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South Korea, zine stores and Marx…

December 2, 2012


‘You have to live in a place to know it. Five days is never, ever enough.’

I can’t remember who said that [Bette Davis? Littlest Hobo?] but they’re right. You can’t pick up much from a few days, no matter how many times you google ‘zine stores in Seoul’ before you go…

These are just what I saw and what I thought and what I tried to do during five days in Seoul.

The art village near the border

That was the selling point…only a few km from the demilitarised zone.

Not sure how scared South Koreans are of their neighbours, but everyone seemed relaxed. The village was huge, the size of an actual village [with beautifully designed buildings/museums/cafes etc.], and it looked like there was a lot to see.

The first place we went to was a museum with about ten paintings. One or two of them were decent…Korean streets at night, with snow…the others not so good.

Don’t know what else to say about this place, really. The only thing that stood out was how bland it seemed.
The scenery [apart from the pretty buildings] looked like a dead field with a couple of hills in the background.

Worse, you walk far enough and you’ll come to Zara. And McDonalds. And a lot of commercial shit that makes you realise how they funded this whole thing.
What do I wanna say about this?

It’s a place run by wealthy artists?

I guess it is. If you compare it with another art village, like Metelkova in Ljubljana, it’s embarrassing. One [Metelkova] has a sense of community spirit, the other…doesn’t.

Maybe that’s too harsh…it said in the brochure that all the Korean artists in the village were a community and they helped each other out…

Is this something against artists who have money?

Rich people can be good artists, even great ones…The Strokes had money and they still made decent music…Brad Pitt is good-looking, but still seems like a decent guy…it’s not really true that you have to live in the shit to have something to write/draw/sing about…

Maybe it’s the attitude of the artist with money?

Artists with lots of money and connections = difficult to like for most other people. Easy to hate if they try to adopt a ‘poor me’ posture

Artists in the middle class = the normal state for an artist. The middle class is pretty big nowadays, and difficult to define…my parents were working class, didn’t go to uni, but I did…what does that make me?

But really…most writers online are middle class or in the same place as me. Some of them whine about not having cash, but they’re not exactly starving African children…they have an internet connection, they have the potential to make money…

Where is this going?
Not sure. Art is accessible for everyone now?

Back to the village…or not. There’s nothing else to say…only that Metelkova has more spirit, probably because it’s smaller and the artists don’t own the place, they just squatted there twenty-odd years ago and refused to move.

What else?

Independent cafes

There are a lot of them in South Korea, way more than in HK.

Or maybe not…I’m not sure. All the independent cafes in HK are hidden upstairs in buildings in Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui and City One…it’s hard to gauge how many there are, whereas in Seoul you can see them all from the street.

They look pretty good too. Are all the café owners in Seoul design graduates?

Zine stores

I care more about these than cafes, and there weren’t many in Seoul.
I found one, though google did say there were a few book stores in other areas I didn’t get a chance to go to.

Can’t always trust google though…there are places in HK [not zine stores, there aren’t any of those] that slip through the media fingers…which is why you have to live in a place for a few years to find them…

So I found one place that sells zines…The Book Society…it seemed okay, most of the zines were in Korean so I couldn’t read them, but they were zine-shaped and had weird formatting inside so they were definitely zines.

There was one zine written by an American that was fucking awful. But that happens with zines…at least the guy tried.

Can’t remember much else about Seoul…
Not sure why I’m writing this…I thought I had enough to fill a piece….

But how much do you need for a piece anyway…I could write a few lines and it wouldn’t really matter…as long as those lines were decent.
Maybe that would come across as glib?

No, at least two pages are best…but what else is there to write about? This has been a problem for a while now…what do I have to write about? I’m quite happy, things are going okay…when things weren’t going okay a few years back, I wrote every day…but I can’t access any of that anymore. It’s gone.

When nothing is really shit in your life, what’s left to say?

Here’s a formula:

When things are okay = write creatively, about social issues?
When things are shit = write a novella whining about the shitness [Charcoal]

Is that a formula?

How about I write ways to help people? The ‘make a zine’ idea I had for the homeless? Or a new political system where money is gone…you don’t need experience of politics to write one of those, do you?

Did Marx have experience? Was he a politician before he wrote his thing?

How long would it take to write? Ten years?
I’d have to do lots of research too…and really think about things in the world…I can’t just use Star Trek ideology and ignore the reality of the ways things/people are.

What about the rich/powerful? They’re the worst of it…what do you do with them? You can’t execute them, but it’s hard for people to forgive them too. You can’t even punish them if you want to move on in any meaningful way.
But they’re motherfuckers, aren’t they?

The crux is: they’d have to accept their punishment instead of think of a way out of it. But all positions/actions are defensible, especially when you’re the guy stuck in that position. It’s like the nut from that Flannery O Connor book…The Violent Bear It Away…he’s a smart enough guy, but he’s deluded…he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong…and worst of all, he has total conviction. What do you do with people like him?

The rich and the nuts and the zealots all have defences…and if we were in their positions, we’d be the same way…unless we’re Nelson Mandela…but humans are weak, generally…and intransigent…once you associate with a position, your life falls into a routine that never challenges it…the things you read, watch, listen to…and after enough time passes it becomes almost a core belief…

Or do core beliefs only come from childhood?

How to deal with the nuts? Give up on them and focus on educating the kids?

At what point has someone crossed the line into 100% conviction in a fucked up belief, without a chance of being turned back?

The drug runners in Mexico…how many of them are beyond turning? You cut off a guy’s head, is there really any way back?

Fuck it, this is too complex. I’ll do it when I’m older…
Back to Korea…art village…zine stores…
What else?

The only thing coming into my head is the bus ride back from the art village…an hour and a half on pure highway, with nothing to look at, nowhere to move, a hundred people crammed in and…

Fuck, it was hot on that bus.

Not sure if I should go through this again…

That line above, where I said it’s hard to access the shit stuff that happened previously in your life…the only way to do it is to re-experience some of it…

For me, that was the bus ride.

Anxiety about the heat, claustrophobia, panic…it all came back.

The first hour was okay…I was aware of the situation and I kept telling myself, it’s not as bad as it was before…but after an hour I started feeling the heat [not an idiom]…and the bus was packed worse than any bus I’d ever been on…it was…

It reminded me of this:

On the bus I think of a thousand different things before coming back to Deleuze.
And then Arguedas and his suicide.
The bus goes up the road and through Hung Hom and then into the tunnel.
I try not to think about this.
I’m aware that I’m trying not to think about it.
Arguedas…he knew he was gonna kill himself. He started the book, but he knew he was gonna kill himself. How did he know he’d have the guts to do it?
The old man next to me pushes against my bag.
He grumbles.
I move an inch to the side.
I close my eyes and open them again, trying to block him out.
He’s still there, still grumbling.
Outside the window I notice the tunnel walls. Up ahead there is no sign of the exit, and behind there is no longer an entrance.
No way out.
A bus full of old men, grumbling.
A world full of…
I put a thumb in my mouth and chew the nail.
Fucking Arguedas…

It’s hard to write about this and make anyone feel it…like those people who can’t even last one station on a train before having a panic attack…when you read it, you just think…why doesn’t this fucker relax and daydream?

Is this worth going over again?

Fuck it, I survived the bus ride, it’s done with…

I’m stronger now than I ever was…nothing’s gonna fuck me up again the way it did before…I’ve got too many defences now.

I’m going to write about Groundhog Day.
Something positive maybe…?

‘Never give up, never surrender’ – Tim Allen.

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