|Seoul is about the size of Detroit, but with a population of 14 million. And they all have cars and are going to the same fucking place at once. Furthermore, these are not good drivers. Red lights are thought of as a suggestion only, and consequently, Seoul has the highest accident fatality rate in the world. The water is also unsafe to drink, not just for foreigners, but for the nationals too. Everyone boils their water. But there's really no fear of war with North Korea. The North Koreans have been fucking with the South for so long that the South Koreans don't pay much attention to them.
If you're out in the city and have to use a bathroom, avoid old buildings at all costs. Instead of the usual pedestal toilets, they have something that resembles a toilet but is level with the ground. I had to squat over a few of these out of desperation, and almost fell in on several occasions. I try to think of Korean customs as different, and not necessarily wrong, but there are some things I'll never understand. For example, most people have showers, but no one uses shower curtains. The water sprays all over the bathroom and there are plastic slippers at the door for you to wear to keep your feet dry.
Koreans eat some weird shit. Korea is surrounded by water, so naturally they eat some strange sea creatures such as sea slugs and jellyfish (which has the consistency of mushy animal fat). But they also eat things like hot buttered silkworms. My brother and I were in an antique market one day, and he told me to take a whiff of something a peddler was selling in what looked like a hot peanut cart. As we got closer, I could see that it was actually some crawly insect type of thing that he was scooping into paper cups. My brother said that I would never forget the smell. He was right.
I had always heard that Asians ate dog meat, and my brother assured me that this was true, but the Koreans don't like foreigners to know this. Chinese medicine men claim that dog has very potent healing qualities. But they don't just eat any type of dog. They only eat the dog with the yellow hair.
Korean's are very reserved and conservative. I was forewarned not to wear short skirts or any revealing clothing if I wanted to be dressed appropriately, and I went along with their social conduct rules. One night my brother and I were out driving around, and he was telling me that in his twelve years in Korea he had never heard a lewd comment being made towards any woman on the streets. Korean men were extremely shy and would never exhibit lewd behavior in public, unlike American men. I told him that in the previous week in Detroit, I had been crossing the street by my apartment when four guys drove by and yelled to me, "Hey! We want to fuck you in the ass!" We both laughed and he assured me that something like that would never happen in Korea. A few minutes later, a car with four young Korean guys pulled up beside us and the driver motioned for me to roll down the window. In his very best English the driver yelled to me, "I would like to fuck you!" We couldn't stop laughing, but we followed the guys for a while pretending to be offended to scare them.
Seoul reminds me a lot of Toronto, except that Toronto is new and clean. There is an American influence, but they are much more European influenced. And the Buddhist Temples are fabulous. We went to at least fifteen Temples, and talked to many monks with my brother translating. We asked mostly questions about meditation, but weren't really given any answers. We were attracted to the Temples, and compelled to go despite not getting much information from the monks. We spent a lot of time in coffee shops, and talked and laughed for two straight weeks.
On my second trip to Seoul, in October 1994, we took a 6 hour road trip to the east coast (on the Sea of Japan) through the Sorak Mountain Range, and stayed in a Condo with a view of the Sea. Unfortunately, the remnants of a typhoon was traveling up the coast and it rained heavily all three days we were there. One evening my brother and I went out in search of a Temple, and as we were driving around we saw a huge boulder and decided to try to get to it. We followed a long winding road and discovered an incredible Temple at the end of it. As we were walking through the grounds, we turned around and there was the huge boulder with a waterfall in front of it.
A monk curiously walked up to us. This temple was so remotely located that to see a Korean there would be unusual. To see two blond Americans was shocking, I'm sure. He invited us for tea and said that my interest in Buddhist Temples was creating good karma, and I should continue to visit many Temples. We had tea one more time with him before we left the east coast.
When we got back to Seoul, we continued to go to Soo Gook Sa (the Temple behind my brothers apartment), and two days before I left we met with the head monk and an old monk who was their historian, and had a long talk with my sister-in-law translating. The head monk had a book that listed all of the Temples around the world that belonged to the Choyge Order (Korean Zen) and we discovered that there were several in the Detroit area. I took down the addresses and phone numbers and decided to look them up when I got back to the states (big mistake).
I really love Korea, but it's always great to go home. I had always taken so many things for granted, like toilets you don't have to squat over, water you can drink and good old American food. No matter how shitty America is, it's still the greatest fucking country in the whole world!
I went to Seoul again in the fall of '95, then in 1997, I got a 5 year visa and went for 4 months - June through September. In the summer, everyone wears slippers and pajama type clothes, and sort of has that "just been laid" look. And there is something quite appealing about having young boys bowing to me.
Because of the crowding, trends catch on quickly. The strangest fashion trend I observed that year was teenagers wearing shoes that were 4 inches longer than their feet. I questioned many, and was told that they felt that their feet were too small, and the large shoes gave their feet more room to grow (I bet they're buying huge condoms as well). Drinking the blood from a deer's horns was also very popular. Men believe that it will increase their stamina and virility, and they jump around with a straw in the freshly chopped antlers of a live deer. Everybody likes something.