A columnist bows out with fond memories

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A columnist bows out with fond memories

One thing about being an expatriate in Korea is that the locals ask you the same questions over and over again.
You know, about your marital status, your ability to eat kimchi, your blood type, and so on.
After a while, you develop reflexive, smart-alecky answers.
The question I most like to be asked is, “How long will you stay in Korea?” My snap answer, one I got from a Korean-language study book, is: “Jugeul ttae kkaji” ― “until I die.”
That always catches Korean friends or co-workers off guard. They frown, then laugh, then look in close to see whether I’m serious. Usually they can’t tell, because I’m not sure whether I’m being honest or not myself.
Well, as it turns out I wasn’t. As a matter of fact, I decided recently to quit these shores, and return to my hometown of Los Angeles, California, where I’ll attempt to live a normal life, and be less of a menace to society than I was in Korea.
So I’m sad to say that this will be my final Itaewon Wanderings. But don’t despair ― the column itself will survive, under new management.
Looking back, though, I’m happy to say that I’ve had a terrific time doing this column over the past two-plus years. I leave it now with many fond memories.
The best stories I did weren’t about eating, drinking or shopping, but about people. The first person I wrote about, I recall, was Ahmed Almardi, the Sudanese artist who’s always hanging out in front of the stairs that go up to Geckos Terrace.
Mr. Almardi explained how he was trying to sell enough paintings to allow him to skedaddle off to a better life in Australia or New Zealand.
Now, 30-odd months later, he’s still there below Geckos, still smiling and waving, and talking about leaving.
Often the columns were a tad off-the-wall. I remember one that advised on how to survive a sudden North Korean land invasion: by buying an arsenal of artificial weaponry from that toy-gun shop next to Korea Exchange Bank.
If nothing else, that showed this column was a farce to be reckoned with.
Credit for my most interesting columns, I’d have to say, goes to the local gay community.
The guys up on Gay Hill are invariably open-minded, opinionated and quick with the quotes.
And they’re political: In various Itaewon Wanderings columns they predicted election victories for the likes of Roh Moo-hyun and George W. Bush.
And for a Roh-Bush summit they suggested unconventional agenda items (gay rights, mostly). This column grew to rely on them for their political expertise. I hope my successor will continue that tradition.
In any case, I’m confident that Itaewon Wanderings will be in good hands. And the accompanying photo will be much better, too.
No question or smart-alecky answer about it.

by Mike Ferrin
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