True Life: My Parents Are Expats

IMG_2499 ED R

There they stood, lurking in their small town’s daily market, among stalls of horse sausage, cheese-galore and asparagus, acting like they fit in. They walked like the others, but they did not talk like the others. These two adults were different. They were expats.

And so might begin the saga of my parents, who’ve just begun a brand new chapter in their married lives: expating. In Germany. I think the empty-nest syndrome must be a real thing, because why else would two perfectly happy people pick up and move somewhere that doesn’t have bagels?

Yeah, no idea.

My Dad’s job sent him to a new position outside of Halle an der Saale, Germany, a city which I explored for a few days (and found quite charming) when I first began this five-month trip around Europe. When I first arrived in Halle with him, he was going solo; my mom had been left behind to tie up loose ends around Pittsburgh before heading over herself. He was still living out of a hotel room when I left and the house they’d agreed to rent wasn’t quite ready for them.

But when April rolled around, I rushed into town as well. And by “rushed”, I mean stumbled in with baggage… I came down with a fever in Paris a few days earlier (plus a lingering chest cough, yuck) and had to spoil my poor parents’ fun with sickness. But I got better. And I wasn’t completely useless the entire time, in fact I was almost always up for eating cake.

Almost always = always.

We also spent a lot of time shopping, which is what happens when your parents sign a two-year lease for a house with literally nothing in it. My poor father spent several weeks building basic furniture – beds, tables, chairs – after work each day before my mom arrived, so they would at least have something to sleep on. In the three weeks I was there, the furniture grew by four patio chairs and an outside table (co-opted to be a dining room set in the interim), a large area rug, a grill and a very comfortable, if I do say so myself, corner couch.

When we weren’t shopping for furniture, we were outfitting the kitchen. Cutting boards and spatulas and a blender (Mom’s smoothies, hurray!) and the proper knifes and the list goes on. Then there were the actual food items that one needs in a kitchen; cinnamon and other assorted spices, almond butter, olive oil, Greek yogurt and where is the spinach? Are these sweet onions or normal? I’d almost forgotten about all those small details that can drive an expat mad before they’ve gotten into the swing of things. Bless my mama’s heart, she doesn’t even speak German and she strolled down those grocery store aisles and pointed to the cheese she wanted with confidence, and succeeded.

During my last week there, she even strolled down the street to the meat shop and got extra bratwurst for dinner, all by herself. Boom. She does a lot of strolling.

In between the shopping madness, my parents got to try some new foods.

Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
Mom digging into her first currywurst. Needless to say, she approved.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad's consumed since arriving in Germany. Nom.
One of many, many bratwurst my dad has consumed since arriving in Germany.

And me? Well… I also ate. I ate so much, so well, so many different great foods while I was with my parents, that I’m going to have to put together a separate post on that once my final week in Germany is over in the beginning of July. Prepare to drool. Unhelpful Hint: Cake.

But, like any expat adventure, it’s not an adventure until hilarious and uncomfortable things happen.

Here’s an except from an email my father sent me sometime in early March:

I had a great Sunday morning here in Halle. At Jon’s behest I did 25 minutes of intense exercise outside. Maybe 42degF.  While in push-up position after about 10 reps I heard someone coming and maybe a pet in tow. I kept to my business of doing my reps but could not ignore the presence of an animal right next to me who was not going anywhere. I turned my head towards the presence and was dutifully licked in the face by a large dog twice as big as Finn with a face like Finn. The dog was not on a leash but was with the owner– a 30ish eastern euro looking man who didn’t care or wasn’t alarmed at his unleashed dog licking the face of a defenseless and vulnerable man on the ground. He said nothing to me, just calmly called his dog to keep going. I finished my push-ups and stood up to see what was going on. I guess dogs are irresistibly drawn to me.

As for my mom, she’s just had to try a lot of different ways of ordering a decaf latte, because what they have on most menus isn’t quite right. And she would also dropkick me from across the continent if I posted any actually embarrassing moments on the entire Internet, and so I will stay mostly silent on that.

The biggest challenge for my parents during the three weeks I was there was undoubtedly attempting to get Internet. Every single morning, my mother and I would wake up and head to a local cafe with our computers in tow and use up our daily allotted two hours on their network. We struggled to find a better cafe with unlimited WiFi and enough outlets for us, and both of us had high hopes that the Internet conundrum would be solved before each week was up. But each day and week passed, and the kind-of-crappy satellite still wouldn’t pick up a good signal and the software was outdated, to boot. Dad’s work friends came over, the landlord came over, the company was called and complained to, the local experts were asked how much they might charge to fix it. For three long weeks (and more), Internet was illusive. When I left to continue my trip, it was still unresolved.

Turns out, the router just needed a good restart. They finally got Internet in the house about a week after I left: mission successful.

Now that they’ve settled into the house, gotten a long-term rental car and set themselves up with Internet, the news is that my parents are very happy at the moment indeed. And I’m very excited for them; these are going to be two years to remember.

