So I just remembered that I have a laptop, and laptops are portable…(the obvious escaping me again) and so I brought it down to the street and am sitting in front of my GS-25, drinking Makkoli and catching the breeze that doesn’t exist on the 10th floor.
The tree bugs, thank God, quiet down at night. (you can hear them all the way up in my apartment!) They make a sound like about six chirps, followed by that electric noise – which sounds like (I finally decided) a cross between a badly failing ballast on a fluorescent light and the sound of a table saw – x100.
Despite breaking down and buying a fan, (I hate fans – especially if they are aimed directly at my face – I feel like I can’t breathe) it’s still better to be down by the street because it’s five degrees cooler. And five degrees is significant. My air conditioner only lowers the temperature by about two degrees on full blast, and I figure it costs a mint to operate, so thus the fan…and it’s amazing how much my quality of life has improved. I bought a little box fan which tilts, has spinning louvers, and a timer. It cost about 10,000 won more, but it’s more durable than an oscillating fan and I can easily pack it away during the winter months. It’s called, “My Friend.” And it truly is!
I have decided that if sweating is as healthy as Koreans say it is, then I am one of the healthiest people in Korea. I sit in the presence of others, sweltering and miserable, and they are all nonplussed. One would think they are just being stoic about it, but really – there’s no sign of perspiration on their bodies. One would also think that since I’ve been here since the dead of winter, I should be acclimatized as the weather changes. One would also think that, since I’ve always been blessed with reduced sweat production, that I would be right at home with my ethnic Korean compatriots. One would think. But no. I feel like a greasy, sweaty, overweight American.
And, as a greasy, sweaty, overweight American, I am sitting here with my love handles, smoking in public, over-exposing my shoulders, and drinking by myself. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s nice to be a foreigner. I can just laugh at the rules. Others will judge me by Korean standards, since they can’t tell the difference. But I know the difference and if anybody should say anything, I can rattle off something in English and put that to rest. But I’m alone, so nobody’s going to bother me about any of that. And it doesn’t matter because I’m never going to see any of these people again. Anyang people, that is…
Oh yeah, and I figured out why I’m gaining weight here in Korea. It was a puzzle, because I really haven’t changed any of my habits: lack of exercise, lack of sleep, smoking, etc. and pretty much my diet is about the same amount of vegetables and protein. (despite the addition of kimchi) What’s changed is: this heat and humidity. For the first time ever, I am purchasing beverages. And all the beverages have sugar in them. So two or three beverages and an ice cream every other day, and there you have it.
I went to Emart today and spent 40,000 won on some food, a potato peeler, a cheap mandolin (vegetable slicer) and some ice cube trays.
And then I went back with dreams of real bedding and real furniture that I like and decided I should be frugal and live with what I have. Which is the one set of sheets on the bed, (which is too hot to sleep on) and the yoga mat on the floor, which is too un-bed-like to sleep on with regularity. I found a tri-fold mat with a rattan top, which would be both bed-like and cool, and which can double as a sitting mat when not sleeping, but it cost 40,000 won. And I would need two of those: one for company. There were two green trimmed left and two orange trimmed left. And it will be just my luck that when I decide NOT to be so frugal and go back, there will be only one green and one orange. And THAT would be an untenable situation…
I forgot to get kim chi, damn it. And by the time I’d made my way back through the grocery department, I’d spent another 40,000. I should have bought the sleeping mat….
But, my refrigerator is full and that always makes me feel content. Actually, that’s the only time I can feel at ease. Even if it all rots, uneaten. It’s funny how I am a product of the depression era, even if it was forty years before my time. My mom. Bless her heart. She did that to me.
All around me now are Koreans with their buddies, sitting around tables, drinking with each other. There are nice things about this culture. I guess any sub-tropical climate’s culture. When the heat is unbearable, and night time is the time to gather and enjoy simple things. Together.
Everyone has great fun giving me a hard time as I complain about the heat and humidity. “Oh just wait! YOU are gonna DIE next month! Mua ha ha ha ha!!!!” I guess it gets so hot, nobody can sleep. Maybe that is the time to drink more with your friends, I don’t know.
My friends, it turns out, are all not here or not staying or in Seoul.
Oh man, Mr. mullet just walked by with a hot Korean girl. These girls just don’t know…I say this as I itch three new mosquito bites and pour myself another cup-pi of makkoli…
It’s nice sitting out here, even with my fourth mosquito bite. I’ve spent two days cooped up in my room, revising videos and power point presentations and thinking about what to write for newspaper articles. I’m really freaked out about the Pressian article. The sample articles from the “ministry of propaganda” (joke) are truly daunting. Any TRACK meeting I attend is populated by brains so big they can barely hold their head up. I do so enjoy their company. These are brains that, in one minute there will be references to Malcolm X, yet in another minute joking about diarrhea, in another minute will be talking about colonization and economic theory. Despite being accepted to Yale once-upon-a-time, and despite being able to survive theory classes in college with a healthy disdain for academic pretentiousness while still being able to bullshit a decent grade in graduate -level seminars, I have always been blissfully unable to give a shit about academic discourse; even while appreciating its value. So my role, it turns out, is to represent common man. (I lack the political correctness to call this common “people” – I mean, I consider myself a man when it comes to certain things. These ways of being seem to me to be descriptive of an idea and not exactly physically gender specific. I’m sure this is because I was raised in a previous generation, but I sometimes think it is an insult to everyone’s intelligence to assume we can’t discern the difference.) So yeah, anyway, I’m out of my league when it comes to writing for a densely packed publication like Pressian, which may be analogous to New Republic. I was going to write about family values and Confuscian filial piety, and then I realized I didn’t know what the hell family values were and that I certainly didn’t understand what the prescriptive path was for those that failed to be pious. I only know my common man perspective: hey Korea, I thought blood mattered? At least that’s what you say. But I guess it’s only some blood. Not my blood.
Ooops. Spoke too soon. The mating bugs are at it again. I wonder what triggered their vocalizations all of a sudden? Speaking of (bugs), I caught a minute of YET ANOTHER AMAZING KOREAN CULTURE DOCUMENTARY on YET ANOTHER INTANGIBLE ASSET of an artist, and this guy was making a headpiece. It was a brass filigree headpiece. Breathtakingly ornate. And there was a wooden block, in a perfect form, and over the block was what? leather? and pinned through this material was this iridescent leaf-shaped thing. Hundreds of them. I don’t know what they were from, as I can’t speak Korean. Maybe they were beetle wings. They had to be scooped out individually and dried. And each one individually and carefully attached with pins and hammered into place. And then the brass filigree was overlaid on top and riveted in place. And it was breathtaking.
And speaking of artists, I went and saw my tutor’s artwork. It was on display at a hanoak in Bukchon traditional village: the one I took so many photos of. The owners of the hanoak, a native Korean woman and her British husband, are aficionados and benefactors of the arts and have opened up their hanoak as a gallery space. Now, mulberry paper walls and hand-hewn beams and rare Korean oak door screens are NOT your typical gallery space. But it was really nice. Especially my tutor’s piece of this amorphous thing referencing a snail yet sticking out some stocking’d appendage. It felt Victorian yet 21st century. It was hung across a corner, over a traditional and ornate table. It was sexual yet repressed all at the same time.
We were supposed to view her pieces and have a lesson, but I was too happy. I was happy to finally attend an artist’s showing which did not force me to lie about my opinion and exercise smiling cheek muscles that never get used. Her paintings were carefully built with many layers of glazing and many layers of added texture. Her paintings were rich in pigment and rich in meaning. There was so much going on in each painting, yet they were also both secure in themselves yet inquisitive. I thanked her profusely for the opportunity to actually honestly enjoy some artwork for a change: such a pleasant departure from the overpriced and thoughtless work of self-proclaimed untalented artists that is the daily fare on every Seattle coffee shop wall…
Another side benefit of this private viewing was the over two hours I got to learn about architectural historic preservation of buildings in Korea. (cigarette #2 on the ground, only 3/4 finished – mosquito bite #5 – no Korean friend groups in sight – tree bugs have retired for the evening) Seems this area of amazingly preserved traditional hanoaks is at a dangerous crossroads: like historic preservation everywhere in the world, restrictive measures put in place to preserve the cultural legacy of these buildings have alienated the building owners who have to live in them. The efforts to preserve them are so restrictive that, in effect, the owners have come to resent their intrusion and as a result the measures are quickening their destruction. (someone just asked me for help again in Korean. despite my looking like a hussy, there’s something about me, the way I look so thoroughly Korean, that says, “I am comfortable and know the score – please ask me.”) Residents who are dying for a fully functioning modern bathroom and air conditioning, etc., are destroying the roofs and allowing the building structures to rot, because a hanoak must be structurally unsound before it can be torn down. And then the whole building is lost forever. They are then hiring contractors who don’t understand the thought that went into these traditional structures to replicate a faux hanoak that satisfies zoning code but is totally devoid of the relationships and intelligence that went into the original structures. The curator/self-appointed architectural historian/trained art historian/privileged art aficionado who is a graduate student at U.Penn is conducting a survey of the hanoaks in the area to hopefully define, once and for all, what a hanoak IS exactly, so that efforts to preserve them can be codified.
I mentioned that economics can not be ignored and that the somewhat intangible effect of tourism should be considered, and he agreed that I was right on the money. I also mentioned that (omg. there is a guy at the convenience store with a white plastic full torso brace, punctuated by perfectly regular circles of space, on. Those are so sexy. It reminds me of something Jean Paul Gautier would have used in Gatica…) historic preservation has to account for LIVING history being made, and he acknowledged the importance of striving for the ideal while working towards reality.
Which kind of reminds me of this adoption reform business…
Despite being a rebel and enjoying being the lone trooper surviving the mosquitos, (I lost track – but I know my ankles are on fire) I think I must go upstairs and try and acclimate to an overstuffed bed and a fan, simply because I need to visit the bathroom…
Well, that was challenging, trying to open my hermetically sealed bank-vault of a living space with its keypad, while trying not to drop my expensive MacBook (practically worthless and impossible in Korea) and not spill my paper cup-pi of remaining makkoli…
Did I mention that my ankles were on fire from mosquito bites?
So I’m now sitting on my over-stuffed, horribly pink (not my choice – provided by my school – chosen by a female teacher who must have some aversion to everything natural) bed, with my Hello Kitty folding floor table (yes, it was my choice – but only out of rebellion) and my Macbook; re-connected to my piss-poor (great for America, crappy for Korea) internet connection, with “My Friend” turned on full blast (and yes – every time the fan blades send the wind straight to my face I panic and can’t breathe – but I’m not sweating, so who needs to breathe) and I’m wondering where I was when I went onto the hanoak preservation tangent…
What the hell – this is makkoli-driven stream-of-consciousness, right?
The other evening I met Sara’s friends for dinner. It was an interesting evening for me – in a strange, surreal sort of self-absorbed way. To begin with, it’s always interesting to bridge the age and generation gap with my daughter’s friends – I mean, my last bf was barely older than my daughter and it’s not because (I don’t think) I’m living in a perpetual mid-life crisis, but because I just think/believe that at some point we are who we are, and we will just evolve and regress/evolve and regress and that age doesn’t really matter at some point. Anyway, so it’s always interesting to meet the peers of my children because they are almost always my contemporaries. (because my age peers are seriously not that evolved and because the friends of my children are incredibly advanced) But it’s also almost always the case that THEIR peers are imbeciles. Total morons.
So. (sorry Mark – you KNOW I have to talk about this!) This one CHICK (there’s no other way to describe her – I mean. she was giddy to ride her bike around Gangnam with an open glass beer bottle) absolutely slapped me upside the head with everything I am fighting against: on the planet. in my life. as a human being.
“ooooooohh! (she squealed) You’re ADOPTED?!!!!”
oh fuck. brace yourself…(I realize I’m losing my ability to punctuate and capitalize correctly)
“I want to adopt a Korean kid one day! Maybe in a couple years…I’m gonna GET ONE!”
Hit with a fire hydrant hose. A cold one. Full freaking p.s.i. I am suddenly six years old. And white people are around me and squealing over me and pinching my cheeks and stroking my hair and purchasing me in their minds…
(This girl is an English teacher. She sees Korean children every day. She works in one of the most developed, fast-paced, technologically advanced places in Korea – think Times Square in Manhattan – she teaches children who probably have maids – and whose parents paid an exorbitant sum to expose their children to a global village and to make them appear more cosmopolitan)
Sara’s friend tries to rescue the situation and tells her I had a bad adoption experience: WHICH, you know, is neither here nor there – white privileged consumerist co-opting of another culture while being self-congratulatory has ZERO to do with my abuse experience…and this THING responds by saying something like (makkoli-induced paraphrasing) “yeah. but the economy was so bad after the war and people were starving…”
To which I replied, as DRY AS POSSIBLE. “ The war was a long time ago. Way before my time.”
And then I just spent the next ten or more minutes talking about how fucked up that was, as if she wasn’t there. And I think – I think that she was so wrapped up in her own consumerist planet, that she didn’t even have a clue we were talking about how fucked up that was…
So you know – I take Koreans for task – for resenting and having hostility for American Imperialism – when they don’t have an in-depth knowledge of American work ethic – the working class hero – the middle class, the appreciation and value of sweat equity…But on the OTHER HAND, I see this woman – this fat, privileged American cow – (I don’t care what excuses and nice things Sara’s friend has to say about her: I’m pissed) and then I see a display such as this and I want to throw up. And this kind of behavior would be totally lost on a Korean. They wouldn’t see it. Only an adoptee would see it: this coveting of Asians as collectible objects, while at the same time devaluing them as a lesser race than caucasians – less enough that they can be rationalized to acquire by any means. I mean, think about it – she wouldn’t have said that to a white American about white children, would she?
It is, at this point, that I go to my beautiful wall-blending high-tech refrigerator and start gorging on pickled cucumber – hot pepper and garlic stuffed cucumber.
I love Korean food. I don’t know how to eat it like a Korean does: I gorge on what I love one day. The next day I gorge on something different. Koreans comment on how I will linger on one food, when I am supposed to spread my interests and make my chopsticks explore all the banchan side dishes evenly. I’m just happy to eat something I really like. I just never want to stop.
My daughter’s friend apologizes for her and explains how she is always getting in trouble for just saying what she’s thinking.
I have no problem with outspoken people. I DO have a problem with WHAT she is thinking
What a simple-minded, colonist minded, privileged white cow…Does this sound harsh? I don’t know. I mean, think about it – here is this young American woman, riding her bike down the street while swilling a bottle of booze in motion. Here is this young American woman speaking to a 45 year old Korean American adoptee and talking about HOW SHE WANTS ONE? Here is this young American woman, who teaches a small class size of select, wealthy upper-class Korean children, and she is still promoting the idea that Korea’s children should be saved??? And she is talking about Korean children as if they are interchangeable objects to obtain???
As soon as it became known I was an adoptee I stopped being a person…
Why is the makkoli gone?
Fortunately, the American teachers were heading off for an evening of drinking and bar hopping, which is what American teachers seem to do a lot of here, and my daughter’s two friends and I headed off to do the more relaxed Korean thing of sitting outside a convenience store, chatting and drinking Makkoli.
And I found myself telling them, and surprising myself, telling them that these were exciting times to be in Korea: that Korea is on the cusp of awareness, that it is almost ready for some serious consciousness-raising, that they are finished with the repression of the 50’s and living empty lives of quiet desperation and were now ready for the 60’s. Scary and exciting times.
Oh god, will I be in Korea forever???
Owen just sent me a message on FaceBook, reminding me what a nice time we had dancing together on the roof. Community. Dance. Jamaica+community+dance. Good times.
There’s a second toothbrush in my bathroom now. Will it be used again?
One of the cases TRACK is following reminded me of my brother in jail. I feel guilty I don’t write. I don’t even have his address anymore. The last I heard from him, he had sent me and my children two volumes of family geneology, which along with converting people to Christianity became his saving grace behind bars.
As an adoptee, to quote Jane, “We (adoptees) have an uneasy relationship with the church.” So true. We were brought to America for God’s greater glory. We were brought here to so-called have our souls saved. Because we came from a backwards race of heathens. Thank you, Harry Holt, for trying to save me. I’m sorry it didn’t work…Hell, even my pastor tried to molest me. Maybe you should have worked on saving your own backwards heathens first.
And then there were the geneologies. How am I supposed to be engaged by those? The tracing of the lineage of a man that abused me? How can his blood mean anything to me?
How does it feel to be the blood relation of a man like that? How is it that people can trace ancestry, when all I have is a scrap of paper with a number on it?
I am feeling guilty about him today because, of course, he too is a victim. Behind bars for life and why? Because he didn’t receive any love. From these people who adopted me. Maybe I should find his address and write him. Even though he hated me all my life. Only please, please leave God and ancestry out of it.