Friday, December 4, 2009

Epilogue - Prologue

It's Friday afternoon. I am sitting in a living room in Minneapolis surrounded by fabrics and the sounds of Yoko Ono. There is a blue typewriter sitting on the table as I type away on the laptop. This morning's bus ride took me past fields of windmills and harvested corn. It also included the classic "your beautiful where r u from?" cell phone text pick-up attempt. My mother and I baked pies for Thanksgiving and my hometown visit included catching up with old friends and listening to their children say cute things like, "Do you like dead animals? I do," said while stroking a freshly plucked pheasant feather. And, "Do you wanna play dolls in my room? Look!" placing a wiggling Mermaid Barbie tail inches from my face. We made it rain sequins in the living room instead.

I have been looking forward to being here, back in the United States. My flight from Seoul to Tokyo went well, until I noticed that my next flight's boarding time was earlier than my current flight's arrival time. In missing the connection, I essentially re-enacted a scene from a John Candy/Steve Martin flick. The re-routed schedule took me through Chicago (where I was extremelly irritated by the 5 business calls happening around me in the tram from Terminal X to Terminal Y. Eventually, I realized that business calls had probably been happening around me quite frequently over the past year, I just couldn't understand them, so I got over my irritation), and I ended up in Boston 2 hours ahead of schedule. I subsequently ran into the woods of New Hampshire for nearly 2 weeks. That time was used to absorb the last month or so of my time in Korea. I called Korea a couple of times and lamented the lack of seaweed. Sheela and I took time to live slow. Hunting season had just begun, so international orange was the color scheme of choice.

After a mini-tour of New England to collect my things and say hello, I went to Philadelphia to touch down like a tornado and lifted off again for Minneapolis. One week here wasn't enough. I came back to catch a train to New Orleans. I'll attend the public library book sale, perhaps a Bloody Mary buffet, the Santa Run, and a Cover Band Show, I'll look at a room to move into...I'll get back to my old life. And then I'll leave. In 2 days.

The storage unit containing my father's life must be attended to. I will gladly do so, and I will gladly get to warmer weather, and I will gladly again be in the city of my birth. The real question is, how long will I stay? I am trusting that life will provide. Somehow a place to stay and work on the matter at hand will present itself, and things will work out. They always do.

Oh, the dilemma of where to plant roots (temporarily, at least). North? South? This moment has lasted quite a while. From the instant I left Gimcheon for Busan, I have been living out of my suitcase with no home to head to. It's not that bothersome to me, actually, but it is a bit difficult to explain to others. At first, "Home", meant the USA. Now that I'm here, there is another decision to be made.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

365 +

This was intended to stop at day 365. Unforeseen circumstances have changed things. I find that I'm biding the time until my return to my Native Country comes...I will then stop being called a Native Speaker. How do I bide my time? I watch Korean Dramas online, and I've seen more movies in the past year than in my entire life. After the foot-breaking, it's not so easy to get out a take a walk...the cast is gone, but a limp is still there. Soon I will sift through the year's accumulation, and I must be ruthless about what stays in my posession and what goes to the landfill. Not what I'm best at, really. I'm a hoarder. Luckily, Sheela can help me. Dear Sheela, a good friend, is coming to visit in little over a week. Until then, fictional characters and the stuff of legend will be my company.
In a few days, Chusok, one of the three main yearly holidays occurs. I will go to the sea, I will go celebrate with a family, I will go back to the sea, and perhaps I will go to Japan. In a short time, I will go home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Only, it wasn't a dream

So, after I break my foot falling out of the bathroom in the "special nore bang" on the "special step" that magically appears when you expect to put your foot on ground, I ate a live prawn and took another step toward being Irezumi Ona before we ventured to the psychadelic rock festival in the woods where paintings express eternal love and oneness with everything while Sato Yukie rocks out with his fox tailed bandmates and the next morning walk down a mountainside farmer's trail to a bus stop near flower beds, and am picked up by a friendly japanese man on the's too bad my friend broke something in the back seat...and then we went to the minbak in the valley and I played H-O-R-S-E, but we stopped at H-O-R and I was winning.

We went to the train station and on the way I left my friend on the side of the road but we found each other at the train station and I didn't know where I was going and couldn't move because my legs wouldn't work and I cried and wanted to be alone, but it was too late, I wasn't alone anymore.

After a week of silence, I got on a train and then took an elevator to the 37th floor. There was an empty apartment and a tiny dog who scratched at my astro-turf green cast and begged to be held. I held her.

Soon after, I chopstick-picked up octopus tentacles with the suckers still suckering to the plate, then they suckered to my teeth and tounge, but it was nothing compared to the wriggling prawn-legs of the past, so I liked it and ate another. We went to FUZZY NAVEL and watched a lady make BLUE SKY and set them on fire. 2 cups were drained with straws while alcohol burned blue flame. We decided to sit outside and a man came to disturb our peace so my friend broke a potted plant over his head and I asked him for my bag back and then we went and hid out at the gangster's house until we were sure we wouldn't have to slip out of the city unnoticed. After dawn, we were sure we were fine except for my friend's maybe broken hand and slept for a few hours before getting back on the train to the quiet town.

I spent another week speaking slowly and then went to the city where I could speak quickly and a REGGAE PERM was performed, but not on my head. On my head were 6 eyes and feathers, and I hopped to reggae music, and misplaced an umbrella cane before singing lullabies with my voice multiplied. In the morning I was back in the place where I speak slowly but communicate.

and I called a friend.

It seems like it was dreaming, but I'm not asleep, and it wasn't a dream. It was a run-on sentence.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Letter

Dear X,

I wish I could say I've been writing letters to you during my time away. That would be romantic. But I haven't. I haven't been logging my daily adventures to share with you at a later date, and yes, after nearly 9 months, the adventures are still daily.
I have climbed in mountian mists to later fall in the rain and see frogs at the mountaintop. Jirisan* feels like mothering arms according to any Korean. Weeks of teaching through the golden hour are capped by hikes and train rides. Posing in Seoul Station with a grand piano, my protests pushed aside, "But, Mr. Hong-o-Bong, I DON'T PLAY PIANO" went hand in hand with shouts of "This is PHILADELPHIA! ACTION! ACTION!" subway rides and pigeons in a Temple's Main Hall. And phone calls. "CANDIDA! THIS is Mr. HONGOBONG! HONGOBONG! MR. HONGOBONG! I have Great Idea for you!" phone calls, in which my name has gradually morphed: PAGAN! PAGANICAN! PELICAN! I have GREAT IDEA for YOU!

Opposite weekends on the opposite side of the country are spent in taxis, at japanese resturaunts, and on mountainsides. There is a tiny dog, Yoko, who digs in my hair when she can't find my face, and her owner, who is wonderful. I gave my first tattoo. It's an eye. It floats between a dragonhead and a cloud. Completely sober, he dropped his pants on the street to show it to a friend. "Candida! It's okay! It's only me."

Back home, I have become a regular at the makkoli place, where I go mostly for the 두부 김치 (tofu with kimchi) and company. It seems that they smile at 3 or 4, get nervous at 5 or 6, and stressed at 7 or 8 of us waegooks communaly bemoaning our fate at landing in Gimcheon. Bemoaning isn't quite accurate. It is delightful in many ways. My Busan friend delights in calling me a "Country Girl".

I'm not sure how much time is left here. It was requested that I stay another month. At the time I was unsure. As of late, I am prone to accept the offer. We'll see. Waves of friend-sickness still hit hard. I have dreams of drinking coffee and playing cards on my grandmother's porch with her and my mother in the afternoon. We'll see.

I hope this letter finds you well, wherever you are.


*Jirisan = Jiri Mountain

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Un-Quit

Day 240
I take back the "I must leave within a month" notice that I had given my boss. Actually, the conversation I have with her is "I would like to finish my contract, if that is still possible."
The conversation she has with me is more like "will you stay longer than your contract? Maybe not? Okay, will you come back?"

We conclude that I will be here until September, perhaps October, then I run off to join Owen and Lindsay, a couple of my English-speaking companions, at the Hof. We somehow join forces with 5 or 6 Koreans and change booths, then establishments. A woman in the group is my fitness center buddy. There is much enthusiasm about meeting the next evening for pocketball.

Highlights from Days 241-246

Rain prohibits monster hike.

I am a recipient of fine dining, some wining, and gangster phone for 2 months.

A pit-stop in an outdoor market under black netting and colorful awnings, the likes of which I hadn't seen - grains, vegetables, live seafoods, meat. All usual, but there is something special about this one.

A moderate hike including:
a full creekside dinner which emerges from backpacks Mary Poppins style.
a detour through a bamboo stand to a small waterfall and pool where the ladies take off their shoes and wade while most of the men go for a full dip.

The arrival of a beautiful letter, perhaps from the highest post office in Asia, has the other teachers asking why I'm so happy all day.

The purchase of a practice amp and mic cord will probably drive my neighbors crazy, but make me very happy. I try to keep polite hours - generally sound happens from 10am-12pm.

My missing phone and ID card return to me after approximately 2 weeks. How? Who knows. It's Korea. In any case, I am ecstatic.

Sun Young's prediction of changing luck comes true. There is more rain and new flowering trees constantly come into season.

** Forecast Fox is currently telling me that Friday will be a Sunny -999 °F

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

One Month to the Day

What's the news? well, let me think...

- Paik Nam June Gallery in Yonggi-do provides a revitalizing music/art experience. Bulgasari at Yogiga Gallery in Hongdae, Seoul, sustains the revival for an extra day.
- Costco pesto makes me sick and quesadillas are all I eat for a week after a visit to Seoul.

- A new crowd of foreigners move into Gimcheon and we invade the Bowling Alley for an evening meet'n'greet.

- Buddha's birthday rolls around and with it come colorful lanterns, free bibimbap from temple volunteers, and a stroll through lovely Jikji-sa.
- Books arrive from the states and are devoured by me.
- The refrigerator noise continues to grow louder by the night.
- A bicycle some might have considered semi-abandoned is stolen. (I didn't consider it abandoned. I thought it could take care of itself.)
- I join a gym and flail around to K-pop with very coordinated middle aged women.

- A long weekend leads to the loss of several important items and a trip to Busan, a port city on the southeast coast of the Korean peninsula.
- The daily evaluation of pros and cons of breaking contract and leaving early begins to get pretty weighty in the pro-go column.
- A return trip to Busan, a search and rescue attempt on my foreigner ID, is a failure in one respect and a total win in the "random adventure" category.


After failing to obtain my ID from the hotel I'm sure I left it at, I go to the beach for people watching and evening sun. I also happen to find 3 Korean rasta-reggaes spinning records on the walkway. I seat myself near them to observe and listen...a kitemaker is showcasing his wares with a tiny dot in the sky.

- I befriend the reggaes
- I am offered a new phone in exchange for English lessons. Let's call it "gangster phone"
- I go hiking with and am dubbed girlfriend by a tattoo artist and his friends.
- I have an interesting night out with Koreans...kind of the first time for a Korean night-on-the-town.


- I give my boss a month's notice...she asks for two.
- I consider taking back the notice and staying for the duration of my contract after a major issue to be dealt with turns out to be virtually unsolvable, regardless of the country I'm in.

That brings us up to date. Basically. Stay? Go? Any input? Lately I've been feeling that my life is a series of short stories that have no common link aside from the fact that I'm a central character. Korea has pushed these stories further into the realm of surreality than I'd forseen. Someday, Someday maybe you'll read them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Sprang Sprung

Day 208

Jikji spring. Yellow bushes line the walks, pink spots on rocks, cherry blossoms have fallen. They are replaced by picnickers on the lovely spring day.

Post morning, A visit to the campus of Gimcheon College provides the sight of a miserable monkey family in a 20 foot jungle-gym cage. Papa's a little aggro, but who can blame him? Next up on the sad sights tour is the Deer Pen. 4 deer lay in the shade of sheds within their 30 foot cage. The trees are sheathed in metal...perhaps to prevent antler sharpening by the raging buck? Who knows. Handstand practice happens near the pond while Myeong Hee ponders the present.

On an afternoon walk through town, I meet 5 new foreigners and am accompanied by another. Gimcheon has recently become home to... 12 new people? Perhaps more. This occurance has changed my outlook for the spring. A positive outlook requires less determination than it has in the past month.

During dinner, I am surprised by arms around my waist and turn to discover an ajuma covering my bared back with an apron. Perhaps a longer shirt would've prevented this, but it was certainly entertaining.

Home to special tea and scrabble. Recalling the sweetness in tiny bites of lilac as a child, I collect some from the bush outside. The flowers change from...well, lilac, to pale gray. The taste is faintly bitter. I add rosemary to create a rather medicinal tasting nightcap.

Day 207

Walking from home to the station. Riding from the station to the station. Walking from the station to class. This all happens.

Walking from class to the subway. Riding from the stop to the terminal. Riding from the terminal to the temple. This also happens.

Walking from the bus stop to temple site. Hearing massive chanting. Seeing chains of lotus lanterns. Walking 108 steps up. Seeing masses of people walking a maze while carrying replicas of the woodblocks housed at Haeinsa on their heads. This happens.

Wandering. Being invited into line. Having my arm taken by a woman whose mastery of English rivals my mastery of Korean. Walking past the Tripitaka Koreana. Peeking through slatted windows large enough to call walls. Accepting a plastic replica of a woodblock from youthful monks. Supressing a laugh as monks supress looks of surprise. This all happens.

Walking the maze single file. Completing and exiting the maze. Being guided to the temple cafeteria. Walking arm in arm to the parking lot. Getting in the couple's car, which happens to be a taxi. Riding in the taxi from temple to town. Subway to station. Station to station. This finally happens.

Finally back in Gimcheon 14 hours later, I meet up with a woman who has recently arrived. The night is filled with cathartic chatting first at one Hof with brick pattern wallpaper, then at another with walls that could've passed for a High School locker door.