I wish I’d gotten a pic of the most absolutely bizarre traffic jam of my life but I failed to do so because, you know, I was driving and laughing and examining rice close up. If driving a rattling, noisy, $400 dollar, 20-year-old Kia down a pitted dirt road in the middle of a random rice paddy near the Yellow Sea (Or West Sea if talking to Koreans. It’s a point of some contention) wasn’t odd enough for a pair of brothers from Alabama, we found ourselves starving and stuck behind an ancient Korean woman on a Rascal type mobility device. Running ahead of us at about two miles per hour, she sat hunched forward in her seat as if willing the scooter to greater speed. It’s an experience I can honestly say I have never had before. I like those.
We eventually got where we were going and took care of the first order of business. Lunch. A second encounter with ancient Korean ladies this day saw us tricked us into eating a squid pancake and fermented radishes. It’s actually much better than it sounds. I promise. I do think the two old women were in cahoots though and they thought to punish us for scooter tailgating. Then again, it could have been due to lack of mastery where the Korean vocabulary is concerned.
We then went to see the shrine of my Korean military hero, Admiral Yi Sun Shin. The man led an epic life that would rival any modern fictional work of political intrigue, martial prowess, and heroic struggle.
On reaching the top step of the shrine we noted a bowl of burning incense at the center and an attendant just off to the right. I would have loved to see what noise it made when struck, but hesitated upon seeing the attendant. The Brain wanted to take a pic, and taking a different approach to the preferred forgiveness-is-easier-than-permission tactic, decided to ask first. He then complicated matters by asking her if she spoke English. She answered with several bewildered and frightened looking blinks as if she was being addressed by frost giants. With him at nearly 6’7” and her at about 5’ flat, I could kind of see where this might have been a fear display. He then held up his phone and showed her his intent. She smiled from her new place on the ground (a reaction to his quick draw I think) and sighed with relief at not being offered the place of honor as his dinner. She gave us the go ahead and lots of little bows at the waist. On leaving I explained to my brother that I understood Koreans often have great trouble stating an outright “no” and that her blinks were a sign of her trying to mentally work out how she was going to say no without saying no. Then again, they could have been code blinks for help. I don’t claim to know how Korean distress signals work. It’s all just speculation at this point.
The we found Eddie Murphy!
On the way to Admiral Yi’s ancestral home (about a block away) we pondered deep philosophical considerations such as how far away from a shrine could one place their grave and still hear the prayers offered at said shrine. His actual grave is like nine kilometers away from his shrine for some reason. If anybody wants to build me a shrine, please do so on top of my grave. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. Plus, I don’t know how this works either.
Complete with authentic 16th century track lighting in the master bedroom.
Beside the old home there stood a brick chimney for the fire that was used to pump heat under all the floors of the home. The Brain took the time to explain his vast knowledge of ancient Korean masonry practices and techniques. Knowing that masonry isn’t exactly cool, he tried to tell our father that he was admiring the fact that the well was close to the house instead of in the village center like Europeans wells, or in the next county over like African wells. Nice try, Brain. Here is the evidence of your fondness for brick and mortar work. I redacted his face because he’s a little funny about his image circulating on the interwebs.
As a fan of living history and mechanical apparatuses (apperati?), I was intrigued by the fact that the entire front of the house has these little folding door/windows. The cool part is that each pair are hinged vertically with one of each pair being hinged horizontally so that they could be opened and then swung upward to latch to the house’s eaves. I wanted to see these function as designed, but the Brain employed his highly evolved sense of impending disaster to divine (It’s like magic, really) my intent and reminded me of the temple incident and that this was somehow tantamount to me washing my hands on Buddha’s face. That’s a different blog post in my July archives if you’re interested. After reminding him that forgiveness is definitely easier to ask for than permission when you’re in a foreign land, he threatened to tell my wife and stated that if I thought after 20 years of marriage that my wife couldn’t reach across 4,000 miles and jerk my butt back in line, I was basically Forrest Gump.
Towards the end of our tour we crossed a bridge and these gigantic Asian dragon hatchlings made a mass under the bridge that one could walk on. The Brain again reminded me of the temple incident and my wife’s great reach so we opted to just feed them instead of hike on them. There are these little vending machines that will sell you like a pound of fish food for less than fifty cents so I got a paper bucket full. To my delight, the fish began stacking on top of one another in a pyramid-like formation to get to the food first. It looked exactly like the zombies in World War Z climbing the walls in Israel. Except that they were baby dragons. And the baby dragons were just koi and carp. So nothing like World War Z. Way to kill the mood, Brain.
I may have mentioned this in other posts, but there are practically zero trash cans in this country. There are also healthy fines for littering so I walk around with pockets bulging with empty bottles, coffee cups, and various scraps of paper and/or food wrappers. Basically like a really tall self-propelled dumpster that got lost on its way to the landfill and just keeps picking up more trash. The Brain had a better plan. A pair of Korean grandparents approached with their grandchildren and were as amazed as I at the baby dragons. So the Brain took my bucket of dragon kibble and offered it to the kids. He then bade me walk with him. Absolutely brilliant. My trash became pocket adornment for someone else in what was cleverly disguised as a random act of kindness.
I didn’t get a pic of the plaques posted near the exit. Apparently they were special in that only “filial sons and virtuous wives” were ever awarded these things. There were five. The only five I’ve ever seen. In a country with something like five thousand years of history, this comes out to only one filial son or virtuous wife every millennium. Way to set an impossible standard Korea. I still love you.