Carrying an ugly dragon lamp across Seoul, switching bus stations - seven subway stops apart.
Aug 7, 2004
|"As human a little story as paper could well carry"
Seoul is a crowded city, people everywhere, people going in your direction, others against you and others following no apparent logic seem to be heading towards the wall (secret portal?). A sea of people with its ebbs and flows. All somehow controlled by the full moon peeking out as the sun completes its fall from our horizon.
I had to explain 'tacky' to Sandra who was travelling with me as I curse my large and cumbursome purchase which was the whim of a spontanious inquiry into the price, a counter offer, a rejection - I walked away, the guy followed me and said he'd let it go for my price. Although the smirk on his face gave me the impression that he had been trying to offload the lamp for some time. A cool little nick-nack that will illuminate reading and inspire coversation ("my, what an ugly lamp" - "thanks, I got it in Korea" - "Wow! Korea! Will you sleep with me?" and so on)
This was how ended my week off. Well, not a week off. The cheap bastards at the Wonderland Corporation Head Office (WCHO) deemed that schools would not close from a monday to a friday giving their faithfull employees the benifit of two whole weekends to aid in their travels, naw, they would give us a Thursday to Wednesday holiday.
The journey back from Sokcho to Mokpo took Sandra and I the most productive part of ten hours. Sukcho is in the top right of Korea, Mokpo the bottom left.
Okay. Start at the start. (Damn Journalist style, give the ending away first)
Since I saw James at the Mud Festival (read the Mud Festival entry first, which infact will be written second so I have no idea what it's going to say at this point) we made plans to do something on the time off that both of our corporation franchise schools decided to give us off at the same time - many corporation franchise schools decided to give the week off at this time.
All I knew at the start of the break was that I would head to James town; Seoul suburb Suwon. Off the Bus in Suwon James met me and immediately we boarded a bus for Seoul - the plan was to catch that controvertial pre-election Bush squashing documentary flick 'Farenheit 9/11'. I tried to see it in Mokpo when Amanda, Tristan (A Mokpo foreigner who is currently vacationing in Burma) and I heard rumurs (from a source who Amanda and Tristan said 'they never trust and don't know why they are trusting now') that it was playing in Mokpo. It wasn't. Although to the sources credit there was a big poster saying it's coming next week.
The movie was nothing I didn't already know (except for some of the more statistical facts and obscure damning evidence) but was a very well put together piece of cinema. Politicians are screwing the world and making themselves rich. Bush et, all are no better. Americans need to wake up and realize "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance" - no, your not a terrorist if you question your leaders (unless you live in the Korea suphexed by a N.). Good movie; two thumbs up and a toe.
That night back in Suwon. We drank outside a Family Mart (because you can), got drunk with a Kiwi and played the happy crane game into the wee hours of the night (James won a little teddy bear dressed as Batman).
The next day, bright and early (two or so) we rolled out of bed, ate breakfast at a mini stop and headed over to Fort Suwon. Not actually called that but it's the old wall that used to suround the city untill it sprawled into a major Korean metropolis. Taking us two hours we walked the entire wall, took pictures of Korean men wearking old Korean costumes. At the highest point there was a bell which you could pay a thousand won to ring three times. I did. I asked James if he thought people would take the sound to mean either a Buddhist Monk call to worship or an impending attack by the N. Koreans. He said they probably think it's just another damned tourist paying the thousand won to ring the bell three times. There was also a big Buddha (a really big Buddha towering 50 or 60 feet in the air.)
Back at the bat cave (James' place) i go about checking my e-mail and sending off meesages to the people I want to hook up with this week. Especially Amanda. Ben was on that list, too. And Sandra. I was going to meet Amanda the next night. She was going to call James on his cell phone. So was Ben.
James arranged it so the kid he tutors at this time will meet us at a 'Play Station 2 Bang'. You've heard of DVD Bangs and PC Bangs and Soju Bangs, but to add to the list of many Korean Bangs (rooms) is the 'Play Station 2 Bang'. It is what it sounds like. Fifty big screen TV's and fifty play stations. The kid James tutors and the kid's friend kicked our ass at a soccer game. Then James kicked my ass at 'Bubble Bobble' (refered to in my care free college days as simply 'The Bubble Game' - back then I was a master. Now I'm a little out of practice.)
