Category Archives: Journals

Typical journal entries.

Trip to Cuba (2016) – 2

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We stayed at the Ocean Vista Azul, which is rated 5 stars by the Cuban government, and also the newest resort in the Varadero area. Before going into detail, I want to state that I did not book this hotel just because this is 5 stars and I have so much money.  Many advices noted that you’ll have to subtract a star or two from the Cuban hotel rating because of their economy and infrastructure. Usually, I go for 2.5-3.5 star rating when I’m traveling. The lobby looked fine – actually, more than fine.

The front receptionist gave us a booklet with resort information. I don’t do what or why, but it looked a bit…unorganized or cheap. While waiting for the room to be made, my mom wanted to have a cup of mojito. Yes! Mojito! From Cuba!

Mom: One mojito please.

Bartender: I can’t make mojito now.

Mom: …? What? Why?

Bartender: No mint.

Let’s recap. This is 5 star resort in Cuba, the land of mojito, but the bartender can’t make mojito because there’s no mint today. So she switched to lemonade, and the Bartender just put the lemon juice powder and put it in the blender with ice. Uh…uh…yeah.

The room was made so we went up. The bell boy was kind and friendly, and of course the Gangnam style was mentioned. Yeah, thanks, Psy.

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The room. Yeah, it looks fine, but….

The room wasn’t bad. Actually, it was more neat than we thought. But as time goes, we realized many of the details weren’t so 5 stars. 5 star hotel means that the hotel offers every possible small luxuries to its guests. For instance, instead of clean, simple and nice bedsheets, 5 starts offer clean, simple, nice bedsheets made of superb Egyptian cotton. The toiletries would be of Hermes, Dior, or something in that level. The complementary tea and cups would be something like Wedgewood. That’s not the case in Cuban 5 stars.

From left: 2 pillows in one big pillowcase. Use your imagination to use this.
The fridge case (?) had a huge gap underneath, so unless you open the fridge like you are handling Baccarat crystal, the fridge falls into the gap and you’ll have to struggle to put it back, taking forever.
The tiles started to fall off toward the end of our stay. 

The curtains were made of nylon, with a string to pull the curtain. Yup, string. There was no sheet for blanket. There were cups, but no complementary teas. No Kleenex, notepad, and pen. There was no brand/explanation for the complementary soaps and body toiletries. Only then I started to understand why so many travelers said I have to subtract a star or more from the Cuban hotel rating. Few days later, the glues between the tiles started to fall off.

I wasn’t upset. I somewhat expected this, as my passport country borders with North Korea and I did my research before flying to Cuba. But still, there is a difference between what you know as information and what you actually experience. This was one of that moment. For me, it was just an amazement.

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Printed on a piece of….paper. Literally.

Next day, we met with our tour representative at the lobby. She offered us a booklet for tours and contact information. The booklet was a simple folded paper, printed with a color printer for PC. When I visited other Caribbean countries, their tour info was properly printed on a clean, hard, glossy paper. Anyhow, we decided to go for Havana day trip and Three Cities (Santa Clara, Trinidad and Cienfuegos). We tried to pay with card, almost forgetting that the transaction between Cuba and US does not work, even with the newly revived Cuban-US relation!

Me: Uh…perhaps this one? (Hands my Wells Fargo card).

Rep: Is this US card? This won’t work.

Yup, denied.

Me: How about this one? This isn’t an American card. (Hands my AMEX card, issued by Korean company)

Rep: (looks at the card) Well, it says AMEX here so I don’t know…

Denied, even if it’s issued in Korea.

Me: Alright, let’s try this one (Hands my MasterCard, issued by Korean company and bank).

Worked. Thanks, BC card.

This wasn’t the end. Later in the evening, we went to the a la carte restaurant in the resort. There was no cloth napkin. Each person gets one paper napkin. The flower on the table was made out of paper towel with glitters. The cleaning ladies would not give additional toiletries unless we used up what was given, or call and ask for it.  The towels were way too new, so once you wipe your body, you are covered in white fabrics.

The buffet food wasn’t so bad, but compared to other Caribbean resorts, this was not 5 stars. I saw a bit too much recycling of foods, or same menus repeating for the whole week. The vegetables were cucumber, beet, carrot and cabbage. No leafy veggies. Occasionally, there was cooked zucchini or pumpkin. But, by Cuban standard, this was 5 stars. I realized this after eating at the local restaurant during the tour.

The service was different, too. My guess is that people are not familiar on what to do in service industry, since this is a communist country. However, some were quick and they knew what they need to do to get more tips. For them, we tipped. The bar drinks weren’t that great, so we didn’t go to bar as much as we did in Jamaica or Dominican Republic. Coffee was good, though (obviously).

So, like Cuba, the resort was full of paradox. In the cafeteria, you can find Spanish wine, German yogurt, European cheese. Ice cream and pastries were actually good. But you can’t find enough paper towel and shampoo. For people who grew up in a developed, industrial, capitalist countries, this is something really hard to understand unless you experience it.

The similar things happened in Varadero airport departures. In other countries that heavily depend on tourism, the salesperson will greet you and say “let me know if you need anything.” In Varadero airport, no one really cared even as we looked around. Salespeople were simply reading books, knitting (!) or go way over to another store and chatted with another salesperson with a coffee. Basically, “I don’t care, I still get my paycheck and I don’t get any incentive from selling stuff to you” attitude. I don’t mean they were rude. More on this later.

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The People’s Coke and Fanta. They actually taste very good! 

Trip to Cuba (2016) – 1

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Few years ago, I seriously considered visiting Cuba, even if that means I’ll have to go up north to Canada and then go South again, alone. I read a lot of travel journals and reviews for research, and two things stood out: (1) subtract 1-2 stars from the hotel rating, (2) tip the people with consumer goods, rather than cash.

It was so hard to process that in my mind. Wait, what? Subtract stars from the hotel rating? Why? How? What should I expect? And tip with goods? Not cash? Then how much of what should I give? I don’t want to insult anyone! After my Cuba trip, those tips were all very true. However, little did I know back then.

On top of that, my Cuba trip was hastily decided. So we didn’t take much goods with us. I still remembered that tip about hotel, so we made a reservation at the newest hotel in Varadero, Cuba, which had 5 stars. Like everyone said, it was 3.5 stars by international standard, but more on that later.

So like that, I got on a 3.5 hour flight from Toronto, Canada to Varadero, Cuba.

Day 1 at Varadero. I’ve never seen such a cool dark clouds over the sky.

I wasn’t too worried about not getting in to Cuba. We are coming to spend so the government is unlikely to turn us away. You need to fill out a custom declaration and entry/departure visa form. The English wordings on custom declaration was so strange, so I had to call the flight attendant and ask what that means. Let’s not forget I lived in an English-speaking country for so many years and got a proper education there.

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As of the entry/departure form, you cannot mess that up and cannot lose the half of the form. If you mess up the form, you’ll probably have to pay for another. And if you lose the half of the form, you are in trouble when you are departing Cuba. The border control does not staple/clip that form for you. Thanks…Probably because of lack of consumer goods like paper? I don’t know.

As I landed on Varadero airport, I was standing in line for border control. Strange enough, their border control reminded a lot of Chinese airport border control. The strange thing about Cuban border control booth is that it has an auto-lock door.  So you can’t see what’s going on beyond the booth, unlike many other international airports. You can’t leave until the officer approves your entry and opens the door in her booth. It makes you feel like you are in some kind of interrogation booth.

Passing the border control, I proceeded to the luggage carousel. The luggage carousel looked pretty old, and there were several security guards with pointers…without leash! It looked like they were just hanging out with dogs. The rest of that day was pretty uneventful. You get out, meet your tour representative, get on a bus, watching beautiful Caribbean Sea and bright colored buildings, and get off at your hotel.  Occasional sighting of old cars running by the ocean offered me momentary time travels.

Trip to Cuba (2016) – Intro

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cuba에 대한 이미지 검색결과

Cuba. One of the last communist dictatorship countries in the world. I guess that is why so many seasoned travelers are attracted to this Caribbean island. Including myself, most people would think of Cuba with several icons: Communism. Dictatorship. Revolucion! Castro. Che Guevara. Havana Club Rum & cigar. Old cars. Buena Vista Social Club.

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I seriously considered traveling Cuba several years ago, but the plan didn’t work out then. But oh, life – I didn’t really plan on going to Cuba this year, but while visiting family friends in Toronto, Canada, my family decided to visit Cuba, somewhat spontaneously.

Usually, traveling tropical region like South Asia or Caribbean means enjoying beach, warm weather and beautiful scenery, eating lots of fruits and delicious food, all with cheaper cost, and coming back with a thought, “man, that was awesome rest.” But Cuba was different. I’ve never come back from a trip with this much of food for thought. I’m not the boldest traveler, so most of the area I saw are pretty touristy. Still, I am sitting on that food for thought. Perhaps this is because I am a South Korean – the country that went through super-fast-track development, dramatic modern history, vicious ideological war and long dictatorship, and bordering another communist country to this date. For me, most of my Cuba trip was like stepping into the recent past of South Korea, and present of North Korea (well, better than North Korea).

Cuba is worth visiting, although a lot is likely to change within 5 years.  Cuba is not for everyone. If you are a seasoned traveler who can laugh at coverless toilet and knows a lot about modern history and politics, it will be nothing like other countries. It will make you think hard and reflect on things you used to take for granted. However, if you want a simple, comfortable, and fun vacation, Cuba isn’t for you. For that, go to Jamaica or some other Caribbean countries.

K-Jeossi/Ajeossi in My Father

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Been a while since I wrote my last blog post. The past 3-4 years were the worst parts of my life. I was stressed out. My health declined so badly. Massive PMS attacks that doctors have nothing but to say “here’s your pill” or “I know it’s hard but try to relax” or “maybe it’s allergy…?”  Let’s not even go to academics. I basically fought with my nails and teeth with useless admin/authorities. Good news is, I didn’t die and I graduated. Then, a week later, a dumb teenager rear-ended me with her giant Lincoln Navigator. None of my bones broke and there was no blood, but still I had to limp and yelp for a month or so, and it took a good 4-5 months for me to feel ok to go out and work out.

For the time being, I’m back in home and I’m glad to have some time to relax. Well, not absolute relaxation, but it certainly is less chaotic.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’ve had a fair share of conflict because of my TCKness and my Korean family…especially father. My being away yet again for years and being a bit more matured in socials helped somewhat for me to deal with my family. It’s pretty simple – I try to go out and set the time so I don’t face my dad a lot in person. I get up later than him, and don’t come back until he is in bed or about to go bed. And I try to not to talk to him a lot.  Things were alright…but then things happen.

I asked whether anyone would like some tea, and my mom said she’d like some. We have a water purifier pot, and a water purifier from fridge. I don’t know why, but my mom says use the water from purifier pot if I’m making a soup or tea. Because I was about to boil water, I thought it would be less work for me if I make my Dong Quai tea as well (because of my PMS, I boil a lot of Dong Quai tea, cool it in a bottle and drink it like water).

Now you can imagine what’s in front of me in the kitchen. Three different cups/steel bowl with different teas, and a big pot of water boiling. Not a good situation to turn my eye away. So I made an agenda in my head: wait until the water boils, pour them in to the cups and bowls, and fill up the water purifier. Then 30 seconds later, the father came in to the kitchen, was about to pour the water form the purifier, and found that it’s gone. Then he saw me with all kinds of cups and bowls with tea in it.

F: You used all the water for the tea, right?
Me: Yeah…
F: Well why didn’t you fill it up? I wanted some water.
Me: (still looking at the fire) You can drink from the fridge. 
F: Well I wanted to drink from *here*. Whoever used the water purifier should fill it up. 
Me: Umm…you literally walked in to the kitchen right after I finished pouring.

Then he started complaining how this takes forever. I didn’t say anything. Then he brought up some old story that I don’t even remember – I fixed everyone’s PC with a tool back in high school dorm? Clumsy way to be friendly. I didn’t say much except “I don’t think that’s true. Where did you hear it?” “Your mom.” “That never happened. Not true.”

By then, the teas were done so I took it to my mom and took one for myself. My father still said “well, from now on, whoever used the water purifier should fill it up, ok?” I said, “Again, you walked in literally like 30 seconds after I finished pouring.”

Then he yelled stuff like I’m talking too much, I should just do what he tells me to do. I just said “yes, yes, sure” and went into my room.

Honestly, I just want him to leave me fucking alone. I respect his territory or whatever it is, and I don’t want to get into trouble. I expect him to do the same. Just because you are paying someone/gave birth to someone doesn’t mean that you can just enter and throw trash in without the person’s consent. I fucking hate when he slaps my butt as being “friendly.” I say something then he’ll scream at me again.

And really, what’s the big deal about getting the fridge water? If I find that there is no water and someone in the kitchen is boiling something, I’d just shrug it off and go to the other source. Or wait. If someone feels like he has been disrespected over kitchen water or someone explaining what happened to the water, all I can say is you have a damn low self-esteem.

That’s what I hate about many Korean ajoessi (40+ years old Korean men). They see everything, even their family, as a ranking game. They never imagine that they can be wrong and those with different opinions can be “right.” If there’s something they don’t understand, everything is “impolite” or “rude.”

Sadly, I see one in my father. And I just hate it. I know I can’t fix it. And honestly, I kind of don’t want to be too close to him because of it, as long as he is not ready to give some credit to those who are different from him. One of my fantasy is, as soon as I get to move out, I will contact my family – especially father – as little as I can.

 

Should I Quit?

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It has been a bit more than a month since I started my law school.  Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but as the time passes, I am disappointed on a daily basis. Fast.

I was warned, but the 1st year of law school education is so inefficient and broken.  It’s a lot like South Korean public education system, which has been malfunctioning for a good 10-20 years.  In South Korea, learning doesn’t happen in schools.  The actual learning happens outside of school – tutoring, study aid books, and hagwons.  These are all for to be graded in school.  The entire education is focused on one-shot-per-year college entrance exam.  In sum, you don’t really learn anything from a school.  You learn through out-of-school institutions, and the school is there to grade you for your out-0f-school efforts (and, arguably, financial means to do that).

People say it has to be reformed.  But the more you delve into the problem, you realize it’s such a complex problem.  The whole “prep” industry is based on the broken system, and I bet there are so many strong ties between the Ministry of Education, schools and the prep industry.

1L is so much like this.  You don’t learn jack shit in class.  All the professors talk about is how this case is related to that case, the history of such-such concept, how certain element is related to the case, etc.  There’s too much material to be covered in the short amount of time.  It’s not about what the law is, what the principles of law application, let alone the technical skills of a lawyer.  There are schools that are more focused on practical skills, such as learning how to interview and write court documents from day 1.  But, a lot of these schools are out of ranking system.  They are not highly deemed, and for a foreigner like me, with high possibility of getting a job in oversea (and I don’t mind that), it’s a highly risky choice.  If I had a proper residence-ship, I wouldn’t mind going into one of these schools and be a mom-and-pop lawyer.  Well, I can’t.

Just like South Korea, there is a massive industry leaching on the system.  There are myriad of study aids, advisory service and exam preps, charging students.  I don’t know how many study aids I bought this time.  I have never bought this many study aids during my journey in the American education system.  Everyone does buy.

And the only practical course of the 1st year – legal writing and research – gives you far less credit, if not ungraded.  I honestly think it would be better if all 1L students take the legal writing and research first and then do all that “mandatory” courses.

So, I don’t know.  If I were an American, I would have quit and look something else.  But I’m not an American, and I really don’t want to be tied down in Korea.  I really don’t know – should I just quit and go to interpretation school? Or just suck it up and wait for a brighter day, where I can actually socialize with more like-minded people and take more practical courses?

Let me know what you think, please.

Drama Kings. Ugh.

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As a student who is slightly older than the average, the stress from law school isn’t only from the workload, psychotic professors and oh-so-breached system (which is a lot like Korean public education).  Social dynamic is one of them.  It’s not about me being a CCK or the only Asian person or the only international student in the lot.  So many people here don’t have any work experience, and their life and social interaction are limited to the school they are attending.

The school population is pretty small.  I see almost every one of them every single day.  There’s not much to talk about.  I don’t necessarily want to see them even in the weekends.  When asked, “hey, how was your weekend?” all they did was either work or drinking with yet another classmate.  I never enjoyed hardcore drinking even in college, and I don’t like drinking with people I don’t know well.  So, so far, I spent my weekends with my college alumni club, a friend living nearby with two kids, and another friend who is working nearby, happy with his partner for 10 years.  At week 4, people started to talk about who dressed trashy and who is sleeping with whom.  Not my thing since high school, especially so if you are well over mid 20.

Today, a great exemplary event has occurred.  Ken, a Korean-American classmate of mine, sits next to me.  He’s nice, but he is still pretty immature young – never serious, talks a lot, somewhat careless.  I never went out with him for a meal or drink, but I tried to keep things friendly.

So today, as I sit down, take books out and getting ready for the class, he started talking.

Ken: Yo, I went out with this Chinese kid, and he thinks you are Ajumma.  We were talking about you, and he was like “yeah I think she is Ajumma.  She looks like one.”

For those of you who doesn’t know what Ajumma means, here’s the link.  It’s not the most flattering word.  I can’t say I was in the best mood after hearing this, but honestly I really don’t care what these kids do or say.  I replied, “well, I’m older than most of you guys anyway.”

Then Ken said, “see, that’s why you have to come out and hang out with us more often.”

Oh wait…I think I’ve been in this situation.  Back in the college, a b*tch in Korean students community did pretty much same thing.  The difference is, she meant bad.  Ken just doesn’t know better. Oh lord, forgive this naiveté.  There’s a reason why you should not pass bad words, because it gets you in trouble, not the person who said it.

And, if you want to make someone to hang out with you, you should keep passing positive things, not “hey, so-and-so said you are like a pot dealer.  That’s why you should come out more.”  It should be more of trying to please the person – “hey, come on, it’s gonna be fun.  I know you like video games, we’ll play Wii.”  I wasn’t mad at Ken – but my frustration with these “young kids” was let loose.

Me: Well, why do you pass such words to me? They aren’t necessarily good words.  Why make troubles?

Ken: No, no, it was just that, nothing more than that.

And then he started to think I’m mad at him.  He messaged me how he is sorry.  Well, that’s not the point, is it? So I replied again:

You don’t have to be sorry because it’s not your fault. It’s just that if you expect someone to hang out with you, you guys should think twice and not pass the words, or talk things about people who are not present with you guys.

Then, like 10 hours later, he sent me an e-mail: details about how the conversation went, how they have better things to do than talk about me (then why pass the words to begin with?), how he was just throwing jokes and that’s what friends do, and how he’s going to keep things strictly ‘professional.’

First, I don’t care about what went on at their drinking table.
Two, I don’t think we are friends.
Three, even if you thought it as a joke, if the person hearing it isn’t very pleased, that’s not a joke.
Four, “professional?” since when we are “professionals?” Are we in the same workplace?  To my knowledge, we are full time students.
Five, if you want to apologize, drop all the bullsh*t and stick with your apology.  No background, no explanation, no sh*t.
Lastly, why sending me all these details 10 hours later?

I guess this is what guys feel when a girl they dated once or twice send them some long, mad letter with all these details and BS.  But hey, I gotta thank that he figured we are not BFF and how to leave me alone.  If I were a few years younger, I would send some long reply.  But as I age more, one of the life wisdom I realized is that it’s just not worth it.  Some people just don’t understand no matter how hard you try to explain.  If you see the sign, just walk away and leave it there.  As the Beatles said, let it be.

Drama Kings are no better than Drama Queens.  Boy I just can’t wait until the first year ends.

I’ll Be Good Catholic Again

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I am baptized Catholic, but I wasn’t all that religious.  I believe in spirituality, though.  I don’t necessarily agree with all Catholic teachings (such as, women still not allowed to be priest, contraception, not accepting LGBT, etc) but I never had any bad feelings on Catholicism itself.   In fact, I admire what sisters and fathers are doing in some of the poorest and most dangerous places of this world.

But I stopped going mass.  I am not a morning person at all.  And, even if I went to Catholic college, I didn’t go to mass.  I was busy doing my works and papers.  I didn’t feel it was all that necessary.

Today, I went to the local community service organized by my college alum club here.  The church is located in one of the poorest neighborhood, and it is run by a Franciscan father, who is also an alum.  We started off with a mass.

As I mumble prayers (CCK’s catch: in addition to not really remembering prayers, I get mixed up with Korean and English prayer), out of blue, I thought: this is home.  This is where I belong.  The thought grew stronger as people finish the mass with my school’s alma mater song (which, obviously, is almost like hymn and about praising Mother Mary).

When I was living in Japan, my wonderful host family – without them, my Japan experience would not have been this great – were Christian.

My best friend, whom I met in high school in Michigan, was also Catholic.  We didn’t ask “hey, are you Catholic?” right away.  After we got close, we found out that we are all Catholic.

When I first moved to Indiana, a great local family who made my life in college so much easier was also Catholic.

As I entered the Church today, everything was so familiar.  Fathers, Eucharist, big sculpture of Jesus and Mary – all that.  Then I thought, maybe, it is something I can’t escape.  Something I must accept.

After I came back from the church, a neighbor down the hallway knocked at my door.  Red, a cheerful retired man, was at my door.  He has been very friendly ever since I moved to South Jersey.  He took my package and wrote me a card.  He came to check whether I’m doing alright, and got all the furniture I need.

“Oh, yeah, mostly.  I got them from Ikea.”
“Ikea!” Red replied, “No, you shouldn’t by that cheap stuff!  Come on, I’ll show you my furniture and pictures, and let me give you some furniture shop address.”

As we walk down the hallway, he asked what I did today.  I said I bid farewell to my mom and aunt, and went to the local church for community service.

“Oh, you Catholic?”  said Red, “I’m too.  I go to St. Andrews, you should come along for a mass there.”

I felt like crying.  This entity/system/religion/spirit/God/whatever has been watching me and following me for my entire journey up to now, helping out whenever it can. Yet I never really paid attention.  I’ve been taking it for granted.

I can’t escape this.  And I’ll be happy to accept it.  I felt destiny.