Wednesday, April 20, 2011

...-April 19, 2011

Invariably when I wake up, sixish a.m., I fling Tug against the wall (not really), stumble to the bathroom, and stagger to turn on the computer and then start the coffee.

This morning the very first thing I saw online was "R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen 1948-2011", which felt like being thumped in the chest.

Lis Sladen played Sarah Jane Smith, the most beloved of all the Doctor's companions in the 48 years of Doctor Who. She was the first companion I ever saw, back in the mid-70s...
...and she was playing the part again, on the main show and The Sarah Jane Adventures, all the way into 2011...
...and it was just such a shock that she'd be gone at a (very youthful) 63. The public never knew she'd been ill and she was still filming just a few months ago.

You already know I'm a nerd and I hereby declare my undying devotion to Doctor Who. And Sarah Jane was the companion for so many fans, young and old; Lis Sladen seemed to still have the 25-year-old Sarah somewhere just below the surface. Everyone who worked with her or met her said she was a delight.

So I was sad.

And then I saw that Grete Waitz died, too.
She was a great, great runner: she won the New York City Marathon an astonishing nine times (and a silver medal in the LA Olympics), back when I was first interested in running, and by all accounts was a gracious and graceful woman.

She was my age, born in the same month, October 1953.

And I was a little sadder.

Now, this isn't going to be some lugubrious meditation on mortality. (Sorry, I'm an English teacher.) There's no "oh my God, if a great marathoner could die at my age, what about me?" Both women died of cancer, and there's not much we can do about that. That's never been among my many anxieties.

But the passing, on the same day, of seminal figures in two of my great loves, Doctor Who and running... well, it makes me think again of the wisdom of letting go, of realizing that things fall apart, and that it's okay. It has to be okay, because it's true.

It's okay.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Walking on mostly sunnyshine

Today I'm about as close to sunny as I ever get, which I suppose is like saying the drunken bear's triple Salchow is coming along nicely.

I know I'm not Little Gary Sunshine, but it's a good, good day.

The spring is finally, really here, the cherry blossoms are out along the Yangjae Cheon, I'm still on a bit of a high from Sunday's race (enough that I'm thinking that, maybe, yeah, I just might do another full marathon in the fall), and I had a good, fast run after school today.

Most of all, though, our accreditation visit is over and the visitors' report was better than we'd expected or hoped for. To put it briefly, they classify schools on six levels, the top four being accredited. They gave us the second-best rating, which for a third-year school (at which almost the whole faculty is in their second year) is excellent. They look at seven different categories; they rated us higher than we rated ourselves in five of them.

The twelve-hour days are over (for awhile, anyway) and there are no more reports to write. As for me, while the visitors were here, I was on-task, personable, charming, and bright. You know... somebody else.

So... I'm sunny and carefree today.

Take a photo, quick.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Do do run run run do do run run

It was an epic weekend.

On Friday, I got home from work and almost immediately headed out again, by bus toward Gwacheon City, followed by eight subway stops and a transfer to a train that's part of the Seoul Metro system and another 16 stops to Pyeongtaek, a city so far out of town that another five feet would take you clear into the next province. The trip out took an hour and 45 minutes.

There was a purpose to my odyssey. (Can I call it that? Odysseus was gone from Ithaca for 20 years and it's only been 16 for me so far.) Once a month, the Not Quite Right Hash House Harriers run out there, and this one was for our friend Bootylicious' Birthday Bash. They call themselves Not Quite Right because they're not quite right. (I was told that last month they set up a sobriety check in the middle of the run... if you didn't have a blood-alcohol level of at least .05, you weren't allowed to continue.)

NQR was my seventh hash group in the five months I've been doing it... Yongsan Kimchi, Southside, Osan Bulgogi, PMS (in drag), 38th Parallel, Full Moon, NQR; my heart belongs to Yongsan, but my feet are fickle. Continually getting hazed as a virgin is wearing me out.

This hash was tough, starting in the streets, through the Friday-night traffic, down several blocks lined with brightly lit showrooms full of young, sleek-haired, leggy Korean women in tube tops and what I think were skirts (though they may in fact have been belts), who were calling out to passing cars. (Prostitution is just creepy and unthinkable to me; I believe that what adults do voluntarily isn't the government's business, but... eeuw.) Anyway, the US Army's Camp Humphreys is in Pongtaek, so apparently there's money to be made in the trade.

Then the run left the city and meandered in the dark, under a crescent moon, through farmers' fields past noisy dogs, up and down embankments, through mud and slop. At one point, the hares set us running west, up a slope and north across a long bridge, down an embankment, west again for fifty feet, up an embankment, south across the same bridge, down, and west, fifty feet from where we went up in the first place.
Finally we reached the end point, where they'd set up a bonfire down by the water. There was much singing and many jokes and delicious German lager beer may or may not have been involved.

