Artist Susan Janvrin on leaving the Far East

click to enlarge NO BLUFFING; Susan Janvrin and Matt Normand enjoyed their time in South Korea. - COURTESY OF SUSAN JANVRIN
NO BLUFFING; Susan Janvrin and Matt Normand enjoyed their time in South Korea.

It's exciting to see local artists explore new lands, sharing with us their discoveries. Tampa-based vinyl/CD mosaic artist Susan Janvrin and husband/graphic artist, Matt Normand, relocated to Los Angeles and soon after left for Asia to spend six months in Gwanjiu, South Korea. Normand pursued a temporary position there, and Janvrin came along.

"We were just getting settled into our new home in Los Angeles when we were sent on a 6-month project, should we choose to accept, in Gwangju, South Korea," Janvrin said. "It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and now, the countdown begins to return home!"

'Here are five things I'll remember fondly...

1.) Random people yelling from their cars or greeting me on the street, asking "Hi, how are you?", especially large groups of children who want to make small talk. English is taught from an early age and they are always on the lookout for opportunities to practice what they've learned, especially in smaller cities where seeing foreigners are more uncommon.

2.) Getting complimented all the time by strangers on my amazing chopstick skills! The fact that a foreigner has made the effort to master chopsticks goes a long way.

3.) Meeting up with my pal, Jeoung. Making friends with Koreans can be tricky! When people meet you, they ask "how old are you?" This is a very strange question for foreigners, but we should take it as a compliment because it means this Korean person wants to know if you are the same age as them, known as "friend age". (If they do not ask your age, it's an insult as they do not care to be your friend!) Koreans do not typically become friends with anyone outside of their friend age. My friend, Jeoung has made an exception for me not only because I am awesome, but I am a foreigner that she can practice her English with. She is 1 year younger than me. She says if I were Korean, she would address me as "unni", which is a term of respect and endearment. It roughly translates to "older sister". Any person younger than me would address me as such, and I would address any woman older as such.

4.) Of course, all the authentic Korean food and local/seasonal fruit veggies. Before coming here, I had never tried Korean food. It is difficult to eat it daily, but I have definitely come away with some favorites. One is a traditional dish called "godeungeo-gui", a simple freshly grilled salty mackerel, served with sticky rice, plus the restaurant's side dishes. I also like the classics, bibimbap, kimbap, bibim myun and naengmyeon. Going out to eat in Korea will set you back between $5 and $10 per person. Tax is included in the menu price, and there is no tipping.

5.) A healthier car-free lifestyle, being able to walk everywhere, getting a taste of what it's like to live in a society that is focused on a high quality of life for its citizens, not necessarily by means of a high salary, but with efficient city planning, lots of public spaces/parks, access to low cost education and health care. I also notice that the government creates a lot of jobs for people, which results in a huge middle class and very low crime. Amazingly, all of this is achieved with income tax of 20% and sales tax of 10 percent."

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