Christmas in Korea, 1963

24 December, 1963

Dear Folks,
Christmas Eve is here, like so many others before it I suppose, and it’s wearing a black gown spangled by a thousand sequins and a deathly cold, second to none in my experience. I am in Seoul this week, or at least three days of it. My three-day pass started at 0600 today and ends 0800 Friday morn. I can truthfully say I will have a merry Christmas this year. It has been a truly unique year in many many ways, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the whole world, even this Xmas, I wouldn’t have missed spending it here. It is a shame all GIs can’t be as happy here as I have, because if they were there would be an awfully lot of people enlisting and volunteering for the Land of the Morning Calm.

 Actually, when I open my mind enough to realize it, I am forced to admit that it doesn’t really matter what the environment, you can enjoy it if you force yourself to. It frightens me to open my mind to the Real Facts, even long enough to put it on paper, but Korea is really a pretty lousy rotten place, but I just don’t admit it, even to myself, and I don’t allow myself the luxury of not enjoying it, or being miserable, even on times like Christmas when everyone is obligated to be miserable. I feel almost guilty for being happy instead of wanting to blow my brains out. I am having a hard time convincing myself that I’m right and the world is all wrong. After all, what right do I have to be happy on a miserable occasion like Christmas. PEOPLE ARE FUNNY, you know?

Wednesday, December 25th, Christmas Day, 1963, Seoul, Korea

I’m just lounging around, not really accomplishing very much or even trying to, for that matter. It is somewhat warmer out now, which doesn’t say much. The sun is shining, though. It doesn’t really seem like Christmas, — I can’t really place what is missing. The vendors are walking around the streets pushing carts and foreign announcements of their wares, while scissoring noise makers give tinny forecast of their presence. And life goes on.

 The Koreans are an odd people in that respect. Off through the distance amidst a conversation of nationals and among a flurry of alien phrases you can pick out the words “Merry Christmas.”
 A vendor has just come past the window selling dried octopus and I couldn’t resist the temptation. I bought an octopus for 20 Hwan (about .15) and said “Kajuo Shipsho Makkoli” which means “If you’ll get me some makkoli I’ll make it worth your while.” Makkoli is a Korean liquor that has an alcoholic percentage that is as variable as it is questionable. I am not sure it is alcoholic, but it is definitely depressant. Sometimes a little dab will do you, while at other times you can drink a gallon with only myopia as a result. It is the color of very weak chocolate milk, and has a taste that isn’t like anything a sane human being ever dreamed. It is I think made from fermented rice. A half-gallon costs .60 Hwan. Dried octopus has a pissy flavor that is very near to being flavorless, it is something like chewing dry rubber. The first time you try it, it is the furthest thing from desirable, but like makkoli, you develop a taste for it. The two go amazingly well together after you get used to the idea of the thing.

2300, 25 December, 1963

 Another Christmas draws to a close. It has been uneventful in any respect, except that it has been Christmas, and that, in itself, is self-sustaining, I suppose. The world is as you see it, and it sees you as you see yourself when you look in the mirror. Goodbye, Christmas Day 1963, it has been real. It is cold out again and the day is dying.
With love,

Purcell
Your Loving Son
PS Hoping you have all had a Happy Hornica and a Merry Xmas, too.

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