six months of reverse culture shock

Thursday, September 15, 2011: I am leaving the USA today, 6 months after returning home in March from a year living and working abroad in Korea.  After these six months of trying to adjust to my former life in America, and now after reflecting on my experience back home, I can say without a doubt that I suffered from “Reverse Culture Shock,” that uncomfortable and disoriented feeling you get when you don’t quite fit back into your own country after spending an extended amount of time abroad.  There were many times I felt downright depressed about it and wondered, with much bafflement, what on earth happened while I was away.

close to my apartment in Daegu, South Korea

It’s a strange feeling to have, and one that people who haven’t experienced it cannot understand.  I never imagined I would feel this way, having spent over 50 years living in America.  I figured one year living and working in another country could never make me feel like a stranger in my own country.  Yet.  It did.  There is no doubt.  Maybe it is like the feeling you would get if you died and were able to come back to life after being gone for a year.  You would find, I think, that everyone you knew and loved had somehow moved on without you.  The void that you imagined would exist in their lives would have been filled with other people, other activities, other stuff.  All of you that existed would have been sucked up into a big black hole, never to surface again.  Or, maybe, just maybe, given enough time and enough effort, you could pull yourself back out of that black hole and wiggle your way back into people’s lives.  It is said that it takes over a year to do such a thing, and it doesn’t happen easily.

Some of the signs of reverse culture shock include:

  • You’re only vaguely interested in catching up with your old friends, and if you do, you feel like you don’t have so much in common with them any more. This was most definitely the case with me.  I will discuss this below.
  • Nobody cares about your travels, but you’d really love to tell them. I found many times I’d say, “When I was in Korea….” and people would glaze over, totally disinterested.
  • You find it hard to accept some of the ways people do things at home, and you find yourself questioning habits and customs that have been a part of your life for a long time.  The main way I felt this to be the case was with the American health care system.  After experiencing amazing health care in Korea, I wondered why America’s system is so complicated and so expensive.  When in Korea, I could drop into a small hospital (they were almost on every corner), see a doctor within 10 minutes, pay $7, and get a prescription that I got filled within 3 minutes at the pharmacy downstairs.
  • You wish you were back on your trip or living abroad, and you spend a lot of time keeping in touch with the people you met during that experience, or looking over your pictures from your travels, or reading your old blogs.  Or simply daydreaming about the parts of the life abroad that brought you immense pleasure.  Well, that goes without saying.
  • You might feel depressed and anxious.  I did, UNTIL I started teaching my NOVA ESL class!
    my sister and I used to be close…. 😦
  • You encounter people who are possibly intimidated that you have experienced something they haven’t, or maybe they’re just plain irritated that you have done so.  Possibly there is jealousy or just plain disinterest by other people.  Whichever the reason, you find people just don’t know how to engage with you anymore. And neither do you know how to engage with them.  Or maybe, just maybe, nobody feels like making the effort because you seem to have become a non-entity to them and them to you.  Even my own sister, who never made any effort to get together with me when I was home for the summer wrote: “I think that is why calling you is hard.  You have so much to talk about with all u have been through. My life has been relatively uneventful in comparison.  Other than my kids accomplishments, I have a pretty mundane life.” I don’t understand why that would bother her when I have lived the same mundane life for over 50 years!!  But I think her statement says what lots of people were thinking.  Maybe??
this should be home sweet home

Most people don’t imagine that you could be experiencing such a thing.  But it is very real.  I don’t think people really are sympathetic to someone who talks about suffering this reverse culture shock, when they all imagine you have been living this exciting, adventurous life.  And you certainly can’t tell people that they seem close-minded or are making no effort to try to get reacquainted with the “new & improved” or just the “changed” you.

They say that reverse culture shock can last a year, or even longer if you can’t find your place back in your old world.  Since I was only home for 6 months, I was still feeling it when I left home.  Because of this, when I left, I was very happy to get away again.  I wonder if I will become one of those people, like many expats I have encountered, who remain abroad for the rest of their lives.  I hope that won’t be the case because I will still want to be close to my children and hopefully, one day, my grandchildren.  But, I can definitely see the appeal of staying abroad.

In my particular case, though I was excited to be coming home to my family and friends, my excitement fizzled when I saw how these people had changed (or sometimes, not changed) and we had grown apart.

Ed and me at my going away party in February 2010

When I left for Korea in February 2010, I had a close group of friends who ventured out between two horrible blizzards in Washington to throw me a going-away party.  Of these friends, the one I saw the most when I was home was my friend Ed from the State Department.  I saw one girlfriend 3 or 4 times, but things seemed strained.  One of my friends had begun her MFA at George Mason University, and the few times we got together, she felt compelled to bring her new MFA friends along.  Half the time she never responded to my texts or Facebook messages.  One friend from my GMU Master’s program invited me to happy hours and dinner at her house.  But overall, most of my friends had moved on to other activities, other friends.  I wondered what I could have done wrong, but then I realized I couldn’t have done anything wrong.  I was GONE for a year!  What could I have done?  It was hurtful to say the least.

my GMU buddies at the going away party

One time when I was in Turkey, a man told me that when he found someone who didn’t care about him, they became like salt tossed over his shoulder.  I finally came to accept the fact that these friends had moved on and, in my mind, they became like salt thrown over my shoulder.

In my case, I fell right back into the same old routines I had always had.  Everything seemed bland and mundane, too predictable, once again.  I still had to run the same old errands to the same old places.  I still went out, periodically, with friends to the same old haunts.  I had to sit in my same old car in the same old traffic.

adam, me and alex at deep creek lake in august

On the plus side, I got to hang out with my children and with Mike, and I enjoyed that time immensely.  I got to know my boys and my daughter one year onward in their lives.  I got to eat some great food at favorite restaurants, and after Korean food, I could hardly get enough of that!  I got to drink red wine, a rare commodity in Korea.  I got to watch a lot of great movies, in the theater and through Netflix, which I missed while away.  I got to buy some new clothes, which I rarely did in Korea because the styles were so atrocious there.

ballooning in cappadocia ~ something that is always in my dreams 🙂

But, while home, and even now in Oman, I still get flashbacks to little snippets of my life in Korea, Turkey, Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and India.  I still see the bright textiles hanging in shops throughout India; I see the little purple train and the bamboo forests and the immaculate designer gardens in Kyoto; I feel the crisp autumn air  while climbing the Great Wall in China.  I hear the sharp and energetic beats of Korean girl bands and feel the exhilaration of climbing to Gatbawi with Myrna.  I stand in the midst of ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze at Suncheon EcoBay in Korea.  I see and taste and feel the glitter of Turkish lamps, kebabs and feta cheese, the cool walls of the Antik Cave Hotel in Turkey.  I see the skyline with Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  I float with over 40 colorful hot air balloons over the moonscape of Cappadocia.  I taste the steamed fish in banana leaves in Cambodia, feel the rocking and swaying of the junk on Halong Bay in Vietnam.  There is no end to the pleasures I had while living abroad my year in Korea.

There are recommended strategies for dealing with reverse culture shock.  Some of them are as follows:

  • Keep in touch with friends overseas and encourage visitors. I still keep in touch through Facebook, following especially my friends Anna and Seth and Myrna, and keep in touch with my Korean co-teacher Julie. I keep in touch with friends from Turkey and India.  Facebook has made it especially easy to communicate with friends all over the world.  I would have loved to have visitors, but no one I met from abroad came to Virginia to visit.
  • Get involved with anything multicultural. Celebrate your experiences by cooking or eating foods from different cultures, by watching movies and reading books from the countries you lived in or visited, or have dreams of visiting, or by displaying photos and souvenirs in visible places. I went to a Jewish film showing, drank wine to Brazilian jazz in the Sculpture Garden, attended two belly dancing shows, watched Bollywood films, saw Arab films, watched scores of French and Italian movies, read books set in Turkey and Morocco and Oman. I ate Spanish tapas, Lebanese meze, Mediterranean food, and plenty of Thai food.  The best thing was teaching my ESL class at Northern Virginia Community College, where I taught 9 Koreans, 2 Chinese, 1 Vietnamese, and 1 African.  That gave me more pleasure than almost anything else I did while home.
  • Make a big production out of a small trip.  Plan short trips from your hometown and rediscover places you haven’t visited for years. I took a lot of small trips to visit my daughter Sarah in Richmond, my father and my old high school friends in Yorktown, and a family trip to Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland for a week.  But I had traveled a lot over the year and was mainly content to stay at home, especially once I knew I would be going away again.  If I had stayed home longer, I would have tried to venture to Philadelphia (which is surprisingly close to Washington but I have never visited), to Boston, to Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks, Santa Fe, Boulder, Colorado…. the list goes on.
  • Help out friends with travel planning. I didn’t get to do much of this, except with the case of Myrna in Korea, when she asked me a couple of times how to get to the tea plantations in SW Korea (it was already in my blog) and when she was planning her trip to Cambodia.
  • Find a way to make another trip abroad and revel in planning it. The anticipation and the planning of trips is something I get as excited about as actually doing the travel.  I love to dream about a destination, read novels set in that place, read travel books and look through travel guides and the internet.
  • Take a course that keeps you in touch with other cultures – learn a language, or find a cooking class for a cuisine you love to eat.  I never did this while home, though I had intentions to study my Arabic before I came away again.  With my ESL class and then preparing to get ready to leave again, I just didn’t have time.  But if I had stayed longer, I would have considered taking a belly dancing class and a Lebanese Taverna cooking class.
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my first and most amazing college-level ESL class

Friday, August 5, 2011:  Today, I finished teaching my first ever college-level ESL (English as a Second Language) class at Northern Virginia Community College. I ended it with a little party, the movie SuperBad, and individual student conferences.  A crazy ending to a fantastic semester.

I adore these students!

This class was astoundingly fun.  It was an intense high-level Speaking and Listening class.  We met every morning, from 9 a.m. to 11:30, for 10 weeks.  I’ve taught high school English before, and I have taught and tutored Korean elementary students, but teaching at this level was the best of all worlds.  Not only were these students extremely bright, but they were advanced enough that I could do multitudes of amazingly cool activities with them.  They were up to the task!!

I had a blast!  It was the best job I have ever had, one in which I loved getting up in the morning and going to work, one in which I felt depressed on the weekends not to spend time with my students.  Even though early in the semester I spent nearly 3 hours every afternoon preparing for a 2 1/2 hour class, I found this set the groundwork for the entire semester.  Toward the end it got a lot easier.  The class basically ended up teaching itself after we reached the halfway point.

Most of the students in what ended up being my 13-student class were Asians.  Only one was from outside of Asia; she was from Chad in Africa.  We had 9 Koreans, 2 Chinese guys (1 from the mainland and 1 from Hong Kong) and 1 Vietnamese guy.  Many of the Korean boys had already served their mandatory military service, so were a little older, around 23 or so.  My youngest student was 18.

my most amazing class ever ~ Speaking and Listening 1975 with a YouTube video playing on the screen behind ~ Good Vibrations

Since I had been to visit all of their countries (except my African student’s), and had actually lived a full year in Korea, I could totally relate to their lives both in their homelands, as well as in their situation as students living in a foreign country.  We compared stories about culture shock and how hard it is to adjust to life in a foreign country.  I challenged them with interesting topics and activities that pushed them to hugely improve their speaking and listening skills.  I felt so privileged to be able to work with them and in the process of teaching them, I think we became friends. 🙂

me with my class on the lawn outside our classroom

As the focus was speaking and listening, we listened often to news clips from NPR and CNN Student News.  I assigned them a project called “News in a Nutshell,” in which they had to pick their own news clip, present it to the class with new vocabulary words, and then ask probing questions of their classmates.  Besides News in a Nutshell, we also did a project called “This I Believe,” using longer clips from the now discontinued “This I Believe,” a show that used to run on NPR from 2004-2009 about beliefs that people hold dear to them.  They had to pick a clip that expressed their own beliefs and then encourage their classmates to share their own personal beliefs.  Class participation was a large part of their grade.

Having dinner together at a Korean restaurant near campus

Besides news clips, we did a project called Good Vibrations, where they presented their favorite songs, with vocabulary, told about the musician and the meaning of the lyrics, and again asked thought-provoking questions.  I was impressed by the songs they chose, full of deep meaning and controversial topics.

We read three flash fiction stories, “Can-Can” by Arturo Vivante, “Snow” by Julia Alvarez, and “Stockings”by Tim O’Brien, in which they each had to analyze and talk about different aspects of the story in a round-table discussion.  These stories contained issues such as infidelity, superstition, loyalty, love, and the immigrant experience.  We watched the movie Pay It Forward and discussed in great detail issues such as alcoholism, poverty and dysfunctional families as well as the idea of helping people without payback, which was at the core of the movie.

We did a fun Dear Abby type of activity, where they wrote an anonymous problem on a piece of paper and throughout the semester, we discussed solutions to the problem as a class.  We did other note-taking and listening activities and had vocabulary quizzes every week. We learned American idioms and did role plays and group discussions where they had to use the idioms.

In addition, we went on a field trip to the Newseum in Washington and then some of us had a late lunch at Vapiano in Chinatown.  At the Newseum, many of the Korean students were surprised that Korea was rated as only “partly free” for freedom of the press.  The Chinese boys were not surprised that China was rated “not free.”I gave them a scavenger hunt assignment where they had to find specific things on every floor, but as with some of my assignments gone awry, it was too ambitious and overwhelming.  I changed it midway through, telling them only to find one interesting thing on every floor.  On the 4th floor, we saw a piece of the twin tower from 9/11 and found out about problems journalists faced in covering the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  We saw a part of the Berlin Wall and the story behind its fall in 1989.  We saw the bombed car of a journalist who was investigating mafia activity.  We got to act as reporters in the interactive news room, which was a real hoot.

Me with my class at Choong Hwa Woon

Their final project was to do a Power Point presentation about themselves in a format much like those found in online dating profiles, such as OKCupid.  I showed them an example of my own as “Passionate Nomad.”  They had to address questions in their power points such as This is Me…, What I’m doing with my life…, I’m really good at…, The first things people usually notice about me are…, The 6 things I could never do without…, I spend a lot of time thinking about…, My guru told me my future is…, My hairdos over the years…

Shin and me cutting the sweet potato cake

This was most revealing and enjoyable for me because I got to find out so much about my amazing students.  One used to do professional modeling and has a hobby of photography.  She had professional photographs and created a stunningly artistic presentation.  All the students made my Power Point look amateurish by comparison.  One of my boy students did an adorable presentation that took me quite by surprise.  When he put up his slide that said “I spend a lot of time thinking about…”, the other students in the class started laughing.  I looked up and noticed that there was my name at the bottom of the slide with a heart next to it.  He went through the things he thought about and then he said, “And I spend a lot of time thinking about my English teacher…”  The other students laughed and said, “Ahhh, he just wants a good grade!” His face turned bright red and he said, “No, I really think about her and think she is so pretty and nice.”  It was so surprising and so cute… and it really made my day!

Shin, Sze, Jeahoon and Hannah

Between the activities we did, the topics we discussed, and the knowledge and respect I gained for them, we established a wonderful rapport.  Each day held immeasurable pleasure for me. I loved being in their midst and felt more energetic and enthusiastic about life than I have felt in a long time.  I knew after teaching them that teaching college-level foreigners is my destiny, my dream in life.  I thank these wonderful students for this adventure of a lifetime!

The growing certainty within myself that this is my destiny was only enhanced by the thing I did driving to work each morning.  I get an email every morning at 7 a.m. called The Daily Love, founded by a guy named Mastin Kipp.  As I drove to work, stopping at too many stop lights to count, I read snippets of this email on my BlackBerry for inspiration, love and guidance.  Day after day, I grew to realize that I am on the way to achieving my dream of teaching foreign university-aged students in a subject which I love, the English language.   Admiring these students for making a great leap and leaving the comfort of their own countries to venture into a new land brought me a new appreciation for my own personal experience in the previous year, doing just what they’re doing but in reverse, as I lived and worked in Korea.  I know now in my heart of hearts that I’m meant to work abroad, teaching English to university students, following my dual passions of travel and writing.

Song and Changwon

Thursday, September 8: One of my best and favorite students wrote me on Facebook that he’d like us to have dinner together before I leave the country.  He took it upon himself to contact all his classmates and make reservations at a Korean restaurant, Choong Hwa Woon, near the campus.  He managed to get 9 students to come so there were 10 of us altogether.  Apparently my African student moved to Maryland and the other two had class tonight.  On this night, we had torrential downpours and flooding everywhere.  Traffic was a nightmare.  Since they all live close to campus or came directly from class, they all arrived on time.  However, since I came from further afield, had to backtrack at one point due Foxmill Road being totally flooded, and then encountered a horrible backup turning from Pickett Road onto Little River Turnpike, which also had areas of flooding, I was nearly 45 minutes late!!   I told them once I got there that I thought they would mark me tardy, since I marked them tardy to my class if they were even 5 minutes late!  They all laughed at that.

a yummy sweet potato cake that is more like a cross between a pudding and a cake

I was so happy to see them again and spend time in their company.  And I felt honored that they took time out of their busy schedules to meet me again.  They told me they loved my class.  One of my students said it was her first semester in America and her first class, and my class made her feel like she belonged.  She told me she loves my energy.

I’m thankful for the new friends I have in these students and I hope they’ll keep in touch with me as they mature and realize their dreams.  They’re an inspiration to me, as are all immigrants, especially after my own “immigrant” experience abroad!

sarah bear, the monument avenue 10k, and hurricane irene encounters

Friday, April 1:  I travel to my favorite city to see my favorite daughter, Sarah, after not seeing her for over a year.  She’s invited me to come down to Richmond to cheer for her in the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K she’s running on Saturday.  We eat lunch at the Lamplighter, go shopping, and then give her a chance to carb load on Friday night at Pescado’s, a fine Richmond establishment.  Pescado’s presents a vibrant mix of Caribbean and Latin flavors using local, organic, and wild caught ingredients whenever possible. I try some of the amazing Voodoo Shrimp, with wild-caught shrimp, allspice, rum, chorizo, torta round, banana, soft fried egg and Habanero ~ very spicy and delectable!

Dinner at Pescado's
Dinner at Pescado’s

Saturday, April 2:In the morning, I watch as thousands of people run by me on Monument Avenue.  I love the festive atmosphere, the people cheering, the beautiful row houses along Monument Avenue, the rock bands playing festive tunes on every block.  The race enticed 41,314 runners, joggers and walkers to the starting corral on Broad Street, adjacent to Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus. Another 1,900 participated in the Virginia 529 kids run. Many competitors and spectators wore gold and black — the colors of VCU’s Final Four basketball team. I am reminded how much I loved living in Richmond back in the mid-to-late 80s, until I moved to northern Virginia in 1988.  I seriously think that, since I am currently applying for jobs in the U.S. and abroad, I will add Richmond to my job search location.

Sarah runs by at the Monument Avenue 10K
Sarah runs by at the Monument Avenue 10K

After her 10K, which she finishes with flying colors, we walk to Joe’s Inn, her place of employment, for a hearty breakfast and coffee.  Soon after breakfast, I head back home.

over 41,000 runners in the Monument Avenue 10K
over 41,000 runners in the Monument Avenue 10K

At this point, Sarah is finally beginning to reach the point where she is finding her waitressing job painfully boring.  She’s starting to see what a dead-end it is.  My wish for her, of course, is that she comes to accept that she needs to go to school in order to move out of this rut.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she will come to this realization and take the necessary steps to move on with her life.

Sarah victorious after finishing the 10K
Sarah victorious after finishing the 10K

May 1 & 2, 2011: Another trip to Richmond.  This time it is a belated trip to help celebrate her 27th birthday.  We go on a major shopping spree at Urban Outfitters, then have dinner at Edo’s with her friends Daniel and Tommy.  The next morning, we do another major shopping spree at Target and then I head home.

July 3, 2011: Another trip to Richmond to see Sarah.  She’s like a friend these days, rather than a daughter, and I love having dinner with her and sharing a few glasses of wine and chatting.  We’re able to talk about everything.  Underlying everything, however, is my constant wish for her to return to school and finish her studies.  This evening, we eat at another great Richmond restaurant, Tarrant’s Cafe, where I have fried green tomatoes and cheesy stone ground grits with shrimp, bacon, sausage, onions and peppers. She has a dream to be a food writer and you can find her food blog, Let me bite that.

Sarah in her backyard on Hanover Ave.
Sarah in her backyard on Hanover Ave.

Because of her love of food, she always knows the best restaurants to eat in Richmond.  Sharing this passion of hers is something I truly enjoy, almost as I just simply enjoy her company.  She’s smart and creative and she’ll always be the little munchkin who stole my heart.

Thursday, August 25: Today, I get a long formal email from Sarah, addressed to me, her closest friends, and her father and stepmother.  In it, she states her intention to go back to school.  She has signed up for 4 classes and is apparently, after all her wanderings and meanderings, intent on making a go of it this time.  She is cutting back her work hours and is determined to devote time to her studies.  We have all heard this before.  I hope this time she is serious since, as parents, all we really want is our children’s happiness and success.  I think it’s a good sign that she has written out her intentions to all of us.  Somehow writing something like this makes it more concrete.  It makes her accountable.  I hope for the best and wish her all the success she can find in this world.

Saturday, August 27:  I’m driving down to Richmond this afternoon, right as Hurricane Irene is slamming into the East Coast of the U.S.A.  Halfway there, it’s pouring down rain and the trees are dashing themselves about like trolls in a banshee-fest.  Sarah texts me as I reach Fredericksburg a little after noon and says “Just to let you know, my power is now out.”  Since it’s not wise to text and drive, I call her.  She says, I think you should turn around!  I say, no, I’m coming and I’m over halfway there.  I’m not turning around!  She thinks I’m crazy and as I get closer to Richmond, watching the trees carefully along the highway in case one crushes me into pancake-mode, I begin to wonder about my own sanity as well.

Sitting in Sarah's backyard after her birthday celebrations
Sitting in Sarah’s backyard after her birthday celebrations

I arrive and we go in the pouring rain to a little cafe called The Village, where we eat dinner and drink beer to drown our sorrows.  Driving back to her apartment, we see numerous huge trees down in the Fan, with police blocking off the streets.  We decide it isn’t wise to drive around, so we return to her row house where we settle in, put on our pajamas for the long haul, and play Yahtzee by the waning light.  There’s nothing to do, so we take long naps.  When we wake up, she lights candles through her house, calls her friend Daniel, and along with him and her roommate Dawn, we all drink wine and play a rousing game of Hearts.  Sarah decides to cook all the vegetables she has in her refrigerator on her gas stove, and we eat tortilla wraps with the veggies inside.  Yum!  Then we drink more wine and play Yahtzee.

sarah and her vicious little pooch Bagel
sarah and her vicious little pooch Bagel

The kids go out to the front porch to have a smoke, and as we’re standing out there, a fat guy walks by with his pooch.  Sarah has her dog Bagel on a leash, but Bagel bolts for the man and his dog, pulling the leash right out of Sarah’s hands.  A lot of growling is going on and it doesn’t help that the fat man is screaming obscenities at Bagel, whose leash has wrapped around his legs, and at Sarah, who has run out after Bagel and is on the sidewalk trying to untangle the leash from the guy’s legs and pull Bagel away.  The man screams and yells, cursing the F word in every breath and threatening to kill her dog.  He says, This is the 3rd dog that has attacked me this week!  He says, I’m going to press charges!

It’s all a very bad scene and Sarah, who gets easily shaken, is visibly upset.  She has done everything in her power to remedy the situation, including apologizing numerous times to the idiot.  Yet he continues to berate her.  He says to his dog in the most effeminate voice imaginable: Are you all right, baby?  PUKE!  I can’t stand a person like this who is so uptight and has no life obviously.  I can’t keep my mouth closed, of course, and I say, SIR!  Please calm down!  There is no need for this kind of talk.  At that, he turns and calls me the B name and then starts berating me.

sarah's lovely little row house in richmond's fan
sarah’s lovely little row house in richmond’s fan

This is when I can’t stand being in America.  When I encounter people like this guy who obviously hold a grudge against the world and who feels he is entitled to do anything he pleases.  Bagel never bit the man and never hurt him.  And Sarah was nothing but apologetic. She had him properly on a leash, but he just got excited and surprisingly pulled the least out of Sarah’s hands.  This is life.  Accidents happen.

Later, the guy walks by us again.  He’s on the phone talking loudly to the police, who obviously have more important things to attend to after the hurricane this afternoon.  He says, “Yes, well please call me back!  I intend to press charges.”  I say, after he hangs up and walks by, reiterating that he intends to press charges, that we will reverse the charges and press charges against him.  He says, “For what?” I say, for threatening to kill!

We go back into the house at which time I advise Sarah that if that man ever speaks to her, she should totally ignore him.  I find this is the best way to treat any annoying person.

We finish our game of Yahtzee and drink more wine, trying to recover from this nasty encounter with our fellow-man.  What a loser.

Sunday, August 28: In the morning, Sarah fixes us another breakfast of scrambled eggs and mushrooms and spinach on her gas stove.  She makes toast in a griddle on the stovetop.  She heats water in a kettle and makes coffee in a French press.  We are still without power.  I leave early as there is no point in sticking around with nothing to do.

Monday, September 5: I originally didn’t intend to make another trip to Richmond, but three things brought me back.  One, since we had no power and were stuck inside last weekend during Hurricane Irene, we didn’t get to go out for dinner and imbibe in our usual fashion.  Second, I left my watch and my rain jacket at Sarah’s house.  And third, I thought I would combine this trip with a journey to Yorktown to visit my dad.

Mexican pizza at Timberbelly Tavern
Mexican pizza at Timberbelly Tavern

I take Sarah shopping at Urban Outfitters, her most favorite and my least favorite place.  After that, we are both hungry, so we go to a place on Main Street called Bellytimber Tavern, a cozy bar with cool and sleek decor, which is famous for wood-fired pizzas.  I am bizarrely drawn to the Mexican pizza with chorizo, Valentina (a kind of hot sauce), queso blanco, red onion, tomato, lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream.  Sarah orders the Shrimp Pesto Pie with basil-walnut pesto, fontina and Parmesan.  Yum!  We have a few glasses of wine, toasting to new beginnings for both of us: she is back in school now and I am going to Oman.

Shrimp Pesto Pie
Shrimp Pesto Pie

While there a big burly bald man with a tiny gray goatee strikes up a conversation with us, introducing himself as Mike.  I excuse myself for a bathroom break and when I come back, he stops me.  “So, you’re going to Oman, huh?”  “Oh, my daughter’s been filling you in?”  We chat a bit and he tells me I’m very pretty; it’s too bad I’m leaving.  Then he asks for my phone number.  Strange that, as what’s the point after all?  I’ll be gone in 10 days…. 🙂  And I don’t even live in Richmond….

We go back to Sarah’s cozy row house, where we watch several episodes of a TV sitcom I’ve never even heard of: Parks and Recreation, which is quite cute.  I’m so out of the loop with American TV.  All I’m used to is watching American violent action dramas on Korean TV (CSI or equivalent), or listening to the Korean version of MTV, or having unintelligible Korean dramas on in the background in my little room.

my lovely little redhead
my lovely little redhead

Tuesday, September 6: Sarah makes me a lovely little breakfast of scrambled eggs, mushrooms, and smoked mozzarella cheese along with coffee. I run her to Barnes and Noble and Target for a few school books and household items.  I drop her off and then go meet Charlene at River Walk in Yorktown for lunch.  It’s great to catch up with her, although I’m afraid I mostly tell her about going to Oman.  I’m such a bad friend…. 😦

Then on to visit my dad and Shirley, where we sit and talk, have a lovely dinner, and I take off to read a new book I’ve gotten hooked on, The Likeness by Tana French.

Goodbye to this part of my family.  I guess I’ll only see you on Skype over the next year (unless you come to visit)… 😦