Road to Namhae

28 09 2010

Tuesday, early as hell AM.

It was 5:45; the earliest I had been up in years and it was still dark when I left the apartment.  I arrive at the bus terminal for the second time in 12 hours to try to snag tickets in the midst of the busiest holiday in Korea.  I was accused of lunacy the night before for waiting till the day-of to purchase tickets.  You can’t get tickets in advance anyhow, and I had already promised all my friends I had it in the bag, just meet me at 9:15 at the terminal.

I proceed to the ticket counter, again, at 6 AM and ask the girl at the counter for 7 tickets to Namhae at 9:40.  “Anniyo”, she says, with her wrists formed in an X to further drive the point home.  “Don’t have?” I ask her, “Upsayo?” – the only way I could come up with to inquire if tickets were already sold out.  “No, anytime”, she answers.  What the hell is that supposed to mean?  I try again.  “7 tickets, 9:40”.  Again with the wrists.  I shrug in frustration and head to the back of the deepening line to pull out my cell phone.  I place a call to the foreigner help line, but of course, closed for Chuseok.  I then try to call that same supportive friend of mine who had told me I was crazy to attempt such a feat, but he apparently decided to sleep in this morning.  I’ll try another counter.

The frustration is seeping deeper into my pores as I wait in the long line at a different counter to the far left.  I try to be optimistic, but the advancing possibility that I may miss the bus to my 3 days of beach, booze, and camping makes it difficult to avoid this osmosis.  I finally arrive at the window and ask this girl the same thing: 9:40 to Namhae, 7 tickets.  A few finger strokes on the keyboard later and 7 tickets are printed from the machine and handed over to me through the little archway in the window.  I feel a wave of relief, though notice there is no time on the tickets which could only imply that this show is being run on a first come, first serve basis.  Ahhh… “Anytime“, now I see.  At this point I have regained my optimism and decide that at least we will get on a bus at some point.  I head downstairs to the terminal.

What a goddamn racket!  It is nearing 7AM at this point, and the terminal is even more crowded than the ticket room.  I have a few vague ideas of how the fiasco formally known as boarding a bus should play out, but this mess delivers a sneaking suspicion that all rules are out the window on this Korean Thanksgiving’s Eve.  I grab a seat among a group of Koreans furiously fanning themselves in vain attempt to counteract the humid heat to scope things out before selecting a line.  About 15 minutes tells me that if I will be near the front of any of these lines by 9:15, I need to act now.  I select the ‘logical’ line that leads under the gate labeled “Namhae”.

A few frantic line switches and three and a half hours later finds me and my 6 waygooken friends on a bus snagging the last few seats and the floor.  Three and a half more hours in bumper to bumper traffic and we finally arrive in Namhae.

To reach the island the bus crosses a long, red suspension bridge resembling a smaller Golden Gate into a land of rice fields sweeping through the hills, traditional Korean homes with tin roofs secured by black rubber tires, and Korea’s token rusted blue Hyundai pickup trucks.  We made it.


Reflections (in the mirror)

15 09 2010

In my future moments of nostalgic reflection on Korea, one of the first flashes will surely be that of my co-workers’ daily huddle around the desktop computer.  I need not understand Korean to be painfully aware of what their excited chatter is a precursor to: yet another box of stuff is scheduled to arrive within the next 24 hours; I’d almost bet my life on it.  When the knock at the back door the next afternoon proves me correct, they will rush about the office ravaging frantically to locate boxcutters, scissors, keys, anything (!) to surpass this obstacle between them and whatever precious crap lies inside.  I will then watch in quiet amusement as the objects inside endure intense scrutiny from each of the girls before being condemned back into its box with disgust, or receiving the green light to be pulled over her head, tacked into her hair, swung over her shoulder, slipped onto her little feet, or smudged on her face.  “Bling Bling!”

I never did realize Korea was such an image conscious country before arriving here, but it was without a doubt the first thing I noticed when I stepped off the plane; everyone is flawless and dressed to kill no matter the occasion.  I feel at times as if I’ve infiltrated the Asian Stepford Wives’ neighborhood, yet the idea has become so popular that it has developed into an pandemic infecting each and every resident of the country, regardless of social status.  In the west, people love to spend the money they don’t have on nice cars, college degrees, hefty home loans, and interest payments.  Everyone creates their social status one way or another, and it makes sense that Koreans give precedence to personal appearance considering it’s where they get the most bang for the buck.  It isn’t a culture of dinner parties, house parties, and home study groups as is the west; here, socializing is done outside of the home so your proof (or illusion) of wealth should obviously be mobile.

I do like their style on this one… It is quite common to re-gift the crap that makes your blacklist and isn’t worth nickles and dimes to return.  They are definitely onto something..

…”And it’s good for health.”

5 09 2010

Korean girl: “Do you like to eat raw fish?”

Me: “Sure, I eat sushi all the time.”

I was mistaken…

Fish market time!  Select the most delicious looking fish swimming in the knee-high tank and appreciate your day job as the ajumma yanks it out of the water and chops its head clean off in one swift motion.  Next, she’s over to the cutting board to slice it in down the middle as we cringe at the two headless sides wiggling around on the table.

The murder scene:

The 2.5 footer that grazed the tank splashing water on my sandals only moments ago is now handed over the counter in a white styrofoam doggy-bag in exchange for ₩30,000.

Now, time to find a place to sit by the ocean to enjoy our dinner and a show of random singing karaoke man with facepaint.