Monday, November 14, 2011
Ah the boys of summer, the crowds roar, the crack of the bat, the smell of dried squid and boiled octopus in the air. Yes folks, I'm talking about baseball Korean style! Our friendship circle took us to a game. Dr Synn had been trying to discourage this from the very beginning but we were not to be dissuaded from our course. Gary in particular wanted to see a game while in Daegu and it worked out great as the Daegu Lions were playing one of their last regular season games in town. Our friendship circle is all college girls this time and none of them have ever been to a ball game. I'm pretty sure none of them knew the rules either but I'm sure they do now. Korean fans are a die hard bunch. We had a bit of a mixup getting our tickets so didn't get into the stadium in a timely manner. What we didn't know was that they oversell tickets for general seating. There are special seats set aside for little league teams that was cute. They all wore their uniforms and brought their gloves just in case. The assigned seating is like some kind of baseball maniac's club. After the game starts they open the gates to allow those of us without seats to spread out into the reserved sections. As a whole the Korean people are very polite and friendly. Some of their customs however, take some getting used too. Like the thing about personal space. While waiting in line they will press their bodies up against yours and think nothing of it. It's not considered rude at all, it's more of a camaraderie thing. Since we didn't have seats we were pressed into walls and crowds of people waiting for the elusive specail chairs to become available. Gary started to lose his cool at one point which is remarkable as I was on the edge about 20 times. Probably because Gwyndolyn was sandwiched between us and we were using our bodies to create a zone around her. Much to my amazement these polite, socially correct people hog seats! The first ones into the stadium snag a seat plus one on each side. One for their jackets, purse's, doo dad's and such, the other for their food. You have to stand in front of them, point at a seat and ask if it is available. Some of them actually say no even though you know it's open. Others will let you sit down.
The stadium is over 70 years old lacking in modern amenities, which is likely why Dr. Synn didn't want us to go. It's a concrete structure with minimal hand rails and concession stands. I avoided the toilets but you can't help but see into the mens room as the urinals' are all the way up to the missing door. If you are a modest guy, this is not the place for you. Dark dirty corridors under the stands to reach the exit's. The first row of balcony seats had no railings at all. So you sit up on this 5 foot wall, on a chair and sort of hang your legs over it. Super crowded and totally not OSHA safe in any way. You have to be willing to let go of your American idea's when traveling. Other countries don't follow the same rules we do. A fire marshall would have a heart attack over here. Since there clearly weren't enough seats for us all to sit together, or in the same section it was decided to split up. Gary found a spot for him and Gwyndolyn together. I found one in the same section but several rows away. We could look at each other though and hand signal when we needed too. I have no idea where anyone else ended up. I chose a seat beside a young couple who moved a huge greasy paper sack for me to sit down. They were big time fans. Little flashing lights head pieces, long blue tubes of air that you smack together to make noise, faces painted, the whole experience. But oh that paper sack. It smelled awful. At some time during the game I noticed the smell getting over powering and discovered they had taken dried squid out of the bag and were happily munching away. Sort of like a dried pigs ear or rawhide bone. You can smell it, but it isn't until it's been sucked on or chewed on that the aroma gets high. They must have caught me staring as they smiled and offered me my pick of what ever was in the bag. I saw boiled octopus legs, lots of dried fish things and what looked like a bowl of tofu noodles. Hard to turn that down...NOT. They were a pleasant couple though and I let them take pictures of me with them. I'd say 2 out of 3 patrons of the game brought a similar paper sack into the game. The small concession stands were behind us and what ever they were cooking in rancid oil just added to the over all nauseous feeling. Believe me if you ever get a chance to see a game, bring your own food. Or do like the autopsy folks did in Silence of the Lambs and smear something under the nose to mask the smell.
Now onto the game itself. Wild Wonderful Hilarious Outrageous and the best fun in a long time. The Daegu Lions ended up at the top of their division or what ever it's called. They're a pretty good team. To me it looked more like a triple A team. Or a super good high school bunch. Crazy error's, temper tantrums and botched throws abounded. The stadium has a fancy new score board that would show the batter's with their averages and stat's but I don't read hangul so I didn't get much from it. Other than a lot of the advertising was for American products like Subway and Pizza Hut. That is the only modern thing in the stadium. They don't have a PA system so the maniac fans do it for them. Like us, each player has a theme song. Unlike us they don't stop singing it just because the player is at the plate. In USA we stomp, yell and clap until the guy gets to the plate, then we go silent and wait for him to swing or something. The Koreans only get louder when you go to the plate. I wish I could understand what they were saying as I'm sure not all of it was very nice. One half of the stands were singing, cracking those blue tubes of air together and in general screaming or singing all the time. They are wonderful to listen too. No wall flowers allowed. You sing loud, you jump around, you make sure they know you are there for them. The opposing team is brutalized by raucous cat calls and boo's. We hounded the fielders from both teams, depending on the play. We screamed at the umpires, and laughed at the players that struck out. We didn't shush for any batters, we got louder. The stadium rocked or we rocked the stadium. A few Americans in my section, looked like college age kids really got into the action and the crowd cheered them on. You can't get crazy enough to get thrown out. It was a hoot.
Dr. Synn wanted to leave early to avoid traffic so we left in the top of the 7th inning. Just as I made it through the packed crowd to the meeting point, our team hit a home run and the place went wild. I was wrong. I didn't think it would get louder or crazier but they proved me wrong. It was hard making my way out of the stands to get out of there. People grabbed my hands and pulled me into dances, they posed me for pictures, they celebrated without restraint. Gary was on his way back to find me when I finally broke free and made it to the lower caverns.
We all went out for coffee at a "angel in us" coffee shop downtown. It's a chain of shops throughout Republic of Korea (ROK). There were more of us than there were chairs and the little ones like Gwyndolyn, SynnDong and Jenny were up to late and getting out of control. It was a stark contrast from the game though. Our student MiHwa (me wah) gave directions to the driver and then immediately got into an argument with him. I think he was going to a different angel in us and she thought he was trying to go the long way to make extra money. When Korean is spoken softly it is sort of relaxing and soothing sounds. But raise the voice and it all sounds angry. You could be saying "hey I sure missed you I'm so glad we got to see each other" and it's going to sound like "as soon as I get close enough I'm going to punch you out". Maybe not that nicely said.
My whole point here is that Korean Baseball was great. What a wonderful experience.
My trip here is coming to a close and I have so much I haven't told you guys yet. I must get busy.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I have pictures but every time I try to upload them it freaks out my isp and kicks me off line. I'll try tomorrow. good night all.
So many things going on lately I haven't had time to sit and write. Let's go back to Jeon Ju the historical city. We spent the night in a Korean style hotel room which means no bed or chairs. There was a small fridge and a sink with some dishes making it a suite I guess. The bathroom was separate from the main room and required a small step up to the 'wet area'. Meaning the commode, sink and shower are all in the same area. The towels they offered were similar to what we call a hand towel, only thinner. Again, these are small people but those towels were really tiny. The heating system is in the floor. There was a stack of blankets and pallets on one side of the room. You basically use a quilted pad under you, a spread over you and the pillow is about the size of your forearm and filled with dried seeds. My old bones are used to mattress and box springs so I found it very tough to sleep. I had done a lot of riding in a car then walking around town so my knees were on fire. There was nothing soft about that bed so I used my blanket as a pad between the knees to stop them from touching. It got chilly at night and none of us really understood the heating system so we left it alone. Some friends of ours, The Cotters had a mishap with the heating system in their room so we decided not to touch it once set. Craig Cotter tried to flush the bidet and flooded the bathroom. Then the heating got mixed up so the floor was really hot. Like fry an egg hot. The Russ family planned on meeting the Dr's family to hike to the top of a hill to see the structure up there. I chose not to go so stayed asleep. Once Gary got his morning shower in it was decided to go ahead and try to warm up the room where I was sleeping. I woke up sweating and foggy headed. Seems the heater got turned up higher than they thought and it was about 103F in there. Much to my dismay I couldn't figure out how to open the doors to let myself out or the fresh air in. The room had glassed windows and doors on the front. I could watch the Korean workers fixing breakfast soups and jogging around in the small courtyard getting their day started. I could see how the doors they were opening had an outside piece of wood that they moved to the side to open the door. It was beginning to look like I was locked in with no relief when I finally figured out the inside door locks and was able to get out to sit on the step. I know that doesn't sound like much to you all, but it was a big deal to me, I really thought I might be might be cooked in there.
The city was marvelous with it's historical buildings and living history displays. My favorite was watching the paper makers working. The building was surrounded by tubs of sludge and huge piles of wood strips. Inside the building tables had been set up with stacks of paper drying on them. In one corner I watched a man standing at a large metal homemade looking machine making paper. He would lay a piece of lattice with some kind of liner inside a large tub. Then he'd release water to flow into the tub while he shook it and moved it around to get an equal distribution of sludge looking stuff on the lattice. He ran a piece of blue string down the edge of the newly formed sheet, turned and stacked it neatly on a pile behind him. He had about a 4 inch stack of soupy looking sheets. Then turned back to his machine and do it again. Gary heard the English description saying they would then smash the stack to remove most of the water. I suppose the blue string was to ensure it would still peel apart after being smushed.
We were in a liquor making building but didn't get a good description of it. We did see that raw ingredients were put into large fired clay pots and stirred before having a lid put on. They do have an alcoholic drink here that smells like grain alcohol only stronger if you can believe it and has some sediment that must be stirred before drinking. I think that is what we were looking at. The manufacture of this drink. They do have a rice wine and that also means a sediment. We spent more time at the alcohol exhibition than any place else. lol
Jeon Ju was also the spiritual center of the Joseon dynasty. Or Choson which is the ancient name of the people of Korea. They are not Koreans they are Choson. The dynasty lasted from July 1392 – October 1897 when the Japanese invaded. It is the longest running Confucian dynasty. As the center of this enlightened city there was a formal palace. You have to walk through a big gateway to get inside. The walls of the gateway announce long life, prosperity, good health so that when you walk through them these are your blessings. Beyond the gate is a much thinner gate called the Devils gate. There are red spikes on top of it and most of the architecture is red colors. The theory is that demons are afraid of red and those brave enough to try to pass will get hung up on the spears and not get inside. If you do walk through the gate you can only bring happiness and purity with you since everything else was removed by passing through these 2 gates. Inside the main courtyard there is an actual painting of the last emperor. There were 3 paintings of him done on silk but when the Japanese invaded 2 of them were lost forever. 1 was preserved by house hold servants. They took it down, rolled it up and carried it up into the mountains. The painting was constantly on the move to protect it. Only a few people knew where it was at any given time. The practice worked as the painting has been restored to it's original place. It's actually outside in a covered building, but open to the elements. Amazing it's still here but cool that we can see his image. Now I'm wondering if it isn't the first emperor and not the last. I waited to long to write this. I know it was super old but not sure if it dated back to the 13th century. That seems like a very long time, but it is possible I suppose. I'll try to look that up when I get time. Inside the walled palace grounds was a lovely garden of bamboo. Huge stalks thick as your arms and about 25 or 30 feet tall. Plenty of animals wandering around too. One of the funniest things was a special tree that doesn't grow bark. It is called the naked woman tree and women weren't allowed to see one so as to not embarrass them. So the womens housing was never built where they could see the tree. They kept their purity this way. Gates passing through the sections all had steps up or down and all were small in comparison to us North Americans who keep on getting bigger. Burials are different and sacred to Koreans. Emporer Taejo and his son were buried somewhere on a mountain but the umbillical cords were buried on the grounds. At some point the stone monument and the bodies were moved down to the grounds to be reunited with the umbillical cords. Not sure why that cord was so important but to them it was worth fightiing and dying over.
According to Dr Synn, Jeon Ju is the place where bipimbop was invented. Sort of a regional specialty. We walked to a restaurant that required back alleys and scary looking store openings. By the time we got to it though, the line was huge sort of validating Dr. Synnn's account of this being the best restaurant for bipimbop around. We ate at the #2 spot though and I loved it. No matter what you order the table is filled with tiny bowls full of kimchee and other delicacies that I don't recognize. I do love bean sprout kimchee and after eating all our tables supply Dr Synn had them deliver a bowl of soup to me. It's hot water with 5 or 6 bean sprouts floating in it. That is the soup that is mostly served for breakfast, like our oatmeal, just a lot less substantial. The bipimbop is a bowl of rice with veggies and red curry paste. They either break an egg into the middle of the hot rice to cook or they serve a bowl of steamed egg. One of the side dishes was some sort of clear gelatin squares with a lightly lemon taste to it. It had some leafy veggie in it that I never could identify. It was one of the best things I've tasted in a while. With all the hot spicy food a bit of that gelatin was soothing and perfect. My neighbors in Virginia had told me about bipimbop and they were 100% right. I could eat it 3 times a day and not feel like I was missing anything. I'm definately going to learn how to make it as I think this is a little far to travel for dinner. We had eaten a formal dinner with Dr. Synn and family the night we arrived. We were ushered into little rooms where you sit on mats on the floor, it had a television playing on the wall and a long low table in the middle. Food began arriving on platters with no rhyme or reason I could figure out. There were what I'd say was 3 categories. The first was a grilled beef or pork cooked in pepper sauces. The 2nd was whole fishes on plates, The 3rd category was all the side dishes. These side dishes are at every meal whether you order them or not. You also never know what they are going to be. Just what ever the cook had sitting around that day. All I can get anyone to tell me is they are already prepared and therefore, free. If you finish a side dish,someone will appear immediately to remove the empty bowl and replace it immediately. So if you are a member of the clean plate club you are in trouble here. You simply can not clean your plate without someone refilling it for you. Does no good to wave your hands and say no no. They smile and do it anyway. But the dinner was a lot of fun and I discovered a dish with thinly sliced strips of cucumber with a green leafy veggie mixed in it. Soggy veggie like maybe it's spinach and I just don't know it.
We spent the evening and next day wandering around this wonderful little city gawking at the sights. Some festival was going on so they had extra stuff like little girls in costume looking like our ballerina schools rushing around the streets. Street musicians, a calligrapher selling poems and texts on the street, and plenty of people and noise. There was a Catholic Church we got to visit briefly where I had hoped to light a candle for Matthew and Nick, but they didn't have any available. I've been lightingn candles all over the world, seemed odd to me not to find them here. Oh, jump forward to today and I also learned this is the one country that the Catholic's did not populate. Protestant's did though. There were 2 doctor missionaries in Daegu. They had a patient, probably someone important, brought to them and were told if you can cure him we will believe in your God because he is too sick for our own doctors. Nothing will help him. The American doctors treated him and he lived so they converted by the thousands. We brought the concept of surgery to Korea also, which to them was like a miracle. The American Christian doctors were healing people who normally would have died. Close enough to a miracle to get a strong foot hold in Korea. A group of Korean's who had been living in China and came to be Catholic's brought the religion back with them. There is a small Catholic Church with their pictures on the front of it. It is absolutely dwarfed by the huge Protestant Church directly behind it. There were 2 women and about 10 men. I didn't actually count but just looked at the pictures.
Now, back to Jeon Ju. Lovely cobble stoned streets worn thin from thousands of years of villagers walking around on them. The tiled roof with upturned corners jutting out over our heads gave us a feeling of antiquity swirling around us. Narrow streets that used to be only donkey, horse, oxen or people now having SUV's parked along it. Makes traffic quite a trick to get around in. Korean's honk their horns a lot. But they do it politely to inform other cars of their position. Good thing to with all the lane switching that goes on here. Phew, I could tell some tales there! American's honk horns mostly in anger. Get out of my Way you knucklehead type deal. We don't honk as much (except New York City where it is obligatory) but when we do it we mean business. Here the noise is constant, light little taps of I'm here, I'm here.
We took the short way home as Gary had volunteered to teach an English class for some professor. Keep in mind on the way to Jeon Ju we drove 2 hours South before Dr. Synn caught up to us to tell us we were going in the wrong direction. So it was a much longer trip getting there than it was coming home. If you know Gary, well, you know what I'm talking about. These things just seem to happen around him a lot.
notes on the side.
Gary participated in the "walk a mile in her shoes" campaign here on post. It's for awareness of domestic violence. He wore his military pants, a black tee shirt that says Walk a mile in her shoes and high heels. Stiletto style. It wasn't a mile but it was enough! About 50 soldiers were in the march including a lot of young Korean men who weren't too happy about it. They either laughed it up and posed funny or hid in the back and scowled. Nothing inbetween. Some of the guys looked great! Gary found standing still in the heels to be painful so was pushing them to finish the speeches and get to walking. He started near the front of the pack. Before they got out of the small parking lot he had fallen to the rear. Every step he could you could watch the muscles on the side of his face twitch. His bright pretty shoes even had the long pointed toes on them. By the time they got to the end of the street no other marchers were in sight except Gary, slowly plodding along with determination. He wasn't going to be the first but he was going to finish by God. I cut across the golf course where some Korean women had been playing but were standing watching the spectacle. They asked me what was going on and when I told them they fell apart laughing. They want to start this tradition with Korean men too. The Katusa's (Korean Aid to United States soldiers) who did the walk all brought shoes and I got to watch them walking off post with some Korean women who were laughing hard at the young mens faces of pain. Too funny.
Korean food remains a mystery to me. I've never ordered in a Korean restaurent. You just sit down and food starts coming. Reasonably priced too which makes it all the stranger. I have been doing well with asking if there is fish in things and usually find something to eat. I was going to a tofu restaurent yesterday with some Korean women who assured me tofu was all about soybeans. But right as we were ready to make the turn they mentioned it was boiled in fish broth! I told them to go ahead, I would eat side dishes and maybe something later, but they found a place that serves chopped beef steak instead. Same thing, we walked in, sat down and the table started filling up. The menu must have had 30 things on it but without even asking we all ate the chopped beef steak. Last night there was a reception as this super upscale hotel and it was served buffet style. I was unsure about a few things so passed them by. I did eat some wonderful barbecued tofu, herb grilled chicken, beef chunks in bbq style sauce and beef pot stickers. Only the pot stickers didn't taste right to me. Normally I love beef on a skewer like that and these had sliced almonds and green onions on them too. But it was too rubbery and I didn't like it at all. I discreetly scraped the sauces off of it and discovered I was eating some kind of animal kidney flayed open with the stick run through it. Oh my! I had taken 2 of them off the tray, now what was I going to do with them? But I get ahead of myself. Food here is something of a miracle and I don't understand the process at all. But I find I can eat more of it than I thought I would be able too.
This seems to be about SeoMun market, I'm not sure when I typed it so will just stick it on here.
In general the Korean's eat a lot of fish. Oh lets be honest, it it once lived in the ocean they eat it. An amazing array of fish and byproducts. Korea is a peninsula that is very mountainous. Tough to plant crops on these mountain sides. So they turned to the most natural source of food and that is the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. Seaweed is another staple of their diet and it's not so bad. Salty and tough to tear off chewable chunks but I can do it. That's it though, I don't want smashed squid or octopus legs. I didn't know there were that many octopus' in the ocean. Maybe they have a farm of them someplace. Like we farm catfish. The curled up tentacles must be good to seafood minded people cause there sure are a lot of them for sale. We ate at a French Baguette cafe for breakfast and I was relieved. I eat as much local food as I can because I want to experience everything but my stomach must be touchy or something. It is not unusual to be queasy the day after I eat a whole meal. Oh, except for hotta, not sure of the spelling. It's a Korean pan cake. They take a doughy ball and smash it flat, add sugar/cinnamon to the center with some finely chopped peanuts. It gets folded back up into a ball then placed on a hot griddle. It gets smushed flat again and cooked on both sides. The griddle is specially made so a bar runs up the middle. As the pancake is thick they push it up against the bar to make sure the outer edge gets cooked too. Talk about a taste treat. melt in your mouth goodness.
I try not to think about the sanitary systems as there really aren't any. I am hoping the heat kills most germs. They have no idea of Osha standards in the workplace. You would give the fire marshall a heart attack if he saw what the inside of buildings look like. Same with electrical stuff. People hook themselves onto power lines illegally to bleed off electricity for their own use. The power poles are a mess of wires. I witnessed a man trying to repair a tangle of wires because one was drooping down to head level. His ladder was made of bamboo. Made total sense to me. I wouldn't want anything metal around there. There are no escape routes from buildings, you just run and hope for the best. Same with driving. If there are laws out there everyone ignores them. Lot's of modes of transportation. To the usual flow of cars and truck we add small motor scooters, bicycles, strange little hand carts pulled by a home made scooter and just plain old people power. Driving successfully has something to do with guts and chutzpa. I am happy to leave the driving to someone else. Not me. Karen zips around in traffic like an old pro. I don't have much opportunity to drive with Gary but each time I have been with him, we got lost. Only 2 of them were his fault though. On one occasion the whole caravan got lost. Gary has a trickster for the angel on his shoulder. likes to keep things mixed up some.
Oh Gwyndolyn just came screaming into the room that there was a bee in her room and she wanted me to do something about it. As we walked down the hallway a house fly buzzed past and she pointed and yelled there it is, while ducking behind my back. She is now hiding in her room saying she'll come out when all the bee's are gone. She doesn't believe me that they are flies and won't bite or sting. Silly girl. She remains the great love of my life despite a new habit of getting close to your face and screaming aaarrrrggghhh! Sort of like Lucy yelling after Snoopy licks her on the lips. Or Linus in frustration. It's loud enough to make my ears hurt. That and she insists on doing my hair in various styles most of which draw stares when I go outside. We walk to swimming class and she talks nonstop the whole time. I am trying to walk for exercise but she insists on going along and almost immediately begins to whine that it's too long and she wants to go home, or look I've never been on that playground before and so on. I'm not getting much exercise in but am getting great at patience. Other than Barbie.I've about had it with Barbie. Bored bored bored. Oh, I did wrap Ken up as a mummy for Halloween against her wishes and he looks really cute. I plan on leaving him that way at least until I get some good pictures for my kill greg website.
Now that I've finished this one we can move onto Korean baseball.