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!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


We have entered the rainy season, things are not looking good for my hair. And only 16 days left of teaching. I've been busy lately-- travelling, making plans for future travels, travel travel travel. I shouldn't complain, I've got some "prettay, prettay, prettay, prettay good" (for you Curb fans out there) things in the works.

4th of July weekend we are heading to Busan, because any Jersey-bred darling knows that "Down the shore everything's all right," and it's an absolute sin to not be down the shore on the 4th. Plus, we've got two birthdays to celebrate-- America's and our friend Brian's. We went to Busan which is alllll the wayyy down south something like the third weekend we were in Korea, so it will be nice to revisit it 9 months later and see if our perceptions have changed at all. After that Papa Colgan makes his way to Korea, so excited to see him and show him off at school, my kids are already salivating because they know "Teacher's Dad" means American candy. Next up is Mud Fest, which should be thoroughly unhygienic and lawless. Then, it's the grand daddy of them all... INDONESIA.

My friend Olivia has invited us along for her homecoming of sorts. She's half-Indonesian and her family still owns a lucrative Bird's nest soup farm near Jakarta which we might be lucky enough to visit. We'll be in Jakarta (for my birthday!!), travel south to Yogyakarta and unwind in Bali on the last leg of our trip. I'm thrilled to be able to explore another wonderful, exotic and culturally rich country in Asia.

But the fun doesn't stop there. A few of us are looking at one last hurrah in Laos and Vietnam before we fly back to America. I felt like I had cheated Vietnam by not visiting its northern half when I was there in February. I am speaking for the group, but we were all so entranced by what we had seen, eaten and experienced in Saigon and Phu Quoc that there was no question about going back if we were able to swing it. And voila!

Then it's back back back to America around September 10th. Woohoo, bout to tear up Raleigh-Durham! Just kidding. I should say, right after my family and Dunkin Donuts iced coffee the think I'm most excited about is cheese... and Netflix. I plan on eating wheels of cheese in my parents basement whilst streaming Netflix like a junkie until either my eyes fall out or my stomach explodes from the dairy overload. Whichever happens first. It's nice to have things to look forward too.

But, let's rewind for a minute. Instead of talking about the all the travelling I will be doing, let's talk about all the travelling I've done recently.

CHUNCHEON (May 28-29)

Let's start with Chuncheon, dak galbi capital of the WORLD, famed setting of Winter Sonata, host of Mime Fest 2011-- this place is rife with cultural importance. Since it also happened to be Memorial Day weekend and the weather was gorge (this was before rainy season kicked in) we did cute things like ride Surrey bikes around Jungdo island, some of us went water skiing others watched.

And we even made nice with the locals. Some government employees were having a nice family picnic with a round of Jokgu (like volleyball but played with your feet). Naturally, being gregarious and curious Koreans they invited us to join in. So, a few of us joined in. It was all very ceremonious lots of bowing and hand-shaking over the net. Meanwhile, Jo and I cozied up to some of their coworkers on the sidelines and partook in another Korean pastime: day drinking. These boys brought enough hooch to last through the summer. We chatted and after the game finished our group and their group celebrated with some makgeolli and soju and became fast friends. We even took a group picture together, you see it's official! We're besties!

So, that was cute and nice and so typical of Korea (actually probably the biggest reason why I love Korea-- nice people everywhere just trying to hang out and be your friend) and then they VERY generously left us with all of their alcohol because like I said they brought way more than they needed. We had no problem taking that off their hands.

So, we played around on the island, caught the last ferry out then headed into town to dak galbi. The stuff's OK, not my favorite Korean food. Next day we headed out to Nami Island. The more I read about Nami the more I just shake my head and say "Only, only in Korea does a place like this exist." Nami is named for General Nami who is buried on the island, but some tour company decided to turn it into a amusement park, fantasy land/country (you have to go through Nami "immigration") and some major kiss on Winter Sonata took place here so this place is overrun with people. But, I enjoyed myself, went for a paddle boat in a large Swan and called it a day.

MUUIDO (June 4-6)
Chuncheon pretty much took the steam out of me, but I'll give Muuido a brief stream-of-conscious overview. All you need to know about Muudio: mudflats, way too many white peeps, too much makgeolli too little to do, campfires, zombies, corn dogs, clamming, beach huts, wiffle ball and kung fu playing cards. Here are some pictures.

GWANGJU & BOSEONG (June 18-19)
And last weekend we head down south to check out the famed Green Tea fields. They were pretttty spectacular and so green. Then of course we proceeded to eat everything with green tea in it-- noodles, cow and pig that had been fed green tea, green tea ice cream, actual green tea and yeah maybe some raw green tea leaves. We shopped, walked and ate green tea. And played Ninja in the streets. Always fun.

And that leaves us at this weekend. Back to good old Seoul.