So how about an entry that's not about work, for once? This weekend was pretty immense -- a couples' trip (double) down to Jinju for the lantern festival, and then another day trip to Geojae Do before we returned. Although we had a car, which undoubtedly made the running around a lot more pleasant, the unquestionable mantra for the weekend was definitely, Korea: too many people, not enough things.
We ended up heading out a lot later than we meant to, which is what happens when you get too many grumpy coffee addicts in one car at 8 o'clock in the morning. Obviously, we hit horrendous traffic. Because when do you ever not hit horrendous traffic in this country? During the journey, the couple up front played 20 questions in English, while I gave it my best shot with Busan in the back in Korean. I wasn't doing too badly until Busan started asking questions like, "Does this person get angry easily?" and "Does this person say a lot of swear words?", which confused me.... because.... really? Thinking I must be somehow misunderstanding, I told him to repeat it in English. No. I wasn't missing anything. He's just terrible at that game.
We made it in by the afternoon and took a short jaunt around the palace, before deciding we'd better find a place to sleep before we were left with the car as the only option. Had a whale of a time navigating the tiny streets as one of the boyfriends hopped in and out to ask about room availability. Eventually, we found something set a way's back from the main street, and no sooner had I set literally only one foot inside the door, than the ajumma decided to get her panties in a wad: "러시아?" That was it. It didn't even merit a full sentence. I hadn't even taken my sunglasses off, for fuck sake, and the other Korean male/foreign female couple were still stuck out in the car park. Busan nervously chuckled and replied that I was American. ".... 친구?" the ajumma shot back.
It was the middle of the day during one of the city's most popular festivals, and we were carrying luggage. Once there was no getting out of the idea that we might be actual legitimate couples, she still managed to come up with something, which I missed because I had already scoffed, scooped up my bag and started to head up the stairs. Once Busan got up to the room behind me, he informed me that she had asked if the men were going to be studying abroad. At which point he said he just decided to ignore her.
He fussed about it for a bit, as I washed my face in the bathroom and the fixed my make up. "If I were you, I'd feel really bad right now...." he ventured, trying to see how I was taking it.
"No news there, buddy. She's just a tacky person. Better to just ignore it."
We headed out to walk across the river and see the massive, elaborate floating lanterns close up. It was gorgeous. And strange. And fucking crowded. As dark began to fall, my friend and I watched as Busan and her boyfriend played a few of their country's traditional games, surrounded by children, and then we all wrote our wishes for the coming year on scraps of silk and glued them to the metal frames of lanterns in the shape of our zodiac animals. We crossed the bridge over the river and had the audacity to try to find something to eat, which became increasingly frustrating as we realized every restaurant in the town had covered over their usual menus with special cloth renditions, marking the prices at about 30,000 won a plate for ordinary meat like 되지갈비. Eventually, we spotted a platform of old folks crowded around a glowing meat truck, surrounded by quickly emptying bottles of soju and magkeolli. Bingo. If you ever need to know where you should be in Korea, just follow the old folks. They know what's up. All of the most gorgeous barbecued pork we could eat and two bottles of Busan magkeolli for under 7,000 won per person. Lush.
After dinner, we crossed the street to walk through the bamboo forest, which had been lit up with lanterns for the occasion. Took a quick slide down the side of the mountain to find the endless tunnels of a kind of red lantern I've never seen before. Inside the tunnel, Busan somehow managed to make a small child burst into tears simply by looking at her. Kids really don't like him. I thought the way my students suddenly hide behind me when they happen upon us in the neighborhood was just due to their shyness, but apparently even strange children find him terrifying for no apparent reason. Afterwards, fireworks, as the floating lanterns out on the Namgang were finally lit. Exhausted and a little rattled from the staring, we made our way across the makeshift floating bridge to the palace grounds on the other side. Got a nice look at 의암, the rock where 논개 allegedly locked her arms General Keyamura Rokusuke, flinging them both to their deaths in the river below, and then made our way sleepily back to the motel.
The next morning we set out to find proper coffee, which involved -- believe it or not -- the use of four smart phones and one navi system. Once we made it to the coffee shop, Busan, who had been hoping for a Korean breakfast, got a little sulky. So I took him around the corner to a mart where he happily wolfed down two triangle kimbaps and a massive bowl of ramyeon. His mood immediately improved.
We set out for Geojae do, where our only real plan was to ride the cable cars. About seventeen million years later, we finally made it to the cable cars, only to find that it would be another three to four hour wait to actually ride them. We decided we'd rather not join the tremendous impromptu Trot party that had sprung up over to the side (although Busan was drawn in a little, with his 농부 soul), and headed for the Prisoners of War Museum instead. Which was. Odd.
There is something a little difficult to understand, sometimes, about the way Korea sometimes handles the violent and conflicted parts of its history. The children's amusement park at the DMZ springs to mind, for example, and the POW museum also made myself and my Western friend a little uneasy, in that there was an entire "photo zone" set up, where visitors were invited to help the prisoners make their dinner and join them for their meals. A little odd to our sensibilities, is all. But over all, it was an interesting visit.
After that, we headed to the beach where we sat and drank some coffee and set off a few fireworks, before heading back to town to grab dinner and set out on the long journey back. In the dark, on the highway, we took turns playing songs and singing along, finding that the two very odd overlaps in everyone's musical niches are Britpop and American hip hop from around the same era. We made it back home just after one, and I think just about everyone has spent the extra day off work recuperating.
A good time of the sort I haven't had often enough, due mostly to sheer fear of crowds and lines and hassle. But when you've got good company, almost anything becomes more bearable.