I realized my favorite thing about living in South Korea. And I don’t even think it’s a South Korean thing, as a hold over to being a country not the size of the USA thing. Like if I lived in Ireland or Italy, I suspect I’d encounter the same thing. It was also what made me like living in Queens, NY. I know, Queens!
Anyway, what I like is that the city where I live, Pohang, retains the quality where a single pedestrian who is probably elderly determines how the city is designed. It’s like if you took Betty White and made her a metric unit that measured urban accessibility. Okay, maybe not Betty White, maybe Jane Jacobs, but you get the idea.
Pohang is a kilojacobs city in that every neighborhood is self-sufficient. Within an easy walk of my house I have access to hardware stores, stationary stores, delis, grocery stores, a traditional market, and restaurants. It was something Joe Mitchell talked about in post-war New York where every neighborhood was a self-contained village. This single pedestrian is accommodated in other ways as well: lots of parks with places to sit down, a robust bus system, and cheap taxis. This is vastly different from the USA where the unit of urban measure is a family with an automobile, and therefore things can be spread out, the supermarket here, the school there, and your entertainment way over there. Public transportation is treated as a charity to be given to the unfortunate, and not as a tie that binds the city together.
Now, I am talking about a small city. I have no idea how Seoul compares, although even there I think it would conform to the model of Queens, NY as opposed to Detroit, MI. And like I said I don’t think this is necessarily a Korean thing, some kind of “Wow. Confucianism dictates that you treat your elders with so much respect!” bull shit, as it is related to country-size. The USA has “Settling This Vast Empty Land” as a foundational myth, and it shows in most of our cities.
Fortunately for me, Korea’s foundational myths don’t seem to effect urban planning all that much.
Here’s my 9/11 post. It might explain why I don’t want to read yours.
I was at work in Greenwich Village when the first plane hit. I heard the crash and went outside where I saw people in apartments at their windows and on their balconies looking downtown, so I went up to the roof and saw the first tower on fire. At this point I was the only one in the building and since I didn’t have a cellphone, I needed to get to a phone so I could call Jin. She would have been coming into the city through the WTC path station and I wanted to call her before she left and tell her that “something was happening”.
No one at that time knew what was happening, and I was thinking about how I’d wanted to go to the WTC station that morning and go to the Borders Books on the first floor. Jin had reached the Journal Square path station and heard what was happening and come back home. We hung up. I went back to the roof, bumping into a few of my coworkers. We all went to the roof. We all had numbed, confused looks on our faces. The buildings burned.
Incongruous moment one: the buildings were on fire and burning and there was such a mix of this is happening, but we’re also at work and the day’s routine must be adhered to that my friend Rob and I had time to go to the deli, which had other people in it, and buy coffee. We took it back up to the roof and stood there drinking over-sweet coffee from blue paper cups with Greek urns on the sides while the buildings burned.
We saw black specks falling from the building and speculated about their nature. Rob had had a studio grant to paint in the WTC and did panoramic landscapes from there. Another acquaintance now had the same grant and, although we didn’t know it at the time, she was down there in one of the burning buildings. She escaped. One of only a small number to do so from that floor in that building. The first tower collapsed and there was this scream from all around us, this moan from everyone watching that just gave way to silence.
Incongruous moment two: that silence.
Jesus. That silence.
We were far enough away that we couldn’t hear anything. Later I’d meet people who weren’t in New York that would say something like “It was like watching a movie”. This was nothing like a movie. The first tower fell without any sound and after it fell this cloud of paper rose up in the sky. From where we were those pages sparkled in the sun. They were beautiful. I know. I know. There was nothing beautiful about any of this, but there it was incongruous moment three. Beauty – maybe the way sharks are beautiful.
I could not watch the rest. I could not see the second tower fall. I went downstairs to be alone.
But the day didn’t end there. The more I remember that day, the more incongruous events occur: the mad rush to give blood for the “survivors”, we’d go from hospital to hospital, lines everywhere, but nothing to be done, a cop car passing coated in white dust, the sight of an artist who I had worked for standing in the middle of University Place crying. She’d lived 6 blocks from the WTC. She was frozen with shock and her boyfriend and I got her moving again. Uptown. Always that long procession uptown.
And then there were the days and weeks after. The checking in with everyone you knew. The National Guard soldiers in Jersey City standing around the armory carrying baseball bats. The way the news had no script. No one had a narrative for the event. And weeks later when I woke up to the news of an engine falling off a plane in Queens – I couldn’t bring myself to get on the train and go under the river to get to work.
I’ve never watched the TV footage of 9/11. The moments when it shows up in a documentary – I am shocked to the point of tears by it. Even in movies. I can’t watch the destruction of New York in some action flick (like The Avengers) without getting at least some small whiff of a panic attack coming on.
I think I’m still waiting for those incongruous moments to end.
Once more ghost hunting became fashionable. People met online and discussed preferred methods. Mediumship wasn’t so lucky. No one could simply channel spirits any more. Electricity was the stuff of life, especially when coupled with water. Appointments were made. A clandestine meeting in a coffee shop, then a parking lot, finally ending in a neon-decorated motel’s VIP suite with a view that overlooked the all night express bus terminal. They took turns in the bath tub, the soap suds dissolving into the sound of hydraulic brakes. The hairdryer failed to spark in their wet hands. Maybe next time. Paracelsus for morons.