I just wasted countless hours not working this weekend and instead writing posts that will never meet the light of day. They all end up negative or are just too confusing. So many things about this place I’ll never comprehend.
You get here and you look around and say to yourself, “Where is this oppressive, group-think, ostracizing harsh society everyone talks about?” All around you is majestic nature, bright lights, big city, beautiful people, and shopping therapy wrapped in a pop music happy bubble. Except for the sea of black and brown hair, everything seems the same as any metropolis anywhere. And you’re all happy to be on a new adventure, all optomistic and open to anything.
And then you go to your job and in short order you get whacked with a nail-studded 2×4 and jolted with an electric cattle prod and you remember: you can’t see discrimination, you can’t see racism, you can’t see political class or gender oppression, and you surely can’t see ideology. But oh, can you ever feel it.
And you find yourself wishing everyone wore clothing color-and-style coded according to Confucian status precepts, just to make understanding easier. This must be how halmonis feel.
And then you tap into the media, because it’s your only company. And even though you love it and it’s never failed you, here it’s omnipresent. And you ask yourself that age-old question: Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?
In the case of Korea, I hope the answer is neither.
For instance, I never in a million years thought I’d get sick of looking at good design or style or fashion. But when every other channel is selling some kind of image enhancement and there are so many fashion and style shows when you turn on the t.v. and flip channels, it’s just excessive. I can’t stomach one more second of it, and this weekend I reached my maximum saturation point. (I am now only watching History, Discovery, and National Geographic as a result. And I’m really appalled how they’re half reality t.v. now…) The counting eyelid surgery game is boring now. The ankle blister counting game is boring now. The watching girls totter and almost fall off their fetish shoes is boring now. The criticism of each other, the self-awareness and level of pretension is nauseating. Watching everyone (mostly insecure girls) kill themselves to be stylish is just depressing. The fare is plastic people, clowns, or pitiful people. Take your pick.
And then the movie we watched this weekend was also like the straw that broke this camel’s back. My girlfriends got it because a favorite drama actor was in it, and it was about this phenomenon here called a model bar – the male equivalent of a hostess bar. We all thought it would be fun, but watching it our lungs and livers and intestines were bleeding. The room was silent and grim after. It consisted mostly of pointless,* lifeless/artless sex, drinking, and chain smoking, repeat from * across. In between is deceiving women, swindling women, beating the crap out of women, and then more *. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen glimpses of before in almost every Korean movie – its just that it was all there was, and there was no relief from the misery. The misogyny in Korean movies is horrific to watch. And the violence has to be without par anywhere. Women aren’t just smacked. Women are punched. Straight dead center in the face. And then kicked when they fall. I hope to hell art is not imitating life in these films. But I fear it is. And with all the violent films with images of dead women, legs akimbo, slashed and covered in blood, I really really hope the art stays on the celluloid.
On the occasions I’ve spent the night in a love motel to work on TRACK things over a weekend, I got to watch Korean porn. No apologies here, as anybody would be curious. It was so horrible, I can’t express how horrible it was. And it’s not that it was soft porn, and it’s not that it was low budget, or any of that. It was just mechanical, uninspired, and uninformed. It makes me not want to bother. A girl would better spend her time doing her taxes. This is in contrast to love on dramas, which consists of twenty missed connections, awkward professions of liking, and then a peck and hug and a wedding ceremony. I hope all that tension would culminate in something better than the glimpse of Korean groping and huffing sex I saw, and which is pretty consistently portrayed on screen. I hope each child born had more interesting beginnings than that, but I’m seriously doubting it…
Now, I have seen moments of erotic behavior in movies. But it’s rare. I actually think the older films were better at it. There is also an excessive amount of acquaintance rape in those old movies. :(
How are women here supposed to deal with such a strong patriarchy and so many misogynistic messages and behavior all the time? Well, it seems they are dealing with it by being the opposite of demure – sometimes to the point of obnoxious – and they aren’t marrying and they’re choosing careers instead of depending on men. And/or they are making themselves into pretty doll vessels. Because the easiest way to deal with the patriarchy is to enable it.
And when I think about women here, I don’t want them to have to pick either/or. I just want them to have a lovely time. Please, God, let them have a lovely time.
So now I no longer ask myself “Where is this oppressive, group-think, ostracizing, harsh society everyone talks about?” It’s all around: under tons of makeup, stylish clothes, in the street, in the offices, in the alleys, in high tech gadgets, across big screens, and piped into my room.
You know, when I first got to Korea I thought I was going to be joining this decades-old fight for adoptee rights. But I was shocked to see how I am here on the ground floor: of civil rights, worker rights, multi-culturalism, children’s rights, and women’s rights. The economic miracle of Korea has been like giving a kid the keys to the family car: they’re learning to drive sink or swim, but it’s terrifying, as they’ve not the experience and no skills or sensitivity with the accelerator and brake. And I’m here and I should be excited, but instead I’ve got white knuckles.
I keep trying to find things to calm and comfort me, but always end up frustrated: I can’t find the materials I need for my projects, the volunteer work I have to do brings me down, there is no espresso bar with scones in my small town, music venues are expensive and too far away, and my furniture is too compact to stretch out on. And always I am isolated because I am a foreigner.
Crap. Negative again. Sorry. I hate being stuck in this mode.