A Look Around. Have You Seen It?

모슬포 (Moseulpo), South Korea. 1997.

It was quite relaxing to watch the fire burn and the batch boil. Without a care in the world, we boiled rice stalks until lunchtime. When the lunch gong sounded we went up to the house and ate more rice with the others. After lunch we had another instant coffee and I said I should be moving along back up to Seoul. Mr. Kim suggested I stay another day; there were a lot of things I had not seen yet. I agreed to stay another day.

He told 민철 to show me around the place. The building was formerly a school, abandoned, and then purchased by Mr. Kim and family. With the help of 민철 and other likeminded types, they had totally revamped the place as pictured here. They placed all the stones around the outside and built up the center piece.

The inside had been totally re-done as well. Several rooms were used only for storage like the one with all the unfinished masks. Four or five of the classrooms had been turned into huge sleeping areas (I was sharing one with 민철 and 명룡). There was only one bathroom in the whole joint, shared by both genders. It could be awkward to emerge from a stinky stall to see one of the Angels brushing her teeth. Or vice versa...

One of the classrooms had been turned into the domain of the Angels. Their room was piled high with rolls of cotton fabric that had been dyed using natural ingredients, primarily the juice of the ubiquitous Jeju persimmon. The dyeing process is executed during the fall months when the fruit ripens, and now, during the winter/early spring, the angels were busy sewing the dyed fabric into outfits. Four sewing machines whirred while 민철 told me how Mr. Kim's wife designs all the outfits and Mr. Kim and his helpers do all the dyeing. The clothing they make is referred to as 갈옷 (brown clothes) and was very common in the older days of Cheju. Only, these clothes have a bit of a modern flair. Turns out Mr. Kim's wife was in NYC for 10 years studying fashion design (more on her later).

We left the angels and went up the stairs out onto the roof. The backside of the center pillar in the photo above is a giant picture window that looks up at Halla Mountain. Inside of the pillar is a bedroom, but one would never guess that from looking at the place from the front. The view makes the bedroom the perfect spot for an afternoon tryst or nap, and I wanted to crush one out, but my tour continued back into the house. We hadn't even seen the ground floor yet...

Boiling Stalks

모슬포 (Moseulpo), South Korea. 1997.

Mr. Kim led me down to the edge of the property to a well used firepit. There was a large pile of wood and he set to lighting a fire. Once the blaze was going strong I helped him lift a big vat up onto metal legs that suspended the vat over the fire for boiling. The vat was about the size of a 50-gallon drum cut in half from top to bottom. He added water and rice stalks to the pot and stirred it slowly with a long stick. As the mixture heated up, he added more water and more stalks turning the batch into a big goopy stew.

We were both mostly silent as we watched the brew boil. He smoked the frequent cigarette and answered my occasional question. I learned that the batch we were cooking would be used to make traditional Korean paper, and some sort of traditional style Korean mask. To make the masks, the well-boiled rice stalk mash would be pressed into molds. Once dry, the mold would be removed and the mask would be painted. He told me there were several different kinds of masks they made and there were lots of them in the house. I hadn't even had a chance to look around the place yet, but when I did, here is what I found gathering dust in one of the rooms: Piles and piles of unfinished masks. At least four different varieties. In addition to the piles on the shelves, there were many gunny sacks full of miniature masks. I helped myself to a representative few. I still have them of course:
Lonely Planet said nothing about stopping off somewhere in rural Cheju Island to stir the batch that makes these little guys.

Dragons and Angels

모슬포 (Moseulpo), South Korea. 1997.

The next morning I was awakened by the loud banging of a gong. It was earlier than I would have liked to get up, but I still had a lot to learn about this place--and I didn't even know it. I went in to the dining room again and Mr. Kim was seated at the long table ready to eat rice. He asked if I slept well. I said I did.

