Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stream of Consciousness on the KTX

Seoul is warm and very hazy today, with the sun trying to break through the tan dust everywhere. I’m wearing the same shirt, vest, and blazer that I wore yesterday and I don’t care—it’s not like I care about impressing my coworkers, and my customer didn’t see me yesterday. Eff them.

(In a good way, if there is indeed such a thing. I would never offend a customer by wearing the same thing two days in a row. Fortunately I don’t have to worry about it.)

A red-head (even with my hair up) full on RUNNING for a train in a suit, backpack, and patent leather high heels will attract a lot of attention in Seoul Station, it turns out. Fortunately that worked out to our favor—a janitor type person stopped my Korean coworker and motioned to us that we were going the wrong way. “They’ve changed the KTX entrance,” he said, and by God, he was right.

Seoul is such a SAFE town. I don’t know anything about the organized crime here, but I do know that my Korean coworker has no compunctions about leaving his suit jacket and briefcase on his seat in the train while he goes to the restroom. He knew that I was there (probably) watching them, but still. Also, Seoul is incredibly friendly. The janitor had no problem with flagging Korean Coworker down and directing him to the right place, and even more strangely still, Korean Coworker had no problem stopping to listen. I’m not sure if I would have stopped if a janitor had flagged me down in NYC, for example. Maybe I would, since the janitor would immediately use words that I would understand.

Seoul is a weird mix of formal and informal, aloof and accessible. They bow all the time, and can be incredibly genuflectious, if that is even a word. Even just in formal business settings. And I’ve been in places in which I’ve been full on ignored, like at Nam Dae Mun market, in which I was the only white girl for miles, or because I’ve just joined a table of men and the waitstaff are obviously waiting for the men to flag them down to get me a cup of coffee, and their eyes slide right over my frantic hand signals. On the other hand, in Korean business, NO ONE ignores me. A Korea conference table is a like a lit up stage, I’m on so much display. And Korean Coworker just returned to his usurped seat and reached over the man now sitting there to grab his bottle of water. Neither the man nor Korean Coworker seemed aware of each other’s presence nor exchanged a word, and they passed within a hair's breadth of each other.) In America, someone leaning over my seat would immediately put me on high alert, but the Koreans (and I think they share this with most Asian cultures) have no sense of personal space whatsoever. They will breathe down the back of your neck. It’s disconcerting, but also friendly, or at least, familiar. Koreans will stand and argue with the ticket taker or flight attendant for what seems like FOREVER, and they obviously feel comfortable doing so.

I wish I had brought my phone. The countryside is really quite beautiful today, even in the haze; it’s incredibly green. And my mood has improved from yesterday, in which I was so heartsick that even the huge chunks of free Brie seemed unpalatable; I will have QUITE a lot of time today to walk and run errands and take pictures, and that is a wonderful thing. I think the tan high rises everywhere are apartment buildings, if I had to guess. They’re sure building a lot of them, and they’re all marked with numbers on the side. I wonder if there is some standard apartment building labeling system to make the post easier? Would make sense. Seoul is growing by leaps and bounds.

They’ve changed the wifi system; either that, or I only get free wifi in the first class car and I arrived too late today at the station to get a first class ticket. No matter. I can post this later

Quite a lot of this countryside that I’m currently passing is using solar panels. I wonder if there is a special incentive applied in this district?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my post from yesterday, and I want to emphasize that I am not an anthropologist or a psychologist, nor do I have any training in the field. And I haven’t run my ideas by a Korean person. I may be 100% wrong. Maybe the closets are over the windows. Maybe clothes in the window (because it’s certainly not 100%) signifies something sinister, or class-oriented, or some other social cue that I can’t pick up because I don’t know. I’m just making it up as I go along.

I want to get a few pictures of Seoul at dusk tonight—there’s quite a few Christian churches by me (I’m in an area heavily populated by ex-pats) and they all have gorgeous neon crosses on them. As a mix of contemporary, foreign, and an attempt to also make the church building itself blend in with the landscape (which is only, itself, probably 20 years old) it is fascinating. Also, of course, I’m trying to convince my roommate to let me have a neon cross in the apartment.

