(from offline period – August 28 2001)
William Gibson, I think, talks about japan as a palimpsest – eruptions of the ancient, or the merely old, through the veneer of the new. He mentions details like the anti-radiation voodoo charms dangling from everyone’s mobile phone antennas, and the usual cast of ‘amusing from an outsider’s perspective’ things like Pocari sweat. Now, I’m not one to dis’ Mr Gibson – he is after all, the man – but I wonder how he’d react here in Korea.
There are so many of the things that The Reverend Mr Gibson picks up in Japan, but turned up to 11, and twisted sideways while viewed through very thick beer goggles. Pure chaos, at least from a waeguk’s perspective…I’d forgotten the purely fractal nature of disorder here, self-resembling from the tiny to the immense, from the haphazard piles of goods in the corner shop, to the seemingly random layout of buldings and streets, to the wild tangle of the subway system and so on up (and down). It’s daunting, by christ.
Having spent the day cleaning the thick layer of black air-pollution dust from everything in the new apart’, I have Tom Waits playing and and feeling contemplative (and exhausted). Somehow niggling at my brain is this apartment as a metaphor for the Korean Way of Doing Things. It’s a wonder of good design, this place. Looking around a couple of days ago (we’ve been crashing here waiting for the bureacracy at the Uni to confirm that yes, we could actually live here), every time I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be useful if…’ there the useful thing would be. The descending-from-the-ceiling clothes drying rack on the balcony, and the tap out there with the spraygun attached for hosing away the Black Dust and watering your plants. The incredibly ample storage space incorporated into the wall cabinets in the kitchen. And so on. Cleverness and efficient use of space at every turn.
But so badly put together as to be laughable. I was told that Bill, who lives in the next building, has had a number of problems that required maintenance, and the general consensus was that the building was badly built. You can see it everywhere – misaligned fixtures, streaks of paint and caulking everywhere, wows and cracks in the walls and ceiling, and more.
So – great design, but truly abysmal construction. Why should this be so? sh-t, I dunno…I have a whole bunch of theories, any one of which might be partly true. Rampant alcoholism amongst contruction workers? The incredibly powerful urge amongst pretty much every Korean I’ve every met to go for the cheap solution before the right one? The headlong rush into the future that says ‘build it, forget it, go on the next one’? There’s a long history of things falling down and apart here (mentioned in one of the first posts here, a cut and paste from circa ’97 when I was living in Pusan) due to shoddy, cheap materials…. Some kind of subconscious ‘f–k it’ attitude in expectation of the next war coming along and everything getting knocked to hell anyway?
I dunno.
But it’s so odd that 100 metres from our brand new, if badly built, still groovy apartment beehive, the main street to the station is, by my standards, straight out of Slumland. Filthy, chaotic, reeking and third-worldy. I’m still trying to get my head around it, and this is all just brain dump, so should be taken as just that. I’ve still got a lot of love for Korea, and I’m glad we’re here.
When it comes down to it, I have said ‘those goddamn (-blank-)’ about so many nationalities now, including Canadians, that it’s clear to me at least that I’m not a nationalist or a racist – I’m pure misanthrope, with enough scorn to go around for all of humanity. At the same time, love love love. It’s weird being me.
Anyway, I’ve got an unopened bottle of duty-free bourbon waiting patiently for me, so I’m gonna go get myself loose, jjjjjj-ack!