Monday, October 10, 2011

BIFF and Bobs

It's been a while, blog! I didn't mean to neglect you, I just got caught up in all kinds of different things that conspired against blogging. I think there's some tomfoolery afoot.

Last week was chaos, what with a family get-together, a director review (which means late nights prepping for the review), a new project to bid, international phone calls to make, preparations to go to the Busan International Film Festival, and just ... stuff. Not an excuse, sure, but it's the only one I got!

Monday was a holiday (개천절, or Gaecheonjeol, with is National Foundation Day) that falls on October 3 each year here in Korea. Since the anniversary of my maternal grandmother's death is October 5, the family had agreed to meet on the third for her memorial. 

This meant that while others would be working on Monday, I wouldn't, since I was hoofing it down to Seoul to see my family. So I worked on the weekend, tried to get everything in order so nothing would go awry in my absence on Monday, and then went to see my family (I have photos which I will post at some point). A lot of us gathered (17? 18?), the first time I've been with so many family members at the same time. It was nice to take the time to remember my grandmother, and it was even nicer to see my grandfather saying loving things about his wife. 

We ate a ton of food, had espresso, lots of dessert, including rice cake (떡), then the out-of-towners left. I went to a museum on the way home, just because I could, took a bunch of pictures (haven't even looked at them yet), then went home, exhausted.

Tuesday was an all-nighter to get things prepped for the director review on Wednesday, then an even later all-nighter to get the bid for the new movie squared away. Wednesday, director review day, started late because we didn't go to dinner (with the director and stereographer) until nearly 8:00. The review didn't start until 9:00, went past midnight, and then we had another meeting for the new project at 1:00 a.m. (Who does that, by the way?!)

Thursday was spent in a daze. I was in a fog all day, after getting to work around 2:00 in the afternoon, and didn't even try to do much. I knew that we had to leave for Busan on Friday, pretty early in the morning, so I was really glad when I heard that our departure time had been changed to 10:00 (the other car left at 6:00, so glad I wasn't in that one). We had dinner at a really cute place, took a couple half-hearted stabs at work, and left before 9:00, the earliest I've left work in a couple weeks. 

Friday morning, five of us got in a company car and went to Busan. The drive should take about four to five hours but ended up taking six because we got stuck in traffic. We got to Busan in the afternoon, after stopping three times for snacks, lunch, coffee, and bathroom breaks (rest stops in Korea are SO AMAZING, I love them! America, why are your rest stops so scary?!). Milled around Busan, doing the typical Korean "hanging out in the parking lot next to our cars because we can't decide where to go."

Eventually, we made it out and about the city, mostly Haeundae (해운대), the famous beach. We basically didn't do anything in Busan except eat (and then eat some more), drink (and then drink way too much), and sleep (not enough sleep). 

First stop was at a place called 매떡 (Mae-Tteok or Mae-Ddeok), an abbreviation (acronym?) for 매운떡볶기 (spicy tteokbokki, sometimes spelled ddeobokki). Those are fried dumplings (만두, mandoo or mandu) in the bowl closest to camera. We sat on little plastic chairs at little plastic tables next to this hole in the wall shop, practically receiving third degree burns in our mouths from the spiciness. It was good, I have to say, and I didn't suffer nearly as much as some of the other people (three of them got hiccups, it was so spicy). 

We played a game on the street, throwing darts at a wall of balloons. All of our popped balloons combined got us a pink Angry Bird, which one of the girls hung off her purse. She had it on her for the rest of the trip- it was funny because her purse was tiny; the plush stuffy was bigger than her purse!

After the street fun, which I suppose is what one does in a beach town, the guys wanted to shoot pool, a very popular pastime in Korea. Actually, guys here prefer carom, which is played on a table without pockets (pool is called "pocketball" here). I think carom is what the Brits calls snooker? I have no idea, I'm terrible at all those kinds of games.

I learned the proper way to hold a cue and made a few good shots (and a lot of terrible ones). The girls played pocketball while the boys played carom (which is colloquially referred to as "three color" because there are three colors of balls), which has some sort of crazy scoring system. We were basically playing to pass the time, which we did quite well. It was surprisingly fun. I say it was surprising because I usually don't have fun with things that I'm bad at, but I did all kinds of things that I'm bad at (throwing darts, playing pool) and managed to have a good time.

We had a company function at Red Beard (붉은수염), a Japanese-style izakaya that's supposed to be famous for some reason or other (I wasn't paying attention). Once the boys were done carom'ing to their hearts' content, we walked the half-block to Red Beard to eat, drink, and be merry.
I don't drink beer, because I think it tastes awful. So we ordered beers for everyone except me- they ordered a bottle of soju for me. The waiter brought six glasses, thinking everyone was going to be drinking soju. One of my co-workers made me a pyramid of soju. We discovered that one bottle of soju is exactly seven glasses (useless facts, I'm full of them!).
These were tiny little prawns, with heads and tails and shells and everything, battered and deep fried. They were delicious! I thought they wouldn't be good because, you know, who eats shrimp shells?, but they were really good. A little salty (the food was overly salty across the board), but yummy.
Broth with fish cake (오뎅), vegetables, tofu, and some weird thing that I think was made of fish (it was fine, it was just weird because it looked like firm semi-opaque white Jell-O). Koreans really like some sort of hot soup when they're drinking, and this was a nice one. 
Octopus "sashimi," which isn't raw. I think the octopus is boiled or steamed and then sliced thin. It's served cold, which is a little weird at first, but it was quite good (if my sister is reading this, she will be all, you ate octopus and liked it?!), especially with the spicy red dipping sauce (which isn't in the picture).
This was foul. It was some sort of raw fish with some sort of seafood paste on top, then decorated with thin strips of seaweed (laver) and watercress. The garnish is lovely, but the fish was gross. I tried a little at the insistence of my co-workers, and ewwwwww. Never again.
We switched to sake after two bottles of soju (no, I didn't drink all that soju by myself). The sake was good- I find that I usually really like the sake here, though I like soju better in the States. We were laughing about this picture because it doesn't look like I'm actually holding the carton, it just looks pasted in front of my face. 
Skip forward a few hours. After several cartons of sake, several bottles of soju, and more food at the izakaya, we went down the block to a Korean street vendor (포장마차, pojangmacha) to have more soju and these little creatures. I don't know what they're called, but you basically take one, hold it to your lips, and suck out this tiny little sea creature. It tastes like mild salt water and is a little gritty, a little chewy. I didn't mind these suckers, but I had also had quite a bit to drink by this point.
Saturday morning (um ... noon-ish) we gathered, everyone looking a little haggard, went to have noodles (밀면), tease each other about the previous night (well, tease me about the previous night), and then figure out who was leaving, who was staying, and all that. 

The group of us that were going to come straight back up figured out that one car had a zoom lens and the other car had a DSLR, so we detoured to the beach, near two lighthouses, took a bunch of photos (of each other- I looked at the pictures last night and there are none of the actual landscape!), then got in the cars and took off, agreeing to meet for dinner somewhere. 

I couldn't stay awake in the car on the way up (thank goodness I didn't have to drive), so I nodded on and off the entire time. When I came to, it was dark and we were in Gwangju (광주), to have dinner (닭도리탕 and 백숙, two chicken dishes, and 감자전, a sort of potato pancake) and then drive back to Ilsan so we could all go our separate ways. (That's the restaurant, in the photo above- it was a really cool place, where each party is seated in a separate room. All the rooms are old-style Korean, with paper-covered doors and windows, tables on the heated floors. I bet it's amazing during the day, when all the doors and windows can be opened to look out at the surroundings, which are very country-esque.)

Not surprisingly, I couldn't stay awake in the car after dinner. I woke up when the guy that was driving started telling me to wake up because we were almost at my house. I opened my eyes just as he pulled up in front of my building, I hopped out, went up to my place, vegged out in front of the TV for a couple hours, then collapsed into bed, dead to the world.

It was a fun and exhausting weekend, and I'm almost completely recovered now. Still a little tired, but I think it's because I had coffee and tea quite late yesterday, so I didn't sleep much. I met my aunt (my mother's sister) and my uncle for dinner last night in my neighborhood. Then we went to Lake Park, where they were having some sort of show, watched a bewildering show (I think it was trying to be Cirque du Soleil, re-enacting the sinking of the Titanic?) during which we really wanted to leave, then were really glad we stayed when we got to see a ton of fireworks. I think there were about twenty minutes worth of fireworks, quite well choreographed to the music that they played. I thought American did public displays well, but Korea really spends a lot of money on these kinds of festivals (apparently, there was a festival all weekend) and public concerts (there's at least one public concert in the little park in front of my building every weekend). 

The ten of us that went up together have become closer as a result of this weekend, and I feel like some of my co-workers are finally comfortable with me, rather than afraid of me. It was a good bonding experience. I think if we had another mandatory night out, it would be much less awkward and much more fun. 

I have lots of pictures of post, but haven't gone through any of them. I have tons of work to do before I can even think about leaving work today, so I'm going to hop to it. A lot of things are making me cranky, and I need to stop typing before my blog becomes an angry, angry place of anger.