Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The colonialists are coming!

I'D KNOWN her fifteen minutes, when, as casual as a request to pass the salt, it came out at a work dinner, my first with the job:

"I don't like white guys dating Asian girls," she, a New Yorker of Korean descent, said, wrapping a fatty piece of pork belly in a lettuce leaf.


But aren't I white? I wondered silently, frantically grabbing a spoon to check my reflection. Yes, it was true: white as a bag of MDMA sold to an insecure teen outside the school gates. White as a pillaging colonialist. 

Then another horrifying realisation: my girlfriend. She was Korean ...making her ...yes, Asian! There was no mistake. I was one sick kid.

"They just go out with them for a status symbol," she rationalised.

"I am sure some go out with them because they like them," I protested feebly, like a child molester in denial.

She raised her eyebrows. No, of course. She was right. My "relationship" -- more accurately, manifestation of my illness -- was a product of white, racist, male, empire. How could I have been so blind.

A few minutes later I was asked by her did I come to Korea for a girlfriend (an expensive proposition I would have thought. But then colonialists do it for the fun of it, not the economics.) Then I was informed white people had it good everywhere. I stayed calm. Polite. Useless.

I left it, said nothing more. Ate my fatty pork and and gulped my soju.

But later I wondered how an exchange such as this might have gone down: 

Me (the white imperialist): "You know what I really don't like?"

Table of work colleagues, mostly not well-acquainted: "No, what? Traffic?"

Me: "No. Black guys dating white girls!"

Table: "..."

The initial silence might have resembled a pre-deceased Osama bin Laden walking in on his 20-whatever sons in makeup and pink tutus, bobbing and twirling to "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" (on headphones of course). Then maybe some "Hmmm..."s and "Ah, no..."s. Then, maybe I'd be called a racist to my face. Maybe later on I'd get a nice letter from my employer explaining how it had found someone else to do my job.

The nice thing about a comment such as the one our enlightened New Yorker -- who, in case you wonder, had been here two months and spoke no Korean -- made is that is has all sorts of important-sounding academic justification behind it. On the milder, though often plain silly, end of the scale, you have post-colonial studies; on the more despicable: Swedish professors saying white men attracted to Asian women are acting out paedophilic desires.

The real racism is in the nasty white men taking advantage of the oppressed colonial subjects, not those who object to normal, healthy relationships. And so on.

But not to worry. The weekend is approaching. Plans are to be made. I hear a ship is setting off soon for a long voyage. They are calling it the New World. Time to grab my feathered helmet, chest plate and sabre.

 Next stop New York City.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Here comes that sticky feeling...

IT HAS almost been a year. I arrived in Korea in July and the humidity then made you want to change your underwear every hour. It's only May, but she has returned already: that sultry, sticky heat that makes you sweat even as you sit still.

It is a reminder of how quickly things move: a year really is not a long time. It is hard to believe, but more than 10 months have gone by, enough time to lose that feeling of "travelling". I live here now. In some ways, Korea to me is now simply "the norm." Of course, there are many things that still puzzle me about this country and challenge my understanding of it. But that strange feeling of routine has resolutely taken hold: sleep, eat, work, repeat.

The heat reminds me of something else too: that goshiwon of last summer with its cockroaches and its squalor and its lack of air-conditioning. I have air-conditioning now. It hasn't been turned on yet. Not even once.

 But when it is, oh, will it be glorious.