Thursday, August 31, 2006

processing: summer

Before my trip, the frustration of my expat existence had built up to a point where everything felt unbearable. More and more things became "impossible." For example: Hot tea, possible. Iced tea, possible. Coffee, possible. Iced coffee, possible. Chai tea latte, possible. Iced chai tea latte (what I want), impossible. A cup of ice and a cup of chai tea latte, possible after a ridiculous amount of coaxing. Good thing I didn't bother asking for soy milk. Meanwhile I started to find more and more illogical things that are "possible" in the collective Korean psyche, like year long pregnancies or fan death.

There were words I didn't want to let myself write, things I didn't want to let myself think, and emotions I wanted to deny, so I buried myself in the work, erected a force field around myself, and hid inside playing with fantasies between my headphones. Harsh beats, like the good hurt, throb through and rush from one to the other. I throw the flow round my dome. The music helps to drown out the nonsense and numb my consciousness. Yet, still... cursing at people under my breath, agonizing over simple things like riding the subway, and holding grudges against an entire culture; these things are not me. I don't know this person.
------
I had this dream.
I'm at a place where two tall buildings are close together, very close together. I have to go down this long and extremely narrow passageway, otherwise I'll get caught. Someone is coming. I can only go through if I turn sideways completely. I feel claustrophobic and afraid. The thoughts quickly churn through my mind. If I go now I can get away, but they might be able to shoot me anyway, but this is my only chance. I go. Focusing on the sky directly above beyond the buildings is the only thing that slightly calms me. I have to face my fear of this claustrophobic space in order to survive.
-------
Please don't do that.
That thing you do when you get irritated and don't acknowledge the things I feel. They, my feelings, are valid--just as my positive, joyful, fantastic ones are. While they aren't all logical, to you, please allow me to express them.

Now, suddenly, there are somethings I cannot say, things I cannot express.
Not a good sign.
Please don't do that.
------
compunction (n.)
1. anxiety or deep unease proceeding from a sense of guilt or consciousness of causing pain
2. a sting of conscious or a tinge of uneasiness; a qualm; a scruple.
----
And that was it. It had built up too much. I could tolerate no more. NEED SPACE, QUIET, AIR.

Deeply, I found myself wanting to love this place, these people, this language, where I am, what I eat, what I do, how I exist here... like I did when I first came.
I wanted that fresh new feeling again.
Going away for a while was the perfect remedy.

I never thought I'd be so relieved, so pleased, so thrilled to return to Seoul. It is still "a foreign country," but it's the one I know. I still can't do everything, or understand everything, but I can do so much more than I have given myself credit for. Simple things: being able to read, giving directions to a cab driver, being able to figure out if a place is a store or what(?), knowing where I will rest myself, when I will be able to take my next shower, how I will get to the next place I need to go, or how much something actually costs.

Good to be home.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Back in the ROK

I've returned.

I never thought I'd be so happy to be back in Korea! I've been sleeping for the past couple of days. It's going to take a while for me to get back into my routine. As for the trip, I have lots to tell. In time the stories will be told, I'm just still processing what just happened.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Still on vacay

I'm in Moscow till tomorrow. Then off to St. Petersburg for the weekend. I just spent three days on a train. 77 hours. By hour 76, I was ready to get off.

updates will have to happen after I return.

too much and too little time.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Siberia


I'm in Siberia. About to go fishing on Lake Baikal. The internet is slower than slow.

Monday, August 14, 2006

endless sky


sky
Originally uploaded by misskoco.
From the window of the train all I could see was just sky and earth. And then the next day I was out there, in Mongolia. It is truly difficult to find the right words to express the impressions of and experiences in Mongolia. It is a place so unlike anywhere I've ever heard of or seen with my own eyes. A place that made the cliches of travel just feel real.

The quiet I've desired for some time was there. All around me. I felt that time was thick and my hours, the far too few hours spent there, stretched beyond and over the landscapes. My fear was quiet. Discomfort, that I've become accustomed to and learned to compensate for, had disappeared, simply disintegrated into moments, a collection of clear moments without any thoughts. Clear. Content. Just there.

