Friday, January 30, 2009

The taking of mental pictures is strictly forbidden

(Believe me, you do not want to see a more on-topic photo.)

I really like my health club so far. It's very plush, it has all the latest equipment, and best of all, it's upstairs from work, so I have no excuse not to go. The process of getting into it works off a few calories in itself. The men's lockers are on the sixth floor, the women's on the fourth. (Remember that, because I like to end a post with a smartass remark.) You take the elevator to your floor (because God knows you wouldn't want to walk up the stairs before your workout), walk past the guy shining shoes, take off your street shoes in the lobby, put them in a little locker, take the key and turn it in at the desk, get a coiled bracelet with a magnetic key to a real locker, change into the workout clothes you pick up there (you don't bring your own), take the elevator inside the club to the seventh floor, then sit on a couch and put on your workout shoes. At the end of your session, you do it all in reverse, but don't forget to include a Jaaaaahcuzi and a saaaaahna.

In three days, I've run on the treadmill twice (they have 50 or so lined up, each with its own tv), used the stationary bike once, and messed around with the weight machines once. Fortunately, all of the machines are American-made and have English text and, in the case of the weight machines, diagrams. This as just as well, as I'm fully capable of simultaneously breaking both a machine and myself. A trainer who spoke just enough English (more... elbow... slow) also helped with that and managed not to laugh at me. I'm embarrassed by my hamster-like upper-body strength, but that's part of why I joined. (Also, largely, to lose 20 pounds. [Largely, get it?])

Speaking of barrassed, I've never been a fan of mass nudity, especially of men, especially especially of me. Besides, I'm taller than 99+ percent of Korean men and rounder than 99+ percent (there are very, very few overweight Koreans), so I outweigh 999 out of 100 locals. I feel like a damn bear.

However, I have found a way (or a weigh) to be exactly 100 lighter on the scales: read the results in kilograms. (Today's fun challenge: do the math and figure out how heavy I am.)

I try to suck in my gut when I'm in the locker room, but it makes my head bulge. I just try to dissociate myself from the situation, as I do when I see tanks overcrammed with fish or eels waiting to be killed or as I did on my long, long, long flight. (I'm an absolute ninny when it comes to flying.)

I do like seeing guys in the Jacuzzi reading (laminated) newspapers.

All around me, there are guys showering (both at stand-up showers and on little plastic stools by sit-down facilities [for God's sake, I'm begging you, don't forget to pick up a thin cloth to sit on]), saunaing, whirlpooling, naked, of course. Sprawling around in an easy chair, watching tv? Naked. (You think Archie Bunker ever did that?) On a chair, reading the newspaper? Naked. Drying off in a primping room equipped with skin lotions, hair, gels, sanitized hairbrushes, huge mirrors fore, aft, and on both sides, and 2000-watt lights? Naked. I'm not used to it yet, though I am grateful that, first, none of these guys knows me or will ever see me again once I leave here, and secondly, that I can't see very far without my glasses.

I gotta see if they'll let me go to the fourth floor instead.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hope on and off freely

Okay, we have three contenders for this week's Eanglish Trophy:

On my new scales- "The glass and your feet do not be wetted with water in order to a void you slide down!"

(I don't want to slide down the void!)


On "Cat Food Premium & Pet Snack Hairball Snack include fresh fish meat": "Excellent effect of restrict the cat's feces and pee. Including dietary fiber, protecting Obesity and Hairball".

(My cats are Tug and Tiki, though I admit Obesity and Hairball would be pretty cool names.)

But my favorite, I think, is on the brochure for the Daegu City Tour Bus: "Hope on and off freely."

I do.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The buk starts here

Tomorrow (Monday) is the biggest holiday in the Korean calendar, Lunar New Year. (In the States, we mostly call in Chinese New Year, if we think of it at all.) Because of the three-day holiday, a lot of the students in our Saturday morning Korean language class are traveling, so we didn't have a regular class. Instead, we had a Korean culture class, in particular a session playing the buk, the traditional Korean drum.

It was so. Much. Fun.

We had an energetic, expert guy showing us how to play. His English was quite good, but there was also a woman interpreting when needed. They had a whiteboard with two huge sheets of paper hung on it, with a couple of dozen lines of an odd music notation: RlRlLR LRLrlr and so on. (Actually, they were all capital letters, many of them with circles around them, which I'm representing as lower-case letters, since I can't find the Circle-L and Circle-R keys... maybe I should have bought a desktop computer.)

