Sunday, November 30, 2008

Short and...Short.

Day 71

The Hagwon is freezing. I must master the art of layering. I MUST. Children wear their coats, electric heaters are in many classrooms, but not all. A hot cup of tea is constantly in hand. The new student in my Conversation class is preparing to take the test to become a Professional Golfer. A Test! His English is fairly good, so it is a pleasure to have him join us. Classroom conversation actually flows a little more like...well, conversation.

Day 72

I go to the Waegook Cook in Gumi, briefly, to watch a friend eat the mountain of turkey he is served. I re-embrace technology and update my Skype account. I speak with family for the first time since my arrival. I print several test postcards and address them. Sort of a family activity, right? It involves others, albeit unawares.

Day 73

Cold. Why is it so cold? Printing, cutting, and addressing postcards until the printer runs out of ink...which happens all too soon. An early evening capped by The Daily Show.

Day 74

The weather of the day is one weird metaphorical mix of foreshadowing for the evening to come. Unprepared for inclement weather, I step out into a warm sunny afternoon, which changes into cold quick rain, which is followed by thick wet snow. The pattern repeats itself and is in the warm stage when I reach the train station.

Day 75

Day of Rest

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jazz & Theater vs. Seaweed Salad & Sugar Cookies

Day 66

Excitement of Friday has kids bouncing off the walls. Apartment is re-arranged, but it still feels like a hotel. Bare walls, perhaps.

Day 67

Afternoon train to Gumi, I meet the woman I met last Saturday. We pace the streets of downtown Gumi together until it is time to get dinner. We meet a woman from Chile selling jewelry on the street. She and I speak for a while. She seems glad to speak Spanish. My friend debates coming to Daegu. Ultimately, I board the train alone.

Evening train to Daegu, I meet the man I met last Sunday. We get directions to Club THAT. We ask several times along the way to ensure a correct path. We are way off.
Eventually we walk up to a building that is almost large and noticeably set back from the main street. The first floor has the atmosphere of an arty coffee house, we follow signs to the second floor. Musicians are taking the stage as we find a table in the crowded room. Apparently the second floor is the "Jazz Lounge". At one point, the bassist switches to something that is almost an upright base, but the body is very slim. I've never seen the instrument before.

Foreigners start filing in and are asked to pay a cover for the music or leave until the theater performance begins. Apparently the THAT has a tight schedule. We pay W5000 and keep our seats. We are soon joined by two others I know and some strangers.

The ensuing 10 min plays are reminiscent of a Bedlam Romp or No Shame Theatre. Only tamer. Once or twice, while shaking my head, I hear a quiet, "Give it a chance." I hadn't expected genius, I came in search of new experience, new people. I wanted to be an observer, and I was. And perhaps the purpose of this event was to create interest in Daegu's first Expat Theatre Troupe...which it did. The final play ends and scorecards are handed out.

The last play finishes as the last train pulls away from Daegu Station. My friend goes home to rest up for an early morning; I decide to stay up until the first train 4am. It's already 12:30, so it shouldn't be too difficult. There is a small dance floor upstairs, which is where I head. No one is dancing. I attempt to recruit several others, and there is relative success. I split my time between the dance floor and perusing the DJ's mostly indie dance rock collection, hoping something will catch my eye. It's 2:30. A couple I met a few weeks ago happened to be in Daegu this evening as well. I go with them to a different club. We stand outside as people they know stream out shaking their heads and muttering about awful music. We linger until the music ends, then head downstairs. We leave. 3 am, back at THAT, I say goodbye. No, I don't want to stay. No, I don't want a drink. I'm just waiting for the first train, I'll see you later.

I step into the now quiet streets of central Daegu. There are a small groups of people walking here and there. Armed with my camera and sense of direction, I walk toward the train station. "Don't worry, I can read Murakami in the station, if nothing else," I'd said earlier. That is my plan now. Buy a ticket, read in the station until the train comes. Buildings, lights, advertisements with flourescent lighting are the foreground, with a black sky behind. I feel as if I'm in an abandoned city.

Near the station, a young man, maybe 18, approaches and hands me a stick of grape gum. He asks if I speak Hangul and asks me to kiss him. I have to laugh. Really hard. This is a dare, maybe? When it is clear that my answer is a serious no, he grins and runs to catch up with his friends.

I catch the 4am train and read on the way home. Train to taxi to door to bed. 5:15.

Day 68

10 am phone call. A date in Gumi with my student, Bonnie.
12 pm, I am again on a train to Gumi. I take video of the train ride. camera looking out the window pulling away from Gimcheon station, intermittently capturing the farmland and country-side until Gumi.

Bonnie meets me at the station and takes me out to lunch. DDukbokki at stalls in the market. We get coffee and then head to the Sticker-photo Store. We walk into a wonderland of glitter, pink, and purple. Add some green-screen, blue-screen, yellow-screen, and black-screen...and you have the Sticker-photo Store. Oh, and costumes. She grabs me by the hand and we race around the store, ducking into empty photo booths, trying to decide which one. Greenscreen.

The Result (actual size):

Day 69

Yoga. Work again. Electric heaters in the rooms create a unique scent. I'm not so sure it's a healthy one. A purchase of warmer lighting after work. I am convinced that flourescent lighting is partial cause of poor eyesight. Christmas lights now line my ceiling.

The hotel feel is diminishing.

Day 70

Weather is cold and rainy. Or cold and foggy. It's like being in a dense cloud.

1:30 Teacher's Meeting. Everything is in Hangul until my presentation begins. English Time! Teach, teach. Hey, teach. I wish someone would call me that. I don't. Nighttime comes and I make two attempts: seaweed salad, and sugar cookies.

two problems...
1. wrong seaweed. This seems more like algae scooped up from the pond rather than the transparent green delicately flavored salad I bought from the Russian Market. I would never be served something this weird at a sushi resturaunt. Horrible. The word "Disgusting" comes to mind. Fail.

2. Too much flour. I knew the instant I put all the flour in at once. Too much. Cookies like bricks. Fail.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Day 62

Sneaking sentences of new books between classes, I finish the day.

Day 63

Post-yoga coffee leads to lunch.
"It's delicious soup, I just won't tell you what's in it, okay?"
"Um...okay." I'm pretty sure we're going to eat intestine or liver soup.
We walk into a restaurant near my home and are seated by the owner, who seems quite amused at my presence.
"Smells like liver! Right?"
I sniff the air and the 6 year old inside me screams "OH NO!!!" recalling a chicken liver and okra episode. "Right."
My friend orders and says something to the owner, gestures to her own body, then looks at me. "I was asking him...what part exactly is this soup? Becaauuussseee I don't know how to say it." This is a surprising statement, as her English is better than perhaps anyone else I've met.
"Intenstine?" I ask, "Liver? Small intestine? Gall Bladder? Stomach?..." Each guess earns a tilt of the head, this way or that and something between a smile and a grimace.
"No, that's not it. It's good, anyway. I promise you'll like it."
Broth boils in hot pots as the owner brings our soups to the table. The meat is very dark and it looks as if there are sections of a deep purple sausage amid green onions and spice.
"It's vegetable," she says. Are you kidding me? Why is it so dark? "Yeah, you know, the sweet potato noodles and vegetable stuffed inside the uh...intestines." I'm not sure I totally believe her, but I will tell myself I do. (Some internet searching later adds blood to the recipe.)
"western sausage is intestine stuffed with meat and spices," I reason. When the soup cools a bit, I nearly finish the bowl and she is laughing.
"You love it!" Maybe love is a bit strong, but I do like the soup and it is a meal I can have alone, although I'm not sure I will. It's a possibility.

As I walk home after work, I pass the orange vendor. He smiles and walks me over to the Odeng vendor by the elbow. He gestures toward the skewered fish cakes in their broth and walks away. An old man next to me asks, "Where are you from?" I point to myself and reply "Meegook. America."
"Soju!" he says, and I nod. "Odeng!" he says, and I select a skewer. "Odeng, Japan. OMMAK, Korea," He corrects himself. We sort of chat as the vendor insists I stay close to the warm cart. I watch as he pours batter from a teapot into fish-shaped cast iron molds, adds red-bean paste, and pours more batter on top before closing the lid, flipping the fish over, and rotating to the next empty one.
People are starting to crowd around the vendor and his warm food. He is laughing, filled with happiness from soju and good business. I hear the Hagwon mentioned and a woman looks at me as she says "Oh! My son!" I smile and nod at her.
"It's snowing" I say to the old man beside me. "AHH! Ahh, Chung Noon. First snow. C H U N G - N U U N." "Chung noon," I repeat his words. I nod and finish my soju, allowing a woman with a baby strapped onto her back nearer to the cart. The vendor catches my eye and hands me a red-bean fish as I leave to continue my walk home.

