02 May 2004

Foreign Correspondents, French Restaurants and “Juicy Bars”

OK, so tonight was an experience in the life of a foreign correspondent. I was going to meet one American reporter I had met earlier in the week and we were going to do dinner, but as I was delayed (wait till a little later for the Insadong story), he had fortunately run into an Australian correspondent with a bigger budget who treated us both to dinner.

So basically it was me, another American and an Australian eating fish at a French restaurant in Itaewon (food you would not have subbed your nose at anywhere, quite good) and chatting over issues ranging from the ability of the media to hear from and understand its readership to Korean politics to international adoption to the Kwangju uprising (speaking of which I will be going down to Kwangju for the memorial ceremonies, and so, now, will the Australian correspondent, and he will be doing a major article on it, and I am both invited along and responsible for scaring up some students and folks who participated in the uprising…).

After a very nice meal topped with a creme brulee, we walked two doors down to a local “juicy bar” to shoot pool. Now to be quite honest and open, the reason for choosing this particular spot was because, on a Saturday night in Itaewon, it was really about the only place one could find a pool table without a wait. The main attraction was left for the other clientele.

Now to jump backwards in time, before heading over to Itaewon, I was wandering around Insadong, Seoul’s “art street,” for a few hours, in search of a mother-of-pearl inlaid business card holder with a likeness of a tiger or haitai on it, only I found neither (and in fact learned that haitai are NOT fashioned out of mother-of-pearl, but seemingly only out of stone or in paintings – the shopkeeper was aghast at me even asking). But I did get a nice one with cranes on a plum or cherry tree in bloom. Very simple and only 20000 won (less than $20), and since it was my birthday present, I was happy.

Anyway, one thing about Insadong (aside from the fact that in the past eight years it has changed quite a bit, with a lot of new bigger buildings replacing the old arty shops of the past) is that this is where Korean English majors hang out to pounce on unsuspecting tourists to interview them for projects. I was interviewed twice and did a brief photo spread for a student from Yonsei University who needed pictures of foreigners in their 30s (or at least that is the best I could get from his really broken English, which was worse than my minimal Korean).

As I was finishing the afternoon stroll, and resting my feet and admitting some banners calling on folks to “remember Koguryo” (an ancestral nation of Korea that Chinese scholars recently claimed as a former Chinese state, raising the ire of both North and South Korean scholars, politicians and citizens), another student came up just to chat. Now this takes some guts, and most Korean English students are afraid to just go up to a foreigner and engage in conversation, so for this reason and because its always interesting to discuss politics and society with a variety of folks, I stayed and talked to him for a while, and thus was late to my meeting in Itaewon, which turned out to be beneficial not only for the free food but also the new contact and the chance to entertain an Australian in Kwangju.

Well, there are other stories to tell, and other observations to record, but perhaps they will wait for another time, as it is past midnight already and my eyes are tired and need some sleep. Oh, and on a final note, one more bit of oddity for the evening was the French wine guy at the French restaurant in Itaewon recommending the Chilean wine over the French wine. What kind of world do we live in anyway?

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