America: The Land of Milk and Honey and Paperwork and Really Big Pizzas

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usa13599872_10205017958448416_7142705830357970127_nWhen you spend six years living in Asia, coming back to the USA becomes both an exciting and a frightening proposition. Yes, I felt amped up thinking about the things I missed. Decent live music and Applebee’s and Taco Bell. Things like that. There’s also the worry that everyone will be armed and dangerous and your Chinese fiance will get elbowed in the face by an angry Trump supporter who heard her say ‘ni hao’ and flipped. What you find is that things are pretty good here, somewhere in the middle of what you anticipated.

In other words, Applebee’s isn’t that great, and no one is threatening to shoot or elbow your girlfriend.

But a lot of my friends have asked me what adjustments I’ve had to make. So I thought I’d write a quick blog post, where I’ll briefly touch on a few things that have surprised me since I’ve come back to The States.

talkative-people1) People Like to Talk to Each Other – The other day, I was in Walmart, waiting in line, and the lady behind just started talking to me. Struck up a random conversation. It was nice, and it got me thinking about the people in South Korea and China. I started to ask myself, did I ever see people talking to each other while in line? I don’t mean to me – I didn’t speak the language – but to each other? I don’t believe I ever did. Likewise, at the bus stop here in Vegas, someone ALWAYS starts talking to me. But at the bus stops in Asia, everyone always stood in silence and waited solemnly.

Personally, I like the perception that a stranger is your friend, and I like the frequent little conversations I’m having. I’ve concluded that the USA is chatty, and it’s kind of fun.

512oyetfnpl-_sx258_bo1204203200_2) The USA is Obsessed with Sports – Man, there are sports everywhere here. The NFL, the NBA, college football, college basketball, high school sports, fantasy sports. I turn on my TV during the weekend and I’m bound to find sports on. It’s amazing how Asia isn’t like that at all. Sure, Korea had it’s baseball league and that was popular. But other than the KBO, there wasn’t really much, and I don’t recall seeing many people dressed up in the jersey of their favorite team. Not like here, where half the men I see apparently still have fantasies about playing for the Cowboys. Thinking back to China, I don’t believe anyone cared at all about sports, apart from, I guess, their rampant love for playing ping-pong. The emphasis on athletics is amazing in the USA; whereas in Asia teenage boys and adult men seem to get their excitement from video games and drinking large amounts of alcohol.

064aeb7d5bbaad36e818e90cec3c25033) Advertising is Ingrained in our Souls – Jingles. I only remember one in Asia, which was for HomePlus in Korea. Otherwise, commercials consisted mostly of attractive people using the product and looking attractive. Here, commercials are inescapable and far more sly. They play brain tricks, and people seem to love them. Hanging out with some friends, a commercial for Jeep Grand Cherokee came on and everybody started happily signing Cat Stevens’ song “Free to Be.” In my classroom at a middle school in Vegas, we were about to start watching something on YouTube when a Capital One advert starting playing; when I went to skip the ad, the students all cried “no!” like their hearts were breaking and then sat transfixed while Samuel L. Jackson talked about interest rates. Our programming is apparent and kind of sad. Whereas in Asia, you just buy what the sexy person tells you to buy.

USBULA United States Bureau of Unnecessarily Long Acronyms4) Bureaucracy Is Everywhere and Is Expensive – A few months ago, I sauntered into Lens Crafters with my glasses. I told them I wanted to buy some contacts and I handed the lady my glasses to scan. That’s how I did it in Asia. Hand over the glasses, they scan it with some machine, then they sell me contacts that match the strength of the glasses lenses. Takes five minutes. But here, not so much – I was told I needed a doctor’s perscription in order to buy my contacts. The vision test would take 2-3 hours and cost $110.

This is America. Everything needs a document, every document costs money. To get fingerprinted for my new job, I had to 1) pay a fee online 2) go to fingerprint place with receipt from the online fee and get printed 3) go to office of employer with form from fingerprint place saying I was printed in order to get another form giving the fingerprint place permission to share the fingerprints 4) go back to fingerprint place to give them the permission to share form. It took forever and, of course, cost money. But that’s the procedure. There are battles from wars that have less documentation than my fingerprinting did.

lilipizza13686597_10205087521987461_41481060401218504_n5)  The Grocery Store is Great – In Asia, about 50% of the grocery store is comprised of cheap sausages. There are sausages all over the place, and the chicken breasts sit out in the open and are as warm as urine by the time you get them home. Meanwhile, the grocery stores in America are true examples of American greatness. Want a giant pizza that will feed your entire apartment building? You got it. Want tomatoes? We’ve got six different kinds of tomatoes. Feeling in the mood for some Middle Eastern food? Well we’ve got Falafel and pita break and tahini sauce. In Asia, I couldn’t even find olives.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Need to stop writing. Got a big day ahead of me here in America: gonna watch some football, enjoy the advertisements, and eat a pizza the size of an ice skating rink.

 

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The Jesus Napkin

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jesus-main-626779There are a lot of crazy people living in Las Vegas. If you’d like to verify this, the easiest way of doing so would be to ride the public bus during the daytime. I’ve heard people say “the freaks come out at night,” and that might be true. But the real freaks come out around noon, and they’re all riding the Las Vegas public transportation system.

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The Fiance 

Back in late August, my fiance and I had a memorable run-in with one of these colorful characters. Yes, that’s right, I have a fiance now. Her name is Fang Deng and she is a little Chinese woman. I brought her over here with me, packed her in my suitcase hidden inside a Chinese lantern, and later when we got off the plane she popped out of it like an Asian version of the Trojan Horse. Actually, none of that is true. Fang Deng just came over to the States with me on a tourist visa, met an eccentric man at a bus stop, and now she’s back in China.

Anyways, I digress. Fang Deng and I had to catch the bus going north on Boulder Highway that day. We walked over to the bus stop and there was this dude sitting there wearing black sweatpants with a long-sleeve black sweat shirt. This was odd, because it was 110 degrees outside. Sometimes it’s hard to describe a person, but the guy sitting at the bus stop was very easy to describe because he looked exactly like Neil deGrasse Tyson. So just imagine that after filming an episode of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson is exhausted and disheveled and that he dresses down into a sweatsuit and sits on a bench outside in the sweltering heat, and that would pretty much paint the picture of what Fang Deng and I discovered at the bus stop.

neil-degrasse-tyson-today-151123-tease-01_3f81ad672979df8eb616d15515636051-today-inline-large“Hey,” the guy said to me. “Hey, you.”

I pretended I didn’t hear him. In my head, I started praying that the bus would just materialize out of nothing and we wouldn’t be alone with this guy anymore. But my fantasies would not come true, and the man called out to me again.

“You! Come here!”

Fine. I walked over to him. “What’s up?”

He didn’t say anything. Instead, he reached his hand out and gave me a brown napkin. It was folded up as though he’d been carrying it around for awhile.

I opened it. On the napkin, he had written the name “Jesus” maybe two billion times. I’m not exaggerating. The napkin was litterally covered in Jesus, like this:

Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus

why-did-jesus-fold-the-naptkinI wasn’t sure how to react. I nodded knowingly and handed the napkin back to him.

“I gotta catch the bus to Michigan,” he said. “Can you give me five bucks?”

“Um, let me see what I have,” I said. I opened my wallet and gave him two dollars.

“All right,” he said.

“It’s all I got,” I told him apologetically.

When we got on the bus, Fang Deng was livid. She looked at me like I was the crazy person.

“Why the hell did you give him money? What’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “He had this Jesus napkin. It freaked me out.”

“That’s ridiculous! You should’ve told him you have no money!”

“But…you always say we should give money to the homeless.”

Fang Deng shook her head, her black hair bouncing against her shoulders. “Not homeless people like him. Crazy guy with a napkin.”

For the rest of the ride, we watched as the man would walk over to the other people on the bus, one by one, tap them on the shoulder, and hand them the napkin. They would all open it and stare at it for a second, and then hand it back to him. No one else gave him anything. He eventually got off at the same stop that we did, with only his napkin and my two dollars to show for it.

“God bless you,” he said to me as we parted ways.

“God bless you too,” I said.

And then he walked away into the suffocating heat.

I wondered if he thought this was Michigan.

