Wednesday, June 20, 2012

So, I bitch-slapped a jellyfish

I mean there's more to the story.  Although, just keeping it at that could be fun, too.

Anyway, so this past weekend, I went to Geoje to hang out with one of my friends who will be leaving soon.  I left my high school and walked to the subway station.  I grabbed some food at Shinsegae, because Mama's gotta have something in her tummy.

As I was eating my orange sesame chicken on the terrace, I spotted a gaggle of way-gooks come up the escalator.  Now, there are two different types of way-gooks in Busan.  The word "bunch" describes group one.  Whereas, "gaggle" can only describe group two...and geese.

Type 1.  The seasoned Busan-ite who either lives or works here.  You can tell who these people are by the giant hiking back pack OR no pack at all, sandals or flats, and a subtle awareness of knowing we are foreign. 
Type:2. These people have their Nikons hanging round their neck, money belts not so skillfully disguised under loose fitting Hawaiian shirts, tennis shoes, and a complete lack of awareness that they are the other OR complete and utter awareness that they are the other.  Both responses have them swiveling their heads from side to side like that rollie chair that your mom had for her office that you weren't allowed to sit in because you'd break it.  Yeah, that one.

Right.  So, this gaggle of way-gooks crosses my vantage point.  It was a hilarious moment.  I watched as 4 middle aged couples maneuver the escalator.  They stood right at the top of the escalator to decide what they would do next.  While stopped, Koreans ninja-ed around them, throwing scowls and natural bemusement at these people who cannot figure out how to handle themselves. Several threw furtive glances my way, and as I was about to walk over to help them out, no shit out of my seat, one woman tossed her hands in the air, turned on her heal, and entered the basement of Shinsegae.  Everyone shrugged their shoulders and followed her. 

Now, the revolving door at Shinsegae is huge.  Each of the three partitions could probably fit Clay Matthews, AJ Hawke and Ryan Grant comfortably.  But, in the States, the revolving doors are so small, you go through one at a time.  So, each of these people wait for their own partitions, much to the chagrin of all the Koreans queuing behind them.  After about 1 minute 30 seconds, the whole gaggle is in the store (the first woman impatient as all hell).  Then, the Koreans start piling through the revolving door 4-6 at a time.  On the other side of the glass, the way-gooks face palmed at the ingenuity of going more than one at a time.  They all guffawed about their silliness, while everyone else was plotting different ways to kill them, and I just quietly giggled.

That was the start to this adventure.  I took a subway and then a bus to Geoje.  I have been so immersed in my book that I took in absolutely zero surroundings.  When I disembark (which is seriously the antonym for embark....I thought it was too clunky, but alas, never lies, right?) the bus, I spot my friend Louis.  We wait at the bus stop for our friend, Daphne, to collect us. 

Daphne arrives with a tag-team of awesome Jenna and Jen.  We fuel up and catch the next bus to Gujora Beach.  When I commented to Daphne, "Oh, wow, there is a lot of coast here."  She sort of looked at me like a corgi always looks--head tilted to the side--, and said, "Well, Katie, it is an island." 

It was at this point that I mumbled and looked away.  It was a comical moment.

Our bus snaked around the island for about 45 minutes.  We passed giant shipyards and sunken beaches.  Finally, we arrive at the last stop.  We just had to cross over a ridge, go through a mildly sketchy part of town, then descend to the beach.

Once there, 3/5 of us went into the water.  I am a sucker for water.  I feel like Poseidon could have been my father.  I went in and under right away.  The salt water burned my eyes, my throat, my hair.  It was such an amazing feeling.  Jen, Daphne, and I swam out towards a smaller island in the distance.  About halfway, Daphne bid us adieu, and it was game time for Jen and I.

We didn't know each other, really at all.  We had met briefly, and I was super intimidated by this woman.  She is tall, beautiful, and fabulous.  The middle-schooler in me shrank back in fear that she wouldn't like me, but the adventure seeker in me said, "Put a sock in it, Insecurities.  I wanna go to that island."

We started swimming towards this island.  It was about 500-700 meters away depending on the diagonal.  I had been rocking the lifeguard approach stroke, but then my arms felt like they were going to fall off, so I switched to breast stroke.

