Pict of Pebble by Zen Yoon
My month started with a delectable man in my bed during the blissful time of a new relationship. Beautifully sad, though, since I knew from day one that it wouldn’t last forever. Still, I was able to take it for what it was and appreciate it. There were other factors, of course, but as so often happens with relationships amongst travelers, there’s a clock ticking. Both Smn and I only expected to be in Korea for a limited time with different plans on the other side. Seeing the connection of couples who had met traveling was some of the most beautiful and pure I had ever seen. A strong memory I always made it back to was a couple at the place in Thailand I had moved to temporarily that were so much in the moment with their new passionate love that the heartbreak of goodbye on the near horizon just made seem more eternally pure. I had decided that, from then on, I didn’t want to be fully monogamous. It would kill me to stop someone I loved from having that. Even more than it would hurt to know they were with someone else for a time. I also chose to accept him in that same way. My other issues with him (and us) upset me now and again but could (mostly) be overlooked given that, by the time they became a bigger problem, we’d both be off in different countries. At that time, I consciously chose to say yes to him and what we had. His good qualities and our connection were worth it.
Those foundational problems may not have been likely to have time to grow to a problem but there was a part of me that was sad at the reality that I wouldn’t be willing to change my plans (or let him change his) for a future together because of them. The first of those issues was me being me. I always became overwhelmed, felt cornered and started finding things “wrong” or annoying with those who got inside my safety bubble. Until I felt like I had space again, I wouldn’t be able to think clearly. Definitely one of my destructive patterns. Then there were the deal-breakers that came from his side. Too much drinking (I already did enough of that on my own) and his pretty much trying to play married from the beginning. I swear I even heard him say “I love you” after a few drinks within a couple weeks and then gave some kind of “why not” comment about getting me preggers. He never showed signs of bringing out his sons out from Africa once he had the money, though. He never even talked about them. I was OK with him having three teenage sons. Maybe it just hadn’t come up, maybe it was just too painful to bring up, but I wasn’t OK with existing kids not taking priority. In fact, it was the first time I ever noticed a potential cultural difference with a lover that was a deal breaker. Not that plenty of men in the US didn’t do the same thing.
Then there was a specific incident that happened on the first day of May I would never be able to get over. One fun (but very late) night led to feeling like we were being a creepy couple the next morning when, still in bed half naked and half drunk, a young lady came by for something regarding rescue. As if our dishevelment wasn’t bad enough, it was a HUGE red flag when he seemed to like the idea of us flirting with her and fishing for a threesome. First of all, dude, do not fuck with my rescue. Second, DO FUCKING NOT creep on women like that! HELL NO! I tried to take into account that he was from a culture and probably didn’t see how wrong it was, but no. No, no, no, no. Hell no.
Another incident that muddied the waters was when I let myself get pulled into a late and boozy night again. Fun but it ended up sabotaging my getting to the island’s first HASH on time. The Hash House Harriers, a “drinking group with a running problem” was right up my alley when it came to fun. Being active and socializing with drinks outdoors was one of my absolute favorite things. Getting up and going late meant that, not only did I end up having to take an expensive taxi instead of the bus, but also that I still got there late enough that the group had taken off to hunt down their first stop. It hadn’t helped that the rude and impatient taxi driver had dropped me off about half a mile away. Frazzled by my hangover and the driver’s negative attitude, insult had been added to injury when I left my beloved swag from the Jeju Olle weekend event in his car. Nevertheless, it was still fun in the end and I even managed to make it to a second hash Summer and then connect for a short but sweet friendship (price of being temporary expats) a gals at the third later in the month. It didn’t hurt with getting good vibes that I always had puppies with me. That new friend even took over Pebble duty for one of our hashes. A nice little bit of help since the little pup was too small to walk the trail so still needed to be carried in a puppy purse. I loved seeing others loving on and help with my rescues.
Throughout what would end up being close to a couple years on the island, I wasn’t destined to have much of a social life. For someone who had revolved around communities and (nonromantic) relationships, it was surprisingly OK. Besides it giving me a chance to focus on other important parts of life, I needed time to heal. It was enough to have the former as more of a side note through occasional community (through rescue), a couple friends and a lover. It was a bit of a bummer, however, that I seemed to be known more formally for rescue than as a woman to befriend.
