Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November's Best Holiday

It's Salsa Rio Dorito day! So far, this may be the best Salsa Rio Dorito Day ever, and it's only 2 p.m. I'm on vacation, but fortunately I wrote something last week to post now.

My desert island, all time, top five most memorable break-ups, in chronological order:


The first names are real. I know Nick Hornby used last names too, but in this age of social networking, I obviously can't do that. Like in "High Fidelity," the early ones stick out. Sure, I've been involved with girls whose names I don't even remember for well longer than the four and a half days or so that I knew Katie, but I didn't meet them at an out of town amusement park over the summer between 8th and 9th grades.

I'm not here to talk about this top five. It's most likely inaccurate anyway. I'm here to talk about number one on the list - Liz. Like in Hornby, some kernel of every relationship I've had since then can be found in the first one .

Liz was a pretty, tall brunette who was in a couple of my seventh grade classes. I would have noticed her earlier, if not for the fact that 7th grade is pretty much the biggest clusterfuck of ongoing awe and bewilderment in life outside of infancy. Lockers? Class breaks? Wait, we have to shower in gym class now? Holy fuck, are there cheerleaders here? Are those breasts? Note to self - stop wearing sweat pants to class. 7th grade is an acid trip. Dude, it's a tree! Fuckin' A!

In 7th grade, I was first exposed to the concept of the school dance. I had no idea how to handle myself, of course. I worked up my "game" slowly, danced with friend girls, danced with non-threatening girls. Then I danced with Liz. She was a head taller than me, but she didn't seem to think that I was a total spaz. I danced with her again. I liked her. She was cool, and I liked talking to her. In between dances, I couldn't of course, because I was indeed a total spaz.

After the dance, in health class, she passed me a note. It was folded up in one of those ways that girls know how to fold. She wrote a paragraph or so. She asked my last name and phone number. It was pretty much the single greatest moment of my life up until that point until I realized that I would have to write a note back.

Liz and I exchanged notes regularly for the next month or so, though almost never actually spoke in person. Eventually, I felt like I had to up the ante. She wrote me a two page note about some dude asking her out, and how she didn't like him, and how she didn't think I liked her. This had to be a sign. She definitely like me, right?

I didn't have her number, because it never occurred to me to ask for it, so I looked it up in the phone book. I unplugged my phone and repeatedly practice-dialed. Eventually, I built up my nerve enough to plug in my phone and make the call.

Me: Is Liz there?

Liz: This is Liz.

Me: Oh hey. This is Jaehak, from school.

Liz: Oh, hey!

Me: Um, will you go with me? (note, in that particular year and in that particular postal code, the common vernacular for dating was "go with," rather than the more standard "go out with." By 8th grade, "go with" was eradicated from everybody's vocabulary.)

Liz: Um, okay, yeah...

Me: Oh, um, cool. Bye.

Thus ended my first ever call with a girl. I thought it would be all sunshine and roses after that. It was November 13, and I had a girlfriend. I literally leapt into the air and cheered once the call ended. I'd spent the last couple years focused on getting a girlfriend. Now that I had one, I had no clue how to, y'know, have a girlfriend.

For the next couple of weeks at school, we basically never spoke. What was there to talk about? Plus, I was too busy talking to my friends and acquaintances about how I had a girlfriend.

Liz was in a play. She had a bit part. I went, of course. Afterword, I saw Liz and said "you were really good," but in the lamest, shyest voice you could imagine. I called her for the second time that night, to say "you were really good."

A few days later, disaster struck. After gym class, in the locker room, Brad Hauber told me that he had heard Liz broke up with me. Poppycock, said I. Oh, and I swear I wasn't born in 1953. All of this note passing and school dance and locker room shit really happened.

I was dumbfounded. Despite the fact that I never spoke to Liz in class or in the hall or on the phone and that we almost never exchanged notes anymore, I was positive that our relationship was on solid ground. Why was Brad Hauber running his mouth in the locker room? And why did people that I trusted seem to believe him? Clearly, a third call was in order.

On November 30th, I called Liz up to find out what the hell was going on. I wouldn't take no for an answer. I was going to get to the bottom of this. Only a firm answer would let me sleep. We were together, or we weren't. Hopefully we were. Either way, it was time to put all the rumors to rest, to lay down the law, to prove the Brad Haubers of the world wrong.

Me: Hello, is Liz there?

Liz: This is Liz.

Me: Oh, um, hey, this is Jaehak.

Liz: Oh, hi.

Me: Um, so what's going on?

Liz: I dunno.

Me: I mean, like, are we still going together?

Liz: I dunno.

Me: ...

Liz: But don't listen to Brad Hauber.

Me: Yeah.

Liz: He's a liar.

Me: Yeah.

Liz: ...

Me: I have to go.

And there it was. In no uncertain terms. We may have still been going out. She didn't know. That was enough for me. I knew I was punching above my weight (and in 7th grade, that was literal, since I was 4'11 and 97 pounds). I didn't want to rock the boat. I still didn't necessarily not have a girlfriend. I went downstairs and ate some Salsa Rio Doritos, felling good about life, and Salsa Rio Dorito Day was born.

For 7 weeks, it went on like this. Neither of us knew if we were still going out.

There was the eventual hard out, of course.

At the January school dance, Liz avoided me all night. I suddenly had the gumption to chat, but she wouldn't. Instead, she danced with my buddy Daniel once to tell him to tell me that she was officially breaking up with me. In case I didn't get the message, she also danced with my buddy Shane to give him the same message to give to me.

Rough first breakup? Yeah.

It could have been worse tough. At least she didn't dance with Brad Hauber.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gobble Humbug

Thanksgiving is quite possibly my least favorite holiday.  I know this basically makes me a communist, but I have my reasons.  I'm a Thanksgiving Scrooge.  It's like I'm one of the Pilgrims, or the Indians.  Wait, which ones were the bad guys again?

I do think that my dislike of Thanksgiving comes from the very fist one.  When I first learned about the Thanksgiving origin story in early grade school or kindergarten or whatever, I remember thinking it was the most boring story that I'd ever heard.  Think about it.  It's a story about the single dullest group of Europeans that ever existed (the Puritans) and the least interesting indigenous people on earth (that didn't live in igloos) sharing a bland meal.  If the story would have involved a couple fistfights or at least somebody getting too into the firewater and telling off Prudence Goodwyfe, I may have been on board.  A story about two groups of boring motherfuckers sharing turkey and maize?  Wake me up when Custer gets pwnt or somebody bangs Pocahontas. 

Thanksgiving is about tradition, and more importantly, 4 days off.  I haven't had a "traditional" Thanksgiving since the 90s, and my last 4 day break over Thanksgiving was in the year 2000.  A quick breakdown:

2011 - Korea
2010 - Korea
2009 - Korea
2008 - Korea
2007 - Korea
2006 - Korea (obviously, American Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Korea, so I work on Thursday and Friday).
2005 - Chicago, worked sales
2004 - same
2003 - same
2002 - same.  When you work in sales, you fucking work Friday.  You work early on Friday.  There's too much money to be made on Black Friday to not go to work.  I had family in Chicago, but I never spent Thanksgiving with my parents.  I never could have gotten the time off work anyway.
2001 - I was in Lawrence, my hometown, yet every member of my family no longer lived there.  I went to a buddy's house.  Pretty sure I worked Friday.
2000 - 4 days off school and I had no job.  No traditional table though, I met the Old Man and his girlfriend at the time for a whirlwind trip through Vegas, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, LA, San Diego, and Tijuana.  We got to enjoy watching the 1-15 San Diego Chargers getting their 1 win against the Chiefs at Jack Murphy Stadium.  Stupid Chiefs.   
1999 - Florence.  Actually, this was the best Thanksgiving ever.  I ate pasta.  No complaints.
1998 - No idea. I dont want to talk about it.
1997 - I worked on Thanksgiving Day, at a convenience store.  I thought I had it bad, then I spent the day selling single cans of Spaghetti-O's to random dudes.  I'm no fan of Thanksgiving, but I still haven't hit the level these dudes were at.

Thanksgiving is also about football.  Well, I don't care about the Cowboys or the Lions.  Sure, when I was in America, I would watch these games every year, and I know NFL Network has added a more interesting night game.  Maybe I'm a bit more grudging because Dallas and Detroit were both horrible the last few years before I left the States, which made the games lamer.  Living here, all Thanksgiving does is make fantasy football extra complicated during a critical week leading up to the playoffs.   

Mostly, Thanksgiving is about food.  I dig turkey sandwiches and turkey cold cuts, but I really don't give a fuck about a large roasted turkey.  If turkey was so good, Americans would eat it more than once (or twice with Xmas) a year.  If there were traditional Thanksgiving ribs or tacos or sushi or steak, I'd be down.  I'm also no fan of cranberry sauce.  I'm pretty sure I would rather eat goat feces than stuffing.  My three favorite Thanksgiving meals as as follows:  1999, the aforementioned pasta at Danny Rock; in 2002-2005, I ate a Thanksgiving spread at Beverly Country Club in Chicago and largely filled up on lox and bagels.  In 2010, I had a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and some traditional Thanksgiving Chee-tos. 

Finally, what does Thanksgiving really mean in the expat life?  It's mostly a nuisance.  The Daily Show and Colbert go dark for a couple weeks.  Podcasts are interrupted.  Facebook becomes insufferable.  TV shows essentially go on hiatus.  Once Thanksgiving hits, most of my precious, precious TV shows will run one Christmas episode some time in December, but other than that, there is basically no new content until mid-January.  I am forced to endure upwards of 7 cold, dark, lonely weeks with nary a new episode of Parks and Rec and the 22-minute postponement of the desire to shoot myself in the face that it would bring. 

Gobble humbug. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This is why we can't have nice things

Thanksgiving is coming up. There was talk of some sort of Thanksgiving event happening in my apartment, as it is the largest and best located of teachers at my school The girl who had my apartment last year hosted a large and successful Thanksgiving event, and some want to keep the tradition alive. I'm fully in favor of this notion, so long as it doesn't involve me cooking, planning, decorating, or doing anything whatsoever to prepare for this event outside of buying beer.

Two girls, the previous occupant of my apartment and her best friend, essentially ran my school last year. They also put on all kinds of events and made Halloween costumes from scratch. I've hung out with both of them and they are both super cool, but they also, like, did stuff. Stuff isn't really my thing.

Now seems like a good time to provide an anecdote from the hazy Kansas days that made up my first year after graduating. It was basically my third senior year. My brother, Dr. Kickass as you may know him, was still in college. While in college, him and some of his fresh-faced classmates made a couple of movies. Dr. Kickass always seemed to surround himself with people that were, like, into doing stuff. The movies were good.

My buddies and I were inspired. We had a video camera. I can shoot. I had editing software. Several of us were good at writing and editing. Nobody could act very well, but whatever. After watching Kickass's movie and drinking some 40s of high gravity malt liquor, we decided to put our talents to use. We were going to make a movie too, goddamnit.

I should probably note that our group made the gang from Always Sunny look motivated, hardworking, and decidedly un-petty.

We decided to make a western. We got to work on a script right away. It had every character that a good western should have - The Sheriff, The Stranger, The Whore, The Piano Player.

Not surprisingly, this endeavor unraveled quickly. Every scene we wrote was fraught with arguments over the plot. Plus, every dude wanted to play The Stranger other than Brown, as he was clearly going to be The Piano Player. We never shot anything, and a couple nights into writing, the endeavor collapsed into a fistfight that was originally sparked from a disagreement on, if I'm not mistaken, French Revolutionary history. The project was never completed, nor spoken of ever again.

My co-worker Sandy said that the Thanksgiving thing last year was really awesome, and everyone had a good time, largely because these two girls worked really hard on it and put together a solid event. Sandy said that they were able to do amazing things like this since the girls were best friends and lived 5 minutes away from each other.

I still can't relate to that. My first two years in Korea, I lived next door to Don, one of my best buddies here. We generally spent our time together drinking beer in my apartment and watching Korean reality TV (TV Ngels, of course) or Borat for the 6,000th time. I also spent close to a year living across the hall from my buddy Martin, certainly my best friend here now, and we pretty much just spent weeknights playing Nintendo. We never made any Halloween costumes or planned any events or shot any videos. How could we? Mario 3 wasn't going to solve itself.

I guess the point is that some people are good at making, y'know, stuff, from whatever things are are around. I may have inherited the apartment, but I didn't inherit the motivation. Some people put on events. I'm not delusional. I know where my talents lie. I'm good at showing up for these events, and most likely making fun of them. That is, so long as there's nothing good on TV and I'm not on a later level of Zelda.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

John Brown

Looks like we gotta change the lyrics...

Fuck Missouri. Death to slavery.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I Came All the Way From Taipei Today

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei

Recently, I went to Taiwan with The Old Man.

Now my country list reads like this: 'Merica, Bahamas, Mexico, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Morocco, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City, UK, Denmark, Austria, Czech Republic, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong (China sorta), People's Republic of China*, Thailand, North Korea**, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan. 26 proper countries (20 of which could even be considred real countries. Sorry, Bahamas, Canada, Monaco, Vatican, Hong Kong, and Singapore), and two more (PRC, DPRK) that I've technically been in without clearing customs.

The Old Man kinda left me in charge of travel/transit related matters, and I learned something I kinda already knew - I'm the best.

As always, click on the pics to expand. Sorry about the lighting - it was raining 100% of the time we were there.

Honor guard at the shrine. These guys put the Buckingham Palace constables to shame. They were like wax figures.

Statue of Chian Kai-Shek. You can see the two honor guards in the foreground.

Taiwan is serious about squatters. This one was on the train. I opted out by loading up on Imodium every morning.

Something the Old Man is good at - thumbs upping a pic. This is the entry gate to the Taroko Gorge in eastern Taiwan.

Bridge gargoyles at the gorge. Try saying that 5 times fast.

The gorge from said bridge.

This temple was dedicated to the hundreds of people who died in constructing the first inland Taiwan highway - right through the gorge.

Pretty awesome little shrine inside a cave near along the gorge.

A shrine near the gorge. There were tons of makeshift shrines all around, this was one of my favorites.

A bridge over the gorge.

The Pacific Ocean, from the other side. I've been in Asia a long time, but this is the first time that I had seen the Pacific proper rather than an ancillary sea. Get a raft, sail due east, next stop Baja.

Longshan Temple, Taipei

Old Man at the National Museum. This was a pretty boss museum, said to have the greatest collection of Chinese antiquities in the world. I really felt like there should have been a large statue of a middle finger pointed at Beijing outside the museum. The museum had a really interesting take on history as well. It was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China, which was China proper until 1949 and has been Taiwan since Mao took over. No mention is ever made of the PRC at the museum. It's not Taiwanese history presented here, it's Chinese history from a Taiwanese lens.

These statues of dragons with a ball under their foot are everywhere in Taipei. I sort of wondered what they represented, but it was a 4 day trip so I couldn't be bothered to find out. My camera broke right after taking a pic of this dragon, I thought it may have been the finale of Camera Number Five.

It wasn't. Here's the first pic Cam 5 took after its resurrection.


As you can see from the view at the top, construscting this sort of skyscraper in Taipei is kinda like raising this magnitude of building in Omaha. Taipei 101 is ridiculously taller than any other building in town.

Good to know.

101 at night.

Taipei at night.

Night market gate.

A stall at the market where we stopped to get a beer. I was happy to see drunks, gamblers, and whores at this market. Up until this point, I had seen zero vice in Taiwan. Taiwanese people are insanely nice, but I was starting to worry that they may be the Mormons of Asia.

Daan Station, where our hotel in Taipei was. I figured it would be pronounced Da-ahn since there are two Chinese characters, indicating two syllables. However, the locals all pronounced it "Don." Thus, these are clearly the Chinese characters for fail.

Look at the upper right corner of this vending machine. Chi-town represent!

This was a pretty cool pack of dogs we ran into.

Hey, you can't have a photoblog of a Chinese region without the requisite panda shot.

Endnote 1: So, why am I so awesome at travel? On our way out of Taipei, The Old Man and I got on a bullet train to the airport without really paying attention. After a few minutes, I read the list of stops on its signboard. The airport was not one of the stops. I acted quickly and got us out of the train. Once on the proper train, I noticed several locals who had been on our original train boarding ours.

From the train station, we took a bus to the airport. We didn't know if we were flying from Terminal 1 or Terminal 2. The bus driver told us to get out at Terminal 2 for Cathay Pacific. However, the sign on the bus and at the airport said that CX was Terminal 1. English signs at the Taipei airport only speak in airline codes rather than proper English names. I was 97% sure that Cathay is CX despite the bus driver's suggestion (and 3% sure it was CZ, which of course was terminal 2). Turns out I was right, as any airline nerd reading already knows. For the record, CZ is China Southern.

Endnote 2: Taiwan was solid. Maybe I'll move there. It felt more Southeast Asian than Chinese, and I love Southeast Asia. Of course, nobody would ever confuse Taipei's nightlife with that of Bangkok, Tokyo, Bali, Seoul, Hong Kong, or even Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. Hell, from what I saw of Taipei, I'd rank its bar scene somewhere below Daegu. While chatting with an Aussie dude who lived there, he said (and I agreed) that the locals are nice as hell, and it rubs off on the foreigners, so most every foreigner is really nice too. I mentioned that Koreans are a lot of things, many of those things positive, but aren't exactly famous for being nice. Maybe there's a similar local influence here. Most every whitey I've met in the Korean provinces has been weird, and most every one I've met in Seoul has been a dick. Clearly, I include myself in this category as well.

In conclusion, Taiwan is a land of contrasts, or as the Indians called it, maize.