Monday, August 09, 2010

Apartment Tour

Monday, May 31, 2010


Finishing up my time in Korea is finishing up a marathon: more willpower than endurance, more psychological than physical.

When I got the acceptance from Arizona State a few months ago, I started looking forward to the time that I would be in the United States. I started planning for things: furniture, apartments, cars. I left Korea and mentally I moved. I was there. I was here, of course, but I was there.

Then in this last few days, I got pulled back here. I started realizing that almost every day every time I said goodbye was potentially a real goodbye. See you later, I'd say, but I wouldn't see them later. Goodbye, I'd say, and I meant goodbye forever. These were people I had known for 3, 4, 5 years. People with whom I had had Thanksgiving dinner, rang in the New Year, and celebrated my birthday. They were family more than friends.

And when I went back to America, I knew that I might see one or two of them here or there, maybe a visit as they passed through my new city. Maybe I'd stop by their house as I passed through theirs. But the vast majority of my goodbyes were real goodbyes. Even if I saw the individuals again, I'd never see the group again. The family would never be together again: no holidays, no birthdays, no reunions.

I realized then what a profound affect Korea has had on me. The culture and the language have shaped me certainly, but it's the people that have shaped me the most. Some of them Korean, but some of them not. Some of them just people passing through like me. Many of them have already moved on. Many of them will, like me, soon move on. And we'll say goodbye--a real goodbye.

It's rare when you're aware of this kind of finality. In high school, you're too naive to realize how final it is. In college, you think you won't make the same mistakes in high school. And in general, we delude ourselves into thinking that we won't lose touch, that it won't happen this time. But when you're on the other side of the world and you watch as your friends scatter, there are no illusions. You can know it's the end, and you can be happy that you had that time together.

You just put your head down, close your eyes, and push through--otherwise, you'd never leave at all.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Graduate School

I walked out of the University of Illinois frustrated. The things that interested me in the program had been cut, moved around, or misrepresented on the university website. I had already invested several months moving toward the graduate applications at that point: preparing for the GRE, researching schools, deciding which of those schools to actually visit, setting up appointments with professors and graduate coordinators, and scheduling it so that I could see everything within the short window that I had in the United States. I had narrowed my search down to four schools, and my first meeting had already eliminated one of the four.

University of Illinois at Chicago (X)

My meetings at the University of Texas, the University of Pittsburgh, and Arizona State University went significantly better. I left the schools excited about the programs and ready to apply. I started getting my application materials together soon after returning to Korea. This took months: I researched and wrote a new 20-page writing sample from scratch. I wrote and rewrote statements of purpose fine-tuned to each school. I found recommenders, paid application fees, gathered transcripts, updated vitae, and provided each idiosyncratic paper for each school. I then checked, double checked, and triple checked that I had everything in order. I made lists and checked off the items. I reviewed the applications websites and rechecked the items. I sent everything to Mom in America, where she added things that had been sent to her, and then we went over my lists one more time and rechecked everything one last time. Then she sent everything off for me to meet the deadlines: first Texas, then Pittsburgh, and finally Arizona.

And then I waited.

The deadlines ranged from early-December to mid-January, but there was no chance that I would hear from schools until at least mid-February. After sending everything off, I had a huge sense of relief. It was done. My applications were out there. There was nothing more I could do. It wasn't long, however, until the panic set in.

It was early-February when I first really started to get anxious. I started looking around for any hint of when I might know the results. I surfed graduate message boards and tried to find out when last year's results had come out. According to my research, Pittsburgh would notify first. Last year, the first person to hear anything got his or her response on February 9. But as I anxiously waited, the 9th came and went. I didn't receive a response, but neither did anyone else.

The first person to post a response online came from the University of Texas on February 11. It was a rejection. I took this to be a good sign. If rejections were going out, and I didn't get one, then maybe I was accepted, right? But I still had two more weeks to go until I finally received my email from the University of Texas. In the meantime, I had waited patiently as acceptances came in at both University of Texas and the University of Pittsburgh. I was nervous and worried. I wavered between optimism and panic. Some days I didn't think about my applications at all, but most days, I checked my email during every break between classes and sighed deep and hard every time I saw that the message wasn't there. The message finally came on February 25th.

University of Texas at Austin (X)

The University of Texas was my first rejection and with it came a wave of dread. I knew that getting in was a long shot, but to actually see the rejection in front of me was deflating. It was then that the questions started to flood through my mind: What would I do if I didn't get in to any of the schools? What if I had made some huge glaring mistake in my applications that I was too naive to see? What if I just wasn't cut out for grad school?

Both acceptances and rejections had come in at the University of Pittsburgh, but I hadn't heard a thing. I emailed the coordinator to ask what was happening, and he told me that there were still many names to announce and that I shouldn't worry. But of course, I did. On the graduate message boards I had found, people began discussing their acceptances and how they were getting funded, and where they planned to live. I encouraged them and said I hoped that I would be joining them soon. By late February, I wasn't sure what to think. A single acceptance had been sent out to Arizona State, and I was starting to think that maybe I really was going to get rejected from all three schools.

I started considering what I would do if I didn't get in. I looked at job possibilities and ordered a few books about technical writing. That might be something I could do, I thought. I could do it, and if I hated it, I could apply for a PhD again next year. I read through the books I ordered with interest at first, then with detached boredom, then with resentment. It seemed like a job I'd do to fill the time, not a job I'd do because I wanted to.

I tried my best to push my obsession about the letters out of my mind, but I still compulsively checked my email and the message boards several times a day. I checked and was disappointed over and over again. On March 4th, the University of Pittsburgh suddenly had a flood of rejections as applicants received letters by regular postal service not email. I text messaged Mom to see if I was on the mounting list of rejections. She texted me back with an answer between classes at school.

University of Pittsburgh (X)

I almost couldn't even teach my next class. The only feeling that I can liken it to is a break-up. These were schools that I had imagined going to and planned a future around. And again--for the second time in two weeks--that future was suddenly dashed. It left me with a feeling of deep hollowness. I felt like a tree that had been stripped of all of its wood. I was only the remaining bark.

After a few days of recovery, I started to seriously think about my other options. Hye Sook and I talked about it and decided that acceptance or rejection, we'd move to Phoenix. She could still go to cooking school. I could get a job. She applied and got in within days. I looked at jobs and felt that maybe something was waiting for me. I forced myself to stop checking my emails, and I tried my best to just let go. I had moments where the possibility of rejection would still suddenly hit me, but I was dealing with it better than I had been. Hye Sook was going to cooking school for sure--we were moving forward. We could at least start to plan our move even if we didn't know for sure what we'd do when we got there. At least that was a little comfort.

In the following weeks, an acceptance or two came in for ASU, and with each one, I felt a little panic. Several came in all at once, and I thought for sure that it was the Pittsburgh situation all over again. I thought for sure my rejection would come in the mail. I got to the point where I didn't really care if I got in or not: I just wanted to know. I just wanted to know so that I could start to plan one way or the other.

On Monday, March 22, I sent an email to the coordinator at ASU, and the next day she got back to me with a short reply: "Hopefully I will know something tomorrow or Wednesday." I tried to let go and not let it bother me. I had already lost too much sleep, and I didn't want to lose any more over something that seemed rather tenuous. It was on Wednesday, March 23rd that I finally got my last response.

Arizona State University ( )

Hye Sook must have been as nervous as I was because on that morning, she sat up in bed and watched as I checked my email. Before I even opened the reply, the subject gave me my answer: "Welcome to ASU English." The relief was overwhelming. I was almost late to work because I spent the next twenty minutes sending replies to the university and emails out letting everyone know. The feeling I had at that moment reassured me that applying to the schools was the right decision: this was what I wanted to do.

It was only yesterday that I got confirmation that I received a teaching assistantship (teaching classes in exchange for free tuition and a stipend). Everything had fallen into place. I finally stopped obsessively checking my email. Just this afternoon, I put away the half-read technical writing books.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

10 Best Restaurants I've Eaten At

There's a reason I haven't updated in a while. I'm waiting for responses from the PhD programs, and that's always on my mind. But that story really needs an ending before I write about it. Hopefully that ending will come soon, but in the meantime...

I was sitting in Minga, one of my favorite restaurants, today. I got to thinking about some of the best meals I've had and how much I really enjoy good food. As I'm wont to do, I started making a list in my head of all the restaurants that I've eaten where I just had that feeling of "ahhhh" after my meal. Here are ten of my favorites:

1. The Chicago Diner--Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago Diner gets #1 on the list simply for it's milkshakes. The food is great, sure, but the milkshakes the reason that I generally book my flights back to the US for Chicago and not Fort Wayne. I need a stop off at the Chicago Diner before going home. Definitely the best vegetarian restaurant I've eaten at.

2. Minga--Busan, South Korea

I really love this place. It's near my house and is just a simple little house made up to be a restaurant. It actually only has two main dishes, both a kind of bean soup. I suppose when you make it perfectly, though, you don't need anything else. The dish I normally have is dwang-jang soup, which is a spicy soup a little bit similar to Japanese miso. The place uses only fresh vegetables and makes all of its dishes on-site. Really great food.

3. Mother's Cafe and Garden--Austin, Texas

I only have been here one time, but after just that once, I wanted to move to Austin. I had BBQ tofu and mashed potatoes. I don't even like tofu that much, but I nearly crapped my pants when I took that first bite. The rest of the food was equally good. I generally don't overeat, but I simply couldn't stop eating this stuff and ended up lying on my hotel bed moaning in glee after finishing.

4. Mad Mex--Pittsburgh, PA

Man was this place good. It's definitely the best Mexican food I've ever had, and I really love Mexican food. Hye Sook, Joel, Danielle, and I stopped there on a whim while in Pittsburgh, and I was pleased to find that they have tons of vegetarian stuff on the menu. I got the enchiladas and had some of Hye Sook's burrito. I couldn't believe how good the stuff was.

5. Loving Hut--Busan, South Korea

Despite being a chain and being run by a creepy cult, this place is surprisingly good. I find myself making the trip across town to get some of their "Sweet and Sour Delights" at least once a week. There are three branches of this place in Busan (and others around the world) but the best one is in Seomyeon. There's a branch of the same restaurant in Fort Wayne (there called the Loving Cafe) which is also pretty great.

6. Taj Mahal--Fort Wayne, IN

I've been around the world now, and I tend to eat at Indian restaurants no matter where I go, so I've tried quite a few. Oddly, my favorite one is still Taj Mahal in Fort Wayne. They have great samosa and aloo gobi. They have a cheap lunch buffet ($8) that always has lots of good things on it. The only Indian place that even comes close is the India Garden in Indianapolis, but I just don't like it quite as much. Who would have thought Indiana would have such good Indian food? Maybe it's the name.

7. Pita Jungle--Tempe, AZ

Despite the really stupid name, this place had amazing food. I went with a group of friends and everyone really enjoyed it. I had a great falafel pita with a side of new potatoes. Both were great. Actually, just writing about it right now makes me want to go back.

8. Dragonfly--Columbus, OH

While taking a trip to the east coast once, I decided to stop off in various cities along the way and try a restaurant in each. I got to Columbus early, so I had to wait in my car for a hour before going in for lunch. I'm glad I did. I like it so much, that I hit it again on the way back home--and again a few years later while in town--and tried to again while staying at a bed and breakfast an hour or so away (but couldn't because it was closed). Simple, classy, delicious food. I only wish it were open more often, as I've had to wait around for it to open or simply missed out every time I've stopped by.

9. Thai Basil--Tempe, AZ

I love Thai food, but I only wanted to put one Thai restaurant on the list. It was a close call between this and Hello Thai in Busan. Despite actually having BEEN to Thailand, I still think both of these restaurants have some of the best Thai food I've ever had. Thai basil had an amazing green curry that simply had more and fresher vegetables than the one at Hello Thai (which itself is pretty good).

10. Life Restaurant and Bar--Hong Kong, China

I didn't like the food in Hong Kong much, but this place was great. It's an odd little mix of Western and Eastern food, reasonably priced and delicious. Hye Sook and I had a good meal there and then wanted to go back the next day but couldn't make it across town to try it out. I'd definitely stop in again if I was in Hong Kong a second time.

Honorable mentions:

Hello Thai--Busan, South Korea
Josan Kalgooksoo--Busan, South Korea
La Victoire Suprême du Cœur--Paris, France (now closed)
Le Potager du Marais--Paris, France
Guen Mai--Paris, France
The Spa Resort--Kao Samui, Thailand
Three Rivers Co-op, Fort Wayne, IN
India Garden--Indianapolis, IN
The Blue Nile--Columbus, OH
Flat Top Grille--All over the freakin' place


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Fall

While I've known for quite some time that my time in Korea was drawing to a close, the reality of it finally ending has actually started to hit me. I'm starting to do things, albeit small things, for the last time. I renewed my Korean visa for the last time today. I found what will be my last job in Korea just last week. And because of the new schedule, this Thursday will most likely be my last French class at Alliance Francais. Things are beginning to wrap up, and there's a real sense of finality with each one.

And then it hit me: A bigger ending is slowly sneaking up on me. This is my last semester at PNU, and it's over halfway finished. My students, some of whom I've taught for several years now, will no longer be my students anymore. My office won't be my office anymore. I won't even be able to say I'm a PNU professor anymore. That'll all be done. It's sad for me to think about since I've enjoyed the job so much, but it's also time to move on. I can't stay frozen forever.

I suppose it's also possible to see all of these endings as new beginnings. After all, my applications for the universities that I hope to go to are also just about done. But it's hard to see an important beginning coming. It's easier to see endings coming. Beginnings you can really only see in retrospect. You only can assign importance to an event once you've realized it's important, and it's impossible to do that until it's already happened. Maybe my life is full of beginnings now--invisible beginnings--but I won't be able to tell you for sure until after those things have begun.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

One in the Hand

The first time I saw one was out the window of my office. It was zipping from flower to flower, eating nectar as a student came in for a conference.

"Come see," I said. "I think that's a hummingbird."

She was impressed, having never seen one before.

I saw one again in traffic with Hye Sook and her parents one day.

"Look," I told Hye Sook. She, too, was impressed.

I started noticing them on the flowering bush in front of my apartment building when I came back from the States this year: first one, then many. Some days the bush would have as many as five or six feeding at one time. I also started to notice them on various flowers around my neighborhood--the morning glories on the bridge, the lilacs near the subway station--any flower was guaranteed to have one if you waited long enough. They zipped to and fro quickly, almost too quickly to follow.

It was a hummingbird epidemic, I thought. If you're going to have an epidemic, I supposed that that was one of the better kinds.

I became fascinated with them. I'd stop and watch them after my morning jog. Sometimes I'd even put my hand up right near them and feel the air flowing from their furiously beating wings.

And then one day I caught one.

I simply scooped it up in my hands after a jog. It was surprisingly easy. I rushed upstairs and, unable to turn the handle with the furiously flapping animal in my hands, I rang the doorbell until Hye Sook came to the door. Groggy, she stared at me, completely uninterested.

"I caught one," I said, "a hummingbird."

"Really?" She perked up a little.

We tried to get a good look into my hands but it was so small that I feared even a little crack would set it free. It's wings beat and beat against my palms. After I had shown Hye Sook my prize, I let it free. Off it zipped as soon as I opened my hands a crack.

Unable to contain my excitement, I went online to try to find out exactly what species I had caught. This site led me here, and that one led me there. No hummingbirds were listed for Korea, and every species I found was a bit larger than the ones I was seeing. The Bee Hummingbird was the closest one at 5 centimeters, which was about the size of the one I had caught, but they lived in Cuba. Eventually, I came across a site that made it all clear: what I had caught wasn't a hummingbird at all. It was a hummingbird moth--which explained the powder substance on my hands when I captured it. I thought that the hummingbird had just been really dusty or perhaps that hummingbird poop came out like that.

I was disappointed in my new knowledge. I had been fooled for weeks as to what I was seeing. I went out to look at them again and try to find signs that it was indeed a moth. Sure enough, two tiny antennae poked out from it's tiny head, and what I had mistaken for a beak was actually a proboscis which curled back a little every time it moved to a new flower. You see what you want to see, I suppose, although to my credit, it was hard to see details when they moved so fast.

As I was standing there watching them, a man came up to me and warned me to stay back. I wasn't the only one confused by this strange little creature.

"Those are hornets," he said. "If you catch one, you'll have to go to the hospital."

I nodded and smiled, not wanting to contradict him but confident in the fact that if you were to catch one, you'd be just fine.


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Friday, September 18, 2009


I'm not sure what it is about running that I like so much. I like the time alone with my thoughts, but I get plenty of that elsewhere too. I like pushing myself, and that's certainly something I do in various aspects of my life. I like the goal-oriented nature of running, and I like the feeling I have when I finish a hard run. But what I really like about running is something that's hard to pin down. I just feel good when I run, more awake and more aware. It's something that I don't get in other areas of my life--including other kinds of exercise. I sometimes think of running as therapy, but I'm not sure why.

I suppose I first got interested in running when I was in elementary school. I've always been okay at sports, but I was never a superstar. I've always been far better at exercise that I have at sports. When we'd run the mile in school, I always led the pack. I wasn't ever a stand-out in baseball or basketball or soccer. And that's probably why I joined the cross country team when I was in sixth grade, and probably why I continued with the team for the next couple years even after I tried and quit baseball, basketball, and wrestling.

During high school, I ran track, but I didn't run cross country. I chose football instead, which is a decision that I'm still not sure was the right one.

I didn't get back into long distance running again until college, when I started doing 10k's with my Uncle Scott. I had a good time and did okay, but I was never great. I hurt my knee running in a race after a year or so, and since I had no insurance, I wasn't able to ever really find out what the problem was. That's when I got into biking (which didn't hurt my knee) and forgot about running entirely.

I started running again seriously about a year ago. A doctor here helped me figure out what the problem with my knee was. Through exercise, stretching, and building up my legs on the treadmill, I was able to start running on the road in early August 2008. It wasn't long before I remembered why I liked to run. I felt stronger, and happier, and more alive. Because of the running (and some change in diet), I took off all of the weight I had gained since coming to Korea (nearly 30 pounds). What started as just a few kilometers for exercise became more and more. I ran my first race since starting back in March and have run a race every month or so since then, including a sprint triathlon (one of the hardest things I've ever done) last July.

My next race is October 11th, the day after I have to take the GRE Subject Test. It's a 10k, and I'm hoping to get my best time since I was in college (just under 40 minutes is the fastest I've ever run a 10k. My goal this time around is about 42 minutes--I'm getting closer). Then it's on to a half marathon in November and maybe a full marathon in the spring. I don't want to become a marathon runner, and I'd prefer to stick with 10k's, but I'd like to stay that I've done it once. Running long distances puts a lot of strain on your body, and I'm just as happy running 5 kilometers as I am running 25, so I don't see the point after I've done it once.

