Vices we love: August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I'm off to con the Chinese

As another job comes to an end, I have a choice. Either continue to get lousy jobs from conmen or take a certification course so I can get marginally better job offers from con artists. I will go with option two and take the CELTA (Cambridge English Language Training for Adults) in Beijing in October. This means that what was once a Korea-focused whineblog will now center on Chinese complaints. It also means that this blog may be updated even less than it is now because the Chinese are Communist true-believers who censor absolutely everything, the internet included. If you find that this blog has been blocked and you feel the need to live dangerously and sneak around the censors, you can always use this secret passageway. But if you get caught and squeal on me I....well, I won't be the least bit surprised.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Fuck you. Pay me.

Most teachers here have a mercenary attitude to human interaction. Unless there is money or nookie in it, we're not interested. Now, as Chris Rock would say "I don't approve....but I understand." Living here, even in Seoul, means you're an exotic animal in a cage. Men stare at you idiotically in the subway. Women (I hesitate to call them grown women) giggle loudly and point at you. At a certain juncture, it is easy to say: "Bah. Go away fuglies." When I first got here, I tried to engage the locals (I sound like Columbus now-at least I didn't say "natives") In conversation. It was useless:

Korean: (staring and grinning)
Me: Hello.
Korean: (laughter) Hello.
Me: How are you? (What's you name? Does your mom have herpes? Can I give it to her? Doesn't matter what I say, the reply is always the same)
Korean: Where you from?
Me: New York
Korean: (more laughter) America?
Me: (You would think that a sophisticated Seoulite would have at least heard of New York but no). Yes.
Korean: Ahh. America.
Me: Yes.

The conversation usually stops there. Many say that this is just about getting a free English lesson from you but I honestly don't see what they can learn from the above. I think it's the dirty little thrill of talking to a hairy, smelly foreigner. I can just imagine the conversation at dinner that night.

Kim Jr.: I saw a fucking miguk (American) today.
Kim-Soo: You did not!
Kim Jr: Did too!
Kim-Soo: Did he smell?
Kim Jr: They all smell.
Kim-Soo: Yeah. Hee-hee.
Kim Jr.: Hee hee.
Kim-Soo: Wanna play warcraft?
Kim Jr: Nah I'm gonna look at the new torture-blood-guts comic I got today. With boobies.
Kim-Soo: Okay. More kimchi?

After a few encounters like this, most teachers retreat to the online world. I find myself doing the same and since I am the sort of hermit who needs human contact- be it a conversation, physical contact or whatever- I'm going to take a break from blogging. It's summer and whatnot.

P.S.: Please stop spamming the comments section. Unless you do it with love letters and Western Union money transfer notices.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What are you going to do with your life z?

I got into law school in 2001. By 2002 I was expelled for low grades. After that I was diagnosed as learning disabled because of a childhood brain injury. I spent 2002 trying to get back into school but couldn't and since then I have been feeling adrift, moving from one continent/profession/job to another. At about 5 months, this job will be the longest lasting one. (Assuming I am fired on October 4, when the new term begins.) I know I can get another job, and another and another ad infinitum but don't see it adding up to something of substance, to an accomplishment to call my own. I don't like feeling adrift.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Random thoughts roundup

So tomorrow I'm headed back to the salt mines playing a fun game of "will she come to class or won't she?" The job is starting to go down the tubes (again) because my boss is being very casual about pay. I would quit but I really, really, really want to stick it out at least until the end of the contract. Really. Really. So instead, I'll just write a bunch of random stuff to calm me down while taking phone calls from other charlatans who want to rip me off with ludicrous job offers. Sound good? Allright then.

A few years ago, I visited Israel with a group of well-fed American Jews who would from that day on be deluged with endless emails and phone calls to "support" Israel. And by "support", of course I mean "give money to". Most Israelis look at Americans as well-to-do overfed buffoons who can be called upon to cough up the needed shekels. This is not a bad arrangement. Give heaps of cash to the Holy Land and be forever absolved from any residual guilt about not keeping kosher, not going to temple, not making aliyah, etc. And if you cough it up, you'll be forever able to gloat self-righteously that you support Israel. Anyhoo, one of my fellow Heebs is a lad named Dave Maas, the last Jew in Arizona after the passing of Goldwater. Take a look at his site and ask him the question on everyone's mind: Watcha Ghana do? He is an all around decent guy and I have a tentative invite to his sister's wedding. I say tentative because the invite came with strings attached. Well, one string. "No being a perv tho" he had cautioned me. I think this is very restrictive but on the other hand it gives me an opportunity to LEARN HOW TO BE SOCIABLE.
I used to live in Harlem. Right up on 129th and Lenox Avenue to be exact. I won't go into all the bad things about it because there were plenty of good ones and because it is not my place to tell Black Americans what is wrong with (some of) them. But two things really bugged me: A palpable lack of ambition and self control, especially (mostly) among the men. I had a neighbor named Edward. Edward had a college degree and fancied himself an actor. What this really meant was that he tacked a black and white headshot of himself on his wall as he bobbed along from one temp job to another and spent most of his downtime scheming to collect government dough while sitting on the stoop of our (landlord's) brownstone. There were tons of guys like Edward. Intelligent, well-dressed, amiable guys who never got beyond talking. After a point, the talk would go from big schemes to reasons why those schemes would fail. Of course, all those reasons were beyond their control. One guy, Santiago, gave a long lecture on how the International Monetary Fund ruined Brazil's economy and therefore, he, Santiago of central Harlem, could not rub two nickels together. It was so damned depressing I retreated to the 82nd street Barnes and Noble and only came home when I had to.
Of course there was a second reason why I stayed downtown as much as possible: While Harlem was busy gentrifying (a term which refers to the process of lower middle-class people moving into a lousy neighborhood because they can't afford to live elsewhere), there were still sufficient reminders of the crack-ridden 80s. Prostitutes. Dealers. Gang members wearing shiny bright do-rags and sporting intricately carved gold teeth. Tempers ran short, especially in the summer. I would overhear the sort of dialogue I would expect from a 70's action movie shot in Harlem. "He dissed me. Mothafucka be dissin' me. He be disrespecting me....." I usually managed to get inside my apartment before I could witness these things going much further but I remembered thinking: "This is stupid." I tend to read the sites of the guys who post here and reading Malcolm's blog got me thinking. Here is a reasonably intelligent (from what I can tell) well-spoken guy who is pretty much fucked. Which is just plain sad. I'm not stupid. I know that there are winners and losers in the lottery of life. I know there are many things which are beyond your control, especially when you were a kid. But take it from a guy who nearly died because the hospital "ran out of incubators" (I couldn't make this shit up if I tried), as you get older, more and more of your life is in your hands. It would be a shame to throw it away.

Oh the joys of fascism

I could not access my blog for days because the Korean government has banned blogspot. This place is almost exactly like China. But the money is good so meh... (I'm too old to have principles anymore.)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Day 3- Back to the future

On my last full day, we continued with the roundup of relations and I met with my godfather, Gus, everyone's favorite sixtysomething bachelor. No longer ace in the lovemaking department, Gus spent much of his fifties bemoaning an ear infection of unspecified origins. Because of my bout with encaphilitis when I was a kid, I cornered the market on ear infections. Everything that could be done to the human ear was done. Every drug imaginable was injected. Every tool, modern and ancient was used to probe my recalcitrant inner ear.

Gus, discussing the finer points of inner ear hygiene

With Gus, I suspect that his ear troubles also served to keep him occupied as he was freshly retired and the ladies no longer ran to him in reliable numbers. Fitting for a former engineer, Gus is the model of precision. 11:30 means 11:30, not 11:25 or 11:35. 11:30. If you show up at 11:31, you will get a twenty-minute badgering on how he got up very early that morning, freshly pressed his thirty year old pants, washed what was left of his hair just so, got on the Metro (but did not sit- seats are dirty, don't you know?) and came ALL THIS WAY to be here at 11:30 and now that it is 11:31 HIS LIFE IS RUINED. AGAIN. The thing is, he does this is an remarkably amiable way. I can't describe it but it's kind of like being lectured by Santa. (Although Gus is maybe 100 pounds on a good day because he has a list of 5,699 foods that he will not eat unless they are prepared to his specifications.) He took me to meet what I assume to be his current flame, a charming lady whose name I do not remember.

Somewhere along the way, Gus got it into his head that when I finish my contract in May 2006, I will move back to Budapest. (Which I may if wages rise 200-300% by then.) He promptly told absolutely everyone- my grandmother, the waiter, the taxi driver, the gypsy violinist, the car thief, the Indian engineer, the homeless guy in the train station, etc- that I, asiatown, will be back in the motherland in no time. Still, lunacy aside, he is a decent guy. I can honestly say that Gus is probably the only member of the male species that I ever respected.

I have considered returning and then remembered that I am still Jewish. This can be a real handicap when looking for work. Don't believe me? Check out this school. I can be the next Helen Keller and these guys still won't touch me with a bargepole. Being Jewish is no big deal in America (mostly- I have had more than my share of exceptions to this rule) but in Hungary, where the populance, under Szalasi, gave Hitler a real helping hand in '44, '45, this is huge. Sure, Jew-bashing is not politically correct anymore, but it was only a few years back when they were giving the Nazi salute at soccer matches over in Franklin township. (A district in Budapest.) On the other hand, with everyone from Indian engineers to Portugese grad students with questionable tastes in men moving to Budapest, it may be time to let the past go. I'll ponder that one.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Day 2

Well day 2 was an eventful one. I got it in my head that since I was positively giddy at the prospect of holding an actual conversation with someone, I should look for work in this neck of the woods.

