Friday, May 7, 2010

Well folks, I'm coming home

Why is a really long story that can be boiled down to one sentence: My boss wasn't fulfilling my contract and wasn't willing to fix what was wrong. I had a very long discussion with my boss about it, and we decided that it would make both of us happiest if I left. Me, because I was dying to go home to David and dairy, and my boss got off smelling like a rose. He would not repay me the money that he contractually owed me, but he would send me off with a small severance. Basically, he bought my plane ticket home. I think we both really lucked out.

From the moment that I put in my 30 days notice (April 19th), I have been looking at things here a lot differently - especially the little things. Most of the little things here have made the biggest impact on the flavor of life here. I don't want to forget them. Like the random dirty glass jar of sausages in the hallway of my apartment complex. Its a giant jar of preserved sausage links in a dark yellowy-brown liquid hanging out in the hallway. It has been in the hallway of my complex since I got here in November - weirding me out every time I walked past it. About a week ago someone took the parchment paper off the top of the jar and a couple of flyers have dropped has become marginally less weird and wayyyy more disgusting.

The day I wrote this blog in my journal was May 5th - Children's Day. Children's day is a national holiday in Korea, so we all got the day off of work. I decided to go to the park across from my apartment laying under a blossoming crab apple tree. My childhood neighbors, the Cockriels, have a crabapple tree bordering the property of my parents house. Every spring the old tree turns into a froth of pink and white petals, but I was under no misconceptions that I was back at home. As I wrote in my journal, petals kept floating down and covering the page where I was trying to write. Three young boys were playing soccer near me and the Hangul being spoken was blurring into background of the day.

As beautiful as I find this country, it's very lonely . The country has 48 and a half million people jam packed into a piece of land the approximate size of Indiana. There are people all around me every day, but I can't communicate with any of them. My only friends here are my co-workers - coincidentally, they are generally the only people who can speak English with any sort of fluency. Most days, I only get to converse with people between 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. I can understand that the feeling of isolation would be difficult to imagine for those at home, but I think that this is why it is so easy for foreigners to strike up conversations with the random people we meet on buses or trains. We are literally hungry for connections, as superficial as most of them might be.

Within the past few weeks, Korea has become a place that I barely recognize. All the trees have flowered and brought out their leaves. The air smells alive and it is so warm now that I can skip outside without a coat! Maybe the transition here would have been so tough if the weather had been better when I got here.

I started running again. A whole month off. I feel like I am starting all over again, but I enjoy the sights I am seeing. My route out to the rice fields has gotten MUCH greener, and its nice to run into the wind and not feel like it is cutting me into pieces. The carp are mating in the Tongbok. I tried not to stop and stare at first, but I was glad to see that the Koreans are just as fascinated with it as I am. Its like the Discovery channel is in front of me. On my runs, I see people hanging out out at the banks of the stream watching the water thrashing wildly. The gnats are out too. On my way out yesterday, I ran straight into a giant cloud of them. I spent the next five minutes trying to rub them out of my eyes. On my way back in, I ducked my head down to keep them out of my face and watched them literally bouncing off my white shirt. When I blew my nose later that night, I found one in my tissue. Awesome.

I can't wait to come home. Pretty obvious, I know, but it is becoming a little bit of a problem. I dream about going home at night. I day dream about going home during the day. I spend my time after work looking for things to do in Kansas city and possible teaching positions.
Oooh Bonus Update! I got an interview opportunity! Turner Middle School. It is definitely a long shot, but even getting an interview in this economy feels like a coup. I signed up with the KEEB (Kansas Education Employment Board) and found out that for the entire state of Kansas, there are only 500 ish teaching jobs posted (elementary through high school) and there are 22,000 applicants vying for them. Man, I love those odds. Makes it more of a challenge....erm......yes.....this is what I keep telling myself.

