Samuel and Jimi Hendrix

One of the best things about teaching ESL is that you meet awesome students. You can meet impressive, precocious youngsters who correct your grammar or wild, excitable hooligans that are incapable of sitting still. You can meet demure, sweet kids who draw you cute pictures or give you their last piece of candy. You can meet the kindergarten munchkins who’ll tell you they love you every day. You can also meet a kid like Samuel. Continue reading

The Continual Contrast of Life

It had been a hard month of preparation for an “open class” where the parents of our kindergarten students come to see their children’s progress toward English fluency. We had prepared fun lessons with interactive speaking and listening activities with ample parental involvement and were now ready for it to be over. Continue reading

People Are Strange And So Am I

The people I see when I walk around the cities of the world simultaneously amaze, frighten, arouse, stimulate, disgust and amuse me. Some are unbearably attractive, others the kind of ugly that permeates from the inside out. Some are beautiful and life affirming in their actions, others make me feel complicit in their greed and cruelty, simply by being human. Some are good, some are bad, some are pretty, and some are not. Continue reading

The Recycling Program

The old lady ambles across the street in baggy floral pants, shuffling her tattered sandals along patchwork sidewalks pulling a large, flat wheelbarrow loaded with possibly hundreds of pounds of cardboard. People steer slowly out of her way, barely glancing up from their smartphones. Cars pause before her path; buses wait for her to cross the street, yet she is somehow disregarded as an inconspicuous piece of city life, discreetly moving among the masses.

She is the can rattling along the sewer grate in a breeze. She is the stray cat mewing in a filthy corner. She is the invisible working poverty. I wondered about her. Does she have a family? Are they proud of her for continuing to work at her age or embarrassed of her lowly standing? Does she make good money recycling? Where does she go after work? I tend to think Koreans can ignore her along with the legless beggars of Itaewon and subway stations, but do they see her and feel pride or shame? Is she a part of their former provincial history that hasn’t been eradicated by modernization? Or is she just a helpful part of the trash removal system that rewards salvaging?

All the same, she is one of many familiar faces in my neighborhood. I know the cardboard ladies’ faces, just like the sock sellers, cell phone hawkers and tteokbokki dealers who I pass along the daily travels of my main street. I look at them, but never too long. They have penetrating eyes like black holes of vague awareness. I don’t know if those are the sage eyes of a lifetime of labor or the darting eyes of cardboard pursuit. Their wrinkles tell stories I can’t translate. Their tanned skins tell of extensive work hours my soft moisturized hands can’t possibly understand. Their rotten clothes speak of a humility most educated people wouldn’t recognize.

They serve a purpose; they do their job. How long have they done this job? One lady is so hunched from pulling those massively heavy, overloaded carts that she is literally shaped like a number 7. I see them chatting together at twilight, on quiet, dusty stoops, holding their faces in their hands as they speak, caricatures of themselves, like living black and white photos of a poorer time. What do they talk about? What do people unlike myself talk about? What can permanent disfigurement caused by toil teach a person? I can learn, again, to cease any entitlement to complain and strive to be thankful, positive and respectful.

NYC Pizza Tour–2012

Bread has been cooked in many ways, in many places and with many flavors. Pizza is essentially bread with toppings. As with most food, Americans received pizza from immigrants, Italian immigrants specifically. However, Italians owe their modern pizza to the New World. Tomatoes were shipped home with (the aptly named) Francisco Pizarro, that famous conquistador of the Incan Empire. Continue reading

Believing Without Thinking

The old Albert Einstein quote goes: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The old Homer Simpson quote goes: “Everyone is stupid except me.” North Korea (hereafter: NK) has been repeating their same style of belligerent rhetoric, seemingly as their only foreign policy, for the past 60 years. They appear to think they are sane while the rest of the world is stupid. They may have a nuclear bomb, but their capacity to deliver it across the Pacific remains questionable due to their antique computers and clumsy rockets. Continue reading

Remembering New Jersey in Korea

It’s no surprise that many of my blogs of reminiscing begin with: “When I was a kid at the Jersey Shore.” It was and remains a magical place for our family. There is a wide, off-white sandy beach, a small downtown with ice cream shops, miniature golf, a small arcade, a movie theater, and even a boardwalk for romantic post-pizza strolls. That’s not even to mention the Sabia/Sedlacek compound. We have the “dock on the bay” complete with boats and jet-skis, railings and pilings for karate kid bay jumps—a semi-private haven for all our tomfoolery. It made for great vacations. Continue reading

About Life, Death and Falling Felines

Living on Earth is hard on the heart. We see things, feel things and hear things that can hurt us, hurt our soul, hurt the everlasting spirit that we know is inside of us and has been in and of this galaxy in many forms and shapes since time immemorial. We cannot avoid the pain; we cannot avoid the love, the moments of bliss or the moments of terror. We are cursed and blessed with the gift of consciousness. Continue reading

A Return Home to Return Home

Living in a foreign country can have many feelings. There can be, in any conceivable array, a multitudinous collision of emotions: boredom, freedom, homesickness, love, lust, excitement, desire, longing, scorn, derision, insight, resonance, horror, humor, confusion, or wonder. Some days, anywhere or for anyone, are better than others. Some days are really transcendent. Continue reading