Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Tao for Travelers: Home Again

On Monday, May 15th, I woke up in Seoul, and what flashed into my mind was a poem that my son, Ken Kaufman, wrote when he was in grammar school. It is the epigraph to the chapter about my three adopted children in House of Joshua: Meditations on Family and Place

My granddaughter Lily had said about my trip to Korea, "You're a 72-year-old woman, 15,000 miles from home." Slight exaggeration, but it did capture a certain angst about the trip. It took me all these years to study in a foreign country so, instead of junior year, I was on my senior semester abroad.  

So, echoing Ken's lines, I thought, "Now I'm Mindy Fullilove age 72, Bye everybody, I'm going home!" 

It was so satisfying. Then as I went through the long day's journey into West Orange, I thought of many other "home" poems and stories. Ken and I read and re-read Dr. Seuss' Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now? so many times. I said to Ken that after I leave, people in Korea will say, "The time had come so Mindy went."

It occurred to me to say to myself that in the interim period -- between waking up and getting to bed in my own house -- "I have miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep." 6,900 miles to be exact.  

And then, in celebration of the success of my journey, I chanted, "To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jiggety jig!"

More seriously, I was pondering the question people have begun asking me, "What was your trip to Korea like?" The answer that came to me was, "It was a combination of Heidi and Merci La Ville." I wasn't exactly sure why I said Heidi, so I re-read the book. There are many relevant parts, but what I was remembering on the journey was Shirley Temple as Heidi, running up to Grandfather on her return to the mountain and saying, "Grandfather, grandfather, I'm home!" 

Friday, May 12, 2023

Tao for Travelers: The Flow of Healing

When we travel, we place ourselves in the hands of strangers. We depend on them to accept and help us. When I woke up last Saturday morning (May 6) with a scratchy feeling in my throat. I did a Covid test and was pleased it was negative.  However, the cold came on like a Mac truck, and I feared the home test was wrong. I wrote to Dr. Bora Lee, who has been so kind to my family and me, and asked for advice. She wrote back immediately and said if it got worse, she could see me. Monday I was feeling a little better, but went for a PCR test. I got the test down at the Yongsan-gu Community Center, which is an imposing building around the corner from where I'm staying. As opposed to any other Covid test I've had, the young man who did the test jabbed the back of my nose fast and deep and said, "OK, that's that." He said I'd hear on Tuesday. Could one jab like that work, I wondered.

Tuesday morning I got the result that I had Covid. It came with a certificate saying that I was quarantined for 7 days from Monday, the day the test was done. The long text message, in Korean, was followed by a phone call from a public health worker who spoke English. She asked a lot of questions and explained the procedure. I said, "Well in the US, we only quarantine for five days, so can I go home on Saturday?" She laughed at me, and said, "Quarantine ends Sunday at midnight and then you're free to go." 

Happily I really like my apartment in Itaewon, and I had enough food, assuming I ate rice three times a day. I texted the results to Dr. Lee and she said she would see me that afternoon. She had the day off from her job in Incheon because it was her daughter's K-pop dance recital. She was squeezing me into her busy day. I was enormously grateful. She even picked me up and took me by cab to the National Medical Center where I was seen by a pulmonologist. My oxygen saturation was normal, which was reassuring. I explained all the symptoms, and got Paxlovid for the virus and painkillers and antihistamine for the rest. I left with all the medicine I would need. I went back home by subway -- happily it was not crowded and I kept distance from others. 

After that, there wasn't much to do except make a chart for taking medicine and set alarms to remind me to take it. I had no energy and my mind was cloudy. Professor Eunju Hwang wrote that she would order groceries for me and what did I want? I said I had food. She wrote again and said, "I'll order groceries for you." So I sent what I could think of -- not brilliant -- all I could imagine was chicken soup! Happily, the groceries came, I made chicken soup and the healing began. 

A lot of the healing involved me NOT doing, so that I wouldn't get in the way of Nature. The body knows how to heal -- I am fully vaccinated so my body was sending antibodies into the fight against the virus. the body knows how to use the food for energy and sort out the essential vitamins that are crucial to the metabolic process. The conscious me -- the Ego -- really had no part to play except to calm down. It was quite intimidating to be alone -- truly alone -- in Seoul, and feeling so sick. I tried binge watching a K-drama, but picked Dodosolsollalasol -- which should be called Dodo, after the extinct bird -- which irritated me. Rather than tackling the central issue and sending people off stronger, that K-drama refuses to tackle the issue, passing the problem on to the next generation. As a family therapist, I was incensed. So I had to quit that drama. Just don't watch it, is my two cents. 

So instead, I stared out the window, texted with family and friends, and slept. And slept. And slept. What weird, technicolor dreams with the most vivid, amazing images. I didn't really like them. As the days went by (really 1) the Paxlovid taste accumulated in my mouth. Granddaughter Lily said to get cinnamon candy. I'm really at a loss in Seoul because I don't know enough Korean to work the apps. She said, "Just ask Eunju." I was feeling like this was an imposition, but I did anyway. Eunju ordered them for me, no problem, and that worked like a miracle. Not only did cinnamon candy take the Covid taste away, but also it enabled me to eat, which gave my body energy and vitamins I needed for the fight. Eunju even wrote to ask again what food did I need? She thought the chicken soup might be running out, which it was. And she asked, "How about bread? do you need bread?" The truth was that the loaf I had gotten on Saturday was a bit stale and I was eeking out the last slices, so I said yes. And in a bit more food arrived, including the most glorious half loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread I ever saw! I kissed it and cut a slice.  

As I near the end of my quarantine, and get ready to take the Monday flight home, I am reflecting on this twist of events. I started to study K-drama because I was sheltering-in-place to avoid Covid. I came to Korea as part of that work, knowing that there was still Covid in Korea and that my plan to be out and about would put me at risk for the infection which I'd so diligently avoided for three years! So here I am, with Covid. But I am able to appreciate how different it would have been for me, if I'd gotten it earlier -- I was exhausted from overwork in March 2020, we hadn't worked out treatments, there were no vaccines. We have all these tools now and Korea has a well-developed system for connecting people with the treatments they need. Dr. Lee and her colleague looked at me with experienced eyes -- they'd seen a lot of Covid and knew what they were dealing with in my case. And people had discovered such arcane things as cinnamon candy is the trick to handling Paxlovid. This is the result of worldwide effort, carried out at every level of scale. 

I've been studying the Tao, whose founder, Lao Tzu, observed, 

If there is to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,

There must be peace in the heart.

"Making peace" -- as he points out -- is a complex project, and one we talk about all too little. But in the achievement of the world's fight against Covid, we have demonstrated these steps: an international effort to find a vaccine, a national effort to distribute vaccines and treatments and institute an array of public health measures, local efforts to help people understand what was happening, household efforts to adapt to the demands, and the call to each of us to have peace in our hearts as we went through this. 

I am a beneficiary of all this worldwide effort. Not that we did it perfectly, but that we did cooperate to control a pandemic, perhaps the most international cooperation the world has had to date. 

What was left for me, in between the alarms reminding me to take my pills, was to have peace in my heart. To go with the flow of Nature's healing, leaning on the kindness of strangers who'd become friends, supported by family and friends from around the world, supplied with food, shelter and medicine, and aware that no further action was required on my part -- I was to let Nature take her course. 

I'd wanted to know what the Tao of K-drama was, and this illness has been my own little mini-drama, revealing not only what it was, but how it was at work in my own life. As we say at Faith + Works UU Congregation of Orange, "Amen!"

Friday, May 5, 2023

Tao for Travelers: Delights of Staying for a While

I've been in Seoul for 11 weeks now. I can more or less find my way to new places. I know a bunch of foods that I like and others that I would rather not have. I have found some nooks and crannies that help me feel at home. I've been to the DMZ, the war memorial, several museums and temples, a concert hall and lots of stores. I've learned when coffee shops open in my neighborhood (11am) and when the party stops (never). A waiter remembered me. 

In 2000, Bob Fullilove and I went to Paris for two months. I got a very large map of the neighborhood and plotted all the places we got to know and when. Cafes were first, internet cafe second, grocery store third -- all in the first week. Laundromat trailed. So the process of settling in is a very particular one and I know that it takes a bit of time. 

There is so much to get to know, even besides speaking the language and making the right change. Little things, like the routines around garbage. I don't remember how we disposed of garbage in Paris, but I distinctly remember that the trucks started their rounds at 5am. As the loud parties didn't stop until 2am, that left very little quiet time for sleep. In Seoul, there are a variety of ways to put "trash out" -- in Itaewon we have three kinds of trash bags and we pile them on the corner in front of the bank after 6pm. I think the rats are very discrete about their enjoyment of this, because I've never seen one. Here the trucks start early as well, but perhaps it's not right under my windows because I often sleep through their coming and going. 

A bigger thing: finding the best food. In Paris, food I loved was all around me, everywhere. So vague differences in quality rose the top of the issue. Bob fell in love with a particular cafe on a particular street at which we had particular seats every morning for croissants and cafe au lait. Oh my God, what a way to start the day! Seoul is a bit more complicated. There is astounding food everywhere and wonderful coffee every two feet. But the staples of my life -- bread and cheese -- are a bit harder to find. And of course, I have to factor in the "getting lost" part. My host had recommended Maybell Bakery. I found my way to the place where it was said to be, but no bakery. It was only later that I discovered that it was there, but downstairs and the sign is blocked by the "closed" box if you go on Sundays, which was the next time I was foiled. The hird time, I got there easily -- very familiar with the route by then -- but they were sold out, a man said, wringing his hands at my evident disappointment. Then I actually got there at the right time and with lots of bread on hand -- obviously I bought out the store. Then I sat on a bench right outside the door and ate a breadstick, savoring every mouthful. Real bread. 

Public transit is also a big part of the learning. Subways move in particular directions and getting to the right direction is not as easy as I would wish. Often the trains are not on the same platform. Lately, when I get to the wrong platform, I just go right up the stairs. If I've been unfortunate and come up right at the exit, I just exit, pay the fare again and go to the right one. I console myself by saying, "It's a dollar. All in all, not the biggest expense of three months in Seoul." 

Is this consoling? Well, it makes me think about other expenses, like my NEED for a signet ring, which I've had for a long time. I adore the seals that people in Korea use in addition to signing their names. We went to AnnivMik, a jewelry store owned by a friend of a friend. She had sterling silver rings with the name of her store on them. I got the idea that I could have a ring with my name instead. She said oh yes she does that all the time. So I went there with my new friend, the English professor and painter, Eunju Hwang. I was faced with a lot of choices about the font or it could be in my handwriting. Better idea: Eunju's handwriting! The ring says, "풀리러브" which is Fullilove in Hangul. And that is how I came to have a unique, one-of-kind sterling silver signet ring, which cost slightly more than the price of getting to the right direction of the subway!

I just picked up my new ring, another joy of staying for a while -- plenty of time to get something made for me. I had orthotics made for me -- not as flashy as my ring, but very very helpful. I had tee shirts made and photobooks. And I've seen the prayer plant at the apartment put out a new leaf, and the little tree get a little bigger. So lots of things happen with time.

But then the arc of the visit shifts from "where am I?" to "I'll miss my favorite bakery when I leave." And then comes the inevitable, "Oh hell, I'll just have to come back!"


Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Tao for Travelers: Directions

I have come to think that nothing matters for travelers more than good directions. This conclusion is influenced by the fact that I have a comfortable lodging, a lovely array of electronic gadgets, and excellent shoes. So what do I need next? Directions. What else do I need? The humility to take directions!

I got directions the first time I went some place in Seoul. It might have worked better if I knew enough to follow them precisely, which I didn't. I took the bus instead of the subway (big mistake). It was made worse by my confusion over "next" -- you know the problem -- "next stop is [blank]." I had [false] pride in hearing the word word "next" in Korean. Note: they don't give the next part in the English announcement, another clue I overlooked. Well, after getting off at the "next" stop a couple of times, I learned that by "next" they mean the one after this one and I should wait for it to be the one. 

These [pretty fatal] mistakes of mine were compounded by the bewildering experience of getting off and looking around and seeing everything in Korean and nothing that vaguely resembled an orderly grid with streets named by numbers. This threw me into the next problem: getting from the bus or subway stop to the place. Google maps represents this as a straight line passing right through buildings, a trick I haven't mastered. So I need to abandon my idea that I can get there and accept my dependency on directions. It turns out there's a reciprocal to getting directions and that is taking direction. 

Having accepted my dependence on good direction, it turns out that people vary greatly in the directions that they give, from rather vague to exceptionally detailed and clear. Here's an example of great directions: "Take a taxi. Show this [address in Korean] to the driver. Come to the second floor." These directions are perfect and I know I will get there. One caveat: Seoul has some pretty cranky taxi driers -- maybe they would like to be tipped??? I will tip, even though it's not the local custom. No one will know but him and me. 

I have asked permission to share the "best ever" subway directions in the hopes that this will set a standard for all of us, me included. A guest who was annoyed about getting to my house scolded me for not saying that one highway ended and another began. Frankly, I had never noticed that. So it's easy to overlook small details and editing one's directions will lead to improvement over time.  Let's all try!

What makes the directions to Noah's Roasting so excellent? First of all, they are Seoul-ful (horrible, I know). There are very particular assets and challenges in Seoul, and these directions avoid pitfalls and use strengths -- one of which is the numbering of exits from subways and trains, etc. If you take the right exit, you're halfway there. Then, more generically, the author used google street maps to give a visual -- this was a huge help. And there was a tiny mistake -- so always room for improvement! If you want to go to Noah's Roasting, at the last step, don't turn into the driveway. Instead, take the next turn, which is the alleyway. 

Noah's Roasting, by the way, is a lovely place for a meeting. Spacious, not rushed, and great coffee!

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Tao for Travelers: Lilacs in Seoul

Spring has come to Seoul. The showy glory of the cherry blossoms has been washed away by the rain. In their place, the quieter thrill of lilacs is everywhere. Lilacs unfurl their petals slowly, to the colors lightens, like the arrival of the dawn. The heady scent fills the air, especially when the sun heats on the flowers. I have so many memories attached to the blooming of the lilacs that I am thrilled by each and every shrub or tree I see. 

Just to mention a few of the associations. Louisa May Alcott wrote a book called Under the Lilacs. It is a book about finding a home. At the center of the story is house with a lilac that hangs over the porch. I had a house with lilac at the door. Walt Whitman"s famous poem -- When Lilacs Last by the Dooryard Bloom'd -- was seared into my consciousness when I read it one spring.


When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

I couldn't help but think of time. My own version was:

Last year in the bowl of trees I did not know of now.

Perhaps my surprise is in contrast to Whitman's certainty -- two faces of the process of looking back.

This spring in Seoul -- far from my own lilacs but among lilacs nonetheless -- seems a metaphor for continuity and change, and this in a city that that is emblematic of both. I was smelling some lilacs the other day and a man stopped and looked at me. He seemed to be searching for a word, then said, with triumph, "Lilacs!" Short pause. Then, "Smell good!" I nodded vigorously. He finished with, "Now write a poem!" and walked away. 

I thought it was a surprising assignment from a passerby, but maybe he sensed my adoration of the flower. 

So here is my poem:


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Tao for Travelers: My weekend in Hong Kong

I have an old friend, Rosann Santoro, who has lived in Hong Kong for decades and it's been that long since I've seen her. As Korea is so close, I decided to visit for the weekend -- how cool is that? Looking at what's going on in my hotel, I was reminded that one thing people come to Hong Kong for is shopping. They come back from their forays with shopping bags from all sorts of luxury stores. And I'm told that there are underground stores that sell the fake versions of everything and even the fakes of the fakes. Mind-boggling. 

As I don't shop enough to know what's what, I have stayed strictly on the sidelines: looking for small presents, a camera case and a fountain pen. Now, I don't need a fountain pen -- it's just that a stationery store had a great display of pens and the announcement that it was their annual sale -- and this was interesting because a fountain pen represents a lifestyle of ease and pleasure, which dances in my head when I see one. I do have a very pleasurable lifestyle, but not so much ease, and rarely use the fountain pens I have -- you see my problem. 

Hong Kong is a "love at first sight" kind of place if you like crowded cities, which I do. It throngs with people, the buildings are jammed together, the majestic, historic banyan trees shelter the nearby avenue -- it's quite spectacular. And I haven't even really seen the harbor yet, except from the air. 

In the meantime, Rosann has been taking me to dinner at the Kowloon Cricket Club, a sea of green fields that completes the urbanity. The club is and has always been multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, so you can get food from around the world. I've been focused on the Cantonese dishes, the like of which I've never tasted before. I say to myself, "Oh this is what they mean by the difference between Chinese fast food in my neighborhood and the real thing!" 

Today it is raining, so we may go to the nearby museum of the history of the city -- always a top choice for me! And then we'll chat about our families, our lives since we last met, and the curious state of the world and how we might help.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Tao for Travelers: Touring

I am visiting South Korea for three months so I haven't felt any pressure to see the sights or even to leave Itaewon. But my visitors are here for shorter periods of time and getting out and about is, I've learned, more a part of short visits than long ones. Because of my guests, I've been to museums, lovely restaurants, parks, markets and a long list of coffee shops. 

Marisela wanted to learn about Korean Buddhism, so we did a templestay at Tongdosa, the oldest and largest temple here. We spent four days and three nights there, immersed in the culture of the temple, meaning the structure and practice of the religion. We watched the ringing of the four instruments of Buddhism, went to a variety of services, and had tea with three monks who kindly answered my questions. Because Tongdosa is south of Seoul, spring was already arriving there and the plum trees were coming into bloom. The experience of sitting with a monk and having tea is one that I will cherish -- so different from rushing to a coffee shop or even grabbing a cup of tea as I head into a Zoom meeting.

Lily wanted to go to Namsan Tower for a second time. Lee Bora, a physician we were introduced to, took us there but it was a foggy day and we could see only the fog. We got a ticket to go back for free and Lily thought that would be great. We wanted to take a cab there, but the cab driver explained that they're not allowed on the mountain and could only take us to the cable car. Lily, being braver than I am, took lots of pictures on the way up, while I stared straight ahead. When we got to the top of the tower, it was so amazing to see the difference between complete whiteout and sparkling sun!  

Molly wanted to go for a Korean facial. She researched online for one that was highly recommended. She decided on Spa 1899, because it was both great and friendly to people speaking English. It was really an amazing experience. NO extractions -- just massage and masks and lovely ginseng oil. It actually started with a cup of ginseng tea and five minutes of foot bath with the ginseng added to the water. What an experience! We came out glowing! 
Doug was deeply committed to food adventures. We went to a variety of restaurants and to several markets, including a night market tour. I liked the Mangwon Market best. Dr. Lee took us there. Her husband is a social activist who helped to organize the market and manages its coffee shop. Her daughter likes to get a special ice cream treat which is like an ice cream S'more, with the toasting of the marshmallow provided by an alligator blow torch. Dr. Lee even sent us home with a Korean version of chicken nuggets in three fabulous flavors, which we savored at dinner. Both of Dr. Lee's tours included fabulous food, which I could never have experienced on my own. 
And hosts also have ideas what one should see. Lee Bora has been so generous with us, taking us first on a City Bus tour, which included our first visit to Namsan Tower, and then second on a "miserable history" tour, which took us to Seodaemun Prison History Hall and the War and Women's Human Rights Museum. The latter is dedicated to telling the story of women who forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army duing the colonial period and World War II. There is an ongoing protest of the Japanese refusal to acknowledge the government's role in this violation of human rights. For the 1000th protest, the protesters made a statue of a young girl staring at the Japanese Embassy and an empty chair beside her, inviting us to join in solidarity. We took turns sitting with her.  

I'm on a short pause with no visitors at the moment, so I've settled into my own wu wei idea of getting to know the country. I had a great conversation with Professor Eunju Hwang of Sogang University. She agreed with me that no woman would have ever expressed whatever the sentiment of wu wei is as "do nothing." That formulation had to come from a wealthy man. But what is the intent? We agreed that "do one thing at a time" was a definite possibility and it was certainly something my mother said to me, usually combined with "don't get ahead of yourself," similar to the more current saying of, "keep your head over your feet." 

There are lots of things to do today, so I'm taking them one at time, while appreciating the sunlight pouring in the windows of my apartment in Itaewon. I have time to listen to Han Kang's Human Acts, and ponder the many ways in which deep suffering colors this splendid place. I might otherwise be lulled by the wonderful bus system and the gorgeous movie stars into thinking they have it all.