Rather than heading home, er, to Seoul, the usual way, I decide Friday night to try the express bus. It is large, comfortable and quiet and seems for the first 30 or so minutes to be about the best travel decision I have ever made. Me and the quiet Korean lady who is the only other passenger make it to the heart of the city in record time, and in relative luxury. "Ahh, this is the life!" I am thinking to myself as traffic grinds to a sudden and inexplicable halt.
It takes me longer than you might think to notice that we have been sitting at the very same corner for nearly 30 minutes - usually when we are stopped somewhere I practice my Korean by reading all the street signs I can see, and I guess I was a little engrossed in my efforts. When the driver starts banging forecefully on the front of my seat and yelling unintelligibly, I come to. All I understand is "No Stop!! Off!!" I look around with greater consciousness and realize that I have absoulutely no idea where we are.
The Korean lady takes the map I have sticking out of the side of my backpack and points to it. I repeat the name of the area I am going over and over, and she says "Me too! Follow!" and takes my arm and drags me into the gridlocked street. I try to ask her name, but she just smiles and says "no English." When I point to myself and say my name, she frowns. When I try my Korean name out, she frowns even more. I close my mouth and, as she instructed, follow.
She tries to flag down several passing city busses, and is nearly run down in the process. She drags me down a couple back alleys and to another corner. We wait there for nearly an hour. I think to myself that it would be much quicker to just find a subway, but I am not communicating all that well with the lady, and after she has spent all this time toting me around like inconvenient baggage, it seems rude to second guess her or to just take off. So I wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, 2 more corners later, we get on a bus and head out in the direction of the church.
When we get on the bus, she calls her friend who speaks a little English and hands me the phone. It seems it is the anniversary of the deaths of the two Korean girls run over by the American tank, and there is a big demonstration at city hall - the exact place I was trying to get to on the first bus. Friday the 13th, go figure. I call my friend Smith, who is waiting at the church to open the gates for me, to let him know that I am still on my way but that I have no idea how long it will take. I have been in transit for almost 3 hours. Since I can't tell him where I am, I hand the phone to the lady, and the two of them talk for a long time. Finally she smiles at me, hands me the phone, and says "no worry." When the bus nears my stop, she hands me my things, points to the doors, and says good night. I see her waving from the inside as the bus pulls away. I wish I had gotten her name.
Friday night there is a terrific storm. I am curled up cozily beneath an enormous furry blanket, alone in my friend's house on the church grounds (they are away for the weekend). The rain breaks the oppressive heat, and clears the air of its usual smog. When I meet my friend Mi (pronounced "Me") early Saturday morning for a light hike up to the top of my favorite mountain, the world seems refreshed. It is a wonderful morning.
Mi is middle aged, married, one daughter. She is vivacious and out spoken and knows her mind. She is wonderful to talk to. As I am still not feeling particularly well, we make the climb slowly, talking and laughing and getting to know each other. This is the first time I have been alone with her, and it is delightful for us both. When we get to the pagoda near the top, we sit on the wooden benches overlooking the city below and let the cool wind which has picked up blow through us. She teaches me words for wind and rain and clouds (param, pi, groom), and we talk about school. She is an English teacher also. When it begins to rain lightly, we remove ourselves to her favorite restaurant near the church for breakfast - sensitive to my stomach, she orders me a delicious rice soup that she says will make me feel better. It does. Before long the whole morning has gone by, and it is time for her to teach. I wander home to the church alone, and she heads home.
After a ridiculously long, wonderful shower (when you usually shower by holding the shower head as close to yourself as possible to maximize the terrible water pressure, the value of a real shower can not be underestimated), I meet another Korean friend for a bit of shopping. Which turns into an all out, all day shopping frenzy spanning darn near all of Seoul. Fun, but exhausting. I should have known Yu Kyoung, who seems to never sleep, would not do it half way. When I get back to the church at 7:45, I drop into bed all set to spend the night in quiet oblivion. This was not to be.
At 8:30, Rob, Barb and the rest of the crew returned from their road trip South. A bustle of unpacking and cooking follows, which leads to a 4 am chat for Barb and I. By Sunday I am completely wiped out. Furthermore, my stomach has not appreciated the food lavished on it throughout the day Saturday and I am fully sick again. I speak with Son Hae at church about it - she is a Dr. of oriental medicine - and she says it is time for me to see someone I can not only talk to, but who will actually do a proper examination and have some tests run. She and Steve, the guy in charge of the local church, set me up at the international clinic at the hospital next to the church for Monday morning. I call my school admin. to tell them what is up, and settle in for another night in Seoul.
Monday morning, the doctor (a Korean woman who speaks perfect English) listens to my tale of woe with interest, and orders about a zillion tests. A kind nurse escorts me down to the hospital lab with about ten million other people, takes a number for me, and explains what will happen when she leaves me there on my own. There is a line of 10 nurses at the front of the room, drawing blood in a neverending stream, cold and efficient. My number comes up surprisingly fast, and the nurse asks for my arm in English. She has clearly dealt with foreigners before. She hands me dixie cups with barcodes as well and motions to the sign at the back of the room which reads (in English) "Urine and fecal collection area". Although there are separate spaces for men and women, there are no doors, so little is left to the immagination. It is a bloody good thing I am not feeling particularly shy at this point. Business concluded, I leave my cups on the wooden tray in the hallway with all the other dixie cups and wonder fleetingly about the effects of sanitation on test results. I am too tired to care.
Back at the clinic, the same nurse escorts me promptly into a quiet room in another part of the hospital where she has me lie down and inserts an IV into my arm. It is for dehydration, which the doctor tells me is fairly advanced, but nothing to worry about. There I lie, strapped to the pole like a dog on a leash, for almost 4 hours. Most of the time, I sleep. Friends periodically call or text message my cell to check on me. The doctor comes in to say that my tests results show evidence of a bad infection, now gone, and that the symptoms are either side effects of the other Dr.'s medication (which did apparently at least kill the infection) or of dehydration, and most likely a combination of both. She instructs me to eat nothing too strenuous for a week or so, to consume absurd ammounts of liquids (which yes, I am doing), and to take it easy. She says I will be better in no time. Her bedside manner is terrific.
As the IV is emptying the last of its magic juice into my veins, Steve calls. It is raining and he is driving over to pick me up, and taking me back to the church for another night. I have been in the hospital for about 6 hours, and am more than happy to oblige. At the church, Rob and Barb feed me easy food and all the young people come over to watch a movie with me. I sleep through most of it, but enjoy having people around. In the morning, Steve drives me to my bus stop, and I head back out to Suji for another day of class. Tired, but feeling so much better.
When Son Hae calls to check on me one last time, she says "I was so worried about you - you are so far from home, and all alone." I think to myself that nothing could be farther from the truth. However stressful and harrowing the last weeks have been, I have NEVER been alone. And with people like the Korean lady on the bus, and Smith waiting for me at the church gates, Rob and Barb and all the young people sitting up with me at the house at all hours, Steve driving me all over town, and Son Hae taking care of me, perhaps I am really not so far from home afterall. I miss Canada and my friends and family there, of course. But this is home now too. Welcome home!