Thursday, March 22, 2012

Holiday Break + Holiday Sam... part 1

I think I have written before about the much anticipated days off of work that we are assigned from SLP school. Over summer break we headed to the sunny isle of Jeju and packed the vacay with cruising beaches and hiking extinguished volcanoes. Over winter break we were gifted a good friend and lots of stories, as well as some letters and presents from friends and family, you know who you are... wink.

Kent and Sam have known each another for 15 years and over the last 11 years they have gotten over their stubborn opinions of one another, becoming the closest and most brotherly of friends and companions. Lucky for me, I have been around for a few years of my own and have taken so much joy making immeasurably wonderful memories with Sam.  

In December, more magic memories where made as we had the chance to not only show off our asian home to Sam, but also to discover Korea in a whole new way. If you have not met Samuel EC Dunlop... but I'm sure most of you have- maybe you would recognize him as that handsome, well-spoken Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanism who led us in our wedding vows in the Redwoods of Cali... you should know that he conjures the most surprising situations out of ordinary circumstances. 
Anyeong, Sam. The sign is courtesy some 
9 year olds English learners. 
While waiting for Sam at the arrival doors at Gimhae International Airport we observed Koreans welcoming their loved ones. Huge welcoming arms would fly open 20 feet from the target, rushing to the son or daughter coming home, only to close prematurely with a stern grab above the elbow then deliver floppy wristed blows to the upper arm or back. If the expression of the aggressor had been angry I may have thought an abuse was occurring but the happy-faced parent was only demonstrating overwhelming joy with every pounding backslap. Myself. I have had little success securing a full frontal hug with a Korean friend so now I see that it's as foreign to them as I am. Once Sam arrived we showed them how we roll in the U.S. of A. and bum-rushed him with hugs and yells. 
We only had a week with Sammy, so after a quick drop off of his items, we headed out to partake in a traditional Korean custom. Drinking. Joe joined the three of us as we started the evening at a local (inappropriately decorated but very photogenic) eatery. 

After noticing the restaurant props we were in search of a singing room, noraebang (노래방). Along the way we stumbled upon an arcade game that beckoned young, drunken masculinities to punch a depressed bag into oblivion, thus assuring the man's manly-hooded-ness. Please see a previous blog: New Year, New Hair. Continuing on. Once in the safety of the singing room we all selected our favorite tunes.

The next day, Christmas Eve, we had a lazy morning and wandered the shopping streets of Pusan National University, PNU. We ate Vietnamese food. We window shopped. We ate a cream puff. We windowed shopped some more. I bought a sweater. Sam was given "free hugs" from holiday-spirited, college girls and boys. Sam was asked to take handsome man pictures. Sam was given a Christmas card from a very small, very giggly Korean girl. Sam was the king of the street. Sam even lifted a Korean man-boy off of his feet. We had become his entourage.

For the previous 16+ years of Christmas Eve dinners, I have been enjoying an incredibly delicious Italian tradition. The Feast of the Seven Fishes. Kent has joined me for the past handful of Christmas Eve's as my sister, brother and I make the annual pilgrimage from Milwaukee, WI to Mount Prospect, IL. I haven't had many, if any, traditions in my life that have lasted this long so Kent and I were sad and reflective as we thought about Nani and Papa's family, starting with the octopus salad, breaded-baked clams, boiled shrimp and crab cakes, moving on to the pasta with red,lobster sauce, macadamia nut encrusted grouper or sea bass, Italian salad, lobster tail and fried dough, then finishing with one billion different homemade cookies, broken glass cakes and peppermint ice cream. Inhale. Okay. 

In Korealand 2011, we enjoyed a more modest Christmas Eve dinner with all Wisconsin friends. Shane and Rose had us over and the five of us feasted on homemade mac-n-cheese, salad, walnut-lentil loaf and something else that was enjoyed in the moment but now forgotten. No fish, but delicious nonetheless. 

Christmas morning rolls around and we passed out presents, just the way Mamasita taught us, and took turns opening them one at a time. The youngest goes first and for the first time in a very long time that person was me. After another lazy morning and a proper Christmas brunch, we went to the most decorated place in town. Nampo-dong. In Korea, Christmas is more of a holiday for couples and friends to hang out and it seemed like Nampo was the place to go. 

After an Indian food dinner and vended Korean delights, we grabbed a couple beers and took in the night sites. We were starting to see signs reading "Free Hug." People were saying "Puh-ree Hugg-uh." Could it be? How unKorean to go around hugging strangers in the streets when hugging loved ones at the airport is so taboo. I had been waiting all of these long months for some cross-cultural hugs. I had forced too many awkward embraces onto our Korean friends, and now there was a quarter mile long line for hugs forming. First, we stood taking in all of the holiday friendliness. After five minutes or so, Sam opened his arms and a Korean queue formed. "Handsome man! Merry Klistmas!" "Can I take a picture?" Even Kent's broken wing-in-a-sling couldn't hold him back from squeezing the natives. A very assertive young Ruski woman strolled up to Kent with her mother and directed a beefy, Ruski father to "take picture."
"OH! Hello, little ones."

After three hours of hugging and then hugging down the quarter mile straight-away to the subway, we were exhausted and pleased with the our accomplishments of the day.  My hugging muscles were all tuckered out and I was sore for days after. I felt the burn. 

Next Stop: Jirisan National Park.