I REALLY wish I had brought my phone. I could have gotten an excellent picture of the “Sweet Long Sugar”. Maybe I’ll grab a packet on the way back.

Things I’d like to do today:

Drop off my suits

Tour the palace by Insadong

Buy postcards at mm/mg and send them to people.

Possibly stroll the grounds at the Grand Hyatt? If I have time?

Go by the Body Shop and buy wipes? So far my skin is awesome. The Yes To Blueberries stuff and the Argan oil has really made a fast difference.

My hands are just okay. They haven’t fallen off yet, so that’s a good sign.

*End stream of consciousness post.*

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Seoul at 3:30 am

My bladder and my internal clock conspire and at 3:30 am, my eyes snap open, staring at the ceiling. Good Morning, Pacific Rim!

This hotel room has a little JBL iPod speaker, which is really...pretty awesome. Gives me something to listen to at 4 am besides my own thoughts. Since I actually brought an iPod, which I always forget to do. (By the way, it is actually my mother's iPod. That she wasn't using. Thanks, Mom.) (In fact, I feel incredibly well-prepared for this trip. I'm sure it will turn out that I forgot something amusing like socks or underwear.)

(I may write a much longer post on How I Pack For Trips soon, as I have become--rather unexpectedly, to some people who have known me for some time--a phenomenally light packer. It's more than a phenomenon; I'm almost a guerrilla packer. I'm a fanatic about it. I do it by combining a number of my more asocial tendencies, and it weirds some people out, but it works well for me. Maybe later.) (Because the point is that I barely brought socks or underwear, ON PURPOSE. Okay. Leaving the damn parantheses.)

This 3:30 am HELLO! is common, by the way, when the human body crosses this many time zones; it's no cause for alarm. I'm not particularly susceptible to jet lag, but it usually happens at least the first night. No problem. A little music, a little stretching, a little coffee, and I'm good to go. Sometimes I attempt to go back to sleep, but it never happens and this way is really better. I have to get up in another 1.5 hours anyway. I wonder what time the pool opens? I don't have a cap, but I brought my suit. (I am prepared for anything! Yes!)

Of course, I woke up STARVING and there's nothing open, but the Grand Hyatt even thoughtfully leaves out oranges and water. (Why oranges? I don't know, but they're actually SUPER helpful when you need to pump up your blood sugar at 4:30 am. Good looking out, Grand Hyatt.)

I had a short conversation with my mother's carpool partner right before I left, in which I said I was going to Seoul, and she said, " do you like it?"

I said, "I love it!"

She said, "Oh...really? Hmmm. I was there for one night and my husband and I weren't big fans. It was so EXPENSIVE, and the neighborhood we stayed in seemed kind down."

"I don't think it's that expensive," I said lightly, and the conversation moved on, and then I got here and I realized I was paying $25 bucks for internet service and $18 for a plate of spaghetti. $13 for a glass of white wine. Not...outrageous, but certainly not Seattle prices, either. Of course, I'm on the company dime. I would be doing things differently if it were just me.

And the bus ride from the airport took us by downtown, working, Seoul, in which I realized the Saturday and Sunday markets had closed down for the day, and all the pallets and garbage was stacked out on the sidewalks. (Bundled up neatly, but still.)

It is so weird what different cultures see and don't see, what registers on their radar as "trashy" and what doesn't. I think most of the non-American world runs on the same assumptions that the Koreans do: the market streets here look much like the markets streets look in Paris, and in Japan. It's more about function than form--but at the same time, it's NOT. No one can accuse the Koreans of not loving their form. The shopkeeper makes sure the customer part of his booth is clean, and that his goods are laid out beautifully and perfectly--no one can present a collection of off-brand purses like the Asians; their innate sense of order and symmetry makes them able to plot arrangements that are light-years ahead of the kind of detail that Americans can even dream of registering--and then he stacks all his trash to one side and leaves his food out and smokes while he's talking to you, because that is *not meant for your eyes.* That is the private part of the shop, but there isn't space to have an actual private space, so it becomes...mentally private. If I had to guess, the Asians--and we'll just stay with them, because I haven't spent as much time in Paris, for example--simply expect that their customers won't even look at the trash. Or the extra shoes on the curb or whatever. The customers only look at the part that is meant for them. And after 1500 years, give or take, that kind of cultural assumption is pretty set in stone.

Because most of the world has ALWAYS lived in the kind of tight quarters that Americans are only now encountering. You lived tightly together. You had to. The fire would only reach so far. Trash was a part of life. You had to put the trash somewhere. You stacked it neatly and your neighbor's eyes slid over it politely, and now, two millennia later, it is an ingrained part of the cultural assumption.

Man, I make a LOT of unbased generalizations at 5:00 am.

The strange thing is that the TRASH probably represents most of what Sample Korean Shopkeeper actually OWNS at that second.

Stay with me. The rest of the world doesn't collect clutter. Not like we do. The most they collect--and most of what takes up room in their shop, and such--is in fact, trash. (Most of it gets reused, the pallets and so on, but it resembles trash, at least for the purposes of this conversation.)

Because no one collects actual CLUTTER like the Americans. (There isn't room for it, remember?) What other culture in the universe has a show called Hoarders, with spin-offs?--but at the same time, no one is so concerned with outside appearances, and everything looking NEW and PRISTINE, like the Americans are. Because most other cultures in the world are most about the INSIDE than the OUTSIDE.

Walled houses, plain houses with decadent interiors, interior gardens, interior plazas...we don't have that in North America. But they sure do everywhere else. EVERYWHERE else. And that mindset persists even in the lack of actual walls. Young Koreans stack all their surplus stuff, the kind of thing that you and I might put in a closet, BY THE WINDOWS.

Driving by high rises, the windows are PACKED with stuff: brooms, clothes, boxes, extra office chairs, whatever. To my American mind, it makes the very nice high rise apartment look like a tenement. No American would ever stack their winter clothes by the WINDOWS, so it's the first thing that walk-up visitors see. But the Koreans have grown up with the idea that Trash goes On The Rim Of The Place, and that's where they put it. Of course, their places are tiny. Even in this very nice luxury hotel room, there isn't much space. I don't know what apartment closets are like. They may not have any. Or they may, and they might keep other things there? Who knows. But the trash goes on the Outside Rim, and therefore they put it in the window.

Not that they have much clutter anyway. But the stuff they have, they move it away from the center of the place, and the front door, because the inside--what the guests see when they walk in the front door--is way more important than the outside.

It's fascinating. It's totally fascinating to me. People are FASCINATING! The world is like a gigantic buffet, and I want to try everything.

Speaking of, OMG, breakfast opens in 20 minutes!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Diet For Past Thirty Six Hours

Monday Morning: Few swallows coconut water, 1 oz shot of apple cider vinegar, black coffee, Shiitake Mushroom and Tofu in Black Pepper Sauce over white sticky rice. (Microwave meal from Trader Joe's.)

Monday Lunch: Coffee with coconut creamer.

Monday Afternoon: Half a Naked Green Machine, half a Starbucks chocolate banana smoothie with a shot of espresso. 1.5 oz tequila. Entire range of supplements.

Monday Happy Hour: Half bottle of white wine in the park, in the sunshine.

Monday dinner: Half a precooked eggplant curry packet over SOLID serving of frozen precooked brown rice medley. 1 oz tequila. Mini corn muffin.

Tuesday morning: 1 oz shot of apple cider vinegar, few swallows coconut water, other half of Naked Green Machine, other half of Starbucks chocolate banana smoothie.

Tuesday early lunch: Broccoli soup, 99% broccoli with some salt, oil, spices, and nutritional yeast.

Tuesday after-early-lunch snack: Coffee with 2% milk.

I need to buy smaller jeans.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thursday, June 09, 2011

This Conversation AGAIN.

He watched me pick up my phone, look at it, sigh, and set it back down.

"Another lovesick swain?"

(He is a writer, and from New Zealand, and allowed to say things like that.)

"Not LOVESICK. Just a guy who texts me more than I want to text him back."

