The Topiclessbar Christmas Special


“You killed his Christmas present!” C-Batz said in a voice loud enough to warrant an exclamation point.  She was holding the plastic container the stag beetle came in.  I’d gotten my beetle for the Orphan Christmas Party about an hour earlier and, not thinking, put it in the shopping bag with the rest of the things I bought.  Now there it was, on its back, looking like the trip back had done it in.  I wondered if I could return it to the store and say I bought it that way.

“Maybe it’s not dead,” I said.  “Open the case up and poke it.”

“I’m not touching it!” she said.  “It’s disgusting.”  C-Batz had bought her orphan a beetle also, but since she couldn’t make the Orphan Christmas Party, I would have to deliver both of the monstrosities.  (For some background on the beetle/orphan situation, click here).

“Fine, give it to me,” I said.  The beetle was big and ugly.  I opened the container and, using the fat of my first finger, flipped it over.  Its antlers poked me, sort of like if Rudolph got really angry and poked Santa’s belly…only Rudolph was a bug instead of a deer.

The beetle was alive.  Christmas was saved.


Friday would be the Christmas party at my school.  The school put up a Christmas tree and strung up lights.  It was, in the seven years I’ve spent in education, the first time I’ve ever seen a Christmas tree in a school.  And dang it – not gonna lie – it made me happy.

Do the kids here all celebrate Christmas?  No, not even close.  But one student, Peter, does, and he still believes in Santa Claus.  My boss Leah told me this.

“Peter believes in Santa….it’s so sad!” she said.

“I think it’s cute,” I replied, because Peter is still little enough to think Santa comes down the chimney of his apartment (?) and for that to be acceptable.

“No, he told me very sad story,” Leah said.  “Last year, he said Santa gave June a present but not him.”  June is Peter’s older brother and also attends our academy.  Leah continued, “That means Peter’s parents gave June a present and didn’t give Peter anything.  He said, ‘I wonder why Santa didn’t bring me a present.  I must have been bad and cried too much last year.’”

Leah was right – it was pretty sad.  To summarize, Peter’s parents stiffed him on a Christmas present, and instead of acknowledging that, Peter believes he was naughty and therefore Santa didn’t bring him anything.  What will he think when he gets older?  When will the denial stop?

“The other students said, ‘Peter, Santa is really Mom and Dad,’” Leah said.  “They knew because they found receipt.  Peter told them ‘no!’  He said, ‘I think it is Santa.’”

I saw Peter in the hallway later.  It was before school started and I brought him into the classroom.  I asked him about Christmas.  The story checked out.  Last year, Peter got nada.  June got a robot.

“Will Santa bring you something this year?” I asked the little dude.

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I will write him a letter the night before and maybe he will read it and bring me present.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Good luck.  Have some candy.”

At the end of the day I saw June and asked him if Santa would bring him a present for Christmas.

“Yes,” June said.  “I’m gonna get a cap.”


The orphanage I went to, in the northern part of Seoul, was big and marvelous, like a dream home if that term can be applied to orphanages.  The man who ran the volunteer program had me stash the two beetles and their cages (which were more expensive than the beetles, leading me to believe that my life, if a monetary value was to be placed on it, is worth less than my rent) in the main office.  He led me and the other volunteers into a big room where about fifty kids sat quietly, waiting politely.  It bore no resemblance to my classroom at all.  No one was screaming, or crying, or running around with a knife.

The Snowman - I remember him well

Two other volunteers and I were given dittos and colored paper, and we took a group of kids into a room to color and make snowflakes.  Since I didn’t know how to make a snowflake (it’s actually quite hard…shut up!), I basically just sat in the back with the bratty kid and let him hit me while the others decorated the place.  I always bond with the bratty kid; this one was funny and cool and when he wasn’t abusing me, we colored snowmen together.

Finally the time came to give out presents.  I gave the two boys their stag beetles.  Thankfully, they were happy and excited, not petrified and repulsed as I would have been.  The boys let me sit with them and go through the contents of the case, like the jelly packets they’ll have to use to feed the beetles.  When I was leaving, I saw one of the boys walking around the playground outside with his beetle.  It was cute.  Like they were new best friends.  I pictured him pushing the beetle on the swing.  Wee!

Sunday will be Christmas, and I’ll likely spend it getting drunk with my ex-pat friends.  On the other side of the world, my little niece will open her presents, and my sister will feel like a mom, and my parents will feel old.  Elsewhere, the two orphan boys will be feeding their beetles jelly and caring for them as anyone would care for any pet, no matter how cute or hideous it may be.  Peter will hopefully wake to find that his letter to Santa worked, while June tries on his new cap.  The Christmas tree will sit in our empty school.  Everywhere, things will be a little more interesting, and life will be a little more wonderful.



All I Want For Christmas Is…A Beetle?


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, where’s your guinea pig?”

“Oh, it’s behind the milk.”

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

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

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

Who’s outstanding now, baby shaver?