Mrs. Kim pulls out a wooden box and puts it at the center of her dining room table. It is wrapped in the traditional Korean fashion, with a silk fabric pulled over its base, and the fours remaining corners tied in a topknot to mirror the hairstyles worn by Korean men 2,000 years ago. Not to disrespect the face of the package, which is considered synonymous with the face of whom the gift is being gifted, she faces the package towards me, and carefully unties it to reveal a mark of authenticity printed on its interior. She points to a line of Hangul and recites the artist's name for me to repeat.
"Sun Jook Oh," she says.
"O," I say.
"No, Okh!" she emphasizes with a harsher 'k' sound.
"Okh!" I say.
Mrs. Kim removes the cover of the wooden crate to reveal a clay tea set, with white and blue Korean calligraphy hand-painted on the exterior of two large bowls, a kettle, and four small cups wrapped in brown paper and straw. She lifts each element from the container and puts them on the table in front of me. Patiently, she explains the proper way to make Korean tea, while her daughter, So Gee, translates:
"This tea set first needs to be warmed by hot water before any tea can be made. Once each element is properly heated, you must put hot water in one of the larger bowls. This is used to pour warm water into the clay kettle. It should not be boiling water, but like 80 degrees. Then you put the tea leaves in the kettle, which has a filter (Mrs. Kim holds up the tea kettle and points it downward, so I can see the octaval holes at the base of the spout) and pour the tea into smaller cups for drinking."
"It's complicated," So Gee adds after her translation.
"It is," I agree.
Mrs. Kim flips through a picture book by the artist. She stops every few pages to explain how the artist is an 'invisible treasure' in her country: "He is an invisible treasure like the temple that burned down a few months ago. Like the temple, artists who have contributed to Korean heritage and tradition can also become invisible treasures. All they create is considered a part of Korea and very valuable." Mrs. Kim cradles a piece of the silk wrapping in her palm. She tousles the fabric between her fingers before she continues: "I have saved this for many years for my daughter's in-laws. I want to give it to you now to give to your parents. I like you very much, Pirooz. My daughter loves you very much, so I care about you very much. It is a very happy day for me to finally give this to you."
"Tell her that I am very honored by her gift," I say for So Gee to translate. "The integrity and power of her gift is matched by who she is. I am very thankful and I am sure my parents will be as well."
Mrs. Kim laughs at my comment. She often laughs when I say things that are kind. When we first met, I took this to be a scoffing of sorts, but after this has happened repeatedly, I have now understood her reaction to be one of humility.
"Tonight, my mother will get together with friends of hers from childhood," So Gee explains. "They will get together and talk on a specific topic."
"What do you mean?"
"One of my mother's childhood friend's was diagnosed with Cancer a few years ago. Since that time, all her friends have gotten together to talk about the problems they're facing. They give themselves homework to do at each meeting. Then they relate how they've done at the next get together. All the women listen and give scores on how well they think each has done. Like if my mom thinks she scored a 20, her friends might say that she deserves an 80. Then they will give her $8.00 for a job well done."
"That's a great idea. Who came up with it?"
"My mom did. She was a teacher," So Gee laughs. "Giving homework is in her blood."
"What was your mother's homework this time?"
"Loving her son. Her homework was to love her son and see him get married safely and happily," So Gee translates.
"Did she succeed?" I ask.
"He's getting marred," So Gee smiles.
"I like this idea of a story party. I used to have these sometimes in Boulder. We didn't assign homework though. I think if I gave myself homework this summer it would be to lose weight, quit smoking, and get healthy. And love my brothers. Do not get mad at my brothers. Do not hit my brothers. Be nice to my brothers."
"That is good homework," Mrs. Kim laughs.
"Yes," I agree.
Mrs. Kim rises from her chair. She walks me to the front foray. I find my black combat boots among the small slippers and slide my feet into them. She smiles and tells me my shoes are too heavy. I agree with her.
"Did you wear these shoes for me?" she asks.
"Yes," I say.
"You didn't have to," she tells me.
Mrs. Kim escorts me down the steps of the apartment and into the courtyard. It makes me feel very privileged and appreciative. I am suddenly open to the idea of being part of this family. I suppose some people have an innate sense of what needs to be done to create possibilities. It just takes a small demonstration on their parts to bring out what we cannot see. I once thought only artists had this privilege, but now I know mothers can make Picassos too.
