Tuesday, June 30, 2009


A Point of Tension

Sometime last July (the exact date escapes me) I attempted to bench press 210 pounds four times. Well, I didn't just attempt, I succeeded, but I've never been the same since.

The next day a pain in my upper left pectoral began to throb, and soon it had spread all over the shoulder area. It lingered mostly in the region where the arm and the shoulder connect. At first I decided to hold off on the lifting for a few months.

In October I tried lifting some light weights at home, and after a few times it started acting up again. I went to a doctor at the hospital where Catherine works, but he mostly dealt with spinal problems and didn't have much to tell me except to rest (a very common suggestion among doctors, I find).

There was another doctor at her hospital who was an orthopedic specialist, but I had trouble arranging appointments with him because of my schedule, in which I traveled from Chuncheon to Seoul and back almost every day. When I finally did get to see him in March, he said there was a bit of fluid between the arm and shoulder bone caused by repetitive exercise. He advised me not to lift (except leg exercises, plus bicep curls were okay) and also to avoid putting my left arm above my head or behind my back.

He seemed confidant that within a month it'd be okay.

Well, I can't say I followed his advice perfectly (do you ever really think about how often you put your arm behind your back over your head?) but I followed closely enough that it should've gotten better, I think. It hasn't, though, and I've had recurring painful inflammation in that area every time I've been required to lift something, even a relatively light box over my head while working around the house.

I saw the same doctor in early June, and this time he gave me some plastic bands for exercises designed to strengthen my shoulder muscles. I used them for about three days, after which I could tell that if anything they were making it worse.

This drove me to consider acupuncture. I've had it done before; first when I was really sick in Suncheon about three years ago, and then last year when I severely sprained my ankle and it swelled up like a water balloon. I could see an obvious effect in terms of how the swelling diminished, so I figured it would be worth a try in this case.

I first went yesterday, and found it to be nothing like the acupuncture I received before. Usually they put lots of needles in the point of injury and in a few other places. This time, after I told the doctor the problem, he had me lie on a bed with a heating pad over my shoulder for about 10 minutes. Then he came in and poked me several times with a needle on my shoulder, back, arm and side. Didn't leave it in, just poked.

Then, he poked the spots on my shoulder seen above with a smaller needle, drawing blood. His assistant attached small bottles to the sites he poked, catching the blood while leaving me with the bruised areas you see. After leaving the bottles attached for several minutes, they then attached a kind of electronic massaging device, which left a pair of lesser marks, one of which you can see in the pics if you look closely enough.

After that, I was done, and he told me to come back the next day if it still hurt.

As of today the pain had diminished, but some remained, so I returned to the acupuncturist again. I received the same treatment, except this time the electronic massage came before the stabbing with the small needle. I feel a little soreness in that area (and quite a bit from the poking with the needle), but we'll see if it continues tomorrow. I don't know how any of this is actually supposed to help, but I didn't know last year and it seemed to then.

I would like to begin exercising more vigorously again, though I doubt I'll ever attempt to bulk up through lifting heavy again. Right now, I'd settle for being able to lift a box over my head without feeling it for three days afterward.

We'll see how it goes.


Monday, June 29, 2009


Childcare in Korea: Don't Sweat It

Someday if anyone asks me what the aftermath of my son Daniel’s birth felt like, I will probably be able to say, without hesitation, that it was very humid.

Korean tradition dictates that a brand new mother should not be exposed to things that are too cool, fearing that a sudden drop in temperatures could potentially be fatal. I’m sure that there is an anecdote dating back to this country’s agrarian past that can explain why new mother’s should avoid things like bathing, air conditioning, short sleeves and Nicholas Cage’s recent film career, and one day I’ll look it up.

(While I’m at it, I’ll painstakingly research what it is that makes them believe leaving the fan on at night can kill you, and why Koreans believe themselves to be genetically prone to mad cow disease.)

In the meantime, all I know is that my wife observes this traditional view, basically for the same reason Americans elect a vice president: not out of a conviction that it is necessary, but because it’s always been done. It’s not like I wasn’t warned it would be like this; back in September, when we were newly wed, my wife told me she would prefer not to have a baby in the summer months because it gets very humid here and we wouldn’t be able to use A/C.

But, to quote millions of first-time fathers everywhere: “Oops.”

Daniel was born in the middle of June as temperatures soared and millions of Koreas lay in bed sweating for fear of turning their electric fans on, my wife went into labor. Approximately 20 hours later, after my son had been delivered via c-section, we were together in the hospital room, and I had to decide on my sleeping arrangements for that night.

I knew I couldn’t leave the hospital, because my heavily sedated wife might need something, and then I’d have to spring into action, and call one of the nurses who might be able to understand what she was mumbling in Korean. In order that I might perform this vital service, I chose to sleep on the couch in the hospital room.

On that sultry not-technically-summer evening with no air conditioner and all the windows and doors shut, I had a dilemma: Should I sleep with a shirt on and sweat out an extra kilogram, or should I take my shirt off and risk terribly embarrassing the female Korean nurses, most of whom react to the site of a shirtless man the way an American nun might if she accidentally walked into the Cincinnati Bengals’ locker room?

Ultimately, I chose to latter option because, if a nurse should walk in before I was awake and fully dressed, I was confidant that I’d have perspired enough to give the blanket a certain adhesiveness.

The next day my wife and I were given the opportunity to view our offspring at designated times. My first glimpse at him was in the evening, when they allowed me to view him from behind a glass door. From that position, there wasn’t much I could do except look at him, snap a few photos and compare his appearance to that of the previous day. I can definitely say that, on day two, he looked a lot less red.

I’m guessing we weren’t let near him because the people here are concerned about germs; new parents rarely have visitors over to their homes for the first several weeks for that reason, after all. Still, when I relate this to female friends, they are often outraged that I wasn’t allowed to hold Daniel right away. I did get to do so on day three, though, and got to experience the two timeless sentiments felt by new fathers everywhere.

The first of these is “I’m not going to break him, am I?” and the second is “Does it hurt to be in debt?” It is kind of a shame I couldn’t have gotten those out of the way on day one or two.

On the fourth day my wife took over, by which I mean she began feeding. Although, since she began answering his cries every couple of hours when Daniel was ready to eat again, the expression “took over” might not be correct, as it implies she was in some sort of control. Still, it meant that both of us would get to see him with much greater frequency.

This situation repeated itself for several days, until on June 22nd, when he was six days old, Daniel and his mother came home for good. Now we’re together in a place where there’s still no air conditioning, we have to answer to his cries every couple of hours, and begin planning how we’ll react to the decades’ worth of needs he’s going to have.

Even if it weren’t summer, I’d still have many reasons to sweat.

Friday, June 26, 2009


You're Weelcome

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That's My Boy

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Korean Childbirth: Pain, Exhaustion, Funny Hand Gestures

Around 3 a.m. on the morning of June 16th, the light came on in the room where I slept. It had been turned on by my wife Catherine, who told me that the labor pains had begun three days early. My first response was the same as any I’m likely to give when awoken at the time of night, which is to utter a word commonly classified by it’s four-letter constitution.

But rather than groaning and rolling over as I normally would, I sprung upward, looking for articles of clothing appropriate for covering the legs, torso and feet and putting on the first three such items, regardless of color scheme or whether they were, technically speaking, mine.

I was still straightening, tightening and loosening them as I made my way toward the car minutes later, and my wife was still packing the belongings we required in between her periodic need to sink to her knees and scream.

It would’ve been a tumultuous occasion under most any circumstance, but it was further complicated by my wife’s decision to go to Seoul on the 14th to retrieve some useful articles from her mother’s house and bring them back to our home in Chuncheon, which is two hours away. It was even more convoluted by her decision to stay in Seoul through the 16th, even though our hospital remained two hours away in Chuncheon.

So, rather than having to run two or three red lights between our apartment and the hospital, I had to disregard dozens of crimson traffic regulation devices stretched out over the highway between our home and my mother-in-law’s. Furthermore, this is a route I still don’t know perfectly well, and was rather fearful that my wife might say, “Okay, turn left overrraAAAAARGH!”, causing me to miss the exit completely.

Fortunately, her contractions did not precisely coincide with any important exits, and we made it to Hallym University Medical Center in good time. Once we reached the emergency room my wife, a nurse at said hospital, was greeted by numerous effervescent-looking nurses, all of whom recognized her and greeted her in a manner that seemed altogether too cheerful for the occasion.

Having watched Catherine grow throughout the previous nine months while carrying a half-foreign baby, her coworkers were clearly waiting for this day with no small amount of anticipation.

“Is the baby coming?” I heard them ask in Korean.

“YeeaAAAAARGH!” my wife answered, using a phrase commonly recognized by speakers of both languages.

Soon she was in a hospital bed and I was sitting beside it, offering a hand to squeeze every time she felt a contraction. Now, many of you may be wondering what the process of childbirth is like in Korea. Having not been through said process in any other country, but having lived here nearly four years, I’m guessing it’s like every other experience for the Western expatriate in this country: It’s like what you’d find at home, only there’s a language barrier and some clothes that are too small.

While I sat beside her bed in a robe and slippers, both of which were required by the hospital and both of which were designed for someone significantly shorter than 6’3, the non-English speaking nurses would occasionally need to tell me something.

To anyone who may experience the same thing, I’d recommend watching the non-verbal cues. For example, the nurse who appears to be imitating a goldfish probably wants you to encourage correct breathing habits; the one making a scissors-like motion with her fingers probably is asking you if you’ll cut the umbilical cord.

Others among you may be wondering what this experience is like from the soon-to-be father’s perspective. Okay, you’re probably not; pretty much every male with a pregnant wife quickly learns that nobody really cares about his perspective, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

Picture al-Qaeda taking one of your relatives captive and having 18 hours worth of activities planned for him or her. Now imagine that the awareness that such activities are underway weren’t enough; you are in fact there to see them. Then, imagine that you, thanks to the gender you were born into, are actually responsible for the torture taking place.

It didn’t take more than a couple of hours for me to regret having put my wife in this position. By hour six I was sorry for all women who’ve had to bear a child. By hour 12 I regretted ever having used a lavatory while standing up. Near the end, I was wondering if it were possible for me to be reborn as a snail or some other creature in which both parents lay the eggs.

After three-quarters of a day had passed, the doctors eventually decided that not enough progress was being made and that the baby would need to be removed via c-section. When the decision was finalized, my wife cried a final time, and I don’t think it was from pain. I think she was honestly disappointed in herself because she, a five-foot-two Korean woman, couldn’t pass a nearly eight-pound, 23-inch object through her lower extremities naturally.

I don’t understand why that would be a source of shame, but by then I was too busy thinking about snails to figure it out.

I do know that the operation itself was a success and my son, Daniel James was born a little after 8 p.m. Soon my wife was released from the operating room and we were united: a newborn baby unable to do anything but cry; a highly sedated new mother unable to do anything but mutter in Korean, and an emotionally shattered new father muttering about the mating habits of gastropods.

Not the best start for a new family, but I guess there have been worse.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009


Change Has Come

I picked up my mother-in-law from the train station about three hours ago. My wife told me to take her to the apartment so that she could "arrange something," then take her to the hospital to stay the night.

Apparently "something" was equivalent to "the entire house." In less than three hours, I'm not sure she has left anything where it was originally sitting. If she can ever stop herself, I'll take her to the hospital, then come back here and sleep alone, probably for the last time in a long while.

Tomorrow they all come home to stay. Tomorrow I also start working from home, editing materials on my home computer rather than traveling to Seoul. It should give me more time to spend with my wife, as well as with the little guy.

I don't how I'm going to adjust to living with him, but frankly speaking, living with her is more an object of concern for me. Woe unto any who would stand between an ajuma and a clean house.

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Friday, June 19, 2009


Me & My Boy

I haven't had much alone time with him yet, but when I have, I'm overcome by two feelings. One is that this person in my hands is a marvel of nature and God's handiwork. Two is that I'm in way over my head right now.

Fortunately I haven't had time to dwell on the latter. I know I want him to have more chances than I did, but the most important thing is that he feels the same kind of love that I did from my family. I have to concentrate on that, and hopefully the chance to provide him with all those opportunities will come later.

