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8 June 2005

The Twins Are Out!

So they're finally out into the world of the non-womb. Shiho had her Caesarian and is doing fine; she can't really walk yet but she'll no doubt soon recover. The twins are each in their separate incubators and will be for a week or so.

Mickey (older brother) and Milo (younger brother) came into this world yesterday afternoon around two o'clock. I was not permitted to watch the operation and had to remain outside.

After the twins were born, I felt torn between two different emotions. On the one hand, I was grateful to the hospital staff for the safe delivery of our babies and the professional care they provided (and continue to provide). On the other hand, I was seething with hostility for the ivory-clad doctors and nurses who prevented me from being with my kids. I wasn't allowed to pick them up and cuddle them; I was only permitted to touch them through the incubator portholes.

I fully understand that these rules exist for my children's safety, so please don't feel the need to explain the logic behind them. All I want is for people to empathize. A deeply atavistic part of my nature strongly resented and rebelled at the reserved, aseptic officialism which formed a wall between me and my offspring. Things were better today, as I had calmed down a lot. I was also allowed to hold Mickey. Milo, however, is coping with a slight irregularity in his breathing (nothing worrisome), and cannot yet come out of the plastic cage.

The main thoughts on my mind now are (a) that I don't want to be at work, and (b) that I can't wait for the twins to come home. Here are the twins' very first photos:

Here they are right after the delivery.

Two photos of Milo. Milo came out second, so he is the "younger" sibling. At birth, he weighed about 280 grams more than Mickey.

And here's Mickey. Mickey was more active in the womb than his brother. The doctors say it's because he had more space to move around.

That's all for now. Check back later for more updates!


2 June 2005

Codename: Operation Corvid

Yesterday saw me running around JR Utsunomiya Station in a frenzied heat. The reason? I found another bird. This time it was a crow. There's a lot to tell here but I will stick to the main facts.

As I was walking towards the train station, I was startled by a dive-bombing crow. "Hmm," I wondered, "They must be nesting here. Silly crows. They should be able to read my intentions. I love animals." A few paces later I discovered the real reason for the dive bombing: a blue-eyed simp was wandering around down at ground level. He looked confused and dazed.

Our crow wasn't really a baby; he was more like an adolescent. He didn't appear injured and he looked old enough to fly. My guess was that he had fallen during flight training.

Meanwhile, the enraged parents continued to menace both me and other passers-by. The baby had hopped over to the entrance of a nearby McDonald's. Initially, with the intention of taking him home, I tried grabbing him like I did Bbobbi, but he was so big, struggled so much (thankfully without biting me), and let out such scary squawks and cries that I lost heart and almost gave up. Another idea quickly came to me, though. I went in the McDonald's and asked for a cardboard box, all the while keeping my eye on the nonplussed adolescent outside, who remained motionless in a side street. "Please don't let a car get him," I pleaded with the Fates.

Shortly after, I ran outside with the box and managed to trap the crow inside. My plan was to bring the teenage crow to the roof of the building beside which I had found him. An oyaji showed me the stairs that led to the top. Once up there, I let him go. The parents were watching me all the while.

Heading back to the station, I boarded a bus, which remained stationary for a few minutes, engine idling. Looking out the window, I could just see the crow on the roof. For some reason, he was walking around the edge of the roof. "Don't jump down, guy!"

And then I couldn't see the parents anymore. Where had they gone? Just as the bus left the station and rounded the corner, I saw our little hero flap his wings and head (presumably) towards the center of the roof.

Looking back, I think I did the right thing. His parents, when they return, should be able to feed him up there, and maybe he can learn to fly this time. I had thought about taking him home, but this guy was big. Twice as big as the crows of my hometown Vancouver. And with a big, intimidating beak to match. I don't think he belonged in my apartment.

By the Chinese Zodiac, it's the year of the bird. So far, it's turning out to be a very birdy year indeed. Without further ado, here are the pictures of the event.

Here's the blue-eyed baby on the roof, after I let him go.

Here's mom or dad anxiously looking out for baby.

Here's baby wandering around on the roof after I descended.

Here are some of the many sarariman who were curious about the raucous goings-on below.

P.S. Here is a photo of my home gym. A week ago, I equipped it myself, from carpet to barbells. I also assembled the bench you see there. The gym scene in Japan was too restrictive for my tastes. The two gyms I went to both run about $100 a month, and they have a bunch of unpleasant and ridiculous restrictions, like the fact that from the third month of membership you can only pay through automatic deduction from your bank account. The first two months of membership have to be paid up front (you cannot choose one month only, and you can't just drop in for a day) in cash. Well, two weeks ago, I didn't have cash (still don't), and I didn't have a bank account (and I couldn't get one at that time because I was still waiting for my alien registration card). Fatuous.

One of the two gyms, located at Bell Mall, is supposedly the biggest one in Utsunomiya. They had a nice range of dumbbells, but absolutely no other free weights. No bench press, no barbells to lug around, no chin-up or dip bar. Nothing. I heard about a third gym that is supposedly cheap, but the only way to work out there is to first attend a training session that is held only on Saturday mornings (it was edging towards noon on Saturday when I found that out). Wait a sec—I've been working out for 10 years and I need fucking training? I ended up saying to myself, "Fuck it. I don't want to wait any longer to work out."

When you work out at home, you save on time and transportation, you're five seconds from the can or the fridge, and you can listen to whatever music you want. No fucking rules to get in the way.

Now all I have to do is find a place where I can work my legs when I need to.

26 May 2005


There has been a lot going on in my life the past 12 days, and there is a heck of a lot to blog about. I do have access to a Net connection at work (I have a job now), but the poor ergonomics of the office setup here bring about stiff shoulders and carpal-tunnel hands in no time. So needless to say, I only do the minimum on the computer here.

The highlight of this week has been the discovery of Bbobbi, below.

Bbobbi is a zebra finch. I found her (or him) fluttering about under a car, a stone's throw from my place. She was in a fairly bad way and I was able to grab her with little trouble (I've had practice with my own birds). I took her home and gave her some food and water, and she right away began to eat and drink. She seems pretty adaptable. She is now living in the big cage with our four Gouldian finches, and they seem to be getting along tolerably well (a few scraps here and there). Poor Bbobbi is missing two toes (out of a normal four) from her left foot. My guess is that she is somebody's escaped pet, and that she had a rough time of it in the great outdoors. I wish I had a digital voice recorder so I could upload her squawk.

Take it easy, Max.

P.S. "Bbobbi" is a Korean name. There is unfortunately no adequate romanization for certain double consonants in Korean ("bb," "dd," "gg," and "ss"). If you're unfamiliar with Korean pronunciation, I would have a hard time explaining how to voice the double "b." It's something approaching a really hard "b." You start by pressing your lips hard together and then make a quick, hard explosive movement with your lips. Don't move them too far apart. (The lips stay closer together than they would when an angry you would say the word "bullshit.") The double "b" is, of course, a voiced consonant.

14 May 2005


No, not me—my wife, silly. It's funny, Shiho has been pregnant since October, and since that time she has grown so big so fast. I feel like I haven't really had much time to reflect on her tumescence. What I have thought about is how her pregnancy is a really special experience. I love the way she looks; I cherish the roundness of her abdomen. I almost wish she could be pregnant forever (the lady doth protest), so I could nurture this feeling of joy forever. Few things are as precious as feeling your babies punch and kick against your wife's abdominal wall. She's also carrying twins, which makes the experience even more special.

Shiho's in the hospital now (the British would say "in hospital"), even though she's not due for around four weeks. In Japan, they like pregnant women to stay in the hospital well in advance; the Japanese are very concerned about safety and the doctors said they don't want to be responsible for anything that could go wrong.

