>  
 

The Crash

By David S. Wills

Travel

On Wednesday, 28th July 2010, at around 4pm Japan Standard Time, I was sitting in Narita airport, waiting for a journey that would carry me a significant way around the world. I was, however, not as excited as I could have been. I couldn’t shake the fact that I was leaving a comfortable life, leaving my girlfriend, leaving my cats, leaving my motorcycle… I couldn’t look forward because I was so focused on all that would cease to be a part of my present.

Boarding was uneventful, as had been my flight from South Korea’s Incheon to Japan’s Narita. I waited and waited and finally moved my bags onto the hideously crowded peak-season airplane, and took my seat in the middle of a five person aisle, right at the centre of the plane. My heart sank a little as I realised I’d been given the worst seat on the plane.

I didn’t look around at my fellow passengers. I don’t like people, for the most part, and I find my life is a little easier if I simply pretend they don’t exist. I had no idea then that these faces would become so familiar to me; that these people would become my friends, allies and enemies in the coming days.

 

I sat looking out at sea, but POSCO had claimed it. Sea walls, giant freight ships, and clouds of black smoke hung over the horizon. Behind me the sun shone majestically. It did its best to bring out some good in this unnatural scene. The water lapped upon the beach, sweeping broken white shells off to some better place. A crab crawled out of the water and spluttered, staggered, and died. An old woman with a red net-bag hobbled along the beach and picked it up. She dropped the bag, sniffed the crab, and nibbled on its longest leg. Satisfied, she threw it in the bag and scuttled away.

An old man drove by on a scooter, tearing up the sand. He tried to set the bike down, but it kept sinking. The beach wanted no part of it. Finally, he threw it to the ground and ran into a shaded spot by a pile of dirty rocks, and shat on the sand. He was maybe thirty feet away from me.

 

Careening across an empty freeway in the dead of night is not the best way to wake up. It could be worse, I guess, but it’s hard to describe the shock and confusion of screeching tires, and the echoes of a thud that you heard in your sleep.

When the driver of the vehicle is an old man, who you suspect might be as drunk as you are, starts screaming “Tiger! Tiger!” you are thrown further into panic as you shake off the beer and the slumber and begin to work out where it is that you are, and what exactly just happened.

**

Last Friday I found myself waking up in such a manner. I had fallen asleep in the back of a taxi and was awoken by the aforementioned thud and screech. I was quickly sobered as I tried to get a grasp on the situation, but the driver’s continuous Blakean riff was drowning out my thoughts.

When I first came to South Korea, a little over two years ago, the international media was ablaze with predictions of doom on the peninsula. The North Korean government declared to the world that it was absolutely hellbent on turning Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

In spite of this – or, perhaps to some extent because of it – I moved all the way around the world on my own and settled in Daegu, South Korea. Immediately upon arrival, I was surprised to find that no one cared about the supposedly approaching holocaust. I asked people about it and they said it was no big deal.

Even the Korean press didn’t seem to care. What they knew, and I didn’t, was that this was old news. Rhetoric. North Korea has been declaring war for years. It’s actually a fairly successful strategy that has secured their sovereignty in spite of their awful predicament.

When you live in South Korea you are frequently woken by something called the “Doomsday Siren.” It’s an air raid alarm that sounds for several minutes at a time – usually in the morning – and is followed by a mandatory silence. Only emergency vehicles are allowed onto the streets in the following ten minutes.

 

K-pop is inexplicably popular. I’d never heard of it before coming to Korea, but according to the frighteningly nationalistic Korean press, it’s a world sensation. All across the global, people are dancing to the startlingly derivative nonsense that is contemporary Korean “music.”

But maybe I’m being too cynical.

Maybe K-pop will conquer the globe.

In the unlikely event that these derivative “musicians” take the West by storm – and given some of the bands that have achieved stardom in the English-speaking world, that’s not hard to imagine – here’s a guide for the uninitiated. Something you can use to seem hip when the time comes, or to bag yourself a young Korean lover…

Rain

Who?

Probably the one Korean singer that you may already know, thanks to an appearance on the Colbert Report. He is known as a great dancer, and an actor.

I

Around the age of twelve I moved into a big house with my family. It was on the edge of our little village, with a large garden. The house had two storeys – more than twice as many rooms as either of our previous homes, and was more than a hundred years old.

Everything about the house was ancient. It was built solidly, but it creaked. The stairs creaked, the doors creaked, the windows creaked. Sitting in the house alone, one could always hear noises.

During the next few years I frequently found myself in the house alone. I could always hear the movement of people who weren’t there. There were always noises that were impossible to identify. None of these, I believe, were ghosts, but they led my imagination astray more than a few times.

Won Bin

By David S. Wills

Humor

 

Jonathon, Thomas and I were standing outside a Family Mart at about five in the morning, amidst the humid stench of Daegu, drinking from little paper cups of soju. The bars were closing down and the clubs were emptying into the vomit-soaked streets as the sun began to rise and burn through the smog.

We were drunk and had been drinking for about nine hours, and Thomas and I had to work at nine. It was a routine that had gone on for several months. There wasn’t much else to do, and work was about as tolerable sober as it was in the grips of a killer hangover.

Suddenly I screamed as someone slapped a handcuff on my wrist. In a moment of shock I yanked my arm away, pulling the cuffs away from the person’s hands.

“What the fuck?! Is that an oompa-loompa?”

The Dog Farm

By David S. Wills

Memoir

One dark, grey and thoroughly depressing Sunday afternoon, after a heavy bout of soju-swilling in the tight confines of the apartment, Min Jung suggested we go out for lunch. I could tell she wanted to dress up and point her tits at other people. She liked flaunting her beauty, particularly at people she hated, and she hated most Korean people – especially the ones that reminded her of her parents. Sometimes she got a look in her eye that said that for whatever reason she wasn’t entirely happy but that she was feeling confident in herself, and just wanted to dress up nice and let people know that she was hot. Also, I think she liked showing people that she had a foreigner for a boyfriend – not because she was proud, necessarily, but because she liked to rebel. Probably there was no great difference in her mind between wearing a skirt that barely covered her snatch and holding my hand in public.

“What you want eat?” she asked.

“You,” I replied with a stupid grin, but she didn’t get it.

 

Not long ago, on a frigid December morning in the heart of Korea, I was walking to work while in front of me an old woman pushed her cart. She looked indistinguishable from any other old Korean woman – wearing mismatched baggy floral garments, a visor in spite of the complete absence of any sunlight, a face mask to protect her from invisible germs that fly over from foreign countries, and a pair of dirty white gloves.

She was about ten paces ahead of me when it happened… All of a sudden she whipped down her baggy floral trousers and giant brown underpants and proceeded to squeeze out a massive shit on the frosty pavement, followed by a splattering, spraying, steaming puddle of piss.

I was utterly horrified, of course, and for the next two hours I taught my children upstairs in a classroom, the window of which overlooked the scene of the crime. That cabbagey behemoth stared up at me until someone was kind enough to step in it and carry it into obscurity on the bottom of their shoe.

 

I’ve always been obsessed with sharks. I think the obsession began around the same time I decided dinosaurs were the coolest thing, and when that dinosaur obsession devolved into a mere interest, and then into a closet interest after the realization that I didn’t possess the requisite science or math abilities to be a paleontologist, my love of sharks stayed strong.

To this day I never miss Shark Week. I never pass up the opportunity to look at pictures of sharks on the internet or in magazines. I read about shark attacks like others read about sports. I always see the newest shitty shark movie on TV and always hate it a little less than anyone else.

 

I’ve been to Japan a few times and have always enjoyed my time there. The people are friendly, the streets are clean, and everything is so different to what I’ve seen in Scotland or Korea.