Jen and I were talking about life experiences and whatever one talks about while swimming to a rocky shore.  I commented about how amazingly blue the water is.  About 130 meters from the shore, I could still see my feet as if I were looking through glass.  I pushed into the glide motion (rocket ship) of breast stroke, and I smacked into something less solid than rock, but more solid than water.  I looked down into the water and it looked like a clear swim cap full of water. 

It took me a split second to register that clear swim caps do not hang out in salt water.  Then, I screamed--like a child.  I freaked the hell out.  With a chorus of "Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod!" I sputtered over towards Jen.  I explained that I just bitch-slapped a jelly fish in the face and that I was terrified that she would get her tentacle-y revenge.

She said, "Oh, yes, Gujora is known for their jellyfish population."

"Budegabah! What? Now is the time y'all let me know?  Aw, shoot."

At this time, we were only about 100 meters from the island, and I was too skeered to go back and face the Jelly, so we pressed on.

I am so glad we did, because we finally reached the island and pulled ourselves up on the rocks over the zebra mussels.  (Neat! Now I have blood to attract the sharks that are just jonesin for my sweet Wisconsin blood.) We scrambled about this giant rock pile, taking in the greatness that surrounded us.  The isthmus of land, the other bay, and the mountains enclosed us in this perfect time and place. 

As we surveyed our landing, we spied two sea caves.  We had to cross a small water path to get onto that island. Jen and I found a pretty good spot to start climbing this rock face (a solid 10 meters off of the water).  We boulder scrambled over to the caves and just took in their abyssal beauty.  We wanted to swim in them, but then decided against it for fear of being swept with the tide.

As we traversed back to shore, we simply marveled at what we accomplished.  I thought of the privileged life I live surrounded by so much fantastic beauty.  It really makes me think of how humans can possibly make something so amazing more perfect.  Then, I realized, we can't.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

So, I guess I will have to cross that off my "never have I ever" list...

As some of you may know, my personal space bubble wraps me like cellophane. It is generally transparent, and closes in so tight around me, many pretend it isn't even there.

However, very few of you have seen me sans vetements.  One would think that because I was a swimmer and hate wearing pants with every fiber of my being, that I would embrace public nudity and other such sundry behaviors.  WRONG.  I get super weirded out and uncomfortable, as if my skin sticks to closely to me while I'm in another person's presence.  I feel all child-like and in the words of the amazing Kalli Nielsen: "I feel looked at."  When I am wearing less clothes than the average bear, I am generally alone, and just basking in all of my Lady Godiva glory.

This morning, I went swimming with a friend of mine, but I had to leave early if I wanted to make it to school on time.  I walked into the locker room, and there were people doin' what they do in locker rooms.  This is not new to me.  I worked at the local YMCA, and I have had my share of accidental, "Oh, why, yes I would love to talk to you about your child's swim lesson while you are completely nakey no-pants.  I think that is a swell idea and not at all uncomfortable."  But, never have I ever participated in it myself. Never have I ever had a left-field college public bath experience. But, let me tell you something, in Korea, there are giant public saunas called Jjimjilbangs, so public nudity is totally a thing here.  I guess, it isn't really public, but it is far more public than my apartment, bathroom, or occasional late-night, dark ocean swim.

Anyway, I digress.  Today, I walked in the locker room needing to take a shower after my swim.  I knew, I just knew that if I pulled the high school shower with the swim suit on, I would be scrutinized way more than if I just went in there white as a picket fence, and showered as fast as I could.

I took a deep breath, terrified that I would be smote for breaking one law or another. And, I participated in my first Korean public bath situation.  I walked into the shower room (which was quite lovely, by the way.  There were these incredibly aesthetic pools, a sauna, and a foot bath...but no shower stalls), and immediately about 18 eyes turned in my direction.  If it was a scene in a movie, the women would have been like owls perched in branches peeping through my bedroom window.  Alas, it was real life. And, these women were not owls, but all middle aged people who were as interested in my freckles as they were captivated by skin color.

