I will get this out right up front: driving in Korea is exhausting. I grew up in SoCal where the driving is insane. People there are !@#$%^&^% but they are predictable !@#$%^%s - you KNOW the guy in that lane next to you is going to whip into the 5 foot space between your front bumper and the rear bumper of the car in front of you. But those !@#$%^%s follow the traffic laws, for the most part. Here in Korea, the traffic laws are more like 'guidelines'. I like to call the driving over here 'aggressively defensive'.
When we first arrived, we were warned - do not cut off the buses and watch out for the taxi drivers. That's no joke - they are both nuts. We took a bus back from the airport when we arrived and just being a passenger on the bus was stressful. They do not give an inch. The taxi drivers rival Formula 1 drivers with their skills and speed. And their abilities on their horn are unrivaled. I had heard that the delivery scooter drivers were nuts but didn't realize HOW nuts until we were heading home one evening and one whipped in between us and the car waiting in front of us (all of a 3 foot clearance) in order to DRIVE ON THE SIDEWALK. Insane.
Red lights are optional. In the states, one would never think of running a red light but here it is actually more dangerous NOT to run them as you might get rear-ended by someone who is coming up behind you, expecting you to not be sitting there. Or you might get clipped by a crazy Formula 1 taxi driver whipping around you. Also, some of the red lights are in the most ridiculous of places - some are at driveways and crosswalks and they aren't sensored so they go red even though no one is there to use the crosswalk. So people run them. It's crazy.
Add all of this on top of the fact that it's challenging to read the street and highway signs (some of it is in English but not all of it. And even the stuff that's in English isn't necessarily helpful) and the fact that there aren't addresses like you have in the States and it makes navigation...difficult. When people give directions, it's a lot like getting directions in the South - people use landmarks as opposed to street names and building numbers. In an area that is unfamiliar, getting places can be exhausting.
But we're learning. I had a wonderful friend get me a GPS and pre-load it with local maps. I've also been messing around with a great little app called Waze - a community-based traffic and navigation app. It's been helpful but not perfect. There are the GPS routes, the 'back roads', and the 'back-back roads'. The neat thing about the Waze program is that it 'learns' your preferred routes. Possibly, between the GPS, my Waze program, and experience, I might not come home exhausted every time I go run an errand.
The kids have been pestering us for months, if not years, to get a dog. We've never really been in a position to get one before - uncertainty as to our future in one location and living in rentals that didn't allow pets pretty much put the kibosh on owning a pet. Until now. Korea has a dearth of homeless pets - dogs and cats. Thankfully they also have wonderful organizations here that work to get many of these animals fostered or adopted.
We've been browsing the adoption sites, looking for a dog that looked like it would fit our family well. We wanted a younger dog for a variety of reasons: the kids are still young, we're a pretty active family, it's possible we'll be moving again in the future (can't say I plan to make SK my forever home) and moving can be tough on older pets, etc. We finally found a good match and picked her up last weekend.
Meet Ginger. She's (what we believe to be) a Finnish Spitz. She looks like a little fox. She was rescued, along with her mom and littermates, before Christmas and is about 11 weeks old. She's sweet and pretty calm (for now) and has started to relax a bit from when we first got her home. She's quite the fan of playing with bouncy balls and is really good about sticking close to our heels and following our every step. If she keeps up with that, I'd love to look into agility and obedience training with her once we get back to the states. We like her so much that, when we heard that one of her littermates is still in need of adoption, we asked to have her as well and are now making arrangements to get back up to Seoul to get her. They're like potato chips - you can't have just one! Having a playmate around should make things much more fun for Ginger, and us.
Our settling in is going along pretty well. It helps that MacGyver was here 5 months before us. But we're making friends (quickly...I had forgotten how quickly military families, when living in a small and isolated military community, make friends) and learning our way around. We took off to Seoul last weekend to explore a bit - using the train and subway. I'm looking forward to going again once it's not so cold outside. We did manage to find 'Doni Burger' that my MIL had pointed us toward (after having read an article in the LA Times about this place and its similarity to In-N-Out) and tried out their burgers. They were pretty yummy. Not quite In-N-Out but still very good.
And then the other night I had a chance to go out with some wonderful ladies and check out a couple of local coffee shops, whereupon I discovered Korean Honey Bread. It. Was. DIVINE. It's about 1/2 of a loaf of something that resembles Hawaiian sweet bread with cinnamon sugar and powdered honey drizzled all over it and baked. It is then topped with whipped cream (while still hot), caramel and chocolate sauce, slivered almonds, and what seemed to be Frosted Flakes. It's served with vanilla ice cream. I'm still on a sugar high.