It's 5:30 a.m. I am trying to convince Robin Williams to be in a film for my brother's production company. He mentions how it would be hard to move away from the big boys with the numbers they are pushing.
"Look, Robin," I say. "There comes a time to make a choice."
I look over at my brother. The rest of the production team are in the wings of my periphery. Everyone is anticipating. I can feel my palms sticking like rubber glove, but I'm relaxing into it, like a snake peeling itself to reveal a better version of the truth.
"You're not going to get a better person than Paiman to see you through this. In fact, everyone here in this company is out to make a great film. We're a family here. Now the big boys may be calling to you with promises of dividends, but can they promise the same care and integrity you see here. Take a look at these folks. These faces are hungry and ready. The only thing we need is the perfect lead. That's you, Robin. If you look, you might see it."
Robin looks over my shoulder at the team. He laughs a bit.
"I know you know best for you, Robin. You'll make the best choice. I trust that. I also trust that we've made the best choices for us. Paiman leading this project is exactly right. This production team is an exact fit for him. Now all we need is an ideal actor for this part. I know for me it's Robin Williams. The only question is if it's right for him."
Robin nods. He shuffles a bit and begins to walk off in the courtyard. Paiman follows for the close. They circle around us. We catch the last bit as they come back towards us.
"It's going to be different and exciting," my brother finishes. "It's you."
"Okay," Robin winks. "I'll think about it, boys."
As Robin walks off, the production team files in a circle. Everyone is chatting and smiling. A couple people on the team say it's good to have me back.
"I didn't know I ever left or was part of anything," I say.
"It's good that you back though," they say again.
My dream trails off. I wake up and start writing in bed with no pen or paper. I draft a couple openings about a non-reality television program. "Reality TV is not reality," I think. "Why not expose that? I could do a satire."
I stare at the clock on the mantle. It is 7:15 a.m.. I wade back into the dream. I am watching it over again like a film. I think about how I would like to have a family production team and make movies with my brother. I wish he did too. I stand up. I can't tell if I'm dreaming or not. Weezer's "American Gigolo" is playing loudly in the room. There is no one in the courtyard and the credits are rolling.
I went to the Yonsei Severance Hospital today. I finally got a chance to speak to an American doctor. It looks like I have been diagnosed as having G.I.R.D.S.. As such, I will have to go on a stringent diet to see if I can improve the condition. In the next six months, I will try and drop 10-20 pounds. The doctor said this might help. He also let me know that the condition may be lifelong.
Things I Cannot Have:
3. Fatty foods
5. Orange Juice
I suppose I will do a fruit fast. Maybe, this will help. Who knows? The funny thing is that with this list it certainly looks like I will be a vegan before this month is through. It looks like my body is looking out for me.
I can eat rice. I can have salmon. I can eat salads. I can have fruit. I think that will be it.
Boy, does this suck. I am heading back to the states, and I won't be able to eat anything. When I visit my mom, she is going to have a fit. I hope she doesn't force food on me.
I will survive. I will beat this thing.
I am off to play tennis. I will not have chocolate afterwards. I will not have fatty foods. I have bananas. I will eat bananas.
I almost got into a fight this past Saturday. Well, let me put this the right way. I wasn't planning on fighting, but there was an altercation on the tennis courts. I had asked a guy moving through our courts to close the gate behind him since we had dogs running around. At first, he complied. After I asked him a second time, he got hissy though. He asked me to come stand in his face, so I did. I stood there and remembered how the last time I was in this situation, I had gotten into a bar brawl when I was 23. Thankfully, the fact that I will be turning 32 in a couple weeks, might have given me the youthful wisdom to simply say, "I'm sorry. There's been a misunderstanding."
Once his bark was used up, he left the court. Then the lot of us that play tennis on Sundays, discussed how what I said could have been misconstrued. According to the native Koreans who were present, my request was not polite enough. They said that if I had ended the phrase, "Can you close the gate?" with 'please' that the situation wouldn't have escalated. I'm not so sure though. Sometimes I feel like people have got you on their shit list no matter what you do or say. Then the only thing is to grin as cutely as you can, and hope they figure out that their anger has nothing to do with you.
