Monday, July 7, 2008

The Cosco Mission

Other titles I considered for this post included "The Daegu Dilemnas," "Quest for the Holy Grill," "Ride of the Drunken Pervert," and "Taxi Tag." As you have probably already guessed, my trip to "Colorful Daegu" yesterday was colorful, indeed!

I actually planned to go to Busan yesterday, as I wanted to go to church, but then my plans got changed. My friend Daisy came over to get a package that I was holding for her and suggested that we go to lunch. We invited our friend Diane, a charming girl from South Africa, to join us, and the three of us had a delicious lunch of bing soo at CanMore, downtown. Diane had plans to go to Daegu with our friend Kristin later, so she invited us to join them. As I was desperately desirous of oatmeal and dill pickles, I chose Daegu over Busan. Daegu boasts the attraction of a Cosco, which is like Sam's Club back home: they sell everything, and in huge quantities.

Seven of us wound up on the train to Daegu, and we resembled a miniature United Nations. Among us were Daisy, who is Mexican-American, Kristin and I, who are both Americans of mixed lineage, Diane, who is South African, Alan, who is Canadian, Ava, who is Peruvian-Canadian, and Kristin's boyfriend Duk, who is Korean. Believe me, we attracted more than our fair share of stares!

We intended to eat dinner at a Mexican restuarant, but when we got to Daegu, we learned that we had been misinformed. There were no Mexican restaurants in the vicinity. So, we set off in search of the Holy Grill, a restaurant that we had heard featured good food that wasn't Korean. As much as all of us adore Korean cuisine, we were eager for something different. It took about an hour, but we finally found the Holy Grill (there were plenty of Monty Python-related jokes during the search). As promised, the food was excellent. Daisy, Diane, and I split an appetizer of nachos, then I dug into a fantastic main course of grilled chicken souvlaki. We tried to eat fast, because we realized when we got to the restaurant that it was almost 8:00, and Cosco closes at 10:00.

After our fantastic meal, we hopped into two taxis and headed for Cosco. Diane, Ava, Alan, and I took one of the taxis; unfortunately, none of us knew where Cosco is, and neither did the driver. We told him to "follow that cab!" - pointing to the other taxi. As we pursued the taxi, we joked about how funny it would be in a movie if someone wound up following the wrong cab. Then we got to a light, looked into the window of the other cab, and saw a baby. Uh oh. Since none of us are parents yet, we realized right away that we had been following the wrong taxi!

Luckily, Daisy, Kristin, and Duk realized that we were not behind them, so they had their driver follow us! When we stopped at the light and realized our mistake, their driver jumped out of the cab, and knocked on the door of our cab. Then both drivers had a conversation about where to go, standing in the middle of a huge, busy street while they did so - with all of us still in the cabs, watching them in disbelief! Only in Korea! After the drivers decided how to get us to Cosco, we were off again, bemoaning the many wasted minutes, and worrying about whether we would be able to get in, since it was now almost 9:00.

Once we got to Cosco, we separated into teams of two or three, each with our own lists of things we wanted to find. I wanted pretzils, oatmeal, and dill pickles, and I was in luck - I found all three. Of course, the pretzils only came in a ginormous bag, so I should have enough of them to last until Christmas. I think I'm going to try freezing half of them, to see if they keep from going stale. I also found feta cheese, which I have really been missing, 100% mango juice, Kashi cereal, and some FiberOne granola bars (yummy!). Ava, Alan, and Kristin were smart enough to bring suitcases for their groceries, but Diane and I didn't think of it. The two of us found some free boxes and loaded our treasures into them. Mine was extremely heavy! Kristin's wonderful Korean boyfriend was kind enough to carry my box for me.

Once we got to the bus station, we learned that we had a problem: the last bus back to Gyeongju had already left! We checked another station only to be told the same thing. We were about to reluctantly take a cab back (Daegu is an hour away, so a cab would have cost at least 40,000 won), when Duk suggested that we check the biggest bus station in Daegu. We piled into cabs and raced over there. We were in luck; the last bus to Gyeongju was leaving in five minutes. We hurried to purchase tickets (only 3,000 won), and hopped on the bus. Since it was quite full, Diane and I were happy to spot two comfortable window seats in the very back. We had no idea what a bad choice we had just made...

Just as the bus was preparing to leave, a clearly-drunk Korean couple came on board and settled themselves in the back with Di and I. For the first several minutes, they thoroughly examined Diane's box of groceries, even taking things out to look them over. I was grateful that Duk had put my box in the luggage hold! After tiring of Diane's groceries, the man turned his attentions to me. I should explain before continuing that one of the things I hate most in the world is when men touch me. I don't like any physical contact beyond a handshake. I also prefer not even sitting beside men that I don't know (and even some that I do know). So what happened next was, in short, traumatizing.

The man started by leaning on me and trying to touch my arm and shoulder. I said "no, please," politely twice. After all, I realize that Koreans do not have the same desire for personal space as we westerners, so I always try not to offend when I feel my space is being invaded - there's never any need to be rude. Usually, a simple "no, please" is enough to keep strange men from touching me, but not this time. Undeterred, the drunken pervert decided to put his head on my shoulder and his hand on my leg, with his fingers attempting to make their way up my skirt! At this point, I didn't care about not offending. I yelled at him, feeling a bit hysterical actually (and quite violated). This aroused the attention of the rest of the bus, and acted as enough of a deterrent to make him keep his hands to himself for the rest of the ride. I would have changed seats, but unfortunately, it was a full bus. For the rest of the ride home, I was on my guard, ready to give the pervert a good right hook if he tried anything else. I was relieved beyond discription when we made it back to Gyeongju.

Before I go further, I feel that I should add that perverts like the one on the bus are not the norm here in Korea. Most of the Korean men I have met have been friendly, polite, and even helpful to me. A few have asked me if I am Russian (a prostitute), but other than that, I've been shown mostly respect. So please don't judge all Korean people by one stupid pervert - many of the nicest people I've ever met have been Koreans.

After we got off the bus, Di and I took a cab back to the area of Gyeongju where we live. It was here that things got bad for me again. It was nearly 90 degrees out, and very humid, and I had to lug an extremely heavy, large box of groceries to my apartment building, and then up four flights of stairs to my apartment. Not fun! I had to keep finding things to rest the box on, as I was sweating so much that it kept slipping in my hands. Meanwhile, my sandals were busy making blisters on top of my blisters. I finally made it home, longing for a cool room, but it was not to be. My AC is currently broken, so my room was just as hot as the outdoors. I took a freezing cold shower, dunked a top in cold water and put it on, and then laid down to sleep with my small fan inches from me. It was a very long night.

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"