Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seven Things I Shouldn't Tell - Moments of Enlightenment

I've never written an anecdotal piece for the blog before. I think subconsciously I believed that essay-styled works would make the blog more real, more valuable. But what has my life been this past twelve months if not a collection of events made memorable by the fact that their surroundings are so far removed from my understanding? I tell stories for a living but I try and keep stories out of my non-fiction writing. Enough, I say. It's time that you, our readers, heard some of the atrocious things we get up to over here and why they should be shared in as much detail as our cultural experiences. And so:

The Bidet

There's a new coffee shop on our street that serves fat ham bagels and coffee without the burnt taste most Korean shops offer. After far too many of their peach teas I visited the little girl's room but little was not the word to describe it; I've never liked a bathroom in which, if the lock breaks, I can't stretch out my leg to hold the door closed. Thankfully, this lock worked and I stood feeling lighter and ready for more tea. After a search of the cistern I found no flush button; instead there was a dial beside the seat with twelve settings all written in Hangul. And here we have yet another example of why I wish I had learned more of the language.

I pressed the button bearing a wave design and the bidet function tucked beneath the seat sent a huge plume of water from the basin all over the opposite wall. I tried to hold it back with my hands and only succeeded in soaking my Converse from white to grey. After a quick mashing of another button the water started rotating, spraying my face, the mirror and the towel rack beside the door. By this point I was sure the waitresses would have come to save me, seeing that I was hysterical with laughter. Instead I was left to force the toilet lid closed and there, where the flush button is usually found, was the flush button. I pressed it and instantaneously the noise and water subsided. I towel dried my body, snuck past the counter and grabbed East by the arm.

'We have to leave right now.'


'I'll explain later.'

'Why are you all wet?'

'I'll. Explain. Later.'

The Sambuca

Last time I was in Itaewon I ended up being followed by an aggressive, black French man who wanted me to come home with him and, I assume, watch early morning cartoons on his portable television. I'm not crazy on cartoons so I declined the offer and was later found wandering deranged and furious through the suburbs. After this experience I decided to avoid that area of the city and focus my attention on non-rapist, friendly foreigners. These I found just last weekend while celebrating Saint Patrick's Day; friends from Incheon Island. Against my better judgement I accompanied them to Itaewon where I ran into a man I'd met months before. We chatted aimlessly, he bought me a beer, then promptly got into a fight with an army guy at the table opposite. The Korean proprietor wanted my friend arrested and I went with him to the security cameras to help point out the guilty party. As a thank you he gave me shots. Many, many shots. I gave several to an Irishman at the bar, another to a friend I'd arrived with, and drank one. Little did I know, it was Sambuca. Little do you all know, I'm allergic to Sambuca. After finishing the glass I left for the bathroom and returned with this to say:

'Something happened to the toilet.'


'I threw up in it.'


No more Itaewon for me.

The Golden Bull

Not only does Cheolsan hospital have a convenience store that serves soju and beer, it also offers a gigantic golden statue of a bull in the parking lot. A friend visiting us for a fortnight, let's call him Edvardu, accompanied us on a late night rampage through the streets and we ended our high jinx at the feet of this glorious animal. East suggested we climb its back and another friend, appropriately named Michelangelo, passed up pitchers of Cass Red. From our vantage point we, all four of us, howled at the moon, sang Leonard Cohen and rubbed ourselves on the gold brass beneath us in the manner of sleepy lap dancers. While up there I could see the neon lights on the main street, people crossing from shop front to shop front, red reflections of taxi signs, and East perched between the horns bucking like a rodeo champ. I was truly happy in those moments because the ridiculous things we were doing translated directly into how much fun my life had become. It was beautiful to realise how complicated the realisation of happiness can be. We were chased away soon after by hospital security but not before I had a chance to do this:

The Landlady

Like most people who rent, we have a landlady. Unlike most people, she uses a computer translator to speak to us. Our washing machine broke last week and this has inspired many visits downstairs to request a repairman. My first trip created a conversation complete with hand gestures and the help of online Naver:

'Our washing machine is broken. Can you call someone to fix it?'

'Male errands talk school for communication you.'

'The washing machine. Its door is broken.'

'Male do talk. You work school?'

'No. I don't work at the school.'

'Male fix.'

'No, you have to call someone to come.'


'Daniel works at the school. I live there.'

'Male school speak here. You no school?'

I left to avoid punching her; she's well aware that I don't work for any school and from this discussion I ascertained that she wanted East to deal with our problems because he was a man. At first I wanted to know why she, a woman in a very enviable position of power, refused to deal with another female in matters of business. Particularly because East takes pleasure in seeing how rude he can be to her without repercussion. Perhaps she just doesn't like the cut of my jib. An unfair opinion as I polish my jib every morning with spit and hope.

The Wheelchair

Early last year, East and I were crossing the street between our supermarket and apartment – a typically normal activity. On the way a Korean man in a wheelchair stopped us and made a series of insistent hand gestures. We slid by, nodding and smiling awkwardly, and he followed us to the crossing where he rolled out into the street, then back until his wheels almost touched our toes. He pointed to the other side and made a motion like he was shoving someone away from him. East reached out to touch the handles of his chair and the man nodded and cheered. When the light went green we pushed him across the road and upon reaching the pavement he took over once more, calling something over his shoulder we couldn't understand. For a long moment, all we could do was stare at one another and wait for enlightenment. Maybe he was suspicious of quiet, night time roads and needed help from the first person he saw? Maybe he was part of the moral police and if we had refused to help him he would leap out of the chair with a mind ray gun and having found us undeserving of life, replaced us with more caring individuals (think season five of Red Dwarf). Whatever the reason, every time I see a person in a wheelchair I have a desire to intercept their travel and drag them to the nearest crossing, just to show how much I care.

The Lesbian

This lesbian refers to me. In a desperate attempt to avoid male attention at one of the foreigner hot spots in the city, I once began a conversation with the words 'there are a lot of attractive women in here tonight'. I thought the surrounding men would see me as an untouchable being and leave me alone. Which they did but I hadn't considered that there may be actual lesbians in my vicinity. Moments later I felt breath on my ear and a pretty Korean girl touched my elbow.

'You come here often?'

'Wow, even Koreans ask that question?'

'You're American?'


She looked me up and down and offered me a cigarette. I, being responsible, declined. It was then she brought out the big guns: clove cigarettes. I wanted to take her home then and there. Although if I had done this, I'm sure I'd have gotten her back and had nothing to offer but Vegemite toast and a tall glass of mango juice. We talked for a while about Korean food and the English language and I almost forgot the reason she approached me in the first place. Until that is, she started trying to touch my butt. To make matters more complicated the men I'd avoided in the first place took an interest in our budding relationship and started asking questions.

'How many girls have you dated?'

'Oh, a few.'

'Have you only ever been with women?'


'Do you like her?'


'The barmaid is cute.'

'Not really my type.'

'What is your type? I bet they look like you.'

Now this last part is actually true. If I were to be with a woman, I think she'd look very much like me. I'm not sure if that's shallow or sensible and I don't really suppose I'll ever find out. I escaped the bar, and my Korean love interest, by pretending to go out for food. One thing I learnt from the experience was to be careful how gay I make myself sound and who may be listening. Gay Koreans are everywhere, you know?

The Octopus (a.k.a The Z.O.O.L)

Beyond the video below, all you need to know about this section is that Z.O.O.L stands for Zany Octopus Operation Liberation. Hence, ONLY ZOOL!

Lara always washes down a good bit of thievery with a huge cup of fairy floss.

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