Wednesday, April 22, 2009

one night in seoul (part 13)

our guesthouse was up a tight alley in gyedong, nestled just below Changdeok Palace. the entire neighborhood is preserved by the city of seoul as traditional korean housing, including the guesthouse. we were greeted at the gate by two enormous dogs and a little, old korean man who spoke broken english, at best. it was all so charming. we walked through the large garden to our cottage, which was everything you'd expect of a traditional korean cottage. shoes lined the exteriors of each doorway, each door a sliding shoji. there was something so powerful about finally experiencing an image i'd held for so long.

seoul guesthouse

i was permitted a brief nap, shower and shit. and then we were off. we walked the cobblestone road toward the subway, submerged in the depth of a summer unavoidable. even at dusk, the heat resonated, as i breathed in the swimmable air of an escape i'd never fathomed. when everything is foreign, distant and new, for at least a fleeting moment, your past exists on a separate plane. sometimes it's enough. soometimes it's all you need. i relished it, ear to ear. and the persistent buzz of the cicadas, like a wire torn in two, reaked of the disconnected circuitry i was feeling and existing in. it was so welcoming. so freeing.

we descended into the subway, which was a world unto itself. a city beneath the surface; shops and restaurants in every cranny, crack and crevice. as most of the shops had already closed for the night, we were relegated to eyeing jewelry, taxidermy and knock-offs purses through the windows as we passed.

while i have always lived in very diverse cities (portland being the exception) and had traveled quite a bit through mexico, i found it quite jarring to be so submerged in an asian culture. robert, monique and i were noticably the only non koreans in the station and on the train and seemingly the entire city. koreans brave enough in their english skills would approach us time and time again, asking from where we were traveling. each response of "america" garnered shit-eating grins, peace signs, and almost always a photo-op. i know this would seem an exaggeration, but i swear to shit, see for yourself. you'll feel like a celebrity. i can't even begin to imagine how many photos there are of robert, monique and i with random korean hipster kids.

we arrived in the hongdae neighborhood around tennish. it is hands down the hippest neighborhood i have ever been to. it is essentially the mass convergence of hipster, pop, designer-chic and faux harajaku cultures all in fifteen or so square blocks. we drowned in a sea of neon, motorcycles, dolce & gabana and blaring korean and american pop music. there was nary an apartment or house in sight; merely block after block of bars, clubs, cafes and shopping that would make any sixteen year old girl cream herself: american apparel, puma, marc jacobs, flight one, versace, and so and on for what seemed like forever.

hongdae district

we squeezed into a ramen bar and found a group of robert's friends, who were also teaching english there. and much to my delight, every single one of the seven of us had lived in new orleans at the same time! this is what i love about that city: everywhere you go, you run into nola'ers; and they're always the coolest, nicest, most interesting people. i gazed at the menu, entirely in korean and simply said, "no cheese, no mushrooms, no weird animals, preferably pork, chicken or shrimp." a humongous bowl of shrimp and god knows what else arrived moments later. since all the other kids had been done long before our arrival, i did my best to slam the mystery concoction, while talking about life pre and post katrina and living in seoul.

after we finished our ramen, robert's friends scott and angela smiled and presented robert with a gift. robert than smiled and looked at monique and me, "tonight is going to be so much fun! we have to find something to put this in! to the liquor store!" the entire group walked down a parkside street to a liquor store, where we bought 3 20ozs. evidently, much like new orleans, seoul has no open container laws because we strolled into the park, which was full of drunk korean club kids and rubbish. robert popped the cap off one of the beers and told us to take a few big gulps and then return the bottle. monique and i complied, without question or hesitation. robert then proceeded to poor the contents of a 8oz bottle into the beer, shake it up, and pass it back to us.

"drink up." he said.
"what is it?" we asked in unison.
"it's like ghb-"
then scott chimed in, "it's legal here. sort of."
i made a face, which was apparent when robert responded with, "you'll love it. it's like being really drunk and a little bit like being on ecstacy."
my only concern then was if it would give me the killer hangover ecstacy had when i used to recreationally do it years and years before. robert assured it would not; well, at least not so severely.

so, down the hatch.

