Saturday, December 31, 2011

Then and Now

Peering between the feet of the guardian demon, Grand Palace, Bangkok, 1970

As I said in an earlier post, I may be in Thailand at the moment, enjoying the sunny days, tropical temperatures, and sipping cocktails on the balcony with MrLogical.  It is equally possible that I might also be shivering in our apartment in Seoul, suffering even more keenly from the snow, ice, and sub-arctic wind gusts after almost two weeks in the steaming tropics.  In either case, I'm not ready to give you a blow-by-blow of my trip, but I will say that the Asia Vu family did enjoy at least a few days in Bangkok, where MrL and I had the opportunity to re-visit some old haunts,  drag the children to  share some cultural experiences with the boys,  and do some generic touristy stuff, some of which has changed very little since I lived there in the late 60s and early 70s.  Since the whole idea of this blog sprang from the idea that MrL and I were returning to Asia to re-live at least some of our childhood experiences, I thought it might be nice to share a few of those 're-lived' moments with you especially since posting photos takes so much less energy than writing an actual post.  Enjoy!

Interacting with monkeys:

MsCaroline and a gibbon at the Bankok Zoo, ca. 1969.

MsCaroline and baby monkey, Kanchanaburi (outside of Bangkok) 2011:

Visiting the Grand Palace in Bangkok:

MsCaroline, posing nicely at the foot of one of the guardian demons at the Grand Palace, ca 1970:

MsCaroline, fed up with the Palace, Demons, posing, and sightseeing in general, ca 1970:

Same demon, different angle, new paint job, older MsCaroline, ca 2011:

Elephant encounters:  

MsCaroline atop baby elephant, ca 1970, Bangkok:

Elephant trek, Kanchanaburi, MsCaroline & MrLogical, 2011 ((note:  I had a certain amount of reluctance about doing the elephant trek, having read so much about the abuse of elephants in Thailand, and I have to say, I would rather watch them than ride them;  I deluded comforted myself with the thought that the elephants at this small and fairly remote kraal seemed well-cared for, didn't appear to be overworked, and were treated humanely by the mahouts.  That being said, I probably wouldn't do it again.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Anecdote From Christmas Past

As I mentioned earlier, due to internet security,  I can't tell you exactly when, or for how long, but in not too many more days we'll be in Thailand (who knows? Maybe I'm there right now!), taking in the sights, tracking down our old haunts, and - most importantly to me - being warm.

Since we're having a fairly abbreviated Christmas this year (due in part to our tiny  streamlined apartment and part to our upcoming travels) I have actually had some extra time to troll through the blogosphere, reading about the festive season in places as far-flung as Munich, Dubai, and New York.   A lot of the blogs I read right now are written by people with small children, and, as such, are full of touching, witty, and adorable things their children are saying or doing.  Since I have teenagers, I am cruelly denied this pleasure, partly because a) they no longer believe in Santa and his entourage and b) they don't like me to put them in my blog, which is a shame, because teenagers are just as entertaining as young children, if not more so.  This weird desire for anonymity makes no sense to me, as they are part of a generation where everything you do, say, or think is almost instantly available for public consumption within miliseconds of the actual experience.  Besides, none of their friends read my blog anyway, so it's not like I'm going to mess with their street cred. Nonetheless, in my attempts at respecting their boundaries (blah blah), I have to tread carefully these days, thinking longingly back to the time when they just walked around doing and saying adorable things at the drop of a hat and never cared if they were being blogged about.  The incident I am about to share with you took place back when Son#1 was very young and - since I'm positive he doesn't remember actually doing it - I am claiming it as my memory, which means that it's mine to blog about without technically violating his present-day privacy.  At the time, I was still young(ish), idealistic, and without a firm understanding of the capricious (and somewhat violent) nature of small boys.  It also went a long way towards helping me dispel any romantic illusions I had about the job of parenting.

 Son #1 was about 3, and it was shortly before Christmas. We had a very nice lifelike Italian creche that we bought the Christmas after he was born and have put up each year since (until the dog ate Baby Jesus and we had to come up with a substitute, but that's another story) and this was the first Christmas he was old enough to really understand the basic story of the the Nativity, which he had asked me to tell him.

Let me just say that my mother's heart - as well as my sense of the tender tableau the two of us were creating  - thrilled at this.  Picture, if you will, the scene:  Son #1 in his adorable fuzzy jammies (with feet in them of course) curled up in my lap next to the fireplace, bathed in the soft glow of the lights of Christmas tree, looking together at the manger scene in front of us.  Cuddled together there in the soft firelight, I gently and simply tell him one of the great stories of our faith.  We touch the various characters;  the tired Mummy, who needed a place to rest;  the proud Daddy, who had looked so long for a place to shelter his family; the wondering shepherds, the reverent Wise Men, the animals in the manger, all of them there to adore the very special newborn king - a little boy, just like him.

When I am done telling the story, we are silent for a while; I hug him close, marveling in the peace and beauty of the scene, of sharing the true meaning of Christmas with him, and the reverent shine I see in his eyes.  After a moment of reflection, he reaches out a chubby hand to touch one of the figures, "That's Joseph?" he asks me.  "Yes," I say, "that's Joseph."  He reaches out again:  "That's Mary?" he asks.  "Yes," I agree, "that's Mary."  Then, he reaches out and softly touches the figure of the baby.  "That's baby Jesus?" he asks, looking at me again for confirmation.  "Yes, dear," I tell him, stroking his fair hair, "that's baby Jesus.  We sit together, sharing a, tender moment before he leans forward again, towards the creche.  Suddenly, his hand - now in the shape of a fist - darts out at the creche again. "BONK!!"  he shouts triumphantly, with a violent hammer blow into the manger; "I BONK the baby Jesus!

Anyway.......Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!*

(*With apologies to Sally Field, from whose 1984 Oscar acceptance speech I stole borrowed this phrase.)

For a lovely early Christmas present, Trish over at the blog Mum's gone to.... left me a comment telling me that she'd given me a Liebster blog award. Since I always look forward to Trish's blog posts full of wry observations about her travels (but adeptly covering many other topics as well, and you should also go to the blog she's writing based on her late father's memoirs), I was especially flattered that she had taken the time to pass an award on to me.  I have seen these awards before, but never quite understood how they worked.  This time, though, I took the time to read through the directions carefully (I'm working on this, OK?), and I am prepared both to gratefully accept the award as well as carry out the duties related thereto.

If you are not a German speaker (or reader), you should know that the word 'liebster' is the superlative form of the adjective 'lieb' - dear, sweet, or beloved - adding the '-st' makes it most dear, sweet or beloved, and therefore...a very special blog.  (I could get into the adjective -er ending, but it's related to word gender and case and therefore boring to almost everyone in the world except a few weirdos like me grammarians.)

 The award is given to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. It has these stipulations:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you. 
2. Reveal your 5 blogger picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog. 
4. Hope that the people you have sent the award to will forward it to their favourite bloggers

Keep in mind that, like most bloggers, I read a lot of blogs, and add new ones all the time, which makes it very challenging to narrow it down to just 5.  However, I finally chose 5 bloggers whose blogs I have been 1) reading for at least a year and 2) whose writing I admire and enjoy and  3) whose posts I look forward to as much as an email or a phone call from a friend:  

The first blogger I am linking back to is Wilma at  Life in Our Corner of The World.  Wilma shares her observations about life as a wife and mother in Arizona as well as family photos and memories of times past.  She has been a supportive reader of my blog since its inception and, in fact, gave me a Liebster award some months ago back when I didn't know what it even was! Now I get it, Wilma, and gratefully pass the award back to you.

My next pick is Barbara at Tanzania 5.0.  I started reading Barbara's blog when she was still living and working in Tanzania.  Barbara is a former member of the Peace Corps and seems to have mastered the knack of having adventures wherever she goes, and I love her fabulous photographs and the way she describes her experiences.  She's back in the US now, still having adventures (most recently in Sequoia National Park), and still filling her blog with equal shares of humor and incredible images.

Next up is Nappy Valley Girl at Nappy New York.  NVG is from the UK, living as an expat in Long Island, NY.  She's married to The Doctor and also juggles raising two little boys with a journalism career while blogging about parenting, travel, current events, and life as an expat in the US.  I love reading about life and parenting in the US from her point of view as an interesting to see your own country from another's viewpoint!(Note for US readers:  the word 'nappy' in the UK refers to case you were wondering!)

Another one of my favorites is Circles in The Sand, another expat blog.  Circles - another journalist - also blogs about the challenges of working and parenting and also provides an incredible insight into life in Dubai as well as quite a few resources for expats living there. Her posts are varied- one post may be a tongue-in-cheek observation about parenting, the next may be a roller-coaster-cam video from the fastest roller coaster in the world - in Dubai, of course!

Last but not least is Hails from Coffee Helps.  Hails is an English teacher in an elementary school here in Korea.  I found her blog when I first started looking for information about life in Korea.  She writes about life in Korea, her travels, her work, her plans, her dreams, and her experiences with a keen eye for the absurd, but also with great insight.  Now that I am in Korea, too, I can't wait until our schedules line up and we get to meet in person!

As flattering as it is to receive an award in general, I must confess that a truly lovely aspect of getting this award  is that this blog entry has pretty much written itself (this should come as no surprise to those of you who have been reading my blog for a while and are familiar with my general sloth.)  At this busy time of year, it seems like a wonderful gift!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Do You Want to Hear What I Hear?

(This was inspired by a lovely post about Christmas music I read over at The Iota Quota, which sums up almost exactly how I feel about Christmas music:  I love it all!)

As this is our first Christmas in Seoul, I've been thinking a lot about family traditions, especially since ours have - by necessity - changed a bit this year.  Having two teenage boys in the house means that most of the traditions that are still being observed these days rotate around food:  there is a certain amount of satisfaction in watching two otherwise-sophisticated young men scramble in the felt pockets of their childhood Advent calendar for a piece of chocolate, even if neither of them still believes in Santa.  They have both anxiously inquired if I'm planning on making our traditional make-ahead-pull-apart sticky buns on Christmas morning(yes), and have also expressed relief that we will be eating a traditional Christmas dinner (they were both a bit taken aback because I didn't cook a Thanksgiving dinner this year.)  The tree, of course, is up and decorated, and a few bits and pieces from home add a little Christmas touch, although the majority of our Christmas swag is languishing in a storage unit somewhere back home.  However, more important than all of those things has got to be the music of the season, which - safely ensconced in MrL's old iPod touch - has provided the soundtrack for yet another Asia Vu Christmas season, and I hope, when Sons#1 and #2 look back on their childhood, they will think of these songs with a bit of nostalgia, although I have no doubt that there are some that make them want to gouge their own eyes out they will never want to hear again.

Both of my parents loved Christmas music; each year, after Thanksgiving, my parents would start playing  Christmas music around the house as they decorated, cooked, and prepared for the coming holiday.  Regardless of where we were living, those same records (yes, actual vinyl records, children:  they're like big black CDs - if you remember CDs) provided the background music for the whole holiday season.  They were one of the few constants running through my very transient childhood.

The standards back then, of course, were Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Perry Como, and, of course, Elvis, along with a number of now-forgotten choirs and orchestras featuring the great classics. Even today, it takes only a few measures of Bing Crosby's 'Adeste Fidelis' or Elvis' 'Blue Christmas' to put me immediately into the Christmas mood.  Needless to say, when MrL and I got married, it went without saying that we would establish a collection of Christmas music of our own, and that it would - undoubtedly - include a few more artists than Bing and Elvis.

Our first step in this direction was on our first married Christmas, in the somewhat impulsive purchase of Ottmar Liebert's flamenco-style Christmas album, Poets and Angels:  Music 4 the Holidays, which we'd read a review of in some magazine or other.  The fact that neither of us particularly cared for flamenco music under ordinary conditions did not dissuade us from adding it to our fledgling newlywed Christmas music collection, and we confidently popped it into the CD player, sat down in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine, and prepared to prove ourselves open-minded.  Unfortunately, while Ottmar is a talented musician, the album did nothing for us.  Actually, if the truth must be told, we loathed it.  Only the fact that we had spent $24 of our hard-earned money (keep in mind that back then, $24 would have filled my gas tank) on a non-returnable item stiffened our spines with the resolve to get our money's worth out of it, and -against our best instincts - the sultry stylings of flamenco guitar provided the background for that first married Christmas.  Human nature being what it is, by the time December rolled around again and I pulled the Christmas things out of their storage boxes, Ottmar' seemed like an old friend. A weird, eccentric, flamenco guitar-playing old friend, but still - a friend.  After that, we made it a point to add something new, different, or fun to the collection each year, and - 20 years later - we have a wonderfully weird eclectic selection, ranging from classical renditions of The Messiah to A Very Brady Christmas (which is every bit as good as you would expect.)

A word of warning:  if you are not a Christmas-music person, or (even more likely) if you are reading this in a hurry, this won't be much of a post for you.  I put it together with enormous pleasure over the past few evenings with a few glasses of wine, collaborating frequently with MrLogical as to the best selections to include.  Ideally, you should have a mug of something hot and a few uninterrupted moments in order to obtain the maximum amount of pleasure from this post. If you are in the dentist's waiting room and reading this on your phone, I recommend earbuds.  If you are a holiday music aficionado, you may already recognize all of these artists and songs, in which case, sit back and enjoy.  But, if - like us - you are always searching for a new and interesting rendition of an old favorite, or a new song to add to the seasonal repertoire, I hope you'll enjoy this very select sampling of some of our favorite sounds of the season, and - just maybe - find your own Ottmar Liebert.
(Note:  I am in no way a professional music critic, so don't expect any insightful descriptions.  I was hard-pressed to come up with anything more than 'This is a really good song." You have been warned.)

Let's start with a relatively-well-known indie group, the Barenaked Ladies, from their album, 'Barenaked for the Holidays', and their rendition of  O, Hannukah, which is wonderfully fun and upbeat, and perfect for the season of good cheer:

Right before we moved to Arizona, we bought this cowboy-style CD by Riders in the Sky, "Christmas the Cowboy Way" which - as it turned out - has nothing to do with life in the modern Southwest, but which is alternately hilarious and tender and always good.  Their version of Let it Snow is musical proof positive of their theory that all Christmas songs are based on 'Let it Snow.'

From the early days when our boys were small and 'kid music' featured predominantly, a favorite that has stayed around has been Veggie Tales, which are a series of videos, songs, and movies about animated talking know, if you haven't seen them, they're really hard to explain.  I will say they are some of the only Christian-themed videos I have ever seen that are actually interesting and entertaining for adults as well as children.  This version of 'While by my Sheep' sung by Jr. Asparagus(yes, he's an asparagus spear) (and his sheep) is a family favorite  from the movie, 'The Toy That Saved Christmas.'  It starts at 4.54.

In the mood for some Christmas folksy banjo playing? Leon Redbone to the rescue with Christmas Island:

If you've been lacking a certain element of retro-style 1940s swing music in your holiday collection, you must try some Squirrel Nut Zippers from the album, 'Christmas Caravan"

For peaceful, instrumental piano music, there's always the classic album, 'Winter' by George Winston.  Here's 'Carol of the Bells'"

There's nothing to get you into the Christmas party mood like some good celtic music.  The pealing bells at the beginning of this piece just shout 'Christmas' at me:  The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin/Christmas Eve from the album "The Bells of Dublin."

And whose holiday could be complete- especially we children of the 60s,70s and 80s - without the clear, rich tenor of James Taylor? (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, from 'James Taylor at Christmas.')

Although I really don't listen to anything else by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I fell in love with this arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon in D with lyrics sung by a children's choir entitled  A Christmas Canon:

And this last selection, which is one of my favorites by a group of three sisters called 'The Roches'.  Their music is quirky, provocative, funny, and thoughtful.  What appeals to me is the incredibly rich way their voices blend in their close harmonies.  This is Star of Wonder from their album, 'We Three Kings.'

If you've persevered all the way to the end, my hat's off to you.  I hope you've enjoyed this little musical interlude, and if you have any recommendations to share, by all means, leave them in the comments section! Oh, and before I forget:  here's Ottmar.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

MsCaroline's Thursday Round-Up

round up
n roundup
1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Agriculture) the act of gathering together livestock, esp cattle, so that they may be branded, counted, or sold
2. a collection of suspects or criminals by the police, esp in a raid
3. any similar act of collecting or bringing together a roundup of today's news

(Note:  We're working with definition #3 today, in case you were wondering.) Having lived in Texas for several years before moving to Seoul, I feel entirely justified in using the metaphor of a round-up as a convenient heading for the purpose of lumping my very random and completely disparate thoughts together under the pretense of a unifying theme.  (Granted, during our time in Texas, we lived in a house in a suburban neighborhood, with nary a horse, cowboy, or longhorn (if you don't count all the UT flags and stickers) in sight, but we were, nonetheless, in Texas, and I feel that this still qualifies.)  Since I've pretty much just been languishing sick for the last two weeks, not much has been going on here that's worth blogging about except a few random bits of information.   Therefore, without further ado, I give you:  MsCaroline's Thursday Round-Up:
  • My Health:  Many thanks to those of you who have inquired about my well-being.  I am certainly much better than I was a week ago, although I can't seem to get rid of this lingering cough, which - as its description would imply - is lingering well after most of the rest of the cold has resolved itself, and causes others to view me with alarm.  I have been told that this is more or less a rite of passage for recently arrived expats and am hoping that, now that it's been exposed to some Korean germs, my immune system will pull up its socks and get back to doing its job properly.  Just as an extra bonus during the Christmas party season, I also developed conjunctivitis in my right eye for a few days, which meant that, from the left side, I looked normal, and from the right side, I looked like this:

Well, maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but it certainly felt like it.  Needless to say, if the cough hadn't already limited my social contacts, the eye took care of the rest of it.  Given those two conditions, the content of my next heading is especially remarkable, namely

  • My Health Exam:  For those of you who have been up at night wondering about the results of my recent medical exam for my teaching visa I am delighted to assure you that, according to my results:
"This is to certify that the above person has no infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, trachoma, Leprosy, venereal disease (syphilis), skin disease, or psychiatric disturbances, narcotic drug addiction, any intoxications of harmful substances, any defects of hearing and speech, visual defect, general weakness and any disability of the body. "  

           Just in case you were wondering. Notice they don't say anything about a lingering cough and a purulent
            red eye.

  • The Weather:  As I was warned (by people who seem to get way too much amusement from my discomfort), it gets cold here in Seoul in the winter.  Really cold.  Like, the high today is  27F/-3C.  We even had snow flurries a few days ago.  While those of you who are used to colder climates probably consider these temperatures to be balmy, eleven years of living in the American Southwest have left me with blood so thin as to be a vapor, and, as such, I am not coping so well.  I bought my first winter coat in 12 years and have discovered that scarves are an absolute necessity.  Up until now, I always believed that they were an accessory, like brooches or a lacy handkerchief.  Now, I know better.  I do not leave the apartment without a scarf.  And gloves.  Ever.  Even the teenagers acknowledge that it is Cold Outside and dress themselves accordingly, although initially, we had an awful time persuading them of the importance of wearing coats.  MrLogical and I could not understand why it was that two otherwise intelligent and reasonable young people were so resistant to the concept of wearing warm clothing, until MrLogical pointed out to me that neither of them had ever owned a real winter coat in recent memory and therefore likely did not understand their purpose. After some thought, I realized that, since we moved to Arizona in 2000, neither of the children have had to wear anything heavier than a light jacket for any length of time.  I vividly remember having to make a special trip to buy them ski jackets before a trip to New England, which neither of them were inclined to even zip up, and which were never worn again.  Needless to say, once the temperatures started dropping down to freezing, both of them were more inclined to consider winter coats in a more positive light.  Son#2 - having moved to the desert at age 3 - was particularly hard to convince.  However, MrLogical and I, operating on the assumption that children learn best from the natural consequences of their behaviors, invited him on a little shopping trip to a nearby shopping center. Seduced by the lure of new electronics, Son#2 agreed to accompany us on the 15- minute walk, dressed in what he perceived to be adequate winter clothing:  a sweater and a t-shirt with jeans. Those 15 minutes in a breezy 38F were all that was needed to impress upon him the need for warmer clothing. Needless to say, by the time we arrived at the shopping center, he was very open to the idea of buying a coat  and even allowed us to outfit him with a hat, gloves, and a scarf as well.  You'll be pleased to know that neither of us even said 'I told you so,' which should earn us stars or points or something on our Parental Report Cards.
  • Food  This is actually an extension of weather, but that section was getting too long, so I had to come up with a new heading.  The bitter cold has suddenly brought out in me a powerful compulsion to cook things that are hearty, warming, and require hours of simmering on the stove or in the oven.  I have cooked more roasts and stews and soups in the last 2 weeks than I have in the last 10 years, I think.  Besides the obvious reasons for wanting to eat hot, comforting food in the winter, and being able to cuddle up to the gas burners,  I have also recently realized that having something simmering on the stove is  just about the only other valid excuse (besides illness, which I have already milked for all it's worth) for needing to stay inside.  
  • Our upcoming trip to Thailand:  The safety rules of the Interwebs dictate that I not give you the specific dates of our trip, lest you fly to Seoul, track us down, figure out how to get into our apartment, and rob us of our meager possessions while we're thawing out enjoying the sunshine in Thailand. (Note:  if you do manage to do this, please take some of the extra skillets and a few towels and blankets while you're at it.)  Therefore, all I can say is that we are going, it will be warm, and I am counting the days.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Doctor Will See You Now

"It's an ill wind that blows no good." - John Heywood

As you may recall, I posted just a few days ago that I had, at last, succumbed to illness and taken to my bed, awash in mugs of tea and self-pity a variety of cold symptoms.  I attributed my infection to an observation I did at a local kindergarten where I'd applied for a job teaching English, and stated that, while I'd not gotten the job, I had caught a hideous cold.  I then went on to discuss my intense desire to avoid interfacing with the local medical system if at all possible.  Are you still with me? Good.  Because, within 24 hours of writing that post, the whole situation turned quite upside down and common honesty requires me to set a few things straight.

In the first place, keeping in mind that Mercury is still retrograde, it should come as no surprise to anyone that my mobile phone is still at the repair shop and I am still using a loaner model.  It should also be no surprise to anyone that this loaner has an operating system that is in Korean.  Even if it did have an English option, I wouldn't know how to find it, since I would need to know Korean to navigate to it.  This means that I can only use the phone to make calls, and even receiving calls can be something of a challenge due to the fact that the phone vibrates forever before ringing.  This means that callers may assume I'm not around and hang up before I ever even hear it on my end (and, naturally, I can't figure out how to re-set the damn thing.)  Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem, since the phone is usually in my purse or pocket where I can feel a vibration immediately.  However, when the phone is lying on the nightstand and its owner is dozing feverishly under the influence of powerful antihistamines and cough suppressants, it's very easy for the phone to vibrate endlessly without being heard until the caller hangs up in disgust.

And so it happened that, when the school called me to tell me that, yes, they would like to have me teach English to their kindergarteners, they were met repeatedly with no answer (note:  no voicemail on the loaner phone, either.)  Having gotten no call (that I knew of) I assumed I hadn't gotten the job and  - by - the time I dragged myself out of bed the next afternoon to sit at my desk for the first time in days - I had put the whole thing out of my mind.  Needless to say, I was surprised (and delighted) to get a call saying they'd been trying to reach me and would, after all, like to have me come work with them.

Good enough.  However, this was far from being the last trick up Mercury's sleeve.  The office manager went on to explain to me that all foreign teachers in Korea were required by law to undergo a health examination before they could be issued a teaching visa.  Furthermore, since the school (an international school) would be closing for an extended winter break in just a few days, it was absolutely vital for me to hie myself immediately to to the nearest medical facility offering such examinations in order to get this processed in time for me to apply for the visa and sign a contract  before school closed for the next month.

Thus it was that, the next morning, lightheaded, coughing, and fasting (as required for the blood tests), I dragged myself out into the cold, presented myself at the international clinic, and had my first interaction with the Korean healthcare system.  (The fact that I was doing this not to be seen for the Cold From Hell, but rather, to be pronounced fit enough to teach, struck me as ironic, but maybe I'm getting irony confused with coincidence again.)

The clinic itself was clearly organized specifically for this type of health exam.  It had a series of stations, each of them marked by a large number, and we patients (I was the only Westerner in sight) were processed quickly and efficiently through each one. After I filled out my paperwork, the sweet little receptionist escorted me to Station #1, where I would be given a lung x-ray (for TB).  She escorted me into a tiny dressing room, gestured to a pile of green drapes, and indicated that I was to take off everything up top before putting one on.  She also indicated that I was to take off my earrings and necklace and then, gesturing vaguely in the direction of my breasts and torso, and looking embarrassed, said, "piercings?"  Now, while I realize that the large majority of foreign English teachers in Korea are kicky young 20-somethings fresh out of Uni and probably just bristling with piercings and gauges and various other ornamental metallurgy - not to mention the fact that many of my own contemporaries have a piercing or two of their own - in my sick and fasting state, I found this implication hilarious enough to cause me to disintegrate into a bout of bulging-eyed, red-faced, apoplectic coughing, which probably confirmed for her that I was, indeed, tubercular and had no business being anywhere near children.  I did finally manage to pull myself together; I'm just grateful the conversation didn't involve vajazzling or I would have expired right there in the clinic.  Anyway, after reassuring her that I was piercing-free, I changed into my wrap and presented myself to the white-coated radiologist, who positioned me in front of a chest x-ray machine, provided me with a lead apron to cover my butt (God only knows where those x-rays were coming from) while intoning 'protect! protect!' and was finished in a matter of seconds.

I changed back into my clothes, collected my passport and paperwork, and was sent to the next station, where I was requested to provide urine (even more fun when using an Asian squat toilet) for drug testing as well as a blood sample (as long as they're screening for stuff like cocaine and meth and cannabis, I should be fine;  if they're looking for dextromethorphan and guafenesin, I'm out of luck and will likely be deported.)  The nurse (who spoke some English) explained to me that my blood would be tested for AIDS, syphilis, hepatitis, cholesterol, and anemia.   Although I didn't have a problem with getting tested, it was interesting to imagine how this type of testing would be received in the US. ( It's also part of a larger xenophobia issue here in Korea:  Korean educators do not have to undergo this type of testing - only the foreigners.)  Anyway, that was done very quickly, and I was then subsequently rotated through vision and hearing tests, a height and weight station (where, very oddly, they also took a chest measurement, which no one has been able to explain to me yet), blood pressure, and pulse.  I also had a 'consultation' with a young physician who looked to be approximately the same age as my oldest son (18) during which we discussed my smoking and drinking habits (sadly, quite dull) and any chronic diseases I might have.  This took place at a desk and chair behind a curtain, on the other side of which several other patients who were waiting behind me could listen to their hearts' content (although, if they were hoping for something interesting, I'm afraid they were sadly disappointed.) I had been told about the different cultural attitudes toward privacy that exist here in Korea, so I was prepared for this, but it was still a bit of a surprise.

Once I finished up with the consultation, Son#1 the young doctor scribbled something in a decisive sort of way on my paperwork, stamped it, and told me I was finished. I grabbed my coat, "Anyongheekeseyo"-ed my way out of the office, and was heading to the bus stop in under 30 minutes.  The whole thing had been quick, efficient, and relatively painless- something that I have rarely been able to say about medical appointments in the U.S.  In fact, if it does turn out that I need to be seen for The Cold From Hell, I don't think I'll mind going back at all.

