In Indochina, almost wherever one goes, one is surrounded by men in pants that are very baggy around the legs and somehow also very tight around the crotch, so tight in fact that you can clearly see their penises, and even the mushroom-like heads of their penises, jiggling with every flipflop-cushioned footstep, even out of the corners of your eyes, and yet no one there stares, or thinks to stare, at these so-called “birdshit foreigners”; these alternative sorts of tourists who plague, in particular, the nation of Thailand, packing its bougainvillea-tinted shadows with both dirt-caked dreadlocks and gorgeously masculine manes of golden hair, spun from the wheel of Rumpelstiltskin himself—still, not a Thai in Thailand bats an eyelash; there is enough cleavage shaking there to excite the needle of a Richter scale, and enough dark lanky long-legged prostitutes crowding dimly-lit stairways (this I saw with my own wide staring eyes) to exhaust the urges of a whole army of drunk foreign soldiers, and still, nobody cares, it’s all invisible.
Then come back to Korea and everything changes.
Even at the airport while we were waiting in Shanghai for a flight to Seoul with a bunch of other Koreans the staring began. And it’s never the occasional curious friendly glance you get in Southeast Asia—no, no, no, it is always the same brief sickening flash of judgment that says you are different and therefore wrong, and beneath these glares I wither and turn to smoke and ash like a leaf tucked under the focused sunbeam of a magnifying glass. You are different, why can’t you be better, and more like me?
Another writer said something about going through kimchi detoxification in preparation for leaving this peninsula forever, but I love kimchi and found that while abroad I had only to purge myself of the sickeningly infectious birdbrained hypocrisy that the government simply must be dumping into the water supply here. There is no other explanation (besides the utter lack of foreignness and variety in Korea, versus many years of heavy foreign tourism in Thailand). In my first days in Bangkok I hated and judged everyone I looked at, and this was not just my usual nihilism, but the view through the mental lens of an old angry miserable bastard, culled from the very worst of the looks my wife and I got while daring to leave our cramped apartment in the metropolitan boonies of Namsanjeong.
I am still obviously not cured. I went to the most liberal college in the country and have been an outcast for almost my entire life; my life can best be described as an embrace of strangeness; but this place is changing me, and the only way I think I can ever go back is by leaving for a long time.
Really, truly, choose your enemies carefully.