Uncertainty can be happiness

"Security is a false god," or running around the world as an FSO

Archive for the ‘People’ Category


Posted by quirksalight on July 18, 2010

Why am I blogging about shoes?

Well, it’s not just a piece of leather, suede, plant-based, or man-made materials that shod your feet. They can be iconic, witty, gorgeous, hideous, comfortable, and painful. And they are a bit more important than I thought to a FSO’s job.

In the Foreign Service, we are considered to be generalists, jack-of-all trades, etc. And with that moniker, comes the job, which means that we can be called to do anything and everything as the need arises. So, if you need to sprint up and down the length of Incheon International Airport so you can meet the visitor who’s itinerary you are in charge of, you better have comfortable, well-padded, shoes.

Of course, never having thought that I would be sprinting up and down Incheon airport, praying that I would be able to meet up with my visitor, I was not wearing the said comfy shoes. Instead, I was wearing a pair of lovely maroon suede, 3″, Mary Jane style heels. Which, in a normal trip to the airport would be fantastic and just fine. This case, 3 blisters the size of Kansas (actually, 1-2cms), smaller areas rubbed raw, and all joints in my legs serious questioning my sanity and sense of judgement.

That said, my visitors (Yes, I’ve been here 3 weeks and this shoe business happened twice) were never the wiser of the behind the scene nuttiness and were apparently quite happy with my planning and organization skills.

Lesson learned. Keep the smile on your face, go above and beyond the requirements and you’ll be rewarded, and get better shoes. Yes, I bought out a chunk of Rockport’s inventory in Itaewon, 5 pairs of shoes this week. Screw the blisters and the like; this is a career investment. 🙂


Posted in adventure, airports, amusing, ancedotes, commentary, Embassy Seoul, fun, Incheon, Korea, People, shopping, work | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The first week

Posted by quirksalight on July 4, 2010

Was pretty freakin’ amazing!

This past week was my first week as a Political officer in Embassy Seoul. The first thing I learned was the inherent uncertainty in the job. Walking into the Political section to meet my colleagues for the first time, I’m told that I’m being moved to the external section. Apparently there was a shake up of the three incoming political officers and their positions. Totally cool with me – the portfolio in both external and internal was excellent, and I would have been happy with either. In fact, this move ended up being great, as I had a 1 week overlap with my predecessor in the job, so I was able to pick her brain, shadow her, and go through my first demarches, interviews, etc, and get feedback. Such a great entry into my first posting, seriously! It took a bit of the edge of the “trial by fire” nature of the job.

Paperwork, of course, was everywhere and is actually still continuing. There are a LOT of stuff to take care of coming to post, and it never fails to amaze me how streamlined Embassy Seoul has made to make the process as painless as possible. This could have been a complete mess, but it has been entirely the opposite, from getting my badge/ID to dealing with random internet and household problems, very efficient and prompt.

And that gets to the one part of living here that’s new to me; living on Yongsan base. Embassy Seoul has the distinction of being the only posting where you live on a military base. It was logistical sense; the base is in prime location, at the heart of Seoul, and is already leased by the US government. However, it creates a slight disconnect, as living on base is very similiar to living in a US suburb, when you go on and off base. I’ve never lived on a military base, or really spent much time on one, so I’m getting used to the whole rules and regs of it. There are a lot of conviences, and the base housing is pretty spacious, especially for me, when I’ve spent my time in studio/1-bedroom apts or sharing a house with other students.

Just a hint to all the A-100 grads who are working their first 4th of July party: Wear comfortable shoes! My feet were killing me after standing for 4 hours.

This job is amazing. I’m exhilarated with the opportunity that’s in front of me, and what the position is asking of me. Indeed, uncertainty is happiness.

Posted in 152nd, adventure, ancedotes, challenges, Embassy Seoul, Korea, People, surprise | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Lunchtime meetings

Posted by quirksalight on March 24, 2010

I met several members of my training class at a NYC Metro lunch get together today. AW and NT came, and we had a fly-by visit from one of the MK’s in the 152nd. (there are 2)

Heading into Woorijip, a Korean deli/buffet place on 32nd street, we quickly grabbed our food and spent the next 90 mins just discussing our backgrounds (engineering, arabic and straight out of college, educational travels), an interesting point being we were all ivies. Of course, we’re all neurotically twitchy about the start of training… halfway waiting for the other shoe to drop, and really wanting to just jump up and down and go, “Wheeeeeee!” because the day we had worked for is almost here.

And it was nice. Really, really, nice to be able to say, “See you in a couple of days,” upon parting, as it just means that the next major phase of our lives is about to begin.

Posted in amusing, ancedotes, meeting, People | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Rats, Hannover and to Wurzburg

Posted by quirksalight on April 9, 2009

As painful it was getting up after going to bed past 6am, Sunday was our day trip to Hamlin. Yup, like the Pied Piper. Apparently the story is from the 1200’s.
Funny… when you arrive in the old part of Hamlin, you start seeing white rats painted on the sidewalks. Yup… like the “Red line” in Hannover, there’s a “Rat path” in Hamlin. Funny – we got to the Hamlin Rathaus (the city hall) and we see in the main square a guy dressed up in leggings, a girl’s bathing costume with a ruffled skirt, snorkel, and flippers cleaning random stuff in front of the steps. Next to him was a sign that stated that his name was Simon, was his 30th birthday, and would a girl kiss him to free him from this mess.

Honestly, the architecture of the Altstadt (the old town) was amazingly well kept. There were several buildings from the 1500’s and a handful from a couple centuries earlier. But the highlight for me was the glassblowers. In a renovated tower of the old city wall, there was a glassblowing demonstration and participation for an extra 9 euro. Thank goodness MR was there- he was a good sport about the translation… he translated the demonstration and the hands-on bit. I got to blow a multicolored glass globe. It was pretty hard to get a gauge of how much air you’re actually blowing – I made a mistake and the artist had to quickly fix it… whoops.

On the last day in Hannover

Between packing and sleeping in, I barely got to meet up MR for lunch at his lab and hop to GO’s lab to check out the place. Funny… we went to lunch with T, and saw the oddest thing on the side of the street.
Uh huh… weird….see below…

No trip to Herrhausen Gardens, which was a pity, because it’s supposed to be rather amazing and the day was clear and bright. Then again, the Monday was also the first sunny day in my German trip, so I wouldn’t have seen all that much on the grounds. I did take several repeat photos just to give a contrast between the sun and the gloom of the previous days. I also found a yarn shop where I bought some sock yarn, then MR took me to the train station and I hopped on to Wurzburg.

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Bizarre, history, People, travel, traveling | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

50 years later…

Posted by quirksalight on December 6, 2008

Children ‘executed’ in 1950 South Korean killings

And more comes to light.

Posted in history, Korea, Korean, military, People, Politics, US history | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by quirksalight on April 27, 2008

This past Friday, several friends and I went to see a modern dance performance at Songjo Theater in Seoul. Going home, we took the DongIncheon Rapid transit subway line on our way back to Incheon as it cuts our transit time by 20-30 minutes. On the subway, which was pretty packed, the four of us were talking about the evening and our respective experiences in school when a middle-aged Korean man, dressed in a suit, yelled at us, “Shut up!” in English. We all turned to look at the man, who was looking very angry. As we were laughing prior to this outburst, we thought we were too loud. So we quieted down, and spoke softer to each other. But he started yelling again, telling us to shut up, and in Korean, started telling us loudly that if we are coming to Korea then we should speak in Korean.
I turned to him, saying in Korean, “I’m sorry, but my friends only speak in English, so to converse, we have to speak in English.” He then starting yelling that we shouldn’t talk in the subway and we were too loud. I replied that we were talking just as other people in the subway car were talking. When he refused to actually do anything but yell at us, I just told him that I’m sorry he felt that way, and ended the conversation.

Turning back to my friends, we started talking quietly once again, when the guy reaches over several people and punches me in the head! The entire subway car (who had been watching this exchange) gasped at this. It’s considered wrong to hit random people in most societies, but it’s definitely taboo for a guy to hit a girl in Korea.
We were completely stunned at this turn of events, and my cry of pain when he hit me broadcast that he hurt me to everyone in the car. For a couple moments, I was at a loss at what to do, as I’ve never been assaulted by a complete stranger, and totally didn’t expect it in Korea. (I guess I know better now) But after, I just thought to myself, “screw it, I’ve already been hit. I’m going to continue my conversation with my friends,” and we started up our conversation once again. The assaulter didn’t say anything for 5-10 minutes, and we thought it may have blown over. But then he started yelling at us to shut up and not speak English again.

In a new turn of events, it was became quite apparent that he had pissed off the entire subway car. When the assaulter began ranting again, another Korean man spoke to him (in Korean), “Hey, why don’t you keep it down? We’re all starting to get bothered by your yelling.”
This just turned the assaulter’s attention to the second man, to whom he yelled, “why are you telling me to be quiet?! I’m not the one speaking in English. They should shut up!”
The second man, who spoke up for us, said “I don’t understand what you are yelling in English because I don’t understand it. I care that you are bothering the other passengers and are shaming us (Koreans). Why don’t you step off the train, so you don’t bother us?”

This just continued to escalate as the subway move on, with the two men exchanging more and more comments with increasing heat and vigor. We had planned to just continue on to Bupyeong Station, to not get forced off the train because of this guy, but it was getting apparent that we were a catalyst to a burgeoning conflict. So the four of us decided to step off the subway one stop before Bupyeong.

When we got off, two people, a male and female, got off and stopped by to talk to us. They wanted to apologize for the behavior of the assaulter, because they were embarrassed that a Korean would and can act in such boorish manner. The woman looked stricken when I told her my head was ok, and that the pain had gone away by this time, as she hadn’t realized that he had actually struck me. The guy, Tony, wanted to make sure that we were alright and wanted to reassure us that the assaulter was the exception, not the rule.

Being the focus of random violence is so disturbing, as the question of WTF??? reverberated in my head, and I admit being in a funk for the rest of Friday night. But what really helped was the random people who stood up for us, and the people who came to talk/apologize to us after. I’ll definitely put this behind me, but I am still warier now then I had been a couple days ago.

Posted in ancedotes, Asian-Americans, Bizarre, english, Korea, Korean, pain, People, Politics, Social commentary, stereotypes, teaching english, travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »


Posted by quirksalight on April 8, 2008

I hate being ill. And today was the first time I’ve really been sick in Korea. I called my co-teacher sounding extremely stuffed up and croaked into the phone that I was rather ill and would not make it to school today.
Luckily, today is my easiest day and tomorrow is a federal holiday, so there is no school. Now, I just have to get better, though what i really wish I could do is open up my sinuses and scrape out all the smut that must be in there… blargh!!!

But my co-teachers are very considerate. They called twice to check in on me, and about an hour ago, stopped by to look in on me and to give me some rice porridge, which is eaten when you’re ill. (Seriously, my mom did the exact same thing) Now, I’m eating porridge, and smiling at the nice people in the world.

Posted in Food, Korea, Nice, People, sick | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

My principal is a matchmaker and the vice principal is a party hound

Posted by quirksalight on March 29, 2008

During orientation, we (the brand-spanking new English teachers) were told that our schools will have a large social outing from time to time, the amount varying on the school we work with. In these outing, which would start right after the school day was over, we are to expect a massive quantity of food and drink. By drink, meaning soju and beer, sometime liquor. In addition, there will be multiple rounds of this, going from restaurant to noraebang (karoke in a private room) to bar.
I was wondering when my school would have this; most of the other teachers were regaling me with their stories within the first week of starting teaching. So I figured that my middle school was breaking the mold and not having these raucous affairs.

Not a chance. Yesterday was Buheung Middle School’s social night, specially to welcome the twenty or so new teachers, including me. The other English teachers warned me that the principal is a very social fellow, and loves these kind of things. Add to this with drinking culture, where if someone (higher in rank) pours you a drink you have to drink it and then you’re supposed to pour them back a drink… well.. it can get messy.
Round 1 was at a very good seafood restaurant in the Bupyeong market area. There were massive quantities of seafood and ban-cheon, which are the little side dishes that come with every meal. And I thought I had eaten most everything, but there were definitely some unrecognizable things in the seafood dish. Still not really sure what I ate, but I think one of them was fish intestine. Not bad.
After the people started digging into the food, the principal, head Physical Education teacher, and the vice principal all started the rounds of drinking.
This is my vice principal toasting with the new teachers. He wanted to know what you say when you toast in English… I told him “bottoms up!” or “Cheers!”

They went to every table, and drank with all the new teachers. That’s about 20 shots of soju, which is 13% alcohol by volume. Oh boy…

One of the oddest things in the evening was the principal wanting to act as a match matchmaker! I was talking to him, and he asked me if I was single. When I said yes, he got this look on his face that all but screamed “plotting” and said, “there’s this guy, very smart, I know his mother, do you want to meet him?”
To which I replied, “Um…well, I am going to go back to the US.” Keep in mind, that this is my BOSS… can’t really offend him.
He replied, “Oh, that’s OK, he lives in NY, works for Daewoo engineering. Do you want to meet him?”
Thinking, OH CRAP, I replied, “Er… I don’t know…umm… can I tell you on Monday??”
He replied, “Don’t you want to get married? How old are you?”
I know I had a bit of a panicked look on my face as I replied, “Err… 28 in the US and I’m not sure if I want to get married.”
He laughed and let the subject drop. Of course, this conversation is in Korean, so all the other teachers and admins were either howling in laughter or turning red because they were trying not to howl in laughter. I know the expression on my face was very comical, and so was the convo. Ay-ya…

Round 2 was at the noraebang across the street. At this point, three off my co-teachers had left and about 20 teachers were left. A noraebang is like karaoke, but in private rooms. You rent the use of the room and equipment (which is the karaoke machine, song books, video projector and screen) by the hour. It’s very popular here, you’ll see them on every block.
It was totally great to see the teachers and VP (the principal had gone home) in a much different light then the professional setting that I am used to seeing them in. People were dancing and singing (and drinking) and having a pretty good time.
noraebang1.jpg noraebang2.jpg

Yes, I was “encouraged” to sing, but that’s not something I’ve ever had an issue with. 🙂

Round 3 (and last one of the night!) was at the beer hall next to the noraebang. At this point, we had been going for 5 hours! Even with the marathon party session, I was very glad that I came, because I got to talk to my fellow teachers, many who I had never spoke to at all. (the middle school is pretty huge) Some of them spoke pretty good English, but were just too shy to try it out. At the beer hall, (with encouragement of the VP) we were playing drinking games. Yes, middle school teachers playing drinking games, with beer soju, and boilermakers. Needless to say, everyone was a bit tipsy and then some.

But it was a very fun night, and I’m glad I made it through all the Rounds, as people did open up and were less reserved as the night went on. I wonder how the dynamic will be on Monday.

Posted in adventure, Alcohol, amusing, ancedotes, Beer, Buheung MS, Bupyeong, camera, Food, fun, Humor, Korea, liquor, People, restaurants, teaching, teaching english, thoughtstream, travel | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Part 2: Dongdae-mun

Posted by quirksalight on March 24, 2008


I’m standing in front of Dongdae-mun gate, which was originally the east gate of Seoul (formerly a walled city). From city edge, this is now one of the biggest shopping districts in Seoul, if not THE biggest. I don’t know how many malls and markets there are in this area. All I know is that my friends and I have not touched the but the tip of this place.
One of the best things about shopping here is the bargaining. I love haggling over the price. And I can haggle in Korean and English, so it works pretty well for my friends and I.
Here’s my new purse:Purse
I used the fact that two people were buying and haggling to get about 40% off of the original price. 🙂 Lots o’ fun!
One of the things I was afraid of not finding was jeans. But at Dongdaemun market, I was able to find $10 (10,000 won) jeans that was a pretty good fit. Not too bad… I bought two. 😛

Posted in adventure, amusing, ancedotes, Bizarre, Humor, Incheon, Korea, motorcycle, People, Seoul, teaching english, traveling | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Day after Christmas shopping

Posted by quirksalight on December 27, 2007

Four all day Metro passes: $26

Four tickets to the International Spy Museum and Operation Spy, their interactive adventure: $100

Ethiopian food at Almaz Restaurant for lunch: $74

Tea and sorbet break at Teaism: $12

Bridging a 10, 12, and 16 year age gap and expanding your cousins’ horizons: Priceless

Posted in adventure, amusing, cousins, DC, family, Food, fun, holidays, Metro, museums, People, restaurants, Tea, Washington DC | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »