Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

"Yale is terrific for anything you wanna do, so long as it doesn't involve people with sneakers, guns, dope, lust, or sloth"
-Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities

The neighborhood in which I used to reside, Sinchon (신촌), is a human cesspool serving three major universities:  Yonsei (연세),  Ehwa (이화), and Sogang (서강).  Its merits are such that when I tell older Koreans that I lived there, I am certain to elicit a knowing grin.  Encyclopedia Brown’s Idaville may have had “…churches, a synagogue, and a delicatessen,” but surely those amenities pale in comparison to Sinchon’s offerings:  hourly-rate motels, a phone-sex operator, and a ramen house!  
            Amidst this human wasteland of soju, vomit, and motels whose sole advertisement consists of a blow-up spider man doll with a halogen light-tube emanating from his spidey-crotch, city bureaucrats felt it wise to install an elementary school.  And in a probable effort to tame the tides of these youth's inevitable degeneracy, the bureaucrats also installed a park catty-corner to the school.
            It’s a nice park, as far as Sinchon goes.  At night there’s the usual mix of homeless people, but also free concerts and hipsters (both domestic and foreign, sans tariffs) making moves on tricked out BMX bikes.  There are also lots of pigeons shitting at will.  It’s not a bad place to take a date if you’re cheap, which as a student with effectively negative income, I admittedly was.
            Also, as I was informed by one girl unfortunate enough to accompany me to said park, it is a “gay park (not to be confused with parks exhibiting heterosexual tendencies).”  This helped explain the many congregations of vaguely counter-culture G.I. Janes sitting on the deck outside the lavatories, and also gave me a sufficiently logical (albeit inaccurate) explanation of my relatively poor luck with the ladies I had previously brought there.
            This park has always seemed to me somewhat of an anomaly.  While I’ve met many Koreans who are deep enough in the closet to have reached Narnia, I only know two openly homosexual Koreans.  Partially a result of Christian culture, and partially the result of a conservative secular culture, the Land of the Morning Calm does not seem to be particularly approving of gay individuals (then again, per the recent constitutional amendment, neither does North Carolina).  From the guy at my boxing gym who always seemed to prefer wrestling, to the potential language exchange partner who repeatedly insisted on telling me about his military career as a “seaman,” there are a few Koreans who probably would have been better off in a more liberal western society.
            That said, significantly more liberal attitudes can be found in neighboring Hongdae (홍대), a district surrounding an artsy university with a similarly debauched but dissimilarly upscale feel.  There are college students, of course, but also big shots compensating for inferior penis length with Lamborghinis.  I would forgive the drivers their choice of car if they were able to drive the standard version of the vehicle, but a passing look at the gearbox will usually reveal an automatic transmission.  That is to say, they might as well be driving go-karts.
Depending on which origin story you prefer, you might say that the district’s fame began when the punk-rock group Crying Nut (크라잉넛) started making hits in the late nineties.  While they never experienced financial success on the level of their American counterparts, they did at least improve on their original position.  None of the band members come from notably wealthy backgrounds, and prior to achieving some level of tangible success, they were hard pressed for basic expenses.  After practicing at a studio in the neighborhood one evening, they realized that they lacked the funds necessary for bus fare.  Pooling their money together, they bought a bag of nuts from a convenience store and walked home, metaphorically “crying.”  Hence the name.
A Korean guitarist I know remarked once that it was a shame the band hadn’t been born in America, where objectively talented bands like “Crying Nut” might be appropriately remunerated.  I agree with him.   However, they should content themselves with the fact that at least they are not an Iranian punk band like the "The Yellow Dogs Band" of Tehran, who cite “…Joy Division as an influence” and whose music is “…not approved by Iran’s Minsitry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.”

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