On my first trip to Japan I went on my own, speaking not a word of Japanese and knowing nothing about Fukuoka – the city in which I would spend the following few days. That’s the way I like to travel. I like the adventure of rolling into a strange city and putting my faith in luck and chance that things will turn out alright.

I soared from Busan to Fukuoka on a high speed ferry, landing in the strange little city in the evening. When I stepped into the immigration hall I was met with a giant line of arriving passengers – all of them were Asian.

I thought nothing of that little racial quirk, given that I’d spent the previous seven months in Korea, surrounded by Korean people, rarely seeing anyone who wasn’t Korean. But there were hundreds of us in a room, lining up to go through immigration, and every single person except me was waved through.

His name was Daniel and I think he was a paedophile. Whether he was or he wasn’t, he certainly was a violent and delusional man, and his brief stint in my life was alarmingly full of coincidence and fear.

Our first encounter was on the subway in downtown Daegu. I was on my way home and I heard someone shouting, “Hey! Wait up!” and when I looked around there was a bear of a man chasing me down the platform.

His appearance was awesome. Daniel was around 6’5 and he was as wide as a bull. He was immensely hairy, too. From his face to his hands he was covered in a thick layer of red hair. He wore a giant LA Lakers shirt over a grey t-shirt, and denim shorts with hi-tops. His hair was huge and frizzy, adding another for inches to his height, and was kept back from his face by a white sweat band.

I was drunk one night after work, singing in a noraebang (Korean karaoke) with co-workers, when Robbie cornered me in the dingy little bathroom. It was awkward. I barely knew the guy, except that he was a co-worker’s boyfriend and a notorious alcoholic. He was a big solid Irish guy, and I couldn’t place his age – Thirty? Fifty? His face was wrinkled and only his bright blue eyes shone out from the mess of grey stubble.

“Your hair, David,” he said. “Your hair is shite.”

“Thanks.”

“I mean, you’re a handsome fella, in all. You look like Johnny Depp… But that hair… No… That hair has to go.”

I said that I’d been meaning to get a haircut for a while, which was true. The heat made my long hair heavy and hot.

I didn’t look at a clock or my watch all day. Time ceased to be of any consequence. But not too long after the sun had risen, and well before it hit that point in the sky that said it was midday, we set out to see what Kelly called “real Korea”. When she said those words and showed some optimism I never doubted her for a second. Usually my cynical side kicks in and I laugh silently at anyone when they grow enthusiastic about something I dislike, but I trusted her fully.

We stepped out into the cool morning under the calm sun and walked along the street holding hands. We took a bus to Dongdaegu station and then transferred and took another north towards the mountains at the top of the city. During my time in Daegu I’d merely stared at the mountains, thinking of them as walls holding me prisoner in this awful place. I’d long since stopped thinking the beauty they might have held.

We stepped off the bus among smaller, older buildings on a steep road. Old people milled about in North Face gear, marching up towards the tree line. Everyone was dressed as though they were ready to climb Everest. Kelly and I stood out in our shorts and t-shirts and sneakers. People stared at us but we didn’t care. We were both smiling, lost in each other and in the fresh air that clouded the mountain.

 

I woke to the most awesome bright light. It was insufferably bright, in fact, and hurt my head tremendously. I could hear a terrible pounding and I wasn’t sure if that was the headache or the light making me crazy, but after a minute of lying there, I realised it was my door.

“Dude!” Thomas said, laughing almost to the point of falling down the stairs. “Holy shit!”

“Fuck off,” I told him. “What the fuck are you makin’ that goddamn racket for? Banging on my door at this hour…”

I looked down at myself as I said this, and then the strangest thing happened. It was almost as though I flew up and out of my body and looked down upon myself from a place by the ceiling. I could see Thomas at the door, wearing a black polo shirt and beige cargo shorts, laughing and looking away, and there was me – my hair was wild and bedheaded, I was stooped from the hangover, and I was butt naked. Worse, I was holding a fistful of red chilli peppers, and there was a red chilli paste smeared on my stomach. On the floor around my feet there were a dozen oranges and a giant carving knife.