Every so often the Korean kids, especially young ones, like kindergartners, will point at my belly and say, "Baby?" Baby is just one of those words that translates so well that second language learners get it the first time they hear it. Hamburger is another word.
I am in fact fat. The polite term is overweight, but I don't hedge on this. I usually weight 95 kg which is 211 lbs. I'm five foot five and a half. That half is very important to me. Its both a genetic thing and an eating thing.
The genetic part is this. I like things like pizza, friend chicken and hamburgers. Actually, I don't just like. i love. I've met people who absolutely love veggies as much as I like fries and fried cheese sticks. The other genetic component is a love of eating. I find it a most relaxing and pleasurable act. And I've always been this way. I didn't talk as a young child for the longest time and then suddenly, at dinner time I said "Please pass the mashed potatoes."
Anyway, sometimes when overweight people come to teach in Korea the struggle. When you are a child surrounded by size 0 adults, the plus sized stand out like a sore thumb and the only word you know for it is fat... well, one better grow a thick skin. The kids aren't being rude. By 3rd, though sometimes 4th grade, they know better. But even then they want to talk about it. Not because they think you are bad, but it's strange as curly hair or blue eyes. With blue eyes, you'll hear, "Pretty, and for curly hair they ask, "Perma?" which is perm in Korean. They understand, "Natural."
They also understand, "Hamburger belly." It's not exactly true. I don't eat that many hamburgers and anyway, pizza, fried chicken, cake, cookies, gimchi, gamjatang, and thousand other things are to blame for it. But it's honest. Refreshingly so, that I never fail to get a smile an break the ice even with adults. But what I'm really saying is that I'm okay with my body.
This isn't to say I've given up and just eat whatever I want. For the most part I simply don't buy the things I'll really overeat. That keeps temptation low on days like today, where I've had a healthy dinner of boiled cabbage, meat, mint leave and broth. It's a new Korean dish my friends mom made. When I first came to Korea it was the kind of the dish that made being here so hard. But now I really enjoy this kind of food.
Nevertheless, I'd really love something sweet to chase it down with.
My friend was driving. Squeezed between her and I was Gabe, her 8 year old son. We were talking about the horses.
Me: Thor makes my butt look small.
Gabe: No, your butt is big.
Me: No, your butt is big.
Gabe: No, your butt is as big as a galaxy. (Friendly insults are our thing. Like smell you later and so on.)
Me: Then the Guardians of the Galaxy are guardians of my butt.
Gabe who loves everything superhero; Nooooooo!
Me: Yeeees. Since my butt is as big as a galaxy then the Guardians of the Galaxy or guardians of my butt. I'm better than a superhero.
Gabe gets this look on his face. To an eight year old boy this is a really difficult problem.The only way to save the Guardians of the Galaxy is for him to say my butt isn't that big.
So the routine changes based on how much grain everyone gets and weather I want to brave having Thunder in the barn, but usually, Super and Thor eat together, and Thunder and Panther eat together. Thunder spills grain everywhere and then breaks into the not too secure feed-bin.
The roadway up to the barn is quite steep so I usually slide two feed tubs down. Thor takes his and takes his. And then they share. Each get 1 kilo of sweet feed in the evenings and since the weather has been so hot and humid, a quarter scoop of a supplement. They also have salt and mineral licks and I'm forever changing the water in their troughs from warmed by the sun to cold.
Korea is a really hot place and the horses are dripping with sweat just eating hay by 10 am. I'm so happy that Liz opened up the spring behind the barn. With the rock wall and pond, the loafing shed can be much cooler. I know because we have a chair bed back there and have found myself too cold to nap on some very hot days. Which is fine, there is always stuff that needs doing. I have to admit though, it's fun to hang out back there with the horses and no agenda.
Anyway, tonight I sent the feed tubs down and prepared Panther's dinner. Thunder was already in the barn having broken in for dinner. Despite not feeding them at the same time ever, she's learned to read my body language of when the grain is coming. Smart girl.
So, when I went down I turned around, I realized Thor was not eating his dinner. Panther wasn't eating it either, he's that low in the group. Then I saw Thor, held by the hay net by an eary. Every so often Thor will get stuck this way. Just an ear mind you, but he's been taught to give to pressure. And while it took him longer to understand than any horse I've personally trained and was a true trial in patience, now that it's in there he can't not do it.
Our vet says, Thor reminds people of a not so bright warmblood. But we'd never call him him stupid. For one thing, he's a very, very good boss horse. He's firm but fair. He'll hang out with everyone and really doesn't seem to have a preference for who his buddy is. When they spend their time behind the barn, Thunder is by his side. I mean, right there in the most annoying way possible. Super has little patience for her when she's clingy. Thor also hangs out happily with Super but reminds him of his place. Super has the perseverance of Wile E Coyote. And he hangs out with Panther, sharing a hay net and recently sparing. Which I think is really nice for Panther. For one thing, despite being a stallion, he was too afraid to even think of playing stallion games. As number 4 of the herd, certainly, Thor could really put a stop to it. But there was a break in the weather and so everybody when for a short run and two boys had a fun game. Usually Super spars with Thor so it was just very interesting to see that the game has nothing to do with rank. At least not as far as Thor is concerned.
Thunder spars sometimes too, but she looses interest quickly. Her favorite game is "Run with me!!!" Unless you're riding her, then she's like, "What is this thing canter? I've never heard of it before." Sometimes I think she'd love another mare, but at the same time, it would really be rolling the dice. She's a grumpy girl. And when she grumps at the boys they're all like yeah, yeah, yeah. Another mare might not not.
Imagine stepping into a herd of horses loaded down with treats. What's going to happen?
Put a bunch of kids together and they figure out the unspoken, unwritten social rules. Except the weird kids who don't. Years ago, I read an article about and while I can't really remember much about the article, it stuck in my head.
It came back to me strongly the year I taught kindergarten. It was one of the best years of my life. The school was alright, but the kids. Being a homeroom teacher. Going back to sandwiching English into 40 minutes a day was tough. But I digress. My point is, while teaching kindergarten I was faced with a student who had zero social skills.
If you think about it, social skills are no different than math or science or English for that matter. Well they are different, because nobody writes them down and rarely are the spoken out loud. Nonetheless, it's a set of learned behaviors. And some children need help navigating. It can be quite difficult to teach because first you have to put words to the unwritten rules and then find a way of explaining them and finally create a safe environment for the child to practice their skills. But educating children, especially young children can have a long lasting impact on their lives.
This in influenced my thinking about horses as well. I also read a story about wild horses once, about the how the older mares discipline younger herd members who are causing too much trouble by driving them away from the herd. A horsey time out if you will and when they rejoin they do it with a lot of licking an chewing.
I didn't intervene much when Thunder was introduced to Super. We had one gelding and one mare and that made it easy. However when Thor came, he was weird. He'd ignore anything the other horses did, but out of the blue would jump, bite, and twist. He didn't give any looks or ear pinning. And they way he'd bite was scary.
So I made a paddock in the pasture and anytime he acted too aggressive he went there for a couple of hours and once, a couple of days. Months later during feeding time-- we have no stalls-- I got tired of the squabbling. So, I tried an experiment of driving the horse who squabbled away until the horse changed their and relaxed into staying away. It turned out to be way more effective than putting the offender in a paddock alone.
I've thought a lot about over the past year. If we look at wild herds where humans don't interfere the addition and subtraction of herd members is a much rarer event and less destabilizing. Probably because the wild herd includes a matriarch, a group of high ranking older mares and everyone is generally somewhat related. Even when the oldest mare dies, there is another leader to take over. Being the most aggressive is not how this leader is chose either. It's often more fluid than that. A horse that knows where to find good grazing and water and who is firm but fair. I think that in human managed herds we add horses, take them away, add new horses. We further destabilize things by just being us... grabbing our horse to feed or ride (regardless of pecking order) and much more.
Our herd has clear rules. No squabbling around people for any reason-- these days food and scratches are equally prized. Super particularly with his butt scratches. Offenders have to go stand over there and think about it. And it has worked so well that our boss horse Thor, a guy who used to suddenly lunch, bite and twist, not only gives subtle warnings, but intervenes when anyone (usually Super) is causing a ruckus.
Me: Thor, did you learn that from me?
Thor: That's too much verbal communication for my equine brain, but you're smiling.
Me: You're a good boy.
Thor: I know these words !!!! I love these words!!! Stop mucking, scratch me here (insert itchy spot) and say those words.
And of course I do.
Last night after saying goodbye to everyone, my best friend followed me to the pharmacy door... the house is attached to the pharmacy so it has to be locked after I leave or customers will come in at all hours of the night, no lights and all.
This is a common weekend ritual. Liz paused and suggested we get up early to have a fire today. We chatted back and forth and then decided to be committed to getting up. I woke up about 5:30 but lingered in bed. My friend sent me a message a little bit later that she didn't sleep until 3 am so the fire was out for the morning.
This is not normal Korean life. In fact is about as far from normal as you can get from normal in Korea. Nevertheless it's our normal. I mean having a fire in the morning or not having a fire. Or... most of the things we do. For example, Gabe (English name) recently told one of the girls in his first grade class he has three horses, Thor, Thunder and Superman. They are both signed up to take lessons from a stables nearby through the school and so he told her she should come ride his horses because they were better than the other stables. Well, her mom called my friend.
"Oh, well he really loves his horses," my friend said.
"You really have horses?"
"Yes," my friend said.
You see the mom wasn't calling about Gabe bragging She was calling to let his mom, my friend know Gabe is making things up. Like, "my mom drives a tractor." You know, those kind of things.
Anyway, I wanted clarify that, though we often have fires at the farm, most Koreans don't have fires like Americans do just in case someone is thinking of coming to Korea on the information I write. It's a different life that I live.
So different in fact, that after we both got up around 9, we went to the farm and because my friend had a meeting in Seoul, she suggested I go with her. Thus, we rushed through Sunday barn chores and I'm now sitting at a Starbuks in Seoul writing this blog. It's pretty lame I admit, but these the farm takes up so much of my time it's a real treat. I used to hate riding the bus and the subway when I was in Seoul, but it's refreshingly different.
Writers often talk about characters taking a life of their own. In my case I'm engaged one. His name is Dr. Bob. He has 17 ex-wives. He asked me to marry him while he was at a bar-- east of somewhere-- drinking beer.
Our relationship is quite complicated. For example, my best friend, who is also jokingly my wife (joking in the way some things that aren't true are also true), does not like him any more that my friend's husband likes her wife -- me.
Confused yet? That's okay. I'm confused too. I can't say exactly when I became engaged to Dr. Bob. It happened sometime while writing Do It Yourself Veterinary Medicine for Dr. Bob because he was at the bar drinking beer. Now, I'm working on three hundred ways to say "no" for the website. It's kind of like that song from Simon and Garfunkel.
Setting aside all jokes, I have been working this book for a very, very long time. I'm so happy the book itself is finished. I'm working on the website since the two go hand-in-hand. I'm very excited about this and a bit sad as writing it has been one of my joys in life. I'd leave it for periods and every time I picked back up, I laughed, often so hard people looked at me strange. And sometimes my cats.
I've lots or misplaced my Alien Registration Card. It's akin to loosing a driver's licence. Actually, I need it to get my driver's licence in Korea. I wrote about some of it here. What I haven't written about is my four subsequent driving test failures.
The first three times I took in a truck... because I checked the wrong box. The truck was a manual. I can drive a manual so when I failed the first time, I was stubborn. I'm going to pass this in a truck! I thought to myself. As if that proves anything.
By the third failure, I decided to ask for a car. Which, seeing that it was my third try, the department of motor vehicles obliged for a small fee. I love how small fees are in Korea. I mean they add up I guess, but it was a few bucks and I was set for my next test.
The thing is, I have no depth perception because my eyes don't work together. It's called an alternating eye. I was born with a muscle in the wrong place in my eye. But it wasn't properly diagnosed-- I was told I had a lazy eye until I was seventeen. By that time all the surgeon could do was move the muscle so kids would stop making fun of my eyes. She could not rewire my brain.
I get on in life quite well and can and do drive in the United States. I just drive slow and carefully and code the tricky spots such as a stoplight at the top of a hill into my muscle memory. I passed parallel parking when I was in high-school, but I practiced it until this action too was muscle memory. After getting my licence though, I didn't back muck. I didn't live in a particularly big city or go to university where parking was too difficult. I parked where I knew I could and avoid backing anywhere.
But in Korea everyone backs in. So the test includes backing into a parking spot, because that's how every parks in Korea.
On my fourth try at my Korean Driver's License I was given excellent news. Apparently I have failed so many times, the center has upgraded their test to all English!!!! No more English and wait for the Korean in Gangnam. Just English and the computer happily tells you every time you miss points. Let me tell you, when you're worried about failure, that doesn't exactly help. But at least I can count the ways I've failed.
Anyway, moving on. I went to Daegu in hopes of getting my ARC card reissued so that I can have one more try at the driver's licence before starting over.... except that it takes three weeks to replace.
Well, at least I haven't had to ride my bike in the rain.
The alarm on my phone rings and I hit snooze. Getting up on time has become an outright battle with me, myself and I. First, its cold. My apartment is on the second floor of the Korean equivalent of a strip mall in Bongheyon. I often say I'm in Punggi because its big enough to find on a map... some of the time.
Koreans use a type of heating called ondul. You heat the water, water runs through pipes under the floor, heating the floor, heating the apartment. This is ancient technology, stretching back thousands of years. In some ways it's very effective. Sit on a hot floor and your heart sends warm blood to your limbs.. which might be chilly. Yet it's a unique and pleasurable experience of hot and cold.
Most apartments or villas have others to the left and right and up and down. This means that even though this heating is ineffective, there is a cumulative affect. Now, below me are businesses that don't turn on the heat. Instead, you'll see them sitting around a space heater during the day. They're closed at night. Thus, I'm freezing and my gas bill is $200.00 a month.
On top of a freezing apartment there is the English Center itself, which is not much different than whn I worked here before. It's harder to be on time to a job you're not interested in. I suppose that makes me human.
Finally, there is the habit of hitting snooze. You can foster good habits and bad habits, and while tucking oneself deeper into the covers on a cold morn feels, it is nonetheless a bad habit. One I intend to break in 2019. So what is your resolution this year? And no resolving to make a resolution does not count. I tried. Liz said, "Nuhu."
This a photo of the kids at night. I do evening shift so that means feeding and scooping poop after dark. My favorite tool thus is a Milwaukee battery powered light. I move it aound the pasture as I clean. Out redneck unelectrified electric tape is there beause Thor fell twice going into the barn. The hill is steep and fixing it is on the list of major construction that has to wait until spring thaw. Thankfully none of our guys are pushy about fences. The only one who comes in the barn is Thunder to eat. The boys are getting a half scoop of grain once a day with their twice daily hay buffet. The Canadian hay from Prairie International is exceptional. Its so tender its the horsie equivelent to a smoothy so I have to give a thumbs up to tge growers. Its far from cheap but the horses are do happy especially after the batch of weedy hay.
Yesterday morning was unseasonably warm as I was riding my electric bike my way to the bus. It was raining and my pants were getting wet and I should have walked to the stop. But that requires not rushing out of the house at the last minute.
Leaving the house anytime that isn't the very last moment is getting harder to do as February approaches. Starting the first of March my friend's Hagwon opens and I become, of all crazy things, and ESL teacher. Classes will be held inside a storage container on the farm near the horses. Happy kids and happy horses. That's really all I wanted my entire life. And while I can't be a partner in the full sense... the visa requires a $300,000 dollar investment... I can be an ESL teacher. Not saying I wouldn't refuse anyone who wants to donate that to me any more than I'd refuse a beer. Well, these days its scones, but that's a story for another. Okay, okay. There is a new bakery in Yeongju that makes killer scones and you get 2 for 3,000 won ($3.00 usd) which a really great deal if you consider a slice so-so desert is the equivalent of five or six bucks at the coffee shops. And the only place you can get even a so-so baked desert in Yeongju is a coffee shop. Or was.
Now, Yeongju has the scone standard. It is like the gold standard only it uses scones to determine the value of something. For example, is a that car worth the price of 1,000 scones? No. Then it's not a good deal. Which is kind of not really while I'm still riding and pushing my electric bike up the mountain to feed the horses every night.
Well, until yesterday, when the weather was warm and rainy and my bike which had been action funny, stopped played dead. No amount of tickling made it act funny again. Thus, after work, I had to walk 30 minutes to the farm. More on that later.
Nothing much of interest happened at work. I'm writing a book. Literally. It's for our winter camp, and I only had one class to teach yesterday so I spent six hours out of nine hours making ppts and writing the winter camp text book, forty minutes teaching, twenty minutes drinking coffee, one hour for lunch and forty minutes playing with a 3D pen. I made a pair of glasses and a Christmas tree. I had fun but I'm not sure how to make it into an English lesson.
Thirty minutes after everyone's finale class it was five-thirty--- go figure.
And because it's Yeongju English center, Mrs. K scolded us for creeping toward the door thirty-seconds early. I'm being only slightly factious. And yes. It does require a modifier modifying a modifier to express the situation. (Only modifies slightly, which modifies factitious which itself is a degree of humor.)
Now that I've given you a grammar headache, I waited 30 minutes for the bus, went home, discovered I could not tickle the bike to life, rode/pushed it home, took the battery in to charge, discovered my cat had eaten crackers and vomited, put the battery on the charger just in case, cleaned up after the cat, made dinner, ate dinner and changed clothes to go to the farm.
By changing clothes I put on my Carhartt overalls. How did I never know about them before? Layered and insulated I started waddling up to the farm. As I climbed the first hill, mildly steep compared to the next two, I began cursing all those scones. Because the problem with the scone standard is that you get the most value for your money by purchasing scones. And scones go to your thigh and hips.
"This is your fault," I said to myself. "You keep saying you're going to loose weight and NOT buy any more scones."
Yes it's my fault, but what can I do? When I try to share the scones withe horses they only lick the sugar off the top and drop the rest on the ground. Clearly, they don't understand the scone standard.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two house cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and three barn cats .
Bear (Gom in Korean) )
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018