Monthly Archives: February 2012

Premonitions in the Night

For all I like to be rational and logical about most aspects of my life, there are a few areas where I’m somewhat willing to concede that science fails, at least at this point.  I rather think that all things, such as psychic experiences, ghosts, and other strange phenomena exist somewhere just outside the reach of science as we know it today.  Does that mean that I think these experiences are somehow unscientific?  No.  It basically means that I think we aren’t yet advanced enough to fully explain all the happenings in our weird, wonderful world.

I’ve had a few weird little experiences of my own over the years.  They are somewhat few and far between, but that doesn’t make them any less moving somehow.  I’ve posted before about the dream I had about my grandparents selling our old river cabin.  My mom appeared in this dream and wanted to tell me something, but I wouldn’t listen to her.  We were cleaning out the cabin, which was very near and dear to her in life.  Two days later, Grandma told me that they had decided to sell the place.  Definitely a bit weird, right?

Once in awhile, I’ll have dreams whereby parts of it will come true.  Two nights ago, I had a dream about my grandparents.  In the dream, I was working out at the gym which, although I was in Korea, looked a lot more like Fitness World back home.  In any case, my uncle Harry called me on my cell phone and told me that Grandpa had died in the night.  Of course, I was distraught and vowed to catch the next plane back to the US.  I woke up from the dream feeling unnerved and, not to sound melodramatic, rather convinced that I was going to be getting a phone call in the next 24 hours about something bad happening.

Well, I got an email.

It wasn’t about Grandpa, but about Grandma.  She fell in the middle of the night and had to be taken to the hospital.  They ran every conceivable test on her, and her health is fine for a lady her age (90).  Her legs are incredibly weak though, and after this fall, she’s unable to walk.  I talked to Grandpa today, and they have her on some pretty hefty drugs to alleviate the pain.  I tend to think that the only thing pain medication really alleviates is consciousness, but I suppose that’s better than being in pain.  At any rate, she’s not really coherent right now.  The doctor thinks that she’s going to have to go to rehab for two or three weeks.

When I talked to Grandpa, he seemed fairly beside himself.   Twice he expressed frustration and a feeling of helplessness at no longer being strong enough to help her.   She will have to live at the rehab facility while she does her exercises and such.  It’s never an easy feeling to know that you can’t help the person you love.  I’d imagine it’s harder for Grandpa.  If you knew my grandpa, you’d definitely understand that statement!  He’s the type who will often refuse to admit that he’s 89 years old and needs any help from anyone else.  I suppose that can be a good thing, since it keeps you going and helps you maintain your independence.  Of course, if you need that person to go to the doctor or something, it gets a little hairy.

I hope that the doctors will be able to get Grandma at least back up and around again.  I always knew that the day would come when she probably wouldn’t be able to walk anymore, but it’s always a bit of a shock somehow when that day finally arrives.  Still, I maintain my hope that she’ll be tenacious enough to regain some mobility.  If you can say nothing else about the Howe family, you can certainly agree that we’re a stubborn lot!

I’m still a little bit freaked out by that dream, though.  I find that whenever I have a dream about a major event or a person popping up in my life, it tends to come to pass.  I’m hardly making the claim that I’m psychic or anything like that.  I do believe that there is some strange force in the universe that sometimes allows us to catch a glimpse of things that may possibly be but have not yet come to pass.  Are we having a temporary experience of time disordered from our normal perception?  Scientists do not fully understand time, and our view of it is linear and extremely limited because of our lack of ability to fully comprehend it.  Are we seeing a glimpse of a future that may come to pass?  Is it a form of divine intervention?  At the end of the day, who the hell knows?  But it’s strange, I’ll give you that much.  It definitely makes me think about taking some of my dreams a bit more seriously!


The Health Equivalent of a Tornado Warning

I grew up in the Midwest, and tornados are hardly a rare occurrence in that neck of the woods.  When I was working at a bank in Columbia, Missouri, we had a tornado scare in February.  Growing up in Illinois, nary a week went by in the summer when we didn’t have a white “W” up on the screen, followed by a list of the counties in the area that had storm warnings, storm watches, tornado warnings, tornado watches, and flood warnings in effect.  I know some people who are scared of tornados, but honestly, I became contemptuous of that little white “W” from a very early age.  I’d be more likely to be the woman on TV who sat out on her porch filming a tornado than I would be to hide in the basement from one.  I guess the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt is true.

There are other hazards to your health about which I am not quite so flippant, however.  I’m scared of lots of health issues.  Amputation is my irrational fear.  My friend Holly once said, “I could lose an arm, but if I had to lose a leg, I’d be pissed.”  I’d be terrified either way.  Limb loss aside, my greatest fear is the big C: cancer.

My mother died with breast cancer when I was six years old.  She had it even before she had me.  She went into remission, but it came back when I was quite young.  Most of my memories of my mother include marker smeared all over her (so they knew where to do the radiation that day) and her wig.  My mother not feeling well seemed normal.  I didn’t understand when we moved in with my grandparents that the situation was quite serious.  Of course, I soon got an education.

I don’t feel sorry for myself.  My grandparents raised me, and they were awesome parents.  They spoiled me rotten, but I had a lot of opportunities to do things growing up with them that I may not have otherwise had.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss and love my mom, but I’m grateful that I had  good family to raise me.  I’d hate to think that people felt sorry for me, because there’s nothing to feel sorry about.  I feel sorry for my mother for all the suffering she went through and for the rest of my family, who I’m sure will never really get over the whole ordeal.

I think it rather goes without saying though, that when you see your mother lose the fight to cancer at such a young age, it leaves a certain indelible mark on a person.  I started worrying about breast cancer when I was about 12.  I had a pimple from a bra once, and I immediately starting thinking, Dear God, is it cancer?  What if I have cancer?  I know they say that it almost never happens before 30, but…  I was a worrier when I was a kid.

Maybe I’m something of a fatalist, but I feel in some ways as though I’ve resigned myself to the eventuality that I will have breast cancer.  I’ve considered prophylactic mastectomy at some point.  A prophylactic mastectomy is where you have your boobies taken off before you can get cancer.  Most girls then have then rebuilt with Hollywood’s go-to breast enhancer, silicon.  Yeah, it’s not the savoriest of thoughts, but you know what’s even less savory?  Dying of cancer at 42 and leaving your kids behind.

I’ll admit that I’ve been too lax about checking myself for lumps.  That’s surprising, isn’t it, given how I feel about getting it?  I do it, though, and I was checking myself last Sunday and found a lump in my armpit, in the area where the lymph glands are.  I didn’t freak out about it, but I told Graeme immediately that we were going straight to the hospital the next day.

I got right in with a surgeon who specializes in cancer.  He ordered a mammogram and full sonogram for me, announcing before I did either that he didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but he wanted to be safe about it.  Frankly, I don’t think I’d trust a doctor who didn’t want to be 100% positive.

I had the mammogram the same day.  Getting a mammogram in Korea: interesting.  Let’s be honest here.  Not a single one of those technicians had ever seen a rack like this before.  I’m a C-cup, but believe me, I bet no other woman I saw going into that room broke a B.  Not that I’m disused to being large and in charge, but it gave the technicians some trouble, handling all that boob.  I was prepared for it to hurt, since I’ve heard so many girls bitch and complain about mammograms, but it honestly wasn’t that bad.  It took them longer to figure out how to place me than anything else.

I had the full sonogram the next day.  I felt like I was getting lubed up for a Girls Gone Wild video or something.  It’s shocking how quickly one becomes accustomed to taking of her clothes and strutting around for all to admire.  The nurses were making comments about my chest size, and I know they thought I didn’t understand.  I shocked them into silence by announcing that I did understand.  They did the usual thing and gave me an uncomfortable Korean giggle.

The technician informed me that she didn’t think the lump was anything serious.  Probably just an annoyed lymph gland or something.  She did find some micro calcifications, though.  I asked for an explanation from the English interpreter, and she basically said that a lot of women get them.  Usually they aren’t serious, but they can become cancerous at a later date.  She added that at my age, it was probably nothing.  (Note: At my age.  If I were older, it would be more serious.)

I had to wait a full week before I could go back and get the results, which I did this morning.  The doctor announced that my lump was category 3, which means that it’s not serious, although I should keep checking on it.  He advised me to have another full scan in August, just to make sure nothing was changing for the worse.  I had him explain everything to me in detail, but as he said, “Category 3,” I couldn’t help but think of a tornado.

Basically, category one is nothing.  Absolutely no harm, no foul.  It probably won’t even touch down.  Category two is just annoying.  Category three, well, you might want to keep an eye on it, but it probably won’t amount to much.  When you get up to category four, you better head for the basement, because there might be some broken windows and tiles flying off the roof.  Categories five and six?  You might want to think about moving somewhere without tornados, because your car is probably going to be in a tree before it’s all over.

I’m glad that the whole ordeal is over for now, but I can’t help thinking that, like tornado season, the possibility of a bigger and nastier storm is always looming just on the other side of March or April.  One thing is for darn sure: I’ll be checking myself regularly from now on.  Even if you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, ladies, you really need to be doing the same thing.  It’s not a joke; it’s your life.  The sooner you catch it, the better your chances for going to live a long, happy life.

If you do have a history of cancer, get mammograms.  Start early.  My mom got cancer young – I think when she was about 32 or 33.  The advised age if 35.  I told a doctor this once and she insisted on 35.  I decided immediately that she wasn’t the doctor for me.  Doctors need to look at your history and your concerns and listen to you.  I feel like my doctor now is competent and understands what is necessary for me.

In some ways, I’m glad this happened, because it renewed my vigilance to check myself, lose weight, and be as healthy as possible.  I am bound and determined that I’m going to be sticking around for a long, long time.  I refuse to be another statistic on the six o’clock news.  Feel your boobies, ladies!  You’ll be glad you did!

Breathe and Reboot

As everyone who knows me or reads my blog knows, the K-Rage sometimes gets pretty hard to handle, at times.  This weekend has been easy.  My neighbor came down and introduced himself.  He also brought a large box of six cupcake things that we like explosions of chocolate bomb goodness. The same day, one of the mothers from school showered us with love – and a bag full of bread and cake.  My boss sent me home with half.  Who says that Koreans aren’t friendly?

Of course, the problem is that I eat a high-protein, fruit-and-vegetable heavy diet that generally doesn’t include sugar or flour.  You know what cake and bread is?  Sugar and flour.  And of course, I sat down and ate a bunch of it.

I had been dreaming of delicious sweet treats for about two weeks, since I so rarely eat them.  I was hankering for some chocolate chip cookies or something.  Well.  After eating some of that cake, I’m here to tell you that I’m no longer hankering after sugar.  I feel like arse tonight, and I know that it’s because I’m unaccustomed to eating much of any sugar at all.  My average evening meal consists of a vegetable stir fry with some cheese and a salad.  I eat yogurt for a snack, and I drink maqui juice in the morning.  It’s not that I don’t cheat once in awhile, but ugh.  Never again with the chocolate cake.  I say that now…

In all seriousness though, what the f**k was I thinking?  Why didn’t I just shove them in the fridge and take them to work on Monday for my boss?  Give them to my students?  I still crave sugar occasionally, but once I have it, I feel terrible and discover that I didn’t really want sugar at all.  Case in point: tonight.  Cake.  Subsequent misery.  Self-hatred for loving (?) the hateful cake.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working out again.  The first day was absolute hell, but I’m already loving it.  I walk on the treadmill for at least 3km and then I lift weights for 30-40 minutes.  I may not be terribly athletic by nature, but by God, I’ve already got some big guns going in my legs!  I’ve noticed a difference in my energy and how quickly I walk.  I’d forgotten how great it feels to be fit.  I didn’t have time to go to the gym today because my Saturday classes necessitate leaving the house very early, and lesson planning usually keeps me up late.  I still went for a walk after dinner because the gym was closed, and it felt awesome.  I came home invigorated and bouncy, which never happens on Saturdays after work.  NEVER.

And then cake happened.

I downloaded a movie a couple of days ago called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  It was made by this rich, Aussie investor chap named Joe Cross who was – you guessed it! – fat, sick, and nearly dead.  He goes on a 60-day juice fast and makes major lifestyle changes that result in huge weight losses and feeling reinvigorated.  Along the way, he interviews Americans on their eating habits and befriends a truck driver, Phil, who weighs 430 lbs. and desperately needs to help himself lose weight.  Phil decides to juice like Joe, and he ends up losing 202 lbs.  Pretty inspiring stuff, huh?

Now, when I say juicing, I’m not even talking about a maqui juice fast.  I’m talking about folks who buy a big ol’ juicer and shove raw vegetables in it to make juice drinks.  Basically, the juice comes from lots of leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and others, and other vegetables and fruits.  It’s supposed to be incredibly good for you.  Well, how could it not be, right?  It’s like V8 juice on steroids and without the preservatives.

Personally, I have no desire to own a juicer.  I hear they’re a real b!t$h to clean, and I don’t do well with things that need the time and care of, say, a horse.  You know what I do want, though?  A blender.  You can make lean, green smoothies with a blender.  People argue back and forth about which one is better, but honestly, isn’t it all made of massive amounts of green stuff?  The stuff that makes your cells healthy and strong?  The stuff that makes your gut shrink and your intestines do their thing with maddening regularity?  Sure, smoothies are thicker, but I can get over that.

Phil’s story is the most inspiring, and I figure if a 430-lb. trucker from Iowa can learn to love green juice, so can I.  I eat a lot more fruits and vegetables than I used to, and I feel great.  I know what they mean when they say, “fat, sick, and nearly dead.”  I haven’t been eating as much meat lately, and while I don’t particularly have any desire to cut it out completely, I do think it would be interesting to add in more vegetables and fruits.  I know that healthy food gives you more energy, and I know that healthy food makes you healthy inside.  I absolutely believe the old adage that we are what we eat.  Eating healthy foods makes you feel good.  It really is that simple.

I think the movie made another interesting point, and it had to do with the medicating of America.  We take pills for everything now.  If we have high cholesterol, we take Lipitor.  If we have type 2 diabetes, there’s a magic pill for that.  There’s another for your bad heart, your depression, your insomnia… The list goes on and on and on.  But really, what’s in all these medicines?  What are they really doing to us?  We’re messing with the body’s chemistry, and how will we really know for certain what the long-term effects of some of these pharmaceuticals really are?

Although I think this horse has been beaten somewhat to death, the example of Paula Deen and her diabetes comes to mind.  I like Paula Deen.  I don’t care if she hawks Novonartis or whatever that stuff is called.  Whatever it is, it is diabetes medication.  Of course, everyone has the right to live their life the way they want.  Paula Deen has the right to endorse a drug, if she wants.  Yes, she is exploiting the fact that Americans seem to have a desire for instant gratification, even in the realm of health and wellness.  No, I don’t particularly care that much.  She can do whatever she wants with her airtime.  I’m still going to try to eat right and prevent diabetes the old-fashioned way: by eating well and exercising my fat butt off – literally!

On issues like this, it’s very tough to make excuses for middle America.  I think it would be tough to argue that anyone thinks that being overweight is healthy.  Do Americans not understand the importance of healthy eating?  It seems like, to a certain extent, we have to have a health scare before we believe that it can and it will happen to us personally.  My doctors warned me constantly as a kid that I needed to lose weight.  I didn’t listen until I was good and ready.  It takes personal strength to make a change, and nobody can do that for me.  I have to become the change I want to see.

Paula Deen’s story is hardly inspiring, but Phil’s story is.  He is a very visible way to show people that life-threatening obesity can be turned around.  While I know that I could do the juicing fast because I have done a 10-month fast in the past, I wouldn’t want to do it again.  I didn’t keep the weight off before.  I have been losing the old-fashioned way, and I think that making slow changes and improvements has ultimately been the best way for me to go.  Retraining myself to eat right has been tough, but I know now that it can be done.  … Well, I might have the occasional slip-up!

I really want to try this juicing/green smoothie thing as a sort of meal replacement.  What could be better than a salad in a cup for a work snack?  It’s packed full of nutrients and fresh goodness, and best of all, they aren’t expensive to make.  Processed food is generally more expensive than fresh food, unless you’re buying strictly organic.  In that case, you can probably double the price, at least.  But you know, I want to lose more weight, and I want my cells to be healthy.  I don’t want to be one of those sad, six o’clock news statistics.  I want to hang around for awhile and die doing something awesome, like riding a roller coaster or castrating a bull, not hacking and gasping out my last as my heart gives out on me.

So.  I’m asking my husband for a big old blender for my birthday.  Yup.  I’m doing it.  I’m going to buy copious amounts of greens and fruits, shove them in a blender, and drink ’em down at least once a day.  I want to feel my best, and I don’t want to crave sugar.  I want to crave healthy foods.  I want to do better than I’m already doing.  Being sick and chock-full of sugar and bleached flour isn’t normal for humans: it’s toxic.

I know that I’ve probably been writing too many posts about dieting and wellness lately, and I promise that I’ll let up on it.  I just really want to feel my best, and I want to continue being successful with my lifestyle change.  I still have so far to go.  I refuse to be the stereotypical fat, lazy American who prefers vacuum-packed food to the real good stuff that comes from the back garden.  It is time to breathe and Reboot.

Things That Annoy and/or Baffle Me: At Wit’s End

This is my third post about things that annoy and – let’s face, there’s no “or” about it – baffle me, and this time, it was set off by one of my least favorite “celebrities,” Kate Gosselin.  Let’s get to it, shall we?

Winnie the Pooh

I freaking hate Winnie the Pooh.  I liked most animation when I was a kid, and I know I had some Winnie the Pooh, but it was never as exciting or interesting as, say, She-Ra or My Little Pony.  Even when I was a little girl, I knew that women kicking ass was where it was at for me.  Who cares about some idiot bear in his “Hundred Acre Wood” getting his fat rump stuck in a tree while he’s trying to get at some honey?  Seriously, wasn’t every story about him getting stuck in something while he was trying to get some honey?  Yes, children’s stories are repetitive, but does the author really have nowhere else to go with this bear but stuck up a honeypot or into a freaking bee’s hive in the middle of a tree?  Lame.

I hate Pooh a lot on his own, but there’s one thing that I hate more than Pooh by himself: Pooh tattooed onto goddamn Kate Gosselin’s ankle!   Here we have it, folks: a grown-ass woman with a cartoon intended for four-year-olds tatted onto her ankle.  I love tattoos.  I have two of my own.  Why, oh why, do people have to give ink jobs a bad name by getting things like Winnie the Pooh on their ankles?  I’m a libertarian, but dammit, sometimes I really think that there should be laws about subjecting others to one’s foolery in public.

I never gave a crap about Kate Gosselin until I saw this tattoo, and now I hate her with the intensity of 1,000 suns.

Kids Yelling “Teacher” at Me 521 Times in Less than Three Minutes

I hate it when people interrupt me, but I can sort of (sort of) get over it when the offenders are children.  Don’t misunderstand: children piss me off and always have.  That said, I’ve become a lot more tolerant of them since I started teaching.  There are still some things, however, that I can’t abide, and one of them is talking over other kids and calling my name incessantly until I either tear my hair out or pay attention to them.

Do all kids scream and interrupt each other like idiots, or is it a cultural thing somewhat unique to Korea?  Do children honestly not understand that I don’t have 13 ears and can’t discern more than two voices coming at me?  I hate this so much, sometimes I just yell at them, “BE QUIET!  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU LOT?!  DID YOUR MOTHER NOT TEACH YOU TO WAIT YOUR TURN WHEN YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING?!  GAAAAHHHH!”

They look at me, bewildered, and then they go right back to clamoring for attention.  I can’t decide if this ranks above or alongside leaving the door open and wasting electricity or gas by letting the climatized air out the door.

Random Hair Growth

Just to be clear before I start this, no, I do not have a mustache, although I sometimes grow more hair than I deem necessary.  This isn’t a big deal, as most women have to combat unwanted hair growth in some region of the body.  What annoys and baffles me are random, stray hairs that honestly appear to be eyelashes.  I used to have one growing out of the underside of my forearm.  It was thick and strange, and I plucked it probably 10-12 times before it finally stopped growing.  Every once in awhile, I’ll get a random, eyebrow-like hair growing from some strange place, and I don’t get it.  I always pluck them and wonder, “What are you doing here, you minx?”  Am I a genetic freak of nature, or is this something normal that all women have?  So weird…

The Prevalence of Internet Explorer in Korea

Koreans are quite technologically savvy, for the most part, so there is absolutely no excuse for the rate at which these people use Internet Explorer.  I mean, honestly.  Do you know anyone who would willingly choose Explorer to be their go-to browser?  Yeah, me neither.  I haven’t used Explorer since… Uh… Oh wait, I never used Explorer because it sucks!  

I have yet to encounter a computer in Korea that didn’t have it as their default browser.  Firefox?  Never heard of it.  Google Chrome, what?  Safari?  Isn’t that when you go to Ah-puh-lee-ka to look at ell-ee-punts?  Blargh.  Get with the times, Korea.  Seriously, get with any other web browser, but will you please leave Explorer in the past where it belongs, instead of on every desktop in the country, where it can eat my emails, crash my Facebook, and generally f**k up my online experience?

Korean Drinkable Yogurt

Not quite yogurt, not quite milk. Yeah, not quite delicious, either.

It’s not that they taste terrible, because they don’t.  Here’s the thing: yogurt is for eating, not drinking.  Milk is for drinking, not eating.  Why are we attempting to combine the two?  Have we really gotten so lazy that we can’t be arsed to get a spoon out of the drawer, open a cup of yogurt, and eat it?  Besides that, the containers are so small that you’d have to drink like, six of them to feel as satisfied as if you’d eaten one cup of yogurt, yet you’ll probably have consumed twice the calories.  The only saving grace is that they’re fat free, so they’re okay for my Somersize diet.  … I still don’t drink them.  And I spilt a bunch of it on my arm while taking that massively unflattering picture.

Nicki Minaj

I don’t get Nicki Minaj.  Maybe I’m not supposed to.  I like “Superbass” for an exercise song, but I feel like Minaj is the hip-hop answer to Lady Gaga.  Neither artist is original by any stretch of the imagination, but at least Gaga can sing.  I feel like Nicki Minaj is a half-assed (big-assed?) sideshow with a healthy slathering of weird voices and Autotune.  It’s not like the Harajuku/costume thing hasn’t been done before and isn’t being done by others right now.

I’m not really annoyed by Nicki Minaj; she is baffling to me, though.  I guess I don’t really understand how people can equate her with rap.  I remember the old “femcees” like Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, MC Lyte, and Salt ‘n Pepa.  I know that Nicki and Kim have some sort of PR group-created feud now – trust me, everything in Hollywood is created by PR handlers, by and large – but honestly, someone comparing Nicki now to Foxy or Kim back then is just weird to me.  They aren’t even in the same category.  Nicki Minaj is clearly a pop artist, whereas the other aforementioned artists were clearly hip-hop/rap.

I guess the longer I sit here and think about it, the more I realize that Nicki Minaj, like so many others, is more marketing ploy than honest-to-God artist.  She appeals to a large demographic, although I think most of those people probably fall into the under-25 age category.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just an old fart, but I could really go for a female artist who could compete with old school Foxy or Kim.  I miss those gals, and while part of me really hopes that Kim will get it together and make a comeback, I don’t really see it happening.

Bella Swan

Remember how I mentioned the My Little Pony Movie in an older post?  There’s a really great scene between the two witch sisters that goes something like this:

Witch 1: Oh, I love it when the Wolf tries to eat Little Red!
Witch 2: Me, too!  But she always gets away.
Witch 1: Well, maybe she won’t this time.

That is exactly how I feel about Bella Swan.  I re-watched Breaking Yawn a few nights ago.  Go ahead, judge me.  I deserve it.  I was hoping that she’d get eaten this time.  But she always gets away.

I keep thinking that I’m missing something.  I keep thinking that somewhere, buried underneath the idiotic dialogue and barely-there storyline, there’s some magic secret that I’m not quite seeing.  There isn’t.  There really isn’t.  I’m doing all this searching for nothing.  This is a story about a borderline abusive relationship, a sucker of a guy who will never get the girl, and a girl who is quite possibly insane.  Bella Swan is a complete waste of space, and if I ever met a girl like her in real life, I would have to seriously restrain myself from punching her in the face.  Hard.  Repeatedly.

Bella makes dumbass decisions.  She starts a relationship with a guy who wants to eat her.  As far as we can tell, she does this because he’s hot.  She runs away to Arizona without telling her father.  She then tells him that she got hurt by falling down a flight of stairs in Edward’s hotel.  Yeah, that looks good.  She then lamely attempts to off herself when said hot guy breaks up with her.  She strings along the nice-but-pathetic guy until the hot guy decides that he’s going to off himself in her absence.  She runs away again to Italy to save him from twinkling in the sunlight.  I mean, sweet Jesus, really?

For everyone who has ever said that Bella Swan is just like her, I weep for that person.  For that matter, I weep for the future of women everywhere if this girl is becoming the aspiration.  A lot of people will say that the Twilight books are innocent fun, but they aren’t innocent fun if girls are really taking them seriously and believing that Bella is normal.  Needing a man to feel validated isn’t normal.  Taking insane risks to get a guy to notice you isn’t normal.  Being in a relationship with a guy who wants to hurt you isn’t normal.  Staying in a relationship with a guy who hurts you isn’t normal. It’s fucked up.  If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her within 30 feet of these books.  Parents really need to think twice about what their kids are reading.

Microsoft Windows

Our old Mac’s hard drive died over the weekend, so we were forced to make an emergency purchase on a new computer.  We are a two-computer household, as we both make significant use of our laptops daily.  We couldn’t afford to get another Mac, so we got a Samsung PC.  Well, we could afford to get a Mac, but we decided we’d rather put the money towards our house.  Seriously though, for the headache this beast has already caused us, I sort of wish that we’d just spent the extra $300 and gotten a Mac.

The store put the operating system into English for us, but through some finagling that happened while I was in bed, Graeme managed to reset the computer so that it’s back in Korean.  I’ve attempted to download the language pack for Windows 7, but it’s not there like it’s supposed to be.  I guess we have the wrong version of Windows, but who knows?  Between the fact that the system is so damn counterintuitive and everything is in Korean, it’s a miracle that I was able to get as far with it as I did.  I’m not a computer whiz, and Windows is like, well, a foreign language.  Truthfully, my Korean is better than my Windows. We’re ending up having to take it to the service center to just have the thing put back like it was when we bought it.  I hope it doesn’t cost anything because if it does, that will go a long way towards validating my feeling about buying Mac.

I know that some people don’t like Mac.  I know that I’m a Mac snob.  Here’s the thing: if you’re a fool around computers like me, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of the Mac system.  Windows is a nightmare.  Nothing makes sense.  Nothing works like it’s supposed to.  That’s fine, if you have time to mess around with fixing it and know how to do that.  I don’t, and I don’t wish to.  Computer programming is not something that interests me.  It’s that simple.  I just a need a computer to do what I want it to do without getting infected with tons of viruses and crashing when I’m in the middle of writing up a big project.  Mac doesn’t do that.  Mac runs like I want it to.

I could honestly go on and on about the benefits of Mac over Windows.  I know that Apple has its faults, as a company, and I’m not blind to that.  Ultimately though, Mac is the best thing on the market for me.  I know what I like, but more importantly, I know what I hate, and I hate having to deal with Windows at any time ever.  Windows sucks.  The end.

Getting Off the Plateau

Maybe it’s because it’s winter.  Maybe it’s because I cheat on my diet sometimes.  Or maybe it’s because I eat too much.  Whatever the case may be, I’ve been on a bit of a weight-loss plateau for a month or two now.  I’m still losing, but not like I was before.  It’s always depressing when the weight loss slows down, and I’ve been sitting around trying to think of ways to kick-start the weight loss again.

I always think that re-motivating oneself is a good idea, so I went back and re-read parts of my Somersize books.  Suzanne Somers’ writing style is perky and upbeat, and it definitely gives me that little boost that I need to stay on track.  Anyone who says that staying motivated when you have a heckuva lotta weight to lose was full of b.s.  Sticking to a lifestyle change is always tough.  Making further improvements to said lifestyle change is even tougher, but that seems to be the road upon which I’m now traveling.

I was perusing Suzanne’s site for ideas about how to lose more weight.  Suzanne has this maqui (Chilean wine berry) berry juice that she sells, but they don’t ship to Korea.  Fortunately, there is this brilliant website called eBay where you can get almost any product and have it delivered to your front door, regardless of where you live.  (You might have some trouble with delivery service if you’re currently living in North Korea, Iran, Libya, or Syria, though!)  I decided to get on eBay and see if I couldn’t find myself some maqui juice.

For those of you who, like me, thought that maqui was the name of a designer who made dresses for Dolly Parton, it is actually this funky little berry that grows in central America.  Hence the name “Chilean wine berry,” right?  Anyway, maqui berries are supposedly the densest of all the super fruits, like acai.  In fact, acai was the go-to super fruit before maqui appeared on the scene.  Maqui berries are chock-full of antioxidants and are wonderful for your health.  According to Suzanne Somers, they can also give your metabolism a super-charge if you do a two-day juice fast to get your diet going.

