Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Marriage: More Responsibility, but Less Cell Phone Use
I can hear your groans of indignation from here, so let me explain: If forced to talk to someone by phone over punishment of dismemberment or a marathon viewing of Dr. Phil, my wife to be would definitely top the list of those I’d choose to talk to. It’s just that I consider the telephone my least favorite of all communication technologies.
Sometimes I long for the days when it seemed that cell phones were only used by people who people living in large metropolitan American cities who carried briefcases and lived such fast-paced lifestyles that they survived on a diet of espressos. Now, thanks to the miracle of advanced telecommunications technologies, my discomfort is wholly affordable.
She and I minimized our use of cell phones when we lived near one another in Chuncheon, but when I moved to Seoul in pursuit of greater employment opportunities (and anything not requiring me to instruct Korean children to stop hitting each other with various writing utensils long enough to learn English pronunciation can be considered “greater”) it became a nightly ritual.
Every evening around 9:30 p.m. I’d feel the buzz of my cell phone in my pocket or hear its vibrations reverberate off of whatever piece of furniture I’d placed it on top off. At that moment I’d know that my activities, be they studying Korean, watching a movie or trying to keep my dirty dishes from overflowing out of the sink would have to end, as these activities required concentration I could no longer commit.
No one had required this of me earlier in life. Living in Tennessee, even phone calls to my best (male) friends were models of efficiency and directness. Had I been gone on vacation for more than a week, I would call simply to notify them that I’d returned and to find out if they had an interest in going to the gym together the next day. The beauty of (or the pity of) the Man’s Phone Conversation Streamlining Sense is that I actually needed to express very few of these sentiments.
“Hello?” my friend would answer.
“Hey it’s me,” I’d say. “I just got back.”
“How was your trip?” he’d inquire.
“All right,” I’d answer. In truth, the vacation was probably a great deal better than “all right,” and I’d probably acquired a number of anecdotes/souvenirs from my journey. However, I judged that my friend would find seeing the souvenirs more enjoyable than being merely being told of them, and the anecdotes, if lacking the appropriate accompanying gestures and non-verbal cues, would lose their power over the phone.
“So, see you tomorrow?” I’d ask.
“Yeah, see you,” he’d answer.
“All right,” I’d conclude, and we’d both move on to other duties, leaving any and all female witnesses to our conversation utterly mystified.
My wife to be, not equipped with (or hindered by) the Man’s Natural Phone Conversation Streamlining Sense, feels dissatisfied with conversations of this length. Usually, she considers a dialogue of at least one hour (or 30 minutes, if I can convince her that one or both of us has a lot to do on that night) minimal. In such circumstances, I have only two plausible options available to me: 1) focus intently on what she says and respond thoughtfully, or 2) browse the Internet to help pass the time.
Anyone who possesses (or is burdened by) the Man’s Natural Phone Conversation Streamlining Sense probably knows which option I usually take. Usually I do okay, until she asks me a question at the exact same time I see something interesting online. The question may be simple, and its answer may require no more than the eight hours worth of memory and a vocabulary of less than 10 words. However, if my mind is engaged by two topics at once then it becomes my mouth’s responsibility to choose which to thoughts to express.
Oftentimes it is not up to the task.
“What did you eat for lunch today?” she might ask.
“Radiohead’s new album,” I might answer.
“What did you do at work today?” she might also ask, right as I click on a news site.
“The Republic of Georgia,” I might say.
Somehow or another, despite my overwhelming male sensibilities, we have stuck together now for two years. In less than a week’s time we will be married, at which point we will have a home together and most of our dialogue can be performed in person. From then on, my cell phone and the distance it represents can be saved for others I do not share my life with so fully.
Then I will be able to devote my full attention to her. After a year and a half of having to conduct cell phone conversations with me, she’s earned it.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The Revolution: A Manifesto
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
A Champion's Mind
Monday, August 18, 2008
A List of Grievances
The Insert Key – Whose idea was it to make this standard on practically every English-language keyboard manufactured worldwide? Yes, I’m aware that it serves a function, which is to enable users to replace a certain amount of text by typing over it. However, this has been proven by countless frustrated typists through the years to be secondary to its main purpose, which is to be hit accidentally and not reveal its activation until the user needs to add text in an earlier passage, at which point he or she will succeed in typing over something that had been there for a purpose.
The solution: Someone should find out who it was that invented the insert key, or at least who decided not to make it optional on electronic keyboards. Once discovered, we should track down this person, or the executor of his or her estate should we find that he or she is deceased, and proceed to type over his or her most treasured documents.
Unnecessary Elevator Button Pushers – When one stands at bottom floor of a building (or at least the floor above B2, where only people who couldn’t be bothered to show up on time for work have parked), waiting for the elevator to come, why is that roughly every other person who arrives subsequently chooses to push the “up” button? Do they think that their secondary or tertiary pushes are going to make the elevator realize that it really, really ought to hurry? Do they think that the “up” button is the only one glowing red because of some obscure post-modernist interior decorating trend? Furthermore, do they think that those already standing and watching the elevator are doing so because, since The Wire went off the air there’s just no other suitable form of entertainment to be found?
The solution: From the time an elevator’s “up” or “down” button is first pushed until the moment it arrives, all unnecessary pushings of said button should be rewarded with a severe electric shock; a suitable punishment for insulting the intelligence of all those also waiting for it.
The Way Women Show Disapproval – Women’s grievances are, for the most part, every bit as valid as those of their male counterparts. What is much less defensible is one of their favorite ways of expressing such contentions: by saying that we’ll “talk about it later.”
The typical man lives his life in patterns, which spiral outward in the direction of a long-term goal or long-term consequences, not being interrupted until some manner of pleasant surprise/unpleasant disruption comes along. He will not change these patterns until forced or convinced to do so.
Female significant others of typical men, however, rarely choose to convince him to change in a truly constructive matter. Instead, they choose to grow quieter or less friendly than normal at inopportune times. This prompts the typical man to ask, “What’s wrong?” at which point the female significant other says, “We’ll talk about it later.” It would be much more honest – or at least much more observant – for her to instead say, “Now’s an inconvenient time to talk about it, but since you’ve noticed there is a problem, you can think about all that you’ve possibly done wrong until a convenient time arrives.”
The solution: If you can’t tell us what we’re doing wrong before it reduces you to abject sullenness, please try to contain this feeling until you can explain the problem. We’ve got things to do, and thinking about the possible collapse of our personal life while doing them does not make us into better people; it merely makes us less effective when going about our duties.
Undecided Voters in America – Unless you think both Barack Obama and John McCain, based on their shared chromosomal patterns, would make a fine president, there’s really no reason to be undecided at this point. It should be pretty clear what the differences are in their ideas and what they plan to do in office. To be “undecided” at this point indicates that you’re either not really paying attention, or you can’t decide which of the two is worse.
The solution: If you plan to vote but you’re having trouble deciding who the lesser evil is, you’ve got a real dilemma. After all, it’s been proven that all the third party candidates are on the ballot purely for aesthetic purposes, and that the blank for write-ins is an option only employed by people who live alone in Montana compounds surrounded by barbed wire.
Column Endings – There are too many hack writers out there who can generate enough space for an opinion column, but not all of them have the wit and panache the end one in a suitable manner.
The solution: The what?
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Worlds at War
Monday, August 11, 2008
Smiling for Photos is Not Easy
At first I was sympathetic toward our photographer. Custom dictates that those who marry in Korea have their wedding photos taken weeks before their actual ceremony, so he probably has to deal with couples of all sizes, temperaments and capacity for smiling naturally.
It’s probably rare, however, for him to meet anyone less comfortable in front of a camera than me. When the studio he works for had dressed us up into our first batch of outfits (I referred to my first costume as “Ink,” because it included a vest of the color that I shall not name, but does rhyme with that word), he sat us on the floor beside a series of props chosen for their fluffiness and asked us to smile in a natural fashion.
In my case, he did not to know what he was asking. For me, smiling “naturally” results in an expression others confuse with seriousness, if not outright malice. He then explained to my fiancée, Catherine, what he would like me to do, and she translated it to me (“Show your teeth,” she said, “but look natural.”).
“Jim Carrey!” the photographer shouted in effort to be helpful.
With every new outfit we put on, there would be three types of poses: one where we looked merely serene, one in which we grinned and, finally, the rare combination of exposed teeth and authenticity. Catherine and I concluded that the only way for me to accomplish this was to think of something funny. Not merely amusing; it would have to be the out-loud laughing variety.
So, once we completed the first two types of poses, and as I prepared for when the photographer would shout “Beeg suhmaeel!” Catherine would talk like the Korean girls at McDonalds.
There’s a tendency among the young women who work behind the cash registers in this country’s fast food restaurants to look upon the towering nature of my foreignness with awe, and their attempts at saying the traditional Korean greetings of “Annyeung haseo!” (“Hello!”) or “Mashikeh Deuseho!” (“Enjoy your meal!”) come out in lisped form.
“Beeg suhmael!” the photographer would say, and Catherine would whisper, “Annyeung hatheo!” into my ear, thus resulting in the desired effect.
“Very good!” the photographer said.
My efforts to produce suhmaeeling … I’m sorry … smiling would have to progress along with each new outfit, however. Later, when I put on an ensemble that I called “The Conductor” because of its dark, tailed jacket I took to imagining myself with a straw in each hand, standing before an incredulous orchestra in order to amuse myself.
“Very good!” the photographer shouted.
As I began to tire and as I changed into an outfit with a black and gold coat and vest which I called “Napoleon,” my attempts at the self-inducement of mirth grew more challenging. The photographer’s pleas at smiling had little effect, as my outfit seemed more appropriate for sacking Italy than appearing jovial. The only thing that could do the trick was thinking of the joke in which the wife of a mysteriously-ill man receives explicit instructions from a doctor.
During the serene pose, I began imagining the doctor telling the woman that her husband needed to be completely cared for he if were to survive. During the grinning poses, I imagined the doctor telling her that this meant doing all his cooking and cleaning, as well as never fighting with the in-laws.
Just before the big smile pose was upon us, I imagined her, now in her husband’s hospital room, the bed-ridden man faintly inquiring as to what the doctor had told her.
