Thursday, January 23, 2014

A very short story: Penguins

One never knows what could happen each and every day. For most of us, including myself, the days activities aren't that much different from each other. Go to work, eat breakfast lunch and dinner, exercise, do a hobby or practice something, relax, go to bed; this about sums it up. But once in a while as you go about your day, eyes half shut, brain in neutral, body in autopilot, something changes that jump starts everything.

Today was that day.

My day started out like every other. I begrudgingly rose out of bed, made breakfast, called a friend, answered emails, did some light stretching, and packed my bag for work. It was a nice day. The sun was shining, the wind wasn't blowing too hard and the temperature wasn't too cold. It was a short twenty minute walk and a typical beginning of the work day. I put the towel on the heater to dry, grabbed my dress for the show and sat down to apply all the makeup. After I finished, I hurried upstairs to retrieve my violin and electronic equipment from the sound booth and headed backstage to finish last minute details before the first show.

One of the last things I do before each show, after I've tuned and warmed up and put the violin in its styrofoam box, is move from the office backstage to a little dresser and chair right behind stage door right. As I sit in the chair I can see the dolphin holding tank and I watch all their antics every day. Today as I applied my lipstick something caught my eye. Something seemed to be moving and it wasn't in the water. I peered around my mirror and there they were, two little penguin staring up at me. "What is she doing? Why is she here?" I could hear them thinking as they cocked their heads from one side to the other. My jaw dropped and my brain spun. I was still in neutral and not prepared for wayward penguins wandering around backstage, potentially becoming the dolphins newest and greatest play toys.

We stared at each other until my brain kicked into gear. I picked up my jaw, excused myself around the penguins and, realizing that my entrance cue was only a minute or less away, scurried back to the office to try and alert someone to the newly mobilized members of the penguin community. Forgetting that English is not the native language here, I started shouting "Loose penguins! Loose penguins!"  It wasn't long before one of the penguins went wobbling past the doorway I was standing in, heading toward the stage left entrance which has no door. Later when I was safely out laying 'unconscious' in my boat, I chucked to myself how funny it would have been to add penguins to the show. Although they would have stolen the show, so in retrospect, I'm glad they weren't involved (just being selfish)!

Unfortunately I completely missed what was surely an hysterical feat of penguin wrangling because after I alerted people, I then had to hurry back, grab my violin in its box and head out to my boat for the show. 

But my imagination runs wild nonetheless of Koreans chasing around trying to herd the penguins away from the stage and the dolphin tank and the walrus and the sea lions and into a crate. To add to my imaginations amusement, there is also the mix of Russian and Polish girls curious to watch but most certainly in the way.  Penguins going this way, Koreans going that way, European girls going another way.  It's like a comedy plot for a musical chase scene. 

By the end of the show, when I returned to the office the penguins were staring up at me from a crate, heads straight up and eyes almost glaring like, "You gave us away! How could you do that? We thought you were an animal lover!" I ducked away as quickly as I could to avoid the angry stares and the accusatory squawks emanating from the crate, wishing verbal English apologies were communicable to penguins.

The mornings adventure ended and the day continued on; the brain back to neutral, the body back on autopilot and the eyes, well, sometimes all the way shut :)  It certainly was an adventure I won't forget for a long time. It's not just any workday morning that a penguin interrupts. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Change of plans

Every week I get a blessed day off from work and sometimes I go galavanting off to touristy spots and other days I stay home, do laundry, practice, take naps, and try to relax. Yesterday I had planned to walk to the grocery store and then spend the day in a meditative space.

Around noon I was finishing lunch when there was a knock on the door. My boss had stopped by to discuss some work things. Afterwards I asked if he would drive me to the grocery store on his motorcycle and he countered with an idea to spend a few hours touring the island coast since it was such a beautiful day. I took him up on the offer and away we went.

As we rode along the shore line I snapped some pictures.

Haenyeo stone statues with a sea lion randomly too.

Super low tide in this bay.

