Artwork for this story by J.H. Lee in Seoul, South Korea (photo: patrick lydon | sociecity)

Artwork for this story by J.H. Lee in Seoul, South Korea (photo: patrick lydon | sociecity)


Artwork for this story by J.H. Lee in Seoul, South Korea (photo: patrick lydon | sociecity)
Artwork for this story by J.H. Lee in Seoul, South Korea (photo: patrick lydon | sociecity)

We met Bea some weeks ago. I was with The Doctor, having one of our clandestine lunches, those lunches that we have when everything around us seems too meaningless or too messy.

We were talking, deeply, deeply, oblivious to the madness around us in the middle of Seoul at lunch time. This girl comes and says hallo in Italian, not such a common event in the Eremite Kingdom of South Korea. At the beginning I couldn’t make up my mind if I liked her or not. But when she told me she had been living for seven years in Italy, I thought I would like to talk to her again, in order to understand what a Korean woman thinks about Italy. And what she thinks once she’s back to a world that, for me, is an infinite delirium.

We ended up meeting every now and again, just Bea and me, for a hot chocolate and some chatting. Precious small windows on a world – Korean culture – almost unknown to me. I have always tried to listen, carefully, to understand what she was really saying to me. During these months spent in Asia I understood that here they have a deeply different sense of time; a time of thought that is even when mine is odd, and then turns again odd when mine is even.

After several accidents and unsolvable trips over odd thoughts, I decided to slow down. And so I do always with Bea, because there are things that I really would like to understand, instead they stay obscure. Hence I apply and commit myself, I ask questions, I listen to the answers. If she asks about me, about my life, I try to be blunt.

I never thought of my life as a particularly adventurous one, yet here, I understand that my stories – especially if told to girls – sound simply scary.

I always considered myself as a mediocre activist and a decent irresolute woman. But here in South Korea, I perceive myself as a revolutionary for women rights.

The point is not going to demonstrations. It isn’t. The point is being strong enough to follow one’s desires, dreams, even if it means sometimes going against that invisible, yet constricting, wall that we call social approval.

On Tuesday Bea sends me a message in Italian. I don’t understand much of it, but in these months with The Doctor I have learnt how to recognize signals. This signal is clear, the fracture was triggered and the implosion is in underway: Bea is in the middle of a cultural storm and she doesn’t understand any of what’s going on. Her friends can’t explain the reason of her sudden insanity. Her last chance is talking to me, the shiftless (according to me), the revolutionary (according to her).

I say: Oh Bea keep calm we’re gonna have a coffee very soon, resist.

Bea arrives, breathless; I buy her a hot chocolate which helps her little, numb heart. I expect I have to be patient, as always, and wait for her to talk. Instead she starts all of a sudden, impetuously, so that I barely recognize her. She almost throws up her feelings of non- approval, with her deep, unreachable wish of becoming a respectable woman, esteemed, accepted, she cries out her will to fit with the expectations of her family and friends.

She screams about her love which is NOT FAIR, because he’s separated and, in her society, if she chooses to stay with him she must renounce her family and job. She becomes a sort of pariah, hence she speaks impetuously, because she’s stupidly fallen in love and she doesn’t know what to do, and she doesn’t want to see him anymore because her deepest wish is to be a winner, as they love to say here, to fit the frame the society drew for her. The thing she wants more than anything else is being esteemed by her world, but then she suddenly realizes that perhaps the thing she really wants is happiness, and society be damned, who could ever guess that happiness could be something other than “being a winner”?

How can love become so important, how can things change so much that all of a sudden your work is not enough, social approval is not enough, a new pair of Gucci gloves is not enough? how can such a weird thing be possible? There must be a small hole somewhere, there must be something wrong, something is not working, and, from this hole, huge uncontrollable tears drop down and Bea would like to keep them. I see it, she would like to resist because crying in a public place is too bad, but the leak has sprung and question marks run down her face together with her tears.

How can it happen that you feel it’s not enough? How can it happen that, despite all these boundaries all these limits all these rituals all these frameworks built to help define life, how can it happen that despite all these things, the idea of a totally irrational happiness can enter?

I dunno Bea. I dunno but I ask myself, Bea, what’s important to you? Because you see, at the end of the day I do not care. I don’t judge you like an idiot if you want to be as your family says and you erase the number of your lover because he’s not the man your family chose for you. On the contrary, Bea, you know what? If I really have to judge you, I would say you’ re very strong, and I would appreciate you, because I would see the strength of coherence inside you, and lucidity, lucidity that I do not own. That’s all. Yet Bea, goodlord, it seems like these big tears are telling us a different story and you’re not really really convinced, aren’t you?

Yes, I know, I know.

No, I do not own the answer Bea. My life is a big mess, I have never been good at living up to expectations. I have always deluded everybody. Yes, I have always created chaos and mayhem.

Do I seem freer than you? Me? I don’t know if I am, Bea, but I can tell you for sure that it is not easy at all to live like this, choosing every single day of your life not to respect any external model and honestly asking yourself what you want and where you want to go.

Damned, Bea, sometimes I am really confused and it hurts. It hurts, because it seems like I loose everybody I love because of my stupid honesty. Of course it hurts sometimes, and of course I cry, also. By the way, here are some tissues, superstoft and superfancy, with the advertisement of the cafe printed on them in brown. Please dry away your tears.

Of course I suffer, and I feel like an idiot. I don’t know what I would choose if I were in your place, at the end of the day is it important? I can tell that every time I had to make a choice I made the wrong one. But it doesn’t matter, I was convinced.

Well perhaps the only thing I can tell you, Bea, is that I am not scared of suffering, and I am not scared by loneliness. Well, just a little bit sometimes. But then I suck it up.

Suffering? I would suffer anyway. Better alone than bored.

No Bea, there is nothing to esteem about my situation, look, I swear to you, it’s just a lot of difficult times. Had I the chance to go back, I don’t know if I do it again, but now I’m too far in. Can you imagine me, 33 years old, saying “good morning I would like, if possible, to please fit into your mould.”

I end up with all those Korean that go nuts and commit suicide. That’s not nice, but no, I am too old, I can’t go back. But you, Bea, well…give it a bit of thought.

No I am not telling you to dump him

I’m not telling you

No. Please, give it a bit of thought. Ask yourself a pair of questions. Listen to yourself. What can I say Bea, if you like we can meet next week and you tell me how it is going.

No don’t worry I am okay, even if sometimes I ask myself tons of questions, I am all right, really, I can handle it. Life in Korea is not easy at all, but I can manage it. Here, bring some tissues with you, just in case you can’t help and you start crying in the metro.

And try not to be late, it’s Saturday and we all know that Saturday is the day of tennis, we don’t want you to be late for your tennis match, you could destroy half a dozen young, brilliant Koreans, hurry up.

Yes, of course, next week, so that we can say happy Xmas.

No don’t worry.

Hurry up, you’re gonna be late, Bea.