That in Which we Discover an Imposter

When we got our yardbirds several weeks ago, we picked out a very “naughty” barred Plymouth Rock hen we named Miss Mona, and from the same farm we chose a fancy, fairly useless at laying but incredibly entertaining breed, the silkie. We named her Bojangles.

A week later we added a third bird to the flock, the teeny adorable JK, an Ameraucana who will someday in theory lay us an egg. We have yet to see her do any such thing. We got JK from a farmer, and she was a quiet little shy thing. Didn’t make a peep all the way home in the carrier, just a sweet sweet bird.

JK Ameraucana, the loudest chicken on the planet

JK Ameraucana, the loudest chicken on the planet

We let her in the backyard and she took off at approximately 400 mph, squawking like we were murdering her – just totally screaming and making a fuss. We also discovered that she could somewhat fly. A neighborhood cat, named Tom, came to see what the noise was and she took one look and launched across the yard, in fairly decent flight for a largely “flightless” bird. And so under the cover of darkness her first night home we plucked her from the roost and clipped her wings so we wouldn’t lose her.

our barred rock and generally awesome chicken, Miss Mona

our barred rock and generally awesome chicken, Miss Mona

Despite her obvious hatred of us, the new tiny bird, JK, really bonded with Bojangles our silkie. They started taking dirt baths together, snuggling in the roost at night, it was really pretty darling. And all the while, no eggs from JK, no eggs from Bo, and meanwhile, Mona, who was supposed to be a cranky, runaway, escape artist has turned into this lovely hilarious chicken. She hasn’t tried going anywhere except into our kitchen! She stalks you – if you come in the backyard she runs to you like a dog, and will jump up at you if she thinks you have treats. She will sit in the back door, face pressed against the sliding door, watching you cook, hoping for a scrap. She helps garden – as you’re turning soil she pecks out worms. She thinks this is great fun – we merely have to beware we don’t clip her toes with a garden utensil. I didn’t realize a chicken could be so incredibly likeable.

Mona also keeps cranking out eggs. In the weeks we’ve had she’s “missed” just two days. She’s a machine!

There was also a distinct pecking order – Mona beat the crap out Bo, and Bo would turn around and peck at JK. But the birds overall bonded, and all three would be found snuggled sometimes, or in the dirt together, or relaxing in our adirondack chairs together (this is particularly hilarious to see). So a week ago, all is right in our backyard chicken haven. We had our sweet sweet Mona, our relatively calm Bo, and the chicken who hates humans, JK (but at least she’d finally stopped screaming all the time). It was a Sunday morning, I was in the kitchen baking, the chickens were at the back door, my other half was in the bathroom getting ready for the day. And I heard a sound, but didn’t quite register what had just happened.

The Boy, however, came racing out of the bathroom with his eyes wide. “Did you hear that?!”

We listened.

And that’s when we heard it. A distinct “cockadoodledoo,” from our own backyard.

Shit.

I opened the sliding back door, iPhone in hand, and watched for a moment. It took seconds – mere seconds – to discover the truth.

Bojangles had just earned the new name Bo Dangles. We had a rooster. In city limits. *Sigh* Our sweet hilarious silkie would have to be exchanged at the farm for a new bird. Silkies, it should be noted, are nearly impossible to correctly sex. Even pros are only correct about 10% of the time. You pretty much have to see them drop an egg or crow to determine what you’ve got – though adults have slightly difference appearances when they’re pullets it’s a mystery.

Last week while I was at work, The Boy rounded up Bo Dangles, and drove back to the farm to say farewell to our beloved fluffy rooster. Upon releasing him back into their flock he promptly stood upright, flapped his silly wings, and crowed loudly announcing his triumphant return.

There weren’t any laying silkies, and we couldn’t risk another rooster, so The Boy took a laying bird, only part silkie, and part leghorn. This chicken was named Hot Pie after the Game of Thrones character, not sure why entirely. But Chicken Hot Pie is fairly comical, so Hot Pie joined our backyard flock with Mona and JK.

Hot Pie, see the blue earlobes?

Hot Pie, see the blue earlobes?

 

Hot Pie and JK are very similar - but JK is still a teeny little thing

Hot Pie and JK are very similar – but JK is still a teeny little thing

Hot Pie immediately chilled out with the other established birds, and while not as adorable as Bo or as friendly as Mona, at least she wasn’t a noisy bitch like JK was her first several days home. All seemed right with the world.

That evening, after dinner, I ran to the store for something. I was gone 15 minutes tops. When I turned to pull into the driveway…there was Hot Pie. Staring at me. And she moseyed away across the driveway to the neighbors’ house. I immediately called The Boy and said, “Get outside, Hot Pie is on a walkabout!” The two of us spent the next 30 minutes chasing this damned, loud, fast, not particularly friendly, bird around our block. We finally corralled her in our yard, where she flew, like a champ, and then ran into the chicken run. The other birds, it should be noted, were already asleep in their hutch. We locked her and listened to her scream at us until she finally went to bed.

That night, under the cover of darkness, we plucked her from the roost. As I held her she screamed like we were murdering her – people’s lights were turning on – I’m pretty sure she could be heard three towns away. It took all I had to hold her while we clipped her wings. She was not endearing herself to us.

The next day, I went to work, and The Boy half kept an eye on the backyard. He was doing some yardwork in front of the house, and she came wandering past him. He shooed her back into the yard, he figured she’d squeezed through the fence.

An hour or two later, he was in the yard…and noticed we were down a chicken. Hot Pie was gone – again. He checked our yard, the front, the neighbors’ house, and finally spotted her across the street. For the next 30 minutes he chased this chicken around our block, under people’s bushes and trees and cars, up against fences, our neighbor across the street sat in her window with her two year old who shrieked with delight yelling “NAUGHTY CHICKEN!” as The Boy finally lost sight of Hot Pie.

An hour later, he was a block away, and Hot Pie was chilling under someone’s camper, looking smug. He had the element of surprise, and the chicken had backed herself into a corner. He was finally able to grab her, and carry her screaming obnoxious naughty ass back home, where she was promptly clipped again, and locked in the run for the next few days. I made a helpful poster in case we didn’t find her that first day:

Actual poster made for our lost chicken.

Actual poster made for our lost chicken.

Since her great runaway attempts (three!) and two clippings and several days of solitary confinement, she’s also calmed down a bit and hasn’t tried running again. She’s even given us a couple of eggs. She’s started dirt bathing with the other girls, and she even seems to be learning when we come around we bring food. I have a feeling Mona will always be the gregarious hen – but at least JK and Hot Pie are sticking around for now. We still hope to pick up a fourth hen, a silkie or frizzle or Polish – something fluffy to replace our beloved accidental rooster.

our tiny flock

our tiny flock

After all these chicken misadventures and learning curves I can say with great confidence I will not feel one ounce of guilt the day Hot Pie becomes Pot Pie!

The Best Little Henhouse in Washington

In high school, my best friend’s parents had a yard full of chickens. It was, as she described it, a 4H project gone awry. The chickens were largely annoying, up at the crack of dawn squawking, stinky in the heat and humidity of the summer, and we ignored them except to retrieve eggs.

Living in NH for so long I took eggs – fresh eggs – for granted. All my friends had them. When I moved out on my own, when friends didn’t just give me their extra eggs, I could just drive down any old road and find a driveway with eggs for sale. It’s a simple process, you bring your egg carton, you leave a buck or two in a jar or box, and you take eggs from a bucket or box or carton at the end of someone’s driveway. Seriously – people in NH sell eggs this way (and flowers, and pumpkins, and yes, sometimes even baked goods).

Then I moved to the city – and fresh eggs were a thing of the past. Until I realized that keeping yard-birds was a “thing” out here. That the city allowed so many hens (no roosters!), and more if you got a permit. I fantasized about the day I could have my own chickens. I laughed, when I lived close-in on the east side, to walk down the sidewalk towards a local bar and I saw chickens scratching, right there off of Stark Street.

the roving chickens of Stark Street and 13th

the roving chickens of Stark Street and 13th

Finally, the day has come. We’ve got spring fever pretty badly here in the PNW, the Cherry Blossoms are finally dying (I am incredibly allergic and have a love hate relationship with the evil pink blossoms that signal spring’s arrival AND three weeks of personal misery), it was sunny and in the 70s this past weekend, spring kickball has begun, the trees are starting to leaf out. At home we’ve planted a new nectarine tree in the front yard, we’ve started to kill the stump from the massive tree we had taken down last year, we’ve attacked the rose bushes, pulled up ivy, planted the blueberries, the lone straggling strawberry plant still in the bed from last year has its first flower, we’re reseeding the backyard where the dogs have left dirt patches after scratching all winter, we bought a nice new rotating compost bin – in short – we’re outside, a lot. And even with all our work, the backyard still looks like hell, but someday soon it will be a lovely, green yard with new pampas grass on the back fence, morning glories on the side fence, blooming roses, new grass, and tons of veggies and fruits for eating and pickling later in the summer.

Recently I came home and discovered that The Boy had bought a chicken coop off of craigslist. It was being delivered that evening – he’d finally pulled the trigger, we were going to have yard birds of our own!

the new chicken run

the new chicken run

We selected the spot for the coop and chicken run (though it is mobile and will move annually so as not to ruin any one spot in the yard), and then I got to work painting the thing. I selected a lovely Behr color, called Vixen, an at once bright and deep shade of plum. I’ve been trying to convince The Boy when the house gets repainted it should also be in this color spectrum, he is dubious. But I got my way on the tiny new chicken coop, so there’s that. I have a small flower box I want to attach to the coop, as well, really make it adorable and welcoming and more like a tiny dollhouse or playhouse than home for shitting chickens.

The Best Little Henhouse

The Best Little Henhouse

And two weeks ago we brought home our first two hens. They were also sourced from craigslist. And a small, hilarious adventure ensued. We had to drive to a small town 15 minutes away, and meet a guy at the end of his driveway, across from a gas station at a traffic circle. We pulled into the driveway and found a large GMC SUV waiting for us. When we opened the car doors we could hear the girls clucking and The Boy said, “I’m here to see a man about chickens,” which we thought was hilarious though it was lost on the dude with the birds. In the back of his vehicle he had a wire cage, with two Plymouth Rock hens (barred), a few Black Silkies (all pullets), and a couple of mixes. We took his naughty escape-artist barred rock hen off his hands, she’s a year old and laying already, but he said she was regularly getting out of his yard and taking off. We liked her spunk. We selected one of the silkies, which aren’t good layers but are hilarious looking and sweet. For $20 we put them both in a dog kennel in our own car and drove home with our first two birds.

I had already nicknamed the coop after The Chicken Ranch in the musical and movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, so we named the big laying hen Miss Mona after the Madam. We passed an RV on our way home, with the name “Bojangles” painted on the side. This led us to discuss our love of fried chicken and lament that there are no Bojangles franchises here in the Pacific Northwest. We agreed immediately to name the silkie hen Bojangles after the fried chicken – we’d call her Bo for short.

The Boy with Bojangles the chicken dinner and Bojangles the Chicken (dinner someday)

The Boy with Bojangles the chicken dinner and Bojangles the Chicken (dinner someday)

Me and Miss Mona

Me and Miss Mona

For the last two weeks we have been laughing our asses off at these birds! They’re hilarious. They’re so docile and sweet, they run over whenever we come in the backyard, expecting treats. They take dirt baths (which is one of my favorite things ever to watch), they’re fierce worm hunter and gatherers, they make sweet clucking and cooing noises and hang out near you when you’re in the yard working. In short – they’re wonderful little companions, and I’m not sure I was expecting that. We also, after watching them work over the yard the last two weeks, agree that we’ll never, ever eat chicken feet (me never, him never again). They eat scraps of vegetables we’re making for dinner, their poo goes right in the new compost bin. We all win. And something amazing happened this past weekend – we got our first egg on Sunday morning, courtesy of Mona. We’ve gotten one a day every day since – we’re up to five eggs now (which when you figure the cost of the coop, feed, supplies, and chickens works out to $80 an egg). I’m looking forward to hard boiling a dozen of our own eggs and making deviled eggs for Easter!

This weekend after kickball we’re going to a chicken swap (you can’t make this shit up) and we’re probably going to bring home a leghorn and maybe one more barred hen for eggs. Part of me really wants either a Polish bird or a Modern Game Hen to laugh at (both terrible layers), but Bo is largely for entertainment already, so we’re not sure. (When she’s fully grown Bo will have a big chicken fro and fluffy feet and be a big black fluff ball.)

It’s truly magical, having these hilarious critters pecking about our yard all day, and leaving eggs in a box in exchange. I close with video of our first egg – which is a video FULL OF WHIMSY.*

*There’s a golf ball in the hen house to encourage the birds to lay in the box instead of somewhere out in the yard where we’d never find them. It worked!

Why am I terrified of 35?

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I like to think it’s because things have been going well and that I haven’t needed to vent. All sorts of exciting things have been going on in the last several months: a great wedding in the Carolinas, a hilarious trip to Universal in Orlando (and to Harry Potter World I say, “Expacto Refundo!“), improving my bowling average (and rolling on two leagues), changing my budget (hello, monthly health insurance bill), planning a trip to Mexico in July (cha cha cha!), and a trip to Morocco in the spring of 2015, and perhaps more exciting than all of these things? We got chickens! It’s now like we have a magical leprechaun or fairy who deposits eggs in our yard daily. Kick fucking ass.

So. Mexico. Mexico is pretty exciting! Friends of mine are getting married – I’m going to photograph their wedding. The wedding is a small affair at a beautiful resort in Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun, away from the madness. The next morning we’re going into the small fishing town to the beautiful pier, to the beach outside of the condo I’ve rented, to the little bar next door, to do some amazing casual portraits around town and in the ocean. I’m pretty fucking excited – I’m essentially retiring from wedding photography – but when good friends are getting married somewhere gorgeous? How can I resist?

Puerto Morelos, here we come!

Puerto Morelos, here we come!

Their budget was small, so I had to be creative with where it was spent. As such, the condo rental instead of the all inclusive resort two miles away. The Boy is coming, he’s paying for a rental car and some cool tours while we’re there. And one of my BFFs is coming, she volunteered airline miles to get us there. In exchange, she gets a week in Mexico with a photographer, and she’ll come with us on the tours of Mayan ruins and such. The night I’m working the wedding she’ll get to relax in the condo with wifi and cable, or sit at the bar next door on the beach, or lounge in the pool. We’re really, really looking forward to seeing friends and getting some sun and relaxing for a week. I know I have to work – and work hard – during the wedding – but the rest of the week is going to just be about enjoying myself and existing and seeing something new.

the view from our rented condo

the view from our rented condo

The Wednesday we’re in Puerto Morelos is my 35th birthday.

And I’ve been freaking the fuck out.

That’s right – 35 is scary. I mean, 21 was cool. 25 was one of the hardest years of my life – when my husband got sick. 26 was a year I wish had never happened. 30 was bizarre, simply because I still find it hard to think of myself as being a thirty-something, it’s just a mental hurdle to remember I’m not in my 20s or even a teenager anymore. But something about 35 has been bothering me.

Friends are having babies, they’re getting married off finally, or going through sad divorces, or really hitting their stride in their careers. I finally feel like I have my life partially together, like I’m really enjoying myself, like I have great friends and an amazing career and a fantastic other half to share everything with. It is a little alarming to realize I’m “middle aged” already, realistically, and that I fucking screwed up so much of the first half, and that I have to cram a LOT into the next 15-20 years to really squeeze every drop of excitement and amazement out of my time left. These are all heavy things to contemplate and face.

But none of these things explains the incredible sadness I’ve been carrying lately. It’s been oppressive. I find myself crying, a lot.

There are some superficial reasons to cry, I’ll make fun of those some other time. But a few weeks back I think I figured out my problem – and I’ve been trying to cope with the realization ever since. My husband, who meant so much to me – was the person loved and hated more than anyone I’d ever met – he only made it to 34. I’m about to roll over, have one more year on him. And next year will be another.

Every day that I’m alive, I’ve beaten him. I’ve outlived him. And I have truly out-lived him. He squandered so much of his life, due to his obligations both real and perceived and imagined, due to his lack of self esteem and worth. He never seized opportunities or initiated change in his own life. He didn’t make new friends, he didn’t keep track of his old friends. He didn’t share things with people. And once he got sick, he shut down in so many more ways – I was watching him die long before he slipped away. He didn’t take his brush with death as motivation to see the world – he used it as an excuse to hide.

The last several years I have done the exact opposite. At the expense of my checkbook, I’ve thrown caution to the wind, knowing I can’t take it with me, and I’ve thrown myself into a new life – new home, new part of the country, new hobbies, new vacations, new passport, new pets, new lifestyle – I keep a lot of what sucks about my life to myself, but what I share? It’s just as amazing as I make it out to be. I love love LOVE my life and what I’ve made for myself, the opportunities I’ve taken, the chances I’ve taken, the changes I’ve made.

I’m being rewarded, cosmically, I think, and I’m going to see 35. Someday, not too far off, I’ll even see 40. (That’s a different type of terror.)

I wonder if he’d really looked around and realized his life was ending if he would have tried a little harder to live – for himself and for those who loved him. Would he have had more time, if he’d made more of his time and been happier?

It doesn’t matter – I know it doesn’t. But I’m going to see 35. A simple birthday that he never saw. And I’m depressed about it. And I’m terrified. And I’m determined to keep on going.

But are the dishes also “spongeworthy”???

I am “off the pill.” As in no birth control right now. Why? Not because I want kids – egads NO to that – but because insurance is a bitch. I lived the last 4+ years without health insurance, which means my terrible emergency room visit for what turned out to be a god-awful anxiety attack, that bill came out of my pocket. My visits to the local cheap-o chain of health providers have all been out of pocket. And last year when I started sleeping with the man I now live with, my visit to Planned Parenthood? Out of pocket. And while I don’t make a lot, apparently I make enough and that visit was full cost, out of pocket, to the tune of $300+, not to mention the $30 a month for my pills. I still say in comparison to pregnancy, it’s a bargain – but I don’t have $300 laying around lately.

the sponge - and not the dirty dishes kind

the sponge – and not the dirty dishes kind

So, as my pill supply came to an end, I let it go. Knowing I was going to have health insurance starting January 1st, I decided to revert to back-up methods of birth control, and wait until I had my insurance card in hand to go back to the doctor for my annual and my prescription. Of course, everyone’s insurance was SUCH A MESS that despite the fact I had enrolled, and the sales department at Regence had me in the system, I in fact did not show up anywhere in the system – and was told if I needed to see a doctor I would have to be reimbursed – until I received my card. I am pleased to say I, today, have my card in hand and can finally go see a doctor, and go see an orthopedic specialist about my bum hip (arthritis and a torn ligament). But as of last night, I still wasn’t on the pill.

I was feeling frisky yesterday, and rather determined to get laid. The Sponge is without a doubt my go-to in this case – and I went ahead and “sponged up” yesterday afternoon. Alas, all afternoon and evening passed, without luck on my end. Over dinner I even explained that the sponge had a finite lifespan and he’d better hop to it so I didn’t waste a precious piece of contraceptive. Finally, crawling into bed I snuggled up to him and I said dejectedly, “so…I’d better go dispose of this sponge…”

And he said, “No! You can do the dishes with it, right?”

I swatted him, promptly, and then I got my way after all. And consequently had to remain “sponged” for another six hours (seriously – they’re awesome – good for 24 hours, you don’t have to change them if you “get lucky” more than once, but you have to leave them in for another 6 hours to make sure you kill any over-achieving swimmers).

I said to him last night he was such a bully over the ongoing saga of the dishes that when I removed it this morning I’d leave the damned thing in the sink for him – right on the dirty dishes.

This morning came, and I had to contemplate long and hard about the trade-offs of putting a used sponge in the sink. I’m thinking the average person wouldn’t actually consider it – but I was sorely tempted. Sanity got the better of me, and I wrapped it up and threw it away, where it belonged, out of the reach of trash-hound doggies. I crawled back into bed and snuggled up next to him and said, “You’re safe. I threw it away,” and he said, “Oh thank god, I really didn’t know what I was going to do if I found it in the sink today!”

Sadly – the real reason I didn’t leave it in the sink? Not the medical offensiveness of a used contraceptive device. Not the creepy factor of said device on dishes we actually eat off of. But the “oh shit, if I actually do that – how long will he withhold sex as his payback…?”

There you have it. I’m pathetic. I opted for more sex over a revenge prank for his ongoing bitching about my lack of doing dishes. I suppose this makes him truly spongeworthy…

Passive Agression as an Inherited Trait – OR – What I Got for Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve. Pie crust is resting in the fridge; later I’ll roll it out, blind bake it, and fill it with amazing homemade pecan pie filling. I didn’t even think I liked pecan pie, till I made one from scratch. Now I’m a pecan pie junkie for one day a year, every year. My adorable boyfriend is making stuffed pork loin for dinner. We’ve been relaxing watching episodes of Top Gear. My boss bought me a new iPad for Christmas (who knew Santa was a Jew from Manhattan?), and I have happily synced it to my life. A friend stopped by with a beautiful box of homemade cookies for us. The dogs are all happily snuffling around the kitchen, hoping to catch a dropped treat.

For me, this year was a small Christmas – it’s been a tremendous year of expenses: world travel, domestic travel, moving, new license and registering my car in a new state, and worrying sick about the I-9 I’m about to be slapped with for the $26,000 dream vacation I won. (Yep. Taxable. *sigh*) With expenses past and future, we went small on the shipping items cross-country. I shipped four boxes this year – each containing my famous homemade caramels, a lovely jar of pickles made by my other half, and some sort of trinket for each recipient. It was – by my standards – small – but a gesture of “I’m thinking of you” for some of the dearest people in my life. I, of course, sent one of those boxes to my parents.

My other half got a few cool, absurd things he wouldn’t have bought for himself, as did I. We already exchanged gifts because we’re adults and we don’t care about waiting. We literally handed each other Amazon boxes one day. Not romantic – but whatever.

Today the annual box of goodies from my parents arrived. I knew inside would be Peeps of some sort, chocolate covered pretzels, and a Toblerone bar. The other items are always a surprise – and this year would be the first year that The Boy received gifts from my folks.

Now. Let me backtrack, briefly. My relationship with my mother is complicated. I know most women say that – but truly. I cannot express to you how utterly, truly, complex, and unhealthy things have been between us, particularly for the past decade. My parents separated years ago for a time – and my mother – my honest to god birth mother who raised me – said to me, “I wish your scumbag motherfucking father would drop dead for me the way your husband dropped dead for you.”

Go ahead. Let that sink in. I wish your father were dead, your husband is dead, you must have it better.

I told her I hoped she choked to death on her valium and we went the next four or five years without uttering a word to each other. We still have phone calls, about once a year, that end with her screaming at me, and then hanging up the phone. As I said – complicated.

For the sake of my poor father, who just wants to be a peacekeeper, and who is living with her again as man and wife, I’ve made an effort to not hate her so actively. I don’t always like her – it’s hard having someone scream at the top of their lungs that they’re “not the fucking crazy one” – but that’s the price I pay for keeping the peace alongside my dad.

Two or three mother’s days ago I went searching for a small token for her. Something that said, “Happy mother’s day, but I don’t really care about this holiday, and here’s a gift no one really wants.” I found it at the local department store, Fred Meyers. A Chia Gnome.

chi-chi-chi-CHIA!

chi-chi-chi-CHIA!

Now. Before you go thinking what an ungrateful horrible fucking child I am – I can explain. A little. There is a collection of gnomes at their home. They live on two acres, with a beach. The trail to the beach is peppered with gnomes, hidden playfully throughout the woods. A gnome isn’t totally out of the realm of gifts for her – but Chia is the gift you give when don’t care to give a gift at all. It was, by all accounts, a mixed-message, passive aggressive, gift. I was quite proud of it.

Fast forward. Christmas Eve. I come home at lunch time, and there’s the Express Mail box full of Christmas from my parents. We open it – and there – amongst the Peeps, the pretzels, the Toblerone, tucked between two nicely wrapped boxes, under the card…stared the gnome. The crusty, once used gnome. With a hand written sign:

victim of black thumb (save me) seeds included

My mother has never killed a plant in her life, not directly. Sometimes mites or cat pee might take out a plant, but her home has always been overflowing with flora. Black thumb my ass.

I sensed a cunning, passive aggressive bitch slap from 3,000 miles away.

My suspicions were well founded when I discovered the true cause of the “victim’s” demise. No, it was not black thumb. No, it wasn’t even my mother’s blackened heart. It was black lung.

We cracked out The Boy’s Chia Homer, and decided to soak both the Homer and the Gnome, and have a laugh at the chias around the house. We submerged the Homer in a KitchenAid stand mixer bowl, the Gnome was drowned appropriately in a deep mixing bowl. And that’s when it happened.

My mother is a chain smoker. She doesn’t put on slippers before she lights up, and she doesn’t put out her last cigarette of the day until she’s sitting on the edge of her bed. My whole life she’s been this way – this gray cloud perpetually around her. In her aging, she’s slowly turning the color of ash herself. She one time kept my cat at her house while I was on vacation – and my cat came home to me yellowed, with runny eyes, and reeked of second hand smoke. When I visit the house, I always have to shower after, and when the water hits my hair there’s the distinct odor of wet ashtray. To visit my mother is to inhale more second hand smoke than you would at a casino in Vegas on a Saturday night.

We drowned the angry, used gnome in his watery grave…and immediately our kitchen smelled like The Fremont Street Experience on a drizzly afternoon. That’s right…the gnome, the chia, didn’t die from a black thumb, he died from black lung – he died from second hand smoke. That little unfinished piece of clay is holding two years of second hand smoke in its grip. Even after changing the water a few times, and adding soap, the little gnome cannot be cleaned of his wet ashtray stench. If you pick up the gnome, you smell it on your hands. It’s as if my mother is standing in our kitchen.

So. The cycle is complete. The passive aggressive gift has been returned, passive aggressively, to me. Turns out I do take after my mom – from her I get my cunning, spiteful streak.

I now have to go find the gnome a home in our garden. Outside. Away from anything we’ll ever eat. I am also going to have to think long and hard about the next ungrateful present I send to her, knowing it might come back to me someday.

Well played, bitch. Well played.

The Meme Lives On!

So, Wallace the Famous Pug in the Tulip Field continues to take the internet by storm, and leaves me wondering how to capitalize on his popularity. *sigh* I’m now taking suggestions!

This is the latest image going around:

There's So Much To Pee On - original photo by me, Jenna Van Valen

There’s So Much To Pee On – original photo by me, Jenna Van Valen

But the real reason I’m putting this up here today? One of the classics that went around months ago has been spoofed by Grumpy (Tard) Cat!

happiness is a pug in a tulip field - original photo by Jenna Van Valen

happiness is a pug in a tulip field – original photo by Jenna Van Valen

When I saw this post the other day I cried I laughed so hard. I feel like in the world of the internet, I HAVE ARRIVED.

pug in tulip field by grumpy cat - original photo by Jenna Van Valen

pug in tulip field by grumpy cat – original photo by Jenna Van Valen

Now – to find a way to get Grumpy Cat and Wallace the Tulip Pug in the same room….

 

Where to Start? Endings suck.

So. This is a brief tale, from my side, about how I lost friends, dumped some others, and find myself “auditioning” new friends.

It’s also an open letter to a former friend (frenemy, perhaps, as we were only ever lukewarm despite being in the same group of friends) – one who hopefully will die in a fire so she can finally become the martyr she seems to think she is. But back to the beginning.

I am, as you know if you read me regularly, a sperg. I’m functioning enough thanks to years of theater and a desire to not stand out too embarrassingly, but I hold a lot of spergy-qualities pretty deep. The Boy even got a book when we started dating about “things you need to know to date a sperg.” One of the things he learned is that we do not handle betrayal very well. Burn us, and we will burn that bridge permanently – as we can’t ever trust you again – ever. I can handle a lot within relationships, be they romantic or platonic – but I cannot tolerate betrayal, backstabbing, drama – whatever term you wish to use.

Back in May my group of friends, and we were close, we all went to the a house in Yachats, OR. Friends had been married there a couple of summers ago and we all wanted to go back for another memorable weekend. The weekend, however, imploded. On Saturday morning I received word a friend’s mother had passed away from cancer. We had a girl with us who is fighting cancer herself, and I couldn’t possibly tell the group, “Uh, hey, someone I know just died – feel sorry for me,” so I took my sorrows, and The Boy took me from the house for the day. We visited tide pools. We saw sea lions. We spent a day in the sun letting me cry here and there, and making sure when I got back to the house I was ready to face a crowd.

When we got back the mood had distinctly changed. By midnight I felt so unwelcome, so hated, that all I wanted to do was go home. Rather than stay for breakfast the last day, we left early. I never heard a word about why they all hated me so much – but it was palpable. And it continued for weeks.

Fast forward to June when I’m helping good friends move one night – into their new home, their first home. The husband tells me in the car that he hated The Boy “so fucking much” after the beach weekend that if he ever saw him again he’d “fucking punch him.” Hm. Ok. He sends an apology text to me late that same night. But doesn’t ever explain why, or pull my other half aside one night at trivia and have out whatever it was they needed to have out. I proceed to spend the whole summer dreading trivia and wondering when the man I love would find out that one of my dear friends hates him. It wasn’t my burden to carry – I shouldn’t have had to hear about it. I appreciated the honesty, because that’s how I function. But it should have been directed to my boyfriend, not me.

Let me put in an aside here – my oldest and dearest BFF and I had a total knock down, drag out, bitch fight one night as teenagers. She called me a whore at one point, I called her a fat cripple (no joke – she’s a cancer survivor who walks with a cane – and I went there) – this is the same BFF who refused to be the maid of honor at my wedding – and congratulated me on my first marriage after my vows. We respect each other by being honest with each other. Our friendship is solid and strong and hilarious and open and wonderful. Another BFF of mine – when I first saw photos of her husband – I couldn’t help but think how much he reminded me of one of my dogs. Not in a bad way – but how do you say that in a good way? So I told her, hey, he totally reminds me of Groms – it’s the enthusiasm he has in every photo of him! And we laughed and she agreed she could see how I’d say that. Some people, my best friends, not only understand my honesty, but return it in kind.

I tried planning a birthday party this summer, for myself. And when it became evident that people I knew were avoiding the RSVP or making up reasons to not be there, and that it was going to be three of us sitting around miserable – rather than be embarrassed that no one wanted to be there, I canceled and I blamed it on being sick and The Boy’s surgical recovery. I was not thrilled.

As I started packing this summer, and cleaning, to move to his house, not a single friend asked how it was going, no one offered a hand, no one even offered to keep me company while I did the hard work. No one asked if we needed a hand while he was in the ER – I had to reach out for help – I had to message someone and ask them to please walk my dogs. No one even congratulated me on the move, or said they were happy for us – one cunt – the one I have totally dumped – merely said something about how expensive it was going to be to register my car and that perhaps I should rethink the move.

Uhm…fuck you.

First of all, we couldn’t all fit in my apartment in Portland. Second of all – he OWNS HIS HOUSE. If we’re going to move forward in our relationship, it has to be here, in his home. Lastly – and most importantly – I had to think long and hard over the last year about what moving out of the city was going to mean to me, for me – this was not a light undertaking. I had to know with confidence deep down that this was the right thing, that he’s the right guy – I’m not going to live with someone who can’t commit to me, who’s going to flake out – I’m not doing that again. This was a BIG fucking decision and commenting about registering my car? What a dumb whore. How about a, “Wow – so happy you’re moving in with your man!” or better yet – if you can’t be nice to my face – shut the fuck up. She’s the sort who is incapable of saying something nice to you without following it up with a BUT, so I just chalked it up to her being less socially likable than me and moved on. (Truly. She hates when anything good happens for anyone, and she seeks to tear it down. Her self esteem makes mine look impressive. I’d always felt sad for her. No more.)

All summer I planned my other half’s surprise 40th birthday party. For a while it was going to be at the office space where one of my local BFFs has her offifce – an event space. I wound up changing locations for financial reasons – I didn’t want to have to hire a KJ, a caterer, a bar staff, etc. (We had it at an awesome tiki bar this weekend – that’s another story.) Meanwhile, a summer there’d been talk of a fall weekend at the beach house again. I told this woman that chances were good with our trip to Korea and to a wedding in SC and a trip to Vegas that we probably couldn’t go – but to let me know when they were booking so I could make the call.

Once I’d finally booked the bar and set the date and time I sent out an invitation to the party. A few hours later I get an email from one of the in-group, the friends, my BFFs here in Portland, explaining everyone was going to the beach that weekend, and no one told me or wanted to invite me, and that no one could go to his party because they’d all be out of town.

I wrote back that I was pretty miffed, as she’d known the weekend I was hosting his party (hello, it was going to be AT HER OFFICE), and that secondly the plan went totally behind my back until they had to tell me there was a beach weekend I hadn’t been invited to. What were they going to do? HIDE all the photos and status updates from me on facebook? And hey – I felt pretty put off by everyone all summer and was sick of how everyone seemed to hate The Boy, but no one would say anything about it.

I told her I’d need to cool off a bit. That night I went to trivia, a bit cranky and dreading seeing everyone but determined to not get down about it all. And as I walk into trivia…the fucking cunt of the group – in her usual cunty way – sent a totally scumbaggy email. All “I don’t like you since you started seeing that guy, we don’t like him, you’ve changed – oh – and I’m a fucking victim, here’s the four hundred things wrong in my life that make me far worse off than you, and take away any guilt a normal person might feel for acting like such a cunt – and hey – don’t take this personally,” (that’s paraphrasing) (she also whined that he didn’t thank her at her Superbowl party – which is horseshit. Her boyfriend is one of the nicest humans on the planet, and a damned fine cook – we BOTH thanked them – both of them – for having us over and cooking a kick-ass meal – and said we would return the favor sometime). As I’m reading this horrific missive from the insensitive whore, my BFF in the whole city walked in, saw me on the verge of tears, and tried giving me a hug. BAD TIMING. I promptly told her to go fuck herself and that after the email I had just received from cuntface I was done with all of them. I got my purse and left.

The Boyfriend found me sitting in the car crying. I had to tell him how all my friends hated him, hated me, and I had just found out.

I “unfriended” everyone in Portland – promptly – and sent out an email to everyone who was at the beach in May and basically told them all to fuck themselves. As spergs will do – go behind our backs and you’re cut off, period. Sadly, unfriending on facebook is nowhere near as gratifying as slamming down a phone. *sigh*

My Portland BFF and I have exchanged some emails since – and had an awkward, icy lunch when I came home from Korea. We’re badly broken. I am only trying to be friends with her because I truly believe she doesn’t have an evil intention anywhere in her body – it doesn’t exist. She and my other half have worked out what the problem was (something he said that we found hilarious that made her cringe and made some others uncomfortable – which could have been cleared up over a drink immediately if someone had just said, “hey, asshole, not cool,” and given him the chance to apologize) and that’s as fixed as it’s going to get. He and I share a wicked sense of humor, it’s not her speed. Whatever. The bigger problem is this.

The women I considered my closest friends here had some sort of girlie fucking powwow wherein they decided they wouldn’t tell me why they hated him and didn’t want anything to do with me when he was around. One argued very strongly for being honest with me and was shot down. (That’s the wrong call with me.) They decided to never mention it, let it be. Then proceeded to be complete fucking douchebags for months – avoiding me, talking about me, talking about him – and making me feel completely hated, miserable, and unwanted by any of them.

Life Lesson here, folks. If you’re going to decide to NEVER speak of something, you can’t then behave like a cunt for months about it because you’re still angry and the other party has no idea why. Things cannot, and will not, be fixed if the offending party has no idea what has even happened. That’s insane. You cannot fix something you don’t even know is broken. You either need to be fucking HONEST, which is what friends are supposed to do, or you shut the fuck up and act like nothing ever happened – period. You CANNOT have it both ways. You can’t decide to say nothing and then be a bitch.

I would rather have been told than lied to and talked about behind my back. I don’t handle that well, and have severed these relationships because of it. People I thought knew me well? Didn’t know me at all – or they’d have come clean. I am done with “the group” of people I considered friends here. I will never, ever spend time time with the whole group again. They broke it. They ruined it. They kicked me out. They are welcome to each other – but I’m out.

These women went from being people I’d have asked to be bridesmaids (ok, not the one – her awesome significant other isn’t enough to want to have her around and certainly isn’t enough to make up for her consistently rotten behavior and inability to be a real friend) to being people I am not even particularly comfortable spending time with.

Over the summer instead of calling them when I needed a friend I found a new group of people – and I’m excited that one of my best girlfriends just bought a home here and is moving here from California. It’s going to be nice having someone around who not only still loves me, but who thinks my other half is as funny as I do.

It’s the hardest thing – I finally met someone I’m happy and myself around – and my local friends all said, “Whoa, what the fuck – we had no idea you were so sarcastic – now we don’t like you and we certainly don’t like him!” Whereas the people who have known me the longest all LOVE him, and are totally excited to have ME back in action the way I used to be. It’s like the people I’d surrounded myself with could only accept and understand and enjoy the depressed me they met years ago. I’m never going to go on another girls’ weekend, another couples’ weekend – no more birthday parties, no more Thanksgivings – I am fucking DONE after this. They all found the fastest way to lose me as a friend. I had a fucking miserable summer. I even canceled my birthday party because the people I considered friends were treating me so badly. I’m pretty much down to seeing a handful of these people for short time periods, and more one on one.

I’m working on it – I am. A couple of the girlie friendships might some day be healed. And admittedly,  now that the cat is out of the bag, I shoulder much of the responsibility to move forward – I have to forgive now that they came clean – under duress. But this is truly the one thing I have never been able to forgive – betrayal. So, for now, my friendships lay in odd pieces, and I’ve further removed myself from the people who hurt me. It’s going to be an interesting road. And until I figure it out, I’m auditioning new friends.

BANNED from Facebook because of a bot. Way to go!!!

So. Back in 2008 a group of my old friends and I all went into Boston to see a hardcore band who had come out of retirement for a special show. We used to go see Sam Black Church (aka SBC) all the time – and so it was a pretty special night for us all. We took some time to remember my late husband, one of SBC’s biggest fans. We had a fucking riotous great time and made new memories together.

I posted a photo on Facebook of some of us in a Denny’s parking lot at 2am. I love that photo. I love that motley group of us. I wrote, “a photo of the gang after the SBC show,” and that photo has sat for five years or so now in my collection.

I was using Facebook tonight and got booted. When I tried to sign back in I got notice I had violated their terms of decency or some bullshit. Yes. I know this is a free service yadda yadda so forth. But the fuckers arbitrarily used their bots to block me not for using foul language (which I do and accept) but for my photo of us all after the show. I ask simply – WHAT THE HOLY FUCK?! Could you be more absurd? Was it the word gang that made your bots mistake me for a criminal mastermind and yank my privileges?

The offensive photo and text.

The offensive photo and text.

*sigh*

one step forward in the relationship = one personal loss

I did something AMAZING this summer, when I was busy neglecting my blog posting, I was busy and sweaty working on my apartment.

I loved that little apartment – hands down the best one bedroom in all of Portland, OR. Amazing location in Buckman, close-in SE. Walkable to countless bars, restaurants, food carts, shops, parks, the works. Super, absurdly affordable. Hardwood floors in the living, dining, hallway, and bedroom. Gas stove. Built ins. Charm, like an archway between the living and dining/office space. Three massive closets, plus a huge utility closet off the kitchen with a backdoor to the alleyway. It needed a new kitchen floor and a a new bathroom floor, but hey – the place was SO cute and SO perfect for me that I didn’t care how dated and gnarly the floor was. Super awesome neighbors. Cool dogs and neighborhood kittehs, even a neighborhood bunny rabbit.

When I moved in I spent the first long weekend, Labor Day Weekend, painting. I did the living, dining, and bedroom, and started on the kitchen. The kitchen, however, was a pain in the ass. Of epic proportion. If you’ve never painted with high-gloss paint…well. I don’t wish it on you. I had a few choices, none of them simple. Not to mention, the kitchen had some odd walls that had to be painted by a contortionist. I did one patch of wall as a test, and then stopped. Last winter I primed two walls, the easy walls, and painted them. Then stopped. This summer it dawned on me that I would be moving in with The Boy sooner than later – and I couldn’t in good conscience leave a half-painted kitchen. So I got to work.

It was sweaty, crappy, horrible work, too. Had to move the stove and fridge, had to contort myself in various ways, the apartments were built in the 1920s and the room, near the ceiling, was like working in an oven – it was SO hot at the roof-line I wanted to die trying to paint. But I persevered – and I did it. I painted the kitchen. A kick-ass color named, “Wish Upon A Star.” With the white cabinets and appliances, the red and white knobs I installed on the drawers and cabinets, with the red and white curtains, with my red small appliances – it was just SO darling. And not remotely a red, white, and blue patriotic theme. No, not this chick.

crappy phone collage of the finished kitchen

crappy phone collage of the finished kitchen

My living room was Sassy Yellow, the dining room was Frog Green. I’d done three walls in the bedroom in a beautiful, light, silvery blue, and one accent wall a warm, chocolatey brown. All my curtains and bedding were in blues and browns and it was my haven. My red couch sang against the yellow walls, my dark wood furniture seemed warmer and happier. My office, my true space, with books and my Pee Wee Herman collection, my antique desk, it was my happy place. And finally, the kitchen was complete.

Then something happened – The Boy had his surgical infection from hell. And I had to be at his house every night to clean his wound. Without much discussion, the dogs moved in full time. The cat moved in. I started bringing things, like my kitchen supplies. And more clothes. By August, I was staying there full time. I started packing the apartment, officially. I called my landlord and told him I’d be 90% out by September, but didn’t want to have to rush, that when I came back from Korea in mid-September I’d finish the packing and cleaning.

The movers were scheduled to come on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend – one year after my adventure in my own space began. A week before my landlord called me. These apartments are highly sought-after, and you have to be damned lucky to get into one. A neighbor had a friend from San Francisco living on her couch, she wanted the apartment. Was there any way possible I could be out Labor Day Weekend instead of the end of September? Somehow, despite the laws of physics, we packed the place, we cleaned the place, and we got all my shit into The Boy’s house (50% of my things are in the attic and waiting to be unpacked at an undetermined date when I give a shit again and am not exhausted).

ta da!

ta da!

And something incredibly sad happened. As I was mopping, the new tenant walked by. Asked if she could come in, show her friend the new place. We started chatting. She was a pretty, though slightly plain, willowy brunette. We were talking about the apartment and I said I had the paint cans handy if she needed to do any touch ups. She said, “You painted this?” in a tone that implied horror and confusion. I was instantly defensive of my space – which was at that moment still mine, not hers. She said her moving truck wouldn’t be up till later the next week so she’d take some time to repaint everything, “I want to brighten it up in here, use lighter colors…” and she wandered off, making plans and talking with her girlfriend.

I was pretty sad and insulted. I loved that little space. It was MINE. My colors, my art, my photography, it was my space. And I had loved the illusion, the fantasy that someone else was going to move in and love it the same way I did. That the kitchen I worked so hard on was going to be Wish Upon A Star for decades to come. That my warm, custard hug of a yellow living room was going to keep hugging visitors and tenants. Now, I have to know that this woman with no taste or creativity moved in and painted it shades of white and beige with names like latte, vanilla breeze, autumn wheat. To match her make-up and product free face and hair.

But I can’t really fault her – I remember just a year ago my own excitement as I picked out my colors and got to work making the space my own. She’s entitled to have a space she loves and decorated. And I already have my Pee Wee Herman collection safely installed in my new office at The Boy’s house. Maybe more than anything I was sad to be losing my space even though it means that The Boy and I are moving forward together in his home – which is now shared.

Ours. I guess I shouldn’t whine too much.

the new home of my Pee Wee Herman collection

the new home of my Pee Wee Herman collection

the longest post ever *or* how I spent my free week in South Korea

A quick thank you, again, to everyone who voted in the contest, everyone who has helped me out with Wallace’s cancer bills, everyone who has encouraged me all these years in photography – this trip was very much a culmination of my life up to this point. Photography. Dogs. Madness. It all came together and off I went on a crazy week-long adventure to South Korea.

cheers! Here we go!

cheers! Here we go!

Hard to believe a month ago I was in LA, practically vibrating, super excited to fly to Korea! Korean Air was amazing from the get-go, giving us priority at the counter, a swanky lounge very well stocked – even our bags got priority treatment so they were always the first off the plane. The Airbus A380 was the nicest plane I’ve ever been on – and it is indescribably gigantic (and eerily quiet during flight). Prestige (Business Class) was the entire top floor of the plane – we had an entirely separate boarding area and never even saw “cattle class” downstairs. The lay-flat seats were wonderful during the 13 hour flight, although Jason had to curl up a little to fit.

the menu

the menu

The menu was just as good as it looks in the photos – the bar in the back of the plane just for us Prestige folks was even better. It was nice to stretch, wander to the lounge, order drinks, and sit in the giant window seat and relax with a cocktail in hand. They also had kick-ass jerky in the bar. :) I also crammed in a movie, and the first season of Sherlock during the flight.

plane vs. Airbus A380

plane vs. Airbus A380

We both slept lightly on the way there, mostly due to the excitement. We had no issues entering Korea, and KAL has a “limo” (also known as a bus, haha) that went straight to our hotel for 15000 won – which is less than $15 US. The won/dollar conversion is simple – drop a zero. 15000=15.00, roughly. The dollar is slightly stronger. But it was easy enough to round up and call it good! Incheon Airport is about an hour from downtown Seoul – and we watched the new scenery roll by, and then started seeing Seoul…it is impossibly, incomprehensibly, large. And the streets are full of Hyundais and Kias. :)

hotel view by night and day

hotel view by night and day

Our first Lotte hotel was in the heart of the business district, across the street from City Hall, a short jaunt to Gyeongbokgung Palace, restaurants, shopping, markets – you name it. The hotel was also hosting the World Travel and Tourism Council Summit while we were there – so it felt particularly cosmopolitan. The hotel itself was fantastic – beautiful enamel work in the elevators, fresh orchids (even in the elevators!), wonderful service. Our room was small (as are all rooms in Korea) but exquisitely appointed, the bathroom…I could live in that bathroom. Our first big culture shock wasn’t not being able to read a word, understand anyone, or being 16 hours ahead of our home in Washington, but rather the fancy Toto toilets – complete with bidet, power wash, heat settings – the Koreans don’t use toilet paper except to blot, and then it goes in a trash can. You use that toilet for everything – including air-drying. Imagine a hair dryer aimed at your bits! The first 24 hours with one of those toilets…those first few times are alarming. We both shrieked and squealed in shock the first several times. It’s just not something you expect! And yes, you can control the settings – force, temperature, aim… It’s more of a ride than a toilet until you get the hang of it.

we can't read the safety rules on the toilet, but we get the gist

we can’t read the safety rules on the toilet, but we get the gist

It was only dinner time in Seoul by the time we got settled, so we walked out into the city to snack and see what was near our hotel. We spent the next few hours wandering markets and streets and alleyways. Seoul is incredibly clean – the cleanest major city EVER I would venture a guess. Cigarette butts here and there (it’s a nation of chain smokers) but no gum, no bottles, cans, trash, bags – the city is just strangely empty of litter. Even more amazing, no graffiti or vandalism. Brightly lit vending machines with high-end prizes dot the city, and they’re all untouched. I have never felt safer anywhere while traveling – ever. Crime is virtually non-existent there – certainly by our standards. It was mind-boggling to wander a new city, thousands and thousands and thousands of miles from home, and not feel scared. A city full of 11,000,000 people. 11 million people. It’s staggering.

we came to call this alley, "Little America"

we came to call this alley, “Little America”

a busy street on a quiet, late night

a busy street on a quiet, late night

the alleyways were full of interesting things

the alleyways were full of interesting things

we wandered into what can only have been the "lamp district"

we wandered into what can only have been the “lamp district”

one of many, many spendy prize machines

one of many, many spendy prize machines

A few hours on foot and our travel caught up with us – we made our way to our hotel and crashed for the night – and woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed for our first full day in the city! We had a few places we wanted to see, but no real timeline or obligations – so it was a TRUE vacation! We wandered to the shopping area around our hotel and fell into a little hole in the wall open for breakfast. Of course, with my severe food allergies, ordering was an adventure. Jason got a platter the size of a…well. A platter. Covered in spicy ramen noodles and eggs and other things – and was devouring the house kimchee. We managed to have the cook throw together a bowl of sticky rice and eggs for me. Not glamorous, but I could eat it without dying. We had our first laugh – the napkins they handed us were the size of the palm of my hand. Unfolded, they were the size of a baby wipe. Jason held it up and said, “I was just saying the other day I wished my napkins were smaller and more useless.” Our bill came – 6,200 won. It was the first of many delightfully cheap surprises in Seoul!

brekkies in Seoul - he's 6'5" - the napkin is fully unfolded

brekkies in Seoul – he’s 6’5″ – the napkin is fully unfolded

Cabs. Are. EVERYWHERE. in Seoul and remarkably easy to flag down. They are also so incredibly cheap – we never paid more than $3 or $4 for a ride anywhere in the city. And no tipping in Korea. The cabbies were also very friendly, helpful, and curious about America. They’d ask where we were from. We tried saying Portland, OR a few times and got blank stares and then had to have complex, semaphore-heavy, conversations about where Oregon was. We gave up very quickly and told them, “North of California.” It seems all cabbies in Korea (the dozens we had) knew California and NY – and nothing else. North of California seemed to impress them – at least excite them that they had heard of California before. Some cabbies were beyond thrilled to practice English – one even gave us a great history of Seoul, and pointed out some of the mountains and their traditional names and roles in the history (there’s a “sleeping dragon” but behind the dragon is a “tiger” in case something goes down while the dragon is napping, that’s what we gathered anyway).

Seoul, fyi, is oppressively hot and humid. And as far as I can tell, no one there is bothered by it, and no one really uses A/C. We had to visit our hotel room a few times during our daily adventures to cool off, actually. We learned, thanks to the interwebs, that many Koreans are actually born without the lovely thing in our bodies that gives most of us BO. So, they might get a little sweaty, but they don’t, as a culture, get stinky. Damn them.

Our first destination was Gyeongbokgung Palace. The Palace was originally built in 1395, the finest and largest of the five palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. The Palace today is still within city limits – massive walls surround the grounds – and it was incredibly inexpensive for us to visit – 10,000 won for the both of us. We found many tourist attractions had “couples” prices – 7,000 for one, 10,000 for two sorts of deals. We walked in and instantly were in another time and place – despite skyscrapers and horns and 11,000,000 people just outside the gates, the palace was quiet, lovely, in many places all you could see over the walls were the giant granite mountains in the distance. Gyeongbokgung wound up being one of my favorite places we visited – as evidenced by the astounding number of photos I took there. Jason and had a blast wandering around – we found an entire sub-palace on the grounds used just to store the palace-made, special recipe, kimchee and soy sauces, still made to the original specifications today. We saw Seoul’s official bird, silly little black squirrels, and evidence of the lack of crime – Korean children left their backpacks just lined up near the entrance, totally unattended. SO bizarre to see!

Gyeongbokgung Palace - a brief introduction

Gyeongbokgung Palace – a brief introduction

when you walk in the main gate from the city...you are in an immense courtyard, not even the palace yet!

when you walk in the main gate from the city…you are in an immense courtyard, not even the palace yet!

the creature on the left inspired Maurice Sendak, I think

the creature on the left inspired Maurice Sendak, I think

not built for big white guys

not built for big white guys

the palace was full of phalluses - we would encounter hundreds during our week

the palace was full of phalluses – we would encounter hundreds during our week

the kimchee part of the palace

the kimchee part of the palace

I love us.

I love us.

a pinhole perspective of the feasting hall

a pinhole perspective of the feasting hall

this hall was used to entertain visitors with large feasts

this hall was used to entertain visitors with large feasts

this was one of my favorite parts of the palace

this was one of my favorite parts of the palace

this was my other favorite spot on the grounds

this was my other favorite spot on the grounds

this was my other favorite spot on the grounds

this was my other favorite spot on the grounds

one last gem from Gyeongbokgung

one last gem from Gyeongbokgung

After spending a couple of hours at the Palace we set off to find one of the famous street markets – so we could eat, and I was on a mission to find traditional Korean wedding shoes. There was a market we really wanted to visit as it was near one of the famed city gates. We got in a cab, told the cabby the name of the market, “Dongdaemun,” and he got all excited. He dropped us off at his favorite end of the market where he said the food was best. We spent the next hour or two wandering the market, sampling things, doing some light shopping, we discovered that even down alleyways there were more stores, tucked into spaces the size of closets sometimes, we drank a lot of cold Cass beer (1,000 won each!), and once we’d had our fill, we walked to the city gate nearby. Only total confusion crossed our faces – it was the wrong gate – turns out the cabby had dropped us off at Namdaemun not Dongdaemun! But we got a market, and a city gate, so it wasn’t a total loss.

a market for lunch (and more!)

a market for lunch (and more!)

The gate was Sungnyemun – Gate of Exalted Ceremonies – and is one of eight from the famed wall that once surrounded Seoul. The gate dates back to the 14th century, was rebuilt in 1447, nearly destroyed during the Korean War, rebuilt – then in 2008 an arsonist torched the roof on the wooden structure above the gate, much to the horror of Seoul and Korea in general – again – crime there is so rare! The restoration just finished this year and we were lucky to see it fully restored! (The history is pretty awesome, before the arson it was the oldest wooden structure in Korea…a quick wikipedia visit is in order for true nerds! Same goes for Gyeongbokgung!)

checking the guide book...yep. Wrong gate.

checking the guide book…yep. Wrong gate. 

Well. It wasn't the gate we were expecting. Say cheese!

Well. It wasn’t the gate we were expecting. Say cheese!

After a quick tour and photo break at the Gate we hopped in a cab to go up to the Seoul Tower. The Seoul Tower is located on a granite hill at the geographic center of the city – and is the best viewpoint in the city, without a doubt. A quick tram ride to the top of the hill, and then we found another “couples” deal – for 15000 won each we could go to the top. For 18,000 won we, as a couple, could both go up the World’s Fastest Elevator to the viewing deck, for 20,000 won we could not only take the elevator to the top, we would get a giant bucket of popcorn and two sodas. Done! With our big-ass bucket of caramel corn and a couple of cold drinks we got in the elevator. The observation deck reminded me of the Space Needle in size and touristy-ness. However, unlike the needle, there is no outdoor area. Also, as the tower is on a mountaintop, there’s no need for the tower to be super tall, so although the view is spectacular I didn’t get vertigo looking out the windows. From Seoul Tower we really had the chance to absorb just how massive Seoul truly is. As far as you can see, in every direction, there is city. It stretches beyond sight – skyscrapers full of apartments and skyscraper-sized parking garages. We could see the Han River (which divides the city), and on the other side of the river the madness continued. The only interruptions to the city are the occasional granite mountains that rise up, seemingly out of place amongst the buildings. It reminded me a bit of standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and not being able to see the other side – we were standing in the middle and couldn’t see the end of the city. Truly overwhelming.

Seoul Tower

Seoul Tower

we could see our hotel and Gyeongbokgung from the tower

we could see our hotel and Gyeongbokgung from the tower

it just. keeps. going.

it just. keeps. going.

you can pee on top of the world (I sent my camera into the men's room for this - props to my other half for getting a good shot)

you can pee on top of the world (I sent my camera into the men’s room for this – props to my other half for getting a good shot)

After our time at the observation deck, we bought a souvenir mug with our picture on it at the tower, and we hung out around the park where the tower sits. As far as I can tell, Koreans love fried foods above all else. Particularly hot dogs. I have never seen so many vendors for hot dogs on a stick in my life. Not just hot dogs on a stick, fried hot dogs on a stick. Some were corn dogs. Some were corn dogs rolled in crunchy bits. There were hot dogs wrapped in thinly sliced potatoes, lightly battered, and fried. Hot dogs wrapped in french fries and fried. Hot dogs wrapped in strange meats or seafood and fried. The list is ENDLESS and vendors are by the dozen on every street corner. We bought a hot dog, wrapped in what can best be called a “rotato,” which was battered and fried and a couple of cold beers for about $4 and declared it lunch. We also began noticing in public spaces there are gyms – made out of iron usually and bolted down – but free gym equipment (free weights, pull up bars, ellipticals) all over the city. Again we were shocked to see they weren’t vandalized beyond use, instead they were all in excellent shape!

hot dog and rotato on a stick with a cold, cold Cass: lunch at N. Seoul Tower, $4

hot dog and rotato on a stick with a cold, cold Cass: lunch at N. Seoul Tower, $4

While visiting a few other little markets we stumbled across something we’d read about – a small river walk that runs through Seoul. During construction several years ago an old river was unearthed. Rather than build over it, the city opted to uncover it, and turn it into a small park. You have to take a staircase down to it, and it’s a shallow river maybe only 20 feet across, full of big, fat, lazy fish, with lots of places to sit, relax, and hang out, while the city buzzes overhead.

a river runs through it

a river runs through it

A few more markets, street food for dinner, and we retired to our room, exhausted from the heat, the excitement, and the food.

BUT – We had one last place to hit at bedtime – the Banpo Bridge. There are countless bridges over the Han River – and when the city declares it needs a new one, it’s just simply built. I thought we lived in Bridge City here in Portland, but we have nothing on Seoul. (The CRC would have been built four times over by now to accommodate traffic if Portland were Seoul…but I digress.) The Han Bridge is special, as on nights during the summer and weekends during spring and fall it has a light-up water show set to classical music – sort of like the Bellagio in Vegas, but on a bridge. And nowhere near as big. The show lasted about 15 minutes, and then we wandered around the river and neighborhood until we flagged a cab and called it a night.

Banpo Bridge by Night

Banpo Bridge by Night

SPRING BREAK SEOUL! WOOO!!!

SPRING BREAK SEOUL! WOOO!!!

Our next day in Seoul we had most of the day to kill before taking the KAL bus to Incheon for our flight to Jeju-do. I actually had to return to Gyeongbokgung to shoot some pinhole photos (I only had a digital camera with us the first day), then we finally made it to Dongdaemun Market. We were cutting through an alleyway and there was a cement staircase up to a shop door – we peered in – and were floored. It was a massive building full of traditional seamstresses who make Korean wedding attire. We walked in – and judging by the looks on the faces of people we passed we may have been the first white tourists to ever stumble into the shop. It was booth after booth of seamstresses surrounded by exquisite fabrics – and shoes. I found a booth with a very large selection of shoes, found the color I wanted, and then bought the biggest size they had – which is about half a size too small for my right foot. But I have the shoes home, have already worn them once, and have a shoe-stretcher in them to ensure I go blister-free next time I step out in my hot pink and electric green brocade Korean wedding shoes! We ate in the neighborhood we’d called, “Little America” near the hotel, did lots of window shopping, and then stumbled our way into a museum we’d read about: Trick World.

Korean Wedding Shoes

Korean Wedding Shoes

There are several Trick Worlds located around Korea, and we had time to kill, so we ran in. Trick World is a “museum” full of trompe l’oeil paintings – the gimmick is you get IN the painting for a photograph. The first painting in the museum was a send-up of one of our favorite Doctor Who episodes, where Van Gogh has painted the TARDIS. Clearly our being there was kismet! Once we’d had our fun at the museum we wandered back to the hotel just in time to get our bags from the concierge and head to Incheon for the next part of our trip – Jeju!

Starry Tardis and me!!!

Starry Tardis and me!!!

Iron...ass?

Iron…ass?

oh, what a feelin!

oh, what a feelin!

stay classy, Seoul

stay classy, Seoul

The domestic departures area for Incheon is incredibly small – most domestic flights operate out of the older airport, Gimpo. But again we had no troubles with boarding passes or security (which is so very, very casual!), and we settled into our business class seats for the brief flight to the tropics. Reading the local paper we saw there were 81 “casualties” from jellyfish off the coast of Jeju recently. We read the article to be sure – turns out there were 80 incidents of jellyfish encounters and one genuine “casualty.” It was foreshadowing though I didn’t realize it at the time.

Jeju is a small, volcanic, tropical island famous for its fruit and “black pigs” and horse meat, its basalt crystal cliffs, caves, and waterfalls. It is also home to two Unesco World Heritage sites – one a waterfall, one a massive cave system. We were staying on the opposite side of the island from the airport in a resort community full of $4000 a night hotels – but we had to take a bus to get there! You have to hire a cab for a day there, unless you’re taking a very short trip. We didn’t really want to hire a cab just to take us to the hotel, so we took the very long (hour+) bus ride around the island. The hotel was breathtaking – nicer than even the nicest hotels in Vegas. We had been upgraded to a suite overlooking the pools with its own balcony. The room had two king size beds, a shower, a huge soaking tub, and every amenity you could want – except outlets that were compatible. (Thank god we had a converter!) And unlike Seoul, we found ourselves the only English speakers, quite possibly on the whole island.

in the pool; they made me wear a swimming cap - he's bald enough he didn't have to

in the pool; they made me wear a swimming cap – he’s bald enough he didn’t have to

a snack from the 7-11, made by our hosts, Lotte

a snack from the 7-11, made by our hosts, Lotte

The pools…oh the pools! They made me swoon! Warm, with changing colors, waterfall, slide, and various hot tubs of different temperatures peppered around – one with a massive television playing a soccer game. Surrounded by palm trees, giant windmills (I still don’t get the windmill reference), and the sound of the ocean at the bottom of the cliffs nearby – we spent the rest of our night in the pools and eating snacks from the 7-11 near the hotel. It may not sound glamorous, but it was a wonderful night! The next morning we woke up and sat on our balcony. We could see the ocean, the island is full of cuckoo birds who had a lot to say, and the heat was already terrifying, the humidity so thick you could choke on it. I was not looking forward to it getting warmer!

part of the view by day - you can just see a dragon behind the waterfall

part of the view by day – you can just see a dragon behind the waterfall

our view in the morning - the ocean beyond the windmills

our view in the morning – the ocean beyond the windmills

Our first adventure was to find our way down the cliffs to the private, sandy beach. There was a staircase with nearly 300 stairs – which were just punishing (and numbered so you can track your misery on the climb back up). And as we looked at the flowers surrounding the staircase, we began to notice the spiders. GIANT SPIDERS. Everywhere we looked. I would not be going off-trail on Jeju! But once we made it to the beach, all was right with the world. White sand. Electric blue water, warm as a hot bath, basalt cliffs behind us, and not a care in the world. We spent a lot of time just wading and playing and taking photos – and had to drag ourselves away so we could go see some more of the island. Staying at the beach all day was so very, very tempting!

making our way to the cliffs (and beach below)

making our way to the cliffs (and beach below)

the Bataan Death March. I mean, the 300 stairs from hell. I mean. The stairs to the beautiful beach below the cliffs.

the Bataan Death March. I mean the 300 stairs from hell. I mean the stairs to the beautiful beach below the cliffs.

one of thousands of Harlot Spiders we saw

one of thousands of Harlot Spiders we saw

setting up some camera gear, and half waving, and generally looking fabulous

setting up some camera gear, and half waving, and generally looking fabulous

we're that cute and romantic still, one year in

we’re that cute and romantic still, one year in

We took the bus from the hotel to the closest town, Seogwipo, which is where one of the famous waterfalls is located – and it’s also home to a submarine tour company! We got to the docks just in time to board the ship to take us to the sub. It was about $40 each – and was probably the most expensive thing we did on the whole trip! The boat ride was great, I even saw some dolphins in the harbor briefly. Once off-shore we boarded another vessel – the sub! I have no idea how the next 40 minutes went, as the entire thing was narrated in Korean. We were the only two on the ship who were English speakers. When we first started the dive a man in scuba gear entertained us by feeding fish. At the bottom – 40 meters – we visited a shipwreck of an old fishing boat. Then we stopped and observed a coral reef. When we got back to land we were all handed copies of our boarding photos – with silly little certificates of sea exploration. TOTALLY worth our $40!

a view of Seogwipo's harbor

a view of Seogwipo’s harbor

leaving Seogwipo behind

leaving Seogwipo behind

Duran Duran: The Retirement Years

Duran Duran: The Retirement Years

a shipwrecked fishing vessel at 40 meters below the East China Sea

a shipwrecked fishing vessel at 40 meters below the East China Sea

what's long and hard and full of seamen?!

what’s long and hard and full of seamen?!

we each got a *very official* certificate of sea exploration

we each got a *very official* certificate of sea exploration

We took a short cab ride to Cheonjiyeon Falls, where one of the funniest things happened. Cheonjiyeon is a World Heritage Site and I had really been looking forward to seeing it and photographing it. I nerded out for a bit taking photos while Jason read little signs and relaxed. He noticed a local man set up with a digital camera – and two traditional Korean Hanbok outfits, one for a man, one for a woman. For 10,000 won he would put you in the outfits and take your photo, print a copy for you, and send you on your way. SOLD. While gesturing back and forth to set it up, we noticed the biggest wasp we’ve ever seen in our lives on the hat that’s worn with the male Hanbok. This wasp – no exaggeration – was pushing 3″ in length. It didn’t have a stinger – it had a shiv. And it was cutting the hat like a prisoner stabbing a guard. We were alarmed, to say the least. Giant spiders, oppressive heat and humidity, and now terrifying wasps. I was ready to go back to Seoul at this point.

Cheonjiyeon Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cheonjiyeon Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The man started to dress us in the Hanboks – and I saw the wasp was still on Jason’s hat. He screamed like a girl and swatted the hat to the ground. When the man who owned it saw the wasp he looked at us like we were children, grabbed the wasp by one of its massive wings, and threw it in the bushes like it was a candy wrapper. We heard it THUD. And we were both scared out of our minds that he’d just made it angry. As he was fussing over us, and amused that we had no idea how to put these things on, other tourists began to circle us. They were no longer photographing the waterfall – they were photographing the giant white people in the silly old clothes. We had become the tourist attraction. We were surrounded by a hundred Korean and Chinese tourists (Jeju is a major destination for the new middle class in China – it is a special self-governing province, and as such, the Chinese don’t need a special visa to visit – it’s just a short plane ride from China and boom, vacation). The tourists began taking our photos, posing with us, flashing peace signs, laughing – it was turning into a major event.

one of the most terrifying wasps on the planet

one of the most terrifying wasps on the planet

He seated us in front of the waterfall and took photos with my camera for us, and then a few of us with his camera, while hundreds of other cameras and phones snapped in our direction. He directed us to kiss, and when we did the audience was scandalized! Gasps and laughter and pointing and more photos.

I have no idea what we actually paid for. We might be married in the eyes of the Special Governing Province of Jeju-do for all I know.

I have no idea what we actually paid for. We might be married in the eyes of the Special Governing Province of Jeju-do for all I know.

The man gave us three prints – and we laughed as he started selling copies of the photo of us to other tourists who wanted copies. We also set his business on fire – couples were lining up to have THEIR photo taken, after all, the funny white tourists had done it. I’m pretty sure he got more business from us than he’d had all day. :)

After a brief tour of Seogwipo on foot (a hot, miserable experience) we were ready to spend the rest of the available sunlight while at the beach. We got back to the hotel, hit the beach, bought some cold Cass beers, and into the ocean we went. Jason went snorkeling, even spotted a puffer fish. I, not actually being a fan of the ocean as it’s full of things that want to kill you, spent my time in about 4 feet of water just watching Jason swim, enjoying the beach, thinking about my time there and everything we’d done, and jumping in the waves as they came in. After a rough patch of waves, my left leg was a little sore. I didn’t think much of it, even talked with Jason a bit who’d come in to show me something he’d found and hand me a nice piece of beach glass (I’d like to turn it into a cool necklace). My leg still wasn’t feeling right and the sun was setting – so I made my way to the chaise where I had my things.

I toweled off and realized my leg was positively on fire. And swelling. And covered in welts. And bright red and hot to the touch. And it dawned on me – I’d become a jellyfish casualty. From my ankle to the top of my thigh I was covered in welts and felt like I had the sunburn from hell, being touched with a curling iron, snapped with rubber bands. It’s not a sensation I’d wish on many people. The resort staff had a bottle of lotion – with a rubber, bristle applicator, I was able to apply to the leg to take off the worst of the stinging. I sat on the chaise crying in pain, while Jason finished up enjoying the ocean. Between the sunburn I’d gotten earlier, the Jellyfish Incident of 2013, the giant spiders, the terrifying wasps, the heat exhaustion – I was ready to leave paradise. I had grand plans of doing a long exposure night shoot at the beach that night – but with all my pains and those 300 stairs…I decided to forgo the late night photo adventure in lieu of enjoying a nice dinner, some quiet time, and air conditioning.

I became a jellyfish casualty - this photo scratches the surface of how ugly my leg got

I became a jellyfish casualty – this photo scratches the surface of how ugly my leg got

We washed up after the beach and got all dressed up for one last adventure – a fancy dinner on the island. There’s a famous restaurant that was near our resort – they serve both horse and the local black pig. The restaurant had a beautiful courtyard with outdoor seating, though the bugs from earlier made us choose to sit inside, just in case. And yes – we did it. We ordered both the black pig AND the horse. Horse we had as an appetizer – we had horse carpaccio. Which means it was raw, and thinly sliced. I personally don’t dig the texture of raw meat – but I had some horse – and it was delicious. I would eat horse again in a heartbeat, though I’d prefer it cooked a little. It’s leaner than buffalo, and very, very mild – distinctly a red meat like cow, but mild and wonderful. Jason said it was like someone had sliced up the baby jeebus and served it to him, but he’s offensive like that. ;) Black pig is an island specialty – it’s a breed of pig raised there, very teeny and succulent, and traditionally fed a steady diet of human waste. That changed in the 60s supposedly, but we can’t be sure. It was cooked at our table with garlic and onions and all the traditional side dishes (all but one I couldn’t eat) were brought out for us. It was the most expensive meal we ate on our whole vacation – but it was very, very worth it.

all dressed up for dinner with Mr. Ed.

all dressed up for dinner with Mr. Ed.

Mawon Restaurant, Jeju

Mawon Restaurant, Jeju

horse carpaccio and Jeju black pig - the Korean word for the black pig translates to "poo pig"

horse carpaccio and Jeju black pig – the Korean word for the black pig translates to “poo pig”

We got back to our hotel just in time to go out on our balcony to watch the water show. Every night at 8pm the hotel has a giant water/fire/hologram filled experience in the pool. It’s a dramatic telling of the creation of the island, about fire vs the ocean. It’s like Vegas vomits on a tropical island for 15 minutes a day. Giant fireballs erupt (we could feel the heat from our balcony!), water shoots into the air, a giant dragon appears from the “caves” behind the waterfalls, it’s quite a spectacle, and such a strong contrast to the natural beauty of the island.

