Thor's Korea Diary
@2 December 2003
1 : the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere
2 : a period of stagnation or inactivity [Webster's Dictionary]
Alright, it was hot, sultry. No, not her, the weather. Still, it affected brains. I studied the pasty girl in disbelief. For reasons I flailed and failed to grasp, she was telling me of her darkest fear. Hairy ogres? Soju crazed rapists? Lascivious foreign English teachers? No. It was chickens.
Now the prototype of a chicken in the chemical cracks of my brain is a small, fluffy yellow thing that goes cheep cheep. This is Asia, so one reluctantly accepts that with a bit of help from Colonel Sanders, the local chicken prototype might be a brown greasy thing rotating on a spit. Mmm, that kind, my informant went on to explain, she just loooved. I could believe her, as she wrapped her tongue around a bulbous glob of fat which had probably owned feathers some time ago.
The fright of her life came, it seems, on a rare venture into the countryside. Somehow the lady came face to face with a fearsome apparition that not only had feathers, but strutted and squarked at her. Most horrible of all, it had a bright red frilly thing which wobbled on top of its head. Meet Chicken, a.k.a. the Rooster. Aaaagh! She shuddered.
I sighed. There was an unbridgeable chasm in the communication space. How could I talk to someone who had grown up believing that, uh, chickens were born, fully naked, dripping fat on a spit? Computers, we were sure, would never really talk humanese because they couldn't share our knowledge of the world, couldn't know the confusion of love and the crushing emptiness of failure. Miss pasty-girl had grown up in the flickering light of a video parlour, where she probably hunted electronic monsters with laser guns on a daily basis. Her un-virtual lifetime habitat had been an eighteen story apartment block in a concrete canyon of other eighteen story apartment blocks. Sunshine was as foreign to her as wet grass. The only credible live animals in her mind's inventory came in pants from a bar down the street. Oh yeah, there would have been cockroaches, mosquitoes, and that strange mutation, the apartment-dog.
Ke, the Dog. There you had a survivor.
Could man's best friend rescue this generation of plasticized virtual Koreans from being completely sucked into the video screen? I had my doubts. Dog's have had a sorry past in Korea's bumpy history. The dog as hero hasn't really been part of it. When the Neo-Confucians finally triumphed over vegetarian Buddhists in Chosun Korea, poor Mr Dog-on-a-spit became a poster demonstration of the macho return to carnivorous dining. Later, much later, this good local press turned to bad global press when television and the global village crowded in. Modern Koreans on one week world tours to Paris, London Bridge and Hollywood, took along in their phrase books careful, polite explanations that personally, they didn't really approve of eating dogs.Maybe the foreign burghers were too consistently sceptical. Anyway, in upmarket corners of Korean cities the apartment-dog, as opposed to the dog-soup-dog, presently made his appearance. Dog as a love object to replace dog as a food lust object... Since every Korean secretly wants not only a Yangban (aristocratic) name like Kim, but also a BMW and the envy of his neighbours, pretty soon the apartment-dog could be seen in even the lowliest of working class districts. In no time at all there were dog hairdressers, dog cuticle polishers, dog clothes outfitters and dog hospitals. You would think that with all this lavish attention, the Dog had finally arrived.
Well, there are dogs and then there are Dogs. The dogs of my Australian childhood came in many shapes, but they had a kind of insouciance about them. On the whole, they were free dogs, not slave dogs. Oh, most of them found a home somewhere, and went through the motions of slavering over some dim-witted master who supplied the dog food in six different flavours. But it seemed to be a rare dog who didn't quickly dig its way under the suburban fences, or bound over them, or even learn to unlock gates. Then they were out and away, joyful and soon in a hunting pack of local doggy scoundrels.
Ah, these wretched Korean apartment-dogs. Someone must have put them through a miniaturizing machine. Maybe they were conceived in the same mould as the miniature trees of traditional Japanese fancy. Trees though don't have sad, beaten eyes, or that fear which comes from knowing you are the powerless plaything of pasty girls who spend the day blasting electronic video monsters. As an apartment-dog, you (like the humans) are nursed in a heated concrete cradle. From shortly after the hour of birth you are handled, washed, shaved, probably dyed an unspeakable colour, and displayed like a grocery item in some shop window. You will be bought in a moment of sentimental fancy by another apartment dweller, toyed with when the slavemistress is feeling lachrymose, and pine away, neglected in her bedroom for most of your fragile life.
Since revolt is out of the question for a mini-dog, and tiny legs can't get you away from even the most psychopathic human infant, the only defense left is an insane falsetto bark. This bark has joined the tumult of bells and whistles and roars which make up the cocktail of every urban Korean soundscape. The first time I heard this bark in a supermarket I thought I was hallucinating. Understand that all the big Korean supermarkets and discount stores have coin lockers where shoppers must leave their bags. Well here was a bank of coin lockers rocking to the crazed barks of a mini-dog chorus. What kind of cruel and unusual punishment was this? Were was the management? Ah, the management was smirking quietly. On closer inspection, I discovered with amazement that there were special doggy coin lockers, each with a little tray beneath to slide out the poo. My last dog, many childhood decades ago, was a big, bluff, hairy Airedale. Anyone who tried to put him in a coin locker would have been eaten and had his bones buried in the carpark.
Maybe though the apartment-dog is getting his revenge after all. Yesterday morning I went out on an early breakfast hunt for gang-neng-i ( a kind of unsweetened popcorn which goes down OK with bananas and milk). Up by the highway, on a busy intersection, a fat lady was just stepping out with her mini-D on a lead. One of those poodle things, obscenely shaved and obviously with all the psychoses of its mistress. They had just reached the center of the intersection when Poodle decided that nature couldn't wait. Fastidiously it squatted on the asphalt and began to plop brown things. The lady was aghast. "Oh! Oh! Oh!", she gasped. Then being a trooper at heart, she rose to the occasion and put up an imperious hand to halt a truck, a bus and a careening taxi while her loved one did what had to be done. There remained a problem though. This is a land where you must now no longer throw your lolly papers on the ground. Not while anyone is looking anyway. And here was the public evidence, in full view of a furious truck driver and a bus load of gawking passengers. Madam didn't hesitate. Whipping three tissues out, she scooped up the shit and snapped it briskly into her handbag.Me? Personally I'm barking mad with the whole crazed place. I have a neighbour you see. A pasty lady with five mini-Ds. To tell the truth, I never see her. And that's the problem. When she goes out to wherever pasty ladies go, the mini-Ds go frantic; I mean they don't stop howling all day and all night. At 3am this morning, after failing to hide from their incessant yapping, after wrapping a mattress around my head for four hours, and drinking half a bottle of cheap wine in search of oblivion ... I cracked. Disheveled, uncouth and half-dressed I rushed downstairs to bang on the window of the dozing security guard. "Ke", I bellowed, exhausting my reserves of Korean, "arf arf arf ARF !!"
* Note on personal names: many names in this Diary have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals