Magic

I’ve been a bad blogger and am not sure I’ll become much more disciplined. I live in a magical place and a magical situation that allows me so many experiences, and I find myself overwhelmed to write about it. When I have the time, there’s too much to share. I have experiences about hosting a couple cookouts and a small dinner within two weeks (as an introvert); about the incredible “wildlife” in our backyard (the most gorgeous spiders and craziest weeds any North American has seen) and my transition from bug-fearing to bug-admiring; my slow acceptance of Korean food (I feel very ashamed about that but am trying); the whole experience of being an introvert in a primarily extroverted situation; about being away from my mom; about starting to feel some heavy grief over the loss of my dad; about wanting to experience the full spiritual experience of a this Buddhist/Christian/Naturalist land; about hosting long-term guests I like and love versus those to whom I’m obligated. I also intended to post some basic information helpful to expats who were not coming here to teach ESL. As one of those, I was unable to find much of any information regarding life here outside of teaching and less information regarding living outside of the Seoul area. I have good intentions regarding future posts.

 

I just get too busy to write it all down and then, when there’s a lull, I’m overwhelmed with what to share. My most favorite thing about living in Korea is that Koreans love hiking. It’s a national pastime, and everyone seems to do it. Because it is a country made up primarily of mountains, the hikes are up. They aren’t full of many switchbacks. Koreans seem to prefer to just go straight up. When I have to leave this place and move back to the States in 2-3 years, I expect to be in fantastic shape.

I was a runner for years. It’s probably my favorite exercise, and I was addicted to the endorphin high. But my back decided it had enough. I’ve enjoyed biking, but I seem to find it more a mode of transportation than exercise because it requires such a distance to equal the output I got from running.  Hiking, however, fits that whole magical thing. I love it. I love what it’s doing to my muscles and lungs. I love that it brings me into natural beauty. I love that I can do it in any season. When I discovered it about 12 years ago, I was in Texas and had to drive at least a day to get to a place worth hiking. Now I am 30 minutes away from mountain hikes. If there is a mountain or hill here, there are trails on it. And just so you don’t get too cocky, Koreans also put exercise equipment and hula hoops at the top of many hikes, dampening the feeling of accomplishment by essentially telling you that you can do more!

These aren’t “just” hikes, either. So many of them have mountain-side Buddhist temples that are serene and beautiful. As a follower of logotherapy, I’m drawn to Buddhism. I’m drawn to will to meaning. I’m especially drawn to being mindful of the present – essentially living in the here and now. And I’m drawn to Buddhism’s teachings to transform our experiences and to be fully responsible for our lives.  I’ve lived many years in the past, projecting it to my future, which has resulted in missing out on the present. My present finds me living in a very humid paradise for a minimum of two years. I don’t have a work Visa, so my husband has told me my job is to find fun things to do. Much of my initial time was spent getting the household set up. When you move to another country with no furniture and very little kitchenware, there is a lot of shopping and setting up to create a home. But that’s done, so now I’ve been hiking and dining and making new friends. Rough life, huh? And I really like the people I’ve met.

I will offer a piece of advice to anyone coming here. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to hike with a Korean, bring a lot of water, wear hiking shoes, consider a small sandwich or something, don’t skip breakfast, and follow this formula regarding what they say about the hike: If they say it’s easy, assume it’s moderate. If they say moderate, assume strenuous. If they say strenuous, perhaps consider making up an excuse as to why you are unable to participate. But count your lucky stars if you are able to share any part of this country and culture with a native. They are a kind, funny, positive, and healthy people who really know how to enjoy themselves.

Jipdeuli

In Korean culture, it is tradition to hold a housewarming party when one has moved (Jipdeuli /집들이). The expats adopted this tradition and have invited their team members once they’ve settled into their new homes. Team sizes vary from as small as 4 to more than 24, and Chris’s is one of the larger at 18. We held our party on July 4 since had we been in the States, we would have been doing something with friends. And we had a typical American cookout with bratwurst, hotdogs, homemade potato salad, homemade baked beans, a coleslaw salad, watermelon, brownies, and ice cream. And beer. And Soju. Lots of beer and Soju.

 

 

 

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Some of the food
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21.0 liters of water removed. Eek.

We held the party on a weeknight because there are a few team members who travel to Seoul every weekend. They have families there – including spouses and children. I don’t know how I would manage being around my spouse only 48 hours per week. The drive itself is fairly arduous because so many Koreans travel to Seoul on the weekend, and those who don’t travel there already live there. The traffic is very heavy. I traveled that way from here on a Tuesday morning, and the traffic was an issue at a couple points. This is a very populated country with not a lot of land mass. Other team members go elsewhere to be with family, so a weeknight seemed to be the best option.

