Crosswalk Rules

Today I ran for the crosswalk, which is not an overly extraordinary occurrence- but after taking a few steps at a jogging pace, I quickly realized today was not a day for running.

I never would have run for a green crosswalk sign when I lived in America.  Or white?  Little crosswalk men are white, aren’t they?  Regardless of white and orange or green and red, I wouldn’t be caught dead running.  I want to appear laid back and easy going.  I don’t want onlookers to think I’m in a hurry.  I don’t want anyone to see me running without my athletic wear and headphones.

However, I wouldn’t really want to stand on the corner and wait for the green light either.  I would continue walking around the corner, keeping an eye out until traffic let up enough to make it across the street, jaywalking without a second thought.  Disclaimer: In Montana, there’s hardly a street you can’t cross mid-traffic if you continue walking half a block.

In Seoul, waiting on the corner for the crosswalk sign to light up is part of every trip out of the house, or you’ll never get across the street!  I remember fidgeting at first, but I quickly got used to it.  I remember looking both ways at first, but now I continue reading my text messages while I cross.  I remember getting out of the way for oncoming foot traffic.  Now, I slap my RBF on and stride confidently and directly toward the opposing traffic while carefully avoiding eye contact. I remember telling other newcomers: “Never be the first one or the last one in the intersection.”  At least that’s still a good rule.

And I’ve gotten used to looking ahead and deciding wether or not I could make it across the street if I run, factoring in my laziness or considering if I’m wearing the wrong shoes.

This morning I was looking ahead and realized I’d have awkward timing.  If I continued walking at my present speed, I would arrive at the curb while the crosswalk was still hot, BUT I wouldn’t have enough time to make it across.  The worst situation is waiting at the side while people fresh from crossing arrive on your side of the sidewalk.  Then, you have to wait for a full cycle of the stoplight- which could actually take 5 minutes, no thank you.

I started running.  Which to be honest was not really a run in my dress and flimsy flats but damned if I bow to misogyny and say a girl can’t run in a dress and flimsy flats.  I only had to run about 1/3 of the way across- I made it safely (not the last one) just as the crosswalk man disappeared.  But that’s not really why I stopped running.

You see, this morning, my stomach was just upset enough that I had to use the bathroom 3 times. So naturally, I put on some old underwear because just in case.  Also it’s comfy- there’s almost no elasticity left.

As soon as I started out, my underwear gave a sigh and slipped a bit.  Before I could comprehend that as a problem, my shoulder bag rubbing against my dress caught my underwear just right and caused more slippage.  By that time I had left the curb, and was thinking “Oh god, it’s too late.  I’m in the street now and I can’t turn back!”. I discreetly (I hope) adjusted my bag by pulling it up, trying to bring my underwear with it.  That’s when I started walking.

There is a time and place for running across streets in the middle of the block.  There is a time and a place for running in crosswalks, but there is no time or place for losing your clothing in one.

I used to be bad at directions. 

There is still a little part of me that wants to prove I’m not bad a directions any more.  

I first noticed the taxi pull up and stop because it was driving abnormally slow.  It stopped in the crosswalk, directly in front of me, so I hoped the occupant would make a quick exit before the light changed.  I’m lazy enough to not want to walk extra steps around a vehicle at 11:00 after a long day.  However, the passenger- a woman- was leaning in close to the windshield in order to look up.  She was pointing and conversing with the driver.  I sighed.  Could I justify eating ice cream to make up for those extra steps?  
Wait.  That’s weird.  No one ever looks up.  You’d think in a city with businesses on every floor that looking up would be natural, but that’s how you spot tourists.  

The taxi’s light flicked on, signaling the paying of fare and the woman got out, making a beeline for me and other woman waiting to cross.  She was preoccupied with her phone, checking out the address, I guess, so when she spoke she didn’t know my foreign ears were her audience.  But after reading the whole address out loud, she looked up, and pointed at the apartment building across the street.  

She turned to the other woman just as quickly as all her predecessors, and repeated her question, although I’m sure the woman had already heard.  

“잘 모르겠어요,” she answered.  “I’m not sure.”

I didn’t waste a second.  “네, 맞아요.”  “That’s right.”  The building she was pointing at was, in fact, the correct building.  But what she didn’t know is that all four apartment buildings in a row have the same name.  She didn’t specify which one- so I asked.  

“1차?  2차?”  One or two?  You may be thinking, wait there are four apartment buildings with the same name.  I’m getting there.  

“2차.”  

“A동?  B동?”  You see… 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B… 4 buildings.  Is this a common numbering system?  I’ve always wondered.  

“B동.”

*insert correct cultural sound for surprise* “나도 가고 있어요.” I’m going there too.  

We walked the 50 feet in silence, parting at the elevator with proper bows, thank yous, and good byes.    

It’s happened four times: someone asks for directions before looking at my face. I open my mouth to reply but they’ve already moved on. They don’t even pause to apologize, say excuse me, or marvel at my beauty. They are just gone.  
All four times, I have known the way to get to the destination they seek.  
This woman had just asked me for directions to my very own apartment building, and she almost walked away with nothing.

Now, the question is: 

If you can give directions in another language, does it prove you are good at directions?  

No phone, no phone, I just want to be alone today.

On Sunday, I got myself a new toy.  A beautiful, black, ready-to-touch-all-over iPhone 5. 

 

For the last few weeks, I’ve been without a phone here in Korea.  Yes yes yes, being without a phone nowadays is preposterous unless you come from a third world country.  Even my parents thought it was unsafe for me to be without a phone, and I remember seeing them get their first phones and progress through the technology.  I remember being a teenager without a phone and how difficult, unsafe, and unfair I thought it was.  After I got my first phone as an 18th birthday present, I went a little crazy and got charged extra for all the text messages I sent, which weren’t included in my plan at all.  Imagine!  A cell phone plan without texting!  Talk about the Dark Ages. 

 

But here I’ve been, scraping by with no phone, and not even wifi available to connect with my ipod or computer.  Why?  Because I couldn’t sign up by myself.  I could have struggled through the language with my limited Korean skills and hopefully finding a store where someone speaks a little English.  But that wasn’t the problem.  The problem is that I don’t have the necessary documentation yet, meaning it hasn’t come in the mail.  As of yet, I can’t prove I’m a legal alien here.  The way of getting around this rule is to have a Korean person sign the contract for you, and just pay monthly like normal. I was going to wait until my paperwork went through, but it’s taking much longer than I was expecting.  So I went ahead and convinced a friend to help me out. 

 

In Korea, everywhere has wifi: coffee shops, restaurants, department stores, buses, and beauty shops.  You can even drop off your dead battery at a convenience store and they’ll charge it for you.  That’s because everyone is connected to their phones like a second brain, which is literally what a phone functions as for the average Korean.  Some people in the states have achieved this level of phone usage, but we still call them nerds, or at the very best techies.  This is the normal Korean person.  So it was extremely hard for them to understand that I didn’t have a phone, and I was still alive. 

 

Still, I thought I was perfectly fine without a phone. I’m not really one to update my facebook status every day, or even every week.  Every once in a while, I do like to add pictures or write a note to my friends and family at home.  I also like to stay up to date on email, even though most of it gets trashed right away.  And I’m not a big texter or caller either. But getting this phone was the best decision I’ve made since deciding to stay in Korea and switch my job to teaching English.  I new feel like I’m a part of the world again.  And I dare say my friends are enjoying being able to reach me too.

 

People don’t do things ahead of time anymore.  They don’t arrange their schedules in advance.  Sometimes, they don’t even set a meeting place or time, they just rely on their phones to help them meet up last minute.  Of course, this is not what I needed to happen.  I needed my friends to set up the next hangout date before we said goodbye.  But I ended up being alone and uninvited instead.  Not because my friends didn’t want to see me, they just couldn’t plan ahead like I needed.  I expected them to change from a “now” culture to a “when” culture.  “When can you grab coffee with me?” “How about Saturday? 8:00?” “Sure, want to hit up that new place by your house?”  “Yep.”  “Ok, see you then.”  That doesn’t happen anymore.  Intead, it’s “Hey, are you free?  I’m bored.  What to try that new coffee shop?”  “Sure, meet you there in 30?”  “Ok, can’t wait.”  Because I didn’t fit into this culture, I was left out. 

 

It’s also feels a lot less lonely when you can instantly message a friend or even check out the news at home.  And getting messages from friends doesn’t hurt either, because you know someone is thinking about you. 

Laundry

Today is Saturday.  Saturday night, to be exact.  And today was the first day I didn’t have any plans since living alone.  So I came across this question: How do you tell if you are successfully living alone? 

I woke up needing to do laundry.  Really badly. In the year I’ve spent in Korea, I haven’t heard anyone speak of a dryer, but pretty much everyone has a washer- even me in my one room apartment.  I haven’t done laundry in a while because my air conditioner has been broken, and during the summer when the humidity is really high, it’s difficult to get your clothes dry.  So difficult that they will stay damp for a few days, and by then your clothes are all mildewy and smelly.  Therefore, in the interest of not smelling like mold, I waited until my air con was fixed to do my laundry, so my clothes could dry properly.  So I held my laundry off until last night.  I sorted my clothes by priority of when I would want to wear them (who does whites and colors anymore in this day and age?) and popped the highest priority load (nice clothes for work and shorts for the heat) in the washer last night, hanging my clothes up to dry while I slept.  I had already put the second-priority load (t-shirts, pants, and athletic shorts) into the washer so I could start it first thing this morning.  I turned on the washer, and thought to myself, “why stop there?”, I got out my broom and swept my floor.  It’s amazing I have any hair left on my head with all the hair I got off my floor!  Sheesh.  And I washed my kitchen which took me all of 1 minute because my counter is so small.  All the while, I was thinking about why I was cleaning.  I mean, I’m the only person who lives here, and I run a pretty tight ship anyway.  Besides the hair, it was already clean!  But is it successful to live alone in a clean house?  More so than living alone in a messy house, even if no one ever sees it?  I folded last night’s laundry just in time to hang up today’s. 

I decided I had to buy groceries today unless I wanted to live on string cheese and cucumber… which I could have, believe me.  But a little nagging voice in my head said I should go to the grocery story because that is what successful living-aloners do.  They keep enough food in their house so they can be healthy and eat a balanced diet.  

I was also thinking of how I would occupy myself all day.  I’ve been reading this book all week, and I’d really like to finish it but I’m only halfway through.  It’s a pretty thick book.  I probably couldn’t have finished it today if I tried.  But do people who live alone stay home all day and read on their days off, even when a lot of what they do during the week if they’re not working is read?  It seemed like my day off shouldn’t be like any other day. 

And where do I start with the lights and air con and shower?  I’ve been taking cold showers anyway because it’s so hot in my apartment and it feels good.  But I’m not one to feel relaxed in a cold shower, so when I’m shampooing or soaping, I turn the water off, and just use the cold water to rinse.  I started wondering, will I continue to take cold showers when my apartment is cold?  Will I continue this past the point of comfort because it’s cheap?  Will that water saving technique be successful?  Or unsuccessful because I’m sacrificing comfort?  What about when I should have turned the light on to read, but sat struggling to read in the dark because the lights cost money?  And what about the air con that I could be using more often to make my apartment cooler and more comfy, but all I see is my money draining away?  Is it successful to sit in the dark and save money?  No one will ever know that you are reading your book in the dark… Where do you draw lines between saving money, using the environment’s resources wisely, and being comfortable?  When you live alone, do you take it to the one extreme that you care most about?    

I wanted so badly to be good at living alone.  But then I realized that I live alone, so the only definition of success that matters is my own (all selfishness aside).  All the pressure to be successful was coming from me.  And I have been successful already. 

Yes, maybe I ate the first few meals in my new home with my fingers.  

Yes, maybe I should have bought toilet paper when I was moving in.

Yes, maybe I still don’t have a garbage can, but that trash bag is working quite well. 

I have food, and I’ve been cooking.

I have read ½ a book. 

I have written down some great stories about school.

I have a clean house and clean clothes. 

And I’m comfortable, proudly saving myself money and conserving water all at the same time.  

My key to success when living alone is to get my needs sorted out while doing what I want. And when something comes up, I’ll just compromise.  After all, it’s just me!  When I’m at home, the only person I have to please is myself.  With the correct priorities and attention to responsibility, everything will get done at the right time, just like my laundry.