Korean Mamma Drama

27 06 2010

Sitting out on the porch one Friday evening enjoying bamboo soju and guitar sing alongs after a week’s work, an older Korean woman stopped by for a chat with the occupants outside the other half of our duplex.  Her interest in the singing way-gookens soon brought her over our way.  After the usual greetings and clarification of “Me – Me-gook (America), and he – Canada”, I was escorted by the enthusiastic woman around the building and up some flights of stairs into a rather nice apartment on the 3rd floor.  A young Korean girl about my age was also in the apartment, and my confused expression reflected on her face made it clear that this would surely be one of those weird, random occurrences that are so characteristic of life in this country.  The older woman left me standing in the middle of the living room dumbly grasping my glass of soju with her daughter, presumably, as she ran off into the kitchen babbling a million miles an hour in Korean.  It was about this time I began hoping Pat was still behind me and about to walk through the door to meet me here in my stupor.  She came out of the kitchen with giant grapes and melon and sat me down on the couch.  It was then she remembered: “OH!  Chingu!! (translation – “oops, I forgot about your friend!”) and ran out to fetch him.  Pat soon met us in the apartment with the same dumbfounded expression that had not yet faded from my face.  He sat down with me on the couch and we started to nibble on the fruit, Ritz crackers, and smoothies that lay on the table.  On any other night, this would have been a a great situation to find ourselves in, except on this particular evening we were kidnapped immediately preceding our departure to a good friend’s birthday dinner, and we were now bound and shackled to oblige her as it is extremely rude to refuse hospitality from Koreans.  We sat around the table nibbling on the snacks whilst piecing together our limited knowledge of the others’ language to conjure up some understanding of one other.  Apparently this woman used to own a restaurant, looooooves soju, and is our new self-proclaimed “Korean mamma”.  We were instructed to come knock on her door anytime hunger pangs strike and she will cook for us.  She home-makes a medley of kimchi, 3 of which were dished up in tupperware for us to take home, and also home-makes a delicious drink concocted from flower petals soaking in soju mixed with fermented plum juice (that has been fermenting in a barrel in the the rear of her kitchen for 5 years) and green tea.

Although it took 45 minutes, we finally got the point across that although we would love to stay, we were late to meet our chingus for dinner and must go.  I was pretty bummed we had to leave – this woman was fantastic; so sweet, hospitable, and full of energy.  After all was said and done we ended up missing dinner with our chingus anyway.  Definitely worth it.


World Cup Fever!

16 06 2010

We were hungover, severely sleep deprived, dirty, soaking wet from head to toe in the muddy grass, and situated shoulder to shoulder, chest to back among thousands of Koreans… and it was wonderful!!

Seoul hosted a massive World Cup viewing party outside City Hall for the Republic of Korea’s opening game against Greece on Saturday.  In accordance with “credible” predictions, I was expecting Greece to have this one in the bag.  When Korea defied these odds and won the game, it was impossible to avoid a second-hand high from the radiation of excitement from the crowd.  As I am sure many of those present weren’t, you didn’t have to be much of a soccer fan to be thrilled over this win – Korea is an especially nationalist country, and the opportunity to witness this event was breathtaking.

For the remainder of the evening, the usual blanket of composure and conformity was lifted from the streets of Seoul emancipating madmen in baggy red attire, masks of face paint, and blinking, plastic devil horns.  We cheered, chanted, banged on drums, and danced in the streets.  Everyone was happy and seemed to have left every other thought or care back in the trench of time before the game.

Game 2 vs. Argentina is tomorrow evening.  I am hopeful for another win, especially since I owe my 5th grade boys ice cream if not.  Olé!

A passing thought

8 06 2010

Feelings have an annoying habit of coming and going and resisting our attempts to control or reproduce them. Being is much more immediate than that—it’s the pause between thoughts, the space in which everything comes and goes, the stillness underlying all activity, the awareness that’s looking out through our eyes right now. Immediate though it may be, it nevertheless eludes our efforts to “make it happen” or grasp it conceptually—and it’s so subtle and empty of content that the mind may overlook it.”        –Stephan Bodian

I took this quote from an article I just read because I feel it demonstrates a consistent relevancy in my life;  I will go out on a limb and assume there are others out there like me who harbor the tendency of taking the present for granted, letting time slip by in nonchalance, and worse yet, willing it away in anticipation of times ahead.   I could follow my train of thought like a carrot on a stick, or I could spare myself the time and you the confusion and get to the simple point that needed no introduction in the first place…  Point being I thought this was a beautiful quote and wanted to pass it along, as I think we can all benefit from its reminder from time to time.

Back to step one…

7 06 2010

My fancy Hangeul flashcards to help me learn the alphabet.

So I had my first official Korean lesson this evening… finally!!  I guess I can’t feel too bad for the delay considering everything takes 5 times longer to accomplish out here than it would back home.  It’s not easy to track down language lessons when everything is advertised in the language you need to learn; a rather frustrating conundrum.  Eventually I managed to find a pretty great place and am getting private tutoring once a week.. for free!  They are very sweet women and all they want in return is – quote: “World peace!”.  Works for me!  But that’s not all… quite possibly the best part about this deal is… are you ready for this?… PING PONG TABLES DOWNSTAIRS!!!!!  First ones I have found since being here and I almost had a heart attack when I saw them.  Sooo excited.  Now all I need to do is learn to say “How do I get in on the ping pong action?” in Korean.

Hangeul, the Korean alphabet, is fairly simple to learn and it’s amazing how much new confidence I had upon leaving class; the ability to read all the neon gibberish makes a big difference, even if I still can’t necessarily understand what most of it means.  Baby steps!

Muscle memory and chauvinism on a Saturday afternoon.

6 06 2010

“Even if she is a killer, she’s still a woman.  She’ll come around.”

Quote of the weekend from the Korean horror film, BlackHouse.  This film was intended to be background noise to naps in the DVD bang after a day of open air market in Nampo-dong, patio beer at the touristy of tourist restaurants, and my first sannakji experience.  Sannakji – freshly severed, still wiggling octopus tentacles with raw potential to murder us more brutally than the woman in the film.

This entire experience was terrifying, yet sickeningly thrilling at the same time.  The poor little octopus was swimming circles in its shallow deathbed upon our arrival in search of a thrill.  To her apparent apprehension, our hesitant request for this Korean delicacy prompted the ajumma (middle aged, working woman) to hand pluck the poor fellow from the bucket and take him behind the counter.  Within seconds, a plastic plate literally crawling with our late friend’s severed tentacles doused in red sauce and garnish was presented alongside dipping sauce and soju.  (Visual Evidence..)

Tip: Make absolutely certain you chew each bite thoroughly; the tentacles still have their suction capabilities at this point, and a few people have actually met their death while enjoying this snack.

They say octopus’ are very smart creatures; strolling through fish markets you begin to notice that each shallow octopus tank has its own octopus babysitter continually blocking escape attempts, shoving the poor bastard back into the water each time its arms drape over the side to try to make a run for it.  Pretty morbid.  Ingesting wiggling, severed octopus appendages now has a big, red checkmark next to it on my official Korean To-do List.

RIP, Sensual Panda

3 06 2010

I couldn’t think of anything worthy of writing this evening, until a slightly funny/very random occurrence just directed me back to an old joke-blog I started a while back about the life of a sensual panda bear, which, needless to say, only lasted for 2 posts.  A panda bear can only be so sensual, I guess.  The following is a quote from a… dare I say, ditzy?… friend of mine and the inspiration of that short-lived blog.  It would crack me up every time I heard/read it back then, and it hasn’t ceased to even today.

“The only way buster the wiener dog could have mated with this dog is if she laid on the ground; but for dogs that’s a big no-no, that stuff’s done on their feet. At least in my experience anyway.”

So there you have it.  Thank you and goodnight!

Love and madness in Korea.

2 06 2010

I love this country.  I really do.  It is absolutely crazy and bizarre and I can’t, for the life of me find any pattern of predictability with these people.  On the surface they are very serious, conservative, and keep to themselves.  Don’t bother to smile at a passer-by in the street if your intention is to receive one in return; their stony, lifeless expressions are unaffected by such a nonsensical gesture.  Yet an “Anni-yang-ha-se-yo” coupled with a slight nod will get you one step closer to basic cordiality, and if you are comfortable enough taking it a few steps beyond that, you are very likely to find yourself in conversation so peculiar and hilarious you forget how you could ever feel lonely in a place like this.

I find it so adorable that for the first time since 2002, I am once again repeatedly asked “Brittany, as in Britney Spears?!”, as if it’s the first time anyone has ever made that connection.  I love conversations with university students in the subway who turn out to be 15 year old girls (who knew?) and ask many questions about Eminem and Justin Timberlake.  Better yet are the middle aged men seated next to us in the street food tent hand-feeding us soju, beef, and jalepenos from their table (we didn’t even have to use our own hands!).  Nothing better than dinner accompanied by ever-popular Korean fart humor from a group of true professionals.  Gom-be!  After dinner and a show, what’s better for digestion than walking at a steady pace away from some (drunk?) high school girls and their riddles regarding something about being a nurse?, or purse? or kayak, maybe?.. in the middle of the night, while begging my 30 year old mi-gook friend for a kiss.

Rarely a dull moment.