Monday, July 30, 2007

Being a Kid Again

It was one of those rainstorms where you open the car door and get wet like you're stepping into a shower fully clothed, and I stood in it and waited on my three year old to prove how big he is and get out of the car by himself.

The car was soaked, the kid was soaked, and my jeans soaked up water like a sponge right up to my calves from standing in a parking lot puddle.

Inside the store, people looked at me like I was nuts and kidded with my son for his cuteness and his wetness. We had just about dried out when it was time to leave, and the rainstorm had only increased in intensity.

By the time we got home, my sloped driveway was a waterslide. There was no escaping the torrential downpour's moist effects, even with a 10 ft. run to the door.

So in a split decision, I decided to do something I hadn't done in more than twenty-five years. I decided to play in the rain.

My son enthusiastically agreed to go running and splashing about the front yard, as only three year olds can get excited when they get permission to jump in puddles. So we stomped, we splashed, and we danced in the rain, twirling around with our arms extended upwards and rain running into our eyes and off our chins. We laughed, we squealed, we generally made complete idiots of ourselves. Well, I did anyway; the performance was perfectly toddler-esque.

And you know, it was the most liberating feeling I've had in years. I felt completely free of all stress, all social structure, and all the pressure that age can bring with it -- I felt like I'd found my childhood again.

It lasted a mere fifteen minutes and then the rainstorm turned into a thunderstorm complete with lightning and once again responsibility required I usher us into the house safely. Peeling out of our wet clothes was like peeling the layers of childhood away until only an adult, a mom, and a civilized person remained. A few minutes later even the rain stopped, and life returned to normal as though the childish interlude had never even happened.

But my son learned that his mom can be the coolest person on the planet. And I learned that a little rain and a puddle or two can be more liberating than any journey of self-discovery. And more fun than any vacation... so long as I remember just to dance with arms spread out and let the rain run into my eyes and off my chin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Taxes and Tipping, Korean Style

Knowing that I have the power to change the world in my fingertips as I write this blog, I hope that when the following information spreads net-wide, all my readers will use it for good and not evil.

In the U.S. we have become accustomed to roughly 9% taxes and %15 tips (or more) to our restaurant visits. That's a estimated minimum of 24% of your bill being money tacked on to the final tab. Following my math here? let's just say it's usually a fourth to a fifth of the tab, to allow for those cool states that only charge 7% tax.

Well, Korean servers are paid differently than they are in the U.S. Ergo, NO TIPPING!! And the price you see on the menu is the price you pay; nothing is added on.

Of course, according to Buddhism, money is the worst thing you can offer Budda. It's an abomination to him. Makes him feel like a cheap whore, if you wanna think in simplistic western terms about it. And most of Korea is Buddhist. Therefore they're viewpoint on money is a bit different from ours.

But how does this change one's service, you ask? Pfft!!! I had better service in Korea than I've ever had in the states, no offense to the good servers I've encountered stateside.

Koreans respect each other on a level that is not widely seen here. It does go back in part to Buddhism, simply stated however, Korea can be described as a country working the "Golden Rule" (you know the one: do unto others as you'd have them do unto you).

I fell asleep on a 4 hour train ride, with everything I owned in Korea above me on a luggage rack. The train was full, and there were multiple stops along the way. When I woke up, all my stuff was still up there, untouched. No one tried to take my stuff, even though I was a sleeping foreigner! In this country, I would've been an "easy mark".

Fortunately, I think that the Korean culture and society is strong enough not to collapse and become more westernized at my words. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if we stateside would consider them a bit deeper than a casual read and forget, and this is a fluffy version of all I could say on the subject.

Here we consider it a cultural custom to tip 15-20% for a job done, whether it was done adequately, poorly, or fantastically. It's a sign of respect for the server and the service. But prostitution is illegal except in Nevada. So selling yourself for money is okay as long as genetalia is involved. Some moral definer we have, huh?

Ooh, that was a little harsh of me.

Let me change directions while that one is still freshly stewing in your mind:

How might this country be economically affected if we changed our basic mindset towards each other and therefore our treatment of each other and inevitably our culture adjusted to reflect it? Oh, yes, I know I'm speaking of utopian things with no real chance for implementation, so please do not counter with a diatribe as to why it will not be. It's just a rhetorical question anyway.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Female Urinals and other Toilet Humor

Ok, so it's not humor so much as humorous, in an odd sort of way.

Korea does have western toilets. The ones that look just like every other toilet in the U.S., except across the board, their public toilets are cleaner. Quite possibly they are cleaner than the ones in your home. And some wonderful hotels I could name as well as a restaurant or two and even a subway stop have the seat attachments that add a bidet to the toilet. The one that impressed me the most also had water temperature control and a massager built in.

Other places -- including another subway station -- had what I will call "female urinals" because "pee troughs" sounds weird. And who knows, I might even be correct. I would've asked what they were called, but no one I ran across in Korea would've understood the question. I digress, fun with language is for another blog.

These urinals looked quite similar to a man's urinal, only they lay horizontal in the floor, and were pretty shallow (meaning that they did not go deeply into the floor, nor rise much above it). Water was pushed from one end to the other in a constant flow, and as you can imagine, that flow of water served the city's sewage needs.

It was a lot like squatting in the woods, except that there were no five-leafed plants nearby. And no grass to get tickled by, either.

There also was more often than not no toilet paper. It took me two days to realize that the toilet paper by the sinks were for drying one's hands and for taking into the toilets. By then I was down to my last kleenex in my purse, so it was good timing. Now I had seen a younger woman use the TP for hand-drying, but it wasn't until I witnessed three older women stock up on a length of it before entering their stall that the light bulb went off in that department. There's a reason we've historically turned to our elders for wisdom, folks!

In the U.S. everything is sold in a restroom from aspirin to condoms to diapers. In Korea, toilet paper is sold in those same types of wall vending machines. Condoms can be found for free in your hotel room in the amenities basket*. It did, however, take me most of my entire trip over there to find one with enough English on it to know what it sold. That bit of knowledge might've come in useful from the getgo!!

All in all, Korea was very accommodating to westerners and locals alike, and not just in the restrooms. For more stories illuminating why I'd go back in a heartbeat, be sure to check back!

*teaser for another story to come.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Road Weary

Before I lead into a series of tales from Korea, California and the Midwest, complete with my impressions, experiences, and a list of places to go and things to do (ambitious, ain't I?), I thought I'd welcome myself back with a smidgeon of pomp and a pinch of circumstance.

Ta Da! I have returned!!

These past few weeks have been riddled with the occasional broadband against an otherwise slow background of dial-up, and my efforts have been centered around my camera and surroundings (minus my bits of down time when I plugged myself into City of Heroes). Now I must commit to sorting through the nearly 3000 photos I took, the scribbled journal entries and miscellaneous notes I wrote in my hurried penmanship, and my brain -- a dark and scary place in and of itself.

Oh yeah, and I am road weary too. Forgetting the 7+K mile flight overseas each way, there was the 850 mile drive to visit family, the 500 mile round trip for my daughter's surgery on the 3rd, the 450 mile trip to visit more family (which left me only a 750 return drive), and all the miscellaneous driving I did while "back home". I love my car. I don't want to get in it again for a month.

Nevertheless, all my complaining aside, I am excited to bring these last 6 (and a half) weeks to life for you here in the coming blogs. You'll want to keep an eye here and see what follows.