Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bright Lights, Big City?

Graeme and I have been talking lately about where we’re going to go when we get out of here.  Part of me wants to go home – yes, home like Jacksonville, Illinois, the town I spent the bulk of my life attempting to escape – and part of me wants to go somewhere like Chicago.  I grew up in the farm country, but make no mistake, I like me a big city.  Paris scared me for about two days, and then I was fine.  Fish to water.

I’ll be the first one to admit that there are things about the city that suck, but I’d be the first person to tell you that cities are exciting, wonderful places.  You never know where the day is going to take you when you live in a big city.  You never know who you’re going to meet or what you might see next.  You might see a man urinating into potted plants in front of an investment bank.  You might see George W. Bush’s motorcade retracing the Allied liberation route through Paris after coming up out the catacombs (yes, that really happened to me).  In a place like Jacksonville, one thing that you can be sure of is that if you saw Mary Sue at J.C. Penney, you can be pretty sure that you’re going to run into her again over at Festival Foods about 30 minutes from now.  There aren’t that many shopping stops to hit in Jacksonville, and you’re out to hit one, you’re pretty much out to hit ’em all.

I made a list today of the pros and cons of living in each area, big city or smaller, country town.

Big City Pros

1. Don’t necessarily need a car (NYC, Chicago, etc.)
2. Interesting people
3. Culture – music scene, art museums, etc.
4. Things to do – museums, concerts, sporting events, etc.
5. SHOPPING (seriously)
6. Excuse to dress up every day
7. Can be rude to people in the street because you’ll likely never see them again
8. Better job opportunities
9. Good private school opportunities

Big City Cons

 1. High cost of living
2. Expensive houses with high taxes and stupid city regulations
3. Crime
4. People tend to be rude
5. If you lose your job, you’ll lose your shirt a lot faster.
6. Hard to make friends.
7. Public transportation can suck (see: Crazy, Homeless People Talking Total Nonsense to Strangers)
8. Terrifying public schools
9. Crackheads

Small Town Pros

1. Everyone knows you
2. YARDS, where children can play and herbs & veggies can flourish
3.  Everything is close by
4. Crime rates tend to be somewhat low
5. Kids can walk around without much fear of something terrible happening
6. Generally cheaper cost of living
7. Cheaper housing and taxes
8. If you’ve been anywhere outside of the Midwest, let alone outside of the USA, you look super-impressive.

Small Town Cons

1. Everyone knows you
2.  There is little to no variety in terms of shopping, people, or housing.
3.  The infrastructure is more likely to suck in small towns, and you can forget public transportation.
4. Few job opportunities
5. Poorish population that is, by and large, uneducated.
6. Meth heads
7. Narrow-minded, to some extent
8. Poor public schools without much choice for private schools.
9. People you hated from high school still live there.  Ugh.

If it was up to me, we’d move to Chicago or Miami or somewhere like that in a heartbeat.  I love Chicago.  It’s a great town.  It has the New York feel without the blatant disregard for humanity with which New Yorkers seem to be born.  Chicagoans are big city while still being “Midwest nice,” as I believe F. Scot Fitzgerald put it.  Michigan Avenue has amazing shopping, the art museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Museum of Science and Industry, among others, have any and all small towns beaten by a Magnificent Mile.

Chi-town: the unofficial capital of Illinois

Still, as Graeme and my guilty conscience have pointed out, my grandparents are getting very old, and I should be closer to them.  I understand that.  I also know that I don’t like Jacksonville, and I would prefer to live somewhere with more opportunity and less of a personal relationship with corn and corn products.  I’m not a farm girl.  I like being outside, camping and gardening and such, but I don’t care about working on a farm or really even being around farms.  I’d much rather wander around downtown in a city and press my nose against the windows of dress shops and Tiffany’s.

What to do for the best?  Do you take your chances and go to the big city, drawn like a moth to the lure of the bright lights and promises of big dreams (and possible nightmares)?  Or do you choose the devil you know – the one that you’ve been trying to beat to death with a cattle prod since you were about seven?  Hard choices.  We can afford housing in a decent area of Jacksonville.  We can afford housing in the shady section of the South Side in Chicago.  St. Louis doesn’t seem to promise much more, although honestly, St. Louis and I don’t get along very well.  There’s just something about that town… It’s like a small town on steroids: everyone always comes back that leaves, nobody uses a directional when jerking the car into another lane, and everyone asks what high school you went to so that they know how to form a split-second judgment about your family’s most recent tax return, house, car, and moral uprightness.  It’s like an entire city of the nosy neighbor that you wish wasn’t watching you from behind her drapes and then calling her friend, Edna, and telling her that you were wearing a trampy skirt, too much lipstick, and looked as though you’d been crying again, oh that terrible man you married.  Ugh.  No thank you.

The 'Lou: Oh my God! You went to Vianni, too? We should totally be friends, bro.

But like I said.  My family is back home in “Actionville.”  I know it.  It’s familiar, even if it is familiar in the same way that the smell of my own sweat is familiar: only insofar as I recognize it immediately, not so much that I can’t get enough of it.  Don’t get me wrong: it will be good to see home.  Coming back to Jacksonville always feels nice, to some degree.  But it’s always nice to take off on the next adventure or back to my own apartment (for example, when I was back in Columbia), too.  Decisions, decisions.  Stay tuned!

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The Kick-Off to Christmas

Ah, Black Friday: it’s some people’s version of Shoppers Paradise, but some people seem to think of it more like Friday the 13th, with freaks in clothing more suitable for a hockey fight hip-checking you and slamming you into the proverbial boards at every turn.  Yes, it’s the kick-off to the Christmas season and the first of four weekends that we have to prepare for Christmas.

Truthfully, when I was back home, I was never one to wade out into the madness that is Black Friday.  For most of it, I was a broke college student, and I wasn’t exactly in a major gift-giving position, anyway.  For the last year, I was working at a bank and had to be into work at 7:30 in the morning, and Black Friday was basically the worst day of year for us, with countless customers calling in, wanting to know why they were overdrawn (“You spend more than you make.”), needing the credit limits raised for major purchases on their cards, and finding out which purchases had come in so that they could make emergency deposits before the rest of their purchases hit their accounts.  It was basically pandemonium, and I had no desire to play any bigger part in the consumer crush than I already was.

I have no idea what’s changed.  Maybe it’s the fact that I no longer have the job from Hell working at that bank.  Maybe it’s because I live overseas, and I’m lonesome for any sort of American “tradition,” even if that tradition involves cutting out coupons, mapping your route, and preparing yourself to shank anyone who tries to slide past you on your way through Best Buy to get that perfect 54″ flat screen TV that’s on sale for 35% off the regular price.  My uncle always gets out early on Black Friday.  I think he spends the entire week or so before Black Friday strategizing his attack and figuring out what he’s going to buy that year.  He loves it.  He loves getting out into the madness and trading blows with people in hopes of finding this year’s mega-bargain.

Frankly, I’m not one for getting up early – never have been – although I’m admittedly getting better at waking up than I was when I was younger.  Also, when I was a student, I never felt particularly compulsed to buy for anyone other than my grandparents and possibly my aunt and uncle.  Now that I’m getting older and there’s not so much excuse, well, suddenly Black Friday is looking like a better and better idea, even if it does involve getting into fights with fellow shoppers for that perfect gift.

I think part of my newfound lack of fear has to do with being in Korea for so long.  Honestly, every Saturday is like Black Friday in this country.  Korea, as you all could probably guess if you didn’t already know, is a small country with a rather large population, relative to its size.  There’s not a lot of elbow room around here.  What’s considered a family apartment in Korea would barely be considered enough to be a couple’s apartment in the US.  Koreans are used to sharing their space, and truthfully, they have no concept of personal space in the same way that Americans do.  In short, Koreans will get right up in your business and never think twice about it.  Couple this with the fact that they are literally the stupidest walkers on the planet, and you have a recipe for a Black Friday-like scenario most every weekend.

Instead of Wal-Mart, we have Lotte Mart, E-Mart, Costco, and Tesco over here.  E-Mart is my personal favorite, but we have Lotte Mart in my area of Masan.  I dare you to go into one of these establishments on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon/evening.  You will pushed, shoved, poked, and run into with wayward shopping carts.  The Korean shopping carts have a much larger range of motion than do American ones, thanks to these handy wheels they have on.  Actually, I’m not sure why I’ve called them handy, because it just allows for more ways that Koreans can knock into you.  They drive carts like they drive cars: with complete and utter disregard for the people around them.  It’s incredible.  I will reiterate: Koreans are the stupidest walkers and the worst drivers I have ever encountered.  It’s beyond annoying; it drives me into a murderous rage most of the time.  I have to go places like E-Mart either early in the morning or late at night to avoid inflating a desire to kill.

The thing about it is, in Korea, it’s nothing personal.  When Koreans shove you or give you a swift elbow to the kidney while getting onto the bus, it’s not because you’re white/brown and they hate you; it’s because they want a seat on the bus, and so do the other 25 people pushing to get on.  They will fight for those seats, because they don’t know any of the people around them, and if you don’t know someone in Confucian society, you essentially don’t exist.  (I know, it sounds weird to the Western mind, but you have to sort of accept it to some degree around here.)  I still get miffed when people start shoving me around, but I no longer have any qualms about shoving back.  If people are willing to be that rude to you, there is nothing stopping you from stomping those suckers flat.  I know, “an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind,” but if you ever want to sit down on a bus in Korea, you have to be willing to shove some people out of the way.  And remember, as a Great White Waygook, chances are, I’m bigger than most of them anyway, in weight if nothing else.  Koreans go flying when I come barreling through.

I do enjoy that first weekend after Thanksgiving, though, even if I don’t particularly feel like partaking in Black Friday.  On Saturday, it used to be “tradition” in our house that my grandma and I would go buy our Christmas tree.  We usually got a Fraser fir, primarily because they shed less.  After an unfortunate incident with a real tree a few years ago (bad allergic reaction to the chemical they put on to keep them fresh), I bought a fake one.  Still, getting the tree and decorating it was always my favorite part of the holiday season.  Less fun was going back with Grandpa to retrieve it from the tree farm or nursery where we got it.  Grandpa would always get the tree stand out, and then invariably, he would find all sorts of faults with the tree.  The trunk was never cut to his liking, so I would have to get down on the floor and get covered with pine sap to wire the tree to the stand.  It was kind of ridiculous.

Then, of course, you have to dig out the ornaments, lights, and various other Christmas decorations.  The ornaments are usually no big deal, but finding two or three strings of lights that actually work can be a challenge.  Finding a string of lights that hasn’t somehow become a tangled mess during its year in storage, well… That’s like wishing for the moon.  Then, of course, you have to prevent the grandparents’ dog from eating the ornaments, keep the beast from drinking the water, and keep the cat from attempting to climb the tree.  Suddenly, having a tree starts to look like a losing proposition, as you’re tangled in a line of lights with a knot to rival a triple half-hitch figure-eight square bowl’n knot (okay, that knot doesn’t exist) with one hand on the dog’s collar and the other on the tree trunk to prevent it from hitting the ground as the cat scales up into the branches.

Once you’ve got the tree up and lit, there’s always the outside to do.  At my folks’ house, you have to go down into the basement (uck) and find the spotlight.  My grandparents put a spotlight on the giant wreath on the front door and hook it up to a timer in the basement.  Getting everything positioned just right and getting the timer to work properly can potentially take a good hour, and you never really know if it’s just right until dark.  Then you have to do the lamp post – gotta wrap some more lights and pine garland around that thing.  Usually, it’s freezing cold, so your hands and fingers are numb about five minutes into the whole thing.

I will state for the record that I’ve never done any lights on the bushes at my folks’ house or gotten up on any ladders and tried to string up those dangly icicle thingies, and here’s why.  If you’ve been to my folks, you know that there’s a rather massive pine tree on the front west side of the house.  That same tree still has giant colored light bulbs hanging in it from the 1960s.  Apparently one year my uncles, when they were kids, put Christmas lights in the thing and just never took them down.  They’re still there.  They’re still colored.  They’re about 15 or 20 feet off the ground now, but they’re still there.  That’s what I feel like will happen to me, if I ever get so inclined to light up a tree.  Still, it’s tempting to keep up with the Joneses and light the entire house from front to back.

I do think you can go a bit overboard (think plastic nativity scene with glowing Santa and reindeer watching over), but I do enjoy driving around during the Christmas season and admiring the lit houses.  It’s one of my favorite things to do during the holiday season.  The year that I went to Chicago before Christmas was awesome too, because you get to walk around downtown and check out the Christmas window displays in the big department stores and the designer boutiques.  A lot of money and time goes into those window dressings!

In any case, getting ready for Christmas is the whole fun of the holiday, in my opinion.  Christmas itself is never quite as exciting as getting ready for it. The best time I ever had at Christmas was sitting in my cousin’s basement and helping her wrap gifts on Christmas Eve while the girls were asleep and then setting everything out by the tree, showcasing the big gifts like Santa had been there.  It was great fun.  Kids sort of make the Christmas holiday seem more exciting and more “worthwhile.”  They still have enough imagination to really believe in the magic of the holiday, which makes it more fun for those of us who have lost some of that ability.

So this weekend, I will be going to “Fauxgiving” at my friends’ house with some other foreigners.  I will be lamenting the fact that there are no Christmas trees in Korea and the kids here never believe in Santa.  There are no big packages of Christmas ornaments and there are no plastic baby Jesus figurines roasting over flood lamps in front yards (there aren’t any of those, either), but you can be darn sure that I will be meeting the Christmas challenges with renewed vigor next year when we’re on American soil!  Speed the day!

Happy Thanksgiving from Marge

Hello, readers!  Although I’m in Korea and today is just a work day like any other for me, I’d like to take a minute to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  My folks had Thanksgiving last weekend and, while I wish more than anything that I could have been there, it has been great to see pictures and be able to talk to some folks via Skype.  Technology can be a wonderful thing sometimes!  I know this is hammy, but I think I have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, even though I may not be able to celebrate it as I’d like.

I have a decently-paid job that I don’t hate which has allowed us to save money towards us a house, and at a time when so many people have trouble finding even basic work, that is a real blessing.  I have a wonderful husband and a great network of friends over here, and we’re going to make Thanksgiving work abroad, which can be a tough thing to pull off sometimes.  We all have our health (and decent insurance coverage!), a warm apartment to call home, and enough cash to put a decent meal on the table.  In a time when so many people are lacking those basic things, it makes me feel more grateful that we’re in a position to have those things, unlike so many who don’t this holiday season.  So many people are living on reduced means or have lost a home or job in the crisis that it makes one feel doubly blessed for having what most consider to be even the most basic things.

The most important thing, however, is that we have good friends and family and seek to share the day with them as best we can, regardless of where in the world we are.  I would love to be at home, but I am more than thankful for my job and my friends over here.  We have been incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to work in another country and meet people and experience a culture that would otherwise have been completely unknown to us.  In that light, I encourage everyone to count their blessings especially carefully this year, regardless of your financial or family situation.

For those of you who are traveling, I wish you a safe journey and, if you’re flying, that the TSA doesn’t molest you too badly.  May the turkey be moist, may your family and friends be plentiful, and may you not suffer too many injuries tomorrow morning as Black Friday commences.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Awakening the Crazy Cat Lady Within

I am the crazy cat lady.  The only problem is that I don’t currently own many or even a single cat.  But I wish I did.

