This update would've come sooner but I didn't want to spoil everyone else's holiday spirit. lol!

December 2008

Even as December began, I was looking forward to the end of the semester (January). Being at work for 11-hours a day, 4 days a week was wearing me down pretty badly. December was the beginning of the REALLY cold weather. Seoul had a couple of light snowfalls. I had given up wearing anything other than a calf-length down coat.

Most of the month found me in some state of compromised health. Even when I was healthy, I felt as if I simply between ailments. Sometime in November I woke up with a sharp stomach pain that brought me to tears. In addition, I was plagued by severe nausea. While I absolutely appreciate how cheap the government-provided health care is here---I'm talking less than $10 for a doctor's visit---when the doctor pokes you a few times in the abdomen---"Does this hurt...Does this hurt...Does this hurt?" "Yikes! That's exactly where I told you..."---It doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the medical profession. I'm thinking an acupuncturist could have hooked me up better than the 20 or so pills that the doctor prescribed. Also ironic is the fact that all those pills were to be taken in 1 week's time. So basically, after pushing mercilessly on my abdomen, and confirming, through the translation of my older male coworker that I did not have diarrhea, the doctor determined that these 2.5 pills three times a day was the cure...unless of course they didn't work, in which case I was to return to the office.

In December, I was at a doctor's office again having again been awakened by pain. This fellow spoke a bit of English. "Acid Reflux
uh" he said, and prescribed about 30 pills! I'm planning to see an acupuncturist soon...

On and off, I had been visiting a friend's church in downtown Seoul about an hour from my place. There's a really nice military couple at her church with a large apartment. They typically open their home after service and provide lunch for whoever wants to come. The Sunday of Christmas, they hosted a small Christmas party with a gift exchange. It was so...American! White Elephant style with gift snatching and all that! I had quite a bit of fun. It was the only Christmas party I attended this year.

I had Christmas Eve dinner with a group of expats, mostly likewise lamenting their distance from home and family. It was better than lamenting alone..and the 'blackened fish' was pretty good.

This was the first time (in all my 30 years!) that I hadn't spent Christmas with family. My tradition is to spend Christmas Eve through New Year's with them in Virginia. To make matters worse, Christmas is treated like a hyped up Valentine's Day out here...not exactly a happy scene for a 30-year-old single.

Rather than mope around my microscopic living space, I recruited a couple of girlfriends to go to a Dr. Fish cafe with me. If you are unawares, "Dr. Fish" are little scavengers about the size of large goldfish that eat dead skin. If I couldn't have a normal Christmas, I was certainly going to shoot for something interesting. You can check out a short vid of my experience here if you haven't already seen it. I think the experience was worth the 1-hour wait!

For Christmas dinner, I met up with some folks at a Mexican place and chowed down. It was more unique than the Christmas I spent at TGI Friday's. Definitely, different.

After working through Thanksgiving, I wasn't at all looking forward to working the day after Christmas. Still, Christmas fell on Thursday and we were right back to work on Friday. Another small highlight in the midst of dreariness was my December 26th lesson plan. I assigned my two 10th grade classes to "Interview a Native English Speaker." We called my sisters and my friend Joia by webcam. (Thanks girls!) The classes enjoyed the surprise and I enjoyed talking to family and friends while they were still celebrating Christmas.

While I was feeling less than positive about my Christmas experience, one really wonderful thing happened without my realizing it at the time...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I LOVE Christmas. Even though I live alone, I put up a Christmas wreath and a 6 ft. Christmas tree every year, some years, even a stocking. My dog has a little Christmas down vest and I generally make it a point to expand my Christmas music collection by a cd or two each year. Christmas in America is so
fabulously seasonal. Its start is marked by Thanksgiving and it's end is marked by the New Year. It is well established and orderly. There are even unwritten rules. Positive references to Jesus are 'permitted' in public spaces and even ardent atheists talk about being kind and doing good things for the poor. People suddenly care about "peace and goodwill to all men." You don't expect to go into a store during "the Christmas Season" and hear a song about people "smacking them hos", we save that sort of thing for January 3. This sense of order is one of the few left in America and it has been a comfort to me throughout my entire life.

For much the rest of the world, this just is not so. To Christians in Korea, Christmas is another chance (obligation?) to go to church for an extended service, sing a few hymns, and pray for a really long time. For everyone else, it's a chance to line Mariah Carey's pocket with royalty money because she wrote the best Christmas date song ever: "All I Want for Christmas Is You," (if she never made another song she could live off her Christmas check from Korea), and walk around with their current boyfriend/girlfriend in matching accessories while lugging around a Christmas cake.

Without Thanksgiving, there's no definitive start to the season. Likewise, January 1, is only a small New Year's celebration, as opposed to Chinese New Year in Jan. or Feb., so there's no proper end to Christmas. (I've seriously seen Christmas trees and decorations up through February out here.) Likewise, viewing Christmas as a date night means there's no reason not to blast whack club remixes to booty rap songs while people are getting their shop on.

I think initially, it was a form of defense against my sensibilities being assaulted by the lack of "Christmas decorum" but I began listening to Christmas music the week of Thanksgiving and didn't stop. Even in February, I'm still rocking "Joy to the World." (None of that Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer stuff...
real Christmas songs.) Somewhere in the midst of my sadness, Press 'play' now...

I heard the lyrics to "O Holy Night" as if for the first time..."
a thrill of hope / the weary world rejoices." Boy, did I need hope. And boy, was I weary! As you probably know, the song goes on to say, "for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn'...the night when Christ was born."

That level of impact can't be contained in "a season." I never realized how much of my believed appreciation of Christmas was inseparable from Christmas wreaths, candy canes, and "presents under the tree." Ever so slowly, a painfully fresh perspective seeped into my consciousness. It is one that I will carry with me the rest of my days.

My Korean American neighbor whom I had befriended at the airport bailed on the Korea experience an entire two days after the end of her school's semester (December 28). She left with a hasty goodbye for the comforts of balmy Orange County, California. I headed back to school the following day for the perfunctory end-of-the-school-year half days and found myself once again, sick...on New Year's Eve.

I brought in the New Year without a moment's time for reflection or preparation. Lying in bed with a slight fever and sinus headache, I watched on TV as performers and an overflowing audience celebrated downtown in City Hall Park. I stayed awake long enough to see the bell ringing ceremony then fell into a fitful, congested sleep, unexcited about what the new year would bring and dreading work on January 2.


[January soon to follow.]