After I fought through the gauntlet at the airport’s immigration control and indeed miraculously snuck my $30 bag of kimchi and fermented soybeans in right under their noses (despite my wife warning that the half-scorpion guardians at airports always inexplicably find and confiscate Korean food) I found myself unexpectedly giddy with excitement at the prospect of re-entering the United States.
The terminal and the concourse at Thrilling Detroit International Airport awaited me through a wide enormous opening several stories in height, and then beyond, in the heavenly beyond, giant canyons of windows, and gray metal walls, and Jetsons-style moving walkways with a few but certainly not too many white people and black people and Asians and Middle Easterners and Indians and Europeans and every sort of politically correct or incorrect racial appellation you could possibly desire, just riding along as calm as could be, without staring at each other, judging each other, or really giving a shit about the intense multiculturality of it all.
None of them noticed me in the slightest, and I’m sure that by now any trace of my existence there has faded completely from every last person who might have accidentally glanced in my direction. Perfect. So perfect. Like taking a hot bath. The tension of the desperate rat race that is totally inescapable in Korea relaxed its death grip on my sore, bruised, and aching heart; people were not terrified of starving to death if they failed to sprint through an elevator’s sliding doors in time; they weren’t staring at me anymore (or even pretending not to); the calmness and relaxation everywhere was so overwhelming I almost threw myself on the cheap carpeting in a paroxysm of writhing, groaning bliss.
There was small talk. People spoke to me, made random observations to each other about odd doors or the baggage claim, and politely laughed at one another’s banal commentaries. Surely this is the most absurd level of informality. These Americans, these incredible Americans, could actually talk to total strangers without awkwardly bowing and scraping and acting like complete slaves. Koreans (in Korea at least) are incapable of such colossal feats of social interaction.
At one point I said excuse me to a woman who was standing in the way of some bananas, she said she was sorry and stepped to the side, I said that was alright, and then retrieved the banana I desired—all without the usual shoving and grunting and scowling and swearing and tackling that would normally characterize an identical interaction in Korea. My god. How spectacular. And none of them know how good they have it; none of them know how remarkable and amazing even the most mundane stir of a coffee cup is to a goggle-eyed gawker like me. The extravagances of extraterrestrials. There were commercials on television that had nothing to do with cellphones. Mustaches. Cleavage. Jabbas-les-Huttes. Carpets, and people walking on them with their shoes on as if that is not the most horrifying and disgusting feat of which humanity is capable.
And at last, while soaring over the presumed outskirts of Detroit, and while driving along the highways of Maine later on, confronted with trees everywhere I looked, all of them in bloom, like fuzzy balls of cotton from a distance as I gazed out over impossibly deep blue waters at a red-brick New England river town perched like a castle over a “gently sloping” peninsula of green grass perfect for grazing none other than the baaing lamb of god—a line from Blake came to me about England’s “green and pleasant land”, one which just as easily applies to America through the eyes of someone coming back after a long sojourn away.
(actually I didn’t sneak the kimchi in, I told the nice smiling immigration guy (who was not a scorpion guardian out of Gilgamesh) about it straight to his face, and with his triton he let me pass)