Sunday, May 8, 2011

A tale of two countries

A couple of things happened this weekend that reminded me what a backward, forward country I live in.

Yesterday after the hash I talked with Half an Angry Pirate. Pirate graduated from Cortland State, which is just 25 miles from Ithaca. Small world and all that.

We talked about animal rights and vegetarianism; Pirate sometimes puts on a bandanna and runs through the hideous dog farms nearby, taking photos. He's young and fast and knows the farmers can't catch him. He uses the photos in protests against eating dogs.

The treatment of dogs here, the big breed raised specifically for meat, is beyond barbaric, in their life and in their death.

There's a bosintang (dog meat soup) restaurant down the street from the school. In general, cooked dog is called boyangsik, "vitalizing food"; it's supposed to give you lots of energy on hot summer days and, like so much that decimates animals in this part of the world, to give guys stamina in bed. Always men's top priority, apparently.

I gather that the younger generation of Koreans is turning away from boyangsik, either because they feel it's wrong or out of embarrassment at what most of the world thinks. The dog restaurants aren't legal de jure or  illegal de facto, sort of like prostitution.

Do I think what they do to dogs is more horrifying than what they (and we) do to chickens and pigs and cattle and turkeys and everything else that tastes good? I do and I don't. I have a gut feeling that our species made a bargain with the dogs many thousands of years ago: protect us and love us and we'll protect you and love you. But I doubt the other "food" animals are impressed with our bargain, and a pig can suffer fully as much as a dog.

Pirate is far braver and more dedicated than I. I don't want to see the poor dogs jammed into cages like potato chips in a bag and I don't want, as a foreigner, to lecture Koreans on their morality. I'm a wuss, I guess; just trying to live the way I feel is right and explaining the whys to people who ask are about all I can manage.

Insert jarring segue here.

Today I went to E-Mart. The first floor of the building next door is a big showroom full of 3-D TVs and computer tablets and such. there are two signs outside, Samsung Di-gi-tal Pla-ja and LG Best Shyop. In front of the Samsung sign, there was a speaker system blaring K-pop while two young women, dressed in hot pink tops and black hot pants, gyrated to the beat. Fifty feet away, in front of the LG sign, there was another speaker system blaring different K-pop as a young woman all in scarlet danced, along with a ten-foot-tall guy (on stilts, duh) dressed as a Buckingham Palace guard.

The scarlet woman (pardon the expression) and the stilt guy seemed to be having fun. She was smiling and her dance wasn't completely robotic; he was blowing up balloon animals and waving to drivers. The pink girls expressed all the involvement of people watching their clothes in the washer going around and around while the laundromat's fluorescents flicker. Their dance isn't all that different from that of the cheerleaders at all the baseball games (who look as if they're having fun), but on the street they seem so joyless and mechanical. It's depressing.

Be that as it may, my point (and, as Ellen said, I do have one) is how strange it is to occasionally see the juxtaposition of one of the world's most aggressively modern, technological, capitalistic societies and the cruel medieval world that peeks through its cracks.

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