Monday, 14 November 2011

An Unconventional Blog About Pepero and Planes

Pepero is a stick of biscuit coated in a thin layer of chocolate. The western equivalent is Mikado. They have been manufactured by Lotte since 1983. On the 11/11 every year South Korea celebrates Pepero Day because 11/11 looks like 4 sticks of Pepero. This has been an observance since around 1994 and is similar to Valentines Day. You give boxes of Pepero to the ones you love, young people tend to just give them to whoever. It’s a huge deal here and people take it way more seriously than I’m going to give them any credit for. It’s a strange affair mainly because Lotte have a major hold on the Pepero Day market. They do about 60% of their Pepero business during November and they must make a bucket load from it. It’s rather strange. I was laying into the hypocrisy of it all on my Facebook profile the morning of Pepero Day and then to my surprise my students graciously bombard me with boxes and tubes and sticks of Pepero. I now have more of the stuff than I could ever consume! It was lovely of them though and I’m sure it means they like me, at least enough to give me chocolate biscuits, which is just enough in my book.

I like airports.

That’s wrong. I suppose like isn’t the correct word. I appreciate them. Philosophically, of course. They make me feel a certain way. Even though they are these totally contrived spaces. Clean, orderly and efficiently structured for advertisers they are pleasant places to be, right? In arrivals this is obvious. Never is there a dull face, everyone is either waiting in anticipation to meet and greet a loved one whom they haven’t seen for a long time, or they are in the process of meeting and greeting. It’s a beautiful place where there are more smiles than frowns and it gives me a much needed confidence boost in the human race. Departures are a different story. Sometimes there can be tears. People saying goodbye to people whom they won’t see in a long time. A place where business is going on and the hustle is getting bustled.

Nowhere is the airports charm more concentrated than on the screens that line the terminal walls of a departure lounge, these screens imply a feeling of infinite possibility, with ease you can impulsively approach a desk and within a few hours be taking off to a destination completely alien to the one you are currently in. You can fly home from here, from being abroad. The sheer possibility of it all is electric. Yet, this weekend I found myself in the departure terminal saying goodbye. As much as I ‘appreciate’ airports, this is never an entirely pleasant affair.

I’m jumping around a bit.

We booked into a hostel but the hostel didn’t have room for us so why did they take our booking in the first place? Anyway, don’t worry Mr. Kim has a solution as he walks us across the street to his house. He gives us some bed sheets and tells us to make ourselves at home but there is no way we are staying here! We spend the next two hours scouring the streets of Hongdae (a University district of Seoul close to the Airport Railroad) for a hotel to crash for the night. We do not want to sleep in Mr. Kim’s house. After a very long and tiring walk through the streets and alleyways we come across a hotel and we approach the desk and low and behold we have a room. We check out of Mr Kim’s house, we get our money back and we take our business elsewhere.

We eat burgers.

Museums can be boring. (stay with me folks I’m not being ignorant, I promise) I was going to write fucking boring then but I didn’t know who would be reading this but now I’ve said it and now you all know that occasionally I swear. I don’t think you should just swear for the sake of swearing, but occasionally situation is called for, for a little f’ing and blinding, and we all enjoy ourselves. Anyway, museums, right, we went to the Korean Museum this weekend. It was a huge museum and architecturally it was astounding. Huge sheets of glass swooping through the air with an astounding view of Seoul tower. Do you remember when I said museums were boring? I didn’t mean all museums. I meant museums you have no interest in, and you know what I have no interest in? Korean ancient writing, or Korean ancient art, how many pieces of hangul on parchment can you look at when you don’t read the language. You can certainly appreciate them as monuments of a by-gone age, glimpses into history but how many of them must you really see before this feeling of awe for the sheer magnitude of time is eradicated. This museum was big, and unlike something like; The British Museum (a museum I have a place in my heart for) there wasn’t much variety at the Korean museum, in fact it was all very sameish and it probably would have helped if I spoke a lick of the language. The museum shop was wonderful though and I picked up a lot of gifts for people back home. I feel like a right capitalist.

The streets of Myeong-dong are full of hip teenagers and young girls dressed in scantily clad clothes, fish nets and bleach blonde hair. Leather. Harajuko. Gothic Lolitas. Vintage. American. Retro. Femme Fatale. Indie. Hipster. Peruvian. Punk. Scenester. Perfecto. Motorhead. Fetish. Yeah, I know nothing about fashion but what I do know is all of these trendy styles come together on the streets of Myeon-dong in Seoul. It’s a busy shopping district and one of those ‘cool’ areas with a hip reputation, much like the Soho of London, but blended with a little Oxford Street. It’s a cool place to hang out and an even cooler place to buy a hooded sweater with a massive duck on the front, which was basically my mission and you’ll be happy to know that the mission was successful.

We’re sat in Paris Croissant (I had to spell check Croissant). We have ordered a Kiwi shake, an ice tea, some clam chowder and a Panini. In airports you can get all varieties of world foods, a welcome change from Korean dining. We eat. We talk. We leave. Natalie sets forth through the gates to customs and I walk back towards the airport railroad. It’s strange not having her around anymore, even walking back to the airport railroad. I go to buy a ticket and the Koreans are having some kind of problem with the machine so I have to wait. I take the train back to the bus and get the bus back to home and I walk in my front door and I’m alone again. Natalie will return in January and we’re going to be heading to Japan for winter vacation which is something well worth looking forward too. She’s probably up in the clouds by now. She obviously was, she was on a plane.

I went and hung out with Ben for a few hours I skyped Reno which was a pleasure, I skyped my grandparents whose voices it was great to hear and I skyped home which is always lovely. I went to bed.

I’m saving money over the next two months so won’t be going to Seoul again for a while. I’m planning on climbing a mountain next weekend before it’s too late and the snow falls. I’m hoping to get up at 4:00am and hike to the peak to watch the sunrise. I’m going to do a lot of writing and eat a lot of cheap food. So, who knows what my next blog will be about. Keep your ear to the ground.

I'm listening to Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. There is ice outside the window but the sun is shining. This week I will have been in Korea for three months. That's a quarter of the way through my contract. There is chanting coming from the Buddhist temple. The office is empty and my Kindergarten class has been cancelled. I appreciate airports. They keep us connected. Without them. Even with the world so readily connected we would still be much further apart.

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