January 13, Freedom

Today was my release date from quarantine and my goodness, what a way to be re-introduced into society with a knock on my door 8:30 AM. Luckily, I had slept in clothes from the day before and peeked my head out the door.

It was the courier who had come three hours early to pick up my scheduled delivery. If you think I was planning on dragging two 50 pound suitcases to Busan by myself, again, you’re crazy.

I will give this man credit: he’s probably one of the two people who simplified his Korean to a level that I could understand. We worked out that he would come back at noon which was the scheduled time.

However, the rest of the morning was the fuel of every foreigners nightmare: I received call after call from Koreans and had to struggle my way through conversation. A man from the health center called and I had no idea what he said. And then the courier called to say that he was on his way, again.

I gave up trying to understand what the poor but extremely polite health center man was saying but came to understand when that same man came to my door asking for my biohazard trash. He was extremely polite although too fluent for me while the delivery man was brusque but comprehensible.

I felt that there was a lot of hard eye contact from young men today even though I was in a giant white puffer jacket and only my eyes were visible. Have I become desensitized to human contact after two weeks alone?

I think a 30-something man on the subway was surreptitiously trying to take pictures of me which was somehow made weirder by the fact I looked like a giant marshmallow with only the top half of my face visible. Are you trying to get my eyeshadow secrets, Mr. Pervert? I charge a modeling fee.

Weirdos aside, the snow was too great to resist and I finally made my first snowman ever, witnessed by a passing group of high school girls. Bucket list goal: complete.

I took a careening bus ride through HBC that left me with bruises and got my haircut by my favorite stylist in Korea.

“Our prices changed,” he mentioned as he set to work chopping my hair to chin length.

“It will be 30,000 won.” That’s about $27, no tip required. Hmm, not sure I can afford it.

In the end: bangs. Bucket list check acquired.

I took a metro line over the river and tried to wrap my head around the Han freezing over.

I also ran errands: I walked thirty minutes to a print shop because the first was closed and the second without Internet access; I successfully navigated the post office; I went to a convenience store on four separate occasions.

The last store at the tail end of evening provided one of those moments that warm my toes in the melting slush.

The woman at the counter handed over a county garbage bag (that’s how you pay for garbage services) and asked for the 490 won. 100 won pieces look like quarters and 10 won pieces like pennies so I carefully separated the American coins in my wallet.

Or so I thought.

She carefully slid over two copper coins that were in fact pennies.

“Oh. Sorry.” I told her in Korean. To be fair, both a penny and 10 won hold almost the exact same value.

She had the kind spirit of a small town lady and when she gave me 10 won as change, I was shocked.

She laughed at my expression and explained the currency for 10 won was changed from this big quarter like piece to the small copper piece. House Owner explained later it was due to manufacturing of the large piece costing 300 won.

“Wow, I learned something. Thank you, teacher!”

I left smiling and no one knew I was wearing pajamas under my coat.

Earlier in the day, the stylist asked me if I was excited to go back to Busan. I told him honestly and happily, yes.

I’m happy to get back to my roommates, and the smaller town feel. Not because I’m overwhelmed by the city, I lived here for a year and I don’t think twice at changing metro lines. Rather, I’m happy to get back to where people are blunt but friendly.

We even have a new roommate, apparently. He is a Russian psychologist who works online and is also currently caught up in COVID border wars like the Brazilian (who did finally make it back to Shanghai at last).

House Owner told him about our Korean male roommate, the one who may or may not have been trying to poison the dog, and he diagnosed him as “needing help“ and thus, seems like an alright character.

Tomorrow I’ll return to find out for myself.

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