Korean Word of the day: 맥주 (mehkjoo) – Beer; 월요일 (wol yo ill) – Monday 

Photo of the day: Image

Rose class they are the easiest and the most fun of the kindy kiddies 

Food of the day : 육개장 — spicy beef soup 

High of the Day : Email from Ellen about sailboats.  Also, students Lex and Scott are troublemakers but I enjoy pretending to be the hulk when I get ‘mad’ at them.  

Low of the day:  Dealing with Paypal and forgetting passwords.  Meaning – good day! 

Wonder of the day:  Consistency in a boss is important.  Read a John Duffy interview, and he talks about how everyday he is consistent in his mood.  His employees know what to expect, you don’t have to think about how to approach him.  Which is something I learned I value in a boss.  I never know what kind of Cathy I will get.  

Overall, it is fall in Korea.  Nearly winter.  Prediction:  it will be a cold cold winter.  

Craving turkey and stuffing.  The leaves are still sticking to the trees.  And still changing colors.  The view isn’t green anymore.  The gingko trees are yellow now.   




Here is a poem by Lee Jang-Wook (translated by Brother Anthony of Taize)


Sometimes I have no head.
Without habits
and without any cold-blooded expression,
I keep warming toward people.
Though I cut off my arms
and cut of my head,
my two feet wait for the bus,
my two hands greet people joyfully,
my lips go on muttering on their own.
In three seconds I forget my cut-off finger-nails,
it takes three weeks to install a habit in my body,
but putting on a really cold-blooded expression
requires a whole lifetime.
As my self-portrait for today,
matching the back view of my torso,
I would like to have holy lips
that ever speak contradictions,
but that can only be once my whole body has vanished,
and since today there are still things sprouting out of my body,
since today there are still things I want to cut off,
I continue, without even lips to mutter with,
with my whole body . . .

Sauna and Fish

Omma and her bf come.  They bring a fan and a blanket to sit on and food and household items.  Then we are off to Uncles house, we eat intestines and liver.  Then we go to another restaurant and eat chinese food.  Koreans can do this all night.  They eat with all their drinking.  So much eating and drinking.  Omma is a story teller.  She is funny, and does most of the talking.  Her boyfriend is quiet.   He leaves the table to go sit and smoke and watch soccer. 


Then we go back to Uncle’s house.   She gets out her hand phone and shows everyone pictures of Dong Jin, and me and the flowers I gave her for Parent’s day.   Which oddly affirms to me that she cares and is touched by the things I give her.

I send her the picture of me and dan and she when Dan had come to visit in May. 

We take a photo on her camera of the two of us.  She sends me one. 

We are all sitting on the floor.  She looks at my feet. She says in Korean that I have my father’s feet.  But my uncle translates it for me, tells me, appa feet you have.  I could cry but I don’t.  Then I think of course I do, no wonder I can’t fit my feet into anything in Korea.  Thanks dad for giving me wide feet. 

But it’s an amazing curious overwhelming feeling.  I love hearing things like this.  This is where you get ___ this from…  I know it seems so trivial. So unworth knowing, but it means so much to me.  I only have a faded photo of my father.  So to know that our feet are the same, somehow makes our connection real, closer, tangible.  He exists, he gave me his feet.  I’ve always liked my feet.  


Anyway, then uncle gets pen and paper and tells me the options.  I can stay in his yoo sung’s room and sleep or go to an all night sauna with Omma.  I go to sauna even though I know it means getting naked.  Which I’m not comfortable with, but she is my mother and I came out of her body.   I don’t know how to say, I don’t care.  Remember, I can not make a decision.   I just shrug my shoulders.  But then say Sauna, even though I would be more comfortable sleeping in my cousin’s room.  But something tells me to say yes.  Sometimes I surprise myself by doing things that I’m afraid to do.   But that isn’t how we grow by doing what we already know how to do.   I say sauna because I feel it is what I should say.  It’s what I should do, because being a wimp is no fun. 


The sauna.  I had been to one before, with Erica.  But this experience was one of it’s own.  We walk to the spa – uncle and aunt walk us there.  Omma’s bf comes too but he goes to the boy’s sauna.  I think omma is a little drunk because she can’t figure out where the lockers for the shoes go.  Maybe she was nervous too. 


But we get to our lockers and we take off our clothes.   She shows me where to go.  There is a woman getting scrubbed.  I eventually get a scrub and a massage as well.  I am so naked and the woman slaps me (as part of the massage) and I feel exposed, but everyone here is naked and there is no shame. 


But first we go into the sauna – the heated room and get hot.  For the first time I notice how huge the scar is on her arm.  I think I have seen glimpses of it before when she wears three quarter length sleeves, but only naked do I see the extent of it.  Then she shows me her leg on the same side as well, and there is a matching scar on her knee.  She tries to tell me but she can’t.   They came from the same incident though, I think.  Then she shows me her fingers on her left hand.  Her ring and middle fingers are stubs.  They have no nails.  I gasped.  How had I gone this long without seeing them?  It felt like a moment where my Omma was a totally different woman to me.  I learned something about her.  It’s like when you learn something about someone and what you’re really thinking is, wow I don’t know anything about you. 


  Then we go into another room there is a deep pool of water for your legs and jets.  And then I get the massage.  I feel so naked and exposed.  But there is no shame here.


We finish showering.  And we go to the sleeping room.  There is a snack room and a big TV and a restaurant.  There are families.  Babies, young children.  Sauna’s are all night long, and I’m wondering why young children aren’t sleeping.  There are tunnels for sleeping.  But the floor everywhere is tile.  Is HARD.  Towels for blankets and mats, and a little pillow.  There is one area with heated light in the floor and round half circles.  I imagine it’s good for circulation.  I am sleeping a few feet away from the loudest snoring person in Korea.  And around 3 am a 6 year old girl discovered her screaming voice.   Finally around 4 I am so tired that I ignore the pain of hard floor on hip bones and fall asleep.  I wake up with the sun.   Omma is staring at me.   The next time I wake up, she is gone.  I don’t know where she is, but I’m too tired to search.  Eventually I see her bf and he goes into one of these heated huts. 


Finally around 8 am it’s time to drink coffee and eat.  I eat ramen.  Omma never eats breakfast.  We mosey around the sauna again, shower again, and head back to uncles house.  We drink coffee, and then we are off to somewhere I don’t know.  None of the cities are the cities we passed from Uiwang to Bugae.  I see signs for Incheon.  I know we are going away from my house.  Solae, Solae, Solae.  We are going to Solae.  I could ask, but I’m too tired and don’t want them to laugh at me for speaking Korean. 


I am not surprised when I see that Solae is a fish market.  But I haven’t ever been to a fish market like this.  People are waiting for the fish that fisherman are just catching.  We look off the ledge and see a fishing boat below. 


There are many people. 


Then we get to the market.  So much fish.  So much life.  What do we want to eat?  I don’t even know the names of these things in English, let alone Korean.  It’s quite morbid.  It’s a zoo but it’s a meal zoo.  They are alive, only to be killed and eaten.  

It’s all really beautiful, the display.  My feet are soaking wet, but there is no avoiding all the water, the wetness. 

I want to know the names for all the fish.


We choose a flounder and they give us another black fish with wings for a deal.  I watch the fish bleed to death.  I am not mortified enough not to eat them.  But there is something very morbid about this market. 


After the raw fish, we eat steamed crabs.  That was probably the most fun to eat.  Because it is messy and delicious.  Then we eat stew.   They drink soju, and I drink cola. 


Before we leave, omma buys some dried fish.  I see a woman whose standing on raised table displays of the fish.  Her back is permanently angled.  And I wonder how many years she has been bending over like this.  Her body evolved to fit her environment. 


Then we leave the fish market.  I am always grateful for these experiences.  I never would have ventured to a fish market in Incheon.  I wouldn’t know how to eat there.  I am blessed to have these adventures. 

Shoe Money

There have been many birthday stories I’ve been telling in the past year.   I’ve mistaken my birthday twice.   An anecdote lost in translation, insisted my birthday is March 5th; in actuality it is my lunar birthday.  Koreans follow the moon as much as the sun.   Adoption documents, my passport and license will try and tell you my birthday is April 20th.  Which is still the day I celebrate and will always celebrate.  But if you ask the woman who gave birth to me, on what day she did it, she will say April 24th.   March 5th, convinced me I’m a Pisces and April 20th, had me sharing a birthday with Hitler.  My REAL birthday is April 24th.  Is today.

