Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jesus Omurice, a loach! Get in the car!

In the future, when I speak about going to church, I will have to address it from the point of view of a person who has been to a Korean Presbyterian church. When asked if I've been Baptized (my family is Baptist), I'll say, "no, but I did watch a chorus of bow-tie laden women sing Jesus Loves the Little Children in Korean.'" It will be my way of saying that I've been absent from the pew for a number of years without having to say that I gave up the faith; it'll just be understood.

Of course I couldn't understand a word they said, whispered or screamed. I did understand when a man told me that he loved me having just met me, but I was later told that he meant "through Jesus." So then why did he grab my ass? I speak as if this church was any different from an American church, but the opposite is true. The only real difference was the language, and despite that, I understood when the preacher read John 3:16. It reminded me of sausage biscuits and Windex; these were the smells of the school bus that took me to church every Sunday when my dad herded us through the door.

I'm not an atheist, but I'm not a believer, either. When I think of heaven and hell, the sun and Jupiter, Omicron Persei 8 and our vast Milky Way, I think: What the hell do we know? and I leave it at that.

Church service was followed up by a traditional meal of Loach Stew, which reminded me again of my childhood, when my family would all squat on the floor and eat powdered fish off of small tables, surrounded by kimchi. Loaches are apparantly fish, but, though my friend's English is excellent, his accent some times makes an 'l' sound like an 'r', and thus I thought I was going to be punished; that somehow they knew that I was lying when they asked me to stand if I was a believer and I did.

The stew, like most jjigae (Korean soup or stew), tasted at first like soybean paste, which disappointed me; a lot of the stew tastes like soybean paste, which is fine, but kind of monotonous. But, after the second or third spoonful, I was thrilled with these new flavors, those of powdered fish and whatever else. I couldn't tell you. I do know that it looked like a bowl of dissolved toilet paper. A delicious bowl of dissolved toilet paper, it was. I turned to my friend when he asked if I was enjoying it and said, "I'm getting jjigae with it." In my home country, this would have at least received a groan or two.

After the soup, we were given a Korean style pancake made of spinach and loach. I wasn't as happy with it as I was the stew, but by that time I could feel my belt tightening and the kimchi coming up on me.

Later, after a healthy dose of The X-Files back at the loft (if I call it something grandiose it makes me feel better), me and my Korean friend caught District 9 at the fanciest movie theater I have ever had the pleasure of viewing a movie in. First, it was 10 stories off the ground. Second, it is decorated as if it were Halloween 365 days a year. And third, the bathroom stall had wall paper designed to make it look like the inside of a shoe store.

This theater, in the Podo Mall in Silim, was fascinating. You must take a number to buy your tickets. Kind of like a pharmacy. Or a cattle slaughterhouse. Then you select seats from a digital display and hope that they're good. Afterward, you wait in a lobby until a sign tells you that you can begin seating, kind of like an airport lounge. Or a cattle slaughterhouse. The ushers were incredibly polite, using runway hand signals to steer us into our seats, where we would deploy the breaks and hope to god we don't burst in to flames.

It's really funny seeing the Korean translation of the South African pronunciation of "fuck." Fook man. Fook!

And then: omurice. A mound of rice canopied by a thin omelete, usually surrounded by something else, like a pork cutlet or several dismembered fingers. I had mine with seafood curry tomato sauce. For five thousand won (about $4.50), I had a meal comparable to any I've had at a fancier Korean establishment. Take pride in your culinary extravagance for so little, Korea, it's truly a gift.

As I sit on my springy bed digesting thirty different sea creatures and rice, I cough consistently and wonder if I'll ever get over my cold. Short answer: yes, long answer: no, with a maybe. Jesus.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A watery grave. A delicious watery grave.

I walked out of my elementary school three weeks ago thinking of how exhausted I had become since arriving in Korea. The sun wasn't at its brightest, but it was still abrasive -- like watching a flickering bulb, it was in need of an impenetrable cover (or a hammer to the surface). The abrasion on my sunglasses refracted the light in such a way that I thought I was looking through a kaleidoscope. To put it in to simpler terms: I had a migraine, and it was not going away. The dirt lot that, in America we would call "abandoned property" but in Korea is called a playground, kicked with all its might at my nostrils and drove my sinus problems in to overdrive.

But my misery was soon relinquished, when I hopped in to an SUV on my way to an "octopus" restaurant. I honestly wish that I could say that I have pictures -- but I don't. I forgot my camera. I am a dunderhead. However, I'll attempt to describe to the best of my abilities the unexpected experience I had just two doors away from my own home.

