Thursday, May 26, 2011

If you can keep your head....

"...If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you..." 

                          -Rudyard Kipling, 'If'

I'm not going to prevaricate here.  I am losing my head, and the sooner I can find someone else to blame it on, the better.  Three weeks ago, before I had fully grasped the enormity of my situation, I would have insisted to one and all that I had things well under control.  At the moment, I imagine I feel a lot like the orchestra on the Titanic must have felt: paralyzed with terror, yet fatalistically determined to get the job done, even as the deck chairs and passengers slide right by you off the end of the bow (or stern or whatever it's called.)  

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not complaining at all.  Mr. Logical arrives home in just over a week, and you can't imagine how I'm looking forward to jettisoning all of my cares and concerns right on those broad shoulders.  In the meantime, however, I'm handling most of the details stateside and he is handling things in Korea mostly by drinking soju and cc-ing me copies of incomprehensible documents from his company's HR department really efficiently.   No, no, in reality, he has handled quite a bit more than I would have thought possible, given the time change and his location.   I would say we are working well as a team, although I may still have some lingering resentment about being on my own while listening to the middle school honors orchestra playing the 'Lady Gaga Hit Medley."  (Honesty compels me to admit that I'm the one who insisted on violin lessons 'way back when, so I really shouldn't complain.)

Tomorrow I'm taking the day off to enjoy a little light follow-up gum surgery in the morning, followed by a meeting with the relocation folks in the afternoon.  Other exciting developments in our move include:

US House:  rented.  (thanks, Kathy)
Seoul apartment:   being looked for by Mr. Logical  and shown to me with the help of Picasa and Skype.  Love technology.
Car #1:  repaired and waiting to be sold
Car #2:   waiting to be shipped
Household goods:    some will be stored, some will be shipped on the slow boat (3 months to arrive), some will travel in air freight (2-3 weeks to arrive, very small container).  Guess who gets to sort out what goes where?
children:  alive.  More than this, I am not committing to.
relatives:   arriving shortly to celebrate Son #1s graduation from high school in just over a week.  All of them have made international moves.  I expect wine and funny stories and commiseration galore.  Cannot wait.
dog:   leaving in a week for Canada.  Yes, the XL Air Freight Kennel did, indeed, arrive.  He's been scratching his ears lately.  If he gets an ear infection right before he flies, I will probably implode.
my students:   curiously apathetic about curriculum and pending examinations, but (bizarrely) wanting to know if they can friend me on FaceBook after I've moved to Korea.  Really? 
microwave:  finally repaired.  Now we can live again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

From the Land of the Morning Calm: Betcha won't eat this...

It's been a busy week, so I am a bit late getting this posted.

Last weekend was gorgeous weather here in Seoul, and I made the most of it both days. In the interest of being brief and avoiding the "TL:DR" smackdown from my son, I'll skip the invigorating hike up Namsan Mountain, tour of the Dongdamun Market, trip over to Yongsan, and Indian food in Itaewon (about 12 miles worth of walking, all told), and focus just on Sunday's festivities.

Sunday I went to the Noryangin Fish Market with MT and KT to look around and have some FRESH seafood for lunch.

As we climbed stairs up out of the subway, I could just start to catch a whiff of what was waiting across the bridge.

Once inside the warehouse-sized building the smells got a bit more intense, but we were quickly distracted by the myriad of fish, shrimp, squid, octopus, clams, whelks, crabs, skates, and just about anything else that one could find in the surrounding waters.

We walked around for a while, taking in the sites, before finding the vendor that MT and KT had bought from before. He spoke good English, and sold us a large flounder. He also helped facilitate the bargaining with the proprieter of the stall next to his, where we bought a large live King Crab. Finally, he steered us to one of the small restaurants around the edge of the market that specialize in cooking the live fare just selected from the market.

We took our seats in the small restaurant, and drank a few beers while we waited for our seafood to cook. As we sat and looked around, we quickly realized that we had WAY overbought, having picked a large Flounder and a large Crab. Either by themselves would have been plenty, as would two smaller versions of each..

Faced with the dilemma of being:
1. Silly foreigners who waste food, order too much and don't eat it..
2. Silly foreigners who eat way too much

We opted for for #2..

The grilled flounder was first out. It was expertly grilled, and served with lettuce for wrapping and several sauces.

Luckily, we had enough beer to compensate for the embarrassment when the steamed crab appeared at our table. I manned the kitchen shears and got down to business disassembling an distributing the crab around the table. Luckily the king crab comes apart pretty much the same as all the blue crabs that I've peeled and eaten over the years, albeit on a somewhat larger scale.

We didn't quite finish everything, but felt like we ate enough to hold our heads high as we waddled out of the restaurant and back out into the fish market.

A good adventure and fun time with MT and KT...

Back to the title of this post.... Meet the "Fat Innkeeper Worm", aka the "Korean Penis Fish".

Betcha won't eat this...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Moving Chronicles: Yellow Dog Blues

(Note:  Mr. Logical has been eating Indian food and hiking and shopping and photographing sea slugs at the fish market.  I think we can agree that these topics are much more interesting than microwave repair and Live Animal Transport, but it's all I've got.  Work with me.)

This past week, the gathering forces behind our move to Seoul have begun to come together with volcanic intensity.  The house (on the rental market), the car (needs repair, but who has time to get it to the shop?), the microwave (broken by the housekeepers and awaiting one rare and expensive part), and of course, there's my pesky job that requires me to be there every day, doing actual work.

What I have observed in this maelstrom (when I'm not thinking longingly about wine) is that nothing - nothing - is straightforward anymore.  Take, for example, the matter of Transporting The Yellow Dog.

Those of you who regularly read the blog know that our dog is being sent by air to Alberta, Canada, where he will live with my Cousin S.while we are overseas (sob.)  This would seem like a fairly simple undertaking:  Make reservations. Put dog in cargo kennel.  Deliver dog to airline.  Pay fees.  Dog flies friendly skies and is duly collected on other end.

Ah, but - as with everything else - nothing is ever as simple as it seems.  Apparently, shipping an animal by air these days is an activity that requires only slightly less regulatory oversight than, say, transporting toxic waste across state lines.  Let me be clear:  I know, it's all for the good of the animal, and I'm certainly in favor of my dog being treated well, but at some point the sanity of the owner really has really got to come into consideration.

When I called to make the dog's reservations, I was connected immediately to a 'Live Pet Transportation Counselor', who began our session by interrogating me about the size, structure, and ventilation of the dog kennel we presently own.  It was swiftly established that our existing kennel Would Not Do, and, in order to use their services, I would need to provide a new one that met airline regulations. Apparently, the kennel we have used for the past 6 years is woefully inadequate for air travel, because it didn't provide ventilation on four sides (ours only provides three) and, according to their calculations, the dog does not have adequate space in which to turn around, stretch out, and (presumably) host a dinner party.  My argument that the dog likes his kennel, frequently does turn around and stretch out in it, and often voluntarily goes there (usually to get away from the boys) held no water for the airlines, who clearly thought I was some sort of animal sadist.  No, the airlines would help me establish the right-sized kennel for my dog's needs.  In order to assure his traveling safety and comfort, I would need to take some simple (ha) measurements and perform some calculations.  Not being a math person, I approached this task with some trepidation, but since Son #1 is still taking calculus, I reasoned I had help close at hand should I need it.

In order to calculate the proper kennel size, I was directed to the website's Kennel Sizing Chart and its accompanying kennel-sizing formulae.  Yes, really.  Should you doubt me,  I herewith provide as evidence the schematic taken from the airline's website:  

 Just like everything else this week,, measuring the dog was not as straightforward as it would seem.  As it turned out, doing the calculations proved to be the easy part of this exercise, right after I recovered from the nasty flashback to high school Geometry.

In the first place, my dog rarely stands perfectly still in his 'natural stance' (for the record, the only time he ever stands in that position is when he is listening alertly for the sound of the garage door going up.)  In the second place, when you try to put the measuring tape by the dog's tail, he - quite rightly - turns around to see what you're doing back there.  Add to that the fact that dogs don't come with clear lines of demarcation (do they mean the top of the elbow, or the calloused part underneath?) Not to mention that I have always thought of that as his shoulder, anyway, not his elbow -  but I digress. In any case, it quickly became clear that measuring the dog was going to be more of a challenge than the schematic artists had led me to believe.

I have to admit that I got a certain bitter satisfaction out of the fact  that, every time I told him to 'stop' he did exactly what I'd trained him to do since puppyhood, and sat down, so at least I felt like I'd succeeded in something.  But this, of course, prevented me from measuring him from the ground to the tip of his head in his 'natural stance,' and led to me trying to heave him up onto all fours because, while I've assiduously taught him to "sit" and "stay" and "lie down," I neglected to teach him to "stand up."

Now, heaving a 90-lb dog to a standing position is no easy task, especially since the dog naturally interprets this sort of action as an invitation to wrestle, which results in me shouting, "Stop!" which, of course, leads to the dog sitting down again.  After a certain amount of unladylike language (on my part) and a certain amount of wagging and sitting and wiggling (on the dog's part) I completed my task, scoured the online pet suppliers, and ascertained that we would be needing the Air Flight Carrier in Size XL, to the tune of $102.97, which has been duly ordered.  From my estimation, I would say that it is less than 1 inch larger in each direction than the present kennel, which doesn't seem like it will make much difference, but at least the airline will be appeased.

I suppose the consolation prize in all of this is that there is no doubt in my mind that the Yellow Dog will travel in great comfort and arrive safe and sound at his new home.  In fact, after all this, I have a sneaking suspicion that the amount of space the Yellow Dog will have while traveling to Canada is significantly higher than the amount of space that will be available to us during the 24-or-so hour flight to Seoul.  I'm willing to bet they don't even have a schematic for measuring people.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Monkey Mind

"Oh, that way madness lies; let me shun that." - King Lear, Act 3 scene 4

This quote has been rattling around in my brain for the last few days, and for good reason. Leave it to Shakespeare to sum up the situation perfectly. The impending move to Seoul, combined with the impending graduation of my eldest, combined with the impending end of the school year, have combined to create a constant jangle in my head which the Buddhists refer to as 'Monkey mind."

 Let no one say that the Buddhists don't have a firm understanding of the human condition.

I would like to say that I've been tremendously efficient, keeping detailed lists and running the household like a well-oiled machine, but the truth is,  I'm flying by the seat of my pants most of the time.  I do have a list - of sorts - but it's on the back of a flyer about the Honors Orchestra Houston Field Trip and covered with random jottings and anonymous phone numbers, mixed in with notes to self, like, "Shot recrds?" ; "Dog flight resvs." "Grade German I chptr tests"and "Don't frgt to pack Tony's"( a staple in any home with a Louisianan husband which will, presumably, be unavailable in Korea.  Niche market, you see.)

Oh, I don't begrudge Mr. Logical his little outings and the glamorous expat lifestyle.  But there have been a few* times that I have thought longingly about just how nice it would be if I were the one living alone in an efficiency apartment in Korea and he were the one trying to get the boys to just pick up their jeans off the floor, for God's sake, so the housekeepers can vacuum.

I am scheduled to meet with the Realtors this week to put the house on the rental market, which also means that I have hired landscapers and housekeepers to maintain the property so that someone will actually want to live in it. In between this, I am working, writing final exams, and scheduling things like the dog's flight to Canada and dental cleanings. To add to the circuslike atmosphere,  Son #1 has been in the throes of AP testing (last week and this week), which means he is vacillating wildly between smug confidence that he will knock the test out of the ball park (AP Stats) and glum resignation to certain failure (AP Physics).  These little mood swings are punctuated with late nights of study and actual consumption of espresso beverages (Son #1 is not a coffee drinker, so you see how extreme the situation is.)  Fortunately for me, Son #2, with a few years to go before he starts any AP testing, is still his peaceful, cheery self, although he's purchased himself a ukulele and can so far only play 3 songs, which - while they are wonderful, just wonderful - can get a tiny bit wearing.

So, I'm continuing to press on, meeting with Mr. Logical via Skype every morning to discuss the latest developments and add to the ever-expanding 'to do' list, which is increasing exponentially by the minute.

Of course, what do I do after that?  Write a blog post.

Just call me Monkey mind.

*well, no more than a couple hundred

Sunday, May 8, 2011

From the Land of the Morning Calm: Back on the Bike

After three weeks in Seoul, the stars aligned and I finally had the opportunity to get out on a bike. I had pretty much resigned myself to the not being able to ride until after heading home for Son #1's graduation, having left the bikes and related gear back in San Antonio.

As luck would have it, husband-of-a-sister-of-a-coworker networking came through, and I was able to meet TC, a like-minded pedal masher and all-around adrenaline sport enthusiast. He was kind enough to offer the use of a set of wheels and miscellaneous gear, and with some good weather cooperation, we were set to ride this morning.

After navigating my way to TC's neighborhood via subway, we met up and enjoyed a hearty breakfast and coffee with MC (TC's wife). TC had outfitted two mountain bikes with semi-slick tires, offering up the plan to head over to Ganghwa Island, west of Seoul. Since I am "FOB" ("Fresh off the boat", per TC), I told him I was pretty much up for anything that involved pedaling and the opportunity to see some areas outside Seoul.

We drove west of town, crossing by bridge over onto Ganghwado, and eventually found a place to park the car and gear up. The island was gorgeous, with tall mountains,extensive agriculture, and thankfully, much less traffic than Seoul.

Straight out of the car we had a long climb up over a mountain pass, so that kickstarted my body, and after huffing and puffing over the hill, I settled into a more comfortable rhythm.

We pedaled towards the coast, riding the butter-smooth new paved roads towards the west. The views were amazing, and the weather was gorgeous. TC let me know that he tended to "generally" know where he was going, but enjoyed following whatever road or path or trail looked appealing. Back at the car I had confirmed that I still had full strength cell and GPS signal (which would have NEVER been the case back home), so I was game for anything.

We eventually made it over to the coast, and to the Ferry Boat, where we paid the $5 roundtrip fare and headed over to Seongmodo Island.

After pedaling through more and more obscure trails,to pathways to muddy jeep trails to rice-paddy dikes, we ended up dead-ended at the woods leading up to a ridgeline. TC noted that Koreans really don't have the "get off my land" mindset, and he was pretty sure we'd find trails on the other side of the ridge. Sure enough, bushwhacking through the brush eventually intersected a jeep trail that dumped us out on an isolated beach.

We hiked along the shoreline, portaging over the rocky areas and eventually ended up at a small park on the shore. From there, we were able to make our way back to the road, and back to the ferry landing for the trip back.

After getting back on Gwanghwado, we stopped at one of the traditional seafood restaurants and had an amazing lunch of sushi, seafood, and fish stew. It all went down well with Makali, a milky Korean rice-wine served in a small bowl. After enjoying a great meal, we mounted back up and began the climb back over the mountain pass to the car.

We had lingered long enough enjoying lunch where we had to fight the 2-hr "Sunday afternoon return to Seoul" traffic jam, but TC was great company and the time went quickly.

I'm definitely looking forward to getting my bikes and other outdoor gear here, and it looks like there will be plenty of opportunities to use it all..

I hope I didn't offend too many people on the subway with my "post-ride funk"...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

From the Land of the Morning Calm: Soju-head

After a good-natured poke from MsCarolyne, I figured I better get cracking and post an update regarding this past weekend's shenannigans.

This past Friday, one of the guys at work (PK)invited me out for some dinner and the opportunity to check out the area that he lives in. PK is a native Korean, but spent a number of years in Plano, and as such, extended a hearty welcome from one semi-Texan to another.. Since MT and KT live in the next high-rise over, they joined us for some BBQ and a foot-tour around the dining district right across the highway.

There were dozens of restaurants of all varieties, including a Vietnamese Pho place and a Sushi bar. Many of the restaurants here are very small, and range from very cheap to wildly expensive. Korean BBQ is cooked right at your table, and the food is all family style, with everybody grazing right out of the bowls with chopsticks.

After a wonderful dinner, great company, and a bit of beer/soju/wine, I headed down to the subway to navigate myself home. It was my first solo ride on the subway, but once you figure out the basics it is not too difficult to get yourself to the proper exit station. The difficulty, however, comes into play when you realize the stations are massive and sprawling, with multiple exits. Jong-no station, where I got off, has about 12 and after wandering around a bit, I headed topside to see if I could figure it our from the street. That was successful, thanks to several well-marked skyscrapers, which allowed me to triangulate and head in the right direction.

Saturday morning was pretty uneventful, taking care of chores and spending some time getting a VPN service set up so I could get to Hulu and Netflix. I headed up to another co-worker's apartment around 6:30pm for a poker party. After losing my "buy-in" money way-too-fast, I sat out and acted as dealer for a while. I eventually bought back in, won enough to regain my dignity, and ended the night around 2AM with a bit of a buzz and most of my money recovered.

The alarm clock rang well before I was ready to get up, and I had nasty soju and beer hangover. I was marginally functional, but at least was able to make it down to the shuttle in time for a trip to Costco.

Like last week's trip to EMart, Costco was pretty amusing. It was everybit as packed as the Costco back home on a weekend, and the general layout was somewhat familiar. The Costco here, however, is multi-story, with shopping in the basement and ground floors, and parking on the upper 3 levels.

The familiar Kirkland brand was everywhere, and they even had many of the exact same items I had bought back in Texas. Some items, however, were not quite the same. I wonder if there will ever be a market for fresh octopus at our old Costco.. (They pack 'em vent-up, so you can tell they are fresh....)

I was happy to find my favorite breakfast "Kashi-go-Lean", although I was tempted to buy Super-Amazing-Sugar-Bomb-Delight-Crunch.

On the way out, the trip was completed in the standard Costco way, having the Hot Dog Combo and a Churro.. Some things are the same wherever you are..

After getting back home, I relegated myself to napping and sleeping off the last of the hangover. Looking forward to a short week, with local holidays on this Thursday and next Tuesday.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Moving Chronicles: Lawn and Garden

(Yes, I know it’s a horrible title, but Mr. Logical is clearly sitting down on the job; I know for a fact that he possesses  photographs of Costco in Korea, but has not yet posted them.  I’m doing my best to fill the gap, but I realize that there is no way I can compete with shrink-wrapped squid.  I think we all know who’s to blame.)

 A second week has gone by with Mr. Logical in Seoul.  We have fallen into a routine of sorts, Skype-ing each other on our alternate mornings/evenings.  It’s still disconcerting for me to think that, while I’m just getting up, he’s already finished his day and is heading to bed – kind of like time travel or something.   I’m getting used to it, though, and am remembering when to say ‘Good Night’ and when to say, “Have a Good Day.”  We’re all missing him very much, but we’re busy enough that the days are going by very quickly.  Son #2 keeps a running total on the calendar:

While I’m handling things like bills and car repairs and school functions just fine on my own so far, I am having less success with lawn and garden care.  While I enjoy gardening, lawn care has never been my passion, and I have always been perfectly happy to leave that aspect of household maintenance up to Mr. Logical, or landscapers, or (more recently) my sons.  Both boys understood that, as part of their ‘Help your Mama’ covenant, they were expected to mow the lawns, weed-eat, edge – you know, basic suburban American lawn care.  However, what I had failed to reckon with was that our lawn care equipment is – at best – cantankerous, and – at worst – downright undependable.  Mr. Logical, with his ‘machine whisperer’ skills, can make anything with a motor obey his commands, so the fact that the lawnmower only starts if you hold your mouth just so was not a problem for him, and, of course, this was not at the forefront of our minds when we were getting him ready to leave for Seoul.

The fact that some of our equipment dated back to the Clinton Administration meant that, any time the boys needed to perform a lawncare task, Mr. Logical would have to essentially brutalize the necessary piece of machinery into working before handing over the already-running machine to whichever boy was on duty at the moment.  Naturally, now that he’s gone, the boys are struggling to get anything to run or – in some cases - even start.  After ignoring the situation until the lawn began to look more like a pasture, I finally girded my loins and announced to the boys that we’d be tackling the beast this weekend. 

Needless to say, this led to some pathetic moments.  Yesterday I had to call on Neighbor M. to come and start up the lawnmower,  and not long after that, Neighbor R (no doubt concerned about his  plummeting property values)  appeared out of the blue with an edger and proceeded to edge the entire front lawn for me.  If they had ridden up on white chargers in glittering armor, I could not have been more grateful and impressed.  

While we're on the topic of lawn care, I might as well just point out that – as I predicted – the inground sprinkler system did, indeed, prove to be my Waterloo.   Here in Texas, we are in the grip of a drought – not unusual for this part of the country, but definitely unusual in the fact that it is only May and we are already in water restrictions.  It has not rained any significant amount here since February, and the outlook for rain is bleak.  As a result, watering of any kind is severely restricted.  Since our watering system was set to run two or three times per week, naturally, as a law-abiding citizen, I needed to re-set the thing.  Naturally, I had no idea how to do that, which resulted, initially, in some rather Keystone-cops like random sprinkling at odd moments, and culminated in another frustrating Skype call with Mr. Logical trying to walk me through the procedure from memory.  This, of course, was unsuccessful.  Conversation became heated and tempers were short.  Eventually, I solved the problem this way:

That's right, Dear Reader.  I took photos of the display and e-mailed them to Mr. Logical, who was then able to walk me through the procedure.  Peace was restored, and all was harmony.  

However, after this weekend, I've decided that, as a Modern Woman,  I am going to be proactive about the lawn and garden care.  I'm not sitting passively by, waiting for my neighbors to bail me out.  I'm not waiting until things get out of hand anymore.  No more struggling with antique equipment; no more trying to decode complex programs.  No more wondering which one of the two gas cannisters holds the right fuel for the lawnmower.  That's right.  I'm calling a Landscaping service.  

Moving Chronicles: A Birthday of Significance

Son #1 turns 18 today, and I am not sure how I feel about it.  

I'm a little sad,  because his father is not here to share in the day, even though there will be Skype-ing and calling and packages in the mail, and a grand, belated celebration in June.

 I am so proud of the young man he has become that I cannot find the words to express it (and that’s saying something for me).

This is the last birthday when he really, truly, still belongs only here, only to us.  He will still belong to us, but not the way he does now.  After this year, he will belong other places, too, until he belongs somewhere that is completely his own. 

When he was born, after an exhausting labor that seemed like it would never end (as all labors are, I suppose) my doctor held him up and pronounced, ‘This is a very special baby.’   He had been born with the cord wrapped thrice around his neck, and with a ‘true knot’ in it.  We didn’t know, then,  that ‘true’ knots in cords are extremely rare.  We didn’t know that often babies with cord knots don’t even live long enough to be born, or, if they do, they don’t survive the process.   We were young, and tired, and thrilled with our beautiful baby.

We did not understand then what grace we had been given, but we do now.

On this 18th birthday, I am luckier than many mothers because I get to keep him around a bit longer.  He will come with us to Seoul, put off University for six months or a year, travel, explore, see Asia, learn how others do things, and experience an entirely new world.  I get to keep him just a little longer, and for that I’m deeply grateful.  I’m grateful that he wants to come with us, that he enjoys our company, and that some extra time with the family in Asia is something to be looked forward to, not just endured. 

However pleased we are that he's coming with us, we also know that, when he leaves, he will be ready to go.  Really ready.  Not just in the 'he's graduated high school’ sense,  but ready to take charge of his life and do a good job of it.  He has his father’s dry sense of humor, an ear for music, an eye for a beautifully composed photograph.   But he is also kind, resourceful, practical, creative, and (of this I am most proud) deeply compassionate.  He knows how to work hard, he knows how to balance his time, and he knows how to set priorities.  

 We have given him what some might consider to be a ‘long leash’ – lots of freedom, lots of opportunities, lots of experiences, lots of chances to make the wrong choice.  There were times I held my breath, times I worried that we hadn’t made the right decision, that he wasn’t ready for this or that step.  But each time, he took that next step, and learned, and grew, and gained confidence in himself; confidence that he could do things on his own and do them well.

This year, at 18,  his childhood comes to a close.  This year, his school days are over and he begins to pursue his life's work, his goals, his ambitions. This year, he will do exactly what we have been preparing him for his whole life:  he’ll go out into the world and write his own story.  He will be ready to start the next chapter, and I can’t wait to read it.