“So, it tastes better than it smells? – ‘cause it smells pretty putrid”
“I didn’t say that they tasted better – I said they tasted different.”
So went a portion of my dinner conversation with Rich – the headmaster of the Korea International School where Sara and I have been visiting and teaching for the last week. We were handed off cold war spy swap style at a pancake house in Seoul by Chris – our librarian and poet wrangler at the Seoul International School, where we began our Korean adventure. Kris, the elementary librarian at KIS (whom we have dubbed Kris with a K) and her husband Sean assumed control of our well being at that point.
Chris (with a C) had graciously dragged us around Seoul after school Friday and all day Saturday. We started out by taking a bus to the to the yarn market where Sara was overwhelmed by the immensity and selection there. Imagine a six story warehouse with the circumference of a city block divided into ten foot stalls full of yarn, thread, drapery material, buttons and other goo gaws and thingamabobs.
The buses in Seoul cut through traffic like fresh oysters slipping from stainless steel chopsticks thanks to their own traffic lanes which are free of the bumper to bumper traffic of the rest of the road. The drivers take off from stops without the slightest hesitation as passengers mount the top step into the aisle causing one to break into a trot as you’re hurled by inertia into the vehicle. Buses seem to be the quickest way to navigate the city. We later also try the subway – which is as hot and crowded as it is clean and graffiti free. There are two types of cabs in Seoul – white and black – the black cabs are a little more posh and cost about 40% more than the white ones and neither have the advantage that the busses do with their own lanes.
Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous items on earth is a taxi driver’s beaded seat cover. Just about every cab in every country I have ever been have them. One other interesting thing about the taxis in Seoul – the driver’s picture on the hack license displayed on the dash looks to be taken once and then never updated. So the cabbies stoically staring down the camera from the laminated placard may have a full head of jet black hair and a smooth apple rounded face while the man behind the wheel sports a half dozen wisps of silver sprouting from a liver spotted expanse of skull and leathery skin wrinkled as a mastiff even though each is the same person. I wondered if looking at the picture made the driver wistful for younger days or if they believed they still resembled their photos.
As we ride along in our bus I notice out on the streets, where the temperature is hanging around 27 degrees Fahrenheit that Korean girl’s legs are pretty much impervious to cold - miniskirts and kill heels are the uniform of the young Korean woman. In fact uniforms are of all kinds abound. The parking attendants are resplendent in tailored jackets and white gloves which accentuate their interpretive dance like guidance of folks entering and exiting parking lots – shop keepers dress smartly almost in formal attire – the basement of the Lotte Mart (the country’s answer to Wall Mart) stocks racks and racks of prep school jackets but the epitome of job specific clothing trophy has to go to the bearded guards at Changgyeonggung Palace.
Sara picks out some yarn and asks the saleswoman in the stall if they have a pattern for a particular shawl that is hanging at the front of the cramped cubby of a shop. The woman speaks no English and Sara no Korean so the lady grabs a set of circle knitting needled a ball of the yarn that Sara has purchased and begins knitting away – showing Sara the stitch used to produce the item. I have often heard that math is the universal language, or even music but I had not thought of knitting as a form of communication before I watched this. Two women from entirely different cultures understanding each other through the click, loop and pulling of yarn across a couple bamboo sticks.
It’s these little epiphanies that make our trips so much fun – I’m writing this as we cruise along the freeway in a tour bus on our way to the DMZ. I wonder what we’ll see there – we’ve been promised a pretty good lunch which I assume will most likely not include boiled silkworms – there are still a few cultural idiosyncrasies that do not translate as easily as knitting.