Friday, May 11, 2007

Last thoughts before North Korea

Last Saturday was Children's Day in the Children's Republic of South Korea. The word that springs to mind is the present continuous verb screaming. We Brazen Expats call it Youth In Asia Day, ha ha, I hope you get the double entendre. My apartment is surrounded on all sides by Korean larvae spawning sites: three elementary schools, a day care, a kindergarten, two junior high schools, a BB gun shop. So I tried to avoid certain things that day, like the universe. But around noon I caved and ventured to the GS 25 for a bottle of Orange 500. I was ambushed en route by a flashmob of girls with pigtails. They were filing into a pink bus. They just kept coming. Hello!!! How are you!!! I'm pine tenk you and you!!! I gave them the peace sign, The V. This excited them. Screaming. Someone hit a seventh-octave high F# and oops, there went another crucial Jenga block from the crumbling wooden tower of sanity.

Right now I'm seated in an oversized leather chair in a PC room in Seoul, waiting to meet my tour group at the Hongik University train station. We're taking a bus to North Korea, under cover of darkness. A hundred people playing Starcraft in a small room sounds like a World Farting Federation battle royale. I've spent most of the day in train stations. Nine months into the game, mass transit facilities are sources of almost sexual temptation. A train to Incheon, a card swipe, a quick frisk and I could be in Indonesia by nightfall. The urge to vanish. I sit there entertaining the thought with a ticket in my hand. My cell phone says "KOREA - 81 DAYS." An inmate on outdoor work detail.

Train stations are the most diverse places in Korea. The train station wildlife features varying shades of Asian, Buddhist monks in Irish Spring Icy Blast-colored habits, already-homesick-looking U.S. Army personnel, the occasional African or Jewish dude on business, trembling 20-something waifs in the early stages of THC withdrawal who really have no idea what they've gotten themselves into.

A side effect of life as a stranger in an Asian metropolis with a population density greater than 7.2 broom-wielding hags per square inch is that you come to devalue the sense of individuality that seventeen years of feelgood American education tried so laissez-fairely to instill in you. You start to think of yourself as an off-colored piece of candy coasting slowly upward on a network of treadmills in a big hollow candy factory, not fundamentally different from the pieces of candy around you but definitely off-colored and therefore more likely to be thrown away without being eaten. Or if you prefer gamete metaphors to candy metaphors, you imagine yourself as one of a billion other sperm cells ramming head-first into some sort of invisibly gigantic mucousy egg with a circumference so great that the mucousy wall you keep ramming into isn't even slightly curved. You know intuitively that penetrating the egg won't satisfy you, but will more than likely kill you and in the process serve some sinister purpose that reaches beyond your spermatozoon imagination in its vastness and diabolism, but still you keep ramming head-first into the same mucousy eggwall day after day, at no small expense of energy/intelligence.

But both of those metaphors are too grim. In fact, there is no real metaphor that works to describe the bigness of the world. None that I can come up with anyway. All metaphors end up coming across too grim or too glib. When I think of the world, I just kind of sit there with my mouth open so wide that if you came up and rapped me on the top of the head I'd make a hollow coconut sound. It's just big. And intimidating when you're right up close to it, but neither positive nor negative. It's just fucking big. The world. Big and indifferent. Smiling creepily. Everyone ought to experience the bigness for a year or two before returning to one's hide-outs in law school libraries, office cubicles, bunkers 4,000 fathoms below the ocean floor, classrooms, micro-worlds where the world is smaller and heavily distilled and somehow more meaningful that way. When I get back home I'd like to lay low in grad school for a while.

There's an essay by David Foster Wallace called "Laughing with Kafka." He writes:

"... our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home ... imagine [Kafka's] art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding on this door, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don't know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens ... and it opens outward: we've been inside what we wanted all along."

It is as he says. We spermatozoon have been inside the egg all along. Best to spare ourselves the head trauma and flagellate off in the other direction. Take a few laps. Take it easy. Go make friends. As another one of those anhedonic Omahans who strapped himself to a crude catapult and catapulted himself to someplace weirder than the American Midwest in pursuit of the big zygote, I have my suspicions that what we're all searching for isn't anywhere other than where we're at right now, or at least it is not localized in the Dongdaegu Station lavatory. I refuse to wax Zen Buddhist on the immediacy of the present because I am presently racking up a ridiculous internet tab. I need this money to buy some serious merch, Dear Leader ringer tees, juche rosaries, balsa wood replica Taepodong-2 warheads. K.J. Il, I'm putting your kids through college.

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