Reasons I Restarted My Running Habit: A Quiz

This morning I went for my first run in weeks.

Why this morning, you ask?

Was it:

  1. The Wonju Marathon 10K is less than a month away and I don’t want to die
  2. I’ve been feeling sluggish and worn down
  3. Fall arrived suddenly and without preamble last weekend, so it’s cool enough to run outside again
  4. I had a free class period this morning


  5. While teaching fifth graders this morning about my hobbies, one of them suggested ‘dieting.’

Subtlety is not the strong suit of fifth grade boys, IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING.




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Life is still happening over here, and it’s still noteworthy (more now than ever, I’d say) even though I haven’t been noting them on this blog. In fact I haven’t been on this in so long that the entire homepage setup was redesigned and for a second I thought I was at the wrong website.

It’s September, more than a year since I began writing at this address and more than a month since I last did. It’s possible that I have been silent here so long because, increasingly, Korea is feeling like home. I’ve grown accustomed to it. In fact I’ve grown to love it. I know I won’t be here forever–only another year, probably, and this first one has gone by so quickly that I am a little alarmed at the nearness of that deadline–but I am ever more grateful for what I’ve found here, what I’ve learned about myself and about life.

Just to catch you up: in the past month I: turned 25 (26 by the Korean age calculator), welcomed one of my best friends to work here, made plans for a vacation to Paris in November and home for CHRISTMAS and yet ANOTHER wedding in December (seriously ‘McMahon weddings’ could be the basis of one of those horrifying Hallmark movie channel marathons because they are all so diabetically sweet), joined a jazz band and subsequently performed a few gigs downtown (ha, gigs. that’s a ridiculous word), signed up for my third 10k in October, and started teaching government officials with our adult student program.

In the past 24 hours, I: googled the plural of apparatus (turns out it’s apparatus) (was hoping for apparati), helped students translate a drunk retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (it is as fantastic as it sounds), and got the news that as of this weekend I’ll be moving off campus into an apartment of my own. I have never not had a roommate/apartment-mate before and after a year of living on this picturesque, boar-embattled, feral-cat infested, meticulously-landscaped bubble of a village, I am excited to live in Korea, to walk outside and be immersed in it all.  Maybe after I move I’ll put up some pictures of the place, but we all know how reliable I am about things like that (read: not reliable).

Anyway. Hello, September. Let’s be friends.

Defenestrate: Highlight of the week

Back in February I had as part of my opening ‘gauge student level/establish ground rules/make the students think I’m funny so they will pay attention’ routine the word defenestrate. Also, I’ve been known to teach especially worthy group of kids to greet and take leave of each other with ”Sup?’ and ‘Peace,’ complete with the fist-to-chest double-tap peace-sign and chin raise. 

Defenestrate is one of my favorite words and it did wonders for making all age groups and English skill levels focus in my class. When their levels were too low to understand the word straight out, I’d act it out for them. Invariably, they caught on, and sometimes kids would remember and say goodbye after a Friday closing ceremony with ‘Peace, Colleen teacher. DEFENESTRATE.’

But, like I do, I got bored with it and changed up the routine, so that it’s been a while since any kids have heard me say ‘Defenestrate.’

Then Monday afternoon, my first class of the week, I walked into the gym to teach PE and was greeted by a collective gasp and shouts of ‘Colleen teacher! Sup! DEFENESTRATE!’

Apparently some students who visited in February returned, and what did they remember? probably nothing of the actual lessons, but they remembered–and had told their classmates all about–defenestrating and exchanging gangster greetings.  Other groups from their school were coming through my class asking when I was going to explain about throwing people out of windows. I HAVE A REPUTATION FOR THAT KIND OF BEHAVIOR.

This means two things: 1. I am a success as an educator 2. their actual schoolteacher hates me, wherever he/she is. also I have Korean street cred. Okay, three things.

Please Don’t [Ever] Stop the Music


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Back in December I issued a balanced, thoughtful, contemplative look at Korean pop music. And by that I mean I ranted about how terrible and annoying and EVERYWHERE it is.


