Saturday afternoon. Tromping through the green underbrush on a mountain in Suwon, looking for its famed fortress wall. Sweat running in rivers across my skin. Heat and humidity high. "I sure hope there isn't any poison ivy in Korea," I say to my Australian companion. She looks just as blank on the subject as I am.
Tuesday night. Leaning against the glass doors that lead into my apartment, trying not to get completely soaked getting reception on my cell phone. Wind high, weather cool. My eminently calm friend talking a mile a minute, I swear without stopping to breathe. Seems he has been poisoned - probably sumac, but maybe ivy - on a hike in the Korean mountains and is now hopped up on a drug cocktail administered by his local doctor. He has been poisoned before, knows what to look for. I look nervously at my legs, am relieved to see that through nothing but dumb luck I am well as ever. I vow to look up poisonous plants really, really soon. Even though I know it didn't help him. Probably won't help me either.
While in the first doctor's office, a couple weeks back, the first question I actually understood was "are you under stress?" It's funny now, looking back, to say that I really hadn't thought about it too much and that I was a little offended by the question. Like he was directly attacking my mental health (a touchy subject in the Americas, generally), or making some veiled comment as to my ability to cope with the world around me. Besides which, hell ya, I am clearly under a whole variety of unusual stresses here (making the questions seem frivolous and unneccessary).
Since then, I have reflected a fair ammount on stress. Now, don't get me wrong - I am not claiming any undo (or even unasked for) stress compared to all the other people in the world. This reflection is not about comparisons. More like a personal catalogue - for one, recently relocated into strange and previously unknown culture. Two, very far from home. Three, alone. Four, don't speak the language...food completely different, simple things (say, going to the grocery store) - no longer exist, job sucks...the list goes on. This is what people in the know call "culture shock". What the doctor referred to as "system under stress". We've all (all of us foreigners, that is) got it.
Once I accepted that, yes, in fact I was under stress (picture me yelling this from on top of an apartment building, and the magnitude of the revelation will begin to become apparent), I started observing what each of us does about it. The other two girls I work with pay ridiculous sums for a membership at the local gym and sweat their cares away. Religiously. Sometimes more than once a day. They are always in a hurry to work out. I get tired just watching them. Me and my occasionally used, $5 walmart skipping rope, in the park on the corner.
The guy I work with goes to local malls with his church buddies and hands out God ads to other foreigners. And he talks to his girlfriend back in Canada about sixteen times a day. I don't even want to know what their phone bill is like (that would cause me stress - I spend enough on my phone as it is!). She is coming over in 4 and a half weeks (4 weeks and 3 days now...), and he spends time plotting their every second together. Whatever works, I guess. Also, he eats almost exclusively at McDonald's and Pizza Hut. That way, he reasons, he is sure to avoid the kind of intestinal distress that laid me out for so long.
Me, I read (Thank-you bookstore for being sold out of Harry Potter books on Sunday and Barb for handing me "Good in Bed" on the way out of the store - it is so great!!!). And broadcast e-mails to half the planet. It's not the best strategy in the world, but certainly it's not the worst either. And occasionally I say something that is just maybe useful or entertaining to the people I know and love, so that's an added bonus. It's not getting me into better shape, or converting the mall-going masses, but it is my thing, and it works for me. Most of the time.
Of course, so does tromping through the green underbrush on the mountains. But that will have to wait until Saturday morning and Mi...
I hope this finds you all well and happy, and at peace with the stresses in your lives, whatever they may be. Much love - Roberta