Monday, October 31st, 2011
It is a beautiful fall Monday and I am back at my desk enjoying a free period. This is one of those rare Mondays when you are still so jazzed from the weekend that you can probably make it all the way to lunch time before you are so fed up with work that you start dreaming of the next weekend. I can hear you saying; ‘But Tom, you normally hate Mondays, what made this weekend so great?’
Well first of all my father is visiting Korea this week. I really enjoy showing him around and experiencing all my favorite restaurants and hikes and activities with him. Let me fill you in on the Kingdon men’s adventures in Korea so far;
It all started Thursday night when I met Jim at the airport. We jumped into a cab for the short journey to the subway. When we got out Jim asked; ‘Do all cabs drive as dangerously as that or was it just that one?’ I hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. Then again, I’ve been living with the knowledge that my life could be taken in a hit and run accident at any moment for 8 months now, so I’m immune to the atrocious driving habits of the locals.
The next morning Jim and I headed to school. My vice-principal agreed to let Jim come and watch my lessons, and even participate in a few of them. One class we had all the students introduce themselves to him as they came into the room. In another class we had a question and answer period and so on. One of the most memorable experiences of a visit to a Korean elementary school has got to be the constant barrage of ‘Hello!’ ‘Hello Tom teacher!’ ‘Oh hello there’ and so on. Even though its a little annoying having to say ‘Hello’ 600 times between the front doors and the classroom you can’t blame the students –> they just want to practice their English and ‘Hello’ is really all they know. Anyway Jim has been teasing me ever since about how I have to suffer through four more months of daily ‘Hellos’ before I can come home. To bust my chops he sent me an e-mail this morning; Subject: Hello! Message: Hello.
Saturday saw us rise bright and early to get the first of our two full days together started. We took the subway to Nampo and investigated the International Market –> A huge outdoor bazaar that sells everything under the sun (literally and metaphorically). Afterwards we met up with one of my students, a 5th grade boy, who had invited me out for lunch with him and his Mom. Although I knew this would be awkward and eat into my Saturday I agreed to have lunch with him because I remember having one or two teachers back in elementary school who I wanted to invite over for dinner as a kid, but was never able to.
We ate samgyupsal (Korean barbecue) and it was delicious. After lunch the real fun began.
Saturday night was the final night of the International Fireworks Festival – a week long festival of concerts and fireworks on the beach. Saturday night was the finale and over 1,000,000 people we expected in attendance. Jim and I had a drink at my apartment after lunch, then jumped on the subway to check out the fireworks. The subway car was packed… like sardines in a can packed. We arrived at the beach to find a good number of people had already arrived. It was 4pm and the fireworks started at 8. We figured a good way to kill time would be to have a quick beer. We stopped at a bar called 700 Beer (the bar was mostly empty). The maitre’d greeted us and asked if we had a reservation –> we said no. He told us that a table for the night would cost 180,000 won (roughly $180). We asked if we could have a quick beer before moving on. After talking our way into a beer at 700 Beer our night began to adopt the favor of what I call the ‘Party Gods.’
You know those nights when you are out in the company of friends and everything just seems to go your way? Almost like there is some higher power watching over your night and manipulating every event to end up in your favor? Well thats the kind of night this one turned into.
I still remember the first time I was blessed by the party gods… My friends and I had gone to Montreal for the second night of a 3 night drinking bender that would span two provinces, beginning in the nation’s Capital and ending in a remote cottage in north-central Ontario. We swaggered into a Montreal nightclub and my friend, we will call him ‘J’, made a beeline for the ATM. J saw what he thought was one of our group at the ATM already (somehow, in the 30 seconds since entering the bar, J had forgotten that he was the first of us into the place and that there is no way any of us could have beat him to the ATM). Employing his powers of inebriated decision making J thought it would be a good idea to jump on the back of the guy at the ATM and hump him vigorously (remember that J thought the stranger at the ATM was one of his friends… although that still begs the question of why he thought he should jump on his back and hump him). Naturally the stranger was a little upset and was quick to point this out to J. As J told him not to worry and that it was a mistake a bouncer appeared.
Surely this must spell the end of our night? At least the end of our time at that club? Even if they don’t kick all of us out just for knowing J they will definitely throw him to the curb and we would have to follow. “What’s this about?” the bouncer growls as he grabs the stranger by the neck and escorts him out of the bar – leaving J to waltz up to the ATM and buy us all a beer to celebrate dodging the biggest bullet since Bush Jr. managed to avoid a war crimes trial. That was the night the party gods first became known to me, and last Saturday at the fireworks festival there is no doubt in my mind that they had once again sent a tiny drunken angel to sit on my shoulder and steer the night’s events in our favor.
