What I Think About the National Anthem Protests: NFL Players Can Kneel & Trump Is a Bum

A grandfather, father and son; three generations of William Sabia’s; three generations of Philly sports fans used to go watch 18 baseball games every summer. We watched them together from our right field seats all through my younger and more vulnerable years. We watched the best years with the mullet brigade of 1993 that lost the World Series to a bunch of Canadian hosers. We also watched the worst years of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. The years when future Hall of Shamers Von Hayes or Steve Jeltz were the best players, the years when the stadium was a non-descript, circular, multi-purpose green hole called Veterans Stadium. The floors were wet even on sunny days, the food was limited to soggy hot dogs or stale pretzels and the bathrooms were intimidatingly filthy, but my memories of those summer nights remain as pure as Kevin Costner’s plan in Field of Dreams.

We’d eat a big Italian dinner at Dante & Luigi’s then make our way to the parking lot. (Later we’d relocate from that eatery to Medora’s Mecca due to an attempted mafia hit in 1989.) The games, as all American sports, began with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” I used to take off my hat, stand at attention, hand over heart and peek up at my grandfather who served in the Navy during WW2. He seemed to be rather emotionless and more excited to mark down the bases and strikes in the program book. The song reminded me of him, and my other deceased family members who served.

It was my feelings that I can more surely remember. Beyond the excitement of sitting with my Naunu and Dad with their undivided attention on me and whatever phase of young problems were bothering me at that moment, I was definitely moved by that song every time. To this day, the goose bumps still raise my sparse arm hairs, chilling each nerve during the final crescendo of that contrasting anthem to war and freedom.

Playing Pee-Wee football in my little town, we couldn’t afford helmets or pads newer than the 1970’s dress-up kits in which we used to be outfitted. Thus, our little crappy speaker system, on which my Italian surname was consistently and variously butchered, played a very weak instrumental version of the national anthem. Nevertheless, we all stood, swimming in our oversized helmets and one size fits none shoulder pads. Most of the time, the flag lay limp on the pole, a far cry from the 100 yard flapping inspiration held taught by veterans we see on Sunday Night Football. The “flag was still there” is the way to understand it. We play contact sports under the lights and under the flag. We zone out while pledging allegiance to it. Cheesy American backpackers during the Bush era used to sew Canadian flags to their rucksacks to avoid political conversations about Iraq. The flag is there, even when you don’t notice it or try to hide it.

The flag is boldly symbolic of our unity and passively suggestive of the manifested destiny of struggles our past has provided our future. It means different things to all, just like our country. Some immigrants imagined America as paved with gold, a metaphor for golden opportunities for their children. Other forced “immigrants” found a world of cruelty and enslavement. The “flag was still there” through all those rounds of foreigners coming voluntarily or vice versa. The stars kept growing and history kept moving. The American flag is a visual expression of our pride, or our pain. Surely, we can all understand both sides.

The benevolent peace I experience from the national anthem as a white male, non-veteran yet proud American may be starkly divergent from my cultural opposites. I’ve seen the cellphone videos of police brutality and I watched in disbelief through the Rodney and O.J. affairs. I recently watched Ava Duvernay’s 13th (Netflix) and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon). They are eye-opening glimpses of an American experience where the stars and stripes provide a twisted pride. A pride of earned freedom but never escaping from under a racist thumb, people rising as a Phoenix from their historical ashes only to sink again under the destructive weight of racist oppression.

Enter Colin Kaepernick in 2016, a Super Bowl caliber NFL QB confronting his American confusion from within his bi-racial skin while growing up adopted in a white family, part of an all-Black college fraternity, blessed with superhuman sporting skills and cursed with a mind too curious to just keep his mouth shut and cash the checks. He lives in a world where Obama is president to only half the country, Black men’s murders are being caught on video at a terrible pace and here he is, making millions, wondering what words or even what right he may have to use his celebrity to say something.

He takes a knee. Like the proverbial ripples on a still pond, his kneel reverberated. The ripples cost him his job. The ripples have now flowed from the Bay Area to D.C. This week, our disgraceful 45th president, who never misses a chance to take an uneducated, unthinking, unsophisticated gut reaction into the public without any semblance of nuance called Kaepernick and anyone else kneeling a “son of a bitch.” He called American men, American athletes, American protesters, American heroes—sons of bitches. He called them that because they are looking to enact change, or at the least bring awareness to a decades old problem—some police see Black men as dangerous. Let’s ignore the fact that Trump speaks the way kids imitate their drunk, racist grandfather and just acknowledge that he is a boring, tactless, race-baiting, impulsive, spiteful, incurious, douchebag. His opinions are as useless as a bikini in Saudi Arabia. His face is as paunchy as a hippo duck facing a selfie. Instead of being sympathetic or simply ignoring this story, he blew moonshine into the bonfire.

Johnny Cash was the man in black. “I wear it for the poor and beaten down, living on the hopeless, hungry side of town. I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he’s a victim of the times.” These football players are men in black, men whose blackness defines their life, but not their identity. Many of them came from that hopeless, hungry side of town. Many of them may know someone in prison for a victimless crime like marijuana. Johnny Cash wore black; they are choosing, like Kaepernick, to take a knee, to show that America has not fully reconciled its slave-holding past. We have not fully committed to our motto, E Pluribus Unum. Thirteen letters, thirteen original colonies, thirteenth amendment. America is trying to move forward. Trump is a gold plated, bone spurred step backward.

We all must try to understand that black lives matter doesn’t negate other lives. Taking down Civil War statues doesn’t negate history. Kneeling before the flag doesn’t negate others’ sacrifices. The NFL players are allowed to kneel for the song. The flag will still be there. It reflects what we project upon it. Whatever you see within those Stars & Stripes probably reveals part of your own personal American history, standing, sitting or kneeling.

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Everybody Is a Winner

George Costanza once sold his “show about NOTHING” to a bunch of cold NBC execs, including his doomed fiancée Susan, by answering why the couch potatoes of America would watch a show without a purpose; “Because it’s on TV.” It’s on TV used to be a plausible reason to watch TV. When the show aired in 1992, before the limitless possibilities of DVR, DVD’s, podcasts, Kindle, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, HBOnow, and the endless variety of entertainment available via streaming internet channels, what was “on TV” was a good enough reason to watch it as any. We used to ask, “What’s on TV?” Now, we ask, “What should we watch?” The former reveals our passive helplessness to the TV gods; while the latter gives a power punctuated with the anxiety of too many options. We are the catalyst of our entertainment. We see the next two hours of our lives determined from algorithms selected to help us make the click. We stand astride the abundant mountain of mirth, murder or mystery. We sit in Plato’s cave with shadows so enjoyable, so personalized and so dynamic, there may never be any reason to turn around.

