2 Dec Holiday Preparations
4 Dec Yonju and Pusok Temple
7 Dec A Duck, a Seagull, and Headaches
8 Dec A Memorable Day
12 Dec Animals
15 Dec "What's Chowder?"
16 Dec "Here, Taste This."
17 Dec Interruption of Service
18 Dec (early) And Another Interruption
18 Dec (late) Long Day
19 Dec Money, sharing, and farming
21 Dec Christmas and Chowder
23 Dec It's beginning to look a lot like ...
23 Dec ... Christmas ...
24-5 Dec ... and so it is.
26 Dec Bearing Gifts
28 Dec Birthdays
30 Dec Roe, Berries, and Konglish










2 Dec:

I went downtown to get Christmas cards and kimchi today. The stationery store had just gotten a big shipment of Christmas decorations in. A lot of it was still in boxes, and the store was very crowded. Nothing unusual in the decorations department, but I did find some very nice cards pretty cheap. I won't be able to send them to everybody in my address book, but I can cover the most important people.

The old guy with the straw baskets was back, and the lady from Tano with the pojagi (it could have been a different lady, but I think it was the same one), so I bought another basket and a few pojagi. She also had padgi, that I'm pretty sure are underpants for under hanbok, so I got one of those, too. She was very proud of the pockets she had put into them.

I got my kimchi and some chestnuts and of course some donuts on the way home. Had to hide the donuts from Nabi though. He's taken a liking to them.

Well, that's all the news from Kangnung, where all the men are conservative (according to the women), all the women are beautiful (according to the men), and all the children are above average in cuteness (according to me).

4 Dec:

I took a day trip to Yonju with Carol last Sunday. We went there by train, and then took a taxi to Pusoksa (Pusok temple). This was the temple I visited with Randy when we went to Andong, and it seems to me that Yonju is a much better starting point for it. It's one stop closer to Kangnung, so is a slightly shorter and cheaper train ride, and the drive to the temple is shorter, too. We were going to take a bus from the train station to the temple, but a taxi driver pulled up and convinced Carol that it would be much easier to take the cab. She negotiated the price down to 12,000 won from 17,000, and off we went.

We passed the same orchards as last time, but it wasn't nearly as scenic. Most of the leaves have dropped, and the apples are all harvested. Carol had warned me to bring an umbrella and dress for cold weather, but we got lucky. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the temperature was cool but comfortable.

I had seen the temple once already, but seeing it with a different person is a different experience. Carol pointed out the 3 sets of steps as we went up. These are significant because 3 times 3 is 9 and nine is an important number in Buddhism. She said it was uphill because the way to enlightenment is difficult.

With this particular temple, you don't see the whole thing until you actually reach the main building, but along the way you get little glimpses here and there. This too is symbolic of the way enlightenment is reached.

The 4 instruments which they play before the main ceremonies are the fish, which calls the creatures of the air; the drum, which because of its animal skin heads calls the creatures of the land (somehow animal skins don't seem to fit with Buddhism); the cloud shaped gong, which calls the creatures of the air; and the bell, which because of the hollow part is like a hole in the earth and calls the creatures under the earth.

We went into the temple and looked around some and just sat and listened for a while. There were two monks chanting a service for the dead. Apparently this is the service that takes place 45(?) days after the person dies. I really enjoy listening to monks chanting.

In this temple Buddha is on the west side, although in most temples he faces south. Carol said that's because this temple is for the Buddha of the dead, and Buddhist heaven is in the west.

I've mentioned the story about the Chinese girl who turned into a dragon, and then made the rock float in the air to convince people that this is where the temple should be built. We saw her shrine, just behind and to the east of the temple. Then we walked up the mountain to the shrines up there, and sat and enjoyed the scenery and had a cup of tea. Carol had managed to get some Ceylon tea bags, and I enjoyed it very much.

After we finished looking around, we went down to the parking lot to catch a bus. I noticed that leaving Nirvana is a lot easier than getting there. We had an hour to wait before the bus came, so we found a cafe and had some jujube tea. It was good, and the cafe was nice. Very spacious, in sort of a cross between modern and traditional architecture, but more towards the modern. Lots of wood, and tea sets and pictures and other neat things lying around. We sat by the fireplace, which had a good fire going in it.

We took the bus to Punggi, because Carol wanted to go to the ginseng market. We went there very briefly first, to ask how to get to a restaurant Carol wanted to try. It turned out that that restaurant was closed down, but they recommended another one, and we went there. That area is famous for its beef, apples and ginseng, so we went to a grilled beef restaurant. It was very good, not just the beef, but the side dishes too. Carol wished she could get the recipes from the proprietor.

On the walk back to the market we passed a place where they were making sesame oil, and Carol took me in and asked them if I could see how it was made. They have one machine to roast the sesame seeds, another to crush them, then they sift them. I suppose that's so they can re-crush any that aren't small enough. And then they go into a machine that squeezes the oil out. I could see the oil pouring out the front, while a tube of dry material came out the side. You could smell the oil for a couple of blocks, and if I hadn't just eaten, I would have been hungry after smelling it.

The ginseng market had a good smell, too. Ginseng smells better than it tastes, because its taste is pretty bitter. (It takes a lot of honey to make ginseng tea taste good.) There were probably 20 or so stalls, all of which had the same stuff. Piles of fresh ginseng roots, ginseng preserved in wine in fancy bottles, dried ginseng, ginseng tea, and ginseng preserved in honey. Carol said if you get your ginseng at the ginseng market, it's 2 to 3 times cheaper than at the department store. And considering the cost of ginseng, 2 to 3 times cheaper is a significant amount.

Carol bought a bunch of fresh ginseng root. The roots she chose were 30,000 won for 700 grams. I don't know if she bought just 700 grams or more, but she ended up with quite a bit. I was tempted to buy some, too, but couldn't see myself being able to eat it all before I came home, or being able to preserve it myself in a way that would be easy to bring it home. Carol preserves hers by slicing it and covering it with honey. I settled for some honey candied ginseng. It's light, and will travel well.

After our shopping, Carol went to find a bus to take us to the train station, and yet another taxi driver stopped to convince her that the bus would be very inconvenient. Actually we got quite a deal on this taxi ride. Apparently he had a fare from Yonju to Punggi, and didn't want to wait forever for another fare back, so he took us for just 4,000 won, when normally the fare would be 15,000 won. Carol was just glowing about that for the rest of the trip home.

She actually slept on a lot of the train ride home, but we talked some, and played Taboo some. While she was sleeping I read Harry Potter. One time she woke up and looked at the book, made a comment about "Oh no, too many letters," and fell back asleep.

We got home about 10:30, and boy was Nabi happy to see me. Unfortunately he expresses his happiness by biting me, so I went to bed and hid under the covers, and he curled up next to me and went to sleep.

7 Dec:

Randy called last night. Apparently he tried to arrange starting up his class again at 8:00, and Mrs. Kim told him that with just one student, she'd rather go home early. So the 8:00 class is officially cancelled. Randy wants to try to get together this Sunday.

I went to Kyongpo on Tuesday, mainly to exchange Nabi's used kitty-litter sand for fresh. I took the bus out, of course. One of those claw-game machines is near the bus stop, and I like to play it while I'm waiting. I like that machine, because I've actually won on it. And this time I won a large yellow duck. Unfortunately, this time I hadn't brought my tote bag with me. I just had my backpack full of bags of used sand, and the camera around my neck. I didn't want to put the duck in my backpack, where it would get all smelly, so I had to carry it around the whole time. It's a really cute duck, and I thought at first I might take it home for someone. But it's pretty big, and rather than do that, I'll probably give it to Julie (Mrs. Lee's youngest daughter) for Christmas. I think she'll like it.

A man spoke to me on the bus, in very good English, so we talked the whole way. It turns out that he's Mrs. Lee's husband's old school friend. He told me why seagulls' tears are salty (Because of all the salt fish they eat, and it's a way to get rid of the excess salt in their systems), and tried really hard to convince me to marry a nice Korean man and stay in Korea for the rest of my life. I kept telling him that I'd promised my family I'd come home, but he didn't buy it. He said that I was an adult, and so I didn't have to stay near my parents. Talk about an un-Korean attitude!

The unit we're studying in the 7:00 class is on health - what do you do when you get a cold, headache, etc. I heard some interesting remedies from my students. Choi drinks beer and soju for a headache. Susan had a cold leg after giving birth to her second baby, and got bee-acupuncture. 20 stings. (Ouch!) She said her leg wasn't cold after that. I imagine not.

I think Susan is the one who eats walnuts for a cough, too. For a headache, she recommends acupressure on the temples. And for a stomachache, Crystal said to squeeze the thick part between the thumb and first finger. I wish I'd heard that a day earlier. I had a bug, and could have tested it out. Susan also said for a stomachache, use acupuncture on your fingers. Apparently right below the nail, in that really sensitive part. I might not have tried that one.

8 Dec:

My, I had a nice day today. The morning was dull, just cleaning house (I have to finish that tomorrow). But when I went out to meet Mrs. Lee, so we could go teach the class at the power company, it was so sunny and warm that it made me happy just to be alive.

We had a good time in the power company class, too. It was the last class, so one of the guys brought in a cake and some coffee, and we had free talk. Only 2 guys made it through the whole 3 months, and one of them did a lot more talking than the other one. But they're both nice, and pretty funny.

The one guy said he was very surprised when he first saw me. Based on TV shows he's seen, he thought American women were all fat and only wore blue jeans. We talked about food, marriage, affairs, and if they could come visit me when they come to America (I told them "of course"). And I learned the 3 most important English words, used in all business meetings: ummhmm, really and oh. If you can use these words well, it doesn't matter if you understand what's said or not. In Korean it's ummhmm, changmal, and oh. So I'm set for meetings in English or Korean.

After class Mrs. Lee needed to go to the fish market to get oysters and squid for kimchi making. She has to help her mother in law make kimchi all weekend. So we went to the market together. It was funny, I took her the way I always go, and she's never been through there before. She really liked it, too. I, on the other hand had never been downstairs in the fish market before, and found it very interesting.

First I took her to see the lady I'd been buying pojagi from. These are the traditional patchwork cloths that Koreans still use to wrap things up and carry them. Mrs. Lee bought one for her husband, and she and the pojagi lady talked some. Apparently I'd communicated pretty well with the lady, because she told Mrs. Lee that I'd bought a bunch of them to send to America. She said that the white padgi I'd bought were the same as the ones she'd made for her daughters to wear to her funeral. Sort of a depressing thought, but she didn't sound depressed about it.

Mrs. Lee told her about the pojagi I'd bought at Tano, and she said that was her work. And she showed Mrs. Lee the pillow covers and pillow cover covers, and gave me a free set because I'd bought so much stuff from her before. Apparently they're in 2 sizes, larger for men and smaller for women. Since I'd bought the man's size before, she gave me a woman's set.

I made sure she was still going to be around after next payday, and she said she would come every day that the weather is nice until she dies. She used to make hanbok, but has too much arthritis in her hands to do fine sewing now. But these things are simple enough that she can still make them. I'm going to try asking her if she can make some larger pojagi for me. If I can get a big enough one, I might be able to pack my clothes in it to come home, instead of buying a real suitcase.

So, on down into the fish market. I had never felt the need to go in there because I could always buy fish easily on the street, but I must say it was interesting. Much more variety down there. Lots of octopi, including one that was trying to crawl away. All were pretty big, and some were huge. Mrs. Lee said that octopi are very expensive, and a large one might go for 100,000 won. There were fish of all shapes and sizes, tons of squid, oysters, shrimp (from brine shrimp to scampi), several types of crabs, most of which were bursting with eggs, whelks(I think), and abalone, mussels and other shellfish.

Mrs. Lee said that because of the supermarkets becoming more and more common, she didn't think the traditional market was going to last much longer. A lot of people prefer the convenience of the supermarket, and the young people don't want to work in the traditional market. All the vendors there are fairly old, and Mrs. Lee thinks that as they retire or die off, the market will just vanish. She's probably right, but what a shame.

I had to leave before Mrs. Lee, to get to the hagwon on time. I teach at 3:00, and she doesn't come in until 4. I was very pleased to find a letter in my mailbox when I came home. It was from my niece Julie, and it's the first letter I've gotten in ages.

At the hagwon, one of the girls brought a puppy to the AET 6 class, and I got to hold it almost the whole time. It was really young, maybe just 6 weeks old, and was the size of my hand. He was black, and as round as could be, and slept in my hand during class. I joked that she had to give him to me because she didn't do her homework. Actually the punishment for not doing their homework is giving me a Pokemon sticker.

The 7:00 (evening) class had planned to go to a nolay-bang (also spelled norae-bang -- it means karaoke parlor, literally, "singing room") to sing English songs. Everyone had seemed enthusiastic about the idea when we planned it, but they must have gotten cold feet. Only 2 students, Choi and Susan, showed up. But the three of us went, and we had a good time.

Our trip to the nolay-bang is a good example of the Korean way of personal relationships in doing business. We went to that particular nolay-bang because the mother of one of our students owns it. And she gave us free drinks and a free half hour because I teach her daughter.

We mostly sang English songs (it was class, after all), but I did try singing one Korean song. I managed to hit about a third of the words, too. Of course, I have no idea what they were, but I could read them.

I learned a little more about how nolay-bangs work, too. They're really pretty sophisticated. There's a timer to show you how much time you have, and you can change the tempo of the songs (we made them real slow) and also how high or low the music is (the pitch). Usually people take turns performing, but because Susan and Choi were a little unsure of the words, as I was with the Korean song, we all sang together. So with an hour and a half of singing, my throat is really sore. It'll probably be fine by tomorrow, though.

And to put a nice end to the day, Mrs. Lee gave me a couple of home grown organic cabbages and some bean paste sauce from her mother in law. These are the sweetest, juiciest cabbages I've ever had, and I'm thoroughly enjoying my dinner. And as an added bonus, Nabi got a new toy to play with this evening. An earwig crawled out of one of the cabbages, and he's having a wonderful time with it. za q (that's Nabi typing - he says hi).

12 Dec:

I got the apartment all cleaned up yesterday. Of course by Korean standards it needs to be cleaned again, at least the floor does. These floors show the dirt like you wouldn't believe. No wonder women are expected to clean house every day. They don't all, though. A couple of the women in the 7:00 class have confessed to cleaning only once a week. They both have jobs.

It's sunny today, but very cold. Not bad if you're out of the wind, but that wind feels like it's straight out of Siberia. Which for all I know it could be.

We had another puppy in class yesterday. It chewed on my finger for a little, and then went to sleep in my arms.

Speaking of animals, I haven't been able to find a vet who can give Nabi his kitten vaccines. This apparently isn't too unusual. They just don't keep cats as pets very much here.

One possibility might be to find a US Army base. They would probably have vets for the pets that service people bring over. Mrs. Lee is going to bring me the phone number for the American Embassy tomorrow. Wow, a phone call I can make for myself! I'll see what they suggest. Maybe they'll know where I could take him, or maybe I'll find out that the shots aren't critical at all (they're bound to know the rules), and that I don't have to worry about them until I get home. Wouldn't that be nice?

15 Dec:

I'm having a terrible time in my 7:00 class these days. You know, it's the end of the day and I'm starting to get hungry, and this unit we just started is talking all about food. Mostly American food. It mentioned clam chowder in yesterday's lesson, which the class though was a type of sauce. So my project for this weekend is to make some clam chowder. I'm not sure how I'll serve it hot to my class, though. I might have to buy a Thermos.

We're getting the hagwon painted this weekend. It'll brighten things up considerably. I'm very glad that Mrs. Kim has hired someone (the guy who drives the hagwon bus) to do the painting, and it won't be us teachers.

16 Dec:

I had a very nice afternoon. I went shopping downtown. I was pretty good. Aside from food, all I bought were more pojagi.

I bought some donuts along the way and gave them to the pojagi lady. She seemed pleased; I hope she likes them. The price has come down on the pojagis, and she gave me a discount besides and threw in a free pink one to carry them all in, and a couple of ties.

I wandered around a fair bit, just enjoying being out, and looking at things. Ran into Chris, formerly of the 7:00 class, and talked to him for a few minutes. He said that his sister Christina went back to Inchon yesterday. And I was going to call her tonight, too. Such a bummer that I didn't get to see her while she was in Kangnung.

I bought some clams, potatoes, and onions to make clam chowder with. I'll go to Corex, the big department and grocery store, for milk and cream tomorrow. And I got 2 boxes of cat food. Nabi is going through a box every 5 days now, and will probably be up to 2 boxes a week before I leave here. And on the way home I bought some donuts for me, and a loaf of bread.

There's a movie out now called Chicken Run, by the guy who did Wallace and Grommit. I wanted to see it, and it's showing in Kangnung right now. So when I got home I called Mrs. Lee's oldest daughter, Janet (she's 11, and she was born when Mrs. Lee was living in the US), to see if she'd go with me. She called her mom to see if it's OK, and she's on her way over now. So we'll see the movie, and then get a pizza, and since Janet doesn't like to walk home after dark (she's afraid of ghosts) she'll spend the night here. That's why I bought the bread, hoping she'd be here, because this way I can make french toast for breakfast. It should be a fun time.

17 Dec:

For a while today, I didn't think I'd be able to make chowder for the class as I'd planned. My water was turned off while they repaired a broken drainage pipe that was pouring dirty water into the apartment house's garage all day yesterday. But it came back on at 3:00, and the chowder is simmering even as I type. I had to fudge the recipe of course. Instead of leeks and onions I used 2 onions, and since I couldn't find celery I added an extra potato. And the clams are a different breed. I steamed them open. Somehow it seemed a little more humane than hacking into them alive. Everybody says cold blooded critters can't feel the temperature change. I have my doubts, but I hope it's true.

18 Dec (early morning):

I got a phone call today, which I'm pretty sure is from the lady I used to talk to at the bus stop in the mornings, when I was going to the electric company to teach. It took a while to understand her -- we'd always talked with much reference to dictionaries and such like. But she wanted to let me know that starting tomorrow (today now) at 9am, Kangnung was going to have the water shut off to the entire city for 24 hours, and I should prepare.

At least I'm pretty sure that's what she was saying. "Tomorrow 9 am water Kangnung city not transfer, tomorrow tomorrow 9 am water." It went something like that. But for sure there'll be no water in the city from 9:00.

It was really nice of her to call. Apparently she saw it on a broadcast and wanted to be sure I knew. I had actually just gone to bed, and she apologized for calling so late, but she couldn't have reached me earlier because I was online with the computer.

So I filled up all my empty bottles and my kettle with water, and did my dishes, and I'm as prepared as I can be. I hope it really is just 24 hours.

18 Dec (evening):

I've had a long day. I went in about 9:00 so I could straighten up classroom 4 before my class. Then had class, and immediately after started working on the rest of the hagwon. Mrs. Kim was there, and the others came in soon after. We cleaned and cleaned, and weren't done till 2:00. Then lunch, and starting in on the regular classes.

Boy am I tired. I have to give those pills credit, though. I had to get some medicine for my asthma from a pharmacist. In Korea, despite all the talk about medical reform, you can still buy just about any kind of medicine at the pharmacy, without a doctor's prescription. Just tell the pharmacist what the problem is, and usually he'll suggest something. Apparently this is some kind of asthma medicine that isn't sold in the US. In any case, it works. I took one at about 3am, and it held up all day, in spite of massive amounts of dirt, dust and paint fumes.

The paint fumes weren't too bad really, at least to me, but Gilbert and some of the kids complained. We had to keep the windows open most of the day. I never did take my coat off.

The hagwon looks much nicer freshly painted, although not exciting. I was hoping for brighter colors, and they did OK with the pink, but the green and blue are that pale industrial shade that makes it hard to tell which is which. And believe it or not, some kid has already written on the wall with magic marker. He's lucky Mrs. Kim doesn't know who he is, or she'd really let him have it. He'd deserve it, too. She does have it narrowed down to one class, and I'm sure they're going to get a dressing down tomorrow.

Not much else to report. I bought some fish bread on the way home (not fish flavored, but fish shaped bread with red bean paste inside) and gave a fin to Nabi. He's a real bread hound, and is into stealing bread, but he didn't eat it right away. He's been playing with that fin for 15 minutes now. It keeps him happy and out of trouble.

Mrs. Lee was busy this evening when I finished my 7:00 class. Something with the hagwon books, and she made the comment that we were losing a lot of students. I never know how seriously to take that comment. I hear it almost every month, but we still have lots of students, and keep getting new ones.

I was going to ask her if I could borrow a Thermos, or if she had any other ideas for how to get the clam chowder to class so my students try it. In the meantime, though, I've eaten most of it myself. Fortunately, I have more of all the ingredients except the clams, and I can get more of them with no problem. So I'll just make another batch.

And I don't know what the deal is, but I still have water. Maybe it's tomorrow at 9 that it goes off. Or maybe I misunderstood the whole conversation yesterday. I'll keep my bottles of water for the time being.

19 Dec:

I got another call from my friend from the bus stop last night. She said she'd made a mistake, and it's today that there'll be no water. Sure enough, there's no water. She said it's because of construction on the Yongdong Highway.

And now for something completely different -- observations about Korea.

  • On wealth. There's a fair bit of money here. I see more fur coats in Kangnung than I ever saw in Ohio. Of course I didn't hang out in the big cities in Ohio, so that may make a difference.
  • On sharing. Korea, I've been told, is a "we" society, and people share everything. To the extent that if two friends are out walking and one of them has mittens and one doesn't, they each wear one mitten.
  • On gardening. Farming seems to be about over for the year. There are still a few cabbages out in the fields, and strawberries have been planted for spring, but not much else seems to be going on. In home gardens, a few diehards still have lettuce. I expect, though, that there's farming going on in greenhouses. They do make the most of what little farmland they have in Korea.
I went to Kyongpo Beach today. I have to go regularly to exchange Nabi's used sand (kitty litter) for fresh. There was lots of wind and lots of waves. It's pretty warm in town, but at the beach I was glad for my hat and gloves.

I opened my Christmas package from Aunt Susie today. On top was a note, and that was nice enough I didn't dig into the rest. I'll save it for another day.

And finally, after 2 days of French toast, bread and clam chowder (with a large lunch of jajang myen yesterday), my stomach is saying "give me rice!" Too much exotic food, I guess. So it's rice and cabbage and squid for lunch today.

