Archive for November, 2007

Death by cell phone

Posted in Korea, Technology on November 29, 2007 by Elephant Talk

In a land where the cell phone is almost a corporeal appendage, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when something truly freakish happens.

Not that I’m concerned, but I’m mildly relieved it was an LG and not my trusty Curtel.

Vast regions of empty space

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Outdoors, Personal, Travel on November 23, 2007 by Elephant Talk

Yesterday was, of course, Thanksgiving. A friend of mine invited me to join him for a lunch feast at the Seamen’s Club. I’ve heard a lot about this place but had never been there. So far as I know, it’s a dining club and bar that used to be a place for military personnel to enjoy a slice of Western culture. Now it’s become kind of a status thing for Koreans and a Western oasis for foreign teachers and workers. Koreans have to pay some 220,000 won annually to be a member. For foreigners, it’s free so long as you fill out an application.

I’m sometimes wary of the “foreigner experience.” But I’m really glad I went. The place was relaxed and the Thanksgiving feast was fantastic. We gorged on a buffet of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, broccoli casserole, gravy, and pumpkin pie. I had two full plates, just enough to exceed my limits (as one should on T-day), but not enough to feel discomfort. Hot damn, I needed a meal like that. There’s nothing quite like comfort food.

On the drive over I was talking to one of the English teachers at my university about driving in Korea. I told him I was considering getting a motorcycle. He told me he’s selling his old one, apparently a nice Daewoo 125, whatever that is. Four or five hundred, he told me.

I’ve never ridden a motorcycle before. The thought never crossed my mind. So I’d have to learn. And I’d have to figure out the whole Korean process for covering all the legal aspects.

I swore I’d never drive in Korea. I’ve never felt the need. Owning car doesn’t interest me at all, and I’ve been perfectly fine with taxis, walking, and my bicycle. Then of course there are the drivers. They’re insane, especially in our 4 million person cowboy town of Busan. They don’t use their mirrors or their signals, they’re rude, they don’t obey the laws. Nearly everyone who’s spent any time here has had at least one accident.

So why am I even considering a motorcycle? It’s strictly about aesthetics and romantics. The landscape in South Korea is absolutely beautiful. Once you leave the cities, there are endless kilometers of open, rustic countryside. I want to get out alone, under my own direction, and explore. It’s different from America. In the states, you’ve got open land, but there’s not really much mystery to it. Korea, by contrast, is an ancient world, and you can feel that mystique any time you get out of the city. I want to have the freedom to wake up on the weekend, get on a bike with a sleeping bag, and head to Jirisan, or a coastal park, or some hilltop village, and see what I find along the way. It’s not like I’d be taking trips to Seoul (you’re not allowed to take a motorcycle on freeways anyway, so it’s all about the “blue highways”). I’d just like to take some trips when I feel the urge.

So yeah, now I’m really considering it. Hearing all that talk about it charged me up even more. He told me that after he got his motorcycle his perspective on Korea completely changed. He was saying all of the things that I’d suspected.

Bah, just dreaming for now. I’ve got friends in the U.S. who ride motorcycles and there are others here I could get in touch with as well. Before I do anything, I’ll send some emails and try and learn what I’d be getting myself into.

Tak-she!

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea on November 22, 2007 by Elephant Talk

All of a sudden, there seems to be an explosion of female taxi drivers in Busan. The first six months I was here I had one. I remember it because it surprised me. In the past two months I’ve had, I think, five.

Not sure what that’s all about, but something in me finds it kinda hot. You know, independent, brave woman striking out on her own in a man’s world. I keep wanting to ask what the story is, but of course I don’t speak Korean.

I know this: Their cabs are cleaner, and less stinky. And they’re more polite and better drivers. The men are usually pretty cool too, but I’ve had the whole run of emotions with male taxi drivers here. No woman’s ever given me grief.

Ah, Tuesday

Posted in Personal on November 21, 2007 by Elephant Talk

Yesterday was not just any Tuesday. It was a special day. It was the first day in many weeks that I had no social engagements whatsoever. No dinners, drinking, gigs, rehersals, meetings, strange outings. Nothing. I can’t remember the last time that’s happened.

So I got a pizza, watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica, drank tea, wrote for a couple of hours, watched another Battlestar Galactica, read a bit, and went to bed. A truly magical evening.

Protected: 4 bits of good news

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2007 by Elephant Talk

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Gig 2.0

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Korea, Music, Personal on November 19, 2007 by Elephant Talk

My band played its second gig this Saturday. This time we played a place called Starface in Dalmaji. This is a hill in Busan that apparently has a lovely view and is home to many foreigners. I could confirm neither as I got there at night and, well, I didn’t enter anyone’s apartment.

But the club was great. It had a relaxed vibe similar to a place you might find in Woodside, CA or Portland, OR. Very rustic, all wood — a rarity in the vertical concrete jungle that is Busan — deep, sunken couches and chairs, and mellow lighting. The place was packed to the gills (whatever that means), with about a 50/50 foreigner/Korean ratio.

When I got there, I found that the kit’s snare drum was destroyed. My bassist, bless his soul, rushed to another club to get a replacement. One of the nice things about playing music here is that every club has its own kit. But the quality varies radically, so I’ll never know in advance what I’ll get. This experience made me miss my trusty emerald Premiere Genista or cherry red Yamaha Hip Gig (or one of the 8 or so snares I own) now sitting in a storage locker in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley.

Anyway… it was a good night. The guys in this band continue to rise above expectations. And I mean that only because rehearsals seem so dysfunctional. But when we finally get on stage, there is much ass-kicking and a high level of intuitive musicianship.

My friends and I finally stumbled out of the club around 2:30. We decided we needed to have a food experience we hadn’t had yet. So a friend, who is Korean, took us way out to some beach where they specialize in barbecued eel (freshly killed and still writhing on the grill). It’s an outdoor kind of joint, where you sit in plastic, translucent tents perched right on the rocks. Truth is, I had no idea where I was.

We finished up at around 4 am, but we weren’t done. Something about the soju and maekju coursing through our systems, I suppose. So we went in search of an open nuri bang. We finally found one in Haeundae. We got silly on Madonna, The Doors, Jamiroquai, and Radiohead and finally left around 5:30. We walked down Haeundae Beach as the morning sun started to make its presence felt on the horizon. I’ve seen about six sunrises since I’ve been here and it’s always interesting to make my way home as the morning joggers begin their day.

I wish I had photos. I do actually, but I haven’t downloaded them yet. Maybe I’ll post them another time.

Fall in Gyeongju

Posted in Culture, Expat life, Images, Korea, Personal, Travel on November 17, 2007 by Elephant Talk

I spent yesterday with friends in Gyeongju. My friend’s mother is here, so a couple of us joined them on the 90 minute train ride north. I’ve been once before when a colleague took me up with his family just a couple weeks after I arrived.

I can’t do the place justice with any meaningful background information here. But briefly, it’s the ancient Silla capital, and it celebrates one of the great historical periods in Korean history. The area today is a beautiful and massive open space with temples, burial mounds, parks, and various tourist amenities.

We got some bi-bim-bap and then walked through a wooded area toward the burial mounds that house the remains of the old Silla kings. The colors here are alive with deep reds, yellows and greens. And the air is crisp and clear. I’m really liking autumn here.

Once clear of the forest, we approached the burial mounds. You walk a meandering stone path and after a while the whole thing looks like something that might be conceived had C.S. Lewis and Dr. Seuss spent some time together.

Later, we went to the arts and crafts village, where people still practice ceramics in the classic Korean tradition. It’s another example of that great contrast in this country: tradition plus commerce. You can wander the village and watch them actually spinning clay in their homes and workshops, then go to individual stores to buy their works.

Here’s the entrance to the village, guarded by some old Silla kings, no doubt:

And some discarded works, I guess — broken and abandoned Kimchee pots lying in the hills:

The artistry goes all the way to some of the walkways outside the workshop buildings. Here are some exquisitely detailed tiles on a walkway leading up to one such place:

And I can’t let this photo collection go without mentioning Steve. Steve is the crab we ate on Thursday night. He was a King Crab, all 4 pounds of him! He died for us along with his partner Jamie. I don’t know why we named them after the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, but they sure were delicious.