Again back at the bat cave James and I got ready for a night of 'on the town'. James was psyched. He prommised me a crazy night nike no other crazy night I had had before. Into the warm soup of this July night and dolled up in our finnery (I was wearing my Spongebob T-Shirt) we walk past the Family Mart of last nights soju binge and to the 'pool bar' - the foreigner crowd's name. Named because, well, this place has a 'pocket ball' pool table. A rare thing in Korea. It was a dingy hole like every other Korean foreigner dance/meat market type club i'd been in. Except it was empty. Not just 'empty', a few pathetic men sitting around the bar milking cheap drafts untill people they can oogle show up - no, this place was EM TY (if you're high brow enough (or if you took the Canadian Poetry course with me), you'll catch the referance to bp nichol).
James pissed off got on his 'hande pone' and found us a roof top party near by. A mixed bag of foreigners. Texans, Canadians, all sorts of shapes and sizes and odd personalities. We brought fire works. James shot off the first one. I went to shoot off another (although I was aiming at some bottle hoping for smashy smashy) when I was told the landlord might ban them from future roof top parties if such rowdyness continues. Not knowing anyone there except James I didn't want to step out of bounds and cause any friction between these people and their roof (roof top parties are gold). The party dissolved shortly after one of the Texans bought some cheap korean wine he mistook for soju.
And inevitably James and I ended up back at the Family Mart drinking again. Some of the cast from the roof top party joined us, they all went to bed pretty quickly. Except for the crazy Texan. It was a good thing he stayed. He broke the ice with two Korean girls. We ended up talking and drinking with them untill the sun popped out the next morning. Innocent, of course. At least, my intentions. I can't say for certain the intentions of my two foreign friends. I saw Amanda (my girlfriend) the next night.
Amanda was heading off to Thailand for some R and R - James and I went into Seoul, checked out a book store where I bought some Lonely Planet books when James' vibrating mode went off. Amanda said she would meet me in Seoul. I headed over to the Bus Station. James went back to Suwon for a party. We would get in touch the next day.
In the Seoul bus station checking my e-mails before I met Amanda, Sandra e-mailed me (it was marked urgent) and said 'I'm in Seoul, call me'. I did. I invited her to come to the beach with us tommorow. I told her I was 'busy' tonight.
Amanda and I went to Itaiwon (Seouls crazy foreigner district - mostly US army types). We checked into the Hilltop Motel on top of Hooker Hill (Amanda's first time going up) after some Mexican food where I got a free sweat band for drinking two Heinekens. We drank some more in Itaewon before retiring to our run down motel of sin on top of Koreas infamous brother district on a hill.
The next morning started on a good note with Amanda. But got worse as she borded the airport shuttle for Inchon and then to Thailand. I was alone. I walked around Itaiwon, bought some Cuban cigars and called James and called Sandra. I woke James up - he went on a mission for a rental car. He had the international drivers license, not me.
Sandra met me in Itaiwon shortly after that. It was her first time in this part of Seoul. Its a place where few Koreans venture into. She said it didn't seem like Korea, more like Singapore. I took her up hooker hill (Sandra's first time going up) but it wasn't much of a sight in the daytime (unless you're one guy or two guys when the hookers come out of their brothels and literally grab your shirt and (try to) drag you into their whore houses of ill repute).
Phone calls with James back and forth regarding his progess. Sandra and I were drinking Heinekens at a crowded pub called 'Geckos'. The final one was a pissed off and dissillusioned James. He had finally tracked down a car. Took a 20,000 won cab ride to the place, presented his drivers license and when they were photo copying it they realized it expired yesterday.
Like common criminals we had to ride the bus. We take the Bus to Sokcho - a beach town. Sandra tells us it's going to be crowded. Sokcho itself is empty. We meet some foreigners at the bus station who tell us to go downtown where nobody is staying in the many Yogwons (Korean Style Motels). James had his 'Lonely Planet Moment' - showing up in an obscure city in a country not trod by the tourist hordes not knowing where to go or what to do and then asking the only foreigners we see. This is the essence of travellers. A lose network of people sharing their experience. Following in the footsteps of someone else who followed in the footsteps of someone else.
Our Yogwon, sleep on the floor, was perfect. Thank god Sandra speaks the language, she got us a great deal. A 'man won' each (10,000 bills are called 'man wons') - Out to dinner our stomachs were churned inside out eating a mystery fish soup, when Sandra inquired what kind of soup it was the lady showed her a bag filled with something squishy that didn't much look like fish. 'Fish in a bag soup' - avoid it at all cost!
Back to the Yogwon we smoke our Cuban cigars. James and I being 'MEN' inhale some of the cigar smoke. Our heads spun upside-down a few times. Woo-hoo, we felt good! This was Sandra's first experience with tobacco (she's an angel) so only took little tokes.
After taking scandalous pictures of us smoking cigars we start walking. Down around the water James and I start to feel sick. Too much inhalled tobacco smoke! Men Indeed! The ocean air did us some good. In our haze of toppled heads I look into the distance and ask 'what do you suppose those lights are on top of that KTF building?' (Korean Telecom)
We walked towards those lights. Feeling much better we walk into an elevator that is no bigger than a coffin. We enter 'Sky Rounge'. A place of drinks and Karaoke. James and I butcher western songs. Sandra sings Korean songs flawlessly. This isn't a Noribang, so not private rooms. A sexy Korean woman at the next table takes a liking to James and his sexy charisma and asks him for a slow dance. I ask Sandra to Dance and there are two couples spinning around the Karaoke floor. James has a wide grin on his face.
This goes on for some time. These Korean 'Cougars' are flirting with James and inevitably teasing him. He goes home alone; Sandra and I follow him.
The next day we walk around Sokcho beaches. The waves make it inhospitable for any swimming. The crazy undertow would have carried us (or our dead corpse by then) to the sumo shores of Japan.
We hear there is an observatory where you can look into N. Korea an hours bus ride away. Around mid afternoon we board a bus bound for the look out post. We notice there is barbed wire fence blocking off all of the beaches. You can go swimming here, acess through gates, but only untill five o'clock. If you stay they will either arrest you (because they think your a spy) or shoot you (because they think your a spy). In 1994 or so, N. Korea approached these beaches in an amphibious way. They were cought and quickly dealt with.
At the observatory check in (where you give up your passport) we were told the last shuttle bus up to the observatory left twenty minutes ago. We ate some bad food at the check in pavilion restaurant and asked around if some Koreans would drive us up (because the place was still open for an hour). They all said 'no' - they had families, etc.
Dissapointed we walk across the road to the beach. We walk through a gate. James and I jump into the Sea of Japan - perfect waves! Nice and big and round but no undertoe to take us away.
A whistle blew at us! "Time to get out of the water! Time to get off the beach! The beach is now patrolled by the military!" Sandra rememebered the bus driver told her there was a beach about twenty minutes away that didn't close and wasn't seperated from civilization by a barbed wire fence.
Back on the bus. We found Woodstock back in '69- tent city! Tents on top of tents. This is Korean summer time when EVERYONE in the damn country goes to the beach. Not a place to put your tent. We had no tent (we would of if we had a car!) We ran for the ocean. We threw ourselves in. The sun was setting but what a perfect time to go swimming. The waves were just as big.
A few seconds later a whistle was blowing at us again. A guy wearing a shirt that said 'police' told us to get out of the damned water. We weren't allowed to go swimming after dark.
So we played Euchre as the sun went down. At some delicious shell fish grilled on a barbecue and ran to catch the last bus (9:30) Back to Sokcho. In Sokcho we had grand plans to hit the town but we all promptly fell asleep.
The next morning, for Sandra and I, was the beginning of Travel hell. James had one more day of vacation and was going back to the observatory (bastard!). A bus winded its way around mountains through back country and generally taking its time back to Seoul. Seoul to Mokpo was typical Seoul to Mokpo. Another four hours to the five hours we had already travelled. And now we're caught up with the beginning. Don't you love when stories are circular?
James Joyce did. 'Finnegans Wake' is circular. The book begins in the middle of a sentance. The beginning of that sentance is the last words at the end of the book.