Sunday, November 12, 2006

Living in Korea (Part III)

The landlords and owners of the rice store consisted of a family of four. It was a mom, dad and their teenage son and daughter. They really loved us, especially Lauren. My husband had spent a year at The Defense Language Institute at The Presidio of Monterey, California learning to read, write and speak Korean. He became the building translator for the landlord and the other American tenants and that made us the favorite tenants. Our male landlord would often bring us a bag of fresh fruit or some Korean candy for Lauren as a token of his appreciation. He and I couldn’t really communicate but I always smiled and thanked him in Korean. I’d learned enough of the language to say hello, goodbye, thank you, have a good day, and a few other necessary words I would need, especially whenever I was in a taxi, such as left, right and stop.

We didn’t have a telephone. It was too expensive. If I wanted to talk to my parents I would have to walk to the base and go to the USO Club where they had little rooms with telephones for privacy and call them collect. The calls were expensive (an average ½ hour call would be about $60). My mom wasn’t about to say no to those collect calls. My parents would be the only people I talked to from home during my six month stay. No one else would’ve been willing to foot the bill for those expensive collect calls and I certainly couldn’t blame them. I was already a natural talker but with the added homesickness, my mom would usually be stuck with me on the phone for about an hour. I think I called home on average of about every two weeks and with the time difference it was usually in the middle of the night for them. I know those phone bills were outrageous. I suppose they can just add that to my tab and take it out of my inheritance!

My other means of communication with everyone from home was letters. I wrote more letters than imaginable. It was therapeutic and my only way to keep in contact with my family and friends. Someone also sent me a small tape recorder so I started making audiotapes of Lauren talking and then began making tapes like letters. I would usually drone on about life in Korea and talk for the full sixty minutes the tape would allow. I sometimes think about the poor recipients of those tapes and how they had to endure my hour of non-stop talking. Our incoming mail would be sent to the barracks and the husband would bring it home with him after work each day. Every card and letter received was like a little piece of home that I would cherish and read over and over. Whenever he came home with mail it was truly the highlight of my day.

A few weeks after my arrival we learned about a special house located on Camp Casey that was open Monday thru Friday from 8am until 5pm for the spouses who’d gone over there like I had and were living on the Korean economy. It was called “Pear Blossom Cottage” and was run by a volunteer. It was used as a place for the families to gather and socialize. It had a large kitchen with three large ovens where the wives could go to prepare and cook meals since none of the apartments had ovens. I never really took advantage of that opportunity as that was back when my cooking skills pretty much consisted of tacos, spaghetti and all things simple. (NOTE: Dear Husband, please refrain from any sarcastic remarks in the comments section to follow). There was also a playroom, living room and a classroom. They offered classes for things like sewing and cooking. It was a nice place to go and pass the time. It could sometimes be chaotic and stressful with so many small children fighting over the toys in the playroom, but it certainly helped me from losing my mind being cooped up all day without much else to do. I made a few new friends but we were all scattered all around the city and our apartment was on the opposite side of town from where everyone else seemed to live, which made getting together to socialize difficult.

The coordinator of the house would regularly receive VHS tapes from her family back in the states with about six hours of recorded TV shows on them. She was a big Knots Landing fan as was I, and would pass around the tapes for all of us to take home and watch. Whenever it was my turn I would usually stay up all night watching them and I wouldn’t even fast forward through the commercials. You’d be surprised at what can change in just a few months and what new product you might see in a commercial. Those tapes were like gold and when my husband returned to Korea again a few years later, I made him tapes like that every week that he shared with everyone in the barracks.

We had one English/Military TV station called Armed Forces Korean Network (AFKN) that ran 24-hours a day. They more or less had to cater to everyone’s interests so the network tried to offer a variety of shows. I remember the TV line-up well because I pretty much lived for it. Everything seemed to be broken up into about two hour intervals. For example, they would run CNN News in the early mornings, then two hours of sports shows, then in the afternoon they featured two soaps. I’d never watched Guiding Light before but after a few weeks I had most of the story line figured out. The soaps were three months behind from what had already aired in the U.S. so I had to wait until I’d been there for three months to finally pick up where I left off on General Hospital. They had some game shows and then in the evening featured a few sitcoms. This was 1989-1990 and the sitcoms were about a season or two behind what was current in the states. We didn’t get anything current. Our featured sitcoms were The Cosby Show and Alf. They also had a local news program with Military personnel as the news anchors. They wore their Class A’s (dress uniforms) and did the weather, local news, news from the US, etc. The late night shows that I faithfully watched were Barnaby Jones, Baretta and Cannon. For the younger readers, these were shows I grew up watching with my parents. They were all three detective shows that were made in the 1970’s. We couldn’t afford to be choosy so I watched them faithfully every night.

We'd usually do our grocery shopping on Saturday. Of course we’d need to go for a few things during the week, too, but would get the bulk of our shopping done on the weekends. We usually bought enough that we couldn't walk back home with the groceries so we'd typically take a cab. It would drop us off in front of our apartment building. We'd unload the bags into the lobby doors, pay the driver, then start carrying the bags up the three flights of stairs along with the stroller and a little girl who was terrified of heights and scared to death of even being carried up and down the stairs.

Sunday was reserved for laundry. Our method for laundry day would consist of the husband filling up his large Army duffle bag with all of the dirty clothes. He’d carry it on his back, and believe me it was stuffed full and very heavy. I wouldn’t have made it three feet with that thing on my back. We’d set out on our walk to Camp Casey and then to the bus stop for a ride over to the barracks. His roommates always welcomed us on laundry day. There was a laundry mat on Camp Casey but we ended up taking advantage of the free machines at the barracks. That would also allow us time to relax and hang out in between loads. We’d usually spend hours in his room on Sunday afternoons. NFL football games were usually being televised on Sunday afternoons (if recall correctly, that was actually Monday morning in the states) and we'd get to watch a little piece of home, especially if the Oilers were playing. I became a big football (though not so much anymore) as a result. After doing all of the laundry and watching the game, we’d neatly stuff the stacks of folded clothes back into his duffle bag and start the trip back home. Like I said before, everything we did was such a task.


Ronni said...

It sounds like a regular nightmare! I would have been driven stark raving bonkers, especially with a toddler.

Carri said...

I was! I pretty much lost it before it was all over with. It didn't help matters when she hit her terrible twos.

Anonymous said...

the collect telephone calls---yes, i never turned away a call...and i even had to call the phone co. one month and lied to them about--my husband and i had separated, and i was trying to catch up on bills...could they give me a few months to pay for this one bill (about $900) they were really nice about it, but wanted alot of info...we have been married for almost 45 years...yeah...i could probably open a blog site of my own about this period of my life...this was truly horrible for carri, les and lauren, but can you imagine how impossible it was for us...i guess you could say that carri was my rebellious child...but we love her...

guess who?

Anonymous said...

I'm really loving this story line but I've gotta say...

I never thought Korea could turn you into a "big football"!!!

haha... don't die when you realize your mistake! <3
I really love your blog... can't wait for part 4... Living in Korea really has become a short book! :o)

~~~prestonsgirl that hates logging in before commenting

Anonymous said...

Come to think of it, she does tend to put on a pound or two every time she watches a game! Hahahahaha....

The husband

teedee said...

Amazing. This story is amazing. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for part IV.
You can cook now???

Carri said...

Jenn! You so caught me! That was very funny!

My poor mother had her hands tied. I was a basket case and she had to take those calls!!

Yes, Teresa. I can cook now. I just choose not to! :)