Saturday, November 29, 2008
It's a Michin, Michin, Michin World
If only I were so lucky. The course middle-aged Korean male’s voice would be followed by a shrill middle-aged Korean woman’s voice or a high-pitched whiny Korean teenaged girl’s voice if it were. Looking in its direction, I see that the course sound is coming from an unaccompanied male, standing near the ticket booth and having a very loud conversation with everyone and no one.
If English is your language of choice, you probably know what to call someone like this, but Korean people usually call this kind of person michyeoseoyo. At least, that’s the stand alone use of the adjective, when it modified another word it’s michin, as in, “That’s one michin guy, talking to himself like that.”
My first feeling when I see the michin man is one of sympathy for him. It’s brief, and quickly crowded out by a more durable sense of sympathy for myself. He’s coming toward the benches, eager for a conversation partner, and who’s he going to pick? The three-dozen odd Koreans sitting or standing in the area, or the single light-haired Caucasian? Anyone who has ever ridden a Seoul train or subway while being foreign already knows the answer.
If you’re a light-haired foreigner in Seoul using public transportation, the children will always find you and say, “Hello!” The young girls will say “Handsome!” or “Blue eyes!” even if you aren’t especially the former and the latter are green. The older men celebrating the fact that work has ended at 5 p.m. for the 1,267th day in a row by drinking a lot will find you, ask where you’re from, and ask if you like Korea, mixing and matching their language and yours all the while.
The michin man may ask any number of things. If you’re eating a Snickers, he may you to give it to him. He may stick up his hand and ask for a high five. Or, maybe he’ll ask you to shake hands, which is fine, provided he’s willing to let go eventually.
As the michin man in Cheongyangni station gets closer, he waves and sits down in front of me. He’s thin, with tufts of black and gray hair in his goatee, and his torso is covered with a heavy dark winter coat. That’s understandable, as it’s fall here, and Korean fall would make a pretty good winter in my native Tennessee. The coat, however, makes his choice of matching black flip-flops even odder.
He seems a child of the ‘80s: wearing green camouflage pants and a military beret like one of that decade’s action heroes. His fingernails are painted sparkly purple, like one of that era’s rock stars. Over his shoulder is slung a black bag with a pair of tennis rackets from those days: one wood and one metal. Over the other shoulder is one of those boom boxes that was popular back then, the one with the small black and white TV screen in the upper right corner. My family had one of those in my youth; we had about as much success in getting to play anything as the michin man does.
“American?” he shouts.
“Yes,” I reply, looking up from the Korean book which I know I’m not going to learn anything from now. Still, I’m hoping it functions as an excuse not to get too involved in conversation and, if necessary, works as a shield. Like drunken older men, he speaks both languages in just such a way that makes both incomprehensible. As near as I can tell, though, he’s asking me if I’m married and live in a hotel.
He asks both questions five or six times. Each time I answer yes to the first question and no to the latter. I hope to get away, but michin men need to handled with great care, lest they attack you with one of their outdated pieces of sports equipment. Finally, I hatch an idea: I’ll call my wife on my cell phone.
“There’s a michin man talking to me at the train station,” I tell her. He’s still right in front of me, understanding nothing because he hasn’t stopped talking. “He keeps asking me if I’m married and live in a hotel.”
“Just ignore him,” she says, which probably seems like good advice from her point of view, which is located two hours away on the other end of my train route. But talking to her on the phone does have a beneficial result; soon, the michin gets up and starts talking to a young woman sitting on a bench nearby, probably asking her social status and if she lives in some form of short-term lodging. While she’s answering, I see my chance. I tell my wife I love her and that she should wish me luck. Then I pick up my things and make a break for the men’s room. There, I can hide a few minutes, then sneak out while he’s distracted to the station’s computer room, out of his view.
He sees me get up, though, and for a moment I despair my lost opportunity. However, he just asks to shake hands.
“Friend?” he asks as his hand grips mine and the gold-colored ring on his hand presses into mine.
“Oww! Yes!” I reply.
“Friend!” he exults, and says goodbye. Approximately 10 minutes later I’m in the computer room, writing to my mom in America to tell her of why it’s important to be on time for one’s train in Korea.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
One Book That Screws Up Literary Criticism
Vanderbilt University is the most prestigious university in my home state of Tennessee, ranking 19th nationwide in a 2007 poll by U.S. News and World Report. That is why I find it personally painful to point out that, in addition to a collegiate football team that consistently finishes with a losing record, VU now has another source of ignominy: Benjamin Wiker.
“10 Books that Screwed up the World & 5 Others that Didn’t Help” is the latest by Wiker, who completed his doctoral degree at Vandy. On its back cover, “10 Books” is identified as “a main selection in the Conservative Book Club” and comes with a recommendation from Elizabeth Cantor, who authored “The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to English and American Literature,” which should give you some idea as to its ideological aims.
Inside, Wiker targets 15 books written since the 16th century for criticism, beginning with Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and finishing with “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan. Along the way, he rarely takes a politically incorrect approach to his selections; instead, he prefers to tell us that “The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf” are bad.
His approach is somewhat unique, though, in that he criticizes each one in ways designed to meet the Conservative Book Club’s approval.
For example, any of you who have actually read “The Prince” probably found its ruthlessness distasteful. Also, those who’ve read “The Communist Manifesto” probably can’t believe that a classless, free society could ever emerge after a violent revolution. At least, those are the reasons you thought you disliked those books, but Dr. Wiker is here to tell you why you really hated them: a) Each was written by an atheist, or at least someone who wasn’t a sincere Christian, and b) The views in these books eventually lead to adultery, abortion and possibly gay marriage.
One might accuse Wiker of choosing really easy targets (also on the list are Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil”) upon which to foist his views. However, he also goes to the trouble of digging up titles such as Margaret Sanger’s eugenics-touting “The Pivot of Civilization,” as well as “The Future of an Illusion,” one of Sigmund Freud’s lesser-known tracts, both of which would probably be quite influential if very many people were aware of their existence.
The purpose of their selection is not random, however. Wiker asserts that the unscrupulous values of “The Prince” actually created the void of “Beyond Good and Evil,” which paved the way for “Mein Kampf” and all the other evils of the 20th century.
“(Hitler) was a man of his times, a nineteenth-and twentieth-century man, who owed as much as Margaret Sanger to the Darwinian eugenic theories in circulation and shared the same reaction as Nietzsche to the Epicurean diminution of man brought about by the liberalism of Hobbes and (John Stuart) Mill,” he writes.
If you read these words the way this Tennessean does, it will appear to you that the Vanderbilt graduate is saying that not only are Hobbes and Mill responsible for Nazism and the teaching of evolution, they would be Barack Obama supporters today. Not even the use of words like “Epicurean” can mask the ridiculousness of his arguments.
Then again, Wiker’s aims are rarely, if ever aided by his word choices. His repetitive use of words such as “atheist” in the belief that they are, by themselves, helpful to his cause is not an insult to the reader’s intelligence; it’s more like a complete denial that the reader has any.
His fruitless attempts at wit are best exemplified in his passage regarding Alfred Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” when he described how he once witnessed the brutal mating habits of chickens on the farm, which apparently taught him a valuable lesson about our sexual nature. This would be disturbing enough even without this groaner: “I have since thought of penning a revealing ‘Sexual Behavior of the Inhumane Rooster.’” (In his chapter on Rene Descartes’ “Discourse on Method” there’s a sentence involving a cow and the use of the word “udder” in place of “utter” that I simply can’t bear to repeat.)
There are sections of the book that actually could have stirred meaningful debate. Whether “The Feminine Mystique” has harmed the structure of the modern family by “demonizing housewives” is more than just a sticking point for social conservatives: a greater number of working women has, at least in part, caused America’s decline in birth rate, which is expected to cause economic troubles when members of the Baby Boom generation start retiring en masse.
However, Wiker can’t help himself: rather than discuss such pressing topics, he spends most of the chapter dwelling upon Friedan’s connections to Marxism and blames her for the legalization of abortion in the United States, though he admits that subject is never mentioned in her book.
Why did anyone think that we needed to know Benjamin Wiker’s literary views? The true agenda can be found, I believe, on the back cover. One of the two written recommendations of “10 Books” says that Wiker “has read the worst books in Western civilization so you don’t have to.”
Wiker himself suggests that we read a very few of those on the list, but limits his recommendations to those generally forgotten (like Sanger’s) or thoroughly stigmatized (like Hitler’s). You probably need not bother reading the rest yourselves, because Dr. Wiker has already told you what you should think.
This book was written for members of the religious right in an effort to keep them from forming their own opinions and questioning the policies of right-learning elected officials. Non-believers, along with people of faith who believe that their government shouldn’t legislate moral views need not partake of its wisdom.
Fans of the Conservative Book Club should be warned, however, that the use of the phrase “screwed up” is employed in this book’s title. You never know what horrors the use of such language could lead to one day.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I've Had My Fill
I dreaded the coming of that particular Wednesday because I knew I’d be carrying a larger than usual chunk of the workload. A pair of my fellow foreign copy editors at The Korea Herald, unsaddled by my low expectations for our established politicians, felt they had reason to celebrate. Their cause for exultation was, as my fellow editor Bart articulated, “No matter who wins, no more (adjective that rhymes with ‘shucking’) Bush.”
On that morning, I arrived to work at 11, as usual, the same time as my coworker Paul, who was relatively happy with the prior day’s events, but as a Brit takes a slightly more restrained view of who wins elections in the Colonies. Bart, a fellow Yank who was due to arrive at 10 a.m., however, had sent out a text message that morning reading “Over-celebrated … gonna be a little late.”
Some might nit-pick as whether or not “an hour and a half” constitutes “a little,” but his message was otherwise accurate. However, even Bart was surprised at the effect that the prior night’s jubilation had on Matt, our Canadian colleague who, apparently sensing a pending uptick in North American relations, celebrated so much that he was tardy in starting his 2 p.m. shift.
Usually Matt and Bart wait until their work week ends before engaging in a productivity-stultifying celebration such as these. I never do, at least not anymore, and sometimes I envy those who occasionally feel free to ingest a not-insignificant amount of alcoholic beverages.
Mostly due to my Seventh-day Adventist upbringing, drinking has never been part of my lifestyle. This is not to say I’ve never done it, but unlike many of my peers I never had a mental calendar on which I wrote “This Saturday, get drunk.” This greatly contrasted me with many in the senior class of Henry County High School, for some of whom drinking was the main topic of conversation come Monday morning. Actually, their discussions generally consisted of three mini-conversations: A) the quantity and variety of alcoholic beverages consumed, B) the things they probably did but can’t remember because they were so drunk, and C) classmates of theirs who said they could put away whole shopping centers worth of Anheiser-Busch products but were lying.
There were times when I envied the camaraderie they shared, as well as the fact that they always had something to talk about (by Thursday or Friday they were in future tense, discussing the means and quantity of drinking to come). Risking my health and legal record just to put large quantities of a beverage I would later violently expel was something I was unwilling to do in order to gain their fellowship, however.
Furthermore, knowing how Henry County’s future physicians, mechanics and insurance salesmen spent their high school years, I resolved that I would be meeting my medical, automotive and insurance needs in a different locale by the time I reached my 30s.
Then, during college days, when people redouble their efforts to fit the contents of entire six-packs in their digestive tract at one time, I attended an SDA institution where I had a good excuse not to drink: It could get a student expelled. It didn’t stop everyone, but the drinking was clandestine and occasional, rather than weekly and in buildings with easily identifiable Greek letters.
It was after college, when I returned to Henry County as a news reporter, that alcohol became a somewhat regular part of my life. It was only friends’ houses, only when I spent the night there, and only after our major local events, such as the county fair and the annual World’s Biggest Fish Fry. I didn’t drink in great quantities; certainly not enough violently expel anything and then forget doing so.
At the time, events such as these seemed appropriate prompts for drinking, as A) they required a great deal of work, B) they were a county fair and a fish fry parade, and yet were the biggest events in my hometown, and C) I was covering them, instead of digging up tales of corruption regarding politicians in Washington’s highest offices. SDAs likely to be disappointed in my behavior ought to take comfort in the fact that I wasn’t swallowing sleeping pills.
In the latter half of 2005, I had a good reason to stop again; I had become a missionary teacher at the SDA institute in Korea. There, I was not only to teach English, but attempt to serve as a good example of well-being in a country full of people living the lives that my high school classmates only bragged about. The exploits of the Korean ajossi, or middle-aged married male, are legendary: The older they get, the more bars they’re capable of visiting in a single night, and the more soju (a distilled Korean beverage that is anywhere from 20-45 percent alcohol) they’re willing to consume.
And unlike my classmates, they often don’t bother to wait for weekends. Tales of ajossi drinking soju and beer throughout the night and coming to work the next morning are part of local lore. I don’t know how they do it, but my theory is that it’s for the same reason they can dip an already spicy pepper in a dish full of chili sauce and then eat it without sweating: Their intestines are lined with a sterner stuff than mine.
I’ve been offered the chance to join them on many occasions, but have declined. I never really enjoyed drinking, my church is against it, and one night with the ajossi is probably all it would take to end my days on this earth.
But I have learned that drinkers like Matt are people just like us who no longer do: like me, he’s a foreigner with a Korean wife, and I’m sure their family has the same concerns and cares as ours.
Well, my wife never calls in the middle of a workday to tell me that I broke one of her plants when I came home drunk, but otherwise we’re pretty similar.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
"My Family United States Lives In"
Monday, November 17, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
The Bond of Realism
This method, coupled with Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan’s similarly grounded and rugged Batman films, have re-inspired an untold number of young men to visit gyms and health clubs the world over, seeking to add a little bit about their heroes’ charming ruggedness to their otherwise undramatic lives.
The subsequent injuries these young men have acquired while attempting to duplicate their ruggedness has since then severely damaged international workplace productivity. In response to this phenomenon, EON Productions has begun work on the next film in the Bond series, with a script entitled The Aches of Realism. It is only a working title, but Internet buzz suggests that it is already considered a better title than Quantum of Solace.
This publication has obtained an advanced copy of the script, a portion of which we will share with readers. In the following scene, Bond has been captured and his being interrogated by main antagonist Vladimir Theodoracopulos, the brilliant geometrician and leader of a worldwide terrorism ring.
Theodoracopulos: Monsieur Bond, you’re probably vondering how I managed to capture you.
Bond: Not really, since I was there at the time, but you might explain it as a courtesy to those who got to the theater late or have skipped to this scene on their DVD.
T: You see, Monsieur Bond, I examined videotaped footage of you zingle-handedly dizpatching six of my best-trained guards. It vas an impressive display of fighting prowess, to be certain, but I noticed you vincing vhen you used your right arm to break zeir necks, pozzibly due to a torn rotator cuff?
B: Indeed, I thought I’d had a most beneficial trip to the health club on Thursday but I haven’t been quite right since.
T: You vere also able to flip ze first two of my guards over your back with no difficulty, but vhen you flipped ze zird you appeared to pull something in your lower back, am I right?
B: I knew I shouldn’t have done that last set of squats.
T: All of zis information I vas able to exploit later. Now zat I have you for questioning, I vill get ze knowledge I seek. First of all, Monsieur Bond, is it true that you speak Spanish, French and Italian?
B: Si, oui and si.
T: Russian and Mandarin Chinese?
B: Yes, but those characters can’t appear in this script.
T: Ze information I zeek, Monsieur Bond, in zis: Learning a foreign language, particularly for the native of a unilingual island nation zuch as ze U.K., is zaid to require as much effort as a four-year university degree.
B: Quite astute of you.
T: How zen could you learn zese six languages and still have ze time to acquire ze skills necessary to dispatch six heavily-armed, well-trained guards?
B: I’d say the answer is right in front of you, Mr. Theodoracopulos.
T: Is zat so, Monsieur Bond?
B: Yes, I did it the same way you became one of the greatest minds in your mathematical field, while founding a worldwide terrorism ring, while managing a legitimate and benign-looking business as a cover.
T: You mean …
B: Yes, Mr. Theodoracopulos: We can do these things because, while they require years and years of training for real people, they only require a screenplay writer five to 10 seconds to write down.
T: So none of zis is possible?
B: Young men wouldn’t be frustrating themselves in gyms all around the world if it were. Then again, if you and I were only doing “possible” things with the same time constraints as the rest of humanity, this movie wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?
T: You know too much, Monsieur Bond!
B: Indeed I do. I know that you have a Russian given name, a Greek surname and you speak in an accent that combines aspects of French and Hungarian.
T: Zat’s it, Monsieur Bond, you die now!
(Enter Batman, who crashes through the glass ceiling that this room has, if only to give something for Batman to crash through.)
T: Vhat are you doing here?!
Batman: (Uses excessively gravelly voice that makes Theodoracopulos cover his ears in agony, thus giving Batman the extra seconds he needs.) Because you’re the kind of bad guy that might be found in both a Bond movie and a Batman movie. Because Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures thought there was good money to be made in a tie-in. And because it’s in the script.
(Batman punches Theodoracopulos unconscious.)
Bond: You know, you really didn’t have to do that. I had managed to slip out of those handcuffs.
Batman: You could’ve signaled me somehow. You know I didn’t necessarily want to have to punch him, not with this hyperextended bicep I’ve got.
Bond: How’s the sore hip these days?
Batman: The doctor says I need reconstructive surgery. But it was the same doctor who told me that I was getting too much exercise and needed to rest before I seriously hurt myself. I told him, “I don’t do reconstructive surgery, and I don’t do rest.” I used this gravelly voice, so I don’t think he’ll ask me again.
Bond: Bond. James Bond.
Batman: Why did you just say that? I know who you are.
Bond: Because it stipulates in my contract that I get a bonus every time I say it. It doesn’t have to make sense.
Batman: Is that your contract as James Bond, secret agent, or as the actor playing James Bond, secret agent?
Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Divorce and Prop 8
Sunday, November 09, 2008
Facebook: The Art of Better Friending
My 200th Facebook friend was someone I had met some months earlier while we were both attending Korean language classes at Seoul National University. This case would require some very artful friending, because the only conversations we’d undertaken together had been, up to that point, limited to when we were assigned in-class practice together. On those occasions, one of us would say a serious of words we’d memorized, soon sending the other scrambling to his English-Korean dictionary after using a word the other had never heard.
A couple of months after that class ended, I was friended by another of our classmates from SNU, bringing my total up to 199. As I’m wont to do, I looked my latest Facebook friend’s list of acquaintances to see if there was anyone I knew. I quickly saw my potential Mr. 200, and sent him an invite.
I should point out at this time that, after sending some friend invites, you get acceptance in a day or so. Sometimes the person has just started using Facebook and therefore hasn’t become addicted to it, so you won’t get a reply for days. Mr. 200, however, accepted within minutes, probably because, unlike the high school and university alumni I’ve friended, he was in the same time zone.
Also unlike most friendings was the accompanying email that wound up in my Facebook inbox.
“Rob, how are you doing?” asked Mr. 200.
I was unsure of how to answer. Both of us were English-speakers, but the amount of English words we’d used on one another up to this point couldn’t fill a “By Mennen” jingle. Most of the words we had used were in a language so difficult for both of us that we’d had to memorize them before class, thus hardly making them authentic reflections of our personality.
I needed to say something, though; nothing disappoints more than having a new friending undone through botched netiquette, especially a critically-numbered friending like Mr. 200. So, I wrote something anyone could respond to.
Finally, I wrote: “I’m okay. Still in class. How about yourself?” It felt good to know that my netiquette was sharp, and prepared for our online world. This feeling lasted only another few minutes, though, before another reply arrived.
Mr. 200 told me that he’d given up on classes. Then, he asked me about how my weekend was going. One of the great trials of Facebook is knowing how to deal with those who don’t understand the purpose of friending.
The purpose, by the way, is to network, thus establishing a wider circle of acquaintances and to distributing information. Facebook users can post interesting stuff on their pages, having found some new batch of political, sporting or entertainment news. Through its apps, Facebook builds bridges between people who barely know each other, or who didn’t bother to get to know you when you were in your awkward high school phase.
Since we didn’t yet have a bridge built, I didn’t really want to write to Mr. 200 about my weekend. I didn’t particularly want to write to him about anything; I was at 199 Facebook friends and was hoping he’d get me over the hump. After all, there’s no telling who among the more popular members of my high school or university alumni might see my Facebook status one day, decide that 200 friends was a far better barometer of popularity than 199, and thus friend me.
Fortunately, in our online world, I know more than just the purpose of Facebook; I’ve also learned the trick to ending email conversations without making it seem like you’re ending them. The best way is to send a reply, but not actually say anything worth commenting about. Start by telling him/her about the most colossally boring event on your weekend calendar, and make it seem as though this is the central event of schedule: “I’m planning to wake up early tomorrow and cut the grass, provided the riding lawn mower will start,” or “I planning to eat a sandwich tonight, unless I’m out of whole wheat.”
If you so desire, throw in a message that implies friendliness and an interest in their personal affairs: “I hope all’s well” or “I wish you all the best.” Be careful here, though, and don’t actually ask if all’s well or is best, or else they might write again and update you as to their status.
I used one of these methods, I’m not saying which one (everyone must find their one proper method of friending) and soon I’d bagged Mr. 200, and was well on my way to greater friending heights. I’d severed the immediate connective thread, but kept the option of continued dialogue open in the future should either he or I actually have anything interesting to say.
“Having connections from all over the world and being able to keep in touch with old friends sounds good,” I can hear some of you saying to yourself. “But you make it sound so crass, as though using Facebook is an exercise in boosting superficial popularity, and you have to become a master of insincerity to excel in our globalized society.”
To which I would answer: You say that like it’s a bad thing. Some people aren’t ready for Facebook, and apparently you’re one of them. Practice on MySpace, or if necessary, Hi5 until you figure it out.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
With Obama’s election, we will see black voters more thoroughly engaged in this process, and more of them can believe now that they can, in fact, achieve what whites can. Furthermore, with his election, he has opportunity to show rural voters that they can trust those who look and sound different than they do. No one should have voted against Obama because of his skin color, or because his name sounded odd.
Especially since there were so many other good reasons to vote against him. Obama’s policies will certainly lead to more taxes, the further overstretching of our military overseas and the additional sprawl of our government’s labyrinthine federal government. His plans will turn the drift away from free markets, the Constitution and states’ ability to govern themselves into a sprint. All of this is to be expected from a Democrat; unfortunately, Obama shows none of the potential strengths of America’s liberal left.
Obama voted for the Patriot Act this summer. He has voted to continue funding the war in Iraq, and his rhetoric suggests he will continue antagonizing Iran, nuclear-armed Pakistan and, worst of all Russia. He has spoken in favor of brining former Soviet Republics like Georgia into the European Union and NATO. These agreements, should Russia invade Georgia again, would bind us and Europe into defending her and fighting the Russians.
This is not in American interests. Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are no friends of America or its values, but Mikhail Saakashvili is no freedom fighter, no saint, and defending his rule is not worth one American life. Obama could have stated as much, but he lacks the courage.
People can talk about his “audacity” in this campaign, but when has Obama ever shown real courage in this votes and policy positions? This is a man who opposed the war while representing Chicago’s south side in the Illinois Senate, where such a view was quite popular. He rode that favor to victory in a blue state and then proceeded to tone down his rhetoric once he was on the national stage, at point even stating that he did not know if would have opposed the war had he been in Washington at the time.
How is this audacious? What of his policy positions ever was? Our Medicare and Social Security entitlements are still growing faster than we will ever be able to pay for them, while our troops remain stationed in more than 100 foreign countries.
America’s antiwar progressives had a candidate: Ralph Nader, who favors big government, but opposed the war in its entirety while opposing the Bush administration’s spying on our phone calls and library books. Yet, the leftwing of the Democratic Party loves a winner.
Just like fiscal conservatives backed McCain rather than someone who really would’ve supported their views: Libertarian Bob Barr. Just like social conservatives supported McCain rather than someone who truly believed like they do: the Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin.
The Republican Party is down, but will be back. However, given how much they gained in the 2004 elections, they should still be playing defense in 2010. Obama’s policies will cause government to grow, which Americans think they want now. They felt the same in 1992, but just like then, two years is all it takes to change some minds.
Those who want small government, want their civil liberties protected and want America to strengthen its own defenses, and not Georgia’s, must act now. Otherwise, the right wing that returns to power one day will be the same big government, foreign interventionist and church-state unionist wing of the Republican Party will be back, if not by 2010, certainly by 2012. The Obama backlash will come, and it’s up to us to see that the seesaw doesn’t continue, and that America doesn’t continue down its reckless, unsustainable course.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Libertarians for Nader
Sunday, November 02, 2008
The Trains are Alive With the Sound of...
In the middle of a work week, just because the eyes have opened and awareness has somewhat returned doesn’t mean one will be ready to rise. This is why most alarms sound like they do: a shrieking series of notes designed to be the aural equivalent of having an ice pick thrust not so gently into one’s eardrum.
I’ve come to appreciate the manufacturers of these alarm clocks, however, in that they knew whatever sound awoke those like me would become one we’d hate with an undying passion. Kudos to them for picking one they knew I’d hate from the start, and not spoiling any of life’s other sounds.
6:58 wouldn’t be such a bad time to wake up if the energy required to rise from bed and turn off the alarm were there. Usually, though, the commencement of that ice pick in the ear sound is what is it takes to motivate to get me out of bed. All I get from waking up at 6:58 is two extra minutes to think about the alarm, and two minutes can go by awfully slow when you don’t even have the energy to turn your head away.
The 7 a.m. alarm will surely come, though, and with it the demands of the day. These days my first demands to be met consist of getting dressed and inhaling a bowl of cereal before driving to the Chuncheon train station, where the 7:55 will carry me to Seoul, two hours away, so that I can then take a 20-minute subway ride, assuring me that I will make it to work by my scheduled time of 11 a.m.
Until recently, the train ride was a drab, but peaceful experience. Then, in the last couple of weeks, the train company decided that music would better help us pass the time. Like in many places, the Beatles are quite popular in Korea, and a local musician (or musicians) thought it would be a fitting tribute to record some of the Fab Four’s songs with Korean traditional stringed instruments. At the institute where I practice taekwondo, the instructor has a playlist of such songs, including, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
The train has only one song given the Korean instrumental treatment, however: “Let It Be.” Among the Beatles repertoire, one could do better (“Dear Prudence” is a personal favorite) and one could do worse (“Octopus’s Garden” … ick). I think I appreciate the Fab Four as much as anyone born a decade after they broke up, but certainly not enough to hear any one of their songs plucked all the way through several times each morning. The train company is fond of playing it just before departure and just before arrival in Seoul, apparently triggering it just after reaching a certain point that’s just before our final stop in Seoul. The problem is, sometimes, with all the other trains and subway cars going in and out of that station, arrival can sometimes be delayed long enough to pluck “Let It Be” three times all the way through.
After 10 non-stop minutes of this, the train station succeeds in doing something far more egregious than any alarm clock manufacturer: They take a sound I once liked and make me hate it.
Less offensive than this, but still highly unpleasant, are those who would ruin a sound before I ever got a chance to like it. The greatest such offender is the office building where I work. The newspaper company that employs me shares its building with an insurance company, with the latter apparently winning the thumb-wrestling contest that decided whose commercials would be advertised on our elevator monitor. It certainly wasn’t through any creative genius that they won such rights: as near as I can tell the company has only two commercials.
Their logo is a kind of flower with red, round-shaped petals, and in the first commercial those red circles turn into bouncing red balls which attach themselves to people’s faces and turn into clown noses, to these people’s apparent delight (I feel that now is a good time to point out that the same narcotics which are illegal in the United States are also illegal in Korea).
Not only have I memorized the facial expressions of these people before and after they receive their red-bouncing-ball-clown-noses, I have every note of this commercial’s insipidly cutesy piano tune committed to memory, and will probably hum it incessantly between Vicodin injections once I’m sentenced to the loony bin.
That tune, however, is Heaven’s golden angelic chorus compared to the company’s other commercial. In it, the round red shapes are balloons which carry people in dresses and business suits to a kind of business meeting in the sky while an elvish character plays flute and sits on a cloud (and I reiterate; drugs are illegal here! Somebody came up with this idea while sober!). The harpsichord-and-flute ensemble was kind of pleasant the first time, but I’ve now been hearing it on every elevator trip since I started working there five months ago. I imagine that whoever watches through the elevator security camera counts the number of building employees who’ve cocked their fists at the monitor, contemplating whether shattering it, and thus earning an eternal blight on their resume is a small price to pay for blessed quiet.
None of this bothered me so much before I fell asleep one morning on the train with my iPod attached, only to wake up and, after leaving the train, find that it had slipped off my belt loop. Now nothing can protect my ears from the elevator music. But, on the other hand, I now know what everyone in Korea is listening to: “Nobody” by the Wonder Girls. I don’t mean it’s on everyone’s playlist; I mean that it IS everyone’s playlist: I’ve heard young women blare this three minute, thirty second song on their headphones for up to 10 minutes non-stop. All of them also have it as their cell phone’s ring tone.
It’s not that Korean pop songs are worse than American pop: It’s pretty much the same, except the singers are Korean, as are most of the lyrics. The chorus, however, is more often than not in English. For “Nobody,” the chorus is as follows: “Nobody nobody but you/I want nobody nobody but you/ooooooh/nobody nobody/nobody nobody.” This tells you all you need to know about the creativity found in Korea’s popular music scene, as well as its English competence (which is to say, slightly higher than America’s in both departments).
Not long ago, I thought I might be losing my edge and that Korean pop was growing on me. This single song has convinced me that I have not completely slipped off the edge into lowbrow territory. I suppose that the next time I wake up at 6:58 I can console myself with the fact that I have taste in what I listen to. More often that not, though, I lie there thinking that, with all the alarm clocks, pop songs, elevator music and the ritual desecration of classic rock standards that await, it might have been better to have been born deaf.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
Beauty Clinic Ad on the Subway
On one side of the subway door is this picture, which says, "When their sight goes down, 'Wow!'"
On the opposite side of the door is this picture, which says, "I love beautiful chest."
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]