Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Like the rare opportunity to purchase the leg-bone of a chicken for only a dollar.
Only a dollar.
Do you know what Kentucky Fried Chicken offers you? For $1.49 per leg you get the bones and to eat all that delicious lard-soaked chicken!
Do you know what the store offers you?
Well, me either, but it has to be even cheaper than KFC. So basically, unless you need that 3rd rate Hollywood African Costume Necklace now, why the heck would you purchase a dried chickenbone.
Meh... I'm gonna go to Popeyes!
Monday, January 30, 2006
This here woman was Miss Saigon (2005? 2006? Can't remember) and was pretty luminous.
There was also a Miss Hanoi running around and I wondered if that was just a different beauty contest for Northerners, or if it had something to do with the (still) ongoing hassles between the two Vietnamese 'sides' of the Vietnam War? I am far too wise to ask that question in a venue such as I was in. ;-)
And the Dragons were pretty spectacular:
the whole thing was sponsored by NBC Channel 11 and they had a nice music float with a very rhythmic dude pumping away (which sounds like a blurb for a gay porno):
finally, I found it funny that the whole thing was about "traditional" Vietnamese culture (it was interesting to see the old soldiers too shrunken to fit their old wartime uniforms) and yet I could turn almost anywhere and take a shot of:
If they aren't careful they are going to turn Korean! (With that said, the woman in this picture really looked Indian to me and I wondered if she had wandered in from some other parade).
But it is established that I am a bad man.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Unless you're as stuborn as a horse (Zoot alors!)
Who won't escape even when he is able
Because he can't leave the dung heap in the stable
Because we all have a stallion for dallying
and another stud in the stall
There's one time made for dilly-dallying
And another for being pumped against the wall
And if the straw is rearranged
for whores and horses not yet estranged?
When the straw is fresh and roof is solid?
There's nothing wrong with being stolid.
We all live in different barns
Different ranchers run our abbatoirs
And if we're afraid of change or harm
Perhaps we should stay on the farm.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Now you know how to be dumb
Are you ready to take your place in the modern museum of mistakes?
They are everywhere. Mostly on the freeways and in stores.
They are the idiots who drive for 35 miles on a freeway in which the right lane *always* leads to the exit and then, suddenly, are amazed when, with 100 yards to go to an exit, they are in an exit lane. So they slice back out onto the highway.
Or worse... because they can't plan to live, they do something like back up back onto the freeway.
You might also know them as the people who slice across three lanes of traffic to make that left turn they just thought about. It never occurs to them that they could keep going and then turn around.....
At the shopping center or cafeteria? They are primarily women. A load of clothes, or a tray of food and they get to the cashier and it seems to be entirely new to them that they are expected to pay. No wallet out. Probably pull out a check book. Probably don't have a pen. Probably don't understand what the numbers on the register mean. Have you idiots ever paid for anything in your life? You must have, you're too effing stupid for anyone else to want to pay for your shit. Oh yeah.... then make sure you grab the receipt and stand in line checking to make sure that you weren't overcharged 35 cents.
The rest of us will wait.
And if, god forbid, you were dumb enough to misunderstand what something cost? Make sure to demand a price check. And don't have enough money. And have the poor cashier remove one item at a time until the money you made recycling aluminum can pay for the beers and corn chips you have left to purchase.
A special subset of this group of idiots is the one who does everything I've mentioned above and then tries to pay with exact change. Pulls each tangeld one dollar bill out like it is the last one they will ever see; puts it on the counter and then returns to their pocket, past the gerbil and the food stolen from yesterday's cafeteria, and retrieves a handful of coins that would frighten a leper. Then counts them out, one by one.
Learn basic math, you idiots.
Better yet? The things you do all the time? Figure out what they are and how to navigate them. This can't be the first time you've ever been in a store. This can't be the first time you've ever driven on the freeway. So why is it such a fresh (and potentially dangerous) experience each time?
Oh yeah. Also? Stay out of my way you idiots. I've gone to the trouble of figuring out how things work. You morons who are always surprised should be neutered, lobotomized, and then killed.
In that order.
So you feel it all.
Scratch your own head stupid
Count up to three
Roll over on your back
Repeat after me
Friday, January 20, 2006
so as to not do any work myself, or any writing myself, I waste time cruising the intarwebs. As I get older visits to porno sites become increasingly goal-oriented: I am aware that I am not going to see anything new and vaguely alarmed at the idea of what I might see if I did see something new. I am, so to speak, in and out.
This leads me to blogs. I cruise around a lot. And I find people I really hate. Like this POS:
Kung Fu Monkey
Goes away for two days and then posts a big old ostentatious apology!
How does he(?) think that makes the rest of us feel?
Thursday, January 19, 2006
put in a song or artist you like and listen to songs you might have an affinity for. I used the New York Dolls and was relieved when the first band that played was the Jam and then the Ramones. But since then Pandora has played some pretty nice surprises...
Gun & Doll Club
Soft Boys (I Wanna Destroy You!)
