Homesickness struck me quite suddenly and with unexpected for. I'm not homesick in the way of Dorothy searching for her Aunt Em. My rootless childhood, which is to say my mother leapfrogged from place to play trying to keep ahead of child services until I was fourteen and that all fell apart. Foster care left me a temporary visitor and anchor-less from then on. In some ways it was better. I could pack up and just go, which I did.
Starting over is exciting and good. Yet the novelty of leaving everything behind but the clothes you can squeeze into a suitcase gets old fast. These facts are part of the reason I settled so well in South Korea. It's not for everyone, trust me. And the things that you miss are unexpected.
Like last night I opened the tv website that lets people watch some TV while abroad and there was an enormous list of shows I'd never heard of. Suddenly there it was, melancholy and a sense of loosing my American identity. My identity is hardly Korean either. I can't speak Korean to save me life -the reasons are multi-fold, but comes down to commitment.
You know what I miss the most right now? Jello and pudding. Don't ask me why. Perhaps its a bereavement of sorts, a kind of nostalgia you might feel after looking at old photos. The feeling returned to me as I was riding my E-bike to work today, listening to an audio book.
But I realized even these acts far remove my Korean experience from others that come here. Because this is my life, a road less traveled since birth really. The melancholy will pass, but I may need to take a trip to the states just to be American for ten days... circle the parking lot until a space opens close to the supermarket instead of walking to the market like I do now. I'll only end up frozen in the isles of the mart-- choice stupor. Take cereal for example. I'll have fifty or more flavors compared to the five or so here.
Which will lead to another homesickness, this time for South Korea.
The vet came last week. Or the week before. I'd have to look to be sure. Anyway, last week I rode Super for the first time in a month. Because I got to the farm so late, I saddled him up in time for the gloaming and by the time I finished groundwork it was full on dark.
I moved the l solar light from the pasture to the round pen and the ride itself wasn't remarkable. All I did was walk and bend and work on barn gravity. If you haven't heard, barn gravity is the gravitational pull of the barn on horses. Actually, it's not very scientific and the term comes from a short story from a book of short stories about horses named Barn Gravity. This was back when I was kid and the short story was so good, that I asked the librarian for the book. That was not as stkupid of a question as you might think because many of the stories in the book were excerpts. But she gave me the look, one reserved by adults for children who ask stupid questions and, after seeing the book was a collection of short stories said "no" there was not a book by that name.
But I think she would have said that about any of the stories because she didn't realize the book was full of excerpts. Nevertheless, this one story really was just a story and that was a disappointing day for a horse crazy kid who could do nothing about it, except read books.
Anyway, the concept of barn gravity describes perfectly what happens when you separate a horse from his place of leisure, food, and friends. Super is no different and he wanted nothing more than to leave the round pen and get back to eating. My point is, the ride was boring. The exciting part was the ground work.
I've taught Super to go the direction I point and to walk on one cluck, trot on two, and canter at a kiss. The canter has been a bit of contention with us. By now I could be able to walk, trot and canter on a loose rein without steering. Alas, Super ducks and dives in the canter, bucks and tosses his head. None of it is a big deal and I've watched much better riders have no trouble with him. But I am not a good rider in the sense that I can muscle my way through things.
And anyway, if he takes the canter badly from a ground cue, it's not suddenly going to be better with me on his back. That would be like getting on an airplane with a hole in the fuselage with the expectation that you can fix after take off.
So, I've been trying to fix it on the ground. But not really. Partly because I was worried about Super's stifle. If he was resistant to canter maybe there was a physical reason? And there was, but not what I thought. It was his teeth.
You know, evidence based horsemanship has a lot of running horses around in a circle. While it uses the horse's flight mode, the fact is, you could train any animal this way, even humans. On a psychological level, it's very effective, not only in getting a horse obedient but teaching him what he can do. Just this Sunday, Super wanted to know what was in a bag I was carrying around. He could have turned around and come investigated. Instead he back up six strides straight as an arrow until his face was level with the bag. He sniffed it, realized it did not contain carrots and was disappointed in to life.
So back to last week. For the first time ever Super cantered off with out a head toss. His head was so low in the canter... I've not seen him relax that way. When the vet did his teeth he said Super's head tossing should quit. Well, we don't ride much in a bit so we don't have much head tossing, but as it turns out it was his teeth. Now this vet had the tools and at least some of the expertise that an equine dentist would have.
And though I could have forced the issue about the canter, I'm glad that I did not. I probably could have bullied Super to being good in the canter. But I'm glad that instead, I worked on it patiently. And left it alone a lot. "Natural Horsemanship" is anything but, and using the methods aren't better unless the trainer is better. Not better in skill, but understands if the horse is failing to learn something then the teacher is teaching it wrong or, as in Super's case, there was an external factor.
I used to love "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard," but I think now that there must be caveats in putting such ideas into practical use. Perhaps it should be "Make the right thing easy, the wrong thing hard and don't be a bully."
Saturday's seem to roll around all too fast these days. My plan was to go up to the farm about six, but I couldn't pry myself out of bed until 9:30. I swung by the Seven-Eleven near my apartment--yes we have these here-- and grabbed breakfast lunch and dinner (yogurt, Ramen, Ramen) and most importantly, coffee.
Then I headed up the mountain on my bike. Back in Seoul somebody stole the handle grips off my bike so the barks are smooth cool metal. During the winder, I've been riding with gloves but spring has come on very Korean which is to say, all at once. The air had a slight chill to it, which went from a bit too cold to nice as I peddled and then pushed my bike up the mountain. My tires are getting a bit soggy so I need to put air in them. When is the question. It's why I haven't bought new handle bar grips. I have to go to a bike shop and when I'm not teaching or doing teacherly things, I'm at the farm.
Sweat had started bead off my brow by the time I reached Rex. He barked and waved hello flag. In other words he wagged his tail and bounced about with the vigor of a young German Shepherd. I gave him a pat and set about morning feedings.
Liz was up in Seoul with Gabe. The Sunday prior, he had got a casting call and so we all bundled into my friends car, abandoned farm work, and drove to Seoul for a meeting that took less than a minute. Nevertheless, they loved him.
They asked Gabe, "Do you have a dialogue for us?"
In true Gabe style, he said, "Yes, but it's not any good because I don't know how to act. Do you still want to see it?"
He's seven in Korea, which means he's five in USA until July, when he'll turn six. From the mouths of babes as they say. Anyway, the casting agency liked him so much, they wanted him to get some experience. So they cast him as an extra in a kindergarten and that meant Liz was in Seoul with her son and I had the farm all to myself. Yeah! Not really.
I cleaned four wheelbarrows of manure and listened to an audio book while the horses had their morning hay. They had two flakes of alfalfa each followed by 3/4ths bale of Timothy. We feed as much Timothy as they can eat, which is an unusual diet in Korea. Both Thunder and Thor haven't been with us long enough to stretch out their stomachs. Thunder passed out from eating and Thor had have a rest. Super however was worried he might lose an ounce and kept at it all day.
I was heading up to put some poles in the top apple orchard so we can use it as a pasture when the grass comes on up there. But I was sidelined when the tractor guy showed up to give my friend a driving lesson. The new tractor has been gathering dust since it's delivery a week ago because nobody knows how to drive it. I had reminded Liz to reschedule him, but that was amid other pressing things like having the farrier out for the horse's feet and calling the vet to get their shots.
He was there and sort of wanted to ride and since my friend had forgotten to reschedule him I thought it was the least I could do. So I gave him a choice of Super or Thunder. He chose Thunder because Gabe had told him she was the kindest. Ha. She's miss grumpy pants. But she is nice. She just grumps. Super is better trained but it didn't really matter.
So far, letting people ride has consisted of me and/or Liz leading people around on a horse. And Saturday was no different. He held on with a death grip and Thunder grumped ," Why am I the only one working?"
Since she was saddled, I spent some more time with her working on her ground work. I worked on her disengage. She's getting quite good on the right side and clearly understands but isn't so good on the left. Then I introduced yielding her front end. She's so tall and gangling, her feet get tangled around each other. Otherwise, she's coming along nicely. It was only after grooming her and turning her back at that I headed up to the top orchard with a loaded wheelbarrow.
I hammered in about 15 poles for the electric fence, before I ran out. I'll have to scrounge up some more from around the farm. In the meantime, I did a bit of weed whacking. This coming weekend I need to go up and start clearing rocks and random debris from previous farming projects, hammer in some more poles and try to rake up some of the leaves and clippings. Fingers crossed it rains this week so the grass will start to come on good.
Once upon a time there was an aspiring author (me). She really wanted to be a good writer and as such, she agonized over her pen name. (In other words, I multi-tasked: pen name agony equaled writing procrastination.) But mostly Zuchniak is a last name that sounds more like the name of an obscure medical disease specialist than that of a writer.
As the years passed said this aspiring writer became content with the bone life had thrown at her and started investing into her teaching career. Teaching requires a certain level of creativity and like many would-be authors who came before, the energy to create sapped by the rigors of the classroom.
One day the aspiring author met another horse lover. They became inseparable and as the years went by they shared as best friends do, though in this case it was power tools. They purchased a table saw, a shop vac, drills, wood, screws and nails and finally a chainsaw together. They bemoaned the lack of colorful tools in South Korea. (Seriously Korea, I want a purple or pink hammer.)
The neighbors watched as the two best friends sawed, weed whacked and burned the farm into shape. And as everyone knows, power tools lead to horses, and horses lead to round pens and manure spreaders. And thus the first thousand pound baby came home, followed by two more. Between those purchases there was a round pen to build and rebuild... and rebuild.
Anyway, my website name has changed from mr-jordan.net to www.marielr.com to better reflect the changes to my life and blog.
It was a throw down between Captain America, Hulk and Thor. Grandma angled for Beast, hoping that in the future there might be a Beauty. But the outlook for Disney was grim. Gabe is five going on six after all, and while he has never read a comic book, he certainly has his favorite characters in the movies.
But true to the fickle nature of young children, Gabe tossed , Seven Eleven, into the ring as a long shot. But alas his racing name Choice Blue, has been cast aside. Please welcome Thor to the family. We are debating his size as yet. Is he bigger than Thunder??? Maybe. Either way, Super looks like a pony next to the other too. Poor Superman.
If I were North Korea's dictator (Kim Jung-un) I would exchange my Dictator's hat for that of the crown
Have you ever fantasized about being a dictator? Me neither.
However, if I were Kim Jung-un, I would seriously consider following in the foot steps of England. He could entrust the North Korean estate to the Republic of Korea in exchange for a x amount of funding for the royal family.
In such a move, he would go from bad guy, to royalty of both North and South Korea. Such an act would protect himself and relations from assassinations, guarantee a place in history for his children, his children's children and s on. All while maintaining the lifestyle to which he is accustomed, the lifestyle of royalty.
Such an act would allow the South to reintegrate the northern population in stages, perhaps allowing x number to move south each year, while building infrastructure and educating the northern population for full integration... to avoid economic depression, this would take 20 to 30 years. Any sudden change would see the south under huge economic pressures as the Republic of Korea would find itself inundated with what are essentially refugees, a good percentage of which have spent their entire lives in prison cities-- northern prisons are that big.
Finally, such a move would minimize the impact and rebellion against reunification among Kim Jung-un supporters. Though a percentage would remain loyal to the norther ideology, that percentage would be significantly smaller than were Kim Jung-un to be displaced, imprisoned, exiled or executed.
Obviously, there would be downsides to such a move. Such an act might require that he acquiesce to something akin to house arrest, but leave other relations such as children and perhaps his sister, free to live their lives. Certainly one upside to such a deal would be protection from the threat of assassination.
My cat Geumbi has passed on, which isn't exactly true , because I faced the end of life decision that all pet owners. The trouble started on Sunday when my cat sitter, Brundha, sent me a message that she didn't want to eat. Brundha told me that she had followed Geumbi around until she finally ate.
I was at the farm taking care of the horses. Even had I been home, I might not of have thought much of it. Geumbi was a perpetually sick cat and didn't always feel good. But I had ways of enticing her. I might mix up her food with warm water, or mash it or both. I had a lysine jelly that helped mask her medicine. The list was long, but I knew my cat and her moods. And sometimes it was just letting her get hungry enough to eat.
