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!"