I sense a trip to Limewire... er, I mean the CD store!
Just so happened he was blotto each time. From this I formulated the notion that if you are guilty of a big crime, you'd better not be seen guilty of any small ones. The small crime is kind of like the key to the lock.. once the lock is open the door is worthless...
Today my boy Leif Garrett proves my wisdom again. He got caught for NOT HAVING A SUBWAY TICKET at the same time he was carrying narcotics.
Good god. How stupid could you be?
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
1) Go with friends of longstanding or go by yourself.
2) Drink *less* than you do at home
3) Try every food they offer you (Unless you're some kind of mentally crippled up Vegan). On the last vacation I had "live" octopus tentacles, coagulated pig's blood, and most of the lower intestine of a lamb. So maybe you might disregard this "rule." ;-)
4) Understand you might get sick now and then
5) Don't go for fewer than 10 days
6) Meet a local if you can
7) Drinking establishments are great places to meet people (subject to rule #2)
8) Bring a camera
9) If it's foreign, know at least 10 words of the language unless it's France in which case they will hate you no matter how good your language is.
10) Vacation far away, or it's just a 'trip.'
11) Learn about your vacation site before you go.
As as semi-academic I also try to take pictures and write about every vacation just because it allows me to get perspective on the vacation as it is going on.
Hwang Woo-suk, a science superstar disgraced when his pioneering stem cell research was unmasked as a fraud, has a new job offer from a UFO cult that says it has produced six human clones.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Hitchen's skills at imbibing are so well known that those who dislike him (other than I) frequently run around calling him a drunk. Here is Alexander Cockburn (quite a piece in and of himself) pointing the finger.
So how can the Vanity Fair use this caricature? (Unless the rest of the table is ceding the entire remainder of the bottle to Hitchens)
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
First is illness. I have missed two days at work and the POSSLQ came home from work today because she is also ill. There has never been a flu in the states which has had this kind of cumulative impact on the homestead. If you are a germ? Cultural homogeneity rocks!
Second is I learnt what the "Happy Beer Pia" was. As I sat in the wanna-be English Pub near the Hoeggi Station in Seoul I often gazed wistfully out the window and saw a pretty average animated figure with the motto "Happy Beer Pia" and I could never figure out what it meant. Today, listening to the truly excellent podcast from the "Ruminations in Korea" web page and he's discussing the truly odd things that happen when Koreans try to make phrases out of English words. Between amputation of word bits and Korean pronunciation of English, bizarre outcomes arise. And 'Pia" is one of them. It is intended to mean "Utopia."
Armend with this knowledge I would happily return to Seoul and visit the place. But on my last, stomach-wrenching, trip to the wanna-be western bar ("Quesadilla" pronounced with two "l's" and full of bizarre Korean hot stuff) I noted that the pia had gone out of business.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
At an arts festival in the Colombian town of Cali, Pinoncelli lopped off his little finger. The action was a show of solidarity with the kidnapped Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Pinoncelli then wielded his damaged hand like a paint brush splattering blood across a poster with the letters FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who kidnapped Betancourt - an outspoken critic of the group).
Pinoncelli told the press that "The idea was to share in Colombia's violence. Ingrid Betancourt symbolises the courage of all those fighting against corruption, and that is why I am rendering her homage".
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Coming from Seoul to Cali is going the "wrong way" in terms of jet lag and I am desparately trying to stay awake for the next two hours so that I can start getting back to PST. Too tired to make sense, which might be better. Drove (that is as the driver) in my LesSUV when I got back and after 18 days that was a bit weird to do.
When I was gone a fence blew down and some things got kicked around in the backyard. The house also looks uselessly large and the carpets appear odd. I will certainly miss ondol.
For now, off to unpack and try to stay awake...
And read things...
I discover here that there is a word for the uber-cutie cartoon characters the Koreans use. Well, there is such a word in Japanese and it is "kawaii". When I get the discussion site going that Ed and I are discussing I might post at greater length about this. I took some pictures of this without knowing what it was, but it did strike me that images of policemen, construction workers, guys running from avalanches who all had multiple registration points in their eyes all include some of the other characteristics that are apparently genetically pointed to...
Scientists who study the evolution of visual signaling have identified a wide and still expanding assortment of features and behaviors that make something look cute: bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a pair of big round ears, floppy limbs and a side-to-side, teeter-totter gait, among many others.
From da site above..
Yeesh, my head is ringing with thoughts but I can't keep it off my chest....
Friday, January 06, 2006
Snow kept us from crossing the island to some tourist spot or the other and our guide was thrown back on lesser thrills.
GREAT GOD WOOGA BEMUSED BY SNOW
We stopped at a dead volcano - more or less a depression with an attitude and at the Korean Airlines museum. The latter featured hundreds of illy behaved Korean children (there's a book to be written on that topic) and a ridiculous movie.
Then off to a little town called Sung-eup which is supported by the Korean Government to keep an example of the old ways alive. Here is some representative architecture:
EUP, THAT'S MY TOWN
I picture Petey the pig (below) because on the edge of his pen was a slit toilet (I was too cold, sick, or perhaps stupid to take a shot of that). In the "old days" the residents would defecate into the pen to feed the pig. The guide claims these days are over, and I wouldn't be surprised, since human waste might well be barbequable or fermentable. You know what that means!
PETEY (COMING SOON!)
On the way out we had to undergo the usual pitch for the local product. Since it was negative eight-billion degrees outside and the hut was heated, this wasn't all bad. In this case the products were horse-bone extract and a "medicinal" tea In Korea any completely useless thing that can be extracted from an animal, vegetable or mineral will be branded "medicinal" and Ed's dad will purchase it at insane prices.
Finally we stopped at an arboretum and it would have required an imagination more fertile than mine to understand why we would be interested in a bunch of denuded tropical trees shivering bare-branched in the snow.
On the plane on the way back my cold was mysteriously joined by my old friend el grippe. Also on the plane I read the inflight magazine which included an article by my old friend Mike Breen who, in allegedly writing about new year's day sunrise worship, managed to insult Korean sculpture, wax rhapsodic about the sun rising first over Japan, bring up humiliating bits of imperial history that had no relevance to the story and..... and..... well... and get paid for it.
Perhaps my approach is wrong?
Anyway, I foolishly decided to try to bury my stomach issues in a chicken quesadilla and 2.5 beers. Bad move.
POINTLESS PERSONAL NOTE
I don't really throw up. I hate throwing up. The last time I can recall throwing up was on my 30th birthday and I honestly earned that one. But adding the Korean Mexican food to my existing unease resulted in an epic bout of puking.
The Koreans (no parents any longer) cheered this outcome. Really, they cheered and said the felt better for me. This must be some expression of sympathy from the collective mind? As soon as I could reasonably sit upright they offered me another glass of beer.
I am wise to their plan to kill me, and I declined.
Spent the evening rolling around in moderate discomfort and heading to the bathroom every hour or so.
It occurs to me that I have spent at least six of my eighteen days in Korea ill, and two days more or less incapacitated. This is a worse record than I maintained back in my drug abuse days and I should probably rethink my next vacation plan.
Crackhouses don't charge much for occupancy, do they?
The morning started well as I got to a PC Bang for the first time and Yvonne and I walked out to McDonald's for a healthy breakfast of delicious hamburgers American style which took about 20 minutes to emerge from the back of the Mickey-Ds. Still, beat the hell out of the breakfast we would have had with the Collective who chose to have Heh Jan Kook (or whatever the blood-clot and extruded intestine soup is).
I really don't understand the Koreans. One one side they are compulsive about some kinds of cleanliness. They won't wear shoes inside and don't want luggage on any surfaces (besides those floors they are so obsessive about) that they might sit on (yeah, it's a POSSLQ story). They claim that they used metal chopsticks because it is more sanitary and can detect (by coloration change) poison in food. On the other hand they will eat something that looks like a freshly carved out dog's anus. Still throbbing on the plate and twitching when you poke it with a chopstick (and, no, I have no idea what it actually was, probably not dog anus, but it certainly was on my plate three days ago ..... and it was throbbing). And they'll like it even better if it is served on a stick from a grubby sidewalk booth by an old crone who looks like a medical textbook photograph showing every kind of vitamin deficiency and opportunistic disease known to man.
I guess it's just one of those 'contradictions' that old Korean hands love to prattle on about.
Anyway, the entire island was coated with volcanic rocks when the Koreans got there and they dealt with this by using the rocks as fencing. This not only cleared the land, but it also slowed down the sometimes ferocious winds that hit young crops. The fences are put together almost entirely without any kind of cement, which is pretty impressive:
SOME OF THEM WALLS WITH BURIAL MOUND RAMPANT
Jeju Convention Center was cool and while I'd love to go to a convention there, I'm not sure it is different enough from any other grand convention center to go into detail.
We also visited a National Park where the lava once hit the water and where women currently sell oranges. Some nice hexagonal (?) basalt formations where the lava had once hit the water. And now the water slowly gets its own back in a very lovely dance of water against stone. Jeju is the greenhouse of Korea... actually tropical, and one of the things that grows in profusion there are oranges of several kinds. Jeju tries to be a high-end vegetable shop, however (since they really can't compete against international price) and they only box their finest fruits. The rest are either destroyed or sent off to be used in perfumes and the like. Well, theoretically. Some enterprising old ladies snake some of these fruits between culling and destruction. Our tour guide gave a big lecture about how we shouldn't encourage this activity by purchasing anything. The Korean parents, thrifty to a fault, immediately purchased a crate of oranges which we ate for the next day and a half.
We also went to the Biggest Temple Yakchunsah in South East Asia where no one was and the nice woman said I could take one picture. It turns out the timing was good. I was with native Koreans and there were no Japanese in the temple (Ed says the prohibitions in temples are primarily aimed at the Japanese). I took three, so I put a couple thousand Won into their donation box for hungry children.
