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Saturday, November 06, 2010

After the Fairy Tale Bike Trip

It occurs to me that I didn't exactly explain why, on that fateful Wednesday a few weeks back when my coworkers stayed home and watched movies and played video games and went out for rice wine and pancakes, that I chose to punish myself by biking for what I thought would be about 110k.

Reason 1) Finding the "real" Korea. One of the great things about biking around is that you notice a bunch of stuff you wouldn't otherwise see or pay attention to. This is true even in your hometown, but truer the farther you go. And exponentially true when you get lost.

Here, for example, is a gem: the bus stop near Cheongdo where I took my first fruit-n-nut break about 45k from my home. Pretty hard not to note the giant plastic persimmon on top, eh?

More than I remember back home, cities here tend to advertise themselves through identification with certain foods, generally fruits*. You see these ads on TV, on the subway, on fliers, and even within the cities themselves. I guess every city, wanting a slice of the famous pie, has to find a way to make itself special. Apparently this works very well - when I tell someone I went to Mungyeong, they say "Wow, did you bring back any apples?" And when I say I went down to Miryang, they ask about peaches and persimmons. I hope you didn't miss the bibimbap in Jeonju.

I don't remember this being so true in the US. The only example I can think of, where we associate a place with a food, is Georgia peaches. But, even then, Georgia is probably twice the size of Korea, and I don't recall seeing billboards and ads for peaches while passing through.

Of course, it's not all golden persimmons. Often, what backpacker-types (myself included) mean when they say the want to see the "real" __________ (insert place name here) is that they want to get away from the factories and malls and modernity (and hostels and bars and all the stuff that backpacking itself has brought about**) and see what the place was like back when it was different from the rest of the globalized world. But there are other things, less pretty things, that are perhaps less elusive and yet are equally "real" - actually, in my view, more real, if you consider that they constitute the essence of our society and indicate the direction it's moving in.

Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures. But what I'm referring to is all the factories, warehouses, animal feedlots (actually not so bad here compared to US CAFO's), regional distribution centers, junkyards, and dried-out rivers that lie just outside the peripheral vision of most city-dwellers. We all know, subconsciously, that these dirty, noisy, polluted, polluting, despondent places exist, but the people who sell you the end product, be it a fruit or a shirt or a PDA or a Kia, have an interest in helping us to forget. I say "helping" because I believe we too are complicit in wanting to forget, in not wanting to realize what the things we want require, whether in terms of infrastructure, destruction, human life and labor, inputs, byproducts, or anything else. If we knew - if it were even possible to know - our consciences might pressure us into becoming informed (and thus, ideally, considerate and compassionate) consumers.

Of course, I didn't enter any factories, talk to any workers or anything like that. I just passed by. But you don't have to interview a dog on a dog farm, chained to its mini-house, eating a shitting and sleeping within about a 5 foot radius for most of its life, to know that it's miserable. When the factory is several hundred meters from the road and the smell and smog hit you anyway, you know it must not be pleasant to work inside***. When a new building goes up in the city, usually it's replacing an old building, or maybe it's being built on an empty lot, itself surrounded by other buildings. This makes it easy to ignore the environmental toll - the unavoidable fact that huge buildings and deep foundations require us to chop down trees and then often flatten the mountain they were growing on. There's no way to ignore this when you see the HomePlus/TESCO/Samsung distribution sitting in an empty space where the mountain used to be. The dirt that used to be mountain, and which is now, I guess, just in the way, is piled in cones all around, nowhere to go, noway to be used. I doubt anyone wants to live near or work in these places. Certainly, nobody wants to spend their vacation there, basking in the "reality." I hardly even want to admit they exist, and that in many ways, I need them.

End of analysis / diatribe. Enjoy a few more photos!

Having a rest at the border with the next province. 65k or so.

Substantiating at least one of my claims.

The figs that were waiting for me.

And a few more of the many reasons why I love Honorable Older Brother and Honorable Older Sister's house:

And perhaps the coolest flower photo I've ever taken:
(No special effects, unless you count the use of the digital camera itself, which I suppose would be fair enough.)

*Many cities do the same with inedible products and services - Seoul advertises itself as a business and cultural hub, Daegu as a textile giant, Pohang for steel, etc, none of which comes off as quite so quaint or cheesy or charming.

** See this post of yesteryear for a great David Foster Wallace quotation to this effect.

*** Or, if it does happen to be pleasant inside, that means they must be pumping all the nasty stuff out. Not exactly a great alternative.

1 comment:

나일 said...