Such Is Life: The Disappointing Trip to the Floating Island

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Here I am at Seoul’s man-made Floating Island.  You may notice that I am giving the middle finger. Perhaps that needs an explanation.

My weekends are precious to me. How precious?  Remember how Gollum used to call the ring “precious” in Lord of the Rings and he’d get all kooky about it?  That’s exactly how I am in regards to the weekend.  On the rare occasions when my job asks me to come in on Saturdays, I nod politely and then spew an expletive-laden rant to the first person I see logged into Facebook chat.  And if nobody’s logged in?  I spew it to myself.  Weekends are made of gold.  I would happily trade five Mondays of my life for one extra Saturday.  Yes, I’d be shortening my life by four days, but it would be worth it because I’d be getting a Saturday in return.  Hell, who am I kidding?  I’d trade ten Mondays.

So each time the magnificent weekend rolls around, I try to plan something interesting and unique, something that maximizes my invaluable time.  Yesterday, after looking at a few web pages about things to do in Seoul, my girlfriend and I decided it would be a worthwhile venture to see the “Floating Island.”  What island isn’t floating, you might ask.  Atlantis?  It would be a good question.  Islands, from what I also thought, all float.

This – prepare to be shocked – turns out to be untrue.  Islands don’t float, in fact. They’re the tops of underwater mountains, the bottoms of which are connected to the ground.  Seoul’s Floating Island, on the other hand, is a man-made venture, costing a measly $10 million.  They are made up of three structures which have no foundation holding them to the floor of the Han River. Hence the “floating” in the name.  The three are connected to each other by wires that run under the water.  To the untrained eye, they don’t look like “islands” so much as they look like big floating shopping malls.

On the Korea Tourism website, the Floating Island is called an “amusement park.” Different websites talk about performances on the islands and other cool stuff there.  All of that is to say, it sounded like a fun place to check out.  They are the largest man made floating islands in the world. So why the heck not?

That wasn’t a rhetorical question.  Why the heck not? I’ll tell you why the heck not: cause they ain’t open, that’s why.  Apparently the islands were closed on May 22nd due to worries that rain could cause unforeseen floating problems.  This information, which might seem noteworthy, does not appear on the Korea Tourism website.  They apparently have taken more of a “surprise the tourists” stance.  And surprise this guy and his girlfriend they did.  We arrived to find the islands completely inaccessible, not even connected to anything remotely close to the land.  They were deserted and empty, just big metal things floating by themselves in the river.  There was a wedding going on by the islands too, which added to the confusion.  We looked on helplessly as our Saturday went up in smoke and a nice Korean couple made a decision they will surely regret (marriage).

Oh well, oh shucks, such is life.  At one point in time, I would’ve felt frustrated, but I’ve grown accustomed to things not working out as planned and so I shrugged with acceptance.  The Floating Island (which really should be plural I feel) re-opens this Wednesday, June 20th.  I will not be returning to see what I missed.  I will instead assume it is amazing.  Our day was not a total loss, as the park nearby was nice and we ate ice cream on a bench.  Later, there was some sort of water display that featured the bridge over the river shooting big streams of colored water down into it. Everybody ooed and awed.  Eh, who am I kidding?  No they didn’t.  Everybody just sort of looked at it because it was there and it was something happening.  We watched it twice for the hell of it, once when the sun was still up and once after it went down.  Maybe this one wasn’t a Saturday I’d trade ten Mondays of my life for; it was worth two or three though, especially if those Mondays aren’t during football season.

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The Nipple Post

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It is a widely known and highly documented fact that most animals require an astonishing, jaw-dropping amount of nipples.  I did a little research on nipple abundance, and learned that cats have eight of them.  Rats clock in with a whopping twelve nipples.  I don’t even understand how all those nips can fit on one body.  A dog also has 8, but the crazy thing is that the dog has nipples on three different parts of its body.  God got to the dog and decided to spread those babies out all over the place, like he was playing the devil in a game of Nipple Battleship.  I’m thankful that at least my nipples are concentrated in one area; I’d feel a bit odd if I had nipples on my kneecaps or one on each butt cheek.  And a pig – fasten your seatbelt, friend – a pig has up to sixteen nipples.  Sixteen!  Can you imagine that?  That’s more nipples than I see in the average Skinimax movie!

Meanwhile, the craziest of animals, the duckbilled platypus, has no nipples at all.  It and the Barbie Doll are the only nipple-less mammals known to man.  Drawing the next logical conclusion, one can also assume that Barbie, being a nipple-less monotreme like the platypus, also reproduces by laying eggs.

“B15, Abdomen.” “Hit! You’ve sunk my areola!”

I write about this small yet fascinating part of the body because just the other day I had a unique and somewhat disturbing incident with my nipples in the shower.  That sounds strange – don’t be mistaken, I was in the shower too.  It wasn’t just my nipples in there.  But let’s stay focused, people.  While those other animals need their nips, I personally have little use for mine.  Before going on, I must provide some short background information detailing how I went to the beach almost a year ago and grossed everybody out.

Does this occupation require a shirt? No? Then I will consider being a rock star.

Some men – such as Anthony Kiedis and Iggy Pop – absolutely love not wearing a shirt.  In fact, I think that’s why they got into rock music to begin with.  It wasn’t so much the music itself, but instead they looked at several occupations and deduced the shirt-to-no-shirt-wearing ratio.  Clearly, “rock musician” came out with a favorable score and thus they took singing lessons.  In second place, if you’re curious, was “lifeguard.”  I am a teacher, and that job ranks near the bottom in shirt-to-no-shirt-wearing ratio.  It’s pretty much exclusively all shirt.  Hence, it is perfect for me because I, unlike lifeguards, don’t like to take off my top.  Speaking of lifeguards, they have those at the beach, and almost a year ago I went to one of those.  In a rare instance of body bearing, I removed my shirt.

“Whoa dude!” a friend said.  “You gotta do something about those nips.”

“What you talking about, Willis?” I asked in response.

“You got mad hairy nipples, man.  That shit’s nasty.”

I tried to brush it off.  “Girls like a hairy chest.”

“A hairy chest, yeah…but you don’t have any hair on your chest at all!  You just got long ass hairs growing out of your nipples.  Shit!  They look like they have eyelashes!”

At the conclusion of the conversation, we agreed that I’d have to start shaving my nipples.  I’m not sure if a lot of people do this.  It struck me as a bit odd, but it was preferable to having ape nips.  So I did; every two or three days I’d quickly shave up in the shower.  I was struck by how much better my nipples looked, and started to think that one day I could indeed realize my dream of having a pacifier modeled after me.

Flash forward to a few days ago.  With the passing of time, I’d gotten lazy and had forgotten about my nipple hair issue.  However, my recent attempts at muscle gain have led to lots of disappointing flexing in the mirror, and I noticed that again my nipples were looking a bit like Vince Neil circa “Dr. Feelgood.”  Big hair.  The next morning I decided to do something about it, and that’s when I had my little slip up.

I’m not sure how many people can relate to this, but I cut myself shaving my right nipple.  I knew I’d nicked it the second it happened.  A thin line of red liquid trickled down my chest and it looked like I was lactating blood.  Then I thought, “Hey, I wonder if there’s ever been a scene in a vampire movie where the vampire mother lactates blood for the cute little vampire baby.”  I thought that would be neat; like most of my ideas, I acknowledged that it’d either been done before or, if not, the reason it hadn’t been done before was because it was really stupid.

A bat’s nipples are located in its armpits.  That must be a really uncomfortable part of a vampire’s transformation from person to bat.  Massive nipple displacement.  It would be especially awkward if the nipple never returned to its true position and was subsequently hidden, for some period of time, lost in a massive sea of underarm hair.  I guess it wouldn’t really matter – vampires, like a lot of us, don’t really need ‘em anyways.

