It Was Like a Lovely Candlelit Dinner…Just with No Candles and No Light


One time, back in the States, I was on a public bus and found myself sitting next to a blind man with impeccable hair.  His hair seriously looked wonderful, perfectly combed without a strand out of place.  Meanwhile, I had a mess on the top of my head.

“How the hell did this blind guy get his hair to look so good?” I asked myself.  “He must have great hair combing instincts.”  I looked down at the seeing-eye dog and noticed how well-groomed it was.  If this guy was doing everything himself, it was beyond impressive.  I’d never thought about it before, but how exactly do blind people comb their hair?  I stared in awe, realizing that I’ve never seen a blind person with bad hair.  Take that Bocelli guy for instance.  Decent voice.  Flippin’ excellent hair.

Since that day, I’ve often been intrigued by the world of the blind.  If I had a blind friend, I’d ask all sorts of stupid, ignorant questions: How do you use the Internet?  Is there a Braille computer?  Do you have lower electricity bills than seeing people?  Is there a blind alarm clock?  How do you tell babies apart?  Is it difficult to use silverware and, if so, how frustrating is it to bow to society’s norms and abstain from using your hands?

For an insight into that last question, I booked a table this past weekend at Seoul’s Blind Art Restaurant.  The concept fascinated me: for an hour and a half, I’d be eating dinner in a sealed room that is completely 100% devoid of light.  I would be going with my girlfriend, and we chose our dinner menu online beforehand.  There are no menus at the Blind Art Restaurant.  Nor is there the opportunity to use the restroom once you’ve been seated in the dining area.  Going to the bathroom in the dark might sound quirky and fun, but that’s just because you’re not the one who has to mop the urine off the hand dryer afterwards.

We arrived at the Blind Art Restaurant a tad early and were seated in an elegant waiting room with several other couples.  Each pair got its own little locker, where we had to store anything that had the capability of creating light.  Cell phones, lighters, etc.  The darkness must not be broken.  Then everyone went to the bathroom one by one to avoid any accidents.  One guy was dressed in a fine suit and spent a good 10 minutes fixing his hair in the bathroom mirror.  “Why?” I wondered.  The date is in total darkness.  I suppose the Blind Art Restaurant would be a good place to book if ever you sprout a horrible pimple on the day of a date, or if you’re really, really ashamed of the person you’re dating.

“Hey, you know how you’ve been asking about having a double date?” you can tell your friend on the phone.  “We’re in!  It just has to be at the blind restaurant and you’ve got to meet us inside and leave first!”

Anyways, we were told that the dinner had a theme.  The theme for the night would be “The New World.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it didn’t matter much, as soon we were lead down into the dining area, walking with our hands on the shoulders of the person in front so nobody got lost (the first person had her hands on the waiter’s shoulders, and he wore infrared goggles).  Obviously, I anticipated the room being dark, and yet I was surprised.  It was insanely dark.  The first course was set down in front of us.  I reached for it with my fingers.  Having no idea what it was, I grabbed it and ate it.

“Did you use your fork?” I asked my girlfriend.

“Oh course I did.”

“Me too.”

At this point, the New World theme was in high gear.  We were told to envision ourselves in outer space (this was all said in Korean – my girlfriend translated) and new age music played.  That changed when the salad course arrived.  The new age music stopped and was quickly replaced by Dean Martin singing “That’s Amore!”

“Hmm,” I said.  “The New World is a bit reminiscent of the Olive Garden.”

A major part of the appeal of a restaurant like this is the idea that the loss of vision will enhance the taste of the food.  Did it?  I’m not sure.  I am sure that it brought out my inner Viking, since I fully disregarded the silverware and even tried to eat the soup with my hands.  My girlfriend stuck with the knife and fork.  Being the romantic she is, she kept trying to feed me, only to consistently whack me in the ear with steak.

As the new dawn welcomed us, we realized we were stepping into a tired metaphor.

Near the end of the meal, the host – a disembodied voice speaking from God-knows-where – said more about the New World.  “When we step back into light,” my girlfriend translated, “it will be a fresh beginning.  It will be a new gum.”

“A new gum?”

“What?  Gum?  No, a new ‘dawn.’”

“Oh, ‘dawn.’  That makes more sense.  New gum isn’t quite as poetic.”

“I do like new gum,” she said.  “It’s sweeter and has more flavor.”

“Yes, I agree,” I told her.  “When we step into the light, it will be like having a new stick of gum.  And this brand new gum will be ours, and we’ll be sharing it together, sweetheart.”

I went in to kiss her and planted a wet one on the back of her head by accident.  Just then a waiter with infrared goggles approached, his face nothing but two glowing green circles, and led us back into the lobby, where a girl in black took our picture before our eyes had adjusted well enough to blink.


A Cultural and Historical Examination of the Cough Drop


Sometime around 1872, the Smith Brothers made one of the great decisions in marketing history.  About twenty years earlier, a street vendor named Sly Hawkins wandered into a restaurant owned by James Smith (father of the brothers) located in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Hawkins was broke, hungry, and clever; in order to get himself fed, he offered Smith his recipe for what he called “cough candy.”  Smith accepted, started making his own “cough candy,” and when his sons, William and Andrew, were fully grown, they began producing more of it and marketing it more aggressively to the public.  With sales rising, a decision was made to sack the word “candy” from the name of the product.  The Smith Brothers replaced it with the word “drop,” and with that decision, the very first box of “cough drops” was sold.

Meanwhile, across the pond in Great Britain, a new company began, starting around 1893 and selling jams, caramels, and something that was apparently popular at the time called a “humbug.”  The company was called HALLS, named after another set of brothers.  The HALLS Company continued doing business, likely aware of the Smith Brothers’ new advent of a menthol cough drop in 1922.  It’s difficult to say how aware the HALLS brothers were of this, but in the 1930s they invented their own recipe for cough drops, using a combination of menthol and eucalyptus, and began marketing them.  The Smith Brothers continued on, selling their company in 1963.  Nine years later, their line of cough drops came to an end.  As it did, HALLS Cough Drops, which were introduced to the US in the 1950s, proved to be extremely popular.  The company had a hit on their hands.  By the 1990s, HALLS cough drops were being sold all around the world.

Interestingly, though, they were not marketed the same way from country to country.  Personally, I can distinctly remember the HALLS commercials that played on American television in the 1980s.  I remember the phrase “the HALLS of medicine” and the ad where the camera drifts through what appears to be a cave made entirely of cough drops.  The commercial states, in a very serious tone, that, “HALLS are REAL medicine.”  And that’s how my perception of the product was shaped, I guess.  I’ve always thought, subsequently, of HALLS as a medicinal product, one used to treat a cough just as Vicks Vapor Rub is meant to treat chest congestion or Tinactin is meant to treat athlete’s foot in a tough actin’ way.

However, in many parts of the world, this “REAL medicine” tagline has never existed.  Throughout Asia, HALLS is marketed and viewed as straight up candy.  Thus, I’ve been thrown for a loop several times by Korean people, usually students, and how they react when I pop a HALLS in my mouth to treat a sore throat.

“Yum!” they’ll say.  “Can I have a candy?”

“Candy?” I’ll snap back.  “This is medicine.”

“What?  That’s candy!”

Then I’ll point out that at my school in the US, where I taught for several years, it was forbidden for a teacher to give a student a HALLS cough drop, as it was hammered into our heads that teachers could not under any circumstance give a child any form of medication (it could result in death).  I’d also explain that I could not in fact give away a precious cough drop; it was for my health, and it wouldn’t be right for somebody else to take the cough drop just for personal pleasure.

“But that isn’t medicine,” I heard over and over again, from younger and older people.  “It’s delicious candy…I love the taste of it.”

I was so confused by this, the idea that HALLS is candy and not medicine, that I started researching it on the Internet.  According to Wikipedia, “In some parts of the world, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and the Philippines, Halls is advertised as a mentholated hard candy and is not recognized as a medicine for coughs. In the UK, Halls Extra Strong has recently dropped all mention of an active ingredient (or of coughs) from the packaging, which now describes the contents as ‘Extra Strong Original flavour hard boiled sweets.’”

How, I wonder, does HALLS stay afloat if it’s nothing more than a candy?  It tastes medicinal to me; who in their right mind would, if desiring some candy, choose HALLS over a Snickers bar or peanut butter cup?  As a medicine, HALLS has basically no competition.  As candy, it’s David against an army of Goliaths.   HALLS vs. Gummi Bears?  I’m going with the gelatinous mammals.  HALLS vs. Twizzlers?  No contest.  HALLS vs. a Tootsie Roll?  That one’s close.  Depends on if they have the excellent “blue” flavor of HALLS.  If not, I’ll be more enthusiastic about a Tootsie Roll than the 69 Boyz were.

Putting more thought into this, I began to ponder the grey area between candy and medicine.  Gum, for instance, is sometimes marketed as a product that enhances one’s breath and is good for oral hygiene.  Yet, I can’t view gum as a health product.  True, the intent is there; I feel there is a wider gap between gum and mouthwash than HALLS and, say, a jolly rancher.  What about Flintstone Vitamins?  Those are technically a health product but, when I was a kid, if they didn’t have a child protective cap on them, you bet I would’ve tried to eat a whole bottle.  They were delicious.  I could’ve been the first child to ever overdose on them.  Could you imagine how humiliated my parents would’ve been?  It would be hard to admit that their child OD’ed on Flintstones chewables, as opposed to something cool like heroin.  Even worse, with my loss, the company would have to change the jingle to say, “We are Flintstone kids, 9,999,999 strong and growing.”

That’s just not as catchy.

There’s a reason the Smith Brothers decided to drop (pardon the pun) the ‘candy’ and changed it to ‘drop.’  What was that reason?  Was it because their product was medicine, or because they wanted to segregate it away from all the other candy products around?  For over 25 years of my life, I’ve viewed the cough drop as medicinal and now I think that’s because of advertising.  I feel like a sap but, at the same time, I’m still absolutely convinced it really is medicine.  What can I say?  In our world full of marketing and commercials, I suppose there really is but a minute difference between a Health Bar and a Heath Bar.


Sunday Night in Sleazy Sillim


Hey, what are you saying for tonight?  How about swinging by good old Sillim-dong, just a ten minute walk from where I live. You’ll love it.  We can have a night filled with adventure.

There are tons of bars and HOFs all over the place.  We can chill and get drunk. Maybe even end up talking to people.  Oh?  You did that last night?  And the night before? It doesn’t matter, my friend.  This is Korea.  We can do that every night.

But seriously, since you’ve come to Sillim, you must really want to party.  I know, I know…it’s Sunday.  We’re talking about Sillim, though.  I’m assuming you’re aware of what Sillim offers.  After we get some drinks, how about hitting up a kissing room? They’re all over the place.  I’m not entirely sure what goes on in kissing rooms.  I would guess it involves kissing.  And no, that doesn’t mean we have to kiss each other.

Sillim doesn’t have the greatest rep.  No, you’ll likely be filled with an intense creepy feeling as you walk through its seediness.  After the kissing room, how about checking out one of these little places, where you get a private karaoke room, a bottle of whiskey, and a girl.  Sounds to me like innocent fun.

Then, if you want, we can go over to one of the many love motel areas, where a man in a straw hat will approach you and ask you if you want a “sexy Korean girl.”  I will pass.  I am in a relationship, and a bit broke.  If you wish to partake in this, I will not judge you.  Will you be upset if I write about it on my blog, complete with your full name?

Oh, who the heck are we kidding?  This isn’t for us.  Although, I must admit, I’m rather fascinated by it.  You’re right – to hell with it.  We don’t associate with kissing rooms and men in straw hats.  Let’s just get some booze and cigarettes and hang out down by the river that runs through the place.  There are lots of high school kids smoking down there, and sometimes couples sit under the bridge and kiss.  You look a bit depressed.  Yeah, I agree, the place does have a bit of a lonely feeling about it.

Shit, this place is beat.  I’m starting to feel depressed too.  It’s late and I’m feeling tired.  You can crash on my floor if you want.  Tomorrow Sillim will still be here – like a lot of people, it never really changes at all.  Let’s snag a little street food before we leave.  I bet the street food ladies have great stories to tell.  Tons of ’em.  I wonder if they have anyone to tell them to.  It would be a shame if they didn’t.


(This blog was created with the help of my girlfriend’s cell phone camera.  I am aware that the photography is not, shall we say, of a professional quality.)

A Random Reference to the ’80s Dominates my Memory of the Seoul Zoo


It’s hard to say with any real accuracy if my girlfriend understands much of the nonsense that comes out of my mouth. English is her 2nd language, and yet I talk to her like she’s coauthored the dictionary or translated Shakespeare. I wonder if she understands any of it.  If I had to make an estimate, I’d say she gets roughly 40% and the rest is just a jumble of sounds slapped together haphazardly and impossible to decipher, like the way my father views rap music. In truth, though, she isn’t missing out on much.  I fear that if her English improves and she begins understanding more of what I say, the relationship will be over.

“You know what I like about the meerkat?” I asked her on a warm Sunday afternoon, walking through the Seoul Zoo.  “I like their posture.  These meerkats have God damn excellent posture.  I’m a big sloucher, myself.  When I was a kid, people used to say, ‘Sit up straight like a soldier.’  That didn’t work for me.  I didn’t want to be a soldier.  Maybe that’s why I slouch so much.  I didn’t want anyone to think my sitting up straight meant that I had interest in the armed forces.  But I think if people said ‘Sit up straight like a meerkat,’ I would’ve dug that.  Why do soldiers have to be the role models for good posture?  Soldiers don’t inspire kids.  Not all of ’em at least.  Now a meerkat…that’s inspiring!”

The marten…it’s amazing

And she looked at me blankly.  We walked onwards and saw the bears and the monkeys, the seals and some animal called a marten that I liked a lot.  We also saw lots of shirts with English words on them.  It’s a well known fact that here in Korea, people will wear shirts that have English words on them without knowing what they mean. You know how a white person will get a tattoo with Asian characters and won’t know for sure what it says?  Well, in Korea, the people do the exact same thing, only they go for t-shirts instead of tattoos.  Just as I’m sure there’s some blond out there with an ankle tattoo that’s totally meaningless, the majority of the “Konglish” t-shirts people wear consist of nothing more than a bunch of random words.  They are, often times, hilarious.  Then again, for all I know, the shirts that have phrases in Korean might be the same way.  Maybe Koreans just enjoy wearing shirts that say things like, “Music Love Dance Chicken Jupiter.”

Who will bell the cat? Only fluent speakers of Konglish know for sure.

Every so often my girlfriend would ask me what a shirt meant.  I’d read it and laugh and say that it didn’t mean anything.  Around the cage that kept the sadly named “lesser panda,” she pointed to a girl in an English shirt.  “Do you know what it means?” she asked.

I read the shirt and at first it didn’t register.  “I Would’ve Chosen Duckie.”  I was about to say it was more jibberish when suddenly it struck me.

“Duckie!” I shouted, joyously.  “Pretty in Pink!  It’s a Pretty in Pink reference!”  Then I started telling her all about Duckie and how everyone liked him better than Andrew McCarthy but Molly Ringwald went ahead and chose rich preppy McCarthy at the end anyways.  Poor Duckie.  Everyone felt bad for him.

