Being Unprofessional is Fun in Theory, But Embarrassing in Practice


Most words that end in ‘ism’ are really bad.  Racism.  Alcoholism.  Terrorism.  Sadism.  Masochism.


A couple weeks ago, my school informed me that all teachers in Seoul had to attend a mandatory training that would be held on a Saturday morning at 9 AM.  “I can do it!” I told myself, in a ‘go get ‘em’ kind of way.  Last year the idea of making an early Saturday morning training would’ve seemed as hopeless as trying to get a dog to pee without raising its leg.  Why would anyone want a dog to pee without lifting its leg, you ask?  Well, why would I want to go to a training on Saturday morning?

“Because,” my conscience told me, “you are an adult with a good job and you have to be professional.”  I tried to tell my conscience that I am professional most of the time and that it isn’t fair for my job to expect weekend professionalism as well.  One can’t argue with the conscience though; it can either be ignored or listened to.  I chose to listen this time.  “Be a good and responsible employee,” it said, “and get to that training at nine…please.”

To do that, it probably would have been smart to stay home Friday night…and I would’ve…but it was TTD’s birthday and everyone was going to be out.  So I trekked down to Incheon, firmly believing that I could show face, have a few drinks, and call it an early night.  Easy, simple, and responsible.  Adult.  Hard-working.  That 53% guy would’ve been proud, cause this whiner was suckin’ it up!

But unfortunately, as I’ve learned quite a few times in the past, my conscience tends to lose interest in doing its job.  Without going into detail, let’s just say Friday got a little wild and I woke up Saturday morning in a place I’d never been before, twenty minutes prior to the start of the training (it would take about an hour to get there).

“Oh no!” I said to myself.  I texted my boss and jumped in a cab.  I reeked of cigarette smoke and was still in the same clothes I wore to school the day before.  After the hour long cab ride into Seoul, the idiot cabbie got lost and suddenly we were driving around and around Insadong.  We went by all the little shops and the Palace.  It was like a sightseeing tour.  Or a date.  The guy got so lost that he turned the meter off.  By this time, I was two hours late for the training.

I started texting my boss and doing some serious apologizing.  I didn’t make any excuses and took the blame.  The cabbie pulled into a vacant alleyway and turned to me.  “I don’t know,” he said.  I wanted to cry.

“Where are we?” I wondered out loud, defeated.  I wasn’t even angry, just desperate.  “Where am I supposed to go…there’s nothing here….”

In response, he drove back onto the street and let me off there.  Miraculously, I was able to find the building where the training was.  It was scheduled to end at1:00.  The current time was11:15.

“I’m so sorry!” I shouted to my boss when I saw him.

“Look at you,” he said, putting his arm around me.  “You drank too much last night!”

I tried to explain that I really didn’t drink that much (lies!) and that I shouldn’t have stayed in Incheon and my phone alarm didn’t go off (or maybe I slept through it).  “Why didn’t you tell me you were in Incheon?” he asked.  “I would’ve said to you ‘Stay there.’  The training is not that important.”

If I had a gun, I would’ve shot myself. “Why do you make life so hard for yourself?” I thought.  “Why does everything have to be a fucking adventure?”  My boss and I drank a cup of coffee together and then I went inside for the last hour or so of the training.

Stepping into the auditorium, I looked out over the sea of foreign teachers in Seoul.  Some turned their heads and looked at me.  I sat down quickly.

“Fuck,” I said to myself.  “I’m that guy.”  In Korea, there is a stereotype that the Western teachers are all immature lushes, here to party and try to pick up Korean girls.  In an auditorium full of my peers, I was the one who stumbled in late, unshaven, and disgusting.  I was the stereotype.  It was humiliating and it sucked.

A lecturer spoke for another hour, and then the people who organized the training had a big raffle.  I sank down in my seat and prayed that I wouldn’t win anything.


All I Want For Christmas Is…A Beetle?


My friend PJ is an outstanding person.  A month from now, PJ will be leaving her cushiony job in Korea to go work with babies in Kazakhstan.  She’ll be teaching the Kazakh children English, playing games with them, helping them shave their mustaches and trim their chest hair, etc.  Last week I went to the Kazakhstani Embassy with her, with the hopes that at least one of the workers would look like Borat.  I was disappointed.  Maybe in reality they don’t really look like that, and the babies don’t have mustaches and chest hair.  Similarly, I’m told gay men don’t really act like Bruno.

See – I am a bad person and a moron.  PJ hasn’t even seen Borat, because she is an outstanding person.

Due to her infectious goodness, I couldn’t say ‘no’ to PJ when she asked me to sign up for a Christmas donation program happening at an orphanage here in Seoul.  The website had a spreadsheet with the names of the children, and next to each kid’s name was a gift request.  Some kids wanted clothes, some wristwatches, some ambitious ones asked for MP3 players (dang!  I don’t even have an MP3 player!).  I told PJ that I would find the kid who wanted the weirdest present and sign up to buy it for him/her.  She seemed pleased with that.  Although she is outstanding, she is also broke, and so PJ did not sign up to buy an orphan an MP3 player.  Instead, her kid gets a diary.

