Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dead Duck?

I am going to die, probably. But when, and how? Hopefully from an awesomeness overdose and not for another 2,000 or 3,000 years, but realistically I’ll probably kick the bucket with everyone else in 2012. Because I live in South Korea (America’s ally, in case Sarah Palin is reading this) a few of my American friends and family think that war will break out at any moment and that I'm already as dead as Leslie Neilson (Yeah, I said it.) The North’s recent sucker-punch on Yeonpyeongdo island has lead to mounting tensions, as it is the biggest provocation in many years, possibly since the Korean War. Now, the “Puppet South” (a term of endearment from the “Prick North”) and the U.S. are rebutting this hyper-masculine posturing by proceeding with scheduled military drills in the Yellow Sea, further pissing off North. South Korea is walking a tightrope between war and being a submissive doormat.

I will admit that, despite their World Cup performance, North Korea is a formidable opponent. With the third largest army on Earth (19th in the solar system) consisting of over a million soldiers and between four and eight million reserves, the Korean People’s Army is capable of wreaking even more havoc than the People’s elbow and the People’s eyebrow combined!

There are plenty more reasons to be afraid, be very afraid. Kim Jong allegedly gets ill with a stockpile of weaponry much larger than the South’s. They have more ships, tanks, planes, troops, and of course, they have China. Everything from North Korea’s weapons stockpile to their alliance to their boisterous attitude is gigantic, but also a few years behind the times. They’re like Texas. Oh, and they have nukes. (I’m referring to North Korea. Don’t worry. Texas doesn’t have nukes.)

About a year and a half ago, my mother told me I would move to South Korea “over [her] dead body,” which I’m glad she relented on because I am not willing to murder my mother. That's just sick. I only murder homeless people that don't even have anybody to miss them so it's not wrong and I'm not a bad person....... I do hate making my mom worry though, so I’m going to try to shed some light on my “Situation” and reveal the glistening rock-hard guido abs underneath the Ed Hardy shirt that is Korea. I know a sudden "Jersey Shore" reference is hard to stomach, but war is a dirty game and there are no rules.

It’s tough to say with any degree of accuracy what would happen in a war between the North and the South, especially since NK is so secretive and China is so unpredictable. Fear not though, because I have made this handy and dare I say quite dandy list to help you decide who would win in a hypothetical war.

North Korea’s Advantages
-They’re fucking crazy
-They have nukes
-They have nothing to lose
-They have Nothing to Lose, starring Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence, on Blu-ray
-Their army is much bigger and they have more arms
-The U.S. is far away but China is very near
-NK has all these crazy tunnels under the DMZ leading right into Seoul, most of which haven’t yet been discovered
-South Korean men are into, and may get distracted by, fashion
-The North won in the American Civil War, and history repeats itself
-It’s advantageous to fight from a higher latitude (…or is it altitude?)
-North Korea is very clandestine and secretive, almost as much so as West Korea.
-Kim Jong Il invented the hamburger, is the world’s best golfer, and has been loved the world over since his glorious birth ten billion years ago
-North Korea is racially homogenous
-Most North Koreans don’t realize how horrible their lives are
-They have dragons

South Korea’s Advantages
-South Koreans are not crazy
-They have something to lose
-Their defense budget is considerably higher: 23.5 billion to NK’s 1.9 billion in 2005 (Zerohedge)
-The power of mint and berries, yet with a satisfying tasty crunch
-South Korea has a healthy burgeoning economy, with technology that isn’t insanely obsolete
-They can feed their troops and their civilians at the same time
-Their military has been trained properly.
-America, fuck yeah! Say what you want about the U.S, but we can still kill the shit out of people
-South Korea is fighting for something worth fighting for (Also the D.A’s advantage over Vold-… you know who)
- Kim Jong Il is handsome and brirriant and physicarry fit, but nobody erse seems to rerarise it
-The South shall rise again
-South Korea is racially homogenous
-Some North Koreans do indeed know how bad their lives are under KJI, which could create a Vikings/Brad Childress situation
-Every time South Korea loses KWII to North Korea, they travel back in time and prevent that one vital mistake from being made
-If real Chinese democracy takes off like the GNR album did, China won’t back the North for very long.
-Most experts pick the South to dominate after one huge surge from the North.

