Pungsoojiri

It’s night, I’m alone, and as the poet says—

When the Korean wife’s asleep
The American husband watches Japanese movies.

I just finished The Hidden Fortress for the first time, and in wanting to brag about that fact, as if it was some kind of accomplishment, I began to think of all the times I had ever asked Koreans if they’d even heard of Akira Kurosawa, who is a household name among the most ignorant savages of America.

But when I asked this question they reacted as if I had told them that I had just purposely defecated in my own pants. As I’ve written before with these mots justes, they reacted with silence, blankness, awkwardness. Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa Akira. I reversed the name. I pronounced it with a ridiculous accent that most Americans would regard as racist—although foreigners here know that speaking Konglish (a kind of pidgin English that exists inside the modern Korean language) is sometimes necessary, an example being “Bussuh tumeenal” for “Bus Terminal”, when you got to get to where you got ta go—I did all of this, and still, nothing.

Japan is several hours boating distance away. I’ve heard that flying there involves taking off and landing, with nothing in between.

Before I came to Korea a friend warned me not to discuss Japanese colonialism, and, as it turned out, for good reason. The topic is at the back of everyone’s minds here—perhaps it would be the same in America, if Britain were right next door, if the two countries spoke almost completely different languages, if America were half Britain’s size, and if Britain’s colonial legacy included several decades of shameless rape and plunder, culminating in attempted genocide, followed by nation-wide face-saving denial.

The media here whips up nationalist sentiment among every single Korean whenever a handful of rightwing Japanese nutcases claim that a pile of hideous birdshit-encrusted rocks in the middle of the Sea of Japan belongs to them, rather than Korea, and the legacy of past destruction lives on. Even though North and South Koreans are both responsible for completely annihilating their own country (the US, USSR, and PRC sharing the blame) during the Korean War, and even though Korean Confucians desecrated all kinds of Buddhist sites across the country during the Joseon Dynasty, and even though modern Korean Christians are still responsible for burning down about one beautiful cultural artifact every year—we still heard a bunch of ajummas bitching about how the Japanese had wrecked some statues up on South Mountain, here in Gyeongju, just last Sunday.

“Bastards,” they told us. “Don’t go up there.” My wife and changmoneem were totally both wiped out after a modest thirty minute hike, and I was the one carrying the baby—I wanted to keep going because we hadn’t seen a single Buddhist site, not even one lousy thousand year-old pagoda, but it was getting dark and they wanted to turn around and go back, so we did.

My wife and I could have mentioned that we have several Japanese friends who were born decades after the colonial period, and that these people had nothing to do with the cruelties of the fascists, and that they are pretty decent people and not at all bastards, but, really, what would be the point?

Speaking of mountains, I just learned a few weeks ago of a new, unheard-of depredation committed by the Colonial Japanese, one which kind of pushed me over the edge. After reading The Cleanest Race I had been willing to cut fascist Japan a little slack, insane as it sounds, since it appears that at least some of the Korean elite were on board with the “Exterminate Korean Culture” plan adopted by the Empire of the Rising Sun—the crimes committed by that country rival Nazi Germany’s, and it seems they were driven insane by decades of runaway victories over the Russians, the Koreans, the Chinese, everyone in the Pacific, which makes me think that it was better for America to lose the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam, rather than win them—because the over-confidence gained from doing so would have destroyed liberalism in America and possibly the entire world along with it. If I may generalize. Simplify. Pontificate. Expostulate—in a conversational manner no one would ever take seriously.

(of course it would have been better if those wars had never been fought to begin with)

So, speaking of mountains, in the words of a resident Canadian—“The Japanese fucked up Korea’s pungsoojiri.” What’s Pungsoojiri? English has no native words to describe it, because the idea occupies an exotic space in our culture: geomancy (Greek), or, far more infamously, feng shui (from Chinese, 風水, wind-water, from which the Korean pung-soo is likewise derived)…

…I was going to write about how the Japanese fucked up Korea’s feng shui by driving metal stakes into the country’s mountains, and that how such an act was both heinous and ridiculous—it’s not enough to exterminate our race and culture, but you have to fuck up our feng shui, too?—but in the words of another blogger, the idea actually seems “a bit tinfoil hat-ish“. I had heard about this but I had never researched it; a perusal of google suggests that the idea carries no weight beyond Planet Korea, an hermetically-sealed ideological domain in which Dokdo is extremely important for everyone and the most famous Korean is Rain rather than Kim Jong Il.

Moral of the story: never trust Canadians.

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