But on Monday she didn't anything. And on Monday night, after she tried to eat, she vomited what little she'd eaten. She also retreated to a draw in my wardrobe. I never let her sleep there. In the past she's peed on my clothes but this time I let her. I don't know why, I just did. When I got home from work she had not moved from her spot.
Sometimes, snuggles made her feel a lot better, so I sat down and waited for her to jump into my lap. She didn't and this from a cat who jumps into my lap at every opportunity. I couldn't even pee without her jumping up. As the evening progressed she still didn't want to snuggle and, more importantly, didn't demand her tuna. Bear was beginning to get whine and he is a quiet cat so I opened up the food.
The sound of the can top being popped drew her into the kitchen and she sat in front of her bowl staring at it. Finally she took a bite, but vomited. Sometimes, when she hasn't had her medicine for a while, she gets into a slump. She was on a daily steroid dose along with something to keep her stomach from bothering her. I hated to force her to take her medicine because she was a worried and stressed cat and forcing her to take her medicine her exacerbated her problems. Still, I occasionally had delivered it by syringe and she'd start to feel better once the medicine kicked in.
This time however, she not only drooled, a normal reaction for cats to bitter medicine, but vomited again. I didn't push the medicine again.
I'd been worrying about a yoga mat she'd chewed one weekend while I was at the farm. But that had been more than a month ago and she didn't eat stuff so much as chew them. My shoes, anything Styrofoam, twisty ties and anything plastic drove her mad.
The next day, my vet thought she'd eaten something too based on the x-rays. She was dehydrated so she was stabilized with an IV and I had to leave her over night to see if it would pass. But on Thursday all signs of obstruction were gone despite her not having passed anything. The vet felt she would be fine to go home, but I arranged for her to stay in the hospital one more night. Friday the movers were coming. I was moving back to Yeongju and taking up my old job at the English Center. My time there had been one of my strangest jobs ever, but the horses were in Punggi and I ever wanted to ever get The Thing (horse riding/ESL/ Farm/ whatchamacallit), I needed to in Punggi.
I held Geumbi at the vet's office that Thursday night before the move. She curled up in my lap and snuggled, and when she was relaxed I opened up a can of her favorite food from home. She got really excited. She was hungry I could tell, but three bites and she was done. I had a thought then. I thought, 'it's cancer." Her belly had felt hard, like the overfull belly of an animal who just gobbled all of their food. It hadn't taken on that placid jelly state in weeks.
But I could no longer think that perhaps she'd eaten more than I suspected or worry that she'd ingested something she shouldn't have. She hadn't eaten anything substantial since Sunday and the vet had ruled out foreign objects. So i went home thinking she was full because of the IV and the next day she would eat.
I had plans to pick her up after work, then get Bear from the old apartment. I would take them via bus to the new house, and the transition would be better because Geumbie would not have been exposed to the stress of the movers. But my vet had bad news. She'd vomited again that day, wasn't eating. She'd become dehydrated and had to be put back on the IV. Her blood-work wasn't exactly bad, but there was some indication that it might be cancer or liver failure or FIP. She saw something on ultrasound but coudln't be sure if it was a tumor. Geumbi would need to go to a specialist vet and have more tests.
The joy and excitement-- all the good things that could come out of this move-- dissipated. It was like have the life sucked out of me. I thought about how sick and stressed she'd been when I had relocated to Seoul. I thought about how stressed going to the vet made her and how it took days for her to recover. And I thought mostly how long I'd known she was in a general state of discomfort all the time... that her snuggle times with me were the bright spots of her day. How holding her made her feel better for a little bit, but when I put her down and she stopped purring she felt that dull, constant ache strongly.
In the States any number of vets would have recommended putting her to sleep, perhaps long ago, but certainly on that day. But in Korea, the vets offer specialists, tests and scans. They'll import experimental treatment from abroad. I never knew how much easier it was when the vet recommends terminating a pet's life. It's never, ever easy, but it's so much harder when you are offered more tests, more treatment, more, more, more.