 

 

Another tradition here is to bring a gift when invited to someone’s home – especially when attending a housewarming. We would have liked to say no gifts, but I think that would be insulting. Common presents are toilet paper and dish and laundry soap as those items were real luxuries for many years. However, Chris’s team is pretty young. They brought us a gorgeous plant that signifies fortune. They also brought us a mug and tumbler, some wine, and a gorgeous rice cake from a bakery.

We played some games as was suggested by others. In the States, they probably would not have gone over very well but were a huge success here.

We also had a “White Elephant” kind of gift exchange, which was very foreign to the guests. Opening gifts in front of others is unusual as well as stealing them, but they seemed to have fun with it. Chris was very proud of developing a beer pong game with a Roomba. He also substituted Soju shots. Soju is made in South Korea and is a very strong rice-based alcohol beverage that varies from 16-50% alcohol by volume.

The best part of the evening for me was just interacting. Koreans seem to be very curious and direct. They are kind and generous and funny. Unlike Americans, though, they seem much more interested in listening than talking. They ask questions – sometimes somewhat philosophical questions – and listen for your answer. They will also tell you that you need to get more exercise or lose weight without hesitation. And it isn’t at all offensive. It’s very matter-of-fact and kind of cracks me up. Someone told us you could feel insulted on a daily basis if you let yourself, but none of it is meant to offend. I like it. Nothing has ever seemed to be about being “better looking” but, instead, about being healthier. I did get a little defensive regarding my dogs though. A. Molly is not overweight. And B. Both of them are ancient. I want to see how active Mr. Lee is when he’s 98 years old!

Regarding the dogs, they are considered large here. And they aren’t used to being around 20 people in their home. They did great though, and none of the team seemed uncomfortable after the initial introductions. I hope someone in the group decides they’ll be willing to dog-sit in the future so we can go away for a weekend. They can stay at the house, and we’ll pay them. We’re just a short bike ride or bus ride from the office, and most of the team members live in a company dorm on the weekdays. It would probably be nice to get away.

Friends

Chris and I are one of approximately sixty American families coming to South Korea as part of a work partnership. Expats were here before us and continue to come after us. It feels a little like college for me. I went out-of-state (back when that was kind of affordable) and knew no one. The experience was exciting, offering limitless opportunity and the chance to reinvent oneself. Upper classmen were there to show us freshman the ropes, and we had the chance to make many new friends. Being part of this group has provided so many opportunities already at making friends. The day-to-day living has a multitude of lessons, joys, and trials.  The “upper classmen” and the locals here are always ready to help. There’s a glaring difference, though, between this experience and college: No gossip. I haven’t heard anyone gossip or speak negatively about others. Not once. This isn’t a popularity contest. The goal seems to be to help everyone be happy and comfortable. If you need help, you just need to ask.

There is also a genuine lack of negativity. People speak matter-of-factly: Communication is hard. It’s very humid. There are giant bugs. Things are more expensive. Traffic is a fact of life. You need to go to at least two grocery stores to get what you need. Peanut M&Ms don’t really exist here. But what a life! So much is a short drive or flight away. Want to go to the beach? It’s 20 minutes away. Want to go to the mountains? Walk out your door. Want to enjoy your stay? Just look around you and experience this magical land.

 

After we arrived, we met a couple of veterans who helped with many tips as well as taking us to some great restaurants. A week later, we made friends with another couple who had just arrived. A few days after that, I met some veterans who immediately offered assistance, invitations, and phone numbers. This was so helpful because a few days later I needed to get Sophie to a veterinarian. One of my new friends let me know her veterinarian information and then offered to go with me because (I’m not complaining) nothing is easy to find here. The parking for the veterinarian was literally on the sidewalk. I would not have known what to do by myself.

We also joined this new friend and a small group at the beach with our various dogs. It’s a quick drive to Namildae Beach, but because South Korea only shares a 160 mile border with North Korea, much of the country is a short drive to a beach. It was a lovely day. My very old pups have been in many bodies of water, but they’d never been in the ocean. I write a lot about these dogs of mine, and that won’t change. I adore them, and I had always wanted to see them walk on a beach. We lounged around a small outdoor café afterward. Many Koreans are, in fact, afraid of larger dogs. But most were laughing as they avoided the pups. The teenagers and young kids wanted to pet the dogs or get selfies, so Molly is probably famous on someone’s Facebook page besides mine.

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Molly in the ocean
Sophie Namildae beach korea
Sophie tasting salt water

A couple days later, I had the opportunity to meet many new friends when a group of us went to the Skyline Luge in Tongyeong. There are only six of these in the world – in Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, and Korea. We rode a chair lift up a mountain and steered a cart down. It was a great deal of fun and also a bargain. The kids in our group might have outnumbered the adults. As someone without kids, it is always a real treat for me to be able to spend time with them, watching their joy and laughter and energy.

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Skyline Luge in Tongyeong

Over the weekend, Chris and I went with one of his coworker friends to an arboretum. It was lovely and seemed to have a lot of historical information as well, but it was all in Hangul. This friend obtained a degree from the University of Kansas, which is also my alma mater (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!). I asked him if he had difficulty adjusting to the topography in Kansas – especially western Kansas. South Korea is 70 percent uplands and mountains. He said there was everything in western Kansas. He had met many Koreans who lived in Kansas City who had never seen the Flint Hills or much of anything past Topeka. He told them one can visit mountains, lakes, rivers, and flowers throughout the world, but one sees one’s life in western Kansas. It is everything. This was profound to me. And when he told people, they listened. They went. Westerners don’t do that. Someone tries to correct misconceptions, and we ignore them. It was a simple but impactful story. I think you really need to know natives to know a country. I’m very grateful that Chris’s coworkers have embraced him.

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The Flint Hills in Kansas
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Portrait in Green courtesy of the arboretum

I ventured on my own to IKEA, which is outside of Seoul. It’s an almost 4-hour drive from where I am, and then there’s the shopping experience itself. I had an overflowing cart full of things when I got to the place where one orders the large furniture and delivery. I found out I had to get the lamps I needed myself. (IKEA is the place for lamps. Koreans seem to use a lot of overhead lighting, and lamps are really expensive and in limited selection elsewhere.) I paid for my overflowing cart, feeling only mild embarrassment at the huge number of items I had, and took all of this stuff to the car. Then I went back through the IKEA maze and loaded up another full, overflowing cart with lamps. It doesn’t take much. The carts aren’t really conducive to larger items. There were a couple storage items I would have liked to get, but that would have required a third trip, and that was not happening. I wouldn’t consider IKEA shopping fun in any sense of the word and hope I don’t have to return, but it’s a really good place to get pretty inexpensive furniture, and we needed dressers. I had reached my tolerance limit on stacks of clothes on the floor. It had to be done. I had also planned to make a Costco run since there was one very close, but I skipped it. The whole IKEA “adventure” and drive took 12 hours. (And I didn’t stop to eat. Maybe at some point I’ll blog about my 40-hour experience to Grand Teton National Park existing solely on Cheezits and Tootsie Rolls. I’m not always good about self-care.)

After the IKEA trip, there was, of course, the delivery of the items and then the assembly of said items. I think Chris and I could now put together an IKEA dresser while blindfolded. But the house is now finally open for business! Unfortunately, having everything put away meant I had no more excuses and had to clean it. I could run a vacuum and scrub toilets and sinks daily, but I don’t usually do floors. However, because of the climate, there aren’t carpets here. They would rot away. So the floors are hardwood, tile, and linoleum. That means mopping and scrubbing. And because people take off their shoes before coming into their homes, it’s important to keep the floors reasonably clean. So, yeah, I need to get over my floor-cleaning aversion. I’m also not a fan of dusting, but with the windows open and the Mongolian dust flowing down from China, floor cleaning and dusting are the priorities.

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IKEA dresser masterfully assembled by Chris and me

It’s traditional here, once settled, to have the Korean team over to one’s home for a housewarming party (jibdeuli – 집들이). Ours will be on the Fourth of July. We can’t hold it on a weekend night because many team members go to Seoul where their parents and/or spouses live. They stay here during the work-week. We’re at about 17 guests at this point, which I’d consider pretty large. Of course, this did mean another trip to Costco, and this time I selected the closest one, which is in Busan. Busan is the second-largest city in Korea, located in the southeast corner of the country, and it is really pretty. As is the norm, even on a Monday morning, the traffic was heavy in the city. However, we are now set to serve hotdogs, bratwursts, sausages, baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad, watermelon, cookies, brownies, and ice cream. I don’t mind cooking, and I LOVE to feed people. I just hope the folks will enjoy fairly traditional American cookout food.

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The house is open for business

A Short Note on Avoiding Politics

It’s not a secret to people who know me that I had no problem leaving the United States when the opportunity arose. The 2016 Presidential election was devastating for me, and then I watched my dad die. I don’t intend to blog about politics, but there’s no guarantee. What I want to mention is that the lack of politics – or, really, of political attention – has probably added back years to my life.

We seem to notice what is much more easily than noticing what isn’t. What isn’t is trash all over the road-side. It took a few drives to realize the roads here are very clean. Like the US, there are still cigarette butts all over the place, but it’s free of bottles and bags and cups and anything else people seem to throw out of their cars. This is made more striking when considering there aren’t trash cans anywhere. The US has trash cans on every street corner and trash on every street, and Korea is the opposite.

