Monday, May 11, 2015

sorting out an apparent contradiction

John McCrarey seems to take particular delight, whenever we meet, in pointing out some inconsistency of mine. During our meet-up with author Young-jin Chun, he asked me how I was liking the life in Goyang. I said it was fine: the neighborhood was quiet and had a bit of a small-town-y ambiance to it. John seized on that observation to ask me how I could like Goyang so much given my dissatisfaction with living in Hayang, a similarly small town.

It's a legitimate question, although I'm not sure there's any real contradiction, and I realize John was just busting my balls and not seriously cross-examining me on the stand. Still, I've come back to that question, in my mind, over the past several weeks, and I'd like to take this time to think out loud a bit.

First, an apology. If I've given people the impression that I actively disliked living in Hayang, I'm sorry. There was a lot I disliked about being down in that part of the country, i.e., the Daegu area—the accent, the somewhat country-fried mindset, etc. There were also things I didn't like about living in my school-provided studio: the walls were too damn thin, for one thing, and during warm weather there were way too many fruit flies. The thinness of my studio's walls was a problem both for noise conduction (cell-phone vibrations, pooping, pissing, and the thump-thump sound of someone jumping rope or otherwise working out) and for insulation: in the winter, my studio quickly got cold, thus necessitating the near-constant use of the ondol (traditional Korean floor-heating system). That said, I didn't actively hate living in Hayang. True, it was a town with little to do, but there were nooks and crannies to explore, both on campus and off, and I spent a good bit of time exploring them. The town had no cinema, but the nearest Lotte theater was a mere bus ride away, in nearby Gyeongsan City. Life wasn't hell by any means, so again, if I gave you the impression that it was (I really need to go back and read my Hayang-related entries), I apologize.

Second: that said, there's a real contrast between living in the Daegu region—with its bumpkin ambiance, impenetrable accents, and oppressive climate—and living in Goyang City where I am now. Goyang is a satellite of Seoul; Line 3 of the Seoul Metro is my lifeline: it takes me straight into town, passing right through the city like a gastrointestinal tract. Basically, despite the quieter traffic patterns and uncrowded sidewalks, I still feel like a Seoulite when I'm in Goyang. I don't feel hors du coup, as the French might say: out of touch, out of the game. While I don't consider myself a fan of big cities, spending nearly a decade in Seoul has made me a fan of this big city.

Third: even though my current studio is slightly smaller than the one I had in Hayang (my Hayang studio had a laughably misnamed "veranda" in which I could hang laundry), I like it better. It's quieter, for one thing: my next-door neighbor and the neighbor above me are as quiet as proverbial church mice. The only time I ever hear any noise is when one neighbor or the other is doing laundry, and even that sound doesn't come through all that loudly. My new studio is also cleaner: the floor is tiled with a flat surface; you may recall that the floor of my Hayang studio had a simulated wood-grain pattern that trapped all sorts of grit and hair in it. My new apartment's overall construction is also of better quality: except for the bathroom sink's drainpipe problem, everything in the bathroom and the kitchenette is solidly built: the sinks aren't loose; the cabinets aren't uneven; the walls are thick, and the window seals trap both heat and coolness: when it's warm outside, there's a substantial temperature differential between the outdoors and the much-cooler indoors.

Fourth: my current neighborhood gets surreally quiet at night, which was never true in Hayang. In Hayang, there was always noise coming from somewhere. Here in Shiksa-dong (again, to my Jewish readers—it's not that kind of shiksa), after 9PM, the streets empty out and the place becomes something approaching a ghost town. Goyang is in Seoul's periphery, and Shiksa-dong, my district, is in Goyang's periphery. (Madu Station, E-Mart, and Costco are all in Goyang's downtown area, along with all the other banks and businesses.) It's cool to be this close to Seoul, yet to live in a neighborhood that's this quiet. I've been here only since late February, but I can already tell that I'm going to miss this place.

So to sum up, Hayang and Goyang are two very different animals. They may both be small towns, but their respective ambiances are radically different, and as it turns out, Goyang seems to be more my style than Hayang ever was.



TheBigHenry said...

"country-fried mindset"? Is that anything like chicken-fried steak?

Or did you mean to say "country-fied" mindset? Just askin' ...

Kevin Kim said...

Yes: being bored with the more conventional "countrified," I change the "i" to a "y" and add a hyphen and an "r" for more flavor.

Charles said...

I thought it was a unique and colorful turn of phrase. Somehow it made perfect sense.

TheBigHenry said...

"Country-fried" sounds like it's served in a hot skillet. I like it!

John (I'm not a robot) said...

Looks like it is simply a matter of your liking to live near the big city without actually living in it. I recall you chose to live in the foothills outside of the DC metropolitan area as well. Access without the grime and crime of city life. And cheaper too I reckon.

One thing I distinctly dislike about my abode in Gireum-dong is the traffic noise. I'm 19 floors up but I may as well be trying to sleep on the shoulder of the highway. It's loud 24/7 and I'm also treated to frequent blaring sirens, be they police, fire, or ambulance.

Annoying, but that's (city) life.

John from Daejeon said...

Which is healthier for you though? Sometimes closer is definitely not better, especially with all that easy access to fast and unhealthy food. I know I've never seen any unhealthy farmers and gardeners out in the sticks.

Kevin Kim said...

Daejeon John,

Well, access doesn't inevitably equate to unhealthy eating; in the end, healthy eating is more a matter of self-control. I assume, though, that this is why you wrote "sometimes" and not "always": you realize it's a correlative relationship and not a causal one.

I don't live out in the sticks, though: even in sparse Goyang, there are plenty of unhealthy eateries, not to mention all the unhealthy options available at the local grocer's.

TheBigHenry said...

"you realize it's a correlative relationship and not a causal one."

An astute realization that not many people understand.