Sunday, April 09, 2006

DadWatch: good news
(plus picnic pics)

Once again, many thanks to the people who have called and emailed and left comments expressing care and concern. My family and I appreciate your kind thoughts.

Because I don't want to tease the drama out, I'll be direct and start off with the good news: it sounds like Dad's going to be OK. I haven't spoken with him directly yet, but I've been in regular phone, email, and IM contact with my mother, my brother David, and my buddy Mike, who is acting as a surrogate Kevin because I can't be in northern VA.

There was some question, at first, as to whether Dad had had a heart attack. The official answer, after a stress test and catheterization, is yes. Dad did his stress test at Mount Vernon Hospital, and was then moved to Alexandria Hospital for the catheterization. Two 90% arterial blockages were discovered, which is scary, to say the least, but not unique to Dad: other folks have been through this problem. Two stents were inserted into Dad's arteries after the blockages had been removed.

Dad's no stranger to surgery: many, many years ago, he went under the knife to remove a mess of varicose veins (a direct result of his ticket counter job at Northwest Airlines, a job that required Dad to be on his feet most of the time). That left him with 91 stitches, and freaked me out as a kid: it was weird to see string woven into skin. Dad also had to undergo surgery after a nasty car accident in 1997, when his Toyota Minivan was struck by a drunk driver's car going in the opposite direction. That accident cost Dad a small chunk of his knee and the ability to run. So Dad's something of a surgery vet.

His latest hospital encounter is somewhat baffling to us, because Dad's not fat, nor does he drink, nor does he smoke. I've been assured that even apparently healthy 64-year-olds can suffer arterial blockages, perhaps in part for genetic reasons. We carry our inheritance with us wherever we go. Both of Dad's parents had heart issues, I think.

Mom has been a real trouper. Along with taking care of Dad and his insurance paperwork, she's coordinating a huge, 1000-person event happening on Sunday, DC time: a concert being sponsored by the Korean women's society of which she is president until June (it's been a long year for Mom). Remember my previous blogs, long ago, about trying to find Ahn Ik-t'ae's "Korea Fantasy"? That event. That's what Mom's been working on. Many people, including Dad, had been pitching in to make the event happen. And with Dad's heart attack (I still can't believe I typed that phrase-- Dad's heart attack... sounds so unreal), Mom is deprived of a crucial aide-de-camp. Luckily, my brother David has taken up the slack.

David has also been great about calling me with updates on Dad. He's given me various phone numbers to call, and managed to keep his head during a crisis. David is the one son who decided to remain in the northern Virginia area; I went to Seoul and Sean, the youngest, is a professional musician in Toronto.

I'm feeling guilty about being far away, especially because I remember a conversation I'd had with my Korean buddy about a year ago, in which he said he could never consider working outside Korea. Why? He'd be too worried about his parents' needs. Many Westerners can't relate to this attitude (to be fair, many others can), but it's a perfectly natural Korean sentiment.

As I mentioned earlier, I have yet to talk to Dad, but will try to do so this evening, which will be Sunday morning, DC time. Dad's supposed to remain in hospital until Monday. He'll have to go back for followups, of course. We're not out of the woods yet.

While there are other issues going on, I won't blog about those right now. Instead, I'd like to show some pics of yesterday's yellow-dust-tinged picnic (and stroll) at Seoul Grand Park. It was a good day. I decided not to tell the students about Dad; it would have killed their own joy, and their joy was something I really needed yesterday.

I think just about everyone in our group had brought a camera (Asians are now genetically engineered to be born with them), so literally hundreds of pics were snapped. Some of my students tended to focus on the people; others focused on the zoo animals at the park (Seoul Grand Park has a fairly large, spread-out zoo; not as big as the National Zoo in DC, but pretty impressively sized and stocked). The pics I'll be showing you come from a more people-focused student, so Nathan will have to wait for pictures of the Siberian tiger. (I don't think anyone got a good shot of it, anyway, Nathan.)

First picture:

Above: me and the irrepressible Hyeon-jeong. The girl's a nut. She's heading off to China for a year-long study program after she graduates from college (she's a senior). She's looking for a career in business, but I think she'd be great as an actress.

Next up--

Splendor among the flowers. The apparent cloudiness is the result of hwang-sa, the yellow (and possibly radioactive) dust from China. It originates in the Chinese deserts, blows across the country, sweeping a good bit of atmospheric filth along with it, and blows across the Korean peninsula. Yesterday's bout with hwang-sa (reported by all manner of Koreabloggers) was apparently one of the worst in collective expat memory. Quite a few expats said something along the lines of, "This is the worst dust I've seen in ten or fifteen years." I was, strangely, unaffected by the dust, but my students eventually began complaining of nose and eye and throat problems.

Moving along...

Seon-hyae and me. She's a few years older than her classmates, perhaps around 30. The students joked that we looked like we were on honeymoon. This became something of a running joke during our day together. You'll see why.

We're standing close to the park's entrance. Seoul Grand Park is a large, sprawling affair. Seoul Land, an amusement park (or t'aema p'a-keu as they say in Korean, bowing to the pronunciation of the original Greek word for "theme"), is next to the Grand Park, and not far off is the National Gallery of Modern Art. There were a lot of people at the park yesterday, which surprised some of the students. I merely commented, "Bleh... it's the weekend."

And now--

The picnic itself. Above you see (left to right) Sae-ra, Eun-jeong, Ji-su, Hyeon-jeong, and yours truly. Seon-hyae took the pic. Another member of our group, Seon-ju, arrived too late to eat: she somehow got it in her head that we were meeting at Seoul Children's Grand Park, which is... very much elsewhere.

Observant people will note how staged the above picture is. Sae-ra, who's in the foreground and wearing glasses, is holding one of my Euro-sandwiches to her mouth, but the sandwich is completely wrapped in plastic.

The sandwiches got generally good reviews, though poor Ji-su (pink cap, above) was overwhelmed by the butter, cheese, and salami.

Which reminds me:

Simple Euro Sandwich (serves 6)
(based on sandwiches I've eaten in Switzerland and France)

2 full-length baguettes
1 package thinly sliced Genoa salami (about 500g)
2 large wedges of brie cheese (250g total)

Allow brie and butter to achieve room temperature. Cheese purists often insist that all cheeses are best eaten at room temperature, and I generally agree (strangely, American cheese is the grand exception for me; I prefer it cold or melted in a grilled cheese sandwich).

Slice baguettes into thirds (or make your sandwiches and then slice into thirds) across the long axis. Split each chunk of bread along the long axis and peel open (don't slice all the way through).

Spread soft butter over one slice of bread in each sandwich (not both! are you nuts?).

Spread the brie over the other slice.

Layer in a modest number of salami slices (I used six slices per sandwich, which is puny by American standards, but quite normal in European sandwiches). Fold sandwich closed.


Next pic:

Above: Seon-hyae and Sae-ra. Girls are so good at making themselves look shy and cute.

And then--

I wonder whether American parks feature a ha-t'eu (heart) for couples and families to take their pics. It's such a tacky thing to stick in a park, but I have to say it provided lots of comedy for us, not to mention another "honeymoon" shot. See the next pic:

Above: it's all over but the signing of the marriage certificate and the "I do"s.

In the next picture we see...

Hyeon-jeong, me, and our three children: two humans, one pachyderm. The elephant and I have a lot in common. We're large, we eat a lot, and our shits come out about the same size.

The girls were very turned off by the smell of the zoo animals. Some of the girls who had been sucking on lollipops had to stop until we'd walked to an odor-free zone. I was loving it, quite enjoying both the odeur champêtre and my students' discomfort. Having worked on a farm in France and knowing what's it's like to be splattered by runny shit from a nearby cow, I have no trouble standing around animal stench. While I'm not at my best around farm animals (unless we're talking farm dogs... I love those), I'm at peace with nature's brutal smells.

Next up:

A tiger weighs me and finds me wanting.

Above: the rest break. Although the park is fairly level, with only a few hills, the girls claimed they were pooped after a couple hours' walking, so we plopped down on some benches.

Now, here's something strange:

After a review of the shot on the digicam's miniature screen, the students labeled the above photo "Psycho Photo" because we're all (except for Hyeon-jeong, who looks uncharacteristically serious) doing something goofy.

Et ensuite...

Above: the ski lift ride. When we first came up to the park's entrance, we bought the 7000-won "package," which includes (1) park admission, (2) one ski lift ride, and (3) zoo admission. I'm still not sure I understand the distinction between the park and the zoo, but we crossed through a ticket barrier somewhere, so I suppose the distinction is real. The ski lift trundled along at a safe, leisurely pace; we even had safety netting beneath us. Hyeon-jeong and I talked about her immediate, after-graduation plans, then we had the above pic snapped by Seon-hyae, who was in the car with Sae-ra, behind us. I'm giving my best "I'm in the lift with a madwoman!" look. The huge panel ad on our butts reads, "Uri (Our) Home Shopping."

What follows is a pic taken at the giraffe area. No giraffes in this shot, but you get to see us. Note that tiny little Ji-su is gone: she had to leave early to go meet some other friends. Sadness.

The above photo reminded the girls of a tree-- me as the trunk, the girls as the branches. An interesting metaphor for teacher and students.

And now, a subway shot:

It's the end of our day together. Sae-ra is on the other side of the tracks, waiting for a train in the opposite direction. We've had fun looking at all the animals (maybe another student will send me pics of the tigers and one hilarious bear, who at some moments looked as if he were about to give a speech) and just being together. For me, it was therapeutic, given how emotionally draining the weekend has been. And as always, it was good to be with my favorite group of young ladies. I wish them all well.

One final shot of Hyeon-jeong shouting something across the tracks to Sae-ra:

Hyeon-jeong's a nut, and I mean that as a compliment. She's got enough personality for any five women.

Again, many thanks to all of you for writing in and/or calling. It looks as though life can move forward again, though perhaps now at a more cautious pace. My mother focused some of her anxiety on me, too: she commanded me to take better care of my body. So yesterday's picnic might represent the last time I enjoy baguette sandwiches. At least for a while.

Wish my Dad luck as he recovers. Along with helping Mom in her capacity as Korean women's society president, Dad's been taking night courses toward certification as a civilian paramedic (he'd already done the training through the military). On Wednesday evening, despite a lot of knee pain (from his 1997 accident), he passed his midterm practical and knowledge examinations with flying colors. Unlike some students in the class who are half his age, Dad hasn't washed out yet. I don't know how he's going to handle the rest of his semester, or even whether he'll be allowed to continue, but we'll take events one at a time for now. It's enough to think about the next moment, let alone the next month.

Wish Mom luck, too, as she gears up for her big day. This is the culmination of her presidency (she finishes in June, but this is the last major event), and we're all very proud of her. To have the strength to do what she's doing now-- what with absent sons and a husband on the mend-- is nothing short of admirable.

Mom's only an occasional reader of this blog, and while Dad's a regular reader, he's laid up right now and not able to access the Net. Nevertheless, I just wanted to say:

I love you, Mom and Dad.

What a way to begin the 40th year of marriage, eh? There'd better be a huge celebration planned for next year's 40th on April 6th.



Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Glad to hear the better news. I hope that all continues to go well.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Anonymous said...

I do wish both your dad and your mom lots of luck with what's happening in their lives.

Kevin, especially enjoyed this post--the honeymoon pictures and the tiger not least. I do hope that someone was able to get a picture of that Siberian tiger, but, perhaps, like the time I was there, he wasn't very cooperative.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me? Or is Hyeon Jeong is all over you?

Take my word for it, a girl is ripe for the taking when she (or you) is about to go abroad.

Do it.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add that I agree with you about the dust. I was just saying in a comment on Sumiyoshi's blog that I've certainly seen and breathed worse in my mere one and a half years here. Perhaps it's the wind blowing off the Han River in my part of town.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that your father is going to be OK.

R said...

The talking tiger cracked me up.

I hope you have peaceful week.