Friday, December 4, 2009

Epilogue - Prologue

It's Friday afternoon. I am sitting in a living room in Minneapolis surrounded by fabrics and the sounds of Yoko Ono. There is a blue typewriter sitting on the table as I type away on the laptop. This morning's bus ride took me past fields of windmills and harvested corn. It also included the classic "your beautiful where r u from?" cell phone text pick-up attempt. My mother and I baked pies for Thanksgiving and my hometown visit included catching up with old friends and listening to their children say cute things like, "Do you like dead animals? I do," said while stroking a freshly plucked pheasant feather. And, "Do you wanna play dolls in my room? Look!" placing a wiggling Mermaid Barbie tail inches from my face. We made it rain sequins in the living room instead.

I have been looking forward to being here, back in the United States. My flight from Seoul to Tokyo went well, until I noticed that my next flight's boarding time was earlier than my current flight's arrival time. In missing the connection, I essentially re-enacted a scene from a John Candy/Steve Martin flick. The re-routed schedule took me through Chicago (where I was extremelly irritated by the 5 business calls happening around me in the tram from Terminal X to Terminal Y. Eventually, I realized that business calls had probably been happening around me quite frequently over the past year, I just couldn't understand them, so I got over my irritation), and I ended up in Boston 2 hours ahead of schedule. I subsequently ran into the woods of New Hampshire for nearly 2 weeks. That time was used to absorb the last month or so of my time in Korea. I called Korea a couple of times and lamented the lack of seaweed. Sheela and I took time to live slow. Hunting season had just begun, so international orange was the color scheme of choice.

After a mini-tour of New England to collect my things and say hello, I went to Philadelphia to touch down like a tornado and lifted off again for Minneapolis. One week here wasn't enough. I came back to catch a train to New Orleans. I'll attend the public library book sale, perhaps a Bloody Mary buffet, the Santa Run, and a Cover Band Show, I'll look at a room to move into...I'll get back to my old life. And then I'll leave. In 2 days.

The storage unit containing my father's life must be attended to. I will gladly do so, and I will gladly get to warmer weather, and I will gladly again be in the city of my birth. The real question is, how long will I stay? I am trusting that life will provide. Somehow a place to stay and work on the matter at hand will present itself, and things will work out. They always do.

Oh, the dilemma of where to plant roots (temporarily, at least). North? South? This moment has lasted quite a while. From the instant I left Gimcheon for Busan, I have been living out of my suitcase with no home to head to. It's not that bothersome to me, actually, but it is a bit difficult to explain to others. At first, "Home", meant the USA. Now that I'm here, there is another decision to be made.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

365 +

This was intended to stop at day 365. Unforeseen circumstances have changed things. I find that I'm biding the time until my return to my Native Country comes...I will then stop being called a Native Speaker. How do I bide my time? I watch Korean Dramas online, and I've seen more movies in the past year than in my entire life. After the foot-breaking, it's not so easy to get out a take a walk...the cast is gone, but a limp is still there. Soon I will sift through the year's accumulation, and I must be ruthless about what stays in my posession and what goes to the landfill. Not what I'm best at, really. I'm a hoarder. Luckily, Sheela can help me. Dear Sheela, a good friend, is coming to visit in little over a week. Until then, fictional characters and the stuff of legend will be my company.
In a few days, Chusok, one of the three main yearly holidays occurs. I will go to the sea, I will go celebrate with a family, I will go back to the sea, and perhaps I will go to Japan. In a short time, I will go home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Only, it wasn't a dream

So, after I break my foot falling out of the bathroom in the "special nore bang" on the "special step" that magically appears when you expect to put your foot on ground, I ate a live prawn and took another step toward being Irezumi Ona before we ventured to the psychadelic rock festival in the woods where paintings express eternal love and oneness with everything while Sato Yukie rocks out with his fox tailed bandmates and the next morning walk down a mountainside farmer's trail to a bus stop near flower beds, and am picked up by a friendly japanese man on the's too bad my friend broke something in the back seat...and then we went to the minbak in the valley and I played H-O-R-S-E, but we stopped at H-O-R and I was winning.

We went to the train station and on the way I left my friend on the side of the road but we found each other at the train station and I didn't know where I was going and couldn't move because my legs wouldn't work and I cried and wanted to be alone, but it was too late, I wasn't alone anymore.

After a week of silence, I got on a train and then took an elevator to the 37th floor. There was an empty apartment and a tiny dog who scratched at my astro-turf green cast and begged to be held. I held her.

Soon after, I chopstick-picked up octopus tentacles with the suckers still suckering to the plate, then they suckered to my teeth and tounge, but it was nothing compared to the wriggling prawn-legs of the past, so I liked it and ate another. We went to FUZZY NAVEL and watched a lady make BLUE SKY and set them on fire. 2 cups were drained with straws while alcohol burned blue flame. We decided to sit outside and a man came to disturb our peace so my friend broke a potted plant over his head and I asked him for my bag back and then we went and hid out at the gangster's house until we were sure we wouldn't have to slip out of the city unnoticed. After dawn, we were sure we were fine except for my friend's maybe broken hand and slept for a few hours before getting back on the train to the quiet town.

I spent another week speaking slowly and then went to the city where I could speak quickly and a REGGAE PERM was performed, but not on my head. On my head were 6 eyes and feathers, and I hopped to reggae music, and misplaced an umbrella cane before singing lullabies with my voice multiplied. In the morning I was back in the place where I speak slowly but communicate.

and I called a friend.

It seems like it was dreaming, but I'm not asleep, and it wasn't a dream. It was a run-on sentence.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Letter

Dear X,

I wish I could say I've been writing letters to you during my time away. That would be romantic. But I haven't. I haven't been logging my daily adventures to share with you at a later date, and yes, after nearly 9 months, the adventures are still daily.
I have climbed in mountian mists to later fall in the rain and see frogs at the mountaintop. Jirisan* feels like mothering arms according to any Korean. Weeks of teaching through the golden hour are capped by hikes and train rides. Posing in Seoul Station with a grand piano, my protests pushed aside, "But, Mr. Hong-o-Bong, I DON'T PLAY PIANO" went hand in hand with shouts of "This is PHILADELPHIA! ACTION! ACTION!" subway rides and pigeons in a Temple's Main Hall. And phone calls. "CANDIDA! THIS is Mr. HONGOBONG! HONGOBONG! MR. HONGOBONG! I have Great Idea for you!" phone calls, in which my name has gradually morphed: PAGAN! PAGANICAN! PELICAN! I have GREAT IDEA for YOU!

Opposite weekends on the opposite side of the country are spent in taxis, at japanese resturaunts, and on mountainsides. There is a tiny dog, Yoko, who digs in my hair when she can't find my face, and her owner, who is wonderful. I gave my first tattoo. It's an eye. It floats between a dragonhead and a cloud. Completely sober, he dropped his pants on the street to show it to a friend. "Candida! It's okay! It's only me."

Back home, I have become a regular at the makkoli place, where I go mostly for the 두부 김치 (tofu with kimchi) and company. It seems that they smile at 3 or 4, get nervous at 5 or 6, and stressed at 7 or 8 of us waegooks communaly bemoaning our fate at landing in Gimcheon. Bemoaning isn't quite accurate. It is delightful in many ways. My Busan friend delights in calling me a "Country Girl".

I'm not sure how much time is left here. It was requested that I stay another month. At the time I was unsure. As of late, I am prone to accept the offer. We'll see. Waves of friend-sickness still hit hard. I have dreams of drinking coffee and playing cards on my grandmother's porch with her and my mother in the afternoon. We'll see.

I hope this letter finds you well, wherever you are.


*Jirisan = Jiri Mountain

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Un-Quit

Day 240
I take back the "I must leave within a month" notice that I had given my boss. Actually, the conversation I have with her is "I would like to finish my contract, if that is still possible."
The conversation she has with me is more like "will you stay longer than your contract? Maybe not? Okay, will you come back?"

We conclude that I will be here until September, perhaps October, then I run off to join Owen and Lindsay, a couple of my English-speaking companions, at the Hof. We somehow join forces with 5 or 6 Koreans and change booths, then establishments. A woman in the group is my fitness center buddy. There is much enthusiasm about meeting the next evening for pocketball.

Highlights from Days 241-246

Rain prohibits monster hike.

I am a recipient of fine dining, some wining, and gangster phone for 2 months.

A pit-stop in an outdoor market under black netting and colorful awnings, the likes of which I hadn't seen - grains, vegetables, live seafoods, meat. All usual, but there is something special about this one.

A moderate hike including:
a full creekside dinner which emerges from backpacks Mary Poppins style.
a detour through a bamboo stand to a small waterfall and pool where the ladies take off their shoes and wade while most of the men go for a full dip.

The arrival of a beautiful letter, perhaps from the highest post office in Asia, has the other teachers asking why I'm so happy all day.

The purchase of a practice amp and mic cord will probably drive my neighbors crazy, but make me very happy. I try to keep polite hours - generally sound happens from 10am-12pm.

My missing phone and ID card return to me after approximately 2 weeks. How? Who knows. It's Korea. In any case, I am ecstatic.

Sun Young's prediction of changing luck comes true. There is more rain and new flowering trees constantly come into season.

** Forecast Fox is currently telling me that Friday will be a Sunny -999 °F

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

One Month to the Day

What's the news? well, let me think...

- Paik Nam June Gallery in Yonggi-do provides a revitalizing music/art experience. Bulgasari at Yogiga Gallery in Hongdae, Seoul, sustains the revival for an extra day.
- Costco pesto makes me sick and quesadillas are all I eat for a week after a visit to Seoul.

- A new crowd of foreigners move into Gimcheon and we invade the Bowling Alley for an evening meet'n'greet.

- Buddha's birthday rolls around and with it come colorful lanterns, free bibimbap from temple volunteers, and a stroll through lovely Jikji-sa.
- Books arrive from the states and are devoured by me.
- The refrigerator noise continues to grow louder by the night.
- A bicycle some might have considered semi-abandoned is stolen. (I didn't consider it abandoned. I thought it could take care of itself.)
- I join a gym and flail around to K-pop with very coordinated middle aged women.

- A long weekend leads to the loss of several important items and a trip to Busan, a port city on the southeast coast of the Korean peninsula.
- The daily evaluation of pros and cons of breaking contract and leaving early begins to get pretty weighty in the pro-go column.
- A return trip to Busan, a search and rescue attempt on my foreigner ID, is a failure in one respect and a total win in the "random adventure" category.


After failing to obtain my ID from the hotel I'm sure I left it at, I go to the beach for people watching and evening sun. I also happen to find 3 Korean rasta-reggaes spinning records on the walkway. I seat myself near them to observe and listen...a kitemaker is showcasing his wares with a tiny dot in the sky.

