How many of you love life? Let’s see a show of hands. (Shadow puppets!)
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with life, although these days like-loathe might describe the feeling more precisely. It’s nothing personal: I just wasn’t designed to exist. But I do believe in life after death. After I die, you will go on living. And that’s as it should be.
(That last sentence was not meant to sound mean. I’m assuming–perhaps unfairly–that you enjoy your life more than I do mine. If not, my condolences.)
Yesterday was Earth Day apparently, not that it’s celebrated here in Korea. The only change I noticed was that the heavy layer of smog and yellow dust was back in town, blanketing the city of Seoul like a mustard gas attack on a bunch of soldiers stuck in trenches back in the good old days of World War I, also known as the Great War. The only problem with calling it the Great War is that you have to up the ante for every war that followed. World War II would have to be called the Excellent War. The Korean War would be the Boss-a-Go-Go War since it happened in the ’50’s. Vietnam might well earn the name the Groovy War for a ’60’s theme. Reagan’s undercover adventures in El Salvador and Nicaragua become the Cool Wars (and hey, weren’t the ’80’s in the US a cool time to be alive?). Gulf War I was the Hot War. Afghanistan the Most Fabulous War of All Time, especially since it’s never-ending, as the poor people of that country always have some outside force fucking with them. Gulf War II? The War to Defend Torture and Psychic Distortion as a Way of Life.
To hell with war, to war with hell.
Dave Zirin wrote a good piece recently for The Nation in which he asks probing questions about the Bush-Cheney era cover-up of NFL star-turned-G.I. Pat Tillman’s death by “friendly fire”–and what better way to show your affection for your comrades than by shooting them in the head? Tillman’s personal effects were burned and his fellow soldiers were forced to swear they wouldn’t discuss the case with anyone. With these inconvenient truths flushed down the memory hole, the Bushies and Stanley the Manly McCrystal were now able to co-opt Tillman’s image as a hero and reward him with a Purple Heart, his iconoclasm, atheism, and criticism of their appalling policies notwithstanding.
Getting back to the crunchy if already out-of-date theme of Earth Day (one day a year is all we can spare for our beleaguered planet; the rest of the time we’re too busy trying to stab it to death like frenetic picadors), a few weeks ago I asked a clerk at an American coffee and doughnut franchise whether the old-fashioned doughnuts sold well.
“No, they don’t,” he said. “Korean people don’t like anything that has to do with nature.” (And don’t you automatically think of doughnuts when you hear the word “nature”?)
Straight from the horse’s mouth. After eight years of living here, I’d have to agree. Then again, I’m just a loudmouthed ugly American, so what do I know? At least I don’t have to worry about getting shot when I cross the street here, just run over by a taxi.
Speaking of ugly American loudmouths, yesterday as I was on my way to work, a young Korean guy laughed right in my face. I don’t know why. It was either my Orwellian (or Beckettesque) hairstyle or the fact that I’ve recently morphed into Fred Flintstone.
“Fuck you!” I said, glaring at him.
We continued looking at each other as we went our separate ways. He looked a bit startled. I guess it’s not considered rude to openly mock people where he comes from.
I’m not the most confrontational person in the world, mainly because I know a little old lady with arthritis and two broken legs could still kick my ass, but everyone has a breaking point. As a foreigner living in Korea, there’s a certain amount of shit you have to put up with. It just gets hard to take after awhile. (Of course, I’ve heard that foreign women have it a lot worse. And a cover story I’ve yet to read in the free Korean Groove Magazine, which is principally written by and for foreigners, claims that discrimination against black people in this country is on the rise.)
While I’m as sad as anyone about the ferry boat passengers who drowned last week, the situation reminds me of how traumatized most Americans–including me–were by the September 11th attacks, all the while forgetting the body count we’ve racked up both before and since then make that day an anthill next to an Everest. (During the Bush era I had a morbid habit of reading all kinds of books about the villains who usurped the Oval Office throne for eight years. One author described Americans’ persistent grief about the 911 victims as “compassionate narcissism.” I guess Korean people aren’t immune to this kind of tribal instinct either.)
Though the above paragraph may sound snarky and unfair to you, as well as mean-spirited, one of my own students pointed out in the text of a speech he wrote that most Koreans these days are indifferent about politics and, by implication, global affairs. This is common in the US as well. You’ve probably read how US news bureaus have cut their staff of correspondents directly covering foreign affairs; maybe they don’t think anyone will spot the loss.
Wait a minute! I’m so excited! I just heard that Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus are getting married!
A Korean-American friend of mine says that whenever he feels depressed, he likes to go back and re-read stories about the Korean Christians who got held hostage by the Taliban several years ago. Proselytizing in the name of the Lord in Afghanistan would seem to be an unwise move, but these knuckleheads evidently thought the Big Guy would give them ample cover as they tried to spread the gospel among a tough crowd. The Roh Moohyun administration ended up having to pay off the Taliban with millions of dollars to rescue their sorry asses, even though two were sadly sacrificed for a fast-track reunion with Jesus.
“What are you guys, fucking stupid?” the Savior inquired. “Not everyone wants to be a Christian, okay? Especially someone who made up his mind a long time ago to be a fucking Muslim! You morons don’t deserve heaven! What about all those poor Korean citizens who had to foot the bill to bail out your fuckwit friends? You think they ever want to see the likes of you sorry-assed dickheads again? I didn’t think so.”
I’m not quite sure why my friend finds the story so funny. Pathetic is more like it.
Apparently there’s a new book out that argues that there may be a link between cell- or smartphone use and cancer. Most of us have embarked like willing guinea pigs and lemmings on an unprecedented experiment by holding microwave-radiating devices against the sides of our heads on a regular basis, putting them in our pockets to scramble our chromosomes, or sleeping with them next to our pillows so we can each wake up one day with a Kim il Sung-style “grenade”-sized tumor on the side of the neck (cheers to British journalist Michael Breen in Korea for the analogy).
Some friends of mine pointed out the compounded risk factor in riding the subway, where every man Jack is engaged in cellphonic pursuits. Luckily, I’m bound to croak from a heart attack or stroke long before cancer has a chance to form, although I might luck out and pick it up in the afterlife.
Apparently the radiation leads your DNA to mutate; in other words, it ain’t good for ya. It would be a curiously anticlimactic way for our species to go extinct, though.
To celebrate Earth Day, Barack Obama announced that the Pentagon is working on a new type of nuclear missile that, when detonated, will emanate an evergreen scent from its blossoming mushroom cloud. Now all they have to do is come up with a mushroom cloud shaped like a hand making a peace sign. That would be consistent with long-established U.S. foreign policy and military shtick.
Peace? On earth? Sorry, bub. You’ve got the wrong planet.