It’s a moonless Wednesday night and I’m stalking the spit-spackled sidewalks of my neighborhood in Incheon, Korea (the Southern one) with a cup of coffee in my hand and a head full of questions. Your boy Fred here needs a break from writing, so I’m just drifting down the streets. This is because I am new to the country and do not yet have a phone or easy internet access, and I’ve read all the books I brought with me. So for the first time in years, I’m legitimately bored. So tonight, without the mind-sucking distraction of a smartphone or online Daily Show archives, I walk.
I walk through neon-blasted alleys and past restaurants with huge fish tanks in front of them. I cringe, wondering: was it a bad idea to jokingly suggest to my co-teachers that naughty students should be sent to North Korea, just for the afternoon? By the end of my walk I decide, yeah, that was a bad idea.
I walk on. Tonight, I am alive again, after a 24-hour bout with a hellish fever that led to me sleeping all day in my elementary school nurse’s office under purple dinosaur sheets, shaking and wondering if this was The End. If I had touched a dirty Seoul subway pole over the weekend, or high-fived too many 2nd graders who have never washed their hands before, and that was it for me. A post-work hospital trip yielded some pouches of multi-colored pills that looked more like Flintstones vitamins than anything a governmental agency would approve. But I took one dose, and was resurrected. I’m on the Korean healthcare system and I got a doctor’s visit and kick-ass medicine for the equivalent of 10 US Dollars. I wonder: is socialized medicine really that bad?
I walk on, and pass a lot of love motels. But I also pass a lot of churches. One some blocks, there are two or three of them, interspersed between the love motels. Jesus and the Devil are both big into real estate here, staking out property on every single street, sometimes right next to each other. But in terms of visibility, Team Christ is winning. Some of the churches’ crosses can be seen from space. There are probably more Christians here than in heaven. I wonder: do they have Christianmingle.com here? I make a note to research this subject and if so, buy shares in that company. Then start handing out flyers for the site outside of churches at noon every Sunday. Everyone needs a hobby.
I walk on. I’m drinking coffee on my stroll, because I usually don’t partake in alcohol during the week. But if I wanted to, I damn well could, right here, right now. There are no open container laws here, unlike back in Amurka, the police state that is my homeland. But in the interest of trying not to look like an Orc by the time I’m 30, I’m practicing a little moderation. Every fifty steps or so I pass a drunk middle-aged salaryman bumbling down the sidewalk, carrying one those little green bottles of soju. You know the type: a blazer, white dress shirt untucked, hair unruly, cheeks reddened, a bulge around the midsection that is probably less belly fat than it is a severely enlarged liver. Maybe they are dashing from a bar to a love motel, or vice-versa, or maybe from a love motel to a Catholic church confessional booth to get right with the Big Man after what they’ve just done at said love motel. One man is even double-fisting soju bottles. I grin to myself and invent a drinking game that I file away for later use, dubbed “Edward Sojuhands.” They’re drunk, they’re drifting, and they’ll be back at work in 10 hours. I wonder: what are they escaping? Is there a nagging ajumma waiting for them at home? Is this how midlife crises are manifested in this country?
I walk on. I go to an internet cafe and post this. Tomorrow: more coffee, more walking, more mysteries.