We are winners! – Thanks Seoul Magazine

•December 12, 2011 • 2 Comments

Who’s the big winner?

A few weeks ago, I came out ahead, a little better than I was before choosing to sit down and write 50 words for Seoul Magazine.

It started with this post on Facebook:

Then I wrote this masterpiece:

Noryangjin Fish Market was one of the first places my co-workers took me to dinner. Since, it has become my spot to experience real Korea at night. It’s lively at any time, and if you’re open to it, you’ll walk away with new friends each visit.

Shortly after, I received the following text message:

It took a little work on my behalf, with the assistance of Seoul Magazine, to extend the qualification period of when the free vouchers could be used, but it looks like my girl and I will be able to successfully take a trip to the Philippines later this spring, thanks to Seoul Selection.

Here is a rundown of other prizes they gave away:

Oh yeah, I said “we” are the winners. My girl also entered the contest and won a fantastic prize:

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Get Your Dong Bang Here

•November 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

My girlfriend and I were walking through La Festa in Ilsan recently when a new food stand jumped out at at me. Usually, I’m anxious to try the new food. In this case, I might hold off.

It’s called Dong Bang. Translated, that’s Shit Bread. It’s a bungeoppang like bready product filled with a sweet center, and it’s shaped like a pile of crap.

The little character on the sign has a swirly load on his head. What’s worse, way worse, is that one of the guys working behind the counter was wearing the same fake steamy load on the top of his head.

Have you ever seen a more humiliating, outright demeaning, work uniform? Shit dude.


Have You Seen My Money Face?

•November 23, 2011 • 5 Comments

Having fun with the 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 Korean Won bills.



Save a Tree and Flush Your TP

•November 21, 2011 • 2 Comments

Like most places I’ve been (and I’ve traveled an awful lot), Korea has both the clean and the down right dirty and disgusting bathrooms. One difference I’ve found, even the clean bathrooms often have a nasty funk. It’s especially prevalent where you go #2, the dreaded toilet and squater stalls.

Why? Flushing TP is strongly discouraged in Korea. Instead, each stall has a trash bin to collect your used ass wipe. This excrement saturated tissue piles up, and it stinks.

I’ve asked around for a reasonable explanation, and the only answer I’ve ever been given is that the toilet paper jacks up the sewage system. It’s usually said in a way to make the American sewage system sound so bourgeois.

“Our Korean system can’t handle the toilet paper like the system you are used to.”

“Your system in America is designed to accept the toilet paper. In Korea, it simply can’t do it.”

You’re telling me, that the sewage system gladly accepts monster loads of crap, but it can’t handle tissue? I know for a fact it can handle other things, food for example, because I frequently flush soft food instead of paying for the yellow food disposal bag. You know you do it too.

Do the math. Something doesn’t compute. Seems to me we’re dealing with one of those cultural abnormalities carried over from long ago, and it probably goes a little something like this: Because it wasn’t OK to flush when Koreans wiped with cloth or newspaper, it’s probably still not OK to flush even though we now use light tissue that is designed to easily break down in water.

Seriously, plumbing has not advanced in modern Seoul, the technological hub of the world? The sewage system isn’t as lightning fast as the internet? This place has the ability to clone cell phone and tablet technology (and claim it as its own), but it’s not capable of duplicating the distinguished American sewage system?

Then I found this article in the Korea Times, which pretty much explains it all:

Kim Hyung-do, the head of the sewage disposal department at Seoul’s Jongro-gu Office, said there was no reason to worry about toilet paper in the bowl because it is designed to disintegrate quickly (unlike the newsprint which our grandparents used). I immediately thought the galaxy needs to know this liberating fact.

A plumber concurred, saying that the only thing to worry about is blocking the U-pipes behind the bowl, which, like shit, happens.

For a historical and more technical perspective, I turned to Peter Bartholomew, the expatriate expert in ancient Korean buildings who has been here since the mid-1960s. He said the issue is connected with the size of septic tanks. They’re too small, most likely because in the old days human excrement was collected regularly for fertilizer. You just didn’t need a big one.

“There is only one compartment in these small septic tanks,” he said. “In more modern tanks there are two or even three compartments separated by baffles which allow staged decomposition along with the toilet paper, thus ensuring the final effluent from the tank is almost totally decomposed liquid, devoid of any solids.”