The others I had met the night before soon joined and lent a hand in setting the table. Turns out there's a younger brother too, simply referred to as 용이, and he lurched his massive girth in and sat down, bedhead and all. He was a sophomore in high school and appeared tired from studying and lack of sleep. Next came four ladies known as the 천사 (angels). They were the only ones paid to be at the house that morning, but they joined in the meals as if they were part of the family. There were 11 of us at breakfast that morning. Mr. Kim referred to the group collectively as his 식구--all were mouths to feed, but family as well.

Mr. Kim's wife did the cooking that morning, but 민철 did the dishes. After breakfast the dining room cleared out except for Mr. Kim, his wife, and myself. They both lit cigarettes. 민철 delivered three instant coffees with sugar and Prima to us as we sat talking it over at the dining table. Mr. Kim told his wife how he and I had met. I guess I thought he would have mentioned me before; she had seen me talking to him on the ferry after all. But now he told the story of meeting me through his eyes.

He told her that when he noticed a foreigner sitting next to him, he thought I must not be American because I was sitting still and silent. He expected all Americans to be noisy and rambunctious. When he found out I was American he was very surprised. Then he told her that I was lucky he had not met me 10 years earlier. If he had met me then he would have ended me. They both laughed. I didn't know what he was referring to. The conversation stayed very light and high level because we were all still feeling each other out. But I took my cue not to be an obnoxious twit while around these folks.

Mr. Kim's wife occasionally threw in an English word and I noticed her pronunciation was very good. I didn't want to probe, but I commented on her English. She switched to English and told me she spent 10 years in New York City. It had been years since she returned to Korea and she apologized for having forgotten so much of it. Mr. Kim also knew a ton of English vocab but couldn't really construct sentences so we spoke Korean almost exclusively.

When we finished our coffees, Mr. Kim rose and told me to follow him. I silently trailed him out behind the house. The back "yard" was much more rocky and weed covered than the front of the house. There were no neighbors behind and we enjoyed an unobstructed view of Halla Mountain. But we didn't go out there just to ponder a mountain...

At the House

모슬포 (Moseulpo), South Korea. 1997.

The driver of the Korando was in his late 20's, single, and introduced himself as 민철. He asked me if I preferred Soju to drink or what. I told him beer, Soju, Makkeolli, whatever was fine by me. He asked me if I needed cigarettes or anything else from the store. As far as I knew I needed nothing. He pulled over in front of a nearby store and left the vehicle running while he ran inside. When he returned, he had a couple of bags filled with snacks, smokes, and beverages. Off we drove into the darkness of the Korean countryside.

After driving for nearly fifteen minutes we were square into the middle of noplace. It appeared to be an industrial area devoid of the common Korean residence. Finally we pulled off the main road onto a dirt driveway that led to a building unlike any I had ever seen in Korea (or anywhere else for that matter). I took this picture the next morning in the light of day:

We parked the Korando around back and took the rear entrance up to the second floor. At the top of the stairs we came into a dining area just off from an enormous kitchen. In the dining area was a long, low family style dining table. There were no chairs, of course, as one sits cross-legged on the floor while eating. The table was rough-hewn lumber, well used with celebrated knots and stains. It was long enough to seat perhaps twenty.

Seated at the table was the Mr. Kim from the Wando Ferry. He rose to welcome me, now speaking only Korean. He re-introduced the Korando driver, 민철, and another young fellow close to my age called 명룡. He proudly introduced his daughter Kimi. She was the gal who had answered the phone the second time I called. She was a "healthy" high school junior, cute, shy, dutiful. She opened the bags of snacks and drinks and started preparing to serve us manfolk.

After a while, the woman of the house returned. She came in very bubbly, perky, and full of energy and happiness. She took my existence in stride as if it were common for strangers to appear in her house. She loved to talk and everyone loved to listen. The next couple of hours were spent drinking and chatting while most of them smoked like chimneys. They were all very curious about me and I about them.

When I was too tired to continue, 명룡 showed me to a large room where I was to sleep on the floor under an electric blanket. There was no central heat and the air was quite chilly, but I slept the sleep of the dead in my clothes.

Your Korando Awaits (Korea Can Do)

모슬포 (Moseulpo), South Korea. 1997.

I was not a little bit relieved to be rid of the Church van driver. Standing now by myself in the middle of 모슬포 nowhere, I looked down at the scrap of paper in my hand. Mr. Kim’s name and local phone number stared back at me. It called to me. I put my phone card in a pay phone and dialed the number. An older woman answered, I focused on using my clearest Korean and asked for Mr. Kim by his full name as it was written. She was rather terse with me and said he was not home and she didn’t know when he would return. I hung up.

I walked around the heart of town thinking about what to do next. The center was not much larger than a single intersection and I didn’t see much that would set this place apart from any other small town in this country. Plus I had enough exploring for one day.

It was starting to get dark and I decided I better see to some food and accommodations. But first I gave Mr. Kim another dial. This time a much younger sounding voice answered. She told me he was not home. That was enough to make me give up on seeing this so called “Traditional Korean Museum” today. I paused a moment debating what, if anything, to say next. Then I just blurted out that I was the foreigner that Mr. Kim met on the ferry from Wando. She gave a slight gasp, perhaps realizing that the person at the other end of the line was speaking Korean and she never considered I was not Korean.

I had no idea who she was. I didn’t know if she was also on the ferry and had seen me talking to Mr. Kim, or if he had told her about me, or anything. She told me to call back in 15 minutes. I told her I was going to find a cheap motel for the night and would call back in the morning. She was getting more excited and told me she didn’t think I needed to do that; I should call back in 15 minutes. We agreed on that and I rang off.

Tired and hungry, but with piqued curiosity, I roamed the streets to kill another 15 minutes. I dilly-dallied and waited a full 30 minutes before I dialed back. This time my call was answered immediately on the first ring. It was a man’s voice so I asked if it was Mr. Kim. He said it was and asked if I was the foreigner from the ferry. I confirmed. He asked me where I was. I told him I was standing in front of the 모슬포 Post Office. He told me not to move and he would come pick me up in 10 minutes. I hung up and waited.

Fifteen minutes later a Korando pulled up in front of me. The driver was not Mr. Kim, but he was dressed in the same old school style, and had a long pony tail pulled tight in the back. He yelled out the window that Mr. Kim sent him and I should get in.

I got in…

The Bongo Stops Here

Cheju-do, South Korea. 1997

The Church Van driver and I left the crater and headed clockwise around Cheju Island. It certainly was much better than having to worry about catching a bus from place to place. And so far, it was much cheaper too. He wanted to stop at the Folk Village but I didn’t so we made for Seogwipo. We drove around for a bit just taking it all in and then we stopped at Jeongbang Waterfall. My driver insisted I get my picture taken in front of it. I flashed a meaningless gang sign. We left the waterfall and without telling me our next stop, he pulled over in front of a 다방. He seemed to know the place well and he greeted the owner familiarly as we entered. We sat. I ordered a drink; he did too. He got up and walked to the front and had a private conversation with the hostess. He came back. Pretty soon a cute young lady came and sat down next to me. She spoke only to my driver, asking questions about me and so forth. He asked her if she liked me (마음에 들어?). She looked over at me and kinda shrugged her shoulders. Of course they had no idea was following most of their conversation.

My driver, and erstwhile love advocate, had a perverted-looking grin on his face and asked her if she wanted to take me in the back and give me some service. She kinda shrugged her shoulders and said, “별로.” It’s not like I was dying to go get my service on with this little cutie, but it wouldn’t have killed her to fake it just a little.

My driver was progressively getting weirder the more time he spent with me. But I went with the flow and piled back in the van. We headed West. We pulled over somewhere in 중문 resort and took this picture of me. No gang sign this time.
Nobody was around and nothing seemed to be going on. Westward ho once more.

