Monday, May 31, 2010


Written 5/30 at 10:50pm

Welp, I suppose it's time to get blogging again...gotta get those May post counts up!

Right now, I'm sitting on a mugunghwa train, waiting to pull out of Seoul to find out just how much a cab will in fact cost to get back to my house. Since I'm going to miss the last subway that goes to Osan. WONDERFUL. Of course, I didn't get a real seat on this train, so I'm stuck on the already over-crowded dining car, which, lemme tell you guys, smells RULL interesting. Fantastic.

So why, you may ask, was I in Seoul until all hours on a Sunday night? SHUT UP AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSiNESS! that's why! But I suppose if you must know, I was in Seoul checking out practice for an (English-language, natch) improv troupe. Many of you, possibly all 6 of you who actually read this blog, know that when I was in college, I did improv comedy. Not that I was particularly good at it, mind you! But I did have a lot of fun doing it. Unfortunately, the team folded my senior year, and my Mad Comedy Skillz lay dormant for many years.

So when I heard about the group in Seoul, I was all like "Heck yes! Sign me up!" and tonight was the first practice for me.

You guys, I had So. Much. Fun. I was so nice to be back there doing something I get so much enjoyment from

As for actual performances, I think I'll have to come to a few more practices and let them get a better feel for me. Then maybe I'll be invited to perform, which would be fantastic! These guys are hilarious, and a lot of fun to perform with. For right now, though, I'm happy to have improv back in my life again, but I'll be sure to keep you all updated on performances.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I am so lazy it stuns even me!

If there’s one thing people should know about me, it’s that I tend to talk a big game, but I’m generally lazy to actually back anything up. For example, I really enjoy pretending I’m a lot more adventurous than I actually am. Honestly, it’s true! I have had an open application to the Peace Corps for nearly 3 years now that I’ve just been too lazy and/or distracted to actually complete. It’s a miracle that I actually made it to college, let alone graduated.

Take today, for instance. Today, I got up early enough (around 10am, I think that’s legit for me), and had these ideas about “doing things” today. So what did I do? I laid in bed for about an hour, and then I turned on my computer. I was reading The Internet for a while, when someone mentioned the movie Up, so I decided I had to download buy a pirated copy of legally obtain it. Then I got distracted by my friend Jill (whose blog you should read, should she ever decide to update it regularly! Go Jill go!). While I was talking to her, I suddenly needed to get breakfast, because it was about noon at this point. So I walked down to the Dunkin Donuts (NOT THE SAME L) and got a bagel and cream cheese. And an iced latte. And a glutinous rice donut. I am so healthy!

On the way back, my foot decided to start hurting MISERABLY again…bastard can’t even take a measly 3km run. So I concentrated on that for a while and decided it would probably be decent to not walk very much. Anyway, I got back home and talked to Jill some more (and Other Friends), and then the movie was ready, so I decided to watch that. And all of a sudden, it was almost 3pm! So I texted like two people to see if anything necessary was going on today, and nobody got back to me. And the bus ride to Seoul is like an hour. And I didn’t really have a plan for something to do in Seoul. And some Terrible Matthew McConaughey Movie was on the teevee. And then I decided to try to make kimbap? And it was terrible. And then it was 6 or 7, so I made some vague attempt at getting a plan for this evening that ultimately failed to materialize. And now here we are. It’s 10pm on a Saturday and I’m blogging.

The thing is, at any point during the day today, I could easily have gotten up off my ass and walked the 20m to the bus stop and gone into Seoul. Or gone to Suwon. Or gone to Pyeongtaek, both of which are closer. But you know what? I didn’t. BECAUSE I AM A FAILURE. Please feel free to judge me. I could make some vague excuse like “oh weh I need to save up money to go to America this summer” or “meh meh meh my foot hurts rull bad!” but that’s total BS and we all know it. The fact is, I’m just lazy.

Seriously, guys, I could be a superhero if I weren’t so damn lazy.

