Second Dan Test

Whew! It’s over! And it was so short, all done by 5:30. They got 300 people through that quickly.

On the one hand, I want to write a very detailed post. On the other hand, it was much like last year, so a blow-by-blow isn’t really necessary.

A few things were quite different this year. We only had eleven people testing, and two Sabumnims helping, which made it much less confusing than last year. Unlike last year, Master didn’t have me go down with everyone else for the opening ceremony, which I appreciated.

Last year they gave me no problems over my residency card. This year they wanted me residency card, my passport…one official started asking me detailed questions in really formal Korean (not just formal verb ending, but honorific words) and I was so confused. Master came over just in the nick of time.

I got there earlier than anyone else, and after I changed, I headed outside to start practicing. I didn’t even see Sabumnim the Man until he grabbed my arm. As we were walking outside, some kids said “oooh! Waygookin! Hi!”

Sabumnim the Man had not been introduced to my movie-starness and laughed. I nodded, “I am a movie star,” I said.


I was nervous this year, but not as nervous as last year since I knew what to expect. I kept telling Officer, “I just want it to be over.”

Nervous Smile

Right before we got called down, Officer and Sabumnim the Man were working with us. I think I’m going to get along with Sabumnim the Man… Next week I’m going to tell Master that we should have soju with Sabumnim the Man because then we’ll all be friends. Still, I made a major error in Chil Jang—and didn’t notice it. Sabumnim the Man pulled me aside and told me to do it again. When I realized I hadn’t known I’d made a mistake, I started to worry.

Officer and Me

The girl I sparred last year—11 years younger, a full head shorter (I was really leaning over!), and at least 20 kilos lighter than I—was there. She was so excited when she saw me she jumped on me from behind and yelled, “AMANDA!” Master just laughed.

Sparring Buddy and Me

You can probably tell that my smile looks more genuine here. It was a bit strange…as soon as I signed in, my nervousness mostly disappeared. The longer we waited, the more calm I felt. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt…zen. But today was as near as I’ve ever gotten. I was very calm. I just kept thinking, “I know this stuff. I can do it.”


We got called up for poomse first. I watched the people testing for Il Dan, thinking, “OK, the next move is…and then…and then…” Unfortunately, number 6 made hash of his form. He was very nervous. I felt for him.

While we were waiting, my sparring partner was freaking out over how nervous and scared she was. I just kept teasing her. “이기겠어요! 죽이겠어요!” I will win. I will kill you! I was trying to make her laugh, and it worked.

When they called us to stand up, I emotionally felt very calm. But as soon as I stood up, I could feel my heart thumping in my ribcage. It was odd. Usually when I’m nervous, my heart beats very fast, and it’s high in my chest. This time it was lower in my chest, slower, deeper. I’ve never felt that before.

Six people were testing for I Dan, and they had us split into a groups of two and four. I was number three. I stood there, faced the judges, and thought, “이기겠어.” Yes, I thought I will win in Korean.

We were called to do Oh Jang and I did my best. No mistakes, and I went slow, at my own pace. A major problem with tests and tourneys for me has been that I’ve rushed. This time I went very slow, aiming for very controlled movements.

They called Koryeo and again, I went slow, at my own pace, as even as possible.

During both forms I had to show very good control because my foot came an inch or so from Sparring Partner’s head. During both forms I also kept eye control exactly as Master said. I didn’t let myself pay attention to what anyone else was doing, I looked where I was supposed to, and when I was facing the judges, I looked at them. I saw both of them looking at me each time.

After the forms ended, I still looked right at the judges. Normally direct eye contact with a superior in Korea is rude. But I wasn’t going to fidget, look nervous, look down…nothing. I was going to look confident. I certainly wasn’t going to break eye contact if the form didn’t require it!

I think the eye contact and slowness of my form may be why they gave me a poomse certificate and medal. The funny thing was, they just nodded, but I didn’t know whom there were nodding at, so I didn’t move until they called my number. I ran up to the desk, told them my name, thanked them.

Last year I said I thought I got the sparring certificate because I was white, but this year, I actually feel like I did do my poomse well. It was a nice feeling.

Then we sparred. This year Sparring Partner did much better than last year. Neither of us got certificates, though after we were completely done, they told Sparring Partner she would also get a certificate (no medal) for poomse. She was excited, she kept grabbing me.

Bowing After Receiving Certificates and Medals

Poor Officer…she was taking pictures and not having good luck. She apologized after the test because her photos are out of focus. But I know how my camera works, with movement, it’s hard to track someone quickly. I’m not upset with her.


Since we were one of the last groups to test, everyone was basically gone when we were done. I walked out with Master, Officer, Sabumnim the Man and two studiomates. I thanked all three of them, bowed out, and headed home. No dinner with them tonight (last time we had lunch together), because I’m headed out of town this weekend.

I am relieved that the test is over, but more than that, I’m proud of myself. Not so much for earning a certificate and medal, but for sticking with this one activity. For sticking with taekwondo and Master and the studio through all of the good and bad that has happened to me in Korea. I am proud that I was able to earn a certificate and medal on the behalf of my studio and my teachers because they have made my life so wonderful here, even when everything was falling apart around me.

I am a bit sad that it’s over since it’s quite possibly the last big taekwondo thing (test, demo, tourney) that I will do in Korea. I got teary on the subway ride home. It feels like the end, almost.

But it’s not.

I’ll continue taekwondo, I’ll continue studying Korean, I expect to come back to Korea one day.

“Ramyeon Was Very Precious…” and “Amanda, You Pass.”

“Good Man, can you cook? Or does your mom cook everything?”

“I can cook ramyeon.”

I giggled. “The food of college boys. Ramyeon and grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“In the military, we had to sneak food. We ate ramyeon.”

I was confused, “Didn’t you eat at normal times?”

“US Army, Korean Army, different. My job was very hard and I was always busy, so no, we didn’t always eat. But we would eat ramyeon, but we had to sneak it, so we would make a hole.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. He was telling this story so seriously, and I just kept thinking of his “hiding in my army hat” text message, so I was imagining him cooking ramyeon in his helmet. “What?”

“Yeah. We would make a tiny hole in the packet, put the hot water in it. Wait. Then eat.”

I remembered my friend Mark’s story about cooking ramyeon in a hostel in Europe by running hot water over it in the sink. I told that to Good Man and he said very seriously, “We didn’t make much money, and we had to sneak around. Ramyeon was very precious.”

“Amanda, Pass.”

I went to tonight’s class, which was extremely short. I warmed up with 400 turns of the jump rope and some light stretching, then started practicing forms. After 20 mins or so, Master and our new Sabumnim (who shall be Sabumnim the Third or Sabumnim the Man, I’m not sure yet) came in.

Turns out I’m the only one in my class testing. I believe that was the case last year, too. In fact, many names have been wiped off the white board. Yesterday Master told me that many students visited their grandparents over their school vacation and thus haven’t been practicing.

Master called me to the front and had me do Koryeo with and without count. Then he had me do some other forms: Sa Jang, Yuk Jang, Chil Jang, Pal Jang. Pal Jang and Yuk Jang are fine, I adore Chil Jang (it was my random form last year), but Sa Jang caused me to wrinkle my nose and look at him. He laughed, because he knew what I was thinking.

Main point: Master said there are two methods of kicking. Sparring method is a quick snap, while poomse method is to hold the leg fully extended for a moment before returning. He said I am right between both methods and to hold the leg for a second longer before returning. He also said to go for slightly lower kicked with stronger form rather than a sort of whipping kicking motion.

Koryeo: On the return, end with hand in front of face, pause, then move to neck and sweep across body. I wasn’t pausing in front of face. Also during elbow strike, palm needs to be flat against fist.

Pal Jang: No comment.

Chil Jang and Yuk Jang: Kicking comment.

Sa Jang: Apseogi, then apkubi!

Master then asked if I wanted to spar. He said he didn’t think I needed it. I said, “I don’t want to. But I need to.”

Master grinned and called Goalie’s Brother up to spar. His only advice was “do like always, Amanda Style.”

Master told me to meet him at the testing location at 2:20 tomorrow. He said to bring my ARC and passport, even though we don’t think that I’ll need the passport this time. He told me to run through each form once, then mentally several times. “Amanda, you pass, OK!” I laughed and he said, “I…everyday, OK! I think, always, OK!”


It’s 5:23 am 따르릉 따르릉

And He Is Korean?

Yesterday at work, one of my coworkers asked me if men in America help with housework. “They do more than they do here, but women still do most of the work,” I said.

“Does your boyfriend clean anything?”

“Yes, he does the dishes, and he’s good at cleaning.” I nodded.

The women all gasped. One said, “And he is Korean?”

I nodded, “Yes. If he doesn’t do the dishes, I don’t cook. I can’t! No clean dishes…”

One woman laughed, “But we have children. They must eat…”

I was trying to be polite. Rather than explain that I had chores as a kid (chores which included doing the dishes), rather than saying a man is not a child and he doesn’t need to eat, I winked. “I don’t have kids.”

따르릉 따르릉

I went to bed around midnight last night. I ran through my black belt form, pal jang, and chil jang mentally before falling asleep. This should’ve given me a good seven hours of sleep.

At 5:23 am my phone rang. 따르릉 따르릉. It was Good Man. “I’m outside your house. I’m going to open the door.” He didn’t sound drunk. What the…?

I opened the bar bolt and let him in. “What in the world are you doing? Did you have a wayshik? Or were you working?”

“No, not a wayshik. At 10 my job made me go down to Ansan. I just got back.”

This means he worked a 20 hour day. Oh, but after 10 pm he sort of gets overtime. Overtime at a rate which is less than his normal salary. And only for the 7 hours after 10 pm. Although I’m sure they’ll claim that the transportation time to and from Ansan wasn’t work, so let’s cut that down to 5 hours. Wait, but these are Koreans in the accounting office, so let’s make it 4 hours. And the overtime he worked before 10 pm? No. Nothing.

Had he actually gone home (at 5:23 the subways may have just started running), he would’ve changed clothes, turned right back around, and still been late for work.

As it is, the lucky man got about 3 hours of sleep last night.

He showered and crawled into bed. “I hate your job,” I said. “Let’s go to America.”

“OK,” he said sleepily.


“OK, I will become a refugee.”

He started snoring and I was stuck awake. I started mentally doing form. Chil jang, yuk jang… and I was asleep.


Tonight I got to taekwondo and saw…Cocky! I was so excited I couldn’t even speak Korean. “오래만이예요! 많아요. 음! 뭐 하고 있었어?” He laughed. He’s been working a part-time job. He’s not going to college this year. He’s going into the military. I suspect he’s starting his military service early (in May) because his grades were not fantastic in school. However, a while ago he wanted to be a security guard for rich and famous people, so maybe that’s changed to some sort of military career.

Officer taught half of class. While I was warming up, we chatted. She didn’t know that I know she’s leaving. She told me Friday is her last day, and she’s a bit nervous about starting her police officer classes. I told her I was nervous about Friday.

We did running drills and I had a contest with an elementary school aged boy next to me. He’s fairly new to our class period, but sweet. I think he has a little crush on me and we were racing while I yelled 이기겠어! I will win! I let him win by one or two steps. Most of the time.

Master came for the second half of class. “관장님…금요일…조금 긴장해요.” Master…Friday…I’m a little nervous.

“좋아요.” Good.

I laughed and asked why. He said that he wants us to be a little nervous because it makes us practice more. I decided to try using a grammar pattern I hate using, and a grammar pattern I just learned this week. “작년 이년보다 긴장했어요. 하지만…지금 긴자해요!” I was more nervous last year than this year. Then, to reassure him that I wasn’t getting cocky, But I’m a little nervous!

He laughed and asked why I was more nervous last year. “어떻게 하는지 몰랐어요. 하지만 이년 어떻게 하는지 알아요.” I didn’t know what would happen. But this year, I know.* Master nodded and said we would have a test one day this week. “Maybe today,” he said.

While Master did kicking drills with the non-testing students, I did poomse with the drilling students. Master told me to count off, which I did. I don’t know why it’s hard to do the forms well and keep count in Korean, but it is. I think I repeated “8…9…10…” a few times.

Crybaby usually counts off, and she seemed pissed that I was doing it. But Crybaby is lazy and wants to rest too often and counts in a quiet, whiny, “I don’t want to be here” voice. She is great at taekwondo, but she doesn’t always want to be there. I know the feeling, but I’m an adult, so I am better able to hide it, especially when put in charge of children. When Amanda Eonni started wandering off and her little brother started getting ants in his pants, a hissed, “don’t do that!” and they stopped. Crybaby is too close to their age to do that.

A little over halfway through, Crush Boy had to leave. He told Master then came back to me and said, “Bye, Amanda,” with a little wave. Then he sort of looked confused and started to bow. Then he looked perplexed and started to salute out like we do for Officer and Master. I could see him thinking, “She’s older…but she’s foreign…and she’s teaching, but she’s not a teacher and we don’t usually salute out higher belts, but she really is a teacher and…” To end his confusion, I patted him on the back and nodded a little bow to him.

I have a feeling that little “Amanda, count, OK?” bit from Master was part of my pre-test pre-test…

*Good Man says “이번 년” is better than “이년” but it is even better to say “올해 because 이번 년 is sort of weird” and sounds like a swear word.

火山: Beautiful

Long, long ago, I learned that 화 (火) means “fire.”

I am currently reading The Little Prince. This book is much too hard for me in Korean, so I’m reading a few chapters in English first, then a few in Korean. It’s the perfect thing to read while standing on the subway, because the chapters are so short.

The word for “volcano” is 화산. I read that and thought…화? 화가 나다? 화를 내다? Anger? To get angry? To express one’s anger? 화산…angry mountain?

This sent me off on a little dictionary exploration. When I got my electronic dictionary, I thought I’d never use the Hanja dictionary. I was so wrong.

I had completely forgotten about 화요일 meaning “fire day.” Turns out that “wrath, anger, passion” and “fire” use the same Hanja, 火!

Hence, 화산 (火山) means “fire mountain” but uses the same Hanja that “angry mountain” would. Were a mountain to get angry, mind you.

Fire mountain. That’s just plain beautiful.

I then found 화 (火) in my Handbook of Korean Vocabulary.

Of particular note:
Mars (화성, 火星, lit. “fire star”)
vexation, irritation (성화, 成火, lit. “make anger”)
let go of anger (화풀다, a blend of Sino and pure Korean, 火-solve)
gunpowder (화약, 火藥, lit. “fire/anger medicine”)

Fire/anger…medicine? Wow.

And in the course of a few minutes—not for the first time—I’ve fallen in love with this language again.

Do We Have Tuna Tickets?

Good Man and I are speaking Korean as much as possible today. He was hungry, so I made him a tuna fish sandwich.

A few minutes later, we were talking about taking a weekend trip.

“참치 표 있어?” I said. Do we have the tuna tickets?

“뭐?” What?

I realized my mistake and laughed. “기차 표 있어?” Do we have the train tickets?

“참치 기차?” he teased. Tuna train?

That’s up there with my beef vacuum cleaner mistake. I don’t know where these things come from. I just open up my mouth and out they tumble.

Chasing Young Men Around

A few days ago, I was taking photos of something when two young guys ran past and sneaked behind someone’s gate. Turns out they were some of my studiomates, as we were all on our way to class. I walked to class while they ran, jumped, darted about. Eventually, a third studiomate joined them.







All photos were adjusted and given the “direct positive” treatment in Lightroom. “Jumping” and “Twirling” are out of focus because he was so darn close to the lens. “Climbing” is out of focus because they were moving. Still, sometimes a blurry photo works.


I wasn’t feeling well, so I accidentally napped through tonight’s class ㅠㅠ, but I talked to Master last night about next week’s second dan black belt test. We’ll meet at the studio at noon, and the test is at three. Since it’s on a Friday, none of my friends can come. It’s a bit weird to me that I’ve tested for belt after belt in South Korea and nobody outside of the studio has seen it. On the one hand, I wish my family (and Good Man) could have seen one or both of the black belt tests. On the other hand, it’s sort of fitting that nobody’s really seen it. So much of my life in South Korea has been about discovering how independent I can be.

