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.