And now I’m too lazy to come up with an ending this post. GREAT. I AM NOT EVEN A SUCCESSFUL LOSER BLOGGER. Clearly, the best solution is to just lay in my apartment eating food until I become so fat that they will need to knock out a wall in my building and use a crane to get myself out. Problem = solved!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A writing post

Alright kids, I'm about to do that annoying bloggy thing that bloggers do and just write because I haven't posted in a while, so you are free to leave at anytime. I will not keep you here.

OK here goes.

One of the things I want to do while I'm over here is improve my writing skills, so I've been trying to write every day. Most of the time that ends up over on my tumblr account (shameless plug GO!), but I haven't actually done the greatest of jobs. It's not that I don't have a lot to say, I just don't always have the chance to write it down immediately. Or the humorous spin I put on it in my head. And then when I do sit down to write, I got nothin. Kinda like now! The difference is that now I'm writing. And I'm going to write just to write until I come up with a storyline or I get REALLY bored. WHO KNOWS WHICH WILL HAPPEN FIRST? STAY TUNED TO FIND OUT.

OH one thing I should probably mention for all you folks there out of Korealand...the whole, y'know, war thing that's going on. It all started (as each and every one 'a youse should know) with the sinking of the Cheonan about a month ago that took the lives of 42 of her crew. Through a prolonged investigation (and it's important to remember that this investigation to the cause of the sinking did take a month), it has been demonstrated that the most likely cause was a North Korean torpedo. Following the official declaration from the South Korean government (which itself came several days after the independent, international investigating committee announced its findings), much ado has been made about the escalating tensions between the two countries, with people concerned about this getting LEGIT. Possibly too legit to quit.

The first thing you should understand, though, is that these two countries have been at war for very nearly 60 years. Incidents like the sinking of the Cheonan have happened before, and will very likely happen again. There hasn't been a serious escalation of the conflict stemming from any of the previous incidents, and there's no real reason to believe that will happen now. What is most likely going on is that Kim Jong Il is making a show of military force to ensure the backing of his generals during the transition of power from him to his son.

Look, it's kind of a mistake to simply write him of as an irrational, unpredictable crazy person. You don't rule a country for thirty plus years through some SERIOUS natural disasters if you're completely bonkers. He is an eccentric, for sure, but he also knows what he is's really not in his (or China's, or Russia's, or South Korea's, or Japan's, or the US's) best interest to take this conflict any further. He knows just about how far he can push the international community without putting in SERIOUS jeopard his hold on power. Sanctions he can deal with - when things get bad in a couple years he can just agree to more nuclear dismantling talks for some lifting.

The second thing to consider in all this is the reaction of South Korea. Obviously it can't go unnoticed - that would be a terrible injustice to the families of the victims. It's also election season (on the local level, regional councils, mayoralties, and governorships up for grabs), and the ruling GNP are facing serious disenchantment with their policies. That combined with popular sympathy for the late president Roh Moo-hyun of the DP (who killed himself approximately one year ago following what is widely perceived as an overzealous investigation of corruption charges led by the GNP) mean they (the GNP) need to find some wedge issue to bring voters back to their side. A strong response to North Korea would be just the thing.

Even then, it's not likely to go beyond UN sanctions, severing the small ties built with the north, and increased military posturing...and that's very likely where all this will end. So you guys needn't worry. Yes, I have registered myself with the US Embassy here just in case. But I am fairly positive this will all come to nothing.

Yikes this turned into a more serious and subject-oriented post than I had initially hoped for. Sorry guys, you came for incoherent ramblings and instead got an uninteresting rehash of Current Topics in Foreign Policy. My bad.

Now I feel pressured to come up with something funny for you guys...but I got nothin. Whateva. I'm done. I'll write something funny later GOD STOP PRESSURING ME INTERNET!

OH here is an amusing link to keep you all occupied. Hyperbole and a half. She is hilarious.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I felt the need to add this after that last post so you all didn't think I had suddenly become a sodden hot mess curled up on the floor in the fetal position weeping quietly to myself. Because of course, after the last post, I went and had myself a pretty good day at school today. No major acts of terrorism from the students (one of them even apologized after she saw I was upset about the petting!), and I had a successful Talk with one of my students about staying in line during class so he could help his friends with their English!

