Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Wireless at the Hotel is Working!

After all the frenzy I was whipped into about the threat of pickpockets? Not one ravening horde of gypsy kids descended on me to denude me of all earthly possessions. I must admit to being a bit dissapointed. In fact, during the whole first day we saw no one who even looked vaguely like a gypsy with the exception of two beggar women and one guy passed out on some steps. And I'm only calling him a gypsy to try to attach some bit of romantic allure to his unconscious state.

Because I care like that.

We rolled down to the Plaza San Pietro in front of the Vatican. The Vatican looks something like that terrible panorama I have stitched together at the top of this page. And if you want to look at my shoddy stitching skills up close and personal you can click here to see an enormous version of the thing (Warning 332 KB!). As it was Sunday morning the lines to get in were monstrous. We lollygagged around a bit and then began to walk. And walk and walk.

I'm not sure all of the places we actually walked to except it included the grand road leading up to the Vatican, which we heard was all built by Mussolini prior to World War II. That makes sense looking at it, as it has that "big facade" but "semi-sterile" look that I associate with fascist architecture.

Along one side of the road there was hourly parking, God alone knows what time you would have to get to the Vatican to get that, but since we were (easily amused) by the puny size of Italian cars, we posed the puny POSSLQ next to one so that those who had never been to Italy could scoff at the Italians. The sun was beating down quite ferociously, and by the time the day was done I had a pretty dramatic sunburn on my face and the top of my head. I think I need to look into hair-transplant surgery.

To protect my head!

I'ts not vanity. ;-)

Continuing to walk down some semi-random streets, we eventually ended up in a warren of alleyways which reminded me a little of the alleyways in Korea. Much wider, of course, and a few less businesses per square meter (see, I'm adapting to this savage land already), but I guess alley-life is alley life, and I was not at all suprised to turn one corner and find the ubiquitous vegetable peddler set up on the corner where two alleys met.

Unlike Seoul, I have already seen a pretty wide variety of what I would characterize as street people, though like Seoul you also see a sprinkling of beggars who are trying to make a living by exposing their handicaps. Clubfoot seems to be a popular choice amongst the gypsies hereabouts. The other notable thing about the street-peddlers is that the ones who lay out blankets and sell semi-modern things (sunglassses, small tripods, Snap-on ClubFoot Kits for the begging trade) all seem to be African. The ones who are selling softer items (scarves, handkerchiefs) all seem to be Asian women with a sprinkling of possible gypsies thrown in.

I have no idea what this means, I just note it.

We continued on until we came to a gigantic plaza. I couldn't get the picture I wanted because in my paranoia about pickpockets I had left my satchel of lenses at the flat, but this picture is of an enormous statue which certainly commeorates something noble or the other and was absolutely certainly constructed by some hack like Bernini or Michaelangelo. It is amazing how many brilliant pieces of art are just plunked out there in public. The Rennaisance was an amazing confluence of skilled artists and cheap labor. It made quite a great deal of beautiful public are possible, and while I am not one to (publicly) suggest we bring back indentured servitude, squalorous poverty, or even slavery, I am certain it would create much better vacation destinations down the line.

More wandering around ensued and we ended up on the banks of the Tiber, a quite green river, and walked down it until we were back in our little neighborhood. Then it was lunch at a pretentious and very expensive little joint about a block away from the Vatican. While everything is surprisingly expensive in the little shops here (2 Euros for a liter of Coke) prices do drop as you move away from the big church. When we had lunch on the second day, just 3 blocks farther out, the food was better and the price was about half of the Vatican-side cafe.

After lunch, violently stuffed and all about to explode, we headed back to the flat. After a bit the POSSLQ got all antsy and she and I headed down to the plaza again. I took pictures and she wandered around staring at the architecture.

I had a beer from a street vendor, and as the last rays of the afternoon sun continued to napalm my face, all was well in our little corner of Rome. We returned, yet again, to the flat, drank beer and tequila, and all fried that night as the temperature never dropped below 77 degrees in our rooms (Bax has a watch that tells time, speed, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, level of grace with God, and severity of the Fitzgerald Contraction, among other measurables.)