Our next stop was Sanbangsan. This giant nipple-like formation appeared as if you scraped it off the earth with a giant spatula and turned it upside down like flipping a pancake, it would make a great filler for the crater I climbed earlier in the day. We pulled into the parking lot at the same time as a group of tour buses. An endless stream of drunken and cackling old ladies teemed from the buses like ants from an anthill. Without missing a beat, my driver started asking them who wanted to buy ramen noodles from him. That lead balloon was greeted by more cackles and the occasional “Hello Hello” directed at me. More cackles and off they trundled.

I had a look around at the mountain and the scenery, a Buddhist temple. Nice. But I was getting tired, and getting tired of my driver so I didn’t linger longer. As we drove along, my driver decided he had set the hook and I was ready for his pitch. He thought it would be a great idea to head back to Cheju City where he would put me up and I could teach English to the church people who owned the van we were in. I had no intention of returning to Cheju City yet, and even less interest in living with this traveling Ramen salesman who couldn’t move any product. I told him I couldn’t really do that and he started asking me for money. I was grateful for the ride, and it was an experience I might not have had without my driver, but I wasn’t going to give him 100K Won like he asked.

At that moment we were entering a small town called 모슬포. This just happened to be the town in the address that the guy on the ferry from Wando had written down. I suddenly told my driver to stop the van. “Stop the van right here. Stop here.”

I got out in “downtown” 모슬포 and walked away from my driver forever.

Hitchin' a Ride

Cheju-do, South Korea, 1997.

I left my temporary 호떡 haven and made my way afoot for the bus terminal. I stopped to rest in front of the Post Office, near a famous landmark building in the heart of town. I must’ve looked lost and lonely. A kind foreigner came up and sat next to me and asked if she could help me with anything. I said no and we got to talking. She was a Canadian who was teaching English in Shin-Cheju. She quite liked it. I told her I taught English some 10 years before in Busan and was back to have another look around. I told her I was using my Lonely Planet as a guide and I planned to head east, circle the island clockwise, and see as many hot spots as possible. She wished me luck and we parted never to see one another again.

I grabbed a bus and headed for 성산일출봉—a volcanic crater on the eastern tip. It is famous and nearly every visitor to the island gets a look at it at least once. I must’ve missed a memo somewhere along the way because the bus dropped me off quite a long walking distance from the crater parking lot itself. Feeling like a silly foreigner I started hoofing it toward the crater. Before long a Korean man in a van pulled up alongside. The van carried the name of a church in Cheju City and the lone figure driving it asked me in poor English if I wanted a ride. I rode.

It didn’t take long to see that he didn’t have much English but I wasn’t ready to play my trump card yet and so I stuck to English. This bad habit of mine really drove JT crazy when we were together in Seoul. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t use the “great gift” that I had. Anyway, I always leave it to the Korean to dictate the language we use to converse. It seems like more often than not they want to use English even if it doesn’t really work. Then I would only turn to Korean out of necessity. I stuck to English with this guy, and as a bonus, it helped keep the dialog to a minimum.

We parked at성산일출봉 parking lot and I walked back to get the following establishing shot of the crater.
If you look closely at the van with the back door up, you can see my driver setting up a table and some other stuff. I had no idea what he was doing, but when I got back to the van, he had a travel cooking stove burning and he was boiling water. As people passed he called out asking if they wanted a hot bowl of Ramen noodles or a cup of instant coffee. He was trying to charge 5,000 Won for the Ramen and 1,000 for the coffee. I thought the whole thing very odd so I grabbed my backpack and headed for the path up the crater. I hoped he would be gone by the time I returned.
When I descended from the top, he had a hot bowl of ramen ready for me. I ate it. I did not give him 5K Won for it. As I ate, he put the burner and the table back in the van and readied to roll. He said he was happy to keep driving me to other popular tourist destinations on the island. Me, not wanting to see the gift horse’s teeth, I accepted…

In Cheju City

Cheju-do, South Korea. 1997.

Down a small side street off the main drag coming up from the ferry terminal was a row of cheap motels (여인숙). I picked out one at random and opened the front door. There was a bell on it that dinged loudly to announce my entry. I had come up with a strategy for easing the motel owner’s experience when trying to accommodate the foreign traveler. As soon as the bell dinged and I could hear someone inside rustling about I would yell out loud in Korean: “Hello? Do you have any rooms”? Invariably the answer would be that they did have a room, so I would yell out and ask how much per night. They would usually respond with a fair price. I would get all of this done before they had a chance to see that I was from way out of town and get all freaked out that they didn’t speak English. It worked great on this occasion too, and soon I had a room at the end of the hall on the second floor of a fine establishment.

The small room had only a TV and some blankets and a floor pad. There was a pillow filled with rice or corn or something. The bathroom was down the hall and halfway down the stairs to the first floor. Standard 여인숙 stuff. The owner was a short, jolly fellow who took extra pains to make sure I was comfy, that I had a bottle of water (probably recycled, and not in the way one might think), and that I knew how to work the hot water in the bathroom. Very nice and friendly. I decided this would make a great home base for a few days as I poked around lovely Cheju Island.
Cheju City from a hill east-ish of city center A cool shot with the KAL Hotel in the far background
After a couple days of wandering around Cheju City--the capitol of beautiful Cheju Island--I returned to my cheap motel room for the evening. I was greeted at the door by the owner who invited me into his room for dinner with the family. He had treated me to two meals already, one free nights of lodging, and even chauffeured me on a near-death drive to Dragon Head Rock. Or, Horse Head Rock as I like to call it…
He also told me not to worry about money, but to stay as long as I needed, use his motel as a home base and travel around the island and return each night. I tentatively agreed. Anyway, this night, the motel owner really opened up. He told me he was a writer, showed me notebooks full of his hand-written work, and read me parts of a story he wrote about when he was with the U.N. forces in Viet Nam and about the wound he brought home with him. He said he had had many favorable experiences with the U.S. soldiers while there and he hoped we could become close friends. We finished dinner and I went up to my room to watch a little KMTV before I fell asleep.

About 11 p.m. that night, there was a knock on my room door. I rousted myself up and opened the door to find the motel owner with two Cheju City policemen. They wore suits and were quite terse with me demanding to know my name. They were holding the registration form from the motel, the one I had thought it would be funny to put a fake name and passport number on. Name: Tony Opda. Turns out they did not find that as humorous as I. To compound my initial mistake of phonying the motel registration form, I told them I left my Passport in a locker box in the train station in Seoul. Not funny. They demanded to see any form of ID, my boat and train ticket stubs, my birthday; they grilled me. They wanted to see some proof that I had come down from Seoul, and had not snuck onto their island in some other clandestine fashion. I passed their exams, but I still got a lecture about the danger of spies, especially on this island. They reminded me of the recent news about the North Korean dictator’s ex-son-in-law who had defected to the South, had plastic surgery to change his face and was still shot in the head by a spy just days before. I thanked them and said goodnight.

Early the next morning I slipped out the front door while holding the bell so no one would wake up. I felt like a fugitive as I ran down the street in the still dark of morning. I didn't stop running until I was at the public market where I went deep into its bowels to a 호떡 stand where I burned my fingers and tongue on the melted brown sugar filling goodness.

Still on the Ferry...

South Korea, 1997. Wando --> Chejudo

The stoic Korean gentleman next to me on the bench continued to stare out of the ship's window into the darkness of the sea for quite some time. He finally broke the silence by turning to me and asking in halting English: "Are you American"? It was as if he was debating with himself whether or not to engage me at all.

"Yes," I responded. He simply nodded and turned to stare back out at the black of night. I thought it was strange but it was not annoying. Again we sat in silence for many minutes.

When he again spoke, it was to ask me where I was going. I told him I was headed to Cheju Island. He asked if I had been before, and I told him I had not. This brief exchange, again in English, was followed by more silent stillness and more staring out at sea. As the ship neared port, he tore a scrap of paper from a notebook in his beggar bag and wrote his name and address with a black charcoal drawing pencil. I had not spoken one word of Korean, nor made any indication that I could speak better Korean than he could English, but his name and address were written in Hangeul.