Just as we left, hundreds of screaming school children landed at the temple so we got out just in time.
One 'feature' of the tours that is funny but sometimes boring is that the tour guides clearly get kickbacks for steering tourists to certain locations. Our next stop was one of these places
A mandarin orange, rock, and mushroom farm which was really more or less of a sales pitch for their mushroom based "medicinal" tea. I had some of it in tea, some as a honey drink, some dry, and some in Soju. If this cold I have doesn't go away I'll be very dissapointed. The mushroom farm is a series of branch stumps suspended in temperature and humidity controlled rooms and looks like this:
On the way out we were offered the chance to pick and eat some of their oranges. POSSLQ heard "pick" but not "eat" and started into the trees like Paul Bunyan intent on whacking down an entire forest. When Ed reminded her she had to eat what she had clipped, she was downcast. I type this in the tour bus and Yvonne has not yet come back. So maybe she is giving it the old family try.
As it turns out? She only ate three.
Probably not wise since lunch was up next.
Probably quite wise because lunch was up next. While I have really come to enjoy kimchi and a wide variety of tubers, bbqd meat, and noodles, there are still some things on the Korean menu that I would never order on my own. They call that list of inedible things "a normal lunch" in Korea.
We also went to a pretty cool park of lava caves, tropical plants, bonsai, and cool rock formations/art.
BANSAI AND ROCK, CLEVERLY COMBINED
We saw many other wondrous things on this day, but I was slumped in the back of the bus wishing (probably along with most of the other occupants) that I were dead. I was in the full grip of the ague and it was probably only Jae's insistent, staccato and quite loud coughing that kept me on this particular side of the Styx.
Night featured us waiting in our condo "room" while the Koreans all went off and pondered the marriage thing. FInally, when they thought they had enough we went out to celebrate the agreements (still mysterious to POSSLQ and I) that had been reached. The restaurant at the condo was full of drunken Koreans on vacation who seemed to be having quite a great deal of fun. Yvonne and I stared wistfully.
When the drunk partying Koreans went outside to set off fireworks we surrendered completely and ran out to watch them. Eventually the hotel/restaraunt worker noted how rapt we were and pulled out the box of fireworks which they had offered to the partiers. Man, nice move Korean condo company! We went out and set off a few, danced a bit, and then learned we had to move to yet another drinking establishment for another "wedding meeting."
I'm skipping over all that wedding stuff as I will post it at the end - it has its own life.
Anyway, we set off fireworks while Ed conscienciously put out the small grass fires we started.
Here is a photo I snapped of the one pure moment of mindless fun we had on Jeju:
And, for the bird watchers, my last bird photo:
LAND BOUND BIRD (FROM THE BONSAI/ROCK/PLANT FARM)
As I blog this stuff I am on my last day in Korea and will say that even with the bitter cold, bitter food, and bitter me? I'll miss it and I'm glad I'll be coming back in May to the wedding.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Jeju is a tropical (though it snowed while we were there) resort island off the bottom of Korea which is jam-packed with things to see and although I normally despise the tour bus approach to a vacation, the 2.5 day tour we took was quite useful.
This was also the day I really entered the BORG collective as we arrived at Jeju with Ed's three parents (which should be the name of a Korean sit-com) and Jae's more traditional two. All nine of us and our luggage piled into a small van, with the luggage taking the front seat and the rest of us being shoe-horned into the remaining bench style seats in the back. Again, a decision was made to keep the luggage with us and head out on "activities."
The activities included visiting the end of Jeju which has been turned into a massive tourist attraction because a Korean soap opera called "All In" was shot there and in typical Korean style this economic success brings the folks out, not the beauty of the place.
A MEMORIAL TO A TELEVISION SET
This also included (by ferry) a small island off of Jeju. Very pretty and on the ferry back I took my quite predictable pictures of seagulls. In fact, here are two pictures of birds from that day, and another one from the next day (just to get any birdwatchers all het up):
BIRD FROM THE FERRY
BIRD ON THE BEACH
SOME HIDING BIRD
And for another mystery friend - The International Sign for Pizza Ahead (Kimchee Style!):
The rooms weren't quite what we expected. Instead of a three-bedroom condo style arrangement we had a room with a loft (loft did not have ondol flooring) for 4 people. Fortunately I looked for the little man behind the curtain and discovered a small kitchen that served as POSSLQ and my bedroom.
And, as noted above, we were now in the collective. The responsibility Koreans feel for their friends is fearsome and cannot be avoided. The fact that I needed new shoes was a constant source of conversation and suggestion. When my shoes came untied on one of our walks I was physically restrained until I re-tied them. Any food good enough for one person in the group is good enough for them to force on everyone else. Quite weird. On the plus side, the fact that I pretty much took every bit of food and drink offered to me worked as a big plus - I was doing what they wanted.
This group-focus is weird to me and I really never got used to it.
