and all the unbearable guilt.
The Sunday after, the alarm in my phone rung a heaviness that shifted all its aching into my hand. I texted everyone I knew, lives I was unsure were there or not.
We take it for granted, this thing called living. Health, too. We never wake up and thank the body for not bloating itself with sinuses. It’s not only our own life, but others, too.
The replies came quick and slow. They came like time. My heart sank to the worst places of my mind, as I flicked through my Tiktok fyp, in fear of seeing familiar faces, in deep terror of the screams, the bodies pressed against each other, keeping air out of the lungs in the last, tight October night.
Doubt, skepticism, rumors flooded the comments. Empty faces with empty words to fuel so much doubt in an already unknown situation.
Even on Twitter, the rumors were rapid, the videos more disturbing, faces unblurred, faces of fear. This matters most because it is illegal in Korea to film someone without their consent if posted on SNS. But in a case where you want someone to be identified, this was a hard trauma-inducing tightrope to balance on.
Eventually, everyone was accounted for. Friends, even old lovers. But regret and a somberness filled me.
That could’ve been me. That could’ve been a friend, a lover. And gone in a trip, a tramble, a simple tumble. That could’ve been someone I knew.
There’s one thing to understand. For someone like me who has always been so far from home, for someone who has always escaped to places like WeHo or the Castro, places I would deem protective places full of room to discover and explore for the self, to see a disaster occur in a place like Itaewon, one that reflects the embodiment of escapism for me, breaks my heart in a million pieces.
There’s a reason why I go out on the weekends for house music and blinding lights, blind kisses and drinks after 80 hour work weeks. It’s the same reason I lay rest in a matinee movie or in the stretched spines of paperbacks. It’s the physical place of escapism that allows my body to learn what it means to be part of culture, to be part of people, to simply be.
So, for every fucker that blames a person within the crowd crush and the parents who let them go, fuck you. Fuck you for not understanding what it means to hide in the dark club at the end of the week to feel a bit safe about my own sense of self. Fuck you and your cold heart.
And fuck the government. History repeats itself, especially for Korea, a country that writes its mistakes in blood in order to try to correct it.
Look at the Sewol Ferry and the Sampoong Department Store. Look at the way traffic is even more congested when the Blue House is now an empty carcass, less a symbol of politics, but a failure of it, without a living, breathing leader in it. A leader that would rather have a bite to eat than attend the funeral of a woman who has seen all of modern history. A leader who poses as a prop of progress, showing blank A4’s and false empathy with his ban mal and a gaze that is not sad enough. A leader who sags his pants backwards so that his bum is half his frontal first impression. A clown, a sham, and a reversal of everything right with the county.
Time moves backwards. Or has time always been backwards? Itaewon is trapped in unsafe infrastructure, streets and walkways too tight. Buildings under code. You’ve seen Parasite, right? The flood? The apartment empty of dignity?
The problem is I love this country. A lot. The way trends travel in weeks than seasons. The way a pop-up is here and there and only for this weekend. The way there are cafes, or three, on the same street with entirely different concepts, or that a ma-and-pop restaurant sits between them. A place of traditions and newness. A place that births so much to enjoy that it beats LA and NY by ballparks.
The days after Halloween night were long. It was difficult to get out of bed, to face someone, to see children or high school students. It was difficult to see the future after seeing 150 or so young lives stripped of dreams and possibilities. All that’s left of them are white roses, soju bottles, plates of fruit, banana milk. All for the afterlife.
Halloween is important in Seoul as it is in Tokyo. A crossroads of intercultural exchange, a symbol of freedom and expression. The testament that you can be whoever you want to be. And be comfortable in it, whoever you choose to be. Why else do we dress up but to combat fears and all the ways we face the world, meeting others, masks on masks off.
Future Halloweens won’t be the same. Neither will Itaewon itself. Neither will I. To think I can go out for a martini is now a privilege I’m ashamed of, one that could’ve been for one of those twenty somethings, one of those bright young souls who just wanted a taste of freedom.
© No part of this article can be replicated without permission from the author
All photos are taken from nights I ever went out, night now etched with privilege, with agony, hoping hoping hoping that you make it home all right, wherever you are ❤