I treated the scrap as if it were a business card; I thanked him and held it and stared at it for a moment before putting it in my shirt pocket. He then told me that I should visit him, "My house is a traditional Korean museum," he said.

"OK," I said. I left him with a slight bow and went to retrieve my backpack/erstwhile pillow. On the way off the boat I noticed that he had been joined by a woman. She wore the same style of clothes and walked a couple of steps in front of him. They certainly were a unique-looking pair, both in apparel and hairstyle. Other Koreans stared at them too. Thinking I would never see these folks again, I waved goodbye and exited the terminal into the salty Cheju night air.

The owner of the kindergarten in Seoul where I had briefly taught had arranged for his brother to meet me at the terminal and make sure I had a good visit. Since I was the only whitey in sight, I figured I would be pretty hard to miss. But nobody approached. I made a half-hearted attempt to call him, but nobody answered. Secretly I was a bit relieved because I didn't want to be beholding to anybody. I wanted to roam freely.

Lonely Planet said there were cheap motels (여인숙) aplenty near the terminal and I soon found that to be true.

Scan of the Day

I picked up this post card in Seoul in 1997. I believe the text reads: "I am MANOC! When you have problem, Remember me. I'll always beside you. We are friend forever!"
Anyone know what MANOC is?

On the Ferry...

South Korea, 1987. From Wando to Chejudo

Somehow I managed to get a spot for me and my backpack on the green turf-covered floor where I had a reasonable 5-square feet of personal space. All around me Koreans sat in groups small and large. Some sang, most smoked, others slept, and some drank Soju. In my closest proximity was a middle-aged Korean fellow and two female travelmates. I got the distinct impression that neither was his wifely figure.

Not long into the ferry ride, he untied the knot in a plastic baggy and revealed a still-squirming, mostly alive, octopus. Another bag produced two bottles of Soju. He used a pocket knife to slice the octopus into bite-sized bits of tentacle and hood. The girls giggled and the man did most of the eating and drinking. Ahh, good times. For as much as they ignored the rest of us, they might as well have been in a private room. It really is uncanny how Koreans are able to treat others whom they know not as if they were a telephone pole or tree. I was a tree. A lone white tree planted in the corner on a field of plastic grass.

I got up to wander around and check things out. I went on deck and looked out at the ocean. Nothing looked back.

By the time I returned to my little corner, a Korean fellow was asleep using my backpack for a pillow. I didn't feel like rousting him so I went back out and used the potty. It was dark out by now and the lobby area was deserted except for a bench with one sleeping gentleman on it. I tried to sit down on the bench without waking this guy up, but the bench was rickety and even my body weight caused it to bounce one time. He opened his eyes and looked over to see who had disturbed his solemn reverie. His reaction was an emotionless pokerfaced stare for an uncomfortably long time. He drank in every detail of my face and head, and turned to stare at the darkness out the window.

I couldn't detect any stank of drunkenness and I figured that if he wanted to practice his English on me, he would have done so already so I stayed put. The two of us alone on a bench on a boat. Neither one speaking. Not moving. Trying not looking at each other. I cheated enough glimpses to notice he had shoulder length hair and a wispy mustache and goatee. He dressed in traditional looking clothes; the ankle-tie and waist-tie pants with the super low crotch, and a button-up cotton jacket. He carried a mendicant monk-style shoulder bag. I pegged him for an artist.

I was not far off...

Real Men Don't Ask for Directions

South Korea, 1997.

I wandered around Mokpo in the early hours of dawn and morning by myself without any real plans. It seemed like a nice seaside port city but I wanted to boat around some of the hundreds of islands that dot the southern coastline. Lonely Planet told me I could get a ferry around from Mokpo to Wando and that the scenery was magnificent. So I made my way to the ferry terminal.
As far as I could tell, the signage listed no scenic ferry rides to Wando, and not wanting to ask anyone, I gave it up. Instead I grabbed a city bus to the Mokpo inter-city bus station, from there a bus took me to Kwangju, another terminal and another bus finally took me to Wando. In the pouring rain I found a cheap Inn for the night. It was just a small square room with a pad and a blanket and a TV. The potty was community and had no hot water. But the owner was a sweet old lady who checked on me several times over the course of the one night I spent there.

The next day when the rain stopped, I took to walking around Wando. One can cover the whole town end-to-end in short order so I snapped a couple pictures and headed to the ferry terminal and bought one ticket for Jejudo.

Fishies drying on a rusted rack:
Boarding the Hanil Car Ferry #1 is not done in what one might call "an orderly fashion"; everyone pushing, squawking, smoking, charging up the ramp with kids, grandparents and luggage, crates, sacks, Soju cases, boxes tied with shiny pink straps, fishing poles. I was in no hurry to get on board. Apparently everyone else knew what I would only find out later--there is only so much seating space, and all of it on the floor.

Scanned Slides of the Day

South Korea in 1987. Day trip to ...? Anyone?

Look ma, foreigners! On the hike up.
The suspension bridge. I crossed it (not without trembling). At the top. That's the suspension bridge down there.
Anyone? If memory serves, this is 대둔산.

Scan of the Day

Seoul to Mokpo 1997

An Adventure Begins...

Seoul, South Korea. 1997.

When our two other roommates returned from the states all full of their wedded bliss, my substitute teaching responsibilities were done and I had no other plans. And I certainly wasn't ready to head back home. I decided to take off on my own and see some more of the rabbit-shaped peninsula. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to go to Pusan, but I did want to make it to Jeju Island.

I sketched out a rough itinerary in my mind to head straight south and eventually catch a ferry down to Jeju-do. Nothing concrete, just looking to see some countryside and be by myself for a while. I packed a small backpack with some clothes, my electric razor, and my Lonely Planet. Before leaving I borrowed JT's hair clippers and gave the dome a fresh buzz (my first in over a month in country because the 학원 boss man wanted me to have as much hair as possible), and I went online to get the train schedule from 서울 to 목포. I found I could get a 10:16 pm train from 영등포 station so I could sleep a bit and save the cost of lodging for one night.

The evening of my departure JT, 지수, and I went to Cyber Zone Coffee Shop near 신정네거리 to kill a few hours. The coffee was instant and the place was smoky, but the clientele was unmatched for its freshness. I knew JT was in heaven but still desperate to experience the forbidden Korean female fruits. He lit up a yummy Marlboro (he had taken up smoking again--most often when drinking, or trying to fit in, or trying to impress) and 지수 fired one up too for good measure.

The conversation turned to Pusan (지수's hometown) and 지수 gave me the phone number of her best friend. I was to call her if and when I got to Pusan, but she warned me that her friend was a very traditional, conservative girl where guys were concerned and that I shouldn't get any ideas. I told her that I didn't have any ideas, but that I thought all Korean girls were traditional and conservative in that regard. She told me I was wrong and that she had even heard of girls who sold their sex for money on a street near Youngdungpo station. She said she had never been there because she was scared. JT suggested that we go see it on the way to dropping me off for my train.

Around the corner from Youngdungpo station, we took a left down a narrow alley. Past a locksmiths and a restaurant the road widened a bit. On both sides of the street were glass-fronted shops with scantily-clad girls smoking cigarettes under an eerie red and yellow fluorescence. The overactive butterflies in my stomach became increasingly agitated as we drove slowly by, eye-shopping the spectacle as these women banged on the inside of the glass with cigarette lighters. The noise surrounded my head driving me lower in the back seat until I was just barely peeking out like some shy acne-ridden teen gazing at his first nudie magazine. I knew they weren't inviting us in for just a smoke.

