Monday, September 29, 2008
Helping Seoul's Homeless
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Tales of Dreaded Commutes in Distant Lands
About how we met when she didst choose to go to an English camp, a curious decision, given that she had halted her studies of the language just before that? About how her decision to take a break from attending the institute’s classes thus exempted me from the SDA institute’s “teachers shalt not court students” decree?
If such men of letters do, in fact, choose to celebrate our story on the printed page, I doth ponder how they shall describe the daily train rides. Verily, I suppose it worth mentioning that I doth spend four hours daily journeying from our home in Chuncheon, where she doth make her vocation, to Seoul, where I tend to mine, and then back again. I sayeth that it must be worth inscribing, as when I tell mine friends and co-workers they doth demand an explanation, and occasionally to examine mine head.
Prepare ye then thine quills and/or psychiatric charts, so that I might elucidate mine situation. Verily, ‘twas this summer whence I wast troubled to mine very bones. Mine love’s generous mother had bequeathed to me a living space in Seoul, to accommodate my new job tempering the work of the scribes at one of Korea’s largest English-language newspapers (which hath been necessitated by many of said scribes lacking English as a first language). For three months did I take residence with her and her male prodigy, in grateful appreciation of her benevolence.
But lo, hath the thunderous voice of many a Korean matron startled the ears of the Western man, costing him many hours of rest and peace of mind. And, alas, the matron’s insistence upon preparing fish (the kind with the head and bones still attached) did trouble me in body and spirit alike.
Therefore, on a midsummer’s eve I found it needful to communicate my displeasure to mine beloved, telling her that I wast soon to be in the grips of madness most severe. We didst contemplate the logistics of mine relocating to Chuncheon that very night, but lo did my mother-in-law get wind of our plot, and plead anew that she might be hospitable. Thus was born a compromise: I would continue to reside amongst her and her ilk, provided she keep it down whilst I did sleep and vary the dinner entrees once in awhile.
I thus agreed to abide and express gratitude (feigned or otherwise) for the animal products she didst prepare until the day mine bride and I would be united, and I might get mine hindquarters to Chuncheon. As wise ones have pointed out throughout the ages, it is not good for man to be alone with his mother-in-law.
It wouldst be an arduous test of mine faculties, especially said hindquarters, to take the automated carriage for two hours both to and from Seoul five days a week. Mine co-workers didst express dismay and ponder mine rationale.
“Will thou not burn thyself out?” wast the jist of their queries. “Why dost thou not get an apartment between Seoul and yonder Chuncheon?”
They couldst not understand the bonds of love between myself and mine beloved, nor the bonds between her and the one-year contract she hath signed on her apartment. A two-hour ride home to see my love wouldst feel like no more than hour, tops, whereas the ride to work in the morning wouldst not be unbearable, as I could spend those two hours reading or studying mine love’s perplexing native language.
At dawn, when the alarm clock doth crow and I doth stagger from mind sleeping quarters, she hath already awakened to prepare me a sack lunch. Within an hour, I will have boarded yon train and embarked upon my voyage to Seoul. I wouldst use the time to finely temper mine mind for greater mental feats, through activities such as the study of Korean, the reading of great literature or producing literature of mine own, but more oft than not I manipulate my body into a position allowing the arms of sleep to overtake me.
Two hours hence, I shalt be in Seoul. In the evening, when the day’s labors art concluded, I board the carriage yet again, ardently studying Korean for periods of up to 30 minutes, before mine resolve doth beat its retreat, leaving me to stare vacantly at the countryside until I might return to mine dwelling place. Upon my return, the maiden greets me and, unfailingly inquires about what I did for supper.
“Time was, again, not in abundance, so I didst partake of McDonalds,” is the oft-said reply.
“Verily, ‘twas not a good choice,” she ripostes, and we retire, preparing to write another chapter in the morn.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Adventists Against Proposition 8
We don't have to agree with what gays do, but they're citizens just like us. If we don't protect their rights, then we deserve to lose ours.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I Married Out of Money
For example, I remember my pre-full-time employment days, in which money was a concern, particularly what I was going to do about it if I didn’t find a job in the near future. It was rarely a concern in the present tense, which I mostly attributed to my work ethic and the fact that I didn’t spend my weekends partying, like so many of my college-age peers. It never occurred to me at the time that this was mostly due to federal student loans and the fact that my gasoline expenses were being paid for with an Exxon creidt card whose bill went directly to Mom and Dad.
Then, in the middle of 2003, the most fervent prayers of any liberal arts major (besides a 50-state ban on “reality TV”) were granted: I got a full-time job related to my field. I was overjoyed by this, as were, apparently, Mom and Dad, who didn’t bother to replace my expired Exxon plastic.