I looked through the list, trying to find a cool eccentric orphan to get a gift for, until I came to one that present stood out: Stag Beetle.

“What the hell is a stag beetle?” I asked PJ.  She didn’t know, so I Googled it.  I figured it was some kind of toy, like a Big Bad Beetleborg or something.  Instead, Google sent me back pictures of a real living insect.  “Does this kid want a real beetle?” I wondered.

Yes, it turns out.  Yes he does.  The Stag Beetle is apparently not that rare of a pet and they are sold in lots of stores here, including HomePlus (the Korean equivalent to Target).  It’s also the only pet I know of that you’re supposed to “make into a specimen” once it dies.  Stag Beetles don’t live very long, and when one dies, the owner is supposed to “pin” it and display it somewhere.  I was also assumed to find out, from the stag beetle website, that between death and its pinning, the beetle is supposed to be stored in the refrigerator.  Could you imagine this happening with any other pet?

“Hey, where’s your guinea pig?”

“Oh, it’s behind the milk.”

In other news, the stag beetle is wretched and disgusting.  Watch the short video below to see for yourself.  I’m starting to wonder if somebody’s playing a gag on this poor orphan:

Yesterday I got an email from the orphanage.  The plan, as it is laid out on the website, has donators dropping the gifts off this weekend.  The staff will then wrap the gifts and give them to the kids during the orphanage Christmas party.  However, my situation is special.  The email said that since the gift I’m donating is actually alive, I need to come to the orphanage Christmas party on December 18th and give the beetle to the kid in person.  This actually sounds pretty cool, and I’m excited to see the look on the kid’s face when he unwraps the terrifying beetle.

PJ won’t be giving her kid the diary in person.

Who’s outstanding now, baby shaver?


Drunken Malaise, One Year Contracts, and Tired Barhopping in Bupyeong


Toronto was leaving on Saturday, so we thought it would be a good idea to go out drinking one last time.  Of course we did – drinking is what people do to say goodbye.  Toronto was flying out of Korea and heading back to Canada.  He didn’t have a job to go back to but his time here was done.  Maybe he’d come back, he told us.

“I’ll be here,” I said.  Toronto would be another in a long line of friends who had gone away.  That’s how it goes when you live in a foreign country: work visas eventually expire and people get sucked back to their homes.  Their real homes.  Permanent ones.  In the last month, most of my friends had vanished.  Perkins went back to South Africa, Pierre back to Canada, Cindy to Chicago, Clare to England, and the list goes on and on.  It sort of reminded me of how much I used to hate summer vacation when I was at college.  For two months, everyone just picked up and took off.  I’d have to leave my fun apartment and move back in with my parents until school started back up.

I had never thought “vacation” and “punishment” could be synonymous until those awful summer breaks.

For Toronto’s going away party, it was only him, TTD, and me.  We started with a few drinks at Underground, and then went over to a popular Western bar called Goose Goose.  I sat at the bar and smoked and ordered whisky and cokes.  Thursdays at Goose Goose used to be packed; the place would be full of life, young people yelling and drinking.  There was an excitement there.  A community.  We used to go to Goose on Thursdays and everybody we knew would be there.  It was the place to go to play trivia and to complain about work and to plan the weekend.  But on this night it was dead and dreary, with just a few people sitting around a table or playing darts.  There was nobody there to talk to.  We ordered more drinks and decided the best thing to do would be to get drunk.

Goose was getting depressing so we left and went to Who’s Bar.  Toronto had something to do and stepped away for a bit.  TTD and I went in and sat at the bar.  The place was empty with the exception of the owner, Won Seok, and some of his Korean friends.  They were playing poker at a table.  We told Won Seok not to bother getting up and stepped behind the bar and poured our beers ourselves.  We sat there talking, and then TTD said, “Hey, you know…I’ve known you for a year now and I never asked you before…why did you get divorced?”

I tried to come up with some kind of a coherent answer.  The marriage felt like a lifetime ago.  Why did I get divorced?  I didn’t know.  My life three or four years ago had been so different.  I remember when Betty and I bought a house in Charlotte together.  The realtor gave us the keys early and we drove down at night, just to walk in our new home and know that it was really ours.  We went in and I remember how damn happy Betty was.  This would be the place where we would make our life together.  Our first real home together.

About a year later, I moved out.

After, when I came to Korea, I wanted to show my students pictures of the house back in the States, so they’d have an idea of what “back home” looked like.  Betty lived there now with her new boyfriend.  I typed the address into Google and I found it on a Real Estate website.  She was selling our house.  I had no idea.  For some reason, everything sunk in right then.  It was like someone highlighted a huge portion of my life and hit the backspace button.

