Summer Busan

The new bridge near Gupo.

The air is so humid now you need gills to breathe out here, and fins to swim back and forth to work: a layer of gleaming sweat coats every puffy face, complexions are reduced to the status of steamed dumplings, straight black bangs get plastered to sticky foreheads, and every child, having long since given up any individuality to this conformist culture, still exudes a unique idiosyncratic reek of body odor, which allows you to distinguish one from the other with your eyes closed and your ears plugged.

Alternately, old wrinkled crones rest on the filthy tar beside plastic signs covered in Chinese hieroglyphics. Young women wear incredibly short skirts and walk up long steep cement subway staircases, their purses held back against their bare behinds with both hands, while mothers and daughters clop along the green sidewalks, sharing the load of a heavy black garbage bag held with one arm each between them.

Then the dark-skinned bearded homeless man, who has no access to the whitening cream that people bleach themselves with, collects the plastic and paper garbage that the wind gathers for him in the corners of everything, and pushes it all along piled up in a wooden cart, while older women walk underneath little umbrellas in the harsh sun or hold up their purses to cover their faces from the tanning glare. Back in the whirling, roaring subway, among colorless suits and skirts, short old people race about and shove past everyone to collect free newspapers for recycling. The empty seat beside me is always the last one to be filled. When a retard groans from some corner, everybody stares.

In the morning a gasp of hot air huffs in through the screen windows, wafting up against the long poster of the black ink brushstroke dragon taped to the wall; the sun gleams a sort of syrupy hazel against the hundred-story glass skyscrapers, and the quick rainstorms (called “fox rain” in Korean) wash the blue sky clean and give the towering monsoon thunderheads room to breathe, before the fog sweeps in and obscures everything all over again.

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