Monday, December 28, 2009

In Which My Feet and Heart Go Numb

It was a cold morning. The kind of cold that just steals the heat from your bones. I was standing on the street wrapped up in my scarf and the coat I made just for this winter. It was only eight thirty in the morning but in my soon-to-be-old neighborhood parking starts to get out of hand around seven. I was hoping that being there at eight thirty would be okay enough to ensure there would be a parking space for the moving van. As per instruction I was trying to make sure there would be a place to park.

At around eight forty-five an ajjuma tried to park on the sidewalk in front of my building. I waved her on by. She scowled at me from over the collar of her warm fur coat in her heated car. I had stopped being able to feel my toes about five minutes earlier. I danced around to stay warm. Pulled the scarf up higher, to cover my nose, cover my eyes. A minute later a young Korean girl tried to park on my feet. I waved her off and shook my head no. She continued to try to run me over and I stood in front of her car and waved her off, no again. She finally started to push forward until her car was against me knees. We stared at each other. Finally she drove off in a huff and illegally parked down an alley just opposite of where I was standing. As she slammed her car door at me she pulled on her jacket and gave me the finger. A few minutes later it was a business man in his SUV, as he tried to run over me like I was not standing there my phone rang. Finally the moving company, lost, of course.

Since I was acting as human traffic shield I knew that I couldn’t actually move to go get them without letting go of all the body-numbing car fighting I had been doing for the last half hour. Fortunately it was at this moment that a bunch of construction workers who had been eating breakfast in the restaurant across the street decided to emerge. I waved one over with what I hoped was a cute but helpless smile, and handed him my phone, while kicking the tires of SUV guy and explaining that he couldn’t park where he wanted to park because I had a moving van coming.

The construction guy ran down the street with my phone. SUV guy tired to run over my feet again, finally the moving van came down the street and SUV realized he was going to have to move. He moved in such a way that he had to move six more times before the van could finally get around him to park in front of my house. And thus the moving began.

The three Korean guys came up the stairs with boxes and asked where to start. I pointed at things and said basically all they need to know.

Cho-gi, okay.”

Cho-gi, sa-reg-i.”

Or, this goes, this is trash. I did this over and over and over again in each of the rooms of my apartment and watched as the moving guys started to pack up the end result of the many years of my life. I watched. It was all I could do. I felt helpless as I watched myself being packed up and slipped into boxes. I wasn’t sure what to say or how. Just trash/not trash. Trash/not trash. The pictures, the love letters, the unnecessary refuse of life, disappeared again, but I fought so hard to hold onto some of it. And in the end some of it made it into boxes; more than I have ever let make it into boxes in the past. I kept sorting, happy that the moving guys would be doing trash and clean up. I brought some extra bags and moved sundries into it that would go over to the Irish. Little things here and there, the various stuff that was not trash. I asked to leave while the guys worked and was told it was okay, so I dashed across town with stuff, taking a bit of break as they worked. Breathing, thinking, not thinking. I held my dog for a little while and then went back to the apartment. At this point my landlord started to call to make arrangements. I headed back over to my old place for round two of the move. Breathing. Thinking. My dog grunted in disapproval as I left for the second time that day.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Slowest Moving Miracle

Moving is never fun. International moving is no real exception here. I remember how I moved to Korea so terribly many years ago. I packed a suitcase full of my stuff. Kissed my apartment goodbye, and got on a plane. Seriously, I left pretty much everything else to be dealt with by someone else because dealing with the move was about all I was capable of doing. That worked out like one would expect with some built-in resentments, untied ends, and lost things.

I’ve never been good at things. Or at least the material things. I like collecting them I’m just not very good at keeping them. I used to have things from my past, my childhood. I collected and collected and brought things with me and I can tell you none of the things that made it with me to college made it out of college with me.

Just as many of the things that made that first trip to Korea are not making the final trip home. There are the pictures, the love letters, the photos, the random knick-knacks, the books, jewelry, toys, hearts, and minds, and all these things have gone somewhere else. I just don’t have them anymore. I have new things, more things, always collecting and compressing in on me and I never seem to get rid of them all, even though I try.

As I am trying ever more to deal with possession I have come to realize that it is perhaps it is not the best way to handle life with a trash can. In this move I decided to get an international mover instead of a suitcase, and actually deal with my stuff. Granted the sheer fact of doing that made dealing with all the stuff that much more difficult.

Arrangements were made sometime in October for someone to come and move my apartment. The person I managed to work all this out with spoke English, met the roommate, made a list and explained thow much things would probably cost. I was mostly contented. I set up the move to take place the day before I officially had to be out of my apartment. I made arrangements with my housekeeper to have the apartment cleaned the next day for my landlord. The manager of my move assured me she would keep the costs down and make everything easy. That the movers would take out the trash and do all the packing. Indeed, legally I couldn’t actually touch anything as it would go into the boxes. Having made the arrangements and knowing what to expect, I decided that I would not think about it until it actually happened. Which as with all things happened a lot sooner than later.

The day of the move I woke up on a couch.

The dog was sleeping at my feet snoring loudly. My friend the Irish, who has offered to take me in, was in his room snoring loudly. He and the dog had it timed out perfectly so that when one went quiet the other would fill in making for a perfect and continuous buzzsaw of loud snoring noise. I tossed a pillow at the dog who complained. Sadly I was pretty sure the Irish had locked his door, probably to prevent any pillows from being tossed in his direction.

A day before I had gathered up the possessions that I was keeping on me til I leave Korea. With that I also collected the mass of things the Irish was buying from me for his place, which included a treadmill and some other sundries. He met me at my place around eleven and with the help of the housekeeper a pile of all his things was made for delivery to his apartment. To get the things to the Irish’s place across town I enlisted the help of my bar owner. He called up a bongo truck company to come and move stuff. He met me with the bongo truck around four, and walked in, looked at my apartment, and kinda freaked.

“Hyun, it’s not everything, just this pile, here.”

“Man, you have lots of stuff. What are you going to do with all of it?”

“Most of it will probably get thrown away. The rest I’m moving on Friday.”

“Oh, so yeah, this guy will move the stuff. I told him fifty dollars; is that okay?”


And with that we began to move things down to the bongo. The bongo truck is basically just a flat bed pickup truck. Most of the things went down easily enough, with the boys moving and me directing what needed to go downstairs from upstairs. Since I didn’t want them complaining about my being a slow girl this seemed best. After the third trip down Hyun, the bar owner said, “Look, for fifty, don’t take two trips, move everything you need today, okay.” This meant adding some things that were slated to be moved via cab being thrown into the mix, including the bag o booze and my suitcases. For the most part moving these things was not that bad. It was the treadmill that was the real kicker. I listened as the three of the boys grunted together to get the thing down the stairs. When we got to the other side of town I moved things up the stairs including the dog, and then listened as they moved the treadmill up the second set of stairs. This ended with three grown men hunched over sweating bullets in the middle of December, all of them coatless at this point, and gasping.

I handed out water.

“Look, whatever you do, don’t ever buy one of those things again, it’s motherfucking heavy,” says Hyun.

“Having moved it I honestly never want to see it again,” says the Irish, proud owner of a new treadmill.

The Korean truck driver said nothing, but eventually agreed to drink some water. Once we had made sure everything was out of the truck I paid the man eighty and thanked him for his help. I agreed to see Hyun later in a bar type setting, and bought the Irish dinner.

In the bar type setting Hyun laid into me about the amount of stuff I was just tossing away. Eventually he convinced me that I should try to sell a bunch of the furniture to a recycler. I agreed to try it an made arrangements to meet him on the day of the official move. The Irish and I drowned our various moving pains together in a bottle of wine which made sleeping on the couch easier.

On the day of the move, when I awoke to the twin snoring engines; however, sleep had been fretful and all I could think of was the amount of stuff I had and did not want. I wondered about the wisdom of an international move. I thought about throwing it all away. I sucked it up, got dressed in warm clothes and took off for my old apartment at eight in the morning. The movers were coming at nine am and I had been charged with one task and one task only; make sure there is a place to park. With that in mind I stood on the cold street on a -7C day, and waited.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fine Dining

"Where do you want to eat?" I ask the Irish as we wander downtown in the middle of the week. Given that I have become used to a rather restricted diet I know the choices are more than a little limited, but I want to be accommodating when I can.

"You can't eat everywhere, so you pick a place." Responds the Irish. True, but I still get annoyed.

"Your day was longer, your choice."

"To be honest I want pasta."

"Uh, huh." I can't eat pasta.

"What about that pizzeria you've seen, we could check that out."