Friday, December 9, 2011

While MsCaroline is Indisposed...

This is mostly how I look, with numerous exceptions.

Since I'm still feeling a bit under the weather, I was delighted to learn that an interview I did for BlogExpat is now live, which means that you can follow the link below to read things you (mostly) already know about me and I don't have to do anything but lie back and receive congratulations continue to recuperate from my recent illness.

But seriously, though:  BlogExpat is one of the sites I found when I first learned we were moving to Seoul and was looking for information, and I found some great resources through it, both from their blogs and from their articles.  To my expat blogger friends:  if you haven't already registered your blog with them, I do recommend it!  Click on the badge below to go straight to the interview.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Beware: There is Illness Here

The appearance of a disease is swift as an arrow; its disappearance slow, like a thread.  ~Chinese Proverb

In case you were wondering, it turns out that pride does go before a fall, and I am a perfect example of it.  We have been in Korea for just about 6 months now, and - with the exception of a couple of mild 24-hour bugs - all of us have been quite healthy.  Other people were getting colds and flu and walking pneumonia (they even sent a memo home from Son#2's school about it) and bronchitis and what have you, but here at Asia Vu, we have plodded along, healthy and resilient as a team of Clydesdales, seemingly immune to whatever Korea seemed to be dishing out to all the other expats. I chalked this up in part to our healthy lifestyle (ha), in part to luck, and in part to the fact that MrLogical and I - having been exposed to all manner of germs in our early years in Asia - had developed a certain amount of immunity to these things.  (That didn't, of course, explain why the boys weren't getting sick, but work with me here.) Other people were taking antibiotics and breaking their ribs with violent coughing, but we seemed to be in a little oasis of good health, regardless of the germy miasma we were swimming in daily. 

I cannot, of course, pin down the source of my malaise, but I am fairly certain I caught it while spending the morning observing classes at a local kindergarten (I doubt there is anything more virulent than a roomful of young children, and I say that as a parent) where I had applied to work as a part-time English teacher (yes, this was a stretch, and yes, my qualifications are for secondary school and University, but I had my reasons for being interested in this particular job.)  In any case, while it seems that I did not get the job, I did get a hellacious cold as a consolation prize.  

 My fall from grace was swift and severe.  On Sunday, I awoke feeling as though I'd run through a field of ragweed during pollen season, and optimistically assumed I was just having a bit of an allergy attack.  By Monday afternoon, I felt like I'd been hit by a train, and did something that is completely antithetical to my stiff-upper-lip New England background:  I took to my bed.  Since then, I have been fit for absolutely nothing except lying in bed, producing industrial quantities of mucus, and coughing violently.  This has been unpleasant and alarming for MrLogical, who has had the pleasure of trying to sleep while I wheeze and bark and sniff and snort, not to mention the fear of infection from my virulent self.  Back home in the US, he would simply have repaired to the guest bedroom, well away from me and my microbes.  However, here in our small Korean apartment with no guest bedroom, that was not an option, so he resorted to creating an ineffectual germ barrier between us with a wall of pillows, which, even in my weakened state, I recognized as fruitless and quite hilarious.

I am now on Day #3 of The Cold From Hell, and things seem to be improving marginally, possibly because I am deluding myself  am absolutely frantic to avoid having to deal with the Byzantine workings of our overseas health insurance, not to mention going outside in the 32F/0C  temperatures, dealing with the subway system while ill and coughing, and interfacing with the Korean healthcare system. (Note:  Nothing against the Korean healthcare system:  I've heard that it's excellent.  However, I find going to the doctor in my own country under the best of circumstances to be a miserable and frustrating activity;  trying to deal with the language and cultural barriers in Korea in my depleted condition just seems like more than I can handle at the moment.)  For the first (and probably only) time in my life, I have actually been resting, drinking tons of fluids, and taking decongestants, antihistamines, and expectorants with clockwork- like regularity.  In short, I am doing everything possible I am aware of to prevent this cold from becoming a bronchial or sinus infection that will require professional medical attention.  

I am mostly being an ideal patient:  that is, I lie in bed, don't bother anyone (well, except MrLogical, and I consider this just and fair recompense for two pregnancies with his melon-headed offspring), and occasionally totter out to the kitchen for a mug of tea or a glass of water.  Sadly, I am not at all attractive, like the Victorians who made an art of looking enormously romantic in befrilled nightgowns while appearing both wan and luminous.  I took to my bed in a t-shirt that says, "I'm the evil twin" and a pair of yoga pants which have seen better days.  Also, due to the fact that my entire head is full of mucus, I can only breathe through my mouth, which gives me the slack-jawed, dull-eyed appearance of an imbecile. The bright red nose (from blowing) and watery eyes complete the look.  Thank God my family loves me anyway.

Now, it hasn't been all bad, mind you.  In fact, there have been a few positives to this illness, such as:

  • No appetite.  Since I cannot smell or taste anything, I have absolutely no interest in food whatsoever, and therefore, have been eating next to nothing.  (This is something worth noting, since there is practically never a time when I am not interested in eating.)  This also has the advantage of preventing me from tasting all of the vile cough and cold preparations that I am dosing myself with.
  • A chance to finish watching Season 4 of 'The Tudors.' - I never watched this back home, since I am not much of a tv-watcher to begin with and we didn't have Showtime (the channel it came on in the US) anyway.  I discovered it a few weeks ago on Netflix and had been doling out to myself an episode per night, which seemed prudent for a middle-aged lady, given that most of the first 2 seasons were basically just what Son #2 described as 'historical sex.'  I was just finishing up Season 3 when I was struck down, and found Season 4 to be the perfect sickbed viewing.  By Season 4, most of Henry's saucy wenching was a thing of the past, so I could doze off during a torture scene in the Tower of London and wake to another lancing of His Majesty's ulcerated wound without feeling that I'd missed the general progress of the narrative.  Besides, I knew how it turned out in the end anyway.  
  • Coddling from Son #1 and his friend, who made me chicken soup from scratch yesterday and served it to me on a tray in bed.  This sort of attention from two college boys gives me renewed hope in mankind, which was not at all dimmed by the fact that -as mentioned above - I had no appetite.
  • The opportunity to interface with technology.  Being sick in the 21st century is ideal.  As I speak, I am cuddled up to my laptop, flanked on one side by my phone and on the other side by my Kindle.  Since we don't have regular cable tv here in Korea, when I tire of reading or dozing,  I amuse myself by watching streaming video on Netflix or Hulu.  This is accomplished by connecting our television to an elderly laptop (which we refer to as 'the mule') which I control from the bed by means of a wireless keyboard.  Today, I am appreciating technology more than I ever have before.

Right now, I am feeling optimistic about my chances for recovery without professional intervention.  My voice has already improved from basso profondo  to  basso cantante, and I hope to be at baritone by tomorrow.  The coughing has slowed down to about once every other minute as opposed to every 30 seconds.  And I can breathe (sporadically) through one of my nostrils.  These things, to me, signify progress.  Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.  

In the meantime, it's probably best if you keep your distance.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas...

I know, you were probably expecting a photograph of my Christmas tree, or some other seasonal decor.  In fact, those beat-up looking boxes are seasonal decor for me - this year.  While some expats stuff their suitcases with presents and fly home to dispense them in person, we will not be heading home, but rather - as many expats in Asia do - heading somewhere warm and tropical for Christmas, saving the long visit home for the summer.  This means that all our Christmas presents must be mailed, and - in order to get them there on time without sacrificing the boys' higher education - early.  This pile (which is still short two boxes) will be taken to the post office today and - after all the customs forms are completed (another aspect of expat life I was unprepared for) - will begin the process of traveling halfway across the world to the people we love.

Our dining room table has spent the weekend awash in packing tape, gift wrap, Christmas cards, and bojagi (Korean wrapping cloths) which - thanks to Youtube - I was able to learn to wrap properly with only a few frustrated tantrums.

The 'Lotus Wrap'
Naturally, the cloths and their beautiful ties will emerge wrinkled and crushed by the tons of bubblewrap and crumpled newspaper that had to be crammed in around all the items (why, oh why, do the Koreans insist on making so much gorgeous, breakable stuff?) to ensure that they arrive in one piece, but I guess it really is the thought that counts.  And, just because it's my blog and I can do what I want I am so pleased at the way these turned out, I will post pictures of my first attempts at tying bojagi.  (Besides, if you get one of these, you might like to know what it looked like before it spent a week or two squashed in a box.)

The 'Orchid' wrap.
While it's been something of a challenge to get so many gifts bought, wrapped, and packed for shipping so early in the year, you can only imagine how thrilled I am at the thought that the majority of my Christmas shopping is done on December 5th.  Every year, I make an enormous effort to get my shopping finished early enough so that I can sit back and enjoy the ambiance of the season.  It stands to reason that - the one year that I do manage to do it - I'm living in a country where the Christmas ambiance is, well, minimal, to say the least.  And on top of that, I'm trying to get everything packed for our trip to Thailand, which, since it involves a bathing suit, is more traumatic complicated than normal packing.  Needless to say, my fantasies of lounging around basking in the soft glow of the tree and listening to carols will - once again - probably not be realized.

Unless I leave the tree up until February.  Now, there's an idea....