Drivel ˈdri-vəl 1 : to let saliva dribble from the mouth 2 : to talk stupidly and carelessly

Beekeepers And Arc Welders

In Preparation of Buddha's Birthday

I sit in my room-which is not my room at all but the room of my employers’ son, who has been displaced to sleep in some room previously functioning as a closet-and listen to an argument taking place in a language that is still foreign to me. Knowing how to say, “I’m from America,” and “It’s nice weather we’re having,” doesn’t exactly give me mastery over the Korean language. Eavesdropping on people screaming at one another in a foreign tongue is a scary thing. It’s fast, it’s loud and it’s serious. I’m not even sure I know who’s arguing. Sometimes I think I hear a word I might recognize. Sometimes I think I hear my name. For what reason could they possibly be yelling about me? It’s like living with my parents … if my parents had shouted in code.

Living in Korea has dramatically improved my Spanish. I guess because it’s the only other language I’ve ever made an attempt to learn, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in need of a Korean word and my brain produced the Spanish one.  I’m constantly speaking to Korean people in perfectly enunciated Spanish. “Hola,” I say by way of greeting, and, “Gracias,” I say in thanks. Dumbfounded, they leave me to inform their friends that they’ve just met face-to-face with the stupidest American to ever be issued a passport.

I found a website streaming episodes of television shows I’ve missed since leaving the states. I sat down this morning to watch an episode of The Office and immediately, just like a Pavlovian dog, began salivating for potato chips. Damnit, I didn’t travel halfway around the globe to eat pizza and watch TV, but I’ve been here less than a week and already I look to forsake my grand cultural experience.

There are two items you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere in South Korea: a tall glass of water and a bigass garbage can. Honestly, I have a hard time finding garbage cans at all. I never realized how nice it was having a nice, big can of garbage nearby. Nearly everything you do creates waste. Then, you throw it out. I spend a lot of time walking around with waste in my hands, unable to find an appropriate place to dispose of it. I now have a designated pocket in my backpack reserved for waste. In the city, you’ll find trash in little piles here and there where people gave up carrying it around, and you’ll find trash-people wearing special, trash-collecting vests and gloves, walking around picking up the trash, but no trash cans. When you do find one, it’ll be really tiny.

It takes some getting-used-to but I’ve come to enjoy the cuisine here. Nearly all Korean dishes give a kick that lines your stomach with a long, slow heat that I can only compare to the effect of a strong whiskey. Most everything I’ve eaten is delicious, but some meals I’ve eaten I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the chef had walked out into the back yard and just grabbed what he had to work with and threw it into a bowl before heating it up. Grab some of that grass … and a lot of those weeds there, oooh, what’s under that rock? Mushrooms, yes! Now put the rock in and hand me that chicken and we’ll kill it and chop it into large pieces and throw that in, too. What’s that? A root of some kind? Good, throw that in. Now stir it up with that fence post and we’re finished. I call it scavenger gourmet. It’s resourceful culinary. After dining on the choicest cuts of his kill, the American hunter goes in search of his next meal; the Korean hunter continues eating.

Saturday, we hiked Mt. Mudeung and before we climbed we visited a restaurant for lunch at the foot of the mountain. Mr. Park suggested a dish he described as a chicken soup of sorts. Don’t think Campbell’s. Also, don’t imagine you’re supposed to eat everything that’s in this soup. After our meal, we joined the throngs of people on their way up the formidable trails. At times, the countryside looked not unlike that of the hills of Pennsylvania, until the cackle of some strange, alien bird reminded me of the distance I’ve traveled to be here. The seasons are the same; the people aren’t. For one, you’d never find so many people out hiking at the same time on any mountain trail in Pennsylvania, and you certainly wouldn’t find them wearing these flowery masks and visors and bonnets, eyes and faces shielded from some risk that is lost on me. There are three Buddhist temples on the way up Mudeung and, after breaking off from the gaggle of Asian beekeepers and arc welders, we stopped at all three. I’ve never been one to celebrate organized religion but there is something moving about a great mass of people all gathered together in shared faith. It’s a powerful thing. Unless, it’s bent on the condemnation or outright destruction of another great mass of people all gathered together in different faith, in which case it becomes a very, very powerful thing. I felt an intense yearning to enter each temple in hopes of being close to something spiritually large. Each temple housed a different life-sized statue of Buddha and we were permitted to enter but not take pictures. I can’t say I didn’t feel something, but I also can’t say I haven’t felt the same thing upon entering a library. It’s a sense that if you look hard enough for something in this place, then you will surely find it.


8 responses

  1. It sounds like you’re already having some interesting encounters. As much as you miss home and all of the conveniences, embrace the new culture, take part in it… but you don’t need me to tell you that. Everything will be here waiting for you when you get back. Even a small trashcan lined with a plastic bag in every room.

    May 5, 2010 at 9:33 am

  2. ed

    I envy u man. Keep up the writing please. I enjoy reading what you have to say. I almost imagine this being written by Henry Rollins. The feel of it, the passion.

    One of the reason I envy you is, the food. Asian food intrigues me and fills me with happiness. Maybe just because it is so not “american”. More of a natural un-processed food. Closer to what, maybe, we should be eating. In comparison to our “mechanically-separated chicken parts” formed into a ball, battered in a processed fat goo and then deep fried to a heart clogging perfection. Hmm, I, for some reason, feel like having chicken nuggets.

    I would love to see you do is photo blog, basically just a picture gallery.. nothing too detailed. As i read your experiences I am left with old oriental movies images flashing through my head as you describe your adventures.

    Thanks for sharing.

    May 5, 2010 at 9:47 am

  3. Amber

    You are amazing and I’m so glad that you’re having this experiance! Traveling overseas is an eye opener and I’m sure whatever it is you’ll either find it or get closer to it. I’m looking forward to reading much more about your excursions.
    Love you, friend!

    May 5, 2010 at 10:56 am

  4. ragnarragnarson

    Once again I find myself enjoying your story. How could I not?

    I feel like you are my imaginary friend left over from childhood.

    I must disagree with ed however, henry rollins is much to talented to be in any way associated with you.

    May 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    • Amber

      WTF?? Rude…

      May 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

      • ragnarragnarson

        rude?? maybe

        True?? without a doubt. Henry rollins is one of the greatest minds of the twentieth/twenty-first century. and nobody knows that better than henry rollins.

        Every time I hear some of “the great one’s” spoken word, I get a tingly feeling all over.

        he has invented a new genre, is it comedy? no. is it intellectual? no. is it dramatic? no. is it exciting? no. it’s just him talking.

        May 6, 2010 at 7:21 pm

  5. Mike

    You really need to get a flickr account or something. I want to see the things you speak of, such as the crazies in masks. Can you torrent stuff over there? If not, how the hell do you get good music? Better question would be, is there good music that we are missing in the states? I am seriously considering a trip to Korea now, a place I never imagined myself wanting to go. I guess in my mind it appears magical and filled with all the mental images I have of Japan like crazy energetic animated people and the guys running around sharking the girls. It must be so wonderful.

    May 6, 2010 at 8:09 am

    • ragnarragnarson

      good thinkin man, I bet Korea has some real kick ass bands!!!!

      hey troy, is there any way you could share some of what Korean music scene is like?

      May 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

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