26 August 2008


Those of you from the States who are regular readers of this missive might be thinking, "Boy, it sure would be nice to talk to old Joe, but that is impossible." Not so, my friends. I have Unlimited World Calling through Skype.com and I can call you and talk to you as easy as pie. Simply send me an email message and include your phone number and whether you would like a call in the early evening (5-7 PM CDT) or in the early morning (7-9 AM CDT) and I will call you up. I have already talked to several people this week and I think it brightened their day considerable. If you are in Korea and you want me to call you, get in line.

Just kidding, of course. I have made so many friends around the world through this blog it boggles the mind. When I imagine people in Malaysia and Israel and the Czech Republic reading about my triumphs and travails, let alone my testicles, it tickles me to the tell the truth. Several people living and working here in Korea have written their encouragement and/or sympathy and for that I am also thankful. We passed 550 unique visits for the first time this week and now have readership on every continent excepting Africa (and Antarctica, of course, but those people are rather busy this time of year, it being Winter and all). I never dreamed such a thing was possible. If you enjoy the blog don't hesitate to say hi.

I have made another Short Film, called "The Baby On the Bus." It has neither babies or buses, but it does open with a self-shot close-up of my face. You have been warned. Several people have requested more photos and I am sorry for the delay in getting those on. I had a major formatting error on the camera's memory card and lost quite a few. I should have some more soon.

The weather here continues to be marvelous. I had a recollection from early childhood tonight. It was the feeling of walking out into a gorgeous day after being cooped up in school for a long time. I have made a lifestyle out of not being cooped up anywhere for long but now work entails some of that and it is almost worth it to have that feeling. It surprised me. It was a type of wonder that can only be won through the temporary suspension of sensory stimulation. The feeling when the sky and the wind and the sounds of children playing hit you is almost indescribable. It is its own thing.

Film Link: "The Baby On the Bus." Faraway Pictures. (Turn the volume down a bit till it gets going. It is set a little high in the recording.)


24 August 2008

A Culinary Tour

There were other memorable things about this weekend but the food that took the headline. Koreans love to eat out. Sometimes I think that there is one restaurant for every Korean. Another concept at work is the neighborhood theme: restaurants tend to specialize in one type of meat or even a single dish, and entire neighborhoods often contain many of the same types of restaurants. Seaside areas tend to have blocks devoted to nothing but hoe (pronounced "hway"), the freshly killed raw fish that is a Busan specialty. Other areas are full of galbi or sampyopsal joints. There are areas devoted to Chinese cuisine, like Busan's Shanghai Street.

This weekend we returned to a sushi bar I have come to love in nearby Dongnae. It is an all-you-can-eat conveyor belt type place that serves up the best sushi I have ever had. On this occasion I stuck my camera on the belt and sent it around. This is actually the second time I have done this at this place and, given the Korean aversion to being photographed, it is not a popular thing with a lot of people. But I really wanted to do this, so I did it. The first time I did it (last weekend) I accidentally erased the file. This week I had to do it twice because the first time the card had formatting issues. I reformatted, losing everything I had stored, and did it again. By this time everyone in the place was thoroughly disgusted with me and the camera and when you watch the film you can see this. I can't hardly stand to watch it. But that is the price you pay for great art. The film is at the link below and, again, is best viewed in "high quality" if you have the bandwidth.

"Sushi Bar." http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=6jb1bgQGYBQ

On Saturday night Yujin and I decided to go to see a movie and have dinner down at Somyeon, which is a large shopping area I have mentioned before. (A note on the name situation: there is a lot of leeway in the Anglicization of Korean names and words in general. I am switching to a more current method with all names from now on. And Yujin and Minha are easier to type.) We went to the theater to get a ticket and were not pleased to find out that the film we wanted to see didn't start until 11:00 PM. Four hours away. We decided to wait and see what the evening brought. Usually we would have had some beverages but I am off the sauce because of the antibiotics (which are working nicely by the way, thanks for asking) so we walked around looking for a place to eat. We found a dak galbi restaurant and went there. Dak (chicken) galbi is chopped boneless chicken and vegetables braised at the table on a huge cast iron plate. It is marinated in a red pepper paste and more of the paste (about one cup it looked like) is added with the vegetables. Ours came with "assorted seafood," which turned out to be clams, octopus, and shrimp. It was delicious. Like most galbi, it is served with lettuce to wrap it up in and a variety of sides to put in there with it. The only problem was that it was hot. Very hot. It was one of the hottest things I have eaten since I got here and that is saying something. Infernal. I could eat it, but I had heartburn immediately and as soon as we left we went directly to the 7-11 next door and bought drinking yogurt (peach) and drank that down. This relieved the heartburn and did a lot I feel to mitigate the aftereffects. I will go there again and the next time I will drink yogurt before and after.

We ended up hanging around in a Pizza Hut watching the very exciting end to the Olympic baseball finals in which the Korean team narrowly defeated Cuba. I was extremely conflicted at first (I love Cuba) but found myself rooting for my newly adopted country as if it were my own. After the movie it was late. The subway and all the buses were shut down but there was a line of taxis waiting outside and we grabbed one and got home quick.

The next day we went on the eastern route of the Busan City Tour. I have gone on the western one twice and can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The eastern route, which goes to two museums and two beaches, on paper looks like the much better of the two. Not so. I have avoided in this blog saying anything bad about my new home and when possible have avoided saying anything when that was possible. In this case let me just be brief. The Busan Metropolitan Museum was founded in 1978 and this is where it has remained. The main gallery is due for an update. It has some beautiful things presented in a rather dated way. One thing I saw that I did find fascinating was a set of old maps drawn with pen and ink on scrolls. What I saw surprised me. Dongnae, the area we had lunch in yesterday, is the original town location. This is maybe two or three kilometers from the ocean. In fact, Busan had been called by that name until as late as 1910.

We had planned on staying there for two buses worth but took the first one to Gwangali beach to find some food. We had it in mind to have bulgogi, which is prepared much like the dish before except without the pepper paste and beef. The pan came out loaded with all kinds of meat and four kinds of mushrooms and two kinds of onions and clear rice noodles and thinly sliced beef and there were some peppers but I got most of them out of it when nobody was looking. It started bubbling away and after a short while it was done and it was really good. We were hungry and ate most of it.

We had planned on getting on the bus and going to BEXTEL, the Busan museum of modern art. But when we caught the bus it was one of those luxury ones with three seats per row that lean all the way back and to make a short story even shorter we both fell asleep and woke up back at Busan station. Our tour was over. That is ok. We can do the last two-thirds of it some other time. The Busan City Tour is a great rainy day activity.

Put her on the train and went home and fell asleep again. I am up in the middle of the night working on this. Work should be fun today. We are having Olympics in the morning for the little ones.

22 August 2008

Short Film Premier: "Good Morning, Joe Teacher" from Faraway Pictures

Today's post is a short film I made. I wanted it to be unsophisticated yet visually jarring so I put it together on Windows Movie Maker and shot it on my digital still camera to avoid image stabilization. To view it click the link below and make sure that you click "watch in high quality" because I shot it in HD. Enjoy!


20 August 2008

On Curses and Blessings

WARNING: The following post contains graphic and highly personal and slightly humorous references to my personal anatomy and its rapid descent toward cadaverhood. If you are squeamish, easily disgusted, a prospective employer, newish girlfriend or female relative please stop reading now.

Horrors. I have had a recurrence of the medical condition that caused me to spend my last night in the USA in the emergency room. For those of you who don't know, I suffer from chronic epididimitis that causes my left testicle to periodically swell up about double and hurt like the devil. When I realized that it had come back I was terrified. Not so much of the condition, which is awful, as of the cure, which is far worse. My last visit to the hospital had been an exercise in medical torture and the prospect of placing my sore self literally in the hands of Eastern medicine was too horrible to envision.

But when I realized Wednesday afternoon that it was the real thing and not the world's worse case of blue balls (which it absolutely could have been for reasons I am not about to explain) I told the bosses at work that I was going to the hospital the following morning. This worked out well because we had a field trip planned and I wouldn't miss any classes if things went smoothly at the hospital. For an interpreter I recruited Minha, who generously offered to accompany me even though she gets off in the early morning and usually sleeps till mid-afternoon.

I didn't sleep much worrying about this and I called Minha to wake her up at 8:30 AM (she is a saint) and washed it off and hopped a bus down to the subway. I met Minha there and we made a transfer, got off and hoofed it to the hospital. Once there we registered and were sent directly to the urology department. I waited for about ten minutes and a nurse came out and got us and took me in and introduced me to, I am not kidding, an actual Urologist. He was very kind and, if not gentle, thorough. AND he didn't give me a urethral swab or a sonogram (these the two horsemen of the urological apocalypse: the first hurts like a red hot poker and the latter feels like making lemonade except without any lemons). Just a cursory exam and a few questions. Any sexual intercourse since the last episode? No. Any discharge? No. Any strenuous physical exercise? Well, I climbed a mountain. Bingo, he said, this was the culprit. (He spoke pretty good English, which was nice. I added the Bingo.) He then took out a huge piece of paper on which he had drawn the interstate highway system that was the circulatory system of my nethers. He showed me how the blood from the testicles has to travel a long way, all the way up to the kidneys, before it reenters the larger vessels of the blood stream proper. The lucky blood from the right testicle then takes a conveniently located on ramp straight onto the expressway, but the blood from the left nut has to take a detour through a construction zone at the intersection of the kidney and the adrenal gland and therein lies the problem. Strenuous exercise causes a traffic jam and the blood is backed up all the way down to the old billiard.

I had brought with me a copy of the prescription I had gotten from the visit in Springfield and when he saw it he scoffed. Doxycycline? Caveman antibiotics. He then drew another picture which I took to represent the holy hierarchy of antibiotics, with the aforementioned far far back either the power chart or the timeline or both. Anyway, what he gave me is way better. Cefa-somethingorother. After much handshaking and thank youing we were shown out and at the desk I was asked to pay for the visit. 7200 won (about $7!). We were given a prescription and went to the pharmacy next door (the hospital didn't have a pharmacy but it did have a funeral parlor, which seems to me a conflict of interest). I was given an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and a capsule that I now think mitigates pain. It took the pharmacy less that three minutes to process and dispense my prescription, which came three pills to a little clear plastic packet: three pills twice a day after meals for two weeks. Total: 12600 won ($12.50!!). Twenty bucks total. I think I was charged in the neighborhood of $1500 for the last visit to the hospital (Editor's note: My mom, reading my mail back home, said it is up to $3000 now- somebody read an x-ray). I took the pills about two hours ago and I feel better already.

Have I told you before that I love this place?

19 August 2008

You Are Here: Mt. Mangsan and Bongam Beach

I woke up, if I ever slept at all, about 4AM. I came to the conclusion that night that I could sleep on the floor with AC or in a bed without AC but without either it was a no go. Sorry budget travel buffs...remove me feed from your reader if you must, but I am too old and set in my ways to rough it anymore.

I told Blue Jean I was going outside for a while and she snored "OK" and was back out before I even got out the door. My gods that girl can sleep. And on the floor of a mosquito infested sauna. (She doesn't have AC in her bedroom at home and although she does have a bed she is just as comfortable on the floor.) I brushed my teeth and grabbed my journal, a pen, and my camera and out the door I went. The light sprinkle I encountered soon turned into a downpour. I settled under a small overhang on the building next door next to a dead bonsai tree and waited out the rain. Someone had used the pot of the dead bonsai for an ashtray. I thought to myself that this was an end too ignoble for something which had suffered so much for the sake of beauty.

The rain caused a bit of a stir along the wharf. A few tents were set up along the bay and the rest of the previous evening's revelers were in various states of unconsciousness in cars and around public buildings. Perhaps they had met with the same chilly greeting we had at the guest houses but I suspect that the plan for most was to sleep where they landed. Koreans swell up like the mumps from mosquito bites and I was killing them right and left but there were quite a few people sleeping out in the open or in cars with doors and windows open. It must have been quite a feast. I was amazed by the diversity of the mosquito species. Some of them were rather large and actually had striped abdomen. I would not likely survive malaria due to my liver condition and supposedly it is still found on some of the islands. The room had screens that held that distinction in name only but we were provided with a spiral of mosquito fumigant which had, I am certain, not helped with the atmosphere in the room. Everything we owned stunk like that stuff when we left. I can still smell it.

I got my pen out and wrote a few things down and took some pictures. The fishing fleet had gone before I got up but as the storm passed and light broke I could see the men working the floating fisheries in the bay. Each operation probably covered an acre and held a small hut and a port-a-potty and most had a boat or two. I am not sure what they were raising but we saw a lot of similar things in the inter-tidal zone and at low tide you could see ropes strung with shells which I assume were there to seed oysters. I will have to find out more about the fisheries the next time I go but it is difficult. Of all the people I have encountered in Korea the guys who work the boats are the most surly which is to be expected I suppose. They leave early and come back late and pulling nets is no picnic. I am sure crabby doesn't begin to describe their demeanor. It is a rough life. Although many people in Busan stare at me like a freak of nature people out here on the islands openly gawk. Either that or they refuse to make eye contact. The ladies in our minbak laughed the whole time were in there and I heard their conversation peppered with "miguk" (American) this and "miguk" that. And they really grilled Yoo Jin about the nature of our relationship. I wish I could have understood what she said because I would really like to know. (co co co)

A herd of cats was picking over the debris from the night before. Wherever there are raw fish restaurants there are cats. Cats here, like Zoulie, tend to be cut size. There were gulls flying out to sea and herons, cranes, and egrets flying the opposite way toward land. I couldn't figure that out. The gulls were calling out with their sad laugh. The horizon was still obscured from view by a thick fog but the light of sunrise was striking high pink feathery clouds straight up that were backed by a deep blue sky. Soon the first to recover were breaking out their fishing gear to do it all again. I repaired to the room and stared at Yoo Jin till she opened one eye and smiled at me. We (mostly I) decided to get out of that room ASAP and we got packed and went down to the little store and I bought some Diget crackers and some Pocari Sweat energy drinks and what I thought was orange juice and we headed out to climb the mountain.

Now I know what some of you are going to say: 293 meters is not a mountain. Well, you can kiss my sore butt because it says right there on the map: "Mt. Mangsan." And I almost died. Three times. Once of cardiac arrest and twice of a broken coccyx. And we never even made it to Mt. Mangsan because the trail went over two other mountains on the way there and when we got to the top of the first one I only wanted to go down, not down and up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down, which is what we would have had to do if we went there. But it was an amazing experience. This trail actually goes all the way across the island if you look at that map and I would like to go do that. In November maybe. Because it was hot. About half way up I decided to remove my shirt which was soaked and not really doing much of anything. It is strictly against Korean etiquette for men to be seen in public without a shirt. Even at the beach it is rare. When I took it off Yoo Jin tilted her head at me and said "Nake?", which is her word for naked. I said, "Yep." That gave me the lift I needed and we pressed on up to the summit. It took us about three hours round trip.

When we got back down we headed directly to the island next door, which was connected by a beautiful new bridge. When we got to Bongam Beach town we went and had some grub, a fish soup in a mild clear broth with lemon grass and cilantro and scallions and cabbage and seaweed and lots of garlic. We got one and a half heads and a couple of tails and some of the meaty middle sections. It was really good and felt like wholesome and totally right food for where we were. And we really enjoyed the Air Conditioning. We took our time eating, I'll tell you that. I wrote some and we stared out the windows at the ocean.

