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i wrote about having a non-kitchen before. and as much as i complained about it, i kind of quite liked it. it was challenging, and frustrating, and produced laughably small electricity and gas bills.

and then tb did this…

do you see it?!

a ballin’ convection oven.

that’s right.

so in true younger sibling fashion, i promptly started scheming and creating ridiculous bake-offs that would deem one person the coveted label of best-person-to-create-something-out-of-a-23-by-25-heated-appliance.

to set the vivid battle (i mean, baking) scene, it was kind of like north and south korea traded their army gear for oven mitts, set aside their nuclear missiles for spatulas, and created a mass shortage of nutmeg and cinnamon in the baking aisles of their respective foreign food marts.

i’m not too sure who was north or south, but here’s what went down…

appealing to the non-diabetic sufferers of the world, i made a straight-up bowl of sugar.

i called them “chocolate chip cookies.” but really, all sugar.

(one point for ambiguous korea).

and in the other corner (you know, the less aggressive one), tb ventured for the classic oatmeal something cookie packed with nutritional facts and probably some sort of ingredient that lowers your chances of cancer, high cholesterol, death, and sunburn. ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

both batches produced a ton of unflattering “mmmmms,” grunts, and gasps for air because as any cookie-eater can attest, it was just too difficult to breathe AND scarf down delicious goodies simultaneously.

and in the end, we couldn’t decide a winner. wait, yes we did.

combining these two delicious goodies into one hybrid ball of sugar (and cancer-fight agents) was an absolute no-brainer. i’m actually pretty pissed at us for not thinking of it sooner. dear kim jong-il, please take notes.

so if you’re racking your brain as to why i wrote practically nothing in february and still have not really written about the phillipines (injuries aside) or even taiwan (i promise i’ll write soon, taipei!) then now you have your reason….

it’s because i’m currently trying to solve the situation between the two koreas.

and it may or may not include cupcakes.

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between passing out on christmas eve while still wearing my toque and mittens and waking up on christmas morning in a hot mess of sweaty hands and a matted scalp, i developed some sort of serious business with my right eye.

it looked like i had stuck a q-tip under my eyelid, went digging for a bit, and then thought it would be a good idea to just you know, sleep on it.

pictures overstep personal boundaries. but the drawing is realistic enough.

now when it comes to any sort of ailment… i’m a self-proclaimed internet diagnoser. there’s probably even some correlation between the invention of google and my frequency in visiting the doctor. 

doctors make me feel careless. i just know they judge me when i tell them how i think i might have broken my elbow while running with a hot pizza. but empathetic google does not lower its glasses to me. instead, dr. google is always reassuring me that things will be okay. and if they aren’t… i just use different search terms. 

on top of that, google’s batting about a 90% accuracy rate with me right now (save for the time they told me i had bed bugs. that diagnosis ended with me hysterically piling everything i owned into three large garbage bags. but because i didn’t know what to do next,  i just kinda lived out of those bags for the next two weeks. it was a nice and compact style of living and in the end, my prescription was just a change in laundry detergent.)

so through a steady on stream of tears from my right eye, i got to work on my condition. google told me i had a scratched cornea. but also advised me that it could be something worse. and then all of sudden OUT OF NOWHERE google rears its judgemental head and starts lecturing me on the fact that i only have two eyes and i need to seek the immediate advice of a medical professional (um, i am google. it’s called “you”). and that if things don’t change in the next 24 hours, my eyeball could slide into the back of my head and my body would digest it forever. (it’s hard to say if the last part of the prognosis was accurate. did i mention my vision was increasingly blurry?)

since google’s scare tactics were successful, i decided to visit a korean pharmacist. (my moderate-to-severe level pain just didn’t quite warrant an actual doctor’s visit).

now in case you didn’t know, okpo is a city dedicated to the kinds of foreigners that love things like strip clubs and getting sick…a lot. those black-tinted “foreigner clubs” and “pouruners welcome” signs (translation: foreigners welcome) crowd the streets of okpo. (i haven’t decided if the pharmacists employed at pouruners are the witty play-on-words type or just boastfully proud of their lackluster customer service).

worried about my soon-to-be-pirate status, i entered the first pharmacy i could find (unfortunately, pour-run is closed on sundays). in preparation for the communication barriers that would occur at this pseudo doctor’s visit, i had pulled out all the stops and created a three-step charade game to share my google diagnosis findings.

 first word…

now i’m not exactly sure what i expected but i s’pose that i just assumed the pharmacist would take a mini flashlight to my cornea and search for the missing q-tip in my eyeball abyss.

but instead, he took one quick glance at my eye and simply tossed me a bottle of swan touch and confidently sat back down to continue his pixie cup of “milk-coffee.” the instructions only read japanese but the packaging did boast: the sleek design and curve is sure to be successful.

pharmy chuckled when i wanted to finish out the game of charades with words two and three. i just wasn’t convinced that this man knew my eye better than me (or google. same thing). sure the package said it would be successful, but pharmy didn’t seem at all concerned that my eyeball could slide into the back of my head if i blinked for too long (again, the details on this symptom are a bit shady).

did pharmy just outsmart google?

it’s true…two days later my eyeball was as white as a ghost.

from now on, dr. google is taking a back seat to my main man pharmy and his sharp-shooter pourun service.

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“even though i know christmas is less than a week away, it just doesn’t feel like it.”

i whimpered something along these lines last week as i walked to school wearing the same sort of get-up that i wore when i first experienced the okpo factor back in august. without snow on the ground, or any real temperatures dipping below the 10 degrees mark, i was finding it difficult to get into the christmas spirit.

to me, i can always tell christmas is coming when i have to give up my dirty moccasins with wool socks combo for something that is more suited for ice, snow, and anything else that occurs between the months of december and february. now for me, this often happens all too late in the game (and my feet are usually already soaked at this point), but i’ll most likely start to accept that it is now time for winter. and winter means christmas. and christmas means new socks. and new socks mean that i can now wear them with my dirty salt-stained moccasins (see? it all comes full-circle).  

 

but without the snow, i can continue to make poor footwear choices. and since i apparently use my shoes as my solstice calendar, it’s still october in my mind. (geoje weather does absolutely nothing to dispute this illogical reasoning.)

lucky for me, a mandatory work weekend caused a glance over to my real calendar (and not my feet). the day started with a two. and ended with a zero. 

game on, christmas.

there was no messing around when it came to christmas training for korean kiddies. lessons included the importance of starting a steady diet of sugar and chocolate well before the 25th. we all know that without any real preparation, an overload of toblerones and jujubes on the morning of christmas, is a recipe for holiday trouble.

and this is why the advent calendar was invented. because without this daily cocoa build-up, millions of children around the world would be wincing in corners (and clutching their stomach in sugar-agony) before mom could even hand out the brand-new christmas day pajamas. 

 

christmas training also meant that i was assigned wreath-duty. hands down it was a major success. a weekend of red & green paper crafts had me running for my closet and searching for the warmest pair of shoes i could find. i mean, so what if the kiddies didn’t really understand the door decor purpose of a wreath?

as the kiddies ran off, wearing their wreaths as hats, i didn’t care much. my feet were toasty warm. 

i’m ready for you, christmas. i have socks and shoes to prove it.

(sidebar: i really hope that dami’s parents step up this year and buy her a subscription to e-harmony. with this matchmaking service in place, it shouldn’t be too hard to find her a handsome helmet-hair korean boy with disproportioned fire-red arms and legs and black-as-night googly eyes. or at the very least… just get her a new ipod).

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i consider myself an excellent gift-giver.

perhaps that came off a bit arrogant but seriously, i  am jealous of those handfuls who receive bang-up gifts from me each and every year. from concert tickets to hilarious movies (most of which were straight-to- dvd releases) to fantastic value village finds, if you’re on my christmas list, consider yourself l-u-c-k-y.

as i think about this more, perhaps i am not such an excellent gift-giver. instead, i have that garish quality of buying people gifts that in reality, i would like to receive. i buy concert tickets for others so that i can go, i buy movies that i want to watch, and i buy value village gifts in the hopes that you will forget it one weekend and i can take advantage of it until you are back and i will place it right back where i found it.  

this year is really no exception.

in the spirit of giving (with a price limit of 25,000 won), i volunteered to buy presents for a couple kiddies who are associated with one of the local orphanages in geoje. not only would i have liked to receive every gift i picked up, but i also realized i haven’t the faintest idea what a 13 year old korean boy would like for christmas.

the dilemma was this: do i buy the sword that lights up AND comes with some sort of secret key OR do i go for the electric blue amazonian elephant that morphs into a power ranger. see? my life is tough here in okpo.

as i gushed to tb about these fantastic finds, a korean couple overheard and cautiously let me know that the elephant-turned-power-ranger and sword-with-secret-key are actually both best suited for the under-5 crowd. (dear korean parents: the finger dexterity and developmental stage of your kindergartener is far beyond that of any north american 5 year old).  their suggestion? “something for their studies.”

since “educational” is not in my gift-giving criteria, i settled on one of the tried-and-true gifts…a dvd. (the dilemma was then between avatar or night at the museum 2. then i remembered that i wanted to brighten up this kid’s day…not depress him with ben stiller’s acting. so hopefully he finds hope and inspiration in watching blue people plug their ponytails into pterodactyls).  

luckily the gift for the preteen girl was less of a struggle.

check this shit out. you can make your own sushi!

it’s essentially asia’s answer to the easy-bake oven. but better. this girl can make sushi shaped as grapes or better yet, bears. BEARS! i’m not exactly sure how it works but it’s probably awesome and i hope all the other kiddies will be jealous of her when she’s chomping down on rice and seaweed leaves in the shape of smokey (you know, like the bear).

blog readers take note. this is all i really want for christmas.

