I think my mom has emailed me more this week than she has in all the years the Internet, she, and I have existed on this planet together.
The US Embassy sent out an email yesterday that opened with:
“The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that despite current political tensions with North Korea there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea (ROK). The Embassy has not changed its security posture and we have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in, or plan to visit, the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time.”
I forwarded that on to my family.
And while my morbid nature is curious what the “Get the fuck out now!” email will read like (I imagine its tone will resemble the Tony-voice from The Shining: REDRUM! REDRUM!), I’ve been in South Korea long enough to have witnessed other instances of saber rattling, and this one appears to be more of the same. None of my coworkers are behaving like this is anything out of the ordinary. There are no tanks in the streets and the USMC hasn’t evacuated service-member families from the base here in town.
I told my mom that we bought a couch and the thing Jin and I are most worried about right now is where to put it: against the wall nearest the window or the one with the 60s space-age wallpaper. My aunt, being an interior decorator, after hearing the couch was beige, said to put it against the 60s space-age wallpaper and then get some throw pillows that’ll match the colors in the wallpaper. Being open to the advice of sages, this is what we will do.
And that’s one way to react to all this saber rattling, and how we are choosing to.
Of course there’s a “but”, because I can’t discount all my fears. I know what a “black swan” is and lived in Jersey City and worked in NYC on 9/11. Horrible shit happens when you least expect it. A stable system built atop dynamic forces can collapse into complete chaos. And that’s where this gets tricky. How long do I want to spend thinking about worst-case scenarios? Give me an hour and I could spin you several dozen. Do I prepare for each one, only one, or none? How paranoid do I want to let myself be about this?
Most of the expats in town aren’t worried and are quick to dismiss fears that this is anything different. To suggest taking steps to prepare is met with hostility of a veiled sort, and it’ll be funny if my last thoughts in the .00000005 seconds before a North Korean nuke’s detonation and my vaporization is “I told you so” – at least it’ll be funny to my forcibly disassociated atoms in a cosmically ironic way. But I’m a big fan of brief focused bouts of productive paranoia.
If you’re constantly worried about something, it’s often best to set aside a proscribed time to obsess about it. Think of what steps you can take to prepare, do them, and then once they’re done and the time limit’s over, stop thinking about it.
So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve done all the minor things we can like register with the embassy, put together an emergency bag, and talked about meeting places. Both Jin and I are children of the 1980s and the late Cold War. The prospect of Nuclear Annihilation is something we remember from being kids. The city where we live now is an early target in any sort of open conflict. The city where Jin’s parents live is similar. In that situation all the bottled water in our emergency bag means doodley-squat. In any one of the baker’s dozen of alternative clusterfucks that might result, who knows, maybe those extra water bottles will come in handy.
But what we both really expect is that the bottled water, the folded-up map to the Marine base, the emergency bag, will all gather dust in the gap between the wall and our washing machine, and whether we can find blue, green, and orangish throw pillows here in town is what we’re really worried about.
Here’s a story.
I used to pass this guy every morning on my way to work at this certain streetlight. He’d be on a bike and I’d be walking.
He was an older Korean guy wearing a baseball cap and aviator sunglasses, always casually dressed but super neat like if it were raining he’d be riding the bike one handed holding an umbrella with the other, and the open umbrella would be perfectly parallel to the road, not held sloped or slanted like you or I or any other slob would.
Anyway, he always said “Good Morning” to me, so that’s the name I gave him. He was like my alarm clock. If I didn’t see him on my way to work, I knew I’d be late.
But in the past few months there’s been all this construction near work and I’ve had to detour past the place where we usually met, so I hardly see him. I still do but it’s rare and no matter when I do, he always breezes by me on his bike saying “Good Morning.” This even happened once on a Saturday afternoon.
So I told Jin about the guy and she thought it was amusing. But then earlier this week we were coming out of the supermarket and there the guy was in his track suit and wearing a cravat (and baseball cap). It was nighttime, he said “Good Morning”, and we stopped and chatted with him. Turns out the guy’s a retired master ship’s surgeon from the Korean Navy who works as a school crossing guard, which is where he’s always going in the morning. He also thought I was from Uzbekistan. Jin was more than a little amused by that, and after we left she said, “You know that guy’s now going to take you out drinking.”
That might be interesting.
August is here.
The beach in town is filthy with humanity leaving their trash around. It’s downright apocalyptic. To make matters worse the mayor has cordoned off a section of the beachfront and designated it an “International Zone”. Yes, town now has its own Interzone. There’s even a monument and everything. We’re not at “Lee and the Boys” levels yet, but I wonder if the mayor’s a secret William S. Burroughs fan.
(Remind me not to go back to the beach until, say. . . October. Also, shit, second WSB reference in a month. I’ll allow myself one more for the year.)
The heat’s giving me migraines, so I went to the doctor’s. He gave me meds, put me in a headlock, and knuckle-punched me in the skull right behind my left ear. That was fun, but I’m not sure he needed to wear a Luchador mask while he did it.
Hey, you know what’s great? Owning one’s mistakes and pledging to do better.
I’ve one more week of school left to teach, then staycation starts along with a heap of novel writing and revising. It’s actually been going on for a bit – but I won’t bore you with the details. Who the fuck wants to read about writing? On an unrelated note, Jin’s been looking at real estate listings more and more often. I’m not sure what this portends.
Lastly, we’re housesitting a cat for the next two weeks. Say hello to Ms. Switch.
“Monks, prisoners, conscripts, have the support of rule: they live as they are ordered to. The exile has nothing but himself to depend on. If he chooses to lie on the ground and yell, he may be a nuisance but he is not an offender. If he he tries to be a model exile, he makes a rope of sand. His conformity is of no account, and is based on guesswork, anyway. Accident may tell him he has guessed wrong, experiment on experiment may lead him to guess right. But that, too, is by accident. He plays a kind of Hunt the Thimble without knowing what a thimble looks like.”
– “The Climate of Exile” by Sylvia Townsend Warner
So I have this laryngitis-cold-thing and sound like Tom Waits. It’s cool. I hope it never ends, though if it didn’t I’d probably lose my job. Can’t teach English if you sound like the Cookie Monster. I went to the doctor’s this morning. Some details: they do stuff like take your blood pressure and temperature in the waiting room. So folks are all around you waiting while a nurse takes your blood pressure and looks in your ears and whatever. Then they have you go back to sitting down, while you wait for the doctor to see you. The doc was a youngish guy and wanted to know about my mucus and stuff. His English wasn’t great, but whatever. Between Jin and me, we could figure out what he was asking. He sprayed some stuff down my throat and some more stuff up my nose, then gave me a prescription. Easy peasy. The thing is I feel fine. I just sound like death.
Price for visit and three days of meds: less than 10USD. I pay into the National Health Care program about 60USD monthly, but damn, a five buck Doctor visit? Yeah. Not complaining.
There’s nowhere to get breakfast in Pohang on the weekends. It’s crazy. Say you’re up at 8AM and decide to walk along the beach, if you’re lucky maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a coffee shop open. Even the toast places don’t open until 10:30AM. And. They. Make. TOAST!?! Doesn’t anyone in this town want to drink coffee outside of their house early on a Saturday morning?
It’s become so bad I’m starting to daydream about opening up a restaurant that would just serve two eggs, toast, and hash browns. We’d be open from 6AM to noon and that’s it. Nothing but breakfast.
I also regularly daydream about learning how to play Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” on the ukelele, so yeah, pipe-dreams both of them.
A complaint I hear regularly from expats is that X (where X is some Korean thing like beer or gum) tastes like chemicals.
“Korean beer sucks. It tastes like chemicals. Where can I get good gum? Korean gum tastes like chemicals. Anyone know where I can get shampoo online? Korean shampoo tastes like chemicals.”
(Yeah – I don’t know about that last one either.)
But my question is where the hell are these people coming from and what were they eating there to know so well what chemicals taste like?