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Archive for June, 2011

Ovens are not something that Koreans get out of bed for in the morning. As in, they could care less about an oven fresh anything. Of all the local, adult, married, etc. Koreans I know, I can think of only one with an oven– my co-teacher who surprised us all with cupcakes one morning, then surprised us even more by saying she loves to bake, and then broke the MACKdaddy of surprises over our heads by saying her two young sons hate sweet food, so they wouldn’t eat the cupcakes.

….

My reaction exactly.

75% of South Korea is made up of mountains. Where there are mountains, there are not wheat fields. A country without wheat fields is a country without flour. A country without flour is a sad country. JUST KIDDING! (Not totally.) No, really. A country without flour is a country without any real use for an oven. No oven- no baking deliciousness. Boo.

What they lack in wheat fields, they make up for in rice fields, obviously. This is why rice cakes and rice desert-like treats are so prevalent. And make no mistake… a Korean rice cake is NOTHING like the Western tasteless diet food, it shares a name with. Rice cake is… hard to explain.

It comes in many MANY forms.

I happen to really like it, but for those who know me, that’s not saying much. I like everything.*

I miss ovens. I miss a lot of things, it being that this past Sunday was my 8 month Korean birthday. Today the thing I miss is an oven. And grocery stores with identifiable ingredients. I can’t wait to get back to the U.S. of A. and take up baking, just because I can.** Check this blog that I salivate over daily.

Drooooool.

I plan to start at the beginning of “healthy milkshakes” making my way through to “all things oatmeal.” I’ll be in the kitchen for a month straight. NOM NOM. Flash to my pops sneaking in the kitchen, sensing sugar products and sweet treats on the horizon, singing “…how ’bout cookin’ something up for me!?”

*See last posted blog which briefly explains my ability to gain and lose weight not unlike Oprah in the mid-eighties.

**Using this rationalization, I would have taken up kimchi making, it being that my apartment has a state of the art kimchi maker thingy where an oven should be, but sadly no. I have never used the kimchi maker thingy. I opened it once and it smelled like a family of pickles had been murdered.

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What up y’all!? Just thought I’d holler and let ya know that I kicked major Korean marathon hiney this morning! I was a running machine! Running on empty! Born to run! Running with the devil! Running down a dream! Running to stand still!

Should I continue? No?

Yeah. I did pretty good. It was my second 5k I’ve run here in Korea since I (again) took up running in March. I decided, for like the 8th time in my life, that I should be a runner. Let me back it up and run down the details for you. I’ve always been super physically active. Dancing mostly, with a variety of sports on the side. I gained the mandatory freshman 15 (30) in college due to the fact that I quit dance for the first time in my life and discovered the beer bottle right at about the same moment. I carried that weight, all of it, and bits of it, on and off for about 3 years and finally, FINALLY was able to get rid of it my last year in NYC, with a little ol’ thing we, in the business, call D and E. So, imagine my frustration when I came to Korea, after busting my (shrinking) rear end 4 times a week in the city, and promptly gained 13 pounds. Not. Cool.

Somebody (a dumb somebody) assured me that keeping weight off in Korea would be a breeze because Korean food is vegtable based and comes in small protions. WRONG. These peeps loove a meat stick. And a fried anything. And a sweet anything. And a barbaqued everything. It’s a wonder how these people look the way they do when they eat like a bunch of folks from my neck of the woods, i.e. Southern folk. Y’all know us corn bread (bred) girls can pack it back.

ANYWAY. I’ve always aspired to be a runner. A girl who could just tie up her laces and take off, with no direction in mind, on a many mile long run. The idea is somehow fantastically romantic to me. It’s also completely badass (language, sorry). I fancy myself a tough cookie, so the fact that I was never able to keep a pace on a treadmill for more than 15 minutes, always hung over my head like a deep dark gym secret. Even at my fittest, in high school and then again last year, I wasn’t a good runner. Running intimated me. Even the though of running made me long for a comfty couch and a tv remote.

Two Christmases ago, my parents were kind enough to gift me with a year long pass to a fancy shmancy gym in NYC to help out with my neverending battle to take and keep my college lbs off. I went religiously and looooved it. I lost a ton of weight. During my two year long love affair with my gym, I can count on two hands the times I actually stepped foot on a treadmill. I was super lucky that my gym had a million different uber cool/ unique classes to choose from. Classes with clever titles like Tu Tu Fresh, Sexy Stretch, 100’s, and Circuit City.

Check it. And run, don't walk, to the location nearest you.

Coming to Korea, I though I’d never find another gym like my NYC home away from home. And I haven’t. And that sucked for a while. But then I realized something. In an overall effort to “Live Simply” I really shouldn’t be so dependent on a top dollar gym to keep myself healthy. It won’t be forever that my parents will willingly foot the bill for my extra ciricular activies and my current life is not looking like it’s going to lead me down the path to the young millionaires club. Also- what kind of yoga loving, backpacking, young idealist would I be if I don’t totally surrender myself to a less materialstic life in all capacities?

