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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Ride in the Back of A Police Car; The Search for the House of Poets

I had everything that would prelude a sublime quest. The sun on high, immaculate blue skies, the awakening of spring, a breeze in the air that painted everything with this frolicsome spirit, and an endless world city with easy train rails that trailed underneath it, spouting out the questing explorer at countless spots and stops. I spotted on the northeastern part of a map of the city Seoul this place, called the "Korean House of Poets" and I thought that if there was ever a place that I could possibly belong to it would be down past the gate, and across the threshold of whatever this meant. I tend to have this inclination in my spare time. Find some random, curious place full of wonder and go and step out into the streets and see if my footsteps can find it. But even more so if that place held some sort of personal draw to me. And this title did.

So, I hopped on a bus zipping into Seoul and then descended into the subways. And emerged out in the sunlight and hit the pavement walking down the same busy street seeing what was there. But it eluded me. It was a hidden, unattainable fortress of serenity among the high rise aparments and frantic traffic. Besides, all things poetic are unattainable. And I really didn't know what I was looking for exactly. It could be anything from a library, or an academy of writers, to a cemetery, the exalted patrons of the earth buried into the mountains. Or maybe it was a real house where furrowed-browed poets dwelled, their dishevelled hair gleaming in a sunbeam.

It could be a strange strand of a martial arts school full of dreamy-eyed fighters who compose haikus while they break boards with their feet. They are trained to slit open a man's, no, better yet, a woman's heart with only a feather quill. They sit on the edge of a stream, instead of meditating, they daydream and contemplate the depths of the universe. They climb up waterfalls and embark into the clouds where they, in stealth and in passion, fight back the mists and the darkness and steal the light from the stars and on returning they string a a few words together. -I hope they had some one to do the dishes, the laundry, and pay the bills for them.

My head was full of such themes, when i didn't notice if I passed it or not. I kept on looking where the map indicated where it should be. But no where. There was this ancient temple standing on a hill, but I searched it, it was vacant and used to be the sight of the Eastern entrance into the city of Seoul in the 1400s. I asked a number of people nearby but no one knew. And then I walked into the police station, I decided that if anyone knew, they would. And traveling in various places around the world, asking the police can be one of the stupidest things one can do. You never know where you'll wind up or what you'll lose. In Russia, you avoid the police at all costs.

But no one in this police office could tell me where this place was located. But it confounded them. There were 4 officers in there, poring over maps, consulting who knows who on the phone. I think it gave them something to do, or they felt it a challenge of sorts. Just then 2 of them walked outside and motioned over to their car, and asked through mannerisms if I wanted to take a ride while they looked for this nebulous "House of Poets". Or at least, I reckoned that was what they meant.

They opened the back door for me and didn't get me that spill about watching my head. The first thing, I noticed was that there was no cage that seperated me from their throats. Then I noticed a part of an umbrella that I could easily get my hands on, handcuffed or not, and probably bust out the back window with. It made me think that Seoul's not all that dangerous. Like 10,000 Mayberrys stacked ontop of each other.

And then we cruised through these backroads, down these narrow streets almost alleywaus that winded up hills around all the apartment buildings. One of there names was "Moon" and the other was "Yun". Moon was about my age. He had a whistle around his neck. Yun was a bit older. Maybe middle-aged. They both knew a few more English words than I knew Korean. But communication was nearly impossible. I was having a thrilling time. And I hoped it lasted longer than just a short ride. I also, had this secret wish that they'd get some crazy call and they'd have to carry me with them as they chased down some criminal. But for the meantime, they'd turn at certain roads and I had no idea where we were.

Eventually, they came to another little police officer post. A door leading into a tiny office. One of them got out and went in, I guess to ask them about this place. But, I began to think that maybe there was something more in their ultra nice gesture of being both a taxi service and a tour guide for me. I think that they got some kind of kick out of driving a Westerner in the back of their car. It was as though they were showing me off. You know, they drove past this university area where all the students were walking about, their books in hand, and I could've swore that they slowed down. Okay maybe so as not to hit anybody, but also because they wanted to be a spectacle. You know get people talking. "Hey, did you see that blonde dude in the back of the police car. I wonder what he did. That's the way of our policemen. Nothing gets past them. Not even those with English speaking, main world-power passports."

And perhaps, the stop in front of the other police station was not for directions, maybe it was to brag to the other branch. The one that walked in, thrusts out his chest and scratches himself, "Boys, quit picking your nose and see what we picked up over in OUR jurisdiction. Yep, caught him embezzling 1.2 million dollars cash, he had 3 suitcases of cocaine in the trunk of his car; he was smuggling a Russian prostitute who is supposedly related to Putin. He had bodyguards all around him. 5 of them each about 300 pounds. But they were easily handled. Got a bruise on my shoulder, that's all. So what have you guys been up to? Eating donuts I see."

It was funny, when driving by people. I looked at them pleasantly. As though, we were all going on a picnic. I don't know what people thought. And not too long after riding around, we found the spot. There was this big black gate with some sort of house behind it. The both of them got out and I tried to follow only to be reminded that I was in the backseat of a police car; there were no handles on the inside of the backdoors. So one of the cops assisted me. The "House of Poets" was a museum for Korean poets. But it was closed on the weekend. It looked sort of stuffy and narrowly pedantic on the other side; not how I imagined it, of course. One of the cops pounded on the big black gate for me. But no one answered. Some one was in the middle of writing a couplet or maybe doing something tragic like sticking one's head in the oven to open the door.

The policemen then offered me a ride back to their station, which I was hoping they would for I was so zigzagged back from where I knew where I was at, that I would've been lost if left there. So we rode back and with a bunch of "Kamsa Hamnidas" and bowing I left them, deeming the Korean police to be the nicest in the world.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finding a Church for Easter: A Stand-Off with a Priest

It was a full day. Saturday it was. Everything was sparking forth vibrancy. The ethereal sky and the kinetic, bustling city of Seoul that beckoned me. I even had vibrant dreams the night before and wrote them all down in a notebook. 5 full pages they were. Everything seemed awake and dazzling. I made it to the heart of the city to search for something and ended up going for a ride in a police car, (but i'll relate this story later) for now, I'll talk about after this particular day had passed and night had set in, my wanderings for the day, up ancient fortress walls, into frenzied art university alleyways and such, were at a close, and i made it to Mass at a Catholic University. It was 8 o clock in the evening and the thinking was that I would go to an ancient, high church for Easter. At first, I thought I'll go to an Orthodox service. But, my explorations of the city had me near this Catholic college, so I thought, I'll just go here.

I think I was the only foreigner packed in there. I towered above a bunch of the short parishioners. All the Koreans were crammed in their seats. Holding candles for the service. Older women wearing white shawls on their heads, which I thought was more Orthodox than Catholic. It was interesting being in a Catholic church where probably a large portion of them had been converts. I mean, I guess...that's the case. Because Christianity is still relatively new here. Such a phenomena is not too uncommon with Protestants. But with Catholics, I don't think I've been anywhere where whole generations of the parish were not Catholic that stretch back probably centuries into ancestors marriages and dusty vaults.

Anyways, I sat through the service. Staring at the ceiling, this church didn't have the majestic roof scaling up into space like alot of cathedrals. It was high, but flat with no decorations. But still, there was an air of importance or grandeur even. The singing from the chorus bordered on the sublime. And let me admit, that even though I didn't understand hardly a word, I wasn't as bored as I have been sitting through other Catholic masses. There was something, a sort of presence of something very peaceful.

I have this friend, a sort of mentor who, is a Benedictine. And I guess, i sort of think that since he often tells me about Catholicism and I've accompanied him on trips to this monastery where we've prayed with the monks, I guess, I thought that I was now "in" with the whole Catholic thing. I once asked my friend about a Protestant taking the Eucharist and he said its not really allowed. But for some reason, this point and discussion of ours seemed sort of foggy. At least the recollection, or the conviction of it wasnt strong enough for me to find fault with taking Mass with a bunch of Catholics. So, when I went forward in the procession to take of the Body, my conscience was sure in its deliberation. And then the priest suprised me, right after handing me the wafer, he asks, "Are you a Baptist?". I think I just nodded. Because I thought he was talking to me in Korean or maybe Latin, and I just thought maybe the "bless, my son" or whatever it is that they say sounded like, "Are you a Baptist?" So I slightly bowed, (the custom here for respect) as though i was thanking him for the Bread. But he immediately ripped the wafer out of my hand and said again, "Are you a Baptist? I uttered back "No! No!" and I took the wafer. I know. I know. It was instinct and I wasn't thinking. Besides all these people were standing in line behind me. I was standing in front of the whole church, near the little nuns that sat right there probably watching the whole thing. It wasn't until I was in the middle of stammering out that I am not a Baptist, that I realized what he meant. -That he didn't think that a Protestant should take of the Eucharist.

Technically, I told the truth. I am not a Baptist. But, why doesn't he ask what he meant? "Are you Prostestant?" or better yet, "Are you Catholic?" But I had the Bread, so I just ate it and walked out of the Church. Feeling, like maybe I shouldn't be here if its such a big deal. So, I didn't take the Blood. And then I got to thinking, and I don't know if I should feel ashamed of what happened or annoyed with him. I mean, what if I was holding the chalice at my home church in Birmingham, AL and some short, olive-skinned man with a big nose wanted to take Communion, or just a Mexican came in and I said, "Are you Catholic?" and I jerked the Chalice away from his lips? Or what if some rough looking dude with skull tats all over his arms and a heavy metal T-shirt came in and I did the same, but asked, "Are you a Satanist?" I suppose, I could interrogate everyone, "Are you an agnostic? Are you sure about that?" Of course, with this priest his hunch was heading in the right direction. I am not a Catholic. But he didn't know that. I mean, what if I were Catholic, for all he knew I could've been a German one, or Irish, or perhaps Polish. What then? If he asked, "Are you Catholic?" What? You have to be short and have darker skin to be Catholic? I think I would've been offended. I'm sorry, I just don't feel all that convicted that me and another Christian have to agree full-heartedly on the issue of transubstantiation to share Communion with each another. So I left sort of put out about the whole experience. I wrote my friend about it, he said that his opinion was that I was in the wrong, and then mentioned among many things, something about George Washington not taking the Communion with the Church of England because he had fought a war with its head the King of England. Anyways, I left and I don't think I'll go back to a Mass any time soon seeing how I'm not one of them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getting Pins and Needles Stuck in Me: My Experience with Acupuncture

Today, I went to this Chinese Medicine Clinic or Hospital as they call it. They deal in holistic healing and most of all, what I couldn't wait to try, acupuncture. Yes, where they stick in a bunch of needles in you, and somehow through feeling like an intruder into a porcupine cage, you become healed. I do not know how this process works. And I guess there are plenty of skeptics out there. But I do know that this practice has been around for thousands of years and the concept is quite common over here. And cheap. So, I thought to get my sinuses and my nasty cough healed through pretending, for a brief 15 minutes, to be a pin cushion.

There's this lady that works as a receptionist for my school, and I was told to ask her about the phenomena for I heard that she was a regular customer of this ancient practice. I didn't need to give her any secret codes nor handshakes, I just stressed my interest. And today, she told me in broken English that she will take me today after school. I said okay. I hardly know this lady. Our relationship has been limited to her signifying to me when the downstairs coffee machine is not working. I think her name is Mrs. Ming. But I trust her. And off we went.

Now, I've had something like a cold almost the full time that I've been here. And that's been over a month now. Coughing in the middle of class making the kids think that I could keel over and die any minute. I fill my waste basket full of kleenexes. I consume packages of cough candy per week. So you can bet, I am willing to try a good deal of anything. But also, I am very curious about this whole needle in the body business. And probably even if I didn't have any symptoms, I'd secretly want to get some kind of ailment so that I could go and try it out.

We arrived in a normal doctor's office. The receptionist got my information, through the help of Mrs. Ming. And then we walk back to the doctor's main office. Tons of books on the shelf, and this intelligent, bespeckled man in a lab coat greeted me. Mrs. Ming tells him my symptoms. I notice this ancient tome opened up on his desk. Maybe it was some talisman of magical properties. But he motioned for me to step over to a little bed and he stuck some modern metallic thing up my nose. It was some sort of camera for he took pictures of what was going on inside my nostrils that showed up on this large screen, as though Mrs. Ming and anyone else out in the lobby peeking in the room would care to see.

Next, he told me to go in the back and that's where the real treatment began. They told me to take off my socks and shoes and lay on this firm, heated bed. I could feel the heat surround my body, then they placed rolled up towels under my knees to elevate them a bit. Next, they rubbed, i think it was alchohol on certain points on my body. And that's when they broke out the needles.

Was I nervous? Yes, a little. I was told to sit as still as possible. And whenever anyone is going to stick needles in me, I always try to think about something else. I never, never think about what all could possibly go wrong. It's only if I do that I get scared. Why, in a normal doctor's office, have you ever thought that all it takes is just one slight centimeter off and the wrong artery is punctured and all of a sudden blood is spurting all over the place. Yes, its thoughts like those that I try desperately to block out when needles are concerned.

But with acupuncture needles, they are very, very small. I barely felt them inserted. They (the doctor and his nurse who was the receptionist also) placed two on my outer knees and then two more near my elbows. And then, they got dangerous. They approached my face. Placing two right below where a unibrow would sit if I had one. I tried to fight with all my might to get any images of needles stabbing an eyeball out of my mind. All this, to keep from wincing. Then, they pierced out from my nose parallel to my nostrils, though towards my cheekbones. And finally, two more were speared where my lips raise with a smile or a smirk.

They put this hot lamp on me and told me to sit as still as possible for the next 15 minutes. They covered my eyes with cloth and walked out of the room and I lay there, experiencing those notorious waiting periods that always seem like hours. One of my legs was going to sleep and I didn't want to move lest the whole thing should be messed up.

Eventually, they came back and took all the needles back out and I was told I could go. That was it. I paid the doctor's bill. But it wasn't as cheap as I initially thought. Because, for some reason, I don't have my insurance card just yet. I should have it very soon, though. So the price which was supposed to be only about 5 bucks. Was more like 30. Which is still alot cheaper than anything whether western or holistic, whether legit or quackery, in the states. So I guess I am content. The only problem is that they told me that with something so big and general as "allergies" they said that frequent visits are needed to make any headway. Like a few weeks of visits. Which normally would only cost about 5 dollars per consulation. So, I'm sorta waiting for my insurance card to be cleared, for I'm sure not paying 30$ a day for this. But we'll see how it goes. As for now, I hope they took all my needles out, what if they forgot and I'm walking around with this large pin sticking out of my face.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

First Exploration of the City; Involving Pop Singers, Superstars, Old Men, and Girls

I was here for a month, and quite opposite of my nature, I went without stretching my legs a bit and going for a random, hapless roam through the city. I pretty much would just follow the other Western teachers on the weekend, going where they go, getting my feet just a little wet, more from spilled beer (not from me) than from unknown waters.

So this weekend, I hopped on a bus that took me into the city, until I made it to a Metro and from there rode underground and emerged out from the ground in the heart of the city. I decided to start my year of wild city ramblings in the center. So, to City Hall I went. And the first thing, I noticed was this large area off in the distance with these little white pavilions set far below the towering skyscrapers above. Some type of music was playing in the city with a stage and all these people crowded around. So, I set my curious footsteps aimed in that direction. 2 people stood on stage holding mics as some sort of MCs..cracking jokes and making important declarations. But it all being in Korean, I didn't know what it was about.
I ambled over to one of the white tents where they were giving free bottles of water. And asked the girls at the booth what was going on. One of them answered that it was a benefit concert for the Handicapped.

This older man in a tweed blazer overheard me and strikes up a conversation with me, asking me where I was from and if I was single. Then he motions at all 3 of these girls and tells me that I had my pick for a girlfriend. This was right in front of them and of course, they just laughed. Then he mentions, "You know, I have a daughter."..... "Really?" I asked. Mainly because, what else do you say in such circumstances. But also because feigning an interest in marriage deals have lead to some very interesting cultural experiences for me in the past.

Then this old Mr. Tweed suit, smiled with a grin, "No, I'm only kidding." and I smiled back and gave a slight bow, which is a sign of respect here, and said, "I am too." We went on talking about something else and I in this half-bantering, playful jibe made the comment about him wearing such a toasty-looking tweed coat on such a warm day. The girls who were all overhearing the conversation laughed. This laughter caught me a little off guard. I am catching the hint that utmost respect is paid to the elderly here and maybe I was slightly going over the barrier by lightly tugging on his lapel and criticizing humorously what this elderly man was wearing. He said something about him being an older gentleman and he's supposed to dress up like this. I, on the other hand, can wear whatever I wanted. "Plus," he added, "it'll probably get cold tonight." Which is a reality I'm getting to know all too well.

Just then, a band began to play. And one of the girls got all excited. And they explained to me that it was the winner of the Korean version of American Idol. I got curious so I stepped towards the small concert, and watched as this scarecrow of a Korean emerged on stage surrounded by this frolicsome boy band. They were Nsync incarnated and hip hopped about the stage, every now and then the lead singer would gesticulate with his hands, clutching his heart as though he was in some ecstatic passion. The crowd, mostly girls would yell. 2 of the girls from the pavillion came over and stood beside me as we watched. We had light, sporadic conversation. I could tell it, the conversation, that is, was supposed to go in a certain direction, that is with the exchange of phone numbers or such and I kept trying to explain to one of the girls what an undertaker was. Mainly, because the coat that this Korean Idol singer, I can't remember his name, was wearing made him look like an undertaker while sweeping the stage and the audience with his song and moves.

