Taejon, South Korea
Letter to the South Korean Minister of Education
Dear Mr. Kim,
To begin with, I am writing to bring to your attention to what I consider a serious error in my recent selection as Foreign Teacher of the Year in South Korea. As I valiantly tried to point out to the awards committee, I was only visiting this country for a month and was simply helping a few of the Sisters at the St. Mary’s High School with their English. Teaching a class of nuns does not strike me as being worthy of any kind of special recognition. For one thing, I had no discipline problems at all. And yes, I refrained from becoming romantically involved with any of them, but it wasn’t as difficult as it sounds.
I will admit that during this time I was working without a salary, but the committee’s declaration of this as a shining example for other foreign in-structors here to aspire to strikes me as misguided.
In any event, I have reluctantly decided to accept the award: a round-trip ticket to Tacoma, Washington (also known as “The Paris of South Puget Sound”). Strange that the second place winner will receive two round-trip tickets. But I will try to use them as soon as I receive them.
Now, at the risk of causing an international incident, I must nevertheless continue to protest your decision to present the award next week at St. Mary’s school. The 8:00 a.m. time in particular strikes me as especially inappropriate. I mean, have you ever actually SEEN an early morning Korean high school class? Some of the students (most of whom study four to five hours a night before leaving the school at ten) wobble in like twelfth-step alcoholics following an all night binge. Others lie sprawled across their desks, semi-conscious. An ambulance team presented with this scene would find itself performing emergency triage.
May I ask what, exactly, are you preparing your students for, extended POW internment? High School should be one of the best and happiest times of our lives (and would have been in my case if it wasn’t for the acne attack my junior year). From what I have seen of your educational system, it’s only a matter of time before President Bush sends over a hostage rescue team, then orders a follow-up air strike. Do you really want to visit Guantanamo Bay that badly?
I know, I know. Foreign teachers in Korea, like small children, should be seen and not heard (and maybe not even paid). I just felt it my place to use my brief, exalted status to speak my mind. And having the Education Ministry Police confiscate my passport will not change my views nor my plans to escape. For I, along with a dedicated group of seventeen-year-old freedom fighters (who, by the way, have permission from their par-ents), are determined to break out of this educational hellhole, bound for a place where we can teach and learn in genuine harmony. Under the co-ver of darkness we will boldly strike forth…for the Worker’s Paradise of North Korea!
With Best Wishes for Your Health,
A Determined Foreigner
Pyongyang, Democratic People’s blah blah blah of North Korea
Greetings comrades! Today I understand we are making history with me being the first non-kidnapped foreigner to be lecturing at the Kim Il Sung Center for the Performing Arts and Regimental Rifle Practice. As you all know, this convention’s theme is the promotion of World Peace through the annihilation of the wicked United States. It seems to me that with the recent financial crisis, the country is doing an adequate job of imploding without any assistance. But who am I to dissent, especially with these leg irons I am having to wear?
Anyway, let’s get started. First, a bit of personal background is in order. I grew up and was educated in the Imperialistic U.S. However, I have also lived amongst the Militarists in Japan and the American Lackeys in the south. With the exception of chronic dysentery, I am thus well acquainted with all your foes.
I will now take questions. My translator is holstering his pistol and will be writing them down in English for me to answer.
The difference between our country’s leaders? Your current numero uno, Kim Jong Il, ascended to his position only because his father had been running the country. Sadly, Mr. Kim the younger has turned out to be a mediocre and stubborn man, unwilling to alter his world views in the face of increasingly contrary evidence. By contrast, President George Bush Junior is…er…
Let’s move on to the next question, shall we?
No, the 1987 action movie Predator, that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger along with Jessie Ventura, is NOT a nominating film used for selecting our state governors. It only seems that way.
How to foment unrest in America? For Seattle, where I come from, take away everyone’s cell phone, or hold another meeting of the World Trade Organization there.
The most vulnerable place to invade America? That’s easy, Alaska. Just be sure your troops hit the beaches wearing big “Palin for V.P.” buttons. They will be warmly welcomed.
A sporting event that offers maximum propoganda value? How about holding a college bowl game here in Pyongyang? Call it “The Kimchi Bowl”. But unlike the contests in America, instead invite the two worst NCAA Division I teams. Make them play outdoors in January as a form of humiliation and punishment — treatment I understand you people take special delight in dishing out. It might even be worthwhile to lock in the Washington State Cougars to a long term commitment.
Oops, my apologies. I just realized I have left the blueprints for building a ballistic missile with multiple nuclear warheads in my backpack at the foreigner’s hotel. But don’t despair. I doubt any thief is going to slip in through the barred windows. Perhaps I could be unshackled and allowed to run over there and retrieve the documents? It will only take a few min-utes. I’ll be right back…I promise!
Having lost the Chinese Civil War on the mainland to the Communists some six decades ago, there is a definite air of one-upmanship as the Tai-wanese try to prove they are the true heirs of China. Kind of like Jimmy Carter and his lifelong mission to convince America of the horrendous mistake it made in voting him out of office back in 1980.
For example, Taipei 101, proudly billed as the world’s tallest building. Then there’s the Oldest Chinese Confucius Temple. Nor are the leaders content with mere adjective-inspiring architecture. A relocation invitation was sent out last month to my old company DHL — whose hare-brained decisions had killed its U.S. shipment business — so that Taipei could lay claim as the headquarters of the world’s clumsiest corporation.
This inferiority complex has also motivated the Taiwanese to create an impressive, thoroughly modern, subway system. But though the station maps and signs all include easy-to-follow English translations, it is still helpful to know a little bit about the main features of this transit marvel.
To operate one of these, look at the map above them and find station and its fare. Then press the button representing the amount you will be pay-ing. The machine will provide some verbal assistance, but don’t fumble around; its patience is limited:
“Please kindly insert coins…………….”
“Did you hear me? I said insert the coins…………..”
“Quit f*cking around! Put in the damn money or step aside.”
“Enough! Go hail a cab, you ignorant foreigner.”
If you find the machines a bit too hostile, purchase a ticket from one of the clerks. Most of them understand but a few words of English, so there is no need to risk confusion with long, polite sentences.
For example, instead of:
“I would like to purchase a one way ticket to Chiang Kai-shek Station. How much will it cost, please?”
“Me go Chiang Kai-shek. No come back. How much?”
Once you have your ticket and are on your way, there will be a seemingly endless series of announcements. What follows are translations of what is really being said.
Chinese: Gua xia ni. Koa ping dong!
Translation: Train derailment ahead. Brace for sudden stop!
English Announcement: The next station is Zhongxiao.
Chinese: Yeng ching! Ling ping pong, tic tac toe.
Translation: Nerve gas! Grab a mask, and lie on the floor.
English Announcement: Please exit on your right.
Special attention must be paid to these due to their similarity.
Guangxian Dong Dang
Stepping off the train, you will soon find yourself engulfed in a riptide of humanity. Simply go with the flow; you have no other choice. To regain your balance, consider climbing up the open stairs rather than riding the packed-as-sardines escalator.
Arriving at the top floor, there will be a line of slender red machines that will take your ticket. Walk to one that is showing a green “O”, then gen-tly but firmly slide your ticket into the slot. Don’t force it or do anything else to cause the machine to lose face.
If your ticket is accepted, a pair of waist-high red doors in front of you will reluctantly open. Calmly walk through them. Do not hurry. These mechanisms are like wild animals. If they sense fear, they will suddenly turn on you, snapping their doors shut like an alligator’s mouth. (That’s where those blood-red stains come from, in case you were wondering)
Free at last! Head towards one of the exits and begin your grateful ascent into the sunlight. You have lived to travel another day.
Boracay Island, The Philippines
The island of Boracay is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the Philippines. The beach is postcard pretty, with a gentle slope and non-threatening waves. Relaxing in the warm water is akin to being in a giant bathtub.
It’s almost enough to make you forget the scantily clad women on the shore. They can drive you to distraction regardless of what you are doing, their dusky sexuality twisting your thinking. For example, last evening I tried reading my astronomy magazine to prepare for some stargazing, but when I opened to the page that talked about how Mars was once hotter and wetter than it is now, all thoughts of finding the Southern Cross went right out the window.
Clearly I had to get out and meet the natives of the female persuasion before I began forgetting meals.
This did not require much effort. The beachfront on Boracay is basically one big red light district. The ladies congregate out in front of the bars, focusing their attention on middle aged men, especially those who look like they have gone a long time without companionship and thus might be susceptible to the charms of a younger woman.
I have never been so popular.
I had just finished my first drink of the evening and was fighting off the audio-induced nausea of a disco bar when a lady wearing plaster of Paris makeup sidled up to me. Grabbing one of my arms, she exclaimed that she loved old men.
My first reaction was to look around to see whom she was referring to. Certainly not moi? And what a crappy pickup line. I should have replied, “Oh, you are in luck then, because I love women who resemble walking statues!”
Leaving my initial encounter behind, I began strolling down the sandy path towards other watering holes, running the gauntlet of admirers at each. It seemed they were all working off the same tiresome script. What these charming hostesses fail to understand is that for us middle-aged men, eating is the activity we have real enthusiasm for. So instead of, say, Golden Showers, they should be trying to pervert us with Golden Arches.
Most confusing for me were the ones operating in pairs, offering a “special massage”. But who was going to be massaging who and when? I sat down on the beach with one of these duos and tried to map out the possibilities in the sand, but it ended up looking like an NFL punt return. All I could tell was I’d be in the center of the action, but there would be bodies coming at me from all sides.
In one instance I found only one of the women attractive. Wanting to get rid of the other (named Loi) via a tactful and seemingly fair process, I resorted to trickery:
“OK girls, this is a coin I’m going to flip. If it is “heads”, then Layla (all their names start with “L” for some reason) will go home with me and Loi stays here. If “tails”, Loi goes home with me and Layla stays. (I flip the coin.) It looks like… tai… oh darn it. I dropped it in the sand. We’ll have to try again!”
But Loi’s luck was a juggernaut that evening. Some twenty minutes and many lost coins later, I was still trying to eliminate her:
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a ni…, er, African-American by his toe…..”
As midnight approached:
“No Loi, you don’t understand. Scissors cuts rock!”
Finally exhaustion set in and I had to call it a night, but not before giving Loi some money to purchase tickets in the Philippine Lottery. I figured with her luck, she had at least a 50-50 chance of getting set for life, and without having to sleep with me. Above all things, one must know how to keep a woman happy!
Why is it that some countries are perpetual losers in the global economy? How are they able to stay mired in the economic sludge decade after de-cade? In my never-ending efforts to foster better understanding between cultures through sarcasm and ridicule, I thought I’d document the secrets of their lack of success.
1. A tropical location. The afternoon jungle heat and humidity. Cholera, malaria. I certainly wouldn’t feel like putting my nose to the grindstone. Would you?
2. A constitution easier to change than last week’s underwear. Yesterday’s tough, charismatic, pro-democracy president morphs into today’s tough, charismatic, totalitarian dictator.
3. Give Peace A Chance. With no external enemies to threaten and unite the population, hostilities quickly turn inwards, leading to tribal warfare and civil uprisings.
4. Have children like palm trees have coconuts. This puts a strain on the country’s resources; impoverishes young women; and insures an ever-expanding underclass.
5. We don’t need no education. You don’t have to be dumb to be a third world country, but it helps!
6. Blame someone (anyone) else. Colonialism, racism, the Dalai Lama…it doesn’t matter as long as it provides the country with ample reason to avoid serious self-examination.
But how, you may wonder, can we combine some or all of these in a dur-able form? The solution is simple and elegant: Be colonized by Spain, with its sterling traditions of shaky governments (#2), an inept military, an inablility to engage foreign opponents (#3), plus Roman Catholicism with its condom condemnations (#4). And when things inevitably fall apart, it is easy to point fingers back at the Spaniards (#6).
To rephrase an old saying: If you want something done right, you must do it yourself. But if it absolutely has to be done badly, if success is not an option, necessitas una persona de la Espanola.
Sex: Yes [_] No [_]
With Whom? M [_] F [_] Either [_] Both [_]
Reason For Visit
Business [_] Education [_] Tourism (wink, wink) [_]
Kindly Answer Below Questions
1. You bring sharp edged objects (like ex-spouse) into country? Y_ N_
2. You bringing bad drugs into country? Y_ N_
If answer no, would like to buy some?
3. You have any pornographic materials? Y_ N_
If no, why not? You want only to eat Thai food?
4. You carry more than $10,000 USD in currency or condoms? Y_ N_
5. Any vegetables? Y_ N_
Must not bring: Carrots, cucumbers, zucchinis. Make girls nervous.
6. How long be in Thailand?
a. 14 days.
b. 30 days.
c. Until I find a bar girl to go home with me.
==>Attention: Duty Free bar girls available in customs area!
d. Until the statute of limitations runs out back home.
Please write name if telling truth: __________________________
If not tell truth and only want women, write “Bill Clinton”.
We hope you visit give good memories.
Please again come when you healthy and have more money!
It is the beginning of calendar winter as the tropical morning sun peeks into my window, warming the room. Having declined to find a com-panion the evening before, I permit myself the luxury of sleeping in, stretching out over the double bed.
I am awakened, as I have been the past three mornings, by the frenzied warbling of some exotic bird. It sounds like he is right outside my win-dow, sharing with me his joy over the new day.
If he stays there any longer, I’m going to peg the noisy little bastard with a beer bottle.
But no, I had promised myself that I am stockpiling that ammunition for the local dog chorus whose performance begins around 10:30 each night in the vacant lot next to the apartment building. Usually it begins with an impassioned solo by a mixed-breed Rottweiler, reaching out to all other canines within hearing and inviting them to add their yelps of yearning.
For the second movement, two bedraggled Fox Terrier tenors from across the street add their mournful laments. Harmonizing with the Rottweiler like water in Gravy Train, the trio builds towards an irresistible, ragged crescendo that can briefly restore hearing loss.
It is the French Poodle’s staccato-like outbursts which define the third and final movement. Rising above the drawn-out howls, its endless yap-ping radiates a shrill warning for postmen everywhere. As the ferocity gathers, the maelstrom begins to crowd out all other night sounds. The universe has become an all-encompassing cacophony of barks and yelps from which there is no auditory escape.
The silence that follows the climax is stunning in its emptiness. Slowly, hesitantly, other animals begin filling the late evening with their gentler serenading. The simple chirping of the cricket, the lonely meow of a distant cat…..and the warbling of that damn bird!
My flung beer bottles from prior mornings having missed their target, my aforementioned little winged friend has become more pugnacious with shrill, predawn chirping; a kind of feathery alarm clock. But I am getting used to it, plus getting up in the tropics is a simple affair with a minimum of clothing and effort: roll out of bed, don a t-shirt and shorts, gulp a few swallows of beer along with a slice of leftover pizza (part of this com-plete breakfast!), and I am all set for the new day.
The rules at the apartment require the residents to leave their high heels, shoes, and sandals outside on the front steps. My half-decade-old tennies are always recognizable by the encircling pile of dead ants and roaches who ventured too close in the night. A Thai Pest Control company has contacted me about selling my footwear. I’m waiting until there are holes in the soles of both shoes.
But before I tally up the Nike body count, my first chore is to sneak by the lady in the lobby who handles the apartment business and serves as my informal Thai teacher. Every morning she has a new, practical, but largely incomprehensible phrase for me to learn, making me feel even more foolish than usual. Slipping past her unnoticed is the only reliable way of avoiding my lesson. I tread lightly and quickly.