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An Eye-opener

Today my son finally opened his eyes long enough for us to get pics of them. To see more, go see them on Facebook here.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Daniel's Second Day

On Wednesday I was allowed to see Daniel through the glass door while the nurse held him. I took as many pictures as I could from as many angles as possible. People have already told me he looks like me, and this was the first time I really saw it.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Daniel's Pics

This is as close as I've gotten to Daniel so far, but I have more photos on Facebook, which you can see here.

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It's a Boy!

After approximately 18 hours of labor, Daniel James York was born at 8:19 p.m. Korean time via c-section. He weighed 3.5 kilos, or 7.7 pounds. There will be pictures soon, but right now we're all really tired.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


The Meat of the Matter

As a Seventh-day Adventist, I have always had to explain a lot of things to people. In high school, I had to clarify that I didn’t attend football games on Friday nights because that’s part of our Sabbath, in which we don’t buy, sell or participate in worldly entertainment, high school athletic contests included.

Truthfully, religious reasons are taken more kindly to than statements such as, “Whether or not the larger members of our student body are more adept at the strategic movement of an oval-shaped piece of leather than the larger members of a neighboring school’s student body does little to make me feel better about attending here.”

Whenever I get a new job, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll have to reveal that I don’t drink alcoholic beverages because of the holiness of God’s temple, by which I refer to the human body.

Of course, religious reasons are more readily accepted in this case than other statements, such as, “Office camaraderie is not worth spending $25 tonight on a drink that’ll cause me to come home at 5 a.m., not knowing how I got there.”

And then, of course, there’s meat. SDAs have a complicated relationship with foods that come from animals, and one not easily understood by non-SDAs. I identify with the more liberal strand of the faith that is okay with eating beef and has been known to vote Republican.

Those of us from this wing of the church generally avoid discussing such issues with the conservatives, who are morally opposed drinking skim milk and think Republican and Democrats are both part of a Satanic plot to form one-world government.

(Come to think of it, maybe I should identify myself as moderate, because there’s some real wisdom to that latter argument.)

One thing that we definitely see eye-to-eye on is pork, which practically none of us eat. This one thing that unites us, however, separates us from practically everyone else. Every time there’s a company function where pizza is ordered, the pie is guaranteed to have pepperoni or some other swine based product on it.

Every time I go to a restaurant, there’s at least one entrée I might enjoy, except I’d have to ask them to remove the bacon, and they’ll almost certainly forget to.

And these days, ever time I go out with those in my Korean workplace for dinner, I have to remind them that if I must feast on the flesh of lower life forms, I really must insist that it be of the bovine assortment. Fortunately, most people I’ve worked with have been accommodating of my dietary preferences, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want an explanation now and then.

Pork isn’t the only meat that we avoid, but others are easier to explain, including catfish (“Do you know what those things eat?”) and squid (“No thanks, I’m American.”).

There are practical reasons for not eating pork; I could cite its fat content, or the fact that I grew up next to a pig farm, where a shift in wind direction after feeding time can ruin one’s whole day. Then there are more theological reasons, such as its place in the Leviticus. Most people, especially those who aren’t churchgoers themselves, tend to take that as the end of the argument.

Every now and then, one runs into someone who isn’t a churchgoer, but has done quite a bit of reading. “Isn’t that the same part of the Bible that says people can be executed for blasphemy?” they sometimes ask rhetorically, terribly impressed with their own literacy.

“Yes, it is,” I may reply. “It’s also the part that says it’s wrong to defraud your neighbor or see your daughter-in-law in a state of undress, so it can’t all be wrong.”

Regardless of what we believe, most SDAs learn to live with and among those who believe differently than us. After all, it’s up to us to prove the merits of our beliefs, which is much more effect way of winning the contest of ideas than demanding that others follow along.

(Incidentally, U.S. News and World Report recently reported that the average American SDA has a life-expectancy of 89, 10 years longer than the national average.)

For me, the contest of ideas will be taking place on a much more personal stage; my wife attends church with me on Saturdays but is not yet a member. The dietary restrictions of SDAs are among the biggest barriers to her joining. After years of eating pork habitually, she doesn’t yet feel ready to stop. I can relate; if it were proven to me tomorrow that eating pork was, well, kosher, I doubt I’d be able to break my 30-year habit of hating it.

Soon we will have a son, and if trends continue he’ll have to choose which idea he prefers. On one side lies public acceptance, a wider range of restaurant entrees to choose from, and avoidance of the discomfort that comes with scrutiny into one’s personal views.

On the other lies a longer lifespan that one can use to better enjoy the endless pleasures of veggie-meat.

I hope he chooses wisely.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Why Eating Out is Like Shark Research

We all have roles we just seem to fall into from our youth, be it the natural leader, the good listener or the born entertainer. One of the earliest roles I assumed was that of the kid who distrusted all the food served at church functions.

Older ladies from all over Henry County, Tennessee would spend hours preparing elaborate dishes for church potluck, only to be met with my furrowed eyebrows as I slowly backed away. This was a great source of consternation to my parents, who found this socially embarrassing and probably wondered if I might lose so much weight as to disappear into our plumbing one night while showering.

Just by looking at certain foods I’d instantly be able to tell that I could never keep them in my mouth long enough to swallow. I could never form a rational argument as to why, though, so I mostly answered with a shake of the head.

“Come on, Rob,” my exasperated parents would say. “You’ll never know unless you try it.”

Perhaps the most common critique of the picky eater like myself is that he or she creates great inconvenience for others. What those offering the criticism can’t seem to understand is the sense of comfort it creates, especially when eating out.

Such situations may be easy to avoid in one’s teen’s years, when one can survive on a diet of dairy, cereal, sweets and sodium even while taking part in sporting activities. However, age tends to result in more social obligations, plus a metabolism that requires actual nutrients.

This is actually a situation picky eaters can thrive in, because we establish early on what foods we like or don’t like. But even now I consider eating out to be a little like doing research into the daily routines of sharks: It’s beneficial, and can even be exhilarating, but it carries undeniable risk.

For us there are few things in life more relieving than to look over a lengthy menu, densely packed with unfamiliar words and spot a single entry one recognizes, be it a hamburger, cheese pizza or spaghetti with conventional tomato sauce. Suddenly, one then recognizes that the chances of his receiving an odd concoction of unfamiliar ingredients that he’ll spend more time scrutinizing than eating has considerably diminished.

But if one feels the need to greatly expand his/her personal menu, the two most effective ways to do it are 1) earnestly seek to try more things at your local restaurants, even in a place like Henry County, Tennessee, or 2) force yourself by choosing to live somewhere very far and very different from your home town.

Living in a place like Korea is especially good, because in a country where you speak none of the native language you get used to having to eat whatever’s in front of you, or at least trying to.

It’s also good because Korean food, which uses a lot of spicy ingredients offers a handy and easily believable excuse should it not be to your liking: All a foreigner has to do is hold his mouth open and start fanning frantically with his hand. You may not know a single word in common, but Koreans recognize this as the universal gesture meaning, “Too spicy!”

In fact, even if you react in such a way while having a dish with no actual spice, such a bowl of plain rice, so generous are the Korean people that they will assume you are really sensitive.

Sooner or later, though, the list of different kinds of foods one is willing to ingest can’t help but grow. Eventually, you’ll find that dishes consisting almost entirely of rice, vegetables and spicy sauce become endearing and you’ll actually start craving them at about the same time every night.

Korea has been globalized to the extent that there is a McDonalds and a Kentucky Fried Chicken (seriously) on practically every block, but Korean food is usually cheaper because it actually costs about a dollar more per serving for major fast food chains to push you one step closer to a coronary embolism.

Another advantage of living in a large metropolitan city such as Seoul, as opposed to Henry County, Tennessee, is that there is a wider variety of foods to try. Chinese and Japanese are quite good, but my preference is Indian because it shares the unique trait with Korean cuisine that I most look for: If eaten too fast, it will deprive you of your ability to taste anything ever again.

Hot, spicy Indian and Korean cuisine is not just the kind of thing you taste; it’s the kind of thing you overcome.

I will always remain somewhat of a picky eater, always refusing to eat a dish with more than two ingredients I can’t instantly recognize. Few things, though are more rewarding than knowing that you’ve grown closer to someone just by trying a food from their native land. In addition to relationship you foster, you may bring a new taste into your life that you’ll not only enjoy, but get to lord over your family when they come to visit.

“Come on guys,” you may say deviously to your skeptical parents with furrowed eyebrows, “you’ll never know unless you try it.”

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