Travel: Seoul – June 6, 2012

How many times have I come to this city? A dozen? Every subway entrance seems so familiar. It’s hard to believe I’ve never lived in Seoul. It feels like “my city.” Is it presumptuous for a foreigner–a Filipino American, nonetheless–to feel so at home here?

절정의 끝까지 가봤어요? (“Have you finished your climax?”)

Yet the presumption stays with me. It’s my city. It’s my city because in Seoul you are never more than two blocks away from a bar, or a karaoke room, or a PC room, or a café, or a convenience store, or a restaurant, or even a sauna, where you can get cleaned up, sobered up, and then pass out for the night. All my favorite things, in such abundance.

An entire grilled Saba; one of many free side dishes.

I am reminded, as I see the familiar marshes on the way from Incheon airport, that Seoul can also be, if you’re not careful, way too much fun. The abundance of sugar-coated fried chicken easily makes one fat. The abundance of karaoke rooms makes my voice scratched and quiet.

And other things…in abundance.

Speakers up throwin’ fire like a mob

Hongdae is Hongdae, perhaps the best nightly block party in the world, at least the best and most consistently amazing that I’ve been to. As a 26-year-old from Las Vegas, I should know a good party when I see one. And Hongdae’s is world-class. It’s the kind that will make you scoff at nightlife districts in other countries, and say “you call that a good time?!”

This time, we are more adventurous in leaping from rooftops to get to the less mainstream bars and clubs. Foreigners are now not allowed in many Hongdae clubs, for reasons concerning the U.S. military and violence and rape (need I say more?).

Just so wonderfully wonderfully wonderfully wonderfully pretty

Other districts are worth our consideration. Apgujeong, which one cannot mention without mentioning plastic surgery (another item of ridiculous abundance), has somehow become very cheap. The so-called “Beverly Hills of Korea” has gone the way of all California. Better for us.

Plastic Surgery clinics are now called “aesthetics” clinics

“Listen, we know the plastic surgery thing is crazy in Korea. But seriously, look at the girl on the left in this advertisement. Which one is more attractive?”

–That’s not the point!

“Then what’s the point? Ridiculing Koreans to prove that someone out there is just as superficial as you?”

All of these dishes are free side dishes.

Insadong still hosts the better art galleries in Seoul. Hyehwa has an abundance of performance acts that I can’t understand

And my decaying ability in the Korean language still seems completely useless, as everyone I attempt to speak to in Korean  responds in a far more advanced English.

“I get really shocked when I hear a foreigner speak Korean. I think—why learn Korean?”

Says my previous language exchange partner.

Unofficial Chinatown near Guro-gu

The gender segregation is still stunning. Patriarchy takes different forms everywhere, and certainly the U.S. is no exception, but in Korea the gender gap slaps you in the face, makes you look twice at every advertisement. Why must a woman be married before turning 27? What abysmal chasm awaits those who fail this seemingly all-important life goal?

The debate over gender equality was reignited two years ago in Korea,  when parliament members began opining over dealing with what Americans would call the “casting couch

Even on the 5:45am trains, the after-after party, the young people still prefer to group according to their sex.

Friend: “These days, we’re having some trouble now. New concern. Women begin looking so alike, we don’t know who the actress is on the advertisements.”

What does it mean to really enjoy a country, a culture, a language, a people, when the place also seems (to my American, Western feminist-conditioned eyes) shamelessly patriarchal? What does it mean to love that?

And in the United States attempts are being made to bolster Asian American masculinity. How do we desire a masculinity that invokes images of foot binding?

Speakers up throwin fire like a mob, thrash bang thunder

And still the sight of a white woman holding hands with a Korean man, in Seoul, catches eyes like an exotic, endangered peacock. When I see this, I nod to the man, as his hand slips down the white girl’s hips. He nods back, as if we’re playing for the same team.

Who are we to call them patriarchal, anyway? It’s our soldiers who constantly have to defend themselves from accusations against raping Korean women.

You know who I am, I run this fucking club.

I hear there’s an unofficial Chinatown in Seoul, where the migrant workers have set up shops and restaurants only for themselves. Every day I look for it in Guro-go, and only on my last day, I stumble upon the gigantic, six-block wide “unofficial” Chinatown. In stark contrast to the official Chinatown in Incheon, Chinese people actually live here.

The official Chinatown in Incheon. Like most Chinatowns, its incredibly kitschy and kind of fake.

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