Chapter 14: The Demon Dog of Chungchang Road
May 5th, 2012
So it’s been a while since I’ve had time to post. I’ve been kind of busy. You know, what with work, Korean classes, and Cheolsu. But my Korean class is on a break this week, so I thought it’d be a good time to catch the old blog up. Let’s see, where to start…
Okay, so first of all, two kids from my hagwon were accepted into this national English debate thing. Basically, it’s debate team, but for fourteen-year-olds. And they have to do all of their debates in English. I was really busy for like two months because of that.
See, the idea is that they should do the debates by themselves, but they can’t. So guess who was in charge of writing all of their material? Me. The funnier thing is that as far as I know, pretty much every kid in the debate presented material that their foreign teacher prepared. So it was really basically me and a couple of other foreigners using Korean teens to argue back and forth. Whatever, I crushed those other kids.
I had to go with them up to Seoul to the main competition. Me and my rather questionable manager. We like to call him the Octopus behind his back. I know, it’s not a very clever name. Give us a break, we speak broken English with ten-year-olds all day.
Anyhow, he’s like the worst. See, he has this thing about getting drunk whenever the opportunity presents itself, and then getting super grabby. Every work dinner ends with some spectacle. I’ve avoided him so far, but it’s taken a lot of careful strategy.
First of all, I’ve convinced everyone that I work with that I’m vegetarian. Initially, I kind of was, but then, I jumped onto the samgyeopsal wagon. Like come on, strips of bacon grilled over fire and wrapped in lettuce? Worth killing a pig for. But I never bothered to tell anyone that I was off the wagon.
It’s just really convenient. Every time they take us out for ‘work dinners’ , people feel sorry for me and I can slip out a few hours before the Octopus gets drunk enough to try to cop a feel. Plus, I usually get free coffee the next day as a thank you for being a team player. Haha, as in I’m playing you. But that’s beyond the point.
The second way I’ve avoided the Octopus is to openly bare my tattoos when we’re out. Koreans really hate them, and it’s been fairly effective in keeping people’s hands off of me. Crowded bus? Time to roll my sleeves up. Kids at the park trying to practice their English on me? Oh yeah, it’s tattoo time. And don’t think there’s anyone trying to share my soap at the gym. The Octopus has told me several times that he doesn’t like tattoos. Well, I don’t like gross little troll men grabbing at me, so we’re even.
Finally, I’ve been telling everyone for months that the reason my Korean is getting better is because I’m taking Taekwondo. Even went to one of the local gyms and took pictures of myself working out with the teacher. I won’t go into the story of how I managed that. But the important thing is, everyone I work with is pretty sure that I have the ability to beat them to the ground.
So I wasn’t especially worried about being in Seoul with the guy, I just didn’t really want to look at his puckered old face. But that’s the name of the game.
So the first night, I grab some cup ramen and a can of OB and hunker down in my room. I’m watching the only thing that’s in English, which is, not surprisingly, CSI. I don’t know what deal CSI cut with Korean TV stations, but it must be fabulous. Sometimes I can find six episodes going at the same time on six different channels.
Cue my phone going off. I see it’s Cheolsu and just ignore it. Come get me, you little troll. I chug my beer and try to get lost in the gruesome scenes of CSI, which are almost all blurred, including the bad guy’s tattoos and cigarette. For whatever reason, the decapitated body remains unblurred. Oh Korean censors, you make no sense to me.
Ten messages from Cheolsu later, I finally decide to read through and see what he’s angry about. First message says he needs me ASAP. Then two more with threats, and then the question, “Are you good with dogs?” Nope. And now my phone’s ringing. I pick it up.
“Why the hell didn’t you answer my texts?”
“Good evening Cheolsu.”
“We have an emergency.”
“I’m in Seoul.”
“Why the hell are you there?”
“I told you, I’m at a debate competition.”
He curses for a full five minutes. I turn the phone on speaker, drop it on my bed and continue eating my ramen.
“Fine!” he finally shouts, “When do you get back in town? We have a major issue out here.”
“I’m here through the weekend.” Well, no that’s a lie, but I could use a break. Plus, he’s always making me run that store on the weekends, so he can ‘attend to business’.
He slams the phone down. Five minutes later an unknown number flashes across my screen. I do not pick it up. Like I’m not stupid, you know? The phone stops, and a moment later, I have a message.
“This is Steve, the guy from the dogs.”
Huh. That weird dokgaebee that had plastic surgery. What I really want to ask is, “How did a creature from Korean lore end up with the most white bread western name in the books?”
I settle for, “What do you want?”
“Cheolsu asked me to get your door code.”
“We have a friend in town that needs a place to stay.”
“Not my problem.”
There’s no answer for a bit. I turn my attention back to the TV.
“Never mind, I’ll get it from Cheukshin.” Flashes across my screen.
“She’ll never tell you.”
I jump up and run to my bathroom door. I do the cough and knock thing to let her know to get that nasty hair up off the floor. “Cheukshin!” I shout. She does not appear. Is she not required to come to hotel rooms? I call for her a few more times then dart back to my phone. How does one go about calling a ghost? I run over and grab my phone.
“I don’t want some creepy dokgaebee running around in my room.”
“Not a problem. Maybe call before you get home.”
I barely sleep, but the next morning I manage to get ready and meet our kids for breakfast. The Octopus is watching me all through breakfast. He must be looking for a chance to latch his tentacles onto something. I’m not having any of that today. He tries to sit next to me and I give him the angriest scowl possible. Considering the situation, it’s pretty intense. He shuffles over to where the three boys are sitting.
The competition is being held at a local high school. We ride a bus over. I barely pay attention to anything the whole way over. I hear the boys laughing about something in the back. I keep hearing the words Gwangju, and dog, but I can’t understand the rest of what they’re saying. A few minutes later, the Octopus sits next to me.
“You’ll never believe it, there’s a rabid dog in Gwangju.”
“Wow.” I keep my eyes on my phone.
He hands me his phone. A video is loaded. I pray with all my might that I’m not about to watch some weird porno and click the play button. There’s a small terrier mix. It’s jumping and barking and chasing people around the fountain in the down town area. People are screaming and running. I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. And that’s when I notice two men in the corner of the screen. Cheolsu, wearing his Korean grandpa fishing hat and linen shirt, and Steve. That’s not a good sign for me. The video ends.
“Funny.” I manage. The Octopus is clearly displeased with my lack of response.
“Did you see it bite that woman?” he asks, grinning.
“Yeah, do you think that sort of thing is funny?”
He hesitates. “Yes?”
“No.” I turn my eyes back to my phone. He sits next to me for a few minutes, gets bored and wanders back over to the kids. I pull up my last message with Steve, thinking that he might be more open than Cheolsu.
“Is there a rabid terrier in my apartment right now?”
“I saw the video.”
“He’s not rabid.”
I want to scream and throw my phone, but I settle for an angry growl. Thankfully, we arrive a few minutes later. We’re busy for the next forty minutes with last minute prep and making sure our kids know what their lines are. The Octopus starts talking about a good luck bandanna. He’s putting them on the kids. I start to help, but I get a call from Steve.
“Hey, are you partial to any of your cereal bowls?”
“What’s that mean?”
“Like, if I was going to use one to say… water a dog, which one would you prefer I use?”
“None of them. I told you I didn’t want you keeping a dog in my apartment. Put Cheukshin on.”
“She can’t talk through phones.”
“What about Jowang?”
“You can’t keep a dog in my apartment!”
And that’s when I hear another voice on the line. It’s a man and he’s shouting angrily in Korean.
The line goes dead. I jam my phone back in my pocket. Our kids are all shuffling up onto the stage. And that’s when I see their bandannas for the first time. Red, with little white leaves on them. Huh… those leaves look a lot like…
“Maple leaf bandannas! Don’t they look great?” The Octopus slips into the chair next to me.
Maple leaves? Uh… I don’t think those are-”
“I got them on sale! But they really set our kids apart, right?”
“Uh. Have you ever seen a pot leaf before?”
“No. What’s a pot leaf?”
I consider what the benefit is of telling him. Nope. No benefit. Better to just take pictures. I whip my phone out and snap away. Have to show this to Loose Mandy. She’ll lose it! But they must have been effective, our kids managed to come in second. Probably the only time pot ever helped someone in a battle of wits. We take them out for ice cream, pile back into the bus and head home.
The Octopus drives me home. I want to say ‘no’ but it’s like twelve when we get into Gwangju and he’s the one that set up our housing anyhow, so it’s not like he doesn’t know where I live. I text Steve as we leave the hagwon.
“On my way home. There’d better not be a dog there.”
“See you soon!” This guy is either stupid or just doesn’t give a crap.
I drag my suitcase up the four flights of stairs, sweating and panting. As I punch in my door code, I listen through the door. There’s definitely two men in my apartment, talking. What was all this talk of a dog?
I swing open the door, and find Steve sitting on the sofa, holding a cigarette, which is being puffed on by a white and brow terrier mix. The dog glances at me and then turns its attention back to the TV, which is on one of those old Korean historical dramas.
“This is garbage,” it mutters in Korean.
“What the hell, Steve?”
“Miranda, I’d like you to meet, Dongpyo.”
Chapter 15: Oh sHELLfish
May 25th, 2012
So an update on my new roommate, Dongpyo. He’s horrible and I hate him. According to Steve he was a tree spirit of sorts that owed Seongju a bunch of money from some sort of gambling ring that the local spirits and household gods run. Yeah, weird stuff. Like why are they gambling? Do they even use money?
The long and the short of it is, Seongju absolutely refuses to free Dongpyo from his dog prison until he pays him back. Now my real question here is, how does Seongju expect a tree spirit stuck in a dog’s body to get a job? But I’m not going to ask. I don’t need to be stuck in a hamster’s body, is all I’m saying.
Now, I didn’t know Dongpyo before he got trapped in a terrier, so I can only speak of him in his dog form, but he’s a real jerk. Last night, he starts yelling at me that he wants to go outside while I’m cooking dinner. I respond, probably not as kindly as I could have, that I’m busy and he can hold it. He did not agree and peed all over my bed. I responded by locking him in the bathroom. Cheukshin is still a little mad about it.
Another big problem is, he’s a nicotine addict. Now someone explain the science of that one to me. All I can say is he’s continually barking at me to get him his smokes.
But you know what? I’m not really interested in buying cigarettes for a dog. And believe me when I tell you that Cheolsu is not footing that bill. Plus, there’s the actual act of smoking. He can’t smoke them in the apartment. I refuse.
So I have to take him outside. Can you imagine the hate I’d get online if someone caught a video of me holding a cigarette to his mouth? Even the video title would be epic. “Local Foreign Girl Getting Dogs Addicted to Cigarettes.” “Foreigners; They’re Selling Drugs to Dogs.” So, I’ve only been giving him his smokes on the roof, and then only at like six in the morning.
Now, one especially awkward side of this whole situation is that Steve, that weird dokgaebee who got all the plastic surgery, is Dongpyo’s jailer. He’s at my apartment a lot now. I keep telling him to leave, but he keeps telling me to get over it. Cheukshin says he has a thing for foreign girls. Color me not interested.
But I will say, Steve ended up helping me out big time the other day.
Dongpyo has made my life horrible, so I decide to go out with some friends. Loose Mandy calls up some boys she knows from Chosun University. A little young for me, but one of them seems pretty loaded, which is Mandy’s type.
They take us out to a seafood restaurant of sorts. They order everything, including a pile of grilled shellfish. I didn’t know I liked grilled oysters before that night, but it turns out I very much do. I must have eaten half-a-pound.
The boys drive us back to our apartment complex in a really nice BMW. I get both of their phone numbers. I walk into my apartment to find Steve sitting with Dongpyo, cigarette held up to that mangy mutt’s face.
“Have a nice date?” he asks.
“You wanna put that out? My hagwon will kill me if I ruin the wallpaper.”
Steve pulls the cigarette away from Dongpyo, who begins shouting and barking angrily at me in Korean.
“Bad dog,” I say. This leads to more shouting and barking. I hate this dog.
“If I were you, I’d sleep with the door locked. He’s making some pretty rough threats,” Steve says.
“Tell him if he so much as drools on me I’ll punt him out the window,” I say.
Steve translates and Dongpyo quiets down. We’re on the fourth floor. I don’t really know much about physics, but I suspect that drop would be the end of my dog problems.
“You mind if I sleep on your couch? There’s a… situation at my place,” Steve says.
Cheukshin leans out the bathroom door and watches curiously. Seconds later, I realize that even Jowang has materialized and is peering around the corner. This place is really too small for this many nosy supernatural beings.
“If you keep that mongrel out of my room. I woke up last night and he was just sitting on my pillow staring at me.”
We all settle in for the night. I lock my bedroom door. But then, like maybe three AM, my stomach reminds me that you’re not supposed to eat shellfish in months without an R. Everything I’ve ever eaten or will ever eat does a kind of stream of consciousness exit from my body. Cheukshin materializes for like two seconds before making a horrified face and disappearing.
Steve wakes up at some point during the process, and knocks on the bathroom door.
“Are you okay?” And then seconds later, “Oh holy kimchi! What’s that smell?”
“I’m fine. Just shut up and go back to bed.”
I keep spilling my guts until well after four. I don’t know where all of it comes from. I mean, like, did the bad shellfish make a dimensional rift in my stomach and begin pulling stuff from some other world out? I throw up things that I know I’ve never eaten.
I manage to get to bed around five AM. Steve shakes me awake at eight and suggests that I go to the hospital. I refuse. At twelve, I drag myself out of bed and put on work clothes and stagger out the door. One does not just call in sick to a hagwon.
Work is, unsurprisingly, horrible. I can barely keep on my feet and the kids are so freakin’ noisy. Then halfway through my class with the second graders, I feel my head start to get kind of loopy. I see black and white dots, and realize that I’m going to pass out. I stagger out the door hoping to make it to the bathroom.
I get halfway into the lobby before I drop to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I wake up maybe a minute later. Twenty-eight little hands are shaking me and rubbing my face. I open my eyes to find my whole class has followed me out into the lobby. They’re all saying, “Wake up teacher, time for class.”
At some point in all of this, the receptionist decides that she should stop watching K-Dramas on her computer and walks over. “Are you drunk?” she asks in Korean.
“No. I had food poisoning.”
She tells the kids to go to class and drags me to my feet. “You have to go to the doctor. It’s only a ten-minute walk. Can you go?”
“Walk to the doctor.”
“I don’t think I can walk.”
She looks put out. Not like she’s unsure of what to do, like she’s pissed off that this foreign girl is wasting her drama time. She pulls me into the office. My boss, the Octopus, is sitting at his desk. There’s a short conversation, which I can understand none of. I can barely stand at this point.
“I’ll take you to the doctor,” the Octopus says after a minute.
“No,” I manage to mutter.
“Then how are you going to get to the doctor? Come on.”
“My… friend.” I grab my phone off my desk. There are five texts from Steve asking if I’m alive. I guess I looked bad this morning.
“I need a ride to the doctor,” I type out.
Steve shows up five minutes later. The staff is extremely interested in the arrival of what they assume is my boyfriend. He hauls me to his car.
“You smell horrible.”
We pull up to the shady little doctor’s office my hagwon uses. The doctor is not excited to see me, especially because it’s six o’clock and he closes at seven. He and Steve have a heated discussion. Finally, he leads me into a filthy little side room and hooks me up to an IV filled with… well who can really say. I fall asleep.
Sometime later, Steve shakes me awake. “We gotta go home, this jerk doctor is closing.”
The doctor exchanges my IV bag for a full one. Steve grabs the bag and helps me get to my feet. I vomit as soon as my feet hit the ground. Serves you right, Doc. I hobble out to Steve’s car. We hook the IV bag to the coat rack and I fall asleep pretty much immediately. Guess who went in to work the next day? Life is great, eh?
Chapter 16: Drug Unicorns
September 22nd 2012
Full disclosure, I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been drinking a lot recently. No need to judge, I know it’s probably dumb, what with the way my life is these days. But I got stress fam.
First, there’s the whole Dongpyo-Seongju dynamic. Tense. Crazy tense. I mean I get it, Seongju did turn Dongpyo into a dog. Not what you’d call a minor slight. And Dongpyo isn’t really the forgiving type, so there were a few really tense days at the beginning. Seongju responded by staying out of the house more.
That leads to my second problem, without out Seongju around, Cheukshin and Jowang are going at each other Korean soap-opera style. Again, I get it. Love triangles are fun on TV for a reason, they’re full of drama. But I don’t really need that in my house, you know? I went into the bathroom two nights ago to get a midnight pee in and the walls were dripping in red. Before I can start screaming, Cheukshin materializes and tells me that Jowang tried to slap her with a head of kimchi. How do ghosts or gods or whatever they are hit each other with kimchi? No idea. All I know is it took me three hours to clean the bathroom and it still kind of smells. Did Jowang offer to help? Big fat no.
Besides the constant bickering, I’m having major Steve problems over here. He will not leave. As in, is here 80% of the time. Why, you ask? He keeps saying Dongpyo’s too dangerous for me to handle alone. Initially, I agreed, but now, other than cursing and making derogatory comments at ladies when I take him for walks, the mutt is basically harmless. Noisy and horrible, but harmless.
Jowang has been talking my ears off about the situation. She’s positive that there’s an ulterior motive. She keeps talking about how Steve had a really big thing for Gwen Stefani, and how I look just like her. I’ve mentioned the fact that we have different hair color, eye color, body type, facial structure but she’s determined that I’m a ringer for Gwen. This lady is b-a-n-a-n-a-s.
The only upside to having Steve around is I’ve been learning a lot about Cheolsu and the Dokgaebee Mafia. For one thing, apparently those black baggies I’ve been hauling around for Cheolsu are drugs. Magical drugs, mind you, but drugs none the less. You heard me. I’m a magical drug mule. Well, I’ve settled on the term Drug Unicorn. As far as I can understand, they take chicken livers, rabbit livers, mugwort and garlic and mix them together to make some sort of substance that really does it for the mythical beasts out here in SK. Steve swears he isn’t into it. But who can trust anyone who’s had so much plastic surgery they can claim to be a mix of Gavin Rossdale, Billy Corgan, Chad Kroeger and some dude named Reese Roper?
Steve also keeps referring to this girl named Dayna that he swears is part of the Gumiho Mafia. First of all, does every magic creature get a Mafia out here? Now that I’m asking, maybe I don’t want to know the answer. Anyhow, back to this Dayna girl. Steve swears she’s foreign, but then again, I swore Steve was foreign the first time I met him, so who can really tell? At any rate, I’ve been hanging out around the Sangmu neighborhood more regularly to try to catch a glimpse of her. Which is where today’s story starts.
So, I was in Sangmu at a little coffee shop on Saturday sipping my very weak coffee, watching all the people go by. Nobody interesting to be reported really, other than a couple of girls in crazy high heels. Oh, and a dude that walked into a pole while he was texting. Because I’m basically a bad person, start laughing like crazy. I’m sure people are staring, but they’re always staring so who really cares, you know? And then, I feel a pair of lips press up against my ear.
I jump, scream, and pour coffee down my shirt basically at one time. If people weren’t staring before, they sure are now. I look up to find this foreign girl leaning down over me grinning like the damn Cheshire Cat.
“Looking for someone?”
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” I jump up and run to the bathroom. McDonalds wasn’t joking y’all, coffee is hot and it will burn you. My whole chest looked like it’d been part of a lobster boil.
When I finally get cleaned up, I go back to my table only to find the girl is gone. So’s my wallet. Foreigners, right? In its place is a card.
“Better watch your back.”
Nice. So there really is a foreigner in the Gumiho mafia. I wonder if she’s a Drug Unicorn like me? Plus, why’s she gotta be so scary? I mean here I am with a possessed dog, plastic surgery obsessed goblin and a bathroom ghost for friends, and she’s sneaking around whispering threats and stealing wallets. Maybe I need to up my bad guy game.
Being that my whole purpose for being in Sangmu was meeting this Dayna girl, I figure it’s time to go home. Except, oh yeah, wait, I don’t have a wallet now. It was just too mean, you know? You hear that Dayna? Wherever you are, that was a low blow. I gotta go to immigration now to get a new alien registration card. The lines in that place will kill a person. Anyhow, without a wallet, I’ve got no bus card, and that means I end up doing the only thing I really can do; I message Steve and ask him to come pick me up. He does, because… well I don’t really want to consider why he does the things he does.
Forty minutes later, I’m discussing the whole thing with Cheukshin. Jowang is listening in and making horribly sarcastic comments the whole time. Not about me or Dayna or anyone involved in my story, just about Cheukshin. She is relentless. Maybe I need to take lessons. Like I know she’s the goddess of the kitchen, but she’s also the queen of burn.
She has only one interesting note for me about Dayna, “She looks like Beyonce.”
Cheukshin and I glance at each other.
“Do you know who Beyonce is?”
“The girl that drinks lemonade and breaks stuff with a baseball bat. I love her.”
“Uh-huh. Okay, well, I guess if I look like Gwen Stefani…”
“Or maybe Natalie Portman,” Jowang says.
“Have you actually seen any of these actors?” Cheukshin asks.
The door opens and Steve walks in.
“Parking’s a nightmare out here.”
“You forget to knock?”
“I know the code,” he says.
Cheukshin and Jowang exchange a glance.
“It’s my apartment hobgoblin. Knock before you come in. I could have been naked for all you knew.”
“If you were really bothered by it, you’d just change the door code.” He leans up against the wall and gives me a cocky smile. “Plus, what’s wrong with a little nudity between friends?”
Jowang leans over and mutters, “I’ll get the kimchi.”
She’s growing on me.
“If you’re here, make yourself useful and walk Dongpyo. He’s been grumbling for an hour.”
“Because I need to urinate you disgusting girl,” Dongpyo growls. I need you to picture what it would sound like if Pepe Le Pew spoke Korean and was a dog. That is exactly what this dog sounds like. It’s so hard to take him seriously. Steve grabs the leash.
“Come on, mutt,” he says to Dongpyo. Dongpyo mutters a few things I can’t understand and lets Steve leash him up. At least that’s one thing that’s gone right today. Now the question is, what does the Beyonce of Sangmu District plan to do to me?
*In case you were wondering about the kimchi thing, it’s actually a real thing. Cheukshin and Jowang were a little early on the action as the kimchi slap (침치 싸대기) was actually televised on a Korean Drama called 모두 다 김치 in 2014. (Everyone say Kimchi) You can watch it here if you’re wondering how Korean dramas keep it fresh.
The actor apparently reported that his eyes and skin burned afterwards. Talk about commitment to your craft.