Happy New Year, Seoul! Viva… Iraq? - Mikeroecosm

Happy New Year, Seoul! Viva… Iraq?

Iraq in Seoul City Hall New Years Celebration
January 2nd, 2007

the first time i set foot in seoul was to ring in the new year. korea does new year twice – once for the calendar year, once for the lunar new year (apostates know it as the chinese new year). being american and uninitiated, i figured lunar new year was the thing over here and new years 2007 would be more of an afterthought. i didn’t expect much in the way of american holiday festivity and celebration – for either christmas, which had passed, or new years. just goes to show, you can’t always believe everything you read. there were christmas decorations everywhere, including christmas trees with lights, red and green streamers, and other little signs of the season that i thought i had left behind when i left the commercialized holiday-machine of the us. myth dispelled: coreans embrace christmas.

and new years?

for all of you who have reneged on your new years resolutions by the end of january, new life is found in the year of the pig. hello lunar new year! it’s like the mulligans of new years. couldn’t last a whole month without hitting the bottle? give it another shot in february!

so here my brother and i are wandering around the capital of korea. crowds are everywhere. it’s cold. kids are shooting fireworks from handheld bottle rockets. we both came within three feet of having our faces personally introduced to fireworks when an overzealous celebrant ran into a space just in front of us and threw down a lit roman candle for the unsuspecting crowd’s enjoyment. [the third sentence in wikipedia’s article on roman candles is no accident]

city hall seemed to have the most action, so we trekked from a live radio station broadcast, with dreadlocked singers performing, to the city gates, over to city hall itself. it was as we strolled through city hall that it happened.

we espy a group of foreigners doing the typical foreigner ritual of posing for group photographs minus the martyred photographer. i nudge my bro and coax him to offer help. “spread the positivity,” i urge. it’s so much easier to be vicariously brave. i watch as he strides toward them. the photographer smilingly accepts the offer, and my bro proceeds to snap a few photos of the group. it’s then that i see the flag – a guy in back is proudly holding up the flag of iraq.

the group disbands after two shots, and come toward their new photographer to reclaim the camera. words are exchanged (i’m wondering if any is english). they all excitedly start looking around and yelling comically at each other, and in an instant, i see them form around my brother in a group pose while another drops back in order to memorialize this moment on film. if this wasn’t strange enough, an older korean couple strolls along, sees the developing photo-op, and joins the photo! after the kodak moment was captured, the entire group coalesces again, and starts shouting happily and jumping up and down. they all put their arms around one another, my brother included. you’ve seen this scene before, under different circumstances. normally a flag is in the middle of the circle, or a noosed-up dummy of gw bush… on fire. this is the scene playing in my head, vs. what my eyes are witnessing. i can’t understand what the hell is going on, but it looked absurdly happy. everyone was smiling and shouting, dancing and hopping around in camaraderie, totally swept up in the excitement. i would have paid my entire first month’s salary for a camera to take one solitary picture of this moment.

it became clear in this single moment that i’ve made the right decision to come to korea.

and somewhere in iraq right now, there’s a picture of my brother grinning from ear to ear, hopping around with a group of iraqi countrymen proudly waving their flag and ringing in a new year.

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