21 Dec:

I had fun at the hagwon yesterday. I taught all my classes We wish you a merry Christmas and had them sing it for Mrs. Kim and Mrs. Lee. The kids had fun with it, I had fun with it, and Mrs. Lee said it finally was feeling like Christmas.

I told my 7:00 class to bring in spoons for the clam chowder today. Mrs. Lee loaned me a Thermos, and it's a nice big one. I also took in a seed catalog from home today, so we could talk about vegetables. I think it fits in very nicely with a food unit, don't you?

I was a little disappointed in the turnout for the 7:00 class, though. Only 3 students. One liked the clam chowder so much she asked for the recipe. One must not have liked it, because she didn't finish hers, and I heard her flush it down the toilet later. The third student, Movie, didn't say anything one way or the other, but he ate it all, so it must have been OK.

I was a little worried about the clam chowder at first. When I opened the clams, they were pink, and I was half afraid I was going to poison my whole class. But I checked with Mrs. Lee, and she said they're always pink. These clams were different from the ones I used before. In fact, apparently what I used before weren't clams. I'm not sure what they were, exactly. They tasted a little more like oysters than clams, but I'm sure they weren't oysters either. Mystery shellfish, I guess.

These real clams were a lot more expensive -- 8,000 won for 6. They were nice and big, though, and 6 was plenty for the chowder, and a lot less hassle than 30 tiny ones.

We had fun going through the seed catalog. I gave it to Anne at the end of class, because she gardens at her mother's house. I think she might try to order some seeds, but I warned her that she might need to check with the government first. Julie, the other female student, was also interested in the catalog, even though she doesn't garden.

We talked about what we wanted for Christmas in the Interchange class. It's a small class these days, just 2 students. One student wanted a warm jacket, a laptop computer, and airplane tickets to Florida. The other wanted a PC, gloves, a grand piano and I forget what all else. They asked what I wanted, and I said lots of e-mails, so I could read e-mails from home all day (hint,hint).

I took pistachio nuts in to share with the other teachers today. Mrs. Lee (remember she lived in the US for 23 years) had had them before, and was glad to have them again. Nobody else had ever had them before, but everyone enjoyed them very much. We went through them in no time.

I've been having a terrible time trying to share things with Mrs. Kim. She doesn't want anything with chocolate on it, she doesn't want candy without chocolate, and while she likes nuts, she wouldn't eat any for fear of gaining weight. I had some clam chowder left over from the class, and offered some to her, but she didn't want any. Oh well, all I can do is offer. Gilbert makes up for it, though. He'll eat anything, in large quantities.

23 Dec (morning):

I have a Christmas tree after all! I just opened up my package from Aunt Susie. And there was a little bitty blown glass Christmas tree in there. So I do have a tree. Christmas is now almost complete. The only things missing are my boyfriend and my family, but at least I'll have my Korean friends to fill the gap. Mrs. Lee said if Christina didn't get back to me, she was going to invite me out to Seoul to spend Christmas day with her so I wouldn't be alone.

Aunt Susie even sent a Christmas stocking. A really cute one with Santa on it. The whole box was basically a Christmas stocking, with lots of small stuff. I'm glad I went ahead and opened it, because now I have the tree and stocking to decorate the place for my "party" with Mrs. Lee and her kids. There's even a little game we can play. It's called a "Christmas Stunt Board." You open the little flap, and it tells you a stunt to do. Full report after we play it.

I had to get a new power adapter for the computer today. This is the gadget that converts the US-type plug so it fits the Korean wall sockets. I'd gotten the old one at a computer store -- they gave it to me because it was cracked. Well, it finally broke apart. Even though the old one came from a computer store, one of my students who knows about computers suggested I go to a hardware store to get a new one.

I couldn't find a hardware store, but came across a lighting shop that had 2 dogs, some birds and a cat inside. The cat was a pretty tortoiseshell, and was much friendlier than the dogs, one of whom ignored me and the other of whom barked at me the whole time I was in there. I showed the shopkeeper the dead adapter, and he pulled out a new one with no hesitation. It was just 300 won (about 25 cents). They're obviously very common.

On the way back I stopped in at the bakery for some Christmas cookies. I figured the kids wouldn't really appreciate my fancy American cookies from home so much, and I didn't want to waste them on someone who was mainly going to be interested in quantity. But I wanted something a little special, because it is Christmas, after all.

They had some nice ball shaped things, and I asked how much and the lady held up 6 fingers. So I figured it was 6,000 won for whatever quantity they sold it in, and asked for 1. And she carefully bagged up one. Apparently it's 600 won apiece. So I figured "what the heck, it's Christmas," and bought 20. She was really surprised. I suspect that they're actually truffles, not cookies, although I won't find out until I eat one, which won't be until Mrs. Lee and the kids get here.

Then I went to the grocery store to get some milk so I can make hot chocolate with marshmallows for the kids, and picked up some plain cookies there, just so I have something for just quantity.

I got up early this morning, about 6:00, because I wanted to see my early morning friend who works at Yongpyong Resort, the one I used to see every day at the bus stop when I taught at KEPCO, the electric company. I wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas and thank her for telling me about the water getting shut off. But the Yongpyong bus came and went, and she didn't show up. Maybe she has today off. I took Nabi with me for the walk. He didn't cry the whole way this time, but he did tremble in my arms, and was very glad to get back home again.

I took a shower today, so Nabi's dishes, which are usually in the bathroom, are in the kitchen, and I can see them from here as I type this. He must have dropped a piece of food or something into his water dish, because he's trying to fish it out. He dips his paw in and digs for a couple seconds, then pulls it out and looks really miffed that his paw is all wet.

It's wet outside, too. A few of the kids mentioned that they wanted a white Christmas, but unless it gets a lot colder it'll just be grey and rainy. That's what it is today.

23 Dec (evening):

The Christmas party just ended, and we had a lot of fun. Everybody loved all their presents. Mrs. Lee was thrilled with all her instant cappucinos from America. She liked those better than everything else put together. Janet really liked her Hogwarts sweatshirt (I ordered it from California) once she translated it to herself and realized what it was. I have to admit, her reaction was more satisfying than John's for his shirt, which was pretty much "Thanks."

I opened my present from Mrs. Lee, and it was the same style of long johns that Mrs. Kim gave me, only in a different color, and a hair clip. So I'm well set for the winter.

It turned out that I had plenty of food. The little balls from the bakery were indeed truffles, and Mrs. Lee enjoyed them very much. The kids ate some of their stuff in their bags (I put tangerines, peanuts and chocolate in there for them), and ate a few cookies, but mostly they were interested in enticing Nabi out from under the bed. He'd come out every time they ignored him, and then go back in when he got too much attention.

Mrs. Lee brought pine cones and glitter glue, and we all decorated pine cones for ornaments. It was a good time, and really felt like it was Christmas. So if Christmas day doesn't feel too Christmas-y it's OK. I've already had it.

Everybody said they wanted hot chocolate, but then Jean and Julie were too busy playing with Nabi to drink theirs, so I have lots of hot chocolate left. I hope it reheats OK. Janet and Mrs. Lee were happy to have the marshmallows, but Jeannie and Julie didn't like them. I guess you have to have lived in America for at least part of your life to like marshmallows.

After a while Mrs. Lee's allergies started acting up, and we went for a ride along the beach. There's a lot of wind today (probably blowing in cold weather), and the waves were really high. Then she brought me home, where I have a tremendous mess to clean up. Truly Christmas.

Christmas Eve and Day:

Christmas Eve I took the bus to Inchon to see Christina, my first Korean friend, whose wedding I went to in May. On the way to the bus terminal I picked up a cake to take along. You're supposed to take a little something when you go to someone's house, and I'd read that a cake was one of Korea's Christmas traditions. The guy at the bakery wanted to give me some wine as "service," but I thought Christina probably wouldn't be able to drink it, and I knew I wouldn't want it. I wasn't sure about Christina's husband, but thought it best to decline.

The bus ride was uneventful, and when I got in to the terminal I gave Christina a call so she could come pick me up. Then, since I had some time to kill, I looked around some. The bus terminal in Inchon is really something. It has a department store in it, and a large grocery store. The top floor is a wedding hall. Could you imagine getting married in a bus terminal? It would be convenient for your guests though. They wouldn't have to worry about getting around town. Take the bus in, go to the wedding, and take the bus out. And of course there are restaurants and cafes. Right nearby is a Kim's Club.

Christina and her husband showed up before too long, and we wandered through the department store for a while. Department stores tend to be pretty darned expensive, and I was really surprised when Christina bought a pair of 25,000 won mittens. I think she and her husband must feel pretty rich these days.

I especially think that after the dinner we went out to. I was planning to buy Christmas dinner, but lost the argument. Christina wanted to go someplace special, and we ended up in a very nice place. I would call it semi-French, but only because of the snails. They had several set menus, which Christina translated for me. The prices ranged from 25,000 to 50,000 won (US$20 to $40) per person, and she and her husband decided on the 50,000 won per person set menu. I nearly freaked. This set menu had soup, salad, snails, lobster and steak.

The whole set-up and service was very impressive, although the food, while good, wasn't quite up to the same standard. First came the soup, sort of a pureed cream of pea. Then the salad, mixed lettuce (mostly iceberg, which is expensive and exotic in Korea) with half a cherry tomato and a slice of raw beet. The beet could have done with a little cooking. It was served with the usual Korean salad dressing, the only one I've seen or tasted here; as far as I've ever been able to tell, it's ketchup mixed with mayonnaise.

Next came the snails. There were 6, in shells, on a bed of rock salt, with a basket of garlic bread on the side. The waiter laid down the implements of destruction before bringing the snails out. It was tongs to grasp the shells with, and little two seafood forks that were so small you almost needed a magnifying glass to see them.

Christina and her husband were pretty curious about the tongs. When the waiter brought to snails, he poured booze over them and set them on fire. Then he demonstrated how to eat them. First you set a piece of garlic bread on your plate. Then pick up a snail in the tongs, and use the little fork to pull it out of the shell and dump it on the toast. Then eat the toast. Of course one bite took care of the snail and the rest was just eating the garlic toast, but we had fun with it.

Next was the lobster. Believe it or not, this was the first time I've ever had lobster in a restaurant. Part of the reason is that I've never been able to bring myself to eat a creature I've been introduced to.

Sure enough, we were sitting right by the tank of lobsters, but I had my back to it so I couldn't see them. It didn't do me any good, though. The waiter pulled out 2 lobsters and brought them to our table on a tray. They sat there on the tray looking at us while the waiter launched into a big explanation, apparently about the cooking choices (grilled plain or grilled with butter, but it took a long time to explain). Every now and then he'd pat the bigger lobster on the back as he talked, and it would swivel its eyes around and look like it was cringing. There wasn't any polite way to say "Oh, let mine go," so I comforted(?) myself with the thought that if we didn't eat them, someone else would. I also thought a lot about that Dave Barry column about Duane the lobster.

Towards the end of the talk I think the lobsters had it figured out, because they tried to back off of the tray. The waiter caught them at it, though, and put a quick stop to it.

So the lobsters were taken away, and came back later split and grilled. With butter. These weren't just plopped down for us to figure out, but again were served with instructions.

First the waiter broke off part of the shell, and put some on each plate. This had no meat in it, but just some goo, which he instructed us to eat with little spoons. It was quite good, and I would guess is the lobster equivalent of what we call the mustard in crabs. At least it tasted the same.

Then he pulled the meat out of the tails (most people consider the tail meat the best part) and served it, and handed out claws. He gave the biggest claw to Christina's husband, but she traded claws with him. She explained that she needs bigger food for the baby, and when she was visiting her mom, her mom would always buy the biggest fruits and vegetables for her. I guess big food equals a big baby. Something to add to the list of Korean superstitions.

The one part the waiter didn't explain how to eat was the legs, but we figured it out OK.

It was imported lobster, from Alaska. Now maybe it's just because it wasn't Maine lobster, but if that's typical, I can say without hesitation that Maryland blue crab has lobster beat all to pieces in terms of both flavor and texture. Not to mention the fact that crab eyes are less expressive.

We were all pretty full by the time the lobster was finished, and there was still the steak to go. I was heartily hoping it was a small steak, and fortunately it was. A nice little filet, completely covered in a brown sauce that had no flavor of its own, and managed to hide the flavor of the steak. But it was nice and tender, probably the first tender meat I've had in Korea, and they succeeded in cooking it rare.

We managed to finish our steaks, and it was time for dessert. Korean dessert. Coffee for Christina's husband, juice for Christina, and tea for me -- Lipton, of course. Christina kept sniffing her husband's coffee. She'd read that it was bad for the baby to drink coffee when you're pregnant so she's given it up for the time being. But she does miss it.

We finally rolled our full bellies out of the restaurant and headed for Christina's apartment. Along the way we stopped at a fruit stand and got some tangerines and strawberries. Yes, strawberries in December! And not imported, either. They're grown locally in greenhouses.

At the apartment we sat and visited and played Scrabble. We had to talk her husband into playing with us, but he did really well, and came in second. I feel a little sorry for him when I'm there. He's afraid to talk to me for lack of English, and I'm afraid to talk to him for lack of Korean. So I'm sure he feels out of place. I did manage to say "Thanks for dinner" and "Goodnight" to him in Korean, and he grinned.

He and Christina play Scrabble dictionary in hand, which is useful, but also limits you, because they would find an available letter and go through that letter in the dictionary trying to find something to fit the letters they had. So they could only build in one direction. But it was fun to play.

Then Christina brought out the cake. I don't think she or her husband have ever celebrated Christmas before, because she wasn't too sure what ceremony might be involved. She asked if we should sing something, which hadn't occurred to me. I asked what she wanted, and she said she didn't know, maybe Happy Birthday? We settled on We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Then she asked if we should pray before we cut the cake. We didn't bother. We had cake and tangerines and strawberries and it was very good. I was glad it made it intact all the way from Kangnung.

I asked Christina if she wanted her Christmas present tonight or tomorrow, and she looked a little embarrassed and said she hadn't prepared. I told her it didn't matter, and that I had her present already and just liked to do that sort of thing, and then she reached over and got the package with her new mittens and said she had really bought them for me. I knew she hadn't, and said they were her mittens, but she insisted that she and her husband had discussed it at the time. I have no way of arguing that because they did talk at the time and I have no idea what they said.

It's kind of a funny situation that way. Christina and I can talk about he husband right in front of him, and he has no clue, and she and her husband can talk about me right in front of me, and I have no clue. Christina's the only one who really knows everything that's going on.

Since she gave me my present, I went ahead and gave her her present. The main part was a Harry Potter book in English, so she'd have something to read when she's too sick to her stomach to do anything else. And there was an embroidered refrigerator magnet and a beaded pin I'd made, and some little odds and ends. She liked it all a lot. Especially the Harry Potter book, which she's been wanting to read but hadn't gotten yet. She said because it's so popular and she wanted to read it for her baby. I don't know if it'll still be popular by the time her baby's old enough to appreciate it but I do think she'll enjoy it.

Christina was starting to look pretty tired, so I said goodnight and went to bed. She protested that it was still early (it was about 11:00), but I'm pretty sure I heard her go to bed not too much later. The poor girl got up about 4 times in the night to use the bathroom and she's only 4 months pregnant. I hate to think what it'll be like later.

Christmas morning Christina fixed a nice breakfast, and we looked out the window to a white Christmas. The snow was a real surprise. We weren't expecting it, and apparently neither were any of the weathermen.

We went out to the movies in the afternoon, and discovered the disadvantage of the snow. After assuring me last night that her husband was the best driver and had never had an accident, he had his first one on a nearby street. It wasn't bad, thank goodness; it just put a dent in his fender, and didn't even mark the truck that he hit. There was black ice on the road, and the truck was parked on the road, and he skidded into it. I felt pretty bad about it, since it had been my idea to go to the movies. If not for me, they probably would have stayed in all day watching TV, and wouldn't have had an accident.

But everybody seemed pretty good humored about it. Christina's husband called into the nearest open door to find the owner of the truck. He peeked out, went back in to finish up whatever and then came outside. Looked the situation over, gave a laugh, and pulled the truck forward out of the way so we could drive off. And that was it. Christina's husband was a little bummed about the dent, but didn't seem too upset. And Christina kept teasing him about it. I could hear the words "best driver" periodically throughout the day.

We made it to the movie theater, which was almost an upright mall. The theater was third and fourth floors, there was a department store on the second and a grocery store on the first. Above the theater was a game room.

Normally you have to make reservations to see a movie in Inchon, but for some reason we didn't have to this time. We were going to see Chicken Run, because I thought they'd enjoy it, and I had no objection to seeing it a second time. We'd planned to see the 12:30 showing but the clerk said that one was dubbed into Korean, and the 1:30 show would be in English with Korean subtitles.

So we went into the cafe in the theater for tea, coffee, and juice, and then wandered around for a while. The department store was only moderately interesting, but the game room was a trip. For a while I felt like I'd walked into a casino. People were shoveling tokens like crazy into these machines where you drop coins in, and something goes back and forth, and eventually the coins (or tokens in this case) pile up enough that the back and forth thing pushes some of them down a chute, and you win them. There were about 6 or 8 different versions of that, and each one had 6 or 8 people sitting around it shoveling in tokens. Some of the games were pretty cute. I liked the one that was a toy amusement park.

That was half the game room, and the other half was video games and a little DDR. Video games have changed a lot since I was in college. There was one with babies wrestling, one where you save endangered animals, and lots where you shoot something.

Eventually we wandered back down to the theater. It reminded me of Tinseltown. One big difference was the sign where they took our tickets -- "No dogs allowed." I was so amused by the fact that dogs might be allowed even that far that I took a picture of the sign.

Apparently this was a no-no. Dogs might be allowed on the 4th floor lobby, but cameras weren't. Nobody got nasty, but a fellow did come over and tell Christina that I wasn't allowed to take any more pictures. Who knows, maybe it's a secret military installation.

The movie was fun, and I enjoyed it more than the first time. It makes a big difference having the film and sound system in good enough shape that I can see and hear the whole thing. This place had surround sound, which I don't think I've experienced before. The dogs on the screen started barking, and then I heard dogs barking behind me. I thought at first that someone had ignored the sign and snuck their dogs in before I realized it was part of the movie.

After the movie we went and had lunch, and then went off to the bus terminal. There was a bus for Kangnung just leaving, so it was a very hurried goodbye. And it was an uneventful trip home.

Apparently there was a mail delivery on Christmas in spite of its being a national holiday, because there was a package and a card for me in my mailbox, and a package that turned out to be for someone else. Nabi was very glad to see me, and I had a nice evening opening my last gift and card, and broke into Nabi's Christmas catnip and treats from the US.

All in all, in spite of being away from home, it was a good Christmas.

26 Dec:

The neighbor kids stopped by this morning with some Christmas presents for me. They brought a jar of coffee, a nice plaid scarf, and a great card that plays music when I press on it. The best thing about the card is that the kids signed it, so now I know their names. They didn't know mine, so it's to "Migook sensayng nim" -- American teacher. It's really cute. I invited them in, but they wouldn't stay. I thought at first that they must be on their way to school, but it's winter vacation so there must have been some other reason.

28 Dec:

Yesterday was Christine's birthday. I didn't know until she told me in class yesterday. So today I bought a birthday cake and a bottle of Coke so we could have a late party. Then she didn't show up for class. Jay called her and told her she had to come, and we turned out the lights and lit the candles. When she came in we popped streamers at her and sang Happy Birthday and we all had cake before starting the lesson.

Tomorrow is Choi's birthday. The kids (college age) said they'd take care of the cake this time.

Then after class, Mrs. Lee suggested we go out for dinner. So we went to Kogi Buffet for all-you- can-eat meat. Boy, am I stuffed.

30 Dec:

My day has been very nice and somewhat relaxing. I slept in until 10:00, worked a couple of crosswords, cleaned house and went downtown grocery shopping. I was mostly after cat food and kimchi, but found people selling roe, so I bought some of that, and strawberries, so I bought some of them too.

Roe is relatively cheap compared to shad roe prices at home -- I paid 12,000 won for a kilo (2.2 lb). A kilo was really more than I wanted to buy, a half or even a quarter kilo would have been better, but I couldn't buy a smaller quantity. So I froze half of it, and the rest will be a good 2 or 3 meals. I have no idea what sort of fish it's from, but I've liked every kind of roe I've tried, so it's a pretty safe bet.

The strawberries were a little expensive too at 5,000 won for a package, but it's not as outrageous as you might think, being that it's December. So I'll have a nice decadent dinner, roe with rice, followed by strawberries and cream.

There was a lady on the street selling vegetables, and she had a big fluffy orange cat with her, one of the few pet cats I've seen here. I stopped to pet it, and it started chewing on my hand just like Nabi does. Must be a Korean cat sort of thing. I had the cat food I'd bought, so I opened it up and gave some to the cat. He liked it a lot. The lady was real curious about it -- I don't think she knew cat food existed. A man that was walking by stopped to look too, and the both examined the box pretty carefully. Maybe just to make sure it really was cat food, and not rat poison or something.

I went looking for the pojagi lady. She wasn't there, but the basket man was, and I bought another basket from him. I also bought some Korean socks. I buy the largest ones they have, and they're always too small for me, but they'll fit most of my friends at home. I'm learning to recognize the Chinese symbol for large.

As I was coming home, and was waiting outside the Bakery Francaise for the walk light, the bakery guy came out to say hi. He saw the socks, and commented that they're what grandmothers wear. It's true that I've only seen them worn twice, once by Mrs. Kim and once by a little old lady on the bus; but as many as I see out for sale, somebody's wearing them a lot.

Nabi, of course, was very interested in the bag of roe when I got home, and I wouldn't let him have any. I did find a lump of unidentifiable fish anatomy in the bag though, and gave that to him. He wouldn't eat it. He might later though. He did finally figure out that the treats that came in my Christmas box from home were edible, and now he likes them very much.

Some "Konglish" I've run across. On a bag from the bakery:

For the day you dream,
For the one you love,
We present you fashionable sweet gift!

On Mrs. Kim's food-storage containers:

Peak Fresh: This specially designed range of a useful box ensures the continuous keeping of highly nutritious vegetables retaining their full freshness and flavor at all time.

I really wanted to get a set of these containers, just because I like the Konglish, but I haven't seen them around anywhere. I think they're pretty old, so I suspect they're not being made any more. Too bad.

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