Monday, November 30, 2009

Today I'm grateful for...

Monday, November 30 2009
Today I'm grateful for...

  1. ...having the energy to teach 6 classes, have speaking tests and complete 15 lesson plans before 5pm. All this with only 3 hours of sleep last night. Thank you to higher powers for the strength!

  2. ...the awesome vegetarian lunch today - my favourite: tofu stew.

  3. ...Mr Kim, my IT guy for helping me and being so kind and considerate about my hard drive drama-fiasco.

  4. MOTHER for listening to me and always being able to empathize with me no matter what. I love you!

  5. ...a man who lives on my floor who I shared an elevator with this evening. He wanted to give me 5kg of kimchi! I had to decline, but I appreciated the gesture.

NaNoWriMo kicked me in the right (write) direction!

29 days ago I took a pledge of some sorts - along with thousands of writers around the world. For a month, I committed myself to take part in the annual event - NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)

I haven't spoken extensively about this on my blog and very few family / friends know that I'm doing it. It's something I've wanted to do ever since I discovered my love for books and reading. I've been writing for years, but to write a book has always been like a secret fantasy. I guess I could have started years ago, but I never really had the will to.

The aim of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel of 50,000 words in one month. For the first week I was all set to go. I was penning about 1,000 words a night. Writing became addictive and I was so excited to finally getting down to writing what I always wanted to. I have to admit that I would never have done it alone. I have met some amazing writer's online who have encouraged and motivated me to go on and not give up.

They hail from all over the world - America, Canada, the UK and Australia. I have gained such valuable tips from them all with blog posts, Tweets and video updates - in particular Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. In Joanna's video's, I felt them to be so personal - like she was talking only to me! She is very honest as she speaks about her own NaNoWriMo journey - her difficulties, challenges and how she overcomes them. She really makes others feel like they're not alone in this "quest" - Thank you, Joanna!

My fellow NaNoWriMo friends are mostly married men and women with children. This motivated me even further. If they could find the time to be a full time spouse/parent AND write 50,000 words in a month - then what is my excuse?

As the second week in November rolled in, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the time and energy to sit and write well. Although, the aim of NaNoWriMo was not to write perfectly. It was just to get everything out on paper. (No editing whatsoever!) I only had time over the week-ends, but I had other pressing deadlines to meet...or I was catching up on sleep! I also realized that I wrote better at night. Everything was quiet around me, except for the odd scooter revving past my apartment. I felt like I was one with my thoughts and ideas. My writing went past midnight and some days I only climbed into bed at 2am. There were mornings that I was already writing by 6am. I'd wake up with an idea or scene I had to write and I'd write for about an hour before getting ready for work.

It's Monday, November 30 2009 and NaNoWriMo has come to an end.

I haven't reached the target of 50,000 words. I think I'm bordering on 20,000 words at the moment - which I'm pretty proud of :)

How am I feeling?

Satisfied & motivated to go on

If it weren't for NaNoWriMo, I probably would never have started this little adventure. It's given me a kick start in the right (write?!) direction. The people I've met, tips I've learned and advice kindly given to me are humbly appreciated.

Slightly sad...

For a few weeks, I got used to chatting/Tweeting with some of my fellow writer's online. We shared anecdotes of our writing and helped each other out by trying to increase our final word count. I enjoyed the discussions on how to write a dialogue to, "My novel has some unconventional sex scenes I don't want my parents reading - what do do?!"

I hope that my new friends will continue with their writing adventures online and keep us all in the loop of their progress. It has become almost like a habit chatting and tweeting with them when it was morning/afternoon for me here in Korea and evening in America (while my family and friends in South Africa were asleep!)


Even on days that I didn't write for NaNoWriMo, I was encouraged to write something, so I blogged a lot. I've received a lot of hits over the past few weeks, and incredible e-mails from people - especially after my very open post about having panic attacks and keeping it "secret" in Korea. I've learned that the more naked I get with my writing, the more people can relate and respond to whatever I'm trying to say.

Having said that, to those who have reached their 50k mark - CONGRATULATIONS!

To the rest of us, let's not put our NaNoWriMo '09 to bed just yet. I know that I will continue to work on mine, even if it takes months to complete.

Thank you everyone who helped and advised so kindly over the past month!

Never tell a Korean you like/eat kimchi!

Ever since I arrived in Korea back in 2007 I've been given so many gifts by colleagues, students parents and friends. Just as gift-giving is widely practiced here, so is the nature of reciprocation.

I've been deeply touched by the hospitality of Koreans I've met. Many times, I feel embarrassed to accept certain gifts from them.

One lady, Mrs Park who after knowing that I love dol-sut bi-bim-bap and pa-jon insists that I visit her place every now and then for her to make these dishes for me. How do I reciprocate? I take gifts for her, like bread or fruit.

The other day on my way to work, I passed one of my students with her mother, who asked me if I like and eat kimchi. When I said yes, she said that she'd give me some the following week.

Coming home this evening, I shared the elevator with a man who I assume is in his mid-40s. We're on the same floor, so I greeted him out of courtesy. He said he's not seen me around for a while. He ask me if I eat kimchi, and before I thought of my answer I said "Yes, I eat it" - I can't seem to think as fast when I'm speaking Korean! (saying you eat kimchi to a Korean scores a foreigner BIG points). He was carrying a large, yellow E-Mart packet. He took out a small container - which I thought he was going to give me, but instead he wanted to give me the HUGE container, which could have easily been 5kg!

That would last me for the next few months. There was NO way I could accept that. I thanked him profusely, but told him (politely) that I couldn't accept it from him. I was so touched by his gesture...

Mental Note to Self:
Never tell a Korean person I like/eat kimchi!

As I said before, I'm a little embarrassed to accept gifts from people... I really am! So to avoid this, maybe it's safe to tell a little lie now and then!

Filing today away in the "Fcuk my life" folder

Today I ran on about 3 hours worth of sleep. I was fine because I was busy all day, and was told I needed to submit 15 lesson plans by tomorrow. While I was working frantically, Mr Kim came to my office. I spoke about Mr Kim, my IT guy on Friday.

He wanted to show me the names of the files that was recovered from my hard drive.


I apologize if this sounds morbid, but what the hell. I can only liken my experience and feelings to death. As I scrolled down the list of things that were recovered, it was like I was being asked to "identify a body" (which I've never done before)

I recognized some folder names, namely: London /Jeju Island/ South Africa-Durban/ At home and some others.

I have to pay about $300 (US) for this. After Mr Kim left, I felt my shoulders and arms feel very tight. I was tired of sitting at my desk clicking my mouse and typing frantically, but I had to meet a deadline. And now the loss of my data on my hard drive.

I feel like putting this day away in the "Fcuk my life" folder. Those who know me will know that it takes A LOT for me to say THAT. So ummm... yeah, I guess that's the way I'm wrapping up November 2009...

Oh Seo-gyun, not tonight!

After a pretty crappy afternoon (more in the next blog) all I wanted to do was head straight home from work, take a shower and climb into bed. Oh yes - and feel sorry for myself. My mum convinced me to go to the gym because it'll be better than moping around home.

Remember Seo-gyun from last week?

When I arrive at the gym, Seo-gyun is already on the treadmill. He doesn't see me. After 20 minutes he spots me, stops his treadmill and heads over to the one next to me. He tells me he hasn't seen me for a few days and asks what time I arrived.

He asks in Korean if Die Hard is fun. Die Hard 4 was playing on TV and I had it on.

I tell him I'm a little sick today - hoping he won't talk too much and follow me around. I'm really not in a chirpy mood and would much rather be punching something.

...but he does! He follows me into the dance studio and just stands there wanting to talk more.
He keeps asking me something, but I can't understand him.

He also asks where my classroom is. It's common for past students to visit their old teachers. Does he want to come and visit me at school? I tell him I move around a lot... sometimes I'm on the 4th floor, sometimes 5th.

When I head out to do some weights, the gym instructor spots us and gives me a big grin. After about 20 minutes, I'm ready to leave.

"Bye, Seo-gyun!"
He rushes behind me.
"I my go"

I say goodbye to him downstairs and we go our separate ways.

He yells in Korean, "See you tomorrow, ok?!"
I think I may have a tail!

Too emotionally attached to my students?

Image taken from Google Images

On Mondays after lunch I teach the 6-1 class. As I made my way to the front of the class, a few boys were saying, "Teacher - Thomas sad"

Thomas' Korean name is Sang-hu and he's the kind of boy who will ask me with a big genuine smile, "Teacher - How are you?"

When I ask him how he is, he has given me the answer, "I'm rainbow happy!" So he's one of my special students. The class knows I'm fond of him because he always waits till everyone's left to come and talk to me after class - maybe if he did very well in his class test or what he did over the week-end.

When I saw him today, his head was bent over and he wouldn't look up at me. I had to have a few students come to my office for a speaking test. When it was Thomas' turn, he came in with a big frown.

"Thomas, are you sad today?"
"Yes teacher"
No answer
"Thomas, tell teacher why you are sad"
"I want die"
"You want to die?"
"Is it your friends?"

He starts to cry. My students usually cry when they get into fights with friends, but my 6th graders don't really cry openly (they're the seniors at school - but let's face it, they're still "babies")

"My is friends fight"
"Who, Thomas?"
He won't tell me his friends name.

I told him to sit down and I handed him tissues while he cried.

"6-1 teacher know you sad?"
He shrugs his shoulders
"I don't know"

I so badly wanted to hug him and tell him not to cry...but I couldn't. Because of boundaries between teacher-student. There was so much I wanted to tell him, but my Korean's not that fluent and his English isn't fluent enough to understand.

I sent a message to his homeroom teacher to tell him to look out for him. He replied saying he'll talk to him after school.

Kids fight. They make up. But in that moment of them crying and hurting ... anyone can relate, I think ...and for a child to tell me, "I want die" touches me. I know that some may say I probably get too emotionally attached to my students, or to anyone for that matter who pulls on my heart strings. I guess it's just what makes me human.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Today I'm grateful for...

Sunday, November 29 2009
Today I'm grateful for...

  1. raining today, and not yesterday when I went to Seoul for the TEDx Seoul event.

  2. ...being able to sleep in because it's Sunday.

  3. ...meeting fantastic people yesterday.

  4. ...the internet which allows me to stay connected to family & friends

  5. DVD box set of Goodness Gracious Me - British Asian comedy at its best!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Today I'm grateful for...

Today I was at the TEDxSeoul event from this morning. I'm beat! My head's throbbing (probably from typing all through the talks and being in the crowded room all day. And my body's sore from sitting for such a long time. I'm going to pass out any minute now, but I remembered what I said a couple of days ago - that I will list 5 things (even trivial) I'm grateful for every day. So before I shut down for the night, here goes:

Saturday, November 28 2009

Today I'm grateful for...

  1. ...the weather holding up & not raining. Would have hated trekking to Seoul in the rain.

  2. ...the organizers of the event as well as volunteers (eg: those who did simultaneous translations from Korean to English) I met some awesome and dynamic people. I was excited to meet Oh Yeon Ho - CEO of

  3. ...a lady (I assume from the catering company) who went to get me something else to eat when she knew I couldn't have the croissant because it had ham in it. The place was buzzing with people and I was appreciative of her doing that.

  4. ...someone I met (Na-young) who helped me get a cab back home and tried to convince the driver to give me a set price instead of using the meter ;)

  5. ...the cab driver, for not getting mad at me when I changed my final destination. (Other drivers have moaned and groaned when I've done this!)
Good night, friends... xxx

TED x Seoul

I'm on my way to TED x Seoul right now...

Here's some info on what it's all about from the TED site.

"TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Today, I'm grateful for...

Since my post yesterday, I'm grateful for... I've decided to try and list 5 things I'm grateful for everyday. I'm a firm believer in acknowledging good people and acts of kindness. So here goes:

Friday, November 27 2009
Today I'm grateful for...

  1. ...having the patience to sit through more tests today. From yesterday, I had speaking tests with 3rd and 4th graders. So grateful for the energy and patience I had.

  2. ...the man who works at the fruit store I pass every day. He smiles and greets me without fail every time I pass. I just appreciate that he acknowledges me with a smile.

  3. ...comments and e-mails I received about yesterday's blog. Thank you for your concern.

  4. co-teacher who brought snacks for me from a staff get-together which I couldn't attend because I had to meet a deadline.

  5. comms with family & friends, but in particular today - my mum and Sean... Love you both!

My writing - I don't care if they don't care

While I'm doing some online admin, a cyber friend logs on.

Him: Darling...
Me: Sweetheart! It's been forever.
Him: I know, how are you?
Me: I'm good, can't complain - and you?
Him: Busy as usual. I'm going to Geneva next month... meet me there!
Me: I wish! I'm working right through December & even January.
Him: So what are you up to these days?
Me: Work - gym - home. Writing a lot these days.
Him: Cool. What are you writing?
Me: Blogging and also... working on a memoir of some sorts.
Him: HA HA HA! A memoir?
(I don't reply)
Him: What are you writing a memoir for? You're too young for that.
(Now I'm irritated. At myself for telling him. At him for laughing at me)
Me: Am I?
Him: Just kidding! Hey babe...I gotta run.
Me: Later

So is there an age specification or limit for writing anything in particular?

After the chat, I posted a question on Twitter asking if writers should tell their family & friends about their writing projects. My family & friends never know what I'm writing about and only get to read it after its been published. There's risk of being laughed at - as I was (and I don't know if he was kidding or not) but it got me thinking.

But I must emphasize that my parents are my #1 readers!

While it's fine to write about anything I want to, what makes me think that anyone else gives a damn about what's going on in my life? Who cares about how I got lost in a deserted market place in the dead of night when I just arrived in Korea? Does anyone care about the people I've met and how they've touched me with their kindness and hospitality? And who's bothered to read about my drama that unfolded when my external hard drive fell to the ground and I felt like my world came crashing down on me?

I can't give you stats on who will read all that I write, but I do know that since I'm able to express myself the way I do, I won't let anyone get me down or have me question myself about why I write.

My love for words grew from primary (middle) school to high school. I knew that whatever profession I choose to follow, writing will always be my first love.

Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame says that all writers think they suck. At the best of times, I think my writing sucks and there are days I can't believe I've published something on my blog for the whole world to read and rip to pieces if they wish to. Judging is part of human nature and I feel like every time I hit "Publish Post" I'm literally putting myself out there. I'm out there in cyberspace for all to see me naked.

I'm always happy (and humbled) when I receive comments and emails from people who read my writing. I can only say to them: 'Thank You'

Back to my earlier question:

So is there an age specification or limit for writing anything in particular?

I may be 2... Hmmmm! ....I'm in my mid-twenties. Does that mean I've not lived long enough to write about worthwhile experiences? Hell to the N-O! I know that I have seen and done more than some people I know who are twice my age. And some people who are my age are straddled with responsibilities of being a wife and mother. Not to say that I don't have responsibilities. Mine are just different.

People from different walks of life have told me that I speak to them indirectly through what I write. I love people and I love connecting with like-minded people. So when I hear comments like that, I know that what I'm doing is worthwhile.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm grateful for...

Gratitude will bring more into our lives immediately
- The Secret

In high school, my friend Anne gave me a "Gratitude Journal" for my birthday after Oprah raved about having one on her show. The point was to write a list of things you were grateful for every single day. It could be anything big or trivial - even being grateful that someone smiled at you.

Although I'm not American and have never celebrated Thanksgiving, in the spirit of this holiday - I would like to acknowledge everything I'm grateful for. If I sit and list everything (even just this year) you'd spend over an hour reading my blog. But for now, I will list 10 things - and focus on the past week in particular.

I'm grateful for...

  1. ... my health as well as that of my parents & brother

  2. ... having a job and earning a stable salary

  3. ... Yong-un helping me on Friday night

  4. ... No-su (my Korean brother) who bought breakfast for me - and remembered to exclude ham, since I'm a vegetarian

  5. ... Hyeon-jeong, a teacher at school who noticed I wasn't looking good this week and asked me quietly, "Are you OK?"

  6. ... having the ability to express myself in writing. And for the internet to share it with others.

  7. ... my friends all over the world (nearly every continent!) for being online keeping me company and making me laugh when I need it most. In particular, one of my best friends who is like a brother to me... Sean (luv ya!) Also, Nicki in the US who I hope to meet one day! Chetan in East London, South Africa who always takes the time to read my writing and leaving heartfelt comments. I wish I could mention each person by name, but please know that if we chat/email - I appreciate you.

  8. ... calls from South Africa and in particular, from my Godmother - Aunty Bonz who never hesitates to call me to say hello and check up on me. No one fulfills the role of a Godmother more than she does.

  9. ... the motivating and encouraging e-mails from my blog readers. For me, writing is very personal and intimate. I share a lot about my daily life & personal feelings on my blog. I know that many others can relate (judging by the emails I receive). I am always grateful to know that people take the time to read what I've written.

  10. ... the central heating in my apartment making it toasty warm. Freezing nights are still to come, and I'm reminded of those who don't have the luxuries of warm clothing and central heating.
What are you grateful for?

I can't seem to catch a break

I can't seem to catch a break

I feel like I need a good cry. I think it'll make me feel better. But I can't seem to. It's not easy to cry on demand!

After my panic attack on Friday, I've been fairly Okaaaay. It happened after many months, and I've been confused as to what brought it on. And then there's the thought of, "When will it happen again?" I've been kept busy with work and have spent my evenings writing / blogging. It has become like therapy for me, and the other day I was up at 6am writing!

My family & close friends will know what absolute hell I went through at the beginning of last month with my hard drive drama. I blogged about it a lot (more therapy) - Crash Boom Bang.

Basically, my hard drive fell on the floor. (I get shivers just thinking back to it) I told my IT guy (Mr Kim) that I'd pay ANYTHING to have my data recovered. In fact, I didn't care about anything else on it, except for the one folder titled PHOTOS.

...and before you go on telling me that I should have had a back-up, I'd already asked Mr Kim for another hard drive to back up my data. And it was going to happen within a few days. (My best photos are saved online, but the quality has been lost due to images being reduced)
Only those close to me know how I value my camera and everything it has seen with me on my travels. So I was really feeling devastated.

I've been waiting patiently to hear from Mr Kim. He keeps telling me that the "company more time need" I've kept my hopes high. If they're keeping it for so long, surely I'll get good news? It was going to cost me a lot ($500 US) but I was told that about 90% of my data may be recovered.

So... about two and a half hours ago:

A few minutes before leaving work, my co-teacher tells me about lesson plans she needs by early next week. I leave work at 5pm and the sky is grey - which I hate. I'm walking quickly, but am happy to see Mr Kim pull in. He rolls down the window on the passenger side of his car. He rambles something to me in Korean with a sympathetic look on his face. He pulls over and gets out...talking more.

"My data... no?"
In my mind, I'm praying: "Please, I've had a crap week. Do NOT give me bad news. Please."

He says something I can't understand. But doesn't sound good. He's very expressive with his eys and I catch on quickly.

When I tell him that ALL I want is just my photos in my PHOTOS FOLDER, he looks at me with an expression that gives me a bit of hope. I want to cry right there in the car parking lot. But it's not easy for me to cry in front of people. He tells me he'll come and see me tomorrow to show me what has been saved. I thank him profusely. I know he's tried his best and so far, has always come through for me with any tech issues I've had.

I start walking out the school gates and Yong-un is leaving school as well. He's with another teacher. We still haven't spoken. In all fairness, the teachers have been very busy at school this week, but then again - I always seem to make excuses for him. So I'm feeling a bit distant from him...again.

On my way home, my eyes feel hot with tears welling up, but the cold air stops the tears from falling. I stop to buy something at the grocery store, but feel like I'm out of my body. I drag myself to my apartment. Going to gym is the farthest thing from my mind. I imagine Seo-gyun is waiting for me!

I can't seem to catch a break this week.

I can't vent or cry to anyone here, and the one person I used to be able to do that with has gone off the radar since she got married (very suddenly) a month ago.

So I turn to my humble little abode in cyberspace - my blog, which is basically my public journal. At least this is my space where I can vent and scream as much as I want to.

I can't imagine living in Korea without the internet. I'm so grateful to my friends all over the world - America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, India and ...of course, South Africa. On nights that I'm at home, I'm kept company by my cyber friends - some of whom I've never even met before.

Thank you...

Today I questioned myself as a teacher

This morning I had speaking tests with the students. One by one they came into my office. I showed them a picture and they had to say a simple sentence which we've studied intensely.

