Psychodidae

In a time before the Warrior was bequeathed with the heavy Knowing, a memorial was constructed to honor the folly of man.

But Man was a fool, and his ill-conceit opened the gates to the immortal world far below. With no concern for his fellows, Man drilled deep into the evil of the underworld. No traps were laid, no sigils drawn, no offerings to honor the goddess Cheuksin. Lines intended to keep humanity safe were tread upon without care. And with such impetuous desecration, the seals were broken and terrible creatures ascended to the human plane.

When the Warrior Knew, a battle unlike any in history unfolded. Demons rose from the first circle in overwhelming numbers, black swarms meant to overwhelm. A stench that only Hades would use as cologne boggled the senses of the righteous and helped lift the creatures from the depths below.

The Warrior could not know peace.

The cry of the slain demons rang silent in the ears of the Warrior: “for you have given me misery, so shall I return this wretched favor”.

Great bellows of poisonous smoke were released into the marble cave. Liquid fire was poured into the tunnels to inferno. Purple beams of staggering light enticed and then disintegrated the hellish creatures.

But there was no end. Clouds of flying clones interrogated the Warrior day and night. They began to make headway into the sacred homeland of the Warrior, beyond the mere mountains and caves along the border.

The Warrior used every tool the oracle advised, and yet the battle raged on. Though hell sustained a great many casualties, the putrid decay of the underworld produced double the troops to replace the fallen at an inhuman speed.

Many months into battle, weakened and weary, the Warrior embarked on a quest for knowledge, and in complete chance unforetold by the prophecy, the Tool was found.

The Warrior rushed back to the homeland with the Tool, full of renewed fervor to win the war.

With an unpracticed but confident hand, the Warrior put the Tool into place at the gaping maw, the black hole of evil. The gates to hell were sealed. All rejoiced.

But the Warrior’s victory was not absolute, for every full moon hell released a mighty belch with unimaginable stench. Demons arose from the first circle, not bested after all.

The Warrior was unarmed, bare to the world, but fought with hands and any weapons within reach to quell the foul creatures and horrid stench.

But in the heat of battle, the Warrior noticed a new foe. A new demon from the second circle. Larger and more menacing than the mere gnats of the first circle, with a promise of disease and plague. A creature that feasted on animal carcass, that threatened a future worse than the Warrior could imagine.

The Warrior bested this beast but looked on with horror.

Though the battle was won, would the war ever end?

July 17, Emergency Room 2.0

My friend and I committed to another surfing lesson, and I privately committed to not flirting with anyone lest I be let down again. It looked like it wouldn’t be a problem this time. Our instructor of the day looked serious and responsible, as though he had taken a brief respite from being a military officer to teach surfing.

It was hard to think of him too severely what with the comical white cast of intense sunscreen on his face. All the surf boys have gotten dark, as evidenced by their casual shirtlessness around the shop– a fact of which I’m extremely jealous. I wish I tanned as easily as Koreans but I’m cursed to a pasty existence.

But the General said the magic words as I pushed myself against the extremely strong tide again and again, tiring myself out.

“Let me help you.”

On the exceedingly rare occasion I hear this sentence, I am struck. It’s at the precise intersection of what I need and what I want.

My Korean teacher pointed out as much as I claim to have outgrown my perfectionist tendencies, I have not. I realized this during this second surf lesson. I thought I had outgrown it somewhere along my string of Cs in college chemistry but I was wrong.

I feel I must do everything alone while secretly, desperately wanting assistance.

I stopped for a moment, feeling defeated by the ceaseless waves, and asked myself if I even liked surfing.

Grimly, I realized my drive to catch a wave came from the need to do it right rather than enjoyment. But then I shrugged. The end result would be the same: I still battled the tide to get one good ride, and the joy came from accomplishment.

During our break time between hour one and two, I felt my (pasty) face stinging. I had left everything back at the surf shop and looked around at who I could ask for sunscreen.

The two separate foreign women lounging by their surfboards didn’t have any. I looked towards the trio of men next to them. They had been filming what I can only assume was not a parody rap video; two of the guys hopped around waving hand gestures while us beginner surfers had fallen off our boards time and again in the background. Not sure this is the “coolest” look for aspiring rappers.

But this is a situation I know well, so I walked up to the trio who had since finished their video and were lounging, fishing cans of beer out of a huge beach bag.

I asked in Korean, “sorry to bother you but do you have any sunscreen?”

