Heavenly.

You know those days that are absolutely perfect in their simplicity, in the tiny little moments, that when you get home you find yourself laying on the floor in your pajamas with wet hair smiling for no particular reason at all? Today was one of those days.

First of all, teaching was a great pleasure tonight. Last night when I got home, I was finally able to catch up with Heidi on the phone and trade stories on teaching ESL. It was so reassuring to talk to someone who’s taught English to international students from all over the world. She not only has perspective on ESL students in general, but how Korean students differ from others. It was a relief to express my frustrations

I love these kids. I don’t mean to belittle their understanding of English. It’s not an easy language to learn and the differences between English and Korean are many & complicated. I know. I am standing on the other side of that great divide.

But I do question the methodology used and its effectiveness. The students are so obsessed with memorization that there is little room left for genuine comprehension. It’s a formula to them, a formula to plug correct answers into. And very few of my students can put an entire sentence together without a pencil and paper. Half of them struggle while the other half are held back and bored out of their minds. So…I ask: why you in the same class, yo?

Last night and tonight were my upper level classes and I LOVE them. Their English is not perfect, of course, but there is actually something to grab onto with these students. When mistakes are made, they actually understand the correction. They are eager, they remember what we talked about in the last class, they get jokes and there is an actual flow and movement to the class. We can move off-topic and are able to navigate our way together back to the discussion. It is actually a pleasure to teach them. My lower classes make me want to drill various utensils into my eyeballs.

Secondly and more importantly, I did it. I went to a restaurant all by myself and had a perfect meal, which I ordered, all by myself and paid for all by myself. There is a restaurant not far from my house that I had kept my eye on since moving into the neighborhood. Something about the way it sits directly on the corner of its small side street, something about the way it is lit up at night…I knew I wanted to go there. The other night when I was walking around in the rain, under my new umbrella with a belly full of dakgalbi, I finally took a moment to go up to the window and look at their menu. I am understandably drawn to the eateries with photos of the food on the menu and even more drawn to ones with the eerily realistic plastic 3-D models of the plated food in a showcase in the window. This one has both.

Wednesdays I have only one class and work a total of 3 hours (!) so it had been my plan all week to go to dinner after class tonight. I stood outside in the snow examining the menu, trying to decide what I wanted before I went in so I wouldn’t have to drag the waitress outside to point at things. Thankfully, I am three things:

a) an adventurous and willing eater
b) well-versed in Korean food prior to coming to Korea (thank you, Mary)
c) well-fed at work by local eateries on nights I have two classes

All those things together make it a lot easier to identify plastic 3-D food models. But as I peeked in the window I saw that — yay! — there were menus on the tables WITH pictures (usually there is just a sign in Korean on the wall). So I went inside and made myself comfortable at a corner table and opened up my menu to find even better news: each menu item was also written in English. I have successfully found the one place in my neighborhood where I will spend my entire food budget.

I ordered dolsot kimchi albop, which is a variation on the typical hotpot rice dish. It was described on the menu as “Rice with Kimchi and Spawn in Stone Kettle”. Spawn is a less flattering word for fish roe. Hotpot rice is my absolute favorite meal here so far…it’s a mound of rice in a hot stone pot, covered with vegetables, meat or egg artfully arranged in small groups. Tonight’s dish was covered in kimchi, enoki mushrooms, some kind of delicious fresh greens, shaved radish, kim (seasoned nori) cut into thin strips, and of course the spawn. I mean fish roe. The rice at the bottom of the hotpot gets crispy and sticks to the bowl…it’s a nice little treat at the end. I meant to take a photo, but was so excited and hungry when it was served that I dove my chopsticks in and began stirring, instantly destroying the colorful & artful arrangement worthy of a photo. Another meal, another photo op.

There is nothing more romantic than sitting on your own in the corner of a tiny neighborhood restaurant, with snow gently falling outside, having a warm and filling meal. And there is no better meal than the one you successfully order yourself despite language barriers.

motorbikes


I bought a sugar cookie on the way home and ate it on the floor in my pajamas after my hot shower. I watched two uplifting documentaries on Discovery Channel Asia: one a heartbreaking story of a young Chinese girl who had severe tumors on her face and the British doctor who comes to her small mountain town to help her, the other an inspiring tale of what would happen if the humungous volcano beneath Yellowstone were to actually blow in our lifetime. Let’s just say it would not be pretty.

After a day like today, that volcano could blow and I would perish with a great big smile. Volcano schmolcano. I ordered food at a restaurant.

5 Responses to “Heavenly.”

  1. mary says:

    the thing i love most about reading your travelogues steph is how much it reminds us all how critical it is to push ourselves with new experiences. i mean, to be able to feel so incredibly grateful for being able to order food at a restaurant in a foreign country, that to me is akin to how a baby must feel the first time they take a step and don’t fall down. that’s why travelling and living overseas is like triple times the life years of being “home.” it’s something i miss so much about living and working abroad. thanks for keeping me connected steph.

  2. eshu says:

    so glad you were able to navigate a restaurant by yourself! eating is way too important to fail at…

    if i were you i would go there morning, noon and night… make the staff become my best friends and then make them teach me everything i needed to know that i was lacking.

    i’m sure they’d comply.

    i’m looooving these posts!!!

  3. meeralee says:

    Yayyyyyyyyyy!

    I know exactly the sense of satisfaction you’re talking about (it’s what makes every tiny transaction in Israel so joyful for me even if I’m just asking where to wait for a bus). And I miss it. Hooray for your day, and for you!

  4. Stephanie says:

    you ladies are sumthin’ special, you know that? it is so nice to come home from work at night to your love and support across the thousands of miles between us.

  5. jandazza says:

    This is bringing me back to Roma! I remember how much pride I felt at being able to understand the change being handed back to me without having to loiter and count; loiter and count… shuffle… leave…. Run back and tell them that they owed me five cents.
    I’m so proud of you! Let me know when you know how ask for a pink trenchcoat :-)

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