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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Beetle Drama: Good Samaritan

I found this beetle in the community garden early this morning, stuck on the mesh fencing. I believe it's a cockchafer beetle (related to American June bugs and Australian Christmas beetles). And I think it's the adult version of our giant compost grubs.

He was really, really stuck, and despite his horror-show appearance, I felt kind of bad for him.  So I looked more closely: he'd apparently had his wings open while sitting/landing at the top of the fence and when he tried to re-fold them, the inner wings got all wrapped around the top string. 

I took a deep breath and wrangled for several minutes with those really clingy claws grabbing onto me.  I finally realized the string couldn't just be unwound or pulled out without causing a lot of damage.  Physical damage to him; psychological damage to me now that I was on this mission.

Alas. I cut the string attaching him to the fence and brought him home.  Like you do.

After disturbing my just-waking children with the giant beetle, I gathered my make-up tools and did some minor beetle surgery.  I removed the remaining string bits and he quickly readjusted his wings.  

Success!  Just like new!  

At which point he ran headlong off the table and fell right into my lap.  Ok, it's time to go, buddy.  

Not wanting to do the whole elevator ritual with a giant beetIe plus hordes of little kids heading to school, I walked my new friend over to our sliding door, calculated all the wind speeds and throwing forces needed to get this guy over the cement driveway and into the trees and grass where he could resume his beetle-y life.

Freed beetle.  Tools.  String bits.
I really, really expected him to fly, or at least glide, or do something at all useful in his own rescue.  Nope.  Five long stories below, at the edge of the grass he bounced.  Twice. 


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Adventuring Alone

You might imagine from 4 years of blogs about South Korea that I would be some sort of courageous person.  Bold!  Fearless!! Capable of facing ajummas and octopi alike!!  But, you would be quite wrong.  I never, ever venture alone.  It’s way too intimidating.  

Until yesterday, that is, when I finally decided to sneak past my twin mind guards of Fear (“What if something scary happens?” is his favorite taunt) and Guilt (“Why aren't you being productive?" is his). My semester’s grades were freshly submitted to the various electronic and secretarial overlords, our apartment was in decent order, the gardens were all tidy, and on day 1 of my vacation, I was already bored.  I don’t like bored.  It makes me grumpy.

I longed to go snorkeling.  The season here is very limited (June-September between 8am and 4pm on sunny days when the water is calm and clear) and the conditions today were perfect.  My family and friends were all (a) working, (b) traveling, or (c) not fans of the ocean.  No co-adventurers there.

Crap. On days like this, I usually sigh a lot, surf the internet, take naps. I’ll find some vaguely productive task so I feel less guilty for lazing around.  And I did all that and it was only 10am. So I just sat, miserable.

This. Is. Dumb.

So, deep in my mind, in a secret place the Guards don’t know about, I made a rash decision: I would go snorkeling at a safe, shallow sandy beach.  I quietly changed into my swimsuit.  Casually, I walked around the house, pretending to be tidying but actually collecting snacks, camera, and purse.  Then, before the Guards realized what was happening, I made a run for it, grabbing the snorkeling bag on the way out to the van. 

I drove through the gloriously green rice fields, like you do, even stopping to take pictures of ducks, herons and egrets.  And just 5 minutes later, I had arrived at the East Sea (called the Sea of Japan by non-Koreans).  I parked and stepped over the low rock wall onto the sandy beach.  Still anxious about the Guards, I dropped my stuff on the beach, grabbed my fins and mask/snorkel and rushed into the flat water to put on my gear. 

There was nothing left to do but snorkel.

And so I did.  Schools of grass puffers (I know, I know - it's a hilarious name), a tiny flounder, some silver whitings, and other underwater friends greeted me as I happily glided over their home turf.  I lost track of time and reluctantly came in only when I became cold.  Resting on the beach, I watched crabs hurling sand from their burrows; smiled at surfing school students; organized all the stuff I could find in a square foot of beach.  
Four years ago, this beach was FILTHY.
It looks amazingly clean to me now,
though I suppose other opinions may vary.

