The easiest part of any international flight, one heading out of Korea, is the security. It’s nonexistent. You don’t have to take your shoes off, there’s no pat downs, and they don’t even go through your shit. Hell, the security detail at the airport only consisted of two skinny women, no older than twenty, a far cry from most of the bulldogs that make up customs agents. Yet, there's a good reason for that. The security is seemingly relaxed, because they have you. It’s an illusion - there’s the ever looming presence of big brother.
They scan your fingers, your face, your passport - they effectively download your soul for bureaucratic leverage, yet it’s still child’s play compared to their neighbor; China.
I wouldn’t consider Korea a safe country because the people are inherently “more” altruistic, you just can’t go anywhere without being identified. There’s few opportunities for petty crime to actually work out and despite being an alien, a foreigner, someone who you’d think could simply slip between the cracks and forge a new identity, I’m tagged. There’s no marker to take off, or documents to counterfeit, it’s my face, that thing I was born with, and they have software so powerful that it can attach an identity, a governmental serial number, to an entire crowd of people in milliseconds. Yes, this means that every time you pass a CCTV in Korea, or any other country that mandates facial scanning, they know who you are - all from triangulation and symmetries.
Nothing short of full facial reconstruction could ever come close to erasing that, but they’d still get you. The days of Catch Me if You Can are long gone.
Still, I’m not quite sold on the idea of trading my privacy for an easy entrance into a country. That isn’t true safety, it’s authoritarianism, but I like it a hell of a lot more than the lawlessness I’d soon experience in Nepal. Yet, that isn’t a people acting out of good nature, it’s a people acting out of fear, out of obligation, out of act accordingly, or else. And you can sense it, there’s a tension in Korea that’s undeniable, one which stems from generations of Japanese and Sino colonialism, but a tension that isn’t eased by the amount of influence the state wields.
For a clearer picture, I live in a city of three and a half million, but there are no police, no visible arrests, absolutely nothing to suggest a dominating police state - save the few cop cars I’ve seen. Although, you do get that spooky feeling, the one where you can sense someone is watching you, yet no one's there. In your gut, you know they have to be - waiting to wrap you up in a hood and drag you away. It’s as if a ghost is always at your heels, whispering into your ear to be a good little boy, but I’ve adapted to it, though I can’t seem to shake the feeling of being trapped in The Truman Show.
It’s still a hell of a lot better, in my opinion, to be recognized by computers than by somebody, so I’ll just continue to stay in my lane; never to be confronted. The irony of the whole situation came to a head when I was waiting outside gate number nine, writing this exact story, thinking about how strange it is to be a part of some global database of faces. I was posted up next to the food court when I heard the clacking of heels and squeals of excitement, the universal sign of a horde of fans.
Earlier that day, I’d spotted a group of Americans at the ticketing kiosk next to mine, we stick out like sore thumbs, it’s in the way we carry ourselves, something I've grown to be proud of. The few I saw at the front of the queue were toting hats with brims pulled low. The rest were hanging back with instrument cases slung over their shoulders, I immediately recognized them as roadies. I picked up a sixth sense for these industry types after working security at a music venue during college. You’re there before the show, after hours, in restricted areas, and by pure happenstance you’re exposed to everyone, from the tour bus driver to international rock stars - there’s just an air to them. So, I knew they were a part of someone’s entourage, someone big. Not necessarily someone I’d consider good, but I knew they were the top 40 types, maybe not anymore, but at one point in their career they had been.
You could see it in their walk. They were confident, but they wanted to hide, they’d be spotted. It was a rather strange combination, but I soon forgot about them after the hiccup with my boarding passes. China Air, a company I’ll never fly with again, wouldn’t print off the full set of my boarding passes. They’d only give me my ticket to Beijing, they told me, in a round about way, that I’d have to plead with Chinese customs to print the rest upon my arrival, two consecutive times - the joys of being American during the middle of a trade war. I wasn’t welcomed there, but I understood why. It still sucks to be on the receiving end of all that hate, even if it was watered down.
Scribbling down illegible lines in my notebook, my ears perked. In broken English, I heard one of those squealing women timidly speak up and ask “can I have a picture with you?”
I looked behind me, about twenty feet away in the direction of the food court, that same group of Americans, the one’s I’d spotted earlier in line, were standing up for selfies. It felt like a small dose of validation. I spotted them before anyone else blew their cover, I love that kinda shit, even though I didn’t recognize them. Yet, for whatever reason, my subconscious spit out a memory of a few Jason Mraz banners I’d seen waving in the wind on a sidewalk in downtown Busan.
It turns out his tour stop in Busan had lined up with my trip to Nepal.
Watching him get hassled by those crowds of fans, I couldn’t help but laugh at my own complaining - how dare the Korean government snap a picture of me each time I enter their country, or leave! I demand my privacy, I thought! Though, here he was, not only going through the same process I had, but he now had another obstacle - suckling at the teat of fame, fielding near incomprehensible screams from fully grown women.
In theory it seems like something any red blooded man would kill for, but he looked numb - he didn’t even enjoy that they were throwing themselves at him, begging for him.
Despite the success afforded him, I still think Jason’s lot in life is much worse, he was washed away by his dreams, one’s which carried him so far from a normal existence. Sure, he gets to do what he loves, if he even does anymore, but there’s a price for all that loot - his privacy. The whispers grew louder, until they were all consuming, everyone was turning for a look and his hat brim dipped even lower.
“Mraz” silently echoed through Gimhae International Airport and all I could think about was how great of a fucking story this would make, partially at his expense, as I chuckled to myself, without a clue in the world of the parallels that awaited me on this trip to Kathmandu.