August 30, 2000
We had to hurry up this morning: the hospital opened at nine, but we had an important meeting at ten. As we arrived at Yonsei, I asked, in Russian, whether we could see the hospital vice-president, or at least a Korean doctor. She understood me, I'm sure, but she directed us to a room which, it was apparent to my eyes, was presided over by a Mongolian doctor. Fortunately, Sun-duk spied a young, berobed Korean man and dashed toward him. He immediately gave us a pregnancy test kit, and five minutes later, confirmed our suspicions.
Doctor Kim then directed us to the obstetrics unit and performed an ultra-sound on Sun-duk's belly. There, in black-and-white, was her uterus, with a three-centimetre-long grey spot that looked more like a peanut than a foetus. The doctor estimated the baby's age at roughly six-to-eight weeks, and predicted a birth date of April 10.
Sun-duk asked him whether he knew of any Korean women giving birth in Mongolia, and he replied no - Korea being so close, and its medical system much more advanced. He said there were several Korean paediatricians in Ulaanbaatar, but no obstetrician. The thing is, these people have money, and we don't. Anyway, Mongolian women give birth here every day, and the infant mortality rate is not much higher than Korea's.
Sun-duk didn't come home until 10:30 at night. She said she was sick to her stomach for most of yesterday, and didn't have anything to eat today. A combination of baby, greasy meat and bumpy roads, I suspect. Mongolia only has 1400 km of paved roads, most of it in and around Ulaanbaatar; the rest of the country makes do with thousands of miles of dirt roads (it's easier on horses' hooves).
We were down to our last T2000 (US$2) when Sun-duk finally got paid - in dollars! I've been paid as well, but whenever I've had time to go change the money in to tugriks, the banks are closed. Fortunately, Sun-duk had a friend go to an exchange office nearby (she was running an errand, and it was on her way), and we now have one hundred and eight big ones for a whole month's work. (One hundred dollars, remember?) This will last us at least two weeks, and with the T100,000 Onol's giving me, we'll be able to set aside the US$120 (about T130,000) I get from Soros each month for the baby.
I went to Yonsei Hospital after the interview, and at 10:30, Sun-duk and I were with Doctor Kim (he speaks fluent Korean, Mongolian and English, and is returning to Korea for good after a three-year stint here). She gave him a couple of urine and blood samples, the results of which will be given us Friday afternoon, when we return to perform another ultra-sound on Jagi's belly. The doctor said we could even print out the picture, if we wanted! (No, we won't put it up on our homepage - that's too corny, even for us! However, if you would like a look, we'll scan it and e-mail you a copy! ;-) He also recommended an obstetrician and a mid-wife for when the baby's born.
Sun-duk came home with a package - the one her cousin Hye-young sent by air mail two weeks ago. It was stuffed with dried Korean seafood - seaweed, anchovies, squid, kim, etc. - plus one book on pregnancy, a large thermos-cum-lunchbox, eight rolls of Kodak film and six six-millimetre video tapes for our camera. Yea!
The food is traditional Korean yummies for pregnant mummies, although it's also part of a post-partum regimen which Korean women and doctors swear is the best in the world. I'm skeptical myself - I mean, it all comes down to nutrients, doesn't it? Western women just get theirs from different sources, that's all.
In any case, our house is turning into a Little Korea. Apart from the weather and the strange language spoken on the streets, Sun-duk is pretty much living and working as she did back home - albeit more comfortably!
Laugh of the Day: Sun-duk laid a big fart in the office, driving her colleagues into hysterics! I wonder if she blamed her flatulence on her pregnancy? ;-D
For those whom the intricacies of pedagogy leave cold, however, I will now relate the highlight of the day: Sun-duk's and my trip to Yonsei Hospital for test results and the ultra-sound.
The obstetrician told us that blood- and urine-wise, Sun-duk and the baby were both doing fine. That didn't surprise us very much, so we quickly moved the conversation towards the main item on our agenda: the sonogram.
Instead of going to the room just down the hall where Doctor Kim had performed the first ultra-sound test six weeks ago, we went down to the hospital basement, through a maze of rooms filled with rickety furniture and leaky pipes, and finally emerged onto a courtyard. To the left was a building even bigger than the hospital: the 'maternity ward'.
It's not actually part of Yonsei, but a separate entity which, I suspect, is subsidised by the hospital nonetheless. The fees it charges for delivering a baby and providing post-natal care to mother and child are much, much lower than at the other hospitals - by as much as 500%, in fact. The difference in price actually frightens me - why doesn't every expectant mother come here if it's so much cheaper? Is there an equivalent difference in quality? However, the Korean doctors at Yonsei recommended both our obstetrician and the 'ward', so there must be another reason that accounts for this strange state of affairs, and which I haven't yet found.
So... Inside we went, into a room where the ultra-sound monitor is smaller than Yonsei's and the printer is also out of order. No sonogram print-out again, but we were promised a free ultra-sound with print-out November 10, when we'll be able to determine the baby's sex.
The doctor spread some special gel on Sun-duk's belly to improve the conduction of the sound waves, then took his emitter and moved to and fro over the surface. On the monitor, we could see her womb and the baby from almost every conceivable angle - much to my confusion, since the speed at which the entire procedure was being performed proved much too fast for me to discern the slightest detail.
At one point, the doctor stopped long enough to show me the head, then the tiny, beating heart – a black spot which stood out in the starkest of fashions against the milky-white background of the foetus' body. At last, for his finale, the doctor gave us a full-length, right-side profile of the baby lying on his/her back; head, eye, torso and limbs were clearly visible, and flawless.
Sun-duk later told me that when she saw our baby for the first time, she felt 'weird' (the closest translation we could find for the Korean word 'shimgihada'). The reality of the pregnancy is finally hitting us, and we're growing excited. This evening, after we'd both attended her Chinese club and come home, we started reading our respective 'expectant mother' books, Korean and English. We also talked over names again, Korean and French.
Sun-duk will break with Korean tradition and give our children pure Korean names. Right now, she seems to have settled on the following choices: Keun-pyul ('Great Star'), Keun-nara ('Great Country') and Keun-pada ('Great Sea'). I don't particularly like the sound of keun, but Korean is still a foreign language to me, so I trust Sun-duk and her selections implicitly. The same cannot be said for the reverse, however!
I have come up with a list of what I believe are very beautiful, euphonic names and middle names, male and female. They're pure French, i.e. they have no equivalent in English, and yet are easily pronounceable by most, if not all, foreigners. I don't want to say what they are, though - at least not until I've checked with my parents and made sure that no one else among the Seguins and the Roys bears one of the names I've chosen. Specifically, some of my cousins have had children in the past five years, and I have absolutely no idea what they were baptized. I'm awful, aren't I? But then again, how many of you out there have close to thirty cousins to keep track of?
In the evening, I finished reading What To Expect When You're Expecting, and came to the inevitable conclusion that Sun-duk's diet needed a lot of fine-tuning. One big concern has been her month-long aversion to meat, particularly mutton, and dairy products. They're an essential source of protein and calcium, two things which her essentially vegetarian diet lacks.
Now, neither one of us wants to be the progenitor of smurfs, so in order to give the baby the nutrition it so sorely wants, we made a list of foods found here in Mongolia that cover the spectrum of protein, calcium, iron and all the vitamins recommended by the experts. Then we looked at what Sun-duk liked, or might like, and came up with the following:
Meat: Right now, she only has a taste for beef, so we're going to buy lots of steak and ton kasuh.
Dairy Products: She hated the Russian milk, which was 2,5%. We're going to try to find the creamier 3,5%, of which she drank a lot in Korea. If she still finds the taste strange, I'll put in some honey to sweeten the deal! In addition, we'll get her Yoplait yoghurt and Edam cheese. The former is delicious; the latter, according to her, has no taste at all, and thus is acceptable.
Grain: I want to wean her off all the rice she's been eating. According to my book, wheat is a heck of a lot more nutritious. This got me to wondering whether the smallness of Orientals is due to their dependence on rice – not to mention the rest of their diet, which consists principally of fish and vegetables.
Fruits and Vegetables: The choice is limited in Mongolia, and the more exotic produce, such as oranges, bananas and nuts, is very, very expensive. We'll depend for the most part on apples, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, potatoes, raisins, carrots, and other indigenous fare which has no name in English. We have found snack-packs of sliced, dried oranges and bananas; they're fairly priced. We also brought over from Korea a bottle of vitamin C tablets.
I myself created a diet for Sun-duk, one which will cover all her nutritional needs. Tomorrow, at the market, we'll get her everything she needs; we can afford to spend a little more now that I've been given a US$90 raise (not to mention the $40 I'm getting each month for teaching at the Russian high school).
Sun-duk's belly is noticeably bigger. From the pictures in What To Expect When You're Expecting, the baby grows the most, proportionately speaking, in the fourth month. Right now, it's at fourteen or fifteen weeks, and Sun-duk ought to feel it move by mid-November.
No, we don't know the sex, yet; that won't be for another two weeks at least. But we have narrowed the list of names to a few. Here they are:
Korean: Keun-byul ('Great Star'), Keun-bada ('Great Sea'), Keun-nara ('Great Country'), and Keun-sol ('Great Pine').
As I've said before, Sun-duk is breaking with tradition by selecting purely Korean names. Thus, the child will not be able to write his or her first name in Chinese characters, as 99.9% of Koreans do.
French. If it's a boy, Jean-Noël (Noël means 'Christmas'); if it's a girl, either Mireille Sophie or Pascale Genevieve - I haven't made up my mind yet which one I like best. Except for Sophie (which is Greek, but also common in English), all the names are pure French or Romance; and apart from Genevieve, they're very easy to pronounce, no matter who the speaker is. (Besides which, Genevieve is just a middle name.)
Speaking of babies, Sun-duk and I have been talking about sending her to Korea for three months so she can give birth there. I personally would much rather not have her leave, but her doctors think there's a greater risk of something going wrong here in Mongolia than in Korea. More importantly, Sun-duk thinks she'll feel safer in Pusan. We're not crazy about being apart for so long, especially for the birth - but we have to think long-term, I suppose.
Due to a combination of pregnancy and a cold virus which has diminished her sense of taste, Sun-duk has been on the prowl for food other than Korean, Mongolian or Western. We had plans to go to the French restaurant today, and a pizza place tomorrow; now, instead, she will have to hold her nose and swallow yet another spoonful of unsavoury stew...
Well, at least our plans for Sun-duk have been successful: she's gaining experience with an NGO that offers little in the way of hard work, and in a Korean environment, to boot. She has been able to take it down a notch, relax, and enjoy herself - which is just as it should be, since she's the one carrying the baby! Well, I imagine I'll have a lot more free time on my hands than I care for if/when my Jagi goes on maternity leave in Korea... Sigh...
You may have wondered why we didn't mention Friday's trip to the hospital; it's because the doctor just happened to have a half-day off that afternoon. She couldn't know four weeks ago that her schedule would work out like this, so we weren't angry - just disappointed.
We thought of returning Saturday morning, but the hospital opens at 10, and I had to teach at the Russian high school at eleven, several kilometres away. That was cutting it too close (I loathe tardiness), so I asked Sun-duk if we could go Monday, when I'm free all day. She agreed, seeing as her husband is so nice! ;-)
The news we had been waiting for - the baby's sex - was not forthcoming, however. The ultra-sound scanner was the 'bad' one, not the high-tech machine at the maternity ward you have to pay T3000 to use. The resolution on the older model is not quite as high, the image a little indistinct. There was no way we could determine the baby's sex, but I could make out the brow, eyelids, and nose, as well as the ears and hands. Unfortunately, Sun-duk couldn't; the machine has no freeze-frame or printer. But, being the 'rich' foreigners that we are, we're going back December 1st for another check-up and ultra-sound!
Of course, all this is secondary to the baby's health - which is fine, according to the doctor. I got the obstetrician to agree with me that our patient was not getting enough calcium in the form of dairy products. The reason that Mongolians are by far the biggest of all East-Asian peoples is their diet: meat and milk. They're bulkier and have larger bones, as opposed to the tiny vegetarians south and east of them.
We've begun buying maternity clothes: overalls, big pants and sweaters, etc. Sun-duk's being very picky, though, so we're having a hard time of it! Besides which, there are very few stores in the country that sell 'fat' clothes!
Two weeks ago, Sun-duk told me that she's finally feeling pregnant, i.e. like she's carrying a weight around. Her belly has started to swell, too. Strangely, she has yet to feel the baby move, and she's well into the fifth month. Well, it happens. Our book says that many pregnant women mistake slight foetal movements for bodily functions, such as (in)digestion and gas.
Sun-duk just had to go to the Seoul Restaurant, the most expensive eatery in the country, for some Korean food; no other place would do. The buffet, dessert, drinks, and tax brought the total to T28,000 – a month's salary for too many Mongolians. The food isn't even that good, but Sun-duk really wanted to 'pig out'! (She wiped her plate clean five times!)
Sun-duk thinks she may have felt the baby move for the first time this afternoon!
She was working on the computer at Food for the Hungry when she experienced a sharp, short twinge on the left side of her lower abdomen. She immediately told Borma - her colleague and professional mid-wife - about it, and while she couldn't confirm it was the baby, she did reassure Sun-duk that it was to be expected. We think she's around eighteen weeks pregnant, which would mean the 'awakening' has arrived a fortnight earlier than our book predicted - although it does make allowances for smaller women.
