The Elderly and the Invalid

Yesterday, as I was on the last subway car heading home after work, a blind man got onto the train. Normally (and by normally, I mean in the US) I don’t pay too much attention to blind people as they pass by with their canes or seeing-eye dogs, but to note a feeling of respect for how they are living their lives without vision and still functioning in society.

Here though, it is slightly different. This is not to say that I have any less respect for the blind or any other impaired demographic in Korea, in fact, I have more. Let me tell you why.

On several ocasions my commute on the subway and the intense “I-am-only-paying-attention-to-my-immediate-surroundings-which-is-strictly-limited-to-three-inches-from-my-nose” feeling you get while riding is disrupted when a blind person (either male or female, usually elderly, but not always) gets onto the train and walks through each car. Sometimes these individuals have canes, but oftentimes they do not. Usually they have a small radio tied around their necks so they are heard – they don’t tend to speak. They hold in front of them either a box or plastic wicker basket to collect donations. So, at first, I am amazed that 1: they can get onto the subway and manage their way through variously crowded cars with nothing to hold onto. They just go. They walk slowly, to let enough people to realize and acknowledge their presence so as to give money. 2: on the one occasion where two (I am guessing a couple, but could be wrong) people got on, that really, this is how these people make a living and how they survive. 3: so many people do not look up, nor take notice of the people in front of them – making noise – in need.

On other occasions, elderly people (usually women) get on and try to sell gum. You can see in their face, if you LOOK, that they have such determination. Like, if they sell just one more box of xyletol, they will be OK. This was the case one day on our way to Insadong (I think). A little old lady got on, and she had to have been pushing 90, and she walked through with her boxes of xyletol. She looked SO hopeful and she smiled so pleasantly. You could tel that she was a nice person, just from her happy demeanour. As I watched (and at the time, I didn’t know what xyletol was, so, no I didn’t buy any) NO ONE looked at her. She help gum near enough to several people that they could have smelled the gum or her. Maybe one person out of the 60 in the car took enough notice to buy a box. I saw her face after that too, she looked ecstatic (as much as a 90-year-old lady can). Right there, on that train, I started to cry. Jason will confirm this. It was a good thing that our stop was coming up.

Sometimes, people will kneel down on the stairs of a subway station entrance and assume the child’s pose. You only see that there is a person and that person will have a box for collecting donations. You never see their face, they don’t even move when money is put into their collection box. Jason says this is a way to sort of protest the “I-am-only-paying-attention-to-my-immediate-surroundings-which-is-strictly-limited-to-three-inches-from-my-nose” mentality that you find running rampant here. These people are in the way, so you HAVE to take notice, or you will fall and hurt yourself.

Once, while we were going to Costco, there was a younger man who had the WORST case of scoliosis I have ever seen (but for the PBS or Discovery Health documentary about these doctors in Africa who were helping little kids by providing free corrective surgery). He was just walking through, a collection box strung around his neck. But, he had the BEST smile. Jason and I usually stand on the subway on short trips, so I was facing Jason at the time. I saw the man out of the corner of my eye, and I thought it strange that he had his head tilted to the side the way he did. He would stand in front of people (who didn’t notice or acknowledge him) for a few seconds, before moving on to the next few people. As he passed, I saw in the reflection on the door’s window, that he was actually physically deformed. I looked up at Jason, because I didn’t want to look, because I didn’t want to cry. But, as I was looking at Jason, Jason smiled, and waved. This caused me to turn and find what Jason was waving at. Sure enough, the man was waving at us, smiling brilliantly. I tried REALLY hard to not cry. I almost did.  

On my way to work, around Gangnam (not just on the way to my office, but around the area in general) there are MANY men who beg on the road. They usually have no legs, while some also have no arms. They play what sounds like 1950’s Korean opera music from a tape recorder attached to a push cart that also holds their donation boxes. Most people don’t even look at them, but some do. These guys inspire me… they are out there no matter the weather, while they can maneuver.

While riding the subway, I was stationed close to the door so I could jump off and not have to push my way through the hoards… at one or two stops before mine, an elderly woman with no legs in a wheel chair was trying to get on. From no where, a young guy (early to mid twenties) just pushes her on. I like to think that people are good and kind here, not that he was moving her out of his way. I almost cried that day too.

Every day, as I walk to the subway near our apartment, I walk through a lovely park. Roughly 3 days a week, if I am on time, I will see an older gentleman walking. He takes a walk from the subway (I know this because I have seen him in the station as well) and -I imagine- around the perimeter of the park; the park is pretty hilly in the interior, but the path around it is flat. There are a lot of older people who walk in this park. I noticed this man more because he seems to be walking as a way to recover from a stroke. As he walks, his arms are bent at 90 degree angles and set out a little ways from his body (for balance), his steps are short, his feet drag – one more than the other seems stronger. And this man has been doing this fairly regularly for the last several MONTHS. Not only that, he was doing it this morning… it was SNOWING this morning with about a two-inch accumulation. He doesn’t make me cry, he makes me feel inspired.

So, back to the blind man I saw on the subway yesterday. Remember how I said that the blind people will have a small radio around their necks? Well this very distinguished looking man had no radio. However, he did have a voice. He sang (in a slightly raspy and cracking voice) some random song in Korean. I was very amazed and totally in awe of that.

**I would love to help and donate. I never have change anymore… I have piggy banks. They get my change. I did make Jason give some of his pocket change to one of the men in Gangnam though. He bowed his head in thanks. I know it’s not nearly enough to make their lives any easier though. But the amount of people here who need to beg for money or sell boxes of gum in order to make a living, is insane. I do know that nuns will meet the people working the subway trains… perhaps they are acting in some sort of rehabilitory capacity. I don’t know.

For Whatever Reason…

I have been really into ‘homemade’ these last few weeks. Now, I have been baking yummy treats here in Seoul since I got here (using Jason’s toaster oven at first) and now I am endeavoring to move beyond home-baked.

This all started because Jason has his World of Warcraft and I have no tried and true hobbies aside from reading sporadically, writing sporadically, and facebooking religiously. I do play WoW with Jason, I even have a level 70 paladin. But, after a long day of staring into a computer monitor, I needed to establish hobbies away from the desk. Thus I turned to baking. It’s fun, and delicious. I can’t complain about that. And, while I am trying to decrease the sugar intake, I will continue to bake some things, such as breads. Bread here isn’t all that expensive, but homemade bread has that added appeal of being homemade (you know what is in there).

On days when I have very little going on at work, I tend to google. I google recipes and home furnishings. I also google crafts. So, I landed on knitting one day. I was taught how to knit by Donna a few years ago, but never really got too into it. However, since I already knew how to do it – sort of – I deciding it would become my new hobby.

I did a little research, and since we’re (Jason and I) are already planning on more of an agrarian lifestyle when we get back to the States, I thought it would be awesome to have some sheep and alpaca for wool. To make yarn. Then, of course, animal colored yarn isn’t so exciting, I would have to dye it. So now I am thinking that I could make my own yarn, from scratch. This would allow me to knit to my heart’s content, while also resting happily in the knowledge that ‘I know where it came from’. Do I sound like a tree huger yet?

So after considering this whole yarn thing, I want to branch out… soap. I want to make my own soap. I have seen a few documentary videos about the process… it looks tough but amazing. The whole idea behind it would be to use natural ingredients that help your skin (I have combination skin… boo) like oatmeal and the like. I would like to try it here, in Korea, but I imagine that finding supplies, or explaining them to Sonya (my very helpful, loves-to-shop coworker who helps me with buying online) would be exceedingly difficult. So, I will hold off on that. For now.

While I was considering soap, I also considered paper. Making your own paper sounds so awesome. I read about the process (very smelly) and it sounds so fun. This hobby would defiantly be for “upon return” because, again, the supplies. Here to, you get the “I know what’s in there” feel, as well as the sence of accomplishment – I made this.

So, back to knitting…

A few weekends ago, I finally worked up the nerve to hit up the yarn & needle shop near our apartment. Actually, the lady was outside (normally she’s inside with her Pomeranian – which is understandable because she appears to have a sever leg deformity which looks painful and inhibits her ability to walk -and probably stand- for very long) and I picked out a 10,000KWN bag of purple yarn and a 500KWN pair of circular knitting needles (used more for knitting items such as hats, socks, sleeves – anything that needs to be connected in a circle). I let those sit undisturbed for about two weeks before starting. I made sure to watch several youtube and wiki-how videos about casting-on and knitting to refresh my memory.

I stayed home sick last Tuesday, the worst day of the 5 day cold I had. Monday was Korean Memorial Day, so I ended up with a nice (even while ill) 4 day weekend. On Tuesday, I began knitting a scarf. It’s the easiest and most rudimentary thing to knit for beginners. But, after knitting for a few hours (trial and error) and only a few inches of my scarf visible, I elected to take the huge mess of yarn and work it into something more manageable… a ball. So, for the next three days I untangled that mess of yarn… PAIN IN THE NECK! Basically, when I took the yarn out of its package and started knitting from the one end, the whole thing became so entangled that -yes- is took about 10 hours to untangle it. Had I been actually knitting that whole time, I would probably have a decently sized scarf by now. But, this IS a practice run. I intend on using the entire amount of yarn on this one scarf… at least then I will have something for next winter.

Jason wants me to knit him a 3-armed sweater. As a joke, of course…

On another note… Passover is coming up… I wonder if I can find a recipe for matzoh???