I had a cat here in Korea for a short time named Chicken.  I called her Chicken because: a) her name before that was Nabi, Korean for butterfly (gag), and; b) she was scared of everything.  She spent half of her life hiding under my bed and refused to come out.  She would sit under there and yowl and yowl and yowl.  She was possibly the noisiest creature I’d ever owned.  Normally, I love cats, but we didn’t last long together.  She found a much better home with my friend Julia.  When Julia got married and they had a baby, they all loved the cat.

Simon: well-known for hitching rides on shoulders and even butts, if you bent over long enough to let him jump on.

Then Julia went on vacation and, tragically, I agreed to babysit Chicken/Chubby.  Everything was fine until the day before Chuseok.  Everything is closed at Chuseok, which is a three-day long holiday event.  Chicken had a seizure, and we couldn’t get her into a vet.  We finally got her into a vet, but unfortunately, she died not all that long after.  The one good thing that came out of it was that we discovered that there’s mercury in our water here in Masan, and that’s what caused the cat to die.  Ugh.  It was horrible.  I swore off owning any pets for a long time, I was so distraught over the cat.

I’ve had a lot of previous success with cats.  I grew up with a cat, Fatty.  Fatty was big.  Fatty was mean.  Fatty didn’t like women.  She only liked men, for some strange reason.  She hated to be picked up, and she spent most of the time sitting in the sun on top of the radiator behind the couch.  I always wondered why she didn’t cook, but the extreme heat never seemed to bother her overmuch.  Fatty died while I was in Germany, but she was old and had lived a good life, so I wasn’t too sad about it.

In university, my old roommate Ashley and I got two kittens during the summer of ’03 at the local Humane Society’s “cat and a half” sale.  It was there that we got Simon and Charlie.  We always joked that Simey was the half because he’s so small.  Charlie looks like a meatloaf.

Charlie-Fat! Ashley started calling him "Yellow Birthday Cat" on his first birthday, and I still call him that. Isn't he glorious?

Those two cats didn’t walk that entire summer; we carried them everywhere.  If someone came into the apartment, one of us would thrust a cat into their face and say, “Look at this cat?  Isn’t he the most precious?!”  It probably freaked a few people out, but Simon and Charlie became like dogs.  They would follow you around, let you pick them up, play with you… They were never standoffish, as cats have a reputation for being.

“The boys” live with Ashley full-time now and have ever since I went to Germany.  Charlie was “mine” at the time of purchase, and as much as I wanted him back when I came home, we could never have separated those two.

They are inseparable brothers. Look at that leg and those withering looks! Best cats ever!

They hated to even be in different cages at the vet.  I still miss having them around though, because they have tons of personality.  Simon tried to eat a bat once – no joke – and Charlie likes to knock into pet fountains to watch the bubbles.  He also “chirps” at the dishwasher and washing machine when they change cycles.  He seems to enjoy the sound of running water.  Simon will jump for dry spaghetti.  He can jump about four feet straight into the air.  It’s kind of hilarious.

I know that I’ll never be able to replace my boys.  I would like to get a new cat or two, though, and begin my transition into the realm of being a crazy cat lady.  I love having cats.  I love kittens.  I like petting them and playing with them and teasing them and watching them do nutty things.  Simon and Charlie were almost endless sources of entertainment for me.  I could never get tired of watching them.  They used to wait outside my door while I got ready for university in the mornings, and when I went to the kitchen to feed them, Simon would usually jump on my butt and hitch a ride while I bent over to feed them.  Strange but precious.

Jump, Tiny! He loved jumping for that spaghetti, and Ashley (here) and I were more than happy to oblige him.

When I came back from Germany, Ashley had new roommates, and one of them had a cat, Garth.  Simon and Charlie never let him into their circle of brotherhood.  Garth was kind of a moron, as cats go.  The basement of the split level where the girls were living had a ledge that went around the great room, and there were scented candles up.  One afternoon, Ashley and I were watching a movie down there with the candles lit, and Garth lit himself on fire when he more or less tried to lie down on one of the candles.  The room smelled like singed cat fur for the rest of the afternoon, and I seriously doubt anyone tried to light those candles ever again.

In any case, it doesn’t seem as though I’ll be getting a cat anytime soon.  For one thing, Korean animals seem to be generally unhealthy.  I’ve had several friends who got puppies or kittens only to have them get dreadfully sick and even die shortly after.  I’m not really sure why this is, although I will say that Koreans don’t seem to exhibit the same sort of care and love towards animals that most Westerners do.  I know that sounds stereotypical, and I know that there’s a lot of animal cruelty back home, but it’s more obvious here.  In any case, they tend not to be as healthy, and I really don’t want to go through another Chicken-like fiasco.

I guess I’m going to have to resign myself to waiting until I get home.  My husband is more of a dog person, and I like some dogs, but I know myself; at heart, I’m a cat person.  I like the purring.  I like the personality quirks.  I miss having a cuddle buddy on the couch.  Stay tuned.  Perhaps this time next year I will have some adorable kittens that never walk anywhere and who get thrust into the face of every person who walks through our front door.  I have a feeling that it’s in the cards…

Revisiting the 90s

For some reason, I have been listening to my old 90s music lately.  It has moments when it almost seems surreal, because I remember when a lot of these albums and songs came out for the first time, and it seems like only yesterday.  I’m not sure what’s brought on this desire to revisit my school days.  Perhaps it’s an email I received from a high school acquaintance with whom I lost touch immediately after high school.  She reminded me that our 10-year is coming up next summer, and I couldn’t believe it when I read that in print.  Has it really been 10 years?  Maybe I better start letting go of some of those grudges that I’m still carrying…

I make no claims that this is anything like a “Best of the 90s” list a la VH1.  This is more like a “Best of Marge” list, and some of these are old favorites that I have almost literally stumbled over in the middle of the night.

The Joshua Tree – U2
I’ll be honest: Bono drives me crazy.  I remember when I was in elementary school thinking that “War” and “The Joshua Tree” were albums that only cool older kids listened to, like my cousin Ike.  I also remember listening to U2 and loving it for yonks.  Then I had several unfortunate run-ins during freshman year with another girl living in my dorm who was obsessed with Bono and U2, and she tainted the greatness of this band for me for years.  It has been about eight years, and I’m just now giving it a fair listen again.  The Joshua Tree is one of those few albums where I can safely say that every song is good, and I still think Bono is a tool, so I hate to admit that.

The Writing’s on the Wall – Destiny’s Child
To be perfectly frank, I don’t like Beyonce any better than I like Bono.  In fact, I like her less.  She’s unoriginal, she has questionable fashion sense, and she has more money than sense.  That said, DC was not a bad group at all.  I have lots of fond memories of them.  I picked up The Writing’s On the Wall when it first came out and hated it.  I actually gave it to a friend of mine because I thought it sucked so bad.  I later changed my mind but had fallen out with my friend since then, so I never did get that album back.   I only have parts of it still remaining in my music library, but whenever I hear the standouts, I always think of being driven to parties in friends’ parents’ cars and wishing that I wasn’t such a lamer.  Because I was a big lamer when this album came out.  I actually cringe to think of it now.  My favorite song is “Jumpin’ Jumpin'” – always has been.

Survivor – Destiny’s Child
This album was the soundtrack to the best summer of my life.  I was about to be a senior in high school, and I was a junior counselor at Clearwater Camp for the summer.  I attended camp for years, and being a leadership was about the best thing ever.  We all lived together, snuck out to buy beer and make out with boys, and we listened to this album on repeat.  I will never forget Sarah Wise dancing around to “Bootylicious.”  Funnily enough, I like that song a lot better now than I ever did when it was popular.  I can still listen to this album before going out and feel pretty jazzed.

Automatic for the People – R.E.M.
This is not my favorite R.E.M. album.  Document No. 5 was and always will be the best for me, but since it was released in 1988, I technically can’t include it in my 90s favorites.  I still think it deserves a shout-out, though, since it was on repeat in my Discman for a good part of the 90s.  Automatic for the People is my runner-up, though.  “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” and “Man on the Moon” were brilliant and I loved them madly.  “Nightswimming” was another that made it into the soundtrack of the best summer of my life.  We all used to go skinny-dipping off of the Bramley’s dock. (Lizzy was a leadership, and her family owned the property next door to the leadership house, so we’d sneak down there and drink and get nude.  I guess that’s what teenage girls do…)  Good times!  R.E.M. was one of the greats.

Home – Deep Blue Something
This soundtrack inspired me to rent Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I didn’t care for half as much as the song, at the time.  I have no idea what happened to Deep Blue Something, but this was a good album.  Almost all of the songs are quite good, and I can listen to it straight through from start to finish.  Again, I have memories of camp when I think of this one.  We all had the song stuck in our heads in the summer of 1996, I believe it was.  I heard “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for the first time in the Big Blue Banana, the ugliest of the camp vans.  None of us knew all the words, though – just the chorus.  Did Deep Blue Something do anything after this album, I wonder?  Did they need to?

Rocket – Primitive Radio Gods

Best album that never really made it big. I wish they'd gone further.


I’m confident that this is a “Marge Special,” because I have met very few people who remember the Primitive Radio Gods.  They got famous on “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand,” which was a good song, but so were all the other songs on that album.  I still have it, and I still listen to it quite frequently.  “Motherf**ker,” “Skin Turns Blue,” and “Rocket” remain my favorite songs.  I think they made one more album after this one, but they never seemed to catch on and do anything more.  I wish they had, because I really loved this album.

Garbage – Garbage
This was another one that I had on repeat all throughout middle school.  All of the songs on the album were excellent, and I could and would listen to it straight through from start to finish.  I loved Shirley Manson, and the pink cover was strangely off-putting and enticing to me at the same time.  My top song pics are “Queer,” “Supervixen,” and “Milk.”  I’m listening to it now, and while it doesn’t sound fresh to me anymore, it still feels right to me.  It’s every bit as angsty as I was at that age

Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell – Meat Loaf
I think I was into Meat when I was in third grade.  I listened to this album non-stop for about a year and a half.  I loved the whole album, and you’d best believe that I still know the words to all the songs.  Jim Steinman wrote most, if not all, of the songs on that album.  He wrote a bunch of stuff for Celine Dion, too.  He was like the songwriter king of hit power ballads, and Meat Loaf did a great job belting them out.  I just love the cheesy saxophone solos – so dramatic.  These songs make me think of music videos that told a story, where the ugly guy got the beautiful girl, but she would invariably die or leave him before the song finished.  So tragic.  So awesome.

Tragic Kingdom – No Doubt 

I thought Gwen Stefani was so hot on this cover. I wanted to look like her.


I first heard “Just a Girl” watching Clueless, another movie that seems to be synonymous with 90s pop culture.  I found out who they were, and I was instantly addicted.  I loved Gwen Stefani’s platinum hair and red lipstick.  I loved the album cover.  I loved the sound.  This is another album that, for me, was good from start to finish.  No Doubt never topped this one, unfortunately, and have since become a bit of a sad case in my mind.  If they had made more albums like this one and evolved the sound a bit, I would have kept listening to them.  I guess they went the electronica route, which was disappointing.  I still like to belt out “Don’t Speak” in the car, and I still love the bass line in “Tragic Kingdom.”

Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morissette
I think this album was on constant repeat for everyone for an entire year between 6th and 7th grade for me.  I loved Alanis.  She was a bitch and she was angry – just like me!  She was saying what we were all thinking, and it sold.  And she never topped it.  The thing that I love about this album is that, although the sound is very much 90s, the songs are still appealing today.  She could be talking to someone today just as easily as someone in 1996.  Who didn’t have someone in mind to blister with “You Oughta Know?”  “One Hand in My Pocket” is still my favorite, but I bet you $5 that I could sing every single song on that album from start to finish, perhaps with the exception of the hidden track at the end.

Songs of Faith and Devotion – Depeche Mode
My cousin Martha (who goes by Claire now) was a total Goth chick in the 90s, and she turned me on to Depeche Mode, Front 242, and Leaether Strip.  Depeche Mode was the one that really stuck, and this was my first Depeche Mode album.  It’s still my favorite.  It’s so dark and moody, and I think Depeche Mode is probably what convinced me that The Cure was worth a listen.  Depeche Mode isn’t something that’s on my regular rotation, but it sure as heck was in 1998!  “Walking in My Shoes” is, in my opinion, hands-down the best song from the album, although there are some other gems to be found.  Personally, I don’t think Depeche Mode has done much good work since this album, but they’re still a good band to listen to, after all these years.

Dookie – Green Day
Everyone in my 6th grade class had this album on repeat, especially two of the boys I sat next to, so I can’t claim to have found this one by myself.  I remember that Björk’s album Post came out this same year.  I wish I had been cool enough to listen to her at that time, but alas, my taste ran more towards this group.  I loved Green Day for this album and this album only, and once I was done with it, I never went back.  I tend to think of Green Day as a tool-ish band now, although I have no real evidence to back this up except that I don’t like them anymore.  I still like this album, though, and it takes me back to listening to Cole Kirkpatrick and Adam Dobson talking about genitals and poop in class.  Those were the days.

janet. – Janet Jackson
This album was like sex on a stick, and I don’t think my grandmother would have let me listen to it if she had really known what was in it.  I still count it among the raunchiest albums that I own.  “If” is still my favorite song, and it’s dirty, but it’s not the dirtiest song on the album.  Man, Janet Jackson did good, raunchy dance videos while Britney Spears was still a Mouseketeer.  I remember watching the videos for this album on MTV, and Grandma walked in on “Again” where the guy was reaching into Janet’s pants and pulling out a belly chain.  Grandma gave me a disapproving look and a Marge Simpson grunt but never said anything, luckily for me.

Blood Sugar Sex Magic – The Red Hot Chili Peppers

This album cover looks like a bad tribal tattoo. I never did care for it.


Classic.  Martha and her older sister, Meredith, turned me onto the Chili Peppers.  “Give it Away” was the first song I ever heard from the album, and I was alternately scared of it and intrigued.  I ended up buying it years later, when I was older than 1st or 2nd grade.  I remember that we were watching the video for it and Uncle Harry walked in – this seems to be a recurring theme for me – and was moderately disapproving that the girls were letting me watch that stuff.  They told me that their dad made them buy the albums with their own allowance money because he wouldn’t buy that kind of music for them.  They went on to tell me, if I remember correctly, that they didn’t like Madonna because “you could tell what kind of woman” she was by listening to her music.  I got the idea, but I was also about seven.  I just knew that the videos looked interesting, if not weird.   

Finally… Albums I wish that I’d had

1. Live Through This – Hole: Before Courtney went completely off the deep end.
2. Dilate – Ani DiFranco: I love Ani, and this is my favorite album of hers.  I refused to listen to “angry bitch music” for years, and I wish I had started sooner because, you know, I kind of am an angry bitch.
3. Eleventeen – Daisy Chainsaw: I love Katie-Jane Garside.  She can do no wrong in my eyes, and this was her first musical project.  She left the band after the first album, but thank the stars she started Queenadreena several years later.  KJG is my favorite riot grrl, and “Hope Your Dreams Come True” is a great song.
4. Anything by Sonic Youth, the Smashing Pumpkins, Mazzy Star, and Portishead.  I never got into the Smashing Pumpkins when I was younger, and I didn’t know about the other three until the 90s were over.  I loves me some Mazzy Star and Portishead!

Holidays Abroad

Holidays abroad, at least for this waygook (외국), kind of suck.  Most of my mom’s family is coming home to my grandparents’ place for Thanksgiving.  As part of the ritual preparation for the holiday, my grandmother has been guilting me about not being there to bench warm at the kids’ table for several months.  I usually call home on Sunday, and every week, she says the same thing: “I sure wish you were going to be here, Margaret.”  She has gone so far as to send me holiday cards with almost the exact same message, word-for-word, scrawled inside.  My grandma loves guilt trips.

I’m not a big fan of being on the receiving end of said guilt trips, especially when I want to comply with the wish and there just isn’t much that I can do to change things.  I’ve missed four holiday seasons in the USA in the past decade and, while my folks have never been thrilled about losing me to foreigners, they’ve been pretty good about it up until this year.  I have to admit, I’m not sure that I blame them.  I’ve been gone for a long time, though not because I want to be.

Korea is a great place to save money.  I know, it doesn’t look like we earn much, but most people looking at just our salaries fail to take into account the fact that we don’t pay for our apartments, the utilities and insurance are crazy-cheap, and we only pay 3.5% income tax.  In a nutshell, you have the potential to save most everything you earn, if you want to.  Yes, you have to avoid the bars, but by and large, my friends here have made bank on this country.  I know several people who have saved themselves from the financial insolvency that can accompany massive credit card debit and student loans left over from university.  At least three couples I know have saved enough to either purchase a house outright (ourselves included) or to pay out a huge down for a mortgage.  Korea is a cash cow, if you play your cards right, and I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

That, however, doesn’t change the fact that the holidays can be a lonely time when you’re living abroad – perhaps even more so in a country that only superficially celebrates the holiday.  Most Koreans just buy a cake and take the day off.  About 50% of Koreans are Christian, which is contrary to most of East Asia, so they do celebrate more than other places, but again, it’s not home.  There are no Christmas trees, and the only carols they know are “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  There’s just enough of a hint of the holidays at home to make you miss them.

Still, I can’t complain much.  Christmas in Germany was so much worse.  My wallet got stolen in the Karstadt department store in Saarbrücken about four days before Christmas.  I had no money, since all of my cards were turned off and couldn’t be replaced until after the holidays.  After Christmas Eve, Germany effectively shuts down until after the New Year.

St. Johanner Markt in Saarbrücken. It wasn't home, but it was pretty with the Weihnachtsmarkt around Christmas.

On top of that, we were supposed to have a big Christmas party, but due to extenuating circumstances, certain parties backed out at the last minute, leaving Beth (who is my most regular poster on this site!), Colombian Jonathan, and me to our own devices for Christmas.  We got drunk on cheap wine on Christmas Eve, told ghost stories, and then ate döner kebabs for Christmas Day dinner.  It was pretty sad, even though döners are delicious and amazing.  I would pay a tidy little sum of dough right now to have a rendezvous with a döner.  Schmeckt gut und ist gut!

I have never since had a holiday that seemed quite as bleak as that one did.  I’m still grateful that I had the friends I did, because the holiday would have really been a bust otherwise.  I haven’t talked to Jonathan in years, but I hope he’s doing okay, and I’ll never forget the story he told us that night about the pink dolphins in the Amazon and how they supposedly turn into people and seduce humans.  We wandered along the trails back behind our dorms – there was a dark woods surrounding our university – and I remember getting totally spooked by nothing.  Believe me, if you go walking through a dark forest by yourself in Germany, you’ll understand wherefrom the creepy European fairy tales came; those woods come alive at night the way American woods never have for me.

Thanksgiving in Wohnheim D! Maurice Kent, Holly Stillman, Karen Moran, Beth Rieman, and Erika Sigurdson with the dressing.

But now that I’ve told a sad story, I ought to relay the tale of Thanksgiving in Germany, which was lovely.  We all got together – Beth, Holly, Maurice, Erika, the Irish, and me – and made a big Thanksgiving dinner.  Maurice bought a chicken because there was no turkey.  I made a dressing and an apple pie.  Erika made porogies.  We also had mashed potatoes, plenty of German beer, and other yummy treats.  We had such a great time.  I will absolutely never forget how stuffed I was at the end of that meal.

No meal was complete here with copious amounts of beer. Beth Rieman, Maurice Kent, Erika Sigurdson, and Karen Moran.

So yes, holidays overseas can be lovely and bittersweet, at the same time.  I’m going to miss being with my family in a big way this year.  Fortunately, my (Canadian) friend, Julia, has offered up her family’s place, which is an amazing “party pad,” and we’re going to have “Fauxgiving” there, since it will neither be on the real Thanksgiving Day, nor will it be attended in majority by Americans.  But we’re going to cook for America and have a delicious dinner.  Thank God for good friends when one is abroad, because otherwise the holidays might be downright intolerable!  I know it won’t be the same as being back home, but I like to think that we make the very best of our situation.

Wanted: Reasonably Priced Party Dress for Fat Fashionista

I am fat.  Might as well be upfront about it.  Even at my most svelte, I’ve never been what anyone would call a skinny Minnie.  Maybe it’s just not in my genes – both of my parents and various members of the family have/had similar weight problems – or maybe I just hadn’t found the right diet.  Whatever the case, I’m not exactly a Vogue model.

This poses lots of problems and frustrations, especially given that I currently live in South Korea, a country where almost nobody is even overweight, let alone a walking wall of whale blubber like a lot of Americans you see today.  In fact, Koreans are pretty quick to point it out when they think you are a “big pig.”  The biggest size available here is about a 10 or a smallish 12, and those are considered “ajumma size” – sizes intended for old women with bad poodle perms and sparkly sun visors.  They certainly aren’t anything a self-respecting young woman in her early late twenties would wear.  In truth, I’m so contrary to the Koreans in size that I can rarely even find shoes here.  I have to shop at the market in Busan to get any shoes my size, and when I do find them, they’re usually extremely tight in one way or another.

Bottom line here in Korea: If I want to buy new clothes, they’ve got to be shipped over from a Western country.

You would think, given the number of overweight and obese individuals in the US today, that there would be more options for the pig-figured woman.  Not so.  Oh, there are a few places that cater to “beeg si-hjuh,” as the Koreans say, but honestly, unless you want to look like a pre-teen punk prostitot or  someone’s 50+ mother who no longer gives a damn, there aren’t many options.  Frankly, there are almost no outlets that allow big girls to find cool, trendy dresses and mix pieces that don’t look like the fashion equivalent of Hurricane Katrina.

This is how I feel I look when I put one something from most fat chick stores: like a bad rendition of Divine in a John Waters flick.

Take a look at some of my favorite European stores, Topshop and H&M.  I used to shop at H&M in Germany, back when I was “curvy” rather than “lard-butt.”  Topshop has great stuff at semi-reasonable prices, and they even ship to other countries.  The biggest size that they carry is a US 12.  H&M carries up to 16, but you can only shop online in certain countries, and they don’t ship worldwide.  There are a few US stores that carry things I would consider wearing, but most of them cost beyond what I would be willing to spend for a holiday party dress that won’t fit me next year (God and stomach willing).

That leaves me with places like Torrid, which claim to ship internationally.  However, whenever I enter in my foreign address, the website freezes up and makes sure that the only thing I get out of my shopping experience is a bigger headache than the one I started with in the first place.  Besides that, Torrid is aimed at the aforementioned punky prositots and hardly seems intended for someone who wants to look truly put-together and aims to be taken seriously.

Honestly, I love fashion.  When I’m back home, I read Vogue, and yes, I know how shallow that is of me.  I just love the clothes and Grace Coddington’s skillful creative direction.  I love the ads, unrealistic and airbrushed though they may be.  I know that the world of high fashion is basically a trap to get you to buy things that you don’t need.  But I love it.  I really enjoy looking at pretty things.  I love interesting shoes and color combinations.  I like funky jewelry and handbags and sunglasses and expensive clothes, even though I can’t afford even a fraction of what I would love to wear.

