Peace, Love, and Understanding

What happens when an angry white female lets the light back in.

I have been amazingly content since arriving in Korea. In spite of a different language and alphabet and being away from all the comforts of home, I am at peace. Which makes me wonder every so often what’s wrong. I know it should be the other way: One wonders what’s wrong when one is down. But I’ve lived the last two years with overwhelming sadness. The survival instinct allows us to function and push things to the backs of our minds, but my dad’s terminal diagnosis and then death seem to have caused me to be so very tired (I took naps almost every day), irritable (I was frustrated with about 90% of life), and negative (I found fault with about 90% of life). To say I was unhappy does not cover it.

Life here is difficult. I have not found anything easy. Not much English is spoken (which is fine because there’s not much Korean spoken in English-speaking countries). Traffic signs, roads, names, and numbering are very different. Even one’s appliances (like the microwave, for instance) have Hangul instructions. Many food items have an English name printed on the packaging, but all the ingredients and instructions are in Hangul. We’re also living with the contents of six suitcases in a 300-square-foot room. But I am happy.

What happened to me? I haven’t had the opportunity to grieve my loss. Maybe I grieved while my dad was living. I lived in a state of frustration and lost my kindness, patience, and acceptance. More than anything, I was so tired.  I have yet to take a nap here and have had plenty of opportunities. I tried once but was unable. There were days in the States when I woke up at 8 a.m. and was ready to go back to sleep by 10:30 a.m. I averaged over nine hours of sleep. Now I don’t want to miss anything – even just sitting quietly by myself. It is pleasurable.

I have been a little nervous a couple times on the road and have witnessed some dangerous maneuvers, but I’ve not become angry. What I’ve learned from my driving experience is that moving into available space in a lane, no matter how small, is not considered cutting another driver off. If there is room, drivers move into it.  When I’ve needed to move over, I’ve almost always been allowed. People warned me not to immediately go when a light turns green because a green light does not mean a clear road, and that is true. People told me to watch out for busses and trucks as they move where they need to go whether or not the road is clear. Also true. I’ve also discovered that lanes suddenly turn into turn-only lanes out of nowhere. Taxis will stop on a drivable lane and block dozens of cars (always). No one seems to have the right-of-way when merging. And, yet, I am okay with all of this.

I don’t yet understand the driving violation system, though. Korea has moving camera zones that calculate speed and mail offenders tickets. These cameras calculate your speed from point A to point B (with cameras at point A and point B), so drivers speed madly out of the zones and then brake to slow down between these zones. The zones seem to be everywhere. The fastest speed I’ve seen is just 100km on the highway (that’s only 62mph. I’m used to up to 80mph on those wide open roads in west Texas). Chris reminded me it’s a small country, so I’m accepting. There are also these camera vehicles that take pictures of cars parked in no-parking areas and mail offenders tickets. Parking is in desperately short supply here and doesn’t always seem logical. Places that are okay on weekends are not okay on weekdays. People park on sidewalks. I will need to figure it all out. What is so brilliant about all of this is there is no need for police officers cruising around to catch violators. It seems very efficient.

I feel a little claustrophobic when I really look at our living space because of its unavoidable disarray. There is stuff everywhere. The wonderful thing, though, is the staff. They are incredibly, exceptionally, amazingly nice. The housekeepers check on me if I’m in to see if I want the room cleaned. When I say it isn’t necessary, they offer to come in and clear the trash and give me whatever I may need. The dining room staff welcomes me and automatically brings me my favorite coffee. The front desk staff asks me about my day and checks on me. Even the parking lot attendant praises my parking. Haha! I will miss them.

Which brings me to parking when one actually finds a space. Everyone backs into parking spaces because that’s the only way to get out of them. Passengers are often let out before parking as they may not be able to get out once parked. Side mirrors are retracted. Usually there are only inches to spare on each side once parked. I thank whoever invented backup cameras because otherwise I would be driving around for hours trying to find parking space. Cars all have little foam bumpers on the doors so that they can be opened as much as possible without scraping them. We’ve decided on a Kia Soul for our car as anything bigger is beyond my ability (plus Souls are so cute!).

I’ve heard that Sacheon (pronounced SATCH-on) and Jinju (pronounced Chin-choo) are not highly desirable places to live in the scheme of Korea. Sacheon is more rural. The “downtown” seems a bit run-down. But it is peaceful. I love the farmland. The land here is either a road, a building, or farmland. Even tiny areas have crops. People are toiling away at them throughout the day. By my standards, Jinju is beautiful. The river running through the town is flanked by greenspace and walkways. The parks are lovely. Everywhere around these cities are hiking trails. Mountains abound. Right now in this moment, I love it. I absolutely love it here. I cannot believe my fortune at having this experience. I ache at being so far away from my mother (that’s a blog itself as well). I adore her. But I am so glad to be here.

This move seems to have helped me in ways I didn’t expect. In two days, we will have possession of our new home, and I look forward to drinking my coffee in the yard and feeling the sun on my face. I look forward to the peace and will welcome the feelings that need to come. I’m meeting wonderful people who are very nice to me. I feel certain I will leave here in 2-3 years with many new friends. But I also look forward to time alone to meditate and just be in the here and now.


On Dogs

“Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.”
~Pablo Neruda

I love my husband and also appreciate the convenience of sending out my laundry, but living in 300-square feet for multiple weeks with another human being is testing my endurance. Chris pointed out that we plan to travel the US in a camper upon our return, but I brushed off that fact. While it is mainly the space, it isn’t just the space. I like to cook. I like having a refrigerator and its contents (and a microwave. Why oh why does this place not include a microwave?). I like being able to stay up later than Chris without waking him. And, of course, I miss my stuff. We were able to ship 2400 pounds of our things which should arrive on the day we move into our new home. In that shipment are two of the world’s greatest pillows as well as various comforts from home. And, what I miss the most and anxiously, excitedly, and longingly await, is the arrival of the pups!

Korea is not the most dog-friendly country, although it has come a very long way in the last couple of decades. The history of eating dogs goes back millennia, although this is losing popularity. Dreadful stories abound on the Internet, though, including those from 2017. While it horrifies me on a personal level, I consider my cow consumption and try to temper my judgment. However, I’ve heard that lost pets have been gathered and sold for such purposes, so my dogs’ days of romping off leash are over. That’s okay because their days of romping seem to be over. They are some very old bitches.

Finding housing that would accept dogs limited our choices, but we were able to find a lovely house in Sacheon that has an enclosed yard as well as porch and upstairs patio. We had looked forward to the ease of apartment living in the city of Jinju, where one can walk out one’s door for a coffee or bowl of bibimbap. The expat apartments in Jinju are ultra-modern, probably very energy-efficient, and, I believe, near the beautiful Nam river. Living there would also come with having to take the dogs via elevator to some green space a few times a day to relieve themselves. As they are large by Korean standards and one is pretty grumpy, they would have frightened a lot of people. Check with me in several months, but I am looking forward to gardening, mowing the grass, watering the flowers, and cleaning all 2300-square feet of our palatial Korean palace. I also look forward to fewer noises causing Sophie, my black pup, to bark.

I have learned very quickly to take what one reads with a grain of salt (so don’t take my word as gold either!). I’ve seen multiple dogs as pets. Our new landlord had a hilariously cantankerous and rather mangy mutt with her who was at least as large as mine. I’d also read that Koreans consider cats “deliverers of bad fortune” but I’ve seen several cats roaming freely and happily, not in any danger of harm other than from erratic drivers. There is also pet grooming and boarding in ample supply, although it certainly isn’t like back in the States. But, really, nothing here is like back in the States. Which is the point of this adventure – what makes it so exotic.

Our dogs should arrive on June 2. They leave the States on May 31, but May 31 is actually June 1 here – a fact that still kind of messes with my mind. They also have a longer route as they will be flying Lufthansa which has pressurized and temperature-controlled services for pet transport and which will stop in Europe for a 6-hour layover where they’ll be exercised and fed.

I realize some readers may consider my dog relationship excessive and/or dull. I did not have the opportunity to have children. I understand people with children find those of us stating our pets are our children to be infuriating. I know that if it came to saving a child or saving one of my pups, I wouldn’t hesitate to save the child. I can differentiate. But I did not have children, and these dogs are as close as it gets for me. I adore them. Life would have been ten-thousand times easier without them here. My sister volunteered to take our older one. But I made a commitment. It is not okay to leave a pet when they become an inconvenience. My dogs love me, and I torture myself with thoughts that they believe they’ve been abandoned. When they arrive, I will lay on the ground and let them climb all over me and lick me to their hearts’ content. And I will beg them for their forgiveness. (Treats may help. I think they will love squid, which is plentiful and comes fresh, frozen, fried, boiled, dried like jerky, and in the form of potato chips. Food will be another entry.)

