Chapter 11: Bad Fawn
July 24th, 2011
So I snuck away this weekend. Cheolsu has called me three times a week for almost a month. Weird fox girls, that toilet ghost Cheukshin, oh, and Geuseundae (그슨대) a horrible shadow girl that I still don’t want to talk about. Maybe I’ll explain next week.
Anyhow, I’ve spent a horrible month at the mercy of Cheolsu, so when I found out that two of the other foreign girls working at my academy were headed to Jeju Island for some relaxation and swimming, believe me when I say I jumped on that action. Even better, we were off for a full four days, thanks to our school’s vacation. So I sent Cheolsu a rather rude message letting him know he could pick up his own sketchy bags of whatever the hell that stuff is and hopped on a plane.
Cue the second day of the trip. Hallasan. The big mountain in the middle of Jeju. It’s gorgeous. Even to us, and we are hung over. Like, I puke three times before we get out of the hotel room. But enough of that. Hallasan. First of all, if you have a chance, hike it. But be ready for some intense hiking. You go up forever on chunks of lava rocks. Not fun.
Second of all, make sure you know where to get off the bus. My friends and I have a little bit of trouble figuring out which stop we’re supposed to take because the bus map is not the same as the stops being announced overhead. Or we’re just really hung over. We tell the driver when we get on that we want to go to Halla and he nods and points for us to sit down and then we ride for like an hour.
So we keep getting up and asking the bus driver if we’re near our stop. He doesn’t seem super excited about having us on the bus. I guess we all look a little green after an hour of bumpy roads. Finally he just opens the door and points at the mountain, which does seem pretty close. We ask him if we should get out. He doesn’t say anything, just points at the mountain. We all figure he just doesn’t speak English so we get out.
This is a stupid choice. Within ten minutes, it is clear that we are not near an entrance of the mountain, we are actually skirting along the edge of a golf course. It’s filled with weird hopping bugs. They’re in my hair, my nose, my shorts. My friends are screaming and running around like crazy people. I’d like to do all of these things but the idea of running is impossible. Too much soju. I just stagger along behind them.
And then they’re gone. I’m out in this field of horrible cricket lice trying to keep down the bagel I paid five dollars for. Somehow, I end up in some woods. I wish I could tell you how I got there. I stumble around, fall over some rocks, throw up the damned bagel, and then come across a nice looking pond. There’s some comfy looking rocks near the water, so I hunker down and gaze dumbly at the water for what is probably a pretty long time.
Some time later, I’m startled by something moving right next to me. I shriek, grab my head, moan, and puke again. Next to me is a beautiful fawn. It’s like something out of a Japanese manga version of Bambi. Huge eyes, little bitty horns, spots. So cute. I try to remember if deer can get rabies. I decide nothing this cute can be rabid and go to pet it.
“This nasty girl is gonna pet me?” the deer mumbles angrily, backing away and threatening me with its horns.
I jump, nearly vomit and then fall into the pond.
“You speak deer?” the little fawn asks.
“No-oo. I don’t remember ever speaking deer before.”
“Well you’re talking to me.”
“Yeah. I’m really hung over.”
“Doesn’t seem like a reason to be talking to a deer.”
“Shut up. I don’t know. Must be because of Cheolsu.”
“Who’s Cheolsu? You cursed? I don’t want anything to do with anymore cursed girls.”
“Huh? No. I kinda have to work for this weird little dude with horns, what’s he called, a dok-gaebee.”
“Hahahahahahaha!” The deer openly mocks me to my face.
“Stupid deer. I’m gonna get out of here.” I start to stand. The fawn’s eyes get so freakin’ big I think they’re gonna pop out of his head. He blinks his little eyelashes at me and looks so cute I want to stuff him and put him in my bedroom.
“No. Wait. I’m sorry. It seems you’re having a rough day. How can I make it up to you?”
“Make it up to me? I don’t know. Do you know where my friends are?”
“No. Do you have friends?”
“I’m gonna ignore that.”
“You shouldn’t. Don’t feel the need to lie to me. Like get some help. I can smell soju oozing out of your pores.”
“Yeah, I’m done.”
“No, no. Wait. I’m sorry. Here I am being rude to a foreigner. Look I know a place where you can make some friends.”
“Yeah, I run a little… club. For people looking for a good time. I got a guy from Brazil, abs like a chocolate bar.”
“I’m not saying no.”
First of all, as I write this down, it suddenly occurs to me that following a deer who is promising to hook you up with a man is sketchy. I know. It was dumb to follow him. But I was so hung over. So anyhow, he leads me through the woods for like twenty minutes. We come to this weird smelling little pond. Kinda scummy, but over all kinda nice, I guess. There’s no man. I glare at the deer.
“No, wait, it’s not how it looks. It’s just, well, he’s kinda into role playing.”
“What? I’m not into any of that.”
“So what’s his deal?”
“You gotta get into the pond, leave your clothes out there on the rock. Pretend to be a fairy or something. He’s gonna steal your clothes and hide them. You get out of the water and start crying. All you gotta say is ‘Without my clothes I’ll never get back into the heavens.’ You think you can do that?”
“No, it’s just his deal. He likes stealing girls’ clothes. Six pack. Abs for days. Accented English. Come on. You’d be a fool not to do this.”
Needless to say, I did not leave my clothes with the fawn. And it took me a full three hours to find my friends. We didn’t go to the top of the mountain that day, but we did take a lot of pictures around the base. The next day we went back sober and got all the way to the top. Just my luck it was misty so you couldn’t see more than three feet in front of you.
Well there’s always next year. I’ve been thinking about that Brazilian dude a lot. Like, what if he really did exist? Was he really that hot? Maybe I should have followed the deer’s advice. Like what’s the worst that could have happened… Maybe I’m just lonely.
If you want to read the Korean folktale version of this story click here.
Chapter 12: Grease Tiger
August 20th, 2011
So me and Cheukshin have gotten pretty tight this last month. She’s like the creepy roommate I never knew I wanted. I actually moved the TV so that she can see it from the bathroom door. Turns out she can’t leave that bathroom. Not because of any physical restriction, but because of Seongju’s wife, Jowang.
I admit, Jowang ain’t a joke. The goddess of the kitchen and house chores. She has curlers in her hair and night cream slathered on her face eighty percent of the time. But that doesn’t take the scary out of her. No. Just adds to it in a weird way. After my first meet up with Cheukshin, Jowang started showing up every morning when I put on a pot of coffee. Prying for info. Nagging about how I just eat a piece of toast with jam for breakfast. Giving me gossip about the lady in the apartment next door.
Been a bit of a trip getting used to her. Luckily her husband Seongju doesn’t show up much. Apparently he spends most of his time out drinking with some local shrine gods. I’ve met him once or twice and he smells like every taxi driver in the city. Cheukshin says its Korean ginseng. “For virility,” she always adds. Ew.
Cheukshin and I have been studying Korean. I’ve bitten the bullet. I need to be able to communicate, if nothing else so I can eventually get someone to help me out of this mess. I paid for some classes at a local foreign center. Cheukshin and I go through the homework. She’s a horrible teacher. Every time I get something wrong, she gets angry. Like verbally abuses me and asks me why I’m stupid. But she does know a lot about grammar. I guess we’ll get there.
So the thing I actually came on to blog about is what happened this weekend. See, for the past two weekends, Cheolsu has made me run his little corner store. He doesn’t tell me why he needs to go, just that he has ‘things to do’. So guess who was stumbling her way over pleasantries in Korean with all of the little grandmas living in that neighborhood. Yeah. Me. The joys of my life are boundless.
Anyhow, this little grandpa shows up last Saturday and says something that I don’t understand, followed by a lot of rather blatant attempts to take me out drinking. I not so politely tell him to go jump off a cliff. He must realize that gross descriptions of my body in Korean are not going to bring on the romance, so he offers me two tickets to the Kia Tigers game. I give him a fake phone number and take the tickets.
The game is that evening. I message Loose Mandy from work. As soon as Cheolsu shows up, I jump on a bus and make my way to the stadium. Loose Mandy is waiting for me out front. We go in and watch the first half of the game. Kia, unsurprisingly, is losing. I’ve never really seen them win. But you don’t go to a Kia game for the baseball. I don’t anyhow. I go for the chicken and beer and the clusters of overly friendly Korean boys.
I’m trying to flirt with a group of said boys when the Kia mascot walks past. I’ve seen him out on the field plenty of times, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen him in person. The huge, dead tiger eyes stare at me. Something about his body bugs me. It looks a little too real somehow. Like not made out of that fuzzy crap fabric mascots are usually made out of. There’s a sheen to his fur.
But there are five giggly college boys telling me about how pretty I am in their broken English. I’m pushing for a weekend trip. Loose Mandy had explained the process. You just need to get two or three involved in the initial process. Then the whole passel of them will take you to ‘see Korea’. You get a free trip and your pick of boyfriends. I’m making progress. They’re telling me about a city called Mokpo. I’ve been there three times. But that doesn’t stop me from playing dumb. “The ocean? You guys have beaches here?” Like taking candy from five adorable babies.
Plans made and Kakao id’s exchanged, my little boy band skips off to watch Kia lose some more. I try to get back to my seat, but the place is packed and I can’t figure out where to go. I ask for directions three times, but can’t really understand anything anyone is telling me, except that I am continually on the wrong side of the stadium. It’s confusing because they tell me that on every single side of the stadium.
The tiger struts past. I’m so fascinated with his costume I can’t help but stare. These Koreans really know how to make a tiger costume. I really want to touch it, so I follow along behind and ‘accidentally’ bump into him. It’s creepy, I know, but whatever.
As soon as I bump him, the tiger head swivels and stares at me with those weird, soul-less eyes. I kinda turn to go, but his very rough tiger paw reaches out and grabs my arm. I’m not okay with the situation anymore. I start to scream, but he puts his hand to his giant bobble head and shushes me.
“Let go, you big weird-o. Uh… 만지 지…마,” I stammer. The mascot starts laughing.
“You suck at Korean,” he cackles at me in very fluent English.
I don’t think any of it’s funny and I don’t want to get into a weird interaction with a dude in a tiger costume. I can imagine the headline, “Foreign girl fights with Kia tiger. Police called.” I yank my hand free of his gloved hand.
“Whatever, just get out of my way,” I mutter, turning to leave.
“You don’t want a night with the tiger?” he giggles. Ew. I’m glancing around now, hoping one of my little boy band members is nearby. No luck. Just drunk old men. Is one of them peeing into that trash can?
“No. Hard pass.” I wrinkle my nose.
“You know what they say, once you try stripes, you always swipe right.”
Gross. But I’m suddenly very curious why this kid in a tiger costume speaks such fluent English.
“Are you a foreigner?” I ask.
He starts laughing. “Guess you could say that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m here on a foreign exchange program of sorts.” More inappropriate giggling.
“Cool, I guess. Where you from originally?”
Now my curiosity’s piqued. How did an Indian college student end up wearing the Kia Tiger’s costume?
“Not so much a school.”
“Huh? Thought you said you were here as a foreign exchange student.”
“Who said anything about student? I’m here on foreign exchange.”
I think about the whole situation. Maybe it’s best to just leave. He’s weird. The whole situation’s weird. But I’m really curious, and Kia’s definitely going to lose, so what the hell?
“Then what program are you here on?”
“What’dya mean, zoo?”
“I’m from the zoo.”
Ah, it all clicks. He’s pulling my chain. Somewhere in that costume is a douche-baggy Korean kid trying to make a foreign girl look dumb.
“Oh, I get it, since you’re a tiger. Haha.”
I look at him for a minute. That is the most realistic tiger costume I’ve ever seen. Geez. The weird bobble head just keeps staring at me.
“Yeah. I’m a tiger.”
“No, like are you really a tiger?”
He just starts laughing like crazy. It’s too much. It’s impossible. He can’t be a tiger. I mean, who ever heard of a sports team using a real tiger for their mascot? And a talking tiger? Of course that creepy little deer could talk, too. No. I don’t know what to do. I run. I do one full lap around the stadium. I can’t figure out where our seats are.
I’m looking over my shoulder the whole time. Run into like fifteen different people. So what? I just keep running. Two laps around the stadium and I give up. As far as I can tell, there’s a tiger loose in here. A tiger from India with a fake tiger mascot head on. No. That sounds crazy. I must be going crazy.
I ditch Mandy and hop onto a bus. Fifty minutes later I’m home. Cheukshin has the TV on. Some weird drama. “Did you ever hear of a tiger dressing up like the Kia Tiger’s mascot?”
“What? Is that really a thing?”
“Yeah. I met him once in the men’s room.”
“What were you doing in the… ah.”
“What was it he said? Uh, I think he got shipped over to the zoo, escaped, and ate the old mascot.”
“So there’s a real ass tiger wearing the Kia Tiger’s costume?”
“Isn’t that like… dangerous?”
“Just for drunk guys that fall asleep around the stadium.”
“I think he was hitting on me.”
“Yeah, I remember thinking he seemed like a 느끼남.”
I message Loose Mandy and apologize for ditching her. She seems to have found a group of friends. I consider whether I should tell her to stay away from the tiger. Nah.
Chapter 13: Dark Shadows
August 23, 2011
So I wasn’t ready to talk about this for a while but I’ve had half a bottle of wine and been listening to Queen for three hours, so I’m finally ready. Today, I’m going to tell you about what happened with Geuseundae.
I’m at work, having a wonderful day. We’ll start there. Everyday I have to ask my kids a ‘question of the day’. On this particular day, the question is, “What’s your favorite animal?” The expected dog, cat, hamster, and tiger all make an appearance. One little girl says dolphin. And then we get to Danny. Danny is… different. He’s always saying stuff that I wouldn’t expect a fourth grader to know. Too much reading, I think.
Danny raises his hand and is nearly jumping out of his seat. “Go for it Danny,” I say.
“I like penises!” he crows out. Thank mac and cheese that none of these other kids know what a penis is. I freeze. Now, here’s my conundrum, Danny either knows what penis means, and has said it just to be a jerk, or he’s mispronouncing some other word. I consider the possibilities. He’s smiling at me. But he’s not laughing. I bite the bullet.
“You like what?”
“What do you mean penis?”
“You know, like in the books.”
And here I begin to loose my nerve a bit. But I’m already half-way down the rabbit hole. I jump in.
“What do they look like?”
“They can fly and they catch on fire.”
Doesn’t sound like any penis I’ve ever heard about.
“You know, it catches on fire and then makes another penis.”
Honestly, at this point, I’m nearly laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. But then it clicks, magic book must mean fantasy book. A phoenix! “Do you mean a bird?”
“Yes. A penis.”
“Nope, a phoenix. Let’s all practice f-sounds. F-F-F phoenix.”
So anyhow, I’m still laughing in office two or three hours later when my phone buzzes. I glance down. Of course, it’s Cheolsu. Some rambling about those gumiho girls having busted up his car the other day. I skim through it. And there it is at the bottom. The angry command.
“I’m going to give you an address, I want you to go to the shelter, pick up twenty dogs, and then drop them off at this address.”
“What the hell, Cheolsu?” I’m getting a lot more willing to mouth off these days.
“Do it. I want their headquarters filled with dogs. Not the cute kind. Big nasty ones.”
“Where am I supposed to get 20 dogs?”
“And how will I take 20 dogs to Sangmu?”
It’s about five minutes before he messages me back.
“I’m sending someone to help you.”
“Can’t that person just do it?”
“Better if two of you go.”
“I don’t get off ’til 9:30.”
“Quit your job.”
“Go jump in a lake.”
“Fine. You just wait outside your school at 9:30. My guy will come get you.”
I glare at the phone for a minute, grumble some stuff under my breath, and consider whether it’s homicide to kill a mythical creature. Then I go back to classes.
9:30 comes. I walk outside to find a white dude with glasses sitting in front of my school in a tiny car filled with dogs. Must be my ride, right?
The window rolls down. “You Miranda?”
“Seem to be.”
I stuff a mangy toy poodle into the back seat and climb in. I stare at the dude for a minute. “You work for Cheolsu?”
“No offense, but why are you…”
“I was really into the Smashing Pumpkins.”
“Do the Smashing Pumpkins make people white?” I’m trying to remember if I had any non-white friends who listened to them.
“No. But I thought their lead singer was really handsome, so I got plastic surgery.”
“Wait…” Can mythical creatures get plastic surgery? Or is this dude just a person?
“Yes, dokgaebees can get plastic surgery. And I did. Once in the nineties, and then a second and third time in the 2000’s. I was really in to Nickleback for a while.”
Now, there are about six-million questions I want to ask. Did the surgery fail? He doesn’t look like any of the singers he talking about. Well, to be fully candid, I literally have no idea what Nickleback looked like. But I’m pretty positive this isn’t it. But on top of that, did he pick one of the singers or all of them? And how the hell did some dokgaebee in Korea end up liking Nickleback?
But the most pressing question is, where did all these dogs come from, and are they going to bite me?
“So where’d you get these dogs?”
“I know a guy.” Sketchiest answer to a question ever.
We drive the rest of the way in basic silence. Well other than the dog yapping and growling. And the one that yarfed all over. We pull up to this big abandoned building. Well, it looked abandoned.
“We gotta be really quite. If they catch us…”
“How are we going to move all of these dogs?”
“Just grab one and carry it.”
He parks and opens his door. Three minutes later, I’m walking up to the building holding a wet, snarling Yorkie mix. The guy motions to an open window. He has a massive jindo dog in his arms. Well, more like he’s half strangling it because it’s actively trying to bite him.
We dump our dogs in the window. Then we grab a few more. This proceeds until all of the dogs have been emptied out of the back of the car. They’re all barking and running around inside. The guy is glancing around the whole time. Just as the last little shiatsu mix goes through the window, a light flips on.
“Son of a!” There’s a bunch of cursing and shrieking inside the building. The dude takes off running to the car. I chase after him. We get up to the car, and I realize that there’s a little kid sitting in the backseat.
“Damn it!” The guy says.
“Where’d that kid come from?”
The kid reaches over and opens the door. It’s a little girl. She’s grinning at me. The door slowly pushes open. She steps one foot out. By the time the rest of her follows it, she’s as big as me. Nope, now she’s bigger. She’s getting bigger and bigger and coming toward us.
“What is that?”
“Geuseundae. Just run!” The dude takes off running. I chase after him. Behind me, a little girl is singing in one of those sing-songy, straight-out-of-a-horror-movie-kind of voices.
“어디 가? 놀자! 같이 놀자! ” she’s shouting.
Just at that moment, a car drives by. It’s headlights flash in my eyes, half-blinding me. Behind us, the little girl screams. I spin, she’s gone.
Mr. Nickleback (I never bothered to ask his name) stops. “You… can… stop… running…” he calls out at me. He’s breathing so hard I think he might die.
“Wait, where’d she go?”
“She doesn’t like light.”
We walk back to his car. He drives me home. Ten minutes later, I’m curled up next to the bathroom door.
“Geuseundae? That little poser still around?” Cheukshin laughs.
“Yeah, what is she?”
“Uhm… shadow monster of sorts. Pretty basic if you ask me. Dresses up as a little kid, hides in the shadows, chases unsuspecting people late at night. Get some personality already.”
“She was pretty freaking scary.”
“Yeah, well, people are easy to scare.”
“No arguments there.”
We turn the tv on and watch some re-run of a drama Cheuksin likes. I drink a couple of bottles of soju and manage to fall asleep right there on the floor in front of the bathroom. For a day that started out with flying penises, it’s ended pretty badly.