What isn’t is road rage. This is despite some of the most daring driving I’ve seen in my half-century on this planet. I fear I may meet a premature end via motor vehicle while here. However, the driving is not aggressive. If there is space (heck, even if there isn’t), a car will move into it. Busses and cabs do whatever they want; know this, and give them clearance. Drivers will go way over the speed limit and then slam their breaks when approaching the moving camera zones. I do it now too. No more searching for hidden police vehicles and radar guns. Just speed and then slow down through the zones. Makes sense. And take none of this personally.

What isn’t is constant negative news – for me at least. I considered myself very well informed in 2016. I watched the national news from a reputable network and avoided the sensationalistic local news. I read stories via the Washington Post and New York Times. I paid attention and prided myself on it. And it all broke my heart. If you had asked me what I thought about people, I would have told you they sucked. The news confirmed that. Politics confirmed that. However, if you asked me what I thought about my neighbor, coworkers, friends, family, the guy on the corner, I would tell you they were great. I didn’t like the lot of us but seemed to love the individual.

Now I am trying to avoid the news. I’m sure there is plenty of the same here as at home. The country impeached former-President Park Geun-hye and then arrested her on corruption charges. But we don’t have Korean cable, and I’m avoiding internet news. We’ve barely watched television – at least compared to what we did in the States. When I look at social media, though, I see what’s going on. I see postings and reactions from friends. I look up whatever is happening and then quickly shut down those stories. They’re all bad. They’re all unbelievable. They make me embarrassed and ashamed for my home country. So I bury my head in the sand, which makes me feel guilty, but I think it’s good for me. I’m happier this way. I am finding ways to do kind things. I am healing my heart and loving again. I’m working on assuming that people are good. Someday I may again get involved in politics, but right now is not that day. Living in a place that has a different language and alphabet makes it easy to stay a little ignorant. Viva la ignorance!

Bugs

Last night as we were hanging curtain rods, a flying giant got into the house. I thought it was a hummingbird and worried it was going to bash itself to death. After seeing there was no beak, I thought it was a giant bee. I went into a slight panic, and the dogs got the heck out of the house. It finally landed, and we saw that it was a huge moth-like creature: A moth the size of a hummingbird. Wikepedia does list a “Hummingbird Hawk-Moth” (Macroglossum stellatarum) that has been known to live in these parts. We captured it in a trash can and released it outside. This is just one of already many encounters with unfamiliar insects.

I tend to say our house is a spider factory, which is okay because it is also a fly and mosquito factory. The spiders can have at it with the latter two. The ones I’ve seen in the house are small, thick, and brown. They’re easy to catch and to relocate. Outside, the yard and garden are filled with larger spiders that are pretty shy. And I’ve seen a couple of beautiful caterpillars. But those flies and mosquitoes are another story. I will transport wasps to the outdoors. I will pick up worms to try to prevent them from burning up on the pavement. I love lots of living critters. But flies and mosquitoes are not my friends. Because I have two “large” dogs in a small yard, there are a lot of flies. And Sacheon is doing its 1970s best to control the mosquitoes, but judging from the bites I wake up with each morning, the mosquitoes are winning.

Twice in the two weeks I’ve been in the house a large fogging truck has driven through the neighborhood. This is the small-town method of mosquito control: Kerosene and pesticide fogging. These trucks are very noisy, and the smell precedes their arrival. I thought it was a helicopter that was possibly dumping fuel. I didn’t grow up running after these trucks, which is apparently a fond memory for many. If you look it up, there are more claims that it is harmless than there are claims that it is not. However, the taste of kerosene in my throat for hours didn’t taste harmless.  I hope the fog also kills centipedes because fairly quickly after moving in, I encountered a large one of those on the back porch. I had some trash and bags of dog food out there, and I think it was feasting. Just one word from me to sum up the incident: Gross! The dog food has been moved inside, and I’ve littered the porch with moth balls and other insect irritants.

South Korea, or the Republic of Korea as is its official name, is almost an island. It borders only North Korea and otherwise is surrounded by the East Sea, the East China Sea, and the Yellow Sea. Its climate is temperate and has four distinct seasons, with the summer being hot and humid. Because Sacheon is very far south, it is more temperate than Seoul. The heat and humidity from all that ocean makes for lots of creepy crawlies. Maybe I could have researched this a little more before the move, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. I feel I was destined to be here.

The people here have made the best of the insect world. There’s a long history of insect-eating (entomophagy). Beondegi is a popular snack and is boiled silk worm pupae. Crickets and mealworms come fried as well as ground into powder forms and are also popular. I don’t know about the worms, but I’ll eat a cricket over a sea cucumber. Much of the insect trade relates to feeding livestock, but it is a growing industry for human food production. It makes sense to me although doesn’t get my salivary glands moving. My adventures in eating haven’t gone past bibimbap, kimchi, bulgogi, and naengmyeon. But that’s another story.

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.

 

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.