He comes waddling into class with not the slightest somber resonance, but when he parks his can, and is pressed upon for a mood, suddenly the skies cloud over and down trickles a significant solitary tear. Staring off into the deep dark corner of the room, the 12 year-old displays a look as if he’s pondering the destruction of his wife recently leaving him and monopolizing custody of their kids. Reality reveals he may have just lost his favorite pencil.
So it is, gearing into a final take on the land of 102 restaurants and bars...per street.
As the 60 year-old grandma attendant of our local 7-11 adamantly draws me back to the store counter, grabs the MGD from my bony hands and cracks it open with the bottle opener securely stored on the wall behind the counter, it hit me like a bottle of Fresh Soju, I’m due for some last spillage from the Republic of Korea.
Cruising in a KIA, stopping and starting with hundreds of street lights, pull up to one of numerable major intersections in Seoul and spot a bus in synch with a lit red light, with something amiss, the driver is absent. Darting eyes notice a uniformed man standing in front of the parked city transporter, cigarette in mouth. Hostaging a packed bus and trapping many unaware vehicles behind, the man knows his marathonesque Korean light changes, so he takes er easy, savours each haul in its due time, casually flips the butt upon completion and strolls on board in what happens to be perfect synchronization with the oncoming green light.
Every single restaurant and fast food joint offers take-out delivery. Heard right, MacDonald's to the mom & pop diners have helmetless bikers whizzing around with your heat preserved munchies. More unfathomable, the efficiency of the system considering there are no street names and endless apartments. Only one finger shows the times they have mistakenly come unsuspectingly knockin my way. More convenient is post-meal, where the worries of dispelling trash are scrapped since the restaurant's throw you their own plates. So when the belly is content, dirty dishes can be piled outside your front door and... hours later it's vanished, swooped up by the motorbike champ doing rounds. To think it's all done on no tip or service charge! Swallowing this and the quantity of delivered food that is fried, it's truly surprising Asians remain so thin.
Despite the promotion of laziness, sometimes you want to get out to the restaurants, if only to glimpse the foods origin. Me and my lady friend can be imaged, lounging at a typical Korean floor seated restaurant, munching on some meat soup, side dishes galore. After devouring our prized sliced cold carrots, our server voluntarily hurries us some more, yet this time upon our finished enjoyment, she doesn't go to the kitchen again. Rather, without hesitation she non-chalantly walks straight over to the table of the couple beside us, grabs there remaining dish of delicious orange slices, casually strolls back to our spread and bravely empties its contents onto our empty carrot plate. No shame.
Remember being in Grade 1 and learning about 'Little Red Riding Hood' and getting all riled up at why that friggin square block wouldn't go into the hollow triangle shaped placement. How the world has evolved ...or if I'm not being ignorant, how Asia has. Strange to place yourself in these foreign language countries, stare down at the English curriculum and realize you're required to go teach Grade 1 Koreans about the harmful consequences of corporations disregarding pollution regulations. With the daunting ahead, you're still trying to get your head around your lack of morality the day before,...while lecturing on the negative symptoms of drugs and alcohol, one youngster eagerly raised a hand to drag out a personal tale whereby their grandparents "drink alcohol all the time and than they start fighting and hitting each other". Fighting off the urge of non-tolerance back home, you unwillingly conceded to cultural norms and just rolled on.
Scene: Gym locker room. With no slight sign of embarrassment and in plain view of all gym patrons changing, a 25-year old Korean whips out flexible measuring tape, wraps it around his bicep and anxiously notes the exact measurement.
If the mold slowly encapsulating the entire walls of my cockroach infested apartment wasn't a strong enough alarm clock, than the 4am wake up call by the Korean burglar I chased out of the shithole and through the streets of Seoul stamped home the message, its time to keep on running to the airport.
On a plane, on a plane, off to see the home country again.
Before departing, I'd like to pass along some beautifully done Korean films. We all hate reading subtitles, but these ones prove more than worthy and add value to the picture. I'm not just passing along some alright flicks, these are world wide film festival acclaimed and will have an impact. Find the trailers here...
Old Boy and its epic fight scene
The Chaser (based on a true story which happened a few years ago in Seoul)
Caught my Korean buddy play a popular venue here in Seoul, unfortunately it was 8pm on a Tuedsay night and his was the first of five bands on the bill. Given the circumstances, one had to be content debuting original material for only a handful of peeps. Yet, he impressed and was asked to come back on the weekend (too bad he is taking off for a life in England this same weekend). Anyway, here's a glimpse at his act, surprisingly they aren't all synchronized dancers and Pop stars in Korea.