Because I Hate Korea
- onMarch 22, 2018
- Vol.39 Spring 2018
- byChang Kang-myoung
- Because I Gate Korea (Hangugi sireoseo)
While setting myself up as landlord I went to check out Meriton Serviced Apartments on Kent Street near Darling Harbour. I fell in love with the flat at first sight. I put down six weeks’ rent as a deposit, took possession of the flat, and found ten boarders. I stipulated in the contract that they strictly obey the house rules on cleaning. It was forbidden to bring friends home, too. So having Ellie over that night for a barbecue violated my own rules.
“If you want a meaningful life, Kiena, you have to take risks,” Ellie said to me as she leaned against the balcony railing. That’s why she did extreme sports. She had quit working at Girls’ Valley earlier that day.
“But what if something goes wrong? Aren’t you scared?” I asked. “You could wind up paralyzed, or get killed . . .”
“I’m not going to die. And, anyway, dying? Dying isn’t so bad.” That’s when she asked me to take her picture. I used the camera on my phone and took several shots of her leaning against the balcony railing. Then she asked me to video her.
“I’ll show you what it means to live life on the edge.”
I had no clue what she was planning to do as she shouldered the large backpack she’d brought with her. I was an idiot. She had on weird clothes, sort of like what pilots would wear. The straps from her backpack wrapped around her legs rather than her arms.
Before I had a chance to stop her Ellie climbed nimbly over the balcony. She gave me a wink and jumped down into the Sydney streets. Throughout all this I left video mode running on my iPhone. That was what she wanted me to film. Gasping, I dashed to the balcony where I could make out a white parachute gliding elegantly through the forest of tall buildings. A beautiful sight. Dazzling. I understood why Ellie had cajoled me into bringing her to our balcony.
When I went back to Korea to take the IELTS exam, I met up with my university friends for the first time in years. We started drinking in the daytime.
“A few days ago my damned mother-in-law sent me a special delivery package. So I tear it open and it contains the fixings for scorched rice porridge and stuff like that. And she sends me a text message along with it, telling me she sent the package because she thought it must be hard for me to make breakfast. Take things easy, she says. What is that supposed to mean? She’s ordering me to make breakfast for her precious little baby. But my husband doesn’t even eat breakfast. He says he hasn’t had breakfast since middle school. Helllllllo? Mother, they offer free breakfast in the basement restaurant where he works. Are you that clueless about your own son?”
As she drank, Eun-hye kept grousing about her mother-in-law. The others’ reactions made it clear enough that they’d already heard the stories a dozen times. Nobody was listening.
“Do you want to know what I do when I can’t get a website to cooperate? I give this a try, give that a try. I try everything that pops into my head until I can get it functioning properly. I don’t even know what it is I did in the end to get it right. Do you think it’s only me who’s like that? Everyone in the company is the same. That’s why experience is important in this line of work. And people go on about systems integration blah blah blah. It’s ridiculous.”
Mi-yeon was working at an IT company as she did before. And she was still computer illiterate, just like before.
I had to stifle yawns while listening to their gossip. If you paid close attention it was entertaining. They’d become more eloquent than before. But strangely, it didn’t interest me.
At first I thought it was because my brain was tired after sitting through the IELTS for eight hours. But my head was clear. With some alcohol in me, my tongue loosened and I even kept up with the others’ jokes and contributed several biting remarks of my own. After Australia, had I just lost interest in stories from Korea? But that wasn’t it. I was just as curious about trends in Korea and about dramas as before. Gyeong-yun’s story about getting her teeth capped made me laugh so hard that my sides hurt. She’d been drinking with much younger classmates from pharmacology school and wanted to put on a show of being tipsy, but tipped right over and chipped her teeth. Something inside my heart ached at the news about Ji-myeong. After failing the exam, he gave it another try and in the end passed the test to become a broadcast journalist. Isn’t that amazing?
Actually, it was two specific sets of stories that bored me: Eun-hye’s chatter about her mother-in-law and Mi-yeon’s work tales. They kept jabbering for way too long, and what they said was no different from the stuff they’d been saying a few years ago. Maybe they’ll be telling the same stories a decade from now. Frankly, they had no intention of changing their situations. What they wanted was for me to sympathize with them: “Wow, I can’t believe what a goddamned bitch your mother-in-law is. And your company is really pathetic. Why is Korea so backward?” That would have been the basic approach to take. But that fundamental solution was hard because for them to put it into practice would have demanded bravery. It’s scary to say “This is wrong” to the boss or “I don’t like that” to your mother-in-law. The security and predictability of their lives was precious to them.
Maybe because in Sydney I experienced adventures great and small every day, my old friends seemed a little shallow. I couldn’t say that I’d made a better choice than they did or that my future was brighter, but . . . I said, “Get in touch if you come to Australia. I live in a humongous apartment with a great view.” I gave them my cell phone number and my new email address and got up to leave first with the excuse that I had a headache.