About harmonioustew

I'm a middle-aged male English teacher living in Seoul, Korea. I love reading and playing with words. I'm interested in Buddhism and am increasingly convinced that the Buddha's ideas, along with lessons gleaned from nature, music, art, and literature, could save the world. But I leaven my optimism with a streak of jet-black humor to keep things in balance.

Confessions Of A Human Pinball

It feels good to be back.

In the fall I was underemployed, and it seemed all I did was sit around reading books.  That was okay.  At least I learned something.  Of course, by now I’ve forgotten it all, so I guess I didn’t learn anything after all.  Reading can be inefficient that way, at least when it comes to nonfiction.  The only way you can retain information is if you go back and review, take notes, and memorize passages, and who has time to do that?  Or else you can share what you’ve read with others while the material is still fresh in your mind.

These days I have little time to read and hardly any energy to write.  I teach English in Korea for a living, and since I’m a freelancer my schedule fluctuates from month to month.  To avoid another dry spell like the one I had last fall, I try to be vigilant about picking up new jobs whenever old gigs expire (also to humor my wife Jina, whose arm must be getting tired from holding a gun up to my head for all these years).

Anyway, I lost a good gig a few weeks ago.  Although I wasn’t exactly fired, I’d been expecting it to continue for a whole year, but the students only let me teach them for three months.  I’ll tell you why I think so in a second.

It was a sweet deal, considering it wasn’t that far from where I live–only one bus ride and two subway rides away–and I got paid fifty bucks an hour, the going rate for teaching classes of adults in a Korean company.  Because the students are so busy, they’d often only wanted to study for the first of the two hours they’d signed up for, but I still got paid for both hours.

My kind of job.

As with this blog, I have a tendency to sometimes put my foot in my mouth when I teach and bite my toenails.  It’s a little awkward, especially when I don’t take off my shoe, but the yoga classes keep me from getting a Charley horse.  In this case the boo-boo I made was saying something that wouldn’t have elicited any gasps or sanctimonious horrified shudders back in New England, but in modern Korea proved a premature announcement.

We were talking about differences between men and women, and somehow the subject of gays came up.  I said that as far as I knew, people were born gay and could not change their sexual orientation.  I added that it was wrong for others to try to change them, regardless of what the Bible (or the Koran, a book I didn’t mention at the time) says.

I noticed a few of my students exchanging looks, and the next day I received a phone call from my recruiter, who said the students wanted to bail on me after my initial three-month period was up two weeks from then.  I ventured to tell her why I thought they wanted a different teacher, and she sounded sympathetic–to me, not them.

The remaining two weeks of the class went all right, even though one especially religious student stopped coming, reinforcing my assumption about what had happened.

Of course, when you work as a foreigner in Korea, you can second-guess until your ass flies off your body and goes into orbit around Jupiter and still never figure out why something went down.  After awhile, you just get used to not knowing and shrug it off.

Obtuseness is bliss.

I have a new job in the same time slot–well, that’s not quite right.  I picked up a job for five hours a day that pays approximately half as much per hour as the previous gig, teaching kids.  It takes about an hour to get there.  It’s in the boonies.

That job is from one pm to six pm, twice a week.  What sucks is that on the same days I have to get up and teach a one-hour class in another part of town at 7:40, then go back home, grab a shower and a ten-minute nap if I can squeeze one in before taking a taxi to the train station.

Those days I spend about four hours shlepping back and forth, using a complicated network of buses, subways, and taxis.  Waiting is always involved, whether for one of the above conveyances or for a streetlight to change.  Patience is not always my strong point.

On alternating days I teach a class from 7 am to 8 am in yet another part of town.  That one’s not too far away, although it entails a short cab ride to the station.  (I could take two different buses instead, though that would entail getting up even earlier in the morning.)

After class I walk past the restless river of cars and wait for one of the local bookstores to open, usually stopping for a bite to eat in the meantime.

Then I go home and take a long nap while my wife goes off to teach kids all afternoon.  All the constant movement (which miraculously leads to an incredible absence of weight loss, probably because I stuff my face with too many carbs throughout the day to keep my energy level up) means more showers and changes of clothes, which means having to do the laundry every other day, usually as a way to punctuate the epic naps.

