Thursday, June 3, 2010

It’s Election Time

Howdy. The last two weeks have been the run-up to provincial elections here. What does that mean? Sound trucks. They're everywhere, every day, and they're merciless. Each candidate gets his (or her) own sound truck and their volunteers roll around town with it blaring songs that extol their candidacy. "Iwo Jima! Kim Dae-Su!" (I'm not sure what that first part actually is, but it sounds like "Iwo Jima" to me.) The trucks are usually accompanied by a group of people (usually older women) all doing hand motions in time with each other. Occasionally someone blows a whistle and they all simultaneously bow. If the candidate is there, he or she usually wears a blue ribbon with his or her name, as if he or she were a Miss America contestant. Sometimes they also employ these MCs who are animated enough to make Howard Dean's speech after the Iowa caucus look dignified. In the morning when I walk to work a bunch of them congregate at the major intersection where my school's gate is, all blaring music at once at full volume, and I have to run the gauntlet between half a dozen competing songs. This is not a pleasant experience, especially first thing in the morning.

This has been going on for two weeks. Thank Christ the election is tomorrow. Seriously, I don't care if they elect Kim Jong-Il as long as the sound trucks go the hell away.

I thought about making a big "Korean Election Mega-Mix" on my iPod and seeing if I could drown it all out with my noise-cancelling headphones. Figured I would throw in all the classics – Slayer, Melvins, maybe some Carcass, Converge, Sabbath, Mastodon, pre-"Black Album" Metallica, Sick Of It All, might even throw some Iron Maiden or Ministry in there for old times' sake. But, I never got around to it, and the election is over tomorrow, so in the words of Thomas Paine, fuck it.

Speaking of Kim Jong-Il, what's up with that fucktard sinking our boat? What a jerk. The rumor around town was originally that the boat might have hit a mine left over from the Korean War and the government was dragging out the investigation to help the conservatives in the elections, but now that the investigation is over almost everyone, including myself, seems to be buying this torpedo story. Why do jerks thrive? And how do they keep becoming heads of state? I know the situation is pretty diplomatically fraught (in part because no one really wants to deal with a country full of starving North Koreans if the current regime falls) but part of me really wishes this was one of those political problems that are easily solved by a few Predator drones or a Cruise missile or two.

I did get one very welcome respite last week when I went to the Philippines to visit a friend of mine. He's studying medical tourism in Manila and since both my high school classes were out of school on their spring excursions last week I begged my way in to three days of vacation time. It was a great trip, very relaxing. It was also my first time out of Korea since I got here in February. This job is great and I'm definitely enjoying it here, but it was certainly a relief to go somewhere a bit more Western, even if it was Southeast Asia. I think the first time I handed money to someone and realized I didn't have to do it with both hands was the point I realized that I wasn't in Korea any more. Koreans are incredibly friendly but the culture is pretty alien when it comes to certain traditions and social protocols, and it was nice to be in a place as freewheeling as the Philippines instead for a couple days. It's funny, I never even thought about how much I might miss Western culture before last weekend, but it's amazing what comes back to you when you can suddenly get real (and by that I mean Americanized) Chinese food and Jim Beam again.

I met a lot of Australians and some older Americans on the trip – a lot of them retire to the Philippines because the cost of living is so low, among many benefits. I have to admit, the idea of buying a house in the tropics and taking a Filipina as an unofficial second wife doesn't seem like such a bad life. I guess it's too bad I'm 32 and don't have a dime saved up for retirement. (At the rate I'm going it's fairly likely I'll still be paying back my film school loans by the time I reach 55.)

Well, that'll have to wait, now that I'm back to the land of English lessons and surreptitious prostitution. I shouldn't complain, I have a job and for once it might actually be beneficial to someone. I guess that's worth the trouble of remembering to bow to your elders and hold your cup out for a drink with your other hand back by your elbow. Right? Right?

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