Saturday, August 27, 2005

La Fería del Maíz

The Corn Fair. That is what is going on right now in this city of corn, coffee, and agriculture, Matagalpa Nicaragua. The cathedral and Parque Morazán are crammed full of people and stands selling everything and everything made out of corn. I am particularly enjoying guerila con caujada, a thick tortilla made from ground green corn cobs, served warm off the grill with a soft white cheese present in almost all Nicaraguan meals. I spent the morning seated in the park, reading, trying not to scratch the numerous mosquito bites on my lower legs and ankles. I was told that if you have 40 bites, you are likely to contract denghue fever. I haven´t put myself to counting mine for fear of the number that I may reach, though I don´t think it´s actually near 40. I spent the day yesterday at the CECOCAFEN, becoming both enlightened and impressed by information about the outer- and inner-workings, the commitment to a social project, the acknowledgement of the issues and problems of cooperative business. It was good to get some straight answers, to spend some time in the office. Though I was a little put off when one of my interveiwees turned the first few questions right against me, starting taking notes, and stated in a no-nensense way, "This is what you have come to investigate. This is what CECOCAFEN is giving you, what can CECOCAFEN expect from you in return? What is the benefit that we will recieve from your being here?" This question terrified me, as it is what I am unsure about myself! I don´t know what I have to offer, other than an open mind, a willingness to work and learn, and a desire to go home with an increased understanding and ability to tell people why Fair Trade and cooperatives do or do not make that much difference. Eek! So I told him that, and what I am working on with interviews and part of the eco-tourism guide, and he seemed happy. Though he still wants me to write some kind of letter explaining that and my commitment to it or something along those lines. I´ll have to look back at my notes and think a little more about that one. But things are well. My parents are coming to see me at the beginning of October! I can hardly believe it, hardly hold in my excitement! They are coming down, well, no longer as a surprise, but to help me celebrate my birthday. Hmmm. I am one lucky duck. I realize now, as I near the end of august, that this year is going to fly by, some times more than others, but that it is on its way. Kris and Jackie, I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be hearing about your adventures, your homes, your lives. I love you both...

Friday, August 26, 2005


When we kicked this off...I had no idea what it might look like. But I most certainty hoped it would be something like this. I am so happy to be reading Hilary and Jackie's adventures. It looks like we're doing a lot of reflection right now...which, in my opinion, is what we should be doing. Before I kick this off "proper," I just want to let Jackie and Hilary know that this big trip wouldn't be half of what it is now if I didn't have them in my hearts and by my side. They are two of the most amazingly strong women I know....and I am truly blessed to be out here with them. That we go:

Now of the many things that I have been learning….slang is probably one of those things that I am being constantly schooled on. For instance….Chav is a term used for those kind of people that we, as Americans, commonly view Brits as. It's those guys who wear soccer (football for the rest of the world outside the U.S.) jerseys and drink their brains out, and then go out looking for fights. Now while there are many of these kinds of people...I assure you that not all Brits are like this. Most of them are quiet polite and wouldn't hurt anyone (even when they're drunk....and believe me they know how to drink out here. If drinking were Olympicpic sport...the UK would win gold all the time).

Now one new word that I am very fond of is "Tasty". It isn't a typical slang word, but one that Miles (check his recolabelble at and his buddies used. It can be used for many different thing....but describes something that is vedesirableble...almost delicious. No, it isn't a sexual expression. It's more like..."damn...that song was tasty!" Which is how they often use it. Or, while watchicricketett (like baseball but without bases and the players are all dressed up like they're going out to a country club) a guy makes a very good play...they will say something like "that was tasty."

Now this word is the perfect word to describe the things I heard last night. I should probably keep this under wraps. But let us call it free promotion. Miles, who's my contact here in Brighton, runs a record label that is known to put out many tasty things. Till now, most of the cd's and records have been Afro Beat and Highlife focused. They are about to explore some new territory...and just like the earlier Afro beat releases...this next one is certified gold. They are going to release two new compilations. One on Panamanian grooves and another on Cuban beats. Now for those out there who truly know me....they would say that I have ended up in the right place at the right time.

