Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving this year has been illuminating and fulfilling. Aside from the real point of Thanksgiving, which I'll address in time, the holiday provided opportunity to spend some quality time with some of my dearest friends here whom I rarely get to see. But first I need to retie my shoe laces as they are tight and uncomfortableish.
Ahhhh, much better.
American Thanksgiving is obviously not a holiday here in South Korea and I had to be at school from 8:30 to 4:30 as usual. After school I was able to meet up with Christine and Dave for a celebratory dinner on the day of. Christine and Dave are two among the twelve (or so?) foreign teachers that inhabit humble Yecheon. Ask anyone in Yecheon to name all of the foreigners in town and I guarantee they will be hard pressed to do so. Anywho, Christine is from Texas and Dave from Durban, South Africa. The three of us would have loved to dig into some turkey, mashed potatoes, chicken fried steak (Colin and Dad), corn and pumpkin pie (which I will get to later) but Yecheon's bounty does not include such a marvelous bird and starches. Instead, we went to one of our local favorites, Tang Tang, for some fried chicken and beer. A bird is a bird is a bird when you're living at the mercy of being abroad. It could have been worse, it could have been fish and kimbap, or Korean style maki.
Friday night, moments after school let out (or maybe even moments before that though I'd never admit to it), I took a bus to Daegu wherein I met up with Jacky (whom my readers have met before), Tarrick and Ashley. Tarrick and Ashley were members of me and Jack's orientation group. Daegu was less a celebration of Thanksgiving (though Tarrick and Ashley are both from the States) as much as a layover to head to Hadong early Saturday morning. But all the same, we met up for some drinks at WaBar, a foreign style bar which carries San Miguel, that delectable Filipino pilsen of which I have created and most likely destroyed many memories, happy and sad. After WaBar, we relocated to Organ, a really cool bar in downtown Daegu, but not without a quick pitstop at the greatest invention since the hotdog: pizza in a cup. Bask in its near perfection and be hypnotized by its radiance of melted cheese, peperoni, olives, bell peppers , tomato sauce on a toasted bread thinger in a dixie cup. Never mind the fact that I have 60 Mbps internet, have never lost a bar of reception on my phone, even in the subway, have combo microwaves/convection ovens or can pay for bus and taxi fares by waving my wallet at them. There is no clearer indication of development...neigh enlightenment, than that of a miniaturized pizza in a dixie cup after a couple beers with friends.
And now I'm done gushing. So Tarrick suggested we head to Organ Bar.
"Do they have a decent beer selection?"I ask.
"Yeah, it's ok. They have Asahi," replied Tarrick.
"Well, I did say decent, but never mind that. What do they offer?" I asked.
"They have a great playlist," he said, and began walking with purpose toward the bar, dixie cup of pizza goodness in-hand.
At first glance around the basement-bar, the playlist would be good. Posters of Lou Reed and Pink Floyd (pictured), Sonic Youth, Nick Drake and numerous other icons of music history. Alright, so the company was good, how about the music itself? After sitting down with the gang, we enjoyed listening to the Pixies, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, and many more. They mostly played those oldies but goodies I haven't heard since sitting in the hallways of my high school, plugged into a Sony Walkman. The bar's atmosphere was awesome and the beer selection wasn't half-bad either. They offered Heineken (which I would leave rather than take), Beck's, Beck's Dark (which I took rather than left), San Miguel, Tiger and some others from Germany and Belgium. How I would have loved to do a "world tour" but at about $6.50 a bottle, it would have been a little pricey. After much merry-making, we retreated to the 24-hour McDonalds nearby before calling it a night (I have always known McDonald's as my own personal "M"bassy no matter where I travel).
The next morning, I met back up with Jacky and she and I headed to Hadong to have a traditional American dinner with a dear friend of mine from orientation. I suppose I haven;t mentioned Melinda yet on my blog, but she is one of my closest friends in this turkey-forsaken country.
The funny part about our meeting was that we knew of each other far before we actually met. During orientation, a return Peace Corps volunteer (RPCV) from Albania who is now teaching in Korea did a presentation on adjusting to our new culture (almost play by play out of the PST handbook) and, at her mention of being an RPCV, my hoot was met with another somewhere in the crowd of 500 or so people from seven different countries. After wondering who that other person was, I serendipitously ran into while enduring small talk with her outside a convenience store.
"So YOU'RE the other one!"
Melinda served in Mongolia with her now boy friend Jason. They both now live in Hadong. That was some sloppy exposition, but thanks for baring with me.
So Jacky and I went to Hadong (a total of five and one half hours from my site) to see Melinda and Jason. They had somehow procured a turkey breast, Jimmy Dean sausage for stuffing and pumpkin pie fixings and graciously (though foolishly) invited my hungry self to celebrate Thanksgiving with them.
It was awesome meeting Jason for the first time and catching up with Melinda, whom I have seen only once since orientation. After some time passed, we were accompanied by some of the other foreigners in Hadong. We had a bit of a U.N. style gathering with  someone from Canada, from Ireland, from England, Thailand and those of us representing the United States. Good for Jason and Melinda as they remain pursuant of Peace Corps's second goal, "Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served."

The U.N. over for Thanksgiving
After more merry-making, the bird finally made its glorious debut and time, for jut a moment, stood still.
Yes, it is bacon generously draped over that most glorious of breasts (you know what I mean)
I must say, upon the carving of the bird, I was moved. That smell is sacred. The knife making it's way through the crispy skin was a cattle call and we all lined up for some Thanksgiving goodness.
Fill 'er up!
Pinch Me
We patiently stood in line for the goods Melinda and Jason lugged back to Hadong from Seoul including corn, fresh mashed potatoes, bread rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie (which Melinda fashioned  by hand, including grinding cloves by mortar and pestle).

After all the food porn and documentation of my trip to Hadong, I actually wanted to pause for a moment and share what I am thankful for, other than the food and opportunity to be living in Korea. In light of the current border tension between South Korea and North Korea, I am forever grateful that I come from a country that

  1. Has known peace within its borders for far longer than most places
  2. Is powerful enough to aid South Korea both monetarily and with 30,000+ American service men and women stationed in this country
  3. And finally, has the wherewithal and benevolence to guarantee me and my friends a safe and expedient evacuation if necessity dictates such an action necessary.

Beyond the intangible, I am thankful to have befriended people here in South Korea who make me feel like a part of something bigger than myself. They are my family and I care for them as deeply. I am surrounded by people who care about me, are my friends and are my family when we're all missing home a little.
This Thanksgiving was more than the bird and offered much-needed reflection and warranted much gratitude.