(One final sidenote: While looking up slang terms for nipples, I found a list that said the #1 slang term for nipples is…”The Pointer Sisters.”  I subsequently felt I should share that.)

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It’s All Positive, the Way I See It

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Academy Summer Progress Report

Student: Bob O.

Subject: English

Teacher: Bill

Comments: Bob is a very enthusiastic young man, filled with life and energy.  He has shown consistent progress this year.  You should be very proud as parents.  Bob is well liked by his peers and has a wonderful sense of humor.  He is upbeat and always smiling.

Academically, this semester has been one of growth for Bob O.  A review of testing data proves this.  On our semester’s first assessment, Bob received a score of 2/30.  However, on the second assessment, he doubled his score with 4/30!  On the third and final assessment, Bob continued to show improvement with a score of 5/30.  This empirical data indicates that Bob is making tremendous progress and will continue to improve with further studies.

Behaviorally, Bob is still adjusting to the classroom.  He typically talks through the entire lesson, but this is okay because it points to him being socially popular and accepted by his peers.  Bob has a difficult time listening and paying attention, which is probably because of his age (17).  Clearly his attention span will get better as he matures.  Finally, I feel a note should be made regarding the blinding incident: I apologize for initially over-reacting and would like to say that it was obviously just an accident.  In retrospect, it has become clear to me that Bob was simply waving his pencil in joy and did not intend in any way to stab his classmate in the eyeball.  Instead of being stern with him, I should have acknowledged his wonderful enthusiasm for learning.

In terms of skills, Bob has many.  He struggles with reading, but knows that words exist and that they are sometimes combined into sentences.  Writing is also an area where Bob can further develop his skills with more practice.  Currently, he cannot write words and is inconsistent in making letters.  He does, though, own a pencil (as we know from the incident mentioned earlier).  Often times, the importance of having the proper tools is overlooked when one gauges writing development.  It has been said by some – yes, including myself – that Bob’s effort appears to be lacking; going forward, I propose that instead of forcing him into curriculum based lessons that he seems to have little interest in, we can better teach him through the use of video games and television programs.  As a teacher, I need to incorporate an individualized approach to Bob’s education.  I apologize, and will be sure to spend the bulk of my evenings making educational games for him.

Overall, Bob is a tremendous student and has been a joy to have in class.  To be honest, I am considering leaving the school soon due to unbearable ulcer pain.  That said, I am sure the next teacher will love Bob O. just as much as I have!  : )

Parent Signature (Forgery Accepted):_____________________________

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Is Your Omelet Half Full or Half Empty?

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ImageMonday morning I woke up feeling terribly depressed and hungry and decided to deal with both sensations by making an omelet.  This decision didn’t necessarily come from an unbearable desire to eat an omelet, but was instead made because I’d run out of milk and therefore was unable to enjoy my usual morning bowl of cereal.  I cracked open three eggs and beat them with a fork.  Then I got to thinking: what could I put in it?  I looked in the fridge.  One carrot and some lettuce in a Tupperware container.  I had hoped that there would be a few slices of ham or some cheese in the fridge.  There were not.  Nor were there any mushrooms, spinach, or tomatoes.  In Asia, they typically put rice in an omelet.  I didn’t have any rice either.

“I don’t have a single damn thing to put in this omelet,” I said to myself.  I still made it anyways.  In the end, I ate a plain omelet or, as some might call it, “eggs.”

Everyone has heard the question “Is the glass half full or half empty?” and understands what it means.  It’s a quick personality test, a barometer for how one views the world.  It deals with perception and how one’s outlook on life influences how he or she assesses or interprets things.  After my barren breakfast, I propose a new question: “How full is your omelet?”  If the glass question measures perception, my question measures functionality, or how well a person takes care of him or herself.  Are you a person who can, on any day or at any time, make an omelet and have things to put in it?  People who keep their refrigerators stocked and omelet ready would rank highly on my scale.  They have created a comfortable world for themselves; they are mature, task oriented, and pragmatic.  Conversely, are you, like me, a person who isn’t really sure of what supplies you’ve assembled?  Do you think there might be ham when, in reality, you’re ham-less?  Then you are a dreamer, a person who values the abstract over the fundamental, and you are probably slightly malnourished as well.

