Hey! You’ve Got Something in Your Eye…

My godson, Owen Daniel was born on August 23rd, just as I was stepping off the plane into South Korea. I held him for the first time when he was about six hours old, as soon as I arrived at the hospital on the Yongson US Army Base.

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99.9% of the reason I came to South Korea

Cultural standards for eye contact vary across the world. In the United States, we are quite forward with our mannerisms according to other cultures. In many countries I have visited including Spain, Dominican republic, Greece, and others, intense eye contact can signify other emotions that can offend or cause unwanted problems. I think the exception for this is when you are looking into the eyes of a newborn baby or a small child. When I hold my godson and look into his eyes, he looks right back at me and seemingly into my soul. There are no cultural barriers, there are no differences, just two beings and a whole lot of love.

Yesterday I went adventuring to the Changdeokgung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace. I walked through the palaces constructed in 1405 and 1395, and felt the history of each dynasty that lived through those walls. I drank cold plum tea sweetened with honey, from the modern cafe that has been recently built in the courtyard of Changdeokgung Palace. I analyzed the intricate designs that colored the outside of the royal buildings and I imagined the king being carried around within the walls of the palaces- the king was seen as an extension of the heavens, so he never walked directly on the ground (Jiwoo Song, 2013).

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Annie outside of Changdeokgung Palace

Later, as I toured the Secret Garden behind the palace, I learned of all the stories of the king who built the castle. In front of his library were three doors- one large part in the middle and two small doors on the side. The middle door was for the King, and the side doors were for his servants. But above the door is a Korean inscription that describes the relationship between a fish and water because the king understood that his relationship with his servants was similar- a fish cannot live but a few moments without water, and likewise the king could not live without his servants.*

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Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace.

Also in the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace were a few beautiful ponds, but one in particular that stuck in my mind. This pond was built to symbolize the relationship between the universe and the earth. The water represented all that is the universe, all-welcoming and all-encompassing. The little patch of land in the center of the pond represents the earth.*

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My favorite pond in the Secret Garden behind Changdeokgung Palace.

I wandered with the tour through the Secret Garden for hours, lost in the sounds of the acacias and flowing streams. When I finished the tour I was exhausted, but had somehow rediscovered a sense of optimism for the world we live in. Understanding history and connecting it with the present has a way of doing that- reconfiguring the mind to see the light and life of this planet. That’s another reason I love to travel, it allows me to literally and figuratively touch history.

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Annie being a happy girl sitting in Changdeokgung Palace.

When I finished with my historical ramblings, I hopped on the subway (that’s putting it lightly, more like “got lost six or seven times on the subway”) and eventually arrived back at the home of my friends, and the house of my baby godson. After showering to get the yucky subway off my clothing and body, I picked up that little ball of future, light, connection, hope, serenity, and I looked into those eyes that shined with the new life of an eight day-old. It was at that moment that the experience of my day came full circle. I was content to be standing with that baby in my arms and the soles of my feet pressed firmly into the ground, ready to remain a constant in this child’s life. I was ready to relay the experiences of my life to him in the most open and affirming way possible- to allow him to explore this world without fear, but with a critical eye. I hope to be a friend and to show him that he is also mine. But the most important thing I hope to tell him is that the way those eyes view the world in intricately connected with the way he will make an impact on it. I will continue to remind him (as I have already written it in his first book) that I hope for him to see the beauty in this world so he will emphasize that and help it to grow.

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This tree is 1,100 years old and is protected as a national monument in South Korea. It is inside the Changdeokgung palace.

I will tell him with my eyes until I can tell him with my words, that he is the light and the beauty in this world and I can’t wait to see the footprints he makes on this earth.

*Facts from my tour guide at Changdeokgung Palace, I have not confirmed in my own research.

How to Overcome Awkwardness with Udon

Last night I walked out of Hannam Village and onto the busy street corner with the smell of noodles and Korean coffee easing from every brick building- it was almost time for the dinner rush and the smells of South Korea were filling the streets. I walked slowly down the street taking in all the smells and looking in all the shop windows. I finally found the little restaurant I had in my mind all day- I had seen it earlier that day when I went out to a bakery. The little old woman who owned the restaurant opened the door to greet me and we bowed to each other slightly as I said, “annyeonghaseyo,” or Hello. I sat at the table closest to the window and as I sat down she handed me a menu in Korean. I sat there looking confused for a few minutes before she brought me a menu in English.

 I have traveled a lot in my 21 years, but this was one of the first countries I have traveled to where I can’t read the phonetics of their language (Greek being the other). It’s a slightly intimidating feeling not being able to communicate at all, partly my fault for not working harder at learning the basics before I arrived. There are a few people who speak English here, but for the most part I am incredibly lost. That’s one of my favorite feelings though.

I decided to order a Gimbap, a Korean version of Sushi and a side of Udon. The woman came up to my little table by the door, I pointed to what I wanted, and we bowed our heads to each other when she understood what I wanted.

When I sat down by myself I began to feel a little self- conscious, thinking things like, what are people thinking when they see me, what do I do with my hands, what do I do to entertain myself? After a few minutes though, my mind stopped with the thoughts about myself and I began to think externally again. It was at that point that I looked around and saw that there were a few other Korean women eating by themselves too. I watched the feet of the Korean Nationals walk by outside the glass door- it was dinnertime and everyone was bustling around to get their food.

My food came pretty quickly and I said, “Homsomnidad (Thank you)” as she walked away. I took a picture of the beautiful dish and quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing (once again). No one else had received their food yet and I had no idea how to use the utinsles, so I just began with my basic knowledge of Americanized Japanese food, and picked up the metal chopsicks. I took a bite of my colorful Gimbap and let the flavors explode. It was so fresh. I also ate the Udon noodles with the chopsticks, but I’m still unsure as to whether I did that correctly or not. Once, when I reached for another piece of Gipbap, I dropped the metal chopstick and it clanked loudly on the table in the small restaurant of 5 tables. I laughed quietly at myself, picked my chopstick up, and tried again.

A Korean couple sat down at the table next to me and decided they didn’t like the Korean music on the radio, so they played their Bob Marley loudly on their iPhones (ahhh, Globalization). The owner of the restaurant didn’t even flinch, which surprised me seeing as her restaurant was quite small and there were quite a few other customers. As I sat there at my tiny table, watching the feet of the Koreans pass by the door in front of me, my thoughts sank deeper and deeper with every bite of Udon. Toward my final bites, my thoughts clustered around the thought of humanity. There are some things that are just universally human, like that guy who just ran into a chair and made an “Ugh” sound, looking quickly at the ground awkwardly- I would have done the same thing. I’m not sure if I ever cared about differences between people, but especially in that moment on the last bite of tasty Udon noodles I thought to myself, humans are humans, whether I am sitting next to them in an inactive war zone, or a coffee shop in my hometown in the Rocky Mountains.

When I finished, the sun had begun to set and I was ready to go home. I walked slowly out the door, nodded and said “Homsomnidad” to the kind owner once more. Then I slowly wandered back to the gates of where I am staying, full belly and happy heart.image

Heart and Seoul

Please excuse the cheesy title, I am sure I am not the first to take advantage of the play on words.

I’m in South Korea! I arrived in Seoul on Friday afternoon and as soon as I stepped off the plane I received notification that my God Son had been born a few hours earlier. It was a lovely surprise to land in the country and know that I had a new little light to add to my life.

I haven’t experienced too much of the culture yet because newborns don’t like Kimchi (I can’t tell you if I agree or not yet). For the last two days I have been in the house with the family of my God Son. They have two other kids, who are one and two years-old. I used to be in the Girl Scouts with the mom of the family, but more importantly we were amazing childhood friends.

A few years ago my friend and her husband got married and he enlisted in the United States Army. Two years later with two kiddos and one more on the way, they were sent to Seoul, South Korea. I’m a sucker for kids in general, but I’m head over heels in love with these three children.

I wrote a thesis in one of my courses- Children and Youth in a Global Context at Colorado State University last term about  communication between adults and children, and how it has been thought cross-culturally, that a smaller mind must occupy the smaller beings and thus their minds must function at a slower rate than those of adults. In fact, the brain of a newborn child has more brain cells than at any other point in life (Rebecca Shore, Citations upon request). The paper went on to examine adult to child interaction across four cultures- German, Chinese, Dominican, and US American. It was quite interesting to explore this concept, and at the end of the paper I came to the conclusion that adults have much to learn from children.

On a much less academic thought, while kids do involve the occasional “hitting of another child on the head with a book” syndrome, the heart of the child is incredibly pure. I’m a firm believer in the idea that spontaneous giving, which is so frequently talked about in my writing, originated in the mind of the child. You can catch glimpses of this love that children emit in their everyday actions. Making the decision that they don’t need the rest of their lunch, so they give it to their friend who forgot theirs, or voluntarily giving up their toy to another child just because they wanted to. I think we often forget these type of actions (in adult form) by the time we reach adulthood.

Along with the intelligence and love that I adore so much in children, I also love their sense of exploration. Kids have a keen desire to explore every nook and cranny of this world. Today, that meant sticking ice cubes in our mouths for as long as we can to see what happens (cool experiment for a two year-old to think of!). It’s like every single child is an exploratory scientist. Imagine if all the adults were still that curious… would we still have 870 million people starving in the world (WorldFactBook, 2013)– or rapidly melting polar ice caps?

So, to sum up my state of mind right now- I’m here on the opposite end of the world from where I call home, with three little balls of light and curiosity, and I feel like I must be the luckiest girl in the world. Now maybe I should go try some Kimchi.

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The Science of Drinking Too Much Coffee

Since I was little, my mom always used to say to me, “Annie, you are such an Annie.” I never understood what that meant, but I always knew hearing her say that made me smile. The other day a good friend of mine told me the exact same thing- Quote, Un-Quote- “Annie, you are such an Annie.” This time, the phrase was spoken to me after I told my friend about all the activities I have going on in my life right now- running Coloring Countries, finishing my senior year of college, interning with an Electric Car Coalition, volunteering for several non- profits in town, AND I am leaving the country tomorrow for two weeks.

One of my professors my Sophomore year of college gave extra credit at the end of the semester to anyone who had kept track of all the countries she had traveled to (we had to listen to her stories very closely). I never got the final tally, but I do know she had traveled to at least fifty countries, and was still traveling strong! My professor’s advice for people who want to travel was to never turn down an opportunity to go somewhere. When I met her I had already traveled to Australia and the Dominican Republic a few times, but still had the infallible urge to continue traveling. It seems that when I sit in one place for too long, I feel like my insides will explode if I am not exposed to another culture. **Ding, ding** I think that is the root cause of my “Annie-ness” right there… culture.

I long for languages, Flamenco, Bachata, Seviche, Habichuela, Naan, Moussaka, and more importantly, the faces and souls I meet by experiencing these things.  A few months ago when I was in Spain, I tried to explain to my mom and Grandpa why I am constantly traveling around the world. It doesn’t quite make sense to them why every penny I save goes strait to another plane ticket, and why I work my little buttootee off to do so. My explanation (a bit less drawn-out) was that I live for the smiles I receive when I successfully communicate with someone who speaks a language I don’t. My heart is full when I learn a dance, to which an entire nation knows the same steps. I get goosebumps when I help make a traditional dish and my new friends are excited to write down their top secret family recipe just for me. I explained to them that it’s not about the plane ride, or the photographs, it’s about the experiences that change who I am, and write a piece of a culture into my soul.

Needless to say, my over-dramatized version of my travels, scared them a little but ultimately changed their views of my crazy life (I think). I will never stop traveling, and I will never stop overloading myself with things to do. I don’t know very many things for sure- but I do know that the ability to enjoy life on this earth is a precious blessing, and I will not waste one moment of my gift. To me, that means volunteering every moment I have, traveling when I am provided the opportunity, doing my best in all of my activities, and waking up each morning with a smile on my face because I am able to do these things.

Tomorrow I am heading to Seoul, South Korea for my first trip to South East Asia. In the last year, I have traveled to five countries- South Korea will be my sixth. This takes my total life traveling score to nine countries (and I just turned 21). My mother and my grandpa think I’m crazy, but I still feel that I don’t travel enough even though I just returned from spending five months in Europe, only to turn around two months later and head out to South Korea.

It’s part of my soul to have the overwhelming urge to travel the world while overloading my life so the word “Free-time” is non-existent… or maybe I just drink too much coffee. =)

There is a prospect for a thrilling time ahead of you.

There is a prospect for a thrilling time ahead of you.