Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Street art skulls//speaking truth

I had started to worry there were no vandals in the country. All the exposed brick in Cheonan is untouched, original dark orange, not a canvas in function. No tags, stencils, or samples of local graffiti sprayers.

It turns out all of the artists exit into Seoul. The winding side streets of the Hongdae Hongik University district are lined with boutiques and bars and art. A lion logs offline, a blue heart hovers over couples on a weekend stroll. A filmstrip flips a stencil toward me and an umbrella mural winks at the rain.

Blue notes hide inside clear bags strung on strings, hanging wall to wall. Inside are secrets left for the public to peer into, see the written soul. Back alley black on white walls, a cat sits in a storefront window.

A nun says don’t be greedy, a Cheshire cat tells me what I’m worth. The characters all have messages to whisper in my ears. But sketched in black is the loudest of them all. On walls around the city is a phrase that could have been left by me.

So the skull drops his jaw and lets it out. The paint spills down, the letters read: thing are not what they used to be. Say to self, no. No, they are not.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Locked my heart to Seoul

At the bottom there is a bug. Dressed up in wings of a patterned print he sits first in line as we wait for our ride up the mountain. With the tower tall above our heads and the city sprawling in all directions the bug seems tiny-small, but still significant, tiptoe over to avoid squishing.

The cable car swings its way up Mt. Namsan. A girl cries in mother’s arms as our glass box lifts up off the concrete and floats over treetops. A red road winds up the slope, tiny bicycles and joggers moving in and out of eyesight.

At the top there is a lock, on it is another, another, thousands. Painted on the locks are hearts, dates, names, and mini engagement pictures. For year couples have been coming here, snapping shut promises and tossing out the keys.

We spin the combination pads and lose ourselves in the view of the city. As we glide back down it gets bigger, bigger, bigger. At the bottom the bug is gone, but I decide he has not been squished, has many years ahead of him. Dizzy with lock romantics, I convince myself he’s left because he found another bug to share his life with.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The cocktail circus (and other tricks)

In Cheonan, you can drink on the sidewalk or seated on the bus. You can buy beer and soju at three a.m. from the corner store and drink it outside around a plastic table, seated on a plastic chair. But the best place I’ve had a drink so far is a second story bar where a drink buys a ticket to the best bar show since Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

When we sat down and ordered there was a sparkler mysteriously taped to the ceiling behind the bar. With one drink down they rang the bell and the DJ cued the music. First came the flipping, as each tender took their turn tossing white bottles in a juggle.

Next came sparklers spun in wide circles, lighting up the room. Downing a shot and pulling out a lighter, the next bar tender brought heat by breathing fire. Last they stacked the cocktail glasses up and lit the glass mountain blue, shining with a flame.

The stack came down and two drinks were poured out, one for the tender and one for the front row. He passed a pink cup to her with a nod that said: this one is on the house.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Green means go

Even the straight men call me handsome. The children pet my arm hair with wide brown eyes, the words, “Gold, Gold,” escaping from their lips. White people walk up and say hello, happy to meet any stranger who understands their English.

The streets are fast, the temples slow, red walk lights trigger traffic. The sidewalks are a strip mall, selling socks, stuffed animals, and cell phone key chain deckles. Fish and fried potato on a stick are served in tents with a single row of bar stools. Even the psychics sit on pavement, flipping tarot cards under a cascade of translucent pink flowing fabric.

The buildings shoot up, each floor filled with business. Neon lights pour down the windows, creating dizziness in back alleys. It all seems shiny new, but has been here almost forever.

For now I’ll reside to follow the flow of foot traffic, and see which way it takes me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Arcade antics (and other PC games)

The national activity isn’t hockey or football, or any other familiar sport. They love soccer and baseball, but the games that define Koreans most are played on the PC. Starcraft matches are shown on cable television and played in rooms full of screaming fans.

With that in mind, we took a stroll through the local arcade. Rows of orange and silver boxes lined the back, filled with people belting out karaoke tunes. In front of that Dance Dance Revolution, Drum Hero, and classic basket hoops.

Guns lay on counters, loaded to shoot stuffed animals in hopes of winning a prize. Screen after screen of sit-down classics lit up the faces of patrons like lines of VLTs. But games aren’t confined to arcades, are instead played everywhere in PC bangs crowded with teenage boys.

Later that night I met another foreigner having a beer outside a twenty-four hour convenience store. He too was on his way to a PC bang, told me Starcraft was one of the reasons that he came. He said there are pro league matches in Seoul, which I intend to check out. Rabid gaming fans, here I come. To you, I say: game on.