A Little Light Reading

….as you anxiously await the multi-part “Living in Songdo” series:

This article from the NYT about the Korean (and Japanesse) bathing and beauty culture is SPOT ON.  Fortunately, as a foreigner, I get to reap the benefits and watch/participate with amusement and wonder, without being subjected to the standards Korean women face.

I also just learned about Mok Bang.  This is an extremely popular Korean trend where people live-broadcast themselves eating.  Just eating.  And viewers watch along and donate money to that person.  I learned about this from a post on Facebook before school one morning and was completely incredulous.  I asked the students about it and they were totally blase and all, “yeah.  Of course.  Mok bang.”  They could not understand my incredulity.  At all.

I have lived here for three years and I had not heard of this before.  What else is there?  I have to wonder.

And that concludes your Korean cultural lesson for the day.

Top Searches

Upon examination of the top searches that lead readers to my blog, queries about Songdo and life in Songdo (bars, running, Lotte, development) take the cake.  Of course, many people are still landing here based on searches for Chadwick International, and I think WordPress must push my blog to other runners because they are the ones who read and “like” certain posts.  But the queries for CI mostly only happen during hiring fairs and there is not one currently in session–the bumps in hits are pretty funny.

So, we head out tomorrow to Japan for a short ski trip over Lunar New Year (the Koreans don’t call it Chinese New Year) and when we return, I promise to post pictures and updated information about life in Songdo including all the best restaurants, bars, parks, and shopping.  I might even drag Tim out with me to take the photos.  So please stay tuned, and I will be back with what you’re looking for.

How Many Ways Might I Procrastinate?

Many.  Many ways.

It’s final exam grading/narrative report writing/all the other grading you had to do time here at Chadwick International.  Also known as hell week.  Also known as the most wonderful time of the year.  Total sarcasm, people.  Maybe I do it to myself–my exam, by principle, is not multiple guess.  I maybe could have begun narratives sooner.  But here we are.  So in between bouts of productive work, how am I putting off the pain?

Face-Timing with my Dad who recently retired:  Steve’s Auto Service Changes Hands   Woohoo, Dad!  Living the dream!

Reading about strange Korean wonkiness:  Jawbones as Office Decor.   By the way, this is not a joke.  This happened/happens and only begins to scratch the surface of the bizarre Korean plastic surgery epidemic.  Yeah, I called it an epidemic.

Learning about the wonders of Bloglovin, a newish, not so new blog reader tool.  Follow me there!:  www.bloglovin.com

Looking at live cam pictures of Niseko, Japan, where we will be skiing in a mere few days:  Niseko Live Cam

Reading and watching the latest from North Korea:  Frontline/North Korea   This is a really incredible documentary that you should watch.  It always amazes me that we are so close.

Reading my daily trail and ultra-running info source.

Laughing out loud:  The Bloggess   Jenny Lawson is pure genius.

I am additionally wasting time on home decor and design blogs, beauty blogs, pictures of cats, and learning all about Esther the Wonder Pig.

Can you really blame me?  There is so much awesome stuff out there on the interwebs!  Not so much awesome stuff here in the home office, where this stack of grading glares maliciously in my general direction.  Maybe I’ll go for a run….

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Found Another One

on layver in Tokyo we find the strangest flavor yet: Rum Raisin!

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The Unbearable Awesomeness of Regional Japanese Kit-Kat Flavors

Since our move to Korea, we’ve been to Japan 4 times, and in January we go for our 5th trip.  This makes me an expert on this current topic.  I could tell you about how great the skiing is (it’s great), or about how good the food is (it’s good), or about how interesting the culture is (it’s very interesting), but today I’m going to tell you about Kit-Kat.    What’s really cool about Japan is that there is so much to do and see.  Every region is unique, fascinating, and worth visiting.  Take a look at the guidebook at your local library–it’s huge.  And it’s not a huge country.  As a side-note, I have noticed that this is good measure of how cool a country will be.  There is a secret algorithm by which you can divide the square mileage of a country by the weight of it’s Lonely Planet to determine whether not you should visit and exactly how many times.

Out of 5 trips, 3 were/are purely ski trips and 2 were tourism/sight-seeing, Fuji-hiking sorts of trips.  Every trip was to a different region of Japan.  Whenever we go to a new country, I’m always looking for what’s different and while I’m not a foodie, I think that you can tell a lot about a people by what kind of packaged-processed food you can find.  So I pay attention to that:  flavors of potato chips, candy, ice cream flavors, etc.  And because I loved Kit-Kat when I was little, I picked up pretty quickly that Japan had a couple of different flavors.  Everywhere, we saw dark chocolate, strawberry and green tea flavors.  Fun, right?  I assumed this was it until we were leaving the country after that first trip.  We were on the Northern tip of the main island, in Aomori.  We found hot chili pepper Kit Kat.  Wow.  That was a find.  I figured, at the time, you could get them anywhere–just maybe at specialty stores or something.

By our third trip, while in Kyoto, I began to realize that the Kit Kat flavors vary by region–and now, by season.  Fun! We tried in vain to find the chili pepper variety, but have never seen those little babies again.  Kyoto has my favorite variety.  They are white chocolate with the famous, Kyoto wafer-cookie crumbled up into the chocolate.  The cookie is like a cross between a graham cracker and those yummy cinnamon biscuits from some random country in Europe that come individually wrapped.  You know the ones.  The package is red?……

Since this realization, I have been mildly obsessed with discovering the varieties of the region I’m in.   Near Mt. Fuji, there were mango flavored Kit Kats.  They also, of course, had special commemorative Mt. Fuji  Kit Kats in a Fuji-shaped box.  Those were blueberry cheesecake flavor.  On the Izu peninsula, we had wasabi flavored Kit Kat which are just as awesome as they sound, and for Halloween, we found pumpkin flavored ones (see picture below).  How awesome is that?  I know:  awesome.

I really love this about Japan.  I like a lot of things about the culture, one of those being the attention to detail.  And while Kit Kat is owned by Nestle, scourge of the 3rd world and evil corporation, even that gigantic conglomerate will let tiny batches of this candy be made and sold by region.  I love it that the Izu peninsula is the only place where you can get Wasabi Kit Kat.  And so I continue to search.

We will go to Sapporo this winter for a ski trip.  I’m *almost* equally excited to discover the regional flavor.

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Summer Run Down

We are back in Songdo now after an incredibly eventful summer.

A quick run-down in case you wondered:

Immediately after school let out in June we flew to Thailand.  We were on our way to a wedding in Pakistan but we had about 8 or 9 days to kill before the wedding events began.  The original plan was to trek in Northern Pakistan for that time.  However, recent sectarian violence and instability in those regions caused us a re-think.  Not that we were scared for ourselves.  These flare-ups rarely affect foreigners.  However, we worried the lock-downs would affect our travel back to Islamabad and how selfish would it be to miss the wedding we went there for in the first place? So we scrapped those plans and extended our layover in Bangkok by 9 days.  We spent three weeks there over Christmas break and loved it–but on that trip we stuck to the South, rock climbing in the Railay/Krabi area.  This time we decided to go North to Chaing Mai.   June in Thailand was fantastic.  It’s low season, so the crowds are nonexistent and the hotels are cheap.  But the monsoon had not yet arrived–the weather was quite pleasant!  I love elephants, so we spent one full day at the Elephant Nature Park–a no riding, no stupid elephant tricks, rescue farm.  It is now my charity of choice.  We also spent a full day rock climbing which was pretty stellar, and we spent a day seeing the local sights and eating AWESOME food!  Did I mention I love Thailand?

After a couple of days with a friend in Bangkok (I LOVE Bangkok), we continued on to Islamabad.  Pakistan and the wedding was an interesting experience.  However, we did not get much of a chance to “see” Pakistan.  Islamabad is not what you think of when you picture Pakistan.  Islamabad is clean and orderly with wide avenues, a ban on rickshaws and jingle trucks, and relatively nice houses and restaurants.  Also, being there at the end of June, before the monsoon, is not really when you want to go touristing around.  To say it’s hot would be an understatement.  And with the energy crisis and rolling blackouts, there’s not much you can do besides trying to stay perfectly still in the coolest corner you can find to wait until the AC can come back on.  The wedding was lovely and it was such an honor to be involved and included in our friend’s family and to be able to meet and talk to so many of the intelligentsia who founded Islamabad.  For about 6 days straight there were dinners hosted by family and friends of the family, so there were many opportunities to get to know one another.  We did make it out of town one day to go to my friend’s father’s ancestral village in the foothills where they still have a house.  It was a wonderful respite from the heat and a chance to see a bit more of the real Pakistan.

When we left Islamabad, we had 3 days at the beginning of July back in Songdo so we could switch out luggage, do the laundry and pet the cat and then it was off to Denver.  I had a week in Denver with friends, then two weeks in Boone, NC with friends and family, and then one more week in Colorado before we returned to Korea.  These days were spent catching up with friends, eating at favorite restaurants, drinking lots and lots and lots of IPA, trail running, climbing, hiking, camping, seeing Steve’s plays in Creede, a beach weekend, and just reveling in summer in the mountains.

And now we’re back, rejuvenated, and ready for a new school year.  At Chadwick, we have opened and moved into our upper school building.  Last year when we were just an elementary and middle school, the entire operation was housed in the elementary school building.  But with the addition of 9th grade, we’ve outgrown that space and moved into our own building.  This is a welcome change as it actually feels like a secondary school to me.  The sinks are not at my knees, there are lockers, there are administrative offices, there are great facilities for students to congregate and work and there’s just more space in general.  So things are good.  The second year overseas in a school is always great because you have everything figured out and can really concentrate on your teaching practice and perfecting your craft.  You understand the kids culturally and know what to expect.  I’m ready to enjoy the year.

Love the Travel

Moving to Korea, we were pretty stoked about all the new travel opportunities.  Turkey was exciting because of it’s proximity to Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa.  Korea is exciting because we always wanted to go to Thailand, Japan, Nepal, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, Southern China, Mongolia (the list goes on and on).  For our winter vacation this year, we took a climbing trip to Thailand, and recently, for our spring break, we took a week to go back-country skiing in the world’s powder Mecca:  Japan.

Tim and an old friend from our time in Quito, who now works in Singapore, planned the whole thing out.  They found a tiny little ski resort near the city of Aomori on the most Northern tip of the main island, called Hakkoda-san.  What was so special about this area is that there is only one tram up to the saddle of old volcanic peaks and then all the skiing off this mountain is back country!  We also lucked out enormously.  While we were there, we had powder turns maybe 4 of the 7 days.  We even had a couple, very rare, blue-sky days.  That was fabulous.  We’ve not skied good, long, powder runs since we lived in Colorado and those were pretty far between then.  I love deep powder.  Only trail running after the endorphins have kicked in can match the elation I feel making tele-turns in some knee or thigh-deep soft stuff.

The other great thing was simply experiencing some mountain culture again which is something we deeply feel the lack of in Korea.  It’s what will eventually drive us on to somewhere new.  The area we were in attracted our kind of people, even though they were Japanese.  They were friendly, smiling, crusty old souls with super fat skis and old faded shells.  This was so refreshing and it really rejuvenated us to have some real winter surrounded by feelings of home.  Of course it helped that the skiing was fantastic!

Tim took some really great pictures of our adventures so you need to click here to go to his blog, Teaching International.

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