The Tail End of the Trip

Well, I now have my wits about me, so I am going to post a little more about the rest of my trip, which concluded with my return to Korea on Saturday (I arrived Sunday afternoon, and got to Jeonju Sunday evening). However, since I know that a detailed breakdown of all of my voyage may not interest everyone, I’m going to use the Extended Entry function and let you pop over the the full story if you are interested by clicking the “Continue reading” link below…

My last post during my trip was dated July 8th, but that’s in Korean time, so it was actually posted sometime on the 7th, I believe. What happened after that was pretty interesting.

Firstly, I met Julia, an old acquaintance from the same old Brin-L mailing list where I met Marvin, Adam, Kat, Jean-Louis, Ritu, Charlie, and so many other friends of mine. She used to be an Administrator, but I’m not sure whether she’s still doing that job for the list anymore, given how busy she’s become with three kids. She had a singleton, and then twins. We talked about her kids, and about an insanely big home being built near her homem and the Brin-List, of course, which she says is at an all-time low—it seems to be at an all-time low every time I inquire about it. Anyway, Marvin and I had a great lunch with her and we talked a lot. I have pictures, but I am going to try to upload all my pics at once. That entails waiting, as I left some on Marvin’s computer and didn’t manage to upload them all to my server. (Ooops.)

After that lunch, we got home to find that Bailey the Wonder Dog had eaten four chocolate bars from one of the saddlebags for my bicycle which I’d gotten in Montreal. They were pretty special chocolate, with weird ingredients like Pink Pepper and Aniseed and Earl Grey Tea in them, and I was saving them for Lime, but Bailey ate them all, and even some of the plastic wrapping on them, which left only two little Laura Second bars in another (zipped) pocket of my backpack. Of course, we were quite worried about Bailey’s health, given that chocolate is poisonous for dogs and that she’d eaten so much. But after a call to the veterinarian and some follow-up research online, we were relieved to find out she’d be feeling sick and rather uncomfortable for a while, but she probably would not die. Well, she did feel sick, quite sick, actually, and her eyes looked all drugged-out, but she lived.

Wednesday evening, I prepared a Korean dinner with ChoBap and Dwen Jang Jjigae, which I guess isn’t the worst choice to feed to foreigners, but I think next time I’ll try serve up a Kimchi Jjigae or somke Bulgogi or something instead. It certainly wasn’t as good as Keisha’s cioppino of a few nights before.

Wednesday night, Marvin and I went to another live club (The Continental, I think it was called), this time to see James McMurtry and his band play. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or rather I was expecting something rather different from what we ended up listening to. It was much more like a rock show than I thought it would be, after listening to McMurtry’s CD. And yes, McMurtry is the son of the famous Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove (among many other books). Both the opening band and McMurtry’s band were really strong, really loud, really into what they were doing, so I found them both very enjoyable. But I was shocked to see how many guitars McMurtry brought to the stage. I swear he had six different guitars, all in all. They all had slightly different sounds, but I wonder if there was another reason he had so many—tuning, perhaps? He tuned obsessively before they played, and also between songs on occasion. Anyway, it was a really good show, I think as enjoyable as the show at Antone’s on Monday night.

On Thursday afternoon I took a bus into town (thanks to a scheedule that Marvin managed to find for me at the public library) and basically just wandered around downtown a little. Mainly I spent time walking around the Capital Building. That was a strange experience, seeing all these pictures of Bushy from the time when he’d just been a lying asshole, and not a warmongering, treasonous lying asshole. I did have a snack and a nice coffee at Starbucks, where ever imaginable coffee is orderable, as long as you don’t mind feeling vertigo when you look at the menu on the wall. “Honey,” the woman behind the counter says to me, “Look, we try to make it as easy as possible for you. You tell me what coffee you want and I’ll translate it into Starbucks language and make it for you.” I had an iced coffee with Irish Cream syrup in it.

Thursday night was a big event: Keisha, Marvin, and I met Adam and Melissa for dinner. You may recall I’d met Adam and Melissa on Sunday, the 4th of July. They are a funny couple, funny in the sense that conversation with them always leads to laughter all around the table. We had dinner at a Tex-Mex place and then they came back to Marvin and Keisha’s place to hang out for a while. We talked about all kinds of things—the unavoidable politics, RPGs, comic books and movies, and other interests to be sure. It was a fun night, and for Adam and Melissa probably a welcome break from taking care of their three kids.

Friday Marvin had the day off; we both slept in a little, and then took off around town. We started the day with a delicious Vietnamese coffee and croissant at a local Vietnamese coffeeshop/restaurant. It was gooooood coffee, made rich and strong and sweetened with condensed milk. Mmmmm.

Then we went around town a fair bit. We stopped by the local Waterloo Records, where I bought a few more CDs (mainly John Zorn CDs, but also a Yo La Tengo disc I’d not seen in Korea, and a double-CD of Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef. We picked up a shirt for Lime, with “Stop Mad Cowboy Disease” emblazoned on the front, and then we swung by Half-Price books. I’m telling you, the place was a dream for me. All kinds of cheap English books. I had to struggle with myself about what to buy, but settled on Thoreau’s Walden for $1 (Lime’s currently reading it and I told her I’d reread it so it’d be fresh in my mind when we talk about the book) and a copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormengast novels in one volume, which I only very uncertainly decided I need more than I need a wonderful one-volume collection of Andrienne Rich’s early poetry. Marvin’s patience during these browse sessions was amazing and I thank him for it.

On our way out of the shop, Marvin bought something and then surprised me by presenting me with it: a copy of the novel Lonesome Dove by Texan author Larry McMurtry. He wanted to send me home with at least something distinctly Texan; it was very kind of him, and the book is in my to-read pile as we speak, ahead of books that have been waiting longer, precisely because it was so kind of him.

We also went to a museum on campus, which was showing a very cool display of literary-art, meaning typescripts from famous authors, collaborative book projects mixing poetry and images, and tons of wall-hangings with poetry and images combined. I really enjoyed looking through the typescripts and the collaborative works, and even just seeing pictures of so many of my favorite poets, people like Ezra Pound, e.e.cummings, William Carlos Williams, and of course old uncle Ginsberg. There was also a lovely display of photographs taken by a local Texan photographer whose name I forget (the pamphlet is around here… somewhere…) whose work was really quite moving. It was a lot of working class people, interesting scenes from all over the world, including China, where he’d been during the war, and Italy where he did a photographic assignment on vacation; but the most moving pictures were of factories in the mist, and factory workers and their families.

We had a late lunch at which I tried gumbo—I’d heard of such cajun food before but never gotten a chance to eat it—and I was surprised to find it not at all spicy. I had assumed cajun food was naturally spicy, but this gumbo wasn’t at all, so I ended up adding some habanero pepper sauce, which improved it immensely.

Finally, we made a stop at Marvin’s home for a while, and I made sure to thank Keisha for her hospitality, because I suspected she would be asleep for the remainder of the time I’d be at their home. We took some pictures together, which again I will soon post, and then Marvin and I took off for the Elephant Room, where we got to see local Austin trumpeter Ephraim Owens play with a quintet that burgeoned into a sextet with the addition of a trombonist, and then into a septet when another sax player leapt into the fray. The band was certainly middle-of-the-road as far as jazz goes—not a lot of atonality there for the likes of me—but they were a solid group, good and fun and very very skilled. Marvin and I kept pace with one anothers’ drinking, he with margaritas and I with black Russians, and generously footed the tab, knowing I was a little worried because I was low on cash. He expressed concern about whether the liquor would make me uncomfortable on my flight, but actually, it did the opposite. A little liquor relaxes me and makes flying easier, so I would like to thank Marvin especially for making the flight home so much more comfortable and easy on me.

At the end of the show, which was about 1:30 or 2:00am, while Marvin hit the bathroom, I had a chat with the drummer. We’d seen him a few days earlier, sitting in with the house band at Antone’s, where his playing had be competent and workmanlike, but hadn’t blown me away. In contrast, his playing at the Elephant Room had surprised and delighted me so much that I had to approach him and tell him how impressed I was. He was friendly and polite, but seemed like he wanted to just pack up and go home, so I kept the conversation short. Then Marvin and I went to an all-night diner and had our last meal together. I seem to recall some kind of fajitas but I’m not sure exactly what was in them. But they were good, I remember.

Then we returned home. Basically, Marvin took a nap for an hour and a bit, and I took a shower and repacked my bags. Then, after brewing some coffee, it was time to go. We loaded up some hip-hop music in the car, which was certain to keep us awake, and Marvin very kindly drove me to the airport… at 5:30am.

That first flight, from Austin to San Francisco, is kind of a blur. I remember being in a small plane. I remember hating the ride in to San Francisco, because while the plane descended earthward, I could only see water from my window on the right side of the plane (on the left it was all land, but I didn’t see that for quite a while). I don’t remember who I was sitting near, but I do remember a kid screaming a lot of the way. Oh, and I slept through takeoff, which was about the only sleep I got during both flights.

Then there was a three hour wait in San Francisco. I got a burger, calculated how much money I had, and finding that in fact I did have enough to get a bus to Jeonju, take a cab home, and even buy some food, and still have some left over, I bought one more piece of reading material for the plane, something that I was 100% certain I’d never find in Korea: The Watchmen graphic novel, which was at the bookshop, just waiting for me.

When my flight finally boarded, I got another window seat, and beside me was a nice young lady named Ju-Yeon. She was a girl in her early 20s who was living in Delaware, and we talked off and on during the flight. We discussed what it’s like to live as a foreigner, and to miss one’s new home (for her Delaware, for me Korea) and what it’s like to see one’s parents after a long absence. During the flight I watched a couple of so-so movies (The Whole Ten Yards with Bruce Willis and some film with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler and a little girl which didn’t impress me much except the bit a school where the family sings a scene from Sweeney Todd), and read a great deal of Thoreau’s Walden. I also wrote a completely senseless letter to Yae Rim, but embarrassed by Ju Yeon’s level of English and her curiousity about my level of Korean, I refrained from studying on the plane.

I did, however, down several rum-and-cokes, and finally Ju Yeon asked me why I was drinking them. When I explained that for me, drinking alcohol on an international flight relaxes me and makes the flight seem shorter, she decided to give it a try, and after a few glasses of the stuff she was out like a light, and slept almost all of the way to Korea. But by then I was took tired to study, so I read some Thoreau off and on, read some of The Watchmen, and stared at the map a lot. See, I just cannot sleep well in planes. And anyway, not sleeping on these highly jetlagging flights is a way for me to simply, and rapidly, readjust to the new time zone I’m arriving in. If I’ve not slept in two or three days, eight hours of sleep can be gotten at any time I please, and I just restart my circadian clock that way. It’s probably something I won’t be able to do so well when I am 40 or 50, but for now it works for me.

Anyway, when I arrived in Korea, everything went smoothly. Customs waved me through the gate, and immigration, though I had to wait through a long lineup, was pleasingly uncomplicated. So I called Lime to let her know I’d arrived in Incheon, and caught the first bus back to Jeonju. I tried to read a little but finally, I was too tired to do anything, including stare out the window and count the red crosses or Bongo-brand trucks on the highway. So, finally,I got some sleep. I woke about a half an hour before my arrival in Jeonju, and when my bus finally stopped at the Core Department Store downtown, the regular stop for that bus, I tottered off rather brain dead.

And who was there to meet me? Lime! It was a funny scene, actually. She came up from behind and held her umbrella over me, to keep the rain off as I dragged my baggage out from the compartments under the bus. The bus driver noticed her doing that, but I was so out of it that I didn’t notice until I stood up straight and noticed some girl’s torso very close to me. I turned to see her and immediately I wanted to give her a big kiss. But of course, with the bus driver there, she had to fend me off—this is Korea, after all—and did so successfully for only about twenty minutes. It was so good to see her again, so good I can’t even describe it.

And now, a couple of days later, here I am, all unpacked. A couple of weeks worth of laundry are drying on my balcony, my bookcase is now seriously sagging from the treasures I’ve borne back to Korea, and I need to find a place to store all these CD-cases from the bookshelf. Today I have some business to attend to at school (such as replacing my poor lost bank card), and I think I may go for a swim as well. Tonight I am meeting Lime for dinner (she finishes one of her exams today, and we’re only meeting on days when she finishes her exams for the next two weeks, in an effort to ensure she studies earnestly for them all). I’m still a little out of it but I am feeling good to be home.

The one thing I want to say is that the hospitality of these people I’ve seen in the last three weeks has been stunning. So many kind people opened their homes to me or offered me places to sleep, and shared their time with me. It was so good to see everyone, either again or for the first time. I know I was sometimes a bit like a broken record, talking about how different things are in Korea, having culture shock at being in the West again, but I was treated kindly and with such grace by so many good people. So while I don’t think I want to live in North America again, I’m sure I’ll visit happily and with great excitement.

One thought on “The Tail End of the Trip

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *