Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How To Almost Lose Your Ear in South Korea

So, I'll be honest, the last time I wrote a "how to," I might have been in 5th grade and the topic was, "how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," or "how to make a snowflake out of paper." Really brain wrenching concepts, honestly and I don't recall my audience being overly enthused by my presentation.  I can't promise that this will be much better, and to be fair, it's turned into more of a recall of events than anything else, but the title seemed appropriately humorous.

    Me: "I'm itchiinnnnnnn to cut my hair. I need to go NOW."

    Kim: "Last time you were 'itchin' you pierced your ear in Hongdae..."

So I've been told that I have an unhealthy habit: not happy unless I am doing something to alter my appearance, create change, or stray from routine. Truth be told. I don't like the feeling of normalcy, bland routine, uneventfulness, or confiment related to any one thing. On the flip side, anything that promotes feelings of spontaneity, change, or adrenaline, and you can count me in.  So, four tattoos, multiple piercings, jumping off cliffs into water, riding on the back of motorcylces & encouraging the driver for more speed (even when mom forbids it), moving to the other side of the world, cutting and dying my hair excessively, jumping over scary fences on horses... done.  Most of these things have served their purpose: leaving me feeling refreshed, brand new, untouchable, and free to do as I please. Then there was the one instance where it surely DID NOT serve it's purpose and instead caused me agony and hatred for strangers with needles (minus the good kind that my doctor used to make me better)... so let's rewind, or as Dane Cook says, "let's Martin Scorsese this shit... let's go back, let's go back."

It all started like this...

One night, after getting my fortune read in Hongdae for fun, I spotted a piercing establishment upon exiting through the doors. BINGO. I struck gold. I turned to my friend Grace, "LET'S GET PIERCED!" Of course she motioned me forward, encouraging it while making it clear that I could put as many holes in my body as I felt appropriate but she was just there as an audience.  So, as it goes, I left with not one piercing but a double piercing (with a spider hanging from it... ?? What the hell was I thinking? Perhaps it's one of those moments when my mother would answer that question back with... "you weren't.) Regardless, I was very impressed with the new piece, even if not for long.

A few days went by, and I started to feel my heart beating in my cartilage: throbbing shooting pains.  The top of my ear was bright red and swollen.  I started reading online, freaking myself out, and decided I should go see a doctor.  Aftering checking in with my local doc, he perscribed me some antibiotics.  At that point, perhaps I should have taken the damn thing out already but I was in teenager, "i don't wannnnaaa," mode.  If the piercing itself was the first mistake, then leaving it in another couple days was the second. The following Friday, I decided I had enough. The antibiotics didn't seem to be doing much, and finally I had reached my tolerance for pain (or so I thought). I thought I would sit in on that Friday night basking in my pain, but then at last minute and without thought I was sprinting for the door in all my ugliness, no makeup, and no style. The next thing I knew I was on a bus crying and making my way to Aileen's place.  Trying to hold back my tears the whole way there, when I burst through her door, I lost it.  "Get this fucking thing out of my ear," I exclaimed! "I don't care what you have to do, or if it's going to hurt, please, do something, do anything... I literally cannot take it." I was sobbing. Aileen looked at me, and I could tell that she knew nothing mattered at that moment other than taking that thing off. We decided that even if we had to haul ourselves an hour to Hongdae to have it removed, that is what we would do.  After several failed attempts and me curling into a ball in the fetal position crying, we were out the door and on our way.  In addition to the fact that I had been crying and looked a mess, I was also sitting on the subway with a grape ice pop attached to my ear like a two year old with a boo boo. Classic.

