Friday, December 20, 2013

Itaewon done two ways

The middle finger on my left hand is bleeding as I type this. I had noticed a tiny flap of skin sticking out just below the fingernail, and I unwisely ripped the strip away with my teeth. Hence the bleeding. I reckon it'll stop soon.

But a bloody finger won't stop me from writing a quick entry on my time in Itaewon today. The temperature never got above freezing, but it was a bright, beautiful afternoon when I arrived at Itaewon's famous Hamilton Hotel, a hallowed meeting spot for most Seoulite expats.

My first meeting was an appointment with Mr. M, a gentleman who wears many hats, has lived in Korea for 30 years, and speaks nearly perfect Korean. Like Robert Koehler, Mr. M likes wearing hanbok (traditional Korean clothing; see Robert here). I thought he would have been cold in just a hanbok, but Mr. M seemed just fine. He had summoned me to this appointment along with a Korean artist because he had some book projects he wanted to talk about with us: I was to be the writer; Mr. Kim, the artist (see his website here), was to be the illustrator. We went to one of Mr. M's favorite Mexican restaurants (which appeared to be run by Caribbeans). It quickly became apparent that Mr. Kim and I would not be working on the same projects: Mr. M wanted me for one project and Mr. Kim for another. For what it's worth, both projects sounded interesting. (Mr. M and I have worked together on a book project before; I'd like to thank the person who first put me in touch with Mr. M, but that party prefers to remain nameless.)

We moved our conversation from the Mexican restaurant to a nearby coffee shop, of which the Itaewon district has many. As we walked along the crowded sidewalk, I noted the preponderance of older, graying white guys wearing leather bomber jackets in a sad attempt at recapturing their youth. These fellows are everywhere in Itaewon; I wonder how aware they are that they're members of the same pathetic club. Our little group settled into the coffee place; I ordered a hot chocolate since I don't drink coffee; the other two gentlemen ordered coffees. Talk was partly about business, partly about personal matters. I showed Mr. Kim, the artist, some pics of my Dalma-do artwork and other brush art; he was appreciative if not exactly enthralled by what he saw. Mr. M talked about skiing (which he doesn't do anymore after a bad incident on a certain slope) and palmistry, one of many Korean cultural quirks he seemed to have picked up after three decades in country. The meeting ended amicably; we all exchanged contact information; Mr. Kim promised to email me later. It's a shame that he and I won't be working together on a project, but such is life.

By the time we finished, it was around 4:15PM. We had spent about two hours together. I moved over to the local Starbucks; my buddy Tom had texted to say that he would be waiting there for me. I was supposed to meet my friends at 6:15PM for dinner, but Tom, his wife, and their child were in Itaewon for reasons of their own, and they had nothing to do until dinner. So I went up to the second floor of Starbucks and sat with Tom and his wife, a lovely Filipina, and their baby son, who was asleep—with a coat over his head—when I arrived.

A little before 6PM, Charles and Hyunjin announced their arrival. They were already at Wang Thai, the resto that Charles had been good enough to reserve for dinner (Thai food had originally been my friend Seungmin's suggestion). I made my way over to Wang Thai with Tom and his family, then went back to the Hamilton Hotel to await Seungmin's arrival. It turned out that she was already at the hotel, so it was a simple matter of collecting her and walking to the restaurant. She chose to walk through the freezing weather without her coat. I commented on this, and she laughed.

Charles's reservation had been for seven people, which was apparently enough to gain us a private room. Feeling very rich and exclusive, I sat down at the table, and after some negotiation we figured out how we were going to order. The appetizer was a chicken satay. The soup was a sweet-and-spicy tom yum. The main courses included a shrimp-and-vegetable curry, spicy beef, Thai pork, pad thai, and a chicken/pineapple rice dish that I had never tried before. Everything was delicious. Toward the end of dinner, Seungmin brought out some gifts for the assembled crowd: homemade scented candles. I brought out the modest gifts I had bought during my quick shopping spree in Insa-dong. Charles muttered something about not knowing this was going to be a gift exchange; Tom, for his part, looked blissfully unrepentant about not having brought gifts for the group. To his credit, he ended up covering the dinner cost for me and Seungmin.

All too soon, dinner was over. It was good to have had the chance to sit and eat with my friends, and in Seoul, no less. This was something I hadn't been able to do since returning to Korea in August, and I'm not sure when I'll be able to afford to do this again.

Tomorrow: a meeting with Patrick B. to discuss my upcoming work with KMA. Come to think of it, if KMA wants me to teach a couple times a month for them, I may end up coming to Seoul quite often.

Ah, yes: some time ago, my finger must have finally stopped bleeding.


1 comment:

John said...

This is the first winter in a couple of years that I've been able to fit into my bomber jacket. Itaewon beckons!