Elwood 5566

Song-So in Transition

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Westerners by 노강호 on June 19, 2010

E-bente-tang (이벤트탕)

In the Ebente Tang (이벤트 탕) today the additional essence was pine (솔입). It was slightly busier than usual for a lunch-time and I got talking to the westerner who isn’t afraid to bend over. It’s actually the first time I have sat with a westerner, naked in a bathhouse, since I visited Korea a few years ago with a friend. I passed another westerner on the way in;  I was taking my shoes off as he was putting his own. He didn’t want to talk, I could tell, and he was a dirty looking backpacker type with grungy looking clothes and a month’s stubble. I almost  let him escape then said, ‘hello,’ after which he had to exchange some conversation with me. I’ve not really seen him around before but of course, he’s lived here for a few years, which means probably 13 months.

I’ve had a few drinks. This evening, as I left work, I felt like a stroll down to where my old school  used to be which involves crossing a large cross-road near the Lotte Cinema. I  hardly ever go Keimyung University side unless I want some Baskin Robbins ice cream.  The cross-road forms a barrier, an asteroid belt between my realm, a few blocks, and what is basically another universe. I usually experience a sense of adventure as  I cross it and begin journeying where I haven’t been before.  Of course, I probably have been in this location before but the transformation of the buildings and businesses occupying it generally make me feel passing them is a first encounter.   I’d started the journey from my bank and half way towards my old school, as it starts to rain, I realise my umbrella is in the bank foyer. It’s pointless turning back and beside, this is Korea and the chances are very high it will be there when I return.

Song-So in 2000 from the top of E-Marte. This area still had patches of farmland all since developed

2010. Same location

The businesses towards my old school, a hideous factory in which I worked for 18 months, have changed. KFC has gone – the first pace I ate on my own in Korea, so too has Lotteria burger bar where I’d hang out in the most humid part of summer because contracts back then didn’t include air conditioning, and where a bedding shop used to be I’m treated to a reminder of life back home  in the form of a Tesco’s Home Plus. Not content to have invaded every corner of England, they are now starting to terminate all small businesses in Korea. My old school is no longer Di Dim Dol but some other school, still run by a money grabbing businessman boss. On the huge poster on the third floor,  some round-eyed western kiddy stares out at Korea, pen in hand, looking studious. Of course, the truth is most western kids couldn’t give a fuck about English and the native language skills of both Britain and the USA fall behind that of Korea, which for all its faults, has one of the most successful education systems in the world. My old Taekwondo Academy has gone and so too has the Pizzaland underneath it.

This entire stretch of road used to be the most affluent part of Song-So but since a mega cinema complex, known as Mega Town, was built some 6 years ago, opposite where I currently live, the money has moved into the next block. It was an obvious transition; near the Cinema is the E-Marte supermarket and surrounding it are buffet restaurants, pizza restaurants, coffee shops and a Dunkin Donut. Further down the road towards the university, the area in which my old school used to be the atmosphere is  now slightly shabby and deserted. When I cross the large crossroads and venture into the unknown I often feel guilty of being lazy but nowadays I just remind myself I rarely come here as there isn’t really much to see.

Sea squirt (멍개)

I end up eating dinner in an Oyster restaurant where I know the owner. It’s one of the hardiest local businesses. The first thing he says to me is that I have put on weight when indeed I have lost it. Not a good start to the evening especially as my favourite food here was oyster tempura. Ten years ago this restaurant was a North Korean restaurant  and was where I regularly used to meet my friend Cherie, currently my boss after she quit Di Dim Dol Factory School. The owner is really pleased to see me and wanting an excuse to drink, plies me with plenty of ‘service’ in the form of beer, makkalli, sea squirt, and sliced jellyfish.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what its like to eat a boil, Sea Squirt (멍개) is a close approximation. I’ve eaten them before and never found them delicious. Sliced jellyfish (햅아리) however, I like especially if in a sauce. The specialty in this establishment is oyster. My home town in the UK, Colchester, has existing oyster pens built when the Romans occupied Britain. Indeed the oyster trade dates back 2000 years. You wouldn’t really know this as oysters are probably no more visible in Colchester than in any other town especially as they cost about a pound a shot – approximately 2000 Won each. My basket of delicious Oyster cost 20000 Won (£10) and there are probably 30 oysters – enough to make me feel a bit sick. And this is where I have to laugh because they cost the same price back in 2002!

I left the Oyster restaurant feeling a little sick and pissed and on the walk home passed a restaurant in which sat a group of around 6 waygukins. I stopped for a moment and spied on them. They were all young and shabby, the men unshaven and clearly back-packer types with a touch of goth about them as they were all mostly dressed in black and drab colours. One dumb-ass  had a tea cosy on his head and sat next to him was the guy I met going into the bathhouse today. No wonder he didn’t want to talk as he obviously has a gaggle of mates to chat with.

I ended up back at the bank where my little sojourn had begun and there, where I had left it, was my umbrella.

