Expanding horizons – of the body AND the mind

This month I was privileged to again travel overseas to South Korea to visit my daughter, Erin, for a couple of weeks, and the two of us also flew to Osaka, Japan for a few days.  As always when traveling, I enjoy the new experiences and a different perspective on life.

Subway trains reserve cars for WOMEN ONLY!
Standing on line at the train station – for WOMEN ONLY!

While spending a few days in Japan, one thing really stood out to me: The subway trains have specific cars for WOMEN ONLY.  The place to wait at the station is also clearly marked WOMEN ONLY.  What a wonderful gift this is, in my opinion.  No, it doesn’t solve the huge problems of sexual harassment, but it does provide an immediate answer for a woman’s safety and peace of mind for today! Needless to say, Erin and I happily used this feature as we traveled to and from Universal Studios – we enjoyed a couple of days at Harry Potter World in Osaka.  It was a truly magical time!!

Welcome to Hogsmeade, Osaka, Japan style!
Hogwarts Castle!! I’m in love with this place!
One of my favorite shops – the Owl Post!

 While in South Korea, I spent a lot of my time just being present in this lovely country.  Knowing that North Korea and our president’s dealings with that country’s leader did give me some pause as we were less than an hour from the DMZ. But at the same time, North and South Korea were deciding to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics together, and sending positive messages of cooperation. So I felt relatively safe, and enjoyed walking around Cheong-na International City, where Erin lives and works.

One thing that always impresses me is that even the police do not carry guns.  Only the military carry weapons.  The most common phrase I hear as I visit other countries or teach the Chinese children online, when I talk about visiting them, is “Don’t bring your guns!” Apparently most of the world believes that every American walks around with guns – well, many do, but not me, thanks.  I often am told when I ask about them visiting America that “nope, that country is too scary — too many guns!”  I’m sure most of us have seen the internet videos of cops in other countries arresting and taking down criminals without using guns – it is possible! Personally, I think more weaponless training is an investment that communities and government should support, as well as more restrictions on gun control. If other countries can do it, why not us?

Another obvious difference from the USA was the universal healthcare that South Koreans enjoy. Even my daughter, as an English teacher from America, qualifies.  A dental visit runs her less than $10, her prescriptions from the pharmacy are just a couple of  bucks, and a coworker who broke a leg had emergency room visit, xrays, casting, followup treatment, and physical therapy – with just a few dollars out of pocket.  These folks are even able to see dermatologists frequently, and have excellent skin care (while most of us here get put on a 9-month waiting list for a VERY expensive visit to a specialist to have our skin checked for problems, including melanoma!)

In Cheong-na, along the canal that runs the length of this lovely city, is a lovely park where families ride bikes, shop, dine, walk, run, and even exercise! Under the bridge overpass for the street level above, are free exercise bicycles and ellipticals and other equipment, some of which are hooked to computer games to encourage exercising! I saw people of all ages stopping to do a free workout during their walks.  It is a natural part of their everyday life.  They also have plenty of comfy seats/tables and even platforms to rest on! The local construction workers stop after lunch to lay down and nap for a bit before returning to work — who doesn’t love naps!?!?!  The sidewalks in town also have inserts all along the way in bright yellow with raised bumps for folks with eyesight difficulties – it makes it so easy to see where to walk, where to cross the street, where the bus stop is…what a nice feature!

The intergenerational families living together, and grandparents taking babies for walks in their strollers during the day, made me smile. Many Asian families share their living space and grandparents are often the day care providers so both parents can work.  I also saw older people out in the mornings, picking up trash in the public places – a couple hours of work paid by the government helps them financially, and also keeps the city clean.  Elderly people are highly respected, and treated well.  Even on the subway trains, free for those over 65, they were waved to a seat by a younger person getting up to let them sit.  As a foreigner, I was treated the same, which made me smile.

Two lovely customs which I really appreciated are: 1) always take/offer money/receipts with two open hands and a lovely little bow of respect, whether paying for a meal or buying at a store, regardless of the amount of money.  And the other custom, 2) Whenever you enter a place of business, immediately soft voices welcome you with (in Korean) “Warm welcomes” and as you leave, no matter if you purchased anything or not, again soft voices send you off with “Thank you for coming to our business, have a nice day.”  The South Koreans definitely have mastered the art of customer service.  It impressed me how lovely and gentle voices can make a difference in the atmosphere of your daily life!

A huge factor in Korean life is RESPECT FOR OTHERS.  Even in a large apartment building with excellent soundproofing, one does not run the vacuum or make loud sounds in the evening/night as “it is not respectful of others”.  People on the subway actually do not sit in the reserved seats for pregnant women/disabled/elderly, even when all other seats are full.  Conversations between people in public are kept to a very quiet tone, and headphones are used for music/social media as “it is respectful of others”.  It really was a pleasure to walk around in a safe and respectful little world, even in a large city much bigger than most of us live in.

No, everything is not perfect in South Korea.  The educational pressures are very high on children from a young age.  The pressures to drink socially at an alarmingly horrible intensity are even worse, connected to your career and your bosses. No place is perfect, but I understand why Erin is choosing to live over there in South Korea, and is reluctant to come back to America with its divisiveness, political mudslinging, police shootings, and crime. Sad to say, but saying you’re from Canada is met with more respect and well wishes than being an American!

I enjoyed the gentle serenity of South Korea, especially in Cheong-na, and the lovely people.  Not only did I expand my horizons by traveling overseas to new countries, but I also gained personal experiences so my perspective has expanded!  This is definitely one of the best benefits of traveling!

—Scout, out!

From my bookshelf:

“Using a fetching face to make men do as you wish is no different from a man using muscle to force a woman to do his will….Both are base, and both will fail a person as they age.  No, she had not approved of seduction as a tool.”

–Words of Radiance, Book Two of the StormLight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson, 2014

Settling in for the winter – Albuquerque style

I’m baaaaack!!!

At the end of September, I completed a four-month road trip which was highly successful. I arrived back in Albuquerque and pulled into my daughters’ driveway. A thorough van cleaning was in order. I am happy to say that 1.5 years of van life has been without any sign of spiders or mice or snakes – whew! (That really was a concern of mine going into this adventure!)  I attribute the lack of creepy crawlies to peppermint essential oil on cotton balls placed strategically throughout the van, and some unwrapped Irish Spring bar soaps tucked in several places.

I am back to teaching almost every day. I found that trying to teach while on the road did not work so well for me.  It was entirely too stressful to be dealing with people not having sufficient wi-fi at their homes, or finding a place with sufficient wi-fi at random places. At one truck stop, I even paid $3 to use the truck stop wi-fi for truckers, only to find that the router faced the back lot where trucks are parked and not toward the front lot where I was allowed to park, so — no go, and I ended up cancelling my classes at the last minute.  This did not endear me to the company, to say the least.  I finally decided in July that I would only schedule classes for when I was at a family/friend’s home where I already knew the wi-fi was sufficient.

So now I am parked in Albuquerque and teaching most mornings, from 5 am to 8 am.  Once Daylight Savings Time kicks the clock back an hour, it will be 4 am to 7 am.  Gotta love Mountain time!  (It was so much easier back on the East Coast when the same classes were from 7 am to 10 am!) I am struggling with readjusting my internal clock to be ready to teach at 4 am.  I tried sleeping earlier at night to get my 7 hours in before 4 am, but that meant going to sleep at 9 pm – not a great solution!  Then I tried sleeping 3 hours before classes and 4 hours after classes – also not a good solution.  So now I stay awake through the night and go to sleep after classes are finished…which means sleeping most of the day. It works, but I am unhappy at missing daylight!!!! This is the biggest adjustment I have to make for the winter. *Addition: I am back to dividing my sleep to before and after classes; I just needed sunlight!! Much better now!

Living the van life all summer, where I went to sleep with the sunset and woke at dawn each day, was much healthier for me. I like being awake early in the morning and having sunshine all day.  It also greatly benefits my Seasonal Affective Disorder to live in the sunshine! But it looks like this sleep/work pattern will need to continue at least until August 2018, when I will reach 62 and my financial situation changes. At that time, I can just work Saturday/Sunday evenings, 7 pm to 10 pm, and be back to my normal circadian cycles with the daylight!

Fortunately, I arrived back in Albuquerque in time for the annual Balloon Fiesta. With about 700 hot-air balloons of all shapes and sizes, the 10 days in early October are always exciting in Albuquerque! This year, I was happy to volunteer for a day of crewing for a Brazilian team.  This meant arriving at the Balloon Fiesta Park by 6 am, helping to unpack and inflate the balloon (a big Armadillo!), and then after launch I jumped in the back of the crew pickup truck as we tracked the balloon northeast through the city and out into some wide open space where the pilot set down. (However, I did not enjoy seeing snakes nearby!) It was an interesting hour as we reached the balloon and helped deflate and pack up the balloon.  After we loaded the basket into the truckbed, I climbed into the basket for the ride back to the park.  Standing in the balloon basket as we drove down the highway was pretty fun – we got lots of funny looks from people, and some friendly waves.  What an adventurous morning!  Definitely sign up to volunteer crew (see website – www.balloonfiesta.c0m) if you are in Albuquerque for the Balloon Fiesta in early October – it was loads of fun!

It was also great to meet an RV-ing couple, who had also volunteered to crew for the same balloon team.  Jeannie and Dave were there all week, and they both got to ride in the balloon – yay!! We had a good time comparing our 2017 summer trips – seems we were in Maine this summer at the same places at the same time! Now we know….  We may all end up in Alaska next summer, too, or some other place on the road!  Some of the best people are RV-ers! They find adventures everywhere!

Inflating the Armadillo balloon
…and the Armadillo is up and almost ready to launch
Only three people in the basket – rats! Maybe next year I will get to ride!
The “skin” is deflated and ready to pack into its bag.
The basket is in the truck bed, and next I climb in for the ride back to the Park.

My next adventure is coming in 3 days – I will travel up to Santa Fe and Taos for some sightseeing.  I will sleep in my van at free overnight places, and enjoy the many sights of this area. The night temperatures have dropped, so I will be packing my fleece snug-sac and warm clothes.

I plan to take the Turqoise Trail up to Santa Fe. I can’t wait to visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Loretta Chapel with its legendary stairs, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the Palace of the Governors, and Meow Wolf.   I will also visit Taos Pueblo, the Kit Carson House, and Martinez Hacienda in Taos.  It should be an exciting four days!

With my winter base in Albuquerque, I am a short drive away from all the New Mexico Pueblos, as well as many sites in Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. This should be a fun winter as I take advantage of my central location and ability to drive to some amazing scenery, museums, and historic sites. Currently I am planning on making at least one trip per month for several days each. Of course the holidays are almost here, so plenty to celebrate!

In January 2018, I will fly back to South Korea to visit my youngest daughter for a couple of weeks.  I am still deciding about next summer’s itinerary. I would like to drive up to Alaska but that may not be in 2018.  After all, I have two wonderful sons with my nine amazing grandchildren on the East Coast… and so much more to see there!  For now, I am enjoying the beautiful skies of New Mexico – and Chinese Lantern Festival is this month also!

I hope you are having a wonderful fall.  Enjoy the season, and talk to you soon!

Scout –out!

From my bookshelf —

“Now with the bare planks beginning to reveal themselves from under layers of varnish, I admire the different types of wood my grandfather used to construct this gondola. The fore and aft decks are fashioned of mahogany and cedar, beautifully grained woods that also give off distinctive scents. I recognize cherry and walnut used for the trasti, the crosswise pieces of wood that stabilize the prow and stern as well as the wide span across the middle…As I lock the gates of the boathouse behind me, I realize why I am in such a happy mood.”

The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli, 2014

Foreign Perspectives – South Korea

South Korea – “Land of the Morning Calm”

This is an apt description of this beautiful country, based on my recent visit in September 2016. My brother Tim and I traveled to South Korea for a two-week visit with my daughter, Erin.

The canal below Erin’s apartment building in Incheon, South Korea – a tranquil place to walk, exercise, bike, rest…my favorite place!

Erin has been working as a foreign teacher of English to Korean children since February 2016.  Introduced to the culture through K-pop and drama, she had started learning the language via the internet/social media during her first year after college graduation.  After several months of study, she was hired as a teacher at a private school (hagwon) in Incheon. Erin spent her very first day in the country finding her way by bus and subway into Seoul without a guide- what an intrepid girl! She just wanted to see the sights and experience the culture!

After having lived in New York City, I found the area of Seoul and Incheon to be very similar to NYC, with two exceptions: the language barrier, and the fact that 99% of the people in Korea are actually Korean. It was very hard for me to NOT be able to read anything when walking around! Tim was more dismayed that he couldn’t converse very well with any one. We hardly saw any Caucasians, and I don’t remember seeing many other people besides Asians. In NYC, even Chinatown, there is a large percentage of Caucasians and ethnicities on every street.  Here in South Korea, there are few non-Asians, at least in the areas we traveled. I was fine with that, but Tim was a little unsettled!  However, I am a New Yorker and Tim is a rural Western cowboy type -he was  out of his comfort zone just being in a large metropolitan area!  But he enjoyed himself and had a good time.

Tim (brother) and I shopping in Seoul, land of “cute”!!

Our first great experience was to go with Erin’s class on a school field trip.  The children arrived at school in their traditional Hanbok clothing – so adorable!  We rode in a plush purple velvet school bus (with curtains, seat doilies, fringe and all) to an historical site where the children played traditional Korean games. “Erin Teacher” was busy keeping 12 kindergartners on task, while Tim and I took pictures and enjoyed the morning. Four- and five-year old children are pretty much the same all over the world…an adorable handful who make you smile! Their antics were exactly as my grandkids in America would be, and their grins were just as wonderful.  The kids really loved Tim’s cowboy hat, as did the pretty young teachers…he just smiled, and took more pictures!

Erin Teacher’s kindergarten class, dressed in tradition Korean clothing for a field trip
A “receiving room” in the Korean palace area

That first weekend we flew to Jeju Island, the Korean “Hawaii”, for two days. A beautiful hour-long drive along the coast brought us to the area where we would stay in a guesthouse next to the beach, and we also enjoyed a special art exhibit.  “Inside Van Gogh” (who is one of my favorite artists) was a delightful presentation of Van Gogh’s paintings in 3-D with various lighting and technical displays.

The beach was black lava rocks and sand (Jeju is an inactive volcanic island).  Beautiful! The sound of the surf, maybe 500 feet from our open bedroom window, lulled us to sleep on the three hard beds of our guestroom – none were very soft.  I happen to like sleeping on a hard bed, and Erin has gotten used to it over the last six months, but Tim’s poor bones were the subject of just a bit of complaining! LOL

A panoramic view of the coast on Jeju Island, an inactive volcanic island

Our next special event was the Korean holiday of Chuseok, rather like our Thanksgiving as it is a time of family and food and ancestral history.  We went into Seoul with Erin’s friend, Joon, who is Korean but spent his high school and college years in America, so we communicated easily. He was able to show us around some pretty amazing sights, including a beautiful palace and grounds, a museum, and a Buddhist temple.  We happened upon several traditional events due to the holiday, which was pretty cool!  Thanks, Joon, for opening doors for us to experience South Korea more fully!

Changing of the guard at the Korean palace grounds during the holiday
Buddhist temple grounds, Seoul
Erin and Joon, on palace grounds, Seoul

I can easily see living in a place like South Korea if I learned the language. Like Erin, I would not want to live where all the ex-pats live; I would rather experience their culture and language than be “comfortable” with English speakers.  The area where Erin lives and works is a new development and has a beautiful canal running through it, with patios and places to rest, exercise, play games, and eat(!!!) all along the length.  While there are minor differences in culture that one must accept, people are people, everywhere.  We all want safety and happiness for our families, and a good education for our children.

While there are drawbacks to such a high priority on education as the Koreans have (teen and childhood educational pressures are very high, and suicide is not unknown), I did see happy families everywhere, treating one another with respect and gentle kindness.  South Korea is a high-tech society that is respectful of people and soooooo calm (serenity permeates the canal area where Erin lives and works) – hey, the police don’t even carry guns!  There is little crime or violence, and the elderly are especially honored, and education is highly valued.  We watched families walking and biking along the canal parks…so sweet!  Tim was a bit bothered by the lack of eye contact/smiles by strangers, but once we were introduced they were very friendly and kind (see – just a cultural difference!)  I can see why Erin is enjoying her time in South Korea!

Beautiful pool on the palace grounds, Seoul
The black sands of Jeju Island
Receiving rooms at palace grounds, Seoul

Thanks for taking a little tour with me – it was an amazing vacation!

Scout – out!

What book are you reading now?

From my bookshelf:

“Lucy, every marriage is a dance; complicated at times, lovely at times, most [of] the time very uneventful.  But with Mickey [diagnosis of bipolar disorder], there will be times when your dance will be on broken glass.  There will be pain.  And you will either flee that pain or hold tighter and dance through it to the next smooth place….You can’t fix him.”

–Dancing on Broken Glass   by Ka Hancock, 2012


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