Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Saying Goodbyes: Foreign vs Korean

As I leave the country on Friday(!!), I've been saying goodbye to a lot of people. I've never been very good at goodbyes, in that I am kind of resistant to any kind huge change at all ever, so it's been rough (but I'm glad I took a month off to do it). There is definitely a different attitude, on my end, between saying goodbye to my other foreign friends and to my Korean friends.

My foreign friends here are all ~*~free spirits~*~, as in they put stock in traveling and seeing the world and so forth. They know there's a couch in Stockholm for them; it's not goodbye, it's see you later, as the saying goes.

My Korean friends, though, are mostly of an age where that traveling is more or less behind them. They have already traveled and done all of that and now it's time to find a career. Either that or they're of the aggressive and ambitious type who intend to get into a career as soon as they can; forget taking time off to travel. Those goodbyes are goodbyes. They sting. And while I intend to come back to Korea, who knows if I will. Who knows if time won't diminish our friendships.

I've been singing a lot of this recently. It definitely makes it on to my "Korea: Round Two" soundtrack. It keeps me sane to insist to myself that we will meet again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Birdland Incident

There's a jazz club in downtown Uijeongbu. I had walked by it loads of times but never screwed up the nerve to go in until I had scant few months remaining in Korea. We all make mistakes; this was one I wish I hadn't made. I will miss it dearly when I leave.

I went last night with a few friends, two guys and one other girl. The guys and I are somewhat regulars, and in a country full of Koreans it's pretty easy to remember the weiguk sarams that keep coming back. The musicians always chat with us a bit, or say hello if they see us on the street. The girl with us, on the other hand, had never been before.

At the end of the night, I complimented the singer on her rendition of "Fever," a song I had requested a few months ago but that they didn't have.

"Thank you, I did it for you!"

Which warmed my heart.

Then she turned to the other girl. "You, I think you must be a good singer. Your face is so beautiful!"

Heart dimmed, just a bit.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 4

Day 4 was Friday, which was when I was leaving Gwangju to see a friend in Busan. I had to do at least one May 18th related thing while I was in Gwangju (see my reason for choosing to visit it at all), so I decided the best one would be the May 18th National Cemetery.  I kind of wish I had done something for the April 19th protest as well, but truth be told there wasn't that much.

The bus that goes to the cemetery (and the surrounding cemeteries where I think other victims of the May 18th massacre are buried) is the number 518. 518. 5/18. I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.

I totally spaced out on the bus and accidentally rode it to the end of the line, which is an old folks' home.

Putting the old folks' home next to a shit load of cemeteries? Really?

Anyway, I had an awkward little moment where I got out of the bus, sat at the bus stop and read for a few minutes, then got back on the same bus with the same driver, but whatever. Fortunately I hadn't overshot the cemetery by nearly as much as I thought I had, so it was all good.

I kind of lost it at the cemetery, y'all. Maybe it's because I'm a big baby, but it was an awfully sobering couple hours. I've been to war memorials before (trips to Washington, D.C. much?) which are in the same vein, but none of them have been as serious and real to me as this. Everyone who died in the May 18th massacre were civilians, or students (at least, everyone buried in this cemetery; I don't think the police officers or paratroopers who died are buried in this cemetery), which to me makes it entirely different. Soldiers are expected (sadly) to die; students are not. Especially not at the hands of their own government. Plus, so many of them would be my parents' age, about, if they had survived: all of these people would have been someone's father or mother, if things had been different. They could have been the parents of someone who would have been my friend. Not to mention even younger casualties: small children inadvertently caught in the crossfire.

In case it's hard to read:

Here in the National Cemetery for the May 18th Democratic Uprising lie the meritorious persons who fought and sacrificed themselves during the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and those laudable victims who died in the aftermath of the physical or mental injuries they sustained.

The bodies of the victims were carried in garbage trucks and carts and  buried without official reognition in the Old May 18 Cemetery (the 3rd graveyard of the Municipal Cemetery).

