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My Lowy Post on Obama’s Asia Trip – Watch Every Interest Group Instrumentalize it for its Own Purposes
So Obama is off to Asia this week for a quick trip that is inevitably being over-hyped by every Asia analyst on the planet as some major turning point in the US relationship with Asia. It’s not: below is re-printed my original, ‘watch-elites-manipulate-the-Obama-trip’ comment for the Lowy Institute. The spin will be over-the-top as every Asia pundit races for media exposure. Presidential trips are a great opportunity for the analyst community to posture and hyperventilate about how Obama ‘must’ do this, ‘has’ to do that.
Most of that is bunk. A lot of that is 1) analysts trying to demonstrate their own relevance and self-importance – is it surprising that Asia hands defend the Asia pivot so vociferously? But there is also 2), the unwillingness of a lot of Asia hands and hawks to admit that the US does not actually ‘have’ to do anything in Asia. America has huge freedom to move here, and Asian states – both allies and China – need the US way more than we need them. Where would Asian economies be without the US consumer? And even China might be nervous about a US forces withdrawal given the open balancing behavior that would likely spark in Japan, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines. So ignore all the commentary that the US ‘needs’ Asia; the real story is the opposite and that space which that gives the US to play hard-ball on things like Asian mercantilism and North Korea.
“Later this month US President Barack Obama will take a short tour through Asia – to Japan and South Korea in the north, and to Malaysia and the Philippines in the south. The punditry will be overwhelming and almost entirely self-serving. Elites and interests of every stripe will tell Obama what to say, how to say it, how to signal resolve and credibility to China, what US trade policy should be, and so on.
So instead of suggesting yet another laundry list of to-dos, I thought I would look at how the president’s trip will be instrumentalized by relevant parties to pursue their own agendas. A high-profile trip like this will throw light on the intellectual struggle to define the US presence, both in Asia and Washington. Here are some predictions, almost all self-serving, manipulative, and exaggerated:
1. Hawks and Neocons
Post-Crimea, there should be a fair amount of hawk hysteria that US alliances in the region are ‘weakening.’ (Watch CSIS go into overdrive on this here, here, and here.) Obama will be cast as a dovish, dithering appeaser; his ‘red-lines’ around Senkaku and North Korea will be called ‘pink.’ Fox News will intone that regional allies do not ‘trust’ Obama. Vague suggestions will be made that China intends to slice off northern North Korea or snatch Senkaku by the ‘Crimean model,’ even though Chinese irredentism (other than the well-known Taiwan issue) has never been a factor in East Asian international politics. Little empirical evidence will actually be presented for these fears, beyond generalized claims about power politics or ‘Munich.’
This is standard-issue boilerplate from the think-tank community with limited correspondence to the actual social science on credibility. It should instead be read as the US foreign policy community’s desire to station even more forces in Asia, as a general marker of US hegemony, despite strong evidence that US allies are free-riding and growing budgetary competition between US domestic needs and its enormous defense budget.
2. South Korea
To read the South Korean media on the US alliance is to enter a world where the US ‘needs’ South Korea and the prestige captured from a direct relationship with the US is almost as important as the defense guarantee. Expect the South Korean press to push hard the notion that, because the US has parallel alliances with Japan and South Korea, South Korea is just as important to the US as Japan. The South Korean media will gush that South Korea is a ‘bedrock’ or ‘cornerstone’ of the US alliance in Asia. This is turn will be used to claim that Washington does not listen to Seoul enough but should – or otherwise America’s alliances in Asia might fall apart.
That none of that is true is irrelevant. Nationalist self-promotion will be ubiquitous. Competition with Japan is so deeply entrenched in Korean foreign policy thinking, that the US alliance and the president’s trip will almost certainly be instrumentalized for the purpose of elevating Korea against Japan. (Just look at what happened last time the Korean media perceived the US to be tilting toward Japan over Korea.)
Does it even need to be said anymore that the PLA and Chinese hawks will read the trip as yet further proof of US encirclement? I would bet money that the Global Times will run one of its usual vitriolic editorial pieces, complete with the typical line about the US facilitating a ‘return of Japanese militarism.’ (That Japanese militarism never seems to actually return, but is always apparently in the process of doing so, does not appear to reduce the appeal of this hardy chestnut in the Chinese media.) Xi Jinping seems to be more interested in a hawkish, anti-Japanese foreign policy than his predecessors – which is in turn one of the very reasons for Obama’s trip. So it would be a big surprise if the Chinese Communist Party forewent an opportunity to bemoan US ‘hegemonism,’ particularly during the Japan leg of the trip.
For those who fear that China and the US may slip into a downward tit-for-tat spiral toward conflict, the rhetorical sturm-und-drang of these trips is never helpful. Hawks on both sides will be heartened by all the hard talk coming soon.
This too will be a disappointment. Japanese conservatives particularly will use US presidential attention to deflect regional concerns about Pacific War remembrance. Why go through tough introspection when the US superpower is an ally? Why change? That Abe is prime minister only heightens the likelihood of this status quo-endorsing response. If the Japanese leg goes especially well, we may be ‘lucky’ enough to get yet another outburst of historical revisionism, post-Obama trip, from a major Japanese right-wing voice, perhaps along the lines of the NHK flap earlier this year.
In short, a lot of the trip is pre-scripted. It is almost as if these competing elites have assigned roles to play in a drama – what does the US Asian alliance architecture mean? – we have all seen fought out before. So in that sense the sociology of this drama is more interesting than anything likely be said on the trip: each group listed – and others too presumably – are trying to capture the prestige of the US presidency to legitimize their understanding of the alliances.
Finally, two issues that will not receive the attention they should – the issues I would bring up, were I the president – are trade liberalization and allied burden-sharing. The East Asian debate is dominated by security concerns, given China’s South China Sea behavior and the panic ignited by the Crimea annexation. But the long-term structural solution to Chinese belligerence (short of extreme answers like war or revolution) is the continued tying of China into a liberal world order, and the most obvious doorway in is trade. Already China is far more politically liberal today than when began its economic modernization drive.
Next, the long-term security position of the US in Asia, as in Europe, is constantly strained by low allied military expenditures. US budget constraints, an aging population, and Tea Party’s insistence on smaller government will impact the size of the US Asian footprint, regardless of elite hawk resistance (point 1 above). The Asian allies would be wise to adjust.”
Filed under: Asia, China, Foreign Policy, Japan, Korea (North), Korea (South), Pivot, United States
For those who have spent even a short time living in the Republic of Korea, it is readily evident that anti-Japanese sentiments run strong and hot. On one level, it makes sense that ordinary Koreans would have a strong sense of grievance associated with the prior Japanese occupation. In the early days of the Republic, elite politicians worked frantically against the accusations that South Korea was home to the “collaborators.” Indeed, anti-Japanese rhetoric has been a mainstay of South Korean politics.
The legacy of this national formation has hit us hard on numerous occasions where we have witnessed the miraculous conversion of an apathetic student into a sharp, energetic critic driven by an almost missionary zeal informing one of Japanese wrongs: from Dokdo and the renaming of the “Sea of Japan” to comfort women. Often conversations on these subjects turn to how best to get world opinion behind Korea’s position on these issues.
Increasingly, the Korean government has sought to take these popular resentments and insert them into the agenda within the multilateral international framework. A recent New York Times article entitled, “U.S. Emerges as Central Stage in Asian Rivalry”, illustrates the point. The article points to a transition from the usual ham-handed PR campaigns to stoke global opinion about Japan’s past misdeeds, to a more sophisticated approach that begins on K-Street in Washington. It seems that Korean strategists have found their way to the Mecca of lobbying; a mainstay of US power politics: making campaign contributions to get your issues on the agenda.
And these efforts have yielded some minor, yet notable, political outcomes that move the ball in the direction the Korean government wants it to go. Activists in the Korean-American community have been successful in constructing statues commemorating comfort women in Glendale, CA and Palisades Park, NJ. Furthermore, the legislature in Virginia has recently passed a bill that requires all textbooks in the state must include the name East Sea along with the generally more accepted name Sea of Japan; a similar piece of legislation is currently pending in New York. In the case of Virginia, the result came after heavy lobbying by the diplomatic detachment of both countries, including their respective ambassadors.
for the rest, go to: http://busanhaps.com/article/feature-taking-japanese-grievances-global
by Mr. Motgol
Ha-bin was always a messy drunk. Every time she went out she got catastrophically hammered. British chick wasted. A weaving, incoherent puddle of babble and drool. But unlike a British chick, Ha-bin wasn’t tall and brawny, with ancient, boozy Viking blood pumping through her veins. Instead, she was a small Korean woman with zero natural tolerance for alcohol. As a result, every time she touched the stuff she turned into a chaotic wreck. You could set your watch to it.
