Little Miss Twig has moved this dog and pony show to her very own url.
Please visit me at http://littlemisstwig.com/
Sunday morning I woke in the most comfortable bed I have slept in for some time, in an apartment about seven times the size of mine, halfway up Namsan mountain, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking all of Seoul. Well, all of one-quarter of Seoul.
Saturday night had included blue shoes, hamburgers, hot chocolates, 1/3 of Ocean’s Thirteen, wine, live music, Coronas twice the price of an entire six-pack, Paris Hilton in the next room and middle-aged American assholes in tuxedos with an inflated sense of entitlement.
There are two kinds of people in this world: People who, when they hear Paris Hilton is in the next room, want to go meet her and people who want to leave. Can you guess which I am? How about the Dude in the Tuxedo? Can you guess which he is? Let’s just say I did not see Paris Hilton, nor did I over-talk about it loudly in my tuxedo.
The following morning, despite headache, lack of sleep and an exceptionally rosy demeanor, I forged on for a delicious brunch in Itaewon with YoungDoo and Bill. We sat among the golden glow of gingko trees and discussed The Future over pancakes and eggs benedict. I skipped off to spend a solo afternoon in Dublin, for a matinée of this beautiful film which stirred me and filled me with tears and smiles and delight and music and memory and swelling hearts.
It was exquisitely simple. If you’ve not seen it, you must.
After some reckless consumerism and a purchase which has officially propelled me into the 21st Century, I returned home to a splendid evening spent listening to NPR podcasts while scouring every inch of my apartment, the afternoon’s love songs trailing through my head. My 21st Century Purchase sitting unopened on my desk.
Somewhere around scrubbing the bathroom floor it occurred to me that it was the 11th, my nine month anniversary in Korea. Most astonishing was the revelation that this was unremarkable. I’ve stopped counting. The last few weeks have been unwaveringly present, full of perfect dates with my city, exploring new corners and new friendships. A newly discovered local watering hole with new co-workers who have made this wacky place feel like home. And then, as I walked through my neighborhood to my local tofu restaurant for dinner, I realized something else.
It will be hard to leave.
It is the 17th of October, which means eight months and one week ago today I was standing blurry-eyed on the sidewalk at Incheon International Airport with my suitcases. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I may as well have been drunk for the latter half of January and all of February, as I recall little to nothing of that time, at least nothing that seems like it wasn’t a dream. On second thought, had I actually been drunk for all of that time, I am certain it would have been a more pleasant month.
I am officially closer to the end than to the beginning, and that is both liberating and eye-rolling. My eye-rolling sounds like this: “Really? I have to do this for four more freaking months?” With this pending monthversary looming on the horizon, I have found myself stuck with the number 11 in my head. I am not sure if this is because the day itself falls on the 11th, or because I feel mentally closer to eleven than eight. A crushing disappointment for the impatient.
The last two months have been exquisite socially, as I have unearthed many dear new friends and have seen this city in a whole new way. I cannot say the same for my job, which is tiresome and monotonous and repetitive. On a good day. October in particular has been trying, at best. In recent weeks, decisions have been made. Decisions regarding The Future. And these decisions, well…I want it all to start now. To complicate matters, some irritating health issues have led me to the subsequent yet predictable “I Want To Leave” syndrome. This is not unlike the Great Crash of 2007, when the freezing of my overworked laptop quickly found me tailspinning into feelings of helplessness and being marooned on a desert island. That’s a perfectly reasonable reaction, no?
OK, it is entirely possible that it’s been that special time of the month when one’s hormones are unfairly influencing one’s emotions. When things become slightly “exaggerated”, say, or develop an overwhelming sense of urgency. Where “I am sick of teaching” quickly turns to “I would rather die than teach one more Korean child nothing about English”. Where “I am excited for The Future!” heads down a slippery slope into “I am trapped and suffocating in Korea. I want The Future to start now!”
I am in the middle of an airy fairy spiritual New York Times Bestselling Memoir, which I will refrain from naming as I’ve already said too much. It is one of those books that has crossed my path for the last year and I’ve yawned at it saying, “It’s very popular. It can’t possibly be any good.” The jury is still out on that one.