ImageThe omelet question is of great significance.  Employers and dating websites can use it to evaluate potential matches.  In a famous instance dating back centuries ago, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered an inn in France to create an enormous omelet to feed his army.  What if they had nothing?  What if they served Napoleon’s army scrambled eggs instead?  Perhaps history would be different.

Or perhaps it wouldn’t be.  More likely, the only one affected would be the innkeeper who was ordered to make the giant omelet.  He would feel ashamed, his lack of preparation apparent in the redness of his cheeks, handing plates of eggs to the Grand Armee like it was of no more importance than a waiter serving a table of drunks at Denny’s.

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Off the Beaten Path: Mo Do Sculpture Park

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Off the coast of Incheon, South Korea, sits Mo Do (Mo Island), where artist Lee Il-Ho once lived.  There is very little information floating around about Lee; the “Visit Incheon” website calls him one of Korea’s most famous surrealist sculptors, yet at the same time, I couldn’t find much biographical information on him.  He has had exhibitions all over the world, but still seems to be a mystery.

To get from Seoul to Mo Do, one must veer far from the beaten path.  It’s rather exciting.  I found myself taking two subway lines, two different buses, a ferry boat, another bus, and then embarking on a 1 km walk in order to finally arrive at Sculpture Park, the beachfront area where Lee Il-Ho has made over 50 of his works open to the public.

Yes, the park is a little R-rated, but that doesn’t stop children from coming and having a good time.  If it’s naughty (and it is), it’s mischievous in a fun kind of way.  It’s also extremely democratic: not only can a person come to Sculpture Park and look at these amazing works, a person can also climb all over them.  Case in point: see me in the pictures below.

The fact that the sculptures are displayed on a beach made the experience of viewing them even more unusual.  Mo Island is the third of three small islands connected by bridges.  There are no ATMs on the island and very few people.  Sculpture Park didn’t appear in any of the Korea travel guides I bought, and the only reason I knew it even existed was because the park is featured heavily in the movie Shi Gan (“Time”) by filmmaker Kim Ki Duk, which I got off Netflix before coming to Korea.

 As I said, Sculpture Park is far off the beaten path.  And going off the beaten path is exciting.  However, one does want to get back onto the beaten path somewhat quickly after straying from it.  Leaving the island, I got very lost and confused and found myself stranded on a dock in the middle of nowhere.  There were no vehicles in sight and I felt like crying.  After waiting nearly an hour and a half, one bus finally came and got me.  Seeing it stop to pick me up, I felt like the happiest boy in the universe.

I think part of what makes a trip to Mo Do seem magical is the secret nature of the whole endeavor.  It feels like you’ve stumbled onto something nobody else knows about.  For about an hour, it was just me and these sculptures and the beach.  It almost seems like if I didn’t tell anyone about it, maybe the place, with its bizarre images and misty grey water, didn’t really exist at all.

One Week in the Life of an Expat, Detailed in Trips to the Corner Store

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Sunday Night: It’s around six and I badly need to use the bathroom.  I’ve been out of toilet paper for two days.  That’s a slight inconvenience in having a girlfriend – toilet paper gets used up at a much more rapid pace.  I head down to the     7-11 on the corner.  There’s no point in delaying the trip any longer.  It’s not like these things just go away. As I enter the 7-11, I’m surprised to see that the girl behind the counter is young and very attractive.  Suddenly I feel embarrassed.  All I have to get is toilet paper; I begin looking around the store for other things to buy.  Maybe the toilet paper will seem like an afterthought, like I really came in to get a cheap sandwich and some cough drops and decided to buy a roll of tp just for good measure.  A few minutes pass and I can’t go through with it.  The mission is called off.  There’s no way I can force myself to set down toilet paper in front of this girl.  What would she think of me?  I’d be a repulsive animal, that’s what.  I turn my face away and leave.  There’s another 7-11 down the street, and I’ll go to that one.

Tuesday Afternoon: In half an hour, my second class of the day will begin.  Little kids.  Then I’ll have three more classes in a row after that.  I’m in a good mood.  The sun is out and I went to the gym earlier.  I rush out of work and head to the GS 25.  My boss gives me a funny look as I sprint out of there, still on the clock, but it doesn’t matter.  The lady behind the counter is a familiar face.  She always smiles when I come in and seems pleased when I say ‘thank you’ in Korean.  I grab two bags of ABC Chocolate, some fruit candy and some grape hard candy.  The woman smiles at me again.  She must know that I work at the school down the street, and she must figure that the candy is for my kids.  Based on this limited impression, she must think I’m a very nice guy.  I take all the candy, say my Korean ‘thank you,’ and leave.  The whole trip takes four minutes, costs 11 dollars, and will later inspire the kids to think, if only for one class, that I’m a pretty decent teacher.

Friday Night: The week has been long and I’m exhausted.  I go to the 7-11.  The cute girl from earlier in the week is behind the counter again.  I walk to the freezer section and grab two big jugs of beer.  I can sense someone standing behind me.  He’s too close – creeping into my personal space – and I am irritated.  I look at him.  He’s old and Korean, his face is red and he smells like cigarettes.  I go to the counter to buy my beer, and seconds later he’s right behind me with a few bottles of soju in his hands.  I pay and leave.  It takes a few minutes to walk to my apartment, and maybe another minute to wait for the elevator.  I step inside, but before the elevator doors close, the man from the store steps inside.  I’m going to the 6th floor and he’s going to the 5th.  The doors shut and he turns to me.  “We were in the store together,” he says in perfect English.  He doesn’t even have a hint of a Korean accent.  “Yeah,” I say.  The elevator reaches the 5th floor.  I can smell the liquor on his breath.  “We’ll see each other again,” he says, getting off.  “We’re both drinkers.”

Saturday Morning: It’s eleven when I wake up.  I go down to the Mini Stop to get some Gatorade and some microwavable rice.  I recognize the man behind the counter.  Way back at Christmas time, he was the guy who got my presents.  My sister mailed me a Christmas package, using the address to my school since I didn’t know the one to my apartment.  I came into school two days before Christmas and my boss, Leah, told me that the postman had left a note.  “There was package for you,” she said.  “No one was here, so postman left it at a corner store.”  She didn’t know which corner store it was.  At nine at night, I got off of work and went to at least half a dozen, searching.  I tried my best to communicate what I was looking for.  “Packagee,” I would say, trying to use Konglish.  “Christmas presents.”  The night was cold and it was snowing.  I’d already been rejected by the man at the Mini Stop but I went in and tried again.  This time, I saw the box behind the counter.  He laughed when he handed it to me.  I went back to my apartment and opened it.  My sister had sent blankets and five rolls of stick deodorant.  There was a letter, too, saying that she looked on the Internet and wanted to send things that were hard to find in Korea.  The man at the Mini Stop rings me up and I think back to the holidays.  I take the bag with the Gatorade and rice from him just like I had taken my Christmas presents and, just like back then, I leave thinking about people back home.

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5 Signs that it is My Birthday, and I am Not 10

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Growing up, I pretty much knew what my birthday was going to be like.  There would be presents involved, I would have to try and make conversation with my grandparents, a few friends would come over and I’d be suspicious that it was more for the cake than for me, and my father would snap more pictures than US Magazine at a movie premiere.  My sister’s birthday followed a similar template and so did, I believe, most other kids’ too.  There is a very clear picture of what a child’s birthday is supposed to look like.  Parties, balloons, funny hats, perhaps a clown, lots of crying – these are the staples from the birthday parties of our youths.

But what does an adult’s birthday look like?  It’s a far more varied and foggy image.  This past Friday I had the misfortune of turning 34, and in doing so, I tried to concentrate on what a birthday for a unmarried man in his 30s (with no kids to ruin things) is like.  Here, presented below, is what I found:

1.  Somehow, when New Deal legislation revolutionized labor, getting your birthday off was left out: Nothing makes me whine like a baby like having to go to work on my birthday.  And the whining will intensify if my boss is demanding of me in even the slightest of ways.  I’ll say to myself, “Wow.  Just wow.  He gave me an extra task to complete ON MY BIRTHDAY.  What a jerk!”  I will also use my birthday as an excuse to slack off.  “I suppose I should get that report done…but eh…it’s my birthday.  I think I’ll treat myself by reading relationship blogs on WordPress instead.”  By the end of the day, the report isn’t done, I hate my boss, and I have a better idea of what not to do on a first date.

2.  For proof that today is special, check your Facebook timeline: “Wow!  68 friends posted on my timeline!  I’m loved!  Wait a second…I have 364 Facebook friends.  What happened to the other 296?  Why didn’t they wish me a happy birthday?  This means over 2/3 of my Facebook friends neglected to say anything at all!  What kind of ‘friends’ are these?  Whatever.  Better make a post and thank everyone.  And to think, people used to use cards!  Ha!  Suckers!”

They prefer to believe they are actually working in an off-Broadway production that just happens to also involve taking orders.

3.  We could sing you Happy Birthday, but we choose not to: I, like most people, have grown a little tired of the Happy Birthday song.  However, I would like to stick with it until there are some better alternatives.  Every year, despite my best intentions not to, I always inevitably end up at some chain restaurant, hearing a terrible re-imagining of Happy Birthday, altered in clever ways that befit TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s.  It’s a terrifying ordeal for me; I start feeling queasy when I see the entourage of waiters and waitresses heading my way.  The chain restaurant birthday song always seems to be sung with some sort of army cadence, with lots of clapping and ‘sound off/one two/sound off/three for’ type stuff, making me wonder if I’m waiting for fajitas or to be deployed to Iraq.  Even worse is when somebody forces me to listen to that awful “Birthday” song by the Beatles.  “They say it’s your birthday!”  Well, 68 of ‘em say that at least.

4.  There’s always that one friend who wants to paint the town puke green:  “Dude!  It’s your birthday.  Let’s do a shot!”  “No, that’s okay.  Thanks though.”  “Oh come on!  JAGERBOMB!!!”  “Really, I’ll pass.  I don’t want to get too banged up.”  “What?  Stop being a little bitch.  TEQUILA!”  “No?  Please?”  “What’s up with you, man?  Yo, why do you only have one beer?  Let me get you another.  You should be double fisting.  In fact, to hell with beer – I’ll get you two bottles of whisky and you can double fist those!  After shots!”  “Oh, fine.  You win.”  “Great!  I’ll go get a syringe so I can inject vodka straight into your liver!  Happy birthday, bro!”

5.  I am old and you need to see The Ghost and Mr. Chicken:  Every year I tell somebody the same stupid little fact.  I have the same birthday as Andy Griffith, and by some strange coincidence, my father shares his birthday with Don Knotts.  Ten years ago, when I hung out with people my own age, this little tidbit of knowledge would generally get a chuckle.  But now that my friends are mostly younger, the reaction is, “Who’s Andy Griffith?  And who’s Don Knotts?”  I use this to demonstrate my final point – when you’re an adult, part of your birthday is feeling old.  Now there’s a station called TV Land that airs older television programs.  During my youth, every station was TV Land.  Sigh.

Birthdays are important.  They’re not as fun as they used to be, but that’s okay.  Really, I’m only turning one year older.  It’s not a big difference.  The days of parties and clowns have passed, and now it’s work and Applebee’s.  I can accept that.  I never really looked good in those funny hats, anyways.

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