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Busan on May 23rd, 2020

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Although the compulsion to travel is universal, nearly all of it is only done virtually, and I’m not just talking about the internet, of course, but reading books, looking at photos, telling and hearing stories, or just thinking.

We can’t stand to be confined to one miserable or paradisal spot while knowing everything else is out there, so even while sitting still, we must move, if only mentally, as our legs shake and our eyes dart nonstop.

Every country is huge, man. Gigantic! A small town is already infinite. Only our bodies and minds are tiny.

Going anywhere, we’re lesser than an ant touring Tokyo. With his pin sized intellect, he’s undoubtedly thinking, “I’ve got this bitch. Tokyo ain’t shit.”

Again, I’m sitting in Lotte Mart, drinking a cheap cup of coffee. How did I become so wealthy? There’s abundance everywhere I look, with everything manufactured, delivered and arranged, most tastefully, for me. (I got here on the Busan Subway, which had been laid out and maintained at great cost, also for me.) Within reach is a package that reads, “DESSERT FOR LUCKY RICH,” and nearby are so many varieties of rice, all cleanly husked and elegantly packaged. As for the people, everyone is so clean and nattily dressed, because they dare not startle or offend me. Had I stayed in my room, I’d have denied myself all of this splendor.

On the subway, a middle-aged man in a well-worn black suit walked through two cars to address everyone, section by section, then he’d bow deeply, as if apologizing. Everyone ignored him. He wore glasses with thick, black frame. His chin jutted out. His chest was sunken.

On the platform of Seomyeon Station, a mannish woman’s jean jacket had a large, dark shape on her back, where a ridiculously glittery red heart had been.

Yesterday I was in Waegwan, a village of 34,000. I had glimpsed it just once from a passing train, and knew nothing about it. My hunch was amply rewarded. Right across the station, there was Café Plenty, with its tiny teddy bear clutching a cross, two small Rothkoesque paintings and a plant vase inscribed with “LOVE GROWS BEST IN LITTLE HOUSES.” The music was like Liberace paying tribute to Erik Satie.

The traditional market had these ornate, lacy gates that made me think of seaside arcades, but inside, the mood was subdued, for commerce was slow. I noticed a shutdown Vietnamese eatery, Hidden Corner Joint. When the coronavirus flared up in South Korea 3+ months ago, many Vietnamese fled home, thus starving these businesses. I’ve seen a bunch.

At a hearing aid business, there’s a sign showing four US Presidents, all Republicans. Along with Ford, Reagan, Bush and Bush, there was also the CEO of Starkey Labs, Bill Austin, although his last name was misspelled as “Osten.” When it’s not your alphabet, words are just wiggly lines. I’m only starting to figure out the Korean for s, a and ong, and I’ve learnt exactly two words, “neh” for “yes,” and “mandu” for “dumpling.”

“Neh, mandu,” and since I also know Cass and Terra, the two (godawful) brands of cheap Korean beers, I’m a fully functioning member of South Korean society. “Neh, mandu. Cass.”

In a foreign place, you can make the dumbest mistakes, so a couple times, I’ve picked up packets of tampons thinking they’re facial tissues, but that’s OK. Now that I’m an expert on Korean tampons, I can unequivocally recommend NADA 101, for the name alone. Surely, it’s a riff on Dylan’s “It’s alright ma, I’m only bleeding.”

As a minority, and soon-to-be undocumented worker, I should look into running for office under an anti-discrimination, social justice platform, for I’ve had it up to here, man, with all the microscopic aggression directed against me, day and night, by all 50 million Koreans! Smiling, some even attempt to speak to me in English, as if I don’t understand their language, which is true enough, but that’s not the point. Out of pure malice, they’re only using English to waterboard me with their deeply inhumane accusation that I don’t belong here! Just this afternoon, I walked by a woman who wore a black T-shirt with big white letters, aimed right at my face (mostly because I was looking at her boobs), “IT’S TIME TO GO HOME.”

With all the dumplings I’ve eaten, I’ve contributed so much to the South Korean economy. Don’t Koreans realize I built their, I mean our, country?

In Busan, most whites I see are Russians, so when I spotted a white in Waegwan, I thought maybe he was Russian, then I saw six blacks, four women and two men, marching into the train station.

I’ve been in South Korea for three months, and just about every day, I’d walk miles and take the subway, train or bus all over, but only yesterday did I see sagging pants, showing underwear! Cultures are different in every way.

It turned out they were American soldiers, among the 1,500 stationed at nearby Camp Carroll. They were going to the gigantic Shinsegae Shopping Mall in Dongdaegu. They don’t get out much, apparently. When I overheard a woman say, “We’re in car number one,” I realized they were standing at the wrong section of the platform, so I told them where to go.

(Since Korean trains tend to stop very briefly at each station, you better get on quickly. If you get on the wrong car, you might have to walk nearly the length of the train to get to your seat, a real pain in the ass.)

Back in Busan, I looked up Waegwan. During the Korean War, the US Army believed North Korean soldiers were among refugees trying to cross a bridge there, so it blew up this bridge, killing hundreds of people.

ORDER IT NOW

I also found out about Lou’s Chi-Town, run by a real Chicagoan. Though they don’t have Chicago hot dogs, what’s wrong with you, Lou? I might have to run back to Waegwan, just to try Lou’s cheesesteak. Mostly, though, I want to hear Lou’s story.

Cattle chuted through iconic sights, the mass tourist comes home with photos, mostly of himself, to show that he has been to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Prague, Venice and Barcelona, etc., all in a week, but a city’s highlights is its least authentic selves, for they are packaged for outsiders, and swarmed by them, while locals mostly stay away.

To experience a truer Paris, you should spend an afternoon in Belleville instead of around the Eiffel Tower, and since each city is already its greatest museum, you would gain more insights roaming randomly through Parisian streets than you could at the Louvre.

Since every city, town or village is its most complex, nuanced and stimulating book, you can never finish contemplating any of them, even the one you’ve lived in forever.

Virginia Woolf agrees, “As we step out of the house on a fine evening between four and six, we shed the self our friends know us by and become part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers, whose society is so agreeable after the solitude of one’s own room. For there we sit surrounded by objects which perpetually express the oddity of our own temperaments and enforce the memories of our own experience […] But when the door shuts on us, all that vanishes. The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.”

I’ve often spoken of peak travel, meaning never again could so many people zoom so freely across this earth, with some even fantasizing of rocketing beyond it. With the coronavirus, we’re suddenly grounded, but this would have happened anyway, soon enough. Our wobbly zeppelin economy was overdue for a crash. Having reached the peak of everything, we must brace for much turbulence on the way down.

Though the travel industry will recover some ground, peak roaming is toast. This doesn’t mean we can’t poke around here, there and everywhere, with our eyes wide open.

To travel any distance is to march into an infinity of fresh definitions, but much of this is lost if you’re moving too fast. That’s why it’s ideal to walk (or crawl even), for only then can you measure, sample and caress this earth with your body.

I finish this piece in Herry’s Café. Giving me my cappuccino, the pretty cashier bowed very deeply, as if I was some ancient sage. I do have white hair sprouting all over, especially from my nose.

Near my guesthouse, there’s a fortune teller who has gotten the wise man look down to a T. Advertising himself as an “Oriental Predictor,” he also sells statues of celestial beings and fabulous beasts. Since it’s nothing for him to pronounce how and when you’re going to get rich, have sex or die, I should pay him four measly bucks to meekly ask, “Wise guy, please tell me when can I leave South Korea?”

There are no international flights from Busan, and very few from Seoul. Nearly each day, I check to see if any nearby country would let me in, but this is the only message I’ve encountered, “All foreign passengers will not be allowed to enter or transit through.” In a flash, this vast earth went from being more open than ever before to shockingly shuttered.