"That's true, I did want to check that out; let's go there. Besides we've been walking for the last hour and I had a heavy workout and no lunch. I slice of pizza should be all right." So we head toward the pizzeria. This particular place had caught my attention a few months ago when it opened. The reason for that being that it sported what looked to be a rather impressive stone oven, for honest-to-goodness wood firing, making what should be rather delicious pizza.

We headed in; the atmosphere was warm. While looking over the menu pizza and pasta was ordered, and I asked for a glass of red. Of course since I can't do anything easy I tried to determine if they served dry wine or sweet wine at the restaurant. I've discovered, much to my dismay, that for no good reason there is a surfeit of nasty sweet red wine in this country and it seems to be very popular. Most of the time, in most of the places I eat and order wine, I know I will get a nice dry red. However if I am going into a Korean fusion (which is pretty much anyplace that is a popular Korean restaurant that does Western food) the wine is questionable. However after much confusion among the waiters I finally just order and decide to take my changes. Surprisingly the wine is good, the pizza is amazing, and the Irish and I manage to get a fair bit of work done on the research we are doing together this semester. The pizza is a thin crust that I can eat, and the pasta, an olio with pepper, was lovely even though I only head a fork or two and left most to the Irish.

It is at this point, when we are languishing together in our happy sated-ness that we take some time to scope out the general decor and discuss the potential of this restaurant in the future.

"That pizza was really fantastic," says the Irish.

"Yeah, and the pasta was amazing."

"I think with some playing I could probably make that with a whole-wheat noodle so you could eat it."

"Worth a shot."

"This restaurant isn't bad. The oven really makes a difference."

"Yeah, shame about the name though."


"The name." It is at this stage that I point to the wall behind the Irish which is embellished with a large clip art style decoration of a fire burning, and underneath of it proof that our job as English Language teachers is not quite yet done.

I point out some further wall art that demonstrates a either a lack of inspiration, understanding, or interest by whoever designed the restaurant.

"Yes, well," says the Irish "it is original."


"We shall just have to recommend the Your Text Here as widely as possible."


We walk smiling and amused into the chilly evening, with the smell of pizza rising in steamy waves from our coats as we walk down the streets toward our homes.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Half Baked

Coming up on the last few days of classes, and the last day for at least one class. Sadly the first class to have an official last day was also my favorite class. For those of you who are students, yes, your teachers have favorite classes. And yes, we do treat them differently. They are the bright-eyed students who want to work, who want to learn, and who make teaching a pleasure. We all have them. When I’m very lucky all of my classes are favorite classes, trust me it’s been known to happen. On, special rare occasions though, when I’m short on super-favorite classes, I might get lucky enough to have my favorite class of the week also coincide with being my last class of the week. The timing of this class has nothing to do with its status of favorite, as the students are actually a pleasure to work with. And they are my favorite.

So for this extra-special last class with the best group of students I’ve had this semester, and by far and away my favorite of the favorites, I figured I’d get them some popcorn. A few weeks ago I had a horrible craving for popcorn right in the middle of my favorite class, so I’d gone to the quickie mart, made a bag of microwave popcorn and spread the joy with the class. The favorite class. They were all happy, and I was happy that I could fix my popcorn urge without eating a whole bag.

Knowing that the class would like popcorn, and realizing it was the last time, it was really now or never. I was busy and a student in the class actually wanted to talk to me about something, so I handed one of the boys 2,000W and asked him to go and get some popcorn while the break was on. He smiled, said yes, and walked out with back up in the name of his two best friends.

A hung out in the room and kept helping students. A few minutes later I smell the familiar smell of popcorn coming down the hall and turn to the door excited for my own snack as well as to see the joy on the faces of the students before we start the second session.

And in walk the boys with a bag of microwave popcorn. They hand me the bag. The bag looks like a shriveled sort of raisin. It has not really expanded. It’s warm to the touch, but obviously still full of butter and popcorn kernels. They look at me. I look at them. I look at the bag. I look back at them.

“Yeah, teacher, it’s not working.”

I just kind of look at them.

“It’s microwave popcorn guys.”

“Yeah, he’s stupid he doesn’t know.”

“He’s not stupid, but seriously, boys, what gives?”

The boy who was the money handler just kind of sits down in despair so I run down the hall, to the mart, pop the bag in the microwave for three minutes and contemplate the fact that three 20 year old college boys don’t know how to make microwave popcorn.

I get back to the room a little incredulous. They guys look at me impressed that I was able to fix the broken bag of popcorn. I hand it out and try to quietly ask the money handler what happened.

“First time, I don’t know.”

And I realized, that it might just be possible, that some 20 year old Korean boys, and probably a lot more than I suspected, had never before made microwave popcorn. I smiled, passed it out, and felt a twinge of oddness, homesickness, and oldness, that could not be cured by crunchy butter and salt.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Owning a Piece of Me

Ever want to buy a piece of art but felt pretty sure that you could not afford it?

Well at the moment, everything, and I do mean everything I own in the way of art is up for grabs. I need to move most of my collection before I have to move. I'm leaving my studio space at the end of December, and before I move I'd like to downsize the collection a bit. I have no intention of stopping my art work, but before I create armloads of new works, I'd like to move a few of the piece I have.

Art ranges in size from A4 (photocopy size) to larger poster size (1.5x3feet). I am happy to send stuff anywhere in the world. If you are international I will sell you pieces for the cost of shipping. If you are in Korea it would be great if you can come pick it up.

The prices for all available pieces are as follows:

If you are international add to that about $4.00 per piece you would like to have shipped.

There is a lot of stuff available, ranging from fine art nudes to seriously abstract.

See a range at  I will update soon as there are a number of pieces available that are not on the site.

I look forward to hearing from some of you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Early Morning Heroics

It was a cold chilly morning. My dog stared at me with singular purpose, which would not bug me so much if it were not seven in the morning and I were not trying to have my coffee and toast. So I grabbed a bunch of toys and played with him while trying to multitask my breakfast, email check, dress, go to the gym. Around eight he was feeling better and I was ready to get out the door. It was more than a little nippy, so I put on the heavy winter coat I finished three weeks ago, bundled against the wind, and started to walk.

The wind whipped down the streets as I walked toward the park. As I walked to the park I noticed across the street a dog that looked rather like my own little munchie monster, a Shih Tzu with long hair, who had very obviously gotten out of wherever his house was, or was possibly walking with an owner. I look around for an owner but the dog seemed to be very much on his own. I tried to call him, but he dashed away from me in the opposite direction. Which happened to be into traffic on a very busy street. My heart sank into my stomach, but I also knew better than to run into a busy Korean street. I held my breath and watched.

He ducked and dashed between cars. One car stopped short just short of him, but he made it to the other side. I started breathing again and praying for the light to change. Someone need to grab that puppy and fast. On the opposite side of the street I watched as he pawed a little place under a tree and looked to lay down. This was good, if he wanted to get to sleep that would be okay. I was popping up and down on the balls of my heels for the light to change, and it did. I started to cross the walk, the dog got up and walked into traffic on the other side, my heart started pounding again, and then a taxi clipped him. He was tossed into the air and landed flat unmoving.

My head just sank into my toes. I wanted to cry, I didn’t know what to do. At first, I thought to just go on, he’s dead, just move on, nothing you can do. I took two steps past, but I couldn’t do it. I ran into the street, the light was turning green and ran towards the puppy. He just looked at me, those big eyes saying “I just discovered cars and I don’t like them, also please don’t hurt me anymore.” I felt like I was miles away even though only steps. The light changed and a taxi going full speed runs straight at me and pulls up to stop, almost on the puppy. I screamed. The cab screeched to a halt. I scooped the puppy up into my arms and ran back to the sidewalk.

“You silly, stupid thing.” I told him. He just lay contently in my arms. I’m pretty sure he was in shock. At this point I wasn’t sure what to do. I was on my way to the gym so I just kept going that way. The puppy was heavy and obviously well cared for. First, he weighed at least fifteen pounds, and his hair was clean and combed. Shih Tzus have long human-like hair. His was straight, clean and unmated. He was not bleeding, but the way he was laying in the street, either playing dead or seriously stunned, I didn’t know. On the way to the gym was my vet, so we just kept walking.

I kept stroking him and talking to him and he mostly just laid there. I kept thinking that he doesn’t understand what I’m saying and I try to think of what to say in Korean to make him feel better, but my Korean has totally gone out the window. The Koreans I passed kept looking at me like I was crazy talking to a dog while walking down the street, but this morning I just didn’t care. I kept walking and got to the vet...who was closed.

