Saturday, December 27, 2014
Friday, December 26, 2014
The next day Quartermain and Ladybug were slated to visit. I spent way too much time doing sweet fuck all until my lady love returned from work. My Inanna bag had finally given up the goddess and died, so we decided to spend the time waiting replacement bag shopping. Originally we considered heading out to Insadong for this, but eventually decided the best place to hit would be Itaewon. As my last trip to the Won had been during full dark, I felt it would be nice to have at least one trip there during the day.
A taxi was hailed on the rainy Korean morning and we moved about as swiftly as be expected across most of the Seoul. As we approached Itaewon I suggested coffee and hit one of my favorite working coffee shops down the strip towards Sujis. We walked with our coffee in the rain, skipping into some of the shops that make up the mall to warm up, where a nice pair of shoes were acquired. From there we managed to land without too much ado on bag street, where one happy bag seller was happy to wave us in.
“All right, yes, first customers, okay. What do you need?”
I explained I was looking for a carryon, and I really wanted to get an Inanna if he had one, but sadly all the Inannas he did have were hardshell carryons and that just doesn’t work as well for domestic American flights. I’ve watched people fight with it too often, so I abanadoned my desire and started looking for something that seemed like it would be an adequate bag that would last me as long as my Inanna bag had lasted me. That Inanna bag had been around the world at least six times, had been to Europe, as well as all parts of Asia, and Latin America, not to mention the States over and over again. In its 8 years of life it had seen things no bag should ever have to see, but it had done so with cheer. However, on the last flight we had taken the zipper fob, which I had already replaced once, got entirely smashed off in a way that couldn’t be fixed because there simply wasn’t a place to put a replacement zipper tab. I’d would have tried getting the second zipper going, but sadly that zipper was rusted or welded in position making it impossible.
My bag was dead.
After about ten minutes of browsing I finally settled on a bag that not only looked rather durable, but also had was appeared to be the etching of a butterfly on it.
“It is butterfly like. And Pele is a goddess.”
There was that.
And so my bag was replaced. Now the tricky part. To haggle when I didn’t have cash for the bag. Cash had been at a premium since my bank was decided that Korea couldn’t be trusted, and I knew that not having cashy money was going to make a haggle difficult but I still wanted a deal. Even with my cash problem the ajoshi was relatively polite about it.
Pulling out my card.
“Oh, card. No, then 85.”
“No, you know, first customer. If you use the card, 85.”
“First customer. Last customer.”
He smiled at me.
“Okay, okay… okay sure.” He smiled again.
“Iiiiigo, first customer, last customer…jinja.” He muttered as he swiped my card but he did give me a deal. Bag won, we hit the foreigner mart for some last-minute Thanksgiving knicknacks for the young generation coming that evening, and from there hit the High street where a bottle of wine and some birthday cake later we were feeling generally better about life the universe and everything.
Our taxi ride home was smooth and surprisingly fast considering weather and traffic, and we relaxed while waiting for everyone else to get there for the second to last party I would have before leaving the country.
Thursday, December 25, 2014
The plan for my birthday was quite simple. We were going to make a fuck tonne of food, hang out, drink and meet up with people. The Kiterunner was coming up to tell stories of her new life as the prize foreigner pet in the Korean monastery system. I would meet a lady friend of my lady love, we would eat, and drink and entertain. In all it sounded like a good plan for the day.
Her phone rings in the afternoon. We had spent most of the day lounging and cooking a turkey. I drank up all her coffee with the gusto of an addict.
“You have plenty of coffee.”
“No, you are addicted, this is your number-one drug, and I don’t have enough to last through your visit.”
“I’ll get you more.”
“That’s not the point.”
“I’ll send you more.”
We went back and forth on the coffee for a bit, but she was right. I mused as she regaled me with stories of the Kiterunner’s move, which at this point was taking on the hints of an epic journey into the abyss where only those with the strongest souls would be able to return from the adventure. So far the strongest souls had been my lady love and her friend Heels, a new girl who had happily wandered into both their lives.
We were waiting for Kitrunner when both our phones lit up “SEND HER DOWN!” was the message as I was basically being summoned to descend and let the Kiterunner in. So I hit the elevator and went to go figure out what was going on while planning and putting together of festivities continued in the kitchen.
I got of the elevator to screaming.
“STAY RIGHT THERE! YES, THAT IS HOW SHE CAME OUT OF THE ELEVATOR!”
I was being photobombed, but not in the way you think, more in the way of sneaky surprise photos were being taken of me without my knowledge. After the bombing I was instructed to take the large box at her feet and haul it upstairs. The box contained a good amount of cheese, booze, and (for no readily apparent reason) enough pretzels to kill a man. We sat around and talked, drank, I napped, and generally amused ourselves until Heels and my lady love’s husband returned home.
