4.23.2008

Rage with Accompanying Soundtrack

Normally I listen to music on my morning commute. I’ll go ahead and confess that I’m not a fan of the Shuffle function on my iPod. I often get stuck with a bunch of songs that I don’t listen to, strange interludes, preludes, and spoken word found on musical soundtracks. Or all the instrumental music I own decides to pile on the Shuffle queue and bore me to death on the way to work. But I’ve been thinking about the Shuffle for a while, due to my fabulous luck of finding this guy’s blog. Read it; it’s good. Anyhow, Shuffle has been on my mind, so I decided last week to test it out. Monday: eh. Tuesday: eh. Wednesday: Really? Thursday: Why am I torturing myself with this? And then, Friday happened, people.

So, Friday morning I’m suppressing my rage because there is always a reason to be full of it on the Seoul Metro. And I’m finding it easy to not think about how angry I am because I can’t believe what I’m hearing. It’s like my iPod has finally become my best friend. All week, Shuffle has been disappointing me. But for some reason, I swear my iPod has finally figured me out and is using its Shuffle feature to woo me. You’re not going to believe this list. But here it is anyway.

Say It To Me Now- Glen Hansard (Once)
Drive In, Drive Out- Dave Matthews Band (Crash)
Come Together- Aerosmith (Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits)
Things We Said Today- The Beatles (Hard Day’s Night)
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds- The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again- Bob Dylan (Blonde on Blonde)
Brainwashed- George Harrison (Brainwashed)
If You Belonged to Me- Traveling Wilburys (The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. I)
Memories- Elvis Presley (2nd to None)
Black Star- Radiohead (The Bends)
Not Yet Dark- Bob Dylan (The Essential Bob Dylan)


No lie.

So, as I pushed the lock button on the top of my beautiful black square of music, the song Say It To Me Now began playing. This is from the soundtrack to the movie Once, which won an Oscar this year for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures and it won Best Original Song for the first track on the album, Falling Slowly. Once is a superb film in my intelligent and infallible cinematic opinion, and if you haven’t seen it, you should see it. Say It To Me Now’s 2:37 got me down the elevator and all the way to the escalator going down into the pit of hell, also known as the subway.

DMB was a nice treat. Dave always takes me back to being 17 and my first real concert. I saw them the summer of 2000 with Gaelen, a boyfriend who shaped my musical taste my junior and senior years of high school. Dang, he deserves a lot of credit for my intelligent and infallible musical opinions… And then I was surprised. I couldn’t be mad at the lady who whacked me with her purse trying to get off the train for all the wonder and surprise of Aerosmith’s cover of Come Together, which I didn’t even know I owned. What the crap? I know, right? Danielle didn’t know she owned a Beatles cover? Ah, well, I didn’t. I snatched the Greatest Hits album off my friend, Evan, in 2006 before I left for the U.K. All morality issues aside, I didn’t realize this song was on there and I couldn’t place it, so had to look at the iPod to check and see who it was. Hey, it’s always a good day when you find you have Beatles covers you didn’t know you had. So, I was gracious and didn’t yank that woman’s fat purse out of her hands and beat her with it. I just rubbed my arm where she whacked me and thought about how empty her life was without the Beatles and the bands that decide to play their stuff.

Which was weird, because then the Shuffle threw the Beatles right on into the mix. What are the odds? (I know there is probably some way to actually calculate these odds taking into account the total number of songs on my iPod and the ridiculous number of Beatles songs I have. But that would involve math. And Danielle Math is never correct and can sometimes be harmful to your health.) Things We Said Today is from the film and album A Hard Day’s Night. The film is awesome. See it now. This song was followed directly by another Beatles song- Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. First, my mouth dropped open a bit and then I began to laugh with disbelief, which made all the Koreans who weren’t already staring at me do so. My friend Tariq had just recently told me that he thought Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was entirely overrated. I listened with his statements in mind, but couldn’t get over the fact that the God of all Things Musical was living and breathing through my iPod, orchestrating the perfect morning playlist. So, the song may be overrated, but it was lost on me as I was so awed and thrilled that I had now heard 3 Beatles songs (albeit one a cover) in a row and the choice was anything but mine.

Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again got me through the transfer at Jamsil from Line 8 to Line 2. My favorite line is “Your debutante just knows what you need, but I know what you want.” Dylan helped me throw off the annoyance of an older man stepping on the back of my foot and causing my shoe to fall off. A shoe falling off is no big deal except that I was in the middle of a mass of people moving in one direction and when you stop, you shall be trampled. I felt a bit like Mufasa in The Lion King with the wildebeests. Or, I felt like I was stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again. Both are apt. Then I wondered as I waited on the next train if it was possible that everyone in this country had been brainwashed in their underground behavior. And Georgey boy helped me out with his solo work, Brainwashed.

So far: soundtrack, Beatles cover (for a soundtrack, actually- Sgt. Pepper’s…), actual Beatles double-time, Dylan, George Harrison AND THEN THE TRAVELING WILBURYS, which included Dylan and Harrison (along with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Oribison). I know. It’s unbelievable. The rest of my journey was filled with Elvis and Radiohead, who aren’t related, but I realize the Shuffle is only capable of so much. It is, after all, a machine. The Radiohead song was from my favorite album so far, including their latest In Rainbows, which is great but just can’t top The Bends for me. Another Dylan song brought me full circle in the music world and escorted me off the elevator to work. I took my shoes off, put them on the shelf, walked straight to my desk and wrote down this playlist. Even as I write this, I’m still amazed. Aren’t you?

To sum up: I heart Shuffle. Who knew?

4.15.2008

This Train is Full

I don’t usually eat breakfast before I leave the house because my school provides breakfast for me. It’s always soup. Pumpkin soup, juk (kind of a rice oatmeal), chicken and rice soup, always some kind of soup with kimchi. Now, I love kimchi. Danielle is all about some kimchi, just not first thing in the morning. I think that should be something I gradually work up to- for my stomach’s sake and for the fact that the entire faculty and staff uses one toilet.

So, Monday morning on the way to work, I’m not feeling full of energy (or anything else). For me, hungry = grumpy. Morning rage is lying dormant within me, waiting to be aroused.

Rage Inciter #1: An older man in a ridiculous yellow jacket decides that he does not have to get in line like the rest of commuting humanity. He will simply stand beside the line and enter the train at his own will. This makes me angry. If the line is long, then the line is long, people! Deal with it. It’s called life (or being late, if you’re me). So, Yellow Jacket decides because he is losing his hair at rapid rates that he should not be subjected to “the line.” So he stands beside me. He can’t stand behind me because there people are IN LINE! My rage is awake.

Rage Inciter #2: I find myself stuck in Metro Purgatory as we board the train. You haven’t been hearing a lot about good ol’ M.P. for a while because I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. But I’m pushed for time this particular morning and I AM GETTING ON THIS TRAIN, Metro Purgatory or not. So, I’m squeezed into this small space in front of the doors and guess whom I get to be back to back with? Yep, it’s Yellow Jacket. I had the pleasure of standing directly on the heels of a shorter man in a suit with earphones in, who in turn had the pleasure of being able to see the side of my face hovering over his shoulder out of the corner of his eye. If Suit turns his head, we’ll be making out. This is made even more probable by the fact that not only does Yellow Jacket think he can bypass the line, but he is also exercising his inalienable right to support himself by allowing his whole weight to rest somewhere around my shoulder blades. My rage is flexing its muscles.

Rage Inciter #3: I am hot. And my legs are shaking because I am basically trying to hold myself upright by pushing my toes so hard into the floor that it will cave in and give me a bit of a foothold. But it doesn’t. So I have to resort to this hoppy-jumpy move every time the train jerks in order not to throw myself on top of poor Suit. I do a little hop in order to bend my knees in hopes of regaining my balance, in hopes of gaining a millisecond of rest for my legs, and in hopes of shifting all my weight backward off of poor uncomfortable Suit and onto Yellow Jacket, who cannot hold himself up without my help. My rage is hoppy-jumpy.

Rage Inciter #4: PEOPLE KEEP GETTING ON THIS TRAIN, AND MORE SPECIFICALLY, IN THIS CAR. These are the times I dream of learning enough Korean in order to make a large neon sign I can throw up in front of the doors as we pull into the station. This sign would say, “There is no more room in this car. This car is full. There is no more room in this car. This car is full. Thank you for not squishing the already squished commuters on this train.” So I keep doing the hoppy-jumpy thing, dreaming of my beautiful sign that would prove ineffective anyway. The guy to my right is actually becoming a bit amused by my odd tactic of remaining on my feet and trying not to vertically spoon the Suit. He is stuck so that he can only turn his head to the left. So, I’m pretty much the only thing he’s got to look at. Well, at least some one is having a good time. My rage is healthy and energetic, coursing through me with gusto.

The Suit exits at Samseong and I’m sure he is off to write on his blog about the enraging, crazy white girl who kept trying to hump him on the train. My legs are trembling now. I have scooted to the left and grabbed a handle, leaving Yellow Jacket to support his own damn weight. My muscles are quivering- with hunger, with exertion, and of course, with rage.

I get off at my stop. I stumble up the steps out onto the street. I get to school and the Universe decides to give me the biggest rage antidote EVER. My kids are angels all freaking day. And on top of being good listeners, they are smart this day! And they make me look good in front of the principal who pops in on 2 of my classes. This in turn leads to the owner of the school, who is visiting this month, to tell me she has heard good things about me and she is so glad I came to teach at her school. I just sit back and watch this incredibly good day pass by me.

End rage. Until tomorrow.

4.14.2008

Just a Glimpse

I'd like to give you just a glimpse into the nature of the Korean kids I teach. Some of them are lovely and some of them just need to be smacked in the face. For example, last Friday I was wearing a band aid on my thumb because of aforementioned Shopping Incident (see previous post). My thumb wasn't all bloody or anything, but it still wasn't nice to look at because of the bruising and the black crust around my cuticle. And it hurt. So I was protecting it from the environment. Friday is my day to stand at the door and greet the kids (the biggest time-suck the school has come up with yet! I stand around for close to half an hour just to say "Good Morning! How are you today?" Really stupid, but whatever). So, Friday morning comes and Min Jae climbs off the elevator and runs to hug me. Min Jae is 2. He sees my thumb and points and says, "Ouch?" I say, "Yeah. Ouch." Then he proceeds to grab my thumb and squeeze as hard as he can, asking again, "Ouch?" I jerk my hand away from him and say, "Yes! Ouch!" He really hurt me and do you know what the little snot did? Can you guess what he did? Instead of saying, "Sorry teacher" or being sad about hurting me, he just looks up at me and laughs. Yep. He laughs at my pain. Giggles, actually. Is really pleased with himself.

That's all I have to say about that.

4.12.2008

The Healing Power of Dunkin' Donuts

Wednesday was a holiday here in Korea. It was an election day (local elections) and most people were off work in order to have time to vote because business hours in this country are from the time you wake up until you get your work done. So Keun Ha and I headed over to the Coex Mall to spend some of my first paycheck on good food and maybe a few t-shirts I could wear to work. I need t-shirts because when I packed my bags I was under the impression that it was really, really cold here. And in the mornings, it’s a bit chilly. But my commute is so hot and stuffy, that it’s ridiculous to wear anything other than a t-shirt and light jacket. And I also produce a fair amount of perspiration at school what with all the dancing, singing, and yelling at my kids. So t-shirts are in order. (I don’t know what I thought I would do when the weather turned warm. I seriously only packed 3 t-shirts. What was I thinking? Ah, the beauty of packing the day before…)

Anyhow, I went to the mall with high hopes of coming home with some ultra-stylish and cool Korean t-shirts. However, when we actually started looking at clothes, all I could find were smalls and a few mediums here and there. I found a t-shirt I really liked and Keun Ha asked the saleswoman if they had any other sizes and she replied, “We don’t sell larges.” Which holds true for the entire mall. However, the style right this moment is a baggier top with layers and weird graphics. So, I refuse to be thrown into the pit of despair by my not being a tiny Korean doll. I make up my mind that I will try on Mediums! I look at the Mediums. I hold them up to me and attempt to stretch them across my huge boobs. Most of them will not make it. Even if I could fit The Belly in the shirt, The Boobs would not find a home there. But I finally get the idea that I could get away with a zip-up type shirt. I find this short-sleeved incredibly thin and light grey sweater top. It is long and has cute pockets in the front and a hood. Totally my style. Will go over any t-shirt because I don’t have an issue with ‘matching’ or ‘coordinating’. Lucky me! I try it on. I don’t zip it because it’s not really the kind of thing that should be zipped. It fits me. Keun Ha says I look “so cool.” So I buy it. And then I rejoice. I BOUGHT A MEDIUM!

I don’t remember the last time I bought anything in a medium. I don’t even order my Starbucks in medium! I go Venti all the way (which definitely explains the lack of mediums elsewhere!). So I was excited. I had bright hopes for my future here. We had looked at a gym earlier before heading to the mall and I could see myself running and working out and buying lots of mediums that don’t have to zip up. I had images of my ultimate self— the size 6 I was in high school— walking down the street in an “outfit” rather than the pants I wore yesterday and the only shirt I could find that didn’t smell like my armpits. Yes, a bright and cheery future was in the works.

So we ate some lunch and then headed back out into the big world of style possibilities that had just opened up to me. We stopped in another store and I pick out yet another medium (this time that doesn’t zip- I was becoming more bold. I mean, what could it hurt to just try it on?) and Keun Ha picked out something to try on as well. We head back to the dressing rooms. I open the door and hang my shirt on the hook. There is a small platform that you step up on, but first you must take off your shoes (of course, we ARE living in Korea). I don’t realize this and Keun Ha says, “Oh, take off your shoes.” So I grab hold of the doorposts and begin to slip my shoes off and he starts to close the door.

“STOP!” I scared him I screamed so loud. I pushed the door open, pulled my thumb back from where it had been trapped between the door and the doorframe, pushed Keun Ha out of the way and then slammed the door shut. I fell to my knees and held my thumb and tried really hard not to cry. But I cried anyway. Keun Ha opened the door and knelt down beside me. By this time, my thumb had begun to bleed, blood flowing out from beneath the cuticle, circling around the skin on my knuckle that had been peeled back. I watched as my thumb grew a size and a half and turned purple. It made me feel sick. I started to cry even harder. Not only was I embarrassed because I was crying in the floor of a fitting room in a foreign country, but now I thought I was going to throw up in said fitting room and who knew how that would play out. Keun Ha ran to get a bandaid and came back in a few minutes with Hydrogen Peroxide, which made me cry even more!

So I finally recover a bit, start taking some deep breaths, and Keun Ha says, “So, you wanna try on your shirt?” He’s so cute. And I say, “Why not?” So I step back into the dressing room to try on the shirt. It fits okay. But it’s a little bit snug in the back-fat area, so I decide it’s not the one for me. I now have a killer headache from all the trying not to cry and then the crying and my thumb is also throbbing with my pulse. I’m not feeling so well. We find a pharmacy and buy some ibuprofen. We find a café and buy some juice and coffee. I’m okay. I’m not dying. But I’m not really happy either. My mood has been dialed down from “I’m so excited” to “well, I’m here.” We finish the juice and the coffee and I try not to be too depressing, because it’s our first holiday together.

So we’re walking out of the mall and passing all these shops and suddenly I stop and say, “I think I need some chocolate.” So Keun Ha promptly wheels me around and propels me towards the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. “Will this make you happy?” I purchase my chocolate-covered, crème-filled donut. We are walking out of the Dunkin’ Donuts and Keun Ha says to me, “Wow. You’re so much happier now. It makes me want to buy you a donut store.”

My boyfriend wants to buy me a donut store so I can be happy. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all you need to know to fully understand my love relationship with food. And why I will probably never be able to shop in Korea.

P.S. My thumb has healed nicely.

4.06.2008

Stampede

Thursday morning I arrived at Jamsil station just as the train doors were about to close. I knew that I probably couldn’t make this train, so I began walking down the platform towards the front where I imagine it is less crowded on the next train that will come flying down the line for me. But the doors still haven’t closed and I am walking past a set when I see a big huge space. It calls out to me, “Danielle! Look, there’s room for you! No squeezing or pushing required.” And I lightheartedly jump into the train and say, “Thanks, space.”

