Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 22, 2008

Heart and Seoul

I deplaned in Korea and Brent my high school friend, met me at the gate. That’s a nice thing. I’m pretty used to getting off finding my feet and bearings and just getting to whatever comes next, but it’s nice to see an old friend.

I feel like I am getting some Western creature comforts for my Christmas. I am staying with Brent at the embassy, in his nice totally Canadian-style apartment. I have my own room for ten days, and I happily unpacked I arrived. When I was 20 and traveling, I wouldn’t waste time unpacking – I’d just live out of a suitcase.

The next day we went out for rice-porridge. Brent got beef mushroom, I got crab. It was kind of bland, had a touch of “please sir can I have some more” gruel to it, but quite filling. No risk of being so firey hot that I couldn’t eat it. it’s a very Korean thing to eat, so I am glad I did.

I walked around on my own, and saw some cool public art, called “Your Long Journey”, which I found quite apropos. Beside it is Hammer Man, a five story steel structure that points out the futility of work buy constantly hammering something. I didn’t take it to be the (“)real(“) art which it is (there’s another in Seattle), because the Koreans dressed him up in red bootees and a Santa hat. There’s a lot of Christmas decorations here, and Westerners will find it a bit gaudy. That’s just culture, different assumptions.

Friday night Brent, Rene, Hendrik, and I (other embassy guys) when out for French food. My rule is as long as I eat local food once a day, I’m okay. It was delicious, if odd to eat Euro delicacies (pork terrine, goat cheese salad, and chocolate mouse) in Asia. Then we had drinks and met some Aussies and British embassy peeps, and then a bunch of us went to Queen’s a gay bar on The Hill. (The hill is also sometimes known as homo hill, and it is reached via the also aptly named hooker hill. Hey, I just report this stuff, I don’t make it up.) I haven’t really been dancing in months, and it was so fun. In the small crowded smoky bar, there was a marble catwalk in the middle and it was pretty much the only place you could dance, so Rene pulled me up, and it was so so great. I think I danced most of the night.

I forget that some places you had to breathe smoky air while dining. This is one of those places. Japan too is the new France, i.e. the place where public smoking isn’t uncool yet.

Saturday my U of T theology colleague Kevin and his wife Brenda came into the city. They are teaching English here. We went to NamdaeMun- a well, a bit like a giant outdoor dollar store, with many odd things. There’s a weird thing they eat here, silk worm larvae stewed in their own juices and pee and poo, then roasted. It has a strong signature smell, which Brent finds very distasteful, and I can’t say that he’s being obtuse. Haven’t tried that yet, but I did eat a “timbit” filled with red bean sweet filling, a spicy Arabic kabob, and deep fried octopus legs.



Sat night we went to a Christmas party at Sergeant Wayne’s. He and his family live in a hotel, for years. That’s get weird I think. It was a lot of fun, and these people are getting familiar, and I can joke with everyone. I read stories with little Sydney before bed. They can get all kinds of Western food from the base, so I keep forgetting I am in Korea.

Sunday I slept till noon, and then Brent and I went to Insadong, a really fun artier little district with neat shops. I am carrying a ridiculous amount of stuff in my luggage already; those who love me should not let me shop anymore! But I found some really cool stuff.

I walked out of the super high class department store, Lotte (a Korean cross between Eaton’s and Herrod’s) , and I was so happy, because it was snowing! I had been gearing up to settle for a green Christmas, and then this! It looked so beautiful, but it didn’t feel that cold out. Then I looked more, and it was all coming from one place. It was fake! They blow out fake snow. It was actually a kind of soap bubble, I know, because later licked my dirty glasses (they were really dirty okay, and with a big splotch), and trust me, it was soap. I was mildly dejected about that, and impressed by the level of fakeness in Korea.

We watched _The Polar Express_. Made me think about the odd North American mythology of Christmas. Aren’t we as odd as every other culture that gets studied by anthropologists? Think how it would sound to aliens of people of the future. The man who delivered material goods was not a deity, but as imbued with some supernatural abilities including mind reading. He was all seeing, and capable of extremely fast travel. I am not sure why my agnostic Unitarian parents played the game with my sister and I. Would I tell kids the Jolly Lama, the Big Man in Red exists? Dunno, maybe it’s worth participating in the mass delusion. Now you are calling me a party pooper.

Today Monday I had a veg out day, and sorted my stuff, and planned my visit for tomorrow to the Demilitarized Zone between The Democratic (?) People’s Republic of Korea (which you know as North Korea) and The Republic of Korea (Which you call the south). Should be interesting. There’s a dress code. No leather, no military uniforms, no ripped clothes, nothing offensive, no shirts without collars. No flip flops. Shoot when it’s negative 2, that’s my fave footware! Should be interesting. It is not an ended war, there’s just an armistice. Apparently, 20 years ago, the southerners decided to take down a tree in the no man’s land n the middle, because it obscured the view. As they were hacking, the Northerners didn’t like it, so they came over. A scuffle ensued, and a south Korean soldier was killed with an axe. Zoinks!

Brent and I went western grocery shopping today. Now there’s this thing, called the “Supermarket Tour”, and they classify grocery stores into rich people grocery stores and poor people grocery stores, according to their interior design, products available, product placement etc. At home this would have qualified as poor people grocery store. Small. Few displays. No market-deli murals. Few aisles. But then you get to the checkout clerk, and it all changes. We payed W240 000 i.e. 240$ for four bags of not extraordinary groceries. Phew. You can pay $23 for a small bottle of stuffed olives. It was odd, because I realised that my jam and cheese would seem the way Oriental grocery stores seem at home – in a foreign language, weird looking and smelling, and totally unusual. Even at six bucks, its worth it for salt and vinegar chips. I’ve been really missing that.

Gotta go to sleep, I have a warzone to visit tomorrow!


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