“I wonder if she knows?” I said out loud.  I wanted to ask her but was too shy.  Better yet, I could’ve run up to her and, without a hint of warning, burst into “Tenderness.”

Duckie wants you to try a little tenderness.

Our zoo trip was about two weeks ago.  I don’t remember a whole lot about it.  For the entirety of that day, spent walking through the expansive Seoul Zoo, my most vivid memory is of a girl wearing a shirt that referenced an ’80s movie.  My story telling selectivity has chosen that as the story to tell.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s not particularly interesting.  And yet, any time I think of the Seoul Zoo, I’ll think of Pretty in Pink.  I guess certain things stand out for no real reason.  They’re forgettable moments that defy memory’s odds, and end up as little stories we tell our friends three years after all the good ones have already been told.


(Update: It’s been brought to my attention that apparently “Bell the cat” is a well-known phrase and reference to a fable about rats who want to put a bell around a cat’s neck.  News to me!  I’m happy to have learned something new and will be sure to use the phrase the next time I want to sound smart.)

Yellowface is not Acceptable (With the Exception of Spongebob)


“Keanu Reeves is Asian?” I muttered, confused.  It was a Sunday afternoon and I, veering from the beaten weekend path of getting drunk and nursing hangovers, had gone to see a play with a couple of friends.  It’s better to feel cultured than nauseous and dehydrated, I figured.  The play was titled “Yellowface,” and its subject was…well…yellowface.  If you’re not familiar with what that is, here’s a quick definition:

Yellowface: Yellowface is the practice in American cinema, American theatre, and American television where East Asian characters are portrayed by predominantly white actors, often while artificially changing their looks with makeup in order to approximate East Asia facial characteristics.

Sis was sitting next to me, and I poked her arm.  “Seriously, Keanu Reeves is Asian?”  She shrugged.  (He’s part Chinese.)

I was referring to a line in the play in which the main character uses Reeves as an example of a successful actor of Asian decent.  Written by David Henry Hwang (who wrote a famous play called M. Butterfly which I have heard of, though I know nothing about), “Yellowface” is about an Asian playwright named, boringly enough, David Henry Hwang (what a lack of creativity, eh?).  At the start of the play, Hwang protests the casting of Jonathan Pryce, a white actor, as the lead in a production of “Miss Saigon.”  This actually happened in real life: Pryce wore yellow makeup and tape around his eyes to look Vietnamese, a decision that infuriated the Asian community.  The Hwang character decides to produce his own play in response, casting a real Asian actor in the lead role but, to comic and dramatic effect, mistakenly casts a white guy by accident.  On a related note, believe it or not, I myself have never been mistaken for being Korean.

This got me thinking: If I was watching a movie and there was a white actor wearing blackface, I would obviously be taken aback and would probably turn it off.  Why, then, don’t I have the same guttural reaction if it’s a white actor wearing yellowface?  While I recognize that what I’m seeing is bad, I’m not that offended by it.  For instance, I love the movie “Living It Up,” starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.  I’ve seen it several times, and I always laugh when Jerry puts in fake buck-teeth and pretends to be an Asian doctor.  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is another movie I think is fantastic, and although I shake my head during the scenes with Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese man, it’s more with a smirk than in angry befuddlement.  The list goes on and on.

Exploring the Internet, I found this excellent site, which presents a history of yellowface in pictures.  It’s worth looking at, not only because it’s informative, but also because there are hilarious photos of John Wayne playing Genghis Khan and Christopher Walken dressed up like a geisha.

“Sis,” I said during intermission of the play, “you’re Asian.  How offensive do you find yellowface?”

We got into a decent discussion revolving around the TV show Kung Fu.  The play mentioned how Bruce Lee was initially supposed to star in Kung Fu but was replaced by David Carradine because the producers didn’t feel viewers would watch a show with an Asian lead.  “I loved Kung Fu,” Sis said.  “David Carradine was great.”

“He was Caine,” I said, agreeing.  “He was brilliant.”

“It wouldn’t have been as good if it was Bruce Lee.  Say, Bro, were you a kid when that show was on TV?”

“I’m only 33.  I’m not that old.  I watched reruns.”

“So you’re what…a year or two younger than Kung Fu?”

“Shut up.”

The conclusion of our discussion was that we can tolerate yellowface just fine as long as the movie or television show is good.  It’s not a very strong stance to have, really.  Gutless.  It’s also very similar to how I feel about racist jokes; I know I shouldn’t laugh, but if the joke is playful enough and not especially hateful, I’ll probably find it funny.  And it helps if the person making the joke is of the race the joke is about.  For instance, I’ll laugh when Chris Rock does a routine about black people.  If a white comedian like, say, Larry the Cable Guy, were to do a routine about black people, I wouldn’t be so comfortable.

If this is my position on yellowface, it’s horribly wrong, isn’t it?  There shouldn’t be scale of racism, where certain things are acceptable and others aren’t.  Where would the line be?  I brought this up with my girlfriend, who is Korean.  She objected right away, because she didn’t like being thought of as “yellow.”

“Yes,” she said, sarcastically, “I am yellow.  I am like The Simpsons.”

I laughed.  We got to talking and I realized, to my surprise, that she thought The Simpsons are, in fact, supposed to be an Asian family.  The idea amazed me.

