Thursday, November 6, 2008

south korea's having a bad day

now that we’ve left south korea and we’re back in happy japan i can say it: korea is grumpy mc-two-shoes. wow.

when we returned to manhattan last year from our first trip to japan, i could be heard around town telling friends how kind the japanese people are. “in two months no one pushed me or shoved me and i was never in anyone’s way. it was great!” first impressions are sometimes a bit skewed (i used to sort of like lou dobbs until i realized what a blowhard he is) and upon returning to nihon this year, i realized it is not quite as clean, as friendly, or as polite as i’d remembered. don’t get me wrong, it’s ten times friendlier than pretty much anywhere i’ve been in the states (including columbus.) but the rosy picture i painted of “never being in anyone’s way?” perhaps a touch too rosy.

and then we went to korea.

let me backtrack and say i’ve reconsidered my earlier remarks: japan is by far the cleanest, friendliest, most polite place i’ve ever been. seriously.

now. korea.

have i mentioned how polite the japanese are?

within five minutes of arriving in seoul, south korea i was pushed, shoved, and bumped into more times than i have been pushed or shoved in three years of living in manhattan. if you live in manhattan, you know what kind of pushing and shoving i’m talking about. now maybe i sound like a woose here. “oh, someone pushed you did they? it wasn’t all nice, and cute like you wanted, little baby american person?” go ahead and mock. the next time you’re climbing up the side of a mountain and someone seriously nudges you out of the way when there’s about a half an inch of trail between you and no trail…well. you’ll be a woose too.

and can you say “korean stank-eye?" walking down the street in seoul i often felt like i was a hobo intruding on a private dinner party. like i had just personally offended the mother of every fourth person i passed. “what are you doing here?” they said with their eyes. “i don’t trust you for a minute.” “that hairstyle is so 80’s." "i bet you don't even like pig intestine."

that said, the theater we played – the sejong center – was stunning, the korean audiences were wildly enthusiastic (unlike the very polite, and sometimes very quiet japanese audiences) and the lotte hotel was the best i’ve ever stayed in (you really can’t beat remote control curtains.) and at the top of that mountain, at the end of the trail was a very sweet, very dear man who not only offered to take my picture, but gave me a gigantic korean apple, and struck up a bright little conversation.

of course, he was japanese.


  1. Tony,

    I don't doubt for a second everything you say about the Japanese and Koreans. But we should not forget what the Japanese were doing to the Koreans and Chinese 70 years ago. The rape of Nanking and the thousands of young Korean women forced into being "comfort girls" for Japanese soldiers are just the beginning. Interestingly, the Japanese have never completely repented their World War II sins in the manner the Germans have.

  2. i think the crucial words here are "70 years ago."

    have we ever completely repented our sins for enslaving african-americans? oh right, we did. on november 4th, 2008.

    i'm not unaware of japan's history. nor am i unaware of our own, and the history we are making today in places like guantanamo, abu ghraib, and iraq.

    i hope that 70 years from now, we too can be forgiven.


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