Luckily, you probably won’t understand me.
We were sitting at dinner, discussing essentially nothing: food or books or music. The din around us was filled with the sound of other people speaking, the clatter of spoons and chopsticks on dishes, sizzling things in enormous central pots. Suddenly, I perked like a bloodhound, and raised a hand to my friend to stop speaking.
“The women at the table behind us are speaking English.”
Beth tensed, alarmed. We were both in fight or flight mode, without intending it. “What? No. Impossible.”
We both stopped to listen, and in time confirmed that the syllables being exchanged adjacent to us were similar to our own. We were petrified. We felt awkward. How could we go on speaking to each other now? There was a miniscule chance that we might be overheard.
There’s a lot of fish.
Korea in the summer is a sort of wide, hilly crock-pot. The humidity is high and soupy, and walking is basically no different from swimming. The warmth is incredible and only endurable for the regular and everlasting thunder storms which gush and guzzle for weeks at a time. In such a hot, sweaty apparatus, things start to waft. Summer in Korea is a time of duality, of scents that repel and attract. Down one street, something gently ushers into your nose, calling you forth to embrace it, to eat it, or drink it, or roll in it; down just another alley is an ungodly stench that may as well be personally assaulting you and stealing your wallet.
Pizza with selected Italian toppings.
Korean food is very good. This is not something I feel up for debate, and living in Korea, the place where Korean food is from, I am regularly ensconced in the highest quality, most authentic versions of it I can possibly eat. Koreans do Korean food very, very well, and they all generally enjoy it a great deal. The problem, of course, is all of the other foods: Chinese and Mexican and Indian and Turkish and Thai and Canadian… all of these foods are reprocessed and filtered through local Korean tastes, and Koreanized in just a certain way. Those times when I tire, when I want something outside of the Korean wheelhouse of cuisine, I am bereft. When I want the food of home, it’s just not here.
I’ll just leave these here.
I was in my friend’s apartment, and we had just finished a snack. Without conscious thought, I began stuffing all of the wrappers into my pockets, as though I would need them later like some lost and homesick sparrow, to help build my nest. “Uh, dude?” my friend pointed out. “I have a garbage can.” He pointed to its location, and it took me a second to connect what he was even saying: I hadn’t even noticed stuffing away the garbage furtively into hidey-holes in my clothing. It never even struck me to seek out some receptacle where I might dispose of such things. It has become my second nature to ferret it all away.
The prescient amongst you may have foreseen that my claims to have new words for you were folly, and that actually, instead, you would have to endure some more of my photos! I know, I know: I am a cruel and capricious writer, and you thirst for my words, and my continued holding back is like a metaphorical, ongoing cinnamon challenge of choking silence, but soon I will return to you with words. Like Friday.
I took my cousin Zack on a weekend trip to sunny seaside Busan, Korea’s answer to California, without any of the surfing, bros, or puku shell necklaces. Such beachtown obnoxiou-phernalia was replaced, instead, by enormous aquariums, open-air fish markets (which many guides to Korea proudly claim to be the “smelliest place on Earth!”), numerous encounters with tentacles, and enormous swaths of beautiful coast. Also lanterns, because I seem to only ever go to Busan on or before Buddha’s birthday. Anyway, behold: Busan!
It may look like it probably contains a Minotaur somewhere in the middle, but it is worthy of your love.
I once met a man on the way to Incheon International Airport. I was sitting alone with my enormous travel bag, reading, and he drifted into the seat next to me. At length, he wrote the word “wretch” on a napkin in a lovely, florid cursive style, and asked me to pronounce it. It became clear that this was simply his ice-breaker, as he informed me that, as a retiree, he had nothing to do but ride the rails all day and talk to strangers. Internally, I reacted with some degree of horror. Why would someone spend his golden years of rest experiencing something so horrible and repulsive, so dehumanizing and alienating and weird?
Not talking to strangers, mind you. Riding the subway.
The foreign population is very ready.
Living in Korea has made me acclimate to a number of weird phenomena. Probably the weirdest thing that I’ve grown gradually comfortable with is semi-regular blastings of air-raid sirens, assemblies of small children into terror formation, full-scale evacuations of which I am no part, accompanied by the sounds of frenzied screaming over intercoms and people fleeing towards local shelters. These are just drills, and really, after the first few times, you barely even notice them. With water on all sides, Japan’s nuclear exhaust and China’s metallic yellow particulates regularly invading our airspace, and some wacky neighbours just north, there’s something to be said for preparedness.
Preparedness is pretty goddamn terrifying the first time around. But it gets easier.
“Well,” Andrea* told me, “me and Mae were planning on doing a dance for the talent show. Probably to that mix by DJ Earworm.”
These were my grade sixes, informing me and my mentor teacher of their entry for the upcoming talent show, which, as a slaving, bootlicking student-teacher, I would almost certainly be involved in to some degree. I discussed the song with them for a few minutes, to establish my cred, to fully exhibit my subversiveness and deeply rooted connections with modern happenings and the youth of today. For whatever reason, having an encyclopaedic command of popular culture has always been important to me. Maintaining my with-it-ness has always been somewhat crucial to my sense of self, the core of my personality just barely held together by a sticky web of Simpsons’ quotations, nerdy movie references, and unnecessarily bescarfed indie music superiority.
Moving to the other side of the planet can really throw a wrench into such a system.
My personal space extends as far as the horizon line. I hope you understand.
It’s sort of hard to explain the concept of the personal bubble, if you think about it. It’s this weird, murky, invisible halo of space surrounding your body at all times, a sort of inviolable corona of mobile real estate that hovers around your person, cushioning it, protecting it, cradling it like a gentle cloud baby. If you could see them, it would be like thousands of people walking around with up-ended fishbowls all around them. It keeps you safe. It keeps you comfortable. It keeps you private. And you cannot see it at all, but everyone knows about them, and breaking into another person’s bubble is a great violation. Only the dregs of society, the scum labelled with the gutter-nom of “creeper” would ever dare to venture into your bubble without due invitation.
It’s even harder to explain once you move to a place where the personal bubble functionally does not exist.
Sometimes the universe just conspires to provide you with a perfect day. We set out to Gyeongju based on the predictions of the cherry blossom forecast, hoping that we would be there for peak bloom time (both of these are regularly announced on national and local news at this time of year). We were not disappointed: the city streets were soft with tumbling petals, and above us were huge canopies of heavy branches, soaked in thousands of blossoms bursting. The sun shone at a calmly pleasant spring-time balminess, and everywhere around us people rode on tandem bikes and cradled great clusters of flowers to their faces, as though enamoured with splendour. When we became just too tired from all the traipsing through enormous fields of flowers and being showered with petals, we burrowed into the side of a hill and whiled the day away while sunshine poured between drooping boughs.
Also, it was pretty.