We sat at a small table, just the four of us, and I relaxed. In this country I don't have to worry about the choices on the menu, because, save for a few choice words in English "DISCOUNT" or "BATHROOM", I couldn't read it if I tried. Lucky for me, my hosts for the night were fluent Koreans who knew just what to order -- and I know they told me the name of everything (Jukbumi? Chorlaoni? I can't even guess), but I'll need to have them write it down as if I had a puzzle in my mind and their hands held the key to cracking it. Or, a better analogy, I am the invisible plank and only their writing can toss the sand needed to see it. Get it?!

Our waitress brought out a tray littered with greens of many a shade of green, atop of which lay various vegetables -- green onions, squash and mushrooms, alongside a heaping amount of red chili paste and what looked like three tiny octopus clamoring for the sweet release of death. Technically they were already dead, I just really wanted to say "the sweet release of death." With a turn of the knob, the fire under the plate came to life, which made the liquid in the pan boil, which in turn made the greens wilt and the entire pot look like one lump of food.

At this point I thought to myself, "For what we're paying, there doesn't seem to be a lot of octopus." Funny how simple statements are answered. A moment later, a woman carrying a bucket and a pair of tongs appeared, looking ready to surprise and intimidate. She spoke Korean to my host and then from out of the bucket rose a Lovecraftian horror. Actually, it was a typical octopus, writhing and grabbing a hold of anything it could get its sticky little suckers on in fear of death, though I think it knew what was coming. These sea-creatures are rather adept at knowing when death is around the corner.

Without hesitation, the waitress shoved the octopus in to the boiling heap and then used the tongs to cover the kind-hearted cephalopod with greens. This heaving mass of whatever the herbs were looked like the living dead trying to break through the frost covered ground of a cemetery in a Romero flick. This night was just full of death. Delicious, tasty death. A moment later, the movement stopped, and out came the scissors, with which the waitress snipped off every tentacle in to bite sized pieces.

I was served pieces of octopus, vegetables, and herbs along side rice and kimchi. The churning in my stomach, which had been the product of watching a living creature snuff it and then become the victim of brutal mass amputation, subsided and I realized that either in front of me or not, this octopus would have ate it some how before I ate him. Poor fellow, making the ultimate sacrifice to later wallow in a sewer. This is the circle of life.

I noticed a large piece of octopus lying in the broth, two of them actually, and I began to worry. This was the head, in which were organs and beaks and killer brains, all of which I had never eaten from an octopus before, and all of which I knew would soon be offered to me as if doing so would insure bountiful crops for the next year. Surely, once again not a moment later, I was offered the head -- "It's good for the man," they said, which I believe is the same as saying "Here, you eat this" because they say it every time they want me to eat something that I wouldn't consider part of a balanced diet back in the States. But I took it so as not to be a hypocrite (when I complain about Westerners not eating the food they're offered), and I ate it. To my surprise, it tasted like beef liver, and I like liver. Same consistency (save for the skin, which was slightly chewy) and nutty flavor. Of course, the only difference is that afterward I had an erection for a week.

This occurred two weeks ago, maybe, but I've been lagging behind updating this blog recently and I blame swine flu for that. I don't have swine flu, but I know that it's easy to place the blame on it and therefore I will. There are no picture to accompany my previous story, and so I shall share pictures of the Jeonju Sori Festival I attended one week ago today.

In a way, you can say that I'm a traveler, but in another more honest way, you can say that I'm a follower. That is, I'm not the one in charge of planning a lot of the things I do. The interesting things. Boramae Park was of my own accord, but eating octopus? That was all my co-teacher. Going to Jeonju? Courtesy of my recruiter. And I seem to like it this way -- I know nothing about the country or the customs for the most part, and so I want to experience it through the eyes and in the footsteps of those in the know.

On Saturday morning I took a bus, along with thirty others, to Jeonju, which is in Jeollabuk-do, some three hours away from Seoul to the South. Once leaving Seoul, you realize just how much of the country you're missing -- the rolling hills, the beautiful green, and the clear air. Even on the bus I could appreciate seeing the tombs lining the streets, equivalent to statues of immortal men, at least this is my impression of them.

I'm not sure if I want to talk about everything I did. Could get boring. Instead, I think I'll provide pictures and let them do the talking (they are all on Facebook. If you have my Facebook, you can see them, if not ask). Just note that I stayed in a traditional Korean village, I ate bibimbap (mixed rice), and I strolled through the night, breathing deeply and meditating on life in general. It's a good place to think, next to multi-colored fountains and gentle water wheels.

Next time I do something interesting, I'll write about it immediately. Promise.