Dad, Meet Korea

On October 16th, around 2 am, after the last guests had left from a party Joe and I threw at my apartment called October Shindizzle, I checked my email.  Top of the inbox was a surprise message from my dad, which read:

Hi Courtney;

How are you doing?

I am thinking about coming to South Korea to visit you. It would be about a 10 day trip and I would be in Busan for 8 days and 2 days travel time.

I have looked at flights and the dates Nov. 22nd to Dec. 1st are available now and those dates work for me.

Can you let me know asap if then is a good time for you.

LOV

DAD     

My dad and I write and skype regularly, so it wasn’t unusual to hear from him, but he’d never mentioned thinking seriously about taking a trip out to visit, so the news was completely out of the blue–especially after an evening of whisky and gin.  I turned to Joe in shock and said, “My dad’s coming to Korea!”

After a few date changes so his visit would span two weekends, he booked the flight and I told my kindergarten kids they’d soon be meeting Courtney Teacher’s father.  I wrote his name on the board: C-u-r-t-i-s.  They giggled; none had heard this particular foreign name before.  We all started counting down the weeks.

My dad’s been working most hours of the day most days of the year since I was born and long before.  He sold real estate and managed marketing for a Saskatoon company called Plainsman Development.  When I was six he started his own business dealing Panasonic batteries, beef jerky, and pepperoni sticks to stores across Saskatchewan out of the back of an old black van. When I was nine he bought a grocery store in Waskesiu Lake, and ran it for ten years, living with my stepmom and my sister in a tiny two-bedroom suite attached to the side. (My brother and I worked there too, every summer, pricing cans, stocking produce, and scooping ice cream cones for the evening crowd.)  During the grocery store years, he and my stepmom also expanded their clothing store, The Sandbox, eventually opening a second branch in Saskatoon.  In the winter months, for the last 20-odd years, he’s spent most evenings on the phone or in the car, meeting with clients across the province for the Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan– a nation-wide program that enables families to save for their children’s post-secondary education.  He finally retired from CST this fall, though his time now is far from free: The Sandbox’s city store just keeps getting busier, and he deals with all the back-end business; a constant surge of orders, invoices, accounting, payroll, marketing, and inventory.  When I was a kid visiting in the summer, I always wished he’d take an afternoon off from the grocery store to relax at the beach, but there were deliveries coming in, and coolers to stock, and a line-up at the til.  He worked for himself, and put the hours in to succeed.

So I was pretty happy to see him arrive in Busan on a holiday.

Though I was teaching full-time during his visit, we had two weekends and each evening to hang out.  Joe and I showed him our favourite Busan neighbourhoods.  We walked along Oncheonjang Stream and drank cocktails with a view of the Diamond Bridge in Gwangalii.  We ate Pajeon at the fish market and sang at a Norebang in Seomyeon. He met my kids and my friends.  In the last months I’ve been a little down, ready to move on from a country that I’ve never felt a deep connection to, despite the opportunities and experience it has given me.  The homogeneous mindset of Korea’s people and culture has grown stifling; I walk among my life somewhat detached from it, my mind scratching at the future.

My dad took back for me a suitcase full of books and photos and the guitar I bought last summer, in a new Fender case he found here at the Bujeon Music Market, so it would arrive in Canada safely.  In an email after his return, he tells me his is proud of me, thanks me for letting him hang out with me, for sharing my life.  He says if he has to fly across the world to spend time with me then that’s okay.

Dad–Thank you for coming, I’ll see you in six months! 

xo

(Please click on a photo below to see the collection in a full-size photo carousel–best way to view!)

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Toilet Creatures

I’m not sure why the public bathroom on Somaemuldo features faceless metal creatures with fork hands guiding visitors to its entrance, but it does.  And I love them.  Korea, you continue to surprise me.

The guy on the left appears in need of the facilities himself...

Because a sock on your left foot is necessary when you're a metal creature who lives on a toilet stuck to a wall.

Birds and Towers, Busan

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Last Sunday Joe and I took a stroll through Dongbaek Park, where pines and camellias line walkways that jut out from the edge of Haeundae Beach toward a stony, salt-air shore.  Birds gathered among the pebbles, then lifted off together, riding the cold wind past these windowed city towers.

Night Lights in Nampo

If you live in Busan, and haven’t yet strolled through Nampodong after dark this season, I suggest hopping on line 1 as soon as possible to check out Christmas–Korea style.

You’ll spot a whole lot of the typical holiday symbols…

though pointsettas with hearts make a fresh holiday combo…

and Korean carolers sing beneath long twinkling icicles and a draping white  halo of lights.

Invite whatever family you have formed in Busan…

and watch out for Santa: he’s tall this year, and dressed in pink.

Merry Christmas everyone! 

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This marks Coco Busan post #50–a small milestone but one I’m happy to share with all of you who read, scroll through, comment, and hopefully continue to enjoy, wherever you may be.  Many more to come!

Much love,

~Coco

Bogildo Night (and a rooftop dawn)

Walking at night.  On a tiny island in Korea.

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The wave was for my friends at home, who appeared in my thoughts as I wandered past the cornstalks alone.  Hello, everyone!

(Woke to the mist…and a couple bug bites. 

Worth it.)

Jeju City Night

One of the things I appreciate about Korea is how safe the streets feel.  Even in Busan, a city of 3.5 million people, you can wander at night without feeling like every unexpected sound or figure signals danger.  The lone man lying on a bench who looks like he’s sleeping is really just…sleeping.  The young guys standing outside the open-late food stall aren’t loitering, they’re…snacking on ramyeon.  Even when no one’s in sight, the street’s silence is peaceful, a chance to hear the trees move, if there’s wind, or the whir of a floor fan as you pass a shop’s entrance, its owner napping on a mat behind the counter.

Not that I roam the streets alone very often, but, you know, if I feel like it I can.  So on my last night in Jeju City, I slowed down on the way back to the hotel, and listened.  And looked.  Peering through the lens of a camera pulls me into the present moment like nothing else.

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Air Dry and Gaeli

Nobody uses dryers here.  I kind of like it that way.  

The garments hanging off the rack in my apartment don’t look nearly as vibrant as these linens–lots of greys, blues, and whites have claimed the suitcase backpack closet this year.  But summer’s here, and I’m craving colour.  Perhaps the Korean towels drying in the sun have inspired?    

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Speaking of inspiration…today is the 30th birthday of one of the most extraordinary women I know, my friend Gaeli

This is us arriving at a porn star costume party in Vic that went very late, in a big house on a hill, back when we lived in the same city and barely ever went a day without seeing each other.

We both felt like wearing a little colour that night…

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY GAELI!

(You. Are. Magic.)

xo