Thursday, November 19, 2009

Like Pigs and Cats...

Russia and Korea are like night and day, or chalk and honey, or whatever.

I had a hard time taking Korea seriously. It seemed like a made-up Disneyland country that was desperately trying to get people to notice it, and there seemed to be little heritage. My director once took me out for lunch. "I take you to traditional Korean sandwich restaurant." I was curious, because traditionally Koreans didn't have sandwiches, or bread for that matter. He took me to a Subway. I tried the traditional Korean meatball sub. The traditional Korean map of the New York City subway system was on the wallpaper.

Every temple I went to in Korea was touted as being "ancient...after it was rebuilt ten years ago..."

I couldn't even take the authorities in Korea seriously because the police wore a cartoon pig on their shoulder badges. In the early '90s the Korean government wanted to improve the reputation of their police force, and heard a lot of people in American movies referring to police as "pigs", so they thought that this was a good thing and chose a happy smiling Porky-the-Pig figure for the symbol of the national police force. If you have been to Korea you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, take my word for it; they actually have a cartoon pig as their symbol of law enforcement.

Everything in Korea seemed cartoony and surreal (although the food was fucking fantistic!).

Russia, on the other hand, is very real. Russian culture is alive and well. The historic buildings that were put up in the medieval ages are still standing. Russian, Georgian, Kazak, Ukrainian and Scandinavian restaurants are everywhere and there are only two Subway Sandwiches in Russia; one at Byeloruskaya Station in Moscow and one on Nevskiy Prospekt in Saint Petersburg.

Russian police look like their Soviet ancestors in the movies, but drunker and more corrupt. Their big hats and leather jackets and skull-smashing truncheons dangling from their belts, coupled with their greedy eyes looking for an excuse to take your money, make them a menacing sight. They have built a reputation for themselves, and they travel in groups of five or more. They don't fuck around, and they are best avoided.

Russians love their cats. I have seen cat statues in the Hermitage, and toy cats at the stores, and cat videos on youtube, and cat food at the grocery stores and very few street cats.

This love of cats is nice to see, and is very different from Korea where cats were considered lower than rodents. Wild cats ran everywhere and my Korean director (to whom I gave the English name "Scott" for some unknown reason) used to go out of his way to kick them if he saw one on the street.

Koreans hated cats. When asked about the myth of Chinese eating cats, Scott once told me, in his broken English "I would rather eat monkey feces than eat a cat. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a delicious dog to eat." He didn't actually say that, but I always suspected he was thinking it...

Russians, on the other hand, love their cats and their dogs. There were a lot of barking dogs in fenced-off backyards as Wonderpants and I trekked through Borodino, and the Gucci Princesses of Moscow walk around with little purse-sized their purses. None of these dogs, from what I've been able to tell, are considered a meal (or a snack).

Russians adore cats. Russians don't eat dogs. Russians have a real culture going for them. This isn't Korea. Now, if only they would stop driving like Koreans...

1 comment:

  1. As a Russian currently working in Korea, couldn't help but notice a lot of things that you wrote about (like super-ancient-traditional villages composed of mud huts built for display purposes several decades ago, tops) :)
    Btw, there's at least one more Subway that I know of, at Kurskiy railway station in Moscow.
    P.S. Shame on Russian police for making such an impression on foreigners; you're not the first person I know thinking about the police this way :(