The collection trucks ― or “honey dippers,” as he called them ― prefer pure “black water.” But because local governments require the tanks to be pumped out every six or 12 months, they have to come around before the contents have completely turned to liquid. The solid materials such as toilet paper apparently cause problems with their pumps.

So, there you have it. Because the tank guys moan at the building owners, the entire country continues an unhygienic habit. It’s time to stop it and put the toilet paper where it belongs.

Oh Korea.

That got me thinking. Not only is this poo-paper stockpiling unsanitary and extremely stinky, but it’s also very wasteful.

Maybe you fight the power and flush, but I know you have looked in those trash bins and seen the massive piles of soiled toilet paper. The amount of tissue being used to wipe Korean bums is ridiculous. Do you use that much TP when you’re dropping it in the toilet? If so, maybe you do need to keep a plunger handy, surely it will become clogged. It’s not necessary to wrap the paper around your hand 9-10 times before giving it a run across your derriere.

Go ahead, try it for yourself. Determine how much TP is necessary to wipe and drop. Then, determine how much you deem necessary to protect your hand, parts of your undercarriage and every thing else out in the open should you decide to carefully maneuver the crappy paper out of the comfortable confines of the toilet, where it belongs, and instead drop it in the trash bin next to you. I guarantee when you’re placing it in the trash bin, you’re going to use way more TP.

I say listen to the head of the sewage disposal department at Seoul’s Jongro-gu Office, not the tank guys.

Save a tree and flush.

South Korean Civil Defense Drill

•November 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Tuesday, November 15th 2011 was a first for me in my 2.5 years in South Korea. I was outside, on the street, walking around during the civil defense drill. Every other time, I’ve been inside my school grading review tests or sending out Tweets that nobody is reading.

Every so often, it happens for 15 minutes in the afternoon. The sirens sound, the traffic pulls over, and for the most part the people stop walking as the emergency vehicles speed through the streets. What I learned today, is that there are citizens with official vests and yellow flags keeping the order, making sure everyone is being good Koreans by respecting the process of the drill. I needed to get to work, so I kept walking. You should have seen the looks of confusion as I strolled on by.

Unless you live under a rock, it should never be a surprise when it occurs. Seems that Facebook and the Twitterverse are alive with smart ass comments referencing the drills for a good day before it happens. Also, like the good American I am, my location is registered with the US Embassy in Seoul. Because of this, I receive periodic email communications updating me on what I need to know. To follow is a snippet from a recent communication.

Seoul Metropolitan Police authorities advised the Embassy that on Tuesday, November 15, 2011, at approximately 2:00 p.m. an air-raid siren will sound for one minute to signal the start of a scheduled nationwide civil defense drill. Pedestrians in open and public areas should move to nearby buildings or subway stations as they would when seeking shelter in an actual event. All drivers/vehicles on the road must pull over and come to a complete stop. At approximately 2:15 p.m. a second siren will sound, signaling the conclusion of the drill. Local authorities will give further instructions if necessary.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you, the civil defense drill.

Together With Bada (NEH Magazine)

•November 11, 2011 • 1 Comment

The following piece of writing on K-Pop icon Bada appeared as the cover story for the “Hers” side of NEH Magazine’s October Issue.

With this post comes an end to the era of my writing in NEH Magazine. Shortly after I quit NEH in September, it was announced that NEH was throwing in the towel. I learned a lot in the 13 months I contributed to that publication and am grateful for the lessons that time in my life taught me.

Together With Bada

Her producer describes her as pure, uncorrupted, sincere and not naive. She’s all that and more.

Even though at this point I shouldn’t be, for some reason I am continually amazed by how welcoming most celebrity types are when you get the opportunity to meet them. It’s natural, I suppose, to assume the worst about a face-to-face with someone famous. In my experience, however, more often than not, the result couldn’t be more to the contrary. Probably the greatest example of this genuine warmth in character I have encountered has been my involvement with Korean mega K-Pop icon, Bada.

I’m fortunate to have spent time with Ms. Bada, personally contributing pieces of writing for her latest press kits and upcoming English websites. With her producer helping to interpret, as well as the mix of Korean/English skills we share, Bada and I have had a handful of substantial conversations during which I was repeatedly impressed by her generosity and all-encompassing kindness. Don’t just take my word for it. Whether it’s casually hanging out after a musical stage performance, an interview at a coffee shop, or helping on the set of her “Nawagachi” music video, released in September, the steady observation from everyone I’ve been involved with has been, “Could she possibly be any nicer?”

On the topic of consistency, if there is a phrase she has continually heard all of her life, it is, “You’re so lucky Bada.”

Most remember her as the famed lead vocalist of S.E.S., the record breaking original girl group that established the blueprint for female success in Korean popular music that we still see duplicated today. In addition, her solo music career consists of four albums and two hit singles, while her acting career spans successful runs with renowned stage productions such as 42nd Street and Legally Blonde: The Musical, among others. Her efforts on stage have gained accolades including recognition as Best Actress, Most Popular Actress and Best Newcomer Actress by various korean musical awards associations.

If you think that all of this, and more, was achieved merely through luck, you’d be sorely mistaken.

Though they may not have had much money, Bada was born into a family rich in Korean musical heritage. Her father was a traditional Namdo Minyo folk singer. Being surrounded by artists and musicians from a young age had a strong influence on her. As a result of this inspirational environment, music and singing came to her very naturally. Through years of respiratory exercises with deep roots feeding the spiritual aspects of musical creation, her father’s guidance lead Bada to the realization that music was something exceptional. It was more than just a pleasurable activity. It was embedded in her, as much a part of her being as breathing. Music had become a way of life.

From her humble beginnings in Bucheon, Bada earned the reputation of an extraordinary talent. She recalled to me her first influential moment of self awareness. In second grade, her teacher proposed a challenge to the entire class: whoever can sing better than Bada, step forward. According to Bada, when nobody stepped up, she asked her teacher the reason for making an example of her with such a public request. The response was, “Because you’re just that good. You don’t know?”

This awakening fueled the dedication required to further develop her abilities in both singing and acting. As time went by, years of childhood recognition would eventually lead to an opportunity to attend the prestigious Anyang Art High School to major in acting, further demonstrating her versatility in the arts. Because her family wasn’t financially blessed, this could only happen with the kind of hard work and devotion that would result in the highest marks, which she successfully achieved.

Her diligence and work ethic in high school caught the attention of SM Entertainment, which led to the birth of S.E.S. and the rest, is history. S.E.S. would go on to release five full albums, two special albums, and is, to date, the top-selling K-Pop female group in Korea.

Fast forward to modern times. Starring in musical stage productions has been very good to Bada. In her words, “Acting in musicals has given vitality to my life.” Not only has she received strong praise and recognition for success in acting at the highest level, but she has learned a lot about herself in the process. Take, for example, the role of Peggy Sawyer, the famous lead in 42nd Street. Often described as a young, naive, starry-eyed chorus girl, Sawyer also possesses the drive and urge to never give up until attaining success. Bada told me that this willingness to work tirelessly in order to achieve greatness reminded her a lot of how she initiated her own career. At a young age, she herself went through the realization that even though she may have wanted to quit, destiny would not let her.

This adherence to commitment is something that has never gone away. At the age of 30, she had to take a crash course in tap dancing to prepare for the role of Sawyer in 42nd Street. It’s apparent from speaking with her that jumping through the necessary hoops to so quickly master tap, a distinguished and physically challenging form of dance is something she’s extremely proud of.

Take also her current role as Hanbyeol in 200 Pounds Beauty, a musical adaptation of an extremely successful Korean film that was originally based on a Japanese Manga. In a nutshell, Hanbyeol is an overweight singer who is constantly overlooked because of her hefty physical appearance. Her remedy for success is to have full body plastic surgery that, among other attributes, helps her achieve a successful career.

This is Bada’s second time around with 200 Pounds Beauty. Speaking about the wardrobe required to pull off the role of Hanbyeol in 2008, Bada says, “It was very difficult to deliver the role’s character through the costume and the special make-up that I was wearing”. She adds that “The 30kg costume was something that I wasn’t used to.  It made it difficult to deliver my facial expression, body language, and details that I perform on stage.”

She spoke of the lessons learned by playing a character with image issues. “If you love yourself you will know the true value of you. I believe I was self-conscious about very little things” she says laughing. “Nothing too dominant, but after playing this role, without noticing, a lot of the doubts about myself mostly vanished.”

Intrigued by learning the moments of realization that resulted from playing the two previously mentioned characters, I asked Bada what her all-time favorite role has been. “I would have to say Esmeralda in Notre Dame de Paris,”, she replied. “The character’s purity and courage is just magnetically attractive. It made me realize that vulnerability is the ultimate unbeatable power.” Recapping the personal significance of playing this character, she continued, “Singing Ave Maria on stage was quite personally touching since I come from a Catholic background. The entire stage set and props were brought from Paris when I performed at Sejong Art Center. The gargoyles that weighed over one ton and the huge bell that was installed on stage really made it into a time traveling experience.”

On the recorded music side of her career, for the first time she’s working with a creative staff based on in-depth intuition and understanding, rather than focusing strictly on technicalities. In the past, everything had been so systematic. By contrast, this new formula is fueling ingenuity in musical production through education. Bada and her producer J-Path have a respectful relationship that doesn’t crush creativity. Rather than focusing on what doesn’t work, together they are working hard to bring out the hidden antiques; a process of dusting off ideas that have always been there but haven’t been given the opportunity to flourish.

This perfect storm of confidence in her abilities, enlightenment achieved through a successful career riddled with ups, downs and hard work, as well as her new staff of creative minds, has landed her exactly where she wants to be.

Her newest release is the “Nawagachi EP”, a project in conjunction with her affiliation with Good Buy Selly (GBS), a Korean Do-It-Yourself Social Commerce Networking Service. The premise of GBS is providing a platform for consumers to share information. Rather than being force-fed the concept of value, it’s GBS’ belief that the consumer creates the value of a product or service by sharing their experiences with other consumers. The result is a truthful exchange of relevant information among members of this social community.

Translated, “Nawagachi” means “Together With Me”. The lyrics pitifully portray those who can’t make a subjective judgment in the midst of the overwhelming commercial information that often inundates our senses. Instead of allowing this to cloud our judgments, her words suggest we think for ourselves by clearly recognizing the differences that should appropriately influence our decisions. In doing this, we personally identify with the value of something.

Both the song’s sound composition and the visuals of the music video are a throwback to the 1960’s and ’70’s. The drum sounds are similar to The Ronnettes’ 1963 hit “Be My Baby” while the minimal imagery is also reminiscent of TV commercials from that era. Another noticeable quality is a visionary attitude adopted from famous British films like Tommy, a musical based on The Who’s rock opera. The video also borrows color schemes found in Yellow Submarine, based on The Beatles’ music. In speaking with the director Marco Tessiore, less conspicuous influences are drawn from iconic the Trevi Fountain scene in La Dolce Vita, one of his favorite films.

Bada is excited to talk about the “Nawagachi” video process. “It has vintage tone and multi-cultural casting! It was the only way to provide an accurate look at the truthfulness of the song”, she says when discussing the difference between this and past video projects. Some of the props used in the video hold significant value to her. “I brought many of my personal household things to the music video set [so] seeing my tea cups, plates, blankets and even pillows, fills my heart with a warm comfortable feeling when I watch the music video.”

Consider Bada’s future aspirations in the metaphorical context of a chef. Abiding by a cookbook’s instructions, and using the best ingredients, will usually result in a delicious dish. However, discovering the meaningful relationship that binds the chef to the particular choice of additives can lead to a dish richer in fulfillment. By achieving this particular state of connectivity, Bada hopes to release the ideas lurking deep within. She aims to create a distinguished main course by carefully selecting the different elements and thereby intuitively influencing the process by which the entree is prepared.

Obvious good fortune is not what got Bada to where she is. That’s not to say luck and motivation aren’t common subjects spoken about in her circle. At this point in her career, she describes luck as the opportunity to attach herself to the emotion radiating from the crowd. What motivates her is the ecstatic feeling of performing in front of people. Both are defined by appreciating the joy of her audience as they participate in the performance along with her.

My Grandpa Was Gay (NEH Magazine)

•November 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The following piece was published in the October “His” Issue of NEH Magazine.

My grandfather passed away earlier this year. My employment contract in Korea wouldn’t allow me to make it back for the service. Writing this helped me deal with the loss.