TTD and I were bored and starting to feel miserable.  We walked back to Goose.  Everyone had gone.  The bartender was asleep and the rest of the staff was busy playing slow Korean music on the jukebox.  Toronto called and we went back to Who’s Bar.  There were two strangers there this time.  They were happy to see some signs of life, and they bought us Flaming Dr. Peppers and we all drank.  It was after three in the morning and the booze was starting to do its thing.  TTD and I were drunk and we told the strangers that we were a couple and that we met at an orgy.  The strangers seemed to believe that, or maybe they were just so drunk they would’ve believed anything.

Toronto sat there laughing at all of us.  I would miss him.

We decided to ditch the strangers and go to McDonald’s.  On the way, we passed an old man sitting on the ground and drinking soju by himself.  TTD didn’t see him and nearly stepped on him.  He shouted at her in angry Korean.  I can’t eat when I drink, so I let Toronto and TTD go into the McDonald’s and I sat down with the old drunk Korean guy.  He had a Dixie cup and he drank shots of soju from it.  I sat there chain smoking while he rambled on and on in Korean.  I would nod and sometimes say “ne.”  He pointed towards the McDonald’s every so often and his voice would get louder.  He seemed upset.  I didn’t know what he was talking about so I kept nodding.

How the hell did I end up here?  In Korea, on the ground with a drunk old Korean guy.  Where was Betty now, and who was living in our house?  It was all so confusing.  I couldn’t get a grasp on anything, and the old man kept talking.

Two days later, Toronto flew back to Canada.  He emailed me the other day to say that he just bought a new washroom cabinet and some pillow shams.

It seems like life has a funny way of moving on, even when you don’t really want it to.


4 Cool Looks That Distress Me


Fashion baffles me.  I don’t get it at all and I never will.  People say that fashion is a form of self-expression.  If that’s true, I’ve basically been stuck in a stutter every since my parents stopped dressing me.  I wonder what my clothes say about me?  No I don’t.  I know what they say about me.  They say, “This guy buys all his clothes at Uni Qlo.”  Or they say, “This guy doesn’t wear clothes because he enjoys them.  He wears clothes because he has to.”

Not that I want to be naked or anything.  I’m just saying, if society didn’t expect me to wear a shirt and jeans, as opposed to, I don’t know, some Underoos, I’d probably be at the bar looking like Shazam.

Here in Korea, which, I’m told, is “fashion forward,” I get to see a lot of different looks.  I won’t lie, I’m often impressed
by how well the Koreans and the ex-pat teachers dress.  But once in awhile I see things and I think, “Hmm.  I couldn’t do that.”  It isn’t that these things are bad, per say, they just aren’t possibilities for me, for a variety of reasons.  So here, directly below, are four things I’ve seen recently that I don’t understand.

Exhibit A: Coat with No Sleeves

It’s cold outside.  Real cold.  You put on your coat to warm up.  But then you realize that your coat has no sleeves.  Your arms are still exposed to the bitter cold.  What kind of loopy coat is this?  Is this some sort of lame joke, like the solar powered flashlight or the book on how to read?  How can a coat have no sleeves?  That’s like buying deodorant that smells like B.O.!

Okay, in all seriousness, the sleeveless coat is kind of cool looking.  If I had muscles, maybe I would wear a vest coat.  Scratch that.  As cool as it looks, the practical aspect of the sleeveless coat is too much for me to handle.  A coat has a specific purpose, which is to keep me warm.  And since I don’t have muscles to help with that, I need sleeves.

Exhibit B: Headphones around the neck

I like the look of the sleeveless coat (which some people might call a “vest”); on the contrary, I feel wearing headphones around your neck while in a social setting makes you look like a douche bag.  I don’t know why…they’re just headphones…but damn, man, why are they around your neck?  What are you, a DJ?  Go play some techno then, and stop hitting on the cute girls in the bar.  To me, wearing headphones around the neck is as obnoxious as some dude in a band wearing his guitar around his shoulder all night.  Listen, DJ Shadow, get your giant headphones off your neck before they give you scoliosis.  Cause you’re annoying me.

Exhibit C: Glasses with no lenses (or glasses with plastic lenses)

Wearing glasses with no lenses reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld where Costanza pretended he was wheelchair bound so people would be nicer to him.  Glasses make a person look smarter, and glasses can be sexy.  But the thing is, you actually have to NEED glasses for these things to be true.  Wearing glasses frames alone doesn’t cut it.  You must deserve to wear glasses.  Personally, I think it’s pretty interesting when someone has a cast on his arm.  You don’t see me walking around with some fake cast, do you?  No, that would be ridiculous.  Only people with broken bones get to wear casts.  And only people with vision problems should get to wear glasses.  That’s the way God intended it when he made vision problems and glasses.

Exhibit D: Ear Hoodie
Now, this isn’t something a guy would wear anyhow, although it would be hilarious if I started showing up places with the “ear hoodie” on.  The “ear hoodie” is more of a kid thing – my girl students at school wear them.  It’s not just for Halloween or something; they wear them daily.  Is it adorable?  Absolutely, 100% yes.  However, like Underoos, one can reach an age where wearing the “ear hoodie” becomes creepy.  You know how you have to be 18 to smoke?  Well, there should be a law saying only people under 14 can purchase the “ear hoodie.”  They should check IDs.  “I’m sorry, miss, but I’m going to need to see some identification.  Oh, you’re 17…under law I can’t allow you to purchase this item.”  And if you’re dating a Korean girl and she wears the “ear hoodie,” you really should be ashamed of yourself.  It’s questionable to want to dress your Korean girlfriend up in a school girl uniform; the “ear hoodie” is totally over the line.  If you want your girlfriend to have teddy bear ears on her head, you’re a disgusting Westerner.  Remember, she never would’ve dated you in the first place if you didn’t have those glasses and the headphones around your neck.

Hmm, maybe this post is getting a bit mean.  It’s further proof that fashion brings out the worst in me.  If you wear any of these things, I still love you.  All I ask in return is that you love me, and my Uni Qlo sweater vests.


The Versatile Blogger Post – Rules Not Fully Followed


Last December, I had a big stupid crush on a girl.  I wouldn’t want to trample on her privacy, so instead of saying her real name, let’s just called her “Goofy Face.”  That seems like a nice nickname, one that protects her integrity and doesn’t come off as bitter or anything.  One night, Goofy Face and I didn’t have anything to do, so she asked me to show her my writing journals.  I did, and after reading my rambling she told me that I should start a blog.  That seemed like a silly idea, as I had never even seen a blog before and didn’t know anything about it.  Anyways, a few days later Goofy Face dumped me like a full ashtray.  In a move of sheer desperation, I thought that if I actually started a blog – as she suggested – maybe she would read it and want to talk again.

It was a pitiful, despicable move.  And it didn’t work.  But now, about a year later, writing my little blog is one of my favorite hobbies.  In the past few months, I’ve really gotten into the whole blogging thing and have been having a lot of fun reading other peoples’ blogs as well.  There are a ton of really talented, funny, and unique voices out here on WordPress.  I’d gotten this Versatile Blogger thing once before and ignored it like a big jerkstore; today I got it again and this time I want to use it as an opportunity to acknowledge some of the blogs that have entertained me so much.

Now, there are rules that come with this Versatile Blogger Award.  I’m supposed to say seven unknown facts about myself, give shout outs to 15 blogs, and then inform those bloggers, who are supposed to name 15 bloggers, etc.  Instead, I’m just going to give shout outs to the blogs I really like…the seven surprise things will have to wait, and we’ll see if I follow through on the informing part.  Actually, maybe we can pull seven things from that opening paragraph:

  1. I’m straight (do I seem a little hung up on that?  homophobic!)
  2. I liked a girl called Goofy Face
  3. Drawing a conclusion from #2, I have bad taste in women.
  4. I didn’t know what a blog was until December
  5. Expanding on #4, I live under a rock
  6. I didn’t just like a girl called Goofy Face, I was dumped by her as well
  7. I’m an idiot, because I still know Goofy Face and this post is going to get me in a lot of trouble (I’m not kidding…this framing device was bad fucking idea…oh well!)

That was fun!  But here’s the important part…below are some blogs I really enjoy reading:

The Understander – This guy found me, and I’m happy about that because his blog is HILARIOUS.

A Girls Attempt – I like this one.  I feel it gives me insights into the female perspective.

Munteng – Cool little blog with interesting ideas.

Stupid Ugly Foreigner – All about living and teaching in South Korea.  Great writing.

On Hyperborea: Ideas From the North – Well thought out essays on various topics.

Renxkyoko’s Space – Had to put it.  It’s a fave.

The Pink Underbelly – Very good blog written by an amazing woman.

The Deep Friar – Funny.  I like it.

An American in North Korea – Well done and interesting subject matter.

I’m On the Bandwagon – Great premise.  Really funny.

That’s not 15…it’s 10.  But I’m happy with that list.  Let’s not bloat it.

I received my Versatile Blogger message from The Rhyming Med Student.  Check him out.  One last shout out to The Wuc, who nominated me before.

Happy blogging, everyone!  Now, it’s Friday night and I need to go drink some cheap Korean beer.  : )


A Thanksgiving Half Memory, Inspired by Truman Capote


Today is Thanksgiving, and although I won’t be doing anything to celebrate, there are plenty of things that I’m thankful for.  For one, I’m thankful that my teacher friends back in the States are on vacation.  Secondly, I’m thankful to have my Mass XXX weight gain shake here to replace the large turkey dinner I would be having if I was back home.  Thirdly, I’m thankful that I no longer have to try and teach the story “A Christmas Memory” anymore.