With the completion of a 3-year conservation project (1994-1997), all bodies were moved and reburied together in this new cemetery. In accordance with the Act on the Honorable Treatment for Meritorious Persons of the May 18th Uprising, this cemetery, which had been managed by the Gwangju Municipal Administration, was promoted and renamed as the National Cemetery for the May 18th Democratic Uprising on July 27, 2002 by the Korean state.

This cemetery will function as an education center, promoting the conviction that injustice and dictatorship should never return to this country, so that the spirit of the May 18th may be engraved on the hearts of all people making this a sacred place for democracy forever.

Beyond  the "gate" is the cemetery proper.

English translation:

Oh, Gwangju! The Cross of Our Nation! by Kim Jun-tae

Oh, Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Our city of eternal youth
that sheds blood tears
between deaths!

Where has our father gone?
Where has our mother collapsed?
Where has our Son died and been buried?
And, where does our Daughter lie dead,  her mouth gaping?
Where have our soul and spirit
gone, torn and broken into pieces?

Gwangju, which both God and birds have left!
Our blood-covered city
where decent people
are still alive, morning and evening,
collapsing, falling down, and rising again!
Ah, the phoenix, the phoenix, the phoenix
of the South Province full of wailing
that has tried to drive away death with death,
and to seek life with death!

When the sun and the moon nosedive
and all the mountain ridges
stand shamelessly high,
ah, the flag of liberty
that nobody can tear down
or take away!
The flag of humanity!
The flag, hardened with flesh and bones!

Oh, our city
where at times our songs, dreams, and love
roll like waves,
and at other times we are hidden in graves.
Oh, Gwangju, Gwangju
who carries the cross of this nation,
climbing over Mudeung Mountain,
and walks over the hill of Golgotha!
Oh, the son of God,
whose whole body is covered with wounds,
and who is the emblem of death!

Are we really quite dead?
unable to love this country any more,
unable to love our children any more?
Are we absolutely dead?

On Chungjangro, on Kumnamro,
At Hwajungdong, at Sansoodong, at Yongbongdong
At Jisandong, at Yangdong, at Kyerimdong,
And, and, and . . . .
Ah, the wind that blows over,
gobbling up our blood and flesh!
The hopeless flow of time!

Should we now
just collapse, fall, and cry?
Terrified of life, how should we
breathe a breath?

Oh, all those survive
lower their heads like sinners.
All those still alive have lost
spirit, and they find it difficult
even to face their rice bowls.
Afraid, they don’t know what to do.

(Dear, I was killed
while I was waiting for you,
waiting for you outside the door.
Why did they take away my life?
Though we lived in a rented room,
we were quite happy.
I wanted to live, loving you.
Oh, my dear!
But I was killed like this,
pregnant with a child of yours.
I am sorry, my dear!
They took away my life from me,
and I took away everything of yours,
your youth, your love,
your son, and all.
Oh, my dear! In the end,
did I kill you?)

Oh, Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Our city of eternal youth
who breaks through deaths
and flutters the ends of white clothes!
The phoenix, the phoenix, the phoenix!
The son of God of this nation
who climbs up the hill of Golgotha again,
carrying the cross of this nation!

Jesus is said to have died once
and been resurrected,
and to live till this day or rather forever.
But our true love
that would die hundreds of deaths
and yet resurrects itself hundreds of times!
Our light, glory, and pain.
Now we will be revived ever more.
Now we become ever stronger.
Now we – ever more.

Oh, now we,
putting our shoulders to shoulders, bones to bones,
climb the Mudeung Mountain of this nation.
Oh, we rise up to the oddly blue sky
to kiss the sun and the moon.

Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Oh, our eternal flag!
Our dream, our cross!
The city of youth that will get younger
as time goes by!
Now we are firmly united,
surely and surely,
we hold each other’s hands tight
and rise up.

To the one side there was an indoor photo memorial, with photos of everyone interred and either white or yellow artificial flowers. To the other was a "tree memorial," a rather nice, bright contrast to the dark and serious photo memorial. It's basically a nicely-manicured garden.

