Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I am a transit pro.

You there! Don't you know shoe etiquette?

Transferring lines in the subway yesterday, I noticed another white man puzzling over a subway map. He looked American enough, so I boldly asked, "Can I help you?"

"No English," was his reply in a Russian accent, a bit self-conscious.

"어디 가요?" I asked.

"Ah," he said with a word of recognition. He showed me where he was headed on the map, and I gathered he wasn't sure whether to turn to the left or to the right in transferring.

Carefully surveying the situation for a moment, I pointed to the right, he thanked me, and we moved onward on our respective paths.

One lesson my friend Matthew reported understanding better after his band's European tour this summer was that,
America just doesn't fit into the cultural spectrum of "white people" as they exist in their homeland, Europe. You have to go to countries that are actually ethnically "white countries" to understand that America isn't a white nation any more than it's a black or a Hispanic or an Asian nation.
The above encounter, combined with meeting Sergei from Ukraine on the street last week, has taught me a bit about how this is so.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

First Ever (Only Ever?) Fashion Post

Coming to Korea this summer, I didn't have any idea what to expect with regard to fashion. I figured with my Phillies hat, polo shirts, and khaki shorts my clothes would broadcast "American" even more loudly than my skin.

In this I was somewhat mistaken. Korean fashion is a lot more complicated than I'm capable of understanding, but I see lots of polo shirts and not a few pairs of cargo shorts.

The big surprise comes with regard to the Phillies hat. In Korea, Major League Baseball hats are in style big time, especially among men but also among women.

The most popular teams are (expectedly) the Red Sox and the Yankees, followed by (unexpectedly) the Detroit Tigers and maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates. I don't think the people wearing the hats generally know anything about the teams, and so I suspect that the cool script "D" on the Tigers hat explains its prevalence.

I have only seen a Phillies hat twice. Perhaps when they win the World Series again this year, I will be able to welcome many Korean friends onto the bandwagon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A First Approximation

"You say, 'I don't know how to solve an elephant, but I do know how to solve a mouse.' And so you start with a mouse and build to an elephant."
Dr. Marija Drndic, professor of physics, University of Pennsylvania
I may not have mastered introductory quantum mechanics, but Professor Drndic's words have remained with me. She speaks with regard to problem solving (perturbation theory, to be precise), but I think of them now with respect to travel.

On Sunday I will leave for six weeks in Seoul, South Korea. I have studied Korean. I have some Korean friends. But by no means do I profess to understand Korea.

For the sake of this analogy, let's call Korea the elephant. And let's call Pennsylvania, my home state, the mouse.

Wikipedia affords some comparisons:

So, while Pennsylvania has about 20% more space, in Korea reside almost four times as many people. It's liable to feel a bit crowded over there. Also, to the extent that GDP per capita is a reflection of wealth, your average Pennsylvanian is a little wealthier than your average Korean.

Judging by latitude, climate should be similar, though Korea's peninsular nature and other geographic features should make for differences.

How about each locale's respective largest cities?

Yikes. Like I said, it might feel crowded.

How about a comparison of the depth of history in each place? I remember a conversation with my Korean conversation partner in which I told her the various, mostly European lineages from which I descend. She replied, "My 58th grandfather is Korean."

Hmm. Perhaps statistics will only get me so far.