 

 

The Passenger Seat of a Stranger’s Car

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NEW YEARS FIREWORKS OVER LAS VEGAS STRIPThe fireworks have just ended and I’m standing by the side of the road with my hand out. It’s only fifteen minutes into the new year and already I feel hopeless. Cabs zip past me without stopping, people slumped over drunk in their back seats. I’m on the Vegas Strip with literally thousands of other people, all of us trying to flee for our homes. Apparently as soon as the clock struck midnight the Strip stopped being the place to be, and everybody just wanted to go to bed.

A black truck pulls up in front of me. The window rolls down and the dude driving it sticks his head out.

“Where you going, man?”

“Twain and Arville.”

“Twain and Arville?” he repeats, as though he’s asking himself if he wants to drive there. “Okay, I’ll take you there. Forty dollars.”

nye2012-07I look around the place. There are so many people and the streets are mostly empty, only a few cabs around. My phone (Samsung G4, a total piece of shit) is dead and it wouldn’t even matter if it wasn’t, because the guy at the Uber tent (yes, there’s an Uber tent, with a bar and loud dance music and a bunch of Uber drivers parked outside) told me that T-Mobile (my carrier, totally shitty) isn’t connecting to Uber for some reason. And since they won’t drive you if you don’t request on the app, I’m out of luck. But I do have exactly forty-two dollars in my wallet, which means I can afford a ride from this random stranger.

“Forty bucks?” I say to him. “Let’s do it.”

He motions towards the passenger seat and I get in. We make a quick u-turn and almost immediately get stuck in traffic.

“Fucking New Year,” the guy says. “Everything is gonna be like this. Let’s see if we get around it.”

He drives the truck into the lane next to us – you know, the one for oncoming traffic – and bypasses about fifty cars stuck at a red light. We reach the light and he butts his way in, cuts off the car in front, and now we’re leading the pack. After a minute or two, we get stuck again.

“Forty bucks,” he says. “I should charge you two hundred.”

We start to talk. His name is Isaac and he’s from Eritrea, a small country located in Northern Africa. His hair is black and puffy; he looks middle-eastern, wears glasses and has stubble all over his face. He tells me that he’s lived in Vegas for almost twenty years. Has a wife and a three-year-old kid. He constantly mentions how English is his second language and he doesn’t speak it well, even though I think he sounds perfectly fluent.

“What about you?” he asks. “Where are you from?”

Oh, where to begin. I tell him I’ve lived in Asia the last six years. First South Korea, then in China. I tell him that I’ve just moved to Vegas to start a new life. It sounds corny, and I worry that he might see this as an opportunity – I’m new and I don’t know anybody and he could easily kill me without anyone figuring it out for at least a few days. But that doesn’t seem to occur to him. He asks me why I came back to the States.

“I don’t know, man,” I tell him. “Just felt like it was time to come back.”

web1_photoeditor-1483288501023-1-_7700234Isaac drives like a madman. He weaves in and out of traffic, cuts down back alleys, honks his horn at any cars in his way. It’s a lot like being back in China, actually. It takes a half-an-hour to get onto the highway, and from there we’re set. The drive from the Strip to my place is actually only ten minutes or so, but most of the roads are closed for the holiday, which means we have to circle around. And so Isaac and I end up taking a little tour of Vegas, talking about language and culture and what it’s like to live in a country that isn’t your own.

“Do you think you’ll ever go back to Eritrea?” I ask him.

“No, no, no,” he says. “This is where I want to be.”

He drops me off at the apartment complex where I’ve been living the past three months. I open my wallet and give him the forty-two bucks. We shake hands. It’s after one in the morning and my apartment complex is dark and quiet. Isaac turns the truck around, gets onto the road and takes off. Maybe he goes home, maybe he goes back to the Strip to make more money. I just walk through the buildings until I reach mine, and after I get inside, I go out onto the balcony and smoke a cigarette.

It turned out okay. This is what I tell myself. I’m home and I’m safe, and it’s 2017 and everything is going to be fine. I realize that a lot has worked out so far, a lot has gone right, and that’s why I’m standing here on this balcony in Vegas. Looking at the bright lights in the distance, ready to start the brand new year.

I can see the Palms Casino, the neon glow of its colorful sign. I wonder if the lights ever go out there? Something tells me they never do.

The Black Elephant of Death

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blog black elephant of deathIt was well after two in the morning and the pain in my stomach was only getting worse. The room was completely dark and I clung to the blankets, felt the sweat dripping down my forehead. Hours had passed since the nausea and the pain set in. I’d spent most of that time in the bathroom, where I’d gone through an entire roll of toilet paper like it was Halloween and I’d just covered a house.

I would later discover that I was suffering from what is known as “Bali Belly.” It’s a common condition in which the food in Bali, Indonesia, causes a person, typically a tourist, to empty out their insides through any and all willing orifices. ‘Bali Belly’ got me my second night in Ubud, after I’d eaten some mahi-mahi and washed it down with several Bintang bears. This seemed enjoyable at the time. Little did I know I’d just mixed a lethal cocktail, a more expensive and exotic version of ipecac.

blog bali bellyBut all these epiphanies didn’t come to light until later. All I knew at the time, or prognosticated I should say, was that I’d been food poisoned and I couldn’t stop going to the bathroom. Internally, I wished it would stop and that this had happened to the Julia Roberts character in Eat. Pray. Love. during one of those romantic nights with Javier Bardem. Because that would’ve been amusing. As with the the title of that book, I myself had in fact eaten and now I was praying, although I did not believe there would be any love taking place, especially since I was out of tp.

Externally, I wished that someone would help me. My girlfriend sat up in bed and asked me if I needed to see a doctor.

“No,” I said. “I just have to stay hydrated. That’s how food poisoning kills you, you know? Dehydration. As long as I’m drinking water, I won’t drop dead.”

“Stop it,” she said. “You’re not going to die. You’re being dramatic.”

That was quite an accusation and, after protesting briefly, I ran to the bathroom again. When I returned, my stomach felt much better (that’s how the cycle works) and I curled up in the bed to try and get some sleep. This would prove futile. Ten minutes went by and I was back in hell again, sweating and shaking, bent over in torturous pain in our darkened room.

Turning onto my back, I looked across the room and I thought I could see – damn it, I really do believe I saw it – an enormous elephant standing there. I know how that sounds but bear with me. It was huge and black and had tusks the color of coal. The elephant hovered over the bed, its colossal head filling the air above me, its trunk dangling by the luggage that sat at the foot of the bed.

“Oh my God,” I said. “It’s here. The Black Elephant of Death. It’s come to take me.”

“What?” my girlfriend mumbled, half-asleep.

The size of the animal was terrifying. I sprang out of bed and flipped the lights on, my heart pounding. To my relief, the elephant disappeared with the darkness. I fell back on the bed, my head spinning and my body woozy.

I grabbed my cell phone and quickly Googled food poisoning in Bali. The first headline jumped out at me and grabbed me by my upset stomach linings.

AUSTRALIAN MOTHER AND DAUGHTER DIE OF FOOD POISONING AFTER EATING FISH IN BALI

blog food poisoingEating fish? I’d eaten fish! I shook my girlfriend awake and told her that this was it, the end for me. Coolly and calmly, she got dressed and walked to the nearest convenience store, where she purchased some pills to help my stomach. I was still panicking when she returned; she gave me the pills with some water and twenty minutes later I was fine and fell asleep and dreamt about the Indonesian transvestite show we’d seen earlier in the night.

In the morning I began to understand things. I thought about the Internet and the Australian mother and daughter and I thought about paranoia and how I’d searched out something to legitimize my worst fears and I’d found it. Rather easily too. Maybe that’s one of the dangerous things about the Internet. That one can search for something, trying to locate support for whatever argument they have, and they can probably find it. Whatever terrifying thing that you’ve imagined, someone else has likely imagined it too, and has written about it online. There are people in the world that live in states of permanent paranoia, terrified that the world is evil and out to get them, and for those people, the Internet will always tell them that they’re right.

blog elephant number twoTake the Black Elephant of Death, for instance. Of course there isn’t such a thing. It’s ridiculous and totally moronic. But now, as soon as I publish this, it will go into the cyber world, where it will be real. Witnessed. Maybe in another year someone else will do a search for it, some other idiot that thinks an elephant god in Bali has come to claim his soul.

And to that person, I only have this to say:

The Black Elephant of Death is real. Don’t try to fight him. You’re screwed.

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The Strange Spot On This Planet That I Call Home

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Back in November, I interviewed for a job in Beijing, China. Two weeks later, I’d signed a contract. A few months after that, I was on a plane to Beijing Capital International Airport. What greeted me – the place where I found myself – let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected. Yesterday was nice and sunny and so I went for a stroll and took some pictures. And thus I present to you my new home, for better or for worse. Cheers!

This is the outside of the campus where my apartment is. Right off the bat, I want to say that my school is pretty awesome and that I really believe there's some good edumacating going on here. The job is, in all honesty, pretty dope.

This is the outside of the campus where my apartment is. Right off the bat, I want to say that my school is quite awesome and that I really believe there’s some good stuff going on. It’s a school I’m proud to be teaching at. Yes.

In front of the campus is a two lane highway. A public bus comes about one every ten minutes. Apart from the bus and some cars, the area is pretty open and empty.

What follows is my journey any time I wish to go off campus. Out in front of the school is a two lane highway. A public bus comes about once every ten minutes. Apart from the bus and some cars, the area is really empty.

Evidence of emptiness.

Evidence of emptiness.

The bus takes about 15 minutes to get into town and stops running at 7:30 pm. Now, if I don't feel like taking the bus into town, there is a village. It's a short walk. Here are the stairs that mark the starting point.

The bus takes about 15 minutes to get into town (not downtown Beijing, that takes 90 minutes) and stops running at 7:30 pm. Now, if I don’t feel like taking the bus into town, there is a village. It’s a short walk. Here are the stairs that mark the starting point.

Up the stairs, and down the winding path through the trees.

Up the stairs, and down the winding path through the trees.

Four minutes through the trees bring us to an exit. The village is close.

Four minutes through the trees brings us to an exit. The village is close.

Now it's a walk down this stretch of road. Again, this isn't the Beijing I had pictured. But, like anywhere, one gets used to the surroundings. Especially when there's a random head by the side of the road.

Now it’s a walk down this stretch of road. Again, this isn’t the Beijing I had pictured. But, like anywhere, one gets used to the surroundings. Especially when there’s a random head by the side of the road.

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We've finally reached the village. Hurray!

We’ve finally reached the village. Hurray!

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Here is the grocery store. There are always dogs outside...

Here is the grocery store. There are always dogs outside…

...and exciting rides for kids.

…and exciting rides for kids.

In all seriousness, the village is pretty depressing. It's an extremely poor area. Last semester, my school brought in children from the village's elementary school, so that the wealthy kids attending my school could talk to them and learn about their lives. My school planned to involve the kids from the village more this semester, but we were told that the elementary school in the village was shut down. Closed. No one seems to know what the children in the village are currently doing during the day.

In all seriousness, the village is pretty depressing. It’s an extremely poor area. Last semester, my school brought in children from the village’s elementary school, so that the wealthy kids attending my school could talk to the village kids and learn about their lives. My school planned to involve them more this semester, but we were told that the elementary school in the village was shut down. Closed. No one seems to know why, or what the village kids are doing now that they don’t have a school.

Village barber shop. Reminiscent of Super Cuts.

Village barber shop. Reminiscent of Super Cuts.

Probably it's needless to say that I wasn't to pleased to be living here at first. But I'm getting into it. It's okay. Here's Mickey Mouse. At Disney World, they say it's a small world after all. That isn't really true. The world isn't small at all, but when you stay in one certain place long enough, I can see how it feels that way.

Probably it’s needless to say that I wasn’t too pleased to be living here at first. But I’m getting into it. It’s okay, nothing to complain about. Here’s Mickey Mouse. At Disney World, they say it’s a small world after all. That isn’t really true. The world isn’t small at all, but when you stay in one certain place long enough, I can see how it feels that way.

The Girl with the Flowered Underwear

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Of all the curious idiosyncrasies of the human race, people’s unique behavioral
blips, I’ve always been baffled by the decision some strange individuals make to wear underwear that has flowers on it. It’s definitely not sexy, unless one has a fetish for wallpaper, and from a strictly aesthetic perspective, a floral print can only be visually pleasing to those who think quilted Bounty paper towels are fine art. Mind you, I’m not against underwear that has personality – in fact, I own one pair of boxers with the Super Mario Brothers on it and another that retells the Little Red Riding Hood story (literary lingerie, there’s an idea, market it if you have the time). It’s just that flowers seem tacky. Grandmotherish. And flowers are also the most obvious vaginal symbol I can think of (right, Georgia O’Keefe?); a girl with flowered panties is sort of like a guy wearing tighty whities covered in bananas and The Washington Monument.

blog underwear flowersOne Sunday evening, I found myself sitting in my room, the nervous breakdown that I’d been having for the previous three weeks beginning to subside slightly. I’d been hiding all weekend, terrified at the idea of seeing another human being, wanting only to be left alone, in the dark cavern of my apartment, taking shelter in my cave like an agoraphobic bear or an early 2000s Bin Laden. I’d hear people outside in the lobby of the apartment building, talking and laughing, and my heart would pound. Why were they out there? When would they leave? Their presence was cancer, a black widow spider hanging above my bed on its string, they were there to get me, I had to stay safe. The building was full of threats. Stepping outside my apartment was Russian Roulette, spin the barrel, pull the trigger, listen for noise.

blog underwear candy caneFor over a month I hadn’t done any laundry because the laundry room was down the hallway and I was too petrified of people to force myself to go. I figured it was easier to wear the same dirty underwear, BO scented shirts, and soy sauce stained jeans than risk running into someone in the public laundry room. But on this Sunday, the hallway was quiet, and I was feeling adventurous. I threw some clothes in a bag and literally sprinted across the lobby to the laundry room. The washer was all in Chinese and I had no idea how to work it. Whatever. I tossed my clothes in, poured a bunch of detergent on top like a Canadian eating pancakes and going heavy on the maple syrup, and punched buttons until the machine started. What was the worst that could happen? I’d either end up with clean clothes or turn the apartment building into The Impossible.

Forty five minutes passed. It was time to make the transfer to the dryer. I gave myself a pep talk, pumping myself up, like someone does before walking over hot coals, and then I darted back to the laundry room. There was only one dryer not currently in use but, to my horror, someone had left clothes inside it. I cursed under my breath and ran back to my room. Twenty minutes later I repeated the process, pep talk, 15 meter dash, dryer check. The same clothes sat in the dryer, left and abandoned, shed and forgotten, the same way cats leave their fur all over the place.

blog underwear flowers two“Son of a bitch!” I shouted. I knew that I didn’t have it in me to come back again. Whoever was doing this was torturing me. I opened the dryer and started taking the clothes out, throwing them on top of the machine. To hell with it. My head ached. There’s a privacy agreement inherent in any Laundromat and I was breaking it, smashing it with each t-shirt or sock I tossed out of the dryer’s warm circular metal embrace.

And I would have kept going, had it not been for what I was unearthing. Panties. Lots and lots of panties. Whoever was responsible for this had washed a record amount of underwear, lifetimes worth. Flowered panties, tons of them, descending from the dryer, falling down onto my face, like I was an opera singer and the crowd was pelting me with roses.

blog underwear big flowers oneHow could I leave some girl’s underwear out in the open for anyone to gawk at? I only wanted to dry my clothes, not humiliate anyone. Anger filled me as I held the girl’s floral patterned panties in my hand. I imagined that if I was single, maybe one day I’d have a romantic hook up with one of my coworkers, bring her back to my apartment. Things would get heavy, bra unlatched, and I’d slide her jeans off, only to recognize this same pair of flowered panties snug around her hips. Passion would die right there. The lights would have to come on, and instead of sex, she would get a long lecture on laundry etiquette.

“Hours! You left your clothes in the dryer for hours! What kind of girl just leaves her panties in a public space like that? Have you no decency?!?”

It was no use. I put all of the mystery girl’s clothes back in the dryer, then took my soaking wet laundry and stuffed it in my bag. Returning to my apartment, I hung my drenched clothes around the place like I was redecorating, putting socks on bookshelves as if they were family photographs.

“I finally did some laundry,” I sighed. “I should feel happy.”

It was true. I was alone and safe, with wet clothes sitting in my closet, while some stranger was out and about, possibly having the time of her life, her laundry a minor detail of her day, already forgotten.

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Tension and Fury with the Elderly on the Seoul Subway

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blog subway fightPart One – In Which I Bash an Old Lady with a Suitcase

The Seoul subway is packed, just like always, and, also like always, I’m in a shitty mood. It’s mid-January and I’m headed to the airport, on my way to Hong Kong, a giant green suitcase containing half of my worldly possessions by my side, ready to make the trip with me. To get to the subway train, I must go down a staircase. I lift my suitcase, carrying it with both hands like a battering ram, and head down the stairs, taking the first step at the exact moment the train arrives. Approximately 8 million people get off the train and start walking up the staircase, flooding it, a tidal wave of Asians, coming right at me.

I sigh. I’m hugging the wall on the right hand side, as I feel I should be. One would think the people going up would do the same, two lanes, street traffic, headed in opposite directions, but they’re not. They’re spread out. This doesn’t deter me. I put my head down, the green suitcase held out before me, and walk with great speed, gaining inertia as I descend.

“Excuse me!” I yell. “Coming through!”

People duck out of the way, dodging me and muttering angry things in Korean. At least they’re moving, and I’m getting close to the bottom. But then I see an old woman, right in my path, walking up the stairs while texting. Why is an old woman texting? Why hasn’t technology passed her by, and who the hell is she talking too? Probably the retirement home, to tell them she’s escaped. She’s completely oblivious. It’s like a game a chicken and one person is asleep behind the wheel.

“Watch out!” I shout. That seems more pleasant than, “Move, bitch, get out the way!” The old woman continues towards me with her head down. I decide not to veer off, as I have heavy luggage and she should be the one that moves, and we collide. The suitcase wallops her good. She staggers to the side a bit and lets out a furious scream, shocked by what’s happened. I respond by saying “Pay attention!” and then make my way to the end of the staircase.

I don’t look back. It wasn’t my fault.

Maybe she’s learned a lesson about the dangers of texting. Or I’ve given Old Lady 21st Century something to blog about. Because she probably has a blog, with an upcoming entry called, “The Damn White Bastard Motherfucker.”

blog subway fight twoPart Two – Things Get Tense with an Old Man

Mid February. Back in the subway station, a black suitcase this time, containing the second half of my worldly possessions. Another flight, the last leg of the move. I’m standing on the platform waiting for the train, my suitcase beside me like a son (in a bag, I dunno). There’s no one else in the general area and I’m poised to drag my luggage right onto the train when it comes. And then another person appears.

He’s old, probably in his sixties, with wrinkled skin and an Oakland A’s cap. Despite the fact that I’m obviously first in line, the old man doesn’t fall into place behind me, but instead stands directly next to me. I start to feel tense. There’s no reason for this – it isn’t crowded. Why can’t he just let me and my luggage get on the train first? I know that he’ll push his way by me. It’s happened a million times before with these old Asians. I grit my teeth. There’s no way I’m letting him ahead of me.

The train arrives, doors open. I pick up my suitcase and start heading on. The old man goes darts forward, and I feel his body press up against me, trying to push his way past. I guess I could simply let him go, but that’s ludicrous, and instead I position myself in front of him, cutting off his path. He doesn’t yield. Pushes harder.

That’s it. I’m pissed.

blog subway fight threeI turn and put my hand directly in the center of his chest and shove him back. “Stop it, God damn it!” Like the old woman I bashed with the suitcase, he’s shocked. I make my way onto the train and he steps on after me with hate in his eyes and his jaw agape. “Can’t you wait a second?” I say. I’m sure he doesn’t know a word of English but I don’t care. “I’m getting on the train. Don’t fucking push me.”

Riding the train, I start thinking. Really, if I’m honest with myself, standing on the platform before the train came, I was kind of hoping he would try to push past me. I wanted to do something, make a stand, just as I wanted that old lady to keep walking up the staircase so I could ram her with my suitcase. In truth, I was sick of Koreans being rude on the subway, and I was salivating at the opportunity to confront someone.

“My God,” I thought, “I’m like the George Zimmerman of the Seoul subway.”

Sometimes, standing up against something, be it thieves in the neighborhood or rude people on the subway, becomes a matter of personal need, an action waiting for a target. Maybe I shouldn’t have been such an asshole on the subway. I looked up at the monitor to see where I was.

Dorimcheon. I looked back at the old man and hung my head in shame.

I’d gotten on the wrong damn train.

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