Monday, May 26, 2008

Beach



On my second consecutive 3 day weekend, I headed to the beach. Koreas’s east coast (on the East Sea, or as you may know it, the Sea of Japan) is supposed have some of the most beautiful beaches in the 4 distinct-season enjoying world. At least according to Korea, which also calls its Jeju island (on the same latitude as Oklahoma) “The Hawaii of Korea.” Both claims, of course, are false.

The trip got off to a rocky start. The internets had told me I could catch a bus at 2:20 from a bus station a few miles from my house, but only after buying the ticket did I discover the bus left at 4:20 (dude), so I had 2 hours to kill in the dullest neighborhood in Seoul. The bus was supposed to take 4 hours, but ended up taking 6 due to shitty traffic. I got to Sokcho (the coastal town that would be my home for what turned out to be 36 hours) at 10 p.m.

Due to the late hour of my arrival and the holiday weekend, hotels were charging way more than normal. One, that looked decent, wanted just under one million dollars per night. I checked out a number of love hotels, my bread and butter in Korean travel, as they invariably charge $30 a night. After all, my awesome love hotel in the heart of downtown Gwangju on last week’s holiday weekend was, as always, $30. Annoyingly, every love hotel I went to wanted at least $70 a night, just ridiculous highway robbery. I honestly thought about catching bus back to Seoul, at this time, there wouldn’t be any traffic. Still, I’d come all this way, and I’d always wanted to come to Sokcho, so I did the only thing that made sense. I went back to the expensive hotel. If I was going to get ripped off, I was going to do it in style. When I returned, the price for a night was now $20 more expensive than before. I haggled a bit, and got 2 nights for just over one million dollars complete with a balcony and ocean view. Easily the most I’ve spent on a two-night stay in Korea, and almost certainly anywhere. I had some money in my US account from Christmas and my birthday as well, and I figured this would be the only hotel in town to take US plastic.


Sunrise view from my balcony

The next day, I headed off to Seorksan, one of Korea’s largest national parks. Seoraksan is a mountain range only a couple miles inland from the coast, so the views were pretty stunning. In no mood to repeat last week’s walking uphill challenges, I took the cable car most of the way up one of the peaks. My buddy Don is anti-cable car, saying there’s no challenge in it. Of course, this is a reason I’m pro cable-car. Plus. had I walked to the cable car’s altitudal (a perfectly cromulent word) terminus, it would have been hours of walking uphill with zero views, just trees. The cable car, on the other hand, offers brilliant views and dropped me just below the tree line, right in time for the actual fun part of mountain climbing - the climbing part. The part where I could actually use my hands to negotiate bare rock, with a clear 270 degree view around me the whole time. Plus, instead of running on fumes during the best part of the hike, I was fully rested.

When I got to the top of the mountain, there was one other dude up there - a whitey. We did the head-nod thing, and then I went to the other part of the peak, to sit alone and enjoy the silence. Of course, this lasted about 5 minutes, when a group of loud Koreans invariably arrived, punctuated by this girl’s phone loudly blaring Korean pop for at least a minute before she got around to answering it.






I like this sign. Really, the peak is up?










I went out to the beach. It’s what I went to Sokcho to do, which was good, because there’s nothing else to do at night anyway (downtown Sokcho was beyond dead). I met three Korean girls within 10 seconds of getting to the beach. None spoke particularly good English, and you know about my Korean, yet it was reasonably fun. One of them (the hot one) seemed to dig me. I bought us all some soju. There were toasts, and the hot one kept sort of hugging up on me, and things were going swimmingly. Then, all of the sudden, she said that I had to go. She and her friends were leaving as well (though not with me) but she was insistent that I go home as well. Kicked off of a public beach. Korean girls don’t make a lick of sense, even beyond the language barrier. I got her number (she lives in the Seoul burbs, almost 2 hours by subway from me) and, about 57 times, she made me promise to call her. I won’t, of course, because she lives to fucking far away, but she was hot.

Throughout this weekend, I was reading “The Catcher in the Rye,” for the forth time or so. I hadn’t planned to, but because my original bus fiasco took so long, I ended up finishing the other book I was reading, Catcher was my backup, as it is small and easy to pack (and carry around, for that matter). Anyway, Sokcho beach has all these benches on it, and I sat in one to read before my bus home. Unfortunately, I sat a little too far to the right, as before I knew it, this cheesedick whitey and his girlfiend sat on my bench. The fuck? Find your own bench, buddy. And given that he was actually wearing one of those Izod/Lacoste alligator polo shirts (the kind I used to wear when they were cool, and I was 7) it was clear that the phonies were indeed coming in through the window.