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Advertisements

Trip to Pohang – Monday 25th of December, 2000 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in Entertainment, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on December 25, 2000

A typical ‘beggar singer’

On Saturday, I was due meet Pauline in the morning and the go to U-chun’s in the afternoon where I am supposed to be giving her daughter and niece an English lesson. Pauline and I spent ages talking and then left my house to walk down the road together. It was a really bright afternoon and very dry has it hasn’t rained for several weeks. By the pedestrian crossing almost opposite MacDonald’s, some kind of a busker was performing to a small crowd. He had an amplifier mounted on a trolley and was singing and dancing on the side of the road. The music, which I assume, was traditional Korean folk music was captivating. Most strange however, was the man’s dancing. He danced with his body bent so far forward that his chest was parallel to the floor. His steps were long, rhythmically erratic and awkward and involved lots of pivoting and sudden changes of direction. He was dressed in shorts and a jacket which was pinned with hundreds of pieces of coloured cloth. The pedestrian light was red and so we stood and watched him and naturally, the moment he noticed me he danced towards me, took my hand and led me out into the front of the crowd where I had to try to copy his dance. I was quite embarrassed, in fact very embarrassed. Suddenly, U-chun appeared and rescued me. Walking on down the road to just past Di Dim Dol and Lotteria, we took the bus to another Daegu suburb known as Dasa (다사). (note – I’ve since discovered these are a type of ‘singing beggars’ known as 각설이 or 품바 – see link at end).

The bus journey was only short but we left the valley in which Song So is situated and headed west into another valley. I have since learnt that Korea is a land of mountains and where there is human habitation it exists in meandering valleys. Though part of Daegu, Dasa  felt like another city. After leaving the bus, it would so happen that U-chun’s flat is in a high-rise the furthest point from the bus stop and at the edge of the largest hill in Dasa.

Inside, the apartments are very large, spacious and well-built. Koreans tend to be more minimalist than Europeans in terms of clutter and furniture. The kitchen, dining room and front room were combined into one very large room and leading from this were bedrooms, a study and a European style bathroom. U-chun and her family sleep on beds and not the floor. In the kitchen was a voice activated telephone, something I had not seen before. I discovered that U-chun had resigned from Di Dim Dol earlier in the week so I will miss her friendly face. Unlike many of the other Koreans with whom I work, she is very keen to take advantage of my being a native English speaker, many Koreans shy away from me rather than practice their English.

Even though it’s Christmas week, Jo started his antics again. On the Monday, at 8 pm, and just as I was going home he asked me to accompany him to Letter and Sound, his school in Yon San Dong. He wanted me to give a presentation to prospective parents! Well, I became quite angry and began to tell him off. Then, I suggested we go into his office to ‘sort things out.’ I made it quite clear that I didn’t appreciate being told to do something with little or no time to reschedule my life. Earlier in the week my sister had told me how there is an alarming number of South Korean people who pay people to kill them as they are fed up with their working life. Jo apologised and said that he had been so busy he had forgotten about the presentation. I politely told him he was talking rubbish and he had been involved in organising an advertising campaign for the new school.

On the Wednesday he called Nana and I and asked for a meeting in his office in which he told us that we had a week’s holiday beginning next week. What a fat lot of use is that as there is no time to plan anything. If you want to book flights in Korea they are almost impossible to get at short notice during any school vacation period. Nana and I didn’t particularly want time off if we couldn’t do things with our free time so we both decided to come back to work on the Wednesday after Christmas.

Pohang – Bay of Yongil, Christmas Eve 2000

On Sunday, Christmas Eve, Pauline and I took the bus to Pohang (포항) which is a town on the east coast not too far from Andong. I wanted to see the Sea of Japan, otherwise known as the Sea of Korea or East Sea (동해). We arrived at the bus station and immediately boarded a bus. The journey took 2 hours and would have been a lot shorter if the bus hadn’t made a journey around all the suburbs of Pohang before arriving at the city centre. On the beach front an enormous market, all under tents, sold all sorts of electrical goods from massage machines to electric organs. At the end of one enormous marquee stood a small stage on which a weird folk band was playing. There were six of them all together two men and four women. The men, perhaps in their fifties were both heavily covered in lipstick, eye shadow and had white powdered faces. They wore clothes similar to those worn in Aladdin’s Lamp. The men banged drums of assorted sizes and danced in a very bizarre fashion (note – more ‘beggar singers’ – 각설이). One of the men started playing the giant scissors of which he had two pairs and all I can say is that they resembled cattle castration implements. Every now and then he would stand with he legs firmly apart, in a straddle stance, make a very perverted facial feature (he had no front teeth), and then start gyrating his hips in a very sexual manner. At his feet sat about thirty children. Stranger however, was the fact that as he gyrated his hips and made thrusting movements, something very large and heavy banged about in his baggy white trousers. I suspect he had some form of dildo, mounted on a spring, strapped to his groin. Whatever it was the children found it very funny.

The beach was set on the Bay of Yongil (영일 만) and the sand was clean and white. All along the beach promenade were seafood restaurants with enormous fish tanks beside or in front of them. In these swam all manner of sea creatures from small sharks, squid, octopus, eels, ray fish and sea cucumbers. You pick which one you wish to eat and then it is brought to your table in the restaurant – though depending on what meal you choose, the creature isn’t always dead. It was a bitterly cold day and a freezing wind blew in across the sea. We found a small noodle tent where I contemplated how I never expected to be sat on the edge of the East Sea eating noodles and drinking soju on Christmas Eve. As we were leaving Pohang on the bus, we noticed a couple of Koreans dressed as Santa. They were stood on a plinth on the sidewalk giving children free sweets as they passed. The only problem was that each Santa weighed about 10 stone and had a sylph like waist!

Outside KFC Song-So, Christmas Eve 2000. One of the first photos I took in Korea

When we arrived back at Daegu central bus terminal, we took at taxi to Song-So and had a chicken burger in KFC. When I walk to my school, I usually come out my front door, turn right and then walked down to the crossroad where I take a left turn. This road leads down to Kemyoung University though this is probably a twenty-minute walk. There is a definite divide of apartment blocks and parks between Song So and Kemyoung. From the crossroad on this road to my school, is no more than a few minutes’ walk but in that time one passes MacDonald’s, KFC and a Korean burger chain called Lotteria. Apparently, Lotteria is more popular than is MacDonald’s.  Since my first trip to Daegu there has since appeared a Baskin Robbins ice-cream parlour with a second one being built at the new plaza complex near the crossroads to my apartment. A Pizza Hut restaurant is the very last commercial enterprise as you leave Song So on the road towards Kemyoung. Back to the KFC restaurant where Pauline and I are sat on New Year’s Eve; outside the restaurant stood a life-size plastic statue of Colonel Sanders, the staff have dressed him in a Santa outfit and even given him a cane which hung from one of his wrists. The cane, which wasn’t fixed on the statue but just hooked over a wrist, remained there for my whole stay in Korea; no one thought to steal it, remove it or throw it away.

Well, it’s now Christmas Day and I am sat in the internet cafe where life goes on a usual. The place is full of Korean boys playing internet games like Diablo 2 on the networked system. It is bitterly cold outside and the only thing that makes today special is that it snowed a little last night and there was a glaze of ice on the road outside my apartment.

(Notes – KFC was still in situ when I returned to Korea several years later and was still guarded by Colonel Sauders and his cane. When I returned around 2005, it had closed. However, the premises is now a stationary shop and the face of Col Sanders can still be seen embossed in the glass paneling going up the stairs. Lotte Burger closed around the same time and is now an optician. Baskin Robins and MacDonald’s are still here but MacDonalds moved further down the road in 2014).

 

Creative Commons License

©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

Further References

On ‘beggar singers: When Weird is Normal (Bathhouse Ballads, July 2011)

Alien Registration Card – Wednesday 8th November (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in bureaucracy, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on November 8, 2000

Today, Mr Jo, my boss, took me to the other side of Daegu to get my alien registration card. The journey took us half an hour and I realised that the city meanders through several large valleys and is much larger than I thought. He has just spent the weekend in Jeju-do, a rather beautiful holiday island of the southern most tip of Korea. At the registration office I had to have all of my finger prints taken as well as ink prints of my hands. I arrived back at school late but somebody else had started my classes.

In class, one of the boys kept writing on his desk and I asked him to stop on several occasions. When I went to take the pencil out of his hand he tightly hung on to it so I simply stabbed his hand with the point of a pencil I was holding in my other hand. He shrieked and let his pencil go. ‘Don’t fuck with me,’ I said in English. The Korean teachers often ask me what I do with bad behaviour in an English school. When I tell them there is almost nothing you can do, they are astounded.

Grade six kids had a party in the Lotteria restaurant which is next door to my school but on the ground floor. I should add that Lotteria is a sort of Korean McDonald’s which is very popular. I didn’t know any of the children so I sat at a table of Korean teachers who one by one moved to another table. I have subsequently discovered this is because they are embarrassed by not being proficient at spoken English. Even the teachers who do speak English avoid you. One of them did ask me if I wanted some food and even though I said I didn’t, she nevertheless went and bought me some. When she brought me the food on a tray, she placed it in front of me and went and sat on the table with her colleagues. I then decided to go and sit with the Korean kids but they to moved away from me. Still I persevered and moved onto an adjoining table but they to quickly moved away. Eventually, a couple of brave girls tried to speak to me in English but giggled and ran away before I could respond. I don’t think any of them had ever spoken to a westerner. In the end they began to crowd around me, a few stroked my arms as they are fascinated with hairy arms and one girl sat holding my hand as she talked to her friend about how big it was. Others poked me  in the back like I was some simian zoo exhibit. In my paranoia, I felt they were poking me to see if I had pillow padding underneath my shirt. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience.

Winter has suddenly arrived and today there is a distinct chill in the air. Mr Jo told me there is a party for Nana and I on Friday and that we will be going for a meal and then to a noraebangthis is Korean karaoke. I had read all about the Korean obsession with noraebang in travel guide books before I left the UK (because there was nothing on the internet in 2000)  and they all advised one to learn a song that can be sung from memory. I have actually been dreading it as I hate such forms of entertainment.

Creative Commons License
©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.