I’m about to admit something that will reveal how laden my character is with “nancyish” qualities… During my previous 10 months in Korea, I’ve pretty much avoided riding the bus save one occasion, which left me with no alternative. I actually wouldn’t trade previously mentioned event, as it was quite the adventure, but nonetheless, due to Korean bus stations having very little to no English on their signs, and the confusing nature of riding the bus altogether, I hadn’t made another venture since.

Until I started my new job (two weeks ago), which requires daily bus rides as my living location is too far to walk and there are no subway stations near it.

Before I get into my own personal experiences (thus far) with riding the bus, let me explain something about Korean bus drivers. Actually, let me explain something about Korean drivers in general. They are basically New York taxi drivers on steroids. It. Is Insane. Driving in Korea is mind boggling. The lanes are impossibly tiny and the cars seem bent on, if not delighted, to run over anything or anyone who dares to get in their path.

People generally do not jaywalk here. I am not kidding when I say the buses (and taxis, and motorbikes) will run you down. Just before I entered this coffee shop I watched a tiny, bent old woman, shuffling across the street in front of a bus that was literally lunging in bull-like angst due to the driver inching the gas pedal forward. He then proceeded to shoot past her, missing her by .25 inches.

They also drive extremely fast. Speed racer in bus form. Around tiny, preposterous corners and close knit vehicles. With much honking of horns ensuing.

And the “catching” of the bus sometimes (and in my case), involves running into the road, zigzagging between other large buses barrelling down on your stop, flagging the bus down, hoping the bus driver slows down long enough to allow time for jumping board, swiping your t-money (bus card) across the machine and sitting down before he sky-rockets off, sending you catapulting down the aisle or into the laps of poor (and horribly embarrassed) teenage boys. (I may or may not be drawing from personal experience on that one).

That being said, all the aforementioned qualities make for adventurous rides. Granted, on exiting the bus, I have to take a moment, clinging to cement walls and various shrubbery, to wait for the heart palpitations to cease. But this has only increased my appreciation for and enjoyment of the bus rides.  (I’m not kidding… all dramatics aside, I’m really keen on the bus rides and look forward to them everyday).

Today’s ride was a bit more strenuous than usual, as I had to spend the entire 20ish minutes standing. Which might not sound too bad until you’ve actually done so with a Korean bus driver at the wheel.

To further compound today’s ride I should also note that I was carrying my usual huge brown leather messenger bag, a laptop (borrowed from my gracious friend Zach) and wearing a skirt that is much too large and unreliably fond of making me think it’s about to fall down. Unfortunately (or actually it’s a good thing) I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last 5 months and all of my clothes have turned into tents with arm and leg holes.

The unfortunate bit is that I’ve put off acquiring new ones and upon realizing putting it off any longer would mean the continual embarrassment of enduring my clothes falling off , found I had to switch jobs and now have to wait for next paycheck to do anything about the problem. So at this point (and yes, I realize this is sadly pathetic and I should probably not confess such ridiculousness) I’ve actually taken to cutting several inches off the hems of the skirts I DO own, as they are so large they now fall to Amish length instead of previously intended length above or around knees. *Sigh* Just call me the Macgyver of clothing.

Why am I telling you all of this and inviting lectures from my Mother and those with more fashionable instincts? Well, let me just say that standing on a bus, with arms full and a skirt that is too large is next to impossible. One already needs an extra appendage or two for a ride on these buses as so much jerking, whipping about and flailing of said arms and legs is taking place, it is hard enough to hold on with the two one has!

And to make matters worse I stepped out this morning in a skirt I just cut this past week and cut rather poorly, thinking no one would have the opportunity to truly scrutinize it from a close distance. Only to discover that everyone in the world decided to ride my 700 bus this morning and that I’d have to stand. Directly next to and in front of a bunch of Koreans, with their eyes basically at skirt level. Goodie.

So today I spent the bus ride, clinging for dear life (and to my skirt) sheepish and hoping no one noticed the unraveling and sorry state that is my hem, not to mention the cuts I’d acquired shaving.

And when I exited the bus today, my arms were shaking. Make that my right arm. My left arm was full with laptop and attempts to hold up skirt, while my right had the extraordinary responsibility of keeping me upright and bending in shapes only Gumby has the ability to make.

But halfway through that ride, I have to admit, I looked around, smiled and thought, “This is glorious.”

And I’m really looking forward to the bus ride tonight. (Which will hopefully involve an empty seat.)… 😉

Blast him because he was right. “No man is an island.” 

A few years ago I visited England and while browsing one of the outdoor markets in Cambridge, picked up a small, gloriously worn and leather bound, “made for your pocket” book of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. I love Mr. Stevenson. I love “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Kidnapped, “Travels with a Donkey” and the other works I’ve read. I have yet to read them all, but believe me I’m going to try.

And this small book of poems garnered just as much adoration from me. Especially “The Vagabond” as it spoke to the truly naive part of me that harbored desperate and overly romanticized notions of running away to start over in some quaint part of Earth, where no one knew me.  Saying the poem out loud felt like brandishing a weapon in the face of my greatest nemesis: reality. And I foolishly tucked the theme of this poem deep into my heart, believing it was an accurate description of jolly old me… stubborn and off to traipse the world, with this ringing stoicly in my ears:

 “Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me

Oh how I scoff at myself of years ago (which I’m sure will be a continual habit throughout life).  Eight months of “heaven above and road below me” without friend or love has effectively slapped some sense into my “everything is epic and dramatic” addled head.

My time in Korea so far has taught me that I love traveling. I love new places. I love exploring and finding new places. But, I’m sorry Mr. Stevenson, I do need hope and love and a friend to know me. You were right about the wealth part, but as far as the rest… well, I think you may have missed the  mark.

I’ve been reluctant to be truly honest about how lonely this past 8 months has been, for fear I’d sound a nancy or pathetic or would make this great adventure sound less than stellar. But the truth is it’s a mix of many things. I don’t regret moving here. Not one smidgeon of regret. I just find myself wondering if people have it right when they say (whoever “they” is) that you can’t have it all.

Does a person have to trade in a life of exploration and adventure in order to have family and love and friends? I guess logic would say yes… it’s kind of hard to maintain consistent friendships if you don’t stay in one place for too long. But what if you’re built with this infuriating desire for change and all that is new and an insatiable appetite for the unknown?  But at the same time  you want deep and meaningful relationships. And you thrive on those friendships like a drug which, left too long out of the system, causes withdrawals of the acutest kind. What then?

I’ve seen some wonderful things this past 8 months, which has only fueled my desire to see more. I’m already making lists of places in my head, have already started searching for possibilities to make said places happen, and have already determined I’m not coming back to the US for a while, if I can help it.  But at the same time, I’m hampered by a very consistent part of my personality.

Upon seeing these “wonderful” things my first instinct (beyond hearing Handel’s “”Messiah” in my head and clasping my hands to my heart in appreciation) is that it has to be shared… with others. Things are just not as grand when you’re the only one seeing them. I can’t explain it, or prove it, or justify my stubborn belief that this is so. I just know it to be true. There is an ache that presses it’s way through my system whispering, “what’s the point?”

So here I am… knee deep in a conundrum and completely at a loss concerning how to free myself. Or how to live in said conundrum with some measure of contentment.  And along with me and my conundrum, Mr. “You’re not contributing to Society” likes to join the party as a third wheel, flinging various lectures all the while.

Alas, alack. I could go on but doing so would only result in further rambling without further conclusion (like a true woman)… 😉

**Here’s the rest of “The Vagabond” in all it’s glory. Despite my previously  mentioned epiphanies (however lacking in solid conclusions) regarding this poem, it still gets me. Every time.

The Vagabond

Give to me the life I love,
Let the lave go by me,
Give the jolly heaven above
And the byway nigh me.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river –
There’s the life for a man like me,
There’s the life for ever.

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o’er me;
Give the face of earth around
And the road before me.
Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I seek, the heaven above
And the road below me.

Or let autumn fall on me
Where afield I linger,
Silencing the bird on tree,
Biting the blue finger.
White as meal the frosty field –
Warm the fireside haven –
Not to autumn will I yield,
Not to winter even!

Let the blow fall soon or late,
Let what will be o’er me;
Give the face of earth around,
And the road before me.
Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
Nor a friend to know me;
All I ask, the heaven above
And the road below me.

I don’t know that I have ever been content. I know there have been moments in my life which gave me the warm fuzzies and during which enthusiasm for such moments surely led me to say I was content… but those were always fleeting and obliterated seconds later by minute details of life, which I unfortunately have trouble seeing as anything other than “earth shattering” and “epic.”

I have never been able to read books, or watch movies or hear songs or listen to stories without a very strong reaction of “I want to, I have to, I must be a PART of that.” I read books with a sort of woeful adoration. I love them for their stories, their characters, their adventures, their insight into life and the complexity of humanity in general. I hate, loathe and despise them for only taking me so far… for showing me worlds I cannot inhabit, characters I cannot sit down to tea with, ideas I cannot find places to live out. For getting me riled up and then letting me down.

It’s the same with movies, especially documentaries or those more based in reality. I cannot watch a video of New Zealand or sword fighting and think, “Gee that’s lovely, I’m so grateful I got to see it through this documentary.” Instead I think, “Damn it! I HAVE to go there now! I want to do that now! I will never be content, knowing full well this exists and is actually accessible!”

I fall in love easily… with real people and fictional characters, with previous centuries, songs, stories, words, the way a cloud looks on a certain day or the extra little touches of decorative paint someone put on a bridge. I notice things and give my heart too readily to them. And it fuels this constant restlessness within me… for new things, new adventures, for people (who ALL consistently fascinate me!), for what is around all the corners I haven’t taken yet. For what WAS around the corners before I existed!

I hate knowing about things and not being able to do them, or have them or see them for myself. I love and then hate when I read something that resonates deeply within me because my reaction is to want to meet the author. I build certain people up to be kindred spirits in my head and when life doesn’t allow for such meetings or friendships to take place I feel more despair than I ought to admit. It’s silly, I know this full well. And yet it’s there… always.

This inability to remain content or even perhaps ever BE content, is also part of why religion has been such a wrestling match throughout my entire life. Faith and Christ and all that is wrapped up in him demand more than snatches of thought or a weekly Sunday visit and as I am an “all or nothing” person there is no middle ground. I cannot think about it without devoting my entire heart to it and when I fail in that, I want to wrench completely away again.  I can’t call myself something if I know full well I haven’t been living it. I can’t see it as a piece of life instead of the point of life.

And usually the reaction of people I try to explain this to is to simply “calm down” and stop thinking about things so much. But they are not me. If they were they wouldn’t suggest something so foolish. They would realize I don’t possess an “off” button for if I did, I’d surely have pressed it long ago!

You’d think coming to Korea would satisfy some of the craziness within but instead I feel as though someone poured a drum of gasoline over me and lit a match. Now that I’ve tasted a little adventure, I only want more.  Like my old habit of constantly turning the radio dials “just in case” an even better song was merely a station away, I find myself thinking, “What else is out there!?” in spite of genuinely loving my current surroundings. The new, wonderful and fascinating people I’ve met are also a source of agony, because now that I know they exist, I want to stick them in my pockets and have them with me always!

Sometimes I fear I’m channeling Veruca Salt and singing,

I want the world

I want the whole world

I want to lock it all up in my pocket

It’s my bar of chocolate

Give it to me

Now!

But the comparison stops there because in all honesty,  the most torturous part of this entire experience thus far has been wanting to share all of it with other people… especially the people I love.  I am unfortunately possessed by a need to share that which I am passionate about, which extends to a vast array of things, including the very small and miniscule. When I would purchase a new and grand smelling tea I used to run around my work office in Minneapolis making people smell it, while expounding its many virtues. 

So you can only imagine what it’s like to be in an entirely new country, finding far more than good smelling teas to share.

Sometimes I sincerely think my body is going to wrench itself into pieces or that I’ll end up in an asylum someday. Sigh…. Does anyone else feel this way? Where ARE those singing oompa loompas when you need them?

Or perhaps I should say “readers” rather than blog… though I don’t know that I actually have readers so much as “those I lure into reading this on occasion by sending notice via e-mail or other technological means, that I’ve actually updated it.”

Whatever the case, I’ve been very lax in updating and I apologize. It wasn’t so much that I’d forgotten this blog as that I wasn’t entirely sure what to say. I’ve had the greatest muddle of thoughts spinning within my head for the past few months, but hadn’t dared to put them all down just yet. As though they are part of some sinister looking metal fan that could chop off my fingers if I reach in without slowing it down first.

I’ve been in Korea 7 months now and I suppose a “here’s what’s changed/not changed” post might be appropriate. So that’s what I’ll try to make most of it about.

There are a couple of things that,  prior to my arriving here, I assumed were concrete absolutes. They were my complete and utter disdain for the taste of coffee (though I really had tried it on numerous occasions) and my inability to eat spicy food, including the mild sauce at taco bell.  Even that was too hot for me. I was a nancy.

I’m happy (and a little perplexed) to report that both items are now exactly opposite. I drink coffee on a regular basis and even prefer black coffee. I also eat the spiciest of spicy food here, without melting my tongue and actually quite enjoy it.

On a funny note, my co-worker took me to dinner one night and asked if I could eat spicy food. When I said yes he gave me a suspicious look and proceeded to order something extremely hot. The ladies at the counter looked at me pointedly and then asked him if he was sure about the order, explaining it was “very spicy.”  Of course I had no idea this conversation was taking place and just ate the food when it came.

It turns out the dish was, indeed, too hot. But not for me… for my co-worker. I was perfectly fine and spent the meal laughing at him as he explained he was having the hard time with it. I told him that’s what he gets for trying to challenge me to a duel of sorts via spicy food.  It was a proud moment for me, I must admit.

So I guess that means I’ve joined the ranks of those who drink copious amounts of coffee and eat spicy food. Huzzah!

I’ve also become a bit less directionally challenged. I used to become lost within five inches of anywhere and housed absolutely no skills in the map reading department.  Through means of necessity and the desire to see other places beyond my own city, I’ve become quite adept at reading the maps for the train stations and go exploring almost every weekend now.  I’ve also taken to walking outside of my city for 2 hours or so at a time and have not gotten lost yet. While that might not seem like much of an accomplishment to you, it’s pretty grand for me.

I’ve also taken to buying things purely on aesthetic and financial appeal. This doesn’t always work and I have a large bottle of something I “thought” was honey but is definitely not honey, that’s been sitting in my cupboard at home for the past few months as a result. I’ve gotten so used to not being able to read most of the labels, directions or ingredients, it’s almost stopped bothering me.

I know there are other things but at this moment my brain is having trouble conjuring up further thoughts. It might have something to do with dinner time creeping ever closer. Perhaps I’m just hungry for some more spicy food… 😉

I’d like to know who decided it would be a swell idea to keep track of how many years old we are. I did try wikipediaing it (is that a word?), but as I only spent about 5 seconds trying to find an answer, the search was rather fruitless).

Honestly though, if someone builds a time machine I’m going to pay loads of money to make a trip, just so I can track down the previously mentioned individual and punch them in their nose. Unless they are a very large person, in which case I’ll bring along another large person (whom I shall also pay mass quantities of cash) to beat them up for me. Actually I’ll just go that route altogether as the only time I managed to give someone a shiner was in the 5th grade and it was accidental.

All rabbit trails aside, I’ve been in South Korea 5 months now and the best way I can summarize the experience thus far is 95% awesome, 5% guilt ridden.

Why guilt ridden you say? Excellent question astute reader. Bringing me to the main point of this post (yes, I actually have one).

I am 26 and therefore I feel like I am doing the wrong thing for my age. As though society expects something else from me than… well, than this. “This” being frittering my time away in a foreign country, doing what I want to do, just because I want to do it, and not contributing to society on a large scale OR building any sort of viable career/even attempting to build any sort of viable career. Oh and lacking a husband, kids, mortgage, puppy, etc…

People ask me (on a semi-regular basis) why I’m not married… as if I forgot to put “husband” on my grocery list and ought to pop into the nearest market and remedy that. “Oh yes! I hear they’re having a sale on the purple package husbands this Tuesday! OH and look, I’ve got a coupon! Lovely! I’ll get right on that!”

It’s not that I am against marriage, or family or having children (though I was fiercely opposed to the idea for a good while, I’ve grown out of that). I’d actually love a family. I think family is important. I admire my friends who ARE married and are building families. It’s just I’m not exactly in control of making any of that happen now am I? And don’t even think about mentioning mail order brides or I’ll send previously mentioned big dude to clobber you.

So… once again… I’m 26, not married (or about to get married), no career aspirations and I’m in a foreign country doing absolutely nothing to remedy that.

But really, is that so bad? Is it? If it is why? Can anyone explain it to me? Why do I feel guilty? I… don’t… know! It’s driving me bonkers!

I think some of it may have to do with growing up in church my whole life, where, let’s be honest, a LOT of emphasis is put on things like “changing the world,” “purpose, purpose, purpose,” “how to be special,” and “if you haven’t gotten my drift too bad because I’ve run out of things to put in quotation marks.” So the fact that I haven’t exactly done anything significant in the world might be contributing to that guilt factor.

And I do think it has to do with my age. As though 26 means something… or is attached to an invisible checklist of sorts, which I’ve left suspiciously blank. But whose checklist is in my head?

Who decided we should be or do or have certain things at certain ages? I mean, I understand that some of it make sense (i.e. I’m too tired to come up with any examples at the moment so use your imagination). But along with this list of what we should do or be or have, we also seem to determine there are things we should stop doing or having or “being.”

And it’s that list which concerns me. I feel, perhaps, I’ve reached the age where I’m supposed to have an idea about… well about something! Anything, really! But I haven’t an idea about ANYTHING. If anything I’m more confused than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Even more than you are about this truly weird blog entry.

The funny thing is even if I wanted to follow this odd, non-written list of sorts that is infuriatingly and mysteriously emblazoned in my brain, I have no idea how. I am here precisely because I was tired of working a job I hated while waiting to figure it out. Whatever “it” is.

So I’m done. I’m done feeling guilty. To hell with society and unspoken checklists and age requirements and dinglehoppers… (oh wait never mind, that was from “the Little Mermaid”)… but yes to hell with the rest of it!

I have no idea what I’m doing, or what’s next. I have no plan. I am okay with that. I come home after work and paint silly pictures and make animals out of clay, and put solar systems on my walls. And write silly songs and stupid blog posts. I don’t really think it matters if I figure out a career. I think what matters right now is if my students know that I love them. So that’s all I’m going to focus on. And actually, I think that’s a pretty good focus.

There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents … and only one for birthday presents, you know.” — Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”

“A very merry unbirthday
To me
To who?
To me
Oh, you

A very merry unbirthday
To you
Who, me?
To you
Oh, me

Let’s all congratulate us with another cup of tea
A very merry unbirthday to you

Now statistics prove
Prove that you’ve one birthday
Imagine just one birthday every year
Ah, but there are 364 unbirthdays
Precisely why we’re gathered here to cheer

A very merry unbirthday
To me?
To you
A very merry unbirthday
For me?
For you
Now blow the candle out, my  dear
And make your wish come true
A very merry unbirthday to you.”

Alice in Wonderland

Once upon a time… Well actually once upon a time before time actually existed… people used shadows to determine when they should eat and sleep and engage in various activities like games involving the swapping of dinosaur teeth. They calculated the fatness and thinness and stretchiness and lucidness of each shadow, though no one was ever very precise, and no one ever minded. It was a happy time. A time when running late for something usually involved the lack of sunshine (resulting in a lack of shadow).

Living amongst these shadow time keepers was a boy named Chester. He wasn’t especially good or bad. He was just typically mischievous as little boys often are. He also had a propensity to mess with things he’d been told not to. And he’d been warned to stay far, far away from Swullian mountain.

Swullian mountain was the highest place on earth, with a tip reaching straight up to the sun. No one had ever climbed it entirely as one would need to carry an awful lot of water to make such a lengthy trip. And carrying that many pots of water (since plastic was not readily available during that time) up that steep of a mountain, for the 7.5 days the trip required, was quite impossible.

And yet, because he’d been told not to think of it, Chester thought of it. And continued to think of it. And finally, during all this pondering, he happened upon the keen notion of tying the necessary pots of water to a preposterously long rope, which he could then use to pull up and lower the pots of water as needed.

He then put his plan into motion by stealing all of the ropes in the village and talking Shelby Darkins (who’d had a crush on him since he sprouted freckles at the age of 6) into helping him tie them together. He also surreptitiously grabbed as many pots from the village storehouse as he could find and went about tying them to his new extensive rope. Shelby helped him fill the pots and they both headed over to Swullian mountain.

They arrived about 5 pm (though for them it was really just “middleish shadow” equating “dinnerish time”) so Shelby excused herself to join her family for dinner. And Chester started his journey.

He climbed.

And climbed.

And pulled up his pots.

And climbed.

And when an occasional ledge came along, he rested (which was quite wise of him considering the 7.5 days the trip required).

And upon sufficiently resting he climbed some more.

By day 6 he was ecstatic, knowing full well he’d climbed further and farther and higher and longer than anyone had ever managed. And by day 7 he was positively overcome with joy. He began to dance along the tiny ledges as the point of the mountain began growing smaller and smaller.

As he climbed higher he realized the point was narrowing down into the shape of a pencil tip (not that pencils existed in that time, but for sake of a modern audience that description will have to do).

He also realized this narrow tip was starting to crack. This was disturbing to him for as you may well imagine, a journey of 7.5 days would mean a sickeningly long fall.

But he kept climbing. And at some point he had to start slowly pulling himself up the tip, as ledges had completely disappeared. And as he slid closer and closer to the top he noticed the light was starting to blind him and the heat was growing stronger.  Until he finally understood that the top of this narrow point held the sun.

Unfortunately he failed to realize this until the tip had almost completely cracked under the pressure of his weight. A few seconds later it crumbled and he slid back down onto the fatter part of the mountain, watching in horror as the tip collapsed, sending the sun catapulting to the earth, far below him.

It was really a beautiful sight, this giant fire ball hurling to earth. But it also meant there would be no more sun. And as a result no more shadows. Which forced the village people to come up with alternative solutions, which inevitably led to clocks, and wristwatches.

Another sun grew back in the old sun’s place but it took several years and by that time people had grown so attached to their blasted clocks and watches it just didn’t matter. Suddenly everyone had to be somewhere and time had grown more important than almost anything else. And that’s the way it’s been since.

But once upon a time… before time actually existed… people used shadows to determine when they should eat and sleep… and it was a good way to live.

-The End.

  • Received “free hugs” on Christmas evening from random Korean strangers standing in Myeongdong with signs and costumes?   Check
  • Miscalculated amount of time needed on train to get home from Seoul, got kicked off in a random town and became horribly lost from about midnight to almost 3 am while getting back home Christmas evening?   Check
  • (In same evening) Accomplished lifelong goal of riding in FRONT of the yellow line and standing smack in front of large windows on public transportation bus (due to it being so crowded I was literally shoved against said windows)?   Check
  • Watched a car crash literally 5 feet in front of me while still completely lost and crossing a random street?  Check
  • Had two snowball fights with my students during which I was both the annihilator/was annihilated?  Check
  • Started off New Year’s Eve by accomplishing another lifelong dream of participating in Karaoke with some Korean friends (believe it or not I’ve never participated in Karaoke before this, though I’ve always wanted to!)?   Check
  • Received smoochies (on the cheeks) from two random Korean guys who ran up to me saying “We love you!” while in Seoul for New Year’s Eve countdown?   Check
  • Also received hug and a “Happy New Year” from random police officer, along with shouts from the fellow police officers watching (who just a few hours earlier were quite stoic and standing in intimidating lines)?   Check
  • Tried Kimchi again (though I’ve really disliked it the entire past 4 months) and found that I suddenly really enjoy/even occasionally crave it?    Check
  • Had a thoroughly amazing Christmas and New Year’s?   Check

Whew…. In case the prior list didn’t accurately convey how brilliant my Christmas and New Year’s turned out to be I’ll just state the obvious… it was amazing!

Rather than list all the details  I’m just going to recount the latest adventure (time of occurence: Christmas evening) which ended up being one of my favorite experiences yet. Oddly enough it’s another semi- “harrowing” one (like my previous hospital adventure) but I enjoyed every single ounce of it and wouldn’t trade it in if you paid me. Which is something I wouldn’t have expected … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

To start, I spent Christmas in Seoul with some friends. We had a blast in Myeongdong, looking at lights, having snowball fights, eating giant waffles laden with ice cream and fruit and other sugary assortments and just enjoying the sights around us.

To get home I took the train as usual (which, though massive and confusing, is thankfully also covered with signs in English). Unfortunately I miscalculated when the trains would stop running and was kicked off my train about halfway home, in some random town. This might not seem too bad except I didn’t have a cell phone on me, I’d never used the buses and I also didn’t have enough cash for a taxi.

So I walked out of the train station to the sight of taxi’s and taxi drivers flagging people down and asking where they wanted to go. Earlier that evening my friend Ami had given me a plant (see picture below) which I promptly broke a short while later due to falling on the ice (surprise, surprise). And there I stood, clutching my broken plant and looking rather bewildered (as there were NO buses in view) when suddenly another foreigner (about my age) named Rick popped up directly in front of me and asked where I was headed.

I explained I needed to get to Hwajeong and he said he’d show me where the buses were. I gasped with relief and trotted along thankfully beside him. He explained he was from California and we exchanged the usual small talk pleasantries while walking around a corner to the bus stop (which I highly doubt I’d have found otherwise as it was a good way from the train station).

Upon arriving at the station we both soon realized that NONE of the signs were in English. And when I say they weren’t in English I mean they were in Hangeul, which is literally a bunch of symbols. I’ve learned to read most of it but this was a giant map covered in tiny symbols… and I hadn’t the foggiest idea where to begin to even ATTEMPT to locate my particular stop.

So Rick and I managed to flag down another Korean who explained I needed bus 906. Rick then hopped onto a different bus and I proceeded to wait… and wait… and wait… until 40 minutes later I was still waiting. (Keep in mind it was freezing and had been snowing the entire time. There also wasn’t a single spot of heat at this bus stop and a huge mass of us were crowded beneath the roof shingle extending from the bus stop wall.)

And after all this my bus finally arrived but was already packed FULL. I watched in amusement as several Koreans tried to shove their way on anyhow and it looked as though a couple of them might actually grab the doors and walls of the bus and ride it Spiderman style.

I then started wondering when the last buses would run for the evening and if I’d end up truly stranded.  So I started chatting with a really nice Korean girl, who informed me “maybe one more bus come tonight” (to which I thought, “HOLY CRAP”!?!?!) and offered to help me keep an eye out for that bus. Thankfully, the final bus DID arrive and though this one was also quite packed he let us jump on. And as I was next to last I got to ride RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE HUGE WINDOWS (and, ahem, I’d also like to take this moment to point out that it was in FRONT of the yellow line.)!

It was glorious and felt like flying 😉 At that point all stress and concern left and I found myself oddly content (though quite aware I still had no idea what stop I needed and was not exactly home free yet).

I ended up getting off the bus several stops too early (as the stops were not shouted out, what little the bus driver said was in Korean, and I spent the majority of the ride trying to catch glimpses of signs that  might indicate where I was) and landed in this random/semi-deserted looking town at about 1 am (ish). So, still clutching my broken plant, I trudged through the huge snowflakes that were also still falling and tried to gather my bearings.

If you know me at all you know that I tend to get lost within 5 inches of anywhere, so the fact that I meandered in the right direction AND managed to find signs indicating that my particular area was close turned out to be a bit of a “Christmas miracle.” I also didn’t have the luxury of asking for directions as the only other Koreans in sight (who I did try to flag down) did not speak a word of English.

To top of this amazing experience I also watched a car crash into another car, literally five feet from where I stood, while I was crossing the street. (No one was hurt… besides the actual cars).

And I finally arrived at home… close to 3 am, completely content and rather proud of myself. It might seem like a small feat to you but getting lost has always been an issue for me (let alone in a foreign country) so this was just another experience that caused me to realize perhaps I’m less of a “nancy” than I’d originally thought… 😉

Hope your holidays were merry and jolly and all that good stuff. Still love and miss you all!

(Me in Myeongdong following a fall on the ice which cracked the previously mentioned plant…)

***If you want to see any further photos from Christmas, New Year’s or otherwise you can do so at the following public links (even if you don’t have facebook).

Christmas Pictures (Myeongdong/Christmas Weekend)

New Year’s Eve Pictures (Karaoke/City Hall in Seoul)

Updates to the Miscellaneous album