as we drank the beer/ghb concoction, an old korean man passed with a wheelbarrel full of korean wine. robert bought two bottles, popped those open and passed them into the circuit of what was now two beer/ghb bottles, one standard beer bottle, one soju bottle and the two bottles of wine. a few local kids approached and tried their english on us, as we chatted with this painfully cute, yet horribly dumb girl who had also lived in new orleans. when she and her friend saw a collection of white kids, they immediately sidled on. americans in korea seem to do this with other americans.
hongdae park

after about ten minutes i felt wasted and an extreme need to shit. am i going to shit my pants, again?* robert told us that the feeling simply meant the ghb was starting to kick-
i could no longer speak without slurring or see straight. it was dizzying and horrifying and... wonderful. monique and i looked at one another, grinning wide. we tried to relate the experience; but words simply spilled out of our mouths, a mess of excitement and intoxication, and into the empty bottles and leaflets that surrounded us.

it was now close to eleven, and scott would be spinning at a club in the neighborhood, which was only described as the coolest club we'd ever attend; something of a cavern, they said. so we stumbled through the streets of hongdae, laughing, singing and dancing in anticipation of what would become one of the craziest nights of my life.

*From: Anonymous
Date: Wed, Oct 3, 2007 at 11:15 AM
Subject: those magical moments
To: [all my friend]

as many of you know, my roommates and i spent the weekend inside ill. during this time, we learned that mixing certain cold meds produced a rather atrocious gas problem. however, we also learned that over-medicating ourselves made this gas problem much more manageable.
well, by the close of monday night we were all starting to feel better, and were definitely experiencing cabin fever. so, i was determined to do something with my evening last night. i woke up, had some sudafed and dayquil and ventured to work. i had my usual morning coffee and doughnut, and went about my day in the typical manner. perhaps it was the combination of over-medication and determination to enjoy the evening that led me to answer a phone call i'd been avoiding for weeks now. you see, the ex-boyfriend's best friend had been trying, unsuccessfully, to have a few drinks. for all the obvious reasons, i'd been resistant to this idea. well, she caught me off guard and plans were made. drinks at the bar across the street at 8.
in the meantime, i'd made plans to meet a friend for coffee at 4. (for those of you keeping track, that's: 3 coffees, two tablespoons of dayquil, two sudafed ams, 1 chocolate bar). after coffee, i ran a few errands and arrived at home in time to prepare inna for her date. by the time inna got out the door, i had about ten minutes before i had to meet the ex's friend. so i threw on my big coat (it was raining pretty heavily) and walked over.

over a glass of wine, we did the chit chat thing. and once that had exhausted itself, the inevitable conversation found it's way to the bar. sparing you the details, the bulk was talk of reconciliation. much to most peoples' chagrin, this was not something i was adverse to. the conversation began to get somewhat deep and heavy, and was interrupted when nature called.

for those of you who haven't been to the bar across the street, it has two unisex bathrooms; one on either side of the bar. the one to the left is at the end of a short hallway, which contains a side door that exits onto the street, and is directly across the street from our front door. the bathroom to the right has no hallway or exit door. more often than not, i use the bathroom to the right, because the bathroom to the left is somewhat bigger and we all know my fear of large bathrooms. i did not deviate from this habit last night. unbeknownst to me, this decision would become the greatest mistake of my life.

(for those of you keeping track: 3 coffees, two tablespoons of dayquil, two sudafed ams, 1 chocolate bar, 1.5 glasses of wine)

i faced the toilet, unzipped and started to pee. and then... then...

i was greeted by the worst surprise ever.

i shat my pants.
i shat my pants!
ohmygodohmygodohmygod. i shat my pants.

i was overcome by a shitstorm, if you will, of panic. sparing you the grim details, i will say i was able to restrain the majority of nature's little accident. so i did the quickest 180 ever, and deposited the remainder in the proper receptacle. and then... then i didn't know what to do. i was trapped. i was trapped with only me and my shame. had i chosen the bathroom to the left i would have been met by a door to clean underwear and moist towels. but i chose wrong. horribly, horribly wrong.

now it has been told that some in this same situation have celebrated by throwing their feces onto the walls and clogging up sinks and showers. having been raised with dignity and etiquette classes, i had to deal with the situation with grace. i assessed the damage, and decided that my newest, cutest pair of american apparel underwear were not disposable. i knew i had to make haste, to avoid being gone for too long and creating suspicion. i called inna, who did not answer. i'm not really sure what i thought she could do to help resolve this situation, but like i said i was somewhat panic stricken. so i did what any mature, responsible adult who shits themself would do. i wiped ferociously and then poured heavy doses of soap into my pants and returned to the bar to finish our wine and conversation.

the next five minutes have become the most uncomfortable five minutes of my life. there is no feeling even remotely comparable to that of talking to your ex-boyfriend's best friend about the reconciliation you plan to make, while the toxic sludge one can only call "shoap" roots around in your ass. but i am proud to say i was a pooper trooper, and finished my drink without even a hint at the atrocities quietly happening to me. after our drink, i slid off the barstool and slid on my long jacket (thank god for rain), said goodbye and non-chalantly walked home.

upon entering my house i did what everyone does when they shit themselves. i called colette to brag. and then jen.

inna returned from her date, with her date, to find me standing in the living room in only my underwear, laughing hysterically into the phone. i immediately hung up and regaled both of them of the night's events. and then i apologized for being rude and introduced myself to her date.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

welcome to korea (part 12)

the flight from portland to seoul was a long 16 hours, including a 2 hour layover at narita airport in tokyo. i had slammed two double shot bloody marys before boarding the plane, in hopes they would knock me out. instead they merely reduced me to a slightly drunken mess that had to pee every hour or two. i dozed in and out of a few brief catnaps, and upon waking would check the flight map to see how far from home, how close to asia we were. it was a strange feeling to see the little cartoon plane so far out to sea. so far from everywhere i had ever been. so close to adventure, to mystery, to my ex. i lost myself in the vast sea below.

when i deboarded the plane in seoul i was immediately faced with my reality. i was farther from home than i'd ever been, in a foreign place, about to meet to complete strangers with whom i'd spend the next 3 and a half weeks of my life. two complete strangers with whom we'd have to rely upon one another to travel through and experience so many new things. it was overwhelming, but so exciting. i was recharged and energized, even on no sleep for literally days.

i exited through the arrivals gate and into the lobby of the most beautiful airport i've ever seen. incheon airport truly is a marvel of luxury. corridors of high ceilings, lined with orchids and sconces; high end shops as far as the eye could see: dolce & gabana, fendi, marc jacobs, rolex and so forth and so on. it's almost a place you'd want to spend a day, watching exciting travelers walk and shop and talk their ways to new places, to loved ones, to grander and wider days away.

i planted myself on a bench in the lobby, not quite sure what to do. there was no sign of robert nor monique, i had no phone, no idea how to get anywhere. after about ten minutes i began to panic a bit. i was alone, in the middle of night, and-

then i saw two small figures rushing toward me at full speed, clad in backpacks, laughter and grins. once they were close enough to identify, robert and monique immediately swung around and continued on, at full speed, away from me down the corridor. robert was tall, lanky, awkward and eminated fun and excitement and energy and was just a supernova unto himself. monique's curly hair was shaped into a high mohawk and dyed yellow, pink and black. it was hard to take your eyes off. i smiled, too tired to chase or even get off the bench. i stood upon it instead, crossed my arms, and tapped my foot with exaggerated impatience. they stopped in their tracks, turned around, and then almost aimlessly returned to me with hugs and hellos.

i was too overwhelmed and exhausted to make any opinions on the greeting; and just happy to make our way to the guesthouse, where i was told i could nap for an hour. it was now twilight in seoul, and robert had big plans for us. we made it to the bus terminal in time to find we'd missed our bus back to the city. with the little korean robert knows and his massive amounts of charm, we were able to exchange our bus tickets for cab fare. thank god.

we rode the twenty miles into the city quietly and with wide eyes. i watched the mud flats of incheon spread and thicken and harden into soil through the cracked windows of the cab. and suddenly the dark and dense no where broke into the bright lights of one of the largest cities in the world. we crossed the river into a blur of sounds and signs and insanity. it was exhillerating. we rolled the windows down entirely and let the wind wisp across our faces as we drown in the expanse. i turned to robert and smiled.

"welcome to korea, monkey."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

interlogue: what is

sometimes when it's late at night and the room is silent and you're all alone, you wonder how it can still sting so harshly. if you should be allowed to feel it resonate still. still when it surrounds you. maybe repression begets obsession. when it comes, it comes in droves. you think of all the things you want. you want so little. and you wonder if you can get through this. if you can get to them. it's hard. and hardest because no one told you it wasn't going to be, because no one says it still won't; but because you continue to refuse to let yourself accept how hard it is. to allow yourself your grief. you're a hard person. time has made you stoic. time has made you still. still you ache to just break down. just once. into arms. but you don't know how to ask. you don't know how to tear the veneer. how to just be. even when you write about it, you write it as though it's someone else. as though it wasn't you. you write it as distance, as distant; an insistent nag. but it's not. this is you.
this is me. this is me. it's me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

getting there (part 11)

i am not the type of person who sits around waiting for rainbows. i am not an optimist. i am hopeful, but not optimistic. i have a hard time believing that just because you are a good person, good things will happen to you. i think at some point, forever ago, i did. i don't know how or when i came to lose that. but i did. i don't sit around waiting for rainbows.

i am not a religious person. i won't go into all the hypocrisies and fraud i see there. i just don't believe in god or praying or angels. but i do believe if i had a guardian angel, it would be robert.

it was sometime after hiv and before colette that it happened. i will forever be enslaved to social networking sites. i love them. i like having all these little windows into the lives of people you know and knew and barely knew way back when. how you can see the ways they see things. how you can see the minutia of their days. how you can see different shades of almost anyone. i love how they change the way we see people. the way we see each other. i, at some point, have been a member of all of them. eventually the older ones fall by the wayside, only to be remembered upon some random email. and that's how it happened. that's how this whole can of worms was opened. this whole, wonderful, life-changing can of worms.

most people don't know the real story about how exactly i found myself in asia. had i told most people the truth, they probably would have demanded i stay behind here. my mother would have had a coronary. so i skewered the facts. had i told people it was a complete stranger who i would be meeting in korea and traveling through southeast asia with, well, they just wouldn't have understood.

it was sometime after hiv and before colette that i got that random email. a gmail message from the long-forgotten friendster, letting me know i had a new message. i'm not even sure why i even checked it. i was at the end of my rope, not much mattered to me, and certainly correspondence from strangers on friendster did not. maybe it was after insomnia had begun and i was bored. maybe it was one of the lonely days. i don't know. but i checked it.

the message was from a guy named robert. he had found me on friendster, and then myspace, and liked my profiles. he, too, had lived in portland and new orleans; sometimes overlapping my own stays. i have been blogging since i was 19 years old. and, well, he found all the blogs, too. and he read them all. every one, every page. he read about the rape and the hiv and everything that came before. the heartbreak. the moves. new orleans. the momentous occasions in my life, that now somehow meant something to someone other than me. he said he was inspired. he said that he'd laughed and cried and had become attached to me and my writing. he said that i was someone worth knowing. and right then, in that moment, it was all i needed from anyone.

and with that came the proposition that made my jaw drop. he wanted to fly me out to korea, where he was teaching english. and from there, off to somewhere new. he said the worse case scenario would be i get a free trip with a guy i hate. and the best case, i make a lifelong friend and do something i'd never otherwise be able to. and for him? he gets to do something for someone he respects, who needs good news. it was insane. it was way too much. and there was no way in my right mind i was ever going. i couldn't do it, right? no way.

when my roommate at the time came home from work, i couldn't wait to tell her about the crazy guy who offered to fly me half way around the world. she sat down across from me as i told her about his email. she made a face that implied he was creepy crazy, and this was before i even mentioned the offer. and when i did, she became incredulous. she demanded i hand her the computer so she could see this lunatic for herself.

"i know him! i fucking know this guy!"
"from portland?" i asked.
"no! from philly!"
robert had mentioned that he used to live in philadelphia. my roomate had grown up there. and way back when they were friends. and had lost touch shortly after she arrived in portland, two years prior. she called him beautiful, insanely nice and one of the most fun people she'd ever met. she said i was stupid if i didn't accept the offer. and then she demanded his email address, so she could email him.

a few days later, we found out our next door neighbor's boyfriend was very good friends with him in portland, and that they still talked weekly. a few days after that, i found out two other good friends (in new orleans and sf) both knew him. and as my world got smaller and smaller, i became more and more sure that this was an opportunity i had to take. i don't think i even realized that my disposition had slowly changed from hopeless to excited. but suddenly i did realize that life was good, because now i had something look forward to. something to live for. and four months later when the tickets actually arrived, when the trip became tangeable, i found myself wondering how something so good could happen to me. wondering if maybe rainbows will come, if you wait long enough. if you wait out the storms.

during the insomnia, robert and i talked every night. when i was at my lowest, he was there. when i was excited for our trip, he was there. i had gone from alone and miserable to having this life savior, who was always there for me. everything changed, so quickly. so necessarily. he saved me; and i don't even think he knew it. i had something to look forward to.