Next week Master will test me on the forms and my kicking. I nodded. I am not nearly as nervous this year as I was last year. I was so afraid of being spoken to in Korean by strangers, of going to the wrong place at the wrong time. Since I know what to expect this year, I’m not as afraid. It’s not cockiness…it’s that the fear of the unknown has been largely stripped away.

Last night’s class was good. While the non-testing boys worked on kicking drills, those of us testing worked on poomse for a bit. I was working with Amanda Eonni while she was working on chil jang. When it came time to turn from the scissors block into grabbing the opponent’s shoulders, her hands were way up in the hair, like straight above her.

I lowered her hands. “어깨.” Shoulders. I didn’t know how to say “invisible person,” so I did the best I could. “사람 안 보여?” You can’t see the person? She laughed and corrected herself.

On the backfist strike part she was creating a huge arc over her head, an exaggerated version of the hammer fist that starts of oh jang. I corrected her form. Multiple times. When she finally understood, she gave me a huge hug.

When did she get so tall?

When I started at the studio, only one or two boys were taller than me. Now almost all of the high school boys are taller than me. The elementary school students have shot up like weeds. When I first started training, Master’s Daughter never spoke to me, and Master’s Son couldn’t walk. Now they run out into the living room together when they hear my voice, his daughter and son yelling, “아만다아아아아!”

In my 19 months here in South Korea, the only constant thing has been this studio. The students have changed over time, some of my favorites I haven’t seen in months (Powerful! Cocky! Blue, and my little brother Ghost!), there are new ones I’ve grown to adore. But Master’s family I’ve only grown closer to. I am really going to miss it—them—when I leave in less than 4 months.

Coffee Shop Studying: Lesbians and Pimps

Sunday Good Man and I met in Gangnam to see Across the Universe. It was enjoyable, though some of the songs got a little too psychedelic for my tastes. I really liked “With a Little Help from my Friends” and “I Want You.”

After the movie, we got some coffee at Seven Monkeys. I dig the Seven Monkeys chain. Very comfortable. However, I tried ordering our coffee and the woman just stared at me. Considering that excepting “and” every single word coming out of my mouth was Konglishalian—Ca-pe A-mer-i-ca-nuh, choc-o-la-tuh lat-teh, cho-o-la-tuh mou-sah—I couldn’t figure out why the woman couldn’t understand me. Especially since she did when Good Man opened his mouth and repeated what I said.

Good Man said she just wasn’t listening. Still, it’s so annoying that Koreans choose not to understand me just because I’m not Korean. I know people think I’m overestimating my abilities, but I’m not. When I’m with Good Man, and I speak Korean, I get more blank stares than when I’m not with him. “White girl with Korean guy, she must not speak Korean.”

So frustrating.

Anyhow, Good Man helped me with my lessons while we took pictures of each other. I had to heavily crop his photos because while my camera doesn’t have face recognition, it apparently has straight-down-the-V-neck bust recognition.

Good Man




서각 한국어 2B, 6과


Good Man

Good Boots


And in traditional fashion, I veered from the book. I will let you guess where I went off track.

리사: 유미 씨가 다음달에 결혼한하고 들었어요. I heard Yumi is getting married next month.

폴: 네, 저도 들었어요. Yes, I heard that, too.

리사: 누구하고 결혼하는지 아세요? Do you know whom she’s marrying?

폴: 네, 회사 동료하고 결혼해요. Yes, she will marry a business coworker.

리사: 유미 씨는 정말 좋으시겠어요. Yumi must be very happy.

폴: 아니요. 유미 씨가 레스비엔이에요. 하지만 결혼 해야해요. No. Yumi is a lesbian. But she must get married.

Another dialogue had a man congratulating another man (probably Lesbian Yumi’s new husband) for getting married. In Korea it’s traditional for someone to treat their friends when something good happens to them (the treater, not the friends). So the bridegroom says, “I’ll take you out to dinner. It will be my treat.”

While we were walking back to the subway station, I said, “Hey, [Good Man], how do you say ‘pimp’ in Korean?”

Good Man shook his head. “I’m not teaching you bad words.”

“I need to know ‘pimp.’ You promised, when we met, that dating you would be good for my Korean.”

Good Man shook his head. “포주.” Poju.

“제가 한턱 낼게요.” It’s my treat, I started. “왜냐하면 노래방 도우미 포주가 됐어요. 하지만, 약혼…자?” I didn’t know the word for fiancée.


“OK. 왜냐하면 노래방 도우미 포주가 됐어요. 지금 부자예요! 하지만, 약혼녀가 몰라요. 쉬! OK?”

Good Man was shaking his head and giggling, “응.”

It’s my treat. I have become a singing-room-girl pimp. Now I am a rich man. But my fiancée doesn’t know. Shhh!

If You’ll Let Me

We spent the day wrapped in each other’s air. Each other’s space. Now you’ve pulled on your jacket. I am only wearing one shoe, a purple Converse sneaker. I am not ready.

I tug on your jacket hood, pout just a bit. “가고 싶지 않아…” I know you have to go, I know we’ll meet tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. In that moment I admit, I don’t want you to go.

“You’re like a cute little devil,” you grin, hands touching my cheeks.

I think, I will be your shoulder angel, and your shoulder devil, if you’ll let me.

You stand in the doorway while I slip on my second shoe. You’re holding the door open for me to join you, walk you to the subway station. The cold air hits my face. I catch sight of your eyes—how you’re looking at me. In that moment I know, You’ll let me.

Post Office Misadventures (Read: A Very Late New Year’s Message)

Now that everyone has (finally! Virginia!) received their 13 cards, I can write about what I did for the holidays.

I hate Christmas letters with a deep passion. But I know most of my family and friends don’t read my website. Also, I have tons and tons of photos.

So I took two ideas from Photojojo and make a sort of year in review. I brainstormed what I did in each month and either found or took new photos to match the idea. I then learned to love Lightroom and GIMP as I figured out how to add text, do Gaussian blurs, shear, adjust horizons, work with layers, and so on and so forth.

I printed up thirteen photos for ten people each, using a Korean photo website, Zzixx. I decided I would send the photos in a random order excepting the very last one, just to keep people guessing a bit. There were two different versions of the last one, just for fun. It worked for a while, at least, as several people thought the first card was just an announcement about earning my black belt.













Last Card Version I

Last Card Version II

The real fun of the project though, came at the post office.

In December I got stuck at the post office for an hour, only to leave laughing.

I needed 130 stamps for 580 won each. First, the woman asked me three times if it was really 130. Yes. Then I said twice “I am only sending 8 today.”

“OK,” she said.

Then her computer froze.

After trying to do something to fix it, and 25 mins of waiting, the first clerk put me with another woman.

She then printed 130 of those stick-on metered stamped. She said, “You have to mail them all today.”

“할수없어요,” impossible I said.

“You must, you must..”

I finally said “안 돼요.” I don’t have permission. But it can also be used to mean, roughly, “nope, can’t do it.”

So then they had to refund 122 stamps of money. And they had to find real stamps to equal up to 122 stamps of 580 won each.

At this point I had two clerks trying to help me. Their boss then joined in. The Flighty First Woman kept telling the man it was 570 won. They had 18 different types of stamps spread all over the place, trying to do all the math.

After 15 mins of this, the man realizes the woman said 570 not 580.

“You said 570!” he yelled at her.

“No! No, I said 580!”

She was wrong, she very clearly said 570 four times.

So they were throwing stamps around, trying to add up sum up how many stamps it would take to get 122 envelopes done at 580 won each. They were yelling at each other.

Some Korean woman walked up to me, asked if I needed help in English. I said no, they were fine, it was just complicated and thanked her.

Finally I said, “OK, 오늘 이것 주세요. 그리고 다음 이나 다음 다음주 저는 다시 올거예요.” Today I will buy these. And next week or next next week, I will come back.

They apologized, but I said it was OK. It wasn’t their fault. They just didn’t have that many stamps. No problem.

I didn’t get all of the cards out before Christmas, and the post office was closed a few days over the new year. So I returned in early January. This time my postage price had suddenly gone up. Ah, but see, it really hadn’t, I was just confused because I was doing too many things at once.

So I ended up paying more money than I needed for postage. But then I got home and discovered that the woman gave me too many stamps. In the end, I ended up paying exactly what I needed to, plus/minus 2% perhaps.

Or something like that.

The feedback from this little project was great, everybody seemed to love it.