Sunday, May 18, 2008

Travelogue #37: Welcome to Korea, Mom and Dad! Part 2

<---Travelogue #36: Welcome to Korea, Mom and Dad! Part 1
--->Travelogue #38: Mad American Cows (And Why I Miss Cookie Cake)

y dad wants a draft beer and he wants it now, but our young waiter looks confused and mildly spooked by the request.

My parents and I are sitting on the patio of Chic Ami, a cafe in Jeongja, on an impeccably sunshiny Sunday in May. In America, it's Mother's Day; in Korea, Parents' Day was two days ago. I'm splitting the difference by treating my visiting folks to a swanky Italian lunch. Their eleven-day Korean adventure is coming to a close - so far, we've enjoyed the art galleries and souvenir stands (more classy than cheesy) of Insa-dong, as well as its street food. My father savored the sweetness of hotteok, a syrup-filled pancake that he called "heaven and paradise at the same time."

We then idled away several days on Jeju Island, warming our backs against the black stones of the Jungmun Beach coastline while being studied afar by Asian vacationers who saw us as nutbars in bathing suits.

They wore long sleeves and jackets, and some of them hid from the sunlight entirely. We were far from the land of bikini Britneys, and as a result, often found the big beach to ourselves.

If my parents and I would co-opt the "Whatever happens in Las Vegas, stays in Vegas!" slogan for our time on Jungmun, then our wild-and-crazy reading of back issues of Esquire and Oprah Book Club novels would never leave the island!

Back on the mainland, my parents and I wandered through the busy crock pot of commerce that is Itaewon, awed by the sudden noise of English,

the Myrtle Beach boardwalk-like t-shirt shops,

and the constant hey-buddy come-on's from oily Korean men for "Tailored suit? Very cheap!" This was a whole new Korea, one where my mom could meet two Russian women outside a five-story indoor market and where it's not uncommon to see a black teenager hanging out in front of a McDonalds across from an older Korean gentleman.

Now we're here and my dad still wants that draft beer. "Not bottle," he explains, miming the pouring of an invisible liquid from one hand into another. Our waiter pauses, lips twisted, as if he didn't do his math homework but thinks that he can do his multiplication tables anyway. I pull out my cell phone and click on my trusty English-Korean dictionary. I will be the intermediary. "Sun-hwah," I say, flashing the Korean word for "draft" to the waiter. His face spells "huh". I opt to go the opposite direction. "Byung," I say, pointing to the word for "bottle". "No 'byung." With some extra hand gestures, I think we succeed in conveying what my father wants; that is, until I double-check my dictionary and find that I used the Korean word not for draft beer, but for military draft. As for the word I used for bottle? I said baby bottle.

In conclusion, it looks like I told our waiter something to the tune of, "We'd like one military draft, but don't bring us a baby bottle!"

If only I had a dime for every time I said that in my lifetime, I'd be a very rich man.

My dad enjoys his bottle regardless, and we slurp up our Korean Italian food and thank our helpful waiter.

Next stop: Olympic Park, the way Korea introduced itself to the world for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games. It's an enormous expanse dwarfing Atlanta's Centennial Park, with acres and acres of greenery, yellow flowers, walking paths, and the proud flags of every country you can think of.

And kids. Kids, kids, kids! My dad greets a couple tykes in the following video, but what do I do? I go ahead and spoil the sweet encounter with a Chris Hansen joke.

The night (and their trip, for that matter) closes with my favorite meal, dakgalbi. I waited for months to introduce my parents to the definitive orange-hued spicy goodness of this feast, and the main event does not disappoint: though my father calls it "different," my mom gamely relishes the exotic flavors. The owner of the restaurant/my buddy Mr. Park tells my folks that "Alex is good, very good." He rewards us with an extra serving, a five dollar discount, and a free Coke. My mother can see why I like this place: not only for the deliciousness, but for the downright coziness.
It's as if we're in Mr. Park's home, and as long we bring our empty stomachs, we'll always be welcome.

And that's that. My parents have an early Monday flight, so we have our good-byes on Sunday night. There are a few tears between us but not too many. I'll miss my mom and dad, of course, but I like to say I carry their love like a tortoise shell on my back. It's with me, even when they aren't.

Here's to baby bottles and military drafts.
<---Travelogue #36: Welcome to Korea, Mom and Dad! Part 1
--->Travelogue #38: Mad American Cows (And Why I Miss Cookie Cake)


Anonymous said...

I just laughed so hard, I cried at the Chris Hansen reference.
Thanks for that!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree...the Chris Hansen comment was hysterical. Alex, you are a hoot!


Alex Pollack said...

Thanks for the compliments, though I just discovered that left out one of my paragraphs! I've now attached it to its right place near the end of the post.