Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkeys (Chimpanzees, to Be Exact)

“Memories, like the coroners of my mind.”  Yesterday morning before trudging up the hill with my wife Jina for another round of churchy-poo, I fixed myself some eggs for brekkie.  She asked me why I was making breakfast and I answered huffily, lashing out like a fat cobra.  At first I thought she was just being persnickety, exercising some control freakery and fussbudget-ry, until a little later, while yawning and working out anagrams in church, sitting in the back row, behind the pews, far from the minister’s halitotic hiss, I recalled that it was Easter Sunday!  Which reminds me:

Happy Easter         HER PASTY APE

That anagram is dedicated to Jina; it’s not meant as a slur against Jesus, who had a tough enough break as it was, unless you buy into the whole resurrection deal, swallowing the whole myth hook, line, and sinker, lock, stock, and barrel, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (at least the Catholic church balances things out by introducing the Virgin Mary into this sacred, all-male circle jerk, not that any of the major mainstream monolithic monotheistic monochromatic faiths have the decency to mention Mother Earth or Mother Nature the way the ancient Greeks and American Indians or Native Americans or whatever those of them who are left prefer to be called by us genocidal yahoos these days).

Moreover, it’s meant to poke fun at her own porky Caucasian mate.  Customarily, while I sit and come up with anagrams, the lion’s share of them far too lame to share with you, she deciphers the pastor’s masturbatory message–nothing against masturbation, but it’s an activity best practiced in private (practice makes perfect), and literally instead of figuratively, and certainly not something to make a career out of–and then shows me her transliterated version in barely decipherable English.  Her handwriting is fine; it’s just hard to make sense out of what’s probably horse feathers anyway, emanating from neighing and whinnying Reverend Pegasus’ overactive maw with Jesusian enthusiasm.  (The word “Jesusian” should be pronounced roughly to rhyme with “jacuzzi.”)

Anyway, the reason its being Easter Sunday had any bearing on the relevance of my having had to eat breakfast or not was that after the disservice, as I’d also forgotten, we were committed to joining Jina’s strudy group around a table with actual chairs (instead of sitting on the floor in a different room like the rest of the flock) for a buffet to commemorate the savior’s heroic defiance of gravity and rigor mortis, cruelly depriving a family of desert maggots of a long-awaited meal (unless he performed the loaves and fishes routine for them too).

Inveterate glutton that I am, I’m always up for free grub, even if it is surrounded by a bunch of dogmatic Christian fanatics who pooh-pooh evolution and disdain the thought of their bearing any resemblance to chimpanzees whatsoever (during our previous gathering a few weeks ago, in which I had to listen to several people read from a dry scientific text in English and have a few of their more fluent classmates convert it out loud into Korean, no doubt as a preface to taking it apart with born-again “logic” after I left—one hour was enough wasted time, thank you very much, and that was in addition to the weekly hour-plus wasted “listening” to the usual mumbo jumbo in the main part of the church upstairs–I couldn’t help noticing how much we humans do resemble chimps and other apes, although we’re far less cute and majestic).

After piling up my plate with bulgogi (marinated Korean beef), salad ingredients, rice, some dodgy-tasting seafood of doubtful provenance, kimchi, and some deep-fried pork-flavored asteroids, I sat down next to Mr. Kim, a nice guy who speaks good English and works for a weapons dealer (which is not too big a stretch from being a carpenter; after all, as author Nikos Kazantzakis portrays him in The Last Temptation of Christ, when we first meet Jesus he’s working on a crucifix, not knowing he’ll later be “hoist by his own petard,” to quote Hamlet, who probably didn’t realize at the time that “petard” almost rhymes with “Peppard,” as in George, as in The A-Team and The Blue Max).  Mr. Kim was feeling down because his negotiations with the American company he’s doing business with are in irons.  I promised to pray for him so that South Korea can emerge triumphant from the coming Holy War with the Great Satan up north (if you ask Satan how he’s feeling, he always says, “Great!”).

After I’d filled my face with food, truncating bites with much yakking and yammering in response to Mr. Kim’s questions about my students and feelings about the best way to teach them, I put my foot in my mouth by bringing up North Korea while addressing the gentleman sitting on my right (Kim sat on my left; Jina sat next to him, at the far end of the table; no one else there except Mr. Kim’s wife could have been under seventy) about foreign language matters.

Tact is not a virtue I possess in large quantities.  I mentioned to Mr. Kim a relative who’d been a man of the cloth (or “man of the fabric,” as a friend of mine would say), but who saw the light and renounced his faith towards the end of his life, God bless him.  The conversation became more diffuse as various people commented on things to say when accepting an offered meal in various languages.  Korean people say, “Chai mokae sumnida.”  One elderly gentleman asked another for the German equivalent.  (“Guten appeteit,” or something like that.)  I heard the word “ilbon,” which means “Japanese,” and I said, “Itadakimasu.”  I said Spanish people say, “Buen provecho.”

“What do Americans say?” a retired professor with pompous but jovial comportment asked me.  (The last time we’d met, he asked me my surname:  “Harmon.”  “Stew Hormone,” he said, mangling it nicely.)

I thought about it for a moment and said, “Guests don’t really say anything.  Hosts sometimes say, “Dig in,” which is very informal.  Sometimes at a restaurant a server might say, “Enjoy your meal.”  (“Aw, do I have to?“)

Mr. Lee, the aforementioned gentleman on my right, said he knew Japanese because when he was a boy he was not allowed to speak Korean in school, due to the Japanese occupation.  That’s when I mentioned to the group B. R. Myers’ fascinating book, The Cleanest Race:  How North Koreans See Themselves, and Why It Matters.  I said Myers argues that beyond being a Stalinist dictatorship, North Korea’s ideology best mirrors that of imperial Japan, since the country was founded in part by members of the Japanese colonial government.  The details, I added apologetically, were no longer fresh in my mind, as I read the book nearly two years ago.  I also neglected to mention that North Koreans are brainwashed into thinking that they’re the “real” Koreans, while their southern neighbors are puppets controlled by the American imperialists.  I saw Team America, and Kim Jong-il looked pretty puppetish to me too (of course, so did everyone else in the movie, which boasts the most hilarious sex scene in the history of cinema).

The good news is that Myers’ book is available at the local library so I can do a little fact-checking before our next anti-evolutionary pow-wow.

The bad news is that it’s a faux pas to discuss North Korea with a lot of Koreans.  It’s an understandably sensitive topic, especially when you consider that a lot of Korean families were literally severed irrevocably by the splitting up of their country into two warring halves.  I have very little experience with people of the older generation, those old enough to remember the Japanese occupation and Korea before it was fractured by the civil war.  Add to the mix that some of these guys are hard-core evangelical Christians, and you can imagine the mine field of eggshells I’d embarked upon.  

As a foreigner, however, and an American one at that, I give myself carte blanche when it comes to faux pas (plural?)–oh, and pardon my French; please don’t call me a “cheese-eating surrender monkey.”  I’m inclined to agree with Michael Moore in his movie Sicko, that the reason so many Americans are francophobes is that they suspect that French people have a better, healthier culture than we do, which they very well might.  

In any case, vive la difference.  I’m still proud to be an American hairless chimpanzee, if only because I’m fortunate enough to come from a strong, loving family (which doesn’t explain why I’m such a sniveling, sniffling jellyfish).

More than that, I’m especially proud to be an animal, something my wife and I will never stop arguing about.  (You see, she doesn’t think we human beings are animals.)  If everyone in the world considered him- or herself an animal, we might have a chance to save ourselves.

Since too many people seem to think we’re gods, or that we’re mirror images of a guy named God, I suspect we’re more likely to end up as a bunch of disembodied, soulless robots.

Let’s hope elusive wisdom prevails for a change.



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