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My favourite skater! I wish I could do half of that stuff off skates, never mind on skates! Can you spot a Korea reference in the video?!
I wrote a quick piece for Newsweek Korea this week on Vladimir Putin’s trip to South Korea. Find the Korean web version here. Below is the translation.
In brief, I argue that a relationship with Russia is good for South Korea. Because SK is both relatively small and encircled, its foreign policy is dominated by just a few states. The problem is that SK can’t/won’t reach out to NK or Japan, so it is basically stuck between the US and China. So pulling in the Russians is a nice way to get SK some room to maneuver in its tight neighborhood. That is sure to annoy the Americans, but if you’re a S Korean, it’s a wise choice. That is the real value of the trip for SK, while for Russia, it bolsters its fading Asian relevance. Also, while I think President Park has really blown it over Japan, this was a smart over against the Chinese and the Americans – maybe the best thing she’s done on foreign policy yet.
If it seems like I’m emphasizing geopolitics over economics, that’s because I don’t but this ‘New Silk Road’ bit for one minute. Does anyone really believe NK will respect transit rights, giving up lucrative shake-down opportunities on the movement of fuel, goods, tourists, and so on? No way. NK is a such a black hole for international norms, that SK and Russia might as well connect by a ‘chunnel’ before relying on NK transit rights.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Seoul this week is an excellent opportunity for South Korea to widen its diplomatic range of partners and carve out greater geopolitical options in the tight northeast Asian neighborhood. South Korea is a middle power surrounded by three great powers plus the world’s most frightening dictatorship. This very tough geopolitical position has often resulted in mistreatment by its neighbors. The age-old problem of Korean grand strategy is to vouchsafe its sovereignty against its larger neighbors and prevent domination. So improved relations with one of those neighbors, Russia, helps Seoul pushback on others, to create space for itself. This is President Park Geun-Hye’s most clever, underappreciated diplomatic move so far.
South Korea’s current strategy to insure national autonomy is the US alliance. The American superpower clearly strengthens Korea’s local independence. But of course, the US alliance comes with certain expectations that Koreans occasionally resent, such as participation in George Bush’s war on terror or the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, or US pressure on Korea for a rapprochement with Japan. The media debate of the last month clearly demonstrates that Korea does not wish to be ‘chain-ganged’ into American-Japanese containment of China. Nor do Koreans want to compromise with Japan, despite heavy US pressure in that direction. Unfortunately, a very tight Korean association with the US raises Seoul’s vulnerability to these American pressures. Korean soldiers went to Iraq, for example, despite the enormous unpopularity of that war, because the Blue House knew how dependent Korean security is on the US. Hence if Korea can open its range of major diplomatic partners beyond the United States, it may gain some leverage against the US and blunt American pressure regarding Japan and China.
Here Russia is very useful, because Korea’s regional choices are very limited. Korea has poor relations with Japan and North Korea; indeed much of Korean diplomacy aims at isolating these two states, not conciliating them. That leaves China, the US, and Russia. Today, Korea is arguably over-dependent on the US, as suggested by periodic outbursts of Korean anti-Americanism. Certainly many US allies have found America overbearing and politically intrusive. So simultaneously dealing with China, America, and Russia serves Korea sovereignty by balancing all three against each other. Call it the Korean version of ‘triangular diplomacy’ (a term from the Richard Nixon presidency to describe the awkward US semi-alliance with China against the USSR).
An irony of this balancing strategy is that its greatest Korean practitioner to date was Kim Il Sung. Despite the extraordinary totalitarian cruelty of his rule, Kim brilliantly played Korea’s tough neighborhood to achieve surprising autonomy for the small, economically backward DPRK. Perhaps most famously, Kim managed to steer both China and the USSR into supporting his unification war. Kim cleverly played Stalin and Mao against each other, telling each if they did not support him, he would then go to the other. Stalin and Mao, anxious to pull North Korea into their separate camps, both then supported the war, even though actually neither wished to. This was probably the greatest feat of diplomacy in North Korean history. And throughout the Cold War, Kim managed to avoid tilting too much toward China or the USSR, constantly playing them against each other, both to maintain the DPRK’s sovereignty and extract concessions.
