Tuesday, January 30, 2018

You’re a Real Genius!

So apparently my brain, in order to save room for the many important things I need to know these days (like making sure Wyatt has two snacks in his bag on the days he has afterschool activities, or which dinosaur was the biggest, or what day I need to have Lilly at school at 6:45 because she has a volleyball tournament), absolutely refuses to retain information it deems unnecessary.  

Case in point: this past fall I was using the Memrise language app to practice my Korean, and things were going swimmingly as I learned to read, write, and say, “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Thanks” (a big difference actually), “Sorry” and “Welcome”.  Then, I’m not kidding, the next phrase I had to learn was, “You’re a real genius.”  I mean... is this really something Koreans say to each other often?  When are you going to use that?!?! 

My brain just wouldn’t let it in.  Arms crossed, “Anneyo.” (“No.”)

But as I once learned in Paris (when Vegetarian Joy ordered a big ol’ leg of lamb because  she hadn’t bothered to learn the words for meat in five years of studying French), even those words you think you’ll never use just might come in handy.  Yes, even a silly, snarky phrase like, "You're a real genius."  Because... my property manager.

If you’ve been reading this blog for at least a year, you’ll remember the story of how he proposed to solve the problem of my dysfunctional oven by putting a new one right in front of it.  In the middle of my narrow, galley kitchen.  When I had a one-year-old.  So many bad ideas wrapped into one terrible package.

This is who we went to with our newest problem.  Actually, it’s not “new” because it also happened last winter, but it seems we either have really cheap glass in all our windows or they weren’t properly installed.  When the temperature gets to around freezing or below, the condensation on the inside of the glass is completely out of hand.  Forget being able to see out of them as there are waterfalls of moisture pouring down, forming pools on the windowsills.  On particularly cold nights, I’ve woken up to the sound of running water in our bedroom and realized it was condensation on the upper sill flowing onto the lower.  If the water was ever shut off, we could probably survive on what forms on our windows.

I’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time morning and night drying off our windows with towels — and remember how I don’t have a dryer? — but the real problem is that I can see mold growing under the wallpaper because of moisture I can’t get to. I’m terribly allergic to mold. 

So we brought it up with the property manager.  Well, except that he was out of the country and couldn’t be reached.  (This actually happens most of the time when we have maintenance issues.)  When he was finally back in town, he explained to me what condensation was.  Exasperated, I told him I had learned that in third grade and sent him pictures I’d taken after cleaning the windows while waiting for my towels (and the laundry for the six of us) to dry on our rack.  

Finally as I was putting the kids to bed one night a couple weeks ago (impeccable timing, always), he called and announced that he was sending someone over to clean the windows (which I assumed meant the mold) for me.  The woman would come the next morning at ten.

Now... When I’m taking on a big cleaning task, especially if mold is involved, I wear yoga pants (the ones with the bleach spots from that time the kids had the stomach flu) and an old, holey tank top. My hair is in a messy bun — the kind that actually looks messy, not cute — and makeup is nonexistent.  I’m there to get the job done, and if I get dirty in the process, well, that’s what soap and hot water were made for.  It’s not a pretty picture.

When I opened the door that morning, though, I found a smiling woman in her sixties, her hair perfectly coiffed and makeup flawless.  She had a trim figure and wore tight, faux-leather pants, high-heeled boots and a fur-trimmed coat.  There were no supplies with her, just a purse casually slung over a shoulder.  I looked behind her into the hallway, concerned that this was not the person I was expecting till she said, “Clean?”

More promising.  

I welcomed her in with a smile and bow, but then she rattled off a string of Korean I couldn’t hope to understand.  So we stood staring at each other and smiling awkwardly for a long moment until I got my phone with its Google Translate app and pulled up the Hangul keyboard.  She looked at it, then shook her head, saying a whole lot more.  I had no idea what to do.  As I stood there trying to figure it out, she went to my sink, pulled Annalee’s Minnie Mouse cup out of the drain rack and went over to our water dispenser.  Before I could offer a nicer mug (I have many), she filled the cup with hot water and as I stared in bewilderment, whipped a packet of instant coffee out of her purse, dumped the whole thing in the cup and downed it like she was taking a shot.

