Walking On The Beaches Looking At The Bitches

Schoolgirls contemplating the Protean freedom they cannot attain.

While walking on the beach with my wife during a rare respite from raising this troublesome young boy into a real regular Paul Bunyan bogatyr of a man, from snake-strangling infant to the Hercules who brings down the hydra, one sees a different Korea through her eyes; the blank images before us are granted meaning.

Among the sparse crowds, idling above the thrashing breakwater, and kicking their bare feet into the unrolling waves, are three young attractive women who are wearing tight dresses with short skirts as well as bathing suits underneath, all at the same time. They seem to be playing with one another but there is an element of distraction hanging about them, as though they are not really focused on what they are doing. Kim Eun Ok summarizes their condition at once: they’re looking for men, and trying to show off all their nice clothes at once.

And a few weeks ago she told me something about Haeundae I never would have known otherwise, that it has a reputation among Koreans for being a place to go at night if one wishes to meet someone else, a random stranger, for casual sex, and that lots of surprise pregnancies start cropping up shortly after the end of the summer. And in a country where no one ever seems to want to be alone, anywhere, ever, there are an unusual number of young women just kind of hanging around there, by themselves.

A beach in Busan a century ago---though not Haeundae.

Haeundae Beach functions as an unusual melting pot in a city and a country otherwise totally dominated by Koreans: English teachers and so-called “guest workers” (or cheap labor) from Southeast Asia can be seen segregating themselves from the rest of the exceedingly Asian populace, eying each other with curiosity; one can hear Chinese and Japanese spoken on the sidewalks, and see groups of Indian tourists photographing themselves, and witness packs of children of mixed descent running through the ferns and palms of garden jungles that will be slushed over with snow in just a few months; and behold chefs with tall white hats serving up barbecues for fat Western businessmen, complete with champagne, and not a cheap bottle of victory gin soju in sight.

It is amazing to see how this place, or really any other place in Korea, has developed, and how modernity is equated with the profitable destruction of natural beauty; what’s more, because Koreans have never been able to swim, they apparently didn’t really notice the different amazing beaches straddling the coast of Busan until the eighties, and even now the asshole lifeguards sitting in their red towers and prowling the shore in their jetskis will start whistling and howling at anyone who strays more than a few feet from the shore.

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