After lunch we went to the beach and popped open a parasol. The beach was rocks, smooth rounded ones that started out as big as a softball up by the seawall and gradually diminished to pebble size at the waterline. They were hard to walk on barefoot. I was sceptical about sleeping on them but I put my flip-flops under my butt and my rolled up windbreaker under my head and after adjusting a few of them I was comfortable and promptly fell asleep.

I woke up and went swimming. The water was cool but it was a quick adjustment to being very comfortable. I still can't get over how salty the water is. I can swim with my eyes open under the water but it is so salty that it dried in crystals on my skin and pants and made my lips burn. After a bit I talked Blue Jean into getting in (she can't swim) and I held her in the ocean for about an hour. Bliss.

Across the bay, I have in my notes, at least three other islands are visible (it is hard to tell which ones are separate or connected from sea level). Each island had a small village of maybe twenty buildings which likely supported a small fishing fleet. Some had small terraced fields climbing the mountains above the town. Whitewashed buildings with orange roofs predominate. It is possible to stay on the islands further out if you take one of the other ferries and I would definitely like to do that some time. Tongyeong was only about two hours and 9500W from Busan by express bus.

After dinner we hiked back to Jindo to catch the bus. Bus pulled up to the dock right before the ferry. We camped out on the padded floor of the seating area and Yoo Jin slept. We got into Tongyeong about 4:30PM and set out to find a hotel. I was determined to find someplace nice to sleep and boy did I. The bathroom was bigger than the room we had the night before. And there was a bed. And an AC unit that we turned on high. The windows had inside shutters that turned the room pitch black. After a shower and a nap I went out to find some cigarettes and got a bottle of suju that we mixed with the little bottles of vitamin C drink that I found in the fridge. Clean and rested we went out to find some food. When we got outside I thought I heard thunder but when we got down to the harbor we saw the end of an amazing fireworks display (it was "Independence from Japan" day). You haven't seen fireworks till you have seen these guys do it. The whole thing was like the grand finale at home and the grand finale was unlike anything I have ever seen. It filled the entire eastern horizon.

We tried to catch a cab (I was hankering after sushi for some reason), but they were not to be found so we went to a galbi place that was simply amazing. I counted twelve dishes before they had even brought the meat. We cooked it up slowly and had more soju and laughed and talked with the rest of the table (a family of three) and toasted "kombae!" and ate till we were stuffed. We grilled up the shrimp first, and the garlic and mushrooms, and then threw on the samgyopsal and the galbi (marinated rib meat) that was the best I have ever had. We walked the waterfront back to the hotel happy happy happy.

The next day we got up late and caught a cab to the bus terminal and got back to Busan about 1pm. We went straight to our favorite sushi and there are some pictures to show why we like it. I put my camera on video and set it on the conveyor and it went around and back and everyone got a kick out of it and it was an amazing video but I erased it on accident. I guess I will have to go back there again. Dangit.

Later that evening I took Yoo Jin down to the train station and reluctantly kissed her goodbye. It was a wonderful weekend. Hopefully more to come.

Note: There are pictures for this and the previous travel post here and all of my photo albums are available here for your perusal and/or ridicule.

18 August 2008

Thoughts Random

I am feeling very content today in spite of everything. I have some dinner plans for later in the week and company coming next weekend. And it is hard not to fall under the spell of this city. The weather here is so beautiful in the evenings. It can be blazing hot at noon but as soon as the sun ducks down behind the western mountains the sea breeze gets sucked into the city and you can literally feel the temperature drop. The light in the evenings is so beautiful. The sun goes down long before actual dark because of the mountains and the sky just glows with refracted light. In the morning there is always a soft mist and everything looks like it was shot in black and white. My neighborhood never sleeps, and at night the neon everywhere gives off its own kind of sad light, a fitting poignancy with all the brothels and burnouts. Have I said before that I love this place?

Back to work today. It just keeps getting easier. I have lesson plans for the afternoon classes for the rest of the month and more ideas for the "Safety and Transportation" unit in the morning classes than I will ever get to. This week I have student evaluations due for my three morning classes and unit tests due for my six afternoon classes so I am going to be very busy. I will likely have to stay late tomorrow night to get the review materials ready in time to hand them out on Wednesday so the students can prepare for the actual tests on Friday. It is important to the bosses that they do well on the tests.

I got a lot done last night, laundry and cleaning up. The cat must have had a mental breakdown while I was gone. She fell asleep on my wet shorts last night when I got back in. She has had a major positive personality shift. She doesn't bite me anymore when I pet her. She must have heard me talking on the phone a long time before I got here tonight because she was crying so loud I could hear her in the stairwell. I hope she didn't do that all day.

I didn't sleep well last night and I was exhausted when I went to bed. I really had to fight the crabbies today at work. I am learning to laugh at the bad behavior and not let them get inside my head and make me angry, which is kind of hard sometimes. I have a couple of students in the afternoon that are expert button pushers. Divine retribution for all the buttons I have pushed I figure. I only got mad once today. There is a little smarty pants in one of my classes of ten-year-olds that sassed me in Korean and made all of the other kids laugh. She is a real piece of work. The worst kids are always the smartest ones. They are just bored. I know all too well how that feels. I should be more sympathetic.

I got an actual letter from home today, my first. Orvetta, my former neighbor back home for those of you who don't know her, sent me a wonderful note. She is a very special person. I am going to write her back ASAP. When anyone gets a letter it is a big deal. I needed that today.

17 August 2008

Tongyeong and Hansando Island and Jindo Town

I had one hour to get from work to the train station downtown so I bolted out the door and caught a cab to the subways station, figuring that the subway would be faster than taking a cab all the way at rush hour. I got there in time for a quick bite (bulgogi MVP grilled cheese at Isaac Toast: yum!) and walked in just as they popped the gate. I got a forward facing window seat but I was in an even numbered row so I was between windows. Remember this for next time. Everything runs right on time here and the train was no exception: we left the station on the second.

We stopped at Gupo station in northwest Busan on the way out and the unoccupied seat next to me was taken by a girl whose boyfriend brought in her luggage, kissed her goodbye and took off. She immediately started crying and did so until I got off in Daegu an hour later. Every once in a while it would wane and then she would get a text message and start up again. I felt the same way last night on the subway after I took Yoo Jin to the train station but I held it together.

She has changed everything about this. Just when things were starting to become bland she showed up and made everything vivid again. I have said it before but it is incredible how cool she is. She moves through the world with a sense of grace and appreciation of beauty and innate wisdom that is beyond her years. She is also far too humble. She can't see how special she is. I have never met anyone else like her. She's a keeper.

She was waiting for me at the station and we found a motel nearby (from the Lonely Planet, god love it) that was clean and well appointed and at 30000W a great value. We went out and found a fried chicken joint that was delicious but a little overpriced. We ate outside on a maru, the little low platforms everywhere that are like outdoor living rooms). We got some maekju (beer) and ate slow and talked and laughed. After a while a guy came up and started talking to us. His name was Kim Tae Moon and he and I ended up hanging out late into the night. (Yoo Jin had to go home to mama.) He said he could sing and started out with "Take Me Home Country Road." I joined in with some harmonies and we were instant buddies. We ended up going to a nearby karaoke bar and singing until neither of us had any voice left. By the end of the night we were walking down the street in the rain holding hands, which is totally cool for grown men to do in Korea, especially if they are drunk off their asses (we also shared a love of soju it turned out). I bid him adieu at the door to my hotel and went in and passed out I don't know when. Yoo Jin came and woke me up at 7AM and I was really feeling it then. But I had so much fun the night before that I didn't care.

We walked through the train station the next morning on the way to the bus terminal and here come Tae Moon, wearing the same clothes and the same big smile. I gave him a big hug and he pointed us to the shortcut. At the bus terminal we went got a ticket and had a half hour till our bus left so we went and got some Dunkin Donuts. On the way we found the Blue Jean hat at a street vendor (see pics). Onto the bus and off. BTW: I took three busses, two taxis, two ferries, one subway and a train on this trip and I added up the total transportation cost and it was less than 40000W ($40). Not bad.

Ate lunch in Masan and transferred to Tongyeong bus. Got a little cranky about then. Got to town and took a cab directly to the ferry terminal where we caught a ferry that was just leaving for Hansando Island. The island had a bus but it pulled out before we realized we should have got on it and had to wait an hour for it to come back. It was ok though. Yoo Jin drew a cool picture of the view (she is quite an artist) and I wrote in my journal and we had ice cream. When the bus got back we hopped in and while we were waiting to leave a guy got on and started screaming at the driver. You have to understand: this simply does not occur in Korea. Korean culture has no place for conflict. They do anything they can to dispel disagreements without resorting to raised voices. I will probably never see anything like this again. It was incredible. The whole bus turned on the guy and then he started screaming at everyone in general. Yoo Gin was literally shaking, and we were in the very back of the bus. I thought it was hilarious. A guy with a lifeguard shirt went up immediately went up and separated the guy from the bus driver who was kind of in a bad position as he was sitting down and couldn't get up without bumping the guy. I felt bad for him. I would have killed this guy. A few seconds later a constable showed up out of nowhere and got in the guys face and ended up physically removing him from the bus and wrestling him down the wharf. I never did figure out why the guy was angry. It was something to see. There is a great picture of Yoo Jin's reaction.

We went around the island, not really knowing where to get off, but Yoo Jin had talked to the driver and told him that we wanted to go to the beach and he said that we couldn't go there on the bus but he could get us close. We got to a little fishing village called Jindo and he yelled back to us to get off. There were maybe twenty buildings in the little town. We walked down to the waterfront to inquire about lodging. Yoo Jin asked a lady peeling garlic on the breakwater if her minbak had any rooms. She said we needed to make reservations. We went to all of the other minbak in the little town and they all said they were full. We were looking pretty screwed. The last bus was coming soon and there wasn't another ferry until the next day and it looked like rain. We went back to the first lady and asked if we could make reservations. She said yes. We made reservations for that night (!) and she gave us a room. (I am still not sure what happened here.) It was 40000W, but she wanted us to get two rooms. Yoo Jin said no, one room. They talked for a minute and came to some kind of understanding.

She showed us to out room and get this: maybe 8x12 and a "bathroom" shared by the six rooms on the floor and no AC and no BED! Now to be fair, this is typical accommodation for a minbak, or pension. But I had a few rules when I got here and I had already broken most of them. No slit toilets (this turned out to be a good prohibition that I still break only under great duress), no eating at sit on the floor restaurants (this turned out to be a stupid prohibition than I now completely disregard), and no sleeping on the floor. The real blow was the lack of AC because the humidity on the sea is brutal. I know I sound like a baby and I am. It's just that I am a very troubled sleeper to start with. I don't sleep well under idea conditions. We were without any other options and I was with Yoo Jin which makes the worst possible outcome pleasant so we made ourselves cozy.

After a brief nappy we went downstairs and had a wonderful dinner. The restaurant (operated by our hosts) was a hoe place, but we were not in a position to spend 70000W for that so we had samgyopsal. I have become something of an expert on this presentation and this was great (we had it again the next night and it was great, too, but for completely different reasons). You cook it yourself on a domed cast iron plate, usually fired from below by gas but sometimes charcoal. Samgyopsal is basically uncured bacon. I usually throw on a few pieces to grease it up for the garlic. There are also usually other veggies to cook up, like onion, cabbage, mushrooms, or peppers. A lot of times seaside places give you whole (head on) fresh shrimp or prawn as starters to cook up. Some people throw on some kimchi. The idea is to slowly feed on the meat and eat it as it is ready. The meat comes in strips and they give you scissors to cut it up into bite size pieces as it cooks. I like to wait till it is almost done but Koreans cut it up earlier. You take a piece or two of meat and wrap it up in lettuce or sesame leaf (or, like Yoo Jin, bless her pretty heart, both) and put in a piece of roasted garlic and some red bean sauce and some veggies and pop it in the mouth. Yoo Jin and I mostly make them and feed them to each other. She likes them a little spicier and I like more garlic. I can't make them for myself as good as she can for me. Soju is the perfect accompaniment and you drink it out of shot glasses and say "kombai!" and then turn the shot glass upside down on you head to show it is empty.

After dinner we went for a walk down by the sea. There was a party going on out there. Ten parties actually. People had been fishing all day and they were eating the catch, either raw or cooking it on grills or both. The festivities were well lubricated and went on late into the night.

After a bit we went upstairs and tried to sleep. This is the end of Friday.

15 August 2008

Weekend Update

Just got back from Tongyeong and the islands. Had a great weekend. I am going to do the same thing I did last time and spread the posts out over a couple of days. There are a lot of funny stories and new pictures, which I have already uploaded here. I am wore out. Goodnight. By the way...you should click on that picture.

13 August 2008

All the Things I Wasn't Worried About

I have been here long enough to get a handle on most things here (no pun intended) and I think it is time to revisit the post I wrote prior to leaving where I attempted to foresee what would be the most difficult parts of my adjustment.

  • Banking. I have had a pretty easy time with this, although I haven't tried to send any money home yet (sorry mom). There are a couple of people at the bank branch who speak passable English and I have been able to access money here pretty easily. I have had some trouble getting money from home when I needed it but the one real emergency I had was solved using of all things my checkbook. I wrote a check to a coworker and he cashed it and it went through (about two weeks later) at the current exchange rate. I don't think there was a fee on either end. There are two major international banks here and I think I will end up opening an account at one of them. This might be the easiest way to move money back home.
  • Shopping: I have found most of the clothing I needed at the larger shopping centers like Megamart. They had shoes my size and I even found a set of sheets. It is possible to find anything if you don't mind looking. The best shopping moment I had was finding the 220 battery charger in Yeosu. I was walking around aimlessly looking for anything resembling an electronics shop and I eventually came upon a tiny shop with alarm clocks and odd looking batteries in the window. I showed the proprietor where it said 110 on my charger and he scratched his chin and started going through the hundreds of tiny boxes lining the shelves of his shop. After about two minutes he came up with my charger. I gave him a hug which is not cool but I think he understood my drift.
  • Transportation: I had conjectured that it would be best to buy a scooter and I still thought so when I got here but we all know how that turned out. I still don't miss it (it got stolen the first week I owned it after I left the keys in it at work if you are just joining us). Public transportation is incredible here. The subways here are unbelievable and even with my rudimentary Korean I am starting to understand the bus routes. It is cheaper in many cases to take a taxi than either the buses or the subway in many cases. They must be subsidized is the only thing I can think of to explain how ridiculously cheap they are. The buses come about every two minutes and I have never waited more than I couple of minutes for a taxi. In addition, there are buses and trains going everywhere in the country in half-hour or one-hour intervals. I went all the way across the southern part of the country by bus last week for about 25000won ($30) last week on vacation. Round trip. I have a train ticket for Deagu tomorrow night (as far as Springfield/St. Louis) and it cost 10800.
  • Food: This has probably been the roughest. I have been unable to find the things I need to make some pretty basic stuff. For an Irish kid prepared to live on potatoes if necessary $7 a pound butter is a low blow. On the other hand, pork and seafood are very inexpensive and the stores stock lots of cool stuff like fresh take-home sushi. Every day I find something new I like and the menus at restaurant are becoming intelligable. I have started to like very basic rice dishes a lot. Korean food is extremely spicy. I went out and had kimchi bukkombap (fried rice with kimchi) and it was hot and all the sides were hot but I have been able to handle pretty much everything. The only thing that has bothered me is the noodle soup, like ramen but better. It is HOT. It will give me a little gurgly gut. Everything else has been ok. It is not a matter of finding things I liked back home anymore because there isn't any. It is a matter of finding things I like here. And I have found a lot. If I get desperate for a taste of home there is always the McDonalds, which is better than home because they still use saturated fats. Yummy.

  • Teaching: The first month was a bitch. I didn't get the material, I didn't know how to deal with the kids, and I didn't really understand what was expected of me. Now I have a complete lesson plan for all of my classes and I have come to terms with the potential of the materials (which was actually much better than I thought), and I have a handle on the expectations. I came into this with a lecturer's mindset. That didn't work. However, keeping the kids engaged helps me stay engaged and I am finding that I am often surprised by the bell now. At first the days drug on horribly. Now I have more to do than I have time to do it for most classes. I would advise incoming teachers to plan to weather the storm for the first month. After that you will hit your stride.
  • Packing: I brought pretty much everything I need. I would like to have a couple more short sleeved collared shirts, especially since I ruined one. My best purchase was my convertable pants/shorts. I am also happy that I brought a feather pillow. I don't know what they do with the feathers here but they ain't putting them in the pillows. My pack is great and my slicker has come in handy. I am pretty good in the clothes department and as I said above, there is more out there if I need it.
  • Accomodations: I like my apartment. It is small but plenty roomy enough for me and a guest. I have pretty much left the AC on arctic all the time and my first electric bill was only 47000 so it is a pretty efficient place. The matress is like a rock (not surprising since most Koreans sleep on the floor) but I am getting used to it. I haven't done much cooking, but when I do the kitchen functions well. The hand shower is a lot better than I thought it would be, and saves a lot of water. Wet down, lather, rinse. Nice. There are nicer places...I could have an apartment with an ocean view on the 50th floor of a highrise. But I guess I am blessed by not knowing the difference. If I want to see the ocean all I have to do is take a ten minute ride on the subway.

All told I am pretty content. Like I said, there have been some rough spots. But I read before I left that the most important thing is to maintain an open mind and a positive outlook. Every time I walk out my door I am instantly on an adventure. This city is the best. Everyone I have talked to who is teaching elsewhere tells me: Busan is the greatest. Climate, culture, clubs, outdoors, touring, food, people...everything the best. I am so lucky.

The Imperceptible Fade Into Familiarity

I am beginning to settle in now and although the days are becoming pleasant and comfortable, it is kind of sad to see the newness of the place and the excitement of the early days fade into familiarity. The street scenes that used to captivate me are becoming part of the everyday world. Some of this has to do with my growing knowledge of the Korean language. All of the million signs here used to advertise the exotic and the mysterious in my imagination. Now I see just pool halls and massage parlors.

That said, every time I leave the house to go out I still feel a sense of adventure. A friend on vacation told me the Korean expression "EH" or "everyday holiday." Jourdan and I have adopted this as a motto. It is similar in meaning to "don't worry, be happy," and it fits when you are an expat in situations that are at times a little too surreal for the newness to remain thrilling.

Last night I took off from work and went down to the college neighborhood around KSU to meet Jourdan. He has turned out to be a pretty cool person to hang out with. He can't drink much because of his health problems so he is inadvertently a good influence. I was to meet him at seven at a Starbuck's near the subway that is a standard meeting place down there and I got off at five so I was an hour and a half early. I got a mango-passion fruit smoothy and settled down in a window seat with a book, half reading, half people watching.

Just a note on Starbuck's, which I hate and you should, too. I was sitting there for about a half an hour and I began to have a sharp pain that started in me buttocks and radiated up my spine to my armpits and shoulders. The chairs (the wooden ones) look very comfortable and nice, but if you look closely in the right light you can see that they have a large flat place in the center of where the butt crevice should be. It has the effect of placing all of the weight right on the base of the spine. For short term seating very comfortable. Long term: excruciating. I must be the only person who feels this way because as I was looking for some backup online I found a bunch of sites offering to sell you duplicates for your dining room. Talk about branding the herd.

Jourdan showed up and we walked around looking for something to eat. We stopped first at a Turkish street vendor who was selling chicken and cabbage wraps that were fair. We mosied on deeper into the bazaar and found a new thing: a smoker was built into the front of an upscale samgyopsal shop and was exuding the kind of smells that make my tummy growl. Samgyopsal is basically a thick strip of pork belly that you cook at the table and eat wrapped in lettuce with a variety of goodies. This place actually smoked the pork before they brought it. Yay! We got a sampler that came with three kinds of meat (belly, neck, and rib) and a bottle of beer. We started off with the belly and it was great. Next the neck, which was ok, but lacked the flavor of the belly, although it was leaner. The ribs, which I had saved for last, were a huge disappointment. They were dried out and tasted bad (Jourdan said that they tasted like hotdogs, but I have had some good hotdogs and would actually kill for one right now). All in all I would say the place was pretty good if you only ordered the belly and if they gave fresh lettuce for wrapping, an inexplicable omission.

When we got out of there it had started to rain. We hightailed it back to the Starbuck's to wait out the storm, even though the subway entrance was only a few yards away. He got some tea and a brownie, which I couldn't eat at 9pm because of my caffeine sensitivity. After a while we headed out. I went to an art store and bought a couple of drawing pads and some art pencils for Blue Jean and I. We had talked about drawing and found it was something that we had both enjoyed quite a bit at one time and I suggested that we do it as a way to help me slow down and really see what we are looking at when we find something beautiful on a trip. I tend to be "go-go-go" whereas she is always saying we should sit down and hang out at the pretty places. She is so cool.

Hopefully we will have an opportunity to use them this weekend as we go on a short trip on my long weekend. I have Friday off to celebrate independence from Japan and I am going to see Yoo Jin in Deagu on Thursday night and then we are going down to Tong-yeong, a small town on the southern coast which promises many pretty sights. I am not sure if I will have internet access but I promise to take lots of pictures and real good notes.

11 August 2008

Oh No.

"Character is Fate."
Ludwig van Beethoven

I'm screwed.

10 August 2008


I have a recurring nightmare that I am falling to my death. This is the only type of death dream that I have. I never drown or get blown up. I always fall. As a result, although I wouldn't say that I am afraid of heights I am at times a bit timid. When we went up the Busan Tower I was keeping a respectful distance from the windows. Yoo Gin ran up and plopped down on the sill.

She came down to Busan on the train for a visit. I met her at the Krispy Kreme factory in Seomyeon. I always wanted to go there and she had told me that she wanted to have breakfast so I suggested donuts. It was pretty good. They give you a glazed donut hot out of the donut factory when you walk in. We got some coffees and I got a chocolate custard bismark and she got a strawberry cheesecake one that was kind of blucky and I knew it and she knew I knew it but she ate most of it anyway to be polite.

We sat there and talked for a long time. One of the things that we talked about was talking. She was, and is, worried that our language difficulties could become a real problem in the future as we find the need to express more, as she put it, nuanced things to each other. I agree with her, but I had thought about this before and proposed an immediate solution. She agreed and we went off to the big bookstore and got his and her English/Korean Korean/English dictionaries. We put these to good use for the rest of the weekend. I have now mastered the better part of the human anatomy in Korean and she knows how to describe my sense of humor using a variety of interesting metaphors.

After donuts we went to the temple at Beomeosa. We had purchased a bottle of wine (Black Tower Reisling) last week on a shopping trip and I had (somehow) saved it till this weekend and had brought it along but I wanted to keep it chilled so on our way in I climbed down under the bridge and stuck it under a ledge in the water of the mountain stream that runs through there, which wasn't freezing but it was a lot cooler than my backpack. After that we made our way up the steps to the temple complex. It was just as beautiful as before and I saw some things I had missed the first time, including the "See on evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil" Buddhas in the photo above. We (well, I) started to get hungry after a while so we headed back down the mountain to find lunch. We walked for a while until we found a little galbi shop and the proprietor stuck us in a little private room and cranked up the AC for us. We soon had the wine open and some beef on the grill and things were okey-dokey. We sat there for a long time on the floor, eating slow and talking. It was grand.

On Sunday Yoo Jin said she wanted to do some more sightseeing and I suggested the Busan City Tour bus. If you recall, I went on this on a rainy day my second week here and didn't really get to see much because of the weather. There are two routes, one that goes North to the beaches and one that goes South to Yeongdo island and Busan Tower and the fish market and we took that one. I wanted to see some of the things I missed the first time. The bus takes you on the route and you can get out at any of the stops and catch a later bus (they come to each site every 40 minutes). We got out at the two places aforementioned. At Busan Tower I took lots of kewl pictures of my adopted city and they are in the photoblog. At the island we hiked up out to a small beach and caught an excursion boat. The rocks were a beautiful reddish gray and when we got to the side of the island that faces the city a fog came that made the outcroppings look other worldly. There was a brisk breeze coming down the coast from the north that was very welcome. As the day went on it got hotter and hotter. Poor Yoo Jin's feet were burnt a little.

It was a lovely weekend. Yoo Jin makes a wonderful travelling companion. She isn't afraid to get wet or sweaty and she is a strong hiker and likes to eat, drink, and be merry. I cannot imagine a cross word coming out of her mouth. She is way cooler than me and dresses like a little hippy, complete with vintage t-shirts, Birkenstocks, and rolled-up cargo pants. We have a great time together and laugh all the time. She is funny and seems to like things about me that I think are repulsive, like my nostrils (ko't-gu-mong) , my belly (pae), and my double chin (ch'il-myon-jo mok [my translation: turkey neck]). For myself I love her chak-un pal and her ong-dong-i. Don't tell her I said that. She claims she is obese but I picked her up once and I don't think she weighs 8 stone. I think she is divine.

There are lots of pictures here.

08 August 2008

The Kindergarten Symbolists

When I started teaching here I found that the children had a limited pain threshold when it came to vocabulary and memorization. Writing and recitation only got us so far before the brains began to go elsewhere for stimulation. In Lincoln class, where last month's book was an ABC text with animals ("A is for Alligator"), I took to making word lists for a few letters each day. I would let the children generate four or five words for each of three letters, have a brief recitation and a spelling contest ("Who can spell for me....Newt!") and then they would draw pictures for each word. This generated fairly predictable, yet still precious, results when the words were nouns. But the children were also coming up with adjectival abstractions (new, soft, nice, kind, hard) and nouns from other classes that really challenged the minds of my six-year-old illustrators (how do you draw earthquake or safety?). The results were fascinating.

I once wrote an article about a man named Henry Darger. His art, some of which can be seen here, is considered very special by people who study art and human development because his artistic impulse and method appears to have occurred in a near vacuum. It was only discovered after his death that Darger had not only written a 15000 page novel (and an unfinished 8000 page sequel), but that he had also illustrated it with drawings and watercolors, some as large as 2x8 feet. Darger's vision is beautifully horrific and the suspected reasons for this, childhood trauma suffered in the turn of the century Illinois state orphanage system, are even more terrifying. The subject of the novel is a group of young girls (often depicted nude and sporting penises) who are assisted by friendly monsters in a war against an adult male army. It is called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.

What makes Darger, and other rare "outsider artists" like him, so special is that art of any kind is typically very derivative. From the first time we pick up a crayon we are conditioned by the lines we fill and the images we are shown and techniques we are given to emulate. Darger apparently had few influences other than those generated by his own unique mind (he was posthumously diagnosed with Ausperger's syndrome).

I am not saying that these children are developing as artists in a vacuum, but when given that they are trying to express visually concepts that are not only new to them in many cases but also presented in a language they are only just beginning to learn they certainly qualify at minumun as having fresh perspectives. There is also evidence ("Is Google Making Us Stupid" Harpers Magazine July/August 08) that the language center of the brain develops differently in people whose language is pictographic (like Chinese) versus those with a phonetic/character based system (like English) and that the cognitive affect of this is far reaching, effecting everything from emotive response to image making. This isn't hard to understand: if your word for love is a picture not a set of interchangeable characters, the emotion itself would take on that specific association far more readily. The Korean language, Hangul, is in many ways a hybrid language, with pictographic-looking symbols created from phonetic characters. In many ways it represents the best of both concepts: the beauty of an image-like presentation with the convenience of phonetics and character construction.

The children continue to amaze me. Every day one of them comes up with something at which I can only shake my head. And one of the most fascinating things about being here and doing what I am doing is that I have a front row seat from which to observe the development of the Eastern mind. "Earthquake" generated a lot of human characters and tilted buildings in the middle of zig-zag lines, as if the pencil marks were illustrating the motion they felt. "Safety" (likely preconditioned a bit by my simple definition "being careful so people don't become sick or hurt") brought pictures of human carnage with "X"s drawn very carefully through them (the hand sign for no is not the western palm out hand waggle but two crossed forefingers or, in extreme cases, forearms). For "soft" I got bunnies and puppies, but also, interestingly, quite a few mothers cradling infants. "New" had shiny things (like rings with sparkle marks), but also wrapped presents and one bird nest with a chick emerging from an egg. Brilliant.

More Darger links:
Synopsis to a PBS documentary.
PBS.org slideshow of selected work.

06 August 2008

Hongdo and Home

In 2004 a small production company with a minuscule budget shocked the film world by winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival with Old Boy, a revenge thriller. One of the producers on the film was a young man named Kim Dong Joo.

He is a Mokpo native with homes in Seoul and Santa Barbara. He had returned to his hometown to commemorate the eighth anniversary of his father's death. He was on his way to a coffee house near my hotel when he spotted me sitting outside a small family store with a group of neighbors having a spot of Soju. He told me later that he could not believe his eyes. It was so hot, and I was obviously not having much luck with conversation, but the locals had welcomed me into their cabal and we were laughing like life-long friends. He asked me if I wanted to join him. I was very reluctant, since I have had bad experiences in these kinds of situations before, as you know, but he was intelligent and well-dressed and spoke very good English so I agreed to go to the coffee house if he promised to help me find my way back. We talked pretty much non-stop for the next four hours, when I was dropped off by his driver at the front door of my hotel. In the interim he told me about a project he was developing which centered around the idea that there was a fourth Wise Man. I am not going to go into specifics here at his request, but he ended up asking me if I would look at the draft of the script and I enthusiastically agreed.

We hung out the next night as well, when he met Jourdan and I at the coffee house and then took us on a midnight tour of Mokpo. It is an incredibly beautiful little town, and I never would have known without the hospitality of D.J.

Friday morning we rose early (me on three hours of sleep) and went to the ferry terminal to get on the boat. I am not sure what kind of engine the boat had but it was a big streamlined catamaran with twin impellers and it flew. Our seats were in the center of the boat on the second floor, right behind the cockpit. It didn't matter, because I didn't sit down much. We were only out to sea for maybe 15 minutes when the first wave of nausea struck the passenger compartment. I have never seen so many people so sick in my life. It was carnage. Martin was ill and spent the whole trip laying on the floor and poor Jourdan almost died. He has a lot of stomach problems as it is and is very thin as a result so any vomiting on his part is particularly dangerous. I spent most of the trip attending to him and others nearby. At one point the second floor ran out of bags and I went downstairs to get more (there were 90 upstairs and 240 downstairs and it was way worse in the forward section of the downstairs where the wave action was particularly brutal). I managed to procure about five bags nonetheless, which I palmed into Jourdan's cargo pocket.

We arrived at the island after about two and a half hours and were deposited onto a long wharf lined with Hoe stands and touristy-type souvenir hawkers. We were shepherded into an area along the beach reserved for our tour and were given a long set of instructions in vehement Korean. Where we were to eat, how we were to procure our tour boat tickets, how and where we were to board the tour boat, how to procure our return ticket, how and where to board the return ferry, all of this I am certain was explained in great detail. We had to wing it. Jourdan, the only one of us with operational Korean, spent the entire meeting on the ground in the fetal position.

The island was shaped kind of like an 8 with the settled area straddling the narrow part and a harbors adjacent to each. We followed some people from our group over the saddle to the other side and went into a little dining room with seating for maybe 40 people. The meal was a simple fish soup with lots of good Korean sides. I told a guy nearby who could speak English that Jourdan had not fared well on the trip over, this explaining the death mask he was still wearing. The man produced a small brown vial with Chinese writing and told Jourdan to drink it after he had eaten. Up to this point Jourdan had no intention of eating, but the possibility of relief spurred him to eat most of his rice and a bit of soup. (I ate like a man possessed and was still hungry when they kicked us out so the next shift could eat.) He then drank what we came to call 'The Secret Serum," and never had a bit of seasickness again.

Woe to those who did not procure Secret Serum, because if the trip over was bad, the boat tour around the island was of another order. The boat driver went out of his way to help, running us as close to the cliffs as possible and searching out special spots which maximized simultaneous pitch and roll. I loved it. In retrospect, I cannot believe that the poor sick people even got on the thing. But they did, and the basement of the little tour boat became a very sicky sick bay.

Hongdo Island is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The cliffs were past vertical, hanging out over the churning sea in places. Spires and caves and pinnacles and balancing rocks and reefs and atolls and the beautiful harbors. It really took one's breath away. I sat up on the front of the boat snapping pictures until the tour guide can and grabbed me and my stuff just before the whole front of the boat got washed over by a huge wave. I would have been gone. At one point a fishing boat tied up along side and the crew began killing, gutting, filleting, an slicing them up to sell to the passengers. I was sick of Hoe and at 30000won a plate (with sides and a bottle of Soju) it was a bit pricey, but it looked great and it was a great piece of showmanship.

We got back in and split up to go sightseeing. I went down to the beach. It was a boulder beach, some of the rounded rocks ten feet across. I decided to go swimming but it was very difficult to get into the water, I soon discovered. It was possible to boulder hop down to the water, but getting past the break without breaking something was not easy. I hopped out and thought I was doing fine until a large wave came in and I was down on the rocks. I later discovered (during a similar fall on the way back in) that float-crawling up right up to the shoreline in the water was a much better strategy. Once in the water it was magical. The water was clear blue-green with great visibility. The boulders, which varied greatly in size, continued out into the water, and it was possible to find large ones to stand atop far out into the water. I must have looked quite humorous to the assembled onlookers, a tiny head far out in the water topped by a bright red Cardinals cap. (I have learned to swim with my hat to avoid scalp and facial burning.)

On the way out of the water I found the area around my clothes surrounded by a group of squealing children who were "crab fishing" in the rocks of the wave zone. They each had a piece of fish about the size of an open matchbook which they were dangling down between the rocks. When a crab snuck out and grabbed the bait they would scream for the bucket, which their mother would bring over. The tricky bit was to gently pull the crab up and into the bucket without making it turn loose. They were not getting many crabs into the bucket but they were sure having fun. When I came up out of the water they pointed at me and laughed their heads off until their mom made them quit. My belly is a never ending source of glee to Korean children. When I reach up to illustrate a point in class and inadvertently expose myself it takes five minutes to restore order.

We boarded the ferry and off we went. I had made quite a few friends by this point and spent most of the trip down by the engine room drinking beer with the boys. I met the captain and we chatted for a bit. He explained to me what little I know about the technical details of the ship.

Once home we went out to eat at the coffee house D.J. took me to the previous night. It is housed in a beautiful building that he told me used to be the home of the Japanese governor of the province during the occupation. It has a beautiful garden and incredible woodwork and tiles. It is called "Chateau..." something and I had BEEF and Jourdan had a chicken curry and it was delicious. After dinner up to the tea room for loose Chamomile and a meet an tour with D.J.

There is an area in Mokpo which houses five beautiful museums (art, modern art, folk art, natural history, and history) and we had considered going but by the next morning we were still beat and decided to head for Busan. The bus left at about 10 AM and we got back to town at 4:30 PM, about an hour late, but the trip was nice. And it only cost 25000won. Travel here is quite a value.

I went to pick up the cat from Min Ha's house as she had made her deathly ill (she later had to go to the hospital for an IV) and got home in good time.

On Sunday Yoo Jin came to Busan for a visit (YAY!) and we went to a wonderful sushi buffet in Dongnae, the kind with the conveyor belt that I love so much. We didn't eat much off the belt though because one of the sushi chefs kind of adopted us and handed down his personal recommendations. It was divine. Later that night we met Min Ha and her friend and Jourdan for a meal at the Indian restaurant near KSU, which I would recommend. The garlic naan, tandoori chicken and mutton curry were especially good.

Up then next day for school. It was refreshing to see my kids. I didn't realize how much I had missed them. I got a lot of hugs on Monday and that kind of dulled the post-vacation depression.

Well. That finally brings this blog somewhat up to date. I have 188 pictures for this post and they are here.

The Self and the Other.

I mentioned in my previous blog that I sat for a while in a temple at Hyang-iram in a lotus position. This is not to say that I meditated. Neither is it to say that I didn't. Frankly, I don't know what I did. I do know that there is a reason that people go to places like this and spend years sitting still in contemplation. It is because the mind, just like the body, responds to training. The Buddhist monk, to me, is a kind of mental gymnast, training the mind to revert to what seems to most of us an unnatural and ineffective way of thinking: the complete rejection of the ego and a complete assimilation into the Other. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and, finding myself inconveniently bereft of my personal library, have turned to the internet for some thoughts on the matter. I have found a short video (10m), a multi-media adaptation of an old lecture by Alan Watts which sheds some light on the distinction between these worldviews. Even if you don't agree with it you will enjoy the pretty pictures. By the way. I am not trying to convert anyone to Buddhism. I am not even trying to convert myself. I am just trying to understand what is a fundamental part of the culture in which I find myself immersed. Plus, I find the subject fascinating and it touches on my specialty within the humanities: phenomenological ecocriticism.

Please watch video here.

05 August 2008

Yoo Gin

Yoo Gin is a beautiful 24-year-old university student from Deagu (about an hour way from Busan) majoring in French. She speaks passable English, I speak a little Korean by now, and I know a little French, so our conversations are pretty special. Her name, which means both "Is Star" and "Is Dragon", rhymes with Blue Jean, and that is the nickname I gave her. When I told her that, she said "Daveed Bowie" and laughed. She knows everything about music, art, literature, and film. She wants to be a film critic after graduation.

She was waiting for a cab, too, and was obviously alone and backpacking, so after she helped me talk to the cabby I asked her if she was hungry and wanted to come along. She smiled and nervously assented. Dinner was great (samgyopsal, my favorite. We never did find the dak galbi) and I was happy to have someone to talk to. My mood had changed immediately and we were all smiles. We talked about her and about me and about traveling and when I told her that one of the subjects of my masters project was Wordsworth, she named her favorite Romantic: William Blake. I said: "Songs of Innocence." She said: "Songs of Experience." I should have run at that point but reason had failed me.

We spent a wonderful evening down by the seaport, watching the lights of the city and the stars on the water and talking about everything. I told her that I was going to Geomundo the next day and asked if she would like to go. She said yes. (I slept on the floor.)

The next day when we got to the ferry terminal (at 7 AM) there was a commotion at the ticket desk. We learned through hand signals that the ferry had been cancelled due to inclement weather. This left us in a little bind as we had already turned in our key and there is no such a thing as a breakfast restaurant in Yeosu (we looked). I told her about how beautiful Dolsando had been and we decided to go back there. It was to early for a bus out there so we ended up taking a cab. The trip took 40 minutes and only cost 20000won. Ridiculously cheap. After we got there I tried to find a motel that would let us have rooms at that point in the morning, which was hard. I eventually found one that would let us check in at 8:30 AM without charging for two days. After naps and showers and an early lunch we climbed back up the hill to the temple. It was still beautiful.

I asked Yoo Jin to show me how to pray and enter the shrines and we found one far out of the way with nobody there and sat in the quiet of the temple in the lotus position for a while. It is amazing to me to think of the amount of contemplation that has occurred in these ancient places. The temple at Hyang-iram was built in the 8th century.

I attempted again to find the trail on up the mountain but never did. Later that evening we went to a restaurant overlooking the sea and had a wonderful Hoe (raw seafood) dinner. The scenery and the food and the company were incredible. We walked the wharf that night and met a nice kid from Canada named Jourdan (teaching English in Busan, too), with whom I later spent the last couple days of my trip.

Yoo Gin and I spent many hours talking. She is a very special and beautiful girl. I like her very much. (Co Co Co!)

The next day Yoo Jin had to go home so I took the bus with her into Yeosu and we had lunch at Pizza Hut (salad bar (!!!) and shrimp pesto pizza), and I bid her farewell after exchanging contact info and planning a meet when I got back. At that point I took off by bus to Mokpo (on the Western coast), where I met Jourdan and a German he had met en route named Martin. We got tickets for the ferry out to Hongdo Island and had dinner (more Hoe, of which I am through for a bit). Jourdin and Martin went off to bed, but I was not ready, so I went outside and set on a pallet with some old ladies and sipped on some Soju. And that is when I met the Korean movie producer.

04 August 2008

Dolsando and Yeosu

The following post was began on Tuesday afternoon and never posted because of lack of internet access:

There was a technical difficulty which required me to put off my trip to Geomundo Island until tomorrow. The electricity here in Korea comes out of the plug at 22o volts. My computer and my cell phone charger both handle that fine but the charger for my camera batteries is strictly 110. I was tempted to plug it in and see what would happen, but I didn't want to burn up the batteries or the charger or the hotel so I came back to Yeosu to try and find a 220 charger.

The bus ride on the way back to town was quite eventful. I met a Canadian couple on the bus. At least I think they were. She was Canadian but he said "Gooday" like an Ausie so I am not sure but they were on vacation and we talked for a bit. She was interested in my teaching gig. The driver drove like a maniac but I thought that we were fine unless we met the outbound bus coming at us in the wrong lane. At one point we slowed down slightly at a small fishing village and an old woman flagged down the bus. The driver opened the door and started yelling at her, but, undeterred, she started heaving in these huge bags of what I think were dried clams. After the second one one of the people in the front of the bus got up and started helping. The driver, who to this point hadn't hit the brakes once on a trip that would have been best measured in altitude, kept up a tirade the entire time. Finally, after what must have been forty-five seconds of blissful stasis, we screamed onward. The bags of clams slid back and forth in the isle as we careened back to Yeosu.

When we arrived the bus went away from the area I wanted to go to (it was a different number than the one I took to Dolsando). After a while I began to recognize a few things, or think I did. About this time the old lady started to drag the bags back to the rear exit of the bus. I knew we were downtown somewhere, which should have been near the street where all the hotels were. When she rang the bell I got up to help. She was already out and had one bag down before I got around her. The driver was a bit calmer but I could hear him muttering. She let me unload the rest and then opened her little metal folding cart and I loaded two of the bags on there and she nodded at me and took off. I watched her wobble off trailing the cart, down the right lane of the busiest street in Yeosu and around the corner out of sight. Now I am standing there, in the street, with two huge bags of clams. I tried to pick them up and take off after her but with my bag and the heat it was too much. So I stood there and waited.

Back she came, about three minutes later. I helped her load the other two gave her a bow and made off. Now the question became: where am I? I wasn't sure, for sure even, which way the ocean was anymore. So I did the old standby: hail a cab. I raised my hand and before I got it up a cab was stopped for me. I hopped in and asked him to take me to "Sky Motel," the cheapest one recommended by Lonely Planet that offered computers in the rooms. Either he didn't understand me or didn't know where it was but he kind of tooled around while he did some checking on the cell phone. When he found out where it was he started laughing and pointed back to where I had got on. Sure enough. I had been standing a stones throw from it to begin with. In my defense, the sign didn't say "Sky Motel," it said "[cartoon sun] Motel." Anyway, I checked in and got to my room which is nice and it is cheap and it has a computer, but it is odd. It has a round bed. And mirrors.

I eventually found a 220 charger and I found the ferry terminal and later on I am going to check out another island that is within walking distance and is accessible via footbridge.

This is as far as I got with the original post. To pick up there then, I took off from the hotel on foot in search of small, scenic, Odongdo Island. The guide book said that the it could be walked to in 30-minutes, which would probably be true if you could find it. I followed the signs until I got lost and hailed a cab. When I got there it was starting to cloud up and the day was waning, but there were many Koreans on the road train across the causeway and more on foot. I walked across and began to walk around the Island. The pathway was steep, but pretty. It was lined with the pines common to those parts and some areas were roped off beside the path. A sign in Korean showed a picture of a small lily that must be endangered on the island because these areas were full of the small plants, although not in bloom of course. I walked up and up and had likely reached the high point of the island when I came to the sign for 'dragons cave." I could see that all of my hard won altitude was going to be spent on a trip down the the cave but I went down anyway. I am glad I did. This part of the island was facing the sea, and, even on a relatively calm day, the waves were crashing against the shore. A slit cave not more than a couple of yards wide lay at the back of a short inlet. The inlet funneled the waves into the cave with an intense crash, often meeting the water coming back out. It was quite spectacular. There was a wide ledge above the sea that went around the small point nearby and I walked around it to the other side where waves were washing up onto the rocks of a larger inlet. I made movies of both of these things which I will post.

I climbed the steps back up to the path and was going to climb further up to the lighthouse, but I heard music down toward the other end of the island and went down to see what was going on. I had read about the dancing fountain in the guidebook but I wasn't prepared for the sight. I came down a short path and first encountered the back what looked like a giant moving wall of water. The fountain is composed of thousands of individual nozzles, some static, some in motion, and all lit from below with lights constantly changing in color and intensity. This lighting and the motion of the water were choreographed to the music coming from a large surround sound system. There were platforms and benches across the way were everyone was sitting, so I repaired that way to watch the show. It was spectacular but the best part of the show were the children playing in a smaller dancing fountain build into the floor in the center of the amphitheater. It too was choreographed, each hole in the ground making its own contribution. The children stood on or near the holes waiting for the water to make its seemingly random expulsion. They were wound up to say the least, screaming with delight every time they took a jet of water in the face or the shorts. I nearly joined them, but the adults were all staying dry so I reluctantly abstained.

One of the things that surprised me was how little I had begun to care for solitary travel. There were so many things to see and do, but none of it seemed nearly as fun without someone to share it with. I was feeling pretty down on the walk back to the lot. It was clouding up and getting dark and I was hungry and tired and didn't feel like going back to the dingy hotel and sitting there my myself. I was dejected really. I went back to the cab stand and started trying to explain where I wanted to go eat, a dak galbi restaurant in the guidebook, and was getting nowhere. That is when I met the girl.

02 August 2008


Just got in. I am absolutely exhausted and exhilarated and have so much to write but it ain't happening tonight. I would like to take my time and put out the details of my trip in a few different posts. After Tuesday I no longer had access to the internet, but I took the time throughout the week to make careful notes. And the trip was incredible. I made several great new friends and saw some amazing places. I am sunburned and stinky. And very happy. More to come.