Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Our Epic Night in Vegas

You’ve probably seen that survey going around Facebook recently where you list ten things you don’t like that other people seem crazy about.  Here are a few that would be on my list.

  1. Beer. Gross.
  2. Chickens.  I just do not understand the whole keeping chickens thing at all.  Their creepy, scaly feet and wobbly combs give me the heebie jeebies.  When I was growing up in Bangladesh, I was around chickens frequently (though we never had any), and I was permanently scarred by how disgusting and stupid they are.  I mean, one chicken poops, and another comes along and pecks at its poop looking for, I don’t know, food?  No thank you!  As an adult, I’ve had many friends who keep them, and even the biggest fans have told me chicken dramas that assure me that I don’t need them in my life.  My favorite story is of a chick that was supposed to be a hen turning out to be a rooster.  The best part is, they’d named him “Princess,” and Princess had a murderous nature, chasing the family out of their own beautiful yard, and raining terror on the UPS guy.  Other friends have told me about broody hens who ate their own eggs, and then they had to do intervention and some sort of chicken therapy.  Who has time for this?!?!  NO.  Just no.
  3. Las Vegas.

Oooh, I know at least half of you reading are already mad at me, yelling at your screens, “HOW DARE YOU?!”  Some are probably rolling your eyes, maybe calling me Debbie Downer or the fun police. But I’m begging you to just hear (er, read?) me out for a second.

I’ve disliked Vegas since my first memory of it.  We stopped for lunch at some big casino there on a cross-country road trip when I was ten, and it was so gaudy and depressing, it seemed to color the actual air.  I kept trying to give it another chance at intervals through the years, but I’ve never been able shake the initial impression that everything is a cheap copy of a much better original.  All is for sale but worth nothing.

Despite my severe dislike for the place, we ended up there for one, unforgettable night.  It was the summer we moved to Korea, when I put 6,000 miles on our rental car.  We had promised our kids a day at a water park as part of the trip, and to be fair, Vegas had a pretty cool one.  It was sort of our final hurrah before I dropped off Matt in Los Angeles, so that he could fly to the East Coast for his training while the kids and I continued our adventures.  

If I recall correctly, it was 112 degrees Fahrenheit that day.  I opted out of the water park with Annalee because I wasn’t sure what they had for little ones, and I sure didn’t want to spend the day baking in the sun.  Instead, she and I shopped a little and had lunch, then picked the others up in the afternoon.  I wanted to keep driving, but Matt and the others were tired, so I gave in and we got a hotel for the night.  I don’t remember if it was Hotwire or Priceline, but we used one of the websites where you don’t know quite what you’re getting until you have it and booked two rooms.  

It was a hotel we hadn’t heard of, so we followed the GPS directions into the city.  We could see the famous hotels and off sort of away from them was this hotel standing tall into the sky, adorned with an enormous — and I mean, truly, several stories high and several rooms wide — picture of a woman’s bare legs lifted skyward, playfully kicking off a pair of red high heels.  

“Classy,” I remarked, and Matt half-joked, “Watch, I bet that’s our hotel.”  He was right.

Oh, but it kept getting better.  

The parking garage was one of the most stressful we had parked in prior to Korea.  We finally got inside the hotel and checked in by a row slot machines, thereupon discovering that our rooms were several floors apart.  Slightly annoyed already, we piled all seven of us into an elevator with a few other people, and punched in the numbers for the floors.  What followed was an elevator ride so terrifying it could have been an amusement park attraction.  It slowly shimmied its way up the building, shaking so violently at intervals and — I’m not exaggerating — bouncing till we gasped and clutched the hand rails, and one woman in the elevator even screamed a little.  We decided to all get out at the floor with the first room, and somehow we lost the gumption to split up and go further on the Elevator of Doom to the second room.  Exhausted, everyone fell asleep early watching some stupid show on one of the two channels we had, either on the floor (I know, gross) or piled into one of the two full-size beds.  That’s right, seven of us.

Around midnight, our room began to literally throb with the music of some Bon Jovi cover band that was apparently doing a concert right outside the hotel.  The overpriced bottles of water we hadn’t touched that stood on the dresser with a couple of glasses were actually shaking, and the frames of the pictures on the walls bounced merrily to the beat.  I heard Matt sigh in annoyance, and I knew I didn’t have to tell him how thoroughly unhappy I was.

After a few minutes of this, one of our kids sat up with a gasp.

“Guys! Do you hear that?”

“No, what?” Matt asked dryly.

“That music!”

“What music?” He deadpanned.  

“You seriously don’t hear it?” She sounded panicked.

I snorted and burst out laughing.  “Honey,” I said when I could finally breathe again.  “How could we not hear it?  It’s shaking our beds.”  

“Oh,” she lay back down.  “I thought maybe Jesus was coming, and you were going to be left behind.”  

Okay.  Sometimes people in our family have been known to say or do crazy things while waking up from an especially deep sleep.  But this one kind of took the cake.  Left behind?!  Why???  Maybe because we were with our five kids in a hotel in Vegas with a giant pair of bare legs on the outside??!!

Also worth mentioning, I’m still trying to decide if I should be concerned that she thought Jesus would return rocking to a Bon Jovi soundtrack instead of the trumpets they talk about in the Bible.  Let’s just be honest here, Bon Jovi is pretty good music.

Anyway, the concert lasted till about 2 am, and we finally got back to sleep for a while.  Before leaving, we warned the kids to make sure they had everything in their suitcases because there was no way we were braving the elevators to come back to the room.  They obeyed, and we made it out alive — and grateful.

Last summer, I was clearing out an old suitcase we’d used on that trip but not since then and found the “Do Not Disturb” door hanger above tucked away in it, as pictured above.  Yep, that’s the actual hanger.  Of the hotel that we took our kids to.  The party sure was epic.  Oh yes, it was.  

Anyway, I can’t claim this story has an important point to it, except for maybe this.  Maybe today you’re feeling drained as a parent, like you’re screwing up left and right.  But take heart: if you didn’t take your kids to a hotel with some lady’s legs emblazoned all over them, how bad can you be? 

And also, maybe being at home isn’t so bad.  At least if you’re not in Vegas. ;-)


Further reading, if you’re interested:

— More armchair travel, from my childhood, when my dad took us to an almost-warzone: Shangri-La

— More about my fear and dislike of birds in general (it’s not just chickens): For the Birds.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

5 Good Books for Bad News Days

It goes without saying that there’s to be an awful lot of bad news right now.  A sort of rule about blogs is that each post should have an accompanying picture, which has always been an interesting challenge for me (causing me to come up with the “silly selfie” theme as seen in posts like the story about the bear or my challenges with my property manager in Busan).  I was thinking hard about what picture should accompany today’s post, when I came across this headline from the San Diego Union-Tribune  “No toilet paper was just the beginning.”  I just... I mean... I have no words.

A horrible tornado struck a city I love and have family in two weeks ago, there’s a virus spreading around the world that has affected the way I’m living right now and probably you as well, politics are dividing people and breeding anger and hatred, and stores are selling out of toilet paper.(?!?!)  And that’s not even talking about “every day” sorts of bad news and stressors we might be facing on a personal level, like losing a job, facing a big move, or having a scary health diagnosis.  

Here, though, are five good books that are sort of literary antidotes for the bad news days.  I won’t pretend these books can fix all the problems for you.  But what they will do is provide you with some good insight, helpful tips, and humorous perspectives for whatever comes next.  While I preface each one with a specific scary scenario, I also think they’re just plain great reads any ol’ time.  

{Note: These are affiliate links, and if you purchase through these links, I may receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you.  See my full disclosure here.}

When you face a scary diagnosis: 

Little Victories: A Sportswriter’s Notes on Winning at Life by Jason Gay

From the Wall Street Journal’s popular sports columnist comes this collection of inspiring narratives that tell of his own battle with cancer, as well as his father’s.  He also shares openly the infertility struggle in his own marriage.  All this might sound oppressive, and definitely could be in the hands of another author.  But Gay manages a healthy degree of levity and optimism that keeps you laughing more than you’d expect while still being honest enough to bring you to tears at times.  

Even if you’re not reading this after some bad health news, Little Victories has truly excellent stories, plus some fantastic words of encouragement about losing your job.  And I strongly feel that every. single. parent. out. there should read his letter to his imaginary Little League team.  My goodness.  It’s so good. I was driving while listening to it, and I wanted to stand up in my seat and cheer.

When you’re chosen to give a big speech (or you realize you’re just not communicating well):

Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo

Okay, I’m just going to be completely honest here and tell you that giving a big speech doesn’t scare me at all.  In fact, I’d be perfectly happy to.  But I know many people find the thought of giving a speech to be utterly terrifying.  So let’s say you find out you have to give a huge presentation at work, or a speech on something, and you’re waking up in cold sweats at the mere thought of it…

Or like me, you picked this book because you’ve had too many of those moments where you wonder how the other person could have possibly gotten what you thought you were saying so completely wrong…

In my opinion, this is a book everyone should read.  I was telling Jayna (my college student daughter, in case you’re new here) about this book, and she said, “Oh yeah, that was one of my texts for my general ed communications class.”  I was so happy to hear this because I knew for sure that she would be leaving college with at least some very practical knowledge applicable to so many different situations — definitely not just giving a speech!

There’s so much good stuff in this book, but one fascinating takeaway for me was that the perfect length of time for an effective speech is 18 minutes.  This is something I have long believed, being a girl who grew up going to church — actually, many different churches all over the place — and thinking, “This could be said better in a lot less time.”  My granddad was a Navy chaplain and then a chaplain for the California Youth Authority, and both are places where chapel is allotted a very strict amount of time.  You can’t just pontificate endlessly.  He always said that if you can’t say what you need to say in 25 minutes, you’re saying it wrong.  Turns out he was mostly right! (Just seven minutes off.)  There is, in fact, an entire science to it!  Less truly is more.

When the world just looks entirely too divided and angry:

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines

Okay, another moment of honesty here: I really did not have high expectations for this book.  I checked it out because the book I was waiting for had not come in, but I have since purchased it because I was very happily surprised by how good it was.  Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always liked Chip Gaines.  Who doesn’t, right?!  He’s funny, silly, down-to-earth.  I just thought it would kind of be a lot of goofiness and not so much substance.  Chip Gaines, if you ever happen to read this, I’m sorry!  

What I found though was so much real heart in his writing, and a man driven not by net profits and quarterly earnings but a deep and genuine care for community.  His vision that started in his hometown of Waco — which, as he mentions, was mostly known for the Branch Davidian craziness in the early 90’s, though he also mentions that wasn’t actually in Waco — is his vision for everyone, coming to the table, talking, learning about and loving each other despite our differences.  I realized through reading this book that his business is really more of a mission, and when I finished it, I felt hopeful and optimistic.  (Ummm… Chip Gaines for president?  Yes?)

Fun bonus: the true stories from people who have worked for him.  

When you’re facing a big move (or not loving where you live):

This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are by Melody Warnick

I would put this on my list of top ten books for every military spouse, but everyone could benefit from reading it.  Melody Warnick describes a life very similar to mine, where she moved frequently for her husband’s job.  With every move, she believed she’d found the magic place that would finally make her happy.  But it wouldn’t take long for her to feel jaded and/ or bored and start looking for the next place.  

Finally, the author realized it was time to quit this kind of thinking and figure out what it takes to be happy in a place.  She began to research what was supposed to increase satisfaction with place and implement what she found in her own life.  To that end, there are chapters on buying locally, walking more, taking an active role in local politics, getting to actually know your neighbors, and so much more.  As Warnick did this, she began to feel a growing connection to where she lived instead of an eagerness to leave it.  

I’ve definitely been trying to apply this book to my own life, and reflecting on my many (many!) moves, I could see how times I’d implemented certain strategies helped.  While I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here, I know beyond a shadow of doubt that there’s a lot I will miss when we move. 

When you’re fired from your job (or contemplating a big career change):

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff

Okay, it might sound a little funny that I read this book since I don’t have a career in the sense of trying to get promoted or climb any kind of ladder.  Sure, there are times when I’m sure my kids would like to fire me or have a few thoughts about my job performance!  But I read it thinking mostly of this blog, and things I could do better.  

The information in this book, though, was applicable to so many different areas of life.  The pages are peppered with humorous and interesting anecdotes and illustrations.  And, while I personally am not facing a job change, I think Acuff’s entertaining writing would be extremely welcome to anyone in a stressful situation of that sort.  Also… this might sound weird… but I could think of specific people who truly need to read this book.  As in, I might even go so far as to say, “I think God wants you to read this book,” even though I usually stay far away from statements like that.  


Most of us have some extra time to read right now, so why not pick up all these books?!

Interested in more book recommendations?  Try:

3 Great Books for Hard Days

It’s Okay to Cry: 10 Kids’ Books to Make You Weep (don’t worry, it’ll be a cathartic, “good cry”!)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Our “New Normal”: Life in Korea During the Coronavirus Outbreak

When I was ten years old, there was a huge flood.  We lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh at the time and though it was the country of my birth, I had never seen anything quite like it.  Sure, Bangladesh flooded pretty much every year.  It’s a very flat land, with rivers cutting through it that are fed by snowmelt from the Himalayas.  The annual monsoons coincide with that melting snow, so the rivers flood and cover much of the country.

But this flood was very different.  Almost no rain accompanied it.  There was just this gigantic mass of water growing every day, creeping ever closer.  It was at the airport, then it was coming down the main highway into town, then it was into our neighborhood, at the crossroad to our street, then inching down the street, then at our neighbors’ house.  

And then it was at our driveway.  Like a strange, living creature, we watched it under a clear night sky, the moon’s reflection on its surface gleaming like mercury as it seeped under the gate.  We stood for several minutes with wide eyes, wondering how far it would come.  Mom told us it was time for bed, but it was hard to fall asleep not knowing what we would wake up to.  

I keep thinking of that flood, as strange as it may sound, as I read the news about the novel coronavirus or COVID-19.  We first heard about it around New Year as it started to affect Wuhan, China, and it’s been inching closer.  Last week, messages started coming in from friends and family: “Are you guys okay?”  We were fine, we told them truthfully, and Daegu is about three hours from where we live near Camp Humphreys.  

My friends in Busan started experiencing shutdowns from the virus after cases were discovered there.  One reported her neighborhood grocery store being cleared out of produce, eggs, and meat.  The school my kids attended when we lived there went on “early spring break.”  I started feeling like that ten-year-old girl again, watching as the floodwater got closer with nothing to hold it back.

It’s not that I’m overly scared of the virus, not for the lives of my direct family — at least, not any more than I fear the flu or even the stomach flu which has sent us to the hospital a couple times.  I hesitate to say anything because there’s a lot of unknown, and I completely understand fearing the unknown.  But based on what I see in statistics, I don’t see a reason to panic.  We aren’t smokers and don’t really have underlying health issues.  I am concerned for those who are immunocompromised or have pre-existing conditions, or live in places with poor medical care.

If I end up wrong and my family does get really sick, please don’t send hate mail or “I told you so” ’s.  My perspective may be skewed by the fact that I grew up with the occasional cobra in my house.  

But also bear in mind, I’ve been through some pretty crazy stuff during my time here in Korea — like two strong earthquakes and a trip to the ER with my very sick son all within 48 hours my first month here, or the shenanigans of our neighbors to the north.  Plus, my family has teased me for years about my hand washing and sanitizing habits that are probably borderline OCD, and now my anxious habit is supposed to be the best method for prevention.

What I do find genuinely alarming is the fear pandemic, the rage and ugly comments on Facebook (especially if someone suggests remaining calm), and the barrage of panic-inducing headlines that  all but scream, “HOW DARE YOU NOT FREAK OUT?!?” 

On Sunday, we went to church, joking about how brave we were for going, but things were still mostly normal.  We skipped the hand-shaking part, where we are supposed to greet those around us, but to be honest, I don’t think most people missed it.  One of my friends told me that some services on post were canceled already, so we were lucky to be there.  We sang songs like “Eye of the Storm,” “It Is Well,” and “Good, Good Father.”  The worship leader picked them weeks ago, but they were perfect given what was on all our minds.   

After finishing the last song of the second service, I said to the rest of the music team, “I hope we’re all here again next week.”  I called Matt (who goes home with the kids after the first service) to say that I’d stop by the commissary to pick up groceries.  “I’m low-key apocalypse shopping,” I joked, but before I left post, I also made sure the car had a full tank of gas.  

All through Monday, I saw angry comments on local Facebook pages from family members, all but demanding that schools be shut down.  That afternoon, I picked up Skyler for an orthodontist appointment.  “They’re saying school will be cancelled by the end of the week,” she said as we drove away from the high school.  I wasn’t surprised, but had that same feeling as I did watching the water. 

Matt came home a few minutes before six, telling me that the garrison commander (GC) was about to do a townhall meeting on Facebook, and I should probably watch.  

What followed was an outline of the “new normal” for everyone here.  I don’t know exactly what to call it — a sort of lockdown/ quarantine/ health curfew kind of thing?  Soldiers can’t go off-post to any of the restaurants or bars in the area, and families are discouraged from it as well besides getting takeout.  No social gatherings of more than 20 people.  Schools are closed base wide with virtual classes starting, and all kids’ activities canceled. 

Canceled?”  Lilly repeated when she heard, a look of panic on her face.  She loves her rock climbing, parkour, and gymnastics classes so much. I nodded.  “For how long?!”  

“Well, this week for sure…” I didn’t know what else to say.  I didn’t want to tell her that this could go on for a while.

Tuesday, I was dreaming about snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef when Matt’s alarm went off.  My eyes opened, and I heard rain falling.  The warm, turquoise water of my dreams was replaced by blankets and a dreary February day.  

“I was having such a nice dream…” I said, closing my eyes again, wishing it back.  I felt a certain sadness, thinking of the contrast between my dream and reality, and our spring break in Thailand that we’ve already bought plane tickets for, wondering if that would even happen now.  

Matt leaned over and kissed me, saying, “Well, I guess you don’t have to get up.  Nothing to rush off to.”  So I lay there for a while, thinking about the contrast to my usual Tuesday which is such an extremely busy day for me, I often have to grab Taco Bell from the food court on base to feed my kids dinner as we dash from one activity to the next. 

The day felt a little odd, like one of those times you’re in a place where you know you don’t belong.  Since Lilly, Wyatt, and Annalee homeschool, it wasn’t that different than normal, other than the pleasant addition of Skyler, but I kept feeling like I needed to go somewhere.  Instead when our work was finished, we made popcorn and watched an old black-and-white movie.  It wasn’t a bad day, but not one I wanted to repeat over and over without knowing when it would end, like a weird Groundhog Day.

We had more news by the end of the day: the garrison commander cancelled church — but we were expecting that.  Then a friend who lives in Hong Kong and has been dealing with this version of living for a few weeks already announced on Facebook that her kids’ school informed them they would continue virtual schooling until April 20th.  April 20th?!?!

