Every morning and without fail, I hit snooze five times too many. Despite my plans last night to get up early, cook an awesome egg breakfast, this morning was no different. Fifteen minutes before eight I dragged myself out of bed, fed the cats, jumped into some clothes and put on some make up (very, very little).
The bus stop nearest my house (2 minutes walk ), does not have a bus that goes to my job or a bus that connects to the stop that is six minutes away, so I trudged trudged up a slight incline, cut to the left and then to the right and then to the left again emerging from the residential block on the backside of Costco. There is a big company here and every morning a crowd rushes off of bus after bus, heels and loafers trotting to work. My path takes me against the flow and on rainy days when the way is clogged by umbrellas this last stretch of sidewalk to my stop becomes a traffic jam.
But it was a lovely spring money with a hint of heat and chill simultaneously in the air. A lovely, lovely morning and Gwacheon is exceptionally nice in Korea. The city is full of old, well established apartments which means mature trees and a lovely rich scent of grass and flowers and trees. It recalls to me the United States and I wish at times I lived in Gwacheon. But I don't know for certain what work holds for me next year... if I get what I want, a job in the curriculum department, my current apartment is better. But if I stay in this position another year, then I'll move to Gwacheion proper.
Anyway, I forded through the crowed streaming off the bus to get on and only the seats along the back row were left. It's my least favorite place to sit, but this morning the (외국인) wegookin affect was in full swing. I sat in the center seat and nobody sat to my left. Only one sat to my right. People flowed on and off the bus, but I had acres of space.
Koreans don't wear deodorant like us Americans and to be fair they don't need it. Genetics at play. Anyway, it's moments like this that I begin to worry that I have bad body odor. A quick under the arm sniff ensured that this was not the case and so I settled back and enjoyed not being a bus burrito and the breeze coming through a window slid slightly open.
For some inexplicable reason, I've been into North Korea lately. I don't me like in love, but you know, searching recent news and stuff. This is impart due to Atlas Shrugged. I've listened to the audio book twice now, in part because it helps with my insomnia. This isn't to say that the book is boring. Its not, but it is loaded with pro free capitalism diatribes. Enough of those will put anyone asleep, especially the second time around.
One thing the book does really well, at least for me, is make one think. I've been thinking and thinking which lead to a perverted interest in North Korea. Did you know they have a marathon there every year and people pay the North Korean government 1350.00 euros to be a symbol of North Korea's endurance and revolutionary spirit. After reading Aynn Rand's book...
I've never been to North Korea so I don't know everything but I do know that their prison population is so high that the prisons have become towns and you know if you defect then your relatives for generations will be in prison. Seriously. One woman was release from prison after 37 years... she was born there, and only learned of her charges after she was let go.
"You have now served all your time for your great, great, great grandfather's crime of defecting from North Korea," said North Korea.
"All these bad things happened to me because of something my great, great, great grandfather did."
"Yep and don't you forget it!"
She didn't. She left, though she didn't seem to have any children or family.... to defect knowing your family for the next three or four generations would be in prison, life would have to really, really suck or be some kind of ( insert expletive). Speaking of expletives that begin with a, I think people who pay to get the dictator approved tour are... well lets just put it this way, Ayn Rand would have put these people on the steam engine as it went through the tunnel in Atlas Shrugged.
From scientists to runners to photographers to Dennis Rodman, people all over the world are like, "North Korea ain't so bad." Its spoken in that "we're all just people." Having not been in North Korea myself, perhaps I just don't get it.
Here's what I do get: In Korean the word for foreigner is 외국인 (waegukin), but it's more akin to alien when it's used to refer to critters from space. No, Koreans don't actually think we're from space but it's not exactly wrong either. Alien = not human= not us. 외국인=not Korean= not us. I say this not to fault South Korea... I Iove South Korea. I say this because foreigners who travel to North Korea and leave with this sense of having accomplished something culturally, are making an assumption that all cultures hold personal experiences above societal experiences.
Confucianism holds the group above individual experiences and both Koreas have until very recently have only thought in a way that is alien to much of the world: the societal experience is held above personal. Considers that South Koreans still still say our car, our house, our mother, our father (as in belonging to society). Communism didn't just happen to the people of North Korea. It was built into the Korean language itself long before Marx wrote his manifesto.
This is what ultimately fascinates me: words. They not only allow people to communicate, but also convey a sense of the society, past and present. Some languages lack a future tense and others lack a past. Others put the emphasis on the individual (stand out) and others put the emphasis on the group (fit in.) Details about a language without out even in speaking it can give you more insight to internal thought structure of its people. That's right. Language forms the way we think. This too is what I like about writing. A story or book or even a single sentence has the ability to initiate a collective thought pattern change, "to go boldly where no man has gone before."
My stomatis cat Geumbi had a round of oral injections last week. I was hesitant because the procedure required anesthesia and was more invasive than giving her a daily dose of steroids mixed in some wet food. Tuna to be precise.
The jokes about cats being particular have held true for Geumbi though not because that's the way cats are. She associated eating with pain. Imagine it. Being so hungry, but your mouth hurting terribly every time you eat. So much so that you stop and start the process of dying. If you're human you go see a doctor. If you're a cat you start to blame the food and mew a lot.
Over the years her medical problems went untreated she developed a rather neurotic approach to food and she's been literally driving me crazy demanding tuna. I mean right in my face at midnight and 12:15 and 12:16... you get the picture. Whenever she got the least bit hungry she'd stare at her bowl of dry food and then go about demanding the wet. Never mind that since last August, she's only gotten wet food at medicine time. She has failed to draw the time and food association, believing that her mews eventually resulted in what she want.
Thus, this week has been off to a sad start for Geumbi. There was no tuna on Sunday and Monday. And no tuna Tuesday or Wednesday. She's quiet now, subdued and even calm. It's strange for me not to see her wondering around the house neurotically trying to make tuna appear in her bowl. I feel almost bad, guilty, like I've snuffed out her pleasure for life. I especially feel this way when she's lying flopped on her cardboard scratchy thing, the one nearest to her food bowl, head on her paws ever the optimist that tuna will appear.
She mews when her bowl is empty and though I shouldn't probably feed her when she demands and yet, by filling her bowl with dry, she's learning that dry is all there is. It's what's for dinner. She flops back on the scratcher after her bowl is full while Bear is like "food, fuck yeah!" Eventually she gets up and eats some dry food. Eventually she gives up and comes for a snuggle. Then it's back to the bowl watch. Because you never know, tuna might show up and she's not going to be absent if it does.
Mariel R. is an ESL teacher, horse trainer, writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. She lives in South Korea with two cats, three horses, a German Shepherd and 17 chickens.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Goldy in English) R.I.P February, 23, 2018