Category: Daegu


Sunday, February 20, 2011:  I am walking down the main highway in front of Keimyung University, trying to get some exercise, trying to get my bad knee used to taking long walks in preparation for my upcoming trip to India.  On my iPod Nano, Mick Jagger is singing “I can’t get no satisfaction.”  And I am singing right along with him, with no care in the world that the Koreans passing by me on the street may think I’m crazy.  I just don’t care anymore.

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

I’m feeling good and the air is crisp and cool, but not as frigid as it usually is in February in Korea.  And I realize this song is an echo of my feelings about Korea and why I am so happy to be leaving here in 8 more days.

I have had a great adventure here in Korea.  I have traveled all over the country, explored many nooks and crannies that even native Koreans have never seen.  I have been able to travel to 5 other Asian countries while I’ve been here:  Turkey (1/2 Asian, anyway), China, Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia.   I will travel to India on my way home, so including Korea, that will make 7 countries total.   I have made many new friends, both Koreans and expats, and have learned that I have the ability to be flexible enough to survive in a foreign country.

On the other hand, I have endured a horrible 1 1/2 hour commute each way every day for the last six months.  I have struggled with loneliness and have found little in the way of romance.  I have missed my children.  I have had  to work in conditions no Westerner would ever expect to work in, namely, a classroom that is not properly heated in winter and not air-conditioned in summer.  I have been surrounded by people who I know have been learning English for the past 20 years, yet refuse to speak a word in case they make a single mistake.

I finished reading a great novel in early February called The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey.  I actually bought it in the Siem Reap Airport in Cambodia.  In this book, a husband and wife, George and Sabine Harwood, move to the Caribbean island of Trinidad from England.  George is immediately seduced by the enticing island, with her lush curvaceous mountains and tropical greenery.  Sabine, on the other hand, feels isolated, heat-fatigued and ill at ease.

She describes her arrival to the island in 1956.  Her stomach is twisted in knots.  She is frightened.  She describes the heat: “Hot countries I knew, European countries.  But this heat was indecent, like breath or fingers.  Hands on me, touching me.” (p. 198)  She describes how she wards off boredom by cleaning her tiny flat until it is immaculate.  Shopping, she encounters strange unlabeled fruits and vegetables, “forlorn and shriveled” or “root-like bulbs, dirty and hairy.”  Tomatoes “a little rotten” and cauliflowers “heat-tired and turning brown.”  The shelves are dusty and sparse.  She can’t understand the accents of the locals and she feels like they are all staring at her as if she’s some kind of apparition.  She feels the locals won’t engage with her, as if she is an irritant.

At the markets, which resemble a “mass of bees swarming,” where the bright sun is “polishing the black bodies,”  she sails by on her green bicycle, “a white ghost in their midst.”  Her face flushed “with the embarrassment of not knowing the rules.”

While reading this book, I can relate to Sabine’s experience, though the setting is different.  Here in Korea, everywhere are swarms of shiny black hair, straight and gleaming and lovely.  I feel like an albino walking around with my whitish hair.  Everyone wears black or dark and subdued colors.  Things seems dark and depressing.  The only bright colors are on the garish signs written in Hangul, all of primary colors and punctuating the city streets like childish cartoons.

The Koreans all sit quietly and primly on the metro.  They barely acknowledge I am there, such an obvious outsider.  The young girls at the university wear the tiniest skirts imaginable and their legs seem to stretch to the heavens.  Young couples wear matching shirts or even specially ordered matching outfits. I find these things annoying.  Koreans on the street look at me briefly, but then avert their eyes, as if I have some unsightly deformity.

It’s almost as if I am floating above and observing this strange world.  I’m removed, not really a part of society here.  I will never fit in.  I will be a curiosity at best, an anomaly.  Sometimes I look at the strange people in what to me is a strange land and wonder what on earth I am doing here. I’m sure they look at me in this land of theirs that is perfectly normal and everyday, and wonder what is this stranger doing here, interloping in their town.  Sometimes they are very friendly, happy to say “Hi” or “Hello” in chipper voices.  Other times they regard me coldly and with irritation.  Sometimes they touch my hair and wonder why I don’t dye it.  They wonder why I’m different. They are fascinated by the hair on my arms.  I do not meet their ideals of uniformity. In this society, individuality is frowned upon.  Conformity is pervasive.  I don’t conform and I never will.

Yet.  This is how I have chosen to live.  It doesn’t seem as bad, somehow, to NOT belong in Korea.  In the U.S., where I also feel that I don’t fit in, it seems much worse.  Back home I’m expected to fit.  I should fit, shouldn’t I? After all, I’m an American.  Here in Korea, I expect NOT to fit in.  Because my expectations are such, it is not as painful to be outside of things.  It’s the nature of the life I have chosen.  Here I have an excuse to be different, to be on the outside.  In the U.S., I have no excuse.  Yet.  It is the case that in the U.S., I always feel slightly removed from people, like I’m on the outside looking in.  This is how I’ve felt most of my life.  But here, I’m not so disappointed about this.  In the U.S., it’s disheartening, depressing.  Disturbing, even.  But here, well, it’s okay.

I wonder if this is how other expats feel.  Like they’re an outsider no matter what they do.  Reading this book about the white woman on the green bicycle gave me a friend in Sabine Harwood.  She’s an expat, though fictional, who says it like it is.  I feel not so totally alone when I read her story, share her outlook, her experience.

It’s true. Here in Korea, I can’t get no satisfaction.  But in the character of Sabine Harwood, I feel some relief to know I’m not in this alone.

Saturday, February 19:  Today, some of us journey to the east side of Daegu to see the Trick Art Museum housed in the EXCO building.  It’s quite a trip by metro and bus to get to this building, and takes well over an hour from the west side, where we live.

I venture out with Anna and Seth, my good friends from Daegu, and Katy and Danny, their close friends, on this cold February morning.

Me, Anna and Seth at the  Trick Art Museum

Me, Anna and Seth at the Trick Art Museum

What is trick art?  According to the Takao Trick Art Museum website (Takao Trick Art Museum): The history of trick art is old, and dates back to about 2,000 years ago. It had become an established art form by the time of the Renaissance era. The concept is essentially the same as the illusionism of that era, namely creating the optical illusion that depicted objects really exist, instead of being just two-dimensional paintings.

Katy gets stabbed by an icicle

Katy gets stabbed by an icicle

Me and my horse friends

Me and my horse friends

Anna gets a pinch

Anna gets a pinch

Seth and Anna at the museum

Seth and Anna at the museum

Anna plays tug-o-war

Anna plays tug-o-war

mirror, mirror on the wall....

mirror, mirror on the wall….

I sure look happy for having an arrow through my heart

I sure look happy for having an arrow through my heart

helping a drowning person

helping a drowning person

anna relaxing on a summer's day

anna relaxing on a summer’s day

stepping into Tahiti

stepping into Tahiti

Help!!

Help!!