Again, the floodwaters.  It was hard not to feel anxiety about the rapid changes and how long they might last.  

As I put the kids to bed, I read them their Bible story for the night.  It was about Jonah and the plant.  Most people who ever went to Sunday school know about Jonah and the big fish (or whale) that swallowed him whole.  But Sunday school never spent a lot of time on the plant.  Basically, Jonah’s all mad because God doesn’t bring hellfire and brimstone to Nineveh, and he goes out to the desert to sulk.  God causes a plant to grow quickly and provide shade from the extreme heat, which of course makes Jonah pretty happy, and then the next day sends a worm to eat it.  Jonah gets all angry at God and says he might as well just die, but God reminds Jonah that he’s not the one who grew the plant; in fact he had nothing to do with it.  Our chaplain preached on this last summer, and I’ve thought about it often — how I never hesitate to claim and enjoy God’s good gifts in my life, but when things get hard I get rant and rage and panic.  

I stared down at the page in front of me, thinking of the tight feeling in my chest, thinking it was funny that this would be the story we would read this particular night.  Most Tuesdays, I’m exhausted by bedtime from a day of mad rushing around.  Instead of panicking about what I felt like I was losing, I could be grateful for quiet day of family time.  I realized I needed to change my heart a little — or a lot.

Here’s what I know: I have an awful lot to be thankful for right now.  

  1. We are healthy — maybe the healthiest we’ve been all winter.  That’s a gift I don’t want to take for granted even though it’s ironic that at our healthiest we can go almost nowhere.
  2. We are together, and together is my favorite.  Jayna is at college, and all this does make me wonder more when we will see her again.  But six of us are here, with our very entertaining dogs.
  3. We are being taken care of.  The GC and other administrative staff here in Korea have an unenviable job right now, trying to keep panic at a minimum and sanity at a maximum while also mitigating risk to a huge group of people.  But they’re actually doing it pretty well, I think. 
  4. There’s a whole lot more — like a cozy home out in the country so that we can go outside without close contact with crowds (since that’s a concern) and a commissary nearby that is staying well-stocked despite the fears.

Here’s what’s hard:

  1. The unknown — mainly, What else is going to happen?  How long will our lives be like this?  I’ve read several articles including this from The Atlantic that suggest this will just be a part of our global health picture from now on.  There are no solid answers.
  2. The huge adjustment to our lives.  Even the library is closed now, a beloved destination for my kids, especially when the air pollution is bad as it frequently is here in Korea. (And I’m talking so bad it could affect our health).  Our world right now is basically our house and the outdoors around it, and the outdoors depends on the air quality.  
  3. Maintaining sanity.  Because of what I’ve listed above, I don’t think I’m alone in saying I have moments where it all gets a bit overwhelming.  I’m not sure exactly how many people are stationed just at Camp Humphreys, but there are also contractors, civilian employees, teachers for the base schools, etc.  It is basically a medium-size town.  And there are more in Daegu and Busan.  We are all trying hard to figure out this “new normal” while keeping our stuff together for those around us.  As I have said, it feels like there is an assault on staying calm.  Not only are there alarming headlines, our phones go off around the clock with emergency alerts from the Korean Emergency Alert System.I ask for prayer:
  1. For health of those in this country that has been my home for over three years and that the precautions would end the spread of the virus.
  2. For the leadership here, that they would know the best ways to deal with all of this.
  3. For the businesses in the area to not suffer too much.
  4. For good air quality days as we wait through this so we can at least enjoy the outdoors.
  5. For patience and sanity for all of us.

What I’m trying to do:

  1. Keep a sense of humor.  It’s not a matter of ignoring the serious nature of what’s going on, but what I think will help us get through this.  Any recommendations for good and funny books or movies is VERY welcome right now.
  2. Keep my family happy and entertained for however long it takes, even on the days we have to stay inside.  Again, ideas welcome, and bonus points for high-energy releases indoors.  At least no one is downstairs from us any more for rowdy dance parties!

So for all those wondering, that’s where we are.  Wyatt climbed into my bed this morning to snuggle as I wrote in my prayer journal and started singing songs from our church service last Sunday.

“Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You, and it is well with me.”  May it be so.


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Korea Adventures: Our Trip to Paradise (water park, that is)

Sometimes you just can’t find a good enough answer to the question “Why not?”.

That’s what happened the other day when our homeschool group had a field trip planned to Paradise Dogo Spa, a water park and spa built on natural hot springs about thirty minutes from here.  I made the mistake of checking it out online with the kids looking over my shoulder, and immediately they started in with the whole, “Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease, can we go?”  It turned out there was a 50% discount for military off the ticket price!  Bonus: it was an easy thirty-minute drive from my house.  

Why not?  I could think of no good reason.

We ended up enjoying it so much that we went back two weeks later, this past weekend, and when the kids asked if we’d go again, I told them honestly that I plan to!

What’s so great about it?  

— There is so much to do! It truly is a spa/ water park!

There is a large indoor section that includes a jjimjilbang, or traditional Korean spa, located directly by the locker and changing rooms.  But for those who prefer to keep their bathing suits on, there are several large pools mostly interconnected, with different water settings.  There are “neck streams” designed to soothe a home neck muscles, and pools with a variety of jets.  There are little fountains and waterfalls, and areas to swim.  A shallow wading pool has a frog slide for the kiddos.
There’s also a separate area where for 5,000 won extra, you can pay to put your feet in the water with kara rufa fish that eat the dead skin off your feet.  I did this on my second trip to the spa, as it was something I’ve been curious to try since coming to Korea.  It took about half a second to realize that the sensation of dozens of tiny fish swarming my feet and nibbling them was not for me! 

The indoor pools connect through little waterfalls to the outdoor lazy river, or you can also walk through doors to the soaking tubs, interestingly called “Event spas” according to the signage.  Toward the back of the property, there are traditional style soaking tubs.  These reminded me of the nursery rhyme, “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub,” especially when sitting with my kids in it.  
The other “event spas” have different colored and scented water.  For instance, there was a peach one and lavender, and an olive green one that the sign said was mugwort, which looked like something out of Harry Potter, but I suffered no ill effects.  In fact, I felt a little like an Easter egg, soaking in the different tubs, and though the sign warned of the possibility, none of the color stayed on! Whew!
Also, can I just say, lazy rivers are usually my favorite part of water parks anyway, but a heated lazy river?! YES, PLEASE!  When the tubs got to feeling a little too warm, we’d cool off in the river, which was not too cool!  Besides, walking between the pools through the chilly winter air made everything feel warm by comparison!
The lazy river wraps around a kids’ area with its own soaking tub, slides, and fountains.  There is also a wave pool that the kids enjoyed playing in (while I coasted in the lazy river or watched from an “event spa!” Ahhh, the good life!)  There is also a larger water park area with bigger slides and sprayers and fountains, but it was blocked off and not running either day, probably because I went on weekdays when it was not very crowded.

— It’s so family-friendly! 

I’m always on the lookout for things all my kids can enjoy, especially since we cover such a wide span of ages.  There were so many things for the kids to do, and plenty of attentive lifeguards.  They have a policy that requires kids under a certain height to wear a lifejacket regardless of swimming ability, and everyone who goes in the wave pool has to wear one as well.  They are rented for 5,000 won each. It might seem a little extra, but honestly, it’s nice not feeling like you have to worry about your kids every second.  

— There are plenty of food options.  Outdoors there are two snack bars, including an “Aqua Bar” where you can stand in hot water while you eat your lunch or enjoy a beverage.
 Our first trip there, my kids shared a cheese pizza and French fries there, and the novelty made it really fun for them.  I couldn’t read everything on the menu because it’s in Hangul, but I was able to read “cheese pizza,” and not gonna lie, I’m still high-fiving myself.  

Indoors, there are more options, including traditional Korean fare, and most is written in English as well as Hangul. 
I was even able to order sprout bibimbap.  If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you know that my hunt for vegetarian options in Korea has not always gone so well!  There are also cafe options — coffee and tea beverages, and small desserts like macarons. Mmmm, macarons...

—  They think of everything!  You don’t need to take anything with you besides your bathing suit.  They provide towels (though, just so you’re prepared, these are Korean towels, aka “hand towels,”  or not big enough to wrap around your body unless you’re a toy poodle).  But there is also shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in the showers, as well as lotion, cream, hairbrushes, combs and hairdryers by the mirrors.  What really impressed me, though — maybe more than it should? — was that plastic bags were provided for wet bathing suits!  

— Bonus: I had some Google Translate fun.  You should know how much I love this.  I didn’t even know “temperatureism” was a word.  Is it??
Good to know if you go:

— Your entrance ticket has number that coordinates with a shoe locker.  That locker has a bracelet that will also lock and unlock your clothing locker (same number).  You wear the bracelet for your entire stay and use it as a scanner for all your purchases once inside the spa, including food.  When you leave, you pay the balance for everyone in your party before you’re able to retrieve your shoes.

— You do have to pay for the extras.  For instance, if you want to use some spa services like a facial, you’ll have to pay more.  As I mentioned already, under a certain height, life jackets are required regardless of the child’s swimming ability.  They are also required in the wave pool, even for adults, and you do have to pay more for them.  For a day full of water fun in the middle of winter, I felt like the prices were reasonable.

— Locker rooms are separated by gender.  This is pretty strict.  When I went with fellow mom friends, an attendant took our boys off in the other direction and walked them through the locker room, had them put their clothes away, and helped them get their bracelets, too.  A couple of the boys were under five.  I’m not bothered by this, but I mention it because I know some Americans feel uncomfortable about being separated from their kids.  However, it should be noted that while dressed modestly in public, Koreans are fine walking around their respective locker rooms in the clothes that God gave them.  This makes sense since the jjimjilbang is connected to the locker room and you can see into it if, for instance, your locker is close to that area or you use the bathroom before heading into the water park area (always a good idea, IMO!)  Please, honor their culture and customs.

— I’m not listing entrance prices because to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what we paid per person.  We conducted our transactions using our translation apps, and as usual, some information was not conveyed.  I’m pretty used to that by now.  I can tell you that it averaged out to around 20,000 won per person on a Friday morning.  Prices vary according to the time of day, and the day of the week, etc.

— You can search “Paradise Spa Dogo Asan” in whatever navigation app you prefer.  I used Waze, and a friend used Naver.  We both got there with no issues.  In fact, it was one of the easier drives I have done in Korea, with signage even in English very clearly marking the way as well my navigation assistance.

So now you can see why I loved it so much!  And I can’t wait to go back!
{While you’re here... check out more of our travel around Korea!}

— Our trip to the toilet museum in Suwon
— Busan bucket list about favorite spots in the city where we lived for two years
— That amazing park in Ulsan that I still miss

Friday, February 7, 2020

My Freedom Day

At first glance, this is just a picture of me taken of me earlier this week, being silly while holding a macaron.  I was going to delete it, because it was me goofing around, but just before I did, I stopped myself.  Because this picture, and the moments surrounding it, are actually something of a miracle.

On this day, twenty-seven years ago, I was stepping out into a cold and rainy February day in Northern California — stepping out from a hospital where I’d spent the past almost-month due to an eating disorder.  

I don’t like talking about this time in my life.  It embarrasses me a little, it makes me kind of sad, I worry about what others will think, and I wonder if I do say something, does it even do anyone any good?  

But every time I’ve tried to write this week, this was all I could think about.  So I here I am trying to put what’s on my heart into words — words that I hope and pray help and don’t hurt.

That day that I left the hospital, I was far from “healthy.”  I still weighed less than I should have at that age for that height, and I still had enormous anxiety about control that I would struggle with for another good year or so.  But I was no longer in danger of my heart failing, of actual death, so they let me go home.

Trying to explain the why’s and how’s of what had gotten me to that point would be take longer than I want because that’s not really the reason I’m writing this today.  It was definitely a struggle for control, and a search for value everywhere but where I’d really find it, and like matches being dropped into a tinderbox, everything blew up, way out of my control.  What I can tell you is that it started with me wondering if I could just lose a little weight (weight I absolutely did not need to lose!), because maybe then people would like me more, and it spiraled from there.  

My family was overseas at the time, and I was attending a boarding school.  One of my roommates said one day, “I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘too skinny.’”  She said this when I had a patch of raw skin on my backbone from doing so many sit-ups, and a bone on my sternum was sticking out.  I know now that it was just a dumb thing to say, as I have done many times myself, but at that moment I believed her.  I bought into her words, and I almost died.  

My parents brought me home from the boarding school first, desperate to get me healthy again.  They took me to a psychiatrist in Bangkok who told us I didn’t have any markers for an eating disorder, so I just needed to eat more.

“Do you like milkshakes?” he asked me.  I nodded.  “Do you like peanut butter?”  I nodded again.  “Well, then, my prescription for you is to go out and a get a peanut butter milkshake from Swenson’s.  Do that every day.  You’ll be fine.”  He sat back in his chair and folded his hands on his chest with a satisfied smile.  Case solved.

But... I just couldn’t.  I was trapped in a prison of anxiety that if I listened to him and just ate whatever, my life would spin way out of control.  Already, I told myself, no one liked me (this was also as untrue as my roommate’s words, but when you’re fourteen, you believe these lies), and no one ever would.

I remember Christmas that year and always being cold, even in Thailand, always being so tired.  Everything in my body hurt.  Then one night I had a dream.  I was taken to this hospital.  I could clearly see the pattern on the curtain around the bed, and I walked over to the window and looked down into the courtyard, taking in the fountain below, and the brick wall of the hospital building.  A voice began talking and said very clearly, “You are going to die.  You are never going to have friends, never fall in love, never going to get married, never have children, never see any of your ideas or goals come to pass.”  I started crying, begging for whoever spoke these words to be wrong, begging for a chance to live.  Then I woke up.

My dad took me to California in early January.  I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to help myself because “drinking a milkshake” was somehow physically impossible to me.  I literally choked when I tried.  En route, we stopped in Singapore.  The air conditioning in our hotel room made me shiver from cold, so while my dad was watching television, I drew a hot bath.  As I stepped into it, I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror.  We didn’t have a full-length mirror in our home, so this was the first time I’d seen my body in its entirety for quite a while.  

I didn’t like looking in the mirror ever.  I’d believed the boys on my bus in fifth grade who told me for our entire 20-minute bus ride both ways every day that I was the ugliest thing they’d seen and had a hard time disagreeing.  So that evening, I flinched and looked away quickly, but what I’d seen alarmed me, and I looked back. 

I knew then, for sure, there was such a thing as too skinny.  

The reflection in the mirror was just bones with skin over them.  The sore on my back had grown so that most of the skin over the vertebrae in my middle back was raw, and my chest was just bones sticking out at weird angles.  My face looked like little more than a skull.  I stepped into the bath and hid my face from my reflection, sobbing.  This was not what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get better.  

I slept almost the whole flight back to San Francisco.  I was too tired to fight when my dad drove me to the hospital, and they decided to check me in.  I was taken to a room and as I looked around, terror filled me.  The curtains were exactly the print I had seen in my dream.  I walked to the window, knowing what I would see, but still having a pounding heart as I looked into the courtyard below, seeing the brick wall and the fountain I already knew from my dream.

I cried that night begging my dad to take me home, swearing I would figure out how to get better, that I’d do whatever they said.  I know now how it must have nearly killed my dad to leave me there.

What happened over the next few weeks was that all control was taken from me, then slowly,  in incremental steps, granted back.  I had counted calories before, but now everything was measured: how much I ate and drank, how much I peed.  I was walked down a hall every morning wearing nothing but a hospital gown to be weighed.  It was humiliating.  My heart and blood pressure did crazy things as I began to put on weight so that I was literally bed-ridden for days because my heart could fail if I got up and walked around.  My skin all over my body ached like a bruise, like I’d been beaten everywhere.

The day I left, they told my parents, “She’ll be back.  It might be just once or twice, but she’ll be back.”  Because the people who worked there knew well the prison of eating disorders, and that escaping them is no easy feat.

But I didn’t go back.  I knew that it would mean death.  I fought, and sometimes it felt like an impossible battle, but eventually I was healthy again.  

I’m sharing this — the ugly and terrible and painful and humiliating — because I want you to know just how horrible it was.  I think the term “eating disorder” gets casually tossed around without an understanding of the actual hell it is.  I want you to know that this is the reality of where an unhealthy attitude about eating, and mostly about yourself, can get you.

But also, I truly believe that eating disorders are not at all rare.  I cannot tell you the number of people I’ve heard say, “I mean, it’s not like I have an eating disorder or anything,” but seeing the way food consumes and controls their minds, their lives, I would beg to differ.  True, not everyone gets to the extreme point I got to where actual medical intervention is needed, but I think a lot of us have unhealthy approaches to eating.  Eating disorders don’t always look like a skeletal teenage girl; they have many different appearances.  If you are reading this and can relate at all, please know that you are not alone.

More than that, I feel like eating disorders are looked at by some as “totally crazy.”  I beg to differ.  If things were bad twenty-seven years ago, they’re far worse now.  We live in a world where so much value is placed on appearances and especially on weight.  Numbers are everything to us.  How many followers do I have?  How many people liked that last photo I posted?  And all this can get so muddled up to where it suddenly makes sense that the number on the scale will dictate love and approval.  

It’s strange — on the one hand, that experience feels so far removed from my life now.  I love eating, my hanger is scary and real, and I’m a healthy, happy weight.  I’ve got an amazing and loving husband and a bunch of kids running around.  I weigh myself only at the doctor’s office and almost never think about the number of calories in what I’m eating.  I never do fad diets or even fast for faith purposes.  I make it a point not to say to or in front of my kids, “That food is bad for you!” or “Ugh, I look so fat today,” because I know the slippery slope that kind of talk creates.  I can (and sometimes do) happily try to pretend that it never happened, or dismiss it as “a crazy thing I did.”  

But the thing is, I think any of us can, very easily, be “crazy,” even if it isn’t an eating disorder at all.  I have for years loved the Susanna Kaysen quote from Girl, Interrupted

“Crazy isn’t being broken or swallowing a dark secret.  It’s you or me amplified.”

The truth is, I thank God every day for rescuing me out of the hell that is an eating disorder, but I also know there are daily battles I need to fight with Him to stay on this side of sane.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, that’s true for all of us.

And that’s why I’m writing this.  I might sound like a broken record by the time I finish, but I want everyone who reads this to know: you are NOT alone.  You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone...

So even though that time in my life almost seems like a glitch now, even though I don’t want to dwell on that dark time in my life, my heart needed to address it here.  I want you to know that I didn’t just take a picture with that chocolate macaron, I ate it. And as I ate it, didn’t think about fat or sugar or calories; I just thought about how delicious it was.  I didn’t even at the time remember those hospital walls, I just looked at my daughter across the table, laughing about something she had said.

And I tell you, that’s a miracle.