Day 64

Attempt at new technology: denied

Attempt at learning Hangul numbering systems: limited access

There are so many ways to say a number in Hangul it baffles my mind. There are numbers for mathematics, which apply to money. Numbers for counting objects, numbers for counting in general, different numbers for telling time. Perhaps I will understand in time.

work work work

Day 65

Going downtown to buy a new cell phone leads to a walk, which leads to the market, which leads to an herb man, and then to the library, which leads to a library card. Leaving the library, I stop to buy sweet potato for lunch and head to the Hagwon. Students notice my new phone. "Oh! Beautiful!" They open the phone to hear the sounds it will make. "BEEeeautiful! Good phone, Candida, Oh, SKY." They give each other nods of affirmation. Great, I'm glad they like it. I prefer it to the other, but I can't really figure out how to do anything with it. Eventually. Maybe. Maybe not.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

7 days

Day 55

Really? I have to go to work again? New schedule. Our classes are shifted around and around. We have a new secretary.
I open a bank account and am PAID!!! I finally get a full paycheck.
Leaves are falling off of trees, and I wear a coat on my walk to school. I don't need it during the day, but after work it is cold.

Day 56

After a failed attempt at financial transfer from South Korea to the U.S.
I buy a camera and rush to class. Something positive will happen today.

Day 57

After yesterday's pointless hour and a half at the bank, I decide to translate phrases I will need, and hopefully that will help. It does. After only 50 minutes, financial transfer is successful.
I go for a long walk. Into the woods again, out. I take photos of the trucks I see.

I decide to go to Bruce, the Traditional Medicine doctor. I will ask if he can do anything for sadness.
He calls the dentist from the first floor up to his office on the second. He hands me an orange. The dentist speaks English with more fluency, and he can help Bruce understand the nature of my sadness. I try to explain that my meloncholia is caused in large part by the high percentage of misunderstanding and miscommunication in my daily conversation with the world around me.
He prescribes Moksa treatment. I lay down on the table and he places small clay pots filled with burning mugwort on my skin. It is related to accupuncture in that stimulation of key points on the body will help the flow of energy in the body. I don't know exactly, but I'll try it out. He also give me herbal teas. I vow to find a book in English on Korean herbs.

Day 58

Yoga, coffee, and Sam-Gye Tang (a small chicken stuffed with white rice, ginseng, and a daechu berry sits in a bath of broth. Mashisayo.) with Myeong Hee before I teach.
Work is going okay. I feel that I've reached a good balance. I am strict enough to keep them from going crazy, easy-going enough to play games and have fun. The new secretary is kind of delightful. Not kind of. Delightful. "Candida!" she says, "Your hair! Like Hagrid!" "Candida! I LAh-Vuh YOU!"

Day 59

The students are trying to get me to read in Hangul for them. Every syllable I utter, no matter how stilted, earns a "WHAAAAaaaooooow". After work I walk to Bugok Dong, the other side of the city. It's not intentional, I just keep walking. Eventually I turn around. I'm restless.

Day 60

A walk to town precedes my 5 o'clock date with Sally, a Korean teacher from the Hagwon. She picks me up promptly in her small white car, and we head to a restaurant. She treats me to barlbap, a mixture of barley and rice served with soup and side dishes. I treat her to coffee at a nearby coffee-house. It is a sweet place. I would take my mother and grandmother there. Sally helps me read from a magazine, but we only get through about two or three sentences before it is time to go.

We drive up to a large building with strange architecture. Strange in its cubist shape style. We climb stairs to the entrance and wait for doors to open.
Walking inside, I am transported to 1998. The auditorium is structurally identical to that of the Community College in my hometown. Perhaps the only difference is that there are Korean characters on the seats denoting row and number, rather than English.
We listen to music until the electronic gong tells us that the show is starting. It is exactly like waiting for the Mohawk Follies to begin.

"Dalgona" is a dramatic musical that uses popular songs from various decades to evoke nostalgia in the audience. It works. The audience around me was clapping to the beat as teenagers ran from their teachers, singing along softly with ballads as a young woman waits for her sweetheart's letter, watching in silent reverence as song accompanies video footage of protests in the 1980's. During intermission, I reassure Sally that I understand what's going on, even though I don't understand Hangul. We go back and finish the show. I am kicking myself for not buying a tape recorder earlier on in the day.

She drops me off at home around 10:30 and I decide that my night is not over. I will go to Gumi. I met the new owner of a bar a few weeks ago, and the official opening is tonight. I can go have a beer, maybe see some people I've met, and come home in a couple hours.

Where is the bar?
I follow the directions, but I am unsure. I had counted on seeing people standing outside (forgetting that smoking is allowed inside). There is a foreign woman approaching. I ask if she knows where "Corona" is. As it happens, it is just across the street and she is going there herself. We walk in together and shortly decide to leave to see if anything is going on elsewhere. Neither of us are familiar with the crowd in Corona, both of us were hoping for more dancing. We head to Psycho, and linger in the doorway, as the bar is nearly dead. We are cajoled inside, and hesitantly step in. Once those few steps are taken, we are being watched over by a giant man, who apparently wants us to come all the way in and go to the bar. Okay.
We go up to the bar.

What do you want to drink? Do I have to? I feel a little uneasy.
She and I ignore the others and talk with each other. We eventually decide to dance by ourselves. As I turn around, the Giant hands me a pool cue.

"A Game! Pool, you play pool. What do you want to drink? A Budweiser?"
I look at her and shrug. I'll play a game, then dancing. The game proceeds with the usual amount of talking down the opponent, but I win.
"He let you win."
I am feeling more at ease, and the dance floor opens up. Impromptu synchronized dance with the giant gets the bar laughing, and I am having a good time. Oh no! What time is it? Okay, I have a few more minutes. OH NO!! TIME!! I HAVE TO GO!
I grab my bag and jacket and sprint out the door. The Giant runs down the stairs after me.
"Where are you going? Why you have to running??"
"TRAIN! I have to catch my train!"
"Catch next!" He catches my hand to slow me down.
This continues to the train station, where he assures me that I won't be able to buy a ticket. I shake my head and quickly walk down to the platform. I will just not buy one. A bus! take a bus! There are buses from Gumi to Gimcheon, take a bus!

I narrowly miss the train. NARROWLY.
"This is your fault," I say. Of course it's not entirely his fault, I could have left earlier. I should have. But maybe I can take a bus. I'll take a bus. We run into someone I know, who informs us that yes, there is a bus, but it won't run until 4am.

There is a collective gasp as I walk back into the bar. An upside to this turn of events is that I can get the woman's phone number. There wasn't time before.

Chat chat chat it 4 yet? no? not even close? chat chat I am tired. chat. I am going to get a hotel room. chat chat. You will get me a hotel room? I will have a SINGLE hotel room, which I will stay in, ALONE. You understand? ALONE. Me. Alone. Nice to meet you, Goodnight.

In the middle of the night I hear screaming outside of my window. I walk over and look out to see a Korean woman wildy waving her arms in general drunken rage. Her friends cannot quiet her, others cannot quiet her, police arrive and cannot quiet her, in fact, at the arrival of the police, her outburst reaches a level of hysteria and continues for an amazing amount of time. I see three men taken into one police car, and eventually she and another are placed in another. Whoa. Rolling Stone Western Bar...what kind of place are you? I go back to sleep, shaking my head at the weirdness of this existence.

Day 61

I wake, prepare for the day, turn in the key, and head for Daegu. Standing room on the train is a falsity, there are plenty of open seats.
I wander through three foot alleys lined with vendors preparing for the day. I have arrived early and few stores are fully open. Not wanting to be the first customer to enter any store, I am a true window shopper. I read somewhere that the first customer in a store sets the tone for the day. Whether or not that's true, I don't know...regardless, I don't want the responsibility. Purchases will eventually occur.

More footsteps lead me to Kyobo, a large bookstore. There is a reasonably sized English section and I head over to find something new. There is another perusing the wall. He looks about my age and I notice that the books he looks carefully at are good, by my estimation. I go out on a limb and ask if he would like to go for lunch.

Over coffee, I learn that although he is newer to Korea than I, he knows about some arts districts in Daegu. Specifically, he knows about a photography show at the Daegu Art and Cultural Center. This is thrilling. We go and I thoroughly enjoy the show. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that some involvement in current art/culture in Korea is possible. It has been a difficulty; not knowing how or where to view or show art. The show itself is very good. It is the Daegu Photography Biennial, featuring new digital work, older photos of North Korea, work by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean photographers.
Outside the station, I pass an old man playing Venture's style guitar through a portable amp. He is accompanied by an old woman, singing into a microphone. I wish again that I had a tape recorder in hand.
New clothes, new books, new friend. Great day. I board the train at 18:54.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It happens to the best of us.

Days 51-55 are hereby postponed until further notice. My obsession with the Korean Drama "Painter of the Wind" is taking priority. Seriously. They're about to paint the King's portrait. When it is finished, his soul will live on forever and there's nothing ANYONE CAN DO ABOUT HIS IMMORTAL POWER!!!! DANWON! Shin Yun Bok! Paint for your lives!!! NO PUN INTENDED! and NOBODY KNOWS that HE is really a SHE! OMG!!! I'm not even joking.
It's the occasional gayagum appearance that compels me to keep watching.

Okay, actually, it's the drama...OH, the DRAMA in this...this...Korean Drama.

Can you even stand it?!? NO!!! Neither can I. That's why I'm going to watch the next episode now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From a Distance

Day 46

8 am wake up
9 am train
Wandering around the streets comprising Gimcheon market, I find the first pair of pants that actually fits me. Probably the only pair in this city.

More wanderings bring me eyes full of dried squid stretched on wicker hoops next to fish speared in groups of 7. An old man sleeps inside his storelet in front of a static T.V. An old woman lays on her mat, waiting for a customer to ask about the fabrics she has on display. Vegetables, grains, side dishes, kimchi, goods, appliances, outerwear, inner-wear, it all awaits the buyer in the market.

I smell like stale smoke.

During the day, I build myself up for another night out. Which scarf braids best into my hair? Draw the eyebrow on now or later? Lipstick now, lipstick later?

Among people I don't know so well, I suppose I operate best if there is something to do. A small project, if you will. I meet with New Orleans once again. The city, really, it knows its daughter, no matter how far I go. Once dressed as Frida, I busy myself with face-painting others. The comic nature of the situation is quietly addressed once or twice.

We go out.
Live music! Covers, but still, Live Music! Drinking, smoking, dancing, shouting to be heard, more drinking, more dancing, some climbing, some shouting, some fighting.
We go in.

Day 47

9:30 am wake up
10:41 am train
On my way to an Outlet Mall in Daegu. Perhaps I should've asked for a raincheck. I need a coat though, it's getting cold. Standing room on the train. Should've eaten something. Myeong Hee gives me her seat. Thank you, oh, Thank You.

Moda provides a coat immediately, along with browsing, browsing, browsing (Did I wash off the eyebrow?), browsing (Yes.), browsing. LUNCH! Dukbokki, mandu, something else? I'm sure there was, WHY oh why didn't I eat before??? SHOPPING CENTERRRRRRRRRRRRR. I am a zombie, and poor company, I'm sure. Worn out from the day, we get coffee. Myeong Hee and I walk back to the subway. Ahhh, yes, Moda Outlet, you've done it again. Two satisfied shoppers.

Day 48

The dissipating smoke in the bar's atmosphere took my voice with it.
Attempting to sound dignified at all when one sounds like an 80 yr old ajuma is impossible in front of 8 year olds. This sucks. Immune system down, the Cold wins a major battle and captures my voice and most of my energy.

On the way work, I stop to buy some mandarin oranges. The vendor is a relatively large Korean man. "Chingu, Matt?"
"Yes! Me, Matt, Friends!" Is this the farmer I heard about? He points toward Prime. "Matt teacher?"
", no. Changee. I am Meegook, Matt Meegook, Anglea Meegook, chingu chingu. All Iowa. Matt go, Angela go, only me."
"AHH..okay, okay. Martin?"
"Ehhh...Martin...yes, Martin sem. Here."
"Ahh, okay okay," he motions for me to go, then grabs my hand for a firm handshake. He points to himself, "Opa, okay? Opa."

Work. Sleep.

Day 49

I find Maangchi and her online Korean cooking guide. This takes up my day until work. On the way, Opa is at the Odeng vendor across the street.
"Ahh!! Anneyong Candida! Here, odeng!"
"uhhh...ahhh..." I prance around like I have to go to the bathroom and point to my wrist, as if I wear a watch. He nods and indicates that he understands, but he won't take no for an answer.
"Odeng," he commands. "Hana, one." He tells his friend I am an American, goes to the truck's cab and brings back two persimmons to put in my bag. I finish the odeng and he shoos me away.

Work. Sleep.

Before bed, I chat with a friend who is on his way to vote. In the morning, 8 hours of day will have passed and the United States will be 8 hours closer to tallying the votes.

Day 50

My voice has returned, the election results are coming in.
Please, oh, PLEASE, do not let McCain win. Obamaobamaobama, the name is running through my head like a mantra. I recall my whereabouts in 2004, huddled around a radio with friends on the Mississippi River.
2008 has me seated in front of my computer alone, running back and forth from the kitchen to the living room of my apartment in South Korea. Streaming video from MSNBC and DemocracyNOW keeps me on top of the latest happenings including McCain's concession speech, Obama's victory speech. The crowds are cheering on a portion of my computer screen. I see New York City and Chicago, I hear about the streets of West Philadelphia, I celebrate vicariously. I am thrilled at the turnout, elated that Barak Obama is the President Elect, hopeful for the future of the country...and I express these sentiments over the computer to a friend who is also online. 4 years brings me into a very different reality.