- I befriend the reggaes
- I am offered a new phone in exchange for English lessons. Let's call it "gangster phone"
- I go hiking with and am dubbed girlfriend by a tattoo artist and his friends.
- I have an interesting night out with Koreans...kind of the first time for a Korean night-on-the-town.


- I give my boss a month's notice...she asks for two.
- I consider taking back the notice and staying for the duration of my contract after a major issue to be dealt with turns out to be virtually unsolvable, regardless of the country I'm in.

That brings us up to date. Basically. Stay? Go? Any input? Lately I've been feeling that my life is a series of short stories that have no common link aside from the fact that I'm a central character. Korea has pushed these stories further into the realm of surreality than I'd forseen. Someday, Someday maybe you'll read them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Sprang Sprung

Day 208

Jikji spring. Yellow bushes line the walks, pink spots on rocks, cherry blossoms have fallen. They are replaced by picnickers on the lovely spring day.

Post morning, A visit to the campus of Gimcheon College provides the sight of a miserable monkey family in a 20 foot jungle-gym cage. Papa's a little aggro, but who can blame him? Next up on the sad sights tour is the Deer Pen. 4 deer lay in the shade of sheds within their 30 foot cage. The trees are sheathed in metal...perhaps to prevent antler sharpening by the raging buck? Who knows. Handstand practice happens near the pond while Myeong Hee ponders the present.

On an afternoon walk through town, I meet 5 new foreigners and am accompanied by another. Gimcheon has recently become home to... 12 new people? Perhaps more. This occurance has changed my outlook for the spring. A positive outlook requires less determination than it has in the past month.

During dinner, I am surprised by arms around my waist and turn to discover an ajuma covering my bared back with an apron. Perhaps a longer shirt would've prevented this, but it was certainly entertaining.

Home to special tea and scrabble. Recalling the sweetness in tiny bites of lilac as a child, I collect some from the bush outside. The flowers change from...well, lilac, to pale gray. The taste is faintly bitter. I add rosemary to create a rather medicinal tasting nightcap.

Day 207

Walking from home to the station. Riding from the station to the station. Walking from the station to class. This all happens.

Walking from class to the subway. Riding from the stop to the terminal. Riding from the terminal to the temple. This also happens.

Walking from the bus stop to temple site. Hearing massive chanting. Seeing chains of lotus lanterns. Walking 108 steps up. Seeing masses of people walking a maze while carrying replicas of the woodblocks housed at Haeinsa on their heads. This happens.

Wandering. Being invited into line. Having my arm taken by a woman whose mastery of English rivals my mastery of Korean. Walking past the Tripitaka Koreana. Peeking through slatted windows large enough to call walls. Accepting a plastic replica of a woodblock from youthful monks. Supressing a laugh as monks supress looks of surprise. This all happens.

Walking the maze single file. Completing and exiting the maze. Being guided to the temple cafeteria. Walking arm in arm to the parking lot. Getting in the couple's car, which happens to be a taxi. Riding in the taxi from temple to town. Subway to station. Station to station. This finally happens.

Finally back in Gimcheon 14 hours later, I meet up with a woman who has recently arrived. The night is filled with cathartic chatting first at one Hof with brick pattern wallpaper, then at another with walls that could've passed for a High School locker door.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

. . . and on, and on . . .

Day 197

Flashback to Christmas Eve: I'm sitting at a table with kimchi pancakes, moccoli (traditional rice wine) I don't need to drink, and a co-worker, and a friend. We've already had more soju than I anticipated and I'm not too excited about the moccoli. I excuse myself to go stand outside for fresh air, and when I come back, there is a red-faced man in a shiny pin-striped suit, smiling, nodding, smelling strongly of cologne, and pouring moccoli into my bowl.
"I saw you and, you know, I just want to speak Eng-uh-lish with you, you know? Is that okay, I blah will blah not blah take blah a blah hint..."
Young Mi and I exchange "who the hell is this guy??" looks, and simultaneously raise eyebrows at Ted, who has invited him to sit down, assuming that the man knew Young Mi. He stays with us for quite a while. I think of him as "Bluster Man"

Flash forward three months: shiny pin-striped suit man Bluster Man is sitting at the desk across from me. He is the new teacher at the Hagwon. Now we will be talking alllll the time.

Day 200

After Korean class in Daegu, I invite my friend to the Kitty Cafe. With a fennec fox in the window, grown cats lazing about, and siamese kittens playing 'round our feet, we sip banana shakes and eat lunch.

Follow this with hunting for strange parks filled with cherry blossoms, wandering the herbal medicine market on a slow day to find stuffed fanged deer cousins in windows near an albino mongoose fighting an albino snake, and there's my day, basically.

Plus the fox thing in glasses...

and a very convincing rice-cake octopus.

In the evening, another friend serves as my guide on the bus to the University district. We meander the campus amid blossoming trees of varying sorts, and sit at a park bench. It's amazing how familiar the smell of the Student Union cafeteria is. We finally complete a full circle of the campus. The final building we pass is called "Useful Building". It is spelled in a brick pattern on the side.

Day 201

I spend much of the afternoon harvesting wild mugwort from the bank of a lake outside of town. The sun is out, and a kind breeze keeps us insect-free. There aren't many, but I've noticed that they're coming. Oh, they're coming.

This week's reading has been (in order of appearance): The Red Dragon, The Exorcist, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Not my first choices. In fact, I've been avoiding reading the first two all year, but my options in English literature are severely limited. Donations of the published kind are happily accepted.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Like a Thundering Herd

Day 196

5 military helicopters in a low fly-by wrest my attention from Cidade de Deus.
Cherry trees are blossoming, I'm keeping to myself.
I teach at the Hagwon.
Things are okay.

One Hour Later

The shadows of four more helicopters pass over my persimmon tree. Did you know that persimmon trees produce magnolia-like flowers? The helicopters sound like giant swarms of bees.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Whiling the Time

Days 162-173

There is a consistent feeling of waking from one dream into another; one surreality into the next. On top of that, actual dreams are more vivid and memorable than ever. Why, just last night I held my favorite giant purple chicken, with glowing mink fur in lieu of feathers, on my lap in our old neighbor's climbing tree. We talked for hours while friends dressed as characters from Robin Hood gathered at a party hosted by my grandparents.

On my third day back to Korea, I am released from work after two hours. With my unexpected afternoon, a trip to the city seems in order.

Upon reaching the train station, I am nearly an hour early for the local train to Daegu. I buy my ticket and wait outside in the sun, watching a throng of older men take turns tossing four sticks, one side rounded, the other flat. Occasionally they argue, and pass around W1,000 bills. At one point the argument gets so heated that one man turns in a huff, takes his bike and walks away. After cajoling and jeering, he heads back to the circle to place his W1,000 bet once more.

The time to leave arrives and I become lost in thought on the way to Daegu. I vaguely recall a mental note on something about a sub-commentary to self on internal monologue. Something about experiencing life as a constant narration. Who knows? Whether I'm narrating to myself or to others, narration is happening, right? Within us all, right? What? OH. I'm in Daegu already. Time to meander.

These seem to be the days where one may say "...and she lived her life quietly and contentedly among the foreign world of which she was now a part," or some such drivel. The once healthy drive to write even a sentence for every day has diminished markedly. There are many possible reasons for this.

I have a renewed interest in NPR and pancakes. My Sunday home activity is: waking early to make pancakes and brown sugar simple syrup, and some coffee, while listening to NPR. My weekend away, well, that is something different altogether, but there seems to be a Westernized theme.

Saturday morning, I wake early to head for Daegu once again. This time with a purpose other than aimless wandering: Korean lessons with other foreigners at the YMCA. That's right. The YMCA has outreach even in Daegu, South Korea. 91 years of it, to be exact.

I struggle to pronounce 만나사 반가우ㅓ요 (mahn-ah-saw ban-ga-wuh-yo (i.e., nice to meet you)), while my classmate struggles to unwrap a triangle gimbap.

Afterward, I meet familiar Gumi-ites for a stroll around town with a stop at a virtual roller coaster and an introduction to a restaurant with genuine Western breakfast at 2pm and an un-sugared Bloody Mary.

Sunday, post-pancake, I go to Gumi, a nearby city, to deliver a keyboard and see a movie. The Watchmen,

"An adaptation of Alan Moore's landmark comic book series, Watchmen is a story set in an alternative 1985, where the world is ticking closer to the brink of nuclear war, and a plot to eliminate a band of ex-crimefighters is instigated, but why? and by whom?..."

turns out to be just under three hours long. An uncommon opportunity for Scrabble presents itself post-movie, and I spend two more hours in good company, involved in movie discussion, swapping jokes, and racking up a pretty high losing score at my favorite board game. Ween knew gnu knew no new pundits for pun times. Oh, Scrabble!

Day 174

Finally, the 백만 Won that the bank lost in transfer shows up in the right place. Whew! A sigh of relief for that one! A new week begins today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Back to Reality

Day 158

Nona drops me off at the NOLA airport at 5am for my 7am flight. We hug and a taxi driver grumbles past us, muttering in Spanish. We laugh at the oddness of the moment and hug again. She drives away in the Econoline, I go inside. I check in and have a painless airport experience; no search at security.

I buy orange juice from a vending machine and watch other groggy passengers make their way into the waiting area. My seatmate on the plane from NOLA to Atlanta tells me to invest in gold. The other tells me that I, too, can own land one day. They both wish me luck.

I eat cough drops and nyquil capsules once I board the plane going from Atlanta to Seoul. Not that they help much with my sleeping in transit problem.

Day 159

The plane lands at Incheon Int'l Airport at 4:51pm. After going through customs and collecting my baggage, I buy a ticket for the Airport Limousine 6:40 bus to Gumi. With an hour to spare, I decide to try the triangle gimbap Young Mi's told me about time and again.

The bus arrives in Gumi after 10pm and I am able to catch an 11:19 train to Gimcheon. The taxi drops me off at my locked door and I break into my apartment at midnight. I haven't paid my apartment fee for February. This is my punishment. I make buckwheat tea and get to bed.

Day 160

I wake up at 8am, make some tea, and decide that it wouldn't hurt to sleep another couple hours. The alarm is set for noon. That'll give me plenty of time to get ready for work.

The clock says 10:30. It is dark. I have slept through the day.

I text an apology to my boss, she replies by telling me I do not have to teach tomorrow. Great! I may as well go back to bed.

Day 161

I wake and sleep and wake and sleep from 4am until 9am, when I finally decide that yes, I can get up now. Again, with the puttering around the house, not accomplishing much... kind of putting away suitcase-wrinkled clothing. I call a high school friend I haven't talked to in years. It's a nice morning.

I shower and boil some water. Tuna and rice are all I have in the house, so I make a variation of tuna and can guess the variable. I gather my overdue bills and a packet to mail my mother, and out of the house I go. I'm heading to Prime Hagwon, despite my boss's assurance that I do not need to work today. I want to go in and collect my mail, say hello to my coworkers.