There was always exception, though, such as great volunteer named Zen who did a small bit of digital marketing for the rescue. She met me and the pups Summer and Sofia one time at Hamdeok beach and would even help me sell my car at the end of my time on the island instead of just getting a couple hundred bucks at a junk yard when I was overwhelmed. Note to others trying to move off an island: list you stuff for sale twice as far in advance as you would on the mainland. Audience is much more limited. Little moments like the one with Zen, random socializing and dinner and hangin at Hitchhikers bar with Kathy once or twice a month was enough for me. Great “cherries on top” like when the owner of a bar called Mallet took a liking to Kathy also made it extra fun. Then there was the other things I loved to do with what little personal time I could find. Hiking being my favorite hobby and checking out museums were a pretty constant. I managed to find a little spare time for those, though the rescue had taken up most of my time outside of teaching along with sucking up any spare mental room I had. That made learning the language shift entirely into using a translation app and switching from almost being caught up with my blog to falling farther behind than ever had before. Whoopsie.
As life so often proves, the best part of getting out and going somewhere during that little free time I could find was the unexpected adventures along the way. During the few hours I allowed myself to go explore on one particular a Saturday, when I was driving across the island determined to make it to a cheesy meatball pace that had been raved about to me about, I ended up finding a darling middle-of-nowhere cafe in the forest. Thing about island living that even more encouraged stopping for discoveries along the way was that things would randomly be closed when not listed as so. Sometimes even completely out of business and at least double that (I’m sure) during Covid. Thank goodness, in that instance, that I had stopped at the cafe given that the meatball place was indeed closed once I got there. It would appear they often did when they ran out of inventory. Something that easily happened given that they were offering something unique to the island. Gold to someone like me who wasn’t a fan of most Korean food. I was grateful that Burning Man had taught me how to life in the moment like that, though my honorary sis Kati was who had planted the seed with how she lived her life when we were younger. I appreciated experiences that reminded me of it instead of just the words.
The pups (and sometimes kitties) continued to lead my life outside of teaching. Balance and boundaries had never been strengths of mine and that hadn’t been any exception. Truth be told, besides cleaning out my bank account, it also took away focus from teaching. I loved the kids and enjoyed teaching but how often do you notice my going in depth about that as I do about the animals?
There were other moments that were social media worthy that the animals. My sister Wendykin’s b-day, for example, where I managed to take cute pictures in a scratchy jumpsuit that had been sent to me for plus-size modeling, though it was too uncomfortable to wear for more than a shoot. Still, it was enough for something that I knew would make my sis happy. It also gave me a shot to make a side-by-side pictures with from when I was at my heaviest and most bloated from the steroids I had been on before leaving for Korea. One hell of a mental trip. An upsetting one. Wendy wasn’t the only one in my family with a birthday, though. It was also our mom’s on the 5th and dad’s on the 11th. It had been my dog Layla’s on the first before we lost her.
It had been a fun feeling of accomplishment during those few free moments to mark off a list of “to dos” from what I had been looking forward to. For example, I made it to the Grimm Forest museum, though I regret having rushed through it thanks to an inability to go slow and constant guilt of doing anything that wasn’t directly productive. Something that was forever on my list to get therapy for, though lord knows the culture I was in wasn’t going to see that as an option thanks to a sadly old school and ignorant belief that therapy was only for the broken.
S and I had some fun dates. After being unhappy with a hair color job (something I only did every few years), my day took a happy turn when we randomly stopped at a temple decorated for Buddha’s celebration on May 8th. We also went to a restaurant called the Aussie House whose pizza must have had an inch of melted cheese on it. MELTED CHEESE! YAS!!! We also hung at Hitchhikers one night and made a “we miss you” sign to take a picture of for Kathy since I hadn’t seen her in a few weeks.
Little moments in life never ceased to surprise me with how much impact they had. Brigit sent a letter and stickers from the Santa Cruz mountains, Wendy sent me stickers from OB in San Diego, I finally got the briefcase I had ordered and my mom forwarded from the states (though it was too big), I passed flowers every day on my way to work that reminded me of my grandma, I ran into (and hung with) the foster mom of Saja (one of my rescues) at a live music event and I even managed to get a sunburn at the beach. What could have been the most special event for the whole year was Teacher’s Day on May 15th. Like my birthday there in S Korea, it was one of the culturally celebrated days that made me feel super special.
