This most difficult week began with a midnight cell phone call. Nobody ever calls me at that hour with good news.
"Don't freak out, Dad,'' said my 24-year-old daughter, Carley. "Jen's okay.''
Both my daughters are teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, 8,000 miles and 13 time zones away. You can't just hop a quick flight to get there if something goes wrong.
Until now, that hadn't been a problem. Their mom and I had celebrated their decision to see the other side of the world. When 27-year-old daughter Jennifer spent the Christmas holidays in Chinese youth hostels, we marveled at her courage and delighted in the scenes of her throwing snowballs on the Great Wall.
Jennifer is my journalist, a chip off the old block(head), as her mother might say. Not long after she landed in this strange new environment, she started a blog, "Seoul Searching,'' which was both entertaining and comforting for us. Typically of a good writer, she saw columns in everything — the first trip to the public bath houses called jjimjilbangs; the awkward feeling a tall blonde feels in a city full of tiny blackhaired people who stare and asked you to pose for pictures.
Quite different for young women who grew up in New Port Richey, Florida.
Early on, Jennifer wondered about the sirens she heard, the routine drills that South Koreans have practiced since the war with their northern neighbors. "This year may be challenging,'' she wrote, "learning the language, adapting to the culture, being thousands of miles from my friends and family. But each time I hear those sirens, I'll think of all the challenges the South Koreans have faced, and just how far they've come.''
She marveled at the total lack of logic to Korean numbering systems, much worse than U.S. 19. Google maps do not exist there. "If you don't feel like getting lost in the second biggest city in the world,'' she wrote, "make a Korean friend. They're your only hope.''
"Once you reach your destination, if you decide to take the elevator, the buttons on the door will read: 1, 2, 3, F, 5, and so on. The number four in Korean reads exactly the same as the word death, so it's not present in elevators. Many Asians have actually developed a strong aversion to the number that the ailment has a name: Tetraphobia.
"Oh, and by the way, I live on floor F.''
Both my girls have shared wonderful stories of their school children, their fellow teachers, outdoor markets with strange sea creatures, the ski trip and hiking in the national park, among other things. The time zone difference notwithstanding, we have been able to keep in close contact thanks to Skype, Facebook and cell phones. So their being so far away has not been a problem — until now.
Saturday night, the girls went out with several friends. As they left a nightspot, Jen stepped into the street to hail a cab. A speeding motorcycle slammed into her, knocking her face down to the asphalt. The driver didn't stop.
Carley held her unconscious, bleeding sister while friends called for an ambulance. Several hours later, after careful evaluation that included an MRI, doctors released Jennifer from the hospital. She had a concussion, broken nose, broken ribs and several cuts and bruises.
Right after Carley's phone call advising of the accident, we connected with the girls via Skype. Jen looked like a boxer after a fight. Our first instinct was the catch a plane to her, and then we realized we had mailed our passports in for renewal. So there we were, helpless and worried that a hidden injury could do more harm.
A week later, Jennifer is on the mend. We worry more now about the trauma that both girls experienced, but we're grateful for their friends' prayers and support, and the good doctors. We're planning our trip over and can't wait to hold them in our arms.
Meanwhile, through her pain, my daughter the writer offered this about the whole experience:
"It'll make a good column.''
That's my girl.