And so they laughed over a cup of coffee as my father eyed up a strawberry shortcake on display a few feet from him, wasting away a lazy Saturday in a place they now called home.

squiggle3

Have your parents or family ever lived abroad? What do you think of my parents living in Germany? Do you need recommendations for restaurants in Halle an der Saale? (My dad can help you out!)

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the newsletter, if you’d like.

NaBloPoMo: Completing the Challenge

A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.
A totally unrelated photograph from Lübeck, Germany.

November, you kicked my butt into gear and then quickly disappeared. When I set out to do the NaBloPoMo or National Blog Posting Month challenge, I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant. I don’t commit without serious thought, and worse than anything is committing and falling short. My worst nightmare was to set a challenge for myself and then fail, in the public eye. I also worried about bombarding my readers with too much content, losing subscribers and the negative effect NaBloPoMo could have on this blog. So I almost didn’t sign up, I almost signed up with an obscure personal blog that I don’t even use, I almost clicked out of the window to “sleep on the decision”, also known as forgetting about it.

But I didn’t. I said to myself: “Sally, don’t be a butthead.” (Yes, really.) I realized that if it would be over-blogging and bombardment of content for the smaller amount of readers I have now, it would be the same amount of over-blogging next year, just for more readers. And it was something I wanted to undertake, I wanted to complete the challenge, but I was just nervous. I didn’t think very much about all of the positive things it could do for my blog, though I knew, in theory, that it would make me better and stretch my limits.

So I simply took the plunge, bring what it may. Which turned out to be a whole lot of positives.

It made me think hard, and then force myself to produce.

Whereas earlier I was blogging more or less on inspiration and ideas, this month I blogged on demand. I learn a little about harnessing ideas, creating brainstorm lists and coming back to them later, when it was writing time. I learned about sparking inspiration by looking through old photos or just putting pen to paper and seeing what happened.

It forced me to revisit topics I’d left behind and undone.

I went back to Turkey and Cyprus, putting together photos and information about my trips. Without NaBloPoMo, I may have never gotten around to it. The “(Delicious) Things I Consumed In…” posts will now be a series for small trips I take, thanks to this.

This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven't eaten Baklava in about a year.
This was also a downside of NaBloPoMo, as I remembered that I haven’t eaten Baklava in about a year. Tears.

It forced me to branch out into new areas.

New topics this month include my hometown, Pittsburgh, my school lunches, getting into pop culture like K-Pop and writing the first post about Argentina since I’ve stopped writing on Tumblr. My topics were all over the place, but in a good way. Creativity upgrade complete.

It put my brain into blog-mode.

Wherever I was, I considered if there was something about this experience I wanted to put in blog form. If so, then I made sure to take the necessary pictures and write down any important information.

It put me on a schedule.

I had to find an everyday rhythm and with that, I was able to plan ahead. I made it my goal to write my post every weekday before lunchtime, and on Fridays I would think about my weekend plans and when I would sit down to write for the day.

Practice, practice, practice makes better.

I had to change that cliched phrase a bit, since writing is one of those things that will never be perfect. But the practice has helped me write not just better sentences, but work out the formatting and overall layout of my blog posts to be more readable and fun. I feel like I’ve improved a lot, even in a short amount of time.

It drove traffic like crazy.

I know that more content means more people looking at what you’ve written, but I expected that to be somewhat off-set by people overwhelmed with all of the new writing and falling away until it was over. In reality, people viewing the site increased by 150% this month! The bunches of content didn’t overwhelm my readers as much as I thought. That’s a relief.

If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would.
If I could celebrate with this piece of cake from Argentina right now, I would. But I’ll settle for a nap.

There are other small things NaBloPoMo has done for me, like sparking some beneficial research and introducing me to the challenges of blogging from my iPhone, but the above are the big ones. I’m so glad I decided to take on this challenge, because despite all of my hesitations, it’s proven to be a really wonderful tool for making myself and my blog better.

I also now dub December my NaBloProMo, or National Blog Promoting Month, in which I do my best to market all the content I’ve already written to a bigger audience and try to get it seen. Yes, new blog posts will also be happening, but oh dear, I really need to take a rest. That was hard. But I did it.

See all of the NaBloPoMo posts here:

1// NaBloPoMo, Yo
2// Weird Noms: Salt & Seaweed Flavored Pringles
3// An Honest Review of 16 Months Studying Korean
4// Working in a Small, Private Middle School in Rural South Korea
5// The Characters of Sambong
6// You Know You’ve Been in Korea Too Long When…
7// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Istanbul

8// How To Stay Warm In Winter Like a Korean
9// Foreign Movie Pick: “Friend” (2001)
10// Mini iPhone Photoessay: A Week of School Lunches
11// Pepero Day in Korea
12// Typhoon Haiyan, Human Suffering and Responsibility
13// iPhone Photoessay: St. Hilarian Castle in Cyprus
14// Featured Photograph: Red, Green, Yellow, Orange
15// Your Crash Course in K-Pop
16// The Slow Decline of Days
17// Random Snippets of Life in South Korea
18// Language Misadventures: How I Adopted and Unadopted a Dog Before 8am
19// iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina
20// Photoessay: Bikes of Germany
21// Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea
22// 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best
23// The Superpower You Can Cultivate: Foreign Language
24// My Top 5 Wanderlist
25// 11 Christmas Gifts for Travelers, Vagabonds and Wanderers
26// iPhone Photoessay: Ruins of Salamis in Cyprus
27// Sacrifices of Travel: Thanksgiving Away From Home
28// Featured Photograph: White on Water
29// A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea
30// This wrap up post, you’ve just read it!

-~-

Have you noticed an improvement in my writing since I started? Did NaBloPoMo overwhelm you with content? What did you think about the challenge?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

A Look Ahead: The Last Month in Korea

book coffee happiness

It’s the end of November and it has been for the past week, but this November has absolutely flown by. The everyday blogging, the everyday work, the weekend commitments and events, book-binging and the daily routine of having a dog have all contributed to the light speed with which the month disappeared. More and more, I’m looking ahead.

This December isn’t just the end of the year, it’s also the end of my time as a middle school ESL teacher in Korea. I’m making that very specific on purpose; I will very likely be returning to Korea and ESL is a pretty marketable skill, but I can’t say I want to do it in this context again. It’s just not my cup of tea, but I’m grateful for the experience and wouldn’t trade it for much. (Maybe mashed potatoes, though…)

Let’s take a look at what’s coming up this next month:

A trip to Jeju Island. Technically I leave tonight, November, but I come back on Sunday, the first day of December. I’ll be trying to see as much as possible, eating as much as possible, and generally just going against my usual travel philosophy of spending all of my time at a coffee shop watching people.

– My November Reading Roundup! Look for that within a few days.

Selling my precious, bright green car with a maroon pleather interior. I’m going to be so sad to see it go. Princess Fiona has treated me quite well, this past year.

– Running a benefit pancake brunch for friends in town to try to raise some cash for Typhoon Haiyan victims. Pancakes will be involved, so that makes up for the stress of cooking things that people need to eat.

– Ridding my apartment of extra things. I’ve got clothes, books, general things and I live outside of town, so a “garage sale”/come-to-my-house-take-my-things-for-free situation won’t be possible. I have a feeling this may be my biggest stresser.

– Other general preparation, like finding and buying Mary a dog crate for the flight over (suggestions? please tell me!), those last dinners and one-on-ones with friends, shipping things home for which there is no room in my suitcase, making sure to eat everything delicious ever, one last time. (If only I could eat Bingsu again!)

– Eating three meals of macaroni and cheese, because my mom sent me some Easy Mac from the USA. I am actually quite excited about this, it may be one of those (three of those) bright spots in the midst of a hectic and stressful month.

– Finishing all of my Christmas shopping; buying online and making sure it’s delivered on time or grabbing any last-minute souvenirs from Seoul for family members.

– A goodbye party which will be super sad and hopefully also involve cake, because cake is delicious.

– A 36 hour Christmas in Korea and Pittsburgh (due to a Christmas flight and the time difference), my birthday in Pittsburgh, and the beginning of a very unplanned and crazy year to come.

Well, December, you’re pretty much already here, so come at me! Bring it on!

-~-

Do you have suggestions for keeping stress levels down this month? How about for a good airplane dog carrier? What does your December look like?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best

Pittsburgh_dawn_city_panoedit

When it comes to people, distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But that phrase came about for a reason, and I think that perhaps, the inventor of that phrase was actually thinking of their hometown when they said it. Ever since I’ve spent time away from home and in other lands, I’ve returned with more and more love for Pittsburgh. Maybe at that exact time Pittsburgh was also getting more and more awesome, which could be the case, but I think I was also wising up to the fact that it’s not such a bad place to be.

And with my upcoming short-term return, my mind has been dwelling on the things I’m looking forward to doing in the city of bridges. I figure that it’s about time that I sing the praises of this random US city to the travel community. Someone has to represent, right? And I’m not just saying Pittsburgh is the best because I’m from there and everything has a nostalgic feeling for me, but I truly think it’s an incredible city to live in and to sight see through. Somehow, Pittsburgh has managed to hold onto its history and past, while also making crazy futuristic advancements in a variety of areas. I love that mix; old and new, past and future. So as a city it’s got a lot to offer, my favorite of which are these following thirteen things.

1// It’s Not Dirty Anymore

So when you think of Pittsburgh, I’m guessing you think of steel or industry or possibly Heinz. Well, the factory central days of Pittsburgh are over, and have been for quite some time. The steel production has all but ceased in the areas near the city, and the air is clean, gloriously clean. One of the old steel mills was actually turned into a giant shopping center with an awesome movie theater and some nonfunctional smoke stacks as a reminder of history. Lovely. The days of black-stained-stone suburban homes are gone, Pittsburgh is as clean as can be these days.

2// Riversides Galore

Downtown Pittsburgh is situated on this triangle of land, surrounded by two rivers and a technical third, created by the rivers merging. Obviously it spills over onto both sides of all three of the rivers, which leads to one wonderful development. Riversides, glorious, river fronts and river walks and river trails galore. There’s a riverside biking/hiking trail, an entire park on “the point”, where the two rivers merge, over the river balconies and restaurants, and other random uses of riverside space. And that doesn’t even touch the boating, river cruises and just ducky tours. Pittsburgh does rivers right.

3// Market Square & PPG Plaza

Market Square and PPG Plaza are a street away from one another, so they’re kind of the same entity. In summer, Market Square has outdoor tables and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to make sitting outside beautiful. PPG Plaza has cool automated fountains at ground level, so kids can come and run around getting soaked with water on hot days. The mood is always friendly and relaxed, even inside such a busy urban area of downtown. In winter, PPG Plaza is transformed into a giant ice skating arena with a massive Christmas tree in the middle. Tell me that isn’t awesome! You’re wrong! It’s awesome!

Awesome, I tell you.
Awesome, I tell you.

4// It’s Bikeable

There are some parts of the city that are a little terrifying on bicycle, particularly the busy downtown/fifth avenue areas. Thankfully, though, that area is very small, and the majority of the city is actually very accessible to bikers. The Southside always has a million bikers, head East over to Oakland and there are two million bikers, go deeper into Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville and you have yourself a biking party at every intersection. You can even bike over bridges. So if you’re visiting, the bike-ability should be a great help, as you can transport yourself places more easily. (Except for Mt. Washington which just can’t be helped, because it’s a giant effing mountain. Sorry.)

5// Kennywood

Do you like amusement parks? Do you like places that have history and character? Do you like really terrifyingly awesome roller coasters and delicious french fries covered in gravy? Then I can assure you that Pittsburgh’s nearby amusement park, Kennywood, is going to be one of your new favorites. It’s been open for over a hundred years, the signs are old-timey, the rides are new-timey/terrifying at times and the food is delicious, heart-attack-inducing deliciousness.

The swings are from the 80s and they're STILL fun.
The swings are from the 80s and they’re STILL fun.

6// The Pirates’ Recent Comeback

So while the last ten years were the Steelers’ golden years, they’ve since fallen into disarray that involves rape lawsuits and less than spectacular game performance. Somewhere in there, the Pens also blew a few people’s minds, but now it’s the Pirates’ turn. While for years Pittsburgh’s baseball team has held records, those have been of the depressing variety: the most consecutive losses, the most years in a row with a losing average, etc. This year, the Pirates came back, kicked butt and advanced pretty far into the playoffs. Pittsburgh baseball has officially gone from zero to hero and that’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me.

7// The T

If you’re a public transportation nerd and addict, then Pittsburgh public transportation will satisfy you somewhat, though like most US cities, it has a ways to go. But what I love most about Pittsburgh’s public transportation system has been the continued use of the Trolley, affectionately (at least by me) called “The T”. It’s an above ground rail car that also heads underground, depending on the area, and serves most of the southern suburb areas, bringing people into the downtown area and back out. I’m not sure why I like it so much, considering that it can’t get you very far within Pittsburgh and there are only two main lines (and a couple other side shoots), so maybe this item is more nostalgia based than the others. It’s still great. You can’t tell me otherwise.

8// It’s Kind Of Hipster

Recently, someone somewhere said Pittsburgh was more hipster than Portland, Oregon. (So specific, I know!) Looking around areas like Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill, you could easily believe it. Small businesses abound, fresh produce and fair trade, gluten-free menu items, biking as previously mentioned and farmer’s markets are all getting some solid business in Pittsburgh. You can find grocery store co-ops, tons of local breweries, a restaurant/brewery built inside an old, converted church. The Southside hosts a population that seems to be 100% tattooed and pierced from first glance. I could go on, but just suffice it to say that Pittsburgh is kind of hipster and for people looking for interesting dining/walking experiences, this is a huge plus.

Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.
Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.

9// Primanti Brothers

Do you like sandwiches? Primanti’s is a city-wide chain that started the way the best places do, as a hole in the wall in 1933, in a busy industrial district. Why is this place still around? Because putting french fries and coleslaw on an Italian bread, deli meat sandwich is GENIUS. Every time I come home, one of the meals I look forward to most is my first Primanti Brothers sandwich. Is it unhealthy? You bet. Is it difficult to bite, because the sandwich the size of half your face? Absolutely. Is it my recommended daily calories, in one meal? Yep. Worth it.

10// The Southside

The Southside isn’t just home to tattooed people and tattoo parlors, it’s a mishmash of interesting things, all down one very long street. (Technically the area is all the Southside, though most people mean East Carson Street when they say the name.) I’d recommend biking down Carson, but if you have the leg power and the time, walking is also a great option. All along the street you’ll find the most eclectic collection of shops: gyro places, tattoo and piercing parlors, pizza shops, independent coffee shops and a pricy sushi restaurant, some hardware stores and fair trade shops, my favorite Burger place Fatheads (that also has a huge selection of local beers), another million piercing places, a hookah bar or two, some normal bars, an Irish bar that has a little person come in on Tuesdays? Thursdays?, and towards the end of the street, a super developed area with fancy designer clothing, H&M and a favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about a weird mix.

[Note: I’ve just been informed that the aforementioned little person has passed away. RIP.]

Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.
Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.

11// The View From Mount Washington

If you want to get a view of the city (which you do, believe me), then it’s mandatory that you take the incline (trolley up the mountain) up to Mount Washington and go see the overlook. It’s a traditional spot for prom photos, engagement pictures and other picture-worthy occasions, so you won’t be alone up there. But it’s a stunning view, especially at night, and the view does not disappoint. Nor does the intro picture of this post, taken from Mt. Washington, do it justice, you’ll have to go see it yourself.

12// The Newly-elected Mayor Actually Cares

Nothing drags a city down like a crappy government, and while this may have been the case in the past (cough, cough, Ravenstahl and strippers), the future looks bright. Bill Peduto will come into office this January, and he’s already accepting applications for transition committees to get things running smoothly is a bunch of areas. As far as I can tell, Peduto is actually…. ethical. Insane for a politician, right? And when the mayor actually cares about the city he’s supposed to work for, then good things are on the horizon. Hurray.

13// Green Things

Did you know that Pittsburgh is actively trying to make the city buildings environmentally friendly? In the USA, Pittsburgh is 4th in line for having the most green buildings. The convention center is LEED-certified, seven Carnegie Mellon University buildings are “green” and the list goes on. The commitment to green space within the downtown area is easy to see and if you head farther East, towards the city neighborhoods, you can find tons of park and grass areas. Who doesn’t love green?

The Phipps Conservatory has a "green" visitors center, too!
The Phipps Conservatory has a “green” visitors center, too!

squiggle3

Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? What do you love about the city? Do you disagree with anything? What’s the best sandwich from Primanti Brothers?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea

My area, particularly Waymok Beach is actually quite famous within Korea for its incredible sunsets. I live a few kilometers from the famed beach view, but my view of the sunset is usually pretty stunning, regardless. Framed by seemingly endless rice paddies, some beautiful cloud formations and a distant ocean, I’ve managed to capture a few killer shots. I also took a little trip to the nearby seawall to capture the photographs with the pagoda in them.

So enjoy this assortment of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve seen in my area, and my attempts to catch them on camera. Whoever said that the countryside was boring obviously didn’t look around long enough to catch these beautiful moments.

pagodasunset

 

IMG_0831 R ED

IMG_0918

 

IMG_0854 R ED

 

IMG_5449 R ED

IMG_9265 R ED

IMG_0884 R ED

squiggle3

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

iPhone Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Consumed in Argentina

First of all, I want to start with a moment of gratitude. This morning, I finished my morning run and had not accidentally adopted any dogs by the end of it. Pfew, a sigh of relief.

This blog began back in 2011, when I wanted to document my semester abroad in Argentina. Since then, I haven’t written a whole lot of meaty posts about the experience. The writing I was doing back then (on Tumblr) was mostly short, anecdotal or quick story-based with a photograph or two. I’ll have to remedy that, in due time, but for this post I’d like to reminisce on delicious Argentinian food. Because I’m hungry, and looking at a bunch of juicy steak is going to make that better, right? Right.

24 Jul 2011 1 Ovieda Apple Pancakes

Ordering in restaurants did not start out on the right foot, in Argentina. This was “pancake”. It was literally sugar, baked onto a metal plate with a little breading in it. Way too sweet!

27 Jul 2011 2 Alfajor y Cafe

A traditional alfajor, or sandwich cookie biscuit thing, usually covered in powdered sugar. For some reason, I just couldn’t get into alfajors, unless they lacked the outer covering and were straight dulce de leche. Then I was totally into alfajors.

DSCF2588

Speaking of dulce de leche, it was a key culprit of my horrible eating habits during this semester. I could never say no!

DSCF3188

STEAK! This was the first steak I ordered in Argentina, three months in, believe it or not, because I was actually a vegetarian before studying here. Needless to say, that didn’t survive my trip.

DSCF2829

The best part of studying abroad might be the melting pot of cultures all coming together in one place. His face hiding behind a camera, pictured is a friend from Argentina who studied in Germany. The cook, not pictured, is a German who was also studying abroad in Argentina and decided to make us a German meal.

DSCF2587

The panaderia’s, or bakeries were both my best friend and my worst enemy. I wanted to try all of the different pastries available, ever, so I made it my mission.

DSCF3194

This sandwich was literally as big as both of our heads combined. So we each ate half, and died finishing it. Gotta love absurd portion sizes.

DSCF2871

My attempt at “healthy” by eating a whole grain medialuna. or butter croissant. It was unsuccessful, but deliciously so.

DSCF2599

My apartment was directly above one of the most incredible empanada shops. They made them open faced, with little bread bowls and I ordered take out several times a month. So. Good.

DSCF2603

Oh look at that, more pastries. More dulce de leche. More drizzled chocolate, powdered sugar and other creamy white sugar concoctions stuffed into a butter-saturated pastry from heaven.

DSCF2853

I lived 20 minutes away from “Chinatown” (actually Asia-town), which meant I could go into the grocery and get an uncut giant roll of sushi, unwrap the plastic and just eat it while walking or sitting or on the train. It was awesome.

DSCF3459

Okay, so I didn’t consume all of this, but it was consumable. Bariloche in Argentina, or the little Switzerland of Argentina, makes their own chocolate and it’s SO GOOD.

DSCF3048

Sometimes you order a meal, and it’s just three different kinds of potatoes. Argentina has a LOT of different potatoes that you can buy, though, so that’s pretty awesome. Did you know there are 5,000 different species of potatoes? Now you know!

DSCF2635

THIS PIECE OF CAKE WAS DELICIOUS and I’ll never forget it. Ever. As you can see, Argentina is pretty talented in the cake/pastry/fattening sweets area.

DSCF3763

Argentina and wine go together, and tasting wine at a winery while in Mendoza, a wine producing capital? That’s just a must-do. Not tipsy scraping and destroying your knees while falling off of a bicycle on the way back, though. You don’t need to do that. Trust me on this one.

DSCF2690

Argentina is famous for its asado, or barbequed / outdoor grilled meat. This asado was a king of asados, I’ve never seen a layout quite so big.

DSCF3897

Bondiola, or grilled, huge pieces of pork put on a nice bun, covered in weird sauce and stuffed into your face as quickly as possible, before it gets cold or drips on you. I miss bondiolas.

DSCF3292

Instead of just plain ketchup, you should probably also opt for the mini fries on your hotdog. I don’t know why, but you should just do it.

DSCF3401

I wandered around Bahia Blanca for a long time, unable to find anything I wanted to see. This cupcake shop and peanut butter cupcake literally saved the day, and made sure I wasn’t a grumpy grumpy monster when I got back to my accommodation.

DSCF3603

Thanksgiving in Argentina: though I missed my family, I didn’t miss out on great food and company. Or eating bird.

DSCF3647

More asado, because it’s delicious. This time in someone’s backyard. Sausages and huge slabs of beef are the usual.

DSCF2594

And to round this little photoessay off, only more pastries would be fitting.

Did I mention I gained 15-20 pounds in those five months? Well, I’m sure you can figure out why. How is anyone supposed to say “no” to food this delicious? Or even stop at reasonable amounts? It’s just not possible. If you can stay skinny without upping your exercise in Argentina, I’m assuming your taste buds don’t work.

Good thing my next stop was Asia, or I’d have been in real big trouble. (Hehe punny me!)

-~-

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Language Misadventures: How I Adopted and Unadopted a Dog Before 8am

I’m all about going with the flow, saying yes to opportunities that present themselves and diving in when I have no idea what I’m doing. This has brought me nothing but interesting opportunities, if not sometimes mildly uncomfortable, but always something manageable and usually a good life experience, to boot. But this morning, that tendency lead me to end up in the most absurd situation imaginable. I still don’t believe that just happened. It’s not even 9am, but I need a beer.

It all started last week, Friday, at 6:15am, as I made my way to the exercise track near my school with Mary in tow. As is usual, some Korean ladies on their way to… somewhere… stopped me and asked about me and my dog, commenting on how cute she is. One mentioned that she had dogs at home, but one died. We spoke in Korean, which means that I was understanding the gist of everything, but would occasionally miss a sentence but could struggle through. For some reason, which I couldn’t correctly comprehend, they (or she?) wanted to meet me. I reluctantly agreed to meet the following week, at 6am, in front of the school. Maybe they or she wanted to meet to exercise with me? One lady or two? To show me her dog?  To feed me kimchi? Who knows. I said yes and figured that I’d find out Monday morning what exactly we were meeting for.

Oh boy, was I in for a surprise.

Monday morning, I groggily dragged myself out of bed at 5:45am, knowing that I was supposed to meet this lady whom I knew nothing about for unknown reasons in 15 minutes. I threw on an exercise outfit, put Mary on a leash and we headed out into the freezing cold. She was nowhere to be seen, so I headed to the track to begin running. About 6:30am, one question of mine was answered as I saw one figure walking towards me with something in her arms. The sun was still hiding and a full moon was shrouded in dark, ominous rain clouds, but as I got closer I was able to see that she was holding a dog. A cute, white, shaking, adorable little dog wrapped in a blanket like a baby.

We conversed in Korean, in which I understood really just one thing. This was her dog, and she had kept her promise to meet me. (Indeed!) She asked me a question in Korean, which I guessed to mean “do you want to hold her?” I motioned “holding” and we were both a little confused, and I said yes. She repeated this question, I said yes again. That verb I don’t know, it must mean “to hold”, right?

Damn me and my “yes.” I didn’t know it yet, but I had just agreed to keep her dog and raise it with Mary.

She motioned for me to walk with her, which I did, wondering when I was going to hold her dog like I’d just agreed to do. A question I am well accustomed to and understand clearly, always, she asked me where my house was, and we started walking towards it. I understood at this point that my run was over. Answering, I told her where I lived, at which point I gathered that perhaps she was going to leave the dog with me for a time. To play with me at my house? This was turning out to be more than I’d hoped to agree to.

Mary doesn’t even like other dogs, how are we going to play together at my place?

She told me about how she loved the dog and her younger sibling also loved the dog, but no one else in her house liked her. It was a sad tale, and I felt her pain. I answered a weird question about where my dog sleeps, which now in retrospect, was a question about where poor little Parry would sleep. “Oh, you really speak Korean very well, Sally!” she said. She asked when she should visit, which I assumed meant pick up the dog and take her back.

Suddenly I wasn’t so sure at all what I had agreed to. The verb “방문” means, very clearly, a visit. Not a return. A visit.

Confused, I carried a swaddled dog in one arm and pulled Mary on her leash back to my home. Mary hadn’t yet noticed that I was, indeed, carrying a dog and hadn’t commenced her usual aggressive barking when another canine is near. She was oblivious. I was also oblivious. And really, really confused.

Parry wasn’t in my house more than ten minutes before she shit on the floor.

As sweet as little Parry is, there is no way I want to have an unhouse-trained dog in my house, even to play. Even if her little white tail is dyed orange. It wasn’t even 7am yet, but I figured I could use some help from a Korean speaker. I called my boyfriend, woke him up, and was yelled at for telling this stranger my house address. I don’t even know her! Now she knows where I live! It’s a weird situation, what if she’s trying to farm my organs or something! His grumpiness, unclear morning thoughts and paranoia about my safety combined into an unfortunate combination. I sent him a picture of Parry and the lady’s phone number, amid cleaning dog shit off my floor.

Mary finally noticed that there was another dog in the house, and barking hell broke loose. I shut her in the bedroom, separate, and mentally apologized to all my neighbors that weren’t up already for work. She was one unhappy puppy, clawing at the door and barking, even though little Parry didn’t respond one bit.

I poured myself a very much needed coffee.

After a few minutes, my boyfriend called me back and I was not prepared to hear what he had to say, as the official translator. I’d ignored my deepest suspicious, that I was supposed to keep this dog, because it seemed like way too strange a scenario to be real. My gut already knew, though. This lady that I had met twice, randomly, had given me her dog to keep. She couldn’t afford to raise it anymore, because extra family had moved in recently and they didn’t like poor little Parry. She thought I would be a good candidate, because I already had a dog and like dogs and I’m nice. Apparently I had gone along with it the whole time.

I had accidentally adopted a dog.

image

My official translator then communicated to her that it wasn’t possible for me to keep little Parry; I have dog allergies (true, Mary is hypoallergenic) and I’m leaving soon for the USA. I had misunderstood. I thought I was just supposed to play with her for a little bit and then give her back. I thought I was babysitting. I, sadly, can’t keep the dog and raise her. Mary doesn’t even like other dogs. I’d meet her at 7:50am and bring back Parry, and she’d have to find a different home if she couldn’t keep her.

I literally burst into a fit of laughter, because I didn’t know what else to do.

I also felt stupid, stupid and really stupid for somehow agreeing to keep her dog and simultaneously really guilty for letting her hopes down. In my guilt, I put together a little package of dog food and grape juice packets as an apology gift. An “I’m sorry I pretended to speak Korean, adopted your dog and then unadopted your dog immediately afterwards,” gift. I got a fair warning from my boyfriend to not say “yes” to questions that I don’t understand and a nice apology for yelling at me when he was tired.

I continued laughing.

As Mary barked repeatedly, still scratching at the door, as the little white dog pissed on her own blanket only twenty minutes after shitting on my floor and as I continued to try and choke down some caffeine so I could understand what was happening in my absurd life, I laughed out loud until it hurt. I bellowed.

7:50am, waiting outside my school, I held little Parry in my arms as she shivered in the cold. The same Korean lady walked up, a big smile on her face of amusement (and probably a little hidden disappointment) and took Parry back. I handed her the bag of goodies, my apology gift, which she graciously accepted as well as my apology, in Korean. She didn’t try to say anything else in Korean to me, probably out of fear that I wouldn’t understand. Her fears were grounded in a very recent reality of huge misunderstanding.

I walked into work, still in disbelief, recounted the story to my early morning class and took a moment to breath. By 8am, I had accidentally adopted a dog and then unadopted her. This story was one for the books.

Sometimes, I don’t believe my life.

image (4)
Sorry, Parry, it just wasn’t meant to be.

squiggle3

I would ask whether you’d ever accidentally adopted a dog before, too, but I feel like I’m alone on this one.

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

Random Snippets of Life in Korea

Today, I’m blogging from the road, literally, as I type this post up on my phone while the bus takes me to Seoul. Let no one say I’m not committed to NaBloPoMo!

Since my only resources are… well just this phone and the pictures on it, I thought I’d just throw some pictures together, explain them, and hopefully give you a laugh.

Here goes nothing!

20131117-090920.jpg

English gone wrong… I don’t know why food companies are so desperate to write English on their packaging, that they’ll throw anything together to make it happen. I wonder what those marketing statistics are on English words or Korean words on the packaging… does it really help? Who knows.

I’m also pretty sure the secrecy of this love will be in jeopardy if you give someone chocolate that blatantly has the word “love” on it.

20131117-090934.jpg

Thirsty? Drink this, it’s made of pine trees! I really have no words. Apparently it gives you extra energy.

Actually, the drink tasted quite okay. Just like a pine tree, as you’d assume.

20131117-090951.jpg

I keep these mini dinosaurs on my desk, mostly in an effort to block myself from putting papers down and making it messy. Somehow they end up in a tower every time students are around…

20131117-091018.jpg

Just in case the weirdness of middle school kids was in question.

Luckily, the tuna wasn't as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.

Do too many choices overwhelm you, terrify you or make you nervous? Avoid the tuna aisle of grocery stores in Korea.

20131117-091107.jpg

Just thought I’d throw in a picture of Mary, cause, why not. Go ahead and try to tell me she’s not cute. Try it. I dare you.

squiggle3

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Your Crash Course in K-Pop

If you’re anything like me before I came to Korea, you figure that Korea probably makes its own music, but you know nothing about it. This is your crash course in Korean Pop music, or K-Pop. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it’s sung in both English and Korean and it’s kind of a big deal. Dive in. Your life may never be the same.

Image is Everything

This isn’t surprising in Korea, where image is already important. In music videos, it’s ten times more important. Everything you can imagine is done to the maximum: hair, makeup, set and backgrounds and more than anything, fashion.  This is pretty similar to any culture, but this is Korean style. Dialed up, it can look crazy. Oh and most of the artists have huge budgets… so it just gets insane.

Example: Hyuna – Ice Cream

Coordinated Dancing Rules

Remember Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” and N*Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye”? How awesome were those dance moves? If you’re a fan of coordinated dance, then you’re already a fan of K-Pop and you don’t even know it yet. While the USA music video industry grew out of their coordinated dances phase, the K-Pop world just made them bigger and badder than ever.

Example: Girls’ Generation – I Got a Boy

Boy/Girl Bands

Did you notice how many girls were dancing in the last video? They weren’t all back up dancers… that was the actual group. Girls’ Generation is one of the most famous artists with a million people in it (okay, so there are nine) and the boy band EXO, between their Korean and Chinese members has 12 people. INSANE! Most groups are less, and the magic number seems to be about 6. And if you haven’t guessed this yet, yes, the Boy/Girl Bands and coordinated dancing pretty much go hand in hand.

Example: BEAST – Bad Girl

Single Girl Singers

The alternative to the groups, are the solo singers, which are almost entirely women, with few exceptions. They sing plenty of sad ballads about being heartbroken or lonely, but there’s always the occasional single girl mantra or happy song. These tend to come and go in fame, one hit wonder kind of artists, sadly. Some of them are extremely talented (even if their choice of ballad is not).

Example: Lee Hi – It’s Over

K-Pop Fans

I’m going to put this simply: K-Pop fans can be obsessed and insane. More than you’ve ever seen. Belieber fans on cocaine. It’s a little bit cult-like and people all over the world go crazy for K-pop. If you’re not 300% in love with an artist’s music, it may be more stressful than fun to go to a concert, since K-pop obsessed teenage girls are known to scream, push, kick and let nothing get in their way of a potential sighting of their idol. God help you if you’re accidentally in a public space when a K-Pop band shows up to do a signing and fan meet… you will not be able to move and your ears might break open.

Example: A news story about international K-Pop Fans, one of which shows off her tattoos of the group ‘Super Junior”

It’s a Machine

Here’s a fun fact: K-Pop celebrities are fully manufactured. Scouted out in elementary or middle school school, the label takes them under their wing and makes them “trainees”. For years. Rigorous singing, dancing, music, English, everything under the sun lessons and a full-time life dedication are required. For years. And then when the label decides you’re ready, you pop out into the popular music scene like an egg freshly hatched. Awww, so cute. Except kind of torturous…

Example: This guy that was a trainee explains his daily schedule (in English, don’t worry!).

G-Dragon

Yeah, you’ve heard of PSY and that’s great, but in order to know anything about K-Pop, you NEED to understand who G-Dragon is. He is the biggest deal, biggest name, most famous, most insane and most arrogant, with a lot of reason. He’s legend. In his earlier videos, he’s androgynous as all hell, why does he look like a woman now? A man? Who knows. He doesn’t care. Basically G-Dragon doesn’t care about anything, except for his music, which he makes incredible. I could keep explaining, or I could just make you watch this music video.

Example: G-Dragon – “미치Go” (or “Go Crazy”)

Because he’s G-Dragon, here’s a second video: G-Dragon – One of a Kind

Congratulations, you’ve just graduated from your crash course in Korean pop music! YouTube can provide all advanced lessons on the subject.

squiggle3

What do you think of K-Pop, do you like it? Is it insane? Do you want to sign up to be a trainee and slave away for years, too?

Find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.