I wasn’t in Thailand anymore but seeing a dude smoking a cig while riding a motorbike was an entertaining reminder that I was indeed still in Asia. How had I ended up there so much? It certainly wasn’t the part of the world I was most drawn to. But there I was on my fourth time. No one was pushing me. I had done it all alone. Having one of those moments that make me realize the idea of “it shouldn’t be shared alone” reminded me of that. One of those really good blissful nothing-special moments that radiates a peaceful happiness of every day life. The puppies were playing while I danced around on cleaning pads (I hated washing the floor in a traditional style) starting with a tap dance routine while putting together the 5k ₩ Charlie Brown Christmas tree I had bought at Daiso.
It was a hard age to be alone on the other side of the world with no peers around. A time of not being old but not young and going through some kind of crossing over. Not a midlife crisis (at least not yet) but a place of…I don’t know….being aware. And numb. And strong. And experienced. I’d chosen to be more exposed to life and the world than most of those in my life had been. More than that, to search it out. Sitting in my apartment later in the month, thoughts about how much that could hurt swirled in my head as a dog cried in the crazy windy snow outside and I thought of at least two litters of pups outside at other places, at least one without shelter. I look at the two foster pups from the same situation and was relieved at how incredibly healthy, happy and content they were from what I had been able to provide them. At the same time, it like nothing compared to all the need out there. All the other animals I’d seen living an abused or neglected life, starving and/or full of disease. And I’d only just touched on it. Reminding myself that I was having a common reaction didn’t help much. I could have just hidden from it all and forgotten. I joked with myself that I was an entitled American, after all. Not only that, one from coastal California. Instead I charged in like a bull where the red flag in that ring was directly meant to trick me.
I’d become so calloused. So heartbroken and numb. Yet somehow I felt like a warrior. Like I’d been building the tools and strength to reach a point where I could actually handle it. It hurt how that also meant being able to feel less my thanks to my heart building a wall to protect it from the things I hadn’t been able to take seeing in the past. Questions about it ran through my head. If I believed it better to put an animal down than let it live, could I? I wondered how much my answer had changed because of experience with what I had seen and also because of other life experiences. For instance, watching my dad’s health deteriorate over such a long period of time vs my developing a very serious health condition without symptoms. How mine was so much more serious than a lot of people I had been acquainted with but it was still a much better quality of life than theirs because there was no suffering.
No, my suffering had come more from other things. Seeing the girl turned woman who I had admired become someone who was scared of my moving abroad instead of celebrating it, especially when it had been made clear that Covid was about to hit the U.S. hard, and her sister who used to be the sweetest person in the world coming at me the way she did are what broke me down. Then having to process my brother not actually killing me as I always thought he would (if he actually attacked me) and our sister telling me I could have ruined her day when I reached out desperately needing help with it when all alone on the other side of the world.
December started still in the horrid apartment situation. I had at least been able to find a little enjoyment in it, though, from the city view out my window with the ocean in the distance when laying in the comfortable bed provided. Well, comfortable minus my stuff that was piled on it since the host had the closet packed with her stuff. I also enjoyed being close to the City Hall nightlife area and the big park across the street. More importantly, the pups enjoyed it. Something that was extra needed since they were stuck in such a tiny room all day. A room they were consequentially tearing apart. By “they” I expected just Pumpkin was doing it but couldn’t pin it all on him without proof.
Being aware and thankful with how much experience and age had given me the ability to compartmentalize, life kept on keeping on outside of the bad living situation. Little things always made a big difference. As sad as the reason for it was, it cracked me up how much masks had become a major accessory. I finally got to the famous Tom-n-Tom‘s pizza pretzel that I had been wanting to try for months. It surprised me how seldom I actually liked anything pizza-related on the island given that almost every Korean listed pizza and fried chicken as their favorite foods. I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint. I get to try even more new restaurants and a few nights out since I was right there in the mix. On one of the nights out for the month, I ran into Gaelan’s coworker/Kathy’s “friend” who I hung with at his apartment until the wee hours. After his fashionisto friend and I got locked out when dude and the gal we had met at a cool vinyl music and whiskey bar passed out on us before we came back in from outside (we ran up and down to every flight knocking on doors thinking we were remembering the wrong apartment), he got stuck spending the night at my place on that tiny comfortable bed. Nice guy and it was worth it for the funny photo shoot we did. One of the less “little things”, actually one of the month’s biggest highlights, was finally putting on most of the sock puppet plays that I had been working on with my kids for weeks and how much they loved it. Just in time, too, as Covid was about to spike on the island for the first time.
There was one really good thing that came out of being stuck in that bad living situation. Making the dogs “adopt me” sweater vests out of kid vests (they didn’t turn out well but at least I tried), I took them to that big park across the street with paper flyers that I had also made telling about them and that they were up for adoption. Spreading them in the park to anyone who showed interest, I met a Korean woman who was super involved in animal rescue and out there with other volunteers supervising the park pups. She called someone to interpret for us and that person ended up being Maggie! Sponsoring the pups to get neutered the next day, something I didn’t think I would be able to afford at all only ended up costing me 200k ₩. That was about a third of what it would have cost. It felt like such a big win to not only find a way to get it done but at such a reasonable price. Observing the boys when they were still doped up after the surgery was interesting and freaked me out a bit. They looked dead. The cones after are annoying to deal with.
I was stuck in that horrid apartment for the first eight days of December before finally getting it sorted with Airbnb and moving back to the building still under construction out by Hamdeok Beach that I had just moved out of. A bidet had been put in, at least, which was a nice treat to come back to. The apartment also came with a big and comfortable bed tat I was relieved to get back to for some of the decent sleep that was usually so elusive to me. I even tried to keep the pups off it but that only lasted about two seconds. Especially since they could jump onto it regardless of it being super high off the ground.
Around the same time as all that disorder, I found a new cavity in one of my back molars. Or maybe a more fitting way to put it would be to say that I finally acknowledged that it was there and needed to be taken care of. It was hard when I had been moving for the second time within a few weeks, buried in rescue puppy stuff and was finishing up a big project at work. No time for such nonsense. Not to mention that pesky habit of avoiding anything medical.
One weekend Emily hosted a yard sale style fundraiser at a vegan cafe that I and the pups headed to with Maggie and her hubbie. It was so cool to get there and see that a few of us involved in animal rescue had all come. Even the woman I had met in the park who had sponsored the boys’ neutering. It was chaotic but Maggie, Paul (her hubby) and I managed to sneak out for lunch and a walk on the beach for the lovely afternoon, though we felt a little bad for not eating there. Especially after a vegan snack offered by the cafe owner was provided later on and it was quite yummy.
The chaos had a lot to do with the cafe being so small but it was also another day of multitasking with puppy stuff coming from every direction. In the middle of the fundraiser, I was on the phone with a woman who was helping me to figure out the damage to the apartment and then I was out in front of the cafe with a sign that said “adopt me” in English and Hangul. The only serious attention it got, though, was from a young Korean man on a motorbike who pulled over, looked back a few times, made a call and came over. He didn’t make an effort to figure out communication since I didn’t speak Korean, though. That was a red flag for me on top of the bad vibe I had instantly got about the “type” of person he was in regard to how the pups would be treated. I mean, how hard was it to pull up a translation app? At some point a woman, I assume his sister, came out of nowhere and excitedly played with them as I ran inside, desperate to get someone to translate and, more than that, help screen him.
Given that the cafe was already small and hard to get through even before all the people for the fundraiser were packed in there, I went for it when the employee who I was trying to ask to get one of the others in animal rescue misunderstood and came with me. As I was worried would happen, though, he didn’t “get it” and was just trying to cater to the man without it dawning on him that there were people we would want to screen against. That amped my discomfort up another notch. Pushing it even farther, discomfort turned to a low level of confused panic when the man gently took their leashes from me. Finally to my hallelujah a minute later, that same fearless woman who had sponsored their neutering, Eun Suk, came out with Emily and took over. Emily said “NO” in English as soon as she walked up and Eun Suk was polite but firm when telling him he would have to fill out an adoption application. As expected, he took off once he saw it wasn’t going to be a simple grab and go and I could almost see the kind of life we were trying to save them from drive away with him on his motorbike. After that, I clutched onto the boys for dear life for the rest of the fundraiser.
It was a nice weekend. The next day, I made it to my favorite thing to do on the island, an Olle hike, The trail I took that day even went through Hamdeok Beach, and I saw an old colleague and her boyfriend. Those hikes were always what I was aiming for and what usually got put to the side due to doggie needs. I was super happy to be able to get both done in the same weekend for once.
The next week on my commute to work, I got a call from my boss right when I was about to get off the bus saying that Covid had finally hit hard enough for the school to close and that he was going to have to push our winter break up to cover the next few days. After that, we taught from home for a couple weeks. I loved it (minus the headset and webcam I had to buy). Especially being able to stay with the pups. My bosses hated is since they had two young sons at home. I had peace, a back and feet that got to stop hurting, a huge wall-window facing nature and got to have fun teaching the Frozen song to the kids. It being inspired by Elsa and a big snow storm hitting the island that week made it super fun. I even thought to paint a big snowflake on my cheek.
During that same time, a Christmas package came from Mom with a beanie and scarf she had knitted me as well as a black jacket I had been wanting and she had bought as my Christmas present. I was super bummed that it was too small but I had been losing weight so I had my fingers crossed. Fitting or not, all of it added up to bring in the Christmas spirit. Well, all of it but the doggos outside. While I thought the snow storm was cool and beautiful, I also felt horrible for their being chained up in it with no protection from the harsh weather. My boys loved playing with the young male of the older female (who was less friendly) which made it hit even harder. Their friend was chained up being neglected with no protection against that crazy cold wind and snow while we were cuddled up inside. They were snow dogs but it still seemed wrong. Taking my mind off it, Kathy came to visit. She had been worried about so much time off but had used it impressively well, even managing that sleepover after we had a fun afternoon out at Hamdeok Beach. Unfortunately, in one of the freak occurrences of “but you didn’t even drink more than usual”, I was bummed to be way too hungover the next day to do what we had planned for the rest of the visit. It was still a nice visit over all.
I managed to fit in another Olle the day after that and tried to help those pups out back by putting blankets in the plastic dog houses that they refused to use. A big fail as they just pulled them out. I got a win, though, when starting to take the male on walks for a play date with my boys. I hoped his mama would warm up to me and the pups enough to include as well but that was going to take a while. It never happened, though, since she disappeared at some point. We were told that she had run away but neither myself nor the restaurant manager who also tried to help take care of them believed it. We had seen the boy get loose a few times but never her. It was sad to think about what we new probably really happened. It was one of the crappiest sides of Korea.
Photo by Gaelan Whitney
Christmas was a chill night in at Gaelan and Leo’s with them and Kathy. Kathy and I brought Prosecco and hors d’oeuvres and the game that was like Jenga but was supposed to be naughty. Yeah right. Korean naughty was American rated PG. It was nice though and relaxing with an amazing highlight of Gaelan giving Leo the adoption papers for their rescue pup, Honey. It wasn’t meant for me but watching that was one of the best Christmas presents I’d ever gotten.
Kathy and I tried to go out after but it was pretty much a waste of time. A few days later came NYE which I spent alone and came and went without being noticed mcuh. It was a quiet night in with the pups, wine, cheese and a spoof documentary celebs made that Brigit had turned me onto talking shit about the year. It was hilarious and a great way to blow off some steam about Covid as well as the political climate back home in the US. Feeling a little off-balance about being too far from what was going on at home and also as someone who didn’t have the best luck with that particular holiday, it was a pretty nice night over all.
Photo by Gaelan Whitney
I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!