Stephanie’s 10 Commandments of Cosplay and Con-going

1. Thou shalt cover thy body enough so as to not embarrass small children. (This is not a beach.)

2. Thou shalt not have wings, weapons, hats, or any other props larger than thine own body.

3. Thou shalt not have wings wider than thine own shoulders. (And if you do, it’s on you if they get broken or busted walking around the con.)

4. Thou shalt not allow thy costume (cape, tail, or other) to trail/train more than 1cm behind you. (And if someone steps on it, it’s also on you if it gets ripped or torn off.)

5. THOU SHALT REMOVE ALL HATS, HALOS, BUNNY EARS, CAT EARS, OR OTHER HEAD GEAR WHILST IN PANELS.

6. Thou shalt not wear a costume made of cardboard, foam, or similar, significantly larger than thine own body. (Here’s looking at you, tardis turds!… and some Pokemon fans)

7. Thou shalt not incorporate loud music and speakers into thy costume.

8. Thou shalt not incessantly tap thy neighbor’s chair during panels.

9. Thou shalt not bash thy neighbor’s interest(s).

10. Thou shalt remember that Sunday is children’s day, and thou shalt deal with it.

NYCC ’13

I’ve gone to other cons, but, wow. New York, of course you’re the one to do things bigger, crazier, and louder. We bought a 4-day pass (no VIP- that’s like $400), and man, did we make use of it.

Thursday was fantastic. Thursday opened at 3:00(pm), and Thursday there were no panels, no signings. So what was so great about Thursday? The fact that there were so few people there. Only a couple thousand, probably. But in a crowd that gets to over 100 thousand, the showroom floor had plenty of stretching space on Thursday afternoon.
One of our party went and demo’d some video games, I went and found an artist that I was really excited to see at comic con (plug: Tyler Capps). After- and it took us awhile- we finished checking out the exhibitors, we headed over to Artists’ Alley, dwelling of, well, artists. I had told my fiancee no prints larger than 18×12, so to compensate for that, he bought 4. To be fair though, I bought 3. Hopefully we’ll have more wall space after the move.
At the other cons I had been to, Artists’ Alley was more of a place to be discovered, than to showcase your long-published skills, but NYCC was brimming with illustrators from Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Fantastic Four, and plenty more, both well-known and a bit more off the grid. Also unlicensed artists were floating around, like the second one I was seeking out (plug 2: Yale Stewart).
The other thing Thursday is apparently good for is getting interviewed for sites or blogs covering cosplay. The first person walked up, introduced herself, and really was sort of strange, and asked us if we were aliens. I’m still not sure if she meant us or our cosplay characters. The second man and camera man were much more normal. Go cosplaying. Turns out though that neither of the interviews got posted, shame.
Since we had also bought a fair amount of books, Thursday saw us trudging in costume back towards Penn from the Javits, loading our stuff on the train, and trudging back towards home, finally taking our weary, con-worn shoes off around 10pm.

Friday, now that’s when the real fun starts. You better plan your panels ahead, and then pick which ones are can’t-miss, because unless you stay in the same room all day (which one of our number did), you’ll probably only make 5 panels all day- IF you’re lucky. But we picked our panels, and once we were let into the con, headed off toot sweet to wait in another line for an hour for the first panel to open. (NYCC, awesome as it is, is also very much a hurry-up-and-wait game.)

Saturday was a day of more panels, and Sunday was a whole wonderful mix of panels, picking up merch, swag, or prints that we had to think on, and children’s day, when kids under 12 can come for free.

Awesome panels that I went to included: Walking Dead 10th anniversary (comic books), Chew, Mouse Guard, Spider-Man, and Legend of Korra (awesome sneak previews!) All in all, I can’t wait for next year!

America’s Canyon of Grand Proportions

Off I am again! Or I should say ‘we’ this time. Somewhat sadly, now that I have a life outside of work (and NOTHING ELSE around for miles), there have been fewer short adventures. However, I set one condition before I came out to the American desert: Caleb had to take me to the Grand Canyon before we left.

When we sat down to plan, we decided to break up the ~9h drive on the way there into two days, so after many many miles of sparse elevation shrubbery, we pulled into Springerville around 7:30pm Arizona time. And my hat’s off to Arizona for putting its foot down on daylight savings time. We’d found a small-looking America’s Best Value Inn for $60 a night, and upon arrival, the naming actually isn’t too far off. Definitely very off-the-highway-motel-ish, it was clean, well-lit, and my only complaint was that the floor right in the middle squeaked a bit. Although I did get nervous when the bathtub/shower floor also started squeaking. (Thankfully, I didn’t fall through and lived to tell this tale.)
We were making pretty good time on the way, so we decided to stop when we ran across the Petrified National Forest. Spent a couple hours looking at some decidedly cool trees-turned-stone, and hit the road again. Finally, we checked in at Red Feather Lodge just outside the national park’s South Rim entrance. The hotel was alright except for some water-pressure issues, and the entire ‘town’ of Tusayan (if one could call it a town- and I’ve been to some pretty small towns) was about two blocks, comprised of a couple hotels, one EXTREMELY over-priced gas station, a general store, restaurants, and a couple trinket shops. As for the town, I would very much recommend Plaza Bonita (awesome mexican food) and We Cook Pizza and Pasta. And yes, that is the name of their restaurant. But that’s alright, cause they cook pizza and pasta REALLY well.
In the park, things were just as over-priced as in town, and although the food was good, don’t expect too much when going to any of the lodge restaurants. We had breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge the first morning and it was exactly what I expected- overpriced, cafeteria-quality, but tasty enough that I wasn’t about to complain. Another thing about the whole park in general- you cannot buy bottled water. Which I think is brilliant. They have fill-up stations all over the place on the rim; on trails… it depends on the trail. Point: bring your own water bottle or Camelbak. Or buy an overpriced souvenir one at the park.
The first day we were there we hiked about a quarter of the Rim Trail, checking out all the ‘best’ overlooks of the canyon, and got to the end (Hermit’s Rest) about 10 minutes before a light sprinkle quickly turned into a pouring mess. Thankfully, we made it on the first shuttle to come by. Others were not so lucky….
(By the way, the park has an excellent shuttle system- we left the car at the hotel basically the whole time and walked wherever in the ‘town’, and shuttled to and within the park.)
For our big day, due to the rain on Wednesday, we nixed our big Rim-to-River-and-Back, and decided to go a fair way down the Bright Angel Trail and back (according to the website, it seemed to be the ‘easiest’ trail, apart from the Rim Trail), and our final day, Friday, we would (not) go down South Kaibab Trail and back. Bright Angel Trail is the ‘easiest’ because it has frequent rest shelters and potable water.
In case you don’t want to click the link, from Bright Angel trailhead to Plateau Point is a total of 12.2 miles (19.6 km) in trail (roundtrip), and 3120 ft (951 m) in elevation change, down and back up again. That website says it’s only 12 miles, but a handy sign down at Indian Garden (a campsite and the last rest area before Plateau Point) told us otherwise. We started at 6:05 in the morning, just after sunrise, managed to avoid most of the sun and the rain, and made it back to the rim at 3:36pm. I went through about 5L of water (they say plan for a liter every 1-2 hours of hiking, depending on the weather and your own physical condition).
After we recuperated somewhat, on Friday, we walked the Trail of Time, starting at the Hopi House and Verkamp’s Studio (by the Train Depot shuttle stop) to the Yavapai Geology Museum. The trail of time was pretty neat, since it was easy (sore legs), and along the way they have chunks of rock that you can see up close and touch from all the different layers, according to how ‘old’ they are. Plus, this trail (and much of the Rim Trail, though not all) is wheelchair-friendly. Sadly, for (accurate) fear of rain, and our poor poor legs, we did not hike South Kaibab Trail at all.
Saturday morning we got up, had breakfast at Plaza Bonita (another by the way- our hotel key doubled as an advert for 10% off at Plaza Bonita and the smaller trading post next door), got in the car, and drove the 9 hours straight home!

Carlsbad Caverns (back in America)

Obligatory no-I’m-not-dead paragraph: Sorry to those that follow this blog in any respect. In the last few months, I’ve returned to America from South Korea, and my life has only recently started calming down (more or less) again. I did take some trips, to Malaysia, Shanghai, a brief layover in Hong Kong, and again to the Philippines, and although I took notes, I can’t promise I’ll be writing up any of those trips.