Running is a self sustaining exercise routine. Whether I’m in Savannah or Hwajung or Timbuktu, all I need are my Nikes and my iPod (still working on cutting this habit) and an open road.

To make a long story short. I convinced myself for, what felt like the millionth time, that I would become a RUNNER. Only this time it worked. I chalk this up to the right mind-set at the right time and being in the right place, and my co-teacher, Evan, being a great motivator, as he too has taken on running as a life style additive. I’m running 3 miles (5k) at least 3 times a week with the intention of improving. Running longer and faster. My first 5k a few weeks ago went okay, but I couldn’t find a pace, went too fast with the crowd at first, got nervous, got competitive and ran myself into a side stitch that forced me to walk for a spell. I was kind of bummed. My time was good, but I wanted to run the WHOLE thing, not bits of it with breaks when needed.

Today I did GREAT! It was raining and cold and some of the corse was uphill, but I found my pace, kept it and everything was top notch because (((Forest Gump voice))) I was RUN-ing. I even had enough energy to sprint the last kilometer or so and my time was the best I’ve done yet. I was SUPER PUMPED! I even got a gold “finishers” medal with a pink ribbon. Good times. Now, I’m determined to move on up to the 10k category with the big boys. I’ve signed on for one in September where the course runs along the DMZ aka the 38th Parallel. Yikes! I’ll keep an eye out for N. Koreans, but not too much need to worry, because I’ll probs be faster than a nuclear bomb by then.

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Hey Daddy.

Happy Father’s Day to all the Poppas out there!

A special Happy Father’s Day to my daddy, and best friend, Carroll Phillips. Let me tell ya, Dear Readers… I am one lucky girl. I’ve got a Dad that most could only wish for. A Dad to end all Dad’s, if you will. He’s my biggest supporter, cheerleader and advisor. He’s a teacher, a mentor, and a psychiatrist. My dad motivates me, helps me and is always there. He’s the most dependable person I’ve ever known and I strive to be as responsible and as committed to “doing the right thing” as he is. My Dad is incredibly smart and level headed. He’s composed and stoic and I look up to his ability to stay calm no matter the situation. My Dad doesn’t sweat the small stuff, knows what’s worth getting excited over and has a firm grasp on the important things in life. He works harder than anyone on the planet and has shown me the values of being goal oriented. For an old fart, he’s hip and open minded and committed to keeping up with what’s current. He loves the news, Oreo cookies, cross word puzzles, golf and cold weather. He’s the master of the nickname and the creativeness he applies to coming up with ridiculous monikers never ceases to amaze me. My dad is extremely talented; he can build anything with his own hands and together we boogied to victory at the Father Daughter Dance Contest my senior year in high school. My Dad makes it his business to visit me in every far off place I’ve lived. He carted my rear to every po-dunk town in the South East to fulfill my volleyball dreams as a kid and never missed a tail gate or football game when I was in college. No one else’s dad could remember the names of all of their friends and went out of their way, like my dad did, to make those friends feel like family too. My Dad is a true Southern gentlemen and genuinely patriotic American. He’s the toughest 65 year old on the block and I know he’ll be able to fix anything I manage to screw up in my life. My dad is my Superman, my backbone, my Financial Advisor. He and my Mom have maintained a married relationship that I hope to emulate with a husband of my own one day. They are kind and supportive of one another, have provided me with everything any daughter could ever need, and make a hell of a funny comedy duo on occasion. I love him with every fiber of my being and thank God every day for gifting me with such a positive male role model in my life. I love you Old Man, and can’t wait to see you and Mama in Vietnam (hopefully???) in November!

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!!!!!

Love,
Monica aka Moochie aka Bird Turd aka Mrs. Fartenheimer

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Sunday’s Best.

You likey? MoniKorea got a face lift thanks to my super helpful and ah-mazing friend Kate, Our Lady of Computer Knowledge.

P.S. This is a pic I took of a museum garden I visited while on a biking trip in Gyeongju. I can’t remember what museum.

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An Aspiring Ajumma

I’ve been meaning to post a blog since I came to this country seven months ago that would introduce to the world (or to my close friends and family, really) the phenomenon of the Korean Ajumma. I spend a good percentage of each day both avoiding ajummas and adoring them… from afar if I can help it. When I leave Korea, I think the number one thing I’ll miss the most will be the ajummas– as opposed to other seemingly insignificant in comparison cultural characteristics of this country, i.e. the delicious food, picturesque seasons, emphasis on family, pleasant, smiling locals etc.

What in the woooorld is an ajumma, you ask?

Only the most interesting and unique national treasure of South Korea.

Get on with it! you cry.

Okay okay. Here it goes. Prepare yourselves.

The word “ajumma” literally translates into “married woman” but this is as about as accurate as claiming the literal meaning for “red neck” is “he whose body between his head and his shoulders is of a scarlet shade.”

To some “ajumma” refers to an older woman, of short stature and bulky build with short curly permed hair and a penchant for larger than life sun visors which will always be paired with bejeweled and bedazzled colorful outfits. Most foreigners will tell you “ajumma” means “old hag.” Some liken these women to “empty nesters” with big personalities and loads of time for exploring the mountains in neon hiking gear and scrubbing themselves almost to death at local jim-jil bongs (saunas). I read where a fellow ex-pat blogger very articulately stated that an ajumma is a woman of a certain age “who can sprint faster than Ben Johnson for a spot in a jammed subway or bus, who doesn’t mind yelling at a vendor for bargaining, who cuts in a long line, or who will grab another woman’s hair to show she’s right.” I have found all of the above to hit different levels of accuracy. I am both terrified of ajummas while at the same time desperate for their attention. My Korean life goal is to put myself in some sort of situation that will warrant a group hug from a large number of sparkly, overly enthusiastic, pale skinned grandma types. I assume this situation will happen at a rest stop, as this is where they roam- like Asian tigers in the wild. It should be noted that ajummas are extremely avid hikers and can be seen on Sunday afternoons at random highway rest stops pushing to the front of the bathroom line, as they take a break from making their way back towards Seoul, having recently summited some giant Korean mountain.

All of the above characteristics may come off as negative or strangely aggressive, and let me tell you… they should. To an extent. But this does not delude my [not so] secret [anymore] deep desire to become a hardcore ajumma at some point in my [far off] future.

This morning my co-teacher/ running buddy and I headed over to Ilsan, about 4 subway stops away to have a nice run before starting our day. We left Hwajung at 6:15 a.m. arriving in Ilsan before 7:00. I still had sleep in my eyes when we got off the subway and honestly thought I was hallucinating or seeing double. The park was LOADED with ajummas, who had obviously been at it since before the butt crack of dawn. They were all over the place, digging in the dirt, working their sweet little old lady hands to the bone, planting flowers and grass for the rest of the community to enjoy.

Let me back up a minute… it is very common to see senior citizens sprinkled about the public parks and gardens all over Seoul, dig dig digging their hearts out planting flowers and vegetables, etc. in what seems to be public spaces. Now- I can’t claim to totally understand who pays for this, as this type of job would probably fall to some low income city worker or local inmate back home in the States. I am under the impression that these people volunteer to do all this farming/ gardening. I am also under the impression that this is a very popular extra curricular to take up once you’ve retired. And let’s not forget that Korean’s are some of the most intensely over worked people- from the time they’re kids (uhhh- Saturday school, anyone?)- so it’s not that surprising that the older Korean crowd would volunteer their time for if no other reason than to just keep themselves busy, which is most likely second nature to them by the time they are of retiring age.

** Side note- you should see how these old folk squat to get the work done. Umm, I’m 25 years young and attend yoga classes three times a week and I can’t squat like this. My co-teacher calls it Gray Power. Ha! Annnnd- let’s remember that Korean people live to be SUPER old. Annnnd- let’s remember that just this past weekend I saw an old woman with a cane take a major tumble on the subway. Now- if I had been back in the states and seen a little old lady fall, I probably would have cried my eyes out as the ambulance came to take her and her broken hips away. Not here. Not in Korea, where old folk are tough as nails. This ajumma rolled on her side long enough to propel herslef back to a sitting position, rubbed her knee for maybe a second and got right back up all by her lonesome. She was fiiiiiine. Holy cow I almost had a heart attack and no one else seemed to even notice.

Have I presented enough evidence to convince everyone that ajummas are awesome, yet? A bit scary in the case you commit any Korean social faux-pas, but awesome none-the-less. If there was an oath to take I’d sell my soul right now. Hand over heart, “I promise to age gracefully with all the piss and vinegar I obtained in my youth, to never dress in a subtle or tasteful way, to be fiercely protective of my skin against the sun, to stay active and remember that the outdoors are best enjoyed when I’m wearing neon, to wake up each day ridiculously early, to do my duty as an old lady and rip a new one in any young whippersnapper who fails to act according to the ways I see fit, and to get my hands dirty in the earth that I enjoy, not only for myself but for generations to come. With this promise I will take on the assumptions that I am allowed to go to the bathroom ahead of all of you 57 people in line, sing as loud as I want in public spaces, lose all regard for personal space, bum rush you for a seat on the train, and cuss you in my native language if I’m feeling a bit moody.”

Sounds amazing right? With my 26th birthday around the corner, I say it proudly… bring on the old age!

P.S. It made me laugh way harder than it should when I google imaged “ajumma” and got this pic of David Schwimmer.

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