What I do know is that I am essentially reading my own life-story of the last ten years, and while there are many differences in our life circumstances, the similarities between the inner-workings of the author’s brain and my own are eerie. Today I stumbled upon this passage:
Here you are in India, in an Ashram in one of the holiest pilgrimage sites on earth. And instead of communing with the divine, you’re trying to plan where you’ll be meditating a year from now in a home that doesn’t exist yet in a city yet to be determined. How about this, you spastic fool — how about you try to meditate right here, right now, right where you actually are?
This whole Be Here Now thing is not news to me. It was simply the mirror I needed to look into today, right here, right now.
So today: I ran a really strong five kilometers, I had Vietnamese noodles and frozen yogurt with two lovely new co-workers, I watched the speed skaters at Lotte World and bought blue shoes for ten dollars. And for one whole day, I did not think (very much) about the past eight months or the next four. Just right here, right now.
This week we are on school holiday to celebrate Korean Thanksgiving or Chuseok, and Monday I travelled out to the west coast with my friend Susan to visit Eulwangni Beach. It was a perfect blue-sky sunny day and fated to be even better, as by 1pm I already had one man buy me beer & give me chocolates and yet another man feel me up. This is sadly the most action I’ve had in my seven and a half months in Korea. I don’t know about you, but I like my groping a little more romantic, a little less public and perhaps a bit less violating. A few extra teeth would also help.
I am not someone who is typically fucked with, and I like to think this is due to my grave and serious nature; a certain “Do Not Fuck With Me” aura which, much like soju from Koreans, emanates from my pores. I am usually able to rid myself of unwelcome company rather quickly and am not often pinned into a corner. However, this time I was not so lucky, as Crazy was fast, determined and well…he was crazy.
Upon exiting the subway station, we were immediately approached by the gentleman in question, who started prattling away in Korean, smiling. We both assumed he was trying to offer us a taxi, sell us some Jesus, ogle the foreigners…you know, something common and expected. Usually when this happens, a simple “no” is all it takes to relieve oneself of the perp. He was not having this. There was some grabbing of our shoulders, some forceful no’s, some running and some chasing similar to dodging an angry wasp. But there he was at every turn, smiling and eager and grunting in Korean. And then it happened: with one hand firmly on my shoulder, the other came out of nowhere and grabbed my breast.
I have since taken a shower in bleach several times and reviewed the scenario in my mind, trying to determine how it all happened and why my knee was not immediately and violently in contact with his prostrate. All I can assess is that I was in complete shock and froze. I recall actually saying in my head, “Did he just grab my boob?” We somehow escaped and made it to the other side of the street, where it took me several minutes to erase the incident from my mind and successfully resist the urge to start sobbing.
It was so awesome.
Moving on. After a fantastic and brief ferry ride over to Yeongjondo Wharf, I met another potential soulmate at the bus stop. Truth be told, Susan accepted the burden of this one, as I have little patience for people who will. not. stop. asking me questions in Korean for 50 entire minutes. Especially when it’s the same question and the same answer every time. And especially when it is clear to me, the speaker and everyone around us that we didn’t understand it the first time. After about 30 minutes of this, I believe I uttered, “OK, I am officially exhausted.”
When we finally boarded our bus exactly three hundred hours later, our Bus Stop Suitor followed us aboard and approached us with a plastic bag, from which he pulled two cold beers and a bar of chocolate, eagerly handing them to us. A gift. And then I felt bad. Because this is where I am also usually an asshole. He was just trying to help and he wasn’t groping either of us. Even if he was a little insistent that we change our plans and take a different bus to an entirely different beach. And would not stop talking.
We spent the afternoon laying in the sand, enjoying the sun and the water and our cold beers, talking the girl talk. Not one cloud in the cobalt sky. We watched the sun set over what must be China and watched the restaurants opening up for dinner. We ate the best potatoes I think I’ve ever had and watched the carnival rides at Wolmido. We had an incident-free return to Seoul and then I washed myself in bleach.
So yesterday I went a-palacing with my friends Arliss and Erin and their friend YoungMi. I have been rather hell-bent on seeing Changdeokgung Palace because there is a Secret Garden on the palace grounds. I don’t know about you, but anything that has the word “Secret” in it is somewhere I want to go. My whole life I have searched my parents’ house for secret passageways, secret jewels, secret underground kingdoms and have always come up dry. For this reason, I have placed a good deal of expectation in Changdeokgung to deliver the goods.
