Monday, April 23, 2007

Dark Days Are Good Days

For all of you who may not know theater lingo, a "dark day" refers to the once-weekly salvation of twenty-four performance-free hours. The stage lights remain dim, the costumes undergo a thorough washing, the seats are left empty of spectators and floors free of popcorn, while the artists are made to hurry up and refresh themselves so as to appear vibrant once again come showtime . Once in a much-anticipated blue moon, we are granted the glorious treat of a "double dark." I realize now how unappreciated the average two-day weekend truly is. If you could only imagine the extensive planning that goes into a double dark, the irrational squeezing of activities into the span of two spins of the earth, you could perhaps conjure up the same excitement I feel now, with time spread before me like dried squid in a Korean market.


Deciding to stick with the tried and true, I set out for Insadong, site of my vegetarian temple adventure of two weeks past. Going solo, I squeezed into a subway car and grabbed ahold of a swinging ring overhead for balance (Wasn't this my day off of hanging from metal hoops?!) Despite the crowdedness, I managed to read three chapters of my latest book titled The Zahir by Paulo Coelho, Brazilian author of The Alchemist, whose writing is extraordinary if one has an appetite for maxim-heavy storytelling.

Coelho's contemplative prose proved apt for an afternoon spent strolling the stony lanes of Insadong, and I soon happened upon a cluster of shops enclosing a courtyard called Ssamzie-gil As I entered the first few shops, I quickly realized the uniqueness of what they contained - independent artists selling their handmade wares on an intimate scale. Many of the shops were run by groups of art students and featured handmade jewelery, ceramics, stationary, gifts, dyed fabric, and all sorts of overwhelmingly cute character items. (Like Japan and its immensely popular Sanrio brand, Korea is rife with adorable little characters, of which my favorites so far are Tofu Heads and SSBA's Little Peace Activists.)

After winding my way up the spiral staircase that connected the shops, I reached the airy Gallery Cafe, where I pointed to a neighboring table that was spread with numerous beverages of the piping-hot variety.
I was served green tea in a manner involving no fewer than four ceramic vessels: a bowl of boiled water, a pot containing the tea leaves, a bowl to pour the brewed tea into, and a teensy cup from which to sip the much-poured liquid. Delicious, especially when paired with the sesame-rice crisp I had bought from the vendor downstairs. The all-natural snack is concocted of rice, seeds, nuts, and raisins over an open flame and stirred with a paddle before being slapped onto a wooden board and chopped up for instant enjoyment.

An acrobat's body is drawn towards massage with a magnetic pull beyond all rationale, which is why I let myself be drawn towards the nearest storefront boasting a foot reflexology chart in its window. I suspected it may be a Thai-style massage place, and my suspicions were confirmed after the first agressive thud of a palm on my back. Thai massage is not of the pampering, soothing, lotiony variety, but involves a quick kneading motion, manual stretching, and a pounding technique that could easily be mistaken for abuse if it didn't deliver such invigorating results. The woman giving the massage was excellent, though she clucked her tongue and shook her head at my tight muscles and calloused hands, a reaction which I'm used to but never exactly pleased with.