Thursday, April 20, 2006

Random subway encounters

Ninety percent of the time my head is buried in a book on the subway but sometimes I would rather sit and just be aware of my surroundings. During these times it never fails that a either a foreigner walks in and sits down next to me or the Korean next to me starts up a conversation. I've met some very friendly and also some very... interesting people on the trip north from anyone's.

When the train is full and I have the better part of an hour I usually go to the back of the last car and sit on the floor by the wall. (It's much easier to read sitting down.) I always get strange looks from everyone (especially the old men who often offer their own seat) but sometimes I even prefer to sit on the floor even when there are open seats.

Last Saturday I was sitting on the floor reading a book and a group of about 8 middle school students were standing and sitting in the chairs around me. One of them said "hi" in English and I said "hello" back in Korean to them. They all ended up sitting around me and asking me questions. As soon as they found out I was from America the most burning question they had was if everyone in America is fat. I told them that no, everyone is not fat but yes, America does have a serious problem with obesity and Korea will soon join the in the ranks if McDonald's and KFC openings continue at the same rate. We continued talking about fat Americans (they were obsessed) and then what Korean food I liked until we came to my stop. Then one of the girls linked arms with me and asked me (with her best puppy dog face) to stay on the train with them until their stop. They were all still waving as the train pulled away. Even though I spend several hours each weekday surrounded by kids, I can't seem to get enough of them.

A couple months ago I was at a bar in Itaewon and from across the room I hair twin. Before that moment I didn't know such a person existed but as soon as I saw the nearly identical hairdo I was instantly convinced. I went up and introduced myself and the striking similarities were noted immediately by both parties. The kicker, he is a 26 year old gay man! Anyways, I got on the subway a few weeks later and he was sitting right across from me. And this was in Anyang! Weird.

A few weeks ago on a Friday night an older foreigner sat down beside me and within a few minutes started up a conversation by saying that all the Koreans sitting around us were "just like monkeys" and "all they care about is money". He said that he's originally from Australia but grew up in eastern Europe and is now a plastic surgeon working on a 5-year contract for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières). Does Korea really needs more plastic surgery, I ask. I thought MSF was established to provide healthcare in war-ravaged and developing countries.

The man, Sebastian, says that he is here to provide breast implants to women who have had mastectomy surgery. I'm not disputing that women who have lost one or both breasts to cancer would feel much more confident and secure after plastic surgery, but aren't there more, um... urgent, life-threatening matters going on in the world? I don't understand. He also told me how out of control the plastic surgery craze is getting in Korea and that kids getting "eye jobs" to make their eyes bigger is becoming ridiculously common. What a sad, sad world when a child feels he or she must go under the knife to be accepted by their media-hypnotized, narcissistic peers. The amount of plastic surgery here is incredible. Walking around in Apkujeong, one in every few shops seems to be a plastic surgery clinic. I've heard of young Korean women who get a job for the sole purpose of getting cosmetic surgery with the money they make. Ridiculous!

I could go on about other interesting people on the subway I've met but that's enough rambling for this post...