The first three stops went rather well— no one mistook me for a wall to lean against or the girl who couldn’t dream of anything more grand than to be pressed against them for the duration of her journey. It was kind of tough when people wanted to get off the train, but I rotated sideways and sucked in the belly to let them past and it seemed to work. But between Sports Center and Samseong, the train began to slow down and came to a dead stop in the tunnel. I could see my reflection in the glass of the doors. It appeared as though I had been born with not one, but two sets of ridiculously bushy and unkempt eyebrows. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker that was gibberish to me. Thoughts of being trapped in the tunnels and all the horror stories I had heard about masses of people dying in the subway darted through my mind. I felt my spine tingle and my muscles twitch. But all the Koreans behind me seemed unalarmed from their reflections in the door. So I remained calm and dismissed all ideas of imminent danger. We waited a few minutes. There was another announcement I couldn’t understand. (Dang, I’ve got to learn Korean, and how!) At this point everyone got out their cell phones and began to text furiously. So, following suit, I sent my colleague a message that said I could possibly be late because I was sitting still in a tunnel with at least four more stops to go.

Little did I know that while I was in the tunnel waiting and growing ever more impatient, the platform at Samseong was rapidly filling up with people also waiting and growing ever more impatient. At 6 of the stops on my second train, the doors open on the right. At Samseong the doors open on the left. I was thankful for this because it meant I wouldn’t have to move in order to let others on. My nice space that had seemed so inviting was closing in around me. Finally the train starts up again and we jet towards the station. I am standing in my space, minding my own business, thinking how lucky I am to have hopped on this particular train, even if it was delayed a bit. And WHAM! I am making out with the door. All those impatient people on the platform have vowed that they are getting on this particular train no matter what. And they have shoved, elbowed, and shouldered their way through those doors and into this car, causing the people behind me to push me flat against the doors. The man behind me has his arm over my shoulder and pressed against the side of my face so that he can reach the door in order to hold himself up. A woman’s shoulder is making very good friends with my ribs. Someone is standing on half of my left foot and I can’t turn my head because I am busy cleaning the door with the sweat and oil from my face.

At the next stop, all the people who shoved into the car from the left side at Samseong wish to get out on the right side. So as the doors open, I am thrust out of the train onto the platform as the car spills its guts. The crowd propels me to one side and on top of a Korean girl waiting to get on the train. She pushes me off her, saying something I cannot understand, but she communicates her indignation despite the language barrier. I am driven back onto the train by the mass behind me and jostled so much that I say, “Oh my God!” and everyone in the train turns and stares at me. I have broken Metro Golden Rule #1: You must not speak unless absolutely necessary, and certainly not into thin air, your comments directed at no one in particular. For two more stops I look at my feet and seethe.

I have no recourse. I cannot change an entire nation’s thinking on Metro etiquette. At the same time, I cannot bring myself to fall into line and follow this unspoken Underground Code. I can make a habit of taking my shoes off before I enter buildings; I can learn to enjoy kimchi and wield chopsticks; I can try to sit on the floor at restaurants, ignoring the fact that my right hip always hurts and ends up causing my foot to tingle and then go numb; I can remember to always find the eldest person in the house and bow and say hello to them first; I can even begin to learn the language and have hopes of mastering it somewhat someday. But I cannot assimilate in the case of Seoul Metro behavior. In this way, I will always be a foreigner, no matter how hard I close my eyes and wish I was Korean.

4.03.2008

The Big Bad Purses

If I charted my Wednesday on a graph, it would start in the negative quadrant, well below 'Just okay.' This morning I was less than okay for two reasons: a). I didn't succeed in berating myself out of bed until 8:20 a.m, which is usually the time I leave my apartment and b). it was raining. When I peeked behind the window shade and looked down, I was greeted by the dreadful and gloomy tops of umbrellas shooting down the sidewalks toward the subway entrances. Ugh. I could already see the ever-dreaded and miserable wet pants scenario. I would roll my pants up, but the whole walking thing would convince them to unroll and play in the puddles that gather on the uneven sidewalks. And I could already feel the disgusting moment when I removed my shoes at work and the wet pants would touch my ankles. I hate that. So I sighed and grumbled fiercely at my reflection in the mirror as I tried to figure out the best way to fix my hair so that I looked less like an unwashed miscreant and more like a respectable English teacher.

A few minutes later, I headed out the door and the line of my day continued on the x axis, steadily running towards "grey and boring." As I boarded my first train, I was lucky enough to be standing in the aisle between the seats. This space is much better than metro purgatory (See 'The Grab Plan' below) because although I can't hold onto anything, the commuters on either side of me can. This usually eliminates any unnecessary touching, pushing, or leaning. But nooooooo. The young, seemingly healthy woman behind me HOLDING ONTO THE HANDLE decided she couldn't find enough support and needed to lean on me. I kept inching forward and wiggling around to let her know I was definitely not okay with this situation. But she continued to rock back on her heels, her fingers firmly wrapped around the black handle, and press her back against mine. This was the kind of press that made sweat start to form in my many crevices and I felt a drop bead and run down my side. It was hot enough in the train. I was already disgusting, but she was making it worse. And so my rating on the rage-o-meter soared (all sorts of bells and whistles were going off) and the line of my day plummeted towards 'worst yet.' Luckily, I only have 3 stops on my first train and so I was able to transfer at Jamsil. It's a long walk from platform to platform so I had a bit of time and a bit of Ryan Adams on the trusty iPod to assuage the rage. (I know it rhymes. Deal with it.)

Deep breaths. (From walking fast and climbing stairs, mostly). Okay. Waiting for the second train, I stood in line and convinced myself not to look at the clock or my cell phone because knowing what time it was wouldn't make me any earlier or later. And it definitely wouldn't help me to be calm and rage-less for the next 7 stops on this train. And all of a sudden I am whacked. I am whacked with a big bulky purse the size of my midsection belonging to a sturdy, apparently powerful Korean woman probably no younger than 50. I turned around in disbelief, forgetting that I was in Korea and vulnerable to the attack of the old-lady purses, raised my hands and my shoulders in a “What the hell?” kind of gesture. But my disdain was too late. She was off whacking her way through the middle of the lines of other patient commuters waiting for the train. (Forthcoming post on The Ajumma - I will check the English transliteration of the Korean- a stereotype based entirely in fact.) Anyway, my day-line plummeted towards dejected.

I went to school. My kids channeled demons all day.

I stepped out of the elevator at the end of my work day and the rain was gone and the sidewalks were already dry. The sun greeted me and pulled the line of my day up the Y axis to “maybe I won’t die today” status. I got on my first train and stood in front of a school girl in her green jacket and plaid skirt uniform. She got up at the first stop and I moved to take her seat. But right as I was turning around to sit down I saw a large purse out of the corner of my eye. Having still not fully recovered from the indignity of the morning’s purse incident, I immediately stepped back and motioned for the old (anything but frail) woman to have the seat. She took it. And then a miracle happened. The woman sitting beside her smiled at me. She had shoulder-length hair and only the lines around her eyes whispered she might be over 45. She rose from her seat and motioned for me to sit down. I thanked her in Korean and slightly bowed to her before sitting. I thought what luck it was that she was going to get off at this stop. But she didn’t. No, ladies and gentlemen, she didn’t get off the train. She just saw that the line of my day was still in a negative quadrant and wished to boost me up that good old Y axis with a kind gesture. She smiled at me from her spot in front of me, holding onto the handle. I rode that train in a seat for the next 6 stops. And I’d like to say my official endpoint on the chart was in the positive, hovering somewhere between “restored faith in humanity” and “forgiving all ajumma’s with large purses.”

I guess sometimes what you put out into the universe, Mel, comes right back at you.

4.01.2008

The Purchase


Signing the papers for the new car!


Keun Ha's friend handing over the official documents and key!

href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_jsgAdqp5AkU/R_Hywopf7oI/AAAAAAAAACk/IfdIMsl1ThY/s1600-h/DSC01252.JPG">
Keun Ha and the new car that cuts his commute in half! Only an hour to work and back! Yay!


Me with the new car that brings my boyfriend home earlier! (Except when he works until 11pm, like last night.)

Everyone who knows Bob Buckley, please note the color of this car.
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