Pinching Jenny Finley’s Fat Ass: A Memory


There were a lot of people in my high school who didn’t like me, but of all of them, Jenny Finley might’ve despised me the most.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she’d say, sheer hatred beaming from her eyes.

“I’m not looking at you,” I’d respond, confused because I really wasn’t looking at her. As an adolescent and as horny as I was, somehow Jenny Finley didn’t do it for me. She always looked angry and she had brown hair that seemed like a wig, or like it had been blow dried at extreme heat for months. More importantly, even more than that hair, she was mean.

“Oh God,” she said. “The way you look.  He’s such a pervert.  What’s wrong with him?  He’s disgusting.”

I would try to explain myself.  “Well, I-”

“Don’t even talk to me!” she’d yell and her friends would laugh.  “You hear how he’s trying to talk to me?  And why is your face like that?  Why don’t you fix it?  Go see a dermatologist or something.”

What Jenny would, on occasion (frequent occasion), refer to was what my dermatologist described as “cystic acne” or “acne vulgaris.”  My sister referred to it differently, saying “it looks like you have a marble growing out of your nose.”  To my peers, my face was a “mine field.”  I wasn’t sure how it had happened.  Sometime around the 6th or 7th grade my face just exploded like a bag of potato chips ripped open too quickly.  Enormous pimples developed on my nose and all over my chin.  From there it spread, moving across my face’s landscape like an army, taking over the land and claiming it for country “Whitehead.”  I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.  At night, my mother would wash my face with a warm washcloth and then put Oxy on me.

Oxy, though, was no match for what I had going on.  At school the kids were brutal, though undeniably creative.  Once after Biology class, they gathered around me in the cafeteria. “Look at that thing behind his ear,” someone said, referring to huge zit that had somehow chosen to pitch its tent behind my right ear.  “Look at the size of it…I think he’s budding.”

“He is!” somebody else shouted out.  “He’s budding!  That pimple’s gonna pop off and turn into another him!”

“It’s not acne!  It’s asexual reproduction!”

Leaving the cafeteria, I took my hand and squeezed my earlobe as hard as I could.  I felt the thing rupture, sending thin watery blood all over my fingers.  This is how my pimples were – they didn’t pop like normal zits.  Hence, I didn’t squeeze them very often.  I wanted clear skin, yes, but I didn’t want to bleed to death.

One of my good friends was a guy named George, who had enormous glasses and a pin head and yet was still somehow higher on the nerd totem pole than I was.  Although he was my friend, he had a fondness for hurting me, literally. For fun, he’d take the palm of his hand and push it against my face.  I would feel the sting of my acne being pressed into my skull. It was like having a face full of canker sours. “Shit!” I’d yell.  “Stop it!” I learned quickly that, in high school, there is no phrase more ineffective than “stop it.”  For all the good it did, I might as well have demanded “do it again!”

George would only press harder.  About halfway through the school year, he told me he wanted to make a bet. What provoked him was my assertion that I would be able to clear my skin up by the end of the school year.  George didn’t know that I had a new dermatologist, and that he had just prescribed me Accutane, which I viewed as some sort of miracle cure. I’d heard whispers in the past about Accutane. My former dermatologist had debated it. “We could go Accutane,” he would say, “but…well…let’s not go that extreme. Maybe some good antibiotics would be a safer option.”

It was like Truman trying to decide whether or not to drop the bomb. Accutane was the be-all-end-all, fury-and-rage, nuclear detonator of acne medications. Now, thanks to my daring new doc, I had that weapon at my disposal. I didn’t think my acne would stand a chance, and thus I engaged with George in discussions involving a bet.

“I bet you that your face isn’t clear at the end of the school year,” he said. “I bet it looks exactly the same.”

“Fine,” I said. “Bring it. What are we betting?”

George was clever. He wasn’t interested in monetary things; he was more focused on humiliation. “If your face doesn’t clear up by the end of the year, you have to go up behind Jenny Finley and pinch her butt.”

“Done!” I proclaimed. I don’t even remember what he was supposed to do if I won. It didn’t matter. We shook hands, and with that the bet was placed.

Accutane pills were larger than other pills I’d taken. They were big and yellow. Each packet had a picture of a pregnant woman crossed out in red, like what a cigarette would be inside for a “No Smoking” sign. Every time I’d pop a pill, the large yellow bullet would come bursting through the pregnant woman as though she’d just given birth to an acne medication. This alarming warning was because Accutane was known to cause birth defects. It also had a whole litany of other side effects. Depression, dry eyes, bad night vision, arthritis, nausea, cancer, death, dislike of jazz music – you name it, I’m sure Accutane caused it in somebody. I didn’t care though, because as much as I’d hear about the adverse effects, nobody ever said  it wouldn’t work.

School carried on the rest of the year as badly as it had ever been. No girls would talk to me, which greatly impaired my chances of scoring a date. My grades were awful. At home, acne commercials would come on the television, with pictures of people who looked like they’d broken out in hives or had been given a rash by Satan.

“See,” my father would say, “you shouldn’t worry about your skin so much. You’re way better than those people.”

“I don’t want to be in the same conversation as those people!” I’d yell, because I was a hysterical and moody teenager. “That would be like going up to a chubby guy and pointing at a whale and saying, ‘Oh, you’re way thinner than that thing.’”

Then, of course, there was Jenny Finley, who I couldn’t avoid due to our English teacher’s seating chart. She continued to tear me apart at every opportunity, as viciously as anybody ever had. She bothered me more than the others because she wasn’t funny and was more to the point. Instead of making some kind of clever analogy (like how one boy told me it looked like a girl ‘just had her period’ on my face – witty!), Jenny Finley would bombard me with short declarative statements. “You’re creepy and disgusting,” she’d say, or, “I can’t even look at your face. It’s painful to have you sitting in front of me.”

The end of the year was fast approaching, and when I saw myself in the mirror, it was clear that I was going to lose the bet. What the hell, Accutane? It hadn’t made me better. It didn’t make my skin smooth like a baby’s, unless the baby we’re referring to has chicken pox. I would go on to take Accutane for awhile longer, but the miracle would never come. Years later, in 2009, Accutane would be pulled off the market entirely, after a bunch of people sued the pharmaceutical company, claiming that Accutane had given them bowel disease. They won millions of dollars and, just like that, Accutane was gone.

On one of the last days of school, George wanted to cash out our bet. “There’s Jenny Finley over there,” he said. “You know what you have to do.”

I looked at her ass. It was fat and filled her jeans like polyester in a teddy bear. I imagined taking a knife and cutting her butt and pulling out white, fluffy polyester as though I was emptying out a stuffed animal. “What are you doing?” George asked impatiently. “Go and pinch her ass!”

Apart from the simple fact that she would likely have killed me if I went through with it, there was something greater and more important at play. Everything that she said, that I was a creep and a pervert and a disgusting human being…the only comfort I had was in telling myself that she wasn’t right. Jenny Finley was mean, but she was also wrong. I looked at her from across the hallway, standing with her prissy group of friends. There was no way I was going to justify her bullshit by touching her inappropriately. I hated her too much to do that.

“I’m not fucking doing it,” I told George.

“You lost the bet! You have to!”

“Well, it’s not happening. You can go fuck yourself.”

The school year ended a few days later. I passed most classes with Ds. George whined endlessly about how I didn’t hold my end of the bargain. With the coming of the summer, Jenny Finley disappeared from my life, just like Accutane would later vanish. We didn’t have any classes together the next year, and after that was graduation, and with that done, we were free to become strangers. People would like each other more, I think, if they really got to ignore each other better.


Fun Share: Short Animation Film “A New Machine”


A New Machine from Tony Clavelli on Vimeo.

Today is almost like a guest post, as I’m sharing the animated short film “A New Machine” made by my friend Tony Clavelli. By day, Tony teaches English here in Korea, and by night…or maybe evening…mid-afternoon perhaps, if classes end early…he makes short animations in his apartment. I have no idea how he does it; I personally decided not to go into stop motion animation after, as a child, I could not produce a proper Play-doh hamburger.

This newest work is about 12 minutes long. It’s about a poor family that lives by the sea, and what happens when the daughter disrupts the order of things, inventing a machine that can do the work her family has traditionally done by hand. It’s lyrical, odd, and worth a look.

So that’s all. Take a look at the film, and it would be extremely cool to leave a ‘like’ or a comment if you enjoyed it. Also, I should point out, Tony C is on my blog roll, and you can click on his name and watch his other animated shorts too.




In This Post, I Offend a Korean Girl on the Street and Wonder If It Has Greater Implications


In a historically significant moment for otters everywhere, the Seneca Park Zoo, located in Rochester, NY, decided to import one lone otter to inhabit the zoo’s meager confines sometime in the early 1990s. I was in high school then, and wasn’t particularly intrigued by the arrival of “Admiral,” who was flown in from Louisiana to break Rochester’s otter-barrier. Despite my initial lack of enthusiasm, I was in love the moment I visited the zoo and laid eyes on Admiral. He was an incredibly exciting creature, full of life and energy, swimming all over the place and drawing large flocks of people to him. Admiral was the Jackie Robinson of otters, and the entire city loved him. Last year he passed away, at age 21, and went to otter heaven which, I would guess, is a lot like a river.

The otter has been my favorite animal since then. I wonder, though, if things would be different if the Rochester zoo imported a different otter other than Admiral. What if the first otter they brought in was lethargic? What if they acquired a depressed otter who only wanted to sleep and bite itself all day? One could say that my love of otters is directly related to the positive experience I had with my first one. If Admiral had less personality, if he was more of an introverted, cerebral otter, perhaps today my favorite animal would be something different, like a cow.

Call this the “Otter Theory,” if you will. It states that a person’s perspective on something is largely relative to the first encounter they’ve had with that being. For example, what if an alien came down to earth? Well, let’s say the alien had a good sense of humor, was well mannered, and planned to vote Obama. Then everyone would not only love that alien, but possibly all aliens. On the other hand, if the alien didn’t support gay marriage, made offensive rape jokes, and slept around on Robert Pattinson, everyone would think aliens suck.

This past weekend, I had an experience that relates. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, and I was walking down the street with my girlfriend. About ten paces in front of us was some Korean girl, probably around 20 years old, wearing a nice plum-colored purple dress.

“Ooh,” my girlfriend cooed. “What a nice dress she’s wearing.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I like it too. I should ask her where she got it.”

“Go ahead,” my girlfriend taunted me, knowing I would be too shy. “Go up to her and ask her.”

Neither of us took this idea seriously, and I playfully shouted out, “Hey, girl!” The chick in the purple dress kept walking. “Yo!” I quietly yelled, while my girlfriend laughed at me.

“Clearly she’s deaf,” I said. About a minute later the girl made a turn and, knowing she would soon disappear from our field of vision, I shouted out, “Hey girl in the purple dress!”

The girl turned around.

“Oh shit!” I said. “She heard me! She’s not deaf!”

The girl didn’t shout anything back. Her facial expression showed deep anger and she raised her hand and gave me the middle finger.

It was just like this, but real.

“She gave me the finger!” I said in shock. “Let’s get out of here!” And my girlfriend and I ran off like giggling little grade-schoolers.

Now, here’s the thing: What if, and this is conceivable, I was the first foreigner that girl had ever come across on the street? Sure, she’s likely had foreign teachers at her school, but I might have been the first real-life experience she had with a white dude. What kind of impression had I set? Maybe later on that night some poor lost foreigner would try to ask that same girl for directions. “Hey!” he’d shout desperately to her. And, thanks to me, what would happen? She would likely give him the finger and run away and hide in a jinibang.

“I was a terrible otter,” I said to myself later that night. When living in another country, your actions carry more weight than they do normally. But then another thought occurred to me. “Maybe I was the second guy, and she was overly angry because her first foreigner encounter was a nightmare. That must be why she was so quick to give me the finger!”

I liked that thought better. It’s so much more comforting to believe that you’re not the problem, and that everything is the fault of the stupid bastards that preceded you.


If Only ‘Social Security’ Meant the Government Would Stop People from Trying to Socialize with Me


Perhaps because I am the only white dude at my gym, every other person seems to want to talk to me. It doesn’t matter if I’m covered in sweat, in the middle of lifting something I’ll never be able to lift (like 85% of the weights in the gym), or even getting changed in the locker room, somebody always wants to come up and say something. Usually, they approach to tell me I’m lifting the weights or doing the exercise incorrectly. The conversation goes like this:

Korean Meathead: No! (gestures to what I’m doing) (laughs in smirking fashion)

Me: Oh…well…I dunno.

KM: Like this. (demonstrates)

Me: Okay. Thanks.

KM: You do. (stands over me and watches me exercise for next 5-15 minutes)

It’s damn embarrassing. Sometimes if I recognize certain social people in the gym, I’ll avoid the weights altogether and run on the track just so I won’t have to talk to them.

“They’re just being friendly,” my girlfriend said.

“I know,” I told her. “Why do they have to do that? What’s wrong with people? Can’t they just go away?”

Social drinking is one thing. That I can get behind. But social exercising? Totally uncalled for. Today I thought it would be fun to look at other ‘social’ situations and characters that need to stop or be stopped. Fine, say I’m being anti-social. That’s true. Just don’t say it to me in these scenarios:

The Social Barber: It’s bad enough that I have to stare at myself in a mirror for a half an hour, getting a haircut is even more torturous when it’s The Social Barber doing the cutting. Listen, I’ve got wet hair down over my eyes and I’m wearing some kind of hospital smock like I’m going into a Cat Scan soon, the last thing I need is to play 20 Questions. Unless you really like talking about your job while someone butchers your head, never having to see TSB is the best consolidation a guy can have for going bald.

