Man Sells Rotisserie Chicken

Since the onset of fall, which is really winter here in Korea, a man has been selling rotisserie chicken on the corner of the next block from my officetel (an efficiency apartment, the name from office and hotel). He sells a whole chicken for 6,000 won (about 5.25 USD), and two for 10,000 won. About a month ago, I bought one, went home, and attempted to make a chicken sandwich, but it was so good I devoured most of the chicken before I could make the sandwich. But this is not really why I’m writing.

After buying that one chicken, I’ve since said hello to him, in Korean, which is by no means difficult, as well as giving an appropriately slight bow, which I no longer find strange, every time I pass by him and his small truck. It crossed my mind tonight that it would be nice to have a conversation with him, however brief it might end up being.

I imagine it would first be necessary to give a simple introduction of myself. Then I could ask how he got into the business of selling rotisserie chickens on the street. Then I would end up going home with another chicken, which really wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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These questions and more…

At some point, I’m going to look back and ask myself why I didn’t live a quiet life at least for a little while. At some point I’m going to ask, Why didn’t I get away and just sit down and think about everything that’s happened in the last 2 years. Why wasn’t I quiet for a little bit? Why didn’t I figure out how to give myself time just to think and to write, and nothing more? The questions now is: How can I make this possible within the next couple of years? The answer is there, and I will come to it.

Coffee Shop

One night, after working out at the gym, I walk into the newly opened coffee shop nearby in search of fresh fruit juice. The lights are dim, and the chairs are hanging upside-down, legs in the air, off the tables big enough for only two or four people. Two women, one old enough to take the role of the mother, the other young enough to play the daughter, pop theirs heads up from behind the counter. I stumble for words. Because I’m in Korea and I think they won’t understand me. After a moment, I say, “You’re closed? Finished?” Synonyms help, and Koreans seem to be more familiar with the word “finished.” But the women give no answer. I glance around the small room, ready to leave, then I see the young boy sitting on the only chair with its legs in the proper place at the table near the window and door, where I’m standing. A workbook lies open in front of him. He’s 10 or 11 years old and doing homework at 10:30 at night while his family closes up shop. His doing homework this late is normal here, so normal I’d never think twice about it. He looks up at me and says with the confidence of a native English speaker, “Yes. Finished.” The women behind the counter smile and laugh quietly. I smile, too, and say to him, “Thank you. Bye.” As I turn to leave, the mother says, “Annyeonghi ga-seyo.”

No fresh fruit juice, but I walk home in the cold, grinning all the same.

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Life until now

DPP_001779

(The Han River, Gwangnaru District, Southeast Seoul)

Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not making apologies for not updating in such a long time. I’m no longer making apologies, silent as they have usually been, for anything period.

I’ve been in South Korea for one year and one month to the day. A month ago I would have said, I can’t believe I’m saying longer, but now that I’m pretty much settled in my new one room apartment in Seoul, I can and do believe it.

I will say that so far, save for my new place, most of the basic things were better in Daegu. I realized that some of this has to do with the buildings. For example, my gym in Daegu was in a nice, new building, whereas the gyms I’ve looked at here have been in what seem to be fairly old buildings. Same goes with the building my new doctor is in. I also feel like my teaching situation was better at my first school, though it’s not terrible at my new one. I simply appreciate my old school and co-teachers a whole lot more. Let’s put it that way and leave it at that.

Speaking of my old school, the ending was a lot like the beginning: one big celebration, aka, my principal’s retirement ceremony/celebration. Except instead of trading a soju glass and taking shots with my principal, as is Korean custom, I was up on a stage in front of every teacher in my school dancing like a crazy fool (mind you, I had had nothing to drink except cola). My principal was right up front, a big dumb smile on his face, eyes glazed with glee, swaying with the song my co-teacher belted out. For my last night with the teachers at my first school, I went all out. It was a great night, and I wish it hadn’t ended.

I also gave my main co-teacher, the one who treated me like a son, a hug when saying goodbye. You won’t really realize how big a deal this was and how much this meant to her not having lived here. Hugging is not common. No one hugs in normal situations, no hug hello, no hug goodbye, not unless the situation is emotionally intense. But I hugged her. She put her hand out for a handshake, and I went for the hug. She almost cried.

And now here I am, living in one of the largest, densest cities in the world. I can’t say I love it here, not yet anyway. I miss the chillness of Daegu and I often wonder what it would be like to live way out in the country. I can see myself finding out — but that will come later. For now, I’ll take and enjoy the city at night, and the sound of rain right outside my window.

Forming

I am waiting for the subway to Anjirang Station. I am waiting at the Chilsung Market Station. An old woman is walking down the stairs backwards, her body hunched over, one hand on the railing, her head curled into her chest, watching every step. Old women like this work in the markets, selling fruits, vegetables, and fish. They walk with their backs in a horizontal line, the only generous comparison: the sun setting over the horizon of an ocean. The colors blending, finding their way into the deep wrinkles on the faces of these women as they stand in the sand the sun setting over them. When the sun goes under, everything goes dark. The woman is waiting for the subway going toward Ansim Station. She is waiting at the Chilsung Market Station. I stand upright. I lean against the wall. She stands with herself parallel to the ground. A light shines from the tunnel, and the train screeches past us and comes to a stop. The woman and I are on opposite ends. I can only imagine her as I am imagining her now. The doors slide open. People come out or they don’t. The woman and I walk into the subway car. She will get a seat in the elderly passenger area, and if she doesn’t someone will give up his or her seat for her. This is the most likely thing to happen. And I believe this is out of respect rather than out of pity. She may take the seat, or she may refuse it and tell the person to sit back down. In that case, probably no one will take it. The subway arrives in Anjirang. I’ve lost track of the woman. I get off, walk forwards up the stairs, scan my subway card and exit. An hour or so passes. I have done what I came to do. I am back on the subway. I am back at the Chilsung Market Station. I exit the subway like everyone else does: The doors open, people get off, walk forwards up the stairs, or take the escalator (I have never seen anyone walk backwards on an escalator), swipe subway cards, pass through the gate, find your exit and exit up the stairs onto the street. On the street, I see bright words and lights and a cross against the dark sky. Everything has gone dark, except the people and this quiet city. I am walking home. The market is closed, but people are still out, eating and drinking outside. Meat barbequing in the middle of tables. Pork and garlic and onions wrapped in lettuce. Green soju bottles. The bright lights of this side of Daegu. I am walking home.

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A cool night

I stick my head out the window of my one room apartment. The night is cool and pleasant, a nice one for taking a walk even though it’s almost midnight. There is wind, and rain is coming. I will sleep with the windows open. I see Korean written on the side of a building. I can read it, but I don’t understand the meaning of the words. I’m still in South Korea. After nine months, I’m still here.

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Split in two

I have been in South Korea for 8 months and 6 days exactly. I am at my school now, waiting for my first class of the day to start. It’s 9:36 on a Monday morning. It’s a relatively nice day: sunny, a little chilly, but not too cold or too hot — neither extreme, as the weather here tends to be. I teach 5th and 6th grade today, although usually, on Mondays, I only teach 5th. Last week, though, 4 of my 6th grade classes were canceled due to some kind of Science Festival. The students’ homeroom teachers thought their students would be too wound up to teach, and so with absolutely zero notice the classes were canceled and pushed into this week. The kids were too wound up, probably from all the cotton candy they ate, some of which I gave them, and came into my after school class with ungodly amounts of energy, nearly impossible to teach. It was, to say the least, a disaster. Some days I play the role of teacher better than others.

I haven’t the slightest idea what happened to those 8 months, or what I’ve been doing, aside from loses pieces of myself and trying to pick up and attach others. I hope I haven’t lost anything essential. I don’t think so, but sometimes it’s hard to say. I certainly don’t feel the same. I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami a lot. One thing I really love about reading authors who write both novels and short stories is, as you read the short stories you really come to see what the writer is interested in. Then when you read the novels, you get to see how he developed those ideas. Murakami is interested in, among other things, how people get pulled apart, split in two, and begin existing in separate realities (or in the same reality, just in different places) at the same time. Characters feel they’ve become different people, or are not the same as they were before. One character is on top of a Ferris wheel, looking into her apartment, when she somehow sees herself with a strange man.

I have been feeling this way, as though maybe somehow when I talk to my family on Skype, I’m also lying in my bed in Elkhart, Indiana. I have thought before that I’ll come out of the room and appear in front of the computer and have a conversation with myself. It hasn’t happened yet, but I feel things are moving in that direction.

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Daegu Flash Mob: Memento

The people who work at Daegu Pockets edited together this video of the flash mob event. Makes for a nice memento of my time here. Enjoy.

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MTV Korea: Daegu Flash Mob

A few weekends ago my friends and I particapted in a flash mob event in downtown Daegu. We did so to promote Daegu Pockets, an international magazine for Koreans and foreigners in the area.

And we all ended up on MTV Korea. Watch the video here. Go to the 16:30 minute mark, and enjoy! You can also watch a shorter clip of it below.

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Love Affair

dpp_001839Sprawling city, circa 2009.

I found this photograph, among other items of interest, in a box, a box I had tucked away many years ago. I am surprised I printed out many of the photos I took then, then being such a revoltingly slow start of the digital age.  Sprawling Seoul City, I remember you well, if only because my memory is so thoroughly entangled in my desire to make things up. (This, if nothing else, has not changed, and for that, I am thankful.) I remember how I was so amazingly impressed at first glance. I was floored; I was enthralled. Dear Lord, have mercy, I would say, at the slightest thing, because all of it, from the women to the traffic, took my breath away. It was all so new. Three days felt like…like nothing at all. Three days could have been three weeks, or three years. I had no sense of time’s movement. Too caught up, as I was, in the gorgeous magic of arriving in the city for the first time. No shock then, that at first all my reports consisted of synonyms of the adjective amazing.

Sorry, dear city, for I left you for another. And, yes, by the time I made it back, I perhaps had had too much to drink to notice you in the ways I did during that first week. I felt not that same jump in my chest, and I noticed none of your subtle qualities, those things which may in fact give anyone more weight with which to call you amazing. Forgive me?

By my third trip, the third in only six months, the one during which I had taken this newly found though tragically old photo, I had realized what I had missed not only on the second outing but on the first arrival as well. In short, I had missed everything. I was in awe again, I remember this well, so as to not let in any doubt, but this time it was not because you were so new to me, city of mine. It was — and if you yourself wish to disrupt this new perspective of mine, try as you might, but I will believe nothing else — it was for one reason alone: I found myself in the places I traveled. I remember once again being struck with amazement, this time without the religious utterings. No, this time, when struck by the slightest things, I saw them for what they were. I saw, sprawling city, circa 2009, that I could have found happiness surrounded by your cosmopolitan air.

So one question remains. After all this time, will you have me back again?

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