Sore toes, sad kicks, and samgyeopsal

Sore toes, sad kicks, and samgyeopsal

How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do.  You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.  Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions?  For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

You learn over time that a lot of travelling and living abroad is literally just being in the right frame of mind.  It’s easy to do this when it’s a relatively short period of time like studying abroad, but it’s harder to maintain in the long run.  In the intervening months and years.  It’s about three weeks ago that most of this saga occurred, but the attitude parable is always relevant.

I’m currently trying to woo this boy, Sam-sshi.  Many of my current anxieties revolve around this situation, so we’ll just lay this out there.  So I knew him from before I left because we met when we both went to school in Pittsburgh.  He’s Korean-American and I was in Korean class so it was an easy extension.  We only met once or twice before I left after the summer ended.  I thought that was the end of it.  I returned home, took the TEFL course, and then went to Korea.

Months later, Chris-sshi comes into the bar and announces that Sam-sshi will be coming to Korea for work in June.  Well, June passes, and finally halfway through July he comes.  We’re scheduled to meet one Sunday, and I’m assailed by doubts.  We only met twice, what if I blew this up to be way more than it is?  What if he’s not as wonderful as I remembered?

Fear not, dear reader.  He’s every bit as wonderful as I remembered, and seeing people from home is always a sight for sore eyes.  We talked as if we’d known each other for half a decade and not just met a few times nearly a year ago.  We took a taxi to the university, where his cousin was having an architecture exhibition.  Later, he had more people to meet so he had to leave early.  Fast forward to the next weekend.  After substantial waffling, we agreed to meet in Myeongdong.  Seoul is far from where he lives in Ansan, but I was willing to wait.  I waited at home a bit, since it was Friday and we get off early on Fridays.  Then I waited at Starbucks.  After a while, I continued to Myeongdong.  I apparently have no idea how long it takes to get to Ansan.  I wait in the Myeongdong station, and then take a stroll down the shopping street.  Let me tell you, that is a depressing amount of foreign tourists on that street.

Finally, as soon as I was on the farthest possible part of that street, he had arrived.  We had to find a bathroom, so we settled on some sort of beer taphouse, which turned out to be expensive and underwhelming.  While there, a guy spilled his beer on me, Sam-sshi’s Guiness was ridiculously flat, and he admitted to me that a) he’s seeing a girl from Tinder, but b) that as soon as he discovers that a girl fancies him too much, he immediately loses interest.  Just bro talk or warning me off?  I don’t know.  After the single beer, he had to return to Ansan.  Should I  be flattered that he made this 1.5-hour trip up to Seoul for such a short meeting or disappointed that he wouldn’t hang out for longer?  We’ll see.  The goon has barely responded since after that, and it’s been two weeks.  This is often my kind of luck.

Anyhow, we’re here to say that love-life things are not anything that can necessarily be solved by “””having a good attitude,”””” unfortunately, which is kind of sucky.  But that’s life.

It’s like this.  This past week, my teeth had been hurting me.  I’m a hypochondriac when it comes to teeth things, because I’m terrified that something’s going to happen to them and I’ll need to get a root canal or something else awful.  But here’s the thing, it was just because I was focusing too much on them, worrying my gums and overbrushing and things, and when I stopped worrying, my teeth took care of the problem, whatever it was, by themselves.  Worrying too much often blows up the problem to be way worse than it is.

The morning after our underwhelming Myeongdong date (I call it underwhelming in the same breath as being appreciative that it happened and I would have waited much longer for even a date at Macca’s, but it was sadder that it was cut so short), we were set to go to the Boryeong Mud Festival.  I usually say “we” as in “The Royal ‘We,’” but for once I literally mean that a lot of people I know were set to go, including my coworker friend Jenn, another group of coworkers on a separate tour, and Sam-sshi, but with Tinder girl. (He said that he lowkey didn’t really want to go with her, after his aforementioned hangup, so he was going to just hang with us and get barbeque and ditch Tinder girl. I approve.)  I was on a different tour so that I could get both the bus and hotel booking in one shot, as well as being signed up for something called a “mud marathon” and other activities which sounded awesome.

That morning I woke up at 6:30 to pack, since I didn’t the night before.  It was pouring rain, but also pouring in were the excuses from all my friends as to why they didn’t want to mud festival in the rain.  All of them were ludicrous for many reasons, but mainly you’re anticipating being wet and covered in mud, so why should a little extra rain hurt?  Nonetheless, I was doubting a bit my choice to go.  Usually in these situations, though, I say, “I paid for it and I said I would do it, so I’m going.”  The 8am meeting time was very reasonable, anyway.  While I was on the bus trying to catch some sleep, Sam-sshi, too, backed out of the deal.  Only I remained of this huge group originally promised to come.

The Boryeong Mud Festival is one of those things that you read about, when you’re sitting back at home in your home country, that makes you say, “yes, of course I want to go to a country that has something like that, it sounds awesome.”  Go play in the mud in one of the largest festivals in all of Korea, sounds fun.  Although I was momentarily discouraged by the claim that it’s basically a big frat party for foreigners, I still wanted to go based on the initial impression alone.

So I’m sitting on this bus, caught between listening to the other bus riders’ stories, worrying about Sam-sshi and work things, and trying to get some sleep, my big umbrella propped up like a samurai’s katana, when I had a thought.  For once, I was faced with a situation that would be 110% what I made of it.  Nobody is going to make a trip in the rain fun for you.  But I really do tend to like rainy days, and if you told 8-year-old me that she would get to play in the mud and rain for a weekend and nobody would yell at her, she’d be overjoyed.  So really, if you resolve that the rain is going to ruin your time there, then yes, obviously, you’re going to have a bad time.  But if you determine that you’ll have a good time, despite being all wet and cold?  Well, that’s where the magic happens.  So I did an experiment: what would happen if you go into a potentially bad-time situation with an attitude that you’re going to have a good time regardless?

Spoiler alert: you’re gonna have a blast.

Sometimes travelling alone on the tour is helpful: you’re not stuck with work mates or family and can move between the groups freely.  Or if you just want to be by yourself for certain things?  That’s okay too.  You can sit with whoever you want and do whatever.  That’s my kind of style.  Nevertheless, good things happen when you branch out.  This is hard as an introvert, so it comes very slowly, but it’s easier in this frame of mind.  It helps that a lot of the people on the tour are either English teachers or travelers, so it’s easy to compare notes on our experiences.  While we drove and talked, there were about 120 people on the trip on three buses, the clouds cleared up and the sun came out.  Ridiculously pathetic fallacy.

We started off the trip by watching/kind of walking through the parade in Boryeong.  Then, there was a watergun fight organized by our tour group.  While it was a little weird feeling like the foreigner entertainment guild, the spirit of the place seeped through after a little bit as random Korean boys came through and we got to douse them with water, too.  Anyone who got too close to the refilling pool would get pushed in or splashed.  It ended up being a ton of fun.  After being thoroughly soaked, we moved on to the next part: the mud marathon.  I’ll admit I was a bit nervous for this part, as when civilians call something a marathon it might be anything from a 1-mile fun run to the full 26.2-mile shebang.  Civilians have no idea how long a marathon is.  We arrived at the mud flats in the afternoon.  It was cloudy but not rainy, and we got our socks and outfits ready.  As a proper swimmer, I’d had my suit on all day, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice.  Nonetheless, I did not come prepared with the proper socks and I had to borrow money from one of the kindly Aussies on the trip to buy some new socks that would actually stay on my feet (the mud’s suction is insane, you see).

The mud is so, so fun to play in, but this was business.  You got a really cool prize if you won, which I was confident I could do at first but after seeing the collection of really, really athletic-looking girls who were arrayed around, I wasn’t so sure.  The top 100 finishers got a medal, though, so that was the goal.  It was only a 3-kilometer race, so no big deal.  Except that it was hard.  The mud sucks your feet in and saps your strength (although it’s refreshing to be able to just run in your socks, no shoes), but you also have to be careful to not bring your feet down too hard in case of any rocks or sharp shells.  It was cool to see the procession and the different levels of undress of the participants.  There were some Boryeong residents who you can tell trained for the event, they smoked everybody easily.  At the farthest point they stamp your arm as you go by to show that you’ve run the full way, then you round the corner and head toward the finish.  I always end every race by a mad dash to the end, as I learned from my friend during my time in water polo.  I got the medal!!

After that was mud wrestling.  I always talk a big game for one so small, always saying stuff like “fight me” or something, but I got in that ring and honestly there’s something to be said for tallness.  I literally got picked up and thrown out of the ring, despite all of my attempts to get down low and use my center of gravity for my own advantage.  Since I got out so fast, we ended up playing soccer with the mud flat hyungs.  Now, I’m not wonderful at soccer with shoes on and on dry land, so kicking the ball with my bare feet and into puddles ended with some very sore toes and sad kicks.  But I did score a goal and the hyungs were really nice, when they weren’t trying to score on us.  The rest of the “marathoners” and “wrestlers” slowly joined, but at one point I got mud in my eyes and had to step out.  My toes were so sore at this point that I couldn’t be of much use, anyway.  It was an ordeal to get as much of the mud out of our clothes as possible, but that’s one of the joys of playing in the mud, I suppose.

After going back to the motel (the traditional kind where you sleep on the floor and stuff) and showering, a group of people went out for samgyeopsal.  It’s always weird not being necessarily the oldest but the most experienced in a group.  Afterwards, we attempted to chug as much soju as possible while walking on the beach trying to find a spot to watch the concert.  PSY was the act of the festival, and I was quite skeptical because he seems like kind of a goofy human, but wow, he is a wonderful performer.  The crowd was electric, and he knew how to work the crowd to get everybody pumped up.  The Aussies left and returned at one point with huge armfuls of soju bottles for everyone.  It was pretty crazy how everybody was drinking them like they were water.  The last encore was Psy doing covers of older songs, and he covered Big Bang’s “Sunset Glow” and my friend and I absolutely lost it.  It was an amazing atmosphere.  Afterwards, some air force men from Wisconsin tried to get me to get pizza with them and go home with them, but even free pizza was not enough to keep me from going back to the hotel to fend off the impending hangover.

Turns out, I succeeded.  I was trying to get this friend to go to brunch with me, and while we failed in going to the promised brunch place for actual brunch, we actually returned later for a very decent lunch.  (In the meantime we had pizza and waffles at another café for our breakfast.)  We were supposed to go to the “real” mud festival at this time, but it ended up being quite disappointing.  It was a bunch of activities and games set up in the plaza, but there was barely any mud!! I don’t know if it was all dried up or used up, but it was just not worth it to get all dirty for so little payback.  In addition, it ended up being quite sunny and nobody was feeling standing in 2-hour lines just to go down a water slide.  We ended up going to the beach and listening to the rave-like music and floating around with everyone in the water.  The water was really warm and the atmosphere was really chill despite the intense rave music.  After some time we actually continued into the concert part of the rave, where disinterested-looking volunteers in facemasks pelted the crowd with huge water hoses.  We caught it just before the end, and that part was wayyyy more fun than I imagine the actual mud festival was.  We also caught some Popeye’s chicken before I left, something I miss immensely from home.  Sometimes KFC just doesn’t cut it.

So anyhow, this would have been a very boring and un-notable weekend if it hadn’t been for that experiment.  When they say attitude is everything?  Yeah, they’re not lying.  Perspective makes a huge change in how you go about your daily life, and sometimes you gotta take the setbacks as just another challenge for growth.

A toast to seeing obstacles not as stumbling blocks, but rather as stepping stones to the next big thing in this life.