On the same side as the tree memorial was the May 18th museum, one of the more modern museums I've seen in Korea. Since the cemetery was dedicated in the early 2000s, its modernity makes sense. I would have gotten more out of it if my Korean weren't terrible, as they had short documentaries playing at every exhibit, but I did absorb as much of the English signage as I could. (I have to say, I don't think I could stomach an old school Korean version of a May 18th museum: those would be the bloodiest, most upsetting dioramas of all time.)

The one that stuck with me the most, for whatever reason, was a very small display containing wrist watches. These were the old fashioned kind that needed to be rewound, and since their owners were shot, no one rewound them after May 1980.

The whole time I only saw a handful of other people, which made everything even more serious, somehow; loads of families and shrieking kids would have taken away from the atmosphere.

That was the entirety of my day; after this I had a couple hours on buses before I got to my next destination: Kimhae/Busan.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 3

I got off my duff and went to Soswaewon Garden. It was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, but a bit smaller than I expected/hoped for. Nonetheless, I saw my first-ever bamboo grove! How cool! I've never seen bamboo in the wild before because I am a loser of a white person who lives in really urban Asia!

Then, it was a long bus ride back to Gwangju proper. Long. I figured out my bus wasn't going to the bus terminal near where I was staying, so once in Gwangju I got off at a stop to change to a bus that was, but it was still a nice ride. I like riding buses, I guess. I'm a weirdo.

I tried to find a park afterwards, to enjoy the nice weather and people watch, but the one I tried to find COULD NOT BE FOUND. Signs had me wandering around a rather sad and poor-looking neighborhood, which isn't entirely weird because the entrance to Bukhansan Park is exactly the same thing, except there was never any entrance; the indicated street just dead-ended, so I looked like either a lost white person or a douchebag class tourist. Annoyed, I went back to the terminal, had Jeonju-style bibimbap for dinner, and had a nice long soak in the sauna (where I was promptly English bombed).

It was kind of a dud of a day, but it was better than sitting in my motel room doing nothing, I suppose! And Soswaewon was really unbelievably lovely, an infinitely big version of it would be my idea of heaven. My pictures do not do it justice.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 2 (Election Day)

I stayed in my motel room until dinner to watch CNN (HILARIOUS!!!), the concession and acceptance speeches. Overall, I was rather pleased with the outcome.

Buoyed by my smug liberal schadenfreude, I went across town to "Tteokgalbi Street" which is not as cohesive or as well-advertised as the Budae Jjigae Street in Uijeongbu. Frustrating! Nonetheless, I found a restaurant (not too skeezy, not too fancy) and gorged myself on tteokgalbi. It seems to be a regional specialty that I have also never heard of before! Before a few days ago, anyway, when I was casting about on the Internet to see what I should do/eat in Gwangju.

It was a bit of a shenanigans situation to find the place, but I did! On the subway ride over, an ajumma decided to dote on me. She offered to hold my bag (which, despite reading in my "Rough Guide to Korea" that this is a thing that happens all the time, WAS THE FIRST TIME A STRANGER'S DONE THAT EVER), and then when the seat next to her opened up she pulled on my sleeve to let me know the seat was open. After the first couple stops she dug into her purse and forced some candies into my hand. I smiled and said thank you, and put them in my purse for later (I seriously was going to save them for after my planned calorie binge of a dinner). Right before her stop came up, she also handed me a bag full of tteok! Aw! If she had gotten off at my stop I would have asked her to come to dinner with me. I had a couple right then because I was hungry and I also wanted her to know that I appreciated her gifts of food.

Gwangju is in Jeolla province, which is considered the bread basket of Korea. There is an astounding variety of food available and I will never get a chance to eat it all (especially because I hate going to restaurants alone and also because of my above seafood rule). Jong-min assured me I woud notice the difference if I ever went out to eat: "They'll have a lot more side dishes than they do in Seoul. They just have so much more food. They always have." At my tteok galbi dinner I had ten different banchan. TEN! The last time I'd had so many was when I got ssambap in Gyeongju. There were four kinds of kimchi alone, plus bean sprouts and daikon and anchovies (pass) and red beans in sesame oil. Not to mention a wide variety of greenery in which to wrap the meat, instead of just the usual romaine lettuce; the best was a very mild perilla leaf.

After I had sated myself on minced rib meat and garlic, I went back to my motel room and enjoyed a bottle of makgeolli before turning in early. Things to do the next morning, after all!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Glorious Vacation: Day 1

I realized I should probably document my glorious vacation as well as I can, for posterity and all that jazz. So: a belated account of my first day in Gwangju!

After an afternoon to rest up and dry off in my motel room, Day 1 of the Glorious Vacation was spent on a museum binge. The Gwangju Museum of Art, The Gwangju Folk Museum, and the Gwangju Biennale (some kind of international art exhibit; apparently there are Biennales in other cities but Gwangju is the first I've ever heard of one) are all next to each other, so I hit all three in one go!

The first one was the Gwangju Museum of Art, which I think I accidentally snuck in without paying the 500 won entrance fee. My bad! The three main exhibits were: a variety of Chinese artists ranging from standard to kind of modern/avant garde; three kinda weirder Chinese artists; a Zainichi (Japanese of Korean descent) artist named Lee Ufan who is THE MOST BORING ARTIST WHO EVER ARTED. I still don't get modern art, you guys.

A whole gallery full of that. I just...what? It would be neat wallpaper or fabric, but framed art? Seriously?

The best part of that exhibit was the little biographical placque about the fellow who donated most of these incredibly boring pieces of art. The highlight: "Hopefully, his honorable and admirable spirit everlastingly continues to radiate."

I LOVE KONGLISH, YOU GUYS. I love how dramatic and pseudo-poetic this sounds in English because I can pretty much guarantee this is a word-for-word translation, with only word order changed (for the sake of grammar). Occasionally when Jong-min translates snippets of Korean subtitles in American news stories back into English, they sound more or less like the above—and it's not because Jong-min speaks weirdo quasi-archaic English.

There were some really cool art pieces too, that appealed to my more conservative, representationlist tastes. I really liked one that included a link to their  blog right in the painting. How Andy Warhol of them!

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to get a Chinese-speaking friend to translate it for me.

Here's the painting in particular that I liked:

Someone can earn all of the gold stars by telling me what the character in the painting means/represents!

Alas, finding anything else online seems to tax the limits of Google Image Search. They will just have to stay burned in my memory forever! (Because I forgot to put my memory card in my camera, d'oh!)

I wandered outside the art museum and followed the signs to the Gwangju Folk Museum. I love the Folk Museums in Korea, they're kind of tacky (and frightening, if you include some of the badly-stuffed animals....somehow weasels get the worst of it) but they're still pretty neat. I love old school museum dioramas and a Folk Museum is always, basically, a giant diorama. The best part was a display of all the different traditional Jeolla dishes, which was adorable and also kind of redundant. If I had to summarize the provincial cuisine in four words, those words would be: PICKLE ALL THE THINGS.

Also (and I'm glad I still had my notebook with me wherein I noted the most hilarious/interesting/appalling things) there was a mat made from human hair. I can't imagine reclining on a cushion lined with hair from my own  head, but then people shed SO MUCH it would be a waste not to use it for something "back in the day."

I still had plenty of time to kill before typical museum closing time, so I decided to cough up the 14,000 won (expensive, considering the last two museums were 500 won each) for the Biennale. It was a mix between really cool concepts and a bunch of hyper-academic nonsense. There were two installations in particular that I really liked.

The first was by a Mexican artist named Pedro Reyes, called "Imagine." I guess it would qualify as performance art? He collected like 1,200 unused weapons and, working with a whole team of people, turned them into musical instruments, The installation had a couple of the instruments on display, as well as a couple movies running simultaneously: one being the construction of the instruments and the other being performances on the instruments. They did a pretty cool version of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and, of course, "Imagine." Here's the guys just jamming out:

pedro reyes: imagine - musical performance from designboom on Vimeo.

The other one was called "The Shoes Diary: Adidas Tragedy Series" by Agung Kurniawan, from Indonesia. He did a small series of reconstructing Adidas shoes (there's a pretty big Adidas factory in Indonesia, apparently?) to make them really uncomfortable (in addition to painting designs) and had people wear them. The discomfort was to remind the wearer of all the trials and tribulations that political/civil rights activists go through.  He expanded it for the Biennale; his whole space was set up to look like a shoe store, and a TV in the corner played a video of his original demonstration of the piece back in whenever. There were a few different violent political activism incidents made into a different shoe (Gwangju, of course, was one of them; Libya, China, Egypt, and Cambodia were included as well). Both the shoes and their box were altered, ie the Chinese  sneakers had the outline of a tank.


There were four massive galleries in all, so by the time I left it was near closing time and also definitely very dark. After a long, uncomfortable bus ride back to my motel, I scrubbed off in a jjimjilbang and had some ramen. Back at the motel, I had the worst time falling asleep because OMG ELECTION NIGHT OMG OMG, it was like going to bed on Christmas Eve except that you might end up with a whole truck full of coal instead of any presents. But hurrah, my anxiety was unfounded!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Glorious Vacation

I am safely arrived in Gwangju. The gods of good timing have been on my side so far, as I have caught every bus and subway I needed with minimal rushing or waiting.

It seems gauche to talk about miserable weather when many of my friends and family back home are still dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, but well, the weather has been miserable since Sunday. It seems the days I choose to stay in are nice, and the ones where I go out are rainy and cold. What's the deal, Korea? Do you not want my tourism money?

Tonight is simple itinerary planning; tomorrow will be the Gwangju Art Museum (a good rainy day activity) and finding a good daenamu-tongbap restaurant. Wednesday and Thursday are outdoor activities (gardens and the May 18th Cemetery), and then Friday I'm off to Busan.

Pictures will be forthcoming but probably long after my trip's over. I have a whole backlog already that needs to be fixed up; it's definitely going to be a while.

I also learned (the easy way, thanks to the Internet) that the transit card of choice down here isn't Tmoney but Myb (or something like that).

Thursday, November 1, 2012

So It Goes

Yesterday was my last day. It was even more bittersweet than one would expect, because Halloween is a school-wide "Market Day" at my hagwon. Instead of teaching, I just get to sell the kids snacks and toys for fake money they earn by getting stickers in class. Playing with the kids and just goofing off with them is always more fun than teaching, no matter how good they are as students. The older kids had presentations to give, where they earned real money, so I really did jack-all. I "taught" one and a half classes (the second class was interrupted mid-way for more Market Day), which consisted of watching "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" and playing speed quiz.

I moved out yesterday morning, because I thought the new teacher would move in after Market Day was over (like I did a year ago). You guys, I legit had a tearing-up moment as I shouldered my travel bag and went out the door. Which is dumb, I mean it's an officetel like any other, but I lived there, man! It was the happiest year I had in Korea and that was my home for it all. It's weird how you get attached to a living space depending on how you feel about your life: I had some pretty big issues at Sherlock and so when I left didn't give the officetel much thought; my apartment in Bundang was by far the "nicest" but I was so glad to be out of there when I left. When I try to mentally picture my other two living spaces, there aren't any feelings that hit me in the gut. When I think about this officetel, it brings on a lot of warm fuzzies.

Now I'm back at the love motel I crashed at during the two week gap between my job at Cassandra (aka The Gates of Hell) and this job in Uijeongbu. I have some errands and things to do until Monday, at which point I will have a miniature White Liberal Guilt tour of Gwangju and then over to see a friend  in Busan.

I heard that my neighborhood at home is without power for two weeks, though hopefully the power company is applying The Scotty Principle to this one. I think that was the worst of it, though; unless we got some basement flooding or roof leakage.