Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Katie in Korea

Rule 1 - Never sleep through the beginnings of a migraine.
I remember rolling over and wincing at the pain in my right temple but was so tired that I let myself go back to sleep. By the time I was officially awake, the migraine had taken hold and my body - despite begging it to do otherwise - went into full revolt.

I took Advil. I took Tylenol PM. I sipped water. I stood in front of my window, shivering from the pain as I sweated in my 78 degree room, dipping my head so that the meager output of the air conditioner could cool my face.

I threw up, which I positively hate, and was panicked about who would give my presentation and how the hell I was ever going to get home if I was truly sick in a foreign country. I turned on the shower, but was too nauseated to get in. I continued to stumble between the bed, bathroom and window, finally bracing myself to chew and swallow one more Advil in the hopes that it would absorb before I had to vomit again. I realized the tile floor of the bathroom was cool as I sat in front of the fancy toilet and on my next trip, brought a pillow with me from the bed and curled up on the floor next to the shower.

I fell asleep while listening to the water and the Advil worked well enough that I was no longer wishing for the sweet relief for death. I slowly made my way toward the bed, wincing at the light before yanking the curtains firmly closed and slept some more.

Rule 2 - Always be prepared.
Having recovered enough to keep myself drugged and the migraine to an uncomfortable pressure rather than searing pain, I went with Adam to the local office. I was immediately asked to practice my presentation in front of the most important of individuals and his entire team. Apart from forgetting I'm supposed to carefully review the business card before shoving them in a folder, I did quite well.

Rule 3 - Have no shame about lack of chopstick proficiency.
"Would you like a fork?" one of the women asked as I stared at the silver chopsticks with resigned dismay. I immediately brightened and nodded and was able to eat my vegetables (oyster mushrooms are a little crunchy) and thin slices of beef as the broth used to cook them bubbled on the table.

In general, I found all my concerns to be unfounded. It was not difficult to enter the country, especially now that I'm familiar with international travel. People speak English very well, though it did help to be escorted by the local team as we navigated Seoul. And the food options are varied and Western options are generally available. Oh, and the coffee is excellent and plentiful.

In short, I smiled when walking around because I'd used a fish analogy last year when I was too nervous to make this trip. Turns out the big fish is more adorable than scary.

Rule 4 - Keep the camera handy.
Unsurprisingly, this trip was largely visual as I understand zero Korean. So I looked at pictures and relied on my colleagues for important translations. I tried mightily to slow the pace of my speaking, having a habit of chattering when I get excited or nervous.

It's lovely to look at though. Mountains in the distance, buildings scattered heavily over all available surfaces, friendly cartoon character signs warning me to do or not do something I couldn't understand, a river that ran under several bridges and a sense of what I've come to associate with Asia in my limited experience - sharp and bright technology in urban environments paired with serenely elegant ancient cultures. It's a fascinating mix.

Rule 5 - Don't take my travel advice.
It took me ~10 hours to accomplish a commute that should have taken 3. I had two flights, two 90 minute car rides and a layover that was short enough that I was forcing myself to calm down as I waited in line for immigration. (Fingerprints and photos and paperwork take time and I watched the clock with increasing panic I battled with deep breathing as my flight time inched ever closer.

I had continued to medicate myself through the trip, but feel remarkably good this morning as I sit in Japan. I'm adjusting to the time difference, in a hotel very close to where I'm working for the next two days and will see people from my group at home, which helps as we can talk to each other when the majority of people speak a language I don't understand.

As a prelude to my Japan posts, I do like this country. The brisk efficiency appeals to me greatly, but I do not like how the personal space shrinks to zero. Even on the plane as we were waiting to get off, I had someone pressed to my butt and someone else against the side of my breast. I know it's a cultural norm - we were all smooshed together in a huge human clump - but it makes me very uncomfortable. Otherwise, I'm happy and feeling very blessed to be here.


Brigindo said...

Sorry about the migraine. I totally agree about not sleeping through the beginning.

Lovely lovely photos.

I think that same cultural norm exists in NYC. One of the things I was quite happy to lose by moving south.

Anonymous said...

I do not like how the personal space shrinks to zero.

Then do *not* even think about getting on an elevator in a crowded place, such as a department store.

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