It’s been a long, weird week. Between the former President’s suicide, the rumblings north of the border, and the swine flu quarantine of a slew of foreign English teachers (of which a friend is part of the house arrest quarantine), Korea has been all over the global airwaves, and it’s not been very pretty. I think my favorite website in the entire country said it best when they noted this week’s events would surely raise Korea’s international profile.
I see CNN. I listen to NPR daily. I know what the story is over there. But if you ask most Koreans what the biggest shock of the week was, they will most definitely say Roh’s suicide. If you ask them what is more troubling, the nukes or the pig flu, I bet you ten million won they choose pigs.
I work in the center of Seoul, not far from City Hall, and the place is a parking lot of pedestrians holding candlelight vigil, with notes and photos and flowers posted all over the walls to honor the former president. Although, I did see a group of teenagers roasting their dried cuttle fish snacks over their candles. But c’mon! It’s Korea! Gotta be resourceful even in mourning. But surrounding those mourners are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of police in riot gear. I’m not going to get into the politics of all this because I don’t do that here, and there are plenty of other people are already doing a great job of that, but let’s just say that things are getting interesting here, and it has little to do with our neighbors to the north.
It was such a beautiful warm night tonight, and after picking up my film from the lab, I decided to walk along Cheonggyechon to City Hall and see what was going on. By the time I made my way through the police barricades and the sea of chaos, I decided to keep walking, all the way home. From towering skyscrapers into old, rickety neighborhoods that are still hanging on in the shadow of rapid progress. Past the furniture shops and wedding dress makers of Ahyeon, into the bustling university streets of Edae and Sinchon.
Korea is made up of pretty parts and ugly parts, shiny space-age parts and old Confucian traditional parts, friendly parts and hostile parts, frustrating parts and parts I wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China or all the sushi in Japan. [Ok, maybe Japan.] Korea is complicated. Just like pretty much every place you go. And it’s totally, completely home and I’ve got a whole lot of sarang for it.