It had normal in the culture to be given little gifts as a teacher. That day was even more so. One of the favorite of the gifts I received was a cookie of me and a rescue pup that one of my students had made. My heart was bursting with love, thankfulness and healing to the point that it really did hurt. Every country had its crap but S Korea sure knew how to respect, compensate and do right by teachers. An area that was well known as America’s “crap” as far as being treated. Like finally receiving humane healthcare, it was one of the many things over the couple years I was there that helped me actually feel, experience and understand how important and how broken the US really was in those areas. One of the most important and beautiful things I got to be a part of while there. I loved my students, the work and being able to have a permanent impact that would heighten their lives forever. To be made to feel even so much more acknowledged and special on that particular day was intense. My cup runneth over.
There was one moment that gave an undercurrent of worry for the month (and would continue to be a slow burn after that) when I woke up one morning to a bloodied pillow. I didn’t feel a huge bite on my tongue but there was enough. Suspecting what had happened, there had only been one witnessed grand mal seizure in the past with little to no signs of others. Yes, there had been little ones I’d had for years, but those had barely affected anything. All on both sides happened when I was sleeping with the biggest worry of it all being that it would eventually progress and I would start having them when awake. At that time it was such a small deal, though, that I and my family didn’t even refer to them as epilepsy. We called them episodes. Even if that had been true until then, signs of another big one scared me as becoming a “true” epileptic. A haunting reality.
Daily home life was cooking, little workouts and, most of all, rescue. So much rescue. Routine was waking up and groggily trying to make it to the bathroom without stepping on excited puppies, their turds or pee puddles all the while trying to give them their morning loves and avoid getting hurt from running into things as much as possible. Then I cleaned all of that while taking note of whatever damage they had done as coffee brewed and they were fed. Getting back in bed from there (often with them by my side), I responded to the messages that had come in during the night from potential adopters in the US and sometimes Canada. By the time those were caught up, messages from the Korea side started coming in. Foster folks and all of the other volunteers, involved organizations, paperwork and logistics had to be covered. It all spanned from Jeju and Seoul to as far as the countries of adoption. The more marketing and the rest of the “business” side I could get to, the more help we could find so there was always more to do. The pups needed a walk before work, though, and I needed to get ready. Then after work where I was teaching up to ten classes without a break, I’d, on rare occasion, go out to dinner with Kathy, but usually head right home to repeat the morning routine of cleaning, taking note of damage, feeding, giving love and cuddles and then turning into a zombie for an hour or two before crashing.
My fosters for the month were Summer, Pebble and Sofi. Sofi being the only foster who I would regret not adopting myself. At that time, though, they were equally my babies and were with me for a lot of my excursions. For instance, they hung with me at a brewery called Magpie where the very cool and dog-loving owners were going to partner with us to throw a fundraiser. It was both a fun chance for all of us to bond and also to show them some of the pups they were helping. Another excursion that had a “two birds one stone” aspect was when I got to take them to a pretty dog park among darling vacation rentals, where I had the chance to make a marketing video to help find flight volunteers going to Canada. The third, that time without my fosters, was making a visit to the messy rescue of Eun Sook. As a reminder, she was the local I did a lot with whose rescue was actually official. (Maggie’s husband had help set it up.). Like was common in my life there, the language gap required a somewhat frustrating need to slow down with communication while somewhat often using a translation app and body language. While challenging, it was at the same time a cool experiencing how much communication was non-verbal.
Maggie continued to handle the majority of kitty stuff and Emily continued to push for us to become an official rescue. Maggie and I wanted to be more of a network so that bothered us to a certain extent. I worried about what I considered to be too formal of a representation from Em as a good fit for such an emotional field. She had been (self-proclaimed) bad with logistics and all things related. Areas that I was particularly good at. She was good, however, at a lot of the stuff I was bad at. I was thankful for that and it provided balance. Her taking the initiative, something that I did appreciate, she created a JARC logo. I didn’t love it and continued feeling nervous about the continuing push for that official but it was exciting to be moving forward.
May wasn’t a month that particularly stood out. It was what my “normal” life had become. And what a good one it was. While there was always improvements that needed to be worked on, the good outweighed the bad enough for me to barely take notice. So much so that I had foundational peace and happiness for the first time in my life. I was making a difference in so many lives, both with people and animals, that my whole life mattered. I had found something that I had always been searching for and I never wanted to lose it. It also didn’t hurt that I was doing it on a beautiful subtropical volcanic vacation island.