I find myself thinking about her early pregnancy. Shiho went through a truly evil bout of morning sickness; it lasted at least 10 weeks. Shiho kept repeating, over and over, "muka muka," ("I'm feeling nauseous"). (Shiho talks the same way about a lot of things, saying over and over, "I'm cold," "I'm hot," or "I'm tired" as the situation warrants. Is it a Korean/Japanese cultural trait to repeatedly announce your physical state of being? I always find myself telling her, "You only have to say it once!")

During the first six months of her pregnancy, my wife ran the gamut of food cravings. One week she craved soy milk, another week pork gyoza, even though she eschewed pork before. In Korea, she had a sudden yearning for Japanese udon, and asked her Japanese friend to send her some. For a one-month period, she quaffed milk endlessly, whereas before her pregnancy she hardly drank milk. Most recently, she took to freezing little cartons of strawberry milk and scooping out the contents with a spoon, sometimes to my annoyance: "Will you hurry up and finish already?" Anyway, it has been fun following the vicissitudes of her epicurean impulses.

The twins are doing fine. It's no longer "muka muka" but rather "ugoiteru" (they're moving) or "kettobashiteru" (they're kicking). The most recent news is that one weighs about 1,900 grams and the other only about 1,450. I would say that the first one is hogging the bloodstream. We'll have to lecture him about his gluttony when he's old enough to understand.

I'd say it's time for me to go grab a snack, courtesy of J.W. As they say in Trinidad, "Latah go be greatah."

11 May 2005

Job Interview

So today was the big day. Had my first job interview since I got here. I was expecting the school to be in a bigger building, but the actual floorspace the school occupies is quite small. It turns out that most of an employee's working hours consist of you being farmed out to other places. So if I take the job (it's mine if I want it), no high-backed, leather executive chair for me.

I met Mr. Yoshi Yamakoshi today. It turns out that the designation "mister" is unnecessary as Yoshi is five years my junior. He was a rather affable fellow. I had made sure that I didn't overdress for the interview—I donned a shirt and tie, forgoing the suit—and that's a good thing, because in a shirt and tie I was already pretty overdressed compared to Yoshi. He sported an unshaven mug, a head of unkempt hair (seemingly typical of trendy young men in Japan), and a kangaroo hoodie on the front of which was written, get this, the word "Fuck" in cursive letters—which later brought to mind this recent acquisition, a priceless gem that was graciously sent in by one J.W. of the States United. Incongruously, immediately below the expletive was a picture of a large smiling teddy bear. Well, Japan is indeed a land of incongruities. (Knowing the Japanese penchant for photo opportunities, I almost asked Yoshi to pose for a happy snap right then and there, but I let the thought die. I had appearances to maintain, after all.)

Yoshi had lived in Vancouver for three years; upon learning this fact, I was surprised by how poor his English was (of course, his English is still better than my Japanese). I will have to find out how he spent his time abroad.

Can you believe this—the "pupils" at CORE are as young as one year old. I seriously doubt that one-year-olds, who aren't even old enough to know they've soiled their nappies, are going to get anything out of ESL education. Yoshi and the president, a smartly dressed middle-aged lady, told me my job will include singing and dancing with the kids. I mentioned that I can play the piano—I wouldn't mind playing a few pieces for the kiddies—but I'm not so big on singing and dancing. Hmm...when you're clowning around like that, it seems like you're merely a high-paid entertainer.

This just in: I got an e-mail from another language school. (A big voice booms, "There will be no escape from teaching eikaiwa!") This job looks like it will involve teaching only adults, so if I get it (keep your virtual fingers crossed), I won't have to go through any song and dance—you get my drift?

10 May 2005

A scenic tour of Imaichi

Here are some photos of the town I'm living in. We're about 200 kilometers north of Narita Airport, in scenic Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture), a big sightseeing spot in Japan.

I think rice paddies are the coolest thing since sliced sashimi.

I never get tired of them. I love the multivaried hues you get when the sun starts to set. (These shots were taken in the morning.)

A wary crow.

I like this shot.

Verdant hills in the distance.

More mountains off to the west. Japan, like Korea, is very mountainous. In fact, I read that Japan is something like 70% forests (but I don't remember where I read it). That kind of statement belies the complaints you hear about Nippon being such a crowded country. True, it is crowded if you live in one of the big cities, but it's great when you get out into the countryside. Lots of open skies and spaces. A lot of Koreans spout the same nonsensical rhetoric about "there being no space" in their country. It's simply not true; too many spend too much time in Seoul, that's all.

The rice crop was recently planted.

Even a small stream like this has a name.

That sign warning about perverts, which I told you about yesterday.

If katakana is used for foreign loan words, then why is tabako (tobacco) so often written in hiragana?

The abode of my parents-in-law.

Here's their name in kanji. Most houses in the countryside have the family's name on the front gate or wall.

So I hope that gives you a sense of what the natural environment is like out here. Peace, Max.

09 May 2005

Watch out for the perverts

In the little playground-cum-park next door, there's a new sign on the fence. It reads something to the effect of, "Beware of chikan (perverts)," adding that there is a pervert patrol to look after the neighborhood. I think I saw the patrolman today. He was driving by in a rather nondescript white sedan on which I made out the word patororu in katakana. Luckily, I didn't have my pants down at the time, and I had left my trenchcoat hanging in the closet—or else there would have been hell to pay.

You do know, of course, that Japan has a problem with perverts and their penises. On crowded subways and trains, there ride unscrupulous chikan who touch ladies' private personal parts, and because everyone's packed like sardines (the Koreans talk about the subway being packed with bean sprouts, using the phrase kongnamul siru gateun jihacheol), there ain't a whole hell of a lot these unfortunate ladies can do about it. In other words, it's so crowded you can't even turn around. Korea, of course, also has its fair share of perverts—remind me to talk about that later. I have my own budding theory as to why Japan has such a problem with perverts. I think it has something to do with the pressures of hardcore capitalism (read twelve-hour, six day a week workweeks) and social conformity, although I'm not quite ready to verbalize my thoughts on this latter angle. Further rumination will bear it out.

Compared to the fiery, red-pepper-powered Koreans—who are not uncommonly known to stop their cars in the middle of the street, get out and commence a ten-minute shouting match, often to the effect of, "You fucking asshole! Move your car so I can get by!" "What? You shithead! I was here first!"—the Japanese are noticeably phlegmatic. Today I received a phone call from a potential employer (presumably one of the higher-ups at a language school that, shades of Sookmyung, goes by the moniker of CORE) who, though he spoke fluent English, wished me to pass the receiver to my wife. Now if I've learned one thing while living in East Asia, it's that language is power, and I don't like to depend on information filtered through or otherwise adulterated by an interpreter (no offense to my wife, but sometimes when I ask her to ask someone else to do something, she just refuses to ask them in the first place, saying for example, "No, they wouldn't agree to do that.") So I told the gentleman, one Mr. Yamakoshi, that it would be quite all right if he spoke to me. My job interview is on Wednesday; I will let you know how it goes. Right now I have to make the futon and give my wife a massage. Nighty night.

P.S. I also heard, but not saw, this bird today. In Japan, they call it uguisu. I think it's the same one you can hear when you're on the subway in Korea and you hear the recorded announcement telling you that you can change trains at the next stop.

08 May 2005

Mother's Day in Japan

Hello, folks. Mother's Day in Japan, you might like to know, falls on the same day as in Canada. Today we celebrated by going to a Japanese-style Chinese restaurant. I was about to complain but I had better say something positive first. (Negativity is a habit.) The joint had wonderful decor, the food was tasty (Koreans would ask me, "Was it delicious?"—an inside joke for English teachers), and pleasing traditional Chinese music wafted over the tables. Unfortunately in Japan, there are no default steaming hot cups of Chinese tea, refilled on a whim, like there are back home. You actually have to order and pay for the stuff.

Now I'm at home and my father-in-law, who drank a whole bottle of 14% something or other, is now snoring beside me (we're enjoying the warmth of the kotatsu), and the sickly-sweet smell of his booze breath is announcing itself to my wary olfactory receptors.

I feel pretty stimulated; I have a lot of thoughts welling up inside me; I often feel most creative at night. It's too bad that I don't have an Internet connection capable of keeping up with me. We're supposedly using Yahoo! Broadband but the truth is closer to something halfway between broadband and telephone modem. It is painfully slow; you get to see webpages being downloaded kilobyte-by-kilobyte.

Today I experienced my second or third jisin (earthquake). I think the first was when I was staying at my friend's place in Delta, BC (either it was a tectonic tremor or it was just a really big-ass truck going by). The first time for sure was last year in Japan, in the dead of night. It only lasted a few seconds, and it was minor on the Richter scale, but let me tell you, it was terrifying. Few things are as scary as realizing that the ground under your feet is liquefying. When it happened again today (it was very brief, thank God), I was trying to guess which chunk of the ceiling was going to fall on me. How many of you out there are still earthquake virgins, by the way?

I would love to photo blog as much as Kevin, but I simply haven't got it in me at this point. (I suspect Kevin, too, can't do everything he wants, because he still hasn't answered my e-mails from Thursday.) I am way behind in other areas of website maintenance as well. Wouldn't it be cool if you had a job where you could sit in a chair all day and have nothing to do? You could update your website while the wages rolled in. That would be a cool job to have, but it might get old after a year.

One reason I don't have time for photo blogging is that I am in the throes of editing my stepfather's book. Dr. Robert Pos has written a book that examines a new theory of the human mind. It's very taxing work, editing cerebral stuff like this. In the last chapter, he writes about Paleolithic cave art, about which I know very little; I didn't realize it was so delightful. Take care and sleep well (if you're in this time zone), Max.

06 May 2005

Time to Rant

Form, form, everywhere a form;
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind;
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the form?

Now the Five Man Electrical Band sang about signs. But if they had been on the same wavelength as I am now, they might very well have cried about the forms.

Why is it that in this age of computers, the Internet, and digitization, we still have to fill out these fucking forms? Why is it that in Korea, every time I visited the immigration office, I had to fill out the same bloody form? They store all the goddamn data on their computers; why can't they just call it up with a few keystrokes? Japan seems very form-happy, too. Rules and regulations. I hate 'em all.

In a similar vein, Japan can really confound me. We are talking about the world leader in robotics and one of the top countries in computing, but—well, here are some anecdotes:

OK, like I said, today was a rant. I still have a few more things to rant about before I bring it down a notch. Peace, MJB.

05 May 2005

Quirks of Life in the Island Nation

So here's a rundown on some of adjustments you might have to make if you come over to, in K's words, "the land of underage miniskirts." You could also call it the land of vending machines that sell soiled schoolgirl panties (scroll down this page for a looksee).

On to the story. At Narita airport, we rented a car. It was a Toyota named "Fun Cargo": the back seats can be folded down entirely into the rear floorboards, allowing a lot of room for suitcases. After being handed the keys, I was hoping for a big empty parking lot in which to practise on a right-hand drive, but no such luck. Out of the cramped parking lot, and onto the real road. There were three things I had a helluva time getting used to: (1) The switches for the window wipers and signals were reversed, so every time I wanted to change lanes I heard this dry scraping sound; (2) instead of staying centered in my lane, I kept drifting over to the left—way left. I don't know if this was the car or the fact that the steering wheel was on the right; (3) left turns are easy in Japan—right turns are the biggie.

My wife, who sat on the left (passenger) side, was quite uncomfortable with my drifting. I had to concentrate very hard to stay in the center of my lane. (Very weird, with all my driving experience. When I used to drive a cab, the car was like an extension of my body, meaning I would no more have an accident than you would bump into a lamppost as you saunter down the street.) All the way from the airport, she kept groaning and moaning: "You're too close to the shoulder!" The next day, as we were heading to the car drop-off place, the shrill warning came again, and I snarled in response, "Look! You've been nagging me all this time, and I haven't hit anything!" Ironically, just as I finished uttering that last word, the left front tired popped up on the curb as we were taking a corner. No harm done, but boy life has a weird sense of humor sometimes.

Site update: I have decided to indefinitely discontinue the EnglishBloopers Discussion Boards; we simply weren't getting any feedback. Instead, thanks to K's example, I intend to become a more dedicated blogger.

02 May 2005

Our New Life in Japan

OK, so here's an update on the most pertinent events that have transpired during our most recent cross-border move.

Last Tuesday saw me and a tearful Shiho, face all red and swollen, say goodbye to our dear ajeossi, one of the two guards at our former residence—over whom K., newly moved in, incidentally now lives, breathes, and defecates. We rode in style to Incheon (rhymes with "on") International Airport in a luxurious van taxi. The deluxe taxis are somewhat expensive (for Korea), but hands down the best way to head to the big bird. I asked the driver to keep the sunroof open, which request he obliged; that ever-present germ-fearing part of myself, which lives in fear of stale, recirculated, fetid (you get the picture) air, was rather chipper.

Things went pretty much smoothly at the port until—and this is a pattern that repeats itself every time I leave Korea—they asked me at the security check to remove my footwear. Now this goddamn shoe bomber shit has been going on far too long. Every bloody time at Incheon, they make every bloody passenger remove their bloody footwear, as if every prospective flier, breath redolent of kimchi and coming down off a soju hangover, were instead a Richard Reid in hiding. (Here I digress, but the powers that be really don't know fuck about preventing terrorism. For those not in the know, here's a clue: we can start by addressing systemic causes.) Anyway, we all have our own triggers; when I run up against the dehumanizing institution that is airport security, I see red. Nothing bothers me more than the stupor-inducing concentration camp atmosphere in which people unquestioningly doff their shoes and assume fixed bovine stares. The upshot of the scenario was that I argued with the security lady (I know she was just the rule enforcer, not the rule maker, but I couldn't help myself) and then simply kicked off my sandals, letting her place them on the conveyor belt, and walked through the metal detector. Thanks a lot, Richard Reid. You fucker! It's your fault I had to humiliate that poor young lady!

To be continued...

01 May 2005
Imaichi, Japan

Is Korea Really Sexually Conservative?

When it comes to issues of sexuality, Korean culture may in many ways appear conservative to the visiting Westerner. Racy (and lacy) lingerie ads only began to appear a few years ago. In Seoul, French kissing in public is verboten—a far cry from the pandemic smooching of Paris. Koreans, too, will often tell you that their sexual norms are quite different from those of Canadians or Americans. And they will be quick to assert an image of national primness. At the university where I worked until recently, my Australian co-teacher told me that some of her students think Westerners are easy (the implication being, of course, that Koreans aren't—a myth that some of my swinging acquaintances love to debunk).

When I first came to live in Korea, I worked at a provincial language school. One day, I caught a female high school student of mine reading a manhwa chek (comic book) in class. The cover struck me right away: it showed a big-breasted woman, and boy was that bosom really sticking out. Miffed that my student was goofing off during class time, I asked her snarkily, "So, you're reading sex books now?" Well, did she ever blow up at me! What I didn't know then is that you're not supposed to mention the word "sex" in the land of kimchi connoisseurs, because it's a bad word. (It's OK to have big-breasted comic book heroines for teenagers, though.)

Since that incident, I've found myself trying to understand the way Korean culture operates with regard to sex. On the surface, there are a lot of indications that Korea is sexually conservative. Fashion is one example. Although things are changing fast, Korean girls and women generally show less skin than their American counterparts. And my bike-riding wife, who comes from Japan, gets shocked looks from ajumma (older or married women) who think her skirt is too short for bicycle riding. (Ha-ha, if they think that, they should go to Japan, land of high school girls in miniskirts.)

But in so many other ways, Korea seems very liberal about sex. One night at midnight, some company sent a phone sex ad in the form of a text message to my mobile phone. I was quite surprised. As well, on car windshields all over Seoul, unnamed personages surreptitiously plant little cards with pictures of scantily-clad women on them, advertising "sports massages." Let me tell you, some Canadians and Americans I know would be really taken aback by these bold, bawdy advertisements. They would perhaps be incensed enough to bring the offenders to court.

Last but not least, one can't avoid mentioning Korea's huge sex industry. While in Korea there are no (or very few) streetwalkers, there is plenty of sex for sale there. It's just that it's mostly indoors or confined to red light districts. (In my hometown of Vancouver, Canada, by contrast, prostitutes strut and flaunt their stuff on several major streets.) Look at all the "massage" parlors and basement barber shops there (yes, the barber shops do provide more than just haircuts). One more thing: in Canada we certainly don't have "cabarets," or nightclubs that cater mainly to cheating married people.

I've come to the conclusion, then, that Korea just appears to be sexually conservative. Being human beings, Koreans enjoy sex as much as any other people. Korean culture, more so than Western culture, operates on different levels, and these layers often don't intermesh. Sex in Korea, therefore, is kept separate from other aspects of life.

In Canada and the U.S., however, we're inundated with sex at every level; it is much more out in the open. (Note, however, that we don't have to contend with people slipping little calling cards under our windshield wipers—at least not yet.) Sex is much more prevalent in the media; shows like Sex and the City enjoy large followings. Also, look at how advertisers use sex to promote everything from action movies—a commercial for the movie Godzilla enthusiastically proclaimed, "Size does matter"—to chocolate bars—"When you're this big, they call you Mister."

18 April 2005

Are you one of them?

They're everywhere. Insidious. Lurking. Ready to strike at any moment. They show no mercy.

You know who they are. You may be one of them yourself. In fact, if you live in this corner of the globe (Korea/Japan), you probably are. Ha! You're an enemy of fresh air!

Seriously, people. Please don't close all the windows on the bus. Fresh air is good for you. Our brains need oxygen to function. And I don't give a good goddamn about the integrity of your hairdos. One more thing: it's bacteria and viruses that cause colds, not cold air. Thought I'd put that superstition to rest.

Oh, and if I ever landed an office job in a "sealed building," I'd clandestinely take a drill to the lower corner one of the big plate windows. Mercy, mercy, me!

28 November 2004

Cats will always be with us. At least we cat lovers hope they will. Cat lovers understand there is something special about felines that separates them from other mammals. Worshipped as divine entities in ancient Egypt, and cast as the witch's companion in Western folklore, there has always been something mysterious, mystical, and intriguing about them. The sheer strength, showiness, and uniqueness of their personalities. Their sleek, silky bodies. The way you can have staring contests with them. My mom said that the reason why we have cats is so that each of us can know what it's like to have our own tiger. Cats, in a word, rule.

30 July 2004

Some memories recently came back to me about my first year I spent in Korea. I remember going golfing with my student and another co-teacher. We drove out to the countryside and spent a couple hours at a driving range. It was fun to whack those balls. After that, we had worked up an appetite, and my student, Ki-jun, who was intent upon exposing us to as much of Korean culture as possible, took us to a roadside restaurant. Upon being seated, a childish, impish grin broke out on Ki-jun's face as he said to the waitress, "Boshintang segae juseyo (Three orders of dog meat soup, please)." The soup arrived shortly after and we dug in. Well, it was spicy, and the meat itself was something akin to greasy beef. It was OK but I've never had a really strong hankering to try it again; it's just another kind of meat to me. Many Korean men, however, enjoy eating it because they believe it gives them a boost in "jeongryeok" (sexual energy). I don't know about that, but most people here firmly believe in the power of medicinal foods. Dog meat is also eaten in the heat of summer, as some believe it helps "cool" you down. Brigitte Bardot and the French remain aghast.

And just yesterday, I was at the gym working out to some good tunes, when on came this 2 Live Crew song. Now this reminded me of way back in 1999, when I was shopping at a department store in Ansan, a provincial city about an hour and a half outside of Seoul. At that time, the store was filled with housewives and other shoppers, going about their business and blissfully unaware of the true nature of the music playing. For the speakers were blaring, over and over, "Hey-y-y-y, we want some pu-u-u-ussy!"—lines which have earned the rap group 2 Live Crew their fair share of notoriety. It was a David Letterman moment; I wish I had been able to record the incident and send the tape over to his New York studio. Like they say, folks, truth is stranger than fiction.

By the way, the name of said department store was 2002 Outlet. Over and out.

11 July 2004

Sex is bad. At least, that's the way "they" want you to think in many (if not most) societies. Nothing else—not drugs nor alcohol nor exercise—comes close to the emotional and physical nirvana that is orgasm. Sex feels good, too good. And maybe that's what the authorities are afraid of. (After a quickie, do you really feel like going back to the office?) Maybe they want to be able to conquer the sexual impulse, or at least convert the energy that goes into sex into something they consider more productive—as portrayed unforgettably in Orwell's 1984.

Is it possible "they" just don't want people to have a good time? I have a sneaking suspicion that this same motivation lies behind society's demonization of pot—while booze and smokes, the twin debilitators, remain the state-sanctioned drugs.

Sex is dirty. This is a major reason why it's bad. But why is it dirty? As Beckerian psychology suggests, part of the answer is that in our efforts to be eternal spiritual beings (and not just incidental grains of sand on the universal beach), we always try to downplay our animal side, to dissociate ourselves from that which is ephemeral, earthly, mortal. Oh, yeah, and last I checked, masturbation still doesn't cause blindness. (In fact, science has shown that it's good for you.)

We especially have this distorted view of the woman as a pure vessel. Jesus's birth is portayed as an immaculate conception. In some Islamic socities, female genital mutilation is condoned, rape victims are flogged for "commiting adultery," girls rushing out of burning buildings are pushed back by inside by police who insist on the use of burkhas.

Fear of bad smells in the bathroom and flatulence-related embarrassment also fall into the category of bodily sordidness.

I think once you've got the psychology of it, it's pretty simple. Boy, we are a messed-up species. I hope we survive long enough to be able to grow up.

Cautiously Optimistic in Seoul

17 October 2003

When out on the road behind the wheel, I love driving. When your foot's on the clutch and your hand's on the gearshift, driving is great. (That said, there is some truth to the "metal coffins" metaphor brought to light by the surfer dudes in Point Break. Sometimes driving sucks and you need to be out in the open air, say on a Harley.)

When I'm on foot or out cycling, though, I absolutely hate those metal monstrosities. Especially in Korea, where sidewalks on narrow side streets can be hard to come by. Polluting vehicles alternately creep up behind you or race past you, menacing and taunting you with their screaming horns. I wish I had a ray gun that could zap them all! That, or a pair of diamond-studded steel-toed boots—the better to thrash them with.

26 September 2003

My last (and first!) blog inspired my wife, Shiho, to create the picture above. She was suggesting that one day I'll need to find a better brain. Something tells me she was being sarcastic.

21 September 2003
Seoul, South Korea

One day, we'll have the capability to be online all of the time (those of us who want to be). I can't wait for that day. You know, it's those times when I'm taking a walk late at night when my mind gets the most stimulated. So many thoughts rush out at once. I forget a lot of those thoughts. Isn't it frustrating how one's mind produces so much, but only so many things can be acted upon?

Pen and paper are still valid, and they have their own aesthetic functions, but they only allow you to get so far. (Also, it's such a bloody pain in the ass to organize, access, edit, and find bits and scraps of paper with writing on them!) One day, we'll simply be able to transmit our thoughts to where we want instantaneously.

I see the merger of computer intelligence with human intelligence, as predicted by the well-known inventor Ray Kurweil, as something that's inevitable. The human body simply cannot match the output of the human mind, or indeed cannot complete every task that is required during one's daily schedule.

Brain implants are around the corner, you'd better believe it. I see this is as the ineluctable destiny of the human race. Our minds are the greatest products of evolution, and we will one day be able to realize the mind's abilities to the fullest.

What is life other than the search for truth, the quest for new knowledge, and the pursuit of new experiences?



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