Ummmm......750 dollars a month (pre-tax) sound good to you? Me neither. On the bright side I took the trams all over Budapest and got to see all the sites. Sure there was the Danube, the Opera, the Parliment....but they all paled in comparison to the majesty of

Grace Korean Baptist Church. I kid you not. Right there on Kiscelli road not far from one of the international schools I was badgering. I was informed that Reverend Soo's Hungarian language skills were "not bad" according to the overly generous staff. I wish I could have stayed until Sunday to meet him. We could have gone out for some kimchi jiggae (rotten cabbage stew) at one of Budapests' Korean restaurants which number 3 at the moment. Yes, there is a Chinatown and supremely unhealthy-looking Chinese fast food buffets abound. I went for supremely unhealthy Hungarian instead. Potatoes.............. ('nuff said.) I lost about 18 pounds in the last 8 months but after this week I probably gained 10 of them back.

Met with my sociopathic cousin and slightly revised my opinion. He is not completely sociopathic because he is aware that he should have some sort of emotions, but has no clue 1) what emotions are and 2) how to express them. Also met his current girlfriend, a young lass of Portugese descent. Budapest, in addition to the Chinese, now has a large number of Indians, Pakistanis, Africans and Spaniards. Advertisement for the 'African Gift Centre' I sat down to watch the tube at night and saw the weather being forecasted by an African woman whose Hungarian was infinitely better than mine. Quite a feat considering.

Oh, no photoblog (is this a photoblog?) chronicling Budapest can be complete without shots of graffiti a building in 'ritzy' Buda, including those defying all forms of authority Eminem would be so proud.... And lest we forget to mention, random shots of old people who went through hell and survived. random street scene one of Irma's survivor friends

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Day 1-- Learning to love conspicious consumption

The flight landed at 9:30 AM Budapest time. First, a little family history:

Irma was born in 1916, last name Lichtmann. After much prodding from a German lad named Adolf, Lichtmann became Lakatos. Adolf and his closest Hungarian friends, still unsatisfied with this arrangement, gave Irma and her children seats on a little steam powered train to the quaint Polish town of Oscweicim. (I cannot spell in English, much less Polish.) In 1945 Irma returned to Hungary but her children did not make it. She and her husband-who spent the war running around the world from one teacher conference to the next, focusing on furthering his credentials in unoccupied countries, slowly meandered back from West Africa and in late '45 or early '46 they started trying for a family again.

This resulted in two daughters one of whom is either the most angelic or repressed soul on the planet. The angelic/repressed one waited with Irma at Ferihegy airport and then took me to her and her husbands new home in one of Budapests' never ending suburbs. The house is spread out over 2 or 3 acres. And they had a hot tub. An honest to goodness hot tub. With hot water. I dragged my abused body in there and can't remember.....
(Day 2 coming soon)

Monday, August 08, 2005

Day 0- The scariest place on earth

(I am typing from an internet cafe on day 3 and will update later when I have a chance to download pictures from my digital camera.)

My trip started at Seoul Incheon and required a change of flights in Moscow- plus a seventeen hour layover. Moscow is the most terrifying place on earth. I have no pictures of Russia because displaying anything of any value in public is an invitation to homicide. After 80 booze-fueled years as the Evil Empire, Russians have given up ruling the world and now rule the underworld. They make Sicilian mobsters seem like babies. I got there with Aeroflot, an airline that claims to have been in business for 80 years. Most of those years of course were spent being the only airline in Russia and it shows. The following was an actual conversation with the staff:

Me: Hello.
Staff: (Silence.)
Staff: Whaaaaaaaaaat?
Me: My connection does not leave until tomorrow morning, can I sleep on a couch for the night?
Staff: Sleep on floor.

The men were unshaven bleary eyed drinkers, most of whom were from Soviet army and secret service lads who had the look about them that suggested that they had killed a large number of people for equally large sums of money and did not dislike this arrangement. The women were gold diggers of the highest order, except that someone forgot to mention that gold diggers ought to look at least somewhat attractive, a feat that most, their faces streaked with angry red alcoholic welts and their hair dyed a repugnant shade of yellow (not blonde) did not manage. The ladies did wear minimal amounts of clothing and generally acted, both on the plane and at the airport as if farting in your general direction involved too much effort and was deserving of great praise.

I finally got to Budapest at 9:30 the next morning. More on that later.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

We gotta get out of this place...

In approximately 38 hours (not that I'm counting), I'll be flying out to Budapest. I don't mind telling you that after seven months (or 213 days) in the hermit kingdom, I could use a change of scenery. I dream of a place where they do not use toilet paper instead of napkins, do not eat their dogs, where rotten cabbage is not the national meal and where people do not forge instant friendships simply on the basis of being non-Asian in appearance.

Now, if any immigrants are reading this blog, you'll know my familiar dilema. Eversince I was a kid, I felt schizophrenic- neither here nor there, partly Hungarian, partly American, and neither one wholly. I have roots- but nothing else- in one place, and most of my life experiences but no roots or a sense of security in another. I have always felt that I needed to do more, try harder, work longer than native-born Americans simply to catch up, and believe me, it can be exhausting.

This concludes our whineblog.

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