Thursday, July 28, 2011


It's that time again. My friends and I are leaving for Indonesia tonight for a 2 week holiday (I am trying desperately to inject "holiday" into the American lexicon, it sounds so much more luxurious). We will visit Jakarta first (where I will celebrate my 23rd birthday eeeee) and progress through the archipelago finally ending in Bali. I remember a time when a certain little girl used to throw hissy fits whenever she wasn't able to celebrate her birthday at home. This little girl's mother will never letter her forget how awful, terrible and miserable this little girl had it being able to spend her birthday on an island or down the shore. Can you imagine? If only that little girl could see how lucky she was to celebrate the turning of another year in such wonderful far off places. Mmmph mmph mmph.

I'll try and drop a line when I can, but internet might be scarce (I'd actually prefer that way). I've packed some interesting literature (White Noise, Rabbit, Run, and The Book Thief) and plenty of sunscreen. We get back to Korea on the 15th. After I get settled I'll be sure to update you all on the food, sights and beauty of Indonesia.

Selamat tinggal,


Wednesday, July 6, 2011


This morning (or last evening depending on where you are) the IOC announced Pyeongchang, South Korea will host the 2018 Winter Games. Assahhh!

I'm so excited for Korea because a.) I love this country and I can't wait for the rest of the world to see how special it is, b.) I skied in the Pyeongchang area this winter at YongPyong (cool) and c.) I'll be 30 (ew) in 2018 and I should by then have my act together and enough money to buy a ticket back to Korea (I smell a reunion everyoneeee!!).

My students were so proud today and many of them were already talking about wanting to volunteer at the games.

I visited the YongPyong Resort with my friends in February of this year. Actually the weekend we were there the IOC had just finished it's tour of Pyeongchang so there were huge posters, light up signs on street corners, at the lodge and on the slopes reading "Pyeongchang 2018." Coincidentally, our trip happened to take place at the same time as the YongPyong International Ski Festival basically our own little mini Olympics. I'll get the actual competition in a second, but first the mountain itself.

YongPyong isn't a particularly difficult mountain, I may be a bit harsh with this comparison, but I've skied my fair share of mountains including a former Winter Olympic site Park City, Utah. Compared to Park City skiing YongPyong was like skiing in Pennsylvania. Now I only skied that one mountain in Pyeongchang and who knows if they will even use YongPyong for the skiing events. It will be interesting in the years ahead to hear which sites will be hosting which events and so forth.

About 13 of us headed out to YongPyong for the weekend and we really lucked out with great ski conditions-- a fresh dumping of snow, crisp winter day and sun! Our group was mixed in terms of level, but I was happy everyone was a good sport about getting out there and giving it their best. About half of us had grown up skiing or snowboarding and for the other half it was a fairly new discovery. I'm really lucky my parents got me skiing so early, because it's a tough sport to pick up later in life. You are a lot more reluctant to let yourself fall and get bruised at 23 then you are at 5. I gave a few pointers to my friend Eric and helped him get the hang of it and my the end of day he was cruising down the slopes-- pizza plow this, french fry that, all the old ski school tricks.

Quinn and Brian were both on UW's Ski and Snowboard team and with the International Ski Festival going on their were some downhill races they both entered. The International Ski Festival actually drew an impressive international audience, mostly expats from Norway, France, the US, Sweden who escaped Seoul for the weekend. The boys were sooo good and since we had really only been paying attention to them, we weren't sure how they'd fare against the competition.

The winners were announced later that night at the banquet for the Ski Festival participants, which we skipped because it cost 40,000 won. After we ate dinner on our own, we wandered over to the banquet to see Quinn and Brian's results and surprisingly they both won medals and prizes! Brian came in 1st place and wound up winning a brand new pair of skis and Quinn came in 3rd and won a dental certificate (wah-wah). Since, we had two of the day's winners in our party, we figured we might as well join (crash) the banquet. The paying audience was decked out in each country's more stereotypical gear i.e. the French wore Breton striped shirts and red berets and the American table had cowboy hats on.

The DJ getting things started as we arrived so we joined the dance party, probably offended some people and generally acted like we belonged there. I think we requested "Born in the USA" about 86 times and it finally played when we were about the only ones left dancing. Pure, brutish American dominance. We did however, make nice with the Norweigians-- such friendly folk, and somehow each of us walked away with a "Norway" sweatshirt from off their back. I think that's probably my favorite souvenir from this year.

We came, we saw, we conquered. Now, enjoy some pictures and clear your schedules in 2018 people. I'm coming back for you Pyeongchang.

All photos by Chris Bailey, Olivia Darmali and Mo Gallagher.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Since my Dad is heading this way in about a week, I thought I'd take a look back at my Mom's visit to Korea in early spring. Hopefully, we can stave off the rain long enough to enjoy a baseball or soccer game while my Dad is here, this weather is not looking good, however. Anywho...

The one, the only Barbarella made her way to the Hermit kingdom at the end of March for 10 days of good old fashioned mother-daughter fun. This wasn't Barbie's first time to Asia, she stayed with my Dad while he was working in Japan for a few months in 2008 so she's familiar with the lack of personal space and some other pan-Asian customs. After 8 months of no-Barbie, I was longgggggg overdue. I should note, no one actually seriously calls my mother Barbarella, Barbie or Babs these are my pet names for her which she humors me by enduring.

Barbie's time in Korea was a riot, she was her usual sassy self, up to her old tricks. Every year in middle school and high school my mom used to surprise me with green bagels on Saint Patrick's Day. She'd always drop them off at the main office and I'd get to pick them up totally floored and then distribute them to those I deemed most worthy. Everybody looked forward to the green bagel handout, not just me. And in college, I'd always get a few green bagels mailed my way so, I was dyingggg when Barbie pulled out ye old green bagel at the arrivals terminal. I tore into that puppy right away.

Having my mom here reminded me of how I felt that first week and month in Korea, watching her react to things like subway manners and the loogy hawking which I've gotten used to and just ignore now. We had great early spring weather, which made all the shuttling back and forth between sites extremely pleasant.

Barbie was a trooper about food. Korean food is not for everyone. It's not the prettiest of foods, it's hearty, country food which might detract some folks from testing the waters. But Barbie dutifully tried the kimchi, and I got her to nibble at pajeong (Korean pancaked filled with various vegetables and seafood depending), mandu (Korean dumplings or potstickers), galbi (grilled meat) and she even took a swig of soju and makgeolli (rice wine).

And since Babs likes to stick to what she knows I got to eat plenty of comforting western food for 2 weeks. My friends and I have found a few decent pizza/ burger places that are good for when we have a hankering for the comforts of home, but western food in Korea is most of the time really expensive, not that good and always covered in copious globs of mayonnaise. The Hilton had a tremendous breakfast spread which we both gorged ourselves on daily. Friends and family will tell you the Colgan's love a good "spread." Barbie knows how to lay out a nice spread for guests and I guarantee you the first thing any of us would remember out a places we visited would be the spread. For example, "Oh, Dresden, yeah, God remember that great spread." So, anyway now Seoul ranks up there with some of the more notorious great spread cities.

Back to western food. Yes, I throughly enjoyed eating western and cheese for a change. We ate Russian one night, my mom almost cried because the cabbage rolls were exactly like her Ukrainian grandmother used to make. We feasted on delicious pizza and eggplant parmesan and sandwiches. Good sandwiches are hard to come by in Korea owing to the above mayonnaise situation and lack of cheese and good crunchy bread if I am really going to be specific. And we may have eaten at the hotel's Italian restaurant one to many times, but it was good! And sometimes you just want a salad, ya know?

In short, we had a great time. Lots of time spent shopping and walking and just taking it all in. It's not that Seoul is light on big historical sites, more that they all look the same. After you've seen one grand palace you get the gist of what the other 7 are like. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think this is a bad thing. You don't feel as crazed when you are in Seoul trying to scramble around such an sprawling city to get to this or that museum by 3:15 for your one shot at entering this or that museum/ site-- you know what I'm talking about Alhambra and Uffizi Gallery. And since we covered most of Seoul on the first weekend, our second go around was more languorous.

We smooshed Songtan in the middle of all that. I had two thrilling field trips to chaperon on Monday and Wednesday which allowed Barbie to get the lay of the land those days. I really appreciated how considerate and accommodating my school was during my mom's stay. I'm not allowed to take any days off while school is in session unless I'm sick or ill. They graciously let me take both Fridays off and excused me early from school during the week. We even went out to a nice Chinese dinner with all of my co-teachers which was really very sweet of them.

I had a mini-countdown of sorts with my students reminding them each week that there were only 3 more weeks then 1 week till "Teacher's mother" came to visit. I sort of figured it would be a big deal when she eventually did show up because when I announced the news classes would start clapping very enthusiastically and I think I even heard a few screams and "WHOOP WHOOPs" well, sort of. Coupled with the fact that I told them she was going to be bringing some American candy-- like some candy mule, the kids were a tad bit excited.

But I shouldn't knock this down, in the three years Songtan Middle School has had a native English teacher no family members have ever visited. I've talked about my family occasionally-- they've seen slides of my parents and brother and our house and they know funny things like my mom's an accountant and my brother only eats frozen pizza. And it was probably an even bigger deal for the teachers and Vice Principal to have an American come observe their school. I know Obama has praised Korea's education system, so my school really loved the chance to show off and make a good impression on my mom.

I should have prepared Babs better for the onslaught, but I kind of wanted her to feel like I did when I first started here. It's overwhelming at first to have 25 Korean middle schoolers huddling around you shouting "HOW ARE YOU? I'M FINE THANK YOU. AND YOU?" but it is also really sweet and endearing how interested they are by you. I keep reminding myself to ask my students who taught them to be so polite and prodigious with compliments because they always have something nice to say. Even on days when I wake up late and haven't showered in 3 days I'm still gushed over for my beauty and gold hair, thanks kids, but it's OK I know I look like shit today. And of course, the kiddies love the baby blues. They go wild for blue eyes and are continuously baffled by the fact that my hair and eyes don't match. I've gotten that question more than a few times. They were crushin hard for my mom's gold and blue combo as well.

Back to Babs. She was mobbed. "Teacher's mother so young." "Gold." "Ahhhhhhhh beautiful eyes." She heard it all, they were crazy for her. "So beautiful." "Elegant." It was like we had a visiting head of state, the place shut down while she made her way down the halls. It was so cute for me to watch. Everybody wanted a chance to say "Hello!" and show off their English and grab a piece of candy from her. Barbie lugged something like 1,000 pieces of candy with her to Korea. She got to observe a few 3rd and 1st grade classes and pass out candy and answer questions. Her memory lives on since I'm still handing out the Dum-Dums and Smarties she brought, still fielding questions about "Teacher's mother"-- when is she coming back, is she still in Korea? They loved her. And thanks to Barbie I talked to my Principal for the first time all year.

Then Barbie had to go back to America and all were sad, especially me. I had a particularly rough time saying goodbye to the spread at the Hilton. I miss her dearly and I am tremendously grateful that she came out for a visit. Love you Mom!

Here are some more pictures from Barbie's visit to Korea, enjoy!