Of course, this is all hypothetical. This is IF there was a war. Realistically the prospect of war would be devastating to both sides as well as to all the countries of the world that would inevitably get sucked into the melee, which is a big reason we haven’t seen a round two of the Korean War. China and the U.S. don’t want it with each other anymore than Nas want it with Hov. South Korea doesn’t want war, and I don’t even think North Korea wants it. War is the worst thing possible, and should be avoided at all costs. And if you think war is anything but a last resort, sit down and watch Blood Diamond just to remind yourself how horrible pointless bloodshed is and also to remind yourself not to have faith in humanity. I’d like to think world leaders are aware of the gravity of war. However, as is usually the case with men, egos, power, and alliances are involved. Boys will be boys, and their boys got their backs, and this is why wars start.  Don’t believe me? Answer me this: What was the cheif reason WWI started?

A) Franz Ferdinand cancelled a show in Serbia
B) WWI was a hoax masterminded by Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck
C) Just
D) Austria-Hungary got super wasted and called Belgium’s sister a strumpet
E) It’s complicated
F) Egos, power and alliances
G) Both E and F
H) G, E, & F
I) None of the above
J) H

The answer is J. If you’re a history scholar you might disagree with me, and you may also disagree with your esteemed colleague, the department head, because history is so disputed, convoluted, and inaccurate that it’s impossible to know what happened in the past, much less what happened in the future. There are too many factors, too many variables, but in this duck’s opinion the most dangerous of those factors is ego, which is just fragile enough to murder millions because it got it’s little feeling hurt. If there is war, it’ll be to save face.

I know, I know. In all my stereotypical blogging I still haven’t scratched the surface of your real question. Should you, my reader, be worried about me? Obviously I mean the world to you, so undoubtedly you’ve been keeping up with the world news, which has you scared poopless about the fate of Ol’ Grey Duck. What the news doesn’t report, however, is that most Koreans, at least the ones living in here in Busan, aren’t terribly worried about any of it. They haven’t been worried since I arrived here.  I’d like to think there is some correlation there, that they breathe easier knowing that I’ll protect them, but realistically it seems more like they’re just used to Kim Jong Il rattling his cage once in a while. These things have happened so many times before and have never started a war, so why should we be worried this time? Sure, people name reasons why this time is the big one, but people do that every time.

If North Korea invades, I'll have enough time to swim to Japan.

Whenever there’s an incident, Americans get way more worked up than Koreans do, or at least worked up differently. When the North attacked a SK ship called the Cheonan in March of 2010, my mom, my dad, and a couple of my friends asked me if I was thinking of coming home. I laughed flippantly because earlier that night I was drinking Soju having the time of my life outside of Ministop. So were Koreans!  My Korean coworker said she’s more worried about her credit card bill than the Cheonan, or even this latest incident. My other coworkers more or less completely agree with her. Though the conflict is very real and can be quite volatile, and though there are whispers that this time may be different, it doesn’t feel like we’re on the brink of war. It just doesn’t. This country has never felt tense or dangerous the way Israel did. I love Israel, but the air was charged there because real war semi-frequently occurs there. I just don’t get that vibe from South Korea. At the risk of jinxing it, there is absolutely, positively, no chance whatsoever that a war between North and South Korea could possibly happen.


Grey Duck

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Hot 6 go to a Korean Rock Festival

I don't understand Korean too well, but I understand music and they say music is the international language. (Or maybe that's love, or Esperanto, or if we're being perfectly honest... English) Anyone who knows the Grey Duck, knows that I love me some liiiiiive rock and/or roll music, preferably of the festival variety. Well it just so happens that my P.O.E. school's vacation coincided with the largest summer rock fest in Korea, "Jisan Valley Rock Festival."  Needless to say, the capital of Florida is Tallahassee.

Renting a van in the land of the morning calm is a decidedly more difficult task when you don't speak Korean, or have an international drivers license, or appear particularly dependable. In fact, I think the only reason the rental agent deemed us trustworthy enough is because this van, by the looks of it, had previously been rented exclusively to child molesters. I'll never know if that was the case though, because the two parties involved couldn't really understand each other. Evidently there was a rule involving a diagram with a box and three lines indicating something we were to ABSOLUTELY NEVER DO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, and I'm assuming we never did that forbidden thing because none of us are dead or in Korean jail... yet. But this... this was the opposite of jail. This was freedom! Not quite sure of where exactly we were going, how to get there, or which side the fuel tank was on, six sweaty men boarded the new mystery machine and roadtripped to somewhere near Seoul for a musical experience that was simply.... jajirajida.

Jaji is Korean slang for penis. At first it might seem immature to shout "JAJI JAJI JAJI JAJI!!!" at your friends, strangers, or police, and in retrospect maybe it was a little childish, (No, we didn't actually yell it at strangers) but the more one screams that delightful word, the more fun it becomes. Somewhere during the car trip to the festival we all became obsessed with "JAJI!" It's surprisingly addicting, and it just seems so whimsical and harmless that in the back of my mind I didn't even believe that Koreans would be offended if I shouted it from the mountaintops. Try this: get some friends and have everybody start replacing certain words with jaji. Call the remote control the jaji, and at Starbucks ask for a Venti Jaji. Say it instead of "hello." Remember, you have the advantage of not being in Korea. So say jaji a lot, and if you don't really see what the big deal is, congratulations; You're an adult. But us being us, we used our phones' dictionaries to find an obscure Korean word "jajirajida"* (say it with me now "Jah-ji-rah-ji-dah) that means exquisite, or brimming over in overwhelming ecstasy or laughter. Well, this led led to more dirty humor throughout the weekend than I'm proud of, but also one of the funniest sentences I've ever heard anybody utter. Are you ready? Here it is: "My rigid jaji is jajirajida." I'm guessing you had to be there, but I was there and it made me jajirajida.

We were the first people to arrive at the festival. It was my idea to arrive early, because I wanted to get a good camping spot, but it was unnecessary. Out of the roughly 30,000 people who would eventually attend, maybe 10 nonstaffers showed before us. Equipped with our packs, rent-a-tents, inflatable whale, 90,000 Won (75$) worth of bubble blowing paraphernalia, and boombox cranking techno bullshit (not my decision), we trekked twenty minutes through the blistering heat, blinded by the bright sun and the salty sweat in our eyes, to our new home where we set up camp after ringing the work juice out of our shirts. I'd never felt more disgusting, and this is coming from a guy who once...nevermind, my parents read this. We cooled off with some brewskis and the night before the festival, unlike it would have been in America, was pretty low-key and relaxing.

There are a few major differences between American and Korean festivals, most of which stem from Korean people being less rebellious, more conformist, and in a way more normal than Americans. Koreans to their credit are law-abiding citizens for the most part, and have ostensibly won their war on drugs, and the green menace is considered as bad as crack here. Now, I condemn the use of all drugs**, but the fact is that at American festivals, ganja is ample. Users don't need to look for it because traveling vendors pedal it like peanuts at a baseball game. At Jisan Fest ganja is rare; more like ganja at a baseball game. For the record, absolutely none of us were looking for or using any illegal substance. Smoking weed in Korea would be incredibly moronic. It would be like opening a dog-soup restaurant in downtown San Fransisco, but worse because instead of people hating you, they throw you in jail for a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time. Yet still, more than one group of Koreans we met that fateful weekend were mining for nuggets, yet clueless as to their whereabouts. These sad souls who once lived and experimented abroad and were now hopelessly addicted to the devil's lettuce, returning home to wander the grounds of a music festival in a fruitless search for their fix. Pitiful. These criminals however, represented only a small segment of an otherwise decent Korean population.

The first effect of Korea's national unstonedness on J.V.R.F. was fewer funky festival folks. Don't get me wrong there were still people dressed as underpants gnomes, women in chicken suits, chickens in woman suits, and too many wannabe hippies (cough-me-cough), but just not quite as many as I was used to seeing. It's possible I have my cause and effect reversed, but I'm pretty sure hallucinogens make people strange.

The second effect of a drug free Korea is that those who would be opening the doors of perception with non-amino acids, instead deadened their senses with alcohol, which was served by vendors in sandcastle buckets. Not as in, a bucket full of beers; more like, a bucket full of vodka. If you've never had a bucket of vodka, good job. Do yourself a favor and keep it that way.

Another cultural difference at J.V.R.F. that had nothing to do with substance abuse was the nature of late night campsite jam sessions/singalongs. I'm not sure if hippies exist here or not, but the people with guitars, at least the ones we found, were all typical Korean dudes. Koreans, the hospitable folks that they are, try to accommodate the waygooks (Korean for gringos) in any way possible. This means that at the circle they were playing English songs, and they all know and love the same one: "Wonderwall." You won't believe me, but I heard "Wonderwall" 30 times over the course of the festival. Maybe only once I passed any campsite guitarist playing anything else, but I was fine with that. It's a great song.

There were three nights of music, punctuated by days filled with Korean bands you've never heard of (Guckkasten was really cool and pretty hardcore) and lazy sunny hours spent at the Jisan resort's pool, complete with waterslides and giant inflatable jaji shaped rafts. Indeed this was probably the only rock festival in history with a Club-Med style resort. +10 luxury points, -10 street cred points. I tried to see more Korean daytime music, but the resort was a Siren, luring me to the water that was not very well chlorinated and would eventually give Derek and me different types of ear infections. I got fungal and he got bacterial! But the nights, the nights were all about the music.

Okay, I've made you wait long enough. With no further ado, reviews of the bands! (Besides the cover bands which included The Ramones, ZZ-Top, and  The Beatles)


Belle & Sebastian: I've been a casual fan of these guys ever since Shugs introduced me about six years ago. They were nice and mellow sit down on your beach towel with your bucket of vodka and enjoy the evening music. I prefer listening to their studio stuff. **1/2

Vampire Weekend: Despite their teenybopper, I'm an emo poser who's read the whole "twilight saga" three times band name, these guys ROCK and put out the happiest vibe possible without the vibe becoming a little too happy and hence a bit creepy. I judged these guys harshly because of their name, but I was absolutely wrong. They were Paul Simon-ey, but with just a dash of The Strokes. Vampire Weekend was a perfect band for sunset to just watch and dance and blow bubbles while wearing a pink feather boa and a Zorro mask and no shirt, all of which I did. I'm serious. I'd like to say I was just supporting my good buddy who recently came out of the closet, but I'll be honest and admit that it had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with BUBBLES!!! Our guns were showering the adoring crowd with thousands of soap bubbles, some of which made it on stage and were shown on the megatron. We basked in the band's reflected glory and for the rest of the festival we were called out by happy festivalgoers as the guys with the bubbles. (Not to be confused with when my friend Steph used to call me Bubble Boy, but that's a different story all together) If you are a festival-head, bubbleguns are a must. ***1/2

Massive Attack: Wow. I knew about MA from my musician (well, drummer at least) friend Grant, and I should have known to expect greatness cause Grant, like Shugs, has jajirajida taste in music. Massive Attack had sort of a hypnotic STS9 (Soundtribe Sector 9) vibe to them, mixed with RATM's (Rage Against the Machine's) political anger, the combined effect of which left me somehow more liberal without knowing exactly how or why. I felt like I was brainwashed, but I was sort of okay with it because I was being brainwashed to believe something I already believed. It was a lot like the Obama campaign in that respect. Musically, these guys straight up won me over. I know Aaron felt the same. They just sort of draw you in, playing not songs but music. The stage effects massively attacked with a giant stock ticker and scary anti-goverment/corporate facts scrolling across the marquee in English and Korean. It was trippy and absolutely riveting. ****


