Seoul, Korea: Let’s Try That Again

Clark and I call it a “do-over”. Can I have one please?

Last night at dinner, I told him that I had spent some time thinking about Seoul, and that I even wrote about it. {The following is why I love and loathe marriage}. He said, “I know. I read it.” And I could tell that look on his face and the sound of his tone that what he was really saying was, “You can do better than that.” And he’s right. My hearing test results in Korean would have been a more riveting read, and I knew it when I hit “Publish”. I applied myself to the facts, but I did not tap into the emotion of what really happened six years ago today. The truth is, I love our ongoing conversation here, but sometimes I feel this unspoken pressure to tie a pretty bow on a thought or a subject in 800 words or less, and Heaven-forbid there aren’t any pictures! There are two problems with this:

1. I am a woman and therefore I can’t order at the drive-thru in 800 words or less.

2. I am thirty-two years old, and much like my two-year-old, I still only like to look at the pictures.

So, forgive me for underestimating you.

I spent a few quiet moments this morning thinking about what would have happened if I had sailed through the event in Korea and on to Manila, Hong Kong, and Tokyo as was originally planned. Most people cross the Pacific and end up with indigestion. I end up going deaf. I would be attaching 6-inch ribbon curls on the situation if I said that I didn’t feel utterly cheated out of the opportunity of a lifetime. Who knows if one like that will ever come knocking again. But before my chronic optimism flares up and I start digging the pearl out of a lousy situation a-gain, can I keep it human for 300 words, please?

Let’s start with the fears…

Prior to my Asian excursion, there were three of them to be exact {with a myriad of bloodsucking fears attached to those fears}. Normal people fear things like death, terrorists, or taxes. I was filled with an array of irrational fears before I ever even stepped foot on that airplane. I guess you could say, I was paralyzed before I ever went deaf. For those of you that knew me then, why, I ask you, didn’t you have me committed?

Where was I? Oh yes, the Big Three.

Fear #1. Losing my voice
It couldn’t have been an abscess tooth or an ingrown toenail. But it had to be my hearing, right? The tinnitus that came with the hearing loss sounded like a fax machine going off inside my head at. all. times. {Pause for a listen… Yep. Still faxing.} I am so used to it now, but back then, it was the end of my music-loving world as I knew it. You don’t have to be a music major to know that the ability to hear is sort of a prerequisite for the production of vocal music or any music for that matter. Singing was my passion, my career, and I’m sorry to admit, more of my identity than it should have been. What am I if not a singer? How do I qualify my own existence if I don’t make music? Those were the questions that kept me up at night before Seoul. It turns out that living in the fear of not being able to sing anymore or having an a-musical and therefore “unqualified” existence {or so I thought} was worse than the 5% likelihood of medical recovery I had after Seoul. In other words, I am living proof that there is life after deafness.

There I go snipping it by the yard… moving on.

Fear #2. Medications, additives, and pretty much chemicals of any kind {I told you these fears were irrational.}
It was during the Organic Boom when the use of preservatives, dyes, or artificial ingredients of any kind in foods and household products were considered a fate worse than death. If I couldn’t pronounce the ingredient or if it ended in -ates or –ites, it did not enter our home. One time, I bought some all-natural peppermint body soap. I could hear Clark from the back of the house yelling from the shower, “Babe, I am willing to try all of this natural stuff you buy us, but my whole body feels like an Altoid right now!” That’s when I knew I may be taking the whole chemical-free thing a bit too far.

WARNING! WARNING! We are now exceeding 800 words. Are you still tracking with me?

My chemi-phobia extended to medications, both prescriptions and over-the-counter. I would not so much as take Tylenol for a case of cramps. Therefore, when upon admittance into a Korean hospital I was pumped full of pills {12-14 in a single does} and injected with steroids, you can imagine my panic. Due to the language barrier, I couldn’t even ask the nurse what each drug was called much less the inevitable side effects. And yet, I survived without going blind or experiencing any unwanted hair growth. Again, proof that there is life after acetaminophen.

Fear #3. Clark leaving me
Most couples don’t see a therapist before they are married. We weren’t even engaged when I dragged Clark to my counselor’s office because I thought he needed to have his head examined for wanting to marry me. I tried letting him off the hook a thousand different ways {including Altoid soap}. After every failed attempt, he would look me in the eye and say, “I am not going anywhere”. But surely now that I blew our career and cost us our entire month’s earnings not to mention future income and I am laid up on my side drooling while the Korean ENT is injecting steroid through my eardrum, surely that would be the precise moment when Clark says, “This is not what I signed up for”. I half expected for him to tell me he had to run out for yet some more sushi and then skip town. He had the ultimate head start at that point as I was not even medically cleared for air-travel. But instead, he stroked my hair and read me Psalms and lied to me and said that he thought drool was sexy. He didn’t lose patience with me after 12 days of sleeping in the same twin bed, and he let me choose what to watch on television {even though the only English-speaking TV channel was the Armed Forces Network}. We had been married for more than a year, but for the first time, I actually started to believe him that he wasn’t going anywhere. I think he would agree that those two weeks did more for our marriage than dating, engagement, and our honeymoon combined. Now, eight years later, we like to reminisce as if to say, “We’ll always have Seoul”.