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so first is first. im not an american. nor am i that much of a vegan.  however, i foolishly have this deep belief that if you combine two things that are fiction…they sometimes become fact (or something along those lines). this theory has been proven successful in the past when at one time, i mistakenly considered myself an educated social worker.  

if the night of the almost vegan almost american thanksgiving dinner was any indication, the okpo factor remains completely unaffected by the “activities” (again, heightened strife) that is taking place with the USS George Washington. who knows what kind of media paranoia is being brewed up by those trusted “frontline” outlets on the other side of the globe but here in the ‘po, it’s all gravy (of the animal-free variety, of course).

as pals passed around the maple syrup (completely unrelated to thanksgiving…or america for that matter, but by all means, still essential to any harvest-related meal), you would never believe that south korea is “inching closer to the brink of war” (as reported by CBC in canada) or that the artillery attack “is a dangerous provocation that must be condemed”  (as reported by the japan times). but if the recent flood of emails from distance relatives is taken as evidence, international media is still doing its part to toss around as many war-laden terms as possible in its 30-second segment on asian news.

 

as for me, i’m keeping my news intake local, just like my almost vegan almost american thanksgiving dinner.

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“learn to live with”

the north korean border is roughly 530 kilometers from the okpo factor. geographically speaking, this means that the factor is one of the southernest tips of the country and perhaps if you were to travel any farther south, you would probably end up in the middle of the yellow sea (and who knows how dangerous those unclaimed waters can be). 
 
now before i go on, perhaps some disclaimer is in order. my opinions may very well change when k-town (with the urging of the powerful hybrid, Obama-Japan) releases a series of drills on Saturday involving a 97,000 ton nuclear-powered carrier into the west sea. but for now, the spat between k-town and our neighbours to the north has been a great topic of discussion with the myriad of koreans I communicate with on a daily basis. from the wazoo of 6th graders, to our tactless director, to my favourite coffee barista (who prefers to talk about the unavailability of soymilk but whatever), k-towners certainly agree that the “activities” of our northern neighbours have been above all, childish at best. as a glass-half full (hopefully of soy milk) kind of esl teacher , these “activities” (“activities” being the preferred descriptor, it’s conflict-free and easy to pronounce… win-win) have also served as a learning opportunity for new words like “censorship,” “famine,” and “anxiety.” words that may not have even made their way into a korean 12 years old vocabulary until years later (or never if we’re talking about words like “firing” and “artillery.” those “r” and “l” sounds are darn tricky).
 
one awkward conversation with an adult student led to us discussing the term “learn to live with it.” i insisted that this may not be the best term to use during times of heightened strife (my preferred descriptor) but is more of a stage of acceptance for coping with things like cancer, a bad hair cut, or a noisy landlord who lives above you and invites every single person in okpo over to her house on thursday evenings to listen to her sing her own rendition of kid rock and sheryl crow’s picture. yes, these are the things you “learn to live with.”
 
as we discussed n.k’s antics further, dedicated adult-class-attendee #1 insisted that s.k. has “learned to live with” n.k.’s aggressive and provoking attitude, in addition to their refusal to have any sort of actual dialogue with their south korean counterpart. he showed just enough compassion to this stubborn country that i didn’t feel it necessary to point out his misuse of “learn to live with it” (or maybe it wasn’t misuse and if that is the case, i may have met the most poetic korean ever. and he attends my class). 
 
of course my first reactions were altruistic in nature (everyone should seek refuge in okpo) but then they quickly turned selfish. in just over one week’s time, tb and i will be trogging over to beijing for a handful of days. china’s stance on these activities (slash heightened strife) is a little unclear right now. the chinese embassy also may still have my passport.
 
but right now, these are not the matters at hand.
 
being a registered alien in a foreign country on the potential escalation of military tensions and deployment of nuclear-carriers (without a passport, mind you) is just something I will have to learn to live with.

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the marionette syndrome

i think i’m coming down with something.

i could list off my symptoms like a pepto bismol commercial but i will spare you the details. however, i am pretty confident that this is more than just an ordinary flu. oh yes. this is not just one of those “24-hour bugs” that you can shake off in a day or two. no no, this is something much much worse.

i think i am suffering from the marionette syndrome.

now sometimes (i.e., all the time) i will use the internet to self-diagnosis. for reals. google probably knows more about my medical history than my japanese family doctor. and that guy knew me since i was a strange toddler who had an obsession with sticking popcorn kernels in my ears and stickers up my nose.

unfortunately, google failed me this time.

if you tried for yourself to search ‘the marionette syndrome’, you would come up with a couple hits for a japanese anime pop song from 2009 that is laced with yamaha synthesizers and performed by a digital android that fights crime with her synthesized-theme wardrobe (i could not have even made that up if i tried). but i can assure you, this has nothing to do with comic books (or synthesizers, for that matter).

without google to immediately rely on, and left to my own knowledge of the DSM-IV, i have been forced to understand and consequently, navigate, the strange (and worsening) facets of the marionette syndrome.

for starters, the onset of marionette syndrome often takes place in a english-as-a-second-language setting. patients may not even notice that they are beginning to develop signs of the marionette syndrome as they are too busy having one of the easier jobs on the planet. this is compounded by the patient’s disbelief that they are actually getting paid to relay a skill that is of second nature to them.

but soon, other signs or symptoms become present. patients may begin to realize that yes, their job is definitely unlike most other nine-to-fivers. however, the job description outlined in their poorly translated pdf contract and the patient’s actual purposeful function in day-to-day scenarios are ridiculously divergent of one another.

and these contrasting differences very well lead into the origin of naming “the marionette syndrome” as such. patients of the marionette syndrome may begin to understand that their purpose as an ESL teacher is not really to teach English to adorable korean children. sure, patients may act as teachers, they may conjugate verbs, they may even regurgitate a lesson plan or two. but in reality, their purpose as an ESL teacher is to perform.

to perform. like a marionette.

(get it? tis clever. i know.)

although some patients may actually feel like they have strings attached to their arms and legs and their boss/ director holds a firm grip on the wooden cross that secures those ragged strings. most patients’ symptoms stem from more abstract comparisons to the austrian puppet.

marionette syndromers (this is what we call ourselves, we may even have a foundation set up already) are merely there to perform as a face of westernized culture. a face of westernized culture similar to those advertisements of now c-list hollywood celebrities that glue the walls of a seoul subway station. to perform in such a way that encourages a more heterogeneous korea. a korea made up primarily of korean-koreans and a sprinkle of english speakers-turned-marionettes.

the boss that holds the strings (wikipedia refers to this person as “the manipulator” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marionette)  can  jerk the strings ever so slightly, and the puppet will go balls-to-the-wall berserk. work 12 days straight. wrangle a herd of hagwon crazies. perform the same class with the same routine for months straight.

it could very well be that this post is instigated by the circus that was the last two weeks (which included the above-mentioned 12-day work bender).  but it suddenly hit me that i too, have become a victim of the marionette syndrome.

 i spent a day at school being miserable about my condition. i was fully prepared to spend the better part of the afternoon being even more miserable (some would say i was in the grieving stage of acceptance) when i was assigned to complete two quick speaking tests with students. these tests would “decide” which level of afterschool class the students entered. but it is no secret that they really are assigned a class based on their age, english competence is not a factor here. again, i was just performing for the kiddies.

i started off with an 11 year old who had fantastic english skills. she would be well-suited for our top afterschool class but i knew full well her fate with the english language lied in the three-ring circus of the mid-level class. rushing through a set of generalized questions, i asked her about her favourite hobbies. i had already deemed her as a “play computer games” kind of gal. (much different from the kiddies that typically answer “i like watch tv” “academy” or personal favourite, “my hobby is sleep.”) her answer was fantastically unexpected….to say the least.

“i like to bark like a dog.”

i almost spit out my miniature cup of maxim.

“you like what?”

“to bark. like a dog.”

and almost as if i was an owner asking my cocker spaniel to “speak,” she lets out this yelp of a bark that causes all other teachers in the room to also spit out their miniature cups of maxim (seriously, why is something so delicious so small?).

“oh yes. i also like playing tennis.”

amazing.   “do you bark like a dog while you are playing tennis?”

“hmmm…well, yes, sometimes i do.”

this was sensational. all of it.

and i suppose that is the final piece of information about the marionette syndrome: the prognosis. for some people, it may be a long, difficult and uphill struggle to lead a healthy life in korea once you have been diagnosed with the syndrome.

but for others, all you need is a strong dose of a little korean girl who enjoys barking like a dog while playing tennis.

(the little girl also ended up in the top-level class…. i hope she soon discovers the full potential of her canine skills).

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