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.


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.



Park Geun-hye’s Troubled History Led to Her Impeachment

To begin, we go back in time to the end of WW2. The Japanese lost the war and were forced to relinquish control of their annexed Korean territory which they had established in 1910 and cruelly administered. The Soviets, who had only entered the Pacific theater of the war weeks before, were given temporary authority over lands north of the arbitrarily decided 38th parallel whereas U.S.A. was given the lands to the south. The Soviet prop was Kim Il Sung, a revered Communist figure from the peasant class, having served in the Red Army as well as due to his bona fide anti-Japanese record. He had fought guerilla battles against the Japanese imperialists through Chinese aegis since his teens. The U.S. army found their own man, opposite in almost every way. Syngman Rhee was highly educated, of royal stock, virulently anti-communist and had spent years in exile in the States and China away from the horrors of Japanese colonial activity in Korea.

This cursory glance at the past provides so many gaps needed to fill in to get a full understanding, nevertheless, we move on. Both countries were keen on reunification in their own guise. But with incompatible ideas of government, conflict was inevitable.

The Soviets provided enormous military contributions to the emerging North Korean state. America was more focused on re-building a destroyed Japan across the water leaving an opening that was breached in June 1950 when the North Korean tanks steam rolled across South Korea in mere weeks.

After three years of brutal fighting and devastation, leaving millions of dead in Korea and China plus thousands of others from the U.S. and U.N. contingent, the DMZ was established, nothing gained but much lost from the initial 1945 treaty and the cold war had begun.

Into this arena stepped Park Chung-hee, the currently impeached president (Park Geun Hye’s) father. He was an autocrat intent on transforming the decimated country. From 1960-1979 he ruled with a contrasting iron fist and a golden touch. Although authoritarian and unelected, Korea began to build a modern country with skyscrapers, highways, trains, and new manufacturing jobs focused on exporting. Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo and LG were born, becoming known as “chaebols” which translates to “wealthy clan.” These chaebols were and continue to be completely rife with nepotism and historically resemble the ancient “yangban” (educated class) of men who were from wealthy families and were able to pass the rigorous government tests giving them high places in the old Joseon kingdom.

In 1974, a North Korean sympathizer assassinated Yuk Young-soo, the wife of Chung-hee and mother of Geun-hye. Geun-hye became the de-facto first lady at 22. Her father was then killed in 1979 by a South Korean CIA agent, largely in part to his intense relationship to a shady cult leader and mentor to both Parks, named Choi Tae-min, a central figure of this current political catastrophe.

Choi was a five times divorced Buddhist who converted to his own form of Christianity blended with shamanism. Following the death of Geun-hye’s mom, Choi told the young first lady that he could convene with the dead via dreams. Eager to talk to her deceased mother, she invited this shadowy fellow into her inner sanctum where he quickly filled the void of two murdered parents with visions and rituals. Having spent the majority of her life in the gated, insular Korean presidential residence: “Blue House,” she wasn’t very cognizant of con men and trusted the man whom her strongman father trusted.

After the 1979 assassination left her without a family, Geun-hye retreated from public life, but remained close to the leader Choi Tae-min and his equally suspicious daughter Choi Soon-Shil. Right wing generals ruled the country for years as Korea grew into a tech powerhouse. They held their first democratic election in 1987, hosted the 1988 Olympics, the 2002 World Cup and joined the “Asian Tigers” to become a top 15 economy.

Geun-hye was elected to Korean Parliament in 1998, slashed in the face by a madman as she unsuccessfully ran for president in 2007, before winning in 2012 and becoming the first woman president in a highly male-centered country. No doubt she held additional prestige from her family name, but she had also, unknown to the populace, held onto her ties to the Choi family.

I was in Korea at the time of her victory, yet unconcerned with regional politics except for the recent death of Kim Jong Il and his baby faced, pudgy successor. However, it was impressive to see a woman president who seemed to have a certain polite gravitas below her pant-suit exterior.

In April 2014, an overloaded, under-regulated and mismanaged ferry (Sewol) left the northern port of Incheon bound for the magical island of Jeju in the south. After leaving late, they rushed the transport through faster but rougher waters. The captain retired for a nap. The unaccompanied rookie third mate turned too fast to overcompensate for choppy water, the ship listed, capsized and eventually sunk. Park Geun-hye was nowhere to be seen for hours. Speculation ran wild. Anger intensified. Without proper rescue efforts, the passengers were doomed. The passengers included hundreds of high school students going on an extended field trip. Things got worse as investigations went up the crooked ladder of responsibility.

The “Quick, Quick” culture of Korean business led to poor choices on the part of the captain to rest before escaping himself after ordering everyone to stay onboard, the ferry operator to overload, the port authority to fail to check weight regulations, and ultimately the government to moderate them all. Park was seen as obliquely culpable or at least ineffectual. She responded to this criticism by invoking her father’s strongman tactics and blacklisting artists, musicians and movie makers. The Busan Film Festival, Korea’s largest international festival, lost half of its government subsidy after screening a documentary about the Sewol Ferry Disaster.

Two years later, a portable hard drive was discovered in Choi’s office containing secret state documents, revised speeches of the president as well as the daily schedule of meetings to be conducted with the president. Choi was unelected, unknown and unconnected to the government yet she had improper, profound knowledge and influence upon an increasingly unpopular president who had seemed to be listening to this woman as a magic 8 ball of poor decisions.

It was particularly embarrassing to proud Koreans that their president could be abused and manipulated by a glorified tarot card reader. Then it was revealed that Choi solicited donations from the giant Chaebol companies to her private charities in return for favorable government regulations. Then it was revealed that Choi bought Park’s cheap clothes with government funds and kept the change. Then it was revealed that Choi edited Park’s speeches. Then it was revealed that Choi’s daughter was given unearned entrance to a prestigious university, EWHA, and concurrently given passing grades despite lack of attendance. At the time of the scandal, the daughter was living like a queen in Germany riding million dollar horses basking in the glow of an Asian Games gold medal and swimming in millions of elicit euros.

Every weekend, for months, millions of Koreans descended on downtown Seoul with candles, masks, effigies, signs, and a singular desire to oust the weakened leader. It came to a head this week as the Korean parliament confirmed her impeachment.

Choi is currently in jail awaiting trial, as her daughter waits for extradition orders in Denmark. Jay Y. Lee, the head of Samsung was also arrested for his role in the scandal. Korean law prevents a sitting president from trial. But, in two months, she will be a private, pension-less citizen and presumably will face trial.


Can America Ever Recover From Its History?

Teaching Korean kindergarteners about Rosa Parks involves a lot of backstory. The story doesn’t begin on that bus in Alabama. Its roots are profoundly sad and incomprehensible. I found myself saying things like, “White people didn’t like black people,” and really struggling to find a simple answer to their, “Why?” It is an oversimplification for sure, but slavery and its legacy in America is both undeniably understood as a construct of capitalism yet difficult to comprehend in a moral context. I’ve been reading lots of articles in reaction to the Charleston shootings and the subsequently justified Confederate flag bashing. That flag, no matter what the Duke boys or Lindsey Graham may say, represents the former Confederate States of America, which implicitly represents the institution of American slavery.

Slavery’s history in the Americas is deep and deadly. In the 300+ years of the African slave trade, around 12 million Africans were shipped (10 million survived the passage) to the New World, of which only about half a million were sent to North America to work the sugar and cotton fields. (Brazil took the bulk with around five million.) The average life expectancy of black slaves was 21, half the average age of whites. Families were broken as children were sold away from parents, wives taken from husbands. The culture and traditions of their African life slowly faded away from memory. There are now over 40 million black people living in USA, many of whom are possible descendants of those initial slaves.

The master/slave relationship was conflicting at best and viciously cruel at the worst. White masters invoked sexual rights upon their female “property”, which created internal color discrimination and confusion within the modern black community. Jim Crow laws continued the debasement and mistreatment of the black population for a century after the end of the war. That knowledge of “otherness” must lay dormant or even actively stewing inside many subconsciouses. “What happens to a dream deferred?” How do we expect to move on together as a country with such gaping wounds festering beneath a Band-Aid of polite prejudices?

White supremacy still exists as exhibited by the recent shooting in Charleston. Black disenfranchisement and intangible exclusion still exists as evidenced by the events of Baltimore and Ferguson. That’s just the past year! Our history is riddled with racial tension boiling into murder from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. MLK murdered, Rodney King beaten before acquitting the responsible officers, prompting the L.A. riots. The scab is constantly being ripped away before any healing occurs. The Confederate flag is like lemon in those fresh wounds.

Southerners seem to have more geographical pride than those winter loving Northerners; and the de facto symbol for many is that same (hateful to some, heritage to others) battle flag of Northern Virginia. I’ve always wondered about their pride and where it originates. It may be in defiance of losing a war and holding on to any semblance of power from that loss. It may be the nostalgic memory of the genteel Southern gentleman a la “Gone With the Wind”. It may be the understandable, but misdirected pride for one’s home. I speculate, but it may just be more personal than general in nature. Nevertheless, that flag isn’t helping anything and shouldn’t and needn’t represent anyone or anything besides hate groups now. The rainbow flag has been coopted by the LGBT community and there’s no going back now. It’s theirs. The moment the KKK or now this terrorist douchebucket in Charleston used this flag as their symbol was the minute it no longer represented the feel good NASCAR days of Dixie.

The larger problem within this flag argument is America’s fascination with guns. An old amendment from an antiquated age of armed civilian safeguards ensured that American citizens would always be able to purposefully, hatefully or even accidentally kill each other or ourselves with firearms until the end of time. The powerful lobby of the NRA and the common idiocy of many Americans fearing a helpless country without guns will only strengthen our circle of violence to continue. We’re not getting rid of guns and we’re not getting rid of racism anytime soon. The best we can do is follow Gandhi and our dorky sophomore English teacher’s trite maxim to “be the change we want to see in the world.” For a “Christian” nation, you’d think not killing and loving our neighbor would be second nature, but apparently not if they look different than you.

The even larger picture presents something just as damning and disturbing as our intractable gun laws, deep-seated racism and symbols of hate masquerading as cultural heritage. Slavery still exists! Sexual slavery, wage slavery, bonded labor, abused migrant laborers, child workers, forced marriages, or sweatshops all feature some terrible and familiar horrors. We’ve heard the stories of Bangladeshi girls sewing shirts for 14 hours a day for 50$ a month, indentured servants of Indian brick kilns, or stolen girls sold into sexual depravity. The world can be an ugly place. “Man is the cruelest animal,” said Nietzsche. And we are. But we can and will change. Change takes time, change isn’t easy, and “change is the only constant of life,” said Heraclitus. The pessimist in me is aware of the possibility of pure chaos, pure human suffering, and the absolute terror we could unleash if the precarious balance of mutual comfort is disrupted. However, if we progress through personal evolution and eliminate our prejudiced Ego for our gregarious and collectively beneficial Super-ego, America may find harmony by association.

The following speech from Ethiopian emperor and inspiration of Bob Marley’s Rastaman chant, “Jah Live!” gives us an idea of the enormous mountain we still have to climb. Or have a listen here

“That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.” 

– Haile Selassie I

The Lynching of Lige Daniels. 3 August 1920, Center, Texas. Without Santuary, plate 54

The Lynching of Lige Daniels. 3 August 1920, Center, Texas. Without Santuary, plate 54


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?


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.


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).


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.


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).


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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