Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Seoul-a Adventure

Me and Jen. Loken in Myeong-dong. Yay for my Italy friends! (I am sporting my new hat in this photo as well.)

My cold was cruel but luckily short lived. I could feel it creeping in slowly, like a lion stalking it's prey all Christmas week, but it held off on the kill until the day after Christmas. My head began spinning on Friday afternoon, or maybe the children were literally running circles around the room. Either way it was hard to tell as all I could focus on was the spinning, and not what was actually doing the spinning. I knocked on Nurse Ann's door during the break and was given a hot citrus drink and two unknown pills to take after dinner. The drink felt nice on my throat, and the slime inhabiting my sinuses retreated for a short time after wards. However after dinner, not only did the enemy retake it's position, but it also released some weapon to prevent any air from entering or exiting the nostrils without a drill hammer. Speaking was difficult considering the air that it produced had no where to exit but my ears and ear canals aren't built for breathing. Speaking was also basically pointless considering no one understood what I said, and then laughter (sympathy laughter mind you) would almost always follow.

I spent all of Saturday in bed, blowing my nose (which is considered rude in Korea, but spitting ironically is not), reading Les Mis, and wallowing in my misery alone without a nurse. My friend Jennifer Loken that I met on a study abroad program in Italy of 2005 was visiting another friend in Seoul. This weekend was our only chance to meet so of course I had to be stuck in bed. I considered for a moment throwing it all to the wind and going to meet her in the cold and windy city anyways, but I realized that my company in all honesty would not be enjoyable to anyone least of all me.

Sunday, after 12 hours of sleep, my head miraculously stopped floating above the atmosphere, and I was even able to breath, for the most part, therefore, I was well enough to visit Jen. I was ecstatic! We finally spoke at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and decided to meet up in Myeong-dong (the heart of Seoul) for some Korean shopping.

1st task: figure out how to get there, taxi, bus, subway, train? I had never been to Seoul with others let alone by myself, and up until then had depended on others for getting and using transportation.
2nd task: learn how to read and speak Korean as nothing is in English. (not accomplished)
3rd task: Don't get lost for I will never be found again!

Jen's friend was really helpful as she had been living in Korea for several months already. I called a number for English speaker and asked for much needed help. She gave me several bus numbers and I was on my way. Normally we take a taxi into town, but because I am afraid of phones when the other side only speaks Korean I cannot call a taxi, besides which, it costs $5 rather than $1 for the bus, therefore I opted for the bus.

I walked the ten minutes down the hill to where the buses waited. The bus driver was sleeping behind the closed doors. I knocked on the doors, said the name of the station I had just learned five minutes previously, he nodded and I sat down. We waited for 10 minutes before leaving. As the bus turned uphill, my heart rate increased, as I had only been on the bus once before, and it had been in the dark, in the comfort of all the other teachers who actually knew what they were doing from experience. But I didn't remember the bus going up a hill. Visions of a wandering Vanessa unable to speak Korean or communicate where she lived or where she needed to go started to flash across my mind. I hadn't even brought the SNET business card with the phone number in case something dreadfully wrong were to occur. With help from an old man and the bus driver, I got off at the correct stop. With sweating palms, I brought out my notepad where I had jotted down the bus numbers. A kind-hearted woman wearing a red jacket came to my aid.

"Do you need help?" she asked me in excellent English.

I nearly hugged her on the spot. I was so nervous and here was a helpful Korean woman who spoke English. God had surely sent her to be my guardian angel. And as it turned out, we were to ride the same bus. Not only had I gotten on the correct bus, but I had a bus partner. She was an extremely interesting companion as she traveled around the world as a business and life coach. In fact we were so engrossed in our conversation we missed our first bus, while waiting at the bus stop.

I exited the bus according to her directions, found our meeting point, borrowed a random Korean's cell phone and called Jen. My anxiety had taken form as a demon, gripping my muscles, and imprisoning me in my body until I stepped off the bus into Myeong-dong, when it transformed itself into jubilation at my independence and success. Never in my life had I traveled to an unknown place, without a cell phone, without knowledge of the language and most importantly without Kyle. In all of our fretful travels, I have always had the comfort of at least having Kyle by my side, always ready to protect me if needed.

But on my journey to Seoul, I had been utterly, frightfully alone and I succeeded all on my own. The journey in some curious way felt like a test. "Can you survive? Are you independently strong, or does your strength come from Kyle?" In truth, it was one of the most frightening experiences I have ever been subjected to, but from it, I felt stronger, and more confident in myself and my abilities to adapt and to survive. I would not wish to undergo that experience again, but I am grateful it happened. Just as I wish with all my might that Kyle was with me now, but in some ways, I think this separation is healthy. Through our heartache we grow stronger in our love and appreciation for each other. And through our separation we are allowing ourselves to grow as individuals, drink from different rain water, and flourish without the nurturing warmth of the other. Many people have never known me without Kyle, nor Kyle without Vanessa. We have been two halves of a whole for eight years, and although I feel a piece of me is missing, I am enjoying being seen as me, and only me, if only for a month.

Myeong-dong was fantastic, filled with street vendors of every shape, size and kind. Boiled octopus tentacles hung off the table corner of one food vendor, while diagonally, beautiful scarves and stockings littered the table. It felt completely normal to meet Jen in a foreign country as our original friendship began and flourished in Italy. And as I had received my first paycheck, I was excited to finally allow myself to splurge a bit. Besides a cheap pink watch, that I am sure will break within the month, I bought myself a beautiful new coat and hat (which were both on sale, thank you very much, so not too much splurging!) I am so thankful, my cold released me from it's clutches allowing me to meet my dear friend Jen and to finally see a bit of Seoul. I can't wait to go back for more shopping, however next time hopefully Kyle will be with me!

My new coat. Notice the girly ruffles on the sleeves, and the sparkly buttons.


Mrs. S said...
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Mrs. S said...

cute coat and hat!!

I am SO excited for you!! Isn't it amazing to know that even though frightening you can do those things?? I am so proud of you! That is awesome! Puerto Rico scared me a bit...but it was a LOT better because many people spoke english, and those that didn't i could speak enough spanish to get by. I cant imagine being in a place where i didnt know ANY of the language much less being able to read the symbols. Simply amazing.

oh and the link is http://livinglifeontheroadlesstraveled.blogspot.com see if that will work. I will have it up and running in a few days!

Elizabeth said...

Cute coat! And go you for braving the trip--I'm sure that will build up your confidence for even more, and who knows? Maybe you'll be the one protecting him on excursions!

Hubby said...

I am so proud of you honey for having such a successful journey. I knew you could handle it and I am very, very glad to hear that you found it to be such a strengthening experience to boot! You are amazing and I love you all the more for your bravery. Distance is definitely making my heart grow fonder. I think I'm done growing though, I miss you terribly!

Veggie Mom said...

Well, I think my family caught the cold germs from you. It's a particularly aggressive variety, with lots of hacking, spitting, blowing, etc. OK, I'll spare you the gory details! Sounds like Seoul's the place to be on New Years. Here's hoping you Have a Happy!

LadyFi said...

Love the coat! Great to hear you are feeling better.