Lotte Jeju also had a Hello Kitty Floor - which I visited for a quick photo

Lotte Jeju also had a Hello Kitty Floor – which I visited for a quick photo

We had a late afternoon flight to Seoul our last day on Jeju, so we decided to do a couple of things close to the hotel for the sake of convenience. We visited a famous bridge that spans a gorge which is home to more waterfalls – one only runs after heavy rains. The waterfall was far more beautiful than the other we’d seen the day before, and despite being protected at the bottom of a gorge from the worst of the heat, just standing there taking photos we both became miserably hot – even Jason who lived in Thailand for a while and loved the weather. After our waterfall and bridge adventure I collapsed in our hotel room in our air conditioning until it was time to check out. The sunburn, heat, and humidity were really taking it out of me.

the bridge has gorgeous nymph carvings - seven of them

the bridge has gorgeous nymph carvings – seven of them

below the bridge at Cheonjeyeon Falls, being a nerd, with my Ona bag and my pinhole camera

below the bridge at Cheonjeyeon Falls, being a nerd, with my Ona bag and my pinhole camera

Cheonjeyeon Falls - which I found FAR prettier and less touristy than Cheonjieyeon

Cheonjeyeon Falls – which I found FAR prettier and less touristy than Cheonjieyeon

back up on the bridge - ocean behind me

back up on the bridge – ocean behind me

We left our bags with the concierge, as we still had a few hours before taking the bus to Jeju City for our flight. We sat at a nearby, famous Dunkin Donuts to plan the rest of our afternoon. The Dunk’s has been used in several Korean TV shows as it has a heart-shaped bench out front. Jeju is the premier destination for honeymooners in Korea, Japan, and now China – and we thought it was incredibly hokey and hilarious that anyone would think a Dunk’s is romantic!

the greatest love of all

the greatest love of all

Based solely on the heat and humidity we chose an air-conditioned destination within walking distance of the hotel. Not a place either of us would go typically, but we were just too hot and tired to do much else – so we would up at Jeju’s own Ripley’s Museum. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the Konglish mistakes on the signs, but we actually managed to have fun. A quick, late lunch and we grabbed the bus for the airport.

something was lost in translation

something was lost in translation

Jason and I had grand plans for an elaborate photo shoot on the beach our last morning in Jeju, and we were both too hot and tired to care. But he had, in his carry on suitcase, his coconut bra and one of my wigs. He also had some electronics we didn’t want to check. At security at Jeju, we got pulled aside so they could check the electronics in his bag. When they opened the suitcase, the wig spilled out. The four little Korean girls started blushing and giggling. When they pulled out the coconut bra, all hell broke loose. Jason and I were crying we were laughing so hard, the girls were all somewhere between scandalized and incapable of doing anything other than pointing and laughing about Jason and his suitcase – and they never even really finished the bag check. They threw the bra and wig back in the bag, and laughing and pointing, sent us on our way. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip.

at Jeju airport

at Jeju airport

Our second hotel in Seoul was on the other side of the Han River from our first hotel; near Olympic Stadium and Gangnam. It also took an hour and a half to get there from Incheon, on a bus where the driver refused to put on the air conditioning. We also had a Russian family behind us the whole time who had never heard of deodorant. I wanted to die by the time we got to Lotte World Hotel.

annnnd....there goes Olympic Stadium!

annnnd….there goes Olympic Stadium!

Lotte World Hotel is home to one of the biggest and most exclusive malls in all of Korea, a giant indoor/outdoor amusement park, and a massive hotel, not to mention restaurants, cheap department stores, etc. It was distinctly western in comparison to our other hotels, and nowhere near as nice. (I wish we’d stayed there first so things would have improved in quality as we switched hotels, haha.) Our room had a view of the massive dome over the indoor amusement park, and little else. I was so exhausted, and so sick from my sunburn and the hot bus ride and the malodorous Russian tourists I laid down in our bed and sobbed. Jason went out to explore the neighborhood and bring back food and drinks. I set the hotel A/C to 16 degrees (60f) and didn’t move the rest of the night.

Jason returned to tell me that the street in front of our hotel had THIRTEEN LANES. 13. You can’t make that up. We were also surrounded by Lotte Marts, Lotterias, etc – seemingly everything was owned and operated by Lotte for a several block radius. We would both spend the next two days missing the charm of the other hotel and its unique, local flavor. :(

We got up bright and early the next day, donned our absurd USA themed, matching shirts, grabbed breakfast at Krispy Kreme (no joke), and marched ourselves in to Lotte World – the amusement park. At first glance it appeared to be little more than a mall, with a skating rink, food court, some shops – but the multilevel amusement park wound up being a LOT of fun – and had a really excellent roller coaster. It was a blatant rip-off of Disney – we even saw cartoon characters such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, expertly rendered to exacting Disney specifications, except for their giant, anime style eyes. We bought matching leopard kitten ears and wore them around the park all day – and once again found ourselves the subject of countless tourist photos.

Lotte World, here we come!

Lotte World, here we come!

Lotte and Lorry are the mascots

Lotte and Lorry are the mascots

matching kitten ears? check!

matching kitten ears? check! we wore them bowling two weeks ago. Just because.

the view from the "hot air balloon ride"

the view from the “hot air balloon ride”

the view from the "hot air balloon ride"

the view from the “hot air balloon ride”

copyright, schmopyright

copyright, schmopyright – welcome to Dismey!

the most memorable experience you've never had!

the most memorable experience you’ve never had!

Christmas card photo opp!

Christmas card photo opp!

Aside from being photographed constantly we had another strange cultural experience – there is no, and I mean NO counter culture in Korea. People listen to classical music or K-Pop (which is the worst garbage I’ve ever heard in my life), and no in between. There’s some hipster looking teens, but even THEY listen to crap music and tow the line. Tattoos are still strictly reserved for hardcore criminal underworld types there and are rarely, if ever, seen in public. Jason and I both had people quizzically and almost timidly reach out to us and touch our tattoos. Then they’d sort of shriek and pull their hand back when they realized they were real. Sometimes they’d touch again and smile at us as we smiled. It didn’t feel invasive or strange to be pawed at – it was oddly cute and charming – these people had honestly never seen tattoos in real life, EVER.

After the amusement park we visited a classic Buddhist temple, Bonguensa, which was awesome. The main hall was lined floor to ceiling with little gold Buddhas, and the ceiling was covered in thousands of little paper lanterns. There was a huge Buddha on a hillside, and lovely private green spaces and gardens, all with offerings to Buddha.

take one down, pass it around, 4,995 buddhas on the wall....

take one down, pass it around, 4,995 buddhas on the wall….

Buddhas - thousands of them

Buddhas – thousands of them

the temple

the temple

it was so beautiful inside!

it was so beautiful inside!

the lanterns

the lanterns

Namaste, mister lion!

Namaste, mister lion!

Buddha

Buddha

looking back from Buddha towards the city

looking back from Buddha towards the city

our last night in Seoul we found a Korean Tardis

our last night in Seoul we found a Korean Tardis

The next day would be our last in Seoul – and our flight was not until 8pm, so we had plenty of time to go get into trouble. The sad thing though was that we woke up to a monsoon – literally a monsoon – over the city. The spotless streets were covered in ankle-deep, rushing rainwater, the rain was horizontal and I’m pretty sure raining up at times, and it was still in the 90s outside. The least exciting day we had – it was all spent in massive shopping malls like Techno Mart, which is a mall a good 10 stories high, each floor dedicated to different electronics – with a rooftop garden with a view of the Han River. Sadly, all we saw was blinding rain.

the roof top garden at Techno Mart

the roof top garden at Techno Mart

Techno Mart was not made for men 6'5"

Techno Mart was not made for men 6’5″

We spent some time exploring the Lotte World where we were staying, and had to talk ourselves out of bringing home a puppy we both fell in love with in one of the stores. We had a grand, late lunch of bulgogi, and then made the long trek to Incheon, where we were thrilled to relax in the Prestige Lounge, charge our electronics, and watch the monsoon outside.

this little guy nearly got a free ride to the US

this little guy nearly got a free ride to the US

YUM!

YUM!

We boarded our flight to LAX at 8pm – had a wonderful dinner, and fell asleep watching tv (thank you, giant, lay flat, sleeper seats!). We were woken up about two hours outside of LA for a grand breakfast, we stretched out, cleaned up, packed up all our things we’d unpacked during the flight, and as if by magic, landed at 4pm on the same day we’d left Seoul at 8 pm. Time travel!!! :) I had a cranky man at immigration who was yelling at the Koreans from my flight that he’d send them all home if they didn’t stay in line until they were called – but we had no issues and breezed through. A short flight home to PDX and our whirlwind tour of Korea was officially over.

farewell, South Korea! On our KAL flight to LAX

farewell, South Korea! On our KAL flight to LAX

A week without the three dogs, the three cats, the boxes I had waiting for me to unpack from the move, a week without phone or email, a week without work or talking to anyone but each other – it was glorious. And it was just as exciting to sleep in my own bed again! My brain was on fire for a couple of days – it was really jarring to go from not being able to read or understand any spoken words to having EVERYTHING in English – it was a sensory overload, a reverse culture shock. And it took me a good ten days to feel normal again, sleep wise. We were 16 hours ahead in Korea and was a tough adjustment coming home, despite how easily we’d fallen into their schedule.

The photos come from my pro DSLR, two different point and shoots, my iPhone, and a pinhole camera loaded with medium format film. It feels like a lot of photos to me – I took over 1500 and processed/kept over 600 – considering how much time I spent just BEING there. I very intentionally wanted to experience Korea, not just take photos of it. And I did just that. Instead of filming out the window of the bus as we drove through curious neighborhoods, Jason and I pointed things out to each other and talked. Most of the photos we took were of us DOING things. Something I’ve learned as a photographer is that the photos I hang up in my home, or at my desk, are the photos of me and loved ones doing something cool. There are a few photos I am going to use to make canvases with for the house, don’t get me wrong – but the photos I love the most are the snapshots where you can see us having a GREAT time together – and it just happens to be somewhere very cool, thousands of miles from home. I am incredibly glad my photography won us this opportunity – and I’m gladder still I didn’t let my photography take away from our shared experience there. There’s a time to put down the camera and live a little.

XOXO

last one...one of my favs of us in Korea

last one…one of my favs of us in Korea