First up is a stop at the local laundromat to pick up my clothes. For some inexplicable reason, each time I drop off my laundry, it takes them longer to do it. It used to be around twenty-four hours — ready by 10:00 a.m. the next day. Then the time slid to noon, and now it’s approaching late afternoon. At this rate I’ll soon be needing a lunar calendar to follow the schedule: drop off during the waxing crescent moon, pick up when it’s full.
There’s always some uncertainty about the garments I’m getting back. This time I am surprised to re-discover my ragged Las Vegas t-shirt! This had disappeared after the last cleaning, and I’d assumed Thai health codes had forced the laundress to condemn it. But no, it had been simply misplaced. Perhaps to atone for that mistake, the woman has this time added a pair of low-cut, white socks with ‘Elvis’ labels on them. Out of curiosity I try them on, and the fit is so comfortable I decide not to make a fuss.
There is a spring in my step as I continue down the street, now attired in the latest Thai fashion. Elvis has left the laundromat!
Twenty-one years as a programmer have infected me with a technology craving, satiated through a few hours in an internet cafe. On Youtube, I bring up Al Stewart’s 1977 song of Asian infatuation (Year of the Cat) and let the haunting melody and searing instrument solos wash over me while I check my messages, my gaze continually sliding off the screen towards the Thai waitresses. Being in the midst of the real thing causes the tune to resonate in a way that no video could hope to achieve. Soft memories from my college days (when the word “cat” referred to a pet) overlap with the pleasures of the present. The immature, twenty-year-old, girl-crazy student merges with the immature, fifty-something, salivating old man I have proudly become. True lust never dies!
Following the morning’s chores (and a lunch at McDs), it is time for a well-deserved afternoon siesta. To combat the stifling heat in my room, I position an electric fan no more than five inches from my head and set it on high. Calvin Coolidge, the largely inert thirtieth president of the Unit-ed States, made a habit of these kinds of snooze sessions. Imagine nap-ping in the White House… A man must never lose sight of his dreams.
For the evening, I decide to stay home and watch some sports on TV. I’ve become especially interested in the game of cricket after having seen a televised match while in Cape Town early last year. Last week I was able to tune in and catch the end of it. There’s a new match this week between the Aussies and England, but I may be in the U.S. in eighteen month’s time and will therefore not be able to catch the conclusion.
Eventually, middle-aged drowsiness and the sudden barking of the dogs beneath my window signals it is time for bed. I re-position my shorts and t-shirts on the same chair as the night before, pour all the leftover beer into a single bottle, and stuff the three slices of pizza into the vegetable bin of the refrigerator (they do after all have green peppers). With my valuables thus safely secured and my earplugs in, I sleep soundly.
Being a former I.T. person, I realize my Thai woman-chasing essays may be confusing for my fellow middle-aged programmers. To assist them in their own shy and awkward efforts, I’ve written some instructions in the
“ancient” COBOL programming language.
* ** Controlling function. * 1000-DATE-WITH-THAI-LADY. PERFORM 1100-EVALUATE-HER-ACTION THRU 1100-EXIT * ** Anything wrong with her? * IF ACTION-IS-WEIRD OR ACTION-IS-HOMICIDAL IF ACTION-MAKES-YOU-HORNY CONTINUE ELSE PERFORM 9999-ABEND-RELATIONSHIP THRU 9999-EXIT END-IF END-IF * ** How smart is she? * PERFORM 1200-IQ-CHECK THRU 1200-EXIT EVALUATE TRUE WHEN DATE-IS-BIMBO SET STATUS-EASY-SAILING TO TRUE CALL MAKE-YOUR-MOVE USING NICE-SMILE-EXPRESSION, SWEET-TALK-VOICE, CHEAP-BEER END-CALL WHEN DATE-HAS-SOME-SMARTS SET STATUS-BE-CAREFUL TO TRUE CALL MAKE-YOUR-MOVE USING CONFIDENT-EXPRESSION, CULTURED-VOICE, FRENCH-SOUNDING-WINE END-CALL * ** Oops! Not a woman. Abandon ship! * WHEN DATE-IS-A-LADYBOY INITIATE EMERGENCY-SHUTDOWN GO TO 1000-EXIT END-EVALUATE . 1000-EXIT. EXIT.
“Nice to meet you. My name Neon.”
When entering a Thailand watering hole, I first look for a pool table, then a halfway cute partner. Failure to select someone means you will likely be paired with one of the less attractive girls while the bar proprietor keeps the “lookers” stationed out front to draw in more suckers. Neon clearly stood out, then further impressed me by taking one out of three games of Eight Ball. As one who has little patience with women who whiff shots then giggle uncontrollably, her left-handed, no-nonsense pool stroke was refreshing. I quickly bought her a beer as I nursed a Jim Beam and coke.
Unlike the U.S., when you buy a woman a drink in a Thai bar, the question is not if she will go home with you but when. It definitely cuts through the BS one runs across back home and most important, elimin-ates the need for the guy to have some dynamite pickup line. (Me, I could not talk an alcoholic into entering a liquor store.)
With the booze flowing, we soon were having a merry time, not really caring who won each game. Soon I broached the idea of our going home together, with Neon quickly consenting. Paying her bar fine (the fee for taking a girl out of the establishment), I gallantly escorted her around the corner and up the street to my studio apartment.
In my room I already had the usual weapons of mass romance in place: candles, Elton John’s greatest hits, a used towel immaculately folded, a used toothbrush carefully inserted back into its wrapper… For one frigh-tening moment I feared I had misplaced the condoms, but when I brushed against my suitcase and it rebounded off the wall, I realized where they were.
Nevertheless, there was one unforgivable oversight: I had forgotten the wine! What was Neon going to think, entering an apartment that lacked a robust Chardonnay?
There are moments in your life when you stand at the precipice. When the difference between ruin and redemption hinge on a few well-chosen words.
Neon supplied them: “You have whiskey?” A pretty, lithe, brown woman with a mischievous smile asking if I had hard liquor?!?! This was beyond anything I had ever fantasized about. Nervously, I suggested that though I was out at the moment, perhaps a run to the nearby 7-11 could be done to pick up a bottle (or two or three).
Neon said that was fine and while I was out she would take a shower.
The neighborhood 7-11 is right around one hundred meters from the front gate of my apartment building. I made it there in .03 of a second under the gold medal time at the Beijing Olympics.
Arriving back at the love nest with the booze, I immediately poured her a Seagram’s and water, then hurriedly took a shower of my own. A few minutes later I was back in the room and noticed her empty glass.
This concerned me. Had she spilled it? Seeing no evidence, I decided to make her a second drink and stood slack-jawed as it quickly vanished.
“I corny! You make me very corny!”, Neon suddenly and repeatedly ex-claimed as she climbed onto the bed and began sliding towards me. (And just what the hell was she saying? Horny?)
To my horror, and far too late, I realized the monster I’d created. Grab-bing the Seagram’s bottle (the one non-organic object with a chance of sustaining her attention), I slowly backed into the bathroom. In a last, desperate attempt to stave off a sexual version of the Alamo, I raised it over my head. “Stop!” I cried, trying to keep the terror out of my voice. “You try boom-boom me, no drink more whiskey!”.
My neighbor found me the next morning. The door was partly open and I was curled up in a fetal position in a corner of the room, mumbling some-thing about Davey Crockett. I was taken by a friend to a local physician who prescribed some sedatives while gently poo-pooing the idea of a woman with an uncontrollable sex drive. While intrigued to have met a Thai who had obviously married an American girl from the Midwest, I nevertheless tried to convince him of the lethality of the local species and the need to warn other foreigners. But it was an exercise in futility. Find-ing his condescending attitude infuriating, I finally stormed out of the office.
That afternoon I left an envelope addressed to Neon at her bar. Inside was the doctor’s business card. I figured he deserved a walk on the wild side.