Monday, November 10, 2003

ouchie, etc.

Antiwar demonstration in downtown Seoul! Gee, who'd'a thought?

Peter Schroepfer over at Oranckay talks about the unpleasantness of experiencing riot control measures:

Something else that brings back memories of my college days: ye olde water cannon. In I think it was 91ish, the police imported two massive mobile armored water cannon vehicles from Israel, and one of them currently waits outside the building from which I write you. (I hastily shot off a pic, but can't download right now.) These things don't just shoot water... the water can be injected with "liquid tear gas" that makes you hurt and feel sick and nauseated like there's no tomorrow, or with paint of some sort, so, for example, they can make everyone within hundreds of yards be an easily identifiable florescent orange. To my knowledge the paint's never been tried in Korea, but oh let me tell you, the liquid tear gas doesn't wash outta your hair without hurting all over again as it washes down your face. Actually that's true of the powdered stuff, too.

This brings back my own mid-90s memory of the one time I experienced tear gas. At the time, I had a private class at an office in the Chongno 5-ga section of town. Occasionally I'd arrive early, so I'd enter the office building and head downstairs to the cafe, just to hang and sip a drink. The cafe was usually quiet, but on the evening in question, I recall looking up when a bunch of 20-somethings suddenly barged in as a group, laughing and joking. It never occurred to me that they might have been running from a gas cloud.

But the tear gas made itself felt soon after. I recall a burning sensation inside my nostrils first as the gas hit the moist tissues. The burning hit my eyes about the same time, and found its way into my throat. For me, that was the worst part of it. I've accidentally inhaled chili powder through the nose; I've accidentally rubbed chili powder or Tabasco residue into my eyes. These sensations aren't unknown to me. But having my breathing directly affected was somewhat unnerving. And as I breathed faster from the stress, it only got worse.

Luckily, there seems to be a threshold. You experience a certain amount of nastiness, but it doesn't close your throat or totally blind you. I can see why angry Yonsei students can tie a simple handkerchief around their faces (which offers no protection, except from cameras) and toss bricks while standing in the midst of billowing clouds of tear gas.

By no means was I in a billowing cloud, however (you Army folks who've trained with this stuff, please write in with your tear gas experience). I never saw any gas; what entered the cafe was merely residue from whatever demonstration/riot had just occurred.

But that was enough for me. My class was on the fifth floor of that office, and I had to exit the cafe, climb the stairs, and meet my students. The experience of climbing the stairs was worse than that of sitting inside the cafe, because the gas was denser in the lobby and stairwell. I went into a bathroom, grabbed some toilet paper, and covered my mouth with it. Wasn't much help at that point, and my eyes were streaming with tears.

My students, when I met them, were all in the same condition-- covering their mouths, tearing up, pretty much unable to work and waiting for the gas to dissipate, which it did after about an hour. We were probably on the outermost fringes of the main event, so in a sense we were lucky.

Ah, sweet memories.

As for the latest antiwar demonstration (or dae-mo, in Konglish), I don't find it surprising. Koreabloggers have been saying for a while now that it's gonna get worse the day a Korean gets killed in Iraq. The uproar will be amazing. Any bloggers care to predict what happens after that? Do you think the troops will get recalled?

I agree with the bloggers who've suggested that South Korean involvement in Iraq is in South Korea's interest. I do wonder, however, whether it's better for the US to receive SK's help-with-a-grumble, or to receive no help at all from the already-unwilling. I don't trust the quality or the sincerity of the help to be provided, you see.

On a tangent now...

Since I'm home, and am in the heart of one of the biggest Korean communities in the US (almost 200,000 strong), I think I should focus more on what's happening locally, as Koreabloggers have always had things well in hand regarding SK/NK shenanigans.

The DC-Metro area has long been a haven for immigrants of all sorts, and the Korean community has been well-established since at least the 70s. I grew up in this milieu and have been to my share of Korean events. The area in and around Annandale, Virginia has turned into a sprawling (though not LA-scale) Koreatown, complete with norae-bang (think: small karaoke rooms) and big-ass chain supermarkets; I need to grab the digicam, since I have access to my computer stuff while here, and snap some pics of the local Koreana.

In December, I'll be emceeing an event for the Korean-American Women's Society (actually, I heard they're no longer KAWS; they recently changed their name to something else for legal reasons... probably The Women Who Until So Recently Said "Nee"), which ought to provide a ton of blogging material (the behind-the-scenes estrogen-fueled politics are head-spinning, and I love hyphens, don't I).

I'm not looking forward to the emceeing gig since I fucked up a previous job a couple years back: my brother Sean's cello recital. I mistakenly told the crowd at intermission that they should feel free to grab snacks downstairs, where my mother was intrepidly laying out a ton of homemade Korean and Western goodies; alas, Mom's intention was to serve those goodies after the recital, not during intermission. Disaster ensued. I haven't wanted to emcee anything since then.

Off to visit with the Maximum Leader and his Villainettes, one of whom, Rachael, is my lovely goddaughter.

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