The landscape, the environment, the people, the air... put me in the right place--just where I am. My thoughts slowed enough for my body to catch up and find a relaxed space in my body.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

earth, sky... nothing

There wasn't much to do on the train. Chat, maybe play a game, read, write, look out the window, take pictures, drink, have a snack, sleep. Repeat. I spent most of my time horizontal, which I enjoyed. It was somewhat like a beach vacation without the water. As we continued north, the landscape got more and more interesting. At first it was just farms, farmers, horses, corn, sunflowers, broken down buildings, towns filled with buildings that all looked the same. AND THEN... there were landscapes. Amazing sunsets, and sunrises. I couldn't stop taking photos. The colors, all that space, and just all the nothing out there, blew me away. I hadn't seen anything like it... the only thing I could even remotely link this to was the cross-country drive I took in college and the images left in my mind of the Southwest, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Day one on the Trans-Mongolian

Once on the train, the funny tummy feeling subsided. In our four person "hard-sleeper" berth we met two equally sweaty and adventurous Welsh men--Barry and Ian. Ian had spent the past three years teaching English in Japan and met his father in Beijing to take the Trans-Mongolian/Trans-Siberian Railway the long way home. They were lovely roomies. Barry was well equipped for the trip with the best, most up-to-date guidebooks, several board games (including travel scrabble), a positive outlook on traveling, and little treats from back home for the ride.

Before the train got going, we sat their in our sauna of a train car fanning ourselves and discussed our disappointment and thrilling takes on Beijing. Barry mentioned that he was "a bit of a dirty boy" due to some "bad dried prawns." At the time I wasn't quite catching what he meant, but soon found out--that he had a terrible case of deadly flatulence. Every once in a while, on our 36 hour train to Ulaan Bator, we would suddenly be overtaken by an unbelievable stench. If this were depicted in an animated series, you'd see me laying there, content as could be, and then a huge green smoky fist would have worked its way through the air before finally coming and decking me in the face. I felt quite bad for the kind Welshman. He was so proper, it must have been torture for him, and I'm sure his funny tummy feeling was far worse than mine that morning.

And then the train started. They pumped cheesy music and ridiculous announcements through the overhead speakers--The Rights of the Train Master, warnings against touching the "stop cock," random facts about AIDS, old age, and obesity. I played with all the buttons and switches in the cabin and discovered: the knob above the window turns down the music, the two switches next to the door have some correlation to the lights(sometimes they turn them on or off), and there is a funny little ladder that can extend to help you climb up on the top bunk. I also discovered that there isn't much information about when we will be arriving at a train station, for how long the train will stop there, and more importantly, when it will leave.

08.12.06

Saturday, August 12, 2006

dining on the Trans-Mongolian


Matt and I continued our exploration of the culinary delights of Asia in the dining car. By far this turned out to be the worst meal on our trip. The waitress was pushy, and made us order Budweisers to enhance our dinner of rice and chicken with green peppers and onions. The food was awful, the beer didn't exactly make it better. It was all greasy, fatty, just pure nasty. I would have preferred a questionable something on a stick over this. And it wasn't just the food, but also the service. The waitress quickly ushered us from our seats, barely leaving us a moment to finish our last sip or finish chewing. It was a crappy hurried meal, but an experience to say the least.

The best advice, just stock up on food BEFORE you get on the train.

funny tummy feeling

8.12.06 Last morning in Beijing.

What do you want to do today?
I don't know... let's go to Mongolia.

trainWe woke up bright and early--actually Matt hadn't gone to sleep yet--to really begin the Big Train Ride. I had my first real case of a "funny tummy." Like laying with a new lover, it's that feeling I get before leaving for a destination that is far, unknown, and a bit scary. This discomfort spread throughout my body, and the pain in my hip, knee, and ankle were all too familiar. Every ache told me that something important in my back (or my soul) was out of place and that I should stay right where I was, or just go right back to Seoul. My fear told me that I had enough vacation, that I didn't really need to go on this trip... Alas, the adventurer in me won over the neurotic, so I strapped on my massive bag and hobbled along after Matt as if I was his elderly grandmother.

Despite the early hour, the heat and unmerciful humidity of the city clung to us, and continued to make me feel like I shouldn't move. We climbed into a taxi that three European travelers were just getting out of, and Matt sold his China guidebook to one of the women for ten bucks US. Strangely, this short encounter was just the thing I needed. She relayed that Mongolia is great, because there's, "Nothing, just nothing" there. She had survived and even enjoyed my next destination. This calmed me.

Friday, August 11, 2006

probable hiatus

I have no idea what the internet situation in Mongolia and Siberia is going to be like. I leave tomorrow for Ulaan Bator.