“Now what?” I looked around in front of the vets and found some string to make a quick collar and leash out of. I tied him up and set him down. He started to shake almost immediately and I started dialing the friend I have who volunteers for the local animal shelter. It took two calls to get her on the line but as she answered I explained what had happened in rapid fire. I gave her the number to the vet and she called the Korean woman who runs the shelter to call the vet and explain what was going on. I stood over the dog. The dog shook. Kids were walking by on their way to school and taking an interest so I wanted to get him out of the way somehow. There is a little cubbie at the corner of the vets with leaves, out of the way of the wind. So I tied the dog up there, even though it seemed rather unlikely that he would try to move at this point, and called the friend back to tell her where the dog was. The good thing was the kids going to school couldn’t see him, which seemed very important. The bad was that it was only 8:20 and I still needed to go to the gym and work. I wanted to take the dog to the gym with me, but that wouldn’t help and I figured the vets would be in sometime before nine. In the end I went to the gym and just hoped for the best.

With all the adrenaline in my system the workout was fantastic, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the puppy. As soon as I was done, I showered and ran back to the vet. If they were still closed I was going to wait and take a cab to work. However the lights were on and puppy was gone. In the doors I went, to see the vet on the phone who saw me and relaxed. I explained in English and my poor Korean what had happened, and discovered that he had just been on the phone with the Korean woman who runs the animal shelter. They had only found the dog a few moments ago, apparently a little too well hidden, but she had conveyed the directions and they picked him up immediately. They said he looked to be mostly okay, but may have broken his leg. I signed a form and explained where I found the dog so they had all the information down in Korean, and with that I went to school.

I just keep seeing him flying through the air and laying there. I keep seeing the look on his face as I ran towards him, desperate and confused. The taxi cab almost stopping on him trying not to hit me. The Koreans walked by on the sidewalk, the cars kept moving, but I just couldn’t leave him there. I went back and grabbed him even though running into morning rush hour traffic is stupid. I just see that face and think of my poor Shih Tau, and how if it were my dog I’d hope someone would do the same thing.

My friend called a few minutes ago to say that aside from the shock the puppy appears to be fine. I hope his owners check with local vets to find him. If not I know that shelter is not ideal but at least he will be treated well until something can be worked out. I still feel very upset about it, but it was the right thing to do. Why do I feel so upset about it still? I’m working that out. In the meantime, I’m glad the little guy is going to be okay. Not a whole lot of Shih Tzus can take a taxi cab and live to tell about it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Autumn Leaves

The weather is changing now in Korea. Days are longer and colder, but the radical weather shifts make dressing impossible. The morning bitter and freezing and the afternoon warm enough for a T-shirt.

I feel drained by the changing temperatures, the changing sun schedule, the changing leaves. All that change seems tiresome, and I have my own changes to deal with. At the moment I’m looking at changing jobs, changing my apartment, potentially changing countries, eventually changing everything I’ve been doing for eight years. And I have to wonder where all that change is going and what all that change is going to get me.

I find thinking about all of that draining as well. So I try not to think about it at all, but then I find myself utterly lost in those moments of most minute change.

I am walking down the street and the wind whips up in front of me. It picks up leaves and debris and detritus and lifts it all into the air. The little wind spins itself into a small cyclone for a moment and then disappears and the flotilla, suddenly without it support, drops, falls, crashes to earth, abandoned. There it lies to be trampled upon by passers-by, to crack and crumble and become nothing under the feet of us on the sidewalk, or under the uncaring and unforgiving wheel of a car that scoots along the street.

There is a lone leaf, red in color, and it finds a new draft and gets picked up again, to repeat the only ritual it has now. It is no longer a living thing, it has died, past on, but it still a part of the makeup of the season it will serve its purpose later as the mulch that will allow new seasons to renew. But here, now, it is nothing but debris to be tossed about at the whim of a fickle wind. It makes not choices, it has no decisions, it means nothing.

I watch the red leaf fall again as the wind dies. It moves down the street faster than I do. I want to catch up with it, to run to meet it, to pass it somehow. Part of me wants to grab it, keep it, put it in my pocket and keep it from being whatever it is that it could someday become. I want to hold onto that moment and prevent the change.

With the leaf in my had I might stop time. I might be able to capture and contain and keep it all from happening. Maybe it is just the attraction of having all that power. Regardless of how much of an illusion it actually is.

It’s close to six and the sun is low on the horizon; the leaf moves on, joins other leaves, flies away. I walk into the twilight toward home.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Halloween Prequel

More to come about the night...mostly as it comes, in random images and include:


Bawdy Wenches


More Bands

and Debauchery

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sometimes You Just Can't Win

I'm asleep.

That was the good part. It had been a long day and after a long day I had managed to get to bed to sleep in a way that was both satisfying and relaxing.

Life was good and quiet.

The first thing to wake me up was the dog. The dog clicking and clacking along the hardwood floor at the end of the bed. He does so because he is cold. He had his hair trimmed last week and since then he has been getting the shivers and shakes at night from being cold. I understand his pain. What annoys is that he had not deigned to join me in bed when I asked him at ten in the evening. Instead he chose to sleep on the floor in the sitting room until he was cold and then come wake me up at two a.m. to get into bed.

Fine; I lean over the side, grab the munchie little monster, grab a pillow and roll back over to sleep. Sleep eludes me for about a half hour, until finally I start to feel myself drifting off. Which is when the dog decided he was not comfortable at my feet and decided to come sleep by my head. Which was not happening. So we fight about it for a while until he ends up back at my feet. I turn over on a different side and prepare to go back to bed. And as finally the sandman drifts in silently through a window the dog starts to snore. Then roll over. Then paw at the bed. Then roll over again. Then snore. Repeat.

I'm getting close to kicking the dog out of the bed when he finally seems to settle and go completely to sleep. His warmth and sanombulance is catching. I find myself dosing now, at three a.m., and soon to sleep.

My eyes close and I drift off to the sounds of the quiet city. A car passing here, or there, mostly just quiet fall night. A truck pulls up outside my window and I note it in my half wakefulness but I'm moving closer to dreaming. Then I start to wake up, thinking that it sounds like the truck has parked under my window leaving the engine running. Then another. Then another. Then a bunch of Korean guys start yelling really loudly.

"You have got to be KIDDING me." I get up, throw on a bathrobe and head into the sitting room to look out and see what is going on. I throw open the window and see not one, not two, but three, gigantic trucks parked outside my window. All with the engines running. And hoses running down the ally into someone's apartment. Apparently someone in the neighborhood was having their heating oil tank filled at four in the morning. The sound was almost deafening from the sitting room.

I went back into my bedroom. Throw the window closed. Crawled back into bed and tossed and turned and tossed trying to find some way to get back to sleep.

An hour later I have a pillow over my head. The building is still shaking from the trucks parked outside. I keep wondering when my alarm will go off.

A half an hour later I wake to the sounds of Chicago NPR. My head hurts and I'm tired.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Advertising Fail?

Waking home from an early nightcap, having had some wine (a fine bottle of wine) with the Irish. I decided that I wanted to bring home some ice cream. Which seems like a great idea, but you have to keep in mind that I'm not supposed to have it. The Boy, however, loves it, and I'm sure the dogs would be happy to watch him eat it in the hopes of licking a spoon.

At the shop I was talking with the Irish and so therefore distracted between a conversation and thirty-one flavors to choose from. So I almost missed the advertising that was sitting, ah...right in front of my face.

The counter girl got very annoyed with me as I snapped photos, but sometimes you just have to go for it.

I'm almost positive that whatever they are intending with this particular ad campaign it is not what they are unintentionally advertising to all of the English-speaking foreigners in the country. I do have to admit, Korea continues to be amusing as all hell.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Art of Traveling Forward

I travel a lot for the work I do. Thus it was no surprise when I informed the Boy and the dogs that on Thursday night I would not be coming home, or if I did come home it would be only to pick up the things I needed before I hopped on a bus and headed out to another city for a rather large presentation. Indeed none were surprised, but Tino, the Shih Tzu, was not amused.

On Thursday after a mad day of classes and midterm exams and walked the mile down the hill, grabbed the bus to the subway, and managed to make it to my apartment by six in the evening. I had a quick dinner, threw clothes and assorted toiletries in a bag, and headed towards the bus station to so I could arrive at my hotel sometime before nine. This would leave me well rested and ready for my presentation the following morning.

Being tired and haggard from a day of teaching followed by a night of traveling I was in a hurry to get on the bus and get on my way. I walked up to the ticket ajjuma and said the name of the city I was traveling too. "Gyeongju, ha-na, juseyo."

