Sunday, June 29, 2008

Lonley Hearts and Weariness

The monsoon is in full force. I remember what the sun was like from the before time. The days of sunshine and clear blue skies yellowed by the haze of dust that fell from China. Now, in this post before time world, the skies are overcast and constantly threatening rain. Only the hardiest or most foolish leave a building without an umbrella. In the convince stores there are stacks of three dollar umbrellas that sell for seven dollars. We do not argue. It is that time of year.

I walk about after a day spent working from home. I feel tired and weary as is common when you spend an entire day working from home. Both more and less difficult. All day plotting numbers and pages and hours, and my brain feels boiled and ready to explode. I decide what I need is tequila.

The streets are uncrowded but still busy. The couples steal a chance between flashes of rain to sit under the trees in make out lane in the park. They smile and whisper about me as I walk past. It's nighttime in Korea and I'm the strangest thing in it. I find myself reciting over and over again "I'll be there soon". Sometimes it's not soon enough to end the stares.

I walk down into the dark belly of the Lonely Hearts club and find Hyun manning the bar alone. Everyone else has gone. It's just me and Hyun and nothing but quiet time. Perfect. Nothing makes me happier on a Sunday night than a quiet bar, a drink, and a good friend.

I buy Hyun a beer and he pours out some Jose and we commence to talk about the protests. This is the latest greatest news around these parts so we talk about it.

"The problem is you can't talk about politics with these young guys coming in," he says to me.

"Why's that?"

"They all take it personally, you know. But it's not personal. I don't understand."

"They don't either. It's not America, it's Korea."

Some of the Americans here are starting to get upset about the constant anti-American sentiment being expressed in candlelight vigils by hundreds of thousands of Koreans. What most fail to realize is that the vigils are not really about American beef. It's a protest about the policies of an administration that seems to be preoccupied with coddling foriegn interests at a loss to Korea. Koreans are protesting about Korea. That is where the issue gets confused.

"It can't be easy, with Korea's political history." I say.

Hyun who is in his late forties is not old enough to have lived during the war but he is old enough to have grown up in Korea shortly after. He lived through the military dictatorships and watched as hundreds of Koreans were killed in a battle for democracy and self governance. When he first opened commune there were still restrictions on running an establishment after midnight. It's only been in the last fifteen years that the government has really stabilized.

"I go to this gym, you know." He begins. "I knew when I joined it was like a high class gym. Everyone really wealthy, but it's close to my house, so I go there. And I go everyday. I knew people would be conservative, but I go to work out, you know. And the old guys they sit there and they talk about these communists bastards who are just trying to bring down the government. And I'm like, what the fuck?"

"The communists are the protesters?"

"Yeah, right. But then the, what do you say, police general guy? Anyway he says that if the protests continue maybe they will make a rule so no one can go out, we called it gi-young...and these old guys were saying, 'yeah, they should do that. It would be good.' But I can't believe it."

"And these were the same people who were in the same protests when they were younger, right?"

"Yeah, it's just, these guys are just so stupid, they just don't understand."

I can imagine that living through history again and again could have that effect. Outside the clouds shift overhead on their seasonal journey to wash everything clean; we shift in our seats and the discussion goes quiet under the wash of Bob Dylan in the empty bar.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Crazy Cow Explained

Korea has been embroiled for the last month in candlelight vigils all over the country. The primary reason for this is the President relaxing import initiatives to allow Korea to import American Beef again for the first time in about five years. The reason that so many people are angry is that the beef being shipped is largely considered beef not fit for Americans to eat; i.e. beef sent to Korea is shipped after the FDA acknowledge expiration date. The Korean people were more than a little pissed. In all they are not too pleased with the President elected by one of the biggest majorities in years. In fact, along with protesting the beef imports tens of thousands of Koreans were also calling for his resignation.

I can understand the concern over the import of beef considered not to be fit for Americans to eat. It does seem to be a cruel double standard. However I also live in South Korea where Koreans will buy food from the live animal market that has been killed on an open street with cars, motorbikes, and other animals going to and fro. I've also seen dogs and cat sold as meat here. So, really, the whole "Oh my god I could be eating American Beef" things seems kind of silly to me.

While the protests have been going on, even though the reason for the import is having it shipped after FDA expiration dates, the largest concern of the people seems to be Mad Cow disease. During each and every protest there has been something to do with Mad Cow. Koreans, being Koreans, call it Crazy Cow. Among the things I've heard in the different protests are that every American has Crazy Cow disease, that 500 cases of crazy cow have been reported in the US, that Americans won't eat beef because of Crazy cow disease, and my favorite, that only beef that is infected with Mad Cow disease is going to be sent to Korea. It's the height of ridiculous.

I was at a live music show the other night featuring a pretty fun and crazy Korean punk band. The band had two singers, one who spoke reasonable English. The show was great fun until one of the singers said that English teachers in Korea don't care about Korea, or English, and want everyone to get Crazy Cow. I was annoyed. The thing is the protests keep coming.

Because of the candle light vigils the President, in a face saving gesture, fired his entire cabinet. This placated the protests some, but didn't really end the protests. The difference being that two weeks ago 100,000 people turned out in Seoul to protest, where last weekend only 6,000 people turned out to protest. Still aside from firing the entire cabinet the President also asked for stricter labeling measures which will have any business that sells a beef product state clearly where the meat comes from. This will include fast food restaurants that previously were able to skirt the labeling measures.

For the last month I haven't been able to walk down the streets on a night without running into a huge candlelight vigil. The protests are composed of college students, older people, families with children. They sings songs and call for death to the Americans who would bring crazy cow to their country. I walk down the street and get the worst stares. The crowd holds their candles towards me as I walk. I smile and am amused. I don't have the heart to explain to them in the middle of their anger that I'm a vegetarian. The protest will continue again in force this weekend.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Oh my yes....

I like making my own clothes and have been doing so since I was pretty young. Granted the stuff I first made as clothing wasn't perfect and during high school I only made a few pieces that were actually wearable. A mix of things that were hand sewn and machine sewn. When I got to college I started making clothes for wearing a bit more often, and all if it by hand. I'd sit in the middle of the shared girls room and through material on the floor, cut it into an outfit and hand stitch it together.

I was given my first sewing machine and I used it until it just damn near fell apart, though I still have it somewhere in my storage stuffs. When I go to Korea it was damn near impossible to find a machine but after months of searching while putting together clothes by hand again, I finally found one and spent 250,000 won on the machine. It was a nice little Brother Ace 100 and it did everything I needed to do. I'd been using that machine since 2002 and I was a bit ready for an upgrade. I wanted something new and spiffy.

When last I visited the states I went to a sewing shop, a common past time, with my lovely Bonnet and saw some of the new machines they had. Digital marvels that did what my little machine did and so much more and for half of what I'd paid for the machine I was working with. I started to get it into my head that I wanted a new machine and that I wanted to upgrade to something really snazzy. This lead me back to the sewing machine district where I looked around for machines.

I walked into the shop where I bought my old machine.

"Bro-dar issyo?"

"Jiggum opseyo." We don't have any now. The place I bought my original machine mostly has very old machines, industrials sewers for the women who sit and work in the market and do nothing but sew all day. Heavy dinosaurs that are guaranteed not to break or bend. I kept walking and jumped in and out of a bunch of stores but couldn't find any machines under 400,000won that were even remotely better than the machine I had. I was getting disheartened when I spotted a Brother overlock in a store window and asked how much. The shop was run by a bunch of older Korean gentlemen. They all looked at me like I'd lost my mind.

"How much."

"Not here."

"How much."

"Not here.

Mind you this conversation is taking place in Korean. Finally I gave up in despair and started walking down the street. Then one of the Koreans from the shop ran up and grabbed my arm and started pulling me down the street. Having played this game before I followed him down the street and let him lead me. He asked me how long I'd been in Korea, where I was from and told me my Korean was good. Wee.

We finally hit the main street and he turned and took me into a modern sewing machine shop that actually had home machines for sale. It was exactly what I was looking for. After a few minutes talking with the owner though I realized he didn't have anything nearly as snappy as I wanted but he offered a very good high end machine with some bells and whistles for 430,000 won. I was prepared to pay around 300,000 so I grabbed some catalogs and told him I'd think about it.

What I did was some research on the Brother page in Korea and found the machine I wanted. An Innovis CS 8060 digital machine with five preset one step button wholes, preset decorative stitches, auto threading, ribbon binding. Basically it did everything I wanted washed my dishes and when properly program may provide oral favors. I was sold. The asking price was 890,000 won. Roughly 900 dollars US.

I did some more research and what I found was the machine that I looked at for 400 was a Korean machine that I couldn't get services outside Korea or really take with me. Okay. The Innovis on the other hand was other country compatible and what's more in the US would cost me 1,000 dollars. So I would be getting a deal.

Armed with this knowledge I went back to the machine shop the next weekend and asked for the Innovis. He, of course, didn't have one. I told him I wanted to buy it and used his computer to pull it up on the website. He told me there was nothing he could do. He also mentioned it was very expensive. I said that was fine.

A few minutes and a lot of arguing later and I knew I wasn't going to get what I wanted so I started to ogle the okay overprices Korean machine thinking that was how I was going to end up. When the second proprietor grabbed my arm and me and pulled me onto the street and threw me in a cab I didn't ask questions. He told the cab driver something and I was off. To where I had no freaking idea, but off I was. A few minutes and a few thousand won later and I ended up in the middle of Korean on a Saturday afternoon wondering what the hell was going on. When I heard yelling from the window. I looked up to see a Korean waving at me from a third story window. Apparently I was expected.

Down the street and up the stairs I went and into the service center for Brother machines in Korea. And what did I find but when I walked in they had an Innovis set up to entice me. They did a full demonstration, so much demonstrating that a Korean woman who had brought her machine in to get serviced stayed to drool over the powerful sewing options offered by the Innovis with me. We drooled I was sold.

He kept me there for about two hours demonstration everything. Probably thinking I wouldn't be able to read the manual and didn't know what I was doing. Eventually we got to talking price. He offered 650,000 won which was more than amazing after the research I'd done. I said okay.

Then he said for me, 50,000 won discount. He also gave me several extra feet, a sewing box, thread, bobbins, and etc. All I would need to get started. I walked out happy and hauling my new machine. While I have not yet tried to program it for oral favors it has turned out three amazingly nice blouses already.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Poison Poison Tasty Fish

The Ukrainian who had recently entered Korea charged me with only one task.

"I want to do thing in Korea. But not Ex-pat things."

Well, that pretty much limited everything I knew about doing in Korea, because after being an ex-pat in Korea for seven years what I know best about Korea is ex-pat things. I know where to find ex-pat comfort food, where to find ex-pat entertainment, and where to find ex-pats in general.

Granted I know Korea but it's been a while since I've explored the non ex-pat Korea. However it seemed like I was about do so I wracked my brain for non ex-pat things to do in Daegu and also things that maybe I had not yet done. A good time to kill two birds with one stone, I figure.

And so it was that I started to think about a piece of Daegu trivia that I was familiar with. An after hours fish market that is open all night long, from 10:00pm to 5:00am in Chilsung market which is just around he corner from my house. While it is just around the corner from my house I still had not been. If it did exist, this would be a very Korean thing indeed.

I call up the Ukrainian and he invites along the also newly arrived teacher from Afghanistan and the plan is to meet around Daegu station at 10:00pm on a Monday night. As the time approached I regretted it as I felt dead and deader arriving 8 on Monday and the last thing I wanted to do was go out. Instead of sulking I forced myself into clothes and stayed up until the appropriate time walking down the street to meet them at Daegu station. Monday was cold and windy. The whole damn summer in Daegu has been cold and windy thus far, but I stood in the cold and wind, played a game on my phone and waited for the arrival trying to figure out how to get to where in the market. I had a vague direction and a hope that the shop would indeed be open.

At 20 after ten the boys arrived and we trundled into a cab that I directed to the Noghyup bank at Chilsung Market. None of us wanted to walk in the wind. Being smart the Ukrainian and the Afghan had both packed for Daegu summer. A summer which has so far failed to appear. I wasn't really well dressed for the weather either, so the cab was a small mercy.
When the cab pulled down the street to the market I could see row after row of well lit cart bar and I knew we had made it, the outdoor, all night fish market at Chilsung-shijung. Perfect. I pulled the cab over and we jumped out and the Hajuma who stood standing in wait grabbed the boys and dragged them into her tent before I could get two words out otherwise.

"Where are we going?" asked the Ukrainian.

"Here, basically."

The hajuma sat us down. I confirmed that she had gooey. In Korean gooey is grilled fish and it was too damn cold and windy for hway (raw fish). So I asked for gooey and she set us up with a set menu and brought out the grill stones for the feast that was about to transpire.

If my Korean was better I might have realized that the grill we were getting had very little fish. It was in fact a clam and oyster grill. Fortunately the boys didn't mind and I had no issue with it. They food started coming and the Hajuma fawned over us. She taught the boys how to hold chopsticks and treated them like children at their first night out. We drank soju together passing the cup around so that everyone had shared. I even asked the Hajuma to drink with us. She brought us boiled muscles to go with the grilled oysters and clams. We ate. We ate more. We ate our fill on fish. She brought us several service dishes including grilled fish, dok-bo-ki, raw clam, and snails. It was something to remember.

"And we even get serenaded by our own live saxophonist."

"What the music is live?" Asked the Ukrainian.

I pointed to the sax player across the street wearing sunglasses and a red tux. "Live and complimentary."

"This is the best thing I've done in Korea so far!" He yells while downing his soju. The Korean girls eating fish at the next table giggle and introduce themselves.

"I like you," says the girl in green as we are leaving.

"She likes me!" yells the Ukrainian.

"I like Korea!" I yell back.

Friday, June 13, 2008

All I wanted was dinner

I had planned to have a short meeting with the Geek regarding one of my prized possessions here in Korea. Knowledge of the city and where you can find things. In this particular instance we were looking for things Indonesian and I knew exactly where to go. I contacted the Geek round lunchtime and inquired if he liked Indian food, finding an emphatic yes to be the answer.

While walking towards the prearranged meeting place for the dinner extravaganza I recieved a message from the Rastafarian. I met the Geek just as I was responding and asked if it would be alright for her to tag along for the shopping and the dinner; to which again he emphatically agreed. He's a good one, the Geek.

I trundled us into a taxi and directed the taxi to pick up the Rastafarian and then across town to the South East Asian district. Daegu is a funny place, not at all like Seoul. Seoul has a thousand things all stacked on top of itself without any real distinction. As a friend of mine once said "It feels like a forty mile extension of the airport." I admit to feeling that way about many international cities.

Daegu, on the other hand, sections itself off in many ways like an American city. You have towns and districts within the city that are separate from everything else. It somehow works and makes me exceedingly happy. Today we were off to the South East Asian side of town, a side I tend to avoid, but figured would be fun for a night.

I have issues, among them, the South East Asian and Pakastani crowd living in Daegu. I have good reasons for these issues and I won't go into them here but to say that they exist and I deal with them by avoiding a part of town I don't feel safe in. However armed with the power of two friends I figured I'd be alright.

We went to a little mart first were we procured our illicit Indonesian purchase and then got several other things. Curry Powder, Cumin, TVP, Cous Cous, all things that you can only find in this area. There are other things there as well, all the spices you could want from Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and parts of Pakistan. It's a great little place to know about if you are hankering for something other than red pepper paste in your food. I did not fail to notice the entrance into the mart of a Pakistani who took one look at me and sat down to stare. This is one of the reasons why I avoid the South East Asian district. Being that I'm not Korean I tend to stick out. I tried not to notice while doing the city girl thing of marking where he was and when he was moving while I walked about the stores checking out the various wares.

We crossed the street and hit another shop where I stumbled across some papad and some Chinese Five Spice which I haven't seen in years. At this point having spent far to much money on the fixings of food it was agreed by all we were hungry and it as time for that dinner I had promised. So we headed back into the street and down the way to the Pakistani restaurant of choice.

I asked after a menu but they didn't have one. As soon as we sat down the door flew open and in stumbled the guy who had been staring at me in the other mart. He looked at us and ran into the back. The chef. Lovely. We were told the restaurant could make us different kinds of curry, nan, and samosas so that is what we ordered.

The simple version is that we gorged ourselves and it was good. The best Middle Eastern I've had outside of Chicago. Fantastic food. We ate and it was good. They brought us food and food. We watched the bizarre Pakistani music video channel which played an unfortunate song in Pakistani that sounded exactly like "Put your cock in" which caused all of us to laugh in fierce giggles. The food was good the atmosphere content, the night bizarre.

We paid very little for our overindulgence and stumbled back onto the streets checking out various shops. We got kicked out of a sex shop as the proprieter was obviously running a brothel not a tour store and wanted nothing to do with us. We tried a second one but all we managed to find there was a bullet vibrator that used a phone cord to run the current from the battery box. I like antiques but that was pushing it even for me.

So we all headed back to the streets laughing and feeling city. We had to cross a street and walk up a block to catch a cab back to civilization. It was dark now and without meaning to be I was on full alert. I become very aware of my surroundings in this part of town after dark. Too much like the bad parts of Chicago. My brain screams "You should not be here." I agreed, we were leaving.

As we headed around to the cab I caught site of someone running down an open alley at us. I measured the distance and knew we would make it to the head of the cab stand before whoever it was caught up, so I didn't say anything and just kept walking. We turned the corner onto the street to get into the cab lineup when he caught up to us. I'm not sure if he was Korean or Pakistani, or something else. Didn't matter it was night, he was following and too close.

He touched my arm.

I opened the cab door and ushered the Geek in. The Rastafarian took the front seat.


I didn't want to turn, but I couldn't help turning, as I needed to turn to get into the cab and so for a second I was facing him. He leaned over the railing much to close. He face to close. I wanted to push him away as I was falling backwards into the cab and onto the Geek. He tongue was out when I turned, so close he could have licked my face. It was flabbergasting, made me feel all the feelings I have when going to the South East Asian side of town.

"You were just eye-raped." My company exclaims as I slam the door and give the cabbie directions over the shouts of "your beautiful" from the street.

I didn't know what to say.

The dinner was good. I'm still not sure if it was worth it.


lj-music: Sampling

I was too tired on Friday night to be much good to anyone, my long week catching up with me. Xanrex was visiting from Seoul and I felt like a waste of flesh with my inability to stay up past midnight.

"Tomorrow, I promise we shall stay out till the sun rises."

We met for dinner at 8:30 pm and filled ourselves on pasta. A night of heavy drinking anticipated.

"There is basically only thing I want tonight," Rex says to me, "I want pretty girls to pay attention to me."

"So my job is the pretty girls part."


And we're off.

We began at the pool bar for warm up drinks. Quiet company and faces happy to see me. Rounds of pool were played, drinks were drunk. I started and stuck to tequila like it was the life blood flowing through my veins.

Together, like old friends will, we easily complimented our spaces. When I did not talk Rex would. When I did talk Rex found amusement. We went to to the Lonely Hearts Club and received a heroes welcome from Hyun where we sat together at the bar and made faces at the pretty girls and listened to the band. The music was excellent on Saturday night and the bar packed. A far cry from the quiet atmosphere of the Friday night place.

We bought drinks for people we know, and people we didn't know. We bought drinks for each other and got properly lubricated before flipping out of the Lonely Hearts to go watch a flair bar show down the street. After watching things get set on fire I was ready for the dance scene.

Bubble Bubble boil and trouble, walk in the doors and fall all over each other. Bubble is a dark dirty little dance hall were we managed to round up some pretty girls but the night was young at two a.m. and the game only starting to be afoot. So we shot out the door after a bottle of water each and went on to Frog.

At frog we were stopped at the door and thoroughly searched. Being that we are not Koreans it's sort of an assumption that we might be carrying weapons with us. My bag is too small to hide the gun and they weren't looking to closely anywhere else. We made it through in a short space and walked into the waiting locker room were foolish people who have brought things with them will lock them away.

Two girls sit on a bench outside the door.

"Where are you going?" I ask.


"No. I don't think so." One girl wore a long necklace and I took her necklace in my hand and lead her back into the bar well Rex followed behind with other pretty girl in hand. They giggled as we entered the dark throbbing dance hall and we switched back and forth dancing at random with strangers in a bar too loud for talking.

More water.

More tequila.

We walked out of Frog and were greeted by the sun. I wanted to ask what time it was. I resisted the urge. We crossed the street and entered Monkey without the grueling inspection and crawled into the deep dark depths of the club in morning spectrum.

A pretty foreign girl was there and I left Rex to his own devices and started chatting her up. I'm not quite sure how I ended up kissing her or smelling her neck, but I recall that she was lovely and I wanted to. We whispered quiet whispers to each other at dawn, things I'm sure she might wake up later questioning, but in the moment I don't think anyone cared.

She left with friends and I sat pondering for a while longer while watching Rex chatting and dancing with a new group. He went forward to the bar and ordered another beer. I gave up and checked the time. It was 8:00 a.m. I knew I was done.

I said my goodbyes to Rex with a twinkle in my eye and stumbled out into the already awake world and stumbled home with the light and the throbbing in my head.

Frolicking accomplished. Mission too.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Little Night Long Korea

A night in Korea.

Full of fashion.

Full of frolic.

Full of alcohol.

And art.

And mayhem.

Goddess I do love this country sometimes.

We had a night of spinning out of control, of the body beautiful, of motion and charm. The dancers took the stage and spun to the pretty music and the whistle of steel splitting air.

The dance looks at me and her body is fluid grace from her dark hair, to her deep eyes, to her posture half dancing on the edge of madness and death. She is beautiful and I love her. We spill and drink and sip and sup at a cup that is offered freely.

The Ukrainian buys me dinner in Russian and I eat cucumbers and tomatoes and beets and vodka and I drink it all down and eat it all up. I want hummus and Greeks but it will wait, it will wait.

I am perpetual memory. She is perpetual motion. The night is wild. Korea on the cusp of summer, life in midspring, death just before dawn.

It's wonderful, all of it. Today, it's wonderful.