And the itinerary (most likely boring to you, more like me typing out loud) goes like this: I arrive in Mongolia's capital Sunday, depart for Irkutsk on Tuesday. I arrive there on Wed. go to Lake Baikal and then I'm off to Vladimir on Friday in the afternoon. Three days on the train. Suzdal, Moscow, then St. Petersburg hopefully by the 24th at the latest.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

bad English


Beijing bad English
Originally uploaded by misskoco.
...it's everywhere.

the duck


duck
Originally uploaded by misskoco.
Sweet, crispy, fresh... totally worth all the hype.

When in Beijing, you gotta do the duck.



Matt overfills his pancake... watch how long he has to chew.

crazy shit on a stick lane



Walking through the market in the Wangfujing area, I took a turn onto some street filled with vendors selling things on a stick--things I never thought people ate. I mean, yeah the Koreans do eat dog, and silk worm larvae, but here they had two different kinds of huge bugs or larvae, scorpions, sea horses, starfish, and lizards(?)... I'm all for street food, and I was tempted to try something like the lizardy thing, but then Locks&Bagels asked the question that settled it all, "But does it smell good?" NO. It didn't smell good, at all.

Acrobats



Locks&Bagels and I wanted to see some acrobats. This was really entertaining. They had a chic so flexible she could flip her legs over her head and sit her ass on her forehead. There was a tight-rope walker who did a bunch of crazy stuff with a bike and flipped and bounced between two ropes. There was a troupe of guys who flipped all over the place and a whole bunch of ladies on tall unicycles flipping metal bowls onto their heads. I left giddy and giggly like a little kid who had just gone to the circus.


my first youtube upload! WOO-HOO! (no editing)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

perfect start


sandwiches
Originally uploaded by misskoco.
It's been a long time since Matt or I had a really good sandwich(sandwich-y if you're Korean). When we found Epicerie--a cute cafe/bakery with gelato, outdoor seating, a talking bird, stunning looking desserts, and sandwiches--it was a beautiful moment in SanLiTun. And then we proceeded to over do it, AGAIN.

Korea has altered our image of the size and quality of a good sandwich. They were under three bucks a piece, so we guessed they were small, so we ordered three--grilled chicken, smoked salmon, and tuna--but they were huge. Matt got his coffee, I got a fantastic iced lemon tea. We followed the meal with two scoops of gelato, raspberry and tiramisu. All of which came to a grand total of 101 Yeun, or 6 bucks a piece.

It was just what we hoped for. Okay, I'm a bit of a pig on vacay. I can't stop eating. Come to think of it, I'm hungry again.

Till the next meal...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The people you meet, the food you eat

On Sunday I met Matt and we went out for some food in Dongcheng with a guy he met at the airport. Dinner was lackluster. Nothing really had taste, but it did the trick because I was starving. Matt's new friend, who I soon named Super-negative Lars, wouldn't stop complaining. All he could talk about is how he hated everything, all the women he hoped to sleep with, and the ones he had successfully "made out with" on his Asian sex tour. Between the part where he was describing why he didn't like Tokyo, because there are just too many prostitutes, and the part where he was saying that he doesn't like his women "too oily," I heard a cheesy little narration in my head...


Super-negative Lars with garlic.


Lesson 1
When traveling you may meet people who are different from you. People with different interests, different goals, and aspirations. This is the beauty of life and the great thing about people--we're all different and have much to share and teach each other if we just open our minds and our hearts.

At first, it took everything in me to suppress the feminist bitch rant that was building in my chest. I had to swallow back the fury I wanted to spit on him. And then... it was just like not worth it. I'm on vacation. I let him cat call at the women, and went home laughing at the situation, and him.

A much better dining experience was lunch yesterday. OH MY GOD! We checked out the Lonely Planet and set off to Xiae Wang's Home Restaurant in the Sanlitun area. We ordered WAY TOO MUCH FOOD. We stuffed ourselves and rolled ourselves into a taxi to go take a nap. Highlights from lunch included:


A tofu dish fit for Miss Koco.


This was my favorite dish.
1. I love tofu
2. The sauce wasn't as sweet or as spicy as I expected
3. It was perfectly crispy with a nice soft texture on the inside.


The Dragon Fish



Cashews with a nice coating.


We survived the food coma incident and went off to have dinner with Matt's friend Dave--his old roommate from Ulsan. He picked us up in his somewhat scary jeep and we went off to eat with his Chinese friends, Sebastian and Mica. Mica was quiet, and spent half of dinner texting friends. Sebastian was outgoing, really gentlemanly, and, well, cute. Dinner was yummy too.


Sebastian. So adorable.




