Dispatch: Daegu, South Korea

Elizabeth Riggio

When I walk to work,

there is the sidewalk–curvy bricks of green and grey colored clay. There is the river that curves below me. There are the students–walking to school, sleepy-eyed or chatting with friends. There are the speeding cars–the ones that stop for no man, or woman for that matter. There are the mountains. Yes, the mountains. They surround at every angle, towering in a soft kind of power. Living on the outskirts of the city means a secluded and nature-filled atmosphere of a rural town, and yet, close proximity to the action-packed hub. These mountains remind me that while Korea is very modernized, it also has areas untouched. And the smells, good and bad. Right now, it smells of fall with the leaves changing color and falling. There is a tree commonly found in urban Korea that I have yet to figure out the name. They grow small orange fruit the size of a small cherry. When stepped on, they squish out a very distinct and horrendous smell. When I pass these trees, I try to hold my breath but one whiff and it’s over.

This walk is normal to me. It feels no different than the walk I would make to work if I were back home. Before arriving here, I imagined a million living scenarios. None of them were close.

Recently, I was talking to a friend as we were watching a man wake boarding. My friend said it was surprising how difficult it seemed for the man to do flips in the water. He said watching people do it on TV made it seem like it should be easy. We agreed that TV and the internet make real life seem easy.

Wake boarding becomes something that is “easy” to do. A beautiful view on a mountain looks pretty, but not breathtaking. People from another place are foreign, strange. A faraway place seems alluring, enticing, different.

Fiction becomes real in our mind. Where we fill in the blanks in our mind about something, where we color in the information gap, we have become the authors of a fictional world.

It is hard not to do this. When you know very little about something, what truth of it do you have? So we fear or we romanticize. There is great danger in romanticizing a place or a people. This act makes a place seem difficult to imagine, existing in some distant world of our dreams. Something that isn’t tangible. It creates a location in our mind where our fantasy becomes a reality. It turns a people into static characters, incapable of living dynamic, complicated lives. It changes a person from a human with thoughts, emotions, good and bad traits, and history, to a profile page. It changes nature from beautiful to a filtered Instagram picture.

We begin to see the limited information we have as fact and as normal. This foreign land we accidentally create seems so vastly different from our own. But what we see is only normal because that is what we are accustomed to. There are many types of “normal.” And most places and people are not so different from the normal that we already know.

Fearing is even worse.

So I will focus on the bricks. The river. The people. The speeding cars. The mountains, and even those smelly trees. That is Korea to me. Not what’s in the news. The news is not wrong, they simply paint a one sided story. They tell the news of a place. And so they allow for authors of a fictional world.

The news I receive from the U.S.: Ebola has hit the country.

The fiction: I will never enter the country for fear of contracting the virus.

I like fiction. But I don’t like fiction where reality should be.

And romanticizing is as dangerous as fear.