01 September 2008

Daegu and the Days Before

Went out to dinner Thursday night with Jourdan and a German I met named Jes Tom. He works here for a Korean shipping company. His job is to arrange the cargo containers on the ships. He makes layouts considering several factors, including weight and where the containers are going. It sounds like a huge game of Tetris to me. The ships call at ports all over the world and he has to place the containers so that the stuff for the next port ends up on top and so that the maximum number of cranes can work at the same time.

He is here on an exchange program. A Korean with the same job is Hamburg right now at Tom's shipyard. He has been here five months and he will be here till December. Jourdan is leaving on Tuesday and will be spending a month in India and then he doesn't know what he will do. He may travel till he runs out of money and then come back to Korea or he might do something else. I hope he comes back.

We went to a restaurant near Somyeon that we found. It was called "Samba, samba," and it proclaimed itself to be a Latin American Food and Beer Bar. It is always interesting to see what people do with a cuisine that they have read about but never tasted. I ordered a margarita and it was lemon cool-ade and tequila. Salt, no lime. There were a few things that had Mexican names but by and large it was a Korean menu. It was unfortunately not that good.

We talked a while about living in Korea, the difference between living somewhere and being a tourist, the difference between living abroad in Asia and somewhere else like Europe, language, women, food, beer, and other stuff. Jourdan said that his travels in Asia had left him with the feeling that is said best in a song by an artist I hate so I won't credit them who wrote "It's all the same, only the names are changed." I felt that this would be the worse kind of curse but I console myself now thinking about the fundamental differences in the way he and I travel. He is a sprinter, I am a napper. In the week we were off, the week we met, he went to five or six cities. I went to two. I am not saying that one way is better, I just more into being absorptive rather than inclusive.

Later that night we went to Tom's and I introduced him to Minha and Jinhee. When I told Minha a week ago that I was planning to go to Japan on the next long weekend (Sept. 13-15) she told me that she really wanted to go to Japan before long. I asked her to come and, although we had to get permission from her boyfriend and my girlfriend and she is going to have to quit her job to go, she is going. We were discussing ferry schedules and accommodation rates and I said to Tom that he should come and he checked with work and he can go too. Minha has a friend, Keunmin (maybe not right spelling) that speaks fluent Japanese and she is going too. So we have four. Yujin can't go. This holiday, Chusak, is the second biggest after Lunal New Year and it is a mandatory family visitation day. It is killing me that she can't go but the whole country shuts down and unless I want to sit here and do nothing for four days I am going to have to get out of here. She understands. We have ferry tickets and I have secured us lodging in a hostel in Fukuoka for about $30 each per night which is about a third of the cheapest traditional hotel I found online. Fukuoka is the home of the romeon noodle, so maybe food will be affordable too. Ferry tickets weren't exactly cheap, but we are taking the hydroplane so we will get there in three hours. The overnight isn't that much cheaper but I would like to do that sometime. It would be nice to go to bed and wake up in another country.

On Friday I had 7:20 train tickets and I got off at 6:30 so it was a little (a lot) stressful to make it. I got there as the train was leaving after running from the subway station. Yujin met me at the station and I don't know what my face looked like when I saw her but I wish I had a picture of it because when I made it everyone else waiting turned around to look at what I was looking at. We went to a Galbi joint nearby and when they gave us the menu I went into shock. It was outrageously expensive. I asked Yujin what was going on and she said that the place served the special Korean beef. I had to try it. It was worth every penny. It had a rich beef taste and was buttery fat. We cooked it slowly, a few pieces at a time and roasted garlic and grilled onions to wrap it up with. They served it up with a red sauce that I tried and tried to figure out but couldn't place the spices. It was sweet and just a little spicy. It was a little like chunky BBQ sauce but different. There was also thin sliced daikon radish with sesame oil and a soup that we didn't get into much. We washed it down with a few imperials of Hite, Korean beer. It was a great meal.

We talked until late and then I put her in a cab home to momma and went to check into my hotel. The area around the train station is lined with whorehouses. The one I stay in is pretty nice. It has the cheesy decor of a love motel but is is quiet and exceptionally clean. If you like mirrors and colorey lights this is the spot. When you check in they give you a toothbrush, a disposable razor, and three condoms. After I got settled I went for a walk to look for Kim Tae Moon. If you remember he was the character I ran into the last time I was here. I looked at our old haunts and found out from the karaoke guy that Mr. Kim had been, in his words, "captured by the police." Kim Tae Moon is crazy, and when he drinks too much...his words faded and he held up his two fists. Oh boy. I couldn't believe it. Such a kind-hearted person. I couldn't imagine him being violent.

I went back around to the hotel and sat for a bit in the little cafe there. I had a couple of beers and chatted with the Koreans staggering in from there revels. On guy had urinated in his pants and he was cheerfully trying to have a much too close conversation with me against my prostestations until the halmonim (grandmother) saw what was going on and shoved him out the door. One guy I was talking to asked me if I wanted a "sexual partner," which is a suspiciously ambiguous way to put it. I didn't of course, but for the benefit of my readers here I asked him the rates. Three fingers. 30000W. $30. I contemplated ordered one up just to see what would come to my door. At that rate teeth were probably an additional charge.

The next day we went out to eat at a shabu-shabu place. I like these. They bring out a big shallow soup pot with onions and diced potatoes floating in spicy beef broth and set it on the burner built into the middle of most restaurant tables here. The give you a bunch of soup fixins (veggies, mushrooms, and herbs) and a big plate of thin sliced beef and a bowl of homemade noodles and you get the pot simmering and make the soup and add the beef as you eat it. I like mine just past raw and Yujin likes it well done. You mix in some kanjang and kochujang (soy sauce and red-pepper paste) to taste and gobble it up. Delish! After you eat most of it they bring out a bowl with rice and raw egg and chopped herbs and garlic and after they dip out most of the liquid they throw that in the pot and make up batch of fried rice to finish you off. It is cheap and you always end up stuffed.

Yujin then took me to a very special place, her very favorite place. Above a restaurant there is a tiny theater that shows foreign films with Korean subtitles. It reminded me of a gritty coffeehouse back home. Kids were sprawled out on comfy chairs in the little snack bar and the walls were covered with original art work done in magic marker. We saw an American movie, Broken English, which was a chick flick about a girl who falls in love with a French guy and way too relevant and I got way too emotional. Yujin gets a big kick out of it when I cry at movies and I always try to hide it but to no avail. At the end of the weekend we have been in the habit of asking each other what was our favorite moment. This weekend she said that seeing me crying because the French guy was crying. I said Korean beef. (I am lying.)

There are a lot of things that are none of your business. Or anyone else's. I kissed Yujin in the sushi joint in Busan and the sushi chef, a young guy who genuinely likes me, made a face and said something and I asked her what he said and she told me he said "not a gentleman." So I don't kiss her in public anymore unless I can't help it. When in Rome. We had fried chicken once and she told me that wings were her favorite but she couldn't eat them anymore now because of me. What? Koreans believe that if a woman in a relationship eats a wing it could cause them to "fly away," or be unfaithful. I didn't want to point out that although chickens are flightless birds they are rather fleet of foot as she was chewing on a leg at the time.

We had dinner after that but I don't want to tell you where because I have a surprise.

Sunday we kind of lounged around. Had lunch. I took a nap on a park bench. Had some coffee. We spent most of the day dreading my departure. Tom was coming home from Seoul and I had arranged to meet him on the train as it came through Deagu. I got on and he came back to my car and we chatted as the sunset scenery went by. When we got back to Busan we hopped the subway and met Minha, Jinhee, and Jourdan and had pizza at Papa John's to celebrate Jourdan's imminent departure. We went to an arcade later and played Dance, Dance, Revolution, which (surprise!) I suck at. I was on my last legs and bailed about 9:30. I don't know what they did but I got a text from Tom that said he got home at midnight sober. I was too tired to face the subway so Minha told the taxi driver where to deposit me and I got home fast. A quick Skype with Yujin and I was out.

There are pictures and I will post them once I go through them. Thanks for reading!