Sokcho - thumbs up? Not so much. Plus, as you can see, cold and windy.

I can truly say, not sarcastically, that the highlight of the trip was the bus ride home. I was glad I didn’t take the midnight bus that I considered on the first night though. The bus ride home really was sweeping, along two lane roads through pristine mountains. Easily the most beautiful countryside I’ve seen in years. Northern California beautiful. Now, I’m honestly considering coming back to Sokcho, lame as it may be, in October just for the sake of seeing that road when the leaves change.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I wouldn't use the word "Doctor"

So, I finally did it. I went to the dentist. As I expected, it went a little something like this.

Dentist: So, when was the last time you’ve been to the dentist?

Me: Well…I don’t wanna lie. It’s been 4 years.

Dentist: Wow. Four years. Why so long?

Me: Just graduated college, didn’t have insurance…

Dentist: That’s not a good excuse.

Me: Yeah, I know.

Dentist: You know, you should really go every six months. It’s not that expensive. In fact…

Yeah, no shit. I know that. I know I didn’t go on my “scheduled” time. Sorry if I missed that postcard you sent out to remind me. But I didn’t go. This is exactly why I haven’t been to the dentist in 8 years. Yeah, that’s right. I totally lied. It was actually 8 years ago, when I graduated high-school – not college. And you know what? I didn’t have a single cavity.

After you hit the two year mark, you know what really kept me from going back? A fucking lecture from the dentist about how I need to go more often. I don’t need your lecture. You’re not related to me. I didn’t ask for your advice on this matter. It’s like seeing an Ex on the street, and having the conversation go like this:

Me: Hey.

Her: Hi. You know, you really shouldn’t have slept with my sister. I think that's why we broke up.

Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have, but that was 10 years ago. Can’t we just have a regular, fake conversation? I don’t need you to judge me. I have enough people who are more than willing to do that for me, thank you.

And then, pressing his luck, the dentist said “You really need to put in the work to keep your teeth healthy. I mean, there’s no decay or anything, but just in general.” Guess what? I can let my teeth fucking rot, and I’ll pay you to fix them. That’s what you do. Don’t tell me what to do. I don’t remember seeing the word counselor or mother above your office door.

I’m sure you would hate putting your kids through college on my dime.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Walking Uphill

I’m not really one for hiking on mountains (or, as I call it, walking uphill), but I had to hit up Wolchlsan, in the southern portion of the peninsula. Mainly, because there’s a kickass suspention bridge two thirds of the way up, which you can see in the picture below if you click on it.

A bridgeless Peak that I had no desire to summit

Like Hall and Oates said, so close, yet so far away. This is where it started raining, by the way, which wasn’t cool.

The final Countdown (do do do do, do do doot doot do)


Yup


That’s mostly rain, not sweat. Probably.


View from the bridge

Did I go on to the top? Of course not, it was pouring down rain at this point. Fortunately, I remembered my package of banana chips with a ziplock-type seal on it. I threw away all the chips, and put my camera, phone, and ipod into the bag. About $700 worth of quick thinking there, as I discovered there was standing water in my up-until-now waterproof backpack. My Lonely Planet was warped beyond recognition, but my cam, pod, and phone (aka, my whole life, pretty much) were safe. I headed back to my awesome love hotel and hopped in the coolest looking shower I’ve ever seen. As I have nowhere else to include that picture, here it is.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

(Small Market) Korean Baseball




My first Korea baseball game (which you can read about on my old myspace blog),
was the LG (Seoul) Twins vs, the Kia (Gwangju) Tigers. My buddy Don was cheering for LG full force, but I ultimately ended up rooting for Kia for a couple reasons. As a Royals/Cubs fan, I’m saddled with plenty of baseball ineptitude, and Don tried to sell me on LG because the are the “Cubs of the K-League,” ie, they never win it all. Kia, on the other hand, was the powerhouse of Korean baseball, and also murdered LG in that game. Given that I have enough baseball heartbreak in real life, I decided that my superficial alliance with a Korean team may as well lie with a winner. Add to the fact that LG Twins gear looked exactly like Minnesota Twins gear, thus I could never buy a hat or shirt of theirs, and the fact that Kia’s cheerleaders (yes, that’s right, Korean baseball has cheerleaders) were far hotter than LG’s, I through my lot in with Kia.

Yay! Korean Baseball Cheerleaders!

Fast forward a year, and of course, my casual fanship of Kia completely ruined the club. They ended up in last place in last year’s standings, and are now in last place by a mile only six weeks into the season. It seems all a team needs to be awful is my fanship and Jose Lima. Anyway, when I went to Gwangju, I had to attend a home game of my adopted shitty team. Little did I know, I was also to experience Korean small market baseball.

Though Gwangju would be the 9th or 10th largest city in the US with its 1 million plus people, it has basically no suburbs, thus no surrounding market. Also, Given that the greater Seoul metro area has 23 million of South Korea’s 48 million people, pretty much everywhere that’s not Seoul metro is small-market . I’d been to a few games at Seoul’s Jamsil (that’s pronounced jahm-shil) stadium, and laughed at the normal priced Burger Kings and convenience stores. Gwangju’s stadium, however, was the size of a spring training facility. There were no Burger Kings or stores, there were like three tiny concession stands in the whole park.

Nor were there any assigned seats. Open Seating means it's kosher to sit on the stairs of the better sections. The whole stadium, other than the expensive seats behind home plate (11 bucks. Fuck that!) was completely open, first come-first serve. Attending the game alone actually gave me a tremendous advantage in that regard, as it was easy to find a single great seat 10 minutes before the game started.

I was only a few rows above the cheerleaders, first base side, with the Kia fans.


The game had its hilarious points, as Korean basball games tend to have. At one point, a Kia player slid into home, when he obviously should have stopped at 3rd, yet he was called safe, despite being out by a mile. Kia also twice opted to bunt in a nobosy on - two out situation. Luckily, both bunts were fouls, but had they been fair, they would have been easy outs and cost Kia the game.

Speaking of cost Kia the game, we (and I use that term loosely) were up 4-0 in the top of the 8th. Kia’s pitcher, Yoon Sak Min, had pitched a beauty, but was clearly out of gas. I though we were lucky to get out of the 7th unscathed, but YSM thrrew some of his best shit on the last out. Clearly, he was struggling though, and it was time to go to the bullpen. Kia didn’t go to the bullpen. YSM came out to start the 8th, and threw nothing but balls and hits. He loaded the bases, then allowed two runs, with runners at the corners and a 4-2 lead with only 1 out. Throughout this entire time, the male “yell leader” kept inventing new Yoo Sak Min chants, and the crowd kept going along with it. I knew YSM was done, and I’m convinced that if this were an MLB game, the fans wouldn’t blindly following the yell leader, but rather screaming for the bullpen. If this were the MLB, Yoon Sak Min would have surely given up the winning run. This being the K -League, Lotte completely choked away their chance and hit into a double play.



This game also included two other hilarious situations. In one, during the 6th inning stretch or so, (no 7th only inning stretch, of course, but breaks in other innings, and the players literally come on the field and stretch)





the cheerleaders were sling-shotting baseballs into the crowd, which seems extremely dangerous to me.











The other: Lima Time! That’s right, Jose Lima has landed in the Korean League, and on my beloved Kia Tigers no less. And he’s not starting. Still, he seems like a cool cat. He came out of the dugout several times, during warmups and during the game, and seemed to acknowledge every foreigner there chanting “Lima Time!” He also came out and tossed baseballs to fans several times.








Good Game, good game, good game.... Kia wins!










Go back to Busan, you Lotte bastards!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Festivals (Part One)

So, I thought I'd be kind of interesting to keep track of how many Festivals I have, and will submit You Can't Outrun Bullets to, and this seems like as good of any place to do it.

First Mailing.

Chicago Film Brigade
Chicago Underground Film Festival
Milwaukee International Film Festival
Artists Television Access in California
Three Rivers Film Fest in Pittsburgh
CAN'T REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE FEST in Chicago
Image Union in Chicago (on TV)

Total Submissions: 7
Total Entry Fees: $105
Total Shipping Fees: $11.76
Average cost per submission: $16.68

If you haven't yet, you can watch the film online here with (hopefully) a donation so I can keep submitting to these crazy festivals.

Boo-ya.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

sparkle sparkle

For those of you who don’t know (likely most anybody reading this), the tourism marketing slogan for Korea has been “Korea: Sparkling,” for the last year or so. Presumably, like so many local Asian T-shirts, the actual meaning of this slogan has been lost on its makers, and left as a source of endless ridicule and comedy amongst the English-as-a-first-language crowd. Sparkling, of course, has two potential meanings: shiny and glittery in some way, or amazingly clean. Korea is many things, but shiny or clean are not amongst them. This is a country that doesn’t think to put trash cans anywhere, with the logical end result of litter everywhere. And shiny? Josef Stalin would consider 99.99% of the buildings here a bit too drab for his tastes. “Korea: Sparkling” makes about as much sense as “New York City: Humble” or “Nebraska: Interesting.” I was amazed that they somehow found an even worse slogan than their previous one, “Dynamic Korea,” which of course was hilarious due to the fact that this is probably the second most homogenous country in the world, outpaced only by North Korea.

As you can see, I’ve been a bit down on the Dynamic Sparkle lately. Sometimes, listening to my idiot students parroting their idiot parents’ views on American beef (a HUGE hot button issue here right now, causing mass protests) that they heard from the idiot Korean media just gets old. Under these circumstances, I headed off to my weekend vacation in Gwangju, a small town of a million people in the southwest part of the peninsula.

I took in a baseball game (Kia verses Lotte!) when I arrived, and have a separate blog coming on that. I got myself a killer love motel in the heart of downtown Gwangju, with countless bars and restaurants within 10 minutes walking time, plus a computer and high speed internet in the room for $30 a night. I went to Wolchlsan national park the next day for one of my rare and poorly thought out mountain climbing adventures, though again, I’ll have a separate blog there too. Why the separate blogs? Pictures, yo.


The next day, my final in Gwangju, I headed to the May 18 cemetery. On May 18, 1980, South Korea was still a military dictatorship. In Gwangju, there was a massive student uprising protesting an escalation in martial law. The students and citizens of Gwangju actually succeeded in taking control of the city - for a few days - until the army rolled in with tanks and planes and killed a whole bunch of mostly unarmed people. It’s an amazingly moving story and one I plan to research more, and the cemetery is, as expected, heartbreaking. Each grave has a picture of the person buried within next to it.

The cemetery is quite far from central Gwangju. I had a bus home to catch at 5:10 p.m., and at four I started meandering around the parking lot, looking for a taxi. There were none. I eventually went to the small store to ask the man there where to find a taxi. He pointed to a phone number on his desk. I called the taxi company and asked for a taxi, though that’s as far as I could go Korean conversation, I handed my phone to the shopkeeper, and he spoke to the taxi company. He told me (in Korean, he didn’t speak a word of English either) that they would call back. When they called back, I tried to speak with the taxi company, but I’m still pretty worthless on the phone when it comes to speaking Korean unless I’m ordering food. I handed my phone to the shopkeeper again, he chatted with them, and then told me that a taxi will arrive in 15 minutes. Twenty minutes passed. It was now 4:30. My phone rang again. Again, I gave my phone to the shopkeeper (I’d been hanging out at a picnic table next to the store) and he told me it would be another 7 minutes. I showed the shopkeeper my bus ticket to illustrate the gravity of my situation, and he pishawed my concern, saying that the taxi driver will drive fast.

At 4:38 or so, the taxi arrived. The shopkeeper came out of his store and told the taxi driver about my bus. I got in the taxi, and the driver argued with the shopkeeper for a minute, again in Korean that I didn’t understand, but clearly the taxi driver was saying that getting to the bus station on time was impossible. Finally, the shopkeeper just said “go! go!” (in Korean, of course). We were off. The taxi driver immediately pulled off onto a one-lane (and I mean one lane) farm road, cruising at 70 miles per hour on a road intended for 20 mph traffic. I knew then, weather we made it or not, I’d be tipping this guy. Tipping, by the way, is basically unheard of and even refused here, even amongst cabbies and bartenders.

I thought we were in good shape, until we left the farm road and hit city traffic. Fortunately, this driver’s moves had moves. He would turn on his hazards and drive in the shoulder, he changed lanes 4 or 5 times in a single block to get around busses, and, for a finale, made a daring but perfectly executed left turn on a red light through oncoming traffic. Ordinarily, I would fear for my life in such a situation, but this was 20 minutes into the ride, and by this time I had total faith in his driving ability. We got to the bus station at 5:04. I even had time for a smoke before the four hour (in theory) bus ride. As the bus left Gwangju Terminal, my faith in the Dynamic Sparkle had been renewed, in no small part because of two total strangers that didn’t speak a word of English between them, who went out of their way to help a random foreign idiot that speaks far too little Korean.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

This and that

It’s been 3 weeks, but still not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about the Kansas Basketball Jayhawks. I watched the latter part of the game again last night, starting from Roses’s non-3. And yes, I still got pretty fucking nervous about it, and yes, I did audibly cheer Chalmers’ shot. If you haven’t seen it yet (today), scroll down, it’s on this page a couple times.

I saw an interesting ajoshi drama the other day. Ajoshis are middle aged Korean men. It’s a word to describe all of them, but amongst foreigners, the word has a different connotation. When we think ajoshi, we think middle-aged guy in a suit passed out on the street, or middle aged guy hocking a loogie, or middle aged guy in full hiking regalia to climb a mountain that takes somebody as horribly out of shape as me a couple hours to climb - in street clothes, of course. Anyway, there were two drunken ajoshis on my subway car, one in a suit who was clearly less drunk, and one in sweats who was completely plastered. Sweats kept getting up and stumbling all over the car and falling on people, and Suit kept trying to rein him in and bring him back to his seat. They seemed to yell at each other a little bit, but not much. At some random stop, Sweats gets up and heads to the train exit. Suit follows him, and they wrestle a bit in the doorway. Sweats squirms away, and steps off the train, and moves a couple feet away from the train and faces Suit. Suit also moves back, into the train, but stands, looking at Sweats through the open doorway. They stare at each other, not angrily, but sadly. the door closes, and they still gaze forlornly through the window. The train starts to move, and sweats starts stumbling to the stairs, while Suit still stands and watches him. After we were clear of the station, Suit sat down again. The whole scene was strangely heartbreaking, though hilarious.

The Wonder Years is back on youtube. Every episode, in fact. I discovered this on Sunday, and probably spent no less than 9 hours watching it. On Monday after work - probably about the same. Despite it being one of the best five shows ever (by the way, gun to my head, The Wonder Years, The Simpsons, The Wire, The Price is Right, The Daily Show - wow, that’s five “the”s!), it’s pretty interesting to watch right now. Other than the epsiodes I taped (which was a lot) I haven’t seen most of the show since KCMO Channel 62 (channel 3 on Sunflower Cable) stopped showing reruns in 1994 or so. Kevin was 2 years older than me, but once the show started running on syndication in ’92, he was often the same age as me on reruns. Thus, I related to Kevin’s experience pretty closely, despite the fact that his experience occurred in 1968-1993, and I was watching it heavily on syndication in 1992-1993.

Watching it now - Kevin, especially in the early episodes, is the same age or just a year or two older than most of the kids I’m teaching. Another scary thing about watching this show while being old - the Mr. Collins/8th grade math teacher story arc. When the show was originally syndicated (though not when it originally aired) I was really good at 8th grade algebra. I got A’s in that class without even trying. Now, while watching Mr. Collins teach polynomials, I don’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about. I even Wikipedia-ed it, and I still don’t remember or remotely understand them.

Of course, I also ended up watching the classic summer-girl episodes, featuring Teri with an “r-i” and Cara. Those, of course, really make me feel old. I mean, there’s no reason to watch them, since I’ve seen them no less than 9,000 times each and can still quote every single line, but I did it anyway. And really, that’s the best. Meeting some random girl, preferably local, while on vacation at some lake or beach, going out with her, and making out with her, when you are 13-16. That was pretty much the goal of my life in those days (as I took for granted my math ability) but it just never quite happened. Not the way it did for Kevin Arnold. Hell, the first time I finally succeeded in making out with a girl in Indiana Beach (the usual setting in my summer love pursuits) I was 23, and it was with some random girl I met at the bar. How boring is that?

I learned today that apparently, parents don’t let their kids climb trees anymore. What the fuck is up with that? Most people I know with kids don’t have kids of prime tree climbing age yet. I sure hope they don’t follow along with this horrible idea. There’s plenty of trees in China and Canada for paper and in Northern California for looking at. Trees in other places are there for climbing.

I’m going on a domestic Korea trip in a couple days. One I’ve actually been vaguely planning on for over a year. Hopefully, it should be cool, and I’ll have something worth talking about. I have another blog that I’m posting concurrently on myspace (myspace.com/helluva_lawnmowers) that I can’t post in this space, as it involves current goings on. If you are my friend on myspace, you can read it there. If not, friend me dog.
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