Criticisms of the West (11:44 a.m.)

Criticisms of the West (11:44 a.m.)

…Does all this talk get recorded anywhere
—a data-bank of the cosmos?

My Western friends are always talking about
the Universe’s Consciousness—Thai dye t-shirts

& harem pants | mandalas patterning them
—I stick out like a sore thumb in my grey pant suit.

They travel through Asia for a few months
& think the soil’s saturated in higher consciousness.

They meet a monk | receive ludicrous epiphanies.
I meet a monk & want my money back

:—“best of a bad lot in my esteem.”
—In winter | during the exam season mothers
& grandmothers flock to the temples in Seoul.
There | they can spend an entire day performing jol
: a genuflection | a bow | to perform which | they start
in the standing position | bend their knees | then
lowering themselves onto their knees fold the head
into the stomach so as to resemble a foetus.
This is performed in a fluid | single motion
—repeating the action over & over again for hours
while praying to Buddha for their child’s prosperity.
It is an elegant action that can be done well & like
somebody who is very skilled at using chopsticks | their
proficiency in performing jol may be remarked upon by others.
The genuflection is said to be good for stiff backs.
The mothers & grandmothers also bring 20kg sacks
of rice | which are piled in front of the Buddha relics
as oblations—a sort of trade for the attentions of the gods—
(from a tourist pamphlet I translated for
visitkorea: Korean Tourism Organization.)

The piled sacks end up making the temple
look like a military camp.

Are any thoughts worth the time | energy or space
they occupy | if they take up a space other than

the space a technology creates?
“It’s not the content but the medium

that we should focus on to understand the effects
new technologies are having on our brain.”

It all feels like contagious nonsense to me
—so hard to refute when delivered softly | if only because

it means “bringing me down | man.”
I hate hearing Brits use American slang |

so much worse than an anachronism
or white socks & brogues.

It’s getting to the point where
even the affectation of quality is becoming farfetched.

“It is a fact that people fill hard drives
with all sorts of crap. Porn | TV shows…”

The most intelligent thing he ever said
& the most hypocritical. I told him

: If I have to sit through any more Jamie ‘Fucking’ Oliver
I am going to jump off the balcony.

During coffee with American or English friends
Yoon Yong will internally gnaw on her knuckle

listening to the same old vitiating diatribe
—“Well in our country… We don’t do this…

…like you do in Korea…” Insinuating the need to “catch up”.
They never see the good

: how Koreans are on the whole comfortable
around each other | help each other

: share food | space & time with one another.
We are never a bother to each other.

We celebrate together | any minor or major triumph
of our country. I have to listen to my country belittled

by people from nations with such insular populations |
too anxious to be a part of something bigger than themselves |

belligerently individual | as if individualism
is the high watermark of any civilization

—“as if Orientalism hasn’t had damaging enough effects…”
—nations self-medicating themselves numb with grins—

poisoning their bodies with junk & shooting
or mowing each other down in various ways |

while they work or study or “get lashed on the town.”
But I have to nod & say

: O yes | but we are getting better you know.
Consider this a form of abuse…

27 thoughts on “Criticisms of the West (11:44 a.m.)

    1. I don’t know as I’d call it prose poetry, but there is definitely some social & cultural commentary & though I have tried to be objective, the criticisms of Westerners are things I have heard Westerners say about Korea & Koreans put into the highly aware mouth of Mrs. Yoon Yong. It is remarkable the dumb shit Westerners will say about Korea, yet live here in peace & stability, paid more than any Korean teacher for doing half the work, it has forced me at times to have a grumble at them.

      1. It is a human thing though. I have heard people of all kinds say stupid sh*t about other people of all kinds… but I totally understand where you are coming from. The unappreciative young white people in Japan I have met over the years are a special breed of ungrateful.

  1. What you said. On the other hand, there is no ideologically or culturally neutral stance that anyone can adopt, and usually no one who says anything about anything really knows where they’re coming from, and couldn’t help it even if they did.

    1. Aye to that. Most people like to have their opinions though don’t they, regardless how ill-informed they are. One example is the whole “Koreans eat dogs.” Do you know something…I’ve lived here just under 10 years. I have never seen a dog restaurant, & I have lived in several different places around Korea, including both Seoul & the countryside. I speak Korean & have asked some Koreans & I’d say 98% of people I’ve asked have never eaten it, if they have it was once & they didn’t enjoy it. They don’t need to lie, because it isn’t taboo to have eaten a dog. It is usually older people who remember very well a time where there was no food. A dog was a meal, everyone would do the same in such circumstance to say you wouldn’t is to say you are capable of defying your biological impulse to survive, next thing these people will tell me is they wouldn’t flinch if I lobbed a brick in their face. & what pisses me off most is, the memes & charities put pictures of the Chinese up for their protests. I know this, because I know that a Korean would not sit with their shirt off, it just isn’t a done thing. Just one example of people thinking there is a ubiquitous ethical & moral set for all people’s, I just don’t know as there is. The New Agers have got their major tenet totally wrong, we are not all the same.

      1. I have eaten dog meat soup (boshin-tang) in Korea, which is considered (by the occasional old man one might meet) a foodstuff that increases potency in the bedroom.

        There is a dog restaurant in the Mappo section of Seoul, but it is not easy to find (down a small street that is more like a back alley in Western terms). Dog is not especially delicious but not disgusting, kind of a greasy beef-like flavor. The biggest hurdle in eating dog that I and others I have talked to have experienced is getting over the idea that you are eating a dog. It was the fact I was eating dog that made me slightly queasy as I took my first bite, chewed, and swallowed. But the meat itself was OK, especially as a part of a soup where the meat’s flavor was enhanced by the other ingredients of the soup. I immediately got over the idea I was eating dog and enjoyed the rest of the meal. And if one is having a hard time getting through a bowl of boshintang, they can always leave the meat alone or down a few glasses of Hite along with it, Hite being a delicious beer that I have found goes great with most Korean foods anyways.

        But DPM is the expert here and he is totally right. The dog meat restaurant/dog meat is most certainly not even close to being a generic Korean phenomenon, and thus the statement that “Koreans eat dogs” (implying they run around all day and night eating dog bacon, dog burgers, dog steaks, and so on) is something you would only hear an idiot say.

      2. Ah Mapo. They have the best jeon in Mapo, They had a really delicious beef-jeon with thick strips of beef, it was special order & they didn’t like to do it because they were so busy, but when I went with my wife they’d always rustle me one up. The range of jeon they have is staggering. I have been in years, maybe 6 now. It was just a sort of makeshift, market-type place, but the food was excellent & the makkoli always fresh in bronze pots, old-style—love it.
        I think you are more expert than me on the dog, I have never tried it, but everything you say above is bang on. I know that young guys being initiated into a company position get taken out for dog meat, I suppose the symbolism is that of virility for the task of doing a good job for the company. They’ve now made it illegal for farmers to fatten dogs for eating. It’ll fizzle out entirely eventually, there just isn’t demand. Shows really, I lived here a long time, as I said, never seen a restaurant & you found one in Mapo, an old part of Seoul, down a back alley.
        Thing is with the animal lovers, they are sort of right, but they don’t take the cultural nuances of it into play & demonize perfectly decent, but merely different people & I just think that is plain wrong. It is social justice losing its head & clouding its thinking. It’s a form of propaganda to get people to see your side. It’s damaging to a whole culture. You won’t believe the amount of times someone hears I have lived in Korea as long as I have & the first thing they come out with is “they eat dogs don’t they?” Because it is no means simple these people tune out before I can get the point accurately across. So basically, you have people, quite a number, whose first thought of Korea is eating dog, followed by North Korea. Grief alive. I met some Moroccans in Seoul in Spring, he laughed about the dog thing as Moroccans eat dog, no taboo about it, but they get no grief over it. He said he’d travelled quite a lot & a few countries you wouldn’t expect eat it. I am not condoning it, so much as I don’t think it correct to demonize cultures for it, without the context of the difficult circumstances such habits were founded on. O & glad to have your insights in my comment section action, Daniel; I miss them.

