Won Seok Wonka and the Krazee Kimchi Factory

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I remember that time. It still exists in my head, kept well, the memory’s shelves dusted and lawn trimmed. Everything was bizarre. Fan death, the idea that an oscillating fan could steal your breath and kill you in your sleep. Double eyelid tape, butt pads, skin whitener. Ordering a live octopus and having it cut up with scissors, then chewing up the severed tentacles as they wiggled around like inchworms. Hooker karaoke, intestine soup, black goat tonic. Men who looked prettier than some of the girls I’ve dated, and women who wore super short miniskirts in snowstorms. Rice wine, soju, neon lights and vomit on the street. Electronic music – Fantastic Baby! – and schools that required students to bring their own toilet paper.

This was the Korea I stepped in to. One second I was on a plane, listening to Boston’s Greatest Hits (favorite track: Peace of Mind), the next minute I was in some anime dream sequence, like I’d pulled a golden ticket and was shipped off to Won Seok Wonka’s Krazee Kimchi Factory. If an orange-faced-green-haired midget approached me in a bar two weeks after I’d gotten to Korea, I don’t know that I would’ve batted an eye.

“Oompa Gangnam Style!” the Korean Oompa Loompa would have shouted, and I would’ve just nodded and gone with it. The place was fun and freaky. They buried live pigs and ate dogs, got surgical procedures to increase the slope of their forehead and committed copy-cat-suicide if a favorite celebrity took his or her own life.

But lately, shit just ain’t the same. I walk around a Korea that hasn’t changed one bit since I arrived here over two years ago. It’s drab, depressing. Things like rampant alcoholism, which seemed real rock ‘n’ roll when I got here, now seems sad. Like it’s not a good thing. Even all the beautiful girls bum me out. They’re doll-like, manufactured, assembly line. The neon lights don’t seem so bright anymore. It rains a lot and nobody looks at each other on the subway.

Two years might do that to a place. Korea, it seems, has lost its weird appeal. The place seems downright normal. We’ve spent lots of time together and I’ve seen it without its make-up.

*

Every now and then I go to the bank and wire money back to the USA. My girlfriend asks me why I do this. It’s actually not a bad question. “Well,” I’ll say, “that’s my main bank account. I’m sending money home.”

Home. The use of the phrase is a turn-off, like how most women react to the dreaded c-word. She makes a good argument. I haven’t been to the US in over two years, and I don’t plan to return any time soon. I don’t have anything there, no house or home or friend’s basement where my record collection and blow up doll have been keeping each other company for the past 800 days. Nothing’s waiting for me, with the exception of some bill collectors, and I’m in no hurry to finally meet them.

The thing is, I try to tell her, I have to have someplace to belong to. I don’t want to think of myself as transient, nomadic, a man with no home like Marco Polo or Woody Guthrie. And it feels funny to refer to the US as something other than “home.” It’s sort of similar to when I was 19 and living in an apartment with four of my friends. On Sunday mornings, I’d jump in my car and tell them I had to go “home,” and when I said that, I meant my parents’ house. The apartment was temporary. I still had a room dedicated to my existence at my parents’ house, and as long as that room was still there, not being used as a library or a shrine to the Buffalo Bills, then God damnit that was the place I’d call home. Sure felt more like it then the mattress on the floor I slept on in the apartment.

But the room in my parents’ house eventually let go of me – I was replaced by a new computer.  It seems like my American bank account is the new version of the room I grew up in. It’s what makes the US still my home. My parents kept my Elvis Costello poster and my suit, the only one I owned, a blue ensemble that I would call on once or twice a year, and the bank account keeps all my money for me.

It’s about the same, just slightly less sentimental.

*

I’ll never call Korea “home.” I could live here for the next 20 years (which is a ridiculous notion – I’ll never live that long) and I still wouldn’t feel like anything other than a tourist. Which, after some thinking, I’ve decided is mostly by my own choosing.

For all my plans to avoid the US, I still know what’s going on there. I read Huffington Post and other similarly slanted news sites daily and make too many political posts on Facebook. I watch the Oscar movies every year. I know what’s on the Billboard charts and get nervous when bad storms hit New York. In short, I still care about what’s happening in the USA. I’m interested.

And Korea? As groovy as the place is, I just don’t care that much about what happens here. The presidential election is this month, and I have no idea who’s running. I don’t even know what the issues might be. I don’t study the language and I avoid the entertainment like it’ll give me angina. I’m bored with hearing about the culture. I have no clue as to what’s happening in the news. Why? Because, bottom line, I don’t give a shit.

Home might be where the heart is, but it’s also where the head is. Wait, let’s change that – it sounds dirty. Home is also where one’s interest is. You would think, logically, that when the weirdness wears off a place, when things stop being polite and start getting real, that it would be a signal you’ve found a place to call home. But it doesn’t always work that way.

There’s a different feeling after the novelty is gone, I guess. I might not have a home, but I’m not really lost. This place, conversely, has lost me.

*

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24 thoughts on “Won Seok Wonka and the Krazee Kimchi Factory

  1. “Home might be where the heart is, but it’s also where the head is. Wait, let’s change that – it sounds dirty. Home is also where one’s interest is.”

    Somebody called my name in the middle and I misread it as “Home is also where one’s intestines are.”

    Anyway, sounds like you’re going through a pretty heavy existential time in your life, possibly a turning point. All long-term expats eventually have to either commit or move on. In fact, for the first few paragraphs I was worried I might be reading a good-bye post! Whatever happens I hope you write about it, because you’ve been keeping me entertained for quite a while now. Good luck, and I hope you can get back to a good place – emotionally, I mean.

    • Home is where the intestines are. Hahaha! I love it! What a great phrase. I’m not sure what that would mean, but it’s excellent.

      Well, I’ve signed a contract to go to China, so that’s the next stop. And as long as I can find a proxy to get around China’s Internet censorship, I shall always continue to write. Thanks for being a cool supportive person Junbi! It really is appreciated. : )

  2. In case you didn’t get the memo since you seem a little out of it…

    OBAMA WON.

    There. Don’t tell me I never taught you anything :P

    Btw, I absolutely love the title of your post :D

    • What?!?! Who’s Obama? I was gonna vote for Ross Perot!

      Thank you for the information, VyVacious. You are an amazing news source! Hmm, what else have a missed? Did Third Eye Blind win any Grammys this year?

      Always a thrill to hear from you! And yes, I agree with you fully about the title. haha : D

      • I don’t know but I DO know that at my favorite ice cream place in Seattle (Molly Moon’s), there’s a flavor called Baracky Road. I usually stick to vanilla bean and salted caramel but I thought it was funny :P

        Oh you’re welcome and thank you! I do not know anything else. My gifted facts are limited to once a day. The one listed above mentioning a seasonal ice cream flavor is merely a passing comment :P

      • Haha – Baracky Road. Extreme cleverness. Man, I gotta go off in the rain now to get some dinner. Not that you’re interested…I’m just sulking.

        Have an awesome weekend VyVacious! Peace!

  3. I am short on words these days but i’ll leave you with that “Avail the opportunities life has to offer and don’t worry about the rest.”
    Don’t tell me I don’t make sense =p

    • Hi Myth! You mean life is supposed to offer opportunities? haha. That was a joke, of course there are opportunities out there. To update the dinner scenario, I still haven’t gone out to get any food. That’s what I’m talking about, Myth: I just don’t want to eat anything anymore. The luster of Korea’s food choices is gone. Ho hum.

      Always nice to hear from you. Bye Myth!

  4. judithsmarkworld

    I have been in the US for 8y now. And even though I am married, I still say home when I refer to Togo/West Africa. Maybe it will change in few years but to me it is important to hold onto (as long as possible) to my Togolese identity. And still referring to that place as home helps me do that. But I wish you the best in your next adventure. Thank you for sharing with us the details of your journey in Korea!

    • Hi Judith! You think you’ll ever move back there? I wish I had a Togolese identity. It sounds cool, although I honestly have no idea what it entails. Anyways, always a pleasure hearing from you. Peace Judith!

      • judithsmarkworld

        I am realizing I have been away from WP from too long. Getting back into writing shape.
        To answer your question, I was dreaming of retiring there… now I am not so sure. It also depends on the hubby…. plus from the latest news (coming from my dad) Togo is just falling all apart… I am not sure what it will look like when I am ready to retire. But I will always love my land, Togo. :-) (togolese for life!)

  5. I think the novelty and allure of a place is in its difference from what we are used to. Once we get used to that difference, it’s all just the same-0ld after that. I don’t think the length of time you live somewhere decides if that is “home.” I think it’s more where you are comfortable and feel some connection. Plus where you keep your money is probably a good a spot as any to go back to.

  6. I get this. Almost every word of it. At about the year mark when living in Taiwan, I spent some time feeling guilty that I’d stopped being a patient person full of wonder and appreciation for the culture around me. I didn’t feel that I belonged, and not belonging but yet still moving around inside their society felt pointless and lonely.

    • Yes! That’s perfectly put. I definitely don’t belong and ‘pointless’ is the right word. Thanks for the comment – good to know there are others who get sick of being full of wonder and cultural appreciation. haha.

      Peace Emily! : )

  7. The title of the post is hilarious! I hope you love China. My husband’s cousin was there too, a few years ago. They are in London now. She has said she’d never come back to the U.S.

  8. I used to call Singapore as my second home. Maybe because I have come to love the food and the place. But to really care about it? I don’t think so too. I have lived there for two years and I couldn’t seem to remember the name of their president even if my colleagues tell me like how many times already. Then before I went home in the Philippines, they had election, and I still didn’t know who won the presidential election. Haha!

    I have never really listened or watch the news or read the paper there. I don’t even watch their tv programs because I don’t understand some and I don’t recognize their artists. I would encounter one in a mall and I wouldn’t even notice that she’s a singer or he’s an actor. Hehe… What I would usually do when I get home to my apartment is watch the news online and watch tv series from back home.

    And as much as I loved the Mooncake festival, the music they always play around especially in the mall pisses me off. And then in September while I was in a mall here in Manila, I heard the same song over and over and I was like “Oh! Not again!” Haha….

    Funny how we miss home so much while what we call home doesn’t even seem to notice we are not around. :(

    Good luck on your new job topicless! :)

  9. It’s sad I didn’t get to read this when you nposted it. So, you didn’t grow roots in Korea. I think I wouldn’t either, from what I hear, where everything is being faked, including the face.

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