Saturday, February 1, 2014

I am a Gimchi!

I am going to Korea! I am on the ferry, it's a 24-hour ride and I am in this giant steel boat, going accross the yellow sea. It's done now, I am going to a new country. It's a little sad that I haven't had the chance to spend chinese new year in China but this is huge. I have a bed there, there are decent toilets and there is a heated bath. So I can wash. Wonderful. My newfound friends and I chat a lot. Yongjin is 30, he spent quite some time travelling and contrary to what the rumours say about Korea, he doesn't like Samsung.
"I don't have a samsung phone because it is shit. Korean people have made possible the success of Korean companies. Now they are just taking advantage of Korean people."
His girlfriend Shan is chinese. And damn me if that's not an effing coincidence but she is a hitchhiker. A chinese hitchhiker in china, that's unexpected, to say the least.
She has hitchhiked in some very poor chinese province and the whole adventure has been on TV. She has done this with some famous chinese traveller who became famous in china after hitchhiking from Beijing to Berlin. Damn, I should have been famous for two months already!
"The weather's shit," says Jongjin, "I was expecting a sunset in the sea but not today."
I like them both very much and I like how Yongjin always says that everything is shit.
We arrived in Seoul the next day in the morning and the weather is still shit. Yongjing's bag is really heavy, there is stuff attached to it, it is hanging from all sides, there is absolutly no logical explanation how this bag holds together.
Yongjin has a big mutant bag

We take a taxi to the subway and then we take the subway to Yongjin's house. Turns out that in the middle of the subway ride he decided to host me. Usually I just object out of politeness but now my objection is true. He has a girlfriend, they need their privacy, I can't live with myself if I stand in their way.
Turns out I have to find some way to live with myself anyway because I'm going home.
Yongjin lives with his mother whose name is simply "Mother". Shan calls her mother, Yongjin calls me mother and she ends up being my mother too. I stay 1, 2, 3 and 4 nights in a row. I get my own room with a pink blanket. For some reason, here in Korea, there is a lot of pink blankets.
Mother and Shan

Mother is South Korean and I am mentioning this because the father is of North Korean origin. He doesen't seem to live here permanently but I see him one day when we go to his mother's grave. He is a very serious man with an aura that inspires respect.
Yongjin and his father at the family grave

We spend the days resting, eating deliscous food that mother has prepared and watching TV. There are also lots and lots of types of tea. Black tea, green tea, red tea...
There are three of us under another pink blanket bigger than the one I have in my room and we watch movie after movie. Mother makes sure that we have enough food and blankets and I am officially a vegetable.
I am a Gimchi!

Talking about vegetables, everything here in Korea is to be eaten with Gimchi as a side dish. Gimchi is spicy cabbage mixed with some stuff and red sauce but mostly just spicy cabbage, you can google it.
As a matter or fact, I actually feel like a Gimchi myself. And I enjoy my days as a vegetable with Mother taking care of me and not much to worry about.
I also learn that it's not a good idea to make jokes about North Korea, stuff like Pyongyang is the capital of Korea isn't really funny here and might get you locked up.
Incheon is a comfortable city, it's not polluted, it's not scary, it's not dirty.
We go shopping with mother and the bakery gives us free food. Yongjin's family seem to think this is an unusual phenomenon but this is almost normal for me now.
Free food!

During all that time, I'm trying to find myself a more or less permanent place to stay in Seoul. I try couchsurfing, and it actually works! Some people replied and I even got positive answers. Why does couchsurfing work in Seoul and didn't in other places, I don't know.
I don't seem to bother the couple too much. In fact, Korean society being still very traditional, it's a big deal to introduce a girlfriend or boyfriend to parents so Mother doesn't know they are together. People solve the sex problem by taking love hotels for an hour. They just go there as a couple, spend their time and go back. They eve are sex toy distributors inside.
The last day, Yongjin and Shan walk me to my meeting place with my first couchsurfing: some american girl called Andrea.
She turns up late so I can visit Seoul a bit.

I visit Seoul couchsurfing after couchsurfing knowing that if one night I don't find a place, I can always sleep outside. There are many hills in the city and while they have some constructions on tops, most of their surface is uninhabited.
You've understood it from these lines; my life in South Korea is quiet and peaceful. Nobody pointing guns at me, not freezing, not being hungry, not being chased by police. Korea is... confortable.
I even visit a bit, there is this cool museum near the war memorial. There are a bunch of tanks, guns and war vehicules from the Korean war. I'm not a museum type but I was always interested by this part of history so this is really captivating.
Seoul war memorial

My last couchsurfing is a very interesting place. I enter Anna's atelier. She is a german artist who speaks french. She really is an artist. She paints some abstract art, some cubes floating in the air. She paints that on these giant pieces of paper hanging on the wall. She is kind and smart but I get this feeling that she's constantly checking weather or not I am not taking advantage of her... somehow. I don't think I am but I know the feeling.
Anna-Lena in her atelier

Next door live a hungarian couple. Actually it's an artistic residence, only artists live here. The girl seems fairly normal when you talk to her, she is into videos & editing and she produces pretty weird stuff sometimes. Her boyriend paints some really dark paintings essentially in black and red with disturbing slogans on them. It makes me wonder, if seemingly normal artists produce that original content, what about the crazy ones?
In the Hungarian room

Next door lives also Greg and Su. They are not together but they have that in common that they are both Korean. Greg is Kroean-American and Su is Korean-Korean and they both speak english. Su is the first person that you can really tell that she is some kind of artist or at least that there is seomething weird about her. When I think about it Anna also strikes you as the artistic kind but it's not so obvious in her case.
Su does collages, hundereds of little drawings and photos somehow connected into a scenary that makes some kind of sense. She is 38 appearently but if I could choose between dating her and any european twentish gal, I'd go for Su. Basically, here in Korea, here are the rules:
If she looks fifteen, she is twenty five.
If she looks twenty-five, she's over thirty
If she looks over thirty she's probably as old as your mother but still sexier than your girlfriend.
I like living in the artistic residence, it is confortable. We cook with Anna, I mean Anna cooks and I stare at the mixtures in a very confused way.

I'll have to travel at some point, I'm not staying in Seoul forever. One day, I pack my things and as Anna is taking a Korean lesson from another girl who is also an artist there, I am on my way... almost.
I have some signs to preepare. My next destination - Daejon and then Daegu. After Daegu, Busan and I guess I'll stay there for a while, until it gets warmer and then catch a boat to Japan.
But what would be even better to wait for warmer days is go to that island south of Korea, it is just east of Shanghai.
So I ask Anna's friend:
"Can you paint me a sign to Jeju?"
Daejon, Daegu and Jeju