Yet within the immensity of amusement available to us, it appears some have sunk into a morass of moronic distraction. I’m aware of tastes and preferences. I’m aware of age differences, motivations and political affiliations. I’m aware that RuPaul’s Drag Race and Real Housewives are as (if not more) popular as what I’d consider quality programming like House of Cards or Game of Thrones. Reality TV finds the untamed characters from Rodeo Dr. to Main St. to MLK Blvd. and puts their faults and charms on display. They are, ostensibly, real people “acting” like themselves. The episodic shows mentioned above find actors acting. But the aims of all producers remain the same—make it watchable, make it interesting, make it dramatic. Whatever you choose to watch, there is a reason to watch—namely, some story or problem that must be solved in a predetermined amount of time. Thought was given, production values were managed, behavior was defined in a way to help the viewer enjoy their valuable time spent inside the magic screen.

Here, we find the younger generation who have come of age with closets full of plastic participation medals, teachers offering safe spaces for reflection on Mark Twain’s language and a siren calling smartphone in the pocket since 12 years old. James, my 14-year-old stepson, godson, protégé, mentee, ball of irrepressible energy and general frustration factory, has hipped me to the videos he likes these days. He likes watching people destroying iPhones, computers and electronics in various ways. He also likes watching people eat various foodstuffs, piano tutorials and the ever-present animal videos of the internet. The bulk of his YouTube time is watching videos of other people watching themselves playing video games, commenting and cursing profusely. I watched one where a guy with a heavy Cockney accent cursed an impressive nimbus cloud of ‘f’ words around his first-person shooter character. It was objectively unwatchable; however, 1,650,423 people disagree with me as that was his watched count. I asked James why he likes it. “Because it’s on, and it relaxes me.” He said as a giant robot was disintegrated in a hail of lightning fast bullets, action darting across the screen in a rapidly rotating dizzying display. Yeah, looks relaxing.

There may be quite a bit more that James doesn’t show me, doesn’t know about or doesn’t watch. The internet is like our hive mind buzzing with relentless diligence to satisfy the unique queen bees inside all our heads. Why produce a show when people will watch a cell phone crushed in a vice? Why work hard on a story when people will watch you curse while playing Bonestorm? Why create dialogue when millions will watch you putting on makeup? So, who am I to judge why one thing is quality and another is crap? Who am I? I’m not the universal judge. I’m from the generation between sit-com and webcam. I’m from the generation between pay-phones and smart phones. I am from the generation where the wave broke on the championship trophy, cascaded back in sullen pieces and reformed into those terrifying “awards” for participation.

I’m old enough to remember ribbons only for first, second, third and in the case of middling talent but above average achievement in effort, honorable mention. Hundreds of us plebs used to go home empty handed after elementary “field day.” I remember such enormous friggin’ pride when I finally won third place in the 50-yard dash in 5th grade. I was like, “Okay, I’m not Rich Luckowski, but I am third fastest and also not a jerk.” It was a bronze, but felt good. Everyone tried, but I tried better. It seems natural. Who wants to go home and show their parents a ribbon for existence?

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The transferred disappointment can lead losers to greatness through determination (as well as the possibility of mental turmoil, lifelong anxiety, personality disorders, or unstable relationships). Contrasted with the current crop of kids who attain an award for participation or certificate of achievement by not crying and kicking the winner and taking his blue ribbon (which in less moral, less evolved days might have been the Darwinian winner) it appears we merely switched one undesirable result for another.

From the age of four, when personality is established, humans know winning is everything. It is the basis of evolution, conflict and survival. Our enlightened minds may try to jam inclusion into the equation of a solo victory, but that just skews the results, creating a domino effect that leads to confusing trophy ceremonies, such as the one I saw in my kindergarten spelling bee yesterday.

We passed out 24 Spelling Bee Champion certificates to all 24 participants. Not everyone acted like a Champion. The kids who won jumped for joy. The losers hung their heads in discontent. This is as it should be. The teachers cheer the winners, console the losers and assure everyone that life goes on and we will all enjoy the pizza party. The feeling of, and getting over loss, without hostility, is as important as being a congratulatory and appreciative winner.

I was in 3rd or 4th grade when they piled all the kids into our tiny auditorium for a spelling bee. I was a great speller and stile 😉 am. Earlier in the year, the teacher asked me how to spell school, and I flubbed it. The children all laughed at me, and eager to explain how I could misspell something that hangs above the entrance of which I see every day, I exclaimed, “I had a fun summer!” I guess the carefree memories of a ten-year old’s summer vacation of night swimming and ice cream had pushed out all the practical knowledge of addition and grammar. So, I was hyped up to prove my spelling acumen to my class of ball-breaking chums. I made it through round after round with easy words until I got a stumper: cushion. I’m pretty sure I spelled it with a ‘u’. I finished in 9th place, which is decent, but there can be only one winner, only one champion; lest we engage in “excellence bias.” In the never-ending lesson of “Simpsons Did It!” This season The Simpsons tackled the issue…”with sexy results.” Lisa won and got the smallest trophy. When she complained, poor Ralph Wiggum cried that she was “loser shaming” him.

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Thank you Simpsons (Season 28 Episode 18)

That idea, a zero-sum game of a winner and a loser is usually applied to sports or contests, not to modern politics. Our president, who dominates headlines with his special brand of idiosyncratic vulgarity, conforms to the zero-sum idea. “So much winning.” “[Other countries] won’t be laughing at us anymore.” The “Benito Cheeto” (thanks @GregProops) shows his commitment to America first by making the world last. Pulling out of a voluntary agreement to decrease carbon emissions (which might not even be enough to stop the destructive forces of climate change) leaves U.S.A. alone, but “winning” by being the first to quit. The global embarrassment that “Sweet Potato Stalin” (@GregProops) has become, won’t result in a natural win or loss scenario, because 21st century political ideas are blended; Trump’s are welded shut. Personality is formed at a young age, and we must ask ourselves, was Trump a habitual winner, timid loser or a cautious participator? What made him Trump? Did he love to win or hate to lose more? Would a participation trophy from his 2nd grade science fair stopped the cackling monsters in his head from laughing at him and insulting his smallish inept hands? If his mother had shared the vanilla ice cream (because of course the Trumps ate vanilla) evenly when he was a boy, would he still be proving triumph over others with a second scoop at dessert?

It’s admirable that our society has tried to find a place for everyone on the victory platform. But, there’s simply no room for seven billion people on the podium. For millennia, there have been evolutionary winners and losers. Homo sapiens are the indisputable winners. We live on all seven continents and in space. We are the apex predator and the pinnacle of organic creativity. Couldn’t we all be participants, equal parts winning (birth) and loss (death) in this experiment of being? As humans cultivate our android world of Google blood cells, gene editing, neural uploads and artificial organs, will we worry about rewards, equality and doing our best if everyone thinks on the same software program? Perhaps, “Who is the best ______” will be an irrelevant concept as we become a singular mind—a non-competitive human union.

 

Una Vista di Roma, Italia

I found this hidden amongst my old emails. It was a writing made upon my cell phone notes as I walked around the beautiful splendor of Rome.

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If Italy is like a painting disguised as a country, Rome is a statue disguised as a city. The colors all blend into a fabulous symmetry of life in perpetual sunset. Storefronts whose only advertising is a large window, trees like elderly men listlessly leaning in the Lazio winds, cobblestone streets whose scarred surfaces speak of the sumptuous Roman past. The buildings of Rome, mostly gilded by spectacular carvings, stand guard over the streets. Gypsy people sit marinating in their own filth with friendly dirty dogs at their feet. Fashionable people who deal in professionally looking good pass by the Gypsies without a glance. Rome is a blend of life. It is the eternal city because of its unmatched ability to combine the power of religion with the freedom of thought; the historical genius of DaVinci with the modern corruption of Berlusconi;  the intangible secrets within the histrionic sculptures giving a sense of life within the inanimate marble. You can walk among the ghosts of history here.
The magnificent Colosseo imagines itself as a relic, but it is alive in our minds. We can feel the anticipation and palpable excitement of those pagan days whenever we visit a modern stadium. 70,000 people cheering and pleading for action. What has changed in two thousand years besides the game? Spectators are still divided by class and there is always someone who loses.

The Vatican poses behind the vastness of St. Peter’s Square as a peaceful place of pious worship. But beneath the columns, under the mosaics, and below the imagery of a gentle religion lies the secret of corruptible power, irascible personalities, and an undeterred search for money. The church has power beyond the limited walls of Vatican City. They reach into the pockets of paupers in Piedmont, or the breeches of cowboys in Argentina. They’ve allowed themselves the financial gratuity of the trusting faithful, the miracle seekers who pray on blessed rosaries and sanctify themselves with “holy” water. Rome went from pagan capital to holy shrine in less than a millennia.
Rome’s power lies in the ancient aura. Satisfaction is almost guaranteed to all those who enter. No inclement weather, pushy tourists or expensive hotels can take away the private experience of seeing the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, or Spanish stairs with your own eyes. Perhaps that could be said for any travel, yet it’s hard to compare anything to Rome.

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The Absence of Intellectual Debate and Rise of Clickable Outrage in P.C. Culture Hinders Substantive Social Awareness

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.”

–Old Adage

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

–Edward Bulwer-Lytton

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

–Old Chinese Proverb

Social justice warriors’ crusade to stop offending everyone offends me. It’s not possible to live in a world with over seven billion people of different religions, backgrounds, ethnicities, financial stratums, gender, sexual preferences and musical tastes to speak opinions that are universally inoffensive. Actions or expressions that go against a certain liberal ideology of behavior create scandal through sensationalism.

It really began for me with the Ben Affleck reaction to Sam Harris on Real Time with Bill Maher. Around this time last year, Harris was a special guest promoting his book, Waking Up, which examines meditation, finding a meaningful purpose and living a moral life without religion. He mentioned how a religion (Islam) which tenets include death for apostasy and honor killings for adultery or enduring rape are actually bad ideas. Referencing a religion where some, but not ALL, follow a terrifying clause which aims to kill those who don’t believe, Affleck jumped into the conversation and without hesitation called Harris a racist. It was clear from the beginning of Affleck’s tirade that he didn’t know who Sam Harris was nor had read any of his books, but he was well acquainted with Harris’ enemies who misquote and deceive to enforce their points that he is an Islamophobe and racist. Affleck was crusading against a point that wasn’t being made and his ears were closed to discussion.

The social justice level is always swinging like a one-sided pendulum. There is one side, and it’s the easy side. A police officer shoots someone, guilty; a man shoots a lion, guilty; a bad joke is tweeted, guilty; a man questions Islam’s role in ISIS killings, guilty and racist. The list goes on and on. Do we ask more questions? Do we search for more information? Do we develop our own opinions? Or, do we mindlessly react at what seems to be a clearly objective truth? Police brutality, pointless animal slaughter, purposeful racism/misogyny/homophobia and religious intolerance ARE insidiously dangerous to culture. But does everything fall into a libelous category so easily? Watch your news feed and you’ll see what I call the “outrage du jour.” We get so mad. We get SO mad. We share it, link it, retweet it, comment about it and then move on to the next one. Our anger assuaged because we did something about it. We showed the world that we won’t discuss nuance, but rather fume without awareness.

I saw two things yesterday. One was a video of an Irish accented man confronting a woman for her chosen attire by calling her a “slut” or “prostitute” or other uncouth names. It was awkward and obviously a publicity stunt. Who would earnestly yell, “Listen to me. I’m a man!” Or, why did this strange and beautiful lady flaunting her midriff angrily provoke said “man”? After a few minutes of berating her for wearing a crop top that not only could but also implicitly should lead to rape, someone bashed a bottle across his face eliciting cheers and “He deserved it,” shouts from the crowd. To recap: she’s free to dress as provocatively as she wants, another woman can smash bottles on faces with impunity, and spewing hateful words prompting violence is seen as a “deserved” conclusion. How you dress does create a perception, warranted or not; physical attacks are rarely justified; and miserably misogynistic speech is repulsive and irrational. Of course, in a “free” country, we should be free to dress individualistically without fear of sexual coercion, we should be able to defend ourselves when attacked, and we should also be able to express any opinion, odious or not. You can’t have one freedom but deny another. The larger issue that confusing stunt was insinuating is that slut shaming is real and painful. That conversation could be a parallel to gender equality in pay, or the assertive woman equals bitch conundrum (aka The Hillary Syndrome) but instead it’s a poorly crafted viral video where violence is seen as the effectively door-slamming answer.

I also saw the video of a security guard at a school in Columbia, South Carolina pulling a young girl out of her chair and dragging her by her hair out of the classroom. The story I found is: The girl took her phone out during class, the teacher asked for it, she denied; an administrator asked for it, she denied; the security guard asked for it, she denied. She should NOT have been struck and choked. But, a fact that gets outweighed by the brutality is: she didn’t listen to the teacher. Does the teacher continue with their class after being disobeyed, knowing that every student now understands there are no consequences for using a phone in class? As a teacher in these situations, you are left with no choice. You asked for the phone, the student refuses, security comes. Hopefully, the student listens, finishes the day in ISS and class continues.

But, this is the new world. The student in the video was apologetic but completely unwilling to give up her phone. Some students agreed she was being disruptive, other students said she did “nothing wrong.” Listen to the teacher…unless it’s about your smartphone. Cellphones were a pervasive obstacle to education during my time as a special ed. teacher in a Texas high school five years ago. Kids never gave up their phones when asked, and could become aggressively confrontational if pressed on the issue. Most of our training about the state sponsored test day (TAKS) was what to do if you saw a phone, how to ensure phones are stashed before the test, or what happens if a phone rings during the test.

“She did nothing wrong,” the students said. When students “do nothing wrong” but teachers disagree, it leads to problems. We need better support systems for struggling students, which would lead to better support for teachers, and support for all the decent and kind security guards at schools. What about the girl’s mental state? She is a recent orphan living in foster care. Troubled students need more options than just detention or security escorts. There is room for argument here, not defense of the violence, not victim blaming, but a balanced ideological discussion of the modern, crowded, multi-cultural public schools of America.

When everything is broken down into measurable and objective rights and wrongs, debate ends and mobs begin. And you better hope you’re on the “right” side! What about the woman who tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She wrote that tweet, boarded a plane and awoke sixteen hours later in Cape Town fired from her job, a global pariah and confronted by a mob of angry tweeters. The joke was stupid and tasteless. Is it the worst thing that ever happened?! No. Did it deserve one user comment: “I hope she gets raped by someone who has AIDS.” No. The Internet mob jumped all over her and she suffered tremendous stress from one poorly thought out tweet.

Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, is all about this topic. He recently discussed it on the Joe Rogan Podcast and it was fascinating to hear how many times this has happened to people. Lots of podcasts have talked about it lately, and most people seem to be disgusted by the lack of original thought and piling on mentality evidenced by the perpetrators of public shaming and social justice warriors. South Park’s 19th season is using P.C. as a story arc with Cartman failing to go P.C. and the school hiring “P.C. principal” who punches anyone who remotely appears to be politically incorrect.

With social media, we can learn about the hurt feelings and misdirected antagonisms of microaggressions or focus on larger, universal issues. Don’t let one staged video of a jerk with a high school mentality distract from the actual search for gender equality. Don’t let one hunter with too much disposable income distract from the actual need of animal preservation. Don’t let one inappropriate tweet distract us from the beauty and possibilities existent within social media. Don’t let one cop with an anger issue distract us from the problems of decreasing school funding, the effect of mass incarceration destroying families and the foolish drug war, which only emboldens criminality and “illegal” drugs.

There are certainly plenty of things to get angry about today, and plenty of places to direct that anger; however, it should be cast with a wide scope not a laser point of passion.

TheDailyOutrage

A Short List of 20 Little Differences

When I returned to Korea after a year traveling SE Asia, Italy and USA, I was curious what I would notice, what changed, what feelings I’d re-experience, what would bother, excite or challenge me this time. Turns out, it’s the same same but different. The language is a hard barrier, but comforting in that you don’t have to constantly eavesdrop out of curiosity. The public transit is fantastic. The food, as referenced many times before, is outstanding.

So I realized, it’s the little differences. Example. Well, you can go to McDonald’s and order a quarter pounder with cheese, but they don’t have any real hard “R’s” in their language, so you have to say, “Qwatah poundah wis cheejuh.” It’s not that difficult, but you feel slightly condescending and infantilizing to the counterperson, who is probably grateful that you spoke in a dialect they can understand. I’ve approached the counter and seen waitstaff run to grab their colleague who speaks English and then giggle along as I give my order. Therefore, here is a completely random: “short list of little differences in Korea”.

  1. Bathrooms have bar soap. This is not exclusively true, but in any random public bathroom you can expect to see a bar of Irish Spring sitting in a putrid marsh of ancient bubbles and stagnant water. Sometimes it’s jammed onto a small pole so you just kinda grab it like a “you know what” and get a little soapy.
  2. Old people can be either extremely cute, lovely and helpful OR mean, rude and disrespectful. But I imagine they feel the same way toward us foreigners. It is also highly dependent on how you are behaving at the time.
  3. There are NO public trashcans. This is incomprehensible. Trash is laying all over the place waiting to be picked up by neon vested men when they could just put a big black receptacle on corners to assist the 10 million Seoulites who need to toss their granola wrapper and coffee cup.
  4. Karaoke is a private, not public affair. In the U.S. I remember singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and thinking, “I’ve made a huge, tiny mistake” as I bored the drunken crowd with my somehow off-pitch falsetto and histrionic gyrations. In Korea, you pay 20$ and 5-10 friends sing and dance together with plenty of soju libations.
  5. School NOT sports. Kids don’t play after school sports. They go directly to hagwons, i.e. “cram schools.” They may play some pick up games on Sundays in tiny playgrounds, but I rarely see a ball in hand without a bag on back.
  6. TV is all undisguised reality and cooking/eating. The reality shows aren’t beautiful people in beautiful places. It’s a Dad feeding ramen to his baby. It’s a guy who owns a pig and a dog. It’s an old man hiking. It’s old ladies making kimchi. The cooking shows are kind of commercials for a restaurant or locale in Korea with everyone slurping and exclaiming, as far as I can tell, the only compliment for food, “mashida”–which translates loosely to “has taste.”
  7. Baseball is a crazy event with hot cheerleaders, constant singing/chants and balloon waving. In USA, it’s called the national pastime and according to George Carlin, “a 19th century pastoral game…where the object is to go home and to be safe at home!” Here, it’s like soccer hooligans switched sports.
  8. There are no dryers. Yes, laundromats have them, but who will walk down the street to do a load? With apartment space at a premium, they just use the drying racks. I wonder if they know about the stackable washer/dryer.
  9. Fans can cause death. This is an old wives tale, and completely ridiculous. I lived in Texas where you use both A/C and fans. The fan didn’t push the air away from my mouth thereby rendering me unconscious leading to eventual snoozing asphyxiation.
  10. Food trash is separate. This makes sense. I’ve heard they used the methane from food trash to make energy. And if you’ve ever smelled week old, laid out in the humid summer kimchi, you’d want that smell working for you.
  11. Shoes come off inside. I tried to maintain my shoes off routine back in Philadelphia, but my socks kept getting so dirty! With small apartments (my bed is literally 5 steps from the door) you need to maintain cleanliness.
  12. People are terrified of dogs. My dog does look like a wolf, but my friend walks her 12 year old spaniel and says she sees the faces of terror from Koreans as they sprint away. I think they’re afraid of the returning karma for eating dogs for so long.
  13. Parks have exercise equipment. Lots of parks have only old lady type machines for stretching and pseudo toning, but some have pull up bars, body weight machines or an actual bar with plates for bench press. How long before those weights got stolen in America?
  14. Every activity requires perfect “gear.” This is a bit of the conformity complex of Korea. They can choose the color, but the style is the same. If you’re hiking, wear the cool mountain trekker get-up. If you’re biking, spandex and fancy shoes. If you’re swimming, cap and goggles. If you’re riding the subway, earplugs and smartphones.
  15. Diversity is basically non-existent. Sure, there are a few hundred thousand foreigners in Seoul, which is maybe 5% of the population. That means that at any given street corner, subway platform, ATM, food stall, music performance, park or beach, you are usually the only one with natural brown hair or blue eyes. And if not, you eye that foreigner with suspicion.
  16. Girls show legs but never cleavage. The girls have long, soft, shapely legs and generally less up top. Work what your mamma gave ya. This is best evidenced by K-Pop girls.
  17. Men like to dress preppy. No socks, rolled cuffs, button down, sweaters tossed purposefully casually over the shoulders, shiny watch and clean shoes. It’s like they saw that poster from my Catholic prep high school and made it the cultural norm.
  18. Side Dishes are free and unlimited. This goes along with the outstanding food tradition of Korea. The kimchi is free and delicious–mashida! Ask your waitress at Applebees for more vegetables for free and see if you get it.
  19. There are 3 kinds of beer, all with the same taste. Drinking is mostly obligatory and since all three kinds of beer suck, and soju is flavorless rubbing alcohol; it makes partying more of a chore than a tasty accident. To be fair, micro brews are booming and soju is now flavored…they’re learning.
  20. Men smoke the equivalent of Virginia Slims like a gangster. They have these little slim 100’s and hold them like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Smoking is already not cool, and the thin tobacco holster isn’t helping.90_pulpfiction_royale

Cecil the Lion and The Social Media Outrage Factor

Some Iowan naturalist named Aldo Leopold made this nice quote, which I will paraphrase, “Ethics is what you do when no one’s watching.”

Nobody was watching Walter Palmer when he boarded a plane to Zimbabwe to kill and behead a wild lion. Nobody is watching as rhinos are becoming extinct because of their horns holding possibilities as prurient penile pumpers. Nobody sees the crude slaughterhouses of America where 9 billion animals are killed every year, or the 50 million rabbits skinned worldwide for their downy fur. Nobody sees the millions of strays languishing or euthanized every year in kill shelters. Nobody noticed when the president for life of the astonishingly poor Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, butchered elephants, antelopes, impalas and a lion to celebrate his 91st birthday in February. That is: until it goes viral.

Social Media offers a great opportunity to the young, restless, constantly outraged and perpetually inactive young generation. We can teach each other about injustice, deception, inequality or discrimination with an idle click of a “Share” or a “Retweet.” Raising awareness is the new achievement of success. But really, what comes next is the important part—acquire information, form a plan and act. The ice bucket challenge of last summer was a way to self-promote yet still feel altruistic. A rare and virtually unknown disease needed money for research, the right links were “shared” and the ALS Association’s coffers were $100 million richer. Joseph Kony was the most hated man in the world for a few days in 2012, and I haven’t heard about him since. A few million people shared a link and it raised awareness for the Invisible Children situation in Uganda. Cecil the Lion’s martyrdom brought a new sensitivity for animal conservation. But those actions were easy and done with a click. To fix race relations, poverty or take on corporate America, we’ll need some real action heroes.

Turn on your Facebook and you’ll see some of the outrage du jour. Last week was about Cecil the Lion’s numbingly pointless murder in a destitute African nation. Yes, it really sucks that some hunt animals for sport, but when the unemployment of Zimbabwe hovers around 90% and the meager food staple of the host country is a bland corn mush called “mealie-meal”, can you blame locals for allowing if not encouraging the chance to take some wild eyed white man’s money in his daft search for the crown of the king of the jungle?

We read the tales, feel the anger, share the story, and then move on to the next victim of public shaming. The lion killer Walter Palmer’s business and house were made public and subsequently trashed and vandalized. He’s an idiot with a stupid hobby, but should his life have been ruined for a legal, if immoral, hunt? What if we reacted like that to the U.S. foreign policy? What if we egged the Capitol, spray painted congressmen’s cars, threw pig feet on the White House lawn and demanded that more than the paltry 1% of the federal budget be spent on foreign aid to help poor countries like Zimbabwe struggling under an autocratic despot whose negligence, avarice and mismanagement of the farming system has all but crippled the country. Their inflation rate in 2008 before abandoning their currency was a staggering 80 billion percent. They actually printed a 100 trillion note. What kind of changes could we enact in the world? Probably whatever was trending and fomenting #outrage that week.

What if we demanded action in America? What if we learned the true reach of lobbyists, cronyism and big money’s position in politics? What if we sincerely wanted to help the struggling food stamp consuming masses? What if we got serious about slowing climate change and curbing pollution? What if we re-invested in education? How can we get people as mad, restless and eager for action for those positive changes in the world, as they were to vilify one man’s hunting exploits?

For what will we use this new power of global outreach? Absolutely, saving wildlife is important, but certainly, we should be concerned for not only our own species’ survival but also the realization of ending poverty and hunger or equal rights or access to clean water or demanding reusable power. What change would you like to see? Ricky Gervais’s Facebook page jump-started this shaming of big game hunters until its climax found a face with that proud, dead lion and the world leapt onboard. Perhaps there will be a renewed interest in wildlife conservation. But, there should concurrently be a newborn interest in the fate of Zimbabweans. No amount of conservation of animals is worth starvation of people. Now that we can see the power of social media and our collective voices, what do you want to change?

Photo: The Independent

What About Freeing the Nipple?

About a decade ago, I was traveling through Europe. Near the Black Forest of Southern Germany lies Stuttgart, an ultra modern town that was completely renovated after being blown apart during WWII, where I visited my first nude spa. I arrived eager to disrobe and let the proverbial sun shine where it usually don’t shine. The day was a lovely and refreshing respite before the debauchery of the impending Munich Oktoberfest. But the thing I remember most as I was lazing on a lounger, legs happily spread in an uninhibited taint exposing position, was sitting up to grab some water and seeing two wonderfully exquisite people showering together. Their bodies were tan, taut and stimulating in a gentle, benign sort of way. The sun’s line spewed rainbows off their backs in the dissipating shower droplets and I watched struggling to remember to unslacken my jaw. I didn’t look too long as decorum requires glances not gawking. The nudity wasn’t the attraction, but rather the absolute normalcy I felt at that moment. For those two dripping exemplars of the human shape were not all that was visible in my periphery. There were plenty of old people stretching in their wilting glory, hairy men emerging from slow laps in the pool or even my skinny ass prostrate on a sunbed. Nobody cared or was aroused in any visible sort of way by the comprehensive nudity.

Then, a few weeks later, at a large outdoor pool in Budapest, where bathing attire was compulsory, I saw a different tale of flesh meeting eyes. A beautiful woman with superficial splendors was prancing about in a shiny silver bikini along the edge of the pool, dipping toes, tying and re-tying her hair. I, as the other men, watched her saunter as though enchanted by the sylphs of some mystical island. Perhaps communal nudity promotes equality and amicable spirits of just letting others go about their business despite any type of libidinous feelings.

I recount this story because the #freethenipple campaign is gaining momentum. My earliest encounter with America’s nipple hypocrisy was Janet Jackson. First in 1993, with her Rolling Stone cover—breasts being held by disembodied hands—and again in 2004 with her “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl. I remember thinking, “Why can we see her side boob, but not the nipple?” Now, I was born in the age of incipient sexual desensitization from MTV, Hollywood and Maxim. Nipples on women were only a big deal because I was a teenager and hormonally curious. I was always able to remove my shirt in most outdoor settings and even be photographed thusly without anxiety. My nipples aren’t very interesting. But, 80 years ago, men had to struggle for the right to remove their tops on beaches and at pools. Today, women are fighting to share that deserved right.

Some of the arguments I see in the #freethenipple argument are flawed. The women fighting want to de-sexualize the breast by making the nipple free to be flaunted at their discretion. That is completely legitimate and will probably happen in the next few years at the dismay of many conservatives. The flaw lies in thinking that breasts are not erotic. Girls Gone Wild, that bead heaping Spring Break beast, showed college-aged girls freeing their nipples years before this campaign began. Millions of men shelled out their $19.99 for a glimpse at what women now desire to give away free. Somebody must be interested in female nipples! As a heterosexual man, I can presumably assure every heterosexual woman that their male partner enjoys and is somewhere between marginally to massively aroused by her breasts, of which the nipple resides. From what I can glean from gay entertainment, lesbians are also quite fond of the breast and occupying nipple. My torso around my nipples can be called chest or pecs, prosaic and matter of fact. But, a woman’s area has many affectionate and creative nicknames, according to the love directed to that base of fatty tissue. Perhaps some men identify breasts as “objects” but I’d imagine just as many women classify certain men by their six-packs or biceps. The body is open to objectification. Why is it different to look at Kate Upton and exclaim her as “hot” as it is to say Ryan Gosling is “hot?”

Another argument is that breasts’ only function is to feed children. That cannot be disputed. But, if honest about sexuality, both male and female nipples can be erogenous zones, thereby making the red zone of the chest effectively sexual. This contention about “protecting the innocence of children” can be dodged when the opponents reference the suffering masses of kids “exposed” to exposed nipples. Anyone can explain to a young child what the object in question is meant to do without explaining the secondary uses of nipples as bedroom foreplay or titillation. “Yes, Timmy, that is where Mommy’s milk comes from to feed your little brother. You drank that milk too when you were young… I should also tell you that Daddy likes to squeeze and lick them when Mommy and Daddy are “wrestling” on Sunday mornings. But, I’ll tell you more about that when you’re older.”

Both naked bodies and sexual intercourse are natural parts of life. Yet, one section doesn’t need to be explained to the pre-pubescent punks we call kids.

Another argument I saw was that the women want to eradicate the “shame” people put on the nipple. The shame lies in the viewer, not the displayer. If a woman wants to reveal her beautiful, biologically gifted boobs and put a picture on the Internet, she should be allowed. Chelsea Handler put a great satirical picture on Instagram of her on horseback, imitating that belligerent coxcomb, Vladimir Putin, to prove she has a better body than him. It was quickly taken down and was a seminal moment in the #freethenipple movement for me. I saw that humor was being affected by this concealment of nipples, and that’s when I get angry. Humor is how we fight hypocrisy and idiocy. Censorship is too subjective to be effective.

I’m happy that women are moving in this direction of self-empowerment and demystifying the areola. Although we must admit that biologically and empirically women’s breasts are different than men’s, it’s still very natural and acceptable to be nude. Due to the shameless character of some men, it may take some time getting used to this new uncovered sensation. Nevertheless, it’s progressive, it’s empowering, it’s encouraging rationality and if it’s what women want, then they should have it. Who does it hurt?

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Why MERS Matters

A new lethal disease from some far-flung corner of the world has made its way into the headlines again. MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) has invaded Korea and set the country in a minor panic as it has killed two people and infected dozens in only two weeks. In 2003, SARS became a major concern when it killed over 700 people in six months before finally being contained. There are hundreds of epidemics throughout recorded history, with the deadliest coming before the age of modern medicine. That knowledge gives us an unjustified confidence that with science, we will always be able to contain these pathogens.

If we can learn anything from Hollywood movies like Contagion, Outbreak or even the fictional zombie apocalypses, we know that eventually, some badass virus with a malicious swagger will come along to remind us that nature’s innate, self-sustaining cruelty doesn’t respect our revolutionary medical remedies. These biological anomalies, these parasitical, self-driven monsters can be seen as nature’s cure for overpopulation. In the same way that there is a food chain to maintain balance, viruses have or will one day have transplanted themselves above humans atop that sequence.

Our precarious global population explosion of the past two hundred years, most notably since the 1960’s at around a one billion-person increase per 15 years, must be unsustainable. Climate change, as effected by massive deforestation, factory farming, unsafe pollution levels, melting glaciers and humanity’s unwillingness to observe let alone reduce the causes could be influencing both the macro and microscopic levels of life. Not only could many coastal cities be flooded within a century at current levels of sea rise, but also the tiny organisms surrounding us may become more malevolent and destructive.

Why should we be so arrogant to think that nothing could stop these paradigms of perfection known as people? Why should we believe in the power of science to save these specimens of superiority from disaster? There is no cure or vaccine for MERS. Fortuitously, it isn’t highly contagious and we seem to be able to contain it due to fairly quick (less than a week) symptom detection. What happens when there comes along a little bug, a little bug who studied human behavior, and learned how to be passed along through the air or through skin contact or how to stay dormant for weeks? The idea should be terrifying. Barring a calamitous, yet nevertheless inevitable meteor strike, a pandemic is the next most believable end for modern society.

I see my confusingly confident friends haughtily lambasting Korean parents for keeping their children home from school. I see Facebook hater groups laughing off school closings due to this serious disease as if it was a pre-cancellation for a typhoon that never arrived (see: Typhoon Bolaven). Yes, Korea will probably quarantine the right people, an unlucky few will die and the panic will subside. I’m just worried about the time when quarantine becomes numerically unfeasible, the unlucky become the majority and the panic becomes hysteria. Until then, maybe we should cancel school this week. It’s better to be safe than sorry. <wink>

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Top 6 Responses When I Tell People, “I Live in Korea.”

I’ve lived in Korea for five calendar years and have traveled around the world as well as come back home to the USA a few times. People sometimes ask me where I live, and I noticed that there are a few questions people ask when they hear the words, “I live in Korea.” Centuries ago, it was called the “Hermit Kingdom” as there was so little known of the oft forgotten peninsula between the two formidable Asian giants, China and Japan. Before I came here, I didn’t know much either and probably would have asked these same questions. So, this is not a post designed to shame the clueless or disgrace the inexperienced. After all, we’re all experts and idiots in one area or another.

1) “North or South?” OR “Aren’t you afraid of North Korea?”

Although Kim Jong-Un is a plump, egomaniacal, scion of brainwashing zealots and a perfect case of foolish nepotism, his nation is of no more concern to South Koreans than Americans are afraid of a Canadian military attack. I’m greatly exaggerating the point; however, North Korea’s craziness remains north of the 38th parallel. Because of the war in the early 50’s yet despite the historical relation, today’s North and South are polar opposites. The yearly U.S.-Korean joint war-games usually pisses off whichever rotund Kim happens to be dictating at the time and some military posturing ensues.

Where South Korea has TV, Internet, excess amounts of delicious food, political and for the most part (Confucian society (i.e.: collective hierarchy) is deeply ingrained and restrains many social processes)) societal freedom, North Korea has none of that, and instead has statues and framed photos of their god-kings. It’s a stupid response but even stupider and hurtful when posed to an actual Korean. My Korean girlfriend hated when we traveled through SE Asia and people would ask her, “North or South.” North Koreans aren’t allowed to leave the country for fear of them never returning, or worse, returning with a tacky t-shirt and knowledge of an open and free world outside their tiny half peninsula of despotic tyranny.

*A better question: “How is the South Korean government changing their policies regarding maritime guidelines in response to the Sewol disaster?”

 2) “Do you eat a lot of sushi?”

This one isn’t really that bad, because there is sushi in Korea, but it is more of a Japanese dish, not Korean. The sushi in Korea is expensive, but can be found anywhere. It’s a dish that is too clean and polished for normal Korean cuisine. Most Korean food is in combination or mingled form, like soups or the numerous side dishes called “banchon.” Japan is orderly and beautiful, like sushi. Korea is rushed but satisfying, like BBQ. Obviously comparing a country’s attributes to food is a generalization, but sometimes apt.

*A better question: “Do you eat a lot of kimchi?”

 3) “What’s the weather like?”

This one has an easy answer for me because Philadelphia is on the same parallel lines of the globe as Korea, so we have similar weather, vegetation and trees. But not every foreigner is from my latitude, so this one can be a good question for those from the southern climes or another hemisphere. Technically, the weather has four seasons, but winter is the boss. He arrives in time for Halloween in an angry, horror show snowman suit complete with whistling Siberian winds and bone chilling temps. Summer is sticky, hot and humid and has a month of almost perpetual rain, whereas spring and fall are completely wonderful with blooming flowers or flamboyant colors of autumn foliage respectively.

*A better question: “Does Chinese pollution affect you?” (Yes, it does.)

4) “I have a friend/relative who teaches in ___________.” (Not Korea, but it’s their only contribution to such an outlandish statement and a mild confusion of all Asia as one.)

I actually find this one to be endearing. Asia isn’t a place many people will visit in their lives. It’s literally on the other side of the world from the Americas. The follow up to this question is, “Do they like it?” And the answer is usually affirmative, which makes for an easier introduction about my reasons for living here. Asia opens up new possibilities and increases cultural awareness. Smelling the street fires of Cambodia, partying in Thailand, feeling the history of Vietnam and Laos, bowing in Japan, people-watching in China or laying on the beaches of the Philippines seems like such a distant dream until you live within one hour of the immaculate Incheon airport. Traveling is a major perk for expats. The road is a liberating place to feel comfortable inside of your own anxiety. Since you are a foreigner, there is a certain amount of exemption from the strict societal frameworks of some Asian cultures. You can get away without bowing, but if you do, you’re golden. You can get away without speaking the language, but if you do, you’re heaped with praised. Which brings me to the next point…

*This one was a statement, but anyway—a better question: “Why did you move there?”

5) “Do you speak Korean?”

When asked this, I inevitably ask myself, “Why don’t I speak Korean?” I’ve lived in Korea for several years and I’ve just never committed to fully learning the language. There’s many excuses: difficulty, lack of time, everyone speaks English, but they’re not good excuses. Some foreigners will devote some time and get decent or even fluent enough to be a part of the crazy Korean reality TV scene. I fell into each category. The Korean alphabet took me one day to learn, but the speaking part is not so quick to absorb. After work, I barely have time to juice my biceps at the gym, shower, eat a meal and watch a quick Daily Show before it’s time to hit the sack and do it all again! Also, it’s true that anybody you hang out with will speak English. Yet, the inherent truth is that maybe you could meet new (non-English speaking) people if you could communicate in their language.

*A better question, so that you won’t make me feel apathetic and lazy: “How do you say, ‘Thank you’ in Korean?”

 6) “I’ve always wanted to do that.” (You can.)

This is the rare response from the person whose eyes light up with the phantasmagorical dreams of Oriental life with bustling floating markets, neon-lit crosswalks, bizarre street foods, copious rice paddies, or sparkling emerald waters. These people are genuinely interested in your experience. They want to know more. They want to know how you did it. OR, they are not interested at all, completely happy in their life and had thought about it once in passing during a sunny happy hour in the week after university graduation. The fact is, anyone with a college degree can teach in Korea or Japan. Non-college graduates with at least a desire to teach, travel and live abroad can go to Thailand, Vietnam or China. It’s a wide-open world for English speakers. I’ve even met Filipinos, Germans and Dutch who speak such good English that they get hired as “Native Speakers.”

*Again, another statement—but a better second question is: “Do you think I would like it?”

I recommend the experience to most people. One-year contracts go really fast; and a friend of mine told me long ago that everyone should teach at least once in their life. If you are working in a job that isn’t your career, recently had a bad break-up and need to get away, living at home and don’t know how to move out, desire travel opportunities or simply crave an adventure, this is a good choice.

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Italy vs. Korea: Living Life Abroad

I’ve been to 10 countries this year but spent the bulk in either Italy or Korea. I think somehow I’m fully American diluted with Italian and Korean blood now. My roots spread far. Both countries have their pros and cons, but which is the better place to live?

Food

Italy—Everyone knows Italian food. Pasta, pizza, risotto, cheese and focaccia are staples of the Italian diet and world famous. No food incites more opinionated responses than, “Where is the best pizza?”

Korea—Not many people know Korean food. Korean BBQ has gotten recognition lately, but the diversity of food is what’s most appealing to me. There are soups for every ailment, vegetables for “power,” plenty of soothing white rice and that famous marinated meat is never hard to find. Also, kimchi is a magical food.

*VERDICT: Italy. They win simply because inventing pizza is forever unbeatable; however, whichever country I’m in, I crave the others’ cooking.

Movies

Italy—Famous for La Dolce Vita. There’s plenty of existential 1960’s films of the absurdity of life. Lots of cigarette smoking by men in black suits. At the current cinema, everything is dubbed into Italian, presumably because it sounds great, but makes the film less cohesive and impossible for me to watch.

Korea—Famous for Oldboy. There’s rarely a happy ending in Korean movies. At the cinema, they sell numbered seats to ensure fairness, cheap snacks and Hollywood movies shown in English. Also, they have cozy DVD rooms—win.

*VERDICT: Korea. Unconventional movies, private DVD theaters, and cinema in original language (that includes Russian dialogue in the new Die Hard movie).

Music

Italy—Famous for opera, but Italian MTV is pretty boring. The street performers can be entertaining.

Korea—Famous for K-pop, PSY’s silliness and long-legged lady singers. Friday nights are for watching girl groups parade onstage on muted TV’s in a restaurant, bar or sauna.

*VERDICT: Italy. Although K-pop chicks are contained dynamite, to hear Andrea Bocelli sing “Con Te Partirò” gives me chills every time.

Nightlife

Italy—The night is dominated by hanging out, gesticulating with cigarette in one hand and wine glass in the other.

Korea—People here get bombed wasted constantly and then sing karaoke.

*VERDICT: Korea. Despite the blatant alcoholism, I love karaoke (noraebang/노래방).

Sports

Italy—Four World Cup titles is quite an achievement. Serie A is a quality soccer league. Kids play soccer amid ancient ruins and use cathedral walls as goals, which is cool.

Korea—Sports is only for those with enough talent to play in the Olympics. The other kids must focus on their studies! But, they offer decent competitions in soccer, baseball and basketball leagues.

*VERDICT: Even. South Korea beat the Azzurri in the 2002 World Cup. But neither country dominates this aspect of life.

Friendliness

Italy—Old people are nice and helpful. Young people can’t be bothered with showing you the direction to Piazza San Giacomo.

Korea—Old people (especially the old ladies) push you out of their way. Young people can’t wait to help or talk to you about anything.

*VERDICT: Even. This category is fluid and changes depending on the person.

Ease of Living

Italy—There’s a three-hour daily lunch break in the shops, two weeks off in August, many retail stores close at 19:00, lots of coffee breaks and everything is closed on Sunday. You’d think that is helpful, but more to workers and less to consumers.

Korea—The 24-hour 7-11’s, karaoke, saunas and restaurants work to any time schedule. The >50-hour workweek is stressing and daunting.

*VERDICT: Even. Korea works too much and Italy works too little. (**NOTE: Internet is a major factor in ease of living and Korea wins big time in that area, but not enough to overcome their habit of six 12 hour days per week.)

Price

Italy—Euro. (1$=1.3Euro) To eat well, you have to pay for a first and second plate plus a vegetable, and the recycled water bottle (usually around 50$).

Korea—Won. (1$=1,052Won) To eat well, you pay 10-15$ for meat, unlimited vegetables, rice and free refills of water. Sometimes you get “service”=free food.

*VERDICT: Korea. This one is an easy choice.

Travel Opportunities

Italy—You are within striking distance of mainland Europe via EUrail or Ryan Air as well as anywhere in the magical land of Italy.

Korea—Mountains and beaches surround you, Incheon Airport is the best in the world and many places in Korea are completely unexplored and unspoiled.

*VERDICT: Even. Would you rather explore Europe or Asia? Both are charming.

Public Transit

Italy—Buses and trains are often late and there are decent subway lines in Milan and Rome.

Korea—Seoul has the biggest and longest subway in the world and punctual everything.

*VERDICT: Korea. You are never more than three blocks away from the subway in Seoul.

Language

Italy—Italian is quite possibly the most beautiful language on Earth, and only gets cuter to hear little kids arguing in it.

Korea—Korean is the easiest Asian language to learn to read, but complicated to speak.

*VERDICT: Italy. Ciao vs. Annyeong Haseyo.

Architecture

Italy—This country understands it. Angels hanging off of corners, fountains, piazzas, statues, obelisks, strange faces in the marble walls, naked lady door-knockers, mythical creatures guarding entrances, and The Colosseum!

Korea—They didn’t go from bottom to the top in 50 years by worrying about decoration. They just built for efficiency. Things are changing now, with expanding green spaces, Gangnam’s renaissance and new art projects.

*VERDICT: Italy. The everyday beauty has a salubrious energy.

History

Italy—Roma, Venezia, Marco Polo, Columbus, Caesar, and gladiators: “All roads lead to Rome.”

Korea—They are stuck between two giants of Asia: China and Japan. Koreans were constantly in the middle of the wars of those two ancient enemies.

*VERDICT: Italy. Although Korean history is fascinating, Italian history is undeniably more important in global impact.

People/Dog Watching

Italy—Dogs enter restaurants here with impunity. There are dogs of all sizes and most people are not scared to pet them. Having a coffee at an outdoor café offers great fodder for playful banter about the passing hipsters, fashionistas and archetypical stereotypes.

Korea—Dogs are predominantly small and decorative. Kids/young girls sometimes shriek at the touch of a dog’s tongue. Couples in identical clothing, businessmen in shiny suits and cheap shoes, kids practicing taekwondo in the park or 20 ajumma’s with identical permed hair provide ample opportunity for pithy observations.

*VERDICT: Even. There’s more diversity and acceptance of dogs in Italy, but things are just a bit crazier in Korea.

Women

Italy—They are famous for being hot. But, too many smoke cigarettes, and they do it in an affective manner as if it’s making them seem more attractive. It isn’t. Milano and Roma are sure to find you exceptionally fashionable, skinny model types riding Vespa’s with long hair streaming behind them. EX: Sophia Loren in 1965.

Korea—They are becoming more famous for producing beautiful, forever-young actresses and models. Many are conservative with upper body exposure but adore a short skirt. Visit Gangnam on a summer night for a glimpse of the plastic surgery obsessed climate of Korea. Nevertheless, some understand that their striking beauty comes from embracing their traditional features. EX: Kim Yuna in 2014.

*VERDICT: Korea. What can I say? My girlfriend is Korean, and she’s beautiful.

The answer is: 5 for Italy; 5 for Korea; 5 All Even

Honestly, what did you expect? I actually went at this subject expecting Korea to win because that is where I’ve enjoyed living most. Yet, when you take it all into consideration, Italy has lots of positives too. These 15 subjects are some major indices of quality of life for me. I suppose I love both of these countries too much to decide. (Shh. It’s Korea.)

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