(“You tell me, Pendejo. He’s your president.” See the end of Asian Adventure 3a)
Well Hae Sung and I start to hit it off and he’s got some English so we can understand each other. I ask questions, he answers. At first, on this memorable taxi ride, we are in Inchon, not Seoul. Turns out that’s where General Douglas MacArthur began stirred up some Cold War trouble.
Here’s the historical synopsis. During WWII, the USSR didn’t like us but hated Hitler more. We didn’t like Russia much either, but had no love loss for Adolf the A-Hole. So, the two, soon to be frigid countries, ally up and get WWII won and agree to divide Korea in half. I’m thinking nobody really stopped to ask the Koreans what they would like to do, but when you have or are getting nukes, then you pretty much do what you want.
So, the two superpowers divide the Korean Peninsula in two, the communists get the top bunk and the capitalists get the bottom one and the cellmates agree to behave. Well, of course they don’t and the USSR tries to go after the lower bunk and Harry Truman will have none of that so he sends Douglas MacArthur to deal with it because Mac knows how to get it done. Damn those Soviets! They just moved their tanks and stuff right down the road like nobody’s business. and took it. Young ladies and gentlemen of Mr. P’s World History class, this is how a proxy war gets started. You fight a proxy war when you and your enemy are two big to fight for reals, because nuclear weapons are for reals.
Harry ends up firing Douglas because Douglas forgot who runs the military in our country (no, its not the large multinationals and the military industrial complex, you darn liberals) and Harry reminded him.
Back to the cab ride, when we cross a bridge, we are in Seoul and Hae Song starts to complain again about how many cars there are per capita in Seoul. I don’t really say anything because we are moving pretty good and I don’t need trouble. I’m just pleased how we salvaged the relationship and started talking again.
Turns out Hae Song has only driven the company car for ten years. His dad is a high-end tailor and makes suits for $3000. I was interested in getting a suit until I heard the price tag. Had he said 3000 won, the name of the Korean currency, that would have been more doable-about $300- but he didn’t because high-end means high-end.
Now, I need you to get cinematic if this next part is going to work. I want to describe Seoul to you and think the best way to do that is to ask you to remember or watch the very first part of Blade Runner, with Harrison Ford and the hottest android you’ll ever see. Seoul is that scene at the beginning of the film without the heavy acid rain, floating police cars, and small, troublesome Star Wars Jaberwokies or ooompa-loompas or whatever the hell they are who break shit off of vehicles. Crowded, cramped, and narrow-we’ve arrived in Seoul, Korea, just like my wife said we would. (BTW, the wife wants me to go on the record about being misleading regarding Hae Song’s opinion of our president. When I asked him his thoughts on DT, he said he liked him. Something could be lost in translation, and I hope to Christ it is, but the wife didn’t bring me all the way to Korea to have me make things up. I don’t think she gets literary license.
As the roads start to widen, I see capitalism all around me. I also begin to hear the James Brown song in my head, “I’m a Seoul Man…” Turns out that Hae Song, despite his incorrect political opinion, has good taste in music (video) and calls upon his technology array to produce Jimmy B., jam to the J-Man as we drive right into the heart of Douglas MacArthur’s triumph. “I’m a Seoul Man. I’m a Seoul Man.” It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t had any prone-position sleep for the last 36 hours. I was just glad we arrived and had a functioning reservation.
We arrived at our digs at about 7:30 am, deposited our luggage and, because our room was still occupied by the outgoing occupants, had to wait for it to be available. We thus went in search of breakfast but found it not. Turns out that nobody gets up in this city of 10 million before about 11am. I know that to be true because that’s when all the stores and restaurant open.
I now call upon your generosity and kindness and ask you to suspend judgment and holster your well-justified abhorrence regarding one of the US’ major exports: fast food. After descending the hill upon which our apartment dwelt, we discovered that every college student in Asia was still asleep having studied late at night for the MCAT, the medical school entrance exam. Once we arrived at a wide boulevard with half the alphabet in its name, we knew we had no choice, people. Without nourishment we would perish.
Writing is about truth telling, and so I do not deny that we did enter a MacD…..the keyboard sticketh and resists even the name…it won’t let me confess and purge this crime. We ate at a MacDo…I fear something’s terribly amiss. Woe to me my dear readers. I wallow in shame and small ketchup packets. weep at my own weakness. I suppose we could have eaten octopus stew at the small street vendor, but that was the path less taken is not taken for a reason. I confess, we ate at… MacArthur’s. Spellcheck has an anomaly. Does the Universe forgive my sin and reconstruct my path? Yes. That’s what it does. I did eat and enjoy an Egg McMcArthur. It was served with a small toy, a plastic corncob pipe and order of attitude to go.
Stop judging. We are only bad in the morning, then we are very good and so is the food and there is a lot of it around. Coffee and beer too. Yes, they have some shoe stores and a place to get Hyundai, but mostly beer and coffee.
MacArthur, Truman, and the other Cold Warriors, after leveling Korea, exported plenty to this land. South Korea’s post WWII political and economic structure, owes its success, in part, to the influence and the investment of the West. I see plenty of tall, corporate buildings belonging to the multinationals we all bemoan. But I also see a lot of content people. I don’t have insight into their emotional world-because I can’t understand a word anybody is saying-but these folks seem very happy despite their poor dietary choices.
I’ve seen a lot of young, 20-something females, walking arm-in-arm. I’ve seen this plenty in Mexico but mostly among young girls. Many Young women do this here and it’s lovely. They are usually laughing and smiling, and usually very much connected to each other. People have cell phones of course, but they seem used more for ambulatory navigation. The place is a damn maze and it’s a wonder anybody can find their way home.
Had MacArthur not pushed Stalin back to the 50-yard line, perhaps the south of Korea would be too much like the former Soviet republics who have yet to fully embrace democracy and who work hard to develop a market economy. Containment worked here and other places. Credit given where credit due. Something is here, however for which MacArthur and Truman cannot take credit. We in the west have stronger economies than South Korea, but we don’t walk down the street holding the hands of others unless the others our children or lovers. There is happiness on the street here, the likes of which I’ve not seen before, and I’ve been around a bit to see some streets. Whitey may have pushed voting and free enterprise, but we didn’t teach these young women (and some men) to love, laugh, and walk down the street holding hands. They’ve come up with that on their own.