Korea’s Still A Safe Place To Live

I’d like to comment briefly on the recent attack the other day of the U.S. ambassador to Korea.  I was saddened and shocked to see the photo of the stunned Mark Lippert stanching his bleeding wound during a public forum.  Later on I gasped out loud at an image that revealed the gash in his cheek, a long and deep trench that looked exceedingly painful.  I wish him a speedy recovery and hope he never has any further run-ins with knife-wielding extremists or violent lunatics.

I haven’t had time to read the details of the story, but apparently Lippert’s assailant has a history of violence.  He once threw a chunk of concrete at the Japanese ambassador, narrowly missing him and hitting a woman in his entourage instead.  It’s a little hard to understand how he can reconcile his idealistic vision of a reunified Korea with violent attacks against visiting diplomats and well-meaning expatriates, but nobody could accuse human beings of being rational.

Having said that, it’s safe to say that Korea is still a safe and comfortable place to live, at least for most of us foreigners.  I’ve heard that it helps if you’re white, as long as you don’t mind having people stare at you on a daily basis in a way that can seem unfriendly, but in all likelihood is more akin to the absolute bafflement one would assume upon meeting an extraterrestrial on one’s own turf.

I’ve read that a lot of Koreans expect foreigners to smile at them and say hello without feeling the need to respond to the courtesy, which is bullshit, not to say incredibly condescending.  Two days ago while waiting for the subway I was glared at by a white foreign young couple, who may have been understandably appalled by my grotesque and cadaverous visage.  It didn’t occur to me until afterwards that I may well unconsciously resort to an unapproachably hostile expression myself while in transit.  In the mad rush to get to work on time, other people are reduced to obnoxious moving barriers in a complicated obstacle course.

Since I haven’t had enough teaching work to feel chipper in the past several months, I’ve also been more cynical, misanthropic, and gratuitously bitter than usual.  Nine years in this country have made me homesick and defensive; I’ve likewise succumbed to the condition known as S.A.D., or seasonal affective disorder.  Winter’s a good time to come down with concrete cabin fever.

But I’m happy to say that I’m finally starting to pick up some more hours, enough to feel more connected to the world around me and more productively a part of it.  I know I’ll always be a stranger here to a large extent, and some people will continue to regard me as a freak, regardless of where they come from.  The vast majority will ignore me, insuring a steady supply of loneliness for years to come.

I’ve tried to master the art of meditation in order to break through the pesky and persistent and pertinacious delusion of the self, the ignominious ego, source of all human suffering.  Easier said than done.  Much.  Buddha was wise to pinpoint this problem thousands of years before neuroscientists confirmed his observations.  The modern world is designed to celebrate the narcissistic nightmare of the superficial self. That explains the worship of celebrities and the conversion of flesh and blood politicians to awesome and immortal rock stars (thanks for setting the first example of this trend, Sir Adolf Hitler, you excitable shmuck).

But despite my own ferocious and feverish foibles, I don’t expect to be greeted by someone saying, “Have a knife day,” or having to duck like George W. Bush accosted by the Iraqi shoe-bomber as a cement projectile sails past my right ear.  Like folks everywhere, most Korean people keep their rage in check or else express it in a more passive-aggressive fashion than the nutjob who had it in for Mark Lippert.

And while living in this country (despite Seoul’s overall unfriendliness), I’ve regularly been left with the impression, after being served a cup of coffee by a cheerful barista or graciously thanked by a grateful student, “That’s the nicest person I’ve ever met.”

I don’t expect that experience to discontinue any time soon.

At least not until the famine commences.


It’s For You, Hamlet

The phone call’s for me?  Hmm, that’s funny.  Thanks, Horatio.

Hello?  May I ask who’s calling?  Dad, is that you?  Your voice sounds strange.  Aren’t you dead?  What’s up with the phone call?  I thought you people were supposed to rest in peace. . . Of course the funeral was sad.  Why wouldn’t it be? . . . Yeah, I know she got married only a month after you died, but who could resist a guy like Claudius?  Mr. Super-Stud. . . . Dad, there’s no need to become apoplectic.  Just chill. . . You’re going to have to slow down.  I can’t follow your train of thought–you’re spluttering too much. . . Take a deep breath. . . What?  He poured poison in your ear?  What for? . . . I know, I know–stupid question.  So why are you telling me this? . . . You want me to get revenge? . . . But how can I be sure it’s really you?  Can’t you show yourself? . . . That’s not how ghosts operate these days.  Figures. . . So I have to go on a phone call. . . You always told me never to trust someone who tries to sell you something over the phone. . . Hey!  There’s no need to shout.  Keep your jaw attached to your skull, Jacob Marley. . .  I guess that reference is a little too advanced for you. . . I know it’s irksome that she married your brother. . . yes, yes–and your murderer–I was just getting to that. . . how is it incest?  He’s not her brother. . . That’s right–I forgot.  We live in the Elizabethan world. . . Okay, so what’s the best way to kill him? . . . Any way that works. . . But just not while he’s praying.  Thanks; I’ll make a note of that. . . Put on a play that recreates your death?  Dad, don’t you think you’re being morbid? . . . Of course I want some evidence that he really did it. . . What do you have against Ophelia?  She’s perfect for me. . . She’s daddy’s girl, eh?  At least she’s not a windbag. . . All right, Dad.  I’ll do what I can.  But between you and me, I have a hunch this isn’t going to end well. . . Yes, I look forward to seeing you soon, too.  I love you, Dad.  Tell God I said hi. . . He changed his name to Satan?  Well, you’ve got to admit it’s a more marketable alternative. . . Don’t go changing. . . Father, compose yourself! . . . Okay, sorry–bad joke.  Keep in touch.

Here’s your phone, Horatio.  No, no.  It was a wrong number.

Thanks to Bob Newhart for the idea.  His autobiography, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This!, is worth reading.  I’ll share a couple of anecdotes from it in another post.

Solitary Confinement II

Blood cells mutate in the global corporate state while mutants investigate the messages that silently scream at them from their handheld screens.

Secret music trickles into their brains through earbuds.  Everything’s under control.  They’re bought and sold.

No danger exists that any of these underground consumers of digital data and miniature images will be a Good Samaritan today and break through the mirage, let alone join their neighbors in a vast and noisy insurrection against their mass neurosis.

No time to stop and smell the advertisements.  No sense of smell remains among memories buried under endless waves of information that spread their mental manure in the segmented sewer that rockets through the tunnel of loveless light, delivering each insect to his or her temporary destination as the commuters disperse and separate as easily as their ephemeral thoughts, in search of brighter prison cells in which to contain themselves as they proceed internally and eternally to fall apart and disappear like a waterfall made of stars or the tidal wave of data flying down a screen as fingers fidget and eyeballs stare in silent appraisal of the rest of the undercover aliens who hover alert and aloof, attached only to what’s unreal and immortally unnatural–

–the mass-produced delusion of progress in the preposterous fiasco called the 21st Century.

Do You Ever Feel Your Brain Is Being Chopped Up Into Bite-Sized Bits?

Why worry about the future when you can regret the past instead?  That question is a tribute to my favorite generator of jokes, Mr. Mark Peters.  In case you haven’t caught his Twitter feed yet, Google “mark peters wordlust.” His link is the first one on the list.  Click it and feast your eyes (pardon the cliche) on the endless smorgasbord of jokes.  To date, he’s come up with over thirty thousand of them.  I don’t know how he does it.

You may be wondering about the provocative nature of the title of this post.  Welp (another Petersism–call me Captain Plagiarism), the repetitive, depressingly ridiculous nature of my life of late has cast me into a less than funky funk.  I’m suffering from a case of writer’s block the size of the former World Trade Center, God rest its rectangular soul.  (If only I could make it the same size it became on September 11th, 2001–call it the writer’s blockbuster.)

My great aunt used to say, “If you rest, you rust.”  She was right.  I’ve done both.  The only problem is that it’s hard to keep up with the frenetic pace of silly city life.  The older I get, and the longer I live here, and the longer I keep pursuing the same career and maintaining the same marriage and attending the same stupid Sunday school services, the more absurd the whole shebang becomes.

(Say, isn’t that a song?  Shebang, shebang, da dadadadadadadadada.  Music notes sold separately.)

Like many other bloggers–at least I assume some of you may share this affliction with me–I suffer from delusions of grandeur (again, I’m always happy to provide you with cliches; they’re my life blood–see?  There’s another one).  In fact, that may well be the source of the writer’s block–hey, stop flying airplanes into my tummy!  Mommy, help me dig this black box out of my belly button.

Luckily, I’ve been humbled by the sustained relative lack of attention.  And writing that just makes me feel like an ingrate.  After all, I’m lucky to have the readers I do, many of whom I respect and even envy for their many creative contributions.  (I’m looking at you, Menomama, Robert Okaji, Sweettenorbull, and Smirkpretty!)

I just wish there were a way we could get paid.  Shucks, I’ve been writing for forty years and haven’t made beans off the effort yet.  Then again, that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing it for anyway–is it?

One thing that makes it hard to write is the assault on the senses the news provides.  I’m a glutton for punishment (cliche, si vous plait), so I tend to pick at these festering wounds more than a mentally healthier person would, even though I do nothing to solve the problems engulfing the world except complain about them and hector other people to do something about them with hypocritical panache.

It’s purdy frickin’ retarded (in the figurative sense), if you ask me.

What do you do to stay sane?  Is sanity overrated?  Maybe being crazy is where it’s out.  Or else you can be retro.  That’s far out.  From where I’m sitting the future looks bleak.  Maybe because it’s filtered through what I can glimpse of my own future, replete with its seemingly unsolvable health problems and the vicious cycle of marriage’s sparky buzz saw.

Yesterday I taught three different classes in three different places, working a grand total of three and a half hours.  My commute came out to the same time.  It’s nuts.  Luckily I only have to do it once a week.  The other work days are more measured.

A couple of weeks ago my wife Jina and I joined her family for three days to celebrate the Chinese–or Lunar–New Year’s holiday, feasting shamelessly on the carcasses of lovingly prepared livestock.  I think that was after–versus before–I’d read Chris Hedges’s piece on truthdig.com about the suffering all animals prepared for food  undergo.  It’s an eloquent argument for veganism.  Cognitive dissonance enables me to carry on consuming these poor victims of the bloodthirsty economic food chain instead of renouncing meat altogether and repenting the error of my ways (if that’s the right cliche).

Finally, as a way to escape the tedium of uneventful domestic life and the loneliness of unrequited lust, I’ve been reading a lot of books lately.  Usually they fire me up to write, but for some reason the books I’ve gone for recently haven’t breathed life into the comatose Muse.  She remains supine.  I hope she’s not dead.

In fact, I was so impressed by one book in particular I wanted to review it for you.  Sadly, I proved unequal to the task.  I also didn’t want to give away too much and ruin the story.  I hate it when people do that.

The book is Dave Eggers’s The Circle.  Let me know if you need any more information about it.  I’m a slow reader, but it’s just shy of five hundred pages long and I plowed through it in four days.  Granted, a lot of the pages consisted of dialogue.  Still, it’s a page turner.

So is Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief.  And Thomas Berger’s Meeting Evil.  Max Barry’s Lexicon, not so much.  I preferred his Machine Man and Jennifer Government. 

If you prefer nonfiction, check out Jack El-Hai’s The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, or Andy Warhol:  Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

I don’t bother with movies anymore and have essentially stopped listening to music, except once in a while while hanging up laundry.  I need silence to recover from the onslaught of K-pop, Korean ballads, and K-rap (or “krap”) I hear every time I leave my apartment.

Modern Korean music is almost as bad as the unbreathable waves of yellow dust, the toxic miasma blowing in from China and Mongolia and the growing Gobi Desert that heralds the advent of spring.  This rich formula of lead, mercury, cadmium, and assorted other goodies makes a mockery of spring fever, taunting those who are willing to boldly go where no generation has gone before to risk cultivating an unholy host of malignant tumors.

Go for it, kids!

New Meanings For Familiar Terms

(Along With A Few Coinages)

spontaneous combustion:  what the U.S. Air Force calls a napalm strike

friendly fire:  the smiley faces made by a happy flamethrower

collateral damage:  the thing your car insurance policy doesn’t cover

love triangle:  the harmonious relationship held by Wall Street, the Democrats, and the Republicans

cancer-patient (adj.):  how you have to be if you live in an Asian mega-city with poisonous air conditions

air conditioner:  coal plant

baby-shitter:  someone who gives birth by way of excretion

car pool:  a terrific bathing experience for your precious automobile

face book:  a soldier’s souvenir collection of his victim’s visages

kaputalism:  what happens when the whole global system of trade and commerce suddenly collapses due to accumulated ecological damage, climate-related pressures, prolonged economic inequality, and a perennially sustained assault on other species

blood bank:  the nickname arms contractors give to war

microsoft word:  a baby’s whisper

paper jam:  a delicacy enjoyed by beavers and termites

marketing department:  the section in Walmart where you buy your groceries

plastic surgeon:  a doctor of the future

time machine:  a mobile phone

conspicuous consumption:  cannibalism

police force:  a euphemism for “police brutality”

diorama:  a colorful way of saying “mass extinction”

international relationship:  the love boat

divine intervention:  the end result of government surveillance

exitainment:  the feeling you get when you realize the movie you’re watching sucks

celepretty (adj):  (rhymes with “celebrity”) attractive in an artificial way that makes people want to give you an award

Hostages Of The World, Unite!

Sorry I’ve been out of touch.  I had a hangnail.  Actually, I did have a nasty case of stomach flu last week, but at least I got a lot of exercise getting up several times throughout the night to dry heave my soul into the toilet, where it belongs.

My wife has been in full-on harridan mode lately as well, an enervating phenomenon (I was going to write “development,” since it harmonizes better with “enervating,” but since she’s been in harridan mode off and on throughout our fifteen hellacious years together, it’s not exactly an accurate choice).  I just don’t know how to appease her.  Neither the Neville Chamberlain nor the Winston Churchill strategy seems to work.

Defeat is the answer!

I share this computer with her and the screen has gotten so gunky–probably from having been manhandled by her primary school students–that it’s hard for me to see what’s going on.

Anywho, before signing on I read a sad post on the blog onlypeaceandlove about Kayla Mueller, who I assume is the woman who was recently beheaded by ISIS, ISIL, IS, the Islamic State, or whatever it’s called.  (Fellas, you seem to be having a branding issue.  Pick a name and stick with it if you want to market your product of indiscriminate mayhem and ghoulish bloodshed.  I used to live in a bloodshed when I was a little boy.  My pappy taught me how to finger-paint political messages there.  Sorry–I’m in a sick mood.)

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see the point in an organization going out of their way to deliberately execute not only innocent but likable, sympathetic, exemplary people (which means at least I’m safe) as a way to promote their cause (sorry to belie the “indiscriminate” factor mentioned in the previous paragraph).  Why can’t they be like the Slim Reaper and just use Predator drones?  The remote-controlled missile-firing aircraft is mightier than the sword–and more expensive (this message has been brought to you by McDonnell-Douglas Incorporated, and is also compliments of Raytheon and a big wet smooch from Lockheed-Martin, the most lovable and affectionate weapons-makers in the world today, our dear friends who are keeping the world safe for hypocrisy and extortion).

When I was a little boy, one of my favorite nursery rhymes came from a book my brother and I all but memorized (although I eventually went on to forgetize it) entitled The Best of Sick Jokes:

“I love life and life loves me.  I’m as happy as can be.  A happier man nowhere exists.  I think I’ll go and slash my wrists.”

I just found the contrast between the can-do optimism of the smiling man in the cartoon that accompanied the rhyme and his casually dismissive twist of despair hilarious.

Little did I know at the time that the joke would become something in between a mantra and a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Although I’ve never attempted to commit suicide in any concrete fashion (but hey, the night is still young), my choice of spouse was downright suicidal–not that I can say I dived right into the arrangement without considerable prodding–and the years we’ve endured together have not only ruined my health, but made me question the possibility of ever finding happiness–or even sanity–with anyone else.

(The enforced-happiness aspect of the rhyme I’ve discovered both by living in the U.S., where cheerfulness is mandatory, and by being a teacher of Korean students, many of whom seem to think the best way to answer a smile is with a scowl–or, more precisely, an inscrutable face of stone.)

I can’t pretend to understand the pain my wife personifies, but Murphy’s Law being what it is, I can safely predict that although I’m probably better suited to find a new mate after our marital nightmare ends, I’m so far gone I’ll be lucky to survive another ten years, which means I won’t be able to get front row seats for the apocalypse 😦

(That’s the first time I’ve ever used an emoticon, and probably the last as well.  Under the circumstances, I couldn’t resist.  Does anyone know if I need to put a period after it?  Who can navigate the treacherous waters of emoticon-related punctuation?)

My wife, on the other hand, will be an old maid, untouchable as far as her misogynistic culture is concerned, but she’s made of sterner stuff than I am, so she’ll probably live to be about a thousand years old, chronic aches and pains notwithstanding, lonely and guilt-stricken, flagellating herself endlessly in the nickname of Christ (Little Jeezy?).

Posthumous revenge may not be as sweet as the kind you can live to enjoy, but at least it’s something.

Sorry to see Jon Stewart go, and right on the heels of Stephen Colbert.  Who will be there to pick up the mantle of sacred satire?

By the way, I want to apologize for comparing myself in an earlier post to the heroic cartoonists who sacrificed their lives in the name of free expression working for Charlie Hebdo.  I’ll try not to be so pretentious next time, not that it will be easy to contain my flatulent blue whale of an ego, illusory as a soap bubble though it is.

Have a good day and a nice weekend–and make sure to smile, but only if you feel like it.  Remember, it’s hard to laugh your ass off and frown at the same time.

I’ll leave you with one last joke-let from that long-lost book of evil gems:

“Mommy, Mommy, Daddy just got hit by a car!”

“Don’t make me laugh, Gladys.  You know my lips are chapped.”

War The Omnivore

You eat time, men, women, children;

suck science, gobble God,

gnaw on nature, vomit technology.

Is there anything that you won’t eat?

Blown-up buildings, bombed-out trees,

murdered mountains, oil-choked seas.

Grassy graveyards that ricochet with green

grenades, art museums, libraries

made mausoleums; ants and horses,

elephants, deafened dolphins, hanging


Although you never stop

devouring everyone in your path–

village, forest, clinic, market,

bloodbath’s aftermath–

you never gain an ounce in weight

(and yet you’re plenty big enough).

You’ll always be in tip-top shape

as you lay waste to all we’re worth,

our bloated, turgid, morbid scourge,

creation of the human race.