Friday, September 30, 2011

The Bastard Son of the Dragon King

It’s Saturday October 1, 2011, and yesterday I learned how Korea was founded. The Korean creation myth begins with a bastard Dragon Prince, a bear and the want of two animals of the Korean peninsula to become human.
                Nate began by telling us what he had heard from our Korean managers.
                “They claim the son of the Dragon king came down and found a bear and a tiger,” he began.
                “Okay, I’m with you,” I said taking off both of my headphones and turning away from my worksheets and game of Bubble Spinner.
                “All the animals had heard about people…”
                “So, the animals could talk?” I asked cutting in.
                “And there were no people in the world?”
                “No, there were people, just no people in Korea,” Nate said putting down his iPhone and turning towards me. “The Dragon king and his illegitimate son are like Zeus and the Greek gods, they come down to Earth and turn into humans and what not.”
                “That makes sense,” I said.
                “The Dragon king’s bastard son found a bear and a tiger that wanted to be human and they went to a cave together. The bastard prince waited for one of them to turn into a woman, and the tiger gave up. So, he had sex with the bear and that’s where the Korean people come from.”
                “That’s awesome,” I said. The rest of the office began asking questions, such as, “Koreans believe they are the progeny of a bastard?” and “Was the bear a woman before it changed, or did it become a woman after it changed?” and “How could the animals talk?” We all began asking students who either smiled at our interest in their history, or just shrugged at our questions. After piecing together what I found on the internet with what I could learn at work, this is what I came up with:
                In ancient Korea there were five family names and if you were born without one of these names you were considered a bastard because you had no legitimate ties to any of the ruling and aristocratic families. As a bastard you were unable to hold any government office, you couldn’t hold land; you couldn’t inherit money or have any power. Only the nobility of Korean society had these names, which meant large masses were bastards. The masses argument against the ruling class claiming they were all bastards was that the country was founded by the bastard son of the Dragon King. The Dragon Prince’s son became the first ruler of Korea, and his kingdom was near modern Pyongyang. This story’s importance can be found in the fact that Kim Jong Il claims that Tan’gun’s (the Dragon Prince’s son) bones were found in a cave near his father’s village. The myth became a source of pride and was central to the Korean shamanistic religion.  The importance of the masses is remembered each year on Foundation Day, October 3rd.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

See These Rocks

I’m watching a video of a black man, with dread locks and a fitted argyle and turquoise baseball cap, argue with a Korean man on a bus in Seoul. This week in Korea, in the foreign teacher community, this video has been the topic of much discussion and conversation.
                The man puffs out his chest and begins laughing and stabbing a finger into the face of the elderly Korean man who looks like a bamboo pole that sprouted arms and a crumbling skull with seaweed black hair. The large black man pushes the elderly man’s wife and holds out his fist calling them rocks. He yells with no fear. As he steps forward the crowd around him steps back as if they were a moving circle around him.
 I imagine that back in America this dreadlocked man would never think of doing this on the bus. He would keep quiet if someone had something to say to him, probably slink off the bus at the next stop to avoid confrontation. He wouldn’t point his finger into the chest of man with boulder arms and Thug Life tattooed across his stomach in Detroit. But he is certain that he can do it to an obsequious Korean man who bows and asks him politely to sit down while he yells and compares his hands to stone, or concrete, or iron.
But because he lives in Korea, and the only other people that live in Korea are English teachers, he feels like the toughest man in a pre-school. Then, of course, there are Koreans. Koreans who make it a point of national pride to give you the best impression of their country. They will walk you five blocks to find the restaurant you are looking for. They’ll allow you to leave the dry cleaners with your clothes, and return later to pay them for their service. They’ll invite you to their house for dinner and then take out for a drink afterwards, clawing at your hands and growling when you reach for your wallet.
 While some racism does exist, and you could even say it is prevalent, this man is a perfect example of what many of us call a Loser Back Home.
                These are people, for whatever reason, who never fit in to American society or even understood anything about it or themselves. I’m not talking about nerds, or science lovers, or that awkward musician who hangs around other awkward musicians in black make up. All of those people found a group that understands them, and they learned to understand and like themselves. I’m talking about people who try on personalities like hats. They wake up and keep trying out a new lie until they find one that gets someone, anyone to listen to them for a moment. In America their back stories are known, and they drift from city to city like a barge of trash trying to find a dump to rest in. But in Korea they are perfectly free from any of the cultural clues that allow other Americans to realize how lame they are. Here, surrounded by other actors and actresses, they can reinvent themselves.
They talk to women freely here, because they know that the story about them hiding in their ex-girlfriend’s bushes while she’s on a date, or them buying gifts for the happy hour bartender who filed a restraining order against them, are far, far away.
I listen to them in the bars trying on different accents and hometowns. They talk out of the bottom of their mouths, or they stretch out their a’s to sound like they’re from Boston. Maybe they play the wounded loner, or even the tough guy. The tough guy is the most common pantomime by these pod people. One man, a graphic designer from the richest town in New Zealand where the people are different shades of ivory and everyone mows their Kentucky bluegrass on Saturday, had Thug Life tattooed across his stomach. He buys two pitchers of beers and says hello by cocking his thumb back and shooting his finger at people he knows.
                A friend of a friend, we’ll call him Jim, once told me that to get laid in Southern California he told women he was Leonardo DiCaprio’s cousin. This was after a diatribe about how he hated any guy that lied to get laid. “I never did…except that one time.”
                The Greeks had a great little saying, “Know thyself.” These people could benefit from ruminating for an hour over which personality they want, and then learn to stay in character all of the time. Either that or they could just accept the fact that they’re awkward, weird and crazy and move on with their lives. I hope they never do either and continue to entertain me with their attempts to resemble a caricature of a human being.