16 February 2008

the first 24 hours

focal point concealed.

somehow i slept 12 of the 15 hours it took to go from jfk to incheon. i think that's a new record for me. we landed in the dark at 5 am and immigration, baggage claim, customs and the express bus back home were all quick and uneventful. it being an early saturday morning, my neighborhood was still quiet, which was nice. i dropped off my shiz, took a gander at the lightening horizon and made haste to the subway to see what was left of namdaemun.

since i live on line 2, i usually get off at the city hall stop and walk the half-kilometer to the old gate instead of transferring. but after walking what seemed like the appropriate distance, it wasn't there. perhaps 2 months in the usa had me misjudging my environs. so i took the underpass to walk to the next intersection, but the signs said i was already there. i exited and then realized why i had missed it. the great gate's burned carcass was concealed by a huge wall of beige panels. as the area's magnificent focal point for so many years, it was disorienting to have it camouflaged by a bland case. for the first time, i was seeing the area's boring glass towers.

rather than pretend nothing happened, i assume that city officials erected the wall to avoid gawker delays or accidents on the busy 5-way intersection. but in a country so accustomed to catastrophe, it felt inappropriate to cover it up. there were windows on the side facing away from the street, but glare made it difficult to see the men in bright orange vests digging through the rubble inside. outside was an altar with flowers, fruit and a large photo from the good ole days. i saw a handful of people come by to gaze through the glass and at people's scribbled messages.

pilgrimage made, i returned home and went online. i dislike most expat blogs about korea, but there's one that shares my interest in the eccentricities of living here. so i was disappointed to read his remarkably mean-spirited take on koreans' grief re: the burned gate. while i had sensed a little bit of the "korea is backwards" sentiment from him in the past, after reading a couple of his other posts, it was obvious that he is one of many (mostly white) expats who have a weird kind of animus against korea... to the degree that they enjoy dehumanizing koreans while they are grieving. it's strange to me why so many in the "korea haters club" choose to live here.

let's hope sooner rather than later.

haters aside, after two months away it's great to be back. later that night, after a few rounds of drinks on itaewon's homo hill, i, along with a coupla buddies and their new mankubs, crossed the alley into the hot and crowded "why not?" dance club. it felt good to be reunited with the scores of pretty korean guys i had missed while stateside. past 5 am the crowd had thinned and since the trains had started up again, i gladly paid the 900 won ($1) to get home. a quick post-drinking snack at the 24-hour seolnongtang jip helped keep the vomiting impulse at bay before rushing home to get into bed before sunrise, since it's weird to go to sleep in the daylight. day 1 completed.


Jonith said...

oh good. it was getting weird that you were in the usa so long. does america have a monument, which if lost tragically, would ignite the same amount of grief as the namdaemun? statue of liberty?

matt said...

you're telling me!

um... there was a brief mention of the fire on weekend all things considered, and the expat "expert" on korea said it was tantamount to mt. vernon burning.

mt. vernon? do americans outside a 300 mile radius of dc/no. virginia even know what mt. vernon is, much less what it looks like?

maybe it's more like if the alamo burned down to the residents of san antonio or the l'arc de triomphe for the parisians? or, how about some old asshole pushing the leaning tower of pisa over? i dunno. there needs to be some kind of "we have survived countless invaders against all odds" component in addition to just being really old and pretty.

all said, koreans are very accustomed to shitty things happening... it's part of "our" mindset and what makes us so much fun (crazy). whereas the japanese would be embarrassed, and the chinese might think, "eh, we've got plenty to spare," we're just sad... again.