Sunday, May 21, 2006

Seoul and Pusan - Long Entry, Watch Out!

Been a little slow uploading pics, but better late than never!

The first set is here. Sera is a friend from Vancouver who has been studying there for 4 or 5 years. She comes back to Seoul every year to visit, so we met up for a long weekend. It was especially interesting to stay with a Korean family and see Korea through the eyes of someone who grew up there.

One of the coolest experiences was going to the wholesale clothing locations near Dongdaemun. Sera's mom runs a men's wear retail store in a mall, so we met up with her at 3 am and spent several hours following her around and carrying stuff while she bought thousands of dollars worth of summer clothing. Some of the wholesale buildings where overwhelming, with store owners haggling prices and checking off long lists. Business moved much more quickly than in retail stores, and clothes were taken outside in garbage bags and left unattended in long lines, waiting for buses and trucks to take them to smaller cities. Equally fascinating was how the wholesalers slept on small pieces of wood and mats, amongst their clothes. They had TV's, water, bright fluorescent lights shining on them, and an old lady came around selling kimbap. They would never get a full night's sleep, as the wholesale buildings are open 24 hours, and retailers would wake them up for service.

Lady sleeping amongst her clothes. Unfortunately we woke her up laughing about something unrelated:

The next day we went to Everland, Seoul's biggest amusement park. We were the biggest kids there, and I think we did just about everything.. popcorn, cotton candy, safari busride through lion and bear infested areas, seal show, ferris wheel, bumper cars, roller coaster, Europe-land, etc etc.

Later, we drove an hour and a half north to the mountains in Chil Cheung, to visit Sera's parents' hobby farm. Sera's dad is a chief of police in Seoul, but he spends his weekends developing the farm with plans to retire there. When they first bought the land, it was nothing more than a side of a mountain. They cut down the trees and created three layers; the top for a house, the middle for a pool, and the last for the garden. Sera's dad planted many pine trees, which are dug up and sold for $50,000 when they are big. We had pork (galbi), beef (sulgogi) and eel, barbequed on some rock slabs on top of a barrel, overlooking the valley. "Every Korean's dream," said Sera's mom via translation, "is to have their own piece of land to farm."

I used to think Sera was feisty, but her mom is even feistier. When she's not busy pumping merchandise out of her shop, she's off hangliding in Thailand while her husband scuba-dives. She even taught us how to play a Korean gambling game called Go Stop. We took this game to the local Jim Jil Bang (a public bathhouse/sauna/massage/gym with a giant TV room where people all sleep communally on the floor on mats), and played for a few minutes until the staff made us fold it up (apparently it's illegal for Koreans to gamble).

The Jim Jil Bang was a neat experience. Basically, you change into some prisoner garb and then sit in one of several saunas. Each sauna is different. The first one was dome shaped and had amethyst and other semi-precious stones completely blanketing the walls. You feel like Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, when they discover the pile of loot in the cave... the whole room sparkles in the dim light. White rocks of salt are on the ground, and you can bury yourself in them for extra heat induction. The next sauna had straw mats and different rocks on the walls, and the last one, a 'traditional' Korean sauna, had a clay floor and clay walls with etchings, and red lights. Then we had some cooling barley drink, and sat on the floor amongst the dozens of sleeping people, while the TV played a documentary on bullying.

Overall, I was sad to have to return to Daegu, but hey, at least Daegu is in between Seoul and Pusan. This weekend, several of us headed down to Pusan to sit on Haeundae beach, check out a casino and stroll though downtown. Pics here. Also checked out Poetry Plus at the Monk Jazz Club again.

One guy told this story of how he was Nirvana's #1 fan and went to a zillion of their concerts. One day, he was in the supermarket and Kurt Cobain was nearby. He and his friends acted nonchalant and as musicians themselves, ignored Kurt as a common courtesy. Then Courtney Love came over and said to the guy "I'll pay you $5 if you go over there and ask Kurt if he's the lead singer of Alice in Chains. Meet me in the produce section." So he did. Kurt looked at him with big blue wounded eyes and asked "What's your name?" The guy told him, then ran off to the produce section, where he recounted Kurt's reaction to Courtney, who laughed her ass off. The guy felt he had done a horrible thing, especially when he really thought Kurt was God. Two weeks later Kurt committed suicide, and the guy wondered, "How many other people did Courtney pay $5 to f*** with him?"

Here's what English teachers do on their free time.. they insult each other using the most grammatically incorrect English possible:

On Haeundae beach, we happened upon some surfers, whom I asked whether there was a surf school nearby. Apparently there is, so I think I will be heading back to surf. Thank goodness! :D


Anonymous Yoree said...

Neat-o :)

Post more pictures!

10:56 AM  

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