Monday, March 21, 2011

Serendipity and solitude

Our school just started its two-week spring break, and the challenge for me will be to find things to do to fill the time. I mean besides grading, planning, writing, cleaning, and other such exciting gerunds.

I usually only hash one day a week, Saturday mornings with my home kennel, Yongsan Kimchi. But with no appointments for the next 17 days, on Friday night I ventured up to Itaewon for the once-monthly Full Moon Hash. This was my sixth separate hashing group: Yongsan Kimchi, Southside, Osan Bulgogi (down in the city of Songtan, next to the US Air Force base), PMS (on their semiannual coed hash), 38th Parallel, and Full Moon.

Frankly, I should have stayed home, for a couple of reasons. The actual hash was fun, running around the hills and back streets of Itaewon in the dark with a flashlight. Afterward, though, there was no traditional hashing circle-- ceremonies and jokes and risque songs-- just a small number of hashers taking up one corner of a noisy, smoky bar. I left early. And by Sunday, the running on Friday and Saturday would... well, you'll see.

The thing that will amaze those of you who know me too well is that I (wait for it-- you may want to sit down-- ah, you're probably already doing that; you may want to hold on to something) I declined to buy a commemorative t-shirt. Yeah, I said it. I love love love t-shirts and I love, especially after being in Korea for 2 1/2 years without really belonging to anything much, belonging to something. (I also am avid to collect hash patches-- sort of like demerit badges-- for my happi coat.) So of course I had to buy the Full Moon Hash shirt, with its terrific graphic of a rabbit howling at the moon.

...except that the O's in the "Full Moon" lettering were actually a stylized butt (full moon, get it?) and the rest of the lettering was in that faux-Chinese style, which I find vaguely offensive, you see on cheap "Chinee Takee-Outee" restaurant menus. (If it had been faux-Korean I might have reconsidered, but, really, where could I feel comfortable wearing the shirt?) But I moped a little because I missed out on a hash shirt because it didn't suit me to a t.

The next morning, I loaded up the goodies I'd bought from Costco and E-Mart, in my new capacity as "hash chef", and headed via bus and subway and subway to the Noksapyeong area. (It's a little slower going when you're toting bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly, pretzels, tortilla chips, and cookies.)

This Yongsan Kimchi run was a celebration of both St. Pat's Day  and DODIC'S 55th birthday. DODIC is a military guy who's been a hardcore hasher for 30 years, by my estimation between 1500 and 2000 times. He and two other hares led us up and over Namsan Mountain (where, sliding down a long flat rock covered with pebbles, I earned my Red Badge of Carelessness by cutting my thumb, just enough to bleed a bit.) We ended up across the street from Gyeongbokgung, Korea's grandest palace, for an epic circle.
TKO (I don't think I should say what those letters stand for) and GI Ho, a Real American Zero.

...where I got my reward for my fiscal and sartorial restraint of the night before: three patches: 20th Run (all with Yongsan Kimchi, all within 19 weeks; St. Patrick's Day Hash; and the coveted Blood on Trail. Aaaaand a t-shirt: on the front, a SPEED LIMIT 55 sign, with bullet holes in it, altered to read "NO SPEED LIMIT 55 (AND STILL ALIVE)"; on the back, the logos of all of Korea's hashing groups.
The defining quality of Seoul, to me, is its mix of ancient and very modern.

On my way to the subway station and Insadong, Seoul's artsy pedestrian mall, I came upon a little Buddhist gift shop and wandered in. In my first serendipitous event of the weekend, I found a rack of wooden-bead prayer bracelets identical to mine. Last week, I was talking to our new hasher Sin after the run and she greatly admired my bracelet and said she'd love to have one if she could get one etched with her Chinese sign, the Rat. (We disagreed on which of us had us worse in the Zodiacal field, her as a Crab in the Western system and a Rat, or me as a Snake and a Scorpion.)

The ladies in the shop spoke no English and I certainly didn't know the Korean for "Rat", so I was about to give up when it occurred to me to employ my mad Pictionary/Eat Poop You Cat skillz and draw this magnificent picture in my notebook:

...and thus got Sin her bracelet. I also found an English bookstore next door and bought a wonderful guidebook to Seoul's attractions, which I'm going to employ on this vacation.

Insadong had a great number of people, both Korean and waegookin, wearing green in honor of St. Patrick.
 Ah... not so much green in this picture. Faith and begorrah. The banner is for St. Pat, at least.

I bumped into GI Ho, Kiwi Weewee, Willing to Pay, and Bootylicious from the hash, and then came my second serendipity: I was wearing my "Ithaca is Gorges" hoodie and a young woman stopped, asked "Are you from Ithaca?" and exclaimed, "I'm from Rochester!" Small world-- Rochester is 90 miles from Ithaca-- but it would get smaller and more serendipitous the next day.

On Sunday afternoon, I went for my "long" training run, supposedly for 90 minutes; my half-marathon is just three weeks away. But I did fine for a measly 20 minutes, down the Yangjae Cheon toward Gwacheon City, and just... ran... out... of... oomph. I told you that hashing on Friday night (leading into hashing on Saturday) was a mistake! I just didn't have anything left on Sunday. I'm worried about the half coming up.

Anyway, I turned around and walked oomphlessly back home along the stream. As I got to the ramp to my street, a Korean guy was walking down it and smiling in a quizzical way at me. I knew I must know him from someplace... a waiter at the Vietnamese cafe? The guy from the sandwich shop?... so I smiled back and said hello.

The guy said, "You are Stephen?" I had to admit that I was, and flailed about mentally to figure out who he was. It was Pil-kon (English name, Ara), a very genial guy who always came to our Daegu Writers' Group meetings! I hadn't seen him in nearly two years, and that in a city nearly at the other end of Korea. It turns out that he was visiting his sister, who lives in my neighborhood, for the week.

Now... what are the odds that in a metropolitan area of 23 million people, Ara-- my only Korean acquaintance from Daegu with whom I didn't work-- would be coming down the ramp at the same moment I reached it? And at that, I was only there then because my run had failed so spectacularly. I wonder how many times we miss by this much running into somebody from our past... or our future.
I'd meant for this post to include my thoughts about our spring break and about being alone, but it's gone on for so long even I don't want to read any more. So I'll leave the heading, because I like it, but split the "solitude" part off to stand... um... alone.

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