Today, on this six-year-anniversary of the Survival of the Big Three, I am walking hand-in-hand with my baby girl down our neighborhood street. While, my son is dragging Woody by the boot just 20-feet ahead of us, and both of them are whining because they are too hot, thirsty, tired, wah wah wah, I would like to take this opportunity to say that there are two certainties in this world of which I am living proof:

1. You will survive.

2. I’m not going anywhere.

… wait for it… waaiittt for it!

big bowIt was killing me, and I just couldn’t help it. How’s that for tying a bow on it?

{Image via Delphine Chanet. Click the source and then you can say, “Irony”.}

Places I’ve Been: Seoul, Korea

Throughout this month of “memories”, I thought it might be fun to journey through some of the places that I have traveled to and some of the unexpected events that took place there. This week marks a rather significant anniversary in my marriage. The setting is not our wedding day but rather a hospital room half-way around the world.

On the morning of May 8, 2007, I laced up my running shoes, plugged in my headphones, and ventured from my high rise hotel out into the city streets. I was immediately infused with the energy of the early morning rush hour. People scurrying in and out sky scraper buildings, men in tailored suits with leather brief cases on their cell phones, and high heeled fashionistas gracefully slipping in and out of taxi cabs. It was much like a scene in Manhattan, except the air smelled of kimchi rather than warm bagels.

downtown seoul

This was Seoul, Korea, and I was further from home than I had ever been before. I noticed a crowd of uniformed school children unashamedly staring at me as they passed by, whispering to each other, no doubt about the “silly American” who stood a head taller than everyone else. The truth is, I was a silly American– positively beside herself excited to be on the other side of the globe witnessing the wonder that, for everyone else, was just another Tuesday.

Seoul 3

Little did I know that this would not be an ordinary Tuesday. Clark and I were on our first stop of a 10-day Asian tour. On the first night of the event at the Olympic stadium in Seoul, I walked on stage for sound check, wired up my in-ear monitors, and began calling volume adjustments through a translator at the monitor board. Nothing too out of the ordinary. No sooner than rehearsal was over, I walked off the stage and immediately noticed that I felt uncommonly dizzy, and the world around me suddenly didn’t quite sound the same.

Fast forward 12 hours later– I am in a university hospital in Seoul with a diagnosis of Sudden Deafness.

For most of my 20’s, I played host to some pretty irrational {and outright bizarre} fears. Ironically enough, one of them was being hospitalized in a foreign country. The first three days of a two-week hospital stay was nothing short of terrifying. Hold a pillow to your ear and that was the sound filter through which I heard everything. Doctors could not account for the sudden hearing loss with any ultimate certainty, but the general consensus was that a viral infection combined with the cruising altitude of the 15 hour flight from Atlanta to Seoul wreaked havoc in my middle ear. At one point, the medical staff suggested that if I resumed air travel, there was a remote possibility that I could lose what little was left of my hearing. Clark and I were actually researching passenger ships from Seoul, Korea to the United States.

At this point, we had only been married for just over a year, and many of our collective thoughts about settling down or having children had gone conveniently unspoken. We were perfectly content {or so we thought} to remain in a blurry fantasy of travel and exciting musical pursuits and to ride the wave for as long as we could. When our fast pace came to a screeching halt, we we suddenly began to reevaluate whether singing and touring and sushi and Shiatsu was the ultimate goal for our lives.

If we weren’t overhauling our priorities or contemplating an upcoming ocean excursion, we were coming up with clever ways to amuse ourselves.

Hospital 1
Hospital 2
Hospital 3
Hospital 4
Hospital 5

After two weeks of sharing a twin hospital bed and being each other’s only English-speaking entertainment, Clark and I were cleared for take-off. However, we were not the same couple we were when we first arrived in Seoul. The Clark and Salina that arrived were laser focussed in their pursuits. By the time we left, we both agreed that perhaps for the first time, we were thinking clearly about the future.

Seoul 2

What started out as a terrifying experience eventually cured me of several of my fears and anxieties {having survived many of them during those two weeks}. More importantly, it marked a turning point in our infant marriage that {in hindsight} better prepared us for the tospy-turvy journey of children, career change, and a more stationary existence in the years that followed.

I am forever grateful for our adventures in Seoul!

{Downtown Seoul image via Camino’s Photostream}