And then I was listening to the new single from Lee Hyori on my computer called, naturally, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". My coteacher saw the WTF look on my face and asked me what was up, so I explained to her that I was having a major disconnect between Lee Hyori's new song and the movie for which it is named. Of course, explaining Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in fluent English to someone who has grown up in that culture is pretty difficult, so you can imagine my struggles. It ended up with me singing parts of "You're My Little Chutchi Face" at her and her looking mildly terrified. In my head I was thinking "YESSSSSSS THIS IS AMAZINGLY AWKWARD!" It seriously brightened my day.

Anyway, here's Lee Hyori's newest single, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"

Sorry for the link, they disabled embedding. Stupid Youtube.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Today in the Magical World of Nolen's Successes, I blew out a candle in my bathroom. And got hot wax all over my face. (I'm fine, but still picking wax out of my hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, thanks for asking.)

This minor inconvenience has been pretty indicative of my last week or so...a lot of little, ridiculous annoyances adding up to just BLAH. So now I'm gonna tell you about it, internet. AREN'T YOU LUCKY???

It's a little hard to quantify, actually, but things just seem to have been piling up lately. Like my students (Qualifier: most of the time I really do like them, I promise!). For example, the other day as their class was being dismissed, one of the girls came to stare awkwardly at me, as is their custom. Since it was pretty warm last week, I had my sleeves pushed up - not the first time I've done this, mind you. But the kids are pretty obsessed with my arm hair, since I have a lush forest growing on my arms, and that is definitely not customary here in Korea. One of their favorite pastimes is to pet my arm hair. It started out as endearing, but it's gotten pretty old. Yes, I have arm hair. Yes, it's different from what you're used to. BUT MOVE ON.

And especially when I ask you to please stop, don't look at me, tell me "no" and continue to do it! And THEN when I tell you to leave my desk, don't giggle and say no again! It doesn't help that I don't know enough Korean to explain myself to her in Korean, not that it would help. When I speak Korean, mostly they just start talking about how I can speak Korean and spend the next 5 minutes trying to get me to say more things in Korean! Basically, to them, I am not a teacher, I'm this giant freak standing at the head of the room with whom it's play time.

I only get a little help from my co-teacher on this front, and the rest of the school teachers? Absolutely not. They see me in basically the same light as my students. And I'm at the point where I hate it. I hate being this freak to be gawked at. I hate being two sizes to big for this country. I hate that my students give me no respect, and look at me like I'm their pet. I hate planning, I hate students, I hate teaching. I hate that somehow, I am expected to make students come to classes their parents don't have to pay for, are after school, and conflict with their other activities. I hate that I am expected to do this not speaking their language. I hate coming home exhausted. I hate not knowing what people around me are saying. I hate not being able to eat properly because I don't really have anyplace - or anything - to cook. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.

Two qualifiers:

First, everything I've read online talks about the three month phases. For the first three months, everything is new and exciting and shiny and you are just so excited to be here! And then at about the three month mark, the contrast between your home culture and the new culture becomes stark. You become annoyed, agitated, and most of all, homesick for your comfort zone. And then, three months later, you start finally truly adjusting to the new culture. You find your niche, and things begin to improve. I just have to get there.

And I'm sure I will. I have good friends here, and a well-placed trip to the States for Justin's wedding in slightly less than two months. Which, coincidentally, is the end of the semester, leading to a break from the current routine. I also have a plan to keep myself occupied and active, which will hopefully help. So it's not all bad news.

The second qualifier: I don't always feel like this. In fact, I don't usually feel like this. I'm pretty good at finding the positive (no comments from the peanut gallery, thank you very much), and most days I'm excited to go to school, and I really do like this country. I promise, I really am doing well, I'm just having a blah moment, and I think it's important to let everyone know it's not all sunshine and smilestimes here. And I only occasionally get candle wax all over my face. So. NO WORRIES, PEOPLE.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In which I go hiking and get the meat sweats

Before we get started with today's entry into the wonderful world of Nolen, let me apologize for the lack of photos. I promise to look for a new camera this weekend so I can actually show you all everything.

Anyway. Yesterday was finally time for some school bonding. Most of my other teacher friends had gone through this (some several times already), and now it was my turn. Yesterday, we went hiking. Hiking, for those of you who don't know, is basically the national sport in Korea. It consists of medium to large sized groups of people walking up predetermined, well-defined trails up and down a mountain, often times as fast as you can, pausing only briefly at various scenic outlooks along the way. Like everything else here, hiking can only be described as super dynamic.

Initially, I was looking forward to the hiking - it's something I particularly enjoy doing, and it would be nice to spend some awkward time with the coworkers outside of school. But last week I got a pretty severe cold which has decided to return with a vengance. So I was definitely in the mood for hiking. Add to that the heavy rains from the previous 36 hours making the ground basically a giant, sucking mudpit and the clammy conditions outside, and it made for just a great day all around. But we all climbed into cars for the half hour (ish) drive to Suwon and the mountain anyway.

Of course, about 10 minutes into the drive, I took a Korean Transportation Nap, which seemed to help my disposition a bit, and when we arrived, my co-teacher and I and a couple of other teachers decided to just do a short walk around the pond. Which was actually rather pleasant! The area was beautiful, and the humidity was bearable and the conversation was less awkward than it usually is.

Along the trail, my coworkers pointed out a few interesting things to me: First, along the beginning of the trail, there was a lined path filled with pebbles, on which one walks without shoes, the idea being that it acts as a foot massage. I elected not to try this one, but mostly because I didn't want to deal with taking off my shoes and putting them back on again. Tired and lazy = missing out on cultural experiences. Ah well, there will likely be a next time. As we walked by the pond, my coteacher pointed out to me the Biggest. Effing. Koi fish. I have ever seen in all my born days. Seriously, these things were about the size of a steel worker's forearm! As we walked back from the pond/dammed portion of the stream, we sat down by what is apparently a foot bath. At least, that's how it was explained to me. So, not wanting to miss out on another experience, I took off my shoes and socks and plunged my feet into water that must come directly from the icy tail of a comet floating through deepest space. What I'm trying to say here is YA'LL IT WAS COLD. It is a shocker that my feet did not fall off right then and there. Of course, one of the teachers with me challenged me to a contest to see who could keep their feet in the longest. I lost (but since I got to take my feet out sooner, who is the real loser here?).

So we continued our slow meander back, stopping here and there, including at a honey farm. Seriously. Right there, on the side of the trail, was a woman who was selling honey that came directly from the SWARM OF BEES RIGHT BEHIND HER WHY WASN'T EVERYONE RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES???? Ugh. Bees.

I did not go up to the honey stand (but they brought me back a sample anyway! hooray! Also, it was DELICIOUS), but my coworkers did end up buying some. Honey: fresh from the bee's butt (is that how it works? I assume so).

And then it was dinner time. Well for us, because we were like an hour ahead of everyone else, it was pre-dinner snack time. And you guys, it was fantastic. We had a soup made out of fresh acorn jelly (which normally I'm not the biggest fan of, but made fresh it ROCKS...kind of earthy, nutty, and a little salty taste all at the same time) and a potato pancake with zucchini cooked in it. Great stuff.

NOW it was dinner time, and this time it was the entire school (well, all the teachers and admins, anyway) eating. We went in this restaurant that specializes in grilled meat and sat down for yet another edition of Gigantic Korean Dinner. Of course, I was lucky enough to end up next to the principal, which is always an awkward time. See the thing is, he speaks no English and I speak like two words of Korean. But this doesn't stop him from talking to me! Oh no, he talks my ear off! And I have NO IDEA what on earth he is saying. So that's awesome, and then dinner came. We had: Scallion potato pancake with squid, acorn jelly salad with sesame leaf, turnip kimchi, real grilled meat (I had not realized just how much I missed the wonderful smoky taste of meat from a grill) in K-style tacos, tofu, some kind of steaming tofu curd, bean curd, more grilled meat (some beef, some pork I believe), and then even more meat.

I ate So. Much. Meat. It was wonderful, and then it was awful. You know that overheated, uncomfortable feeling you get when you eat too much meat? Yeah. I was there. We call it the "meat sweats". It's a thing, look it up!

And then it was time for us to make our surreptitious exit from the restaurant so as not to get roped into a night of excessive drinking and further awkwardness with the principal, and sped off home to lay in bed and recover from the meat sweats. Shudder.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quick haircut update

So last night I finally gave up and got my hair cut. You guys, it was getting pretty drastic...I was verging on mullet territory. So I talked to my friend who'd recently gotten her haircut from a great stylist who spoke English, and we set up an appointment for myself and a friend of mine whose situation was nearly as bad (think more sticking out at the sides than mullet), and we headed down to Seojeong-ri. Now, if you know anything about Korean (or East Asian hairstyles in general), you know they can be pretty dramatic...

Beast (top) and 2PM (bottom) showing off their style.

So I was just a little bit nervous headed in there. I just cannot pull off that look, no matter how much I try. I am just not dynamic enough. Fortunately for me, we sat down, were given some tea, and talked about what to do with our hair with Jieun, our stylist. Who, by the way, is awesome. I was very pleased with how my hairstyle turned out:

Strike a pose. Vogue.

While Mike's was decidedly more Korean. But without the pointy sideburns:

Deer in headlights. Vogue.

So afterwords, we headed to grab some dinner and decided on samgyeopsal. Which is basically bacon for dinner. It was delicious. The end.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Awwww teaching moments!

Sometimes being a teacher can be really frustrating. Like yesterday, I finally had to make a student leave my lowest-level afterschool class. He'd been a disruption from day 1, and had been entirely resistant to any attempt to engage him in the lesson or discipline him. It was getting to the point where not only would he be extraordinarily rude to me, but he was encouraging the other students to follow suit - effectively halting the lesson. I am sure that with more one-on-one time, he would get better, but I am one person at the head of a room of 20 5-year-olds...the second I turn my attention to one of them, the other 19 get out of hand. And I don't have the time or energy to be corralling each one of them individually. Ultimately, because the class is optional and the student clearly did not want to be there, I asked him to leave. He is welcome to come back next class, but on the understanding that his behavior is much improved.

I'm also pretty sure this is every one of my old teachers getting their revenge on me.

But that was totally mitigated (yesssss I remember fancy English words!) by the end of the class: one of my kids asked me to tie his shoe! I was all like "awww you depend on me! that's really unfortunate for you!"...especially because his shoelaces had become some sort of Gordian Knot. As I wrestled with it, wishing for my Sword of Damocles, I realized that even though I hadn't done too well with the kid I had to ask to leave class, there were 19 other kids in the room who I was reaching, and that made me pleased. Especially one of the students, whose "little-kid-ADD" I think has progressed into actual ADHD. Keeping him focused (and, more to the point, keeping him from not jumping of the desks all class) has been pretty difficult, but I found a video that REALLY worked (for him and the entire class!). For two minutes, they sat there in awed silence, breaking it only to count along with the video. It, of course, is the eminently trippy Sesame Street Pinball video, teaching counting to 12. Thanks, Sesame Street.

And then, at the end of class, one of my students gave me this drawing:

It reads: "Yeongeo seonsaengnim", or English teacher. AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On buying clothes in Korea

For those of you who have known me for a long time, you know that I used to be a much bigger guy than I am now. For comparison, then:

The thoughtful English major

And now:

The grossed-out English teacher

You can see, a drastic change, but it's not like I'm some tiny waif these days.

So this weekend, I needed to grab a new pair of jeans for reasons that are much lamer than you might imagine. I was in Pyeongtaek, and some friends of mine showed me this really nice little shop that basically sold nothing but denim (and some shirts, but it was basically a jeans bar). I walked in with my friend and the shop owner greeted me and asked what I was looking for. So I told him I needed a pair of jeans and he asked my size as I began rifling through the styles on display. I said "I'm a 34 in US" and he looked at me and quickly said "No, 32." Miffed (because I'm pretty sure I know my own size, thank you very much), I said "No, I'm a 34." And he responded "How about you try a 32?" So I decided what the heck, I'll just put them on.

AND THEY FIT. Seriously, this guy is MAGIC or something. It was amazing! He took a look at me and he knew my size! This was doubly exciting because I'd been shopping for a few new cardigans and whatnot the past week, and having no luck because my torso is apparently just inhumanly large for this country. Who knew? But now I have pants! And life is good.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sports Day! Assa! Fighting!

So this weekend we had Sports Day at my school. Sports Day, if I haven't already told you about it, is essentially similar to our Field Day (or Track and Field Day) in the states, only every school has one, even the middle and high schools, as opposed to just elementary school. I'm not sure if there are equivalents in other countries, so if you've never even heard of Field Day, or Sports Day, and are like "NOLEN WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN," well hold on a sec, jump off the caps lock, and I'll explain! JEEZ GET OFF MY BACK.

At Sports Day, the kids play in all kinds of events, from the standard foot races, to a game that involves throwing bean bags at a giant pinata to break it open. There are also some little dances done by the younger kids (which I think is unique to elementary), and is just completely adorable. And finally there are even games for the parents and teachers to participate in! Exciting!

The kids were divided into two teams, white and blue. You can see the white and blue flags above. At the older level, or possibly at schools with more kids than mine, there are more teams, and according to one of my high school teacher friends, they really go all out with their costumes. If she would actually put up the photos from her Sports Day, I would link to her! But she is lame. Stop being lame, Jill! Here is her write up of a high school Sports Day. Basically my kids played smaller versions of the games she talks about. Jill, you are still lame. Because you have this whole freaking week off.

All around the field there were tents set up. These tents were the Parents' Association selling concessions to raise funds. One of the things they sold were the sweet rice cake dessert things whose names I cannot remember but are delicious. So I, of course, bought some. In addition to these vendors, there were merchants from all around town selling stuff. And politicians talking to the parents. It was basically a free-for-all, completely ok'd by the principal. So that was a bit shocking to see, but I understand (from my co-teacher) that this is not the norm in Korea. Our principal is just a weird dude.

Here is a formation of the Youngs preparing to do one of their dances. Seriously these guys were so cute...I wish I'd gotten a movie of them.

This is the finish line of the track. In the corner, you see the flags for first, second and third places. What would happen is you finish your race, and then you go wait under the flag for your finishing position. They tally up the number of white and blue finishers in each position and assign points accordingly. One of the most exciting races was the scavenger race, where each participant was given a card with an instruction to find a person ("find your mother", "find someone from the parents' association", "find the principal"), and then race with them back to the finish line. Guess who was one of those people on the cards? That's right, everyone's favorite giant, pale, hairy redhead!

We only finished second, my partner and I. Second place is the first loser :( (Nah, I had a great time with the kids and they seemed to like it too). I mentioned before that there were also games for the parents - well after the races, it was time for tug-of-war! And let me tell you, these guys were SERIOUS about their tug-of-war. My team got pretty well schooled after handily winning the first round. Poor White Team (you can tell from the wristbands)

Lastly, Spring is finally in full bloom...though judging by the last couple of days, we decided to skip Spring and head straight into Summer. Finally some warmth! So here is a shot of my town looking nice and green.

A note on the title of this piece: "fighting" is not what the kids were doing at Sports Day. Rather, "Fighting" is a cheer you shout to root for your team, much like in English "football" matches. In Korean, though, there is no 'f' sound, so it sounds much more like "white-ing" when they say it. It's pretty much the coolest.