Archive for February, 2008

Snowy, Snowy Year

birdie-snow.JPGbirdie-snow.JPGIt started snowing yesterday and it snowed through most of the night so we have a go 6-8 inches or (15-20 cm); enough so English Village had to hire a plow to dig us out.

I think this has been one of the snowiest years I have seen in Korea in the tens years I have lived here. It snowed early and it has snowed often. The kids even built an igloo!

There may be some correlation between snow and Anna being pregnant. The winter of 2000-2001 was a snowy year, or at least I remember one snow storm that really dumped it on Seoul. There’s a picture of Anna near Seoul Station that I will try to find and upload. There was so much snow that it’s hard to distinguish from the picture where in Seoul we were. It doesn’t help that the snow was falling fast and furious so everything in the background was obscured by a gray haze.

Although the snow from this last storm never fell fast and furioius, slow and steady certainly added up. It started before lunch on Monday and continued snowing at least until 3 am Tuesday morning. How do I know: I went to the bathroom and got a drink of water at 3 am and it was still snowing.

I’ll upload some pictures when I get to work.

     birdie-snow.JPG           bushes-snow.JPG

Can’t seem to get the thumbnails to expand when you click on the pictures. Hmm, I guess I’ll have to play with this a little more.

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Village Wars

There are two feuding faction at English Village. There is the American faction comprised mainly of the Buckners and there is the Canadian faction comprised mostly of Oriana and Dave.

The feud really just involves elaborate practical jokes. The origin of the feud is clouded in myth, but legend has it that the American faction started it. No doubt the Canadians claimed it was a unilateral action unsanctioned by the international community.   

Allegedly the American faction obscured Oriana’s desk with a massive number of party balloons creating not only a work hazard but also significantly increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere which purportedly jeopardized Korea’s standing within the Kyoto Protocol Agreement.

Oriana vowed to get even and quickly mustered her troops for a retaliatory strike. Armed with tinfoil and plastic wrap, they snuck into the leadership office under the cover darkness and proceeded to wrap the objects on and around Mike’s desk. The Canadian faction was so sure of their success and their ability to avoid detection that they documented the covert operation. (Here’s a link to the evidence; pictures 1-3.)

A period of diplomatic hardball followed this incident. The Canadian hope of plausible deniability failed when word leaked that there was photographic evidence of the covert operation. Inspection of the photographic evidence revealed that it was not only authentic but also revealed that a ranking member of the Korean administration was involved.

After an initial formal protest from the American faction, there was a period of silence. The uniformed or naïve assumed that the American faction had moved on to other endeavors, but really they were busy organizing Operation Hearty Meal in which kilos of Korean rice were dumped in, on and around Dave’s desk. (Here’s a link to the evidence; pictures 4-5.)

The symbolism was clear the American faction was lashing out at both the Canadian faction and at the Korean administration. During Korean and American negotiation of the FTA agreement the major contentious issue had been Korean rice. The fact that Korean rice was used in this manner demonstrates a deliberate attempt to spurn the Korean administration for their involvement in the covert operation. Undoubtedly it was also cathartic for the American faction to have dumped the rice upon the desk of the man who was caught with the incriminating photographic evidence. Thus it was a symbolic killing of two birds with one stone.

Operation Hearty Meal left the Canadian faction facing reality; this was becoming their Vietnam, their Iraq. They had a decision to make: Do they withdraw from the field of engagement or do they escalate the conflict and risk drawing other innocents into the feud? Inevitably the corridors of power always seem to choose escalation of the conflict rather than disarmament, so the Canadian faction hunkered down for the long haul. Several strategy session were convened, they weighed their options, mobilized their assets, and inventoried their resources. Several schemes were assessed and most were discarded until one plan seemed to set itself apart from the others.    

The American faction was planning to take some much needed R&R, but before they left they made arrangement for someone to look after their dog. While the American faction was in Thailand resting and relaxing, the Canadian faction seized this opportunity to kidnap Charlie, take him to a salon and have his feet and tail dyed puke green. The American faction retuned to English Village to discover that there was no escaping the feud, and there was no way to remove Charlie’s puke green feet and tail.

Again the naïve and uninformed believed that the American faction would throw in the towel, but they knew that two can play at the abduction game. Rumor has it, however, that Dwight wasn’t actually abducted. He was offered a choice: Hang out on Orianna’s desk for the rest of his life or take a chance to see the world. They say, “Dwight jumped at the chance to get out of the office.” Pun, no doubt, intended. Dwight

Dwight’s tale has yet to be told, but I am sure it will be a bitter-sweet affair.

For the record, I belong to neither of the factions. I am merely an observer, a spectator, a chronicler of the events. Some have accused me of being an enabler, a spy and even a double agent, but I vehemently deny these accusations. Why would I risk my privileged position as an observer by helping either faction carry out their nefarious machinations? Isn’t it far better to watch and chronicle than to tar one’s reputation? Although I am not above making certain recommendations for material investments, I am certainly no enabler, no spy and no double agent.

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Jangmonim’s Upcoming Move

Anna and I spent part of Saturday and part of Sunday helping Anna’s mother (Jangmonim) sort through and throw out stuff in her apartment before her upcoming move.

Since much of the stuff taking up space in her apartment is ours we felt obliged to lend a hand. There was also a financial incentive involved since we are financing much of the move. The more stuff that ends up in the rubbish bin the less we will have to pay the movers since pricing is set roughly by the kilo.

Jangmonim’s move reflects the every changing vagaries of the Korean housing market. Formerly to lease her apartment we only needed a $50,000 deposit, but that deposit has now increased to as much as $100,000 for some apartments in the complex.

Although I often dream about having hundreds of thousands of dollars laying around in low interest saving accounts, in reality I don’t have that kind of money. Luckily Anna was quick on her feet and she managed to nab a contract for a much nicer apartment at a much nicer price. Best of all, it is closer to English Village and in the same neighborhood where Andy and BoA go to school and have most of their friends.

Personally I never really liked Jangmonim’s current apartment complex. A Korean might say that my dislike stems from the fact that it isn’t a “brand name” complex like I-Park, or Hyundae Hillstate, or Daewoo Prugio.  This, however, is not the case because I tend to dislike Korean apartment complexes regardless of the name, but the Yu Seung apartment complex in Tongildongsan is “low rise” rather than “high rise.” The complex tops out at five stories, and this seems more livable to me than Jangmonim’s former Palm Spring complex in Geumchon which topped out at 25 stories. Fewer stories usually means fewer units and fewer units means fewer people. The Palm Spring complex had somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000-4500 units. Yu Seung is low-rise and with much fewer units; somewhere in the neighborhood of 500.  

I still wish we had been able to buy an apartment in the Tongildongsan neighborhood back in November of 2005. We thought about it and we even tried to acquired some financing, but as luck (or should I say the system) would have it foreigners can’t get loans in Korea. We sought alternatives such as using Jangmonim’s land as collateral, but her land wasn’t deemed valuable enough at the time. Consequently we lost our chance to buy an apartment in the Yu Seung apartment complex for $80,000. Sadly apartments in that complex are now selling for $250,000! Leases on those apartments require deposits of between $70,000 and $100,000 depending on size and location. For example the apartment we are leasing for Jangmonim is small (32 pyoung) so we only need a $70,000 deposit to lease.

Sometimes I feel like the world’s financial system is set against me, or perhaps more correctly I came of age in a period of time in which the cost of education soared forcing individuals to start their careers significantly in debt. If I hadn’t been saddle with that educational debt, I’d probably own multiple properties in Korea and I would be making a comfortable living from those investments.

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Jumping the Book not the Movie

On Friday night I finished the book Jumper. (Spoiler Warning) For something that was written in the late 80s or early 90s (my edition said the copyright date was 1992), I really appreciated how the events happening in the book still seemed relevant. I am sure that was one of the reasons why it was made into a movie. It’ll be interesting to see how the director and screen writers deal with the issue of terrorism in the movie, because I though the author (Steven Gould) did a relatively good job with the theme in the book.

