Friends–the hardest thing to leave. Always.

These are a few…

.


of the people I’ll miss.

Above: Shane and Rose, Kent and Amanda, Sam and Jesse, Johnathan, Wooram, Jin, Haven and Ina, Gina, Tabitha, Amanda and Kyle. (Joe, too–but he’s coming with me.)

There are many more whose presence I will remember when I look back on the chapter of life I spent in Korea. (Hello to my original Busan Crew: Ashley and Jason, Leah, Bryan, and Dianna.  Also: Wonseop, Adi, Branden, Ashley, Kendra, Hena, Paul, Becky, Stephanie, Peter in Seoul, and all my co-teachers…)

Korea–you’ve blessed me with two years of new friendships.

Thank you. xx

Johnathan, Sun Break

A couple weeks ago I went to an overnight beach party with a group of friends and a couple hundred other people somewhere along the east coast, an hour or two from Daegu.  It rained the whole day.  Monsoon-style fat drops, with only a few drizzle breaks. My umbrella went missing.  We drank too much beer.  And then, at sunset, it stopped.

Johnathan, the shoreline, the sky.

I was with Johnathan, my beautiful friend from South Africa.  He cooks curry and smokes skinny Korean cigarettes and in Busan invites people to his one-room apartment close to the Oncheonjang stream, where we sit in a circle on the floor with the windows open, bottles of Makgeolli and maybe a Korean chardonnay chilling in the door of the fridge; we talk about politics and Johnathan tells us that in South Africa giraffes aren’t that impressive, that it’s the lions you must see.  He says it that way, says must and points his finger into the air with conviction so you believe him whether its lions or politics–mostly it’s South African politics we talk about because I want to learn and the country, he says, is changing so quickly.  In South Africa he is a lawyer but here he teaches public school, and one day this kind man will lecture in a university somewhere, speaking to a room with a hundred pairs of ears but I can listen now, and learn.  He speaks perfect courteous English, says it is a pleasure, when we say goodbye, it is always such a pleasure.  

Goodbye My Busan Family

Twelve months ago I arrived in Busan with two suitcases, a digital camera, a yoga mat, and an aging Toshiba laptop which has since hummed its final weary tune.  I flew in alone and woke in a motel in a neighbourhood called Yeonsandong.  The streets smelled like fish broth and car exhaust.  The women wore heels.  I wandered out in search of coffee and napped the jet lag off.  I was overseas again.  I was out in the world.  I felt free, and relieved.

I also found a family.  For 12 months, we’ve taught at the same school and lived in the same building.  We’ve eaten chimichangas at Taco’s Family in PNU and danced to techno at Maktum.  We hiked to the top of Mt. Geumjeong.  We slid down the mud slide at Boryeong.  I touched the DMZ tunnel walls with Bryan and Dianna and walked among the late-night Hongdae crowds with Leah. We wore rainbow wigs with Ashley and Jason, pinned hearts to our shirts on Halloween, and spent hours talking about Europe and S.E. Asia and Egypt and Indonesia, and all the other places in the world we’ve seen and want to see.

This morning Bryan and Dianna boarded a plane to Tokyo.  They will connect to American airlines and fly home for a month before embarking on their next adventure, which will start in Dublin and end nine months later somewhere near Thailand.  In seven days Leah, too, will go–Miami first to see her family and friends, and then to London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and countless other cities, arriving in Indonesia sometime around the end of 2011.

The streets are slippery today with rain.  I am staying.  In the morning I will walk to school, to new faces.  I will move my teaching books into Leah’s old desk in the office and start preparing for the week, for taking over the kindergarten students Bryan and Dianna used to teach–Albert and Cooper and Sunny and Min-wook.  My life is built on my ability to adapt to change.  But I will miss them.  I will really miss them.

.

Dianna, Bryan, me, and Leah--Mudfest 2010

 

People I Meet: Bryan from Richmond, Virginia

When you board a plane in Canada and fly to Korea alone, knowing you probably won’t see your friends for at least a year but likely two, and on the other side you know no one, the prospect of who you might meet becomes pretty important.

Lucky for me, one of these people was Bryan.

.

 

.

Days in Korea: 360

Days left: 2

Has a B.A. in: History

And a Masters of: Science in Sports Leadership

From: An all-male college in Virginia called Hampden-Sydney

While in Busan he ran his first: Half-marathon

And became an expert at: Cooking crazy-good quesadillas for Dianna, Leah, and me

Has been starting every morning with: Six kindergarten students in a class called Harvard

And taming a wild mulleted Korean child called: Hero

Loved hitting balls at: The PNU batting cage

And rocking dance club moves at: Maktum in Haeundae and Foxy in Seomyeon

Korea surprised him with: How convenient the convenient stores are

And made him become more: Independent

But he wishes it had: Oven-baked sandwich shops

His favorite memories of the last year are: Dressing as a Hite beer fairy for Halloween in Kyung Sung

And: Cheering for the U.S. and South Korea in the FIFA World Cup

He traversed the country to: Seoul, The DMZ, Jeju, Jinhae, Boryeong, Gohan, Taebek and Gyeongju

And spent vacations checking out: China and Japan

On April 3, he and Dianna will fly from D.C. to: Dublin

To start a nine-month journey through: Europe, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and S.E. Asia

Back in the U.S., he will get his: Masters in Education

To teach: High school history and coach baseball

I will miss his: Loud bursts of laughter and compassionate spirit

As well as: Our talks about life beneath his massive world map

And I wish him: Adventures through places that make his mind feel sublime

.

  .

   

.

Goodbye my friend–I will miss you.  We will meet again!

Cheerleader Dinosaur Love

You never imagined the words “kindergarten” and “teacher” would attach themselves to your name, become a part of your identity, appear on your resume beside the unexpected year of 2010.  But you wake up one morning in Korea, draw eyeliner whiskers on your cheeks, and walk into a classroom full of pirates, vampires, and a six-year old cheerleader called Sunny.

.

.

Who sits beside a dinosaur called Thomas.

.

You’re a kindergarten teacher.  You hear a voice rising from your throat each day that says things like “Who can sit nicely?”, “Be, be QUIET!” and “hands in lap,” over and over again, above the sound of feet tapping and pencils dropping and fingers drumming pretend piano keys on wooden desks.  You’ve served pasta in Victoria.  You’ve sold real estate in Edmonton.  You’ve poured 5 a.m. cocktails in Greece and scrubbed glass-bottom boats in Israel.  You think about the future and another year of teaching.  You think about the year after that, about your life and the things that still remain.  Sunny clutches your hand in the Halloween parade and Thomas jumps on your back, his dinosaur arms circling your neck as you cross the Busan street, cat ears pointing to the sun, knowing that teacher, too, is a temporary title, a two-year moment infused with the kind of love that children exude, unfettered by past griefs, open and awake to the new afternoon, where everything possible exists and will lie waiting. 

.

.

.

People I Meet: Ashley and Jason from Chicago

.

Days in Korea: Somewhere close to 365

Days left in Korea: 2

First met Ashley: Through email last December, when she wrote to me from SLP, the private school where I now work

What she said:Most days I love the kids and teaching. . . it’s very clean, lunches are good, and the kids are amazing.”

Tagline on their blog Karma Travels: Love to Help. Love to Travel

In 2009, they volunteered in Peru for: Earthquake relief and children with special needs

And in Costa Rica at: a Wildlife Refuge relocating eggs for Leatherback Sea Turtles

Currently fundraising for: A new well in Butakoola Village, Uganda

Following a volunteer stint in Uganda, they plan to traverse: Kenya, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, and India

Future dream is: Creating their own non-profit organization for social justice

Back home, they can’t wait to: Eat sweet veggie goodness at their favourite Chicago restaurants

With: Their friends and family

And: Hug their dogs

I am moved by: Their energy, ambition, and generosity

And will miss: Their laughter, insight and thoughtfulness

As well as: Ashley’s crazy-good banana bread

And: Our late-night walks along the stream

I wish them: Experiences that continue to inspire their days

And hope: We will see each other again, in another part of the world…

.                                                                       .

Keep in touch my friends! xo

People I Meet: Dianna from Shreveport

 

 

Days in Korea: 108

Hails from: Shreveport, Louisiana

Outlook on life was drastically altered in 2008 by: a semester in Florence

Moved to Busan with: her boyfriend Bryan

Met him: last June during a waitressing stint in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Has a weakness for: 3 a.m. kebabs

Recently splurged on: a stand-up fan and a French press

Is gonna get dirty at: Mud Fest

Recently taught her Kindergarten class to sing: Skinna Marinky Dinky Dink

Is squeamish about: stickers

Is stoked to check out: China in July

Especially to see: The Terracotta Warriors

Frequently skypes with: her 1-and-a-half-year-old nephew Caleb

Listens to: Spencer Day

Goes for: 3 mile runs

In a Seoul hotel room, she, Bryan, and I recently stayed up until 2 a.m. discussing: the Vietnam War

While eating: Pringles

Tacked to her living room wall is: a world map

Recently added to her reading list: Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea”

Wishes she’d packed more: winter shoes

Often says: y’all

Post Busan, she’ll roam through: S.E. Asia

After that, she’ll likely: move to Prague

A couple weeks ago we: chilled out in the sun at Songjeong Beach

And sipped on: Cass Lemon

And watched: Korean teenagers toss each other into the sea

And took: this photo

.

.