I'm getting better / shoot toilet

I’m getting better, I think. After spending all yesterday sleeping, coughing, blowing my nose, and taking anonymous Korean medication; I woke up this morning feeling slightly less stuffed/congested than I was. I don’t want to be sick for Christmas, and I certainly don’t want to be sick for my impending trip to Israel. I’m going back to work this afternoon, and I’m hoping that my return to relative activity will help in the healing process.

Christmas is in two days, but it sure don’t feel like it. The only things that remind me of the holiday season here are the carols echoing in through my apartment window from the Korean Army Base (I think), the unusual commercials that air on the Armed Forces Network, and the Institute — small Christmas tree and excited children and all. I haven’t been to many stores lately, although I don’t think there’s the same commercial bombardment as occurs in America this time of year. In America Christmas is all about the sale, in Korea it’s still about that Jesus Christ fella’s birthday… pardon my cynicism.

Orange Alert — another good reason to be in South Korea for the 2004 holiday season. There’s talk that it’ll continue until the end of January. Sleep tight, America — load gun, place under pillow, drink eggnog, shoot toilet. I’ll be sleeping like a wee baby over here in South Korea — just a short drive from one of the few remaining totalitarian communist regimes left in the world, shiny new nuclear weapons at the ready. My pillow is soft and comfortable.

I'm sick.

I’m sick. I don’t think it has anything to do with the ddong-chim I received late last week, but one can never be sure.



I got ddong-chimmed today. I had been repeatedly warned about this strange activity by other foreign teachers here, but I never thought I would actually live to experience the magic for myself. Ahh… wrong again. A “ddong-chim” is when a Korean child (usually) clasps his hands together as if praying, but with the forefingers pointing up and pressed together, and then sneaks behind his victim and tries to shove the fingers as far up his/her butt as possible. Loosely translated, the word “ddong” means “shit” and the word “chim” means “needle” — so, “ddong-chim” = shit needle. If you’re having trouble putting this together, or if you just want me to type it out — a Korean child tried to stick his fingers up my butt this afternoon, it was surprising and unpleasant, and I made it very clear that he should never do it again.


This week, I’ve been reading “The Night Before Christmas” with some of my students and singing “Jingle Bells” with the other ones (the ones who can’t read as well). Reactions to “The Night Before Christmas” have been mixed — my adult students seem interested because I have told them how popular the story is in America, my teenage students (for the most part) don’t seem to find the story all that interesting (aside from the “bowl full of jelly” simile, which they find strangely amusing). I’ve come to realize that I really don’t know what the “down of a thistle” is, and that it’s very hard to explain “I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.” As for “Jingle Bells” — so far I’ve only taught the first verse (“Dashing through the snow…”), so it’s gone over smashingly. I’m afraid to attempt the obscure second verse, mostly for fear I will have to explain the non-word “upsot.”

Today I learned that Korean students (elementary to high school) stay in the same room all day, and between classes their teachers switch rooms and come to them. Does this seemingly small educational difference somehow exemplify a larger, more essential, difference between the East and the West? I feel like it may, although I have thus far been unable to ascertain exactly what it might be.


I arrived in Korea two months ago today, and last night this website received it’s 5000th hit. To celebrate these two pseudo-milestones, I present you with a list of Google/Yahoo! searches that have led people to my site:

what is in tropicana orange juice
work dreams
“jessica lynch” photogenic
retarded dog
korean toothpaste
come from Mars
what does it mean when a person is anxious
urine and dog
dog getting sick
kim chee and pregnant women
dog meat disturbing pictures
cell phone for handicapped
michael jackson’s favorite food
treatment for anxious dogs

I’m still waiting for someone to search for “retarded Korean urine” for which my site is the first two results. I’ll be sure to let you know when it happens.

the truth

Saddam Hussein has finally been captured, and I’ll be the first to say that this is a good thing — both for the Iraqi people and for the world at large. Actually, no… I’m not the first to say this, nearly everyone seems to be saying this — over and over and over. And it is true, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, there is no question about this, and the world is inevitably a better place with one less bad guy in charge of a part of it. However…

I am afraid that this is going to overshadow the facts of this war, or the lack thereof. We went to war based on a series of assertions made by our president and those around him about the imminent danger that Iraq and Saddam Hussein presented to the United States and the rest of the world. These assertions have yet to be substantiated by evidence, and it’s doubtful they ever will be. The truth is, the decision to go to war with Iraq was made soon after the September 11th attacks, and the administration needed to convince/frighten the populous into going along with it. It worked so well that most Americans now believe that Saddam Hussein played a part in September 11th, despite the administration’s claims to the contrary.

Then again, I might be wrong. Perhaps when they interrogate Saddam we’ll learn that all the stories about his weapons of mass destruction our government told us were true, and that Saddam was really a very skilled hider of missles and chemical factories. When this happens, I’ll be the first to say I’m surprised.

masking my frustration

Went to Seoul yesterday to do this voice-over job that I came across on the internet. A Korean cell phone company wanted to record some Westerners saying names and phone numbers (in English) to use in developing voice recognition software for their phones, or some such thing. They were promising a good sum of money in cash for doing only an hour’s worth of work, so I signed up. I took the subway to Seoul, and after a bit of getting lost I finally found the office (“Ad Sound”). I was scheduled to do the recording from 5 to 6 p.m., so I got there at about 4:45 to be on the safe side. Five minutes after I got there I was told that they were running late so my appointment would be about 5:40. I sat down at a table in the lobby of this office and talked to a Canadian woman who had been waiting for about a half-hour for her appointment to start. At 5:55, someone finally came and said that they were ready for me, so I went into a small recording booth with a young Korean woman and sat down. The woman explained exactly what I was to do, and I started reading this list of names into these cell phones. After reading about twelve names she tells me that I’m doing it wrong, so we start re-recording things over and over again, and I start masking my frustration. After fifteen minutes we’re only about halfway through the first page (out of about fifteen), and I’m beginning to realize that this is going to take longer than an hour to finish. I explain to the woman that I was told this would only take one hour, and that I can’t talk any other way, and if they were looking for a certain kind of western voice then they should have screened me before I came all the way down here. At this point she hesitantly tells me that they can’t use my voice at all, so I thank her for wasting my time and I head for the door. As I’m leaving she comes up and hands me an envelope containing a fourth of the amount I was promised, and I consider arguing for the rest — I had fulfilled my part of the deal, and it wasn’t my fault they couldn’t use my voice — but I decided it would likely be futile. I just left, all pissed-off like, and took the subway to Itaewon to get drunk.

I met a friend of a friend, Courtney, and we ended up at a cavernous little martini bar called “BricX” (reminded me of “La Cave du Vin“, which was a nice reminding). Got drunk on martinis, called our mutual friend in Ohio, and molested a small snowman… good times. Unfortunately, I had to leave at 11 to make the last subway back to Incheon, which was actually a good thing — if I’d stayed for another drink I would have had trouble finding my feet, let alone the subway.

Now it’s Sunday again, and in two weeks I’ll be in Israel. Can’t can’t can’t wait, no sir.

Would it burn skin?

I haven’t been posting as much this week, although it’s not for a lack of things to write about. I’ve got plenty of things to write about — I’m living in South Korea. The problem is that the more I get used to my life here, the harder it becomes to sort out the interesting from the uninteresting. The trouble with working in a foreign country, as opposed to simply visiting one, is that working allows life to become mundane. When you’re traveling, the word mundane isn’t even a consideration. I’m not complaining, really, as working here has (and surely will) open up a whole realm of experiences that traveling would not. Ideally, I suppose I’d like the experiences without the work, but the work is the experience, or the experience is the work… actually, it’s the money I’d like without the work. Yeah.

Work experiences…

Last week I went to the Incheon Water Plant with the kindergartners, which is where I assume they clean the water. It was, and still is, confusing to me because the tap water isn’t potable here. Do they just clean it a little bit and then stop? How do they decide how much to clean it, I wonder. I mean, how bad would the water here be if they didn’t clean it at all? Would it burn skin?

This week I went to a Korean fire station with the kindergartners, which was far less confusing than the Incheon Water Plant. Red fire trucks, fire proof coats, firemen, ladders… just like an American fire station, except with Korean firemen and Korean words on the trucks. This I understand.