Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Flammables

Today I took the bus to Gyeongju again, this time to see the Bulguksa temple. It's a big one, and pretty heavily touristed, although we're in a slow season (cold!) so it wasn't very crowded. There were many people milling around, but not so many that I couldn't reflect and contemplate a bit. There were buildings built into several levels of the mountainside, with the steep stone steps to climb to the next level, and there were two particular pagodas that are treasured around these parts: Dabotap and Seokgatap. They are on either side of the highest courtyard, and I read that they represent two different religious schools of thought sitting side by side in wisdom.

A lot of what you see at Bulguksa has been rebuilt, but those two pagodas miraculously remain intact from centuries ago. I believe they are from around the eighth century. As is the entire temple site, but many buildings were destroyed in 16th-century conquests by the Japanese, and later reconstructed.

It's quite a peaceful place: layers of tile roofs; bunches of trees, including some evergreens; plenty of wandering paths, graveled or dirt; a stream or two; and spots where you can stand and gaze across the temple at the distant mountains.

And it's all just a $1.30 bus ride from the downtwon Gyeongju express bus terminal, which is itself a mere $3.30 bus ride from Daegu. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the bus system here, and public transportation in general, are fantastic! And today, I got some more English on the back of my bus ticket. This time much of it was written quite well -- far better than my Ulsan return ticket -- but there were a couple particularly hilariously translated phrases, so I'm again reproducing the whole thing here for you:

Terms and Conditions
1. Any forged tickets are void.
2. Cancellation fee of 10 percent will be assessed to per passenger, prior to the departure date. After two(2) days passed from the date of issue, 20 percent during the week is assessed to per passenger.
3. Ristrictions on bus travel are as follows:
a. One who has the flammables or unpleasant belongings.
b. One who gets drunk or unsanitary.
c. One who is seriously ill or a patient who takes a solo trip.
d. One who is a case of infectious desease.
e. One who does not accept driver's instructions.
4. Passsengers are responsible for any damage, loss are custody of their belongings.

It just amazes me that they can get "Terms and Conditions" (as opposed to the last one I saw, a more literally translated "The Passenger Stipulation"), but then spell "ristrictions" and "desease." Is there a native speaker editor or not? And if not, can I have that job?? And, well, "one who has the flammables..." is just awesome.

What else did I do this weekend? Let's see: Saturday was pretty much a wash, mostly because I stayed out far too late partying like a rock star on Friday night. Friday night started out so lovely, too, but I wish I had ended it about three hours earlier than I did. It was snowing when I left work. This is the third time it's snowed, but the last two happened overnight and were pretty well melted by the time I rose and shone. On Friday it started snowing lightly while I was still at work, during the last class block (6:40 - 8:05). All the kids ran outside to play in it on the five-minute break, and the Canadians scoffed at them making snow angels in a centimeter of snow. One swipe of the wing and there's the sidewalk. But I could understand their excitement, unlike the Great White Northerners.

So after work I strolled in the tiny flakes across the bridge into central Daegu's shopping/restaurant/nightlife fest known as Jungangno, site of my beloved basement watering hole, the Commune's. I ended up talking to the same guys I had a great music-Korea-life conversation with there a few weeks ago, plus meeting a couple friends of theirs who were fun and dancing wildly with a 50-something Russian guy. He was funny, and they all knew him: he hangs with the foreigner scene pretty regular, it seems, so it's not as potentially bizarre as it sounds. But it was hysterical because I, of course, was drinking and dancing as I tend to do and then he spotted me and we danced for what in my memory seems like a while but may have been only two songs. He had me spinning and dipping and flying, and even falling to the floor at one point, which did not hurt at the time, but kind of did the next day.

After Commune's we went to Itaewon, another bar (bigger, with pool table!) that is only a few minutes away, but the guy I was walking with and I got lost on the way there and it took us a really long time to find it. Jungangno is a grid, but it's store after brightly lit store, restaurant after flashing restaurant, bar after neon bar, and being "illiterate," we foreigners sometimes fail to distinguish the landmarks very well. So we just kept walking in circles and asking people, most of whom had no clue where the place was, but some of whom would say, "Turn right, then left" but that would fail to yield any results. It was cold, too, but I bought delicious roasted chestnuts from a street vendor (and yes, they roast right there).

It was a fun night but a long night, and the people I conversed with were almost all traveling sorts who aren't particularly concerned with returning to their home countries any time soon, and that is always interesting. I, too, desire more travel; life is a journey, not a destination, right? But hanging with these foreigners always has the effect of putting me in the grappling-with-what-to-do-with-my-life mindset. And sure, you can tell me I already spend enough time in that mindset and should just live in the moment, but that's hard to do when you are entangled with someone far, far away, because if you get Zen about time then your mind gets preoccupied by space instead.

Needless to say, I slept in on Saturday. Then I took a long, pensive walk through the cold in my scarf and earmuffs. The previous night's snow had melted. I went for Starbucks (gotta live it up with the Christmas drinks while I still can!) and later in the afternoon went over to my new friends the military vet & spouse's house. She was out Christmas shopping a couple hours away, but he and the 2-year-old and I wandered onto the Army base where we ate dinner with another friend of theirs at the restaurant/pub/dance floor catch-all that is just the sort of place you would imagine on a military installation: cheap food and a slightly depressing feel.

We hung out for a few hours and I spent a lot of time rambling about how I want to figure out what to do with my life, to stop procrastinating, to be able to make a living as a writer, to be with the man I love...and my friend spent a lot of time telling me to "just do it" (far more eloquently, of course) and offering lots of insight from his own life and observations. It was good for me. The painfully cold walk home from the restaurant after dark that made my gums cold, less good for me. But his wisdom, good for me. Then at home, my good ol' roommate had turned off the heater again. I thought we had finally driven home the point this week that you aren't supposed to turn it on and off, just turn down the thermostat, but there it was. At least she's consistent, right? I'll give her that. More like persistent. But I am insistent! And so the battle rages on...

I spend a lot of time alone and contemplative. But you know, I kind of did that even when I didn't live in Korea. I go out, but I also think it is sometimes better to be alone and contemplative then in the company of strangers for company's sake. I mean, I love the Commune's Lonely Hearts Club and that it is there, but there's a reason I can't do like Friday night all the time. Plus I haven't really decided how many people I've met in Korea I actually want/need to be friends with. I don't have too terribly much to say to the other English teachers at my school, though I do converse with the Canadian marrieds more than I used to. That's pretty much just at work, though. The Korean teachers are all smiling, poised, pretty, cell-phone crazy, or some combination of the above, and I don't have all that much to say to them either. There are a couple exceptions to that rule, but there aren't friendships there.

Many of the foreigners I meet in "the scene" are younger (23-26) and therefore in the perfect place in their lives to be living it up in a foreign country and figuring out what it's all about. I've already figured out some things. Not all the things, obviously. But apart from when I worked for Borders in Los Angeles, I have never had many friends who are younger than me. It's always gone the other direction. And the less said about my state of mind during the early Borders Westwood period, the better. Anyway, it's nice to have met people here I actually want to cultivate a real-live friendship with. I just can't believe I get on best not with English teachers but someone here with the Army. I never would have predicted. Now, in addition to them my roommate and I still might have hope -- I initially thought we might become friends -- but we are just not seeing eye to eye on this whole utilities thing, and I think it's made her lump me in the category of "people in Korea who are out to get her." Plus, she's young. And loves to go shopping for fun. (I cringe.)

The thing is, I'm not particularly unhappy here at all right now, just philosophical. I've totally scaled the 40 days, 40 nights wall and scrambled to both feet on the other side, where I dusted myself off and plodded on. I totally love that I'm here. But as the 21-year-old military wife said Saturday night, after we'd been commiserating about wackiness we've encountered in Korea, and I learned that she is not in the armed forces, only her husband is: "No, I'm just here because it sucks being apart." From the mouths of babes.

"The German tutor was trying to remember all the various kinds of dishes and the wines and desserts in order to send a detailed description to his family in Germany, and was greatly offended when a butler with a bottle in a napkin passed him by. He frowned, trying to look as though he had not wanted any of that particular wine, but was mortified to think that no one would realize that he wanted the wine not to quench his thirst or out of greediness, but from a conscientious desire for knowledge." -- War and Peace

1 comment:

jnap said...

Ah yes, the flammables. I suppose we should not laugh: we probably sound the same to people when we speak their language.

We never know where life will lead us and one day can and does make a difference.

So, yes, your friend's advise of "Just do it." is good. So, enjoy.