Truthfully, I’ve never had much faith in juice diets for two reasons.  The first is because most store-bought juices are full of sugar.  Remember that scene in Mean Girls?  “This isn’t cranberry juice – it’s cranberry juice cocktail.  It’s full of sugar!”  “I wanna lose three pounds!”  That pretty well sums it up for me.  The second reason I figured it wouldn’t work is because the tendency, when you fast, is to put some weight right back on when you stop fasting.  I should know – I’m a former champion faster.

That said, this maqui juice has no sugar in it, and it’s seriously packed with delicious berry goodness.  You only do the juice fast for two days, mixing 16 ounces of the juice with 16 ounces of water and drinking it throughout the day.  After the first two days, you should take one ounce of juice every morning by itself – no water.  Seems easy enough.

I’ll go ahead and admit up front that I’m still mildly skeptical about this juice fast.  That said, I’m willing to give it a try.  I’ve received four bottles of juice in the mail, and I’m going to start the fast tomorrow.  Like Regina George, I’m hoping I can drop about three pounds in two days, but we’ll see how it goes.

The other thing that I’m doing is going to the gym.  I got us a gym membership last week.  I’ve started walking on the treadmill and lifting weights.  Eventually, I want to get back into running again, although I jogged for a few minutes today, and it was murderous torture.  I’d honestly forgotten how tough it was to get into seriously good shape the first time I did this.  I was a hoss.  I could run a 10K five or six days a week with a full weight machine circuit and some free weights and not be completely done in.  In fact, I felt nasty if I didn’t work out.  What the heck happened?!  Why didn’t I stick with that?

Anyway, so far the cardio isn’t going quite as well as I’d like for it to, but I’m getting a rather obscene amount of pleasure from weight-lifting.  I love weight-lifting.  I’m not sure if weight-lifting really qualifies as a sport, in my mind, but I’m really good at it.  I know, that doesn’t sound very modest, but you won’t hear me brag about my athletic prowess overmuch.  I’ve never been a skinny Minnie who can just shove out the door and run 15 miles.  I wasn’t built that way.  I have to put a lot of sweat and pain into being fit.  But weight-lifting?  I can do that.  In fact, I can do that pretty much every day of the week and not be completely unable to move or walk.  I even enjoy it.

Weight-lifting definitely helps you lose weight, although some people get discouraged when they first start doing it, because weight-lifting can actually lead to temporary weight gain.  For one thing, when you damage your muscles – which is exactly what weight-lifting does and is why your body gets so sore from it – your muscles temporarily retain water to help them heal.  Water retention = weight gain.  For another thing, muscle weighs more than fat, and in the early stages, the tendency will be to get a little heavier as your muscles get bigger.  The good news is that muscle eats away at fat, so the more muscle you have, the less room there is for disgusting, useless blubber.  Yay!  I keep telling myself that hardening up my muscles will eventually lead to bigger gains on the treadmill.  Of course, it’s kind of depressing at the moment, since my legs are screaming from all the curls and abductions and extensions, and I seem to have gained weight this week, on top of that.  I keep telling myself it’s just the water in my muscles.

One thing that I will say to my credit is that I’m not having to force myself to go to the gym like I have in the past.  I’m actually enjoying working out.  It gives me some time before I start my day to think about life, the universe, and everything.  It gives me some “me time” every day, and I can just go, put in my headphones, and rock out.  It’s nice not to have to force myself, because I had to do that all through the last years of high school, and it got tedious.  I guess there were other things that I would rather have been doing, but now that I’m older and have more demands on my time, it feels good to do something just for me.

I’ll let you folks at home know how the juice fast goes.  I’m not expecting big results, but I’m interested to see what the final outcome might be and if I’ll actually experience some of the benefits for which the maqui berry is known.  Cross your fingers!

Howling at the Moon: The Craziest Day in Wol-Yeong

Most everyone knows the things that are associated with the full moon: werewolves, witches on broomsticks, people feeling a little bit crazy, tides being a little bit lower, and hospitals filling up with accident victims and pregnant women giving birth a bit early.  Although I’ve never heard an explanation as to why this is true, statistically, things are always crazier around the full moon.  Even the nurses that I know will attest to this being true on their wards.

Yesterday (January 6th) was a full moon, and it was a crazy one, at least here in the Wol-Yeong district of Masan.  The day started off ordinarily enough, but from start to finish, everyone went off at about a 45 degree angle.  Graeme left to go to the bank so that he could wire money back to England.  The line for the tellers was moving along swiftly until the couple right before him, who were quite elderly and apparently couldn’t understand anything, even in their own language.  The teller ended up spending the better part of 15 minutes with them, and by the time they finished, the wire department had gone on lunch break.  Graeme, feeling mildly dejected, came home to drop off his bank books and passport, and we left the house together.  Graeme locked the door, and I didn’t think two things about it.

I set off to teaching like I always do, and some children informed me that someone had brought a gun to school that day.  Apparently, a third grader had donned some military garb, found a pellet gun (don’t ask me where, since Korea generally doesn’t have guns), and started shooting blackbirds up at Sin-Wol Elementary School.  He killed at least one, because a first grader picked the bird up by its wings and flung it into the road, where it was promptly squished flat by oncoming traffic.  According to my sources (gossipy students), the police had to come and remove the student from the premises.  I guess Koreans bringing guns to school isn’t limited to Virginia Tech… Ooo, that was offsides, wasn’t it?

My second year middle schoolers are my last class, and I love these guys dearly, although I suspect they have no idea, since they’re middle schoolers and don’t care about teacherly love.  They speak great English and like telling me stories, and they keep me up-to-date on technology, movies, and other things that I don’t normally pay a lot of mind to, when left to my own devices.

Well, there was a fight at West Middle School yesterday afternoon.  I’m still a little bit foggy on the details, but some kid stole another one’s money – hardly unheard-of at school – and a fight ensued.  It wasn’t just a fight between the two parties involved, though – it apparently erupted into a bit of a clan war, with the friends getting in on the action.  The police were called, and several students were detained, including one of mine, Dong-Hee.  Dong-Hee was actually innocent (for once), as he and his friend had just been clowning around near the action and cheering on their favorites, as boys will do, and his friend pretended to hit him.  I guess a teacher saw it and thought they were getting in on the action.  His mother had to come to school, and Dong-Hee had to explain to the police that he wasn’t actually involved.  Crazy.

The last story doesn’t have the same lighthearted ending, unfortunately.  Over in the Hyundai Apartments, which are right behind my school, a six-year-old child fell from a 20th story window yesterday afternoon and died.  The real kicker is that the mother saw everything.  She had gone down to the parking lot for some unknown reason – probably to go somewhere.  The boy climbed onto a chair, opened the window, and was leaning out to call to his mother.  He leaned out too far and fell, and the mother saw the whole thing.  None of my students saw it, but one of my fourth graders saw the body and the scene immediately following.  The little boy’s older brother is one of his best friends from school.

Ji-Han, who lives in the next building over from where the accident occurred, told me the story.  I actually got the early word on the story from him, since it hadn’t quite traveled around by that point.  I went and told my boss immediately after class, who lit out of the office so fast that I thought he’d leave skid marks behind him, and started pumping Ji-Han for more information.  He then returned to the office and called his wife to see if she knew the details.  He had been worried because his son, who is also six years old, has a friend in the same building.

I can’t begin to imagine what that family – especially the mother – must be going through right now.  I heard that they sedated her and took her to the hospital, but rumors fly fast around here.  Our neighborhood, though populous, is very small, and everyone knows everyone.  That doesn’t guarantee veracity of information, but people do love a good story around here.  I guess it’s no different from any other subdivision or small town in America.  Whatever the case, the whole neighborhood was talking about it and lamenting the accident, wondering how the family was doing.

Korea is not a large country, obviously, and the population density here is one of the highest in the world.  Because of the mountains, there is really nowhere to build but up, so most apartment buildings here are anywhere from 15 to 20 stories tall.  The insane thing, as Graeme and I have often discussed, is that there are rarely any safety precautions taken to prevent accidents such as the one that happened yesterday afternoon.  The only people who have bars on the windows seem to live on the first floor, and it’s to prevent thieves.  We have often wondered what would happen if a young child were able to get out onto a balcony, open the windows or doors, and fall off.  I guess now I know the answer: it happens.

With that thought in mind, it shocks me that more people don’t put up safety bars or opt for a different window style for their homes.  The sliding windows and doors are traditional for Korea, but when you’re living 100 feet off the ground, it doesn’t make sense anymore, especially in a house that has small children.  You’d think that more families would be willing to implement greater safety measures.  Of course, some might say that families don’t have enough money, but believe me, they do.  I know what the average family here spends on after school academies, rent/mortgage, car payments, etc.  Many Koreans live on credit, like Americans do, but most of them are making more than adequate salaries.  I would think that a child’s safety would be more important than his/her math scores.  I’d certainly rather have my child alive and getting an A- in math than have them dead!

After my classes had ended and I’d had some time to dissect the story with my boss, I reached into my purse to pull out my keys.  They were gone.  I’d left them in my Saturday bag and not thought another thing about it.  My boss asked me how that was possible, and I told him the only reason I hadn’t noticed was because Graeme locked the door.  Had he not come back, I would never have left the house without my key.  I never forget my keys – EVER.  I ended up staying at work for an extra hour grading papers, because Graeme usually doesn’t get home until around 10pm, and I didn’t feel like standing around in the cold waiting for him.  I got some extra work done, anyway, which is never a bad thing.

Getting back to the idea about full moons though, one has to wonder how much truth there is to the power of lunar cycles.  People believe that women used to menstruate with the moon, when there was no light pollution and fewer external influences, although recent studies on the Dogon tribe, a very isolated people, have not confirmed this theory.  My great-great grandfather Howe used to plant his garden by the moon, and it was always the best in town.  He wouldn’t even have surgery if it was a certain time of the month or the moon was in a certain sign, as he believed people were more prone to infection and bleeding to death at certain times of the month.

It has been confirmed that there are more accidents at the full moon, and even coyotes and dogs do howl at the full moon.  I never really believed this until I heard it for myself.  There are coyotes that live by the railroad tracks in my hometown – I know, it’s like a damn petting zoo, we’re so country – and when my cousins were living within earshot of the railroad, you could hear the coyotes howl at the moon on full moon nights.  It was eerie, but it definitely confirmed some of that old superstition about animals being sensitive to the moon and its cycles.

Whatever the case, it was a weird, wild, wacky full moon here yesterday, and although I didn’t hear any werewolves howling at the moon, part of me wouldn’t have been surprised if I had!

Reasons to Love (or at Least Like) Korea

I just finished with a hellishly long Saturday teaching literature classes to obnoxious children who are noisy in multiple languages.  Normally, this makes me cranky as hell, but for whatever reason, I’m in a shockingly good mood tonight.  Maybe it’s because I got a bus home right away.  Maybe it’s because said bus didn’t take two hours to get home.  Or maybe I’m just too tired to be hacked off anymore.  Either way, as I was making my way home from the longest day, I got to thinking about Korea and why it might not be as terrible as I used to think.

Cheap socks with hilarious designs

Socks that similar in quality to Gold Toe can be gotten here for about $1-$3.  I bought seven pairs of socks today, including a woolly pair of no-slip “home socks” – all for $10.  The funny thing is, I hate socks.  I intensely dislike wearing socks or stockings or anything else like that.  It’s a bit strange that this feeling doesn’t apply to shoes, although I will readily admit that I prefer being barefoot to anything.  My grandpa used to tell me that I was like “a little Kentuckian.”  I guess that means I’m like a hillbilly.

In spite of my dislike of underoos for your feet, I have grown to love Korean socks.  They aren’t boring like American socks.  They come in a startling variety of colors and designs.  I have one pair that says “ddong daeji” on them – “poop pig.”  Another pair has a big pile of poop and says, “Dding ddong!”  Koreans really like poop.  You might not believe me, but it’s true.  Pigs and poop.  They’re obsessed with both, I swear.  My kids think poop is hilarious.  They talk about it all the time.  And it’s all over my socks.

This old sow (ddong daeji?) found a real acorn tonight, though.  They’re my best offensive socks yet.  I bought three pairs – all they had.

If you're gonna say it, don't you think it's best said on socks?


Good public transportation

You can definitely argue that Europe has good public transit, too, and the drivers are probably far less likely to kill you than they are in Korea.  That said, it’s also not as cheap, providing that you aren’t a student.  Koreans buses are crazy cheap.  The city bus for Changwon/Masan/Jinhae/Gimhae/Jangyu only costs $1 (1,100W) for the blue/green bus or $1.25 (1,600W) for the sit-down only red bus.  Honestly, you can’t beat that with a stick.

Besides that, there are buses and trains running between all parts of the country, and most of them leave often.  Buses to Seoul from Changwon leave about every 30-40 minutes.  Buses to Busan leave even more frequently.  There are also airport “limo” buses, and those leave about every 30-40 minutes from Masan Train Station, Changwon Bus Station, the Changwon Hotel, and Namsan Bus Terminal.

Cheap makeup

Okay, this probably isn’t a major selling point for men, but it is for me.  I love makeup.  I stand in front of the mirror sometimes and try out new looks.  I have an eyeshadow palette with 88 different shades, never mind all the loose pigments and other eyeshadow sets I have.  I’m accumulating a brush collection, and I’m going to be moving on to bronzers for the summer.

Some of my makeup is high-end stuff – things that I would be miffed about losing were I traveling, for example.  However, I have enough cheap makeup from Korea to fill a medium-sized makeup bag, and I wouldn’t be more than mildly ruffled if all of it went missing.  You can get eyeliner for about $5.  My favorite mascara, which is every bit as good as what you’d get from a major brand name, includes primer and a deep black mascara for $15.  I’m going to stock up on it when I leave for good, because I have never found another mascara that I liked as well.

For someone who likes to experiment with insane colors and looks, this place is like Mecca.  Korea definitely knows a thing or two about makeup.

Courtesy for frequenting a business

For all I’ve heard that Americans are good at customer service, Korea has us beat by miles.  I’m sure that most people, at some point, have worked in a service job.  The management always drones on about having a sunny disposition and helping customers and all that, but in Korea they seem to take that more to heart.  I think part of that stems from the fact that more Koreans own their own businesses.  In fact, most of the small businesses around here are owned by one person or a family.  In other words, they have a vested interest in making you happy and getting you back into their establishment.  Unlike America, Korea still has a very large private sector that is dominated by small businesses.  My boss would be a shining example of a small business, just to name one, and his entire existence depends on our likability and reputation.

That said, even the large stores like E-Mart have greeters that bow to you and welcome you.  Maybe it’s because they bow.  After all, we have Wal-Mart greeters in America, right?  But the E-Mart greeters are young, and they offer a deep, respectful bow that makes you feel like you’re superior.  And that’s what businesses strive to do – make the customer feel special and worthwhile.  In places like Lotte Department store, it’s even more noticeable.  You never have to ask for help – someone will follow you around to be at your beck and call.  They will offer suggestions if they notice that you’re looking at a particular set of items.

It’s a bit of a comedown when you get home and realize that nobody is going to bow to you or thank you profusely for coming into their store, even if you were just looking.  Even though there is a lot of pushing and shoving on the streets, there is a certain politeness in personal interaction in Korea that the West is missing these days.  Manners don’t cost anything, and although you could make the argument that what costs nothing is worth nothing, I maintain that manners are small social concessions that make the world a more tolerable place for everyone.  Since we have to share it with so many, we may as well get along.  That’s why I still make it a point to say thank-you – even to the driver when I get off the bus to Busan.


I can’t believe I’m writing this.  I resisted K-Pop for ages.  I’m not really a fan of pop music, as anyone who knows me well will tell you.  Oh, I liked “Toxic” and the Black-Eyed Peas’ “Monkey Business” album, and I do unabashedly enjoy Lady Gaga, but that’s about as far as my love of pop music goes.  I’m more into pretentious hipster bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Queenadreena, Pixies, and Ladytron or outlaw country like Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash.  Suffice it to say that stick-skinny Korean girls doing silly dances to silly songs with English chorus lines was never my thing. … And then something changed.

When I first arrived here, the Wonder Girls’ single “Nobody” was huge, and I knew that song reasonably well.  How could I not?  I only heard it 503 times a day for about six months.  It was everywhere.  There were other bands, too – Super Junior, Big Bang, and Rain, to name a few.  I knew a few songs, but I never really got into it.  It sounded like watered-down, ripped off Western music to me.

The Wonder Girls have a new album coming out, “Wonder World,” although they aren’t exactly on top anymore, if my students are any indication of what’s hot right now.  Like America, Korea is always about newer and younger things – 2NE1, Beast, IU, and Infinite seem to be the flavors du jour.  The Wonder Girls are still my favorites, although I like Beast, and I don’t mind 2NE1.  I never thought I’d be able to rock out K-Pop, though.  I will now haltingly admit that “Stop!” which is one of the new Wonder Girls songs, has been playing non-stop on my iPod.  Damn it, anyway, it’s so catchy.

And now, because you’ve come this far, I’m going to let the current crop of K-Pop stars assault your ears.  I have to admit that 2NE1’s video for “I Am the Best” is pretty bad-ass, even though it takes some cue’s from Lady’s Gaga’s fashion, I reckon.



Cheap medical care

Whether you sit on the left or right side of the fence regarding medical care, it’s hard to argue against the fact that the prices of medicine and medical treatment are too high in America.  Not the case in Korea.  When I had gastroenteritis (so fun), it cost me $3 to go the doctor and another $2 for three days of medication.  Five dollars.  Five whole dollars.

At this point, I might say that certain elements of the medical care here aren’t as outstanding as they are at major US hospitals.  Mayo’s Clinic is still one of the best in the world, and Johns Hopkins will always be a great center for medical knowledge.  That said, there are a lot of Korean doctors who have trained at these hospitals, and they know what they’re doing.  Just like any country, you will run into doctors that are less-than, but by and large, we’ve had good experiences with our doctors here.

I had a wart removed a few months ago.  I had a consultation visit, the actual removal, and two dressing sessions, including stitch removal, and the whole thing cost maybe $125 at one of the best hospitals in the area.  I barely have any scarring from it, and my doctor was fabulous – nice lady, gentle, and spoke good English too, which I was not expecting, frankly.

Graeme has had back problems off and on since we arrived, and he has had injections, X-rays, and even an MRI scan.  An MRI here costs about $575, compared to the minimal $1200 in the US.  It took them a while to determine the cause of his pain, but we did get it figured out, and he got the pain under control and got it healed – probably for far less money than it would have cost in the US, and we didn’t have to wait like we would have in Canada or England.

All in all, I’d have to give Korean medical care a solid two thumbs up.  My boss once told me that Korean care isn’t as good as US care, but I made the point that dithering over a few points in supposed quality – when there really is no difference – is irrelevant if you can’t afford the care in one place but can afford it in the other.


Korea is seriously up on technology.  My kids are all obsessed with their Optimus or Galaxy S II phones.  They all want iPads or Galaxy Tabs, and everyone has a computer and Internet at home.  I don’t even ask my students if they have Internet at home, because they will invariably look at me like I’ve just insulted their mothers.  “Of course, Teacher!  Everybody have Internet!”  And it’s true.  Everybody does have Internet.  Korea has the fastest Internet connections in the world – better than the US, even.

Generally, Korea seems more up-to-speed on technology than the US, and certainly more than Great Britain.  I found Britain to be woefully behind the curve, in terms of Wi-Fi access and Internet affordability.  The prices are sky-high, and some plans still have monthly download limits.  What the heck are those, anyway?!  Koreans would balk at such a thing.  We pay $25 per month for Wi-Fi, and it’s amazing.

The only gripe I have with Korea is that most of their computers still use Internet Explorer, a browser which is well-suited to nothing and works like flaming ddong.  Does anyone outside of Korea even use Explorer anymore?  I thought everyone was using Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and well, just about anything other than Explorer.  I figure that if Korea can come out with a good dupe of the iPad, they will eventually catch on to the Explorer thing, although I’ve been holding my breath for over three years now… I suppose given how tech-savvy they are on everything else, I can let that go, though.

Work Ethic & Education

Koreans definitely work hard, as a general rule of thumb.  I would note that they don’t necessarily work smart, but they are certainly willing to put in the time and effort that naturally accompany success.  I’m constantly impressed by how hard my kids work.  Even the kids who don’t study all that much for English still spend far more time studying every day than I ever did.  The downside to this is that the children aren’t really children; they are mini-adults.  The upside to this is that the entire country is well educated, in stark contrast to many areas of the West.  Of course, I’m not advocating that everyone should go to college, but even students who leave high school and go into trades here still have a far better education than the average US high school grad.


Welcome to the Winter of My Discontent… Again

I know, I know – I’ve ranted a lot about hating winter.  I can’t help it, though – I really do hate winter!  It probably seems like I winge and whine and moan and complain a lot about it, but I promise that the only other weather that makes me this cranky is constant rain (think Germany).  I think I get seasonal depression.  People laugh about that, but I’ve read that there is a correlation between getting vitamin D – hello, Mr. Sun! – and feeling happier about life, the universe, and everything.

Honestly though, I probably shouldn’t complain, because we’ve had a relatively mild winter this year.  There hasn’t been so much as a flake of snow in Masan, and it was relatively warm there for a few weeks during the early part of winter.  Alas, that mildness seems to have taken flight, being replaced by frigid mountain wind and a temperature that gets down into the twenties at night.  It is currently 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and that is far too cold for this one!

I’ve compiled a list of reasons why I hate winter.  If you don’t like complain or do, but don’t find my brand of bitching entertaining, you might as well stop here, because this entire post is dedicated to the winter of my discontent.

1. Freak snowstorms 

When I was in university, we had a freak snowstorm.  It dropped about 15″ of snow on Columbia and then departed.  It came complete with wind, lightning (so weird!), and frigid temperatures.  While it seems like folks in Illinois are relatively good at cleaning off snow-clogged roads, Missouri has no clue what to do.  In Columbia, they always spread this cat litter stuff, and it didn’t do jack.  Rather illustrating the point, I once saw a grit spreader that had slid off the road after a snow storm.  Heh.

