Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The bright moon is like our heart, undivided and true

With the six year anniversary of the first time I went to South Korea coming up in just 4 days, I've been thinking about my time there a lot in the last couple of weeks, and wishing my memories of it weren't fading as the years pass.

In the two years that I spent living in Korea, I complained a lot, and never, in a million years, would have convinced my 19-20 year old self that I would one day miss nearly everything about it.  My complaints weren't out of left field - there truly was a lot to complain about.

If you've never been to South Korea, then I could probably ramble for twenty minutes about the smell of the country, and still - you would be unable to truly grasp the pungent odor that radiates throughout the country.  Rice paddies are prevalent throughout the countryside in Korea, and farmers use manure - horse, cow, and yes, even human - to fertilize their crops.  Combine that with kimchi season, and you have a potent mixture that is truly unforgettable (and most certainly not in a good way).

I lived in the Nam-Gu district of Daegu, which is in the Gyeongsangbuk-do province.  It's pretty centrally located on the eastern side of the peninsula, not too far of a drive from the coast.  Of course, in South Korea, there's pretty much nothing that's too far of a drive.  Even North Korea's border was only about a six hour drive from our front door, which was as terrifying as it was fascinating.  Do you remember in 2009 when North Korea conducted a nuclear test?   I bet you don't, but I do.  It defined my life for several months, keeping me on my toes, and wondering constantly if I was going to be uprooted from my home and sent back to the states.  I was almost 6 months pregnant at the time, and I was ordered to pack my bags immediately, and to ensure that I packed enough food and water to last me for at least 72 hours.  A map from the military post nearby to the front door of my villa was turned into my ex husband's chain of command in case shit went down, so to speak, and they had to come find me to send me back overseas, out of danger.  It was unnerving to think about the very real possibilities that came with living in South Korea as a non-combatant and an American citizen.   And then there was the time in 2010 when a South Korean navy ship was sunk near the border between the North and the South.  There were the constant protests just outside of my house.  We were warned of them by the garrison commander almost daily, and told where they would be taking place.  Our orders were always to avoid the areas at all costs.  They protested tons of things from South Korean law to the president to things that hit very close to home, like the Anti-US protesters, who spewed their bitter anger at the Americans for bringing their bases to South Korea and invading their cities.  I'll probably never forget the time when my friend, Terri, and I were out shopping downtown one day either.  That day, we were followed and watched by two men in turbans and robes.  They were the men we all had been warned about when we first got to Korea.  These men were associated with Al-Qaeda, and their purpose was not to harm us or even speak to us, only to intimidate us, to silently let us know that they were around, and that their presence was alive and well.  Living overseas kept me on my toes, absolutely.

But it wasn't all scary either.  It was about a twelve minute walk from my front door to the metal gates that separated the little America that was Camp Walker from the rest of Daegu.  Almost daily, when I made those walks, I always happened to pass the boys and girls in their school uniforms, knapsacks cinched up high on their backs.  And always, always, they would run to my daughter in her stroller, gooing and gaaing at her, completely enamored with the "small white baby".  Then, they'd look at me and say "Hello, hello, how are you?" and whenever I'd answer back "fine" or "doing good, how are you?", they would dissolve in a fit of giggles and run away, totally amused that they were able to practice their broken English on an American woman.

I remember waking up just about every morning at dawn to the sound of loudspeaker fruit trucks.  Imagine it - a farmer's market on wheels with a megaphone for the driver to declare, very loudly, the day's specials.  I hardly knew the exact things they were saying since I was far from fluent in Korean, but being woken at the crack of dawn from the sounds of a loudspeaker is annoying, regardless of if you have any idea what is going on.  I remember my first experience with the loudspeaker trucks scared the hell out of me - as I was sure that they were announcing the fall of the president or the invasion of North Koreans.  I soon realized their apples and watermelons and potatoes and smelly, freshly caught fish were hardly something to be unnerved by.

The cicadas.  Oh good god, the cicadas.  The chirping, and the clicking.  This is something else that I will never forget about South Korea.  They are large bugs that live in the trees, and are actually pretty hard to see.  Their chirps, though, are about 75 decibels of loudness, and when you compare that to a cell phone ringer being somewhere around 70 decibels, you can probably imagine why hundreds of them are hard to forget.  Maybe you've heard them here in America, but believe me, I just don't think its possible to understand their true range of annoyance until you've stepped foot in Korea.

Sunsets in this country are another thing that I hope I can always remember.  They will knock your breath away with their beauty.  My favorite part of my home was the unbelievable view that it gave me to watch the sun go down every night.  The pastels of purples and oranges and reds blended together like they were painted perfectly above the mountain ranges.  Their allure was something I loved most, and miss truly, about Korea.

I find it truly awesome that my daughter will forever bear South Korea as her birth country, and where she spent the first eleven and a half months of her life.   It is here where I became a mother, and where she and I learned to face the world, mostly on our own.  You see, it seemed like my ex husband was hardly home.  His job kept him away until all hours of the night, and then there were the times when he was gone for weeks, playing army (or as they called it, "training" :-P) further up north.  I felt secluded from real life sometimes, as I sort of lived like a hermit when he was away.  We were always warned not to go out alone, so I was afraid to, afraid that I would somehow find myself in danger.  Aside from the warnings though, I was crippled by how young I was, and how little confidence I had in myself. I grew up in Korea, and I learned a lot.  One day, I hope that I can take my children back there, to show my daughter the hospital where she was born, and the 11th floor apartment where she took her first steps.  I want to show her the park she first rode on the swings at and the river that runs through the center of the city, the one that we used to walk past in her stroller.  I want her to experience the sights and the smells and the people, and to appreciate that at one time, this was home. 

"Welcome to Colorful Daegu"

남산 위에 저 소나무 철갑을 두른 듯
바람서리 불변함은 우리 기상일세
가을 하늘 공활한데 높고 구름 없이
밝은 달은 우리 가슴 일편단심일세

"As the pine atop Namsan Peak stands firm, unchanged through wind and frost,
as if wrapped in armour, so shall our resilient spirit.
The Autumn skies are void and vast, high and cloudless;
the bright moon is like our heart, undivided and true."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Everyone falls and spins.

I've been thinking a lot about where I've been the last couple of years lately, and it felt like something I needed to get out.  A lot of my regular blog readers know most of my story, but as I know several of you reading this don't know me from Adam, I'll recount in a little more depth.

Around the time I got married in April of 2008, I weighed about 175 pounds, give or take a few.  My daughter, Cori was born in September of 2009, and I weighed 211 pounds the day she made her arrival.  Over the next 12 months, I managed to get down to 154 pounds, which is when my second child was conceived.  The day that my son, Avery, was born in June 2011, I weighed in at 224 lbs, which was certainly the most I'd ever weighed.  By September of 2012, I had lost 85 pounds through TurboFire and running (okay, and breastfeeding), and was 4 pounds shy of my ultimate goal of 135 pounds. During this month, my brother came home from Afghanistan, and oddly enough, my husband and I separated the same weekend. I was forced to move across the country with my 1 and 2 year old children, and start a new life sans husband/daddy. I had to go back to work since being a stay at home mom didn't pay the bills, and sadly, my son weaned as a result. 

Shortly after, I began a cycle of bad eating, binge drinking, failure to exercise, and a string of other bad habits. I found safety at the bottom of fruity, high calorie drinks that took the edge off of my marital worries, and when I found out about my husband's infidelity that he had covered up time and again, it was clear that our separation would soon become a divorce.  My picture perfect family was over.  My self esteem was at an all time low.  It was then that I tried to find beauty in myself, by finding myself in the beds of men I knew would never respect me.  I convinced myself that what I was doing was normal, not unhealthy at all, and that I was finding myself.  As it turned out, I did find myself, but not before plummeting to a complete depression at the person I had become and the dangerous lifestyle I had fallen into.  Over the previous 5 months, I had gained a total of 54 pounds, and had lost all self respect, with good reason.  Suffice it to say I was absolutely disgusted with myself.

In June 2013, I began training with two ROTC instructors from Furman University, working once again towards my goal of joining the US Army.  I worked with them for several months, and though I lost weight very slowly, and sometimes not at all, I found an unbelievable strength (and not just physical) through the weights I lifted.  I ended up losing about 12 or 13 pounds, and lingered just above 180 pounds.  I struggled hard to hit 165 pounds, the weight required for me to join the military, but I kept at it, and my recruiters and I made plans for me to hopefully leave for basic training over the next several months, so that I would be enrolled in the ROTC program at Furman by the next academic year.  When I blew my knee out in August of 2013, I knew my dreams of being a soldier were undoubtedly gone, but I focused on the injury and another distraction in my life, and didn't put too much thought into the sadness behind it all. 

Just a few short weeks before sustaining my injury, I met Spencer, and had no idea he was going to change my life in huge, huge ways.  We clicked immediately, and our undeniable chemistry had me constantly wanting more.  We took our friendship to the next level, and began dating by the end of August.  My surgery for my knee was in September of 2013, and thus began many grueling months of recovery, and tears, and pain.  In mid-January 2014, I ran for the first time, much to my physical therapist's dismay and something my surgeon had said I may not do again.  It felt incredible, and I knew I wasn't stopping.  I was careful not to re-injure myself, but was absolutely ready to continue my fitness journey, since I'd been sitting at 181 pounds pretty constantly for the last 7 or 8 months.  I was fortunate not to gain a single pound while I was laid up after my surgery. 

I picked up TurboFire off and on, always careful to keep everything low impact, but that didn't keep the workouts quite as fun, and it was harder for me to find motivation to do them.  Still, I kept at them, and also mixed in some of Jillian's 30 Day Shred.  Spencer and I started running together too, something I have loved from the first time we did it.  He motivates me to push harder, and take that extra stride when I'm out of breath and dying to quit.  We don't get to do it much, since we have three little kids between us, but when we do, I really cherish it.

Now that it is April 2014, I am at 165 pounds, and happier than I have ever actually been.  I still have a lot of very real struggles that come with single parenthood, but I am happy with where my life is at, and where I see that it is going.  I have slowly rebuilt my self esteem and when my boyfriend tells me that I'm beautiful (something I haven't heard nor believed in many, many years) or what an incredible mother I am (something I'd never heard), I actually believe him.  I have much respect for the journey my life has taken me on over the years, including the struggles and the triumphs.  I get to wake up to a house full of love, my beautiful children, and my incredible man.  Through the struggle, I never saw myself here, but here I am.  I don't necessarily strive to be 135 pounds again because I've learned through my fitness adventure how little the number on the scale really means, but I do look forward to getting in better and better shape every day, to defining my muscles, and getting stronger, physically and mentally. 

The struggle makes the success even sweeter, my friends.  The struggle makes the success so sweet.