Tag Archives: expats

Erin’s Problems are Hipster Bands

We are Erin's Problems. sitarmustachehat*fart*

I’m coming to you live, internet, from my office. I’m eating a Tootsie roll pop. It’s Friday afternoon. The kiddies are gone for the day and I get to doink around on the internet, writing frivolous blog posts and what not.  They pay me to do this guys. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of actual work involved too, and I’ve had a few crappy weeks prior to this. But today was a good day. And tomorrow will be a good day because I’m going to Seoul to stare at some North Koreans and then I’m going to bathe myself in IPA. (More on how orgasmically exciting that is next week.)

The thing is, I can’t think of anything to write about.

At some point, I transitioned from being Uberforeign, to Mute and  Uncomfortable, to Not Terrified Anymore, to Partial Understanding of Everything, to I Get It, to I Live Here, to I’m Stagnant Again.

Yeah, we're called Uberforeign. You've probably never heard of us...

“As Erin awoke one morning from uneasy dreams she found herself transformed in her bed into a gigantic ennui-machine…”

We are Ennui-Machine. Here's a 20 minute keyboard solo.

It’s a welcome feeling, I mean, compared to the first few weeks of peeking cautiously out of your windows and around corners lest you come in contact with a native. And I couldn’t claim to be acclimated. I just claim to be much less surprised. And that makes me sad.

We are Dread the Hipster. This is a song about....Galesburg. Whatever.

But in 90 days I’m out. And in 90 days I have no idea where I’ll be. Safety net = home, but home is so full of hipsters….how I dread the hipsters…The answer is, I guess keep moving. Which is what I did when I got bored with Chicago. And Omaha. And good God, who wouldn’t have been bored with Galesburg? And Cheyenne!? Come on.

So tell me Hipster Band, am I doomed to constant movement? Am I lost to the world of Normals and Happies?? Will the conclusion of 90 days find me in my parents’ basement or living out of a van somewhere?

Here's my pocket Nietzsche. There are no Normals and Happies.

 Cold comfort, hipsters. Cold comfort.

And the Living is…Easy?

We are on the brink of summertime in Gwangju.The trees are green, the skies are hazy with heat, the street cats are shrieking to breed beneath my window. The shorts are getting shorters; the heels, higher.

Jacket longer than shorts? HAWT.

For most, summer is a time of splashing and beaches, tans and pina coladas. And sometimes my summers are like this too. But guys, I fear the coming season as I fear few other things (ie: death, tight spaces, death inside tight spaces, Kate Hudson movies, etc). You see I was here, if only briefly, LAST summer. And I remember it all too well…

Continue reading

Why Did the Megan Cross the Road?

ACT ONE

“They have fried chickens there.  Like whole ones. For $12.”

That’s how I got sucked into going to a baseball game. It was all about the chicken from the very beginning.

See, I don’t really like baseball. I find it a bit dull. Being a big hockey fan, I can’t help but compare the pace of a hockey game to the pace of a baseball game, and the constant excitement and momentum of hockey makes baseball excruciatingly boring. I know this sentiment offends most people, but I don’t care.

I heard a lot of positive talk from foreigner friends here regarding Gwangju Kia Tigers baseball. They had a blast last season going to as many games as possible and were all pretty pumped about spending the next four months at the field. Most of it I disregarded for the aforementioned reason. But then someone told me about The Chicken. She said it was amazing and cheap and special because it’s like, a whole chicken, fried right before your eyes. So I thought: Nice weather? $7 a ticket? Fried chicken? Alright. I’ll go.

Baseball Concessions: Look familiar? I didn't think so.

ACT TWO

From the moment I arrived and took in the scene that was “concessions”, it was all about The Chicken. Erin and I joined a group of our waygook friends, planting ourselves firmly in front of the chicken cart and giant bubbling pots of oil.

Friends: Hi guys!

Me: Chicken?

Friends: How was your day?

Me: Chickenchicken.

Friends: This is your first time at the baseball game right?

Me: Chicken?

Friends: Maybe we should buy tickets? And think about getting seats?

Me: Mm..Chicken.

Fixating on how awesome this super fresh, whole fried chicken for $12 was gonna be, we waited.

 

A whole chicken per pot.

And we waited and waited. And waited some more. When all was said and done, four boxes (a chicken in each box) and forty minutes later, we made it to our seats.

I surprised myself by opening a beer and enjoying a few sips before diving into the goods. Was The Chicken everything it promised to be? Pretty much (especially after I found the packet of salt at the bottom of the box). It was super crispy, with a tasty batter made all the more flavorful by the wholeness of the bird.

Glory

Would I return to the baseball game for a warm spring night full of cheering, beer and chicken? Indeed.

ACT THREE

This afternoon, I was jolted from my post-lunch coma by one of my favorite students asking me “Teacher, where you go yesterday?”

Yesterday was her birthday and I thought she expected me to have been at school, so I explained that I work at my other school on Tuesdays. But she shook her head and said, “Last night. TV. I see you!”

A look of surprise and recognition washed over my face and I started laughing. Again on TV huh? I’m pretty sure my giant waygook clan was featured on the soccer game a few weeks ago too. Ah, fame.

And then she repeated, “I see you on TV. Eat fried chicken teacher!! HAHAHAHA!!!!”

Ah, shame.

I imagine my 11 year old student, sitting at home around the tv with her family. On the screen appears my greasy face, half masked behind a giant hunk of fried meat as I gnaw away gleefully. “That’s my teacher!” she cries. And her parents frown uncomfortably, embarrassed and concerned by the grotesque image in front of them.

I almost want to look for the video. Google search “Foreigner devours fried chicken at Korean baseball game”. But it would definitely ruin chicken and/or baseball for me forever.

First I Was All…But Then I Was Like…

Vacations – they’re the greatest, right? You leap into a distant time zone, reset the wristwatch, listen to the strange but beautiful language, smell the air, taste the food, make out with the locals, sample the music, note how the light is just a little bit different at sunrise and how people dress just left of how they do back home.

And then you’re on a plane again with a camera full o’ memories and at least two months’ worth of dinner conversation. “Oh you simply must summer in Sardinia, Geoffrey, it’s divine that time of year! And the natives do the most darling thing with cheese…

Ah, glossy candy-coated travel memories! Like this:

Geoffrey, I’m telling you, you’ve never even seen a chin until you’ve seen his chin.

Immigration – now that’s a whole different bag. You get Vacation Wonder for a few weeks, a couple months if your lucky. Then things starts to look like this:

Ugh. Nobody cares about your gross exposed musculature anymore, Korea.
Ugh. Nobody cares about your gross exposed musculature anymore, Korea.

So that’s where we’re at. 7 months in, and the shine has worn off. I still love teaching and my students and stuff. But nothing is….weird anymore.  Which is sort of the whole point of me being here. Everything has settled and I find myself back at Normal. I hate Normal. I flee Normal by doing things like moving to Korea. And yet stupid Normal finds me. Everything is boring and I hate it.

Even worse than being discovered by Normal, though, is that I’m getting close to dropping the Polite Foreigner Act all together. Things driving me to an American outburst include the following: The from-the-depths-of-your-rotten-lungs spitting; the trend of getting off an escalator/stepping into a doorway and then stopping as if you don’t know the people behind you are on an irrevocable crash course towards your ass; walking up to me to look into my shopping basket; getting asked if I’m Russian (that is, a prostitute)…

I hesitate to go on; nobody likes a whiner. But I think maybe it was this, that tipped the scales against Korea:

The old man that changed everything.

Obviously the most comfortable place to sit on a bus is between my legs, slowly settling in against my junk as we ride merrily down the mountainside. Because there is nothing uncomfortable about this at all. You’re bumming me out Korea. You’re bumming me out.

Korean Konveniences

The whole ‘Let’s live abroad!’ experience is rife with change, this isn’t news. And on this blog we make sure everyone knows which big changes are not appreciated (beer and toilets, thank you). But what makes living in different countries such a unique experience is not simply the radical, life-changing, culture shock differences, but the minor ones, the fun ones that are often overlooked but always awesome to recall in some inane bar conversation years later. Continue reading

Sabor de Soledad

Friends, we are fast approaching the 6 month mark in this, the Year of Korea. This is a time of reflection, to pause and note what I have learned about this foreign land, its people, myself, and others like me, in our self-imposed exile. As I sit here in my lotus position upon my mountaintop pondering these things, I have come to one conclusion about displaced Americans:

Our greatest common passion is the pursuit of legit Mexican food.

Exactly. (courtesy of the best place on the internet)

We go to extraordinary lengths in the service of this insatiable hunger. We take hour long train rides in Seoul to an On the Border (a scurrilous Tex-Mex chain I would turn my nose up at Stateside, but such are the concessions one must make in Korea…) for a 20 minute dinner, bottomless chips and salsa, and Modelo. We stay up til 4 am in order to sample the wares of the legendary Hongdae taco truck (Remember?). We fashion excuses to gather and construct enchiladas and quesadillas in cramped Korean kitchens, combining our cheese stores, swilling Coronas and wondering why it’s so hard to find a ripe avocado in these parts. Even on vacation in Switzerland, my American friend couldn’t help but bring up how unfulfilled he was without access to chorizo.

Despite our perseverance, our damnedest efforts put forth, the Real Thing has remained elusive.

It is therefore incredibly painful to speak of Korean takes on Mexican food. First, one must understand that Koreans approach food from a health standpoint: eat this because it is nutritious and benefits you in X and Y ways, even if it tastes like Neptune’s butt (…because everything tastes like ocean here. Keep up with me people, I shouldn’t have to explain my jokes to you punks.). Americans approach food from the pleasure side of things: make it taste good and give me more. At heart, we are a nation of hedonistic walruses. Example: say an American discovers an opportunity in Gwangju to order nachos* at a restaurant. American eagerly anticipates a mess of tortilla chips piled with about 14 c. of delicious ingredients including, but not limited to: meats, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, jalapenos. The American believes the dish should weigh no less than 5 lbs. and require a waiter with hypertrophied biceps to deliver it. But this is what the American receives:

Perdon?

8 individually decorated chips, displayed in an aesthetically pleasing ring. Heavy on vegetables, low on meat, nothing in excess. Korea, this American walrus knows you’re better than her, but it’s still kind of weird to make little chip pizzas and call them nachos and trick me into eating them. And then there was this, a shot in the dark for something like Doritos** and the inspiration for this post. A foul, sweet, disgusting turn on something billed as “Maekshikan tacoe” flavored, but that tasted like a churro rolled in cheeto powder. I hate you, Dodohan chips.You might look the part, but the Asian chick in the sombrero belies your true nature.

Ahora con mas semen del toro!

We few, we happy few, we band of gringos! There is no hope, but still we search. Search for the mythical taco stand that will sate us somewhere in the heart of Asia. So on. On we ride. On into the friscalating dusk light.

*We at TWD are fully aware that nachos are not authentically Mexican.

**Ditto.

Moments in Cultural Assimilation 1 & 2

Multiculturalism

Good news everyone! 5 months into living in Gwangju and I’m finally integrating!

Moment 1 – Kimchi Binge

I don’t know if I made this really clear or not, but things have been pretty tedious with no friends around and no (pressing) work to do.This has resulted in boredom trips to the marts in my neighborhood. All of these excursions lately have ended with me buying ungodly amounts of kimchi. There are just so many varieties, people! I feel compelled to collect them all. And it’s so very good for you!  Pardon me for being a girl for a minute, but if someone is all, “Hey try this food! It’s delicious, you can eat as much as you want, and your butt will STILL get smaller!” YOU DON’T WALK AWAY FROM THAT – YOU’VE BEEN WAITING YOUR ENTIRE LIFE TO HEAR THOSE WORDS.

Then there’s this, which makes me real Koreanish…it started out innocently. I just didn’t have any other food in my house. But now the habit has formed…I really like eating kimchi for breakfast. It’s so incredibly bitter it does almost as good a job of waking me up as my coffee.

Breakfast du Jour. Someone on the internet, care about this.

Moment 2 – Open A Window

We’ve made a few references (cryptic haikus and all) here to the curious habit of the Korean people to leave windows wide open in the middle of winter. Like seriously. Wide open. I watched this behavior unfold as we cleaned up my classroom from winter camp. Task 1 – open the windows. Real wide. Wider. Pay no attention to Erin Teacher squawking at you in English to cut it out.

You may also recall that my house is the smaller than your typical American hotel room.(Just scroll down two posts for picture proof.)

So, minifridge loaded to the gills with kimchi, you can imagine what might follow. Opening the refrigerator released a creeping, sneaky perfume of fermented vegetables. At first I wouldn’t notice it, as the odor crept along the floor. But then it rose – rose and diffused until my little room was filled with the rather rude smell of kimchi. I would get used to it; I would leave; I would return, and recoil. The smell lingered. Something had to be done.

Today, as I left my house, despite the low temperature and threat of snow, you better believe I left the window all the hell wide open. You don’t understand exactly how bad the smell of kimchi in an enclosed space can be. I can only assume this was the genesis of the Korean open-window practice: home + kimchi = rank, inhumane odors. Similarly, once your entire family consumes a katrillion pounds of cabbage, you’re going to want to crack a window too*. Just sayin.

Methinks a Korean doth live here

*We’ve been up as a blog for a whole year and I think that was our first fart joke. Megan, this is what happens when you leave blog content up to  me.