We awoke cranky and unrested, but ready to face the Romulans one more time.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Wherever I may roam: From Seoul, to Home, to Rome

Sunday morning comes early in Rome - a cacophony of bells to bring the faithful to their knees. It explodes at first and trickles out as though each bell is rung by a different altar boy and some of the cheekiest ones want to ring the last bell. This was a gentle awakening compared to my one morning back home.

The Korea trip ended with the standard plane-flight home (For no earthly reason I did begin my long awaited "photos from car mirrors" exhibit of photography - you can see the first photo to the left). I was separated from my Korean friends, so I slept as much as I could. We arrived at SFO at about 2:30 and I was back home by 4:30 and in the house. Kept myself up until about midnite and then slept til 9;15 or so, with interstitial moments all about sleep and schoolwork.

At about 4:30 am I woke up and looked around and didn't rcognize a thing. I looked out the window by my head and saw a lawn and unfamiliar trees. I KNEW this wasn't Korea or Rome and it startled me. I got out of the bed and walked towards the bedroom door. It led to another door, and that door was open to someone else's room. An office of some sort. I walked back to the bed an the POSSLQ was in it. This snapped me back - I was in my unrecognizalbe home.

When we awoe in the morning I was no longer confused and it was up to house of some relatives of the POSSLQ for a trip back to SFO.

In essence, I had a 22 hour layover.

Some slight confusion when we got to our ride... POSSLQ's brother wanted to come with us but, upon hearing that we were on our way, had mysteriously run off to do errands. We waited around and he showed up, so it was off to the airport and on to a KLM plane. This was a different experience. The last eight plane trips I had taken were on Asiana airlines and these flights were primarily made up of Koreans. Since Korean social structure is based upon relationship, these rides are stiff and a bit unfriendly. As no one knows anyone else, there is little conversation and most of the flight is spent involved in the screen on the back of the seat in front of you. Asiana spends quite a penny on in-flight entertainment - we had both modern versions of King-Kong, a movie from the hideous Harry Potter series, golf coverage, several Japanese fantasy/action movies, and a couple of other assorted movies. Til I took the KLM flight this didn't mean much to me, but it became clear after I saw how the Dutch worked the thing that Asiana's excellent entertainment was to keep people from interacting.

When I got on the KLM flight I was disspointed to see no back-seat screens and only very small screens hanging over the aisles. And there was only one movie offered for the entire flight. Once we got on the plane, however, it became clear more would have been lost on our largely Dutch passengers. As soon as the plane took off the flight attendants came by with drinks, including mini-bottles of wine (the man two seats to my left clearly knew the schedule and took advantage of it to get politely drunk). Soon after they came by with dinner, and the booze, soon after that they came by with refresher drinks, and after dinner they came by with coffee, tea, water and the booze, but this time including VSOP, Bailey's, and two other kinds of after-dinner drink. As soon as that was done there was an apparent MASSIVE rush to the bathrooms. I could see up to 10 people mulling around outside of them but, oddly, the "occupied" signs were not lit up on the wall. Then the captain came on and announced "You know, I am required to announce this by the American authorities. Please do not congregate in the aisles. They do not want more than three people in the aisles at a time. Now that I've said that, enjoy your flight."

And indeed, the people congregating were all just making introductions and talking. After dinner the stewardesses just parked the drink carts by the mid-cabin exits and left them there. So all flight long there were informal little parties in the planes, and anyone who put on the headphones was likely trying to nap.

The stewardesses were also quite different. The youngest stewardess on the KLM flight would have been about a decade too old for the Asiana flight, but they were much more personable.

Anyway, we landed in Amsterdam without time to go out and get stoned. :-( Then a short hop over to Rome, a quick ride to Aurelia in Rome and we were there. I got to my seat for that flight, second row from the back, sat down in it, and it flopped backwards into the poor person behind me. I was in the second to last row, so the poor person behind me could not decline their seat and we had to tackeoff anyway. So I grabbed the back of the seat to pull it forward and gave it a yank.


It came all the way forward and put my face into the unreclined seat behind me. My seat back was completely loose. I called the extremely gay flight attendant, demonstrated the problem and shrugged.

He said, "air bubble" and vigorously slammed the seat forward and back about 15 times. This had no effect. He looked puzzled, tried it one more time to confirm it didn't work, then patted me on the shoulder in a friendly way, and walked off.

I was on my own. I can't imagine it was safe, and I had to try not to shift in the seat (takeoff was particularly interesting), but obviously I survived the trauma. ;-)

The flat is outstanding. Two full bedrooms, a full kitchen, bathroom, and foyer. We are right next to a train-line, which worried me at first, but Baxter demonstrated the totally cool slatted wall that you can pull down over the windows. Not only does this plunge the room into total darkness, but it also largely blocks outside noise, not a small issue in downtown Rome. Over there on the left you can see the view from our foyer out past the deck

Breakfast is on the solarium, and other than the idiots sitting next to us loudly disagreeing with evolution (we are right next door to the Vatican, after all) and explaining how useful AOL has been to them (I can't decide which stance reveals more stupidity) it is an outstanding venue. We can look over the wall and see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica (photo). The breakfast features local ham and produce and coffee I like but the parental units sniff at.

They don't spend much time at the 7-11, I guess.

The bells are ringing again, and I'll take that as my call to get down off of the roof here, take a shower and head over to the Vatican. I am told that the pickpockets are every bit as efficient as international rumor gives them credit for, so I will only take a small amount of money and perhaps this first day I will not bring my lenses until I've been out and about to figure out how dangerous they might be to goods.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

All over but the crying...

Bits and Pieces • Last night for the Seoul Man • Alley Life

• How polite are Koreans? I'm watching TV and a guy breaks in to a home intent on raping the woman inside. He takes of his shoes and socks before he enters, though, cause he's a guy who cares!

Soju, the "other" breakfast drink. Because if there is some left over in the morning? I'm going to drink it!

• Happy Fluffy, Fuck You! When I see the street-sweeper go by with a big happy face on the side of it? I want to pick up a Korean drifter and take them for a one way ride. Good thing there are no Korean drifters.

• The Importance of Numbers. Before I come back to Korea, as a tourist or with a job, I will learn the number system, to read Hangul, and the names of the top 20 restaurant foods. These things work together. I hate walking past some of the cool alleyway joints when I'm hungry and not being able to hop inside and have a casual bite. As the dude might say, this will not abide.

• Off to Italy. The next step begins. I am sad to keave Korea. As I was attending to various tasks in the bathroom ;-) I looked at how small, undecorated, and odd it was. And missed it already.

Wanted to go to sleep early last night.. was getting ready to do just that when Jongkuin showed up. I thought about ignoring his knock on the door and his call on the cell, but couldn't do it. He's the classic Korean who will do better when he leaves Korea. Expatriation (if there is such a word) is in the heart, and he has it. So I stayed out til midnite drinking beer... thank God he isn't a soju fan, since I am already rocky enough from lack of sleep and over-abundance of booze. It was a good farewell though. If I do come back to Korea to work, I will certainly spend some time teaching him to speak English. He needs to pass the TOEFL to go to the Academy of Arts school in SF and I can just see him blowing up if he gets there.

Alley life. What can you say? It is completely key to Korean urban existence. So here are some quick snaps.

"mmmm" some "sick on a stick!"

"Sick on a stick" before preparation.

A door off the alley reveals a toilet bowl holding flowers. That must be some kind of metaphor for something.

End of the Alley transpo.

Eating on the avenue.

Heating coals for on-table barbeque.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

MEME from the road

Intriguing answers from iTunes, which I is the modern equivalent of the magic 8-ball.

Simple directions: use the shuffle function on your music player and see what you come up with in answer to the following questions.

Starting with "Sugar, We're Going Down" by Fall Out Boy

How does the world see you?
Rock & Roll Queen, The Subways

Eh, I guess that's good.

Will I have a happy life?
Ticket outta Loserville, Son of Dork

When does the train leave, again?

What do my friends really think of me?
Shipbuilding, Elvis Costello

Er.. the 8-ball equivalent of "outlook hazy, try again?"

Do people secretly lust after me?
Laid, James

Imagine how dissapointed they would all be in the actual event.

How can I make myself happy?
Still Take You Home, Arctic Monkeys

Ummm.. sure.. "what do you know? Oh you don't know nothing."

What should I do with my life?
You Are The One, Him

Start a religion then?

Will I ever have children?
Chocolate, Snow Patrol

Black ones?

What is some good advice for me?
The Way, Fastball

How will I be remembered?
Pretty in Punk, Fallout Boy

well, I guess I can't bitch about that...

What is my signature dancing song?
The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret, Queens of the Stone Age

What do I think my current theme song is?
Clash City Rockers, The Clash


What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
Veronica, Elvis Costello


What song will play at my funeral?
Smooth Criminal, Alien Ant Farm

I only regret I won't be there to hear it.

What type of men/women do you like?
Broken Box, Queens of the Stone Age

Don't like that much. ;-)

What is my day going to be like?
Another Girl, Another Planet, The Only Ones

Hmmm.. interesting, since I'm in Korea, which is another planet. I guess I'll take that tour at 1:30 and see who I meet. ;-)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Beewon the rest of us Zero • More Wedding pics with Character Assasination included •

The Beewon Guest House may be the best travel deal I've ever come across. I have a slightly dingy room for only 30 dollars a night. By dingy I mean smallish, and not at all decorated. The wallpaper is second rate. But this is my second stay here and it is clean and quiet, has air conditioning, a washer, a kitchen, and a wireless network. There is a small refrigerator in my room as well as a television. If I could rent a room like this in San Jose I'd probably live in it.

The staff doesn't have great English and I have very limited Korean, but when I forgot my electrical adapter we were able to communicate enough to get me pointed to the right store.

I'd never bring my mother here ;-)

but I will return.

Holy Crap, I just channeled McArthur!

The Ham dinner with "year-long marinated ammonia fish" pointed out for your enjoyment.

Ed "Bogie" Park

Moms walk in, where angels fear to tread.

Satan follows! My favorite part is how the stewardess on the right is checking out Ed's muscular ass.

Lighting of the Candles (Other mom also did this and, no, I have no idea what it means)

Exeunt all, stage left, covered in confetti

The room prepared for the traditional ceremony

Jae enters

Ritual Obesiance.

Macbeth Sisters look on from stage left

An envelope drops... and that thing in front actually is a watermelon

Some part of the ceremony I don't understand


Pickups and Throwaways...

Hamming it up • Bad Kwangju-ju in the Monsoon Heat • An Honor I don't deserve • Sammiches Redux • Sir Gaylord and his Queen

The pics from the pre-weddding "ham saseyo" party turned out pretty badly. They were taken by another photographer and his light meter was focused on the nice bright and shiny outside. Still, to the left is a picture of me during pre-game preparation. Traditionally I would be wearing a dead squid with eyeholes punched in it, but the guys I was with decided it would be too smelly, and I only had one coat and one shirt to get me through three days. I wanted the squid and as a compromise they went out and got me this thing.

After a few beers we headed over to the home of Jae's parents. My job was to carry the box containing the dowry, yell "ham saseyo" (buy this!) as loudly as I could, and only move a step forward if the bride's family provided me with an envelope containing a bill or bills. The yelling also has a secondary point, to let all the neighbors know that a wedding will be happening next day. While Jae's mom would never be so rude as to brag about the upcoming wedding, when my hollering forces the neighbors to pop their heads out (as it did) the wedding is "announced" to them. After that Jae's mom can brag about the whole thing as she had not introduced it. Finally, I was never to give up possession of the suitcase containing the dowry, because that is what they were bribing me to bring in.

We got up to the 5th floor and started hollering at which point the game began. Jae's family started out by basically pretending we weren't there. This gave us a good chance to embarass ourselves, maybe get a little itchy to get inside, and also yell a lot (see above). The family finally peered around the doorjamb. By gesture Ed and I (technically Ed should not have been there, but technically there shouldn't have been a miguk anywhere near the place, and the fact that I was wearing the Ham mask sort of moved everything beyond the merely technical) debated moving away from the door and that brought them out. First Jongkyou tried inviting me in for a drink. This is sort of the formal start of the debate. From then on, probably 15 minutes, we bargained over each step. Jongkyou would wave an envelope in the air, and after much to and froing, decide where to put it on the ground. If the envelope was acceptably close I would step towards it and pick it up. At some points members of the family tried to pick me up and drag me in or push me forward. My considerable bulk compared to the older Korean men, stood me in good stead. They also bribed me with Soju and Kimchee (one out of two, guys!), tried to deke me out with envelopes containing only one coin, and in general tried to hasten my entrance and thus decrease the cost. All for play, of course, since I already had an informal idea of how many envelopes were prepared, but a lot of fun anyway. During the Soju bribing process I comitted my one faux-pas; as I was holding the dowry in my right hand and consequently accepted the Soju with my left.


As I got closer to the door things heated up and I took more steps as they laid down more envelopes per go-round. As I leaned down to pick up the last envelopes someone placed both hands firmly on my back and shoved me through the door, to the ground.

Turns out the brute who knocked me through the door was Jae's elderly aunt!

I felt a bit of animus behind the shove and since I still had my shoes on and the shove pitched me into the house it was probably the wrong thing for the old lady to do, but..... soju awaited, so I forgave and forgot!

The Kwangju Prince Hotel is not only a relic from another time, it's a relic from many times. I asked Ed what it was originally intended to be, and although Ed is Korean, I have no reason to believe he was lying when he told me it was an early attempt at a Western-style hotel in Korea. And if you squint hard enough, wrinkle your eyes so hard it hurts, you can see the outline of this.

The public areas are built in grand-hotel style, high roofs and large spaces. The hotel has gone to the trouble to cover the flourescent lights that are ubiquitous in Korea (typically the bulbs just just hang out there. But the carpet is tatty, the doors are shoe-scuffed by generations of drunken clients, and the shower curtains (how Western!) are a nice idea, but they are exactly one-inch too short to do anything to control water from the shower head - Essentially you have the worst of both worlds. The windows only open a slit, but coffee costs 5 bucks a shot.

I think I mentioned the computers earlier. A nice touch and no doubt this was very popular with visitors when the computers were first installed. But as they run pre-secure Internet Explorer on Windows 98, they are not very useful. Can't hit secure sites, blogger crashes (admittedly this would probably not be a big deal to most business customers), and no plug-ins worth mentioning. All things considered, and the main consideration being that Ed probably shelled out some big money for these rooms, the next time I come to Kwangju I will be staying at a more traditional hotel.

There are also polite lies because things don't work - it is very hot and humid in Kwangju and Jongkyou, Eddie, Jae and I are sweltering with a 1.6 liter bottle of Oriental Beer and some anju on the floor between us. Jongkyou slowly becomes pissed that it is still warm at almost midnite and calls the front desk. He gets (I know because I go down to check) the very sleek and attractive woman who has unaccountably, by western standards at least, been working since before noon. Jongkyou asks how we can get the enormous refrigerator-fronted AC on the ceiling to work. According to our wanna-be stewardess at the front desk the "air conditioning is controllable by the individual controls in each room." A nicely redundant statement. And you can rest assured that if a Korean starts repeating things, they are lying or trying to explain away something inconvenient.

You can't blame the receptionist. She's been there 12 hours already by my reckoning. I look at her and it doesn't take great eyes to see she would like to be somewhere else... in a Korean Airlines stewardess outfit, hell, they make her wear something like that already. But the money sucks and she's working in Gwanju. In a hotel which, as monsoon season approaches, does not have working air conditioning. She has no social status. And a bunch of drunk old men call up to find out how to get cold?

I'd lie too.

Previously that day I was accorded some sort of honor or the other - or that's what they said. This is still all related to the fact that the families and friends are all boggled that a Miguk would come over solely to attend a Korean wedding. Apparently it rarely happens. Ed partly had me come over as a shield (on both of these trips) but I turned into the tie and crest as well.

Anyway, I became the only Miguk to be invited to see the restored household of the one-time provincial chief. This house belongs to... well, if I understand correctly (1 to 9, against) it belongs to Eddies' uncle, but the government now has a stake. Anyway, since no one could explain the house, it's role in Korean history, or why it was important that I was the first anglo in there...

Here is a picture of the 4-generation family shrine (you'll see the photos of the four generations - men only of course) and one of a building that hasn't been rehabbed yet, but looked great against the varied forest behind it.

A day or two ago I talked about the weird sandwiches in Korea and theorized wildly and drunkenly (and probably incorrectly) about the "whys" of the whole thing. Of course there are no "whys" to anything, so here is just some "what it looks like":

Note meat on one side and mysterious chopped up crud on other.

Internal View: Look at how the savages cheated on the "western" left side. The "cheese" actually looked like this (when I pulled up the "Soylent Green Miguk Meat Replacement Product" to look):

Nice... you guys deserve everything the Japanese did to you!

Finally, also picking up another loose end from a previous post - Ed and Jae in their cute-suit Tees:

Monday, May 22, 2006

Love in the Tower

The picture over there on the left is a picture of the night before. Jae clowning around before we she headed off to her parent's house for the hand-off of the dowry. I include it only to demonstrate how completely relaxes Jae seemed even as "The Hideous Event" grew inexorably closer.

The morning began with a hangover after the ceremony the night before - Essentially an organized extortion affair in which I was the extorter. I had some pictures of this taken by another photographer and I hope to get them up here in the next couple of days. In any case, it required us to drink until about one-thirty in the morning and we were all hungover and tired. I felt particularly sorry for Ed, who had to drink with everyone and then get up and go through the whole pre-wedding process. Jae, at least, as a woman, is allowed to avoid much of the drinking.

We went off to get something to eat for breakfast and although I was shaking in fear (and nauseau) that we were going to end up eating something like Haie jan Gook (coagulated blood soup) we ended up in a soup kitchen of an entirely different kind which featured rice and beef, both of which I can more or less deal with. This soup takes three days to make, and is simmered in enormous freaking pots that are always on the boil. That thing to the right would be one of these pots.. you really can't tell, but that pot is about four feet across. I'm not sure why Korean cities don't burn down regularly.. all of the resauraunts have open flames, many of them feature cooking at the table, and the buildings are piled on each other in bugger-all fashion. And it's not like everything is nailed down completely tight. As we sat in a barbeque joint after the wedding we heard a tremendous grinding and crash and as we sat watching a table of older women was sent scattering by the ceiling-mounted fan which disintegrated directly above them. The proprietor came sprinting out of the back, pulled the power cord from the wall, and the ladies all returned to the table as if this were the most normal thing in the world. And I suppose it can't be too out of place since everyone took it quite calmly and not on threat of a lawsuit spoiled anyone's dinner.

The wedding was grand, as weddings should be. And blessedly brief. We were in the wedding hall for two hours before the ceremony which was then accomplshed with alacrity.. maybe 20 minutes tops, and out. Everything went smoothly, the bride glowed, the groom beamed, and all the parents seemed happy with things. The wedding takes place in a building whose sole function is to hold weddings. The wedding is a package deal.. you get the makeup, the clothing, the photographer, the food, everything in one convenient bill. And because it's a business, the weddings are short, shovel-em-in and shovel-em-out affairs. The pre-wedding ceremonies are longest because they include a "showing" of the bride and the passing of the envelopes. The showing is basically a photo op for all the guests. The envelope passing is a social thing... each guest arrives, greets the families in an orgy of bowing and hand-shaking, and goes to the check in table. Here they hand off an envelope with money for the happy couple, sign in, and pick up their meal-tickets for after. That's a weird event and I'll get to it, but for now.. some pics of the wedding with occasional comment.

Ed and Jae in the makeup room -- both veeeery pretty in pink! And calm.

Eddie "burn em if you got em" Park relaxes like Bogart, pre-ceremony.

Ed makes a bit of pre-wedding money serving in the valet-parking corps.

The happy couple

Ed dances the Hokey-Pokey to demonstrate how his "shaking it all about' won Jae's heart.

The lovely bride in western fashion

The lovely bride in Korean Fashion

The lovely mother of the lovely bride

The lovely brother of the lovely bride (Jong-guin)

Ed joins the masons.

Tea for two -- Ed and Jae sit in a room and receive each member of the groom's family. More envelopes are passed over and the relatives each say a word of wisdom or two, while being served by the bride and groom. It is only the groom's family, because traditionally the bride is seen as "lost" from her family - her name is lined-out of the family book of genealogy. In a nice touch Jae's family took an additional family photo after the wedding and invited Ed to be in it. They were making it clear that they weren't losing touch with Jae and that Ed was part of their family as well.

Nice --- I have tons of pics and will post them all when I return to Seoul tomorrow. Each part of this ceremony deserves a bit more posting, so I'll try to get to that as well.