Daily Journey Journal #64: a brief hiatus

The plans are settled.

The count down until departure is at an end.

The bags are packed, waiting for their final zip after adding the last minute necessities.

We are officially ready for our mini-vacation! And, it is finally here! Woot, woot, woot!

At the bright and early hour of 4:30 a.m. tomorrow morning A and I will be heading to Jeju island for a few days of rest, relaxation, exploration and hopefully hiking adventures. This is our first big block of time off from school since we began last October and we are totally psyched for it. Our journey begins with a bus ride out of Yeosu to a nearby ferry terminal. Upon boarding the ferry, we’ll have an almost six hour ride to the resort island, which I have been promised is an incredibly nauseating experience, but well worth it. After that, it’ll be time for the beach and seeing new sights. If the rain holds out we are planning on hiking the tallest mountain in South Korea, Hallasan. If not, then there are oodles of museums (including a chocolate factory!) to venture between. I am so excited for everything.

During our time away, I’m going to simply disappear from the internet and unplug a bit, so, until I return, au revoir! Have a fantastic week!

 

Daily Journey Journal #63: lessons come in all forms

Some days my mind feels sluggish and cold, tired and stiff, like muscles the day after a long, hard run. Other days it is alive, awake and ready for new things to waltz in and fill my mental shelves of knowledge. Today was one such day and over the course of these last fifteen hours, I have learned quite a bit, from steps in self-awareness to circuses to American history.

Things I learned today:

1. Listening to my body and following through with what it is telling me is not something I do often enough. I fell into the habit a long time ago of pushing myself and my body to the limits and this is proving to be a difficult habit to break. This morning, however, I decided to really pay attention to how I was feeling and let that decide what would be best for my body. So, instead of going for a run, as I planned, I went back to bed for an hour and woke up more refreshed and content than I have in quite a while. The soreness in my legs from running and the pain from long-lasting injuries dissipated bit by bit, leaving me in a stronger state for tomorrow and the rest of the week. Today, it seems, I just needed a day of rest.

2. The topic for my middle school class this morning was Cirque du Soleil, which turned out to be a fantastically interesting subject. I learned that Cirque du Soleil started in Canada (I thought it was French!). It was a bit of a long and difficult road to success for the Cirque, but now it is one of the most spectacular shows in the world. As I watched several clips of performances, I was greatly reminded of a book I read a couple months ago, The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The way the performers moved, their costumes, the colors and overall feel of the show was exactly how I imagined the circus in Morgenstern’s amazing novel. The connection between the two made me want to re-read the book and see a Cirque du Soleil performance one day.

3. When it comes to writing, there are a billion different hints, rules, guidelines, pointers and suggestions. Reading writing tips is something I absolutely adore doing, and as of last week when Writing 201 began, I have had a great opportunity to read through writing help and contemplate my own work. I have not yet posted anything for Writing 201, preferring instead to be a lurker, at least for the time being, but the course materials have been fantastic. If I learn nothing else, I will have learned that when it really comes down to it, writing is really about how it works for you, because for every hint that says do not do this or that, another will say do this or that same thing. This is a good mental note to keep at the forefront when writing.

4. The last thing I learned today was much more on the depressing/bittersweet/heartbreaking side of the spectrum from my other discoveries. From 12 Years A Slave, I learned about the life of Solomon Northup. I am not sure how much the film altered the story of Solomon Northup’s life, struggle and everlasting hope (I’m going to read the book to find out), but it opened my eyes to an aspect and angle of this horrendous period in American history which I had not learned about before: free people being abducted and sold as slaves. The entire time I was watching the movie I was completely horrified. The hate, prejudices and injustices of it all just fill me with deep regret and sorrow. Upon his escape from slavery, Northup worked to help end slavery and was active in assisting people on the underground railroad. His strength, determination and hope are astounding and I am thankful for the people like him who had the courage to stand up against the system, despite the dangers, to make the country a better place. I am grateful today to have learned Solomon Northup’s story and so sorry that he never saw justice in his lifetime.

 

 

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Daily Journey Journal #62: and then there were visas

When it comes to travel, I almost always fail to consider one little, yet so important thing: visas. Those pesky little pieces of paper, stickers and stamps on the pages of my passport that are so fun to look at in retrospect and so necessary while in country in order to avoid the unpleasantness of fines, arrest and deportation. Visas are so essential for a happy trip and yet I almost always forget to consider them while in the initial planning phase. And then, it hits me and the panic hits me as I delve into figuring out how to obtain one. While I completely understand and respect the need for visas, there is nothing quite like the process of acquiring one to send me off into land of bureaucratic-language confusion. Each country has its own process, set of requirements and varying levels of strictness, which just adds to the bafflement for me.

My first trip into the land of visas was five years ago when I volunteered in Tanzania. The process for the visa was so simple that I hardly remember it at all. Papers were filled out, a money order made and off they went with my passport to New York, returning less that a week later with a rubber stamp visa included. Easy peasy!

While Tanzania was so simple, my next visa adventure was as opposite as it possibly could be. Three years ago I studied in France, necessitating a student visa. The  process required flying halfway across the United States to California in order to hand my application and passport to the embassy in person. Some papers needed one copy, others needed two or three and some needed no copies at all. I needed three sets of one thing, one of another and two of yet something else. My checklist was just as confusing as the numerous papers I read through to create said checklist because the requirements were pulled from different sources, some of which were more up to date than others. But, when it was all said and done, the acquisition of the visa went smoothly and made it legal for me to travel all over Europe without needing new visas each time.

Then, last year when I applied for my work visa in South Korea, the process was repeated all over again, only in its very own unique way. The visa request had to be sent in by my future boss, but only after I sent him the equivalent of 8 pounds of paper work (literally) which was processed and sent to various government agencies in South Korea. After he submitted the request and I received a special number, I sent my application and passport to the embassy in California for processing and happily did not have to fly there for an interview as my teacher predecessors have had to do in the past. Four days later the passport was back in my hands and I was on my way.

Now, after these experiences, it would seem logical that I would remember to check visa requirements first and foremost when planning an international trip, but of course, I get carried away in the excitement of visiting a new place and it becomes an after thought. And then, the panic sets in in a big way and it becomes a scramble to figure out how to make it all happen. Thus was my life today.

A and I spent most of the morning and afternoon planning our grand Asian adventure, only after which did I realized we should check out the visa requirements. Of the five places we hoped and planned to visit, two allow for upon-arrival tourist visas. The other three, however, are a totally different story. After doing the research, shifting through the numerous websites and government notices, it became apparent that our plans are going to have to shift a bit. Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are all possible (if we can get visas issued to us from the embassies in South Korea), but India, unfortunately, is most like impossible.

The land of bureaucratic-language, with its topsy-turvy visa process path is just too much for me this time around. Finding a contact email to send an inquiry proved impossible and as my stress levels started rising, I decided that maybe this time India wasn’t mean to be. The disappointment of this hit pretty hard, but after running it out, I realized that perhaps it would be so much better for India to be its own trip, when we can spend a longer time there and dedicate our time and energy to this one amazing place.

In the mean time, this opening in our plans allows us new opportunities in the other countries we are visiting. We will have more time to visit different cities and sites, and perhaps not feel quite as rushed. So, I think at the end of the day, it all works out. India is still a dream, but for now, this dream of seeing Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam can become a reality. And, with this decision made, my stress levels have returned to normal. Whew!

 

Daily Journey Journal #61: voyage ho!

Today was perfectly fabulous, a day spent doing all the things I love best: running, coffee, chatting and thinking about traveling. In a little over two months time we will be saying goodbye to Korea and heading home, but not before a whirlwind voyage around Asia. While leaving Korea, our students and our new friends will be sad, the promise of adventure has me thrilled. The plans are still in the works, but as of our most recent decision, we will be visiting Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and India throughout October. I am so excited about this, particularly for India. I am not sure why, and I am not sure when, but visiting India is one of my lifelong dreams and now we are going to do it. Woot!!

In the mean time, before we finish our year in Korea, we will be visiting the vacation and honeymoon hotspot of the country, Jeju Island, next week during our mini summer vacation. I am looking forward to some time to rejuvenate, a break from the city and to learning about all of the amazing stories that surround the island. A history of female ocean divers, three brothers who founded the island and the grandfather guardians has me intrigued to be sure. Now, we just have to cross our fingers  that the tsunami growing off the coast decides to go away so our first time traveling by ferry isn’t too nauseating!

 

Daily Journey Journal #60: beetle karma

Sara wasn’t one much for bugs. Growing up, her younger brother’s pets of preference were cockroaches. And, not just your average, general roach. No. He liked the three inch long, one inch wide, masters of procreating, hissing cockroaches from Madagascar. He loved them so much that his initial three expanded almost exponentially overnight because he deemed it necessary to supply them with a female companion. That day in seventh grade, when one of his beloveds decided to hitch a ride to school on Sara’s lunch box was the day she decided that in her own home she would have a zero tolerance policy regarding any bug.

So, the Friday night almost fifteen years later when she went to take out the trash and noticed  a slight scurrying movement under the cupboard, there was only one thing to do. She dumped the trash outside at the dumpster and returned to the kitchen, grabbing the flash flight from her desk drawer as she went. On hands and knees she inched along the cupboard overhang, searching. In the corner her eyes locked onto the offending insect. Though nowhere close to the size of a Madagascan roach, she still shuttered as she stood up, reaching for anything with which to smash it. Back on her knees, armed with a coffee stained spoon, she trained the light in the corner again. The beetle was gone. She whipped the flashlight along the floor, seeking that distinct scuttling movement.

Nothing.

She stood up and shifted the trashcan. There it was! Snatching up the spoon, she went for it. But, it scuttled its butt under the standalone pantry shelving just in time to avoid certain death. She tried shifting the shelving, but to no avail. The beam of the flashlight found the beetle waiting ever so calmly on the side of the shelf, its back just skimming the wall in the tiny space. Sara tried to shove the spoon in the space, but it was too fat to reach the beetle properly. The shelves simply had to be moved.

Three hours later found the kitchen in a desperate state. The pantry items, once beautifully organized, were scattered across the floor and counters. Cupboard doors hung open. Pots and pans filled the sink, their hooks empty. Sara stood in the mess, staring at the wall usually hidden by the frying pan, when it was properly hung. The beetle had vanished there. How that was possible, Sara couldn’t fathom.

In her bedroom, the clocked beeped once, signalling midnight. And then, she heard it, that quiet rustling of beetle legs walking lazily across plastic. There! On the flour bag.

Sara grabbed the metal spatula she’d used at lunch to make a grilled cheese sandwich and advanced on the bag. Her arm slashed down hard and flour erupted in a powdery cloud. The spatula came away gutless. Sara let out a little scream of frustration. Her temples pounded and her eyes burned. It’d been a long week and she had come home tired. Most nights found her asleep by this time, but that was simply out of the question now, knowing the beetle was still in the kitchen. Every time her eyes closed she could see it scuttling across her pots and pantry items. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t go to sleep knowing it was still there. And so, the hunt continued.

At two, she began to despair that it had escaped into another room. At three she nearly crushed it with her fist before it ducked under the microwave. At four she cornered it for the eighth time only to have it magically vanish again. At five she cried for a good five minutes before it stuck its head out from under the sponge in the sink then hid among the pots and pans. The pots and pans where then scattered around the kitchen, atop the everything else.

At six she decided it was time for a quick break. Sara started the coffee pot then headed to the bathroom. The beetle had managed to escape again, despite being cornered, yet again. This time a balsamic vinegar bottle had been sacrificed in the escape. Coffee was needed now to keep going. That bottle of vinegar had come all the way from Italy, imported, expensive and perfectly ruined now.

In the bathroom Sara splashed cold water on her face. Catching sight of herself in the mirror, it seemed as if she had been the one scurrying for her life all night long and not the beetle. Perhaps she could take a short break? A short nap and then she could keep going? She opened the bathroom door and headed down the hallway. Perhaps she was being silly. It was just a beetle. Some cultures believed that even bugs shouldn’t be harmed. As she hadn’t made up her mind regarding karma and re-birth, perhaps it was best not to smash it? Coffee and sleep would help her decide how she felt about that, given the circumstances.

She walked into the kitchen and around the annihilated flour bag. Treading carefully, so as to avoid any glass, she stepped over the shattered vinegar bottled and then she felt something crunch under her heel. A dry, crispy, hallow crunch.

Sara looked at her foot briefly, then poured herself a cup of coffee and watched the sun pull itself over the mountains. Hopefully karama would take into consideration that this smashing was, really, mostly accidental. Now though, she could sleep.

Daily Journal Journey #59: weathering the storm

We lay on the bedroom floor in our underwear, our skin sticking to the faux wood panels. Sweat tricked down my back, across my sides and over my hips, through my hair. The fan blew on us but did little to alleviate the heat drawing every last drop of water from our bodies. And so, we lay there, unmoving, silent and waiting. Waiting for rain. We’d seen the clouds building on the horizon and beginning to creep down the mountains toward town. We could feel the storm in the stillness of the heavy air, as if it were already laden with cool drops.

“You ok, babe?” my husband whispered.

“Fine,” I whispered.

“You seem not ok.”

I shrugged slightly and continued to stare at the ceiling.

“All of this will pass,” he said. “We all just need time to cool down.”

Tempers had flared, anger burning hot under the relentless sun. And all over something so silly, so trivial. The should haves and shouldn’t haves bobbed in the murk of arguments filling my head.

A bead of sweat slide down my spine. The screen on the veranda window grumbled sluggishly, allowing a faint wind to drift through. I turned my face toward the veranda door, watching the clouds crawl ever closer. Another drop of sweat slipped down the slide of my backbone. Though I felt as if I were dissolving into nothing but sweat, my body was tight, hard, on the defensive. It was unwilling and unable to move, a stone frozen in place, but my mind skipped from place to place, each jump weighing heavily on my heart.

All of this was so stupid. Too much finger pointing. Too much said with the aim to hurt, friend to friend. Too much confrontation. Not enough communication. I could rationalize it all I wanted, but my anger was still burning.

Another wisp of wind snuck inside, brushing against my face. The storm was almost here, the breeze seemed to promise. I looked over at my husband. His eyes were closed, his lips parted slightly. Always the calm one, always able to weather any storm, any heat, any rain.

I closed my eyes, hoping to set it my mind to rest, but it continued to fly through the clouds of emotion, dipping every so often into the pond of arguments before spraying it in drops across the forest of reason.

And then, I heard it. The quiet ping of a water drop on  the metal roof.

Another.

Another and another.

I opened my eyes, waiting for the coolness. It came gently at first, whispers of relief. Then the wind pushed through the screen, rustling the photos taped to the wall and humming through the fan. I sat up, watching the clouds open up outside the window. Great streams of water fell from the clouds, draining the air of its heaviness. My husband sat up, alert, as the sound of water filled the apartment, our room, my body. My skin cooled. My mind slowed down and stopped. My body let go.

I knew that there was only one thing left to say now.

Rain fell on my face, mixing with the sweat, and I lay back down.

I’m sorry.