Dinner :)  I will miss Korean food when I leave.

Squid hanging out to dry.

One of the stops for coffee had this awesome mural on the wall. 

We stopped for coffee at a friend's home to stretch  our legs and warm up a bit (even though it was a nice day the cold winter air on the motorcycle was quite chilly). Then it was on down the road to find lunch. Since it was Wednesday, the place my boss wanted to go was closed but we found another good spot just around the corner. After we had our fill we got back on the bike and continued further away from home to another friend's home and more coffee. Now I don't drink coffee nor to I like coffee and after two cups I wasn't feeling so swell and my taste buds were super unhappy. But still a small price to pay for meeting people and enjoying a Korean countryside tour.

After the second cup of coffee my boss decided it was too cold to return the hour plus ride home so we instead made the shorter trip to the nearby city of Seogwipo for the night. Here we met another friend for dinner and drinks and more drinks and still more drinks. Sometimes I wonder who drinks more, Koreans or Russians...  Warmed by the alcohol and food in our bellies we stumbled into various beds around 3 a.m. and awoke dreary eyed and groggy at 7 a.m. to come back home. The trip home was extremely cold I do not recommend anyone else drive a motorcycle on a cold winter morning for two hours on Jeju, but you do what you must and when I finally arrived home that morning I held my hands under lukewarm water that felt like boiling water for five minutes until I could bend my fingers again. Then I stood in a steaming hot shower for 20 minutes and even after that I still had goose bumps all over my legs and once the hair on my arms dried it stood right back up. I relayered clean clothes of two socks, two pants, and three shirts under my coat and two scarves and hat before going to work for the day.

It certainly wasn't the most pleasant of days off but it was a memorable one and I did really enjoy the Korean point of view that I was privileged to peer into for a day. Now it's back to the grind for another week. Maybe next Wed. I will meditate, but one never knows what opportunities will come along on this island and who am I not to change my plans for the unknown adventure that lies ahead?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What I learned this Christmas in Korea

I started this blog entry almost a month ago as the Christmas season was just beginning. There were already things I was missing and others I knew I would miss as the holidays came and went.

Based on that you would guess this entry to be a list of things I missed most this holiday season, and that is what it was originally, but after living this Christmas without all the traditions of my previous Christmases, I realized something; something I preach and something I strive to practice. That is, to live in the moment and to learn from it. It took the entire season and one disappointment after another for it to finally dawn on me that I was living in a different place mentally. I was here in South Korea and they don't celebrate the way I do, but instead of mourning my lost traditions I should celebrate and embrace the joy of new ones.

Yes, I still missed:
Singing Christmas carols around a piano
Watching the Cincinatti Pops Orchestra on PBS
Watching the movie, A Holiday Romance (my favorite Christmas movie)
Playing Christmas concerts with symphonies and churches
Seeing Christmas lights
Eating Christmas dinner
Opening Christmas presents
~and most importantly, spending quality time with friends and family

I'm sure I excluded some things from that list, but even with that short list, not one thing did I get to experience this Christmas. It felt like the biggest empty hole the entire month of December. I missed everything and everyone. Koreans in this tiny village don't celebrate Christmas. There was a Christmas tree put up in the lobby and the week before Christmas the dj played Christmas tunes before the shows, but otherwise, there was no sign anywhere that Christmas was near.

There aren't any new traditions to add to my Christmas list. This Christmas I worked a normal day at the aquarium, went home and ate a normal dinner alone, and worked out like I normally do. That's it, that was Christmas eve and Christmas day. It was definitely the least favorite Christmas I've ever "celebrated". I made no-bake cookies (I don't have an oven) for everyone and sang Christmas carols to myself.

What I learned though, and keep learning, is that happiness and joy doesn't come from what's around you, but from inside yourself. People see my life and my travels and assume that I lead one of the happiest and exciting lives possible, and many times that's true, but sometimes (like this Christmas), it's the hardest life to live. I do love my life and even when times of despair and sadness occur, I try to learn from it and become a better and stronger person. A person who can help others, encourage others, teach others and inspire others through my actions and my life.

