Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sorry For The Delay

I've been having some computer problems, which means I cannot access my pictures. Hence the delay in posting. I'll have the remainder of the posts up as soon as my computer is fixed (hopefully within the week). Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Episode 48: In Which DFM Waits Three Hours For A Train, And Makes The JWs Hate Homeless People

I had planned to sleep in and hang around Tyler's house on Wednesday, January 6th, until my scheduled train at 1:30 PM. However, I had forgotten that Tyler had to go to work early in the morning, so I would have to get up early to leave with him at 9:30 AM.

While I was at the station, trying to pass the three hour wait for my train, I made many new acquaintances, despite my best efforts to simply read a book by myself on a bench.

There was the homeless person who, despite my clearly not understanding anything he said, still sat beside me and kept trying to talk to me. Eventually I heard him tell me in Korean that he was hungry, so I pulled out a tangerine I had in my bag and gave it to him. With this he said "I'm happy" in English - possibly one of the few English phrases he knew. After this he tried to say more, but a Jehovah's Witness sat down beside me and told him to go away.

There was also the other homeless person who walked up to me, stuck his middle finger in my face and started yelling at me. He then kicked my suitcase with his boot and yelled some more. I took it all in stride and, after I let him calm down a bit, he stuck out his hand to shake mine and then walked off.

At the same time that the above ordeal was taking place, another Jehovah's Witness who had just been telling me how important it was to show love to my neighbour as Jesus would, told me not to talk to talk to the man and ran to call the police. She later told me that she really hated the homeless people around the station. I guess Jesus only loved white tourists and/or other "respectable" people.

This cloud did have a silver lining though, as the aforementioned JWs bought some lunch for me because I actually let them talk to me. I appreciated this a lot because I was too cheap to actually buy my own lunch, and was planning to attempt the entire 5.5 hour ride with only five small tangerines (mandarin oranges) to tide me over.

When I was finally able to board my train, I was surprised to find all of the cars packed with people. I had assumed the long travel time would have dissuaded most travellers, but I guess there are still a whole train load of Koreans as cheap as me. To make matters worse, at each subsequent station the number of people exiting the train seemed to be matched or, in some cases, even exceeded by the number of people on the platform waiting to get on the train. At the worst of times this meant people were standing in the aisle, while at the best of times I still felt rather uncomfortable. Oh well, with a ticket price of roughly $26, compared to the ticket price of an equivalent length bus ride in Alberta ($55), it's hard to complain too much.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Episode 47: In Which DFM Goes On 7 Dates, And A Bell Rings 33 Times

Some readers are probably wondering what happened to me last week. Last week was a continuous blur of meeting friends to say good-bye for the last time (this trip). To compound matters, my access to Internet has been sporadic. To make up for my absence, here is the entire week in recap, in one post.

On Monday, December 28th, I met Mitja, my Slovenian friend, for dinner in Itaewon. We went to Don Valley (the same place I went with Tae-young back in March) to have some galbi. Despite Don Valley being a Korean restaurant, it was obvious that no Korean would be caught dead coming here twoice.

Mitja has a Korean girlfriend and he has been living in Korea off and on for about a year. He says he has eaten more than his bodyweight in galbi in that time, and so he could tell that we were being ripped off - the lettuce was unfresh and the ssamjang minimal. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a little bit of justice when I could tell that the restaurant owner was disappointed that Mitja understood Korean dining culture and demanded his side dishes refilled. Mitja, for his part, felt not the least bit embarrassed about constantly calling the waiter over to give him refills. He later told me, "if they had a cart at which I could refill my own side dishes like the other Korean restaurants, then I wouldn't need to bother the waitresses so much."

* * * * *

On Tuesday I went to Insadong to meet Elise. She took me to a restaurant called Koong, which is famous for its North Korean mandooguk (dumpling soup). The founder of the restaurant is Mrs. Lim, who has made the Kaesong recipe traditional dumplings for 75 years (Kaesong is a city in North Korea).

