Wednesday, November 10, 2004

My name is Dr. Maury Gomin, and I am a trained psychotherapist, practicing now (without a license) in South Korea. The following is the transcript from my first session in that country.
(Patient entered my office at 13:51, nine minutes ahead of our scheduled appointment. He took some pains to make me understand, via facial distortions and deprecatory body language, that he thought very little of my office. I chose not to address this and simply ignored it. NOTE: I don't think much of my office either. It doubles as my home, and all it is is a small studio apartment on the second floor of a sweaty concrete block. It was provided to me free of charge by my employer, a kindergarten school in Busan, South Korea. It contains no furniture aside from one single bed, one small rickety kitchen table and two small rickety chairs. It is noisy by day and noisier by night. It faces a main thoroughfare and during daytime hours car horns blare just outside my window, cutting into the continuous braying of a loudspeaker that goes, “Yang pa! Oh chunnun! Yang pa! Oh Chunnun!” all day long. In spite of the noise I feel the need to leave the window open, in a semi-futile attempt to get rid of the unbearably humid heat. At night the loudspeaker quits and traffic noise cuts down by half, but this is more than compensated for by the wailing of patrons in the downstairs karaoke room.)
PATIENT: How do we do this? Do I lie down or something? (Patient is a youngish looking man in what must be his early to mid-thirties. He has an air about him which suggests refinement, or at least a fairly high social class.)
ANALYST: Sure. If that makes you feel more comfortable.
P: (Frowns.) There's no couch.
A: You're welcome to use the bed if you'd like.
P: (Looks at the bed.) I don't think so.
A: As you wish. Would you like to sit down, then?
P: Looks like it's either that or standing, right?
A: I agree that we're running out of options. Like I said, whatever makes you feel more comfortable.
P: In that case sitting takes it. By default.
A: Then by all means have a seat.
P: (Sits on one of the small rickety kitchen chairs.) Thank you. (Points to a voice recorder on the small rickety kitchen table.) Are you taping this?
A: You're welcome. Yes, I was going to tape our session.
P: Was going to? The red light is on. You're already taping, I think.
A: That's right. Is that a problem? Does that make you uncomfortable?
P: I don't care. You know, doc, that's the third time you mentioned comfort. You don't mind if I call you doc, do you?
A: I sure don't.
P: Like I said, doc, you spoke the word 'comfortable' three times so far. I suppose you think about comfort a lot, living here. This is your apartment, isn't it?
A: Yes, it is. But I'm sure you're not here to talk about me, right?
P: I guess. But I would like to ask you a few questions, before we start.
A: Of course.
P: Are you a real shrink?
A: Yes. I was, in any case, back in New York.
P: Licensed and everything?
A: I was.
P: How come you don't have your diplomas up on the wall?
A: Would you prefer it if I put them up?
P: Yes, I would.
A: Okay. (Pause while the Analyst looks for said diplomas, locates them, looks for a hammer and nails, locates those, and installs said diplomas.) There.
P: Great. So, back in New York, did you have your own practice?
A: Yes, sir.
P: What happened?
A: Ah… Well… You see, I'm not sure I'm all that comfortable going into that at this particular time.
P: Aw, come on, doc. We're establishing trust, here. You trust me, and then I trust you back. It's like the doctor-patient confidentiality thing, only in reverse. For now, anyway.
A: Like I said, I'm not that…
P: I know. You're not comfortable. Come on, doc. Relax. You can trust me.
A: (Sighs.) Well, okay. If you really must know, I was accused of having involved myself romantically with a patient. In a manner of speaking.
P: 'Accused'?
A: And convicted by a court of law. Which led to the loss of my license, and of course of my practice too.
P: A court of law? For a romantic involvement?
A: All right, let's say it was sexual misconduct. In a manner of speaking.
P: In what manner of speaking?
A: I was falsely accused of rape.
P: (Whistles.) But not falsely accused of banging the broad.
A: No, there was some merit to that particular accusation.
P: (Scratches his head.) Rape hardly qualifies as romantic involvement, doc.
A: I didn't rape her.
P: Maybe you did and you don't know it. Rape is a pretty elastic concept nowadays, doc, and maybe what you need to do is to get with the program on this.
A: I'm sorry, but I don't care to pursue this any longer.
P: No, no, doc, bear with me on this. It's important. Now I'm no lawyer, but at first glance I'd say, if that woman felt raped, then you raped her.
A: I really would prefer it if we dropped the topic.
P: I understand. No more on rape. But you did bang her. Did you do her in your office?
A: Yes.
P: I bet you wish you'd taped those sessions, right?
A: I did tape them.
P: So?
A: So it appears that the woman shouting, 'Don't stop! Please don't stop!' is not exculpatory for me if she said 'No' previously.
P: So she said 'No'?
A: Well. What she said was, 'You know, that's not such a good idea.' She said that with her hand in my pants, but that didn't come across on the audiotape. The 'You know' part didn't come across as clearly as it might have either, and the prosecuting attorney used the fact to argue that what my patient had said was, 'No, that's not such a good idea.' The judge bought that and then he sent me up for a year.
P: (Whistles.) But you're a good shrink.
A: I believe I am, yes.
P: I believe you are too. Thanks for being so forthright.
A: Not at all. And just so we're clear on this, I think the woman I involved myself with never actually felt raped. I think she was planted in that situation by my vindictive ex-wife, for the express purpose of hurting me by destroying my career.
P: So you're sore at the American justice system and your ex-wife?
A: That's a fair statement. Now tell me about yourself.
P: All right. Where do I start?
A: Well, to begin with, what are you doing here in Korea?
P: (Shrugs.) Coasting.
A: I meant, What's your job?
P: I know what you meant. I teach English in one of the colleges, here in town.
A: And you can afford an analyst on a teacher's salary?
P: Old habits die hard. And the ad said fifty bucks an hour; I guess I can afford that. You're a teacher too, right? I mean, this isn't the only gig you have going, is it?
A: No, this isn't my only 'gig'. And yes, I'm a teacher. At least for now.
P: I guess it beats teaching privates to children, as far as sidelines go.
A: I'm hoping it does. So, you used to be in therapy?
P: Sure.
A: How long?
P: I don't know. On and off for a hell of a long time.
A: I see. Were you a teacher back home, too? And where is back home, by the way?
P: I'm from Boston, and no, I was never a teacher before moving to this country. In fact I was never really anything, before moving to this country.
A: How do you mean?
P: I mean I never really did anything. You see, my old man has money. Well, his old man had the real money, actually ...;but hey: what's the diff? I was always on a fixed income from my parents. I was a dilettante, a playboy.
A: A playboy. I've been hearing that word a lot since I came to this country.
P: Yeah, but here it means something else. Here it means skirt-chaser or something like that.
A: And that's not you?
P: No. I'm a married man.
A: Is your wife Korean?
P: Yes she is.
A: I've seen a lot of that since I came here. Western men married to Korean women.
P: Yeah, there's a lot of it going around.
A: Why do you think that is?
P: I'm not entirely sure. I think maybe Korean women have lower expectations regarding men. Also they tend to be more devoted to the relationship. Maybe. It's a tough question to answer. Also I suspect there's the whole exotic, forbidden fruit thing going on there.
A: Do you find your own wife exotic?
P: Immensely.
A: And that turns you on?
P: Immensely.
A: Do you think she feels that way about you?
P: She says she does.
A: You're qualifying your statement. Are you unsure?
P: I have no reason to doubt her, if that's what you mean. But I also don't think the 'exotic' angle is as important to her as it is to me. Her being a woman and me being a man.
A: That sounds a tad sexist.
P: (Laughs.) Coming from you, that's a real knee-slapper.
A: I'm not sure I appreciate that comment.
P: You're right. I take it back. You're also right, I guess, in a way, about the sexism thing. In this country men are expected to be different from women. Men are more or less expected to be pigs, and it is pretty much demanded of women that they be selfless and giving and so on. I think one could surmise that this accounts in no small part for the attraction where Western men are concerned.
A: You mean, as opposed to Western women?
P: Right. It seems to me that young women back home are systematically drilled to resist what you might call their female instincts, and I think that's a shame. I also think that, particularly when you take into account the fact that this indoctrination's been going on for over a generation, well, it tends to lower the bar as far as men's expectations go. Fifty years ago men used to expect women to be saints or something. Now that kind of pedestal thing is long gone.
A: Are you sure about that?
P: I'll say. When that Iraqi jail scandal thing broke out, you know, with those pictures of Lynndie England, with the cigarette in her mouth, sexually humiliating those naked Iraqi men, well, the whole wide non-U.S. world went apeshit. And us? We shrugged. We were shocked by the scandal, naturally, but the fact that a woman would do such things instead of the stereotypical man just didn't seem to make one damn bit of difference to us. The thing is, we've come to expect this kind of thing from women too. They've broken us in.
A: I would half-concede your point. And I guess what you're saying is, no Korean woman could imaginably behave in such reprehensible fashion.
P: That's a no-brainer. But then again, precisely because our women have become so harsh, we men have had to become, how shall I say, more attuned to women's needs? To make up for their deficiency? Which I think is part of what makes Western men a more attractive commodity to Korean women. Because from what I've seen, a lot of Korean guys aren't setting the bar all that high for us. I realize I'm sounding politically incorrect in about eleven different ways, not to mention the fact that I'm grossly over-generalizing, but all in all that is about as good an answer to your question about Western men and Korean women as I can come up with on the spur of the moment.
A: Fair enough. It's not a terribly original viewpoint, but I suppose it has some validity all the same. So, how long have you been married?
P: Going on a year now.
A: A newlywed, then?
P: Yep.
A: And you're in love?
P: Head over heels. I'm just crazy bout her. Plumb crazy.
A: Great. I take it your parents have blessed this union of yours?
P: They don't know a thing about it. I don't talk to them anymore.
A: Why?
P: My grandfather died two years ago and my father hired a roomful of lawyers to screw me out of my inheritance.
A: My God! Why?
P: My old man made a name for himself by screwing people out of their money his whole life, and I think it just never occurred to him to give me special treatment just because I was his son. In other words, I'm not taking it personally. I'm also kind of glad not to have all that family money hanging over my head anymore. I believe I'm a better person these days because of that. In my experience money fucks with you if you're either too rich or too poor. Any place in between you're fine.
A: Still, he is your father.
P: Father is as father does. I don't really put too much stock in titles, to be honest with you. Besides, these days I'm a lot more interested in my job as a father.
A: You're a father already?
P: Sure. A stepfather.
A: I see. How old is your stepchild?
P: Fifteen.
A: Wow. So you married an older woman, then.
P: No, no. She's actually two months younger than me. She married young, and I I'm a bit older than most people take me for.
A: And how's your relationship with your stepchild? Boy or girl, by the way?
P: Boy. And it's excellent. The relationship between my wife and him I thought was a little screwy at first, but now that's good too.
A: How do you mean, screwy?
P: Well, they used to sleep in the same bed, because he was afraid at night, for one thing. And he used to shower with the bathroom door open, because he was afraid of ghosts.
A: Ghosts? At fifteen?
P: Yep. A fifteen-year-old boy, buck naked under the shower, scared of ghosts and chitchatting with his mom like it was the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it was, too, for them.
A: You mean he was chitchatting with her while he was naked under the shower?
P: That's what I mean, yes.
A: Didn't that seem, well, vaguely incestuous to you?
P: It seemed fucked up, yes.
A: How did your wife act?
P: She stared right at his little pecker the whole time.
A: Really?
P: Really. I hear that's not so uncommon here, though. This Kiwi friend of mine was telling me his forty-year-old Korean brother-in-law still sleeps over at his parents' place sometimes ...;in the bed with his parents. Apparently he fondles his mother's titties until he falls asleep. He's forty. My buddy kept falling over himself telling me how it's not 'sexual' or anything, but, personally, I don't care how you slice it, it's fucked up.
A: It seems strange, yes.
P: Then there's all that stuff people here do with little boys' go-choos.
A: Go-choos?
P: Go-choo means “hot pepper.” It's a cute term for pecker.
A: I see. So, what do people here do with little boys' hot peppers?
P: Well, first they say, 'Show me your go-choo! Show me your go-choo!' And then when the little boy drops his pants they pinch his go-choo. Apparently that's a really amusing and perfectly normal thing to do to a little boy, in Korea.
A: Really?
P: Absolutely. I even have one of my buddies, this American guy who's married to a Korean woman, and he says he pinches his sons' go-choos all the time.
A: Really?
P: Yes. You say 'Really?' a lot, by the way. I hope you're not implying that I'm making any of this up.
A: No, no. Of course not. It's just that, from what I've seen so far in Korea, well, the people here seem a little cagey about sexual matters.
P: Sure. But you have to remember, none of this is sexual, right? Like the mother who still bathes her son when he's well into high school. The boy is eighteen, so he gets a stiffy, and his mommy just casually gives him a quick handjob to relieve the pressure. And that's not considered sexual either.
A: That happens in this country too?
P: That's what I hear.
A: Right. Okay, so how did you approach the situation with your wife and your stepson, with the shower and her staring and so on?
P: I told my wife I was weirded out by the fact that she kept staring at her son's pecker, and that he was way old enough to sleep by himself and close the door when he takes a shower.
A: Did it work?
P: You bet your ass it worked. I wasn't suggesting that she stop this shit, you understand. I was telling her. I mean, come on.
A: Right. Have there been many other cultural divides between you two?
P: (Points to the tape recorder.) Turn that thing off.
(The rest of the transcript was recreated from memory.)
P: I'm going to kill her ex-husband.
A: Aaaah… Oops, we're out of time. See you next week!

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