It’s Sunday morning in Geoje Island, South Korea and I woke up at about 8:30 a.m. to the sun shining and a craving for coffee. As I made my instant cup and cleaned up the dishes from our budae jjigae dinner last night, I realized that I can finally sit, breathe and write. Get ready people, this is a long one.
The Good Ol’ (sometimes creepy) South
I left Dongtan, South Korea in October 2011 with the intent to return by December or January; however, as life would have it, my plans changed. After a week of being home and getting my sleep schedule right (fourteen hours takes a bit of adjustment), I flew down to Houston, TX to see Renee after being apart for six weeks. Because my brother, Bryan, works for United Airlines I got a cheaper ticket; however, I would have to fly standby the entire way from Grand Rapids, MI to Chicago, IL and then to Houston, TX. I got to the airport early in the morning to find that the flight was full. And the next flight. And the next. I sat at the small airport for eight hours until I finally landed the last seat on one of the planes. By this time I had missed my connecting flights, so I had called the airline ahead of time to make sure there were others. I was reassured that there were plenty of open seats with plenty of flights to those destinations, so I got on the plane. Once I got to Chicago I discovered that I had been misinformed and I did not qualify to get on the United Continental flights that I had been quoted because United Air and United Continental were in the middle of merging their companies and I could not use their flights. I had also just missed any opportunity to get to Houston on United Air. With that information I started to tear up and… well… sob to the person behind the desk, which made him quite uncomfortable and in a frenzy to stop my tears he promised to get me to Houston that night. He found a flight going from Chicago to Dallas to Houston, and I joked with Renee that if she had a car she should just come pick me up in Dallas and make the three hour drive. When I finally landed in Dallas and waited for my connecting flight to Houston I treated myself to a burger and a bloody mary. I checked my iPod touch which said that I was in Washington, D.C. and I laughed at how unreliable technology can be these days. My phone rang and my confused dad on the other line said that he had tracked my flight and it looked like I was in Dulles airport in D.C. I laughed and said no, I was definitely in Dallas. To reassure him I turned to the girl in the booth sitting next to me and asked, “What city am I in?” Clearly overhearing my conversation she goes, “honey, you’re in Washington, D.C.” Of course I was. The booth of men in front of me laughed and asked if I had had a long day. Something like that. In the midst of my tears all I heard was “Dallas to Houston” instead of “Dulles to Houston.” Why couldn’t they say “D.C. to Houston” or “Dulles to Bush International”? I’m blaming this on the airlines poor choice of sequential vocabulary, of course. Finally, around 12:30 a.m. I got into Houston (thankfully Renee did not drive to Dallas!), ruining the plans Renee had for my arrival (being twelve hours late), but was happy to be with her nonetheless.
We relaxed in Houston for a few days then hit the road to visit my friends, family and old home in Arizona. I l-o-v-e a good road trip, and I was excited to see what Texas had to offer! We drove from Houston to Albuquerque, NM in a day and then to Mesa, AZ stopping in Greer (my home for almost a year) the next. The drive through Texas was a bit flat and boring, but I saw a lot of oil rigs on the side of the road and lots of flat land and little towns. The next day we drove on the back roads of New Mexico around canyons on slightly icy roads and finally into my old stomping grounds in northeastern Arizona. Oh, it was good to be back. I had lunch with my darling love, Whitney and her boyfriend (now fiancé!) at a café that I frequented when I lived there, visited her family, then went up to the ranch to visit my old coworkers and the peaceful, beautiful landscape. I yearned to stay longer, to bask in the afterglow of the place that once restored my soul; however, we had a canyon to drive through and it would have been a shame to drive through it in the dark and miss all the awesomeness of Salt River Canyon. Turns out it was the perfect time to make the drive because as we were coming out of Devil’s Canyon (the second and smaller canyon of the drive) the sun was setting and the sky was splashed with purple, pink, red and orange hues mixing and layering together. It was breathtaking. We soon arrived at my family’s house, and it was a welcomed reunion. Unfortunately because my time in the south was limited we could only stay for two days. It was sad to go after such a short time, but it was better to see their faces than not at all.
