Tag Archives: travel

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.

Before Korea, I Never Thought I’d…

…sing in public all of the time.

And I’m not even talking about a norebang. I’m talking about in class. In front of hundreds of kids. And a coteacher. Everyday. It’s not a big deal when I’m singing along with the book CD or with the class. But one of my coteachers had the brilliant idea to turn everything we do into a song. Before my kids tell me what day it is, they must sing “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday” to the tune of “Oh My Darling Clementine” twice. And after we’ve determined the entire date, I must lead them in a rousing verse of “Today is Monday, Today is Monday, April 23rd, April 23rd, 2011, 2011, That’s the date, That’s the date” to the tune of “Frère Jacques”. I have a really hard time not singing off key at the higher parts, and it’s rough to squish “February twenty third” into like three syllables. Awkward. But I do it. Four times a day. Five days a week.

…eat Spam.

Yep.

I made it to the age of 25 without ever seeing a can of Spam in real life, but August 2010 that all changed because Spam is everywhere in this country. Continue reading

Silent Treatment

fuck yeah!

Megan and I trotted up to Seoul this weekend with a group of friends to see a concert, and, pressed for time, we took the train there and back instead of the luxury bus we are accustomed to. (It is not really very luxurious.) Pumped for the show and prowling the train for beers, we 6 Americans had a tough time keeping it quiet and together. Even on the ride back to Gwangju we were restless and talkative. We are barbaric in our need to express emotion with our mouths.

You see, public transportation in Korea is a halcyon sanctuary, cathedral-quiet and peaceful, where everyone reads the newspaper and scowls at the philistines’ gaping maws. Maws are not for using. It is most difficult to treat  transit as one might treat a library, given that things like this happen on the trains, planes and buses of my homeland:

indeed.

No surprise then that we were shushed by the train staff over a wild game of Hearts. And that we immediately took offense to said shushing, as it’s a  TRAIN and we weren’t even being THAT loud. So we got sarcastic instead of quiet. Because duh, we weren’t even being LOUD, Korea! GOD! Like you’re so perfect!

Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that our British friend (who tagged along with us on the way home) did not receive the same treatment as the Americans. He was being very British nearby, listening to Karl Pilkington podcasts and chortling to himself; no shushing required. Also, not a single Korean was hushed, not even the wailing babies. (We took it upon ourselves to berate the babies, sarcastically.)

So the only conclusions I can draw are: A) we are as loud and horrible as the world thinks, or B) we are victims of racial profiling. Occam-ing suggests inclining toward the prior hypothesis. We Americans in question made noise with our faces and didn’t take kindly to polite suggestions to stop. Guilty of all charges in that Google search bar picture. Worse, we are the jackassiest jackasses about it, because when confronted about our volume, we respond with more and greater volume.  To our credit, we’re only trying to have a good time. But doing so in the vicinity of dour ajummas and businessmen is strictly verboten.

Graphic Content

Anyeong Haseyo! Guess who’s back from Europe? Look what I did:

And nourished shall be thy body,dessicated by the scorching inferno of temperance

that, AND I wrote like 400 more words on my novel (coming in 2035 – a labor of agonizing love and chock full o’ genius), AND kept constantly reminding my old bosom buddy Hayes that living in Korea is way harder than living in France and that he should move that bottle of wine closer to the couch so I don’t have to get up because I’m on vacation and I’ve been living in Korea. Oh, and did he think he could drive me to the store for more wine? Because I started drinking wine at 11 am and might run out before dinner.  Whatever Hayes. Shut up. I usually live in Korea. For like four months now I usually live in Korea. My life is hard and burdened and totally cool. So totally cooler than your stupid life. In Europe. Which I also secretly want.

Pretty much any complaint/observation Hayes made about his new life situation elicited the same knee-jerk response from me: It is harder to live in Korea than France, therefore your discomfort is invalid and I’m better than you.

I can’t decide if this illustrates my natural fondness of pissing contests or some reaction that occurs when you encounter another American abroad. But I think there is a kind of currency to where one lives, when one chooses to live abroad. I have made a graph to illustrate my point. (Erins = Units of Cool. Look it up.)

See it in all it’s professional glory (and larger!) here.

So, supposing you’re an English-speaking American like myself, living in the States starts you out at 0. Then, as you get further away from other English-speaking Americans, and further from what one might consider a “safe” place with few repulsive diseases or the threat of frostbite/trench foot, the more Erins you acquire. So like, the most socially impressive place you can live is, short of the moon, on a remote volcanic island, unpopulated save for plague-harboring rodents which you are forced to hunt and eat.

Of course this is partially in jest, but there’s something to studying the question Why Do We Go Where We Go? And why do I think Cappadocia > Minnesota? Or Korea > France?  Look deeper into your black, withered hearts, Readers, and tell me that there isn’t a sliver of you that doesn’t travel for bragging rights. That doesn’t look forward to that first conversation whenever you might make it back home to say to some stranger, “Oh, I’ve just been spending the last year abroad. In Asia. What have you done lately?”

Air Strip

Yo readers, Erin reporting live from an uncomfortable chair in the Schiphol Airport, from the middle of a mind-numbing layover. Please tolerate my mumblings as I  entertain myself on this wifi.

So we’ve all been hearing about those body scanners getting instituted at airports, right? The ones that show your unmentionables to everyone? Well looky here at what’s hanging out at my gate.

show me your boooooooobs

Little did I know that Amsterdam was one of the preeminent purchasers of these stupid, rights/clothes stripping machines. (Illegal substances, duh. ) I just think these are so….paranoid. And violating. I don’t know. This is the world we live in – there’s no easy permeating of borders. If you go from place to place, this is the toll: giving some pervy Dutch nerd an eyeful.

While I’m all for flight security, I’m really not thrilled about wandering through this. Not only for the reasons already mentioned, but also because I have an anachronistic distrust of machines. (“Let me out of this consarned contraption! Egads, these auto-mobiles are surely tools of Satan himself!”) And this machine…this machines resembles all too much that pod Jeff Goldblum went into, only to exit as Brundlefly.

Can we all agree this is worse than terrorism or a butt full of drugs?

So yeah. If I come out of this irradiated or microwaved or spliced with fly DNA, I will be no happy camper. But not nearly as unhappy a camper as if Pervy Dutch Nerd dares describe my nudie security shot as “the unerotic body of someone who’s been eating a diet solely of cheese for an extended period of time.”

This Post Is About Birth Control

Being the perfect mix of anxious and lazy, I tend to worry about things but never quite follow through on the actions that would ease my concerns. This means that I will spend a lot of time fretting over how much work I have to do for this week’s English Camp, for instance, but I won’t actually DO the work in a timely manner so as to ease my own distress.

I found myself in a similar situation coming to Korea. I knew I’d need to find THE birth control pill while here, and so I scoured the internet to determine how feasible this task would be before I actually set out in search of it. I read it’s available sans doctor visit, and that it’s criminally cheap, so I decided not to stock up before I left the U.S.  Then that was all I did until the last minute when I finally really needed it.

When I lived in Argentina, getting birth control pills was as simple as going to the pharmacy and requesting the “pastilla (pill) de no bebe” or “embarazo (pregnancy) no”.  At least that’s how I did it when I first arrived and my Spanish was less…civilized.

The language barrier here is considerably more daunting, and while I had eight years of Spanish under my belt to help me in Buenos Aires (I could understand most questions asked to me and mime in response), these days it’s all I can do to get out a gamsahamnida (thank you) and anyeongikaeseyo (goodbye) to the cab driver. The thought of rolling into a pharmacy with something scribbled in my “Korean” and hoping to end up with oral contraceptives seemed way out of my league. Also, remember that I’m lazy.

So I turned to my female coteachers. While researching, I had read that Koreans might be kind of judgy and weird about the pill. I didn’t know if this was true or not, but I didn’t want to push my luck in the first few weeks I was here and so I took the advice of Random Internet Person, who suggested saying that I need the pill to ease PMS symptoms and/or make my skin clearer (two other fucking awesome things that the pill does besides ensuring that there aren’t mini-Megans terrorizing the world yet).

See?!? No one wants this.

 

This is how that conversation went:

Me (to my three young female coteachers): So I have a weird question…about birth control pills…

Them: Whaaa?!? Birth?!?

Me: Not birth, birth control, you know, like contraception. Prevent babies pills. Pills. That you swallow. And no baby.

Them: *staring at me and shifting uncomfortably, afraid to look one another in the eye*

Me: You know like, a pill that you take everyday so that you don’t GET pregnant?

Them: Mmmmm *more shifting*

Me (cue appeal to sympathies): I used to take them but I don’t here and I’m in a lot of pain because of my period and I need to get back on them, but I don’t know how to ask at the pharmacy. What do I say?

Them: Ah! Tyrenor. You need Tyrenor. No birth control. Tyrenor.

Me: Okay, yes, Tylenol now would be good. But also, what word do I use at the pharmacy for contraceptive pills?

Them: Tyrenor?

Me: Could someone write it down maybe please?

Them: Tyrenor? “T” “Y” “R”

Me: Nooo, no. Birth control pill.

Them: Let’s go. Let’s go school nurse, ask now.

Me: The nurse has birth control???

Them: Tyrenor. You need Tyrenor.

And then I was physically led downstairs to the nurse where I was given a box of Tyrenor. Mission: Failed.

I can’t say for sure why three women were unwilling to accept that I was asking for how to say ‘birth control pill’ (though this might explain a little bit, and maybe this). It was obvious that at least one of them knew what I was talking about and could tell that I was not satisfied with just Tylenol, but wouldn’t help me with the info I wanted. I don’t think it was malicious or mean, it was just terribly awkward and a complete failure in both getting the pill or feeling comfortable trying to ask someone else to help me.

I got pretty psyched out about the whole thing and then suffered my own ‘worried meets lazy’ fate. I fretted over how I would get my hands on some damn birth control, but let months pass before I grew the balls to ask someone again.

The only person I could still ask was my female coteacher at my other school, the one who, by way of another lady’s maternity leave, has been pretty much solely responsible for babysitting me since September. She is kind and sweet and probably the only Korean who I can say knows me in any real sense. She is also very religious and it is for that reason I had not wanted to broach this particular topic with her. The Christiany-religious stuff here really scares confuses and I don’t have a good grasp on just how devout my colleagues are and what it means (I’ve seen people pray before using the computer?). I wanted this coteacher to continue being my friend and I just wasn’t sure how my barbarian need for the pill would be received yet again.

This week, though, post-English Camp, I went out to lunch with her, just the two of us, a block away from a pharmacy. I waited until we were finished eating and then pretended like I had just then, there, on the spot!, remembered that I wanted to ask her something.  Like I hadn’t been planning for days that I would make this conversation  happen this week when we’d have a lot of “alone” time.

My question came out at super speed, a mumbly nervous mess of “and  I used to be on it and I don’t know how to say and I know it might be weird and I’m sorry but maybe could you help me and you take it every day for a month and no babies and I’m sorry are you confused it’s everyday no babies”.

She stared at me for a moment and I couldn’t read whether it was disgust or confusion or a combination of the two. But then she said, “Hmm. I am not familiar with that. I don’t know what it’s called, but we can go to a pharmacy right now and see.”

SCORE. We marched into the pharmacy, she asked one question, and in less than two minutes I had paid for my $7 box of oral contraception, ala Korea.

 

Yeah it's got wonky Korean directions, but still

For anyone who needs to know, the brand is Mercilon (마시른) and it comes in a pink box. Bonus!: It’s really low hormone, so I win again.

 

Hey Look at Me! I’m Kinda Korean!

No, this isn’t another vaguely racist blog post. This is about adaptation, y’all.

Moving to a different country, speaking a new (and Asian) language, diving head first into a new profession, all of these things are designed to challenge one’s identity. The whole point of moving myself to the other side of the world was to encourage personal development. It’s a pretty solid equation

Discomfort = Adaptation = Growth = Bad Ass Human Person

I expected life to be inconvenient: communicating in general, becoming familiar with the public transportation, getting a hold of American things like food or beauty products, none of these challenges came as a surprise. It’s the kind of stuff you take for granted when you are nestled in America, the ease with which you function on a daily basis.

But then there were a few unexpected twists and problems that I did not think I’d be facing, and it’s kind of goofed up my plan.

“Hey dude this beer tastes horrible.”

I didn’t realize that it would be impossible to drink a decent beer. I don’t know if anyone believes us when we keep saying this, but the beer here is shit. It’s just plain awful shit. I often find myself wondering if I would enjoy a Keystone or a Coors Lite more than Korean beer. Worse, I find myself believing the answer is yes.

The dearth of tasty alcohol has left me with a bit of an identity crisis. I’ve gone weeks at a time, WEEKS people, without having a beer. There’s a large bottle of soju that has been sitting on top of my refrigerator untouched since the beginning of September. And the only night I usually drink now is Fridays. THE ONLY NIGHT.

Sometimes I’ll turn to Erin and say, “Remember when we used to get off work at 5:00 on any old weeknight and head straight to <insert random bar> and drink a few <insert tasty beers>? When we used to drink for pleasure?” And then our eyes gloss over as we step back in time and watch our former selves enjoying spontaneous Happy Hour at Delilah’s or T’s.

Then we snap to, soberly look each other up and down, and shudder at what different people we are, what different, less alcohol-bloated people we are.

“Hey, it’s COLD in here.”

If you are reading this blog and plan to come to Korea to teach English, bring long underwear. I will say it again, if you are coming to Korea to teach in a school, bring long underwear. One more time, just in case, if you will be teaching in Korea in the winter BRING LONG UNDERWEAR.

November rolled around and it got cold, as it’s apt to do in the Northern Hemisphere. Then it got colder, and then a little colder. And as it kept getting colder, the Koreans began wearing their puffy coats in school and started opening the windows like it was spring. The foreigners, in turn, started wondering why all the windows are open and why isn’t the heat on. Not one of the answers I have received about the lack of heat and the compulsion to “be one with the outdoors” is satisfying. So I’m forced to spend most of the day with my winter coat on, still freezing my bum off from the icy breeze that’s come in one of those open windows.

And the other day, a Korean had the AUDACITY to insinuate that I was foolish for “not knowing” it would be cold here.

“Didn’t you know it would be cold here?” As in, didn’t you know Korea has a winter season that gets cold?

Um, excuse me, bitch please. “Yes. I did know that Korea has WINTER. Thank you. I just didn’t know that Korea lets winter INSIDE”. I did not know that you choose to leave all the fucking windows open all day and that everyone has to dress like a bloody eskimo to come teach in what is essentially a walk in freezer.

Forced to adapt, I have become a person who appreciates heated America in a completely new way. But I have also become a angry popsicle person. This one might just be a wash as far as personal growth goes.

“Hey, but, how do I cook?”

I knew the kitchen would be small. That there’d probably be no oven. That I’d be working with only a pair of burners to get my ‘cook’ on. But I was still pretty optimistic about being able to spend time in the kitchen doing my very favorite thing in the world, the thing that makes me feel like me.

However, my hopes were quickly extinguished when I realized that I have limited access to American cooking ingredients (remember cheese?), that I can’t read or identify Korean food, and that while I can function with two burners, one square foot of ‘counter’ space is actually really sucky.

I gave up on the cooking pretty quickly. I started eating more and more for lunch at school and pretty much stopped eating any kind of real meal for dinner. I might have a snack, some fruit (I know!) or a piece of toast. And so the only thing gourmet I do anymore is make spam and egg sandwiches on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, they are kick ass, and I’ve perfected the frying of an egg, but as a culinary enthusiast I don’t have much to show for my four months here. I feel sort of like I’ve failed myself.

Which is why last night’s Kimchi Fried Rice was a major accomplishment. I know, it’s just fried rice, like the easiest thing on the planet to make. But this is the first time that I’ve really used Korean ingredients to make anything resembling a Korean dish, and it’s only because I was forced to. A coteacher gave me a giant tub of kimchi and I needed to figure out something to do with it besides just eat it plain.

TaDa

And so I fried a little spam and fried a little egg and put some kimchi and kimchi juice and rice in a pan, and voila! Now I’m more me than I’ve been in a long time, but I’m also kind of Korean!