Peppers and Beef!




Matt, Dave, FOOD

the internet is SO slow

I've been spoiled. Korea's internet is like lightning, lightning on fire. In Beijing, I feel like there is a little hamster that runs the internet, and you have to coax him into turning his little wheel at a constant speed so that you can check your email... but the little hamster only speaks Chinese, and is in a bad mood because it's hot, humid, and he has a less than shitty job.

So I'm not able to post little quickies here and there as much as I thought I would, but I have to take the photos off my camera, so I'm updating my Flickr page regularly.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

steve&koco


steve&koco
Originally uploaded by misskoco.

GO!

I arrived at Lotte Hotel early in the AM to get the KAL limousine to Incheon. I've become familiar with this routine. I took a moment to rearrange the items in my new misskoco-sized backpack (literally), and out floated a little piece of paper... a note my mother had tucked into the envelope with my tickets.


notice that this is OUTSIDE


"Love you! Have great time on this trip. Cost of FEDEX $44.00 Mom."

Short, sweet, loving, supportive, and informative. So there I was smiling, and tearing up, in public, at 6:45AM, as memories of the letters she would put into my lunch box come rushing back to me. AND I felt so loved. I've never missed them so much, ever.

That's why it was SO AMAZING that I got to meet up with my Uncle Steve IN BEIJING. He happened to be around on business. Yeah. I would have never have imagined any of this happening, but it was wonderful. I show up at the airport and he's arranged for a car to take us to the Great Wall.


First thing I noticed about Beijing was that there seemed to be something wrong with the air. There's like no visibility. At first I thought it was like pollution around the airport, but it turns out that it's DUST. Great. I waited in Korea in anticipation of this trip through the dirt-from-China season, the rainy season, all the way into the I-didn't-even-know-I-could-sweat-from-that-part-of-my-body season, ONLY TO TAKE A VACATION and return to the Chinese dirt season, but now from its source!


I digress. So, Steve and I were off to climb the Great Wall at Badaling. Now, when I say climb, I mean it. This is a serious hike. We took the cable car up, and only wandered around a small portion, and I still looked like hell hit me with a shovel and sucked most of soul out. I couldn't imagine walking the entire way up. It's SO congested. There are so many people, and it was hot, and the were areas that people just decided to turn into bathrooms. OH THE SMELL! And, I might add, I wasn't surprised to see women in heels having a bit of trouble (which I found quite inspirational). Despite all that, it was very cool, and it was that much cooler that I got to go with Steve.

Seeing Stevie Unc, even just for that brief amount of time, was just the right thing to get me started on my adventure--just a little confidence booster, extra security, a brief introduction filled with good China survial tips, a smooth ride to where I needed to go, and some extra birthday/travel funding (Thanks, Uncle Steve!).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Beijing-DAY 1

My first few nights were spent at StayinBeijing Studio Serviced Apartments. Cheap, located in a good area with lots of shopping (New World Shopping Center and the SoShow), super silly cheesy decor, and though it was not as clean as I would hoped it would be, it was good enough. I ventured out on the first evening while it was still light out to grab some food, check out the area, and see if I could buy train tickets to Mongolia.

The first 3 things I noticed about Beijing:
Bellies. Men show their bellies, all kinds of bellies from thin and wrinkly ones to big beachball-eque ones that resemble a fat happy Buddha sculpture. No shirts, or baggy undershirts rolled up to your nipples, are in this season!

Spitting. My Lonely Planet said, "Spitting in China is only slightly less popular than badmiton," and it's true. Furthermore, people spit like they grabbed that loogie from the depths of their being and dragged it through swaps and miles of rough mountainous terrain before placing it in your path. Spitting in China is quite performative. It has a song and a dance completely unlike the spitting I've seen anywhere else. Phlegm is flung onto the pavement like it was always meant to be there; that's its home... and the same seems to go for the trash. A Chinese trash can has an uncanny resemblance to the street, and there is no shame in doing these things.


Good Street Food. I purchased a huge slice of some kind of melon for 1Yeun, or "quai" as they would say. I love fruit on a stick!

I successfully found the train station, but was a complete failure when it came to buying tickets. First of all, nothing--ABSOLUTELY NOTHING--is in English. All the ticket booths are outside along a huge square filled with people who just plopped themselves down, on a piece of newspaper or whatever, and had made themselves at home while waiting for their train. There I was wandering around for about an hour looking for the International Booking Office that doesn't exist. I finally found one window with a little piece of paper in the corner that said something in English, "For international train tickets please visit the CITS at the Beijing Tourism Building @ No. 28 Jian guo men wai st. near Gloria Plaza Hotel. 6515-8010 or 8516-2288 ext. 2110." Of course, by that time they were closed, so I wandered back to where I would rest my head. However, I couldn't resist going to a couple grocery stores before calling it a day. I found so much good stuff!