One thing I must say about Miles and his crew is that they are one, some of tmostose amazing people I have met. Now trust me...I'm not star struck...these guys are by no means super start Dj's....and I'm not very easily star struck. No, these kats are genuine. They have treated me (a complete stranger) like they have known me for 20yrs. Like we grew up together back in the hood. But aside from their personal traits...they know their music. And they sure as hell know how to putcompilationion cd together. Most Dj's look down on comps because it takes away from owning that original album. It takes away from the hunt of that sweet, tasty gem. But sometimes you can't deny when a compilation is good. And the given Soundways track record, these next ones are going to be amazing.

First off. For the mussnobsbbs like me. You can't just put any salsa on an album. Alot of stuff that is made today sounds realprocessedsed and really mastered. it sounds great and polished. But it takes alot of that soul, passion, and beauty away from the music. All the songs I hard last night were raw, unmastered, and full of all that good latin flavor. It is what my parents like to call, "salsa gorda." Meaning: thick, heavy, rich, sweet, tastily, beautiful salsa. The kind of stuff that only thomusicianian who have stuggled a life time to be heard can put out. Each track I heard last night (which was about 12-15) was a pure gem. I have no idea who played don't ask me. But I know that while listening to it I got vivid pictures of tmusiciansaliterallyaly pouring their souls into each and every note that they played. I can hardly wait to see Jackie and Mom's face when I get a hold of thecompilationsons and play it for them. I'm sure it will be inspiring some living room dancing....and it will mocertaintytly shakinging some booties when I drop these hits in the club.

This is what I came here for. To be inspired by crazily, insanely, beautiful music. I wish I could have gone to Cuba for this project. And I wish I though of Panama. But, that is for another years adventure. Right now I am very much enjoying talking music, life, and politics with amazing people. Here in this space. In cramped recolabelble offices. On beautiful beaches. In green parks. Late nights in flats. Hilary was very accurate when she said that this is what it's all about. I feel that we, as Americans, are raised to distrust oneighbor'sors, to live life fast for the purpose of making money. We rarely take the time to say hello to strangers. We rarely take time to meet other people (unless we're looking for...well...romantic interests). I suppose right now I have the luxury of time and money. But I don't see why even when we have to pay the bills and go to work why we can't stop and take sometime to enjoy life, the universe, and everything else. We're always searching fanswersers....and we never stop to have thansweredred.

Ok...I'll get off the philosophical crap. These last three weeks have been amazingly, painfully, terribly, fun. I have learned a great deal about my self, about Jackie, about Hilary, and all the other people that have made this possible. And to think, it has only just been three weeks. This blog is going to be very busy.

Note: The spell check (and god knows I need it) did some funky things to some words. I tried to fix most of them...but I'm not sure if I got them all. Sorry.'ll get the main idea.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Lesson on Energy and Stereotypes

I am in my last prep time for this week. At 2:05 and 3:05pm I will have my last two of my 18 classes this week. This morning when I came in I was ready to melt right through my seat because I was so exhausted. However, after talking with another young English teacher at my school and laughing with the geography teacher who sits beside me and brings me lunch everyday, I am energized again.

Another teacher would probably say I am energized because of the rings she gave me the other day. The day before yesterday another teacher, who was introduced to me as the oldest teacher in the kyo mu shil (teacher's room which has all of the teacher's desks), sort of read my birthdate, the the time I was born, and my energy. She tried a combination of silver and gold rings on my hands (she substituted yellow raffi paper for the gold rings) and figured out what combination directed my energy best. She was able to figure out that my body is cold,--that I do not cold weather (She was right! I detest cold weather! I love hot weather!). She also knew that I am always tired. Ok, you're gonna say that all people are always tired and stressed, but I have been tested for anemia a couple of times because I am always so exhausted. From that she determined that my best colors--to wear, to sleep in, etc--were yellow, green, and other warm colors. She said colors like blue, black, white, and red were too cold for me and drained my energy. So she pulled out all these little bags of filled with different sizes of silver rings and determined how many I had to wear on each hand. I had to move Kristofer's engagement ring from my left hand to my right ring finger, add another silver ring on top, wear a silver ring on my left ring finger, and an extra long yellow raffi paper on my right thumb (looks like yellow string). She said I can replace it with two gold rings when I get a chance. Apparantly this is called "chim" and it is not too far from acupuncture. Now I noticed other people wearing a few, thin gold and silver rings on their fingers. My host father has done this as well...but we don't change the color of our bedding. I guess the rings are good enough.

As for of my classes the other day had many questions to ask me so I let them. The most popular/common question they like to ask me is "Boyfriend??" When I tell them I am engaged, I get lots of "oooooohhhhhh!!!" and laughs. They also wonder whether I am Korean, what my Korean name is (apparantly Hae Won is a pretty name. I think that's because it is not common), and if I have eaten kimchee. One question this one class asked me was what was my blood type. I thought it was a strange question but I answered anyways. When I told them O+, I got many, "OOh!! Good! Good!" Which confused me. I didn't know whether they were just trying to kiss up, so there was a little bit of confusion while I tried to ask them whether they were serious or messing with me. Apparently it is a bit of a joke, but a real question. So I asked them to tell me what each blood type meant. So A=good, B=crazy, O-=so-so, and AB=dirty blood. I was very concerned that a student in the room may have been one of these blood types and realized I had to do something about these stereotypes and random catergorizations. So I wrote the word "stereotypes" on the board and asked if they had ever heard of it before. They hadn't. I gave examples of stereotypes in America. For example, I told them lots of people think I am Chinese and absolutely can not distinguish or even care that I actually not Chinese. This earned a few solemn "Ohhhhs". Then I said in America many people would say that Koreans are always very smart. This made them say, "Oh yeah!" and laugh. However, I added a "but"....that even though many Americans think Koreans are always smart, most people think Koreans are smart in math or science. Then I asked a girl if she liked math and science. She didn't. And then they understood why that would suck if people thought Koreans were only good at one thing. "This," I explained, "are examples of stereotypes." All I got were lots of solemn "Ohhhhs...." I know one girl in the front definately got it. Her face changed so much. That was probably the most interesting class I had this week.

So now I am at home. I was not able to finish this blog when I started it during my prep. A bunch of students came over to talk to me. It is fun, but can be tiring and difficult because I have to slow my speech so much to the point that I must annunciate so clearly it feels like I am halting after every syllable. It is truly exhausting. However the worst feeling ever is when I look at the back of the classroom and a student is checking her watch because she is so bored or tired. What do I do? The other students who are sitting towards the front are so interested and focused. I am sure there must be a way to prepare a lesson so that everyone is interested, but I still haven't figured it out. Even though I have revised my lesson about 10 times, added hangman, made up my own name games, come up different kinds of introductions and conversation practices...sometimes the last factor is just the chemistry of the class, which I sometimes have no control over. Anyway, like I said, there must be more that I can do. ::sigh:: It is just so difficult to come up with a lesson that is interesting, not all fun and games, but gives something useful.

I am suddenly exhausted again. I am off to bed after a few emails. Until the next prep time....

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Finally at Home

It is 9:14 pm and the house is busy but peaceful: my host mother (I call her imo = "eemoe", which means aunt and my host father i call imobu = "eemoeboo" which means uncle..tho at school i call him teacher out of respect. he teachers korean languge to seniors), my host father is busy drilling and hammering in curtains, shelves and other things because the family just moved into a new apartment, my brother -Seun Hyeon (18)- is watching TV and always on stand by to help me with anything, my little host brother -Woo Hyeon (12) is reading a Korean History comic book. Though in some ways I am still finding my place here, soon it will truly be my home. Our view of the flush green mountains from any window in the apartment and the cool breeze that comforts us as we work and rest on this Sunday night, comforts me in the midst of my slight homesickness. Though I'd give anything to hop onto the bus and head down to the village, yesterday's 10 minute drive to hike 2 hours up and then down Yudalsan was soothing enough.

My imo keeps saying that I am "truly korean". When she finds out the foods I like to eat, that I love to climb mountains, when I tell her I love hearing Korean language and voices, that I like rice and soup in the morning instead of cereal, and maybe even when she sees the way I squat when I wash my laundry by hand--she says I am Korean. My imobu tells me he will help me find my aunts who I believe live within an hour to two of here...and my younger brothers make me laugh and take care of me well...

Still, I miss Kristofer, Gloria, Daniel, and Edwin....: (

I wonder how my brother, sisters, nephews, and nieces are doing...I think I missed a few bdays...:(

Anyway my school--
The girls are so funny! I feel a bit like a celebrity as they giggle when the walk by, try to steal waves and looks at me while they study, run up to me and ask to be my "best Korean friend", wave and run away...However, I did see one girl who couldn't be any more uninterested. It made me keep in mind that I can't let myself get gassed. Still, they make me laugh and smile. I am really excited for this year.

With that said...I better run and finish my lesson for tomorrow. I am also trying to watch my internet time...I don't want to be glued to the computer.

Kristofer and Hilary-- my heart is with both of you as you find that you have families and homes around the globe and connect with a world that you always hoped and dreamed was out there. Mi corazon es con tigo siempre. Is that right? My heart is with you always....ciao...안 녕!

Friday, August 12, 2005

back in the city

i have just returned from my first lengthy stay in el campo, and I must admit, I am thrilled to read about the adventures that kris and jackie are having, as well as to think about and reflect on my own...
thinking back on the last week, a few images in particular come to mind, the dirt floor kitchen with the open fire under the stove, a huge black cauldron of beans churning, and a pot of coffee off to the side that is dipped into with small mugs at every meal, the sun streaming in, so that when you look one way, everything is illuminated, and looking the other, everything appears in silhouette. i also recollect fiels of corn, covering my head with a malanga leaf to serve as a rain hat, and wearing nothing but rain boots for the last five days. It gets muddy up in the campo!
back in the city, things feel like luxury, like in comparison, everything here feels like home. A fluching toilet, streets, cars. In comparison, the campo appears quite remote, where all that passes are the buses three times a day and the occasional truck usually full of local hitch hikers in back.
there I have been experiencing and learning, recognizing different spanish, different customs, a different pace of life. I am definitely having to reaccustome myself to the slow pace of the countryside, where, although everyone gets up really early (like five!) there seems to be little to be done during the day (at least until the harvest starts in october, or the corn harvest starts in three to four weeks). either way, i am learning a ton, trying to figure out how to tackle this project, how to insert myself into a small community, what kinds of questions to ask, as well as how to make tortillas, figure out what´s going on in the telenovelas the whole family watches, how to play pool, and how to walk down slippery mud trails without plummeting through rows and rows of mature corn.
It is an interesting thing, this being here alone, experiencing, experimenting, absorbing. The experience for all of us is obviously about much more than our projects, it is about finding ourselves, what we want to do, what part of this project and this world really ignites our passions. For me, it seems to be the organizing, the validation, the human interaction. Living and knowing, learning that even as I am here, people are visiting gas stations in Manchester, VT, sleeping on Rainbow Rider in Great Harbor Peter, BVI, entering the grocery store in Ashland, Oregon, and sitting on beaches or in dorm rooms in other parts of the world. It´s about expanding our consciousness and ourselves. a big experience, so many thoughts to write just on the weekends when i get back to the city...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Under the Broadwalk...

or next to it. A week after landing in the UK I find my self on a stone beach (like a regular beach but with stones instead of sand). It seems like this is the only place I can jack free wireless....and I'm not really complaining. Brighton is a beautiful city on the south coast of the UK. It looks out to a calm ocean, with France just on the other side. I've can't lie...I have been enjoying my self very much in this small beach town. Yet these last few weeks have been far from a Holiday (vaction for those of us who are not in the UK).

Well...where do I start? How about the insta-shock that hit me when I arrived at my first hostel. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I started this trip....but I wasn't expecting to go into shock. It lasted for maybe three days, but with help from my three new German friends, Maxi, Carsten, and Yonas...I quickly began to navigate the streets of central London. London is a very beautiful city. Old, grand, and very royal. You can tell that the UK has been around for a long time. Where some buildings in the states may be 200 yrs old...buildings here are old as the new world and even older. Perhaps age has given London wisdom as well. It is truly a cosmopolitain city...with people from all places in the world. Not that the U.S. isn't culturally diverse, yet it seems there is more acceptance and understanding for difference in this country than back home (even after the recent bombings). All the monuments are grand and ancient. Much more impressive than our nations capital. Buildings with gold triming, grand hallways, and enourmous rooms. The British take much pride in being one of the greatest empires in the world.

Brighton too has some history. It seems that some great long time ago....during the time of King George (don't ask me which one), a great royal pavillion was build near the beach. It's architecture is very Indian....think the Mughal period for those who know some Indian history. Very grand, beautiful, and expensive. It seems that at the time that King George built it all of the royals thought he was crazy. This might be true, but one can't help but stand in awe at how a lot of money and a little craziness can build something so fantastic. The lonely planet describes it has Indian look on the outside....Chinese brothel on the inside. I haven't ventured in yet so I can't confirm....but one thing that is for sure is that it is beautiful.

These last few weeks have been more about meeting world travelers than doing my project. In the last ten days I have met at least six people who are about to wander the world or have just wandered it for a year. It is encouraging too hear the many reasons and stories behind why people have packed up and left home. So many things to see in this world, so little time is the general consensus. However, I am feeling discouraged about my project. It's been almost two weeks and so far everything has been a non-starter. I can get my project going...I don't know if it is because a lack of motivation, shock, or just that I keep running into dead ends. My contact was suppose to meet with me today...well it's 7pm uk time and I'm still waiting for his call. I'm re-evalutating my situation and deciding what my next move should be. I constantly ask my self why I decided to come to the UK. I think perhaps it was a poor decision project-wise...but a excellent decision when it comes to meeting world adventurers. Perhaps I needed an easy and smooth transition before I could commit to the larger task at hand. But the growing frustration is starting to rain on this seaside pardise. There is only so much beach bumbing one can do before they start to feel guilty...and although I have met some amazing individuals....I need to feel like there is some movement.

As the sun sets and the beach cools down....I look forward to the bright lights from Brighton pier. It's like Vegas on the water. At least I can distract my self with this towns charm while I wait for an anwser from my contact. But I know that if I don't see some action in my project soon...I may be writting about Ghana sooner than I planned. As it stands, I think I may head out to Accra by the end of this month...a whole month sooner than I had planned for. I suppose that is where music really is...and that is where I should be. For now, I'll enjoy the cool evening and the beautiful mornings...and tomorrow afternoon, I'll draw up a new plan.

K. rios

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cheon Saeng Yeon Bun**

**note on romanization: eo = uh, ae = e in "open", u = oo

Cheon Saeng: from God or the heavens
Yeon Bun: ordained, predestined, fate
Cheon Saeng + Yeon Bun: ~ what is meant to be

It is so clear that this was meant to be. At 11 pm I just got back from 4 hours with a group of 6 others and our caligraphy teacher. The past four weeks every Monday we have either gone to her caligraphy school or she has come here to campus where we have done caligraphy in the cafeteria (not during dining hours of course). The OCs (Orientation Coordinators) set up these little "cultural workshops" with local schools, etc. (another group does ceramics on Thursdays). However, our caligraphy group has been especially fortunate.

Today was our last day so we went to the hagwan (private school; in this case, caligraphy school). I brought along my 4 character saying that we were going to write out today. Someone gave it to me right before we left; she said it meant "1000 years, a matchmade in heaven". I thought it was kind of funny and figured I would give it to Kristofer. So when the teacher wrote it out for me to trace and practice she explained that it had something to do with heaven and something decided upon or given from heaven. I figured Karen had been right about the translation and I didn't think anything of it. I just ate the mandoo (steamed dumplings) the teacher surprised us with, and did my caligraphy. When we were done, she took us to her husband's do jang (martial arts school) where he and a group of his students practice the Korean style Kung Fu (Cheon San Mu Yae Won). It was truly amazing. We had our time with him and his students, who were very impressed by and thankful for our comments about how amazed we were by their beautiful, powerful, and fluid the movements were. They said our eyes were sharp and they had not heard comments from regular people with such acute observations. This did not move me as much as when they explained that the martial art is the way the body makes music, like playing the piano.