My Korean reading skills are coming along. Slowly. But I'm learning. And I'm learning my way around well enough that I can usually find my way home after getting lost. About a week ago, we were also lucky enough to meet up with some friends from Kansas that are stationed up near Seoul. They came down this way and we were able to spend the day with that - that was good for me soul! We're hoping that we can get up to see them soon. I'm hoping, once the weather warms up, we can take the puppy on the bus and head up to Seoul to check out some of the great parks they have there and just go exploring.
And to complete an otherwise full month, one of my very bestest friends is here visiting her husband who is stationed here (unaccompanied) so I get to spend time with her while he's at work. Yay!! All in all it's been a pretty good month.
We've been here a week. In some ways, it feels like we *just* arrived and in other ways it feels like we've been here a while. We've mostly beaten the jet lag/time change issues though I still feel pretty wiped out by 4pm, even though I'm not doing much. But we're sleeping and eating on a normal schedule so that says something. Still don't have a phone, which is frustrating, but I plan to remedy that this weekend.
My first impressions of Korea are pretty favorable - much more favorable than my first impressions of Kansas were. Here's a partial list:
1. the people ~ Incredibly accommodating and willing to help. From the moment we set foot ON the plane in SanFran (partial Korean crew), everyone we've come in contact with has been more than willing to help. We were almost accosted by people at the airport offering either a ride or to point us in the direction of tickets/English-speaking assistance as we waited for MacGyver to get our ride home set up. The gate guards on post are friendly and love to speak English about as much as we love to speak the few Korean words we know. The cashiers at the exchange and commissary are equally as friendly.
2. the location ~ It looks a LOT like Kansas in the winter. Brown everywhere. Makes sense, given that it's winter. There is trash everywhere. You don't see public trash cans so it just winds up on the ground. And I'm pretty sure they don't have landfills here so what can't be recycled (or what ISN'T recycled) winds up in piles everywhere. They recycle a lot but without a system of rubbish disposal, you get trash everywhere. And living spaces are hidden and tucked away in places that, in the states, you'd never think to look for a house or an apartment. Our place is tucked so far back and the turn in is so inconspicuous that I doubt anyone would ever find it unless I led them here. I've really not seen much of Korea beyond our immediate area so I can't really say much more than that.
3. our living arrangements ~ Our place is pretty nice. It's spacious and pretty wide open. The rooms are decent-sized and we have everything we need. There are quirks and things that take some getting used to (no garbage disposal, a dishwasher whose layout makes NO sense to me, radiant-floor heating that I'm still learning, etc.) but we like it here. However, the drains STINK. The way the sewage system is set up, you pretty much get to smell everyone's sewage. It comes up through the drain, particularly in the laundry room. Thankfully, the laundry room has its own door so we can close that off and keep the rest of the house from stinking. The showers are unique but I'll save that for another time (when I have a camera and can post pictures). We're also just a short distance away from the airfield so I get to hear helicopters, which I like. We're also near enough to the air base to hear the jets too - BONUS!
4. the military installation ~ I had forgotten how it was to be a part of a military community that is a.) small and b.) relatively isolated from the community in which it resides. Because the post is so small and - due mainly to the language/cultural barriers - isolated from the civilian community, the cohesiveness here is much stronger than anything we experienced in Kansas or Hawaii or Tennessee or Rucker. People here are QUICK to make friends. Facebook pages are the preferred form of information dissemination and camaraderie. It's been really nice.
5. the food ~ We've not yet eaten out on the town. I'm embarrassed to say that! In my defense, we arrived on Friday and were just a hot mess. Took the weekend to recover and then MacGyver went back to work so we've not had time to go out. Hopefully we'll get out this weekend. I will say that the SBUX people on post are starting to recognize me. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
6. the driving ~ The drivers here are...nuts. They are incredibly aggressive yet cautious because Korea is a '60/40 state' meaning that, in the event of an accident, both drivers will share in the cost. So most drivers, while putting Los Angeles drivers to shame in the aggressive-driving category, will usually do their best to avoid hitting you. However, many of the laws seem to be...suggestions. There are several lights on the road to our place that are not at street intersections - usually they are at crosswalks or where a driveway Ts into the street. If those are red and there isn't a person in the crosswalk or a car at the driveway, most drivers just blow right through the light. Also, on the non-freeway streets, there are speed humps - the big ones that you usually find in American neighborhoods. Sometimes there's one. Often times there are multiple humps. And, if you're not paying attention, you can quite easily catch air in your hoopty truck. Ask me how I know! I've been brave enough to drive several times on my own, including once in the dark. There's a FINE LINE between bravery and stupidity...but we made it there and back in one piece so all's well that ends well!
We made it to the Land of the Morning Calm a few days ago. I apologize for the extended absence - to say that life has been interesting for the past few months would be an understatement! MacGyver left for his job in Korea, leaving us behind to wrap things up before the holidays. Before he left we had been looking for a house to buy in the area and, just after he left, we found one that met our needs and most of our wants. So, armed with pre-approval from the bank and a power of attorney, I bought a house...on my own. It was insane. But it's ours and I cannot wait to start tackling all of the plans I have for it!
Christmas was it's normal insanity with preparations for an international move thrown in for good measure. The post office now knows me by name and I feel like Norm in 'Cheers' every time I walk in there. After doing my best to downsize, we put most of our stuff in storage and shipped off the little that remained - clothes, school stuff, Legos (must.have.Legos.), a few kitchen supplies, the important files and paperwork. And then there was the insanity that comes with moving - all of the last-minute minutiae that I absolutely DESPISE: runs to Goodwill, the dump, ditching things with friends, panicking that we weren't going to get it all done in time to head to the airport.
Oh, and the goodbyes.
We all know I suck at goodbyes. I did my best to avoid them but I wasn't able to do so entirely so there was that. But we made it out alive. Our flight took us through Denver and had an overnight layover involved so we were able to eat at one of our favorite restaurants, The Flagstaff House. MacGyver and I have been there five times (including this last trip) and this time we were able to take the kids with us so they could experience it. What a joy it was to share it with them! They tried everything that was placed before them - including pate, petit fours, and eggnog pannacotta.
The next morning we were off on the incredibly long flight to Seoul. They've been retrofitting 747s with in-seat video screens and auxillary power for your tablet/computer/etc. as well as in-flight wi-fi so we were looking forward to that. Sadly, we managed to get THE oldest 747 in the airline's fleet - it had NONE of those items. Thankfully, we had melatonin and neck pillows! The flight attendants were fantastic and seemed to be fascinated by the fact that we all travel with our own water bottles. They brought my children chocolates and topped off our water bottles constantly. I think that staying hydrated like we did helped us rebound from the flight more easily. We had heard there was Jamba Juice at Incheon and were looking forward to finding it but, by the time we landed and made it through immigration and customs, all we wanted to do was go home. Sadly, that meant another 2.5 hours on the bus.
But we're here now and settling in. Korea is - on first impression - like living in an alternate universe. There are MANY things that are very reminiscent of living in the states. And then, when you look a little closer, you realize you're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. I'll write more about that later. And pictures...I'll post pictures. But first I have to get a new phone and cell service. And a car. But I've been to Starbucks so all is well!
Pau. (I suppose I should learn to say 'done' in Korean instead of Hawaiian...)
Particularly at 12:21 am. Particularly when you're alone and the rest of the world is asleep and you're stuck trying to talk yourself down from one. In the dark. With no Xanax prescription. So I write. Hopefully it calms me enough that I can sleep in a bit. It's going to make waking up for early morning jiu jitsu practice brutal.
It feels like the weight of the past 6 years came crashing down on my head in the dark as I was trying to get to sleep. The past 6 years have kicked my ass. I've seen my husband through a 15-month combat deployment and major surgery, lost my father and my grandmother within 6 months of each other, watched friends face unimaginable horrors, said goodbye to more friends than I can count due to suicides, combat-related deaths, PCS moves, or simply life moving them on from me (some of these were blessings in disguise), faced ridiculous unexpected stresses related to MacGyver's Army career and the legal mess that spelled the end of it, multiple non-combat-related separations, his unemployment and subsequent employment in a foreign country plus that extended separation, and buying a house (our first!) on my own.
The panic attack makes sense (particularly given the fact that my closing date on the house falls right smack - TMI alert - in the middle of my PMS week...oy). But it still sucks.
The other night, I dreamt that I was driving my poor old sedan on the freeway in SoCal. And as I'm driving (through the tunnel that leads you under the runway at LAX), my steering wheel came off. It was quite the panicky chaotic scene as I tried to steer my car without a steering wheel. Obviously I'm processing more stress than I realized. My dream is about as good of a metaphor for my life as you could ask for - more often than not, I feel like I'm just kind of careening down the road with little to no control.