I barely made it home. Generally the hashes are run A-to-A; that is, they end at the start point. This time, though, it was A-to-B, and the bonfire was a good 3/4 mile from the train station. I tore myself away and hiked back in the dark (very dark), hoping to make the last train back. I dithered over whether to go back the way I came or to take the KTX bullet train back to Yongsan Station on the other side of Seoul and then a subway or cab. Either way, I was risking not making it.

I did the subway bit to the transfer point, where the outdoor station was positively eerie, a dozen people standing around at 12:30 a.m. waiting for a train that... would... not... come. The sign on the wall said the last train comes through at 12:07, but the people weren't going away. I kept thinking of getting a motel room, but the announcements, in Korean, kept coming every few minutes, and I waited... and waited... finally the train came and it was another 16 stops in a car with three other people, two of them asleep, to Gwacheon. I was feeling pretty fuzzy myself, and a bit bleak, the way one does past midnight in a brightly lit train car in a foreign country.

I was worried about having to walk the four miles home from Gwacheon, starting at 1 a.m., but came out of the subway and flagged down a cab within 30 seconds. Thank goodness.

"Tuggy, I'm home!" I called at quarter past one.

"Mrow," Tug said.

Yongsan Kimchi always holds its hashes at 10 a.m., but this one time, due to the previous night's festivities, it was scheduled for noon, thank goodness squared. It also wasn't a run, but a "Hangover Hash", thank goodness cubed. I couldn't have run, in between the NQR run the night before and the half marathon the next day; my calves were twanging like too-tight banjo strings.
We drank and talked and played Danger Jenga (in which each block has an instruction for a humorous stunt) at the Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon, walked (while drinking) to the Bless U Pub, where we talked and drank, and walked (while drinking) to the Wolfhound Pub, from which I made my escape into the world of the Normals.

I'd no sooner gotten home when Lauren called, asking if I wanted to go to dinner. I'd hardly ever turn that down, and certainly not when she's only going to be here two more months. We went to Dos Tacos in Gangnam, where the nachos and burritos are hot and tasty and the lime margaritas cold and... um, tasty. We were both really hungry and had a great time, tempered slightly by the knowledge that we didn't have too many more outings like this to share.

And then it was 5:30 the next morning and I peeled myself out of bed to get ready to go to Hanam City for the MBC Adidas (half, in my case) Marathon. Originally, a half dozen of our teachers were going to run the half or the 10K, but they dropped out one by one (including Lauren, who told me at dinner) and it was just me and 17,999 strangers.
Okay, and the Seoul Flyers.

At 6:15, as I hit the street by E-Mart, I was sore and tired and discouraged; I felt as gray as the sky and I didn't want to go. It took me several minutes to hail a cab and I was about to say the heck with it and go home and back to bed. But a cab came and, before I could not hail it, my hand was out and I was on my way to the Jamsil subway stop, where a fleet of buses was waiting to take the runners on the 20-minute trip east of Seoul to the race site.

The race, on a hilly course, started and ended at a speedboat-racing arena. Blah blah blah cold and windy before the race K-pop dancing girls long lines for the john cut to the chase...

I was happy to see my South African hashing friend Lesley there...
...and we started the race together, well back in the pack. Before long I told her I was dropping back; I was determined to stay at my slow-but-really-slow-but-steady pace of 11 minutes per mile, which would bring me in at my goal of two and a half hours. (Thirteen point one miles times eleven, carry the one, add time for a bathroom break and walking at the water stops... yep, two and a half.)

The bulk of the race went by as the bulk of every race goes by for me, counting the kilometers, counting the miles, looking at the river and the hills, picking other runners to mentally fasten on to so they could pull me along; I was determined to hit my goal time and I learned long ago that going out too fast is a recipe for pain, frustration, and failure. I almost always pass a lot more people than I'm passed by later in a race.

By the halfway point, I was feeling pretty good and figured I could pick up my pace a bit. My legs were sore and my knees ached, but my breathing was good and I was not all that tired. At about the nine-mile mark, it hit me: I can do 2:20. (Not much to do out there but mental computations...) So I picked it up a touch more, found Lesley again and ran with her awhile, and then went for it.

Nobody'd told me about the (pause for dramatic effect)... (pause a little more)... (wait for it)... NOW... switchback ramp that went up three full stories, a mile from the finish. Oy. Oy. But once I was past that, I went as fast as I could, or possibly a little faster, and finally saw the finish line ahead, and hauled it across in two hours, twenty minutes.

...and two seconds. Damn ramp.

But everybody says that counts as 2:20 so... I'll take it.

I was feeling all warm and oogly-moogly inside all the way home on the shuttle bus and the subway and the other bus. I'd run a smart race, just the way I wanted to and better than I'd thought I could. I was kind of smuglish, actually.

And of course life has a way of knocking you off your horse and on your ass; I posted my time on Facebook, and within five minutes DODIC, the hardcore hasher, trying to be encouraging, posted, "That's okay. Think of everybody who didn't finish at all."

Cue the sad Trombone Sound of Deflated Ego--     :: wah wah waaaah. ::

No, I did well. I did all I could. I'm happy. And sorer than Atlas' sacroiliac. But happy.

So, in 36 hours, I took the bus to the subway to the train to the run to the train to the subway to the taxi to the bus to the pub crawl to the subway to the bus to the bus to the bus to the taxi to the bus to the run to the bus to the subway.

And now we're in the school's three most stressful days of the year: the visit by the accreditation committee. I'm not sure what they'll want me to do, but I ain't getting on no damn bus.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

There will come soft rains

The Yellow Dust has finally been dissipated... the nuclear rainfall.

So, kind of a good news/bad news.

There's been a gentle rain all day today; the authorities say that there's no danger of measurable radioactivity in the rainfall. (Let's hope they're not speaking precipitously.) There really isn't much radioactivity in the atmosphere despite the nuclear incident in Japan, and anyway the prevailing wind is from the west, away from Korea.

But Koreans can be kind of paranoid. (The students in cross country told me they don't run in a drizzle because Seoul's acid rain makes people's hair fall out. Also, people believe that sleeping in a closed room with a fan on can kill you, if American beef doesn't. And so on...)

Several of the public schools in Gyeonggi-do, the province that completely surrounds Seoul (and in which I, technically, live) closed today to protect the little nose miners from fallout. Hey, you never know.

I do know: everybody's fine.

This is 80 percent of this spring's cross-country club. As you can see, we haven't mutated.
(On the other hand, this photo was taken yesterday...)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dust in the mind

(...all we are is dust in the mind...)

Spring sprung, for real and we hope for good, promptly on April 1. The high temps each day have been near 60 (in the mid-60s today) and it's been generally sunny. It would seem to be, at last, the lovely spring I've been longing for.

But it's Yellow Dust season! Once again, the air is thick with sand and grit blowing from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. This happens every spring. Some days the newspapers have suggested that people stay indoors, and keep their windows closed, as much as possible.

I'm not particularly susceptible to bad air; I haven't gotten sick or tired from it, but it weighs me down emotionally. It's just dismal to have yellow air and invisible mountains that I know are only a half-mile away. My hair feels gritty and my eyelids heavy.

Aside from that, we're back at school. I don't feel cheated by the length of our now-done spring break. I didn't do a lot of what I'd planned; Bob and I didn't want to get up at 6 to get to the USO to go on their DMZ bus trip, and I decided that I didn't want to take five hours out of every Wednesday to go all the way to the City Hall area and take the Culture Center's Korean-language classes (although our school's dean, Ryan, tells me there are also free classes a lot closer...)

I hared (help lay the trail) for my hash group on Saturday. It did not go well. As Forrest Gump said, "That's all I have to say about that."

Probably the best thing that happened on break was making good friends with Vanessa, as I mentioned in my last post.

(That and my new cell phone; I am, after all a Guy, and to a Guy the thought that People are more important than Toys is Crazy Talk.)

I mentioned to Vanessa that I'll miss Lauren when she leaves in June, especially on Sunday mornings when we are wont to go for coffee; Vanessa said simply, "I drink coffee." Of course, people aren't fungible; you can't just plug one in for another. But I have gotten to really like Vanessa, and as much as I will miss Lauren, a new coffee friend isn't a bad thing to have.
This is she.

One of the biggest benefits to living abroad is coming to realize that your home country really isn't the center of the universe. Particularly in the U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! we get used to believing that we're it, as if other people's (and peoples') perspectives don't really count. ("If English is good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you!")

As I've said, it's been really good to have friends who are Kiwis, Aussies, Scots, South Africans, Ugandans, Koreans... but in particular I've never known a Chinese person before. We (or I) have had an image of the Chinese as a gajillion-strong mass of interchangeable people; I'm a little ashamed of that now.

I wouldn't have thought that Vanessa and I would have anything to talk about; she's literally half my age, loves shopping for clothes and shoes and adores Sex in the City and Michael Jackson. But we do just fine. She taught herself Korean and English and is casting about for another language to learn on her own; she's thinking German or Spanish, but I told her she's getting lazy, taking up a language whose alphabet she already knows. I suggested Russian, Greek, or Arabic.

So, life, as it tends to, goes on. Our long-planned-for accreditation visit is next week and it will be a big load off when that's done. I'm looking forward to settling back into my normal everyday life in Seoul.

When the dust settles.