On the way back to Houston we decided to take a route about four hours out of the way because we had been advised by EVERYONE that driving through El Paso was a terrible idea due to the drug lords and cartel that had been running the highways. This gave us a chance to see more of New Mexico, which turned out to be half beautiful and half creepy. Once we went over the mountains in southern New Mexico and into the White Sands Missile Range we were in a valley of white sand and nothingness; however, some weird flags went up in my head. For one, we were the only non-government vehicle on the road. Two, there was a little wire fence lining the entire highway with signs that said “DO NOT STOP YOUR CAR. GOVERNMENT PROPERTY.” Three, although there were no buildings or anything in sight besides sand, there were power lines that went on for miles and miles with a huge water reservoir at the end of them. And finally, without any warning there were orange cones in the middle of the road directing your car to this tiny booth with cameras everywhere and a sign that read “Boarder Patrol”. Even weirder was that we were nowhere near a boarder. Just to make an odd day even crazier we spent the night in Roswell, NM, known for the alleged UFO crash in 1947, and every shop window had some sort of alien theme to it. Needless to say we woke up early in the morning and got the hell out of New Mexico.
The rest of my time in Houston was spent meeting Renee’s awesome family and friends and eating Dim Sum and Peking Duck with her mother and sister. After being delayed for a day getting back to Michigan and randomly bursting into tears at the thought of being away from Renee for another six weeks or so, I was back in the mitten.
Michigan: America’s High Five
I sat in my bedroom looking from my suitcases to my closet. The realization that I would no longer be living out of bags and I would be home for a few months hit me with panic. I was so excited about being back home so why all this angst? I laid my thoughts out on the table and came up with this: not only was my home a place filled with friends, family and love, but the past few years since college I associated being home with debt, illnesses, anxiety and the crazy itch to travel. Once I came to this realization I looked at my current situation: I saved enough money to pay my loans up through March, everyone was relatively healthy, and I knew that my next travel experience wasn’t too far down the road. Finally I could smile, take a breath and know that I could rebuild my associations of being home with goodness, rest and love. Another thing I had to remember was that although I was on “vacation” no one else was. I stepped back into everyone else’s life with all the grit and grime that U.S. economy has brought upon many of my friends, and even though my brain said, “No sadness or worry, we’re on vacation!” that didn’t apply to anyone else. It took a minute to come to that realization and to also realize that I couldn’t fix everyone’s problems for them. Once again, being home has its major adjustments, but it definitely proved to be worth it.
A lot of times I did not have access to a car (although my moms were amazingly gracious and handed over their keys any time they could) so I picked up my crocheting hooks, parked myself in front of the TV and computer and made many many scarves to give as Christmas gifts. I figured as long as I was being some kind of productive I didn’t feel so bad spending my days watching Will and Grace, The New Adventures of Old Christine, The Travel Channel and The Food Network. I can name a Friday night or two that I sat with my moms watching horrible Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel eating Nutty Bars and drinking tea. I also took advantage of having an oven (a luxury not provided in Korea) and did some baking. Cooking doesn’t make much sense to me unless I have extremely clear directions on what to do; however, baking seems obvious to me and it’s something that I really enjoy. I made a mental note to buy a tiny confection oven once I settled in Korea again.
Aside from being an awesome old lady I got to spend a lot of time with some of the loves of my life. I often went over to Amy and Matty’s house to visit with them and their baby boy, Cole. The last time I had seen Cole I was bouncing him on my leg and he had just started to crawl. When I saw him again after a year he was standing in his crib looking like a little boy rather than a baby, and he was speaking. I could no longer just scoop him up and cuddle him right away like before because he now had some sense of “Who the hell are you?” to him. Amy picked him up and brought him to the kitchen where she had posted my picture on the fridge, and throughout the year she would point and say “that’s Aunt Codi” so he definitely knew who I was. As he looked at the picture, he then looked at me. Then back to the picture. Then back to me. I could see the realization spread across his face and we quickly became best buds. I am absolutely nuts about that little boy, and he quickly came to love Renee as well when she came in January.
I also spent as much time as I could up in Grand Rapids seeing Jes and Molly and their little boy, Charlie, who is a few days older than Cole. That’s another little man that I love dearly. I also got to spend great time with one of my favorites from high school, Rachel, and one of my loves from Semester at Sea, Paul. A lot of my friends have moved out of the state, but it was definitely wonderful to be with Katelyn, visit with Kari when she came back for Christmas, and to hang with my girl Kling and her boyfriend and their wonderful dog, Red. With the time I got to spend with my friends back home it reinforced how much I love them all and how blessed I am to have these people in my life.
Then came family time. I tried to see my brother and soon-to-be sister in law, Alex, as often as I could, loving every minute with them and their awesome dog, Bali. I also saw my dad regularly, and we would sit in Panera for hours talking about life, God, the future and other good things. Spending time with my mother was also extremely priceless. Whenever I am away I wish that she was just a few doors down so we could have coffee and dinner on the regular. As I have said before, my mom is my hero and my favorite person in the world. It absolutely breaks my heart to be away from her, but I am blessed to have a mother that knows what I need in life and trusts that I will make the right decisions. When I eventually settle down and have a house I will make her and Kim move just a few miles down the road, if not right next door.
한국 안녕하세요! (Hello, Korea!)
The process of getting back to the ROK was not as easy as we had imagined. Because the public school system in Korea started pushing out foreigners to replace them with Koreans who know English, the hagwon’s (private schools) are overflowing with applicants. Also, as it turns out, Koreans are quite racist against other Asians. Renee (who is Chinese Jamaican) and I would send in our resumes to recruiters and often we would get a response with something along the lines of, “the schools do not want to hire Asian faced teachers” or “if you drop your Asian friend we can easily find you a job.” I felt pissed that she was being discriminated against simply because of her looks, and I can imagine that she felt some affects from the blatant racism as well; however, we decided to forge ahead and looked on the bright side: at least when we found a school we would know that they aren’t stupidly racist, which is obviously a plus in my book.
One day we got an email with details of a job and an offer to interview for a school on Geoje Island, the second largest island in the country. At first I dismissed it – an island would be cool but very isolating. Once we read further, however, we discovered that a bridge connecting the island to the mainland was just built a year ago, making traveling super easy. We had an interview with the school and within a few days we had our job offer with a great salary. Of course the entire visa process is a pain in the butt and a huge waiting game, but we had our E2 visas in hand by Thursday and were on a plane Friday morning. We got a call at 1 a.m. on Friday morning from our soon-to-be boss saying that she had just purchased our tickets and we would take off from Detroit at 8:30 a.m., which was in seven and a half hours. We slept for an hour, packed up the car, kissed my mother goodbye and were on the road by 3:30 a.m. This also happened to be a night where it randomly snowed (which it hadn’t done in weeks). On the way to the airport I got stopped by a cop for speeding (oops), and then when we were around Ann Arbor all the traffic slowed to about 20 MPH because of black ice all the way to Detroit. We were often at a complete halt because there were cars in the ditch, multiple accidents and one car on fire. I was sure we were going to miss the plane, but you know what they say: slow and steady wins the race. We got to the airport with little time to spare and began our twenty hour journey across the world.
We arrived in Busan at about 10 p.m. on Saturday night and were picked up by the owner of our school, her husband and their two children. They were extremely nice and funny and bought us a gigantic apple pie (seriously, it was about a foot in diameter) and some water. She apologized for not having any beds or furniture yet, but promised that they would be coming soon (two weeks later we finally got to rest on proper beds and put our clothes in wardrobes). Our apartment is brand spanking new with a flat screen TV mounted on the wall, wireless internet, and is located five minutes away from our school and about a block away from the only mall and Home Plus (a large grocery store) on the island. Everywhere you look you see either mountains or water with large cargo ships coming in to port.
The three weeks that we have been here so far have been an absolute whirlwind, and this is the first weekend that we have had with no crazy agenda. More tales and stories to come, but for now I will give your eyes a rest. Spring is in the air, and I hope you are all feeling as refreshed by the sunshine and warm weather as I am.