Going to Changdeokgung takes some doing as you can only visit by guided tour and the English tours run only three times a day. We had each already been to this palace on other days, only to be realize we’d just missed the last English tour. There have been several near misses, several aborted attempts to see the Secret Garden and with the rain at 9am it looked likely to be another Day In Which I Did Not See Something Secret. But by late morning, the rain had stopped and meeting spots were being discussed.
I learned something yesterday. When you have seen one palace in Korea, you have pretty much seen them all. Now I realize this is generalizing and there is a lot more history buried in the soil of one Korean palace than in my entire New England hometown. Do not misunderstand me. I was very much in squealing, fast-clapping-hands awe of Gyeongbukgung the first time I saw it. It was the first defining “I am in Asia” moment I experienced here. I have spent entire days wandering around Gyeongbuk and Deoksugung, getting lost in their labyrinth pathways. They are immense and breathtaking and the types of places that are impossible to fully capture in photographs.
But I have also visited them a lot. Five and two times respectively, to be exact. So it is not surprising that I felt an overwhelming urge to say Palace Schmalace. And say it a lot. I mean, sure, it could have been that I wore high heeled boots because I am tired of looking like a tourist everytime I go out exploring. Let’s face it. I am never going to not look like a tourist. I have it on good authority that no one will ever think I am from Korea. But it is a fierce battle of high-heeled fashion out there on the mean streets of Seoul and it is a battle I have spent my whole life losing. Some days you just want to be a winner.
So, yeah, ok. My feet were killing me. OK, so my bag was as impractical as my footwear and for the very same reasons. And perhaps I was dehydrated and could not be bothered to hydrate because I did not want to hold the bottle. My shoulder hurt because my bag was heavy because living in Seoul means being a pack-mule if one wants to photograph AND have something to read on the train AND write in her diary if she happens upon a romantical coffeeshop AND carry her trash because there are no public trash cans anywhere. And yes I may have been a little overtired because Korea and the agony of time zones has turned me into a vampire.
But the Secret Garden was secretly boring.
Alright, the garden was really pretty. But it was hard to appreciate when what I really needed was not secret at all: I needed a nap. I did have a brief magical moment in which I lollygagged behind the group messing with camera exposures and discovered an open window in one of the buildings that I had to stick my head into.
Inside was nothing palatial or ancient, but what seemed to be a turn-of-the-century kitchen that reminded me of the one at The Crane Estate in Massachusetts. I stuck my head in there and snapped my two best shots of the day. So that was sort of Secret.
My experience at Changdeokgung should in no way reflect upon my company, as they were the highlight of the Secret Garden and even better, they resorted immediately to cold beers to rehydrate as soon as we returned to civilization. We finished the day with The Best Tofu Restaurant In The History Of Time and a touch of soju and I was happily in my well-lit apartment by 10:30.
Hi? Ann I’m Sarah. I really miss and also I really like to ask a questions. 1st. Are you happy there?
Hello! I have a question to you. Do you like Korea? Do you miss me too? -Kelly-
Hi! I want to ask you a question. What was your favorite student in our class? -Susan-
HELLO, What is your favorite thing in Korea? -Dolly-
Hello! I’m Annie I have a question to you. Do you like Korean food? -Annie-
Hi? Ann? When I meet you, I was very happy. I think my favorite city is Germany. And I want to see you one more time. I learn many of Germany and your mind. Do you like Korean food? -Jeany-
Hi! Do you like Korean food better? or Germany food better? -Shirley-
From the boys (a group effort):
Hello? We are Stephanie’s students. We are very happy to met you. We
are solve the mystery about you so we are very happy. We want to visit Germany because we want to see Germany’s food, thing and people. Have a nice day.
1. What’s your favorite food in Korea?
2. What’s your favorite sports?
3. What’s your favorite book?
4. What’s your favorite
I don’t know what mystery they’ve solved because I sure haven’t. But when you have a minute, I’m sure they’d like to know if you like Korean food.