But for now I can give a small introduction to the American West. Now, if you know your American geography (which most of us don’t anyway, so no worries), you’ll know that ‘midwest’ is about Pennsylvania, and California/Oregon/Washington is ‘west coast’, but not ‘west’. In my understanding, ‘west’ is that geographical region not bordering the Pacific, and not the east coast, but too deserty to be good for growing corn or wheat.

However, one thing that the west does have is caves. At least two, probably more. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located (surprise) just outside the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the southeast corner of the state. The National Park- at least the part I saw- was pretty great. Super kid-friendly, for sure (all park rangers I interacted with, regardless of the proximity of children, spoke to me as if I was still counting my years in halves).

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The cave has two public entrances, from what I understand: an elevator, and a long, winding, paved (the vast majority of the public cave has been made wheelchair-accessible) and hand-railed path that ‘takes about an hour to walk’. We decided to walk down- very long, very winding, and ever cooler as you descend. The caves themselves are really neat, to put it simply. The rangers there offer 4 (or 5?) different tours- the most accessible being the King’s Palace Tour, which is 90 minutes long, and we wound up in a group of at least 40 people. Nevertheless, the tour (although saturated with banter aimed at single-digit humans) was interesting, informative enough, and definitely showed off some of the nicer rooms in the caverns. This is not to say that the ‘big room’ (the ‘self-guided’ part, the public part of the cave) is not incredible- it most definitely is.

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After the tour, we wound up back in the ‘rest area’, complete with elevator access, souvenir kiosks (shirts, hoodies, various forms of flashlights), and a snack area (bottled drinks, cheap hot chocolate and coffee, and adequate sandwiches). Sustenance acquired, we made our way to the elevator only to discover a line we were unwilling to wait in. So we walked all the way back up. Only, for some (idiotic?) reason, we decided to haul caboose. Made better time going up and out than getting down- good exercise!

Every evening May-October, depending on the stars, park guests can attend the ‘bat flight’ program. That is, you sit in a stone amphitheater just outside the entrance of the cave (same one you walked in, unless you took the elevator), and watch a bunch of bats take flight at dusk. It’s free, mostly (I think) because the bats cannot be guaranteed, for obvious reasons. We had a full moon and even if the flight trickled out, it was still pretty fantastic, if you like bats. The rangers hosting are pretty strict about the rules, so if you go, don’t plan on having any electronics on, or cranky kids waiting for bed. Silent viewing only.

That about sums up the caverns, but I’d like to throw out a quick word about the actual town of Carlsbad. As lovely and hospitable and helpful as the caves and the staff were, Carlsbad the city is NOT. Don’t expect anything if you’re staying in town (which you probably will be, since as most things here, there’s nothing else nearby). The hotel was overpriced for what it offered (but apparently that also has to do with oil the city’s producing at the moment), and going to eat revealed some of either the laziest and/or most incompetent staff I’ve ever personally encountered (and I’ve encountered a lot of food service staff). That said, good luck with the town. But enjoy the caves!

Reflections of teaching and living in Korea- scheduling

Ah, my first day back at ‘work’. At my high school anyway. My dear old high school. It’s been almost a month away, and… what a glorious break that has been.

I’ve been doing my best (well, maybe not always my BEST) to focus on the things I’ll miss about Korea when I leave, while I’m still here. But it hit me this morning, as I watched my co-workers and officemates run around like crazy hyper little children, that I’ve been neglecting one aspect. Despite their best headless chicken impersonations, I’ll miss the laid-back attitude they have, culturally, when it comes to scheduling. I will really miss that. America doesn’t do too well with that attitude, I learned long ago.

When I first came and sat down in this fateful chair, I presumed that, of course there was a schedule, they just weren’t telling me. (Not on purpose, but, they’re busy, it’s translating work, I and my classes aren’t really important, so it’s a low priority.) But as I greeted my lovely co-teacher upon her arrival this morning, and 20 minutes later asked if the schedule would be ‘normal’, she replied ‘I don’t know.’ And it finally clicked that there really might not be a schedule yet. Even day of. Four minutes before my first class, if it was to exist, I got a mostly-comprehensive message summarizing the day’s schedule (it’s not the same).

And I realized- you know what? 4 minutes is PLENTY of time. Professionally speaking, I should already be prepared for whatever classes I suspected to have, and an additional ‘in-case’ class. Now, we won’t discuss if I had actually achieved that already (it’s debatable), but it hit me that I’m completely ok with that. Not only that, I often wished American schedules could be more similar. So what if schedules change in the last (literal) minute? Roll with it. I mean, if you’re performing a choreographed fight scene with edged weapons (first of all- why??), and someone changes that timing by mistake or a ‘why not?’ motive, and you lose an arm, ok, be upset. Those sort of plans should be more, well, planned. and adhered to. you know, ideally.

It’s another thing I liked about my last two jobs. I’d get 30 minutes notice (which, after Korea, feels like an eternity) that I was leaving early or had to come in unscheduled. Last 3 jobs, actually… Anyway.

The last mention I’d like to make of this, and the reason why I call it a part of Korean culture, and not just a habit of the academic workplace, is that this idea(l) is wholly applied to public transportation. And that realization hit me a couple months ago when I was going out to the boonies for a festival with a friend, and was asked a series of (very legitimate) questions- what time should we be at the bus terminal? what time will the bus leave? will we spend the night? if we do, where will we sleep? how will we get to where we will sleep? how long is the bus ride? what time will we leave to come back? etc. etc. My immediate and honest answer to all of those questions was a potently unperturbed, “dunno”. (followed shortly though, with a “we’ll find out when we get there.”)

And I gotta say, I love that about Korea.

Not gonna cry, not gonna cry!

As horrible as my 1-2 high school class is, some of my students are that awesome. In particular my 1-1 middle school class. That means (for the westerners) about 7th grade age. Still young enough to be super cute, but old enough to be real people (almost). The scroogiest scrooge would melt at these kids’ ” TEACHA!! Annyeeeooonnnggg!!! ^^ oh! =O haseyo! ^^’

Last week, my co-teacher informed me that the 1-1 would need to be given a speaking test before the end of the year, to be administered Tuesday, two days ago. However, I only see this homeroom once a week, and since Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, this week’s class was going to be my last ever with them. On the pretense of insisting a cultural Christmas class was of dire importance to their English comprehension (and giving back their speaking test scores), I requested an extra class. That request was granted, and I handed back their scores and we made Christmas cards.

If only it had been so simple. I walked in, and they went nuts and cheered- which would be more ego-stroking until one remembers that me there means no loon co-teacher. Then they started asking me if I would be here next year or move to a new school, and I told them I was going home. If not for the kid who asked me then, among all the wae’s and why’s, if I was from South Africa, that might have been when the first tear would have formed.

We did a quick eye-spy, a super-short review of Christmassy vocab, and then we made pop-up Christmas cards together. I made them do it step- by-step as a group until the coloring stage, and I was struck by just how awesome this homeroom is, especially when compared with so many of my other homerooms. The couple random kids skipping ahead, assuming the next steps, being caught, and giving me that sheepish look (and no sarcastic ‘ok ok, stupid teacher…’), the majority of them holding up their papers in front of them, trying to make sure they’re following my instructions as well as possible, completely invested in the moment.

The beginning the class was definitely the hardest, when they gave their outcry that I wouldn’t be coming back, but when the bell rang for lunch… and none of them moved an inch. Of course, I found out 10 minutes later into the lunch period, when a girl asked me to redeem her stamps for a prize, that none of them were particularly hungry since they’d pigged out on popcorn in science class which they’d had just before mine. But, you know, at the time, before I knew that, I almost cried.

I also got one of the Christmas cards from a girl who runs up to me every day, gives me a huge hug (well, huge for what a small person she still is), and says ‘I love you!’ and talks to me until she’s blue in the face about anything- her parents, her studying, how her grades are never good enough, how she always must study harder, how hagwon makes her tired.