They are called J Rabbit. Two girls (WHO ARE MY AGE) and write and do all their songs in one take. They sound like all the good adjectives and are ‘cuter than all baby animals I’ve ever seen combined,’ said my friend Kyle.  I would say that this is true UNLESS you thought about them having a baby Harper seal in the studio with them, at which point I would just give up and die.

Here are a few of their videos.

Happy Things:

And here’s R U Tired?

And I know it’s not Christmas BUT YOU GUYS. Sleigh Ride.


I have decided to find them and become their best friend and also their occasional guest. I will learn an instrument to play with them. A really obscure one that they don’t already know how to play, which means I may have to invent an instrument.

You can get their second album, Looking Around, on iTunes or Amazon. I’m still working on tracking down their first album, It’s Spring. (And if  you go looking for them and come across a crappy DJ called J.Rabbit, IT’S NOT THEM. Go away, other guy.)

You know what this means, right? Korea wins.

Minority Report: The Bad, Part 1


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The topic of this edition of the Minority Report is not the counterpart to the last one. Last time I talked about the pros of getting attention as a foreigner (or miguk-in) in Korea, and this time, I’m not talking about the cons. I will though. Someday.

So I’m doing this out of order and in no recognizable sequence or topical organization. Have you met me? Hi, I’m Colleen and THIS IS HOW I LIVE.

ANYWAY this post is simply a list: things I miss about America. And when I say ‘things’ I mean either material things, places, or sensory experiences, not so much people. Because missing my people is a given.

Here are some bad things about living in Korea / things I miss while living in Korea:

  • Target. Why? Why, I say? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just familiarity or maybe it’s my bourgeois snobbery (because I do not miss Wal-Mart, not even a little) but I miss Target. I miss the red-and-white decor and how relentlessly middle-upper-class it is. I miss the Target brand trail mix and the organic foods aisle that I could never afford to buy anything from. I miss how poorly organized it was and how, in grad school, every time I was in the SuperTarget at 169 and 71st street, I would compose a letter to the management advising them to change the floor layout because MY organizational system would have made MUCH MORE SENSE, a letter that I never wrote and never will. I miss the relatively cheap clothes that still made me feel as close to trendy as I ever felt before I discovered H&M. I miss the really good sales they sometimes had on hummus.
    In Korea they only have Home Plus, which tries, but fails.
  • Sidewalks. To be more specific, sidewalks that are not pitted with potholes and covered in Old-Dude Spitbombs. There’s a game I like to play when walking in town at night here, it’s called ‘Spot the Loogie,’ and the stakes, my friends, they are high indeed. Not that you can’t/shouldn’t play that game in America, but in a residential area, generally you don’t have to. In Korea, YOU HAVE TO.
  • Corn-free pizza. Add to that: Sweet-potato-goo-free pizza and mayonnaise-free pizza. I miss that.
  • Women’s Shoes in my size. In Korea, women’s 9-10 없어요. It does not exist. Korean shoemakers refuse to acknowledge that feet like mine can be attached to a woman. FORGIVE MY POTATO-FED GENES, KOREAN SHOEMAKERS.
  • Little League games. I’m sure Korean Little League exists, and (I’ll address this in another post on THE GOOD) I do get an amazing share of live baseball games here in Daegu, but I miss Little League.
  • Beards. Do I need to say more. No I do not.
  • Driving. I COULD drive here. But I’m here to save money, not spend it on life insurance so my parents can pay for my funeral after a McDonald’s delivery moped forces me under a city bus. Driving used to be one of my biggest de-stressors, and now it’s just not part of my life, which is sad. Sometimes I daydream about those Oklahoma-Missouri interstates, or those winding Connecticut back roads. Summer evening, windows down, silence and sunset and WAIT I DON’T HAVE THAT HERE. le sigh.
  • Poop-smell-free streets. I don’t know if it’s just Daegu/Chilgok/Taejeon/Waegwan, or if it’s all of SK; if it’s a terrible sewer system or my dainty and sensitive nose, but American streets don’t have these Stink Pockets you stroll into and out of on a regular basis. You can be walking around in any season, in any weather, and BAM suddenly inhaling nasally is as much as your life is worth. Sometimes, Korea stinks. I have yet to discover why, but it’s unpredictable and somewhat terrifying.
  • Ovens. Korean kitchens do not use them, which I still find a little odd. Korean food is mostly boiled or grilled, and as I’ve said twice before they have pretty much perfected those techniques. But I love baking and baked goods, and it just feels wrong that in most kitchens that’s not even an option.
  • Houses. Yes, I miss suburban sprawl. Okay, I don’t. I hate flying over US metropolises and looking down and seeing the depressing sameness of row after row of identical houses. Yet, hypocrite that I am, I miss houses. I haven’t been in one, ever, in Korea. and I’ve been here going on nine months. Korea is all apartments, all the time, which is absolutely necessary for a small country with a large population. In Korea, you do not typically hang out with friends at home–apartments just don’t allow for that with the ease that American house-dwellers take for granted. Even in apartments I’ve lived in in America, I entertained regularly. Not so in Korea. Aside from the space issue, there are cultural factors at play that separate home and social life.
    Of course this is not a rule. Koreans DO entertain at home, but it’s not the norm like it is in America. And I miss that. There’s a certain release of pressure that comes in hanging out at a friend’s apartment or house, where you don’t have to look cute, or buy anything, or be seen, where you can just enjoy some good company.
  • Frozen Green Beans. They are not a thing here, and I miss them.

