Thursday, March 22, 2012

I wandered lonely as a cloud

Before you begin reading the blog post proper, here's a question for you: How many squares are there on a chessboard? (Hint: a lot more than 64.) The answer is many paragraphs down.

I have only two hard-and-fast appointments during this week off from school: a bar trivia quiz with friends last (Wednesday) night and a follow-up hearing test/doctor visit tomorrow.

Yesterday afternoon around 2:30, I was sick of being in the apartment and convinced myself to leave for Itaewon, even though I'd agreed with my friend Jane to meet her at Phillies Pub by 8:00 to save a table for the 9:00 game. I wanted to walk, I wanted to see things on this first full (very nice) day of spring, and mostly I just wanted to do something. (I'm thinking of a song my mom used to sing to me long ago: "The bear went over the mountain to see what he could see.") In my pack, I had my hash happi coat, patches for the patch lady in Itaewon to sew on it, and books to trade in at What the Book. And I had lots and lots of time.

So I set out on the seven-mile-or-so walk to Itaewon, along the Yangjae Cheon and along the back streets amidn all the kimbap restaurants and convenience stores. After an hour, I'd walked three miles, I was in Gangnam, my knee was starting to twinge, I could already feel the wind off the river I'd need to walk across, and there was the 421 bus to Itaewon, just sitting there with lots of empty seats...

So I got to Itaewon a lot earlier than my ETA, which was already really early. I dropped off my happi and patches and went over to WTB to swap out a Janet Evanovich, a Robert B. Parker, and a Korean for Dummies book, which proved true to its title by teaching no Korean letters whatsoever, for one Dalai Lama.

No, not this one.

 Then I had a coffee and went back to pick up my happi. (Incidentally, I just Google Image-searched for "happi coat + hash" and found five pictures from this blog. Huh.)  By then, I only had 2 3/4 hours till I was supposed to meet Jane. It was time to wander.

I've written about Itaewon several times before, but I don't know if someone who hasn't been there can really picture it. It's just around the corner from the United States' huge Yongsan Army Base. Itaewon features dozens of people selling socks and hats and toys out of motorized kiosks on the streets, about a million bars and restaurants of every cuisine on Earth, innumerable shops selling oversized hip-hop clothing for American soldiers, a bevy of Korean gentlemen who stand in front of their shops (windows adorned with people like Walter Cronkite and US generals shaking their hands) and ask a thousand men a day, "Custom-made suit, sir?", and, on the sidewalk and in the streets, Nigerians and Russians and Turks and Americans and Pakistanis and Poles and Egyptians and even a whole bunch of Koreans.

I'd never really explored "Food Street" behind the monolithic Hamilton Hotel before, but I went in search of Honest Loving Hut, the vegan place I'd heard so much about. I didn't find it. In the lanes on the other side of the main street, I did find Hyundae Sauna ("Korea's Biggest Queer Shelter"), whose door had the repeated close-up motif of what I can only assume from the drawing style is Homer Simpson's Private Area, as well as the most honestly named bar in Asia, "Are You Ready to Drink?"

I wonder as I wander. I was thinking Deep Thoughts and enjoying the sights of Itaewon's back streets and my solitude in the crowd. The sun was lowering in the west but it was still warm enough to have my windbreaker tied around my waist. There is so short a spring here, and an even shorter fall, and they're both beautiful.

Then I started on the half-mile walk to the other great Waegook (foreigner) neighborhood, Haebongchan, home of Phillies Pub, our trivia site. On the way down the main road from Itaewon, you pass the huge, ornate Noksapyeoung subway station...

This is its skylight. Those little dashes are pigeons. It's a big place.

...walk along the interminable, razor-wire-topped wall of the Yongsan Garrison, turn left at the end of the wall by the big kimchi pots...

...and head straight toward Seoul Tower, whose shifting nighttime colors make it quite the sight, up on Mount Namsan.

But you mustn't get transfixed by the tower, because Haebongchan-daero, the street, is narrow and has neither sidewalks nor shoulders. What it does have, though, is haphazardly parked cars on both sides and a steady stream of traffic, much of which is being driven by drunks or, worse, cabbies. Too fast. At dusk, in this case.

After stopping on the main road for some gourmet basil/tomato pizza and exploring another little neighborhood on the slopes of Namsan, I picked my was along Haebongchan-daero to Phillies, where I arrived at 7:15. Phillies is tiny and if I'd met Jane at 8:00 as planned, we never would have gotten a table.

But despite my incessant prattling here about everything I saw, at its heart this post is about solitude. For many hours, I had nothing in particular to do and nobody to talk to. I wandered and felt alone. I don't know if other people feel as I do, or if it's just me being a loner, but for all my life I've many times where I've sought out solitude in the outdoors. The feeling isn't sadness, but it's not happiness either. It's a kind of satisfied loneliness, if that makes any sense, a sort of solace in separateness.

Hmm... separateness, serenity, satisfaction, solitude. The Sound of Silence. Stephen. And my favorite word in our language, solace.

See Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night"

Okay. My fifty minutes are up.

Moving on.

I held down the table at Phillies for quite awhile, quietly growling at anyone who looked as if they might want to steal chairs, till my peeps arrived.

 No, not these.

Finally, we were all there: my hashing friends Jane, Martin from Ireland, Emily, and Kat, Jane's friend Ally from Scotland, and me. There are only two big tables at Phillies and a half-dozen little round ones. The big ones housed us and the Team That Comes Every Week and Never, Ever Loses. (That was my folks, Brian, Nancy, Todd, and me, aka Hogwarts, in St. Augustine.) We wished very much to beat them.

We finished second, by one point. That was good for two free pitchers of beer (plus one from when we played a few weeks ago). But the good part...

After each trivia game proper, Phillies asks a bonus question. The pot starts at 100,000 Won and goes up 5,000 in each week in which nobody gets the answer. They had gone 17 weeks without a winner and the pot was now up to $185,000 ($163). The question was the one I asked at the top of this post: how many squares are there on a chessboard? Ally frantically scribbled "64" and ran toward the MC as I screamed, "Ally, come back! Come back!" (I knew very well they weren't giving out 185,000 Won for "64".)

He came back and the two of us figured it out: one 8x8 square, four 7x7 squares (two horizontally times two vertically), nine 6x6s (three horizontally times three vertically), 16 5x5s, 25 4x4s, 36 3x3s, 49 2x2s, 64 1x1s...

The answer is 204. If you got it right, I'll share my winnings with you when you come to Korea to visit me.

Ally tipped the bartender and bought shots for the quizmasters with the winnings, then split the money with me. I got 70,000 Won, or double what I'd spent on the whole day. I grabbed the subway home and got back at 12:30 a.m., coated in cigarette smoke, beer fumes, and glory.

But really this post is about solitude. That's what I'll remember about Wednesday, March 21, 2012. That, and 204.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prose and (re)cons

With a week off from work, I'm looking for reasons to get out of the apartment. Yesterday, I stopped in at school for a bit. I seem to work better there than at home, perhaps because the school offers bare, flat surfaces larger than a deck of playing cards.

When I was done, I was halfway to the subway station anyway and looking for something to do. I nearly went up to Gangnam because I felt like watching a movie, but paying to see John Carter, whose reviews range from "It stinks" to "It doesn't stink that bad" didn't appeal. So, on the spur of the moment, I took the train south to Jeongja Station in Bundang. If Mr. Park gets his first choice of location for our new building, our school will be right near Jeongja next year.

I've been to Bundang a few times, most notably when I took the KTX up from Daegu for the interview that got me the job in the first place, but I wanted to get a better feel for the area. Jeongja is three stops, 12 minutes, down the new subway line from Citizen's Forest, the nearest stop from my current location. The subway stop now is a 15-minute walk from my apartment, so it wouldn't cost me extra time to get to the places I go to now, provided, of course, that I actually live on the Jeongja Station platform.

Upon emerging on the street at Jeongja, I felt as if I were in a different world: there is so much sky. You have the buildings on one side, a sidewalk, an eight-lane road (or, as we say at the hash, an "eight-road lane, because things in Korea aren't... quite... right"), a sidewalk, a grassy bank down to a walking path, a wide, soft running path, a wide, perfectly straight stream, a running path, a walking path, a rise back to street level, a sidewalk, an eight-lane road, a sidewalk, and finally buildings.

All in all, it must be 100 yards from building to facing building, which is about 95 yards more than in most of my current neighborhood. I've been taking for granted how constricted life is here; you have to go way up on a hountain to get a feeling of space, and then there are all those damn trees in the way. (I kid; Mother Nature and I go 'way back.) Here, it was both exhilarating and somehow unsettling. I felt like a gerbil taken out of his cage and dropped on the 50-yard-line at the Rose Bowl.

Bundang is the land of the 40-story apartment buildings; I didn't even try to count the officetels (commercial-residential highrises), but they were everywhere. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more people living in one block of Bundang than in all of St. Augustine. I'm not so easy being above, say, the fourth floor, so when we all move there, it will be quite an adjustment.

And not for all the kimchi in Korea would I live here:

You want me to live supported by 180 feet of air? Nuh-uh. Even Seoul air isn't that thick.

Once I got off the main street, I found narrow pedestrian malls lined with shops and restaurants, stacked up for a half-dozen floors, as is so common in Korea. I admit it felt more like what I'm used to. In particular, I found three establishments of interest:
  • A hot dog and burger place called "Dog and Bug". (Perhaps the locals should learn the difference between "burger" and "bugger".)
  • The "Drunken Bob Cafe". Nice to know where I'll be able to find my friend and colleague Bob Ellison.
  • "Hera", which judging from the name and the sign, which shows silhouettes of four women sharing cocktails, is the first lesbian bar I've ever seen in Korea. I would have gone up, but they're only open from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. and I realized that, if you want to get really technical, I'm not a woman.
I love being outdoors, and I don't think I'd like running along the wide, slow-moving, stream that stretches straight as an arrow as far as the eye can see; with no landmarks, it would feel as if I weren't moving at all. (Which, actually, at my speed isn't far from the truth.) But I do like that there's a big hountain for hiking just a few blocks away.
    I don't know quite where we'll all live, or even where the school will be, when we move next year. But my recon reinforced what I already know: Bundang is the opposite of Yangjae. Here, the buildings are low and set close, pedestrians play Dodge 'Em with the cars wending down the narrow streets, my running path on the Yangjae Cheon winds around and up and down and across and feels organic, and I can walk to work in six minutes. There, not so much.

    I don't know if it will be good or bad. But it will be different.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    St. Pat's and expats

    We've just begun our week-long spring break. Huzzah! I actually kicked my break off a little early by helping chaperone a history-class trip to the National Museum on Friday afternoon. I'd been there once before, and felt the way I often do at museums: awed and engrossed until, say, the hundredth clay pot, then eager for the coffee shop. Unfortunately, I got assigned the group of kids whose docent was lecturing in Korean. But it was cool, especially this 14th-century crown-and-belt set. I'm gonna try to get one to wear in class.

     "Respect mah authoriteh!"

    Yesterday, Saturday, was a more full than a Triple-Stuft Oreo. It was St. Pat's Day in Korea (well, everywhere, really), and the weather was gorgeous-- 60 Fahrenheit and sunny. I attended my 73rd Yongsan Kimchi hash in the 17 months since I started, and it was great, five miles of running through back alleys and neighborhood streets

    The run was at Sindorim Station, in a very ritzy area of town I'd never been in before. After the run and the circle, a bunch of us walked a short way to the amphitheater just outside the brand-new subterranean D-Cube mall. It seemed that every expat in Korea was there, and a bunch of locals too, for the annual St. Pat's Festival.

     A bunch of hashers and a bunch of normals. 
    I'm in the picture, if you want to play Where's Wald O'.

    There were green shirts and green balloons and green stew. (Okay, the stew was not green--there wasn't anything green in it, just shades of brown--so I couldn't eat it.) There may have been some beer on the premises. There was Roveresque and Clannadesque music. There was an MC MCing in Gaelic-accented English and Gaelic-accented Korean. There was a lot of step-dancing-- and I have to say Korean women doing Riverdance are quite attractive. I took a video with my phone, but Windows doesn't support the file type, so sadly you'll have to settle for a still. That's a shame... the little girl in green was twirling and high-stepping and having the best time of anybody in East Asia. I'm surprised she's not moving in this still picture, like a Harry Potter photo.

    You could give me Red Bull through an IV tube while jolting me with a thousand volts and I would never feel as joyous and present as the little green girl. But it was still one of those moments, like the hountain hike I wrote about recently, that just felt alive. It was just good to be there, basking in the energy and the... well, aliveness. I don't know a better word. I don't live out "Be Here Now" often enough, but I Was There Then.

