Still trying to eat
I just braved going to a neighborhood restaurant and it went off well! (by neighborhood, I mean literally a restaurant in somebody’s yard) I explained that I was Migook and the woman was not giving me that just-tell-me-what-the-hell-you-want-to-order crap and was actually paying attention and reading my body language as I showed her that I didn’t understand/couldn’t read the menu, and I was also able to show her that since I couldn’t choose, maybe she could choose for me. And the ajumma got it! So she brought me a tofu and mushroom soup with six side dishes and rice. And then I ordered makkolli (this region is known for its pine nuts, so the makkolli served is often pine nut – and it’s probably my favorite of all the makkolli’s) and it made me want to write. I’ve got a lot of half drafts since school began two weeks ago, but their subject matter is too varied and verbose, so I’m just gonna start fresh.
We’ll start with the mundane, since really that’s what reporting about living in another country should cover anyway.
Like the weather
Last weekend I had an ambitious plan to shop in Seoul for guitar-making supplies. I got off to a late start because my circadian rhythms were all thrown off by summer break, and by the time I got to the bus station it was 33 degrees celsius (that’s 91.4 degrees fahrenheit) with a humidity of 66%. The previous week it was hovering around 29 degrees celsius with a humidity of about 80%, punctuated with rain. With the rain comes a relief from the heat, followed by an OPPRESSIVE increase in humidity.
The weekend commute to Seoul
I’d decided to take the bus because it would take about the same amount of time as the subway, but have no transfers, as the bus was almost direct as the crow flies. Plus, most Koreans prefer the buses (supposedly because it’s cheaper and that you can get a seat). Well, I found out that’s not necessarily true. My express bus ticket cost more than my usual Mugunwha train ticket, and I still had to pay for the subway, so there really wasn’t a cost savings. (the train continues to sell tickets even after all the seats have been sold out) I waited a half hour for the bus, and when it arrived it was full and even packing people in the aisles, it was still full and half a dozen of us got turned away. So then we had to wait for what was probably another 45-60 minutes (in the blistering sun – even Koreans were sweating and complaining and running for shelter) for another bus, and it too was packed. Fortunately, we weren’t turned away. So I had to stand for an hour in a moving bus, getting whacked repeatedly by a backpack at every swerve the driver made. At least on the train I would have been able to sit on the floor somewhere or gotten jostled less…
Oncoming traffic coming to my region was a bumper to bumper traffic jam the entire way. The ideas I’ve entertained about renting a car dematerialized when I saw this, as all of Seoul (and it’s LA like yet more lawless traffic) heads east on the summer weekends. Korea is, unfortunately, very much western in that the majority of households have at least one car, and they use their cars to a lesser but still awful degree as Americans. Parking here anywhere in Korea (even in the small towns) is terrible as a result. Because I can’t read, I wouldn’t have any idea which areas are legal parking or illegal parking, and instead of parking lots many of the streets themselves are the parking lots, with a little booth in which an ajosshi walks to parking cars and demands parking money. The parking garages are many (but not nearly enough) and are a harrowing experience to drive through. Most parking stalls are too narrow and passengers must get out before being fully parked as there isn’t enough room to open the doors. I’d say Koreans are actually very good drivers, in that they must all be experts at parking and they all have to have quick reflexes to stay clear of crazy taxi drivers and buses. But there also seem to be more accidents here, as the intersection rules seem a little too mutable and many people do U-turns in undesignated and dangerous places. And then there are those who really aren’t great drivers, and take a year to park perfectly and have slow reflexes and really shouldn’t even attempt to blend in with the a moving world that’s not going to accommodate them. Still and all, it’s not the total mayhem of Thailand or the deathwish of Jamaica.
Getting off the bus at the DongSeoul station, (There are something like four different Express bus companies, each serving different areas and having different terminals, some with little or no English language accessibility) I found out it wasn’t AT the line 2 subway station (shoulda known) but a few blocks away. Signage was poor or non-existent for foreigners, so I just tossed the dice and followed the majority of people walking away. Once there, the subway station was so packed there was barely room to hold the people WAITING to cram onto the next car. There’s nothing like standing in a bus, hanging on to nothing for dear life for an hour, only to face a crowd like that. You really have to gather everything you’ve got in you to suppress your adrenaline and not run screaming in the other direction. And then the doors open and you have to take a deep breathe and dive in and let the current suck you in. Don’t get me wrong – Korea’s mass transit is GREAT. Maybe the best in the world. But it’s still inadequate. The population concentration in Seoul is too huge. They keep adding lines, but it’s not enough fast enough.
