Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weekend Wrap-Up

I had a great weekend! Yesterday, Saturday -  I went to the city centre to sort out my parking for the duration of my work. After that, I was at a coffee shop where I got quite a bit of writing done. I left there making a new friend :) Later in the evening, I met my two special friends: Carmen & Farhad for dinner at the waterfront.

They invited me to go with them to Butterfly World this afternoon. (pics to follow) Before that, I made a quick trip to Canal Walk to stock up on some supplies of things I needed. Dinner was spent with an old friend, Helen who happened to be in Cape Town for a few days.

Tomorrow is the beginning of many good things for me. It's the first day of my new job in Cape Town. I feel excited, nervous and at peace - all at the same time.

For now, I need to get to sleep - Good night!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The light at the end of my tunnel...

Well, I cant believe the change of events within the past few days.  Last week this time I was longing for my life when I was in Korea. I missed my friends and the independence (on so many levels) that I enjoyed there. I even considered going back...

Now, I'm counting down the hours till Monday when I begin (proper) work for the first time in South Africa!

I have been engrossed in a very special book called The Gratitude Effect by Dr John Demartini. He speaks about the power of expressing thanks for absolutely everything around us, including the situations we find ourselves in which arent necessarily in our favour.  For friends who know me and who read my blog, you will know that I have been doing Thankful Thursday since I was in Korea. Everyday before midnight I would list 5-10 things I was grateful for that day. I then turned that into a weekly thing, but sadly, it fell away when I came back to South Africa.

As Ive written before, the last few months were quite difficult for me as I have been looking for a job. Honestly speaking, there was little that I could find to be grateful for. I was feeling fed up with life and people. I couldnt comprehend why the Universe was ignoring me.

Reading The Gratitude Effect felt like it was a wake-up call for me. I decided that I needed to find blessings in everything I was doing and situations I found myself in. I didnt think it would be easy, but I had to give it a shot. Almost as if it was a switch, I turned my thinking around and decided to say Thank You to absolutely everyone in my life. My list ranged from Higher Powers... the Universe, my parents, my brother, my aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, friends, security guards, shopkeepers, cashiers, parking attendants, past employers, colleagues, students. And then, the hardest of them all thank you to everyone who has rejected my job applications. Heavens knows, I have responded to dozens of job postings, made numerous phone calls...with no joy.

There were days where I didnt see the need to get out of bed. The sun would be shining through my blinds, but I woudnt be able to see or appreciate it. I didnt want to face anyone and I felt like I was becoming somewhat of recluse. I didnt want to attend any social gatherings where people were going to ask me, Have you found a job yet?

The sense of despair and rejection I felt was heartbreaking and no one will really be able to understand the deapth of this pain. It felt like I was being told that Im not good enough. Apart from the support of my parents, I felt like I was just not getting the validation that I needed.
When I woke up on Monday morning, I saw the sunshine and said Thank You for the beautiful day. I was not going to spend the day moping at home so I got dressed up and took a walk in my area. I walked into various shops and met a number of interesting people. It was one of those days where everything seemed to be going just right. Also, people I had been waiting to hear from were sending me e-mails!

Another miracle happened on Wednesday.

I went to the V & A Waterfront with my netbook. I thought I would get some writing done at a coffee shop overlooking the mountain and harbour. What better inspiration could I possibly ask for? When I arrived, I took a short walk and I found a bench near the harbour boat tours. One was leaving in 5 minutes. It was a gorgeous day and I was why not? It was just a 30 minute ride around the harbour and then I went to a coffee shop where I decided to sit and write.

About 3 hours passed and I got so much done. Earlier that morning, I sent in a job application for an internship position at a company I have been itching to crack into. I decided to call the number of the person who I sent my application to. Just to make some kind of contact other than via e-mail. She was so kind and friendly and she encouraged me not to give up on my quest for getting in. As it turns out, she is is the assistant to the person who sifts through the applications and who I spoke to a couple of months earlier (and who was very rude to me on the phone).

I left the Waterfront feeling really satisfied about the day and that I managed to get a lot of writing done. Soon after arriving at home, I got a call from someone who happened to have been given my CV. She said that she would like to offer me a temporary job for two months. While it is not editorial, she would like to know if Im interested in it at all. My heart was racing. She asked that I go in the following day to chat more about the position.

When I hung up the call, I sat on my couch for about 10 seconds trying to absorb the miracles that were unfolding in my life.

I went in for the interview on Thursday and was asked to think about the position overnight and to call in Friday notifying them if I accept or not.