At the grocery store I bought:



a tube of colgate
travel wet towel thingies
a funny little drink
tide (in bar form?)
Ramen (just in case I encounter culture shock and need to be reminded of Korea)
a yogurt drink with acidophilus (good for your tummy)
chocolate ice cream bar
bar of oil of olay soap
Bottle of Tsingtao

= 28 CYN or about $3.50

I went to sleep pleased. No tickets for Mongolia yet, but all in all a fantastic first day in China!

08.05.06

the plan...

Seoul to Beijing by air, Bejing to St. Petersburg by land, and then a flight back to Seoul, 7 time zones, three weeks, trains, planes, automobiles, all in all about 8519km by land (~5,294 mies).


from space:

almost ready


almost ready
Originally uploaded by misskoco.
I'm up packing. My day was super productive and somewhat crazy. Transfered money, exchanged cash, taught 3 classes, finalized reservations, made plans to meet Stevie Unc (IN BEIJING!), went to Insadong for some art supplies and questionable eats with big Z, said farewell to Judo, goodbye to my students, picked up my passport at the Russian Embassy, and I sweat the whole time like it was my job and I love it. How do you say this heat is oppressive in Korean?

Now, I'm sleepy but too excited to sleep. Mostly because I'm going to China tomorrow, but also because, well, there's a smoothie place at the airport.

Let the Asian adventures continue...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

seoul sounds

Now that the rainy season is over summer in Seoul sounds like...






I love brack people, don't you?

brack people
A few months ago I came across this crazy English gem, but hadn't seen them up close and personal until yesterday. You can find them at Condomania in Hongdae. I love BRACK people!

Actually I do. Seeing a "person of color" in Korea is somewhat of a novelty. It's like if you see two black people in a day, you're like in Itaewon, or having a super lucky day.

On a similar note, apparently getting a tan or having dark skin, is not attractive to many Koreans. For example, a Korean co-worker of mine recently noted that I must have been in the sun and my skin looks darker. I of course took this as a compliment, stating "Yeah, I love being tan. I wanna be black this summer!" She replied, in a very direct and very Korean manner, that she thinks it looks awful and foreigners look better in the winter. This stuff cracks me up.

sun unbrellaWomen do all sorts of things to prevent themselves from getting dark. First, there are all kinds of creams and crazy other facial products here to lighten the color of your skin. I saw commercials for SK-II's Whitening Source for months thinking that they were saying that the product was called "whitening sauce." Anyway, these go beyond being a form of sunblock to protect you from the sun, they do things like eliminate melatonin and now much more. Another remedy for being too dark seems to be to just get foundation that's a couple shades lighter. And then there's the the trusty parasol to keep the bad sun away. Direct sunlight is not a major issue round these parts. Most days in Seoul are somewhat overcast due to pollution (this is the only place I've lived where you can not only look directly at the sun in the middle of the day but also see the air you breathe). However, on the rare sunny day you'll see women walking around with sun umbrellas. On campus I've seen female students walking along with their little book suitcases raised above their head, or even just using their hand, to shield themselves.


I, on the other hand, am laying out, soaking it up. Yeah, yeah... I know it's supposed to be terrible, and I'm gonna wrinkle up before I'm 35. BUT I moisturize, use face cream with sunscreen... whatever, it feels good. On a day like today, I say leave the umbrella at home, go out, and let the sun kiss every inch of your body. GET BRACK and love it!

blue sky in Seoul
Those are actually fluffy white clouds with a blue sky behind them. IN SEOUL. Can you believe it?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

footwear, what the...?

December 2004: I'm moving to Korea! This is going to be like shopping heaven! FOR ONCE EVERYTHING WILL FIT ME! Everything is going to be koco-sized!

August 2006: Why can't I find one pair of shoes I actually want to buy?

The fashion trends in Korean women's footwear that I just don't get:

Trend #1: Turning your heels into flip flops.


Trend #2: Wearing footsies, decorative slingback footsies, or socks with open toed shoes.

Are these things hot and I'm just like too old to get it or what? I thought there were some universal fashion DON'T against trend #2. Someone please explain this to me.