Monday, April 28, 2008

Same as it ever is.

Self reflection not being one of my strong suits I shall return you know to your regularly scheduled Korea channel.

Did you know Korea is freaking weird? No really, I’ve been living here for going on seven years and it still kills me how weird this place is sometimes. I met my friend Mono most recently recovered from surgery and now with his own jar o’ organ. We got together for dinner and afterwards for a bit of a walk about. What else is there to do after dinner, good for the body and soul.

We head up the crisply cool streets of Daegu and I stop to notice a keychain. Some bizarre little robot thing. I look at Mono, and back at the keychain.

“That robot has boobs.” I say to him.

“Yes, boobs and a heart on.”

We walk on down the streets dodging cars, Koreans, and cool gusts of wind.

“What do you want to do?” I ask him.

“Let’s go get coffee.”

We wander about me thinking of an entirely different coffee shop.

“You want to go here?” I say as we pull up to the red and silver shop that sits on a busy street.

“Why not, it’s street level and you can freak gaze.”

“You mean people watch?”

“Whatever.”

Korea is freaky like that. We have our coffee and talk. We get stared at by the girl wearing a hood and bunny ears. We get stared at by the guy wearing a pink couple shirt that matches his girlfriends. We get stared at by the girls that look like drag queens circa 1980 with the big hair and gold lame included. Strangers in a strange land that us.

We leave the shop and continue our walk about. I find a giant pelican and I just can’t resist asking to have my picture taken in it’s mouth. I open the door to get it. And close it and move to stand behind the bird.

“You’re not getting in?”

“Uh….no.”

“Why not?”

“Uh?”

“Is it nasty?”

“You could day that.”

Someone has done something in there and I’m not willing to speculate on what. I get my picture and we move on. I realize suddenly that dinner is not sitting so well so I ask if we can hit a place I know that has a public restroom. The guard gives me a bit of hard time as it is almost time to close but after I mutter to him in Korean he lets me pass.

I get in and sit down for a moment of quiet time.

Until I see this.





Yes, it’s singing poo. It disturbs me. I don’t want to think about poo with a snorkel coming up out of there while I’m doing what I’m doing. I hurry to finish up and march on down the street. We walk some more but at this point Mono is pushing himself and it is time to go home. We start to head back towards some cabs but get distracted by the shiny lights on a little anime toy store. I start to look in the windows at all the toys.

Then I realize that this isn’t a toys are us. That’s what I get for paying to much attention.

I walk Mono back to a cab and then grab a night cap before going home.

“How’s your evening?” H asks from behind the bar, resplendent in his Rastafarian cap.

“Same as always.” I turn back to my drink and smile.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You Never Miss it til it's Gone

I really dislike going to hospitals.

That said, after work today I knew that I had to go to the hospital even though it would be late and even though I’m tired and fighting a fairly vicious sinus cold. I have a sinus headache that makes me wish for something stronger than Tylenol. As it was when I got back to my side of town after work I hoped into a cab and headed for the hospital where one Monolycus was interred. Mono was in to have a piece of himself taken out. From what I understand it was a him or organ situation and he decided that it was time for the organ to go.

I pulled into the big university around seven thirty which left only about thirty minutes of visiting left on the clock. I walked into the hospital and immediately stopped traffic. The guy in the wheel chair smoking a cigarette stared at me. The man in the walker pushing down the isle stopped to gawk. The elderly lady with her catheter bag hanging out was all a twitter about it. The kids running around there to visit someone were stunned. Waygook at a hospital, who would have thought.

Although I knew what room he was in I need to ask for help and apparently needed a confirmation pass which I got at the front desk. They directed me to the elevator and put me on, very helpful. It was only after going up a floor that I realized my elevator did not actually stop on the floor I was visiting. I got off the elevator and contemplated walking. Koreans have this thing about elevators where as long as there is a particle of breathing space available it is okay to pack in. This makes me intensely claustrophobic. Might have something to do with the fact that “touch the foreigner” is a favorite Korean game. I violently dislike being on a packed elevator and after waiting for ten minutes for an elevator going to the proper floor I finally opted to ride down so I could grab a space in the back and then ride up.

Mono was at the top of the hospital in a room towards the back. I walked in past the sleeping Korean men and woman who were recovering from surgery, looking for the lone Wolf but not seeing one. Finally I came to the last bed on the left in a room of eight and saw the familiar blond hair that said “here lies white guy recovering from surgery.”

“Who are you?” he says groggy.

“The easter bunny. You look good. How you doing?”

“I feel like I’ve been shot in the stomach four times.”

“It only looks like three.”

He points to the table next to the bed, but I don’t know what I’m looking for. Then he picks up a jar of bits and shakes it at me. The bits are bloody and full of gunk.

“What…is that…?”

“Yep.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why on earth did they give it to you?”

“Don’t know that either. Mrs. Chung is kinda of weird. I’m lying there waking up from surgery and she is standing over me when my eyes open with a big smile on her face and just waving it at me.”

“Huh.”

“That was kinda what I thought. That and OW!”

We talked about bodily functions and people who had come to visit. We put the jar of no- longer-in-use-organ down on the table and tried to forget about it.

“You thirsty?”

“Oh, god, yes.”

“Didn’t they give you ice chips to chew on?”

“No.”

“We could try to ask about water.”

“Honestly, I’d rather have a cigarette.”

And so the stay in the hospital goes. I help him up off the bed and ask him how he gets it to go up. “Hand crank.” He points at the end of the bed where this is a crank that can be used to move the bed up or down. Right.

We take a walk down the hall and then walk again. Movement, always important after major surgery.

“I like your pants, do you get to keep them?”

“I don’t think so.”

We stop by a mirror.

“These really are stupid pants.” He says looking down at himself. “And I’m not sure that is all my blood.”

I walk him back down the hall and stay a few more minutes before I know I’m well past visiting hours and my sinus are drilling their way out of my eye sockets. I say goodnight, walk down the hall past the staring Koreans on walkers with tubes flowing from various orifices. It gives me the creeps, like a hospital in a horror movie. It’s perfectly normal and sane, and yet there is something faintly disturbing about it.

Maybe it is the being surrounded by Koreans.

Maybe it’s knowing that in each room, next to each one of the eight beds there is table. And on that table there is an organ.

I was very happy to get my taxi home.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Around we go again...

It was a building malaise. It had been building for days. Since the rock throwing. Since forever. Since coming back to Korea. Since feeling homesick.


I sat in my home and debated. Go, stay, go, stay.

Staying was winning.

Then I realized I had been staying in for a month. I was killing myself slowly with loneliness staying it. I was forgetting about people and places and things. I was forgetting that there was a life worthwhile outside the doors of my apartment and the doors of my classroom.

So I got dressed up, grabbed my book, and went out.

The book was my friend. The book was there to keep me company if there was no one out to see. I walked in the rain that was falling, a breezy light must, but I didn’t mind. The mist was cold and put a chill in me that made goose bumps stand up on my arms. It was cool and breezy. My hair loose and tangled in the wind as I walked down the street.

I walked towards the Lonely Hearts Club and contemplated why. Would I find the answer to my heart there waiting for me? I wondered about that. When I feel that pit in my stomach and remember faces in the haunting mist, here words that would undo me….I wonder about the lonely hearts that aren’t mine.

I feel lonely when I realize that most of my friends leave after a year.

I feel lonely because I stay.

I feel lonely because I’m not going to go anywhere yet.

Walking in the rain I thought of my past and my future and the rain falling down. I walked slowly, in no rush for what I would find. The neon glitters around me and I duck into the park to get away, a forest in the city, a quiet place.

I enter the club and see some familiar faces. People I know but not quite friends. I can let myself go, I can sit with them, make new friends who will leave. I ask to sit at their table and they acquiesce. I get ready to get a drink.

There are arms around me from behind. Strange. I wonder why someone is grabbing me from behind. What now, Korea, I think.

There is a voice in the air, a quiet voice that comes with the arms and I turn me head and look down to see a face, a girl, a love, a dream, in the Lonely Hearts Club that is suddenly much less lonely.

I know this girl, my girl, H~, beautiful, gone for so long. I was sure that I would never see her again, had given up seeing her, feeling her hands, smelling her hair.

I turned around and pressed her close to me. We grasp hands, nuzzle necks. She kisses me and I kiss her back. We are like school girls finding a warm home in each other. We are people who go and come back and go and come back and keep staying even with the changes.

“Everything changes,” she says to me.

“You look beautiful,” I say.

“Yes, but old.”

“No, that’s me.”

“No, you look different. You look happier.”

“Maybe, I’m sad, sometimes. In love. But for all the wrong reasons.”

“Me too.”

“I love you.”

“It’s been a long trip.”

“You look the same. But your…ki-boon…is older, maybe.”

She smiles, “Yes. Ki-boon. It feels older.”

“Yes.”

“I love you.”

“I missed you.”

“I’m happy. If I’m happy, everyone is happy.”

I smile at her. “If your happy than I can’t be angry at you.”

“Accept that I’m sad.”

“You can’t be sad, or everyone is sad.”

“Everything changes.”

We sit and hold hands. We take pictures of each other. We hold each other. We fall into each other all over again.

Everything changes. Change with it. It’s the only thing that can be done in the end. The only thing that really matters.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Korea and Dogs

It’s early morning Korea time and I have to take the dogs out for a walk. I get dressed and ready to head out the door, bundle the dogs into various types of harness, rush down the stairs and hit the pavement. This is hyper unusual in a country like Korea. Dog ownership in Korea is of itself a weird thing.