“What do you want to drink? How about tequila? Did you show her the tequila?” Kitrunner asks. At this point they pull out a bottle of tequila, as liquor was apparently a fun part of the move that had been entertaining people for weeks.
“OH MY GOD, I have the tequila, at least it is a liquid.” Unlike, apparently a bottle of Irish cream that had been unearthed from 20+ years of accumulated nonsense, the tequila was still drinkable. Granted, it had been originally bottled sometime in 1994, but it had been kept in reasonable good condition and so, was therefore, something that could still be consumed.
We enjoyed our conversation, and later our turkey. Heels turned out to be good company, as did the husband, and we were all stuffed full of turkey, chicken, and other Thanksgiving sundries, though I skipped out on most of the carbs and went for the booze instead. We relaxed, expats in a strange land enjoying the most American of traditions while discussing at length our lives and troubles, our amusement with Korea. It was the most family thing I had done all year, and one of the most worthwhile.
How strange it is that 6,000 miles is often the dividing line between me and family.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
And then it was my birthday.
And then I was turning 38 years old.
And then I was a year older and wiser.
And then I was sitting in a bed and contemplating it all.
And then there was the Irish. I’d wondered if I would hear from him at all on my journey home. While I knew I wouldn’t see him, I did wonder if I would hear from him.
We don’t talk anymore. Our conversations have lost their substance and simple become part of the background noise. This morning we started as usual, but then the walls came off of it and the box opened up and we really talked.
And then I remembered why I missed him.
And I think for a few minutes he may have remembered why he missed me.
As I turned older we went back over some roads; we hashed it out. There was hurt and bitterness, some joy, some yelling and anger, some remorse and joking. We were human beings for a moment.
And then I smiled.
And then I wished I could go to Daegu.
I would not go to Daegu. Daegu is full of ghosts and haunted corners and going to Daegu would be unwise. After nine months of therapy I felt good going to Korea, but I wasn’t ready for Daegu. I knew this, and I think my shrink would have agreed. Our conversation was strong and pulled on me and I wanted a moment, a singular moment.
And then the moment passed.
And then I was older and sitting in a kitchen at a computer with a blinking cursor.
And then my phone rang.
I wish I could have taken that ring back, to have left my phone sitting on the counter and just left it as it was…but I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t have. It was a moment. A single connected moment with all the wistfulness of what there once was.
And then it was over.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
That night we went to the Beastro to get dinner and have cocktails.
“They have their own mixologist,” she explained to me.
The menu was good, American fare with a kitchen that was fussed on doing sous-vide cooking. The Korean girl at the counter who was trying to figure out what we wanted when we showed up and asked for a table kept refusing to listen to me telling her quite clearly in Korean what we wanted.
Her English was also a fail so all around that was disappointing, but finally we managed to somehow communicate that we would go upstairs and wait at the bar for a table.
“They make the best dirty martinis,” she says to me.
“We shall see about that.” Let’s face it; Chicago has the market cornered on dirty martinis for me. Between the ones at the Art Institute and the ones at the Tavern at the Park, there is nothing happening in martini land that can beat the blue-cheese-stuffed awesomeness that is the Chicago dirty martini. But I try to be open minded about these things.
“How is the mixologist? Is he not here tonight?”
“Oh, he’s not with us anymore?”
“What, but we came here for him?” She is disappointed, but we order our drinks anyway.
“Dirty martinis, and how would you like them?”
“Absolutely filthy,” she replies.
“Like a, I guess a medium filth.” This earns me a raised eyebrow. “What? I’m not THAT filthy.”
This earns me another raised eyebrow.
The food was good. The martinis as good as one could expect to have in Korea, and really, quite good in all. The company, however, was superb.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Sunday, December 21, 2014
November 26th, 7:00 a.m.
SaraDevil: What’s on your mind?
Post: Most likely on today's agenda, point out something I want to eat and having an ajjuma kill it and bring it to me.
I’ve done a lot of things in Korea, but even I can’t say that I have done all the things you can do in Korea. There was one thing I had not done, that I had always wanted to sort of do. Granted, way back in 2002, I had ridden on a boat on the ocean with my English director, caught a fish in the ocean, than watched as an ahjussi cleaned it on the shore and served it up with gochujang. But, that was catching an fish out of the ocean and eating it. I had heard many a time of the markets where one could go and point at a fish and have someone bring it to you ready to eat. Yet, in all my time in Korea, I had never completed this particular feat.
Oh, I had been to the placed with big fish containers outside where you knew that one of those poor unsuspecting bastards was about to become your dinner. I’d had lobster in Korea more than once and was fairly sure I had met the donor before it was delivered, but I’d never actually pointed at a thing to have someone bring it to me to eat.
This, though, is what my love suggested to me would be an interesting way to have brunch. And from there, of course, we would do the shopping for the Birthday/Thanksgiving the First that would happen on the following day.
I figured “What the fuck, why not?” So we marched off on a nice, coolish (but not overly cold) morning to the local market that was not too far from her place.
“It’s right across from the Home Plus, I can’t believe it took me so long to find it.”
It was her local version of my beloved Chilsunshijang, shopping market of ajjumas and rockstar foreigners who like to eat fresh food and not pay a shit tonne of money for it all the time. Her place was more contained than Chilsung, but certainly a great market. First up, finding our way to the back to where all the fish mongers were hanging out.
“Do you know how to do this?” she asks me.
“No fucking idea.”
“I thought you had done this before?”
“Can you do it?”
“Pretty sure we can figure this out.”
At first we went up to the restaurant staging area, which–luxury–had tables and chairs meaning we would not have to sit on the floor. The ajjuma took one look at the two of us and I’m pretty sure was convinced she was about to have the worst day of her life.
But fortunately, my Korean prevailed.
To which one ajjuma thoroughly relaxed and smiled and grabbed me and dragged me downstairs and called over her friend. She explained to me that he would take care of us, and he asked in Korean what we wanted, which we explained what we would buy. It was all pretty easy from there.
He picked out a flounder and tossed it in a basket for us, and my lady love and I checked out the basket and decided to reject his selection up looking it over. He tossed it back into the tank, for a less picky consumer, and plucked another out of the water with his long net. We looked this one over and agreed that we would eat the fuck out of that fish.
We figured while we were at it we should get some scallops, clams, and shrimp to go along with our fish; in all we loaded up with about 50 dollars worth of seafood for a meal that would have cost us three times that much in a restaurant or in the states. Then we marched back up stairs with our bags (the fish was coming on it’s own behind us) and we got a table.
I chatted with the ajjuma for a bit about who we were and where we were from, made sure that we had proper soju (CHARM soju for you people that don’t know better), and ordered the bivalves and prawns to be steamed up. We got extra sesame leaves, garlic, and gaemjang to go along with everything and sort it out; and a bit extra wasabi and soy sauce. While we were starting in on our fish, which was served up perfect for us, a group of Chinese tourists came and sat down next to us.
They were staring and watching us.
They were complaining about our ability to speak Korean.
To which the ajjuma told them, in Korean, in no uncertain terms, that my Korean was better then theirs. She spent the next ten minutes giving them pronunciation lessons while the ahjussi (who was assisting) loomed over my shoulder and watched us eat. Sadly he would not join us for soju. In all it was a swell time. The steamed food was perfect, the fish excellent, and later the hwaymultang was nice, not to spicy, served hot and boiling and was to be expected.
For the first time having food killed for me, I thought it worked out well.
Saturday, December 20, 2014
So far I had been in Korea 48 hours. At this rate, I'm pretty sure Korean food was not going to happen.
The Uzbekis were very nice to us. We ordered a bottle of Russian vodka and pickles and enough meat to make an Uzbeki horseman feel like he was having a good night on the plains. We ate the fuck out of that food.
Friday, December 19, 2014
“Today we shop.”
It had been determined that Tuesday we would hit the big fabric store in Dongdaeumun. While I love the gigantic miles-long shop in Daegu and Seomeunshijjang, I don’t know the one in Dongdaemun that well, but I had a small list of things I wanted.
The problem with shopping for fabric in Korea at one of the huge outlets is that you are shopping for fabric in a store that spans several buildings, several city blocks, and is (more often than not) a labyrinth where you will lose yourself never to be seen again. It's impossible to track yourself inside these types of markets, so I relied heavily on my lady love to see us through it.
“I want to get fabric to make a winter coat.” I tell her.
“We can do that. I need pompoms.”
So we wondered. I bargained with the ajjumas, pissing off at least one of them who refused to negotiate. I stumbled on some digital prints that I ended up buying. We went up and down and bargain hunted until I finally found some nice felt I was willing to buy for a winter coat. We searched through the accessories store in hopes of finding her pompoms while I lifted a few things here and there for making jewelry out of. I got some sewing supplies and she got a few stones.
As we were about to give up all hope I decided I needed to find a bathroom and in my potty quest we found her pompoms. At this point we had covered at least three buildings and probably about two miles. Three hours down in Dongdaemun and I had not seen a single thing twice. It was impossible and not my favorite shopping mecca. It made me miss Daegu…a siren's call and pang in my heart and I could hear my heart a beating drum saying Daegu Daegu Daegu, but I turned away from it, and turned harder into toward Seoul, and turned faster away from all the memories and phantoms, shadows, and haunting things that would cling to Daegu. I would not go to Daegu. I would not spend a night in a hotel there. I would stay put where I was.
Which meant being now: present and in the moment.
“How do you feel about Uzbekistani food?”
Thursday, December 18, 2014
“I’m not drinking a lot tonight,” says the Editor.
“Oh, good; neither am I. I think I’ll just have a vodka and club soda.”
“I’m going to be such a girl, I’m having an appletini.”
It had been at least a year since our last get-together, one in which I sat in a restaurant overlooking the rushing streets of Seoul. This dinner in Seoul was on a different rushing street, both of us running late, both of us managing to be on time by being late. The Editor had picked a Mediterranean place for us to consume food. We talked about work, life, and living while working. She was traveling in opposite directions around the globe, and I was most likely looking to be traveling in directions around the globe soon as well.
It had been a year, but it felt like less time had passed. Perhaps because as with my lady love, even though we were on separate sides of the globe we still engaged in conversation. We still managed to see each other, hang out, talk and chat, and so time and distance only separated our corporeal selves; everything else was the same. Therein lies the secret to maintaining the connections we make: giving them life and breath even when they are strained by time and distance.
“Well, I have to go watch my boy play darts.”
“I’ll come hang out. I can have one more drink.”
So we walked down to Dillingers for one more drink. Which turned into one more vodka club double. Which turned into three more vodka club doubles. Which turned into me telling tawdry stories out of school to one of the Editor's employees, amusing him with tales that are both real and ridiculous.
“And of course I have been busy in New York.”
“What have you been doing?”
I show the Editor a picture on my camera.
“I can’t even take that seriously.” We both laugh and order another round.
The bar is warm and cozy on a Monday night. Like many an expat bar in Korea it is full of people and activity.
“I came in here on Saturday to watch the game, and started drinking at 10:00. I was home and passed out by four. I don’t even remember. I drank them out of Clamato though, and then I got in a fight and punched some guy out at Stoogies.”
“And you can’t take ME seriously?”
We giggle and laugh and have a selfie-posting contest before finally (around midnight) I realize that the jetlag is winning, I’m not exactly sure where I'm staying, and I have had perhaps one vodka too many. I wish her and her love goodbye and tell the ahjussi to take me where I need to go.
Seoul lights up around my taxi as it winds through the damp cold streets toward foriegnerville, a sleeping woman, another night home, and another night closer to leaving.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
“So, we have about an hour and a half before this movie; what do you want to do?”
“I need protein.”
True story. New diet requires a great deal of protein.
“What kind of protein?” she asks me.
Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was the season, but all I wanted to eat was some street meat, gods how I missed some decent street meat. Sadly, even on this fine cold day, the push to remove a great many of the cart bars from Korea had been effective enough that getting said street meat was not as easy as I had once been, but we hit a back alley and I pointed out a sign for a cart bar that would, in fact, have all the street meat I could want.
I could smell the oodang before we even got to the stall, and I was practically spinning to get there fast enough when we had the momentary realization that neither of us had any money. My ATM card was not giving me access to cash, and she was cash poor. I was pretty sure the ajjuma was not going to take credit for a couple of pieces of oodang. After a quick check (IN KOREAN!) we determined that we did have enough money for me to have a couple of piece of oodang and and some gumu.
Then, as we were leaving, the Artist pointed just before the sales counter, and it was…
A MECHANICAL DINOSAUR IN A SANTA CAP!
“That is hilarious!” she smiled as she walked off to pay and then she turned around.
“What the hell?” to me as I stood in front of the Dino getting simultenously attacked while trying to take a selfie with the dinosaur.
“What? Get a picture of me.”
In not a single one was I not laughing. The Dino got me at least three times.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
First was to check out the CGV Art Hall theater, which is sort of what Koreans think an Artist hall would be like if all artists lived in burned-out factories and had a life narrated by Bansky, Legos, and Star Wars. It was amusing to watch the Korean girls walk around in their factory-designed overalls for no readily apparently reason except that it was artistically fashionable.
I found myself muttering “Oh Korea” as that seemed to be the sentiment I was experiencing as I traipsed through my long-lost homeland. Oh Korea, if you were a child we would smile and nod; if you were a pet we should shake our heads and pet you; if you were an elder we might politely agree, but you are who you are Korea, and we don’t know what to do with you. We can’t properly hold you and coddle you, so we whisper “Oh, Korea” while shaking our head in dismay and amusement that you still manage to get away with it all. Well, Korea, at least you are cute.