It took me hundreds of dollars and 14 hours to leave Sweden,

only to arrive in South Korea to the distinctive sound of Abba on the radio. Abba. The Swedish pop band whose manager lived in my Stockholm neighborhood. The radio playing Abba was inside the 7-11 across from my new apartment in Paju. The 7-11 next to the Dunkin’ Donuts.

Abba+7-11+Dunkin’ Donuts ≠ rural Korean experience I had expected. Granted, I didn’t have too many expectations. But Paju is often described as “rural” which conjures up fields and cows in my mind (and the Demilitarized Zone which I have yet to lay eyes on). My apartment, however, is surrounded by shops, buildings, and restaurants. It’s a two minute walk to access multiple buses (several of which are direct to Seoul).  Not so rural. But I’m fine with that, particularly because I’m currently sans car.

**

I walked out of the baggage claim area, pushing my bountiful luggage – two large suitcases (50lbs each), one small roller, a massive backpack, and a giant plastic bag – and scanning the crowd for my arranged driver.  And then I spotted him, a middle aged Korean man with a long friendly face, grinning and holding a sign that had my name in large black letters. Spelled correctly, which was a pleasant upgrade to my Cairo experience. (Yes, my name is difficult to spell. But how hard is it to transfer it from a computer to paper?)

He commandeered my bigger suitcases and led me to a spacious, comfortable van. There were no seatbelts in the back, which I discovered after several minutes of blindly groping the vinyl.

“Your name difficult,” he said, 10 minutes into the ride, long after we had discovered that we shared no common language.

“Yeah,” I said and laughed.

“Beautiful,” he repeated, and I realized he hadn’t said “your name difficult,” but “You’re very beautiful.”

Seeing as I had already laughed and agreed, I decided not to correct him. 30 minutes later, he pulled out his phone and spoke Korean into it.  It translated his words into English, first on the screen, and then out loud in the female google robot voice. (How much did that woman get paid?) Through this method he asked me where I was from.

“Nationality,” the robot voice said.

“Rae-chonalty,” he repeated. “Rae-chonalty, Rae-chonalty, Rae-chonalty.” I gently corrected his pronunciation a few times and then gave up.  It was probably not a good idea to encourage him to stare at and speak to his phone while he was driving. He didn’t seem worried about this, but then he was the one with the seatbelt.

I watched as he spoke Korean into his phone and it generated remarkably accurate translations: “Have you ever been to Korea before?” “First time?”  And then, of course:

“You look wonderful.” He silently read it, waiting for the robot voice. It came: “You look wonderful,” said the stilted, oddly stressed female tone.  He spoke the words to me with difficulty, laughing.

It is a nice thing when someone tells you that you look wonderful. However, I wasn’t terribly receptive to the compliment, seeing as I had just traveled for 14+ hours and had a makeupless, disheveled (but not in a saucy way) appearance, wearing my shapeless comfy traveling clothes.

“You English peecher?”

“Yes, I’m an English teacher.”

He smiled and said something into his phone: “Kids be happy.”  The first ify translation.

I laughed.

“Kids be happy,” he repeated. “Why? Beautiful!”

I thanked him and we continued in silence. It occurred to me that he knew exactly where I lived, but I brushed this thought aside. He was much more curious than creepy.

**

My apartment is lovely.  It’s big and furnished (including an extremely old fat computer), and I’m extremely happy with it. I’ll add pictures to this post tomorrow.

I leave for Korea on Tuesday, and have been packing

since Friday (yesterday). I have never, ever started packing so early, unless you count our family moves when packers emptied our house a few weeks before we actually left, leaving us to wander in huge, echoey spaces. Who knew that our house was so big and unfamiliar when stripped of our junk?

Still, my personal moves have always been last minute, all nighter affairs. This time I was determined to be different.  I wanted to be organized, space efficient, and well thought out.  So I hatched the master plan: A detailed list of every item I’m packing and where to find said item.  No matter that when I dump everything out on the other end it won’t matter what was in each bag. I’m in control. If I’m overweight at the airport, I can consult my list and figure out how to switch heavy items around so that everything weighs the appropriate number. (OK and how many times has someone told you about their upcoming flight and said “I hope I’m not overweight” and it throws you for a second because you momentarily think they’re referring to their person?)

Anyways, I’m currently rethinking my master plan as it has slowed me down considerably. Cryptically writing every item down (eg. maroon leg warmers Hannah gave me big suitcase) is time consuming and allows for other distractions.

Things I have been doing during my designated packing hours

1) Eating.

2) Blogging. (Hello!)

3) Trying to reteach myself the Rubik’s cube. (apparently it’s not one of those “solve once solve anytime” things).

4) Getting fascinated at my Rubik’s cube muscle memory – if I force myself to not think, my hands take over and do the patterns. I can do this with old piano songs I used to know. Very cool.

5) Then getting frustrated because my muscle memory (and normal memory) fails at the final stage and if you mess the final stage of the Rubik’s cube, you have to start from the beginning because it’s a horrible silly colored stickered box thing that taunts people.

6) Having fika with friends.

7) Reading off the list of what I’ve packed so far to my boyfriend. (Wooden butter knife, giant Swedish flag, blue dangly earrings, green dangly earrings, blue stud earrings, dangly circle earrings from Emma, celtic earrings, etc.)

8) Searching two different Lindex stores for a replacement pair of my awesome red mittens, one of which I lost on a cruise to Finland last weekend (which I should probably blog about sometime) (the cruise, not the mittens) (although the mittens were pretty awesome and sort of sentimental so maybe I’ll post a picture).

9) Helping my brother with GRE math studies.

10) Painting my toes. Actually I only painted one toe (the big one on the right) because I sadly ran out of my Sally Hensen chrome nail polish that has been so good to me for the past 5+ years.

the last time I saw my right red mitten



I know an absurd amount of guys/men who claim

they don’t like makeup on a girl. My (girl) friends and I have discussed this phenomenon frequently. Did they not have a mother/sisters growing up? Have they not seen the “celebrity with no makeup” photos in Gossip magazines? How do they not understand the difference between no makeup and natural looking makeup?  Because what they actually mean when they say they prefer girls without makeup is either:

1) Girls with natural looking makeup. (Ie. makeup that reflects the wearer’s natural colors and enhances without looking like paint)

or possibly

2) That one occasional perfect girl with the naturally flawless skin, long dark eyelashes, and rosy lips.

While I doubt any guy would turn down a 2), I’d bet most of the time when they say they prefer makeup-free girls, they mean 1), because 2)’s really don’t pop up too often (and when they do, they usually wear some sort of makeup which makes them even hotter). I understand what they are saying though, and I agree – a natural look is more appealing.

A few anecdotes about makeup:

My sister and I were talking about this with our boyfriends who have both claimed they prefer girls to not wear makeup. I announced that Mr. Marx (my sister’s bf) had no idea what a makeupless face even looked like. He pointed at my sister, who indeed was not wearing any makeup. It looked like he won that battle until my sister said, “Yes, but the only times you tell me I look beautiful are when I’m made up and dressed cute.”  (For the record, my sister is adorable with or without makeup.)

I have several times had conversations with someone who told me they prefer girls without makeup, “like you.” (Me.) They have said this while I was wearing more makeup than my everyday stuff (ie. I was wearing eyeliner, mascara, foundation, eyeliner).

A friend of mine from college who is a hottie landed a commercial gig (I told you she’s a hottie).  One of the scenes was a morning scene where she was supposed to be waking up and the director was adamant that she wear no makeup in order to contrast with a scene where she is fully made up.  She told him he didn’t understand what that would look like and that he really probably wanted her to wear light makeup. He insisted that it needed to be authentic and that she couldn’t wear any.  Fine, she said, and decided to give him what he wanted. She arrived to the shoot the next day completely makeupless – except a little concealer under her eyes. He was taken aback. The conversation went something like this:

Director: Hmmm.  Well maybe you can put on a bit of that…you know face stuff?

Hottie: Some foundation?

Director: Yeah, just to smooth things out a bit.  And maybe use some of that powder stuff?

Hottie: A little face powder?

Director: Sure.

Hottie: So maybe you did want me to wear makeup after all?

Director:

OK, I’m not complaining about guys here. It’s sweet that many of them prefer a natural look even if they don’t understand how much effort is put into looking that natural.  Also, I’m really the wrong person to write about this as some days I really don’t wear any makeup. But when I don’t, I look tired and I don’t feel as attractive.  When you stop wearing makeup you get the “Are you feeling well? You look tired” comments.

The fabulous Dove video:

**

My next list concerns the things I’ve been belatedly finding out about my boyfriend. I’m compiling them here, so that he can make a handy dandy printout for his post-me prospects.

Things my boyfriend should have told me before we started dating. Part 1.

1) He doesn’t drink warm/hot drinks. As in, no coffee or tea. As in, we live in Scandinavia and can never sit next to a fire with mugs of hot chocolate heaped with mini marshmellows. (As far as I know, that’s already impossible here because they don’t sell mini marshmellows. Count your blessings people.)

2) He doesn’t dance. Right, I know there are plenty of guys who “don’t dance” but they still find their two moves and repeat them while swaying next to anyone who looks interested.  He had some sort of traumatizing high school experience learning to salsa in gym class, and now he won’t try. This means that if I want to learn swing or salsa, I’m stuck with the dodgy partners.

3) He won’t sing karaoke. It’s karaoke. You’re supposed to be bad.

4) He doesn’t like sushi. I know I know, lots of people don’t. But please keep in mind that he grew up in Asia and therefore I made a minor assumption in this area. Sweden happens to be the home of my sushi groove, where I have painstakingly learned how to make it.  He watches and then eats a burger.

5) I can’t think of a 5th right now, but 5 is a good number for a list.

I recently purchased a kindle.

Just the basic one, not the Fire or Touch or Onethatcostsasmuchasanipad. And I feel a little weird. Like I’m betraying my childhood of paperbacks and hardcovers. Like I’m ushering a new era of not being able to judge a person by their (book)covers when I enter their home. Empty bookshelves, shudder. As a print journalism grad who has interned for several print papers, I feel a special connection to the tactile reading experience. (Though as a news junkie, the online news aggregates are so good to my addiction.)

I guess I’m one of those people. Technology haters. People who can’t cope with change. People who resisted cassette tapes, then CDs, then iTunes. And I’m not even 25. These are my years to be wildly embracing new ideas and flagrantly ignoring my elders with my passion for forward motion. Right. I don’t know when this moved from kindles to social fights.

Reasons I was reluctant to purchase a Kindle

1) Even though I don’t frequently reread books, I like to have them around. To lend. To stare at.

2) The tactile experience of a book. The smell. Older editions. Bent page corners.

3) My sister’s kindle died a few months after she got it last year. (Granted we had dragged it around on our three weeks of traveling through Morocco. Buses, Peace Corps hosts, etc.)

4) The idea of one day traveling Public Transport and seeing everyone read on their tiny machines is disturbing. Less people-watcher friendly (I like to know what my fellow passengers are reading). Too futuristic. Though I suppose I should just be happy that people are still reading. And it’s not like the metro is filled with people glued to books now.

5) I’m bad at technology. You can’t freeze or break a paperback.

…and BOOKSTORES:

I have never had a trip to a bookstore that I regretted. I have my favourite little rebel stores around town with their “whatever we feel like” selection and their “support local business” bookmarks. But I also love B & N and (rest in peace) Borders. So corporate, etc, but so much candy for my eyes and hands! It’s like walking into a sex shop, only for literature geeks. Everything is bright and tantalizing! The covers, the shelves, the books!

And it’s the only store where you can go in, sit down, and if you have the time, get full free use of their product, just like you would at home, and nobody bats an eye. You can got read the books! And you only pay if you decide to take it home! How is that sound business practise?

– Christophe

Reasons I ignored my qualms and purchased a Kindle

1) They’re cheap. Or relatively cheap. ($80.00) Cheaper than they were. (Though apparently my dad’s first massive calculator that could only do sums was over a hundred dollars, so that’s how it works). This includes a ton of free books available for downloading.

2) Every time I visited their site, Amazon was in my face about buying one. I only have so much will power.

3) I am embarking on a major move and am only bring two suitcases. I cannot pack my books if I want to have winter clothing.

4) They really do seem nifty. They have built in WiFi and a dictionary. They remember page numbers. You have instant access to many (thousands?) titles.

5) The actual reason: I’ve been researching life as an expat in S. Korea and discovered that English books are hard and expensive to come by. There’s no way I can live for a year without access to books in my own language. Also, I joined a wine and book club in Korea and this is the best (only?) way to keep up with the reading.

“One day in October, Burdock comes on heat.

This means that she is ready to mate.  She rubs Toby’s head. Toby sniffs her and curls his top lip as he smells the air. After a  while, they mate.”

The previous is an excerpt from the middle of a children’s picture book I didn’t proofread before bringing to a private English tutoring session with a nine year old.  We were going through the book, about life on a farm, and underlining words that she didn’t understand. Until we reached the page that included the words “Burdock, ‘on heat’, and mate.” (Right, Burdock wouldn’t have been hard to explain, but it’s a bizarre word, even if it is a name.)  I skimmed ahead and announced that the book was too thick (it was), and we were stopping. Not in my job description. Also, who uses the preposition “on” when referring to heat? I always thought an animal was “in” heat. Weird Scandinavian children’s authors with their sex content and odd phrasing.

A similar looking book, I couldn't find the one I used.

So, this hasn’t been the loveliest intro to a Valentine’s Day blog post, but at least sheep mating is semi-related to love. (Notice their loving connection: she rubs his head, he sniffs her. After a while (bowling alley trips, dinner dates, long talks,) they mate. Very romantic.

I’ve never been a Valentine’s Day hater.  This is the first year that I’ve actually had a Valentine, but I’ve never been one of the Singles Awareness Day folks.  I would write a piece on this, but it’s already been written, so if you’re curious check out the link.  If you’re too lazy, here’s a pull quote:

I know that every day should be about romance, that the calendar shouldn’t have to remind my boyfriend and me to take some time out and remember that we adore each other. (Yeah, it’s saccharine, but true.) But our calendars are filled with dates that remind us to spend time on something—holidays that encourage us to spend time with family and to remember religious tradition; birthdays to celebrate each person’s “cosmic specialness,” as a friend of mine likes to say. What’s wrong with Valentine’s Day fitting into that? Sometimes we do need a reminder to take time out and acknowledge each other.

–Tori Bosch

And hey, if you’re super bummed about V-day, remember that in Sweden, there’s a group of people who celebrate “All broken hearts day.”

Here’s the ultimate Valentine’s Day photo:

And a cute article about it.

I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. Use it as an occasion to recognize and express all the love that’s in your life.

Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

I am probably somewhere on your pet peeve list.

Reasons why I am probably somewhere on your pet peeve list:

– I randomly sing in public places, even though singing is one of my nongifts.

– I frequently wear mismatched socks.

– I interrupt my own stories, and I have a loud shrill laugh.

– I wear brown with black. (Well I think I do.  I find it hard to pay attention to that sometimes.)

– I will listen to your detailed story about your horrible awful boss and then try to defend her/him in some way (maybe he had three hours of sleep?).

– I’m a bad hugger.

– I’m terrible at keeping in touch.

– I will correct your grammar even though mine isn’t perfect.

– I like Justin Bieber.

– I overuse parentheses.

Etc.  (This list could be a lot longer, but you get the idea).

BUT, the one thing I have never done is: clipped my fingernails on a crowded metro.  I haven’t done this, however, I’ve sat across from a man who decided  – sans bag – that this bit of grooming couldn’t wait for a public restroom. OK, so public restrooms in Sweden cost about $1.50 – he still could have waited until he was outside to flick his bits of dirty, hardened human skin/cartilage/whatevernailsaremadeof into the air.  (Yes, science is another of my nongifts).  I’m seriously not that uptight about nail clipping: I’ve only recently begun to care if they make it into the trash (I told you I’m on your pet peeve list), but this seemed a little extreme.  Maybe all of my Dear Prudence reading has made me more sensitive to social nonos.  I was shocked to read on Dear Prudence comments that a person touching up makeup on public transit was considered rude.  But makeup application doesn’t involve flinging discarded body bits at your seatmate. (He wasn’t being careful). So if that’s not OK, neither is this.