South Korea, by contrast, did not choose to duck-and-weave like this. Instead, it threw in its lot with the Americans, resulting in repeated claims over the years that Seoul is too subservient to Washington. This was likely still a wise choice: the US has been the wealthiest and most powerful state on the planet since WWII, and it helped midwife South Korea’s spectacular growth. Nevertheless, in my experience, most Koreans would like a little more distance from the Americans, and outreach to the Russians is great way to get that.
There are of course limits. Outreach to Russia – and China – both suffer from the constraints of clashing political values. In other words, South Korea is a liberal democracy; Russia and China are not. That makes it hard for South Korea to engage too deeply. South Korean younger voters particularly are strongly wedded to liberal and democratic political values, as evidenced by their large vote against Park Geun-Hye as the ‘dictator’s daughter’ last year. As these youth age and fill Korea’s political institutions, it will become harder and harder for South Korea to work easily with authoritarian states. Domestic South Korean resistance will grow, much as already we see Western democratic states cooperating well with each other, but in frequent tension with non-democracies in the Middle East for example.
So it is highly unlikely that South Korea would ever ally with Russia or China. Democracies are just too distrustful of authoritarian regimes. They may work with them – as South Korea works with China on limiting North Korean misbehavior – but genuinely deep, friendly relations between democracies and non-democracies are rare. It is indicative that the big breakthrough of the Park-Putin summit was simply a 60-day visa-free travel permit. Most democracies have 90-day visa-free deals with each other as a matter of course.
In short, outreach to Russia is a smart, if limited, move. It helps South Korea maneuver in tight regional space. It tells the Americans that Korea has non-American options – not great options, but at least something. It tells the Chinese that Korea will not roll over for Chinese domination of the region (likely a Russian goal as well). It pressures Japan on the island dispute issue (Russia has a similar quarrel with Japan). And it continues to isolate North Korea. That’s pretty great diplomacy.”
Filed under: Foreign Policy, Korea (South), Russia
그렇게 또 12월이 코앞으로 다가왔다.
이맘 때가 되면 늘 올 한해는 어떻게 보냈나.
내가 뭐가 달라졌나. 나는 올 한해 더 나은 사람이 되었나.
여러 질문들이 머리 속으로 가슴 속으로 파고든다.
이 대답에 자신있게 예스라고 대답 못한 해가 더 많았다.
올해 이제 한달 남짓 남은 이 2013년을 어떻게 하면 가장 보람있게 소중하게 사용할 수 있을까?
그렇게 고민하고 또 고민한 결과 올해가 끝날 때까지 매일 하루에 한꼭지 이상의 글을 쓰기로 결심했다. 물론 글은 계속 써왔다. 최근 들어서는 책 출간을 목표로 더 열심히 썼고, 많은 시간을 투자했다.
그러나 올 한해 남은 날 동안 매일 내가 쓸 글의 주제는 바로 ‘나’.
‘나’에 대해 쓸 계획이다. 이건 나 스스로에 대한 약속이고 이렇게 글로서 선포해버리면 나를 구속하는 하나의 긍정적인 장치가 되기에 선포하고 쓰기로 한다.
[내가 나에 대한 글을 쓰는 이유]
내가 나에 대한 글을 쓰는 큰 이유들 중 하나는 내가 코칭을 하는 모든 부분에 있어 기본적으로 나라는 인간이 어떤 인간인지 알도록 해드리는게 당연한 예의이고 코칭을 받는 사람의 입장에서는 자신을 코칭해줄 코치가 누구인지 당연히 궁금할 것이고, 당연히 궁금해야만 하고 코치의 사상이나 철학 등에 대해 알고자 하는 것이 지극히 당연한 예의라 생각하기 때문에 올 한해가 다가기 전 나 자신에 대해 내 스스로 분명히 정리하고 넘어가고자 한다.
내가 지금 이 순간 벌려놓고 있는, 하고있는 일들이 서로간에 전혀 무관하다고 생각하는 사람들이 많을지도 모른다.(아니, 많다.) 그렇게 생각하는 사람들의 주 원인은 하나로 요약된다. 그 사람들은 내가 추구하는 목표를 알지 못하기 때문이다. 내가 추구하는 목표는 알려고도 하지 않고 알고 싶어하지도 않기 때문에 그렇게 보일 수밖에 없다.
물론 나에게 코칭을 받지 않는 사람들이라면 이런 걸 알아야 될 이유도 없고 내가 알려야 할 의무도 없고 굳이 나서서 알리고 싶지도 않다. 각자의 인생은 각자의 것이니. 하지만 나에게 코칭을 받는 분들에게는 분명 내가 가진 생각과 철학을 공유하고 내가 왜 이런 짓(일)을 하는지 분명히 밝혀야 된다는 것이 내 확고한 믿음이다. 그렇게 했을 때 진정한 코칭이 이루어질 수 있고 내 제자(혹은 코치이)들의 삶이 조금이라도 긍정적으로 변하고, 원했던 결과,목표에 좀 더 가까이 다가갈 수 있으리라 믿기에.
이 글을 씀에 있어 쓸데없이 고민하고 퇴고작업하고 무엇을 쓸까. 어떻게 쓸까. 어떤 단어가 더 멋질까. 이게 더 자연스러운가. 기획하고 퇴고하고,수정하고,편집하고… 이렇게 하면 이건 스트레스가 된다. 물론 쓰레기같은 헛소리를 지껄이며 똥냄새나는 토사물같은 글을 쓰는 것은 분명 자제해야한다. 하지만 가장 솔직하고,때로는 내 손이 가는대로, 내 손가락이 타자판 위를 움직이는대로 놔두는 것이, 지금 내가 쓰고자 하는 글의 의도에 가장 적합하다고 판단되기에 글의 순서나, 수준에 너무 집착하지 않고 편하게 쓸 생각이다.
[나 싸이먼의 목표는 무엇인가?]
목표(goal)라는 단어를 개인적으로 그리 좋아하지 않는다. 말 그대로 너무 목표지향적이기 때문에. 목표보다는 ‘(삶의) 철학’이라는 단어를 더 좋아한다.
내가 살아감에 있어 내 삶의 철학을 통해 내가 되고자 하는 이상향은 한 단어로 표현할 수 있다. ‘마중물’같은 삶이다. 내가 하고자 하는 일들, 내가 하고있는 일들, 내가 할려고 구상하고 있는 모든 일들, 그리고 내가 이미 했거나 하려고 했던 일들 중 그것이 성공했거나 실패했거나에 관계없이 모든 일들이 오직 이 목표를 위한 일이었고 그것으로 가는 과정이었다. 물론 내가 이 철학을 내 인생의 목표로 삼은 이후에 진행된 일들을 말한다.
[마중물 같은 삶이 무엇인가?]
마중물 ‘priming water’
시골 펌프에서 물을 길러본 적이 있는가. 나는 딱 한번 있다. 그 기억이 생생하다. 어린시절. 외할머니댁이었던 것 같다. 장소에 대한 기억은 정확하지 않다. 하지만 그때의 그 느낌은 생생히 기억난다. 쇠로 만든 펌프. 마당에 놓여 있는 그 펌프에서 물을 퍼낼 때 아무리 힘셍 장사가 팔뚝이 터져라 펌프질을 해대도 물은 한방울도 나오지 않는다. 물이 없어서? 아니다. 땅밑에는 맑고 차가운 지하수가 가득하다. 그래도 펌프밖으로는 한방울도 나오지 않는다. 이때 꼭 필요한 것이 바로 ‘마중물’이다. 순수한 한글로 말 그대로 물을 마중 나가는 물. 물을 맞이하러 가는 물이 마중물이다. 조롱박 바가지로 한바가지의 물을 펌프위에 부어주고 나서야 비로소 물이 콸콸 나온다. 당연히 펌프질을 열심히 해줘야 한다. 마중물만 부어주고 가만히 기다리면 물은 안나온다. 내가 원하는 삶이 정확히 이것이다. 나는 마중물이 되길 꿈꾼다.
나는 모든 사람들이 가진 재능이 다르다고 믿는다. 물론 걔중에는 도저히 인간으로 대접하기 싫은 존재들도 있다. 이건 다른 주제니 넘어가자.
나는 사람들 각자가 가진 그 커다란 잠재된 능력을 일깨워주는 작업을 한다. 땅밑에 넘치도록 쌓여있는 지하수처럼 개개인 각자의 넘치는 능력을 발휘하도록 해주는 그런 삶을 살기 원한다. 내가 무엇을 가르치는 것이 아니다. 그들은 나보다 훨씬 뛰어난 부분이 각자 있을 것임을 믿기에 내가 이런 것들을 일일이 다 가르칠 수 없다. 난 그들이 가진 각자의 잠재능력을 펌프에서 쏟아져 나오는 지하수처럼 콸콸 흘러 넘치도록 마중나가는 ‘마중물’역할만 하는 것이다. 물론 펌프질 하는 것도 각자가 해야할 몫이다.내가 아무리 마중물을 퍼넣어 줘도 코칭을 받는 제자(코치이) 자신이 가만히 입만 벌리고 드러누워서 퍼져 있다면 자신의 인생에 아무런 변화도 일으킬 수 없다. 펌프질을 해야한다.
나를 만나기 전에는 아무리 열심히 입에서 쉰내가 나도록 펌프질을 해도 콸콸은 커녕 한방울의 물도 나오지 않았던 사람들. 그런 사람들에게 마중물을 부어주는 역할. 그것이 내가 추구하는 삶이다. 난 그렇게 ‘마중물’삶을 살길 원한다. 그리고 노력한다. 그삶을 살기 위해서 모든 것을 희생할 각오가 되어있고 그렇게 희생해왔다. 이것이 내가 지금 하고 있는 짓을 하고 있는 이유다.
Coach Simon Kang
wellness workroom KAIZEN 대표
‘실전영어프로젝트’코치/BML Reset 다이어트 코치/’운동’을 통한 자기계발코치/하루 5시간 이상을 글 쓰면서 보냄/코칭,운동,글 쓰기,걷기,잠자기,대화하는 시간을 제외한 모든 시간은 책 읽는데 사용함/
‘난 토요일만 되면 기뻐 미칠 지경이다. 주말동안 하루종일 코칭하고,글쓰고,마음껏 책 읽을 수 있기에…
그리고 또 월요일이 되면 기뻐 미칠 지경이다. 왜냐하면 또 금요일까지 하루종일 코칭하고,글 쓰고, 마음껏 책 읽을 수 있기에.
Following some good experiences on Spain’s cheap and comfortable intercity buses we decided to take an overnight bus from Granada to Valencia. It would prove to be a reasonably long journey but I managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep and compared to previous overnight bus trips in Vietnam it was luxurious. We arrived quite early in Valencia and rather than stay in the slightly decaying bus station we waited for MacDonald’s to open outside a department store. We couldn’t check in until around 1p.m. so we spent the morning slowly eating breakfast and taking tiny sips from cups of tea and coffee. Checking in at the hostel we had to wait a little longer for our beds to be made before we could head for some much needed sleep.
The first day was a pretty lazy one and I was beginning to feel the strain of being on the road for so long. I had gradually grown tired of moving from place-to-place and I definitely needed some time out for myself and to ease off on the desperate need to go to places, see things and do things.
Over three days in Valencia I spread out my desires equally with time to sleep, read and generally relax. Elle was busy making new friends and testing out some Valencian beaches, so we just hung out a little whenever we were both around the hostel. On the first full day I got up late and went on an a lovely 10k run through the Jardin del Turia. This expansive park lies along the dry river bed of the river Turia that used to flow through the city of Valencia. After a devastating flood in 1957 the river was diverted and the river bed redeveloped into a park that now holds football pitches, grassy gardens, sculpture, a disused waterpark and the City of Arts and Sciences.
Later in the afternoon I took some time to walk around the old centre of Valencia. getting my camera out to get some photos. It wasn’t as peaceful as Sevilla or Granada but certain areas like the Barri del Carmi had a unique charm.
The view of the bell tower at Valencia’s cathedral from the Plaza del la Virgen. You can see a view of the jumbled old quarter streets another photo above.
Looking down on the central hub of Plaza del la Reina. I had a really crappy lunch there!
The view from the climb up the Micalet tower at the Cathedral.
Inside the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, definitely worth a visit for the impressive fresco that adorns the dome.
Two of the more unique buildings I encountered on my walk around town.
The next day I went on another long walk. I went back to the Barri del Carmi and walked around the neighbourhood checking out some street art, independent shops and enjoying what appeared to be a very tight knit community where local people ate late breakfasts together, helped each other move house or drink in the small cafes.
After my time in old Valencia I headed for the ultra modern. Walking back to the riverbed park I followed the park trails towards the sea (I had run in the other direction the previous day) and towards the space-age City of Arts and Sciences. Set amongst sky blue pools of water dramatic buildings take over the widening river bed. Comparable to extra-terrestial sci-fi spaceships the buildings of L’Hemispheric, L’Oceanographic, L’Agora, El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, L’Umbracle and El Museu de les Ciences Principe Felipe shimmer in the sun and pierce the crystal clear skies. I didn’t go inside the museum but just enjoyed the bold architecture with some ice-cream.
On the walk to the City of Arts and Sciences I passed Parc Gulliver. It seemed to be abandoned, if not only closed, but the sight of a monstrous giant playground set into the riverbed was treat enough.
I walked back on the far side of the dried river and tried to buy some tickets for a football game later that evening but some touts said the ticket offices were closed and it was sold out. Calling their bluff I decided to come back later. On the way back I saw this lonesome brick chimney, now resigned to being a resting place for bored pigeons.
Some of the street art in Barri del Carmi was quite unique.
During my final evening in Valencia I abandoned Elle again in favour of a pre-season tournament match between Valencia and Inter Milan. Pre-season tournaments come and go in various different guises and this one, the Guinness International Champions Cup will likely follow suit. However, this turned out to be a surprisingly competitive and thrilling match. The Mestalla, Valencia’s aging aging concrete behemoth was the arena for this match-up of Mediterranean titans. I arrived early and collected a face-value ticket from the ticket office (in your face ticket touts!) and took my choice of seat amongst the home support. The stadium is a precarious construction, soaring, steep stands lean on an unimpressive support of bare breeze-blocks and concrete that are mostly open to the elements from the outside and were certainly not planned with any sense of architectural flamboyance. The stadium was merely half-filled at kick-off, but that still managed to rouse an excellent atmosphere once a silent and poignant tribute to the recent Spanish rail crash had concluded.
The match itself was a fiesty affair full of controversy, cards, splendid goals, a saved penalty and shots thumping against the woodwork. I will spare you an in-depth analysis and if you wish you can read a match report here. The main point was that I thoroughly enjoyed it, the stadium, old and shambolic turned out to be an inspirational venue for an exciting match, one that would be worthy of gracing the Premier or Champions League.
The Valencian ultras showing support for those involved in the national high speed rail tragedy from a few days before.
Dusk descended on the Mestalla as the floodlights went on and so did my time in the city. i probably could have made more of my time in Valencia, and definitely been more sociable, but it was equally enjoyable to relax and take some time out in the unique urban environment that is Valencia.
Since we arrived a little bit later on Saturday, we saved our hiking for Day 2! After a quick breakfast at Angel in us Coffee, we started our drive to nearby Odaesan National Park. We arrived at the southwest corner of the park in a place called Sogeumgang, or “little geumgang”, named after the famous mountain in North Korea. The drive from the city was a beautiful one that reminded me of home. The mountains in Korea look very similar to the Appalachian mountains of the Eastern US where I grew up, and the winding roads through the valley transported me back to NC for a moment. I was soon brought back to Korea once I saw the road turn into a narrow unmarked trail lined with buddhist lanterns and eager hiking groups. To say hiking is a national pastime here is an understatement–it’s a lifestyle! The hiking group leaders wore flags in their backs, and the group members all wore matching hiking gear. Drinking goes hand in hand with hiking (naturally), and we definitely saw cups over-flowing before, during, and after the hike. Once we parked we continued on the road lined with makgeolli and pajeon places, the official food and drink of hiking in Korea. Just past the camping sites we caught our first glimpse of the river our trail would follow to Guryong Falls, our destination for the day.
What else is a backpack for? Carrying soju!
One of the pajeon places near the entrance of the trail
The beginning of our hike
We had beautiful weather just as we did the previous day, and it was a fantastic day for a hike. It was the very beginning of Fall and the air was on the verge of being crisp and sharp, and the leaves had just started changing color.
The reds and greens and in-betweens of early Fall
Not too far along the trail we came to the first of many bridges. Below it were happy picnicers atop scattered boulders in the river. We went off the trail to climb on the rocks and get some photos, when I notice a man motioning for me to come over to him and his group of friends. Once I get closer I hear the man say “come eat some chicken! Please help yourself!” in Korean so I quickly hop on over to their rock. I was immediately handed chopsticks, a paper cup, and shot of soju. They were super friendly, especially once they learned I was conversational in Korean! They asked about where I was from, how long I’ve lived in Korea, what I do, etc. Soon Evan and Zack joined too and they encouraged us to eat and drink more. We later joked that we thought they just ordered WAY too much chicken and asked the first person they saw to help them eat it! HA!
The group that invited us to eat chicken with them!
Group photo! (Thanks Zack)
But honestly, Korean people are hospitable and giving in any situation, but especially when they’re hiking. There is such a comraderie felt when tackling a trail together, and it does feel like one big family every time I go hiking here, which is a huge reason I love it. It’s difficult I think for an American like myself to feel that sense of “oneness” that permeates the Korean psyche, and often when I’m hiking it feels like I’m “let in” on it, on that feeling. Strangers passing by often say “hello” to you, and getting offered food or drink is not uncommon at all.
Maybe halfway through the trail we climbed some stone steps up to a temple for a short rest. A lot of people had the same idea, and rested in the shade, some drinking from the fresh spring fountain. The temple was gorgeous, there’s something about Fall colors that makes the traditional temple colors really stand out. That and I think this particular temple was painted recently.
The trail was easy going throughout, without any steep hills to speak of and plenty of beautiful places to stop and rest. It’s a very leisurely trail that anyone can do. The most memorable part of the trail by far is about a kilometer from Guryong Falls. After another bridge the trail opens up onto these giant slabs of rock that are leaning down towards the water below. As you can tell in the video, I was really impressed by the uniqueness and beauty of it. There are people everywhere having picnics on the rock, some daring more than other to sit close to the edge by the water. Some took naps in crevasses of the rock, and some acted like this was their final destination and continued drinking!
Being brave! (photo by Zack)
After hanging out here for awhile, we hiked the final kilometer to the Guryong Falls. It was even more crowded here, with everyone scrambling to take group photos in front of the waterfall. The water was ice cold, and I watched as families playfully put their feet in the stream. We did manage to get some photos in before rushing back the way we came down the trail, to the car, drive to the bus station and barely make our bus! (Thanks Zack for your awesome driving! haha)
Awesome photo in front of the waterfall, by Zack
Not that we needed more convincing, but after our amazing hike we were sure wanted to return to Gangneung. We had an awesome weekend in a great city, with good company and perfect weather, and we need more of that in our future. Thanks again Zack for showing us around! Now it’s your turn to visit fair Yangsan!
See all of our photos from our weekend in Gangneung on our Flicker!
Until next time!
The new queer short film 20 (produced by 99) has posted screening times for the premier.
Tickets can be reserved over at 99's Website.
But I'll be home this time, and instead of all of that, I feel a bit sad that I won't be here to share the holidays with my people here. It's odd. You avoid even bringing it up, a thin layer of guilt covering over the conversation surrounding it, knowing it's not fair that you're the one who gets to go home. I've been on the other side of it. And also, feeling a bit like you're abandoning the people you love during the season when it's most important for you to be there for each other.
For some reason, I feel a bit nervous about going home this time around. I can't put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with this apartment filled with furniture and pets and Busan, with weekly dates with friends that no longer take on a transitory tone. Something about this not just being the end of one year and the start of just one more, for now.
When I get back, it'll be go-time for a lot of things. Applications and interviews and exams and waiting periods. There's a lot of my life for the next few years that's resting in other people's hands, and the only thing I can do is do my best to earn a whole lot of different kinds of approval. It's been five years since my life was this up in the air.
And that's the other thing. Somewhere in all of the reading and studying and taking long bike rides with B through the autumn leaves, the shifting through submissions, the meeting up with friends for weeknight coffee dates at new cafes, the evening strolls with 붕어빵, the cooking, the writing, the endless phone calls that weren't rushed, for once, by time zones and work schedules that have made up this extended vacation, I realized that two five year anniversaries passed. Two, which put together, make up a decade of my life. The first was the ten year anniversary of leaving my hometown for NYC and the second, of course, was the five year of coming to Korea.
Without too much more prattling on, I guess the all of the thoughts and strange feelings I can't quite pin down come down to one main theme: It's time to start the next decade.
But in the meantime, would you like to hear a story? How about the story of the fight in the Secret Garden at Changdeokgung?
A while back I mentioned the fight(s) on boats at Hongdo, but I never got into the details. The first erupted between two middle aged men fighting over seats. The second involved a man who decided that in order to have a better view of something over the side of the boat, he needed to place both of his arms on the rails on either side of me and press his crotch against my ass. I guess I was expected to just accept that decision on his part without flinching, but suffice it to say, I reacted. Which was beyond all measure of good grace, as far as that man could figure. How dare I turn around in shock and give him a look when he, a complete stranger, pressed his dick against my body? What an insult to his pride! Words were exchanged, and he moved down to the other side of me where he decided the only way to right the wrong committed against him was to menacingly glare at me. I stared back, instead of looking down and acting afraid of him like I should have, at which point he attempted to start a fight with B instead. B remained calm, when the man demanded to know what my problem was, and just very matter-of-factly explained that I didn't like being touched by strange men.
At that point, I got really pissed, because I think if you start a fight with a woman, you should be man enough to own up to it and finish the fight with the woman, not go looking for the man responsible for her to start in with instead. What, are you tattling on me to my daddy? Having a word with my manager? So I went off in obscenity-laced English to B about how he was a loud mouth, had been gunning for a confrontation with people on the boat since before we even boarded, and to ignore him because garbage just wants to make other people smell dirty. B chuckled. The man realized I was not going to be managed, and moved -- grumbling, but at a good clip -- further down the boat.
The reason why I'm retelling this story now, all these months later, is because my perspective about what happened on Wednesday when B and I took a tour of the back garden at Changdeokgung is colored by how I personally feel when a man decides to take liberties with a woman's personal physical autonomy and then gets in a huff when she doesn't just lie down and take it.
I don't know how it started. Like so many of these situations, everything was fine until it wasn't. One minute we're listening to the lady explain about how the king had this building constructed so he could "experience life as a humble yangban", and the next, a younger woman and an older man are nose-to-nose, exchanging tense words. According to the woman, the man had been staring at her and making her uncomfortable, so she asked him what he was looking at. According to the man, she was an untrained crazy bitch from God knows where who needed to shut her fucking bitch mouth.
I don't know whether the man was staring or not. I don't know whether the woman was crazy or not. What I do know is that the woman was not shouting, but she was standing firmly in her place and refusing to take even half a step back as the man got in her face shouting obscenities. She spoke calmly, but firmly, and refused to look or move away. Which made the man even more furious, as all the older women around us began to click their tongues at him and wonder out loud how a man of such an age could use such language toward a woman in public. Which made him even more furious, to the point where he raised his fist and pulled back, as though prepared to strike. At that point, B let out a little sigh of resignation and rushed over to push the man back. A couple of the older women grabbed the woman and pulled her back to our side, and I positioned myself somewhere in between.
She stood quietly for a while, still staring across at the man, but not moving or speaking, while he continued to push back against B's grasp and cuss and swear about how a woman like that could be a person. It got to the point where even I, being not involved at all, started to get aggravated by the things he was saying, and just as I turned away from the woman and back toward the man in shock to something he had said, the woman made a break for it and got right back in the man's face, calmly repeating again and again that he should apologize. We pulled her away again, and B got the man moved back toward the end of the trail with his wife, and with a big distance and every other person on the tour positioned between them, we rushed through what should have been the last twenty minutes in about five, and the tour guide and another woman saw the woman to the gate, while instructing the man and his wife to go walk around for a bit before leaving.
During this ordeal, B shocked me a bit by commenting that something was "wrong" with the woman, because she wouldn't just leave the situation alone. Hold up, B. First of all, Mr. Old Fucking Asshole back there is still running his mouth, swearing her up and down, but I guess that's just expected, because he's the man and his pride was injured? Meanwhile, she is very calmly and without a word against his character, repeating her request for an apology for him raising his fucking fist to strike her. Who is not letting what go? And who is the one who is acting crazy? Because let me tell you -- if it had been me he had raised his fist to, there would be no walking at a safe distance and finishing the tour. You would've had to haul me out by my collar. B said, but what if she gets hit? Isn't she afraid?
Fuck being afraid, B. How long are women supposed to walk around in public having our shit violated by entitled men because we are afraid? I'll get hit? Fuck it. Hit me. We'll go to the police station and I'll haunt your life for the next six months at least. Some things are worse than being hit, and on certain days in certain situations when you've just had enough, for women that can include backing meekly down to yet another fuckwit who tries to use his physical strength to make you understand that he gets to do or say whatever he wants, and there's nothing you can do about it.
For the most part, I think physical confrontation over pride is fucking stupid. There was a story a while back about someone getting killed on the subway in Busan because he was staring at someone else. There have been a flurry of similar, milder stories in Seoul in past months -- fist fights breaking out for the same reason. B himself has had it happen on multiple occasions that some alpha male has interpreted his quick glance as a challenging stare, and then some random man is up in his face asking him what the fuck he thinks he's looking at -- I've witnessed it myself more than once. And mostly, I just chuckle, because... well. As a foreigner, how would it go for me if I decided to get up in someone's face every time they gave me what I could interpret as a nasty stare?
But you know what? On some days, with the liberties some men take, looking me up and down and up again, moving from one seat to another to get a better look, I wish to God I could do what that woman did and just ask them what the fuck they think they're looking at, and why they think it's okay to stare at me like that, as if I'm public property. Because when women or children stare, it's whatever. But when a man does it to a woman, whether there's any malice behind it or not, it just feels different. It's threatening, and it makes your heart beat faster, as all the other times that stare has turned into something more serious come rushing back to you. And the indignity on the man's part that these kinds of things are met with, when women respond completely within reason to violations of their personhood that these same men would never tolerate without comment, make it all the more ridiculous.
So when I saw her, standing there at the gate with a determined look on her face, waiting calmly for the man to come out, part of me wanted to grab her hand and tell her it wasn't worth it. That there are a million more like him, and we'll never get anywhere if we try to take them all on. But the other part of me was cheering her on. Because there are too many people who will, without thinking, look at that situation and think, "What's wrong with her?" Her.
Just to finish this post, the last before home, on a bit of a brighter note, here are some photos of the last couple of months and what I've been up to.