      3. I have found that the most significant hurdle to getting rid of the “Koreans eat dog” hurdle has been the whole “mystery meat” issue with Asian foods, (“street meat”, etc). The main story I have heard about South Korea or China is that someone went/goes out with a friend and “accidentally” orders something like dog instead of beef and then they tell the story to others to make themselves look like they have had wild adventures in foreign lands. So dog meat and South Korea become units of imagined cultural capital by people who don’t care about the nuances, contexts, or even outright truths of Asia.

        You CAN’T accidentally order dog burgers in Seoul. You have to SPECIFICALLY track down cat meat in China. Stop the bullshit stories about Westerners blindly stumbling across “taboo” foods and we stop the nonsense.

      4. Yes I have heard such stories too. It really is damaging. Just more adventure tourist nonsense. I have a number of bones to pick with tourism, this damaging effect on cultural identity is just one. Actually, some of the most boring people I have met are among the most well-traveled. It makes me cringe into a ball when some tourist talks about adventurous journeys, considering how curated tourism is to keep tourists locked into areas where money can be made. So few people, even Koreans who come to Jeju, seldom see the real Jeju, unless they are hikers who take off on the coastal Olle paths, which are an investment of time, as they are, some of them, up to 20km. But owing to the diversity of scenery & the length, they are quiet & you really can get an earnest taste of Jeju. Most people just stick to their air-conditioned rental cars following the curated tourist maps.

  2. I agree with you completely, though we must admit we are in a privileged position to speak of tourists as those who don’t see the real Japan/South Korea. I am really REALLY privileged to have been able to have access to a wider range of citizens in my travels than the average traveller, which means I have been able to have some absolutely amazing/profound/hilarious, etc, conversations with a huge variety of people. Such moments are priceless treasures as one gets to know people of differing social status, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc. Human interaction is treasure and it can happen in profound ways anywhere/everywhere. But access doesn’t mean we will take advantage of that access to become more open-minded and learn more about what others feel/need/desire.

    The key is the whole idea of story and our willingness to inquire into other’s life stories: the complete opposite of selfie taking and travel blogging (“I ate X and went to Y and stayed in Z” I, myself, my experience, my friends, my feelings, my opinions, me, me, me”). To converse and share with others is to learn (often rather quickly) about what others value on a fundamental level.

    Turning people into props, part of the scenery in one’s own personal adventure, is to never have been to South Korea or Japan at all.

    1. Everything you say here is gold, very insightful reading of the problem. Especially like your last point. I remember working with an American who boasted of having been everywhere, when I asked them about places, they had nothing to say. It seemed to me more about ratcheting up places than experience. Sad really, considering the impact such tourism is having on the environment & community.

  3. I wish I could translate the emotional qualities of the stories I have heard in my travels as I became temporary or long term friends with those I have encountered. One night in Athens I am performing at a soiree for the British Ambassador in his residence (including million dollar works of art and Secret Service on patrol),and then the next day I am having a traditional lunch with a Greek family at their grandmother’s house in Marathon (a seaside town where the Greeks fought off the Persians about 490 years before Jesus Christ). In both cases the conversations I got to participate in are what I treasure the most.

    I once had a conversation with a person I met at an airport who used to clean up crime or suicide scenes using industrial cleaners or bioremediation. What they told me was amazing and often shocking. This person ran an ordinary carpet cleaning business after retiring from forensic cleaning and we both marveled at how different our lives were (avant-garde jazz saxophonist and person who used to clean up guts and brains off walls and furniture).

    I’ll bet the people you have met DPM at your Jeju guest house (that you built yourself!!) have shared with you amazing treasures as much as you have shared yours with them…

    1. You’ve had some intense meetings. My guests are usually young girls who take selfies haha. I love Koreans but they aren’t very intense from my experience. They like comforts, playing it safe. They love to hear stories though. When I taught adults all they wanted was to hear me tell stories, I hardly taight them a proper class, just chatted.

