Thursday, January 27, 2011

Traveling Story

So I currently find myself in one of those very typical Unexpected Travel Situations that no one really plans for, but that are the staples of any travel story. This happens to be the part of my vacation that involves a very long, complicated route to Bangkok that could easily have been obviated by a short, hour-and-fifteen minute flight. Instead, we have decided to take the minibus-minibus-taxi-train route which, it turns out, will take approximately 24 hours.

Which just seems absurd.

What it is doing, however, is giving me ample time to reflect on the nature of travel on crowded minibuses first full of bleary-eyed backpackers and then full of Thais on their mobiles.

None of which I will bore you with, as they seem to be mostly of the all-too-earnest "one world, one family, united by commercialism blah blah blah kill me" variety. Boring. If you really need that fix of high school philosopher pseudointellectualism, well, this is the Internet. It's readily available.

Instead, dear reader, let me regale you with tales of my adventures of yesterday. To preface: I am quite obviously fine, and do not need worried phone calls/texts/emails/facebooks thankyouverymuch.

The day started off threatening storms, which made for a pretty choppy and wet ride to Ko Phi Phi, sitting on the top of the boat as we were. Fortunately, once we neared the island, the skies cleared and we were able to enjoy some moderately nice sightseeing around Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh. Then it was time for the part of the trip I'd been most looking forward to: SNORKELING! It started off as these stories so often do: the snorkeling was fantastic, and I loved seeing the fish swimming amongst the coral reef. My two friends and I were having a great time splashing about, playing in the water.

As you might already know, I am moderately ADD when it comes to animals (see the post about manatees). So it's probably inevitable that I got kind of distracted by a fish. I followed it for a while - couldn't have been but a minute - but when I looked up, I saw one of the scariest sights I have ever seen in my life: no one. It looked like I was completely alone in the water which, as you might imagine, is a pretty terrifying feeling. All my fears about deep, open water that I'd managed to successfully suppress for years came flooding back to me right at that moment.

Frantically, I searched for the nearest boat, becoming acutely aware of just how strong the current really was. After what felt like an eternity, I reached the boat, and my heart sank as I realized that it definitely wasn't mine. I paused, collected myself, and asked if anyone knew where the boat I had been on was.

500 meters. I could do this. There was a boat between this one and mine, so I knew I would have a resting point. I set off.

There was a shelf of coral, relatively shallow, that I knew I would need to keep close to if I was going to have any chance of staving off the panic that would come with staring into the abyss of the deeper water. The current, however, was having different ideas. Like a linebacker, it did it's best to keep me away from the comfortingly shallower water.

I was terrified to look up and drift even further out, but I was even more terrified to lose sight of the orange boat that was my beacon and guide to safety.

Finally, my breath coming in gasps and my mask sloshing with salt water, I reached the boat. Clinging to the rungs if the ladder, a German diver remarked on the strength of the current

"Just a bit," I replied, desperately hoping my dry sarcasm would mask the very real fear I felt for the inevitable second round.

"Best to get on with it," he nodded, and with more than a few steely breaths, I took the plunge.

Perhaps I was weaker, or more afraid, but it seemed that every time I looked up, the boat was farther away. The current, too, seemed more intent on dragging me out, and with every glance down the water seemed deeper and the fish more menacing. I could feel the panic rising in my throat.

"Don't panic. Just breathe." I tried to keep The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in my mind, but I could hear my breaths coming in short tasks with more and more salt water in each one.

But I kept on. Finally, after what couldn't have been more than a few minutes but what felt like hours, I saw it: the boat's guide rope, stretched taut in the water like a finish line. Somehow, I had the presence of mind not to grab on in water too deep, but waited till I could keep my head above the water and pull myself to safety.

Trying desperately not to break down in tears, I hauled myself up the ladder, gasping for breath and amazed to have made it out of the water.

I think I'm pretty lucky: I've been swimming regularly for six months, so I'm pretty strong in the water. That, and the lessons I remembered from boy scouts probably kept me safe. Looking back, though, I'm not sure how much real danger I was in. There were people everywhere who likely could have helped, and ultimately I made it.

So overall, I'd say it was a good day.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone (but not really, it's an iPod touch)

Location:On the road to Surat Thani

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's called modesty, you guys

Perhaps it is because I was raised in a good, old-fashioned American shame-based religion. Or possibly because I do not have the body of Brad Pitt. But I would never in a million, billion years consider going to the beach in a speedo, let alone outside my own house.

That, however, is precisely what countless hoards of European tourists insist upon doing at this beach. What's particularly scary is just how bad ALL of these guys look. I think my friend Jill said it best: all the women look concave and all the men look pregnant. It's really a terrifying sight.

Here's the thing, though: even if you DO have the body for a speedo, that doesn't mean you should wear one. I mean honestly, people! Have some shame about your body! Goodness, walking around like you don't have body issues!

Cover. That. Mess. Up.

The good news, though, is that America us definitely winning the culture wars. I have seen more white trash tourists here than on a Carnival cruise ship, and none of them are American. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone (but not really, it's an iPod touch)


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Beach, minus Leo

YOU GUYS. I am officially the most sunburnt evAR. Well, on my legs at least. I am serious. They look like boiled lobsters. Stupid Korean SPF 47. Whatever.

What's more important, however, is that I am at the beach. In January. In Thailand. This is the greatest moment of my life.

This is my beach, Kata, in Phuket. It is amazing.

So far, Thailand has been awesome. Warm weather, beautiful beaches, and hordes of German and Slavic tourists wearing innumerable inappropriate speedos. Seriously, guys, we need to work on exporting Shame to these foreign lands. Because you clearly do not have enough of it if you are a 250 lb tanned leathery whale, DO NOT WEAR A SPEEDO. Just don't do it.

So that's a thing here. But now I'm going to get back to planning my snorkeling with sharks excursion. LATA NERDS.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone (but not really, it's an iPod touch)


Thursday, January 20, 2011

On the way to thailand

So we are finally on our way to Thailand, sitting in Kuala Lumpur's Low Cost Carrier Terminal. And in case you were wondering, yes, it very much is low budget.

Yes, that's the plane. Yes, we will have to walk up stairs to embark. No, there is no bathroom in this terminal.

Also, terrifyingly, there are a lot if people in Muslim Garb around. Juan Williams would be shitting himself if he were here.

(Sidebar: I am 100% certain that Juan Williams is crazypants. So not worried about the other passengers)

Aaaaand that's a bird in the "terminal". Ge-HET-to.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone (but not really, it's an iPod touch)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nihao from China!

So I have made it to China ( sort of), and now I am sitting in the Shanghai airport eating French fries and strange chicken wings. So that's fun. Also fun? The unexpected trip through customs for my flight transfer. The airport here is pretty standard, if a little crappy behind security. Ah well. Another stamp for the passport and another note for the airport notebook. See you all in KL in about six hours...hopefully...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone (but not really, it's an iPod touch)

Location:Pudong Airport Rd,Shanghai,China

Monday, January 17, 2011


Test blog post. Will it work? Will I be able to update from my iPod on my vacay? Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone (but not really, it's an iPod touch)


Friday, January 14, 2011

Year in review

After an unacceptably long absence from the blog, naturally I'm going to do a year in review post rather than an actual update.

It does, however, seem a fitting topic for my 100th post on this blog.

Sidebar: 100 posts? About basically nothing? I'm awesome!

Anyway, it's New Year's Eve here in South Korea already. Here's the thing about New Year's Eve/Day: it's not my favorite holiday in the world. While I do love the excuse on New Year's Day to sit on my couch, eating Ro-Tel and velveeta and watching a marathon of USA teevee shows, the whole "reflection on the past and looking forward to the future" is something that produces more anxiety than excitement in me. In addition, there's so much pressure to do something HUGE - to End the Year with a Bang! - it all gets to be just a bit much.

Last year, though, was a particular low point on my part. I spent the evening (having turned down invitations to parties) sitting on my couch eating Cheez-its and drinking Diet Coke. I completely missed the countdown because I was watching some random mediocre movie, probably on Lifetime. It was possibly the saddest, most depressing sight ever.

Oh did I mention I had moved back home with my parents, having left a great life in DC?

It was not a pleasant way to end 2009.

I should note here, how grateful I am to my parents for letting me move back in with them. They were fantastically accommodating to me and never once did anything on their part to make me feel like I was a teenager again. But as anyone who has moved back home while in their 20s can attest, that's just how you feel, no matter how nice your parents are.

But that was last year. This year was...different. Lots of changes. It started out with a slightly panicky roller coaster ride as first one, then two more teaching positions in Korea fell through until finally, approximately one and one half weeks before I was supposed to be in the country, I was offered a position teaching at an elementary school in Osan. Thanks to another series of exciting mis-communications regarding the day I was supposed to fly out (and an accidental purchase for a ticket in the wrong year), I ended up arriving a week later than I'd meant to, which I'm pretty sure put me on a great start with my school.

Not that I had any idea about that at the time. Not that I had any idea about, well, anything at the time. I stepped off the plane and into a world where I was a) a complete stranger and b) completely alone. The first week was, well, terrifying. I had no idea if there even were any other foreigners like myself in my down, let alone if I would have any actual friends. I was the only foreigner in my school, and the first foreign teacher to boot. It was pretty scary. But I made it through, and at the orientation for new GEPIK arrivals, I met the first part of what would become my Korea Pamily.

I think, really, that's what it's all about. No matter where we live, having that close-knit bond with a few people, finding that all-important support group, that's kind of what living is about. I think, anyway. Maybe just sharing our lives with others. I don't think we are meant to be solitary people, living alone on our islands. There's a reason humans came together to form communities, and then larger communities, and then societies. We need it.

Or maybe we don't, who even knows. Ask Sarah Palin's blood libel or whatever.

So the year wore on, and I grew more comfortable, and then more uncomfortable in my teaching position. Not that I felt that I got better, and then worse, as a teacher; rather, that as I grew more comfortable in my role as an educator, I became more uncomfortable with my role in the education system here that really seems to harm students more than anything. Cue the eyerolls, obvious first year teacher who thinks he knows better than a system that's been around for decades. Well let me tell you, Mr. Smarty-Pants! I do not think an education system that prizes the ability to memorize and actively rejects critical thinking is at all effective!

Anyway, that, plus conflict with the school administration about...everything, and my coteacher's complete lack of assistance on...anything, has made the last few months of 2010 pretty sucky, job-wise. But the last few months have also been pretty good, starting with the new job offer to teach for a year in Shanghai. Add to that the planning for my winter vacation (happening at the end of January), and some quality time with the Pamily, it rounded out quite nicely.

So with 2010 behind me, I can say without hesitation that it represented a marked improvement over 2009. I have met some wonderful people and had some great experiences. What's more, I Learned About Myself and Grew As A Person, so that's a win for the year, right?

And let me make one last thing clear: I do not hate Korea. Not at all. There are plenty of things that annoy me here, the vast majority of them job-related, but I am 100% certain that at a better school, I would have had a better year, and might even be staying an additional year. I liked Korea, and I like being here (generally). I will miss Korea, and my Pamily, as we start to break up late in February, but jeez-oh-man (to quote a friend from Pittsburgh) am I ready to get back to the States. That's the curious thing about living abroad: it really drives home just how much you are a product of your native land.

So here comes 2011: Leaving Korea, visiting America, moving to China. And along the way...who knows? Stay tuned!