Did that thought seem to come out of nowhere?  Well, it did.  For two years I taught 9th grade English, and easily the worst, most universally hated piece of literature in the curriculum was Truman Capote’s story “A Christmas Memory.”  I don’t remember one student ever liking it.  Students would turn to me, as they sometimes did, and say, “Mr. P…do you like that story?”

Usually I would emphatically say ‘yes,’ because I usually did like the stories we were reading.  “Yes!” I would shout.  “Gift of the Magi is classic!  Don’t you think it’s clever?  He buys the combs and she sells the hair to buy the watch…sigh.”

But in the case of A “Christmas Memory,” there was no defending it.  “No,” I would say, speaking honestly, “I don’t like it.  It sucks.”  The story had something to do with a young Truman and his family having to buy rum to make a fruitcake.  My students, in our inner city school, didn’t really relate to it very well.  Nor would anyone, really.  If there are some strange people in this world who do relate to it, I hope I never find myself trapped in a conversation with them:

“When I was young girl, I remember the fruitcakes Aunt Emily used to make.  Why, Emily would give us a spoonful of rum when the cookin’ was finished, and you should’ve seen the look on Momma’s face!”

Oh, shut up!  To any extent, in homage to Truman Capote’s wonderful time capsule of a narrative, I thought I’d reflect on Thanksgivings past.  I’m inspired, and – call me ambitious! – with enough effort, I think I can write something just as dull and pointless.  Here it goes! (PS – see if you can spot the random dog dressed up like a turkey!)

A Thanksgiving Half Memory by William R. Panara

Times were hard that year.  Mom had to have an operation on her wrist ‘cause of the carpal tunnel she got from hanging j-hooks every day at her job, and Dad was spending a lot of time in the bathroom.  Mandy, my sister, was having boy trouble and I was the same as always.  Everyone in the house was miserable.

That year our extended family decided not to get together for Thanksgiving.  It was awhile ago, so I don’t remember why.  There must’ve been a meeting, where Dad told us all the news.

“We’re not doing a family Thanksgiving this year,” he might have said.  I don’t know because I don’t remember.  Then he might have said, “Our extended family has decided getting together for one day a year is too much.  It’ll be just the four of us this Thanksgiving.”

The tradition was to go to Grandma Rheba’s house, where the whole family would eat Grandma’s soup and watch football and then we’d pass around a great big bird.  The turkey was the headliner, but Grandma was famous for her homemade chicken soup.  One time, Cousin Randy brought a girl along with him, and she said that Grandma’s soup was overrated.  That was sacrilege, so we shot her.  Hmm…maybe we didn’t, the memory is blurry.  Actually, I don’t think we shot her, but we did give her dirty looks, even though we all secretly agreed.

It was sad to know that we wouldn’t be having Grandma’s soup that year.  When
Thanksgiving came around, Mom cooked a turkey and all the sides.  She made potatoes and stuffing and everything.  We were gonna make the most of it, even if it was only the four of us.  We sat down at the table, the deafening buzz of Mom’s electric knife that she bought from K-mart in 1989 filling the air.  Yes, the turkey was being cut, and soon Mom started bringing out plates of food and setting them down.  We each got our own Thanksgiving plate – Dad, Mandy, and me.  Mom got her own plate too, and when she sat down with it, we all started eating.

Everyone was quiet for a little while until Mandy spoke up.  “This doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving,” she said.  “It doesn’t feel right.”

That was the truth, and we were all thinking it.  “You know why it doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving?” I asked, a bright idea forming in my head.  “It’s because Mom brought all the food out on individual plates.  I mean, that’s how we eat dinner every night.  This doesn’t feel special.  We should put everything on different plates and pass them around.  Thanksgiving is all about passing.”

“Billy’s right,” my father said.  “We need to be passing the food.  Let’s get put all the food back and pass it around the table.”

Mom was not happy.  “You mean you want me to dirty every dish in the house so we can pass around the food I just spent all day cooking and serving you?  And then I’ll have to wash every dish, because nobody’s going to help me.  Is that what you want?”

We all nodded.  That was EXACTLY what we all wanted.

On Thanksgiving, passing food is as much a tradition as eating it.  My family went back into the kitchen and brought out a bunch of bowls and spoons.  After that, we pushed the food off our plates and into the bowls, one for corn, one for turkey, one for stuffing, etc.  When our plates were empty, we eagerly passed the food to one another.

“Mandy, can you pass me the potatoes?”

“Certainly, Bill.  Can you pass the green beans?”

“I can’t believe this,” Mom said.  “Look at all this work I have to do.”

We were too busy passing the food around to pay her much attention. This brings me to an important point in the story, because I don’t remember anything else that happened after that.  It wasn’t the best Thanksgiving ever, but at least something memorable happened.

This Thanksgiving, with no celebrations to attend here inKorea, I’ll just sit around and think about stuff from the past.  I’m not a super nostalgic person like Truman Capote apparently was, so the memories won’t make me feel as though I’m soaring like balloons into heaven.

Most memories are like that.  They aren’t saccharine.  They’re just there.


Do My Puny Arms Impress You?


It’s been about three weeks since I first started going to the gym regularly, and, due to the staff at Orange Fitness, I’ve hit my first major roadblock.  When I blame the staff, that’s somewhat misleading.  They’ve done nothing wrong.  The desk girl can’t help that she looks cute in her blue work-out clothes and this, coupled with how self-conscious I am about the lack of weight I can lift, is impairing my anticipated transformation from stick figure to Schwarzenegger.

Well, maybe Schwarzenegger’s aiming a bit high.  Let’s go with Linda Hamilton instead.

Anyways, I used to go to the gym at 9 AM.  At that time, there would be about 15-20 people there exercising and one staff member sitting around watching.  The staff member was a skinny woman in her 30s.  She always wore pink and would sometimes try to correct me when I used the machines wrong.  The thing was, though, I felt pretty comfortable with her.  I didn’t feel particularly bad about myself when I’d stick the pin in the second lightest weight amount and struggle to do my reps.  Was it a little embarrassing having the Korean men walk by, checking to see how much I was lifting?  Of course, which is why I’d stealthy switch the pin to a higher amount when I was done.  Was it humiliating when I’d see an aujuma lifting more than I could?  Absolutely.  But then again, everyone knows that aujumas aren’t human.

I had a nice little routine going.  Then one day I was running late, so I didn’t get to the gym until 11 AM.  The place was dead.  Totally empty.  I was thrilled.  11 AM would be my new gym time, as I could have the place virtually to myself.  There was, though, one problem.  The staff lady in the pink outfit wasn’t there

Vaguely Reminiscent of Blue Girl

anymore.  Her shift must’ve ended.  Instead, there was a different girl, a pretty young Korean girl in a blue outfit.  When I started going at 11 AM regularly, I realized that it would be just me, a couple aujumas, “Blue Girl,” and almost no one else in the place.

That’s when the problem started.  Lifting a slight amount in front of “Pink Woman” didn’t phase me, but I’d be damned if I was going to let the Blue Girl catch drift of my ineptitude.  I started to find myself paying way too much attention to what she was doing.  If she started folding laundry, I’d run over to the bench press machine to get some work in while she was occupied.  If the Blue Girl was standing behind the desk, doing nothing, I’d position myself somewhere she couldn’t see me and work with dumbbells.  If Blue Girl came out into the gym and started exercising herself, as she sometimes does, I would go do the exercise bike.  That was safe.  I couldn’t allow her to see me red faced and panting, lifting less weight than some people do after grocery shopping.

Because of Blue Girl, my routine started to change.  Those times when I thought she might be watching, I might lessen my reps or skip some machines all together.  Sometimes I’d leave disappointed with myself, having abandoned half my work-out, afraid that some Korean girl I don’t even know might think that I’m wimpy.  I wanted her to think well of me.  I didn’t want her shaking her head and telling her friends that I made Don Knots look like Rambo.

Which all makes me think I should go back to Pink Woman and the 9 AM crowd.  Or maybe I should just grow up and stop stressing out over nonsense.  Or, if in a pinch, I could use up all the gym towels, so Blue Girl will have an endless supply of stuff to fold.


Five Korean Women and I Try to Find Common Ground in Regards to Romance and Flowers


Every Friday morning, five Korean women in their forties would scamper up to the English Zone located on the second floor of my High School specifically to see me.  For the next hour, we would have our “English Lesson,” which mostly consisted of them asking me questions about my sex life and me trying to answer them in English, making sure they could understand what I was saying and that I didn’t come off looking like a scumbag.  Four of the women had sons that went to my school; the other one came because she lived in the area.  Our “Parent Class” was not, by any means, something unique to my school.  All foreign public school teachers, to my knowledge, have a class on their schedule for the parents of their students.

The content of those classes, I’m sure, varies greatly depending on the teacher.

At first, I tried to run Parent Class like I would run any other class.  I came prepared with low-level articles to read, vocabulary words, and grammar exercises.  These were shot down immediately.

“This is very boring,” said Jennifer, an English teacher herself.  “We would rather do open discussion.”

“Okay, that sounds great,” I said, trying not to look a little offended that my lesson had been poo-pooed before we even
started it.  “What would you like to discuss?”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No, not really.”

“What do you mean – not really?”

“Well, I’m sort of spending time with someone…”

And with that, the general tenor of our class was set.  I’m way too much of an open book, so for an hour every Friday I would end up getting advice about my love life from five Korean mothers.  There was even a time when I had gone on a couple dates (I think they were dates…dinner was involved…let’s just call them dates for the sake of simplicity) with a girl who was fluent in Korean, and I had the mothers from Parent Class send her texts from my phone in Korean, pretending to be me.

“What did you say to her?” I asked the delighted group.

“Oh, we said very nice things,” Awn-nee replied (‘Awn-nee’ means ‘big sister’ in Korean; as I had too much trouble remembering Awn-nee’s actual name, this is what I called her).  Then the girl texted back – in Korean – and the five mothers clapped and broke into laughter.  They told me her response was very encouraging.

“Awn-nee’s got game,” I thought.  “She’s doing much better than I usually do.”

Other times the parents talked about themselves.  They talked about their husbands.  Only one of them would openly say that she was still ‘in love’ with her husband.  Her name was Deborah.  She had gone to Jeju Island recently with her friends and was trying to tell the group about it.  Actually, she had already told the group about it in Korean, and was struggling to translate her description into English.  She took out her cell phone and typed something into the dictionary/translator feature.  With a smile on her face, she showed me the word that had come up on the screen:


“Rape?” I said, alarmed.  All of the others nodded and smiled.  “What do you mean rape?”

This was not good.  What had happened to Deborah in Jeju, and why was she so happy about it?  Was she coming forward, now, in Parent Class?  Maybe she could only come forward in English.  I would have to alert the police!  This was a nightmare!

“Very beautiful,” she said.  I turned to Jennifer, because Jennifer was basically fluent.  “What’s she talking about?” I asked.

“She’s talking about the flowers that grow on the island,” Jennifer told me.  “What did you think?  Oh, did you think…”

And then Jennifer started laughing at me.

Apparently – who knew! – there is a breed of flower called “rape flowers” (“rape” is Latin for “turnip”).  They grow in China and Korea and I’m sure they grow in other places too.  The next week, Deborah brought in a zip drive with pictures from her trip.  She put them up on the smart board in the classroom.  Beautiful yellow flowers filled the screen, the sun shining down on them.

“Here are rape flowers,” she said.  “So pretty.”

She was right – they were pretty.  Horribly named, but pretty.

Those flowers needed to be re-named, stat.  I wondered what Deborah’s actual name was.  I didn’t know.  All I knew was that she was kind and drank wine at night and had a husband that she loved.

Then I thought about the names of the other people around me.  Jennifer.  Awn-nee.  The students with their silly made up names like “Cornchip” and “Bon Jovi.”  Later, at the academy, the students would re-name me “Kim Ho Jin.”  Names have meaning, and are at the same time completely meaningless.  They’re all about connections, connotations.  What sounds alarming to one person signifies a field a golden flowers to another.

I had one student who chose to name himself “Mexicana.”  I asked him why he wanted to be called ‘Mexican.’  That’s not what it meant, he said.  I asked him what it meant.  He told me he picked it because it was the name of a chicken restaurant in Korea, and he liked the chicken there.



While Trying to Score Numbers at a Club in Hongdae, I Create a Socially Awkward Situation


Zen Bar was dead, especially for a Saturday night in April.  It was late; I had already been all around Hongdae, having drink after drink at Club FF and Papa Gorillaz.  The evening didn’t have a great feel to it, especially since I’d been invited out by a girl, who I was interested in, only to stand there feeling dumb while she talked to some other guy all night.  I looked good though – dashing! – in my Uni Qlo sweater vest and sports jacket.  Or at least I thought I looked good, thanks to all the rum I drank.  Rum, I’ve heard, is like a really really nice Mr. Blackwell.

“Heck,” I thought, “if she’s gonna give her number away to this guy and flirt with this guy, I’m gonna go find someone myself.  Make her jealous.”

I hoped she would stop flirting long enough to notice.

Soon enough, I found myself chatting up a pretty Korean girl.  “Let me get your number,” I said.  Surprisingly enough, she gave it to me.  I felt cool and confident, even though everything was blurry.   I so drunk that forming words and sentences had become as difficult as assembling a home entertainment center without the instructions manual.

Or even with the instructions manual, really.  Those instructions aren’t that helpful.  It seems like they could be written better.  And the illustrations!  Don’t get me started on the illustrations!

The point is, I drank too much.

About an hour later, I moved over to dance floor, which was almost empty, and found another Korean girl.  We started dancing and she seemed to like me.  “Wow!” I thought.  “I’m a stud!  Too bad the girl I came here to meet is totally disinterested!”  I started chatting with the girl I was dancing with, and then I took my phone out.

“Hey,” I said, in a smooth slur.  “Let me get your number.”

She looked at me, confused.  “I just gave you my number.”


“I gave you my number an hour ago.”

That’s right – it was the SAME girl as before.  I had no idea.  In my drunken state, I firmly believed she was a different person, a second Asian girl.  It was impossible to play off.  Not only did it make me seem like a moron, it also possibly made me seem a bit racist.  I felt terrible.  Like I wasn’t able to tell Asian people apart.  Could you imagine if that was truly the case?  Every time I’d go into school, the students would come pouring in and I’d think, “My God!  Another brand new class!  How many kids go to this school?!”

