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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/1/20

Balkans Ahead!

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Belgrade, 2020
Belgrade, 2020
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I've moved to a new neighborhood.

Choryang-dong was instructive, delicious and hospitable, but like visas, passion or time itself, everything winds down. Thanks to the coronavirus, I felt a bit trapped there, so I've inched over to HadÃ... ¾ipopovac.

Entering South Korea on February 28th, I thought there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to return to Vietnam for a month or two, but this didn't bother me, for I could just fly to Laos, Cambodia or Thailand, or take a ferry to Japan, where I could visit friends and roam a bit, before slinking back to Southeast Asia.

I ended up hanging out in K-poplandia for four months and three weeks, nearly all of it at a Busan guesthouse. The One Way became my home. I said to its manager, "Yo Jayden, you can only check in here. You can't check out! I'm going to die at the One Way."

Though in a rather seedy part of town, with enough whores and homeless, Choryang-dong was perfectly safe. Even with plenty to steal inside it, the guesthouse's door was never locked. Five minutes away, there was one of the best dumpling joints anywhere, and cheap, too. There was also a great Uzbek restaurant. The subway station was around the corner.

There was a communal kitchen in the One Way's basement, but I never used its stove, only the hot water dispenser to fill a large bowl of instant noodles, which I'd cover with a plate. That's my cooking. Paired with a can of Spam or tuna, I had a balanced meal. Sometimes I used the microwave to heat up instant rice or rice gruel.

Eating out, though, was economic enough. In a nearby subway concourse, I could get a hot meal with meat, and a variety of kim chis, of course, for only $4. For just over $7, I could feast at Mos Burger, a Japanese chain. For under ten bucks, I could pig out on an entire fried chicken and drain a beer.

I stayed long enough to get a customer's loyalty card at a cafe'. Every seventh cup was free. Giving it to me, the proprietress sometimes exclaimed in English, "Congratulations!" What a beautiful lady.

On July 4th, a handful of American soldiers invaded the One Way. Drunk all night long, they made so much noise, I couldn't sleep, but I never knocked on their door to say, "Yo guys, can you calm down a bit?" I was young once, and America won't enjoy too many more birthdays, I don't think.

At the One Way, foreign guests can exchange labor for room and board. They clean, vacuum and change sheets. Though I didn't have to resort to this, many others did. They were all young people, from all over. I met Gustavo from Brazil, Sasha from Belarus, and Tracy, a Korean-American from Los Angeles. I was the resident old man.

Sasha is a microbiology major in Bruno, the Czech Republic. She came to Busan to study English at a university, from Korean professors. Though this sounds rather suspect, Sasha was very happy with her instruction, until the coronavirus struck. Her English was already pretty good. Seeing her typing away at the One Way's cafe' late into the night, I initially thought that perhaps Sasha was a writer.

Gustavo came to improve his Korean, which he had learnt in Sao Paolo. His English was even better than Sasha's. When a Spanish guest left a copy of Borges' Historia Universal de la Infamia, I tried to interest him in the master, but Gustavo wasn't interested. He was immersed in Harry Potter. Multilingual, Gustavo manned the One Way's reception desk.

When Tracy returns to the US, she'll buy a van and travel the country.

"But the country is no longer the same," I said to her. It will only get worse, and perhaps not even safe for someone like Tracy to be cruising around. A bloody balkanization lurks.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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