"Let's play soccer"
"Sorry, I can't. I'm tired"

They're usually very nervous for one-on-one speaking tests, so I chat to them for about 30 seconds before we start. I ask them things like what they had for breakfast and what they enjoy about English class (I speak in broken Korean)

Today - as a teacher - I felt frustrated. A bit sad, too.

I asked some of them, "How are you?" and they replied, "It's sunny"
I repeated the question and they gave me the same answer.

I bet you're thinking that's so adorable, right? A year ago, I'd have thought they same thing. But for the past two and a half years I have placed SO much emphasis on basic greeting.

A: How are you?
B: I'm good thanks/fine thanks - and you?

So when a student answers "It's sunny" when asked "How are you?" I actually feel like bursting into tears. And - it was overcast and cold all day.

Weather is another thing I've drilled over and over again.

A: How's the weather?
B: It's sunny/rainy/windy

When I stand in front of a class asking them questions, I'm overwhelmed with joy when I hear 36 little voices chanting the answers back at me. I feel so proud to know that I've imparted knowledge to these little people.

However, the real test comes when a teacher is with a student on-one-one.

Today I questioned myself as a teacher.

What am I doing wrong? I certainly don't want to think that I'm [dare I say it] wasting my time?

I put a lot of effort into my lessons and was awarded for it earlier this year. I know there are probably other teachers who feel the way I do. I'm not a teacher by profession. So I haven't studied the sociological aspects of what is to be a teacher. But why aren't they grasping simple things I'm teaching them?

All I know is that I'm putting my all out there. How much are my students taking in? This is what has been bothering me all day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Language & Power in a Foreign Country

How language makes me feel
powerful & powerless in a foreign country

I've been thinking about what it means to have power. What about being powerless? Is it possible to feel both of these at the same time?

Many of my Korean colleagues and friends tell me, "I envy you"
"Because you can speak English and you can go anywhere [in the world]"

One friend even went as far as saying that he wishes he was never born Korean. He has dreams of living abroad, but the only thing standing in his way is that he isn't fluent in English (according to him).

I never realized how we all take English for granted. Everyday expressions that I don't even think twice about can be difficult for a non-English speaking person to comprehend. An example: "Let's catch a movie tonight" would have to be expressed as "How about seeing a movie together tonight?"

Then I think if we're talking about the issue of language being a power tool, surely being a foreigner in this country who is not fluent in Korean makes me weak (or powerless) in this society?

Language is a powerful tool for communication.

During my first few days in Korea I felt like I was in a foreign film where I couldn't understand any dialogue around me. On my first night, I was in tears in a PC Bang (Internet Cafe) because no one could understand me saying, " I want to download Skype" and was further stressed out when I couldn't find a phone card to call my parents in South Africa...and as a result, getting lost in a deserted marketplace at 1:30am! I thought I'd never survive here. What the hell was I thinking? Who did I think I was to take on such a challenge of moving to a country worlds apart from everything I'm used to?

Two and a half years later, I can read and write Korean and can understand enough to go anywhere on my own. I use cabs, go to the bank, go shopping and have even traveled around on my own!

If and when I'm the only English-speaking person in the company of my Korean friends, some will hang on to every word that comes out of my mouth. Some ask me about things that I actually don't know and can't answer. In that case, I'm not afraid to say, "I don't know" even if English is my first language. If I really wanted to, I could make up any garble and give them any definition of a word they ask me about. Perhaps they'll believe me and will always remember that word as the one I 'taught' them - never knowing that I just sucked it out of my thumb. (I've never and will never do this!)

Is this power that I have? It is to a certain extent.

What does it mean to be a teacher?

I teach English at an elementary school to about 1000 children a week. When I stand in front of a class of 36 children, I have power don't I? I can give tests, reprimand and scold as I please. Not so? If I ask them to stop talking, they'll stop (not always!). If I ask them to look at the board or TV, their eyes will be focused on what I'm showing them (also, not always!)

The fact is that when I stand in front of 36 little boys and girls, I have authority as their teacher. That gives me power. During my 40 minute lessons I teach to the best of my ability, not knowing what each little body will take away when they leave my class. Will they learn that the "magic e" you add to a flat a-sounding word like "mat" will change it to "mate"? Or will they have learned that when you hit your hands together many times, it's called "clapping"?

I don't know. I just have to have faith that they will take at least one thing away from my lesson.

Then the bell rings at 12:10 and it's lunch time. I go downstairs to have lunch with other non-homeroom teachers as well as the school principal and vice principal. When I'm in the teacher's room on the second floor, my power is left behind in the English classroom upstairs on the fifth floor. There is a very distinct hierarchy system practised in Korea. I won't take food before teachers senior than me, and they won't take food before the principal and vice principal. Some are not as stringent about this, and just yesterday my school principal insisted that I go in front of her at lunch time.

When I think of language and the power I have as an English teacher here, I also can't help but think of how powerless I've felt for the past 2.5 years. If I'm sitting at a table with 9 other Korean teachers who are throwing their heads back and shrieking with laughter, I sit with almost a forced smile trying to imagine what could be so funny. If I knew what was tickling them, I'd be able to join in the laughter. But I can't. Because of the language barrier.

In this scenario, the very same people who tell me that they envy me are the same people who have power over me when they're speaking in Korean. For all I care, they could be talking about me and I wouldn't know. (Although, I almost always know when they're talking about me so they know never to do it!)

Going out to a restaurant isn't always easy for me being a non-meat eater. When I'm out at a staff dinner or with friends, we usually end up at a place that serves mostly meat dishes. My friends are considerate and will always ask for rice & a vegetarian dish for me, like a tofu stew. I appreciate this, but then when I think about it, I have little or no choice about what I can eat. I feel powerless. Sometimes on staff trips, I don't know where we're going, how long the journey will be or what time we're returning home. It's either too confusing for my colleagues to explain it to me, or I just decide to "go with the flow". This isn't always easy for someone who is used to being in control.

I teach an after school class comprised of 6 students on a Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. There are times I have to pass messages to parents about various admin issues. My co-teacher usually helps me with this - making a call or translating a letter for me. Yesterday, I asked her to call 3 parents on my behalf. She wasn't too keen on it, and I said to her - "I'm sorry to ask you this. If I could I would, but I can't." Again, I felt powerless.

And then there are other times I need to buy things (gadgets, books online) and all this has to be done by a Korean colleague or friend. Of course, I get to choose whatever it is that I want, but I'm not used to asking people to do things for me.

I thought of this today when I stood in front of a 3rd grade class who were behaving in a raucous manner. Without saying anything, they saw that I was waiting for them for settle down (with a very stern face) and they were quiet. That's the power of someone older than you and someone in authority. A few hours later when I was with other teachers, I felt powerless again.

Language (English) definitely gives me a sense of power here in Korea. People respect me as an English teacher, but at the same time ... it doesn't help in other social situations, when I feel completely powerless.

What are your thoughts?

My new lil' friend at gym

After a day of just sitting glued to my desk at work, I was looking forward to a good workout at gym. When I walked in, I saw a guy who looked familiar. As I approached him, he broke out into a big smile and waved at me. It was Seo-gyun, one of my first students I taught when I arrived here. Now he's in middle school.

"You here?" He points to me and then to the floor.
"Yes! You too?"
"Yes yes!" He nods his head.

I start on the treadmill and after 20 minutes, Seo-gyun appears at the treadmill on my left. He wants to talk. So I take out my earphones and talk to him. I'm so impressed with his spoken English. He was always one of those students who got almost every answer wrong, but never gave up. He's one of the few that have stuck in my mind. He was also teased a lot by his classmates as he was on the chubby side.

"You house where?" He puts his fingertips together to make like a roof.
I point in the direction of my apartment.
"My house hospital" and he points in the other direction.
(My apartment is near the hospital)

"You time here what?" He points at me, then to the floor and then to his wrist.
(What time do you come here?)
"Everyday is different, Seo-gyun"

"You. Man?" He points at me and then smiles.
(Do you have a man?)
"Husband? Boyfriend?" I ask him.
"Yes!" He nods his head.
"I don't have" and shake my head.
"Why?" He tilts his head to the side.
"No! I is (running action) and... girl ... (come hither action)"
(After I exercise, girls will come)
"Seo-gyun, picture ok?"
"Ok Ok!" and he smiles for me.

My time is up on the treadmill. Seo-gyun follows me to my next stop. I'm there for 2 minutes before moving on, and I notice he's behind me again.

I then move into the dance studio where I'm going to do some stretching and hula hooping. Seo-gyun is on my tail. He picks up 2 weights and then stands next to me to talk some more. I have to tell him to watch out so that I don't hit him with the mother of the hula hoop doing its rounds on me. He starts telling me a story in Korean. The only words I understand are "grandfather" and "bus" (in Korean), but I try to look interested and nod my head.

This guy is so cute! I can't bust his bubble and ignore him!

A few minutes later, he asks if he can use my phone to call his mother at home. Sure. He walks a few steps away, but I can hear him tell his mother that he's met me at the gym. He's speaking fast and smiling. He calls me over to the window and points outside.

"My bike" He points down to a lonely bike against a pole.
"Oh good, Seo-gyun!"
"You is home when?" He points at me, to the clock and then outside.
(What time are you going home?)
"I don't know, Seo-gyun"
"You is home. I my home" He points with one finger to the direction of my apartment and the other to the direction of his.
(When you go home, I'll go home)

I carry on hula hooping and Seo-gyun sits on the floor watching me.
"Seo-gyun.." and I make action to exercise.

By now, I can see that we've attracted the attention of a few people at the gym (remember - I'm a foreigner here so I stick out like a sore thumb!)

I want to do some weights. Seo-gyun follows me out and watches me. I tell him to try it out. The gym instructor comes over and helps him.

I move somewhere else and he's behind me again. I'm on my phone sending a text.
"Friend..mun-ja? [text]"
(Are you sending a text to your friend?)

"Seo-gyun, I'm going home now! He rushes behind me and the gym instructor asks him why is he leaving so soon. He notices the huge smile on my face and he catches on that this boy is following me!

He asks Seo-gyun in Korean, "Do you like her?"
He tells him that I was his teacher.

Downstairs after saying bye, he asks me again what time I'll be at gym tomorrow.

I shrug my shoulders and tell him I don't know. I leave smiling from ear to ear. It's like he's so excited he's made a friend at gym! But the thing is, he's not exercising. He's just standing watching me!

Oh, and he was so impressed that I remembered his name after 2 whole years. So cute, huh?!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements
(Based on ancient Toltec wisdom)
by don Miguel Ruiz

I know I may have jumped on the bandwagon a bit late with this book, but I'm so excited about it that I want to share it with everyone I know. A few friends have asked me what it's about. So, in short - here is what was printed in the front cover.
  • Be impeccable with your word

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  • Don't take anything personally

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
  • Don't make assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

  • Always do your best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Have you read it? I'd love to know what you think about it :-)

Hesitant to break the wall...

Image taken from Google Images

A few friends who read my blog posts about my panic attack on Friday have advised me that I should tell my friend, Yong-un that it was in fact a panic attack. He helped me, took me to a pharmacy and was with me till I was back to my old self. He's one of my few friends here who I've shared quite a bit with... except the fact that I have panic attacks.

I've been thinking about friends who've been with me during an episode. I can't speak for others, but I feel that if I have an attack when I'm with a friend who tries keeping me focused, I feel a bit different towards them after it. In the heat of the moment of an attack, I'm at my most vulnerable state. There are different kinds of panic attacks. With mine, I become extremely frightened, my shoulders and neck lock in and I feel like a heavy dark force is enjoying a roller coaster ride in my body. I feel like I can't control my tongue and I lose my speech for a few minutes. My body, mind and spirit separate and I feel helpless.

Can you imagine being perfectly fine with someone and within seconds, you're in the state that I've just described above? This is what happened on Friday evening when I was out at dinner with 9 other teachers. Yong-un took me away from the rest of them so they didn't see me at my worst. I don't know how he [Yong-un] felt after seeing me like that, but he's one of the few - and the only one in Korea - who's been with me during an attack. For me, it's like he's seen a side of me that I've tried to keep 'secret' from my Korean colleagues and friends.

Since it happened on Friday evening, I've been thinking of telling him about this condition. I'm so far away from home - my family, friends and everything else familiar to me that I guess it wouldn't hurt to tell one person about it - in case it erupts again. Of course he won't be able to do much about it if I'm alone - and trust me, having a panic attack alone is enough to make you scream. I've had it with no one around, and all I can do is cry and tell myself that it will just be over soon. I imagine my doctor's voice telling me, "You can't die from a panic attack" and within a few minutes, I'm back to normal...but with tense muscles and feeling exhausted.

Then again, this is my third year here in Korea, and so far I've been fine.

So this morning I saw Yong-un and asked if he had time to talk. He said we can talk tomorrow afternoon. But now I don't know if I should tell him. Part of me wants to, but another part of me is scared of judgment. By now you'd have guessed that I'm pretty open about my panic attacks. I think many people are misinformed about this and just like others who suffer with things like cancer or diabetes - many of them want to create awareness. This is what I want to do about panic attacks.

As I blogged on Friday evening, there is still a stigma attached to this condition and people don't realize how common it is. Unfortunately, I'm living in a society that believes if you take medication for your mental well-being, you're "crazy". Generally, Koreans don't believe in therapy, like seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. I had this discussion with a Korean friend, and when I asked her, "So what do people do when they're depressed or need to talk about something serious?" she replied, "They drink" - of course, this is just a generalization.

Before I came to Korea as an English teacher in 2007, I was accepted at a particular school. I had a telephonic interview with my new co-teacher and everything was good to go. Until they saw my medical certificate with my anti-depressant medication listed on it. When they asked about the nature of the drug, they were hesitant about hiring me. I got a call from my agent saying that they'd rather not take me on. Just because I was taking an anti-depressant drug for my panic attacks. I was more than determined not to let this condition take over any sphere of my life.

If you ask me, with the amount of stress we are all facing these days, I'm surprised that it's not mandatory we ALL take anti-depressants! Speaking of which, I weened myself off it shortly after I arrived in Korea. I hate taking any kinds of medication and I was pretty chuffed that I got myself off it. (Mum wasn't too impressed, though!) It can be dangerous for some people who depend entirely on that pill.

It's just after 8pm here in Korea, and I'm thinking if I should tell Yong-un tomorrow. Will he treat me differently? Will he feel like he has to walk on eggshells around me? Maybe he won't want to go out with me anywhere anymore? I may have friends here in Korea who are also like my family, but I must always remember that they only know me for the past 2 or 3 years. And for many people here, I'm just "Sheetal, the Foreign / English Teacher" Many don't know that I've been writing for the past nine years. That I have a Journalism degree. That I had an ordeal leading up to my first attack in 2003. That I have so many wonderful friends who I love and who love me back home in South Africa.

I have no history with anyone here, and I suppose this is what I miss the most about being seven time zones away from my family and friends. I can't just bring up a conversation starting with, "Remember when..." or "You know so-and-so..." We all need to talk and communicate. (Hmmm, some may argue women need this more than men, but anyway... ) We are social beings and if you know me, you'd know I can be a chatterbox!

I try to wear a smile no matter how I'm feeling. It gets tiring doing this and everyone's gotten used to seeing that side of me. So when I'm down & out, no one really notices. Maybe it's time to break down the wall just a bit and allow someone in for a change. I'm thinking of things like, "But he [Yong-un] already has so much on his head. He's not responsible for me." But he, himself said (on Friday, actually): "I'm your friend" and friends are meant to share things like this, right?

What do you think?

Sean Says...

I can always count on my friend, Sean to make me smile & laugh.
After reading my blog post: Saying "I'll pay" is like a sickness I have, he said:

my philosophy - you ain't got the cash,
then just shut up and stay in the house

In fact, Sean says quite a few funny things.
Perhaps I should start a series: "Sean Says"
.... Whaddya say, Sean?! :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saying "I'll pay" is like a sickness I have

Image taken from Google Images

According to this site, Going Dutch can be defined as:

Going Dutch is a slang term indicating that each person participating in a shared activity pays for himself or herself, rather than any one person.
This concept is not practiced in Korea and people often talk of "treating" each other. It is generally accepted that if Person A pays for a meal, Person B will pay for the next meal.

Alternatively, if people head to a bar after dinner, the next person may pick up the tab there. I have a few friends here who have a good understanding of this unspoken rule. I went out for dinner on Tuesday evening with my friend, Sarah. As we were heading out to pay, she said, "I'll treat you - it's my pay day today." Our next stop was a coffee shop, and I paid there.

This is basic reciprocation, not so?

Reciprocation can be defined as:
Return in the same manner something that was done or given.
Reciprocation is a big deal here in Korea. And I've been a doing this for as long as I can remember. My parents and brother do this too so I attribute it to my upbringing. It almost bothers me if someone does something for me or gives me something until I return the favour / gesture. Even if it's just buying them a small cake to say "Thank you". But not everyone thinks this way...

Last night I met a friend for dinner. Let's call her G. I haven't seen her in months because she's been in India. I've recovered from my irritation of her about a situation a few months ago.

Short version:

I asked G to go to the Pussycat Dolls concert with me. First she said she'd go but then said she couldn't because she didn't have money. I offered to buy a ticket for her [Don't ask me why. And they weren't cheap]. She accepted with delight, of course. I asked her to meet at a particular time so we could head to Seoul for the concert. We had to get there early to collect the tickets. I ended up waiting an hour for her and eventually called her to say I have to leave and be on my way without her. As a result, another friend scored the extra ticket [And no, he didn't pay for it, either]. G apologized for not making it in time - Well, what else could she do or say? She promised she'd "treat me to a meal next time"

So G has been in India for the past few months and she called desperately wanting to me last night because she's headed back to India this morning. We agreed to meet at Pizza Hut. After two hours of catching up, it was time to leave. And honestly I think it's by default that I said:

"I'll pay"

I think this was careless on my part, because when I went to pay the bill, it was much more than I expected. I don't know why I didn't look at the bill before blurting out those words. (Even though Going Dutch in Korea isn't common, it is quite acceptable amongst friends who are the same age. I've gone Dutch a couple of times with my Korean friends.) If I go out with someone and they offer to pay, I will always ask if I can please contribute something. And if they decline I thank them and it is accepted that I will pay the next time. To me, this is basic manners.

Well, G didn't put up an argument about me paying. And there won't be a next time (not in Korea anyway) as she's headed back to India. Don't get me wrong: I don't do things to expect anything in return, but this issue about paying for others - CONSTANTLY - has been gnawing a hole in my brain for months.

Image taken from Google Images

Like I said before, it's like default that I just offer to pay for people when I go out... even if I've been invited out! It's almost like a sickness I have. I can't control what I say. Another thing I find I do is that if I go shopping and someone is with me (although I much prefer shopping alone) if I'm stopping at the bakery or need to pick up milk or juice or anything from a store before heading home, I seem to ask - "Would you like anything?"

Why do I do this?

This has been going on since my university days. I was very fortunate to have parents who gave me enough spending money. I was never short of cash, and the "going out" I did was to coffee shops, movies or an occasional dinner. I had some friends who never declined an invitation to go out, but they never had money. The more I offered to pay for them, it was as if it was just an accepted thing. It was like I was a mother who adopted my friends.

I never gave it much thought. After all, what's a cup of coffee or a glass of juice going to cost? But... add it all up over time and well, if I didn't open my big mouth, I'd have saved a hell of a lot of money. And thinking of it now, it's really tiring being the one who always puts my hand in my pocket.

Even if you know the other person will pay, don't you think it's just courteous to at least offer a bit? Or even pretend like you're reaching for your purse?

People who eat to their hearts content and sit pretty when the bill arrives makes every single hair on my body stand up. This is one of my top pet peeves ever. Those who don't even make an effort to say, "Let me pay a bit" are rude. And rude people... well, I don' t want to use expletives on here, but I think you catch what I'm saying.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with paying for friends, but I do have a very big problem when it's done ALL the time and people just expect it of you and never offer to pay.

I know there are people who can relate to what I'm saying. Or, are you one of the people I'm talking about?

Think about it the next time you're out with a friend / friends.

I'd love to hear your opinion on this!

A: How are you? B: I'm fine...

How often do you say "I'm fine" when asked "How are you?"

Saying "I'm fine" doesn't gel well with me. I feel like when someone says "I'm fine" it doesn't give much room for follow-up questions. Almost like, "I'm fine (now please don't ask further questions)"

I almost never say it and if I do, I find that I say it with a sigh.

