Occidental Accidents in The Orient: Korean Memoir-Chapter 3

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Adam’s Place And Getting Around

We arrived where Adam lived-in a place called Shinsol dong-at night. I looked intently at everything I could make out in the dark. And so far, Seoul looked like a land out of science fiction, or the future, and yet, the hodge-podgy and dilapidated nature of many structures also made it look like its war-torn past was not far behind. There were these huge white and oddly mint-green cement apartment buildings. They had huge numbers on them. I immediately thought of the moon bases I drew as a boy, the ideas for which came from depictions in books about space travel. I’d emblazoned the buildings in my pictures with the same large numbers.

As we walked through a large couldesac-like parking lot surrounded by these large, terraced abodes (in which the terraces were really outdoor hallways on each floor with a waist-high wall) I started to see in some ways, how Koreans lived differently than we do in the West. I thought to myself, ‘It must be cold after one climbs the stairs or gets out of the elevator, walking down those open air halls to reach his apartment.’ But it did look cool to me that one could see out over the town from the hall. But I also wondered if any kids had ever fallen off those terraced halls. Korea seemed a bit less concerned with safety. I saw some precarious stair cases along the sides of houses that led to rooves; doors on second floors that opened mysteriously onto sheer drops to the earth below. And having been a draftsman had taken architecture in high school, I noticed risers on stair-cases and curbs along sidewalks that were different heights! ‘I’ll have to watch where I am walking!’

A chilly, breezy, spring wind enveloped me, and on it I sensed an eery and exciting feeling. I had arrived in a realm that was so far from home, on the other side of the planet, and which seemed so different that it was a bit creepy to realize it had an ancient history as a completely different world formerly unbeknownst to me. All the lives in this place that had come and gone might as well have been ants under a rock, until I had gotten here. It was this feeling of gross ignorance which in the beginning made me want to know as much as I could about this place, I think. Like a person waking up a thousand years in the future, from cryogenic suspension-like Woody Allen in Sleeper (!), you feel like even the buttons on your new clothes might require an explanation.

When I was growing up a mutual friend of Adam’ and mine from our home town, also called Adam, had once said to me something like, ‘Look at another person walking by and realize that he has an entire life as intricate and complex as yours, and you don’t know anything about it, and you probably never will. Doesn’t’ that make you stop and think?’ So I thought, ‘yeah, that’s profound’, and ‘there are hundreds of guys like that within a square mile of us. But this was an entirely different culture, in Asia. I didn’t know the half of it what I didn’t know!

And when you realize this is only one other country out of many you haven’t been to, you understand how little you know about the world, regardless of what you might have learnd in school, read in books, seen on TV, or heard on the radio…until you travel, and for  long, long time.

And I had arrived,  in what would prove to be a culture I would come to think of as the opposite of my own, yet, no magic was going to suddenly enlighten me about this place and all its mysteries. Little did I know how much I would have to suffer before I really learned about this place, deeply. One thing you do realize after not too long in Korea;  very little on the surface reveals what is really going on inside.

To Be Continued…

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Carl is a Tokyo-based Writer, Artist, Videographer and Voice Actor from New York interested in Japanese, Ukiyo-e, philosophy and aerospace. For more about him, see his About pages.

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