Monday, November 16, 2009

Your text here

I wanted to call this post "You can't go home again", then a couple of hours later I was going to title it "What's eating you?" and finally I just had to settle on "Your text here". All shall be (slightly) clearer shortly.

I'm just back from Daegu for one more Sunday evening with Joanna before she goes home; the impromptu week off is over and I have to get up for work in six hours, but I need to unwind, so...

Six months ago, Joanna invited me to return to Daegu for her Thanksgiving spread, but-- huh-- I'll be working. When I was at LIKE, she and I developed quite a nice little tradition on Sundays, usually dinner, usually ice cream, often both. I needed that one more time. Also, though I said my goodbyes to Emma a few weeks ago, I was delighted at the thought of seeing her one last time. Also, Jesse, though I'll be seeing her again in January, is also one of my favorite people in the Eastern Hemisphere, so...

I caught the KTX bullet train this morning. It's a cold, bright, windy wintry day all over Korea; on the trip down, I saw my first snow on the ground in the last 15 years. Yeah, it took that long for it to look good to me again.

When I got to Daegu, I walked from the station to LIKE and worked out a schedule for me while St. Paul is on winter break: the week after Christmas and two at the end of January. I'll be teaching one-on-ones and small groups and doing videos, all on how to write an independent essay.

Then I walked to my old apartment. I felt I needed to walk around the neighborhood on the one-in-a-million chance that I would find Tiki. I didn't find him for the last three weeks I lived there, and that was nearly three months ago, but I've seen miracles before so I couldn't fail to take the time.

I was absolutely gobsmacked when I got there. My apartment, the landlord's apartment, the egg-shipping business downstairs: all gutted, the window glass removed. The red-and-white striped awning: gone. (For a moment, I wasn't sure I was standing in front of the right place.) The yard where I spent hours and hours waiting for Tiki to show up: impassable, thigh-deep in debris.

No one was around, so I went up the steep stairs (now with no railing) to the apartment. It's an eerie feeling, having the biting wind whistling through the place you happily spent the last year.
It felt like the closing scene in some downbeat movie. And there was no Tiki around.

I had arranged to meet Emma downtown at 1:30 and Joanna and Jesse at 4:30. As it turns out, it was so cold that there wasn't much to do but stay inside and eat. Emma and I started at a new, fourth-floor organic restaurant/used book store. The place may be something special in awhile, but they've only just opened; the only books they had were the proprietor's, and she got screwed over with their heating: it doesn't work at all. So we froze-- I sat there in my long-sleeve t, cardigan, and windbreaker and shivered. The food, veggie lasagna for me, was good, though; it reminded me of Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca.

When we were through, we just wanted to get warm, and Emma steered me to an amazing coffee shop. Starbucks and other similar shops will charge 4000 Won ($3.50) for a single paper cup of coffee; this place was warm and sunny, and for 3500 Won you get unlimited coffee, in real mugs, and equally unlimited bread and dinner rolls that you pop into a toaster oven; they come with butter and jam. And... for 2000 Won more... a fifteen-minute appointment with the doctor fish!

 (These are not my feet; I had brilliantly left my camera across the room and, inexplicably, my feet were wet. This is a photo from the Web. Close enough, though.)

Doctor fish (garra rufa) come from Turkey and make their living eating rough skin on people's feet. (Some people at some spas immerse their entire bodies into tubs of doctor fish; not me, pal, not now, not ever, never.) It was such a delight sitting next to Emma, who covered her face and giggled and giggled and giggled. And squealed, just a little. This was in spite of the fact that she had had a pedicure quite recently and only attracted a few fish while I-- the runner without a bathtub or a way to sit down in the shower-- had literally a couple hundred, all over my feet. How does it feel? Somewhere between a tingle, a very mild electical current, and 7-Up.

Frankly, with my distaste for fish-- THEY'RE CREEPY, DUDES!-- I was amazed I went through with it. I remember seeing doctor fish on The Amazing Race a few years ago and just knowing that was something I'd never do. However, I'm still not eating live octopus, which the Race had contestants do right here in Seoul. So don't invite me to your next raw octopus gala, please.

Then it was time to meet Jesse and Jo. They were starving and led us to a new pizzeria, where I saw the single best sign I have ever seen in my very long and now widely-traveled life:

I'm laughing at it now, seven hours later; I think they could have used a little Anglophone help.

Having had veggie lasagna, salad, and a half-dozen dinner rolls in the last two hours, I only had some garlic bread and enjoyed the company of three of my favorite people.

And then it was time for Jo and Steve's Last Ice Cream Social. We all went to Baskin-Robbins, just like old times. You know, even when the air is colder than the dessert, ice cream is goooood.

Finally they went their ways and I caught the subway to Dongdaegu Station and came home. It took 100 minutes from Dongdaegu to Seoul Station and another 80 from there to the apartment, and that would have taken longer if I hadn't gotten tired of waiting for the bus-- the temperature was 28 Fahrenheit, the wind about 20 miles per hour-- and taken a taxi on the last leg home.

So, as Samwise Gamgee said, I'm back. Tug is warming his shaved belly on my lap but it's past time to go to bed. I doubt that I'll ever see Emma or Joanna again; the trip was worth the money, the time, and the fish. Good night, friends.

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