World Cup and My Neighborhood

There are a lot of things I love about this country–and partially about being abroad in general. It’s always amazing to watch soccer with people who really, really care about soccer. When Korea played Argentina on Thursday, it was a wild mess. Classes were canceled. (Not mine, though.) The streets were empty, and the game could be heard or seen from every television in the entire city. In the bar, everyone wore red–the Korean team’s color–and howled and cheered with a kind of fanaticism that only comes from doing things in crowds. It was truly amazing–even though they lost.

And they didn’t just loose. They REALLY lost. Soccer is a low scoring game, and to loose 4-1 is something that takes skill. In fact, the Korean players actually scored two goals in the game–one of them was Argentina’s first. Bad luck, guys.

Anyway, next they’re playing Nigeria, and Nigeria’s not been having a good season. They lost to Argentina and to Greece. (Which the Koreans beat.) I am secretly rooting for all the African teams (but Ghana the most–duh.) Lucky for me, I have like 3 teams that I want to win, so I’ve got a great chance of being pretty excited with the final outcome.

In other news, I’m spending a much deserved and much wanted weekend being lazy at home. It’s great. I am cleaning, fiddling with my decor, and finally getting my kitchen into shape. My neighborhood mystifies me for the contracts that I see here. I live in a non-descript, typical Korean small-size apartment building. An elderly woman owns it, collects money for bills, and maintains general order. On the other side of the street, there are the megolith blocks of 25-story buildings, all identital to each other, with their numbers painted on their sides, but here on this side of the street, strange things sit next to each other.

The trash dump across the street from me has been cleaned up. The lot used to be blocked off with aluminum siding, gated, and full of garbage. The lot across from me used to be a cabbage feild. Now it’s an expensive looking duplex–the exterior is finished and now they’re starting on the interior. There are men skirting around the skeleton structure on the outside. Next to me is the little mart, filled with all sorts of household items and food. It’s family owned and the owners are excited to hear every new Korean phrase I learn.

But in addition to that, there are enormous houses, suburban enormities that for most Korean families are not the things they, themselves dream of owning, but the things they would buy for their parents if they suddenly won the lottery. One house looks as though it was designed by a rockstar architect in the sixties–it’s all square and sharp lines, and Frank Loyd Wrighty–f-the Victorians. Though the expensive windows of that house don’t look out onto a open feild, a forest, or even another house. They look into a cabbage patch the size of another suburban lot, and next to that there’s another new apartment structure going up, and there are tanned men, covered head to toe, jumping around on scaffolding on its edges. There’s a Chinese delivery restaurant that always has two or three moto drivers speeding food around town. One of them always waves at me when he sees me driving by. He invited me to drink coffee with him once, and I was really disappointed that I couldn’t do it. He speaks no English. I have no idea what we would have talked about.

And in all these expensive houses, little plots of farmland, and construction projects, old women walk around with bent backs, picking up good cardboard and putting it on carts. There are no dumpsters even in rich suburbia, and piles of garbage sit outside in bright green bags–the color prescribed by Yuseong’s garbage collection agency. One of these tan, ancient women recognizes me as she goes through the houses looking for boxes. She smiles sometimes, if I give her a little bow.

It doesn’t seem to make sense–all this richness living right beside the farms, and the trash-picking grandmothers, and the little corner mart that would be in a poor but successful small town. This is one of the reasons that I really do enjoy Korea.

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