29 October 2007

The Corpse in the Koryo. James Church.

There were fake Bavarians in the train station.

I take this on good authority. "They probably weren't even Bavarians," said authority said to me, when I described the people in lederhosen or bodices and floofy skirts I saw running around everywhere as I stood at a round table in Munich station, eating my doner kebab. The good authority had spent four hours finding someplace to sit, itself, in Munich on this, the first day of Oktoberfest. It had arrived at noon, but everyone else had got there at ten in the morning. Which misstep reminds me, 100 km west of Lindau (Lindau being where I and the good authority met up, I having miscalculated and the good authority having missed its last train to that 100-km-distant place) probably is not, in fact, Bavaria. Baden-W├╝rttemberg, I should think. Dang. Maybe not such a great authority, after all. Though appealing, with the blond and brown and gray hair and the laryngitis and eight legs and all.

Right, so real Bavarians, quite possibly, but there's just something not all that terribly convincing about lederhosen. I mean, even my own father has been known to wear lederhosen. With desert boots and a Gabby Hayes hat, and nothing else. In Colorado. I ask you.

Not like when you show up at the bus stop in Seoul on an autumn afternoon and find row upon row of middle-aged women in hanbok, waiting for the Popemobile to come along. Anachronistic garb, perhaps, but you know those are Koreans. Who else is going to show up and put on hanbok and stand there by the side of the road like that?

Anyway, I was not staying in Munich, just standing up eating a doner kebab, because Oktoberfest seemed to me much better avoided, and so as soon I'd ingested the thing I went to the grocery store (There is a grocery store in the train station in Munich! Oh, the contrast with dismal Seattle!) after a bottle of water and a fizzy-widget can of Paulaner and went to find a compartment on the train toward Zurich (and oh, that I'd stayed on till Zurich, and not stepped off in Lindau, blasted Lindau . . . but oh, how wisdom does come too late).

I sat in my compartment, sipping my beer, smugly. (Not yet, you see, having visited Lindau.)

And then it was that it was borne upon me, the proximity of Koreans.

Fervent Koreans.

Loud Koreans.

Angry Koreans.

Disputing, in the next compartment, fervently, loudly, angrily, for the longest time. Until we'd left the station. Until the conductor had checked my ticket. Until I'd finished my beer. Until we were pretty darn near blasted Lindau.

This is where James Church (who is not named James Church, but let us leave that side for the moment) comes in.

For James Church says that while you may not be able to tell what a Korean is thinking, you can always tell what a Korean is feeling.

This seems to me true. His descriptions of Korean hillsides in fall (I lived on a Korean hillside in fall) and communist apartment buildings (I lived in a communist apartment building) and bungly bureaucracies (oh let me not recount the bungly bureaucracies I have borne) all seemed equally convincing. And so, thanks to his book--which was also an entertaining read, containing lots about persimmon wood, and corpses, and translations of nice poems, too--North Korea is no longer to me the place of impenetrable mystery it seemed to me at the age of ten, when I held in my hands my first passport, thing of mystic potency, opening to me all borders but those of (I seem to remember it explicitly stating) North Korea.

Good book.

Three Cheers for the Bolt-Affixer!

10 October 2007


There are photos here.

Intracultural Communication

"Now this is not really so bad," I said to myself, getting settled into seat 12F for Air Canada Flight 541 from Toronto to Seattle. I had made it from Vienna to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Toronto, and was on the last leg of the journey home.

"Maybe you've enjoyed wallowing for three weeks in your complete inability to derive meaning from the soft murmur of conversation around you, but comprehension, too, has its compensations. Listen to the pretty flight attendant, how she flirts with the geezer in 12D. Isn't that charming? And listen to the geezer's wife, next to you, and how she's voiced an intention to 'get some shut-eye,' now wasn't that worth hearing, hmmm?"

"All right," I conceded grumpily. "One has, in any case, an ethical obligation to come to a nuanced understanding of the foolishness that surrounds one. Easier, I suppose, in one's native tongue, on one's home continent. Now go away and let me read my book."

I retreated, and attempted to absorb myself in Haruki Murakami.

But my ears did not support this enterprise. "My balls are all scrunched," they said they heard the geezer say.

"Oh, come now," I chastised. "You don't expect me to believe he said that, do you? Or, or, or, maybe he was making those origami ornaments, and he accidentally put them in his bag and they got deflated, or, or, or, something . . ."

But the geezer unbuckled his seatbelt, rose to his feet with his legs well apart, and directed his hands purposefully into his crotch. They worked there for a bit.

"Much better," the geezer said, sitting down.

"Now, see," I pointed out to myself. "You never heard anything like that before, did you?"

I refused to reply.

09 October 2007