Tuesday, May 30, 2006
more Korean adventures
sure sure, my trip to Korea was wonderful. it was beautiful and full of adventure and just completely copasetic. right. or that was the first draft. I want to write more about all the beautiful things but I have a few things to get off my chest first. you know, all the crap that comes with being a woman traveling alone in a very misogynistic foreign country. occasionally a swear word may find it’s way into the passage.
I don’t want to see comments about how I should never travel alone again. or if you must write such things, feel free but I won’t heed your advice. I do promise to head my own advice, though, which may be on similar lines…. ( and I promise to get back to writing about the beautiful things too, I just can’t focus on them until I get the rest of this written)
I found Korea to be exhausting in part because of the foreign writing system and incomprehensible rominization thereof. For instance, when I see a Japanese word Romanized, I can instantly get within 85% of the correct pronunciation. Korean is a different story where the same Korean city can be written Busan or Pusan and the actual pronunciation is halfway between a B and P or Kwongju and Geongju, which have the exact same sound, if you read the Korean.
Theoretically, written Korean is much much easier to learn than Japanese because it is a sensibly designed alphabet and not just something that came about, like all the rest of ours. Some one sat down and designed it. All the characters are phonetic syllables and can be learned in a few hours (or so they say—I didn’t put in a few solid dedicated hours, so I don’t know but I do think it could be possible) the problem is the pronunciation. sure you can remember the characters but if you can’t turn them into sound… aaaaaahhhh. it was quite frustrating.
so how did I manage? I didn’t exactly stay in Seoul where there are a ton of English speakers…I don’t have that much common sense. I’d get to a bus station, find a bilingual map. There was usually one per station or one per town. Sometimes I spent awhile looking but always found one. Then, I’d compare what was in my book—where the main towns were also writing in Korean script, or sound it out a little and try to match where I was going. the problem being that I couldn’t usually pronounce my destination let alone say anything other that ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ in Korean. So, in my trusty notebook I’d copy down the Korean, walk to the window, point to the destination (or at least that’s what I hoped I’d written down) and smile. They’d usually say something and I’d offer them my pen and notebook. They’d write down the price or type it into their calculator; I’d pay and be on my way. Repeat for a week and I was, as the British say, knackered.
sexual harassment, Korean style
The guide books describe Korea as a very safe place and while people may at first seem unfriendly because you don’t fall into the set Confucian recognizable relationships, they will be very helpful if you break the initial ice. but then again, Korea is a modern country and the guide books seemed to overlook that a little. The guidebooks seemed to either be out of date or simply overlook one fact that I found endlessly tiring and infuriating.
In recent years there has been an influx of Russian women into Korea, and guess how they make their living… and guess how this complicated my life. apparently I look just like one.
so in addition to the language barriers and other trials of traveling by oneself, I was also followed by sleazy men in bad suits, one who even offered me money. needless to say my plans to hike in some of the reputably beautiful national parks solo were soon scrapped for new plans that had as much anonymous company as possible. it was a shame, for many reasons, obviously, but in part because I really really wanted to spend my spring break free of crowds and swarms of tourists. but it was not to be. the beautiful craggy peaks and Indiana Jones style rope bridges of Wolschan Nat. Park were quickly eliminated from my plans.
(I did really want to go here)
so by the time I arrived in Kwongju on day 4, I was exhausted and eagerly checked into a hostel that sold itself as being a meeting place for foreign tourists.
Lonely Planet describes it like this:
people don’t stay here for the rooms; many are rather grotty. However, the kitchen, courtyard, meeting room and roof deck are great places to commune and plan forays with fellow travelers. The owner speaks English and Japanese, hands out free maps and is knowledgeable about local sights
This sounded great. I wanted friends. I wanted to bitch to people about the sleazy men in bad suits. I wanted comradery. and I almost found some…
rather that sympathy my complaints were met with, oh yeah, that happens to me all the time too. ha ha fucking ha. get over it. that’s just the way it is. you do kinda look like a prostitute (in my sneakers, dirty sweatshirt, lack of makeup and backpacker’s stench).
fine. I hate you too. I hate everyone in this goddamn country.
and as I left the next morning to explore the temples and UNESCO cultural heritage sights, Mr. Kwon kindly wished me off by trying to fix the twisted straps of my makeshift backpack.
He was a good guy. kind. in the way I imagine an incestuous uncle to be. on the bus ride up the mountain to the temples I amuse myself with violent fantasies with Alix Olson blaring on my iPod. For those who don’t know Alix Olson she is, in my words, an empowering lesbian slam poet and, in Kevin—my ex boyfriends words, a feminazi.
Mr. Kwon’s Top 4 reasons foriegn women love Korean men
After a day in the mountains—which was beautiful and awe inspiring—I headed back to the hostel where a bunch of us went to a traditional Korean dance, which was true to the Korean traditions of black lights and neon, apparently.
Afterwards, a few of us retired to the little patio/garden of the hostel (very cool set up). Those of us included myself, a vegetable seed salesman from Yokohama and two Americans who taught English in a Korean high school. oh, and mr. Kwon. Caroline (the American teacher)’s strategy toward the slimyness and borderline harassment from Mr. Kwon was to continue to egg him on while keeping a safe distance. In return he told her she needed to loose 20 kg and should sleep with him. she responded to the slam against her weight with a flirty pout and said that she’d sleep with him next time she was in town. fine.
not my style but fricken hilarious to watch. she poured out dead pan sarcasm until we were up to our knees. the scene was set and Mr. Kwon began his lecture. The air was warm on the patio and he lounged back on his chair. His pace was persistent but relaxed, like an actor in a midweek rehearsal. His rhythm was steady and while it acknowledged Caroline’s bone-dry comments (in italics) it was not perturbed.
1.the foreign woman knows the Korean soap opera. now it is very famous and so the foreign woman knows the handsome Korean man. she sees that the Korean man is tender. oh yes, handsome and tender in the TV.
in the TV he is tender but in real life?
no, no. he is always tender. the foreign woman want the tender Korean man
2.but, the Korean man is also powerful. he can suck the woman.
oh, he can suck her?
yes, the foreign woman must be tamed like a wild the horse so the Korean man will suck her and make the decisions. women don’t want to make decisions so they want the Korean man
I don’t want to make decisions do I? tell me more
3.the foreign woman knows the Korea because of washing machines. you see almost all washing machines are made in Korea now. and she knows about Sony and Kia so she understand the Korean man
does this have to do with sucking?
4.and the Korean man, he is healthy, you see. the Korean man eats lots of Kimchee. very good for you, you know. because he loves the kim chee he has good (heh heh) stamina.
(pause for dramatic effect and to register that, in fact, he will not be getting any from the foreign ladies in his audience)
so, you should raise your sons in Korea so that the women love them
... and so the adventures continued.