Thursday, September 9, 2010

No pants

I'm going to apologize in advance; I don't have any pictures for this post. Well, okay, I guess I can give you this one of me and Hana:

Oh, and here's a picture of me trying to eat spaghetti with chop sticks:

Oh, and here's a picture of a women's toilet that's just a hole in the ground:

Satisfied? Great! Let's tell some stories, shall we?

My kiddos aren't allowed to speak Korean in class. They've broken the rule a couple times to teach me words, and I am proud to report that I can now say both "thank you" and "I love you." Problem is, to my English-speaking mind, "kamsahamnida" and "saranghamnida" sound so stinkin' similar that I tend to mix them up. Fortunately, my students are the only ones currently declaring their love to me, and either response is appropriate. The issue arises when someone in a store or restaurant hands me something and I respond with the wrong one. You can imagine how that goes over.

The kids have also taught me "asa" (ah-SAH), which is the Korean equivalent of "awesome" or "cool." (Ben, if you're reading this, I know you taught me first, but I forgot until one of the kids said it.) I'm kind of in love with this word. Readers, I'm issuing you a mission: please have the entire US using this term by the time I return home. Thanks. Even though I now use the word in class, the kids aren't technically allowed. Hana translated it for them one day and told them the proper English term is "hooray." That pretty much works, but my adorable little Korean monsters pronounce it "HOOOOOOO-RAY" and it cracks me up every single time.

Today I went to the hospital for my health check. Apparently my tears last week had convinced YJ that I needed his escort, so he accompanied me across town. When we arrived, I darted into the bathroom and discovered yet another location that uses the awkward blue soap-on-a-stick, and came back out to wait in the waiting room until I was called. The health check was comprised of a series of tests, executed in a completely random order by doctors who spoke little English. When it was time for my chest x-ray, I was led into a tiny room and told to put on a gown. I stripped, pulled a piece of cloth off the shelf, and wrapped it around me. I looked down, and much to my discontent, the gown only reached a little past my butt. I dug around the shelf again looking for some pants to go with my gown-shirt but had no luck. I stood in the room for a while, debating whether the cloth was too short because I'm American and inappropriately tall or because finding pants in the little room was a test of my mental competency. After a bit, I realized that I had been in the room far longer than was needed to change clothes, so I just waltzed out in the too-short gown. When the x-ray technician saw me, his eyes grew wide, and he pointed at my legs. I tried to explain that there were no pants in the room, but he was too embarrassed to watch my gesturing. I should have recognized ages ago that I'm the kind of person for whom it is crucial to know the phrase "no pants" in as many languages as possible. It wasn't until after the x-ray, when I was redressing, that it occurred to me that the cotton leggings I had worn that day would not have affected the x-ray in the slightest and would have prevented this entire train wreck of a situation. Oh well; next time I find myself pants-less in a foreign country, I'll know precisely what to do.

And now we change gears entirely, sans an acceptable transition...

Tonight when I got off work, I gathered up my things and headed to a Starbucks. Sipping my over-priced latte, I stared out the window for a long time, watching hoards of people file past in their outrageously fancy clothing and ankle-breaking heels. I brought a book with me, but I was too wrapped up in people-watching to really pay attention to what I was reading.

One of the things that had worried me the most about Korea was being in a big city. I'm not in any way a city girl. I was raised camping in the country, and I consider the Miami Metro "public transportation." Even in the two years I lived in Cincinnati, I never really enjoyed being downtown. I only went there when I had to, and even then, I power-walked, eyes down, clutching my belongings as though my mere presence would get me mugged. I've always felt the most at peace when I'm sitting around a campfire, making a necklace out of leaves and flowers, or fighting orcs in a Louisville park with my friends. So moving to a huge place like Seoul didn't exactly thrill me, but someone talked me into looking for jobs right in the middle of the stinkin' city.

Which brings me back to the Starbucks. Hundreds of people must have passed my window while I watched, and I wasn't able to read a single sign as far as I could see in either direction, and I couldn't have been more content. With all the hustle and bustle going on outside, I sat with my book, and I contemplated this adventure. There's no question that Korea is sensory overload. Every step you take, someone wants to sell you something, or stare awkwardly at you, or walk straight into you without apologizing. But right now, my life feels delightfully simplistic. Sure, there are shops and restaurants and bars and people everywhere I turn, but I currently don't understand 95% of what goes on around me. All I know is how to get to work, how to buy basic foods at the convenience store, and how to get to church... and it's such a relief. My primary needs are met, and I don't even really have that many wants. I can literally entertain myself for hours wandering around the Daiso (Korean dollar store), and I'm unreasonably pleased with myself when I successfully purchase a cup of coffee or an umbrella. Once the dust clears and things settle down, I'm sure this whole life will begin to feel routine, and it'll take more and more to sustain my contentment. Perhaps life is always that way; things begin so harmlessly, so full of simple joy. But once we begin to feel happy, our systems begin to crave things in excess; essentially, it takes increasing amounts to reach that original high, and we get so bogged down trying to please ourselves that even seeking pleasure becomes a chore. My current prayer is that I can appreciate these simple joys as long as possible. One day, too soon I'm sure, sitting alone in a Starbucks is bound to make me lonely and homesick. But right now, I'm beautifully content.

The week before I left, I was terrified. Moving to Asia seemed irrational, stupid, and ridiculous. I'm ten days in, and it feels like I've been here an hour and a decade simultaneously. Korea is crowded, confusing, stuffy, huge, strange... and a perfect fit for me. I can't believe it took me so long to find it.

The other day, my kids were playing quietly with Legos during lunchtime. Out of nowhere, one of my girls hopped to her feet, punched her hands in the air, and shouted, William Wallace-style, "I LOVE KOREA!" 

Me too, kid. Me too.


  1. I love you do stinkin much.
    haha Korea is the best place to be without pants.
    And sometimes I wish life had a pause button. When we had these perfect moments of contentment we can just pause and stay where things are. (but then we'd never move forward...)
    I love we can be on other sides of the world and even in different days and can still laugh and cry and encourage one another.
    Thank you for being beautiful! You are asa! (it'll catch on!)
    love, pogi
    ps. thanks for listening to me rant about my weird awkward floaty place and nervously looking out the window every 2 mins. ha

  2. KOREA is ASA!

    Brad and I think you should be a journalist and write forever:) He reads these with me now :)


  3. ASSSSSAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!! :) Did I tell you, or did I tell you?

  4. also its me kimi, not paul, i dont know why its says paul.

    and why when you leave a comment and it makes you do that security word thing is there a handicap sign by it?

  5. Nik- I love you so much and I love this post. My entire office was read the no pants story. It is classic Nikki.

    I know I have said it before, but I am so proud of you for going on this adventure and for embracing the challenge. I don't want to say I told you so...but didn't I tell you this would be awesome!

  6. Nikki,
    You've conceptualized the secret of life down to just a paragraph or two....and that only in 10 days? What will you do for the rest of your life?

    Love the pants story...reminds me of getting a waitress job right after graduating from college (yeah...), and trying the uniform on in the restroom. There was only one piece in the box...the top...a tunic-type zippered deal. I thought it was awfully short and couldn't imagine bending over in it, but after much turmoil and twisting around to check coverage in the mirror, I thought, oh well and walked out to see the maitre d' who instantly turned bright red & stuttered ..'um, I'll find you some pants!'. Whoops. So, LOVED your pants-off story! It was ASA!