This is what I would like to look like going out - like I just stepped out of Vogue.

I guess it’s partly my own fault for getting so fat in the first place.  I know from previous experience that there aren’t that many places where big-boned, full-figured, or tall girls can shop and still have a prayer of looking like something that doesn’t resemble a motor crash.  Still, one would think that they market would rise to the occasion and start creating more lines and options for fat chicks.  Why hasn’t this happened?  Is America really so bent on everyone being stick-skinny that the market closes its eyes to the fact that America is generally getting bigger, not smaller?  Do all fatties really shop at Old Navy all the time?  Is it really an either/or scenario: either Old Navy or Catherine’s?

As a bit of a related side note, I’d like to add that even shopping in larger department stores is a frustrating experience for the portly princess.  I know that thin people don’t think of this that much, but has anyone else ever noticed that the “Women’s Department” is always shoved away in a corner of the store?  The UK doesn’t tend to do this; they put all sizes on the same rack.  If your size isn’t on the one rack, they don’t have it.  Large ladies don’t have to be ostra-sized (spelling error intended) to the back of the store, where nobody has to be subjected to their love handles.  Back home, though, it’s as though if you’re big, you not only aren’t worthy of wearing nice clothing, but you should also be kept out of sight and out of mind.

I guess one could make the argument that, because most of the more popular brands don’t make larger sizes, it would be silly to mix in larger sizes with them.  One could argue that it’s more convenient.  I say, “How about more brands just start making clothes that I’d actually want to wear?  How come I can’t wear the same sweater as a size 2 girl?”  Do the designers honestly think that we’re going to go around wearing bikinis and belly tops?  Okay, I know some people will, but seriously.  All I want is a nice cocktail dress, a decent pair of well-cut jeans, a few nice shirts and sweaters, and some cute dressy tops.  Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, it is, especially if you then want to get it shipped overseas, where there are even fewer options for big girls.  The whole thing is disheartening and frustrating.  But alas, I guess there is one good thing that comes of it: it gives me a personal incentive to lose weight faster, so that I won’t have this problem when the holidays roll around next year.

Dogs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.

But you know what I do eat?  Turkeys.  You know who doesn’t want you, me, or any other meat-loving citizen of humanity to tuck into some turkey this year (or ever)?  PETA.  Sometimes I feel like PETA and organizations like it are God’s gift to meat-eating snark dispensers like me.  Here’s a lovely photo of the 2011 “go vegan” PETA Thanksgiving ad.  By the way, I should give a big thank-you to Celebitchy for discovering this holiday gem.

Math according to PETA: Turkey = dog

I’ll give them props for this: the dog-turkey hybrid is pretty cute.  And I like the colors, though that has nothing to do with the ingenuity of the ad.  Actually, I can’t believe that I used “ingenuity” and “PETA” in the same article.  PETA is nothing but a group for shrill activists who take off their clothes, get on a soapbox, and subject all of us to alternately seductive and annoying ads.

Here’s the thing about eating meat: I understand why people are against it.  I get it.  I really do.  I have lots of friends who are vegan or vegetarian or macrobiotic ovo-lacto whatevers.  Some of them do it for their health.  Others do it to make a political statement.  I will readily admit that I was vegetarian for a while.  I enjoyed it.  But I still ate meat at the holidays, primarily because I was doing it for my health.  (It didn’t work out.  I’ve lost more weight eating meat like it’s going out of style.)  But at the end of the day, I don’t honestly think PETA does any good.  I think, at this point, that they’re more about shock value than actually trying to save animals.

But getting back to this particular ad and how it relates to my life.  Well, for those of you who are out of the loop, I live in Korea, a country where dog soup is considered to be a bit of a cultural specialty.  No, not everyone eats poshintang (보신탕), but I have a fair few students who have tried it, and most agree that it’s not that bad.  The literal translation is “power soup,” and the Koreans believe that it is like Viagra for men who need it.  So that’s where I’m coming from when I look at this ad.  I live in a country where dog meat is prized for giving men erections.

I suppose I should clarify at this point by adding that poshintang sort of exists on the periphery of Korean society nowadays.  You typically won’t find it on a main drag in flashing lights.  There is a poshintang place in our neighborhood near the university, but it’s down an alley, and you won’t find it unless you already know it’s there.  In our old neighborhood (“Hooker Alley”) in Changwon, there was at least one poshintang place that I knew of, and I never saw anyone go in there under the age of 55.  I think, as a general rule, it’s mostly older Koreans (not surprisingly, I might add) who like to partake of this anachronistic cuisine.

Here’s the thing about dogs: they’re dirty.  I bet most of you have seen Pulp Fiction, right?  Remember the “pigs are filthy animals” conversation?  That’s how I feel about dogs, mostly.  Dogs are nasty.  They eat poop.  They chew on their toenails.  They lick their butts.  They sniff other dogs’ butts.  They bring in mud from outside.  They shed hair all over everything.  I’m probably offending every dog lover who reads this site, and from what I know about the people who read this, the majority are dog lovers.  That said, I also wouldn’t eat a dog because, like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, I believe that dogs have personality, and that counts for a lot.  As dirty as they can be, I do enjoy a well-trained dog – much like I enjoy well-trained children.

Here’s the thing about turkeys: turkeys have terrible personalities.  Have you ever tried to get friendly with a turkey?  I have, on two separate occasions.  Once, when I was about three, my mother took me to Nichols Park in Jacksonville, Illinois.  There used to be an old turkey and a couple of mean peacocks out there.  Well, I decided to make friends with that turkey.  You know how it repaid my kindness?  By flaring its plumage and chasing me back to my mom’s Pontiac.  My mother sat there and cackled as this gobbling monstrosity chased me across the park.

When I was in high school, I went to the county fair with a friend of mine.  Another friend raised chickens, and when we went to view his Japanese Silkies, there happened to be a buzzard of the Thanksgiving persuasion caged nearby.  I decided to go over and inspect it a bit more closely.  Apparently, it resented my presence, because it flared its plumage, started gobbling like crazy, and acting like it was having a seizure.  The grandparents of a college friend had turkeys on their farm.  When her granddad would make her go feed the turkeys, she dreaded it because they would gobble and poke and make a nuisance of themselves.

Look at this thing. Feathers all askew. Eyeing its next victim. Nose phallus flapping in the breeze. These things are better off on a serving platter.

Here’s the other thing to consider: turkeys are basically vultures in everything but name.  Sure, they eat bugs instead of carrion, but honestly, I don’t believe for a second that this fellow above wouldn’t come after me and everyone I loved if he had the chance.  Besides, with all those junebugs and grasshoppers they eat, turkeys are a great source of protein, and that’s excellent  for people on high-protein diets like your dear writer.

Bottom line: dogs are dirty but have excellent personalities, by and large.  Nobody wants to nosh on an animal to which they have a meaningful emotional attachment. Therefore, they are unsuitable for Thanksgiving cuisine.

Have you ever tried to develop a meaningful relationship with a buzzard?  Turkeys are frightening, ill-tempered birds that are perfectly suited to living in pine trees or being shot on sight and then shoved into an oven and devoured with relish, as they do far more good dead than alive.

For ESL Teachers in Korea: Marge’s Guide to Common Errors Made by Korean ESL Students

This is proof positive that I’ve been at my job too long.  While the kids took a test yesterday and today, I made a list of all the mistakes that they keep making over and over again.  If you aren’t an ESL teacher, particularly an ESL teacher in Korea, you might as well stop reading now, because this list is going to put you to sleep.  Actually, it might put you to sleep anyway.  Unless you enjoy rehashing the funny to mildly infuriating mistakes that Koreans learning English seem to make time and again.

1. Writing in “a” before an adjective
I get it.  Articles (a/an/the) are incredibly difficult for Koreans to learn, because Korean doesn’t have any.  They either don’t use them often enough, or they get “article happy” and put them everywhere.  Sentences such as the following one are prime examples of how Korean students have a tough time learning where to use articles appropriately.  “Teacher, you are a beautiful today.”  I am a beautiful what?  A beautiful woman?  I beautiful beacon of educational light?  Help me out here, guys.

2. Inability to pronounce words ending in -tch/-ch/-sh
I suspect this one has to do with the way the Korean language is written.  Generally speaking, the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, is quite easy and practical.  It has certain limitations, though, and it doesn’t cope well with a consonant and “h” smashed together.  Most students like to say “Englishy” instead of “English.”  That’s because if Koreans write English phonetically in Hangeul, it ends with “쉬” which sounds like “shee.”  I think it has more to do with how they visualize English in their mother tongue than it has to do with not being able to pronounce it.  They don’t have a problem when I remind them how to do it.

3. Overuse of “do”
Again, I suspect the reason for this has to do with the mother language.  Most Korean verbs end with “하다” which is the Korean for “do.”  For example, the Korean verb for “think” is “생각하다.”  It literally means “think do.”  Not all verbs are like this, but most of them are.  That’s why Koreans are always saying “ham-nee-da” at the end of sentences.  As a result of the Korean overuse of “do,” they tend to translate that directly into English.  I try to break them of this habit, but it’s hard.

4. Capitalization
Holy moly, this makes me insane.  I honestly don’t think that most Korean teachers know when to capitalize and when not to.  Again, Korean doesn’t have capital letters, as such, so the kids have to get used to seeing it.  In my opinion, the best way to conquer this issue is to beat it into them early on.  I let my little ones get away without capitalizing for the first book, and then I start after them.  Korean kids are super-competitive on tests and things, so if you start docking them points for missed capitalization, they will learn.  All it takes is one failed test because of it, and they will rarely forget after that.

I guess this particular peeve has more to do with how we teach them than the students themselves.  They can’t learn it if it isn’t enforced, and capitalization of proper names and first letters of sentences is crucial to good punctuation.  I really wish that the Korean teachers would start in on them about this.  Even my boss, who is an excellent grammarian, fails on this one.  He doesn’t care, and the kids don’t capitalize on his tests, but they know better in my class.  This is probably one instance where simple memorization can be the greatest aid – and Koreans are good at nothing if not memorizing gobs of information.

5. There/they’re/their
I think I went over this in my second post about things that make me angry.  One is an adverb, one is a contraction of a subject pronoun and a verb, and the other is a possessive pronoun.  I keep teaching these over and over again, but kids seem to have a hard time actually thinking about what they’re writing.  I ask them if a possessive pronoun would be appropriate where they’ve put it.  They look at me like I’m nuts until I write it out in Korean, and then they laugh.  I probably shouldn’t beat them down too much on this one because honestly, most Americans don’t know either, and that is a sad commentary on the use of the English language today.  I will weep for my country if the Koreans start writing English better than we do.

6. F/P, B/V, J/Z, and R/L sounds
I think most everyone knows that native Asians have a hard time with the “R” and “L” sounds.  I don’t know about China and Japan, so I won’t speak for them, but I’m almost tempted to say that this stereotype was born in Korea.  Korea has one character for R and L.  Both of the sounds exist in Korean, but I never know when to use which sound.  It’s something you just have to know, and I’d be willing to bet that it varies from region to region.

The misuse of R and L in Korean has everything to do with where their tongues are in their mouths.  English “R” is not aspirated.  The tongue tends to stay mostly flat when making this sound.  The “L” sound is formed by touching the tongue to the teeth.  The Korean sounds do neither of these.  The tongue tends to move up and down, and it is really hard for students to stop moving their tongue around for “R.”

The “F” sound doesn’t exist in Korean, so instead of the kids calling you “fat,” you’re more likely to hear “pat.”  Everything with an F sound is translated as a “P” or “H” sound.  Instead of “Fanta,” they say “Hu-an-ta.”  The same is true of “V” and “B” – V is most often written as a B in Korean.  F and V are related, as they are both formed with the teeth.  A good trick to use on your students involves making them touch their finger to their front teeth.  Try to have them say “F” and “V” sounds without their lips touching their teeth.  They won’t be able to do it if their lips keep touching their fingers.  It’s a good way to train them into the proper mouth position.

There is also no “Z” sound in Korean, so “zoo” becomes “Jew.”  I never have figured out a good way to help them over this one except practice.  The younger you get them, the better.  The little ones catch right on, in my experience, but the older ones who haven’t been made to practice have a massively tough time getting the sound out.

7. Reading numbers and years
I think this tends to be tough for any language learner.  Koreans tend to mix up the “-teen” and “-ty” sounds, so I honestly never know if they mean 13 or 30.  I often have to have them tell me the number in Korean before I know for certain, and that leads to an impromptu number lesson, which they hate.

Also, Koreans don’t count quite like we do.  English numbers are shockingly easy to read, once you practice a little bit, but Korean isn’t.  Anything above 10,000 (만) tends to be fairly annoying, as they start multiplying to get the higher numbers.  All higher numbers seem to be based on 10,000, particularly if you’re talking about money.  They have a hard time reading English and have to go back through and divide it down.  Still, once they get onto it, most of them seem to agree that English is actually a bit easier.

8.Changing subject pronouns for object pronouns
This one drives me nuts.  “Teacher, me go house.”  In spoken Korean, they don’t tend to indicate whether or not it’s a subject or an object.  Korean does have subject and object markers, called particles (는,은,를,을,etc.) and they use them, but mostly they use them for writing.  As a result, I and me are essentially interchangeable in spoken Korean, which obviously isn’t the case in English.  It’s very, very difficult to break them of this habit.  They also like to use subject pronouns in place of possessive pronouns.  You can figure it out, but it can get old after a while.

9. “To house” vs. “home”
Korean kids don’t get the concept of “home,” an adverb which is so handy that it encompasses “to.”  I’m going home.  Korean students say, “I go to the home,” “I go to the house,” or “I’m going my house.”  They’re all almost right, but they almost never hit on the exact combination and correct usage of “home.”  I keep reminding them, and every day, they screw it up.

10. The “th” sound
Most foreigners learning English have a tough time with this one.  I honestly can’t think of another language off the cuff that even has this sound.  All European languages that I’ve learned and know a thing about don’t have it.  I don’t know of an East Asian language that has it.  I’m sure there is another language out there that does have it, but I couldn’t tell you what it is.  Germans and French tend to say “ze” instead of “th.”  Koreans say “d.”  “Teechur, I go to duh how-suh.”  They have a lot of fun practicing it, because it requires you to stick your tongue out and practically spit on everyone.  I have a kid with an underbite so bad that she can’t close her mouth, though, and it is tragic trying to listen to her say this sound.

Are you bored out of your skull yet?  Why did you keep reading, non-English teacher?  I don’t really know why I wrote this, except to maybe help new ESL teachers who are fresh off the boat figure out some of the things that students tend to have the most difficulty saying and writing.  Sometimes, it honestly feels like a losing scenario, since most foreign teachers get discouraged after such a time, and most Korean teachers are often guilty of the same speaking and writing problems.  Still, I think it helps to know what the basic issues are and some possible remedies.  I’d love to hear of any teacher that has figured out a great way to teach the “Z” sound, because that one is still evading me.

Things That Annoy and/or Baffle Me Redux

There are a lot of things that annoy and/or baffle me, as anyone who knows me well will tell you.  Some people might consider this whining, but you know, it brings me joy, much in the way that watching Twilight brings joy to idiots.  To each his or her own.  Anyway, I’d like to add a few things to my annoyance list, as I’m feeling especially snarky tonight.

Disclaimer: The video I’ve linked here will probably offend half of you and make the other half want to die laughing.  You’ve been warned.

Food Mecca Foolery

There is a lot of ridiculous nonsense that can be seen, heard, and experienced at places like the grocery store and Wal-Mart in the USA.  For example, it is fairly common knowledge that the middle class doesn’t shop at the grocery store in Jacksonville, Illinois, on the first of the month, because that’s when the state/federal aid recipients get their monthly check and do their big shops.  Also Wal-Mart after a certain hour in the evening can be a real trip.  Actually, Wal-Mart is a real trip just about anytime.  If you don’t believe me, watch this video of a Wal-Mart in New Orleans called “The New Orleans Bounce.”  If only Target and K-Mart had theme songs that were this classy.

Classy as Wal-Nuts might be, Korean supermarkets have their own set of stupid behavior.  I have seen and experienced all of this myself, and it makes me crazier than a honey badger in a bee hive.

1. Jerks who cut in line
There are an awful lot of these in Korea.  A majority are older women who think that their Confucian system applies to me.  I know I’m in their country and it was created for their comfort, not mine.  You know what?  Using age to justify cutting in front of someone in line who’s been waiting longer is just another excuse for lazy rudeness.  And I don’t condone rudeness.

I have yelled at these b**ches and given them death glares.  Most of the time, my steely blue gaze is enough to make them shrink in fear.  You know never know what a Great White Waygook might do.  But I had one the other day that gave me a snotty look and didn’t even acknowledge me until I started telling her off in rapid-fire English.  She had kahonas, because she never did make an apology.

2. People who operate a cart like they drive
Maybe Asians in other countries drive well, but as far as Korea goes, the whole stereotype about most Asians being crazy behind the wheel holds true.  Korea has the highest number of car accidents of any country in the industrialized world.  Think of the shopping cart as a shrunken mini-van.

Koreans have no sense of space in a grocery store, and the carts are able to go any direction because of their wheels, which makes for twice the foolishness.  I have been hit from behind, the side, the front, diagonally…  And you’ll never get a “Sorry” or “Excuse me.”  More often than not, they don’t even look at you.  And that’s why I avoid E-Mart on the weekends.

3. People who blatantly look at you, point, and say, “PIG!”
I’ve had this happen more than a few times at the grocery store.  Last time, I just went nuts and started yelling at them.  It did absolutely no good.  Sometimes I hate Koreans.

Facebook games
Why do people play games on Facebook?  If I had a nickel for every Farmville or Mafia Maze or whatever request I’ve gotten… Well, I’d have about a $1.55, but that’s more game requests than I care for, thank-you-very-much.  My husband plays games on Facebook, and I don’t get it.  Aren’t there more interesting things to do online, like catch up with the news, watch a TV program of interest, research deep sea animals…?  I guess not everyone is interested in talking to themselves and perhaps four other people via a blog, but c’mon.  Farmville?  I am from West Central Illinois.  I do not need to pretend that I’m back on the farm.  I spent the first 18 years of my life trying to figure out how to escape “Farmville.”  I sure as heck don’t need a computer to magically transport me back there when I get homesick for the soy beans and meth labs.

Lame excuses
My students are extremely fond of lame excuses: excuses for not doing their homework, excuses for failing tests, excuses for not paying attention… It’s incredible.  And you know, I hate lame excuses.  My grandpa has a great saying that I honestly think I repeat about ten times a week: Excuses and alibis ring up “no sale” every time.  And you know, he’s right.

When I was growing up, if you screwed up, you were going to get chewed out, regardless of the reason or excuse.  In fact, it was far more likely that the party you offended was going to get even more ticked off if you rattled off some dumb excuse than if you just owned your idiocy.  The incident was generally forgotten a lot more quickly when I just stood up and said, “Yup, I’m a knucklehead.  Sorries.”  That always went down a lot better.

I’ve become almost the exact same way, now that I’m older.  I hate hearing things from my students like, “Oh, Teacher, Mom… throw away… homework paper.”  Translation: I used my homework to make into spit wads which I hucked at the girl who sits next to me at school.  “Teacher, I have no time.”  Translation: I had no time in between punching my brother and allowing TV to dumb me down before I offered what was left of my IQ to Maple Story.  “Teacher, I don’t understand.”  Translation A: I’m too lazy to do this homework.  Translation B:  I don’t understand because I was messing around in the back with the kid whose nickname is “Ovaltine.”  (No, seriously, I have a kid whose nickname is “Jetty,” which is like the Korean version of Ovaltine.)

I hate listening to these uncreative excuses week after week.  I mean, if you’re just too damn lazy, own up to it.  I have far more respect for a lazy student who can admit his/her shortcoming than I do for a lazy student that wants to pretend he/she isn’t lazy.  Don’t give me lame excuses.  Or if you do give me a lame excuse, make sure the story includes one of the following: dragons, kidnapping, wood sprites, or a tinfoil hat-wearing ajumma.

Men with long fingernails
Anyone who has ever been to Asia knows that the men here wear their fingernails a bit longer than the average guy in America.  In fact, some of  my male students honestly have talons for fingernails.  It would be one thing if they were nicely manicured, strong nails that were kept clean underneath.  But anyone who has ever been around teenage boys know how (un)clean they are/can be.  If you’re going to have long nails, you need to clean under them daily, not whenever you remember (once a month).  Most of my middle school boys have longer nails than I do.

I’ve heard that the reason behind it, historically, is to prove that a person isn’t an agricultural worker.  Only farm laborers would have short nails.  If one was a member of the privileged class, one could afford to have longer nails.  Once again, a nod to the fact that Korea is stuck in the past, in some ways.  Frankly, they look like “coke nails” to me, and those are scary.

Bad grammar/diction
This is probably my single biggest pet-peeve ever.  I can’t stand it when people don’t understand the grammar of his/her native language.  I understand that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and that’s okay, but honestly, it’s not that dang difficult to learn the difference between “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”  One is a possessive pronoun, one is an adverb, and the other is a contraction of a subject pronoun and verb.  Seriously.

I’m aware that one could make the argument that because I majored in two languages at university that my grammar is bound to be better than average.  I don’t dispute this, but I have plenty of friends who majored in things that have nothing to with language and, miraculously, they can read, write, and speak good English.  I honestly think that good grammar and spelling is a direct reflection on a person’s intelligence.

Because of other people’s bad grammar, I am absolutely one of those people who will correct grammar.  I drive people crazy with it.  People like me are probably the subject of other, less articulate blogs: “Annoying arses who compulsively correct bad grammar.  WHO CARES?!”  I do.  I care.

I feel like every generation is less articulate and well-read than the one before it.  Maybe it’s because of the Internet, where there is nobody to really police bad grammar and anything goes.  People get lazy.  Some people might call this development of the language, but I say that there’s a fundamental difference between positive development and decline due directly to laziness and poor education.

The state of music today
I wouldn’t call myself a music aficionado, but I do awfully enjoy it.  I feel like I can tell good music from bad music.  I can tell when something is interesting or mildly original.  I know that you can make the argument that there isn’t much that can be done that hasn’t been done already, but I feel like good music can take old things and give you a refreshing take on it and make it seem new.

I can’t stand artists like Ke$ha who can’t sing, can’t play an instrument, and Autotune themselves into oblivion just to produce a decent album.  I get that people will listen to just about anything now, as long as the song mentions money, sex, or cars in it somewhere, but honestly.  Am I the only one who noticed that the opening to “Your Love is My Drug” has almost the exact same bass line that the Pixies use for the song “Gigantic” from the amazing album, Surfer Rosa?  It’s the same notes, same interval, just sped up.  So annoying.

Glitter-covered Jack Daniels bottle posing as a singer.

One of the greatest bands ever...

I wish the mainstream music industry would put out some decent music, but I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath.  I haven’t heard much lately that has been particularly inspiring to me, although I didn’t mind the new Björk album.  It reminded me of Vespertine, if that album had been read to a science book or something.