This was as gas prices began rising dramatically from the 1990s halcyon days, and at just about the time the federal government began sending monthly notices regarding my student loans that were roughly equivalent to a man with an outstretched hand grunting, “Ahem.” Just as I began receiving my weekly paycheck, gasoline consumption, phone bills, car insurance , fast food intake and gym memberships began taking larger and larger shares of it, leaving me with a pittance.
Moving away from Tennessee to Korea was, until recently, a major financial windfall. The money we received, this time on a monthly basis, was not much larger than what I got at home. However, the Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute rid me of most of my financial concerns by supplying me with an apartment, placing me in an environment where I wouldn’t be able to own a car, and giving me a work schedule that would make expensive hobbies – not to mention eating a lot – very difficult.
Then, for reasons that seemed unquestionable at the time, I decided to get married. For the one year between my engagement and the ceremony signifying my domestication, I contributed nearly half of my salary every month toward making said event as upmarket as possible. I longed for day of the ceremony to come, not only for the comfort and support allotted by the institution of marriage, but also because I thought I wouldn’t have to focus on money so much.
How right I was. I got married to a Korean woman, after all, and females of this nationality traditionally take charge of home finances, paying the bills, preparing for the future and determining how much of an allowance to give the kids and husband for weekly expenses.
In the week after we returned from the honeymoon, she promptly seized my bank cards and said that she would be moving all of our money into a single account, which, incidentally, is one only she can access. The week after that was a Korean holiday, leaving me with a shortened work schedule, prompting her to allot me the Korean equivalent of $60 to live on. A visit the ATMs that had been a fixture in my life was now like voting for a third-party candidate in the United States – I could do so out of sentiment or protest, but get no literal value from it.
Suddenly, I knew that money would never again be as readily available as dirty air in Seoul. No longer could I, based on nothing more than a particularly strong jonesing, simply walk into the multimedia store which neighbors my office and simply walk away with the DVD/hardcover book of my choosing. By the next week, my wife had upped my allowance to about $80 and given me a credit card from a Korean bank, making hardcover book/DVD purchases more feasible, but I’d already been shaken to my core by then.
I could probably feel better about it if I were as comfortable using credit cards as my wife is. Whether its for double-digit (in America, at least; it’s more like quintuple in Korea) expenses like filling the gas tank half-full, or spending roughly $2 at a convenience store on beverages, my wife must put her credit card to use a handful of times daily. She always keeps a receipt, and never seems to go in over her head.
However, I just can’t justify the use of a credit card on less than a $10 purchase. If I handed the cashier some plastic while other customers line up behind me in the 7-Eleven or the Korean restaurants, then had to wait for him or her to swipe it, print a receipt and then give it to me to sign, I’d imagine the other patrons silently cursing me, much as I used to do when I was being held up.
Credit cards are also not so helpful when dealing with the homeless people who beg for cash on the stairs and the subways. I want to help them, but so few homeless people carry those card-swiping devices with them.
How I long for some big break to come my way to make things easier. If only I achieved some major promotion or were awarded a six-figure (or nine in Korea) book deal, then my wife and I could handle these financial concerns with ease.
For about a week, anyway, before new ones came along.
Monday, September 15, 2008
My Honeymoon with Mom and Dad
For much of this summer, I wasn't trying to leave friends and coworkers without a ready reply, and yet I was having great success in doing so with a simple statement of fact: "My parents will come with me on my honeymoon." I could tell that these nine words, in this sequence, generated so many questions in the minds of my listeners that it was difficult for their synapses to calculate which query to use first.
Before they could answer, I sought a follow-up statement that would put most of their concerns to rest. There were several good choices available:
A) I don't want to abandon them right after they've bothered to fly here from America.
B) I want them to see the best parts of Korea before they go home.
C) It was my wife's idea.
The best response is, of course, none of those above, but D) They will sleep on a different floor of the hotel. That is not to say that that A-C were incorrect.
My parents, both of whom are at or near the age of becoming Social Security recipients, did make a cumulative 16-hour journey from Tennessee all the way to Incheon International Airport near Seoul so that they could witness my wedding. A few days after they arrived, my new wife and I would be traveling to Jeju Island, whose climate and natural beauty make it a popular tourist locale for many people in Asia. And, finally, the incredulous reactions evinced by said friends/coworkers were predated in my own disposition when my bride-to-be suggested bringing them along.
"I think it would be a very good experience for them," is what I think I remember her saying.
"Of course, that week should be a memorable experience," I said to myself, "for them."
We arrived at Jeju International Airport on a Monday, the day after I left my single life behind to venture permanently into a new life of family and responsibility. As if Jeju's tourism authorities had been clued into the change that lay ahead for me, they greeted us in the airport with: museums.
An entire booth featuring row upon row filled with brochures for Jeju's various institutions of knowledge was set up for us. Given that Jeju has been the chosen destination for many of the honeymooners I've known since coming to Korea, all that was missing was a sign reading: "Museums: Now that you're married, they're as fun as life gets!"
A wide variety of such attractions dot the island, including: The Teddy Bear Museum, which is specially tailored to the history and background of that particular toy; the Museum of Sound, which illustrates the technological developments of the recording industry; and the Museum of Jeju Museums, which is an institution of knowledge specially designed to display all of Jeju institutions of knowledge.
Just kidding about the last one, or at least I think I am; there were a lot more brochures than I had time to look at.
Before we could begin celebrating my domestication, however, we would have to drive to the hotel and unload our belongings, which would first require renting a car. It's been six months since I got a driver's license in Korea, and between then and the honeymoon I had driven approximately three times, on the grounds that A) Korea is a really crowded place to drive and B) I didn't want to.
However, on Jeju, I did all the driving, this time as stipulated by the fact that A) My new wife requested that I do so, and B) Wives tend to get what they want, especially new ones. In this case, it was probably fortunate that my parents were there: That way, I knew from the beginning that I would need a spacious car.
Therefore, I didn't bother selecting a sportier, flashier and more diminutive model, only to drive for 30 minutes before giving in to the reality that such a vehicle is not meant for drivers 190 centimeters tall (which is what happened as soon as my parents left).
What was also fortunate is that much of Jeju is rural, so it's nothing like driving in Seoul: namely, one can cover a football field's distance in less than three hours. Our hotel was located about an hour away from the airport, on the shoreline and conveniently located next to many male-taming institutions of knowledge. Those, however, could wait until day two of our vacation.
On the second day of our honeymoon, I could feel the tropical atmosphere of the island gradually eroding the worldly cynicism I have acquired through my years in the newspaper business. It was a step-by-step process, however. At our first stop, the Teddy Bear Museum, we heard the story of how former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt would not let his lifelong passion for hunting big game lead him to shoot a defenseless bear cub leashed to a tree. Because my country's former head of state declined to slaughter a defenseless animal, a popular children's toy was named after him and the bar was forever lowered for future presidents.
Profiles in courage are not this institution's only feature, however: They also have a history exhibit in which stuffed bears are used to recreate famous historical scenes like the NASA moon landing and the Ali-Frazier bout. All of this was very creative and well-designed, but I couldn't help but wonder: "Do Korean students spend at least 12 hours a day in class in preparation for this kind of work? Or, is it that once they don't have to study anymore that they can't think of anything else to do?"
My outlook had improved demonstrably by the time we reached our next destination: a dolphin/sea lion show. Here, a group of local trainers instructed aquatic mammals, who have apparently had more success in understanding Korean than I ever will, to do various tricks like doing somersaults and shaking fins with audience members. I was allowed one final dose of sarcasm for the day.
"Wow, a pair mammals performing orchestrated maneuvers they must practice repeatedly, all in the hopes of earning a small reward," I thought. "I'm really not going to miss dating at all."
Next came Hallasan, the tallest mountain in South Korea, which stands 1,950 meters high, about nine meters of which isn't a long, curvy car ride to the top. Because it was raining there, and because of my parents' aforementioned Social Security status, we declined to climb to the top of it. However, our drive was rewarded with gamjajeon, the Korean potato pancake that pleased all of us, including my parents, even though one of them, I'm not saying which, had previously said that most Korean food tastes like used socks.
After taking a yacht tour and visiting the beach, my parents departed on Wednesday. Due to the time difference with America, I could tell that they were starting to nod off at about 6 p.m. every night, but they told us that they'd enjoyed nearly every minute of their trip to Korea. We were sad to see them go, but content that they'd seen a part of Korea they'd always look back upon with fond memories.
Also, their departure freed us up to go to Jeju Loveland; whose brochure advertises it as a "humorous sexual theme park - where the imagination can run wild!" I'd love to tell you all about what I saw at Loveland; it's just hard to think of anything that suitable for a family-friendly publication such as this. I can say that this sculpture park, which has been a popular honeymoon destination since the Korean War, features a sign with a man and a woman - never mind. Inside, visitors are greeted by the friendly mascots who looked like - uh, forget it. Within the park were several statues of people from different cultures and eras in the act of - let's just move on.
The downside to any magical vacation experience is that it eventually ends. On Thursday night, my wife and I returned to the Korean mainland, to a home that doesn't resemble a honeymoon suite, is located nowhere near the beach and where not a single sea creature will do tricks for us.
On the bright side, here I do almost none of the driving. However, our trip to Jeju left newlywed and parent like with a lifetime's worth of memories, and many of them were experienced outside of our respective boarding rooms.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
With These Shoes...
Monday, September 08, 2008
With These Shoes, I Thee Wed
Males of the human species are a schizophrenic lot. It has been proven through countless research studies (and books by Dave Barry) that within each of our kind you can find two distinct personalities: first is the Man, who is responsible and enjoys seeing a well-planned course of action bear fruit, and second is the Guy, who feels that planning, courses of action and fruit-bearing in general can wait until he finishes this pizza.
Male personalities are so archly divided because they are needed in very different instances. For example, no woman wants to make wedding arrangements with a Guy, because he wouldn’t offer any meaningful participation in any of planning, except to request that “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” be played during the recessional march.
Once the wedding is complete, however, she’d prefer to take the Guy on the honeymoon, because the Man would probably spend that time calculating the number of children they can have, the possible gender combinations of these hypothetical kids and which combination poses the most long-term complications to the family 401K.
During the wedding itself, however, events will take place which are critical to the status of both Man and Guy. This is especially true during the Korean traditional royal wedding, and particularly if the male of the species concerned is American.
The Man personality of this American may appreciate that the 1 million or so won (which is roughly equivalent to $1,000 in his home currency, depending on which Asian country is in upheaval that month) he has been paying toward the wedding on a monthly basis is being spent on a unique cultural experience, full of ornate hanbok, or traditional Korean costumes and an intriguing ceremonial process. The Guy will like the fact that they won’t ask him to rehearse the ceremony beforehand, giving him more time for pre-wedding pizza enjoyment.
Extra time can be a bit of a mixed blessing, though. As the bride begins the two hour-long make-up session predating the ceremony, the Guy has extra time to enjoy his general guyness, blissfully free of the excess powders and oils that non-males regularly and voluntarily subject themselves to.
Two hours, though, is more time than any Guy needs to spend alone with his thoughts on a day such as this. Soon the questions begin swirling through his not-made-up head, such as: “Am I ready to share my life with someone completely?” “Am I prepared for the additional financial burdens that come with a family?” and finally, “What if she doesn’t want to order pizza?”
Before any of these questions may be answered, the ceremony will begin. Once it does, its once-celebrated impromptu nature may please neither the forward-thinking nor the fun-loving aspect of the male’s personality. It appeals to no male to be handed a hanbok that a) is pink, b) has multiple rips in the side of one leg and c) doesn’t cover his entire torso 10 minutes before the event is to begin. (Depending on how well-developed his Man personality is he may have brought a spare outfit to change into, though).
If he has, say, size 13 shoes, he is also unlikely to be pleased when given shoes at least two sizes smaller than that; shoes which will require him to curl his toes throughout the ceremony, unable to relax for even a moment, because the footwear is made of a material that feels similar to titanium, only less flexible.
A special hat comes with the royal wedding ceremony, a crown in the style of Korea’s monarchs in days of yore, perhaps signifying the groom’s status as king for a day. The Man might reason, however, that monarchs in Korea’s past were probably measured carefully for their royal hats, and not given one that will slide over his nose every time the groom is required to bow, which will be frequent in almost any Korean ceremony.
Beyond the wardrobe that regularly threatens to malfunction, the ceremony itself is simple. The bride and groom will both be carried on a platform around the vicinity for all onlookers to observe. The procession itself requires no practice because there’s an attendant present to tell both bride and groom what to do. The attendants will probably give all their instructions in Korean, but won’t be afraid to physically guide the American groom into the proper position, if necessary.
The procession itself is not long, either: Both bride and groom drink from ceremonial cups, bow to one another and then take their positions on makeshift thrones at the front of the assembly to signify their union (at least I think that’s all their was, but the discomfort in my feet may have caused blackouts).
By the end of the day, the male will discover new personalities emerging from the dank corridors of his psyche. The third will be the Mad Dog, who emerges during the post-ceremonial pictures, when a rapidly tiring groom will be photographed in a wide variety of scenarios, including 1) bowing to his parents, 2) bowing to the bride’s parents, 3) pouring tea for the bride, 4) receiving tea poured by the bride, and 5) having the bride climb onto his back and then carrying her around the room.
“Okay, big smile!” the wedding photographer will say.
“Take the picture!” the Mad Dog groom will then shout, teeth bared, causing all onlookers to gasp. The chastened photographer will then squeak out, “Okay ..." and snap the final pic before the groom places the priceless photographical device in the photographer’s colon.
Then, finally, all the photographers are gone, the onlookers have departed, the atrociously undersized clothing replaced, and the final personality remains: the Husband. The Husband is the male who no longer acts entirely for his own enjoyment, who no longer makes detailed plans for his own benefit, and who does not feel the need to vivisect pesky cameramen.
Actually, that’s all I know about the Husband role so far, but I plan to learn more in the near future.
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