April 14, 1997

Pusan, South Korea

Skylark and I headed up to check out PNU and see some of my old haunts. We stopped in Oncheonjang and walked around a bit. Secretly I must have known I would not run into anyone I knew from 10 years before, but my mind raced with the possibilities of seeing Spa Shopping Young-sook. How weird would that be? Walking around Oncheon with Skylark Young-sook and running into Spa Young-sook? No way. But the mere thought of it did funny things in my mind.

We jumped a bus up to Pusan National University main gate. Things in the area had really changed more than I had expected and I didn't recognize my surroundings. I got a little disoriented. Plus, I wanted to stay at least a block away from KHI Institute lest I should happen across Mr. Shin. That would make for an awkward reunion.

Skylark and I continued walking around for a spell, still not recognizing much. I couldn't find my favorite video bistro where I killed countless hours back in 1987. I stopped to look around and gather my bearings on several occasions. At one such moment I was blankly staring at the building in front of me. I was standing in the doorway to a stairwell that went up a few flights. Suddenly, the words written on a sign next to the entrance registered in my brain; it was KHI Institute.

I panicked.

I expect the feelings that came over me at that moment were not unlike those experienced by Chekov when he realized that the ship he and Captain Terrell were on was none other than the SS Botany Bay.

Nothing but three floors separated me from Mr. Shin and certain awkwardness. Wasting no time I successfully ushered us out of there (Chekov and Terrell were not so lucky) and made straightaway for the subway. If I had it to do over again, I might consider going up there to have a look around. That might've made for an interesting chapter. Secretly I had no way of knowing if Shin was still running KHI, or even alive for that matter. But the physical reaction in my gut was enough to tell me to get outta there.

Skylark and I walked silently all the way to the subway station. I remember hearing a song that sampled Madonna's "Holiday" and I thought that was weird. Inside the subway station I sat down against a wall and put my head in my hands. Skylark asked what was the matter. I spoke Korean to her then because I wanted to make sure she understood, and because I could more easily hide behind the words. I told her she could not go with me to Cheju.

April 13, 1997 Cont'd

I like walking around fish markets marvelling at the myriad sea creatures. We missed the early morning hours of peak activity, but there is always plenty to see at 자갈치. Here are some photos I chose to take:I enlarged these 2 into 8 x 10 and framed them up. They hang in my house.After wandering and smelling the ocean for a while, we went back toward the motel. We grabbed some 낙지 볶음 nearby and called it a night. The owner had replaced the TV with a working model and order had been restored.

Next stop: Pusan National University.

Pusan. Or is it Busan?

South Korea: April 13, 1997

We jumped a bus from Chinhae to Pusan the next day. I wasn't sure how I would feel upon entering those environs; it had been 10 years since I set foot there. And Pusan and I had parted on uneasy terms back then.

Skylark and I secured 여관 lodgings near the bus terminal. It was raining.

She wanted to chill in the room and watch TV. The TV didn't work. I went downstairs and asked the owner to go up and see to it. Secretly I knew that would force Skylark to expose her Koreanness and speak her mother tongue to a Korean who also knew she was traveling with a whitey. Instead of returning to the room with the owner, I went out to sneak a couple Choco Pies. (I only eat the Orion brand. It used to be easier to spot because their were packaged in a blue box. But now the box is red.)

When I went back to the room, Skylark was pouting because the TV was beyond repair and the owner had taken it, promising to replace it later. I told Skylark we should go see some sights. After all, the rain had stopped and it was Pusan just outside the motel doors. How often does that happen to a person? Seriously.

Like the opening shot of a TV drama, we established our place in the city by heading up to the Pusan Tower.

After a look around up top, we decided to go down and check out 자갈치 fish market.

From Chinju to Chinhae

South Korea, 1997

I spent a fitful night sharing a small motel room with Skylark. I never sleep well the first night in unfamiliar sleeping arrangements, but we awoke to a gorgeous spring morning in Chinju. After a bite of breakfast and some instant Coffee Milks from a vending machine, we checked out the fortress, looked out over the river, and toured through the museum at the fortress. I could have spent several days there without tiring of it, but I needed to keep this express tourism train rolling if I was going to make it to Cheju in time for the fashion show.

Next stop, scenic Chinhae. We were not able to time it right for the Cherry Blossoms, but coming through the tunnel and over the mountain provided a spectacular view of the oceanscape and the city of Chinhae. Lovely.

The area around the bus terminal was packed with street vendors and shoppers alike; some kind of fair or festival was afoot. After a few failed attempts at getting a room for the night, finally we found a cheap place with vacancies. Again I did all the talking and Skylark, instead of acting Japanese, simply stayed silent. Weird. I was already regretting bringing her along.

I unlocked the door and walked into the room we were assigned. As I flipped on the light switch I saw a few cockroaches scurry out of sight down the side of the bed that was snugged up against the wall. Before I even took off my backpack I went over and pulled the bed away from the wall. Countless cockroaches scattered from out of a soiled towel that had been hiding back there and serving as their colonial headquarters for what must have been months. I freaked. I lost my marbles. I yelled for the Ajumma as loud as I could and she came a running all wig afire.

I agitatedly pointed out the nasty spectacle. Skylark silently watched while I helped the Ajumma understand that I needed another room. Now. She complied. I only saw a couple cockroaches in the new room so we stayed.

That cockroached nastiness persists in my memory like a piece of popcorn shell that gets stuck between your teeth and you can't get out. Other than that unfortunate episode, I found Chinhae to be a lovely city, with its Turtle Boat Rotary, rows of Cherry trees, ocean front views, and some of the best 탕수육 I ever tasted. And that, my friends, is not a euphemism.

Some Bus Tickets

South Korea, 1997

How about that?

Some Play Acting and a Flower Ring

South Korea, 1997

It was just getting dark when our bus arrived in Chinju. I knew that the area around Chinju Fortress had plenty of cheap accommodations so we grabbed a short cab over there. Skylark was traveling with 2 bags so we needed to first obtain lodging before traipsing around to get our sightsee on.

Neither of us had a ton of extra cash so we made the risky decision to share a cheap room at a cheap motel. I had no intention of hanky panky and I was pretty sure Skylark had no designs on my bones. And, as if we were not stared at enough for being a traveling international duo of American man and Korean woman, Skylark came up with a "bright" idea for our cover story when checking in to the motel.

For some reason she thought she could pass for a Japanese girl. She wanted me to speak only English to her and she would stammer English back. There were so many holes in her plan that I was dumbfounded as to where to begin shooting it down. I went along with it hoping to show how lame it was. An object lesson if you will.

We went up to the front desk of a cheap motel. It was wo-manned by two ladies one might call older, except there were probably the age that I am now, and I ain't "older." But they were clearly well aware of the primary reason that clients sought out their establishment, and they looked at us as if they knew what we were after.

I spoke to them in Korean, they looked past me and spoke to Skylark in Korean, she looked at me in a phony confused way, I spoke English to her really fast as if to sell she had strong skills, she said something basic in Korean-accented English, I spoke Korean to the two "older" ladies. Quite the ridiculous charade. I don't think anyone bought it, not for a second.

After much back and forth, we were able to get a room.

We dumped Skylark's luggage in the room and went out for some food. After food, we sightsaw. After sightseeing, we repaired to bed. I forgot a toothbrush. I went out to the front desk to ask if they had any on hand. I was directed to a vending machine at the top of the stairs. It had toothbrushes alright. It also had cigarettes and condoms. I noticed the brand name of the condoms and laughed out loud. The motel owners must have thought me the strangest of tourists as they watched my every move.

It might not be funny to anyone else but me. Maybe not even funny haha as much as funny weird. But the condom brand name was "꽃반지" (Flower Ring). That made me think of an old Korean pop song about putting on the Flower Ring you gave me (당신이준 꽃반지 끼고). Everyone knows that song. I don't know if everyone thinks of it euphemistically as I have from that moment in the lobby of a cheap motel in Chinju. I certainly don't think the young female pop star who originally sang it many years ago ever thought of it that way. That young girl who became so popular from that song that she disappeared to the States for 10 years, returned to Cheju Island, married The Master, and spent two weeks in early 1997 entertaining me by singing that song.

Think about that.

Chinju Revisited

South Korea, 1997 (with a flashback to the 80's)

I love the city of Chinju. I have loved it since first I went there. I love how you come up over the hill before entering town and the sides of the highway are so beautifully and colorfully landscaped. I love how you cross the river and see the Chinju Fortress. I love 촉석루 too--even though it is a difficult Korean thing to pronounce. I love the spoken accent, I love the rotaries, and I love my memories of my visit there in 1987 for the 개천예술제.

I have fond memories of going ringside to watch the great 이 준희 dominate at 씨름. I was intrigued by the cow fighting. The thing that sticks most in my memory from the first time I attended that festival is the traveling snake oil salesman. There was a large group gathered around as he spoke to them excitedly through a microphone. I couldn't really understand what he was saying, but I could understand what I saw. He brought a random child up from the audience. He forced a pill down the child's throat. He talked for a few minutes while I waited for I knew not what. He grabbed a clear glass and filled it with water. He pulled the child's pants down and scooped out a white ball from the child's crease and dropped the bolus in the glass. He stirred it up and walked around to show the shocked crowd all of the little worms that the magic pill had freed from their colonic domicile.

He brought two more children up and gave them each a pill. The kids were visibly uncomfortable having just seen what happened to the other kid. After a few minutes, the salesman pulled out a long tapeworm from each young boy. He quickly laid them out on a board and smashed them dead. He walked the board around to show us all. Quite an awesome display of on-demand de-worming. I'll never forget that scene from my first 개천예술제.

All those thoughts rushed back to me as Skylark and I entered Chinju city on our direct bus from Seoul...

Another Adventure Begins

Seoul, South Korea. Spring 1997

Skylark was hanging out with me and JT at our apartment one night. We were just talking and whatnot in bizarro "3's Company" style. I started talking about how I was going to go back to the Master's house pretty soon because they were having a Spring fashion show. I was looking forward to being one of the family again and seeing the beautiful island in warmer weather, and also seeing up close the models and good times that would be the fashion show. Skylark made mention of how she had never been to Cheju Island and would love to go someday. I, rather casually, suggested she go down with me on my next trip. You know how you invite someone expecting them to decline? With her working 2 jobs and being quite conservative, I never thought she would accept. But accept she did. On the spot. And with alacrity. JT went silent, got up, went in his room, and shut the door.

A few minutes later he came out, but instead of talking to us, he left the apartment. We heard his scooter buzz off down the street. Awkwardness. Skylark and I decided we should leave too and went to Shinjeong to a 24-hour Beer Land. We talked, drank beer, talked about Cheju, and I tried to figure out a graceful way to uninvite her. She told me she thought JT might be in love with her. Hmmm, I knew he would if he could, but I didn't think it had gotten as far as "love."

When I returned to the apartment JT was still up waiting for me. He was upset I had invited Skylark to Cheju with me. I told him I never thought she would accept and the invite was totally innocent. He told me he was convinced that if I got her down to the "Hawaii of Korea" she would let me sleep with her. Truthfully, I had no intention of doing any such thing with her--not so much because of JT, but because of her and because of my girlfriend back home in the States. But he was inconsolable.

Things were awkward between me and JT for the next few days, and finally it was time for me to depart for Cheju once again. Skylark showed up for the trip with two large bags, and dressed in stilettos and jeans--not exactly what the family Von Trapp would consider travel clothes. For some reason her outfit really annoyed me. Perhaps it was mostly because I didn't want her tagging along. Slip of the lip sinks the ship I guess...

We subwayed it to the express bus terminal. Skylark had never been on an express bus so she was uncomfortable buying tickets. I cut directly to the front of the queue, showed her a thing or two about her country, and bought us two seats on a direct bus to Kyoungnam's Chinju city.

I never saw JT again.

The Post-Referee Love Life

Seoul, South Korea. Spring 1997

I could fill a couple posts here with some of the fun things JT and I did in late March and early April of 1997 (Eating Dog Soup, Propositions in Myoung-Dong, Fact Finding in a Room Salon, etc...). But secretly I know you all are just wishing I would fast forward to the part where JT and I unbecame friends. I know I haven't written yet about that fact, but some of you are probably expecting it solely based on my history of losing friends as documented here. Well, not so fast dear reader; I'm not prepared to recount that whole drama in one go.

And so it was that in late March and early April of 1997, JT and I were still continuing our 9-year friendship. We were hanging with Skylark on a regular basis. Her English was not getting much better (as far as I could tell), but JT was apparently falling hard for her. Truthfully, I can easily understand that happening to him. She was a real cutie. Educated, employed with a day job and Arbeit (아르바이트), but perhaps a bit naive (I'm not sure if I already wrote about the story she told me of getting duped out of her whole paycheck? Some guy stopped her in the street and asked her to deliver an envelope of cash up the the 3rd floor of an office building; he was on crutches and couldn't climb the stairs. She agreed, but he asked for some collateral from her in case she decided to make off with his cash. She handed over the envelope that contained her monthly salary in cash--the Korean paycheck. She never looked inside the guy's envelope. If she had looked she would have realized it was filled only with valueless paper. Up to the 3rd floor she climbed feeling good about herself, only to return down and find the crutched man long gone with her cash. Bummer dude.) But she was really cute and just as sweet.

Anyway, JT had a long history of easily falling in and out of love. I never took it that seriously. Even in college when he got dumped and sulked by himself in our shared room for 2 days and blared The Smiths tune "How Soon Is Now." It seemed too staged to be truly sad, and before too long he was moving on to another.

Besides, I was still trying to help him connect with Ji-Su. I never figured him for the capacity to fall in love with more than one fair Korean at a time. I would soon find out how wrong I was...

The Ref

Seoul, South Korea. Spring 1997.

