Posted by: jayteea | Sunday. 3 January 2010.

9 Things in 2009

As each new year starts, I like to look back at all that I have accomplished in the year prior.  This past year has been fantastic and I’m so happy about where I’m at now in my life.  Here are 9 things I did in 2009:

1. Gone from hiking backcountry Guatemala to working in an busy megacity…and changed my habits accordingly.  Now I paint my nails, ride the sleek and modern subway instead of rickety chicken busses, dress (slightly) more fashionably, and work out at the gym instead of in the mountains.

2. Danced a ton of salsa.  I went to my first 2 salsa congresses, started practicing outside of the club, destroyed 2 pairs of salsa shoes, and improved more than I had ever expected was possible.

3. Learned a lot about human relations and getting along with people.  (Now I just have to put it into practice…)

4. Saved money and paid off one student loan.  (Hooray!)

5. Lived by myself in my own apartment for the first time.  I love it, but I still miss having roommates.

6. Learned more about finding happiness from within, regardless of external factors.  Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

7. Changed unhealthy eating habits and lost almost 20 pounds.

8. Held my first full-time job.  (I can’t believe how much time full-time jobs eat up!  It’s crazy!)

9. Adapted to life in a culture far different from any other one I’ve ever known…and made some super cool Korean friends along the way!

Whew!  So much can happen in a year!  I can’t wait to see what 2010 will bring.

New Year’s Eve 2009:  sitting on a beach in Mexico, watching fireworks with one of my friends.  New Year’s Eve 2010: clinking glasses with the salsa crew and going out to dance till dawn in Seoul.  New Year’s Eve 2011?  Absolutely no idea.  (!)

Happy New Year!

Posted by: jayteea | Sunday. 21 June 2009.

Summer Plans

Just thinking about all the salsa congresses and parties in different parts of Korea (and Asia!) this summer makes my stomach go all weird with excitement.  So much so that I think I’ll have trouble getting to sleep tonight.

I love dancing and friends and the anticipation that is hovering in the air!

And to think that there was life before salsa…

Posted by: jayteea | Friday. 12 June 2009.

Friday’s To-Do List

1.  Milk a cow.   √

2.  Dance till dawn.  √

Sounds like a good day!

Posted by: jayteea | Wednesday. 10 June 2009.

Man Does Not Live by Kimchi Alone

When I first moved to Korea,  I thought I’d completely adopt Korean eating habits.  After all, Korean food is totally healthy…isn’t it?

Well, to some extent it’s not that bad.  But really–white rice, pickled cabbage, breaded and fried pork?!?  Though there are healthy options, it’s not the best of the best among diets.  Besides, eating the same things every day gets kind of old.  Since I always eat the (free!) Korean-style school lunch offered, I feel like mixing it up on my off-time.

Thankfully, I live on a bus line…the Costco bus line, to be exact!  For the past two weeks, I’ve enjoyed food more than I have in a long, long time.  Salmon (I bought a whole one!).  Red wine.  Spanish olives.  Peanut butter and jelly (organic raspberry preserves, that is).  Kashi cereal.  Enough to make a girl cry…of happiness.

That said, I still have my Korean favorites.  Say “Bibimbap” and I’ll be there.

Posted by: jayteea | Thursday. 4 June 2009.

Aerobics, K-Pop style

Tonight I attended my first Korean aerobics class!

The class was called “Total Dance”. I went in expecting a dance aerobics class–maybe some cardio with dance moves thrown in for style. What I got was a lesson in dancing like Korean pop stars. Score!

Seriously, it was a great time. Not necessarily a good workout, but I learned how to dance to 2ne1’s “Fire”. You can see the video here. The first minute and a half is what we covered in class. Most of the moves were lifted straight from the video–especially the beginning parts (including making “21” with your fingers). Moves added by the instructor included blowing kisses, placing one finger to the temple in a “thinking” motion, and making heartbeat motions on the chest. I tried really really hard to be as cutesy as everyone else. Let’s just say that I have some work to do.

Thankfully, this class meets twice a week, so I can work on my stylin’ moves.

Posted by: jayteea | Tuesday. 12 May 2009.

Konglish, kind of

I am constantly amused by the random bits of English that show up in daily life here in Korea.

For example, some stationery I recently bought reads, “I love pretzel. The best way to cheer ourselves is always cooking and sharing yummy foods. Don’t bother yourself, cooking is always fun. Just bring your freely happy mind.”

Another instance: Starbeer Cafe…a Starbucks imitation chain that sells coffe and (you guessed it!) beer.

Today my coworkers and I nearly peed our pants, though. One of my student’s backpacks reads, in large, attention-grabbing letters, “EREXION”. Now, how would you pronounce that?

Posted by: jayteea | Wednesday. 28 January 2009.

Summing up 7 months in Guatemala

I just read Lisa and Ann’s blogs and was reminded of how cool they are for keeping in touch with friends. Cue the resurrection of my own.

7 months after my last blog post, I find myself once again stateside. For about 3 weeks, that is. I love these interims at home…free food, good company, pets to play with (but not to pick up after), a closet full of clothes. It’s worth the inevitable awkwardness of running into those classmates who never left town or are working unhappily at 9-5 jobs.

My family actually had no idea that I was showing up when I did. They thought I’d be in Guatemala for at least another few weeks. I deliberately planned it that way so that my family didn’t have to stress out waiting and counting down the days until I got home. Besides, the way my mom screamed when I showed up at the front door was priceless!

So here I am. Faced with the impossible task of summing up all those months of hard work in Xela.

I can’t do it–not adequately, at least. Let’s just say this: it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I worked and hiked and lived and went out with amazing people…people who ended up being my best friends. Hyperboles aside, though, Quetzaltrekkers just plain rocks. Nowhere else do such dedicated volunteers get so much done and work so many hours and support so many kids in need in a local and sustainable way without a single boss to organize them and tell them what to do. What’s more, we have fun doing it!

What did I do, you ask? Well…I answered organization e-mails, washed a million dishes, scrubbed the floors, led multi-day backpacking trips every weekend (sometimes more often), got my ass kicked by the kids in futbol once a week (when I didn’t make up an excuse to get out of it, that is), sold our treks to potential clients, went shopping, chopped loads of veggies for our treks, did website maintenance, baked cookies with the kids, cooked (or helped cook) quite a bit, trained new volunteers, cleaned and repaired our hiking and camping gear, checked and re-checked med kits, did sunset shots, shat in the woods, learned a bit of Quiche (not quiche, which is quite tasty but different) from the girls, corresponded with potential volunteers, served on the Board of Advisors, bossed around my fellow volunteers, ate more than my fair share of Chikys (cheap chocolate covered cookies), laughed often.

Whew. And that’s not counting what I did in my free time! (Which, in all honesty, wasn’t all that plentiful. We worked 12-hour days 7 days a week.)

Perhaps more interesting than what I did, though, is what I learned. Here is a summary, just as much for my benefit as for yours:

1. I need to dance salsa to be happy. (Which is why, out of all the countries in South Korea in which to live, I chose Seoul.) This is not negotiable.

2. Knowing how to have fun and be a reasonably happy person is just as important as working hard.

3. Crack cocaine is shit.

4. Sincerity is more important than I thought.

5. Fleas aren’t really all that bad.

6. Asking 30 people to cram in a minivan is not an unreasonable request.

7. Life is not fair. Especially to poor Guatemalans.

There’s much, much more that I could write about my experience in Guatemala. Maybe I’ll do that someday. For now, though, I will conclude this long-awaited and anticipated blog post with the words of indigenous Guatemalan poet Humberto Ak’abal.


No sé que extraña flor
es mi corazón.

Echa raíces
de la tarde a la mañana,
en cada despedida
hay que arrancarlo

y cómo duele.

(Somewhat loosely translated…)


I don’t know what kind of strange flower
my heart is.

It puts out roots
from morning to afternoon,
in each farewell
it must be pulled (torn) out

and oh, how it hurts.

Posted by: jayteea | Tuesday. 24 June 2008.

In Guatemala

Well, guys, I made it here.  Let me just say that it is wonderful to be back.  I like traveling a lot, but I like homecomings even more…and so far this one has been great.

My epic journey started when I left home at 2am yesterday…2 flights, a taxi ride, a 4.5 hour bus ride, and 20 min walk later, I find myself at the same hostal I lived in last summer.  They remembered me!

Okay, I could go on and on about how the supermarket plays bachata nonstop or how Mayan women walk down the streets in typical dress with baskets balanced on their heads and how the microbuses (old dilapidated vans with little boys hanging out the window yelling destinations like “parque parque parqueeee! and rotonda rotonda bolivar rotondaaaa!) will take you anywhere in the city for 1 quetzal (about 15 cents), but let me tell you a bit about the people I’ve met and talked with…

Who: Guatemalan woman next to me on the plane.  Has 2 small children with her, one crying on her lap, one jumping on the seat beside her.  When the stewardess hands out customs forms, the woman explains to her that she cannot read or write.  I fill out the forms for her.  Her little girls are 3 and 4 years old and were born in Georgia.  I look at the woman’s passport to write down her age.  She’s 24, only one year older than I am.

Who: Otto, a Guatemalan gentleman sitting next to me on the bus to Xela.  We talk about pretty much everything, I am questioned as to why I don’t like ceviche and told that I should not miss the markets at Chichicastenango.  I’m so busy chatting, that I almost don’t notice the American man sitting across the aisle…who happens to be Dave, a guy I met at a salsa show last summer!  He’s on his way to Xela after being in the states for the past year…just like me.  Vaya casualidad de la vida!  Talk about coincidences.

I’ve also talked to one of the Quetzaltrekker guides from last year that I knew, gone back to the school to see the kids and teachers (and was promptly put to work taking 5 boys back to the group home…more stressful than it sounds), stopped by to see my old salsa instructors, and randomly walked into a guy I knew from the laundromat last summer.  Like I said, I love homecomings!

Tonight there’s dinner at the QT (Quetzaltrekkers) office with the kids from the group home.  And I’ve also signed up for my first trek with QT, so I’ll leave tomorrow on a 6-day hike through small pueblos in the mountains.  Hooray, Guatemala!

Posted by: jayteea | Friday. 6 June 2008.

Back home

Well, since my last post, I’ve finished up my group fitness job (finally!) and gone back to the U.S.  I feel like I’ve already been through the whole reverse culture shock deal from previous international moves, but this time I noticed 2 things in particular that unexplainably piss me off.

1.  The way people speak.  Especially people from small towns in Wisconsin.  For example, saying something like “that’s dumb,” but really enunciating the “d” in dumb so that he/she sounds like an idiot.

2.  The way people walk.  They swing their arms too much.  Do you really need to take up that much space?  Come on.

3.  Okay, so there’s one more.  People automatically assuming that they have some sort of friendly rapport with strangers.  Spaniards just stare you down and then pretend you’re not there.  Americans will smile and make some silly comment about the weather or something just as inconsequential.

Granted, these are things that normally do not piss me off…I’m just adjusting.  So don’t think that I am a completely non-friendly human being, okay?

In other news, living with my parents has been quite uneventful.  It’s nice to be back home, mind you, but if I lived in a town where I could actually do something, it would be nice.  Want to go for a walk?  No Alhambra, no path by the Rio Genil.  Try walking up and down the street.  (It takes about 5 minutes.)  You can’t go any farther because I live off of a highway.  Want to drive into town?  No tapas, no tea shops.  Try the Super Wal-Mart, it’s where everyone else goes on a Friday night.  Sigh.

Which is why I am in Madison!  Oh, glorious Madison, I love you so much.  A friend was kind enough to let me stay with her and we went salsa dancing last night at my favorite place.  I expected to have a good time, but I didn’t realize it would be so amazingly fun.  It was like coming home to family!  I ran into almost every friend I ever made salsa dancing and had the most fun I’ve had in a long time.  It was totally worth the huge, open blisters I now have on my toes.

Posted by: jayteea | Wednesday. 14 May 2008.

Qua, tre, do, un! Rodilla! Salto! Vengaaaa!!!

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again:  I am ridiculously sick of aerobics.  Teaching them, I mean.  Especially teaching them in Spanish.

I dream about aerobics.  It’s bad.  You have no idea.  It’s like working and stressing out about the class and not getting paid and besides, something almost always goes wrong.

I really don’t know if I’ll ever have the desire to teach again.  I think it would be different in English.  All I know is that I’m taking a break from teaching for a long time.

More salsa dancing in Guatemala seems like a good remedy.  Yippee!

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