The first thing you need to know about John McCrarey is that he has the most impressive radio voice in the world, easily rivaling that of James Earl Jones. John's voice doesn't have the same sinister, subterranean quality that Jones's voice has, but as I told John today when we met at Tabom Brazil in Itaewon, he should try working for KBS Broadcasting if he ever gets bored of life as a retiree. Thanks to his rich, sonorous vocal cords, he's got a lucrative career as a radio personality and/or voice actor ahead of him. "A face for radio," he joked.
John is a jovial presence. He noted that our meeting was nine years in the making, since we'd been following each other's writing for a long time. (John blogs at Long Time Gone, and will doubtless soon be publishing his own version of our encounter.) He also seems much more interested in talking about his interlocutor than in talking about himself. His relaxed, easygoing style kept things comfortable.
John's lovely wife Jee Yeun (지연) graced us with her luminous presence as well, and we three talked in a mixture of English and Korean the entire time. Jee Yeun is happy to be back in Korea; life in the States was boring to her Seoulite sensibilities. She and John go back to America every six months, however, so I hope that, on her next trip to the States, she takes along whatever she needs to keep from being bored.
Tabom Brazil proved to be a larger, calmer version of Copacabana, the other Brazilian rodizio in Itaewon. Tabom's setup for the food is roughly the same as Copa's: there's a salad bar, of sorts, along with a "hot" station that features carby entrées like feijoada (meat & beans), rice, and even French fries. The meat-on-a-sword guy floats over to your table and offers you a cut of sirloin or garlic beef or pork or chicken or whatever. I tried to impress our server, who was Brazilian, by thanking him in Portuguese: obrigado, but I don't think he was impressed that I knew only one word. The server, meanwhile, knew the Korean equivalent of "Bon appétit."
Conversation ranged all over, but generally focused on immediate family, friends, and relatives. John had many questions for me, and he tackled the task of unpeeling the mysterious layers of the Big Hominid with the élan of a professional interviewer. Later on, when we left Tabom and went to Coffeesmith, a local café just up the street (where the above photo was taken), conversation turned a bit more political. Jee Yeun knew a barista at Coffeesmith (his name escapes me, but he's also in the picture above); this gentleman hooked us up with free mugs of whatever we wanted. Since I don't drink coffee, I got my usual hot chocolate, which turned out to be quite good.
All too soon, it was time for me to get to my train. We said our goodbyes on the street; I caught a taxi to Seoul Station and talked with the taxi driver on the way—mainly about the state of traffic. The driver was afraid there might be traffic jams on the way I had chosen to take, but there were no jams, as it turned out, and we got to Seoul Station with plenty of time to spare.
In fact, I had an hour. I spent several minutes on the second floor of the station just people-watching, noting that women with kids—just like in America—tend to dress way more casually than women with no kids. I reflected again on the previous day: I had spent the evening at dinner with my buddy Tom, and we were both surprised to discover that the Buddha's Birthday parade was happening that very evening and not ten or so days later, when the actual national holiday, Seokga-tanshin-il, is celebrated.
I should note that Tom and I didn't eat the galmaegi-sal that I'd been expecting. Tom took me to a different favorite restaurant of his, and we enjoyed grilled galbi instead. So it was beef yesterday and beef today—a veritable beefucopia. When I found out that my KTX train was already parked and ready for boarding almost forty minutes before departure, I climbed aboard, found my seat, and began experiencing beef belches—noisome, not-too-pleasant echoes of the meat I'd eaten earlier. Luckily, I had the train all to myself for about twenty minutes, which gave my belch clouds time to dissipate before the passengers came in and we got rolling.
The trip home was uneventful until I was within 80 meters of my building. I got off the local train at Hayang Station, walked through the light rain to my neighborhood, and went over to the neighborhood garbage pile to pick up my food-waste bucket.* The way it works, in this area, is that you separate out your trash into various categories, and food waste must be dumped into a special black-and-orange bucket (black sides and handle, orange snap-top). Normally, what then happens is that you leave the bucket at the local garbage pile with all the other trash, and the collectors come and dump your food waste into their trucks. My bucket had been set out almost a week previous, and the goddamn garbage men (true men of garbage, in my opinion) had refused to empty it out. So I left the bucket where it was when I went to Seoul, and now that I was back, I wanted to see whether anything had been done about my food trash. I noticed that the bucket no longer had my plastic bag in it (I normally line the bucket with a plastic shopping bag to make food-waste removal easier for the trash dude), but I also saw, with horror and fury, that were was still food in my bucket. I did a double-take: the food waste in my bucket wasn't mine!
What fucking cocksucker did THAT? I wondered. I'd like to snap his fucking neck. So basically, at some point, my bucket did get emptied out, but some enterprising asshole then dumped his food waste into my bucket. I stomped home with the bucket, emptied the stinking contents—foul chicken chunks and ramyeon noodles—into a Ziploc bag, stuffed that bag into a regular garbage bag, and prepped it for a return to the garbage pile. A chicken in every pot, indeed. I knew I couldn't get revenge on the chicken-dumper, but I was determined to make the garbage men pick up my garbage this time around.
It was a weird, ugly ending to an otherwise fine (albeit rainy) day.
*I have no idea how else to describe how our neighborhood handles garbage than to style it a "garbage pile." It's literally a pile of garbage—a mess of pre-labeled, standardized garbage bags filled with (presumably) non-recyclable trash and regular plastic shopping bags stuffed with sorted recycling. The food-waste buckets are usually grouped together off to one side, each bucket marked with the owner's building name and apartment number. In principle, anyone can come along and steal your bucket, so there's something of an honor system at work with these receptacles.
UPDATE: John's fine take on our meet-up can be found here.