Last week, our obstetrician told us that the husband is often the first to feel the baby, so I've been keeping my hands on Sun-duk's belly as often as possible (especially when we're watching TV and Sun-duk uses me as her favourite easy chair!). Alas, les mains frustes de l'homme ne valent pas le sein de la femme...
Sun-duk arrived home in a state of agitation: while walking over from the bus stop, she was sure of having felt the baby kick twice more, in the same place as yesterday! My hands remain skeptical, but then, I'm just a man.
Sun-duk hadn't mention the baby moving in the last six days, so I asked her about it. She told me she feels the baby every day, now, usually at work. I think I may have felt it on several occasions, but between Sun-duk's heavy breathing and the gurgling of her digestive tract, I cannot absolutely confirm that I have.
Sun-duk's finally moved beyond pants. During the last three weeks, she wore unbuttoned, unzipped corduroys, with the last holes of her belt and a large sweater keeping her decent. The belt no longer does the job, now, so she's taken to wearing jogging pants and overalls. She looks so cute!!
Sun-duk also hit upon a cute idea, that of writing letters to our unborn child. This Sunday, we plan on finally updating our Korean homepage, which has lain dormant for nearly five months. Aside from some diary entries, we'll create a special page just for the baby. I might write the baby letters in French, but I can't see myself posting something so intimate on the internet for everyone to read. It'll be for our child's eyes only.
Sun-duk reminded me that our appointment with the obstetrician was next Friday, not today! Will the disappointments never end? ;-)
I felt the baby for the first time, this morning. I mean, I've said before how I thought I might have felt the baby move in the last two weeks, but the bumps were so slight that I could never be sure whether it was a tiny foot kicking or a bowel gurgling in gastronomical approval. As I shifted to the side and rested my hand on Sun-duk's belly, I felt a very sharp, strong knock against my fingers. Many more followed, though not quite as hard. Ah-HAH!
Sun-duk's been feeling the baby every day since the end of November. A few days ago, she was getting back into bed after a trip to the bathroom when she actually a pang in her side. She thought I had poked her, playfully, but hard; however, I was sound asleep. We had to conclude that the baby was to blame, and wondered if it would keep it up for the next four months!
The funny thing is that it's still early in the pregnancy game, so Sun-duk might experience stronger and more painful kicks as the weeks progress. Something else we've noticed: by Korean standards, she looks like she's seven months or eight months pregnant. Is it a case of her overeating, or of the baby being a big 'un? If it's the latter, then the fearful prospect of an episiotomy rears its ugly head (if you'll forgive the more-than-apt imagery). I've asked Sun-duk on several occasions to do her Kegel exercises, but since episiotomies are standard practice in Korea, she's simply resigned herself to the fact that she'll be cut, whether it's necessary or not. Korea may have better medical facilities than Mongolia, but doctors' attitudes are about where they were in the West forty or fifty years ago.
Be that as it may, today we were headed back to Yonsei for a check-up, a sonogram, and a possible confirmation of the baby's sex.
Having ascertained that the mother was in perfect health, we quickly proceeded to the ultra-sound scan. Unfortunately, the baby's legs were positioned in such a way as to prevent our seeing his or her doody, so we came up empty on that count. However, what the scan did reveal was amazing.
The baby's features were clearly visible: big, round eyes, button nose, half-open mouth sucking in amniotic fluid, and tiny hands with all ten fingers attached to them! Most incredible was its constant moving about; it seemed to know we were looking at it! It kept turning its head from side to side, and shadow-boxing like Ali! Even the doctor was surprised to see it so active, and smiled approvingly, telling us the baby appeared to be very healthy!
We then made our way quickly to the maternity hospital just behind Yonsei to see if we could get a better look at the baby and determine its gender. Again, it seemed intent on keeping its secret from us 'til the very end, frustrating Sun-duk no end! The machine was incredible, though. I could see the legs, feet and toes quite clearly; even the bones were visible. Then... The moment we had waited for...!
... It's a boy!!! We can at last dispense with the it's and the baby's, and start calling our little treasure by its names: Jean-Noël and Keun-sol. Welcome, Son! ;-D
Believe it or not, the fact that I was able to make a son the first time around will actually raise my standing among the in-laws. Koreans are so fixated on male progeniture that abortion is the most common medical procedure in the country (followed by hymen reconstruction and cosmetic surgery to turn those almond eyes into round peepers). Right now, fully 55% of all schoolchildren are male - a skewing of natural selection that will have grave social consequences ten or fifteen years from now, when hundreds of thousands of young men will feel obligated to vent their frustration somehow.
In any case, both Sun-duk and I were pretty sure it was a boy; she because of her female intuition, me because of my mother's uncanny knack for choosing the wrong sex whenever a relative is pregnant! Hey, Mom: that's three grandkids, three strikes... YOU'RE OUT !!! :-D
So all in all, it was a pretty good day, wouldn't you say? WE HAVE A SON !!!
Sun-duk came home at 9:30 tonight, 'way past her bedtime; she had to attend a competition between the city's church choirs. By the time she had eaten and washed, it was eleven o'clock. What with the ten to twelve hours' sleep a night her pregnancy demands of her, she dreaded getting up the next morning! And wouldn't you know it? As soon as she lay down, Jean-Noël started kicking and punching up a storm. Every thirty seconds or so, we could both feel him striking his mother in the lower-right-hand side of her abdomen. The kid's only five-and-a-half months old, and already as active as a foetus four weeks older than him! Precocious tyke, isn't he? But then again, look at his parents' pedigree!!! ;-)
The baby's movements are growing stronger by the week. Back on December 8, with the help of the sonogram machine at Yonsei Hospital, I was able to see him move around every second - a wave of the hand here, a punch there, then a kick and a swivel of the head... Now, we can feel these stirrings, too. They're still "soft", as Sun-duk calls them, but even I am able to discern these gentle flappings of butterfly wings! It's become a ritual, now, for us to go to bed and 'commune' thus with the baby before the three of us fall asleep together.
Because Sun-duk is not very busy at work, these days, she's much more sensitive to the baby's activity than she normally would be. Feeling this life beat so strongly and consistently within her has already produced a strong bond between mother and child; and although she professes to wish her pregnancy to end as soon as possible (the obsessive and debilitating Korean dread of appearing fat), I believe she's thoroughly enjoying her new 'companion'. Her hands are almost always resting on her belly, caressing the child, reassuring him/her, enjoying his responses...
December 24, 2000
Okay, Sun-duk's just got up... Let's follow her into the living room... Oh, it's TV5, and there's a show on called Vie de famille ("Family Life"). It's a young couple with what looks like a nine- or ten-month-old boy. We're both fascinated; a year from now, our own son will be the same age, delighting us with his antics and insatiable curiosity...
January 1, 2001
New Year's Day was wonderfully peaceful. Sun-duk and I stayed at home, watched television, played "Sequence", took a nap, talked, and "communed" with Jean-Noël, who just wouldn't stop moving. He must have been changing positions, today, because Sun-duk felt his kicks and punches everywhere, even in the ribs. He's not quite hurting her, yet, but it won't be long, now. She yelps out from time to time out of shock, so strong are his movements. The boy really is a rambunctious, pugnacious, little rascal !
No exams, today, but a slightly delayed trip to the hospital.
We arrived at Yonsei at two o'clock, waited fifteen minutes, then spent almost half-an-hour with Doctor Enkhtuya. I won a battle I had been losing when I remarked to the good doctor that Sun-duk was eating much too much chocolate, as well as too many other sweets and oranges. Sun-duk let loose a vociferous "Tchh!!" before being stunned by the doctor"s corroboration. An overconsumption of sugar or acid on the part of a pregnant woman will cause allergic reactions - perhaps even allergies - in the baby. These reactions manifest themselves in the form of red splotches and/or eczema, which cause, in turn, painful itching and scratching. Sun-duk was absolutely crestfallen. Not only does she love - and I mean 'love' in the strongest sense of the word! - chocolate and oranges, but she's been suffering from very violent cravings for these very foods. Oh, to have to quit cold turkey..!! Aigo!
We then went over to the sonogram room to take a look at the baby. We measured the head (50mm long) and checked all the vital signs - everything's normal. The machine predicted a birth date of April 8 - the very date I predicted two months ago, and which I've been proselytising ever since on our site's portal page! Hey, poolies - show me the money! ;-)
The picture was unclear, however, so we went over to the maternity ward behind Yonsei, where, for T3000, one can have an even better sonogram done with a more modern machine. It predicted a birth date of April 6 (boo-oo!); it also allowed us to see the body in greater detail. The leg bones were clearly visible (the thigh bone is exactly 51mm long), as were the ribs and arm bones. We managed to get a profile just once, for a few seconds - eyes, nose, and ears accounted for -, but no head-on shot. Since the printer was operational at last, we asked for a couple of pictures. We got one of the baby's doodie - thus confirming the sex -, and one of the top of the head - no face (sniff!).
In conclusion: all's well!
Sun-duk's had morning sickness several times in the last two weeks. She's ascribed it to the rice she eats for breakfast every morning, so she's switching to bread. This latest development in her pregnancy has convinced her boss and colleagues that she ought to be given a bit more slack; as a result, she has been given permission to arrive at the office at ten o'clock and leave at five, effectively reducing her work day by two hours (and in direct contravention to the national labour law, might I add!).
The baby is quiet. Jean-Noël has barely budged an inch in the past week. The 'Book' says this is normal; foetuses also experience 'down times'. This seems to be one of those times.
Sun-duk's gotten quite round in the belly; 'protruding' might be a more apt word. The very sight of her now prompts people to give her their seat on the bus! No matter how loose-fitting the clothes, and no matter how many layers she puts on, Sun-duk is very noticeably pregnant - much more so than most Korean women in their last trimester, in fact. But then again, take a look at her husband!
So I've got five or six free weekends ahead of me before Sun-duk quits Mongolia and leaves behind a lonely, broken-hearted shell of a father-to-be...
Sun-duk and I went to the hospital yesterday for a penultimate check-up. The baby's doing fine, except that after seven months, Jean-Noël is still in the breech position. He's got six weeks or so before he "drops"; otherwise, a caesarean will be necessary. Speaking of which, I read in the Globe & Mail the other day that 50% of South Korean deliveries are by caesarean, when a study shows that only 5% to 15% of all caesareans are justified. Standard practice in a country where most doctors, like their American counterparts, think nothing of needlessly slicing up their patients in order to line their pockets... In fact, according to Sun-duk, nearly all Korean women have episiotomies done on them, whether they need it or not.
Sun-duk bought her plane ticket on Friday. She's leaving March 2, a week later than I would have liked. But she wants to leave with one of the interns, and experience the Mongolian New Year, too.
Sun-duk is pretty sick; she missed work yesterday, and even though her condition has actually worsened, if anything, she felt compelled to go to the office and complete the translation of a report that has to be sent to the U.S. next week. It's unfortunate that her last month here has to be so very busy; she has a great deal of trouble moving about, and tires very easily. She is, after all, in the eighth month of her pregnancy.
The last day of the month... Sun-duk's bosses gave her a farewell party at the Seoul Restaurant, and we pigged out on the buffet. It's only the third time I've ever been there, and although it's expensive, it's worth the money! I ate four full platefuls, since I hadn't ingested any sustenance since the previous evening, having skipped both breakfast and lunch.
Tomorrow's our last day together, then she's gone...
Sun-duk's gone to a far, far better place, away from the Mongolian crowd... I am alone in the world...
We got up at five-thirty. Everything was proceeding in an orderly manner when the electricity suddenly went out. We waited over half-an-hour, and when it became clear ('clear' - how ironic) that this was a major blackout, I pulled out the flashlight and lit Sun-duk so she could make herself up and put on some clothes. The first rays of sunlight didn't appear until almost 7:30, when Bormaa, Itchka, and Reverends Yoon and Lee came to pick us up in the FHI/M van.
The international airport in Ulaanbaatar is, as I had suspected, small. I realised that the Mongolians' refusal to line up in an orderly fashion when getting onto public transportation extended to check-in counters, as well. What pandemonium! Worst of all, there was nowhere for the two of us to go say our goodbyes in private, so Korean custom, with its reticence towards any public show of affection, obliged us to simply gaze into each other's eyes and hope for the best.
She crossed into the netherworld of duty-free shops, then disappeared from sight. Her plane wasn't take off for another hour, and since there was no area for observing departing passengers or even watching the planes take off, we headed back to the real world with tears streaming down our faces.
The Korean pastors tried to raise my spirits by fooling around in the van; then they advised me to keep busy at all costs. For the sake of conversation, I asked them what Koreans did to take their minds off their troubles, and they replied karaoke! That, and markets and shopping - all in the company of friends. Well, I know next to no one in Mongolia, so I just drifted into the office and found myself checking internet news until mid-afternoon, just to make sure there hadn't been a plane crash at Kimpo or something.
I anxiously awaited Sun-duk's call this evening, but it was her younger sister (due to deliver HER baby any day now) and mother that phoned me to say that she was all right. For some reason, she couldn't call me from her cousin Hye-young's home in Seoul (his wife is also expecting this week!), but she wanted me to know that I would hear her sweet voice Sunday night from Mokpo.
I went to bed early, still shocked by Sun-duk's absence... though it won't really hit me for another few days. We've been apart before on several occasions in Korea, for a few days at a time - she would stay on with her family while I returned to Seoul to honour prior commitments (remember, I had a lot of privates during my years with Kyung Hee) -, but I have the feeling that by next weekend, I'll be pretty down in the mouth, and downright depressed next month when the baby's born.
My few acquaintances here in Mongolia have promised Sun-duk to look after me, especially now that I have the time for socialising. Douglas, Monique, Egge, John, Kelli, Ganaa, Saynaa, and, perhaps, Marc Laporte and Audrey Bernard, two French-Canadians, will do their best to distract me. In fact, Saynaa, John and I will be at the Chinggis Club Sunday morning to watch the first race of the Formula One season, and I've already got three other appointments this week. We'll see how it goes... Making the best of an awful situation is never an easy thing to do, but life's a female hound, isn't it?
JAGI'S ALL RIGHT! At ten o'clock this evening, just as I was finding relief in the little boy's room, the phone rang. Following a very messy pulling up of trousers, I dashed out the toidy and picked up the receiver, only to hear a dial tone.
That's what usually happens when we get international calls, though, so I stayed in the hallway, standing by the telephone; and sure enough, thirty seconds later, it rang again - first with an annoying electronic buzz, then with the dulcet tones of my beloved wife!
She told me she was okay, that she was in Mokpo now after two days with Hye-young and Sun-ju. It took them eight hours to make the drive to Mokpo, because not only is Hye-young a relatively inexperienced driver, but he had to cope with snowy conditions, as well - a rare circumstance in South Korea.
She then proudly announced the purchase of a $300 dollar digital camera (at Yong-san, natch), reducing her bourse to $1100. That worries me, because she might end up not having enough cash to pay the hospital costs next month, especially if she has to undergo a caesarian section. In any case, she regretted our not buying one in Seoul last June, because this homepage is practically devoid of any original photographs of China and Mongolia (the scanners here just aren't up to snuff). If we'd had the one we almost bought, we could have uploaded dozens of pics already.
Sun-duk had read the anxious e-mail I sent her yesterday and told me not to worry about either her or the baby - both of them could now enjoy heapfuls of KFC chicken and Burger King whoppers! She's going to the hospital tomorrow for a check-up - a proper one with high-tech Western gadgetry. She'll probably see the baby perfectly through the ultrasound, and maybe even get a videotape of it!
My darling wife called again, tonight, to brief me on her visit to the hospital. It was a good-news-bad-news deal: good news is that Jean-Noël has been pronounced strong as an ox - so healthy, in fact, and such the spitting image of his father, that the doctor pronounced him seven to ten days ahead of the average foetus in development! This, however, may be a contributing factor to the aforementioned bad news: he's still lying in the breech position. That has us worried - Sun-duk's never had any operation of any kind -, but at least it would be a legitimate, warranted caesarian, rather than the other 90% Korean doctors perform on pregnant woman.
Sun-duk did, as promised, receive a videotape of our son. She was delighted to relate that Jean-Noël has big round eyes and a big nose! For some reason, she wants our children to look more Caucasian than Asian, but I don't really care, myself - although a fifty-fifty split would be nice!
I became an uncle for the fourth time when Sun-hwa gave birth to her second child, a bouncing baby boy, to the great satisfaction of both her husband and her mother-in-law. The couple will probably stop at two, as Koreans, too, have adopted the latter-day Western notion of the 'ideal' one-boy-one-girl nuclear family. Sun-duk and I want three kids - the next two hopefully twins!
I was checking my e-mail at Soros yesterday, reading Sun-duk's letter first, as usual. It was heartbreaking. She told me how she went to an internet cafe and read the diary from the beginning of the month. The sadness expressed above was so palpable that tears began to stream down her face and would not stop for many minutes more. Reading her words made me equally despondent; and when she called me last night, we were both so relieved to hear each other's voices. We mostly talked about the baby (kicking like a mule, and still seemingly intent on putting mommy through a caesarian), then attempted to convince ourselves that time would fly by and we would soon be reunited as one big happy family. Well, let's hope so, eh?..
SIGH... I miss having Sun-duk sit on my lap as we both laid our hands on her belly, feeling the baby move around... I miss walking up behind her in the kitchen, as she stood at the counter preparing food, wrapping my arms around her pregnant waist and nestling my chin in the crook of her neck, whispering sweet nothings in her ear... I miss the hugs and the laughter... I spend most of my non-working hours thinking about her, us, the family-in-waiting, the great happiness we're bound to share for the decades to come...
YAY !!! Sun-duk called tonight - at 12:30! She and Hye-young had spent the day in Kwangju. Hye-young had some business there, and Sun-duk took the opportunity to visit an old English teacher she hadn't seen in four or five years. By chance, his office had a top-notch scanner, so she scanned last June's wedding pictures and later sent me the files.
And so, here at last, are probably the most interesting wedding pictures on this site, in high-quality, colour format. All you gotta do is click on the Photos button in the frame on your left and then once more on the Wedding III link... Or you can be lazy and click here!
WOE IS US... Sun-duk called at midnight, crying and breaking my heart. Her trip to the hospital in Mokpo did not go well at all. The doctor - out of lust for money, limited hospital bed space, or both - scheduled a caesarian for April 3, because the baby is still sitting in the breech position. She's never had surgery before, and is worried about the financial ramifications: the procedure would cost C$2400, instead of $600 for a natural birth with no complications. In the West, doctors wait well beyond the onset of labour to make the decision whether to cut open or not; but Korean obstetricians, for the reasons mentioned above (on several occasions), perform caesarians at the first hint of trouble - which means that 50% of all births in South Korea are by caesarian. Sun-duk now wishes she had gone to my parents' in Canada; the doctors would have given her every chance to deliver naturally, and the hospital bill would probably be smaller, too.
Before hanging up (still sniffling), Sun-duk made a promise to herself that she would insist on waiting for labour to begin before acquiescing to a caesarian, if need be. However, who's to say the doctors won't then simply lie to her and tell her there's a problem, even if there is none? The Korean MDs have learned the lesson of greed well from their American counterparts, with the not-insignificant bonus of having to suffer almost no malpractice suits at all...
A call from Sun-duk last night, saying everything's all right now. She's no longer worried about the probable c-section, and will happily undergo surgery if it's in the baby's best interests. She was actually more upset over the prospect of our losing this website! Sun-duk seldom gets angry, and even when she does, she doesn't raise her voice or anything; she simply emits a palpable feeling of great annoyance punctuated by a few clicks of the tongue.
Sun-duk called at midnight, as she had promised to, following today's check-up. She did two things before seeing her regular obstetrician, however.
First, she went to see a Buddhist fortune-teller, something she does before every important event in her life. (She's done this twice before since I've known her: once, to find out if we would make as great a couple as she expected; and again shortly before our marriage. The results were mixed: the first man predicted everlasting happiness, the second foresaw her doom if she joined her fate to mine.) She asked to know the most propitious days for the birth of our child, and the third and fourth of April were deemed very worthy, indeed. The eighth was considered ill-omened; the fifteenth, not bad. The best time of day: between three and five o'clock in the afternoon. Well, this made Sun-duk happy, as the doctor had chosen the third for a caesarian section as early as two weeks ago.
Still wary of possibly needless surgery, she then moseyed on down to the Catholic Hospital for a second opinion - apparently, the doctors there are much more altruistic and prepared to do everything in their power to prevent c-sections. In this case, she received a confirmation of the first diagnosis: considering the baby's size and breech position, mother and child's best interests would be served by a caesarian a week before the due date.
With both the spiritual and temporal worlds seemingly conspiring against her, Sun-duk resigned herself once and for all to the fact that a natural childbirth was not in the cards this time around. She has lost all feelings of resentment and anxiety, and quietly accepted nature's verdict. I must say that her equanimity far surpasses mine.
Sun-duk had another reason to be chirpy: she bought herself an insurance policy that will save us over C$500. Hey, every little bit helps when you're as poor as Job...
MY SUNNY ANGEL COMES A' CALLING: Sun-duk, as per my e-mail request, made Wednesday just before I visited my future apartment, called to ask my new phone number so that Hye-young or Sun-hwa could call me Tuesday after the caesarian to assure me that wife and child are all right. She's making the best of the situation by telling herself that she'll get to see our rejeton two weeks ahead of time! Sun-duk isn't the patient type when it comes to things she wants very badly, so her newly returned sunny disposition and ebullient optimism were wonderful to hear.
HOW?? Despite the above distractions, my mind is nearly constantly on Sun-duk and the baby. In my worst moments, I am despondent beyond consolation; at others, I cannot contain the love I feel for my wife and child, nor the joy I hope and believe will be our well-deserved lot. Yet I expect more bad days than good, particularly after Tuesday...
April 2, 2001
Sun-duk is gone and giving birth tomorrow. I spent the weekend worrying about her, because she hadn't written or called since Friday morning. I'd imagined all sorts of things, like early labour and its many ramifications. She finally wrote back this afternoon, and called at 11 p.m. We talked about the procedure, and what she could do during as a new mother her week-long stay at the hospital. She was very upbeat, and that's all that matters for now.