The only reason I made it through class today, I know, is that my CT just surprised me with 3 days of winter class, two of which will be with this 1-1 homeroom. I am entirely ok with this, and plan to have super awesome fun with them.

The end of another period in life; I’m glad it’s coming to an end overall, for sure. But darn I will miss some of these kids.

Things I love about living in Korea

I’ve recently been feeling a bit down, in the sense of ‘oh my goodness get me OUT OF HERE NOW!’ kind of way. I’ve got two months to go, but I’m (very) tired of my high school students’ rude, obnoxious attitudes. I’ve also been fighting a cold for about two weeks on top of REM-deprivation. Thus, I decided it was time to sit down and write out a list of all the things that I really like or love about living in Korea. For the next 2-4 months, this is what I will be focusing on. During my flight home though? aaaalll the things that I can’t stand about being here! :D

Here we go:

  • cute little things from students like what I found on my desk this morning

bless their little hearts

  • futsal- I love playing futsal with the futsal gang. I’ve missed it the last 3 weeks due to said cold and a ‘business trip’, but futsal is great fun. also one of the few ways I can bribe myself into doing any running.
  • cafes- hot chocolates, mint hot chocolates, sweet potato lattes, pumpkin lattes, green tea lattes, the whole cafe vibe…. oh yes
  • the sunshine- it’s a lot sunnier here on average than back in New England, especially in the winter.
  • public transportation/not needing a car- no subways in my city, but the buses are frequent, and although packed quite often, generally cleaner than the buses I experienced in New York. It’s also believed to be a lot safer. I never had problems back home, but… well, it’s said to be safer. Also, cheaper. And, on time- here’s looking at YOU, Amtrak.
  • paycheck to expenses ratio- great, beautiful ratio
  • the internet- 5 gigs of movies in 20 minutes? yes please.
  • mandu- dumplings: tasty, easy, cheap, common.
  • sweet red bean paste- doughnuts, ‘fish’ bread (just in shape!), or the little waffle-iron bread, or the steamed buns… yummy
  • peppero, soon to be known as pocky again, and for 3x the price
  • mart chocolate (ghana bars! I will miss you!)
  • ondol- LOVELY floor heating. when it’s really cold in winter, just turn the ondol on, grab a thin blanket and snuggle up on the floor
  • goguma everything- sweet potato lattes (as stated), various forms of sweet potato chips, and even sweet potato pizza. I actually came into the office today and there was a bag of purple crisps. I was hesitant, wondering ‘just how far can you take the goguma’, but they are DELICIOUS (and ps ube ice cream (purple sweet potato) is also amazing, but that I’ve found only in the philippines)
  • the market- farmers’ market meets community tag sale meets steroids meets crack. plus ajummas. but I love it anyway, and they have great produce.
  • Korea is tiny- so tiny, that if you NEED to get from one almost-corner of the country (say, my city) to the other corner of the country (say, Seoul), and it’s an emergency you can KTX it in ~2.5 hours, bus it in 4 (although I think it’s technically supposed to take 5-6), or take the normal train, but why would you bother when even the KTX is still under US$50?
  • close to the ocean- no matter where you are, because Korea is tiny. and even though it’s cold most of the year, and still barely warm enough to properly swim in in the summer, it’s always nice to be near the ocean
  • walking home, alone, through crooked dark alleyways at 3am and….. not really caring.
  • the stupid foreigner card- oh, you’re soliciting? sorry, I don’t speak Korean, obvs!
  • the random festivals just because- like the apple festival that I’m going to this weekend. I love apples. Why SHOULDN’T I be allowed to celebrate them with a festival?
  • the friendly older people that want to buy you coffee or give you a discount just because you’re white. (I’d say foreign, but the non-white people I’ve met don’t seem to have as many stories of it.)
  • cheap(er) holidays to southeast asia- beautiful ocean, beaches, tropical weather and cheap shopping? For a 4-hour flight ranging from US$300-US$800 instead of a 14-hour flight that costs a grand and a half? I can deal with that.
  • triangle kimbap! tuna-kimchi is the best, but the bbq chicken (resembling nothing of bbq chicken) is also great
  • Korean-Chinese food- black bean sauce/jjajang/짜장 over fried rice is the bomb