The videographer stared at me. I repeated myself; this is a common occurrence when a Korean doesn’t expect Korean to come out of my mouth. He answered in English. I confirmed with him in Korean then said thanks and went on my way.

They certainly didn’t seem to have much swag in this situation…

My friend commented in surprise, “in that huge beach bag, really all they have is beer??” She’s a responsible adult and their lack of preparation was unbelievable.

Our group eventually made it back to the surf shop and my friend and I, plus another young woman from South Africa showered. But Ellie hurriedly told me that the other woman had injured her foot and needed to go to the clinic.

“I think we should go with her,” she whispered in sympathy. Ellie, once again a responsible adult.

I wholeheartedly agreed, remembering every time I’ve almost cried in a Korean hospital, and offered to drive us there. Our patient Niki was in a lot more pain than I had realized, and Ellie and I told our most embarrassing stories to keep her mind off of the fact that her big toe nail had been almost fully ripped off by some hidden rocks.

I missed the hospital entrance twice and then pulled up to the emergency doors like a taxi driver. “I’ll meet you after I park!”

The waiting room was tiny but much less battered-looking than the emergency room in Changwon where I spent half the night. Three young security guards in stiff leather shoes, no good for running after escapees, allowed me to sign in as her guardian.

Niki and I entered the emergency room through the sliding doors, leaving Ellie behind to wait what would turn out to be nearly five hours.

Right past the doors were three chairs. Another waiting “room”. We could see the strip of desks in the middle where all the nurses and doctors sat. On our side were a series of doors and hallways, and on the other side of the desks was the rest of the emergency room with curtained partitions.

We watched old man after old man be wheeled in and wondered what on earth was happening. One man in a faraway place made the most horrific retching sounds, as if he was possessed by a demon.

A young male nurse, who later said he was an EMT, crouched down to Niki’s toe, ignoring the chaos around us, and poked at her toenail while she clutched hard at my hand. A few moments later, he led us through the door to the immediate left of our pleather office chairs.

There were two surgery rooms, or not quite surgery rooms as there was no sterile barrier. The second room was through the back two double doors of the first. I thought of the Lizzie Borden house with no hallways.

He sat her down on a rolling stool and placed her foot over a metal bucket. I tried not to laugh, it just seemed so primitive.

He washed her toe with an entire quart of saline while she hissed in pain, wrapped it up, then directed us back outside to the chairs. Niki asked him for his name, and then if he was single.

“What are you doing??” I whispered.

“I’m trying to find a man for Ellie,” she replied.

The EMT told us he was 27 and single, and then, because everything was already absurd, I asked to take a picture of the EMT rolling Niki out on a wheelchair. He obliged and now she has a photo in her phone.

Later, two doctors directed us back to the surgery room, and we walked past an old man getting treatment in the first room to the second room. I shrugged; Asia Time. I guess I can just go wherever?

Niki asked for their names, ages, and single status. I’ve also asked for the names of people treating me, and was touched that she and I have similar pain coping mechanisms. Not that relationship status was a part of my coping, but maybe it should be going forward. A relationship isn’t going to match make itself!

However, she called them by their first name as soon as they answered and I could feel the automatic flinch. Calling a stranger by their first name in Korea is a big no no, especially if they’re a doctor, but acceptable if you’re inviting someone to fight you in an alley. Their forced humbling was still kind of funny.

The shorter doctor with smoother English explained that he would numb her foot with local anesthetic and then take the nail off completely to clean the sand and debris out from the nail bed. After x-rays confirmed that all the sand had been removed, he would place the nail back on her nail bed and stitch it l to her toe to protect the new nail as it started to grow back.

The two doctors looked at me, standing tall and holding her hand.

“You don’t have to watch.” They told me.

I looked them right in their eyes and said, “No, I’m going to.”

Niki was in a lot of pain and I suspect that the doctors should have waited at least five more minutes for the anesthetic to set in before digging around at her dislodged toenail.

I held on to her hand with my right, and her shoes with my left. We had a running joke that I was her guardian, her daddy.

The slightly older doctor, 29 in Korean age and therefore still younger than me, wheeled her to the x-ray room where a jolly technician gently pushed me out of the room and got to it.

When she was wheeled out a moment later, she told me that he was 35 and single. The other two doctors were dating and had met their pharmacist girlfriends through blind dates.

The tech confirmed there was still sand and the slightly older doctor wheeled her back to surgery room number two to keep digging it out. The sheet covering the bed, was dribbled with brown iodine and I idly wondered how they get stains out.