“The Simpsons are Caucasian, baby,” I said.

“Then why is their skin yellow?”

“I don’t know…it’s a creative decision…like a caricature…it’s hard to explain.  Anyways, they’re not Asian.”

“Yes, The Simpsons are Asian,” she said, “and so is Spongebob.”  It was at that point I realized she was just messing with me.  But in doing so, she had made a valid point.  In my head, there was a simple truth: The Simpsons are white.  It was ridiculous to think, even for a second, that they could be anything else.

As silly as that sounds, perhaps it made me understand, if only superficially, how an Asian would feel when David Carradine is cast as a character named Kwai Chang Caine or when “The Last Airbender” stars a bunch of white kids.  There is a truth to things, a reality to be conscious of.

People don’t always have to be white.   Take Keanu Reeves for instance.


Big Mother Is Watching You


Back in the USA, my classroom was very much like an impenetrable fortress.  I think “fortress” is the right word here.  Remember when Pat Buchanan nicknamed his foreign policy “Fortress America”?  He meant that the country would close its borders and return to a doctrine of isolationism.  That’s exactly what my classroom was like.  Fortress Classroom.  The door was always shut, only rarely did anyone come in to observe what was happening, and my students, for the most part, didn’t even talk to their parents about what went on in class.  In other words, the only people who had a very strong idea concerning what was going on in my classroom were me and the students.  What happened in Mr. Panara’s classroom, stayed in Mr. Panara’s classroom.

Don’t get too excited.  “What happened” in Mr. Panara’s classroom was typically English lessons, so scratch me off your list of possible bachelor party locations.

Most of the other classrooms were like this too.  I used to tell new teachers one bit of advice: never (well, in extreme circumstances yes, but otherwise never) write administrative referrals on students.  The administration encouraged teachers to fill out a form which would refer students to them for disciplinary reasons, but in truth, teachers who wrote a lot of administrative referrals were viewed as being unable to handle their classes.  It was a sign of weakness.  Conversely, a teacher could have a complete madhouse going on behind that closed door, and as long as that teacher didn’t start writing referrals, the school’s administration would go on thinking everything was fine and dandy.  Sadly, I suppose, that was the preferable option.  Teachers who went to the admins seeking help with their classes often wound up being the ones on action plans and under tight scrutiny.  Teachers who shut up got to keep teaching their hell classes without anyone breathing down their necks.

As I mentioned before, at the school where I taught, parent involvement was pretty minimal.  Most of the time, when I called parents, they were in the dark about what was happening with their kid’s education.  Trying to set up a parent/teacher conference was as difficult as trying to get Lennon and McCarthy to sit down and discuss reuniting The Beatles.  And I don’t mean in 1975.  I mean now.

By my last year teaching at my high school in Charlotte, NC, technology was altering the “Fortress Classroom” reality, albeit only slightly.  Cell phones, and their ability to record things, absolutely made teachers more aware of what they and their students were saying and doing.  Nobody wanted to end up on YouTube with the title “Teacher Meltdown” or “Dance War in Science Class.”  Also, teachers were required to keep an electronic grade book, so parents could log into a website anytime and check out their kid’s grade.  The Internet changed things too.   Websites like “Rate My Teacher,” where students can go and give teachers a number rating and leave comments, starting popping up.  Just as with other aspects of life, technology and the Internet was taking what used to be a closed door and cracking it open a little.

None of that, however, compares even slightly to what teaching at a hakwon in South Korea is like.  In America, people on the outside are peeking into the classroom only slightly.  Here, they’ve got both eyes firmly planted on you as though you’re on The Real World: Classroom Edition.  To illustrate, I will provide a helpful bulleted list:

  • In America, the classroom is typically a closed box.  The windows only teasingly expose the sun and the beautiful land the children are not allowed to enjoy until the final bell rings.  At my school in Korea, there is no view of the outside world and the fourth wall to my classroom – the one facing the hallway – is one giant sheet of glass.  Anybody can see in at any time.  In addition to this, anybody walking down the hallway inevitably captures the students’ attention and throws them off task.  This happens about once every 10-15 seconds.
  • In my classroom in Korea (where mothers typically don’t work), there is a CCTV camera.  If you’re unfamiliar with CCTV, it basically means that there’s a surveillance camera in the classroom.  The front office has a big flat screen television where there is a live feed from all the classrooms.  Often times, I’ll pass by the front office and see a few mothers sitting in there, watching.
  • The kids in Korea tend to tell their parents everything that happens.  Pretty regularly, I have some mother call the school to complain.  The biggest complaints are that I give the kids too much free time (like 5 mins at the end every other class) or that some kid swore in Korean during class.  This makes me look bad.  Not because the kids are not working on English, but because one would think I would’ve learned the Korean curse words by now.
  • Every five months or so, teachers are required to do “open classes,” where the mothers come in and literally join the class.  They typically sit there tight-lipped and stone faced, as though they’re watching the Kony video or that Adam Sandler movie where he played his own sister.

I wonder if this is an improvement over what I formerly had.  I remember the countless meetings where we tried to come up with ways to increase parental involvement. Now, I’ve got parental involvement.  In fact, I have so much parental involvement, the mothers have unlimited access to the classroom.  And you know what?  I don’t think it’s helping much of anything.  It’s got me thinking, though, and questioning how open a classroom should be.

Maybe not a fortress, and maybe not a glass house.  I do believe there needs to be some sense of privacy for a classroom to come to life, and I also think poor teachers are able to hide in the dark for too long.  I’m sure that we’ll see how accessible the classroom becomes.  The possibilities, I suppose, are endless, if you have time and a computer.

Want to know what your child did in school today?  Click ‘Download.’



If it’s Not the Bomb, Then it’s Love That Will Bring Us Together


Nothing brings people together quite like music does.  Except, maybe, war.  It’s a close call.  Tough to say, with much certainty, whether people are more unified in times of war or in the chorus of “Sweet Caroline.”  I suppose that war is going to have to win here, although Neil Diamond isn’t too far behind.  Then again, I don’t know exactly how unified America has been throughout its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I do know, however, that I went to a Danzig concert a couple years ago, and the whole place sang “Mother” in perfect harmony.  I’m not sure I’m making much of a point there.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that war and music both bring people together, and I like Danzig.

Speaking of music and the Iraq war, I remember watching a documentary and in one part the troops talked about the songs they would listen to before going into combat.  Some favorites were “Bodies” by Drowning Pool and “The Roof is on Fire” by Bloodhound Gang.  That made sense to me.  Those seem like good pump up songs.  The first one is heavy and fast, and the second one has lots of cursing in it.  If I were to go into battle, or out on a date, or perhaps if I had to give a kitten a vitamin, those are the kind of songs I’d want to hear beforehand.

I bring this up because I’m terribly concerned about South Korea and the severe lack of pump up music here.  Seriously, what if a war with the North begins tomorrow?  I feel the lack of pump up music could indirectly lead to a crushing defeat.  Have you heard the music they listen to here?  I’m picturing soldiers strapping belts of ammunition across their chests while blasting Kpop.  Or driving in tanks, off to battle, listening to Super Junior.  They might as well surrender the moment the war starts and offer Kim Jong Un a big bowl of rice and a bulgogi burger, because hopefully that’d influence him to be a nicer president in the future.  I can’t imagine anyone would be ready for serious combat with only groups like 2 PM, Wonder Girls, and SHINee to create the proper state of mind.  Don’t believe that this could be a potentially serious problem?  Apparently you haven’t heard SHINee.

Being a lover of rock music, life in Korea can be hard.  There isn’t a lot of guitar driven stuff around.  I’ve gone to two “rock festivals” since I’ve been here: the first one (The First Annual Dajeon Rock Fest) was stopped early by the police because of noise complaints from the neighbors (making it The Last Annual Dajeon Rock Festival), and the second one featured lots of Korean bands who reminded me of mid-tempo Matchbox 20.  I also went to a Kpop festival where Rain and 4minute performed, and by “performed,” I mean they ran around the stage lip-synching while the crowd sat down and waved glow sticks.  It was about as far a cry from Danzig as one could possibly get.  In March of 2011, I shelled out $100 to see Iron Maiden and almost cried with happiness the second I heard the riff from “2 Minutes to Midnight.”  If only for a moment, it helped me block out the incredible shame I harbor for knowing more than one SHINee song.

That Iron Maiden show was the last concert I‘d gone to in a long time, and so it was with great excitement that I learned Morrissey would be coming here in early May.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Morrissey?  Yes, Morrissey.  I’m a fan.  Shut it.  Anyways, I yet again shelled out $100, and cranked “You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” to really amp myself up.

“Morrissey in Korea?” one of my friends said.  “What Koreans are going to go to see Morrissey?  I can’t imagine many.  It’s gonna be all foreigners.”

Bruce wants YOU to stand up!

This had occurred to me as well.  I had recently completed a textbook unit at school called “Appreciate the Arts” that dealt with concerts, and every single one of my students said they did NOT want to go to a concert because “it is so loud.”  Likewise, I didn’t recall many Koreans at the Iron Maiden show, and the ones that were there got yelled at by Bruce Dickinson for sitting down (it’s true).

I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to see Morrissey with me.  “No,” she shot back quickly.  “You go.”

“Do you want to hear a few songs first?  Maybe make your decision off of that?”

She didn’t say anything.  The look she gave me told me it wouldn’t be necessary.

I was excited, anyways.  And so I went to the Morrissey show by myself, happy and delirious.  Three songs in, during the first verse of “Every Day is like Sunday,” I literally teared up, overcome with the emotion of hearing rock music again.  It reminded me of home and I jumped up and down with the little Indian dude standing next to me and we belted out the chorus together.

Then I got to thinking about rushing the stage.  When I saw Morrissey play in America, a whole bunch of fans jumped on the stage and tried to touch him.  They were all quickly tackled by security like they were trying to attack Monica Seles and then dragged away.  The funny thing was, Morrissey didn’t seem to mind; he even said to the security guards, multiple times, “It’s not a big deal.”  The security guards responded by glaring into the audience with hatred.

“What if I ran up on stage here, in Korea?” I thought.  I didn’t have any interest in touching Morrissey, but I thought it would be a hell of a story.  I looked at the security guards.  There were only two.  They were dressed in suits and looked, well, grandfatherly.  I could easily get by them if I wanted to.

Around this time, the Korean girl standing in front of me shouted something to the security guard and he left.  Yes, he left.  “What the hell?” I thought.  “This is my perfect opportunity to touch Morrissey…in a non-gay kind of way.”  Then the paranoid side of me kicked in.  What would happen to me after I got taken off stage?  Perhaps the Koreans wouldn’t understand.  It seemed, after all, like they were trusting me NOT to do something like that.  They’d be furious.  I’d get sent home.  I’d have to face everybody with tons of embarrassment.

“Why are you back so early?  Did you miss us?”

“No, not that,” I’d say.  “I got deported.  It’s all Morrissey’s fault.”

The security guard returned to his post with a cup of water.  He handed it to the Korean girl in front of me.  The little Indian guy asked her how she got it.  “I asked him for water,” she said.

“That’s cool,” I thought.  I looked around me and saw that there were a lot more Korean people than I’d imagined there would be, and that they were all singing along to the songs too.  There was no need to cause any tension.  It’s all about love, man.  Togetherness.  I turned my attention back to the stage and kept singing, along with hundreds of other voices that all seemed to be coming from the same place.


I Drank Too Much (Part 1,767)


There I was, shaking the metal gate and screaming at the security guard.  He must’ve recognized me; he’d just broken up the ruckus I’d gotten myself into a few minutes earlier.  Yes, I had probably made a very, very bad first impression, and, considering that I was shaking the gate as hard as I could and yelling, I was apparently hell bent on making a terrible second impression also.

“It’s 6:11!” I shouted.  “The subway is open!  Why is the fucking gate down?”

It seemed to me that he looked a little amused.  He said something in Korean and pointed off into the distance with his baton.

“This is bullshit!” I hollered.  “Open the fucking gate, motherfucker!”

Why, oh why, had I drunk so much?  The whole night was a blur.  I’d gone out to say goodbye to a friend who was leaving Korea the next day.  Lots of beer was had.  I was happy and having a good old time.  Then I stumbled to another bar and started drinking whisky.  I bought a friend a drink and when she sat down on the barstool I started spinning her around and around and she dropped her glass and it broke on the floor.  So I downed my drink and quickly got us another round.  This is when things started getting foggy.  I met up with DL and Kent outside a convenient store and drank more beer, and then we went to another bar.  I don’t remember much after that.  I know that I passed out in the bar and then Kent said something to me about having to leave and so I bolted out of there.

My plan was to go down into the subway and sleep on a bench until the trains started running.  The problem was, once I walked down the staircase leading into the subway, the gate was closed, not letting me enter.  My memory is really bad and I’m not sure what exactly happened next.  I think I went to sleep on the staircase and was woken up by an angry Korean man.  All I can say for sure is that I was suddenly in a shouting match with the guy, and I felt he was getting aggressive with me so I hit him in the face.  I didn’t punch him – it was more of an open palmed slap.  It’s difficult to recount this with much accuracy.  Then the security guard was there standing between us and I turned and walked back up the steps, out of the subway, leaving the angry guy and the guard behind me.  The sun was up at this point and I checked the time and saw that it was past 5:30, which meant the trains were running.  I walked around a bit until I found another subway entrance and went down into that, only to find the gate closed there too.

I tried my best to lift it.  When I couldn’t, I began shaking it.  The same security guard showed back up and I yelled at him about the time.  (Really, though, why were the gates closed?)  He, of course, was not persuaded by my argument or my eloquence and, knowing he wasn’t going to let me in, I walked back out of the subway yet again and to the station itself, where I was finally able to go through the turnstiles and catch a train back home.

It was 7:30 when I finally got home and went to sleep, eventually getting out of bed at 5:00 pm.  I felt ashamed of myself.  Where did all that hostility come from, that rage I had felt?  My sock had a big red spot on it and my toe was covered in dry blood.  How had it happened?  This is exactly why I’m not supposed to drink.  True, 95% of the time, I have drinks and things are fine.  But then, even though I feel good and happy and there seems to be no way anything could go wrong, I drink too much and crazy shit happens and I wake up hating myself and feeling like I need to apologize to every person I’ve ever met.

What a bummer.  I drank too much beer and whisky and experienced a Mel Gibson moment, minus all the anti-Semitic stuff.  After 17 years of research, I have arrived at the conclusion that alcohol does not bring out the best in me.  I will very likely continue to research this topic, and will certainly let you know if anything changes although, if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath.


And Then I Turned Myself Into a Miserable Pig


Food and I have never had an especially good relationship.  We’re sort of like the first 30 minutes of a romantic comedy, where the two people fight all the time and act as if they hate each other when, in fact, they know they belong together.  But with me and food, the first 30 minutes has been really stretched out – “You’ve Got Mail,” altered so that Tom and Meg are at each others’ throats two hours in and the movie keeps going and going.  Actually, that might be an accurate description of “You’ve Got Mail” – I’ve never seen that particular motion picture so I’m not sure.  The point is, I love food, but things are often a bit testy.