King Kong Seth

King Kong Seth

Katy does a handstand

Katy does a handstand

velcro?

velcro?

ready to swing over China

ready to swing over China

Seth inspects the dinosaur's teeth

Seth inspects the dinosaur’s teeth

Anna hanging on for dear life

Anna hanging on for dear life

me hanging

me hanging

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

me unraveling the zebra’s stripes

After our fun morning at the Trick Art Museum, we visit Costco for pizza.  There we find multitudes of Koreans loading their plates with condiments: diced onions, ketchup and mustard, and eating them.  As a condiment is a “substance such as salt or ketchup that is used to add flavor to food,” we are baffled because the Koreans are eating the condiments alone, not as flavoring to another food, but as the main food itself.  Very odd indeed. 🙂

Pakistani #2 ~ “No problem” Viki:  After a momentary and bizarre encounter with my first Pakistani in Daegu sometime in October (see my blog entry titled “chance encounters of the quirky kind”), I meet my second one on the evening of November 6, 2010 as I stand waiting for the metro at Banwoldang metro stop.  I am returning from the EPIK field trip to Jeollabuk-do, and I have a small suitcase in tow.  This #2 Pakistani smiles at me numerous times as I stand on the platform and he introduces himself as Viki.  I tell him I’m Cathy.  He acts quickly as he realizes the train will approach any minute.  He asks me for my phone number and then the train comes and whisks me away to Keimyung University stop, where I return home to my cozy apartment.

The next day Viki texts me and asks if I can get online to chat.  I have nothing better to do, it being a Sunday in Daegu.  I chat with him for quite some time and he seems fairly interesting.  On the chat, he also seems fairly intelligible.  I already found him somewhat handsome as well, though he is a young 32 years old.  He asks if he can meet me as soon as possible to have dinner.  I say if he wants to come to Keimyung University on Monday evening, I know of a decent Pakistani restaurant about 3 blocks from my apartment.

On Monday evening, I meet him at the metro and we walk together in the cold dark to the Pakistani restaurant.  Usually, when I have eaten at this restaurant, I have assumed there is no alcohol served because there is none on the menu.  Viki knows better.  He notes that all one has to do is ask, which he does.  We are promptly served two extra tall Hite beers, the order of the day in Korea.

During the dinner we try to communicate, but frankly I am having trouble understanding his pronunciation.  He speaks volumes, but sadly it is in such mangled English that I only catch bits and pieces.  The other thing he does is to repeat, at every opportunity, the phrase “no problem,” which seems to be his answer to everything.  By the end of the evening, I am at wit’s end because the communication is so gnarly.  It’s hopeless.  I bid my goodbye to him and go back to my cozy apartment.  I write for a while and then go promptly to bed, exhausted from trying to decipher Viki’s botched English speech.

The next day, he texts and wants to see me again.  I really don’t feel like it, but I remind myself he’s a nice enough guy.  Obviously I have momentarily forgotten his “no problem” mantra and his indecipherable English.  Besides, there is never much company here in Korea, so I figure, what the heck.  I get tired of my lonely existence here.  So we have dinner at the pizza restaurant near my house, Dasarang, and then he wants to go to a DVD bang to watch The Ugly Truth.  I should know this will be a mistake, as once inside, he doesn’t waste much time going in for the attack.  The Ugly Truth is that I must fend him off for over an hour and eventually the blasted movie ends and we leave this place.  At this point I am wavering as to whether I should ever see him again.

The following weekend, I take a trip to Seoul to see my Egyptian friend, Mithad.  It is an eye-opening experience when I am finally face-to-face with Mithad’s poverty-stricken living conditions. I know when I leave Seoul that Mithad and I will never work out.

Viki is relentless and over the next week, he calls and texts repeatedly.  No matter how many excuses I make, he doesn’t give up.  Finally, on the following Tuesday, November 16, I agree to meet him for dinner at my favorite place, the Warehouse, where I had celebrated my birthday in October.  Afterwards we go to the DVD bang again, this time to see P.S. I Love You.  We go for a pure lack of anything else to do in Daegu after dinner.  This is really stupid on my part because I know what the routine will be.  Yet.  I go and I spend another 1 1/2 hours fending him off.  When I return home, I’m utterly exhausted, again from the excruciating attempts to communicate, as well as the wrestling match in the DVD bang.

After this, Viki is determined to cook a Pakistani dinner for me in his apartment.  My time with Mithad over the past weekend had made it crystal clear to me that things were not going to work out between us.  On Friday evening, after the Tuesday when I see Viki,  Mithad and I have a huge argument and I tell him things are not going to work out between us.  At that point I am pretty angry with Mithad and so am looking to do something! Anything!

Since Viki has bragged about his Pakistani cooking, and since I am up for an adventure, I agree to come to his apartment on Saturday, November 20,  for a home-cooked meal.  I really believe he is harmless and kind, so I don’t have any fear about going.  It takes me nearly an hour to get to the furthest metro stop east in Daegu, where Viki meets me.  From there we catch a taxi and I am surprised that the taxi is taking us out into the middle of nowhere.  Cow dung and unidentified industrial chemicals permeate the air.  It is farm land, but soon we come upon a small industrial plant.  Attached to this plant is a small 2-story building full of rooms for the plant workers.  I am a little worried and I asked Viki how I will get back to the metro when I am ready to go home.  He says one of his friends has a motorbike which he can use to drive me back to the metro.

Meanwhile, he takes me to a bare bones room covered in Pakistani carpets.  There is a desk with a computer and a chair and a small detached closet. No kitchen or bathroom facility is to be seen anywhere.  I ask Viki where I am supposed to go to the bathroom, and he leads me down the stairs to the filthiest Korean-style hole-in-the-floor I have ever seen.  It is the community bathroom and it’s disgusting.

I go back up to play around on the computer while Viki runs up and down the stairs of this building to an unseen kitchen to prepare our meal.  He in fact does make a very tasty meal of basmati rice and some kind of chicken with a red sauce.  We eventually eat this on the carpeted floor on paper plates, along with some cold Hite beers.  This was NOT what I had imagined!! Every minute since arriving at this place, I am thinking about how I must get back home as soon as possible.

Soon after dinner, and another wrestling match with Viki, I insist that I must hurry and go back home.  I say though he was very kind to make me dinner, I cannot stay any longer in such a place.  I say, I’m sorry, Viki!  This is not what I expected!

So, he kindly but dejectedly borrows his friend’s motorbike.  He only has one helmet, which he as the driver must wear.  We ride along back through the farm fields and the intense cow dung and manure and more cow dung and manure, with a heavy dose of chemicals tossed in.  Finally, after what seems like an eternity with my hair whipping about my head on the back of that motorbike, I arrive safely at the metro and ride back home to my nice cozy apartment, where I vow I will NEVER meet this #2 Pakistani again!

Of course, that doesn’t stop him trying, and after too many ignored texts to count, he drops happily off the face of MY earth.

Pakistani #3 ~ Mutton-eating Gill

My 3rd and final encounter with a Pakistani is on February 5, 2011, as I am returning home from my Lunar New Year holiday to Japan.  Again, I am on the metro platform at Banwoldang, with my suitcase in tow.  I’m wondering at this point if Pakistani guys stand on this platform just to pick up Western women!

Gill, as he introduces himself, strikes up a conversation right away.  He is with a friend and they both get on the train going in my direction.  His English is pretty good and he’s actually quite cute, very tall with beautiful eyes.  A young 31, of course, as they all seem to be.  But he chats with me for quite a distance on the train until he exits at the e-Mart stop.  In the meantime, he takes my number and asks if I will meet him one evening for dinner.

