Editor’s note—Occasionally The Three Wise Monkeys will run a “RETRO PIECE”. This is a feature that was not published by the local English language media, or, if it was bludgeoned by the power hacks that be.
Whatever you are doing over here in South Korea, who hasn’t experienced a blow-torch America moment? It’s almost the way the non-American foreigners here in Seoul begin to take their first steps forward before they can start to revel in their own cultural id. Shortly after candidate Obama’s knockout speech on race given in Liberty Hall, Philadelphia, I was at a foreigner bar in The Ghetto reading a comparison of him to Lincoln. I went to grab a beer and use the toilet and on return someone had picked up a pen and remarked by sketching over Lincoln’s head, “I am an arse”. It was a cartoon caption and I actually giggled myself surmising: “No worries, whoever did that only wishes that he could write for the Simpsons.” I smiled and looked across the bleak vinyl bar at someone who could well have been the culprit. Surprised to see that it was a woman I presumed, “A Hillary supporter.” But not really, just another usual suspect English teacher in Seoul, South Korea perturbed and agitated that I was reading and not listening with shits and giggles to her spiel about how pop she is in on Facebook.
In fact, for a long time outside of the United States the subjects “Bush” and “America” have been perfectly interchangeable categories. Yet even now going on inside the windows at the Haebongchong Pub Quiz they don’t seem to carry as much import as the categories “FIFA Legends” and “Australian Soap Operas”. I admit I tried to listen with interest and good cheer and then write down the answers but when FIFA says, “No to Racism”, it doesn’t do much to excite an Obama guy living abroad. Instead, I picked the ‘ooh and ah’ moments between quiz categories to get the bar to play the American Gangster OST zooming out the speakers and take notes on what the brainiac stripe of the cool crowd say about Obama the president. The facts that came out that night:
No, president elect Obama does not think president Bush and Israel conspired to do 911. –He will commit more troops to combat Al Qaeda and ask support for this from Europe.
No, Obama was not an orphan floated down the Euphrates river and found by witch doctors.– His father left him at the age of three to pursue a PhD in Economics.
Of course they are ‘taking the piss’, or ,they think I write for The Simpsons or something as the caucus to promote their greatest interest continues…
No, he doesn’t know if airline ticket prices to Bangkok will go down if he becomes president.– He wants to wean people off oil dependency.
Summer past in Dublin, Brooklyn born rapper Jay-Z turned his show into an Obama rally. There were images of Obama, JFK and then George Bush interchanging on the stage’s backdrop. In brief moment cell phones went unattended and the crowd went flying into wild cheers then boos. It was part politics yet also part gospel and rock ‘n’ roll in the onstage tradition of call and response. It was a: of the people, by the people, for the people Y’all, definition of cool. Yet, don’t stop the Hookah, The Ghetto Cool of haebongchong still won’t get it. The big-time creators of Seoul’s indie music magazines( There are now numerous ones whose only value seems to me the 241 coupons) have taken to block emails suggesting a story idea for what’s on Barack Obama’s IPod. It was suggested four months ago with a working title, “You are only as Real as what You Listen To”. Since then, every musical/cultural, magazine/zine in all of Christendom has had Obama on the cover often interviewing him about his musical taste. Yes, he is part Stevie Wonder geek, has Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks completely downloaded and listens more to John Coltrane than to Jay Z. But this simply isn’t cool enough for the straight up movers and shakers in Seoul. This month on the cover one of them (again the name is not noteworthy and the copy inside only garners an impatient glance while waiting for a cheap beer) portrays President elect Obama in a Santa Claus outfit. If you take time to read the offal inside it’s a circle jerk with the intent of congratulating each other’s local bands and fetish stories about international Dj’s that no one without Attention Deficit Disorder gives a rat’s ass about. Yet everyone can dig that Obama inspires the artists and the bohemians, so really: what-up in The Ghetto?
If you get off the brown subway stop (line 6 exit 2) at Noksapyeong check out the Habongchong Music and Performance Festival. Sounds wicked doesn’t it? You’ll find the scene really is a different world than the rest of megalopolis Seoul. Just as many foreigners are walking around as Koreans. And sometimes you can’t stop the challenge of racial otherness. We really are foreigners; people outside one’s own community. And then make a left and follow towards that may pole Namsan Tower. And even though on a sunny weekend day The Ghetto of habongchong seems less about vital souls colliding and more about the usual suspects proclaiming watch me, I’m hot! Check me out and tell me which character of a reality show I must remind you of. Whatever, you can still start to celebrate the coming jubilee of January 20th Inauguration Day. And beside the cool cast of characters –with fingerless gloves- from the Habongchong Tarot Deck: the other walks too. The Philapina Charwoman trying in all of her floral dresses to stay warm in her first real winter. The invisibles, the outsiders to cool with the rough jobs who were not born into a place that only speaks English; so they can’t teach English here. Yet, maybe they were born in an exotic place like Hawaii. One of the cool things about Barack Obama is that he notices the other, he has to: he is one himself.
Well to be fair it’s obvious not everyone is meant to care about the politics, the struggles, or the genuine vibe of the times. Flags on a backpack, pub quizzes and open mics will pretend to do that work for us won’t it? After all taking time to notice the other constipates the image of our own celebrity. So however much the price of a plane ticket to somewhere exotic changes, whatever, I can’t trust it. It’s just a Catch 22 question. The ironic reality is that you can sling a guitar over your shoulder pierce that other ear then move to a foreign country and never the less still find yourself on life’s tourist circuit. Perhaps it’s because we never move far way enough from our cool selves at all to ever really notice the other. Yeah, I still wear an Obama button. It helps keep the tourists in The Ghetto away… and keeps me invisible too.
The writer lives in Seoul and is the Founder/Editor of The Three Wise Monkeys and this message is not endorsed by Barack Obama. Contact – firstname.lastname@example.org