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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Adventuring Alone

You might imagine from 4 years of blogs about South Korea that I would be some sort of courageous person.  Bold!  Fearless!! Capable of facing ajummas and octopi alike!!  But, you would be quite wrong.  I never, ever venture alone.  It’s way too intimidating.  

Until yesterday, that is, when I finally decided to sneak past my twin mind guards of Fear (“What if something scary happens?” is his favorite taunt) and Guilt (“Why aren't you being productive?" is his). My semester’s grades were freshly submitted to the various electronic and secretarial overlords, our apartment was in decent order, the gardens were all tidy, and on day 1 of my vacation, I was already bored.  I don’t like bored.  It makes me grumpy.

I longed to go snorkeling.  The season here is very limited (June-September between 8am and 4pm on sunny days when the water is calm and clear) and the conditions today were perfect.  My family and friends were all (a) working, (b) traveling, or (c) not fans of the ocean.  No co-adventurers there.

Crap. On days like this, I usually sigh a lot, surf the internet, take naps. I’ll find some vaguely productive task so I feel less guilty for lazing around.  And I did all that and it was only 10am. So I just sat, miserable.

This. Is. Dumb.

So, deep in my mind, in a secret place the Guards don’t know about, I made a rash decision: I would go snorkeling at a safe, shallow sandy beach.  I quietly changed into my swimsuit.  Casually, I walked around the house, pretending to be tidying but actually collecting snacks, camera, and purse.  Then, before the Guards realized what was happening, I made a run for it, grabbing the snorkeling bag on the way out to the van. 

I drove through the gloriously green rice fields, like you do, even stopping to take pictures of ducks, herons and egrets.  And just 5 minutes later, I had arrived at the East Sea (called the Sea of Japan by non-Koreans).  I parked and stepped over the low rock wall onto the sandy beach.  Still anxious about the Guards, I dropped my stuff on the beach, grabbed my fins and mask/snorkel and rushed into the flat water to put on my gear. 

There was nothing left to do but snorkel.

And so I did.  Schools of grass puffers (I know, I know - it's a hilarious name), a tiny flounder, some silver whitings, and other underwater friends greeted me as I happily glided over their home turf.  I lost track of time and reluctantly came in only when I became cold.  Resting on the beach, I watched crabs hurling sand from their burrows; smiled at surfing school students; organized all the stuff I could find in a square foot of beach.  
Four years ago, this beach was FILTHY.
It looks amazingly clean to me now,
though I suppose other opinions may vary.

I kept laughing and scaring these guys.  :)

To see this kind of crab hurling arm (claw?) loads of sand,
click here for a short video

Surf School: Youngilman Port, Pohang, South Korea

Much to my astonishment, a perfectly ripe roma tomato rolled ashore. This would be a rare find in a market here, let alone at the beach.  It felt like an undeserved gift.  It tasted of warm sun and utter contentment.  

I'm still not courageous, or bold, or fearless.  But on this day, I learned that the mind guards are far weaker than I'd expected.  And that joy is an excellent co-adventurer.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Flower Arranging Class: A Win for the White Lady

The Lovely Grace.
Wrangling with a hand-tied bouquet.
Late last year, my lovely friend Grace invited me to a flower arranging class (you may remember Grace as a co-gardener and co-adventurer).  Now, I love sticking garden flowers in vases, but I don’t know anything about Formal Floral Arranging (and that is fun to say in a Korean accent).  So I was intrigued by her kind offer, but also stressed about being Token Dumb White Person among a group of wealthy Korean women. I could bring great shame upon the reputations of white people everywhere. (Nick suggests I'm a wee bit irrational on this point). But...lovely Grace promised to translate for me.  And hold my hand.  And possibly feed me chocolate ice cream if my fragile self got overwhelmed.

So...I agreed. I can’t afford the weekly class, but the teacher – a licensed floral arranger and mom of an adorable 2nd grader at my kids’ school – lets me pay ala carte for monthly visits to the class. And after 4 classes, it's high time to report on the experience for my dear (if lately neglected) readers.

The class is in a humongous Korean church that promotes community education-type programs (see the earlier nail salon here) .  Now, when I say “class” and “humongous church,” you'll need to revise the picture in your head of a cavernous space filled with rows of Koreans working in robotic unison.  No. Seriously, folks.  The biggest class I’ve been to had 6 people, including me and Grace, and we meet in a little conference room with perfectly normal people.)  

Two students, the teacher, and the requisite cup of coffee.
Which you have to accept graciously
but you don't have to drink. 
When we arrive, we usually help the teacher set up the room.  Note: I do not know the teacher’s name.  In Korea, names are far less important than status-related titles like “teacher.” (My own newest title is “Wife of an Important Man” because Nick is the school’s headmaster.  And, for the curious feminists, the answer is “no.”  There is no Korean term for “husband of an important woman.”) 

Teacher (선생님) writes the names of today’s featured arrangement and flowers (Korean and English) on the rolling white board.  She talks about the arrangement de jour e.g., hand-tied bouquet) and educates us about focal points, neutral and dominant colors, and the wonders of floral foam.
Flower Teacher Lady.

Flower Teacher with Floral Foam.
Add caption

Teacher then hands out the flowers (e.g., roses, ranunculus, delphiniums) and supplies and we set to work.  Depending on the arrangement type, we remove stems (it felt terribly wasteful at first), de-thorn as needed, and try to abide by the guidelines as we place flowers and greens. We grumble quietly at our difficulties, share tips for stabbing weak stems into sturdy floral foam, and sneak peeks at others’ creations to measure our own progress.  Teacher, being entirely Korean, comes around to correct us. I, being entirely American, expected to receive affirmation just for effort.  Nope. She is kind, but has standards that she is quite willing to repeat.  Repeatedly.  Accompanied by the plucking out of poorly-placed flowers.

Grace in action.
Me, about to throw this impossible hand-tied bouquet
across the room.
At the end of an hour or so, it’s time for the Korean Photo Ritual. Our arrangements are displayed together (sometimes we pose with them) and photographed half to death by every person in the room (and sometimes the church photographer). We are very nice to each other.  We each secretly believe our arrangement is the best. 

Hand-tied bouquets with neutral wrapping tones are IN this season.

Heart-shaped wreaths. Can you see which one is mine?
It's the best one.  Obviously.  

Candlestick centerpieces (the wall sign says Joyful Church). I got a bonus orchid this week,
just for being white.  Poor Grace.

Photo Herding.

Finally, Teacher helps us wrap our arrangements, which includes a dizzying array of carefully-folded plastic tissue paper, ribbons, and classy stickers advertising her floral shop.  Packaging is an art for which I do not have much patience; Teacher always always re-ties my bows.  I try not to be resentful.

So, I've done this four times. Is the social stress worth it?  Yes.  And again, yes.  I really enjoy the class once I’m there, and I love having a gorgeous arrangement of flowers in my home.   Which I might parade around the house, saying “Hey! Do you know who made this amazing arrangement?  ME!”   You're welcome, White people.  

P.S. Another white lady has joined the class!
Adre is a delightful German South African
who's lived in Korea for 10 years.

P. P. S. I've posted several brief videos of our last flower class, including the Serious Korea Wrapping Process.  Enjoy!