When my face appears in the doorway, "Angie" squeals.
"CANDIDA!!! HI! Candida I miss You! Long time no see." She is delightful, and I have missed her as well. Alas, she informs me that she and another teacher will be leaving at the end of the month, and yet another at the end of March.
"Candida," she whispers, "Prime go. Seoul come," and nods her head emphatically. She hands me a stack of mail and goes off to clean the Hagwon before others arrive.

I greet the other teachers as they come in, and finally my boss. I give her the Americana Chocolate Tin, which holds 13 pieces of chocolate molded in moments of America...a last minute pick-up at the duty-free shop in the Atlanta airport, as I remembered that I was going back to Korea empty handed. A piece of chocolate each and a commemorative tin will have to suffice, until the package of Mardi Gras beads shows up. With this thought, I realize that it is Mardi Gras.

I leave to run some errands and stop by the grocery store before I come home to my first responsibility-free day back in Korea.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where In the World is Carmen San..I mean..Candida Pagan???

Well, to answer that question, I am in The Bywater, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The past week has been spent here and there running errands, making phone calls, sending messages. Previously, I was in the suburbs: family emergency time. A pretty wild time.


Sitting with "The Nose Knows (TNK)" girls at a meeting spot in the Treme, we order beer and each receive a free styrofoam box of crawdads with a corn cob and a turkey neck. While attempting to unlock the mystery of "the mudbug", I try to:
1.) figure out an order of protocol for errands I must do tomorrow
2.) absorb this new atmosphere

By the time I finish, the ladies of TNK have finished their pages for the weekly zine. It is good fun. Good fun, indeed. For a copy of TNK, email or write
The Nose Knows, PO Box 19483, New Orleans LA 70179

So many things are different than they have been over the first week in Louisiana. First of all, my general environment feels secure and caring rather than intimidating or threatening. That's a plus. My father's close friends are back in Texas and I took my mother to the airport this morning. I was very sad to see them go, but I am among other friends now. I also have clean clothes again. I have been so busy and under so much stress, that I adopted the "cycle the dirty clothes you're wearing, and no one will notice" policy. Of course, that's not totally true. People notice. Even I notice, but let's just pretend, shall we? I did laundry today, anyway. Those days are over now. AND, no more rental car, which may be a good thing, as I did slightly damage the car I had. Slightly. It's back to a bicycle and a borrowed truck, for me.


"Candida! What is going on?!? Why do you have so many errands?? Why are you being so cryptic??"
Well, sweet readers, if I seem more cryptic and less accessible than usual, it is because a very painful event has happened. I encourage you all to make advance directives, make a legal will, and although it may seem morbid or uncomfortable, share these wishes* with your loved ones.

Soon I shall return to Korea to resume teaching my loose-toothed students, and making my special tea, and climbing my mountain. In the meantime, I am here, running into friends I haven't seen for years and waiting for the mail. Attempting to navigate the weird world of those who survive their loved ones... blocks from the Mardi Gras Zone.

*The 5-Wishes Booklet is a simple living will document that you can fill out at home and with signatures of two witnesses, is legally valid in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Just so you know.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Return of the Numbered Days

Day 125
After waiting over the weekend, I go see Bruce, the Traditional Medicine doctor at the clinic near my home. Unsure of a diagnosis, he sends me downstairs to someone who specializes in Physical Therapy and stroke patient rehabilitation. This someone speaks English well and has wanted to meet me. According to Bruce, this is good for me, good for him.

Day 126
Nothing special, really.

Day 127
Morning tea follows a stroll on the mountain. I am inspired to wake early.
i n s p i r e d
Cloud-cover in the sky looks as if it could be the top of an ocean; the city below, on the bottom of the sea.

Day 128
"Accupuncture? No? No accpuncture, okay. Then what? I don't want to take pills if I don't know what they are." Bruce the Traditional Medicine doctor puts me on the phone with several of his 'specialist' friends. I'm not sure what they specialize in, but it doesn't really matter. Bruce has already referred me to someone who told me to take medication for a (possibly) pulled muscle.
"I think he likes you. hmmmmm...I think you are a very smart person to not take pills." Bruce told me when I showed him his friend's recommendation.

Regardless, Bruce has turned me over to someone else's care. He doesn't seem to feel comfortable taking charge of that care again. But he cannot bring himself to treat me unless I try at least one dose of the medication. He cannot undermine his colleague. "Maybe you eat the pills once and you will be better. I think that is it."

He invites me to lunch without telling me that lunch will also be with the dentist downstairs and another doctor from Seoul. I get another "Pills are okay, eat them," speech from Dr. Seoul and the dentist is so shy about his English that he can't bring himself to look at me....until he discovers we are the same age.

By the end of lunch, Bruce has convinced me to set the dentist up on a blind date with a teacher at the Hagwon. At the Hagwon, it is business as usual; I set up a blind date, I teach some English, I accept my DongWong Tuna Seollal gift pack, I catch the bus. I come home at the end of the day to a surprising email.

Day 129

I spend an absurd amount of time in front of the computer wearing a madonna mic. I am alternately moving the microphone away from my mouth so I can make exclamations and adjusting the mic so the listener can hear my probably-too-soft voice. Pink plug-in Green Plug-in Microphone Headphone. In the morning, I am transferred from one office to another as an attempt is made to purchase a plane ticket online. The mission is finally accomplished and I steel myself to face a day of Pre-Teens on Friday.

