Monday, September 14, 2009

"Not all who wander are lost"

The apartment is quiet tonight after our busy weekend and the words begin to flow. Doekso still buzzes and bumps outside my open window and the smell of laundry detergent and fried seafood waif up from the streets. The routines of my days are beginning to settle comfortably inside these walls. I am beginning to feel at home in this foreign country. I have become acquainted with the habits of this place- the lines of old men that occupy the park benches in Seoul on the weekends, holding their hats and canes, and passively watching the busy world wiz by. They sit at the foot of an ancient palace and their lined, winkled faces tell their own portion of Korean history. Or the lines of hikers that file into the subway cars and stack up like sardines, each dressed identically, their serious hikers outfits complete with ski poles and backpacks. The road signs are starting to semi-resemble consonants and vowels instead of decorative lines and designs and it no longer alarms me when an old men sits beside me on the subway and jabbers aimlessly to me knowing I cant understand a word or offers me red ginseng candy.
Today we took the subway into Seoul, crammed into the train cars. We wandered the streets picking up treats from local food vendors and curiously peering thro groups of men to see them haggling over watches or food or my personally favorite, dried dead snake carcasses. We discovered a maze of back streets and alleys behind the main thoroughfares where millions of shops are crammed in a seemingly themed order. There was the wrist watch alley and the tools alley, each shop filled with random odds and ends that spill out onto the street.
Late in the afternoon, we aimlessly turned down a side street that had rows of bars and restaurants. An old man came hobbling after us yelling "halloo." He smelled slightly of Soju, but his eyes were sharp and intensely fixed on his mission: me. He stared intently and asked us were we were from and we indulgently indicated the USA and tried to walk on. With tense perseverence he asked me in a garbled sentence if I were Jewish. That is not one of the top questions I am typically asked by strangers on the street. I stuttered for a few minutes trying to figure out what he was after and as his brow furled in confusion I finally admitted that yes, thro a strange convoluted line, I was sort of Jewish. He hooted in glee and clapped his hands and said he had known it was so because of my narrow nose, and he gently squeezed between my eyes, and because of my deep set eyes, he traced the indentation above my cheekbones. We smiled relieved and amused as he chortled about how happy he was to meet a Jew and about Israel's strength and the evils of Hitler. I gathered that he felt that Korea had shared a similar struggle in their fight against Chinese and Japanese occupation. Finally he released my hand and bid us goodbye and headed eagerly back to his friends to tell all about how he met a Jew on the streets of Seoul.
Our first goal in the city was to find Starbucks coffee. You don't understand how important this was. It's not exactly that we are coffee addicts (although for me at least that's debatable), but it was something about how Starbucks stores feel and smell the same regardless of the country. Plus, the only coffee we've been able to get our greedy little fingers on over the past week is this sort of dehydrated coffee that only tastes sort of like coffee if you squeeze your eyes closed tightly and pretend. In our mad search for little America aka Starbucks we dashed to the center medium of a busy street only to turn and find a Starbucks back the way we had come. So there we stood in the middle of two way traffic in downtown Seoul with cars wizzing by, their drivers staring disbelievingly as we jumped for joy, waving our arms excitedly in anticipation.
After exhausting hours of wandering thro the city and probably only managing exploring a couple square blocks of an otherwise HUGE place, we hopped back on the subway and amused ourself with games such as count-the-foreigners (Seoul seems like a foreigner mecca compared to our small town of Doekso) and reffering tok our fellow passengers by the height of their stilettoes. We bought old movies and heaping two scoop ice cream cones and crashed on the couch for a sugar dazed evening with Paul Newman and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
The end!


Emily-Rose said...

That lead picture is beautiful Mandy!

Kevin Benedict said...

I love these images and the commentary, Mandy. The first image is especially priceless.

katie said...

yeah, i love that first shot, and the sunflower one! hope you're having fun...

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