Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Birthday from My Love

For the last two years I had been in Korea on my birthday, which just made me miserably unhappy sometimes. There was very little to do, but do for myself. I didn't really do parties for myself, and while I did have friends, the number was small.

Ever since this birthday predicament started though, there was one thing I could always rely on: flowers from my boy. This year he sent me flowers and the most wonderful reading material.

I miss him, and love him.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Do they Doubt Me?

I frequently found myself asking this question in Korea, and yet, here I was asking this question way too early in the morning and before coffee. Coffee could have been had at home; however, I had run out of coffee, and so had opted for a glass of tea instead. Tea was fine, but not coffee. I needed coffee.

Being me, this can't be as easy as it sounds. I had lost my wallet last week in a freak chicken-wing accident, which I still had not recovered from. I was very unhappy about the loss of the wallet, because it contained so many irreplaceable things, like all my point cards from all the coffee shops I frequented all over Korea. Losing the wallet meant a week or so of replacing all my cards and would (eventually) require that I go to the police station and file a report. I just didn't feel like the hassle yet.

So here I stood (at 8:45 in the morning) at my coffee shop, where I had gotten a new point card for my coffee about four days ago after learning thatsince my last card wasn't registeredI couldn't get the points I had lost reloaded.

Fine.

I ordered the usual: Americano with an extra shot. I was tired. And cranky.

They scanned my point card, I put my 4,900 on the counter and the kid behind the counter entered into a wild spiel. Even though it was mostly in Korean I got it: "Yoginin website logging hako discount. Upsize serbice," which roughly translated to, 'if you log in to our horribly designed Korean website and figure out how to use the horribly designed non-English interface that only works in Internet Explorer 7, not 8, no, never 8, and give it all your personal information including passport number and ID number in over an unsecured line, than you can get a free upgrade and only have to pay 3,900 for your coffee.'.

I smiled. I repeated my original order for coffee in Korean and pretended like I really didn't know what he was saying.

I get the spiel again. For some reason I decided to engage. I responded back in my Korean "Your website doesn't work and I don't feel like doing this; can I please just have my coffee?" To which they offered to help.

Why? Why must you question me? I already know this is going to be a pain in the ass and a waste of my valuable time and do I look like I really am in so much desperate need that you must, simply must, log in to the website so I can get my free upgrade? Apparently, yes, yes, I do.

Nice boy went over to one of the computers and spent over five minutes just trying to find the button on the website of his company that said membership. This was how badly designed the website was: it wasn't just the waygooks that couldn't use it, the Koreans had no idea what to do either. He finally managed to find the button and then after that I gave him all my personal private information.

He asked for a password and an ID, which I also give him. He clicked the button and the window crashed.

We do this four more times.

He looked at me and smiled sheepishly.

I had now been kept from my coffee for an extra fifteen minutes, playing a game I already knew I would lose. I was not amused.

"Kopinun jjigumm hasigoita?" Can I have my coffee now, please?


"Yes, yes, sorry, yes, so sorry." And he ran behind the counter where he consulted with the other Korean running the shop and they whispered quietly about how they would have to charge me more. I had already put an extra 1,000 won on the counter to cover the difference but this didn't stop the rushed hushed talking. Eventually I did manage to get the coffee. And after about five minutes and more hushed whispering, Korean Number 2 brought me my change and apologized profusely for the poorly designed website.

I smiled bitterly into my black-as-night drink and pocketed my change.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Walking, Lederhosen, and Sunday in Frankfurt

The walk was gorgeous. We walked through a very touristy plaza that had building facades that looked like they were historical, but in reality were refurbished to give tourists somewhere to go. There were lots of German hofs with German-style food, but we were not heading out for that at all. We got to the river as the sun slipped lower, and were crossing over the river Main when the sun finally winked out and daylight slowly wound down.

The city began to sparkle and there were twinkling lights. It was very beautiful and very pretty to watch it all sparkle and light up. The Engineer walked us down some streets toward an older area of town.

"This part of town, back in the days when there was a military base here, is where all the GI's would go on payday. It had all the bars and restaurants, and now it's still a good place for bars and restaurants."

"Yeah, we have someplace like that in Korea. We call it Itaewon, sort of the same thing."

"The food here is very good. Do you like Turkish food?"

"I do."

"Well, I haven't been here in a few years but if the place I want to go to is still here, I think it will be perfect."

"Excellent."

Where we were headed was a quiet, busy, but somehow still quiet, little Turkish restaurant. When we walked in there was an old grandmother sitting in the front of the shop rolling out flatbreads and cooking them in the nearby stove. Each bread was kneaded and rolled out by hand, I took a quick picture while we asked if there would be a wait. We got lucky; as long as we didn't mind sitting by the window there was no wait. With some nice window seats we settled in for a nice meal. The wine was good and the food was amazing. We had a nice Turkish yogurt and cheese with the breadwhich was piping hot and tasted as good as it looked. The main course was just as good as the starters, with me having grilled chicken stuffed with spinach and light tomato sauce.

The Engineer had a great lamb roast that just fell off the bone and smelled and looked fantastic. I tasted a little bit and had to admit, throughout all my lamb-tasting adventures it was the best lamb I had eaten in quite some time, even beating out the lamb at Santorini's in Chicago. From there the night wound down a bit more...

My guide brought us back across the river, where the city sparkled off the water and finally to the train station. And, in less than three seconds managed to clear up all my confusion about the German subway, pointing out what the lines meant, and how to figure out where to get. He politely walked me back to my line and we said our good-nights and parted ways.

Since the area I was heading back to shut down around 8 (and it was 9:30) I decided to get off the train at the main station and grab a final bottle of wine to celebrate my last night in Germany and see if there might be anything else I wanted. My plan was (on Sunday) to do a bit more sightseeing and shopping now that I understood the city a bit more, but since I was on my own for the night I couldn't see any good reason why not to enjoy some wine.

Back at the shop from my first night, where my happy German clerk had opened the bottle for me, I found myself a nice red, and stood in line to get it opened once more. To my amusement, and to the amusement of the clerk who was assisting them, in front of me were two very, very drunk Germans.

It took me a second to realize this because I was a little focused on their clothes. And it took me about six more seconds to realize that they were not drunk German hipsters, they were in fact drunk Germans, celebrating Oktoberfest and wearing traditional lederhosen. Honest to goodness, made of old suede leather lederhosen, with stitched-in embroidered decorations. It looked for all the world like something a hipster would absolutely love. The Germans men were also holding two pilsner glasses that where sloshing back and forth and just barely managing not to hit the floor. As they staggered back out laughing and slapping each other on the back, I put my bottle of wine on the counter.

"Oh, this is a very good wine."

It was too: a Baron von Roscthchilde from 2009. Good wine, I was happy.

"You know with this, how about I open it for you and we have two glasses and just have it together?"

"Well if you have time." He smiled and opened the wine and said thank you and I went on my merry way.

As I was walking back into the station to look for the train, I noticed once again the staggering German festival goers, and they were really quite very much beyond drunk. So drunk, in fact, that they were having a little trouble figuring out how to use the ticket machine to get tickets for the train. I suspected it might have been easier if they had put down their pilsner glasses, but that didn't seem to be a priority. Instead they were working together to try to get tickets.

Apparently the drunkness was not helping with the reading, so friend number one was standing behind friend number two, who was bent half backward to get just far enough away from the ticket machine to make the words appear more clearly. Friend number one kept from number two from falling over, and friend number to held his outstretched hand trying to figure out how to punch the button for the ticket. It was something to see. So much so that I wanted to take a picture, but upon holding up my camera discovered to my great sadness that the phone battery was too low to activate the camera for a picture.

I would just have to enjoy the mental image of two staggering drunk Germans in lederhosen holding each other up while they tried to get tickets for the train, giggling, and sloshing about the whole time.

I could live with that.

The next day was my last in Germany and what I discovered was that, on Sundays, Germany was closed. I walked about a bit, saw the big church of St. Bartholomew that was build in the 1400's, snapped a few pictures and with that headed back to the restaurant to chill out and wait for my trip to the airport.

As I waited for my plane I had a nice dinner, some good wine, and bought a key chain. I slept fairly well on the thirteen-hour flight back. It was a good trip. Hopefully I'll get a chance to do it again!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Apple Wine and Rest

After the museum I had to admit, that while I was staying on my feet, my feet were killing me. Having been on them for the better part of a week, I really needed to do something that did not require me walking about for a little bit. While the museum was great, my feet were killing during the last leg of the museum. My ankle was fairing little better also, so much so that getting up and down stairs had required a small amount of assistance from my erstwhile tour guide of an Engineer.

"I think I'm going to need to sit down for a bit."

"We should be able to find something close by; do you want to eat?"

"Actually, according to my tour book I am supposed to drink some apple wine, as it is the traditional drink made in the city."

"I can help with that." We walked out around five and into the interminable clanging of the church bells. I'd seen three churches from the rooftop overlook and apparently they all went off and kept going off for a good fifteen minutes while we walked and didn't talk very much (as the noise was so loud). Through pointing, a bit of giggling, and some shouting, we managed to find a restaurant with a nice outdoor area for sitting, and even with the bells, decided to take our chances and have a seat at the fancy wire tables. I quickly unzipped my shoes to give my legs a little freedom, and luxuriated in sitting down for a bit.

My lovely Engineer took care of ordering the drinks with me getting an applewiessen and a beer for himself.

Here is where translating can be annoying. The guide book said clearly that the drink of the land was an apple wine, but had I known anything about beer at all I would have known that the applewiessen was actually a type of apple beer, or more properly, cider. Which meant it was a amber-colored dark cloudy brew that was set in front of me. Since it was my last day in Germany I decided to let go and enjoy a few carbsI'd been quite good on my trip, and so I prepared to have the first glass of beer I'd had in probably eight years.

"I am curious to see what you think of it." said my companion.

"Why is that?"

"Well, most people either like it or hate it. Some think it is an acquired taste, and well, a few people think the third one tastes better than the first."

I smiled. I sipped. Altogether it was not bad: it had a faint taste of apples, and was carbonated but not overly so, a very smooth drink. It wasn't sweet, either, which I had sort of expected (it being a cider). In all, I was pleased with the product and happy to sip on it.

"What do you think?"

"It's good. Different. It's not sweet. Is it supposed to be cloudy like this?"

"Yes; you can get it more filtered until it's clear, but the most traditional way is this way."

I liked a good tradition. We sat in the cooling evening as the dusk began to settle in, drinking and talking and laughing.

"Dinner?"

"Yes; do you have something in mind?"

"Do you think you can walk a little further? If you can I have a place in mind that is just past the river."

"I think I can manage."

And so with an outstretched hand I was assisted back onto my sore feet and we began to walk a bit more in search of food.