Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Random Things

Korea seems to be a BYOT: Bring Your Own Towel kind of place.

Many people have random English sayings scrawled on their tee-shirts. Things like: Shooting Sparkling Star or Fashion Makes You or Thirteen.

Men wear capris here.

Women wear high heels. The more sparkles and spangles on them, the better.

Koreans love children.

Everyone carries an umbrella, rain or shine.

The subway system is blessedly easy to navigate. All the stops are numbered. Even the exits/entrances are numbered.

The grocery store is in the basement of the department store. Upstairs Clinique and Lancome. Downstairs octopus and watermelon.

Paper towels in public bathrooms come with hearts embossed on them.

Toilet paper has pink teddy bears printed on it.

Stone Guardians


Shouldn't all houses come with their own stone mascot?

Imagine if you put this little fellow on a leash and took him for a walk around the neighborhood. Everyone would be wanting one. Keeping up with the Joneses would have quite a different meaning.

If you looked out your kitchen window to see him on guard duty, would you sleep more soundly? Or less?

No shedding, for sure, but the vet bills might send you into apoplexy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Take care

The email ended with, "I see we are expecting a typhoon. It is a little earlier this year than last. Take care."

Instead of taking care, they took a taxi to church. They listened to a vehement Korean reverend sprinkle his sermon with bits of English. It reminds her of a Far Side cartoon where a dog listens to her owner speak: "Blah blah blah blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah." Except here it was "Pojanmacha beondaegi pajeon dabotap What the Lord wills seokguram bulguk-sa shupojirisan cheonghakdong."

Strangely enough, it works for her.

They are a two-religion family, so there is still more church to come. They mapquest the next church, then they proceed to wander the streets. They ask a motorcyclist-delivery guy [side note: McDonald's has motorcyclist delivery guys here; this one wasn't a McD's guy, though] for directions. He gives them very precise directions--in Korean. They try to follow along, but after several blocks of wandering through a bizarre neighborhood of arcades and bars, they end up asking another shopkeeper for directions. He not only gives them precise directions, he takes out his map, then writes everything down--in Korean--and staples it all together.

They head off again, but within two blocks, they are overtaken by the first motorcyclist delivery guy, who directs them once again.

Have I mentioned yet that it was raining? That not only was it raining, it was a typhoon? No? Feel the dripping umbrellas, and hear the squishing feet in sandals.

They walk further, with even less idea of where to go. They stop once again, and this time, they ask two young Koreans for help. The two young Koreans take pity on them, and walk with them until they come upon a corner and are uncertain where to go. A western couple walks by. She decides to follow them.

The Koreans come along too, just to make certain they deliver their poor lost bedraggled American family to their destination.

And there it is. Not just the church, but the temple, too. They're about 35 minutes late, but they are there, and that must count for something, because a general authority was there, and they were invited to stay for lunch. Real bibimbap, and real rice cake.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day One and Day .45

The first surprise was the packet of honey-roasted peanuts she got on the plane. You're not in Kansas, anymore, Toto. Peanuts. Peanuts and pineapple juice. Usually she has pretzels and tonic water with lime.  No fat-free tasteless pretzels that stick in her teeth for Korean Air. Peanuts! She eats the peanuts with relish, wishing for the days when no one was allergic to peanuts, as they are the perfect airplane food. She wouldn't normally have gotten pineapple juice, but she's sitting next to the youngest gingerbread boy who loves pineapple juice, and it's easier to simply say, "Two, please."

The second surprise was the packet of toys the flight attendant gave to her gingerbread boys. One got a drawstring bag with a magnetic doodle pad in it, and the other a stuffed tiger and a blanket. Just because. Koreans love children. 

After that, not much was a surprise. The flight was long. The flight was uncomfortable. The flight made her sick.

Supper was a choice of bibimbap or beef stew. She chose bibimbap. When in Rome, and all that. Might as well start now. Her neighbor gave her advice on the tube of hot pepper paste, because she added only the tiniest of squirts. The neighbor practically laughed. In fact, she did laugh. She also suggested she add the sesame oil. 

So she squirted some more pepper paste, dumped some oil, and mix-mix-mixed. It wasn't bad for airplane food.

Then the flight attendants turned the lights low so they could sleep. Next thing she knew, they were bringing around trays of orange juice. She wondered what they would bring around for breakfast. What did Koreans eat for breakfast, anyway?

The youngest gingerbread boy wanted pancakes. She knew there wouldn't be pancakes. Something was cooking, though. Sausage?

Her feet felt like they were sausages from having sat in one place for so long.

No. Second supper. Apparently, they crossed the international date line. The orange juice was a nod toward breakfast, lunch was skipped entirely, and it was time for supper again, even though it was only 2:30 am. This time, they had a choice of pasta or chicken and mashed potatoes. The small foil packages reminded her of the free lunches given out to kids at her elementary school. 

The first sight she had of Korea was a reflection of metal. The second sight was of sand bars and islands covered in green foliage. Then there was more land: roads, bridges, tiny little cars driving. Soon she, too, would be one of millions in a tiny little car driving toward a destination. But her eyes would be closed. 

It's hard work eating supper at 2:30 am.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Leaving

When you were about ten, you started practicing. Off to camp for a week. Good-bye.

When you were thirteen, you practiced some more. Off to England for a summer. Good-bye.

When you came back, you started a new life at a new school, where you knew only three people: two girls who lived on your street and one girl from your grammar school. Good-bye grammar school people.

When you started college, you did the same thing. Good-bye high school friends.

You went to Italy for a semester. More practicing. Good-bye family. But you came back. Hello, again.

Then you transferred to a new university across the country. Good-bye again.

Then you came back for good. Good-bye college friends.

But then you got engaged and moved across the state to be closer to your love.

After a few months, you married. Good-bye maiden name. Hello, anonymous Johnson.

And you moved. Good-bye in-laws.

Then you moved again. Good-bye icky little town.

And again. Good-bye grad school. Hello hometown.

But then the job was sold, and the husband was laid off. You went to Michigan for more graduate school. But there is always an end to graduate school. You said good-bye to your dear friends and moved on.

Now you are here.

You have always left, always had one eye to the future, with little thought to what you left behind. Each time you leave, you miss your friends, and the familiarity of places and things, but time and circumstance have placed you elsewhere, so you move on. Friendships are forever, no matter where you are, right?

Now, the tables are turned. It is not you who is leaving. It is not you who leaves a hole. Time and circumstance have decreed this, and you accept it, but you wonder, what could possibly fill the gap they will leave behind? Who can take their place?

You can't imagine that anyone ever could.

Friendships are forever, no matter where you are, right?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Quick Run

You don your running shoes, and head out the door. Your ipod shuffle is full of sleeping music, and you can't get it to change playlists, but you can't bear the thought of running to Claire de Lune or Enya, so you go old-school with only the music of birds twittering and your feet slapping the pavement. At the end of the driveway, you turn left, because then you'll head down that major hill at the beginning of the run, instead of up it at the end. Right now, you know if you switch directions, you'll never make it back home, let alone any serious distance. Hah. Who are you kidding? You never do any serious distance. In fact, there was a time when you couldn't run to the end of the street without gasping. Well. Now you can. Still, the loop you run is maybe a mile. Whatever. Down you go tonight.

The sun will set soon, and the mosquitoes will come to dine, but for now, it's just you and the road and your head full of thoughts. You pass the house on the corner that's for sale. Then another one for sale. And one more. You pass a flowering bush with a perfume that nearly persuades you to give up suburban life and live in a cardboard box under its boughs. Around you go, past the path through the forest to the river. If you had paid attention, you would have seen the last of the blooms on the lady's slippers. But you missed it. Was that when you inhaled the bug? Could have been.

Here is the ditch by the road that flows every spring with run-off. It's the sort of place you would have been mesmerized with as a child. A little river for fairies. Behind it lies the house with the beautiful gardens. You would like to have a garden like that someday. You would also like to have a full-time gardener to take care of it. Neither is likely. Your low-maintenance gardens will have to do. Perennials are where it's at, honey.

The road rises to the stop sign. On the left is the army of fir trees blockading the house behind it. To the right is another house for sale. Is there a mass exodus going on? You cross the road passing the party house. It's rented by some young men who have motorcycles and snow-mobiles and the like. They've been digging a pit in the side yard for some time, lining it with stones, and you wonder what it will be? Home for a septic tank? Hot tub? Fire pit? Final resting place of a multitude of beer cans? You don't know. And actually, you don't really care either.

You think about the road that you are on. It connects to another road and another that could take you to visit people you have not seen in years. It could take you to Virginia, where you could see your best friend from high school. Or New Jersey, where you could see your best friend from dancing school. It could take you westward where you could stop to see your family. You could go even further west to see your pen-pal or your friend who is a true kindred spirit. The pavement is all connected, one road to another, like veins and arteries winding their way through a body. The thought makes you feel like the world is a bit smaller, and that your friends are really only a road (or two) away.


At the corner you turn left again, and pass your dear friend's home. She is among the finest women you know, and you feel blessed to know her. In fact, you're surrounded with good people, good friends. 

Only half a dozen homes and you'll be back at your driveway. Arms and legs pump past house after house, until you're back in front of your own house, where the daffodils, grape hyacinths, lilacs, and lily of the valley have given way to the purple irises and heather and that one flowering tree that looks like it came directly out of a Dr. Seuss book. The foxgloves and lilies will come next, but you're not certain you'll be here to appreciate them. Oh well. Someone will appreciate them, you hope, but if not, you'll be able to greet them next year.


At the base of the steps, you lift your foot up to the stones of the retaining wall and fold forward in an exquisite stretch. Your muscles ache and the mosquitoes are out, but you are happy. How could you be otherwise?