The thing that kills me about snowy weather is how misleading the weatherman will be.  He’ll call for twenty inches of snow and then only about two inches actually fall.  In this case, nobody thought we were going to get a mountain of snow.  Everything shut down in CoMo for about four days.  It was ridiculous.

2. The perpetual feeling of being uncomfortably cold

I could wear a thermal layer, a layer of clothes, and six layers of coats and exterior skiing shells and still freeze.  My husband says I’m reptilian.  It’s true that I can’t get warm in the winter.  I also think that losing a lot of weight adds to the feeling of being cold, as it messes with your circulation (mine is already terrible), and you lose several layers of blubber, alias nature’s great insulator.

My biggest problem is my feet.  My feet are always cold (see: bad circulation), and if my feet are cold, I’m finished.  I can’t get warm as long as my feet are cold, and that’s pretty much all the time, as it stands right now.  I wear socks and slippers and such, but it never totally helps.  It does, however, give me the strange sensation of having frozen yet somehow sweaty feet.  Mystery.

At work, it’s a case of having to wear my coat.  Granted, my hagwon now isn’t as cold as my old one because my boss actually turns on the heat, but the kids leave the door open constantly and let the hot air out.  The kids all complain about being hot in my classroom, but I usually sit directly under the heater.  It’s the only way I can keep my hands from turning to ice.  Oh, and the bathroom faucets?  Yeah, those don’t have hot water.  Don’t ever expect to find warm water in a Korean bathroom.  If you do, consider it a pleasant surprise.

However, the cold feet and the feeling of uncomfortable coldness bring me to my next gripe…

3. Cold makes my arthritis in my right foot hurt

I know, I’m too young to have arthritis, right?  Nope.  I had a trampoline when I was a kid, and one day I convinced myself that I could do crazy flips and stuff on it.  I managed to do a flip, but landing?  Not so much.  I don’t know what possessed me to think I was a figure skater on a trampoline, but something did.  And I landed like I’d done a triple salchow: on one foot.

Now, I was a fat kid – very much overweight, even as young as I was.  One of the bones in my feet snapped like a twig, causing ridiculous pain. I managed to crawl off of the trampoline and limp back up to the house.  I would have gone to the doctor, but there was just one teensy problem: summer camp started in three days.

Summer camp was the highlight of my whole year.  I had more friends at summer camp than I had anywhere else until college.  I got to sail, canoe, swim, horseback ride, go camping… It was amazing.  I would never trade summer camp for ANYTHING.  Some of the best memories of my life were made there.  And I knew that if I went to the doctor and they told me that I had a broken bone, I could kiss summer camp goodbye.  So I limped on.  I managed to hide it from my grandma, and off I went to summer camp.

I ran on that foot all summer.  Oh, occasionally it would snap and I would double over in pain, but it finally healed up.  It never bothered me until I got a little bit older.  As it is now, whenever the weather gets cold, it makes that part of my foot where the break was a little bit stiff and sore at times, and I hate that.  It drives me crazy.  It’s not like I can’t walk on it, but it’s annoying.  I suppose the most annoying part is that I know it’s all my fault for not going to the doctor.  Still… I wouldn’t have to deal with it if I lived in Florida…

4. Getting up early to scrape the car

I lived in an apartment back in Missouri, so I didn’t have a garage or covered parking space.  We had a backlot behind the house, and we were damn lucky if anyone ever came to clean it.  Whenever the snowy weather hit, I had to get up an extra 30 minutes early to clean the doors and windshields, as well as to warm the car.  I was incredibly thankful that my Jeep had heated seats, because they were lifesavers when the heater hadn’t kicked in.

5. Mounds of dirty snow in parking lots

When I went to Montana for my cousin’s wedding, one of the locals informed me that the snow in Bozeman gets so high in the winter that people put tall orange flags on their antennas so that others can see them coming at intersections.  And I thought that the big, dirty piles of snow in Midwestern parking lots were obnoxious!  They turn black, dogs poop and pee in them, and they take up half of the parking lot.  You can’t see around them, and invariably, there’s some jerk speeding from behind one, prepared to slip on a patch of ice and skid right into you.  Growl.

6. Wind that rattles the windows

The first time I ever really experienced cold, blustery mountain wind was out visiting my friend in Colorado.  There was a wind that kicked up one night, and it was fierce.  It rattled and shook everything in Boulder, especially the windows.  We have high winds in the Midwest, but there’s something about mountain wind.  We have north winds blowing out of the mountains here in Korea, too, and they are cold as icy needles, especially after dark.  They rattle and shake our entire apartment, and besides lowering the temperature by about 20 degrees, they also shake the crappy windows.  It can literally keep you up at night.  Koreans don’t do double-glazed storm windows, and it is one of the serious flaws in their house-building structures.

7. Frozen pipes

This was never a problem in America because, you know, I kept the house a normal temperature.  In Korea, it sometimes doesn’t matter.  A lot of the pipes are on the outside of the house here, and our water heater is actually outside.  That means that things can actually freeze up even if you have everything turned on.  It’s obnoxious.

8. Chapped lips

This is really babyish of me, but I hate getting chapped lips.  I now carry a tub – yes, a tub – of Vaseline in my purse, because lip balms don’t do the job.  My lips get really badly chapped, and they bleed and hurt.  Hate it.

9. Cracks in my fingers

Because we don’t have a dishwasher, I do dishes every night.  This means my hands are wet for extended periods of time.  The water is super hard here, and it dries my hands out in the best of times.  In the winter, my hands get dried out and flaky, and then my fingers start cracking around my nail beds.  They’re actually quite painful, and then I have to Vaseline my hands and wear Band-Aids all over for days at a time.  Not fun.

10. Ice storms

Ice storms are worse than snowstorms.  Power lines go down, towns become hockey rinks, and it’s far harder to get ice off of the car than it is to get snow off of the car.  Ice is dangerous.  Ice sucks.  I’d way rather have snow, even though I hate it, too.

11. Getting out of the shower and freezing to death

The shower is one of the few places where I can finally get warm.  I set the water to scalding and jump in.  It’s like heaven, once you get used to it.  I let the bathroom get all nice and steamy, and if I close my eyes and pretend that I’m not in a tiny Korean bathroom, I can almost pretend to be in Florida, Thailand, or Australia.  Somewhere hot, anyway.

Then I have to get out of the shower, and that feeling of goodness and warmth disappears like cookies around a fat kid.  I am instantly cold, soaking, and know that I won’t be warm again until I am either under the hairdryer, if it’s a reasonably warm day, or in bed that night, if it’s too cold to be alive.

12. Not being able to wear cute shoes

I kind of like my fake Ugg snow boots for the first week or so that I wear them, and then I start to loathe them, even though they keep my feet warm.  They aren’t that comfortable, as they have no arch support, and they sag kind of funny.  I really just want to wear a pair of strappy heels or some cute gladiator sandals.  Except that I don’t, because it’s 20 degrees outside.


I think winter is worse if you have to walk outside a lot.  Although it’s not as cold in Masan as it is back home, I find myself loathing the winter more.  I have to walk around in the cold an awful lot, and I think it sours my mindset even more than winter normally would.  I just can’t do with walking around in sub-zero temperatures.  Or actually, anything below 45 is a bit too cold for me.

In any case, I’ll be crazy-happy when the cold lifts and the trees start to get spring buds.  When the first signs of the cherry blossoms pop up, I will be a happy camper.  Spring in Korea is beautiful, and although spring is not my favorite season, I appreciate the promise of hot weather to come.  Speed the day.