Monday, December 20, 2010

A South Korean Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! I thought I would write a preemptive blog, since I will be traveling for the holiday. Tomorrow, I am heading to Fukuoka, the biggest city in Kyushu (the southern most island of Japan's four), and then Wednesday evening, I fly to Seoul with a friend who is a teacher in Nagasaki City. So, a South Korean Christmas it is. I can't wait, despite North Korea's threats. I will be in South Korea for a week, hitting up the Seoul area for 5 days and then 2 days in Busan. Two of my friends from Peace Corps Mozambique live around the Seoul area and I am beyond excited to see a couple of familiar faces at Christmas. Our Peace Corps group of about 64 people is a pretty tight-knit group and there is a planned New Years party in Florida that I will obviously be unable to attend, so it will be great to connect with a couple and have our own mini, Asian version of a reunion. After Seoul, I will travel by train to Busan to visit with a friend from high school. She and I have taken similar post-university paths. She did Peace Corps Morocco and is now a teacher in Busan. She has a great blog and you can check it out at

The worst part about a trip is planning for the trip and packing. I am trying to pack like Japanese people do. If you are on a ferry or any other public transportation, you look around and wonder where everyone's luggage is. But a handbag is usually all they need. I am going to be walking around one of Japan's biggest cities for a few hours so I would rather not be wheeling a gigantic Sampsonite suitcase behind me and knocking things over. It's way too bull in a china shop for my liking. Tonight is like the season finale of American idol in my apartment - which articles of clothing has what it takes to make the cut. I also gave my fish (Chikamaru-kun) to a friend to fishsit while I am gone. In order to do so, I had carry my fish tank through the streets of Ojika to her shop. That was no easy feat, seeing as it was all downhill on uneven cobblestone streets. I had to dump out about a third of the water in his/her tank while I was walking (on purpose and not). Chikamaru-kun, you are going on a diet when I get home. I am pretty sure that seven people now think I'm crazy. Like the lady riding her moped who called out "What is it? A goldfish" over traffic. Always excited to understand anything anyone says, I shouted "HAI!" back with fish water dripping from my sweatshirt cuffs.

I did my Christmas lesson as a baking party for three of my high school classes. We made chocolate chip cookies and it was by far, one of my most enjoyable/hectic classes thus far. I wanted to make it fail-proof so I prepped, labeled and pre-measured all of the ingredients, besides handing them each a recipe in English. It basically went like this: "OKAY! (shouting) BUTTER, SUGAR, BROWN SUGAR! (dumping motion with my hands) MIX MIX MIX!" It got the point across and there were zero burned cookies. All the kids sat on the floor to watch the cookies bake and they got to divide them up and keep a plateful to take home. I even decorated the home ec room where we baked in a Christmas winter wonderland theme. Snowflakes on the windows and cool table settings. Sandra Lee from Semi-Homemade on the Food Network would have been proud.

I have noticed that the kids love it when I blaspheme. I almost burned myself on a cookie sheet and said "Jesus!" and the kids burst out laughing. "Erin-sensei, what is Jesus?" I just shrugged and brushed off the deep question that most Christians spend their lives trying to figure out. It's like "Oh no!" Around Halloween, the senior boys made a haunted house and they told me to go through a tunnel on a test run and then proceeded to drop a swinging decapitated head and I yelled "Oh my god!" and all of the undead in the haunted house were laughing. I know my mother is frowning at this paragraph. Sorry, Mom. It just slips out.

I did what felt like about a billion Christmas parties in the elementary school. And nothing says Christmas like a forced Christmas card to the teacher. The entire 4th grade class presented me with colored Christmas cards. I was pretty impressed by some. The kids had written to me in Romaji, which I appreciated. Romaji is the romanization of Japanese characters - so it's all spelled out, rather than written in characters. A few were unenthusiastic, run-of-the-mill Santas but the rest were pretty vibrant, complete with an extra portrait of myself wearing a Santa hat or of anime or cartoons. I passed out candy later and the ones who drew me skinny got the best flavor.

Christmas is never easy away from my family but it's not as sad when I have friends to celebrate with. I hope that wherever you are in this crazy world, you have a wonderful Christmas!

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