Okay, that’s enough Haterade. I’m no longer thirsty, and, you know what? Writing this list was actually pretty difficult; at least, on some of the major points. The smaller ones (Beards. Corn pizza. Shoes) were easy, but the others were not. I am finding it difficult to criticize my temporary homeland, and all of these points I’m making I mentally rebutted while writing them. That’s Master’s level technique right there, y’all.

Career Paths


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While I’ve still never been able to limit my answer to the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ to one word (aside from ‘dunno’), I HAVE figured out some things that I definitely DO NOT want to do forever and ever my whole life long:

  • Worksheet Designer
  • Textbook Designer
  • Anything that asks me to design something, you guys, I am terrible at designing
  • Full-time middle or high school teacher
  • Or Full-time elementary or kindergarten teacher


(keep in mind that I love my job, and I’m reallllllly grateful for it.)

Red Bean Paste and my Insides: A Cautionary Tale


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Here is a tip: eating vast quantities of sweet red bean the night before a 10k race is an excellent idea, if you want to be thinking about your colon A LOT before and during the run. (ha, run. get it?)

If you do not want that, then I’d steer clear.

What is she talking about? the cry goes forth from bewildered and slightly grossed-out readers. The Pohang Beach Marathon 10k, of course, which I ran this Sunday with three of my friends from work. The Yeongju City Marathon run was so much fun that we decided to repeat the experience–on our own this time, not through our office at work. So (with a lot of help from the people in our office at work) we got registered, got a hotel booked, got in contact with friends in the city, and took the hour-ish bus ride out to Pohang on Saturday.

Here’s the thing about going to new places in a foreign country: every place you visit has a specialty. Something uniquely (or not so uniquely) theirs they use to brand themselves to tourists. On my first visit to Pohang (a work trip with a few other teachers at an elementary school. I lost my iPod and stood in the sea. It was primarily glorious) the Item Of The Day was seafood. A coastal city, Pohang is known for its sweet and delicious crab and other ocean-invertebrate harvests. For lunch we ate hwedupbap, and for dinner–mountains of crab that we hammered and scissored and tore to pieces and sucked dry. It was savage and excellent.

This time, I was the only one of the four of us running who’d been to Pohang before, and since on my first trip I’d spent the day at a school a little ways out of the city, I contacted a Korean friend in Pohang to show us around. She was an amazing hostess–picked us up, took us to the beach, to dinner, to dessert, and back home–and we all got along swimmingly (get it? get it?).

And here’s the thing. About me. And running.

I’m a little stitious. (Not super stitious.)

Or maybe I should say, I am particular. I like to have some things done a certain way. And I’m still getting used to being a person who can do 10k races, and there’s still a suspicion in my head that says if I do something wrong–or just differently–from the way I did it last time, when it worked–then I will probably cause everyone to die in a fiery crash and people will hate my hair. forever. Something like that.