    And then it was time for the Seoul Hash House Harriers. That's the oldest hash in Korea, and the only one in the area I'd never attended. It's male-only, and I don't like excluding people. Also, between the physical toll of hashing twice in a day and not wanting to take up a whole day when I have school prep and grading to do, it just never seemed wise.

    But twice a year they allow women at their hash, and this was one of those days. And, with the whole week off, I couldn't plead lack of time, even to myself. And it started and ended at the same spot as the morning's YK hash. So off we went, boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke, though this time I walked with a bunch of others.

    It was getting chillier, and after four miles or so, the six of us who were still together decided  to taxi back to the start. We flagged down a cab, and the driver insisted we all get in, even though it's a hard-and-fast rule in Seoul that cabs only carry up to four passengers.

    I've never attended clown college, but now I've taken Clown Car 101. In your standard-issue Hyundai, there were two women in the front seat, and two other guys-- two other big guys, each six-foot-two vertically and two-foot-six horizontally, a woman, and little me, squished like a Nerf ball against the door. When I finally got out, I made a vague wheezing accordion noise, like Wile E. after he's fallen off a cliff.

    But then it was time for the Seoul Hash circle, which goes on forever, with each hasher expected to take a turn telling a joke or singing a song. We even had three women from Tokyo, in for the weekend to run the Seoul Marathon this morning. For all I've posted about being so much older than the other hashers, that isn't true at Seoul H3; there were several around my age, including one friendly American who's been living here for 34 years. I'd thought I was a veteran waegook with three and a half.

    At the SH3 circle. This is my favorite recent photo of me, though it certainly shows my age.
    As Indy said, "It ain't the years, honey, it's the mileage."

    Finally I limped home, 11 hours to the minute from when I left. This morning, my calves were taut and tight and it took awhile to hobble to the coffeemaker, but it was worth it.

    It was a good day. O'Really.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012


    Hallyu (the "Korean Wave") has swept over much of Asia, with Korean movies, soap operas, and especially pop music wildly popular. K-pop is moving in on America, too: the Wonder Girls had a tour and a Nickelodeon TV movie, Girls' Generation appeared on Letterman and Kelly Ripa, and 2NE1 (love the name) is now being produced by Will.I.Am of the Black-eyed Peas.

    K-pop is ubiquitous among young people here, and the vast majority of it is so plastic it makes Milli Vanilli look like Tom Waits. But I have to say that 2NE1's song Ugly has been stuck in my head for five days now. It's damn catchy; check it out here.

    The applicable lyrics--in English--start at the 1:20 mark: 
    "I think I'm ugly and nobody wants to love me. Just like her, 
    I wanna be pretty, I wanna be pretty, don't lie to my face, tellin' me I'm pretty."

    It touches on an obsession of young Koreans. The only people in the world who primp and preen more than American girls are Korean boys. The only people who primp and preen more than Korean boys are Korean girls. They obsess over their "S-line", the slim but shapely form without which they're ugly. Every block of every shopping district, and many of the posher subway walkways, have girls in minis hawking free cosmetic samples. Without the right makeup, they're ugly.

    Plastic surgery is huge here: reshape those eyelids, whittle those cheekbones, lighten that skin, sometimes cut and rearrange the jaw. Next to cell phones, plastic surgeons may have more ads in the subway than any other business. The Seoul municipal government conducted a survey: 31 percent of people aged 15 and up were willing to get cosmetic surgery.

    The sad thing is, of course, that they were fine before. It's an ugly obsession.

    Hear and now

    On Friday I missed a huge foreign-school conference in Incheon that everyone else from school attended. I felt guilty; it was an important series of meetings I could have benefited from. However, the steroids for my ear problem ran out the night before, I had an appointment for a follow-up visit, and I wasn't going to risk my hearing by waiting two weeks for the next opening.

    I'll spare you the litany of frustrations that followed "Please sit in hallway" when I checked in for my hearing test. It's enough to say I waited an hour and a half because the signs were in Korean and nobody tried to help me. Finally I went down to the first floor and got an elderly volunteer from the International Medicine office to come up and translate for me.

