it shouldn't be too hard to find the images online!