So that, before my first 10k, I was perfect. I mean, perfect. I ran an 11k practice run three days before, a short run/walk 2 days before, and a walk the day before, just to keep loose. I went to bed early. I drank enough water to enable a camel to do seven trans-saharic crossings. I ate a dinner of carbs and lean protein and had nothing remotely acidic for five days beforehand. I would have punched anyone who tried to tell me that the race would still be fine if I did not do any of those things exactly as I did them. Because that 10k was the Biggest Deal, and to mess with my system would mean Certain Doom.

(I am only slightly exaggerating all of that.)

Anyway. This time was a little different. I still did my long run three days ahead of time. But Friday, instead of eating sensibly and doing a short run, we had a barbecue at work. A barbeque that I spent two days baking cookies for. A barbeque at which I sang (‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’) and hosted a service auction and DANCED.

The thought alone has probably caused a number of readers to have minor convulsions. I apologize.

I danced to a Kpop song.


THIS Kpop song.

That’s the music video. Convulse convulse convulse.

As you can imagine, immediately after that experience I ate a hundred brownies. To recover. Don’t worry, I covered them in whipped cream first. LIGHT whipped cream.

I have to mention that my dancing went pretty much entirely unnoticed since we managed to talk one of our male coworkers into wearing a sundress and crashing the dance halfway through. It was brilliant, and possibly scarring.

So that was two days before the run, and on the day OF the run, we bussed to Pohang and met up with my friend. Who took us to a restaurant on the beach. Where we ate more local Pohang cuisine. Grilled seashells (we did not eat the shells, and also I can’t find the name of the dish in Korean) followed by a clam and flour-noodle soup with green onion in a clam broth. I think it was clam. It was so, so good.

Of course, it was also spicy. and full of fiber-y goodness. And then–there was dessert.

The three other teachers also running (Jo, Marifel, and Carrie) have been the ones who push me to run on days when I really do not want to. More often than not that ‘push’ looks like one of two things: Salted Caramello ice cream from Baskin Robbins (yep, BR is all up in Korea) or THIS:


Patbingsu comes in many forms, but the absolutely necessary ingredients are as follows: shaved ice, condensed milk, ice cream, sweet red bean/red bean paste, mochi or ttoek (mochi is Japanese, ttoek is Korean: it means rice cake). Add to that whatever you want: I’ve had it with almonds, fruit cocktail, cornflakes, fresh fruit, frozen fruit, caramel sauce, and, incredibly, tomatoes. Which are technically fruits.

But here’s the thing. Beans? they are powerful.

And we didn’t just eat a little patbingsu. There were six of us, and we ordered three giant bowls, and we demolished them all: classic patbingsu, mixed berry, and green tea. And then, we went back to our motel to sleep before the race.

I think this is just a side effect of my tendency to BLOW EVERYTHING OUT OF PROPORTION but I can never sleep well before big events, especially ones I know are going to be physically taxing. This was no exception. I must have woken seven or eight times between turning off the lights and finally deciding that 6.57 was as good a time as any to stop pretending to be asleep. We started preparing for the race, and…


I had a realization. The same one with which I began this post.

The run went fine: the red beans exacted their due before the start–but there was lingering mental discomfort. Also, the run was entirely in direct sunlight, so despite my best sunscreening efforts, I am a bit scorched on the shoulder blades. Thanks to a hat and shades, my face escaped unscathed. And my time, despite the ravages of red bean, remained right about where I was for the Yeongju run.

Two of us (Carrie and I) ran the 10k route, while Jo and Marifel did the half-marathon. We all finished in times that made us individually and collectively happy.  See?

Post-run the four of us, collectively exhausted, wandered about Pohang before finding a place to eat lunch and catching the bus back to Daegu, where the other girls went home and I, in my salt-sweat-encrusted glory, went to a three-hour rehearsal for next weekends’ musical revue.  By the time I got home I smelled awesome.

In other words: I think I need a weekend to recover from my weekend.

Secret Identity

[I’ll be back to posting minority reports soon, but for now, YOU’RE WELCOME.]

Someone please tell me why this is not my real life:

1. Colleen McMahon fights crime in the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
2. Her secret weapon, a bamboo staff called a silambam, deals stunning blows to dangerous criminals.
3. She wears a costume modeled after an ancient clan of ninja warriors that worshiped the peacock.
4. Bright blue, yellow, and purple feathers adorn her mask, which conceals her identity from the public and the police.
5. To conceal her identity, she plays traditional folk music by day in small cafés in the city.
6. By night, Colleen roams the streets as Wayura the Masked Vigilante!
7. “Wayura” means “peacock” in the Sinhalese language.
8. Because of Colleen’s fierce reputation as a warrior, criminals fear the wrath of Wayura the Masked Vigilante.
9. Her guitar-playing abilities also intimidate other musicians who try to make their living on the café scene.
10. Wayura inspired a series of graphic novels that are very popular in parts of Southeast Asia.

This came about because a friend of mine from grad school was looking for ways to make his grammar worksheets more exciting. He invited all his facebook friends to post their dream jobs, so that he could work them into a class.

Naturally, mine was folk-singing archaeologist who fights crime.  It’s been tweaked slightly, but you guys, THAT COULD TOTALLY BE ME.

[also ps. where can I get a silambam?]

Minority Report: The Good, Part 1


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Let’s start with the sunny side of life, shall we?

Before I begin, consider this a disclaimer that this ‘report’ is in no way intended to be definitive of the overseas experience, or even of the Korean experience. It’s specific to me, and to what I’ve observed from my very particular and limited perspective. SO when your experience is the opposite of mine DON’T SAY YOU WEREN’T WARNED. You totally were. Just now.


(I interrupt myself to tell you this: a good many of these items will repeat in the Bad and the Ugly lists. Because of Perspective!)


    Let’s be really frank here just for a moment. I will cover the negative aspects of this THOROUGHLY later (oh yes I will) but it’s so important, immersed in this place, to recognize all the positives that come with the ridiculous amounts of attention you get as a foreigner.  That get as a foreigner. No matter where I go here, I stand out. I am noticeable. For one thing, I am nearly 5’8 in a country where the average female is 5’2 (and we won’t say anything about–ahem–other measurements. WHAT. I’M BIG BONED) (side note: when did I start using italics? UGH) and for another thing, I’m, uh, white. It isn’t the norm here.

    And Korea, in some ways, is very much about the norm (I’ll have more to say about this, too, later, but for now I will just offer as indicative that one of the popular cosmetic shops here is called, literally, ‘The Saem.’ As in, the same look for everyone!).  So you can’t just be a foreigner in Korea. You can’t blend in. And sometimes? Sometimes that is AWESOME.

    In America, if you are out for a run on a lonely road and a car slows down and rolls down the window, you grab the rape whistle and start praying. In Korea? it’s just a passerby who wants to holler ‘Fighting!’ (the Konglish version of ‘You can do it!’) at the sweaty, belching waegukin who is clearly about a kilometer away from a full-blown coronary.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been walking down the street and a group of schoolkids walk by and say something like, ‘hello!’ or ‘where from?’ or ‘do speak Korean?’ or my favorite ‘welcome to Korea!’ Never mind that I’ve been here eight months and they’re still welcoming me. It’s nice.  And when you smile at people, they smile back, since they were staring at you anyway.

    And now to be more specific about attention: I didn’t anticipate one of the adjustments I’d have to make in Korea being the adjustment to being attractive. This is the part where you roll your eyes and mutter #firstworldproblems at me and yes. okay. it’s true. that’s a ridiculous statement. adjust to being attractive? But it’s TRUE.  If I got a bonus every time a student told me I was pretty then I could kiss Sallie Mae goodbye in a month, TOPS. Now. Hang on. I know full well that student flattery is totally empty, and I know this because generally the follow up comment after ‘teacher, so beautiful!’ is ‘teacher, give me stickers.’ NO I WON’T. Beautiful people hoard their stickers. It’s in the rules they give you when you are beautiful.

    But the flattery of kids isn’t an issue (it’s just nice to hear, especially on days when I do something special, like blow dry my hair. I’M HIGH MAINTENANCE); it’s the flattery of adults that really throws me. Eight months in Korea and I’ve been serenaded, asked out, and complimented (sticking with the positives here. the negatives, again, will be brought up another time) more than I ever thought possible and you know what? IT’S NICE. Motives or subtext or whatever aside, it is nice to know that you look good and have a random stranger back up your knowledge. It’s flattering to have a cute guy (the longer I’m here, the cuter Korean guys get. and when I went back to the States for my brother’s wedding, I was surprised and amused to note how frumpy and unkempt I found most of the Americans I saw. I adjusted, but it took a couple days) sing you a Korean power ballad at a karaoke night. It’s hilarious when an elderly man interrupts your conversation in the city park to tell you that you look like a movie star, and that you are very breast–breast–brest-taking. That is a real thing that happened to me three weeks ago. Made funnier because it was so potentially horrifying. And because I am thoroughly, thoroughly unused to it. My sisters will rejoice: I have had to acknowledge, living here, that I am an attractive woman! That I got it goin’ on. That I am, to a bunch of people over here, brest-brest-bresttaking.

    And maybe that’s the best part of all of this attention: that the line between Good and Bad is often so thin, so hard to distinguish. It’s attitude that makes most of it, I find, and there’s almost ALWAYS something funny to pull out of it, even if it’s otherwise mortifying.

    What the good attention boils down to is this: Despite how exclusive Korea is, there’s a whole lot of kindness, hospitality, and affirmation for difference here too. Almost everyone I’ve interacted with has been incredibly patient with my fumbling attempts at communication, and people go out of their way to account for my faux pas (how DO you make that plural) my boo-boos. So all the attention that comes with being a minority here works to my advantage more often than not, I think.

There are lots of other good things about being in the minority here (or at least one or two that I can think of) but this has gotten wayyyy longer than I anticipated, so they’ll have to be put off til the next post.

Minority Report: Preface


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[NOTE: this post is SERIOUS in that I use all caps a LOT and talk about my FEELINGS EW SICK GROSS I know. Next time I will post about belching while I run, or something more normal for me. (I do belch. And fart and spit. Now, onto the FEELINGS!)]

I explained at the beginning of this why I was titling the blog this way.

(ps. ‘Blog’ is one of the least attractive words yet coined in the English language. Sounds like one of Jabba the Hutt’s pet names. Blog blog bloggy. Not. Appealing.)

But now that I’ve been here for eight (eight? EIGHT? going on eight) months, I think it’s time to start reporting on being a minority. That is a big topic, and a Serious One, and as such I am thinking I’ll break it up into a few parts, to be tentatively titled The Good, The Bad, and The Aesthetically Challenged.


If you have questions, or thoughts on the pros and cons of living overseas yourself, I would love to hear them, so sound off in the comments section.

(Yes I am asking for COMMENTS. Gross.)

You know something? I am pretty good at making Big Scary Life Choices and not regretting them or even doubting them. See: moving AWAY for college (Connecticut to Oklahoma, meaning I have never once taken a direct flight anywhere, I don’t think), getting an MA straight out of undergrad, moving to KOREA straight out of the MA. But. What I am not good at? is taking those tiny, insignificant, no-big-deal, absolutely paralyzingly scary steps once those big ones have been knocked off.

It’s like, hey! I made a big decision. and having done so, I will not do anything else, at all, until it’s time for the next big decision. But I will be awfully brave about THAT. You see, I am a coward. The Big Steps? They don’t intimidate me nearly as much as, say, TAKING A LANGUAGE CLASS or MEETING SOMEONE NEW or even VISITING A STRANGE CITY FOR A WEEKEND.  I mean let’s not go crazy here, people. I may have moved literally across a planet, but a three hour train ride is KIND OF A COMMITMENT.


SO that to say, I am aware of this, and I am working on it. Luckily (it’s not luck) I have some good friends who, either here with me or from continents away, can knock me out of my own head and shake me out of the groove I so like to dig for myself. And there are lots of things I am doing or THINKING ABOUT DOING (it’s not the same, I know, but it’s a step) to change that.

I’ll be hopefully posting the Minority Reports in the next weeks. Along with those burp updates I promised.