Sunday, May 3, 2009

Yelling louder doesn't make me understand more

I'm a timid and shy person for the most part. Occasionally I can get frisky like when someone is about to step into traffic or kick a kitten.  But for the most part I am quiet when in public.  

And one would think that'd be okay in an Asian, semi-confucian-hold-over society like Korea.  Timidity in a foreign woman would seem especially acceptable.  It's a rare time when anyone directs any comments directly at me when I'm with my guy.  When in a pack I can normally just smile and nod and get away with it.

But when alone the population issues of Korea become exceedingly apparent.  There is just too many people and not enough space for anyone to be timid.  If you're to survive without sneaker marks on your cheek you better throw some elbows.  This I have trouble with.  

The other day I was jogging and found myself on a path through the more residential part of my town (as opposed to the ONE sidewalk along the highway where I normally run).  I kept to the side and looked out for scary vegetable trucks zooming down the narrow alley.  Unfortunately, being on the side, I found myself behind people who were walking, in particular an ajumma who was shuffling her way ahead of me.  

To others the choice in this situation would be clear...just run around her.  To me I freak out.  Should I slow down?  Should I wait till we near an intersection?  Should I give up the running and walk?  Do I cross the street completely?  Should I just turn around?  Crap, now I'm really close, what should I do?  Do I say hello so she can hear me?  No, she knows I'm there...what to do what to do what to do?

I cut out, gave a wide berth and started to pass her.  She, at the very moment I was passing her, cut out herself for no apparent reason and walked directly into me.  As I tripped over myself and attempted not to do a face-plant into the asphalt she started yelling.  A lot.  In really fast Korean.  

I don't know much Korean and sometimes the culture throws me for a loop but I do know that this is not one of those situations that I can smile and nod my way through.  Instead, I ran.  Away.  Fast.  She yelled louder.  I ran faster.

I am so not proud.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Parade - No Parade

We had a few bumps finding it.  First it was the wrong bus, then possibly the right bus, but then it really wasn't the right bus and we ended up walking backwards from "Where are we" Seoul to City Hall.

I had warned my pink-hating friend that Hi Seoul described May 2 as "A wave of pink taking over the city."  She was hesitant about the Hot Pink Parade, but she was going to tough it out.  So were, apparently, the paraders.  Upon walking up to Cheongye Palace we were faced with a double line of young boys dressed in riot gear.  Further up the way the lawn was scattered with more young men, all smoking nervously, sitting on their shields.  In the background was the "La-la-la-la" song that seems to come up at all Korean festivals and in the foreground: battle cries.  Along the parade route you could hear the pounding of drums and see the waving of protest flags.  Everyone was chanting their slogan and pumping their fists in the air, while a wave of cars decorated in pink balloons navigated through the crowd.  

We ended up standing with a crowd in the middle of the road as the protesters swarmed up past us on the left and the parade came up on the right.  For a minute it was chaos.  I wasn't sure where the noise was coming from or what it meant.  A man frantically pressed a flyer for Hi Seoul into my palm and told me to "dance" and "party."  "Fun fun!" he assured.  Maybe not.  The first drumming group of the parade got through.  A group of people in fancy dress made it.  Then the protesters hit the end of the parade route and turned around.  The cars with balloons were stuck and my friends and I dashed through them to the relatively uncrowded side street.  

That was the end of the Hot Pink Parade.  After that we watched Korean storm troupers line up on either side of the street and stand with their shields up.  The protesters went up and down and the parade ended along way away, with no where to go.  

As an American, my first reaction to seeing protesters outnumbered 2-to-1 by police is fear.  In America a recipe like that, no matter what the protest is about, is going to end up with someone's baton in someone's face.  In Korea, not so much.  Though the "ones in power" have been cracking down on illegal protests, Korean police are not likely to throw the first punch.  Or the second apparently, or the third.  From what I've been told they'll take as much as they can before acting.  In all, the scariest part of the protests was the percussion of the drummers pushing through protest, smoke, cries, signs and all, and dancing their way to the end of the line.  Korean drums pack a punch that makes your heart beat a little faster.

The night ended with a long walk along the stream, the dead parade sitting forlornly on a median and a bunch of children dressed in their best hanbok wandering around with nothing else to do now.