Stand a Little Closer

"...the subway gave us much more than a way to work and back home. It gave us an object of pride and fascination, fear and loathing. It gave us a permanent topic of conversation and a perfect excuse for being late. It gave poets a new muse and moviemakers a new set. It gave warmth to the cold, a bed to the weary and a captive audience to anyone with a cheap guitar. 
But it also gave another gift, much less appreciated and more important, one that changed the city fundamentally and forever: the gift of proximity. In other words, the subway made us sit together. And stand together." 

The above is from a book I'm currently reading, Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York by Randy Kennedy. And although the New York subway and the Seoul metro are a world apart, I think this idea of proximity is universal, and maybe even much more realized here in Korea. For proximity in the U.S. involves American ideas of personal space and privacy, culturally based guidelines on staring and physical contact, and proximity here... well, if you've read any of my posts on Rage in the A.M., you know about the reality of Korean proximity. 

I've been in a weird place emotionally this week for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that I've been here almost 6 months and I'm still realizing how unsettled I am. I discovered Monday that one of my most valued friendships has run its course, and I'm still trying to catch my breath. Keun Ha is dealing with headaches (MRI was clean, thank goodness) that are probably stress-induced and I'm inclined to believe I'm helping the stress sometimes rather than relieving it. So, after an odd Monday-Wednesday, Thursday morning I found myself on the train as usual.

And there was no Rage. 

 He was tall, wearing a navy t-shirt. He was wearing glasses and his nose was round. His hair was shaggy, but not messy. He had his earphones in and was standing next to me, hanging onto the handles with both hands, like me. He was enjoying himself on this morning, sometimes closing his eyes and mouthing the words to his song. He was warm. Not physically warm, although that may have been the case. But I'm talking about a warmth I can't necessarily define or explain. His arm was touching mine and instead of moving every which way possible to keep anyone from touching me, I simply enjoyed being close to this human being. I didn't move when he inched closer to me to let someone stand on the other side of him. I felt comfortable. And that's not something I normally experience on the subway ride to work. 

It reminded me of driving. You're driving down the interstate and you begin to notice that the car in front of you is headed in the same direction at the same pace. You become used to looking at his taillights, you unwittingly memorize his license plate, you imagine he is listening to the same album with the cruise control on, his hands resting comfortably at 4 and 8 like yours. And all of a sudden he exits! Without any warning, not a kindly blinker or anything, he's gone. And you realize you have no idea who was in that car, but it felt nice to be traveling with someone, heading in the same direction. So you adjust yourself in your seat, shifting in your realization that you've just become emotionally attached to a car

And I transferred at Jamsil, willing this tall, oblivious man to follow me. But he didn't. Once more my telepathic abilities bow in submission to the language barrier. I mean, really that's obviously the only reason he didn't get my message. 

But I was thinking about how thirsty I must be, how starved for community I am here. And I'm not talking about just spending time with someone in the same room, although it seems that's all it would take at this point to satisfy me. I want to be with like-minded people, those who are seeking to love, to serve, and to connect in a way that is only found between humans. I am hungry for my friends, particularly those I can no longer have, and those that are too far away. 

So here I am. Participating in this community, where our greatest desire is to be heard, to be read, to be considered of worth just because we are here, just because we are writing. 

I'm going to go downstairs and sit in happy communion with the Coffee Shop Lady. She doesn't speak English and my Korean is so very poor, but we sit together and we smile at each other and we feel together. Sometimes proximity is a worthy substitute for genuine fellowship, because sometimes proximity is all you have. 


Teacher, Teacher

Kevin: "Teacher."
Danielle Teacher: "See, Andrew, this one is subtraction, minus, so the number gets smaller."
Kevin: "Teacher."
Danielle Teacher: "Yep. Good job, Andrew. That's how you do it. Exactly."
Kevin: "Teacher. Teacher."
Danielle Teacher: "Hold on Kevin, I'm helping Andrew." 
Kevin: " Teacher. Teacher. Teacher. Teacher. Teacher. Teacher. Teacher. Teacher."
Danielle Teacher: "OH MY GOSH, KEVIN! What do you want?
Kevin: "I eat this." (Holding up tiny scrolls of used eraser.)
Danielle Teacher: "What?"
Kevin: "I eat this." 
Danielle Teacher: "You eat that?"
Kevin: "Yes. I. Eat. This." (Slowly and deliberately as if English was not my first language.)
Danielle Teacher: "Eew. You eat that? Gross." 
Kevin: (Big grin).

Yep. This is my life. I was totally proud of his sentence, "I eat this." He's the smartest kid in the class. Too bad he's busy digesting bits of eraser. 


No More Excuses

I'm pouring sweat, and that's a good thing for this ChubbO because it means I did something besides salivate over the waffle with ice cream served downstairs in my coffee shop or walk vigorously towards the nearest iced white-choco-week's-worth-of-calories-mocha. I have found the perfect no more excuses method of working out and because I know I'm not the only ChubbO out there, I thought I'd share how I'm whipping my butt into shape for Le Wedding, and more importantly Le Honeymoon.  

Le Honeymoon will consist of 3 months spent trekking in Tibet, the Himalayas in Nepal, and India, followed by 2 months of supreme vacation at the parent's homestead in good old Tennessee along with some traveling through Georgia and Florida to see wifeys, sister-friends, and grandparents. So, needless to say, the first three months of my dream getaway with my Korean require me to be less ChubbO on the outside (but still the same "did somebody say pizza rolls" ChubbO on the inside).

Stairs. Oh lovely ladies (and gents) who are whining about the weather, the time restraint, all the perfect size zero and perfectly naked Korean girls in the changing room at the local gym: stairs is the answer. Buy yourself a set of ankle weights (I got mine cheap from a wholesaler for about $10.00 and they're a kilo each) and head to the nearest stairwell. My apartment has 14 floors and I live on the 9th, so that's where I start. Because Koreans are always in a hurry and the elevators are much quicker than taking the stairs, I am always alone. I strap on my ankle weights and head down the stairs to the first floor, not allowing myself to use the handrails to work on my balance. Then I go back up to floor 9. Repeat, going only to floor 2. Back up to floor 9. Down to 3. Up to 9. Down to 4. Up to 9 until you're walking down one floor and back up. That takes me close to 15 minutes because I do walk, not jog the stairs, and allow myself usually 30 seconds to a minute's rest every time I reach the 9th floor.
You should be sweating proficiently by now, unless you live in some dream apartment building where they air condition the stairwells. Otherwise, you should be tired. So I remove the ankle weights and go back down to the first floor. This time, definitely clinging to the handrail because my feet want to go much faster than my brain because of the sudden weightlessness. Then, I try to jog all the way back to my floor. 

There are 14 floors, so I guess there's always room for improvement. But for now, that's my no-excuses stair workout. I can do it when it's raining, when it's really hot outside, when I only have half an hour, or when I want to be incredibly  antisocial and do something besides the Han riverside trail where I will be stared at the entire time. 

Oh, and make sure you STRETCH afterwards!
Let me know if you try the ChubbO stairs workout. Or if you have any failproof ways to stick it to the wedding dress! (Yeah, kind of like sticking it to the man. You would think I love my wedding dress, but in reality I despise it. Until I look freaking hot in it, of course. And then I will love it. But for now, we're sticking it to the Dress, okay?).

Resisting the Waffle,


They Don't Want No Chub in da Club

Another advantage of being a ChubbO in Korea: You never have to worry about being harassed by these guys. Thanks to Roboseyo, for posting this. I was really surprised to see this, even in Cheonho, down the street from my apartment. This is one of those times I don't wish to be thin and gorgeous like Korean girls. 


What the Crap Wednesday

Today one of my colleagues was royally screwed over by my employers in a manner that surprised and disgusted me. She left the school today paid almost none of what she was owed and treated as if she had not done a fabulous job of teaching children less than 3 how to speak English for a year. What the crap?

Oh, the bus drivers. There are plenty of posts here in the Korea weblog community about buses, taxis, and the metro, and many of them have been posted here. The bus system was deprivatized a a while ago, so the drivers are no longer paid hourly, or by how many routes they complete, but are on a salary. So, WHAT'S THE HURRY? Why must you slam the door shut and have to open it THREE times again because people were still trying to exit the bus? Why must you slam your foot on the gas before the door has closed and that old woman is up the steps? And why must you drive as if your purpose is to either kill me or at least get me to throw up? What. The. Crap? 

Notice to ALL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD who commute anywhere on any kind of public transport: If you are going to play that stupid game on your phone, please turn off the damn sound. I do not want to hear the beeping or blipping or doopdedoop every time you roundhouse kick a ninja, get three jewels in a row, or shoot the invading enemy. And if you're listening to music on your mp3, keep it to a reasonable level. If I wanted to listen to your music, I would have asked to borrow your left ear phone and started bobbing my head to your ridiculous beat. This is a common courtesy that overrides all cultural crap. I don't care who you are or what country you're from or how much kimchi you eat everyday- there is no excuse. And ajummas, I'm seriously disappointed in you. You should take some action against these disrespectful punks. I expect you, of all people, to have the guts to lecture them with that incredibly long finger and that shrill, blood-out-your-ears inducing screech you've got on your side. Why are ajummas everywhere not taking up their large handbags and whacking these people? What the crap?

On another note altogether, I totally lost 10 pounds.

And to temper the "what the crapness" of this post, or to completely shame me for even posting all these complaints is this nugget of gold from my new favorite writer
"It is really easy to be a victim, you know? It is really easy to complain. About your job, your boss, your lame friends, your weight/body, the way the church is going, your lack of money, the way things don't turn out the way they should. Sometime stop and listen to how much of conversation is dedicated to complaining. About George W. Bush, the weather, the in-laws, work. So many things. But all of that is a way of trying to avoid responsibility for one's own life, and it is definitely a way of avoiding joy. We are so much more powerful than we think we are, and there is so much more goodness in each of our lives than we are acknowledging. And if there isn't the goodness in our life that we want, the point is: we can choose differently. No, we don't have every choice in the world available to us. But we have a lot more choice than we are usually willing to admit."

Dang. I am going to choose differently this week. I am going to run right into the open arms of joy. Wanna come? 


The One You've Been Waiting For

Boy and Girl lie on the roof, watch the wind sweep the clouds into a canopy of art. They listen to music. They read good books. They sip a coffee milkshake. They talk about traveling, together. Boy looks at girl. Boy says, "Will you marry me?" Girl says, "........ Yes, yes, yes, yes, are you serious? yes, yes, yes." Boy and Girl lie on the roof, watch the wind sweep the clouds into a canopy of art. They listen to music. They read good books. They talk about traveling. They will continue to do all of these things. Together. 


It's Sermon Sunday

In Revelation 3:20 it says:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.

Now that's what I'm talking about! Let the man in and what does he suggest? He says let's eat together. Now that's my kind of religion. I bet Jesus would have loved donuts. 


Don't Panic... The Rage is Still Around

Oh no, don't refresh. You're in the right place. Yep, it's me, DB, from Rage in the A.M. You know how last post I was talking about taking this blog in a new direction? About not hemming myself in on all sides by anger-ridden rants and head-against-the-wall frustration trying to understand this country, culture, and people? Well, welcome to the new, improved, and still raging, blog.

However, I wanted to free myself up to write about a few more topics without feeling guilty because you dear readers would still be expecting The Rage, and maybe you would wonder why my blog was even called Rage in the A.M. if it wasn't ragey. (Somebody call Websters. Ragey, adjective, used to describe nouns that are filled with, surrounded by, or beat to death with rage.) So I thought I'd collect all the pictures I had so far of me stuffing my face with something and go with the whole Chubbo Chubbington theme, since ChubbO is definitely a theme here keeping pace with my internal firestorms. Heck, I have dreams about donuts. (And someone found my blog this week by googling "dreaming about donuts." How appropriate!) And I feel that being a ChubbO is not confined to your body weight. It's a lifestyle. It's about consuming what life offers you with a smile and shoving it Korean style (which means spoonful, and I mean SPOON IS FULL) into your face. Enjoying the company of those around you, enjoying the feeling of having a full belly, and enjoying the immensity of blessings heaped upon you. So, being a ChubbO is not about being overweight, or having a weenie wheel around your waist, or dreaming about donuts (although this is definitely a qualifying factor). It's not about lusting over food commercials (although this is perfectly acceptable behavior) or clapping your hands and jumping up and down when someone mentions ice cream. No, wait, I take that back. ChubbO is ALL about clapping your hands and jumping up and down when someone mentions ice cream. Anyhow, you get the idea. And if you don't, leave your questions in the comments and I shall dutifully reply. Perhaps I should come up with a ChubbO ManifestO. All that to say, welcome to the new, improved, but still kind of the same blog. 

And I'm making some changes in my life dearest readers, whose comments cause me to lie on my bed in raptures, staring out at the blue Seoul afternoon sky and thanking the Provider of All Good Things for sending these kind, wonderful, delight-inducing creatures to read my bumblings, rumblings, and mumblings. (I'm re-reading some Jack Kerouac. Can you tell?) I want to live a simple, humble, and open life. And The Rage seems to be a hindrance. Although it will still be around and I'm sure you'll still get your healthy dose, it doesn't help me to be thankful, to feel blessed, to show kindness and love toward a generous people who have taken me into their country and done nothing but overpay me and completely ignore my own petty personal boundaries. When I stop to think about what's important to me, ending all the miseries of Metro Purgatory is just not high on the list. 

I read a beautiful blog here the other day (read everything she's written, it's beautiful), at the suggestion of this guy, and I found that it was exactly what I had been looking for. Instead of walking around all day asking myself how I can get the things I want, how I can make things easier for myself, how I can avoid feeling obligated to others, I want to ask how I can love, how I can be kind, how I can give others what they want, how I can make things easier for others. So many Koreans (and Americans, and humans, essentially) are running all the time. At every moment, they are in a hurry to be faster, to be better, to be first in line, to earn the money, to get the thing that will make them happy. And they are in such a hurry to do these things that they run over each other, push each other, park their cars illegally, work until all hours without being kind to their bodies or their families. If I can show just one person, just one, how to slow down a bit, how to see what matters, how to be persistent in kindness or happiness or laughter, then I feel my purpose will be fulfilled. Because I've been floundering here in the Land of Morning Calm. (And it's no longer calm in the mornings. The streets are always alive, no matter the hour.) I've been wondering what it is I actually want to achieve in this year of having a job I don't really care for and am not entirely qualified for; this year of listening to strange sounds and trying to contort my mouth into wonderful shapes that make these sounds; this year of discovering how much I have to learn from my husband-to-be; this year of searching for my self-discipline, for my sense of responsibility; this year of no sweet tea, no grits and biscuits, no sweet tea, and no sweet tea. 

And I have decided what I want to achieve: 
I want to love my kids in a way that shows them they don't have to speak English or read English or be the fastest AT ANYTHING to be special and of worth.
I want to learn enough Korean to speak to Keun Ha's grandmother and tell her how much I appreciate her support and her fierce love for her family. 
I want to treat my body with respect and kindness. I want my body to be part of the gift I give my husband, something I can be proud of and give with confidence. (He would take it like it is now. He even said to me the other day, "Danielle, don't lose The Belly, please. It won't be the same." See? An amazing man. Go get your own Korean, stop coveting mine! Ha.)
I want to show my parents and my sister that I wouldn't be who I am or going where I'm going without their support and their love. 
I want to learn to give my time to others willingly, to heal broken things and people, to serve others because I have had enough time to myself.
I want to learn to cook Korean food so my husband can have a happy belly some of the time. 
I want to write, write, rewrite, and write. I want to stop making excuses and write. 
I want to read, everything and anything. 
I want to find enough discipline to get up earlier than I have to, to make time to pray and think and be deliberate about my day, about my actions.
And most of all, I want to start a new life with my husband, conquering mountains, sitting with monks, and blessing the earth. 
Oh, and I wanna eat a buncha good food. (In my best Southern twang.)

Readers, whom I have grown to cherish and look forward to hearing from like I look forward to seeing puppies on the street that will actually let me pet them and speak to them as if they could understand me, this is my 50th post. Wouldn't it be so cool if I got 50 comments? And can I just shout out to The Korean, who left a comment on my last post, what an honor! Seriously. I just got finished with my dance for you, and it included a lot of graceful bowing followed by lavish jumps and twirls and a few booty shakes. I also want to thank Two Left Feet, Sarah, Meghan, Chester Copperpot, Tariq, Anonymous, Bailey, Quirky, and Beloved for leaving kind words for me on my last post. And love to anyone who has ever left me a comment! I believe I am amassing the best readers on the Internets. 

And for all of you who scrolled down to see if there was an engagement story stuck in here anywhere, sorry to disappoint. I'm waiting to tell you the real deal because I have something special to give you. A gift. But it's not ready yet. So be patient! I'll tell you all about it. But not in that "Hi, my blog has turned into a step-by-step account of my wedding plans and I'm so happy and you're still single hahahahahahah blah blah make you want to rip your eyes out I'm so cheerful and in love" kind of blogs. Don't worry. 

What is the most loving thing for me to do now, after I hit Publish Post?
I believe it would be to write a long response to the beautiful letter I received in the mail from my good friend Nick, who also reads this blog and leaves priceless comments here often. What's the most loving thing for you to do now?



Oh, My Blog Title is So Succinct and Relevant

Hello dear readers, whose comments enrich my life and make my heart swoon! (A bit over the top, I know, but it's been so long since we've, well, talked. Or should I say, it's been so long since I talked and you listened.) Anyhow, it's been over a week all the same. I missed you.

I had a break from school last week, my only vacation besides the week I get sometime in winter. So I took a break from writing as well, just to let everything kind of marinate inside my head for a while. I thought I came to some conclusions about my raging, my complaining, my lack of compassion for the Stealth Ajumma, etc. I had been thinking for a while of retiring the old Rage in the A.M. header up there and going with something more universal, a little more open, to give me room to rant about more than my morning commute and the inexplicable tics I find in Korean society. 

I was moved to rethink my rage when I met a man who works at an established and successful publishing company at which my boyfriend is employed. This man is the caretaker for the building that houses said publishing company and was there on a Saturday when I accompanied Kenny there in order to do some weekend slave labor. It turns out this man lives at this building in a small basement room with no window, one bed, and a table. This man has no holidays. And when I say no, I mean not one. He doesn't get Christmas, New Year's, Chusok (Korean Thanksgiving), no bank holidays. He sleeps there and eats there. He has a house, which he never gets to use except for a few hours on Fridays when he goes home to shower, clean up, and change his clothes. He has an ailing wife who oftentimes must be hospitalized. But he isn't able to see her because... well, he has this job. He is well into his 70s and hasn't had a raise in 6 years. This company grossed millions in profits last year. It's not as if it's a failing company and it can't afford to pay it's workers. Anyhow, listening to this man's story was heartbreaking, mostly because he told this story only in response to questions asked. He did not ask for pity or sympathy. He was simply relaying the facts. With a smile.

When Kenny mentioned speaking to his boss about this situation, the man begged him not to do anything. He was afraid of losing his job, and at his age no one else would hire him. And really, he said, he was quite happy. It was a good job to have. He didn't want to quit because he needed the money, and he didn't want the company to hire another person to work shifts, because they would decrease his pay. Kenny's hands were tied. 

And my rage was checked. What right do I have to complain, to agonize, to whine about tiny things like my personal space or the people who don't treat me like the center of the universe when this man is living this life. How can I open my mouth so loudly (or type here so furiously), my guts broiling with indignation when there is a happy elderly man living in a room with no window? How dare I complain about the lack of air conditioning in my new office at school? How could I possibly not get over the small inconvenience of locking the door every time I leave and getting the key to unlock it every time I come back? Oh, hello perspective. Hello other people in the world. So those were my thoughts and I was all penitent and on my knees ready to give up my raging ways.

Until this morning. I was coming out of the subway and ready to put my little T-money electronic ticket on the pad to be scanned at the turnstile in order to exit. And I was headed toward one of many, I repeat, one of many available turnstiles.  When out of the corner of my eye, I catch a bright flash of neon nylon. I raise my hand to set my cute little square of technology on the pad when Neon Nylon Ajumma runs, and I do mean sprints, to get ahead of me and go through the turnstile before me. She shuffles through the turnstile as if she is being chased by a pack of rabid wolves (although this would never happen because ajummas are fierce Handbag Warriors and intimidate the crap right out of all wildlife). I have, in my bewilderment moved to the next available turnstile and gone through. I am not being chased by rabid wolves (are these worse than just regular non-rabid wolves? Is rabid too much? Should they just be wolves?), however, I have 5 minutes to get to work and I need to walk for almost exactly 5 minutes AND I must stop for breakfast at the Family Mart and say hi to Mart Man, who will most decidedly be disappointed that yet again, I am not wearing my "out hair," which we all know by now is "much better." So, I'd like to walk quite rapidly out of the station. 

But that is not possible, because Neon Nylon Ajumma, although in quite a hurry to get through the turnstile, is in no hurry now and is walking as if through a field of dead rabid wolves with nothing to fear. And I'm all, to put it in serious literary terms, AAAAARRRRRRRRRRGH. 

Did she just not see me? Or is it my problem? Do I really think I'm that important? 
In America, we have this sense of "our rights." These "rights" are often referred to when our own personal sense of what we believe we deserve has been infringed upon by others. It's not really my right to proceed before the ajumma through the turnstile, although in my country, custom dictates that the person who arrives first would logically go first. But here, I need to remember that I am not in my country. But dearest readers (whose comments make me do a happy jig around my apartment to silly songs I make up dedicated just to you), it is so very hard to remember where I am. Because although Korea doesn't look like America and it doesn't really feel like America, I still feel like me and I still get offended when someone smacks me with their handbag, or stands on my feet, or pushes me out of their way. It's like this persona-space-vulnerability is in my blood. Because no matter how many times I remind myself that Koreans don't consciously realize they are pushing, shoving, and standing on top of another, it still enrages me when they do. 

So, although my perspective has been tempered by the life of the Man with No Holidays, Ever, I still find myself angry at these small things. Perhaps it will take a while for me to water down my rage. It's a gut reaction, not an intellectual or mental response. Dang, those gut reactions die hard. 

Oh, and I am engaged. Just thought you should know.

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