The next evening, after texting back and forth with him all Sunday afternoon, he comes to Keimyung University metro where I meet him and take him to my favorite pizza place, Dasarang.  We actually have a great time, sharing pizza, drinking beer and talking.  He is interesting to talk to, his English is good, and he’s very sweet and attractive… 🙂  I’m actually having a great time and he seems to be, too.  He is here working at a factory, as most Pakistanis in Korea are doing, and has already been here for several years.  But.  He complains that he is lonely, he never has a girlfriend, has no luck with girls in fact.  I say I am shocked because he is very sweet and handsome enough to make a girl melt.  I don’t understand, I tell him, why he has trouble with girls.  He thanks me for saying this, but he continues to insist that no matter what happens, he has no luck.

After our enjoyable evening, we take a walk all around the Keimyung University campus.  At one point, we stop at a park bench and kiss for a while.  At this point, I find out why he has no luck with girls.  Though he is a decent kisser, he has horrible breath!!  And I can tell that the breath is not some temporary staleness, from not brushing his teeth that evening or from eating something pungent.  His is that kind of bad breath that comes from somewhere deep inside.  Something that honestly, I don’t think can be easily fixed.  Needless to say, I am disappointed, as everything else about him is so nice.  But a bad kissing experience is something I cannot abide.  Kissing is of ultimate importance to me.  So much so, in fact, that when I look at a guy’s picture on a dating website for instance, I first ask myself the question: Would I want to kiss that guy?  If not, I won’t respond to their messages.  To me, kissing is the most pleasurable part of intimacy, and without that, I can’t go any further.

So, I tell him I must get home, it is late, I must work tomorrow.  I have a lot to do.  I walk with him to the corner and we part ways.  I know at that point that I will never see him again.

The next day, he texts me, trying to convince me to come out with him for dinner.  I say, “No, I’m sorry I cannot come.  I’m not feeling good.”  He is persistent.  On Tuesday, he texts again saying he really wants to see me.  I consult with one of my Korean co-teachers, Julie, about this situation.  Should I be honest with him?  I just cannot stand his breath!  She doesn’t know what to say.  Finally after ignoring his texts for hours because I don’t know what to say, I write to him:  “Hi Gill.  I’m sorry.  I cannot see you tonight.  There is a problem.  I am not attracted to your smell.  I’m really sorry, but it will not work out between us.”

He calls me right away but I don’t answer.  Later that night I return his call and he asks me, “What do you mean, you’re not attracted to my smell?  Do you mean I have bad breath?”  I say, “Yes.”  He says, “I’m sorry.  I forgot to brush my teeth that night.  Please give me another chance!”

But I know deep in my heart that his bad breath comes from somewhere deep inside him.  I say, “No, I am leaving Korea in less than a month, and what is the point?  It won’t work out, so there is no point in seeing you again.”

On Thursday evening, I stop at the bone hospital for physical therapy on my knee, and as I am lying on the table getting nice relaxing heat treatments, Gill calls again.  He says he has just been to see the doctor about his bad breath.  The doctor tells him:  “Your stomach is hard and you need to stop eating mutton and meat and eat all vegetables.   It will take a month, but in a month, it should all be better.”

“But I’ll be gone in a month,” I tell him.  He is silent.  I am silent.  There is nothing more to say.  The problem won’t be fixed within the time I am here, and I will be gone, in just over 2 weeks.  There is no possibility.

But of course, that does not stop him from trying.  Over the next couple of weeks, until I leave Korea, he repeatedly calls and texts, but I just ignore him.  There is no point in arguing with him.  I don’t want to be mean.  I just don’t want to see him again.

And that is the sum of my Pakistani encounters in Korea.

the christmas that wasn’t

December 25: This is the first Christmas in my entire life that doesn’t feel like Christmas, not even remotely.  I barely see any Christmas lights, except a few in Seoul on Alex’s last weekend here. I never buy a Christmas tree.  I don’t see my family.  Christmas is all about family, at least in my eyes, and my family is back in the USA.  The worst thing is that on the Thursday night before Christmas, I am watching a movie on my computer when suddenly the screen starts morphing into bizarre shapes, emitting colorful sharp light rays, and then the blue screen of death appears, saying something like “Hard drive…memory…???”  I don’t know what else it says, because I immediately do what I always do when my computer starts acting up.  I turn it off.  The problem is, it never comes back on.  This is the most devastating thing that could have happened to me because it means I can’t Skype my family on Christmas day.

christmas lights in seoul

christmas lights in seoul

I make no real plans for Christmas.  Anna and Seth invite me over on Christmas eve for a little party.  Other than that, my only plan is to lie around in my pajamas all day and watch movies on my computer about Vietnam that Alex brought from home.  That plan is foiled by the death of my computer.

my house in the States at Christmas

my house in the States at Christmas

In all my adult life, I have done all the work for Christmas, buying all the Christmas gifts, wrapping them, decorating the Christmas tree and the house, baking cookies, buying groceries, cooking a Martha Stewart brunch.   First thing Christmas morning, after a month of serious preparation from which I am utterly exhausted, we open our presents and stockings, we enjoy checking out each others’ gifts, I take a long hot bath, and then I make the brunch.  For the last 15 years I have made the same brunch for Christmas.  We usually eat around 1:00 pm Christmas day and the meal is this: a goat cheese and roasted red pepper frittata, granny-smith-apple sausages, pancakes with cranberry syrup, cheese grits.  My mother-in-law and sister-in-law always come; the latter brings a fruit salad, including festive star fruits, with a delicious creamy mandarin-orange flavored topping. It’s always a warm and cozy day, often including a fire in the fireplace.  I love our tradition, but frankly, it’s exhausting and stressful for the entire month of December until after that brunch is done.  This is because, as the mom, I do all the work.

Christmas lights in Seoul

Christmas lights in Seoul

So, this year, I looked forward to doing absolutely nothing.  Alex was here visiting for much of December, so at least I had some of my family for a short time.  But I don’t feel the stress of Christmas preparation and so it is relaxing.

anna at her apartment with my cake in hand and her cookies on the table

anna at her apartment with my cake in hand and her cookies on the table

On Christmas Eve, I go to Anna & Seth’s for their lovely party.  I bring a cake from Tous Les Jours, a vanilla thing topped with sweet white icing and glazed fruit.  Anna makes delicious cookies.  A number of their other friends come over bearing treats and we sit around chatting and eating popcorn and chips and salsa and decadent desserts and then play a really fun game of Extreme Charades.  In this game, everyone writes 5 nouns down and tears them up into individual slips of paper.  We put them all in a hat.  Each person draws a word and then tries to get people to guess it using a description that cannot include the word.  The next round, we act out the words in regular charades.  The following round, we sit behind a sofa and act out the word using only our faces, and the last round, we hide behind the sofa and act out the word using only our hands.  It’s a fun way to spend Christmas eve.  But I am sad not to be home enjoying my regular traditions with my family.  I am thankful though, so thankful, for my “family” here, especially Anna who, along with Kim Dong Hee, has been a true friend to me here in Korea.

Merry Christmas in Seoul, South Korea!

Merry Christmas in Seoul, South Korea!

