Sunday, September 6, 2009

Let's begin.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
- T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Don't get me wrong. I think of this city, Seoul, not as a vast catacomb but an enourmous tree, ever-growing, ever moving in the wind, with roots that traverse mountain and river and the small forest creatures that use them as a means of transportation. It's beautiful, in its own right; ugly at times, crude at the bend and raw at others -- when you can see sewage traveling three feet below you through open grates, you know you're in the heart of the beast.

It has been two weeks, though technically one, since I've been in this apartment, living in what they call a 'castle' and I call a glorified dorm room. The living conditions are... tenuous, to say the least. The glow-in-the-dark stickers that cover the ceiling and walls are the only stars I've seen since arriving. The only hint of there being anything but Seoul in this universe is the full moon that hangs over the river some times, framed by the square exit of the metro.

Once again, don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I'm merely writing facts as if I were reporting this to the AP wire or swearing before a court of law. From what I've seen of Seoul, it is unlike every city and like every city -- it is dirty, it is crowded, and it is busy. But it's also productive, alive, and able. The people here are proud, the students are eager, and the feeling is mutual. What else is there but to enjoy the positive aspects and ignore the negative?

As for coping -- the best remedy comes in the form of a friend, or two, or more. Having friends whom one can relate to has brought with it the benefit of being understood and not speaking slowly and clearly; whatever dialect you speak with you are able to use freely. When drifting feels like the only option, it's nice to be grounded by a good friend and a hamburger.

Speaking of burgers... let's talk about it. Hamburger meat in Seoul might as well be called gold. Finding beef that isn't 8,000 ($6.46) won or more for half a pound is like finding the end of the rainbow. Chicken is rampant and cheap, but you can't make a good burger with chicken (don't try to argue with me). So yesterday, on one of those "anchor days" with friends, I discovered Kraze Burgers -- and it was good.

This was the branch at the COEX mall, off of the Samseung exit on line 2. I ordered take-out, which, according to the waitress came with a drink but it seemed as though I was charged for it. No big deal. The KB Original was my burger of choice -- a small burger, by American standards, but I'd be damned if I said that it didn't make me feel better about the gratuitous amounts of kimchi I've digested.

One distinct difference between this burger and its American counterpart is the pickles. I've never had a burger in America with 'bread & butter' style pickles, but there's a first time for everything, and needless to say it worked. The hamburger was crumbly rather than stiff, which I found interesting. By the time I was finished, no more than 5 minutes later, I was thoroughly satisfied. This is the meal I need at least once a week in the beginning; maybe longer periods can pass as time goes by. But for my fix, for those times when one's stomach feels more akin to a washing machine than a food processing plant, Kraze Burger saves the day.

Since this is my first post in this blog, I wanted to give an impression of where I'm coming from, or what kind of lens I'm looking through. This is a blog of happiness and desperation; of sadness and joy. I'm not a down-to-earth traveler; I'm here for the experience, both good and bad. No lies, no secrets. Honesty is the key.

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