The heat is kicking in for the summer. This means that by the time noon rolls around you are unlikely to find me outside. Usually you can find me stripped to my underwear, parked in front of the fan. And I don't move from that spot until the sun goes back down.
Today, while in my usual heat-induced lethargy I thought of all the metaphors for hot. Hot enough to fry an egg. Hotter than hell. Hot enough that I'm sweating like a prostitute in church. Hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch. Hot as Hades.
Then I looked around and saw my two furry kitties lounging. Well, not so much lounging. One was stretched on the table, paws out, head lolling of the edge. The other was stomach flat to the floor, paws opposite. Like she'd hit the floor and gone splat.
And in a sense she had because in June in Korea it's hot enough to melt cats.
So, we live in a town that is a mix of agricultural and city life. Not but three blocks away is an expanse of rice-fields (that incidentally have nice paths for a good jog in the morning). With the rice fields comes rice, obviously, and mosquitos. Lots and lots of mosquitos.
I react strongly to things. I cry at Disney movies, jump at a crack of thunder, and when I get bitten by a little bloodsucker I swell to twice my size. No kidding. I despise the suckers so much I have an ugly, army-green mosquito net hanging over my pretty red and gold decorated bed. Clashing be damned - get those bugs away from me.
Apparently Korea hates mosquitos too. But instead of nets and a finely honed ability to clap they go the aggressive route: Bombs.
In the heat of a Korean summer where temperatures reach 35 C with 100% humidity those who do not use air conditioners throw open the windows as far as they can go and wander around naked drinking iced-tea and eating ice cream. And all seems well. You're sweaty and tired but the occasional breeze blows in bringing with it smells of the vegetable man and the kimchi pots across the way.
Then around dusk we hear it. A loud roaring slowly plodding its way closer to our home. Hit the deck! All of a sudden we jump up and run to the windows throwing them shut. We run as fast as possible from the bedroom to the glass doors of the balcony. Tripping over cats to reach the window in the laundry room on the far side of the building. If we're lucky everything is shut tight before the dreaded roar comes right under us.
What is it? A big, old truck bombing the entire neighborhood in anti-mosquito stuff. I'm not sure what the stuff is but this being Korea I'm fairly certain it's the kind of poison that not only kills small bugs but your household pets, possibly large farm animals. I was once unlucky enough to be caught in the billowing white cloud of yuckiness while walking and I'm uncertain as to my ability to bare children anymore.
So when the poison truck rolls around we do our best to keep from breathing it in. It means running around the house like a chicken with her head cut off and sitting in sweltering heat for about an hour but at least I keep my cilia a little while longer.
I'm a timid and shy person for the most part. Occasionally I can get frisky like when someone is about to step into traffic or kick a kitten. But for the most part I am quiet when in public.
And one would think that'd be okay in an Asian, semi-confucian-hold-over society like Korea. Timidity in a foreign woman would seem especially acceptable. It's a rare time when anyone directs any comments directly at me when I'm with my guy. When in a pack I can normally just smile and nod and get away with it.
But when alone the population issues of Korea become exceedingly apparent. There is just too many people and not enough space for anyone to be timid. If you're to survive without sneaker marks on your cheek you better throw some elbows. This I have trouble with.
The other day I was jogging and found myself on a path through the more residential part of my town (as opposed to the ONE sidewalk along the highway where I normally run). I kept to the side and looked out for scary vegetable trucks zooming down the narrow alley. Unfortunately, being on the side, I found myself behind people who were walking, in particular an ajumma who was shuffling her way ahead of me.
To others the choice in this situation would be clear...just run around her. To me I freak out. Should I slow down? Should I wait till we near an intersection? Should I give up the running and walk? Do I cross the street completely? Should I just turn around? Crap, now I'm really close, what should I do? Do I say hello so she can hear me? No, she knows I'm there...what to do what to do what to do?
I cut out, gave a wide berth and started to pass her. She, at the very moment I was passing her, cut out herself for no apparent reason and walked directly into me. As I tripped over myself and attempted not to do a face-plant into the asphalt she started yelling. A lot. In really fast Korean.
I don't know much Korean and sometimes the culture throws me for a loop but I do know that this is not one of those situations that I can smile and nod my way through. Instead, I ran. Away. Fast. She yelled louder. I ran faster.
We had a few bumps finding it. First it was the wrong bus, then possibly the right bus, but then it really wasn't the right bus and we ended up walking backwards from "Where are we" Seoul to City Hall.
I had warned my pink-hating friend that Hi Seoul described May 2 as "A wave of pink taking over the city." She was hesitant about the Hot Pink Parade, but she was going to tough it out. So were, apparently, the paraders. Upon walking up to Cheongye Palace we were faced with a double line of young boys dressed in riot gear. Further up the way the lawn was scattered with more young men, all smoking nervously, sitting on their shields. In the background was the "La-la-la-la" song that seems to come up at all Korean festivals and in the foreground: battle cries. Along the parade route you could hear the pounding of drums and see the waving of protest flags. Everyone was chanting their slogan and pumping their fists in the air, while a wave of cars decorated in pink balloons navigated through the crowd.
We ended up standing with a crowd in the middle of the road as the protesters swarmed up past us on the left and the parade came up on the right. For a minute it was chaos. I wasn't sure where the noise was coming from or what it meant. A man frantically pressed a flyer for Hi Seoul into my palm and told me to "dance" and "party." "Fun fun!" he assured. Maybe not. The first drumming group of the parade got through. A group of people in fancy dress made it. Then the protesters hit the end of the parade route and turned around. The cars with balloons were stuck and my friends and I dashed through them to the relatively uncrowded side street.
That was the end of the Hot Pink Parade. After that we watched Korean storm troupers line up on either side of the street and stand with their shields up. The protesters went up and down and the parade ended along way away, with no where to go.
As an American, my first reaction to seeing protesters outnumbered 2-to-1 by police is fear. In America a recipe like that, no matter what the protest is about, is going to end up with someone's baton in someone's face. In Korea, not so much. Though the "ones in power" have been cracking down on illegal protests, Korean police are not likely to throw the first punch. Or the second apparently, or the third. From what I've been told they'll take as much as they can before acting. In all, the scariest part of the protests was the percussion of the drummers pushing through protest, smoke, cries, signs and all, and dancing their way to the end of the line. Korean drums pack a punch that makes your heart beat a little faster.
The night ended with a long walk along the stream, the dead parade sitting forlornly on a median and a bunch of children dressed in their best hanbok wandering around with nothing else to do now.
When I first moved to Korea the entire kitchen in our apartment was covered in years worth of cooking grease. The bad kind. The kind that just sorta moves around instead of wiping off. It was so thick in some places that you could paint pretty pictures if you wiped it creatively enough.
I took a few weeks and with the help of a lot of Seventh Generation Multi-Purpose Cleaner I managed to get a few of the cupboards clean enough for storage and a wipe down the stove so it was only slightly covered in grease.
That's the way it stayed for a year. I left the other cupboards for dead. So did the roaches we spent months killing off. All was working well, but the stove always had a glean of gross on it. More so as I started cooking myself and used oils, butter, cheese etc for my cuisine.
Until today I had a stroke of brilliance as I washed my pans. I soak my pans in undiluted dish soap to degrease them. Why could I not do the same for my stove? So, armed with Palolive orange soap I attacked my stove. Lo and behold - the grease is gone. It's not sticky to the touch anymore. I'm not afraid of setting it alight when I turn on the gas. My stove is clean!
And it only took me a year to figure out how to do it.
Last year I spent six months in Korea; teaching military brats and generally being miserable. After a four month break spent at home in Hawaii I'm back - and far more ready to take on the country than I was before. Part of this is the fact that I am 1) Unemployed 2) Closer to finishing school and 3) have nothing to do with the military anymore - save my fiancee who is in the military.