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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Up To No Good

I've been awake all night. I went to bed early, and awoke just past midnight. So I went on G-Market, which is sort of a low-rent combination of eBay's "Buy it now" section and Amazon, with higher prices on groceries and cosmetics (a 16-ounce jar of natural peanut butter for 20 bucks?! A bottle of L'Oreal foundation for 50?! Holy mackerel.), but lower on home goods than local stores. I purchased a toaster oven, some screening for my bathroom window – the mosquitoes are starting to come in – and a large rug for my common room. I usually sit on the floor, so a good rug is part of my regular furniture, and I already have a small one, but here everybody sits on the floor, so one big enough to accommodate guests is essential if you entertain.

I hosted my first party Friday night, despite it having been a tough week. I'm egregiously behind on my editing (my brain simply does not want to function when it comes to writing clearly and succinctly – I've been called out for my purple prose and run-on sentences, and have been too tired to finish important projects). Several of my classes were less than stellar, particularly my first-graders. On Wednesday, one of my six year olds was on top of the bookshelf next to the window doing an Elvis-like shimmy. If he can dance like that and sing well too after adolescence, he's destined for superstardom. This is the same imp who was shooting his socks like rubber bands and flexing his arm muscles for the girls last week. He's a character. He's smart--he can finish in five seconds, albeit sloppily, what has taken the other kids 10 minutes to complete.

I looked forward to the party not just for the social outlet and psychological relief, but also for the fact that it was going to force me to clean up my house. It took hours, but the house was not just neat, but clean by the time everyone started to trickle in beginning at 9:45 PM.  Because we don't get off until that time, dinner had to be late. Unfortunately, two people were ill on Friday, and couldn't come, but there were still six of us: three Americans and three Koreans (actually, one of the Koreans is also an American, so the national balance wasn't quite that perfect!). I think everybody had a good time. The meat and vegetable stew that I cooked in a borrowed crockpot turned out to be the blandest stuff I've ever created. I poured A1 sauce on my serving and recommended my guests do the same. One girl had brought mochi from the local Baskin Robbins for dessert. In green tea, mango, and strawberry flavor, these little hillocks of ice cream tucked inside colored skins of rice cake were peculiar, but good.

When we Americans think of rice cake, we think of round dry discs of puffed rice. When Koreans think of rice cake, they think of a glutinous semi-translucent gel made out of mashed cooked rice. It's not sweet, and to me it tastes of nothing in particular, though it is certainly filling. One of the favorite ways to consume rice cake is by slicing it and serving it is a thick hot red stew, ddukbokki (spicy rice cake). It looks like tomato sauced thick noodles, which was why the name throws me every time I hear it.

I went back to the seashore to pick up trash today, and texted the gentleman who had met me there last week to tell him I was going. He brought along his wife and sister-in-law, neither of whom speak English. I was terrified that the sister-in-law, who was a tiny, frail looking woman, would fall and break her hip on the shifting stones, but she managed to stay upright for the duration. In half an hour we had accumulated enough garbage to require Mr. Lee to return home and come back with the family SUV. After we piled everything into the vehicle, they invited me to come with them to the Cherry Blossom Festival on the other side of the island. So we drove around Mount Halla to find that the cherry trees hadn't bloomed yet. I fell asleep in the car on the way back around the mountain. What I was impressed with was that the wife did much of the driving--to me, it's always worth observing whether a man insists on driving, as many men (not just here) have a silently chauvinist proprietary attitude on the subject. You can tell a lot about a guy's attitude toward his wife based on whether or not he is content to trust her behind the wheel. We then went to a chicken place for dinner (he and his wife split a pitcher of beer, but got me a Pepsi on my request--the sister-in-law stuck to water), and then they dropped me off at home. I found out that Mr. Lee is the same age as my mom and speaks some Russian! He lived in Uzbekistan for several years in the 1990s. He also speaks some Vietnamese, as he and his wife lived there a few years ago. His daughter is an Ivy League-educated medical school student, and his son is a producer at a television station in Seoul. I asked if the son produced any dramas, but the father demurred, saying that he really didn't know exactly what his son was doing, that he mostly talked with his mother.

I have agreed to buy a desk from my upstairs neighbor, a lamp, her rice cooker and crockpot, and a small shelving unit whereon to keep pots and pans. I've also told her I want her comforter. She's giving me a shell-inlaid black lacquer chest and some framed art, which she found next to the dumpster a while back. The small tables in my bedroom also were dumpster finds--they are actually offering tables for ancestral rites, and one of my fellow teachers told me they were probably discarded because of a superstition. One is real wood-the other is some sort of varnished pressboard. They make nice nightstands next to my low bed.

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