Every weekend is getting booked like I’m some celebrity or that I have a life.
Well, I guess I do have a life.
Activity has picked up a lot since the summer. The weather has definitely cooled, but now the mosquitoes have decided to come out, not realizing that summer is over. We had taken down our mosquito net over the bed and have had to put it back up.
After Chuseok, we had a holiday the following Wednesday, Foundation Day. It’s the day that Korea celebrates its foundation myth, the one with the bear eating garlic and marrying a god/prince and naming their son “Carrot.”
I met a fellow blogger and his gang for hockey Tuesday night. I then met Chris and John at Korea Barbecue for our first try of smoked turkey in Korea–an event we have repeated and will repeat frequently.
Wednesday, I met my old visa run buddy, Manuel, for the first meeting of his new club, The Travel Kings (I just realized I’m the publicity officer), at a German-themed brew pub. It was a truly international meeting. Other than the Americans (Manuel and me) and Koreans, we had a Canadian, a German, and two French dudes. Everyone was great, and I got to practice my German again–and realize that it has gotten very bad.
The following weekend, I met my new friend Don, whom I met through Brant. He had been raving about this country smoked duck restaurant, and he had set up a time for people to meet and go there. I was the only one who showed up on that Sunday morning.
Don and I took a bus from the meeting place to the foot of the mountain. It was there that I found out that the plan was to actually hike to the top of the mountain. I had not planned on nor dressed for that. It’s funny because I have mountain climbing sports shoes, and I didn’t wear them.
We lugged up the mountain. Almost at the top there was a rest area with a running spring. I got some water, and we sat down a bit. After we rested, we started climbing again. Then we heard a voice.
It was a friend of Don’s that he had contacted. His name was John, and he was from Alaska. He had originally said he’d meet us at the restaurant, but he ended up tracking us down and found us by pure luck.
I mean pure luck.
He guessed which mountain we were on. He guessed which trail we followed. And he rushed up so fast that he caught up with us.
We made it to the top of the mountain and sat down at a park bench with an old lady and shared some food. She laughed at my shirt (the “Give me a beer” shirt). A man who we assumed was her son got her and led her down the mountain. It was then that we realized, “She climbed up here.”
We were somewhat healthy adults barely making it to the top of the mountain on our last breaths, and we were surrounded by elderly people and young kids who had done the same with relatively less trouble.
This particular mountain was adjacent to Seoul Land and the Seoul Racecourse Park. We watched some of the horse races from our vantage point.
The climb down was much better for me.
We exited at a different place filled with gardens and giant green spiders. A nice Korean man directed us to the bus stop where we could get a ride to the duck restaurant.
The duck restaurant was a lot like my beloved San Ma-eul Boribap. The duck itself was similar to the barbecued duck near my place, but the setting really made it special, and I had my dong dong ju–the rice beer that is the reward for humping it up a mountain.
The following weekend was even more packed. One of the big things was that the headmaster from my old boarding school, McCallie, was coming to Korea for the first time for three days. My heart is still in that school, and it was amazing that someone from that place was coming here to Korea. The reason for the trip was the sudden boom in Korean students at the school. The headmaster, Dr. Walker, wanted to meet the parents and create a stronger presence of McCallie in Korea.
I was contacted a month earlier by Mr. Ahn. His son had recently graduated McCallie and now is in college in the U.S. Given my strict work schedule, I told him I was only available on the weekend, specifically Saturday. I signed up for the big dinner event at 50,000 won a plate.
Eun Jeong and I showed up at the event at the Seoul Club. We went into the banquet room, and there was Dr. Walker with another guy in a suit. Dr. Walker shook my hand and introduced himself. Then the other guy said, “Joe McPherson?”
I looked at him and recognized his haircut.
I first met Hank when I was a Jr. Counselor at McCallie Sports Camp the summer before my junior year. He was one of the campers. He was a cool kid that had made an impression on everyone. I was excited to see him become a freshman boarding student during my senior year. I hadn’t seen him since then. He now works in the admissions department at the school.
Everyone exchanged some small talk. The Korean parents were in horseshoe formation around the headmaster as we waited to get started. Eun Jeong and I mingled a bit. The first parents we introduced ourselves to were a little snobby, which I was expecting some to be. They’re paying over $35,000 a year for their sons to go to McCallie to become doctors and lawyers–not hagwon English teachers.
Yet other people ‘got it.’
The only other alum that night was a Korean guy who had graduated in 2006. He was taking a year off to hang around in Korea before starting art school. We got along well, and his mother and I talked about Korean food. By the end of the night, she invited me over to their place to make me her dwinjang jjigae.
Eun Jeong was very uncomfortable there. The parents there were all wealthy. One guy was a big shot at the Unification Ministry. She didn’t like being the only non-wealthy couple at the party and felt like we were being judged a lot–which may have been true to some extent. Yet I didn’t care about that. That was not my reason to be there. I needed to make connections with my past again–and with the ideas I later told Eun Jeong, those connections could help our future.
I gave Dr. Walker a copy of Korea Up Close, the book I wrote an essay for. He said he’d add it to–I’m trying to remember what he called it–the McCallie Writers. Something like that. Anyway, it sounded important.
There were a few speeches, a video, and a buffet. I was happy to have cheese at the buffet. It was country club fare, which is fine. Lots of things in silver steam trays, including ribs, sweet and sour pork, and smoked salmon. I felt they were a little ballsy to have sliced jok bal (pig’s feet) there, but only the Koreans and I recognized it as what it was. It was all sliced, so it looked like ham.
The dinner ended at a decent hour. Eun Jeong was bitter on the ride back.
I woke up early Sunday morning to do the EBS thing. The taping went smoothly, and the shows are getting funnier. In one of the episodes, I trade bodies with one of the spy girls and with Korean pop singer BoA. I made myself act like the spy girl and speak Korean while she dubbed her voice over my mouth movements. I can’t wait to see the final version of that.
Right after the taping, I headed to the Korean War Museum to meet my step-cousin Frances. I hadn’t seen her since she was a little kid. She’s now in the Marines and stationed in Okinawa. She’s in Korea for a while, and they were allowed to go to the War Museum and nowhere else for that day.
It took me a while to find her because the only picture I had of her was in uniform and not smiling. I introduced myself to a table of people who looked like marines, and she was there.
Surprisingly, we had a lot to talk about, even though we didn’t know each other as well as we should have. Yet it was amazingly touching to talk to someone who asks, “How’s Julia,” because she actually knows Julia and the rest of my family. It’s someone who actually really knows them.
I said this to the headmaster and Hank at the party the previous night. McCallie felt like a dream when I graduated. It was like it didn’t exist because I rarely returned to the campus. It’s just memories. I am in a state of euphoria to see evidence of my past there in flesh and blood.
Living in Korea, it’s even more like a dream. Yet not only McCallie. Home itself is like a dream. It’s just a memory–an abstract concept. Seeing Frances made home real again.
She actually seems to enjoy being in the military. She was drawn to it. We could only eat at the museum, and the food was horribly sad. It was mostly dried noodles. They only had two hot entrees, GalbiTang and Dunkass. I ordered both for us. The side dishes were self serve and looked nasty–like any prepared vegetable sitting in room temperature for hours.
Frances had the GalbiTang, which is a beef rib stew in white stock, and she said it was okay. She didn’t like the meat part, and she said that her uncle (my stepfather) would enjoy it. Some of her friends came in, and they were complaining that they were starving and couldn’t get any food. One was admittedly a very picky eater and only wanted some rice.
I spoke to the Korean worker there in Korean, saying, “My friend wants to eat rice. Do you have any?”
He said no problem, and supplied her with a bowl of rice for $1.
It made me feel more confident with my Korean to actually use it to help people. And, dude, come on. A white guy speaking Korean just looks impressive. I’m still impressed when I see foreigners speak Korean.
Towards the end of her time there, we sat at a bench near the souvenir shop. Some of the marines had bought a remote controlled car and had put it in a paper shopping bag with holes cut out of the wheels. They set it in a little area, and when people walked by, they moved it. I missed it with my camera, but they truly started a group of young Korean women as they were leaving a wedding (the Museum Wedding Hall is next door). When they saw what it was, one of them let out the most joyous, heartfelt belly laugh that made everyone in the area laugh along.
I gave Frances a copy of Korea Up Close (it’s a good gift, folks) before she boarded the bus.
I called Eun Jeong, and she sounded depressed. I had a feeling I was in trouble. I was planning to swing by Meili’s Delicatessen for some sandwiches and cold cuts, but I skipped that because Eun Jeong sounded troubled.
I got home, and she came up to me and hugged me, crying. I kept asking her what was wrong. She kept evading. She finally said, “I was so bad to you yesterday. I hate myself. You don’t blame me?”
Honestly, I had brushed that off. I don’t hold grudges with the people I love. It takes too much energy. Besides, it’s always good when the other person feels guilty… heh, heh.
We went out for the duck barbecue near our house (she has been craving this place a lot recently). I told her about my ideas about making money and getting security for the future. She shared my excitement, and we ended it on a good day.
When I checked my email that night before going to bed, my dad sent a note saying that my stepmother likely will live in Japan or Korea for a while next year on business, which means that he’ll be traveling there too.
Wow, everyone is finally coming to visit me.
ONE LAST FUNNY ANECDOTE:
In our elevator on our way to the Seoul Club, a little boy ran in and was shocked to see me. I’m fairly used to little Korean kids being shocked to see a foreigner, where they point and say, “Foreigner” or “American person!”
Yet this kid looked up, eyes like saucers, and said in Korean, “Are you a Chinese person?”
I smiled warmly at the young boy.
“Why, yes, I am.”
And here’s the Bottlehead Lady.