Sunday, June 26, 2011

Seoul at 3:30 am

My bladder and my internal clock conspire and at 3:30 am, my eyes snap open, staring at the ceiling. Good Morning, Pacific Rim!

This hotel room has a little JBL iPod speaker, which is really...pretty awesome. Gives me something to listen to at 4 am besides my own thoughts. Since I actually brought an iPod, which I always forget to do. (By the way, it is actually my mother's iPod. That she wasn't using. Thanks, Mom.) (In fact, I feel incredibly well-prepared for this trip. I'm sure it will turn out that I forgot something amusing like socks or underwear.)

(I may write a much longer post on How I Pack For Trips soon, as I have become--rather unexpectedly, to some people who have known me for some time--a phenomenally light packer. It's more than a phenomenon; I'm almost a guerrilla packer. I'm a fanatic about it. I do it by combining a number of my more asocial tendencies, and it weirds some people out, but it works well for me. Maybe later.) (Because the point is that I barely brought socks or underwear, ON PURPOSE. Okay. Leaving the damn parantheses.)

This 3:30 am HELLO! is common, by the way, when the human body crosses this many time zones; it's no cause for alarm. I'm not particularly susceptible to jet lag, but it usually happens at least the first night. No problem. A little music, a little stretching, a little coffee, and I'm good to go. Sometimes I attempt to go back to sleep, but it never happens and this way is really better. I have to get up in another 1.5 hours anyway. I wonder what time the pool opens? I don't have a cap, but I brought my suit. (I am prepared for anything! Yes!)

Of course, I woke up STARVING and there's nothing open, but the Grand Hyatt even thoughtfully leaves out oranges and water. (Why oranges? I don't know, but they're actually SUPER helpful when you need to pump up your blood sugar at 4:30 am. Good looking out, Grand Hyatt.)

I had a short conversation with my mother's carpool partner right before I left, in which I said I was going to Seoul, and she said, " do you like it?"

I said, "I love it!"

She said, "Oh...really? Hmmm. I was there for one night and my husband and I weren't big fans. It was so EXPENSIVE, and the neighborhood we stayed in seemed kind down."

"I don't think it's that expensive," I said lightly, and the conversation moved on, and then I got here and I realized I was paying $25 bucks for internet service and $18 for a plate of spaghetti. $13 for a glass of white wine. Not...outrageous, but certainly not Seattle prices, either. Of course, I'm on the company dime. I would be doing things differently if it were just me.

And the bus ride from the airport took us by downtown, working, Seoul, in which I realized the Saturday and Sunday markets had closed down for the day, and all the pallets and garbage was stacked out on the sidewalks. (Bundled up neatly, but still.)

It is so weird what different cultures see and don't see, what registers on their radar as "trashy" and what doesn't. I think most of the non-American world runs on the same assumptions that the Koreans do: the market streets here look much like the markets streets look in Paris, and in Japan. It's more about function than form--but at the same time, it's NOT. No one can accuse the Koreans of not loving their form. The shopkeeper makes sure the customer part of his booth is clean, and that his goods are laid out beautifully and perfectly--no one can present a collection of off-brand purses like the Asians; their innate sense of order and symmetry makes them able to plot arrangements that are light-years ahead of the kind of detail that Americans can even dream of registering--and then he stacks all his trash to one side and leaves his food out and smokes while he's talking to you, because that is *not meant for your eyes.* That is the private part of the shop, but there isn't space to have an actual private space, so it becomes...mentally private. If I had to guess, the Asians--and we'll just stay with them, because I haven't spent as much time in Paris, for example--simply expect that their customers won't even look at the trash. Or the extra shoes on the curb or whatever. The customers only look at the part that is meant for them. And after 1500 years, give or take, that kind of cultural assumption is pretty set in stone.

Because most of the world has ALWAYS lived in the kind of tight quarters that Americans are only now encountering. You lived tightly together. You had to. The fire would only reach so far. Trash was a part of life. You had to put the trash somewhere. You stacked it neatly and your neighbor's eyes slid over it politely, and now, two millennia later, it is an ingrained part of the cultural assumption.

Man, I make a LOT of unbased generalizations at 5:00 am.

The strange thing is that the TRASH probably represents most of what Sample Korean Shopkeeper actually OWNS at that second.

Stay with me. The rest of the world doesn't collect clutter. Not like we do. The most they collect--and most of what takes up room in their shop, and such--is in fact, trash. (Most of it gets reused, the pallets and so on, but it resembles trash, at least for the purposes of this conversation.)

Because no one collects actual CLUTTER like the Americans. (There isn't room for it, remember?) What other culture in the universe has a show called Hoarders, with spin-offs?--but at the same time, no one is so concerned with outside appearances, and everything looking NEW and PRISTINE, like the Americans are. Because most other cultures in the world are most about the INSIDE than the OUTSIDE.

Walled houses, plain houses with decadent interiors, interior gardens, interior plazas...we don't have that in North America. But they sure do everywhere else. EVERYWHERE else. And that mindset persists even in the lack of actual walls. Young Koreans stack all their surplus stuff, the kind of thing that you and I might put in a closet, BY THE WINDOWS.

Driving by high rises, the windows are PACKED with stuff: brooms, clothes, boxes, extra office chairs, whatever. To my American mind, it makes the very nice high rise apartment look like a tenement. No American would ever stack their winter clothes by the WINDOWS, so it's the first thing that walk-up visitors see. But the Koreans have grown up with the idea that Trash goes On The Rim Of The Place, and that's where they put it. Of course, their places are tiny. Even in this very nice luxury hotel room, there isn't much space. I don't know what apartment closets are like. They may not have any. Or they may, and they might keep other things there? Who knows. But the trash goes on the Outside Rim, and therefore they put it in the window.

Not that they have much clutter anyway. But the stuff they have, they move it away from the center of the place, and the front door, because the inside--what the guests see when they walk in the front door--is way more important than the outside.

It's fascinating. It's totally fascinating to me. People are FASCINATING! The world is like a gigantic buffet, and I want to try everything.

Speaking of, OMG, breakfast opens in 20 minutes!

No comments: