April 12

Yesterday morning was quickly efficient. I followed up with the eye doctor who said, “your dry eye is all gone” which was a far cry from earlier in the week when he scared me with words like “corneal erosion” and “forever”.

I wanted to make sure absolutely sure I understood.

“다 났어요.” He told me. I had learned the verb earlier that day from my tutor to mean “happen/occur” but from context I assume it meant “all gone”.

So I threw up two thumbs up and asked him, “all good?”

“Yes, 다 났어요.” He repeated as if I learned vocabulary through osmosis. Okay! I assume I’m fine now.

To reward myself for such good news, I stopped by the kebab shop for a lamb gyro. Sometimes you just need a sandwich. I ate half, listened to a podcast and then headed to the gym.

I feel slightly less scandalous day by day, wearing my own gym clothes instead of the provided unisex (men’s) gym clothes that have been temporarily suspended due to COVID. Of course, I had forgotten to bring a towel but with my McGyver senses I used my not-too-sweaty gym shirt to pat dry and then stood in front of the fans at the mirrored counter while I did my hair.

I have yet to see my new haircut with my natural texture but we’ll see this week!

My friend and her husband, who have done an excellent job taking care of me over this year and introducing me to various Korean cultural points (like the sauna), took me to one of the few places I haven’t visited.

Like the street I live on, this particular street is famous for rice cake. My spice tolerance has increased dramatically and eating a pan full of ramen, rice cake, and fish cake didn’t trick my stomach in the slightest. In fact, I eat a lot of Chinese food these days which is spicy to Koreans. (It helps that I live near a Chinese market).

국물떡볶이

I’ve only ever eaten convenience store ramen and there was something delightfully chewy and real about noodles that didn’t come from a Styrofoam cup.

My friend and her husband encouraged me to keep speaking Korean even if it took me eons to get a sentence out. “We’ll help you fix it.” I had last seen them in January and they said my Korean has improved even since then! I certainly felt more at ease conversationally– a far cry from my recent experiences feeling inept at doctor’s offices. Sometimes we just need a different situation to show our progress.

Of course, one little boy eating with his family kept looking over his shoulder at me curiously. He’s probably never seen a non-native speaking Korean, except maybe on TV. Another little girl behind us had a similar reaction. Yes, remember me kids! Let’s raise the bar for language expectations of foreigners! Then maybe people will be less afraid to befriend foreigners or be more patient with non-native speakers.

The restaurant was absolutely packed and we laughed thinking, “what coronavirus?” I feel that I’m living on an alternate timeline from my American family and friends. The cases here have lessened dramatically and people are starting to socialize again. This can’t be said for the US where unfortunately things just seem to be getting started. I almost wonder if I should add a caveat to all my photos: “my current country took care of the virus from day one so please don’t do as I do. If you live in the West, stay inside!”.

My friend and her husband are incredibly gracious and patient. She studied abroad and is a friend of my cousin’s which is how we were introduced. Her husband is learning English for his job and feels “a lot of stress” since his managers are American. We both feel stress speaking the other’s language.

She is from the southeastern area of South Korea and her husband is a Seoul native; he protested when we both conspired that Seoul people can sometimes be a bit cold.

We ate a famous dessert at an old fashioned bakery after finishing the second helping of rice stir fried in the remaining sauce. It was like an ice cream cake but vanilla wafer as the outer shell instead of chocolate cookie.

It was such a wonderful evening and it confirmed that if I just keep trying, this Korean life will continue to get easier.

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