Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Review of Seoul in Slices by Steve Kostecke

Can be purchased in the zeen store
at for $3.

Steve Kostestke lives in Japan. He is also the author of Auslanders Raus and Azian Kix. And he is the editor-and-chief of the ULA website and the ULA’s communal zeen Slush Pile.

Seoul in Slices supplies a first person view into what it means to be an American in Seoul. Seoul in Slices doesn’t give any grand tales of being imprisioned in third world jails, feeding the starving, or trying to find his grandmother who died there fifty years ago. It’s a zeen about guy who has some good, bad, and weird times in Seoul and thought the world might be interested in what he did and what happened to him there.

There are four sections in the zeen, I’ll go through them one by one.

In the first section called, “Seoul in Slices,” Kostecke gives small sketches of Seoul life. He shows the little things about Seoul that if you were just a tourist you would miss like describing what a Ppikki is, “A runaway whose job it is to stand around the happening night spots and get you to come to a certain bar or dance club (where he’ll get a commission).” Or, “Motorbikes on the sidewalk. Revving and threading through the crowds. Getting on People’s asses. The way that Koreans get out of the way. The way that they accept it. One time a motorbike gets on my ass. I’m with two friends. I say to them: “One of these days I’m gonna hook one of these guys.” The motorbike guy miraculously speaks English. Gets up along side me and says: “You don’t like it, get out of Korea!”

Which I think shows to the reader that Kostecke isn’t just some lame rich kid backpacker, but a real resident of Seoul. He has learned the city as a person living in it, not as a tourist passing through.

Kostecke also gives anecdotes of his times with other foreign teachers living there which are really funny, “British guy I know is gay. Speaks Korean. Knows Seoul in and out. Gets sex whenever and wherever he wants it. Gay culture plus a sexually-curious-about-foreigners culture. When he gets drunk he gets obnoxious. As we weave through the crowds he blurts out in English to passing boys: “Would mind terribly if I sucked your dick?” Does this for an entire stretch of road.”

The next section is called, “A Sketch of my Last Days in Seoul.” In the section he tells stories about a woman named Lexa he went out with one night and who got completely drunk and got into fights, hit on twenty guys, and screamed “Queen Mother” at everybody. Then he told a story about how the places he was teaching at were trying to fuck him out of pay. Then he goes to a club with a friend named Jeff. Then Kostecke did something really cool, here’s the quote, “Jeff heading over to a neighboring lounge which he had to two weeks before and now – heroically – to “save” one of he girls from her life of degradation.” Note that he put quotations around “save”, that showed to me that Kostecke tried to emphasize the absurdity of that without making it a big deal, no rant was needed. Because with Kostecke either you are going to understand what he meant by that, and if you don’t a rant won’t make you understand it either. Either you been there, know, and understand. Or you’re out of touch and aren’t going to get it no matter what he says. I thought that was really cool.

The third section Kostecke titled “Hyperfiction” which he described as, “A prose style in competition with tvs, vcrs, cable, the internet, computer games, surround sound cinemas, top-forty radio stations, and a whole lot more.”

The “Hyperfiction” section is a collection of tiny stories written in very terse short sentences. He achieved this by not adding any fluffy dumb shit to the lines. The story “One Tiny Sec” was used for The Underground versus Professionals experiment, and was enjoyed by everyone that read it.

In the story, “Tits” he talks about having an anorexic girlfriend he doesn’t actually like but stays with anyway and says this great line anyone can relate to, “The summer ended as did everything else. Barbie kept accusing me of things that were true and I kept denying them.”

The final section of Seoul in Slices has a review of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma where he calls Coupland’s book “Primetime TV” and deconstructs the book to show that it is unworthy of the praise it has received by the media. Kostecke says about Coupland’s prose at one point, “It floats up into the air and becomes puffy little clouds that never rain.”

Kostecke Seoul in Slices is a great read if you enjoy travel literature that is more about a person living in a certain part of the world that grew up in a completely different culture and circumstances. And not just some person visiting a certain place and having wild obviously exaggerated adventures while there.