In the evening I find myself pacing the apartment, sitting down, standing up, pacing some more, putting the mic on to make a skype-call, forgetting to take the mic off after the call is finished, realizing that the mic is still in front of my face as I absentmindedly twirl my hair. In a non-linear turn of events, I will be taking advantage of the National Holiday time coming up in order to visit the USA. The visit will last longer than the holiday, and the circumstances are quite the opposite of joyful, however, my answer to the question "What are your plans for Soellal?" is no longer a shrug of the shoulders to accompany "Mo lai yo".

Un-defeatable Plan for Jet Lag Defeat
No sleep for "before flight" night: stay awake! Write. Clean. Shower. Pack. Write.
The goal is to sleep over the Pacific and wake up over California to be wide awake upon landing. I can't really sleep, anyway, so I may as well pretend it's intentional.
Defeat Being Beat!

This is my self-cheer. Koreans have a special kind of cheer. It is this: They clench a fist, and do a 1/4 fist pump in the air and at the same time say "insert name here, fighting!" It can be considered appropriate for nearly any situation. Spirit Lifter. Class running wild? "Lindsey, fighting!" Feeling blue? "Jane, fighting!" Coach put you on the bench? "Anna, fighting!" Kind of great, right?

Day 130

1. Car to Gumi
2. Airport Limousine" Bus to Incheon
3. Airplane to USA: The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be singing "Time Warp" in my head as I fly for 19 hours through 11 time zones. Maybe I'll get lucky and that will be the in-flight Entertainment.


...Hiro notices people starting to climb the stairs and line up at the bell pagoda. He looks at Hideki and I before giggling again and skipping away to sprint up the stairs. We follow shortly...
We climb the stairs and watch the stage-crowd for a while. We are freezing. As part of two (soon to be three) shivering rows of people, we are surrounded by a unified chanting. Midnight is drawing near. For maybe five to ten minutes, the chanting continues and then the countdown begins. Stage lights flash a new color every second as we count down from "SHIP" to "GONG!!!"

Fireworks flash!!! CONFETTI!!! STREAMERS!!! Simultaneously, the huge bell is struck with a log swung by important monks and local politicians (they take turns giving the bell 13 strikes), AND a serious loudspeaker system blasts a triumphal symphony, to announce the New Year's arrival. We are all one year older.

As quickly as the burst of energy erupts, it is dispersed into the fresh New Year air. The die-hards among the crowd are atop the stairs and I find myself being hearded with them toward the entrance to the bell's housing. Military men are barking at the crowd and push/pulling them through the roped-off entrance eight at a time.

I feel a particularly sharp elbow from one side and hear a faint continued chant on the other. I look behind me to see a group of 4 feet tall grannies chatting trying to make their way to the gate. I attempt to shield them from the elbows and shoving as we are pushed ever-closer to the Seokguram Bell. It occurs to me at this point that I have lost sight of Hiro and Hideki.

As I am realizing this, I also realize that I am at the front. The grannies shove past me and are through the entrance. Hideki is shrugging at me as he walks out, and the soldier herding the crowd looks at me and says "OKAY?? YOU UNDERSTAND???" I nod and follow the women to the mini-battering-ram which serves as a bell striker. Together we strike the bell , now singing without symphonic accompaniment and are rushed away. Bewildered, I scan the crowd for my scarf, and finding it, weave my way out of the crowd.

The three of us seek the shelter of Seokguram Grotto. In order to reach it, we must follow the lantern-lit path. Snow and the dusty path are underfoot and muffled, cheerful groups make their way up the mountainside.
Reaching the top, I cross paths with the grannies again. One performing her bows while another prepares to do so. She is caught in her backpack and I help her out of the tangle. Seokguram, I must say, is magnificent. Wholly beautiful. We stay inside the statue's housing for a time, then head out into the dark. I want to stay. I want to descent to a warm tent and stay until sunrise.

My resolve to do so is strong. Then I look over at Hiro. Shoulders hunched, he hops from loafer to loafer, his bare hands shoved deep into his pockets. He looks back at me and grins. Hideki cocks his head to one side and asks "Are you going to stay until sunrise?" I smile and nod. He and Hiro exchange a quick, surprised, pained look. "Really?" I understand then that they consider it their duty to stay as well. I suggest going to the warming tents. Walking in to one automatically puts us in line for warm bowls of ddukguuk which we accept and eat standing near as possible to the heater. Another 20 minutes later, we head down the mountain and return to the Hostel.

Library Time
Two days later I am in the Gimcheon Library for a 5 hour study session. I discover that that is the thing to do in Gimcheon. There are rooms, previously unknown to me, filled to capacity with studious youth.

At Gimcheon Mac-chang
An orange vendor, an ommuk/fish bread man, and a foreigner walk into a Hof.
The orange vendor says something and the forigner hears: "waeoirjawe;lajsdf;lkdseyo?"
the foreigner nods and says something and the orange vendor hears: "asl;kerja;oiewjr ;kasdflkjdsa?" The ommuk/fish bread man nods and glances up to make sure the crowd at his cart is putting money in his "be right back" box before he pours a healthy round of soju.

Soon the three are laughing with the owner and his wife. Everyone hears "sal;kja;oihedf; seyo? ANNEEYO! eego eego aljdsf;jas;a!!!" and they all laugh again and again. The orange vendor finally puts down his glass and looks at the foreigner's bike to ask if it will be ridden home. The forigner shakes her head emphatically. "nowaeflkasfwalkdafjofjbikeaskdfjjajang!!"

She tilts her head from side to side and lightly stomps her feet to let them know she'll be walking. This brings another round of laughter and "walaslkjhas; anneyonhigesayo anneyonheegaseyo!!!" Goodnight goodnight and I hope your headache tomorrow isn't too terrible.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Un-Numbered Days

Special Coffee (or tea)
This all began when I made afternoon coffee for a friend. He, shocked at how it was actual coffee, not the instant mix so often found in homes and offices, dubbed it Special Coffee. I have taken to preparing "special tea", i.e., any tea that is not from a teabag, for us frequently. Sometimes he brings oranges or an individually wrapped cookie snack pack. No romance, so scratch that thought. It's nice company and a good way to finish the day. Somewhat similar to my homeland habits. Thus far, Rosemary-ginger tea is in the lead. I am open to suggestions.

3 days in Gyeongju
Solo SSAM BAP in the Knick-Knack Room
I arrive in the ancient city, Gyeong-ju, in the evening on Dec. 30. Alone, I first locate the bus station where my tour begins in the morning. I then proceed to give myself a walking tour of the Tomb Park area, hoping to find the restaurant that Lonely Plant says is filled with an "Eclectic collection of birds, rocks, figurines, pottery, and other folk arts..." Although unaware of exactly what Ssam Bap is, I don't really care. I just want to be in that atmosphere. So, I walk. And I walk. I come across many things: an ancient observatory, an eerie ice-house, a tempting path into the forest, a series of canals and wooden docks, a royal pond...but no such restaurant.
I pass a place along the way that piques my interest. There are two large masks on the outside, and as I pass, I notice that the rear windows of the building are filled with plants. I redirect my route from Lonely Planet's map to my own mental map and re-find the building. It is indeed a ssam bap restaurant, and I go inside.
First I pass traditional drums, then a closet sized room filled with stab-bound books, a piano-esque instrument, and plants. Then comes the antiquated machinery...spindles, mills, farming implements. Finally I reach the area where I must de-shoe. I place my shoes among the others and step into a room filled with mid-20th century newspaper clippings, stamps, postcards, old etchings, mini-masks, fishing gear, china plates, a spoon collection, plants, and on and on and on. I had ordered for one when I entered the room and I arrange my things while I am served. First, the leaves; one plate steamed, the other raw: lettuce, sesame leaves, chard, seaweed, and cabbage. Next come the soups; two kinds. Then the side dishes. One after another, she set dishes in front of me, until there were perhaps 16 side dishes on the table. I sneak glances at other customers in order to figure out how to eat this feast. They take a leaf and lay it in one hand. With their chopsticks, they scoop up some rice, a side-dish or four, and place it inside the leaf. Setting the chopsticks down, they fold the leaf into a little package and place the whole thing in their mouths. I follow suit and eat my fill.

In Hanjin
That night I find Hanjin Hostel. As I walk in, an old man beckons me into the room behind the glass. I enter to see that he is warming his knees in front of a heating fan. He motions for me to sit down on the blanket next to him, and I do so. He then hands me 5 or 6 photo albums. "Photos," he says, "Look," then turns on the TV. I spend the next 45 minutes flipping through pages, watching him age with each new album. At one point, he erupts with laughter, and I look up at the TV to witness members of Parliament leaping over tables, fists clenched, murderous looks on their faces. One man is caught by the ankles and dragged through a hallway out of Parliament. Another is carried by his arms and legs, furiously thrashing. This is almost as good as the time I was watching TV at E-Mart, and saw them chopping through a chained door with a full sized ax. Korean government seems to be rather dramatic. I'm not sure what they're so upset about, but the old man next to me is definately getting a kick out of it. Soon, I ask about getting a room and am shown upstairs.

Candida, the Midnight Bell Ringer
New Year's Eve Day passes without incident. I go on a bus tour of Gyeong-ju, and see the major sights over 8 hours. There are three other foreigners on the bus and we are seated together. Two of the three girls are visiting their friend who is teaching for a year in Daegu.

I return to the Hostel and take a nap. I wake and attempt to solidify my plans. I want to visit Bulguksa Temple at midnight for the bell ringing, and then sojourn to Seokguram Grotto to see the sun rise over the East Sea. I have been told there are buses, so I must find one. While I sit in the common room, pouring over my guidebooks, two Japanese men who are staying down the hall come upstairs. One sits down on an opposite couch and motions to ask if I mind if he smokes. I let him know I don't. Through gestures, visual aids, and simplified English, I tell him of my plan.

10 pm - He and his roomate decide to join me, and soon we set out in search of a bus. We search, only to be informed that there is no such bus. Two Korean tourists, eager to practice English, invite us to share a taxi. I get the front seat, and the price is nearly the same as the bus would have been. Fortune i smiling. Upon reaching the Bulguksa parking lot, we are told that Bulguksa is closed, but there is a free shuttle bus to Seokguram. The three of us decide to see for ourselves, and traipse up a moonlit path to the gates of Bulguksa. Trees line the path and dot the hillside as we approached a chained entrance. Hiro, in his white loafers, starts to hop over the chain, but halts and gives a sheepish bow to the security guard on duty. He giggles his way back to us, and the three of us start back along the path to the shuttle buses.

11:30 pm - We step off the bus in front of a trailer where people are handing out hot ommuk in bowls of broth. To our left, a stage is set, and a rock group is performing. Wind is blowing, snow flurries, hair and artificial smoke whip around the faces of the rockers. "YEEEAAAAHHHHHHH YEAH ooohhh yyyyeeeeEEEEAAAAAHHHHH!"

We join the huddling mass of people. As the rockers finish, three monks take the stage to deliver speeches and motion to the large bell in its housing, some 100 meters past the stage and up the hill. Hiro notices people starting to climb the stairs and line up at the bell pagoda. He looks at Hideki and I before giggling again and skipping away to sprint up the stairs. We follow shortly...


Friday, January 16, 2009

Reconnecting in....3....2...1

Day 116

Today is computer buying day! I check my bank account and discover I have not been paid.
Today is not computer buying day. I head to the library to meet Ted and his cousin. I text "Kate" and ask if I can cash in that rain-check for the library tour she offered last week. 3 hours pass without a reply and Ted is nowhere to be found. I track him down in the computer lab then head to the stacks. Maybe I can find something of interest in the Art section. I am immersed in a Korean Embriodery book when Ted sends me a text message: "it's time for lunch where are you??"

I go to meet him on the second floor. Where is Kate? he asks. 모라요 is my reply.
mo lai yo. It's a frequently used phrase...ranking third after "annyong haseyo" and "kansamnida".

I don't really feel like staying for lunch. I'd prefer to sulk my way home, but Ted talks me into having a spicy soup with him and his cousin. After lunch and confusing but amusing conversation with the two of them, I leave the library. I am walking on the bridge over train tracks (the second longest walking bridge in Asia, I later learn) when I see Myung Hee. She asks if I have had lunch, and I have, but I tell her that I will join her while she eats. She is currently staying in Daegu, but has come back to Gimcheon to tutor students for the weekend.
It is a fortunate meeting. We are excited to see one another.

We part ways after her lunch, and I am immediately hailed by an off duty salesman from Samsung. I walk past the store frequently and have become familiar to the staff. He offers me a ride and I hop in the car. He is older, sort of the "big brother" for the rest of the Samsung sales team. He asks me the usual: "What do you eat?", "Do you like Korean food?", "How old are you?", "Are you married?", "Do you have a boyfriend?", "Do you live alone?", "Do you make a lot of money?", "Where is your family?", "Do you have siblings?" you know, casual questions. I laugh and try to answer as tactfully as possible with my limited vocabulary. He tells me that
he is now my friend, my "old friend" and drops me off at an intersection near Samsung.

His questions are not meant to be intrusive, he simply wants to find out information. I am something of a curiosity to many people here, and my answers usually garner a nod and a look of concern for my well-being. A woman alone? Make sure you are safe, you know, that sort of thing.

I return home and pace for a while. I eventually decide to double check the bank; maybe I have been paid today, just later than I expected. True enough, It is computer buying day after all!

I withdraw money and happily stroll to Hi-Mart Electronics Store.

They are having a sale: LG Xnote? How much? okay, a little expensive...Windows in English? No? Okay, see you later.

I walk through the doors of Samsung Plaza: Hello friendly sales team! It's Candida. Thank you for the ride earlier. Where is the one salesman who speaks nominal English? Ahh! There you are, hello! Hi-Mart is selling an Xnote with these specs for this much. Can you beat that? Also, can you get English Windows? Maybe? Okay. This one is good. I will take this one. Oh. You can't sell it today? Come back in 2 days and I can have the display model for less? Okay. See you later.

I stop by E-Mart just because it's on the way home and it is cold. I may as well check their computer selection. Oh Ho! What's this?
Excuse me, Yes, I know you don't speak English..but...일 마이요? You'll call and see? Okay. Thanks, and um, how much memory and how much space? Specs, yes. I don't know. Oh! Okay, thank you. And what about Windows in English? What if I want to use Photoshop? Indesign? Adobe Acrobat? Photoshop okay? Okay. I will buy this computer.

Two days later, the computer is delivered to the Hagwon with English Windows and Photoshop installed. Half of the programs are in Korean, but that's okay. I'll figure that out later. For now, I'm excited to get the monthly postcards back on track. Maybe I can download Skype or something and call a few of my friends and relatives...whenever I figure out the password to the internet at home.

Day 119
Chicken drawings, tea, and oranges conclude a day wherein I am told a technician must come to the apartment to give me the password.

Day 120
I make my first Animated .GIF after wanting to do so for over a year.
I call it "The Fruits of Isolation" or "Life in Korea" or "My New Friends".
You can choose.

My adult students get a laugh when they find out exactly how bad I am with numbers and I teach them "I have something on my mind".

Day 121
Remember on Day 119 how I was told a technician must come to the apartment? Change that to I must go to their office and then it's correct.

Day 122
Mission Accomplished. The night is concluded with Nore Bang that lasts too long. I come home, stab the roof of my mouth with an almond, take a shower, and go to bed.

The Un-numbered Days are coming.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

In the meantime

Soon, soon, I shall return to the linked system I call Computerland. For now, I am enjoying the time, spending more of it outside, drawing, trying to care for the plants I have neglected to near-death. Here are what you have to look forward to in the future post of my past few weeks...

"special coffee" and plastic cake

solo SSAM BAP in the knick-knack room

3 days in Gyeongju

Candida, the Midnight bell ringer

Library time

Soju and samgyapsal with the orange vendor and his friend, the pastry maker...
No English Allowed.

Sound exciting? You will be thrilled.
With a computer of my own, I will be thrilled.
We will have a party.