Every plain R and L was the sign to hit the drumhead with the stick in your right or left hand. (You, with your erudite musical mind, may have guessed that already.) The circled letters represented hitting the wooden rim. The feeling of doing it right, of playing a long succession of bangs and tocks correctly, in conjunction with all the others in the room, was terrific. I've never been much for percussion, but I love the sound of buks played in unison. Did you see the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics? It sounded like that, to the degree that 20 novice expats in a YMCA meeting room can sound like thousands of Chinese virtuosos in a multimillion-yuan stadium.

We learned to strike the drumhead with a crisscross pattern, to give a little tap with the left stick and an overhead wallop with the right, and even to end with a flourish, yelling hoi! and finishing with our right-hand drumsticks overhead.

I wish I could explain it better; just saying how satisfying it was to end a two-hour class with a bang BOOM bang BOOM tock tock BOOMBOOM BOOM hoi! BOOM isn't vivid enough.

I want to spend my nights practicing the buk in my apartment. Do you think the cats would mind?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Of the people, by the people, for the people

(This is a Wordle I made from the inaugural speech on

My inaugural experience was rather more solitary than my election day. I got home from work around 10:30 p.m., three and a half hours before the swearing-in. I had my night all planned: sign on to and click on their Facebook app, where I could watch all the festivities in one window while chatting with my friends (in a second window) and reading what the world at large had to say (in a third). Piece of pie. Easy as cake.

But... the dreaded words came up on my screen: "We're sorry; video is not available in your area." (It was on election night.) Ack! So much for sharing the experience. Okay, then... I'll go to, which has an :: ahem :: unauthorized feed of CNN. That'll do. Only it's not working. no live feed. This doesn't look good.

By 11:30 (T minus 2.5 hours) I'm all cursed out and try again... they're online live! There's Keith and Rachel and Chris and the whole gang! Yay, Keith! Yay, Rachel! STFU, Chris! He's bloviating over every arrival onscreen, mostly about people's HATS, for some reason, and embarrassing everybody by trumpeting how MSNBC is the network of the 21st century. Still, I'm all set.

...and the time is going by quite agreeably, the feed's working fine, I've got a pot of coffee and a lap of cat, the VIPs are on the platform and oh-my-God-look-at-all-the-people and it's T minus 10 minutes and I'm all excited and MSNBC freezes up as solid as the Arctic used to. (Personally, I blame Bush for the freeze and the melt.)

In desperation, I flip on the tv and three channels are carrying it live! Nice clear visuals, too. Channel 10 has a guy babbling over the original feed, very loudly, in Korean. Channel 8, ditto. Channel 6, a woman, babbling not quite so loudly; I can actually, if I concentrate, hear what's being said on the platform. Very annoying, but the best I can do. I only wish I could really focus on the oath and the inaugural speech.

Fifteen minutes into the speech, my computer dings. It's Micah, across town, Skype-texting me: he can't get on and what can he do? It pops into my head:! So I tell him, it works, I go DUUUUUUUH and turn off the tv and go to and hear the last five minutes of the speech. What a doof.

But at least I didn't lead the new president (President Obama!) into messing up the oath of office.

And, although that last line makes a nice, sardonic ending to a post, I have to say that I was very moved, not so much by the ceremony as by the endless stream of hopeful, happy Americans. I got something in my eye a couple of times.

I know this is a cliche by now, but here it is: I'm proud to be an American. It's been awhile.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tiki Tiki boom boom

(Tug says, "As a matter of fact, I am the boss of you.")

The three cat women (not Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Merriwether) finally came yesterday to visit their erstwhile charges, and as expected, since I haven't had any guests since I got the boys, Tiki (the scaredy cat) freaked. He went ripping madly around like a furry pinball, running along the walls like an atom in a cyclotron, ripping down the plastic sheeting at eye level (my eye level, not his) on my window, caroming off the stovetop and ensconcing himself behind the microwave on top of the fridge. It was very much like my favorite scene in Tom Sawyer, in which Tom feeds a spoonful of his medicine to the cat, which goes ripping around like... well, like Tiki... and sails, yowling triumphantly, out the window.

Once I extricated the Teekster, he was okay. He allowed himself to be petted without struggle, though he did hide his head in the crook of the lady's elbow, muttering "I'm not here. I'm not here." Tug, of course, was considerably cooler. I had wondered what the ladies and I could possibly talk about, especially as only one of the three speaks English, but they stayed an hour and mostly the head cat lady just kept nuzzling Tiki and murmuring, "Koya, koya" (kitty, kitty). They connected the dotes and decided that Tiki and Tugeu (as they call him) have a good life with me.


I've gotten a reputation among the LIKE teachers as the social director. (Yeah, I know; I'm about as social as Ted Katcynski.) In not quite five months, I've arranged for some people to watch the election returns at my apartment and I passed on email about the Christmas buffet. Be that as it may, I did send out invites for dinner downtown last evening, not knowing if we'd end up with two people or ten. Turns out Ray, Joanna (new girl at the Samduk school) and I went out for coffee, bought movie tickets for Yes Man (yeah, I saw it already; shut up), bumped into Kristen (newish teacher at Manchon), had pizza together, and went to the movies, three of us to Yes Man and Kristen to Twilight. Then Ray and Joanna went back to the dorm, I went to Kyobo books and bumped into both Kristen (again) and a guy from Sayre, Pennsylvania, right near Ithaca, who saw my "Ithaca is Gorges" sweatshirt... and I found the British paperback of the last Harry Potter book. For me, all this is a dizzying social whirl. Social director, my flat... never mind.


I guess enough time has gone by for me to not be too embarrassed to tell you something totally insane I did on my first night here. George and Glory had picked me up at the airport, brought me to the apartment, driven me on dark, winding streets to E-Mart (where there was a crazy Korean pushing a shopping cart every foot and a half and an army of employees screaming "Come buy my battered octopus or I'll kill you" in Korean) and bought me an odd assortment of stuff... soy milk but no cereal, bread but no butter, and so on. Then they dropped me back at the apartment and left. So.

Here I was, pacing alone in this strange apartment at 11 p.m. (10 a.m. on my body clock), having, in the previous two days, driven from St. Augustine to Atlanta (for my work visa) and back, gotten back home at 10 p.m., gone to bed at midnight, gotten up at 4 a.m. to make my flight in Jax, and made a 26-hour trip. I was half past exhausted and wired like a terrier on speed, and had the brilliant idea to walk back to E-Mart and complement my compliment of food. I thought I kinda sorta knew the way back there. (This was a spectacularly stupid decision, as I can't find the bathroom in a new place without a GPS.)

I walked a block, saw a cab, made the split-second decision to take it, and madly tried to scribble down "Go three blocks, turn past the school..." I bought some more stuff, realized that I couldn't get another cab back because I had no address to give the cabbie, and guessed my way back. I walked for 15 minutes along my best guess of a route, turned down a hilly street I thought might just be the right one (it wasn't), and turned back and walked most of the way back to E-Mart to try again. All this was while I was simultaneously half asleep and fully wired, of course. This time, miraculously, I found the apartment, a bit past midnight. (The first time, I had turned around one block too soon.) Well, actually I found my neighbor's gate, which looks just like mine, but I made it. What in the name of Syngman Rhee would I have done if I hadn't found the place? Wandered the streets all night? Checked into a hotel and called George in the morning? The mind boggles.

I toppled twitching into bed at 1 a.m., woke up at 4 a.m., fresh as a dead daisy, hung over with jet lag and exhaustipation, and went to work for the first time and got my photo taken, looking like Eeyore on a bad day. (This is the photo that hangs in the school lobby now, of course.)

And now you know.


Luke and I have had two Saturday-morning Korean lessons so far. They've gone pretty well, as I already knew 95 percent of what we've covered (vowels one week, consonants the next). I have learned to say "Seu-tee-beu yay-yo." (My name is Steve.)

The coming weekend is the biggest holiday on the Korean calendar, Lunar New Year. We have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off work, though Heeduk's asked me to come in for a little while on Saturday. The regular Korean class won't be held, though I'm attending their special cultural class, where we'll learn Korean drumming. I've seen the sheet music; it reads "BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM". The teacher says we'll be learning "drumming like Nanta".

Nanta is astonishing. Between Christmas and New Year, the school gave Ray, Luke, and me tickets to Nanta's show at the Daegu Opera House. It's a huge Korean tradition, mixing slapstick, juggling, magic, more slapstick, and drums drums drums. And kitchen knives kitchen knives kitchen knives. And a lot of flying vegetables. We had fantastic tickets, third row center, so close I was scared they'd pluck me from the audience for their mock Korean wedding. It was a pretty astounding show. They have five troupes at all times, playing all over East Asia, and I found out later I'd heard of it before; it was a hit off-Broadway under the name "Cookin'".

So after next Saturday, when I'm all trained, come see me in New York, okay?


Finally, finally, after ten days of a cold and two weeks of the flu, I think I'm all better today. I'll be testing my energy level soon, as the 37-year GWB presidency will end in 37 hours (as I write this), and I wouldn't miss the inauguration for the world. I'll be up till maybe 3 a.m. Wednesday to watch it, and it will be worth every minute. I'll probably be pretty wired at 3 a.m. Sadly, E-Mart closes at midnight, so I'll be on my own.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Now is the winter of our discontent

I've had a pretty severe case of the flu for about six days now; for awhile it felt like my worst ever, although it was probably just the first one I was on my own for. It's hard when there's nobody to feel your forehead and bring you noodle soup. I missed one whole day of work and two other days had my schedule cut to one session. I went to the hospital on Friday to see Dr. Synn, who speaks excellent English and who's a distant relative of Heeduk's; he prescribed pills and told me not to go to my first Korean language class and to school on Saturday, as it could turn to pneumonia. I went anyway, of course, and afterward checked in with him and he said I'm enough better that I won't have to come back for another checkup. I don't feel remarkably better yet.

The weather is brutal. The wind moans, the windows rattle. I was going to walk the 3/4 mile to E-Mart today for food, but after a block, with my face numb, I turned around and just got a few things at the mom-n-pop two blocks from home. I spend most of my time in the den, two feet in front of the electic heater; Tug likes rubbing his cheek against the wire heater cover as it rotates past.

(The cats are doing great, btw; today's the first day Tiki's joined Tug in lounging on the furniture rather than under it, and the boys are wrestling together and grooming each other. I guess they finally feel at home. However, as the tenor of this post is to be grumpy, I won't mention them.) (Damn.)

It seems everyone's dissatisfied. Ray always seemed so cheerful, but he's tired of Korea (after six months) and is talking about returning to the States to help at a little inner-city church in Oakland. Luke told me he's sick of LIKE and may skip to another hagwon when his first six months is up. A girl named Nicole started a few months ago at the Samduk branch and had some kind of run-in with somebody; she took off in the middle of the night, without her passport, which we all have to hand in to get our alien cards, or an alien card. I don't think she can leave the country.

It seems for the most part that the people who are the most discontented are the ones who work mostly with the little kids. It's very wearing when so many of them are rude and it feels as if there's no positive feedback. Fortunately, I'm working almost exclusively with SAT prep and such, which is what I need. I helped one boy last week with his application essays for Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Rice, and (ta-da!) Cornell.

Aside from the cats, it's just one of those times where everything is a drag: that movie shoot I mentioned got moved to Saturday, so I'm out; I spent the morning, flu and all, cleaning house so the ladies I got the cats from could come visit, only to have them cancel when they found I've been sick; got nothing I want to read, nothing good on tv, my Giants have a huge playoff game-- at 3 a.m., and I'm ugly.

...and sometimes I wonder if anybody's still reading the blog...

(Pathetic, ain't I.)

Oh, and I made myself some French toast, like my mom always used to do on Sunday nights when I was a kid, and felt better. Can't find Lassie on the tube, though.

My friend Suzanne was so right when she said I need somebody who cares when I come home. Thank God for Tug and Tiki. And French toast.

It's been that kind of Sunday

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lightning strikes twice?

I just signed up with the Daegu Friendship Club on Facebook for a trip in two weeks to be a background extra on some movie about a Korean champion at the recent Beijing Olympics. They want 100 foreigners living in Daegu to take a three-hour bus ride and be in the "Olympic" crowd. No pay, but free transportation, lunch, and after-shoot booze.

After my triumph in "The Celestine Prophecy" (if you're one of the three people who saw it, you no doubt recognized me as the tall shape hugging the short shape in the background of the final scene), I hope they pick me so I can resume my show-biz career. I've been in more movies, and won as many Oscars, this decade as Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, Tom Mix, and Lillian Gish. Combined!

Oh, speaking of Gish, I saw Annabeth Gish on the "Celestine" shoot. She won't admit she saw me... the gossip mags, you know.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

It took four months

...but the Ministry of Education finally recognized my contributions.Modesty forbids my telling you what a great teacher I am. But if you want to take it from the Korean government...

Did you ever...

...have a Sunday off and be nursing a cold, surfing the net for hours because you lacked the will to do anything useful, and wishing somebody would come make you some soup without dead animals in it, knowing it would be a bad idea to exhaust yourself by going running, so you eventually just went out and walked around in the chilly January air, deciding corner-by-corner whether to turn for home or keep walking with no particular destination or purpose, hearing snatches of Robert Frost's Acquainted with the Night running through your head, feeling sorry it was the middle of the night back in the States and wishing some friend with insomnia would call, then eventually buying some eggs and soy milk at E-Mart and wandering home, somehow better for the walk?

Yeah, me neither.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Back from the future

As I write this, it's 2009 in Korea, 2008 in the States, and I just want to say I'm glad that in 2009 we stopped global warming , got Detroit back on its feet, straightened out the economy, and kicked the Yankees out of the American League.

Can't wait till you join me in this Utopian New Year!

Oh, I forgot. It was great when you went vegetarian this year. That was so cool.