Archive for May, 2011

Last week in my elementary science class, I started teaching a unit on environments. I’ve never given much thought to the topic. I wasn’t a stellar science student in my early school days and I distinctly remember my high school science teacher not liking me much. I had to read and re-read the entire environment unit to get comfortable with the material, decide what was most important, figure out my angle of teaching, etc. How does one define the word “environment” so as to keep it simple enough it can accurately and efficiently be explained to children under the age of 7 who use English as a second language? One of my co-teachers studied urban planning in university and during a recent teachers meeting he pointed out that the way in which to define the word “environment” is a tricky, controversial subject. Not so black and white. This was an interesting concept to me, because I figured it was very black and white. Midnight and bone, even. An environment is where you live. Where you are. Where you conduct your daily activities. Whether you’re a 25 year-old American female homosapien living in South Korea or a endangered baby red panda in the Chinese forest.

Thinking about the concept more and more, I realize he’s absolutely right. What is an environment? And more importantly, what effect does our involuntary or chosen environment have on us? With plants and animals, it’s just- I’m a tadpole… thankfully I was born in this pond, or I’d be dead. I’m a giraffe. I’ll never be as cool, or smart, or experienced as my South African cousins because I was born here in the San Diego Zoo. Sucks for me. But when I turn this question on myself, everything becomes grey again. Or timberwolf, if you will. Is my life, who I am, decided because of my choices, free will, my intelligence, my heritage, my DNA? Or am I a direct product of my environment? And when I change my environment drastically, does the new environment have control over me? Even if I hadn’t moved across the globe with an open mind and eager heart, would the shock of the completely new and contrasting environment have jarred me into change, even against my own will?

Today, my co-teachers, Kate and Evan, and I went to explore and do a bit of hiking in our neighboring ‘hood of Ilsan. We got off of the subway and popped across a walking overpass above a busy 8 lane highway. The weather was beautiful, high of about 70 and sun shiny. It seemed every Korean in the country was out and about enjoying the end of the quickly passing weekend. A picture perfect urban day of pedestrians smiling and moving along at unhurried, yet deliberate, paces. We walked a bit more briskly, attempting to dodge multiple swinging shopping bags and effortlessly maneuvering baby carriages. The day was familiar to me, spring time, busy city, snow logged urban yuppies doing their best to get as much vitamin d as possible after a winter of being stuck indoors. Also familiar was the tinge of the “missing you blues” that hit me not so subtly, reminding me how much I long for some face time with my friends back in Manhattan. I spent many days in the Big Apple with said friends, just like this. Three or four of us girls walking the Brooklyn Bridge, crackin’ inside jokes, getting the gigs, while sneaking in some low intensity exercise. We’d be bare armed, in tank tops, freezing to death from the wind coming off of the Hudson, doing our bests to grin and bear it because we were just so happy not to be wearing knee-length down coats for the first time in months. The feeling and intent was the same, but the environment was profoundly different. Or was it?

We got beyond the overpass and were instantly transported into another world. Another of my classes is reading the complete works of C.S. Lewis and this immediately lead me to think of little Lucy moving further and further back through the wardrobe, blown away when she realizes where she is, snow underfoot- vast English manor (and summertime) at her back. The high rise condo buildings and 20 story office spaces faded away like a blurry memory, the lush green woods and mountains now coming into focus. The air was inviting, smelling sweet of recent rain and withering azaleas, but the terrain was giving us a slight warning, the ground alternating between dusty sliding rocks and red muddy pot holes, all the while chris crossed with exposed tree roots that seemed to me to be the veins of the mountain moving the energy, like warm blood, from one trail to the next.

Much like a mountain or a cityscape or a mythical world where fauns wear red scarfs and invite you in for sardines and toast, a persons mind has a landscape too. My inner landscape was a flutter with all this over-exposer to the new and surprising while keeping pace with old memories and stifled desires. Imagine a subway map of horizontal, vertical, diagonal, and squiggly colorful lines pointing you in this direction or that. So many unnecessary stops along the way at places you don’t want or need to go to, hiccups in your trip from point a to point b. Most of the lines run the same direction for a bit, shooting off to move across another color, red line and blue line briefly making purple, then running parallel to each other once more. This is what the neurons in my brain must have looked like; moving trains at wrap speed, courtesy of the Korean Korail. My New York City nostalgia hadn’t had a minute to wear away before the forest and the mountains were taking me back to childhood family trips to Colorado. The vivd shades of green and cool breezes reminded me so much of Boone, North Carolina where I was lucky to live for 4 years while studying for my Bachelor’s Degree. The smell was just like the woods around my parent’s mountain house, the trails leading me back to my month long journey through a portion of the Appalachian trail when I was a teenager. I knew where I was; Ilsan, a section of Goyang City, a suburb of the greater Seoul area. I knew what day it was; May 15th, 2011. My current environment was unprecedented in all my travels and life experiences, yet I was overcome with a welcomed sense of routine and familiarity. The space I was inhabiting didn’t seem foreign at all. I had been here before, many, many times. This environment is a little over 7200 miles from the environments my mind was making connections with, yet it seems like those places could be just around the bend, just through these woods, just beyond those trees.

Am I the person I was 7200 miles ago? No. Not at all. I have (intentionally or not) let my new environment change me. I am not a child, all wonder and awe, moving through life at (and in) the direction of my parents. I am not the girl I was in the college, in Western North Carolina amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am not the person I was in New York, a wide eyed post grad inhabiting a relatively tiny, 14 mile long island, that, at the time, was as big as my world ever needed to be. I am away from all of that. Away from the familiar, the mundane, the comfortable. But I have grown so much this year, that I am able to make connections with any place on the planet and channel those same sentiments. I am a product of my ever changing environment. This realization is incredibly exciting and freeing. I can go anywhere, live anywhere, in any environment, however you want to define it, and be happy, familiar, and comfortable, with a healthy sized side dish of nostalgia and wistfulness (which I will do my best to never lose, p.s.). My brain may get overloaded once in a while and for a split second I may have that “de-railing train” sensation, but I can pull myself out of it, fondly remembering where I’ve been and taking note of where I plan to go. I am a product of my combined environments, past and present, and this makes me who I am. And I am really happy with who I am. So YEA! for environments.

Now, if I can just figure out a way to instill all this on my elementary science class…

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My girls.

HyunJin, Angelina, and Jamie singing The Carpenters on the way to the Robot Museum.

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Dear Diary.

Writing and fitness and humidity and cocktails and dry shampoo.

If you were to drill a neat little hole in the side of my brain and take a deep look inside, these are the words (thoughts) you’d see, rolling over and over again the way your undies do in a front-loading washing machine. Thursdays are the best days because I have, what feels like, an absurd amount of breaks. These breaks are for getting things done; writing lesson plans, marking grades, making copies. It’s strange though, because Thursdays always seem to be the least productive for me. The more time to stop and think I have, the more time I actually stop and think. Funny.

Excuses, excuses; Part 1.

I’ve been slack on my writing because I can’t stop thinking about writing. Writing is now the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing I think of when I drift off to sleep. My new want (neeeeed, really) is to be an amazing writer. When I finally came to this decision… I want to be a WRITER… my writing stopped. Do I even need to mention how Freudian this obviously is? I can’t stop thinking about wanting to be a writer, which is totally freaking me out, because I can’t remember wanting anything more, that I have come to a point where I am now afraid to write. What? Yeah. Makes no sense to me, either. So now, instead of clear ideas of cute anecdotes, or witty posts lining up in an orderly fashion in my brain, all I’ve got is this washing machine, going full blast. This kaleidoscope of colorful thoughts and ideas and worries and anxieties.

Things to bitch about; Part Deux

I want to write. About what? About everything. But it’s going to be hard to find time to schedule writing about everything, as I am currently on another one of those super fun, guilt ridden health kicks (considering I’ve gained 1,000 kilos since being in this BBQ raining, white rice-eating country… but that’s another blog post.) The humidity is so bad here, everything seems to be a bit damp and the thought of an impending monsoon season of a summer makes me want to gnash my teeth, shake my fists in the air, and cry out “NOOOOOOO! I NEEEEEEEEEEED SUNSHINE! WINTER WAS TERRIBLE AND I THOUGHT I COULD SEE THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THIS DEPRESSING TUNNEL!” Annnd- to top it off, I’ve convinced myself to kick the sauce (booze, beer, cough syrup, etc.) until my birthday, July 15th, in an effort towards overall health. YIKES! SO. My brain is a melting pot of crazy and it’s making for a terrible case of writer’s block.

On the other hand…

Let me take the time to clarify, or confuse, really, that this is the happiest I’ve been in quite some time. Years maybe. Up until this week, Spring has been unbelievably beautiful. Korea has been all cherry blossoms and azaleas and sunshine. I’ve been waking up early to run at a big, picturesque park nearby in preparation for my first 5k since 2004, which has done a great job of actively reviving all those sleeping endorphins that went into hibernation this past winter. I’ve figured out how to save money for the first time in my life, which will go towards my big traveling trip come November. Yoga is going great and I’m loving the dedication I have surprisingly given to my practice. I’m gaining confidence in myself and have made some BIG decisions about my future. I’ve been busy in a good way. I’ve got a blue bird on my shoulder.

In conclusion:

I’m trying my damndest to channel all this happy into brilliant blog posts, but it’s proving to be a struggle. I will continue to try, as I don’t want to disappoint. I want to be an optimist, but daily troubles keep getting in the way. I’m not sweating the small stuff, but when your future is in question, none of the stuff seems small. Bear with me and cross your fingers, but know that I am still doing really well and am on the road to greatness (I think). When it comes to me, it’ll come to me and I’ll post your minds into a creative oblivion and we’ll all high-five each other and I’ll make delicious Korea inspired mock-tails for us to sit around and sip and giggle and wave off that awful time when MoniKoreaandherwanderingroots was a literary ghost town.

Post Script.

Dry shampoo? Yeah, dry shampoo. Just something that’s been floating around in there. I didn’t want to omit anything. I mean, if I expect our friendship to withstand my current crazy, I can’t be anything but honest with you. Right? RIGHT?

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My co-teacher's AH-mazing blog that is not totally forgotten and abandoned.

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