Friday, November 17, 2017

Strange Dreams, Pleasant Company

It's a terrible thing when your apartment smells like donuts at 4 AM. All you can think of is, "I really, really want a donut. A deep-fried, chocolate glazed donut." Except deep-fried stuff upsets my stomach, if I eat any more sweets I will have a permanent donut around my middle, and there are no proper donuts to be had at 4 AM in South Korea. The local Dunkin' keeps bankers' hours. And the pre-packaged pastries at the CU are just sad.

There was no reasonable explanation for the donut aroma. It was likely due to the same subconscious mischief that caused me to dream that strands of my hair were encased in Caribbean blue pistachio jello. I also dreamed that I was half-asleep and talking to my mother on the phone about a fender-bender in a parking garage at an unnamed airport. In my dream I'd been offered scrap value for my car on the spot and declined, my car had been hauled away and impounded, and I'd forgotten about it for months, with the consequence that I now owed vastly more in impound fees than the vehicle was worth. I also dreamed I was taking a shower and people kept abruptly walking into the shared bathroom, while I attempted to hide behind the mostly translucent shower curtain and wash the jello out of my hair. It was not a restful night.

Tomorrow I hope to arrange to meet a Russian artist who is also an avid animal rescuer--she's a friend of my British former coworker. I spent half an hour this evening watching Edouard the stripey adolescent orange cat bouncing under and around the edges of my skirt while I made awkward small talk with his master and swigged a strawberry yogurt smoothie. I need more feline time. And I would really like to take some concrete steps towards getting my children's story series about a particularly winsome Russian cat illustrated and into print. I still haven't heard anything about the fate of Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands. How much longer do I have to wait for good news?

My discouragement and loneliness was nicely offset this evening by three friendly female colleagues coming over for snacks after work. It was a direct answer to prayer, as I had been wandering the dark and rainy streets after my smoothie and silently lamenting my lack of energy and social life. The fact that so many businesses that are usually open later were already shuttered for the evening reflected my feelings of isolation and boredom. The ladies' smiling company was like warmth and sunshine--I hope they'll come over again soon! But before they do, I need to buy more cheese.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Features, Fish & Fabric of Korean Life

The Korean Peninsula looks like a westward-facing silhouette of the face of character actor Brion James as Leon Kowalski in the original Blade Runner movie—scruffy bearded, with deeply hooded eyes, and mouth agape in dumb disbelief (or a howl of frustration), a splash of either sweat or blood falling from the long chin. The blood, sweat, or tear is the island of Jeju, where I live.

Wednesday last week I walked to HomePlus for milk and Swiss Miss—I was buying the latter for my fifth grade advanced class, who were supposed to read the scary stories they had team-written (the hot chocolate was a hit; the stories weren’t as successful). Across from the store is a large elementary school. At 2 PM there was long uninterrupted line of yellow hakwon minivans waiting to collect students—all the small school buses were identical except for the logos which indicated the assortment of academies (English, music, martial arts) they represented. I suppose it beats the American parental car line in some respects, but it indicates another half-day of schooling for the young students.

On my latest Olle trail hike, I was struck by how many water treatment plants—long low buildings covered in heavy evergreen-colored plastic fabric that muffled the sound of roaring water inside—there seemed to be along the coast. Mark told me that they are in fact fish farms. All those flounder and eels swimming in the tanks outside local restaurants are not ocean-caught as I had assumed. The big fleshy-pink shellfish sliding along the glass water cases are likewise commercially grown. Fish farms occupy some of the most attractive real estate on the southern shore of the island—the industry took off in the 1980s, after the collapse of the banana plantations which had been a major cash crop, before developers realized that hotels and other buildings could capitalize on the views. At least some of the farms are owned by the huge conglomerates which dominate the national economy: some had the eMart logo on the signs.

Dark green and blue woven synthetic fabric covers not only the fisheries, but also many of the tangerine packing plants here. It’s pulled and stitched tight over the curved buildings, a heavy skin that muffles sound and light. Jeju people use natural and manmade cloth in many other novel ways. The rotating drums on concrete trucks here are laced into tight cement-colored canvas corsets. Scaffolding on buildings under construction is festooned with ruffles of sky blue scrim to prevent debris from falling onto people’s heads, and the ground from which pavement has been torn is usually covered with blankets to prevent mud from being tracked hither and yon. In previous posts I’ve already mentioned the thick hemp matting that is laid down over many of the local walking trails, cushioning the feet and preventing erosion. And all Korea still uses big swatches of solid-colored satin to wrap gift boxes—why bother with unrecyclable ribbons and single-use paper when knotting up a simple opaque cloth will do?

One thing that’s remarkable to me is how fast construction and reconstruction proceeds here. The Baskin Robbins down the street from my house was open for business until almost midnight one day, and by mid-morning of the next the store had been professionally gutted by workmen, and the only indication of its former life was the sign that remained on the front. And that, too, quickly disappeared. I’m a bit bummed—I did not go often, but I did like to walk down occasionally for a scoop, and now the closest ice cream store is half a mile away, and not as nice as this one. That's definitely one of those First World problems...oh dear, a kilometer for an ice cream cone?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Musical & Medical Equipment

Maxwell has a vintage Technics SL-D1 turntable. That turntable has some of my happy childhood memories wrapped like a thread around the spindle. Daddy bought ours when we were still living in middle Georgia, when I was five. He played his Russian records on it. He played the Michael Jackson Thriller album on it. He played Segovia, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and other classical composers on it. And, every Fourth of July, he played our John Phillip Sousa records on it, cranked up to maximum volume, the bass so strong the walls, the windows, and our blood vibrated with the sound. I listened to Willy Nelson's Stardust over and over, flipping the big thin black disk and carefully dropping the needle just inside the grooved edge. The split silver and charcoal design on the side of the plate spun into a mesmerizing blur, and a scratchy bumping came out of the speakers before and after the music played. Daddy changed the stereo system only a few years before his death--the turntable and all the records ended up in one of my closets and stayed there until we were cleaning up the house for sale. My brother Nate took it to Atlanta. I doubt he still has it. For all I know, Maxwell's turntable could really be ours--the key evidence would be Daddy's SSN carved into the bottom, as he used to do with all the family valuables in the age before the internet and wholesale identity theft.

Of course, this sentimental encounter with my childhood sent me home to YouTube for hours of Michael Jackson and other Eighties videos. I should be writing about a Chinese author (because I'm in South Korea, my contract employer seems to assume I know all about Asian subjects--everything about this author is in Chinese, so even with Google Translate it's taking me a while to cobble together basic information), but I'm still listening to Cyndi Lauper and Jackson--that man wrote and sang an incredible number of songs! And what a great performer, even with his ever-shrinking nose and paling skin. I'd only ever watched the Thriller video before; he had amazing stage presence.

June and I went to the city's best cake shop today after a late lunch of udon. In  the curved glass case was a special confection for Pepero Day, chocolate cake layered with cream, topped with big dark chocolate shavings, and fenced with assorted Pepero--strawberry, cookies and cream, green tea, etc. I got a piece to go with my glass cup of hot jasmine tea. It was delicious. Perched atop the artfully swirled stack of paper napkins on a side table was what resembled a giant seal for making wax impressions. I lifted the heavy thing by its wooden handle and saw that the thick round steel disk was smooth on the bottom. What was it? Later, when I stopped by Maxwell's shop to get a takeaway smoothie, I observed him using the same curious implement. It's for tamping coffee grounds into the basket of an espresso machine portafilter so that their level surface will absorb the hot water evenly. We agreed that in case of attack, both it and the portafilter would made excellent weapons.

On the wall of his shop, behind the counter, is a device that looks a lot like an antique anesthesia machine, only it's missing the rubber bulb for manual ventilation. When I was eleven, Daddy took me on a medical mission trip. When we arrived in the Podunk town in southern Jamaica, he looked at the hospital equipment in horror, saying he hadn't seen anything that antique since medical school. There were tall rusty cylinders of oxygen and other gasses lying in the weeds outside the operating theater--the team had to hook them up to see which had anything in them. Daddy was always resourceful, and he managed to get the old machines to work; I remember watching him carefully squeezing the rubber bulb, "breathing" for the unconscious patients in the crowded operating theater, where the surgeons were performing two procedures elbow to elbow (there were two rooms, and each had two operations proceeding simultaneously). I asked Maxwell what his device did--it's a water purifier, so his espresso machine and other equipment don't develop mineral scale.

Koreans believe in replaceable gas cylinders--every business and many homes have battered metal tubes of gas hooked to the outside, tucked into spaces between, behind, or underneath the buildings. My apartment building doesn't have a central gas tank, but instead individual ones for each apartment. And here in Korea they also have cylinders, not kegs, of beer--I saw a delivery truck filled with them. Beer is the beverage of choice to accompany chicken. June orders chicken (without the beer) all the time, and I'd been wondering why until last Sunday, when I went to her tiny efficiency for lunch and an afternoon of relaxing jigsaw-puzzle assembly. I was stuffed to bursting from the midday meal, but immediately started salivating at the aroma of roast meat that drifted up enticingly from the restaurant downstairs. I'd be hungry all the time if I lived in her building.


Before he enrolled in medical school, my cousin (he who died in Peru earlier this year) worked in Spain as an English teacher. The last month he was in the country he spent hiking the northern route of El Camino de Santiago, seeing the Spanish coastline countryside, and meeting an assortment of entertaining international wanderers like himself. On Saturday, I met a woman who had also hiked El Camino, and had been inspired by the experience to create the Olle trail system by which pedestrians can circumnavigate Jeju.

As with most good ideas, the olle system seems so natural to me and other visitors that I had presumed it had been in place for scores of years. It turns out, it is only a decade old, and the brainchild of this one lady, a former political journalist who had been born and raised on the island, but who, like many, had gone away for university and a career. She told me that at age 50 she had decided that she wanted to do something different with her life (to her mother’s horror—the older woman could not understand why her daughter would leave a successful and lucrative job to do something that paid nothing), and she decided to return to the island and create the trails (despite the system’s Spanish inspiration, “olle”, rather than a bullfighting crowd’s encouragement to the matador, means “lane” in the local Jeju dialect). And, according to one of my students, whom I encountered as we were hiking, she met a lot of local resistance to the idea in the beginning—people didn’t want strangers trekking on or alongside their land. But in the ten years since the first olle trail’s creation, local attitudes toward the system have completely reversed, as it has brought unforeseen economic benefits: coffee shops and pensions and other small enterprises have sprung up along the trails, and now people beg to have the routes near them.

Saturday a week ago was the last day of the annual International Olle Festival (the “international” bit was supplied by me and three other foreigners among the hundreds and hundreds of Koreans, all kitted out in bright outdoor clothing like REI catalog models), and took place along Olle 4, from Namwon Port to Pyoseon Haevichi Beach. Albert and his sidekick Mark had invited me to go with them, and we set out walking about 10:30. We finished the course when the sun was setting about 6 PM, at a cluster of uniform white tents flanking a bandstand, from which a husky-voiced singer was belting out James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”

We’d stopped for lunch at a midpoint along the 12-mile trek, at a school where the sunny soccer pitch was full of hiking groups sitting on the close-cropped grass and eating bibimbap out of metal bowls. You had to pre-order the main course, and Albert had considered it too expensive, opting to buy several Styrofoam trays of kimbap instead (the wind was fierce, and I had to chase a getaway tray across the field, and later watched a napkin and other items take wing). You could buy makeoli and sweet potato pancakes outright, though, so the three of us split a bottle and a plateful. I rented three pairs of metal chopsticks for 100W (about 10 cents) each, and we drank the makeoli out of metal bowls, then carried our washables and recycling over to  the collection point. Plastic was being tossed into a gigantic black container shaped like a flower pot, five feet high and at least that broad.

I saw my first Kdrama star in the flesh! It was someone I recognized immediately: Jung In-Gi, a character actor who has been in at least nine series I’ve watched. He was sitting on a folding chair just a few meters away, playing the guitar with a younger bleach-haired fellow, and singing a song about hyenas, complete with animal noises. I would have liked to have gotten a picture with him, but I was too intent on lunch (and not embarrassing myself in front of the camera which was taking my “token foreigner” picture) to try, and by the time I’d eaten he’d been replaced by a young musical group and had vanished. He was thereby spared from my adjumma-age fangirling.

The mid-fortyish Mark himself, otherwise a nice guy, behaves not a little like the typical male kDrama character in some ways. He’s subjected me to wrist-grabbing—“c’mon, let’s do this!—and Saturday he also physically moved me out of what he considered to be unfeminine situations (walking right next to the road, for example). I’ve discovered I HATE this. It’s incredibly condescending, no matter how well-meant. If you want to be gallant, do it in an unnoticeable way that doesn’t interfere with my personal agency. Ask me where I want to walk. Don’t crowd my personal space. Simply offer help—if I need it, I’ll be happy to accept it. I pettishly retaliated to his chauvinistic behaviors by treating him exactly the same way—I moved him over (grabbing the loop on his backpack and pulling) from the roadside several times, when he was arguably too close to cars or bicycles--considerably closer than I had been earlier, I might add, and distracted by looking at his phone as well. I don’t know that he grasped the larger implications of my actions.

Despite the bright sun and clear skies, it was cool all day, and when the sun went down I zipped up my coat and pulled on my leather gloves. Thankfully, Albert had forewarned me that it was going to be chilly. Given my overdressing for my Dulegil hike the previous fortnight, I would have gone to the opposite extreme and been woefully underdressed for this one.

The leafy citrus orchards are full of bright orange fruit, and at one point Mark hopped down a low stone wall and retrieved a newly fallen tangerine (you shouldn’t pick, but you can pick up) from the ground. It was cold and fresh and delicious. My dad told me that we he was growing up in Florida he could walk outside and pick fresh oranges—now I know what this feels and tastes like.
It was so restfully quiet on the trail. The sea itself was as flat and unperturbed as a pond. The ocean-roar came from the swish of the wind behind us as it jostled the needles of short shore-side green pine trees and tossed the soft creamy fronds of the tall reeds. The ocean was silent, stirred only by gentle currents underneath the surface. We saw several haenyeo at work, their signature orange floats bobbing a hundred meters or more from shore. At one point, a round sweet faced woman wearing an old fashioned bonnet tied under her chin and a thick black rubber diving suit passed us on a motorbike. Many of these ladies are middle-aged, even elderly, but they still pick their way deftly across the rocks and wade into the water with their knives and nets to pull food from the sea.

Although there are (exceptionally clean) public toilets along the olle trail (the ones by the sea are programmed to play classical music from the moment you open the door to go in), as was to be expected, the nearest ladies’ room after the lunch location was packed. Albert graciously kept an eye out for alternatives, and we happened upon a building that was being renovated into a café. There was a vintage white Jaguar parked out front, and the owner cheerfully allowed me to used the men’s room, which alone probably cost more than my apartment. Such nice fixtures. And a choice of hand soap. In the café, I spotted an exquisite carved oak breakfront cabinet set with beveled glass mirrors and commented on it. The owner had lived in California until 2003 (apparently he’d done well there, or after, since besides the car, the bathroom, and the cabinet there was a shiny big Harley, with custom saddlebags, parked inside near the bar), and he and I chatted for a while. The guys admired an old German Army helmet (it looked almost exactly like my Swiss Army helmet, but this was actually from World War II), and I noticed the set of three heavy grey metal and glass nautical lanterns, which the owner casually admitted to having had imported from a dealer in England (there are cheaper, less attractive versions on 1stdibs right now for a minimum of $750 each). The man must have money to burn. He did have a Georgia license plate on the wall, which with the other vintage accessories made me feel right at home—it looked a bit like one of the estate sales I sorely miss. He says he plans to open sometime before Christmas. I shall have to return once he does.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Spelling Bee

Today was the fall festival at my academy. For the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, there were a series of “Golden Bell” style group challenges after an individual winner spelling bee. The winner’s class was awarded points for the triumph, but as many were to be had by the class whose spelling-challenged members had spent the rest of the bee diligently making “Thankful Leaves”: construction paper maple leaves on which they had written things they were thankful for. The class that won the most points from these and the Bell tasks got boxes of Pepero as a prize. Pepero Day is November 11.

The seventh graders had a locked-room style series of challenges that involved logic and word puzzles and finding hidden clues. My girls (I was in charge of a subset of the seventh grade classes I have at test prep time) won a large pizza, which they consumed in about two minutes flat.

I had planned to go out with the rest of the teachers after work, but I had some time before the others finished and went home. And then, in classic middle-aged person fashion, I didn’t want to go out again once I had my shoes off, had supped on pieces of the second and third graders’ leftover Trader Joe’s gingerbread turkey kits (a visitor had brought them from the US for the occasion), and had done some editing. I have regretted not joining them since—I went to bed and slept for only three hours, then came awake and have been alert now for four. I had planned to go hiking tomorrow with my new coworker, but he forgot that his climbing instructor had already scheduled an early morning practice. However, some of my adult students also had asked me to go walking with them, so I messaged Albert about the late cancellation and asked if I could still join the group. We’ll see. He said it was “early.” How much so, I don’t know.

My student Jeff is resting up in a Seoul hospital. In typical American fashion, I was highly concerned about the hospitalization; after all, he does have pancreatic cancer! But my other students and Maxwell (to whose shop I rushed, thinking he might have more information) assured me that it was nothing serious, that he’d just overexerted himself—everyone expects him to be back here in a few days. Because Koreans work so hard, and have basic universal public healthcare, they don’t regard hospitalization as a big deal—nor is it that big an expense—but rather a fairly common recourse for exhaustion. It’s not that unusual, I gather, for people to check themselves in for a pajama-clad break from the daily hurly-burly. Of course, there are truly ill people in hospital, too. And given his diagnosis, I am surely not unreasonable in expressing worry about Jeff. Maxwell just listened to my disjointed jabbering with equanimity, fixed me a cup of thyme tea (which I immediately spilled, so he calmly brewed me another), and remarked in his usual unruffled way that in a recent text the patient had assured him he was fine and had used a smiling emoji, so he was truly OK.

My classes are changing slightly come Monday. I am going to be with the accelerated fifth graders again, trading in my slow group to the curriculum coordinator. The balance is shifting, too. Some days I will have seven teaching hours, others I will have only three. I hope I can rest well on the light days.

It’s finally gotten cool enough to justify a coat here, though I’ve been wearing one, and a scarf besides, for a couple of weeks just because it was the end of October, for crying out loud, so it ought to be cold! Certain sartorial standards must be observed. My cough and runny nose have mostly cleared, and my voice is no longer a growling bass. The gauges on my dehumidifiers and my own skin tell me that the water content of the air has dropped, and altogether the atmosphere is quite pleasant. The sunshine on these shorter days feels like a caress rather than a burning torch, and I’ve hung up both my parasols for the winter. But I have somehow, somewhere mislaid my hat, so I am in the process of searching for a new one.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Drawing A Blank

Recently, there have been many days when I wonder whether I am even barely competent in my teaching role, particularly when I am dealing with less gifted classes. As my mother pointed out, it takes a smart teacher to get through to duller students, and I've been despairing of my functional intelligence, as they seemed to absorb nothing, but instead gaze at me with glazed eyes in mute incomprehension. Then, there are other moments when, despite the gnashing of juvenile and early  adolescent teeth over worksheets and actual assignments (rather than games, which are much begged for), I know that some information, no matter how rudimentary, has trickled through the cracks in their carapaces of confusion and lodged itself in their brains.

And then there are the intense bouts of loneliness. It's finally occurred to me that June has been dealing with something along the same lines, but she has been much less vocal and demonstrative than I. She is a person who always puts others first, and is of a retiring nature, and so the extremity of her condition didn't filter quickly through my own thick cloud of self-absorption. I'm not sure what I can do to help, however--I've gone home every night this week and simply collapsed. Knocking back shots of Vitamin C drinks has only allowed me to cope so much with the waning daylight, cooler temperatures, and fresh serving of debilitating germs so kindly shared with me by my students.

On the other hand, there's nothing like sheer exhaustion and a bad cold to curb the romantic cravings of an old maid's heart. I just can't be bothered to walk over and admire Maxwell's rugged profile over a cup of tea. I'm just too tired. I've got two entries to compose for the academic publisher this weekend, and more to edit. My ears are stuffy and my nose is running. I'm pickled to the gills on NyQuil, and pushing through the school day (afternoon/evening?) is a one-hour-at-a-time pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps come-on-honey-you-got-this sort of effort.

A new little boy has joined my phonics class. We're all the way to STUV and he hadn't learned ABC as of Wednesday. However, he does seem to be an enthusiastic sort, and one of the precocious girls has taken it upon herself to mentor him, so he should be able to catch up in short order. I'm ready and willing to take advantage of peer-to-peer teaching when it's available and useful!

My adults continue to treat me with extreme kindness. One of the men went to Japan with his wife and brought me back a packet of cantaloupe-flavored KitKats. Surprisingly good. The whole class gave me a gift certificate to HomePlus for Chuseok, which was a boon as my dairy habit continues unabated. Roxanne went with me to the hospital Tuesday morning for more sleeping medication, which should see me through the short term, at least. I do wish I had someone to walk or hike with on a regular basis--June's been having some leg and foot pain, so she can't commit to excursions. Also (and I am sure that she feels similarly) it would be nice to have someone else to talk to.

More than a month ago, stinging from sticker shock from visiting the painting exhibition on Art Street, I went out and bought two drawing pads--what I can't afford, but can make, I ought to make. Both drawing pads are still in plastic on my desk, slowing sinking under successive layers of sediment: medicine bottles, makeup, half-dirty shirts, etc. I need to dig them out and actually use them for their intended purpose. Sunsets here have been stunning purple and orange affairs lately, with the palm trees silhouetted black against the darkening sky. And electric signs in foreign languages always enhance ordinary nighttime cityscapes.  Perhaps when I'm not craving a hot shower and soft sheets so earnestly, I will sit down and sketch. Meantime, I'm following June's advice and taking "pictures" with my brain, so that when I'm a little old lady who can't see properly, I can remember views that my aged eyeballs aren't able to register. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Health, Brain Fitness, and Hiking

My sole objection to my fancy liquid bath soap is that it strongly resembles the slurry of blood and fat that oozes into the pan when one is cooking a boneless skinless chicken breast. It’s a deep semitransluscent orange red, with a thick head of opaque pale yellow stuff floating on top, and though it smells divine and lathers richly, it looks disgusting when I squeeze it onto my bath sponge. And no, it’s not expired, and it’s also not made from animal products. Perhaps your average vegetarian wouldn’t make the connection, but it reminds the carnivorous me of the unpleasant pudge lurking underneath my own plucked chicken legs.

Maxwell got his cat neutered. I went into the shop for a cup of lavender tea Monday afternoon and was impressed how quickly he’d acted on my advice. I think the operation was harder for human than animal (as the small fuzzy beast was running around happily); June had spent two hours at the shop Saturday and later reported that Maxwell remarked how guilty he’d felt, as he would hate it if someone had done the same to him. “Is Maxwell going around peeing in the corners, fighting over lady cats, and fathering litters of street kittens that will either starve to death, get run over by cars, or be put down in the shelter?” I muttered rhetorically, though I do sympathize with his identification with his pet. One of my colleagues told me Jeju has the highest animal euthanasia rate in South Korea. Little Eduardo should have a much longer, healthier, and more peaceful life this way.

Employers can access health records of their workers (and applicants) here. It’s no wonder the suicide rate is astronomical, if you cannot quietly get help—getting treatment for mental issues hereabouts is much more taboo than in the US, where it is much more a cause for shame, social ostracism and legal restrictions than it ought to be. If you are not actively harming other people, your mental condition is nobody’s business, frankly, except those who care about and for you, who treat you like a human being even at those times when you may not be capable of treating yourself like one. I am grateful that my employers are not bothered by my medical situation, and in fact kindly released me from the obligation of attending the weekly faculty meeting today when I texted in about having a migraine. I slept for two hours, dosed up on aspirin, and felt completely refreshed, which made a huge difference in my afternoon classes. Last Friday, the end of a thoroughly sleep-deprived week, was left an unpleasant and quickly fading memory.

Saturday night I actually got a great night’s rest—but I had gone to extremes to tire myself out, hiking more than 12 miles on Hallasan’s Doneko Trail. According to my pedometer, I also climbed more than 100 stories’ worth of elevation – all rocks! Ed, the new teacher from Oregon, Nell, and her boyfriend and I got to the trail head at 9:15, and finally made it to another paved road where we hailed a taxi a little before sunset at 6. The weather was perfect—cool, no bugs (a fair number of large spiders had to be avoided, though, and we saw one short, thick-bodied snake with a pointed nose), and sunny. I will never go on a hike again without a trekking cane. It helped me so much—not only when clambering up steep hillsides, but also when I was staggering over random loose cobblestones that occasionally served as the trail. I walk like an inebriated salaryman on flat pavement, so I looked like a two-legged cat with severe cerebellar hypoplaysia on the uneven and unstable ground. Ed took some good and intensely colored pictures of our excursion—the whole day, we encountered a total of six other people, all heading in the opposite direction. The only noises were birdsong and the wind in the trees (whose leaves have only just begun to blush)...

And the sound of me embarrassing myself. I alleged it was Moses’s staff (it was Aaron’s—the brothers were together, but I got the rod owner wrong!) that swallowed the Egyptian magicians’ staffs (one of my companions was raised by a relative who was a Jehovah’s Witness, and he recalled the Old Testament stories; I’m ashamed that it had been so long since I’d read Exodus I got the detail wrong). At one juncture, Nell’s boyfriend mistook my description of his ancestral pirate with a cutlass between his teeth for a swashbuckling privateer with an “atlas” between his teeth. Which is a rather dissimilar image, and gives a new interpretation to the term “scurvy dog.” While we were sitting on the front steps of a brightly painted, but padlocked temple at the end of the trail, Nell became fascinated by the progress of a determined ant hauling the half-desiccated body of a worm across the paving stones. “There is nothing on earth that works harder than a Korean ant,” her sweetheart observed. It had almost reached its nest with its plunder in tow when when began descending the mountain. And at that point, the air was finally chilly enough to make the longjohns I’d been sweating in all day comfortable!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Case Of Miseries

Sometimes being alone just gets you right in the gut. Being tired doesn’t help matters. I’ve been coming home every night immediately after work, eating supper, taking a shower, and collapsing into bed. I’m still waking each morning feeling frazzled, as usually I have had a bout of insomnia in the wee hours. In addition to my teaching load (which resumes full force tomorrow morning) I’ve completed one editing assignment and am in the midst of another—far from overwhelming, these latter tasks have been a real psychological salve. Although there is nothing like hard work to prevent too much despondency, my whole outlook for the last week has been Decidedly Grim. My sixth graders shouldn’t have cause to discuss the possibility of their immediate northern neighbor and the US getting into an active nuclear exchange, for one. For another, despite the publisher’s having expressed his interest in the TMTF manuscript, there’s no assurance yet that it’s going to be accepted. And, finally, I haven’t received any subsequent indication that my last Friday evening’s suggestion about Scrabble playing was met with anything beyond perfunctory cordiality—if there were genuine interest, some message surely would have established an acceptable date and time. Given that I’ve been too tired to venture more than three blocks from my house for the past 4-5 days, this should be a relief, but I imagine that if I knew my company were craved, I might be able to gin up more energy!

If I ever get a book contract, I think I will probably greet it with the same enthusiasm with which typical people welcome a marriage proposal. The publisher I approached five weeks ago is still considering whether the manuscript is marketable. In the email I read today, he said I should hear something by December. I am earnestly praying that this effort won’t end with the literary equivalent of “he’s just not that into you.” If I cannot be lucky in love, I hope to be a successful writer. Frankly, it would be nice to find satisfaction in both areas, but no one’s beating down my door with offers.

I hope that the long hike planned for Saturday with Nell, her boyfriend, and June (provided her feet aren’t aching too sorely) will give me a fresh perspective and plenty of the exercise I’ve missed in the last fortnight. I walked 46 miles the week I was in Hong Kong, and I slept beautifully each night there. In the ten days since, I have walked less than 13 miles. This, too, may account for my despondent mood. I should also pray that I find a daily walking partner—I get bored wandering the same pattern of streets, and would venture farther afield only if I had someone to talk to.