Most looked away quickly, but some kept on staring.  I started to rinse off when a woman sidled up next to me and offered to share her shampoo and conditioner.  I gratefully took some of it.  She started talking to me.  I told her I didn't understand, but I think that all she wanted was someone to listen (and who better than the way-gook who cannot understand anyway).  I think she introduced me to all of the women, and invited me back to the pool someday soon.

It was in that moment that I lost all insecurities.  I suppose that isn't true.  I was still painfully aware of my very American body in contrast with their very Korean ones, but I realized that in this country it doesn't matter.  We are all women, and we are all beautiful in our own rights.  Although, I was incredibly uncomfortable for every second I was in my birthday suit, not one person in that room judged me.  They just saw me as foreign and exotic.  They saw me as an outsider who only wants to fit in--to be a part of whatever parts of this culture I can cobble together to make my own.  It was this very jarring personal moment when I realized that there are 6 billion people and googleplex  of ideas in this world.  If I only meet people and take part in ideas that make me comfortable, I will be missing out on too many opportunities that could change my world.

So, it's time to put my Pants back on and be excited for what's to come in the future.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

So, that was fun...

Do you all remember when I swore off Sojanta in my last message.  Psyche! I think it is a beach thing.  Back in the states, if you're on a beach and you're not drinking Corona with a lime, you've have got all kinds of crazy, my friend.  It is the same here, if you are drinking anything but Sojanta on the beach, you aughtta be slapped silly.  (However, there was some Chocovine and red and white wine intake, but not as much intake).

Anyway, the night before a public holiday for Something or Other, I toooooootally crashed a bachelorette party.  I had met about half of the women before, but I just sort of showed up with a friend.  I was holding a baguette, so all was well.

I would just like to comment about the ex-patriot community here.  It goes like this:

Me: Hi, I am Katie.  I just showed up with a Baguette.
Person: Hi, I am ______. That sounds great! Let's be best friends forever.

The expedience with which people form connections is synaptic.  People get so close so quickly.    You enter into these friendships with such vivacity that you cannot even breathe. But, it is always a waiting game.  Everyone has their expiration date.

I met a woman this weekend, we'll just call her Bear Hands for anonymity.  I had met her once or twice before, but then I randomly ran into her at Haeundae beach. Within moments, I was made into a sand mermaid, and we and a bunch of co-mingled friends, were discussing our on philosophical life views, with a hint of existentialism and a wee bit of pretension.  It takes months and years of trust, friendship, and hanging out before I usually become comfortable.  I feel like time it takes to form friendships is akin to the gestation period of Bella Swan's vampbaby, Renesme, who clawed her way out of her mother's LP.  Super weird.  But, the effect is just really fast, really serious.  I like it, but it also throws someone like me who (in a friendship sense) is a test the water before jumping in kind of kid.

And, this is what Bear Hands and I were talking about.  I had said something about not believing that this is the life I am living.  And, that I am still sort of waiting to wake  up from an incredibly awesome dream, and hopefully a cameo from Brian Littrell or Helena Bonham-Carter.

She asked me why did it have to be a dream, and this is something on which I have pondered for a great long time since this conversation.  I think it was that growing up, I was not an adventure seeker or a risk taker.  The only reason I got hurt was because I was too proud to say, "maybe going down that double black diamond my third time skiing is not such a great idea."

Now, it seems as though that I am actually living all of my childhood adventures.  I am hiking up tall mountains, swimming in blue green seas, standing at the top of a subway station wondering how the hell do those posts hold all of this cotton candy wonder above.

I am consistently amazed and surprised by everything here.  Never did I ever think I would be in another Shakespeare play.  Never did I ever think that I would be decent at Ultimate Frisbee.  Never did I ever think that I could be a part of such a bustling community.  You see an ex-pat on the bus or subway, you say hi.  

This dream-like adventure is fantastic for a year or so.  I give mad props to people who can be away for longer.  I feel like I am in the Land of Lotus Eaters.  This life is something so beautiful and sweet.  But, my pragmatic side fears that I will lose touch with reality.  I need that sense of home and safety.  Without it, I just feel like a lost child meandering through the roads and alleys of my introspective brain.