When Aileen and I got to Hongdae, we practically sprinted from exit nine to the piercing shop. When I walked in, I looked at the man, pointed to my ear, and said... "out... take it out." He looked at me, then back at his boss, mumbled something something, "infection," and sent the store owner my way.  The man first attempted to take out the piercing with his hands, as I screetched in pain, and realizing that he couldn't, he then took what looked like a wrench to my ear.  It was so swollen that the back almost looked as though my ear was growing around the little metal ball.  Once the piercing was out, the man looked at my face, wiped away my tears, and patted the sweat off my forehead, reassurring me in Korean that it was okay.  For a small second I thought he was decent, and just then he tried to offer me another piercing and suggested I put a different earring in the hole. Again, my frustration with the pain got the best of me as I looked him dead in the face and said, "are you crazy?? Do you SEE my ear?? FUCK NO." He looked at me again, with the small amount of English he knew and replied back, "oh fuck? fuck?..... no no... you TRUST ME. I am good, trust meeee!" Trust me... the most fatal words ever spoken by man.  "No fucking way, don't touch my ear," I snapped back at him.  Aileen and I dipped out and now every time I pass by  I want to throw a grenade into that place and wipe out his business.

After jewlery removal but before I went back to the doctor.

Even though the piercing was out, the infection seemed to be lingering and the pain had only subsided for one night before reocurring. On the following Monday, I went back to see my doctor.  I will start this by saying and truly meaning, THANK GOD for my doctor, as well as his English abilities.  People that fear going to the doctor are absolute morons, they do nothing but good to help you become well.  I remember laying down on the table in his office and he told me that what he was going to do to help me was going to hurt.  He had to attempt to squeeze the infection out of my ear through the hole left by my piercing.  I knew this could be the case as it had happend to my sister once before and she told me how excrutiating it could be.  However, after the squeezing ended, I heard him say, "that's not good enough, I'm going to have to put a small incision in your ear." At this point, I believe I sat up and said, "an incision?" questioning what he had just made clear and then took a minute to cry and mumble something along the lines of an apology for crying, living abroad, and wanting my mom.  I took a minute to collect myself.  The process that occurred after was something I will never forget.  He numbed my ear, put in a small incision, and then proceeded to squeeze my ear firmly again, while trying to push the puss out through the openning.  Then, he took a swab of antibiotic gauze and pushed it into the incission, and dressed it. This same process was continued almost every day with the gauze being removed, the ear being squeezed, and the gauze being reinserted for the next 2-3 weeks.  After each visit, I had to receive IV's, which ended up keeping me there for another 40 minutes or so. The first week, I think I spent most of that time with subtle tears rolling down my face in the IV room.  That week, I called my mom in absolute distress, hyperventilating and not being able to collect myself, telling her that I could not deal with having to do it every day... the anxiety and anticipation of knowing the pain that awaited me at my doctor's office was wearing on me.  I have never had any kind of major accident or painful experience, besides breaking my arm horseback riding or having my wisdom teeth removed. Let me just say, I would rather break my arm 6 times consecutively or have my wisdom teeth reinserted and removed 4 times (at least then I'd be rewarded with milkshakes) rather than ever deal with the pain that was associated with this whole process again.  Bring on child birth.

This was during the treatment but obviously not the first week, as I was clearly not pained enough to refrain from making stupid faces.

It ended up taking a long time to heal and there were days when I actually believed I was going to have to have my ear removed.  My doctor is an incredible man.  Having a medical issue such as this can be really stressful while living abroad, if not due to the communication barrier, than just in part because you are so far from the comforts of home and let's face if... you are never too old to want or need your mom.  My doctor had lived in America for five years and his English could pass as his first language if you didn't know he spoke Korean.  On the first day of treatment, he wrote me a note telling me that he would do whatever it took to make me better and he sure did stand by his word.  From offerring me websites to remind me of the comforts of home, to going out of his way to find me special iv treatments, to being far more gentle than most Korean doctors have a reputation for.  He not only treated my ear appropriately himself, but even went as far as to personally take me an hour away (after working hours) to be treated by one of his friend's who was an ENT specialist.  When I thanked him and told him he didn't have to go so out of his way, he simply replied back, "you are my patient, it's my job to take care of you."  Not only was my doctor made of gold but his nursing staff was also very kind and gentle.  How funny now after a month of visits with them all, I feel as though I'm cutting out a part of my daily routine.  As of Monday this week, my stitches have been removed, and I no longer need IV treatments or regular visits. AMENNNN! It has been the longest month of my lifeeeeeeeee! I owe a big thanks to my doctor and his staff for nursing my precious ear back to health.  I solemly swear to never put another piercing in my body again. 

Lastly, a picture of my awesome doctor and nurses who I owe my ear! For any foreigners who keep up with me on here, if you live anywhere near my area, I highly reccommend my doctor.  His name is Doctor Gabriel Choi and his office is the Samsung Clinic in Wolgye-dong, Nowon-gu. They are open until 6pm on weekdays and 4pm Saturday. Telephone number 02)977-7582.

My next two updates can be expected within the week... Sunday Funday events & my Halloween in Hongdae and with my students. Stay tuned (the costume is worth it)! (Ps- for readers named Mom, Geraldo, and Grammy... sorry about the f word, but it WAS in fact appropriate. EEEEEEEEE!)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Outdoor Adventures Adrenaline Junky

One of the best things about living abroad is the inner pull you have to make the most of the year.  Going into a journey such as this, everyone tells you, "live it up, you are young, do as much as you can, experience as much as you can, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity." Something about going abroad makes you want to LIVE LIFE. You are taking this huge step, a big journey, a risk, an adventure; and surely, you want to take advantage of the opportunity while it's here.  I wish I lived my life like this EVERY DAY, no excuses, no restraints.  Living abroad, the novelty of the new place and the awe does wear off, but the urge to constantly be doing something exciting doesn't leave you.  I have become so aware of my being here.  I always want to explore and DO.  It leaves me thinking, now that I am used to living every day life in Korea, it seems more like a normal life, but it's still more jam packed with thrills and exciting experiences, because... I go looking for them.  I take advantage of the city around me and the land beyond the city. I find AMAZING things to do here WEEKLY... things that at home, I might not make the time for, because I'm too busy living every day life. I've come to  the realization that every day life should be just as exciting as life abroad, and if I've learned something in Korea, it's to take advantage of my time in order to live my life to the fullest.  I should be living life like this at home, as well as here.  Climbing mountains to sit at great heights overlooking this beautiful land we have been so fortunate to live on, jumping off a bridge JUST to feel free, finding a beautiful cafe to sit in and actually enjoy the surroundings without an agenda, appreciating the beauty around me, going on weekly adventures and learning more about myself.  All of these things I have been doing have slowly peeled away my layers.  I have been revealing parts of myself that I didn't know existed. I used to think I was a teacher, a reader, a young heart with a big spirit.  Now I have found I am far more things than just that... I'm also a writer, a wanderer, an artist, a musical enthusiast, an adrenaline junky, a nature thriving spirit, a runner, an adventurer, a extrovert AND an introvert.  I've come to this, I don't want to "live it up, experience as much as I can, do as much as I can, and be young and adventurous," just this year. I want to do this every day, for the rest of my life, and I sincerely hope I stick to that goal. It's not a once in a lifetime opportunity, it's a once in a lifetime life. I'm going to live it appropriately.

With this said, in the past month I have taken advantage of the outdoors quite a bit.  The weather just before summer ended and fall hit was amazing, although the fall weather itself is absolutely wonderful. I have really been taking on myself lately... going on trips without anyone I know in order to force myself into groups of new people, become more socialized among both Koreans and expats in Seoul, wandering around on my own personal adventures (nothing new there), and doing more physical outdoor activities, as well as things that tested my own fears and courage.  I have participated in a few nice hikes, kayaked down a river in Gangwon-do, gone white water rafting, and bungee jumped off a 72 foot bridge.  All of these experiences gave me the opportunity to experience Korea beyond the city and take it to another outdoor level.  I have sincerely enjoyed the mountains here from day one abroad but the past month I have really taken a liking to a lot of other outdoor excursions!  I went on the kayaking trip, as well as the hiking trips alone, and took it upon myself to meet new people. Part of the reason I came to Korea was to meet new and interesting people and I'm trying not to let my comfort level with the good friends I've made prevent me from doing so.  Doing these outdoor trips with these groups of new people has been really good for me. I met a lot of other expats and of course it's always nice to hear their stories... how they got to korea, why, and what their plans are for after this.  I also met a lot of Korean people during these trips and had to opportunity to surround myself with the culture more by being around them.  Hiking Suraksan was absolutely beautiful and afterwards I got to go to a traditional Korean barbecue with a group of Koreans and two people I met from the middle east.  I had gone to dinner with a group of Korean friends in a while and I had almost forgot how much fun it is to meet new Koreans and spend time with them!  Kayaking was a fun day. I ran into some of the people I had done some other group hikes with and I'm beginning to recognize familiar faces among the out door adventurers. We had a wonderful time on the water, having splashing wars like we were all old friends, and eating together while chatting.  White water rafting wasn't exactly what I would call a legit "white water" experience, but our group of people were a lot of fun so we really made the most of it and laughed a lot with our guide.  Bungee jumping... deserves it's own paragraph completely, however, I have a video that pretty much says it all.  Bungee jumping was not something I've ever had the longing to do, but something about that whole, "live it up while your here," inclined me to do so.  I didn't think I would be able to go through with it the week leading up to the event, but suddenly as the time drew nearer, my doubts started to subside and I really believed I was going to do it.  Something about the idea of it was suddenly very appealing to me.  Jumping off a bridge is like self inflicting pain... your brain is telling you, "NO NO you don't want to do that, it's going to hurt you."  Bungee jumping is a similar experience.  Your brain is telling you that you really don't want to jump off a bridge, it's dangerous, and you could die. However, when you are standing up there, you have to find the ability to convince your brain otherwise, and when you do, it's an amazing journey down.  When I took the leap off of that bridge, I'm not sure exactly where my mind was, but it was somewhere in the middle of a song and pep talk, then, onceI jumped I let out a freeing scream. I was falling, it was just quiet and free, and THEN it was like having the most amazing adrenaline rush ever after the first bounce back. I'm not sure I came down from my high for the next two days proceeding the jump. What a thrilling month it truly was, and as always, below are pictures of the journeys. Thanks for reading :)

Hiking at Suraksan

 The group I hiked with. CIK
 The hike was trying at times, this was a huge boulder we had to climb up the side of. It was somewhat scary and definitely tested my balance, but a nice accomplishment in the end. You can see me crawling up on the right side.
 A rest stop just a bit up the mountain with a nice view of the city.

The man sitting to the left of me was incredible! He must have been in his sixties and in the best shape of his life. He hiked the entire mountain without shoes on. When I asked him about it, he said, "my feet are happy." Now that's what I call being one with the earth. Glad to have met him.
 Boulder pioneers.
 Climbing boulders and hanging out! 

It started out as a cloudy day, but as we reached the peak it had turned into an incredibly beautiful day. Looking at this picture makes me want to go back, build a shack, and stay there forever.

Ending the day with some delicious outdoor Korean barbecue & new friends.

Kayaking the Hongcheon River in Gangwon-do

Away we go! A river surrounded by mountains :)

 A beautiful view of everyone kayaking down the river with surrounding mountains.
 My kayaking partner and I

Alex tipping over people's kayaks. All in good fun. kkk!

Having some fun in the water! :)

White water rafting in Gangwon-do & Bungee Jumping
(an exhilarating day!)

Kim and I with our white water rafting group!

The platform protruding from the bridge... where we jumped!

I don't know who this person is but I wish I did because they would definitely appreciate this picture I snapped!

Our group of bungee braving souls on top of the bridge!

 Kimberly and I with our leg wraps on... all ready to bungee!!! :)

Kim getting ready for her jump! The only two pictures we have of hers :(

My jump... my arms look super strange but I was swaying with the jump!

Embracing the the fall.


Survival of the bravest! We did it :))

Me with the bridge in the background... where I embraced my fears and flew like a bird (or fell like a bowling pin, whichever :-p)

Video footage of my jump :)