All in all, it took three hours for me to get to my destination. So that pretty much blew away half of the list of places I would visit.
I went back to the cigar box place, bought a cigarette case (which was way over-priced but which I haven’t seen in Korea) to be able to bring some cigarettes with me without the tell-tale bulk in my purse showing. I picked up another box, (which I feel bad about bothering the sales staff, as they have to climb for each one and I reject most of them) only to see afterward that the wood was cracked by a poorly made dovetail.
From there I headed to the Nokwon instrument market in Nokwon-dong, which is next to Insa-dong. Let me just say it was daunting. I must have seen 20 stringed instrument shops, 10 piano shops, a dozen amp & mike shops, etc., and I only covered part of it and couldn’t deal anymore and had to leave. But I did manage to eye three guitar places with machine heads (tuners) for when I get to that point in the project. Only none of them looked as cool as I wanted. Then the strings and their brands is also very daunting and I need to educate myself further before I buy anything. And with the long commute and its stress, maybe it’d be better for me to just order things I need from America, that is, if I can find anyone who will ship internationally.
After I left I got disoriented as to which way Insa-dong was, so I stopped at a fruit slushy stand and asked directions. ACTUALLY, the fruit slushy vendor caught my eye first and asking directions was just an excuse to talk to him. Or maybe I caught his eye. I think it was mutual. But then after I got my directions, I didn’t know what to do except follow them. Plus, I had a list to try and complete…maybe I will go back and buy more slushies. Somebody has to love poor fruit drink vendors, since I’m sure most Korean women won’t have anything to do with someone in such a low position. I just want to add that everything about his demeanor and appearance was elegant and graceful…
Once in Insadong, I hit all the hanji paper stores, looking for an octagonal box shape. None quite fit the bill, and then I found one at Hanji Story. I was sent upstairs (the instructions were: go up stairs. go straight. turn. The reality was turn right, go up the stairs, turn left, go straight, the store is on your right) The second floor storefront was only box shapes and findings. (which were really cool and I have to go back and get some. Really ornate hinges, locks, and clasps made of brass, some of them looking hand made) I wanted to look around more but the woman was in a hurry to shoo me out as it was past closing time. So the box, and the leather-looking shoe-polish dyed hanji paper I’d bought at a smaller cheap and popular hanji place, and I am ready to make a box. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I do have a clue, so I think I can assemble it and cover it without having to shell out huge bucks for a class.
Normally, I’d keep going and/or find a place to spend the night in Seoul, but the commute there and the blistering heat just made me want to go home and turn the air conditioner on and sleep, so that’s what I did.
and here is where I insert a draft about returning to school…
Back at school and glad to have a schedule to life again, though haven’t quite adjusted yet, as it’s 2 am and I just took a shower after waking up. (this always happens after time off, when I just nap whenever I need to and my days get turned into three waking segments divided by naps of unknown duration that circle the clock irrespective of diurnal or nocturnal calling)
I did research all through the break and have a huge amount of media to sit through, and managed to (almost) put together about 6 really nice lesson plans, but have yet to take on or scrape the surface of the American road trip. The intro power point took forever, and it’s basically a map depicting westward expansion and multi-culturalism. The Indians get pushed around and the Spaniards disappear, and the French mix with the slaves, and the slaves move north and west, and new flags from new countries keep appearing until it’s a huge glorious mess.
I have a little driver in a car and he’s driving around from region to region, stopping by points of culture foreign students might never see on t.v. I was going to start in my home town area of Detroit and got caught up in film footage of how it’s deteriorated. It seems like an industrial Havana, where deserted buildings have been stripped of anything of value, including things that maintain structural integrity. Makes me want to go back, almost. When homes can be had for $50 bucks and there is nowhere to go but up.
But I also know what desperation does to people and remember too that physical harm was a very real possibility there. Thinking of the young urban renewal-minded couple I knew who lived there with two preschool age kids, and how Stella got gang raped during a B&E in her home and how she was never quite right after. This was very close to 8 mile, on the black side, not Eminem’s white trash side, but the white flight black side with the once lovely homes totally decaying except for their brick. Just the way you had to think differently/plan for any eventuality as you were leaving the house (my ex. husband’s boyhood home) and then pay for your goods through inch thick plexi-glass, my mother-in-law pointing out that the person at 2 o’clock was a gang member, and the person to my left across the street had just gotten out of prison and the person we are passing’ son got killed last year and this girl lives with her mom and grandma and six other siblings: two generations of welfare moms in one home. This is something people can romanticize or discount, but staying with them I got a very real sense of how hopelessness feels for everyone unable to rise above their circumstance. It’s just the worst injustice in the world to tell people living like that, that they don’t want anything bad enough to change things, when they try and nothing materializes. You try and try less after enough times.