Tonight, before I could even crash out, the stress hit me so here I am at 12:30am typing away in an attempt to keep these demons away. I had turned off the light and was working on drifting off when I started thinking about our flight to Korea. I am not a fan of flying over water - never have been. Over an ocean that large, where the hell do you land if there is a mechanical issue? You don't. I've had many a nightmare about crashing in to the ocean. For some reason, flying over land doesn't bother me as much (I'm still not a huge fan of flying anymore. I used to be, as a kid but now it just makes me nervous) because in my mind, there are many places you can land a plane if you're over land. Not so much if you're stuck out over the Pacific Ocean. And the idea of crashing into the ocean terrifies me. Moreso if my children are on board with me. So, when I started thinking about our flight to Korea, it set my panic attack that has been building for weeks off like a firecracker. I can still feel my heart racing and I can't get my breathing to settle down.
I need a break. I need a hug. And I need for the next 2 months to hurry the hell up and be over so that we can be together again as a family. I need the next few years to be kind to me. Not easy, just kind. Because the last 6 have really kicked my ass. There's no shame in admitting that, right? I have none. This isn't too much to ask, is it? Don't answer that if you're going to disagree with me.
In my fantasy world, I could hit 'rewind' and go back to 2006. Back to the calm before this storm. Back to the 'before'. I'd be surrounded by good friends who were enduring the same challenges I was facing, before the sadnesses hit, before things really got rough. Maybe if I focus on those things, I can push the panicky feelings aside. Maybe it will help me feel less like I'm drowning. Maybe it will help me breathe.
Be careful what you wish for. Or, as my inner Grammar Nazi says, "Be careful that for which you wish."
Shut it, Grammar Nazi. I've been on a 'downsizing kick' since we first had the military pack us out of Alaska. We had moved ourselves TO Alaska (and by 'we', I mean MacGyver - he loaded our stuff out of the storage unit in SoCal into a UHaul truck and, with his mother, drove through blizzards north to Alaska) but the Army packed us out of Alaska. And it was disconcerting to have other people handling our stuff. ALL of our stuff - we had lots. Not tons but more than other people we knew. And it made me feel...self-conscious (I've since learned that comparison sucks the joy out of everything but, at the time, I did not yet know that). I've been trying to purge and downsize ever since.
About twice per year, I'd get on a kick to get rid of as much as possible and live simply. Do we really need 15 dishtowels? Six sets of sheets for each bed? Twenty-two bath towels? Two 8x8 baking dishes? A box marked 'wires'? Four RipStiks when we only have TWO children? And so on. I'd do my best to purge and limit the things we bought and brought into the house but usually to no avail. I'd even gone so far as to pray about it (because God cares how many towels I have. NOT.). Evidently, He heard my prayers. And He chose to send us to Korea. With a company that will not pay moving expenses (beyond the employee's plane ticket and a small allowance for tools and other professional gear). *please note this is NOT a complaint against said company for their policies. Just an observation. I am grateful for the things they do provide and the fact that MacGyver has a job.*
Evidently He has a sense of humor. Because we are unable to ship our HHGs (household goods), we are either getting rid of stuff (yard sale, giving things to friends, Goodwill/donation) or putting it in storage. In the past few months I have easily purged 10% of our HHGs. Before MacGyver left, we had probably purged another 10%. And I still need to get rid of the mattresses (they are old and needed to be replaced anyway. No sense in storing them), our dining set, our behemoth of an entertainment center, our hand-me-down Christmas tree, and a few other odds and ends. We'll be taking some things with us to Korea - clothes, personal items, school stuff, a few kitchen items, and our irreplacables but that's really about it. The challenge I'm facing right now is this: what should I get rid of and what is worth putting in storage? I abhor the idea of coming back in 2, 3, howevermany years and unpacking our stuff and wondering what the hell I was thinking PAYING to store item X for that long. It drives me MAD. And I know I will. I know I will open up a box, find a toy or a book or a kitchen item and think, "I never used/liked this item...why did I hang on to it?" I suspect we'll hold yet another garage sale (which I also abhor) right after we get back just to get rid of all the crap we *should* have ditched before we left!
So all those years of praying that God would provide an opportunity to live a 'minimal(ish)'™ lifestyle have paid off...not necessarily in the way I would have envisioned but, hey, beggars can't be choosers, right? If you need me, I'll be out in the garage, bagging up clothes and stuffed animals and toys and books and decor and other crap that I've toted from California to Alaska to Alabama to Tennessee to Hawaii and back to the mainland. And now it's time to ditch it. So I can go buy new crap to tote back from Korea! Pau. - hfs