Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bricheros and inter-racial dating

I'm in the Philippines this week. I've been here for a conference, and I've presented a paper on teaching technique. More than that, I've met some lovely people and had interesting conversation.

However, I find myself thinking of the intersection of relationships. Here there are tiny little women, beautiful and what we Americans would consider exotic. They are here with big, bulky (generally speaking) American men. It makes me wonder at what point I would be willing to give up my culture, my religion, my norms in order to be with someone.

In Peru there is a word for the native men who are involved with gringa women - they are called bricheros. It comes from the word for bridge - or at least that's what I tell myself. Maybe it doesn't. Actually, I think that word is porta or some such (like portable or porta-potty... ahhh yes, another reference to toilets in my blog!). Anyway, I look at the women here and I don't feel the connection with them that I would if I were in Peru, in a similar situation.

At what point does the positive from a partner outweigh the positive of history? When do we stop being a person of our land and just a person?

I remember a time that I loved a man from another country. I knew I truly loved him when I was willing to convert to Catholicism for him. There was no doubt in my mind. I loved him and wanted his happiness. That would have been the price of his happiness.

I wonder if that love is what these women feel for the men they are with here. Is it love? Is it the need to get out of a desperate situation? Is it just interesting and exotic for them? I don't know, I can't know. But as a lovely Irishman said to me recently, "The American green card isn't what it used to be."

I don't know. I just don't know. Ponderings. What I think of though in all this is where is the judgmental coming from? I'm finding myself somewhat judgmental in this situation, the same as Koreans do with white men and Korean women, the way Peruvians did about the bricheros and the gringas.

Why do we think it is important to be with "our own kind"? And at what point does the human race stop being "our own kind" in our biased world?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A senseless act of beauty

Itaewon is a seedy part of town. It is here that American GIs troll the streets, looking for bargains, booze, and broads. Just a block or two from the main subway stop is a street affectionately *koff* known as Hooker Hill. There's an old business run up there - the oldest one. It is also the place where foreigners tend to congregate with the Mexican, Greek, and Turkish restaurants. There's a foreign grocery, English bookstore, and the old fast food favorites - Taco Bell, Quiznos, KFC. It is one of the few places where you will see black people congregate - the ones from Africa and the ones from North America. This is the place where Spanish is spoken next to Swahili next to Hindi, next to Tagalog.

Many Koreans won't go to Itaewon - it is dangerous they tell me. They have no interest in being a victim, so they stay away. I'm not sure how much is true and how much is conjecture, but I certainly hug my bag a little closer to my tummy and make sure I walk with confidence. Most places in Korea I don't worry about these things. I lose something? It gets found and returned to me. I drop something? It's still there when I go back to find it. But not in Itaewon. I'm Careful there.

Visiting a pub with a number of Koreans, we a beer, ate chicken wings, pulled pranks on each other and mostly, we laughed. Our group was three or four Korean women, a couple of 20 something Irish lads, a kiwi man, several Korean men, and me.

The laughter and fun was moved to the home of X, one of the (several) bad boys of the bunch. As we walked along the streets of Itaewon with it's smells and hawkers, it's lights and slutty clothes, somewhere along the way I notice a sunflower growing out of a grate in the street. The grate is there to protect the roots of the tree growing there. It's the randomness of it that captures and charms me. The lady who is selling tsaskes tells me that she planted it. There was no time to ask her why or when or how she came up with the idea.

There, in Itaewon, a little bit of joy grows. Some senseless beauty - ambiguous in its origin - is undoubtedly an act of power - power against seedy, power against violence - power against fear.

Grow an act of senseless beauty where ever you may.