So as my father and I sit at 700 Beer taking in the view the party gods give us a little nudge that seems to whisper “move closer to the middle of the beach.” What was this tiny nudge you ask? Well right about halfway through our beer we noticed some water bubbling up from a sewar grate right in front of the restaurant. We watch the water overflow the grate for a few minutes, contemplating the poor Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who surely must have drowned beneath the streets of Busan. Then we notice the smell. At this point we start to hurry to finish our beers – if we don’t leave soon the ever expanding puddle of brownish sewage water will reach the door of the bar and we will have to walk through it to leave. Right around the time we start to see pieces of toilet paper coming up through the grate we down our beers and move along, leaving 700 Beer and the poor people who paid $180 a table behind us.
We are still thirsty, so we stop at another bar – WaBar – for another quick drink. This bar also has a few tables available, but we figure they won’t let us stay for long as most bars had probably reserved their tables like 700 Beer did. We order an Australian beer, xxxx. Right around the time we are finishing our beer we notice it has started to rain. We decide to order one more and see if the rain stops before we head back out to find a spot to watch the fireworks. At the time we didn’t realize that the rain was just another subtle nudge from the party gods to stay where we were. Three rounds later it is 7:10pm and the rain hasn’t let up – in fact it has intensified. The streets outside are now packed and the bar is full as well. The have been turning people away at the door for a good 30-40 minutes. We decide we might as well order some food and one more round then leave right before the fireworks start.
When we order our fourth round of xxxx the waiter informs us that there is none left. Unless you’ve done it before it is hard to communicate the pride and triumph a man feels when he is informed that he has drank a bar dry of any type of alcohol. I desperately wanted to give my Dad a high-five to celebrate this great victory, but my co-teacher had joined us by that point and she might not approve of such behavior. Finally, just as we finish the last round (I switched to Moosehead because I realized it has been way to long since I’ve had a Canadian beer) the first few fireworks are launched. It is still raining fairly hard and the roughly one million people watching from the beach and the road look pretty cold, so my Dad and I decide to just stand in the bar’s doorway and watch from there. Thank you party gods for providing warmth and shelter from which we may imbibe alcohol in vast quantities and slake our heroic thirst while awaiting the detonation of hundreds of tiny bombs in the skies above our heads.
The fireworks themselves were absolutely amazing. The show lasted one hour (during which time roughly one million dollars worth of fireworks were launched). Everyone knows the finale of a fireworks show is the best part. Well, every minute of fireworks on Saturday was better than even the best finale I have ever seen. Some of the fireworks were so huge and loud that the sound hit you like a physical thing – I could feel the front of my jeans and shirt being pushed against me by the force of the sound. Did I mention that the bar the party gods had led us to was essentially front row center?
At one point in the show they had seven red phoenixes flying about (just remote controlled airplanes, but with phoenix shaped wire frames holding red LED lights) as more fireworks were set off behind them. Then the flying phoenixes burst into flames/golden sparklers and flew around on fire for several seconds, before becoming regular birds again and continuing to fly for a few more minutes. It was insane.
After the show roughly one million people all left at the same time, while Jim and I opted to grab another round, just to beat the crowds. Good thing we happened to be standing in the doorway of a bar, right party gods? Of the hundreds of thousands of people that saw those fireworks how many were able to do it warm, dry, with bellies full of hot food and cold beer and without paying anything for the priviledge? Not many. If that doesn’t make you believe in the party gods, I don’t know what will (okay, maybe not believe in them… but at least admit they are more likely to exist than the tooth fairy).
Sunday morning we woke up and shook the beer and sleep off our bones with a hike in Igidae Park. I’ve videoed and blogged about this hike before so you know roughly what it is all about. After the hike we went to Busan Aquarium. The aquarium has been on my ‘To-Do’ list for some time, so it was a great opportunity to finally see what it was all about. The admission fee was a little steep (18,000 won) but the aquarium was really interesting and a unique experience. There were dozens of smaller tanks holding everything from piranhas and freshwater fish to eels to jellyfish to the ‘Ocean’s Most Poisonous’ fish. After making our way past the smaller tanks it was time to check out the main tank. I wish I had some statistics on its size, but suffice it to say it was bigger than most bungalow style homes. It had hundreds of small fish swimming in schools, giant turtles and flat rays swimming lazily and even a handful of sharks. It was really cool to see the schools of fish parting as the huge shark swam through the middle of them.
I guess I should mention that we were seeing all this through an underwater tunnel that we were walking through. I took a short video that I will post in a week or so when I get all the footage from Jim’s visit together.
After the aquarium we had lunch at Wolfhound’s Irish Bar in Haeundae beach. One of my favorite expat havens; Wolfhounds offers good import beer and awesome western food. They also sponsor my frisbee team so I go there often for team gatherings. After Wolfhounds we took a short rest before heading out to the weekly Ultimate pickup game in Namcheon. Jim was interested to see first hand how the game is played and he enjoyed watching a few matches. I got charlie horsed in one of the first plays of the night and had to sit out the last 2 games as my leg had seized up so badly I could hardly run – an injury I am still recovering from today.
Tonight Jim and I will head to Jagalchi Fish Market for dinner, then maybe to the Cave bar for some Makgeolli. Stay tuned for more updates, pictures and videos in the days to come.
Thats all for now.