Chapter 5 – Initial Impressions of Korea
When my grandpa was younger than I am, he fought in the Korean War. Aside from mentioning how “some bleeding heart mothers back home complained and got our three-beer-a-day rations taken away,” he doesn’t do much talking about it. When asked about the battles, my grandpa told me that for him, “the Korean war was months on months of giving and taking the same hills back and forth, over and over again until it was time to come home.”
I personally have never asked him, but my dad has told me that many years ago while sitting with my grandpa, he brought up the question of, “Did you ever kill anybody while in Korea?”
“I could shoot a gook between the eyes from a hundred yards away for cry-eye,” he barked.
“Well…” my dad followed up, “…did you?”
“Wouldn’t all o’ ya’s like to know,” he taunted, laughed to himself and then changed the subject.
Aside from what little I’d heard of my grandfather’s war experience, I knew nothing about Korea beyond my childhood interaction with the people who owned a VHS rental shop in my neighborhood called Video Northwest. At Video Northwest, the employees spoke a terrible English and always stunk like a mutant case of Asian B.O. And if you were to take inventory of every video in the place, you’d find they had a bigger porn collection than actual feature films which is probably the reason why their business went under. I imagine that once the internet had been discovered by all the forty-year-old dads from the neighborhood, they switched over to the World Wide Web as their primary provider of whacking material. I mean, who in their right mind wouldn’t prefer private access to all the depraved backdoor action they could handle without having to put on the old trench coat and make that embarrassing trip to the Korean video store where they might run into one of their wives’ friends?
Anyway, one night my mom had been scheduled to work as a server at a local banquet hall and left us at home with my dad who’d been doing some drinking. Well, who am I kidding – he’d been doing a lot of drinking. And sometime after we’d eaten dinner, we all posted up in the TV room where we began watching the movie Holes. My dad can be pretty stubborn when it comes to watching new movies while intoxicated because he has trouble comprehending the plots and I guess the “super-complicated” storylines of Disney movies like Holes that were written for children had been no exception. While viewing the cinematic adaptation of the top-grossing Sachar novel, my dad decided that it sucked because he likes “flashback movies” and he likes “western movies” but movies set in the modern-day west with flashbacks to the Wild West where Dulé Hill constantly says “I can fix that” are just way too fucking complex and confusing for him to handle.
Deciding for the group that our time was better spent familiarizing ourselves with Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly which is “a real man’s spaghetti western without any of that pussy-ass flashback bullshit,” my dad first called to confirm that they had the film and then took a trip over to the former neighborhood staple, Video Northwest, to pick it up. Turns out they didn’t have the movie after all. I guess what’d happened during the phone conversation which had consisted of my dad being drunk and slurring the words of his request to a Korean guy who barely understood the English language, the people at the video store misinterpreted my father’s intentions and tried sending him home with a filthy porno spoof called The Good, the Bad, and the Wicked which is about the (s)exploits of a completely different group of bareback riding gunslingers.
This being my lone experience with any and all things Korean, I was very eager to expand my narrow-minded impression of Seoul people as the smelly porn-wielding foreigners of Chicago’s Edison Park neighborhood. Since I’d been scheduled for a ten-hour layover before flying south to Singapore and had no intention of pulling a Tom Hanks and kickin’ it in The Terminal all day, I signed up for an airport-sponsored tour that’d briefly expose me to a few of the attractions around the capital city.
The tour started off at Gyeongbukgung Palace, a royal complex originally built in the 1300s that, over the years, had been largely destroyed by the Japanese as part of their campaign to make it clear who runs shit in the Far East. The predominantly red, yet colorfully detailed structures on the grounds had been set along a mountainous backdrop and were all topped off by the curved, sweeping roofs that I’d stereotypically attributed to any and all Asian architecture.
More fascinating to me than all the historical mumbo-jumbo however, was the fact that the paths running between the ancient buildings had been lined with statues of goblin-like creatures that all had dick-shaped heads. Despite whatever cultural significance these things may have had, they reminded me of those awful mushroom cuts given to naive children by dorky moms who think it’s a hip look or, perhaps by spiteful ones as punishment for irreversibly wrecking the elasticity of their vaginas and stealing their youth. Although surprising to me, by no means had these been the only wangs, willies and tallywhackers I’d seen during my short time in the country.
Earlier in the day, my first visual experience in Asia had been with a can’t-miss dong standing proud and tall just outside Incheon International Airport. The enormous sculpture employed a Millennium Park, Cloud Gate style ball-bag paired with a zeppelin-shaped shaft tilted towards the sky at a forty-five degree angle. Strangely, this glossy metallic work of art had been exactly what I always imagined the cock’n’balls of the T-1000, liquid metal guy in Terminator 2: Judgement Day to look like.
The next stop on the tour had been an area of town known as Insadong – “dong” meaning “neighborhood,” not “penis” as the paragraphs previous would suggest. Here we were let off our leash by the tour guide and designated an hour to explore and shop for souvenirs before meeting back at the bus for a taste of Korea.
After killing the sixty minutes by wandering in and out of a few shops which had been selling a bunch of crappy trinkets I had no interest in lugging around for the next month, I headed back to meet up with the group. The driver then took us a few blocks away and dropped us off at a restaurant of which I can no longer remember the name.
We didn’t order individual meals but were instead given a preset assortment spotlighting staple Korean dishes. The waitress started us off with a plate of slimy-ass noodles that I simply could not grasp with my chopsticks and ended up eating with my fingers like a savage. She then stood in front of me, picked a hunk of meat off my plate with one hand and began cutting it up with the scissors she held in the other. As she snipped away, piece by piece, the beef plopped down into the boiling pot before me, sending droplets of noodle juice splashing onto my face and clothing.
That very action had been something I’d always joked about – the snipping, not the splashing, that is. Just to see the looks on their faces, when meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time, I’ve always wanted to neglect the fork and knife set out on the table for me, just reach down into my trousers, mysteriously pull out a pair of Fiskars and like it ain’t no thang, start snipping up and stuffing my face with the steak the mother of Mz. Right had spent hours preparing.
Immature fantasies aside, once she’d gotten done clipping my barbeque pork into tiny bite-size pieces, the server set down a bowl of kimchi on the middle of the table. Kimchi is the national dish of Korea and actually tastes quite good for what is essentially fermented pickled cabbage that’s been sitting in a clay pot getting stinky for, at minimum, the better half of a week. The meal consisted of these three dishes which we were told to hastily ingest before piling back in the van.
Back at the airport, everybody from the tour had to go through security again and judging by the sighs, the moans and the groans of those around me, ain’t nobody was too happy ‘bout that shit. I personally have no problem with the process as long as it keeps the skies safe. I’m actually much more annoyed by the people who stand in line and bitch about the security screenings than I am with actually going through them.
“What’s that? You don’t wanna be touched? Well, if I was the security guard I wouldn’t wanna touch your stinkin’ flabby ass either. Just shut up and do what you’re told…Oh, but you’re not a terrorist and you don’t think that you should be singled out? That sounds exactly like the type of shit a terrorist would say – get back in line.”
I’d say that unless a security guard is unabatedly ransacking your five-year-old’s asshole in search of explosive devices after a clip on his overalls sets off the metal detector or a TSA agent starts digging through your 85-year-old mother’s colostomy bag on a hunch, I recommend you just go with the flow. I don’t know about everybody else, but I’d personally rather have one stranger pat my sides and my crotch while I’m alive than have several strangers picking up my charred remains because some psycho-freak made it through security with a “snuke in her snizz.”
Few corresponding photos…