i live in hwamyeong dong. dong means area, like neighbourhood, like suburb. so i just like to call it "the dong". in australia (and elsewhere i imagine) dong is colloquial for penis. in korea it's colloquial for shit. it's also the name for one of the directions (south maybe?) and there is a fermented rice wine drink named dong dong joo, which is like saying poo poo alcohol (which is isn't far off). one might pin this semantic pile-up on the relatively small vocabulary of the korean language, although i can't seem to dig up any stats on this. the word dong also makes me think of a chef at the moon named dong who could whip out about 15 pastas in 10 minutes. we called him superdong, which is like calling him a really big shit. he wasn't. he was awesome. he was 'superdong with the golden wok'.
but back to my dong. THE dong. the dong is perth's version of joondalup. it's in busan technically, but far from everywhere. a suburban centre with enough to offer in terms of modern conveniences but nothing in terms of history or style. in other words, it's easy to find somewhere to drink, just not somewhere you want to drink. it's got a ridiculously wide main drag, beginning at the cultishly over-frequented lotte supermarket and ending at the tragically underused train station. 8 motherfuckin lanes; the wild wild west or bad urban planning? a choice between my dreams and someone elses. the dong centre is about 3x3 blocks of buildings about 12 stories high. restaurants and hairdressers and singing rooms and bars and language schools and fitness rooms and pool halls fill these floors, pasting their neon logos up the sides of the buildings such that you have to cross the street to see where to go. thick dark skinned country folk park their kia bongos in lanes 1 and 8 and sell a small selection of produce on the pavement while upper-middle ajumas walk past in visors that shield their faces from the barely traceable sun. children run wild and parent-free across the street on green while cab drivers corroborate on corners about how to drive even more dangerously. foreigners pass on the street or in elevators and know if they dont know each other yet they will while ajashis stumble from soju tents at any time of day and are shoved into cabs after regurgitating or urinating on the sidewalk.
my biggest frustration is finding somewhere just to sit. just sit and drink a cup of coffee and read. at night. in the morning. at any time i go'damned feel like it. somewhere that isn't a bar and isn't dunkin donuts. somewhere i like.
my biggest pleasure is... is...? shit. hmmm.
i'm not at home here. but i'm settled.
what do you want to do? go to north korea?
haha. yeah. but first some breakfast. one needs a full stomach to take on kim jong il. haha.
where are we going?
all the other side of the river?
holy shit! fucking cool! wow. thank you thank you thank you!!
we drove along the splattered highway in her mum's car. a white jeep with a terrible turning circle. all on our left four layers. road, barbed wire, water, north korea. it was hard for me to get over, or perhaps i just didn't want to. as marty said to me before i left, "it's a sweet deal, and you are right next door to a crazy mother fucker.", or something to that effect.
we drove to one of the bridges, right to the gate, and stopped in front of some large yellow spiky things. it was hard to tell if this was it. it was all a little underwhelming. hasisi thought we could go further. there was after all, a large number of ordinary looking vehicles going in and more importantly, coming out. but i was hesitant. they would check ID and i didn't have mine on me. so we did a u-turn (which is, incidentally, the same word in korean and thus, easy points, assa) and made our way back in the increasing rain.
on the way we passed a giant ship shaped restaurant in the middle of nowhere and i thought of chris and roadside dinosaurs. i also thought of pirates of the carribean. we stopped in to a sort art township called heyri. it was a lovely yet strange place. innovatively designed galleries and artists residences dotted amongst piles of junk and construction sites. was this post-modernism or plain laziness? regardless it was a charming space and not a speck of neon! we ate club sandwiches and drank espresso and scribbled dedications into cafe tables like teenagers.
as an aside, i have been asking a few koreans about how they felt about the north's recent missile launches into the sea of japan. most seem unconcerned and a number of reasons seem to underpin this. one point of view is, i guess, common to a lot of westernised nations and that is a dominant concern with local or personal issues and not wanting to feel down or scared about things that dont really impact their lives on a day to day basis. another is that south koreans have seen actions like this before from the north and this is one is seen as no different with the exception of drawing more attention from the international community. if nothing happened afterwards before, nothing is going to happen afterwards now. a third is more complex and i will endeavour to find out more. many koreans feel some sense of unity between south and north, perhaps for past and future, and believe north korea would not harm the south and thus, do not feel threatened.
the love motel is a form of accomodation found only in korea and japan. of course in japan they are themed and far cooler. as the name suggests, it is a motel for making love in. they are relatively cheap, ranging from 30,000-50,000 korean won (40-60 AUD$), depending on the day of the week. when looking for a love motel look no further than the garish strips of neon bordering the buildings external structure. take for example "the love letter", busan (pictured beside).
love motels are known to service two, arguably three, distinct types of clientele. the first, husbands and wives "hiding" their socially acceptable extramarital affairs. the second, young couples living at home and escaping their parental shackles while deciding on marriage proposals. the third, groups of friends hosting mischievous slumber parties. however, this category may only exist in order to provide an excuse for type two.
on saturday night i decided to a bit of research of my own and checked into hotel roma, ilsan... ok, ok, my usual couch was out of town, it was 5 in the morning, and we needed somewhere to sleep.
however, this task proved harder than one would have thought. first personal factotum: love motels are popular. first stop was a well known strip in sinchon, near where we had been drinking. we parked the car and upon approaching the dim parking lot entrance my date saw something that told her the place was full. before long we had stopped parking the car or indeed turning the motor off as it appeared we weren't going to have any luck in this district. two suburbs and an hour later we found a vancancy at the sixth floor hotel roma, much to the relief of our tired and saturated feet. and it was the last vacancy, the polite clerk turning away a couple who stumbled in a mere 30 seconds after we had.
the clerk asked to see ID, which made me feel like a right pervert but my date assured me this was standard practice, especially given her youthful features. room 321 was easy to find and spacious. immediately she picked up the large, black remote from its erect positon on the dresser and turned on the tv. a korean couple pounded away doggie style. the woman's breasts were obscured by her arms and for a moment i thought perhaps korean porn was less than soft. but then i remembered korean film and sure enough the scene was followed by girl on top and a variety of other postures that suggested more self help tape than eroticism. in a bizarre twist the woman was crying and then comforted in the only way men know how - let her give you a blow job. we changed channels. the playboy channel, you little ripper! as hefner rolled out such classics at raunchy ranch and gym bang (ok i made those up) we investigated the rooms other features. pink and blue toothbrushes with matching pink and blue bathrobes. spring-tastic bed. one condom remaining in a pack of three. box of tissues. yep. second personal factotem: these motels are most definitely made for lovin.
after waking it occured to me that i had no idea what time it was. looking at the thin strip of light near the curtain i actually assumed it was being reflected from the bathroom. love motels are the opposite of casinos. where casinos are designed to give an always daytime feel, it is always nighttime in the love motel. always nighttime, always the right time, ooooh yeeeeah. ooooh dear.
i'd been there before, of course.
my dad had spent a few years teaching there at one of the local high schools. this was before he had met my mum. this was when he was a young man but not young enough to avoid tim winton tagging him the 'living hair machine'. this was when my dad had taught tim winton, before tim winton was Tim Winton.
i wasn't there then, but i had been there before. on family holidays. holidays too young and distant to be called knowledge. just blurry, framed scenes pinned together like a dream. locking the keys in the car in the rain in the main street. chucking a loser's tantrum in the mini-golf shack. dragging my feet across the tired whale museum's linoleum floor.
but this wasn't Winton's Angelus and it wasn't my family album. it was her past. it was her birthday. and it was exactly a year ago.
we drive down on the day. just the two of us, while the family played second fiddle. my nameless, green corolla hatchback made the distance, arriving in time to lend us some late afternoon light for a walk along the debried beach and up the windy hill. i couldn't stop yawning, on that hill. i was tired. too tired. it was her day, and my fatigue was taking over. is that the coast or an island? that's an island. that's part of the coastline. i think.
where was she? where was i?
somewhere deep. somewhere distant.
we used to live in that house.
the one with the half brick. slow down. there.
yeah, right. wow.
that night in the quaint empty chalet we drank the complimentary champagne and watched the boring telelvison and played the familiar card game. i don't think either of us knew where we were exactly, except that it wasn't the same place, and it needed to be. desperately.
a day and half later we drove home. the surface rain flew up from the tyres of the road-trains in front of us. you got too close, you couldn't see. you hung back, the stupid fuckers would overtake you. it was seriously dangerous driving conditions and i felt scared and angry and sad. i didn't want to die here, knowing we had just spent three days sentencing our relationship to a second slow death.
[photo by hasisi]
when next feeling stroppy and considering writing a text supposing onset of distance and requesting more respect, think: perhaps my minimouse is stuck in a flood and the power is out and actually she likes me -lalala- so much she doesn't know how to tell me.
, she said. fifteen days ago. or so. (who can count days through months?)
today. today there was a world cup final. i watched it, nodding off, naked, on/in/around my silk sleeping sheet, as the sun did its thing to the lonely hwamyeong dong morning. italy vs france. with the exception of imagining various members of the ford family watching and celebrating the occasion, i felt little in the way intrinsic interest for this fixture. thus, at irregular intervals i extended my knobbly white toe toward the channel button and flicked between it and possible soft-core porn films and footage of the approaching typhoon.
the typhoon is coming, said bruce lee, my supervisor, calling my conscious to wake at 11:30. and it came in perfect style. just as i was delivered to work in my director's company minivan, the winds and rain hit with what turned out to be the day's maximum effort. and so classes were cancelled and arrangements were made for scrabble and vodka in my apartment. it barely rained a thimble after that but we played anyhow. tragically, i was beaten in the first game by a girl whom i consider to be the most irritatingly stupid foreigner i know. it was a tough blow but i rebounded well.
in general the days are regularly bipolar. weekdays i've settled into a routine of waking and breakfast and book, followed by a 20min walk to work, wherein i soak my armpits with the summer's humidity. work's vacuum is 1 to 7:30 and then i get dropped home, only to wander back to the supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner. after dinner i read or write or visit the pc room. the hours go somewhere, and i fall asleep around 2am and start it all again. weekends are for drinking, and at this we are experts. social norms amongst foreigners in korea dictate that in order to get along with someone you don't know or like all that much, a large quantity of alcohol need be consumed. this way you can talk about nothing but the hours go somewhere and you feel like you've come closer to something that you misattribute to be something other than death. the beer is cheap and nasty and the habits are strong and nastier.
every other weekend i take the 'fast and convenient' ktx train to seoul to visit two people there i know and love and who fill my heart and memory card with the better stuff of my time here so far. the drinking has ferocity without functionality. just friends, doing what friends do, in korea. in seoul, company collaborates with environment and i am treated to clubs i can dance in, coffee i can stomach, and cafes i can feel at home in. it took just one of these weekends to know that i made a mistake when i chose to live anywhere other than seoul. and now im paying the price in train tickets. oh well.
the days line up like empty water bottles. i've drunk them too. and most have replenished me. but i know there will always be days when you just drink too much coffee and beer for any bottle of water to handle. and that's ok.