Friday, January 23, 2009

Return of the Numbered Days

Day 125
After waiting over the weekend, I go see Bruce, the Traditional Medicine doctor at the clinic near my home. Unsure of a diagnosis, he sends me downstairs to someone who specializes in Physical Therapy and stroke patient rehabilitation. This someone speaks English well and has wanted to meet me. According to Bruce, this is good for me, good for him.

Day 126
Nothing special, really.

Day 127
Morning tea follows a stroll on the mountain. I am inspired to wake early.
i n s p i r e d
Cloud-cover in the sky looks as if it could be the top of an ocean; the city below, on the bottom of the sea.

Day 128
"Accupuncture? No? No accpuncture, okay. Then what? I don't want to take pills if I don't know what they are." Bruce the Traditional Medicine doctor puts me on the phone with several of his 'specialist' friends. I'm not sure what they specialize in, but it doesn't really matter. Bruce has already referred me to someone who told me to take medication for a (possibly) pulled muscle.
"I think he likes you. hmmmmm...I think you are a very smart person to not take pills." Bruce told me when I showed him his friend's recommendation.

Regardless, Bruce has turned me over to someone else's care. He doesn't seem to feel comfortable taking charge of that care again. But he cannot bring himself to treat me unless I try at least one dose of the medication. He cannot undermine his colleague. "Maybe you eat the pills once and you will be better. I think that is it."

He invites me to lunch without telling me that lunch will also be with the dentist downstairs and another doctor from Seoul. I get another "Pills are okay, eat them," speech from Dr. Seoul and the dentist is so shy about his English that he can't bring himself to look at me....until he discovers we are the same age.

By the end of lunch, Bruce has convinced me to set the dentist up on a blind date with a teacher at the Hagwon. At the Hagwon, it is business as usual; I set up a blind date, I teach some English, I accept my DongWong Tuna Seollal gift pack, I catch the bus. I come home at the end of the day to a surprising email.

Day 129

I spend an absurd amount of time in front of the computer wearing a madonna mic. I am alternately moving the microphone away from my mouth so I can make exclamations and adjusting the mic so the listener can hear my probably-too-soft voice. Pink plug-in Green Plug-in Microphone Headphone. In the morning, I am transferred from one office to another as an attempt is made to purchase a plane ticket online. The mission is finally accomplished and I steel myself to face a day of Pre-Teens on Friday.

In the evening I find myself pacing the apartment, sitting down, standing up, pacing some more, putting the mic on to make a skype-call, forgetting to take the mic off after the call is finished, realizing that the mic is still in front of my face as I absentmindedly twirl my hair. In a non-linear turn of events, I will be taking advantage of the National Holiday time coming up in order to visit the USA. The visit will last longer than the holiday, and the circumstances are quite the opposite of joyful, however, my answer to the question "What are your plans for Soellal?" is no longer a shrug of the shoulders to accompany "Mo lai yo".

Un-defeatable Plan for Jet Lag Defeat
No sleep for "before flight" night: stay awake! Write. Clean. Shower. Pack. Write.
The goal is to sleep over the Pacific and wake up over California to be wide awake upon landing. I can't really sleep, anyway, so I may as well pretend it's intentional.
Defeat Being Beat!

This is my self-cheer. Koreans have a special kind of cheer. It is this: They clench a fist, and do a 1/4 fist pump in the air and at the same time say "insert name here, fighting!" It can be considered appropriate for nearly any situation. Spirit Lifter. Class running wild? "Lindsey, fighting!" Feeling blue? "Jane, fighting!" Coach put you on the bench? "Anna, fighting!" Kind of great, right?

Day 130

1. Car to Gumi
2. Airport Limousine" Bus to Incheon
3. Airplane to USA: The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be singing "Time Warp" in my head as I fly for 19 hours through 11 time zones. Maybe I'll get lucky and that will be the in-flight Entertainment.


...Hiro notices people starting to climb the stairs and line up at the bell pagoda. He looks at Hideki and I before giggling again and skipping away to sprint up the stairs. We follow shortly...
We climb the stairs and watch the stage-crowd for a while. We are freezing. As part of two (soon to be three) shivering rows of people, we are surrounded by a unified chanting. Midnight is drawing near. For maybe five to ten minutes, the chanting continues and then the countdown begins. Stage lights flash a new color every second as we count down from "SHIP" to "GONG!!!"

Fireworks flash!!! CONFETTI!!! STREAMERS!!! Simultaneously, the huge bell is struck with a log swung by important monks and local politicians (they take turns giving the bell 13 strikes), AND a serious loudspeaker system blasts a triumphal symphony, to announce the New Year's arrival. We are all one year older.

