Nonsense, horsefeathers, and idle musings from a decade in South Korea (2002-2012).

25 June, 2007

How Do You View You?

By Aaron
25 June, 2007

Growing up Adventist, I was taught that all other Christian sects were either deluded or vaguely evil. This was not merely an academic point: people who didn't know of God's true word - as percolated through the innards of Ellen G. White - deserved the eternal torment they'd soon be facing. The Catholics were damned because they'd essentially deified Jesus' mom and because they thought people went to heaven when they died; the Episcopalians believed that gay folks were, like the rest of us, the children of God; the Methodists allowed dancing. To make matters worse, the whole lot of them worshiped on Sunday, which, as any upstanding Adventist will tell you, was set aside by God specifically for NFL football. Go check Genesis, you'll see: "...and on Sunday God did create Steve Largent, football widows and baked beans."

Religions are odd this way: no matter how moonstruck - or patently delusional - their ideas may be, the members seldom fail to gasp in horror at what some other sect has cooked up.

To wit:

For the first time, a Mormon has a legitimate shot at being the next president of the United States. At first glance, this would seem to indicate that America has opened its collective mind, become more tolerant and decided to give these latter-day saints a shot at the White House. And I suppose it is all that, but the candidacy of Mitt Romney has also given American Christians further occasion to play pot to the proverbial kettle, never once stepping back to consider the applesauce of their own views.

By all indications, and however politically slippery he may be, Romney seems like a decent fellow and a competent executive. To the best of my knowledge, he's not in the slave trade, addicted to crank, or running guns for the Janjaweed. He just happens to think that the Son of God, when he returns, will be arriving in Missouri.1 Jesus, by the by, is rightly pissed that TWA went belly up, because that St. Louis hub sure would have made his second coming a helluva lot easier, logistically speaking.2

The big gripe against Mormons - as made by other sects - seems to be that the LDS church has taken traditional scripture and riffed it out of all recognition, rather like a Grateful Dead cover band. Most Christians will tell you that Mormonism, as a faith, isn't to be trusted because it was founded by some crazy fellow who went around making shit up to fit his whim and fancy. Objectively speaking, of course, they're right: Joseph Smith was a certified loon, but no more or less so than whoever cooked up the other doctrines and tenets that we have come to associate with the Great Religions.

So the Mormons have a history of polygamy? Well, the Bible says that I can own slaves from neighboring countries,3 but like the Mormons and their plural marriages, most Christians got shut of their bondsmen a long time ago. No one's railing against the other Christian candidates because their religion backed bondage in the distant past.

The Mormons have magic underwear? Leviticus says I can't approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight,4 and I know a lot of people who attend church regularly with their spectacles. For my part, I have to wear a suit and tie everyday, usually with underwear. Dress codes, as you've no doubt learned by now, abound. So what?

For outright, comic dottiness it's hard to top the Holy Bible - particularly the elder testament - though I'll admit the Book of Mormon takes a fair stab at it. Point is, even Joseph Smith had to start somewhere and he didn't cook up his religion in a vacuum. Rather, he was indeed riffing on a centuries-old canon of specious dogma, the entirety of which looks awfully goofy to anyone who bothers to step outside the fray for even a moment and look at religion with any distance.

I don't expect that any religion or sect will perk up and recognize the jive of their own convictions anytime soon, no more, at least, than I expect the Shiites and Sunnis to lay down their small arms and have a beer together in Diyala next week. Religion, unlike journalism, doesn't even strive for objectivity and it's hard to tell a person who believes that woman was created from Adam's rib that God will, in fact, be turning up in the Midwest at some time in the future. Once a person is locked into a notion, no matter how askew, it's hard to talk them off the ledge.

1 The LDS' 10th article of faith, in case you wondered, which states that Zion will be built in the American continent

2 I'm not a religious person but it'd be doubly hard for me to get behind a God who chose as his place of reemergence - of all places on His own green earth - Missouri. I'd like to think that my god had better taste. After all, if Missouri is His idea of a good time, imagine Heaven, which is probably like southern Iowa. Given the choice, I'd take sinful mortality.

3 "Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids." - Leviticus 25:44 (KJV)

4 "...or a crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken..." - Leviticus 21:7 (KJV)

21 June, 2007

Ding Dong, Yummy and Pissing Racehorses

By Aaron
21 June, 2007

Scattered Notes

If I've learned anything in the past two weeks it's that girls named Yummy and Ding Dong should not be allowed to sit next to each other. Nor, come to that, should fifteen other people be locked in a room with those two for four hours a day.

I mention this because my Korean language classes started up again a few weeks ago at Seoul National University. In addition to Ding Dong and Yummy - who make preschoolers seem like a paragon of maturity - I also study with an Uzbeki fellow who wears a cologne that smells like buck urine. "Elk Musk," I believe it's called. A few days ago, after he'd been especially liberal in dousing himself with it, he leaned over to me and asked,

"Does this classroom smell funny to you?"

It's certainly a pocket of humanity, this class of mine. There are people from ten countries,* three continents, a range of ages and four genders. For the most part, everyone gets along - or pretends to - but the course has not been completely lacking in nationalist attachments.

For our first project of this summer term, we had to give a short presentation on our home countries. Giving hers, a Tawainese student made a casual reference to her country's geographic location "across the water from China." The Chinese students in the class, recognizing something that didn't quite jive with their prescribed worldview, immediately shot a few furtive glances at one another. After class, there was carnage in the hallway.**

None of us - as speakers of Korean - have reached anything approaching fluency, though, so that keeps the bloodshed to a minimum. At this point, our want of basic grammar and vocabulary have prevented most arguments, instead giving us a common purpose and goal. Here, incidentally, are a couple phrases that we all, regardless of ethnic background, found useful this past week:

그 남자는 경주마처름 오줌을 싸요. ***

하인을 부르세요. ****

No matter your race, religion or creed, there comes a time when you need to conjure images of a urinating racehorse, or, better still, to ring for your servant and have him conjure them for you.

* Mongolia, USA, China, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Canada, Denmark, Japan, and Britain.

** Mongolia, USA, China, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Canada, Denmark, Japan, and Britain.

*** That man is pissing like a racehorse.

**** Please ring for the servant.

15 June, 2007


By Aaron
15 June, 2007

Courtesy of The Yangpa...

13 June, 2007

Joong-Ang Ilbo: In the Shadow of Idiots'

By Aaron
13 June, 2007

Once again, the Joong-Ang Ilbo finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to keep up with idiot's collective. Many have tried, but well...actually, most have succeeded. Outpacing this site isn't too difficult.

photo from Joong-Ang Ilbo

09 June, 2007

Across the Tracks

By Aaron
09 June, 2007

As we were walking home last week, my wife pointed out a dead baby chicken on the side of the street near our house. It looked like it had been running along, lost its footing and done a face-plant...and died. But I doubt it: chickens don't just come running out of nowhere, after all. More likely, some kid bought the poor chick from someone selling them out of a box nearby and then handled the thing to death.

"Nevermind," I said. "The cats'll carry it off."

Funny thing about cats, though: they'll kill every songbird in sight, but where are they when you need them to cart off a dead chicken? Down eating the songbirds, no doubt. Nor, come to that, was the person who bought the chicken anywhere to be seen, so it sat there in the gutter for a day or two before some civic-minded person disposed of it.

This sort of scene happens all too often in Seoul. People buy kittens or puppies or baby wildebeests because the little buggers are just oh-so-cute, only to realize that those same animals have a puzzling tendency to grow into life-sized cats, dogs and, yes, wildebeests. Don't be surprised, then, when that chick you bought off the guy in front of the schoolyard for $3 matures into a full-fledged rooster with a penchant for crapping on the sofa. Lucky for everyone, then, that a child's love will usually kill a chick in an hour flat.

Especially children in Guro. This here's a rough neighborhood, the poorer quarters where the ragged people and their children flock for cheap housing, factory work, and barbecued pork intestines. Chickens don't stand a chance. More than any other area of Seoul, Guro is known for it's production of street pizza and morning oysters and grandmothers who squat on the street corner in the craptaking position staring blankly at the passing cars. Some have said that the residents of Guro are little more than a bunch of uncouth shitkickers, but I wonder if that's not unfair to the shitkickers.

Everyday I go to work over in the leafy, glass-and-steel Gangnam district, where well-heeled housewives carry themselves like they were the last empresses of Rome and pay $160 for a box of nine oranges at the Hyundai Department Store. Their husbands work in the offices nearby, making the money that keeps the family in expensive citrus and occasionally getting themselves tossed in the joint for it. I wish I had a nickel for every executive who talks of needing to stop by Anyang prison to visit an ex-colleague in lock-up. In fact, make it a dime. One Company Man I work with is even making a special stop in Los Angeles next week on his American business trip just so he can drive up to see a friend in Lompoc. None of this should come as a shock, though: the lust for a $17 orange has driven many a man to unsavory means.

But in Gangnam - and Cheongdam and Apgujung - the crime is sleek, the whitest of white collar, and agreed upon over bottles of Johnny Walker in room salons with a busty hostess on the lap. Over here in Guro, it's Darwin on Parade. The Chinese gangsters run the bars and - judging by the local citizenry - you'd stand to catch something if a hostess sat on your lap around here. Folks in this area measure their alcohol in five-liter soju jugs, all the better for mixing with the intestines and creating that famous Guro Deep Dish on the sidewalk as they make their way home. Watch your step in the morning.

The city is trying to clean the place up, they really are. Their first step was to rename the subway stations in the shabbiest areas, but Guro by any other name is still unsightly. Slowly but surely, however, the district is getting a face-lift as venture companies move into the new glass towers going up a few blocks from our house and the factories move across the Yellow Sea to China. Hell, there are even two Starbucks within walking distance of our house.

Eventually, of course, Guro will gentrify and the current tenants will be forced to take their boorish manners elsewhere. Ditto for me and mine. Just where we'll all go is a mystery, although it certainly won't be to Seoul's slums because she hasn't got any - just ask PJ O'Rourke. Only the Gasan district, just over the hill from here, is more decrepit and loutish than Guro, and the developers will get their hands on that place soon enough.

But maybe that's all good news for the baby animals that are up for sale over at Daerim Station. While it's not clear that a woman who spends hundreds of dollars on oranges would take any better care of a chick, I doubt she'd want a dead one sitting on her stoop. Of course, I doubt she'd even have a stoop in the first place. People of means usually don't.

06 June, 2007

The Great Champagne Disappointment

By Aaron
06 June, 2007

When we were kids, in the 1980s, my sister and I spent our Saturday afternoons waiting for The Lawrence Welk Show to come on. This was not because we enjoyed Welk's champagne music - we hated it, actually - but rather because we didn't have cable and the show aired on Oregon Public Broadcasting at about the time the sun went down on any given Saturday evening. We were also Seventh-Day Adventists, and when you're raised in a church that was founded on "The Great Disappointment," you learn to keep your cultural standards at knee-level and just look forward to the next polka.

Like the Adventists, most American kids will tell you that Saturday is God's chosen day: little league baseball, no school, the next day is Sunday, and the sun always shines. The Adventists, however, have their own reasons. They believe that Saturday is the holy day because, according to The Good Book, God rested on the seventh day after spending the previous six days knocking everything together. This seventh day was, of course, Saturday and we know this because God has always used the same calendar that we use today.

By church standards, I was raised in a liberal Adventist household. We ate meat, went to see PG-rated films at the movie theater on occasion, and listened to secular music. I grew up with CCR, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, though my mother fretted about letting me listen to the Top Gun soundtrack when I informed her, at the age of nine, that I wanted an earring. I was becoming worldly - rebelling, Adventist-style - and perhaps all her years of furtively listening to Anne Murray on the Sabbath had ruined me.

"The Heritage Singers never would have driven you to this," she said.

Lapses into worldly music notwithstanding, my parents insisted that we keep the Sabbath every week. Adventist Saturdays were, to my recollection, godly only to the extent that they were god-awful. The high point of the afternoon, after we'd returned home from church, was watching our father take a nap on the sofa. Maybe he'd fart in his sleep.

From an early age, my sister and I knew exactly where in Friday morning's newspaper to find the official Saturday sunset time for that week (say, 6:37 PM) and we waited for that time to roll around so that we could turn on the TV and watch...anything. The first show was usually The Lawrence Welk Show, which came to symbolize Freedom from Sabbath for us. In addition to Mr. Welk, we looked forward to watching The Golden Girls later that same evening. Are you beginning to see what Adventism can do to a person's standards and taste? A ten year-old American boy should not know who Estelle Getty is. Luckily, I attended Adventist schools, where the kids came from families strictly opposed to the salty tongue of Sophia Petrillo. Otherwise, I'd have been beaten up every Monday morning when I quoted Getty's latest wisecracks on the school bus.

It's strange that our devout parents let us watch The Golden Girls at all - with its loose morals and sexual innuendo - but I can only guess that they found the locker room talk of menopausal women to be harmless. On the whole, however, my mother was a one-woman ratings board when it came most of the films and television we could watch. My father got his comeuppance when he took us to see Look Who's Talking, rated PG-13, when my sister and I were only eight and ten, respectively. The film, thought Mom, was "suggestive." That was her favorite word to describe any movie that she wouldn't allow us to see. Great Balls of Fire was suggestive. Dirty Dancing was suggestive. Just what these films suggested, I never learned. All I knew is that we were allowed only to watch the erudite works of Paul Hogan, James Garner and Steve Guttenberg. Consequently, I was well into high school before I ever saw the Star Wars trilogy. Those films, too, were suggestive.

We didn't care what we watched on Saturday evenings, so long as it was on TV. Just being able to turn on the television told us that we could be normal again, that we could return to human society after twenty-four hours in a world where the only board games we were allowed to play were Miracles and Pitfalls1 and Egypt to Canaan.2 Sabbath for us, as Adventist kids, was its own minor Egypt and if Lawrence Welk was the only horse headed out of town, so be it. I'll take his polkas over watching my father nap any day.

Miracles and Pitfalls
Learn to negotiate mighty miracles and perilous pitfalls while plundering the treasure trove of Scripture and learning God's Word in this exciting board game.

2 Egypt to Canaan
This colorful and challenging board game tests your knowledge of the people and events of the Bible. Learn about the travels of the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. Includes game board, playing pieces, and question cards. For two to six players, ages 8 to adult.