A lot of this stems from the fact that I can’t eat most of the time.  I don’t know why…I’m just never hungry.  I order food and more often than not I’m unable to eat it.  To use Meg Ryan for another bad analogy, remember that scene in “When Harry Met Sally” where the lady thought Meg’s food gave her an orgasm?  For me, it would be the exact opposite.  The food would give me impotence.  Instead of hearing Ryan moaning, the lady at the other table would hear my turkey club telling me not to be embarrassed and that it happens to a lot of guys.

The waiter would come up to the lady at the other table, “Would you like your usual Meg Ryan Orgasm Pecan Pie, or will you be going with our new item, the Erectile Dysfunction Turkey Club?  That guy over there gets it every time.”

All that is to say, I have a difficult time stomaching what most people consider a normal amount of food.  When I was a kid, I used to have panic attacks every time the waiter brought the food out.  I would see it, know I couldn’t finish it, and start hyperventilating.  My mother would slap me and throw water in my face.  “Get a hold of yourself, damnnit!!”  I was filled with extraordinary jubilance the day I learned that there was something called a “doggie bag” and that I didn’t have to eat my entire dinner at the restaurant.

“We’re going out to eat tonight,” Mom would tell me.

“Okay.  Can I get my food doggie style?”

“Fo shizzle,” she’d say.

My food anxiety never went away.  Things got even harder as the portions in American restaurants got larger and larger.  The first time my entrée arrived at TGI Friday’s, I broke out in hives from the stress.  It was like having to read a 1,000 page book in half an hour.  While others were thrilled with their Chili’s baby back ribs (barbeque sauuuuucccceeee!), I felt I was faced with an insurmountable task.  They’d be licking their fingers and I’d be wiping the cold sweat off my forehead.

“Is there something the matter with your meal, sir?” the waiter would ask.

“No,” I’d think.  “It’s just more than I ate all last month.”

Needless to say, I’ve always assumed that I’d be thin all my life.  That’s why the events that have unfolded recently have come as a great shock to me.  I’m not sure exactly how it happened.  For the past year or so, I’ve been consciously trying to gain weight.  Starting, hmm, maybe two months ago, I decided to go for broke and start taking in as many calories as I possibly could.  I was drinking two high-calorie milk shakes a day and basing my diet solely on the amount of calories things had.  540 calories in a Big Mac?  Hell yeah.  Give me fries with that.  I figured that if I consumed a ridiculous amount of calories, my body would naturally start to put on weight and I would fill out like a normal person.  Thus, I began eating several meals a day composed of pure junk, stuff that had lots of calories but little nutritional value.  I was eating, I thought, as most people do.

Filling out like a normal person never happened though.  Instead, some notable changes began to take place.  First off, my gut ballooned out like I was Demi Moore posing for Vanity Fair.  Secondly, I started getting sick a lot.  Thirdly, I began feeling exhausted all the time, extremely tired and worn out even though I’d only been awake for a few hours.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me.  I checked my tongue for thrush, scared that maybe I’d gone the way of Rock Hudson, Magic Johnson, and Kami the muppet.  It seemed okay.  That was a relief, but I still knew there was something wrong with me.  I didn’t know how to figure it out, so I just ate some more.

Then one day my girlfriend told me that she wanted to check my body fat percentage.  She said that maybe a high body fat was the reason I was feeling fatigued all the time and looked like I was about to give birth to Bruce Willis’ baby.  I stepped up onto her super scale.  First, my weight appeared.

64.3 kilograms (about 141 lbs.)

Yeah, about what I expected.  There was a pause, and shortly after that my body fat percentage appeared.


“Oh my God!” my girlfriend screamed.  “That’s really, really high.”

I doubted it was that bad, and so I went to the Internet.  “See,” I told her, once I had pulled a chart up, “it says I’m in the normal range.”

“You’re looking at the women’s chart,” she said.  “Go to the men’s chart.  Scroll down.”

I did, and my heart, surely filled with clogged arteries, broke.  My number wasn’t even on the chart.  It was lumped into the category “25% and Up.”  And in that category, there was that one word that no person ever wants to be associated with.


That’s right, although I was still only 141 lbs., I had eaten myself straight into obesity.  “I’m obese,” I said, dazzled, shaking my head.  I never thought I would say those words.  They’d always fallen into the list of ‘things-I-will-never-say,’ with other phrases like “I’m rich” or “I like myself.”  But here it was, proof before my very eyes.  Despite my years of having eating anxiety, I had become an obese individual.

So, this past week and a half has been a non-stop health bonanza.  I’ve been at the gym every day, lifting weights and walking on the treadmill.  I’m now eating tons of fruits and vegetables and drinking lots of water.  In only these 10 days, I’ve lowered my body fat percentage to 24%.  There is hope for me.  My gut is on its way out and I feel great.  There’s no lethargy and I have energy.  Most importantly, I still appear not to have thrush.

And now I have this memory.  I will never forget my odyssey into obesity.  The way I felt was horrible.  Mark my words – I never want to be obese again.  I haven’t read the book The Hunger Games, but have often heard people describe it as being about a ‘dystopian’ society where food is scarce.  The people who call that ‘dystopian’ apparently have never been through what I’ve been through.  To me, it sounds like paradise.  What would you rather have, The Over Fed Games?  I’ve lived those.  They involve French fries and mayonnaise, and the winner gets diabetes.  No thanks, man.  I’ve given it some thought, and I think I’ll have what the hungry folks are having.