Category: food

Ringing in a quarter century

Well folks, it finally happened.  I am now officially 1/4 of a century old.  Michael planned a dinner at Red Lobster with some Atlanta friends the night before my birthday to celebrate, but other than that the actual day passed by fairly uneventfully.  The next weekend, however, I went to a dance event, and a couple weeks later I went to visit my dear friend Sarah in Houston.  I have decided that those were the rest of my birthday celebrations….your 25th birthday only happens once, might as well make it last the whole month, right? 🙂

The dinner at Red Lobster was nice, albeit quite low-key.  I was originally a little sad because a lot of my house church friends were still out of town, but that just meant that it ended up being a whole new group!  Chris and Julia, Michael’s parents, and my mentor from church and her husband were all there, along with several house church people who were still in town.  I felt very loved and cared for.  We were going to go bowling after, but instead we all went to my house to watch Million Dollar Arm, which had been given to me as a gift earlier that night.  I do so very much love having people into my home :).

The dance event, Sweet Side of Swing, is possibly my favorite event out of all the ones I’ve ever been to.  The leveled classes making learning easier for everyone, and every detail is attended to with such care that it makes it almost impossible to NOT enjoy yourself.  This year was even more special by the “Swing Literacy Development Training” course that I took.  This was an add-on that was offered in addition to the regular workshops and social dances….8 solid hours jam-packed with tips and techniques for teaching swing dance more effectively to beginner and intermediate dancers alike.  It was a really well-done workshop…I’m very much looking forward to implementing the things I learned at the weekly Atlanta swing dances!

But, as fun as Sweet Side of Swing was, the crux of the month was definitely my visit to Houston.  Aside from my brief dinner with her last year while I was in Houston for an interview, it’s been years since I’ve seen my dear friend Sarah.  We saw each other a lot while we were in Korea, and keep up regular phone conversations now that we’re both back stateside…but phone calls can’t hold a candle to seeing beloved friends in person.  I took advantage of the long weekend around MLK day to go see her…only got to spend a couple of days with her, but a couple of days is vastly better than nothing!  Sarah and Donnie are incredible hosts – possibly the best I’ve ever met – and also great friends….the two of those together made for one very happy houseguest!  Sarah picked me up at the airport, and then I was greeted at their home with a welcome sign and guest basket.  Over the course of 2 days, we managed to pack a lot in – game night, puzzles, church, a tour of NASA (Donnie works there), walking around an adorable little boardwalk and mini amusement park, and even a round of restaurant hopping (messy burgers in a sports bar with lots of character for dinner, and then drinks and cake at a gem of an establishment nestled right on the water afterwards).  And yet, somehow, I never felt rushed or overwhelmed.  I guess that’s what happens when people who care for each other a lot just get to spend some time enjoying each other’s company.  I have decided that, even though they’re short, weekend trips are much better than nothing, and I’ll be making every effort to make more of them in the future!  So glad to be blessed with friends all over the world with whom I can pick life back up when I see them, no matter how long we’ve been apart!