My Grandpa Was Gay

I never had much of a grandfather in my life, which was something that bothered me as a child. My mother’s father, Harold, passed away before I was born. He’d had a heart attack in his 50s. Harold was an Army drill sergeant and ultra-conservative Christian man, with a persona much different than mine; I often wonder what our relationship would have been like. My father’s father, Herbert (”Grandpa”), lived in Florida most of my life. He would visit occasionally, and we spoke on the phone during holidays, but I never got to know him well. He moved back to the Pacific Northwest a few weeks before I moved to Arizona for a new job opportunity. I was a young man in my mid-twenties when I moved back to Portland, and I take the blame for not choosing to spend more time with him during this period in our lives. I now live in Korea.

Making matters worse, a giant bomb was dropped on me during an unplanned visit to my grandma’s condo one Sunday afternoon. Sitting on her balcony overlooking the majestic Colombia River, my grandmother, my sister and I watched the planes land and take off at PDX, the same thing we had done all those years of my youth. Grandma broke out her old photo albums and the three of us shared memories and reminisced about the past. I was known for breaking everything in sight, including knocking the Mother Mary statue from wall and kicking the ceramic Christmas tree off the balcony. My brother and his mischievous tendencies as a youth. My sister as the happy go lucky wonderful person that she is.

However when the topic turned to my grandpa, who divorced my grandma just before my parents tied the knot, everything got….well, it got queer. I don’t remember how it was brought into the conversation, but my grandma said that my grandpa went through a time in his life when he was confused. According to her, “He thought for a while that he might be gay.”

A million thoughts immediately ran through my head. You can’t be serious! How do you think you might be gay? Are you saying he grew out of it? I don’t think that’s even possible. If my grandpa was gay, than his relationship with you was forced. This forced relationship resulted in three children. Had he stayed true to himself, he likely would not have married. No marriage, no children, no grandchildren. NO ME!

Kaboom.

My aunt, this same grandfather’s daughter, has been openly homosexual my entire life. To quote the popular phrase from Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” For me growing up, it was normal to my family that her female “friends” wore their hair short and looked like men. Everything was out in the open. I was taught that some people are born one way, some another, and I can’t recall having witnessed any negativity from my family because of my aunt’s sexuality.

That said, this is my grandpa we’re talking about. Most of my friends speak fondly of their grandfathers as the staunch, patriarchal figure in their families. A wise, rough, strong old man with morals and values from long ago, before our relaxed versions of those ideals were set into motion today. Because of this, you could say the romanticized version of my ideal grandfather would be the rebel like Johnny Cash or the tough guy like John Wayne. These ideas of a grandfather are certainly not gay.

Once I let those thoughts subside, it all began to make sense.

Where did he live during my entire childhood? Florida. Have you ever seen The Birdcage?

What did his “friend” do for a living? He sold shoes at Buster Brown. This is the same man that refused to drink anything other than Pepsi when he would come for a visit.
Nothing but Pepsi, and I think I recall copious amounts of Red Vines.

What branch of the military did he serve in as young man, fighting bravely for his country in WWII? The Navy. According to Wikipedia, the United States Navy actually considered using the notoriously gay anthem, “In the Navy” by The Village People for recruiting and advertising campaigns. It’s kind of funny to think about the use of a stereotypical gay fantasy for military recruiting, given the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policies that were later implemented, only recently to be repealed.

Last, there was the way he would refer to his feisty Irish mom. I can still hear it, “Oh Mother!”

Most males hold their grandfathers in the highest regard. When you’re a boy, he is supposed to teach you right from wrong and encourage you to do your best. As a young man, you realize this was person who molded your father into the man he is today. A grandfather can play many roles in the development of a man. Perhaps he is an authority figure. He is a friend, an advisor, a confidant. Most of all, he is someone you can look up to and learn from.

This is most certainly who my grandpa was. He was a veteran who bravely served his country. I frequently hear him referred to as the nicest man that ever lived. There was always a smile on his face and a giant hug to accompany it. He made the time to listen to whatever I wanted to talk about and encouraged me in my many endeavors as I grew up.

My grandpa died earlier this year. Not having the freedom to leave Korea on a whim, I was unable to make it back for the memorial service. Easing my disappointment was the time I was able to spend with him during my vacation home a few months prior to his passing. I’m told that in my absence, our family discussed the comparisons between his character and mine. For this I’m eternally grateful and proud to be his grandson. The character of a strong man has nothing to do with his sexuality.

My grandpa was gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

 
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