Strange Tales From A South Korean Beach
PART FIVE: Strange Tales: http://www.korduroy.tv/2013/surfing-the-38th-parallel-photo-essay-series-strange-tales
South Korea. Get a room of ex-pat’s together on the topic and each will tell some amazing, strange and wonderful stories of life on the divided peninsula, all told with a good measure of humor, shock and amazement. Korean life from your first day till your last is an exercise in the unusual, the kind and the baffling. A largely proud and inward looking nation who posses an ancient distrust of foreigners, Korea is like no other country I have ever been. Governed by strict social laws of filial piety and Confucian morality, Korea is a nation hurtling towards the future, yet tightly bound to the past. No faux-morality here, in Korea their code is strictly obeyed and there are absolutely no deviations permitted in speech, behavior or viewpoint. Because of this collision of old and new, an outsider will observe all manner of strange and wonderful things that locals barely notice.
In Korea, you are always seen as a foreigner or the Korean term of ‘waygook-in’. A novelty or a misunderstood sideshow to regular Korean life, so situations do arise. Like an intoxicated middle-aged man, stinking of cigarettes inappropriately joining you at dinner and trying to practice his English on you, you must awkwardly chat and drink with him because he is older than you. School age girls giggle at you foolishly in groups at your strange eyes or skin color making you feel both embarrassed and confused. Even the much-maligned Ajeossi (older gentleman) stare, where an old man is so incensed by your physical presence and the sound of your English he just stares at you in contempt. In Korea, you are always seen and whoever does the seeing looks at you with their own curiosity or prejudice as they stare on. Koreans do want to put on a good show to outsiders and hide their xenophobia the best they can, so a mixture of misguided ideas, stereotypical viewpoints, and suspicion color many interactions in the country. The strange agriculture law prevails as the past gets caught up in the future, but it does grant the outsider a viewpoint to a wonderful and diverse display of humanity.
The beach was no different. On the coast, all the unusual aspects of Korean life were there to see. Enchanting scenes of the past and the future, old men working the fields, fisherman drinking and smoking heavily while they fixed nets, young Korean surfers bobbing in the lineup sporting only the latest brands of surf and camp lifestyle like badges of honor. Seoul surfer girls indulging in a popular Korean pastime and are seen sleeping off hangovers in their wetsuits on the beach and anywhere else they can. Restaurant owners proudly present you their signature dishes and gush that a white man could like spicy food or even ask for more of their own homemade Kimchi; in this moment you have made a friend for life. Kind-hearted Ajeossis pose playfully for the camera, even though strapped heavily in a neck brace. As the Soju and fried chicken comes, so do the rowdy times where Koreans finally allow themselves to let their strict moral guard down and drink and smoke heavily. Today’s episode is some of my observations of the kooky après-surf from around 38th beach.