February 14th, 2011
Time: 1:20 pm
Location: JH Office
Yesterday, I sat on the shuttle bus from Pudong Airport and watched the garbage of Shanghai float past. Set against a backdrop of dingy whitewashed apartments streaked brown from the rusted air-conditioning units the shirts and towels stretched out on bamboo poles fluttered a welcoming hello to me. I laid my head against the dirtied head rest and let out a relieved sigh.
I was back.
It’s not where my heart is, but for all intents and purposes Shanghai is home. I may not speak the language but I know enough to say as much. I have a routine, an imprint of the metro map in my brain, a bed, and a phone number. China can be chaotic, but it’s an expected chaos, a known chaos, an old chaos.
Korea is not.
Korea is shorting the bus driver because you don’t know the fare. At least twice.
It’s reprimands from a stocky, dark Korean man with graying hair because “people don’t like noise.”
It’s a temple set into craggy rocks on the Oceanside with oranges and coins and candles scattered among the statues.
It’s a pounding baseline and rhythmic beats on cutting boards, garbage cans, and kitchen odds and ends at the acclaimed drum show Nanta.
It’s avoiding eye contact when one of the drummers makes his way down the aisle and heads straight for you.
It’s accepting the inevitable and allowing yourself to be pulled up on stage, representing for the red team, “making” dumplings in a race to the finish and beating your blue rival, Miles Strebeck.
It’s dressing up in a hanbok and taking impromptu photographs on the streets of Seoul.
It’s getting lost at Beomeosa Temple and making Miles ask directions gleaned from his Survival Korean book.
It’s watching a tall American soldier replete with cowboy boots and a confederate cap get slapped across the mouth by a man a whole head shorter.
It’s reliving that moment on the metro at 5:30 in the morning with a car full of soldiers who can’t stop talking about a man getting “five-fingered.”
It’s drinking an entire bottle of Soju mixed with grape koolaid.
It’s finding a passed-out Korean boy wrapped around the sole toilet in the women’s bathroom at Quizno’s at 4 am.
It’s eating a towering strawberry and chocolate ice cream cone with mittens on.
It’s a misty 1.7 km climb up rocks and stones and boulders, past hardy grandmas in fashionable hiking gear to an anticlimactic North Gate.
It’s trying to cipher maps in Korean.
It’s getting lost on Geumjeong Mountain in the rain.
It’s looking out at a North Korean propaganda village across the DMZ.
It’s a squid shooting itself out of its container and landing at a shrieking John Gregory’s feet in Jagalchi Fish Market.
It’s falling asleep in the snack room at the Korean War Memorial.
It’s new friends who are willing to show you the sights, sounds, and flavors of Seoul.
It’s businesses devoted to 24 hours of gaming.
It’s consuming pounds of the best street food man ever created.
It’s palaces and temples and monuments of the same sloping architecture, the same vibrant colors, and the same intricately painted designs.
It’s frostbitten toes and noses.
It’s heated floors.
It’s finding entertainment in Korean television shows, even without entirely understanding what’s going on.
It’s 10 days of a well-spent vacation.
|On the streets of Seoul|
|The most gaudy carriages I have ever seen. Complete with fake horse noises.|
|I had on the extra extra large.|
|Saewon, where have you taken us? Garbage strewn street in Itaewon.|
|These reminded me of wookies.|
|At the temple in the cliff|
|There are stacks and stacks of these.|
|Bright colors are intended to ward off evil spirits.|
|I don't know what the turtle means but I saw him at other temples too.|
|All those little eyes and bald heads - creepy.|
|Although these ones are pretty awesome.|
|The amount of statues at this place was unreal.|
|Busan from the Sky Park at Shinsagae|
More pictures to follow in a separate post.