I'm glad I was able to diffuse the situation. In the future, I will be sure to say 'please'. It may go against my rebellious nature, but I am cool with being a rebel for peaceful resolutions. As my friend, Darek, remarked about certain altercations I have related to him about Korea: "You are such a diplomat." Who knows? Maybe, that is where I'll head in some capacity. I do like seeing stressful situations come to resolution. It's like working on an art piece that has no clear end point. It could go completely to shit, or suddenly turn majestic. I guess I like to see myself wander between these two extremes. I would like it to lean more heavily on the majestic side, but going to shit has its benefits too. I do get to see how I've been an idiot.
In the tennis altercation, I would say I was a bit too bossy and snooty about the whole affair. It wasn't necessarily wrong, but I can see that if I'm going to remain in a culture that is not mine, that I will have to find a good compromise. I can say 'please'. I can even say 'thank you' on cue. Just watch me grow into a Congressman. It could happen. I would probably run in Minnesota. I don't know why. Maybe, because Minnesota sounds purty. Then again, I could just be psychic and see the future. That's been known to happen.
Yesterday, I went to see "Kung Fu Panda" with my students. As the film was about to begin, one of my students passed me her cell to show me a pic of her dog. "If I had a dog like that, I would name it Cookie," I said.
"What?" she said. "My dog's name is Cookie."
I have been in a lot of strange moments like that really. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. I'm not sure if I believe in psychic abilities, and I certainly haven't had any sort of inclinations down that road in that past, but there seems to be a shift in that direction. Tonight I had another moment like that, when I asked my colleague whether she played the clarinet in her high school band.
"I played the flute," she said. "Why did you ask that?"
"I'm psychic," I said.
"Yeah," she laughed me off. "I played first chair all through high school and college. It was a big part of my life."
"Man, I wish I had said flute. I could have gotten that right."
Maybe, I'm not psychic. I am going to be 32 in two weeks though. I will be flying to L.A. on the first of July, and then my birthday will land octagonally on the 11th. I think I will throw a party for myself. Anyone is invited to the festivities. I think I'll open a video conference with anyone who's anyone. We can pretend I am a Congressmen or even a cowboy. I think a cowboy would be better. The Persian cowboy. He owns a turban and a gun. He's coming to theaters near you. Hide your saffron. Turn up your amplifiers. I am coming for a song and dance. I might even smile and show you my silver tooth. If you're lucky, I'll tell you about my date with Sasperella in the moonlight of Albuquerque. We had seven daughters lined up to receive Sheikh Bashamuddin. He asked for a recitation. I told him that spirit runs into desert heat/melts meat with strangers/ stuffs pockets with sulfur/ streets of Itaehwon/ turned inside out.
The evening started with So Gee getting hungry. "I have to eat," she said. "I can go to this bakery."
Loren called a few minutes later. So Gee was in the middle of her crab cutlet sandwich. "I am eating faster," she said, and chomped.
I don't like being late for theater performances. I think this is well known by my friends.
We met up with Loren and his students ten minutes later. They were all very cute and full of youthful wisdom.
We watched the rock musical, "Line One". It was about a Chinese-Korean immigrant to Seoul who loses her way up and down the line one subway route, befriends a prostitution ring, the homeless, janitors, and street vendors, and then finds salvation in this unsuspecting, empathetic community who show her that Seoul is full of smog and corruption, but loving kindness as well.
The music was done very professionally. Band members were situated above the stage behind a scrim, and from what I could tell, it was only a five-piece group that included a saxophonist, drummer, bassist, guitarist, and keyboard player.
I liked the keyboard player best, because she was wearing a semi-sari on her head that made her look like she was on an African safari, and that made me think about safaris, which is a nice thing, because safaris make me think about lions, and I like lions.
The production was very professional. Everything was very choreographed, and you could tell that the performers had all been trained under a stringent director. At the same time, the rigidity of the performance did show up as a bit hammy at points, and if I was directing, I would have tried to leave more room for improvisation to shape the piece in different ways.
The highlight of the evening was a rap in Korean, where a subway vendor touts his goods in a very Tom Waits fashion - going through an escalation of more and more dramatic sales pitches, until finally he removes his hat to reveal a rubber glove - the original sales item - attached to his head.
When he started bobbing his head left and right to the 120 BPMs of the song, he looked like a cross between The Beastie Boys and a rooster, I just lost it. Very funny. During the rest of the production, my only hope was to get a picture with him. I know. It's very Princess Leia of me., but the performance was that inspiring.
Luckily, the picture above is with the entire cast.
After the musical, we all went to a jazz club. Loren ordered a feast for his students, and we chatted about the prices of apartments between Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Seoul. Since most of the students had lived in most of these cities as well, there were many interesting assessments made. Probably the most fascinating of them all, was that I felt very much like I was home in a conversation like this. Loren's students are truly wonderful and extraordinary. I think if I had classes with the lot of them, I could last out in Korea much longer then my deadline. I could even take their advice and get a nice duplex in Miami.
"Baby!" she says. "Yes," I say. "Ba-by!" she says again. "What is it, So Gee?" "I am in a dilemma." "Tell me what happened." "I went to the Lotte Department Store." "Okay. So-" "So I was there and I saw this bag." "A bag?" "Yes, it's black and a very classic design." "O-kaaay-" "Yeah, so I can't stop thinking about it. It's a Chanel bag, and I think I can wear it forever it is such a classic design, and-" "So get it." "Get the bag?" "If that's what you want." "But it's expensive." "How expensive?" "Guess?" "Two thousand." "No, it's less." "Okay. So get it." "You think?" "Well, you already told me that it's a classic and you could wear it forever, so what's there to stop you?" "It's at the duty-free shop. It's sixteen-hundred dollars." "Okay. You make money. You've been saving right?" "Yes." "So if this is what is important to you, then get it." "Get it? Deb says to get it, but Haley has been giving me a hard time about spending that much money." "Well, it's not their story. It's yours. If you are having trouble sleeping because of a bag, and you have the extra money to buy it, and it works for you in all the ways you said, then go buy it." "Okay." Silence. "You don't think it's too expensive?" "Ordinarily, I would say yes. But designer bags are assets. You can always re-sell it on ebay. And that's your other option. Use eBay." "eBay?" "Yeah, go for it. I bet you can find the same bag for a lot less. You can also wait until we're in L.A., and go shopping there. It might be cheaper there, than here in Seoul." "I'm checking on eBay now." "Okay." "They have the bag." "Okay." "Do you think it's safe?" "I don't know." "Okay. I am going to make a bid." "Okay. I am going to bed." "Okay. Bye, baby." "Bye, So Gee."
I just danced to some major hip hop hits from the 90's. Now I am sweaty. I am going to go to bed and read about Sufis getting to ecstatic states. Goodnight. Alvetazane. Arivaderci. Ciao.
SONGS I DANCED TO IN THE ORDER I DANCED TO THEM, GOODBYE:
1. BOYZ II MEN, MOTOWN PHILLY 2. BOYZ II MEN, POISON 3. HOUSE OF PAIN, JUMP AROUND 4. KRISS-KROSS, JUMP, JUMP 5. TRIBE CALLED QUEST, SCENARIO 6. BLACK SHEEP, THIS OR THAT 7. DIGITAL UNDERGROUND, HUMPTY DANCE 8. DR. DRE, AIN'T NOTHING BUT A G THANG 9. ICE CUBE, TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY 10. EMINEM, LOSE YOURSELF 11. CINDI LAUPER, TIME AFTER TIME
PS1. I WOULD LIKE ALL THESE SONGS PLAYED AT MY FUNERAL. I WOULD LIKE IT TO BE AT A CLUB. I WOULD LIKE CRYSTAL TO BE SERVED. I WOULD LIKE IT TO BE IN LOS ANGELES. EVERYONE IS INVITED THAT LIKES TO DANCE. I WILL INVITE ALL MY OLD GIRLFRIENDS TOO. THEY CAN GRIND WITH ALL MY OLD BOYFRIENDS TO "POISON". THAT WOULD BE TASTY. I WOULD LIKE MY PICTURE TO BE ON A CEREAL BOX. A POSE OF ME LOOKING LIKE TONY, THE TIGER. THAT WILL BE THE ONLY IMAGE. OTHER THAN THAT, I WOULD LIKE TONE-LOC TO ANNOUNCE MY PASSING LIKE, "ALRIGHT, YO! HE BE 'ILLIN." THEN I WANT EVERYONE TO GRIND. AT THE END OF THE NIGHT, I WOULD LIKE THE DJ TO PLAY CINDI LAUPER. I CAN GO TO HEAVEN ON HER VOICE. THEN I WANT THE DJ TO PLAY "WHITE LINES" SO EVERYONE LEAVES ON A HAPPY NOTE AND SWEATY.
PS2. I DON'T THINK A FUNERAL iS GOOD UNLESS YOU LEAVE SWEATY.
PS3. EVERYONE CAN ARRIVE AT THE VENUE IN A S.W.A.T. VAN, FOOT, BICYCLE, OR OTHER MODE OF TRANSPORTATION. I DON'T REALLY MIND WHICH. I JUST WANTED TO SAY S.W.A.T..
I read a poem today at a reading in Seoul. That was interesting. I haven't read a poem at a reading since I was doing the circuit in Denver in 2005. I guess that's a long time to not read a poem. Like in Denver, I often feel like people have no idea what I'm saying. Some things are better performance pieces than others.
Anyway, now I'm at home. I'm looking forward to tennis and a night with So Gee tomorrow. So Gee wants to see this Kung Fu Panda movie. I'm okay with that. There really aren't that many choices in this country for movies. It's usually just action flicks and animation in English. Everything else is either a Korean or foreign film with Korean subtitles. That doesn't make me mad or anything though. I've actually found a nice interest in action films. I've seen about a hundred my year and a half in Korea so far.
Earlier today, some folks were talking about how I was heading home after the next semester. They were wondering why. That made me a bit uncomfortable. I had to sort of come clean that there were other things waiting for me at home. It might have come off as snobbish. I wasn't trying to be though. I was just being honest. The guy I was talking to seemed to understand. He didn't try to persuade me to stay or anything. He just commented about how he was only supposed to be in Korea temporarily, and now it had been ten years. I told him I understood. Then I walked away. There wasn't much to say after that.
I wonder why people stay in situations that make them unhappy. I only wonder this for a second though, because I understand that sometimes things are beyond your control. Who knows? A person may not see another option open to them. They could also be in a bind financially, and have to take a path for a time being - a factor that might stretch longer than they had hoped.
I would say that is where I am slightly. I could head home, but that would put me out of a nice nest egg upon my return. Believe me. I've considered bailing on the idea of being financially anywhere. The truth hits home after you've lived a certain lifestyle though. I guess I can't seem to imagine being shit-for-broke and living the tough one anymore. It just doesn't make much sense.
If I wasn't planning on ever getting hitched to anyone, I probably wouldn't have the same concerns. I could just roost in some hole-in-the-wall small town and keep to myself. God knows I've known people who prefer this type of existence to the limitations a significant other or big city living could place on the Kung Fu wayward wanderer looking to see where the road takes them. If I entertained a possibility of solitude, I would lose hope somewhere between my romantic ideals and a cold night in the woods with no food. I've lived enough hardship to ever trek that way again.
No, I would say the choices before me have already been made. I am open to them changing, and I'll adapt if need be, but choosing stupidity over ease, simply isn't going to happen. I've got until December in Korea to go. Once I'm done, I won't make the mistake of leaving what I call home after that. The only question is where that home will be. New York calls me like Flea accosted Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future II. I'm close to taking the bait, when L.A. punches her in the face.
If I were L.A., I would start a riot. If I were Charles Bukowski, I would drive a Pinto. If I were an Oldsmobile, I would call up Henry Ford. If I were Lee Iaccoca, I would start a sweepstakes. If I were a Megaball, I would spin in a tube. If I were at Sesame Place, I would go down a slide. If I were Grover, I would not be able to close my mouth. If I were a river, I would call myself Mr. Zippe. If I were in ninth grade, I would be short. If I were Gary Coleman, I would be in a reality show. If I were Rosencrantz, Guildenstern would be dead. If I were a zombie, I would walk on the moon. If I were Michael Jackson, I would be sad. If I were me, I would turn into U. If I were a magnet, I would be a tar pit trap. If I were Courtney Love, I would sue. If I were Salinger, I would be a recluse. If I were Kermit, I would sing on a log. If I were snoring, I would wake up. If I were awake, I wouldn't be asleep. If I were a wrinkle, I would get laser treatment. If I were my back, I would be afraid. If I were stronger, I would turn myself loose. If I were a tiger, I would attack a villager. If I were a child, I would get eaten. If I were bones on the ground, people would bury me. If I were in the dirt, you wouldn't see me. If I were growing daffodils, I would bring you some. If I were a gentleman caller, I would court my mother. If I were homophobic, I would throw up. If I were sick, I would call a doctor. If I were Bugs Bunny, I would know what to say. If I were a silent movie, it would only be read. If I were a composer, I would find other notes. If I were a melody, I would turn on myself. If I were inside, I would see the same as I do now. If I were looking at you, I would tell you the truth. If I were a lie, I would do it all over.
My friend, Cindy, is working on a show called House Hunters for HGTV. At the moment, she is looking for Realtors and Home buyers from ALL OVER! The show is shooting in the states and abroad (Italy, France, Spain, Canada..you name it!)
If you know of anyone who might be interested in participating, email Cindy at Cindy_Ransom@pietown.tv or call by phone at 818-205-0654.
Being in a relationship is hard. I tell this to So Gee as we eat at an Outback in Seoul. We have just gotten done having a fight. It is our third in the past year. The first two were at public places as well. The first was her telling me not to eat McDonald's in Suyu. That made me mad. I like Big Macs. The second I don't remember. This one was her warning me that my behavior in the restaurant could be deemed inappropriate.
"In Korea, if you repeat what people say in Korean, they could get offended. They might think you are mocking them."
"I'm not though. I'm just trying to learn the language."
"But they might think-"
"I don't care what they think. Why would I live like that? You know my intention."
"I'm just saying what they might think in Korea."
Sometimes I love resistance in the face of propriety. I call out in the middle of the restaurant. I shout various things:
"Akalaka ding dong!"
Nothing means anything. They are just names of different food dishes in Korea.
When the waitress comes to take our order, I talk in jibberish. I make noises in a sing-song that sounds like "Icky-ticky-ah-yeah-yeah-yeah bulgogi suck it."
So Gee doesn't talk to me until she finishes her cheese fries. This is her way. She has made it clear in the past: "If I am mad, I don't speak. I only talk when I am rational."
I continue making noises for twenty seconds. Then I get bored. I eat cheese fries for five minutes. Neither of us speak. Then So Gee stands from her seat, walks to my right, and shoulders me into moving over. She puts her head on my shoulder. We wait for the bill.
"I don't think she understood what you meant when you asked for the bill."
"You mean 'ookie-aka-sookie" doesn't mean anything?" I ask, as I scribble on an imaginary notepad with my hands.
"No," she smiles.
"Then let's go talk to her."
We stand outside of our booth. The French Open is playing on the television set in the background. I cannot understand a single word anyone is saying around me. I make the international sign for check to our waitress across the restaurant. She rushes over. She talks to So Gee in Korean. I imagine I have instantaneously become fluent. I begin a one person show. Lights dim in the restaurant, as a stagehand puts a stool behind me. I sit. I light a smoke. I begin my tale. It starts with a joke about Paris Hilton. I use this entry because I know Korean culture. I know she has just done a Filas advertisement and bought another chihuahua. I know it is image and the plays within it that this materialistic culture responds to. I dance after my joke. I materialize an audience laughing harder. They call out for the joke again. I can't say a word though. My fluency has disappeared. I am in an Outback Steakhouse. My "bulgogi" rings out in the restaurant once more. So Gee turns away from me with a smile on her face. I think, "If my mind operated on any another frequency, I would be so bored."
I listen to Michael Sembello's "Maniac". I am underwater. I move to the bottom of the pool. I stick my pinky toe in the water grate. I hook my life there. I wait for the bridge. Then I let go. I surface and reach for my cell. I speed dial Domino's. I give my canyon address. I go back underwater. Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" is playing. I am supposed to work now. Things are expected. I sink back to the bottom of the pool. I want to make it the whole song. I think I can do it. Maybe, play tennis after.