Thursday, December 25, 2008

Exit the Musician

The Musician was leaving and had promised me an espresso machine set. I love coffee and was happy to get the set but was saddened by the exit of yet another good friend. I reflect on this thinking when am I going to stop taking all this leaving and just leave myself? I think it's coming.

I was sitting at the Lonely Hearts Club the other night and thinking it's time to go. Making friends is getting harder every year. I feel like that guy in college who didn't have the good sense to graduate in four years and now is pushing the ten year mark and failing to understand why no one wants to talk to him anymore.

I've worn out my welcome, it seems.

So I met the Musician and his beautiful daughter for lunch on Saturday, which was my main event on Saturday. We went to the Canadian Mexican Restaurant (work that out) and talked for a while. We both get it both being older and being in Korea for a long time. The teachers are getting younger every year.

"Part of it is the immigration law changes," says the Musician.

"I just can't relate to these kids."

"I just want to be able to meet someone my own age. Do you know how hard it is to meet someone your own age that is not Korean?"

"Do you know how hard it is to sit down in a bar and discuss philosophy with a bunch of English majors?"

Sometimes it seems to me like the new crowd can barely tie their own shoes. These are people that were born in 1985. I remember, vividly, 1985. It's not a year I want to relieve. Yet 80's parties have become all the rage on dull nights in Daegu. When did this happen.

When did I get cantankerous. I don't feel old usually, unless I'm hanging out with someone who is 22, that works miracles on my sense of time. I was sad to see the Musician head out. Open Mic at the Lonely Hearts has gotten later and later until now must nights people don't start singing until almost midnight.

I thanked the Musician for the espresso machine and we walked through the park together with the daughter heading towards the great big bell.

Open Mic changed this week for Christmas so Tuesday night I went out to Lonely Hearts mostly for some quite figuring there would be no music before I wanted to leave. I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden opening of two young Korean musicians on their guitar. The first, a young lady, played some beautiful Korean tunes with such feeling. Her eyes closed the whole time as she skillfully plucked the strings, making her guitar sound more like a harp as she sang the mournful melodies, the shouting, clapping barking refrains.

She was followed by a young Korean guy who on occasion plays barbacks at the Lonely Hearts. He pounded out riffs and shouted, his voice raising, his music reminiscent of a Korean Curt Cobain for me. It was lovely.

I sat alone in my dark corner and listened, happy for the music.

The Musician flew out of Korea yesterday but the music and Korea will go on. I just have to find a new place in it again.

A new place that will have more espresso.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Backstabbing Bitches

I hate you economy.

No. I really hate you.

The economy hits Korea in very strange little ways that most people would not notice. Even foriegners here are in agreement that riding out the economic collapse in Korea is a might better then riding it out anywhere else. For the most part things have stayed exactly the same. It only really hurts the wallet if you do a lot of overseas banking. Generally it's not so bad.

But no, the economy finally decided to hit home for me.

And where? Where did the economy try to bend me over and make me it's bitch? Was it the fact that I have to send 600,000won out to get my $400 dollar student loan payment covered? Was it the fact that the cost of gas here is 8 dollars a gallon? Is it, perhaps, the matter of finding the regular bar trying to charge a dollar more for booze (when they pay three dollars a bottle for the same booze)?

No, no, you bastard economy you. That is not where you got me. That is not where you really made me notice. No, economy, you had the balls to hit me in the black market. And that, economy, is just a fight waiting to happen.

When you live in South Korea, like I do, you learn to give up a lot of things. For example you have to give up being able to shop for clothes or shoes. You can't go down to the market and get garlic. And forget about little things like say cilantro. I'd kill for cilantro. But you make do. You learn to eat your food seasoned only with red pepper. You make your own clothes. You get buy. One of the things that lets you get buy is the fact that even though it is expensive you can get coffee and cheese.

Now, please, do not insult me by thinking that when I say coffee and cheese I meant a selection. No, no, silly waygook. I mean I can get Folgers and Mild Cheddar. But they are real, dammit, and I like that. The Folgers costs me fourteen dollars for two pounds. For the 200 grams of cheddar cheese (imported from Australia and not too bad) I pay eight bucks. Okay, I can suffer this tiny humiliation as it allows me to have the things I want.

But you bastard economy. To get the coffee for a reasonable price I go to the black market. God Bless the GI's looking to turn a quick buck by selling PX goods to the street hajumas so they can overcharge me for coffee. I could buy coffee in Korea. But I refuse to pay25.00 for a half pound of coffee. I will not do it. So I go to the black market to get my goods. However on my most recent trip to the black market imagine my shock and terror and not being able to find a single jug of Folgers. I went up and down, in and out of the fifty or so shops that make up the illegal street market here, and not one of them had coffee. What the hell?

So I asked on of the ajoshis. "Yay, ajoshi, Ko-pi odi-issyo? Moya?" Sir, what, where is the coffee?

"Ko-pi, opsya." I don't have coffee.
"Onjay?" When will you get some?
"Moyla!" I don't fucking know.

So I kept wandering and kept asking. Finally I found an hajuma who explained it. The exchange rate. With the current rate of exchange GI's are losing money on selling to the marketeers. Which means less goods coming off base. Which means I can't buy coffee. I finally found an hajuma with some cans tucked into the back of her stall.

"Ol-ma?" I ask.

"18,000." She says. Eighteen Thousand Won, and with the current range of exchange that means I'm paying almost twenty two dollars for two pounds of coffee. I bought to cans. I will hoard them. You will not take me alive without my coffee.

Fine, fine, I have to pay forty bucks for a three months supply of coffee, okay. At least I can still get cheese.

But, oho, imagine my surprise when I went to the grocery where I buy my cheese and discover the only real cheese in the place now cost 15,000 (17 dollars for 200 grams).

That, I said...Fuck That!

I bought the cheege and left. I was said. I will miss cheese.

But you bitch economy you at least I have coffee while I wait you out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nervous Breakdowns

Nothing like the holiday season to put the nervous back in ones breakdown. I had been feeling tetchy all day and lot really sure why. Finally it built up to explosion point. This is when my roommate kicked me out of the house. "Leave, and don't come back til your drunk, your annoying the dog." The dog looked up at me and then ran under the bed so I suspect this was more or less true.

I figured why not so I determined where I might get some food changed clothes and left thinking that hitting a bar at ten in the evening on a Friday and seeing some people I know might calm me down. It probably could have gone better.

The nervous twitchiness did not stop after a drink and a game of pool in which I rain the table like a pro. Okay, I take a deep breath and try to remain calm. I hear pounding up the stairs and look up to see friendly faces. This will calm me down, I think.

And the friendly faces come over.

And each one takes a turn shaking my hand, or giving a hug, or kissing the cheek.

And then each one in turn asks me the same question regarding varying different people.

"Have you seen Australian Chickie?"
"Have you heard from Monolycus?"
"What is going on with Australian Chickie?"
"Where's Monolycus been, I haven't seen him in a while."

And suddenly for no apparent reason I feel that nervous pressure building up and now it has a focus. The focus is in the question. The nervousness is a result of me needing to be selfish for a minute and talk about me. The anger is feeling like every face I smiled at and hand I shook and hug I adminstered is only interested in seeing me for details I might provide about someone else.

I have another drink.

I play another game of pool.

A new player enters and sits down with his beer, he smiles seeing me.

"So Sara, talk to Australian chickie lately." 

And that is when I lost it. I started yelling, loudly, at the top of my lungs for a good five minutes. After yelling I realized too things. 1) I'm not less angry.
2) I'm being an unbearable cunt.

The second realization hurt more than the first. So I stopped. Finished my drink, said goodbye to the players and prepared to leave.

"You know, sometimes it helps to just punch somebody." says one of the blokes.

"True, but tonight one punch might not be enough tonight."

That wasn't true. It was just a build up that needed explosion. I should have gone home. Instead I went to the Lonely Hearts Club which was full of people on a Friday night. I met a musician I know and we talk music. Hyun poors me a comfort shot. I should probably go home I keep thinking.

Finally H, walks with me out of the bar. We make it to the second landing before I cry for a moment on his shoulder.

"You need to go home." He tells me.

"I know, but sometimes I need this too. This crazy. This insane. To make it all make sense."

It was three a.m. when I finally managed to walk through the door. The dog gruffed at me before rolling over and returning to sleep.

And I thought for a moment that while I had gone from angry to sad during the night mostly because I felt no one was caring about me I failed to realize that I was the worst offender for the evening. I wasn't caring for myself.

I woke up around nine the next morning. Slightly hungover, oddly refreshed. I needed a meltdown, I got one, and I truly felt better for it.

I spent Saturday night drinking water in the same bars and buying drinks for all the guys who didn't punch me during my abusive moments or kick me during the sad ones. Sometimes it takes a mild nervous breakdown to realize just how good your friends are.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time Time Time

I hate this time. I am in that in-between space where nothing makes sense. It's probably the vertigo. For the last six months for some reason I am getting vertigo, this senseless spinning feeling. I am in the throes of passion this morning when suddenly I fall limp on the side and wait for the world to stop moving. I don't understand why the world is moving.

And they say the earth moves. But it was just my brain.

Spinning spinning spinning.

I went to the gym anyway, my head feeling like a lead weight the whole time, up down, up down. Now the spinning is a constant and everything spins.

I want to think but I can't think through the fog that is the floating of my head. I think to create, I think to dream, I think to paint, I think to write, but every movement makes me spin around and around. I watch the world move by me and I can't figure out how to make it stop spinning.

Which creates stillness. I can't work through the spinning so I am still. And being still makes me just as crazy as the constant motion. I am sea sick from static, but movement makes me nauseous.

I want to go down but the going down makes the world spin even further. I need something to do, I think, but staring at the screen and watching it flash is not helping. The sound of the sewing machine and watching the fabric it is unfocused reality. I can't make the seams solid anymore.

Maybe the vertigo is Korea.

I can't be sure. I know I want to go back to my passion and think the world will not slip away.

Friday, December 05, 2008

You know, sometimes...

There are days when I feel like I really should step up and explain things to Koreans.

And yet it just seems like it would ruin all the fun for me.

As an aside  apparently some parts of the profit are donated to World Vision Korea charity. Which is not a bad thing.

But really, someone might want to talk to them about their new slogan. As long as that someone is not me.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Street Selling

One of the things I like best about Korea is that almost anywhere you go here you will run into someone selling something on the street. Unlike a big city in the states most of these guys are actually selling you something you need. I live close to downtown and it was a very common sight for years to pile into an area packed with retail shops and straight down the middle cart after cart of handbag, five dollar hat, watch, cheap jewelery, and other odds and ends.

* Day or night downtown Daegu was a bustle of capitalist wonderment. That was until about six months ago when the city decided to aggressively pursue removing the street sellers from the middle of downtown.

As you can see from this picture of Dong-son-ro (the main downtown street) there are electric wires all over the middle of downtown. The city has decided to bury the wires. Burying the wires will be a good thing long term for the city. It will make power more stable during the occasional bad storm and in general make things a touch safer. The light are basically being buried straight down the middle of the strip where the sellers used to place their carts. The pros and cons weighed it makes some sense to have the sellers move to different areas while the rewiring is completed.

However the way the city implemented the plan was not just to move the sellers for a few weeks or to rotate the sellers as the work was being done. Instead the police first forcefully removed many of the sellers from the street. This means in many instances moving grandmothers and grandfathers by force away from their shops. Secondly the city decided the sellers would no longer be allowed to sell downtown. The ripple, however, has effected much of the city and fewer street sellers can be found in many areas.

In Korea the sellers provide a valuable service. While I do live in a country that is within one of the top ten economies in the world there are still more than a few people in Korea who struggle day to day. These street sellers provide access to goods at prices far below what would be found in a market making it possible for many people to go day to day and live.

As I was taking the car pool home on Friday we hit a lot of traffic right around my place. At first it just seemed like a Friday jam. Then we noticed the riot police. I see the riot police now and then since I live in the area where most protests tend to take place. City Hall is hardly a block from my front door. However this was the biggest gathering of the riot squad I had yet seen. We passed seven groups as we drove down the road to my place.

The question was "Why?"

When I got home I asked the roommate and we were able to piece together from several Korean newspapers that what was happening was a massive protest of street sellers.

Over 1,000 sellers from all over the country had descended on Daegu for a day of solidarity to protest the removal and the restrictions being placed on sales. The group had gathered to march through the city, shouting, chanting, and broadcasting their message.

My roommate offered the best thoughts on the situation. "It's kind of surreal. You have these young kids basically telling their grandparents that they can't make a living. It doesn't make sense." The kids being the council men that have forced the sellers out of downtown.

The group stopped for a short while at the park across from my house, chanting, cheering, and listening as the speaker continued to speak out against the situation. There was a palpable energy in the are as the protesters squatted around, chanting and shouting in time, often raising their fist and beating the air in short triplicates at the appropriate time. I stayed as long as I felt safe. There is a reason the riot police were out. Of course the mass number of riot police were proportional to the size of the demonstration. The police do not like to be outnumbered and this demonstration is the biggest one we have had in Daegu since the presidential demonstrations this summer.

How it will turn out is yet anyone's guess. The construction will be finished in about two months. **

*photo by DSwede, Dec. 11, 2007
** Last picture is of the movement of the riot police across the street. The riot squad was out for ten blocks total. We estimated that there were probably about fifteen hundred police on the street if not more. It was a big gathering.