It's Friday. Five days since we returned, and I am just now recouping the energy required to write about our trip to Taegu. We drove to Taegu to visit our friends, Jibraun and Sujin. Horyon and Sujin have been friends since high school. J. (his nickname of choice) and Sujin got married about a month after Horyon and I, and they asked us to be the M.C.s at their wedding. J. and I got along very well,
which made it a disappointment that they moved to the States immediately after their wedding. After staying long enough to have a couple of kids, J. Jr. and Maya, they were posted in Taegu, Korea. They visit Pusan from time to time, as Sujin's family still lives here, but we don't see them often. Family visits are often like that. We visited them in Taegu once. We're not absolutely sure, but Maxine may have been conceived there. In fact, we considered naming her in the "Paris Hilton" tradition, but decided that "Taegu Love Motel" would be a bit of an unwieldy name.
(Sorry, but that's one of those stories that I am physically unable to resist telling whenever I am asked about Maxine's name, and it's about time it got on the Roblog.)
We really enjoyed that visit. J. cooked turkey legs, collard greens and stuffing for us, Maya was just a tiny baby, and we took the train to get there and move on. This time we drove. It was our first time to drive outside of Pusan. We had planned to leave at 10 a.m., so I consider it a smashing success that we were out the door before 11.
We had packed enough clothes for overnight, including some extra Maxine clothes in case she had a toxic diaper spillover. Because we've had a couple of them recently, and sometimes all you can do is hose down the baby and put her in clean clothes. I had to deal with one all by myself. Washing Maxine in the bathroom sink, trying not to get poop all over myself, and Maxine laughing and giggling because this is such a crazy new experience that she can't believe I'm not doing it solely to entertain her.
And that right there could be the beginning of a complete post by itself. Maxine is still so new to the world that it takes very little variety to capture her attention and make her laugh. Horyon will sometimes do a funny little dance while making a weird noise, and Maxine just cracks up, over and over. I can do it, too, but it seems to come naturally to Horyon. The other day Horyon was washing the dishes while wearing fuzzy socks that my parents sent her. Maxine was sitting at her feet, and laughed every time Horyon wiggled her feet.
Back to the story. We packed extra clothes for her, and all the stuff we needed for on overnight stay. Well, almost everything we needed...
The drive went fairly well. Getting out of Pusan was a bit nasty. The traffic jam must have been pretty standard. We passed guys walking along selling snacks, and this on a toll road! I think that the cars behind me were getting a bit upset because I kept trying to leave a safe stopping distance between me and the car in front of me. This meant that cars from the other lane could cut in front of me easily. And so once again I found myself adjusting to Korean style driving: aggressively slow. It was stop and go traffic for about an hour, getting us just barely out of the city limits, then suddenly the road was relatively clear. Yeah, there were still other cars on the road, and lots of them were being driven by morons, but at least we weren't all parked next to each other.
I found that many Korean drivers keep their annoying driving habits even at speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. Cars would pass me and cut into my lane barely a car length in front of me. Scary. Some drivers would drive around 45 mph, and some more than 70. (I'm just guessing about the latter, based on how quickly they passed me.) And of course, lots of drivers talking on their cell phones.
The night before, I had gotten directions from J. Horyon, being the plan-ahead type, also got directions from Sujin. We compared them, and found the minor discrepancies to be just that: minor. We had no trouble for most of the trip, but right around five minutes from the U.S. Military base where they live, we hit a snag. The directions I had said to turn right onto a small street, but we were facing a six-lane road. We turned on to it, and drove until I found a safe place to pull over. Horyon called and consulted with Sujin, then we kept on. Within a minute, I saw a sign in English confirming that we were going the right way. Three minutes later we were at the gate of the base.
For those of you not familiar with U.S. Military bases in Korea, these days the gates are very obviously designed so that it would be impossible to barrel through at high speeds. There are armed Korean guards at the gate, but it doesn't convey the feeling that if you make a wrong move you will be shot. We drove in and told the guard that our friend was coming to let us in, and he gestured for us to pull forward to a small parking area to wait.
We had to jump through a couple of hoops to get on base. Unfortunately, we had some problems. Fortunately, J. solved them, proving once again that it pays to be friendly with the people who carry guns. I'm going to skip the details in the interest of national security.
We had a quick lunch at Taco Bell. And let me tell you, Taco Bell may not be great Mexican food. It may not even be good Mexican food. It might not even qualify as Mexican food in America, but over here it's the best I'm gonna get, and the only places with Taco Bells are U.S. military bases! Like they are so desirable that they require armed soldiers to protect them!
I was surprised at the innovations the Bell has made in combining meat, cheese, flour tortillas and sour cream to make new things. America truly is the land of innovation.
That evening we had turkey for dinner. Missed Thanksgiving by a couple of days, but that's OK. I didn't get to make turkey soup of the carcass, but I told Sujin how to do it, and that was almost as satisfying. Jay had rubbed a spice rub on the bird, and it was delicious. He only made one small mistake: he had pulled the neck out of the body cavity, but somehow missed the little bag with the heart, liver and gizzard. Fortunately, they were buried deep in the neck cavity. I fished them out, and threw them in the gravy.
They were kind enough to allow me to carve, which is how I found the missing giblets. They had also asked if I knew how to make gravy. I am not the gravy king, but I got gravy game when it is needed, and honestly, when is it not?
We had a wonderful afternoon and evening. Maxine loved playing with J. Jr. and Maya, but she especially liked J. Sr. The man has a way with children. When he held Maxine in his arms and talked to her, she was spellbound.
(Notice the way she can't take her eyes off of him!)
That night we stayed in a hotel on the base. J. took me by surprise by paying for the room before we arrived. Actually, it was another case of cung: J. is a very generous man. The hotel room was just the latest act of kindness we have received from him. Whenever they come to Pusan, he offers to purchase items from the military base which are not available in Pusan. At Maxine's birthday party, he brought me a case of root beer, which is pretty much impossible to find on my own. For those of you who like root beer, you will understand. For those of you who don't, it's kind of like crack, only it tastes better and it doesn't make you threaten cops.
I took this picture the next morning in front of the hotel:
I'm telling you that so that you don't get too worried about the events between checking into the hotel and Maxine being cute on a rainy day.
We settled into the hotel with no fuss. The room was big enough and warm enough, and they found a crib for us to use. Maxine took a bit longer to get to sleep than usual, but that's not unusual when she has a busy day with lots of new people and places. It's just hard to settle down, and there is a serious drive to not let it end.
At three a.m. the phone rang. It was not a typical hotel phone, with that annoying electronic beeping ring. This was a military base phone, manufactured with a genuine set of steel bells inside somewhere, under the presumption that if World War Three were to break out you would want to be able to hear your phone ringing over the sound of mortar rounds and machine gun fire. Needless to say, all three of us woke the heck up. Horyon answered the phone and quickly passed it to me.
I spoke to a young man with a crew cut (yeah, I could hear his hair style through the line). He asked if J. had signed us on to the base, and with what kind of pass. I answered his questions honestly, and with as much coherence as I could muster under the circumstances. He told me that he had tried to contact Captain J., but his cell phone was turned off. He also informed me that if the situation was not resolved within 40 minutes or so, someone would be coming around to escort us off of the base.
We called J.'s phone, but as I had heard from the crew-cut gentleman, it was turned off. So we called Sujin's phone. Fortunately, it was not turned off. Because if it had been, I would have had to wander around looking for J.'s house, and I had not a clue as to where it was from the hotel.
J. came and picked me up, and we drove back to the gate. Things were sorted out within 10 minutes. It was J.'s first time escorting overnight visitors, and he had neglected to get a 24 hour pass. No sweat.
Not much, anyway.
By the time I got back to the hotel, Horyon had put Maxine back to sleep. I'm not sure how long it took for me to get back to sleep, or how long I slept until Maxine got us up for the day. All I know is that it was a long day, as was the following week. We treated J. and his family to a fantastic buffet, the details of which I will skip this time, except for one very American exception: it had biscuits and gravy. Oh my, oh my, that was nice. If the price of biscuits and gravy in the morning is a phone ringing in the middle of the night, I'm not absolutely sure that it isn't worth it.
You see, as much as I like Korea, you just can't get a good breakfast here. Go to an international hotel and you pay $10 for a continental breakfast (you should never pay for a continental breakfast on top of what you pay for your hotel room, IMHO) or a lousy pair of fried eggs and toast with a pitiful glass of orange juice. LAME. I don't need to eat breakfast out every day, but once in a while I should be able to have hash browns, eggs, biscuits and gravy, a big glass of juice and coffee. I don't drink coffee often, but with a brefas like that, you need it to stay awake through the morning.
After breakfast we returned to J.'s home. We had all gotten around too late for church that morning, which was a shame. Not only because they have a very lively service, but because it starts at 12:30. We had time for a few more pictures, and some more running around the house. As you can see, J. Jr. really took a liking to Maxine. Is it too early for me to start worrying about suitors? Doesn't matter. I'm not worried about this one. He'll be a fine catch.
We hope to be able to spend a day with J., Sujin, J. Jr. and Maya again soon, but not while we are working. Our first overnight trip was exhausting. I started writing this the following Friday, and it's been a week since then. I am only managing to finish this now by staying up past the hour when a sensible person would have gone to bed.
Goodness, it's a quarter 'till midnight! I fear that I shall turn into a pumpkin!
It doesn't help any that I'm teaching a new class that started this past Monday, as well as testing my regular students. I'm putting in about 20 hours of edumacation per week until Christmas, saving up money to buy the only present that means anything: