Monday, September 8, 2008

Everyday happy

(photos: The bell, the least crowded street downtown (but it's packed in the shade), Woobang Tower and Duryu Park, E-Mart)

Yesterday (Sunday), my day off, I set out with some definite goals. I achieved precisely none of them. But I had a good time. Just recently in my life, I’ve learned to let go a little and accept and learn from whatever happens. “Everyday happy!” as the cover of the pocket notebook I bought for 850 won (75 cents) says.

First I walked to the school. The weather was gorgeous yesterday, a beautiful sunny fall day with temps in the mid-70s, a light breeze, and a bit less pollution than usual. (Every day I see a half-dozen or so people wearing masks due to the air quality.) Anyway, I went to school to check my email and post some blog entries—so at least I accomplished that—get my books for today’s classes (but nobody who knew which books they were was there), and share lunch with Hee-duk and other teachers (but at that time none of the other teachers were there).

So I took the bus and walked around downtown for quite awhile. I failed in my vague idea that I would find the bookstore again, and the hand-drawn map I’d printed out from the ‘net took me a long time to decipher, so that I didn’t exactly accomplish much; I just wandered around, both above ground and in the half-mile-long underground shopping mall, and smiled a lot. But I enjoyed the bustling atmosphere and managed to order some fries (by pointing at the overhead menu and saying “kamja raji” (potato large) at Burger King, which is fifty feet from McDonald’s.

Then I walked the quarter-mile back to Gukchae-Bosang Memorial Park (which the teachers call Bell Park) in Samduk. The guidebook said there was an elaborate bell-ringing ceremony at 3 every Sunday. There isn’t. I ran into two skater boyz, Americans (army brats, I guess) who said, No, dude, no bell ringing, but a couple years ago we got wasted and rang the bell at 4 a.m. and that’s why there’s a chain across the stairs.

Next, I hopped the number 3 bus to go to Duryu Park across the street from Woobang Tower Land on the west side, just to find some greenery and visit the main tourist information outlet in town, in hopes of getting a good map in English. I wasn’t sure that I was on the bus going in the right direction, but the book says that the single-digit buses run circuits around the periphery of the city, so I figured that if I was going the wrong way I’d just have a longer ride till it circled around.

A half-hour later, when I was the last person left on the bus and we were sitting on the southeast side of town, the driver pulled over, turned to me, and said, in Korean, something like “What up, dude, you getting off or not?” So I showed him the guidebook and he said annyeo (no), and best of luck to you. I got off and hailed a taxi and showed the driver the page with Woobang Tower, and evemtually I got there.

(By the way, if you look at the plank you walk to jump off the tower in the above picture, get a magnifying glass and squint, you may just make out me not standing on it.)

Duryu Park is way cool—picture Central Park draped over a succession of hills. I wandered and roamed and finally found the tourist center, which was of course closed. (It was 3:45.) But I enjoyed just rambling around the park; there were families on blankets, eating and playing cards, young couples on blankets, not eating or playing cards, and old men hunched over tables, playing go and the Korean variation of go, whose name I forget. There’s an open-air stage and a tennis stadium and a soccer field that’s entirely dirt, and windy little hilly trails, and more trees than in the rest of this city of two million people combined, and a concession stand serving barbecued something. (By the way, the local version of Gatorade is called Picari Sweat. Yum.

Eventually I took a cab back across town to the Manchon E-Mart, bought a few groceries, and limped home. (I probably walked ten miles in all, and my left knee didn’t like it.) I posted the picture of my outside steps already; believe me, it takes awhile to get up them when you can no longer bend your knee.

No books, no lunch, no maps, no knee flexing, but “Everyday happy!” …and how was your Sunday?

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