Portrait Project: Erin

I have always wanted to take a portrait of strangers  ever since my #DS106 class in the Spring of 2011. 

I myself was asked by Tom Woodward to have my portrait taken 2 years ago. I had just met him for the first time, and after a really nice conversation he asked if he could take my photo. I am terrible at smiling for photos [I always give a fake smile], but this was for #DS106 and for art so I decided what the hell! Game on.

But I never have attempted to ask strangers if I could take their photo. This, in large part, is due to the fact I only had a point and shoot for the past couple of years. It would be weird to rock up to a stranger and ask to take their photo with just a point and shoot camera. However,  if I had a DSLR/ more professional looking camera that would be a different story entirely!

This January I finally decided it was well past the time to get myself a good camera. With the help of a photographer friend, I bought a Canon Eos 650D.

My new baby

Although I have had this camera for two months, I’ve hardly had the time to play around with it. I decided I needed someone to model for me as I adjusted the settings. I managed to convince my friend Erin to be my model and we had a photo shoot along the river. Out of all the photos I took that day this is my favorite:


Red hair, not blonde

I love Erin’s face in this shot. She seems so carefree and happy. I also love the contrast of her beautiful red hair with the blue sky and the water.

In Korea, people are unused to seeing red hair. People tell her all the time: “You have blonde hair!”

This makes me laugh because if you compare my current blonde shade to Erin’s hair you have to wonder if the Koreans are colorblind! Or maybe it is just they  can’t think of the right word to say…..

My photo shoot with Erin marked my first step into Portrait Photography. I need to keep playing with my camera to find the perfect setting, but I think I am almost ready to take it to the next level and start asking strangers if I can take their photo.

However, I am worried how this will work with the language barrier. I need to learn some handy phrases in Korean that basically say the following :”I am doing an art project! Can I take your photo?” and then show them the link to my blog.

Actually, there is one person I already have in mind for this project. He is the security guard at my school and I see him every morning and every afternoon.

He never talks to me other than saying “Hi! how are you?!” but his big smile and enthusiasm at seeing me makes my day! I want to share his big smile with the rest of the world!


G to the D

This weekend I am going to a G-Dragon concert!

For those unfamiliar with Korean Pop stars, G-Dragon is the bomb! He is one of the most recognized artists in Korea with the exception of PSY.

To me G-Dragon is like the male Korean version of Lady Gaga. He is so utterly strange and yet so fabulous.

He is part of the K-POP group Big Bang, but lately he is doing some solo songs. Despite the fact I only understand a little Korean, I find his songs to be super catchy just like Lady Gaga’s songs.

This is probably because the main chorus of his songs are in English:
“Yes sir, I’m one of a kind” ”
“Get your cray on! Get your cray on!”

I have told some of my  students that I am going to see him and their typical response( from the girl’s at least) is: “”**GASP**  LET’S GO TOGETHER!!”

I think it’s gonna be an epic concert!

I leave you with my favorite song by G-D and also my #1 song to sing in the norebang (Karaoke room): CRAYON

Day 76: I like you

Last week I read a Cracked.com article discussing the 5 major Virtues of Mr. Fred Rogers (from Mr. Roger’s neighborhood).

I can’t tell you how many hours I spent watching that show when I was younger. Actually, I’m not gonna lie,  reading the article and watching the video clips made me tear up. Mr. Rogers definitely made a huge impact on me, even though the effect of his show is very subconscious.

In his award acceptance speeches Mr. Rogers asked people to take 10 seconds and think about the people who have helped them become the person they are today. Although many people have crossed my mind, too many to name, some of the first people I thought about are the people I have met in South Korea.

Moving to a new country was TERRIFYING. I spent the whole 13+ hour flight to Korea sick to my stomach, feeling like I had made a horrible life mistake. But once I got here, I calmed down and realized that Korea is really awesome. I love my new life here.

A large part of that has to do with the people I have met, both other foreigners and Koreans. Most of the other foreigners I have met here are not only super friendly, but also, like me, they  are willing to go off on random adventures at any place and at any time.  I also love how most of the people here have such a positive outlook on life! It’s hard for me to talk to people/ be friends with people who  are constantly serious and/or negative because they suck the joy & fun out of everything.

My favorite types of people are the ones who are ready to laugh at anything (even about crummy situations) and I feel that this describes many the foreigners friends I have made here.

Living in Korea I interact with Koreans all day. I have to say that as a whole my experiences with the Korean people has been extremely positive. I find that most Koreans are very kind and friendly, ranging from the students who yell “Teacher, I love you” down the hallway at me (those crazy middle school kids!!), to  the Korean friends I have made, and to the random strangers on the street.

Case in point: Last week it was drizzling and I didn’t have an umbrella. I decided to just tough it out in the rain during my 5 minute walk home from the bus stop to my apartment. As I was waiting on the sidewalk for the light to change so I could cross a busy street, a random Korean woman walked up to me and held her umbrella over my head.

I insisted in Korean I was okay, but she insisted emphatically that I stay under her umbrella. We talked for a few minutes (with my broken Korean) and then we crossed the road together before going our separate directions.

Since Korea is not as ethnically diverse as the US and other countries, non-Koreans really stand out. I feel that many Koreans will go out of their way to try to talk to foreigners and to show kindness that I have not often experienced in America. Of course, there are some things that Koreans do that I find rude (like shoving you in a crowd and not apologizing @__@; coughing/sneezing with their mouth open, etc.) but in general, I find Koreans very helpful and nice.

All in all, I feel really lucky to have met so many awesome students, teachers, friends, and strangers, who  really go above and beyond to try to help me and show kindness to me just because they can, not because they are obligated to.

For them and for all the other people  out there who have offered a friendly smile to me I say “Thank you. I like you. I appreciate you. You make me happy when skies are gray.**”


*Nod to the rainy weather that night.

I just love this.

Day 62: Sarah Kay meets Sarah Kay

While I find it annoying that there are so many Sarahs running around in the world, I find it amusing that there is another Sarah Kay in the USA. (hey, it rhymes!)

People like to call me Sarah K to distinguish me from all the other Sarahs they know. Somehow this has evolved to my friends writing my name as Sarah Kay which is more fashionable than just the “K”.

So when Megan Mc sent this TED Talk to me, I was prepared for awesomeness since the speaker is named Sarah Kay after all.

I was blown away. I think Sarah Kay is a great poet (the speaker, not me; I am terrible at writing poetry) and I love how she makes every word count. She has a powerful and compelling voice, and I only hope that one day I could be 1/10 as engaging as her when I give presentations and talk to people.

I love the idea of having a poet “perform” the poem in order to convey the deeper meaning than a reader could get just by simply reading the words of a poem.

Watching this TED Talk reminded of something my playwriting teacher at UMW, Mark Scharf, told me in class once: “There’s nothing like seeing a performance live with the actors right in front of you.”**

This is exactly how I feel about spoken poetry because with the rate of how fast or slow the performer talks, the intonation they use, not to mention the hand gestures they make, affects how the audience reacts to a word, a line, or even the whole poem in itself.

Sarah Kay mentioned that one of her activities she often asks her students to do is to list 10 things that they know to be true. They aren’t supposed to think too hard about it. They should just write the first things that pop in their head.

Here is what I ended up with:

1) I am American.

2) I am a girl.

3) I like photography and singing.

I just love this.
4) I like being a foreigner in Korea sometimes. Makes me feel special, like a unicorn.

5) I hate being a foreigner in Korea sometimes. I don’t like the attention.

6) I want to be a writer, but I don’t know if I am trying hard enough.

7) The beach makes me so happy I could cry.

I love this movie
8 ) People who like winter are crazy!!

9) My tongue trips and stumbles over words much like my feet over anything on the ground.

10) I think hugs are the best thing in the world.

Although too much of this kind of hugging might kill you

I find it interesting that all of what I wrote started with “I” or at least had to deal with me, myself and I. I suppose that I find it a lot easier to find truth in what I believe about myself, than is for me to make statements about other people or the world.

I have asked 10 people now (and counting) to tell me 3 statements they believe to be true because not only is it a great conversation starter, but I am generally curious what other people would list.

The most recent person I asked was my friend Gigi. Her list of 3 things she knows is true:
1) The sky is blue.
2) The road is hard
3) The store has a glass window.

Her statements had nothing to do with herself, but rather the external world around her. As for the other people I have talked with, their statements tend to range from all about themselves [the narcissistic lot, haha] to the people who only talk about environmental things.

All in all, spoken poetry is a topic I want to explore more as a listener and maybe a poet myself.  I am happy my re-introduction to this kind of performance art came from such a talented person as Sarah Kay.

**I am paraphrasing Scharf’s words since he told my class this in 2008 so my memory of his exact words is a little on the fuzzy side.

Day 60: The Koreans probably thought I was strange.

This afternoon you could find me in the Homeplus supermarket surreptitiously trying to smell rolls of toilet paper through the plastic bag holding them together. I felt like a  giant weirdo and kept glancing over my shoulder to see if anyone was staring at the oddball foreigner.

Before you think I am a complete nut, let me give some back story.

Wednesday Night: Cashi’s apartment.

I come over to Cashi’s apartment for dinner and before I can get in more than a casual greeting, Cashi says, “You need to smell my toliet paper.”


Um. What?

“Smell it! It is the worst smell ever! Smells worse than poop.”


I sniff the roll she is holding in her hand. “UGH! What is that?”  The smell is so awful, like some kind of mix of artificial flowers and, as Cashi puts it, “Cheap perfume gone wrong.”

Cashi looks annoyed. “I spent 13,000 won (about $12 USD) on this pack of 36 rolls of toilet paper. I didn’t realized it was the scented kind! But who would want this scent! It’s disgusting. You don’t happen to want it, do you?”

“Well, after you’ve said that, let me think about it…. Nope!”

Later Cashi drags me to the little grocery store by her house and together we try to smell the toilet paper through the plastic. We know that we look like complete weirdos. However, since it is too much of an effort to translate every Korean word on the packaging to determine if a pack is scented or not,  we attempt the sniff test. We find a pack that seems all right and a decent price so she buys it.

It is a success! Cashi leaves the offending toilet paper package outside her apartment building  at night and the next morning it is gone, probably picked up by an Ajumma. (An Ajumma is an older Korean lady. See here for more details about ajummas.)

Flashforward to today. A bit earlier into my shopping adventure, while I was comparing brands of contact Lens Solution, I hear  voices near me chant in unison “(??????) An-nyung-ha-shim-ni-kka”  which is a polite form of Hello in Korean. I turn around to see 10 store employees all bowing to me.

I bob/duck my head into what I suppose you can take as an awkward bow (I never know how to bow properly) and then I  watch as they parade down the store greeting more customers.

Only in Korea would you have 10 store employees going around greeting you as you meander through the store.

When I finally made my way over to the toilet paper section and attempted  the sniff test  I felt awkward.  I didn’t see the brand my friend bought and couldn’t remember the brand I bought when I first moved here. Would the 10 employees suddenly pop out of nowhere and greet me again?  How strange do people  think I am trying to smell toilet paper through the plastic bag?

I felt eyes boring into the back of my head. Never in my life have I experienced such anxiety trying to buy this product. I gave up my “subtle” sniff test and decided on a brand based on the fact there is no flowers to be seen on the packaging.

Later, when I got home I opened the package with trepidation.

Yes! Normal, unscented toilet paper!