Regardless, running has been, is, and will be a part of my life for a long time. It's something I look forward to, dread, enjoy, and push through. It's something that makes me who I am.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009


I've been living in Korea for over 5 years now. I've had times when I've loved it and times when I've hated it. Obviously the good times have outweighed the bad or I wouldn't have stayed here this long. I met my wife here. I got married here. I've met great people and made great friends. When I think of how good I have it at my job, I find it hard to imagine any reason why I'd want to leave.

But I do. Finally, I do.

I hadn't had any strong desire to go back to the United States until fairly recently. I'm not sure when it came upon me, but it snuck up somewhere in the last year. I began to have an inkling when I started looking at universities for my PhD, but as many university websites as I looked at and as many emails as I sent, it all still felt very far away.

When I was actually back in the States this summer, I felt more comfortable there than I had on previous visits. I had missed the food, missed the people, and just missed speaking in English. It's odd to me that I had overlooked how much I missed these things before. The feeling was there, but it wasn't as present or instinctual as it felt on this trip. And when Hye Sook met up with me in Phoenix and came with me on to Pittsburgh, I knew that we'd be great in the United States. The feeling became clearer but still felt far away.

Really, the real momentum of going back didn't hit me until the last few days. Last Friday, I submitted the first round of paperwork for Hye Sook's residency visa (her green card). Tomorrow, the universities that I want to apply to begin taking applications. I've been preparing materials since I got back to Korea, and the thought of actually turning them in feels very good. It feels like there is movement in my life where previously there was none--like I'm moving toward something instead of just moving with something.

I'm scared too, certainly. I'm scared that my applications will get rejected. I'm scared that Hye Sook's visa won't go through. I'm scared about finding an apartment, a job, enough money to get by. I'm scared in a way that I haven't felt since I came to Korea, and that's exciting.

This is odd, but I'm also scared that I've forgotten some things. When I was back in the States, I found myself mentally asking myself, "Do Americans do this?" My own culture had become visible to me, and I had to view it, whereas in the past is was invisible. I've become so used to observing culture and trying to emulate it to fit in that I can't even turn it off when I'm in my own culture. I'll be able to turn it off again at some point, I'm sure, but it's an odd feeling to feel like a foreigner in your own home town.

I'm worried that I'm going to come back from Korea a jerk. Someone dropped something in front of me today, and I didn't stop to pick it up for him. It's simple, sure, but back home I know I would have done it. Here, I don't. It's something Korean culture has turned off in me (Koreans don't do it, and it's odd for them if I do). I've got to get used to holding doors open again. I have to relearn to say "excuse me" when I bump into people. I have to relearn to keep eye contact.

But I also have to unlearn bowing, leaving a silence after a question is asked to me, and the closer sense of personal space.

When I leave, I'll be leaving a lot of good things behind. Luckily, the best thing that I've found, Hye Sook, gets to come with me, and luckily, I'll get to keep the memories until my brain turns to mush, but there's still a feeling of lose--a feeling that I'll miss as a country I've grown to love really grows and changes into something greater than it is.

But, I suppose, that's also something I've been missing about the US for the last five years. It's time to go back.


Pictures of the United States Trip

These have been a long time coming. I kept forgetting to post them, but here they are. Enjoy!


I can't even remember what they were laughing about.


The four of us siblings in the same place at the same time for the first time in at least 2 and a half years.
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Joel after saying something funny that Danielle didn't approve of.
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Tater (and Alissa)
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Danielle, Uncle Scott and I after finishing the triathlon.
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Boo with the stand-in for Hye Sook. Since Hye Sook couldn't come along for most of the trip, I decided to take pictures of this stuffed anteater in her place.

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Downtown Austin.
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Me in San Diego
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Eric and Mika.
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Damian and I in a park in San Diego.
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San Diego beach.
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Damian, Judy, and Hye Sook. The next several pics are around the Phoenix area.
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Phoenix from the airplane.
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Danielle enjoying her birthday cupcake in Pittsburgh.
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Mom, Dad, and Hye Sook.
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