Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Racism, Muppets and Supermodels: A Tale of Travel
This is my first post written from my apartment in Seoul. I now have a full Korea Round II week under my belt, and am happy to say that things are going pretty well. It has been truly wonderful seeing my friends I have missed so much since I left last December, I have eaten my body weight in Korean BBQ in the past week and loved every minute of it, and I even got the chance to sing Norebang until 8 am. That being said, during my period of readjustment, I have experienced every emotion ranging from near hysterical giddiness to mental breakdown/get me the hell out of here. I honestly can't say that I trust trust the consistency of my thoughts enough to talk about life here yet. So, while I am en route to once again loving life as Peter Teacher, I will share with you the story of my return voyage to Seoul.
I love traveling, but I absolutely hate the process of international travel. Sitting that long in seats that small is just not something a human being is built to do. When I finally boarded my plane in Los Angeles, I made my way to the seat which would be my new home for 13+ hours, and was once again comforted to see how much Asiana Airlines one-ups United in every possible way. I was seated at the window, next to an ancient Korean man, the rough size and build of your average Muppet. Next to him was a young Indian woman. The idea of sitting next to two foreigners visibly repulsed this older, stale cigarette smoke smelling gentlemen, and the second I was seated, he began aggressively pounding upon the flight attendant call button. She politely asked how she could be of assistance, and he barked out a Korean version of "get me the hell away from these foreigners." I don't speak Korean, so I can't say exactly what her response was, but given that he remained my seat partner for the duration of the flight, I got the general gist of the answer he received.
Shortly after takeoff, in a continued act of aggression, he began what would become a 13 hour 'jam my elbow into the foreigner sitting next to me' fest. Sleeping in economy class is pretty damn difficult if you ask me, now imagine doing so with a hacking/wheezing/racist Muppet constantly elbowing you in the ribs. The first hour or so I decided to ignore it and politely try to give him time to let it all out, hoping that the elbowing would subside. It did not. After that, I began overly emphasizing my shock and disapproval at each nudge. After another hour or so I began grabbing his elbow each time I felt it buried in my side, and would politely push it back into his designated space. This just seemed to make him even more dedicated to his little Nazi game. In a last attempt to get some sleep, I decided to use my blanket as my pillow, and my pillow to build a protective shield against his ancient, very pointy elbow. Finally I was able to sleep. I must have been out a good five or six minutes when I felt yet another jab in my side. I opened my eyes to discover that he had taken my pillow to use as his own, and was giggling maliciously at what he clearly thought was an act of brilliance. "Mine!" I yelled as I grabbed at my pillow with the composure of Ramona Quimby, age 8. In retrospect, do I regret this act of toddler-esque behavior on my end? Not at all. I would do it again. This barricade building/stealing exercise was repeated several more times throughout the remainder of the flight, and needless to say, I was not at all sad to say goodbye to my little racist neighbor.
I landed in Korea grumpy and physically/mentally exhausted. My interactions with my neighbor had unfortunately reminded me of the downside to being a minority in a country where the nationality of its citizens coincides with their respective race, the Korean food from the airplane was really not agreeing with me, and my decision to pack my belt while going through security meant that, at any moment, I ran the risk of my pants falling to my ankles. It is with this charming collection of emotions that I went through customs, and picked up my obnoxiously large suitcases.
If you have seen me during the months of May through September, you may have noticed that I sweat, like kind of a lot, and this moment was no exception. I guess this is how I didn't fully appreciate the level if attention the two young white women standing in line in front of me were receiving. As we waited to leave customs, I began to notice an increasing number of people asking to be photographed with them. If you have ever been to Asia and are not Asian yourself, you have probably had your photograph taken by complete strangers not too infrequently, but this was just ridiculous. As we walked towards the sliding doors to exit from the international section into the main airport area, I began to hear a loud roar. The doors opened into a scene I have only seen on television, as over 200 Korean paparazzi and fans waited just outside the doors, obsessively photographing these women, who I later found out were visiting Australian supermodels. In order to get out of the roped off area, one had to walk in front of what felt like all members of the Korean press before fully exiting the range of their cameras, and I just happened to walk out with the two people they were all there to photograph.
Looking back, the level of panic I felt at this moment was completely irrational. In a better state of mind I may have actually even enjoyed it. Instead, I began to sweat even more profusely, and broke into a run to get of their way, effectively knocking all of my 4 suitcases off of the cart. I have since spent no less than 3 hours on Google trying to find pictures of the Australian supermodels, with sweaty grumpy me bending over trying to not only collect my belongings, but avoid being photographed and prevent the exposure of crackage sans belt.
This week has moved at the pace of a snail, and I do have many thoughts to share in upcoming posts. Stay tuned for more news of life in Korea.
Love to you all from South Korea-
PS... Should you feel the need to send me letters and or hummos, it is much appreciated! I promise to return the favor with a box of Korean something. My address is...
Yes Kids Land
3F 195-13, Gocheok 2-Dong, Guro-gu