Petshop Boys: Before the festival, I only knew three things about Petshop Boys: 1)They sing that one song Westend Girls (parody) as well as a song from the World Cup here 2)They peaked in the 80s, and 3) They are super-gay, allegedly with eachother. I now also know that Koreans love these boys, like... way more than you would think. I'm pretty sure I know why too. You know how when you think of Asia, you think of just really bizzare pop-cultury stuff? You know, like the strange and dangerous gameshows called "Happy Fun Time Danger Zone", or robots playing baseball against monkeys in suits, or tentacle-sex anime porn? Well, most of that stuff is Japanese, but I think all East Asian countries have a bit of a soft spot for goofiness, and Petshop Boys were goofy. They had these synchronised dancers who dressed as office buildings, and then put blocks on their head, and a lot of other stuff. It's exhausting trying to begin to explain it, but if you've ever seen a Flaming Lips / Blue Man Group / Rick Atsley show, it was like that but not as good. Just watch this. **1/2 (for effort)

Night #3

Third Eye Blind and Kula Shaker: Yeah, not bad I guess. **

MUSE: I'm just gonna get this out of the way. ****1/2!!! These were the guys I was waiting for. I have wanted to see Muse badly for such a long time, and they ROCKED! Koreans and foreigners alike went so absolutely nuts during this show that you could feel the energy shooting into your solar plexus and back out your mouth, leaving a gelatinous puddle where your skull once was. There were guitars, lasers, giant bouncing eyeballs... the works. When they played Uprising I messed myself. When they encored with Knights of Cydonia I got so hyped I took a machine gun and just started firing into the crowd. I must have murdered like 80 innocent people! It was beyond belief, and when they finished, the festival went out with a literal bang. There was a giant fireworks display with all kinds of Korean fireworks which probably won't premier in The States for another five years. I'm talking Lord of the Rings party in the shire type fireworks. These things were like Weezly's Wizard Wheezes, or fireworks from any other dorky fantasy story I've neglected. As we speed walked to the candy-van as to beat the traffic for our 5 hour all night drive back South to Busan, so rapidly driven to our destination (we had to work the next morning) that we barely had time to absorb any of the fireworks or scenery, I congratulated myself on my decision to come to Jisan. As I listened to the fireworks cracking in the cool midnight air, beside me in the sea of exiting fans was my friend Dominic. At peace with the world, I turned to him, smiled, and screamed "JAJI!"
Grey Duck

*actual pronunciation is "jajiroejida" which isn't quite as fun to say, so we don't say it that way

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Arr My Chirdlen

I remember the first time I walked by an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom in high school, thinking to myself: "Wow, here I am reading Aeschylus and these students, in my very same grade, are learning the names of the days of the week........ What idiots!" Of course I'm kidding, but I was indeed a little bit jealous of the kids who had, from my perspective, a job much easier than mine. In fact, the only job I thought was easier was that of their teacher. What a trade that would be! (And this was before I knew it could involve travel) How nice it would be to get paid to teach Basic English, or something I had just as thoroughly mastered, like eating or playing Super Mario World. These were skills that after years of vigilant practice and constant use came effortlessly, abilities that I would have used anyway, even if nobody paid me. These were jobs I was qualified for. Yet, I was wrong. The ability to speak English, it turns out, only qualifies one to be a subpar ESL teacher. To be a good teacher in any subject, the instructor must make a real and concerted effort to get into the shoes of his or her students and try to understand the wondrous, spongelike minds of these little fuckers.

I happen to now be an ESL (or EFL if you want to be overly technical) teacher in South Korea, at a private language academy for upper-class-middle-schoolers. It's actually a very high quality institution where students go to get additional English assistance after regular school, but before math academy, science academy, and binary code academy. You see, in Korea parents care so deeply about educating their children that many students often seem not to be enjoying their childhood half as much as I'm currently enjoying mine. And while my students are generally smart and hardworking, even by Asian standards, (It's not racist if it's a good thing... I hope) it's often important to remind myself that the reason they might not be as enthusiastic as I am about adverbs is probably that while I work from 3PM to 10PM, their hours are closer to 9AM to 10PM, at which time it's illegal to further educate them. They are, after all, still children and not Intel Pentium Processors. Many of these children are tired. Many are thirsty, bored, or harboring dark disturbing secrets. The bottom line is that most students want to be in bonus school no more than I used to want to go to Hebrew School instead of going home after school, eating cereal, and watching X-Men reruns, followed by Spiderman. As I've come to understand this, I've become a little more lenient with these kiddos if they don't project proper pep.

In most ways Korean tweens are usually just like American tweens... pubescent. While the differences are manifold and to explain them all would involve me delving into a book-length shpiel about the differences between Eastern and Western attitudes, there are a few pointers I would like to give to any would-be English Teacher in Korea. I've constructed a top ten list, in no particular order.

1) Some of the kids are really funny, which I imagine is quite difficult to pull off in a foreign language. Just the other day, I asked a kid what she wanted to do for a living when she got older. "seliar kirrer" (serial killer) she said. I tried to explain that this isn't an occupation, asking "Who would pay you money to kill people?" to which she replied "My boss."

10) Koreans of all ages laugh bravely in the face of death. Or at least they seem comfortable joking about it. If a student is absent, don't put it past his friends to tell you that he's dead, and possibly give you a confession. In fact, a beloved expression here is "Jugaley" meaning, "Do you want to DIE?!?" It sounds pretty threatening to Westerners, but it's my understanding that asking someone this is the equivalent of calling them a rascal. If your student asks you if you want to die, you needn't worry that you have the next Columbine on your hands. Personally, it fits my morbid sense of humor perfectly.

8) Korea is unfortunately in the middle of their own boy group/girl group revolution. The pop charts here are dominated by groups such as Big Bang, Girls Generation, T-ara, 2NE1, 2AM, 2PM and other "bands" with English names who sing in Korean. It's called K-pop and it calls to mind the likes of N'Sync and BSB. If you want to get in good with a female student, ask her which musical artists she's currently way too obsessed with.

5) If you want to find common ground with a male student, talk to him about computer games. Odds are he will spend his infrequent spare time at a PC room playing Starcraft. Once this generation comes of age, South Korea will be so well trained in military strategy that they will never have to worry about the North again. Or aliens.

9) It's not cut and dried. Many boys like boy bands and many girls play Starcraft. While often times gender roles are more strongly pronounced in Korea, sometimes they aren't at all. For instance, straight men will sometimes walk down the street holding hands. No, I'm not joking.

6) They have real trouble with L's and R's. You probably knew this. I can't blame them because their language has its own plethora of impossible sounds that they execute flawlessly. The awesome part about the L and R problem that you might not have known is that if you're a teacher, you can openly joke about this with them without them knowing you're a racist! I personally enjoy having them repeat: Sibling rivalry, serial killer, purple turtle (pulper tulter), and Laurel Harold. They call me Joer.

3) A rare student here and there will be super into Hitler (especially if they can pronounce it!) I'll get into this more later.

7) It can be really difficult for a Western-wired mind to remember Korean names. The vast majority of them have mono-syllabic family names and bi-syllabic first names (which are actually their last names chronologically. ChanHo Park is actually named Park ChanHo, just as Yuna Kim is actually Kim Yuna.) which often use different combinations of similar if not identical syllables. It's confusing when you have about a hundred students total. Especially because Kim, Park, and Lee combine to make up about 2/3 of family names. That's an honest estimate. I just give them all English names.

11) They seem to have certain favorite English words and catchphrases, such as "Teachaaa, because of you!" or "He is crazy!" They love calling each other crazy. Can't get enough of it. If you ask how they are doing, 60% will respond "I'm fine thank you, and you?" even if they don't entirely grasp what that means. Of course there is the proud yet ironic "I am genius!" and the declaration "finishee" (meaning "I am finished") but my all time favorite is "just." Just "just. If you ask them to explain themselves, instead of "just because", they say "just." It works on so many levels, and gets funnier every time I think about it.

4) If you ever have to really scold your students, they won't look you in the eye. Not because they're not listening to you or because like Sylvester Stalone's hired help their contract forbids eye contact, but because this is their way of showing that they acknowledge that they've done wrong. It's strange watching 14 heads look down at their desks simultaneously like that, but kind of interesting. In fact, now that I've discovered this,  I scream at my students all day long for absolutely no reason.

2) Some classes will be so quiet and shy that they need participation electro-shocked out them. With other groups, you'll need to be Professor Snape to calm their rowdiness. But when the class has a perfect balance between these two extremes, it won't feel like work at all. It'll feel more like teaching them how to play Super Mario World.


Grey Duck

PS: Just

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I'm a loser baby! So why don't you kill me?

For the last two months I participated in a fat people competition. No, it's not what you're thinking. The nature of this contest was to see who could lose the most weight. It was called the 2nd Annual Busan's Biggest Loser, after the NBC show where two mean yet caring homosexuals named Bob and Jillian yell at a rag-tag band of M.O.F.s (Morbidly Obese Folks) in hopes of bringing them from embarrassing to healthy, all for a cash prize of a cool million dollars.

Now, not being funded by a major television network, or even by NBC, we didn't have a $1,000,000 pot. The man and woman who lost the highest percentage of their body weight in two months time would receive 500,000 Won (Approx. $500) Second place man and woman would get $250,000 and bronze would see $80,000. It was $60,000 to enter. The competition would provide free training and small prizes along the way, sponsored by a local gym, English language magazine and other local businesses.

There were no ostensible rules. I honestly don't know what they would have done if a preg-o woman would have entered the contest, much less if someone would have gotten lypo or gastric bypass. As it was, the rules of the contest seemed to change weekly. The only constant was that each of us needed to weigh in every week so that the others could keep track of our progress. Since this was the closest I would ever come to being a reality show contestant, I wanted to be the villain. I wanted to be one who lied, manipulated, sacrificed potential friendships and derailed the life-changing efforts of others, justifying it all by claiming that I'm "only playing the game!" I wasn't there to start down a path of healthy living with my brothers and sisters in arms; I was trying to get paid.

My first move was to put on the lbs. In the week before the first weigh-in, I lived a life that I had fat-a-sized about ever since I was "little." My breakfast was fried chicken and mayo, with a Dove Bar for dessert. Instead of water I drank gravy. I ate donuts topped with iced cream, covered my tempura in cream cheese, and drank the thickest damned beer I could find. I went through four jars of peanut utter that week. It was glorious, but I soon got to the unfamiliar point where I was actually sick of food. By the end of that week I.... only wanted to eat vegetables, and I would soon get my chance to do just that. But not yet. The morning of the first weigh-in I ate kimbap until I thought I would hurl. I was stuffing muffins into my mouth, and washing it down with water until it was hard to stand up without messing me-self. I weighed in at 277.6 lbs. Now it was time to start losing.

The first week was a cinch. Without really exerting any effort, I shat out roughly 14 lbs. I came out the gate as a front runner. In the next month and a half I watched my portions, quit snacking, and gradually cut down my alcohol consumption to zero. I also started playing tennis, jumping rope, and doing the corniest thing I've ever found myself doing: 8 minute abs. Yet, as well as I was doing, which wasn't really all that well, the other men in the competition were losing weight faster than me. Who'd have though a bunch of fatty-fat-fat-fats could be so motivated?

With a week to go, I was in 5th place. The obesest among us had dropped out long ago, but being out-hustled by other moderately obese people wasn't helping my self-esteem any. The first place "loser" was uncatchable so I had my eyes on the silver medal, and the "1 week Cabbage Soup Diet" would be my secret weapon. Also known as the Mayo Clinic diet and the Sacred Heart Hospital diet, the 1.W-C.S.D. is exactly what it sounds like. The trick is that the vegetable-laden soup satiates your hunger while providing almost no calories and enough dietary fiber to produce those triceratops droppings from Jurassic Park. My friend cooked me a huge crock pot of this miracle-soup, and I supplemented it with frequent and generous doses of laxatives. It wasn't the healthiest decision I've ever made, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices when you're a competitor/procrastinator. (A comprastepetatitanator) It was a rough week, and amidst this roughage I weighed myself obsessively. I wanted to win very badly. I was employing techniques wrestlers use to drop a weight class: Chewing gum all day to induce salivation, and spitting my saliva into a can. Sitting in the sauna for extended periods of time with elderly Korean men and a very empty stomach. Exercising way too intensely for a man on a diet of vegetable soup and laxatives. I can't believe that last one didn't end in disaster.

I talked on the phone to the guy in second place the day before the final weigh-in, and he hadn't lost anything that week. I was going to waltz into those 250 Gs after my super-week, and buy myself and my friends some effing cheeseburgers! None of the M.O.F.s suspected a thing. The morning of the final weigh-in, this last Saturday at 8:30 A.M., I was nervous and a bit giddy. I took a deep breath and stepped onto the scale. 234.4 lbs. I had lost 43.3 lbs total, and about 20 lbs in the final week. Unless the silver leader had lost 8 lbs in a single day, I had it in the bag. YES!

But he did lose 8 lbs in a single day. When he talked to me on the phone, he had been reporting his weight "with all his clothes on," never mentioning that while he was talking to me, he was wearing a suit of chain mail armor. I was bumped to third place, and although a little steamed about the deception, I couldn't be too mad at a guy who was just "playing the game." Plus he organized the whole competition and helped me out a bunch of times, so I was grateful to him. Besides, I couldn't have done anything more in that last week short of castrating myself. I guess coming in a close 2nd is an occupational hazard of any comprastepetatitanator.

Though It's heartbreakingly disappointing, at least in the last few days I've gotten a great chance to eat that pain away, taking solace in the arms of the only substitute for real love: carbs. I've already gained 10 lbs back, which is a good start. But I'm going to need to gain way more if I want the edge for next years contest! Truth be told I'm barely even overweight right now. It's disgusting! But by next year I'll be a balloon and I'll be unstoppable because now I know how to play the game! I will be the biggest loser of 2011! Mwahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaa!


Grey Duck

Friday, April 16, 2010


Many of you have never heard of "Annyong."

No doubt a good portion of you who have heard this word, know "Annyong" as the adopted Korean boy from TV's "Arrested Development", and hence know that it isn't really his name but rather the Korean word for "Hello" that the Bluth family ignorantly mistakes for his name, puzzled and annoyed when he repeats it back to them every time he's addressed.

Some of you are screaming indignantly at your computer because you don't like how I've underestimated your Korean ability. Of course you know what "Annyong" is! Yet, you might still be wondering "who the hell is the Bluth Family?" which is way worse.

Finally, there are those of you who don't know diddly-feces. The ones who are ashamed to ask which Korea is the "bad one." You know, the Korea from that "Team America" movie with that King named Kim John III. (You're thinking of West Korea)

It's impossible to be an expert on everything, even if you're Malcolm Gladwell. Knowing our limitations, we either choose specific fields of interest and expertise, a survey course of possible human knowledge and current events that's just enough to help us scrape by at dinner parties, or to surround ourselves with complete idiots. Most of us choose a little of each, and it's important to be discriminating in what and whom we invest our time in.

So why Korea? Wouldn't it make more sense to go teach English in China? There are a lot more Chinese people and more Chinese food, and it would sure be nice to speak Mandarin when they inevitably end up owning the world. Also, isn't it dangerous in Korea? War could break out! All valid points, but I say to you... whatever. if I was the practical plan-ahead type I wouldn't have left the U.S. I would be an accountant with Goldman-Sachs.

The truth is that Korea offers more money (I'm a millionaire in Won), a free apartment, and just as much adventure as anywhere. That's why I picked it. It's not as romantic a reason as the yarn I spun for the consulate when applying for my visa, but it's the truth. Now that I'm here though, I'm soaking up the culture of a country I may never have otherwise thought too much about, which would have been a shame. The R.O.K. has a rich history, unique and delicious cuisine, and warmhearted caring people. The world is the same size it's always been. We just have more access to it now, so I'm going to try to exploit that before I get a bad hip or a jaded soul. Maybe I'll be living here 50 years from now, or maybe I'll go back to Minnesota in a year and live out my days there. Who knows? Maybe I'll die before I finish this sentence. Nope. Made it. And I'm not only gonna keep trying to make it, but also to make it interesting along the way. So figuratively join me in my travels if you would be so kind. I promise you that you won't not not not not not not regret it.


Grey Duck