In the evening I take a bus to the subway station, go down to the far end of the platform to reduce the distance I’ll have to walk when I make the transfer at the station where I pick up the connecting train, take that one to my destination, and walk to the building where I teach four times a week (including Saturdays).

The commute home from there is twenty minutes shorter.  Since rush hour’s over by the time the class ends, I can take the bus most of the way home, then transfer to another bus, then another, or else skip those last two transfers and walk.  I’m happy to do that on those nights when the air has the decency to be breathable.

Mind you, the work itself is satisfying, but all the commuting is for the birds–or would be if they didn’t have wings to fly.

It’s an absurd way to live, but at least it makes the absurdity of death that much more comprehensible.

And that’s something.

All Systems Stop

Hi everyone.  How are you doing?  Me, too.

I just wanted to apologize for the humpteenth time for being out of touch lately.

I’ve been super-busy.  My three hours a day of commuting is killing me–not literally, unfortunately.

But I feel guilty for not writing anything lately, which is why I’ve asked a member of ISIS to come to Seoul in order to behead me in person.  Unfortunately again, I can’t afford to buy him a plane ticket 😦

Uh-oh–now I’m repeating myself.  I promised I’d never use an emoticon again and have broken my promise.  I guess that means I can’t join the Promise Keepers, so that’s something anyway.

Another problem is my prime blogging time has been eaten up by the demands of my new schedule.  I usually like to post stuff at around five in the morning, then go back to bed for a few hours as a reward.  It’s the best way to make constructive use of my insomnia.  But these days I have a class at seven in the morning so I don’t have time to write then anymore, and I can’t get up before then or I’ll interrupt my wife’s insomnia (we work in shifts).

It’s now afternoon here in Korea, so I guess I’ll make this my new writing time, except for the times when my wife takes the computer with her to work.

It feels good to get the fingers moving again after such a long absence.  I feel like Fred Astaire born again as an octopus.  No–make that Gene Kelly.

I guess only other old folks like me will get those references.  Cultural solitary confinement is the best way to get out of touch.

Anyway, that’s all for now as I have to correct a speech written by one of my evening students, then mosey across town on the underground jointed silver serpent from hell.

I hope you’re doing well, and I appreciate your taking time to read this.  Now you can go back to the arduous demands of being an air traffic controller.

Vaya con chili con carne!

A Few Good Anagrams

When attempting to come up with anagrams, I’m occasionally rewarded by a eureka moment that makes the otherwise incomparably wasteful procedure worth the effort.  Here are some of the best ones I’ve generated over the years.  If you’re really into anagrams (and not everyone is, understandably), check out the list I assembled on my old blog, http://www.lettuceprey.weebly.com.  I think there are about a thousand of them.

Anyway, I hope you like them.

Poseidon     POISONED

Medusa     AMUSED

constipated     CAN’T DEPOSIT

predators     TEARDROPS

nudity     UNTIDY

discover     DIVORCES

listen     SILENT

reincarnation     AN INCINERATOR

happiest     EPITAPHS

Palestine     PENALTIES

Maher*     HAREM                   *as in Bill

ideals     LADIES

Pentagon     NOTE GAP

violence     NICE LOVE

evangelist     EVIL’S AGENT

depression     PERSON DIES

caricatures     ACCURATE, SIR

women     OWN ME

cretinous     NEUROTICS

wealth     THE LAW

poverty     VERY TOP

Heaven Is Just A Cliff-Jump Away

My wife Jina believes that people who kill themselves don’t get to go to heaven.  That’s awfully nice of God to punish them further by consigning their souls to hell after their lives have been just that (otherwise why would they go to the trouble of offing themselves?).  I wonder if they can tell the difference between life and death.

“Oh my God, I’m still in hell.  I thought it was supposed to end after I killed myself.  Hey Satan, could I please have a refund?”

Yesterday in church Jina forced me to stand up in front of the congregation and sing a hymn about loving Jesus with the rest of our Sunday school-teaching staff.  Now don’t get me wrong–I don’t dislove Jesus; it’s just that singing a love song to a man–and a long-dead one at that–feels wrong somehow (with a small “w”).  Maybe I’d feel different if it was to Shakespeare. I heard he was a switch-hitter so he might get a little too turned on by it if his corpse could still budge.

Next thing you know the pastor will be in cahoots with Pfizer and they’ll be passing out Viagra during the eucharist in a quixotic effort to resurrect the dead member of the Lord’s charismatic cadaver.

Sorry–I’m brain-damaged.

Anyway, when I say Jina forced me to sing along, I don’t mean she used a gun or a handheld crucifix the way you would to fend off Dracula.  She just resorted to her trusty, tried and true method of emotional blackmail, drawing me aside to say if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t get to teach the Sunday school class anymore (although I’m more of a glorified babysitter than a teacher), or guide the old men through the treacherous waters of English in the dictation after lunch from one of their ludicrous modern religious texts laden with glib tripe, or–and this was the one that broke my resistance, since I was broke–get to tutor two of my Sunday school colleagues for fifty bucks a week.

As with the last time she coerced me into parading my phony faith in front of the true believers, exposing my humiliating hypocrisy like a slimy bug lodged under a rock lifted by God Himself before He raises his sandaled foot and crushes the quivering, squinting insect, I refrained from making eye contact with anyone in the congregation, and mumbled my way through the hymn.

I was also even more out of breath than usual, thanks to being exceptionally out of shape, and to the pestiferous plague of toxic dust blown in from China that had parched my throat and stung my eyes over the past twenty-four hours.  (Mercifully, the wind blew most of it away from the time being, though it took all day and a precipitous drop of the temperature to execute the environmental exorcism.)

I belted out the treacly lyrics with all the fervor of a mummified Egyptian, exhaling tiny mushroom clouds of desert dust.

And I raised neither my eyes nor the corners of my mouth when the whole mortifying charade was over.

That didn’t stop people from congratulating me for my Elvisian performance, including the pastor himself, who had the gall to mention me by name to his rapt listeners, as Jina translated for me how he was delighted I could “rejoice” with the rest of them.

In fact, I rejoiced so much that yesterday I took twelve hundred milligrams of ibuprofen to quell the pain of prostatitis, along with a thousand milligrams of acetomenophen (fuck if I can remember how to spell it), and 300 mgs of something called doxyprofen, which is like iboprofen, only stronger.

I’ll let you know which internal organ explodes first–my stomach, kidney, prostate, brain, or heart.

Who knows?  Maybe the whole thing will happen in sync.

I’m sure that would make God smile.

And if Jina’s wrong, and he doesn’t exist, maybe I’ll finally be out of pain instead of in it–and to hell with heaven.

Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

Life is only a cliffhanger until your fingers finally give out.

Then you drop dead.

Yoga Driving Tips

Remember, a relaxed driver is a safe driver.  And the best way to relax is to take a deep breath and close your eyes.  Put on some New Age music if you have any, preferably Ravi Shankar on the sitar or George Winston if that’s more your bag, something you can easily drift off to.

In order to fill your lungs to their maximum capacity, push your abdomen out as far as you can while inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose.  Make sure to undo your seat belt so your diaphragm muscle can descend and your chest cavity takes in as much air is it can hold.

Your feet are crying out to be liberated.  Can you hear them?  That’s good.  That means you’re attuned to the music of the spheres.  Now your toes can finally feel the gas and brake pedals underfoot.

It’s time to stretch your arms and legs as far as they can go.  Feel the blood tingling all the way up and down the length of your body?

Let go of everything that’s been burdening you for the past few days, weeks–even your whole life.  Let go of your fears about the future and the steering wheel.

Try not to get attached to the squeal of tires against the pavement or the screech of other drivers’ worn-out brake pads.  Don’t feel you have to judge other motorists swearing their heads off at you.  Let them work out their own unresolved issues themselves.

Soon you will feel oneness with them.

Just live for the moment, knowing it can’t last long.

Who knows?  You may never get another chance to be present again.

Words Made Up Of Other Words

One feverish anal-retentive little hobby of mine is coming up with anagrams.  Although there are algorithms that will do the grunt work for you these days, I like the thrill of discovery that occasionally pops up during eureka moments from a dungheap of duds (that would be a good name for a second-hand clothing store).  That’s why I do them all by longhand.  It’s a bad habit, as I accumulate folded scraps of paper I have to sift through in search of anything worth salvaging.

I’d be grateful if you could let me know which ones you like.  And if there are any you don’t like, don’t feel you have to hide your flamethrower under a bushel.

But before I share them with you, have you ever seen anything more surreal than George W. Bush commemorating the historic Selma march of the civil rights movement?

I haven’t.

George W. Bush        SOB GREW HUGE (or:  s.o.b. grew huge) (a golden oldie)

eternal God         GENTLE ROAD; OLDER AGENT; LORD AGE NET; GOLDEN TEAR

omnipresent        NOTE MR. PENIS

redundancy         RANDY DUNCE

The Last Supper      TRUST SHEEP, PAL; THE PUREST SLAP; SLURP THE PASTE;

HELP UTTER SAPS; HUSTLER PET SAP

American Sniper       SIMIAN CREEP RAN

Clint Eastwood         A TWISTED COLON; TOTAL SWINE, COD

melting glaciers         GIGANTIC SMELLER

tenacious         INTO SAUCE

downloads       WOODLANDS

hug         UGH

bloody     OLD BOY

bleed       BE LED

antlers     RENTALS

automatons    TOMATO ANUS

nuclear powers    CRUEL WAR OPENS; PEONS’ RAW LUCRE

Paradise Lost      OLD PARASITES

Stairway to Heaven    ATTORNEY HAS A VIEW

heart failure       FEEL A HURT AIR

confused     END FOCUS

freakish      FISH RAKE

Bermuda Triangle     END BRUTAL MIRAGE; RUN METAL BIRD AGE

State of the Union    HUES OF ATTENTION; FUNNIEST HATE, TOO

split personality        LOST REPTILIAN SPY

toilet paper         PLOP ATTIRE

painkillers      RAKE IN PILLS

I hope you like them.

Life Needs A Laughtrack

A long time ago I was in therapy.  My shrink bore an uncanny resemblance to Frank Sinatra, the singer. (Disco is dead, Frank!)  I asked him his advice about whether or not I should stick it out with my girlfriend.  I still cared deeply about her, and I knew she loved me, but our sex life was on the fritz, proving that history does indeed repeat itself.

He looked at me over his clipboard of notes and said–no, sang:

“It’s up to you, you dork, you dork!” 

_

Have you ever seen that movie Alive!, about the Peruvian soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes and they had to resort to eating their dead comrades?  According to one of the survivors, during one day of their desperate struggle to hang on, they were approached by a leprechaun.  He danced a merry jig and led them to a burst compartment near the rear of the plane’s fuselage, pointing out a bunch of severed arms among the scattered suitcases and duffel bags.

“What the hell do you expect us to do with those?”  one of the starving men asked.

“Why don’t you eat ’em, you silly bugger?”

They set about doing so, at first recoiling from the frozen meat before them.  But after awhile they found the morsels of human flesh downright savory.

“What can we do to repay you, sir?”

“Nothing a’tall!”  The leprechaun then sang a familiar tune from an old childhood TV commercial:

“Frosted luggage arms–they’re tragically nutritious!”

_

Jesus came to me in a dream.

I said, “Jesus?  Is that you?  You look just like Robert DeNiro.””

“Of course it’s me.  And if you don’t pay your monthly tithe when you get up, I’ll break your fucking legs.  Understand?”

_

When I was in college, I had a roommate who avoided cursing out of politeness.  It would have been endearing if he’d been five years old, but I decided to make the most of the situation.

“Gosh, man,” he said, “I had an exam this afternoon and had to miss lunch!”

“How dare you use the Lord’s nickname in vain!”

_

You can’t believe everything you read in the papers, can you?  For example, this morning I read the first line of a news story that read:  “Yesterday in the United States a black man was not shot by the police.”

_

U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert, recovering from his knife wounds at Seoul’s Severance Hospital (actual name–no pun intended), was visited by a Korean man who wanted to aid in his healing with a gift of dog meat.  Lippert, a dog-lover who intrepidly walks his beagle up and down the anarchic streets of Seoul, was magnanimous enough to accept the offer and reciprocated with a roll of Psy toilet paper, along with a Kim Yuna voodoo doll.