Monday, October 17, 2005



(This was written after my first week in Korea. The status of said relationship has improved dramatically, at least from my standpoint, since these words were first put to page.)

Maria — had the name not come into use on its own, balladeers and playwrights would have surely invented it. I’ve loved a Mary, I’ve nursed a crush upon a Marie, but until now I had not known a Maria. For Americans, it’s a moniker steeped in fascination. For this American standing on a porch with a Canadian girl bearing both a Portugese surname and given name, it’s the only word I can think of. Although, periodically, the words “brown eyes” also creep in.
It’s our last night together in Seoul. We’re missionaries who left homes and jobs in North America to come here and teach English and Bible. Before I came I heard the snickers from those who thought the mission was to find a spouse and/or get laid, rather than to do a good deed. I shrugged it off, because I knew there was something much bigger at stake, something they weren’t seeing. And yet, here I am, struggling to tell her how I feel, and knowing I must before stifling these emotions sends me ulcers and a possibly early grave.
It’s 9:30 p.m., and we both have to pack for bus rides in the morning, mine for Suncheon on the southern tip of the peninsula, and her for another location in the area of South Korea’s sprawling, teeming capital. I’ve scratched her back when her eyebrow betrays stress, jabbed her delicately in the arm or gut when it looks like she’s about to fall asleep during orientation. She puts her hand on my shoulder when thoughts of the year ahead overwhelm me in ways I can’t see but are visible to her. This night we’ve promised to exchange e-mails and see each other on vacations, plus we’re now exchanging our first, actual hug.
But she has to know that’s not enough.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” she says, after unwinding those arms covered in long, soft blue sleeves from around my shoulders.
“Yeah,” I say, before placing my feet one step lower, so six-feet-four-inches of me can look five-feet-nine inches of her in the face. For a moment neither one of us says anything. I can’t tell what she’s thinking; since I’m busy biting my lip and mustering the will to speak. I extend my left hand and take hold of the right side of her waist, and my eyes finally meet hers.
The conversation I’ve been anticipating for days begins with: “What are we gonna do?”
These words may determine whether I begin a new relationship. These words might also get me cut off entirely, causing her to avoid me rather than foster a vain hope.
The response I get is much more nuanced than either of those.
It begins with, “Uhm, right…”

The good news is that I seem to have been doing a lot of things right in the last week. The bad news is that there’s another guy in the picture. However, “he’s not meeting my needs,” she tells me.
We move away from the porch, into the parking lot and I place my gallon of bottled water and the carrying case for my laptop aside so she and I can talk this out. The nice-guy approach that I have attempted numerous times, only to be branded a “friend” has paid dividends here. However, she needs time — time to find out if the other guy will make more of an effort, time to adjust to this new environment.
And time to decide if I’m what she really wants.
It’s now 10:30 p.m., and I should be going. My new friend who happens to be a beautiful girl is about to step into her apartment again. My pop culture knowledge is asserting itself, and must be let out. It has manifested in the form of a certain blonde bane of the undead, her vampire paramour and their doomed love.
“In the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel shows up to help her kill...” I know the character’s name, but “some bad guy” comes out instead.
“Some bad guy?” she says, snickering.
“Yeah, but he’s not important. The point is, afterward they start talking about their relationship and she tells him, ‘I’m cookie dough.’”
In the show, of course, she went onto explain the metaphor, meaning that she wasn’t done “baking.” Maria needs no further explanation, evidently, because she’s already begun rolling her eyes.
“Well, Angel starts to walk away and then Buffy calls after him and says that she might be done baking sometime in the near future. Angel says, ‘I’m not getting any older,’ and then strides confidently into the darkness.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stride off into the darkness.”
“Okay,” she says with a smile. “Just grab your bag and your water bottle before you start striding.”
“Okay, I’ll see you in the morning,” I say, before beginning my amateurish David Boreanaz impersonation.
Walking down the first of several hills that lead to my temporary apartment, I begin thinking, Nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes they get an honorable mention.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Not Much Today

Thus far in my brief blogging career I shared my various writings on a daily basis. I have nothing to add today. Sometimes there just isn't time to share the inspiration, but hopefully such time will be allocated later. You can rest assured that when such a day comes, the postings on this page will be up to the standard set so far. I will not pander, patronize or sell out. Blogs come and go, but integrity and independence are forever.

Please buy System of a Down's latest album, Mesmerize. On this their third release, the Armenian quartet transcends the inferior nu-metal scene from which they were spawned and seizes status as one of the greatest bands of this day and age, and may potentially be known as one of the best hard rock bands ever.

At least that's what the press release said.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


The Hottest News Around

There were a good many tidbits of information passed on to me in my first few weeks in South Korea that I couldn’t help but find a bit disconcerting. Right after my flight arrived in Seoul, I was taken by van to the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventists language institute, during which the academic dean pointed to a large stone structure connected to an overpass by the river. “Do you know what that is?” he asked.

After I shook my head laterally, he answered, “That’s in case North Korea ever invades, they can drop that on the road to buy people more time to get away.”

If there’s one thing a guy having just left home and come to a distant country for the first time doesn’t want to think about in the first four hours, this would be it.

The second alarming bit of information took place upon my arrival at the temporary guest housing in Seoul, where I was kept during orientation in my first week. I noticed a sign on the wall that read, “Please do not flush toilet paper down the toilet. Koreans put toilet paper in the waste basket after use. This is especially important to remember while staying in guest housing.”

While our definition of a “civilized society” often is based on several factors, like economic status, equal rights for all citizens and whether or not they can elect their own leaders, where toilet paper is placed “after use” has since moved substantially higher on my list.

The anecdote that alarmed me the least at the time but probably had the longest-term implications took place after I was assigned to teach in Suncheon, about a four-five hour drive south of Seoul. The director of the Suncheon institute, a Korean Adventist minister everyone calls Pastor Moon took me and some others out for dinner at a traditional restaurant, replete with chopsticks, tables six inches from the ground and dagger-eyed stares if one’s be-shoed feet should make contact with the floor.

Having been brought a plate full of various vegetables we could add condiments to or mix with rice, Pastor Moon pointed to a selection of green peppers and said, and I quote, “Don’t try this, it will kill you.” He elaborated, saying that it was too spicy for him.

This was, in fact, basic syllogism: Pastor Moon has lived in Korea all his life and is well-acclimated to their culinary tastes. Therefore, if a type of food is too spicy for him, then I, as a foreigner who wasn’t a huge fan of spicy meals to begin with, would probably lose all command of motor skills and the use of at least three of the five senses after a single bite.

Something you might not know, because I certainly didn’t beforehand, is that the people of Korea eat the hottest food on earth. I am not exercising my rhetorical tendency toward hyperbole when I say so; they are quite proud of the fact. They eat spicy food several times daily, often considering the food of other countries stale by comparison. A book the new Adventist teachers were given actually said that South Korea tops the worldwide list for stomach cancers, but this does not slow them down.

For them, it’s the sensation: they can exercise the senses of taste and touch at the same time. For a Westerner not accustomed to their diet, a single meal can give one the sensations of running a 10K, suffering from influenza and mourning the loss of a loved one all at once. When the teachers all gather to eat together, the following conversation can often be overheard:

Korean Teacher: How is the food?
Me: *Sniff* I promised myself I wouldn’t get emotional.
Korean Teacher: This is not spicy for me. This is normal.
Me: *Blows nose loudly*
Other Foreign Teacher with More Experience: You’re going to have to get used to the spicy food, Rob.
Me: How do I say, ‘Waiter, I need my water refilled for the twelfth time’ in Korean?
Other Korean Teacher: Does it taste good?
Me: Yes, actually, it tastes great. Is there a fire extinguisher I can use on my lips?

However, I don’t want to give the impression that the Korean staff haven’t been accommodating. They have worked very hard to make sure that I and the other foreign teachers are settling in. They regularly visit my apartment to make sure that I have enough to eat and offer other tips so that my stay will be enjoyable. Pastor Moon himself regularly visits with fruit and other help, including household advice like: “Don’t leave your fan on and close all the windows and doors while you sleep. You could…uhm, die.”

So while there are always adjustments to make in a new place, in the end it’s really all about the people you meet and the experiences you have. I’ll write with more of these events next week.

I hope.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


At Metallica Concert

(Note to readers: This is poem written for class in the style of Walt Whitman)

Mosh pit beside me! I feel one of your bodies slam into mine!
Crowd of five-thousand, I feel your collective body odor
encircling mine.

Crowds of men and women—okay, mostly men—attired in sweaty t-shirts, how
Curious you are to me!
In your Volkswagens and Chevy’s you came by the hundreds,
leaving your homes, are more curious to me
than you suppose,
And those that shall travel to these concerts in years to come are
more to me, and more in my reminiscings, than you might

The immeasurable bond we share at all times, no matter what is
popular on the radio at the moment,
The rowdy, yet organized seating structure, myself lost in crowd,
each fan lost in the crowd yet part of the seating structure.
How similar this concert is from their 1997 tour,
The glories of the Master of Puppets album sit along side
the better numbers from Load, the many wonders of the
self-titled album meshing with Kill ‘em All, sometimes
even segueing into one another,
The banging of Lars Ulrich’s drum kit in perfect timing with
our heads,
Concert-goers on tours to come, these bonds we will share,
The certainty of more concert-goers, their raised fists and sore throats.

Others will pay the sixty-five dollar ticket prices and clamor to find
decent seats,
Others will arrive hours earlier and watch the rush,
Others will join in banging their heads in unison, and making the sign of the devil
with their outstretch hand,
Five years hence, others will see their heads banging, silhouetted by the
spotlights in summer nights,
Another decade hence, or ever so many decades hence, other
concert-goers will see them,
Will enjoy the kick-ass riffs, the bruisings of the mosh pit, the
lulls when the band performs one of it’s ballads.

It avails not, album nor song preference—age avails not,
I am with you, you sweaty Metallica fans of this generation, or those of you
who’ve been fans since Ride the Lightening,
Just as you shed a tear during “Fade to Black,” I also wept like small child,
Just as you played air guitar during “Eye of the Beholder,” I also pretended,
Just as you are relieved by the catharsis that comes from singing
“Seek and Destroy”, I too am relieved,
Just as you are sensitive enough to appreciate “Nothing Else Matters”
yet hardcore enough to know the lyrics to “Whiplash”, I also know.
Just as you look throughout numberless days for tour dates and news of their
latest album, hoping that it would rock, I look’d.

I too many and many a time swapped lyrics with friends of old,
Watched the official web site, saw its black background glittered with red,
red and white letters telling of band news, giving up their secrets,
Waited as they took years off at a time to recover from the wears and tears of
touring and left fans with whetted appetites,
Waited through their record, release, tour and rest cycle hoping they would come
the to South,
Saw the gleam in mine own eye reflecting from the computer screen,
Had my fervent hopes raised when they announced they’d come to Atlanta,
Felt the bearing weight of anticipation as they days crept ever more slowly
toward July 7,
Felt the taunt of expectation when they played first in other regions,
Felt the hot sun as I waited in elongated lines outside the Georgia Dome,
Felt the unspoken competition for a decent view as the hour approached,
Saw the band enter during the strings and chorus of “Ecstasy of Gold,”
Saw them as they played the opening of “Creeping Death,” saw the other
fists pumped in appreciation,
The roadies at work tweaking sound level, dashing about to plug or unplug wires,
The giant box-shaped amplifiers, the tilting motion of the spotlights, the slender necks
of Gibson guitars,
The steam rising from hundreds of shirtless young men, the occasional security guard
wandering from row to row,
The voices gradually growing more hoarse after each anthem, the demands from
James Hetfield that we keep singing along,
The fireworks launched with yellow streaks, set to go off during “One,”
The wave-like bounce in the crowd, the gaps that opened as the mosh pit formed,
the chorus of “yeah!” that followed each song,
The patches of crowd that went silent during older portions of the band’s catalog
that they didn’t know the words to,
The fans who started following when the self-titled album came out, or perhaps
it was Reload, or perhaps they only enjoyed particular songs like
“Enter Sandman” and “Until it Sleeps,”
The fans who knew every word to every song recorded sing 1983, even though some of
us were but fours years of age at the time,
All of us cast our hands to the sky in unison, our white arms covered in perspiration,
reflecting the glow of the yellow spotlights in the dark
of a midsummer night.

These and all other thrash metal fans are to me the same as to you,
I loved well these 220 beats-per-minute staples, loved well the 120 b.p.m. songs,
The smelly young men there were all (a little too) near to me,
Others who attend in next tour the same—others who will pay upwards of
seventy dollars for mediocre seats,
(The time will come, though I have spent my money to-night and am broke.)

What is it then that sends us?
What are the school bills and car bills and rent that seek to prevent us
from seeing our favorite band?

Whatever they are, they avail not—tuition avails not, and the rising cost of
gasoline avails not,
I too, drove here from a distance several hours away,
I too will be dead tired during my summer class in the morning, catching
rest on the wooden desk beneath my face,
I too will face questions from parents about how I spend spare cash,
In the evening among crowds of metalheads sometimes I wondered if this
was the best use of my time,
While singing along to “Sad but True” I wondered if I would need my speaking
voice the next day,
I too received my identity through my fandom,
I had made the sacrifices necessary to be a fan, and what I should be I
knew should be in fandom.

It is not upon you alone that popular music falls,
Pop threw its three minute singles down upon me also,
The best songs it seem’d to me too dissonant and pretentious
The great bands as I once recognized them, were they not in reality
Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be a sellout,
I am he who knew what it means to sell out,
I too, purchased the CD of Nickleback,
Creed, Bush, Silverchair, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Staind
Had CDs, cassettes, singles, MP3’s, posters, t-shirt, I should have not bought,
Heard grunge, pop-punk, hip-hop, nu-metal, glam-metal, worst of all, rap-metal,
The fair-weather fan, the fashion victim, the poser reflect in my CD purchases,
The Will Smith, the Kid Rock, the Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen, in my CD
The Bon Jovi, Everclear, Offspring, Linkin Park, the Blink 182, all
of in these in my collection,
Was one of the fads, the trends, and the styles on MTV,
Flaunted my trendy purchases for young girls hoping they’d notice me
in approaching or passing,
Felt the weight in my wallet diminish as I wasted income, or the resignation
when I see them collecting dust in my CD rack,
Saw many groups I respected languish in the underground or as opening
acts, yet I spent not a dime on their efforts,
Listened to the same Korn with the rest, the same screaming, yelling,
clichéd lyrics,
Play’d the album that that still sends royalties to record labels and corporations,
The same album, the album that is what music business makes it, as popular as
they say it is,
Or as forgotten as they say it is, or both over- and underrated.

Their next summer tour approaches,
What songs you will know the words to, I knew as well as you—I brushed
up on the older numbers in advance,
I memorized lyric sheets and song directories before you were even a fan.

Who knows what kind of crowd will show up on those evenings?
Who knows how they will enjoy the songs off the St. Anger album?
Who knows what distances they will travel to attend, I am as good as smelling
you already, for Metallica fans are not known for good hygiene?

What song can ever be so poignant and yet rock so hard as “One,” off the
epic …And Justice for All Album?
Clean picked chords at the beginning and machine-gun riffs at the denouement?
Lead guitarist making his Stratocaster cry and moan, lead singer commanding
from the stage, the bass player doing his part and staying out of the way?
What band can better them that batter our ear drums with power chords, and
with voice I have longed to hear say sing of Lovecraftian things that
should not be as we chant along?
What is more awesome than this which bonds me to the women or men—okay,
just men—who stand beside me?
What brings us together tonight, and pours your sweat glands into my nose?

Rock on, Metallica! rock with the rhythm guitar, and beat the bass drum!
Mosh on, energetic and misunderstood metalheads!
Hard-hitting anthems during the encore! batter with your speed me,
or the men and, uhm, men in concerts to come!
Come in your Volkswagons, countless crowds of concert-goers!
Raise up your fists during “Battery!” throw out your voices during
“For Whom the Bell Tolls!”
Spend, impoverished and devoted fan! dish out your savings and buy second-rate
Forget everything outside while you are here, inside the sea of fandom!
Listen, open and thirsting ears, to the lengthy “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
or the more radio-friendly “King Nothing.”
Sound out, voice of James Hetfield! loudly and musically sing the chorus,
“Just call my name, ‘cause I’ll hear you scream!”
Spin, old Metallica albums! play the songs that didn’t need MTV airplay to
become concert anthems!
Play the new songs, the songs some consider too polished and popular, depending
on the tastes of the listener!
Consider, you who purchase these albums, whether I may not be banging my head
at the same time you are;
Be firm, rail against the boy bands and support those who languish in the
underground fighting against pop music;
Wail on, lead guitarist! play with melody, or play with the inspired dissonance
of “The Shortest Straw;”
Support the riff, you bass player, and faithfully hold the rhythm section till
the four-, six- or eight- minute song is finished!
Pound, wooden sticks, to the drums of Lars Ulrich to the motion of my neck,
or any one’s neck, in the perspiring crowd!
Come out, support crew from behind the curtain! get the speakers and equipment
on stage in Memphis, Indianapolis and Phoenix!
Sing, James Hetfield, lead singer of all singers! but take some due time off to rest
your vocal chords!
Loom large on stage, you gods of metal! cast long shadows on the Billboard
charts! bring white noise and dark subject material to our boring
suburban lives!
Our presence, now and in tours to come, indicates what we are,
We necessary fans, continue to purchase albums and concert tickets,
Otherwise the band couldn’t maintain its current lifestyle and have to get
real employment;
Thrive in future albums—record speed-metal favorites, mid-tempo songs,
more melodic and thoughtful ballads,
Diversify, and don’t worry about those afraid of change,
Keep your energy and intensity and you will keep your smelly fans,

We have waited, and will always wait, we intense, misunderstood
We receive your output with arms outstretched, and are for now
Not any more this week shall be able to frustrate us, or withhold
satisfaction from us,
We use you, but will not abandon you for Slipknot—your albums
are on permanent rotation,
We are not worthy—we love you—there is good in even
your worst albums,
You kick ass in your live concerts,
This tour or the next, you kick ass in your live concerts.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Flight Fears and International Incidents

(Note to readers, yeah, all three of you: You may remember this as the second submission to the Post-Intelligencer, sent in the first week of September. But, just for posterity's sake, I'm posting it nonetheless.)

My first and second times on a plane were in 1999, and from what I recall of that trip, security measures certainly have changed. These days laptop computers must be in plain sight, shaving razors are left at home and security guards wield metal detectors without hesitation, not to mention clippers in case a prospective passenger bears suspiciously sharp fingernails.

But even in those less cautious times, a first fling in a flying machine was an intimidating prospect. One could site statistics of airline safety until their countenance turned cobalt and this would generally fail to assuage one’s deepest concerns, namely: “This thing is really, really high off the ground.” As such, the person who is on their first ever flight is generally easy to spot: they are the ones whose necks appear trapped at an angle allowing them to look at nothing save the airline window. Recent government studies by top scientists have isolated the exact thought process of these passengers during the first hour of any given flight: “This is as high as we need to go, right? Right???”

My third time on a plane took place on the morning of Aug. 21, when I flew from Nashville to Chicago before boarding the plane which would bring me to Seoul, South Korea. Though my six-year gap in aeronautical expeditions had left me unprepared for the resurgence of my first flight fears, I can confidently say that this trip was different from those, because this time I had a window seat for an even better look. Yes, I knew that only about one in a million flights crash, but if mine topped that particular fraction this would be slight comfort.

Though the Nashville flight was booked with an American company, those who did the booking evidently sought to prepare me for the cultural experiences ahead by sitting me beside an Asian man, and to accustom me to my coming geometric difficulties by preparing an incredibly low hanging overhead storage compartment.

After entering my window seat with my 6’4 frame bent forward at a 90-degree angle, I noticed that the two seats across the divide had a symmetrical arrangement to ours: compact Asian man with easy access to the aisle placed beside a lumbering Caucasian folded into a window seat.

During the portion of flight in which the waitress distributed what passes for on-flight nourishment, myself and the other passenger with WASP-like characteristics both ordered Pepsi. Meanwhile, (Warning: Ethnic generalization to follow) our more centrally-located flying companions ordered fruit juice, perhaps believing that caffeine would offset their intentionally stunted growth that allows them to sit comfortably in airplanes.

But, had I to do it all over again, I probably would have treasured that hour or so flying to Nashville, rather than staring at the ground wishing for the plane to land, and then wishing it would land but just a little slower, please. I say this because, despite the strategically located Asian men beside me, this is the last time I can remember being part of the majority cultural demographic. The moment I stepped into Chicago’s international terminal, suddenly my identity was that of Pasty McAnglo, he of the greatest vertical dimensions, lightest complexion and worst scores on standardized math tests within a 100-yard radius.

And this feeling continued after I boarded Korean Airlines. After several hours, how high the plane is flying becomes a secondary concern well-behind wondering when the flight will end, allowing you once-neglected access to the blood flow of all extremities. In truth, it was only a 13-hour flight felt but substantially longer for all of the following reasons: 1) The in-flight movie was Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.

I must say, however, the flight attendants on Asian airlines are very dedicated to their jobs. Towards the end of the flight, I was served a fish dinner by a lady who asked, in her limited English, if I wanted Tobasco sauce with it. Having not come down firmly on one side of the Tobasco-with-meals issue, I shrugged and said, “Sure.” After waiting a couple of minutes, I started my meal anyway. As the last piece of fish entered my gullet, she returned with Tobasco in hand.

“Oh, I sorry,” she said while bowing with hands folded. “I bring you another.” I was unsure of what she meant until another fish dinner arrived to accompany my precious hot sauce.

“I sorry,” she reiterated, continuing to bow.

“It’s okay, really,” I said, while thinking, Don’t go do something ritual to yourself with one of the plastic butter knives.

But despite the occasional cultural misunderstanding and ill-conceived Sandra Bullock vehicle, I arrived in Seoul and was picked up by representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist language institute. At 9 p.m. South Korean time, and 26 hours after the trip began, I arrived at my temporary Seoul apartment, where I marked the occasion by uttering the well-regarded international slogan of good will: “Jet lag, shmet lag, where can I lay down?”

Former Post-Intelligencer reporter Rob York now teaches English in South Korea. He can be reached at

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Why have I come to South Korea? Well...

(Note to readers: This was written in August and published in the Post-Intelligencer the week before I left.)

When those you know discover your intentions to move away, it usually results in remarks like “Oh, really?” followed by requests for phone numbers and/or mailing addresses. My decision has prompted these responses, but the conversation tends to take a different quality upon word of my destination.
“So when are you leaving?” they’ll ask.
“Near the end of August,” I respond.
“Now where is it you’re going?”
“Actually…South Korea. I’m going to be teaching English,” I’ll say, and wait for their reactions.
The variations have been entertaining. My personal favorites: “Not North Korea, right?” “Are your parents okay with it?” and “Have you warned them about your freakish height?”
For your edification, the answers to these questions are, “No, I’ll save a voyage to a Stalinist regime for my second overseas trip,” “Yes, they’ll let someone else feed me for the next year,” and “This may be my only chance to be good at basketball.”
And then there are those who have simply wondered, “Why?”
That answer is much longer. I’m going through my church, so some think of it as a noble call to service. Some assume that I’ve been looking for a way out of Paris. Others are certain it’s just the lure of Asian women.
In a way, all of these reasons have contributed, though I’ll let you guess at which of those three ranks highest. I learned about the opportunity earlier this year through an advertisement in a magazine published by Seventh-day Adventists. I’ve long desired to travel, but South Korea had not been high on my list of places to see, and not only because of their proximity to a five-foot-tall lunatic armed with impossibly gelled hair (Kim Jong-Il, not Clay Aiken).
But then I began to tell myself that this was a real opportunity. “Self,” I said, “You want to come back a few stories to tell. You want to do some good for society, even if it’s in a foreign land. You want to see more of the world and be a more thoughtful person because of it.
“You want an entire culture to look to you in awe because of your freakish height, and this is that chance.”
There is something not entirely altruistic about the journey, because it’s not just about what I can do, but what South Korea can do something for me. In a sense, I’m leaving because rural West Tennessee is boring. In another sense, I’m leaving because I’m boring, too.
I think of my ordinary life, and I compare myself to people who rose to prominence by making a difficult choice. I think of Meriwether Lewis, who overcame a less-than-masculine-first name and ended up having a cross-country expedition named for him, when he could have simply remained another government employee in the early years of our republic.
I think of Harry S. Truman, who overcame a tragically stunted middle name to become the president most responsible for the election of Dwight Eisenhower, when he could have simply remained another senator from Missouri.
And I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who overcame having a name even he can’t spell to become governor of California, when he could have simply remained your average, run-of-the-mill bodybuilding champion/movie star/real estate magnate worth north of $300 million.
With these and other inspirations in mind, I’m leaving this week. I’m trying to pick up the language, but so far it sounds like someone with an Asian dialect making incomprehensible baby sounds and looks like a series of ornate kitchen utensils. I really have no idea what to expect, and no one I’ve spoken to has much of an idea either; they keep referring to concepts like “yen” and “Geisha” which are strictly Japanese. But whatever I find out, I promise to keep you posted.

Former Post-Intelligencer reporter/photographer Rob York will be teaching English and religion in South Korea for the next year. He can be reached at

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