A - How are you?
Me: *Sigh* I'm fiiine.

Well my friend enlightened me on what "fine" actually stands for:

F - Frustrated
I - Irritated
N - Nervous
E - Emotional

I've realized that I say "I'm fine" when I'm one or all of these things.
What about you?
For 12 years of my life, I had to wear a school uniform. A tunic, white shirt, white ankle socks for summer and green knee-high socks for winter with brown lace-up shoes. I know, that doesn't paint a very good mental picture, does it?! I had to even wear special green panties. We could only wear stud earrings or thin plain "sleepers". Our hair had to be tied back neatly (only with a green hairband) and not touch our shirt collar. Even our school bags had to be a specific colour. I didn't question the rules. If I rebelled, I'd have gotten a one-way ticket to detention. But I didn't. I had a squeaky clean reputation. Yes, I was one of "those girls".

Then I spent four years at university. Even though I had the freedom of dressing how I want to, there were still all the rules I had to follow. On the first day of all my lectures, I got the course outlines detailing the objectives of the course and expectations of me. Deadlines of essays and assignments were penned into my diary as soon I knew them. I lived in res with girls from all over South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and other countries. There were rules about everything - using the Common Room, kitchen, laundry room and visiting times of boys.

When I moved to Korea in 2007, I thought I was breaking free of conforming and people havig high expectations of me.

I couldn't have been further from the truth. Since I've been here, I've had to follow a bunch of rules that sometimes I can't even recognize who I am anymore. These rules vary:

  • Don't wear shoes inside the house/apartment/restaurants

    (This can be a real pain especially in winter when wearing boots / sneakers)
  • Sit on the floor in restaurants / teachers room at school

    I've gotten used to sitting on the floor, and it's actually the best place to be during winter because the floor is heated. But there are days when my knees feel locked, and I simply can't sit as comfortably with my legs crossed fora long time like my Korean friends. I even hated sitting on the floor for school assembly.

December Chatterbox

Cast of Dreamgirls (Korean version)

Korean women battle for eternal youth

Hello readers! Before I begin , I’d like to thank you for your messages about my previous column, Simple girls just wait it out. When I wrote it I knew that it would speak to many young girls, and I promise that as long as I write, I will continue to write from the bottom of my heart. After all - words that come from the heart, enter the heart!

Now on to this months topic:

Over a recent dinner with my friend Kim, she smiled, turned her head to the side and in a dramatic fashion she said, "I got a plastic surgery!"

"You got WHAT now?" My mind was racing as to what kind of surgery she had done. She'd better not ask me to "Guess where?" because for the past 25 minutes, everything seemed to be in tact since the last time I'd seen her.

Kim covered her mouth as she giggled at my reaction.

"WHERE?!!!" I asked.

"Can you see it?" she probed.

I thought - Ohmygod, please don't be doing this to me! What if I say the wrong thing? Well, her nose seemed fine and I was scanning her face for any scars or unusual marks. But nothing!

"Please tell me... I can't see!"

Kim pointed to her eyes and explained to me that she had some 'fat' removed from under her eyes as they seemed to be a bit "heavy" and now her skin is "more smooth."

Apparently it was a simple procedure (just an hour). She used her 3-day holiday to have it done.

"It was so painful after," she said. She went on to tell me about blood and bandages and all that. I don't know about you, but when "blood" and "eyes" are in the same sentence, it freaks me out just a tad!

"You couldn't see it?" she asked me.

I didn't want to dampen her spirits and make her feel as though no one would notice, but I said to her in the best possible way, "Well, it means it was a job well done if it's not noticeable far as I'm concerned - you were beautiful before, and you're beautiful now!"

She put her hands together and dropped her head and said, "Thank you very much!"

I went on, "Can I ask why you did it?"

She sighed. Put her hands to her chest. Threw her head back and said, "I want to be young!"

Kim is in her mid-40s and for a single mum of three sons, the woman looks darn good. Her body, along with her spirit could easily pass for someone in their late-20s or early-30s. Two days before this, I'd heard of another teacher at my school that had the same procedure done.

Some Koreans I've met for the first time have almost always made some mention of my eyes.

"Wow! So beeeg!" My students have even said to me, "Teacher eyes very beeeg!" I tell them that they're big so that I can see everything in class - including students at the back of the classroom trying to play games on their cellphones under their desks!

When our current school principal arrived at the beginning of the year, she leaned in right to my face examining my eyes. She questioned me about all the eye make-up I use and was amazed to know that I don't use mascara and that my eyelashes were so long.

Korean women have a fascination with eyelids and long for "deep eyes" (like mine...apparently).

"You know...all Korean women want to be young!" Kim said.

Many of my Korean colleagues have flawless, milky skin with not a blemish to be seen. “They're SO lucky,” I always used to say. Until one day, a friend pointed out that many women have had "work done" which is WHY they have blemish-free skin.

My colleagues

I have colleagues who go for regular laser hair removal treatment (not that Koreans have that much body hair) as well as ladies who have eyebrow / eye liner / lip liner tattoos done. Of course, they don't make a big hoo-haa about the procedures they undergo, but are often the envy of many friends who also wish to look young for as long as possible!

Going under the knife is very common here in Korea.

Celebrities in their 40s, 50s and above do it as though it's the most natural thing ever. And the thing is, it looks so natural. Their skin looks supple and healthy and doesn't leave them looking like saggy and messed up like other procedures I've seen before.

Some of my Korean friends also tell me that they are envious of my "high nose". And... another thing most of my Korean lady friends tell me is that they wish they had more "zig zag action across their chests" – more on this later!

I say – if you’re going to do a procedure that will boost your confidence and enhance your looks, then by all means go ahead. What is your opinion on plastic / reconstructive surgery? I’d love to hear from you!

It’s time to wrap up the party of 2009 and gear up for the big one – 2010! Please be safe over the festive season and let’s remember those less fortunate than ourselves. See you next year!

Friday, November 20, 2009

PA Part 4 - I can't predict the next one

Image taken from Google Images

PA Part 1 - F*ck no! Not here. Not now.

PA Part 2 - "I think you need medicine"
PA Part 3 - "I think your mind isn't good now"

I arrived home feeling tired. That's what a panic attack does. For a few minutes it feels like all my energy has been sucked out of every pore on my body.

I had my first panic attack during a Journ lecture at university back in 2003. It was the scariest feeling ever. I thought I was dying. I regressed to a 3-year-old child and lost my speech for a good few days. I wrote about the experience shortly after I recovered from the first big one and was amazed by the responses I got from readers.

Panic attacks still have some kind of stigma attached to it. Probably because people aren't educated enough about it. I won't go into all that detail now as there's already a ton of information on this out there. But I will say this...

Having panic attacks doesn't mean that others need to walk on eggshells around you...waiting for you to break out into a sweat and start trembling. I fear that if I tell my Korean friends about this, they'd avoid going out with me, just in case "it happens"

Nothing needs to be "wrong"

When a panic attack occurs, it just means that the emergency button on my brain went off ... it doesn't always have to be triggered by something. Like this evening, I was fine. In fact, I felt good all day. Yes, sometimes a situation can play on our minds subconsciously. That's what happened when I had my first attack, according to my doctor.

So why write about it for the world?

I recently wrote about "being naked" when I write. Exposing myself to my readers in such a way that they will be able to feel the emotions and sincerity in my posts. So far, those posts have received the most comments and e-mails from readers. It's been six years since my first attack, and I'm able to talk about it very openly. This is a very common condition which not many people are well informed of. It's up to each individual whether they want to share their experience or not. I want to share. And I know there are many people out there who will relate to what I'm saying.

I wrote about this for various reasons. My feelings and emotions from it are still fresh in my mind. My right shoulder is hurting from the muscle spasms. For me, writing about it is like therapy. I'm "talking" without actually opening my mouth.

My parents

I know my parents will be reading this and I have no doubt they'll be worried about me by the time they get to this blog post. I'm fine. I really am! It's been months since my last attack and I can't predict when the next one will be (God willing there won't be one). But it could happen when I go upstairs to sleep soon. It could happen tomorrow afternoon or perhaps May 16 2010 (random date I just sucked out of my thumb) We can't predict when this violent 'monster' will erupt. But when it does, I have to keep reminding myself that I WILL NOT DIE.

I'm very thankful that I wasn't alone. I've had panic attacks when I've been alone (at university) I don't wish it upon anyone. Even though I don't want to draw attention to myself during the attack, I am glad I was with teachers who I trust and who I know care for me. Yong-un came through for me as a friend before being my colleague.

Only those who have had a panic attack will understand how it is appreciated to have someone hold your trembling hand and tell you, "Don't worry - everything will be OK" Of course, we know that already but to hear it from someone else makes it more believable. A panic attack is just that. You panic as if there's danger when there isn't.

I thought about telling Yong-un that what I had was a panic attack, but I've decided not to. It happened. It's over. I don't have to revisit it all by telling him about it. What do you think?

PA Part 3 - "I think your mind isn't good now"

Image taken from Google Images

PA Part 1 - F*ck no! Not here. Not now.
PA Part 2 - "I think you need medicine"

It's quite a walk back to the car. I'm thankful for this because I really need this fresh air. Yong-un insists I take his jacket. What I really want to do is take off all my clothes that I'm wearing, because in that state I feel so restricted. I want to pull and rip off everything on my body. My earrings, necklace, rings, socks... but I know this feeling will pass.

As we walk, he makes corny jokes trying to make me laugh. And it works. Slowly, my speech comes back and I feel more relaxed. We meet the other teachers who have been waiting for us. I can sense they don't know whether to ask if I'm OK or just pretend everything's fine. Some of them (including my Korean brother) looks at me sympathetically. I think I'm probably looking like crap.

Yong-un tells me he's taking me home. I remembered he had plans for the evening.

"But you have to meet your friends."
"I'll take you home first."

So we sit in the car waiting for it to heat up. And he starts with his jokes again. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes are pale (compared to the "shiny eyes" I had a few hours ago) It's like my face muscles are pulling. But I still manage to smile.

"What do you think of my first aid?!"
"You are Number 1 - thank you!"

"I think your body is very good" (He's not hitting on me. He's merely telling me I'm healthy!)
He puts his hand on his chest and says, "...but I think your mind isn't good now. Do you have much stress these days?"

"I have regular stress" (Which is what? I wonder after saying that)
He goes from jokes to being all serious with me.

The other teachers come to the car as they're on their way home as well. One of them has to pass my apartment, so we decide I'll get a ride with her instead. Five minutes later, Yong-un calls me.

"Sheetal, are you OK?"
"Yes, thank you"
"When you go home, take that medicine again. 2 from each box"
"Ok, I will. Thank you"
"Send a message when you get home"
"I was a good first aid, right?!" he asks with a chuckle.
"Yes, you definitely were. Thank you!"
"Have a nice evening"
"Thanks...and you too"

Feeling a bit tired and sore, I'm home-bound.

PA Part 4 - I can't predict the next one

PA Part 2 - "I think you need medicine"

Image taken from Google Images
PA Part 1 - F*ck no! Not here. Not now.

It feels like a force takes over my body. Every inch of it. From my fingertips to my eyebrows to the pit of my stomach. It's like the devil has come to play in my body.

My heart starts racing and I'm breathing heavily. I try to keep my cool and not draw attention to me, but there are people everywhere and it feels like they're all staring. Yong-un pulls me aside and hits my arms.

"Sheetal! It's just me now, are you OK?"

I need to get out of that fish market. The head teacher asks Yong-un to take me away. A scooter drives by and I tense up even more after it makes its noisy way past me.

"I think you need medicine," he tells me.
I'm walking as if I'm drunk and if it's not for him helping me, I feel like I could just collapse right there in the middle of the fish market.

Must I tell him what's happening to me? If I do, my Korean colleagues will know that I get panic attacks. What I've kept to myself for the past 2 years of living here will be known to people I see and work with everyday. Knowing how paranoid some people can be of conditions like this, I decided before coming here that I would keep this information to myself.

My doctor says casually, "Having panic attacks is like having asthma" It's more common than we think. And he also told me to always remind myself that I WILL NOT DIE from it.

It's been months since I last had an episode. I've not allowed it to hinder my life in any way, and I don't think it's necessary to randomly tell my colleagues and acquaintances about it. Although I do believe that friends should be aware so that they know how to react when an attack occurs.

I remember my doctor telling my parents not to 'baby' me in that condition, because I have a tendency to regress to the behaviour of a child. The first time I had a panic attack in 2003, I regressed to a 3-year-old child.

I close my eyes as I walk. My legs feel like they're made of lead. It's too much effort to walk. I just want to collapse in the puddles of water I'm walking through. I want to tell Yong-un that my body is weak. I can see the concern on his face and I feel a pinch of guilt.

Should I just let him take me to the pharmacy? I try telling him something, but my tongue has a mind of its own and won't let the words out. I want to tell him that I know what's happening to me. But then he pushes me in the direction of the pharmacy door.

Must give Korea credit for being one of the most convenient countries with pharmacies and stores on nearly every block.

Also, it may be frustrating for us both if I try to explain all this to him now. I'm not that close to the other teachers in the group (there are 10 of us out) and I don't think it's important for them to know all this about me. I do want to tell Yong-un that it's a panic attack, but he's already talking to the pharmacist.

He asks Yong-un something in Korean.
"Does your body ache?" he asks me.
I shake my head but touch my neck saying that the muscles are tight.
The pharmacist puts two boxes of tablets down with a small bottle of a Korean drink.
Apparently, it will calm me down. That's all I need. To calm down. So I take it, but I want to be outside.

PA Part 3 - "I think your mind isn't good now"