Monday, 7 September 2009

Korea And 90th Birthdays

Well, from the winter of Australia, it's back to the summer of Scotland - and the absolutely torrential downpours that entails. While I have so much good to say about this small and insecure nation, I'm afraid sometimes the weather plays the trump card and I have to admit a degree of sympathy for those that flee and live forever in warmer climes. I'm in the lucky position that I get frequent jaunts off to sunny conditions, but to live forever in Aberdeen's varying shades of grey must become wearisome - especially when from these moody clouds is unleashed a neverending torrent of rain, as witnessed last week.

It rained so heavily that at least two of my flats started to leak. Yes, two. Poor me indeed.

Before I re-entered this world of rain and gloom and Aberdonian stoicism, there was the small matter of Korea to deal with. My flight home from Australia when via Korea, and as I spent two very influential years there in 2004 and 2005, I thought it would be pleasant to stop over for a couple of days, to reacquaint myself with the place, and to catch up with some friends I'd not seen for almost four years. Four years! That's longer than some people have been alive. It's also long enough for me to have completely forgotten all but the most elementary Korean that I spent about 18 months studying daily while there. So I was excited, but a little nervous.

It was only two days there, in my old city of Daegu, and in the sticky August heat that settles in that mountain-ringed city of 2.5 million (it's considered a fairly small city by Korean standards). But it was enough to immerse myself in the frantic bustle, catch up with friends, and to reacquaint myself with Korean pornography as shown on the motel TV. Korean pornography is hindered by strict laws that seem to insist the gentleman always wear a big pair of underpants. The lady is allowed to take hers off, but only if nothing rude is shown. There really is very little to recommend about Korean pornography, unless you're very new to the genre and want to dip your toe in gently.

On one of the few moments I managed to drag myself away from the motel TV, I met with my old Korean teacher for a coffee then a meal. I say "old" in the sense of from times past, not as in ageing, an issue she was very sensitive about. 33 years old in Western terms, but 35 in Korean age, she lamented her lack of a husband and the lack of suitable men in Daegu. I dismissed her lamentations as those of a bitter, ageing crone, but she said "look!" and asked me to find a suitable man for her. So we looked for a while from the 1st floor window of the coffeeshop we were in, as loads and loads of people bustled by, and by golly if she wasn't right. Barely a man at all, let alone a suitable one - the streets were filled with young, pretty girls! Pretty, pretty girls! And that's why I love Korea! I thought to myself.

We were joined by a friend of hers, a fellow Korean teacher I many years ago in my Korean blog criticised as being goblin-like, and now feel very guilty about, for she was utterly lovely, if distinctly small. She impressed me by being familiar with Azerbaijan, due to having a student from there, and from a recent one-week trip to neighbouring Uzbekistan, which at the very least got marks for being quirky.

All of the above conversation was done in Korean, a real test for me after having not spoke it for years, but to my delight a surprising amount came back to me, albeit in patchy, child-like form, and with great help from my Korean teacher who has a near-psychic understanding of what I'm about to say. We remained at the coffeeshop till early evening, whereby we joined up with a fellow teacher from my second hagwon in Korea, Ho-Jung. Ho-Jung used to be an innocent, naive even, Korean girl back then, but in the interim had spent a year living in the chaos of Cairo, and was eminently more worldly for it. Also, her English was pretty good, which meant I could relax from my babbling Korean for a short while, and she could also clarify to the others quite what the hell I'd been talking about for the last few hours. We all ate a meal, and the other two retired, while I had a few more drinks with Ho-Jung.

The next day I languished for a while in my motel room - it was just too hot to go outside for very long - but in the evening met with the aforementioned bunch, plus Ho-Jung's friend (and a fellow teacher for a while at the same hagwon, i.e. kind of a school) Im-Soon, and later on we were also joined by Dave, a name much easier to say. I tried to be flash and pay for everything with my credit card, but it was declined! Damn you Egg Visa (I later learnt they had suspended it for suspicious purchases - Australia plus Korea plus a crazy binge on amazon seemed to set off an alert).

And that was that. A very brief visit to two years of my life. Moreso than most of my life, Korea seems like a dream, because it was two years utterly removed from anything else I've done, and since I've been back in Scotland there has been very little I can relate to it. There are very few Koreans in Aberdeen, very little Korean influence here, and I barely know anyone who has ever been there. So although it was a hugely influential period of my life - transforming me from a shambolic shambling wreck that lived in an addled haze to the wholesome gentleman you see before you now - it is a period in isolation from the rest of my years. So to briefly be immersed in that alternative existence was strange, but great.

It's a curious fact that when I left Korea, in February 2006, I had sincerely intended to return for one final year that July. But in May I stumbled, quite without intent, into the job I have now, and it was all change. But things could have been, and very nearly were, very different. For better or worse? I don't know. I have more money now, and hundreds of flats, but oh, there were so many pretty girls back then. Pretty, pretty girls. Now I'm surrounded by burly, hairy men.

Anyway, I got back in Aberdeen on Sunday morning, just in time for a party: my grandfather's 90th. My grandfather is a quite remarkably spritely and inspirational nonagenarian, who for over a year had been meticulously planning a grand 90th birthday party, shrugging off a diagnosis of cancer along the way (since getting it, he's never seemed so healthy). I had no idea what to expect from a party organised by a 90 year old, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Loads of people had turned out, albeit a few who I think may actually have been dead, and the afternoon was a feast of wine, food, tales and japes, dancing and chatting up old ladies. Ooh, there were a few hotties. For the simple fact that it was a rare convergence of family made it an enjoyable occasion, but it was a fun event in itself, listening to rambling old folk, trying to injure my mother on the dancefloor, appreciating the astonishing music (think Casio keyboard) and getting a chance to wear my swish suit for the first time this year.

Since then, it's been back to Aberdeen life, featuring mostly dinner and Playstation FIFA 2000 at Green's, reading weighty tomes, drinking steadily and drinking arguably too much on Friday while reuniting with Kitchen Mark and his honeybuns French Claire, and wearing a selection of housecoats (classic gentleman's and a new as-yet unnamed one the two favourites). Midweek I popped back to Dingwall as part of the ongoing efforts to help my mother move house. This time was the actual clearing of her house, with the keys ready to be handed over, and a wave goodbye to the Christie home since about 1983. In effect, this involved 10% work, 90% trying to sedate my panicking mother ("What if it falls through at the last minute?", "Where will my cat live?", "What if the river overflows and floods my new house?")

And that's about it... EXCEPT! Well, I have to be discreet here, as there are legal implications, and things are at a very early stage. But, you may recall a month or so ago, my run-in with a character at a train station in London, in which I lent him a never-to-be-returned £80, and I happened to put his details up. Well, I've since been contacted by two different people, both of whom have had run-ins with him. This guy appears to be a professional scam artist, with a few tricks up his sleeve. But don't underestimate the power of the internet, or the determination of the two people that have contacted me (or this guy's apparent idiocy), as we've got some leads. I'd like to say a bit more, but will hold back for now, but needless to say that for me it will be £80 well spent if I can see this guy: a. Imprisoned, or b. Getting his arms sawn off. Check back on my "Human Nature" entry if you want more details.

1 comment:

Morag said...

I have started my new blog. You know the address.