A good example of how the author deals with the theme of terrorism in the book occurs after David’s (the main protagonist) mother is blown up on the tarmac of the airport by a terrorist bomb. David is in Washington, DC and he is meeting with Dr. Perston-Smythe, an associate professor in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.  Dr. Perston-Smythe is trying to put the terrorist bombing in the proper perspective. Their talk begins with Dr. Perston-Smythe saying:

“The first thing I want to make clear is that this violence, this terrorism, is not cultural. It isn’t integral either to Arab or Muslim culture. I’ve done too many briefings for senators and congressmen who think that all ‘towelheads’ carry a pistol and a grenade. If you can’t see beyond this stereotype, then we might as well stop now.” (beginning of chapter 13)

David is being forced to deal with some understandable prejudices. As he silently admits to himself, he hadn’t really thought about it. To the professor he agrees that not ALL Arabs or Muslims are terrorists, but he freely admits to feeling some hostility toward them as a group. Their conversation then continues:

“Consider this—there were over forty thousand Lebanese killed in the period between nineteen eighty and nineteen eight-seven. Over a million have died in the Iran-Iraq war. Less than five hundred Americans have died in the same period in the Middle East from terrorist actions, if you count the truck bombing of the Marines in Beirut, which I don’t.”

“Why not?”

“One of the problems with American public policy on terrorism is that our government insists on blurring the line between armed insurgence against military forces and installations and attacks on uninvolved civilians. Now, obviously attacking unarmed civilians who have no involvement with a particular political issue is terrorism. But an attack on an armed military force occupying one’s homeland? That’s not terrorism. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that if you call that terrorism then the U.S. is also involved in financing terrorists in Afghanistan and Central America. See what I mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the proportion of American dead from terrorism is way out of proportion to the response it generates. We did nothing to stop the Iraq-Iran war because we perceived it in our interests that damage be done to both of those countries. Personally I think that’s inexcusable, but I’m not in the position to make government policy. Certainly both leaders were crazy with a long-standing personal grudge, but their people paid a horrible price.”

“I wasn’t aware that there was a personal grudge.”

“Hell, yes. In nineteen seventy-five; when Hussein settled the dispute over the eastern bank of Shatt-al-Arab with the Shah of Iran, one of the unwritten conditions was that Hussein get Khomeini to stop his political activity.”

“How could he expect Hussein to do that?”

Perston-Smythe looked at me like I was an idiot. “Khomeini was in Iraq. When he was exiled from Iran he went to the Shiite holy city of An Najaf. Anyway, Hussein told Khomeini to stop and Khomeini refused, so Hussein bounced him out of the country to Kuwait which promptly bounced him out of the country to France. Over a fifteen-year period, seven hundred thousand Shiites were thrown out of Iraq. There’s a lot of bad feeling there. More now of course, since the war.”

I blinked. “I know you’re trying to give me the big picture, but what about these particular terrorists?”

“We’re getting there. It’s a roundabout way, but all the better for the journey. What do you know about Sunni versus Shiite beliefs?”

I’d been doing some reading, evenings, after working on the cliff dwelling at El Solitario. “Sunnis make up about ninety percent of Muslims. They believe that the succession of caliphs was proper after Mohammed died. The Shiites believe that the rightful successors descended from Ali, Mohammed’s cousin, not his best friend, Abu Bakr. They believe that the rightful descendants have been assassinated and discriminated against ever since.

“Sunnis tend to be more conservative and they don’t believe in a clergy or a liturgy. The only countries with Shiite majorities are Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.”

“That’s right,” said Perston-Smythe. He seemed surprised at my knowledge after my earlier ignorance. “Even among Shiites, terrorism is abhorrent. One of Mohammed’s strictures calls for the protection of women, children, and the aged. One of the ninety-nine names of Allah is ‘The All Merciful.’ ”

“All right. I accept that most Muslims wouldn’t practice terrorism. I’ll keep that in mind. But I want to know about the men who do practice it. I want to know about the men who killed my mother.” (beginning of chapter 13)

There are several things I like about this passage. First, it does a good job exposing the “double-speak” that our government uses to classify our actions versus theirs. The other thing I like about this passage is that it also hints at the violence and the desperation that helps to create individuals who are ripe for terrorist recruitment. I touched on some of these ideas in an essay published in the Catholic University Forum in October of 2001 (archive).

The major premise of the book involves the fact that David has a special gift. He can jump (teleport) anywhere he wants. He uses this power to track down his mother’s murderer. In the process he runs afoul of the US government. The government, in order to gain control over David and his special abilities, kidnaps his girlfriend. David responds by kidnapping Brian Cox, the lead agent on his case. He sees this as a chip he can use to negotiate with the government. The government of course classified David as a terrorist which means…

“It is our policy not to negotiate with terrorists.”

I stared at the phone, my eyes wide. I was speechless and very, very angry.

“Are you still there?” The voice belonged to an unnamed official in the NSA. Perston-Smythe introduced him as one of Cox’s supervisors.

“What the fuck do you mean by that?”

“It is the policy of this government not to negotiate with terrorists.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you consider me a terrorist?”

He sounded almost prim. “Certainly. You’ve taken a hostage.”

“Terrorists,” I said, gritting my teeth, “attack the innocent to achieve their goals. If you’re about to tell me that you consider Cox an innocent bystander, then this conversation is over.”

“Terrorists are—”

“Oh, fuck it! You want a terrorist action so you can consider me a terrorist? There’s no way you can keep me out of your nuclear arsenals. Where do you want the first one to go off? The Pentagon? The White House? The Capitol building? How about Moscow or Kiev? Wouldn’t that be interesting? Do you think they’d launch?”

His voice was a lot less prim. “You wouldn’t do that.”

“Well, as a matter of fact, I wouldn’t. BECAUSE I’M NOT A TERRORIST!” I slammed the phone down on the hook and jumped (chapter nineteen).

By this time in the novel David has not only foiled several hijacking attempts, but he has also captured his mother’s murder. This leads to an interesting conversation between David and his mother’s murder. I feel that the author also does a go job with this conversation. The terrorist’s action isn’t condoned, but the context which created the man is examined:

 
Finally I said, “Why? Why did you kill her?”

Matar straightened. “Why? Why does your government support Israeli fascism in Lebanon? Why did your country overthrow the democratic government of Iran to put the Shah back in power? Why do your oil companies rob our countries of their wealth and power. Why does the west profane our religion, spit on our beliefs and holy places.”

My stomach hurt. “Did my mother do any of those things? I know why you’re angry with my government. Why don’t you attack them instead of helpless women and children? Is this honorable? Is this something Mohammed would have wanted?”

He spat into the fire. “You know nothing of honor! Your government has no honor. You are godless tools of Satan. Your mother died for a just cause. She wasn’t a victim—she was a martyr. You should be proud (chapter nineteen).”

We see the twisted logic that the terrorist uses to justify his actions, but we also see that some of the events that helped create this twisted reasoning were preventable such as the assignation of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in 1953 by the CIA. Thus much of the terrorism that is directed against innocent Americans is the direct result of “blowback” of US policy and covert actions abroad. To a certain extent we are reaping what we have sown, and I commend this book for showing this.

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Hyundai Chadongcha meets CSI

We took the mini-van to the car repair shop in Tongildongsan after Anna got out of the hospital and before we met with the “no-look” ahjumma’s insurance representative. We wanted to make sure that there was no internal damage to the car. Interesting there wasn’t any internal damage, but there was external damage.

Andy’s best friend is Jin-Hyoung, and it is Jin-Hyoung’s father who owns the car repair shop, so we know we can trust him. He assured us that internally everything was fine, but he thought we needed a new bumper. I said, “Really? It looks fine to me.” That’s when he pulled out his black-light pen knife and shined it at out fiber-glass bumper. In the UV light we saw two spider webs branching out over the bumper on either side of the license plate.   He smiled and said in Korean and Anna quickly translated: “It might not look like much, but it has compromised the integrity of your bumper.”

And I thought CSI was cool.

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Anna Returns

Anna was released form the hospital on Wednesday. I went and picked her up in the afternoon. The hospital staff didn’t want her to go, but not for medical reasons. They wanted to sap more money out of the “no-look” ahjumma’s insurance. Having spent two evenings with Anna in the hospital it was a tedious place, so I completely understood why Anna wanted to leave. Interestingly the hospital staff and even some of the other patient couldn’t. The mind set in Korea at least when it comes to accidents and insurance is: Get all you can whether you need it or not.

Actually accidents in general seem to be seen as money making opportunities. If it isn’t sticking it to the insurance companies it’s sticking it to the person who is deemed at fault. For example a colleague of mine had to pay $2000 to a woman because her tire may or may not have run over her foot. My colleague took the woman immediately to the hospital and paid all the fees. Her mistake was not getting the woman to sign something before she went back to Hongdae to dance the night away, because the following week she learned that the woman wanted $2000 for pain and suffering; so much pain and suffering that she was still able to go dancing the night of the accident.

The practice of sticking to the insurance companies and person who is at fault is so pervasive that when Anna signed off with the “no-look” ahjumma’s insurance company Wednesday afternoon, the insurance representative was like: “That’s all you want?” Anna described him as being beyond pleased. He no doubt believed he had managed to pull the wool over on us.

But he didn’t.

If everyone is running up the cost that it takes to cover accidents in Korea, the insurance companies are only going to pass that along to everyone in higher premiums, so I don’t understand the mind set. I know that our insurance premiums have gone up 5-7% each year that I’ve had insurance, so I assume that it’s the same if not more for other people. So in the long run, are these people winning?  

We may not be several thousand dollars richer because we failed to stick it to the insurance company and the “no-look” ahjumma, but we are nonetheless glad that we are all safe and sound.

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Facebook: Food for Thought

As a married man with two children and a third on the way I always saw facebook as a way for me to live vicariously through others and to exercise my voyeuristic tendencies. I used it to spy on the lives of my fellow village people especially those who have made the decision to move on from this “English Village experience.” Facebook allows me to see if the grass is truly greener on the other side of the bridge.

There is, however, a darker side to facebook. What follows is an email I received from a friend. He has agreed to let me share this on my blog. I believe it’ll remind us that life requires us to be vigilant lest we succumb to con artists and scams.

I began my Facebook experience last fall at the urging of an old friend from my pre-overseas days that we shall call C. I looked into it and signed up thinking: What’s the harm? It’s free, after all, no costs at all. I joined and got a kick out of it at first as I became reacquainted with many people who had long disappeared from my life and now live on Facebook.

But of course nothing in this world is free, as I once told a Filipina Mama-san in Sagamihara.

I got my first hint what Facebook and its now multi-billionaire founder was all about from a friend of mine in Japan, originally from England, in the on-line edition of the English newspaper the Guardian. The article describes Facebook’s business model: it takes all the bits of data entered voluntarily by its users, the numbers are crunched and the resulting info is sold to marketers and advertisers for big bucks. A-ha, I thought to myself, that is how they do it!

Of course, the so-called “free” e-mail services like yahoo or gmail or hotmail, which I have been using for years, also make money by selling you out to the same people. And TV, as Ralph Nader so eloquently put when I was listening to CKDU once in the 1990’s at home in Fall River in the summer with a hummingbird buzzing overhead, TV viewers are the commodity that is consumed by advertisers. When you watch TV, you are not the consumer, but the commodity. You do not eat TV, it eats you.

As you can see, we have been happily and enthusiastically commodifing ourselves for at least two generations. I’m sure Terry Eagleton would see it as a feature of late capitalism. So, really, there’s nothing to get exited about. It’s just modern life. As for Facebook’s CIA connections, they’re as thin as the argument linking Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. No big deal at all.

So, I was a bit dismissive of the article in the Guardian and poohed-poohed it as being overly alarmist.

Then I was phished.

Last week I received a friend request in a female name, Cassie Clayton, and a picture of the supposed young lady. It looked like she had taken the picture of herself by holding her camera at arms length. The flash erased some of her features making it hard to see her face clearly, but it was a cool effect. I was curious about it and wondered what it was about so I confirmed as friend and unwittingly opened the door to all my personal information on my Facebook page to an unknown entity.

So, the next day I log onto Facebook and Cassie Clayton is dominating the newsreel. She is getting lots of new friends, and all guys. What’s going on here, I think, and log onto her home page. She’s supposed to be a 20 year-old, but looks older in the photo, and the local details are correct but it is just not jiving. Even the picture, when I look at it carefully, is not right. It’s supposed to be a snap-shot but when you look at the composition, the lighting, even the colors of clothes and a bit of bed in the background, this is professionally done. And who in the real world takes a picture of themselves on their burgundy bed sheets and slaps it on the Internet? And the fashion and hairstyle and her nice tan, none of this fits the local culture. This was lifted off the internet somewhere. And, while the details in her profile are believable the content is not, not even the way it’s written. She comes across as a ditzy bimbo, but since Facebook is created by the person, they always put their best foot forward, and in this case so-called Cassie Clayton is making a public profile of herself as a ditzy bimbo which just wouldn’t happen in reality so this is a fake, a very detailed fake, but a fake page, with a man behind it, since a woman would never create a page that was so misogynist and borderline soft porn.

Okay, it’s a fake, but so what?

So, I sent out email asking the question and I got a reply back from Phil Brown who is the all-wise and all-seeing guru in this matter. He pointed out when I allowed “Cassie Clayton” as a friend, the user than got access to all my personal information which then can be used for various nefarious purposes.

My first reaction to that was again, there is no information on Facebook that would be useful to anyone. Then I started thinking about it, and decided to check my profile and there was my name, birth date, telephone number, address, single status, email address (but it was a junk address that use in these situations) my education history and employment history. Holy macaroni! I hadn’t realized I had so much information there. What could it be used for? I’m not sure, but do I want all this info easily accessible to dubious persons with nefarious intentions. The answer is no, so I deactivated my Facebook account.

Then I sent out email saying I did so, and C. responded saying that I over-reacted and that they can’t use the information to get a credit card because they don’t have my social insurance number. So what, I say, that’s not the point. I don’t know what they can use it for—actually I was thinking more along the lines of fake ID’s and passports—and I don’t even know where in the world these people are and I have visited and lived in countries that are no bound by the same legalisms as this country. C., who originally encouraged me to go onto Facebook, has been using it as a marketing tool. This week I have received two spams through Facebook trying to sell debt relief services through her. I have many financial problems but debt is not one of them. I have no debt, therefore no problem.

So, I feel used once more.

This in turn got me thinking. What’s the point of providing all this information to those who are already your friends? If they are your friends, they should already know it. The only people who would want to know it and people who don’t and are therefore not your friends and wish to use it for their own nefarious purposes. End of story. So, I have deactivated Facebook and see no reason to reactivate it. I’ll let myself be exploited in our ways.

Anthony Blackmore
Halifax, Nova Scotia
February 18th, 2008

Although I have never accepted anyone who I did not personally know, it does not mean that I won’t meet some random person at some random party who immediately goes home and looks me and everyone else he or she has met at the party on facebook. I can see myself accepting such a person; especially if he/she made a favorable impression on me at the party. From experience I know that sociopaths can be quite charming and con artists who play the confidence game have to be, so caveat voyeur: Voyeur Beware!

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Repercussions from Ms. “No Look”

Just got back from the clinic in which Anna is spending the night. Seems there were some repercussions from our encounter with the “no look” ahjumma. Anna’s doctor wants her to stay the night for observations; something to do with abnormally tight muscle across Anna’s abdomen. Thankfully the ultra-sound says that Noah is doing fine.

The SUV hit us hard; hard enough to freak Anna out and cause her stomach to get abnormally tense. The guy at the repair shop said everything seems to be fine with the car.

I dropped the kids off at Jangmonim’s since they are on vacation and I have to work tomorrow. Anna thinks she’ll be home tomorrow. I hope she is correct.

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The No-Look Ahjumma*

It happened again this weekend. I was struck by a Korean woman who didn’t look behind her when she was backing up. I’ve been struck so often by Korean women when they are backing up that I have lost count, but I suppose it is at least a biannual occurrence. 

I do remember the first time. It was December 1997 and I was at Kimpo (now Gimpo) Airport. I had been in Korea less than an hour and I was in the crosswalk with a crowd of people when this lady in a second generation Hyundai Sonata suddenly started backing up right into the crowded crosswalk. The Koreans around me didn’t seem fazed. They got out of her way, shouted, or banged on the back of her car. I froze like a deer caught in the head lights. If I hadn’t been with a large group of people I am sure I would have been squashed like a bug and my career as an ESL teacher would have been very short.

The Koreans who had come to the airport to pick me up laughed it off. The man assured me that male drivers in Korea are much better than woman drivers in Korea. The woman told me that only ahjummas* were dangerous. I accepted their assurances without commentary, but made a mental note to myself: Walk, bike and drive at your own risk.    

The most recent incident occurred at Tanhyun Emart in Ilsan. Anna was driving and I was sitting in the front seat. We were in the parking lot. There was one SUV in front of us and there were numerous empty parking places. The SUV appeared to be continuing past the first row and we assumed it was heading to the second row when it suddenly decided to back up at full speed. The SUV hit us with enough force to send BoA half-way into the front seat.

I immediately jumped out of our car and approached the SUV with one of those “what-the-fuck-do-you-think-you-are-doing?” looks. Anna had both of her hands on her stomach and was in a state of shock obviously for herself and the baby. Amazingly, there was only minor damage to the bumper and the license got damaged when the woman drove her SUV forward again.

When the woman saw me she said in English, “Sorry, [nervous laugh] no look.” She then went and talked with Anna. When I asked Anna later about what the woman had said, Anna admitted that she had confided to her the same thoughtlessness she had mentioned to me. She simply hadn’t looked behind her when she backed up. All I could think about was: What if there had been a child walking behind her SUV in the parking lot when she was backing up? We survived because we were in a minivan, a child wouldn’t have had it so good.

* I can’t seem to get wordpress to support Korean. I have uploaded the ko_KR.mo file and have added the define language to my config.php, but when I type in Korean all I get is questions marks. For example here is ahjumma written in Hangeul: ???.

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

A Decaffeinated Lunar New Year

According to Korean accounting I have officially become a year older and I certainly felt it for most of the week.

There were two major reasons for this. First I ran out of coffee; never good for one who is addicted to caffeine. My back has also been giving me problems since I went sledding a couple of weeks ago, so Anna recommended that I get a  massage, but the massage that was suppose to alleviate my back ache only made it worse. It left me so that I was barely able to move.

Prior to Lunar New Years, Anna and I had made a trip to Costco. While we were there I picked up some real coffee; coffee which required that it to be ground and brewed. Sadly most of the coffee I drink at work is of the instant variety, so I was really looking forward to a week of REAL coffee.

I came home from Costco, took the coffee maker out of the cabinet and gave it a thorough washing. I left the glass coffee pot drying in the dish rack. It was then time to take the dog for a walk. When I came back I discovered that one of my children had let a can of tuna fall into the dish rack smashing my coffee pot. Although I was disappointed about not being able to drink REAL coffee, I consoled myself with the thought that at least I’ll be able to go to my office and get some instant coffee.

The following morning I woke up, reached for my coffee and the grinder and remembered that my coffee pot was smashed. I grabbed my jacket and headed to the office only to find that the building had been locked down. I was unable to get in. I momentarily contemplated making a Spiderman impersonation, but my sore back reminded me that wasn’t a good idea.

I returned home and suffered through withdrawal which was only made worse by my back. Anna took pity on me and suggested that I get a massage from her massage therapist. I thought the decadence sounded nice so I agreed.

Anna booked me for an hour, but I only lasted thirty-five torturous minutes. I have had massages before in Thailand and Vietnam, so I thought I knew what to expect, but this woman pummeled me. She seemed to have only on setting: Bone Crushing. I left the massage clinic literally bruised and battered.

I spoke to Anna about it, and she wasn’t surprised. She enumerated a handful of times when something similar had happened to her. I asked her: “Why is the woman unable to control her kneading?”  Anna theorized that it had something to do with the fact that her husband was having an affair with a much younger woman. I decided to forego any further ministrations.

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008