This night she had been particularly indulgent. We all had. We had just closed a show, an English language production of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. It was a reasonably big to do, with plenty of attention from the local press, and decent crowds of both foreigners and Koreans showing up for the limited run. I played the main role and Ha-bin was the producer. She had put the whole thing together and it had been a resounding success, so after the show the cast and crew headed down to Ol’55 bar to drink until we all fell down and saw in triplicate. We were in Korea, after all.
Ha-bin cornered me in the bowels of the club. She was dressed in her usual regalia: tinted round glasses, army fatigue pants, and a black fisherman’s cap over cropped hair. The getup gave her the look of a hipster Bolshevik lesbian.
I was literally leaning up against the wall while she mumbled on in slurred and hopelessly broken English, something about “foreigners together… Koreans… you know… beautiful… hip-hop… musical.” She seemed to be pitching her next project and after thirty minutes of this circular, one-way conversation, I grew restless and excused myself.
I found Big Brent at the bar. He was high school buddy who had also moved to Korea to try out the waters. Brent was a monolith of a man, tall and thick, whose glasses, gentle manner and quick wit undercut his raw, physical power.
“I’m getting kind of hungry,” he said, taking down half a mug of Cass in one gulp. “Wanna grab some food?”
“Good idea. It’s past three and nothing good can come out of staying here. I know a meat place around the corner.”
We were just walking out the door when Ha-bin grabbed me.
“Yaaaa…” She swayed, holding onto my shoulder. “Wherrrrre you going?”
“Uh… we’re going to get some samgyupsal.”
“Ah, mashiketa!” She said. “I come too.”
“Uh, sure… okay.”
It was only a five minute walk to the little restaurant, but somehow we lost her.
“Did you see where she went?” asked Brent, as we sat down at our table. The place was dark and smoky, jammed with customers eating, drinking, and jabbering loudly over the constant sizzle of meat.
“Well maybe it’s for the best,” I said, waving to the server. “She’s pretty wasted. Hopefully she just jumped in a taxi and went home. Last time we drank together she ended up passing out in the street.”
Two bottles of beer and some side dishes arrived. As Brent went to fill my glass, my phone rang. I checked the screen. It was Ha-bin.
“Wherrrre you?” she asked. I could hear garbled voices in the background.
“At the restaurant. Where are you?”
“Family Mart. Come get me! So hungry…”
The Family Mart was a convenience store just around the corner from Ol’55, part of a Japanese chain spread throughout Asia. It was open 24-hours, and served as a magnet for the drunkest scumbags of Busan’s expat community. Like many convenience stores in Korea, plastic tables were set up outside, and it was perfectly acceptable to buy beer, wine, soju—anything really—and then proceed to sit down and drink it right there. The result, during the warm weather months, was a boozy pack of expats guzzling well into the dawn. The later it got, the sloppier and rowdier they became. The place was always a molten, shameful mess, ground zero for the stupidest drunken shenanigans by the city’s foreigner set, and this steamy June A.M. would be no exception.
As I approached the brightly lit store, I saw Ha-bin seated at a table with a group of Westerners. I recognized my friend Matt, along with a young, dark haired woman and a wiry white guy with a scraggly beard and dreadlocks.
Ha-bin, was half slumped over, mumbling. A skinny cigarette burned in her right hand, more ash than tobacco.
“Hey, Ha-bin! Let’s go eat. Come on. You’ll feel better.”
“Ees zees your beech?” a voice stabbed out. The accent was strong and unmistakably French.
I turned to the source. “What?”
“I said: Is zees your fucking beech?”
Before we proceed, I must come clean: I hate white guys with dreadlocks. Can’t stand them. One look makes my skin want to rebel. This is a visceral, irrational prejudice, and while I’m sure there are and have been very decent, upstanding white men with natty dreads, I have yet to meet any. And even if I did, I probably wouldn’t give them a chance. I’d have hate them just on principle.
I let go of Ha-bin’s hand and addressed the mouthy Frenchman.
“She’s not ‘my’ bitch. She’s nobody’s ‘bitch.’
“No. she is a motherfucking beetch… Sitting here and talking sheet. Take your fucking beech away.” He waved his hand for full effect.
Already heated by booze, my blood turned to fire.
“She is my friend. Who the fuck are you to talk to her like that?”
“She is a fucking beech!”
“And you are a white dread shitstain!”
“What? You are tough guy, huh?” He stood up.
“Eat my ass you Trustafarian bag of cunts!!!”
“No, fuck you man!”
“Come on! I’ll pound your ass into the dirt!!!”
“Oh, you will keeck my ass??? You want to go! Let’s go! Come on motherfucker!!!”
He kicked his chair to the side and stepped. It was on.
The dark haired girl screamed in French as he came at me. He was smaller and sinewy and like me, very drunk. He threw a couple of ineffectual punches and missed. I immediately got inside and, remembering my wrestling days, took him to the ground, where we scuffled and rolled around on the filthy pavement. I managed a couple of blows to the side of his face, but could get no real power at such close range.
His girl waved her arms and shrieked some more. I tried to subdue him and get another shot at his face, when suddenly I was grabbed from behind and dragged up from the ground. Another guy got a hold of him and pulled him away.
“All right, break it up, guys!.” Matt yelled, stepping in between.
Chests heaving, we stared at each other over Matt’s shoulder.
“Okay okay.” I threw my hands up and was released.
“Fuck this… let’s get out of here Ha-bin.” I waved to her, turned and walked toward the restaurant, expecting her to follow. My head was reeling. I needed a smoke and a beer.
“FUCK YOU MOTHERFUCKER!!!” echoed the voice of my nemesis as I walked away. “COME BACK HERE!!! I KEEL YOU!!!”
Brent was seated where I left him when I returned to the restaurant, tending to the fatty strips of pork in the small grill in the middle of the table.
“You won’t guess what just happened,” I said, plopping onto the stool and lighting a cigarette.
“Oh? Do tell…”
A minute later my phone buzzed again.
“Wherrrrrare you???” Ha-bin’s voice moaned through the speaker over obvious shouting.
I hung up. “Fuuuuuuuuuck. I’ll be right back.” Brent, shrugged and continued grilling the meat.
The scene was much the same as I left it, though now Matt was now restraining Ha-bin, who was now in berserker mode. She unleashed a banshee’s wail of invective toward the Frenchman and his girlfriend.
“YAAAAAAAAA!!! Shippalnom… CHUGEOLAY??? AAAAAAHH??? Shippal michinyeo… YEOT MEOGEORA!!! YAAA!!! MICHINNOM GAESHEKKIYAAAAAAAA!!!”
As soon as I approached I as spotted by the natty Gaul, who pointed, eyes ablaze: “You! MOTHERFUCKER!!!”
He was on me before I knew it and knocked me off my feet. I felt the sharp scrape of the pavement against my shoulder as he pressed down. Now on top, he jumped from side to side as I attempted to scramble out from under him. Finally I made it back to my feet, staggering. We squared off, throwing sad, drunken punches that never hit their marks.
“Knock it the fuck off!” Matt screamed, pushing me away with his meaty arm. “If you don’t stop the cops will be here.”
Once again I threw up my hands.
“Just get out of here!”
I turned away and grabbed Ha-bin by the wrist, dragging her along. She jerked and screamed, swinging her free fist toward the couple.
“You walk away???” the French guy yelled back. “I find you motherfucker! WE ARE NOT FINEESHED!!!”
Back at the restaurant we joined Brent, who peacefully dug into his meal and chuckled as I recounted the latest round. Ha-bin could barely sit. She leaned on an elbow and puffed on a skinny smoke, muttering to herself.
We ate and drank for fifteen more minutes. I was relieved to be out of the action. I had only been in a few fights in my life and hated them. And this asshole was hardly worth the effort.
Just then I saw him, outside of the restaurant, walking past with his girlfriend. Our eyes met and he stopped.
“MOTHERFUCKER!!!!” he screeched, bursting through the door and tackling me at the table. Bottles, plates, silverware and glasses crashed to the floor around us, as we grappled in the greasy floor of the restaurant.
Big Brent sprang into action. He was lethally quick for a man of his size, and immediately he seized the raving pseudoRasta and, club bouncer-like, fucked him out the door like a bag of wet laundry. The French dude hit the pavement but was soon back on his feet, pacing back and forth and screaming to me.
“You come out and with wiz mee, motherfucker!!!”
I had to give the guy credit for persistence.
At this point the owner of the restaurant was heatedly holding forth with Ha-bin as the smattering of other customers gazed on in semi-disbelief.
The Frenchman paced and raved outside of the door, ignoring his girlfriend’s pleas to move on. It was now very early morning, and the glow of the day’s first light began to seep down the building sides surrounding us.
I took a breath and walked out the door, ready for round three.
He came out swinging, grazing my cheek but landing nothing. Again I took him down. I wanted to end this thing once and for all, hoping to use my size advantage for the old “ground and pound.” But he was a slippery son of a bitch and before I knew it, he was behind me, with an arm over my throat, attempting to choke me out.
He wrenched down tightly, and I gasped for air, but nothing was coming in. He had me good. My mouth moved and gulped like that of a goldfish that had jumped out of its bowl. I couldn’t let this happen; unless I did something, now, I was done. So I mustered all my strength and flailed my body while pushing up with my arm. This seemed to work. I felt him release and leaped back to my feet, sucking in the clear morning air. We stood there, staring.
“Are we finished?” I asked.
“No we are not fineeshed. We are never fineeshed!”
He came at me again, but never made it.
Big Brent had had enough of our pathetic spectacle. With amazing speed he flashed through the door, past me and went straight for the Frenchman. With his huge left paw he grabbed the guy buy his nest of dreadlocks and forced him onto his knees. The dude’s girlfriend screamed for him to stop, but Brent was in total control. Brent then balled up his left hand into a fist, and bore it down like a warhammer on the top of Frenchy’s head: BAM! He repeated this three more times: BAM! BAM! BAM!
This managed to stun our Jamaican Pierre, who stood up and staggered, his eyes now black holes.
“That should take care of him for a while,” said Brent, just in time for the cops to arrive.
They kept us separated at the police station. Brent, Ha-bin, and I were on one bench, the Gallic couple on the other. Ha-bin was an exploding, rage-filled hairball the whole time. She screamed, cursed, wailed and repeatedly bum rushed our foes on the opposing bench, only to be grabbed by intervening cops, who she clawed, slapped, and even bit at. I was amazed at their ability to handle such abuse. They gently took control of her, holding her back and quietly asking her to calm down. They were obviously used to such goings on. Just another night at work for a Korean peace officer, it seemed.
After a few hours—enough time to sober up—they let us all go with a warning. I’m sure they were more than happy to have us out of their hair. Frenchy’s ire had not yet cooled. Unsatisfied with the outcome of our melee, h repeatedly offered to continue it at a time and place of my choosing.
“Any time! I weel be there! This is not fineeshed, motherfucker!!!”
He even shouted out his phone number, three times, lest I have trouble tracking him down.
I never saw him again. It turns out he was an international student at the end of his stay. And though he was clearly out-of-line–an obnoxious, arrogant, champion drunken shithead–I had to grudgingly grant him one crumb of respect: the guy driven. He didn’t give up.
How much fighting does alcohol cause? Too much too count. It’s the primary fuel much of human aggression, though there can be an upside to fighting dead drunk. Sometimes both parties are just too wasted to do any real harm to each other. This was certainly the case with us. Had we been a little more sober, somebody would have probably got their ass kicked.
A few weeks later I ran into an Irish buddy of mine who had witnessed part of the fracas. He was none too impressed with either of our prowess. In his musical Cork brogue, he only had this to say:
“You looked like a couple a Polacks dancin’.”
Brent moved back to America. During a recent visit we recounted the story over steaks, beers, and cigars, laughing at its patent absurdity and praising Korean cops for their unbelievable powers of forbearance. Silently, I recalled how nice it was to have him on my side.
As for Ha-bin? Her drinking days are long behind her. Soon after this incident she found God. That’s right, she got right with Jesus and become a born-again-Christian. Today she runs a Christian café/bookstore with her similarly devout husband. No longer does she slap dudes and bite cops: her passion is reserved for a higher power, though I’m sure her Bible is often and vigorously thumped.
I haven’t been in a full-on fight since (if you don’t count the Casino Incident of 2009, see my book for details). And it should come as no surprise the experience did little to temper my disdain for white dreadheads. If anything, it’s exacerbated the bias. It’s made it to where I can barely travel in Southeast Asia anymore. Just picture it: There I am, trying to relax in paradise, wanting to murder every third backpacker I see.
stacylaughs.com at the cat <3
Names of all the cats!
The weird ones like to sit in Rowan's lap. Always the weird ones.
The cats were incredibly sleepy. Something about the place...
Even the cafe employee had to get a few zzzs
There’s a cat cafe in Cheonan, Korea. It’s called The Cat. Sure, 5,000₩ just to hang out with some cats may seem steep, but it’s less work than having your own in your pint-sized room. No complimentary beverages, by the way. (Insert sad face here.) Also, the drinks suck. Instant coffee is served instead of the fancy lattes I’m used to at most cat cafes in Korea.
You can find it in downtown Cheonan, in the Yawoori area. Off of the main street, opposite Shinsegae, go up the street between Baskin Robbins and the Olleh store. It’ll be on the right, near the church at the top of the hill.
Some quick, helpful tips for you if you visit this particular cat cafe, which may or may not be applicable to other cat cafes:
- Drink your coffee, tea, or other beverage of choice right when you arrive. Take your time to observe the cats. Basically, check their temperament from a distance, so you don’t get your face scratched off later.
- When you’re ready to enter the cat room, put your bag in a locker, switch your shoes for slippers, and use some hand sanitizer.
- The cat room has heated seats and cushions for the cats to enjoy. You might as well enjoy them too. At first, I like the cats to come to me. Then, I aggressively pursue the sleepy kittens so I can take selfies (aka selcas) with them.
- After cat time, clean yourself up. Sanitize your hands again, and use Febreeze and a lint-roller on your clothes, if you’d like.
- Don’t wake up the employee before you leave. The place has magical sleeping powers which most of the cats were under. The employee will become very disgruntled if you wake him to say good bye.
About the girl
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A couple of things struck me right away upon exiting Kuala Lumpur International Airport. One: The unbearable humidity; and two: The multiculturalism.
Having spent more time than I’d like to admit knee-deep in the rigid homogeneity of South Korea, I found the intermingling of Malay, Indian, Chinese and European people / food / architecture / culture in the capital fascinating.
Escaping the capital for a day trip to the Batu Caves (more on that place soon), I found myself enraptured by KL’s Indian / Hindu culture. I’d gone there mainly to see our cheeky simian cousins cause all kinds of mayhem to the tourists, but came away intrigued with the sub-continents religion of choice.
From my non-educated, superficial and mini experience with Hinduism (and Buddhism), it seems to me that both religions aren’t really religions at all, but more of a loose connection of philosophies, a way of life which basically boils down to: “Don’t be obsessed with yourself. You don’t need all that stuff. Think of the planet, nature, and other forms of life.”
It seems to me that the 21st century would run a lot smoother if we embraced those philosophies, rather than sticking with the hell-fire, dogmatic, gun toting, science denying, woman-hating, homosexual fearing, kiddy fiddling, materialistic, self aggrandising bullshit the powers that be spew forth.
Big Brahma in Little China
The day before I was due to leave KL, I rushed out of my cheap-arse hostel in order to photograph Chinatown before the sun went down. I turned round random corners and blind alleyways, getting myself nice and lost.
I’d gone out in search of your typical Chinese accoutrements, but found myself instead drawn to the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple, where a groovy beat, and high pitch prrrp of a trumpet drew me in like a snake to a turban-clad hypno charmer.
Being as it was my first time in a Hindu temple, I furiously photographed everything inside and worked up a nice thick layer of perspiration in the process. I noticed the sky had turned a very pissed-off-grey just as an enormous bell joined in with the groove. The priests, shirtless, painted and saronged, busied themselves adorning the scared totems with flowers and incense. The Hindu faithful soon began to pile in. I sat myself down in a corner to de-sweat, interpret the divinities, and try to take everything in.
I sat clueless for quite a while, and decided it was time to be getting back. I was about to leave when one of the priests beckoned me over with a huge grin to try some food. I think he took pity on me since I looked like I’d just ran a marathon.
I joined him and he handed me a polystyrene lid with a few deep fried delicates inside. The food was fucking intense. I wasn’t sure what I’d just eaten, but they were spicy and almost unbearably delicious! I’d absolutely devoured. The priest must have interpreted this for hunger and offered me more. Thank the gods! A few other tourists had wondered in and looked jealously my way.
When I was done we sat in silence listening to the music and watching the faithful doing the rounds of the various effigies. Sitting there entranced by the music and the pounding tropical rain, my belly full and lips on fire, stirred by the generosity and quiet reverence, my usual impenetrable cynicism softened a little bit. For a brief moment I felt like life wasn’t meaningless, that there just might be a soul, and that all life on earth probably does share a mystical bond.
I felt incredibly lucky to be there and be alive.
P.S: Don’t worry, I haven’t become a cliched spiritual hippy just yet. In fact, ten minutes after exiting the temple I bought some hair gel, some after shave, a tonne of pirated DVDs, and went back to thinking about blasting cash on a yet another new camera I don’t need.
I think someone in Korea assumed that “face” would be good to include in a sportswear company name, learned from The North Face. Whenever I see ‘Red Face’ or “Black Face,’ I just shake my head. Oh Korea.