But I had promised Geumbi, because I knew she had a certain level of PSTD from all the times she had been at the vet's office. All the times she was sent home with me when she should have stayed in the hospital for observation because the stress of being there was enough to kill her. So I'd promised her after having all her teeth extracted that if the day came that she needed tests and tests, and tests I wouldn't do it to her. I'd let her go.
The thing I didn't know was how much guilt I'd feel. What if I was wrong?What if I'd just taken her to the cancer specialist? What if it was treatable? And then, I remember all the things... I know I made the right decision but I miss her, deeply, terribly and Bear... he loves me but it's not the same. Sometimes I want to hold him to me and other times seeing him makes it all hurt more. He doesn't miss Geumbi. He misses company, but not being hissed at all the time. And he's happy to have me all to himself.
"The horse guy called," Liz said. She looked a bit like a turtle as she spoke, with her neck pulled down tight inside the collar of her winter coat.
"Which horse guy," I asked as I paused next to her.
I'd never say it out loud to her, but on days like this I regret having horses. That's right. Horses. One has manifested into two. The new addition being a gray mare. She too is an ex-racehorse like Superman. She's three going on four. Gabe, Liz's son named her Thundergirl. Can you tell he's six?
"The guy who delivered Thunder. He has a horse for us."
My first response should have, we don't need another horse. Actually, my only response should have been, "no." Instead, I said. "How much is it?"
"Nearly free. 1.8 million won delivered." Liz said, ducking deeper into her coat.
It's been cold, but on the mountain side the wind just gusts. Now I know why the apple trees are anchored to the ground and there are cement poles every two trees and wire strung every which way.
"Did he send a picture?" I asked.
"I can look it," she said. "But lets go inside the building.
The building in question is an steel apple warehouse. It has two walk in refrigerators that also keep the apples from freezing in the dead of winter. It would have been warmer in one of the walk-ins but at least we were out of the wind.
We pulled up the KRA website that lists all the retired horses and looked for the up info on this particular guy. Finding and buying Thunder taught us a lot about retired racehorses. For one thing, when your putting retired horses on your list as potential prospects, check to see if they're still breathing. There is not joke here. One day in December Liz and I stayed up late looking at all of the retired horses, slowly getting excited about buying one. we started to make a list and then discovered a lot on our list were dead. I've since looked it up and dead horses is just part horse racing. The term breakdown stems from race horses breaking legs on the track and what not. More mares were dead than geldings, but we wanted a mare.
After looking at hundreds of retired horses, excluding the males, excluding the ones with serious injuries and those not breathing, we had only three prospects, one of which stopped racing because she gave birth. Her records showed the vet came out several times because she seemed colicky and then the final record said she'd given birth. I'm sure her owners were shocked to walk into the barn and see a baby in the stall with her before her next race.
Thunder's owners were shocked too. He knew her has Rocking Rouge and he had high hopes for her. She cost 80 million won (about 80,000 USD) as a yearling. Certainly her price wouldn't break any records but still, they had raise her, feed her, train her and all she did was trot. Literally, she left the gate at a trot. Her owner raced her three times and she never cantered.
I haven't done much work with her yet. This has a lot to do with the cold. For one thing, the wind has knocked down our fencing too many times to count. Then there's frozen water and insert long list of farming things that always take longer in the winter. But she knows nothing. And that was the deciding factor in saying no to a third horse.
I mean, eventually there will be a third horse because my friend has been bitten by the horse bug. She just loves them. She loves to feed them, watch them eat, muck their poop. She wants to start a stables which requires three horses, a bathroom and certification of some sort that she can get while riding her own horse. That's great because Super is super and doesn't require a lot of skill to ride.
I credit Warwick Schiller quite a bit for this even though I've never met him. One of the best things that has happened to me, was quitting horses for a while. I came back to it sooooo rusty. And with so much forgotten, I basically went back to the beginning. Interestingly, I'm still at the beginning. If you think of what a horse needs to know as primary colors, then you know you cant get orange for red and blue. This holds true for horses and people and writing. Everything. I suppose the Japanese have always known the value of perfecting one thing at a time.
Thus the key to solving writers block is doing nothing while doing something else.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and 17 chickens.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018