It took some doing, but JT and I finally got around to exploring the basement bar called "Green" near Omokkkyo Station. At one point before I arrived in Korea JT had followed a young hotty down there but was turned away at the door. Ever since he had been bugging me to take him there. And that is what I did.

Inside was pretty standard for a drinking establishment. Some tables in the center, some booths on one side, a sick Karaoke setup in the center, and some private rooms with frosted windows in the back. Semi-sexy videos played on the Karaoke screen, the clientele primarily male. We took up a booth that provided a nice view of the whole place and ordered some beers. An older hostess brought our drinks and a little dish of shelled peanuts. We could see no other working females.

After a couple lagers, I decided to get some buzz and energy up up in there. I got my Karaoke on like I do and the crowd responded. As soon as I took my seat again, 2 Korean gentlemen approached and asked permission to join us. One was a handsome, tall, slender guy who introduced himself as the owner. His mother was the primary hostess. And he owned a Japanese restaurant around the corner. In addition, he was a referee in the Korean National Basketball Association. He got it going on.

He invited us back into a private room where we could talk and enjoy some harder liquors. Four dudes in a private room with a bottle of whiskey and it didn't take long for the conversation to turn to ladies. A couple "one shot" cheers later and JT was prodding me to ask how he could get the Korean love he yearned for. That resulted in a long discussion (dissertation?) on the many flavors that were available. The Ref was very knowledgeable. In the end he mentioned that there was a place right next door that just might suit JT's more immediate needs. "One shot" again and off the four of us went.

Next door was a massage (안마) place that we walked past almost everyday on the way to Omokkyo Station. The Ref walked us in and up to the counter on the second floor. He told the girl why we were there. She picked up a phone and summoned the talent. Out from behind a curtain came 3 gals all wearing matching striped sweaters and black skirts. The Ref turned to me and simply said: "골라봐." I turned to JT and told him to choose. He chose. The Ref told me how much it was, I told JT, he pulled out all his cash and it was almost enough to cover the 145,000 Won fee (~$125 in today's money). The Ref pitched in to cover the rest.

The girl from the counter came around and took JT behind the curtain. The 3 of us that remained looked at each for a moment, then we left. Outside, I said goodbye to the Ref and his friend and went back to JT's apartment and passed out.

A couple hours later, JT returned all a twitter. I was a bit surprised he was back so soon; I thought maybe he'd put in an effort to get his money's worth. Giddy and giggly, he spared no detail. I will spare you though. Cliff's Notes: hot shower, robe, blind masseuse, striped sweater, junk scrub, double coverage, full service, out.

I never saw the Ref again.

Hippocrates and Hoops

Seoul, South Korea. Spring 1997

Back in Seoul after 2 weeks at The Master's house. Our apartment was tight with all four of us there (JT's brother and new wife had returned by now). But it was only for a few days until I began substitute duties once again. I moved in just down the street to house sit and sub for a young couple who were headed to Kiwi land for a Visa jump and a honeymoon.

Teaching their classes was just more of the same; nothing spectacular to make mention of. Outside of classes, however, some notable things did happen during those 10 days.

1. I got sick. I shrivved alone in a stranger's apartment on the toilet. I had the vomits and the squirts. It was not good. I was pretty sure it was something I ate. One can never be certain but there was a sunny-side-up egg that made me nervous when I ate it. Later that day...down with the grippe. And I don't even like the flavor or consistency of a semi-cooked egg yolk in the first place. That's why I prefer the stone bowl 비빔밥 over the metal bowl variety.

Luckily, I was in Korea and a pharmacy is always as close as the nearest corner. So I heaved up on over there and presented myself in all my foul glory. I told the pharmacist I had vomiting and diarrhea. The pharmacist asked me if I ate something spicy. That's basic, first year med school learning there. But the answer can be tricky for the non-Korean. If I say I ate something spicy (because of course I had, being in Korean and all), they might treat that even though I knew that was not the problem; I've eaten stuff that would make a billy goat puke. Even if I tell the pharmacist that I eat spicy food well, they might still treat me for "foreigner with spicy food ingestionitis." And one doesn't like being a foreigner who eats spicy food well and is perceived as one who doesn't. Does one?

So I lied and said no I hadn't, but I normally eat spicy food well. Rather I think it was something rotten or uncooked that did me in. That's what I told the growing audience of pharmacists that was gathering to hear my tale of woe. That seemed to set all kinds of Hippocratic wheels in motion and before long I left with several paper packets, each filled with a variety of pills and something that looked like sawdust. Needles, I hate. Pills, I adore. So there you go.

That was one thing that happened.

2. I watched the Arizona Wildcats win the NCAA hoops championship on AFKN. That happened too.

3. JT and I met a referee from the KNBA. But that's a much longer story...