My Dastardly Descent into Liberalism

A friend recently asked me how I, growing up and living in an extremely conservative area, came to be liberal. I think this is an interesting question, because it’s quite easy to accept a title and wear it as a badge, but then forget what leads us there in the first place. What follows is a [hopefully] brief account of what lead me to descend into pretentious, Satan-worshipping, pink lifting liberalism.

I grew up in a very conservative household. For goodness sake, I grew up in Steve “über-douche” King country. If it’s a baseline conservative position, I’ve probably held it. I’ve a vivid memory from my elementary years when my school held a mock election (for whatever reason I cannot imagine) and, as a fourth grader, I voiced my support for Bush because Clinton “wanted to allow gays in the military,” and that just wasn’t acceptable to my 10 year old mind. However, in my younger years, I didn’t realize I was conservative. I knew myself to be Christian and most of what I saw was a Christian versus anti-Christian dichotomy. Those who supported anything opposite to the moral virtues that I held wasn’t simply different in opinion, but anti-God, anti-Jesus, and anti-Salvation (in other words, people like Bill Clinton and all those gays he wanted to help were on a one way path to Hell).

In high school, my pubescent angst pushed me away from the traditions and commonly accepted “wisdom” of my family and peers. This manifested itself in subtle ways at first — the way I dressed, the music I listened to — but by the time I was a Freshman in college, I realized I still didn’t really know what the terms “conservative” and “liberal” meant. It was in my dorm lobby, during a meeting with my Christian mentor, that I confided in him that I thought I was a liberal. “Liberal,” after all, meant one who is for liberty, and I believed people should be free to make their own choices. My friend then asked me a simple question, “Are you for abortion or against abortion?” I told him that of course I was against it. “That makes you a conservative,” he said.

That statement haunted me. It felt too easy, too hasty to slap a label on me after such a casual interaction. And my angsty desire to reject commonality lingered, so I examined my beliefs. In time, I realized that the question he asked me was a vast oversimplification. Abortion was a complex subject. And by thinking through it I came to realize that even though I was morally opposed to it, I had to support its legality. For the first time in my life I considered myself pro-choice, and I came to this conclusion after examining both sides as objectively as possible. It was around this time that reason became my vehicle of thought. I established a base philosophy. All positions I took on a given subject had to meet the following two criteria: It had to be arrived at objectively and rationally, and it had to be consistent with other positions I took.

Over time, my beliefs evolved. The world wasn’t as black and white as I had once considered it. I went through a phase of not really knowing what I believed politically and philosophically, but when I did come to a conclusion, I was very adamant about it. The Bible aided me in my endeavors. Jesus didn’t seem like a conservative Republican, but that was often how he was portrayed. I remember instances of telling my parents about a position I had taken, not realizing at the time that it was very inconsistent with the conservative ideal, certain that they would agree with me because it seemed quite Biblical, but then realizing later that others didn’t see it that way.

I also had to think about what type of government I wanted. For me, it’s important to have a governing body that supports, enhances, and protects the rights of the minority. This stemmed from the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 25, where he states that what you do for the least, you do for him also. Jesus was all about helping those who needed help. He desired no material positions and even loathed the desire for more when one already had enough. It didn’t make sense to me that Christians were against marriage equality, immigration, welfare, reproductive rights, corporate regulation, etc. because Jesus wasn’t the type that seemed concerned with those things (and if he was concerned, it was certainly with those in need, not those who were not). He separated himself from government and worked with the people in it rather than trying to change government to his desires. He was about the people, not politicians. So all through college, I made a very conscious and serious effort to separate my religious views from my political leanings. Once I was able to see through the lens of legality rather than moral religiousity, my politics veered sharply to the left.

In the end, liberal and progressive ideals made more rational sense and, I thought, would bring about a better, safer, more egalitarian country that I would be proud to call my home. I didn’t choose this path to be simply different or radical. I came to embrace this ideology after much thought and deliberation. It wasn’t an overnight change either. It took years for my former beliefs to crumble under their own inconsistencies. But now that I’ve established myself as a liberal, it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of just following the “platform.” I’m not perfect, but I try to change what I believe based on the evidence and rationality of the argument. I think that this is the essence of being liberal. While it’s easy to choose a belief and stick to it, a truly liberal mentality requires that one change their positions if the evidence demands it.

3 “Crazy” Stories From Korean Middle School Girls

Yesterday I had my after school class write “crazy”  stories. They were in groups of 5-7 and were told to write one sentence and pass it to the right. Each student had to write three sentences before the story could be finished. Here is what they came up with. I’ll post the pictures with a transcription below so you don’t have to fight your way through their adolescently sloppy penmanship.

Story 1-p2

A long time ago…there is a boy. He name is Sung-yeol. He married Ho-ya. Ho-ya is very ugly boy, but Sung-yeol love Ho-ya very much. “Oh, Ho-ya I love you,” Sung-yeol said. Ho-ya said, “I don’t love you!” Because Ho-ya loves other boy. Other boy’s name is Woo-hyun, but Woo-hyun is a married with man. Ho-ya kill Woo-hun’s wife because he want to marry him, but Woo-hyun didn’t love Ho-ya. Ho-ya kills Woo-hyun too. So Sung-yeol fall in love with L. But L love Lee Hyun-woo. But Lee Hyun-woo love Kim Su-hyun. So, Sung-yeol killed Kim Su-hyun and Lee Hyun. Finally Sung-yeol killed himself. Everybody died.

Story 1-p1

Once upon a time, there was crazy Steven. He is very ugly. But his family is very handsome and pretty. He is very upset. So, he wanted to die. But his wife Kimberly stopped he die. Steven realized and regretted. They danced Tango. Kimberly asks how about have plastic surgery. And he said, “Okay!” He’s plastic surgery is fail. He want to die again!!!!! Then Kimberly’s mother Brenda was stopped he die again. Steven’s dog Sasha bit Steven’s face. So, he has to plastic surgery again. But, this time he success!! His face is same as top star’s face. No more Steven thinks about die. Also, Steven was popular person in the entertainment world. Everybody was happy. Now, he is good teacher!!

Story 1-p3

Steven was hit by a big truck. He was dead, and went to Hell. Steven met Joker. Steven had dinner with Joker. The joker screamed like this, “Woooooaaaackkk!!!!” Because of that scream, everybody in Hell was surprised. Because Joker was their king. They tried to destroy Steven. Steven want to live so he defend him to use magic sword so Joker die. Joker was become an angel. Actually, Joker was Steven’s mom because Joker was gay. When he knew that, he began to find his father. He tried to get out of the hell, but he failed. Suddenly angel Joker appeared in front of him and helped him to get out of Hell. So Joker loves Steven but Steven loved butter sandwich. Also, she he loved women. So Steven fell in love with a butter sandwich. Finally, the butter sandwith was eaten by Steven…

The student that drew the picture there at the end wanted to make sure I knew that that was a picture of me eating a butter sandwich.

Together We Go

So this is what it feels like when doves cry. I again submitted to Three Minute Fiction and, yet again, I failed. I forgot about this little contest until the day before it was due, and typed this out rather quickly. The gimmick this time was something in the story had to be found. So here it is, my failed masterpiece:

Together We Go

Sister said if they find us, we’ll never see each other again. She said they’ll enslave us, either in the factories, or worse, at the pleasure houses.

“Young girls like you and me,” she said. “We’re daisies men can’t help but pick.”

I know where the gun is, and I know how to use it. If I ever see a Black Coat, I’m to get the gun and shoot her first, then turn it on myself, and she’ll do the same. “It’s better to be in Heaven together, than alone and in pain,” Sister said.

The dreams have come back recently. The Black Coats come in the rain and catch us sitting by the fire. I can smell the wood burning, it’s sweet and lingers as the doors burst open. The gun is in my hands, and I’m pulling the trigger, but what comes is nothing but misfire after misfire and Sister is gone out into the murky darkness and I’m alone, sitting in my nightgown from the time I was a child.

In the morning we take out one can of kidney beans and one can of peas. The beans we decide to share for breakfast and the peas will be our dinner. Until then, we go about our chores. I hunt for morels the way my father taught me before he died. He said they grow near decaying Elms and showed me how to identify them. What I remember is that they have a narrow leaf, so that’s what I look for. I take my time combing the forest floor, pushing away old leaves and broken twigs until I stumble upon a small patch of about a dozen. I pluck them, but leave the base so they’ll maintain their root and  return next year.

Sister and I found the cabin six months ago. We waited three days and three nights before deeming it safe to enter, but even then we only allowed ourselves to sleep in it. The cold was too much. It drove us to shelter. The moment sunlight touched our eyelids, we rose and tiptoed back into the woods and waited for the owners to return. But they never came and at first snowfall, we claimed the cabin as our own, assuming that they too, whoever they were, had been taken by the war.

In the kitchen, I soaked the morels in a bath of salt water to rid them of insects. Sister entered with her usual greeting of “It’s me.” And I answered in kind. She entered the kitchen and rinsed her hands and dried them on a towel.

“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” she asked.

“Notice what?”

“The peas are missing,” she said.

“Are you sure? Did we put them away?”

“You took them.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Then who—”

But she turned and moved into the living room. Sister grabbed the drawer on the end table, pulled it open, and removed the gun.

“You have to do it.” she said. “I can’t.”

“We’re not doing anything.”

“We have to. Someone’s been here.”

“And they’re gone.”

There was silence then, thick and haunting. We went into the kitchen and grabbed what we could, then cautiously moved into the woods. Our feet had learned how to make little sound and fell back easily into their habit. We kept watch, moving like seasoned foresters, both knowing our strength was in being together, but fearing the day, if it ever were to come, we had to go alone.

The Korean Left Turn

I drive a pretty bitchin’ scooter. Kimmy wanted to get one because she hated her upward hike to work. Then scooting became a way of life. We drive to school, to parks and temples, and have even once taken it to a nearby city, though I’m not sure that’s something we’ll be doing again. There’s a stereotypical joke in America that Asians are bad drivers and now that I’ve driven in Korea, I can, at least a little, understand where this is coming from.

Korea’s driving laws are more like suggestions. Stop lights are only stop lights if other cars are around. No U-turn? There is now! And speed limits are like the serving size on potato chips — nobody notices and nobody cares.  Their driving etiquette also takes some getting used to. Left turns are uncommon at many intersections because they’re considered dangerous. If you need to turn left on large city streets you must drive past your turn to a designated U-turn area, pull around, and turn right once you get back to the intersection.

Of course, Busan has tons of back streets and alleys, which, as far as I can tell, are not governed by the laws of man. People walk in the roads while scooters fly past. Old men and women pull full carts through the alleys. Children walk haphazardly on their way to school. And no matter what, there’s going to be a foul smelling something somewhere. I try not to ever breathe through my mouth (because the only thing worse than smelling a fartish fermented fishy kimchi aroma, is tasting it).

Driving in alleys and back roads leads me right back to the left turn phenomenon. Koreas have trouble making them. In the alleys, where there is no center line, cars drive through the middle of the road. This means, when it comes time to take a left turn, it looks something like this:

Screen_Shot_2013-03-04_at_9.21.35_AM

This has taken some getting used to. The cars just sort of slow way down and go around each other as best the can. The car making the left turn will cut off people in the adjacent lane, but that’s how they play. (And don’t hate the player, hate the game.) Alley driving is tricky, but the good thing about driving a scooter is that I can buzz around most of this nonsense. Also, I get the impression that scooters are entirely exempt from road rules, since they often drive on the sidewalk, through crosswalks, and around traffic like they’re Simba in a herd of wildebeests.

On the back streets with a center line it looks like this. With an American (read: correct) left turn provided for comparison.

I had them coming from the right because, on my scooter, this is often when the problems happen.

I had them coming from the right because, on my scooter, this is often when the problems happen.

I’m sorry for the shitty renderings of streets and turns. I’m not an artist and instead of using my iPad art app like I just realized I could have done, I instead chose to make it on my laptop. Deal with it.

These drivers in Korea are fine. I live in a city of more than 3.5 million people, and I’ve seen nothing more than a few minor fender benders. But take them out of what they know and drop them into America, and yeah problems are gonna happen. American roads have more rules than the internet. And the last I checked, the internet had 47 of them. Of course people from other cultures aren’t going to drive as well as you and me. We learn through observation and use what we know from where we learned it. In my case, I’ve had to adapt my American driving etiquette to Korean, and I’ve loved every minute of it. But now, with Kimmy’s and my impending return, I’m really worried that I too, will be a bad Asian driver.

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hile you’re at it, check out my post on Magnificent Nose about what we can learn from Indie music about self-publishing. 

 

Got My Hair Did

Because my life’s motto is, “I’ll do it tomorrow,” I’ve waited about 2 months too long to get my hair did. And the Korean haircut experience is actually pretty enjoyable.

There are two people that help with your hair. One is the stylist and the other is the assistant. First, they take your coat and bag and anything else you might have (shopping bags, scooter helmet, etc.) and hang it all up in a personal closet just for you. Then the assistant brings you to the shampoo room and gives you a scalp massage (and even a neck massage on occasion) while she cleans your hair.

Next, the assistant escorts you to the stylist, who gets right down to cutting. Since they don’t speak English, there is a lot of miming and broken Korean and English while trying to explain the look you’re going for. My iPad has pictures of how I want my hair to look, so I usually show that to them while they’re taking my belongings.

Anyway, the stylist does her thing and it’s the quietest haircut you’ll ever get. There’s not a lot of conversation when neither of you speak the same language. Meanwhile, the assistant stands next to the stylist and hands her anything she might need. The assistant also carries a perfumed dry sponge that she uses to brush the hair off your face. They’re so gentle it feels like fairy kisses. When the stylist finishes she asks me if I like it (I know that much Korean) and I usually do.

Then the assistant takes me back for a second shampoo/scalp & neck massage. I effing love it. It feels really good and the girl that I had today was a damn pro. I told her she was the best washer. She covered her mouth and giggled. Yeah I’m smooth like that.

Then, the stylist and assistant double teamed my hair with blow dryers and once my hair was dry as a freshly laundered towel, the stylist went to work. She twisted and primped and adjusted for damn near five minutes. When she had my hair just the way she wanted, she sprayed on so much hairspray that a semi-sticky shell formed over my skull, and I no longer needed my scooter helmet.

And here’s the best part: No tip. That’s right. No tip necessary. I asked my coworkers if I should give one and they said absolutely not. It’s pretty awesome. And in case your wondering how much a cut like this costs, it put me back just 20 bucks.

hairdo

Steven & Kimmy’s Weekend Trip to Seoul

Not the view from a bullet train. Just the Seoul city streets.

Not the view from a bullet train. Just the Seoul city streets.

On Friday Kimmy and I took a bullet train to Seoul. For about 50 bucks a person, we got to zoom through the mountains, towns, and countryside of Korea, arriving at our destination in about two and a half hours. After checking in to our hotel, we went to Insadong, which is a shopping area brimming with Korean trinkets, candy, and traditional items. The streets were full of Koreans and tourists alike. Shop workers stood outside calling out to passersby — and sometimes in English.

Hey! Have you seen this!

A man with bleached tips and black roots yelled to us. He worked as a traditional candy maker. We had seen it before — workers stretch fast-cooling sugar, making a sort of thready cotton candy, only it’s crunchy. I haven’t a picture nor do I recall it’s name, but while it’s fun to watch them make, they’re not all that fun to eat. They taste grainy and sort of meaty, like a vegetarian sugared nut patty. We’d been here before, so we passed by. Besides, we were on a mission to buy this:

stamp

A stamp, carved out of stone with a fancy coral colored case. In case you’re wondering, Kimmy’s last name is Hope, so it seemed appropriate. Also, I purchased one for myself (with my name written in Korean) last year and I think my wife was jealous.

After shopping in the icy cold, we warmed up with some Starbucks. Korea has given me acid reflux during my nearly 3 year tenure and I’m currently on medication. So, instead of my normal latte, I had to settle for a soy chai latte, which I like, but it certainly didn’t do much to ease the caffeine headache that had set up camp in the back of my skull.

tea shop

Click for a full-size image. In the pic with Kimmy, you can see the graffiti tea café in the background.

We wandered around some more and found a tea shop that Kimmy had visited before. She said it was really adorable, so we decided to go inside and get some more beverages. One can never be too hydrated, after all. The shop had a cute little Korean statue outside the was the perfect photo op. Once inside, it was like being in a tree house for dolls. A trell house, if you will. There were little hand written notes attached with twist ties to things you’d have never thought possible. This was a graffiti café and Kimmy embraced that spirit by writing that it was our fifth wedding anniversary on a support beam. It was stupid-fun.

With full bladders and full hearts (#chaztweets) we went to On the Border. Do you have any idea how good it is to eat American style Mexican food after having to to eat Korean style Mexican food for years on end? It’s like a Quinceañera in my mouth. It’s like a Cinco de Mayo in my belly. It’s like Dia de los Muertos from the food coma that ensued from the copious amounts of guacamole and enchiladas I ate.

Finally it was time for what we came to Seoul for in the first place: the Stars concert. The information Kimmy received said they’d start at 10:30, but when we arrived at 9:40, they were already on stage in the middle of a song. Thankful we’d not missed their entire show, we found an open spot and enjoyed the remaining hour and ten minutes. It was terrific. This band was more grateful for its fans than any other band I’d seen, and, as always, their music evoked feelings of nostalgia and longing. These guys (and girl) rocked it.

485050_10200708876068261_1809661837_n

Funny Story: I accidentally deleted all the pictures Kimmy took because I’m an impatient moron. This was the only one left. She took it with her phone. Those alien-looking blurs are the band.

And that was just day one. On Saturday we went to a tattoo shop, but, as often seems the case with tattoo shops, they didn’t have their shit together and hadn’t read the emails Kimmy had sent months in advance explaining what she wanted (with pictures) and that we’d set aside that whole day to get her work done. But, they didn’t read any of those emails (and yes, they were fluent in English) and didn’t even know what she was in the shop for, it seemed. Needless to say, no tattoo happened and Kimmy was disappointed, but we got to have Jamba Juice afterward, so I think that helped.

And then: Greek-ageddon. We ate Greek food in Itaewon and I loved it more than On the Border. I had two, count ‘em, two small tubs of tzatziki with my chicken and pork gyros, oregano potatoes, and garlic-mint hummus. We even had baklava and it made my night. Also, my wife was looking pretty hot (as is often the case), so that helped. We went back to the hotel to relax and I got to experiment with the bidet, which was like angel kisses on my rectum. I recommend it.

Finally, on Sunday, we ate at Subway (which is like a pretty big deal) and then took another bullet train back to Busan. After we arrived, Kimmy got to fulfill a dream by taking this picture:

13174_10200708875428245_1730242459_nShe laughed at this for a solid minute. I mean, look at how small her head is compared to that statue’s! Kimmy’s is like a caper! And that was the end of our weekend. If only we had some family members (or friends from America) to come visit so that we could enjoy it with them…

#chaztweets

Look at this handsome sumbitch:

handsomechaz

This is my hetero-life-partner, Chaz. I’ve known him since my first senior year in college (though we met before that). One of my first sentences to him was, “Do you like to talk about UFOs?”

“Sure,” he said. But I think he didn’t mean it. He was probably intimidated by how not-nerdy I was. Like totally.

Chaz is known for losing things — like his dorm keys, for example. He used to have to sneak into his dorm after the doors locked through a janitor’s closet that he’d found had an unlocked window to the outside. He used to go to Hy-Vee and sit in the cafeteria until people left, then he’d scavenge for leftovers from their plates. Disgusting? You’re damn right it is, but that is the essence of Chaz.

Another eau de Chaz, is his desire for poetics. I like to browse his old Xanga blog anytime I’m feeling whimsical. Instead of saying, “I’m jealous,” Chaz says, “A bit of jealousy stirs within me.” The man has the uncanny ability to look at just about any situation and see the beauty in it. He can make tears into rainbows and mundane meetings into action thrillers. I wish I could see life through the eyes of Chaz, but though I’ve tried, there’s too much cynicism and realism (some call it “pessimism, but I disagree) within me.

IMG_0770

Here we are at the end of a three hour hike from hell. As you can see, I’m miserable. Chaz, on the other hand, had never loved life more than in that moment. Perhaps he finds great pleasure in my pain.

Since Chaz and no one else has used Xanga since 2009, I’ve had to wait for those rare times he posts a tweet or, on even rarer occasion, when he reads to me something he’s written. But since I pretty much live my life on the internet, I’ve decided to try to capture the spirit of Chaz by tweeting the occasional Chazish tweet using: “#chaztweets”.  No one is going to find this in any way amusing, funny, or enjoyable at all except for me, but that’s fine. If I can’t enjoy myself, then who will? Amirite?

So, Chaz, you’ve inspired me. I hope I honor your essence. So, with a full heart and a mind focusing on the prize of life, I spin and twirl, dancing in the waltz of life. #chaztweets