The ubiquity of the Gimbap Chonguks (김밥천국) in Busan is matched only by the ubiquity of certain other infamous economic powerhouses which advertise themselves in the city by use of a peculiarly idiosyncratic whirling barbershop pole that always has the same faded blue and red (almost pink) colors and always turns so quickly that these colors blur into a sort of fluid whirlpool. You’ll find (at least) one flashing on every street. As for the Gimbap Chonguks—Gimbap is similar to sushi (just with bits of ham and vegetables instead of raw fish) and has been a near-everyday staple of my diet here for thirteen months thanks to its relative decency and inarguable cheapness; “Chonguk” means “Heaven”—you can generally find one within a ten-minute walk of the other. A combination of my own cheapness, my bottomless western belly, and the vicious, viscous deliciousness of this restaurant, has resulted in my dying numerous times and going to gimbap heaven.
This is a chain restaurant in Korea apparently on the same level as “Macdonalduh”, though it is far more sui generis, and every time I tell a Korean I’m going to one I must do so with some show of embarrassment and amusement, despite the fact that the meals, which rarely go beyond five dollars for one person, are at least as good as anything at a more expensive restaurant, and are sometimes far better. I’m afraid I don’t quite understand certain aspects of the very popular Korean barbecue, which generally just results in a lot of smoke, shouting, and maybe a few scraps of charred meat wrapped in lettuce, which you must cook yourself, for $10 per person—my favorite restaurant in Korea is a local Gimbap Chonguk, which is staffed by three generations of a family that I have more-or-less gotten to know during my sojourn here.
Anyway, digressions aside, I found myself in Seomyeon yesterday night with a trio of friendly Turks—this is the heart of the city, a place where one does not walk on a sidewalk so much as a sort of soft mattress of sex fliers and smoldering cigarette butts adhering to a gummy layer of phlegm—the place is populated by a mix of young women enslaved by short skirts and high heels, young men with black, horn-rimmed glasses who will be transformed into prim trim suits and ties after their two-year stint of getting screamed at in the military, and an older, shorter, rambunctious generation of phlegm-spewing yokels who purchase sex from the women—searching for a good place to eat, which was far more difficult than it should have been (no shellfish soup for me, no non-halal meet for my friends), but, of course, you can never find what you need when you actually start to look for it, and rather than eating at the spectacular, otherworldly Bap Sang (closed at 9:30 on a Friday?????), we found ourselves at a Gimbap Chonguk in the company of three Mormons sitting at a nearby table.
Now what distinguishes a Mormon missionary in Busan from the other Westerners, which consist almost entirely of either lascivious Russians (or Russian families in possession of little blond blue-eyed children and broad-backed patriarchs) or degenerate English teachers? The uniform of the typical English teacher is slovenly, laid-back, cheap; the accouterments of a loser and a reject, identifiable by his distinct wideness, his advancing baldness, his isolation, and the Star Wars novel he reads on the subway—the typical Mormon in Busan will always have three things: a professional demeanor (short hair and business attire), a black bag of some sort slung over his shoulder, and a distinct aura of being totally uncomfortable and out of place among so many hell-bound heathens who have not heard the translated word of that scam artist and polygamist Joseph Smith. They will always be in pairs, at least, lest they be corrupted by free thought, and, apparently, they speak impeccable Korean, no doubt because they believe they will spend eternity burning in hell in the company of evil coffee drinkers if they fail to kowtow to their elder masters locked away in the organ-like megaliths of Salt Lake City, men who will not rest until everyone on Earth believes that Native Americans are the descendants of evil Israelis.
Two men and one woman were there—the leader, an older, taller, silver-haired scruff-cheeked doppleganger of Tim Robbins, whom I have actually seen in person; the subordinate, a bald black-bearded fellow with the aforementioned black bag; and the provider-of-children-for-the-cause, a gaunt harpy as sharp and bony as a pterodactyl, whose knife-like hips will surely pinch the rosy cheeks of the army of infants she will soon force out, kicking and screaming, from her stale uterus. I wanted to ask Mormon Tim Robbins if they had met the day’s soul quota but instead I settled for giggling about the ridiculousness of it all with the Turks while Mr. Robbins directed maybe one or two disdainful grimaces in our blasphemous direction. This was the extent of our interactions.