Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Lost in Translation #2: Des

{Des also used to be an expat in Korea, where he worked as an engineer. We bonded over our mutual love for Seoul and living abroad. He shares my passion for film and travelling, and knows all about the intensity of going places and coming back home. You can find him at Des in Real Life, and I'm happy he agreed to share some of his wonderful insights}

Hi my name is Des and it’s very exciting to be a guest blogger on “Lost in Translation,” because I am a big fan of this blog. Like Vivian, I lived in Seoul, South Korea so I’ll be sharing a few of my stories and anecdotes about living in Seoul. But before I do that I thought I’d write about why I enjoy this blog so much. I thought long and hard about this and the final conclusion I came up with is that “Lost in Translation,” is so appealing because the central theme of Vivian’s blog is identity. Whether Vivian is discussing fashion or living abroad, her discussions are all relatable because they center on that process of trying to figure out who you really are. It is not an easy thing to write about at all, but Vivian manages to do it very well.

So let me talk about my own experience living in Korea. Living abroad and then returning home is both fascinating and difficult. I think the main reason why I found it so challenging was that I changed during my time in Korea in both subtle and more overt ways. And then when I came home to my family and friends I felt like I had to revert back to my old self again. It’s a strange feeling and I have to admit that I really do miss the person I was while I was in Korea.
Now I’ll list some anecdotes from Korea and I’ll try not to repeat any that Vivian has written:

Being Canadian
I was in Korea during the George Bush years when it wasn’t so hip and trendy to say you were from the US. To avoid a lot of grief, all of us from the US would simply say we were Canadian and it made life a lot easier. Everybody likes Canadians.

I think Korean men are arguably the hardest drinkers on the planet. Whenever my boss or Korean friends said we were going to get some drinks my liver would quiver. Korean men have a way of drinking to within an inch of their lives the night before and looking fresh the next day at work. It really is amazing.

Being single and dating in Korea was an interesting experience. It’s difficult to meet the woman of your dreams if you are speaking in broken English and T-A-L-K-I-N-G L-I-K-E T-H-I-S A-L-L O-F T-H-E T-I-M-E. It made for some hilarious dates but I could write a whole post just on that.

I had a car in Korea. So just imagine you’re driving home and all of a sudden every driver simultaneously ignored every traffic rule. Then you’d start to get the basic idea of what it’s like to drive in Seoul.

Sitting on the floor
I have to disagree with Vivian on this one. I hated sitting on the floor. It’s tough to eat and have a conversation if your legs are numb and your feet are asleep.

Again, I’d like to thank Vivian for allowing me to write about my Korean experiences and please take care everyone.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Lost in Translation #1: Rae

{My first guest blogger is Rae from My Life in Korea. We met back in Seoul, we lived in the same neighborhood, shopped for groceries together at E-Mart, and complained over cheesecake and expensive lattes at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I fell in love with her blog while in Korea- she would always write about things I was too afraid to mention, and in the most hilarious manner. Here is Rae, and her uncensored thoughts about Korea!}

So, I’ve been asked to be a guest blogger by the fabulous Vivian on Lost in Translation. Vivian tells me she finds it delightful that I use endearing terms such as “mofo” to describe my colleagues. What I can say? If the shoe fit….

I usually blog when life goes awry, people piss me off, or whenever I get my panties in a bunch. Life’s been pretty easy going and chilled thus far, so the material has been lacking in substance. So, I had to look back on my 2 years of being an expatriate in Korea to think of something worth mentioning. The thing that worries me most will be my transitioning back home. I have subconscious adopted certain “Korean” etiquettes. So for this post, I will count the ways in which I am Korean…

1. Konglish
Konglish is the mix of Korean and English or the outright and improper use of English. Even though I work in Seoul, all 4 of my coteachers all have different English levels. One coteacher has impeccable English. I’m a very sarcastic person by nature. I often make very sarcastic comments and usually no one but her understands them. One lived in England, but her speaking ability is pretty sub-par. The other two is really sub-par. Sometimes I have to use the language of mimes or pictionary to communicate with them. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.
Over the course of time, this affects me greatly. I begin to forget my mother tongue and subconscious speak on their levels. My friends (other English teachers) often bust my chops when I use Konglish. Here are some examples:

me: It’s so nice today!
friend: What is?
me: the outside!
friend: …………the outside?.......THE OUTSIDE?

friend: I’m tired.
me: take a rest
friend: ……………….take a rest?

friend: Where do you want to eat?
me: hmm, I don’t know….OH! Let’s go to here!
friend: …..let’s go TO here???!!!

friend: Lately, there’s a lot of suicides in Korea.
me: Yea, my coteacher said it’s because of depression.
me: So if you’re depressed, don’t suicide.
friend: ….don’t suicide?
me: yea! I know you are a bit down lately.
friend : aren’t you missing a verb? Suicide is a noun, not a verb….
me: …………………..anyway….

I also use the phrases “so-so” and “same same” quite frequently. As you can see, I’ve completely butchered the English language. My friends back home aren’t as nice and understanding. I’m Asian-American and my friends used to call me a FOB (fresh of the boat). I’m afraid I’m fobbier now more than ever.

2. Rude, Inconsiderate Behaviors
One thing I CANNOT stand in Korea is certain rude, inconsiderate behaviors. People will bump into you, push you out of the way, run you down, cough/sneeze on you without covering their mouths, or spit right before your feet without blinking. Think I’m kidding again, don’t you? I’m not. Anyone who’s ever lived in Korea knows what I’m talking about. Each morning, I get pushed and shoved while trying to get on the bus. Then some inconsiderate jackal has to cough on me without covering his mouth and not even apologize. And everywhere I go, I hear the sound of a guy trying to hack up a huge loogey.

It’s scary to think I’ve picked up such nasty etiquettes. Unfortunately, I have and did so without even realizing it. One day on the way to school, my neighbor and I were waiting to board the bus. I saw this ajumma (old lady) trying to make a beeline for it. I quickly cut in front of her and went in first. My neighbor had a field day. She said you just cut her off…that was hilarious! Yes, I’ve subconscious started cutting. It’s not that bad, but damn inconsiderate. And I did it subconsciously….even scarier!

3. Other Korean Etiquettes
Koreans like to smile when they’re embarrassed. The women in particular also cover their mouths when they laugh. My friend and I were dining one day and she told a funny story. I laughed heartily with my hand over my mouth. She suddenly stopped and asked “what the hell are you doing?” I actually hadn’t even realized what I was doing…

Only in Korea where the women can get away with wearing hello kitty hair pins or something equally cute and childish. Seriously. I saw this one woman with a headband. It was just a regular black head band…with a GIANT diamond crusted heart. The heart was almost as big as her head. No, I do NOT wear such things on my head. However, my clothes sometimes look like they came from baby Gap. I wear fru-fru clothing that’s fit for an 8 year old.

Koreans tend to make this sound when you ask them something and they don’t know. I don’t know how to quite describe it. It sounds like the sound of sucking teeth. Basically, you smile and suck in and you make this weird sound. One day my friend asked me a question and I didn’t know. I smiled and sucked in and said “oh I don’t know.” She quickly pointed out that I was quite Korean since only Koreans do that weird teeth sucking thing I had just did.

Bowing. Koreans bow to each other, especially to their elders. I know I’m a foreigner and not really required to bow, but it’s something I’ve been exposed to for the past 2 years. I do it to show respect. When I went back home last August, I bowed to the 7-11 clerk. Needless to say it was returned with a “wtf” expression.

These are only some of the ways in which I have Koreanized. It’s just astonishing what you can pick up subconsciously sometimes. All I know is I need to de-Koreanized myself real quick. I’m afraid I might cut in front of some big burly guy and get punched in the face for it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday musings

{Stayed tuned, as I will have fabulous guest bloggers in the upcoming weeks, who will share their own "lost in translation" moments while traveling. Please email me at if you'd like to share stories about living abroad, or traveling!}

After 4 months back home, here is what I miss the most about living in Asia:

*living abroad
*no rent to pay
*barely any taxes
*no tipping
*eating kimchi every day
*how big Seoul is
*cell phone works in the subway
*wireless internet available everywhere
*travel around Korea for very cheap
*reserving a seat at the movie theatre
*not understanding the language (white noise around you, not disturbing)
*the celebrity status of a foreigner
*the shopping everywhere
*busy streets and neon signs
*teaching kids
*sitting and sleeping on the floor
*playing tourist
*all the amazing friends i met there

What I DON'T miss:

*the sewer smells, and all other fishy smells everywhere
*the cockroaches
*the humidity
*the mosquitoes
*trouble finding cheese and other Western goods
*being treated like s*** by my school
*lack of public hygiene
*the mandatory morning prayer and song (at my school only)
*lack of green spaces and parks in Seoul
*7$ coffee at Starbucks

I'm not sure Accessorize and Uniqlo are valid reasons to consider another year abroad, but I do have an undying love and fascination with Asia. Besides, I'm loving my job right now, it's so crazy busy and I'm learning a lot, and this summer will be amazing with the filming on location- which I'll definitely write about. Still in pre-production now, which means we're getting everything ready, so it's just a lot of work- making shooting schedules, casting, hiring, finding locations, editing scripts... one more month of that craziness, then the fun part will start!

Monday, May 18, 2009


I like to watch movies over and over. No, seriously. Over, and over, and over again. Only some of them. I never get tired of a movie I love, and since I love them so much I need to see every little detail about it. Maybe that's why I have a career in production, who knows. I also do it with television series- I must have watched the whole Friends series about ten times. My roommate probably thinks I'm crazy when she hears the opening credits song every night during dinner. I've watched Lost in Translation about thirty times, and even went to some of the places they go to in the movie when I was in Japan. My geek-hood doesn't stop there.

My latest obsession in the movie department was "Chungking Express", two love stories that take place in Hong Kong. I rented it a few weeks ago, and got to keep it for a week, so obviously I watched it about three times. I sadly returned it, then this weekend I felt like seeing it again, so I decided it would be better to just buy it. Unfortunately, the local film store sells it for 50$ since it's from a special collection. WHAT??! Anyways, I just went back to the video store to rent it, I'd rather pay 3$ for now. The clerk at the counter said: "It says here you rented it already a few weeks ago". I quickly mumbled: "Oh, I didn't get around to watch it". I lied!! I was embarrassed!!! Is there a rule that doesn't allow you to watch a movie over and over? I know there isn't, but I felt like I got caught in my little 'watching over and over' act. Embarrassing!! That's what you get for paying 3$.

What are your quirks??

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lazy Saturday

A decadent Friday evening filled with red wine, a French restaurant, foie gras de canard, tartare de saumon, and more red wine, was followed by this kind of Saturday:

-woke up and got dressed
-drank coffee
-went to local craft fair
-ate half of pork sandwich
-ate two cupcakes (chocolate vegan and red velvet)
-started raining, got soaked
-went home for nap
-got a Gatorade from Chinese convenience store in my sweats
-ate some Triscuits
-talked to my mom
-wrote some emails
-drank a sip of coca-cola
-went back to Chinese man to buy some Ramyen noodles

Ew, how bad, but it was the perfect day to be lazy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Share a Playlist

I need new music on my iPod. Anything. Can you share your favourite 5-song playlist?
Here's one I love:

Silversun Pickups- "Lazy Eye"
(great for running)

The Jesus and Mary Chain- "Just Like Honey"
(reminds me of Tokyo)

Death Cab for Cutie- "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"
(reminds me of a Korean friend who used to cover it)

Blonde Readhead- "23"
(reminds me of a hot summer day in Brooklyn, backstage)

Band of Horses- "The Funeral"
(reminds me of Seoul)

My favourite blogs

Thanks to the lovely Kelly and Vanessa for picking my blog among their favourite reads. Here are my picks, and I'm probably breaking all the rules, but um, here it is (and Vanessa I'm stealing your format, which I loved):

Because she also lived in Korea for a year, and is taking the plunge once again
Searching for Starlight

Because she is so creative and I'd like to be her roommate
La Mia Vita

Because she is so kind and we'd be great friends
Just a Girl in a City

Because she decided to backpack across the world for a year
Coffee and Cigarettes

Because she shares the same wanderlust I do
The Voyage of V

Because she also works in television
Then I got to Thinking

Because she has the best DIY style and lived in Montreal
Style Scrapbook

Because she shares my love of literature
Seasonal Lust

Because I love everything about her
Cupcakes and Cashmere

Because she always shares fun tidbits
Limoni Dolci

Because she used to be an expat, but the most stylish expat ever
Cuervo Girl

Because she is hilarious and a great writer
The Lil Bee

Because her blog is like Lost in Translation but 10 times funnier
My Life in Korea

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Worst. Idea. Ever?

On Saturday night, it was cold, grey, and pouring rain. Aaron and I met up and decided to go eat at a Korean restaurant for old times sake. I had been craving kimchi all week (kimchi is Korea's national dish, and I love it so much. It's pretty much fermented cabbage). We went to the best, most authentic Korean restaurant in Montreal (there is only a handful of K-restaurants), which is located right next to a Korean grocery store. It was my first time there since I got back, and it felt like.... Korea. The grocery store was exactly the same- I kept pointing out excitedly at all the packaged foods and drinks I recognized and miss. I even heard Korean being spoken and ajummas (old ladies) working there. I almost cried in my bibimbap when I heard 'gamsa hamnida' (which means thanks).

Whoa. I never thought I'd react so strongly to the whole thing, I felt like maybe it was a bad, bad idea to revisit Korea... just yet. Sitting there in the simple, tackily-decorated restaurant, chatting and laughing with Aaron, it reminded me of how... simple and fun things used to be. We'd finish teaching, and pick any restaurant in our neighborhood and try something new. (Even though, I didn't appreciate it back then, I missed Western food like crazy). It made me miss how huge Seoul was. I started missing every little thing. I even started seriously thinking about going back.

As I looked around the restaurant crowded with Korean immigrants, I spotted a few white faces. I wondered if they also were former ESL teachers missing Korea. It was kind of sad. I think I don't want Korea to be over, I miss the excitement of living abroad. I'm scared to settle in one place, I'm not ready for that just yet. Maybe I never will. I need to travel some more, and I need to live and work abroad. I want to get lost in translation all over again. And I wish I did not need that, it makes things so complicated.

That was my Saturday night. It was so... painful. However, on Sunday morning, I woke up feeling like myself again. Something I haven't felt like since I got home in February. And for some reason, I've been feeling quite peaceful since then, enjoying my life here a lot more, and enjoying the present time instead of always wishing I was somewhere else.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Housewarming and hipsters

I've been back for almost three months, but my roommate and I decided it was time we host a long awaited housewarming party. And a party is always better when it's themed, so we decided to make fun of hipsters. One of my biggest reverse culture shock back home was seeing the high number of hipsters roaming the Montreal streets. No, really, Montreal is hipster central- after all, this is the home of American Apparel. We asked our guests to sport their hipster best, we made an insane amount of sangria (white and red), and danced to MGMT. Our tiny apartment was soon crowded with thirty of our closest friends, and the party abruptly ended at 3am when the concierge got sick of the loud music. Okay, not my classiest fete, but perhaps the best in a long time.

{And yes, I own tons of AA clothes, but I'm by no means a hipster!}


Thursday, May 7, 2009

I heart this

I'm loving this. Gives me a new motivation to run, makes things a bit more interesting! Now I'm always trying to run for longer/in less time, and I even made customized workouts to my favourite playlists. Sometimes I need that kind of stuff to get motivated. Running is my new drug.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action

Here I am, back in the daily grind. It's only been three days, but I'm completely wiped!! Nothing compared to my teaching job in Korea, where I'd teach for a total of three hours then stare at my computer screen for the whole afternoon (which I'm sure I'll miss at some point). I'm loving it so far, it's a bit crazy hectic now, but time really flies, and I'm back to working long hours. I even managed to cook dinner and hit the gym every night so far (probably won't last very long).

Here's what I love (and missed) the most about my production job:

*Meeting new people everyday (we have such a big crew, and actors)
*Working with creative people and interesting characters
*Stealing food from the craft (my health-conscious producer told us it's dangerous to always be surrounded by food, we must be careful, haha)
*Watching the set for a few minutes and seeing how everything comes together
*Making coffee (I always volunteer to do so, I love it for some reason)
*Learning new things every day
*Having a huge office with windows, and decorating it with furniture from the set
*Starting a new project from scratch

I'm having a lot of fun and learning so much, but it's exhausting and rather intense. Sometimes I can see why I needed to take a year off and travel, and experience something else, because it gets quite overwhelming. But I feel so refreshed and motivated now, I think I can do it for a little while at least! And it's not like The Devil Wears Prada anymore. Well, maybe a little bit- except that I'm playing Emily instead of Andy, if you get the reference ;)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Looking back, moving forward

{Kyoto, Japan. Fushimi Inari. You might recognize the tunnel from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha}
{Seoul, South Korea. Crossing the Cheonggyecheon stream, scared to fall in the water}

This week officially marks the end of Korea, and the beginning of... everything after. Obviously, Korea has been over for over two months now, but the transition back home was part of the adventure. I'm starting my television contract tomorrow, so it's the beginning of something new, something very exciting.

I remember my first day teaching in Korea, I was still jet-lagged, and awkwardly standing in front of twenty fourth graders who were intently staring at me. There I was, without any kind of training, wearing the mandatory indoor slippers, in my little cream knit dress, wondering where to start. Teaching a language that is not even my mother tongue. I think we ended up playing hang man for the whole hour. Thankfully, I don't feel like that for my new job, since I already know how it goes. And since it's a new television series, it's a whole new team, so we all start from scratch and help each other out. A little bit different!

I'll miss teaching, and I'll miss making a difference in kids' lives. I always felt like teaching was so rewarding. But then again, Aaron nicely pointed out that with my new tv show, I'll still make a difference, but for couch potatoes ;) I definitely won't miss the Korean workplace, with its lack of communication, last minute surprises, and frustrations due to the language barrier. I've been craving the excitement, creativity and franticness that goes on in television studios, so cheers to a change!

{Hope you all had great weekends. My roommate and I hosted a themed party, I shall post about it along with some fun pictures}