After this, another band got up. This time, it was a famous Korean band that's been around for 15 years. They were more of a rock/alternative group. The talkative girl told me that their name when translated into English meant "No Brain" or something like that. All during these performances, a lone man danced in the middle of the big space between the seats and the stage. He danced crazily and he danced good, all the while he danced, he convinced those that looked on that he was out of his mind. Some sort of madman getting his groove on all by himself. He kept ripping his shirt off accompanying it all his moves. And then putting it back on again. I found myself more entertained watching him than all the other stars. I think half the crowd did too. And secretly, even though he was a source of ridicule for those all around, I think I half wanted to be doing what he was doing. The girls told me that they had to go and fill out their forms for their volunteering, so I departed.

Not more than 50 yards from this spot, another spectacle was taking place. Near the Cheonggyecheon, a nice little stream flowing in the middle of the northern part of the city, a music video was being filmed in the vibrant sunlight, with all the throngs of people ambling here and there. It was this pretty girl and guy, they were singing hip hop in English as some kind of duo with the skyscrapers of Seoul behind them embroidered by the blue sky. I got the tail end of the shoot. After they ended, a group of people that were not Oriental and not White, mobbed the guy with the shades getting pictures with him. It turns out that the guy was some huge star in Malaysia. The girl sat in her star chair and watched these fans admire this guy. I liked to think that I read on her face, a diva look of, "Why, isn't anybody rushing to get pictures with me."

I followed this river down as the night fell upon the city, and the lights woke up. About the only thing else I saw, worth noting before I made my long commute back to Suji was this fight that took place. I only know about it for rambling through these busy alleys and shopping lanes, I followed a policeman who was in a hurry. And down in a basement where they had this Korean restaurant some old man was in a fury yelling berserk and throwing things. I don't know what it was about. I just know that this old man and an old lady were escorted in the back of this police car out of the lights of the lanes. About this time I headed back.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Turning Rabbit; How Two of My Co-Workers Ran Away

It took everyone by surprise, it certainly was not on my radar. But yesterday for lunch, two of my co-workers, fellow teachers of mine, never returned to their classes. At first, I thought that something maybe tragic had happened, but as I talked to other teachers and the pieces were put together it appears that they with bags in hand, and plane tickets in their pockets fled, they high-tailed it. Flew the coop. Went on the lam. Broke free. Turned Rabbit. Two flew over the Cuckoos Nest, and probably by now they are back in Canada. And they didn't tell a soul that they were leaving.

They were a Canadian couple from Ontario. Ari, the guy who was almost in that bar fight that I wrote about here. http://theruskie.blogspot.com/2011/04/almost-fight.html And his girlfriend Sarah, were here for around half a year. In the past month, I worked at the same school as they. We'd catch the same bus in the mornings, eat lunch together, hail taxis home, and in general, just hang out with the rest of the western teachers at the Villa. But as of yesterday, that's all changed. They're gone. Shaking the dust off of their shoes (that they can probably now wear indoors.) and they'll probably both never use chopsticks again.

Hired as foreign teachers, we sign a one year contract with a school. In return, we are given an apartment to live in and they buy our plane tickets from our homes to Korea, and, of course, while here, we're given a salary. It's a pretty sweet deal. Not a fortune. But not a bad deal. In a definite way, you are committed to one year. If you don't like teaching or living in Korea after that one year, then you can leave. But if you do enjoy it, you can sign on for another year. That simple. If you absolutely detest it all. Then, tough. Man up. Its only a year. You'll get out alive. You should have some money in the bank afterwards, and you'll probably grow from the experience. And, at least, you'll have some stories.

However, there are cases, at some Haegwons (private schools) in South Korea where the pay is shoddy, and you are cheated out of either money or time. They've been known to heap up more work upon you than you originally signed up for. So people cutting out early, is not unheard under such circumstances. Which I think is understandable. But with our haegwon, from what I've heard, comparing it to other schools as far as pay, vacation time, work load, and administation, we're kinda lucky. And I don't see why anyone would just up and leave, unless of a family emergency or some such thing. Which could be the case. But I doubt it.

I think its determined that this couple cut out because, well, like so many of our generation, they are discontent with the idea of working. And perhaps homesickness had a thing to do with it. In fact, 6 months,(about the length of time they've been here), is the exact time that culture shock begins to set in, and a person begins to see this new culture they are apart without all the freshness and novelty. A sense of disgust sets in and you are tired of every pecularity of a certain culture. It took me a year of living in Russia, til I felt like I had it. I hopped on a train to Finland, and then a boat to Sweden. But then I came back. And that is the main point. I took a weekend getaway, but I came back to what I was committed to.

As for these 2 teachers, maybe culture shock was the case. Who can really know. They left their explanations as empty and perplexed as their classrooms. I knew that Ari, liked to complain alot about the school and the fact that he had to keep returning to it every Monday. He was mainly living for the weekends here, where he could drink his beer and stream basketball games. He hated Mondays with a passion, and loved Friday afternoons with the same fervour. I just thought his complaints were sort of normal for people working during the work week. I also don't think Ari was into the whole teaching thing. While Sarah, his girlfriend was a bit more into teaching. I actually think she was an education major. She had this appropriate teacher's voice blaring in the adjacent room next to my room. But I think that maybe Sarah, was having a hard time living in Korea. She never struck me as the traveler's type. Some people are adaptable and others aren't. I don't think she was. Everyday for lunch, she never wanted to eat at the cafeteria. Which was free for us; they'd go to this same kimbop shop and pay for the same exact food everyday. I think it was just that she was picky and longed for familiarity. If there was a fluke day, that they did eat at the school. She never got a plate, but ate stale crackers instead.

So now putting both these two together, a guy who may've enjoyed living here but detested the work, and a girl that probably liked teaching but couldn't hack the difference of her surroundings. The pieces fit exactly were they had something to be unhappy about, and they talked secretly of getting out, I guess.

All this is speculation, of course. But what I do know...is that I have a bunch of extra students heaped on me, for a short while, because of the immaturity of these two. And I don't doubt that the Korean administration and teachers probably feel and naturally suspect that any of us, other foreign teachers, could just up and leave and therefore we can't be trusted and are probably, as Western kids, stamped as spoiled brats.

Oh well...I wish the both of them good luck in whereever they wind up, and in whatever they do. They were getting to be friends of mine. But if someone like me feels sort of embarrassed because of another's flakiness, it must be something.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The World and Fried Chicken

Somewhere outside the familiar contours of my homeland . Far, far from my origin. Tucked inside this distant location where I had escaped everything that was familiar to me. I wasn't necessarily in the epitome of the East, Why, I sat in a pub surrounded at a table by South Africans, I surely wasn't home. But then, on the radio, as I held my mug, blasting over the radio, the song "A Little Bit of Chicken Fried" played. And like, a surreal dream, almost as though I was having a flashback, a number of people began to sing along, and sing louder when they got to the words "Chicken Fried". I had to do a double take. I thought the main places where you'd hear this song, was only in Southern bars with Lynyrd Skynrd posters hanging on the wall, or in bowling alleys where guys name Gus shined their bowling balls with snuff. Now, I have heard "Sweet Home Alabama" in many diverse countries, even dancing along with it. But this was different. And that bubble that I kept my home inside, while I tried to float outside it. That bubble had burst.

Fried Chicken has its lure. I could write about how the hamburger has marched its Golden Arched Empire all over the world. And how all of youth, in every corner of the world crave pizzas on Friday nights. -But the love of fried chicken is something a bit more close to home. It's truly southern.

And Fried Chicken is everywhere here in Korea. They have such a strange idea of it. For some reason, these fried chicken hubs line the streets but they usually only open at night. As though, it is unseemly to indulge in the pleasure of eating fried chicken during the sober, righteous hours of the day. I guess, they're saying that fried chicken is the sort of food that you eat when you are drunk, or dining out with prostitutes, or want to talk about cocaine deals. I don't know. And then the prices are highly, highly curious. Most Korean meals here you can eat a king's feast for around 5 dollars. But these chicken places charge like $15. Maybe there's something else included. Maybe there's a rival place to Church's Chicken. Its called Brothel's Chicken.

Though, it is true. They don't just sell Chicken. They advertise chicken and beer. Many places have a picture of a hen holding a mug of beer. There's a place directly across the street from my apartment, its called "Chicken and Joy". Why that place is never packed full with such a claim, I do not know.

Such cravings have not fully possessed me just yet. I just pass by, glancing at the prices and what kind of deals they have...that is until that insatiable southern appetite takes hold of me, and I have to get my next fix. Truly, there is nothing more southern about me than my stomach. Everything else could be mistaken for somewhere else. But my belly has the wiring of a true southerner.

I remember living in New Zealand. I had been there for over a month content with their meat pies and fish and chips. I found myself working on an orchard and the days I had off, I would hitch-hike to the the nearest town where I'd indulge that long lost love, fried chicken. I told this co-laborour, this Scottish guy about it, describing our southern cuisine in detail while doing our day's labour of picking fruit off of tiny trees, and before long we both were hitchhiking to get some of this fried chicken.

But I shall not sing the praises of the Colonel. I can't remember the last time I had KFC. But I do remember that in astonishment, and perhaps horror, it was when I witnessed that on the upper floor of KFC in Cairo and out the glass window you could see the Sphinx and the great pyramids. The most mysterious and enduring constructions of humanity that has cheated time and epic history, and yet a blasted KFC is perched next to this Necropolis, City of the Dead. Ozymandias' somber inscription ends with a question of whether one should choose dark or white meat.

But there are KFC's the whole world over. As for me, I never got over what my brother told me when I was probably 8. Something about a fried rat being found at the bottom of a bucket. Either these cultures don't care, or truth be told, they may enjoy the fried rat more. Who knows.

No, but I am a fool for Popeye's. In fact, I was certain that I saw a Popeye's Chicken here in Suji City, as I was riding on the back of a motorcyle one cold night. It could've been a mirage. But I swore I saw a Popeye's Chicken. I asked some of the other western teachers here. And they didn't know what I was talking about. So, just the other day. I ventured out on my own quest to find this Popeye's Chicken. I walked all the way to downtown Suji and there, without much effort, I found Popeye with that strange grin on his face. And, of course, a can of spinach clutched in his gargantuan arms. My eyes twinkled with delight. Dreaming of not just the fried chicken, but the biscuits.

But it was not to be. The place was closed down. In fact, I don't think it was really THE Popeye's Chicken from the US. I think the previous owners just made it a knock off version. Everything looked so run down. How else could you explain the fact that it was closed? So, I continued to peek into all these chicken and beer joints. Their prices are two high. But I don't know. It is quite the mystery.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Korean Female has Caught My Eye, but she....

...happens to speak, as far as I know, hardly a lick of English. (Not that the whole language barrier has stopped things from accelerating in the past). She's one of the Korean teachers here. The way they do the classes here is that they have Korean teachers sit in on the classes while we teach. They don't instruct, and they hardly intervene. Its as though they are observing our teaching, but they're really observing the children and marking what the students do or don't do. All the while, its as though, they're not really there. Phantom teachers, they could be called.

Well, there's this one teacher who sits like a ghost..full of terrible charm and frightening radiance. I noticed her the first day. We accidentally touched when we both were reaching for the doorknob. And held hands for like 2 seconds. Or more like a quarter of a second. But regardless it was as though we held hands. Just multiply it by 20 and we were like a couple. That was when we first met. Some days she sits in my room, and other days she is off in another hall. Some days, I catch her glancing at my schedule and teaching sheets and I wonder what she's thinking, other days I catch her sleeping in class, and some days, I am in the middle of asking the kids to spell "Tuesday" or "jacket" and across the room, our eyes meet. Its my 2nd class of the day. Her class is adorable, though squirmy.

I do not know her name. One time, I asked the students what her name was when she was not in the class. And it was the most indecipherable string of syllables. And I soon forgot it within 5 seconds. Besides, the kids could've misunderstood what I was asking and were just giving me what the Korean word for "teacher" is.

Physically, her face is sort of wide. She has a little mouth and a little nose. But two dazzling lynx-like eyes set ontop of a firm set of cheekbones. When they fix themselves on me, and she's not asleep, I can't help but think, "My Goodness, she is so sexy." Her hair is not long. And she is quite thin, without giving one the impression from the start that she is thin. I think it's her wide face. Over all these traits combine and give her, strangely if stretching one's imagination, the exotic resemblance of a lioness. She has one of those melancholic, introverted demeanors. Sad faces can be so tantalizing. And it wasn't until 2 weeks into teaching that I realized that her little mouth could smile.

This was achieved by me. I was playing Simon Says with the children. That day, particularly, which happened to be April 1st, I was playing my own jokes on the Korean teachers by saying Simon says touch something black, and the only thing really black in the room is the skirt that the teacher is wearing. So this beserking mob of children would charge the teacher. With this specific teacher though, she smiled when I got them to surround her playing along with it. Can't say, that all the other teachers in the other classes did.

I know all the real objections, that I have very little idea of what her personality is like. And that I am only projecting things onto her because she is quiet and real communication is hindered. So she sits framed like a portrait of a ravishing girl hanging on the wall across the room, an artist's exotic idea of beauty melting into the distance. But not a real person. But one thing is certain,and one thing I do know...she likes children. And women that are good with children have a sway over me.

The only conversation, I had with her was when I was reporting an incident. We are to report all incidents when a student gets hurt. One kid threw a ball and hit Tommy in the eye and Tommy began crying. Because most of the Korean teacher's are not the best in English, and I'm certainly not a Korean dictionary. To tell them anything is a difficulty. Through the use of charades I mimicked the ball being hurled towards my face and the tears streaming from my eyes. She was sharp and understood what I was saying within seconds. (You should have seen the odds I was up against trying to explain to another Korean teacher when Jennifer had mooned Alex; I wasn't doing charades then.) But her quick comprehension, got me hoping that maybe she understands English better than the other Korean teachers.

And then the moment came when she spoke to me. That Casablanca moment, when fire and sky meet, where Juliet steps out on the balcony, It was when the students were getting ready to leave, and they were lined up near the door. She looks at me with those lynx-like eyes, splicing the shadows from the light with those sultry, beautiful slivers, and she, with a smile, utters the word,....."Potato." "Potato?" I question back. She sort of laughs and her mind reaches back trying to form the words, and she says it again, "Potato." "Oh, you want them to play hot potato tomorrow?" I ask. She shakes her head in negation, but still smiles. As they file out of the room, her meaning is still left unclear. And I'll be first to admit that there has been more than one night here just before I've drifted off to sleep that I've wrestled with the riddle, "Potato? Potato. I think there's a hidden meaning in that."

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Monday, April 04, 2011

The Quest for a Good Shower; An Adventure with Lunch Ladies and Asian Men

Dirt and grime, and just general sweat and the wear of the day, all have me run down, along with the muscles that I cannot relax without the nice, long application of warm water. All that I want is just a shower...a decent one, one that doesn't freeze me and one that doesn't burn me, and one that actually gets me wet.

You see, the problem with my shower reached a vexing pinnacle when I got mad at the already existing problem and ripped out the shower head in my bathroom. I set about Macgyvering a hose plugged into the sink. It doesn't fit exactly because I had to use some type of tape or adhesives to get this hose to stick on the water faucet. Water still leaks out everywhere. And this, alas, has me only bathing in a thin trickle with the same fluctuating moodswings of the water temperature that had me annoyed to begin with. But ontop of that, I end up squatting curled up in a little ball underneath my sink in order to take a shower. Insane. Well, here, the sinks are actually inside the entire shower room. But still..it is uncomfortable and everytime I take a bath it feels like I am positioned for a tornado drill.

So I thought to improvise. It is always the lack of necessity that get us to think outside the box, and well, I thought, I will just take a shower at the school. They have this pool in the basement, and a bathroom adjoined where some nice and lovely showers exist. Ah, I couldn't wait. In fact, so wonderful were the showers when I actually did sneak down there. That, I was beginning to rely on that. I took two of the most sublime showers down there... yes, secretly. For, I mean how weird is a teacher, a grown man, taking a shower at the elementary school where he works. I mean, what would you think if Mr. Rogers was caught skinny dipping in a children's pool? Similiar thing. Okay, not exactly. But close.

Now, there is this small kitchen where they cook meals for the teachers next to the swimming pool. Now the students have their cafeteria in another wing, but sometimes teachers come down and eat, and if they go to the bathroom, I figured they go in the bathroom exactly where the shower was. So, if I were to take a shower I had to be quick. I didn't want a teacher or a cook walking on me while, I am butt-naked covered in soap suds. These showers, are just corded showerheads that you pull off the wall and you bathe in the middle of the bathroom, there are no partitions or shower curtains. So, taking a shower in a bathroom that you don't even know if you are supposed to be in, is risky business. And everything, I mean everything, is definitely more of a risk if it involves nudity. As I've said before, I've successfully taken 2 showers in this bathroom, undetected because I've gone through clandestine measures and I am a master of stealth. There is no door that I can visibly close and lock. There are these glass doors that are on the outside of the hall that lead to the bathroom. But these can't be locked either. But my precautionary measures were taken by shutting one of these hall glass doors and hoping that if anyone was making a trip to the bathroom, they would get the hint that someone was taking a bath.

So this one day, I wandered down there to take my 3rd shower, and had shut the glass door, but it makes this loud dull clang that sounds like an entire bookshelf falling over when its shut all the way. And fortunately instead of ripping off all my clothes and lathering myself up with soap and shampoo, I just used the toilet first,for right when I was making my move towards my bag with all the soap, shampoo, and my towel, one of the lunch ladies flicks on the light to the outer room, and sees me, yells something incompresensible in Korean, and marches out. I was first of all relieved that my shower plans were discovered while my clothes were still on. And because, I was not really sure if she was mad or what, I followed her only to find her in the little kitchen where she was yelling up a storm and pointing in my direction telling the entire kitchen staff and all the teachers there that I was in there. I realized then, that that bathroom was off limits. And the principal of the school who happened to be seating on the floor Asian style at her table with chopsticks in her hand, looks at me smiling and shakes her hand, a sure sign that it was off limits.

So my plans were absolutely foiled. And the school showers are a complete no go. I just never thought, that my life would ever get to the point where I was risking being caught naked by, of all people, a lunch lady.

So onto other plans. I'm like the Wily Coyote and a nice, warm shower is like that blasted Roadrunner. I heard about this garden hose outside on the roof where my room is near. I figured that the hose fit better than the small hose that I had taped to the bathroom sink. So, the other night, I got my hands on this garden hose and hauled the entire thing into my shower room. I was getting my hands all dirty from all the residue and Asian dust that is coated on everything and anything that remains outside for an extended period of time in this country. And I ripped the existing hose and tape all off sure that this hose was the correct size. And when I finally got the huge garden hose hooked up, I found that the water amount spilling out was far less than my original hose. I think it had something to do with the yards and yards of coils, and with so much hose, gravity was working against me and not allowing water to spill out naturally. The only thing it managed to do was make all the dirt and grime from the hose get all over the bathroom floor mixing with the water forming this type of sludge that I begin to track in the rest of my apartment. I was ticked off again.

So tonight, I went to a nearby gym. I thought to give in and just shell out a little bit of money. I mean, what is a hot shower really worth? In some people's book its priceless. Maybe they had some kind of special deal if I didn't use their gym equipment, but only used their showers, they'd cut me a discount. When I showed up, it was one of the busy times of the day, and the trainer gym guy showed me the showers and all these naked Asian men were in there. And then we went over to his desk and in broken English and mannerisms, I learned that he could only charge me the full rate for use of the entire gym which was not bad, like $50 a month or $100 for 3 months. But I got to thinking that the idea of having to pay to take a bath with a bunch of Asian men was a horrible idea. Besides, I'm sure rumors would begin to spread around the gym that that incredibly white, white-man, would only show up to take public showers...What kind of perve is that? So I was back to Round 1.

Tonight, I used a different tape and taped back the first small hose that I had taped on the faucet and I squatted and took myself a shower, and at this point, I really didn't care about the mercurial water temperature nor that its a little streamlet. Besides its getting warmer here and a cooler shower is not that bad.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Bar Fight Almost; Babylon Re-Revisited and Thoughts on Western Culture

It was April 1st and there was no huge pranks done here, no shame-laced shenanigans, no plotting of the like. I am still trying to get my bearings and usually antics never come into play til I'm well grounded in the atmosphere. But a group of us went out to this comedy night in a nearby city called Suyon or something of that ilk. It was at a bar composed of nearly all Westerners. There are so many of these Western bubbles buttressed and moated from the East.

In my company was Ari, this chill, laid-back Canadian who teaches at my school, and whom I spend alot of time with...and Anton, this large, crew-cutted, South African. I believe he was something of a serious rugby player until he injured his knee. Now he teaches kindergarten to Koreans. He's a guy's guy. A meat and potatoes fellow though as nice and affable as could be. We were to meet Ari's girlfriend. A girl that had accompanied him from Ontario 6 months ago. And with her we were to meet up with Cecilia, this other South African who is now about to leave Korea.It being April Fool's Day, they had a sort of open night mic. And any potential stand up comics could get up and give the audience their best delivery. All of them were teachers, like us, I believe. And I think most were from the states or Canada.

Though, the crowd was different. Usually this particular joint is crawling with English teachers, most of them elementary ed, where they assemble to clink their glasses and swap stories about difficult students. Though, mostly to empty those glasses after they've been clinked. But tonight, there would be a different pull. A bunch of American military were there. When we walked in the door, the table where Ari's girlfriend sat, Cecilia, and another friend of their's was swarming with these military guys. One of these guys who seemed to be busting out of his little shirt with his muscles was sitting at the table, with his counterpart, what looked like a Latina who likewise was busting out of her dress with her own ability to make curves (but not in the best places.) We met several of them. It was slightly awkward. I thought it would be funny if some brave comedian got up and just roasted these types of military men. Mainly because of how audacious it would be. Very Andy Kaufmanish and would probably wind up with a trip to the hospital.

The comics got up and one by one. But, as every stand up does, each displays his self-deprecation on stage. The first guy lambasted himself for not being able to get girls to sleep with him. This girl from New York got up and talked about her lesbian exploits in Korea. Another American with an Arab background made fun of his ethnicity. One way, by opening up his jacket and having fake explosives strapped to him. Still another guy, mentioned pornstars and trips to the strip club back home. I do not know. I never really found many stand up comics very funny; this only reinforced my opinion. Nearly all of it, is divided up between two styles. A) Whom have a slept with. Or B) Whom have I not slept with and why is that? Every comedian picks one. Sometimes mixing the two up. And then you get the 4 usual sterotypes that its become cliche. 1)The minority guys. In the states, these are usually either black, hispanic, or historically, Jews making fun of their own backgrounds. 2)The lesbian making fun of guys they don't like and the girls that they once did like, but now they've moved on. 3)The fat person..sometimes the worst self-deprecation hurled at themselves just to get people to laugh. 4)And the cynical, horny white guys who make fun of religion and anything else that could possibly be sacred under the sun. Outside of those, our society is so confining, we are not trained to laugh at.

