Inviting my sister, Laura (not her real name), to come to South Korea
for two weeks after I finished my contract, and before my return to Canada
, seems to have been somewhat of a mistake. Not that Korea
isn't good for her; she loves the country... but being stuck together for two weeks is being harder on us than we expected. There are many reasons for this, but let me just tell it as a story, in chronological order
The trip started off well enough, with the only early disaster being lost luggage, which Air Canada got to us perfectly intact only 24 hours late. We started off in Seoul. I took her shopping the first day at Migliore and Doota!, both of which she loved. They're a kind of shopping mall or department store of a type we don't have in Canada, an (approx.) 10-story building full of tiny little stalls selling every kind of clothing imaginable. It's understandable that she went nuts over it... it's a 20 year-old girl's wet dream.
The second day, I took her to Gyeong-bok-gung, a large palace in the centre of Seoul. She loved that, too; it's very beautiful, but I think she might have enjoyed the way the Korean elementary school students on a field trip were going nuts over her even more. She's quite the attention-seeker, and this is one of the first problems that emerged. After the palace, I took her to Seoul Tower and she was suitably impressed by the view of the city, although already she was whinging about the amount of walking we were doing, which was really quite minimal. Problem two, although I was still in a good mood and nothing had started to bother me yet.
It was when we headed down to Daejeon on the third day that problems started to emerge. We went up a mountain (more of a hill, really), and even though it was a very short hike, she complained bitterly the whole time. Of course, when we got to the Buddhist temple near the top, she went wild over how pretty it was, and said it was all worth it... and then refused to climb to the peak with me because she was too tired, even though the sign indicated it was less than half a kilometer more. I asked her if she'd stick around the temple then while I climbed up, since I wanted to see the view. She said, "No, I want to go back." Selfishness, problem three.
That night, we went to ChiChi's, a very cool bar in Daejeon (right beside Say Department Store, if you're ever there) to meet with my ex-lover, Christina (Korean name Kim Eun Ju), who I wanted to see before leaving Korea. The band at ChiChi's was excellent, as always, but I began to feel very left out, since Christina and her friends, and the band, and a few new people that we'd met that night were all making a huge fuss over Laura (being a pretty white girl in Korea is kind of like being a movie star) and I was being ignored. To make matters worse, Christina was acting as if there had never been anything between us. I was not expecting her to take me back for one night of make-up sex or anything of the sort, and I understand that knowing that the guy misses you and pretending that you don't miss him is an important part of the healing process for a woman who's been broken up with, but being forgiven is very important to me. I wanted to let her know how sorry I was for having hurt her, and hopefully for her to forgive me, but she made it impossible for me to do so. I began to get very depressed.
Meanwhile, Laura, who has a boyfriend in Canada (I really hope he doesn't read this site, but I've met the guy, and he's the last person I'd expect to read E2), was picking up this cute boy bartender. Said she wanted to experience a Korean boy. I strongly disapprove of anyone cheating on their boyfriends/girlfriends, and like any brother, I don't like the idea of my baby sister being sexually active, let alone acting like a... well, a slut, although I don't want to say that about my sister. Still, she did ask me how to say "Take off your pants" in Korean, and then pulled him off to the bathroom. Nonetheless, I despise over-protective older brothers and am determined not to be one, and one of the mottos most important to me is "Judge not, lest ye be judged," so instead of criticizing her, I decided to help her along, if this was in fact what she wanted. We all stayed until the bartender could get off work, went to Christina's apartment to pick up some condoms for them, then to her friend's apartment, where we'd all be sleeping.
Still, at this point, I was not getting frustrated with Laura, she wasn't getting frustrated with me, and she was having a good time, even if I was getting a bit depressed. The next day it was down to Gwangju, and that's where the problems started.
First of all, it was in Gwangju where instead of nicely asking me to slow down when I was walking too fast (a bad habit of mine, but one which I have no control over; I can try to walk slowly, but as soon as I'm not actively concentrating on it, I'll speed up to my natural pace), she started getting bitchy and giving me attitude about it, as if I was doing it on purpose. Also, she was already expressing less and less of an interest in anything I considered interesting in Korea, and starting to indicate that all she really cared about was shopping, cute boys, drinking, and all the attention she was getting. I despise shallow people, and I don't like seeing that sort of attitude in my sister. We didn't see much in the way of interesting things in Gwangju, just basically killed time (she complaining about my walking pace the whole time) until it was time to go out drinking.
There were a few bars I wanted to show her, but first I took her to a place called Xyzzyx which isn't too bad, but not terribly exciting either, just because it was close to where we'd had dinner. That turned out to be her favorite place because, you guessed it, hot male bartenders swarming around her and telling her how beautiful she is. By this point, she's let it go to her head and is starting to act like she's a movie star, too. Meanwhile, I'm being ignored again, because even the few girls that are there only want to talk to my sister.
Eventually I convince her that we should go a few other places, but she asks the hottest of the bartenders what time he finishes (6 in the friggin' morning) and makes me promise that we'll come back.
Turns out that Gwangju is no longer my city. I lived there a year, but a year has passed since then, and things have changed. None of the places that used to be happening when I was there are happening anymore, so we end up going back to Xyzzyx pretty early, even though there's pretty much no one there, except my sister's pet bartenders. She proceeds to make me stay until 6 AM so she can cheat on her boyfriend for the second consecutive night. I have to admit, even I ended up having a pretty good time by the end of the night, but early on, I was in a bad mood, and it was made worse by her bitching at me for bringing her down and ruining her vacation by being in a bad mood. I asked her if I could just go back to the motel and we could arrange somewhere to meet the next day, but she got upset that I'd even think of leaving her alone in a foreign country. I didn't bother asking if she'd be willing to leave before six and not sleep with her bartender, because I knew that would result in further "you're ruining my vacation" attitude.
To her credit, she used her "I'm a white girl and everyone wants to talk to me" power to attact over some pretty Korean girls and then left them alone with me, so I wasn't ignored, at least. One of them got rather drunk and was all over me the whole evening. Being rather drunk myself, I would have taken her back to the motel, and she was acting as if she wanted to leave with me, but then about half an hour before the bar was closing, picked that moment to tell me she had a boyfriend.
Saturday, Laura asked me if we could stay in Gwangju another day. I told her that I had promised my friends in Suncheon that I would be back at Elvis for one last night on that day. She said she wanted to come back to Gwangju later, then. I said there were so many other places to see in Korea, and did she really want to come all the way back here just because of a boy? She denied that it was just because of the bartender, saying that she really liked Gwangju and the nightlife. We didn't see much of Gwangju except art street and Yangdong Market both of which I could tell bored her, and all the bars we went to sucked (she said so) except Xyzzyx... so it sounds an awful lot like it is just about her bartender. "No," she says, "not just him. They were all so cute! And they all made me feel like a movie star! I love the attention!" Oh great, so she's going to sleep with a different one next time. That's much better.
Suncheon depressed me. Some of the people I wanted to see were at Elvis, but not all of them, and Laura didn't even want to stick around long enough for me to spend much time with the ones that were, because they were foreign, and she wanted to hang out with Koreans. I take this to mean that she is now completely addicted to the attention lavished on her by Korean men and the ease with which she can seduce them. We went a few other places, but there really aren't many worthwhile bars in Suncheon, aside from Elvis. The whole time, Laura just kept going on about the bartenders - to make matters worse, I found her tone to be rather condescending towards them, as if they were like pets to her, rather than human beings. We also had an argument about sexual ethics (sparked by her making the claim that any girl who resorts to prostitution or even stripping is disgusting, and implying that suicide is preferable) which led to her saying that biology doesn't play a role in people's feelings or behaviour at all, that it's all cultural conditioning and that men just use biology as a pathetic form of rationalization for cheating on their girlfriends. This from the girl who'd just been talking about how it was okay that she'd just cheated on her boyfriend with two different guys in two nights because a) different country doesn't count and b) you don't tip bartenders with cash in Korea, so she was just tipping them a different way "ha ha ha." I bit my tongue and didn't call her a hypocrite, because I was still trying my hardest to be non-judgemental.
Things came to a head in Busan though, the next day. She was bitching at me more than ever about my walking speed, despite me constantly apologizing and trying my hardest to remember to slow down. She kept broaching the subject of when we were going to go back to Gwangju and started giving me the attitude of "you've been in Korea for two years and I'm only here for two weeks and you're ruining my trip by being in a bad mood and not wanting to do what I want to do," if I even hinted that I wasn't too keen on the idea of making a second trip to Gwangju just to see the cute bartenders again. That night we went out again. This time, the first bar we tried had a drop-dead gorgeous female bartender, who was actually paying more attention to me than to Laura, because she was impressed with my ability to speak Korean. Of course, this meant Laura was eager to move on to other bars. I did ask the bartender how late this place was open, and she said 4, so to Laura's credit (she's got plenty of good personality traits, mind you... I don't mean to make her out as a monster, just trying to get across where my frustrations stem from) she said "let's go bar hopping and be back here around 2 or 3."
Needless to say, bar hopping meant "one drink at each bar until we find one with attractive male bartenders, and then stay there." I didn't mind though, because there were a couple friendly Korean guys who thought it was cool that I could speak Korean and wanted to buy us both drinks and speak Korean with me. Laura didn't find them attractive, so I distracted them while she flirted with the bartenders. She stuck to her promise of going back to the first bar, even though I had no intention of sleeping with the bartender (no chance, basically... not nearly as easy for a guy as a girl, and I'm not comfortable with one-night stands anyway). Still, the girl was beautiful and really nice and I wanted to talk to her a bit more. I was happy Laura kept her promise, but when we got back, we found that the bar had closed early, as they often do if there are no patrons.
A little depressed about that, I was not in the mood to deal with Laura ragging on me yet again about walking too fast on the way back to the motel. Being drunk, she was ruder than usual, and I snapped at her. I told her "You wonder why I'm always in a bad mood, it's because you keep bitching at me like this." She started yelling at me, telling me I'm an asshole, and how I'm clearly depressed and generally emotionally fucked-up about leaving Korea, and that because things aren't going as I planned them for my last couple weeks, I'm blaming everything on her, etc., etc. I tried to reason with her (I never raise my voice in an argument), but she kept going on her yelling tirade all the way back to the motel.
Back at the motel, she went in the bathroom. I sat on the bed and thought about the situation. I realized that I was being unreasonable to have gotten upset with her just for giving me a bit of attitude when I walk too quickly. Really, that was just the icing on the cake, but I couldn't very well tell her that what was really bothering me was all the personality traits that were coming out in Korea that I find really ugly in her, and that I thought she had outgrown (she was a really bad teenager, but she's a pretty good person now, overall). I can't very well tell her that I'm disappointed in her, without ruining the rest of the trip in the process. I really want her to have a good time, so I just decide to apologize, tell her she's right that I'm just taking out the frustrations I have about leaving Korea on her (it's actually probably partially true) and hope things go smoothly for the rest of the trip.
She comes out of the bathroom. I open my mouth and start to explain myself, leading up to an apology. I say no more than "Laura, I just said that because..." and she starts yelling again. I'm drunk, and suddenly I just can't take it anymore. I'm not an adult man in a stupid argument with an almost-adult woman. I'm a little kid, who's confused and depressed, but who's been struggling to make the people he loves happy anyway, and who feels unappreciated, and he's trying his best, but it's never quite enough for anyone, and now she's yelling at him, and he was only trying to say he was sorry and he just needs her to SHUT THE FUCK UP because otherwise he's just going to crumble.
And I didn't even realize I did it until I'm already in the bathroom, the door locked and she's outside the door crying, sobbing "You fucking hit me! I can't believe you fucking hit me! How can I ever feel safe again?"
Things are okay now. I hadn't hit her hard, just a quick back-hand across the cheek, not leaving a mark. As soon as I realized what I'd done, I came out of the bathroom and apologized profusely. She told me I need to get help, and I promised I would, since it's something I think I need anyway. I've suspected for a long time that I have a depressive personality and I find it really, really scary that I'd lose control like that, even if it's the first time it's ever happened, and it was only for a split second, and I was very drunk at the time. It's very disturbing to know that you're capable of doing something as serious as slapping a girl without even realising that you're going to do it until it's already happened.
We forgot about Gyeongju and came back to Seoul the next day, although I convinced her to at least see Haeundae Beach first. I'm taking a day off today, while she goes out shopping by herself. She's still insistant on going back to Gwangju, but at least I've convinced her that it's unreasonable to expect me to spend the coming Friday night down there with her at Xyzzyx, waiting until the bar closes so she can get laid again, when I should be spending my last weekend in Korea with my friends here in Seoul, whom I won't see for several years at least, if I even see them again. Instead, we're still discussing whether we should go down for Wednesday, or Thursday or both. I'm not looking forward to a four-hour bus trip there and a four-hour bus trip back just to go to a fucking bar that isn't even anything special except for some attractive men who like my sister. I asked her if she thought she could go alone, but she made it clear that she'd resent me if I didn't go, so I'll go, if only to keep both of us sane.
She still thinks that my moodiness and especially the fact that I hit her are all due to a psychological condition exacerbated by the stress of leaving the country that has been my home for two years, and that she has absolutely nothing to do with it, and any anger and frustration I have with her are pure projection. I agree with her to an extent, although I think that being shackled at the hip to a sibling that bitches at me when I'm in a bad mood or do something as minor as walk too quickly, expects me to act as if giving her the chance to sleep with Korean men is my highest priority, and is showing me that she hasn't really grown up as much as I wanted to believe is also high on the list of catalysts. I can't tell her that, though, so I'll let her believe what she wants, and if I don't get a bit more stable once I'm back in Canada, I will go see a shrink, for my own sake. I'm feeling much better now, and she seems to have forgiven me for everything. All I have to deal with is one or two more nights in Gwangju. I think I can manage. It's very important that she, at least, enjoys the rest of the trip. If our petty differences and my messed up emotional state ruin her trip, it could damage our relationship permanently, as well as her opinion of this country, that I want everyone else to love as much as I did when I first came here.
One week and counting, and then I'll be on a plane back to my real home. Hopefully things will be better then.
Disclaimer: Of course, all of this is told from my perspective. I'm sure Laura would tell quite a different story. Pure, objective truth probably lies somewhere in between.