Sunday, August 30, 2009

Smoke on the what now?

(above: Seoul Olympic Stadium, next to the Jamsil Baseball Stadium)

The weekend's just about to end, but I've made sure it's a busy one. During the week I confined myself to the school, the apartment, and the stores in the neighborhood, but in the last 52 hours I've made up for it.

On Friday after work (the last day of prep before the little darlings arrive tomorrow morning), ten of our twelve teachers went out to dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant near the school. It was a good time, though there wasn't too much I could eat; I filled up on scrambled egg rolls. That's scrambled eggs rolled up into cylinders, not egg rolls that have been scrambled.

Afterward, most of us went out for too many beers. Tony said that the Beer Factory right nearby was expensive, so we took the bus to Yangjae Station and drank there. If I get a vote next time, I'm not taking two bus rides, one of them packed gluteus to humerus, wasting a half hour, and spending two bucks per person for the privilege, to save a buck on a pitcher of beer. Still, faculty bonding is a good thing. As the country song says, "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy."

After spending some time at school Saturday, I set off on foot for the bookstore at Kyobo Tower in Gangnam, an upscale shopping area allegedly within long walking distance, but without a good map I ended up walking to Yongjae again and catching the subways to the ballgame. Jamsil Stadium is next to the 1988 Olympic Stadium, was the baseball venue in '88, and makes the ballpark in Daegu look like a shack with a AMC Gremlin up on blocks in the front yard. This is a major-league park; the Lions' is AA, maybe.

The seats were sold out, but as it's the last weekend of the season, I paid a scalper. The visitors were the first-place Kia Tigers, and they brought a lot of people with them; probably only 35 to 40 percent of the crowd was rooting for Our Beloved Doosan Bears. You may recall a post I made not long ago about how Koreans have no sense of others' space; this was more than confirmed as the young guy on my left was continually sticking his Thunder Stick in my face. (Wait... that sounds bad.) Anyway, he like 29,000 of the 30,000 in attendance, was bashing those inflated plastic tubes together, which in his case involved waving one of them in front of my eyes at all times.

After a couple of innings, I moved down to the seat in front of me, in the front row down by the foul pole, and things went much better, even better when I left in the sixth inning with OBDB being mauled and their pickanick baskets stolen by those mean Tigers. I'm not such a fan as to want to catch the subway with 20,000 other people.

On the way back, I got off the subway in Gangnam, but I couldn't tell where the Kyobo Tower was at night, so I came home. Just to top the day off, though, I decided that I needed an office chair, which I did, as I spend too much time at this here computer to sit in a flimsy uncomfortable kitchen chair. So I went to Costco and then spent an interminable time stumbling, sweating, swaying, and saying "frickin' ratzfrazamazz" as I horsed the enormous, heavy, cumbersome box o' chair home. I nearly died when I found out I'd walked two blocks along a dead end and had to go back up. You would have laughed had you seen it, "Ha ha," you would have said. Thank goodness, right after that I found a shopping cart someone had left out on the street; that saved me a few blocks of living death. My arms are still sore, though.

Today, it was back to school for final prep, then I went to the most notorious foreigners' hangout between Tokyo and Baghdad, Itaewon.

And here's what I alluded to in the post I made earlier today: the downside of living where I do is that it's a huge undertaking to go anywhere. To get to Itaewon, which is, I would guess, five miles away as the dragon flies, I had to:

Walk to the bus and wait for it: 10 minutes
Take the bus to Yangjae Station: 10 minutes
Walk down into the subway and wait for the train: 10 minutes
Take the Line Two train nine stops to Yaksu: 20 minutes (Over the river was nice.)
Walk to the other subway line and wait for the train: 10 minutes
Take the Line Six train three stops to Itaewon: 10 minutes
Fight the crowds up the stairs to ground level: 5 minutes the subway here is pretty grungy, compared to Daegu's, which is quite new; it's kind of like New York's compared to D.C.'s or Montreal's. (Apparently, it's a similar ordeal, where I live, to go anywhere and see anything. It was to get to the stadium, and the nearest subway stop will always be a forty-minute walk away.)

So... one of my new friends had suggested I not go to Itaewon alone at night, and I can see why; it's frequented by US soldiers, who are resented by the locals due to their... umm... extracurricular activities. The neighborhood is packed cheek-by-jowl with hundreds of little businesses: dive bars, restaurants, vendors with booths selling all kinds of bangles, baseball caps, and something or other else that starts with "b", tiny shops selling hip-hop clothing, Middle Eastern groceries, made-to-order-shirt stores... and people from all over the world, ten times as many nationalities in five minutes as I've seen in a year: Africans, Turks, Pakistanis, Americans, Chinese. I think I may have even heard a smattering of Canadian. And...

...I found my goal, What the Book. What the Book delivers books anywhere in Korea with no delivery charge, mostly ordered from the States and then sent on, but they have one physical location, and I found it. It's in a basement, with a few hundred new titles and, they claim, 18,000 used books... all. in. English. Unless you're in Korea, you can have no idea what heaven it was to be surrounded by English speakers and English language books! Oh, it was wonderful, like a mini vacation. It felt so very good. I bought Mad Libs for class use, Lonely Planet Seoul, a book on Korean culture and etiquette, and Stephen King's book on writing, On Writing (ol' Steve is a font of creativity.) But mostly it was just so good to be there, so much so that it was worth the trip.

But it would be nice to be able to just go places without needing provisions, a compass, iron rations, and a Sherpa.

...and now it's bedtime, then showtime, and I start earning my money.

(Yes, this is 20,000 Kia Tigers fans singing the guitar lead-in to Smoke on the Water. I told you before: everybody here crazy.)

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