At this point I texted Matt, “This just keeps getting weirder”.  

But then!  She grabbed the two washcloths I use on the dishes off the sink and headed to the windows with them! That was not going to work at all, so I ran to grab my big stack of “cleaning the windows” towels and handed them to her, the whole time thinking, She’s going to use my things to clean?! Call me crazy, but I just thought that when someone cleans for you, they bring their own supplies.    

She wiped every single window down from the tippy-top down.  But she didn’t address the mold issue at all.  When she was done, she came up to me with an open palm and said, “50,000 won.”  (About $50). 

My eyes almost fell out of my head.  Please don’t get me wrong: she had worked and should be paid, but I was under the impression that my property manager was paying her.

“Um, just a moment,” I said with a smile frozen on my face and grabbed my phone.  “The cleaning woman thinks I’m going to pay,” I told the manager.

He chuckled.  “Yes, you pay.” 
I kind of gasped.  “Excuse me?!!!  I pay?!!!”

“Yes,” he said, “you need windows clean, I call her, you pay.”

So then... My head almost exploded.  “She didn’t take care of the problem!!!!  She just did what I do twice a day — for FREE!!!  I didn’t ask you to send a cleaning woman!!! I just want the mold GONE and the windows FIXED!!!!”

He laughed again.  I know sometimes people laugh when they’re nervous.  This sure felt like he was laughing at me, though.  But if he was nervous, he had good reason to be, especially the longer he laughed.  Lucky for him, it’s not yet possible to punch a person through the phone.  “Okay, bye!” he said, then *click*.  He hung up.

If there is one thing I hate (come to find out), it’s when someone hires a person to do a job I do for free and then asks me to pay.  But if there’s one thing I hate more, it’s when I’m laughed at for someone else’s idiocy.  And if there’s anything I hate even more than both those things, it’s when I’m hung up on.

I discovered just how fast I can thumb-type as I sent the man a flurry of furious texts, ending with, “If I pay this woman, you WILL fully reimburse me.”  Finally, he conceded.  

Within an hour of her departure, the windows were fogging up again. 

This might sound melodramatic, but I actually cried.

But desperation to maintain a smidge of his wife’s sanity led Matt to buy a dehumidifier.  I had protested it wouldn't work because this only happens at certain temperatures, but he put his foot -- and money -- down. It doesn’t completely solve the problem, but it’s also not like Niagara Falls any more.  And to my happy surprise, the laundry dries much faster.  I’ve been able to dry two whole loads a day!  Sometimes even one more at night!  This. is. HUGE. At least my towels are dry again each time I have to climb up to clean off the windows! 

Also, I’m thinking I'll take a cue from the cleaning woman and spiff myself up a bit as I climb up to dry the glass again... and again... and again.  Make it more of an occasion, right?  

Matt and I aren’t calling our property manager with any problems because we’re frankly afraid of his harebrained solutions.  Clogged sink?  Closet door off its hinges? Broken light fixture?  A barbershop quartet will be there at ten in the morning to sing your troubles away.  Bonus: you get to pay them!!! 

But I’m thinking, that was his plan all along!  Maybe he was tired of having to do this property management thing (but not tired of the money!), and this was the perfect solution to get us off his back.  

Anyway, I guess it’s time to learn dust off that phrase and pack it into my brain so I can say it to him: You, sir, are a real genius.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Being Touristy: Taejongdae 

I’m just going to be completely honest here: January is not an easy month.  Here in the “warm” southern tip of Korea, it’s absolutely freezing.  I mean, today, I woke up to a chilly 16 F with a “feels like” temp of 6 F.  I would love to just hibernate till March.  

But the thing about crazy cold January temps is that when, on a weekend morning, you see that it will be 40-something F with no wind chill factor, you hear yourself saying to your husband, “Hey, honey, it’s going to be nice today.  Let’s go somewhere.”  And he would probably rather stay in and introvert and watch movies and what have you, but because he loves you (and you have to admit he was kind of spot-on that time he said you’re like a puppy that needs to be walked), he says, “Okay, where do you want to go?”

And the funny thing is, you know exactly where: Taejongdae.

After our overnight excursions in November and December left us feeling, well, at the very least sleep-deprived and somewhat jaded, we decided that maybe it would be best to take only day trips for a while. (**We did take a quick trip to Seoul at the end of December, but we stayed again at Dragon Hill Lodge and kind of just vegged out.  It was nice, even without karaoke in our room.**). And the the thing I’ve noticed now that I’ve lived in several touristy places (Spain, Hawaii, Monterey) is that it’s easy to miss going to the closest sites because you find yourself thinking, Oh that’s right here in town.  We’ll get to it.  Then you never do.

Taejongdae is a beautiful park in Busan with lots of scenic trails and vistas, a lighthouse, and a tram that will take you around a lovely loop if you don’t feel like walking.  I had heard about what a great destination it was, and I knew it wasn’t that far because I’d seen lots of signs for it. We loaded up the kids (Skyler didn’t go because she was doing homework, and Jayna had already returned to California) and left quickly.  

We got to the parking area fairly easily and headed up the hill to the trams.  The kids were, as expected, super excited to take a ride on one.  I started wondering what kind of wild ride it would be when I saw this sign while in line for tickets, 
but it was quite tame, much safer than the average taxi ride here.   
There is a wide sidewalk that runs along the road, though, and Matt and I thought that maybe sometime we could go for a hike/walk there just the two of us.  There were steep pine-covered hills and views of rocky beaches.  Glimpses of the water made me realize just how busy of a port city Busan is.  I mean, I see ships coming in from my apartment, but to see so many out in the water gave me a new perspective.

We got off the tram at the observation point where we found a little cafe and — because Korea — a convenience store.  Koreans LOVE their convenience stores, and now I do as well. There was also a clearly-marked bathroom; this sign says “This is the toilet” in case the drawings of stick figure man and woman doing The Pee Pee Dance didn’t clue you in.  You know I can appreciate this, and if you thought this was too classy a blog for me to take a picture in front of it, well, I’m sorry (and you probably haven't read that many posts).

We walked to the lighthouse, and then climbed up it, enjoying the views of the rocky shorelines with crashing waves.  

Wyatt told me again how he wanted to live in a lighthouse someday. *sigh* Don’t we all, buddy? 

 I wanted to walk down below the lighthouse to a traditional picnicking area, 

but we decided we should probably be starting home for lunch.  We paused to take in the views along the way, though, then got back on the tram to the entrance.  
Near the parking lot, there was also a memorial dedicated to those who had provided medical assistance during the war.
Though their expressions might not fully convey it, the kids loved it and want to go back.

Matt and I do too, for sure.  I think it will be even more beautiful once it warms up and everything turns green again.  There were benches under pavilions that had wisteria vines twisting up over them, and as much as I honestly try to live in the moment, I couldn’t help picturing what that would look like in, for instance, May.

But it was the perfect excursion for that day.  We came home happy with what we’d seen and inspired to see more.  There was still plenty of time to do other things and relax, so I was glad I’d pushed to be a tourist in the city we live in.

{How about you?  Are there local sights that you haven’t seen yet but keep meaning to? Or a favorite place to visit not far from where you live?  Please share in the comments!}

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Good Look Around: 2017

Do you make resolutions?  I actually can’t even remember the last time I made one.  But that’s not to say I don’t take a good assessment at the end of a year and think about what I did well — and what I could definitely do better.  

What a year it’s been.  I started it out pretty low, still trying to figure out life in a vastly different country after having to deal with lots of illness for our first four months here.  But I think I learned a lot.  I didn’t do everything I wanted to (hello, still-mostly-unwritten book), but in other ways I did more than I expected to.  I sent my first baby off to college and survived my first three months of having my heart not just living outside my body but across a vast ocean.  I explored more of this beautiful country, even if it wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped.  I stretched a lot as a mother, I think, in ways that are way too complicated to write in this post.

But, if you’re curious, read on as I take a look around, looking back to see what I did well in 2017, admitting what I didn’t do well, and what I’m thinking for 2018.

Let’s get the low parts out first. 

— I did not learn much Korean.  I’ve tried so many methods now.  It’s a tough language, and I’m not the only one who thinks so.  But I did learn some!  (And learned more about how to communicate beyond language — ha!). Seriously, the Hangeul letters I can read (which is to say, not that many) (and when I do read them, there is an excellent chance I don’t know what the words mean) feel like a HUGE victory.  Every time I can pick a word or two out of what I hear I around me, I want to happy dance.  

Goals for 2018: learn more Korean.  My friend recently told me about her niece that just visited.  This girl (granted, a high schooler who does not have five kids) taught herself Korean in 5 months using the internet and a Korean dictionary!  Until I’m on a plane leaving this country for good, I will try to learn Korean.

— I did not do as well as I planned with this blog.  I had hoped to write at least twice as many blog posts as last year, and I think I wrote, actually, fewer posts.  There are a lot of reasons for this, and many of them are good.  But most had to do with just not making writing a priority.  Everything else comes first.  I think that’s probably right for this point in my life and what I want for my family, but honestly, it’s also too easy to use what free time I do have to just space out with social media.  And also honestly (to the point that I’m squirming as I write this), writing is this weird thing.  There are things I want to say, and conversations I want to have through writing, but I still and always will wrestle with if I should say them.  I know I’ve talked about this before, but I write more than I post.  I question whether it’s stupid, or too embarrassing, etc., and then I just completely freeze up. And you don’t hear from me for months.

Sooooo... in 2018, I really want to push past that.  I don’t typically think of myself as a timid person.  When I’m talking to my kids about confidence, I sound like the most confident person in the world, the one with alllllll the answers.  And truly, I’m just as scared as they are.  But I want to try harder not to talk myself out of the things that scare me. 

— One thing I think I did pretty well this year: I read. In fact, I read 25 books just for myself, as well as reading 7 chapter books to my kids.  I wish the latter number was higher, but darn it, if my kids would just listen better when I said, “Time for bed!”!!!!  I do read picture books to the little ones every night.  But one of my goals for 2018 is to get the kids to bed earlier so I can read more chapter books to them. And to read more myself! I'm shooting for 30 books for myself this year and 10 kids' chapter books.

 — Healthwise, I also think I did well.  I managed to work out five times a week every week this year, even when we were traveling last summer.  I did a variety of workouts and a couple personal  fitness challenges.  I feel strong and healthy, even if I could probably do better cutting out sweets.

Still, my health goals for 2018 are to do just that (healthier snacking, etc.) and also to start working out earlier in the morning, so I can free up my day a little more.

— Here's the bottom line: I want 2018 to be a year that I spend wisely.  I want to make better choices about the way I spend money and time.  I read this great essay about prayer that inspired me in many ways.  I love the three words, “Make It Count”.  I think that sums up my thoughts for this year and every year.  I want what I do to count, the good and the bad times.  The things that I want and the things that I’m never going to get.  The moments I have to spend with my family and friends.  The conversations I have here on my blog (even if they're a little silly/ lighthearted) and in person. This is my biggest goal for the year, to make it count.

How about you? What are you working toward?  What are your goals for the year?  What fears are you fighting? What are you doing well?  I would love to hear from you in the comments!