April 20-22, 1997

The Poet and I parted ways at Kimpo and I made for Mokdong. I already told you I never saw JT again, but most of my stuff was still at his apartment. I needed to collect it and I didn't really want to run into him and have a dramatic scene. So I first went to Shinjeong and secured a small, cheap room at a motel.

Having settled in there I waited for the hour when I was pretty sure JT would be teaching and I went to collect my things. I let myself in with my key and was surprised to find JT's brother sitting in the kitchen. I told him I was only there to get my stuff and I would be out of there. He gave me a look that was kinda sympathetic and kinda confused at the same time. I didn't volunteer any other information like where I was staying or when I was headed back to the States. Humping my giant backpack, I left.

Back at my cheap motel room I called the airline office in Seoul and got my flight back to the States moved up a day. That would leave me 2 nights and one full day to tie up the loose ends of this trip. Shopping, packing, fare thee wells.
I stopped in at MeongSeok's traditional tea and cocktail house in Insadong. He was not there, but I noticed a poem by the Poet was decorating one wall. I asked the Arbeit girl about MeongSoek and she called him up. He told the girl to give me some liquor to take with me. I ended up with two bottles of Hongju to enjoy once I got home.

On my last day, I grabbed the 5 line back to Kimpo. Skylark met me there to say goodbye; I was a little surprised she was still speaking to me, but she was the only friend I had left in Seoul. At Passport control, Skylark asked me to write to her. I told her I would not. We said goodbye and I crossed over.

I bought some Ginseng to help use up my extra Korean cash. In my pocket I found 2 partly used phone cards. I had no further use for them so I gave them to the Ginseng sales girl. She was very gracious and gave me this:
And thus ended my 3-month affair with the Land of the Morning Calm.

April 19-20, 1997

Time to move on. All remaining guests, myself, and the Master made for the northern side of the island. Instead of heading for the airport or the ferry terminal, we pulled into a quiet neighborhood to the west of Jeju City. We entered the master's mother's house. The property gates were made of rocks piled high just like the Master's house. It was a large two-story home with huge picture windows that looked out towards the sea. A yard that was large by Korean standards, and a smaller dwelling off to the side built into the side of a hillock. We were to sleep in the side house and leave for the mainland in the morning.

In the night, the dog ate my Nikes. When I woke up I was upset about it and remarked that the dog (개) ate my shoes. The Master quickly corrected me that the puppy (강아지) ate my shoes. Think about that.

That morning we all set out for the ferry terminal to catch a boat to Wando. Some of the crew in the car with me included (left to right) the Producer, the Professor, and the Poet.
The ferry approaches Wando.
In Wando city we ate our final meal together and went many separate ways. The Master went off to Jiri Mountain. The Poet and I needed to get up to Seoul so the Master sent us to Kwangju to catch a plane. Without any flight reservations, the Poet and I went straight to the airport. I was convinced we would never make it onto a plane that day. We waited for an hour or so until our names were called, boarded for Seoul and took off. The Poet paid for the tickets (or maybe it was the Master's money...I don't know).

We parted ways when we landed at Kimpo. I never saw the Poet again. Or the Professor. Or the Producer. Or the Potter or his wife.

The Master? More on that later...

April 18, 1997. Gone Fishin'

All of the guests who were still at the Master's house piled in cars and headed to the ocean front. We took all manner of fishing gear and tackle, worms, rice, kimchi, Ramen, Soju, and a travel burner. The weather was gorgeous. Here are some of the 갈옷 - clad fellas getting their angling on. From far left to right: CheongJeon, MeongSeok, MinCheol, the Master. Not pictured but also present on this excursion: The Potter of Euijeongbu, The Potter's wife, The Poet (one of his poems decorates the walls of MeongSeok's traditional tea house in Insa-dong), and a Korea Hollywood director who would later offer me pot out of the trunk of his car (odd how there is so much fuss these days about the foreigners and their drugs, when the only time I had weed offered me was from a Korean dude).

