One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sleep Deprivation Delirium

I must start this post with a caveat: sleep deprivation abounds me and with it, delirium. So if at some point reading this you think, "Wow, this makes absolutely no sense" OR, better yet, "I thought this was about a wedding, but somehow I've been reading about chickens for a paragraph's length".. well.. this should come as a warning to you. This is your brain on no sleep.

Everything is hazy. My brain feels fuzzy. There are two possibilities, the last 120 hours either really happened or they were a total hallucination. If I told you that 3 days involved an airplane, a wedding, 25 tornadoes, food poisoning, an ambulance, a cute red headed baby named Violet, a flying biscuit, and racing laps around the airport in a ford Taurus, you'd probably say, "dream!" And, I'd have to agree with you if the pictures didn't say otherwise. I did go home for an extended weekend. I did go to a best friend's wedding. I did see my family- and niece, for the first time! I did meet some of my best friends at a restaurant called the Flying Biscuit.

Is it far from the truth to say that I was also in a quasi dream state? No. Two words. Jet lag. Dangerous amounts of caffeine powered me through the day. At night, I stared at the ceiling and fantasized about different ways of putting myself to sleep. They are as follows: being shot with a tranq. gun, a night cap (I was very close to resorting to this. If it hadn't been for the image of being caught raiding the liquor cabinet and then sent to rehab, I probably would have.), anesthesia, somehow bludgeoning myself unconscious (This solution was a little too grim for even me to creatively explore how I would have made that possible), counting sheep, reading Moby Dick, ingesting Tylenol pm and/or cough syrup and/or Benadryl, eating a huge State Fair sized turkey leg, watching the golf channel, drinking chamomile tea, a lavender scented candle, riding in a car, riding in a car while drinking chamomile tea and burning a lavender scented candle, allowing someone to put me into the sleeper position... hmmm choices choices

Lauren's ceremony and reception got a huge A+. The wedding was held at this picturesque castle-like villa in the country, the food was amazing, she was beautiful, of course, and everything ran without a hitch. But, and this is a big "BUT", the 12 hours before the event had us all a little worried that there might be an apocalyptic melt down. Bless her heart, she planned that wedding with such perfection. What's the expression, "When you want to make god laugh, make plans."

I flew into Raleigh on Thursday night. The following day, the bride's maids had lunch and got manicures and pedicures. We met the rest of the wedding party that night at the venue for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. It was a beautiful day- clear blue skies, warm weather. It was so good to see the bride and groom and their whole wedding party together. Everyone seemed to really enjoy each others company. Things started to unravel that night. To Lauren's great credit, there was no bridezilla moment.

Megan, Lauren, and I. We've known each other since we were 5 and 6 years old.

Lauren and the bride's maids the night of the rehearsal dinner.

I had been in and out of sleep Friday night when another best friend of mine, Megan, woke me around 4am to say that she needed to go to the hospital. I had heard her getting up several times that night, but I didn't grasp its severity. By the time I got up, she was dehydrated from the vomiting, shaking, pale, and complaining of a tightness in her chest. It had food poisoning written all over it, but there was no way to be sure. Was it food poisoning or, was it a virus? The food had been catered most of the day and, therefore, we had all eaten the same thing. We cross checked everything we had eaten.

We were just getting directions to the nearest hospital when someone ran out to say that another girl in her room woke up displaying the same symptoms as Megan. There were now two very sick girls and the owner of the Villa ill-advised us in trying to find the hospital in the middle of the night ourselves. An ambulance would be a safer, direct route and the girls would surely be treated immediately.

As the ambulance drove away we all stood in the foyer shaken by what had happened, worried for the girls, and undeniably worried for who was next. Whether it had been food poisoning or a virus didn't seem to matter much at this point. It was the night before the wedding and we had all shared food and the entire day together. I was secretly praying that it was food poisoning and not a virus. My sister was bringing my two month old niece to the Villa in the morning and I couldn't bare the thought of exposing her fragile immune system to a contagion. God only knows how Lauren felt. It was the day of her wedding. If she was scared to her core, she didn't show it much.

If the night before wasn't enough, the next day North Carolina experienced a freak storm in which 25 tornadoes touched down. One in our county. At this point, we looked out the window and saw tornado force winds hurling at least a dozen chickens and various other livestock (Just kidding! Okay, no flying livestock. I couldn't resist)

Somehow everything that had centrifuged in the last 12 hours began to come together again a few hours before the ceremony. The girls were back from the hospital and well enough to be in the ceremony, the power was on, the guests had arrived. It was a beautiful wedding.

I spent what remainder time I had with my family who had driven in for the weekend. I met Violet, my niece. It was understood that I would be the appointed baby caregiver that weekend (I'm not sure I would have been given a "Best Baby Caregiver Award" for my efforts. I tried so hard though! ). I held her, fed her, changed her, slept with her, and woke up with her at night; I certainly wouldn't have had it any other way. I only relinquished Violet from my arms when I had to bathe or, okay, eat... and I did so begrudgingly.

The Fam

Violet woke up in the middle of the night. I certainly couldn't sleep and neither
could she so we had a photo shoot. I think the flash shocked her.
She has some of the best expressions =)

Violet slept with me Saturday night. She has this habit of rubbing her face
back and forth on your chest when shes fighting sleep. My
sister doesn't think so (less sleep time for mom) but I find it adorable

I love how she sleeps with her hands above her head <3

Bath time in the sink. I love the disconcerting look on Violet's
face. She is not thrilled with this idea, but going

with it none-the-less. She is the most well tempered baby
I know. She lets you play with her without so much as a peep.

All clean

Like mother like daughter

It was so hard to say good bye to my family on Sunday. One of the toughest moments of the entire weekend. I had dinner with some of my best friends from college at the Flying Biscuit that night. At this point, I was in a nearly comatose state from the exhaustion. I was also in a little bit of a stupor after saying bye to my family, but they came with smiles and laughter that brought me out of it.

It was great to go home, but the whole weekend had been tough. I think sheer happiness, peppered with a little sadness, mixed with a whole lot of sleep deprivation, spliced with a dash of stress in being home for the first time in 7 months exacerbated every emotion in me. I felt the need to explain to total strangers that I wasn't *normally* this emotionally unstable, but really, what was the point? As tough as the weekend had been, I'd go back and do it again because seeing everyone back home had really been something like a dream.. minus the chickens. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Courage to Get Naked

I wish I could adequately describe a jimjilbang. To simply say it’s a hybrid between a sauna and a public bath house would fall short. In a lot of ways it's a Korean community center. It has everything!! ... TVs, Arcade games, massage parlors, sleeping "cubies", movies, computers, yoga lessons, books, a gym, a restaurant, a snack bar, Dr. Fish... *inhale* And Koreans truly use them like community centers. Families camp out at the jimjilbang for hours in the day. Mothers and fathers sleep and sweat it out in the saunas while their children are playing with one another. It's a perfect system. Enclosed. Relaxed. Safe.

It was a slow start, but I am now a believer and a lover of the jimjilbang experience. So what's the catch, you ask? Where could your reservations lie when your words are nothing short of flattery? One word. Nakedness.

Let me explain. You are not naked the entire time nor is there co-ed naked frolicking. (However much of a disappointment or a relief that may come to you)

So here's how it works. You pay about 7,000 won (6USD) and are given a lovely jimjil outfit. Women get a fashionable faded pink suit and men, blue. Like the way you would go to the public pool or local YMCA, the men enter through the men's locker room/bathhouse to one side and the women through the other.

There should be a sign at the door: "Check Modesty Here ->" because once you walk through those doors be prepared to see *everything*. I've been 3 times and I still brace myself for the initial shock of seeing a proud ajuma strolling by in her birthday suit. (If you remember what I told you about ajumas then you remember that they are old Korean mothers with Att-i-tudes. Surprisingly, they are not less scary in, what would appear, a more vulnerable situation...a testament, I think, to the nature of adjumas)

Once you’ve changed into your comfy .. well.. sweat suit, then you’re ready for the main floor. The main floor is where everything but the bathhouse is located and is where families spend the majority of their time.

Last Sunday I revisited the jimjilbang. It was an overcast day, perfect for the jimjil. Though I had been twice before, once with my co-teacher and once with some foreigner friends, Sunday was the first time alone.

I was sitting in one of the massage chairs reading, when Du Ri and her friend sat next to me, giggling.

Du Ri finally worked up the courage, "What's your name?"

We talked intermittently as I was reading, thus allowing the girls to confer on the following question's structure and grammatics.

"Aren't you bow red?," Du Ri asked.

I looked at her confused, "Am I what?"

"Bow red!"

She showed me her phone's screen, which read, "Bored."

"Ahhhh! Bored. Nooo, this is relaxing. Fun!"

I think my being alone struck these two middle school girls as very odd. After all, this was their community center, a place to socialize, what was I thinking going there alone?? I thought to read and relax. Oops. (Foreigner mistake number 379)

I moved from one sauna room to the next: reading, "resting my eyes," and snacking on hard boiled eggs and peach tea (popular jimjil snacks). The saunas are more like huts than "rooms" and one Jimjilbang might be equipped with around 10 that vary in temperature and material, like wood, salt, brick, or stone. My favorite is the “natural medicine room" that smells of curry.

The hottest room is right around 300 degrees Fahrenheit. As a friend put it, that's low bake in the oven. And man!. Did I ever feel like a spit pig! At most, I can cook for 15 minutes. By then the sweat beads and rolls down every part of my body. It's stifling and hard to breathe. In this particular sauna I wrap my towel around my head like an Islamic Burka in a half-hearted attempt to spare my face from the inferno. It’s worth the short discomfort for the light, cleansing feeling I get after stepping out.

After 2 hours in and out of the saunas, I went back to where I started- the women’s bath house. It was go time (time to get naked). I had done this part once before with a co-teacher so I felt familiar enough to give it a whirl on my own. I'm not sure that this part will ever become easy with practice. Both times I've had to give myself a mental pep talk to strip down in a room full of people (Even if they were as naked as I). I have to note that foreigners are stared at just walking down the street. So now I’m a naked foreigner.

I can't say if I did, in fact, receive a lot of looks or if it was mere paranoia taken hold of me, but I remember walking through the bath house doors and thinking that all eyes were on me. I froze for a few seconds that felt more like hours. It occurred to me, naked, still standing in front of the door, that the last time I had done this my co-teacher had navigated this part for me-- scooting me from the showers to the pools, handing me the bucket to place my soaps and towels. I saw the shower heads, but how was I to get a spot?? I saw women with buckets, but how was I to get one of my own??

Thus began my wandering (still naked, folks!). After a few painfully awkward seconds, I decided that this naked wandering would just not do. I’d have to watch how the Koreans did it. I sat on the edge of a pool for a few seconds and waited for a spot to open. It wasn't long before I was situated at a shower head of my own. What a relief that was! And like magic, the more I relaxed, the less people stared! (okay, okay! So it was paranoia...)

I have to say, it was really enjoyable. I spent an hour pampering myself, sitting in different pools of water, exfoliating my skin, and painting my toes nails. I walked out of the jimjilbang feeling more clean, refreshed, and healthy than I had in a long time. It's really not that bad if you can muster the courage to get naked!