"And how much more?"

"Well...greater than zero. He texts me more than never. That's annoying. I wish he would just go away."

He rolled his eyes. "Yes. I HATE it when cute members of the opposite sex text me."

I blew him the raspberry, because I am mature, not to mention well-spoken and courageous.

"Seriously. If you don't want him to text you, why don't you just tell him it's over?"

"There's no good reason for it to BE over. He's nice, and employed, and cute, and by the way has a great body. He's PRETTY. And he's in school to get his Master's. And he wants to be in a long term relationship like he needs air. He went COUCH SHOPPING with me on our third date. My mother would be salivating, except he is Asian. But she's coming around.

"So, what's the problem?"

"I'm just not that into him."

"You should tell him."

"I'm so bad at that."

"HOW CAN YOU BE BAD AT THAT? Jesus, you must get enough practice."

"Gee, thanks."

"Seriously. Have you ever been dumped?"

"Once or twice, yes."

"Yeah. Okay. Therefore you must be on the dumper side more often than not. I know your love life. Why aren't you better at this?"

"I'm a slow learner?"

"And I know THAT'S not true, either," he said. "The truth is, you're a coward. Man up."

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Debrief, Or, Love Letter to the Blond Squad: Epilogue

I shared this entire story with Roommate, one warmish afternoon not too long ago.

“He’s right,” she said, of Handrolled, herself the product of at least two live-in boyfriends, one of which she was engaged to.

“You really don’t know what you’re talking about. You learn so much more living with a person than you ever do just staying with them.”


And then I shared with S, one of those seven original members, just last night.

“I see where he’s coming from,” she said, apparently agreeing with Roommate.

“I moved in with D” (her boyfriend, and they have NOT had a smooth relationship) “mainly FOR that reason. I was really concerned about what living with D’s eight-year-old son would be like. And I wasn’t sure that D and I were meant for each other in the first place. So I moved in on a trial basis to see if we could work it out, as a qualifier for marriage: ‘If we can handle this, then maybe we can get married.”

Me: “Okay.”


“But HE moved in with totally the opposite point of view. For him, moving in together was already the commitment. He thinks marriage is a final step, for sure, and he wants to get married, but the way he sees it, it’s sort of a by product of the REAL commitment, which is moving in together. He wouldn’t have moved in with me if he wasn’t already 99% sure.”

Me, thinking about the many books and studies I’ve read recently:

“That’s very continental. I’ve read that that’s how the French, and most Western Europeans, seem to view it. It’s not that marriage isn’t important. Eventually. But if the pair keeps dating for awhile, and agrees to move in together, that’s 99% of the way to ‘death do us part’. Living together is not really a test. It would take a LOT at that point to break up the relationship. Way more than just some dirty dishes in the sink.”

Her: “Yes, I’ve heard the same thing. And I understand it. But I guess that’s not where I was.”


“I wonder if that’s why so many ‘living together’ relationships fail? Because one party moves in thinking this is just a final step before the ring happens, and the other party moves in because they’re still not sure the relationship will last, and decides to see if dirty dishes take care of the breakup for them?”

Her: “Ouch.”


“Yeah, neither party ends up looking good there. Trying again: one person moves in because they want to wake up next to the person every morning, pretty much now and forever, and the other person moves in thinking they *probably* want to get married to this person, but aren’t sure, and would like to see how they feel about living with the other person first?”

Her: “Maybe? I’m certainly no expert. Thanks to you, I just realized I was dating my mother. IN MY BOYFRIEND.”

Me: “Sorry.”

Her: "Maybe I should be paying YOU $75 an hour."

Me: "It's easier for me. Your therapist just met you. I've known you for three years. And I just did the same thing myself LAST year."

Her: "Still. Maybe get a second job?"

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Debrief, or A Love Letter to the Blond Squad, Part 3

Read Part I and Part II First.

"Yeah. And it's kind of been contentious because she's had a hard time finding a job, so she occasionally emailed us to say that she was bumming around the apartment, picking up her boyfriend's dirty socks." Did I mention they lived in 246 square feet? So there was no way to get away from each other?


"Well, she wanted a place of her own."

"Okay." Delayed reaction. "Wait, WHAT?"


"You said she wanted a place of her own, but she ALSO wanted a ring?"

"Well, they ARE in pretty tight quarters. Besides, how does moving out and getting a little space interfere with getting engaged?"


"I'm serious. A girl needs her independence."

"Hold UP. Are you saying you would get engaged, and married, to someone, without living with them first?"

"Yes. I don't think it's important. And in fact I think it's not a recommended activity."

He waved his hands in the air, exasperated. "It's only the most crucial thing! You have to see if you can LIVE with someone BEFORE you get married!"

"You do, though," I said. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like living with HIM and we'd only been dating a few months. "You and I spend at least one weekend day and night totally together, sometimes, two, and we've already been away on two short but intense weekend jaunts. We've gotten into our first serious fight."

He almost thumped the steering wheel. "NO. LIVING with someone is totally different."

Then he looked over at me. "You've never lived with a boyfriend before, right?"

I had to admit it.

"Good, then we're not really disagreeing, you just don't know what you're talking about."


"I'm sorry, sweetie, but you really don't. Believe me."

Just a few hours later we were celebrating the ENGAGEMENT (!) of M and AD at the soiree, and M and AD--who have always been very up front and public about their entire relationship, to the extent of how often they perform certain sex acts (AD's parents are nudists and swingers, so psychoanalyze THAT)--were laughing about how small their apartment was and how happy they were to be moving into a bigger place in a few weeks.

"So now you don't have to move out," I said, jokingly.

She rolled her eyes. "I wasn't really going to MOVE OUT. It was just an empty threat that I liked to scream at him in the middle of crying jags. I wanted to get my ring; I wasn't going ANYWHERE."

Handrolled looked at me. "HMMM. Wait, you have to LIVE with someone before you marry them? And living with someone is a viable step on the way to engagement? Hmm. Imagine that."

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Debrief, or A Love Letter to the Blond Squad, Part 2

Read Part I first.

I leaned up in that way that women do, giving myself a once-over in the maplight, and started with powder.

"Okay. The original Blond Squad is seven people: K, C, M, myself, A, S, and a boy, M."

"M, your ex?"

"No! GOD no. M is gay. That was certainly confusing for awhile, though, especially because the boy that C broke up with was ALSO named M."


"Okay. We formed originally because we all broke up with our boyfriends at the same time--literally, six girls, all within two months of each other--and we needed each other to be our dates to things. And we all went platinum. And we had to include M because we LUV him."

Driver rolled his eyes. "Okay. So you were the Blond Squad."

"Yes. And that lasted for awhile. And then we got a lot more people, most of whom weren't blond, and some of whom had boyfriends, and the whole group grew to about 15 people and it's a lot harder to stay close when the group is that large. The group has evolved a little over the years."

"Okay. And who are we going to see tonight?"

"M. Two of the original members, C and M, both recently moved to Chicago, in unrelated events. M went with her boyfriend, and C accepted a new job."

"Okay. Why is M in town?"

"Her boyfriend AD brought her on a surprise trip, just to make her happy. She's had kind of a rough time in Chicago, although she did recently find a job, so that's good." It had been weird to see M so down, or at least, absorb it through email. M was always my shining example of financial stability; she was so frugal, and so careful, that she had saved (on a basic salary) enough money to NOT WORK FOR A YEAR. At the time that we met, that had seemed to me like black magic. We bonded due to being only children and the mother-daughter angst that that can cause, and she gave me exasperated reminders to not spend so much money on stupid shit. It was partly on her kudos that I bought the used car I still have today.

"Okay. So I won't be the only guy there."

"Definitely not, and not even the only date. AD will be there, and I'm sure M's boyfriend is coming." I finished my eyeliner and wiped my fingers on my jeans. "How do I look?"

The man has spent more years in ONE relationship than I have in all of my long-term relationships combined. He knows girls and their craziness. He looked over warily...

...then brightened. "Great! Hey, did you do something different to your hair?"

"You stellar boy, you," I said. "You just gained 7 million brownie points. I got my hair cut TODAY, in fact."

"Holy SHIT! That was amazing. I noticed it earlier in the sun on my deck but wasn't sure if I should say anything."

Three minutes later. "How awesome am I? I mean, really."

"Pretty awesome. I seriously can't believe you noticed. *I* can barely tell."

"Okay. So, M and AD. What's their story?"

"M wants a ring. She moved out there only after giving him a deadline."






Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Debrief, or A Love Letter to the Blond Squad, Part 1

He turns to me in the car, lighting a hand-rolled.

"Okay. Tell me about the group that we're going to go meet."

"Okay." I pulled down the visor mirror and started putting my makeup on, talking as I did so, feeling very...couply. It was such a "working as a team" thing to do, especially since for once it wasn't my fault that we were late. I had come to his house in plenty of time and he had pushed for some extra time to reunite after the long week apart. It was the kind of thing I could have refused, or could even at this moment be snippy about, and I made a conscious decision not to be. I was at least an hour late for everything in my life besides work and this time I happened to be late because a nice boy had wanted to spend a little extra time with me one-on-one. It was complete madness to turn him down just so I could be only 15 minutes late, like I had something to prove to the Blond Squad.

That was the worst of it, though. Because I DID feel like I had something to prove. My relationship with the Blond Squad had started out wonderful and something I desperately needed and had since become a source of much tension and angst. As it became a source of tension, I was later and later to events, or maybe that causality was reversed but who knows, and then it was mentioned to me (only because I PRODDED) that "some people" felt that I wasn't contributing enough to the pot luck events (which was EVERY) event and I did in fact need that wakeup call, so that was good. But all comments that sting because they feel true, I've never gotten over it, and that was fully two years ago.

And then there was another comment once when I hadn't... No. You know what? I am not dragging all this up again. I just had a WONDERFUL weekend with all of them at a wedding and I am not stirring the muck AGAIN just to write this post. Muck falls to the bottom where it belongs, and some touchy-feely people may feel like you're supposed to stir it up again ALL THE TIME so that you can keep that water nice and dirty, so you can see where all your muck is at all times, so it's nice and fresh and you can keep it in your immediate vision FOREVER, when what you WANT is to let the muck die down to the bottom, where it can harden and become rock, because what THAT does is become bedrock.

The bedrock. The foundation for your many, many years of future relationship.

I occasionally make mistakes. That is what people do. The Blond Squad had made mistakes too, and I love them and accept them as they are, and they do that with me, and I KNOW they do that.

Although at the time of this conversation with the driver of the car smoking a handrolled, the Blond Squad and I hadn't attended the wedding yet, it was pretty close to the horizon and I was already surfing the upward breezes of the rising warm air as the storm of my relationship with the Blond Squad was passing. I was getting better at accepting myself. And therefore, I could accept them. And therefore, I didn't give a DAMN if I was late. I wanted to catch everyone, and whatever time I could show up and accomplish that goal, I'd be good to go. And so, thinking of all of that, when this nice boy asked me to spend a little more time with him, I thought over all of that and said, "You know what? As long as we get there less than an hour late, I don't give a damn."

And therefore, here we were in the car, him lighting his hand rolled and me putting on makeup in his visor mirror, completely at ease.

*Part 2 Coming Tomorrow!*

Things I Have Learned About Busines Travel

1. Don't forget your blazer/suit jacket. You may not need it, but you'll feel better that you COULD dress up your outfit if you wanted to.

2. Therefore, find a good blazer that goes with everything. Guys get to use navy blue, which would probably work well for me, too, assuming I ever find a good one. I also have a nice charcoal one I use. And I don't think black would ever be a bad choice.

3. Bring flat work-appropriate shoes. I only have heels. This is bad because my right leg is almost non operational and I've been forced to limp around everywhere on my sandals. I'm just ecstatic that I even had flat sandals that weren't flip flops.

4. Dry cleaning will make ALL THE DIFFERENCE. You will shine.

5. Find someone who dresses the way you would like to and steal all their clothes.*

*Possibly not actually recommended.