As quickly as the burst of energy erupts, it is dispersed into the fresh New Year air. The die-hards among the crowd are atop the stairs and I find myself being hearded with them toward the entrance to the bell's housing. Military men are barking at the crowd and push/pulling them through the roped-off entrance eight at a time.

I feel a particularly sharp elbow from one side and hear a faint continued chant on the other. I look behind me to see a group of 4 feet tall grannies chatting trying to make their way to the gate. I attempt to shield them from the elbows and shoving as we are pushed ever-closer to the Seokguram Bell. It occurs to me at this point that I have lost sight of Hiro and Hideki.

As I am realizing this, I also realize that I am at the front. The grannies shove past me and are through the entrance. Hideki is shrugging at me as he walks out, and the soldier herding the crowd looks at me and says "OKAY?? YOU UNDERSTAND???" I nod and follow the women to the mini-battering-ram which serves as a bell striker. Together we strike the bell , now singing without symphonic accompaniment and are rushed away. Bewildered, I scan the crowd for my scarf, and finding it, weave my way out of the crowd.

The three of us seek the shelter of Seokguram Grotto. In order to reach it, we must follow the lantern-lit path. Snow and the dusty path are underfoot and muffled, cheerful groups make their way up the mountainside.
Reaching the top, I cross paths with the grannies again. One performing her bows while another prepares to do so. She is caught in her backpack and I help her out of the tangle. Seokguram, I must say, is magnificent. Wholly beautiful. We stay inside the statue's housing for a time, then head out into the dark. I want to stay. I want to descent to a warm tent and stay until sunrise.

My resolve to do so is strong. Then I look over at Hiro. Shoulders hunched, he hops from loafer to loafer, his bare hands shoved deep into his pockets. He looks back at me and grins. Hideki cocks his head to one side and asks "Are you going to stay until sunrise?" I smile and nod. He and Hiro exchange a quick, surprised, pained look. "Really?" I understand then that they consider it their duty to stay as well. I suggest going to the warming tents. Walking in to one automatically puts us in line for warm bowls of ddukguuk which we accept and eat standing near as possible to the heater. Another 20 minutes later, we head down the mountain and return to the Hostel.

Library Time
Two days later I am in the Gimcheon Library for a 5 hour study session. I discover that that is the thing to do in Gimcheon. There are rooms, previously unknown to me, filled to capacity with studious youth.

At Gimcheon Mac-chang
An orange vendor, an ommuk/fish bread man, and a foreigner walk into a Hof.
The orange vendor says something and the forigner hears: "waeoirjawe;lajsdf;lkdseyo?"
the foreigner nods and says something and the orange vendor hears: "asl;kerja;oiewjr ;kasdflkjdsa?" The ommuk/fish bread man nods and glances up to make sure the crowd at his cart is putting money in his "be right back" box before he pours a healthy round of soju.

Soon the three are laughing with the owner and his wife. Everyone hears "sal;kja;oihedf; seyo? ANNEEYO! eego eego aljdsf;jas;a!!!" and they all laugh again and again. The orange vendor finally puts down his glass and looks at the foreigner's bike to ask if it will be ridden home. The forigner shakes her head emphatically. "nowaeflkasfwalkdafjofjbikeaskdfjjajang!!"

She tilts her head from side to side and lightly stomps her feet to let them know she'll be walking. This brings another round of laughter and "walaslkjhas; anneyonhigesayo anneyonheegaseyo!!!" Goodnight goodnight and I hope your headache tomorrow isn't too terrible.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Un-Numbered Days

Special Coffee (or tea)
This all began when I made afternoon coffee for a friend. He, shocked at how it was actual coffee, not the instant mix so often found in homes and offices, dubbed it Special Coffee. I have taken to preparing "special tea", i.e., any tea that is not from a teabag, for us frequently. Sometimes he brings oranges or an individually wrapped cookie snack pack. No romance, so scratch that thought. It's nice company and a good way to finish the day. Somewhat similar to my homeland habits. Thus far, Rosemary-ginger tea is in the lead. I am open to suggestions.

3 days in Gyeongju
Solo SSAM BAP in the Knick-Knack Room
I arrive in the ancient city, Gyeong-ju, in the evening on Dec. 30. Alone, I first locate the bus station where my tour begins in the morning. I then proceed to give myself a walking tour of the Tomb Park area, hoping to find the restaurant that Lonely Plant says is filled with an "Eclectic collection of birds, rocks, figurines, pottery, and other folk arts..." Although unaware of exactly what Ssam Bap is, I don't really care. I just want to be in that atmosphere. So, I walk. And I walk. I come across many things: an ancient observatory, an eerie ice-house, a tempting path into the forest, a series of canals and wooden docks, a royal pond...but no such restaurant.
I pass a place along the way that piques my interest. There are two large masks on the outside, and as I pass, I notice that the rear windows of the building are filled with plants. I redirect my route from Lonely Planet's map to my own mental map and re-find the building. It is indeed a ssam bap restaurant, and I go inside.
First I pass traditional drums, then a closet sized room filled with stab-bound books, a piano-esque instrument, and plants. Then comes the antiquated machinery...spindles, mills, farming implements. Finally I reach the area where I must de-shoe. I place my shoes among the others and step into a room filled with mid-20th century newspaper clippings, stamps, postcards, old etchings, mini-masks, fishing gear, china plates, a spoon collection, plants, and on and on and on. I had ordered for one when I entered the room and I arrange my things while I am served. First, the leaves; one plate steamed, the other raw: lettuce, sesame leaves, chard, seaweed, and cabbage. Next come the soups; two kinds. Then the side dishes. One after another, she set dishes in front of me, until there were perhaps 16 side dishes on the table. I sneak glances at other customers in order to figure out how to eat this feast. They take a leaf and lay it in one hand. With their chopsticks, they scoop up some rice, a side-dish or four, and place it inside the leaf. Setting the chopsticks down, they fold the leaf into a little package and place the whole thing in their mouths. I follow suit and eat my fill.

In Hanjin
That night I find Hanjin Hostel. As I walk in, an old man beckons me into the room behind the glass. I enter to see that he is warming his knees in front of a heating fan. He motions for me to sit down on the blanket next to him, and I do so. He then hands me 5 or 6 photo albums. "Photos," he says, "Look," then turns on the TV. I spend the next 45 minutes flipping through pages, watching him age with each new album. At one point, he erupts with laughter, and I look up at the TV to witness members of Parliament leaping over tables, fists clenched, murderous looks on their faces. One man is caught by the ankles and dragged through a hallway out of Parliament. Another is carried by his arms and legs, furiously thrashing. This is almost as good as the time I was watching TV at E-Mart, and saw them chopping through a chained door with a full sized ax. Korean government seems to be rather dramatic. I'm not sure what they're so upset about, but the old man next to me is definately getting a kick out of it. Soon, I ask about getting a room and am shown upstairs.

Candida, the Midnight Bell Ringer
New Year's Eve Day passes without incident. I go on a bus tour of Gyeong-ju, and see the major sights over 8 hours. There are three other foreigners on the bus and we are seated together. Two of the three girls are visiting their friend who is teaching for a year in Daegu.

I return to the Hostel and take a nap. I wake and attempt to solidify my plans. I want to visit Bulguksa Temple at midnight for the bell ringing, and then sojourn to Seokguram Grotto to see the sun rise over the East Sea. I have been told there are buses, so I must find one. While I sit in the common room, pouring over my guidebooks, two Japanese men who are staying down the hall come upstairs. One sits down on an opposite couch and motions to ask if I mind if he smokes. I let him know I don't. Through gestures, visual aids, and simplified English, I tell him of my plan.

10 pm - He and his roomate decide to join me, and soon we set out in search of a bus. We search, only to be informed that there is no such bus. Two Korean tourists, eager to practice English, invite us to share a taxi. I get the front seat, and the price is nearly the same as the bus would have been. Fortune i smiling. Upon reaching the Bulguksa parking lot, we are told that Bulguksa is closed, but there is a free shuttle bus to Seokguram. The three of us decide to see for ourselves, and traipse up a moonlit path to the gates of Bulguksa. Trees line the path and dot the hillside as we approached a chained entrance. Hiro, in his white loafers, starts to hop over the chain, but halts and gives a sheepish bow to the security guard on duty. He giggles his way back to us, and the three of us start back along the path to the shuttle buses.

11:30 pm - We step off the bus in front of a trailer where people are handing out hot ommuk in bowls of broth. To our left, a stage is set, and a rock group is performing. Wind is blowing, snow flurries, hair and artificial smoke whip around the faces of the rockers. "YEEEAAAAHHHHHHH YEAH ooohhh yyyyeeeeEEEEAAAAAHHHHH!"

We join the huddling mass of people. As the rockers finish, three monks take the stage to deliver speeches and motion to the large bell in its housing, some 100 meters past the stage and up the hill. Hiro notices people starting to climb the stairs and line up at the bell pagoda. He looks at Hideki and I before giggling again and skipping away to sprint up the stairs. We follow shortly...


Friday, January 16, 2009

Reconnecting in....3....2...1

Day 116

Today is computer buying day! I check my bank account and discover I have not been paid.
Today is not computer buying day. I head to the library to meet Ted and his cousin. I text "Kate" and ask if I can cash in that rain-check for the library tour she offered last week. 3 hours pass without a reply and Ted is nowhere to be found. I track him down in the computer lab then head to the stacks. Maybe I can find something of interest in the Art section. I am immersed in a Korean Embriodery book when Ted sends me a text message: "it's time for lunch where are you??"

I go to meet him on the second floor. Where is Kate? he asks. 모라요 is my reply.
mo lai yo. It's a frequently used phrase...ranking third after "annyong haseyo" and "kansamnida".

I don't really feel like staying for lunch. I'd prefer to sulk my way home, but Ted talks me into having a spicy soup with him and his cousin. After lunch and confusing but amusing conversation with the two of them, I leave the library. I am walking on the bridge over train tracks (the second longest walking bridge in Asia, I later learn) when I see Myung Hee. She asks if I have had lunch, and I have, but I tell her that I will join her while she eats. She is currently staying in Daegu, but has come back to Gimcheon to tutor students for the weekend.
It is a fortunate meeting. We are excited to see one another.

We part ways after her lunch, and I am immediately hailed by an off duty salesman from Samsung. I walk past the store frequently and have become familiar to the staff. He offers me a ride and I hop in the car. He is older, sort of the "big brother" for the rest of the Samsung sales team. He asks me the usual: "What do you eat?", "Do you like Korean food?", "How old are you?", "Are you married?", "Do you have a boyfriend?", "Do you live alone?", "Do you make a lot of money?", "Where is your family?", "Do you have siblings?" you know, casual questions. I laugh and try to answer as tactfully as possible with my limited vocabulary. He tells me that
he is now my friend, my "old friend" and drops me off at an intersection near Samsung.

His questions are not meant to be intrusive, he simply wants to find out information. I am something of a curiosity to many people here, and my answers usually garner a nod and a look of concern for my well-being. A woman alone? Make sure you are safe, you know, that sort of thing.

I return home and pace for a while. I eventually decide to double check the bank; maybe I have been paid today, just later than I expected. True enough, It is computer buying day after all!

I withdraw money and happily stroll to Hi-Mart Electronics Store.

They are having a sale: LG Xnote? How much? okay, a little expensive...Windows in English? No? Okay, see you later.

I walk through the doors of Samsung Plaza: Hello friendly sales team! It's Candida. Thank you for the ride earlier. Where is the one salesman who speaks nominal English? Ahh! There you are, hello! Hi-Mart is selling an Xnote with these specs for this much. Can you beat that? Also, can you get English Windows? Maybe? Okay. This one is good. I will take this one. Oh. You can't sell it today? Come back in 2 days and I can have the display model for less? Okay. See you later.

I stop by E-Mart just because it's on the way home and it is cold. I may as well check their computer selection. Oh Ho! What's this?
Excuse me, Yes, I know you don't speak English..but...일 마이요? You'll call and see? Okay. Thanks, and um, how much memory and how much space? Specs, yes. I don't know. Oh! Okay, thank you. And what about Windows in English? What if I want to use Photoshop? Indesign? Adobe Acrobat? Photoshop okay? Okay. I will buy this computer.

Two days later, the computer is delivered to the Hagwon with English Windows and Photoshop installed. Half of the programs are in Korean, but that's okay. I'll figure that out later. For now, I'm excited to get the monthly postcards back on track. Maybe I can download Skype or something and call a few of my friends and relatives...whenever I figure out the password to the internet at home.

Day 119
Chicken drawings, tea, and oranges conclude a day wherein I am told a technician must come to the apartment to give me the password.

Day 120
I make my first Animated .GIF after wanting to do so for over a year.
I call it "The Fruits of Isolation" or "Life in Korea" or "My New Friends".
You can choose.

My adult students get a laugh when they find out exactly how bad I am with numbers and I teach them "I have something on my mind".

Day 121
Remember on Day 119 how I was told a technician must come to the apartment? Change that to I must go to their office and then it's correct.

Day 122
Mission Accomplished. The night is concluded with Nore Bang that lasts too long. I come home, stab the roof of my mouth with an almond, take a shower, and go to bed.

The Un-numbered Days are coming.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

In the meantime

Soon, soon, I shall return to the linked system I call Computerland. For now, I am enjoying the time, spending more of it outside, drawing, trying to care for the plants I have neglected to near-death. Here are what you have to look forward to in the future post of my past few weeks...

"special coffee" and plastic cake

solo SSAM BAP in the knick-knack room

3 days in Gyeongju

Candida, the Midnight bell ringer

Library time

Soju and samgyapsal with the orange vendor and his friend, the pastry maker...
No English Allowed.

Sound exciting? You will be thrilled.
With a computer of my own, I will be thrilled.
We will have a party.