Finals Week Highlights

I’m done!  I have officially finished my first year of graduate school!  Let me tell you what, it was quite a ride!  But the last week or so or classes I didn’t really actually have much schoolwork to do – I’m happy to report that the mind-numbing amount of work I did before finals week finally paid off, and my finals week was quite relaxing.  So I made up for some lost time, doing all of the things that I had neglected to do throughout the course of the semester.  Here are some of the highlights:
I went camping with my dad the weekend before finals.  I think the two of us had two very different experiences.  For me, I had a blast – I really enjoy camping, but hadn’t been in years, so it was a nice change, and great spending some quality time with my dad.  But my dad’s perspective, however, was that there was a hole in the tent over his head.  Poor man.  It poured most of the night, and add to that the fact that he didn’t have a water-repellant sleeping bag, but rather one that absorbed all of that excess moisture in the air, and he had quite a rough night that evening.  We ended up waking up really early in the morning and just heading back – at least then he was dry, even if he wasn’t well-rested!
I also got to see a musical performance of The Mask of Zorro with my friend Amy.  To psych myself up for it, I watched the movie the night before, which was excellent.  But the musical just blew me away.  It had beautiful singing, and energetic dancing, and pithy humor, and sonorous Spanish, incredible costumes…it really had everything.  I was left breathless on more than one occasion.  I’m definitely getting the Georgia Tech student art pass next year!
My friends Jonathan and Jessica invited me to see a double feature at one of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in the country.  We brought food and chairs and got there early to just talk and hang out – Jess and I did our nails, lol.  I had never been to a drive-in theater before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even despite the threat of rain that drove us into our cars for a while.  But even then, they play the sound through a radio station, so we could still enjoy the movie just fine :).
Of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do some dancing, too.  I caught the last bit of the Thursday night dance after Zorro ended, and that was a lot of fun.  I almost didn’t go, but in the end I’m very glad that I did.  But even better than the dance on Thursday, was the workshop on Saturday.  Now, I had been to dance workshops before – they’re always good and I learn a lot, but there’s nothing really that unique about them.  This one, however, was different.  It was called “The Art of the Steal,” and was specifically tailored to teach people how to steal someone else’s partner in the middle of a dance without disrupting the flow of the music or the dancers.  So there was a lot of group partnering instead of pairs, and weird rotations, and all in all everyone just had a grand time.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned a heck of a lot.  
My last night in Atlanta, I went out to dinner with Jonathan and Jessica and some friends of theirs to celebrate his graduation from Tech.  The place we went to was called Buca di Beppo, and their trademark thing is that they take all of their guests through the kitchen before seating them – way cool!! Anyway, I got back to Albany just in time on Sunday to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday celebration with the family.  I was glad I made it back for that.  And now I’m in Albany for the summer!  For now, at least.  Who knows where I’ll be in a couple of weeks! 🙂

Putting God’s promises into practice

Well, it’s about time for another update from Sinbad!  I’m afraid that my life has been quite mundane recently.  Despite my best intentions to get out and see great city of Atlanta, the combination of a lack of funds and time, and a plethora of other demands on my time and attention, have made my life rather nondescript.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  In reality, I’ve had quite a few first-time experiences this semester.  But many of them were things that I would have much preferred to never experience.  You know how some people say that there’s a first time for everything?  Well, I’m a firm believer that there are some things that I never want to do, and this semester has only proved me right.  It’s been some of the hardest few months of my life, and it’s only by the grace of God that I’m making it through.

But, luckily for me, God’s grace does get us through the tough spots, and I’m reminded every day how blessed I am to have Him, and my amazing family and friends, in my life.  Here are a few of the positive highlights of the past month that are worth mentioning:

I moved again!  My new place is lovely, and my roommates are pretty cool.  We’re still figuring out how to live with each other – they’re night owls, I’m an early bird, they’re messy, I’m orderly – but I think it’s going to work out well.  Hopefully I’ll at least make it to the end of the semester, hehehe.  If you don’t have my new mailing address shoot me an email and I’ll send it to you.

My sister’s birthday fell just 2 weeks after school started.  Since I had never in her memory been home for her birthday, I decided to change that this year.  Her smiles of ecstasy made the six hour drive totally worth it.  “Lauren,” she told me, “you’re my favorite birthday present this year.”  Absolutely melted my heart. I was only able to stay for a weekend, but it was a much-needed respite from everything that had been happening in Atlanta.  The whole family went out to Putt-Putt for her birthday, and of course there was also a birthday dinner with Grammie.  It was nice to see everyone relaxed and happy and just enjoying each other’s company, even if it was only for a few hours.

My friend David took me out to dinner at this cool place in Duluth, the artsy section of town.  We also wandered into an art store, filled with pieces by local artists.  The owner encouraged me to put some of my artwork into the store, which I’m seriously considering doing.  (oh, on that note, 2 of my quilling pieces were accepted into Georgia Tech’s student art show!  Woohoo!)  The art shop owner, an amateur photographer, also asked me if I wanted to model for him!!!  I busted out laughing at that.  A model I most certainly am not, lol…but it made my day to be asked, anyway! 🙂

Speaking of dinner….I’ve been on the hunt for good Korean restaurants in Atlanta.  I’ve been to 4 different ones all over the city since the semester started.  Two of them were quite disappointing; two of them, I will almost certainly be going back to in the near future.  It feels like a piece of home, when I sit there crossed-legged on the floor, speaking to the waitress in my broken Korean, eating a bowl of pig-spine soup and trying the myriad of side dishes with my metal chopsticks :).

I recently went to the quarterly board of director’s meeting at the Carter Center.  I’ve applied for an internship there over the summer, so when I was offered the opportunity to attend the meeting, I jumped at it.  It really was quite interesting – they had speakers talking about the Carter Center’s work in China, Kenya, and Latin America.  Plus it’s always fun to rub shoulders with ex-presidents ;).

I’m also finally getting back into dancing.  I hadn’t gone in months, due to one thing or another.  I tried to go 2 weeks ago, but my car ended up breaking down, which was very sad :(.  But it was fixed by the next week, and so now I’m back on the dance floor.  It feels so good – I had almost forgotten how much I love it, and I can certainly use all the de-stressing I can get.  Last week the dance fell on Valentine’s day, so they had flowers and chocolate for everyone who showed – I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the day!! 🙂

God’s been teaching me a lot through all the things that have been going on this semester.  One thing that I’ve really been trying to learn is to abide and rest in Him more.  Rather than resting from our work, God wants us to work from a place of rest in Him….that’s a tall order for someone as busy as I am!!  But I’ve been working at planning out my weeks so that I have all of Sunday to rest and not do any homework.  It means that I’m alwayssssss busy during the week….but on Sundays, I get a glorious Sabbath day!  It’s been great.  I’ve started a weekly get-together (on Sundays, of course) of ladies that I love, trying to build a community together in which we can love on and encourage each other.  It’s quite encouraging and exciting.

I’ve also picked up a lot of the things that I am interested in, but had let fall by the wayside – practicing guitar, doing crafts, brushing up on my Spanish and Korean, diligently reading the news, writing more, and working out.  I’ve decided to fast from Facebook for Lent this year to give me more time to focus on the Lord; it’s amazing all of the additional things that I have time for when I’m putting God first!  Of course I’ve always known that in theory; but I just love seeing God put His promises to practice in real life!!!  Sooooo…..that’s my life for now.  Prayers are always appreciated (and I’ll never turn down a letter or chocolate….lol ;]).  

Fulbright conference

So I got back from Hwacheon last Tuesday, had a few days to rest, and then was off again for the bi-annual Fulbright conference on Friday.  This is a big conference that Fulbright does every semester – every single Fulbright teacher in the country, plus the entire Fulbright staff, all congregate in one place to swap teaching and traveling tips.  Because Gyeongju was the capital of the ancient Silla dynasty for the entire 1000+ years of the dynasty, the fall conference is always held in Gyeongju.  Gyeongju is kind of a big deal :).  Which was nice for me, because I didn’t have to travel anywhere – while other people were coming in from buses, trains, and even planes, all I had to do was hop on a bus for 10 minutes and I was there.

My beautiful city 🙂

Friday night was pretty awesome.  I had been soooo excited to see everyone – most of them I hadn’t seen or even spoke with at all since departure day 2 months earlier.  So we all had a big reunion, started the conference workshops, and overall had a splendid time – I did, at least.  In addition to that, there was another open mic night on Friday in downtown Gyeongju.  I had signed up to recite a poem – IF, by Rudyard Kipling, a poem about what it takes to be a man – one of my all-time favorites.  I was planning on going by myself after the workshops finished for the night.  However, because everyone else was in a strange city with a free evening, I became the resident expert, and about ten other Fulbrighters ended up coming to the open mic with me.  It was alot of fun – I was nervous about reciting (I had never done anything like that before), but being there with my dear friends made it all worth it.

Saturday, though, was not quite as awesome.  I woke up with my voice sounding like a scratched up record.  I felt fine – didn’t have a sniffle, a sneeze, or even the smallest trace of a sore throat – but my voice sounded awful.  By Sunday morning it was completely gone.  I could not utter a sound above a whisper.  And, in the midst of an excited reunion over 100 people strong, that basically meant that I could not say anything, period.  No one could hear me when I tried, anyway.  Somehow I kept ending up next to another Fulrbighter who is partially deaf and mostly blind.  My inability to speak loudly and his inability to read my lips left us completely unable to communicate anything, try as hard as we might.  It felt like salt was bring rubbed in my wound, just adding insult to injury.

We went to a Russian restaurant on Saturday night
I loved playing tour guide for all of my friends 🙂
On the walk back from the restaurant

All day on Sunday throughout the cultural tour around Gyeongju, I felt more and more invisible.  It was even worse because this weekend was supposed to be my respite.  I had soooo been looking forward to having a weekend to just relax and not worry about the stresses of my homestay – the weekend was finally here, and I was forced to sit on the sidelines, unable to participate in any of the conversations.  By Sunday afternoon I couldn’t take it anymore.  I slipped away from the tour (it was optional, anyway), and had a picnic with some second-year teachers who had also opted to not go on the tour, since they had gone last year.  I still felt mostly invisible, but in the smaller group I was able to get some points across if I really tried.

Seokuram grotto
Bulguska temple
Wishing stones
A good luck pig
This random old Korean lady who decided to give us a tour.  It was awesome.
Fulbright picnic

Sunday night there was a goodbye dinner.  There was a wonderful meal, a beautiful venue, and sparkling conversation – and I was still mute.  It was unbearable.  I never realized how important it is to me to be heard until I wasn’t anymore.  I slipped away early and just started wandering.  I heard music somewhere in the city, and followed my ears (at least those still worked!) until I found a traditional dance performance of some kind.  I sat in the back and watched for a while.  Then I happened to glance over to my left, and lo and behold, there was Adam, my friend from Hwacheon!  He had gotten restless too, apparently.  He came over and asked if I was ok – I wasn’t, not at all – and so he suggested that we go on a walk.

Gyeongju at night….it’s pretty at any time of day!

There in the still night, with no huge crowd to drown out my whispers, was the first time I had been heard all weekend.  And I just let it out.  Adam’s a good listener, and if felt so good to release all of my frustrations that had been pent up over the course of the weekend.  When we came back I went to an informal Bible study that the Christians in the group had quickly organized by word of mouth.  I was so grateful to have my friends there around me, particularly Dianna, the teacher who was at my school last year.  She had come to Gyeongju early to visit, and we had spent the day together on Thursday.  I told her all of my frustrations with my homestay, my excitement about the upcoming conference, yada yada yada.  Well, at the Bible study she was able to relay those sentiments to the group so that they could pray for me.  My inability to do so myself frustrated me to no end, but I was so grateful that I had shared with her while I was able to, and that she was willing to be my voice when I had none.

Tuesday I woke up still voiceless, and with a migraine to boot.  Needless to say, that was a longggg day.  Although I must say, if I HAD to have a migraine, that was a good day to have it – since I also had no voice, I didn’t really teach, just showed a movie in class.  It’s killing me, though, because I really WANT to teach – I love it, it’s the whole reason I came to Korea in the first place!  And all of my students want to say hello and talk to me, and I can’t say anything to them!  It’s really quite depressing.  My co-teachers actually sent me home early today, telling me to rest.  Super sweet of them, but I don’t think they realized how very much I WANTED to be there.  Oh well, such is Korea – always trying to help :).  Anyway, that’s my life right now.  Voiceless and banished from school.  I’m sorry this wasn’t a happier post.  I’m one sad puppy right now :(.

Donghae weekend

Well, another few days in Korea have been successfully survived!  And no, “survival” is not an exaggeration.  Every day I look at the calendar and am utterly astonished that only one day – or less – has passed.  It seems like I have been in South Korea months and months and months….but it’s only been 2 weeks.  I never thought it possible to pack so much into so little time as they have been doing here during orientation.  All of the returning ETAs assure us that we will have much more free time on our hands once we get to our schools….I sure hope so, because at this pace I will be dead by November.

The entourage from the American Embassy came on Wednesday, like I mentioned last week.  It was really cool.  They talked about all sorts of random stuff that you never think about needing help with until the situation is upon you.  Well, now I know what to do!  And mom and dad, don’t worry, if I get incarcerated while here, the Embassy will visit me every 6 months, or anytime I request a visit ;).

The next day, Thursday, was panel day.  A bunch of returning ETAs came and talked to us about all sorts of things – schools, traveling, homestays, locations….you name it, they mentioned it.  It was informative; however, at the same time, I’m starting to feel like I’m on information overload.  They’ve thrown so much information at us in such a short time, that it’s all starting to sound the same.  Really, I think there are some things that we’re just going to have to figure out for ourselves.

Friday morning, bright and early, we left for a weekend in Donghae, courtesy of the Korea-America Educational Commission, the umbrella organization for Fulbright Korea.  It was about a three hour bus ride to Donghae from Jungwon, during which I slept for most of it, while trying unsuccessfully to study for my text on Monday.  After checking into the hotel, we made our way to a Buddhist temple (Samhwasa temple).  It was interesting to see, but at the same time I felt very out of place.  We even stayed for the evening worship service; again, cool to see, but I have to admit that I was glad to leave at the end of the day.

The temple was nestled in the mountains, amid streams and trees and all sorts of other lovely things.  We stopped and played in the water and on the rocks before heading back to the buses.  I think that I was slightly worrying my orientation coordinators when I all of a sudden stopped and insisted that I have a cigarette immediately.  But no, I had not discovered a sudden urge to smoke tobacco.  I got stung by a wasp on the way down, and years ago my dad had taught me this great remedy for drawing out the poison by putting a tobacco paste on the wound.  So I got my cigarette, fixed my leg, and got some funny smiles in the process :).

Some of the rocks on the way to the Buddhist temple

Entrance to the temple complex

Inside of one of the buildings

Evening worship service

Saturday was glorious.  We had the entire day to do whatever we wanted – no meetings, no classes, no nothing.  I went to the beach for a few hours in the morning – it was a beautiful day – and then went and explored a beach cave that I had read about in a tourist brochure.  It’s really random – it’s this huge natural cave located right in the center of downtown Donghae.  I love caves, and this one certainly did not disappoint.  

Yay for beaches!!  Saturday was Christiana’s birthday 🙂

Dinner the first night was simply a huge buffet, of which the most exciting thing that I ate was a tiny octopus – the entire animal was only about the size of a golf ball.  I’d had octopus before, but never a whole one; even though I don’t really like octopus, I ate it just to be able to say I did :).  Far more exciting, however, was Saturday night dinner.  Samgyeopsal (삼겹살) – pig stomach – is a very popular Korean dish.  It’s also a very unique cultural experience.  We are seated at tables with small grills built right into the table, and then the waiters bring out plates of raw slabs of meat.  The diners grilled the meat themselves at the table, which is then wrapped up into pieces of lettuce with slices of garlic, peppers, onions, chili pepper, kimchi (we grilled ours right along with the meat!), mushrooms, sesame oil, plus a host of other things which I have no idea what they are called.  So you wrap it all up in the lettuce, and eat it with your hands; definitely NOT a good first date meal! 🙂  Aside from the initial distaste at the thought of eating pig stomach, it was delicious, and tons of fun to make, too!  That’s why I don’t ever ask what I’m eating in a foreign country before I eat it, lol…

My first Samgyeopsal experience

And it’s definitely an experience 🙂

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel.  It was a wonderful weekend, but I must say I’ll be glad to have a bed again.  I spent the whole weekend sleeping on the marble floor – many parts of Korea don’t use beds; they simply put a sheet on the ground.  

Our bed!  Sort of….

The hotel we stayed at in Donghae

On our way back to Jungwon, we stopped at a museum for several hours.  This place was owned by the same man who owns both Jungwon University and the hotel we stayed at in Donghae, and it is meant to house his own private collection.  It was a very eclectic collection – it had geology, fossils, and art from all different nations – Maya, Inca, Europe, China, Korea, India, etc.  It was unlike any museum I’ve ever seen, and I really enjoyed wandering the halls and seeing and discovering new things.

Notice the artificial caves, fountain of Poseidon, and Korean buildings all in one shot.  Yeah, it was a very eclectic complex….

That’s about a 30 foot long wood carving of an artistic rendering of the Great Wall of China

Rocks!!  I love rocks! 😀

So the weekend was wonderful, but now it’s back to the daily grind.  I’ve got 2 meetings tonight, a test in Korean tomorrow, an assignment due on Tuesday, plus Camp Fulbright starts this week, so I’m also going to be observing and teaching classes.  Oh well, I guess all good things must come to an end….**sigh**.  Time to hit the books; I love y’all!

Sleep is optional

If I simply survive this summer – and the upcoming year, for that matter – I will be ecstatic.  If I actually complete everything to my own satisfaction, as well as that of my teachers and students, I will truly have something to be proud of.  I have never had so much asked and expected of me in my entire life.  Not when I enrolled in college at the age of 15.  Not when I went to Costa Rica to teach English for a summer.  Not when I started living on my own at the age of 17.  Not when I worked as a technician and analyst of the help desk of the largest carpet company in the world after having worked with technology for only a few months.  Not even when I was hired to research…are you ready for this?…fiscal federalism as a means of preserving the cohesiveness of ethnically fractured decentralized nations. 

This is far and above the most intense schedule I have ever experienced.  Our mornings start at 8 with breakfast, but I’ve been getting up around 5:30 or 6:00 to do my Bible study and stretch and workout.  I’m really trying to start this year off well and establish good habits that will hopefully carry on into my life back in the States.  Then at nine we have Korean language classes – for 4 straight hours.  We get an hour for lunch, and then we’re back in class at 2:00 for teaching workshops.  They cover all sorts of topics – gender biases, classroom management, staying healthy in Korea, handling issues with your host families… – but the one thing they all have in common is that they last allll afternoon – usually until around 5.  I have half an hour to squeeze some studying in, and then it’s off to Taekwondo every day from 5:30-6:30.

I get half an hour for dinner, and then I’m off again.  Monday nights I have Calligraphy class from 7:00-9:00, and Tuesdays and Thursdays I’ve got GLEE club, the foreign exchange club – a great way to meet Korean friends!!  Wednesdays and Fridays I have off after dinner, but then it’s time to hit the books – 4 hours of class every day equates to a heck of a lot of studying. Plus we have tests every Monday, and more workshops and classes on the weekends, so I’ve got to get a head start on my homework early in the week. 

Next week it gets even tougher!  I have to start creating and submitting lesson plans for an English immersion camp that we’ll be teaching the week after as a part of our orientation training.  I’ll have 3 lesson plans to prepare and give on my own – yikes!!  I seriously have no idea when I’ll have time to make my lessons.  I’m so busy, sleep is already on the verge of becoming optional.  But I suppose it’s good – it keeps me busy and distracted, so I can try to forget how much I miss home sometimes.

The food doesn’t help really help me forget.  It’s very tasty, but man, what I wouldn’t give for lasagna and breadsticks!!  It’s astonishing to me that Koreans can eat the same thing – white rice and kimchi – over and over and over and over again, and not get tired of it.  There are some variations , especially with the kimchi, and they add different side dishes (I had squid and anchovies today!), but it’s basically the same thing every single day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  But hey, I’ve gotten really good at using chopsticks!!  I’ve been forcing myself to use them at every meal, and the hand cramps have finally started to go away.  Now I can finally eat again without having to think!

Well anyway, I’ve got to get up tomorrow at oh-dark-hundred – we’re going to different schools around the region to shadow teachers in Korean classrooms, so we can kinda get a feel for it before we get there.  I’m super excited, but bed is calling me right now.  I’ll try to write again as soon as I can.  I love you!!