the adventure started when i arrived into the seoul-inchon airport yesterday morning still groggy from my cleaning, packing marathon that afforded me only 1.5 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours and kimchi on the breath. (they actually serve you little mini packages of kimchi and tubes of kojuchang on lufthansa flight 712 frankfurt to seoul. how awesome is that!) but when the first korean guy coiffed with delicately dyed brown hair and wavy perm hit my vision, i knew i was just not yet ready for the culture shock that was about to begin.
my friend julian met me, yellow flower in hand, to pick me up and take me down to daegu. the city that he’s been living in the past 4 years. we’ve always had a good joke about how he, as a german-american moved to korea, and i, korean-american, made germany my new heimat. i think there’s a book in there somewhere, trading notes between our experiences as strangers in a strange land. something we had violent arguments about much later…but, i won’t get ahead of myself.
so yesterday can be summed up with…mcdonalds, squat and pee, old balls, gizzards on a stick, grilled pig intestines, the beatles noh-rae-bang, soju, soju, soju, and a shot in the ass.
1) mcdonalds- where julian had lunch at the airport…in his defense, he had just taken a 5 hour bus to the airport from daegu to meet me, and we were just about to take the same bus back…i nibbled on his fries.
2) squat & pee- after downing a large coke at mcdonalds and drinking 1.5 bottles of tea, on a bus with no toilet on board, i had to pee. like, really, really pee. (i seem to have a notoriously small bladder..it’s a problem!) with still another hour of travel left before reaching daegu, i was starting to break out into a sweat. i was seriously contemplating whether i could manage to pee discreetly into the empty tea bottle, but who was i kidding. i was on a bus full of old korean ah-jo-shees and ah-jo-mas… plus, we’re talking about someone who couldn’t even pee in a bedpan at the hospital when i was just getting out of surgery with no option to get up and use the bathroom…still, i was wishing i was back in anything goes berlin, where no one would blink twice if i just pulled down my pants and squatted in the back seat. julian went up to the bus driver to ask if he would pull over for me. luckily, he was making a stop in the city of gummi which he said was a mere ten minutes away. well, a korean 10 minutes… 23 minutes later, when he finally pulled into the bus depot at gummi i was already halfway out the door and running before the first grandma even thought about getting up from her seat to disembark. i ran towards the universal sign for toilet and….found a hole in the ground. after marveling at the technological wonders of the inchon airport where everything was faultlessly clean and fully automated, here was the korea i remembered from my first trip in’91. ok…squat and pee it was. i got back onto the bus after getting heckled by the bus driver…yes, a full bladder is always good for a joke, and enjoyed the rest of the ride back in relative peace.
3) old balls & shot in the ass- so what started out as a twinge in my right ear the night before flying, turned into a full-blown raging ear infection somewhere over siberia. by some gut instinct i had packed away an old bottle of tylenol with codeine into my purse and thank god…two of those puppies got me through the rest of the flight but i barely survived the landing where every minute drop in air pressure was like a dagger straight into my head. my bladder fiasco momentarily distracted me on the bus ride home, but by the time we got into daegu i was an incoherent mess. with no tylenol left, julian took me to the closest clinic- where we were told they had no otoscopes to look into my ear. i mean…really? wft? i was wondering if they were just fucking with us. julian being white-american, and me having seriously crappy korean speaking skills, although very good comprehension…still no one here seems to believe that i can really understand them when i’m unable to respond coherently…anyhoo, the receptionist told us to go to another hospital. which we did because we were both too demoralized to try and argue about the sheer ridiculousness of a hospital clinic not having a friggin otoscope, only to discover the other clinic was already closed. i was about to cry. big, sloppy, wet, this can’t be happening to me, this is my epic trip back to korea, why is this happening?? tears…but thankfully the emergency room was just a short walk from the main entrance and there i waited..