Moments later she was wheeled back to the x-ray room by a jolly older gentleman who exclaimed that her Korean was very good.

The x-ray tech said, “ah, we meet again,” and I appreciated his subscription into our little bubble of whimsy.

The two doctors updated me on the procedure while she was away and I asked them for the Korean word for “doctor’s note” so we could be sure to get one on our way out for her employer.

I repeated after them and typed into my notes app. I heard the two quietly comment on my good Korean and I puffed up in pride.

I felt like a real guardian and an equal. When Niki was in pain, they explained what was happening to me. I asked them clarifying questions and also helped when they didn’t understand certain words.

“I’m on birth control.” She mentioned. The younger doctor looked puzzled.

“What do you mean by that?” He asked.

“피임약” I supplied and he immediately understood.

The pain shot had finally started to settle in and the subsequent sand removal had her sitting up and taking pictures of her mangled toe to send in her family’s group chat. I complimented the doctor on his smooth English. I also asked them if they used the products from the first medical company I worked for.

“Yes, we use their suture kits,” he commented. When I explained I used to be an engineer there the information didn’t seem to compute.

What’s a girl like me doing in a place like this? Was the vibe.

I found my way to the second basement, out of four, to pick up her prescriptions from the night pharmacy. Inexplicably, the security man with bleached hair that was just in reception somehow ended up at a desk on this abandoned basement floor.

Was he a ghost? Maybe those leather shoes were faster than I thought.

He politely guided me to a young woman in a large room who didn’t ask for ID. Niki’s prescription paper was enough. Asia Time giving us a boost!

Niki peered up at me at the end when all was left was to wait on the follow up appointment confirmation.

“You know, I get it. I see the daddy aspect.” She concluded.

I’ve never been a fan of the term, at least how it’s used in awkward tik tok prank videos, but I found it rather fitting.

I liked being an advocate for someone. I like protecting people. I like being tall and big and having a physical presence to throw around. I like being an equal. I am at your eye level, both figuratively and literally. I am unavoidable.

I liked talking with the doctors, asking them if they use the products from the company I designed for, being the one they look at first to impart updates because my charge is in pain and without shoes.

It was not how I expected to spend Saturday night but exhilarating nonetheless. For me, not Niki.

None of us had eaten since noon and now it was 9:30. I realized in the earlier rush my bikini had been left behind at the surf shop and we had to return to a group of shirtless boys, and manager, before closing to pick it up. The General seemed surprised but pleased to see us, and the instructor from our first go round cracked some jokes. I held up the bikini as explanation and he laughed.

We three were hungry and exhausted and made our way to a pizza shop in Haeundae. Just our luck, though, the usual midnight closing hours had been capped at 10pm due to new Covid measures. Luckily, takeout was allowed and while we sat in the restaurant waiting along with other groups, a famous rapper came by.

The starstruck employee asked him to sign a pizza box and I peered in interest at the signature. Nope, still don’t know who that is.

We eventually took our steaming pizzas and breadsticks to an abstract statue on a dais and claimed a quadrant to eat. The other quadrants were occupied by Korean groups doing the same. I hoped that the Covid monitors patrolling the beach not twenty feet away couldn’t spot us. Foreigners would be the first to be made an example of.

Our night ended with us laying on this marble dais like human sacrifices until Niki declared it was time to take a taxi home. Ellie agreed, and suddenly the adventure was over.

I still had to drive an hour home and as it was already midnight, I decided to get road snacks. Ellie had bought skittles earlier in the day and my craving came back; I hit up four convenience stores in a row only to find them sold out.

Luckily, some dudes at the first store taught me the Korean word for skittles, “suh kee tull juh”, and we had a laugh about the wildly different pronunciation. I eventually found sour skittles at one place and even though it was nearing one, there were still people out wandering with 7-11 coffees or looking for friends.

The day was not over, according to Naver maps, which took me on a wild and incorrect path across Gwangan bridge, the star of many of my photos when I lived in Busan. I circled the same highway exit three times before I resorted to my car GPS which clarified I had to take the ramp on the far right, not the middle right.

Finally at my apartment, I passed out in bed, only barely changing into pajamas. I thought, I must tell my Korean teacher this as she’s always delighted by my range of experiences.

Anything can be an adventure, though maybe it’s not always what I had planned!

Above Ground

Living as a visible minority in another country has taught me a lot about race, colonization, and globalization.

Something else it’s shown me is the delicate underground web we may take for granted in the suburbs.

Everything here is closer to the visible surface— income inequality, pollution, garbage, consumerism, animal cruelty, effects of war.

Sometimes I pass someone old enough to be my grandmother carting a rickshaw full of cardboard. Social security was only recently established and elder poverty is a huge problem. I see grannies selling gum for a dollar outside department stores selling $500 padded jackets.

Sometimes I see elderly without limbs, or I see a set of retirees talking to each other in sign language.

My friend lives with her divorced sister and two young children in a one bedroom townhouse in the countryside.

I see people walking their ridiculous, tiny, mean, purebred dogs and then I see happy mutts tied up to a six foot chain all day. I see puppies in the countryside I can’t save. I see cats without tails and birds without feet.

I know exactly how much garbage my neighbors and I produce, and I often fight for walking room in the alley with overstuffed garbage trucks.

I see water bottles and juice boxes and beer cans floating in the surf during the summer. I see abandoned takeout coffee cups on street corners.

American suburbs have these same problems— but we never have to confront our consumption or excess because we have the space to pollute and the land to fill with our out-of-sight, out-of-mind, no-questions-asked garbage bags.

Sometimes people come to Asia and complain that it’s dirty. Is it really dirty or is it simply lacking the land mass to hide trash? Not to mention, America has been shipping its garbage to Asia for years.

The world complains that China is a huge polluter— and it is, and needs to face that reality. Yet the rest of the world also exports its manufacturing to the cheapest location possible then in the same breath berates the location for causing pollution.

I worked for a medical company that moved its manufacturing of catheters from the Midwest to Mexico and China, then complained about a decrease in quality and opaque manufacturing agreements.

Color me surprised. I don’t know which Aesop’s fable is best suited for this—the eagle and the arrow? But that suggests some modicum of self reflection.

Despite its own complaints, the company did not move manufacturing back to the US. It was explicit about maintaining the maximum profit, which has seemed to be the driver for every medical company I and friends have worked for, even at the detriment to the consumer– the patient.

It’s not comfortable to look directly into the eyes of a system in which I participate and also helped create. I have to confront the consequences and at the same time parse out the helplessness of feeling so insignificant in a system so vast.

No place is inherently better or worse than another. Every place, however, has varying degrees of smoke and mirrors to cover the less savory effects and history of being human and it’s not always comfortable to see the mirror in the landfill reflecting me.

Neighbors

I was on the roof reorganizing my laundry when a small voice said,

아주머니 누구냐?” Who is that lady*?

I looked down two stories and saw a little boy bundled from head to toe. He peeked at me between his beanie and scarf and waved.

“Who are you?” He shouted.

“I’m your neighbor!” I waved back and asked him what his name was.

“Kim Yoonu!” He said too quietly for a person on the top of a house to hear.

“Kim Yoo?”

“Kim Yoonu!” He said louder, still too shy to actually shout.

“Kim Ooyu? Kim Yoonu? Wait, tell me again!”

He stared at me in defeat while his parents watched the exchange.

“Uh, okay, well, nice to meet you!” I said, when no further answer was forthcoming. He waved one more time then let himself be lead to whatever adventures his parents had planned for the day.


*Ajumeoni is a title used to refer to women of your parent’s generation. It’s a bit similar to the nuance between “miss” and “ma’am” but no one under 65 wants to be referred to as ajumeoni, even if it’s considered polite. Here’s an example of my internal monologue and for the men, there’s one for you, too.

Aging

South Korea went from being one of the poorest countries on Earth to the world’s tenth largest economy in less than 70 years. Korea has almost all the luxuries of American life, plus benefits my home country lacks: universal healthcare, cute school supplies, and extensive food delivery that UberEats only dreams of being.

But seventy years is not a long time and even through through the Miracle on the Han River, age cannot be hidden.

American culture seems almost ashamed of the elderly– put them in nursing homes until they are forgotten. I never really saw age until I got to Korea.

In spite of the massive economic growth, sparkling chrome skyscrapers, and never-ending construction, Korea still has a touch of the old country left.

There are women who probably lived through the war, their backs bent unforgivably towards the ground like a comma, their canes the only thing keeping them from falling forward entirely. I see women with bow legs and out-turned feet that just don’t look quite right. I see women so small and wrinkled but still selling vegetables or carting a rickshaw towered high with collected cardboard. Occasionally there are old men, skin so weathered and thick that I can’t see their eyes; missing arms or legs; arguments in sign language with their friends on the subway.

They live until they die.

They also don’t have a choice: Korea’s social security system wasn’t developed until later and many elder Koreans live in poverty while also having an extremely high suicide rate.

I look at some women and wonder if they lived through Japanese enslavement, separation from their family at the 38th parallel, the Gwangju massacre. I wonder if they are filled with a hundred years of knowledge, or if they would just tell me I need to get married.

They say aging is a privilege. To see it is another entirely.

Touch

On a long bus ride home, several people avoided sitting in the empty seat next to me, less because I smelled (probably), and more because sitting next to a foreigner can always be a little bit scary.

Finally, the bus was too full to ignore me any longer and two very tall college boys got on. One gestured to his huskier friend to take the seat next to me but that friend insisted on standing.

The first guy sat down in defeat.

The seats were too small to avoid touching thighs even though he gripped the seat edge and sat rigidly straight on turns to avoid bumping shoulders.

There was an animal something in me that enjoyed the closeness and reveled in his discomfort because I knew it was unintentional and therefore safe. Maybe I should have tried my experiment then:

“Ha, wow this bus is pretty crowded right?”

“……yes.” He says, eyes darting wildly, silently begging his friend to save him from English small talk.

COVID has made me aware of how much physical contact I used to have and how little I have now.

I’ll take it where I can get it.

These days I don’t have student hugs or high-fives or puppy piles. My school training handbook even mentioned to be aware of “close proximity culture” in our Korean kiddos.

I have to make do with playing with Freshman‘s hair or petting the corgi when she feels like being pet.

Korea gave me all the platonic physical affection that America never could only to take it away six months later.

I know that Americans like to think that they are very touchy because they hug others. And while hugging is seen as overly intimate among acquaintances in Korea, America lacks the casual and daily platonic “skinship” that defines much of East Asia.

I think I’ve always felt a bit odd with hugging strangers which made me feel like there were no other avenues for physical affection and left me at a bit of a touch deprived dead end in America.

American friends don’t exactly hold hands or link arms or play with each other’s hair or pat each other on the thigh. Nearly all touching seems to be reserved for romantic partnerships, in which case you may go hog wild.

But it is a bit strange, right? Americans think kissing on the cheek as a greeting is weird or two boys holding hands that are not dating is weird but instead expect two near, or actual, strangers to press their bodies together.

There’s nothing like the tight warm, tight hug of someone you care about fitting your jagged pieces back together and nothing quite so diametrically opposed as the cold, awkward side embrace from everyone else.

I remember years ago I told one of my coworkers from Eastern Europe that I was leaving my position. She grabbed my hand, held it tight, and asked if everything was okay.

I’ll never forget how important and special that kind of platonic touch was, and how tightly I gripped her hand back, unaware of the anchor I needed until she reached for me.

Sometimes, unbeknownst to us, we are someone else’s life raft, however briefly.

Today, a woman on the bus let herself lean a little into me on sharp turns. I didn’t mind. Maybe she’s like me: maybe she just needed a little point of contact in this new, contact-less world. A reassurance that we are human, and that we need just same. A float to hang on to for a single breath of air.

Who’s that strange man?

Whenever I see a mannequin in Korea, I experience the most cognitive dissonance. Or rather, just post-colonialism.

Excluding small island nations, Korea is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world. The Koreans of today can be traced back to the Koreans from almost 5,000 years ago in nearly the same location on the peninsula. I know because I read it about it in a bus station museum somewhere in Gangwon province.

And yet every time I see a mannequin, it’s white. Not only in color, but in very obvious Caucasian European features.

It’s not only local brands or big-name shops. It’s also municipal branches like the police department or traffic association that employ these import foreigner mannequins.

Thrice now I have entered a strange confusion when passing by a construction site only to see that the mechanical waving dummy dressed in Korean security guard clothing looks distinctly like he just flew over from a runway show in Paris. 

There’s something to be said in the abundance of these plastic “Hénrè”s and moreso the casual acceptance of these plastic foreigners by the local population.

Something indeed.

July 1, The Ugly Truth

I attended my scheduled weekly tea time where I helped S get a Priceline refund and caught up on life.

Life is full of surprises, though.

I asked S about an anti-discrimination bill that is being deliberated by Korean lawmakers right now. A similar Equality Act was passed in the US last year (to my surprise, I learned: it was first proposed in 1974) but I don’t remember there being the mountain of opposition that exists against this bill in South Korea.

In regards to America’s Equality Act, Wikipedia states:

A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in April 2019 found that 92% of American voters believed that employers should not be allowed to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equality_Act_(United_States)

This Korean bill is an incredibly basic bill outlining that everyone has equal rights regardless of sex, religion, or sexual orientation. As an American I’m shocked this bill hasn’t already been passed. There are a few provinces that have local anti-discrimation laws, Gyeongnam and Jeju among them!

News sources tell me that six previous attempts have been made but thwarted by Christian groups and conservative parties that proclaim the bill promotes homosexuality. Sorry, I didn’t know equal rights were so disgusting to the church.

The lawmakers who cosigned the bill are being harassed. The president, who ran on a platform of equality, has remained disturbingly quiet.

I asked S about this bill and if it had been passed but instead learned something devastating.

“I hope it doesn’t pass. If it does, there will be many more people who become gay for no reason. And bisexuals will try to marry two people.”

Well, the only people who would “appear” are the people that never came out to begin with.

She added she was afraid that the bill would be a gateway to gay marriage and that it enforced reverse discrimination. Against whom exactly I’m not sure.

One article says:

Those protesters mischaracterize the bill as a form of reverse discrimination that, in protecting the rights of sexual minorities, denies them their own right to free speech.

https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Moon-stays-silent-on-equality-law-in-LGBT-unfriendly-South-Korea

It sounds more like people are protesting that they can’t freely commit hate speech against minorities… Depressingly, this article lists the protests in almost the same talking points S gave.

And again, sexual minorities face extreme prejudice in Korean society:

In South Korea, sexual minorities have long faced severe social stigma, sometimes even regarded as mentally unwell and morally corrupt. One national survey reported that nearly half of South Koreans don’t want a gay friend, neighbor, or colleague. Another found that 45% of LGBT people under 18 have tried to commit suicide, while an NHRCK poll showed 92% of LGBT people worry about being the victim of hate crime.

https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Moon-stays-silent-on-equality-law-in-LGBT-unfriendly-South-Korea

What I heard from S and by extension Korean society was, “if we don’t discriminate against and hold down the LGBTQ community, they will rise up and take over”. Do you really believe that someone who loves differently than you deserves to be treated as less? That they are somehow a threat to you?

I was completely out of my depth for this conversation and rocked by the realization that coworkers who are only six years older than me have a mindset closer to my grandparents’ generation, or even my great grandparents’.

To be fair, how much can I expect from someone who didn’t know that IUDs existed until last week?

I also asked C her thoughts on the bill which were somehow even wilder: “I support it except for the healthcare for AIDS. Because 99% of AIDS in Korea are gay people.” She made an aborted gesture which referred to how she thinks AIDS is spread and also confirmed that G is the only letter of LGBTQ she knows. At the very least, she said “I really don’t know much about LGBTQ” and seemed possibly open to discussion about it one day.

AIDS treatment is free in Korea while cancer treatment is not, which she thinks is unfair. I think she sensed my disappointment at her response because after brushing her teeth she told me, “Aside from the healthcare aspect, I support the bill”.

I knew in theory that Korea was conservative but I didn’t realize how pervasive that was even in the young generation. My own extended family is conservative but even then I’ve never had to correct that “no, not every gay person has AIDS”.

It’s just harder and harder for me to understand why people who have never interacted with the LGBTQ community have such incredibly strong feelings about relationships they don’t try to understand.

“Half of Koreans wouldn’t want a gay friend or neighbor”. Half of Koreans have never even met a gay person.

S has certainly never knowingly interacted with a member of the LGBTQ community. I’d wager that 100% of the groups protesting equal rights on the ground that it spreads homosexuality have never knowingly talked to an LGBTQ person.

It’s also hilarious because a Christian cult was responsible for the huge surge of COVID-19 cases in Korea. Who’s spreading what now?

I could understand this more from the Chinese who have limited internet access and the ever watchful CCP. But for a country that has access to all the information in the world and has led much of the response of this pandemic, it seems woefully out of touch.

If two consenting adults love each other and want to be together, why would proclaimed pacifists protest that?

A long time ago I read that Korea was like 1950s America but with iPads and scoffed at the idea. But now I wonder if that wasn’t a tiny bit right.

What’s very interesting is that the oft-quoted Sodom and Gomorrah passage from the bible actually condemns the two cities to ruin for, among other sins, attempted gang rape and hostility towards outsiders. Funny how it’s used to support that very concept today.

This of course plays into a much more global problem of religion being used to hate and oppress people. In this case, Korean Christian groups are literally tearing up at the idea of sexual minorities having protections. Huh?

In the horrific ongoing train wreck that is 2020, this is the hill we choose to die on? Out of the many real and troubling problems, the right Korean camp is protesting to keep discrimination alive? Seriously?

In This Climate Surprised GIF - InThisClimate Surprised Really ...

In April, a small COVID outbreak started with a group that visited gay clubs in Itaewon, the foreigner neighborhood. The far right political groups licked their chops— they run on both anti-foreign and anti-homosexual platforms.

The situation brought to light realities of prejudice and many infected people did not go to get tested for fear their communities might find out. It got to the point that the Korean government said, “please come get tested. We will not take your name or personal information at all.” There have been a few small untraceable clusters since then which we can assume are related to infected people who were afraid to come forward for fear of their life.

In a promising turn, though, the National Council of Churches does support the bill.

Let’s hope for some sunshine in the torrential rain that is 2020.

Much love to everyone in these crazy times.

🏳️‍🌈💪💖🙌💜🌺💙💍🖤👩🏽‍🤝‍👩🏼🤍👬🏻🧍🏻👫🧍🏾‍♀️👥💄💭

June 24, Tea Party & The American Dream

Yesterday, S invited me to her classroom at 1:30pm to visit. C was asleep at her desk when I slid through the sliding door, unbrewed coffee in hand as an offering to S.

We ended up chatting for two hours about all kinds of things: birth control, plans, family, school gossip. I don’t know if this is only S, her group of friends, or Korean women her age, but she is woefully unaware of birth control outside of condoms. She said, “I don’t think medicine is healthy for the woman’s body,” to which I had to respond, “well, oral pills for women actually decrease risk of cancer”.

I told her about IUDs and she leaned in like we were plotting against the government instead of discussing a common, fifty year old technology. And all of these are available in Korea, although it doesn’t seem to be taken advantage of very often. Unlike the US, you can walk into any pharmacy and ask for oral contraceptives over the counter. You don’t even need to show ID and there doesn’t seem to be a limit on how many you can buy at once. It’s not covered by insurance but a one month pack costs 8,500 won ($7).

“Most Koreans don’t talk about this,” she admitted, but I don’t know if this pertains only to her and her circle.

I did learn how married couples practice birth control (I’ll leave it up to you to guess) and that vasectomies are common after the third child, which makes sense to me.

S also told me that the office staff would be rotating out to another school next week. “What??” I exclaimed in delighted shock. C later told me she thought it was only the office manager, so after next week we’ll know for certain.

“I think the office manager is a calm man.” S said, and I agreed, “yes, he seems like a good boss”. Even if he and his team are scared of foreign women.

Sometime during this conversation, one of S’s students came in to retrieve a forgotten book. It turns out half of our makeshift tea table was that student’s desk.

I suspect the student told everyone in class that S and I are friends, or close enough to have snacks in her classroom together, because the next day at lunch half of S’s class (including one boy I know from daycare who is never afraid to say hi and I love him for that) said “HELLO!” when I walked past their table.

Later, as I organized the five folders I have for this visa crisis, I asked C if she had any large envelopes.

“I can’t find any but the office staff might have some.”

“Oh.” I groaned. She laughed and suggested we try the resource room.

I told C, after she led me to there to find manila envelopes to spare me the ten cent cost at the post office, that the resource lady reminded me of a stern librarian. I feel like I’m always doing something wrong when I go in there.

“Oh, I’m sure she’s just shy,” C explained.

I held in my scoff. C, not everyone can be shy!

Today I had another interesting conversation with C and I’ve come to realize that many Koreans believe America is a wondrous dreamland where women ignore their mother in laws and don’t clean the house, teenagers are all attending Gatsby-esque parties and sleeping with each other, no one is poor, and kids can ditch their parents at any time.

I asked C where Koreans get these ideas. “Videos and Americans and other people who went to America.” But wait a minute, if no one talks to foreigners due to Englishphobia, then from whom pray tell does this information come?

The worst type of foreign man comes here looking for a traditional housewife and the worst type of Korean man searches for a foreign girlfriend because he thinks she’s promiscuous and he won’t ever have to take her home to momma.

Seems we could all benefit from a little education.

I feel like I spend a lot of time explaining that America is not free from basic human social constraints. We don’t eat only bread, some kids still get spanked, and even in the most egalitarian of straight relationships the burden of housework and childcare often falls to the woman.

I really do wish America were this Korean dreamland but it’s not. It’s like any other place: we struggle, we fight, we hate, we love, and we, too, want change.

“Foreigner”

Current Korean language headache:

외국인 is translated as “foreigner” or “international” and literally means “outside country person”. However, the real meaning is “non-Korean” which poses some problems if you’re attempting to talk about foreigners in your own country.

For example, to talk about international students at my home university posed some real challenges during my writing segment today. If I write in Korean, “there are many international students” and use the word 외국인, the Korean reader will assume I mean there are many non-Korean students. Not quite the point I was trying to make, eh?

The definition for “foreigner” in English is location dependent. If I’m in America talking to my American friends and mention something about foreigners, which is unlikely and also a bit rude but we need a parallel example, then it’s assumed the people in question are visibly non-American (as in, style, accent, obvious tourist tendencies). But if I’m out to eat with Americans in Korea and I say, “oh look! Some foreigners came!” I am in fact talking about visibly non-Korean (non-Asian) people who might even be American like me.

However, for Koreans the meaning does NOT change depending on location. Koreans will come to America and call Americans “foreigners” because in Korean, “foreigner” means non-Korean. Oliver Ssaem has a great video about this; it’s in Korean but you get the gist.

As such, 외국인 obviously doesn’t translate well to English and its definition is built from the assumption that the speaker is Korean. The dictionary doesn’t tell you that, however.

So what’s the best way to say “international” in Korean to mean people not from the country in question?

다양한 국적의 사람들 people of various nationalities
다양한 나라의 사람들 people from various countries

It only took me an excruciating hour of research and peppering my tutor via Skype with questions to figure that out.

외국인 in Korean doesn’t have a contentious, or as contentious, use in Korean as it does in English. Like my tutor mentioned, most Koreans won’t think twice about it.

As I described in one writing assignment to my tutor, America has generally dropped the use of “foreigner” for its negative connotation. I gave the medical example of how “foreign object” signifies something bad that needs to be removed. Americans generally refer to non-Americans by their nationality.

(If you live in a less diverse town in the US, maybe this is not the case. And America’s definitions of citizenship and ethnicity are nebulous and sometimes detrimental to those who don’t appear “American” enough. We certainly have our challenges.)

However, Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world. Therefore, language around race and identity are very Korea-centered.

South Korea and North Korea are among the world’s most ethnically homogeneous nations. Both North Korea and South Korea equate nationality or citizenship with membership in a single, homogeneous ethnic group and politicized notion of “race.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_South_Korea

I am visibly non-Asian and am therefore always a 외국인. If I was born in Korea or had Korean citizenship, this would no doubt play on my pysche.

(Hyunmin is a Korean teenage model, currently the face of No Brand Burger, but as his dad is a very dark-skinned Nigerian, he does not visibly pass as “Korean”. He’s only lived in Korea and only speaks Korean but has plenty of stories to share about his life growing up. However, Korean reality TV seems to have adopted him and panels more often discuss race and nationality with him at the helm.)

But I am not and therefore take things as they come. I certainly face stereotypes born of ignorance rather than malice but I imagine for a Korean living in a homogeneous location in the US, his or her challenges are much worse. It helps that South Korea has a strong relationship with the US and locals generally see America favorably; it also helps that I’m white and this is a feature that unfortunately has been exported as America’s ideal nearly since its inception. It shows up in ways like this: teacher, you look very American. I try to bring in diverse imagery to my classroom so the kids can start to understand that in the US at least, nationality does not equal race as it is assumed to in Korea.

It helps too that if people don’t think I’m American, they usually assume I’m Russian or Western European which brings positive imagery, aside from the problematic stereotype that Russian women in Asia are sex workers.

From the video “Things Chinese People Say” from my favorite YouTube Channel Mamahuhu which directs fantastic satire about life in Asia. Source.

If you recall my drunk coworkers, they said “Koreans think Russians are very beautiful and Americans fat. So people think you are Russian.”

My third graders also guessed that I was Russian, German, or French on my first day because yes, you’re new teacher is definitely not a native English speaker! I would have to do some serious forgery to get my English teaching visa as a non-native speaker (it’s illegal).

There are certainly times when being called 외국인 can be grating, like my friend who dropped her bags at the airport desk and the attendants then loudly shouted to each other “The foreigner’s bags are ready!”. Or when my 외국인 face is used for status points (see, most notably: Busan Boy whose unhinged decline still gives me the occasional nightmare).

Overall being visibly 외국인 is a unique experience and the challenges are comical rather than devastating. It’s fun, being different.