“Grasshopper, you’re pretty much fucked,” the most honorable sage will tell me. “You can stay here illegally and collect cardboard for a living, or you can fly back to the US, and share a room with your buddy, Chuck Orlovski. He’s also garrulous and flatulent, so you two are a great match. Together, you can explore Nanticok, Shickshinny, Ransom and Koonsville, etc. Four more bucks if you want to hear how you’re going to die. It ain’t pretty, but it never is. Time’s up!”

Time’s up for this article as well. There’s a great performance outside, so I must run out and see it, right this second. For my benefit, thousands of Koreans are acting just like Koreans. There is so much beauty and generosity, it’s astounding. Ciao!

Linh Dinh’s latest book is Postcards from the End of America. He maintains a regularly updated photo blog.

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: South Korea 
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  1. Biff says:

    I detect some itchy feet….
    Can’t imagine traveling somewhere and being caught in a lockdown such as this. My empathy goes out to those in limbo…….

  2. Polemos says:

    So many interesting ways you’ve crossed together seeing, reading, traveling, reading books while being books, being in shells and transporting them on our backs or beneath our asses, the universality of being fleshy, flatulent eyeballs jiggling about a local town, wanting to have freedom to see others and freedom to be seen by no one as well as the freedom to be ignored when we’re awkwardly sorry for it all.

    We read books because we can’t get out, but once we are there, we see the towns and cities were already books. Constant crawling in either books or neighborhoods helps a person see more of both, turning unfamiliar squiggles or bursts of air into meaningful encounter with the infinite or the Orlovski.

    • Replies: @ChuckOrloski
  3. mh505 says:

    Wouldn’t it be possible to stay there somehow, even as an “illegal”?

    I could think of worse ways to make a living; and definitely many worse places to stay

  4. @Polemos

    Yo Polemos!

    I am Chuck Orloski, and my name in Polish is Orlov, “eagle.” I appreciate how Linh changed my name to Orlovski.

    Upon asking my apartment landlord, am fairly certain Linh can move in, is big, and there’s plenty of room for him. Lots of ways to work and earn some money & survive in Scranton area.

    In addition, lots of End of America adventures beckon.

    Thank you Polemos!👍

    • Replies: @Polemos
    , @The Alarmist
  5. jo6pac says:

    As always some great writing and insight.

  6. Polemos says:
    @ChuckOrloski

    I admire your writing style and how you express such a good-natured humor through it all, and I didn’t catch how Linh’s fortune teller changed your name, so thanks for deepening the read! It adds to the picture: grasshopper flies back to the eagle’s eyrie and together they ramble the high canopies and the low gulleys.

    • Thanks: ChuckOrloski
  7. @ChuckOrloski

    Are you any relation to Teresa Orloski, the porn lady who featured prominently in, aside from her own body of work, late night German TV sex chat-line commercials, or did I get the spelling of her name wrong like the fortune teller did to yours?

  8. klcard says:

    This opus cheered me up greatly which was needed on another dreary day in the shipyard. Be positive and read Linh Dinh I say.

    • Replies: @Linh Dinh
  9. Dearest Mr. Linh Dinh, on just another thread (Pat Buchanan’s), he referred to President Xi as Jinping, nothing else, and I got to wondering, sort of understanding the Asian custom of surname first, so what exactly IS your surname? Is it Linh or Dinh? I thought you might have switched it around to American custom, so just curious; I wouldn’t ever want to be disrespectful.

    Anyway, hang in there; something will work out. I was never an illegal WORKER, but I WAS an illegal alien once in Belize for about two months. It’s nerve-wracking, I know. If I had any money, I’d pay your travel fare to wherever, but I don’t so I won’t. Good luck and keep writing. I love your stuff.

    • Replies: @Linh Dinh
  10. Linh Dinh says: • Website
    @Pissedoffalese

    Hi Pissedoffalese,

    I was born Đinh Hoàng Linh, but coming to the US, it was flipped to Linh Dinh, which sounds like Lênh Đênh, meaning “adrift,” and I have lived up (or down) to this condition. It also sounds like Linh Đình, meaning “boisterous.” So between adrift and boisterous, my adult life has been one moveable feast of, uh, cheap eats…

    Linh

  11. Linh Dinh says: • Website
    @klcard

    Hi klcard,

    I still think I can make it back to Vung Tau soon, and hopefully without having to go through two weeks of mandatory quarantine at an army camp, though that would certainlly provide material for an article.

    Since you’re in Vung Tau, you should head down to Luca for some seriously good Italian food. I talked to the young chef before I left. Having just arrived, he appeared bewildered. I thought I would take him to Belly’s, but never got a chance to.

    Linh

    Linh

    • Replies: @klcard
  12. supertjx says:

    Hello Linh!

    I’m not sure if it has anything to do with your latest piece here, but I had a strange dream last night. 
    I was wandering by myself in a book store, and came across a copy of Malgudi Days (by RK Narayan) on display. I was filled with happiness as this was my literature text in high school and I had fond memories of the village and characters depicted in the book. The copy on display was an elaborate, overdone, hardcover version of the book which would be cumbersome to read. So I went up to the storekeeper and asked if they had a paperback version for sale. LOL

    You are damn right.. “every city, town or village is its most complex, nuanced and stimulating book”.

    Perhaps one day, I will dream of your books too. 😀

  13. swamped says:

    “Going anywhere, we’re lesser than an ant touring Tokyo. With his pin sized intellect, he’s undoubtedly thinking, ‘I’ve got this bitch. Tokyo ain’t shit.’”…& he jolly well be right, ‘pinsized intellect’ or not. Ants are among the most powerful creatures in the world – especially in Japan – due to their amazing power of organization & industry, which rivals that of homo sapiens – & someday they might just take over the world from us, since we’re really not so sapient as we like to think we are. Japan has one of the largest ant colonies in the world: a super-colony of red wood ants in Hokkaido which has some 45,000 nests, all connected together by a maze of tunnels which covers over 670 acres & estimated to contain 300 million worker ants and one million queen ants – almost three times the human population of Japan. There has also now been discovered a super super-colony i.e. megacolony of Argentine ants spread across three continents, taking in California, Spain & Japan (different from Hokkaido), with pin sized intellect times billions of members. Compared to that, Tokyo’s looking smaller & smaller. And ants don’t wear masks & go into lockdown scares. They just keep right on working. The future may well belong to ants.

  14. Interview suggestion for Linh Dinh if in Korea a bit longer:

    Another rather well-known alt-media figure also in Korea – tho for a much longer time – is Jonas E. Alexis, a USA black guy who has been teaching mathematics in Korea for some years, and is also ‘Korean Bureau Chief’ for VeteransToday, one of the leading ‘conspiracy sites’ involving a lot of retired military and intelligence agency types

    VT is important, often leading in publishing unique radical deep state truths, but also having articles with wild-ass bizarre improbable tales

    One of the site principals, Gordon Duff, famously said that 30% of what they publish on VT is intentionally not true, as this is what enables them not to get shut down or murdered by the US government, as the wild stuff appears to discredit the true stuff for normies, whilst savvy readers can know when VT is being real

    Jonas Alexis focuses a lot on the JQ (Jewish Question) and on geo-political issues, here’s a recent piece of his

    https://www.veteranstoday.com/2020/05/18/did-the-mossad-and-deep-state-kill-chinese-ambassador-du-wei/

    • Replies: @Polemos
  15. Polemos says:
    @brabantian

    Sounds like an enantiomorph of Alex Jones?

  16. klcard says:
    @Linh Dinh

    Yes I’ve heard the Army quarantine conditions are pretty spartan. They say you should be prepared with a Q-bag with towels, reading material and anything else you need to make life worth living. Luca’s was roaring before the virus, said to be the best Italian in town. Not sure now as most places while being open have taken a big hit in trade. No foreign tourists or businessmen of course. I live very close to the VFB which is my de facto local. Hope I can hook up with if you do make it to VT. Maybe I should give you my virus story, I’ve been an expat for 40 years working oil & gas in many parts of the world.

    • Replies: @Linh Dinh
  17. Anon[291] • Disclaimer says:

    I used to admire globe trotters and travel vloggers, now I disdain them. They’re the ones who brought us this pandemic.

    Technology made it easier to travel, but it also made it no longer necessary to travel. Remote work, YouTube and globalization have made travel unnecessary. As more companies embrace remote work, people will travel a lot less for face to face meetings. Companies will realize they can cut cost by keeping foreign workforce in their home countries instead of bringing them all to one place. YouTube allows people to vlog their own neighborhood/village/town/city/state/country and upload for the world to see, so no one needs to travel anywhere to see what a place looks like.

    Globalization made all modern cities look the same. Everywhere you go in the world save for Africa the dark continent you see the same modern skyscrapers, soulless high rise apartments, multiculti faces wearing the same clothes, eat the same combination of ethnic, chain restaurant and fast food, see the same movies, hear the same hideous rap music, shop in the same big box stores, buy the same designed-in-America made-in-China cheap junk, hear accented English everywhere including in your own neighborhood. What’s the point of traveling anymore?

    If this pandemic kills off globalization including international travels and immigration, it’d the best thing to come out of it.

    • Replies: @Biff
  18. A magnificent read, Linh. Only you can make one savor with relish, such dreaded moments of solitude brought on by Covid-19 lockdowns. While wishing you a safe and speedy exit, I wouldn’t mind reading yet another installment of your miserable life in South Korea, if only for the selfish motive of enjoying yet another piece on how to cope with oneself under conditions of enforced seclusion.

    • Agree: ChuckOrloski
  19. I lived in Suwon for a year and I loved it! South Korea may be the greatest place in the world.

  20. Biff says:
    @Anon

    I used to admire globe trotters and travel vloggers, now I disdain them. They’re the ones who brought us this pandemic.

    Pfft. Blow me…

    Globalization made all modern cities look the same.

    Globalization is not Cleveland to Cincinnati.

    • LOL: Hacienda
    • Replies: @Jeff Stryker
  21. This is Linh Dinh at his finest. He writes so well, it is as if I am in the bar travelling with him. He never makes me cry – but he often makes me laugh out loud, when I am least expecting it.

    I bought his book in hardback a few years ago, complete with loads of full colour photos. It’s about his life and times, travelling across the USA, and spending time with real people using mainly a Greyhound bus, to some of the former richest parts of the USA where Americans used to make things.

    He is a brilliant writer and photographer.

    He cheers me up, even in this doom and gloom and his book “Postcards from the End of America” is still by my bed, although I have already read it several times. I don’t normally do that. I tend to give my books away, once I have read them.

    Tony

  22. Cheer up, Linh! The shit is almost over …

  23. Anonymous[131] • Disclaimer says:

    Back in Busan, I looked up Waegwan. During the Korean War, the US Army believed North Korean soldiers were among refugees trying to cross a bridge there, so it blew up this bridge, killing hundreds of people.

    Curious that you mention this episode, but ignore the massacre on Hill 303, at the foot of which lies Camp Carroll. It’s where one of the most notorious atrocities of the Korean War was committed by communist forces. Forty-one soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division were captured on the hill during the attempt to break through communist lines during the early days of the Pusan Perimeter. Evidence shows that these men were bound and shot in the back. There is a memorial at the top of the hill. You might want to visit it and take a photo or two.

  24. As a help in your business, it’s a”cup of cheap coffee” not a “cheap cup of coffee”.

    • Replies: @dimples
  25. Hey Linh
    Have you noticed how quiet are the toothless wonders on this website on the topic of “dindus” and “negroes” since that sissy white-boy pig murdered a citizen of Minneapolis?
    How does that look from where you are in Asia? And not one story from the editor!!!

  26. @Biff

    Funny, I was talking to someone I grew up with in Michigan on social media last night and could not believe how ignorant questions were. He even asked me how I could get used to the food and was surprised when I told them they had KFC and PIZZA COMPANY in Thailand.

    Talking to a guy I grew up with there was a reminder of how small-minded townies seem once you have been an expat for a few years. Still talking about the Spring Break trip to Orlando 25 years ago.

    We ran down the people we knew in Michigan and once again an expat reflected on the lack of growth or personal change local yokel townies seem incapable of. Rick was still getting busted for drunk and disorderly, Scott took a big plunge and moved all the way from Michigan to Chicago, so and so ended up divorced.

    His anger at his ex-wife was also a reminder of the perspective on gender relations you get in Asia. He had had to leave the state because the divorce was so bad. Here or in Philippines a divorce means she keeps the house you pay $30,000 for.

    To me it was astounding after a quarter-of-century how small-minded my alum were from college.

    Globalization?

    Are we all supposed to be local yokel townies for the rest of our life?

  27. Mefobills says:

    The toothless wonders on this site are wisely waiting for all the information. It is immature to fly off the handle without knowing the full story.

    Maybe Floyd and Chauvin didn’t like each other very much? Who knows for sure at this point?

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/they-were-working-together-bar-owner-says-george-floyd-and-derek-chauvin-worked-for-her-as-security-guards

    With regards to Linh’s statement about negroes in Korea with their pants pulled down, here is a song that disagrees with that behavior.

    Lookin like a fool with your pants on the ground.

  28. linh. ojos open. good. escribe novela.yo compro

  29. Linh Dinh says: • Website
    @klcard

    Hi klcard,

    Yes, do email me a coronavirus missive, [email protected] . Below are the questions I send out to everybody, but they’re only meant as prompts. Please add whatever you feel is relevant. Thanks!–Linh

    How has this crisis changed your life, if at all?

    What is the situation like in your city and/or country?

    What are you most worried about regarding this crisis, the disease itself, its effect on the economy or your government’s handling of it?

    How long do you think this crisis will last? Will there be any permanent effects?

    What do you think your city and country will be like a year from now?

  30. dimples says:
    @Jim Sweeney

    I disagree. Its a “cheap cup of coffee”

  31. Dumbo says:

    since that sissy white-boy pig murdered a citizen of Minneapolis?

    It’s all fake. They knew each other, they both worked together at the same club. They were involved in some counterfeit money stuff. The mayor planned it in advance. Antifa was put on the job as well. It’s all theatrics, to create psychological distress: after lockdown, riots and burning buildings all over America. “Shock and awe”.

    • Replies: @Mefobills
  32. Mefobills says:
    @Dumbo

    I also replied to “Pork,” who I accuse of flying off the handle without having looked at the full picture.

    It looks more and more like a staged event.

    Now the (((usual))) suspects are passing narrative about “white supremacists.” To believe them, we have to ignore what our lying eyes tell us. Talk about Chutzpah.

    • Replies: @CMC
  33. CMC says:
    @Mefobills

    “It looks more and more like a staged event.”

    I’m getting that feel too.

    Does anyone have a link to an uninterrupted, continuous, unedited, 7+ minute video of the incident? Non-Facebook, but youtube or bitchute or major news site please.

    (And yeah, yeah, I’m a horrible person to express this interest in seeing it in its entirety, but at a certain point the evidence or lack of evidence becomes important.)

  34. “The sound of her silk skirt has stopped.
    On the marble pavement dust grows.
    Her empty room is cold and still.
    Fallen leaves are piled up against the doors.
    Longing for that lovely lady,
    How can I bring my aching heart to rest.”

    Li Fu-Jen by Wu-ti

    -=-=–=-=-

    I have enjoyed quite a few of your dispatches, especially the one about Kafka’s Jackals. Thank you for that. But I understand wandering often stems from a thorn in the heart. God and his other plans, or just straw dogs? Howl noooo! p.s. Sometimes the best answers appear in the Dream World.

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