The Adventures of Whitebeard

Canada Joe showed up Thursday night. Soon after his arrival, they went to a bar for some drinks. After a while, the two girls running the bar sat across from River and Joe and held out their glasses. They had stumbled into a Buy-me-drinkie joint. These are places where women will sit down and be your companion if you buy their drinks all night. According the River and Joe, one of the women was a little aggressive. They didn’t speak much English, but they spoke enough. “How old are you?”

JOE: “I’m fifty-nine.”

“Your beard. It’s white. White down there too?”

Friday wasn’t too bad. It turns out that the parents of the conversation class took my suggestion and wanted to move class up thirty minutes. But no one told me. So I started class at the usual time, and then Eric came in around 7:40 telling me that their mothers were waiting outside.

I met SJ in Beomgye for dinner. Her director had a surprise dinner with her before she showed up. So it was basically whatever I wanted. I was in the mood for sashimi. We went to a place that had octopus and baby flounder swimming around in tanks. The only tables available were upstairs, where we had to crouch to get to our table. I was in the mood to try some real live squid, but the waitress said that the baby flounder were really good that night. So we ordered that.

Our side dishes came out, and they were good. SJ put on her “Rude Ajumma” routine and complained that she usually gets more side dishes for the price we’re paying. So we got more pajon pancakes and stuff. The sashimi was unique too. It all had like little vertebrae in it, but it wasn’t a nuisance. They added a little crunchy texture to them. Since SJ was full, I ate the whole pile of raw fish myself.

There were some businessmen at the table next to us, and I could sense that SJ was not her usual self. She let out a sigh of relief when they left. She told me that they were talking rudely about us. I heard that this could be a problem here. And it’s always conservative businessmen or drunk Korean “rednecks” who do this. They seemed to reinforce SJ’s contempt for Korean men.

That wasn’t the only thing ruining our dinner. I heard a woman coughing a few tables behind us. Then I heard wretching, and I studied SJ’s face to find out what was happening behind me. I dared not look. She just commented, “I hate it when people can’t control their drinking like that.”

The final straw was the man behind us. We were sitting on the floor and cramped close together, so that my back would occasionally touch the back of the guy behind us. We are finishing our meal when this guy starts letting out the loudest, juiciest of farts. Many times.

“Wanna leave?”

“Please?”

“Let’s go.”

We headed out to our usual drinking spot, where we met SJ’s friend. Unfortunately, her friend got the idea that she and I should be a couple. She didn’t know that SJ and I were dating already. So that made things a little uncomfortable, especially since she didn’t speak English.

Nonetheless, we had a good time. Her friend went home, and we spent some time hanging at a noraebang. We got out so late that the subways had stopped running. I had to take a taxi home. I was dead tired and was falling asleep in the cab. When we got closer to my place, I started giving directions in my pidgin Korean. The driver started talking a lot, and I caught “American” and “speaking Korean,” and the optimist in me believes that he was telling me he was impressed I was speaking Korean.

Saturday I was to see a doctor. I hadn’t seen a doctor in over ten years. SJ had set up the appointment. I met her in Beomgye that afternoon, and we had a meal of chicken kalbi before we went. While we were eating, a busboy dropped a tray full of plates. One of the plates hit SJ, and she politely complained to the manager. She’d want me to point out that she was polite about it.

Before dinner, we finally activated my cell phone. I had this former teacher’s cell phone for months, and I thought I’d have to pay a lot of money to get it transferred and activated. Turned out I just needed to buy the minutes ahead of time. So I just put 10,000 won on it, and that was it. I have a cell phone now!

SJ informed me that insurance doesn’t cover general check ups. So in order to get checked on, you have to complain about something specific. She had heard me talk about back pains before, so she set me up an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist. The visit was really fast. The doctor spoke good English, and he put me on a table and felt me up. Even though I just whined about soreness in my back in the past, I found that I do get sharp pains when my left leg is lifted. He sent me to get some X-rays, and as soon as they were developed, he called us into his office. He showed us the X-rays and said that my back was perfectly fine. I just needed exercise. Same thing my mom told me. But he did prescribe some heavy medication and put me into a forty minute therapy session right after the visit.

After I left his office, I paid my 7,000 won.

Yes, 7,000 won!

And went next door to the therapy room. The nurse laid me down with a heating pad on my lumbar region and propped up my legs. SJ said she’d go out for a while since it was going to take so long. I lay there and played with my cell phone. After twenty minutes, the nurse removed the heating pad and turned me on my side. She hooked me up to this machine with four suction cups. I laughed.

“Are you okay?”

“It tickles.”

“Please, don’t move.”

So she started this machine, and the suction cups started “kissing” my back. Then it got faster and faster so that it was a deep vibrating feeling. Then it slowed back down to kissing. So that was the final twenty minutes. Oh, I felt good!

I got some banana Dippin’ Dots from a vending machine and waited for SJ. We kept passing each other for ten minutes before we caught up with each other (thank goodness for cell phones) and got my prescription. We hung out for a little more. We shared an ice latte and some cheesecake and chocolate mousse. Then she had to go. It was still mid afternoon, so I thought I’d go on excursion.

I wanted to check out Yongsan Electronics Market. I heard it was not only the best place for computer parts in Asia, it may be the best place in the world for good quality cheap computer parts. And it IS a techno-geek’s paradise. I could see myself spending a lot of money there. Not only computer parts, they had a lot of top-of-the-line cameras, video cameras, and cell phones. I went a priced around, and I found a cool combo DVD/CD-RW writer. I wanted a CD writer and a DVD player on my computer, and this saved me the trouble of having to buy two components. I haggled the price down a bit, and I got it for 60,000 won ($45).

Outside were tables of bootleggers selling the latest bootlegs DVDs. “Troy” was available, but I didn’t get it. I got “Lost in Translation” and “Old Boy.” “Old Boy” is one of two Korean films competing in Cannes this year. It’s advertised as a revenge fantasy, but when I saw it, I found it more to be a psychological thriller–and very Korean (check out the graphic octopus eating scene).

Sunday I planned on going on a big adventure. After doing laundry, I hopped on the subway to see Changdeokgung Palace and do some shopping at Insa-dong. The thing is, I messed up on my directions on the subway in my attempt to find a shortcut.

I headed out and ended up in a park full of senior citizens. A lot was happening there, though. I could not figure out where I was. I deduced that I was outside Jongmyo Shrine, where the ancestral tablets of every Korean king and queen since the 14th century are stored. After joining a crowd watching an old man practice calligraphy for entertainment and profit, I paid the admission fee and entered the shrine grounds. I was angry at myself for not getting a disposable camera before then. Jongmyo was impressive. The two buildings that house the ancestral tablets are humongous.

I still had no idea where the palace was.

I crossed an overpass crossing a busy road at the shrine, and I noticed a crowd of people thicker than before around some vending machines and a toilet. I got myself an iced green tea and then realized I was on the grounds of a palace. But it wasn’t the palace I was looking for. It was Changgyeonggung Palace, not Changdeokgung Palace. What’s the difference? I don’t know. I’ll find out later.

Changgyeonggun Palace

Changgyeonggung Palace was pretty cool, though. I finally found a place selling disposable cameras, so I got one and went back to take pictures of stuff I had noticed earlier. But you know, I just like taking pictures of people. I can take pictures of buildings, but they’re no different that the millions already taken and brandished on brochures and travel guides. So I tried to find interesting people doing interesting things in this interesting setting. One of my attempts turned out to be strangely surreal. One of the former kings’ homes had been set up to show how they used to live. I was standing outside a window, getting a show of a long banquet of table settings, when a kid in his underwear popped into my picture. That startled me enough to not take the picture and duck away. Turned out underwear kid had gotten loose from his family and was climbing around the king’s house.

Seesaws

 I do think I got some good pictures of the play area with the Korean seesaw. An American tried to do the seesaw and laughed, saying, “White men can’t jump.”

Hyewha
I spent a good bit of time taking pictures and exploring. When I left the palace, I was lost again. No idea where I was. Turned out I was in Hyewha, and I didn’t know I had strayed that far away. I wondered if I could walk to Insa-dong from there.

Nah.

I jumped on the subway, and again got out on the wrong stop. There are three stops on this line that say Jongno. I thought I was just choosing the wrong Jongno. No, I was ignoring that the name of the stop I wanted was Jonggak. Well, I did see that Insa-dong was within walking distance… a long walking distance, from the stop. I did pass the Japanese Cultural Center, where a rap group was performing.

Meditating in Insa Dong

So I finally got to Insa-dong. This is quickly becoming my favorite place to shop. It is full of art galleries, antique shops, souvenir shops, and tea houses. As soon as I got on the street, I was approached by a teenage boy and girl and asked to do an interview for their English class, so I obliged. It was about education and differences in culture. They took their picture with me. It occurred to me too late that I shoulda gotten my picture with them with my camera.I found a lot of stuff that I wanted. I bought Beth’s birthday present, and it’s so nice that I’m tempted to keep it for myself. I guess I’ll just have to go back and get one for myself in the future.

It was getting late in the afternoon, and I was getting so hungry that even the smell of the silkworm larvae was making me salivate. I caught some noise and a crowd gathered in a side street. A martial arts tournament was going on. It took a while, but I found a spot to take pictures. It was a lot of fun. There was an announcer egging on and making fun of the contestants. The audience was laughing and cheering. A lot of us were poised with cameras, trying to click at the right dramatic action moment. I did click on the final kick of the tournament, and I’d like to see if it came out.

I was heading to the subway for home when I noticed people lined up alongside the street like a parade was coming. Well, Buddha’s birthday is this week. Maybe it’s for that. People carrying paper lanterns in the shape of flowers confirmed it. So I stuck around for the parade.

Competing with the parade was a small group of evangelical Christians playing annoying music, telling everyone to repent. I wonder how many converts they got from their antics.

I was and still am in pain from all the walking and carrying my backpack all day. I did sit down next to a gum chewing monk on the way back. I wonder what that did for my karma.

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