These were the red-light women that Eight-Shot Dave had told me so much about. (One of whom blessed him with the phrase: "bring it here.") At the end of the street, 지수 flipped a U-turn for another look, slowed in front of one open window and asked "How much?" in Korean. It was like preparing to barter as one would at NamDaeMoon market. The young lady inside just waved her off.

I slept only fitfully, balled up on a benchseat of the nearly empty night train to Mokpo, but woke up sweating as the train pulled in at 4:30 a.m. I detrained into the chill pitchblack, grabbed an instant mini-cup of coffee from the nearest machine, pushed my way through the cabbies who were soliciting riders to god-knows where, and made for town.

Scanned Slide of the Day

Pusan, South Korea in 1987.

Keeping it cool on a hot day.

Coffee and Cigarettes

Seoul, South Korea 1997

Enough about babysitting and calling it teaching. After all, it was just an enabler for love and adventure. Let's get back to the reason for me even being in Korea in 1997: to find Korean Love for JT.

So far we had been faked by the mysterious 보연 who gave us a phony Beep Beep number. But we had managed to get the digits of the fair Young-Sook of Skylark Family Restaurant (hereafter known only as "Skylark"). However, the most promising prospect turned out to be one of JT's students. She was a college grad, working woman he taught once a week. She had a lawyer boyfriend, but JT had a crush. She was called 지수, but her real name was 용운. She changed it when she moved to Seoul from her hometown out in the boonies. Her given name, as you can see, was way too masculine and it had been a constant source of torment in her life.

I told JT he should ask her to come meet us after class one night and we could practice English and enjoy some BBQ. That worked and we had quite a nice time. Smart, cute, employed, car owner, smoker, late 20's...the major obstacle being the boyfriend. We hung out several times and JT was chomping at the bit. We came up with a plan to make some magic. We decided to meet for BBQ again, prime the pump with a little Soju, and then employ a little trick we had heard about. On the walk from our regular BBQ place to our apartment, there was a harmless-looking little 여관. The plan was to walk in that direction after dinner and Soju and then without saying anything just walk her into the motel. I would continue on home. It was supposed to work if she had any interest and she had any 눈치.

On the way home we turned down the alley to the motel and JT took a left with 지수 towards the motel. She realized where they were headed just as she got close to the entrance, and like a petulant child plopped right down on the steps of the motel. That was it. It was clear she was not interested in going inside with him. I watched from around the corner long enough to see it wasn't going to work and I went home. Moments later JT arrived. He was bummed, but we both had a good laugh about it. She wasn't angry or upset. She just kept saying she had a boyfriend. She even said she was conflicted because she liked JT.

Aw shucks. Foiled again.

We remained friends with 지수, even having more adventures together. Our hangout place with her moved from BBQ and Soju to Coffee and cigarettes, and no love ever occurred between her and JT. As far as I know.

Scanned Slide of the Day

1987. Seoul seen from the walk up to Namsan Tower. I ignored the signs that said "No Photography."

The Substitute Part 3

Seoul, South Korea. 1997

And now for some high points from my few short weeks of substitute English "teaching."

In no particular order:

1. Some of them dang rugrats was cute.

2. Getting paid cash in envelopes every hour was nice.

3. One "healthy" young student gave me his lucky pig. His name is written on the bottom, but only the surname remains. Of course, I still have it:

4. One student told me "Winter envy Spring" when the weather didn't want to turn warm. I liked that a lot. I wrote a silly poem about it where I put one word on each page of a groovy mini Korean notebook. Without quoting the whole lame thing, let me just give you a few words from it: busybodies, donnybrooking, snuff. I dare anyone to pen a decent poem with those words in it. Double dare even.

5. Monday nights. Every Monday night after classes, JT and I would meet at McDonald's near Shinjeong Naegeori. It truly felt like it was our McDonald's.

Photo of the Day

Scanned from a 20+ year-old slide back when 씨름 was still popular.

Anyone know who this big 'ol boy is?