Then when we left, in my broken Korean (which has helped me help the rest of us survive at various restaurants, stores, our Monday excursions with our caligraphy teachers, etc.) I thanked her for giving us so many experiences that we may never experience again. Then she referred back to my four character saying, Cheon Saeng Yeon Bun, and said it's a lot like that, and that's why she wanted to do these things for us (last week she also took us to a beautiful coffee shop/cottage on this amazing mountain overlooking a beautiful lake and hills). That was when I realized that Cheon Saeng Yeon Bun meant, it was meant to be. She said it was meant to be that we met each other. And it truly was because after she dropped us off, she quickly came into the dorm to show me the online stream of when she and her husband were on a morning news show 2 weeks ago. The segment opens with great pictures of her and her husband--of their wedding, trips they have gone on together--, then she shows some tea tasting, her caligraphy school, and then she does tai chi with some students at her husband's school. And I noticed throughout the segment the titles and words appearing on the screen said something about pursuing what you love. I asked if that was correct and she confirmed and said, "Yes, when you pursue what you want or love that's what will truly make you happy." The news segment must have been how she and her husband have together pursued what they love and are a couple that is equally happy in just being together. Guess it is how it was meant to be.

This is how most of my days go. Amidst the horrible cafeteria food and bathrooms (I guess no matter where you are, dining hall food and dorm bathrooms are not fun!), every day brings a new adventure and new people in my life. Whether it is a 10 minute conversation with a taxi driver who is from the province I will be living in (Mokpo, the south-western province of Jeollanam-do. a port city!), spending time with my caligraphy teacher, reading about resistance movements in Korean History (read about the Gwangju Uprising or read The Kwangju Uprising), I am amazed and overwhelmed at all that I have been learning about life here and my own history.

There is so much that has happened. I wish I had been able to write everyday, but my days have been very full with language classes (taught by professional professors from Korea University), teaching workshops, cultural workshops (on the "Korean psyche", Korean customs and traditions, and others...I will post pages later), Fulbright English immersion camp for middle schoolers, drinking with Kangwon National University students (friendly and wise drinking is one of the main ways to bond here in Korea), eating Chuncheon's famous ddalk kalbi, and more. Kangwon Dae (KNU) is the university we have been staying at, and I have found solace in the various, hidden running/walking paths in the forests and sanctuaries. When I have needed time to be alone from the other 59 English Teaching Asssitants (ETA--that's our title) or to think about whether giving Koreans my Korean name, Kook Hae Won, is a facecious attempt to be authentic (the answer is no of course, and whoever tried to come up with challenging another's authenticity, should just worry about himself!).

Again, there is so much to write about. This is to let you know I am happy, healthy, safe, learning, and still a bit overwhelmed. My initial homesickness is slowly being replaced with nervous anticipation for when I meet my principal, co-teacher, and host family next Thursday, August 18. Send good thoughts my way! I need them! I will begin making different pages for the thoughts, information, and visions I have come across up until now. I did not think I would love it here so much. I suppose the blunt honesty and love people have had for me makes it hard not to love it here. My ignorance, bitterness, and skepticism of Korea and the people is being transformed and rewritten with history, pride, music, art, dance, hangul (Korean), and more. I can't wait to share and write more!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

On learning to fly...

Since we seem to be sharing deep things on this blog, I thought I would throw out my two sense to these my two favorite people, and to all of my other favorites who may be checking this website.
I recently found the following quote, which is good about life, and particularly pertinent to those of us just graduated and finding our new adventures. gilda radner said this:

Some stories don´t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what´s going to happen next. delicious ambiguity...

Let us please remember this year to soak up the delicious ambiguity that is being lost somewhere in the middle of our stories; remember that we are where we are to do precisely what we are doing, and that that is not only okay but wonderful. jacqueline and kris, I am so happy to be out exploring this wonderful world with you even while we are apart. you help me to remember to take the world as it comes, moment to moment, even as I think and analyze. i love you, and am going to do my best to try to miss the ground as i continue on on this adventure. I love you...