The people I see when I walk around the cities of the world simultaneously amaze, frighten, arouse, stimulate, disgust and amuse me. Some are unbearably attractive, others the kind of ugly that permeates from the inside out. Some are beautiful and life affirming in their actions, others make me feel complicit in their greed and cruelty, simply by being human. Some are good, some are bad, some are pretty, and some are not. I’m not looking to judge someone by their cover, but I am judging my own emotions and internal reactions to their external appearance and/or behavior. Without interacting or talking to these people, I form opinions about them, or just gaze in their direction in bemused wonder. Although it’s good that there isn’t one type of person or one style of person, it does make for some strangeness in my day, either on purpose or just by accident.
On the subway today, I saw a man with a rather grotesquely oversized face contorted in a grimace with an old flip phone to his ear. He was moving his mouth like a cow chewing cud. He seemed unaware of anyone around him. I saw hundreds of women in high heels, holding cell phones in short skirts. I saw hundreds of men in varied colors of plaid shirts also holding cell phones. I saw a dirty old beggar with the heavy-duty rubber leg coverings lumbering down the streets playing that pathetic, lonely, and distant homeless man music on some raggedy old radio. I saw all the smiles of the employees of my favorite restaurant smile at me in unison when I told them the food is great as usual. I saw a diminutive old man in shabby, ill-fitting clothes using the touch screen map at a subway stop. He had that twisted face of a smile, frown and squinting into the sunlight all at once. He confused me. I caught eyes with one nice looking girl; we shared smirks. I saw families walking together, babies in strollers, kids arguing about nothing, parents happy to be out of the house. This isn’t some crazy festival day, or a holiday full of traveler’s angst, it was just a dreary September Saturday in Seoul.
Last week, in Jeju Island, I was at a bus stop, when a woman approached me with a huge goiter on her neck the size of a tennis ball. It was highly noticeable. My friend, Alex, ran away, ostensibly to find a bush on which to urinate, but closer to the truth, he couldn’t handle her. She was grizzled, overly tan, sun-spotted and prone to staring. I thought to myself, yes, she’s scary, staring at you, holding a bag that’s dripping some mysterious liquid, but she’s probably just curious and old. I kept my face to her, while looking beyond her for the hopefully approaching bus. She suddenly spoke to me in the kind of voice in which you’ve heard cigarette-smoking snakes or dying vampires speak. A rather unsettling chill ran down my spine and settled in my sweaty shoes. She asked, in Korean, about my friend who ran away. Who knows what she said, the only word I could translate was “man” and she pointed in his direction. I managed a few polite Korean words to explain I didn’t know, but whatever information she wanted, she wasn’t going to get it. We hailed the next taxi that passed and left her at the eerie deserted bus stop as the sun slipped down over the hills.
Not all people are pure weirdness incarnate. Some are capable of inspiring poetic lust, adoration or hedonistic passion simply by their walk, their talk or their charismatic aura. I’ve seen women that I’m certain I could learn to love and spend my life with pass by me, escaping into the ether of the daily shuffle. Their smell, or their shape, or their enchanting smile can captivate me and stay with me for any number of days. It’s amazing how much my feelings are connected to appearance. Yes, it’s slightly superficial, but with six billion people in the world, I’m entitled to some sort of vetting or examination test. I think we all do it do a certain degree. There are some people that match our internal inspection test and make us feel the wonderful, loving butterfly chills; and others that give us the creeps or make us feel the infinite sadness of the world through their eyes and we get that icy chill of mortality from them. You don’t have to travel the world to fall in love across the street or find the finite nature of society in a poor man’s empty cup; you only have to keep your senses aware, welcome your emotional reactions, and then act accordingly.