The restaurant is now run by Mrs. Lim's granddaughter, but I assume the mandoo still tastes the same. If I'm honest, mandoo of any variety doesn't look that hard to make, so I'm sure Mrs. Lim's granddaughter couldn't have messed up the taste too badly. Unfortunately, I've never tasted the original mandoo of Mrs. Lim, so I have no basis for comparison. Consequently, I could have been sold horse manure wrapped in dough, told it was "award winning," and I wouldn't have known the difference. A free meal is always delicious though, so I'm not complaining.

* * * * *

On Wednesday, December 30th, I went back to Jeungsan at 7:00 PM to meet Shin Seung-hyeun (formerly known as Sin Seung-hyeun, but I changed his name to make it easier to pronounce). Mr. Shin, The Fruit Guy, has been wanting to take me out to dinner for the last two months, and so even though I had to move I told him I'd come back, and we made the arrangement for this night.

We walked a few blocks to a local gamjatang (pork ribs and potato stew) restaurant with his two young sons who came along. I couldn't stay too long though, and so after stuffing myself on giant pork ribs, potato, and ice cream for desert, I headed over to Ace Climbing Centre where Choi was waiting to take me out for yet another good-bye party. And so, for the next two hours I tried to find every spare cubic inch of stomach room left over after my first supper to fit in even more galbi.

* * * * *

On Thursday I visited Woojin at the newly built Times Square mega mall near Yeongdeunpo station (near Ace Climbing Centre). Woojin later helped me ascertain that banks in Korea will buy my Korean won back at rates roughly 25% higher than those of Royal Bank in Canada. With this information I went back to my hostel to rest up for the New Year's Eve festivities.

A couple of days ago Mr. Lee (the manager of Jin Guesthouse) told me that 8 teachers from Daegu were coming in and had wanted to book one room. Since I was staying in the only 8 bed room, I volunteered to move to free up the remaining bed.

My new room had six beds, and I was sharing it with two Norwegian blokes, currently on a break from studying in China, and Klaire, an Australian teaching in Japan on holiday in Korea. With nothing much to do inside the hostel, we all decided to check out the "famous" bell ringing down town at Bosingak.

(Left to right: Harald, Klaire, and Joe.)

(Harald was very popular with the locals, and these high school boys fell all over themselves with excitement at the chance to have their pictures taken with a foreigner.)

(There it is, the bell that all the fuss is about. The bell in Bosingak gives Jongno and Jonggak - the nearby street and subway station respectively - their names, as "jong" means bell in Korean. Every New Year's Eve, and only on New Year's Eve, the bell is rung 33 times to represent the 33 Heavens of Buddhism.)

From the above picture you can see that there were many people there (the Internet says the crowds sometimes number in the 10 000s). However I must say Seoul needs to work on its fireworks presentations. The lone streak you see on the right of picture X is from a handheld stick that revellers could buy at the site, and which shoots really weak mini-fire works about twenty five feet in the air. Joe agreed with my negative evaluation of the fireworks, saying that in Shanghai, where he is studying, there are fireworks every night that defy description.

After the freezing cold "party" that involved watching poor Korean pop stars having to dance and perform in significantly less clothing than is advisable for -13 degree centigrade weather, Harald, Joe, Klaire and I went back to the hostel, where Klaire fell asleep, and Joe, Harald and I watched Rambo 4 - one of the few movies that is over 50% killing and gore, but still needs more.

* * * * *

On Friday I went to see Ms. Yun in Sillim-dong. After some kimbab and a movie I said good-bye, and went to Ji-hyeun's place (near by), where she had invited me to try some of the delicious ddeokguk (rice cake soup) she had made for me.

In the mean-time I had been told by my friend in Ulsan that she was in New Zealand, so I couldn't stay with her the next week, like I had planned. Furthermore, my friend in Busan told me that I couldn't stay with her until Wednesday, so for the next five days I was without a home.

At least I wouldn't have to worry about that for the next two days, because I had already arranged to meet with James from Suwon and spend the night at his house, after a park workout of course. Before I left though, I had to drag my luggage across town to store it in Tyler's house (the other "foreigner" climbing at Ace, who was nice enough to let me sleep on his couch for three nights after I came back from Suwon).

And that brings us to Tuesday, January 5, where I'm now sitting in Tyler's living room, watching his movies, trying to live as cheaply as possible until I head to Busan tomorrow. Check back in a few days for a full update of the journey.