When reading the quote about the children’s book Kafka and the Doll, I burst into tears. If only I had that book as a child. Maybe the pain of feeling like I had lost most of those I loved to the suburbs and mental illness wouldn’t have been so intense. Also the pain of feeling like the young part of life was over. At 43 years old, that children’s book meant something different than it would have as a chid being taught how to think. Instead it was a reminder that I would eventually stop mourning the things lost on the wind same as I had in the past. I could see how love was returning in different form. Between living on a beautiful island on the other side of the world, rescuing dogs and making a difference in people’s lives, I had a new life doing things I had always dreamed of. My old life hadn’t allowed enough room for those things.
Speaking of, March was the first month rescue started taking up the majority of my time. I didn’t know the extent yet but I was about to become one of the key players on the island in animal rescue, at least on the expat side, and it was hitting hard and fast. I had pretty much given in with Blue/Latte and Jeju/Pumpkin after I had gotten in so deep and it had just kept finding it’s way farther and farther into my home. Even my bedroom, after only one night of enjoying a new bed, quickly became the dog’s room with my foldout couch in the living room being where I slept.
After those two love bugs had moved onto their new adoptive families, it was wonderful to take in such a great pup as my next foster who had been temporarily named. His being super sweet made my heart ache just a little less when having to say goodbye to the first two. His being such a hit everywhere made it even more fun. Besides his name cracking everyone up, he just loved people. He was even allowed in my favorite local restaurant of the moment, both the wine bar and coffee shop across from me and a super comfy-cute log cabin style restaurant called Deer Lodge that served both beef stew served when a bell was rang and Irish coffees. He came in taxis, on a long bus rides and even got his paw signature stamped into my Olle hiking passport when we did a trail together.
Pizza, pizza, pizza! Puppy wasn’t the only word of the day that started with P. Finally finding a pizza place I liked right by home was a big win. Finding good places in general was a definite plus of staying put for a while. Another example of that being the local coffee shop and bakery that was an instant favorite. Ambiance was always one of the most important aspects of finding inspiration for writing and that cafe had it. Another “next step” of staying put for a while, though it made me cringe, was finally giving into the idea of getting my license and buying a car. Constantly looking for volunteers to drive rescues to the vet, the airport, etc. was getting too exhausting. Not wanting a big commitment, I set a low budget of $1,000 and started the hunt. It wasn’t too hard to find something within my range but it (not too surprisingly) ended up being a lemon that needed repairs within the first few months for things like air conditioning (A MUST have for summers in S Korea), lights being burnt out, a battery that needed to be replaced, etc. I’d also find out from my new insurance company that I was overcharged by about 15%. The owner, no doubt overwhelmed with leaving he country, wouldn’t even bother to clean the dirty surfaces (my favorite being the mystery smear on the interior roof) and left me a small gift bag of trash in the car when dropping it off. Disappointing and not the greatest of choices, especially since so many other expat teachers would soon be leaving the country and selling their cars, but I was overwhelmed and desperate. A formula that always managed to shut down my brain and cause bad rash decisions. But hey. At least I would have a car in a couple months. Something that was to prove extremely helpful in rescue and my personal life.
As usual, I kept up my exploratory foodie ways up through the month by continuing to check out even more restaurants. In addition to the log cabin style spot and the pizza place, there was a small beer place right by me with not so great food (dried fish = no thanks ) and an owner who didn’t seem to care for me much. Extra disappointing given that it felt like a prejudice regardless of my being there with a Korean friend. Bummer but the universe made up for it when I made it to a friendly beer spot (also with not so great snacks) that had nice ambiance. Also when visiting a cute bakery cafe at Hamdeok Beach and super-scoring when finding a Korean BBQ place right by me with good prices.
The real splurge for the month was getting a bazillion blowout done on my hair. It was painfully expensive (something like 230,000₩) but it was nice to not feel like such a frizzy tangle-haired hippy. I had mixed feelings, of course, because of the saddening underlying knowledge that I was also doing it for better treatment and doors being opened if others thought I was more attractive. It never stopped being painful that so much value was put on that. It was also something I had always put extra work into (when I wasn’t rebelling) in an effort to balance out the prejudice of my being the worst thing a woman could be. Big. *gasp* Still, it was a nice treat, and getting it done right after an Olle hike with Soju, I was comforted from the shadow of back-mind thoughts and the high cost by his making everyone there happy and cuddling up right on my lap for most of the time. Such a dang good boy.
The new hooman parents of Boo (formerly Latte) and Jeju (formerly Pumpkin) were wonderful about sending updates and pictures. It was hurting missing those boys so I hung on every one. Even though it helped finding solace in Soju, they had been the first fosters with me long enough to grow through the phrases of being babies and into teens. I wouldn’t have a chance to keep missing them too much for long, though. Regardless of already being pupped-up, Eun Suk suckered me into taking in two more tiny pups. A brother and a sister. The brother was smaller, gentle and it would turn out had ringworm. The sister was a destructive troublemaker. I didn’t need to be too involved with Saja, though, as was doing great in his new foster home. Thank goodness the woman who was taking care of him had a balcony he could come and go on at his leisure, as he continued to be more of an outdoor dog who didn’t really like being inside. On top of the three with me, Eun Suk also wanted me to take in another litter of five. Three ended up dying from the Parvo they caught in the “shelter” before I could, though. It all was a lot and boy was I grateful for any help I could get. When an expat named Stacie came over to volunteer with taking Soju out for a walk while I was at work, I was grateful. Later her and her boyfriend (who would eventually become my colleague) would even donate a bunch of toys. Things were growing fast and it was welcomed help.
Doggies, doggies, doggies. As much as I didn’t like living in my stuffy, gentrified and family-packed urban neighborhood, I did love how their walks introduced me to art that had been painted along a dry creek bed by me as well as a large park a few small blocks away. The park was blissful but it also reminded me of how gorgeous the nature of the area must have been before it was torn down to put in multi-storied concrete buildings. There was still plenty of beautiful nature not too far away, at least. What was probably the biggest event of the month showcased that when the new little rescue team consisting of me, Emily, Maggie and her husband Ben went to one of the main streets of cherry blossom trees (leading into Jeju National University) to check out budding season with the three foster pups. The energy of the street felt like a holiday and Maggie said she felt like a celebrity with the attention we got for the pups. I got a kick out of that. Not to mention being relieved to not have to wrangle all of them by myself for once. It was great to be able to make it before the short cherry blossom season came to an end. Something that may have come just a bit earlier from a couple days of air quality being as bad as it could possibly get. Gotta thank China for blowing that garbage over.
I doubted I’d ever regret giving rescue all I had but dreams of a conversion van when I got back to the US, while still getting stronger, were at the same time fading as I dumped all of my money into all those sweet little pups. I still loved having something to fantasize about, though, and the little things of the day to day (along with those cute little mongrels) kept a smile on my face. Little things like having finally found a store to go to for good cheese and wine. I was also stoked when Kathy and I made it out to play. Once or twice a month was enough given that Hitchhikers, the local expat hotspot bar of the hour, often lead into way too late of a night with way too many Long Islands. Another big night out for the month was when I went to a cool and hard to find spot in the downtown neighborhood of City Hall that had a wall full of vinyl. With it’s music pumping loudly while patrons sipped on whiskey and decent wine, Maggie joined in as well as a guy (and his friend) who was buying drinks in thanks for my taking down a post on Facebook. It was making a lighthearted joke about how a word had translated wrong on the local police website to say something inaccurate but cute. His friend on the force had told him it was embarrassing for them so he had asked on her behalf. Being censored didn’t sit right with me, especially with something so light, so I was more than happy to let him buy when I conceded. I even got Maggie (who hadn’t had a drink in years/typically didn’t like booze) to have one or two. It’s fun being the bad influence as long as it’s in the “good” way.
As Western holidays had been doing way too easily, St. Patty’s almost passed me by. I caught it just in time, though, and it was my favorite so I made a point to drink a Guinness and make my own Shepard’s Pie with a few of my own wee personal twists. Sharing some of the glorious creation, I thought it was pretty good but my Scottish boss didn’t seem to think so. He gave some to my co-teacher and never mentioned it to me. Whomp whomp. My other boss/his wife was super pregnant so I’m not sure that I could have trusted her palate even if she did give me a thumbs up. That other teacher who ate it did, at least, so hooray for a small Irish victory!
The holiday of sorts that I didn’t catch was that I had been in S Korea for a year as of the 23rd. Almost on the dot, the small world of living on an island was finally hitting. When I started getting micro greens from a Canadian farmer, I asked him to drop them at my hagwon once, and it turned out he ended up being acquainted with my bosses from years before. He also ended up being the one who had been posting about the blueberry farm litters in need of rescue that we had been focused on. It had taken a year, but that small island life of everyone being connected was proving true, and I was getting a kick out of it. What I wasn’t getting a kick out of was how all those months of constantly being on my feet (and often carrying heavy things) was also hitting. My knees and ankles were killing me. I looked great, at least, and was on a slow and constant decline in weight regardless of eating whatever I wanted. I knew it wouldn’t last but it sure was nice to enjoy in the moment.
Reflecting back, work life had changed a lot since leaving the first horrible hagwon five months before. At the same time, teaching had continued to be the same mix of chaos and change with no breaks and (mostly) great kids. Man did they fill my heart. It was wonderful, exhausting and something I wondered if I would ever be able to live without it again.
March became a month that showcased the roots of what my life in S Korea was solidifying into. Teaching and rescue was becoming my island identity. A worthwhile existence and one that would continue to grow.