For my third trick, the one on which I put in a thousand words today, I’m pulling together a triptych of ghost stories — somewhat linked, sort of, but also separated by time — set on mountains in Korea. Continue reading
Damn you, fellas with neon-yellow- and hot-pink-eared poodles who go along the mountain trails without a drop of sweat in sight, whilst I leave a veritable trail of stinky dew behind.
Damn you, teenaged couple who, having reached the top, do not take ten minutes to stop dripping and catch you breath but immediately start snapping cute pictures of one another.
Damn you, middle-aged guy selling the Coke and Gatorade up at the top. I know you haul that stuff, and then down, every damned weekend.
Damn you, heavyset middled-aged women who reach the top peak without a look of strain but instead with laughter in your eyes and upon your lips. I know very well you are not laughing at me, but I’m tired, and my legs hurt, and it annoys me anyway.
Folks, the warning sign I got during my staff physical was unmistakable: exercise, or get sick. I’m not sick now, but if I don’t get my health under control, I will be. So this time, it will not be one of those attempts that falls by the wayside, because this is serious now. My diet isn’t so bad, except maybe occasionally heavy salt intake, but it’s uneven, and I’ve gotten way too little sleep in the last year. So I will get a good night’s sleep from now on. This is one of my pledges to myself.
Another is that sooner or later, I’m going to give those little old ladies on the mountainside a run for their money.
It’s time to get this thing going on.
When I arrived at the professors’ cafeteria this evening for dinner, I noticed this weird-looking guy staring at me constantly as I made my way up the line, adding food to my tray. When I’d finished, I stopped to get a cup of water, and by then he was staring directly at me. I noticed that he had a face like, well, like a slab of tenderized beef… meaning, I think the man had partaken in more than his fair share of fisticuffs. And, of course, he was staring at me alone.
Sometimes really wish I wasn’t the only “foreigner” in the room.
As I walked past, he locked eyes with me and said, in what struck me a rather aggressive tone, “야… 많이먹어라… 많이먹어라…” Which translates as, “Hey you… eat up! Eat up!” (Literally, it’s “Hey you, eat a lot, eat a lot!” except that it’s so informal that one would never use it to a stranger, or at least that’s what I’ve been taught. But I say this also because of the look in his eye, which was somewhat passive-aggressive, or even resentful. He was talking to me the way one talks to a child, or to his direct inferior, and making no secret of his disdain for me, a disdain that welled up from who-knows-where.
I made my way to the farthest table away from him that I could find, and then kicked myself, realizing I’d forgotten to get some soup, so I slipped past him again, feeling his eyes but avoiding his gaze. Yet when I passed again, looking in the other direction, I heard him — even louder this time — grunting “야! 많이먹어! 많이먹어라…”
I pretended not to notice him, hoping he’d take the hint, but by that point, he was staring at me continually. The only time I looked over furtively was in the short moments when he forced his way into the conversation of some nearby students, but most of the time, I was the only person in the room for him.
And when he got up to leave, he made a beeline straight to me and slowed his pace so that he could look me straight in the eye, growling, “많이먹어… 많이먹어…” over and over as he passed by. I swear, the look on his face was bordering on threatening by that point, and I swear, if this had not happened at my workplace, I would have torn into him in Korea, asking him why the hell he was talking to me in 반말 (informal speech) and why he was grunting the same thing at me a dozen times with such an angry face.
I know it would have been a bad idea, especially with a guy like this, who, frankly, reminded me more than anything of the gangsters I’d crossed paths with in Iksan: a sullen face, pockmarked; his clothes that were good enough to be putting on airs of being a grown-up professional, but too cheap and ugly for him to be an educated professional.
But it’s really grating when some guy takes out his random personal frustrations and his inferiority complex on you, growling at you in rude language — assuming you can’t understand him — and all but demands your immediate attention, regardless of what you happen to be doing or whether you feel like interacting with him, because you’re the only white person in the room.
And the really infuriating part is when this happens while you’re at your workplace and have no idea what department the guy’s in, whether he’s just an older student whom you can call on his behaviour, or some craptastic bureaucrat … when you can’t predict the consequences of telling him he’s behaving inappropriately (read: like an ass)… it’s all just so… not “grating,” and “annoying” is the wrong word… I think it’s mostly just absolutely infuriating. At least when it’s away from work, you can tell people to stop treating you that way, ask them to leave you alone, snap at them in Korean.
But I ended up just glancing at him, giving him a “What the fuck, dude?” look, and going back to eating. I hate feigning oblivion, though. I think next time I might just ask him why he’s talking to me that way. Because one thing I’m realizing that it’s not his behaviour that has worn on me ever since — it’s my own passive reaction, my lack of reaction, my own complicity in his treating me like crap that makes me most angry, most tired, most frustrated.
The irony? I was only just before discussing the concept of “The Other” (a la Edward Said) and watching a chunk of the Spike Lee film Bamboozled. Which had the simultaneous effect of reminding me how much worse “othering” can be, yes — a reminder that it’s not so bad when it’s just the occasional jerk, and not a whole environment of rampant misrepresentation — but also reminded me of how gleefully some people here discuss the racism of the USA while tacitly omitting any mention of what “others” experience here. (Because if this is annoying me, I can barely imagine how African, South Asian, and Southeast Asian workers here cope with their treatment.)
Problem solved. But there’s a much bigger annoyance around than these birds, and one I can’t solve by hissing out my window…
There’s a piano somewhere outside my window that hasn’t been tuned in ages. Since I don’t know when. It has to have been a long time, but I never noticed just how badly out of tune it is. I’ve heard it before, but I have never noticed that it is absolutely ridiculously out of tune. Certain notes — the ones I imagine must be most often-used — are almost a full semitone out of tune, meaning that a C and a B-natural are almost the same note. There’s a slight upward move in the sound when the note moves from a B to a C, so I know it’s supposed to be a C, but it’s not a C. It’s some other note in between a B and a C, and while I love this kind of microtuning when one hears it in musics that use it creatively — like in Indian classical music, or Korean traditional songs, or any number of other musical traditions — it sounds like a horror when this quarter-tone-flat C ends up at the top of a C chord. It doesn’t sound musical, the way quarter-tones sound in other musical traditions. Instead, it just sounds nasty. Yuck!
If you own a piano and play it for hours on end, with the window open, tune the damned thing, for the sake of your neighbours, if not for the sake of your own ear. Practicing with something as out of tune as that will only train you to expect the wrong note and when you finally end up playing on a properly-maintained piano, it will sound weird to you. It’s a bad, bad form of unconscious ear-training.
Eye update: it’s doing better. The lighting in my home is a lot better for my eyes now, though too much time on the PC is still causing me some visual distress. I will see the opthamologist again in a couple of weeks, just before I leave for Seattle. Till then, I’m thinking of getting an external keyboard to help me place this computer at a better distance from my eyes. Sadly, I cannot up the refresh rate: 60 Mhz or whatever that unit is, is the maximum. I may have to sell this to get something with a better refresh rate, if the problem persists.