I kept laughing and scaring these guys.  :)

To see this kind of crab hurling arm (claw?) loads of sand,
click here for a short video

Surf School: Youngilman Port, Pohang, South Korea

Much to my astonishment, a perfectly ripe roma tomato rolled ashore. This would be a rare find in a market here, let alone at the beach.  It felt like an undeserved gift.  It tasted of warm sun and utter contentment.  

I'm still not courageous, or bold, or fearless.  But on this day, I learned that the mind guards are far weaker than I'd expected.  And that joy is an excellent co-adventurer.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Flower Arranging Class: A Win for the White Lady

The Lovely Grace.
Wrangling with a hand-tied bouquet.
Late last year, my lovely friend Grace invited me to a flower arranging class (you may remember Grace as a co-gardener and co-adventurer).  Now, I love sticking garden flowers in vases, but I don’t know anything about Formal Floral Arranging (and that is fun to say in a Korean accent).  So I was intrigued by her kind offer, but also stressed about being Token Dumb White Person among a group of wealthy Korean women. I could bring great shame upon the reputations of white people everywhere. (Nick suggests I'm a wee bit irrational on this point). But...lovely Grace promised to translate for me.  And hold my hand.  And possibly feed me chocolate ice cream if my fragile self got overwhelmed.

So...I agreed. I can’t afford the weekly class, but the teacher – a licensed floral arranger and mom of an adorable 2nd grader at my kids’ school – lets me pay ala carte for monthly visits to the class. And after 4 classes, it's high time to report on the experience for my dear (if lately neglected) readers.

The class is in a humongous Korean church that promotes community education-type programs (see the earlier nail salon here) .  Now, when I say “class” and “humongous church,” you'll need to revise the picture in your head of a cavernous space filled with rows of Koreans working in robotic unison.  No. Seriously, folks.  The biggest class I’ve been to had 6 people, including me and Grace, and we meet in a little conference room with perfectly normal people.)  

Two students, the teacher, and the requisite cup of coffee.
Which you have to accept graciously
but you don't have to drink. 
When we arrive, we usually help the teacher set up the room.  Note: I do not know the teacher’s name.  In Korea, names are far less important than status-related titles like “teacher.” (My own newest title is “Wife of an Important Man” because Nick is the school’s headmaster.  And, for the curious feminists, the answer is “no.”  There is no Korean term for “husband of an important woman.”) 

Teacher (선생님) writes the names of today’s featured arrangement and flowers (Korean and English) on the rolling white board.  She talks about the arrangement de jour e.g., hand-tied bouquet) and educates us about focal points, neutral and dominant colors, and the wonders of floral foam.
Flower Teacher Lady.

Flower Teacher with Floral Foam.
Add caption

Teacher then hands out the flowers (e.g., roses, ranunculus, delphiniums) and supplies and we set to work.  Depending on the arrangement type, we remove stems (it felt terribly wasteful at first), de-thorn as needed, and try to abide by the guidelines as we place flowers and greens. We grumble quietly at our difficulties, share tips for stabbing weak stems into sturdy floral foam, and sneak peeks at others’ creations to measure our own progress.  Teacher, being entirely Korean, comes around to correct us. I, being entirely American, expected to receive affirmation just for effort.  Nope. She is kind, but has standards that she is quite willing to repeat.  Repeatedly.  Accompanied by the plucking out of poorly-placed flowers.

Grace in action.
Me, about to throw this impossible hand-tied bouquet
across the room.
At the end of an hour or so, it’s time for the Korean Photo Ritual. Our arrangements are displayed together (sometimes we pose with them) and photographed half to death by every person in the room (and sometimes the church photographer). We are very nice to each other.  We each secretly believe our arrangement is the best. 

Hand-tied bouquets with neutral wrapping tones are IN this season.

Heart-shaped wreaths. Can you see which one is mine?
It's the best one.  Obviously.  

Candlestick centerpieces (the wall sign says Joyful Church). I got a bonus orchid this week,
just for being white.  Poor Grace.

Photo Herding.

Finally, Teacher helps us wrap our arrangements, which includes a dizzying array of carefully-folded plastic tissue paper, ribbons, and classy stickers advertising her floral shop.  Packaging is an art for which I do not have much patience; Teacher always always re-ties my bows.  I try not to be resentful.

So, I've done this four times. Is the social stress worth it?  Yes.  And again, yes.  I really enjoy the class once I’m there, and I love having a gorgeous arrangement of flowers in my home.   Which I might parade around the house, saying “Hey! Do you know who made this amazing arrangement?  ME!”   You're welcome, White people.  

P.S. Another white lady has joined the class!
Adre is a delightful German South African
who's lived in Korea for 10 years.

P. P. S. I've posted several brief videos of our last flower class, including the Serious Korea Wrapping Process.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Malaysia 3: Laughing with the Fishes (plus diving/snorkeling tips)

Split view of ocean (photo from
When once I gazed upon a lake or ocean, I simply admired the rhythmic waves and dazzling sun glinting off the inscrutable surface; what might be below that thin shiny film was alien, not compatible with human flourishing.  Dipping ones eyes below was accompanied with fear akin to near-miss experiences with death. Now, however, I know better. Now I long to slip through that transparent skin between worlds, to snorkel among the strange creatures in their universe.  And now I regularly dream of flying underwater, wondering at this other half of creation.  

Which sounds all wonderful, but here is the thing.  Snorkeling means you're within an arm's reach of air, of that joyous invisible lifesource.  

However, from the nanosecond we booked our flights to Malaysia (see our other adventures here and here), Nick beseeched us to pretty please try scuba diving again. (Backstory: Our family did a Discover Scuba class in the Philippines last year. I strongly failed to appreciate unlearning things like Up = Air = Life. Beloved Husband and oldest son, however, were ecstatic. The other two kids were, well, whatever.  You know.)  Back to beseeching: We the family gathered a formidable array of counter-arguments: David’s ear hurts terribly more than 2 meters underwater (he was later banned from diving by a Malaysian ENT doc/diver), so the pressure was off him (ha! A diving joke!). For her part, Elisabeth was concerned about torture by things who bite/sting/rip or generally look weird; I, on the other hand, prophesied death by frenzied drowning. We fought with vigor, but in the end Mr. Cajoling Puppy Eyes wore down the resistance from our Death Panic Eyes.  *Sigh.*   

So, we found a (truly wonderful) dive shop owner who booked a Discover class for us two days hence. Summary (and spoiler alert):  We had a fantastic time.  Nick, overjoyed at his victory, slavered all over the dive shop (and then on the boat ride to the islands, and then even more while diving like a manic eel, which got him into a wee spot of oxygen-less troubles later, but even THAT didn’t diminish his wiggly joy).  David snorkeled (jealously) above us; Sunny took excellent care of my irrational self; and Elisabeth was quite distracted from her fears by the personal attentions of a rather attractive young dive instructor.  

From left: me (failing to non-verbally cover regretful panic), joyous Nick, distractingly attractive dive instructor Nathan, suddenly-shy Elisabeth, David the causal, and Sunny (owner of Sunny Reef Divers, Kota Kinabalu and photo credit guy). 

For those of you who have not yet experienced the joy of this “lazy man’s sport” (quote from Sunny), I shall now offer some tips. Because I have 3 whole dives under my weight belt (ha! another diving joke!).  So I'm an expert beginner.  Fear me.

(Tip 1) Get a dive instructor who talks incessantly about safety.  Seriously.  While fitting us for equipment, Sunny shared stories about stupid divers, and his responses were reassuring (e.g., a guy who lied about his experience and couldn't do the basic skills wanted Sunny to certify him anyway.  Nope.).  When we got on the boat, the first things he (Sunny, not the lying diver) pointed out were the fire extinguisher and the first aid kit.  Thus, many of my fears about potential problems (like, say, leg cramps or giant jellyfish or a certain husband swimming himself out of oxygen) were considerably eased.  I did ask Sunny why in the WORLD he had a giant knife strapped to his leg, fearing the worst (large populations of underwater person-eating monsters).  Nope: he carries it to slash open illegal fishing nets and thus release the captured creatures.  Sunny gained so many points.

(Tip 2) Actually getting oneself into the water from the boat is the very scariest part.  That backwards rolling “SPLOOSH!” into death-infested waters with 60+ pounds of gear is nearly as scary as walking down the wedding aisle.  Or birthing babies, or going to dinner parties, or whatever terrifying stuff you’ve lived through.  The terror only lasts a few disconcerting seconds before your buoyancy vest pops you to the surface again and you laugh with joy that you're not dead.

(Tip 3) Once you’re in the water, you only have 1 job!  JUST ONE!  Forget all those gadgets and gauges and gear and just do your one job: breathe.  Iiiiinnnnnn….. ooouuuttttt….. iiiiinnnnn…… ooouuutttt….  Listen to those soothing bubbles.  You don’t even have to keep your eyes open. When you’re ready to open your eyes AND keep breathing, dive guy will steer you around and point out all the pretty fishes and hopefully check your gauges and stuff.

(Tip 4) This one is true for both snorkeling and diving: Try not to laugh while under water.  Doing so rapidly fills your mask with water and then you can’t see the pretty fishes even with your eyes open because you’re freaking out a tiny bit distracted by all the water now sloshing inside your nose holes.  To be sure, fish are surely funny and wonderful, and I am a big laugher on land, but refrain from such underwater behavior until you are skilled at mask-clearing.  I, after several laugh-related near-drownings, am now a mask-clearing expert, which allows me to chortle rather often.  This initially startled Sunny, but then he got over my switch from Panic Eyes to Joyous Bubble Face and let me do more of my own steering.  Once he had me reach out toward a mid-sized clownfish (think Nemo), which happily approached and bit my finger. And I laughed and laughed and blew the water out of my mask, ready to breathe again and see what else I could see under the watery ceiling.

So. Elisabeth and I are willing to do more scuba diving, but please don’t tell Nick, because you KNOW he’ll next beg us to dive in caves and at night and with electric eels and who knows what else. 

Elisabeth & me.  Photo by Nick.

Kota Kinabalu at the bottom of map;
Jesselton Pier to the right of the labeled Resort.
We went to all but Sulug Island.
P.S.  Wondering what we saw and where we went? We snorkeled and/or dived off four of the five TARP marine park islands (20 minutes off the coast of Kota Kinabalu).  We saw so many, many, many kinds of fish and corals plus some medium-sized sting-rays, giant urchins, starfish and even a big cuttlefish (oh, be still my heart!!)!  Here are a few of our pictures plus a list of the fish that Google and I could identify - perhaps only 1/3rd of the species.  :)

Parrotfish (common and Bleeker’s; Scaridae)
Lined surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus)
Sergeant major (Abudefduf saxatilis)
Pufferfish & boxfish
Several species of clownfish (saddleback, false, etc.)
Wrasse (bluestreak cleaner; red breasted)
Yellowback fusilier
Beaked butterflyfish
Harlequin sweetlips
Anna’s magnificent slug
Blue Sea Star & burgundy sea star
Giant clam
Black long spine urchin (Diadema setosum)
Pharaoh cuttlefish

Cornetfish (or, flutemouth; Fistularia petimba)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Malaysia 2: Of Cross-Cultural Panic and Shofars

Dear readers: Thank you for your concern about our well-being amid the monkeys, fishes, and snakes in our last post (see here if you missed it:  I here present a very different sort of human interest story, wherein my beloved husband dragged us to a Malaysian church (he is a good man, just misguided as to family vacation expectations).

I wish to clarify at the outset for any lawyers or anthropologists out there that I suspect this particular church does NOT represent the mood/practices of regional churches as a whole.  That said, this little 2.5 hour adventure was FAR more nerve-wracking than toothy monkeys and 2-meter swimming snakes. 

A Canadian friend knew a guy in Kota Kinabalu (KK) who was happy to take us to his church.  We shall call this man Peter.  Peter was well-educated, very kind, and made excellent conversation as he pointed out KK landmarks during the 20-minute drive.  I had warm fuzzy feelings about this man and our Canadian friend’s judgment.  As we arrived at the church, Peter did caution us that this church was a little unusual.  “It’s a rather, um, … vibrant church,” he said.  Hmm.  I wondered briefly about his verbal pause and the implied italics.  We climbed the narrow, creaking stairs next to a coffee shop to get to this second-floor church and opened the wooden door.  It immediately struck me that we were (a) the only white people, (b) the biggest people there by numerous inches and pounds (sorry: centimeters and kilograms), and (c) the only ones beginning a panic attack.  Oh, wait, that was just me.   Ok, so, we were greeted by many of the 15 or so people already there.  Then a teeny tiny woman with a personality like, well, a cross between my mother-in-law (that’s a good thing) and a chipmunk (not so good), warmly greeted us and introduced herself as the pastor (we shall call her Samuela).  She lightly noted that this church was a little different: “We’re a rather, um, … vibrant church.”  Hmm. Panic meter increased a notch.

As we crept toward some empty seats, we noted the room’s atypical set-up: folding chairs lined three sides, a praise team stood at the fourth, and a huge central space was left open.  I pondered this.  Maybe Samuela was an active preacher?  Maybe there would be a children’s program?  Curiosity helped calm me.  A tiny bit.

The service began with impassioned singing (with powerpoint slides in English and Chinese).  People were not shy about singing out or accompanying themselves with energetic motions.  And by “motions,” I do not refer to young children synchronously waving their hands in well-learned patterns from the privacy of a pew.  No, that is not what happened here.  Nope. For the song “Deep Cries Out,“ most adults were moved by Samuela’s loud encouragement to “Be free!”  And they scampered to that central space, exuberantly moving to “jump jump jump in the river” and “dance dance in the river” and “shout shout shout in the river.” The river was created by draping long strips of blue satin cloth on the floor, taken from a mystery box in the back.  Amid her “Be free!” admonishments, Samuela requested shoe removal to reduce blue cloth laundering needs (are bare feet cleaner than sandals?).  This song repeated many many many times.  Which allowed time for creative embellishments.  Some found large flags (thank you, mystery box) printed with “Yahweh” or “Jesus” (one was the flag of Israel superimposed with Aslan the Lion’s head shot) and they commenced to vigorous waving while dancing/jumping/shouting.  

But that’s not all. Nope – we haven’t reached the full meaning of “vibrant” yet. This little church blows shofars.  Wait, what?  Um, yes.  They have apparently been persuaded by the Old Testament to worship God by blowing horns taken from the heads of kosher rams and antelopes.  The sound that emerges from this instrument is indescribable, though I kept picturing a water buffalo during a difficult labor while a crocodile gnawed her face.  Now put 40 people AND THEIR 20 RANDOMLY GROANING SHOFARS atop a backdrop of drums, keyboards, and singing plus all the river dancing/jumping/shouting and flag-waving.  For a half hour or so. 

I stole this picture from the web just to help you imagine the scene.

We shall pause here for you to regain your composure.

You may wonder how our family responded.  Ahem.  We are a white, middle-class, mid-western American family descended from Dutch, Germans, and Brits.  We do not dance in church.  Or wave flags, or jump barefooted in fabric rivers, or blow dead ungulates’ head ornaments.  Wanting to be polite yet not abandon our own heritage, we joined in by swaying a little to the beat. 

Once the singing/dancing/chaos was finally over, the river was put away, chairs were lined up in the central space, and Samuela gave a sermon about trees.  Then we heard a testimony (“just 5 minutes, please,” asked Samuela) which wandered for 25 minutes through a confusing array of topics with people hopping up to repeat or challenge details.  Yup. Ok, it was finally time for prayer, which often is a wonderful time to rest my spirit, but I could not help but be distracted by the lengthy prayer for…elephants.  And President Trump.   Ok, no rest to be found just yet.  Next came “organized” shofar-blowing: the lead guy (“He of The Biggest Horn”) gave 7 “shevarees” (sets of 3 short blats) and then he and the second-longest-horn alternated giving 7 “shahrooahs” (sets of 1 long and 8 short blasts).  Then 15+ other people just joined in with random blasts until the orgy of sound grew to a fevered pitch.  And I don’t remember anything else because my soul had retreated away, longing for the peace of rude monkeys and colorfish fish.

P.S. That Canadian "friend" I mentioned?  When we got home, he came over, wanting to chat about our trip.  And he brought into our house...his very own shofar.  Which he blew often.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Malaysia 1: The Wisdom of Primates

Ready to begin Malaysian Snorkeling Adventure (Gaya Island, KK)
We went to Malaysia sort of accidentally last week.  We were going to do an amazing winter vacation (the past two Januarys we’ve visited Taiwan and the Philippines), but then our oldest kid informed us of his US wedding celebration this summer, which means we needed to save money to fly home.  So, like responsible adults, we sadly decided to do a “stay-cation” and check out more of Korea.  But…. Korea is the size of Iowa, so trying to “see more” than what we’ve already seen these last 3.5 years doesn’t exactly ring the bells of family excitement.  And it's winter and cold and grey.

So, like irresponsible adults, we re-decided: savings be damned!  We google-searched for “southeast asia cheap tickets” and found a great deal to warm/tropical Cambodia -- hooray!  But in the infuriating amount of time it took for the airline to decide we were neither drug smugglers nor NSA spies, the ticket prices expired. Grrr. But then Malaysia went on sale -- hooray!  (Before that moment, I could not have (a) found this country on a map or (b) correctly spelled this country’s name.  Whenever people mention Malaysia, I always envision “Mal-Asia,” which I translate as "the rough side of the Orient.”)

Anyway, Nick quickly snapped up cheap tickets, I booked a very cheap hostel room for the week, and off we went a few days later.  (Seriously.  We really don’t plan our vacations until we get there.  Because we’re irresponsible adults.  Who happen to have excellent contacts named Google and Trip Advisor.)

Education Note: The country of Malaysia now includes a peninsula and a historically oft-traded island that is now shared by 3 countries. Kota Kinabalu (KK), where we flew in, is the capital of the Malaysian part of Borneo Island and roughly means “city of fire” or “fort of the dusty ancestors,” depending on who you ask.

Now, this post shall not be a dull vacation slide show. (Dear younger readers: “dull” and “vacation slide show” are synonyms which here refer to torturous hours in a dark, mildewed living room squinting at other people’s enlarged blurry pictures of places in which you have no interest.  Similar to history class, perhaps.)  Instead, I shall here highlight some animal encounters and downplay gorging of pizza and KFC and excessive selfies by certain persons.

Outstanding marine park off the coast of KK.
Nick is a friendly giant.
Our first afternoon, we went to Jesselton Point/Pier and booked a speedboat taxi/ferry to Gaya Island, the largest island in the TARP marine park off the coast of KK.  On our walk to the old bomb shelter changing rooms between the strip of beach and Serious Jungle Territory, we spied a troupe of adorable macaque monkeys, romping through a fiddler fig tree of nightmare proportions (imagine a houseplant the size of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man).  Under the tree of unusual size was a family of hairy wild pigs, rooting around in the sandy soil, as pigs do.  We were quite pleased to see this un-announced petting zoo (which, of course, it wasn’t), and looked forward to some post-snorkeling wildlife interactions (which, unfortunately, we had).

Into the water we all went, ditching our bags on the tiny, empty beach near the two trustworthy-looking sunbathers. Exploring the shallow waters under the long pier, we were thrilled to find many colorful, small fishes that didn't mind us. The white, sandy bottom (ancient coral dust) and the clear water gave us a perfect way to re-introduce the kids to snorkeling and erase fears of sharks and other aquatic bite-y things.
David enters the South China Sea.

Elisabeth makes peace with snorkeling (and seaweed)

A 10" moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare) - isn't it lovely?

A 12" tall batfish (platax teira) -- isn't it weird?
All too soon, the island closed to the public at 5pm (something our boat guy didn’t happen to mention when we arranged a 5:30 pick-up time). As the sunbathers and park ranger went to board their boat-taxi, they shouted at us from the pier; rising reluctantly from my beloved sea-heaven, I saw them gesturing wildly back to the beach. Oh dear.  The wildlife was apparently not as tame or trustworthy as the humans.  The troupe of monkeys had made short work of our stupidity: they happily and energetically divested our bags of wallets, toilet paper, undies, and snacks. We swam back to chase the monkeys away and reviewed the damage.  Arg.  

The kids decided to guard our belongings while Nick and I swam out to the not-exactly-allowed-but-no-one's-here-to-kick-us-out area to find even more fishes in the deeper reef (OH!  Parrotfish, sergeant majors, clownfish, etc.).  Soon, we heard some odd noises and, again rising from our sea-heaven, saw that we had company on the pier.  Not human, though: the monkeys had decided to open up the proverbial snack shop (trash can).  They smugly sat atop the railings, flinging bottles and bags and cans into the sea around us.

Long-tailed macaque monkey.
Stupid primate.
At this point, for some reason, the monkeys still seemed nice and cute, even if not environmentally sensitive or respectful of private property.  We returned to snorkeling, swimming slowly toward the beach. As we finally stood in the shallows to remove our gear, Nick was confronted with a dozen growling monkeys, approaching in a semi-circle of orange pointy teeth and clear expressions of malice aforethought.  I (being me), backed away fearfully into the water; Nick (being him) dashed forward and threw some rocks, which resulted in a temporary truce and access to the beach.

While waiting for our boat, Elisabeth and I took a short stroll and were quickly surrounded by the rude monkey monsters (WHY didn't I see this coming?).  I should have been the tough protective parent, but no. Elisabeth brilliantly discovered that a metal grass rake, pushed ahead of us on the cement, transformed into a screeching, screamy, dancing spider that provoked a hasty retreat by the pugnacious primates.  Maybe they had gotten our snacks and caused us some fright, but we won in the end!  HA!

Time to go.  “Oh, and mama?" Elisabeth asked casually as we walked down the pier.  Yes?  "I like snorkeling, but I don't want to go here again."  Ok, why? because of the monkeys?  “No," she continued in her off-hand voice.  "Because while you and Papa were out swimming, a 2-meter python swam past David and I at the beach. We got it on video.”

Oh dear.  We kind of lost the responsible adult award today....

Our post-Gaya-Island taxi awaits.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Crash Course: Korean Skin Care

Seriously.  This was 1980.
When I was a young lady approaching the pivotal pubertal rites of Shaving, Deodorant, and Make-Up, CNN was just being born (shush, you young ones). When my friend’s big sister got on the bus the first day of 8th grade, my mental make-up map was complete: the sophisticated mid-Michigan
14-year-old should wear heavy foundation, a coat of glittering blue shadow, clumpy mascara, and clown-circle blusher.

(Yeah.  I’m also cringing now.)

As an impressionable girl, I embraced her example and commenced to slathering my own face in color and clumps.  Until college, that is, when my beloved Dutch roommate liberated me from the patriarchal American tyranny of oppressive cosmetic consumption.  Thus, as the years have passed, I rarely used make-up and ignored facial fashion follies.  Now, however, 30-some years later, I have two significant challenges to my intentional ignorance: (a) my daughter has reached the triple pubertal gates and (b) we live in the Skin Technology Capital of the Universe.  South Korea is supposedly 10 years ahead of the US in skin care science, and now that my face is getting, um, more experienced, the time had come to introduce my face to facial experts.

RuDa, just sitting in a coffee shop.
Enter my gorgeous TA, RuDa, who agreed to facilitate the introductions.  RuDa recommended going to a Real Make-Up Store rather than dashing into a local convenience store. I reluctantly agreed, assuming we’d just get some basic information. She had other ideas, however.

Lotte Department Store is the home of high-end make-up and clothing in our city.  The white-gloved parking attendants carefully direct customer cars through the garage and manage not to sneer at our sad old van among the common luxury cars.  

To say that Lotte is a department store is a bit misleading for my North American readers.  It's more like a very high-end street market, crowded with stalls and goods, only this is shiny and stately.  And, frankly, rather o.v.e.r.w.h.e.l.m.i.n.g. Here I present my Lessons Learned.

Image result for lotte department store parking attendant
It wasn't this crowded the day we went to Lotte.  But it FELT this crowded.

(1)   The women who work in these shops show no discomfort with personal space invasion.  I, on the other hand, should have perhaps investigated the wine department prior to entering skin land.

2) Scientifically testing the sensitivity and pH of one’s skin (among other things) are apparently basic pre-requisites to proper product selection.  And, of course, there are apps for those tests: one holds very still while a saleswoman rests her phone on one’s face.  Then one gets to see a very close-up photo of one’s skin, or perhaps it is the back end of a baboon, and we all pretend not to be horrified.

(3)   Having strangers expertly apply products to one’s face while one is very nervous can make for much cringing. For example, a lady used a tiny little brush to apply lipstick; it tickled SO MUCH that I could not repress small snorting noises.  Another lady applied "cushion foundation,” which is a Korean technological wonder of a liquid foundation delivered with a compact powder puff thing.  Except … it felt like she was slapping me with a baby crib mattress, and once that image came to mind, I couldn't stop giggling.  Poor RuDa.

A Hera saleslady pats my face to death.
(4)   The sales women were quite kind to my baggy sun-damaged, middle-aged skin, at least to my face (let's just say that RuDa didn't translate everything).  They were also fairly patient with my utter ignorance of their products, how to apply them, and the proper "detached" face expected during a makeover.  

5)   Here's one I sure didn't see coming: Under no circumstances should soap be applied to one's face.  EVER.  There are products for cleaning one’s facial skin--and soap is NOT among them. You'd think I had been bathing bunnies in bleach. I shall repent of this skin sin.

6)   One could literally spend all of one’s income on skin care and make-up. Then again, the major ingredients include things like snake venom, placenta, plankton, and gold dust; as one store's slogan had it, "ingredients extracted from nature and enigmatic state" (true THAT). Happily, RuDa knew that the same products we were testing were sold by discount shops on another floor.  I decided I can live without a flashy brand names on my snail goo cleansing foam.

7)   Make-up shopping requires significant training.  I had imagined we'd have light-hearted breezy conversations like “oh, here’s a rack of 5 shades of lipstick – what’s the right color for me?” Ah, no. Store after store had HUNDREDs of shades of lip tint, lip stain, lipstick, lip liner, and who knows what else.  We used testers all over our hands to compare colors and textures.  Then RuDa suggested I select more of a “fall” color rather than something with "too much summer” and I nearly lost my ignorant mind.  I was the dumbest kid in class. 

8)   Having good skin is a LOT of work.  Here’s the rough order in which stuff apparently goes onto the Korean adult face (male and female) at least once EVERY SINGLE DAY:
(a)    Make-up remover (as needed)
(b)   Cleanser
(c)    Toner (or, at the very least, another round of cleanser)
(d)   Essence (skin repair stuff)
(e)    Acne lotion (as needed)
(f)     Moisturizer (softens skin and prevents future damage; the fashionable stuff includes bleaching/whitening agents)
(g)    Eye cream (RuDa is ashamed that she hasn’t started using this yet)
(h)   Sunscreen (at least 50 SPF; preferably with more whitening agents)

(9)   Now that the skin is ready, it’s FINALLY time for the make-up – and there is so much used to achieve the popular Korean "naturally dewy" look that I’m sure I’ll never master it:
(i)     Primer (bright purple or green to even skin tones and reduce redness)
(j)     Cushion foundation (slightly lighter than natural skin color)
(k)    Powder 
(l)     Blusher 
(m)  Eyebrows: powder or pencil plus trimmers, combs, and gel
(n)   Eyes: liner plus 2-3 shades of shadow plus 1-3 layers of mascara
(o)   Lips: primer plus stain/stick/gloss/pencil
(p)   Setting spray (like hairspray for the face)

Well, it's no wonder that my students hate 8:30am classes – they have to get up at 6:30am just to make their faces presentable.  Maybe I'll call up my Dutch friend again for a refresher about the tyranny of cosmetics.