Sunday, November 16, 2008

Korea is known as the Land of the Morning Calm. In the early morning, a mist has settled in overnight and, for an hour or two, the screaming lights advertising karaoke, restaurants, Internet cafes and whatnot are turned off. Walking through the streets feels about as right as walking a living room filled with sleeping guests, but it's a rare moment of peace in a fish market of a country. However, there wasn't much calm inside the cab I caught at sunrise on the way to a race today.

Adeel (in Korean): Hi, Suwon station, please.
Driver (in English): OKAY! Suwon station? OKAY! CANADIAN?
Adeel (in Korean): Ah, yes. Yes, Canadian, yes.
Driver (in English): OKAY! OKAY! SUWON STATION! OKAY! OKAY! CAN YOU SPEAK ENGLISH? CANADA? OKAY! CANADA!

The rest of the conversation was in Korean, except for when the driver punctuated his sentences with "CAN YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?", which seems to be an exclamation from whatever TV show or tape taught him English. We got onto the topic of the US election.

Driver: I like McCain.
Adeel: Why do you like McCain?
Driver: McCain [unintelligible] taxi [unintelligible]
Adeel (thinking): John McCain presented a better deal to Korean taxi drivers? American taxi drivers?
Adeel: I don't understand
Driver (in English): McCain white, Obama.
Adeel: Yes...
Driver: Black Americans (here he made loud, growling noises that sounded like an imitation of English swearing), white Americans (here he imitates my slow, overly polite Korean).
Adeel: Ahh, Obama black, McCain white. You don't like blacks.
Driver: Yes, yes.
Adeel: Ah, here we are. Three thousand nine hundred won.
Driver (in English): Thirty-nine
Adeel: Nice to meet you, bye!
Driver: Yes, nice to meet you, bye.
Driver (in English): I love you!

The morning calm was restored when I crossed the Han River, which divides Seoul into south and north. The Han is a kilometre-wide river spanned by towering bridges in Seoul. From one such bridge, I had an excellent view up the river looking east. It was covered in mist, and the tall buildings on either shore were invisible. This calm, of course, is only in the morning. When I ran along the river an hour later, the mist and the calm were gone.

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