Separate But Fishing: Xenophobia at the Trout Festival
“I’m gonna jump in the water and feel my dick get small!” one particular jack-ass told his female friend. She laughed because, let’s face it, why wouldn’t she? With witty banter like that, how can one be expected to refrain from melting in hysterics? We were all headed to the Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival – me, TTD, the man who wanted his penis to shrink, and a bunch of others. While I found the guy to be crude, it was refreshing to stumble upon someone who was proud of shrinkage. That’s rare these days. Perhaps one day in the future, he’ll lead an anti-Viagra, pro-impotence campaign.
America had been on my mind a lot since the afternoon I spent with K-Swizzle. She had flown into Korea from California to visit C-Batz (yes, I give most of my friends stupid nicknames like this…it’s a curse). She was a really beautiful girl – part Filipina and part Mexican. On our trip to the museum, she told me about how her parents first met in a dance club. Her father spoke no English and her mother spoke no Spanish. Still, in spite of that, they fell in love. It was a wonderful idea – two strangers who couldn’t even speak the same language meeting and falling for each other. Stories like that help me believe in ideas such as romance and notions such as love. And they also help me believe in America. Where else could two people like that meet and start a new life together? Okay, maybe a lot of places, but California seemed like the best one.
Let’s go back to the bus, for a moment, before we continue talking about K-Swizzle and before we get to the racist Trout Festival. The people in the back filled the bus with laughter and quotes from Anchorman. One girl pointed at the shrinkage guy and said, “Can you believe he sent me a picture of his shit this morning?” Everyone wanted more information, so the guy said, “Yeah, I took a killer shit this morning. I had to take a picture of it and send it to her.” The girl started laughing, looking at him with love in her eyes.
“Man,” I thought, “all these years I’ve had flirting all wrong. I should go on OK Cupid ASAP and change my profile pic to a photo of a bowel movement.”
These were exactly the kind of people I left America to get away from. For a moment, I thought I wouldn’t mind it if the bus crashed. And it was a shame, really, because, after my day with K-Swizzle, I’d been thinking of coming back the States without feeling a sense of dread.
I liked talking to K-Swizzle. It wasn’t like talking to the ex-pats here. She had a job and a home and a reality to her life. There was no vagueness to her. The future was a picture she’d already developed. Most of the people here in Korea have little concept of what they’ll be doing in a year. They want to travel, and it’s fun talking about different countries. But talking with K-Swizzle was like talking to an actual person. It made me think that when I go back to the States, things won’t be all that bad. There are benefits to settling down somewhere and being around people who are stable. For example, I could stop feeling guilty that I still can’t read Korean.
It took three hours to get to the Trout Festival. Once we got there, we were led by two Korean girls through the snow and into the festival itself. People flew down an enormous slide in inner-tubes and drove ATV’s around on the ice. There were snow carvings of a dragon and of Pororo. Everything looked awesome. We were with a group of about 40 others and we were brought to big tent located at the foot of a large, empty area where the river had frozen over. To the left and to the right, the ice was packed with Korean people fishing for trout.
Our tour leader motioned to the patch of ice where nobody was. “They’ve set this area up for foreigners,” she said. “You guys can fish here.”
And we did. TTD and I wandered out onto the ice and cast our lines down into the holes the festival folks had made. The other foreigners did as well. Some of the festival people walked around with video cameras, capturing the excitement of white people fishing. The other ice fishing areas were jammed with folks, families and couples out fishing together. By comparison, our foreign area looked pretty vacant.
“When you catch your fish,” we were told, “you can take it over to the tent and they’ll cook it. Go to that tent, though, because that is the cooking area for foreigners.”
The whole thing sort of reminded me of that scene from The Help where the woman has to go pee in a separate bathroom, and then the white lady says, “Isn’t it nice to have a bathroom of your own?” That seemed to be the Korean stance on things. “Isn’t it nice we set up an area for you to fish and have your meal cooked? An area all to yourselves?”
TTD and I eventually drifted away from the pack. We saw a large crowd gathered around a big pool and we went over to check it out.
“It’s bare-handed fishing,” someone said. “You can pay ten bucks and they give you a t-shirt and shorts, and then you can jump in the pool and catch a fish with your hands.”
Perhaps I’m not that adventurous. When it comes to seafood, the craziest I get is ordering the 3 piece meal at Captain D’s. We decided to wait and see what the big deal was. Rows of Koreans stood around the lip of the pool. We could see the group of bare-handed-fishers ready to come out. A Korean man shouted into a microphone and out they came in their t-shirts and shorts, running barefoot through the snow. And that’s when I noticed something.
They were all foreign. Every single one. It was like the “watch the foreigners do something stupid” show. Sure enough, down into the water they went, painful expressions on their faces, grabbing fishes and sticking them down their shirts. The audience seemed mildly amused.
Looking all around me, I reflected on things. I felt the Koreans were looking down on us, and yet that’s exactly how I’d looked at the people in the back of the bus. What did that mean, then? It meant that either I had to stop being a snob, or I had to stop feeling offended by the Koreans’ snobbery.
I looked out at the people in the fish pool, shaking and shivering.
“Babo Waygookins,” I thought, with a hint of pride.