The ajjuma asked me for roughly eighteen dollars and gave me a ticket. My first thought was that the price of the ticket to the city that is only an hour away from Daegu has REALLY gone up. The second thought I had was do I have enough time to run to the bathroom? Because my life likes to be more complicated than possible I'd had a rough day with my stomach. The kind of day that results in everything going in coming out within an hour in a most unpleasant and embarrassing manner. Looked at the ticket, noticed that I had about fifteen minutes, bought some toilet paper and went to take care of business.

I made it to the bus with a few minutes to spare, found a nice seat and tucked in for the short ride. Being that we were taking off at seven in the evening I figured that I should be in Gyeongju by around eight or nine and would grab some wine at the bar as a nightcap before bed.

Dozing, I did not pay much attention to the landscape or the city, and really, why should I? I've made this trip a hundred times, seen the sights, etc. I really just wanted to get to the hotel. Around 8:15 I saw the lights of a low city in the distance. Gyeongju has enforced a lot of rules to prevent building unnecessarily tall buildings or modernizing, as it is prized as a historical attraction. I packed up my things and prepared to get off the bus. The bus pulled off the road.

Into a rest stop.

Well, my stomach, which was continuing to play merry hob with my body did not mind, so I took advantage. As I walked back to the bus though I had this thought. In all the times I've traveled to Gyeongju I've never stopped at a rest stop before. It's just not that long a trip. I'd just put on my MP3 player to charge myself up for getting to the hotel, so I continued to think that thought while I sat back down and made myself comfortable. I began thinking that perhaps the bus driver was having a day like mine.

I looked out the window now tensely waiting to see the city as I knew it was just around the corner.

A sign went past for another city. The sign said Gay-jo. I've never heard of a city called Gay-jo. That's when my stomach sort of dropped into my feet and I had the sinking feeling that I was on the wrong bus. I called the boy and asked "Have you ever head of Gay-jo?"

"No, why?"

"I think I'm on the wrong bus. We just left this rest stop, I think, Go-chang."

"You're on the wrong bus."


"Where are you going?"

At this point I pulled up my ticket.

"Gwangju. Shit. Shit, shit, shit."

At this point I hung up the phone and move to the front of the bus and started asking the bus driver where the bus was going.

"Gyeongju, peer-i-o-hayda. Gyeongju."

"An-iyo, Gwangju, gesayo. Gwangju."

"Nay, ariso, Gwangju. Nanun Gwangju, an-peer-i-o-hyada. Mun-jay. Kun-go mun-jay."

He continues to tell me the bust is going to Gwangju. I continue to tell him I have a big problem because I really really need to go to Gyeongju.

He tells me to go sit down. I call several people and realize that calling more people is not going to change the fact that I'm on the wrong bus headed three hours in the wrong direction. I call the Boy and ask for options on getting from Gwangju to Gyeongju in the morning and making it to Gyeongju by 9:00 am.

"Nothing doing; you're screwed."


I grab my bag and head back up to haggle with the bus driver, who is now himself on the phone. I sit on the step next to him while he talks and talks. I try to ask him to just let me off at the next rest area. I'll try to call a cab and head back towards Daegu, I think. It will cost an arm and a leg but still be a far sight better.

As I see a sign that we are approaching a rest stop I resume my begging. Just let me off here, let me off here.

He asks me if I have my bag and I say yes.

Okay, he says, just go sit down.

I sit.

We drive by the rest stop. I make more phone calls feeling seriously screwed.

The bus driver says something about a taxi. I'm thinking he must have called a taxi and maybe they have arranged to meet somewhere else so I try to cool my heels as we continue to proceed forward. It is now 9:20 and about an hour after I have discovered my problem and a good hour after I should have been lying half naked in bed drinking some wine and reading a book.

I sit.

I sulk.

I notice a bus pulled to the side in the distance. The driver calls for me to get my bag and I finally realize the plan that has been concocted. I'm going to get on a different bus, the bus that is headed from Gwangju to Daegu.

We pull off on the expressway and he asks me to run across to the other bus. While it's a busy expressway it's not so busy that I can't make it before becoming road dirt. On the other side I see a line of Korean men on the side of the road relieving themselves in the bushes. The driver puts me on the bus and keeps saying taxi.

We start to drive, now it's ten to ten and we are back on the way to Daegu.

"Taxi, odi-issyo?"

"Daegu. Daegu, taxi, Gyeongju." So we will go back to Daegu and from there I can get a taxi and go to Gyeongju.

I call the Boy and the dogs and inform them that I will be sleeping at home tonight and have to go to Gyeongju in the morning. I get back to my place around midnight and collapse absolutely worn down into bed. I get up at five in the morning, shower, have a quick toast and coffee and run out to the bus station to grab the earliest morning bus to make it to my presentation on time.

I say the name of the city several times, listen closely and actually read my ticket this time to make sure I'm going the right way.

The hotel comes up in the distance at about a quarter til nine, giving me about fifteen minutes to get ready. They announce me as an expert at what I do and I feel this cold flush of panic. Expert, perhaps, but at least it's not in the art of traveling.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's a Kind of Art

I've been sewing like a madwoman the last couple of days.

Everywhere I go I see stitches. I see designs. I walk the streets and windowshop in the windows of boutiques. Daegu is an erstwhile fashion mecca with so many designers you can throw a stone and hit three in the street, especially if the stone bounces. Since my art is coming back slowly but surely I have found myself damn near chained to my sewing machine at all sorts of odd hours.

I went to dinner the other night with a friend and found myself staring the entire time at the stitches on his hoodie. Mentally counting the lines for the zipper extension, comparing, wondering if I was setting my zippers just so. I've spent hours in the local market with ajjumas buying lace trim, accessories for my machine, buttons, leather, buckles, threads, needles, and other odds and ends.

I've filled my place with interfacing.

I've heated my iron and used it on several occasions.

I've attached silk pieces to knits, and knits to knits of a different color. All in search of the perfect addition to my fall wardrobe. And with each piece I make, a dozen others seem to spring up in the wake.

Online I see a blouse with a ribbon tie front. I want it. I start plotting which fabric will be best to make it. I see a halter with a loose front and a zipper side, and I take notes and plot in my head. I see a skirt and wonder if I will ever be in the mood to wear a skirt again, but in the meantime fantasize about the type of fabric that would make a good one. I shop for fabrics, silks, cotton blends, velvet frocked, crushed, and just plain straight. I have printed silks in pink with white polka dots. I want more. I want to drown in a sea of fabric and designs.

For the last two days I've been working on a punk jacket out of a newsprint-type fabric I found several months ago and just now got around to working up. I FEEL it. I feel the energy of that fabric, the print (for some reason) just grabs me, makes me angry, wanton. It feels sexy to finish the seams, to adjust the stitches here and there. Take in a dart to show off my breasts, add buttons for a low-cut finish, line up the hem and not screw it up. All work, all trying, tricky. I set a color, overlay the front facing, inset the back seams, and wonder if I will bias the seams tonight or tomorrow.

The total working time is three hours, the finishing touch a triplet of denim stud closures as the buttons. I leave the sleeve ends unfinished so they can fray out. The jacket wants to be rocked, to be bitchy, to be motherfucking fierce and I have very intention of letting it.
In the last seven days I've made two pullover shirts, one fitted with ribbon trim, a black hoodie, a shirt with raglan sleeves, a purple cross over, a false button red silk blouse, a wine cami, a black collared pull over, a red sweater, a bath robe and finished a very punk chic jacket. It's the art I'm interested in right now, and it feels oh so good.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Mysterious, Never?

I wander into the Lonely Hearts Club well past midnight. I figure it will be a nice change of pace from the other bar and mostly I just want to go and see Hyun and listen to good music.

The bar is crowded tonight, being Saturday not that unusual. I pick a piece of bar and sit down, wondering about the wisdom of coming to the bar by myself. Hyun and I have a shot together and he pours me another before handing me a pen and paper to make my musical playlist for 12:30 am.

"You're name is Sara, right?" Asks the drunken redhead next to me. He looks like Richie Cunningham and even has a standing sidekick who could be a taller, somewhat pudgier version of the Fonz.

"Yes, it is," I answer warily, both trying to project an air of disdain, annoyance, politeness and an "I'm really just hear for the booze and music" vibe at the drunken Richie.

"I remember that, we've met before, but you don't remember me do you?" I hear this so often my head wants to explode. Of course, I have probably met you before. More likely than not I met you in some sort of official capacity where I was required to do my job, which includes less tequila drinking than I generally like. I smile and apologize and turn back to my drink.

"It's just I remember your name because it's my mother's name. You and my mother have the same name." Yes, I think, worst pick-up line ever.

"So how long have you been here?"

And I answer, and I answer honestly that I've been here for going on eight years. It is a long time, I know it is a long time, I realize that constantly without needing to be told, but as with so many other things the obvious is stated. I smile politely and try, again, to turn back to my drink.

"So, why are you here?"

"Why not?" I answer.

"You have to have a reason."

"Not really."

"But you have to; you're here for the money, or something, but you have to have a reason for being here."


"So why are you here?"

"Mostly, right now, for drinking."

"So, yeah, but why in Korea? Is it to meet people?" And it goes on like this for the next ten minutes. I am poked and prodded over and over again for my REASON, for the capitol R response that will finally placate Richie by providing him with concrete proof that the universe is orderly and that I MUST HAVE A REASON for everything I do.

He tells me why I must be in Korea over and over again. I try to agree with him, thinking that it will somehow get me out of the conversation, but I would be wrong.

"Look," I say finally in frustration, "you've stated several perfectly valid reasons why I'm probably here. Congratulations, you've figured it out." I turn back to my drink.

"You're just mysterious, maybe you are here because you like to be mysterious." I sigh realizing this is not going to end. I turn pleading eyes on Hyun but the bar is too busy for him to chat me up. There are no tables I can join with ease, and at this time of night I don't want to be forced to it anyway.

"Why do you want to be mysterious?"

I just look at him, giving him the full on disdain of the look I reserve only for the most obnoxious of my students in class. He just stares at me, back at his drink, back at me. 

"Stop being mysterious."

I finish my drink quietly and go home.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Chusock Eve Lunch

It was a lovely Friday, day before Chusock in Korea. Chusock being the biggest holiday in Korea, and many parts of Asia (lunar harvest festival, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter all rolled into one) I knew pretty much everything would be closed. However when I finally disentangled myself from the blanket of infinite entropy I decided I wanted to do two things. One was to hit Seomon market and get some things for the makings of a bathrobe. I'm working on a bathrobe project and I need to get things to match the fabric I've picked up. The other was that I wanted some Korean for lunch. In particular I wanted yappchick mandu, a flat Korean dumpling that is quickly fried on a griddle and served with soy sauce, green onions and a little chili. I could do both of those things at Seomon market.

I was really hopeful that when I got to the market I'd see my favorite ajjuma. She's actually more of a har-moni (grandmother) and I've stopped in to eat at her particular stall for years. However when I arrived at the shi-jung I found that a great deal of it was closed, much to my dismay. Parts were still open and so I plunged in and started to look for the things that I wanted. I managed to get some nice lace for making things. I found a few boubles here and there, but sadly no fabric to match my robe project. I put that off for a future trip to the fabric market. So I was left in the market looking for lunch. This proved to be a greater challenge. The reason being the entrails.

I'm not a big fan of entrails but these are often fondly eaten in Korea. And at the market you can get all the best of head cheese, pig penis, pig stomach, pig liver, pig bladder, pig brains and sun-dae (pork blood sausage). You ever watch an episode of Fear Factor where they make people eat really disgusting things on camera? In Korea that is a good lunch for many. I don't mind that Koreans like eating this stuff, what I do mind is having it sit next ot me when I'm trying to enjoy a quick veggie lunch of mandu. Sadly every single stall I saw that had the mandu I wanted also had a large plate of entrails sitting right in your face. It took a while but I finally found an ajjuma who was making some mandu far away from any entrails.

I pulled up a corner of shade and for two thousand won ($1.50) I had some nice lunch. She was also next to an h ajjuma who was making ho-dok. A friend of mine had a friend from her hometown visiting sometime last year. I took them to the market and we had all kinds of shopping and fun and eventually I'd asked if they would like to try some ho-dok. When asked to explain the best way I could put it was that it's essentially a fried pancake with the syrup inside. The friend was immediately addicted and before she left I ended up heading over their apartment with a large back of ho-dok so that the leaving friend could eat her fill and satisfy her urge. Good stuff. Since I found out I can't have gluten or processed sugars I've mostly given it up, but I miss it sometime.

My lunch was good, I wondered back into the cool autumn-ness of the market afterward, my appetite quenched while my desire for shopping remained unsatisfied. I'll try again on Monday when things return to normal.

The ajjuma who was cooking my lunch.

The ajjuma who was making ho-dok. First you make a round ball with the dough.

Then you fill the ball with some brown sugar, and a small amount of peanuts.

Put it on the flat grill, press flat and fry it up. Served in a paper cup. Good eating.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Swine Flu = Seriously?

If you don't live in my particular neck of Asia, or at least somewhere outside of the continental United States, you have no idea just how nutty people are being about H1N1. I will grant you that people in the U.S. are a little nutty on their own about H1N1; my favorite particular brand of nut-tacular being Swine Flu parties, like chicken-pox parties but with the flu. Seriously?

At least, in that particular case, people are not going to insane lengths to try to avoid some kind of infection. Because, really, in South Korea it's gotten a little more than the usual brand of Korean crazy. I knew this was coming back in May when I went to Shanghai. Being that at the time I was suffering from catastrophic tonsillitis I admit to being worried about being quarantined when I hit China for having a fever. I took Tylenol on the plane and drank a lot of cold water and managed to get through Chinese customs relatively unscathed. I did may week of training, got a minor case of tonsil swelling, but was back to Korea before it got out of hand. On the way back I worried again about ending up in quarantine, but again had no fever, aside from having to fill out a detailed report about my health (have you had a fever in the last month? No, no, of course not), it was not a big deal.

Until about four days after I got home and had Korean CDC called me to ask if I was sick. I was actually sick at the time, but it was the tonsillitis again, so I said I was fine and life went on as usual. Until two days later at work when the CDC called the school office to check on my health. This was all back in May when swine flu was just starting out. And in reality I got lucky, I had a friend in China that did end up in quarantine after the guy on the plane next to him tested positive after landing in Beijing. That happened only about three days after my successful escape from Shanghai.

I put it out of my mind until the Boy returned to Korea from his summer vacation in Alaska and mentioned that at the airport they had everyone getting off the plane line up in rows to have their temperature taken. Rather than just passing through the screening cameras that test for body temperature, they were now physically testing every living body by sticking a thermometer in the ear and reading the temperature. When I left Korea for Chicago this summer I was worried about this happening to me when I hit the States, but surprisingly the U.S. seemed to be rather laissez-faire about the whole thing. I just walked into the country, did my month of teaching and returned to Korea. Granted on the return I did get ambushed at the gate by the Koreans with thermometers, and since I was still under the influence of tonsillitis I felt really uncomfortable about it, but what are you going to do?

After finally having surgery and feeling so much better about life in general I figured health was in my future and I was ready to put thinking about illness all the time behind me. However sadly it was not to be. It started around the beginning of the semester with the rumors. A number of universities in Korea were taking some very strange routes to prevent infections at schools. Some schools were refusing to let anyone into class until they had spent seven days in Korea at home in self quarantine. This seemed fairly ridiculous at first. And worse it applied mostly to foreigners, students and teachers, but not so much to Korean students.

The general myth, from May to mid-September, that was Swine Flu was a forefinger problem. Some schools and hagwons went so far as to forbid their teachers in June and July from "associating with other foreigners"*. Considering that most schools had no real control over a person's downtime this became a hot topic of foreigners associating with each other in bars and other places. It seemed like it couldn't really get worse from there, but it has.

Some schools and universities have instituted a policy of temperature testing daily before classes. This policy is directed only at foreign professors and foreign students. When I went to the Body Painting festival in Daegu sure enough there were two girls standing at the gate with a thermometer. The Koreans got their arm bands and walked on through, but my friends and I had to be tested to go in. They stuck the thermometer into the heads of two boys and then went for me and I said no. I wanted it cleaned. They wiped it off with the same piece of tissue they used on the two boys before me and I said no. Finally, one of them reach into the box pulled out the so-far unused cover and I consented, knowing that I'd probably be the only person that day since the first person to have a clean thermometer used on me.

I have a friend who teaches here mostly with adults. One of their students was a part of the Korean CDC who thinks that they way a lot of companies and businesses are handling the flu is just downright stupid. The best thing is to wash your hands every couple of hours, cough into your elbow, and otherwise live life. The constant temperature testing does little more than raise levels of hysteria while tripling the chances of a catastrophic infection of something else.

The other day one of the "class leaders" from some segment of the student body was running around sticking a thermometer into the ears of people in her "class" at random. Just in and out and in and out, no wipe, no clean, not sterilizing. That is far more likely to cause infections than to actually prevent anything. Further I found out yesterday that the school festival will be canceled because of the potential for students getting the flu. I figure my college students are much more likely to get the flu from just being college students; generally unruly, unwashed, bunch of germ bags that they are.

My special favorite, which I think shows just how silly Korea has gotten, came from the movies a few days ago. I went to see a show with a friend and just before the preview their was a Korean community service video. It begins with a Korean guy in the bathroom doing what Korean guys do in the bathroom. Aside from the urinating, he was touching his hair, blowing his nose in his hand, picking his nose, and doing disgusting things with that, and then zipping up and walking out of the bathroom. Cut from this to a Korean girl carefully laying toilet paper all over a seat which she eventually hovers over (I hate the alien space projectile hover peeing, by the way, just SIT DOWN), and then flushing and washing her hands compulsively like a doctor about to go into surgery.

Next seen she is walking out of the bathroom and up walks the urinating Korean guy with some kimbop. He breaks a piece off with his hand, puts in in her mouth, than squeezes her cheeks, rubs her face, making lovely dovey noises as they walk away hand in hand.

I laughed til I almost wet myself. At least the Koreans are starting to realize that it is not just about the cleanliness of the foreigners. Still, this whole thing is getting increasingly more annoying. It almost has me wishing for some kind of serious outbreak of something, like the first shot in the zombie apocalypse. In the meantime I continue to do my job, wash my hands, and stay away from the students who think projectile coughing is funny.

*So far at least one teacher has been fired over swine flu. Which is like the height of ridiculous. While I understand that the academy wants to have the best interest of Korean children in mind, that's just stupid.

The first case of H1N1 in Korea was actually brought over by a Korean.

So far there are just under 10,000 reported cases of swine flu, and 9 reported deaths.

For some perspective: According to the annual death report, the NSO said a total of 12,858 people, or 24.3 people for every 100,000 Koreans, took their own lives in 2008.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Nightclub and Decent into Darkness

We pile back into the elevator and head to the first floor of the hotel. We can all hear music thrumming in the background, that sort of off-dance techno base rhythm that makes a body full of booze want to move. We exit the hotel and it only takes us in our inebriated states about five minutes to figure out how to get to the nightclub in the basement of the hotel.

We walk in and head to another elevator, this one leading us downstairs. At this point Alice has nothing on us. We enter into a maze with Korean men in black suits running around everywhere. The servers all have earphones plugged in for wireless communication between them. The dance floor on the upper deck is full, but we are pushed and prodded down and down into the blue-lit neon-flashing spaces to land on red velvet couches.

We pack in and our Korean hosts tell us to order anything. “Anything you want, it’s not problem.” The menu is taken up, people order a bottle of Jack Daniels, and assorted beers and we sit and wait for a moment until finally the Russians decide that they want to dance. The dance floor as they move toward it is very crowded, but almost as soon as they step onto the floor, the music changes and as if by some signal all the girls who had been on the dance floor suddenly rush and sit down.

At this point most of the artists and my friends have gone up to dance now alone on the dance floor, their images being projected across several dozen small screens and one large screen into the bar. I’m sitting next to the Artist and lean in to scream and whisper into his ear “I’m an exhibitionist, but not quite that much of one.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

So I pull back out the bottle of tequila, while he fixes himself a Jack and coke and we watch the nightclub together. He asks me after a minute “What is with the girls?”

It’s at that point that it dawns on my just what kind of nightclub we are in. As we watch men in suits shuffle around to different tables. They grab two or three girls tightly by the wrists and drag them away. Occasionally they drag them to tables nearby and sit them down with two or three guys who are sitting, up to that point, sans female company.

“Ah,” I say, “it’s booking.”

I have to explain: booking is essentially what happens in a high-price, supposedly high-class nightclub. Girls dress up with their friends and go to the club for free. They put their name on the booking list. During the night, at any time, they are grabbed and dragged to a table of two or three hapless and lonely strangers. Once at the table they are expected to sit, drink, and generally make merry with each other. There is not real promise of sex, these are usually good girls, college students or girls out for the night who don’t want to pay much money. For the guys it’s a way to meet girls outside their social circle. However there is always an undercurrent of flesh for sale in these sorts of clubs. Especially the way the girls are getting dragged around, tossed, changed and exchange whenever they are not satisfactory to the male clientele.

The music changes, our group returns, and some drinking happens. I realize that I am nearing the end of my bottle of tequila, but not quite yet. However I am now feeling much more like dancing. And so is the Artist. Which results on us joining the group to dance on the dance floor. We also join Koreans, which I suddenly realize as I'm trying to dance are all standing lined up along the floor across from each other and mostly making an attempt at shaking but not really anything like dancing.

It dawns on me then through my haze that there really is some sort of magic button that requires girls to dance at a specific time, and that the dance requirement is generally fulfilled by girls standing across from each other on the dance floor and shaking awkwardly. This is quite in contrast to our gangle of people, who are all thrashing around, moving, shaking and truly enjoying themselves, or at least the amount of alcohol in the blood stream.

The Artist moves with the smooth sophistication you would suspect of someone coming from the German techno scene. The Misters Kim dance like Korean guys, creating a circle and dragging people in. The Irish is a combination of skill, understanding of what he is doing, and the completely wrong place to show of his swing-dancing moves. The Trainee....uh, the Trainee is beyond description. Perhaps one might say that it is the gyrating thrust of an overexcited and recently escaped inhabitant of a mental institution, but mostly I think it was just a bad case of White Guy.

The Korean Stepford-bots continue with their dance moves and eventually we march off with them at the next bell ring, poor more booze down ourselves, and repeat this pattern for goodness knows how long. Finally, the Trainee calls it quits and exits stage left or right. The Ukrainians and the Russian and Japanese artist have gone. I'm sitting next to the Artist when I realize pretty much everyone I know has left. And in this looking around it is then that I discover the Irish.

He is dancing with wild abandon on the dance floor, spinning, jumping, hopping about. He moves with the music, careless of everything around him, a moment of intense happiness, drunken revelry, and complete abandon. He is totally alone on the dance floor, dancing with himself to be sure. And also being broadcast on every screen in the nightclub. Including the large screen TV that I'm watching. I take a few minutes to try to figure that out before suddenly the song ends, the Irish bows.

At this point I figure I should probably figure out where people have gone or are going. Of course it is at this point that things start to get even vauger, but eventually I make my exit up the stairs and into the hall of never ending mystery that is the upper floor of the dance club. The space is a mixed up maze and in my drunkenness I'm even more mixed up. And somewhere in there the mixing becomes a state of being. There is nothing but memories swallowed by darkness, a slow suffication of thought, pulsation, rippling, rhythm of music and night and alcohol, and then quiet, and sleep, and nothing.

When I woke up the next morning my head soundly disagreed with me. It suggested through it's steady banging cadence that I might have considered stopping my adventure half-way through the bottle of tequila. Awaking again later on the couch to the ringing of my phone I answer to have the Irish ask "So, when are we meeting?"

"Didn't we have this conversation yesterday?"

"Yes, but now we need to get together to figure out what happened."

"We had an adventure."

"Yeah, but neither of us can remember all of it."

"You think I'm going to help. I lost my bottle of tequila."

"No, you drank your bottle of tequila."

"That explains so much."

I give him a time and roll back on my couch and wonder just how many details they can fill in. It was, to be sure, an adventurous weekend.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Party in the Park

We were sitting on a hill a bit away from the Korean Pantera when the call came in from the Artitst.

“Alright, boys, let’s boogie.” We all jump up and grab our various different kinds of gear and head over to meet the Artist, who talks with us as he puts out the lights and finishes closing down the booth.

“So, where are we going?”

“Back there,” points the Artist and we follow him even further up the hill, toward the back of the booths and the tables that are at the back of the park. We can already see the Russian and Ukraine artists have made themselves at home, and so we all sort of roll up as a gang and make the general round of introductions. We meet the organizer of the event first, Mr. Kim in a sea of Mr. Kim’s. We shake hands and the Artist introduces me, the Irish, and the Trainee. We (being good lifers in Korea) all respond with appropriate hand shaking, bowing, and Korean greetings, which serve the purpose of making us all instantly acceptable to the Koreans hosting the event.

We all take various seats at various places. The Trainee manages to position himself rather near the cute female reporter (who I think was on everyone’s to-do list) and one of the other organizers. I was next to the Irish and opposite the Artist and the Israeli artist, and close to the Russians and the Ukrainian artist. The Japanese artists were at the other end of the table, and the rapid-fire conversation and drinking begins. The Artist is a soju man at this point, I pull out the bottle of Tequila. Like speaking Korean to Koreans, tequila also has the effect of making one very quickly popular, and in short order several shots are distributed around the group. We all proceed to get extremely drunk. At this point I’ve had enough tequila to know that it is time to start cutting my blood with a little water, which has the alternate effect of making me the person most likely to visit the bathroom a hundred times; which is noted upon and joked about by all the boys.

“Where are you going?” asks the Artist.

“The lady’s room.” I return.

“They won’t let you in.”

“Piss off.” Smiles all around.

Cameras come out so that our drunken silliness can be preserved. We learn that the Irish can’t figure out how to use a camera, that I have intense camera envy of the Artist's equipment, that the Trainee speaks all right German, and the Ukrainian speaks excellent Korean. The Russians speak mostly Russian, or occasionally some English to me. I offer the Japanese artists some tequila in classic Korean fashion and sit around long enough to demonstrate that I know how to say my name and where I am from in Japanese before sitting down to prevent further embarrassment.

The night is humid and moist, dark and starry. There is a beautiful vibe, that sort of quasi-sexual, pseudo-intelligent, meaningful, meaninglessness of large amounts of alcohol, art, and a day spent in the sun watching or working with lovely examples of naked humanity. I want to float away on it, I want to wrap myself around it and just fall into it. I wonder if I am passing out in a tequila daze. I wonder where we are going. The conversations have become myriad and drifting and I have trouble following one though to the end anymore. It’s a sensory overload of the best kind.

“I’ve forgotten how to speak English, you know,” says the Ukrainian. “I teach all my classes in Korean, and I don’t speak English at all sometimes.”

“Adventure,” drifts toward me on the wind.

“How long have you…”



“And then we will…”

I’m lost absorbing words and idle thoughts and amusements.

“So, are you ready to go?” someone asks, and I realize it is time for round three, if I think I’m capable of surviving it.

“Okay, where are we going?” I ask.

“We are going to the bus,” says the Artist; and explains from there to the hotel and from there to a nightclub.

“Is it all right if we come?” I ask again. I don’t want to impose, but at this point The Misters Kim are happy to have us continue to party with the group, and before you know it we are all walking together with various stuff in the direction of a bus that will go somewhere.

“It takes about forty five minutes,” explains the Artist. He sits behind me, and I’m in the front next to the Irish. The trainee is across from us and behind the Israeli artist, and the Russians, Ukrainian and Korean are in the back. We are all spread out and talking.

“You need a haircut,” says the Artist to the Irish.

I’m amused as I’m fairly sure I had sent the Irish a text message at some point earlier during the week that said “Get a haircut, hippy!” On the bus we talk about art and music, and the festival, comic books, and I think the impending zombie apocalypse. We suddenly hear from the other side of the bus something about Gaza strip and I send the Irish to smack down the Trainee from launching into a political discussion.

“No politics,” says the Irish.

“Was that politics?” asks the Trainee.

“Yes. Yes, it was.”

Fortunately at this point we have neared the hotel and disembark to make arrangements. The artists want a chance to go up to their rooms and change, tidy up, or shower, so it is left to the Koreans to wait with the add on waygooks as entertainment. Being the add-on waygooks we are happy to comply. Food and beer is ordered while the groups sits out on the deck of one of the the highest most overpriced bars in Daegu.

“Don’t worry about the cost. We are buying,” says one of the Kim’s.

It is agreed that this is a good thing. Talk and banter continues until we all manage to again finally be in the same place. And so, while people quickly finish beers it is announced that it is time for the nightclub.

Thus the adventures continue.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Farewell to Body Paints, Hello Alcohol!

"I don't think we are going the right way," I say as we continue to walk. We are about five minutes from where we have started, but I'm pretty sure we are not heading in a direction that is toward either beer or civilization.

"No," says the Irish, "this is definitely the right way."

"How do you know?"

"I have beer-dar."

"We are so screwed." And yet as we crested the next hill and turned the next corner, sure enough there was a bar awaiting us. And it was even the bar we were looking for.

"Magical," I say. "Let's get booze and food; we've got about an hour."

So in we go to the Wa-bar, which is sort of like a Korean bar meets a western bar that can be very popular with foreigners but is mostly just a good place to get booze. The boys order beers, I order a tequila, and we go through the menu trying to find things I can eat that the boys will enjoy. A cheese plate, some chicken, and a gigantic order of potatoes for the Irish later and we are settled in. Irish, who has been complaining about his dirty shirt for the last two hours decides to go into the bathroom and make a quick change into one of the free T-shirts we got for attending the Body Painting festival event.

He goes into the bathroom and when he comes out the Trainee and I are discussing the varying nature of Korean Wa-bars. We look at the Irish. He looks at us.

"So what do you think?" he asks as he settles into the bar.

The Trainee and I are both noticing two things. It's the same two things. I'm not sure which of us is going to snap first and mention the two things to the Irish.

"Well, I don't know about the fit, but your nipples are sure pert and firm," says the Trainee. Kudos for me for holding out.

"I don't know," I say, "I'm sure they could get stiffer."

"Let's find out," says the Trainee, holding his recently acquired cold beer up to the Irish's nipples. I grab my camera, as I want to preserve the evidence for posterity. Having ascertained that the Irish did in fact look tidier if with more nipple action we turned back to the matter at hand. Mostly drinking.

I turn to my tequila and take a sip.

"Ah, yeah, no." I call the  waitress over and ask her want kind of tequila they have given me and she holds up a bottle of Durango. I do not know where Durango comes from, or why it exists at all. I do know that it is pretty popular in bars here because it is cheaper than tequila. That is because Durango is Tequila-flavored liquor. I do not care for tequila-flavored liquor. I do not want to be served tequila-flavored liquor under most circumstances. I find the stuff evil. Add to that my recently developed issued with processing gluten and I have to be careful which booze I drink. I do better with something not from potatoes or rye, or wheat. Which makes tequila my drink of choice pretty much every day of the year anymore. And I don't know what 80 proof liquor is the basis for the Durango, but what I do know is I don't want to be paying to drink it.

Plus when the girl shoes me the bottle I note that there are several dozen dead bugs floating in the bottle of the liquor. Whee...

I call the girl over and show her the bottle. To which at first she is confused but finally understands my dilemma. I needed a reason to send the drink back that goes beyond my hatred of Durango. We ask if she doesn't have any tequila we can have. She points back to the Durango bottle. I ask for Jose, sweet goddess, just give me some Jose.

And they have Jose.

If I want to buy the bottle.

I'm not really fussed on buying the bottle to get the three or four shots I want. The boys try to convince me. Finally I ask how much. 70,000 won (80 dollars) for the bottle.

Uh-huh. I start to sulk.

"Just buy it, we will take it with," offers the Irish.

"I'll think about it."  I hold out for five seconds before slapping cold plastic on the table and spending 70,000 won on a bottle of Jose Cuervo. It seemed like a very good idea at the time. Food comes and is eaten, alcohol is drunk. I manage to dent about five shots into my bottle before we realize it is time to go and pack up to head off. In the packing I drop the bottle of tequila into my bag, along with a shot glass. May as well get my money's worth at this point.

We head out and back down the street, and over the hill, and through the woods, back to the festival and hopefully making it just in time to check out the art from the international artists. At first, probably because of the alcohol coursing through our veins, we thought it would be a good idea to go and try to offer the Artist a shot of tequila. But being that he is A) insanely busy and B) running
toward the stage, that gets declined pretty quickly.

We head toward the international tent again but only manage to run into the model finally finished and decked out merrily in her sinew; she happily offers to have her picture taken with me which I am eager to do. Granted I had the Trainee snap the shot and for some reason his steadiness was starting to wane as I got a couple of somewhat blurry photos of the event for posterity. We shuffle off down the hill a bit and grab some seats looking over the stage to wait for the next event. My phone rings and it's the Artist, so I tell the boys to stay, and head back to meet him at the tent. He explains that we have missed his part of the show, which I truly lamented, and the artists are now mostly finished but there will be some kind of after party.

I ask if I can come and am told yes.

I ask if I can bring the boys and am told to hold on.

Eventually it is all worked out and we manage to score invitations to the after party. The Artist says I'll get a call when it's time to meet and goes back to getting his gear packaged and put away. I head back to the boys, which sadly also means heading directly into the sound waves of the Korean band on stage that is belting out Pantera is if it's life depended on it. I'm not exactly sure why the band on stage was playing Pantera, but this was apparently very appealing. Nothing like a headbanging ajjuma.

Eventually even with the change from heavy metal Korean band to Koreans doing gypsy belly dancing we three decide that our eardrums can no longer take the damage and work our way back up the hill a bit to wait for whatever festivities are coming.

"Any idea where the party is going to be at?" asks the Irish.

"You know as much as I do."

"Could be fun," puts in the Trainee.

"It's sure to be an adventure." I say.

At this point we all sigh. Where has adventuring gotten us thus far?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Park and The Festivities Begin

The cabbie dropped us off at Woobang Tower Land, which is the biggest amusement park in Daegu.

"At least if we get bored we can do something else," quips the Irish.

I look around and figure we have to be somewhere close to the right place as I can see a number of signs for the Body Painting Festival on the road. After a few minutes we decide to ask yet another cab driver, which gets us a finger pointing in a particular direction. With that in mind we take stock of where we are (across from the theme park, near a bar) and start walking.

"Which way to we go?" I ask.

"No idea."

"That way?" points the Trainee.

So we start walking for no readily apparent reason into a slightly more tree-covered area in the park. We run into about forty Korean gentlemen drinking soju.

"Guys we are going the wrong way." I suggest.

"Nah, I've got nipple-dar; I'm locked in," says the Irish.

"If your nipple-dar is as good here as it is in a bar we are going to be hopelessly lost."

The Trainee laughs and we continue to walk in circles in the park, finally ending up at a large stadium-type place.

"And we are here!" says the Irish, triumphant.

I ask the guards in Korean and they tell us to come back at 7:00, as that is when the show starts. I ask them about the body painting festival and they respond by telling me we are in the wrong place and pointing toward the entirely opposite direction of the one we came from and saying that we wanted to go that way.

"Nipple-dar, huh?"

"What? It will be an adventure!"

"Adventure?" Hmpf, I scoff, and walk off, the boys following. Finally we see a large balloon banner and it is declared that we are near to accomplishing our goal. And so we are, at least, arrived at the festival. At this point it's about half-past three when we join the queue to pay for the tickets and head in with our sexy hot green arm bandages. Now that we can all find each other in the dark it is finally time to attend to the business at hand. Naked chicks! (There is some silliness at the front gate that will be discussed later, because it truly deserves it's own story.)

We walk the outside perimeter first and notice that there is Korean food for sale, lots of beer, some art work for sale, phones for sale, and a notable lack of body paint for sale. Sadly it seems that unlike last year, this year one would not be able to get their own supplies. Fortunately I had bought a bunch for last year as a stock up so I wasn't too sad about it. Having now checked out all the things that were without nipples we dived in for the entire purpose of the show. The art.

The first few tents had models taking off paint from earlier showings. Then we got to the actual tents where Koreans were painting up a storm for the competition that begins at 4:00. Several of the designs were lovely. Colorful paint on flesh. Bodies in motion moving with a vivid flow clothing that is not real, that is just an imagination, someone's thought created on a canvas that is always changing. It's beautiful because it will not last, it's the impermanence that makes it so powerful.

We keep moving, walking through the tents until we finally come to what is, in many ways, the highlight of the show, the international artists who have made a special trip out to do show pieces but not to compete in the show. They are judges, and each one of them is highly skilled at what they do. While the Korean artists are doing interesting work, this is really where the magic is happening. As it was we ran into my friend BodyMagick, who was in town for the show. The artists painting this particular day are Russian, Ukrainian, Israeli and German respectively. It was the German who I'd met during the last body painting festival and who I was happy to see returned to Korea to show off his appreciable skill. Of the pieces the guest artist was working on his and the piece by Sholomit the Israeli artist were definitely my favorites. Sadly, as is usually the case, the tent was absolutely swamped by Korean men and photographers making it almost impossible to get anywhere near the art.

The Irish manages to sneak up first and manages to check out the 3D body painting artwork that BodyMagick has for sale. The Trainee is stuck with me in the back but as the crowd thins, and BodyMagick strikes up a conversation with the artist, we are finally noticed.

"Are you going to stay back there all day?" asks the Artist.

"Well I don't feel like fighting my way up there."

"It's that difficult?"

So the Trainee and I manage to push our way to the front of the tent to get a better look at what the Artist is doing. It's amazing, phantasmagorical, a skull and muscle piece laid over skull and muscle. It's fantastically gory while being at the same time being impossibly beautiful.

What I manage to say is "That's really nice." I'm a poet.

The Artist manages to look up and finally notices the Trainee, and of course, can't help but notice the bandage on the Trainee's arm. He raises an eyebrow.

"Look, it's already been asked, twice and apparently it wasn't that." I say to the eyebrow.

"Well then what was it?"

"It wasn't that!" Cries the Trainee, who is perhaps getting a little sensitive at the moment for the constant accusations. "Look I was trying to impress a girl. It was a punching machine, and at least I got the top score."

"So, it was a girl, so one way or another it was a jerk." The Artist replies.

The Irish and I both laugh.

"I like him," notes the Irish.

"He's like-able."

We hang out at the tent for a few more minutes, distracting the Artists from his work, but eventually we head down to check out what is going on with the stage. As we sit to wait we notices an older ajjuma dressed in pink, or rather she notices us. She falls in love immediately. I get groped, the Trainee gets groped, the Irish gets groped, the whole time she is speaking to us in Korean and letting us know what she thinks about seeing us today. Apparently we have made her evening with our presence, which is always sort of nice.

She walks toward the stage as the loud music starts playing and just starts dancing away, happy as can be. She turns to dance her way back toward us, and as she does a nice security guard runs up to her to escort her to a seat. She sits next to us and offers us bread, which sadly we don't eat because we weren't really sure about the smell of said bread. Eventually she wanders off, hopefully to dance somewhere else; she deserved a dance.

After some time sitting we decide to head back and say goodbye to the Artist and head out for some drinking. The Artist is still at work on his superior design and informs us the completed pieces will be on stage at 7:30. We agree to head back and decide in the meantime to wander back to the bar that was in the direction of our original drop-off point.

"Does anyone remember how to get there?"

"No, but it will be an adventure," replies the Irish.

"This will not end well."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Boys

"When are we meeting?" was the topic of conversation on the phone early Saturday morning.

"When do you two get moving?" was my return question.

Finally the Irish and I managed to agree that we would meet at 2:00, which gave me some time to finish work on a writing project I'd taken on that needed to be out ASAP. I wanted to not have too much work hanging over my head as I planned for a weekend of something that was as close to hedonistic success as possible, and there is simply no way to do that if you have work waiting for you on Sunday.

So at two o'clock I found myself in the park near my house waiting for the boys. The ajjumas glared at me as I sat on my bench in my dark sunglasses and mostly see-through black top. It was a hot day, I was hot, and I was wearing a camisole so I felt like they could deal with it. Which they mostly did with an odd mix of grumps and stares.

Finally at ten after two I called the boys. Irish answers his phone. "We'll be late."

"I'd gathered."

"I have to put money on my phone, I'm still on Phone Street." There is nothing more tedious than Phone Street and trying to get money on a pay phone so I returned to my book, which this particular afternoon happened to be Gorgias by Plato. As I pondered the nature of a rhetoritician the sky finally darkened and I looked up to see Irish and the Trainee. The Trainee was a long-time friend of the Irish, taken under his wing sometime around when the Irish first hit country. The two had worked in another city together, and much to our amusement and dismay the Trainee still works in the other city.

His particulars in training are mostly teaching how to live a life with as many or as little rules as one would allow, while balancing girlfriends, booze, Pakistani food, kink, and adventure. So far the Irish had been a rather phenomenally bad influence on him and the introduction of the Trainee to me had really and truly only accelerated his slow decent into complete and unfettered libertine-ism.

Upon looking into the shadow that loomed over my book I took in the Irish and the Trainee, who for some reason had a soft cast on his right hand.

"What did you do?" I asked him. "Overexert yourself masturbating?"

The Irish laughs.

"He asked the same damn thing," says the Trainee.


"No. If you must know it was a girl."

"If that was a girl you're not doing it right." To which the Irish laughs and we both get blistering looks while the Trainee explains that in his desire to impress some girl somewhere he had played a game of what some might call skill, and what I just call stupidity, in which one punches a machine bag as hard as one can to see if the highest score can be attained. In his defense Trainee did manage to score the highest score on the punching machine while managing only to sprain and not fracture his wrist.

With that we walked out of the park and toward the cab.

"By the way, do you know where we are going?" I asked the Irish.

"Uh, no, I thought you knew where we were going?"

"I have a vague idea of where we are going."

"Don't look at me, I'm following you two."

Irish pulls open a cab door and we pile in. I start to say over and over again the name of the park that I think is having the body painting festival. Between the three of us, I know the name of the park, the Trainee knows how to say park in Korean, and the Irish is mostly useless but quipping it up at our expense.

"It will be an adventure," He reminds us over and over again.

The cabbie acknowledges after several attempts that I have said something he recognizes and starts to drive.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Let the Nipply Goodness Begin

Trust me, more to come.

World Body Painting Festival time again. I go for the nipples.

And the art.

The inspiration.

And the absolute fucking GENIUS!