Alright, my trip to Seoul. Originally, my plan was to go to Jeju Island (sometimes called the Hawaii of Korea) for the 4 day weekend that just passed and then to head to Seoul on the 6 day weekend, since Seoul has so much more to see. But I was lazy about plane tickets, and the one I did buy turned out to be somewhat fraudulent (don’t worry, I didn’t get charged), so when Thursday came I had to revise my plans. There were still plenty of train tickets for Seoul, so that’s where I headed.
It all really started on Thursday morning, when I had to go down to the department store to buy the train ticket, since I’m too fussy to just buy one at the station. I didn’t really have a clue where the department store was, but I looked on a map at the school and realized that I had previously explored the area and that I’d passed by it on many a bus. I found it pretty easily.
Outside, I was once again theologically harassed by a member of the Church of God (not very big in America – these people believe some stuff about the Holy Mother [who’s not Mary] and that Job’s description of the rain cycle [“The lord bringeth the rain up from the seas then maketh it fall once more] is so scientifically advanced and accurate that it constitutes proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible), but I dismissed her more curtly than usual and went about my business. I rode the escalator up about 8 floors, stopping on each one to browse around and see if there was anything I needed there that I couldn’t find at my usual shopping venues. I quickly reconfirmed that I wasn’t interested in clothes, home electronics, furniture, or pretty much anything else that was for sale, so I just went on to the ticket booth. Actually, that was a lie. One thing caught my eye: the backpack section with lots of nice little travel backpacks. I looked at a few but decided that 33000 won (~$33) was too much.
I then bought the ticket (all in Korean), went home, and I just now realized that I forgot to talk about something else I ought to mention.
All that stuff happened on Thursday; the night before, there was a squash tournament at my gym. The end of June and beginning of July was a pretty lazy time for me, since the students had their school exams and many were taking a break from their ridiculous academy schedule to study other stuff. I had about 3 hours of work between 3 and 730, then a break, then class again at 930. I had been using the time to study Korean, have long dinners, or chat with coworkers, but because of the squash tournament I managed to cajole another teacher into covering for me so that I could head out early. In return, I had to work an extra half hour on Friday night, but it was worth it.
I headed to the gym and the owner and coach and other members were glad I could make it, mostly because I think they wanted to show off their foreigner to the other gym who was visiting for the tournament. We set up about 18 matches, but we only have one really good game court, so there was lots of bumming around, eating bananas and other power-snacks, warming up, watching, and clapping. It turned out that I was number 14 and I didn’t actually play my match until about 10:30, so I really didn’t need to skip out of work early. Anyhow, I lost my match 21-17, but I was playing against the other gym’s number 1, and he was a total pusher. (That’s a tennis word referring to someone who doesn’t really do anything of his own, preferring rather to keep the ball in play until the other guy messes up. It’s a valid strategy and all – it’s just really annoying and really easy to complain about when you lose.)
After that, almost all of us went to some restaurant beneath the gym (which is on the 5th floor) and occupied one entire wing. We sat around tables on the floor, and in the middle of each table was a pot of hot coals, over which the workers placed some grates, so that we could slap on some meat and get to grilling. We stayed at the restaurant until probably about 230 in the morning. Much meat and soju (Korean equivalent of vodka but only half as strong, I think) and little side dishes were consumed, many laughs were had, much terrible English was spoken to me, much terrible Korean was given in return. The gym directors drunkenly exchanged friendship speeches, and then our gym gave theirs a box full of sport socks as a hospitality gift. The other gym’s members left a little early, as did the women from our gym, but we manly men just stood around outside yelling at each other and giving each other hugs. One of them in particular kept pounding his chest with one fist and then asking me to give him a “Harlem Hug.” The whole fiasco must have lasted a solid 30 minutes.
The hugs thing there reminds me that I had been wanting to write about how the owner of my gym and the coach have, in the past few months, taken to slapping my butt both upon morning arrival and after my squash matches. I’m not sure how it started, but I am pretty sure I must have given them the green light a few days later when I said “I couldn’t come to the gym yesterday, so my butt was lonely.” It’s like living in the Bartmer house again, except nobody has a beard. Often, after either a faux-argument or a less-than-gentle bumslap, we apologize to each other by making hearts with our arms. It never ceases to entertain us.
I think one aside nested inside another aside is probably confusing enough, so I’ll try to get back to my story. We all went home after declaring friendship and brotherhood on the abandoned street (most of those guys I had never met before and haven’t seen since), and then I got up the next morning and went to the department store. Then all the stuff in the department store that I already wrote about happened, and I left. I lunched (back in those days I was having pasta and salad, since I had bought some sweet mozzarella at Costco) and then went on my way to the school.
First, though, I stopped at the thrift store to check out their backpack selection. I found one cruddy little backpack that said “Daegu University;” I thought it a pretty sweet find. It was ratty, simple, and had a little bit of character. Plus it only cost 1000 won. While I was trying it on, and trying to justify the expenditure to myself, one of the worker ladies pointed out that there was another backpack on the wall I might be interested in. Lo and behold, it was the exact same thing I had been too stingy (perhaps some would say too wise) to buy at the department store. For 1/11 the price. 3000 won. 3 bucks. Bam. I snatched that thing up immediately, took it to work, and then tried to brag about saving the 30000 won to all of my coworkers.
Anyhow, that’s 2 pages and I haven’t even mentioned Seoul. Also, I have class in 45 minutes and am still at home in my boxers. The temperature in my apartment is a pleasant 29.4C, which, for you people who never bothered to learn how to convert to the sweeter system, is about 85F. Not to mention that have an errand to run before hand – an American friend has a head cold, so I’m going to swing by his school and drop of some Tylenol. Thus, I really must go. I’ll try to write about Seoul tonight if I’m not entirely exhausted.