  4. But that is fantastic. They probably felt like they were really getting something out of the class, even if they didn’t learn what a zero conditional sentence was. I once did a woodwind (clarinet/saxophone) demonstration for a bunch of Israeli/Palestinian kids at a Catholic school in Jerusalem. They probably didn’t learn anything but we had such a good time together, they were a rapt audience when I told them about the Calgary Stampede and how people ride bucking bulls and horses to win money. They couldn’t believe it!

    1. Well I guess they learned plenty of zero conditionals from all the warnings they could take from all the mistakes I have made, haha.
      Those adults had a decent grasp of English, so it wasn’t really necessary to teach them too much, they needed experience & topics & well…I could talk for England. Haha.
      Palestinian & Israeli kids? Did you feel any animosity between the two? When was this?

      1. No animosity at all. They were all just little kids, more concerned with balloons and cake than geopolitics. This was back in 2005 when I was teaching at The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

        You and I are so privileged to be able to meditate upon the human condition via such experiences. One of my ex girlfriends is Vietnamese and the stories about the war I heard from her mother were seemingly unbelievable: courage, humor, tragedy, misery, triumph, all mixed together. Vietnamese mothers, English poets living in Korea, Canadian avant-garde musicians… we all are richer for having listened to each other. And speaking of listening, the sound of the Vietnamese language being spoken is so uplifting: somewhere between music and a ball bouncing. I wish it was the lingua franca of Asia (maybe even the world), as much as I lovvvve Japanese.

  5. “The medium is the message” was a popular radio meme in the 70s with “message” pronounced like “massage”. Ironic that it has come full circle.
    As you reveal more of the story, the East meets West theme jumps out with stronger clarity. It will be interesting to read this as a whole and see the consistency in character and vision from the beginning.

    1. It’s a shout out to Marshall Mcluhan via 2 books I read, I from James Gleik called ‘The Information’ & another by Nichola Carr called ‘The Shallows’ both on technology, information & their abundance & coming to be. I also got it wired through again after listening to Will Self talk about ‘Phone’. I am very much interested in the medium not the message being the determining factor, as if the message is merely incidental to the invasive-ness of the medium. Just need to look around you.
      The East & West theme will be developed more, it pretty much the major dilemma of Yoon Yong whose livelihood & family life is a clash of cultures, at least as she has come to see it.

      1. Well, before Phone, read Shark, which is the second installment. Phone, being the finale. Umbrella is staggering in its complexity & depth. Perhaps my favourite book of all time. I have read it twice now & I will probably read it again at some point. His paragraphs guiding us through London in 1918 are wonderful & the ragtag social experiment of soldiers living out the rest of the war beneath the trenches is just a wonderful moment in literature. When Audrey’s brother in the war arrives on the beaches of England & falls grasping at the pebbles, it is very emotional, especially owing to the whole episode of his survival being a daydream or wishful thinking, the reality being, he died.
        Congrats getting into the Wagon, not a bad little gig that one. Waiting for my author copy to come through, just for a collectible really. Look forward to reading what he took.

      2. Thanks. Nice synopsis of Umbrella. I’ll give it a second read. I found the story hard to follow, but picked up quite a bit from his unique use of flow (stream of consciousness). I felt quite at home with it. Especially his nod to the lyrics from modern music at the beginning and his free use of ellipses and dashes to change thought. I like writers who remind me of myself (if I’m not being too presumptuous).

      3. It’s actually very coherent, if very symbolic. Think of everything as linked through a motif: corridors of Friern Hospital: the trenches: troglodyte community as afterlife: roads: wiring of the brain: consciousness. There is a solid motif of this claustrophobia of wending corridors, wiring, networks etc. There are chapters even if you choose to SEE them. You can begin to identify the change of eras, which I take to be a sort of chapter break, they ARE essentially, it becomes a stylistic device pretty much. It certainly takes getting used to, but I find Self, as we read, sort of teaches us how to read it, if that makes sense. The other 2 books are in the same style.

      4. Off topic, I have a poem I’m not sure what to do with. I wrote it in the style of the classic Greeks without the prerequisite knowledge of Classical Greek. I wonder if you’ll have a look at it? I’ll email it to your danielpaulmarshall85 address if that’s ok?

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