Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So Ko!

They say that as you get older, time goes by faster. And then there's that other saying, that time flies when you're having fun. These two expressions, if we take them to be true, may account for the fact that I was completely unprepared when I realized that my tourist visa was about to be up. On September 26, I had to get out of Japan or risk being deported.

I did something that is probably very looked down upon by Japanese immigration: I decided to take a short trip to South Korea and return to Japan with a fresh 90 days to use. It really doesn't sound like such a bad thing to do--other countries have arrangements with Japan that allow their citizens to stay for up to 6 months on a working holiday (oh, how I envy those citizens!). So I don't really see why little old me should raise any suspicions at Japanese Immigration. I'm just trying to find a way to experience this beautiful country in a legit and legal way. But I digress.

My worries over re-entering Japan melted away on Thursday after a fantastic flight on Asiana Airlines (so far, they tie with British Airways as my favorite airline) and this sight:

My first glimpse of the East Sea and South Korea. I landed fine, got through Korean Immigration and Customs no problem, and waited for Allison to meet me. I watched a cheesy Korean soap opera for at least an hour (it turns out Allison's train had broken down) and wandered the airport. Seeing prices in a new currency and hearing endless trails of words I didn't understand was a little overwhelming, like the first moment I entered Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. It made me long for a place where I had at least a limited vocabulary, where I could make sense of things. I actually though of Japan as home for a moment. And I loved that feeling.

Allison came and we headed to the province outside of Seoul where she lives, Gwangmyeong.

Seoul and its surrounding areas are full of arcades, or areas where there are tons of neon lights. Here's another view of Gwangmyeong at night:

The next day, Allison had to work, so I wandered Gwangmyeong by myself, careful not to get lost since I didn't even know the Korean word for "where." I discovered the Gwangmyeong Market, a winding food and clothing market that would take hours to fully explore.

I saw lots of traditional Korean food (some of which made my stomach churn, like tubeworms and pig legs) and a whole side street dedicated to traditional Korean dress:

That night, we headed to Hongdae, a major clubbing district in Seoul. We met up with another college friend, Michael (AKA Nandez), and went to a hookah bar and dance club before ending the night with a noraebang, the Korean answer to a Karaoke house.

The next day, Allison showed me around Insadong, a cool shopping district in Seoul. We watched people make traditional candy, do calligraphy, play traditional games, and got some cool free stuff because there just so happened to be a festival going on.

That night, we attended a beautiful play called "Hotel Splendid" about Korean comfort women during World War II. The so-called comfort women were sex slaves either lured with promises of being a nurse or secretary for the war effort or were blatantly kidnapped. I cried a lot. We met up with some of Allison's boyfriend's friends and went barhopping. I wish there were more cool people in our area in Japan.

I went sightseeing with Allison and Nandez on my last day in Seoul. We went to a stream that was reconstructed after it dried up, a museum about green technology, and finally a palace.

That night I watched movies with Allison and packed up. I barely got any sleep before heading back to the airport. Japanese Immigration seemed a little reluctant to let me back in, but I made it through. And now I'm back home (or at least, home for right now).

For the first time in my life, I feel like a citizen of the world. I really feel like I could make it anywhere if I tried.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

dun dun dun

Well, I've been getting more social lately which is great! The JET Program people (JETs for short) that live in this area are actually really fun. We also live near two people who work for the same company as Zack. We all went to dinner on Saturday night--an Australian, a half-Japanese/half-Texan guy, two Brits, a Canadian (I think), and a slew of Americans, mostly yankees. Besides the Texan, I've only met one other southerner here. There's supposed to be a guy who went to UGA teaching at a junior high in Ina, which is where I work, but he still hasn't emailed me. In a way I miss talking to people who know about where I'm from, but it's such a great opportunity to learn about other cultures! Plus, did I mention all the people we had dinner and drinks with are actually young 20 somethings? Yay! No babies in this crowd.

On Sunday, we went to Beautiful World Music Fest, a concert that started at noon and ended at 9 p.m. We got there about 3. It was in this beautiful park surrounded by mountains...I have to go back in the fall. It was a lot of fun, but the night got really chilly and we had to head out early.

It's already feeling like fall, which I guess it technically almost is. The temperature is about 60-70 degrees F at its high and 45-54 F at its low. Which is actually kind of like Georgia weather in the fall, but it stays hotter much, much longer there. So I'm going to try and buy some pants again. There have got to be pants that fit me!