After much thought and weighing my pros and cons, I called her on Friday morning.

What have you been thinking? she asked.
Ive been thinking...that Id like to see you on Monday morning, I said.

And just like that, I accepted the job offer.

Today was a bit of a milestone for me as I drove into the city centre alone for the first time (not by getting lost this time!) to sort out my parking for the duration of my work. I was so lucky to deal with a very nice person and was also very grateful to a friend who told me about this parking garage.

I havent felt this happy and at peace in a long time and as my godmother said to me, The light is shining for you at the end of the tunnel.

Im very grateful to the lady who called me on Wednesday afternoon and for her giving me my first break at my first proper job in South Africa.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stop & Rewind vs Play & Enjoy

...or Im going through a quarter-life crisis, I told my friend. I was referring to the thoughts and feelings Ive been having over the past few days. I dont know if its the weather or? but Ive been feeling pretty agitated with life.

My decision to leave South Korea last year was based on many things. I didnt expect a red carpet to be rolled out for me coming back to South Africa, but I also didnt expect it to be *this* hard finding a job. I was positive that by this time, I would have landed something.

I moved to Cape Town in July and have started living properly here for a couple of weeks. I say properly because there were a couple of obstacles in my way before I could feel completely settled.

Over the past few days, Ive felt a sense of missing something and I realized I was actually missing South Korea.

But what do I really miss about it?

The food? My apartment? The efficient public transport? The students I taught?

Or is it my financial independence and the fact that I was a faceless being in an over-populated subway. No one knew me. There is something comforting about being a nobody in a foreign place.

I was feeling pretty listless this past week. I was doing the usual applying for jobs, sending my CV and application letters anywhere and everywhere, receiving e-mails of rejection or not even at all.

Over the last 2 or 3 days, I had a thought: If I didnt just commit myself to an apartment lease and move to Cape Town, I would have packed up and gone back to Korea. I bought my first car in December last year and even after purchasing it, I decided that if I ever wanted to go back to Korea, I would. But things are different now, I have an apartment to consider.

What would life be like in Korea if I were to go back? I certainly wouldn
t go back to the same life I had. After all, I believe that the Korean government is cutting back on hiring native English teachers.

If I was missing Korean food so much, was it reasonable for me to commit to a 12-month contract just because my taste buds were longing the spicy tinge of kimchi again?

Was it reasonable to want to go back to Seoul just to go to Yong-san (digital heaven)? I so miss buying gadgets!

I started questioning myself about why I came back to South Africa when I did. At the time of my decision to leave Korea, my 3rd contract with the school had almost expired. I was at my peak. I wanted to leave on a very good note, where my relationships with friends were still healthy.

The other day I watched a documentary about the tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year. It was eerie, and the streets and people of the places hit reminded me so much of my Korean friends again. I missed them and wanted to hear their voices. So I decided to surprise them with a phone call.

Angelina Kim: My first manager and co-teacher. She also played the role of my nurse, mother and big sister. She was visiting family in Bucheon when I called. She told me that shed moved schools and is now working in Bucheon, closer to where she lives. Shes still doing the same after-school English program that she started in Siheung.

Kim Hung-joo: The head teacher of the 6th grade staff who I was part of. He always had my back and we loved talking about movies and current events. Some days after lunch, I would take the longer route back to my classroom and office so that I could pass his classroom and see him. He answered the phone saying, Sheetal Makhan! He told me that in six months time, he will move to another school.

Kim Hye-youn: My dinner, soju & clubbing friend who would meet me after work on Saturday nights. She and I traveled to Busan and Hong Kong together and had some crazy nights of clubbing where we would head home at 7am! It was also great fun going to concerts with her and she was a riot of fun. When she answered my call, I said: Julie! referring to her going out name. After a few seconds and a gasp, she replied back saying Chingu!! meaning friend. We caught up for a little bit and then she said to me, Chingu, chingu I have a good news. I will marry this year.

WHAT?! I said several times. Hye-youn was adamant that she didnt want to marry a Korean man, but here she was planning her wedding to a Korean man!

Lee Mi-hye: My co-teacher and Korean mother who treated me with so much love and adoration I could never forget her. She told me that she also received one of the hacking emails that was sent from my address in July. She told me about the governmentss plans to cut the budget of hiring English teachers. After many months of not working, Mrs Lee is now working as an English teacher at an elementary school near her home.

Mr Lee (Papa): At first, when he answered my call in Korean (yeo-bo-se-yo?) I said Hello! and he hung up on me! I called back and this time, I said Papa! to which Mr Lee replied, Ohhh Makhan! My is daughter! We continued our broken conversation for a couple of seconds where he asked about my family and health and also told me that he wants to come to South Africa in 2012. I is come to Nam-a-gong...South Africa He ended off the call by saying, Ok, Makhan ...I love my daughter!

Lee Joo-hyeon: My co-teacher and close friend who shared a ton of dinners and coffee dates with me. We used to spend hours talking about all sorts of things. It was so easy with Joo-hyeon, also mostly because her level of English was near perfect. She told me that shed been to Vietnam with her family recently. I asked her to come to South Africa to visit me. Really? Ok let me think about it. She told me about some other teachers who had been moved to other schools and that almost none of the old teachers who I knew were there anymore.

Mrs Ham: The sweetest woman I got to know and who, despite her very broken English, treated me like part of her family. I could feel her love. 

I told her that Im now living in Cape Town and said, My apartment...downstairs is Korean restaurant!

Jjin-jja? (Really?) Sheetal is happy, said Mrs Ham.

Kang Sun-hwa: A temporary co-teacher who worked with me while my regular co-teacher was on sabbatical. Sun-hwa is married to a Muslim man from Pakistan and she told me about their recent celebration of Eid. In a few days time, she and her husband will be traveling to her parents home to celebrate Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). Sun-hwa is now teaching a few students as part of their home-schooling at her friends house.

Mrs Park: Mrs Park's 2 children were in my class and I got to know Mrs Park very well when she started her beauty therapy course. She invited me to her house where she did facials for me usually after work, and while I cleaned up afterwards, she had a steaming helping of my favourite meal waiting for me (dol-sut bi-bim-bap) and sometimes, if I was lucky, she used to make pa-jon for me (Korean pancake). At the beginning of our relationship, Mrs Park relied a lot on her children to translate our dialogues to each other. We soon discovered the English-Korean dictionary on our cellphones and from there, continued our broken conversations! She had her daughter speak to me and then her son, who I knew in Grade 2. Hes now in Grade 6. Sheetal! I miss you! he said.

Bae In-suk: She was the teacher who taught the junior after school lessons and after her coming to our English office to use the photocopier, we slowly developed a friendship. She loved going out to dinners and movies and if our schedules agreed, we used to meet up. I dont have another foreign friend after you leave Korea. Sometimes, I want to speak English to someone, but then I think of you. I miss you, she told me.

Every person I spoke to asked me the same question, Do you have plans to come back to Korea?

About an hour and a half later, I got to thinking about all the people I had just spoken to on the phone. Everyone had moved on to a different sphere of their life. Why was I wanting to go back in time? If I was longing for the comfort and familiarity of the old school I worked at, I was guaranteed I wasnt going to get that. Everyone I knew had moved on to another school some to greener pastures.

Friends who I relied on as my last-remaining single friends were now planning their wedding, while others (in their own words) were keen to have a baby soon.

Everyone was moving forward. And here I was - longing to go back. Would I be happier if I were to go back to Korea? To live in the same kind of solitude, surrounded by a language that I only knew little of? To where I had very limited choices when eating out (since Im a vegetarian?) to a place where I was continuously asked to produce my ARC (Alien Registration Card) reminding me time and time again that I am an alien?

If anything, I was very happy that I made all those calls to my Korean friends, as it helped put many things into perspective. I need to stop being so hard on myself for the rut I seem to be in. My time will come. The perfect job will come to me. I will be happy. I can't stop and rewind my life. I won't even try to fast forward. I will just hit play and enjoy it as best I can. 

Above all, God has a wonderful plan for me. This, Im sure of.

10-year Reunion: Sunday Breakfast

The breakfast on Sunday morning served to wrap up the reunion weekend. About ten classmates met at Footprints Cafe and we bid farewell to each other  not really knowing when wed see each other again.

With Carolyn, Roxanne & Natalie

10-year Reunion: Girls Night

Friday night was finally going to happen. Weeks of planning was finally going to come to fruitation. The evening went of absolutely well with tributes to our late classmates and friends, Lelethu Lumkwana and Ashanti Kakaza. I also prepared a slideshow for the girls filled with photos and tidbits from 2001. 

With my oldest friend, Catherine

10-year Reunion: Grateful

Leaving Founders Day, I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Clarendon is an institution that Im so proud to have been part of.

First and foremost, I was grateful to my parents for recognizing what an excellent school Clarendon was and still is.  They knew that by enrolling me at Clarendon Prep, I would be taught the best life lessons and be introduced to opportunities that I may not have been exposed to elsewhere.

For my entire school career, I felt like I was constantly nurtured under the loving care of my teachers. 

It was the encouragement of my English teachers that fueled my love for the language and ultimately lead me to explore the wondrous world of words.  My very first piece that was published in an anthology of verse was a poem I wrote in Std 2 called "My Secret Garden". This was the beginning and I am proud to say that I have had my writing published in local and international publications - enforcing my belief that I can spread whatever message I wish through the written word. My love for English also led to my career choice in teaching English to foreigners.

I was a bit of an introvert growing up and was a bit hesitant to take risks and challenges, but in Grade 10 I felt like I went through my own metamorphosis. I joined the Forum Discussion team, the school magazine, Interact and other clubs and societies. It was through these platforms that I developed confidence in developing my voice. Above all, I developed leadership skills.

With their guidance and caring attitude, teachers like Mrs Felton, Miss Rose, Mrs Edwards, Mr Deutschmann and so many others, my wings had fully grown by the time the end of my matric year came by.  

Biology was my weakest subject and I was sure I was not going to pass with good enough grades to enrol at a university.  The day I went to collect my results from school with my mum, I cried tears of joy. Months of hard work, studying and tutoring had paid off and I passed with good grades. I now have a Bachelor of Journalism from Rhodes University. Something I never thought would be possible!

Ten years later, I am still very good friends with many of the girls I met at Clarendon High School...including those from Sub B!

Thank you, mum and dad for choosing Clarendon as my education foundation. Thank you to the dozens of teachers who believed in me. Thank you to all the friends I made.  Without you all, I know for sure that I would not be the person I have turned out to be.

If I can give any piece of advice to current Clarendonians, it would be...

"Don't for a single second take any opportunity you have for granted. Respect your teachers and recognize that they are very special people who take on many different forms to ensure that you will leave the school successful and ready for the world. Don't wait till your reunion to come back to school and realize what a fine institution you were part of. Know it now. When you look around at the lack of education in our country and the children who would give anything to be in your place - even sitting on those hard, wooden floors, appreciate that you are one of the most privileged people to be receiving education of such caliber."

10-year Reunion: Founder’s Day at School

Entrance to Clarendon High School

It was a chilly Friday morning when I arrived at Clarendon High School with 3 friends. On the way into the school, we met Mrs Carol Forward my Std 3 Bible Education teacher. I remember Mrs Forward sitting on a chair while we sat cross-legged on the floor engrossed in the Bible stories she told us. I loved Mrs Forward and she gave the best hugs ever.

We were taken to a white marquee on the field where the assembly would take place and were shown where we would be seated. On our way there, we walked through one of the two quads and walking out of the staff room was Virginia, one of the maintenence workers. We hugged and it was so heartwarming to know that she actually remembered me! I also met the legendary Biology teacher, Mr Currin who to my surprise, greeted me with, Makhan. Sheetal Makhan!

Hearing Mr Nel and Miss Rose speak behind the podium brought back so many Founders Day memories of sitting on the hard wooden floor in the hall, being asked to Please stand and Please be seated. Singing the hymns again opened a flood gate of memories. I was always proud to be known as a Clarendonian and the I felt the same pride wash over me on that day.

After assembly, the guests congregated in the school hall where we drank tea, had snacks and mingled. Reaching for a snack across the table, I heard someone say my name, Sheetal. It was Mr Deutschmann, my Travel and Tourism teacher.

I adored Mr Deutschmann and this is why:

During my high school career, I was involved with almost every club and society and in my matric year I was a bit overwhelmed with all I had to do. There was a particular project that I was working on for Travel and Tourism about the Wonders of the World. I finished my assignment way beyond time, but hadnt printed it yet. I guess my famous line of Technology Hates Me started from way back then because something happened that was out of my control and I lost my entire project. When I told Mr D about it, he sat me down at my desk and drew a pyramid for me. He explained about lifes priorities. First, is my health if I dont have my health, I have nothing else...I cant look after my family and wont be productive in anything I do.

Mr D
Its something Ive taken with me in my life from that moment Mr D spoke to me in class.

When I met Mr D at Founders Day, I reminded him about that all important life-lesson he taught me. He didnt have a recollection of it, but I guess thats the impact teachers have on their students without knowing it.

After tea in the school hall, we walked around the school and visted some of our old classrooms. How did we fit into those little wooden desks?!

I felt so excited and happy on the way home. I felt rejuvenated after seeing old friends and teachers again.

With Virginia
With Mr Currin (Biology) and Mrs Felton (English & Matric)