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November 2017: My First Korean Earthquake

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​This month was supposed to be quiet. I stayed in town, a mere two days in Seoul as my own respite. But excitement still happened at home, with an earthquake, a near-fire, and a savior chicken.

Days Danced: 1

 Days Sick: ~0

Eating truffles and watching TV, at complete peace.

Little Rocket Man, Unchained

Admittedly the month did start out innocently, with a week of chocolate homework and chicken for dinner. It was that dog getting loose, the pobre, that started the intermittent madness. Every day for the last year, I passed this puppy while walking to work, but one day he was in the middle of the street. I’d stopped petting him daily because he was chained to the door of the alcove. He had started getting pretty smelly, and the odor rubbed off on my hands every time I gave into my pity. Not to mention his play-biting as he got bigger, the other two puppies barking from a box to his left, and his little rocket-shaped penis that emerged whenever he got excited.

He barked for me every time I passed, and today was no different, but for the fact that he galloped my way at warp speed right in front of a car because he was in the street. I herded him back down into the alcove, and debated with my friends and myself for nearly an hour. There was no way to tie him back up, and it was getting dark. No way was I leaving him to continue wandering in front of traffic.

I honestly wish I could rescue him but for the fact that I have no way to keep him at home. In the end, with no support on the ground and no homeowners in sight, I left him in the back garden. If he destroyed any vegetables or ate any poison, that was on the owners. I saw him again the next day, tied back up and barking all the same. By the end of the month, all three dogs were gone.

The baby almost exactly one year ago… he about quadrupled in size over just 12 months!

Emergency Procedures in Case of Cheese

The individual days were really pretty routine. After finishing my 2-month chocolate making course, I tried making white chocolate at home, and sort of failed. I continued prepping for my winter vacation next month; my sister is coming all the way from the US for 3 weeks. Most all of the Ecuadorian cacao for next month’s milk chocolate is roasted and prepped. There were just some teensy happenings that will have me recalling this month for years to come. One of them is the earthquake.

Bag to Bar How to Make White Chocolate at Home inclusions coconut and nibs

My salty homemade white chocolate.

It was just a minor earthquake, 5.4 magnitude outside of Pohang. But it was my first earthquake since July 2011, the night before leaving for a summer visiting family in Europe. Can you tell I’m not from California?

When I noticed the small tremors, my first thought was earthquake, must Google what to do in an earthquake. Second thought: that’ll take too long; run to the doorway. Then I heard my students in the other room, a gaggle of well-behaved 4th graders. Then they ran into the hallway. What would a responsible adult do in this situation? I wasn’t sure if it would get worse, since it was still shaking, so I told them to come to me and stand in the doorway. But how the fuck do you say doorway in Korean??

My best English student had her phone out, and was reading some alert that it would have taken me so long to translate, that by the time I finished that thought, the quake was over. I’m always ready for there to be an earthquake or an explosion, more out of fear than real preparedness. My kids kept yelling the word “cheese” as I huddled over them and worried about aftershocks. I thought about Hawaii Five O and wondered if this was a small quake leading to a big one, and then something about Sri Lanka and the massive tsunami they’re still recovering from. Wasn’t that caused by earthquake or something?

Oondong jang, oondong jang! Teacher!

My students ran out, and I had enough forethought to follow them with my backpack and jacket. Maybe we’d even get to go home afterwards. Eh, no such luck. Half the school was gathered out front, across from the gym. I tried to ask someone what we were supposed to do, but most people seemed unperturbed. One of my students came over and grabbed me by the waist, declaring “teacher, so scary!” After smiling bemusedly at me asking why everyone was talking about cheese— which by then I had an inkling must mean “earthquake”— somehow she taught me “earthquake” in Korean: 지진 (jijin). Not cheese, indeed. After a few minutes of standing around, I decided that it probably wasn’t going to happen again, and meandered back inside. It was the most exciting part of my week.

Some of my current 4th graders, last fall when they were in my after-school class.

The Story of Chicken

The first snow came so early this year, in mid-November. It was a week or so after the ‘quake, and I was having a such long day. Inedible lunch at school was leaving me crazy-hungry before my classes ended, when I ran into one of my fifth graders. She had a box of chicken! She was just carrying it down the hallway and I was looking at her like she was riding a unicorn. Hi, teacher, she said.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I saw a pile of chicken boxes and six packs of 2-liter colas. Holy. Heaven.

 Calling me from the center of the table in the school office was a single box of fried chicken. The three office ladies speak no English. I declared that THE WHOLE SCHOOL SMELLS LIKE CHICKEN and I might as well have been speaking Spanish for as underwhelm as they looked. So I went about preparing a cup of tea, hoping against hope that someone would offer me some chicken. In Korea, I never know if it’s rude to ask about eating the office food. This is my travel school; I don’t quite belong here.

Right as my time ran out, my English-understanding co-teacher walked in. I looked longingly at the chicken, making sure she noticed, and she asked if I was hungry and the angels began to sing. I admitted how hungry I was. She had seen me walk out of the cafeteria after I realized there was just squid with rice & fresh tofu for lunch. I actively don’t like any of those things (okay, you caught me; I’ll eat rice with curry).

She knows. Loving woman that she is, she serves me chicken to go and sends me off to my office to enjoy my tea, indoor heating, and ambient snow. I am truly blessed here, even if I sometimes don’t remember that.

Saviour Chicken

Saviour Chicken

Boring Parts: Where My Life Flashes Before My Eyes

In Seoul later that week, I made it through about 4 bachata dances before my knees gave out. Time to get back into those morning stretches. We went out dancing at hip hop and old-school clubs together, celebrating my friend’s birthday in any way that interested her but may have dropped me into a coma once or twice.

Speaking of blissful rest, third time was the charm with chocolate shops in Seoul. The first two shops I visited were inexplicably closed. But the third shop… the third one was charming; small and elegant, Vida Feliz in GongDeok is on my return-to list. Additionally, I went to Reply Coffee for chocolates, and enjoyed some damn good Mexican food. Good interactions with good people just make you feel good.

[easy-image-collage id=7817]

After two months of rest, my school’s staff dinner club got back into the swing of things with samgyupsal (삼겹살, pork belly), and my principal being happy with me again. I continued working hard making connections with chocolate makers and chocolatiers, researching in order to bring the best chocolate to my readers. Ecuadorian milk Chocolate, coming December 2017 & A Chocolate Guide to Seoul, coming January 2017. One of my favorite weekend-at-home activities is talking to the barista at my favorite cafe, and tasting her latest confectionary creations.

The highlight of last weekend, however, was making food at home & watching Happy Death Day (would recommend) on Saturday night, and then saving myself from fire damage. You see, apparently dust found its way into my space heater, causing it to turn off suddenly, blankinting the other room in eerie silence. Why would that happen? My boyfriend didn’t want to investigate.

But I’m paranoid about spontanious conbustion (see above), so I popped right up and ran over to a growing bright orange glow. It was starting to smoke, so I switched it off and unplugged it. My instincts and paranoia were founded, because the orange faded to dark grey, though the odor of burning plastic and the adrenaline priming me to run both lingered. I took a deep breath, and then another.

He rubbed my back and calmed me down; he didn’t see our lives flashing before his eyes, but I sure as hell did. If I hadn’t run over to see what was happening in the other room, do you know what would have happened? I tossed out the machine the next morning, and then grabbed a coffee from my favorite cafe. These days it’s nearly dark by the time I get home from work, but I’m always glad to get there and flip on the light, noting everything in its haphazard place.

A selection from my favorite cafe.

A selection from my favorite cafe.

What experiences have shocked you into reacting lately?

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