Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Korean Ryan Gets a Ride in a Police Car

NOTE: This post was originally written for my email list on 08/18/2004. It was edited and updated today, 10/13/2004. There was a lot more to tell with this story, so I added it on at the end. Everything I added is clearly marked and in italics.

Why? you ask. Simple: my bike was stolen. I'm not telling this for pity (although it was a damn good bike); I'm telling to detail how the Korean police system works.

When I had my work call in to tell them that my bike was stolen, the police actually came to my work with, get this, two police cars containing four officers. They were there within a half hour.

They took me and someone to interpret for me to a police station across town. The entire staff present seemed to be standing around listening to this exchange. Korea, obviously, has very little crime. I'm pretty sure this was their top priority of the day.

They took down my address, the details of the bike, when it was stolen, and the basic stuff. After that, my interpreter talked to the guy for another 15 minutes. I have no idea what about. Then I was escorted back to my school--this time with only one car and only one officer.

Just to juxtapose, when my radio was stolen from my car a few months ago in the US, all I got was a report taken over the phone and a "we probably won't find it."

Well, that's it. Good thing I make enough money here to buy a new bike in a couple weeks--but for now, my world is a little smaller (hard to get some places without transportation).

Updated 10/13/2004: It was a full month after my bike was stolen that I found my bike lock. I always kind of assumed that the theives threw the locked bike in the back of a truck or something. Not so. They probably rode it away. I found the bike lock less than 20 feet from my apartment building in an empty lot. The lock hadn't been cut. It had been smashed somehow. I'm not even sure now.

About a week after I found my lock, the police AGAIN showed up at my work. Great, I though, they must have found my bike. They didn't. They came back to do a checkup; essentially all they had to say was "we're still looking."

Luckily I had a better translator this time (my first translator was Kevin, one of the bus drivers and someone whom I've grown to like quite a bit--despite the fact that he barely speaks English and I barely speak Korean). My boss, Rose, sat in and translated.

We learned that all this time, the police had been looking for an "Indiana" brand bike. See, I told them that the bike said "Summit City Bicycles, Fort Wayne, Indiana" on it. They must have only caught the "Indiana" part, and not, say, that my bike is actually a "Specialized" brand "Rockhopper," something they didn't have written down even though I remember saying it at least twice. Damn this language barrier.

Well, it's been about another month since the update and still no word on my bike. I'm not holding my breath. I already have a new one, even though it's a piece of crap compared to the one I HAD. Guess I shouldn't have gone to all the trouble of bringing my nice, nice bike with me.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Korean Ryan Goes to Seoul

NOTE: This post was originally written for my email list on 08/17/2004. It was edited today, 10/13/2004. I want to note that I got a good deal in the electronics mart when I visited it in this story. I got a CD player for less than $100 when the cheapest I could find it online was $180. Funny because I conducted the CD player transaction in English with very little haggling. If you read "The Benefits..." you'll see that I got a little fleeced when I bought a camera later (using only Korean). I still find that odd.

Damn, if I had enough time, I could write one of these every day. Really, that much crap happens to me over here. But you all should count yourself lucky that I keep it to the really interesting stuff. That said, welcome to the tale of my first trip to Seoul. Seoul, I should mention, is the third largest city in the world.

We took the fast train to Seoul. This is called the KTX and it goes nearly 190 mph (300 km/h if you're metric savvy, which is all we use over here). We got off the train in Seoul a mere 50 minutes after leaving Daejon, no small feet considering Daejon is about as far from Seoul as Chicago is from Fort Wayne.

After catching a cab, we immediately got stuck in traffic. It took us twenty or so minutes to go two city blocks. "We could walk faster," said Logan, a fellow Hoosier that works at my school. "Yeah, and we should," said Mike, this guy I hang out with in the bars sometimes. And we did.

After walking a few hundred meters, we saw what was backing up the traffic. A protest, a HUGE protest. We were well into the crowd before we realized what they were protesting: the US (I'm not sure specifically what, but it definitely was the US). We looked up and saw that we were right outside the US military base, gates bolted and guarded by about 100 riot police--and we were right in the thick of it.

We decided to just put our heads down and plow through. Three Americans wading through a sea of protesting Koreans is no fun--I've never been so nervous.

"Where are you from," we hear ring out in heavily accented English. "Canada," Logan yells back and we plow through some more. I'm glad Logan's a quick thinker.

Scratch what I said earlier, I HAD never been so nervous up until that point. I was even more so when we exited the crowd on the other side. In full formation, in full riot gear (4 foot clubs, sheilds, helmets--the works), there stood (no exaggeration) about 1,000 Korean riot police. And they didn't look friendly. They were ready to go, and were doing their best to stare us into submission. This went on for, quite literally, at least a quarter mile: riot police packed in formation ready to go.

About half way through, we noticed some American soldiers on a bridge overhead. They were, of course, laughing and pointing at us. We couldn't hear them, but I can only imagine they were saying, "look at those dumbfucks down there. Who wants to bet they won't make it out the other side?"

But we did.

From there we went directly to Itaewon, the foreigner sector of Seoul. It was just like an American city in that part, so I'll spare you the details. I will, however, say that whenever I tried to speak Korean to the Koreans in that area, they all answered me in English.

After a few beers and some good old American pool (Korean pool, by the way, is just bumper pool. Here, American pool is called pocket ball), we headed to the electronics mart. This is a sea of shops selling top of the line merchandise for less than half price. No joke. It's incredible. (Note: See "The Benefits of Knowning Half-Assed Korean (and the Aftermath)" for more on the electronics mart).

Skip forward a few hours of shopping, a great Indian restaurant, and some more Korean beer and we ended up in one of Koreas few gay bars. It's actually really hard to tell where these are because Korean men are very affectionate with each other naturally. In fact, if I didn't know this was a gay bar and didn't see the foreigners being as affectionate as the Koreans, I never would have know. Still, it had a quite atmosphere, so we stayed. I'm quite sure we were the only straight men in there, but it was a good time (and half off drinks).

Skip ahead a few more hours, a nice little hippie bar, and some falling asleep in a booth at some bar, and I ended up in a true, real-deal Korean hotel. A room in Korea is essentially a mat on the floor in a room that's not big enough for anything else, except MAYBE a TV. My room had a TV. It didn't work. But the place was only about $10 a night, so I didn't complain.

The next day was me wandering around before my much more drunk friends woke up. Not much to tell. Seoul looks like Daejon, just much much bigger. When the did finally wake up, we went to the art museum. This was great. They had a huge Dali exhibit up, that I'll tell anyone who is interested all about. Good times.

And thus concludes the Seoul adventure that starts out very interesting and kind of trails off into some garbled stuff about a museum if you hear it told in real life.