Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finally finding me

It's funny. At age 55, after two marriages, two dozen pets, and too many jobs to count, I feel as if I'm finally finding myself, ten thousand miles from home. Why the heck I've been hiding over here all these years is a mystery to me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nofurky Day

Hi, everybody. Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is raw and wet in Daegu, just exactly the kind of family holiday not to spend alone in your dark apartment thinking of family and pumpkin pie. Fortunately, a teacher named Robert at the Samduk branch has a lot of money and is very generous; he hosted Thankgiving lunch for us at the newest, fanciest hotel downtown. There was a nice eighth-floor view of downtown, though the clouds and haze hid the mountains.

And, OMG, you guys, the food! He had ordered two whole turkeys for the ten of us, nine if you don't count me, the carnscientious objector. (Too big a stretch there?) A waiter came and carved the turkey at the table. But also there was a buffet with clams, oysters, mussels, escargot, shark steak in cream sauce, assorted roast beasts, green beans, salad, fresh fruit, and about a dozen fancy desserts, including a passable pumpkin pie. I never met a carb I didn't like, so I made out great, though I have to go to work shortly and the sugar high is wearing offfffffffffffzzzzzzzzzzzz

No smashed or sweet taters, no tofurky, but still, wow. It's probably the nicest hotel I've ever been in, and that includes both the New York Hilton and the Fredericksburg Red Roof Inn. Mostly, it was nice to be with friends on the holiday. (If Luke e's me a photo, I'll put it up here.)

We're starting to plan some sort of a Christmas get-together. Anna is so lucky; her mom and sister will be here for Christmas. I hope we can all join in and keep the 10,000-miles-from- home Christmas blues away. Stores here are selling and displaying tinsel and lights and angels and such, and there are lovely, decorated trees in the underground shopping areas downtown.

At Costco yesterday, I saw a young Buddhist nun, gray robed, shaved headed, picking out Christmas decorations.

On the home front, Tug and Tiki cry and moan much of the time. They look at me and yowl. I give them food, they eat and yowl. Milk: drink and yowl. I guess they're just still freaked out by being closed up inside. (For an urban cat in Korea, outside equals danger, hunger, and misery.) I'm trying to keep my attitude aligned to "It's okay, guys, I'll make sure nothing ever happens to you" and away from "Shut up, you furry little bastards." It's hard on the nerves, though.

They are letting me sit within three feet or so when they eat, and have both resentfully (but without hissing or swatting) let me pet them a little, so we are making progress. Faster would be better.

At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, or if you don't see this till afterward, Happy Yemeni Independence Day.

There's always something to celebrate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scaredy cats

It's been a tough couple of days at the cathouse.

Tiki (on the left) and Tug (on the right) have made their den in the furnace room. They spend just about all of the time, when I'm home anyway, on the cement. I bought a blanket and laid it down for them just in front of the tubing, as it won't fit behind it; they prefer to stay sheltered by the tubing.

What's really a pain is that Tiki kept mewing piteously and incessantly most of the night; on the rare occasions when his noise was cessant (English teachers are too allowed to make up words), I couldn't relax, counting the seconds until he... ah, there he goes again. He had wedged himself on the window ledge behind the furnace door and he was letting the world know he wasn't happy. Finally, either he got sleepy or my machinations (close the furnace room door a bit so he can't wedge himself in, leave the kitchen light on, shut my bedroom door, pray for death) worked, because he shut up about 4 a.m. I woke up at 8, full of vim, vigor, and I'm totally lying.

I did get them to eat a little this morning, putting the bowls just inside the furnace area, but with the door propped so they could see me sitting calmly ten feet away. It's a start. I think Tug might be venturing out by now, if Tiki weren't freaking him out. They do come out when I'm not here; a bunch of my toiletries was lying on the bathroom floor when I got home last night, and somebody'd been playing Minesweeper.

In a freak of scheduling, I have today off, and I'd planned to go hike Palgongsan. Right now, however, I have just enough energy to maybe make it down my stairs. I'm going to take the bus to Costco for cat and people supplies, then come back and take a nap, if it's pussible.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Posse cats

(Some of this post is graphic and shocking.)

I made a huge change in my life today, one that will affect me for many years: I have two cats now. I'd show you photos, but they've been here for two and a half hours and they haven't come out from under the couch yet.

On Friday, I thought I'd check out the little pet shops across town near the big Banwoldang intersection, just to see how much they charge for cats. (Ordinarily, I would never, ever buy an animal from a pet store, but there simply are no shelters here. None. Not one. And there's no way I, in my situation, could lure a stray and domesticate it.) Turns out that the pet shops just have dogs: tiny pups the size of your fist, from little breeds; the puppies are kept one per little plastic cubicle. There was one sleeping pup, a terrier I think, that may not even have his eyes open yet. This is a cruel, cruel country for animals, and I will have much more disturbing, disgusting information a few paragraphs down.

But this part of the post is light-hearted: I went to Hami Mami's, the American-style brunch restaurant inside Club That, the downtown jazz club/bar. As I was leaving, I asked the cook, whose English is pretty good, "Where would you go to adopt a cat in Daegu?" She said that less than ten minutes before, a woman had been in, asking if she knew anyone looking to adopt a cat! I left my phone and email with a vague hope that they might call me and headed to the bus stop. Two blocks down, I realized I had left my Mets cap and turned back. When I returned, the cook said the woman had just called, was right downtown, and would be back in five minutes. (I know the universe tugging at my sleeve when I feel it.)

When the woman got there, we did some pidgin communicating (cats among the pidgins?) and she showed me online photos of four six-month-old cats, from the same litter, that her friend was fostering, street cats she had been feeding that had finally allowed her to pet them and pick them up. One of them is nearly an identical twin of JP, my beloved tiger cat who died 13 years ago. The cook translated for me that that one "is friends" with the orange one, and that "they are man". I told her I was very interested in taking the gray/brown tiger, and maybe his orange brother to keep him company, and she said someone would call by Sunday (today).

Later that day, Heeduk told me that landlords don't rent to people with pets, although if you sign the lease and just move in with pets unannounced, they can't do anything to you, as the leases don't have no-pets sections. (Apparently they're not familiar with the concept of the damage deposit.) The thought of the difficulties of moving with a cat in Korea, perhaps several times, and eventually returning to the States with them had my head saying it would be nuts to adopt one, and totally insane to get two. My heart wanted the company, though, and I went around and around with it.

This is what I found out on the Web on Saturday: though many Koreans love dogs, there is a folk belief that eating dog, in addition to being a great meal, is a cure for impotence. Also, they believe that if the dog is in horrible pain for a long time, it enhances the flavor and the potency, due to the adrenalin in its muscles. So dogs, especially big yellow dogs (which are considered especially tasty) are generally tortured to death. I won't go into details.

Cats, as a species, have it worse. Folk belief is that cats are devious, hateful animals, and strays are fair game. They are no laws protecting them, and Korean men especially (I read) enjoy killing them. I know that every single cat I've seen on the street slinks away when a person comes near. In addition to everything else, cat soup is considered a rheumatism remedy, and they are commonly stuck in a bag, smashed on the head, and, conscious or not, boiled alive.

I believe these things, because everyone has told me Koreans hate stray cats, these statements were posted by both Koreans and Westerners, and one posting had links to YouTube videos. I didn't watch them, of course.

At the moment, this country seems like a medieval third-world hellhole covered with a high-tech Samsung-LG-Hyundai veneer.

As you might guess if you know me at all, I could not not adopt a couple of cats after reading that information. Everything I believe in would be a lie if I didn't do so.

Today I got a call from a young woman who speaks excellent English and we made an appointment to meet at Club That this afternoon. I busied myself at E-Mart, buying food and supplies; there are a few people here who love cats, and the store's cat section if five or ten percent the size of its dog area.

When I got to Club That, two women were waiting, neither of whom spoke more than a few words of English. But within five minutes, Hyunjong, the young woman who had called me, arrived, and I heard the background information. There's a tiny, loose coalition of animal lovers in town who make it their business to TNR (trap, neuter, release) street cats. One of their friends, who was not there, had saved these four, paid to spay or neuter them, and has been feeding them for weeks.

After an interminable time over coffee, the four of us took the long drive to her house, where I met my new posse, my friends, my kids. Both the boys have rounded left ears, as Korean law says that the vet must clip the tip off the ear of a cat when it's neutered: it's against the law to harm a neutered cat, and the ear is how people recognize one (as if they would notice or care that it had been fixed.) I signed a contract saying that I would never be cruel to the cats or abandon them, paid 60,000 Won (a fraction of what she'd paid to get them neutered) and agreed that she could call periodically and come visit them to see that they're being treated well.

And so, eventually, Hyunjong and the two other women I'd met at Club That came back with me to my apartment, where we let the guys out of their carriers. That was three hours ago now, and they still haven't come out from under the couch. (After all, they're strays who had just learned to trust one person.) Once in awhile I hear a tribble noise. Sooner or later, they'll come out for food and we can begin bonding.

I know from experience that a cat has to grow into a name; the right names will come in a little bit. For the moment, I'm calling the brown-gray tiger Tug; it reminds me of the way JP would lie on his side and bat dry food to his face, and is the name of my favorite baseball player. The orange guy, for now anyway, is Tiki, after my favorite football player. Tug and Tiki: has a ring to it, I think, but maybe other names will present themselves.

I believe in spreading kindness and healing, though I have failed so many times to live up to it. This is one way I can act on what I believe in. I look forward to years of sharing my life with these guys. But first they have to come out from under the couch.

Update: bedtime, midnight, seven hours in: not yet.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mostly toasty

I feel better now. George arrived with two of the school's managers today (with a special guest appearance by George'e wife, Glory, as interpreter) to rig up my windows with heavy-gauge clear plastic. Now the ones in the two main rooms, including the one that doesn't close, are completely covered. They left enough materials that I can do the other, smaller ones if I want. Yeah, it was nice to be able to see out (the tinted inner sliding windows are behind the plastic), but I'll trade that for warmth and a bearable heating bill. All I could see was a school and a bunch of apartment high-rises, anyway.

George also showed me how to use the thermostat. I know that sounds stupid, but there are three dials and four buttons (that have to be punched in just the right conjunction), and of course they're all in Korean. I also couldn't figure out where the heat comes in: no vents, no radiator, not a single luxury. Turns out the heat runs under the floor.

Anyway, it works; it was 14C (57F) in here this morning, but 20C (68F) tonight. (You'd be surprised how quickly you can shower and dress when it's that cold, you have no carpets, and you can't stand under the spray. Vern Troyer, I ain't.)

In other news, the fridge freezes everything: I have tomatoes the consistency of lacrosse balls. George says they'll get it fixed. The microwave hasn't worked for six weeks, but Heeduk's going to reimburse me for one I just got at E-Mart; my contract says they provide a nuker. (Bonus ego-lifter: I was able to tell the cabbie "Tongbu Chung Hak Kyo" -Tongbu Middle School- and get him to bring me home with my new Zapmater 3000!) And the way is clear for me to get a cat, if I decide to. Most landlords in Korea, including mine, have no problem with pets; I wouldn't get one if I had to ever abandon it. (A cat, not a landlord.)

I do think it would be nice to come home to somebody, especially in a warm home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who wants to be a frigidaire?

It's frickin' frigid, friends. The high temperature today is in the upper 30s F, but don't let that fool you; the wind cuts through like a ginsu knife. The windchill is in the mid-20s, but it's a damp cold, so it's worse. The windchill tonight will be in the teens. And it's only November.

It's not much better in the apartment. I've looked and looked and I can't see where the devil the heat's supposed to come in from. I have a thermostat, but nothing seems to get warmer when I adjust it. As you may remember, my windows slide but don't seal, and there's a two-inch gap to the outside to allow cables to come in. George from school is supposedly coming over tomorrow or Friday to help me put up plastic sheeting. I hope so. Right now, the pedestal heater will keep any one part of my body warm, as long as I'm within a foot of it.

At this point, I'm thinking that I can't eat any ramen soup because all the varieties contain meat, but I could soak my feet in some...

Friday, November 14, 2008

This is NOT good

...this is scary, and I feel so helpless about it:

(Now I know why it's horribly smoggy even out in the countryside.)

