Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Bidding 'adieu' to the Ox

I think I've come up with a list of rules for 2010 and beyond.

A friend and I were trying to figure out what the new decade will be called. We had the Eighties, the Nineties, and most recently, the '00s (or, as the friend called it, 'the Noughties'...). So we wondered about the upcoming decade... 'the Tennies'? Anyone?

Anyway, first on the list is...

LESS use of the word "maybe". Seriously, I am sick of this word, and people who use it on a regular basis. I think the "maybe" option on invites (or, if we're getting with the times, evites) should be eliminated. The "maybe" option on the brink of an important question should also be axed. Remember the days when, if you wrote out a question, the only options were "check YES or NO"? People should be forced to choose one side of the coin or the other. I think the only time a "maybe" should be allowed (around me, anyway) is if it's included with a cheeky grin or a wink... yea, you know what I'm talking about!

Next, I am planning on physically de-cluttering my life. In a wholesome sense. A lot of people may wonder why I'm announcing this on here, but I feel that if I don't acknowledge it in a visual sense, I'll never do it.

MORE endorphins. Seek them, embrace them, allow them, and use them. Endorphins are a wonderful thing.

If and when the universe throws me a sign, I have to do my best to follow it... even if the little devil on my shoulder is telling me otherwise. If by chance I don't... I should try to at least give it some thought before saying "hmmm... I think I'll take the other route!" Less impulsive behaviour is important here.

MORE impulsive behaviour... generally speaking.

Find MORE reasons to write and LESS reasons to think myself in circles.

GO. WITH. THE. FLOW... and let life happen. Acknowledge the bumps and treasure the movement.

Finally (but certainly not last or least on the list), learn to embrace and live in the moment. Things in life do happen for a reason. And if, at the time, the moment doesn't make sense, all I have to do is get through it, because in getting through, I will have learned a lesson. And that's something to be thankful for.

I think that's enough ranting for 2009, don't you agree? It's time to chill the bubbly in anticipation of a fabulous year ahead of us!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, 2010, dearest readers!

I wish you abundant peace and beautiful moments in life, filled with everything your hearts long for. It's been a joy writing for you this year. I promise to keep up in 2010, if you promise to keep visiting.

To readers in the east, enjoy the lunar eclipse on new year's eve. And to my readers out west, have fun under the blue moon!


I found this photo on Google Images by searching "What a wonderful world!"
Appropriate, I think!


Image courtesy of Google Images

On a funnier note...

This baby MADE my day! I hope you get as much a laugh out of it as I did. Oh, and if you're not already, get inspired!!


Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Don't just like

I found this while flipping through the December 2009 issue of Elle magazine. It's from an ad campaign done by Research in Motion for BlackBerry. This is what it said:

Don't just like.

LIKE is watered-down love.
Like is mediocre.
Like is the wishy-washy emotion of content.
Athletes don't do it for the like of a sport.
Artists don't suffer for like of art.
There is no I like NY t-shirt.
And Romeo didn't just like Juliet.

LOVE. Now that's powerful stuff.
Love changes things.
Upsets things.
Conquers things.
Love is at the root of everything good that
has ever happened and will ever happen.


Wow! Simple, yet profound, no?
I thought so.

Now, go love something (or someone)!


Image courtesy of Google Images

Global comfort gestures

I've been anticipating writing this post for a while now. The reason for the delay is because I was waiting for a package to arrive from my mum in Toronto. But this afternoon, when I got home from school, I saw not only the cute package sitting at my doorstep, but also a card... from someone else.

These past few days have been filled with beautiful gestures and wonderful surprises that have truly left me grinning like a fool... but a fool, with a full heart.

I was feeling a bit down over Christmas because, with the exception of my family, I hadn't heard from a few close friends back home. I didn't think it would be a problem for me, but I realize now, that it makes a difference when you're away from home over the holidays. Little gestures go a long way. It's one of the lessons I've learned this Christmas.

I started my winter hours at school on Monday this week. What do they involve? Well, seeing as how this is the break before the new school year starts in March, there's no students at school, except for the ones who are taking extra or special classes. I was supposed to have a 'winter camp' but it was cancelled due to a lack of interest from the students at my school. My co-teacher compensated by creating a class for me to teach twice a week, two hours each time, from this week till the end of January... to a grand total of five students. Today was supposed to be my first class... a grand total of zero students showed up.

The result? I get to sit and 'desk warm' at the coldest desk at school for half days, every day, from now until the end of January.

It could be worse. Rest assured, SFTC will be seeing a lot more action in the coming days, as I plan my escape to sunnier skies, somewhere tropical. Stay tuned!

So, yesterday, I wasn't looking forward to coming in to school. It was the first day back after the Christmas break, and after overdosing on 'happy', I dreaded having to sit, mute, in a cold staffroom.

Until I got to my desk to see a card and a Canada Post package waiting for me. Two friends, one from Toronto, and the other, from the Canadian NWT, had thought of me before the holidays and send treats in the post!

The card was from the same friend who sent me the stack of magazines earlier in the semester, when her father was visiting Korea. The card is now proudly displayed at my desk, right in between the caricature drawing of me, done by a student, and my timetable.

The package was from a dear friend I made while in journalism school. She, having traveled through Asia for many years, said she knew the difference a package from home would make. I was told to expect a card from her... but not a package! So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the Canada Post package to find some lovely treats - a chocolate Santa (with ingredients listed in English AND French), some soap, a non-tacky, non-Koreanized reporter's notebook, and a magnet with the Canada 2010 Winter Olympics logo on it (now proudly displayed on my fridge at home).

I can't begin to express how I felt, sitting at my desk, in the cold hours of the morning. Despite the chaos with my schedule, I felt such a warmth fill my heart as I read and reread the cards over and over.

Thank you, friends!

Then, this afternoon, after I stopped off to pick up some soup from the restaurant across the street, I came home to find the package from my mum and the card (from a friend who I've met exactly ONE time in my life).

The package from mum contained neatly packed items that I'd asked for... including eye-drops that I desperately needed to battle the dry Seoul winter. My brother argued and said I could easily find it here, but it's a matter of comfort and principle. The stuff I used in Toronto worked well, so why switch?

The card was an unexpected and absolute heart-warming surprise. It's the first time during my time here, that I've actually taken a step back and thought about everyone I know at home. About the people I've met along the way.

In the card, this friend mentioned that it's very rare when you meet someone and have an absolute, instant connection. I couldn't agree more. And when it happens, you truly have to treasure it. Despite our single meeting, I feel as though I've known this person for a much longer time... and for that, I consider myself blessed. Thank you, dear Clubdir (not seals)!

So the lesson from this is that no matter how far away you gravitate from home, sometimes, it helps to have home come to you (whether in the form of packages, long e-mails or cards in the post), because it reminds you of... well, you! All it takes sometimes, is the comfort of familiar handwriting or an inside joke to quell even the saddest of thoughts.

Because it's very easy to forget you, sometimes, when you're off trying to discover other parts of yourself. When home comes to you, it helps you remember that you aren't really alone. That even through the silence and chaos, home is always with you.

So thanks, dear friends and family! You've managed to warm my heart this winter's day. And I couldn't be more blessed.

Stay tuned for the New Year's special.



Image courtesy of Google Images

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas, 2009

Dear readers,

I hope you're all enjoying a blessed holiday with the ones who love and care about you. May you all have peace, joy and happiness in your hearts, along with plenty of laughter. I'm going to be spending the day with a few friends in Seoul, at a small potluck lunner. My contribution? Chicken with paprika and parsley, tossed in a pan. It's simple and easy enough to make on my one hotplate... and it's delicious too!

As I head out the door, here's a little throwback for you all to enjoy... it's a song I overdose on, every Christmas. I hope you enjoy it as well!

All my love,


Monday, 21 December 2009

C is for Couples... I mean, Christmas... I mean...

Merry Christmas! ...but only if you're a couple. Screw you, if you're solo (or single).

"... and here I thought being single in Toronto was bad," I said to S, as we walked through the sea of tinsel and bows that flooded the newly built shopping mall by her house. "But this is just taking it to a whole new level. We've been here since September and there's been not one but two, TWO holidays dedicated to couples!"

S stifled a laugh. She's become used to this, I think. I've started to just blurt things out as I see and observe. Nothing is filtered anymore. It can't be helped. This country is just... random.

"I mean, look at this! Who gives out cards with big, red hearts on them, for Christmas??" I asked, while picking up and analyzing an over-sized package that looked more fitting for a valentine's special.

"What happened to 'Christmas is for families'... what about baby Jesus?" I didn't understand why I was becoming so irritated. Then, words I didn't realize I'd said out loud, flew past my lips.

"Thank you baby Jesus for being born, so that I can ____ a ______!!"

As I said this, I felt a sharp pain on my shoulder. S was hitting me. Repeatedly.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked, even more annoyed now.

"It was either roll on the floor, laughing at what you just said, or hit you."

Fair enough, I suppose.

But truly, for the first time in years, I find myself willing the holiday season to be over and done with. The concept's all wrong here. Sure there's twinkly lights galore, and Christmas songs blasting from almost every corner in the city... but something's off.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I asked some of my coworkers what their plans were for the holidays. "Will you be making dinner?" I asked Mrs. P, over lunch in the cafeteria.

She nonchalantly bobbed her head and continued to munch on her kimchi... she was thinking.

"Christmas is a big deal for you," she said... it was more a statement than a question. "But in Korea, Christmas is for lovers."

What? I couldn't have heard that correctly.

"Don't you mean Valentine's day?" I asked, still not sure we were on the same page.

"That one also, plus Pepero day... White day too," she said.

So she was essentially telling me that even though this country had not one, but THREE days dedicated to couples and coupledome... they were now also designating Christmas as a "holiday for lovers."

... I had no words.

I was flabbergasted, as I dug into my rice and breaded fish.

"S, you're solo. Aren't you going to be lonely for Christmas?" said a new voice.

I looked up to see one of the other teachers had decided to join the conversation. Mrs. P had quickly managed to translate what we were talking about, and now it seemed as though everyone at the table was intrigued.

"Why would I be lonely?" I asked. "I mean, it's my first Christmas away from my family, but I'm not lonely. I have my friends who are like family to me over here."

I was fuming at this point. What was wrong with them? Had they not watched Christmas movies or specials on TV? My brain went through the mental archives to try and find one example of a movie that designated Christmas as a "lovers holiday". Not one. I mean, of course there's the sentimental ones that deal with love as part of the holidays... but definitely none that make it centre focus.

"But don't you want a namja-chingu?" asked Mrs. S. That was the Korean equivalent of 'boyfriend'.

What I wanted to say was, "No, I'm actually in the running to become the Slut from Seoul, you know?"

But what came out was, "Actually, yes... but definitely not from Korea. The men here are too... needy. I could never walk out in a matching couple's outfit and be serious. Sorry!"

This drew a mixed reaction from the table, which consisted of mostly older Korean teachers.

I had to have some sense of honesty here. Otherwise they would spend all day debating the fact that baby Jesus WAS in fact born so that I could ____ a _____!

Not in my mind.

Anyway, that being said, MERRY CHRISTMAS, dear readers! I love you all very much and hope you have a safe and fabulous week ahead. Sending warm wishes and beautiful thoughts to you and yours!


Friday, 18 December 2009

2009 century post

This is my 100th post for the year.
It may not be much in terms of what's out in the blogosphere right now, but for me, this is rather exciting.

Over the course of 2009, I've had a 100 reasons to come here and share my thoughts with you, dear readers. It's been quite the year for me and SFTC! And really, during some of those moments, I'm not sure what I would have done without you. So for that, all I can say is, 'Thank you for being a friend!'

We're just under two weeks away from 2010, and the thoughts are starting to swirl. I've had an eventful few weeks, starting from the end of November... but it's nothing to complain about. The other day I was meeting S at DaVinci for a random coffee date. I had just had a 'EUREKA!' moment a few minutes prior, and wanted to come share it with her. So I ran in through the doors (my vanilla latte almost ready and waiting for me), and stood in front of her with the biggest smile on my face.

"Umm... what the hell is wrong with you?" she asked, in between trying to thaw out her frozen hands and taking sips of her latte.

"S! We're in Seoul!" I said, while looking at her as though I'd just conveyed the most important information of the year with her. "We're in Seoul! SEOUL!"

"S, you've gone nuts!" she said, almost too nonchalantly.

Perhaps that may have been the case. But never in my wildest dreams as a child, did I ever think I'd one day be living across the planet from all that I held comfortable and natural. It was my four-month epiphany.

I then went on to explain to her that while laying on my bed minutes before, I'd had a surge of freedom just soar through my body. I couldn't explain it, but it felt so good. It felt as though every bad thing that had happened thus far was... passé! Just... gone.

And I want to contain that feeling as we edge ourselves into 2010.

There's so many wonderful things to look forward to, this coming year. Not only does a new year bring a sense of a clean slate, but this is a double whammy because it's also the start of a new decade. I'll turn a quarter of a century in the year ahead. This is a time for reflection and action, on my part. And I'm looking forward to it all.

I've spent this past decade in various forms of education... I started high school at the beginning of 2000, and now, ten years later, having finished three forms of study since then, I find myself on the cliff of a new volume in my life.

The time I've spent on my own thus far has taught me to embrace life in all it's goodness and negativity, rather than fight it. Last night, a friend said to me, "we need to get right into the moment, and feel whatever it is we need to feel in order to get through it... why fight it?"

He said our North American culture has taught us to respond with "I'm OK," to every question that's thrown our way, with regards to feelings. We answer this way, even when we're not.

He couldn't be more right.

So, here's looking towards 2010, in all it's positive and negative glory. Here's learning to live in, and embrace life's journey and the feelings that come with it, from one moment to the next. But mostly, here's to all of your good health, happiness and peace.

May all of you set sail on experiences that will make you bolder, stronger, and more in love with who you are, than ever before.

Here's to 2010!


Image courtesy of Google Images

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Chicka, count to 10

"I'm my own worst enemy!" I yelled at J, through the computer screen. We were laughing at each other and catching up on Skype after a few weeks of not chatting or talking. I guess you can say we both had our own Seoul-isms going on.

"Aren't we all?!" she yelled back. "Seriously, think about it... no one's perfect, and even when we don't think we're making mistakes, somewhere through it, we end up screwing up anyway."

She was right. I knew that. I know that. But it still didn't ease the fact that until the feelings of anxiety and irritation passed, that concept would simply not process.

"We're human, S," she said. "You said it yourself, we're learning and growing with each passing experience... sometimes it's hard but it passes."

And it does. I've been through enough moments in my life where I've felt as though the walls were going to close in on me, and the ground was going to eat me alive... but I'm here now, looking back on those moments thinking, 'I went crazy... for nothing!'

Except in those moments, it didn't feel like nothing. In those moments... reveling and living through those moments... those were hard times.

But that's the beauty of life I guess. You get through them... eventually. Even through the stormiest days and darkest nights... we get through them. There's always an end. And then we move on to the next chapter... or for some people, the next volume.

So why is it that when we're going through the 10th, 15th or 80th storm of our lives, we always feel as though we're about to be consumed? So much so to the point where that feeling of '... this is it!' takes over, sending us straight to the brink of a mental warfare, with no one else but ourselves?

Truly, we're our own worst enemies. If only we could program ourselves to count to ten before every impulse.

If only.


Thursday, 10 December 2009

For love of a great escape

"But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew, upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think."
- Lord Byron
That Lord Byron was on to something. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I don't know him as well as I'd like to. The only reason I'm speaking about him now, is because a friend quoted him earlier this week, and I was fascinated. I've spent the better part of my free time since, reading up on his work, and recognizing fragments of what I've heard quoted by others. In university, I did everything in my power to avoid entire courses dedicated to single poets and authors... I think I regret that now, because the more I read up on Lord Byron, the more I enjoy him.

My mum was the first person to introduce me to William Wordsworth, as a child. She taught me "Daffodils," a beautiful poem by him, that I memorized and recited whenever given the chance.

There's something to be said about the classics. Words, novels, poems, quotes... all written before radio, before TV, before... Facebook. These people only had the world around them (the real world), conversations and true social experiences to draw inspiration from. Absolute brilliance.

Which is why, when I need to escape from my everyday reality, I can't help but turn to a book. Sometimes a movie works as well, but it's easier to get distracted from a movie than it is from a good book.

Take for instance, last night: I was unable to turn my mind off, with a thousand and one thoughts swirling through my brain at a mile a second. I tried watching TV, to no avail... something about the seizure inducing commercials made me quit. Then, I tried watching a movie... but only owning movies that I've watched too many times to count, I found myself distracted once again.

As a last resort, I turned to Miss Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Over my life, I've read this book perhaps four times. Yet two and a half hours later, I was passed out in my bed, with the most content smile I've had in a few days. I don't even know where the time went, but it was so easy to lay there, flipping through page after page of an absolute masterpiece. These authors knew the importance of imagery... of descriptive words... of bringing emotions, personalities and moods on to paper. They knew how to create the perfect escape, free of reality's abundant distractions.

So this winter, I'm looking forward to curling up in bed with the classics. I'm looking forward to having my brain think of words that are longer than two syllables. But more than anything, I'm looking forward to my literary escape.


Image courtesy of Dreamstime Stock

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Gift wrap 2009

As 2009 begins to take its final bow, I can't help but sit and wonder of all that's transpired in my life since January. To say this year has been a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. Looking back to the earlier months, I never would have imagined I'd find myself spending Christmas in Seoul, Korea... writing this entry in a staffroom filled with teachers who continue to glance (very obviously) over my shoulder as I type. Hi, Mr. S!

I've endured a lot this year, but I've learned more. The lessons have come as a result of peculiar situations and odd circumstances, but, having made it through, I feel as though I can now sit back and reflect.

I remember stressing out in January about starting my internship with the CBC. I didn't think it would actually happen, but working with the News at Six team was an experience I'm glad I had. There's nothing quite like working in a breaking newsroom, where the gun is held to your head everyday, to have your stories in... yesterday. I had a chance to move fast and learned more than I ever imagined I would. I met some wonderful people who I know I'll be in touch with for a long time to come.

The following months were spent at the magazine -- definitely not what I expected it to be. I was blessed with editors who looked after me and were truly concerned about my well-being in the industry. I was fortunate to be offered some wonderful advice from professionals who I consider not only mentors, but friends. Though it was difficult at times, I don't regret it for a moment, because I know I grew through that experience. Working at the magazine also allowed me to focus on my style of writing more, and I now know the direction I'd like to head in... you'll hear more about this in 2010, I assure you. Sit tight.

The last quarter of 2009 brought me to Seoul, Korea. Who would have thought? They say everything in life happens for a reason, and, without a doubt, I can say that I was meant to be here, at this time. Despite the difficulties, there's something serendipitous about the whole experience. I haven't quite figured it out yet, but I'm sure it will come to me one day.

There's something to be said about fate, isn't there? It's been so surreal meeting people from all across the globe, and forming friendships that feel as though they're antiques -- precious and old. I've met many wonderful people from all corners of the planet, each with their own wonderful and unique gifts that have come as blessings into my life. It's hard to imagine that I've only known some of them for a few months... and it's even harder to fathom that one day, not too long from now, I'll have to say goodbye to them as we each scuttle off to our own neck of the woods. But rest assured, these will be life-long friends.

One of the main things this journey has taught me so far, is that we live on a very small planet. Truly... mobility is so easy these days, with all the options available. And what's even more amazing is the fact that technology has brought us closer than ever. Actually, this is also quite scary. I suppose it depends on how you look at it.

All I'm saying is that I'm grateful to Skype, Facebook, Hotmail, Gmail, snail mail, cellphones and text messages for allowing me to stay in touch with those I love and care about. This journey might have been quite different otherwise, I think.

Along the way, I think this has been one of the biggest years in terms of personal growth, trials and achievements. I'm fortunate to have a dear family who have been nothing but a constant support to me, and friends who have stood by and been the best cheerleaders and entertainers a girl could ever ask for.

So this quick note is for you, dear readers and people in my life...

I'm thankful to

those of you who make me think
those of you who tell me to stop thinking
those of you who insist I think a little harder
those of you who put dirty thoughts into my mind
those of you who make me laugh till I cry
those of you who insist I try everything at least once
those of you who make me take risks
those of you who see what's past the surface
those of you who've broken down the wall
those of you who let me vent
those of you who share your stories with me
those of you who I've shared unbelievable coffee dates with
those of you who I've shared eye-opening conversations with
those of you who've made me feel like a million bucks
those of you who let me be me

... but mostly, I'm thankful to those of you who are active participants in my life right now. I'm looking forward to spending and sharing an amazing 2010 with you.


Image courtesy of Dreamstime Stock

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Slipping away like the sand to the tide

How's this for a visual: "... slipping away like the sand to the tide..."

It's a line from one of my favourite songs by the Sugababes called Lost in You. You should check it out if you've got time. It's also on the Love Actually soundtrack, (a fabulous movie for the season, I think).

And that's just about how I feel right now...

These past few weeks have been bizarre to say the least. I'm trying to stick to some sort of routine in my life, but the more I try, the quicker that idea gets thrown out the window.

It's strange being on my own. In one sense I've got this amazing amount of independence, not only because I've got my own place, but also because I'm in a country where I'm pretty much alone. Everyone I've met here so far has been a new face, with a new personality (well, some are tried and true), and has come with a new story to tell. It's fascinating and refreshing all the same.

But sometimes... it's exhausting. Having to tell your own story over and over again... it gets exhausting. I've always been a better listener than a speaker. There's only a handful of people who know the depths of my soul... and I like it that way. So having to sit through conversations sometimes with new people who want to know everything about you... well, that starts to take it's toll. Unless, of course, it's a kindred spirit who you want to spill your guts to. And that takes a special someone. Those people are far and few between, but when you meet them... it's like a refreshing sip of iced-tea on a blistering hot summer's day.

There's a handful of travelers that I've met, who get it. They live in the present, focus on the present and enjoy the present. It's these people who are fabulous to speak with. They, in simple terms, manage to put things into perspective so well. Hopefully I'll get to that point someday... where I don't think about the past (apparently the New Year's song Auld Lang Syne is about that... leaving the past, way behind), and don't stress about the future. I've become better, but I know I need to work on it.

In the meanwhile, I'm allowing myself to slip away for a while... why not, right?


Monday, 7 December 2009

Both feet out the door

I always ask my mother to tell me the same story every time. And each time, just like the times before, she uses the same words, with the same tones, which in turn, give me the same imagery and the same butterflies in my tummy.

I think I'm ready to share this story with you.

Better late than never...

Mum talks about a period in my childhood that I sometimes choose to block out. Not because it was traumatic or tragic, but simply because it reminds me of simpler times, that I sometimes wish I could revisit.

"Do you remember the grill gate at our old house?" she says, with a look that means she's on autopilot. Mum has told me this story many times over the years. Those words unlock the portal to my memory bank.

"The big metal one in front of the main door, remember?" she says, smiling.

"Yea, I do," I say, already knowing how the story ends, but willing her to go on.

"Well, for years as a baby, you would stand at that gate and look out at the world. You would stare, bug-eyed, at all that was happening outside it, but never once would you try to venture out past it," she says; the memory of those moments, transporting her back in time with me.

"How come?" I ask. This is our game... I egg her on, and she willingly complies.

"Well, I was never sure. You even grew tall enough to reach the latch, but you'd never once thought to open it back then, and run out. The neighbour's children and your brother would be out playing, and you would simply stand there and watch... in awe. You were quite the observer."

"When did it all change?" I ask, with a smile. This is my favourite part.

"Well, after years of watching and observing all that was around you, one day you decided it was time. Your little hand reached up for the metal latch, opened the door and you took one step out... then another... and another... until you were far enough away from the door, but close enough that you could come running back if you needed to," she says, laughing. This part always makes her laugh. "I'm not sure why you were so scared.... but I knew."

"What did you know?"

"I knew that once you were out those doors, the world was your playground," she says, with a beautiful smile brightening the lines on her face that I've come to respect and admire so much. "And as usual, I was right."


"Yea. It's the story of your life, you know?" she says. Her face always turns serious at this part. "All your life, through all your pivotal experiences, you've waited and watched as others around you move and shift. You stay still and wait your turn... but when you feel you're ready, there's no turning back."

I love the comfort and silence at this break.

"It takes you longer than others to make choices, S, but you always make them when you're ready. You come around in your own time, and on your own terms. That experience of the grill gate reminds me of the fact that you've been this way since you were a child," she says. "And you've never proven me wrong."

Mum, I suppose you're right, and funny enough, I do remember it all. It simply helps to be reminded sometimes.

Thank you for observing me while I observed. And thank you now, for watching me while I play. But most of all, thank you for always encouraging me back up, when I fall down during the games.


Sunday, 6 December 2009

Workshop Vacation

On Friday this past week, I had to attend a mandatory workshop at my neighbourhood office of education. The last time I had to sit through one of these, it was on a Friday afternoon, just before my weekend began. Needless to say, the roomful of teachers were neither excited nor thrilled about that fact. So, as you can imagine, we weren't looking forward to this one either. Especially because they told us it would take up the entire day.

We got lucky, though! This time, the district office of education had planned a day trip for us, to Nami Island in Korea's Gangwon province. It was such a wonderful surprise, and a well deserved break from the daily grind of teaching ESL. Here are some of my favourite photos from that trip.

They say that Nami Island is a place for lovers. It's funny, because right now I can say that just about any place in Korea is a place for lovers. There's couples and cute couple-ish things in almost every neck of the woods out here. However, it's pretty obvious that with each season, Nami Island draws tons of lovers to its romantic and scenic nature trails. It's kind of neat, because most of the older Koreans stay away from it... they prefer mountains and hiking trails. More on that in another post.

We took a short ferry ride from the mainland to the island. It was absolutely breathtaking... being surrounded by mountains and crisp, fresh air. A welcoming change from the constant layer of smog that surrounds Seoul. And the funny part about this, is that you don't notice how bad the air is in the city, until you leave it.

One of Korea's most famous dramas, Winter Sonata, was filmed here. The entire island has signs on it that refer to various scenes from the drama. It's a love story, go figure. What a perfect place to film it. Even my (maybe) cynical heart felt warm and cozy as I walked the trails and took in the refreshing scenery. You can't help but feel happy on Nami Island!


Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A Dream Unfolds

I received a beautiful gift today -- one that is both thoughtful, and so unexpected.

Two of my colleagues, (one, a Korean language teacher, and the other, a math teacher), had been working together on this gift for a few weeks now, without my knowledge.

This morning, the two of them walked into my classroom and presented me with a bright yellow enevelope and a black pouch. I wasn't sure what was going on, or what the customs were in terms of receiving and opening gifts, so I simply said 'Thank You' and placed the envelope on my table. They insisted that I open it at that very moment, because they said they had instructions for me.

Still feeling those nervous butterflies dancing in the pit of my stomach (the ones that surface everytime someone says they have a surprise for me), I slowly opened the envelope. It revealed a paper with some Chinese, Korean and English words printed on it. I was confused. They then asked me to open the pouch, which contained my very own Korean “dojang” 도장 (aka Korean Seal).

Mrs S and C had been working on this gift with a lot of attention. For days, they looked over my name in English, focusing on the characters, letters and sounds, while trying to synch them with similar sounds in Korean and Chinese characters. I remember Mrs. C had approached me not too long ago, and had asked me to spell out my name in English. I wasn't sure what it was for, but I did it anyway, without much thought.

I guess this was the final result.

It seems everyone in Korean has their own dojang stamp, and it has more value than a signature made by pen. If someone were to steal your dojang and use it as their own, it would be considered identity theft. Although, they do need to be registered in order to be considered legal.

"If you want to buy a car or house, you need a dojang, otherwise it's not valid," said Mrs S, while we sipped on our post-lunch coffee. "I gave my daughter one for her 10th birthday."

I always wondered what the seals around the sign-in table were about.

Anyway, after just completing three months at my school, and in Korea, this was such a welcoming present.

Now, the meaning they came up with. They played around with my name a little bit, because they said they wanted it to reflect my personality, and their wishes for me. They blended in Chinese characters with Korean to get "SI MONG".

The paper in the yellow envelope read as follows:

[SI - pronounced "SHE"] UNFOLD


"A Dream Unfolds!"

Yes, it included the exclaimation mark. I think this has to be one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received. After they instructed me on how and when to use it, they said they were thankful to have met me, and offered up some wonderful wishes.... all unexpected. Even now, six hours later, I'm still reeling.

This country never ceases to surprise me.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

En francais... Seoul style

There's something to be said about globalization, isn't there? How lucky are we to live in a world where cultures are now so beautifully woven together, that you can indulge your senses to feasts from opposite sides of the planet, with ease?

I've had two experiences this past week, which sent me into sensory overload.

Le Saint-Ex in Itaewon, Seoul

T came to Seoul for a visit over the weekend, and decided to take me to Sunday brunch at her favourite French restaurant in Itaewon (the foreigner hub in Seoul), called Le Saint-Ex. It was a set menu, that came with an appetizer of soup or salad, an entrée, a dessert, and coffee.

The delicious salmon entrée

The meal itself was fabulous. I was craving a good salmon for months, realizing that I'd completely taken for granted the times when mum would bake me a few slices each week. But what was so amazing about that entire experience, was the fact that we were in Seoul... South Korea... eating brunch... at a French restaurant.

Of all the things I imagined doing here, this wasn't one of them. I can't begin to explain to you how it felt sitting in that restaurant early on Sunday afternoon, nibbling on a freshly baked baguette with REAL butter, while listening to smooth French jazz sailing into the air from the speakers. I could have very well been in the south of France, doing just the same... I never would have known the difference, I think. The bursts of reality only came each time our waiter showed up at the table.

A view of the desert table at Le Saint-Ex. There were about five options

Later this week, another friend and I decided to go in search of twinkly lights and Christmas trees, and found ourselves in Itaewon once again. The rest of the gang had headed over to a restaurant to enjoy an American thanksgiving meal, so the two of us (not being American) decided to have a Commonwealth evening.

Cue Tartine - another hidden gem in the back alleys of Itaewon -- a cozy cafe with a few tables, serving some of the best pies and 'drinking chocolate' in.... well, anywhere!

Tartine, in Itaewon, Seoul

B and I stumbled across this place on purpose. She'd read about it somewhere, and since we'd already had dinner at home, it was the perfect way to end our night -- with tarts, pies, and something called 'drinking chocolate' ... too tempting to pass up.

Our drinks arrived with instructions: "You have to keep stirring, otherwise it will clot," said the young Korean man, smartly dressed in a black French beret, clean uniform and white apron. B informed me that he might have also been the chef. For all I knew, I could have been sitting in a quaint French café in Paris, again. The only thing missing were the accents.

The infamous 'Drinking Chocolate'

B and I were in heaven. We each ordered a pie, split a cookie and indulged in our 'drinking chocolates', which, incidentally, tasted like... chocolatey nectar from the Gods. And boy did we ever keep stirring, not letting a drop of it go to waste... just to our waists!

The mixed berry pie and cookie, with beautiful plate decor

You'd think these two experiences would have left me confused about my actual location on this planet. But there's really such beauty in it, isn't there? When, in time gone by, would we have ever been able to say, "I ate Indian food in Toronto, Canada," or "One of my best memories of South Korea was when I indulged in pies at a French patisserie in Seoul"...?

Bizarre saying it, but definitely fortunate to have experienced it.

My Korean coworkers have often said I'm lucky. Not because they think I walk around with a lucky penny, or because they feel I win things wherever I go... neither of which is true.

They say so, because of, as they put it, my 'international background.'

I was born in India, raised in Canada, and now I'm living in Korea, experiencing the wonders of the east and west, in a city that's both traditional, and driving head first into the modern era.

If anyone is out there reading this, please listen... This is a good time to let yourself live. To let yourself feel alive!


Not by a long shot!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

To top it off

There are various pockets around my neighbourhood in Seoul that cater to my senses.

I enjoy my late afternoon walks home from school, because they help clear my mind after hours of entertaining students with the joys of speaking English. The brisk walk to my apartment is just what's required after a day filled with limited words and simple vocabulary -- I never imagined how draining not talking could be.

And as you've become aware now, Café DaVinci is a regular haunt, where I feel at peace and find inspiration on a per-latté basis. In fact, just the other day, S and I became preferred customers, with membership cards. 10 per cent discount on lattés, anyone? Yes, we're just that awesome!

But perhaps my most favourite place among all the hustle and bustle that encompasses this busy nook in Seoul, has to the rooftop of my building.

View from my building, facing east

It took me a few weeks after moving in to find myself on the seventh floor, staring out at Seoul. I can't properly explain to you how those first moments felt, when my feet hit the cement floor, high above ground level. All I can say is that it took my breath away, not because of the spectacular view, but because it finally hit me that I wasn't in Toronto anymore.

Needless to say, I've made many more trips up to the top, sharing the view with anyone who's willing to watch it with me.

Being on this rooftop is eyeopening on so many levels. For one, when I go upstairs at night, I'm greeted with about a dozen or so neon crosses, identifying the various churches in my neighbourhood. You'd never see anything like this in Toronto. I mean, the churches do exist there, but they're certainly not advertised with a 'follow the neon cross to Jesus' tower.

Secondly, I have a direct view of Namsan Tower to the west. Yes. I know. Despite the vertical jungle that is Seoul, I am still able to get an unrestricted view of the city's famous landmark. There it stands, nestled between two towering hi-rises. On clear nights, it's beautifully lit, and is worth the 40-or-so stairs I have to climb in order to see it.

Korea University's main building is also visible if I look to the north. It has a beautiful mountain as a backdrop, and I've watched the leaves on it change colours this season. Spectacular show!

Korea University's main building is visible in the distance. Directly under, is the roof to my neighbour's building, where I've seen them dry everything from hot chilly peppers, to underwear.

Incidentally, the mountains in Seoul aren't so high according to my friend from Taebaek, Gangwando, one of the most mountainous and beautiful regions, in eastern Korea. She called them molehills...

Perhaps they are. I've yet to compare. I'll let you know when I know. But for now, they will have to do.

I can't wait till the summer, when I can park myself up there with a good book, without freezing my assets off.

Finally, one of the most uplifting and heartwarming reasons why I absolutely love my Seoul rooftop, is because it's just that... a rooftop in Seoul.

Standing there and looking out into the vast distance is a reality check and a thrill all at once. When I'm up there, I can't deny that I'm far away from all that I know. I'm a stranger to the city, and it is a stranger to me. But with each passing day, we're getting to know each other, and so far, it's going well. Who knows, maybe when the winter passes, and spring swings by, Seoul and I can share a rooftop date, without the awkwardness that comes with dating someone who speaks a different language than you.

Here's hoping.

A view looking south, towards the Hangang river and Gangnam, in Seoul

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A burst of inspiration

It's taken three months and many reality checks for me to finally say I've settled into my Seoul digs. I'm at peace with the shoebox, I've come to terms with the bills, I've accepted the communication barrier, and, finally, I've found inspiration again.

I spent most of the past 24 hours flipping through National Geographic Traveler's Dec '09 issue, and I simply want to teleport myself into the photographs I saw.

Mind you, I'm trying to plan a getaway for the early months of 2010, so this magazine couldn't have landed in my lap at a more perfect time. I remember having this exact feeling of excitement and euphoria when I realized I'd actually be moving to Seoul. I listed all that I wanted to see and do in this wonderful city of paradoxes, and couldn't wait to get here.

Now that I'm here and feeling slightly more settled, I'm looking at what's around me. I finally realized today, that I'm actually LIVING in EAST ASIA! How amazing is that?? I'm closer to some of the world's most ancient and beautiful places, than I ever was when I lived in Toronto. So, it's time to make the best of this adventure.

I've been playing around with options. I know I have to visit Japan, not necessarily because I want to go there desperately... but because it's so close in proximity, that if I don't visit, I'll feel like the biggest tool in town.

You have no idea how cool it felt to just say that.... "I'm close to Japan!"

So, dear reader, if you have a moment, please take a spin through my thoughts with me.

My first choice is Palawan in the Philippines. This came under high recommendation from a friend who lived in Taiwan for a while. She said there's no other place on earth that compares to it, and, after Googling some images, I think I'm starting to agree. What do you think?

Palawan, Philippines

Now, I know some of you will say, "If you've seen one beach, you've seen them all." And perhaps you're right. But I definitely don't feel that way. I spent the greater part of my childhood in the tropics, and any excuse to inhale fresh, salty air, and dig my toes into the sand while listening to waves hitting the shore, sounds alright by me. Just look at that photo! Don't you simply want to dive right in?!

My Second choice is Bali, Indonesia. Why? Well, some of you may know of my affair with Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat Pray Love. In part three, she talks of Bali and all its mystic beauty and serenity. I want to see it to believe it. That's all there is to it. Again, Google Images never fails to deliver.

Bali, Indonesia

Sigh! Just look at that photo. It's captured so well, isn't it? Can you imagine just traipsing around the island for a few days, talking to locals and walking away from it all, feeling alive and inspired?

Living in Seoul is a lot like living in Toronto. Well, except for the major language barrier. But it's quite easy to forget that I'm living on the other side of the world, far from all that used be comfortable and static. If I allow myself, I think I might just as easily leave Seoul after a year, having not done much else from what I'm doing right now.

I think that would be the biggest disappointment for me.

So, in keeping with trying to get away from neon lights and cityscapes, last on today's list, but certainly not least, is The Great Wall of China.

I know the list has changed as of late, but I grew up knowing that The Great Wall of China was one of the Seven Wonders of the world. And from the moment I learned of it, I knew that I wanted to visit it someday. This would be an opportune time, don't you think?

The Great Wall of China, China

Can you imagine anything more amazing than having a chance to visit this spectacular historical site, that goes on for miles and miles? I know a lot of you reading this may have already done so, but the thought of setting foot on this ancient wonder has me giddy with excitement.

Anyway, I needed to get that out. All of this may or may not happen, but I feel thrilled that I've set these down so that I can finally start planning. Fingers crossed that it all happens, yea?

Thanks, friends! Please stay tuned for updates, and do share your thoughts.


Images courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Will Write For Chocolate

A quick note after receiving my first care package while in Seoul.

One of my friends back in Toronto had the bright idea to purchase a bunch of magazines and send them to me as a package. I realize she knows me better than I thought she did, because I was going through some major reading withdrawal. This is just what I needed! These magazines will keep me entertained for weeks. I am thrilled.

Aside from issues of People, Cosmopolitan and Elle (sure to satisfy my need for trashy reads), she also included a December '09 copy of The Writer, a magazine I used to browse through while strolling around Chapters or Indigo. One of the first things I saw while flipping through it at my desk, was a comic strip I had completely forgotten about.

Will Write for Chocolate is a pretty entertaining cartoon published on the web by Toronto-based Debbie Ridpath Ohi. It chronicles the life of a writer trying to make it through her first novel. I've found myself chuckling to these little bursts of entertainment many times, because on so many levels, I can relate.

Here's one that's my absolute favourite.

Lesson learned for today: Never underestimate the power a well thought out care package can have on your emotions... especially during a chilly, mind-numbing winter's day!

Love you lots, HC!

p.s. You can click on the picture to make it bigger.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A bright spot

I saw this on another blog and couldn't help but share. It echoes my thoughts and sentiments at this very momement in time, as I find myself on the other side of the world, away from comforts and routine.

I hope you take something away from it as well.


Image courtesy of A Life  More Fabulous - Quote by Eve Ensler, as published in Glamour magazine's Dec '09 issue

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Fate and Fated

 The inside and outside patio area at Café DaVinci in Seoul
It's about 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night and I'm sitting at Ca DaVinci with S, for our weekly writing date.

I've come to look forward to these hours of simply... being. There's truly no other way of putting it. Every week, S and I sit here for an hour or two and just do what we love. As she puts it, "Sometimes we write, sometimes we read and sometimes we Google." It's a break from the fast paced hustle and bustle that's normal to Seoul and our jobs as ESL teachers.

We're both not teachers by trade. She used to work at a magazine in Chicago before deciding to venture out here to test the waters and, really, to test herself as well. We bonded instantly, and now, we're at a place where the silence is not only normal, it's required.

We frequent a few different coffee shops between her neighbourhood and mine, but for the past few visits, we've found ourselves at Café DaVinci. Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but I think this location might end up becoming our regular spot. She orders a latté and I go wild and order a vanilla latté. I try to change it up every time, but after a few minutes of staring at the board behind the counter, I always settle for the comfort of an old friend.

Two of my favourite photos that hang above my favourite seats, inside Café DaVinci

We're sitting here, at a table that looks out onto the street. Fall is just about to end its big show and the last of the leaves are hanging off the branches, just waiting for a gust of wind to blow them swiftly to the ground. The colours are magnificent... shades of reds and oranges that I've never seen before. Surprisingly, there's a lot of maple trees here as well... but the leaves are twice the size of those in Canada.

I think I was drawn to Café DaVinci because of its rustic ambiance. For those of you who know me, you'll know that my city-chick heart just begs for country couture when it comes to comfort and peace. And I think I've found it here. What are the odds that it would just happen to be at the coffee house that exists directly outside my window? Fate works its beautiful hand again.

S is sitting across from me, working on her novel. She's pretty dedicated to it, but makes a point to only write when she's inspired -- a few pages here and there... and, once in a while, she'll let me look at parts of it. It's pretty neat stuff.

I feed my habit of people-watching while I sit at this table as well. Even now, though its nighttime, there's many Korea University students walking up and down the streets, hand-in-hand. Oh, did I fail to mention that I'm in a country where being part of a couple is the norm? Singles (or solos, as they say here) may as well be second-class citizens.

At any given moment, there may be about a handful of different couples marching down the street to their favourite haunts... in matching couple sweaters... with matching couple bags and matching couple lattés. I'm often asked by older Korean men and women why I'm not sad being "solo".

"You need to find someone, fast," Mrs. K says, almost weekly. "You're getting old."

Clichéd, I know, but SO real. In fact, not being coupled up is the number one cause for suicides and depression here. Well, that, and the pressure of achieving high grades at school. Can you imagine being a student and not being part of a couple? Yikes!

Anyway, here's my point in all this...

Being in Seoul has been a life-altering experience so far. I've never been in a situation like this... ever! This city tests me on a daily basis, and I fight my battles, one coffee and one issue at a time. There's no other way of dealing with them.

But the gems I experience make all the fights so worth it.

Even now, as I sit here and type this, there's two men sitting to my right, chatting and laughing away. What's so cool about it is that one's a Caucasian, and the other is Korean... and they're not speaking in either English or Korean. It's not only visually fascinating, but also entertaining to the ear.

My senses are so alert right now. It's refreshing.

My mother always told me that I never took the same route as my friends or family. Ever since I was a child, I always marched to the beat of my own drum and loudly followed my own rules... much to her chagrin. But as I sit here at Café DaVinci, I can't help but glance down to the floor and grin. I stare at Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken, neatly printed on the floor in glazed charcoal, and, as usual, the last verse sends shivers up my spine and goosebumps along my skin...

The floor in Café DaVinci, with Robert Frost's famous poem scribbled on the tile  

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Thanks, Mum. You've always been right.


Sunday, 8 November 2009

A class of coffee

What is it about coffee houses that allow visitors a sense of comfort and familiarity? We’ve all been to one at some point or another, and we can’t deny the fact that they’re cozy at best… unless, of course, you’re at a coffee house where a simple latté costs no less than $10.

Friends – one of this generation’s most watched TV show – was famous for it’s fictional coffee shop, Central Perk. We became familiar with its set, and, soon enough, on Thursday nights it became our coffee shop as well.

I was never truly fascinated with the ambiance of different coffee shops until I moved to Seoul, South Korea, three months ago. This city is quickly becoming one of the most westernized areas in all of Asia, and, as the devotion to western brands grows, so do the number of cafés.

Coffee shops literally line the streets of Seoul. From bigwig franchises such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, to the small, family-run cafés, there’s never a lack of choices for caffeine highs.

But what’s truly entertained me in recent months are the various themes that come with the cafés. Owners dedicate themselves to mimicking the soft, cozy comfort that adorns European coffee shops. However, in this city, they’ve taken décor a step further – it’s not simply a matter of interior design, but also about the mood and exterior.

There’s cafés dedicated to pets and their owners. Puppy cafés allow visitors to come in, have a cup of ‘jo, and pet a few furry friends during their stay. The animals usually belong to the owners, but, sometimes, patrons bring their own friends along for the visit. The dogs are friendly and even know how to pose for photos.

A puppy café in Hongdae, Seoul

If that’s not enough, how about sipping coffee and chatting with friends in a building designed as a cookbook? This café, also located in Hongdae, is a hot-spot for locals and tourists alike. On the night we visited, an artist was showcasing his work on cool, hot pink manta rays hanging from the lobby’s ceiling. Truly creative.

A café shaped like a book in Hongdae, Seoul

Finally, keeping things entertaining, and almost out of a scene from Astrix and Oblix, how about having a drink in a barrel? I found this gem hidden down an alleyway, just across from the book building. Even the mood lighting was cool.

A café shaped like a barrel in Hongdae, Seoul

What’s amazing about coffee shops in Seoul is that they serve everything from coffee to beer. Visitors can stay for as long as they want… and they usually do. One latté and cookie has bought me about three hours at Café DaVinci, with a window seat that looks out to the world.

As a writer, I couldn't be happier at this very moment.


Thursday, 5 November 2009

To be in the know

"It's really starting to get to me," I said, as I stared at my apartment window between sips of hot coffee. "I wish people would just TALK!"

C and I had met up for what had now turned into our weekly coffee/dinner/shopping date. Sometimes we sat around and vented about all the things that had gotten to us during the week, and sometimes we simply allowed ourselves to indulge in classic Korean traditions -- eating, drinking and giggling like teenage girls, while wandering up and down the busy streets.

On this particular evening, we'd ventured to Cafe DaVinci, and found ourselves on the rooftop. The window from my tiny officetel looked out directly onto this rooftop, and it had only taken me two and a half months to get there.

The view from the other side was different.

"They really can see everything from here," I said, with a frown. "I should be more careful the next time I get out of the shower."

C was laughing at this point.

"Or maybe you should put on a show!" she said, laughing even harder now.

I smiled at this. If I really thought of putting on a show from my window, chances are I wouldn't just be entertaining the patrons of Cafe DaVinci... my window also looked out onto two busy billiard halls, soju bars, coffee houses and restaurants, all filled with young university students. They would be guaranteed an eyeful too.

Hmmm... my thoughts drifted off to the window again.

"This city is pretty chaotic sometimes," I said, while studying the glass shutters. Even though it was night time and my lights were turned off, I was trying to see if I could catch a glimpse of the small postcard from Toronto that was pinned to my wall.

"... And the worst part is the communication problem," C said, while looking at the other tables around us. They were filled with students from the nearby university, either taking a much deserved break from the books, or simply catching up with friends.

"It's true. I'm tired of not knowing anything that I'm supposed to know," I said with a sigh. "I mean, it's one thing to not know everything. But I'd like to know how much I'm supposed to pay in bills, before it gets deducted from my paycheck each month."

That had happened with the last paycheck. I was surprised to find a big deduction that I'd later learned made sense... but not knowing about it till after the fact had annoyed me immensely. In the days that followed, I received my hydro bill, taped to my front door, on a small piece of scrap paper. I explained this to C.

"It didn't even look official!" I said. "All I know is I had to pay the amount... which was fine... IF I knew what I was paying for."

Things had not gotten better when I went to school the next day and asked my co-teacher about this. We struggled to communicate during the best of times, and, as you can imagine, this conversation wasn't on our list of "top-five reasons to talk to each other".

Needless to say, I paid the bill. I'd pieced together the fact that it was a bill in addition to my monthly maintenance fee. And that settled that.

"... It's literally one battle at a time," I said, while releasing a breath I didn't know I was holding. "We have such wonderful times and everything is so good... then something like this happens, and it takes everything I have to not just scream."

C just looked at me.

"I know, sweetie," she said. "It's hard because instead of even trying to explain it to us, they'd rather keep quite. But then we find out in such a bad way, and it ends up being worse."

I nodded my head in agreement.

The general consensus was that some people were in situations where they were paying fees for things each month, without any explanation as to what they were for. Mine was one of these cases.

Things generally had a way of sorting themselves out, but not without a dragged out period of confusion and unnecessary stress that could have easily been avoided, had those in power bothered to talk the important talks.

"We should do something stronger than coffee next time," I said.

"Yes, girlfriend!" C said. That was classic C... up for anything through the worst of it.


Disclaimer: This is not a reflection of my overall feelings or emotions during my time here in Seoul. This was an isolated incident that sometimes reoccurs about once a month. In no way am I miserable, here, in the Land of Morning Calm. I just wanted you to know that the communication barrier is wider on some days than on others.
And it is on those days that I truly realize how far away I am from my comfort zone.
And it is on those days that I realize I'm on the adventure of a lifetime.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Learning of Science Skills

This week's grade nine lesson was on asking for and giving advice. The main phrases they needed to focus on were "What do you think I should do?" and "I think you should..."

After introducing the lesson to them and going over the vocabulary, I put the class into groups, giving each team a problem that they needed to advise on. The problems varied from fights with siblings, to issues at school. But one group received the coveted problem of self-esteem. For some reason, every group wanted to advise on this, believing they each had the perfect solutions to the issue.

I gave the class a few minutes to brainstorm solutions, before bringing their attention back to the front of the class. Each group now had to say what their problem was, and then read out five pieces of advice, appropriate to their issue.

As each group presented their ideas, I was filled with pride. I had worked on this lesson plan for a few hours, and was happy to see it actually work in class.

Then, it was my 'self-esteem' group's turn. They started off the presentation well.

"If you've got self-esteem problems, I think you should talk to someone," they said.

"If you have self-esteem problems, maybe you should read books to help," said another.


"I think you should get help with science skills," another one blurted.

"Science skills?" I thought.

I quickly let this pass, thinking it had something to do with learning science subjects, because they believed science was the best subject ever!

Boy, was I wrong.

My co-teacher quickly pulled me aside and said, "I think you should ask them what they mean by science skills," he said. "I don't like the sound of it."

I went ahead and asked the girls what they meant by "science skills," not expecting any elaborate answer.

My mistake.

The girls struggled to articulate their thoughts through words, so they decided on body language.

One girl grabbed her nose and pretended to cut it with a scissor. She then took that imaginary nose, threw it out, and replaced it with a smaller imaginary nose. She then looked at me with the biggest smile she could muster and said, "Yea? See? Science skills!"

In case that didn't do it for me, another student got my attention and said, "Teacher, you no understand? Ahhhhhh.... OK. It's like this..."

She stared at her friends face and said, "Oh! Your lips! I LOVE! Give me, OK?"

She then said, "Doctor! Doctor!! Chingu lips on me, OK?" (Chingu means friend in Korean).

And then, the reality of all this struck me...

Science Skills = Plastic Surgery.

Who knew?

In every class that followed, I made sure to let the girls know that 'science skills' weren't an option when giving advice about self-esteem.

I can't even tell you how heartbroken and sad they looked when they heard that.


Image courtesy of

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Hello, Autumn!

Autumn in Seoul is definitely not the same as autumn in Toronto.

I shouldn't even compare.

When I lived in India, a tropical country, I always imagined that if I were to move somewhere with cooler weather, that winter would automatically become my favourite season. After all, think of all those Christmas cards with picturesque paintings on front, making snow seem so magical... and not truly COLD. What can I say, I was a child with a flare for absorbing visual images.

When I moved to Canada at the end of July, the first complete season in my new home was autumn. I'd never given it a second thought back then, but I now realize that I'd fallen in love very quickly.

I fell in love with the smells... so cozy and comfortable. Maybe it was the smell of maple sugar or pumpkins, or coffee. I can't quite figure it out. All I know is that the air was sweet, mixed with a warm breeze.

I loved the fact that everyone looked cozy, all bundled up in their sweaters, scarves and coats. It wasn't as harsh as winter. Autumn had a softer look, with layers and warm colours. I guess it also helped that everything from the trees to the wardrobes were sporting my favourite colours.

And it's stayed that way ever since.

This is a recent shot of autumn in Toronto, taken by my friend Matt Cohen. I'd had a little chat with him about what I missed about the city, and he was kind enough to go out and get this shot, with me in mind.

Each year as September approaches, I begin a mental countdown to weeks of serenity. With autumn comes a sense of peace that I don't feel at any other time in the year. I make more of an effort to go out on walks and take in nature. I look at things more critically, and am truly overcome by the beauty of this world.

My friends used to joke with me about being morbid.

"Fall is a season of death, you know?" they'd say.

But I never thought of it that way. It just seemed too beautiful to be considered that.

I met someone in Seoul a few weeks ago, and shared this information with her. She said she'd run this by her mother, who happens to be a kindergarten teacher in Texas.

"Mom says it's not about death," she said. "The trees are simply absorbing all the photosynthesis so that they can keep warm for the winter. That's why the leaves fall."


Another reason to simply love this season.

I know, this post is rather nostalgic, isn't it? I must admit, I'm missing autumn in Toronto. But, for what it's worth, autumn in Seoul is just as beautiful. It's just... different.

More on the Seoul version, later.


Image courtesy of Matt Cohen in Toronto

Monday, 26 October 2009

I laugh with you

I've been watching this Korean variety show on TV for the past couple of weeks. In fact, I've been following it pretty diligently. I think it's been on three nights each week. But, here's the insane part - I don't know the name of the show. In fact, even if I did, I'm sure it would have some complicated Korean title, and I'd forget it after the second word.

What I know of the show is this: currently there's six famous Korean celebrities from various dramas and comedy sketch shows participating in it. They're made to perform a series of tasks that range from taking conversational English tests, to going out to the country and farming for a day.

But... it's all in Korean.

Still, when it's on, I can't seem to turn the TV off. I find myself laughing when the audience laughs, and sometimes even understanding what the actors are saying... despite not knowing a lick of Korean.

A friend and I were chatting over dinner a couple of weeks ago, about how we seem to catch on to the k-pop songs so quickly, despite not knowing what they're singing about. She said it's because they're so repetitive and catchy. I think this is true, but I also think it's because we're getting used to the language on some subliminal level. We may not be fluent in it, or even speak it, but on some strange level, it's what's normal to us right now.

A few students asked me to play Lady GaGa's "Pokerface" in class the other day, and I was taken aback by the English-ness of the song. Bizarre? Yes.

Another reason for watching this variety show with such fascination is because of this man:

This is Kim Seong-min -- a Korean actor and overall celebrity. The only reason I know his name is because my girls at school conducted an intensive search on their Naver search engine, for me. I told them I thought a Korean man was handsome. That's all it took. I didn't even have a picture of him.

I didn't know his name when I first wanted to figure out who he was. So my class, full of intermediate grade eight girls, got to work.

"Teacher, where did you see him?"

"I saw him on Sunday night. A KBS variety show."

They pulled up a bunch of images of random actors who were hot on the tube that night. None of them were him.

"Teacher, what's the name of the show?"

"I don't know. I know there's six male celebrities on it."

Another load of images populated the screen. Still, none of them were him. After the circle of girls surrounding the computer grew larger, and the bickering of who this mystery man could be grew by a whole octave, another girl asked me the final two questions.

"Teacher, he is on Korean drama?"

"Yes. I don't know which one."

"OK, teacher, is this man on it?" she asked, as she pointed to the photo of a random comedian who was also on the show.


Ten seconds later, Mr. Kim Seong-min took over my desktop.

My reaction?


My girls' reaction?


I think she meant "at you," though.

Still, this could have been a lesson plan in and of itself. It's difficult getting my girls to speak when talking about lessons from their textbook. But send them on a mission involving k-pop or TV shows, and boy, does their vocabulary ever grow!


Photo courtesy of Google Images
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