Many have probably heard at some point when talking about Korea that Koreans eat kim-chi. Many are also aware of that fact that Koreans eat a dog. Usually in the form of a soup called Bo-shin-tang. The first fact tends to get lost in a muddle when you toss out that Koreans eat dog. I tend to find in conversations with new people in Korea or in conversations with people back home that the dog thing overrides all right thinking senses sometimes about Koreans.

First, not every Korean eats dog. Most Koreans, especially the children that are coming up in this generation, have never eaten dog. If it was suggested to them that they should eat dog, or one brought over a bowl of dog soup the bringer of said soup would be regarded as an evil murderer. A similar reception to one from a Western point of view.

Secondly, some Koreans still do eat dog soup, but it’s not a nightly thing. Bo-shin-tang is reserved for special occasions once a year. It’s not something one does on the weekend for fun. It’s usually a honeymoon or a birthday to provide strength and stamina. This is not really all that different from eating raw oysters. The difference being that dogs are a lot cuter than raw oysters.

I do not condone eating dogs. I love them, and have owned far to many to be behind eating dogs, but I also don’t condone randomly hating Koreans because at some point dog meat was a lot more important in the diet than it is today. As it were, as times are changing, many Koreans are becoming pet owners. The pets of popularity are definitely dogs. Cats are regarded here as rather filthy animals that no one would want to own. If you do want to own a cat then it is expected that you will pay at least an arm and a leg for a specialty breed of cat. Cat as status symbol. Just any old cat would not do. This stems from a huge problem in Korea with feral cats. They are everywhere, and they are wild.

I once rescued a kitten of a feral cat. I couldn’t keep the kitten so I asked a fellow teacher who was also a cat lover if he would take it. He did. The cat while sweet and even tempered also would not stop meowing (the constant meowing was how I found her). When he left the cat went to a student who promised to take good care of her. However after a few days of living with the constant meowing the girls parents got rid of the cat. Did it end up back on the street? In a shelter? In someones stew pot? It was never known. Later I wondered if it would not have been better to leave that poor kitten to it’s fates.

Lots of Koreans own dogs, however, and they can be heard all the time. You walk down the street and you hear dogs barking constantly. They live in yards, they live on rooftops, they live in apartments. Mostly the dogs are pretty small shitzus and malteeses. But occasionally you get some of the traditional Korean dogs the jin-do-ga which is a big beautiful dog, and every now and again you get some larger breed American dogs. And these dogs mostly live in-doors. It is rare to see anyone walk their dog. I live in a dog neighborhood. I hear the dogs bark and whining constantly. And I’m the only one in the neighborhood that ever puts my dogs on a leash and talks them for walks.

Even the big dog owners rarely take their dogs out for anything. It’s just one of those things about Koreas. Dogs are considered house pets and treated as such. They live like cats. They don’t get enough exercise, can be terribly bored, and never leave their homes. I take my dogs for walks and get no end of looks. Most of the time it is overjoyed glee to see a waygook with a dog. It’s amazing how much speed Koreans can build up running in fear from a shitzu. Although my shitzu is kinda scary.

A few nights ago I had an hajuma yelling at me about the dogs. She was swearing a blue streak in Korean about dog poop in the neighborhood and obviously, since I have the audacity to take my dogs out for a walk, it must be my dogs. Never mind that when the home owners finally clean up the dog poop they just shovel it into the streets; or the homeless man who lives in the park with three small dogs that just wander aimlessly doing whatever they want to do. Nope, dog poop, must be the foreigner’s dogs. This is the same woman who has watched me time and again as I clean up after the dogs. I dislike her.

I live near a home for the indigent elderly in Korea. This is a rare phenomena as most elderly are cared for by their children, Korea being a very family oriented place. However there are the rare few that need someone else to look after them. The men and women who live at the home always light up a smile whenever they see me walking about with the dogs. A few mornings ago as I was leaving with the dog I packed up some jerky treats and out the door we went. It was cold and foggy but it had to be done.

As I rounded on the corner with the home I saw one of the residents who I recognize pretty quickly as she has a massive goiter on her neck. She always is friendly and smiles and talks to the dogs and encourages them to come over for a quick pat. It so happened that on this particular morning the dog being walked decided to let go right in front of her. Me, mildly embarrassed, I clean up and then give the dog a treat. Since I’m still in the process of housebreaking this is an important step.

The old grandmother walked over and started making motions with her hand to mouth. I said the dogs name in Korean and offered to let her pet the dog, which she did. Then she stood making the hand to mouth gesture again and I could only think that she must want to give the dog a treat. So I broke of a piece of the jerky and handed it to her, while telling my dog to sit.

The old woman smiled and thanked me and then popped that dog treat into her mouth. She pet the dog one more time and walked away.

Yeah, eating dog soup is a little weird, but eating dog treats is just plain wrong.