“Beeg suhmael!” the photographer instructed, and I imagined the woman looking down at her husband and telling him: “He said you’re gonna die.”
“Very good!” the photographer announced.
Over time, however, he turned into a kind of antagonist, dressing us in outfits, like the traditional Korean hanbok, which lend themselves less and less to gleeful appearances. The less natural my smiling appeared, the longer he would keep us in these heavy outfits on this August afternoon, and the longer I would have to wait for food aside from water and Snickers bars.
As we passed our sixth hour of posing, I found that no inside joke or comic tale could overcome the loathing I had developed for our photographer. All was not lost, however.
“Beeg suhmael!” he announced, and I imagined him being hit in the leg with a tire iron.
“Very good!” he stated upon seeing the resulting expression.
Somehow, we got through the day with the 40-odd pictures needed to constitute the photo album that Koreans like to keep in their home after the wedding ceremony. Looking back, in many of them I have succeeded in smiling naturally, primarily in the shots where I was instructed to look at my bride to be.
When I couldn’t look at her, however, the thought of violence involving blunt objects helped me get by.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Pics to Come
Sunday, August 03, 2008
The Food Adventures of Rom, Lowly Son-in-Law
Over the years, the day’s duties have changed from elementary school to high school, from high school into college, from college to desperate job searching, and from there on to actual employment coupled with the somewhat desperate search for a better job. These tasks have changed, but I still need cereal before I can face any of it.
Occasionally the cereal itself changes, becoming something new and so exciting that I actually eat two bowls of it, but on most mornings one serving of something reliable, familiar and boxed is usually enough.
There have been periodic attempts to add to it with things like eggs and toast, but after sleep I simply haven’t burnt enough calories for such foods. Cereal is all I need to face the day’s duties, and any more than that will probably slow me down.
This has been proven through years of personal empiricism. If such data is not good enough, then I really don’t know what else it will take to make my mother-in-law understand.
In the months between my acquisition of a new job in Seoul and my forthcoming wedding, she has taken me into her home and done all she knows how in order to strengthen the bonds of family with me. However, it would appear that the bonds between Korean mothers to their children (even their children-in-laws) need copious amount of home-cooked food to hold.
She prepares food for me every evening. The entrees and side dishes she provides may include: fish, beef, rice, kimchi and assorted vegetables cooked and/or pickled in an assortment of ways. I eat all of some of it and some of all of it while being careful to follow the Korean Method, meaning that I take somewhat random bites of each different bowl/plate of food. If I eat it the American way, meaning that I eat all of one food type before moving on to the next, she’ll point to the temporarily-neglected dishes and say to me, in Korean, “Not delicious?”
Sometimes she comes home in the evening later than usual, and I do what any American parent would expect of a son in his twenties: I take care of myself. Personally, self-reliance requires nothing more of me than a handful of eggs and some of the toast that I couldn’t have fit into my digestive tract in the morning. After a day of work, however, it squeezes in just fine. When mother-in-law comes home after 9 and I’m still awake, she will ask me if she needs to cook for me. I tell her she does not, because it’s late and I’ve already eaten.
However, she needs to cook for me much, much more than I need to be cooked for, and her face sinks when I tell her I don’t need her food. I know this means trouble; a special kind of trouble will continue until the morning.
When I wake, adjacent to the cereal bowl that she’s laid out for me, is the fruit that she’s chopped into slices and placed next to the bowl (a compromise I’ve been willing to accept), and next to that will be a sandwich. The sandwich will contain leftover meat and vegetables from whatever she cooked last night. The bread’s crust will have been meticulously removed, no matter how many times I’ve made it clear that I consider bread crust a wholly edible commodity.
As I take in my precious cereal and perfectly acceptable fruit, I study the sandwich: Not only does it not look appetizing, but it appears that it will be time-consuming to eat, and I need to get going right away. I already know that I won’t eat it; my hope is that after looking at it long enough I’ll think of the best way to get out of this morning’s sandwich consumption.
If I simply walk away from it, she’ll call after me in only the latest way in which I’ve heard a Korean butcher the pronunciation of my name.
Rom!” she’ll say. “Not delicious?”
I’ll have to explain to her yet again that I’m just not that hungry in the mornings. She’ll say “Aigo!” (which translates into something similar to “Oh, dear!”) and I’ll have ruined her day. There must be another way.
Then, hope appears on my horizon: She has her back turned to me, engrossed in the television program she watches every morning. Silently, I open the refrigerator, slip the offending sandwich plate inside, and head to the bathroom to wash my hair. I enter not as “Rom: Lowly Son-in-Law” but “Rob: The Young American Master of Stealth.”
Then I emerge, and see her looking in the refrigerator. She bends suddenly, I realize she’s seen the plate.
This was a development I had not foreseen.
Aigo!” she says, and I know that I’ve ruined another day for her.
Well, maybe not quite.
Rom!” she says, followed by a Korean sentence that roughly translates into: “Tonight I will be here. Will you eat supper?”
Okay,” I reply. Maybe by tonight our cultures will come to an agreement on food. Probably not, but one can always hope.
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