Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday in the park with me

Having come home late last night after seeing Wolverine with Luke and Joanna and gotten up early this morning to go teach, I coffeed my way through school from 9 to 3, and then, filled with resolve to make something special of my day, came home and took a nap.

Sadly, I had to wake up eventually. I tried to figure out something interesting and different to do, but eventually, just before six, I gave up planning and just went out to walk wherever my feet decided to go. The weather was just gorgeous today, in the mid-70s, and sunny and dry, and I had to be out in it for awhile.

My feet decided to wander down to the park area by the river where I go running. I scouted out the little amusement area to which I'm hoping to get my friends to come: batting cages, mechanical bull, carny games, little roller coaster, swingy-back-and-forthy pirate boat. Also, nearby, noraebangs, bars with little private karaoke rooms. They are ubiquitous. On any given evening, 73 percent of all Koreans are at either a PC bang playing computer games or a noraebang. In further news, 91 percent of all statistics are completely made up.

Then I walked along the waterfront, watching a flotilla of duck boats being paddled around. A rather leathery Korean man greeted me, in English, like a long-lost friend. Turns out he lived for forty years in LA, and I guess he was just eager to keep his English fresh; the sign as you enter my area of the city says, "Welcome to Suseong-gu. Population, 750,351 Koreans. And Steve". I'm the Anglophone Committee. His name is Toby Oh. (Great name for a cereal, don't you think, Toby-Os?) He asked me to sit and insisted on giving me his phone number and getting mine. He helps his brother-in-law rent out duck boats; I told him I'd try to come back on Tuesday with my friends.

My feet decided to go across the footbridge over the river; halfway across, I saw a very attractive young Korean couple. The woman was tottering across the plank bridge in heels, as tentative as a fawn on ice; the man broke into a big smile and said, "Steve!" I couldn't have been more surprised had the earth spun off his axis or the Mets run off a three-game winning streak. The only problem is, I couldn't place him.

It turns out he's DJ, the owner of Gulliver's Travels, a downtown restaurant that Ray took me to earlier in the week. By the way, I'll keep going back there; DJ's English is practically better than mine (well, yours... I kid), so for the first time in eight months, I can tell somebody what I can and can't eat. He fixed me some wonderful veggie quesadillas that day; thought I'd died and gone to Chili's.

I found out at the far end of the bridge that they'd doubled the charge to cross; it's three bucks American for a round trip now, which seems a bit steep; for that, somebody ought to come out and carry you. I may not continue walking over the river to the Home Plus store. But I did today, got a few groceries (all right, soy milk; ears of corn, as always, shucked and shrink-wrapped; Tesco Cranberry Wheats cereal; and Lotus Brand Original Carmelised Biscuits all the way from England, if you must know.) I also noticed that the store escalators are labeled "Schindler", which makes me wonder if the company is called Schindler's Lifts...

On the way back, it was just dusk and still lovely, and I decided to walk the long, long free route back home, along the dirt embankment rising above the east side of the river and over the big auto bridge.

I wish you had been there: indigo sky overhead with a just-over-half moon, hints of pale blue-gray away off in the west, the last of the duck boats returning to their berths, the red and blue neon of the little amusement park and the motels shining across the river, and off on a hill to the left, a floodlit ornate Buddhist building shining like noontime. I wish you'd seen it. I can still see it now.

I think I've found my place, in a way. I often go hours without meeting anyone I can talk to, which means I'm of necessity set apart, thinking my own thoughts and just being. Walking through the city this way fits me, for better or worse. Right now, I think it's for better. I'm connected to the people I want to be connected to, and content in my sometime isolation.

I'm happy, and Daegu is my home. Wherever I am is where I'm supposed to be.


PeterBugnet said...

your mood here, and the "walking the city alone" thing reminds of william gibson's writing. you read some?

Stephen J said...

No, though I do recall the cover of "Neuromancer" in paperback. Does that count?

See Robert Frost's "Acquainted With the Night", though the somber mood is something I had for years and have now shed.