And I asked another one of those bean-pancake questions. Korean BBQ features big old leaves of lettuce with which you make something like a burritto - a bit of meet, some sauce, maybe a piece of garlic and some of that bowl of stuff that you don't know WTF it is. Then you stuff the whole thing in your mouth and eat it all at once.
I innocently asked why we didn't ever put our fried fish into a similar package. Ed cocked his head sideways as he does when I ask something for which there is no answer. I asked again and pointed out all other cooked meat is treated this way.
Same old answer, "it just isn't done that way."
In retrospect I'm thinking the difference may be that all the other meat is cooked at the table while the fish is fried in the kitchen?
Maybe? I dunno, but don't do it!
But the entire Korean herd landed outside the motel door after that and we were off to sightsee. The first stop was the memorial for the dead of the Kwangju Uprising on May 18th of 1980. This was one of the signature moments in modern Korean history and it gives a good idea of what kinds of political forces contend there.
The Uprising was a violent manifestation of the civilian discontent with the military junta which had siezed control of Korea in a coup. Kwangju is in the middle of the Cholla province which already had a reputation in Korea for being hard-headed and rebellious. The Cholla province, for instance, was most effective and consistent at raising so called "holy armies" against Japanese invasions. The rebellion began when the military government declared martial law in an attempt to squash growing complaints and calls for democratization of the political process.
Major General Chun Doo-hwan sent paratroopers to all major Korean cities in an attempt to intimidate oppnnents of the government. In Kwangju this mobilization was called "Operation Brilliant Leave" and it involved troops from the 3rd, 7th, and 11th (all prime numbers?) Airborne.
In Kwangju the anti-government protests were initially composed of students and professors. At 10 o'clock on the morning of May 18th, protesters, reacting to the closure of their schools, demonstrated in front of the Chonnam Mantion University front gate. The troops responded violently, beating protesters and chasing them away. The students reformed their ranks and marched towards downtown Kwangju. Paratroopers again responded with violence, beating and arresting students. This tactic backfired as it began to alienate non-student sections of Kwangju and citizens began to swell the student's ranks.
By May 20th high-school students and taxi-drivers had also joined the demonstrations and taxi-drivers "marched" en masse in their taxis in support of the uprising. That same day protesters burned the studio of the Munwha broadcasting Company which was sending out highly-distorted pro-government accounts of the uprising. The Memorial has a riveting video covering much of this ground, and what is most disturbing (although predictable) is how the press and government covered the uprising up in a thick layer of lies. One of the "highlights" of this video is footage of quite messy and dead Korean citizens on the ground under a voice-over assuring the rest of the country that no citizens had been harmed in Kwangju.
GRAVES OF UNHARMED CIVILIANS
On May 21st the paratroopers more or less snapped and began to fire randomly into the crowd of citizens which had gathered to demand and apology for previous brutal treatment. According to Ed, to this day no one knows who started firing or if anyone gave such an order. As a result of this the army retreated from Kwangju and the locals formed a defensive militia called the Citizens Army. The army, by this point, had Kwangju completely surrounded and cut off from the rest of Korea. Kwangju citizens tried to organize to find a peaceful end to the uprising, but it was not to happen.
During the peaceful 7 days during which the army waited on Kwangju's outskirts, the town was completely unified as people pooled food, ran blood drives, collected weapons for self-defense and otherwise acted like stinking commies!
STATUE MEMORIALIZING THE CITIZENS
On May 27th this came to an end as the army, using tanks and helicopters, forced its way into the city's center and, in a last bit of violence, quashed the rebellion. The army brought, in garbage trucks, the civilian corpses to the Mangwol-dong cemetary and buried them (anonymously?)
For almost 20 years this remained the case, and the government continued to lie the revolt had been planned, organized and run by North Korean provocateurs. Near the anniversary of these events, the army continued to surround the graveyard so that mourners could not gather. In 1997 this all changed and the memorial was built.
The role of the US in this massacre has always been a matter of contention. As the head of US troops in South Korea is also the military leader of all Korean troops by treaty, many Koreans assume that these operations were carried out with the knowledge and approval of the US. Koreans, with a history of imperial domination to look back on, seldom attribute any good will towards their "benefactors."
US Army documents seem to indicate that the US was not aware of the particulars of the operation at the outset, but that the US did not use its powers of control to halt operations either. The US took a hands-off approach and the closest historical comparison I can come up with is when Israeli troops pulled back in Sabra and Shatila to allow Maronite Christians to slaughter Palestinian refugees. Not good no matter how you look at it.
BIGGER DOG TEMPLE
After visiting the depressing memorial we raced of to "The Big Temple in the Hills" which was.. well.. big. We didn't stay long because Jae's dad rushed us in, took one group picture, and barked, "let's go home!" Not much else to say about that except that here are pics:
SOME KIND OF BUILDING
SOME OTHER KINDS OF BUILDINGS WITH WHITE CRANE MOUNTAIN BEHIND
THE CURE AND THE DISEASE
One theme running through this trip has been illness. I have intestinal trouble twice and a cold once. Eddie has had the intestinal thing. POSSLQ has had the same things I have and Jae has been hideously ill with the flu. For these various ailments the native Koreans (primarily Ed and Jae's parents) carry with them bags and bags of what they call "medicine." Actually, they call in hanyak and I'm afraid to ask what the literal meaning of that word it. I suspect hanyak is actually the ground-up and water-based remainder of things that even Koreans won't eat (The notion of something Koreans won't eat just came to me and its a frightening one, since they will eat pretty much anything). Koreans are either the heathiest people in the world or the sickest. Koreans have so many medicines for everything and take them all the time, so you could argue that without their medicines they would certainly immediately expire as a race. On the other hand, the closest western counterpart to Korean medicine is called "poison" and the fact that Koreans routinely survive dosing themselves with this wretched shit might mean that they are the toughest sons of bitches in the world.
I'll I can say is it seems to be killing me.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
"ARE YOU HUNGRY?"
We got to Gwanju where I was introduced to another bizarre Korean thing. We're all carrying our luggage and some of us haven't showered, but there is no going to the hotel because ..... well, there is no because..... we just can't do it because it would make sense to drop off our luggage and freshen up. Instead we are immediately plunged into the only thing that is important to a Korean family, a 24 hour marathon of either eating or deciding when and where our next meal will be. I have no idea how Koreans have ever produced so much as one car or glitzy miniaturized cell-phone accessory because they certainly don't have time for it.
Each meal is an epic procedure (I have learned to ask if food we are eating is "appetizers" or "main course" as it is always possible, at any given point in a meal, that no matter how much you have eaten, the "real" meal has not yet begun. This is problematic when you get full and realize that everyone is staring at you when the fish-head soaked in rotted bean munge arrives) with multiple dishes, plenty of drinking, and time being no object.
POSSLQ LOOKING SCEPTICAL
As soon as that meal is concluded, it is on to the next one, or to begin planning it.
Somewhere in the course of this planning we eventually did get to our hotel and when we did it was a Love Motel (a place Koreans go to rip a quick one off). You can usually tell a Love Motel because it has a driveway (and parking stalls) that are obscured by the kind of strips you normally see dragging over your car at the car wash.
Korean motels have an ingenious system in which you enter the room and insert your key into a slot by the door. This signals the room that you are back and the room responds by reverting to whatever state you left it. If you left lights on the go back on, if you left the TV on it goes back on, the heating system turns back to where you had it.
In our case, Jae's dad, Jae's brother, Jae, Ed, POSSLQ and I all watched as the (all red) lights came on, the TV snapped on, and the porno movie unexpectedly started playing - a slender Korean woman on top of a slender Korean man simulating sex with such ferocity that her breasts threatened to tear off. We all stared for about one second and made a concerted rush towards the TV to turn the thing off. If that's what their porno looks like there is no question why the Korean reproductive rate is down.
Korean porno is a bit hobbled by the fact that it not only can't show sex, but it can't show any naughty bits or pubic hair either. This leads to bizarre scenarios like a woman in panties pouring beer all over herself, stroking her breasts, masturbating with panties on, and then frantically humping the edge of a breakfast table (this is also weird given the Korean mania about cleanliness - you'd think a table would be forbidden). Flipping through the channels I was struck by the similarities between Korean porn and Korean wrassling - two semi-attractive people in shorts rolling around and pummeling each other until suddenly, and usually inexplicably, it is over.
Actually, re-reading that? I'm ashamed to admit it sounds like my sex life as well. ;-)
Anyway, we had to go out to eat lunch, we had to go out to eat dinner, and we had to come back for drinks.
It was New Year's Eve and we had to go out and drink about the whole thing with the entire South Korean Horde, which had descended upon Jae's parent's house while we had drinks and Anju there. We got loaded, sang karaoke, and were back in our hotel before midnight. POSSLQ and I had time to open a Coke and a Beer, toast the New Year, and fall asleep in our dimly-lit red room.
TEMPUS FUGITS LIKE a MOFO
The New Year also highlighted something else that has happened since I arrived here. I have begun to age at supersonic speeds. I left California on a Monday morning and arrived in Korea, 13 hours later, on the same Monday morning. Somehow this tore the time-space continuum as the sprightly 46 year old (me) who left Cali was now 47. Koreans count you as one-year old at birth, so I had "gained" one. As if this isn't tragic enough, when the new year comes *everyone* moves into their next year in perfect Korean lockstep style. So, presto-chango-derango, I am now 48. I have aged two years in less that 13 days and have high hopes of expiring of old age before I return to California.
A taxi over to the new hotel, a very traditional Korean one. A room with just a bed and TV, the ubiquitous shoe-depository room at the front, and a bathroom with shower built in. Then across the street to Bulguksa Temple. We grab a map and decide that we actually need to catch a bus which goes 8.1 kilometers up the street to Seokgulam Grotto which contains a massive stone Buddha looking east to the sea from the cave it sits in. The busses stop running at 5 or so and it seems like a better plan to get that bit done while we can and then come back down to see Bulguksa Temple. The bus winds its way up a steep and extremely winding road which feature hair-pin turns so sharp that in about 10 places they have mirrors so you can check the oncoming traffic that approaches you almost at a parallel until it gets to the turn.
