Sydney still and pissed as a newt at 2 a.m. : Came across this old old thing on my (’97 stylee!) GEOCITIES INTARNET WEBSIGHT and am gonna mirror it just ’cause I can. The text of the Korean bit goes thus (but please note that it’s sophomoric crap, pretty much, and talks about events that were current at the time. In the intervening years both nothing and everything has changed…) :
(a wee rant)
South Korea is wrapped tight in a web of lies, perpetuated both by the government and by a large dose of out of control cultural chauvinism. The prevailing attitude is that Korea and Koreans are a world power to be reckoned with, and that the Korean society and economy are glorious models for the rest of the world to breathlessly emulate. Meanwhile, bridges and buildings collapse with no prior warning. Students and workers riot in the streets. But still…fine. A little chauvinism is to be expected, from most everyone. The reality simply does not match the attitude, however. Despite the sham trials of Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, the ex-presidents who swindled billions and were between them responsible for the coup in ’79, the Kwangju Massacre, widespread corruption and perversion of the democratic process, and of course the ’88 Olympics, the new honcho, Kim Young Sam, while preaching a creed of debatably wise ‘westernization and modernization’, sent 5000 riot police into a Seoul university to obliterate pro-unification student protesters. Ten helicopters spraying military-strength tear gas finished the job. The two big english newspapers meanwhile praised Kim for saving the country from the evils of communism, and western media ran pictures of mothers at the police barriers, kerchiefs over their mouths in a vain attempt to stave off the effects of tear gas, imploring stonyfaced cops the same age as their own children to show some mercy.
More recently a spate of bribery scandals have reduced the credibility of President Kim Young Sam to near nil, in no small part because he was elected on an anticorruption platform. Despite an unprecedented national address in which he hung his head and begged forgiveness, his day is done. Conveniently, his bribe-taking son has been released on bail after 5 1/2 months in prison, shortly before the election, set to occur in December. Pardons are expected for Roh Tae-woo and Chun Doo-Hwan. Business as usual, politics as usual, but I suppose it’s no worse than anywhere else.
The prevailing misinformation and lack of understanding of the real situation in North Korea lends a strange air of surrealism to any political discussion. The hysterical fear and loathing of their brothers to the North seems a result solely of government propaganda. It is somehow unclear to most South Koreans to whom I have spoken in these past 12 months that a state unable to feed its citizens, a state that keeps lowering height requirements for its soldiers, presumably to account for rampant malnutrition, might actually be unable or unwilling to attempt to overrun the combined forces of the South Korean army and the doublespeak-disguised American army of occupation. Then again, a few hours of Armed Forces Korea Network TV is enough to make anyone want to go out and thump a few American soldiers, which has grown into a popular traditional diversion for drunken young Korean men. Oh those wacky yanks (part two).
Why not go say ‘howdy’ to ’em?
Not that Koreans are not as friendly and hospitable as the next nation. Despite a rather acute love/hate relationship with waeguk (foreigners of any stripe), by and large people are kind, helpful, and welcoming. And by god they love to drink. In fact, the consumption of alcohol, primarily in the forms of astonishingly foul beer (which tastes exactly as if formaldehyde is used as a preservative) and soju (which tastes exactly like straight formadehyde), is a national sport. The streets in big cities like Seoul and Pusan come alive at night, with hordes of businessmen rushing off to brothels and noribung, the ubiquitous singing rooms. Young people hang out at the tents that spring up along the sidewalks as soon as the sun sets, eating the Korean version of tapas, and swilling beer or soju. A night at a nightclub will set you back several hundred dollars, but it’s done right, with bottles of scotch at the table, and attractive young men and women who are paid to sit with you, keep your glass full, pop bits of food into your mouth when you least expect it, and smile vacantly at all times.
There are few western-style bars outside of Seoul. I spent my four months teaching english in Pusan, and we found a few, including the redoubtable Cowboy, near the Somyon subway station. If you should find it, say hello to You-sung, In-su, and the unfeasibly lovely Kyung-hee. Perhaps she’ll marry you. The large, hirsute man behind the beer glass is me.
The women are astonishingly beautiful in Korea. I did not expect it, and I’m not certain why this would be, but it is so, and that’s all I really need to say about that.
I expect to spend a long time here, though it feels strangely like a way station, a place between places, if you catch my meaning.
Ah well. Most places tend to be like that for the peripatetic Prof. Bosco T Matrix, Esq.