I really hope that Christmas 2014 is more exciting than Christmas 2013, but it doesn't need to have everything I thought it did. I just need to remember what I learned this Christmas and it will for sure be better than the last!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year?

Well, It's five days into the new year and what a beginning it is.

The last few days have been an ok start to the new year. But today was the first "adventure" of my new year.

During the beginning of the show I perform in a row boat out in the middle of the oceanarium pool. At the end of my solo, three of the synchronized swimmers swim out and pull the boat back to "shore". The shore is curved and depending on how the swimmers pull back the boat depends on  where I can get out of the boat; whether the middle or one of the edges. The unfortunate part of getting out at the edge is there is a post protruding upward to tie the ropes around. If there was light this wouldn't be much of a problem, but the arena goes pitch black right before I have to exit the boat. And in addition to the lack of light, my foot is almost numb by then. The oceanarium water is very cold (just ask the swimmers) for the dolphins and before every show I walk through the water, soaking my feet in the frigid water. Then I lay in the boat "unconscious" for 10 minutes before I play my 5 minute solo. So by the time I get out of the boat my feet are numb.

Today, the only place I could exit the boat was the corner. My feet were numb and I couldn't feel where I was stepping and I kicked the post extremely hard. Hard enough to say ouch about 50 times, bite my lip until it bled, stand on one foot backstage and literally grin and bear it through the rest of the show. I tried my best not to hyperventilate on stage in my attempt to control the pain and tears as I stood in a small puddle of blood. I have no idea what the front row of the audience thought. I didn't move once I hobbled up onto the small stage. I played my part for the remainder of the show and as I tried to climb down from the stage the pain I'd been pushing away surged to the front of my brain and I limped and chocked my way back to stage exit.

After a long trip to the biggest city on the island to go to the only open hospital (today is Sunday so the others are all closed because apparently no one gets sick or injured on Sundays here) on the island. My toes are fine, just really bruised. The pain was so intense because of the numbness of my feet. The injured toes are wrapped in gauze to control the bleeding (I'll probably lose a nail or two) and I've spent the evening lounging around keeping my foot elevated.

But hey, I did get half the day off :)



For those interested, my toes have healed nicely. In fact, you can't even tell one toe was injured and it looks like I'll be keeping both my toe nails :)

It took a couple days of no left shoes and a couple more of careful walking in shoes and working out barefoot but I've been back to normal now and things are wonderful!

Here's proof!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

No fireworks, no parties, no countdown...just another day and another show.

This is my first post for the new year 2014 and you might be expecting some traditional topics, but seeing how I'm rather nontraditional, this will be a normal tourist entry. I love the irony of that sentence.

I worked New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, but today I had my much beloved day off and took advantage!

This morning I awoke early (8 a.m.!) and took a brief walk in the refreshingly warm day for this time of year. Then I returned home to breakfast and to get ready to go to the circus. Believe it or not, I've never been to a circus before, not in any country anywhere. I'd walked by the advertisements for this circus here on Jeju a couple times and it looked interesting so I asked my friend if she wanted to join me today and she said yes.

Last night after my Insanity workout I ate dinner with my neighbors and shared, in my very limited Korean, that I was going to the circus the next day with my girlfriend and my neighbor offered to drive us with his visiting wife and daughter to the circus (it's an hour and a half away from where I live). I took him up on the offer and this morning we headed to the Dongchun Circus!

It wasn't very big, but they had acrobats and contortionists and silks and swings and balance bars and strength shows and a juggler and roller skating and even some odd sort of male pole dancing.

It was a good time and I enjoyed it. I didn't take any pictures of it. There was no flash allowed and it was often rather dark inside.

Then it was off to EMart for some quick shopping and back home again where I just made a batch of no back chocolate cookies and am reveling in my day off by relaxating and watching White Collar and eating cookies for dinner. Please no one tell my mother :)