Sunday, May 27, 2007
Beware the Danger of MRIs (Male-Related Injuries)
Through squinting, teary eyes, he can see a woman working in the store the sign belongs to, wincing in hurtful empathy. His significant other continues walking, still searching for the eatery and not noticing his mishap. He does nothing to alert her to his condition, either, because it’s fine with him if she never finds out how accident prone her boyfriend is.
Cause of incident: He just wasn’t paying attention at the time.
Scene 2: Another young American male, age 18, is in his rural Tennessee home preparing for a church youth group picnic. While he and a friend prepare food to bring to the event, one of them initiates a water gun fight. Opinions differ as to who started the skirmish, believing that such a confrontation was a good idea indoors. What is certain is the result: the young man’s pate collides with the doorframe which serves as an entry to his bedroom.
His mother delivers the food his family had prepared for the picnic to his fellow church members while he sits in the car, clutching a towel to the gash atop his head, which will require stitches and leave a scar for many, many years to come.
Cause: He just wasn’t thinking at the time.
Scene 3: A young American male in Korea is traveling overnight to a city northwest of Seoul. Because it’s a short trip, all the clothes and toiletries are packed into a single bag. In the morning, he rummages through his bag looking for his towel before taking a shower. Navigating by feel, his left finds the towel, but not before accidentally finding his shaving razor.
Its much-touted tri-blade system leaves him with three narrow but deep cuts in the middle finger of his left hand. He proceeds with his shower anyway, hoping that ignoring the wounds will cause them to go away faster. However, he leaves multiple red spots in his host’s bathroom, and at the end of his shower the bleeding has not slowed, much less stopped. When he emerges he must ask: “Do you have a bandage? How about several?”
Cause: Putting the razor there just seemed like a good idea at the time.
These incidents, while occurring in different countries, represent an alarming and yet under-reported threat to a significant portion of our population. Indeed, millions of people worldwide are at risk for painful, embarrassing injuries when they attempt to do even basic tasks while being male.
Awareness of this condition and its risk would probably increase if it had an easily recognizable name. Though the acronym has already been claimed within the medical community, I suggest calling them Male-Related Injuries (MRI’s). It is high time that our society as whole began paying more attention to the inherent risks that those saddled with Y-chromosomes face, and I am not simply suggesting this because two of the three above incidents happened to me.
The results of MRI’s may include death, serious injury, and even worse, low self-esteem. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to explain the marks I bore as a result of Scene 1 because, two days after the incident, I was seriously sunburned, obscuring the red marks on my nose and forehead (forgetting sunscreen can also result in an MRI, depending on the severity of the burn).
This malady begins afflicting us from a young age. When I was 9 I distinctly recall an afternoon outside my school, when I rode a bicycle down a steep hill, falling and splitting the back of my head open on the handlebars. This misadventure was prompted after I had gathered with about four other similarly-afflicted young males and we agreed that trying to ride a bicycle down a steep hill would just be a neat thing to try.
As we grow older, MRI’s can threaten our productivity, and even our lives. A simple Yahoo search, using the words “man,” “injured” and “stupidity” yields 800,000 results, not to mention some enlightening anecdotes on the effects of unenlightenment. For example, last fall, a 22-year-old London man suffered serious internal injuries while celebrating Guy Fawkes Day, when he inserted a lit firecracker into his buttocks which, despite all odds, exploded.
There’s also the example from the past year of the 26-year-old scuba diver from Florida who required major surgery on his lip when he kissed a nurse shark, which he apparently hadn’t bought a drink for first. The lesson he learned from his experience? “Don’t kiss a shark while it’s upside-down.”
Tales of many MRI’s, especially fatal ones, are often found at the home page for the Darwin Awards. These “prizes” are presented to those who have ostensibly made the world a better place by ridding us of their faulty genetic material. The trouble is, just about every man, regardless of his upbringing and the amount of letters following his name, is only one MRI away from an embarrassing death or causing an embarrassing injury to someone else. It doesn’t matter if the person is, say, the vice president, all it takes is a single MRI for him to be forever known as the guy who shot a elderly lawyer in the face on a hunting trip.
This is a dire situation which calls for more attention, and maybe some government handouts. That way, at least we’ll be able to provide for our children after our final embarrassing accident.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Congratulations, but your work is just starting
This is the moment that you have all been working for since your mother drove you to kindergarten, masquerading in sadness but breathing deep exclamations of reprieve once you were out of the car.
The moment you’ve been looking forward to all these years is, of course, my speech, which I spent all of 30 minutes this morning working on, devising platitudes which could summarize your entire life up to this point, and concocting rote predictions of the struggles that are to come.
I’m sure you won’t mind that, any more than you mind sitting here for the next hour waiting for a diploma, overdressed on a humid May evening, perched on an uncomfortable metal folding chair seated next to guy who always wanted you to tell him the answers during the geometry test.
So, now that we’ve established how glad you all are to see me here, let me tell you what I’m going to… uhm, tell you, I guess. This is what you have earned through all of your hard work during the last decade: more hard work. Life, that crusty but lovable old codger that he is, knows how much you enjoyed your labor, and so he’s provided a lifetime’s worth to anyone just plucky enough to take him up on it!
The remainder of our speech will be directed at those of you who will be moving on to the college or university of your choice, so those of you who are ending your education here can go now. We wish you all the best, and good luck to you!
(Wait for seats to empty and the non-college bound to depart.)
Not that luck is going to help them, where they’re going! Ha ha! But anyway, I’m glad that those of you who actually want a future have stuck around. I know what each of you ambitious kids are seeking: the winning numbers for the Tennessee Lottery. I can’t help you with that, but fortunately I know the thing you’ll accept if the winning tickets are taken.
You all want … a Real Job. It may or may not come with a company e-mail address, a desk, or even a cubicle, but a Real Job is that first position that you can describe unashamedly to your fellow adults. Over the next four years (or five, for those of you who will change your major, which is, well, probably all of you) you will seek the courses, the internships and the grades that will differentiate between yourselves and millions (and I do mean millions!) of college-bound competitors who are receiving their diplomas this month.
By the time you are ready to graduate, you will have tried unsuccessfully to line up that first real job so many times that you think you’ll be ready to take anything that provides you with a business card. When you finally land that first Real Job, the euphoria will rush over you like a freshly running stream! You’ll be on top of the world! Nothing will be able to pull you off that cloud!
Nothing except your first actual day at work, that is. If you arrive at work at, say, 8 a.m., on a Monday, look for the euphoria to be snuffed out by roughly 9:15. Unfortunately, the end of euphoria is not the end of work, or even the end of the work week. By Friday, your alarm will go off and, you can trust me on this, you will mutter the following dialogue to yourself:
“In one hour, I will get in my car for my 30-minute commute. In 90 minutes, I will be in my office among the people I have to trust but barely know, and 30 minutes subsequent to that I’ll probably be on the phone calling people who don’t really want to talk to me.”
You will then hit your snooze alarm, hoping the whole ordeal will be made easier by nine more minutes in bed.
There will be times when you work late, wondering to yourself if your peers (so to speak) who chose not to go to college, but instead to do work in the tertiary sector of industry during the day and then get intoxicated at night chose the better career path. These are natural impulses, but don’t yield to them. Your future reward will come! If those dividends seem too distant, then make yourself feel better by thinking of those “peers” of yours who have to call you “sir” and ask you what size cup you want during your lunch break.
They have to show respect to you, and you ought to show it to yourself. Give yourself such esteem by meeting all your responsibilities with all your ability. Ask yourself this: if everyone at my office/in my church/in my country were like me, would it be a better place? If you can say yes, your self-respect will eventually be followed by the esteem of others.
Now go out there and get to work.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Safe From North Korea?
You might, like me, conclude that South Korea is actually one of the safer places to be.
Stephen Colbert'st Parody of the Korean pop star, RAIN
Is this as funny to you as it is to me?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Swimming at Phuket
On the island of Pucket there are many places to enjoy swimming. Catherine and I took in a day of snorkeling, followed by a day spent at our hotel's swimming pool and then the ocean at Patong Beach. Here, I could fulfill what seems to be my annual tradition of getting burnt to an absolute crisp. I'm telling you, the ocean washes sunscreen right off.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Is Fred Thompson the New Wesley Clark?
There was a clear front-runner who, despite his moderate track record and questions about his electability, held the positions on military and defense issues that motivated primary voters.
There was an “entitlement” candidate many had expected to be chosen but was lagging behind, do to a floundering message and lackluster fundraising. There was also a candidate who had switched positions on abortion, but was solidly in line with the party’s position on business/labor.
Yet, the base was dissatisfied. They called openly for another choice, and soon settled on one in particular. They felt he had the right qualities to take on the other party’s standard bearer. Movements to “draft” him became all the rage, and soon he joined the race.
The last two paragraphs describe the Democrats in 2003, but do they also illustrate the Republican sentiment in 2007? If you think about, they fit both. Howard Dean was seen as a fiscal conservative during the decade-plus he spent governing Vermont. However, his position against the war in Iraq electrified the liberal base. Likewise, many conservatives may decry Rudy Giuliani’s position on social issues, but like his masculine approach to national security.
John McCain, once the presumed front-runner, is currently performing an accurate imitation of John Kerry during much of 2003, as he struggles mightily to connect with primary voters and raise money.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is the flipside of Richard Gephardt. Both had awfully convenient changes of heart regarding abortion before they launched presidential bids. Whereas Gephardt relied on his strongly pro-union stance to win over Democrats, Romney is banking on his business and management record to reel in Republicans.
A comparison of these two races is certainly inexact (for example, the Republicans have no counterpart to Joe Lieberman’s failed ’04 bid), but the speculation surrounding former Sen. Fred Thompson is awfully reminiscent of what prompted Wesley Clark to join the race four years ago.
The Democrats of those days felt the need to beef up their security credentials through the participation of a four-star general. In the eyes of many Dems, only a decorated warrior who’d commanded militaries and survived being shot four times could overcome the hated but certainly imposing George W. Bush.
The three front-runners in the current race for the Republican nomination certainly aren’t lacking in qualifications, but are not trusted by voters in the primaries. There are a handful of sufficiently right-wing candidates trailing them, but the faithful don’t suspect any of them of having a chance against Hillary Clinton next year.
So, just as Michael Moore openly encouraged Clark to get in the race, the Cal Thomases of the right pen columns calling for Thompson to “Run, Fred, Run.” The question that supporters of the actor-turned-senator-turned-actor-again and his return to politics ought to ask themselves is this: will he repeat Clark’s trajectory once he commits?
Clark, as you may recall, was recruited to be the anti-Dean. However, soon after entering the race it appeared that he struggled in choosing whether to take a different position on Iraq from Dean, or to be just as anti-war but more Southern and likable. His loyalty to the Democratic Party was also questioned, with some believing that he was running for office with the only party that didn’t have a nominee yet.
Due to these factors and his inexperience, his candidacy never caught fire, and when Dean imploded Clark was no longer the alternative Democrats wanted.
Thompson is seen as an alternative to the top three, but he’s really the anti-Giuliani. McCain and Romney are both more conservative than the former New York mayor but have even less appeal to the right. Thompson, on the other hand, is also considered more conservative than Rudy and has the added selling point of being a recognizable film and television star.
Unlike Clark, no one will question whether Thompson is a Republican. However, they may question other things.
For example, if his campaign plays up his stance on abortion in an attempt to contrast him with Giuliani, how is he going to respond when the pro-life activists dig up his statement in 1994 that “government should stay out of (abortion)” and “the ultimate decision should be made by the woman?”
How popular will he be with the right when they start paying more attention to his past support for the hated McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill and his vote against impeaching Bill Clinton?
When these issues catch up with his campaign, his record of public service won’t be enough to save him. During his eight years in the Senate, his legislative achievements could hardly be compared to Ted Kennedy’s, or even John McCain’s.
Will he be able to campaign his way out of trouble? He only has experience in two senate races, one in 1994 with the wind of the Republican Revolution at his back, and in 1996 against a little-known opponent. He has never experienced anything like a divisive primary campaign against big-name opponents.
Furthermore, it was a surge in the polls from John Kerry that made Wesley Clark irrelevant. Should the Republicans start responding to McCain’s dogged defense of the Iraq War or be convinced that Romney will enact a socially conservative agenda, Thompson will have nothing left to sell.
As was the case with Wesley Clark, the idea of a Fred Thompson candidacy may be more appealing than the candidate himself. If so, he will regret leaving the cast of “Law & Order” to join Clark in the hall of presidential losers.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
How to Make Friendly With an Elephant
Someday, if someone runs frantically into the room and shouts, “Can anyone here perform CPR?” they will probably look at me, I will shrug, and the life of that person choking on pastrami in the next room will be in someone else’s hands.
However, if that person comes scampering into the room and asks “Has anyone here ever ridden an elephant?” my hand will accelerate upward like the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
“Maybe you can help me then,” the person might then say.
“Uh, probably not,” I would respond. “I didn’t have much control over the situation.”
My relationship with certain animals, especially the particularly large variety that people like to be transported atop of, would never be described as warm. This is despite the fact that I grew up on a farm in Tennessee, and there were horses, cattle, goats and other animals whose class I’ve probably forgotten all around me.
At an age when I was just starting to learn the difference between the words “no” and “on,” my two older sisters took an interest in riding horses. They had a pair of Appaloosas they quite were fond of riding, and so someone had the idea of procuring a pony which I would use, probably assuming that this was the equestrian version of training wheels. As it turns out, ponies, which are shorter than other horses by definition, were only advantageous for one reason: they represent less of a distance to fall off of.
I’m not sure how many times my pre-pre-pubescent personage came crashing to the agrarian earth before I decided that horseback riding was not for me. All I know is that I faced no pressure from my parents or elder siblings to get back on at that point. After all, when attempting to teach a 5-year-old anything, one may start with lofty ambitions, but soon minimizing the amount of time spent crying becomes the highest priority.
Since then, every time a friend has bribed, threatened or otherwise coerced me to get on a horse, none of the temporary feelings of enjoyment during the experience can ever match the sense of relief that comes after. “If this horse ever gets a sense of how much power it has in our current relationship,” I would say to friends, “please tell my family that I loved them.”
Riding an elephant is very similar to riding a horse in some respects. The key difference being that only one person is typically at a horse’s mercy, whereas an elephant may have up to three.
Thailand’s Chiangmai province is home to many of the remaining Asiatic Elephants, which are an endangered species. While smaller than the African variety, Asian Elephants are still typically between seven-12 feet in height and weigh between 6,000-11,000 pounds. I suppose that when I heard my girlfriend tell me that we would be spending time riding an elephant in Chiangmai, I pictured a tranquil, domesticated creature, large and yet largely passive.
I supposed that their years in captivity had relieved them of their more natural impulses. This may be a politically-incorrect hope, but those of us who’d like to actually interact with nature would rather not play the role of the egg that is naturally crushed under thousands of pounds of pressure.
Not long after my group of 10 tourists arrived at the elephant farm, we saw a sign that read “SOME FOOD TO MAKE FRIENDLY WITH THE ELEPHANT SET JUST 20 BAHT,” which is less than $1. Soon, one of the elephants came tromping into our general area, demanding its share of bananas, and we all got the sense that “making friendly” with the animals is definitely a plus. This was not a full-grown specimen, more of an “early-teen,” and yet up close we could see its saggy, dark, leathery skin, and literally thousands of pounds of strength it has in each gesture.
We each moved in, trying to alternately feed, photograph and touch the beast in between its temperamental gesticulations. There was a sense amongst us that, with but a single abrupt movement of its head, it could do to us something worse than what Lawrence Taylor did to Joe Theismann on Monday Night Football. When it decided to take a batch of bananas from the farm that no one had paid for, the workers protested but declined to intervene.
And to think, this was a smaller animal than the one each of us would be depending on to safely transport us for the better part of an hour.
Each of us paired up and rode one of the elephants while a local from the farm directed the creature using a stick. Periodically, its serpentine snout would curl upwards and backwards, resting on top of its head. This was our signal to “make friendly,” and begin providing our elephant with bananas. So, we would place our unpeeled produce in the oval opening at the end of the trunk. It latched on, swung downward and would immediately swing upward again, until it was sure it had taken the entire bunch.
This cycle repeated itself throughout the journey, although occasionally an pachyderm behind us would see our bananas and, believing that we needed to make friendly with it also, make an appeal for us to donate some of our bounty. When I set foot on the ground again, I had trunk-opening-shaped kiss of mud on the back of my shirt from one such appeal.
The 10 of us who rode that day consisted of two Australians, two Canadians, two Germans, two Japanese, plus one Korean and one American. Yet for each minute we were on board our pachyderms, we were all simply human beings experiencing the wonder of nature, while hoping the wonder of nature wouldn’t be the last thing we ever experienced.
After all, life’s too short to live with too much security.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Overnight in Chiangmai
Even if we hadn't ridden an elephant (more on that in a later blog), the Chiangmai province would still have been the most memorable of all the locations we visited while in Thailand.
We joined a group of eight other people (two Australians, two Canadians, two Germans, and two Japanese) on our trek. We traveled up the side of mountain, through several village communities.
The people who live there, including those we stayed overnight with, apparently use no electricity, but then again, who needs electricity when you have your own monkey?
Not to mention your own pig, which you can keep tied to your house.
We were led on our trip by Paul, a local who speaks English (and even a little Korean) and remains thin spry from his many adventures hiking trips through the woods, despite being a 42-year-old chain smoker. The villagers cooked for us, and we left the next day to return to the city of Chiangmai, which is kind of resembles a suburb of Orlando in many ways.
One thing that would make the suburbs of Orlando more interesing, however, would be a bunch of signs written in funny-sounding English.
"What are you, what what, what what..." It just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Monday, May 07, 2007
The Thai Massage Industry
Thailand is well-known for its massages. For a little less than $20 both Catherine and I were able to get full-body rub-downs in Bangkok and Chiangmai, and later a foot massage in Phuket. Not all masseuses are the same; some have the strength of pipe-fitters, while others can situate themselves above you with the agilty of spider-monkeys. One thing they all have in common is a knowledge of the human body that a general practice physician would envy. They use this power for good; however, if they wanted to, I suspect they could use their hands in ways that would make you give up your loyalty to your religion, your country and your mother.
Another trait they all seem to share is the humorous signs in front of their shops. If I ever try to write a message in a foreign language and post it outside my business, I must remember to have a native speaker proofread it first, lest a smartass foreigner with a camera drop by.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Foreign Influence Upon Thailand
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that Thailand has become highly Americanized. In virtually all Asian countries we can now see American products like McDonalds, Coke and Pepsi spelled in the local country's language.
What did surprise me was how influential Korea has become in other Asian countries. Posters for its art, such as music and movies, can be found throughout Thailand. The K-Pop singer Rain, pictured here, is especially prominent in ads for his own albums and pitching for other products, much to Catherine's delight.
Another surprising thing is that Thailand has a few things from America that I have been missing since I came to Korea.
For example, it's much easier to buy deoderant and a long pair of socks, unlike what you find in Korea, where white socks ne'er climb past the ankles and start disintegrating after about one year's use.
However, it was perhaps my greatest and most unexpected joy to find root beer in Bangkok. Not just any root beer, either; but A&W, the king of canned carbonation. It had Thai writing on its can, and as is the custom in those parts, they insisted on giving me a straw with it. Since it is nowhere to be found in Korea, I struggled to explain the taste of root beer to Catherine, so I simply allowed her a taste.
She recoiled after one sip and said, "It tastes like the sugar!"
Out of the mouths of ESL students.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
In Thailand We'd Probably All be Salesmen
(At left - Here's a helpful hint: Always take a Korean with you when you must haggle over prices, especially with cab drivers. Catherine, like all Koreans, is used to negotiation and already knows how much she intends to pay for anything before she even sees it.)
Senior year of college is a very uncertain time for many of us, especially those with liberal arts backgrounds. In addition to trying to graduate, we also have to take time to look for jobs.
As we locate potential possibilities for employment, we should be able to answer yes to at least two of three questions: A) Does the job description sound enjoyable, or at least not make us want to cut our wrists with a plastic knife from Wendy’s during lunch break? B) Will the job place us on the right track for future employment, or at least not give us the kind of résumés that human resources heads will gather in groups to ogle at while guffawing out loud? C) Does the job pay well, or will you have to both carpool and eat spaghetti for every meal?
As I searched for gainful employment in those days, I was approached by several companies who saw my burgeoning credentials on places like Monster.com, Hotjobs.com and EvenifIhavetoshovelmanure.com. Invariably, all of these plausible proprietors wanted me to sell things, and usually insurance. I always gave these possibilities at least temporary consideration, but ultimately decided against such avenues of avocation because I only saw two possible outcomes: 1) I would never learn the tools of the trade and would die destitute and malnourished, or 2) I would learn the tricks of the trade would die a more gradual and insidious death by self-loathing.
(At left: 'Takeout pimple' is a luxury too many of us take for granted.)
What about sales is such an anathema to my nature? Well, during my recent trip to Thailand for vacation, a few enlightening things about the profession were made painfully clear. Within Korea, my current country of residence, there is one city district in Seoul named Itaewon where virtually everyone has something to sell, especially to foreigners. It may be a dress suit, it may be pocket knife, or it may be the kind of thing that happens in and, in theory, stays in Las Vegas.
However, Itaewon is a single district of a single city, and Thailand is an entire country with two-and-a-half times the area of Texas, more than three times the population, all 70-or-so-million of which want you to buy something from them. Here are the main problems:
1) You must convince people to buy from you, even though as many as 30 people in your general area are selling the same thing.
On the streets of Bangkok, it is impossible (at least for a foreigner) to take more than two-three steps outdoors without hearing someone tell you they can offer you a taxi, a suit or a massage. Actually, these businesses exist side-by-side, and one after another in virtually every metropolitan area of Thailand, meaning that the vendors have to pitch to everyone who walks by lest they choose a competing masseuse, cab driver, or guy-who-sells-clothes-that-are-too-hot-to-wear-in-Bangkok-anyway.
(At left: Catherine haggles over jewelry. I think she got the price reduced from $4 to $3.25, and who's to say how important that money might be later.)
2) No one needs what you are selling, and no one wants to buy nearly as much as you want to them too.
The trick seems to be the ability to say, “Hey, I have short sleeved shirts!” as if this were the cure for lung cancer. Should such an approach actually work with you, and you actually choose to buy a short-sleeved shirt, you should know that the vendor will actually try to sell you three. Should you decide to take a taxi in Bangkok to whatever sightseeing destination you desire, the driver probably has a deal with some other vendors and will take you against your will to see them on the way.
“Yes, I take you to the Temple of the (insert posture, color or emotional temperament) Buddha,” the cab driver will say, “but first shopping! I take you to shop for tailor-made suits, shirts, scarves, boxer briefs and … hey, come back here!”
3) You have to sell these unnecessary things to survive.
This is especially true in a place like Thailand, where labor is very weak politically. Service professionals gladly accept tips equivalent to 50 cents, and a taxi driver can take you across a city of nearly 8 million people for between $2-$3. As such, whole families chip in ventures like this, hoping that together they can scrape together a living.
Even if I had taken a sales job in America, my early days probably would have been like this, with me begging people to buy enough for me to afford my two or three daily meals of spaghetti. However, the sympathy involved would not change the fact that:
4) Most people really, really don’t like you.
Even if I became a master promoter, the knowledge that those who were turning me away were really enjoying doing so would sting, as would knowing that most of those who bought from me were probably doing so just to make me go away.
Many of the street vendors in Thailand obviously know how they are viewed, and some try to use it advantageously. One shirt I saw on the island of Phuket actually reads “I don’t need a massage, a taxi or &*@$ing suit, thank you very much.”
(At left: 'Western-style toilets on the ground floor' is definitely worthy of an exclamation point!!!)
Also, the vendors vary their pitches every now and then, saying things like a) “Where are you going?” b) “What are you looking for?” and c) “Hey lovely guy, you want suit?” Should you visit, it is best to have some rehearsed responses. The best respective answers to these questions are, of course, a) “Crazy,” b) “Some purpose in this bleak, lackluster life of mine,” and c) “There is not adequate health care in this country to cover what I will do to you if you call me ‘lovely’ ever again.”
Thailand is an interesting place to visit, but I’m glad I was born in America, where people need only enter such ventures by choice. If someone should choose that life and excel at it, who are any of us to criticize?
(If you’ve ever been interrupted during Sunday lunch by someone who tried to sell you an encyclopedia, you are the one to criticize. Salesmen are a pestilence.)
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]