I took the bus by myself for the first time and didn’t even get lost! I would plenty of times later but it was a big victory in the moment.
One of the reasons I wanted to move to Jeju was because I was inspired by the mermaids of the island, the haenyeo. They were women, often over 60, who free-dove to collect seafood for selling. Coming from a culture and profession of the island’s dark history, the story of their being something magical out of a struggle to survive made them mean all that much more. I was humbled to be there.
Their museum was closed when I made it there on the 1st because of Covid 19, and they didn’t appear to be putting on a show, but I did get to see where they dove and try a seafood spot that only locals seemed to go to with fishermen serving right there from their recent catch. I got raw abalone and absolutely hated it, even to the point of being nauseous, but it was still a cool experience. It hadn’t helped that I already had a bad taste in my mouth from the banchan I had been munching on but didn’t really like before trying it. *pun intended*
Oh well. At least the abalone reminded me of my dad and I got to keep the shells to use for meditation candles at home. An expensive experience to be grossed out by at 40k₩ but I was glad I did it. Those shells would continue to bring me peace which I was going to be in desperate need of that for a while to come.
After lunch, I made it to a cute coffee shop with a great view where others were once again taking five-million selfies. What did people even do with that many pictures? Did they ever even look at them again? I’m all about memories but it’s a bummer to not be in the moment at least a little.
I was getting around a decent amount during those first weeks on Jeju but it was exhausting to figure out so many new things so I stayed home a lot. A happy result of that being that I was getting tons of writing done and was rapidly getting in better shape. Not hard to do given that I was no longer sitting in a car all day while eating takeout. Even considering that there were way too many simple carbs, sodium and sugar in what felt like just about everything, it was still better. Man did S Korea like its sweets. On the physical side, I still needed to build more cardio and strength training but I was at least walking over a mile round-trip to work and was almost up to my goal with yoga and meditation. Progress would slow once finding cheese and wine again but I could live with that.
It was a time of catching up on a lot of things that had fallen to the wayside of my social life at home. In addition to writing, I was reading again. Two educational books, one an actual book on education that I was enjoying thanks to the writer’s style, and another Aaron had loaned me about psychology and spirituality that I wasn’t, again because of the writer’s style. A strong reminder about how much content was pointless without a pleasing voice.
MONDAY MAY 4TH – Sister Syndrome
It was my sister’s birthday and there was no surprise when I didn’t get a response to the text I sent. There had recently been a big falling out between us when she crossed the line by thinking that doing me the favor of requesting a document from my hematologist entitled her to talk about my medical information without consent. Well, the info he gave her was wrong (which he would later backtrack about) and she repeatedly ignored my telling her that. Instead, she backed me into a corner and made me feel my survival was at risk when suggesting that she may stop our mom from shipping my meds. As a reminder, I had been recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that I needed those for in order to stay alive.
Throughout our lives, when things got rough between us, they tended to get really rough and we didn’t talk for months. Because of that, I hadn’t wanted to bring up what was bothering me when we were getting along. Finally feeling pissed and threatened enough to address a few of them at that time, I used the situation as an excuse to go at her (one of my worst traits) with the way I had been feeling since she moved to SD. More specifically, how I felt used. She had spent our whole lives keeping me at arms length while making her friends her family. Now all of the sudden, once she had moved to my world where she hardly knew anyone, she was being open, giving and loving. Acting like a real sister and trying to justify it by saying that my meds were making me a more balanced person. AKA: easier to tolerate. Keep in mind that she hadn’t been around for most of my adult life and I was the same person I had been for years. Same pain in the ass as always. The whole thing made me feel like I was just a sister stand-in. Like maybe I as a person had nothing to do with her finally being open, connective, giving and loving. A body with a blank face to fill the roll until she found a new crew.
There were a couple other related things I addressed. One was the way she had bailed right when I needed her mental and emotional support about almost dying and having just had my first seizure when awake (if that was indeed what they were) in years at my niece’s birthday. She had gotten pissed at something lame I said that made her feel exposed in my warped state. Fair, but not being understanding of the situation enough to refrain from totally bailing, also later trying to justify it as warranted with her BS, super lame. When trying to talk to her about it a month or two later, she made it about her and barely let me speak (not my strong suit) once she got started. The last thing I brought up before we stopped talking was the way she seemed to suddenly be around, communicative and emotionally available whenever I was abroad but wasn’t anywhere near as much when I was at home. She came off as fake to me sometimes and I hated it.
And so the sister saga continues…
TUESDAY MAY 5th
One day later was my mama’s birthday. It was also the anniversary of when my pup Layla had died five years before. It was four days after her 10th birthday and what started it all. My going angry-crazy enough to get over my fears and insecurities enough to tell the toxic traditional world that had always influenced me according to what was right for them, not me, to piss off and go after what I believed was right. Oh how life had changed.
Ironically given that my mom was a conservative little church lady, my fun for the day was to go to Loveland. A sex-based sculpture park built in the ’70s to help couples of arranged marriages break the ice (or the hymen), it wasn’t as wild as I was lead to believe. Some of the pieces were actually quite beautiful, actually, as was the sexuality. Sadly, the sculptures with plus-size women and skinny men were horrible and hurtful, but I was still thankful for the place over all. I had been feeling suffocated and annoyed by how bland, behind the times and childlike the locals seemed to me, Mizz Rainbow Eccentric. Probably a lot of it was just culture shock and not really the case but either way, it was nice to be there. My first souvenir in S Korea: a couple of clay cock shot glasses. Just my style.
Besides being bummed that the more traditional museum next door was closed thanks to Covid, outside the park surprised me by being the first beautiful experience of lush green nature than I had come for. There was even a beautiful outdoor manicured park with the traditional lava rock grandfather sculptures of the island that represented protection and fertility called the dol hareubang. I did find an open field to stand in and take a few deep breaths. Not a bad ending to the holiday weekend.
After the excitement of getting my ARC card and becoming an official alien a couple days later, the next weekend continued the fun by making me think I may finally be ready to get out and explore on a constant basis when I made it out to some waterfalls on Sunday. Saturday came first, though, which began with the mega-sweating of heat and humidity that the summer was about to bring on hardcore. Then was a hang day inside that started with ZOOM calls both with Spanky’s and a last minute one of the same with my lil Swan crew while Brett and Lori burnt a man effigy when camping. Amazing but hard to focus on either since I was on both. PolyZOOMing just as I had polycamed at the actual burn the summer before, I had sworn I’d never do it again but Brett had insisted so there I was. Consequentially, he went from being one of the homies I was most in contact with to ghosting soon after. Whether he was upset about my not being able to pay more attention, that I went off on a friend of his soon after for perving out or something else, I couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that I lose respect for people who do that. A trigger, I’d imagine, at least in part because it was something I was ashamed that I used to do when I was less mature, confident or emotionally equipped to deal with confrontation head-on.
The end of the hours long ZOOM hang of Spanky’s came with a camper by the playa name MIA going on and on about how he followed my blog, how great it was and then Eve mentioned that she had also read it. The way it took over the call was a little embarrassing, especially my getting a bit tipsy emo about it, and the admiral dropped off after getting bored. The rest weren’t far behind. Soon it was just me, Crash, Red Queen and MIA were left after that, I making the mistake of running to the local market for more booze. It had been six or seven hours by that point and I had never learned that I can’t force the fun to keep going once it started to fizzle out. Besides that, I needed the support and was desperately hanging on. Ish got back on, also drunk, and proceeded to talk about the military and didn’t stop when I asked. A huge trigger for me that was doubled given my marine vet brother’s recent attack and I started cutting again right there under the table where they couldn’t see. I wasn’t trying to hurt myself. When the blood came, I was shocked. I didn’t quite understand it as it wasn’t a common thing for me, but one thing I did know was that I desperately needed to get away from the chaos and mental pain. Man…while good at compartmentalizing most of the time, I was obviously still a mess from everything that had gone down right before I came to S Korea. I still would be for another two or three more months as I processed through it. Being in that dark and spun out place, sometimes it was going to come out. Something made pretty evident that night when my blood pressure shot through the roof.
Speaking of being good at compartmentalizing, I started the next day with some yoga and looking into remote therapy for women in domestic abuse situation. Something that was to have the unhappy reality of continuing in my life in a certain way since our whole immediate family lived with my brother. Putting it aside after an hour, I was off to the waterfalls and holy hell were they a trek. Not too long (under a mile) but a million steep steps that had been set up on purpose as a workout. Good thing I hadn’t gone there when I first got to the island a few weeks before and was in worse shape. Even with drinking the day before, it was better than it would have been. After that very cool (though hot and sweaty) experience, I finally made it out for the much anticipated black pork Korean BBQ across the street famous on the island for a whopping 40k₩. It was good, not great, but at least I had finally tried it. Something that was to continue as foodie exploration was to become my norm. Yum, yum.
Video-chatting with Mom and Dad later that night, she triggered me when saying GOOD multiple times when I had responded to my dad, saying that I wasn’t going to their property any more. As if she wasn’t a part of deciding to live with my brother. As if she hadn’t looked the other way for a decade and a half when I pleaded for help, often blaming me as the problem. Until she moved to San Diego and saw it for herself, that is. Wendy definitely got the defensive and hostile way of reacting to the big stuff from somewhere. When I mentioned that I had started looking into therapy for domestic abuse, she got even more aggravated and left, saying she was going to brush her hair. Wasn’t that a blow-off from the 1950s? Thanks for the support, Mom.
SUNDAY MAY 10TH
MONDAY MAY 11TH
Daddy’s birthday! That became more special every year given his health problems. Wish I would have stopped to have a piece of cake for him but instead it was a day of all business.
Besides getting lost when trying to find a post office to mail a letter to Dr. Vlad after he had spoken to Wendy (I would eventually email it to someone in the states for them to mail for me), I hadn’t done anything in S Korea for my medical stuff. I had been there long enough and it was time. Making an appointment to see someone about the ITP, I’d be holding my breath about the potential of getting booted from the country since a big medical condition was about to be put in their national system. I also started asking Kelly what to do about my blood pressure, though that didn’t take as much priority as it probably should have.
Stopping by the bank to complete some paperwork with my ARC, it was a relief to finally be finishing tasks. There were so, so many. The apostilled diploma I had thrown another $150 away on finally showed up. As a reminder, that meant that I got to go back to immigration with Mr. Kim to pay for the extension of a three month visa into a full year because he had been two impatient to just wait. It, of course, didn’t cross his mind to pay either of the times when it had been done unnecessarily at his emotional demand at first.
In order to feel some kind of control in that unknown world where I was left in the dark so much of the time, I wasn’t only doing yoga and writing like mad but also keeping my place clean and organized as well as grocery shopping twice a week in order to keep enough food at home to feel safe. There was a lot of hiding out.
Being up at 4:20 AM the next day with my stupid sleeping problems had me miserably worried for how work was going to go but it ended up being one of the smoothest day I had to that point. Quite the pleasant surprise. Though Moonjun, our resident bro and my soon to be archnemesis, was already becoming pretty barf-worthy. Robert, the other western teacher, had wanted us all of us to go for drinks the next night. Nope. Moonjun wanted it to be just the boys. Whatever. Kathy, the Korean colleague who was to become my closest work pal, mentioned us going again so just the two of us made a plan for Friday night. Fun that laid me out until 5 PM the next day.
I finally talked to Dr. Vlad when he called in response to my letter and, as expected, he immediately started backtracking about what he had said to Wendy. Other errands of setting up life also continued with Kelly meeting me (always before work) to get a local phone plan and I had started to noticing little things around my hood like how the owner of the local market I sometimes stopped at was always so nice while his wife/daughter (?) was a bit icy. Same deal with the 7 Eleven right by me. Cultures where women were immediately negative to each other super bummed me out. I got your back, ladies! Stopping at that market one night to buy toilet paper (WTF was up with having to buy it in bulk?), I was relieved she wasn’t there and sad about feeling that way. Allowing myself a conciliatory ice cream, it was one of the happy delicious discoveries when it was good enough to catch me by surprise. There were plenty of other discoveries as well. For one, how horribly dusty it was on that windy island. Also how it was one of the countries where laundry was hung to dry. Something I didn’t like in the first place and was made even worse in humidity that kept it damp until getting smelly and moldy. I would eventually figure out the trick of leaving it under a running air conditioner, just as I would eventually stumble across info about compost being kept in the freezer until being taken out but I still had to deal with all of it on my own. I couldn’t believe that a business bringing in foreigners on a constant basis didn’t have some kind of info sheet for things like that. Nothing organized to help or train at all, actually. I’d be told later that the recruiter usually took care of that stuff, something that wasn’t going to happen for me since mine had been shady and bailed with Mr. Kim refusing to pay him, but only getting help from Kelly on a personal level was BS.
SAT MAY 24TH
It didn’t feel like I was getting out as much as I wanted but there were still a few days that were a pretty great reminder of why I had come to the island. The 24th was a trip to The Ma Park. It was an understated amusement park of sorts were a Mongolian horse show of acrobatics was put on. I loved it, though I of course worried a little about the treatment of the horses.
The park was in a beautiful lush green area with barely anything around. That meant buses only came every two hours. I lucked out in catching one right away but my Kakao Maps app (Kakao was used for just about everything) suddenly changed directions, confusing me into getting off at the next stop. Great. Not too worried about it myself, I waited there for about half an hour until a Korean woman with a sleeping baby in the car who was (it was getting dark and it looked like rain might be coming) stopped to give me a ride to a busier bus terminal. A little embarrassing and not really. Touching none the less and it was fun to talk to her.
SAT MAY 30TH
It was the next big day of fun. That started (as usual) with a couple hours of trying to figure out the bus system in an overwhelmed state before giving up and grabbing a taxi. Finally making to to the coastal neighborhood of Aewol, the first stop was Bomnal Cafe for some writing. Being given a somewhat icy greeting by the twenty-something guy working at the front, no doubt because I looked like a sweaty and frazzled mess, I checked out the charming little area before settling on a deck overlooking the ocean. Suddenly inspired, I emailed the owner of the magazine I used to write for, FINE, to pitch the idea of moving abroad right when Covid was taking over. Turned out they’d done so well that people had begun paying them to write. Wow! I wasn’t about to do that but good for them and hey baby hey! Good for my portfolio.
I hadn’t see much of myself in the South Korean culture and it was hurting. That made it extra exciting when stumbling across a bar in the same little nook of a neighborhood called Sunset Cliff (@sunsetcliffaewol on Instagram). Paying for the ocean terrace by purchasing three drinks that were 15k₩ a pop, it cost me as much as a whole night usually would but it came with a design that was exciting, colorful and reminded me a bit of Southern California. Distressed wood that included a surfboard, lights hanging in some kind of wicker shades, fake plants lining the walls and even a DJ with a screen behind, it was just my style. Making note of the outdoor lounge beds on the second level and how to make a future day of it given the prices, I headed out to sit on the deck to watch the day turn to night. Soon meeting a woman from Seoul who had come on her own for the weekend, a trip that she was originally planned with her recent ex, I felt bad about not being up for more hanging later but I was still spinning too much from everything that happened before leaving the US and getting used to everything from the move to socialize much. Instead I found a place for a late dinner of Korean BBQ, something that was becoming the weekly norm, and made it to a bus stop that made me think one may never come given the spiderwebs and big spiders hanging on them. Coming to find out later that those tended to form shiveringly fast, thank goodness for a guy I knew from back home who was stationed in Busan through the military spending dinner with me virtually. IMing with him was how I find out that Kakao taxi would allow me to not only request a cab without talking (a challenge when not speaking the language) but also to enter the destination beforehand. Super score!
SUN MAY 31
Being out and about two days in a row didn’t leave much time for resting but I wanted to make the effort to hang with Kelly. She was so sweet and had done so much to help, it was important.
Her picking me up in her parent’s car, it felt like luxury after being all public transportation and taxis since getting to S Korea. Heading to the other side of the island, we made it to a tea house called Sannoulu (@sannolu_Jeju on IG) that I wasn’t too impressed by, yet still enjoyed well enough. Chatting somewhat awkwardly between the language gap and finding out how different we were (besides her loving that particular design style, she was an indoor gal who didn’t like to be active and didn’t party/was a whole hell of a lot more vanilla than me), we then make it over to Hyeopjae Beach where I made note of a green nature park across the street and free camping before we parked in the public lot, cracking up as I pointed out how much the parking lot reminded me of one in Mission Beach, San Diego. She had spent a few months there and a little time in San Francisco. It was one of the things that connected us.
Enjoying the white sands of the beach on our stroll from there, she told me of how the black lava rock stacks were created from people making wishes. Too bad I didn’t think when making mine to wish for continued immediate health.