30 October 2008

Los Angeles: Afterthoughts

So I have returned to Seoul to resume my regimen, after an extremely stressful week in Los Angeles. So much so, that I am finding Seoul to be a relief. I never thought I would ever say anything close to that!

Immediately upon arrival in Los Angeles, the first thing that annoyed me was the requirement to drive in order to get anywhere AT ALL. This also results in plenty of clumsy people taking the wheel - the ones who should not be driving at all (and they know it best themselves). After being spoiled by a month of mass transit in Seoul, I couldn't stand Los Angeles. Don't take me wrong, I love driving, I love cars, and I don't apologize for it (in fact, I will schedule a road trip right here in South Korea very soon); but being FORCED to drive is another matter.

I spent the entire week at work. I never went anywhere except home and work, and weekends were no exception. There was a lot of catching up to do, and much of it had to do with the fact that one office help had to be fired for performance issues, and that English proficiency is only wishful thinking in my immigrant-heavy business. I practically had to babysit everyone, on even the smallest things such as writing a one-line thank-you note by email. With so much babysitting, I was utterly unable to concentrate, much less get any meaningful work done.

The language barrier is one reason why I find Seoul to be a relief. Sure, back in California, the society is multilingual. However, government contracts do demand English, something that completely escapes the people who work around me. Not only that, but even dealing with insurance agents and banks requires my babysitting because of English-language barriers. Sure, if most of my people spoke Spanish, this would be less of a problem, as there are so many Spanish speakers in the US, especially in California, that just about anything can be done in Spanish these days. But these are Korean-Americans, and even after decades in the US, their English is often poorer than some people based right here in Seoul. At least, I don't have to babysit anyone in Seoul over language barriers - for now, anyway (as I don't foresee dealing with Southeast Asian guest workers).

The lack of English proficiency is one reason why Korean-Americans are so isolated from the rest of the American society, even in California (maybe even more so, because there are enough Koreans there to justify living without ever speaking English). No wonder they lock themselves up in the fundamentalist extremist churches, which are islands from both the American mainstream and the modern-day South Korean society. Due to this isolation and extremist influence, the Korean-American community is overwhelmingly committed to the passage of Proposition 8 in California at any cost, something very different from the rest of California - or South Korea for that matter. It also strongly supported the 2MB presidential campaign and continues to support his current McCarthyist witch hunt. And there are plenty of columnists in Koreatown that blatantly name Barack Obama as an Antichrist who will start a Communist revolution immediately, and therefore one who must be stopped in the name of God.

Due to these factors, and due to my lack of time, I was unable to spend ANY of my time in the "real" America and "real" California. I would've strongly preferred to hang out in a beach town or at a mall, or even head over to Nevada to (1) cool off and (2) help the Obama campaign there. And the suburban areas of Los Angeles, infested with reactionary immigrant pawns of the Republicans, do NOT speak for me at all, and that's why I need a new neighborhood more than ever. Currently, however, my plans to get my own place are on hold - if only because I am spending months and months here in Seoul, returning home only briefly to help out with work-related items; it would make no sense to pay rent on an empty apartment.

My conclusion from this trip to the US is: the Korean-American language barrier and the resulting self-isolation are disaster, both for the US and for South Korea (and by extension, for the entire world). As I see myself belonging to both Los Angeles and Seoul for the foreseeable future, I want to take advantage of my unique vantage point to make something happen for the better. While I consider the No on 8 campaign to be a lost cause (it has to do as much with the cluelessness of the white liberal activists as it does with the Korean-American reactionary politics), I am continuing to make sizable contributions to the Obama campaign. My absentee ballot is on the way to Seoul as well, and I hope to receive it early enough.

I must say that it was so nice to have all my stresses of the past week dissipate over the frozen Siberian tundra, as I flew back to Seoul today. I never thought flying over Russia - even with all its homophobia and racism - could be such a refreshing experience. Moreover, it was also a nice mileage run to Los Angeles and back - that alone may be worth it, as I am now an elite customer at United Airlines. Another icing on the cake: my 90-day South Korean stay authorization starts all over again today. (I can stay until very late January - by then, Obama WILL be my President!)