    My hearing test showed a mild-to-moderate loss of hearing on the higher frequencies in my left ear, probably permanent. Dr. Park said they couldn't do a different hearing test, which would have helped determine if it's middle-ear or inner-ear damage, because I don't speak Korean. I don't know why that's relevant--does the test involve differentiating between similar Korean words?--and it didn't seem worth pursuing, as it wouldn't make any difference.

    I also wasn't clear on whether the plugging-up of my ear, which the steroids fixed, was the cause of the hearing loss, a result, or completely coincidental. Once again, it didn't seem worth pursuing.

    As to the high-pitched ringing that comes and goes, Dr. Park had a two-word piece of advice: "Avoid silence." Thanks, Doc.

    She also said that the hearing loss isn't unusual "for someone (my) age". Thanks a lot, Doc. I feel much better.

    And that, I guess, is what I want to write about here. I've posted before that, overall, I think I've gained more than I've lost by getting older, and I'll stand by that. (At least while I can still stand.) But I've been feeling run-down a lot lately, taking naps in lieu of runs after school, and getting up for a pit stop two or three times every night. On one hash I actually had to ask my buddy Tirty-tree, whose stamina is generally so much less than mine, to walk awhile instead of running. And I don't think I'm going to make that half-marathon I told myself I was going to run this spring.

    Incidentally, though I may be the oldest hasher in Korea, I've figured out that it isn't because hashing is a young person's game. I look at photos from hash kennels around the world and there are lots of geezers. It's just that my job is so unusual; there are very few American-style high schools here, and thus very few professional foreign teachers, as opposed to people who teach ESL at hagwons. That is almost entirely a job for 20-somethings, and so is the US military, and each of those demographics supplies half of our hashers.

    Anyroad (I love that Britishism, and it seems appropriate to me as a runner), I'm hoping that a lot of my slump is because winter has sapped my drive and energy. We marathoners (have I ever told you I've run *two* marathons? Not one, two! As in 52 miles, 770 yards of sheer guts and the Triumph of the Human Spirit [cue trumpets]? And how you should be impressed by my indomitability? Oh, I have. Never mind) talk about "hitting the wall", that point, usually around the 20-mile mark, where there's just no gas left in the tank. I'm being melodramatic--I think--but I hope to heaven that, at age 58, I'm not hitting the wall in my life. I would hate that.

    And, if I hit it head-first, I might damage my good ear. Then again, it might smooth out my forehead.

    So there's that.

    Saturday, March 3, 2012

    Today and the rest of my life

    I just got back home and I want to get this down before the feeling fades.

    I feel so alive, you guys. It's spring again today, temps in the mid-fifties, and sunny. I'm not fooling myself; I'm sure we'll have more cold and nasty stuff before the real spring, the one with the cherry blossoms, arrives. But right now it's gorgeous.

    The hash this morning was a lot of fun, though it criss-crossed some earlier chalk marks and everybody got lost and either (raising hand sheepishly) faked the way back to the start or insisted on going back and finding the real trail and running the whole thing, which entailed... well, let's say it was a longer way than to Tipperary. But it was beautiful, good company, gorgeous weather, a lot of fun.

    My plan, as I posted here, was to go on down to Songtan for the Osan Bulgogi hash, but we waited so long for our Yongsan Kimchi after-run circle to start, and it went on so long, that we clearly weren't going to make it down for the actual run. A bunch of us took two cabs to Nambu Bus Terminal, which is most of the way back from the YK location to my place, and when we got there, I decided I just couldn't justify the time and money investment to go all the way to Songtan. There would be a couple of hours of revelry that I'd have to leave early anyway to get home at a halfway-reasonable hour.

    So, I said my excuse-mes and decided to walk the two miles home. The most direct way was up. I still had a lot of energy and decided I was going to go over, not around, the hountain.

    ***ATTENTION PLEASE: the big bumps in the ground here are called san, mountain, but most of them aren't any bigger then East, South, or West Hill in Ithaca. Too big to be a hill, too small for a mountain: hereafter, the proprietor of this blog is calling them hountains.***

    Well, this one was a big hountain. My GPS watch pointed the way and when I got high enough I could see the LG Electronics building, the Hyundai and Kia headquarters, and the Hi-Brand (E-Mart) building that define my neighborhood. A hard climb, but I've had worse... but then... but then.

    A directional sign pointed the way up to "SUBANG TOWER 500 M". I thought, hey, a quarter mile to a tower I've never heard of, only a bit over a mile from my place? This I gotta see! So after about 300 meters of uphill struggle, I found another sign, pointing to the right, "SUBANG TOWER 400 M". And then, 300 meters later (and higher) "SUBANG TOWER 300 M".

    And finally I got to Subang Tower, which was not, as you might think, a tower. It was this:

    I'm not quite sure what its purpose is, though often Koreans build cairns as memorials. I saw a couple of people walk around the pile, clockwise, methodically, so it may be a meditation aid or have spiritual significance.

    I'm not sure how high Subang Tower is, but it's higher than the 70-story apartment building next to the Yangjae Cheon. So there was a view:
    The green Frisbee-roof in the foreground is the Seoul Arts Center; I could also make out the Marriott Hotel, which is across the street from St. Mary's Hospital, the Han and a couple of bridges across it, and way off to the north, Namsan and Seoul Tower (which, contrary to what you have been led to expect, is a tower.)

    And that's part of what made me feel so alive: the sense that this enormous city is mine. I've walked so much and run so much of it and ridden the trains under the places in between, it belongs to me now. We hashed through the wine festival, and the school saw Wyeths and Warhols, at the Arts Center; I visited the Buddhist temple just above it; I get my meds at St. Mary's; I've walked and run over the Han; and I've hashed many times and hiked once, on our first date, with Kyung, on Namsan. It's not my hometown, but it's my home.

    And best of all, there are these peaceful trails up and over these hountains, all around and through the second-most-populous metro area on the planet.

    But the best thing of all today came as I was descending the south slope toward home. Coming up, there was a man with three little kids, all five years old or not much more. The little boy broke out in a big grin and called, in English, "What's your name?" I said, "My name's Steve. What's your name?" He said, very proudly, "My name is Bak Jae Sung." I answered, "Hello, Bak Jae Sung!" and he smiled and smiled. The two little girls waved shyly to me and, when I high-fived them, giggled. Dad beamed. And I smiled all the way down the slope, which was so steep and rock-strewn that it needed every inch of the guide ropes strung up alongside.

    When I got home, this guy was happy to see me:
    I'm very fond of Tug, but he wouldn't voluntarily leave this apartment for any reason whatsoever, and I missed the wonderful dogs I've had in my life. Booker, Wylie, and Bodhi: not one of them would have missed this walk for the world and I wish any one of them, or as long as I'm thinking magically, all of them, had been with me.

    I want to remember this feeling I have when I'm hip-deep in laundry and grading and the fifteenth TV showing of Iron Man 2 in a month.

    It's nice to be alive, not just breathing, once in awhile. I will try it more often.

    Hashing and hearing

    Yesterday, Thursday, was a bee-yoo-ti-ful day. It was Independence Movement Day  here, a national holiday commemorating the initial uprising of the Korean people against their Japanese occupiers. Our school has a four-day weekend, and nearly all schools and hagwons were closed, which means one thing in the tight-knit hasher world here: time for the ESL Hash.

    We met at noon at Triangle Park, at the base of Seoul's most prominent mountain, Namsan, near the foreign-friendliest neighborhoods in Korea, Itaewon and Haebongchan. The weather was incredibly gorgeous, in the mid-fifties and sunny, and I had the kind of Spring Fever that I never got living in North Florida. Hashing every week through the winter here can be a real grind, and it was wonderful to wear shorts again! If anything, I was overdressed, with two shirts on.

    We scrambled up a gully toward Seoul Tower. It was hard work and for a while I wished I'd worn warm-up pants after all; who knew bushes were so scratchy? The long jog down on the road was gorgeous, and we would have had an incredible view of most of Seoul if the air had been clear. (This year's clean air in Seoul is scheduled from 5 to 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 8.) But, oh, the sun and the breeze. People in the American South can have no idea of the feeling of the first spring day.

    After the hash, Tirty, VVD, Encyclo, WOPS, T3 and I walked to the Wolfhound Pub in Itaewon for brunch, beers, chat, and drinking games. I stayed too long and ate too much. (I wasn't going to order the apple crumble, but, you know, somebody else did, so I had to.) I didn't get home till dinnertime, at which point I fell, exhausted, into my bed for a nap.

     Apropos of nothing, I'm rockin' a goatee now. 
    I may look distinguished; I may look like a billy goat. Your call.

    Today was not nearly as bee-you-ti-ful. It was cool and spitting rain most of the day, and it was time to head to the hospital. I've had a stuffed-up left ear, periodically with a loud whining noise, for almost two weeks. (It's ringing now; if I hooked up my webcam, you could hear it.) It's very wearing and even more bothersome, especially when I have to ask my students to repeat what they said, and it hasn't done a very good job of going away.

    I go to Dr. Choi at Seoul St. Mary's Hospital, a branch of the Catholic University of Korea, for my BP meds; with nobody in the school office today to phone them on my behalf, I thought the best thing was just to head over there (45 minutes by foot, bus, and subway) and at least make an appointment.

    St. Mary's has some doctors who speak good English and a small International Medicine office to help foreigners. I went there first because the receptionists in Family Medicine, Dr. Choi's department, don't speak it very well. The woman in IM got me an appointment with Dr. Choi ten minutes later, which is amazing, and the doctor suggested I have tinnitus and wrote me a referral to otology.

    Incidentally, when you're waiting for your appointment, a monitor shows your name and your place in line; they black out the last syllable of your name to protect your privacy. So you will see (in hangeul letters, of course): 1) Bak Ji *  2) Geem Yeon *  3) Kor Maen Seu Tee Beun *. I am so relieved that the 20 Koreans in the waiting room might have thought it was some other Seuteebeun Kormaen who was having health problems.

    She re-upped my prescription for BP meds; you take your sheet to a desk, wait, pay for the visit, feed the paper they give you into an ATM-like machine, then take that sheet to one of the dozen yakguk (pharmacies) within a block of the hospital. All in all, it took five minutes for my appointment and 30 to get the drugs. This was the first time today for that, but not the last.

    I wandered over to the Central City underground mall to kill time, then went back to the hospital and up to the third floor, where I was late because the signs were in Korean and the helpful lady in International Medicine sent me to the northwest corner (obstetrics)-- where I got an odd look from the receptionist when I came in for my appointment-- rather that the southeast corner.

    Finally I got it straightened away, by stopping in another department, pointing to my ear, and looking pitiful. I may or may not have said "ow". Anyway, after navigating the linguistic maze in otology, I eventually got in to see Dr. Park. (As an aside, Korea is extremely backward when it comes to women's rights and role in society, but both Dr. Choi and Dr. Park are women. I try to do my part.)

    She shoved a camera-probe in my ear and showed me the problem: my ear canal looks like what Tim Robbing crawled through to escape Shawshank Prison. She cleaned it out-- there is no truth to the rumor that she shone her light in one ear and it came out the other side of my head-- and told me it was just fluid in the ear, with some inflammation. I told her Dr. Choi had suggested tinnitus, but she wouldn't hear of it. (Har har!) The tinnitus is brought on by the primary problem.

    So she gave me another prescription, for nasal spray and steroid pills, of which I must take 11 a day for the next week, and an appointment for a follow-up. She also told me to hold my nose tight, puff out my cheeks, and blow as hard as I can, ten times a day. She may or may not have been funnin' me, but I'm gonna do it.

    I  ran the linguistic gauntlet again and went back to the yakguk, got my drugs, and finally, finally, tired and grumpy, headed down into the subway--where the turnstile refused to take my T-Money card. So I went to the info booth, which was empty. So I waited. Then I went back up to the street, walked a half-mile to another entrance (the Express Bus Terminal Station is laid out with its three subway platforms forming a huge "U") and went to that info booth, which was empty. Finally I found the station office, and a guy helped me out.

    So I rode back, walked the half-mile home from the stop, and collapsed onto my bed for a nap again. When I woke up, it was dark out. I don't know if it's the ear thing or what, but I'm just tired all the time lately. I guess I'm not 55 anymore.

    Tomorrow will be an exhausting day. I never miss my Yongsan Kimchi hash (71 times in 14 months, baby!) I almost never go down to Songtan, an hour south of Seoul, as I'm always sore and exhausted when I get back, 11 hours after I left. But tomorrow is the on-out (final hash) of one of our core people and I can't miss it. Also, they've kidnapped Dick, YK's mascot, and are corrupting his morals, and we have to get him back.

    The fiends posted this on Facebook, with the caption "Dick payin strippers".
    Tug had better not be on the bed the moment I walk back in the door, or he's gonna get collapsed on.