우리 엄마 (my omma) comes and takes me to dinner.   As she leaves, she gives me shoe money.   For 신발 (shinbal/shoes).   I think, for as little as she knows of me, she does know me.  My Omma leaves, and National Geographic is left on the TV.   A hungry brown bear encounters a family of wolves.   Both feed off salmon in the nearby river. The mother wolf risks her own protection, sacrifices her safety, for her cubs.   There is a blind spot behind the bear, and the wolf repeatedly attacks from the rear.  She goes to the left and to the right.  She disorients the bear, and then attacks. This time she wins.

I think about my mother.  Who risked her safety for her children.  Who lived with a grizzly man, who spent all his money on himself.    I think about wild Korea, I think about survival.  What an obstacle it is to be an unmarried woman in the 80’s, without a high school education, two children and a helpless husband.  I think about how strong she is, I think how she is a survivor, how she is a wolf with two cubs.

At dinner, it was just 엄마 (Omma) and myself.  The 아줌마 (ajuma/ aunt) started talking about me.  She asked me a question, but I could not answer, as I don’t speak Korean (yet).  엄마 responded that I don’t speak Korean.  I didn’t hear 입양아 (ibyang).   I didn’t’ hear 그녀는 입양아이다 (she is adopted).  And I saw the look on Omma’s face.  I knew it was shame, I knew it was pain.  I saw her eyes want to crawl into themselves, and not answer these questions.  I knew she didn’t want to explain, didn’t want to say why this is the first birthday we have ever spent together.

A dear friend of mine, Ellen, introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey (  Which is circular.  And today I felt I have completed one hero’s journey.  I am have come full circle.  27 years ago, I was in Korea taking my first breath.  And today, I breathe Seoul’s air again.

Bridges of Uiwang Si

My neighborhood has many bridges. They are foot bridges, not vehicle bridges, which makes it not only convenient but quaint. I have a fondness for bridges. I think my love affair with them began in Pittsburgh, because there were so many, and they were yellow. It makes my neighborhood feel cozy, the landscape is a bit lower, is a bit crowded, decorated.
Anyway, I often think about this time in my life, and paths. And what path I am on, what life adventure. And in many ways it’s a bridge. It’s a connecting time. I feel it’s a path that is leading me to the other side of something. I think it’s interesting how a life’s journey can manifest into a landscape, how it has manifested in the place I now call home.

To my lovely readers, I wonder, if any of you, also feel that there have been bridges in your life. Not just journey’s but people who perhaps have bridged you to something, someone, or even a place or an event. Please share!!!

설날 !

HAPPY Lunar New Year! 설날 ! Year of the water dragon.  In this year of dragons, before we enact all our fierceness, we’ll be inspired to use our watery quality of feeling and thought before we act, giving our strong actions that much more wisdom.


Lunar Year 2012: 1/23/12, HAPPY 123!@#!@# (special shout out to Lindsey, who cofounded 123 with me, a long new year’s ago, actually it wasn’t new year’s, but we acted as if 1:23 were new years, so jumbles in my memory.)


Hopped on a bus to DangJin and spent the weekend with omma and relatives at her home.  We celebrated the year of the dragon. There is a sense of calm when I am with my birth mom, despite our communication issues.

The night I got there, she was frying stuffed peppers, fried fish,  breaded shrimp…The whole weekend, pretty much all she did was cook. The next day, I helped to smash garlic, and made mandoo with my aunt.  The weekend was spent eating, watching TV, drinking, and sleeping.  Later in the afternoon, Omma’s boyfriend came.  He brought ice cream cake.  My aunt gave me the piece she thought was prettiest.


Our first meal, was Tteokguk (떡국) – it’s a soup with sliced rice cake. According to wiki after you finish eating your soup, you are one year older.  So. That makes me 27 (le sigh) …After a rest,  Omma started to make this pan cake thing.. I forget the name of it.  But everything is made in bulk.  I noticed that she has a new kimchi fridge and freezer.

I heard from my dowoomi (Korean buddy) that if people don’t make kimchi themselves, they get it from family or neighbors.  Kimchi in the grocery store is quite expensive, even in Korea. Women make kimchi as a communal thing.  So women make A LOT of kimchi.


We did talk about my job, and where I live, in jumbled Hangeul (Korean) And they offered to take me back to my apt.  I don’t live too far from them.


For dinner, we went to Nam Dang(남당이) and ate 새처개 (saechogae)– not sure if that’s how you spell it, but it’s a type of shellfish.   The taste is somewhere between a mussel and squid. You can eat it raw, or you can boil it for a few seconds in the shabu shabu pot.   We also put the squid heads in pot.  The black ink flavors and colors the broth.  The Squid.  First, you cut off the limbs, and then put the heads in the shabu shabu, and then you cut the heads in half, and eat them, in ketchup. I ate one half head, and didn’t like it.  I couldn’t get past the fact that I was eating its guts, brain, internal organs. There are a lot of tubes going on in the body.  I had to eat a lot of these hot peppers to numb my tongue, and sipped on soju to give me courage to eat these things.  Eating is a mentality as well as whatever else it is.  It’s upsetting to watch what was once very alive, die in front of you.  I understand that most food I eat, was once alive, but you don’t see it alive.  Plus, sometimes the squid would shoot its black ink out while it was being cut up, and you just knew that it was defending itself from scissors.

Enjoying food, depends on your perception of it.  The other shell fish on their shells, I’m more immune to.  The best one was some type of oyster.  The worst, looked as though it was bleeding profusely.  Another, just plainly tasted like the sea.


My Apartment


Last night  my first night, in my first apartment in Seoul. (technically, Uiwang, a suburb outside of Seoul).  Also my first time living alone!


You know how on Cribs (for those without cable (mom, dad) Cribs is a show where celebs show around their homes) sometimes they have names for their rooms… Well, I nicknamed my bathroom, the creamsicle room, because underneath its orange residue, was white tile.  I thought about taking pictures, but felt there should be no evidence of the ‘before’ bathroom.


The fridge smells like KOREAN WORD OF THE DAY :고추장 (gochujang) red chili paste.  Not gonna lie, all Korean fridges smell funky, unfortunately.  Blame it on the FOOD OF THE DAY:  김치kimchi, which is also in my fridge!


The apt is HIGH OF THE DAY: loft style, which gives allusion of more space. It feels like I have two rooms.  The apt, is warm, yet still feels surreal.  It will take time and many trips to Lotte Mart until it feels like home.  But definitely more homey than the guesthouse.


First thing I hung was Frida. (a big square bag, with Frida’s face on it from my friend Ellen).  I thought it fitting.  Isn’t Frida, a meaning for freedom, or strength?  I just googled it.  It means peace.  Which is better.  I have peace!


This area, by the way, is artsy.  There are statues with Gauguin and Chagall named on them, and Geiwon Art School is close by.   Hence the artsy influence.


I am lucky because Lotte Mart is close by.  I went there to buy a floor mattress and a pillow.  My new boss, bought me bathroom cleaner, rubber gloves, a sponge, and a blanket, as a gift for starting as a new teacher.  She seemed worried about the bathroom.  And to be frank, so was I.  But it cleaned up quick and easy.  I went to Lotte, but LOW OF THE DAY: my card doesn’t work there for whatever reason.  And so, I had to run around back and forth to get cash.  A girl, helped me, even got my number, so that when I came back, I could call her and she’d help me.   Koreans, so helpful!


The trick will be, how much to invest in this apt.  How much stuff to collect.  Moving is easier, when you have less.  I’m discovering, the same could go for life.


I’ve been thinking about how each apartment I’ve lived in had it’s own sounds, been surrounded by it’s own sounds.  Pittsburgh, in Bouquet Gardens, there was the drummer upstairs.  That I put an end to real quick.  But maybe in Pittsburgh, me and my roommates were the ones to make all the noise.  New York, the resounding sound was the 4 am trucks speeding over man holes.  They sounded like bombs, and was the only sound of traffic I didn’t like.  Traffic, is my crickets.  Brooklyn.  STOMPY, the kid upstairs.  Stompy should give you all the hints you need, if you don’t know the details.  The guesthouse, it was the ghost.  I swear there is a ghost that lives there.  She would bang things in the night.   Then there is the apt I live in now.  It has the sound of water in the walls.