The Social Subway Ridin’ Dude: You ever get on the subway and go, “Jesus, how the hell am I going to fill the ten minutes it’ll take to get to my destination? I wish I had someone to talk to!” No? Me neither, but this thought process is natural for the Social Subway Ridin’ Dude. Try to ignore him. It’s useless. He won’t be denied your attention, whether it’s by talking to you or by trapping someone sitting close to you in his overly enthusiastic convo, and having to overhear the whole thing is almost equally painful. The only solutions to dealing with TSSRD are to either buy an IPod or move to Japan where the subway is dead silent.

The Social Old Man: He is without a doubt the biggest menace to society. He has stories – lots of them – and will share them with you in an astoundingly dull, never-ending slow trickle of words. The most potent weapons The Social Old Man has are his abilities to literally bore you to death coupled with the fact that it’s rude to brush him off. Society respects its elders and he takes advantage of that. Having to sit through 20 minutes of TSOM will build your endurance strong enough to withstand two church sermons and 7 months of subway rides.

The Social Business Ownin’ Guy on Facebook: You’ve never met this guy in your life, and yet you share 300 mutual friends (none of which have met him either). He’s a clever, business savvy son-of-a-gun, usually with a tattoo shop or a nightclub to promote. He will bombard you with Facebook event invites and will wow your newsfeed with pictures of his entrepreneurial endeavors. On your birthday, he will send his wishes. The thing is, after awhile, you’ll feel like you know him better than the Facebook friends who you’ve actually met. Eventually he will wiggle his way into your heart, if not your wallet.

The Social Co-worker: There is a rule about the Social Co-worker – if he is interesting or cool, then he is just a regular co-worker, but if he is dull and insanely talkative, then he qualifies as being the SC. He doesn’t understand that friendship dynamics in the workplace have already been established. He will talk endlessly about his life, regardless of how busy you are, and eventually invite you to things that you don’t want to go to. He will also complain about the job a lot, as he inevitably sucks at it. Bear in mind, in many situations, the Social Co-worker is you and you just don’t know.

It’s not that I don’t like to talk to people…I’m just maybe a little picky about the setting. Now it’s time for me to go to work and harass my Korean co-workers who have no interest in talking to me. Then I’ll make pleasant conversation with my students, who will later go home and write their own blogs about The Social Teacher Who Wrongly Thinks He’s Cool.


Off the Beaten Path: Jeju Love Land Sex Park


Located in the amorous heart of Jeju Island, “Love Land” is an appropriately named theme park, at least as long as you define lots and lots of hot sex as “love.” Jeju Island is famous for being a romantic getaway for Korean couples, and so having a sexually themed park makes some sense. About a decade ago, a bunch of artists from Seoul’s Hongik University ventured over to the island, where they created numerous art pieces, and by “art pieces,” I mean statues of sexy parts.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the expected response to “Love Land” is supposed to be. Upon entering (for around $9 bucks a pop), a person is immediately greeted by a big green penis pointing you in the right direction, and that right direction is marked by a big silver naked woman.

The park consists of about every bit of sexual lunacy one could think of. Most sculptures are big, dreamy visions of genitals, copulating couples, or other anatomical absurdity. A lot of the pieces encourage a hands on approach, as a sex park should, allowing visitors to join in the pornographic merriment.

Yes, that’s me in the throes of ecstasy with a pink woman who appears to be feeling me up. At some point, probably around the time we were in the gift shop surrounded by dildos, my girlfriend turned her emotionless face towards me and said, “This place is for perverts.” Truth be told, I was the one who suggested we go to Love Land, and when she said that I kind of giggled nervously. Did visiting this place and, worse, enjoying it make me a pervert? Perhaps. More likely, there’s still a bit of a 14-year-old doofus alive inside of me that gawks at and is fascinated by sex.

And probably that’s the appeal of Love Land. I don’t know that an actual pervert would enjoy himself here (note the assumption that the pervert is male), as a dirty movie theater or strip joint would probably be preferable. This is more for that giddy immature side most of us have; the side that was dominant around 12 years old or so, before sex became real and adult and serious and stuff.

Whatever. Where else can you be held by the big gay silver surfer? Jeju Love Land is an odd place, but at the end of the day my girlfriend and I enjoyed ourselves. It was a fun hour we spent there, before we went back to being mature, which is great and all, just not quite as colorful.


Plastic Bag O’ Coins vs. The Everyday Pocket: A Discussion for the Progressive Male Thinker


Spare change has been beating me for ages. You know that phrase, the one that goes “Fool me once, shame on your; fool me twice, shame on me”? Well, shame shame shame on me ‘cause spare change has been fooling me for at least 15 years. In a nutshell, the pattern goes like this:

  1. Purchase item with bill/paper money.
  2. Place coin change in pocket of jeans.
  3. Remove jeans at end of hard day/early evening if Sunday and weather is hot.
  4. Forget to take coins out of pocket of jeans.
  5. Put new pair of jeans on the following morning.
  6. Go to store. Reach into pocket to get change, realize that change is in pocket of jeans from previous day. Curse.
  7. Later, when doing laundry, take change out of jeans pocket.
  8. Place change on desk shelf, where tons of other change sits. Never touch or bother with change again.

Seriously, I’ve amassed so much change over time, I might qualify for the Bush Tax Cut if I ever bothered to count it all. I’ve considered this change problem to be one of life’s necessary evils, or so it seemed until I was in the store the other day and saw a $50 Tommy Hilfiger wallet that changed my thinking.

“Holy crap,” I said, dumbfounded (don’t worry, I was with someone else and was not talking to myself about Tommy Hilfiger wallets like a damn crazy person). “This wallet has a little change pocket inside of it. The pocket’s got a button on it and everything. This is genius! Why don’t all wallets have a change pocket?”

And why don’t they? Women don’t have change problems, because they lug around big purses and can place the change inside, next to their compacts, cell phones, handguns, pet rocks, photo albums, and whatever else women carry with them. But for men, we have to rely on remembering to take the change out of our pockets, and that’s just asking too much. I quickly tried to calculate, in my head (I don’t carry a purse, hence no calculator handy), if buying the $50 wallet would be a good investment, as the coin pocket feature would surely lead to more frugal use of change. I eventually decided it wasn’t worth it, because $50 is like 10 billion coins.

The wheels in the head were turning, though. Proper coin management quickly became a priority. I considered buying a cheap change purse, but then thought, “Why buy a change purse when I can just carry around a plastic sandwich bag with me? It’s essentially the same thing.” This was a good point. I mean, I’m not a man of pride, I don’t need to have some fancy coin purse to show off when I pay for stuff. Things like that matter to rich people, I guess. Not to me.

“What about inventing a fancy cloth sandwich bag?” My entrepreneurial mind was at work. “I bet a rich kid would feel much more comfortable if, instead of having his sandwich in a plastic bag or one of those sandwich cases, he had a nice, hand sewn purse to hold his turkey sandwich.”

I quickly pushed the thought of hand sewn sandwich bags aside. It was a distraction from the coin problem. For the past few days, I’ve been going with the Plastic Bag O’ Coins and it’s been working brilliantly. Still, there seems to be greater alternatives out there.

Thus I propose this: What if the jean companies got together and started making jeans with only one pocket? Hear me out. The other pocket would be what I like to call “The Everyday Pocket,” a detachable device that can be transferred from one pair of jeans to another. That way, I can take the pocket full of change from one day and attach it to the jeans I wear the next day. It would work wonders! I mean, it might take some time to train men not to put their change in the other pocket – the non-Everyday Pocket one – but eventually guys would get the idea (2-3 years, perhaps) and unused spare change would be a thing of the past!

For now, Plastic Bag O’ Coins it is. In the future, one can only hope The Everyday Pocket becomes a reality. Only then could a responsible father have 5 dimes on him, readily available, to pay for his $10.50 hand sewn sandwich bag.


Highlights from South Korea’s Very Bizarre Olympics


When it comes to the Olympics, I’m only mildly interested in things like winning and gold medals. Oh no, I’m far more interested in things that go woefully wrong – I’m the guy who watches figure skating during the Winter Olympics and prays that somebody falls down. So, that said, these Summer Olympics have been brilliant for me, as I live in South Korea and that country has had one whacky thing after another happen to them. Here, if you haven’t been paying attention to South Korea’s zany Olympics, have been some of the highlights:

Wrong Flag Causes Protest by North Korean Soccer Team: In a slight guffaw, organizers for the Olympics accidentally showed the North Korean women’s soccer team players juxtaposed with, um, the South Korean flag. Whoops! I mean, it’s not like these two countries are technically still at war or anything. Oh, wait, they are! North Korea was understandably upset and refused to take the soccer field until the slip-up was fixed, which took over an hour. During this time, the Olympics Committee surely got a quick briefing on North Korea and was likely shocked to learn that Kim Jong Ill died last year, Samsung is in the South, and now North Korea will be blowing them up for the flag faux pas.

Blind Dude Sets Record in Archery: No, that’s not a joke. South Korean archer Im Dong Hyun, who is technically blind, broke an Olympic record for achieving the highest score ever in the first round of the archery tournament. Im followed his incredible performance by shocking audiences again when, in a terrible case of cultural differences, he cooked and ate his own Seeing Eye dog.

Fencer Breaks Down in Tears: There was only a second left in fencer Shin A-Lam’s match with the winner of the previous Olympics, Germany’s Britta Heidemann. Shin thought the clock had run out; apparently it should have, but due to a malfunction, it didn’t. Heidemann was able to score the winning strike and won the match. Shin, in response, had a total meltdown. While her coach filed a formal protest, Shin cried and cried, still standing on her spot of defeat, as rules dictate one cannot leave the piste during a protest. Eventually Shin’s protest was denied, she cried more, was taken off the piste, and came back a few minutes later only to lose the bronze medal match. Later, Shin was offered a special consolidation medal, I guess because she was so cute with all the tears and drama and stuff (or because the clock broke, who am I to say?). Shin refused to accept the special medal, as she had already been changed into a bitter and angry person by that point, destined to spend the rest of her life easing her frustrations by pushing people in the Seoul subway.

Korean Men’s Soccer Player Barred from Medal Ceremony: Say, you just beat the Japanese soccer team in the bronze medal match. What better time could there be for making an obnoxious, not-so-subtle anti-Japan political statement? That’s exactly what Korean soccer player Park Jong Woo did, holding up a sign saying that the jointly claimed island called Dok-do is in fact Korea’s. Park’s statement eventually stopped him from being able to receive his bronze medal. To no one’s surprise, Park’s sign did not convince Japan to give up the island and nothing has changed.

Swiss Soccer Player Sent Home for Racist Tweet: Before any of this political stuff happened, a Swiss soccer player got kicked off the team for tweeting that Koreans are “mongoloids.” While the Swiss player’s tweet infuriated Koreans, his dismissal confused mongoloids around the world, who saw nothing offensive at all about the comparison.

Korean Weight Lifter Snaps Arm: Here’s a nice montage of pain.

So there you have it, my favorite South Korean Olympic moments. Who knew the South Koreans could add so much entertainment value to the games? So, in conclusion, the general public learned a lot this Olympics. They learned that North Korea has its own flag, blind guys can shoot arrows, weights are heavy and, on a broader note, that The Spice Girls are still pretty darn hot.

Death on the Meter


It could be said that a person’s job affects, to some degree, the first impression that person has on others. My friend Perkins, for instance, doesn’t like ice cream vendors.

“I don’t trust them,” he told me. “You know, the guys that drive around in the ice cream trucks, selling ice cream to kids. What’s their motivation? The ice cream man should have to get a license to be around children. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the ice cream person was a kind, motherly old lady? Why is it always some guy with sunglasses and a goatee and an earring? That makes me nervous, man.”

I don’t fear the ice cream man, but there are some jobs that I guess I’d look wearily upon. Shady jobs. I don’t think I would trust someone who was a bouncer at a nightclub or who sold cars. And what about those people with the signs that say, “Will work for food”? I would need to see their work experience and a list of references. You’re not gonna dupe this guy out of a cheese sandwich and some Cool Ranch Doritos with shoddy workmanship.

Taxi drivers would have to fall into this category as well. I’m not saying they’re bad people, just that I’m quick to get on the defense when dealing with them. I’ve been ripped off in too many cabs (I overpaid one cabbie in Manila so much money he’s been able to send two kids to college). I’ve also seen the movies and shows: Taxi Driver, Taxi Cab Confessions and, worst of all, the TV series Taxi (that Devito guy freaks me out!). From these pieces of entertainment, I’ve ascertained that taxi drivers (or dispatchers) are unhinged, creepy, and sometimes resemble little bald Italian gnomes.

My outlook hasn’t gotten any sunnier after a bad incident with a cab driver about a week ago. I was on vacation, and my girlfriend and I had to get a cab at 4:30 in the morning one day. We quickly found one, agreed on a price (rip off!) and were off. About ten minutes into the ride, I noticed our cab swaying into the lane of oncoming traffic.

“Hmm,” I thought, “I guess he’s inattentive because the roads are empty.” I sat up and looked more closely at him. The cabbie was an older guy, probably in his late forties. He shifted around in his seat, wiped his face with his hand, and kept leaning forward as though he was going to rest his chin on the steering wheel. “I think this guy’s falling asleep,” I said to myself, the car wavering side to side like it was being driven by Bluto from Animal House.

To properly gauge the appropriate level of anxiety I should be having, I checked to see if my girlfriend was worried. Nope. She was sitting there calm and relaxed. This didn’t comfort me much. Since I couldn’t talk to the cabbie, I started talking to her, loudly, thinking that maybe the sound of my booming voice would help him stay awake.

“Yeah,” I said, struggling to make conversation, “how about those bananas we had for breakfast!?!”

It wasn’t working. The cabbie was still shifting around and drifting all over the place. I thought about how dumb I’d feel if he crashed and killed us. It was turning into a “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” situation; I felt like Will Shatner watching the guy in the monster suit rip up the airplane’s wing. It’s a tough spot to be in. You don’t want to sit there and say nothing, and on the other hand, you don’t want to freak out and seem crazy. At what point, I wondered, would it be necessary to start screaming and leap from the moving vehicle.

When he almost drove us into a guard rail, I’d had enough. “Hey,” I said to my girlfriend, “I think the cab driver’s falling asleep. Ask him if he’s okay.”


“Ask him!”

She did, and he sort of chuckled. “He says this is just the way he drives,” she translated for me.

It’s just the way he drives? I didn’t trust him. Thankfully our destination soon appeared, out of nowhere, like a miracle sent from a merciful God. I paid the cabbie and got the heck out of the car. It occurred to me that I hadn’t only sat there idly, for the most part, while the guy almost killed me, but I then paid him for it.

“Well,” I thought, “people pay for bungee jumping. It’s sort of the same, only this was less safe.”

What a thrill seeker I am. I nodded to myself, appreciative of my own courage, while in the background the cab drove off, presumably weaving all over the place and running over small animals and children as it disappeared into the distance.


Climbing Mt. Halla – An Adventure Post!


Confidence is a funny thing. It’s a virtue that I lack in most areas, such as solving math problems or giving a good back rub. However, from time to time, I’ll find myself exceptionally confident about something that I have no logical reason to feel confident about. The most recent example of this has to do with mountain climbing. Specifically I’m talking about climbing Hallasan, a shield volcano that, at 1,950 meters tall, is the highest peak in all of South Korea.

Hallasan – or Mt. Halla – is located in the center of Jeju Island, which is mostly known for being a big honeymoon destination for Koreans. It was also recently named one of the seven ‘New Natural Wonders of the World.’ Since I was on vacation from work, I thought I’d take a short trip there with my girlfriend. After conducting some research (i.e. Googling ‘what to do in Jeju’), I learned that one could hike to the top of Mt. Halla, where there is a big volcanic crater.

“Cool,” I thought. “We’ll do that.”

I mean, nothing says ‘romantic getaway’ like walking up a 9.6 km/6 mile trail to the top of a volcano, right?

My girlfriend didn’t bat an eye at the suggestion and was so confident about it, she initially planned to do it in flip-flops. “Are you sure you can hike up a mountain in flip-flops?” I asked her, skeptically.

“Sure,” she said. “These are very comfortable.”

I told her to pack a pair of sneakers just in case. This would turn out to be the best advice I’ve ever given someone, narrowly beating out the time I told one of my kindergarten students not to eat crayons.

In due time, the big day came. As I alluded to earlier, one has to trek up a 9.6 km trail in order to reach the summit of Mt. Halla. This is such a time consuming task that the final stretch to the summit is closed off at noon, due to fears that people will get stuck on the mountainside past nightfall if it was open later. For that reason, we left our hostel at 4:30 AM and reached the mountain just as the sun was coming up. True, getting up early sucks, but it’s nothing compared to having to sleep on the side of a mountain with a big jagged rock for a pillow. Knowing how inexperienced and, frankly, nonathletic we are, we thought it best to get going as early as possible and so, at exactly 5:20 AM we were off, headed up the trail at the speed of lightweights.

This is basically what you walk up. It alternates though, between stone steps, rocks, and finally a sweet wooden staircase that appears to go up and up forever.

If you look closely, you can spot my girlfriend basically collapsed on the stairs there (note the sneakers). Perhaps it was for the best that I didn’t read a lot about going up the mountain during that preparation period. If I had, I might have realized something I otherwise neglected: it’s actually rather difficult to climb a mountain. Had I have known that, maybe we would’ve gone to the beach instead. Going up took 4 hours. It was not fun. Others on the path were decked out in sleek hiking gear, with walking poles to help them and backpacks full of water and food. We brought basically nothing, just a couple bottles of water which I carried in the plastic bag from the 7-11. Hiking gear? None. Shorts and sneakers all the way. There was a point somewhere on the wooden staircase when making it to the summit was in doubt, but we had begun with confidence and that would not fade (until the way down, at least), and finally we achieved our goal and made it to the wonderful, glorious, breathtaking spot I like to call the tippy top.

We hung out at the summit for about 15 minutes, breathing in the fresh air of accomplishment, and then embarked on the nightmarish descent. Every step down felt like I was getting hit in the knee by a shopping cart, making me wince in pain and cursing the mountain. “Damn you Hallasan!” It actually took longer to go down than it did going up – 5 hours down – and the effects lasted for about a week. Encountering a standard stairwell in the subway, for instance, brought the fear of God into my heart. My body ached too much to go down it. I looked and felt like a 90 year old man inching my way to the bottom. It was as though I had somehow left my youth and my calf muscles up on the mountain somewhere.

A little soreness is just a minor detail, though. This adventure post is not about climbing mountains or being physically fit. It’s about having the confidence to do something and then doing it. No, it wasn’t fun and it certainly wasn’t well researched, but I believed that I could go up a mountain and I did. I even remembered to take a camera so that I could supply myself with photographic evidence. Here I am, standing by the plaque at the top of the mountain. Do I look confident? No – it had been drained out of me at that point. It didn’t matter though. I’d made it, ma, top of the world.

And I’d never, ever do it again.


Random Thoughts on How I Don’t Dig Staycations


The alarm went off at 9:30. I turned it off and rolled over. My girlfriend sent me a text twenty minutes later, asking me if I was still sleeping.

“No,” I thought after reading it, “I’m merely enjoying the sensation of being physically stationary.”

Perhaps it was a bit odd that I’d been laying face down on the bed, motionless, for the last twenty minutes, just thinking. My vacation had started five days earlier, and after spending the first four days on an island, I was back in my apartment, lying on my face.

On a regular weekday, I would’ve gotten out of bed hours ago. I started to wonder if I was lying in bed because I liked it, or if it was because I had nothing else to do. The way I felt about my upcoming day was the same way I’d feel if someone were to ask me what I wanted for dinner. “Hey, what do you want for dinner?” Um, I dunno. Can you give me some choices? If not, I don’t know where to begin. I’d probably end up regretting whatever I went with, just because I’d feel like there was some better option out there floating around in space that I didn’t think of.

“Jeez,” I’d think, “I could’ve chosen anything, and I went with mac and cheese? I somehow think I let myself down.”


My whole life, I’ve been vehemently against the idea of a ‘staycation.’ People work so hard, they should really maximize their time off and do something with it. Maybe it would make more sense if a person has a kid or something. Then the person can take the kid to Chuck E Cheese or do something else to establish favoritism over his/her spouse, and I guess that’s nice. People tend to like spending time with their kids and at least it’s an excuse to go to Chuck E Cheese (adulthood severely lacks animatronics).

But being a 34 year old man, having a staycation feels a lot like reverting into a 16 year old version of myself. I sleep a lot, and when I’m awake I feel stuck and start drinking by myself while either watching baseball or listening to rap music. This makes me think that there should be rules for having a staycation. For instance, I should have to submit daily plans to my boss before the vacation  is approved. I mean, I had to make plans for my sub at school…I should have to make plans for my own personal life as well.

“Can I see your vacation plans?” my boss would ask. I’d hand her a bunch of papers. “Hmm,” she’d say, reading them over. “Facebook chat, eat McDonald’s, watch porn…this is a waste of time…I can’t approve this.”

It would be for my own benefit. When the only good you’re doing with your life is at work, a vacation can be seriously detrimental.


Having a staycation is okay, I think, because I’ll be backpacking around Europe come September, and I need to save money for that. I need to plan. Today I wrote notes for what I would do on the first few days of my Eurotrip.

“This is strange,” I thought. “I’ve taken a vacation not with the aims of actually going on vacation, but instead to plan another, later, vacation.”

That seemed kind of like going to the grocery store just to make a grocery list. Smart, in a totally moronic way.


With four days left in the staycation, I’m already stir crazy and wanting to go someplace. “What would be the worst place to go on vacation?” I asked myself. “Probably Wyoming? Wisconsin? Maybe the Middle East somewhere?” Those places weren’t really conceivable, though, since I live in Asia. After some more thought, I decided the worst place I could realistically go on vacation would be Burma, now Myanmar.

“What’s in Myanmar that’s better than my apartment?” I wondered. “Nothing. It would be all jungle and confusion. I saw that movie Beyond Rangoon. Myanmar is hell. Actually, I didn’t see that movie. But it looked hellish from the poster art.”

Then I sighed. I longed to be in Myanmar.


I think people who enjoy staycations must be really happy with their lives. Travel is something I love; saying that, I’m fully aware that someone could psychoanalyze me and say that I like to leave and bounce around from place to place because I’m running away from something. I have no home. Personally, I like it that way, but I suppose that lifestyle isn’t for everyone. There must be people in this world who get excited over the idea of staying in their house for a whole week straight. That could be a test, meant to measure life satisfaction in some way.

“Mr. Panara,” my shrink might say, “how long could you stay in the area around your apartment before you went insane?”

“Um,” I’d answer, “it depends. Do you mean slightly erratic or completely bat shit crazy?”

“Bat shit, Mr. Panara.”

“In that case, I would say three days.”

Others might say ten years. Twenty years. A lifetime. Who knows? There is a joy that comes with being physically stagnant. Stationary. I suppose it’s comforting, just as it’s pleasant to have mac and cheese for dinner. To enjoy the simple things that one has is a commendable peace of mind.

But that’s for other folks. The way I figure it, I won’t get any vacations when I’m dead, so it would be a shame not to take advantage of them now. I’m not sure where people go after they die, but I’m pretty positive it isn’t Myanmar.