Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Really, Really Hate Running

But I'm doing it anyhow. For no particular reason, I committed to running 2 races in the next few months. The first race is a Santa 5K in Seoul on December 11th. The gist is everyone dresses in Santa outfits and runs a race (among other competitions like Tug of War, a 10k, and a walk). I'm hoping to run it in less than 30 minutes. I am not a fast runner nor an efficient runner. I just pray my teammates don't leave me in the dust. After sprinting through the South Korean capital decked in red and white my team will like engage in heavy merry-making around the city whilst still decked in our tacky Christmas garb. Tis the season!

Despite the fun to follow, this is my first race ever. As many of you know, I'm not exactly athletic and I am anything but a runner. I love yoga and kayaking and will on occasion go on a gym kick, but running? Oh heck no. However, somehow I have forced myself into buying a new pair of running kicks and sticking to a training schedule that my friend Bridgette was so lovely to put together. I am on week three now and have only missed a couple runs - I have a really busy life here! I just hope I can stick to it until April.
My new kicks! Asics 2150s
My second race is a 10k. I will run it in mid-April as part of the Daegu Marathon. At first I entertained the idea of running the full marathon. That conviction didn't last too long as I realized how long a marathon really is - 26.2 miles is quite a ways to run. I could do it in maybe a day or so, but under 4 hours? I think not. So the 10k was a safe bet for me, a truly attainable goal. My friend Shannon and I will run the 10k and wait at the finish line as Bridgette completes the full marathon. *cue cliched cheer* You go girl!

So through April, I will need all the positive thoughts I can get. Running isn't an easy habit for me to pick up (your knees hurt, your ankles hurt, your shins hurt, it's boring, etc etc). But I feel fantastic when I complete each run; I'm committing to something good for me and can share my trials and successes with 2 others in the same boat. I'm determined to finish these races, even if my times aren't exactly world class. I'm a complete neophyte in the running and racing world, still unsure if it will become a "thing" for me, but for now it's giving me a goal to strive for and hey, how cool is it to run a couple races in South Korea? Wish me luck!

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going. - Forrest Gump

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Slump

It's official. The honeymoon is over. I've hit the Negotiation Phase. Culture Shock is a fascinating phenomenon, and one I've experienced plenty of times in my 23 years. I knew moving to Korea would prove challenging and would require extreme adjustments. Here I walk down the street and can barely understand what people say. Although I've finally mastered the Korean Hangul alphabet, street signs and menus still prove difficult.

I love the friends I've made here, am comfortable in my tiny apartment, embrace my options for travel, enjoy my new job and coworkers, and generally like my new life. But it was bound to happen. As I rode the crest of the honeymoon through September and October I hoped I could power through to 2011 unscathed by cultural anxiety but now I find myself frustrated and wounded in the trough. The week hasn't been the best one. I recently agreed to take on an extra class (6 more hours of teaching per week), lured by the prospect of some supplementary won to finance my upcoming winter excursions.

The students today were abysmally behaved: throwing things everywhere, full of blatant defiance, and refusing to focus. Today was the first time I ever punished a student. Granted the punishment wasn't exactly severe but it was still a new frontier for me. (I made him copy the sentence "I will behave." 10 times. I am pretty sure he has no idea what it means.) Then my fourth class was over and I assumed the rest of the day would be fine. But I was wrong.

My fall from grace occurred today at lunch. I've struggled with the midday menu at school all year - it isn't exactly what I am used to at home. But today as I glanced through the offerings held by the prison-like serving dishes in the cafeteria, my heart (and my appetite) sunk further and further. Kimchi: I hate kimchi. I am not afraid of the repercussions of this affirmation. Although every Korean enjoys this pungent side dish with every meal every day, I frankly can't stand it. One option bypassed. The second tray held what looked like a cold, floppy omelet in water. I spooned a small helping onto my penitentiary tray and hoped for the best. The third bin held tiny dried fish - loathsome dried fish! The fourth bowl cradled the dreaded topoki (a squishy white tubular item made of glutinous rice). Needless to say I didn't help myself to any. And then the rice. The rice which has always been my lunchtime saviour when all else seemed lost. But today it just didn't seem right. Didn't feel right. And finally, the soup. Really the "soup," usually a mixture of brown water and some sort of flaccid vegetable stirred in. I passed on it, as I always do.