See that tiny dash of white cloud running east to west, toward the southeast of Korea? I'm right on the right-hand tip of it.

No wonder I see a dozen people or more every day wearing face masks.


There's nothing amusing about that, but I've been meaning to post the number one song in Korea this year, so you can get an idea of K-pop and how so much popular culture throws in a few words of English.

So, to distract myself from the killer air, ladies and gentlemen, the Wonder Girls: can't go a block downtown without hearing this song blasting from a store.

I'm listless and achy with a cold, so a couple of links is all you get today. Sorry! At least I hope it's a cold...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Autumn leaves must fall

(I took this photo... it's possible, if you're lucky, to get a great shot with an inexpensive camera.)

Yesterday, on the most beautiful, sunny, brisk fall day imaginable, I went to the Daegu Arboretum. It was a major endeavor, involving a bus ride, a subway trip all the way to the end of the line, and a mile walk, but it was worth it.

There were probably literally a million flowers there, and gorgeous autumn leaves (although they don't turn the brilliant reds and oranges see in upstate New York), and lots of local couples and kids and cameras. (Koreans say "kim chee" to smile for photos, by the way.) And a very patient flutterby with a two-inch wingspan.

It's a very peaceful place.

It reminded me so strongly of my childhood, with my dad at the Plant Science greenhouses and gardens at Cornell, and walking to football games amid the crisp air and the reds and oranges on the trees.

I want some apple cider.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I know I'll get home

Hey you guys! I found the coolest things this morning.

Before last weekend, I had only been out running once since I got here, as the city seems to be made up entirely of dangerous main roads, little winding back streets with no room for both pedestrians and drivers, and (on the main streets) sidewalks with a lot of uneven and missing bricks. Sidewalks can rip up your knees pretty darn good anyway (or at least my knees, which are already arthritic). Getting hit by a car ain't no Whitman's sampler, neither.

Running with Anna on Sunday (as well as finding out that my scale is off by five kilos, so I haven't lost 11 pounds-- or 11 ounces-- after all) inspired me. But I'm not about to walk 20 minutes each way and take the subway twice to get to the river near downtown (and back) every time I want to run. This morning, I went out in my new warmup pants (I'm not so very brave that pj pants seemed like a good longterm solution) and headed east, away from the city center, toward the amusement park area I wrote about several weeks ago.

But this time I went a little farther, and I couldn't believe what I found. I came to a river, of which the one toward downtown is a tributary. It has miles of untrafficked road next to it, and paddle boats shaped like swans moored along the waterfront. I found a huge statue of some ancient hero (not John McCain) on his noble steed, and I saw a huge marble-blocked building (a ziggurat? a ziggar?), with an elaborate pagodaesque building on top. (When I went back to take these photos, an old man was beating a drum and another was playing cymbals, so I'm guessing it's something Buddhist.) I went toward the tall, pale tower I see every night when I come home; it has a big diamond-shaped space near the top that at night glows with ever-changing pastel neon lights. I had assumed it was part of some business complex; it turns out it marks a massive war memorial plaza with a black granite wall that has thousands of names carved on it, flanked by bellicose friezes and backed by dozens of Korean flags. It will mean something different now when I see it every night; appropriately, today is Veterans' Day in the US.

And best of all, I found a park! There's a long hilly strip, fifty yards wide and maybe miles long, up above the river, with dirt trails and grass and trees, all just about ideal for running. This is wonderful new knee news. My biggest complaint about Daegu, other than the air quality, is the nearly complete lack of parks, green space, and nature. I found some! I'll be out there running often.

And, maybe more importantly, I confirmed something that's been coming on for awhile now about timid little me: I should take some chances, try something new, let myself blunder about, and see what I find. (I think I mean that in more ways than just physically.) I have a decent sense of direction and I know some landmarks now, and I'm not afraid to strike out in some direction to see something new, come to an intersection, and take a guess which is the better way to turn. (As Yogi Berra said, "When you see a fork in the road, take it.")

I know I'll get home.

Today, once I was out of sight of anything I knew, I just headed westish sometimes and northish sometimes, ended up taking a tunnel under a railroad bridge, seeing a high school with an artificial turf soccer field (other schools have dirt), and inching and oonching my way back down alleyways and across eight-lane roads till I knew where I was. I ended up running ten minutes longer than I thought I could, but I made it.

I know I'll get home.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

This post has been approved for mature audiences only

...that title may be a trick to get you to read this, but it worked, didn't it? And any twelve-hour period that involves both an encounter with a hooker and running around halfway across a city in pajama pants has to be considered a little racy, doesn't it? Maybe not...

Last night (Saturday), a bunch of us from the Samduk and Manchon LIKE schools went out to dinner at The Holy Grill, a Canadian-owned restaurant. Originally, those of us at the Obamathon had planned to go there for drinks on Wednesday night, looking for similarly elated Obamericans, but we all pooped out. For Saturday, we opened it to anybody who wanted to come, and avoided political talk. There were seven of us; we ordered drinks and various burgers and cheesesteaks and (for me) a nacho platter the size of a manhole cover.

Afterward, we wandered off on our separate errands. My inexpensive wall clock had stopped working and E-Mart no longer carries them, so I wandered a half-dozen blocks north and west to Daegu (train) Station, then another half-dozen to HomePlus, the department store owned by Samsung and Tesco. I found me a clock, which even as I type is driving me a little nuts because I didn't think to get a sweep-second-hand clock and it's tick... tick... ticking in my ear. Maybe I can get a replacement at a second-hand shop. (Ba-dum-dum.)

On the way back to the main drag downtown, I ended up cutting through the back streets. It's pretty dark and almost a little third-worldy back there, though you can always see a sea of neon a few blocks away.

I was most of the way back to the bus stop when I was tapped on the shoulder. A really pretty, fresh-faced Korean girl, her face lighting up like I was her best friend, said, "Hi!" I knew she wanted something; Korean women do not just greet unfamiliar men, even if the men are quite extinguished- looking. Make that "distinguished".

My first impulse was that she was a hooker, though she was much more attractive and well-kept than I'd expect (quite a bit more so than Julia Roberts in that movie, actually), and the only hookers I'd seen in Korea were some rough-looking Russian women in Busan. Then I thought maybe she wanted a handout, but she was too well-dressed. I said "Hi" back, and kept walking; I figured that, if she really wanted something, she'd call out or follow me. She didn't.

I did a little research when I got home; turns out I had cut through Gyodong Market, which is full of little stores with great deals on electronics and tiny back-alley black market shops that specialize in Western goods you can't get here (like deodorant!). It's also a hotbed (ooh, bad word choice!) of prostitution. Yike.


This morning, I went out to run with Anna, a friend who also teaches at Manchon LIKE. She wants to run a 5K and had asked me to coach her. I only brought minimal running gear from the States: shoes, shorts, shirts. Unfortunately, "warmup suit" does not begin with "sh" and I had limited capacity in packing, so I didn't bring one. (Ah, crap... "socks" doesn't begin with "s" either. Well, it does if you're Sean Connery.) Onward.

What to do? Run in Dockers or jeans? No. Walk a mile to the subway and take the train two miles to the river, where we were going to run, in shorts? No; it was 50 degrees, windy, and damp. I know! I'll wear my plaid flannel lounge pants over my running shorts! (They're supposed to be for kicking around at home, but... don't tell anyone... they're my jammies pants too.)

I figured that: a) people would think that the American style is to run around in your jammies, or b) they think all Americans are crazy anyway, or c) they'd think I was just wearing plaid warmup pants. Oh, and d) nobody knows me anyway, and e) joke 'em if they can't take a... never mind. I will say I never would have dared do this till recently. I don't care too much what strangers think anymore. (Sandi's email signature is a quote from Einstein: "I'm at the age where, if people tell me to put on socks, I don't have to." Smart man.)

The lounge pants actually are great to run in. Turns out there are lockers at the Daegu Bank subway station where I met Anna, so in future I can wear jeans, go into the men's room to take them off, and stow them.

But you know what? It was kind of liberating to wear my jammies in the subway. I recommend it highly. The nightie should stay home, though.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Quantum of Soulless

...okay, the post's title should say something cute about Abba, too, but if some critic doesn't steal my title for the new Bond flick, it'll be a shame. I'm kinda proud of this one.

Anyway, I saw the two most opposite movies ever made. The first was so testosteroney (beefaroney?) I actually grew a chest hair. The second estrogened my moustache off.

Ray, Luke, Alex and I went downtown to see Quantum of Solace, the new 007 movie, which hasn't even opened stateside yet. I disliked it fairly intensely. It was loud and brutal and full of plot I couldn't follow and action scenes I couldn't decipher, because not a single camera shot lingered for more than a second and a half and the sound system was dialed to 111. The movie was dark and gritty and had not one hint of a smile, a heart, or a soul.

The price was right, though: eight bucks for a ticket, popcorn, and a Coke. And as a small-town boy, I'd never been to a theater with a different screen on each of ten floors.

When I got home, I wanted something light, the same way I need something sweet after a spicy Korean meal. I found Mamma Mia online. Gale, who went back to Oklahoma a month ago, said it was the worst movie she's ever attended, and I can understand that. It's certainly goofy and dumb. But it is the brightest, sunniest movie I've ever seen, not counting Jesus Christ, Superstar, which doesn't count due to its rather... downbeat ending.

Speaking of 007, however, whoever decided that Pierce Brosnan could sing should have his brosnan pierced. He's a musical comedy star to the precise extent that I'm James Bond.

The thing is, everyone in the movie obviously decided this is just a crazy, dumb over-the-top campfest, so I'm going to say screw it, let's have fun with it. And they did.

I didn't know my face could wince while my toes were tapping.

And nobody got his head slammed through a plate-glass window. That's always a plus.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh, happy day

(Feel free to skip this post if you voted for McCain.)

We had a little Obamarama at my apartment this morning. Anna (alone in picture) and Micah (young guy) from the Manchon school and Ray C. (not the Ray I spend a lot of time with) and Sandi from the Samduk branch came over and we huddled around my laptop talking and laughing and noshing on fruit and cookies and Cup Noodles and tensing up and relaxing and finally celebrating.

Gee, it was nice to have guests! I had never had anybody in the apartment before; I'm miles from any of the other teachers. It really invigorated me, and so did the result.

I believe Barack Obama may become a great president. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe he's all words, maybe the lefty base will desert him when they find out he's neither a saint nor a wizard. He's a true politician, and you can't get out of a hole this deep very quickly. But I think that maybe he has just the temperament and the brains we need right now, and he could be a transformational figure like Lincoln or (either) Roosevelt or Millard Fillmore. (All right, now I'm just trying to find out who reads these things all the way down to the bottom.)

...and tonight we're going downtown to the Holy Grill to find a celebration. Hooray!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Boos, shoes, 'n' blues

None of the Korean kids had much idea about Halloween. George supervised the preparation of the school for the holiday, hanging shredded streamers at the head of the hallway, putting black construction paper over our classroom windows and purple construction paper over the overhead hall lights, and hanging a few bats and spiders at strategic spots. It all looked pretty spooky. I brought in mini-chocolate bars for the kids and had to teach them all that you don't get a treat by shouting "Teacha! Candy! Candy!" So now they know about Trick or Treat. A few of them had witch hats or capes on; I predict that Halloween will be big here in five or ten years.

Today, Sunday, I was supposed to go hiking on Palgongsan with Micah, but he canceled at the very last minute. Actually, that's just as well; I'm still pretty beat from going up the mountain several days ago and I was mostly going to go to show him around. I was already partway downtown, having taught a class for the absent Heeduk, so I decided to go on down there and find some running shoes. Mine have worn down pretty quickly; the sidewalks here are bad for me, literally from head to toe. (Ha!)

So I located some New Balances at a smallish shop and then found Hami Mami's for some French toast. (It's okay now to not call it Freedom toast, isn't it?) I'd been to the little Hami Mami's Western-style brunch restaurant by Camp Walker a couple of times, but this was the real thing, the one run by Hami herself. It's in Club That, the jazz bar/restaurant that draws a lot of English teachers and other Westerners. There were a few Yanks there today, and to tell the truth it was nice to hear American spoken. I had actually been there once before, saying goodbye to Curtis, up at the tiny third-floor bar. The place is kinda mismatched and funky in a way I like, sort of like the Rongovian Embassy back home, all grown up. I'll be going back to Club That some evening in hopes of making some new friends.

I'm planning a get-together with some of the friends I've already got, Obama supporters who work at LIKE. On Wednesday morning, we're having an election-watching party (a Democratic party) at my place. Maybe a half-dozen people, which is all the apartment can hold, will come. I found a site that streams MSNBC and CNN (and F-word News) live and one of the guests is bringing a wireless router so we can set up several laptops. We'll have brunchy stuff and maybe, I hope, a little champagne. It will be a great party... if we win.

To tell the truth, I'm a little worried about the election; Obama's way ahead in the popular vote, but that includes huge margins in New York, California, and Illinois. He's only a little ahead in a lot of battleground states, and between the hammering about taxes and the (incredibly suspiciously timed) illegally leaked info about his illegal-resident aunt and possible buyer's remorse by the undecideds, they might flip. It's just possible he could get 52% of the popular vote and lose the electoral college. I don't expect it to happen, but it might. I'd like to say that I'd just die, but I already died in the last two elections.

Anyway, I went looking for mugs and glasses. I walked several blocks west of downtown, where I had never been before, to the huge Seomun Market, and found something I'd rather not have seen (see the post below this), which is still haunting me, but no mugs. I took the bus back and stopped at E-Mart and found the most darling mugs on special. (That adjective was in solidarity with those opposing the anti-gay measures in California and Florida.) They have happy cartoon donkeys on them! (The mugs, not the people opposing... oh, never mind.) If our side wins, I'll give the mugs to my friends as souvenirs.

It will be a great time if we win. We'll paint the town Democratic blue. If not, we'll be the ones who are blue.

I'll never go into a traditional market again

In planning for Wednesday morning's election returns get-together at my apartment, I went looking for mugs and glasses. (I have two of each, and I expect a half-dozen guests.)

I ended up 'way on the other side of downtown, at Seomun Market, the biggest traditional Korean market between Seoul and Busan. I was leery of going anywhere near a market after seeing the dog carcass at one of them, but I know that you can find nearly anything there, for much cheaper than in department stores, and I planned to steer clear of any dead animal stalls, which are always grouped together.

The market is amazing, a giant labyrinth of dark, tiny little shops with four- or five-foot aisles between them, with many thousands of people trying to elbow through each other, sometimes motor scooters plowing through the crowds, and literally millions of items for sale. The photo above is of the widest, brightest, least crowded area there, and at that I waited for a dozen people to pass me before I took the picture.

I had just entered an area with a lot of dead fish and decided to turn around when up ahead I saw a gorgeous little fluffy white dog the size of a purse, in a cage barely bigger than he was. He was panting happily and wagging at everyone who walked by. He was so cute and happy that he should have been in a Mighty Dog commercial.

He was food.

No doubt they'd sell him as a pet if you wanted, but he was there next to a lot of little cages, each with a half-dozen chickens jammed into them. (If I had seen them earlier, I would have turned around then.) He was food.

I just do not understand how you could kill and eat something that's wagging its tail and smiling at you.

For a moment I thought wildly about buying him. But I can't have a dog where I am. It ran through my mind to buy him and just let him go on the street to take his chances. But I've seen half-starving cats on the streets, and I haven't seen any hint of an animal shelter in the city. It seemed even crueler to turn him loose to suffer, and all that would happen then is that they'd bring in another dog tomorrow to take his place on Death Row.

It hurt badly, but I turned around and walked away as fast as I could. Did I do the right thing?

Tanks of fish and octopi and squid are in the windows, or on the sidewalks out front, of restaurants everywhere here, and I always feel terrible thinking about their waiting all unknowing to be grabbed and killed at any time. I know that animal cruelty is just more open here than in the U.S., and I know that ignoring the situation doesn't make it go away. But focusing on it doesn't make it go away either.

Did I do the right thing? I don't think I'll ever know.