Thursday, April 27, 2006

soul to seoul

Korean Air has 3 flights weekly direct from Seattle to Incheon. McQuinn told me last time he was in Incheon people were shooting at him. Now it's the site to one of the most modern airport in the world. Stewardess reminds me of Virgin Atlantic (except none are blonde) - all are young, slim, pretty & perky. They also bow before the flight takes off. Er, OK. Lunch was bi-bim-bop with seaweed soup, very satisfying and gets you in the proper mind set.

Arrive at Incheon Airport, miraculously find the right bus to Insadong, then promptly gets lost when I arrive and took an hour to find my hotel. For the Seoul novice - it is a ridiculously complext metropolis where street names are meaningless and even native Koreans have no idea where they're going. The common thing to do is to meet at a local landmark, say, the Starbucks in Insadong or KFC in Seocho-dong. Check into hotel surrounded by a tour group from Japan, walk into room and phone rings 2 seconds later - it's Mark Russel wondering where the hell am I.

We meet at the MacDonalds down the block and dive into a restaurant where Ju-youn orders heaping orders of spicy pork and beer. Stomach grumble for the next 3 days. Move on to rock 'n roll bar drinking cheap Korean beer and listening AC/DC and Dire Straits. This is alright. Go home early 'cause I've been up for over 24 hours straight - can't resist and stop by Sal's favorite street food vendor for some ddbokki and mandu (I won't bother to explain). Home by 2:30am - earliest ever.

Next day head over to Sal, Susan & Peter's joint to rip some Armenian and other 3rd world country music. Sal just got back from Tajikstan, Afghanistan and one other stan and brought back various bad good Russian pop songs. Susan bake fresh chocolate chip cookies. Susan is a diplomat from Canada about to finish her posting in Korea and move to Cairo with additional supervision over Gaza Strip and Sudan. She does not tell her mother this little detail.

Lunch with Sal, JY, Luke & MiJeong in Itaewon for more spicy pork, stomach grumblin' increases. Spend afternoon in outdoor cafe drinking French wine and people watch (popular gay area with hot guys). Move to another bar with bare feet on sandy floor and drink Long Island Iced Tea while swapping iPod tunes with Luke - learn more about Canadian indie rock groups then I ever need to know. Stop by Canadian bar called Rocky Mountain (no kidding) and do two quick shots of tequilla, pack 5 people into a cab fit for 4 and our Korean friends pretend to not speak Korea. Dinner is spicy kimchi pancake then meet up with Mark at another rock n' roll bar in Gangnam to celebrate Mark's 10th anniversary living in Seoul. Mark is a Canadian writing for various Asian & Int'l magazines (such as Billboard and Time) on Asian movies & music. Travel to Hongik (university district) to look for this lesbian bar Mark's friend just opened. The place has great vibes and the owner is awesome. She used to date Mark then changed sides after. In addition to owning the bar she also fronts one of Korea's best rock group. We drink tea while munching on seaweed with spicy sauce.

Sunday. Go to local cafe to check email & update the blog. There is a self-service money refund machine when you return your to-go cup for recycling. Sal remark in America people will just steal the money. Sad but true. Lunch with Sally - who is Canada's agricultural minister - who has been working for years to get Korea to import beef from CAN but another case of mad cow disease the day before probably torpedoes the whole thing. Oh, when you enter the airport there is a cartoon on the giant Samsung screen showing germs killing cows. Not good. Lunch was famous mandu (dumpling) place run this 90 year old women who sits by the window sternly supervising much young women making dumpling. Spend afternoon on rooftop cafe drinking lemon tea while checking out latest teen fashion (mostly short denim skirt - Seoul is not even close to Tokyo when it comes to fashion)

Afternoon go to Itaewon and meet up with Howard - a great friend and flamboyant gay man (as defined by him constantly taking pictures of himself to check his hair) to go sauna. LOVE sauna in Korea. It's none of the tiny wimpy stuff in the west. These are behemeth structures with multiple rooms featuring different styles, cafe, manga library, big screen tv and heated tatames. Throughly refreshed and poisons released - promptly re-injures self when meeting with JY for dinner and some stupendously weapon grade spicy beef. Sal & I nearly keel over and was admonished by JY 'cause she didn't even order the hottest version. Go to bar and drink apple soju to detox and talk shop for 3 hours.

Monday. Work day. Travels around Seoul and getting lost with various publishers and retailers. Accidentally gets dropped off by cab in Youngsin electric mart - sort of Korea's Akihabara. Shameless droll over phones & laptop that we will not see for at least 3 years. Great lunch of seafood bi-bim-bop with the nice folks from Sigongsa. MJ take us to great dinner place where the specialty is seafood soup and snails pancake (delicious!). Travel to Gangnam to JY's favorite strawberry soju place where Susan treat us to stories of her exploits in Malawi (eating hippos for one) as we imaging things she will eat in Cairo. Finish the night at an outdoor tent bar where we drink soju out of bamboo with Sal, MJ & JY. Sweet.

Tuesday. Meeting with Seung-won, a top agent. Turns out she knows people from my wife's company Becker Mayer. Met at Insadong Starbucks which is the only one in the world where the logo is in the local language. Fabulous Korean fusion lunch at a place called Ming's Palace with Sal. The steamed pork just melts in your mouth. Great memory as I take the bus to Incheon, leaving my friends & colleagues in Seoul already looking forward to a return trip.


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