I sat down at the end table in the cafeteria along with the other teachers. Then I just stared into my half-empty lunch plate. My appetite flitted away. I tried to force a few bites of rice down but I felt like my body was rejecting it. It kept saying to me, "Erin! No more rice! Seriously! This is getting ridiculous." And then it happened. I had to literally fight back the tears. I became so irrationally irate at the white lump of rice on my tray. I told my fellow teachers I had a stomachache and was going to return to my desk. I sulked up the stairs and back to my desk. And then I just sat there, staring at my computer in my dark English classroom. Then I realized what had happened. My honeymoon was over.

I know it will get better, as my friends here have already assured me. They are a major reason I keep going here. And my co-teacher is also fantastic. After lunch she came back to see if I was OK (I think she knew I didn't care for the offering today) and placed a meal replacement-like drink on my desk in case I was hungry. I'm lucky to be where I am, know who I do, and work at my school. I've already heard of people leaving. But I'm going to finish this, and I'm going to love it again. Maybe not today, maybe not even next week but soon. I'll be back to the Erin who love kimbap and mandu, who enjoys being out in downtown Daegu, and who gets excited every time she successfully orders in Korean at a restaurant. But for tonight, I am looking for solace in a cheeseburger and french fries, one of the most Western meals I can think of, a good run (ugh this marathon training - more on that later), a cold Hite, and some commiseration with good friends. It should do the trick.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Beam Me Up, Daegu!

Apologies for the hiatus, October tends to be the busiest month for me - birthday and Halloween. So as I sit here at my desk in the Daesung English Village, rocking out to early 2000s pop songs (yes, the Backstreet Boys are still cool) I thought a good use of my time would be to toss up another post on my blog.

As many have likely seen on Facebook, I underwent a bit of a change for my Halloween costume this year. Except for a few months in 2007, I've been a blonde my entire life. And considering the wealth of wig shops here I decided it was time for an experiment. So my coteacher and I headed down to an alley near Daegu Station to pick out my new locks. After pursuing each shop's selection, I picked a hairstyle that I could base an easy Halloween costume around. They called it, a "Cleopatra" (although I am sure the former Queen of the Nile would beg to differ). I sat down on a pink, plastic stool and placed myself into the able hands of the shopkeeper. She placed a black net around my hair, put a few clips in, and tada! my blonde hair was nowhere to be seen. Then the black hair descended and I stared into the mirror in shock. I believe the initial horror came from the blinding light emanating from my skin - extreme paleness combined with the dark black strands framing my face produced an extremely pallid coloration. But then I started to dig it. It was new and different.

Considering a professional placed the wig on my head, I left it on for the rest of the day (I was uncertain if I could replicate such skill application of a hair net and clips). And of course, 2 minutes after leaving the shop I ran into a few of my students. They started chatting with my coteacher, completely ignoring me - they had no idea! I finally spoke up and they nearly died of fright/surprise/horror. I received many of those reactions as Halloween night ticked on - I would wave excitedly or say hi to friends who just stared at me with the, "I don't think I know you but I don't want to be rude" face. Then came the realization that they did know the person under the plastic hair.

Then we continued on to find the remained of my costume. I settled on Nyota Uhura from Star Trek TOS for my Halloween costume - I had the wig, the boots, and all I needed was a red shirt and a homemade communicator. In the United States, most people would recognize my costume as being something from Star Trek but here in Korea, NO ONE knows of Star Trek! It's horrifying! I may need to adopt its introduction as a personal mission.

Long story short, Halloween was a success and never have I seen so many people out in Daegu. The only downfall to my Halloween costume choice is the aftermath of the wig: on occasion, I find black hairs in my apartment and begin to freak out (because those definitely aren't mine). Then I remember that oh yes, there is a wig in my apartment that is the culprit. I'm considering taking the old black do out for a spin again - maybe in a month or so, just to see reactions. At times, I felt as if I got more stares in the wig than as a blonde. Or perhaps that was me in disbelief that I was wearing a wig in public. Either way, Daegu hasn't seen the last of Erin the brunette.