Saturday, May 04, 2013

the Mr. Seoul competition

My friend Sperwer (pictured earlier) had told me that the Mr. Seoul competition was happening at 1PM at the Dongdaemun Sports Complex. I had to cook up a batch of budae-jjigae first, before the ingredients spoiled:

By the time I finished cooking, showered, dressed, and was out the door, it was after 1PM. I was late. Luckily for me, Sperwer was somehow tweeting photos of his prep, right from the field house. This one's called "Final Paintdown," a reference to the fact that all the contestants receive a healthy coating of artificial tan before going on stage:

I love the expression on the Korean dude's face.

I grabbed a cab, but today wasn't my lucky day: my driver was a fucking idiot. I told him to go to "Dongdaemun Chaeyuk-gwan," but he had no idea what I was talking about.

"Do you have a number for the place?" he asked.

"No, sorry," I said. The driver was stymied, despite the fact that he had a GPS sitting on his dashboard. "Why don't you look the place up on GPS?" I offered. The old man hesitated, clearly not liking being told what to do. But practicality trumped pride; he parked the car on the side of the street, slowly turned to the GPS, and began typing. I told him that Dongdaemun Chaeyuk-gwan was located in Dapshimni-dong, i.e., the Dapshimni district. The first thing the guy did was type "Dapshimni Chaeyuk-gwan," which was obviously wrong. (Jeff and I had discussed this the other day—the Korean inability to listen closely to others.) "No, no," I said. "It's not called Dapshimni Chaeyuk-gwan. It's called Dongdaemun Chaeyuk-gwan." Slowly, glacially, the driver tapped the "delete" button to get rid of the offending phrase, then began the painstaking task of retyping. And that's when I noticed that the fucker couldn't spell.

Correct spelling: 동대문 체육관. (Dongdaemun Chaeyuk-gwan, East Gate Gym)

The driver's first try: 동대문 최육관. (Dongdaemun Choiyuk-gwan, East Gate Jim)

"No, it's spelled 'c-h-a-e," I said: "처 + ㅣ." I was starting to lose patience, and was simultaneously astounded that I was teaching spelling to a Korean. This is a country with well over a 90% literacy rate. On the bright side, I guess I should have been happy to find Korea's lone illiterate. The man might be a celebrity for all I know.

"Would you like me to get in the front and type it out for you?" I asked, risking rudeness from the back seat. "I can do it very fast." The ajeossi laughed, perhaps to cover his embarrassment at being unable to handle the newfangled tech-doohickey on his dashboard. GPSes aren't for the hesitant, the slow-witted, or the technology-averse.

He tried again: 동대문 쵀육관. (Dongdaemun Chway-yuk-gwan, East Gate Jwame)

That second misspelling was so bad it was comical. But in my mind, I was screaming, Are you fucking RETARDED? The driver slowly deleted what he had written, and this time I guided him letter by letter until he had spelled the "chae" syllable correctly. "Hit the 'ae' button; it's next to the '3' button," I told him. This entire time, the cab's meter was running. I, meanwhile, was trying to decide whether to tell this genius to fuck off so that I could get another cab.

Finally: 동대문 체육관. The correct spelling. Thank you, Jesus. The listing for the gym came up on the GPS screen, along with a phone number. "There!" Ajeossi bellowed. "Call that!" He then loudly dictated the digits, one by one, even though I could see them clearly for myself. A lady at the other end answered and I passed the phone to the cabbie. He and the lady talked for less than a minute, then the driver handed the phone back to me. "It's not a very big place," he griped. "If you say 'Dongdaemun Chaeyuk-gwan' to people, they won't know what you're talking about." He started off.

Here's a pic of my idiot cabbie and the GPS on his goddamn dashboard:

By the time I reached the gym and thankfully got out of that cab, it was 1:30PM. I was sure that the opening ceremony was over, and the first round of contestants was undoubtedly hitting the stage. All the same, I paused outside the gym to snap a wide shot:

Musclemen—and musclewomen—were everywhere. I felt decidedly out of shape. Some of these folks were practicing poses; others were getting their abs smacked repeatedly by their coaches; still others were working with weights to keep up their pump before strutting their stuff. I was in a field of living statues, artificially tanned Adonises, all. Most of the female contestants were decidedly muscular, but perhaps because they were Asian, their muscles didn't bulge in frightening and over-masculine ways. Some of them looked quite beautiful, but strangely enough, the sight of all that naked female flesh wasn't really a turn-on. I guess that's how it is when there's almost nothing left to the imagination.

I made my way into the gym, weaving through streams and clots of humanity. I saw that, all over the floor, people had laid out large square tarps as a sort of "picnic" space. On these tarps were duffel bags containing the mysterious paraphernalia necessary to make a good showing at Mr. Seoul. It became obvious that each picnic spot was a staging area, dedicated to a single contestant and his or her retinue. I broke through the milling wall of humanity and found myself in the gym proper: a wide-open, multi-use facility that had been set up with bleachers around the edges and rows of chairs for privileged spectators in the middle. At the front was a stage, its back lined, for some reason, with sheer plastic sheeting (to protect the wall from diarrhea farts?). On the stage was a long raised platform on which a row of beefaloes could stand shoulder-to-shoulder, facing the audience. Off to the side—my left, stage right—was a podium for an announcer. I was in the nosebleed section, above the bleachers and far back, but with a good, clear view of the stage. I had barely settled into position and turned on my digicam when a row of bronzed iron men walked out, one freakish colossus among them.

Sperwer. I was right on time. So I took the following shot as the posing began:

Later on, Sperwer told me that the above-pictured pose is supposed to be modeled on the stance a man might take if he's being threatened by a large predator. A closer look:

Sorry for the fuzziness above, but you'll recall what I said about digicams and low-light conditions.

The next picture shows, according to Sperwer, a pose he found difficult to maintain. "My knees were shaking!" he said, pantomiming shaky knees:

Lastly, a picture of Sperwer showing proper Korean etiquette and bowing:

Bad pop music blared the entire time. The announcer crisply read off the names of the contestants, allowing each the chance to take an individual bow before they all took a collective bow. Sperwer, unsurprisingly, received the loudest applause. The man was undeniably impressive up on stage, absolutely dwarfing his Korean comrades (many of whom he knew and had worked out with). All that tanning goop, all that training—it all seemed to make sense in that one instant. Sperwer had worked hard to get where he was, having gone from a soft, burly battleaxe in 2008 to the chiseled demigod he is now.

Afterward, I left the main gym and went looking for my friend. I saw him, with his wife, as he was coming up the stairs to my level. We talked a bit; I discovered that the likelihood that Sperwer would be allowed to win anything, being a foreigner, was low. Still, given all the applause he had received, I felt he should at least win something for all his trouble aside from a cold "Thanks for participating." Sperwer also told me that the athletic commission in charge of the next upcoming event, the Mr. Korea contest, had changed its mind and ruled against Sperwer's participating. My friend shrugged. "So the next available competition's in late June," he said. Sperwer went to his own tarp and began dressing up in his Captain America getup. He invited me to his place for "steak and salmon," which sounded tempting, but in the end I gave him a rain check since today is Mom's birthday, and I want to be somewhere quiet. Sperwer, his wife, and I made our way back down to the gym's floor level and found some bleacher seats. I watched the posing for about an hour—row after row of exquisitely sculpted Korean men flexing in various static postures, looking for all the world as if they were trying to make their muscles burst through their skin.

I scanned the crowd, too, and that's were I found my turn-on: there were plenty of hot young ladies about, many in miniskirts and tight, tight pants. Remember all that crap I wrote the other day about Korean asses being "the flatlands"? Today was a lesson in eating crow. No flatlands to be found anywhere. Quite the revelation. It could be, though, that I shouldn't generalize from the samples I saw today: many of these ladies were doubtless the girlfriends of some of the guys on stage, and if the biological wisdom holds true, then hot people tend to date hot people, which would explain all the ambient hotness. I almost took a few surreptitious shots of some of these women, but I decided that doing so would make me no better than an old, desperate perv. I do wonder, though, what many of these lovelies were thinking as they watched the guys on stage. I've heard women talk about men and muscles before; opinions run the gamut from "Hot!" to "Gross!" I think that, if feminine aesthetics were plotted as a bell curve, the fat part of the curve would be "We like guys with some muscle, but not enough to make them look like The Hulk." Of course, there are women who are really into the reedy, willowy, European girly-man archetype. Those women aren't for me.

After about an hour of ogling the stage and feeling weird about staring at men in bikini briefs (the "sausage party," as Sperwer calls it in a spirit of fraternal bonhomie), I got up and told Sperwer I was cuttin' out. "We'll meet again sometime before you go," he said. I nodded, and with that, I wended my way back to the field house's exit, out past the lingering musclemen in the anteroom, and into the warm Seoul daylight.


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