Christmas morning, I sleep in late, make myself some simple scrambled eggs, toast and honey and coffee.  It’s a far cry from my regular Martha Stewart brunch.  Since I don’t have my computer to watch movies, I turn on the TV and happen upon a movie with Richard Gere called Hachiko: A Dog’s Story.  I stay in my pajamas most of the day.  Later I venture out, going to Starbucks for a Christmas-like coffee and then visit the PC bang where I can read my emails.  Later Myrna lends me her computer and I’m able to watch Three Seasons, a movie that takes place in Hanoi, where I’ll go on January 13.  In the movie I think I actually see the Hotel Ncogmai where I will be staying!  In the late night here, which is Christmas morning in the U.S., I talk to Mike and the boys by phone.  It’s not the same as seeing them on Skype, but I’m happy to hear their voices.

For the first year ever, I just make myself imagine it isn’t Christmas.  Surprisingly, I’m not horribly depressed or sad being alone.  I just accept in my mind that it’s just a day, a day like any  other.

On the day after Christmas, what the British call Boxing Day, I call everyone in my family: Mike and the boys (again), Sarah, my dad, my best friend Jayne.  There it is still Christmas Day and I live vicariously through their celebrations.  I watch The Duchess on TV.  I read Paradise of the Blind, a novel about Vietnam.  I go to the PC bang and read emails.  And in the evening, I have a lovely dinner with Kim Dong Hee at Olive del Cucina and have a beer with her afterwards at Sydney Street.  She has just received some kind of bad news this afternoon, something very upsetting to her that she doesn’t even care to share.  I am feeling sad today about an issue of my own.  So, we are a sad pair.  Kim needs to go home early because she is just too emotionally distraught; I go to the DVD bang to watch The Sleeping Dictionary, which I get so bored with, I leave halfway through.

I can’t help but wonder about myself.  Why?  Why didn’t I make any effort to carve out a little celebration for myself?  I don’t know why.  Sometimes, and maybe this is one of those times, I simply feel like there is no point.  I don’t want to be bothered.   I wonder and worry about myself:  Do I even care anymore about anything?  Am I turning into a sort of zombie, walking through the days of my life with no feeling whatsoever?  Toward the end of this, my time in Korea, I think I have changed.  In some ways for the better: I am learning to be strong, to be more patient, to be independent and be alone.  In other ways, I’m changing for the worse: I am starting to believe there is no such thing as love, as hope.  I wonder seriously about my ability to feel love from or for other people.  I am starting to feel, especially on certain days, defeated, tired, dead.  And that is a sad thing to me.  In the last five years of my marriage, I felt like a dead person; I feared that each of my days would be the same as the one before; I panicked that I would feel this deadness for the rest of my life.  I thought: this is it?  This is my life?  This is how it will be until the day I die?  I was terrified that I would never feel again.  Now, here I am, after having been separated for nearly 4 years, feeling the same thing.  I guess it is me.  As they always say, you can never escape yourself, no matter where you go.

Merry merry Christmas to me.  To my family back home, especially my wonderful children, my dad, my sisters and brother.   Merry Christmas to Mike.  And to you, my friends, who somehow keep me going.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night :-)

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night 🙂

~~grooming the waygook on the escalator~~

December 20, 2010: I’m in the midst of a crowd going down the escalator on metro, holding my down-stuffed winter coat in my arms and staring off into space when suddenly, I feel fingers picking at my back.  I turn around and two old ladies are busily pulling the down feathers off the back of my sweater.

They’re like mother monkeys picking fleas off their babies.  I smile at them and they are not deterred; they pick, pick, pick.  I show them the inside of my coat, where feathers are always escaping through the soft cotton lining and sticking to my clothes.  The monkey-ladies yap and yammer, saying something about the feathers and the mess they have made all over me.  Another older woman is watching; she too throws in a few comments.  Life in Korea.   One place where people have no concept of personal space and no qualms about grooming complete strangers.

A waygookin (외국인) is any person not of Korean ancestry. Waygook (외국) simply means “foreign”. Koreans call people of non Korean ancestry “waygooks”.

~~you are my sunshine: a rendition on the bus with a stuttering korean guy ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ~~

December 8: Kim Dong Hee and I are riding the bus home from Seongju Wednesday evening when a Korean guy sees me, stops in the aisle, leans over Kim’s shoulder, and starts speaking to me in English:  Oh!  Where are you from?  I’m Jun …… What is your name?  Cathy, I say. Oh Cashie?  I say, no CaTHy.  He says oh, Cashie, okay. Pleased to meet you.  What are you doing here in Korea?  Me: I teach English in Seongju.  At Chojeon and Byeokjin Elementary Schools. He: Oh, how long have you been here? Me: Nine months.  He: When will you leave?  I say in three more months.

His English is not bad, but he has a bit of a stutter.  When someone doesn’t speak English very well, sometimes I have difficulties telling if they are mentally challenged or if they’re really smart but they just don’t know English.  Because he has a stutter as well, I can’t help but question his mental capacity. I  DO KNOW a stutter is not a sign of low intelligence.  But.  I’m confused nonetheless.  Because lately I have a lot of mentally challenged people, adults and children alike, who have taken a great inexplicable liking to me.  On this Wednesday night, Jun goes on his merry way to the back of the bus.

December 13: The following Monday, he boards the bus and spots me sitting alone.  He plops down on the seat beside me and starts talking, asking me again some of the same questions he asked in our first meeting.  He asks my age and for some reason I tell him outright.  Usually I refuse to tell Koreans my age just because age is so important to them. It determines all the interactions people have with one another.  He tells me he is 40 years old and a businessman.  He has boarded the bus at some godforsaken bus stop, so I am curious about just what kind of businessman he is.

He has an MP3 player with earphones and he hands me one, keeping the other earphone in his ear.  Immediately, blasting in my ear is “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”  He starts singing and I can’t help but sing along with him!  We are both singing away on the bus, singing and singing, oblivious to the other passengers:

You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You’ll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.

The song ends and then another English song comes on that I’ve never heard in my life.  He’s shocked I don’t know it but I assure him it’s new to me:  “Handsome.”  I don’t think he has the title right because later, I can’t even find it on Google.  He knows all the lyrics though and sings along as I listen to both him and to the song through the earphones.  After our singing encounter, and before he gets off the bus, he tells me I am very beautiful and I have a nice smile.

December 15: Two nights later, he is back.  He gets on this time wearing white fluffy ear muffs and a royal blue shiny puffy jacket.  He plops down beside me, immediately reaching into his backpack for a notebook and a pen.  He starts writing: My name is Jun Young but you can call me Jun. After writing this, he reads it to me.  He asks me the spelling of my name and writes it on the page: CATHY.  He writes, How long will you be in Korea? He reads the question to me.  I say 3 more months.  He says, Oh no.  That’s too bad. The he writes:  Cathy is a very smile face and beautiful girl.  He reads this aloud to me, pointing to each word in turn.  Oh, happy days. 🙂

~~the light saber guy and his identity crisis~~

November 30: I’m standing on the curb in Chojeon, next to a cardboard box filled with trash, waiting for the 5:00 bus.  It’s a lovely spot, a dream spot really.  Directly across the street is a market with grimy windows, stuffed to the ceiling with foodstuffs, canned drinks and household paraphernalia.   In front of the store, several old ladies with canes sit on overturned primary-colored plastic crates, plaid scarves wrapped jauntily around their withered necks.  Bags of garbage keep them company.  The butcher shop next door displays meat carcasses in the window; giant radishes and roots lie on the concrete sidewalk in front.  On the opposite corner is a ubiquitous SK Telecom store, one of probably trillions of mobile phone stores in Korea.

Across the street, the most regular of the town drunks is talking in a deep raspy voice; he has apparently taken a chain saw to his hair.  Some parts of his head are shaved, other parts are sticking up like a confused bed of nails.  Other parts are shaped like jumping fish.  He’s stumbling about, rasping and coughing and hacking, gesticulating with everything he’s got.  Bits of white spittle cling to his rough face and after some of his rants, threads of drool drip from his mouth.  I think he lives at this spot, possibly even sleeps here.  Though he never speaks directly to me, he does do a lot of rude staring.

As I do many times while waiting for this infernal and untimely bus, I step off the curb and walk into the street so I can see if the bus is approaching from the distance.  Suddenly, a second town drunk appears in front of me. On his sweatshirt is a big A, sort of like the big S on Superman’s chest.  He is slashing the air with a pink toy light saber and as I step into the street, he sticks out the light saber horizontally across my stomach, stopping me from stepping into the street.  I say, Excuse me!   Who appointed you policeman?  Of course he can’t understand me.  I love to say ridiculous and outrageous things to Koreans because I know they can’t understand a word I say.  I step back on the curb, amused by this guy’s antics, but in a few minutes I am again curious to see if the bus is coming, so I step off the curb.  Even though light saber man has moved a distance from me, he rushes over and again juts the light saber across my belly.   I say, What are you doing?  If I want to step into the street, I will!  He snarls and mutters something mean in Korean.

I step back up on the curb and walk alongside a blue Hyundai Porter parked next to the sidewalk.  From the rear of the truck, I walk to the front, and again step out from the curb into the street.  Light saber man sees me and rushes up on the street side from the rear of the truck to where I am.  I immediately turn, step back up on the curb, and walk to the back of the truck, where I step back into the street to see if the bus is coming.  He catches on that I’m playing cat and mouse with him and he starts growling and yapping in Korean, waving around his light saber.  He comes toward me again, and I reverse direction, going back to the front of the truck and stepping back into the street.

Fun times.  This is the way I once decided I would escape if a bear ever tried to attack me.  I’d just put a tree between me and the bear and keep going back and forth, around and around.  This is the first time I’ve tried this maneuver with a man and I’m proud to say it works quite nicely.

~~the curious incident of the pakistani on the motorbike~~

Sometime in October: One night I walk out of my apartment and come face to face with a helmeted Pakistani guy on a motorbike.  He smiles hugely and says a very friendly hello; he has such an air of confidence and familiarity with me that I’m taken aback.  I ask, “Do I know you?” He says something that I can’t understand and then asks me if I wanna meeta.  Do you hava tima? I say, uh, I don’t know. Where?  He says, I donna know, somewhere.  I say, well, hmmm.  I guess so.  He motions for me to get on the back of his motorbike and I say, I can’t ride on this!  What about a helmet?  He assures me it will be okay. I hesitate but in the end hop on the back; he zips down my alley of a street to the 7-11, where he motions for me to get off.   I’m surprised as this is only about a half-block ride.  He says he needs to go to the bank to get money.  Will I wait for him here?

He returns within 5 minutes and brings me a can of cold coffee, which I guzzle down.  He then tells me once again to hop on the back of his motorbike.  In the meantime, he says a lot of other things, none of which I understand except the repeated “wanna meeta.”   He removes his helmet to reveal a balding head, which he is embarrassed about, and hands the helmet to me.  I put it on and he zips off once again, this time on the main road, weaving along between Hyundais, Kias, city buses and taxis.

I don’t ride motorbikes often, so I enjoy the wind whipping my hair about and going up my nostrils.  I have no idea where this guy is taking me.  I’m not afraid as it’s very populated and I know I can hop off if I want at any stoplight.  The motorbike is small, but it has a tough roar.  We ride and ride, approaching eMart, when suddenly he veers off into a fringe-curtained parking lot.  I recognize right away the typical Korean “love motel” parking lot.  He parks the bike and I say, Why are you stopping here?  What are you doing?  He says, go uppa and talka.  I say, No!  This is a motel!  I’m not going to talk with you in a motel.  We can go talk in a public place.  He is baffled and I am stunned, but I hop back on the bike and tell him to head back in the direction where he picked me up.  We cruise along and he points to a small park, dark and deserted.  He says, Here?  I say, NO!  We can go to a restaurant or a coffee shop.  That’s it.  I don’t know you!

Disgruntled, he takes me back to a restaurant I point out in my neighborhood and he motions me off the bike.  He says, I have to go to the bank for some money.  I say, I thought you already went to the bank!  He says, I’ll be back in a minute.  Wait me here.  As soon as he zooms away, I speed-walk down an alternate back street directly to my apartment.  Close the door, lock it.  Whew!

Monday, December 13:  Alex sleeps in while I schlep into work today.  Again, he visits the DVD bang during the day.  In the evening we go to Lotte Cinema to see The Tourist, with Angelina Jolie & Johnny Depp; it’s quite cute.  We have an exciting dinner at Mr. Pizza afterward, where we are the last customers of the night.

Tuesday, December 14:  Alex goes to Chojeon with me, where one of Coffee J’s 4th grade boys plays the flute for him.  Alex thinks Little Miss Jailbird is quite a character and he likes her edgy personality; she’s the girl who constantly insults me and wears the gray and black striped knit pants (see my previous blog: insults korean style).

In the evening, I expose Alex to the samgyeopsal and noraebang experience with Anna, Seth, Maurice, Myrna, Lilly and Ben.  Samgyeopsal consists of thick, fatty slices of pork belly meat (similar to uncured bacon). Usually diners grill the meat themselves and eat directly from a grill. It is often dipped into a spicy pepper paste and wrapped in lettuce leaves along with other vegetables.  Noraebang, literally a “song room,” is similar to what we Westerners know as karaoke; it’s different in that a group of friends rents a room for an hour or two by themselves, and the public is not involved (as in Western-style karaoke).

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsol

Maurice, Ben, Lilly, Myrna, Seth, Anna and Alex eating samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

the thick slabs of fatty bacon that are the main staple in samgyeopsal

Anna :-)

Anna 🙂

Alex tries samgyeopsal

Alex tries samgyeopsal

At noraebang, Alex wears dreadlocks and belts out songs along with the rest of us, losing all his inhibitions.

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Maurice, Alex and me heading into noraebang

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Ben, the masked man, and Alex in his crazy wig

Myrna belts out a song

Myrna belts out a song

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Alex sings a serenade in his dreadlocks

Wednesday, December 15:   Tonight, we go to my neighborhood Italian place for dinner, visit an outdoor Asian market near my house, and then try a different DVD bang where we watch The Time Traveler’s Wife, which happens to be the first book I read when I got to Korea in March.

Thursday, December 16:  Tonight, we go to downtown Daegu and eat fat juicy hamburgers at Gorilla Burger.  Later that night, Alex, prone as he is to making exaggerated sweeping statements, says, “This is the best December I’ve ever had in my lifetime!”  This is so much in character for him; I remember when he was a little boy  and he’d meet some random kid at a soccer game and he’d say, I just made a new best friend today, Mom!

December 6-10, 2010: During the week, I try to expose Alex to Korea as I know it.  He can’t believe the genius of the DVD bang, a place where you rent a movie with a room, sit on a comfortable reclining leather couch under a fuzzy blanket with a heat lamp warming you up, and watch a movie on a big screen.  A place where you can have a drink, munch on popcorn or ramen noodles.  He loves this place and its proprietor so much, he goes to the DVD bang every day while I’m at work.  I also introduce him to the PC bang, but he becomes really irritated that he can’t play computer games on it because he’s not a Korean citizen.  Apparently you need a Korean ID to be able to log into these communal computer games.

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

lunch time at Chojeon Elementary School

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Alex and two of my students at the lunch table

Monday morning, Alex comes along to Chojeon Elementary School, where the students point at him, touch him, grab him.  Both the teachers and students continually call him “handsome boy.”  Coffee J’s 4th grade class puts on a vaudeville-type show for him, one they had done the previous week for the entire school.  This version is minus the costumes.  Afterwards, we hand out snacks and the students line up to get Alex’s autograph.  For the first time in his life, Alex is unquestionably a star!

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

Alex and me with my 4th grade class at Chojeon

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

My co-teacher Coffee J and his 4th grade students

the girls inspect and preen Alex

the girls inspect and preen Alex

"handsome boy" signs autographs

“handsome boy” signs autographs

my crazy 4th graders

my crazy 4th graders

Alex and one of my students hams it up

Alex and one of my students hams it up

That evening, after making a grocery run at Home Plus, we celebrate Alex’s first day of school at the local Aussie pub, Sydney Street, the only Western bar in the neighborhood.  We share impressions about Korea over beers and he meets a few of my Korean lady friends, 19-year-0ld university student Holly and flight-attendant wanna-be Becky.  Holly adds him the next day on Facebook as a friend.  In my apartment later, we relax and watch episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on the computer he brought from home.

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex has a beer at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex at Sydney Street Pub

Alex and me

Alex and me

Tuesday Alex stays homes and relaxes while I go to work.  In the evening, we go to Anna and Seth’s with Myrna and play a fun game of Ticket to Ride and share pizza & chicken.  Wednesday he also stays home, but after work we have pizza at Dasarang and then play billiards and watch the movie Sliding Door in the apartment.

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

the fabulous Ticket to Ride

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Anna and Seth at their apartment

Myrna and Anna

Myrna and Anna

Alex and me

Alex and me

Alex comes to Byeokjin Elementary with me on Thursday, but he is bored out of his mind because the principal has forbidden him to be in the classroom “because he has no teaching credentials.”  This is crazy as it’s not a requirement to be a certified teacher in one’s home country to be a teacher in Korea (unlike in places like Dubai where this is required).   Hell, I’m not even a certified teacher!  Despite this prohibition by the principal, Kim Dong Hee’s animal-named first graders bring Alex welcome cards they made for him.  My fifth grade class gets to ask him questions for 10 minutes before class begins.  They exclaim that he’s a “handsome boy” and want to know if he has a girlfriend.

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Alex visits Byeokjin Elementary School

Me at Byeokjin

Me at Byeokjin

That night, Kim Dong Hee and Young, two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, come out to a dinner of shrimp pilaf with us at the Warehouse.  After, we make a trip to Home Plus to see if my Vietnam visa is in.  It is.  I get it and we go to the hat department and try on goofy hats like a bunch of clowns.   Young, a brand new and very young teacher, is really cute and often blends in with her 5th grade students at Byeokjin.  Alex thinks she’s the cutest thing ever.  After they leave, Alex and I head to the DVD bang, where we watch Funny People with Adam Sandler.

Alex and me at the Warehouse

Alex and me at the Warehouse

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

my favorite dish of shrimp pilaf

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

Two of my co-teachers from Byeokjin, Kim Dong Hee & Young

A night at E-Mart.  Alex tries on a hat

A night at Home Plus. Alex tries on a hat

E-Mart: I try on a hat

Home Plus: I try on a hat

Kim and her hat

Kim and her hat

Saturday: December 4:  The first weekend he’s here, I expose Alex to public transportation in Korea.  We take a bus to Jinan, which takes about 3 hours.  I don’t think he’s fully gotten over the trip to get here and he gets a little irritable about having to be on the bus for so long.  We end up in the Jinan bus station waiting for a bus to Maisan Provincial Park, but we can’t get any information about when this bus arrives.  People tell us such a variety of things, our heads are spinning.  The Jinan bus terminal is one of Korea’s more grungy terminals.  Old people inundate this corner of the world.

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea's finest .... LOL

the crazy jinan bus terminal ~ one of Korea’s finest …. LOL

When we arrive, a girl in a school uniform immediately accosts us and starts speaking a little English with us.  Once we fall under her “care,” we can’t shake her and as our wait stretches from minutes into hours, she attaches herself to us with a vengeance.  She keeps repeating some kind of English-Korean mixture of words, none of which we can understand, and then she starts jumping at us and poking us in our heads to startle us.  It becomes quickly apparent that she’s a little uh— crazed.

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

crazy girl & alex at the jinan bus terminal

Finally a bus driver speaks some English and informs us that the bus we are waiting for to take us to Maisan doesn’t arrive until 7:00 at night!!  We would have been waiting a long time….Someone tells us we should take a taxi; I have no idea how far it is, but at this point we have no choice.  We take a taxi.  It turns out to be a 2o-minute ride and costs only about 7,000 won.  No big deal.  When we arrive at Mt. Maisan, I see there are no taxis just sitting around waiting to take people back to Jinan, so I ask the driver for his card so I can call him when it’s time for us to leave.  He is a jovial fellow and agrees that all we need to say is “Maisan” and he will come for us.  Later, I am glad to have thought of his ahead of time, or Alex and I would have spent the night in the wilderness!

At Maisan, we stop for bibimbap at one of the many restaurants lining the path to Tap-sa, the temple we have come to see.  Alex has his first taste of true Korean food!  He likes the bibimbap; admittedly this is some of the best bibimbap I’ve even had in Korea.

alex eats his first bibimbap

alex eats his first bibimbap

bibimbap

bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

a typical Korean meal, including bibimbap

After, we walk the long path to Tap-sa and have a fun time exploring this unique and quirky temple.  In 1885, lone Buddhist hermit, 25-year-old Yi Gap Yong, came to Maisan to meditate and “cultivate” himself.  Over the next 30 years, he single-handedly constructed over 120 conical-shaped natural stone pagodas, without using mortar.   Today, 80 of his pagodas still remain standing.  This is a very unusual temple in Korea, an almost lunar-like landscape, thus it draws many tourists.  I came to Maisan before for an EPIK field trip, but didn’t see this temple because of a miscommunication about the time we had to see the sights.  Determined to see this bizarre place, I drag poor Alex along for his first Korean “temple” experience.

alex and his friend

alex and his friend

alex one with Buddha

alex one with Buddha

little buddhas

little buddha-like beings

tap-sa

tap-sa

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

inside tap-sa temple

inside tap-sa temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

alex under the eaves of the temple

We meander back and probe around in the Golden Hall Temple, which I saw last time I was here.  With darkness falling quickly, we call the taxi driver and head back to Jinan.

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

on the way to the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

Alex and Buddha pal around outside the Golden Hall Temple

I have thought of many options because I want to see a particular temple in Jiri-san park, but after talking at great length to Tourist Information, I find any which way we travel to this temple, we will spend 7 hours on multiple buses on Sunday.  As Alex is of no mind to spend so much time on a bus, we decide to go to Jeonju to spend the night.  Though I’ve been to Jeonju twice already, Alex is interested in seeing Hanok Village (which I’ve also been to twice), so we plan to do that on Sunday.

Sunday, December 5:  Sunday morning we head to Hanok Village.

Hanok Village

Hanok Village

At Hanok Village, we walk all around the quaint little town and do a bit of Christmas shopping.  We buy gifts for Alex’s grandmother and aunt, his sister, his brother, and himself.

alex at hanok village in jeonju

alex at hanok village in jeonju

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

a pavilion where Korean music is performed during nice weather, overlooking Hanok Village

We see the Catholic Church, a historic building of some sort, and wander about enjoying the village.

Catholic church in Hanok Village

Catholic church in Hanok Village

We stop to warm up and eat waffles with ice cream at a cute little shop, where we find some interesting signs on the toilets.

Alex in the waffle cafe

Alex in the waffle cafe

waffles with ice cream :-)

waffles with ice cream 🙂

around Hanok Village

around Hanok Village

Alex loves mimicking statues :-)

Alex loves mimicking statues 🙂

We stop at Gyeonggijeon, built to preserve the portrait of King Taejo Yi Seong-gye, founder of the Joseon dynasty.  Gyeonggijeon used to be a gigantic building with numerous other buildings attached, but it lost half its land during the Japanese occupation.  On the grounds of Gyeonggijeon today, there is an art show with some very strange art.

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

a bizarre art show at Gyeonggijeon

Art show

Art show

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

From inside Gyeonggijeon looking out

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

pavilion at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Alex at Gyeonggijeon

Finally, we continue our walk around Hanok Village, enjoying the colorful foliage.

at a little cafe

at a little cafe

Later in the afternoon, we catch the bus back to Daegu and take a walk around Keimyung University, where we can see a great view of west Daegu and my neighborhood near the university.

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

Alex near my neighborhood in Daegu

alex on the campus of keimyung university

alex on the campus of keimyung university

me & the angels of Keimyung University

me & the angels of Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

looking at the west end of Daegu, and my neighborhood, from Keimyung University

We have dinner at Olive del Cucina, watch The Hangover at the DVD bang.  I prepare for a week of work.

Alex at Olive de Cucina

Alex at Olive del Cucina

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

pasta with shrimp cream sauce

 Who is this kid and why is he calling me “Mom?”
alex arrives at incheon airport on the outskirts of seoul

alex arrives at incheon airport on the outskirts of seoul

Thursday, December 2: My 19-year-old son, Alex, flies into Incheon Airport on Thursday, December 2, for the first solo intercontinental trip of his lifetime.   Though he traveled abroad in his “youth” to France, Germany and the Bahamas, he did so under the protective watch of his father and me and was probably too young to remember much of those trips.  I got it in my head that a trip to Korea would be an eye-opening experience, a voyage of emotional and intellectual growth, a way to jolt him out of his comfort zone.  After much haggling and discussion with his father, we agreed he could come to visit for much of the month of December.

Alex is my middle child, but my first son in my second marriage to Mike.  Alex and my youngest son, Adam, who is 18,  live with their dad in northern Virginia.  My daughter Sarah from my first marriage is 26 and lives on her own. Though Alex graduated from high school in June of 2009, he has spent the last year and a half struggling to decide what to do with his life.  He attended Northern Virginia Community College for one semester, picking his classes not because of his own interests but because a close friend signed up for them, Japanese for one.  He hasn’t been able to find a job, which both his dad and I are pressuring him to do. I’m not sure if his inability to land a job is because of a bad job market or not really trying hard enough.  Alex’s greatest dream is to be a musician.  He loves heavy metal.

after a 20 hour flight with no sleep, he has to take a 4 hour bus to daegu.... :-(

after a 20 hour flight with no sleep, he has to take a 4 hour bus to daegu…. 😦

As a mother, my dream for him is that he be a success, that he find happiness.  It’s also more complicated.  I don’t want him to be like me.  I have always been good at many things but never great at any one thing.   This is a good thing in many ways, but a problem in others.  If you have a strong talent or ability in one area, it’s easy to find your direction. For example, my sister has always been very artistic, and so her career path led her in a straightforward way to be a freelance artist and eventually art director at Shape and then Fit Pregnancy Magazine.  She’s very successful.  My youngest son Adam not only has great abilities in math and science, but he also loves those subjects; he will probably be an engineer or a scientist of some kind.  Most of my life, with my multitude of half-ass talents,  I’ve floundered about, trying this and that and never really finding my niche.  I’ve been an English teacher, a newspaper reporter, a banker, a stockbroker, a banker again.  I’ve gotten a Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy and did two internships at the State Department and one at MSI.  In the midst of all this I was a mother and a housewife for 15 years. Now, I’m teaching English in Korea.  It’s not really a career path, it’s a career meander, boomeranging eventually back to where it started from.    Who wants to take a gamble on someone with this kind of resume?

alex on the streets of daegu

alex on the streets of daegu

I don’t want Alex to squander his life.  I don’t want him to repeat my mistakes, my indecisiveness.  So.  It floors me when one of the first nights we share beers together in Daegu, he tells me he thinks he and I are very much alike.  Though it’s nice he thinks that way, I cringe inside.  Because I don’t want him to be like me.  I want him to be clear in his direction; I want him to find a passion and stick to it.  I want him to be a success, to make decent money, to find a girl he loves.  But mostly I want him to be happy and self-sufficient, self-confident and assertive.  I want more than anything for him to be the opposite of me.

Alex ventures to Korealand

This trip to Korea germinates,  blooms and becomes reality.  There are some moments of extreme anxiety on my part when, the day after he buys his ticket to come here, North Korea attacks an island in South Korea. The hullaballoo thankfully dies down and Alex arrives at Incheon in his brown plaid shirt, scraggly half-bearded face, and curly unkempt hair stuffed under a knit cap.  It’s been nearly 10 months since I’ve seen him and at 6 feet tall, he dwarfs me when I hug him.  We take the four-hour bus directly from Incheon to Dongdaegu; he’s not one bit happy to have to take a four-hour bus trip after 20 hours of flying, during which he didn’t sleep one wink.  I get him settled into my little Korean “room” (not quite an apartment).  The next morning I go to work and leave him to sleep the day away.

socks for sale in Daegu

socks for sale in Daegu

His first Friday night I take him to my neighborhood Dasarang for chicken and beer.  He’s not old enough to drink legally in the U.S., but here it doesn’t seem to matter.  I don’t even know what the drinking age is, but no one asks him his age or questions him in any way.  I’m fine with drinking a few beers with him.

chicken korean style

chicken korean style

We have a lot of great conversations, opening up freely under the effects of the alcohol… 🙂  He tells me he is still in love with his old girlfriend Sarah.  He can only think about her, wants to marry her, even dreams about her.  He is a sweet boyfriend; I’ve seen him before with both of his long-time girlfriends, Lindsey and Sarah.  Even if he is lost career- or direction-wise, I know I have raised him to treat his girlfriends well.  He is a boy with a sweet and sensitive heart.

chicken, chicken and more chicken

chicken, chicken and more chicken

being a mom again :-)

being a mom again 🙂

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, October 31:   My friend Jarrod comes to visit, searching for a change of scenery, a new place to explore.  Though he’s been to Daegu probably too many times to count, he says he’s never been to my part of town near Keimyung University.  He’s a 32-year-old Australian I met at the EPIK orientation, a very laid back and cool drummer who has found his groove in Korea.  I liked him from the first moment I chatted with him at breakfast at Jeonju University on the cold & dark February when we arrived.  He comes to my Daegu neighborhood solely as a friend, which I need sorely in Korea.  I have no thoughts of anything romantic with him because of our huge age difference.  But, I’m very happy he is taking time out of his busy schedule to come and visit me.

angels on the campus of keimyung university where we walk

angels on the campus of keimyung university where we walk

He arrives around noon on Halloween.  I have been searching frantically in the dark recesses of my brain for something interesting to show him in west Daegu.  I have only come up with a few lame options.  The first is a walk around Keimyung University.  The leaves are colored like pomegranates and summer squash and the air feels like a sliver carved from a pumpkin, cool and sharp.  We walk around the university, up and down hills, panting a little at the effort.  He tells me how he was seeing a girl named Virginia, how they went to Japan and it was difficult because one of them couldn’t access money so they stayed together a too much; Virginia said things were starting to feel too “couple-y” and then said she needed a break from him.  He is a little sad about it, maybe even more than a little.  He felt comfortable with her and truly enjoyed her company.

After our walk we eat lunch at Vince Burger, which has the best chili-cheese fries ever!  We drink several 1,000 won beers… How can we resist at such a price?  Jarrod talks about how he hangs out with the EPIK teachers but he feels he doesn’t really relate to them as most are in their 20s.  I tell him my difficulties with being older than other teachers, how I don’t relate to them, and they seem to form their own little cliques and I’m on the outside.  This really seems to be the story of my life.  I’m always doing things in my life at the wrong times: having babies in my late 20s and late 30s, getting my Master’s degree much too late in life for it to benefit me in the job market, teaching English with a bunch of 20-somethings in Korea, interning at the State Department and MSI, when most people my age are in mid-level or senior positions in their jobs.  This is my life, and this is what I’ve made of it.  I don’t know how my time sequence has unfolded in such a confusing manner.

Jarrod and I talk and talk. He likes Korea and is working to save up for an extensive, maybe year-long, trip around Europe.  He’s saved $10,000 already.  I say I’m traveling as much as I can now; I never know how my health will hold up and it’s already late in life for me.  So, instead of saving, I spend now, immediate gratification through travel.

He has been studying Korean, something I’ve never made any effort at since I’ve been here.  He has a number of close Korean friends.  He thinks Korean girls are too whiny and prissy, little princesses, and says he can’t see realistically having one as a girlfriend.  He lives in a small Korean town and he actually likes it.  He plans to re-sign here for another year.

After lingering over lunch and our beers, we play billiards at a billiard bang; I tell him I’m terrible and that truth plays out.  The only time I win is when he accidentally hits in the eight ball too early.  We drink beer the whole time; I feel like we are a spectacle in the midst of these young Koreans, the young hearty bearded Australian and the white-haired woman almost old enough to be his mother.

We go back to my apartment and we show each other YouTube videos; I introduce him to Turkish bands I like and he shows me the kind of music he likes, none of which I now remember.  I show him the “I’m on a Boat” rap song, “Jizz in my Pants,” and the “What is Love?” video done by the Oakton Otters swim team coaches, just so he can see the neighborhood where I live.

We eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant near my apartment, very mediocre.  We have been drinking beer all day and I’m really tired; I could use a nap.  Jarrod talks about his parents, who are divorced, and the difficult relationships he has with his family.  His father asked him once if he is gay, because he doesn’t seem to have many girlfriends, and he told his father, What if I am gay?  What difference would it make?  He wishes his parents would just accept him as he is.  We talk a lot about dysfunctionalities in families.  Later we go to Sydney Street Cafe.  I think he might like it because the owner, Mark, is Australian.  When we go we happen to meet one of Mark’s friends, also Australian, who is just visiting Korea.   Jarrod and I talk to them, and to each other.  At one point, I ask Jarrod if he needs or wants to get going as he had signed up online to attend a Halloween party in Daegu and I figure he will want to get going to that.  He said he really doesn’t care about going.  Later he tells me that if he were in Australia, he would probably never talk to those two guys.  The one was too much into “footie” and Mark hails from an area that doesn’t really mix with Melbournites.

heart-shaped leaves at Daegu Confucian Academny

heart-shaped leaves at Daegu Confucian Academny

Ben and Lilly come in to Sydney Street all decked out in skimpy Halloween costumes; Lilly is a bikini-bottom clad Superwoman.  Ben is the Owen Wilson Hansel character from Zoolander.  I’ve never seen Zoolander before, so when Jarrod wants to leave Sydney Street, we decide to watch a movie at a DVD bang.  We happen to find Zoolander, which we watch but I don’t particularly like.

After the movie, we go back to my apartment where I invite Jarrod to sleep on my mat on the floor of my apartment.  I have to put on my pajamas because I cannot sleep in my clothes.  Jarrod has on layers and layers of clothes and says he will sleep in them.  He lies on the floor and me in my bed and we talk & talk until an ungodly hour, chattering away like two girls at a slumber party.

Never has Jarrod shown any attraction for me.  I feel like he’s a good friend, easy and fun to hang out with.  In the morning I offer to make him some scrambled eggs; he turns me down so I make some for myself and he drinks coffee and we chat at my small kitchen table.  He lingers quite a while, until about 12:30, at which time he says he should go.  As we stand to say goodbye, he looks me directly in the eyes and then we hug each other.  I wonder if it’s a sympathy hug.  Maybe he feels sorry for me that I’m here in Korea at such a late stage in my life, friendless and utterly alone.  He leaves and I know in my heart he will not be hanging out with me again.  I think it is awkward for him, hanging out with someone so much older.  If I were a man, it wouldn’t be a problem, I’m sure, because we have such a nice rapport.  But since I’m a woman, it must be uncomfortable.

love the clouds

love the clouds

After he leaves, I go alone to Kyobo Books in downtown Daegu.  This bookstore has a small English selection, but I decide the prices are just too high.  I then visit Daegu Hyanggyo, or Daegu Confucian Academy.  This was established as a local educational institution for Confucian scholars in the 7th year (1398) of King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty. I take some pictures and then head home on metro.  I go that evening to Bible study at Anna and Seth’s, where we also play a fun game of Bullshit!  and eat pizza.

Daegu Confucian Academy

Daegu Confucian Academy

I feel particularly sad tonight because I truly enjoyed Jarrod’s company, but seriously doubt we will ever hang out together again.  Sad. 😦

possibly the founder of the Confucian Academy??

possibly the founder of the Confucian Academy??

another building in the Confucian Academy

another building in the Confucian Academy

Confucian scholarship

Confucian scholarship

%d bloggers like this: