The U.S. Embassy Independence Day celebration took place last night at the Grand Hyatt. As usual it was quite the affair, with about 1500 people, and excellent food and drink. In fact, the theme was food since a White House chef came especially for the occasion and prepared some of the dishes, and our entertainers were four cast members from the long-running comedy show about food, “Nanta.” They’re actually percussionists who use knives on cutting boards, graters, and other kitchen implements as percussion instruments.
Embassy personnel all pitched in to make the evening a success. I dressed up as “Betsy Ross,” staying in character as I talked to guests about how I was one of 17 children and outlived three husbands. There was a tense moment when a VIP from the British Embassy showed up, because two of my husbands died in the Revolutionary War, including one in an English prison, but I agreed to be civil to him. I handed out pictures of the first American flag, and a diplomat from Peru enthusiastically explained the meaning behind his country’s flag.
We packed out two days ago. Four efficient Korean men boxed up all of the belongings we’re sending via ocean freight, then loaded the boxes into tall wooden crates, which will be put into a container, traverse the high seas, and arrive at our Virginia home in about two months, God willing. These guys are skilled at putting together the puzzle: packing different-shaped boxes into crates in just the right way to maximize the contents. They’ll take the air freight in two weeks, and that should arrive the same day they bring the stuff to our house from long-term storage during the first week in August, God willing. I keep bringing the diety into this because there are elements over which you have no control, such as shipwrecks, plane crashes, theft, mold, human error, and utter incompetence, but we’ve been fairly lucky thus far with our moves, and expect our luck to hold out. Pack-out day is when the move becomes REAL; there’s no turning back.
The previous week, I finally got to a Korean spa, or jimjilbang. They’re part onsen, or hot bath, as in Japan, but also much more. Upon entry to the six-story Dragon Hill spa, you pay $11.00 and receive a loose-fitting short and top set, plus a wristband containing an electronic device and a key. You use the key twice, once for the first-floor locker where you store your shoes, and then on the third floor for the locker to store your clothes after you’ve changed into the spa clothes. You swipe the electronic device if you want to dine at the spa’s Korean restaurant, play games in the gameroom like whack-a-mole, or get a massage.
In addition to hot baths and saunas, there are special rooms such as the salt room, where you lie on Himalayan salt under salt lamps that make you sweat and “purify” you. There’s a jade room with its floors of polished jade, and the ocre room, which has orange-red walls, an unusual smell, and Egyptian drawings. The spa is open 24/7 and there’s a room where you can sleep on the hard floor (they give you a pillow) with a bunch of others. Some of it is co-ed, including the pool at the top with lounge chairs and artificial palm trees, if you’ve brought your bathing suit.
The only downside to my experience was that I’d stuffed my bathing suit, money and driver’s license into a bag to avoid having to bring my purse, and when I emptied the bag out the next morning, my driver’s license was missing. Perhaps it had fallen out when I dug into the bag for clothing in the spa, or for walking directions both on and off base. I always leave room for a third possibility: that it dematerialized, and might rematerialize later (I got this out of a book by Shirley MacLaine).
A native Korean U.S. Embassy staff member called the spa the next day twice, but no one had turned it in. I visited it in person two days later, and they knew it was missing, but no luck. I start thinking about how there’s not enough time to get a new license mailed to me in Korea before I head back to the States, how I’ll probably end up driving illegally in Rochester, and then spend time at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles in Virginia (DMV, which I accidentally called the DMZ) getting another one. I pulled out proof of identity and address from my files, which were about to be packed out and inaccessible. But then, the magical phone call! The spa called my Korean friend, they’d found the license, and I picked it up. Happy ending.
The most memorable time I lost my driver’s license was when the kids were little and I stuck it in a bag with snacks. It went missing. I found it a few days later in the refrigerator, wedged between a straw and the side of a juice box.