As we climb I notice that although you might initially mistake the mountains here for the mountains back in California, there are important differences. As you look off into the distance you see rows and rows of hills of almost equal height rising and descending. Not at all like the Sierras where you climb one mountain to see the next one. Also, although the trees are redwood-like they are characteristically Korean in that their branches grow in terrace formations which grow out to windswept looking points. In fact the whole thing looks so much like Korean art (Duh!) that if I only had seen a tiger and a dragon I'd have covered 85% of what traditional Korean nature-art depicts (since we did see a waterfall later this would cover it all).
We paid 4,000 won each, by far the highest park fee we have paid so far, to hike down a dirt road to the BUddha. This Buddha was originally seated in a cave with with a view to the east, but for protection he is now also surrounded by glass and a temple-like structure.
You aren't supposed to take pictures in the cave, so I had to be all sneaky about it, but here is a shot I surreptitiously took as the Korean docent lady glowered suspiciously at all of us.
The park was getting ready for a New Year's celebration at which they will ring the big bell. This explains all the lanterns hanging about - they gave the place a festive air.
When we first arrived outside the park, both POSSLQ and i had silently noted a sign that said Bulguksa Temple 3.2 kilometers. We both guessed at it's meaning and she was, as is traditional, about 100% wrong. But we lobbied with Ed to walk down the thing. In fact it is the old road between the buddha and the temple at the hill of the mountains. It was a nice walk and I'd suggest any tourist take it because it gives really good views of the temple building as you look back up the hill. Climbing up the trail would be a challenge for some people, particularly if you were visiting during the summer.
Here is a photo of the temple from the trail.
About halfway down the trail we see a non-descript building with a traditional roof. POSSLQ chirps, "we're there, I can see the temple!" The Koreans and I find this hugely amusing because.. well.. the pictures tell the story
POSSLQ's "Temple" from above
POSSLQ's "Temple" door.
The guys and I took advantage and went inside to "worship" while POSSLQ waited outside
After the temple the path, while still steep, no longer featured granite steps, and we scampered on down to Bulguksa Temple.
This was a really cool temple site with a pond,
several buildings in good shape,
a couple of granite pagodas
and a "wishing sculpture garden." I'm not sure what else to call it. It is in the back of the temple and the thought is that if you build a duck (as we'd call them if we were using them to mark trails back in the United States) and make a wish it should come true.
Photographing them I knocked one over, so somewhere in Korea someone's cancer returned or their lover left them.
Also, the Gods Wooglers and Booglers
After we got back down to the road one of us turned to look back up the hill to where, far off, we could all see the outline of the temple on the hill. The POSSLQ finally put together what had happened and hollered "We came all the way down from that? We came all the way down from that?" It slowly dawned on the rest of us that she had no idea where the trail she had persuaded us to walk down actually went. We all laughed hysterically while she continued to hop up and down in amazement.
We returned to the hotel room and vegged for a while. This peace was broken by a frantic knock on our door.
Ed bursts in our room and says, "Hey, where is your ticket back to the US?"
A question like this never comes out of nowhere.
I look around and, lo and behold, the black organizer I have my ticket and my traveler's checks in is gone. Which is funny, because the last conversation Ed and I had before we left the condo in the morning was with me waving the portfolio in the air and talking about how bad it would be if I left it behind. So we grab a cab back to the condo where the clerks strenuously refuse to accept any reward for their honesty. The Koreans I have met have all been scrupulously honest and as a tourist I really appreciate that.
We had dinner at a western-ish restaurant and returned to the hotel, and Ed's room, for the evening bout of drinking. Soju and juice, basically, and the boy threw up twice as a purely precautionary matter. Very Korean, I guess. We had three bottles of the stuff and I tottered off to sleep.
Where I discovered the location of "The Engine that Winds the Spring which Turns the Earth" Unfortunately "The Engine that Winds the Spring which Turns the Earth" was somewhere directly beneath our hotel room. And unfortunately "The Engine that Winds the Spring which Turns the Earth" is reciprocating in nature and a bit old. So as it runs one way it grinds. Then, with a popping clank it re-engages and runs the other way with a more basso profundo grind.
And so on.
All night long.
I suppose it is good that this engine runs, as a non-spinning earth would be problematic. I just wish it hadn't been below my hotel room.
Whatever it was.
This was exacerbated by the fact that at about 4 in the morning the POSSLQ decides to get up to "prepare for her shower." Which really just means, "fuck around and make it impossible for Your Humble Narrator to sleep." Which she did with zest, dropping things, repeatedly crumpling up plastic bags, and zipping and unzipping all the compartments of her luggage. This, combined with the motion sensitive light in the entryway and the continued operation of the "The Engine that Winds the Spring which Turns the Earth" (hey, guys, that thing needs oiling!") meant no more sleep for me.
I plan to be cranky all day.
Finally, because it amuses the happy running avalanche man!
We are a planning species.
We hopped the subway in rush hour and headed down to Seoul Station to catch the bullet train. The bullet train runs at speeds of almost 300 kilometers per hour which are, I think, a bit above rush hour speeds in the States. I have a lovely avi file of this which may or may not work the way I am forced to upload things around here.
The south looks much more traditional than the north. The houses have temple/palace style roofs even if some of them are jarring colors (primarily bright blue and a more muted red) and made of modern materials. There are farms scattered about and the kind of run down outbuildings that are associated with them. And of course, every so often, jutting up out of nowhere, apartment forests and heavy industry. The smog is not as bad as in Seoul, but it is still pretty gruesome. Oh, the place is Gyeong Ju City and it is very pretty
We wandered around for hours in the museum here which contained lesser versions of the displays we had seen in Yongyam. The Korean obsession with the tiles on the roofs of palaces has to be experienced to be understood. I'd say fully one-third of one building is dedicated entirely to roof tiles and to the tiles that rest on the face where roofs end.
This is a shot of the recreated pagodas on the patio between the museum buildings.
I found the fire on the other shore of the river to be more interesting. I couldn't tell if the fire was to burn off crop-stubble or had been accidentally set, but over on the right you can see three farmers(?) attempting to douse (or control) the fire with bowls of water.
We walked on to the Anapji Pond which seemed a bit barren. Appropriate, since most of it was gone.
TWO LONELY BUILDINGS ON THE LAKE
Then it was on to the world's largest Kimchee pot (Ed claims it is the first known observatory in East Asia)
and a park full of tombs. The tombs are interesting.. stone centers covered over with enormous humps of earth.
FInally it was off to our "condo" which is basically a big, ugly apartment in the middle of a construction zone. I posted last night's stuff from its PC Bang, which was a nightmare.
32 meg computers and surrounded by 8-million screaming Korean kids who were all playing computer games. The mouse didn't work initially, requiring a reboot, and it never functioned properly. This resulted in my doing some clumsy work in Blogger that has half the fonts in my last post at an invisibly small size.
I went to try to fix it this morning, but the PC Bang is closed.
POSSLQ's illness returned, but was miraculously cured. Ed purchased a bottle (vial?) of hideous brown liquid and despatched POSSLQ to the bathroom to take it. 3 minutes later she starts yelling frantically, "bring me a chaser, bring me a chaser." Ed rushed in with a glass of water and she slugged it down. Two minutes later she exited the bathroom and declared herself cured. And somehow was.
Even though a later inspection revealed that she had consumed, in all, about 10 drops of the medicine which remained, virtually untouched, in its bottle on the bathroom shelf.
TRAMPLING ON KOREAN FLOORS
I can't be the only western person who, when all the Koreans are out, is tempted to put my shoes back on and stomp all over everything in spiteful glee? But I pretty much fight that kind of urge back as ungenerous and culturally insensitive. It is this kind of urge that plays itself out on every page of Michael Breen's "The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies." The title is amusing enough with its amusing implication that the author can speak to all of this. This is an implication that seems unlikely to be accurate, since Breen has problems with understanding most of Korea.
Breen has formula that he uses throughout the book.
He begins by accusing Koreans of some racial deficiency (i.e. they don't have as large a personal territorial imperative), then he quotes some anecdotal evidence from an un-named friend, and finally he pulls the "some of my best friend are Koreans" card to establish that he is not a bad guy, and neither are the 'house' Koreans.
This is not to say, of course, that there aren't differences between how Korea as an uninvolved social mass will treat you compared to how individual Koreans will treat you. This is true in any country and in Korea the difference is particularly stark. But Breen just continues to note new or different manifestations of this difference with amazement and shock. Breen intellectually understands where this comes from, the 5 Confucian relations determine that Korea will run this way as they are all essentially personal in nature (with the exception of relationship to the state). But physically and emotionally he is consistently surprised and upset by it. Breen lived in Korea long enough that he should no longer be concerned by what happens on crowded subway cars. It took me about two day to figure out rush hour was going to be crowded and hectic and that the lack of personal relationship between me and any other commuter was going to mean we pushed past each other with roughish unconcern. To Breen this is an unendurable daily torture which he says cannot be gotten used to in even 20 years (p. 27).
That speaks to a certain lack of flexibility.
And his tone is, to use a literary term, shitty. Anyone who can drop a line like "It is too insulting to suggest that an entire people are barking into the pillow" (with its sly hidden insinuation that such a suggestion only goes slightly beyond just insulting enough) (p. 11) is not happy with his subject.
Anyway, I'm only 50 pages in and while I enjoy his snarky tone I can't say I like his argument. Breen does make one interesting claim that I will be able to check. I read in one place that the Koreans say "Have you had rice today" as a greeting because rice is so culturally important to them. In Breen I read that South Koreans say this because of the starvation that was widespread after the Korean War. It turns out Breen is right.