Flight is scheduled for the 20th. See you then!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My trip to Gyeong-ju

I only just managed to make it to Gyeong-ju. I stopped by the bank in order to get some more cash for my trip, and I got to the end of the line at the train station at 18:39. My train was scheduled to depart at 18:41 and the Korean train system is ridiculously prompt. Some kind souls pushed me to the front of the line and I lucked out that my train was 5 minutes late, but that didn't stop me from having a heart attack when I sprinted down the escalator only to see a train pulling away from my track.

As I stared out the windows, I thought a lot about all that I am going to miss in Korea. This trip to Gyeong-ju is by far the most adventurous thing that I have done while I was in Korea, and well, moving to Korea was the most brave thing that I have ever done in my life, so I was just all kinds of adventurous this weekend.

I never got to do all the things that I wanted to do here. I ran the marathon and I have to admit that it is my crowning achievement, but the long training hours and the required routes kept me from going anywhere except to Seoul for short weekend day trips.

As the mountains outside my windows grew bigger, and as the sun set, I wished that I had more of a chance to get to know them. I spent so long being miserable here. I was all alone - without my family, without my friends, without David - and now, now that it is almost over, I wish I could stay.

Gyeong-ju was amazing. I wish I had more time to explore everything. I guess the best place to start is to tell you about the mood of Gyeong-ju.... Well, its very.... peaceful. Relaxed. Even the throngs of people can't ruffle her feathers.

I kept thinking about how different Geyong-ju was from Seoul. I wondered why. I came to think of Gyeong-ju as a halmonee (a Korean grandmother). As the ancient capitol of Silla ( the ancestors of Koreans), Gyeong-ju has been around since the 7th century. She has seen it all. She is dignified, stately, and even elegant in her age - but not unapproachable - quite the opposite - the cherry blossoms everywhere are cheerful decorations.

If Gyeong-ju is the grandmother, then Seoul is the teenager. Seoul is brash, sexy, and always living fast-paced and on the edge. This is not to say that Seoul does not have extreme cultural significance to Korea, but Gyeong-ju hit its peak about 600 years before Seoul became the capitol of Korea. I laugh because I can almost hear Gyeong-ju telling Seoul that she needs to grow up and stop acting and dressing so slutty.

I arrived on Friday night and my return train was scheduled for 12:51 pm on Sunday afternoon. Only a day and a half to explore. I chose three major areas - giving myself a half day for each. First on my list was Bulguksa temple. I went to the bus stop the owner of my hostel told me to and took the bus that he told me to. All was going well until I got a little trigger happy and got off at the "Bulguksa station" stop. The temple was actually 4 kilometers down the road. I did eventually get there, and it was magnificent. Each beautiful detail was significant to the Buddhist ideals of balance and harmony. Along one path were hundreds of rock piles. Literally thousands of small rocks were carefully stacked one on top of the other representing the Buddhist belief that while stacking you must clear your mind and meditate on harmony and your oneness with nature. Only then will you be able to find balance. You could enter the shrines in each of the buildings on the compound and pay your respects to this spiritual leader of so many millions of people around the world. You were not allowed to take any pictures of the Buddha statues themselves, but they were magnificent; shining brightly with chubby golden smiles.
Once I had finished meandering through the compound, I took the bus back in to the main part of town. I had decided that the second half of my day would be spent in the many many cultural remains of the of the Silla dynasty. I decided to take a taxi to the farthest point and work my way in. First up: the Gyeong-ju National Museum. It was interesting, but I was a little bored with the Natural History wing. I have little patience for case after case of tools, although I do appreciate the importance of their uses. The pottery, paintings, and jewelery wings were more to my taste. You should have seen some of the things excavated from some of these tombs.
Next was Anapji pond. Gorgeous and completely designed by man. It was landscaped for a palace that has long since been distroyed. The pond had to be drained some years back to make some repairs to the conduit system and the city workers found piles and piles of artifacts such as gold and bronze foodware that must have been dropped in the lake by the servants as they were transporting the picnics to the little islands for the royal family.
Third on my list, was the Cheomseongdae Observatory. The observatory is the oldest in Asia and was built by Queen Seondeok during the 7th century.I think I loved it so much because the park around it was so amazing. There were HUGE fields of bright green and yellow flowers, and large crowds of Korean families were flying hundreds of kites. I eventually went back to this park and flew a kite myself!
I had planned on going to the Daereungwon Tomb park, but to be quite honest, there are so many tombs scattered around the Gyeong-ju area that I got a little confused...I ended up in the Gyerim forest where Kim Alji, the founder of the Gyeong-ju Kim clan was said to have been born out of an egg.The trees in this forest are supposed to be over 2000 years old, and yet, they are still flowering.
I finally found the Tomb park, and got to go inside the Cheonmachong tomb (the flying horse tomb). Many of the artifacts from the National Museum came from this king's tomb, but the fact that I liked learning about the most, was that many of the tombs in Gyeong-ju are un-excavated! Can you even imagine the treasures that could be inside? I sort of like the idea that there are some places that we will never know about.
I walked back to my hostel and Mr. Kwon recommended the traditional sauna about 50 meters away. He said that after an hour of scrubbing, steaming, and soaking I would be ready for tomorrow's adventure. I had never been to one of the traditional bathhouses before, but I had always wanted to, so I walked over. $4.50 and I was in....and totally lost. I had no idea what to do. There were tons of lockers, but they all contained shower caddies full of supplies...should I use one? should I have brought my own stuff? After standing around awkwardly in the entrance hall for no less than five minutes, one of the ladies who worked there took pity on me and led me inside. She gave me a locker, and motioned for me to strip. I gulped. I knew this would happen and that it was totally normal for Koreans so I shouldn't feel self conscious, but taking off those last two, very important, articles of clothing and those first few minutes as the worker led me into the sauna room where no less than 20 women were nakedly lounging or washing was excruciating. I have to admit...within ten minutes I was no longer worrying about it. A few people were interested in the Caucasion, and I was fascinated by the process, but other than that, I was over it. Odd.
This morning I decided to hike Mt. Namsan.

Now, this - this was the most amazing experience of my whole trip. Try to imagine. It looks simple and straighforward enough. There is a clearly worn trail up the mountain that you can follow to the peak, but if you have the inclination, there are tiny little paths going off into the forest.I had heard that there were amazing Buddhist carvings hidden on Namsan, and I curiously scaled these paths where I found the most amazing sight: Buddha. There were at least six or seven that I saw on my all too short trip. Ancient Buddhist statues - some staring solemnly, some smiling benignly, but all keeping watch over the mountain. Purple flowers were clustered everywhere; they were the only splashes of color against the sheer rock faces and pine forests. At about 2/3rds of the way up the mountain, You came to a tiny little Buddhist hermitage precariously balanced on the rocks. The two little old women tending to the gardens and the alter had set a dipper next to the well for any thirsty hiker. There was a cherry tree, the only one I had seen on the whole mountain and it was stationed in between the two buildings at the crest of one rise. It dropped its petals on the hikers as they huffed their way up. I watched as a few hikers stopped to bow in front of the alter before continuing on, and I did the same. Farther up the mountain, almost at the top, the next Buddha statue that I came across was the most impressive of them all. 7 feet tall, and had you not been looking, you might have missed him. His face and head was prominent, but his arms and lower body seemed to sink into the stone and eventually become one with it. This Buddha had the most incredible view. He sat on sheer rock face with a natural stone ledge where worshipers could gather or rest. Candles were burning at his feet, and you could smell the faint scent of incense, probably put there by one of the monks from the hermitage. I did eventually get to the top, which was such an overwhelming experience.

You know, I can't help but be so glad that this was the last image that I had of Gyeong-ju. I may never return to South Korea, but I am better for being here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A not so good day

Well, I simply could not be more irritated with my body. And before you ask - Yes, this will be another post ranting about all of my ailments. About five days after the marathon while mom and I were walking all around Pyeongtaek, I noticed that my left foot was bothering me. We would set out across town and I would feel this twinge on the outside start building and building until I was almost limping. I can't remember if I even mentioned it to mom; I think I figured that it was a normal ache and pain and that I should just leave it alone and it would be fine.

...Dun, dun, DUN............

It did not just go away like I predicted. On Saturday when I walked across town, I started feeling it at the market, and by the end of my Easter journey across Seoul, I was flat-out hobbling home. Monday morning it was only a twinge, but by the end of the day I was in full blown pain and I asked Sarah to take me to the hospital - Sarah has led me to believe that Korea doesn't have a ton of individual doctors. Hospitals are private businesses and you go to them for whatever you need. So. Today I went back to the hospital. Once there, I pointed to a glass display case in the lobby. "hey look! Thats where I almost passed out!"

The nurse for the orthopedic wing told us to pay first, get xrays, and come back. I paid, get this, a little under 14 dollars for an xray and consultation. I LOVE Korea's Universal health care. The doctor told me that nothing showed up on the xray and insisted that I had a damaged ligament (i.e. sprain ) on the fifth metatarsal (the pinky toe bone area) and that there was nothing that I could do for it but rest. Okay. I was pretty skeptical. I know that there are boots and crutches and things to keep your weight off of it so that it can heal faster. "So how long will it take to heal" ......3 to 4 months. I started tearing up. Wait, what? I know that I never went to medical school, but it seems to me that there is no way that a ligament can heal faster by being used normally - ie without crutches or something. Also, from all that I have read, many times a stress fracture in the bone is misdiagnosed as a sprain and that the stress fracture doesn't even show up on an xray until the crack gets more serious....

"Stress fractures of the fifth metatarsal are also common within the athletic community (Figure 2). There are often low-grade symptoms with activity that can last weeks prior to the diagnosis of fracture, which usually presents as an acute increase in pain. Symptoms may include pain over the outer aspect of the foot particularly with activity and weight bearing. There may be swelling or bruising present. These symptoms may worsen over time before a fracture is evident on x-ray. These low-grade symptoms should not be ignored. There is usually evidence on plain x-rays of stress related changes in the bone. However, in suspected cases of a fifth metatarsal stress fracture without x-ray changes or with questionable changes, MRI has become the most sensitive tool for early diagnosis."

-Joshua Baumfeld, MD, David Diduch, MD, UVA Sports Medicine

Well, So anyways. I am terrified that this is something serious and that because the doctor did not give me a boot or crutches to make me feel better....I mean REALLY, this would soothe my nerves. I can understand taking time off of running. I hate that it is so long, but I would feel better if there was something that I could do. Not just "take a rest" I mean, for goodness sake, I work with small children. What am I supposed to do? I am just scared that this will not get any better, but rather, escalate until I have a broken bone.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

A good day

Spring is slowly moving into Pyeongtaek. I know that it is because I have seen the tiniest green buds on all of the trees lining the streets. It seems like the weather is taking its sweet time to warm up. It is frustrating to me because I am just so used to Kansas weather - you know, it is cold for like a million years, and then all of a sudden, Boom, overnight its 75 and sunny. In Korea, I feel like I am waiting for a pot to boil. Each week the temperature goes up one or two degrees. I guess I can't complain.

Today was special. 55 degrees and sunny, but best of all was the sky. We had a blue sky! In Korea, the pollution and other environmental factors ensure that the sky is an almost permanent slate gray. Not today. A robin's egg blue and I'll be damned if I was going to let it go to waste. I took put on my flats and walked towards the Tongbok market. I meandered up and down the narrow aisles and wrinkled my nose at the smells emanating from the basket of pig heads on the ground and the bowl of slightly pulsing eel like objects on the table.

I moved on to the downtown area and skirted it for a little bit. I like the smaller stores on the edges. They tend to be a little more funky and cheaper than the stores in and right around AK plaza. I walked into one store and greeted the young woman working with the expected "annyong haseyo," and as she noticed I was Caucasion, she pulled an adorable little girl from around the counter. I am used to this. Parents are often pushing their kids to talk to Caucasions so that they can practice their English skills, but this time was different. This time, I knew the little girl. It was Tiffany! One of the students in my class. She ran to me, but was incredibly shy (not a trait that I thought she possessed) and just stood there rubbing her face against my waist.

I was a bit confused because the shop worker was not her mommy, but the shopkeeper managed to explain that her mommy was right next door. I do love that about Korea. The society is based on Confucian ideals that require a society to take care of each other first. Its such a safe country (on the whole) that kids are allowed to wander from shop to shop, street to street, and they are watched by everyone. The whole "it takes a village" idea.

Tiffany grabbed my hands and dragged me to the restaurant next door where her mommy was working the front. She seemed very pleased to see me and insisted that I stay and eat. Apparently, tiffany's family owned the restaurant and her mom worked the floor while her dad cooked. They showered me with food and even though I was not exceptionally hungry, I stuffed myself to make sure that I did not offend them. It was really delicious! I had cold noodle soup with thinly sliced beef, a hard boiled egg, and some radish. They also made me a hameul pajeon -a seafood pancake- and when I got up to say goodbye, they insisted that I drink a cola and wait for a which point, they gave me a to go box full of freshly made dumplings. It was so incredibly sweet of them. I thanked them a hundred times, bowing and telling them how delicious it was.

After leaving, I continued to walk around for a bit. I walked into the shoe store where my mom and I had shopped during her visit, and after checking out a few of the shoes I noticed a woman looking at me hard. It was another one of my student's mommies! We greeted each other with big smiles and not much talking, although not for lack of trying. She hovered over me, which made me uncomfortable, because I didn't really want to buy a pair of shoes. Well, I did. It is me after all, but I wanted to show her that i did respect her shop and liked her shoes. I pointed to a pair of sandals in black. I had bought the same pair in blue when I was with my mother. I explained to her that I had that pair of shoes. She took that to mean that I wanted that pair of shoes. She took the shoes up to the counter and I sighed. I DID like the shoes and could always do with a black pair. They were not ridiculously expensive or anything so I figured I could buy them to save face. When I pulled out my card, she waved me off. "My gift to you" she said. People here are just nice. Don't you wish you could visit?

Monday, March 29, 2010

So you think you want to run a marathon

Let me be the first to admit, the end of my marathon was not the victorious image that I had in my head. I had envisioned myself bounding across the finish line, arms raised, a huge grin on my face. What really happened was more of a dragging of my deadened limbs across the line, head thrown back because i didn't have the energy to hold it up straight anymore and my mouth half open in a moan. Super victorious. The first words out of my mouth when I crossed the finish line were " I am never. doing. that. again."

Well, its almost two weeks later. I have only been running once since, and yet I am already considering when my next one will be. Mom compared it to having a baby, which was weirdly appropriate. I suppose the accomplishment erases the pain after a little bit.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Mom arrived on Thursday night. I missed the first bus to the airport so I was about 40 minutes late. When i got there she was sitting in the arrival's area looking adorably nervous. I brought her a Hallabong ( a Korean hybrid tangerine ) and we shared it together while waiting for the bus back to Pyeongtaek.

For the first part of the visit I was feeling really off. I was in a bit of a perpetual funk as I thought about my marathon. I had been out of commission from running for almost a week and a half because of my sickness and my hospital visit - I have to admit - I was freaking out. I knew I had to try to run the marathon, but i was terrified that I wouldn't be able to finish and I knew how disappointed I would be with myself if I couldn't. Mom and I rode the train to Seoul on Saturday morning. We took the subway to our hotel, changing subway lines three times. I probably shouldn't have done this, as we had to lug our suitcases all over the platforms and I wanted to save my legs for the next day, but I wanted to show my mom how to use the subway system. Mom was going to have to use the subway system the next day to get from the starting line to the finish line, and she was freaking out about getting lost in Korea and not being able to communicate with anyone.

Our hotel was pretty amazing. Heated floors, a living room, a refrigerator, washing machine, stove, was amazing. We spent the rest of the day watching movies on tv and giggling about the Korean commercials. For dinner that night we ate at the restaurant in the hotel, "montour." Mom ordered "pizza" and I got seafood pasta which was complete with oysters, squid, baby octopus, and other unknowns. After dinner, back in the room, I laid out my clothes, tied my timing chip to my shoes, and pinned my race number to my shirt.

After eight hours of sleep broken up five or six times by stumbling to the bathroom to pee, I woke up to eat half of a dry bagel and a banana and get dressed. I hadn't felt that nervous since Saturday mornings on the speech circuit. So I dealt with the nerves in the same way I did during speech. I put in my headphones and jammed out to some serious tunes. The same tunes, I might add, that I gave to one of my besties, Maddy, for her senior year AFA (speech nationals)...which she is I am have been thinking about my team constantly, and am so proud of the direction that the team seems to have taken recently. I hope that they are rocking out to some of the jams that I shared. See, you can be in Korea and still be connected.

Mom and I took the subway to the starting line. The race packet told me that I would have to take public transportation because everything would be shut down, so I tried to get a hotel room close to the starting line....I knew I was close when I reserved the room, but the subway stop right outside of our apartment was literally one stop away from the start. It was great not having to stress about that. Once we stepped off of the subway and on to the platform - I just can't describe it. Koreans. EVERYWHERE. So many people. Mom grabbed onto my jacket and held on for dear life as I navigated the crowds. Hundreds of groups in matching gear were stretching together down in the Subway platform because it was shielded from the wind that was gusting at up to 17mph. The smell....icy-hot. There were clouds as men were spraying down their calves and their clothing. It was like breathing in Vicks Vapor rub.

The starting line is on one of the most famous intersections in Seoul. It is a small ways away from the "blue house" (Korea's White House). In the center is a huge statue of Admiral Yi Sun Shin. Yi Sun Shin is famous for his courage and loyalty during the conflicts with the Japanese and for helping build the first iron clad ships in the world. The intersection is really open with Gyeongbokgung palace to the north and the mountains rising up behind that. People were everywhere and I had no idea where to go. I spotted a white person and grabbed them in the hopes that they spoke English. Victory! He asked me if I was a member of the Seoul Flyers (a Seoul running club) which of course, I was not, but he still told me to follow him back to the group. The Seoul Flyers were clustered around the Yi statue, some jumping around in the vain attempt to keep warm. Did I mention that it was 0 Degrees Celcius? We joined the group and I got to meet a few people, one of which was the wife(Lara) of previously mentioned Caucasion(James). Imagine my surprise when we learned through our small talk that Lara was actually from - wait for it - Overland. Park. Kansas. She insisted that Mom join her as she followed the marathon and Mom dissolved into tears. "Mom, " I hissed, "you can not cry!" "God is good." was all she would say. Oh mommo.

The starting times were staggered to ease congestion so while I waited for my group to begin I chatted it up with several of the Seoul Flyers. I struck up a quick friendship with Jewel, a woman who's goal time was almost exactly what my pre-hospital visit goal time was and decided that I would try to run with her. Foolish, foolish Anne. I feet confident and smooth for the first third of the marathon and I was able to stick with her up to about the Half mark. Suddenly, at the 20 kilometer mark, I realized that things were going to get rough real soon. I could sense that leaden feeling creeping into my legs. I knew that feeling. I got it at the very end of my long runs. I was nowhere near the end of this VERY long run. So I kept running.

It is so hard to explain how it feels to "hit the wall." You are running. You are exhausted. You are frustrated with yourself because you can't go faster. You start focusing on everyone else around you - thinking that they could not possibly feel how you are feeling, because obviously you are in the most pain out of everyone in the whole wide world. And while you are thinking about all the people around you, you are unnaturally aware of how totally miserable you are. Your legs could fall off. Your lungs have literally gotten so tired that your breath is shallow and your chest hurts. You feel like you are running as fast as you could possibly run, and yet you are shuffling along at what you are disgustingly aware of as a snails pace. So you want to stop. Your legs, your lungs, your feet, your arms are all screaming at you to STOP. This is the point when most people stop to walk or quit. And perhaps all those walkers know something that I don't. It is probably smart to walk and pick up again when you can put more effort into it, but all I had in my head was "Gurrrl, you better not let your butt stop, because God knows if you are going to start up again." I cursed a LOT in my head. I haven't cursed that much since high school. Its a good thing that most Koreans don't know English because when I finally crossed the Han river and realized that I still had about 6 miles to go, I actually let out a few choice phrases. But hey, I never walked. Its not much, but its one of the things I am most proud of.

I finished in 4 hours, 42 minutes, and 38 seconds. Nowhere near my goal, but all things considered, I am very proud of myself.

Like I said, my first words to my mother who was grinning and waiting for me at the end was that I was never doing it again, but I think I just might. I want to try running a marathon with all the strategies that I learned this time around and avoiding the injuries that I sustained this year with my back. I mean, I HAVE to defend my title as the fastest marathoner in the family. Just you try to take that away from me Mark, I dare you. Nothing like a little friendly family competition to get our rears in gear.

Mom and I collected my metal and my bag of food, I downed three bottles of water within five minutes, and we made our way to the subway station for the long ride back to the hotel. Once at the hotel I made a very important stop at the 7-11 on the first floor of the hotel to purchase chocolate. I purchase some delicious cookies with chocolate caps on them and a few chocolate bars. I ate them all that night. I guess I shared the cookies with mom, but we just relaxed on the sofa drinking Coke Zeros and watching movies all night long.

When I woke up the next day, every single inch of my body ached. This is not an exaggeration. If I shrugged, I moaned a little bit. I called into work and took one of my sick days - I totally needed it - and my mother and I slept in and decided to explore Seoul a little bit.

But THAT, my dears, is another story for another day. If you are lucky, and if you nag my mom a bit, we might be able to talk her into a "guest post." I have already asked her to write down her observations and email them to me. You up for it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You think that _*insert problem here*_ can stop me?


I went to the doctor yesterday for another massage and I told him that although the lumbar corset feels better than standing on my own, I was walking all funny and the right hip and back was really really painful. He watched me walk for three paces and said "ah yes, I think, that these muscle spasms have...made should I say...un-parallel. Great. Add Insult to injury. My hips were un-aligned due to the way my muscles were trying to heal. The doctor then told me that he was going to give me a shot in my back. *comedic double take* Buh-where? He turned to Sarah and explained the medical jargon and technicalities of the shot in Korean. Then I turned to Sarah for the translation. She looked at me seriously and said "No." *Second comedic double-take* Buh-whaaa? "I do not think that you should hear this." She told me. "I know that you do not like shots"

Its a good GD thing that she did not tell me what was about to happen. I had to lay face-down on a table with my pants pushed down while the doctor manipulated my back, asking which manipulation hurt most. Once he found the most excruciating place, he stuck a needle into my back. And. Kept. It. There. I could feel it going up and down. The whole time I was freaking out in my head I kept wondering what in the world he was doing - Sarah told me later that he was making sure to move around to all areas of the muscle - even she had to look away. Once he finished, I whimpered in relief which soon became a whimper of pain as he did it again!

The cool thing? TOTALLY WORTH IT. I don't know what was in it - I think he mentioned steroids when my brain was half freaking out, but it was amazing. It was like my muscles let out a collective sigh and re-aligned. Suddenly, I could walk without pain. I could sit up without supporting my back. I could bend forward. Its not perfect. I think my hip will be a little sore, but I am incredibly happy. At school, my students were relieved to see a pain free (and thus a little less bitchy) teacher. They all gave me a group hug when I told them that my back was not "ouchie" any more. After my day of almost no pain, I decided to get out there and run tonight after work. Come hell or high water.

Of course it started to snow.

Oh, but it was one of those really gorgeous early spring snows. You know, the really heavy, wet, on the verge of melting snows that just weighs down all the trees and seems to dampen all the noise of the city? By the time I walked out of the stairwell, a thick layer was covering everything. I started out cautiously, monitoring every twinge. For the first two miles you couldn't wipe the idiotic grin off my face. No one else was on the trail. The lyrics "I will be stronger" from my ipod gave me shivers and I actually closed my eyes and willed my body to remember this run forever. The sound of my breath in my ears. The snow already covering my shoulders. The dulled sound of my steps in the snow. Perfect. I have to admit that I felt a little sluggish. I thought I was going slower than normal and I felt a little worn for the 4 miles I put in. My time ended up surprising me. 8:20-8:30 at each mile. I guess my body didn't forget what to do.

But one of the best parts of my run happened on my way back in. I had just finished up the 4th mile and had climbed up the stairs from the trail to the street. It was still snowing and I waited in a large group of people for the light to change so that we could cross the street to the apartment complexes. There was this halmonnee (pronounced Harmony - Grandmother) waiting patiently with her little black grocery sack and her umbrella. She saw me and walked in that slow grandmother-way over to me with a smile. She asked me, in Korean, if I spoke "hangul?"
"Hangul-mal, chogum" I said, apologetically. If my admitting that I only spoke a little Korean bothered her, I didn't see it. She began to cluck softly over me. She continued to speak to me in Korean, her words flowing smoothly as she whipped out her little flowered handkerchief and wiped all of the snow off of my face and shook it out of my braids. She insisted that I walk with her across the street under her umbrella and when we parted - I felt like this had been one of the greatest encounters I have ever had. Not just in Korea. This "Harmony" will be with me forever.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good, nay, Fantastic news

I went to work today. It was pretty darn excruciating. As noted in my previous post, my muscles were aching from being electrocuted by spasms and I was favoring my left side which didn't help my muscles heal evenly. During every break time I would lie down on a cushion on the floor which would re-align things for a while. The other teachers treated me like china doll. The word spread like wild-fire between the Korean teachers and soon I was not allowed to carry my own lunch tray or even shuffle down the hall if it was not necessary. I have some very kind-hearted co-workers.

My new director-ish person, Kelly, has back problems as well, and she insisted that I go see the back therapists that she went to. I was hesitant at first, I don't like the idea of chiropractors in the US, so who knows what kind of crazy voodoo science Korea comes up with. Kelly was insistent and I was in pain, so after school Sarah teacher took me to the Spine doctor.

The man spoke almost perfect English. It was like finding a precious gem. I could talk to him about my back-ask him any questions about treatment, and he would ANSWER ME! No translation necessary. Sarah is the best translator, but I am always a little worried that parts of my concerns will be lost in translation.

So I got another shot in the butt. Ugh. I hate needles, and I probably would have been a lot more upset, but I was distracted by the fact that the nurse smacked my butt sharply like five times before she put the needle in. Seriously. When Sarah saw my face, she laughed so hard. Its like a thing in Korea. Nurses smack the area before they inject. I sort of liked it. Not for the smack, sickos, but for the fact that I was totally distracted by the weirdness of an asian woman smacking my butt - I didn't even have time to freak out about a piece of metal sliding into my skin.

The doctor gave me a lumbar corset (sort of like a brace for my back) which I am to wear only when in pain....which I was a little sad about because this sexy grandmother girdle with steel stays would have been the best accessory to all of my outfits. He was able to tell me what in the world all the little pills that the hospital gave me were (the two that I thought were unnecessary actually WERE unnecessary - the hospital had me on xanax for anxiety and some gastro pill for digestion).

But the best part. The very best part: He agrees with me. He said that I was right to assume that running was an important part of keeping my back healthy and that I should plan on continuing the marathon! Brilliant man. I am pleased with him. 40 minutes after my consultation, I had a laser light shone on my back, a hot pad, and an electrical stimulation massage. I walked out of there feeling much better than when I walked in. Not perfect, mind you, but maybe - just maybe- a little bit closer towards my goal of running that marathon.