Some Great Indecipherable Blur
There was an elderly man in the airport who fell down an escalator. I didn’t see this, but I heard it. It sounded like canceled plans. He was unconscious for a while, unmoving. Dead with a broken neck, I thought briefly. Then I saw his chest rising and falling. A crowd gathered. Nervously, I started to laugh. I couldn’t help myself. I do that sometimes when I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I wanted to take a picture, but thought better of it for the sake of his troubled family. That’s just what you want to see when you fear the worst for your poor, clumsy grandfather: a maniacal tourist giggling and taking snapshots of your suffering, your terrible day at the airport. It was the first excitement of my journey. Perhaps, the first bad omen. Although, I don’t worry much about escalators. I seem to navigate them well enough without incident.
The goal was to leave behind little or no attachments. Why then, this knot in my gut? I feel loose in the mind, uncertain. Goes to show how comfortable I had become. Exhausted, I nod off on the first flight and wake to a second’s panic, a dawning realization that everything I’ve just abandoned is truly absent. My feet are moving; I’m boarding connecting flights. I’m functional, but the motherboard is thoroughly fried. There, that guy looks happy and well-adjusted. He looks like a man without a doubt in his mind, someone who knows what he’s doing. Maybe I can just follow him, mimic his movements. He might have some Advil.
I’m flying over Alaska now, watching airplane television, wearing airplane slippers, trying desperately to sleep some of the twelve-hour flight away. I’m landing. Customs is a breeze, and I’m signaled almost immediately by a man holding a cardboard sign bearing my name. I nod. He nods. He ditches the sign, and grabs my bags, and I’m following him out into the street where he tosses me onto a bus without so much as a word. Four hours later and almost two full days since beginning the trip, I arrive at my destination: home of the Park family, my new employers. I pop an Ambien with a melatonin chaser and sink into the lustful folds of sweet, uninterrupted sleep. I wake a few hours later because my body is still operating on Eastern Standard Time. I stay prone in spite of myself and muscle out another few hours. I wake to the sounds of Mr. Park cooking breakfast. He tells me I should hike the trail behind their apartment. There’s a path through the mountain overlooking the city. I pass more than one person wearing a surgical mask. Yellow Dust, I later learn, is something that blows in all the way off the deserts of Mongolia and northern China, and for some medical reason, either real or imagined, scares the hell out of the natives. I return just in time for breakfast: legs of chicken (I presume but don’t ask) in a spicy red sauce and black rice. I fumble with the chopsticks. There are no drinks on the table and this is no mild dish. I excuse myself to blow my nose in the restroom … twice. Then I see it, perched at the end of the table beside three empty glasses. Milk! Why has it not been served? My face is leaking; I’m a mess. Pour the goddamned milk. Not until the last of the food is gracelessly devoured using my underdeveloped, chopstick-incompetent hands, is the milk served. Was this some kind of isolated oversight or can I expect this delayed gratification bit at every meal?
The shoe thing was cute at first. People here remove their shoes before entering homes and many places of business. Wearing your shoes into someone’s home is the social equivalent of shitting in their yard. It’s a pretty custom but where I work we use a public restroom located down the hall from our offices. This means putting on your shoes and then removing them again every time you need to use the bathroom. Not so quaint when you drink as much coffee as I do, or as much prune juice as Mr. Park. Without footwear, Koreans become house-ninjas. There’s always someone sneaking up on me, creeping noiselessly about from room to room in their stocking feet, catching me in the act of not expecting them.
I’m getting good at charades. Attempting to make any purchase has become a full-on street performance. If only my Korean was improving as well. I wish I’d have spent more time learning to read the language. Korean characters are everywhere like strange graffiti advertising products I cannot identify, transmitting messages I cannot receive. They might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics speeding by in some great indecipherable blur. I’m as vulnerable as an illiterate child, bound to poison himself eating from the wrong cupboard. There’s a sign that adorns the side of a building featuring a man wearing fishing waders. He’s pointing at an unmarked jar of white-lime fluid as large as his head and sporting an exaggerated, cartoon smile. Is he promoting this concoction? Letters from the Korean alphabet float about his head in three-dimensional, unreadable glory. Is it a warning of some kind? Something having to do with being waist-deep in water? Can I ignore this or would that be unwise?
For lunch, I ate something the texture of wet fat that tasted like peppered soil. It was served with a shot glass of water. I swear I’m the thirstiest man in all of South Korea.
“Pour the Goddamned milk!” – I just about pooped myself when I read that.
April 30, 2010 at 8:28 am
I love reading your posts….they are so interesting. I hope you adapt to everything over there….reading this made my head hurt and made me confused and scared. I can’t imagine how you’re handling it. The best of luck to you in your journeys, Troy. Miss you on Qwik Rock in the mornings! You MADE “Knock it the Hell Off” with your smart ass comments and “I don’t care if you don’t like it, I believe it” attitude. have fun in Korea. They are lucky to have such and awesome guy!
April 30, 2010 at 9:37 am
So glad to hear you made the trip to S. Korea safely. You sure do have a way with words. I thought your sister Terri was good, but man, you blow her out of the water. Please continue this blog….it makes my dad when I read about your adventure. Take care of yourself and write a damn book while you are there!
April 30, 2010 at 9:43 am
Great post…love to hear about your journey…sounds like the first chapter to Troy’s adventures into the unknown of South Korea. I’m sure it will take time to adjust…but if anyone can do it…u will!! Can’t wait to see pictures as well!
April 30, 2010 at 8:45 pm
I luv you baby……I hate that you are sooooo far away!!!! Makes me sick!!!!!I hope you get more to drink and I hope you adjust soon. Please know that we luv you and aare thinking bout you all the time. I wish you would of just went to New York……..Luv you sooooooo much
April 30, 2010 at 10:10 pm
I’m glad you arrived safely and hope this trip is all that you want it to be. You’re an amazing writer and I’ll look forward to you autographing my copy of your best seller! Stay safe and enjoy the adventure!
April 30, 2010 at 11:34 pm
the least you can do is pay off my house
May 1, 2010 at 8:47 pm
I love reading your words. You are so good at it. Too bad you didn’t go to Korea fat? I’m sure you’re seconding thinking that second or third piece of cake huh?
May 1, 2010 at 9:41 pm
You’re too funny! I could just hear you laughing when I read the part about the poor guy in the airport. Glad you made it safely. Be careful & I hope they give you more to drink….geez! Keep writing!
May 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm
Devouring your every word….LOVE IT! You never cease to amaze me with your ability to express yourself on paper (or on a computer screen I guess). Please be careful over there and take care of you. And for the love of GOD, go buy a case of bottled water or something! (Hmmm–Do they even sell that over there?? LOL)
May 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm