I had decided to go to the market area at Insadong in downtown Seoul after having been up in the observation deck at the N Seoul Tower.
As I was walking down a small quiet side street with no sidewalk, I noticed at least a couple of police officers a few hundred meters apart from each other. I really did not think anything of it — that is, until the second police officer called my attention.
“Excuse me”, he said in English.
He was looking right at me; and no one else was around.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Where are you from?”
“The United States”, I replied.
“What part of the United States?” he asked.
“New York”, I replied. His face lit up.
“Are you in South Korea on business or pleasure?”
I started to wonder for a brief moment if I somehow accidentally crossed into North Korea as the line of questions continued; but strangely, the New Yorker intuition in me told me that this was not an interrogation. I answered his questions in a friendly manner.
A vehicle came down the narrow street, so I went between two parked cars and the police officer and I were closer to the point where we were standing next to each other.
The conversation strangely changed from that of him questioning me to him telling me that he wants to be an artist.
“What kind of art?” I asked him, being an artist myself.
“Media, television, film” he replied.
“So you want to be an actor?”
“Yes, yes. That is what I want. I want to move to Los Angeles, become an American citizen and be an actor.”
“Have you ever been to the United States?”
Thinking that he might want to slow down for a second, I suggested that he at least stay there temporarily to at least see if he likes it at first. Besides, he does not have to be in Los Angeles to be successful in the arts, as I pointed out the success of Psy with that Gangnam Style whatever-you-call-it.
I had stayed in the Gangnam area a couple of nights before that; and I intend post a hotel review of it — but as usual, I digress.
“Yes, but he is only one person”, he stressed. “Besides, life is so different here in this country. People cannot fully and completely express themselves here. Have you noticed how people keep to themselves and are not very friendly?”
Not really, as I am the same way and am fine with that.
Judging by my experience — the way people in Seoul dress, the foods they eat, the entertainment options which are available as only three examples — I found the limited freedom of expression to be an odd statement which I did not understand. It seemed as though anyone in South Korea could do what they wanted — within the law, of course.
Speaking of the law, he asked if I knew that all South Koreans are required to serve in the military. “Instead, I am serving as a police officer.” I am not sure why he volunteered that information. I suppose I gained his trust?
I must have, as the lifestyle statement became clear when he revealed to me that he was gay — but he quickly stated that that was not all he was talking about when referring to wanting to be free to live life any way you choose.
When I mentioned to him that I am an artist, he asked what kind of art. I told him writing, photography, design, drawing and even acting.
His face really lit up on that one. “I want to act and become a big star in Hollywood”, he said — while also stating that he felt he had to choose between acting and attending a university.
“Why not do both?”, I asked. “I did. It is important to have something on which to back up on in case things do not work out.”
He thought about that; but he did not seem keen on attending a university. “What school did you graduate from?”
When I told him, he had never heard of it but was still interested in the school…
…and please do not accuse me of name-dropping; but the only way I could relate to him the school was to ask him if he had ever heard of Marc Jacobs.
“Yes, yes!” he replied excitedly. “Of course!”
“We were in the same graduating class in high school and in art school.”
“He is gay, you know.”
Well, I knew that when we were in high school.
He then started to tell me about how Marc Jacobs had a boyfriend who was in the porn industry.
Talk about a topic that is completely off of my radar in terms of interest.
“How do you feel about porn?” he asked me.
“Well, I suppose it serves its purpose,” I replied, wondering how in the world I get into these situations. “I mean, the human body can be a work of art — and if that is what people like, so be it. But it is not for me — and neither is rap.”
“What about Eminem?”
“Nope. I do not like to listen to rap at all.”
It did not help that I heard Korean rap blasting through the loudspeakers at the observation deck of the N Seoul Tower.
“Older music”, I replied, wondering if I will ever get to Insadong at this point.
“Like what?” he asked curiously.
Cue a blank look on his face.
What can I tell you? I was in Asia and I had the song Aja going through my head at that time.
The conversation eventually got around to how he was going to be a major star in Hollywood without going to school or taking acting classes. “Jennifer Lawrence did not take one acting class — and look at her.”
This police officer was clearly in his early twenties — and unfortunately acted similarly to many people in their late teens to early twenties where they believe they can bypass what is usually needed to succeed; and that if what he said about Jennifer Lawrence was indeed true, then she is an anomaly in what is a really tough industry…
…but he was insistent that that was what he was going to do.
I had tried to tell him about the positives about his country which I observed; giving suggestions on what he should do to prepare himself should he decide to proceed with his plans; but to follow his dreams. He just seemed so obsessed with the American way of life — and I thought that was rather sad.
I am not knocking being an American. I would have moved out of the United States long ago if I did not want to live life the American way. I just did not want to hear him knocking his own country. We need to appreciate diversity in this world and be proud of from where we come.
In addition to asking me about musicians, actors and songs, he asked me about favorite movies.
“I do not have one”, I replied.
“But you do acting”, he said in bewilderment.
“I would rather do the acting than watch someone else do it”, I explained.
“What about television shows?”
“I do not watch television.”
“Not one show?!?” He was astonished.
That was when I put my hand out to point out our surroundings. “See all of this?” I asked. “This is my passion. Travel. This is what I enjoy doing.”
I then realized that — regardless of whatever went wrong during this unintentional trip around the world — how fortunate I was that I can travel at all. I have my health. I am not destitute. I am seeing the world, meeting new people and learning new things — and enjoying it.
For me, travel indeed gives me a perspective on life which nothing else ever can. It is an amazing teacher and the best way of which I can think to experience life.
I then wished the young police officer all of the best of success; and I continued my walk to Insadong…