Sunday, November 27, 2005

The adventures of Chicken man

For anyone who has ever been to Korea, there is one indisputable fact: Korean stop lights take forever to change from red to green.  This is by no means an exaggeration – since in reality one might spend an average of 3 to 5 minutes standing at a street corner waiting for the light to change....which, this blogger thinks is a long time.
This observable fact isn’t without benefit. One may easily use it as a quite believable excuse for being late (“those damn stop lights....took for ever, sorry mate”).
As usual, I try to make the most of all experiences – so most days, I use this free time to take a good look around my neighborhood and catch a glimpse into the lives of those around me – who are so accustomed to waiting at stop lights for what-seems-like-hours that they don’t even blink or make the occasional sigh (“damn these lights are really long”).  However, sometimes the strangest of things happen while you are waiting for a light to change.

At one particular set of lights near my apartment, I often find the most interesting of characters. There is one old man, who my coworkers and I endearingly refer to as “the Chicken man’. For three, sometimes four, nights a week he is a fixture beside this particular street light. He has a big blue pickup truck that has a rotisserie attached to the back and a very large sign proclaiming roasted chickens for sale at a bargain price of 6000won (however, the smell of roasting chickens is usually enough to catch anyone’s attention- especially a hungry foreigner).

He is usually found chatting with other neighborhood men, who often gather to watch the chickens spin around the little rotisserie, dripping their fat into the street below. The Chicken man always makes an effort to say Hi to us as we pass by...usually with some Korean jokes or comments, since all the men around him break into laughter and enthusiastic nods. We politely smile and laugh back at him....ahhh the crazy Chicken man.....always good for a laugh. In addition to chicken, the Chicken man also sells roasted chestnuts and usually tries to give me a chestnut or two as I am waiting for the light to change...ahhh what a friendly Chicken man.

As many Korean men do, the Chicken man likes his soju. He (and his friends) will sit on the street corner and polish off a few green bottles on any given evening. I am by no means judging – since I have many ‘a good memories of drinking on Korean street corners – but this fact helps my story. One particular soju-driven Friday evening, my coworker Amanda was heading out to meet a friend of hers. In order to reach the taxi stand near our apartments, she had to cross the street by the chicken stand. As usual, the light was red when Amanda arrived, so she settled in for the long wait, when suddenly she was tapped on the shoulder. There stood the Chicken man with a paper cup of soju in his outstretched hand. I guess he figured she could have a shot while she waited.
With his Korean friends laughing near the truck, the Chicken man simply says ‘one shot!’ ....which translates pretty easily. Amanda, being the good sport that she is, takes the shot of soju and hands the paper cup back to the Chicken man.
Since the light is still red, and I am sure the Chicken man figured he had enough time, he hands Amanda another paper cup filled with roasted chestnuts. He then takes a chestnut and begins to peel it with his blackened hands. Amanda watched in horror as he tried to feed her the dirty, peeled chestnut. be polite she apparently took it.  Yes, the light was STILL red. Amanda was beginning to consider running across the street and taking her chances with the line of fast moving cars in front of her.
Finally, after a few more dirty chestnuts, the light changed and Amanda retreated to the safety of a waiting taxi.
When she told me the story we shared a good laugh and pondered the kindness of strangers – perhaps the Chicken man over-stepped the social norms – but after a few bottles of soju I am sure feeding foreigners chestnuts and soju on the street corner seemed like a good idea.  He definitely made for a good story.

As for my weekend, I was out Friday night with some friends and spent yesterday in bed with yet another self-induced headache. My director bought me a new TV which was delivered yesterday – sort of a thank you gift for working hard the last few weeks. There is a 6th teacher coming to work at my school and he arrives tonight sometime....he is getting my old TV. The next week I will be busy training the new teacher and marking final exams for my junior classes. Never a dull moment. Hope all is good with everyone back home.


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