Each fishing pole had several hooks, each hook had some kind of worm I had never seen before--kinda looked like a huge green millipede. We caught quite a few fishies that looked like bluegill but were orange in color. While the manfolk fished, the Potter's wife made rice and put the Ramen on to boil. When the first couple orange bluegill came out of the ocean, they went straight into the pot. They next few were filleted and enjoyed raw. It doesn't get much fresher than that.

Here is MeongSeok, the Potter's wife, and two others I don't remember. All are enjoying the ramen and fresh seafood over rice concoction. Oh, and soju.
Here the Potter's Wife is explaining something to me about MinCheol (the goatee is new from the last time we saw him).
Here is CheongJeon playing the Daegeum* with his long hair flowing in the ocean breeze.
Here is me pretending to play the Daegeum. They put me up to it. Something about the beautiful backdrop and the carefree mood of the day made us all a bit romantic.

*Daegeum (large transverse flute): The daegeum is one of three bamboo wind instruments of the Unified Silla period.

April 16-17, 1997

Cheju, South Korea

April 16 was spent mostly recuperating from the backyard BBQ party the night before. Many guests spent the night. Together we lounged the day away with lots of instant coffee and sitting on the floor.

April 17. The Master took me in to Seogwipo city area to meet an older Korean gentleman that he had quite some respect for. This guy ran a 귤 orchard. Immaculate, well maintained. We walked around and had a look, mostly for my benefit as neither of them directed much conversation my way. After the tour we went inside.

Our host flipped on the television to some Sumo tournament in Japan. The Master referred to the wrestlers as "그 놈들." He talked about how "those 놈s" do all those pre-bout rituals like throwing the salt and raising one leg and then squatting, and they don't even know why they do them. He said the reason for the one leg raise and squat was to get their testicles to hang down lower. I didn't follow up on that to learn why they need more dangly manspheres, but I'm sure the Master would've had the answer.

The Master and the host pulled out the Paduk board and started an extended series. I am not sure who won their epic battle because I fell asleep sitting upright in a chair. I woke up to an unfamiliar aroma. The Master was performing Moxibustion on the host's hands. He lit little incense-like nubs that had an adhesive backing and placed them strategically on the crucial spots. Somehow the Master knew all the acupoints to treat whatever ails and he would point them out and describe the treatment. He said you wanted them to get hot, but not burn. Pretty soon I had a few piles burning on my hands. When it was all over, both the host and myself had brown burn circles all over our hands and wrists.

That was a first. And a last.

We returned to the Master's house for an evening of soju and song with the remaining guests.

April 15, 1997

Cheju, South Korea

I wasn't able to meet up with the Master until after the fashion show. He took my hand and marched me backstage as it were, and we watched as reporters and photographers circled his wife. She held bouquets of flowers and smiled graciously--befitting her celebrity.

The Master then put me into one of the many cars that were heading back to his stone manor in the sticks. Before we pulled out he told me that JT had been calling for me; left me several messages asking for me to call him back. And so it was that the long drive from Cheju city out to the Moseulpo area was spent thinking about how my next conversation with JT might go.

I didn't think there was any way JT could know that Skylark was not with me any longer. But I was pretty sure he had spent the past few days obsessing about what she and I might be doing. I thought it might be bothering him, but I never expected it to drive him mad. So while I waited for the rest of the Master's family and guests to arrive, I called up JT in Seoul. He wasted no time ripping into me. The conversation was long and difficult, but there are two things he said that I will never forget.

First he told me he had given Skylark his heart. He kept saying that phrase: "I gave her my heart." And he blamed me for stealing her from him. That's odd for three reasons: she wasn't interested in him, I wasn't interested in her in that way, and he had only known her for about 6 weeks when he "gave her his heart." So sad.

The second thing he said that I will never forget: he said "maybe we never were friends." Maybe we never were friends? We knew each other 9 years. We roomed at college for 2 years, and spent one summer selling Kirby vacuums together. We road tripped to San Diego and Tijuana together. I went to his first wedding (in Vegas ~1992 where I won $3275 playing poker well before the poker boom). Not friends? Never were friends? Over a girl he hardly knew? Hmmmph.

That revelation really threw me. I avoided the party outside for quite some time until the Master came indoors and found me alone with my thoughts. I explained what happened. He told me to come outside and join the party. And so I did.

The party was 50 or so likeminded Korean revelers, lots of Soju, and several open fires with meat grilling all around the backyard. Despite my melancholy, the party was unsurpassed. Kind of old school, a tad third world, primal, and me as out of place as can be. Yummy meat everywhere. Models. Good times. And soon enough the singing started. The Master and several of the partiers knew I had some Korean songs in me at the ready and they pressed me into service. I resisted for a moment, then gave in. However, instead of falling back on JuJu Club, I busted out a heartfelt song in English by a band that JT and I both loved and had seen in concert together more than once. It was a kind of final tribute to a friendship that never was:

Talking fast couldn't tell me something
I would shed my skin for you
Talking fast on the edge of nothing
I would break my back for you
Don't know why, don't know why
Things vaporize and rise to the sky

I continued singing, feeling it, bringing it like I do, until I finished. At that point I realized my eyes had been closed for the whole song. I opened them to see a bunch of Koreans staring at me like I was from outer space. Awkward silence. And then came the pressure to break off some K-pop.

And so I did.

April 14-15, 1997

Pusan --> Cheju, South Korea
With my ticket in my hot little hand, I filed my backpack in a pay locker and headed to Nampo-dong to kill the last couple hours before ferrying to Cheju. That place had changed a lot, but still had the great energy that I originally fell in love with. Sadly, there was a triple-decker McDonalds where my favorite record store once stood. I went ahead and ate a Big Mac since I knew it would be rice 3 times a day once I got to the Master's house.

After my brief walk down a distorted memory lane, I made my way back to the ferry terminal. Quite a large crowd had grown outside the terminal, most of them were college-aged girls. It seems a field trip was happening. An all girls university was sending hundreds of their co-eds down to lovely Cheju island for a spell. And we would share the ferry.

The overnight ferry ride passed quickly as one-by-one the students offered up their kimpap to me (not a euphemism), exchanged email addresses with me, and tried out their freshest English skills on me. None of us slept a wink.

We parted on arrival and I found myself alone with all morning and most of the afternoon to pass before the fashion show was scheduled to begin. I sat by myself in a coffee shop for hours, reading my Lonely Planet guide. I shopped a bit and bought some wooden Buddha bead bracelets that I still have. I bought a postcard and mailed it home to my parents. I was a real tourist.
By late afternoon I made my way over to the big outdoor theater where the fashion show was to be held. It was a pleasant April day, and I was in my shirt sleeves. The first familiar face I saw was Kimi's. She was busy busy but stopped to talk it over. Her mom was in a frenzy dealing with models and outfits and whatnot, and The Master had not arrived yet. I went inside and greeted Kimi's mom and looked at some models wearing their persimmon-dyed 갈옷. That was downright decent.

The seats were starting to fill up and I just milled around. I spotted a couple whiteys and before I could avoid them totally they came over and chatted me up. They were young American missionaries. They had a lot more questions about me than I had about them. I've said it before somewhere, but somebody really needs to document some rules of engagement or behavior protocols for expats when they see another expat. Is a greeting required? Or must one avoid even the vaguest acknowledgement? The road cyclists have universal protocols requiring a nod or wave to any other cyclist they see, Taxi drivers from the same company are required to nod or salute each other. Bus drivers too. When are the expats gonna get their act together and agree on what to do?

Soon enough, Yong-i (the Dragon) came up and whisked me off to our seats in the crowd.

April 14, 1997 Cont'd

Pusan, South Korea

Skylark did not take it very well when I told her that I would not be taking her with me to Cheju. She pouted, she argued, she cried. Among the many things she said was that she was afraid she would never see Cheju Island in her lifetime if she didn't go with me now. I told her she needed to get out more. She didn't need a foreigner to come over and show her around her own country like a pro bono tour guide. We spent over an hour in the subway station hashing out what to do next. What an international spectacle we must have appeared. It was not fun.

In the end I convinced her that our little excursion together was over. We left the subway station and caught a taxi to the train station. In her current emotional state, I was pretty sure she could not manage to get on a train to Seoul by herself so I went with and bought the ticket. I saw her onto the train and watched it depart.
On my own once again, I made for the ferry terminal and booked as follows: