Thursday, July 14, 2011

Travel the World in 7 Links

Welcome to the Reader's Digest version of my adventures traveling and living abroad the past 2 years.

"Seven Links" is actually a project whereby travel bloggers nominate each other to produce links back to the posts they've written earlier, good posts that may have gotten overlooked in all the webbage that daily litters the Internet.

I'm thankful to Sally from Unbrave Girl (  and Brooke from Brooke vs. the World ( for nominating me for this project. And I have to say it's kinda awesome to be nominated not by one but two bloggers who I admire for consistently producing high-quality writing on their own blogs.

My Seven Links

1. My Most Beautiful Post

The reasons why I'm afraid to travel and why I travel regardless. This is my most honest post. That's what makes it beautiful, at least to me.

2. My Most Popular Post

My top post at the moment goes to the time I visited the Taj Mahal without wearing any pants. (I like to phrase it that way -- "the time I visited" -- like it's something that happened long, long ago and not, umm, in January 2011.) Of course, the success of this post should surprise no one, seeing as how it draws in the two audience groups: the Taj Mahal enthusiasts and the partial nudists.

It wasn't until an online Twitter exchange with Sally came up that I realized exactly how many times I've forgotten to wear pants in the past two years: 4 and 1/2 times. In all fairness, three of these times were wearing the same "shirt dress" from H&M that actually proved to just be a long shirt, as I noticed after finally perusing the H&M catalog; the time when I absent-mindedly pulled on a pair of woolen long-johns and wandered down my apartment building's main hallway before realizing I'd forgotten to put a skirt on top of them (which only gets 1/2 points since I didn't actually exit the building); and finally, this -- touring the Taj Mahal without pants:

Mermaids don't wear pants, either.

My second most popular post also is from India. In the latter half of my trip there, I broke my foot and, in a small, very dirty Indian hospital, had a plaster cast put on from my toes to my knee. The pain in my foot was excruciating. But I really wanted to ride camels and camp overnight in the Thar desert. So I did.

3. My Most Controversial Post

Pretty much all of my posts are  G-rated. Posts that you can read to grandma if you so wish. (Please read them to grandma. I need more followers.) The only exception to this may be my most recent post, the one wherein I am repeatedly solicited for prostitution in Korea. Best not to read this one to grandma; it'll only get her riled up and she can be surprisingly vicious with those knitting needles.

4. My Most Helpful Post

While all my posts can be considered quite helpful if you process their contents in a "things-not-to-do" sort of way, my packing list post is probably the most helpful.

Okay, to be honest, it's only helpful to read for procrastination purposes.

5. A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

Meh. This category does not amuse me. But don't worry; I've cheated by adding extra links to other categories.

6. A Post that Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved

I am going to have to go with all of them. Popular travel bloggers can get a page full of reader comments and support for posts about what they ate for dinner in Europe while I can write about really dramatic things that have happened to me in Asia, and I get . . . crickets. But I don't need to be the King of the (travel blogging) World. I just need the occasional person to believe in me. So if you haven't already, you should go ahead and read about how:

A man repeatedly attempted to break into my Seoul apartment during the wee sma hours of Friday the 13th.

I was stranded for a week in Japan without money, so I ended up sleeping on the living room floor of a kind Japanese escort.

I fell off a train and broke my foot in India. Or possibly the random man who "reset" it while I was screaming NO broke it. You decide.


7. The Post that I Am Most Proud Of

The logic behind why I decided to live a second year in Korea. This actually isn't a post of pride -- I'm just putting it here because it amuses me. My reasons amuse myself.

So there you have it: 7 links (um, rounded down to the nearest 7, that is) from Odysseus Drifts. The best links from my blog - so far. It's now less than three weeks until I start my around-the-world backpacking trip, so the adventures can only get better!

And to continue this project, I am nominating…

Tim from Good and Lost
Julia from Mr. & Mrs. Globetrot
Kelly from Tales from Heibei (

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Foreign Women for Sale

The trouble with only learning the pleasantries of a foreign language is that they are only useful in situations that are, well, pleasant. Should an insult be offered, this leaves you with no language for reply. Personally, the best I could manage would be to harvest from the sparse stock of pleasant, friend-making Korean phrases I've memorized and add "no" to them. Imagine this being the fiercest retort you are capable of making:

Respected sir, do I like you? No! Respected sir, are you fun? No! Are you cool? No! Are you pretty? No!

There are times when such language is not quite strong enough for the situation at hand.

The first time I am mistaken for a whore is on the subway platform at Namdaemun Station. I am wearing blue jeans, a bulky winter coat, a scarf, a backpack. A Lonely Planet guidebook is in my hand.

"I love you," says the man who, at the time, is just a few feet from me. He raises his arms above his head and bends them in the shape of a crooked heart. He shuffles back and forth on wobbly feet.

"Thank you," I reply, smiling. Just the week before, a different man on a different subway platform had repeatedly proclaimed to me that he loved America and loved Americans. I figure this man's declaration is something along the same lines. How nice.

The man moves closer to me. His face is puffy and pink, an old, bloated, babyish face. His bleary eyes are rimmed in red. His breath emits a hazy cloud of soju as he asks, "Where are you going?"

"I'm just going home," I say, still smiling.

"I want you to come home with me," he says.

Again, how nice. He is inviting me back for tea with his family, I think with a naivety that casts its faint glow about me like a halo.

The man opens his wallet.

He's going to show me a photo of his wife and kids, I think.

He pulls out money.

But where are his wife and kids? I wonder.

"This is Korean money," he says, trying to shove a couple of bills into my hand. I curl up my fingers to refuse the money. Confused, I alter my stream of thought, trying to make sense of this unforeseen happening: Could he be a black market money changer? Is he looking for U.S. dollars? I ponder these unlikely possibilities for a minute.

Then, the fog of innocence finally lifts from me.

I am horrified.

And I only say "horrified" because I don't know a stronger word. There is no kind old man standing before me, trying to become my friend. There is only a drunken lech trying to pick up a whore, trying to pick up me.

A Korean woman, standing nearby on the subway platform, watches the entire situation play out in front of her. She is wearing a micro-mini skirt and 4-inch heels, in line with the aesthetics of modern Korean fashion. But it doesn't matter what she wears: She is Korean, so she is pure and well-respected. A Korean man would never offer her money for sex. The woman begins to laugh at me, laughs at the bewilderment and disgust that I can feel myself projecting through every ligament of my body.

My face crumples. I run away to the far end of the subway and quietly cry the whole ride home. It isn't until later that I think about how the wad of money the man had shoved toward me was around 13,000 won. Not only was I considered a whore, I was considered a $10 whore.

The next few times I am mistaken for a whore are also hard on me, although less painfully so, as I can now understand the signals much sooner.

"How much?" a man will sometimes ask as he passes me.

Now, when a man says something like that, I look him dead in the eye and, with unleashed venom, snarl, "You wish."

And then I run away and cry. Because continuity is always a good thing. Right?

{For those of you still confused about the difference between me and a whore, here is a little photo illustrative.}

{what an actual whore wears for a night out on the town}

{what I wear for a night out on the town}

I have a close friend, another foreign woman, to whom I told about these happenings in whispers. She lives in Itaewon, the notoriously sketchy expat district of Seoul, and has never experienced anything like it herself.

This made me feel even worse. Is it just me? And is this how I look to every Korean man, like a whore? Maybe they all believe I'm a whore but some of them simply don't require my services, I think with what may or may not be paranoia.

And up until about a week ago, I never mentioned it to anyone else. I was too ashamed. Finally, last week, after my third "offer" within the course of two consecutive days, I couldn't contain my resentment any longer. I went to a swing dance and polled the three other foreign women there, rather abruptly asking if they, too, had ever been treated like whores.

"Well, only the one time," one foreigner shyly admitted. "But I was dressed really nice, conservatively!"

"Yeah, like every time I leave the apartment," another American woman said.

"A couple of times, sure," confided the third foreign woman.

I want to throw things. I want to throw things at the heads of the men who try to rent my body by the hour. I want to throw (smaller) things at the one or two guys I have since told about it and who counter with jokes. It's not a laughing matter.

I'm writing this because I'm angry and I'm insulted and I'm tired of feeling ashamed. I didn't do anything wrong. There is shame here, certainly; but that shame is not my burden.

I love so much about my life in Korea and the friends I've made here. I have met some Koreans, both men and women, who shine with pure goodness. It can be a truly wonderful country to live in. But not in this regard. This is a side of Korea that is not funny, not cool, and most definitely not pretty.