And then I got to Appalachia and was appalled to find out that nothing has changed since Bobby Kennedy’s war on poverty there. Where hill folk too poor to afford a car to drive down unimproved roads many miles to work that doesn’t exist have to pull out their own teeth in lieu of seeing a dentist, where children might get one meal a day and Walmart seems like Disneyland and where all everyone wants to do is numb the pain with cheap drugs. Gosh, that description really sounds like Jamaica…maybe instead of the Peace Corps I should sign up for Americorps.
I want to show the kids how awesome it is to have this melting pot and how valuable preserving culture is. And I also want them to see average Americans and poor Americans, because the only fare they get here is about the high-powered, hedonistic and narcissistic upper class.
Coming back to school, though, my lofty ambitions have quickly been humbled. I’ve since started a series on basics like colors, fabrics, and how to express needs and desires shopping in English. So they don’t have to ever experience what I experience here.
and the world just keeps on adopting indescriminantly
I spent most of Sunday revisiting all the adoption boards, etc. I am a member of. The pendulum seems to be swinging back. An NPR anchor just released a book glorifying international adoption and that’s all the buzz both for its arguments that adult adoptees disagree with and for all the attention it’s getting, and we have to fight like dogs to get any airplay…
I have >almost< gotten to the point where I find myself thinking like the fray and wanting to just spew angry rants, but not quite. Even Jane, who is a saint, can get snarky at times on her blog, and I try to avoid that, but man, sometimes I really do want to just be snarky. I am a lot less politically sensitive, though, and like to distance myself from the adoptee organizations enough so I can just speak without reservation about how wrong I think Holt is, how much I hate Holt’s influence, and how certain things like dual citizenship, etc. piss me off. Other adoptees talk about this stuff in passing on their blogs or rant in private conversations, but I’m happy to spew this out uncensored publicly. But being older, I just can’t do snarky well even if I want to! I guess that disqualifies me as a real blogger! ha ha ha!
I DID read for the first time whole sections of adoptee humor. I thought you might like this one: (new to me but maybe old news)
I mean, who can argue with sponge bob?
Actually, I find the whole vilifying of the celebrities amusing. Everyone claims they are not like them. Yet how different are they, really? People who feel entitled but don’t have the means can resent those that do have the means and distance themselves from similar criticism. But those that have the means justify their actions for all the same philanthropic, magnanimous yet actually self-serving reasons.
All of the adopting world claim it’s for the kids, but really – who’s it really for? And what about the kids’ moms? The one guy who responded quite eloquently on my holtsurvivor blog talked about how he gives money to (adoption agency) programs that aid society and how he has video footage from his kid’s mom explaining her reasons for relinquishment and that he sends her updates and that the kids are free to see her if they want when they have reached the age of majority.
I closed comments to that (because it was interfering with life) but I did wish I had asked (and be given a REAL answer):
Do you think the mom would have made the decision to give up her children if she lived in a just society? Are the kids orphaned because of social injustice and not the mom’s self preservation?
What does sending kids away for a “better life” say about global inequities? How does taking their children improve their society? How can you claim to be concerned about the child’s country? WHY CAN’T ANYONE ADMIT THEY’RE EXPLOITING A COUNTRY?
Do you really think money and an occasional photo and update can comfort someone who’s lost their child?
If you know who the mom is, then why wait until the children are legal adults to allow them to have genuine knowledge of or a relationship with the person who gave them life?
There is so much guilt and fear driving adoptive parents. Guilt because they know someone’s situation was exploited. Guilt because adoption isn’t REALLY natural. Fear that the child will abandon them if they have access to their natural parents. Really, the only reason adoptees abandon their adoptive parents is if they feel betrayed by them. Preventing the adoptee from access to what’s accessible about their identity is existential betrayal. In this way, adoptive parents create a self-fulfilling prophesy when they do these things. And even if the adoptee doesn’t act out, that betrayal will always be between them.
damn, need more makkolli