In the end, it was nothing more than one little, dumb, awkward moment.  I was too embarrassed to text or call the girl.  It would’ve been funny, though, if I texted her during the week, and then texted her the exact same message the following day, as if I still thought she was two different people.  “Hey, what you doing Friday?”  Then the next day, “Hey, what you doing Friday?”  Or, if she accepted the first invitation, my second text could say, “Hey, I’m busy Friday night.  What you doing Saturday?”

Dang, I could’ve had back-to-back dates with two good looking girls!

Play on, player.  Play on.


Help Me From My Brain


My father stormed around the house in a state of panic.  “All of the credit cards are gone,” he said, his nerves making his voice hit high notes.  “I don’t know where they are…someone must’ve stolen them.”

For one week, sometime circa 1990, things were not well in the Panara household.  Actually, things were rarely well in the Panara household, but this week was slightly worse than the norm.  How had this happened?  Had someone really stolen all of my father’s credit cards and, if so, how had the person done it?  My father’s wallet was still there.  Was it feasible that someone pick-pocketed him, took the credits cards out of his wallet, and then returned it to his back pocket?  No one knew.  It was like trying to figure out how they get the ship in the bottle, only it involved credit cards and had nothing to do with ships or bottles.

The mystery of the credit cards was eventually solved when my father realized that he had hid them in the basement.  I don’t recall if he stumbled upon them accidentally or if the light bulb went on above his head.  Fearing that the credit cards would be stolen, my father hid them under a rug in the basement.  Somehow he forgot about it afterwards, and then, strangely, believed that they were in fact taken.  He sat on the basement couch, overcome with confusion.  “What’s wrong with me?” he asked, rhetorically.  “What’s wrong with my brain?”

I didn’t answer him; I was too busy searching the basement, hoping maybe he’d forgotten about a stack of money of money he’d hidden away in similar fashion.  Or some traveler checks.  Or a coupon book.  I was desperate.

Now I’m getting older.  In what seems like the blink of an eye, I’m my early thirties, and I find myself doing inexplicable things, a la my father and his credit cards, all the time.  Just this week I’ve tried riding the bus by swiping my gym card; I got in the elevator after walking in my apartment building and desperately hit  the ‘1’ button over and over again, curing and on the verge of  having a breakdown because the elevator wasn’t going anywhere; and I put a fork in the refrigerator after cleaning it.  At school, I have two black markers to use on the white board.  I’m well aware that one works and the other is dead.  Do I throw the dead marker away?  Of course not.  Instead, every time I go to write on the board, it’s like playing Russian Roulette with markers.  I’m constantly trying to write with the dead one and, in my head, saying, “Why the hell didn’t you throw this marker out?  It’s dead you moron!  Throw it away.”  And then I put it back down with the other markers.

What’s going on with my brain?  It’s all little stuff, but it’s adding up and getting annoying.  I wanted to go to the bank this week, on Monday afternoon, and I looked for my bankbook.  I looked in the drawer where I keep my important stuff – there was my passport, and my TEFL certificate, and even some forms from the bank.  The bankbook, however, was no where to be found.  Why in the world didn’t I put it with everything else?  For the next hour, I tore up the apartment looking for it.  I went through everything, even my luggage, trying to find the stupid missing bankbook.  In my head, I did that thing where you try to retrace your steps.  “Okay, I went to the bank last month.  What would I do?  I come in the apartment.  I’ve got the bankbook.  I put it…”

Who knows where I put it.  It’s still MIA, and although that’s not a big deal, it’s bugging me something fierce.  Similarly, I got a letter – all in Korean – regarding my pension money.  I brought it to school to have my boss Leah translate it for me.  At the end of the day, when neither Leah or I had class, I wanted to show her the letter.  Could I?  No.  It was gone – completely vanished.  So I got to waste a solid half hour searching for the pension letter.  I finally found it folded and stuck in one of the textbooks.  That meant that I’d gotten to school and thought, “Hmm, where should I put this important letter?  Oh, I know!  I’ll fold it and stick in a random part of this textbook here, and then put the book back on the shelf with the other twenty textbooks.  Yeah, that’ll make it easy to find.”

If I had a machine that could track my thoughts and give me a daily print out of the things that go through my mind with the highest frequency, the list would probably look something like this: Where’s my phone?  What the hell did I do with the pen?  Where are my white socks – I can’t possibly be out of white socks already?  Why didn’t I buy toilet paper at the store – I specifically went to the store for toilet paper and then bought potato chips?  What in God’s name is my password to log into (insert online account) – oh, (after doing the password retrieve thing) why did I pick that?  I’ll never remember that!  I’ll change it later.

It’s maddening.  I’m not going insane, just batty enough for it to be highly irritating.  In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that’s fine.  I must remind myself sometimes that I’m not losing my mind – I’m just losing everything else.

(Here’s the song from which I stole this tittle, by the amazing and outstanding band Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers!)