I'm going to South Korea next week. Zack was going to go with me because he has vacation but he really wants to save money so decided against it. So I'm going alone. Michael Hernandez and Allison Nunziante are working there, so they're going to help me out with a place to stay and making sure I don't get lost in Seoul. I'm not all that worried about it. I'll keep my guard up and take care to not get lost. I have to ride a bus to get to Michael's apartment on my first day there but since my flight is coming in during the afternoon, I think I can handle it. I feel like a grown up.

And my company has agreed to give me a six-month contract, which is excellent news! That means that Zack and I will be able to sync up our schedules in March and hopefully find two day time jobs together. My boss still alternates between acting like a super bitch and acting nice, which is definitely the worst part of this job. I can suck it up for six months though.

I finished reading The Liars' Club by Mary Karr a couple days ago. I'm feeling very inspired to start work on my own memoir. I've been checking out grad schools to see what it will take to get in, and wow. The best schools for creative writing are dead serious about their programs. I have a lot of work to do, but now I'm happy because I have goals!

So that's life. I miss everybody!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I've been stressing about what will happen in three weeks when I have to leave the country. I'm not so worried any more. Things will work out, although I don't think I will come back to the States after all. It really is cheaper to fly to a nearby place. I have friends in South Korea and Hong Kong that I could stay with. Zack's next vacation is the same week that I'm supposed to leave so we will probably go some place together. I really want to come back to the States but if this will save money and time, I'd rather not go all the way across the world and deal with terrible jet lag only to have to readjust a week later. But I will start saving up so that maybe I can come back sooner than later! (I really miss everyone and wish that you could all come visit and see what I get to see...)


Meanwhile, I came upon an article the other day while I was doing my daily "newspaper" reading, i.e. looking at headlines on Google News and clicking on whatever sounds interesting. The article was in The New Yorker, a publication that I don't often read, and it was 17 pages long. Called "Trial by Fire," the article intricately details the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who was convicted of starting a house fire that killed his three children. You can read it here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann

Willingham's story touched me. He was executed in 2004 and never gave up proclaiming his innocence, right up to the moment when poison was forced into his veins. Experts now reviewing his case are appalled at how it was handled and can't believe the "evidence" used in court to prove that the fire was an arson. Willingham was poor and relied on state-appointed attorneys.

So we have this man who is almost certainly innocent (an expert panel is now reviewing the case to see if Texas made the "ultimate mistake"), but he's gone. And his life, his story could stop there. But this writer took the time to do the research and meticulously piece together the story of a man whose voice was never really hard. To help another human being receive recognition for his/her life, to leave a legacy behind.

It was reading this author's expose that made me realize what I need to do with my life. I need to use my writing to help other people, to help make the world a little less terrible. I've always thought about that path for myself, but now that I've seen the impact that telling true stories to the world, stories that never would have been told otherwise, can have, I know that this is what I'm meant to do. I have a problem staying motivated when writing fiction, but when it's something I care about, something I have a stake in, I can dive in and stay more focused. The classes that I felt I produced the best writing in were Creative Nonfiction and Advanced Creative Nonfiction.

I'm so excited now that I can't wait to go to grad school. We'll probably stay in Japan land for another year to save more money, but the next time I'm in the States I'm going ahead and taking the GRE. I want to an interdisciplinary degree: creative writing and social work, activism, or working for nonprofits or something. I'll figure it out.

So, I just wanted to let everyone know that I think I've finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a writer. A writer who uses her voice to help the world.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Three weeks left on my tourist visa.

I need a plan.

I guess I've been eating really healthily lately because all I want to do is eat cake. But then again, that might have to do with reading all the entries in the Cake Wrecks blog. I can't tell if I've lost or gained weight since I've been here. It's been nice to have to walk every where--I know it sounds crazy but I really prefer it to driving. Less risk involved and my legs look like they did freshman year.

I've been writing everyday. Still barely scratching the surface.

All but one of our goldfish died. We finally bought a filter for the tank.

Waiting for books to come in the mail. Rereading Harry Potter because it's all we have in the house, but this time it's the British version. Scholastic felt the need to "translate" the books into American English so that the readers there would have to use less brain power.

I just keep thinking about watching fireworks over a lake this weekend and how nice it will be when I finally put my feet down somewhere and say, "This is home."