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The Public Ineffectual

For entertainment purposes only.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

My Last Day in Seoul

I'm back in Montreal, but my head is still elsewhere. These stories will spill forth in the weeks to come. I'm going to catch you up little by little starting with my last day in Seoul.

Dongdaemun Shijang
After the last morning ki massage I went out in the afternoon to Dongdaemun Shijang (market). This is the market that is renowned for its fashions and being later in the day on a Friday, there were throngs of young people (high school and University students) there as I was spat out of the subway system. Outside the market I was visiting was a stage with a breakdancing performance - I hear thats what the kids are into these days. The market isn't quite as tradtional as Namdaemun and these days tends to be a series of multi-storey mall type affairs full of booths loosely arranged by merchandise (shoes, accessories etc). The clothes really were spot on and I regretted not shopping there earlier but hey, at least now I know for next time. I really had no time to do much shopping anyway. I had a dinner date that I will get to in a second...

I went to the basement level and a booth specialising in handbags caught my eye. A little note about Korean shopping is that shopkeepers can be quite agressive and outside of a department store or a restaurant, almost everything is negotiable. You are also expected to be quite impulsive - I've gotten nasty looks from people for trying things on like shoes and refusing to buy them because they just didn't fit right. Seems like a good reason to me not to fork over $180.

Anyway, this guy was trying to interest me in his merchandise, asking what i was looking for etc etc. When I continue to be disinterested, he says to me in a lower conspiratorial voice and a little nudge: "Imitation?". Me: "?" Him: "Imitation?"

I learned from my aunt and cousin a few years back in New York's Chinatown, the difference between a "copy" and an "imitation" as it applies to handbags. My cousin, Minae, was genius. "That bag is a Prada shape with a Louis Vuitton fabric....this one is a Coach bag with a Loewe fabric" and so on. These are the degrees of difference that make them essentially legal to produce however much they may look like proper designer bags. "Imitation" is when they are the same as the original on every count and these are the real deal black market goods.

So, back to Dongdaemun....I'm getting interested. I don't much care about authenticity as it pertains to handbags but the whole cloak and dagger business had me intrgued. I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I heard that this stuff happens but this was the first time it was happening to me! Hurrah! I think he fingered me for this because of my newly manicured nails (which is another story entirely). He ushered me into one of their stalls where I sat down on a stool shielded from the peering eyes of the world by a wall of handbags. He hands me a catalogue and instructs me too look at the Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci which is mostly what they do. I told him I was interested in Hermes and he said they don't do it. Given the notoriety of the Kelly bag and the ferocity of the design's policing, its not surprisng they don't.

I point out a bag and say "how much?" and he evades the question by telling me that he will give me a "very good price". Repeat several times. Before we proceed and I feel obliged to buy, I would like to make sure I have enough cash to pay for it. Clearly, they expect to charge a premium for imitation goods. I pick out a few bags from the catalogue and he sends someone to the warehouse to fetch them. While we wait, I essentially play "hard to get" as I had to feign a level of disinterest to make sure to get the best price. He makes small talk until the bags arrive. One bag he wanted some 180 000 won ($257). Uh, no thanks. I bargained with him over 2 items he was asking 100 000 won for. I offered 60 000 and we settled for 70 000. I'm now the proud owner of a new "Prada" bag!

My Dinner Date

I saw Judes Dickey for dinner. He and I are acquaintances one degree seperated by, roughly, 180 people so in Montreal terms, we're practically related. All I knew about Judes is that he's patently one of the funniest people you're ever going to meet. I still laugh when I think of the time we were at Anne's drunken sushi party (we consumed 1 bottle of sake per head) where he did an impression of some Quebecois boxer ("Champion du monde! Champion du monde")!

The first time I called him, he answered the phone Korean style. That startled me into thinking I had the wrong number and when it was indeed Judes, it made me laugh. I could hear screaming children in the background - he was at work teaching english. Childish misbehavin' is an international language as far as I can tell. I committed cardinal sin #1 of city living in choosing Starbucks at Kangman station as a meeting place. Never EVER do this. Starbucks' predatory corporate strategy has always been and continues to be to choose a corner, open up three of their outlets until all mom and pop shops die and then close down their excess, if necessary. I darted between 3 different Starbucks until I found Judes in front of one of them - not the one I meant in the first place but no matter, all's well that ends well.

As soon as we met, we did the kiss-kiss-on-both-cheeks thing and he exclaims: "Its been so long since I've done that!" We go around the corner to a little beer and Western food place just cause it was close. For the record, a pitcher of beer costs 2000 won (CAD2.50) and we chit chat, catch up - I gorge myself on salad and nachos. He impressed my very much with this easy command of the Korean language and his deployment of words like weh-guk-in which translates into foreigner but is one of those words that is somehow more expressive of the creature of he speaks of in Korean. The weh-guk-in is a whiney, pathetic creature who sees neither the forest NOR the trees and every country has them. Weh-guk-in, if you want all the comforts of home and you're not a fucking refugee, keep your goddamn trap shut and leave post haste. No one has any use for you. We discuss our observations of Seoul like the culture of vanity, the spoiled children, the driving (much improved from my perspective, utterly insane from his) and some personal stuff about where our respective heads are at. It was nice to have some normal conversation. Apparently, some friends of ours told him that he would be treated like a rock star but apparently, pussy hasn't been raining down from the trees. Shame, our Judes is a quality man.

My uncle, the eldest of my mom's siblings, and his wife came to see us at the apartment for our last night. My cousin also came to stay with us because he had an interview with LG's cell phone gaming department just nearby the following day. This kid has succeeded in making gaming his life. He reviews games all the time, taught game design in Shanghai over the summer and even wrote the book (literally) on Playstation in Korea. (Woo-suk, I hope you kicked some LG ass.) At around midnight, we left for the noraebang (karaoke in private rooms, literally "song room") around the corner. My uncle, who had been shuffling along with the rest of us suddenly picked up the pace and accelerated ahead. They wanted 20 000 won an hour but he protested that it was too much. So settled for 15 000 for 2 hours thinking it would be too much but it wasn't enough in the end.

I never quite realised what a musical family this is. My uncle, as it turns out, used to be a professional singer, and even after much smoking and booze, he still has a magnificent voice. Woo-suk is also an amazing singer and furthermore, a performer. He and I did a rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that was so awesome, they were asking us if we had practiced beforehand! At one point, my mom and aunt Lorraine were dancing to my rendition of "Proud Mary". We got back in around 3am - just enough time for me to pack and say my goodbyes.

I got into a cab then onto the airport bus. My eyes were welded shut for most of the ride to the airport and when they did open as we approached, the first thing I saw was a statue on the median strip. The visual language of the statue was much in the vein of communist revolutionary public art. It would have looked more appropriate with a hammer or sickle. It was a statue on a plinth of a hand holding one of Samsung's newest generation phones - a flip phone where the screen actually pivots sideways. Viva la revolucion, indeed.


At 9:07 AM, Anonymous Johanne Larue said...


Just read your lovely account of that date you had with Judes. Judes used to be my student and we were still corresponding last fall when his emails stopped. I have since lost his email address and would like to get in touch with him. Could you help me ? You can reach me at jojolarue@videotron.ca

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