It’s easy to get grumpy when you’re living in a distant land, far from friends and loved ones, and the cold, bitter weather starts to bite your bones. It’s even easier when you’re stuck in an interminable mid-life crisis that appears to be an end-of-life crisis, and when your whole life looks like a microcosm of the nightmare unfolding all around you, in your kitchen, in the zombie-infested streets, and on the screen where you’re reading about the latest atrocities committed by a bunch of superpowerful cowards and bullies. (Gotta love those white American cops!)
South Korea is often praised by the Western media for being an economic miracle, and the country deserves credit for transforming itself from an impoverished, war-torn hellhole into a sleek, high-tech, congested, modern one. For all its miraculous charms, South Korea also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, due to the pathologically competitive culture, along with the biggest percentage of smokers, an epidemic of smartphone addicts, a disturbingly high concentration of alcoholics (no wonder I feel so at home here!), and a patriarchal system that continues to subjugate women, which would explain how some of them have gotten to be so tough–they have to in order to survive.
Since I don’t know the language, it’s easy for me to resort to stereotypes and condemn what I can’t understand, but it feels good, so what the hell. I’ve mentioned to you before how a lot of middle-aged South Korean men come across as snarling, savage beasts who make gratuitous noises in their throats and push people around with their faces and mouths. A former female student of mine (meaning formerly a student, not formerly female–that she still is, at least as far as I know) who used to work in a room salon entertaining men for a lucrative living told me that Korean men were vicious to women and unpleasant to be around.
So at least I have some authoritative corroboration to fall back on for my knee-jerk, ethnocentric intolerance.
Speaking of authority figures, did you catch Barack Obama on The Colbert Report the other night? I have to give the man credit for being a good comedian, which is the main criterion for being a good president. He has a great deadpan delivery; that’s how he got elected–twice (not that the competition was anything to lose sleep over either time; Al Gore did beat George W. Bush, and we’d probably be living in a slightly less insane world now if the Supreme Court hadn’t stolen his promotion from him, but John Kerry? I mean, come on. True, Bush did steal that election too, but Kerry didn’t even put up a fight; maybe he just didn’t want the job. I wouldn’t).
As a grammar nerd, I derived secret joy from Obama’s mispronunciation of “divisive” (the middle syllable is pronounced vice, not viss) since he prides himself on being an egghead, unlike Bush, who prided himself on being a dunce, along with a so-called decider. But I recoiled when he closed his sit-down monologue by saying, “We’ll be back in a moment with more from the leader of the free world.”
“The leader of the free world.” Now there’s a phrase that should be retired at once. Not only does it sound ridiculously arrogant, but it’s also meaningless. The world has no real leaders, and it sure as hell isn’t free.
Jon Stewart kindly pointed out on The Daily Show the following night how Obama’s appearance on Colbert’s show was strategically timed as damage control to pre-empt the disclosure to the press the following day of the Senate’s 6,000 page CIA torture report. You’ve no doubt already heard about the imaginatively sadistic techniques developed at Guantanamo, including the horrific practice of rectally feeding prisoners, all approved by attendant qualified physicians who were in on the gag.
Don’t hold your breath if you think the masterminds behind this grotesque factory of ghoulishness will ever do a minute of time for their incalculable crimes. Even though they were the product of the Bush Administration, the Obama clan, with the help of human soporific John Kerry, tried to bury the story–alive, as it were. I’ve heard reports that the Obama Administration has condoned torture elsewhere, though I’d have to look that one up for you. As funny as the current commander in chief can be, he’s also a terrifying drone assassin who reserves the right to take out anyone in the world he suspects of terrorism, a psychotic privilege he’ll pass on to whoever inherits his shiny shoes, whether it be Jeb the Florexectioner Bush, Hillary Clinton, or whichever other amoral mediocrity can elbow his or her way into the Oval Office with a little help from glad-handing conspiratorial corporate friends.
Finally, let me say in parentheses that I’m sorry about one aggressive thing I wrote about my wife in the previous entry, in which I made an off-color joke about contemplating crushing her skull underfoot. It was not nice, and I felt guilty about it after publishing the post. I’m sure if I went back and re-read some of the things I’ve written here over the years, I’d cringe and wish I’d deleted a phrase or a sentence–or even an entire post–here and there. But I think one of the virtues of blogging is providing readers with the unvarnished truth, and self-censorship can go too far until it reaches a kind of Politburo-like level of redaction.
The other night, during a peaceful domestic interlude, I woke up in the wee hours to use the toilet, taking a book and a notebook with me. My wife Jina, who’d been up late sitting at the computer, asked if she could go first, not without hectoring me–but in a mildish tone–for bringing reading (and writing) material with me. I impulsively jumped down her throat and essentially told her to get off my back.
She stood there frozen and started to pout. I went up to her and noticed that her tired and puffy eyes were starting to water. I said sorry and gave her a hug and started to cry myself. We stood like that for several minutes, and it felt good to receive each other with love for a change instead of hate or recriminations. Too bad we don’t do it more often.
I want you to know that whatever happens to me is my own fault and responsibility, not hers. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to survive the health problems I’ve been grappling with for the past several years. But her life without me will be hard enough–maybe even harder than it’s been with me–without having people condemn her or welcome her side of the story. She’s actually a good woman who has made the world a better place, just like Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and the rest of the “We Are the World” gang.
Maybe on my deathbed I can encourage her to start a blog of her own as a rebuttal.