Tag Archives: Zingara Travels

Workspace Revision: What to do with old journals

Waiting for the new bookshelves.

With July coming to a close and a new semester hot on its heels, this weekend seemed like a good time to “revise” my workspace. This has involved: 1) moving my meditation and yoga accoutrements from my office to the bedroom, where there is more space for such activities, 2) ordering a couple of new bookshelves, and 3) boxing up the stacks of books that were lining the baseboard under the printer table.

Though I’ll have to step around boxes of books until the new bookshelves arrive, I am happy with the shape this little project is taking, and particularly like having a meditation space that is separate from my work space. Once the books make their final migration to the living room, where the new bookshelves will be placed, I will have a reasonably clutter-free, dedicated workspace for freelance work and writing.

I also went through a stack of notebooks stashed in the closet to see what was important enough to keep and what could possibly be recycled or re-purposed. There were a couple of half-filled notebooks whose pages were occupied with lists andIMG_0585[1] musings that I was willing to tear out and toss for the sake of using the last of the notebook paper. Other notebooks were filled with lesson plans and agendas from classes I’ve taught in the past, most of which have also found their way to the recycling bin. This leaves one and one-half smaller notebooks filled with favorite poems that I copied from various sources over the years that I will continue to use, and two daily planners marked with copious notes, task lists, and the names and phone numbers for people I barely remember. I’m pretty sure these are headed for the shredder.

What remains are journals spanning the years from 2017 to the present which were written during the years I spent living in New Mexico, Korea, Kansas City, and, in the case of the the latest addition, Charleston.

IMG_0586[1]The year 2008 is especially well represented with over two spiral-bound college-ruled notebooks dedicated to, well, mostly morning pages. That was the year I dedicated myself to the ideas in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and was writing three pages worth of thoughts every day. I was all about process over product and writing through the superficial stuff to get to the good stuff those days. The problem was that by the time I finished my morning pages, I had to get to work, so didn’t have time to work on the creative stuff. The other issue that I kept coming up against was that I was pretty much writing about the same crap every day, so much so that I felt like I was beginning to affirm the things in my character that I didn’t particularly want reaffirmed. I thought that writing about what worried me would help me get past them, but instead it seemed just to compound them. So, after about six months of devoting my early morning hours to morning pages, I revised my practice and started writing about other things, like ideas, images and poems. There is still plenty of complaining and fretting going on in these later notebooks, but at least a few of their entries are interesting. The rest, well, the rest was necessary, even if it doesn’t exactly show my best, most intelligent self. They were the crap I needed to write though to get to the good stuff.

The most interesting notebooks are probably the ones I kept while living in Korea, a year in which the value of a journal became most obvious to me. I was very careful about documenting everything that happened to me and every activity I tried because I knew I would only be there for twelve months. Some of those entries spilled over into a scrapbook, which I am still putting together, and others developed into blog posts, like this one about Building 63. Still others served as inspiration for a number of poems written and will probably serve to inspire poems yet born. Of all the journals in my closet, these are probably the ones I most enjoy rereading.

Journals I’ve kept since returning from Korea contain a lot of projects and plans. Their pages are filled with notes on how to IMG_0588[1]develop ZingaraPoet.net in 2011 and how to organize 200 New Mexico Poems posts and readings in 2012. Their pages are where I discuss the poems of poets I admire as well as the progress (or lack thereof) I experienced in the writing of my own poetry. Still peppered with concerns about my career, complaints about my environment, and commentary about my current mood, these journals were invaluable tools for deepening my relationship with self, leading me to understand that I could, and can, depend on my own inner resources rather than on externals.

The most recent journal, added to the collection just this week, is mostly concerned with my transition to Charleston, and, having spent most of my life west of the Mississippi, this transition has been considerable. The despair, confusion, and hope for better days expressed in its early pages are still fresh, allowing me to bring only a small degree of perspective to these past two years. But, like the journal I kept in Korea, this one represents intense growth of the kind only available when living far outside one’s comfort zone. The kind of growth experienced when a person is determined to move from survival to efficacy.

IMG_0589[1]So what will I do with this stack of water-stained, yellow-paged, dog-eared spiral notebooks and bound journals from the past? Well, appreciating these well-documented years is a worthy activity. I suppose, too, so is the sense of posterity I get in seeing the stack expand and grow.

David Sedaris once said in an interview that he indexes his journals, a practice that I sort of tried — only I used multi-colored tabs to indicate which entries were poems and which entries had potential to become essays or memoirs.

For now I am content reading through my notebooks and journal with no particular purpose or plan in mind – just an opportunity to cultivate a healthy relationship with myself and a way to spend my time —

waiting for the new bookshelves to arrive.

Cotton-balls in Seoul: What to Pack for South Korea

I am beginning to appreciate just how many Americans travel to South Korea each year for employment. Take Chung Dahm for example. They hire approximately 300 teachers every quarter. Multiply that by hundreds of academies and hogwons across the country and the number of ESL teachers coming into the country each year climbs into the thousands. Add to that the thousands of enlisted soldiers coming to live on various military branches and the hundreds of businessmen and women working for big corporations who regularly spend weeks, months, or even years living in Seoul and you come up with a population comprised of about 2% foreigners – a significant number when considering the population in South Korea is somewhere in the 50 million range. It’s none too surprising, then, that the big question among people headed to the ROK is: What do I pack?

So, for today’s post, I put together a list of items to consider packing for a long stay in Korea with a little discussion of each. I hope future expats find here a useful anecdote or two.

WHAT TO PACK:

  • Deodorant: Unless you have easy access to a commissary, deodorant is difficult to find and expensive when it is. If you get stuck in a lurch, you can purchase deodorant for a high-markup price at several of the foreign markets in Itaewon, but it’s much easier just to go to the Dollar General Store before leaving the states and stocking up on a year’s supply to throw in your luggage.  It’s well worth the extra weight and luggage space. Also, it will save you from having to beg friends and family to send more when July rolls around and you’re sick of your own stench.  Seriously, Koreans do not use deodorant and you will not find it on the shelves at E-mart or any other retailer.
  • Toothpaste: While there is plenty of toothpaste to be had in S. Korea, it is quite dissimilar to American brands, so if you have a favorite brand, I recommend packing  a year’s supply of that, too. Next to deodorant, it is the American product highest in demand among American expats.
  • Clothes and Shoes: This may seem obvious, but unless you are petite and thin (or of Asian descent), it will be difficult to find clothes that fit properly. There are several fundamental differences in body shapes between Korean and American people and most clothes available for sale in Korea are not going to accommodate the size, shape, or length of the average Western body frame, even in extra-large sizes. If you can’t fit a full year’s supply of clothing into your suitcases, I recommend packing clothes for the season you will arrive and for the season that follows. Next, arrange to have a friend send you a box of clothes in six month’s time. It may be expensive, but not any more so than buying specialty clothes in Korea. Besides, that’s an infinitely better option than wearing clothes that feel awkward or which are inappropriate for the season. If you find yourself in a lurch on this one, try scouring foreign clothing stores in Itaewon, though even here the selection will be limited to an odd array of knock-off t-shirts and baggy jeans.
    • If you are up for an adventure, find a tailor or seamstress in the Dongdaemun Fabric Market who is willing to work with you. If you are a little savvy, open-minded, and willing to try speaking Korean, you could get a really wonderful deal on custom-made clothing – Western style OR Korean, for they regularly make traditional Hanbok for weddings and family photos.
  • Cosmetics for Your Skin Tone: Clinique, Este’ Lauder and Channel are just some of the major high-end brands that ARE available in the malls in and around Seoul, but keep in mind that foundation, make-up, and powder shades are suitable for the Asian complexion.

DON’T BOTHER PACKING:

Korean Language Books and Guides: Not only are there myriad language books and guides in used book stores around Itaewon and the foreign book sections of large bookstores like Bandi & Luni’s, you will also likely inherit books from fellow expats, teachers, or co-workers who no longer need them.

  • Shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and other every-day toiletries: There is an abundance of these types of products in stores all over South Korea. Besides E-mart, these products are available Watson’s, Homeplus, Costco, and most pharmacies. Also, there are millions of Body Shop, Olive, The Face Shop, and similar outlets in every neighborhood.
  • Accessories like sunglasses, socks, ties, hats, scarves, Jewelry: Name brand knock-offs of these products can be purchased from the thousands of street vendors that line the streets of nearly any district in S. Korea, not to mention in the subway stations and sidewalks of most neighborhoods. If you don’t want to buy the cheap stuff from a street vendor, there are something like two million stores and malls in S. Korea, many of them high-end, where you can buy high-quality items. You won’t be sorry.
  • Office, Art, and School supplies: S. Korea is a virtual heaven for the office and art supply aficionado, most of it exceeding anything you can find in America in terms of quality and variety. My very favorite place to shop in the entire country is Dream Depot. In fact, I’ve filled boxes and bags of stuff from Dream Depot to send back home.

Recommended:

  • Favorite accessories, books you feel you can’t live without, and your favorite teddy-bear: Even though there are many quality products in S. Korea, sometimes you just want your own stuff, so pack it. Living abroad for a year is a big challenge and it’s a good plan to have a few comfort items and mementos of home to get you through those less-than-stellar expat moments.

Post Script: One evening, a group of my fellow teachers and I were swapping stories about our first impressions of S. Korea – specifically, what we had and had not packed. One of the newer teacher said that for some reason she worried she wouldn’t be able to find cotton balls in Korea, so she’d packed way more than she could ever use in a year. Since cotton balls are not hard to find, she was giving a few of her packages away.

The perspectives we had acquired through experience allowed us to laugh at ourselves and the silly misconceptions we had before coming to South Korea. Still, preparing for a year of teaching abroad can be somewhat of a mystery fraught with anxiety for some. With any luck, this post will make the job a little easier a fellow angst-prone (but none-the-less adventurous), traveler.

From Korea to Missour-ah: More Thoughts on Transition

Two months have passed since my return from South Korea and I suppose my transition is well underway. I’ve been busy with volunteer work at The Writers Place and as a manuscript reader and occasional proof-reader at New Letters Literary Magazine at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. I attend every reading I can, every community writing class and workshop that holds interest for me, and a remarkable number of live performances. I’ve already seen two operas, a ballet, two modern dance productions, a performance by Quixotic, a piano recital and a play at the Unicorn theater.  I even wrote a 50,000 word novel.  To top it off, I will start teaching at the Blue River Campus, Metropolitan Community College in January.

But as my feet become  firmly planted in Missouri, my loyalties are still disconnected. Being busy is merely a coping mechanism, and while it may belie my inner restlessness, it only hides my lingering sense of dislocation. I had grown accustomed to always having people with which to do interesting things or discuss intense work and life experiences. People who knew the implications and share the humor inherent in such expressions as “really?’,  “teacher, why?” or “not delicious!”

I knew while living it that my life in Korea would pass very quickly, so I made it a point to pay careful attention to every possible detail while there. Now my memories are filled with details that cannot be captured with words or digital images but can be re-experienced through daydreaming and reminiscing with friends. They are not easily shared with strangers.

Time will inevitably lessen my loneliness and disconnection and soften the acute edges of my remembered truths, though I do not wholly welcome it; for with time comes distance between myself and a difficult adventure I want always to remember in vivid detail.

Busan, South Korea: A Photo Journal

Gwangmyeong Station Korail:From Seoul to Busan in under three hours

Busan is a fantastic vacation spot, especially in September when most of August’s vacation goers have returned to their regular homes, a new school year or their regular work routine.

The pace in Busan is comparatively slower and the atmosphere more relaxed than Seoul. In September, the water is still warm and the beaches are less crowded. The swimming beach at Hundae is clean and has many restaurants nearby for every taste – lots of foreign food chains as well as local favorites and traditional Korean food. The Hundae area also has a shopping area, a movie theater and an aquarium right on the beach. There are hotels for every family type and all price ranges and all within walking distance of the beach.

Picture of the Korean Landscape (from train window)

Hundae Beach in Busan: World Record for Most Beach Umbrellas at One Time

September is a great time to visit because vacation season is over but the water is still warm

Resort Hotels on Hundae Beach

Lord Beach Hotel: Minutes from the Beach

Lovely Nearby Thai Restaurant

Tasty Appetizers!

Hundae Beach and Resort Area at Night

Out for a Ferry Ride!

Ferry Destination…

Going Under…

Turning Around…

and one last backward glance.

Folks Appreciating Electronic Art: Hundae Beach

Anecdotes and Advice Revisited: Deodorant Availability in South Korea

Among the many words of advice passed on to me when people learned I was moving to South Korea to teach was to “pack a year’s worth of deodorant.” Everyone said that deodorant would be difficult to find in South Korea, and even when found, it would would be expensive and/or ineffective.

I researched this point a little before leaving the states, mostly by cruising blogs of others living in South Korea (and documenting their experience) and expat advice sites on the internet and found among all these sources a consensus that, yes, indeed, deodorant is difficult to find in South Korea.

Eager to test the validity of this rumor once I had arrived in South Korea, I made it a point to check out the toiletries aisle at our neighborhood E-mart during our first shopping expedition. The aisle was well stocked with every imaginable health and beauty product available, from shampoo and conditioner to toothpaste to shaving cream and disposable razors. “Ah ha!” I thought smugly to myself. “Deodorant is surely among this plethora of products.” I walked confidently down the aisle expecting any moment to see Korean versions of recognizable brands like “Secret” and “Old Spice” or some other similarly branded Korean deodorant. But alas, there was no sign of deodorant of any kind. I tried a couple of other likely aisles thinking perhaps E-mart arranges their toiletries in a different manner than it’s American counterparts, but I never found deodorant at E-Mart that day, or any day since.

Several months had passed since that first search for deodorant when I went to Itaewon for the first time and consequently to the Foreign Food Market. There, on a high shelf behind the counter, safe from the hands of casual shoppers and possible shoplifters, I noticed a collection of “foreign” beauty products. There, sitting between a bottle of Nivea body lotion and a container of Noxzema was a row of various brands of American deodorants. Because I had taken the advice of all those many expat blogs and websites and stocked up on deodorant before I came (thank you Dollar General Store) , I had no need to inquire into the price of those sticks of deodorant, but considering Campbell’s Tomato Soup is over $3.00 a can, I’ve no doubt the those rolls and sticks of deodorant were over priced and comparatively expensive.

But perhaps the proliferation of deodorant on the shelves of E-Mart and like chain stores is not too far in South Korea’s future. South Koreans are very consumerist oriented and lately I’ve been noticing advertisements on the subway for prescription antiperspirant, and really deodorant is not a big leap from antiperspirant, is it? (I know I confuse the two all the time). I also know Korean people to be fastidious in the personal hygiene as well as avid consumers, two conditions which, combined, seem to me to make an auspicious market for deodorant companies.

Consider dairy products as an example. I assumed there would be few dairy products in S. Korea for a couple of reasons: One, where would dairy cows be kept? Secondly, as far as I know, folks of Asian persuasion have a difficult time digesting lactose. Imagine my surprise when I saw aisles and aisles of dairy products at E-mart. Milk of every flavor (chocolate, strawberry, banana, peach, mango), American branded yogurt, drinkable yogurt (delicious, by the way), pudding and all kinds of ice cream. The only dairy product that has not much caught on yet is cheese (still available, but expensive).

So why all the dairy products? Perhaps it has to do with marketing.

On sidewalks in front of schools and academies on any given day there are stationed well dressed representatives of myriad companies promoting milk products the best way possible – by giving away free samples to kids. Convenience store owners are also known to give away an extra carton of flavored milk as “service” to customers buying something from their store. Also, there is a lot of very positive advertising for dairy products on billboards in the city and 0n the

Be White

Be White

subway. The most memorable of these is an imperative from “Smoothie King” to “Be White.” A slogan successful because white skin is highly prized in this part of the world, though it certainly doesn’t hurt to have celebrity endorsement of the likes of Olympic Gold Medalist, Yuna Kim.

I believe it is the direct result of this heavy marketing that S. Korean folks have embraced dairy products as enthusiastically just as they have embraced eating meat for three meals a day (as opposed to hardly ever); further, it is no big stretch of the imagination that, should deodorant companies begin a marketing campaign as aggressive as that of dairy products, deodorant companies will easily convince S. Koreans that they need these products despite the likely fact that they do not. I mean, if marketing can convince people to drink a product that is arguably hard on their digestive system, why wouldn’t it work equally well to convince people that don’t sweat much from their armpits that they need a product to prevent or minimize the odor of such bodily function? No much at all, I fear.

At this writing, unless you have access to the army base, deodorant is still pretty difficult find in South Korea and expensive when it is found.  If you are headed to the R.O.K and deodorant is an important part of your personal hygiene, then I also recommend packing extra for the trip. If you are the sort of person who is overly concerned about such things as the availability of deodorant in a foreign country, then you may want to reconsider your trip all together.

I Survived Typhoon Kompasu and All I Got Was This Lousy Post

Wow. Well, I guess I can say that I have lived through a typhoon, and while the effects of Typhoon Kompasu were far worse in Incheon and other coastal areas than in Peyongchon, I found the experience quite frightening nonetheless.

I was awakened Thursday morning by the sound of wind at around 6:oo AM, which literally howled through the open windows on either end of the long hallway that runs outside our officetel, sounding much like freight train. Having been raised in the Midwest (in Kansas no less) my first thought was that we were experiencing a tornado, or at least tornadic weather, but then I remember that I am in Korea where there are no tornadoes. I really had no idea what was going on, only that the wind was stronger than anything I’d ever experienced and, unlike storms in the Midwest, it did not subside for hours.

I listened hard to hear if any of the neighbors were leaving their officetels to go to the basement (or rather, the lower five levels of our building), which is what living in the Midwest has conditioned me to do during a storm, or for any indication of how to behave. But, other than the sound of the wind, there was nothing to hear. So I laid in bed imagining the havoc the wind was causing and tried to fall back to sleep. I achieved some fitful dozing over the next couple of hours but no real sleep until the storm had passed.

We had plans to meet friends around 10:00 that morning and go to Dongdaemun, and as we walked to the coffee shop that was our designated meeting place, we noticed downed limbs and broken glass around our neighborhood. The further we walked, the more damage we noticed: vending machines on their sides, windows blown out, small trees uprooted. When we got to the coffee shop, we found they weren’t open yet. One of the owners was out front cleaning up the debris, and fortunately, because the coffee shop is located on the ground floor on the East side of a pretty sturdy building, it had not received any grave damage to its front. Only the owner with the key was late getting to work. We were told, in a quintessentially Korean manner by the owner who was present, to “stay.”

The second owner arrived in a matter of minutes and told us it would take 20 minutes to get the coffee/espresso machine going, so we said we’d come back for our beverages later in the day. But, as we begun discussing our plans to go to Dongdaemun, she mentioned that a couple of the subway lines were down. After some thought and discussion, we reasoned that even if our subway line was cleared for travel, Dondaemun was probably as late opening as was our local coffee shop. We decided to stay and order beverages while we mulled over our next move.

Our decision was to spend the morning somewhere more local, so we hailed a couple of cabs to to carry our five selves across the river to Anyang station, an area known for its shopping.  On our way we saw a lot more damage. Large trees uprooted, glass and metal signs of considerable size lying smashed on the streets, awnings shredded, their frames twisted and deformed on sidewalks, more limbs and broken glass everywhere. I was impressed and realized just how mild the damage I was witnessing must be compared to the coastal areas. I also felt fortunate to live as far inland as I do.

The thing about a typhoon is that its effects are  much more widespread than a tornado’s. Unlike a tornado, which will just take out a farmhouse here, a shopping mall there, topple a few cars and twist a few trees, a typhoon overwhelms an entire geographic area, like a peninsula, and effect all of it. It’s only the degree of damage that varies.

The coffee shop owners mentioned that Korea experiences a storm of such magnitude about once a year, a fact that has been corroborated by several other of our Korean acquaintances.

I suffered no real harm from the experience, only lost some sleep, which I do on a regular basis for much less interesting reasons all the time. But actually living in a place where typhoons exist and getting a sense of the kind of damage they can cause has certainly ignited my imagination and given me a new perspective about them. I really hope I never have to experience one any closer than I have.

Most of my friends, consequently, slept through the whole thing.

Related Articles

Why Korean ESL Students Ask “Why?”

Many new Korean ESL instructors are sure to notice that their students have a peculiar way of asking the question “why?’ They will notice, for example, that from the mouths of a Korean ESL student, the question “why” has the kind of emphasized lilt which illustrates, without a doubt, that the student clearly understands how a question mark influences the inflection of a word. Instructors may also notice that their students will add an extra syllable to the word, thus “why” ends up sounding something like “why-ee?”

I’m no linguist, but I believe that at least part of the reason students exaggerate the long “e” in “why” has a little something to do with the fact that the English word for why sounds somewhat similar to the Hangul word of the same meaning, which sounds something like “whea.”

Now consider for a moment that Korean ESL students are expected to speak English exclusively during class time and, further, that the penalty for speaking Hangul during class includes anything from a lower participation grade (and Korean students DO take their participation grade seriously) to a two-minute speech on a subject of the teacher’s choosing – in English. It logically follows then that students want to make sure there is no confusion over which language they are speaking, thus the emphasis on the difference in vowel sounds.

This does not necessarily explain, however, why they drag out the long “e” when their teachers announce it is time to take the weekly review test or in-class quiz. In those instances they are clearly just trying to annoy their teachers.

New instructors are also sure to  notice that Korean students use the question “why” as a kind of catch all for all “wh” questions. For example, say Yoojin’s friend comes by her classroom during break to talk to her and calls her name from the doorway to get her attention. While  most American kids would answer “what?” a Korean kid will respond “why-ee?” Students respond similarly when called on by a teacher to answer a question or read aloud.

Important for new instructors to remember is that since “why” is not always used literally, it is wise to take a moment to consider the context in which the student is using it. Honestly, the sooner this technique can be mastered the sooner instructors can minimize the amount of class time taken up by asking students, in a puzzled tone, “what do you mean, why?”

Again, I am no professional and can only base my theories on classroom observations, which probably hold about as much water as a mother’s intuition over, say, the educated diagnosis of a trained pediatrician. Still, I believe that English teachers themselves encourage the improper usage of the word “why.”

Instructors are encouraged to use the Socratic Method to guide students through essays; that is, they ask leading questions that encourage students to find the answers for themselves and respond verbally, which arguably encourages participation. While I always figured that the Socratic Method was meant to encourage students to think more deeply about philosophical questions and not merely for skimming passages, it does have some practical application. Unfortunately, and this is especially true when working with reticent youth, it becomes very necessary to ask absurdly pointed questions to get the students to respond appropriately. As a result, the Socratic Method comes off sounding a little something like this:

“OK Jimmy, according to paragraph two, line three,  aerobic exercise is beneficial becauuuussse….why?

Obviously, the proper way to ask questions like this is to front-load it with whatever “wh” question is appropriate. But, since most instructors have little to no experience with or training in pedagogy, much less child development, and are merely trying to do their job, which is to get Jimmy to say the right thing,  the application of the Socratic Method becomes a kind of  fill-in-the-blank word game.

Finally, ESL instructors contribute to the “why” phenomenon when trying to induce topical conversation in the classroom. For example, while trying to break up the monotony of the repetitive main-idea-and-supporting-detail-outlines teachers must illustrate on the board throughout class, they may stop periodically to ask simple content questions, usually something along the lines of:

“So, do you think deforestation is good or bad?”

Regardless of a student’s response, however blatant that response may be, instructors, in an attempt to encourage discussion (for which there is not time) will reply with the now infamous question “why?” i.e. why do you think deforestation is bad? This is generally followed by a thirty second discussion of little to no consequence before the teacher must move on to stay on schedule, no one being the wiser.

New instructors will also discover, and this is the best part, that teaching is as much about being influenced by students as it is about influencing them. I mean, I could obnoxiously insist that my fellow instructors amend their teaching ways and preach the proper pathways to good grammar (as if I knew), probably causing new instructors all kinds of unnecessary paranoia in the process. Instead, I rather encourage teachers to view the “why” phenomenon the same way I have come to view all Konglish; as a kind of in-between language that captures something that neither language can capture without the other. So, if you are, or will soon become, a new ESL instructor in Korea, I say let yourself be influenced by your students and, most of all, let yourself be influenced by Konglish. Learn to respond to a moment of confusion or the call of a friend the same way students do and the same way I and my fellow instructors have learned to do as well. Learn to just ask “why-ee?”