Meanwhile, around the pub, the scene was getting a bit mixed up. People in the back were being loud and obnoxious among themselves, when they should know good and well that we all came to hear someone hold a mic and be loud and obnoxious as well. People were getting pretty tipsy. And the smoke in the place was curling up everywhere. Everyone, I mean, everyone felt the need to hold a cigarette. I don't know if they were really smoking, but just holding cigarettes. After the comic acts were over...thank goodness. Everyone began to want to find various means of forgetting the evening, and funny enough, emptying their wallets on this forgetfulness. So that when they wake up the next morning they wonder, through a clanging headache, just why their money is gone. I never understood this in our society, but people seem to love this effect. Some people live for it.

At my table they began to play a game where they filled a large glass with beer, then they placed smaller mugs around it. I was never in on the college frat boy scene, so this was new to me, it was called Quarters, and you'd flip coins off the table letting them bounce, and the mug that it landed in, had to empty their mug. If the coin landed in the big mug, then everyone gulped down their own glasses; whoever was slowest in emptying their own mug, had to then guzzle down the huge mug full of beer. This was one of those games designed to make you half-forget the evening. I opted out; I was content with the beer in my own mug. Instead of playing some stupid game that tells you when and how much to drink. Apparently, its a noticeable, and probably rare thing to not participate in drinking games. People are almost offended if you don't want to act like an ass with them. But deep down, at least with my new friends here, I think they respect me. I've had two people on two different nights, tell me this. But either way, around these parts, you have to consciously make a decision to have a cut off point if you don't want to wind up stumbling back to the bus or taxi. Its definitely an excercise in willpower and peer pressure.

Anyways, I was sitting there watching the game observing the people around me. Actually, I was getting beyond people-watching and began to get bored, and wishing that I had gone home earlier. Alot of the military men had left, and there were a few guys I'd never met, playing the drinking game with Ari and Anton. These other guys had horrible Bacchus luck and kept having to drink their mugs or the really big one. One guy was well smashed even before the game and was standing up yelling stupidity from the edge of the table. He was a half-Korean from Nebraska. And maybe the first antic it was funny, in a ridiculous sort of way, but then it just got annoying. However, attention began to turn to this little bitty guy. He had this lip ring and he was pretty drunk as well. He was from L.A. He slung his arm around me and wanted to know why I was not drinking the glass of beer in front of me, that one of the Army guys had left. I told him that I just didn't. Then, he told me that I should claim it. That I should "learn to be a man" or some such nonsense.

Now, hold the thought there. I bet you think you know what the potential bar fight is to be about. Either it is me getting hot at this little man and his remark, or maybe me succumbing to his suggestion and taking a drink only to realize that the Army guy had not really left and was just looking for an excuse to get into a fight. Oh no, none of these. Indeed its kind of funny that I even mentioned these military guys for the tale has nothing to do with them. And after this little guy, said this to me, I just realized that he was drunk, probably suffered from the Napoleon complex, and basically understood him like I understood my kindergarten students. Not to take him serious. But with my friend it was a different matter.

Not too long after, this little man gets up and staggers over to Ari who was not particularly sober himself, and begins to whisper something in his ear. I don't know what he said, but soon they were standing chest to chest. And Ari looked pretty perturbed. Both had their arms out and were gesticulating. Now, the funny thing is that Ari is not really an aggressive person. He's pretty laid back. The kind of guy whose description of anything good is "chill". And for the record, he's a Canadian. -Not the most hostile people in the world. He doesn't get into the whole dominate over other people thing. I mean, I've only known the guy for a few weeks, but I think I'm a pretty good perceiver of personality and Ari doesn't strike me as the type that has to go around proving himself by kicking people's teeth in. But then again, this little guy didn't look like a fighter either. And alcohol can make what lies dormant in a person come out.

They were standing there and you sensed that any moment the sky was about to drop out. Someone even moved the table that was nearby, especially the pitchers of beer. Ari's girlfriend, Sara, was anxious. Though not out of fear of what the little guy may do to Ari, but I guess out of the embarrassment that one's boyfriend got in a fight at one of the only bars you frequent in Korea. Women don't look at fighting the same as we guys do.

As for me, I saw no point in intervening. Though, Ari could definitely handle him, I never think that violence is the best solution, however drunk people will be drunk people. If they fight they fight. It'll be over in a minute. People will look and glare, the bar may lose a mug or two, and it will be embarrassing for the defeated (probably the little guy) but then people will return back to their loud talking and nervous laughter and forgetting the night, and forgetting the emptiness that hangs in the haze of the cigarrete smoke and in the echoes of the blaring music heard overhead.

They stood there locked in this strange sort of tension. Eventually Ari pushed the little man, he stepped back even hitting the wall behind him. But no swings ever happened. They stood taunted each other, I guess. Not really sure what the other meant. Later, Ari said that the guy approached him saying his name must've meant that he was from Saudi Arabia, and that he was "not one of us." (whatever that meant). Which is funny seeing how Ari is almost as white as I am. Anton, the jock South African was standing menacingly behind the little man, which still didn't persuade him to just walk off. But eventually, Anton convinced him to walk up to the bar with him and forget the whole thing. And the two of them sat up there. It looked sort of comical from far off. This large guy sitting next to this small man. Both of them talking. It wasn't til later that Anton told us about how this strange, small guy, had unzipped his pants at the bar, whipped it out and had started to pee a little right there at the bar. Anton got up and left when he saw the guy do this.

Earlier, Cecilia, one of the South Africans, asked me if I could sum up the night in 3 sentences what would it be. I refused because I couldn't take everything in at that moment, but mostly because I didn't want to offend. But now, looking back, I think it would be something along the lines of, "With alchohol people get stupid. Always obey the urge to possibly go back to one's apartment. And our society as a whole is in real F***** trouble."