now emergency rooms here are not what a westerner would expect from a fully modernized, technologically advanced society as korea is in a lot of ways. i mean the parking lot didn’t even have tickets- just a computer that magically registered your car and told you exactly where you could find a parking spot. but in the emergency room- patients, young and old, merely sick or at death’s door, all waited together, in hospital beds in the large lobby. and the doctors came by and made the initial diagnosis out in the open in front of all. i got a lot of curious stares…not looking severely ill and being a good 30 years younger than the average patient. across from me was an elderly man, waiting with his wife and daughter. complaining of hip pain and numbness in his foot, the doctor had him take off his pants…hello! he poked and prodded..does this hurt, how about here, and here. and..let’s stretch your leg up and see. right about the time i was marveling at how limber he was for a man of his age…out popped his balls from his loose boxer shorts…
the doctor finally came by and looked in my ear to tell me-” yoo ha-buh ee-yuh in-bek-shun. beh-ree bad-uh”. yes, thank you. just give me the drugs!! he proceeded to tell me that he would give me an anti-inflammatory and antibiotics, and..oh yeah, a shot in your ass. now, the standard treatment for just about any ailment in korea seems to be a shot in the ass. (today my friend julian, suffering from pain in his back, got his very own ass-shot at the orthopedic hospital. 2 shots in 2 days…lets see if we go 3 for 3!) as the doctor was speaking to me, another patient was walking out of what appeared to be the injection room, clutching his ass and walking with a slight limp. well, after the fiasco with the old man’s balls, i was just relieved that i wouldn’t be disrobing and showing my derriere to this assorted motley crew of senior citizens. a very nice nurse came by with the needle, guided me into the injection room. “this will hurt a little.” she said in korean as she lightly tapped my rump…oooowwwwww! to ease the pain she vigorously rubbed my wounded behind before giving me a light slap to signify i was finished. hello, korea!
4) gizzards, pig guts and soju- once the pain meds started kicking in, i was feeling good and ready for so
me culinary adventures. julian arranged for us to meet up with some friends in a district of daegu renowned for their pig intestines-makchang. i was feeling good, but not thaaaat good. after a day involving a nearly burst bladder, pain daggers to the brain and a shot in the ass, i felt like i needed a gentle slide into familiar korean cuisine. give me a nice bowl of kimchi and some bulgogi or bibim-bab. we agreed to go elsewhere, for that night at least. i took a pleasant walk through some back alleys of daegu bustling with activity. there’s a university nearby which meant there were a lot of cheap eats available. we came across some street vendors grilling up chicken gizzards. freshly cooked, the locals were gobbling them up, dipping them into sauces of varying spiciness. mild, medium, napalm,
so hot not only will you cry but your stomach will explode. starving at this point, and maybe the pain killers were really kicking in..i decided, what the hell, i’m in korea…gizzards on a stick! i cautiously bit through the one, coated in a refreshingly hot sauce made of kojugang, soy sauce, sugar and perhaps a bit of garlic and scallion. delish! they were surprisingly good. 3 sticks later, i could have still eaten some more, except we were on our way to dinner…
we ended up having dinner at this small, very old school looking bbq-place. it seemed to cater to students, each dish was well under $5. 2 bottles of soju, a plate of pork belly (sam gyop sal) and kalbi (korean beef bbq) later, julian and co. decided that the evening could not end without at least one order of makchang (grilled pig intestine). one more bottle of bamboo wine later
…i decided i was not going to be shown up by 2 whities eating hard-core korean food. i mean, who was the korean here? i gingerly took the smallest piece of makchang and dipped it into the makchang sauce (something i need to learn how to make, because that’s really what makes the dish!). once again..i was surprised by my enjoyment of offal. yes! i can call myself a true gourmand ; ) it was tasty. chewy..but tasty. considering that the group consensus was that, that was not even very good makchang, i’ve decided more pig intestines will be consumed in the near future.
5) noh-rae-bang (the korean version of karaoke) – and what evening in korea would not be complete without at least one hour of drunken singing at the local noh-rae-bang. once again, amazed that this time it was not ME but the white contigent in the group who were professing their deep love for karaoke, i felt safe to admit my own secret love for cheesy pop songs sung with overblown emotion. usually i need to drag my cousins kicking and screaming to the karaoke bars in los angeles..the only people i’d ever dare subject to my secret addiction. haha. 7 beatles songs later, i had semi successfully remembered the lyrics to the one k-pop song i knew and the night was now truly complete. i was in korea.