About those toilets…

I’ve encountered so much and very little in my week here. I write this because my thoughts can’t get away from toilets and paper products. Many toilets here are about as much fun as anyone should be allowed to have while still being legal. The hotel toilets, some toilets at the airport, and I think the toilets at our new home are the Kelim Hello bidets. There are options for a heated seat, multiple styles of “wash and rinse”, as well as air-drying. If there was a television in the bathroom, one might never leave it.

Paper products, however, are beyond my understanding. I think it’s ecological (which I wholeheartedly support). Napkins are single-ply and no bigger than the size of a cocktail napkin or two squares of toilet paper. The restaurants have small holders with maybe eight of these things at the end of the table. No one will be writing novels on napkins here. I thought maybe Korean people just didn’t get messy while eating, but I observed a local person at a restaurant going through the table’s supply. Validation! Facial tissues are a rare commodity, although they are available for purchase at the markets. There are none at our hotel, which caters to foreigners. Toilet paper (I’m back in the toilet) is single ply. That’s understandable, however, as the plumbing is more sensitive. Plus how much do you need when the thing comes with a shower and dryer?

Just one more mention about toilet paper. I can’t help myself. Chris’s workplace had games and food after business hours last night. Chris won one of the games and got to choose a prize. And he chose…TOILET PAPER! Which conveniently leads me to another topic: Cultural differences. I recall seeing Asian snacks in the States and laughing at them. Shrimp-flavored potato chips? Who would want that?! Yet Americans have hamburgers topped with macaroni and cheese and donuts as buns. But, yeah, silly Asians. I’ve played many games with prizes as an adult in the US. Usually the prizes are some kind of candy or something “funny” like a whoopee cushion or other useless item that collects in the junk drawer at home. But Chris won 30 rolls of toilet paper, which saves me buying it for our new home for quite a while. I appreciate that.

People who know me know that I am not always thrilled with my country of origin. That is the understatement of the year in the current political climate. However, I am unfortunately easily critical of many things. Probably my biggest goal here is to be open and appreciative. And that will lead to comparisons. I’m not here (both on this blog and here in Korea) to see how western culture is better. I’m also not here to trash it. But I want to embrace this culture. I want to notice the differences and appreciate them – see how they fit. I recognize there will be days when I hate it here. Traffic is already a frustration, and finding parking takes skill and a lot of luck. I’ve yet to experience the very hot, humid monsoon season where it pours and is 95+ degrees. (Note to self: Add dehumidifier to the shopping list.) But an “ugly American” is the last thing I want to be. In that spirit, and because I am here for at least the next two years, I am calling this home rather than the US. I don’t even really have an address there anymore.

How Did I Get Here?

It all starts with the idea, right? How did the biggest decisions you’ve ever made get started? Listen for the message, and live without regret.

I’m on day 15 living out of a small hotel room. Before moving to Korea, I was in a two-room hotel in Fort Worth Texas with my husband (Chris) and two dogs (Molly and Sophie). Getting the dogs on their first elevator, getting them to poop outside in a new place, getting them over the fear of all the turmoil, and getting them to stop barking at every noise were the smallest challenges. Now I’m in a single-room hotel with my husband in Sacheon, Korea, with our six suitcases worth of stuff, anxiously awaiting the delivery of my precious pups and the move to our home for the next two to three years. How did I get here?

On my 50th birthday, Chris proposed to me at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. We’d been together 3 years and had gone through the formal process to be informally married (it’s a real thing in Texas) for some practical reasons, but this was the real deal. Back at the hotel, I quickly called my parents to tell them. And then I got punched in the gut: My dad said he’d been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. He was terminal.  In a matter of days I quit my job and began driving from Texas to California every 2-3 months for visits. I needed to spend time with him and my mom. And for the next 17 months, that’s what I did.

The experience of losing a parent is its own blog entry. But it leads me to now. In January, as my dad was in increasingly poor health, Chris mentioned an opportunity to work in Korea. He was going to get more information. And in February, after my dad died, I was 100% in. Leaving my mom behind hurts my heart in unbelievable ways, but this beautiful man I married (another blog entry) told me I could visit as much as I wanted. So that’s how I find myself living in this very small room hoping and praying and wishing and begging that my very old dogs survive the separation without thinking they’ve been abandoned and make the flight okay. They’ll be here no later than June 2. That’s 10 days. We can do this!

I hope to share my journey through these writings which might on occasion include some practical information for anyone considering taking on something similar. I’m new to this, but I enjoy writing and have friends who’ve expressed interest in my experience. So here we go. Thanks for joining me