Today’s short walk to the subway station is made ever more convenient by the fact that Seoul’s public servants have finally gotten around to sprinkling salt on the footpath. This is a welcomed development, though one must note that our ever faithful public administrators are about 3 weeks late in their salt laying efforts. I slip and slide towards the escalator, in line with several other of Seoul’s working stiffs. You see, I usually take the stairs where available, but in what seems like a cost cutting measure, only enough salt has been dispersed to clear a narrow strip of pavement to the escalator. The stairs remain covered in ice, and only someone suicidal would bother with them.
Other early-rising members of Seoul’s working class huddle at the entrance to the escalator, already mumbling curses directed towards Korea’s new president-elect, who is surely behind today’s cost-cutting lack of sidewalk salt. Never mind the fact that she hasn’t actually taken office yet.
As I board my morning train, an eager flip through the nation’s most prestigious newspaper (The Korea Times) leaves me feeling a tad bit let down. Page turn after page turn confirms my disappointment: Not a single article about Dok-do, and not a single anti-Apple editorial. What gives? Are they waiting for Japan and Korea’s new respective presidents to take office before they re-start the primitive, childish shit-slinging over the two most pathetic rocks in the Sea of Japan?
The front page presents us with a story about how the evil Japanese have been testing medicines on Korean patients, and paying them or getting paid by them –one can’t really be certain due to the poorly written English. One line claims that the clinics have been receiving money from patients, while the next line claims that the patients are the ones receiving money from the clinics. It’s amazing how the KT can mess up even the most simple of articles.
Korea has for a long time been the ideal testing ground for pharmaceutical companies and medical firms, for a whole variety of reasons you probably don’t want to read about. Rest assured though, it’s not just the treacherous Japanese using Koreans as guinea pigs, but Merck, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, GSK and Novartis are all either running or farming out clinical trials to Korea, because what’s illegal to do to humans in most countries, seemingly remains perfectly legal in Korea (as long as money exchanges hands somewhere, I’m guessing).
Christmas eve is upon us, but one wouldn’t know it by riding Seoul’s glistening Subway Line 4. Most commuters seem unsatisfied with the fact that they have to shuffle and slide off to work on Christmas eve, a Monday, only to have the next day off. ‘Couldn’t the big boss have just given us Monday off as well?’ is the expression I read from more than a few faces. Dreadful times indeed. What sort of miserly individual forces employees to actually work on Monday, when Tuesday is a holiday?
Christmas is couple time in Korea, and for those who are not part of a ‘couple’ during this holiday, the stigma is almost unbearable. Is my single reader feeling the stigma of being single during Christmas? Are the stares of strangers searing into your skull like a hot poker? Are restaurants refusing to serve you, lest you might occupy a table intended for couples, and not single losers such as yourself? Truly crushing.
My single reader need not despair, as one enterprising 24 year old Korean dude called Yoo Hyung-tae has arranged for a giant singles
orgy party in Yeoido park. The idea is that thousands of single men wearing white, and single women wearing red show up to the park, line up across from one another, and then all charge towards the center in an eruption of holiday excitement, ripping down the stigma of being solo during Christmas once and for all.
Unfortunately, according to the Joongang Daily, members of Korea’s large and powerful Sex Offender Hobbyist Union have also made plans to attend the event and “sexually harass timid females”. As a result, the police have been ordered to dispatch patrol cars to the event. Supposedly, 43,000 people have signed up online to attend the event, and if experience means anything, I’d predict that roughly 12 people will actually show up, 11 of them being registered sex offenders, and the twelfth being the poor sap who set the entire thing up.
It would seem that staying home might be in my single reader’s best interest after all. Perhaps some homemade eggnog is in order, or maybe a box full of contraband western snack foods and chocolate cookies. I heard recently that pure (real, Western) chocolate is going for $991 per kilo on the backstreets of Itaewon, and that members of Korea’s industrious long-term expat fringe have been brewing eggnog covertly in their bathtubs and selling it by word of mouth.
One particularly cruel long-termer even whispered a rumor that if one goes behind the bar and enters the kitchen of the Hollywood Grill in Itaewon, and then rounds a corner, goes up a flight of stairs, turns right, and then knocks on the door three times, the door will open and you’ll walk back into Macys Department Store circa December 24, 1963, and all the time you spent in Korea will be wiped from the slate. These and other vicious rumors of hidden chocolate hordes, real cheese, quality housing and other off-limits western items tend to make the rounds during Christmas, and serve only to torture Korea’s long term expat survivors. You know you’ve been in Korea too long when…
I arrive at the office to discover the usual stacks of shameless, commercial desk calendars piled high on my desk. I brush them into the bottom drawer. The best desk calendar I ever got was called “Golf Beauties”, and featured risque pictures of ajummas adorned in golf attire. That little calendar alone kept me warm for my entire first year in Korea.