Monthly Archives: July 2013

Nosferatu

Vampires aren’t real.  There are a lot of squealing tweens and sexually frustrated housewives who might wish it otherwise, but frankly, the closest most of them have been to a real vampire is goddamn bloody Edward “Sparkles” Cullen.  However, if you’d told me that vampires weren’t real after I went to metal night in Germany, I probably would’ve argued with you, and I could’ve potentially made a compelling case.

Rammstein has long been one of my guilty pleasures.  Rammstein is actually what got me to learning German in the first place.  I went through a very brief – let’s be clear on the “brief” part – phase late in my eighth grade year when I liked ‘NSync.  Lance was my favorite.  I was a fag hag even before I knew what that term meant or, come to think of it, that people could be gay.  And then there was Rammstein.

Sehnsucht was the first album I bought, and I loved it.  I bought Herzeleid next, and they both went into near-constant rotation for most of my freshman year of high school.  I actually bought a German dictionary and started trying to figure out the grammar myself, based on the lyric booklets that came with the CDs.  Remember buying actual CDs?  The only hard copy music I’d buy now would be in LP format, but I digress.

Rammstein is classed as Neue Deutsche Härte or industrial metal.  There’s some techno sound mixed in there, too.  (Isn’t there always with German stuff, according to legend?)  They got me started on actual techno, like Lords of Acid, Leaether Strip, KMFDM, and Front 242.  Metal – real metal, like Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Slayer – never really appealed to me, though.  One of history’s mysteries.

But back to metal night in Germany.  I saw a poster advertising it at one of the uni buildings around campus.  It was probably at the Ausländer Café, where our crew frequently had lunch.  It was attached to Studienkolleg, and it was a good place to eat between classes.  I wanted to go because, in my head, German metal night meant “Rammstein bonanza.” Of course, nobody wanted to go with me because nobody else wanted to go and listen to Rammstein and its musical brethren for hours and hours on a precious Friday night.  I finally convinced Holly to come with me, since she was usually game for most things.

As I was more wont to do back in those days, since I was actively out looking for my next meal, so to speak, I dressed myself nicely.  I still remember what I was wearing: nice jeans, heels, a black pinstriped tank, and several strings of fake pearls.  My hair was black in those days, and I could’ve passed for a classy (-ish?) Goth chick.  Holly, as usual, looked every inch the hipster – natural colors, flared jeans, comfy kicks.

Why is any of this important?  Well, apparently metal in Germany is home to its own subculture of particularly strange individuals.  Germany is home to a lot of strange things, actually.  This was my first experience with such things, and it was a lesson well learned.

There was a club of sorts on campus that wasn’t Heim Bar.  I couldn’t tell you the name if my life depended on it, but it was over by the Mensa, and it sucked.  Holly and I walked over there from Heim D and went in, figuring we’d at least have a good time.

It looked like Goth prom.  Now, there’s Goth prom in America and then there’s Goth prom in Germany.  Goth prom in Germany makes Goth prom in America look like little kids playing dress up in Mommy’s wardrobe.  Goth kids in Germany look like Devil-worshipping, shapeshifting freaks.  They’re the kids your mom warned you about.

Now, before you go jumping on me, telling me that I should’ve expected this, I’ll tell you that I’d seen Rammstein live before this.  I was a senior in high school, and I saw them with System of a Down (Serj Tankian is awesome) and fucking Slipknot (atrocious).  In the US, they don’t attract quite the set of freaks that they do in Germany, although in fairness, I heard no Rammstein while I was at this metal party.  I suspect what I heard was psycho German death metal.

Holly and I looked around, a bit stunned by the creatures surrounding us.  The music sucked, and the people were terrifying.

“Let’s just have a drink and then go.  We can still get a bus to town and go to Wally’s or Garage or Tante Maya or something,” I said, glancing around.

“Or we could just leave,” Holly replied.

“That’ll look weak.  Just one drink.  Everyone’s staring at us,” I replied, shoving her towards the bar.

Holly acquiesced, and we each got a drink and sat down at one of the odd, picnic table-like offerings that I guess qualified as club seating.  Everyone was eyeballing us – even the bartender.  We looked like southern debutantes at a Dungeons ‘n Dragons party.

“Drink fast,” I said, slurping back about half of my Red Bull and vodka.

We sat and tried to talk over the music, and then, over Holly’s shoulder, I noticed a guy staring at me.  German guys stare when they’re interested, or at least that was my finding in 100% of cases that did or could have led to some post-bar fun.  I know, people tend to make eye contact when interested, but in general, German guys take it to a whole new level.  It gets awkward.

This guy was not the sort you’d want staring at you.  In fact, he was the kind of guy who’d give you the distinct impression that he wanted to cannibalize you and videotape it.  He was skinny with long, greasy dark hair and dirty-looking clothes – never my type.  I looked away quickly, hoping I’d imagined it.  I’m horrible at interpreting romantic cues.  Horrible.  After a time though, there was no mistaking it: he was staring.

“Holly, there’s a really scary Goth guy behind you who’s been staring at me since we sat down,” I said, leaning forward.

That lean forward was all the encouragement Nosferatu needed.  He got up, came over, and sat down right next to Holly, but he leaned forward, elbows on the table, and just stared.  I think he was trying to hypnotize me.  Mostly, it just made me want to run screaming into the night.  Or stake him.

“You’re beautiful,” he announced in German, which made my eyebrows go to my hairline and Holly burst out laughing at the utter lack of finesse this guy exhibited.

“Uh…  Thanks.” More staring.

“You have my heart.”  Was this guy for real?  He reached across the table, took my hand, and started rubbing with his thumb.  I just stared at him in sheer disbelief.   Holly was beside herself with laughter.  He didn’t even seem to notice.

“We’re going,” I said, downing the last of my drink.  “Now.”  Holly nodded and stood, and I looked at the guy and said, “We gotta go.  It was nice meeting you.”  He failed to pick up on the fact that what I really meant was, “You are the scariest thing I have ever come across, and this is my version of running the fuck away.”

As I stood up and walked around the table, the half-stood, grabbed my arm, and exclaimed, “I love you!”

Then Nosferatu bit my neck.  Let me reiterate that.  He bit.  My neck.

I shoved him away and we made a beeline for the door.

“Did that guy just bite you?!” Holly cried as we shoved open the big double doors leading out into the cool autumn night.

“I think so.  I mean, I’m in shock.  Are there like, fang marks on my neck?”

So, ladies and gentlemen, I have been bitten by a vampire.  If he wasn’t a real one, then he certainly seemed to think he was.  He was also laboring under the impression that he was a real ladies’ man.  Figures.

I don’t think I ever went back to the university nightclub.  Heim Bar was much less like an episode of Buffy, with it’s trashy Europop and $2 beers.  Hell, even Wally’s, with what would become for me its social pitfalls and potentially embarrassing situations, was preferable to Goth prom.  The only place in town that might have been worse was the huge Irish pub where all the military guys from Ramstein (ironically) and Landstuhl would come to party on the weekends.  It was the only place in Saarbrücken where you could see a ten-gallon hat.  I avoided the place like the plague.  They had karaoke, something I firmly believe should be kept to my favorite gay bar back in CoMo.  Also, it was impossible to get a drink without knocking someone out to get to the bar.

There are several lessons to be learned here.  The first is that you should never, unless you believe yourself to be a member of those who stalk the night, a werewolf, or a warlock, go to metal night in Germany.  The second is that when you inadvertently walk into a weird, fucked up situation in a foreign country, don’t wait for one of the locals to bite you; get the fuck out.  The third is that when a skeezy, would-be paramour starts hitting on you, roll out before they try to buy you a drink or suck your blood.  These lessons served me well for the duration of my stay in Germany.

Korea may have a lot of faults, but one thing I’ll give it credit for is that I’ve never been bitten by an ajoesshi.  I would feel the need to get a rabies shot, if I had, but to be frank, I think I could kick the ass of 90-95% of the men in this country.  Can you imagine someone who worships Psy being a serious threat?

The moral of the story is: Germany, a weird place with unusually large rabbits, an odd obsession with recycling, and a seriously oversized population of freaky Goth metalheads.  Stick to the beer gardens.

Back in the USSaar

I wrote this post nine years ago.  The original title was “Being Marge in Germany,” and it was a serious hit among my friend circle.  It was cynical and bitter, as most of my writings tend to be, but it was a perfect description of what it was like to live as a foreign exchange student in Germany, as far as day-to-day bull went.  The original draft has been lost to a hard drive failure and the obsolescence of floppy disks.  Remember floppy disks?  Yeah, me neither.  Anyway, I’m recreating this strictly from memory.  It likely won’t be as good as the first, but I’m going to try my damnedest.

 

My life is a struggle from the moment I get up in the morning.  As soon as I open my eyes, I have to answer a set of questions.

Who am I?  A slightly overweight, possibly alcoholic, chain-smoking American who is fighting off yet another mild hangover.

Where am I?  In a small box with concrete floors, in a bigger box with concrete floors that is a cross between prison and public housing, conveniently positioned near some woods on the ugliest university campus in Europe, in the armpit of Germany.

What time is it?  Late enough that if you don’t get moving now, you’re going to be late for Herr Schmidt’s grammar class.

It’s a miracle I don’t wake up screaming.

I drag myself out of bed and into the bathroom.  The room is a bit cold because it’s too expensive to turn the heat on for any appreciable length of time.  The first thing I have to do is decide whether or not to take a shower first or eat breakfast.  I invariably choose eating breakfast first because I brush my teeth in the shower, and if I shower first, there’s really no point in brushing my teeth, since I’ll eat muesli like I do every morning, and that shit gets stuck in your teeth.  I stumble into the “kitchen,” which is really just a sink, two cabinets, a glorified hot plate, and a refrigerator.  I pour myself a bowl of breakfast, only to discover that I forgot to buy my UHT milk yesterday.  I buy UHT milk because it doesn’t spoil as fast as regular milk, and my fridge isn’t exactly great at keeping things cold.  I sigh and stare at the bowl of dry cereal and realize that if I want to eat before noon, I’m going to have to just eat it dry.

Once I’ve horked down my dry cereal, I make my way into the bathroom.  I strip naked and immediately freeze because the room is cold and the bathroom most particularly so.  Invariably, the basin will flood because the shower stall is really nothing more than a slight indentation in the floor, and I haven’t figured out how to clean the drain trap yet.  I’ve been here for almost four months.  The water swings between scalding and freezing, resulting in me doing a kind of mad shower dance, punctuated by loud cursing.

After I step out of the shower, I have to dry my hair.  There’s no point in doing this, since it rains 75% of the time in the Saar, and today will likely prove no exception.  Unfortunately, it’s cold, and I’ll freeze my tits off if I don’t make some superficial effort to dry off.  There is no electrical outlet in the bathroom because of the openness of the bathroom plan, so I have to plug my hairdryer in at the stove.  I have a bottle of olive oil there, along with my salt and pepper shakers and various other things that I don’t have room for in my cabinets.  Without fail, the cord for the hairdryer will knock over at least one of these items, and more often than not, that will send everything else tumbling over.  I sigh in irritation and will myself to not give a shit.  I smear some black eyeliner on and head back into the bedroom, once my hair is kind of maybe dry.

Half of my clothes don’t fit because I’ve spent the last three months or so subsisting on a steady diet of German beer, cheese, Nutella, nougat bits (those last two together sometimes), pasta, and cigarettes.  The cigarettes were supposed to keep me thin.  Apparently, you’re only allowed one, maybe two vices, max.  You can’t be a chain-smoker, an alcoholic, an overeater, and kind of a slut.  I go to pull on my brown slacks, but then I remember that they got caught on a nail on one of the Studienkolleg chairs and ripped.  I toss them aside, since I don’t know how to sew, and choose my trusty black pants.  They’re as stiff as if they’d been starched from being hung out on the drying racks.  It costs too much to use the dryers, and as much as I hate the feeling of stiff pants, I can’t bring myself to part with my beer money.  I decide to continue the theme and throw on a black sweater, my black jacket, and black Puma trainers.  Black like my soul.

I gather my wares for class and head out the door.  When I get down to the first floor, I realize that I’ve forgotten my umbrella, and it’s raining again.  It’s always raining.  I debate hiking back up to the sixth floor, but then I think that my hair isn’t that dry, and I’m already in a bad mood.  The only thing the lack of an umbrella will prevent me from doing is smoking on the way to class.  I step outside, leaving Heim D behind me, wishing not for the first time that it would burn down or that I had the balls to just cancel my lease and move to the city.  Still, if I moved to the city, I’d have to get up earlier and take the bus more often.  Also, I’d have roommates, and those are hit-or-miss.  I know I won’t leave Heim D until I leave at the end of the year.

Studentenwohnheim D: a cross between prison and public housing.  I think it's actually under renovation now.  'Bout time.

Studentenwohnheim D: a cross between prison and public housing. I think it’s actually under renovation now. ‘Bout time.

I arrive at my first class with Herr Schmidt.  My Lebanese friend, Mohammad, is already there.  “Mo” is only eighteen, rich, and handsome.  He’s got sandy hair and beautiful eyes; he looks nothing like the stereotypical Middle Eastern man.  He routinely tells me that I’m the strangest woman he’s ever met in his life.  He can’t decide if I’m a genius or insane, to which I usually just tell him that I’m neither, only a little eccentric.  I wish I were a genius.  Then I wouldn’t need Studienkolleg.

Mo and I are friends with two other guys, one from Togo and the other from China.  The Chinese guy is bright and a hard worker, but his German sounds like something spoken on Mars.  Nobody understands him, but nobody has the heart to tell him.  The guy from Togo is always happy and smiling.  Today, Mo decides to taunt the Chinese guy about America backing Taiwan against China.  This complicates international relations, and the Chinese guy proceeds to stomp around the classroom, cursing in Chinese while the three of us look on laugh.  I smile and defend myself by saying that I didn’t start it.  Doesn’t matter.  Nearly everyone hates Americans.  I don’t care.

Herr Schmidt, a great, fat man who is in his last semester of teaching, rolls into class right on time, as Germans almost always do.  Never late, never early – always right on time.  It’s obvious that he doesn’t have two fucks to give.  He spends more time today talking about his former fiancée, an American lady from Ohio, the one who got away.  When they didn’t get married, he had to come back to Germany.  He’s one of the German teachers who likes Americans.

When he starts talking about grammar, I zone out and start doodling in my notebook.  The funny thing is, I like German grammar, but I’m never in the mood to study anymore.  Instead, I spend the bulk of our 90 minutes writing a ditty about the deliciousness of meat (because I’m too poor to buy it) before falling asleep for about 20 minutes.  When I wake up, Mo comments for the 67th time about how weird I am and then shakes his head in disbelief as Herr Schmidt hands back our most recent grammar quizzes.  I got a 100.  Mo can’t believe I can drink myself into a stupor every night and sleep through 80% of my classes and still eke out good grades.  It’s not that I’m smart.  I was just lucky.  This became more evident later.  Anyway, my native language is a lot closer to the German language than say, Arabic.

Herr Schmidt releases us for the morning, and I troop back to Heim D in the rain.  The dorm is quiet; everyone is either in class or in town.  I hike up to the sixth floor, drop my bag, and wonder what to have for lunch.  I finally decide on red pepper Brunch spread and the remnants of a baguette.  I sit in front of the computer for about an hour and listen to music, wishing I had the balls to go see the Netzwart about getting Internet in my room.  I’m scared of interacting with actual Germans, and this makes daily life a serious struggle for me.  It took me two months to buy Waschmärke so that I could do my laundry.  Yeah, I did laundry in the sink.

Around 12:45, I pack up my afternoon books and head out again, this time reminding myself to take my umbrella.  I walk, smoking, over to the Studienkolleg building for reading class with Frau Schmidt.  No, she and Herr Schmidt aren’t married.  He’s an old bachelor who visits his mother every morning before work, and she’s an ardent feminist who, while probably not a lesbian, probably doesn’t have sex with men, either.  I can’t imagine her interacting with any men who aren’t gay.  She looks like Miss Frizzle and sounds like she’s perpetually huffing helium.  She has frizzy red hair, and she only wears clothes that are brown, orange, or green, further emphasizing the orangeness of her hair.  It’s nearly Christmas, but she still looks like Halloween.

Frau Schmidt detests the Eastern Europeans, although she’s far too nice to say so.  The Georgian guys constantly make woman jokes, and Frau Schmidt just stands there, staring blankly at them.  I know she wants to kill them.  All of her reading material is about feminism or the environment.  Today, it’s about Lichtverschmutzung and how there are no bats in Germany anymore.  The bug population is out of control.  I consider that this might be true, given the number of bugs that come swarming into Heim D in warmer weather.

When class is finally over, I head to the bus stop.  It’ll be the number 11, 19, or 44 for me.  I prefer the 19 since it’s a bit faster and doesn’t have nearly the number of crazies on board.  I don’t know what it is about the number 11, but that bus always has at least one nutter aboard.  Sometimes it’s the old lady with the purple walker who hits the bus when the driver doesn’t open the back door to let her on.  She’s had a stroke, and between that and her awful Saarläänisch accent, she’s completely incomprehensible, except for the expletives.  There’s another guy who sits up near the front with a notebook and pencil.  He draws incredibly elaborate pictures and then, when he’s done, he scribbles them out, sometimes ripping the paper.  He then flips the page and starts over.  It reminds me of those Tibetan monks who make the beautiful sand mandalas and then destroy them.

I get off at the Rathaus, like always and, depending on what day of the week it is, I’ll either go to Karstadt or Plus to do my shopping.  I can only carry two bags, so if I want to buy booze or Coke or something, I can almost never carry enough food for more than a day or two.  You can’t get anything fresh at Plus.  My friends and I decided a long time ago that Plus vegetables are grown in the lot out back and watered with bum piss.  The local bums hang outside the Plus and drink Schloss beer, which you can buy for something like 15 cents.  It tastes like bottled bum piss.  Even I won’t drink it.

I decide to do my shopping at Karstadt, even though it’s overpriced.  They have good produce and an excellent selection of cheese.  I’ll probably just buy feta to put on my dinner, like usual, but I like the option to be there.  I decide to buy myself a bottle of Southern Comfort, even though it’s a Monday and we’ll surely be going to Wally’s Irish Pub for quiz night.  We always do.  Nothing else happening on a Monday.

I finish my shopping and go through Frau Blue Hair’s line.  Well, today her hair is blue.  Actually, it’s just one piece of hair, and it changes color on a weekly if not daily basis.  Sometimes it’s blue, sometimes pink, sometimes red or green, but it’s always there.  Frau Blue Hair is the nicest checkout clerk at Karstadt grocery store.  She’s fat and jolly, and I like the way she sings “Tschüßi!” when you leave.  There’s another clerk who’s as skinny as Blue Hair is fat, and you can just tell she hates everything.  She doesn’t sing goodbye like a good Saarlander, and it makes me feel more alienated than usual.  I like Frau Blue Hair.

I shove my groceries into my bag at break-neck speed.  Germans don’t play around in the checkout line.  When I first arrived, several Germans decided I was going too slowly and started bagging my groceries for me.  It was one of the biggest “fuck you’s” I’ve ever gotten in Germany, besides the day that that guy hissed at Holly and me near the bus stop when we were speaking English.  Like I said, most everyone hates Americans, and this was back when Bush had just been re-elected in 2004.

I step outside and realize that I’ve left my umbrella on the bus, and it’s raining again.  For the third time today, I’m going to get soaked.  I contemplate going back into Karstadt to buy yet another umbrella, but my arms already ache from carrying my satchel and the grocery bags, and I hate shopping anyway, so I trudge through the rain to the Rathaus bus stop.  I stand under the Rathaus arches to keep dry until the bus comes.  It’s the number 11, dammit, and the 19 won’t be here for another 20 minutes.  Even the 11 will be back to campus by then, so I grudgingly get on the bus, hoping the driver won’t notice that I forgot to get my bus pass stamp on my student ID.  He waves me on.

The bus is mostly empty, since it’s still too early for the rush.  I put my groceries near the window and take the aisle seat so that nobody can sit next to me.  Invariably, even if the bus is empty, if I take the window seat, somebody will sit next to me.  Who does that?  Europeans.  It was the same in Paris on the metro.  Still, I don’t want some fat-arsed bag crushing my sweet buns with hers, so I rudely take the aisle seat and hope that the bus doesn’t fill up.  I get lucky and it doesn’t.  The man with the notebook is sitting two seats in front of me.  I switch between watching the scenery and watching him.

Unserer nächste Halt ist: Waldhaus.  Waldhaus.”  I watch as the “bad Irish” get on the bus.  There are two sets of Irish, the good and the bad, but I only realize later that they’re all bad, as are most girls from Dublin Trinity College.  They say hi in the way that snotty, popular girls always do – fake and put-on – and they move towards the back of the bus.  One of them hates me because I tried to get on this guy she was trying to date.  It’s a long story, but I don’t care.  Neither of us got him, in the end, so I guess it didn’t matter much.  Nothing is permanent here, anyway.

The rain has slowed to a stop when I get off the bus and traipse back to Heim D.  I hike back up the six flights of stairs with my groceries and proceed to make dinner.  I debate taking some of my bottles down for recycling, but then I think I’ll do it later.  I always think I’ll do it later.  Sometimes I even do.

I make dinner and sit back down in front of my laptop, thinking maybe I should write.  My eyes are tired and bleary.  I read a lot or stare at computer screens when I’m alone, and my eyesight seems to be suffering for it.  About an hour later, Beth comes knocking at the door, and we sit there chatting.  It’s Wally’s night.  We almost never miss quiz night at Wally’s.

We get back on the bus and head back to town.  Around 9pm, we meet Holly, Erika, and Jonathan at the bar.  As usual, Jens is warming his seat at the bar.  Jens is a big, hulking fat guy who works at one of the Saar’s last coal pits.  Near as I can tell, he lives at Wally’s.  He only pays his tab once a year, when he gets a tax refund or some such.  Over in the corner are the “money guys,” who work for some American software company up on campus.  I slept with one of them, the hot one, Florian.

He was beautiful.  Not beautiful in the way that only you can see, but actually beautiful – tall, blond, and handsome enough that you’d notice him in the street.  My friends took bets on whether or not I’d pull it off.  I’m not beautiful.  Hell, I’m not even that cute.  But we did, and I really liked him.  He was smart and kind of rich, and yes, beautiful.  It probably would’ve only been a one night thing regardless of my actions, but when he asked me what we were doing together, I couldn’t help but think I shouldn’t have given him a truthful answer.  “I thought we were just sleeping together.”  I should’ve said something that normal girls would say, something romantic, some sweet lie.  Maybe that would’ve been enough.  Maybe that would’ve been all he needed to hear to at least call me again.  Or maybe I was kidding myself.  What did I know?  I was just a dumb, 20-year-old college girl chasing after a 31-year-old German guy who probably just wanted to bang an American.  Maybe his friends had a bet going, too.

We all sit down at the table in the front corner to do the pub quiz.  We don’t do very well this week.  It’s all trivia that only Germans would know.  Jonathan and Erika tell us about the drama swirling amongst the Irish.  There’s always drama at Waldhaus.  I’m glad I don’t live there.  As much as I hate Heim D and as much as I feel alone sometimes, I know that I’m not really very good at playing games, and it would be a never-ending cycle of drama games up there.  Anyway, our Heim Bar is better.  I tell them I saw the Bad Irish girls, and Jonathan launches into a story about how one of them was cheating on her boyfriend while he was there visiting from Dublin.

I end up drinking five pints of Guinness and two shots of something someone bought for me.  I smoke nearly half a pack of cigarettes, and by the time we stumble to the bus, I’m feeling no pain.  Jonathan and Erika bid us farewell at Waldhaus, and Holly, Beth, and I get off at the university, the last stop for the night.  Holly has to walk home in the dark, scary forest.  This is no joke.  She brings a flashlight every time we go out.  It’s like something from a Brothers Grimm story.  I get spooked walking back from Waldhaus by myself.  Something about German woods at night will make you believe every ghost story and every eerie tale that you ever heard as a child.  Once or twice, I broke into a run.  I knew something was behind me.

I drag myself up the stairs, and Beth and I say goodnight at the third floor.  I’m glad I don’t live on the lower floors.  I at least have an apartment.  Beth has a box and a shared kitchen and bathroom.  In the kitchen, people steal your good cheese, and in the bathrooms, sometimes people smear shit on the walls.  The cleaning ladies went on strike once, and I don’t blame them.  The guy down the hall routinely has loud, ape-like sex with his girlfriend.  The joys of living in a country that isn’t sexually repressed!

I stagger into my own box, locking the door behind me.  I hang my keys on the weird little mushroom-shaped hook by the stove and kick my shoes off.  My vision is blurrier now than it was before, and my mood is dark.  I had hoped to see Florian.  I don’t know why – I wouldn’t have said anything, and neither would he.  The next time I saw him, it was in Karstadt, and I was with my friend Maurice.  We’d been ice skating, as we always did on Thursdays.  He was with a girl.  He had his arms around her.  She was beautiful.

I open up the bottle of Southern Comfort to comfort myself.  I take a few swigs and sit down to write something, but nothing comes except a knock on the door.  At this hour of night, it could only be my Hungarian ex, and he could only want one thing.  I debate opening the door, but I get up and answer, finally.  I knew his presence wouldn’t really alleviate my loneliness, but it would alleviate other things, and that was enough.  Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

The Hun wasn’t beautiful.  He wasn’t even all that attractive.  Except his eyes.  He had green eyes, and they were by miles his most successful feature.  He was very smart, though, getting his Ph.D. in physics.  His English was terrible, and his German was worse.  He’d explain the project he was working on as best he could, and it was interesting.  I wished I were smarter, so I could contribute more to the conversation, but my knowledge of academic things was limited to language, politics, and other “soft” subjects.  I never had a head for numbers.

We sit and talk, then we fuck, and then he leaves.  I’m still buzzed, still lonely, and still wondering if coming to Germany was the right thing.  It was hard – so hard.  But then, as I sat in front of my computer, listening to the Kill Bill soundtrack, I remembered that it could be fun, too.

Sitting out on the wall by McDonald’s on Holly’s 21st birthday, drunkenly singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and eating peanut butter out of a jar with our fingers.  Singing “Left Outside Alone” on the aisles of a Trier-bound train with Jonathan and Erika.  Laughing maniacally when Erika told me how she lost her virginity to the Mexican-Italian guy, Roberto Fantini, “the first of many,” in his own words.  Getting hit on by a vampire at metal night.  (That’s a post for another time!)  Watching the bulls (die Polizei) break up bum fights on Bahnhofstrasse.  Realizing Herr Wuttke, the listening teacher, was wearing pink socks with frogs on them.  Holly drinking $4 Plus wine out of the bottle with candy straws before Heim Bar.

The crew of the USSaar (L to R): Beth, Holly's Florian, Holly, Maurice, and me.

The crew of the USSaar (L to R): Beth, Holly’s Florian, Holly, Maurice, and me.

Germany was a lot of things, some of it good, some of it bad.  I had a lot of memorable nights and just as many that should be well and truly forgotten.  Some of them even are.  It was just one more step on the road to becoming Adult Marge.  I left the US a kid, but I came back something else.  Maybe not a full-fledged adult, but at least I was getting closer.

Going abroad changes you.  You realize quickly that you can never go home, and wherever you go, well, there you are.  I think it took Korea to finally hammer that one home for me.  But as miserable as I was sometimes, I don’t regret going to Germany at all.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I might do a few things differently, now that I have the lens of experience to examine myself and my actions with, but I like to think it happened the way it needed to happen.  That’s probably a sweet, romantic lie I have to tell myself to make the bad times seem rosier.

Time has moved us all on.  Maurice is married with two kids.  Erika got married this year.  I’ve lost touch with Jonathan, but I think he’s still in Germany.  Holly is still traveling the world, and Beth is back home.  In my head, sometimes I think maybe Florian married the beautiful girl and they made beautiful, German babies.  The Hun is a Ph.D. of physics now, and he lives in Italy, I think.  I hope his Italian is better than his German was.

I’m here, for as long as I’m here, and I won’t be here much longer.  I’m ready to go home, quit the rambling ways, at least for a while.  I think I’m ready to confine going abroad to vacations.  I did find myself somewhere overseas, but it took a long time, and it wasn’t an easy process.  I probably would’ve eventually found myself anyway, but I wouldn’t have gotten to sample the most excellent German beer, snarf mille feuille pastries in Paris, or watch B-Boyz dance on top of a drunk Canadian guy in Korea.

It was worth it.  It was worth every rain-soaked walk, every acidic hangover, every gut-wrenching meltdown, and every European belittling me for being an American while Bush was in office.  I’d do it again.  If I had a thousand chances to go back and relive it just the same way, I would.  I’d give just about anything to be back in the USSaar.

Disturbia

When I lived in Saarbrücken and was attending Studienkolleg, I had this German reading teacher named Frau Schmidt.  Frau Schmidt was a trip.  She looked like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, and her voice sounded like something from an old Nickelodeon cartoon.  She had never married and, despite her somewhat soft-spoken demeanor, was a virulent man-hater.  She was an oppressed woman, dammit, and she wasn’t letting an asshole try to be king of her castle.  

She didn’t care for Eastern Europeans, not because of any historically-related emotional residue, but because of the attitudes that seem to prevail somewhat.  We had a lot of Russians, Ukrainians, and Georgians in our classes.  Georgian men suck.  Never met one who didn’t.  A lot of the EE students would tell woman jokes – even the chicks – and Frau hated it.  She was the only teacher who loved the Americans, and that was because we generally shared her feminist outlook.  She once asked if we’d like to have lived at the turn of the last century, and I asked (in German, obviously), “As a man or as a woman?”  She adored me from that day on.

Frau Schmidt would almost always have us read practice texts about Germany’s social ills, and most of them were about either the abuse of women and children or pollution.  Man, Germans fucking love to talk about the environment.  I wrote a paper on it.  I’m convinced it’s how they express national pride, since hanging flags and shit is socially verboten now because NAZIS!  Anyway, I remember reading a statistic in one of those papers that something like 80% of German domestic relationships are somewhat abusive in nature.  I was floored by that statistic and wondered if it was accurate or if the US is similar.  And this brings me to the crux of this post.

I didn’t grow up in an abusive household, thank God.  I know a lot of people who did, unfortunately, but I still don’t have a very solid statistical notion that I carry in my head of US abuse rates.  Wikipedia says it’s something like 22% for women and 7% for men, but that doesn’t include fathers.  I know a lot of people who had shitty dads.  Fortunately, I know a lot who had good dads too, so I’m not bashing men.  Women can dish it too, although most cases I know are father-oriented.  In a similar vein, I know a lot of women who have been sexually abused or raped.  Like, of my close college friends, I would say three out of seven have been raped.  Those are the ones I know for certain.  What I’m telling you is that abuse is a serious problem, and it’s not specific to one country.

Korea has a serious abuse problem, and nobody is safe from it.  Last night, it must have been about 1:30 in the morning or so, our drunk-ass neighbor came home.  He comes home sloshed twice a week that I notice, and usually once he can barely stand.  Well, his wife or his kids must’ve pissed him off good last night, because he came home and started kicking his crappy metal door so hard that it shook the walls of our building.  He lives on the third or fourth floor, and we’re on the first, and it was rocking our walls.  I know, a testament to the fine construction that abounds in Korea.  He screamed and kicked and stomped and yelled in true belligerent ajoesshi fashion until he finally grew weary and left, heading where, I couldn’t say.  I would hazard a guess that his family avoided some serious physical punishment last night.

This is hardly a new thing.  In my very first apartment in Changwon, there was an older couple who lived on the other side of my wall.  Most of the people in that complex were old – old and not fond of foreigners.  Someone put a rock through my fifth floor window the first week I was there.  That’s the Korean welcome wagon, folks.  Anyway, those two geriatrics would beat on each other minimally four nights a week.  It was ridiculous.  I thought that by the time people reached a certain age, alcoholism (this is Korea), declining physical stamina, deafness, or a combination of those things and more served to stave off those God-awful fights, but I was totally wrong about that.

In my second apartment, which was across the complex, the people across the hall were always at it.  They had one of those horrid rat dogs that I want to dropkick from the top of officetels, as well as an actual child.  I never saw this kid, but based on the noises he/she made, I’d venture to say that the child was not quite right upstairs.  I have no physical evidence to back this up except that you could hear the child making grunts and noises similar to those that Downs Syndrome individuals make.  Whatever the case, the parents were always at it.  Always.  The cops came sometimes, but Korean cops are as useless as a red light at a Korean intersection, so although the racket would stop for the night, it would pick up tomorrow right where it left off.  I put my headphones in and ignored it.

These things disturbed me a lot when I first came to Korea.  I’d never in my life been exposed to such things.  I knew abuse existed, but it never stared me in the face anywhere else like it has in Korea.  In fact, the most unnerving case of abuse I’ve ever seen happened in broad daylight.

One weekend, I went to Daegu with my husband (then-boyfriend) and some friends of ours.  We had met up with a friend of my husband’s and then roamed around, checking things out.  We were at the Daegu bus terminal, waiting to go home, and all of a sudden, I got shoved from behind.  The person in question wasn’t after me, though.

We turned around, and behind us, there was a young guy, probably no older than 25 (although I’m terrible at telling Korean age), shoving his girlfriend into the stairs.  She was your typical agashi – high heels, slutty yet childish skirt, big handbag, etc.  He threw her down and proceeded to kick her in the head Taekwando-style.  She just sat there and took it.  We watched as he dragged her up by her hair and flung her to her feet.  He then started yelling loudly at her like something out of American Psycho.  Things abated for a few moments, and we moved away, but then it stared up again.  He continued to punch her over and over again.

My husband started to move forward to intervene, but my friend’s husband stopped him.  “I’ve already broken up three fights between Koreans, mate.  Don’t get involved.  You’re the foreigner.  It’ll be your fault if you hurt him.”

My husband, heeding our friend’s advice, stopped.  And nobody else in that entire bus terminal made any moves to do anything.  Nobody called the police.  Nobody made any moves to pull the guy off.  Nobody shielded the girl from his blows.  Nobody even spoke.  They all averted their eyes as though they hadn’t seen.  If I pull the covers over my head, the monster won’t get me.  If you pretend something doesn’t exist, it goes away.  Right?  That seems to be the mentality in Korea.  If it’s not in your family, it’s not your problem, or if you pretend it’s not there, then it isn’t.

I’ve seen my fair share of public disturbances since then, and rarely does anyone intervene.  Well, I’ve actually never seen anyone intervene.  The only time I’ve ever seen one stop was outside of this old Filipino bar in Jungang Dong one night.  The guys in question stopped because “foreigners are watching.”  Must appear morally superior in front of the foreigners.

I find it very frightening that people do nothing to help when a situation such as the one I described is carrying on a foot in front of them.  I could be totally wrong about this, but I think, had it happened back home, several guys and possibly some girls would’ve intervened to restrain the offending party while someone called the cops.  That might not be true everywhere in America, but it would definitely be true where I come from.  You don’t get away with shit like that.

This is one of those things that I find so damn puzzling about Korea.  Korean society, like most societies, is somewhat self-policing when it comes to acceptable behavior.  They’ll berate you for being too fat, too dark, too light, not smart enough, or whatever, but in the fact of things that actually matter, when situations are potentially dangerous, they look the other way.  Are they afraid?  Do they not want to acknowledge that there’s a real problem?  Do they not believe that it’s a problem?

If they truly believe that there is no problem with this kind of behavior, it really makes you wonder about human nature generally and Korean culture specifically.  I can’t swallow the idea that they don’t know better.  Korea is hooked into the modern world.  They know better.  The problem is that they’re allowing the most outmoded, useless aspects of their culture to ruin society.  Don’t interfere; they aren’t family and don’t exist.  Don’t speak up in the face of adversity; there is nothing outside of the herd.  Don’t take responsibility; you’ll look weak for admitting fault.  Do you know where this kind of mentality reigns supreme?  Elementary school playgrounds.  Korean society hasn’t advanced beyond fifth or sixth grade.

Think about that.  You have a country full of people who have paying jobs, children, cars, (shitty) apartments, and lives, but their maturity level hasn’t progressed beyond that of a preadolescent.  No wonder shit is fucked up.  I remember my sixth grade class.  It was all boys making poop jokes (hmm… Korea does love it’s d-d-o-n-g) while staring at Green Day’s old Dookie album, girls ganging up on the arbitrarily chosen outsider for reasons she can’t understand, and there’s me, hoping I get out alive.  Nobody gets out alive in the end, but damned if a lot of Koreans don’t check out sooner than expected.  Hell, I’d jump too, if I were forced to live in a society of emotional midgets for the rest of my life.

That incident in the bus terminal really spooked me.  It hit me like a wrecking ball that there is no real help for you here.  People don’t care.  You aren’t even a person to them.  You’re just part of the background, like the soda machine or bus stop sign.  Your feelings, needs, desires – those don’t matter.  It’s all the more unnerving because you recognize very quickly, as a foreigner here, that you are even less a part of the family in most ways than the average Korean.  Yes, once in awhile, being a foreigner might work to your advantage, but more often, when it really counts, you are an other, as inconsequential as any other part of the landscape.  Whether you’re there tomorrow or not is of little to no importance.

The scariest part of that scenario, for me, is that despite the fact that every part of me would yell and scream to do something, I would most likely take the advice of my friend’s husband and just move along like everyone else.  I know that of all the people around, I’m the least likely to be helpful.  There won’t be any thanks for it if I intervene.  It will only bring me trouble that I don’t need.  And then you realize that the system has made you just as culpable as everyone else.  And it’s fucking depressing.

I keep hoping that Korea will grow up and change – move on to middle school, at least.  If they do, they’re going to go kicking and screaming, probably forced by external powers and only then because they don’t want to lose face internationally or some such.  I highly doubt it will be because of some great movement within the country that clamors out for improvement.

Hell in HomePlus

Everyone has their own private version of Hell on Earth.  I should probably divide Hell on Earth into two categories: Actual Hell on Earth (e.g. a war zone, the Sahara Desert, or Lindsay Lohan’s apartment) and Daily Hell on Earth.  Daily Hell on Earth is something that you may or may not have to put up with that often, but when you do, rest assured it will ruin everything for the rest of the day and maybe even the week.

My dad was raised in a staunch Catholic household.  For the Catholics, Hell was and probably still is a very real thing.  My cousin told me a funny and possibly disturbing story about a party at my folks’ place, back when they were married. My parents loved parties.  They’d hire a bartender from the Moose Lodge and have him come to the house to mix drinks for their boozy friends and family.  Sounds good to me!  Anyway, my cousin recalled a time when she was at one of these parties, sitting near my dad.  Dad was drunk as a skunk, sweating profusely, and smoking his cigar, and he told my cousin what Hell was like.  Demons, fire, hot coals up your ass, saunas full of boiling water – the works.  My cousin was about eight at the time, and it scared her so badly that she couldn’t sleep well for a week or two.

Stories of Hell don’t scare me.  Demons do, but we’re not here to talk about demons.  Rather, we’re here to talk about their Earthbound cousins and the places where you’re most likely to find infestations of them.  Yes, I’m talking about Koreans, and yes, I’m talking about the super-marts that dot the landscape in the Land of the Morning Kimchi Fart.

I despise the large marts.  Words cannot convey how loathe I am to venture inside these abominations on the weekend.  As I’ve no doubt mentioned in other posts, Koreans seem to love shopping.  It’s one of the national pastimes, along with wearing professional outdoor clothing and walking up mountains on paved trails, whoring, drinking, getting coffee, and talking smack about other people.  I’m sure there are other things to do in Korea, but Koreans don’t ever seem to do them, near as I can tell.

Generally, I avoid the mega marts on the weekend because frankly, I’m close enough to the edge of my sanity on a good day.  The rampant foolishness present in those places is enough to send me sailing over the edge like Evel Knievel over a pool full of sharks.  Chances are pretty good that I’ll miss the landing, in case you were curious.  There are so many things that bug me about these places, but I’ll start with the most obvious one: other people.

I don’t like people that much.  I like Koreans even less, as far as public interaction is concerned.  Americans are loud and annoying, but at least we exhibit spatial awareness.  Koreans operate shopping carts (trolleys, for you Brits) like they operate motor vehicles: with extreme stupidity.  To me, the marts are like a microcosm of what’s going on outside in the streets.  There are people swerving in all directions, knocking into other carts, people, and displays.  There is little regard for right-of-way, and nobody seems to know if they’re supposed to drive on left or right side.  Sometimes, they’ll park their carts in the middle of an aisle or crowded intersection.  Who cares about the 34,923 other assholes in the store?  This is for my convenience.  Fuck the rest of you!  I have been rammed, butted, and had my toes run over by idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to walk on sidewalks without a license, let alone have a cart or, shudder, a car.

For some people, this wouldn’t be a big deal.  For me, it is.  It really is.  I have serious issues with personal space.  Sometimes I think it’s because I’m American, but honestly, I have similar problems at home when I’m in tight spaces.  I can’t stand people touching me if I don’t know them.  Hell, even if I do, I’m not keen on it.  I used to be worse when I was younger.  Hugs were something strictly reserved for greeting family members who were coming to visit.  I never understood girls at school who hugged and got all over each other out of excitement or some misplaced sense of friendship.  (It was invariably the annoying popular girls who did shit like that.)  I love going to concerts for the music factor, but tolerating the large crowds of people is difficult for me.  I feel the same way about festivals, parades, bars, big parties, or really any other place where I’m bound to be jostled by people.  It will send me into a full-on meltdown, especially if I’m already in a mood.  Imagine what the marts here do to me.

Besides the most serious irritation of the bumper cars style of interaction with Koreans, the general atmosphere of the place is horrible.  To me, it’s like a medieval market come to life.  There are workers with headsets, mikes, and small loudspeakers so that they can scream into them, trying to hawk bananas, tuna, or whatever is on sale that day.  (Let it be said, too, that many of the “deals” are not deals – the store marks up the price and then marks it down to the regular price to make it seem like a steal.)  The auditory onslaught is maddening.  If I wanted to listen to noise, I’d have my friend Dave send me some Merzbow “songs.”  …  Although I sometimes find Merzbow as background to be oddly comforting.  I find Koreans screaming into bullhorns about rice cakes and kimchi to be a bridge too far.

This next complaint might be a bit superficial, but it drives me up the wall.  The organization of certain foodstuffs at the marts is irrational, at best.  There’s invariably a foreign foods section.  Often, it will include chocolate, nacho chips and cheese, Danish biscuit cookies, Pepperidge Farms chocolate chip cookies, some sort of hot sauce, and peanut butter.  Of course, there’s never anything worthwhile like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Milka or Cadbury, Kinder hippos (sweet Jesus, those things are like crack), or guacamole.  The thing is, there will be other “Western” foods scattered all around the grocery store.  The one that makes me craziest is the fact that pasta sauce is never with the pasta.  More often than not, it’s next to the ketchup.  Do Koreans put ketchup on pasta?  Well, they eat pickles with pizza, so I guess anything is possible.

The only store that gets this right is our Lotte Mart here in Shin Masan.  Just about everywhere else puts pasta with rice and sauce with condiments.  I mean, I can understand the logic, I guess, but why not put pasta and sauce together?  It’s a rare event that a person will eat pasta without sauce or minimally some sort of olive oil and vegetables.  Personally, I like my pasta with a fair bit of sauce and cheese.  I’ve never pretended to understand Korean logic, though.

I also have issues bringing the baby into places like HomePlus.  It’s not so much because of the venue itself, but because Koreans are really pushy about babies.  It seems like they really like children, at least insofar as they like to coo over them.  That doesn’t prevent them from letting their unruly brats run into the road while they’re out for a walk, but I digress.  The straight truth is that people here love Brett.  She gets scads of unwarranted attention.  And the reaction is always the same: “Oh, big eyes!  Very beautiful!”  It’s always the eyes.  And she does have pretty eyes, big and blue.  She was born with the look that middle school girls go under the knife to achieve and often still won’t have.  It’s fine to stop and compliment, but people will almost always try and remove her from her stroller, even when she’s encased in a rain fly.  Yes, we put the rain fly on to keep people from trying to take her out and manhandle her.  No, it doesn’t do much good.  Often without asking, people will start to unzip the fly and take the baby.

What the fuck?!  In what world is it okay to grab someone’s child without asking?  My husband has told me enough stories about child abduction in Europe that I’m scared of it now.  (Seriously, Google the rate of missing children in the US, UK, and Europe or stories about Jamie Bolger and Jimmy Savile if you want incentive to mind your children in public or around other people!)  Besides that, I just don’t want randomers touching my daughter, much like I don’t want them touching me.  Babies aren’t public property.  They have as much ownership over their bodies as an adult, but they are unable to assert their own boundaries.  It’s a parent’s job to do that until the child is physically and emotionally mature enough to do that for themselves.  Some old, drunk guys in Jinhae tried to pick her up a few weeks ago, and I was like, “Are you smoking meth, too?  Get out of her face!”  Same thing happens in the marts.

Summer presents another particular problem, as far as shopping goes, and that’s the issue of air conditioning.  Korea is having power shortages this year due to the usual incompetence and lack of appropriate safety measures in its nuclear power facilities.  The government shut down two plants when someone realized that the safety certificates on some components were faked, and this has caused a “level 1” power shortage, whatever the hell that means. I know that there is a peak and off-peak time for running the A/C now, I think between 1pm and 5pm.  All of the major companies are forced to cut their electricity usage or face serious fines.  The result is that shopping in the middle of the day has become a hot, sticky proposition, and the places were never that cool to start with.  I don’t recall any of the grocery stores or mega marts being particularly chilly last summer.  In fact, they’ve been running under similar regulations for at least the last two years or so.

Number one.  It is disturbing as hell that Korean power plants have faked safety certificates.  We all know what happened at Fukushima, and that problem is still not resolved.  Just because the media stopped reporting on it – I don’t think they wanted to tell the truth about what would actually happen if the foundation for Reactor 4 cracked, which it still could – doesn’t mean the problem is magically gone.  The same thing could happen here.

Number two.  Koreans seems to hate air conditioning, and I don’t understand why.  Europe is not a place that uses A/C in spades, but even the major stores in Germany like Karstadt would run the air pretty hard during the warmest days of the summer.  I would go to town specifically with the idea that I’d sit around in Karstadt under an air vent.  I think we all know that Americans are A/C mongers.  The refrigerated sections of Wal-Mart should list a down coat as a prerequisite for visiting in the summer.

Other children also drive me nuts when I’m shopping.  I’m not a huge fan of other people’s children anyway, but Korean kids in public make me nuts. It’s a rare occasion that I go shopping and don’t have at least one brat point and yell something about a foreigner.  The adults laugh and blame it on the fact that they never see foreigners, which is insane and ridiculous.  They’ve all seen Iron Man and the Avengers.  Most of the clothing ads feature white faces with blue eyes, surrounded by clouds of blond hair.  They’ve seen foreigners.  The problem is what they’re being taught at home, and nobody wants to ‘fess up to the fact that Koreans have a very “us vs. them” mentality.  It’s not even because they’re homogenous; other homogenous societies aren’t as biased against foreigners as this one.

Honestly, I don’t care if Koreans don’t want to live next door to me.  Fair enough.  I don’t want to live next door to a lot of them.  (For the record though, my neighbor lady across the stoop is A-plus.)  What I do have a problem with is being pointed at in public like I’m a circus animal or some sort of science project.  My main aim, when I’m forced into the big marts, is to get in and get out with as little irritation and human interaction as possible.  I’ve gotten so I point back at them and call them Japanese.  It doesn’t work.  That just confounds them, and they look at me like, “How could anyone possibly mistake me for a fucking-stupid-murderous-monkey-Japanese-bastard?”  Newsflash, Korea: most foreigners here can’t tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, or Korean – the language or the people.  That’s kind of like you can’t tell the difference between Americans, Brits, Germans, French, Spanish, or Russians.  All look same.  And really, as far as Koreans are concerned, the prevailing mentality is that if you’re not us, you’re them.  I’m getting pretty resentful about that, since I think I’m getting that way myself, and I attribute it to the culture here.

And last, but certainly not least, I really, truly hate the parking lots.  Parking garages are a hazard in any country.  They’re bad enough at home.  The parking garages in Korea are a health hazard.  I always go up to the roof, if I can, just because it’s a commonly known fact that Koreans will drive around the lower floors hoping that someone will vacate a spot there, rather than head up to a higher floor and be forced to ride the escalator 45 seconds longer.  I guess they’re in a hurry to get bumped with shopping carts.  Anyway, I try and avoid the mess as much as humanly possible.

The stupid on the roads getting squeezed into a relatively small area surrounded by concrete is vaguely horrifying.  Koreans don’t understand right-of-way or, if they do, they blatantly ignore it.  They will speed through the garage, pull out in front of you, and randomly stop to check their receipts in the middle of the lane, preventing the line of cars behind from moving forward.  It’s for my own convenience; fuck the rest of you.  The only thing I’ll give them props for is parking.  They’re better at that than I am.  I still miss my big, American-sized parking places.

The swirling fuckery of all of these factors combines to make shopping a less than savory experience for me.  I don’t like grocery shopping at home, either, but I can deal with it.  We went into HomePlus a couple of weeks ago on Sunday in the middle of the afternoon, and I left the store in a murderous rage.  It took me hours to get over it.  I thought I was going to lose it.  I went yesterday to pick up some baby food for Brett, but going even two hours earlier can make a major difference, as does going by myself and sticking my headphones in my ears.  I can be in and out of that joint in 20 minutes or less, even if I’m doing a “big shop.”

I never thought I’d say that I miss Wal-Mart, but I miss Wal-Mart, with its wide aisles, ample parking, and free freak show.  There is no place on Earth that will make you feel better about yourself than Wal-Mart.  Conversely, there is no place more likely to make you lose all faith in humanity.  Except for the Korean superstores.  Those places just might top it.

Get Off My Stoop

Obviously, there are a lot of things about Korea that drive me nuts, but two that have simultaneously reared their heads in the last 24 hours are the following: the inability to take a freaking hint, and a complete and utter disregard for personal space.  I know I’m not the only person who has noticed this about Korea.  I know I’m not the only person who hates this.

Do most Koreans not believe in voicemail?  I have yet to meet a Korean who has voicemail on their pimped out smart phone.  Voicemail is there for a reason – a rather obvious one.  If you can’t reach the intended party, leave a message and state the reason you’re calling.  No big deal.  The person you failed to touch base with will likely call back.  Unless they don’t want to talk to you.  Or they’re like my friends and just forget.  You know what Americans don’t do, unless they’re annoying as fuck or just insane?  Call you every 20 minutes until you pick up the phone.  You know who does that?  Stalkers.  And Koreans.

I’ve tried explaining this culture difference to Koreans before.  They’re baffled when Americans don’t call right back or pick up after 45 rings.  I told my old boss once that if Americans don’t pick up, it means they’re either busy and can’t, or they don’t want to talk to you.  Either way, you should take the hint and let it be.  It drives me absolutely batshit fucking crazy when people just keep blowing up my phone.  I mean, I really hate it.  Yesterday, the same joker called my phone six or seven times, and when I didn’t pick up – I never pick up unknown numbers anymore because it’s always a Korean who will just sit there like a tool and say, “Yobosaeyo?” over my English until I cuss them out in Korean – the idiot started sending me incessant texts. I finally sent a message back telling them that I’m American and to get a clue and bugger off.

I should make it clear, at this point, that I hate talking on the phone, anyway.  I used to talk to my grandma for long stretches when she was alive, and I can talk to my close friends for extended periods.  But I’m awkward on the phone.  I don’t like calling people.  It stresses me out and always has. When I liked guys in high school, even if I was sure they liked me back, I never called.  I just can’t.  I hate it.  I always speak at the wrong time, and… I don’t know.  This is probably why working in a job that requiring a lot of phone conversations nearly killed me.  Why did I take it?  I needed a job.

Anyway, as for the door thing, I totally don’t get that, either.  At home, I’m the type to just put out a sign that says, “Get the fuck up off my stoop.  Unless you’re selling Girl Scout cookies.”  I always thought that Korea would be an escape from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and miscellaneous evangelicals, but no.  They’re worse here than they are at home.

Korea is chock-a-block full of religious nutters.  I avoid certain parts of Changwon on the weekends (ahem, E-mart) because they hang out there, and they always accost the foreigners first.  Do they think Westerners are more likely to have religion?  I’d say young people are less likely to be churchgoers, at this point.  But the ones that really drive me nuts are the ones who come around to apartment complexes, begging money for their church with its glowing red cross.  They will have a Samsung tablet with some crazy animated show on it, available in Korean, English, and Chinese.  They will knock and knock and ring and ring the doorbell.  They will try and force their way into your house once you open the door.  For this reason, I very frequently don’t open the door.  Nine times out of ten, it’s a religious freak, and we have less than no use for that noise.

It’s not the my husband and I are nonbelievers.  We both have our own beliefs, but we don’t care about having the Bible shoved down our throats on our own doorstep.  I honestly don’t know why Koreans bother.  If the holy rollers at home have failed to get me to come to church, why in the hell do they think some asinine animation in poorly translated English is going to change my mind?  Seriously.

We get regular weirdoes coming to the door too, though.  Sometimes it’s the man who washes the stairs.  Yes, we have someone who brings a pressure washer around to all the stairwells in the jugong to wash them because the ajoesshis spit all over them.  Disgusting, huh?  Why wash it?  It’s filthy again two days later.  Let it fester.  Sometimes our neighbor pops by, but she’s nice.  Other times, it’s random people selling things or looking for their lost uncle.  Today it was about the sink sitting in our yard for no apparent reason.

I was raised to always have the doors locked.  There are thieves, clowns, and werewolves outside.  Nothing will ruin your day like being raped by a clown.  I kept to this even in Korea, where you can supposedly leave the door open.  Yeah, don’t do that.  Some Koreans will attempt to just walk in.  Think I’m joking?  They jiggle the knob here all the time when I don’t answer.  I was dumbfounded the first time it happened; now I’m merely indignant.  Think I’m making this up.  I knew a guy who left the door unlocked while showering one day.  When he came out, buck naked, his old neighbor lady was standing there in the middle of his apartment.

In America, rolling up in someone’s house with no invite will get you arrested, beaten, or shot.  As it should.  I’m a libertarian, and many of us believe that property ownership is the basis for society.  In my mind, not respecting the fact that you can’t just walk into someone’s house is a very clear mark of an uncivilized individual.  It’s not even that they want to rob you.  It’s the fact that they think they have a right to be in your personal space or in your property without permission.  This, to me, indicates a fundamental lack of respect or proper socialization.  In short, you have to be fucking stupid to think that you can just roll up in someone’s house because you want to.  How downright stupid do you have to be?

No, I know that not every Korean does this.  Well, most of them do the phone thing.  They don’t all walk into people’s houses, but they will ring the bell until they’re blue in the face.  Nevertheless, this sort of thing has happened often enough that I feel okay saying that it’s a bit of an issue in Korea, and certainly one that baffles everyone I know whom I’ve talked to about it.  It’s not just me.  Most foreigners here have experienced the same thing.

The top and bottom of it is that I’m a private person.  I lock the doors to keep people out.  I don’t like people touching me, even if I’ve known them for years.  I don’t like talking on the phone, especially to random people, and I don’t want them calling me, either.  I don’t like people pounding incessantly on my door, ringing the bell multiple times, and then jiggling the knob – all of which results not only in irritation and anxiety for me, but it usually wakes my daughter up, if she’s having a nap, and that makes me stabby.  Nap time is the best damn time of the day, and when you rob my kid of sleep, you rob me of Mommy time and possibly my own nap time, all of which are immeasurably valuable to Brett and me.

In a similar vein, I hate the utter lack of respect for personal space.  This is most frequently highlighted in the big marts, and I’ve talked about it before, but I’m going to talk about it again, because it really bothers me.  As mentioned above, I have space issues.  Serious ones.  It drives me nuts enough at home.  It really bugged in Europe.  It drives me to the brink of my sanity in Korea.  I know it’s strange, but it’s a fact of life for me: I hate touching people I don’t know.  I can tolerate it when the person is friend or family, but it was a widely known fact for years among my friends that I don’t like being touched.  In truth, it can be problematic for me.  I have difficulty enjoying things like concerts – and I love music, as you may know – because there are just too many people for me to relax.  I hate it, but unfortunately it seems to be part of who I am, and it’s not going to change.  Going into the marts in Korea on the weekend all but drives me to meltdown.

The same lack of respect for personal space demonstrated by the willingness to enter a stranger’s home is evident in public.  Koreans will walk into you, ram you with shopping carts, and shove you out of the way to get to a can of tuna.  It’s maddening.  Apologists blame the space issue.  Yeah, fine, whatever.  You know what it really boils down to?  Culture.  Lack of respect for people who aren’t in the family/friend circle.  Europeans aren’t like this.  Well, the parts of Europe I’ve visited aren’t like this.  Europe is crowded – not like Asia, but they’re crunched for space.  They don’t elbow you in the kidneys and shove you down trying to get on the bus.  Yes, they sit closer than I feel comfortable with, but they don’t pummel you with shopping carts in the grocery store.  Basically, I think blaming space constraints is convenient.  The real problem is lack of respect for others.

Calling someone’s phone every 20 minutes is obnoxious.  Banging on someone’s door for five minutes is rude and stupid.  Trying to force the door open is rude and dangerous.  Like, if that happened in the US, I’d get the gun and call the cops, in that order.  Deliberately walking into people and shoving them around is rude and ridiculous.

Manners are the glue that hold society together.  Yes, one might think of them as little concessions, but you know, being polite makes everyone feel good.  It doesn’t cost anything, and everyone’s better off for it.  Isn’t it better to form a nice, orderly line to get on the bus, rather than cram at the door like it’s the last lifeboat leaving Titanic?  Isn’t it pleasanter if we try and move in a straight line and avoid knocking into people, carts, and shelves in the grocery store?  Isn’t it nice to just leave a message and feel relatively confident that the person in question will call back?  All of these things are lost on Korea.

Yeah, Americans are stupid about some things.  People stop in the middle of aisles and talk for ages where I’m from.  Everyone looks at everyone at stoplights, but they just want to see if they know anyone.  Everyone knows the gossip, and the neighbors watch your house.  Of course, they’ll also know if there’s a weirdo trying to jiggle the door handle and get in, so that’s a positive.  Basically, I can deal with most of the stupidities of Americans.  It’s what I grew up knowing.  I was raised to be polite, not go out in public acting like I own the world and everyone else should screw off.  I feel like that’s the mentality in Korea.  I am the king, and you are nobody.

You don’t have to agree with me, but that’s how I feel.  I hate people who call me 24 times in a day.  I hate people who won’t get the hell up off my stoop when I don’t answer.  I hate people who try and force their way into my house.  I hate people who wake up my baby while they’re doing these things.  And I hate random people who think they can touch me just because we happen to be sharing a general space.  The next fool who bangs on my door for five minutes straight is going to get the horns.  I’m over it.

On Rotation

You all know me and music – I love it, and I’m always in search of something new and awesome or, barring that, something that doesn’t totally suck. I have been on a search kick for the last week or so, and I haven’t come up empty handed.  I will turn over just about every rock and search every nook and cranny of the Internet in hopes of finding the next big thing.  Or the thing that nobody else will ever hear but me.

I used to make playlists based on the season, but I’m simply here today to offer you some stuff that I’m listening to right now that I’m in love with.  I like to think I have a broad range of tastes in music – everything from Rammstein to weird, indie techno to folk and back again.  Except metal.  Never could get into metal, and I’m not sure why.  Chalk it up to different strokes, I guess.

Bear in Heaven – “Deafening Love”

I would classify Bear in Heaven as an electronica band, although Wikipedia, knower of all things great and small, classifies them as indie rock/experimental synth pop.  In a nutshell, they’re a pretentious band that hipsters listen to.  I don’t know a single person who listens to them who couldn’t, at some point, have qualified as some form of hipster garbage, including me.  I don’t just love BIH, but they’re good.  This particular song is from their album Beast Rest Forth Mouth, which is a solid album.  Most of the songs are very listenable.  This one is my favorite, as I tend to favor electronica songs that have a dark, almost sinister feel to them.  If you like Boards of Canada, Ladytron, Goldfrapp, or any of those sorts of bands, you’ll probably enjoy Bear in Heaven.

 

Steven Wilson – “Insurgentes”

I have no idea where this guy even came from.  My friend Dave recommended this song to me randomly one day and, as is generally the case when Dave points me in the direction of music, I loved it.  It’s a really pretty, haunting song.  Relax and enjoy.

 

Bosco Delrey – “The Authority Song”

If you’re a True Blood fan, you might recognize this song from last season.  I hate that I even still think about watching that damn show; it jumped the shark a long time ago, but dammit, ASkars.  Anyway, if you didn’t know, John Cougar Mellancamp is the original purveyor of this song.  Both versions have great merit, but I really enjoy this cover.  It’s a fun song, and it’s a great jam for summer.

 

Hans Zimmer – “You’re So Cool (Theme from ‘True Romance’)”

If you call yourself a Tarantino fan and haven’t seen True Romance, you suck.  I’m sorry, but you do.  He wrote the script but didn’t direct it.  I’m convinced the character of Clarence is how Tarantino actually sees himself: a film and comic book buff who is a secret badass, irresistible to really hot chicks.  Anyway, the movie is fucking awesome, and I love the theme song.  It seems so out of place against the snow-clogged streets of Detroit when the movie opens, but it makes so much sense at the end of the movie.  And the ending is damn good.  Damn good.  Even if you never watch the movie, this is a great little jam for summer, with its steel drum and wooden xylophone.

 

Ali A$ ft. Samy Deluxe – Zu Spät” 

If you don’t speak German or don’t just love rap, you’ll probably want to give this one a miss.  If you speak German and haven’t heard Samy Deluxe, that sucks, because he rocks.  He’s one of my favorite rappers, and I’ve been listening to him for almost 10 years.  This song makes me happy because it incorporates a sample of an old Die Ärzte song called, you guessed it, “Zu Spät,” which means “too late” in English.  I knew that old song before I knew who Samy Deluxe was.  Believe it or not, I downloaded it on one of my music search sprees back in the day when everyone and their brother had KaZaa.  Do you remember KaZaa?  Man, those were the days… Anyway, this song rocks my socks.  “Weck mich auf” is another Samy Deluxe song that makes a good starting point.

 

The Smiths – “Cemetery Gates”

I love the Smiths.  I know Morrisey is a cranky bastard, but we both hate the Queen and the royals, so we could talk, I think.  I’m kind of a cranky bastard too, and I have a soft spot in my heart for other people who can’t stand everyone else.  This is my favorite Smiths song, hands-down, but honestly, I love most of their stuff.  If you don’t get a little bit hard for Morrisey in the video for “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side,” you’re probably not human.  God, he was hot in that video.  I think I’m going to put both up because I love watching Morrisey in that video that much.

 

 

Butthole Surfers – “Dracula from Houston”

This is the perfect summer surf jam.  Also, he talks about learning to play the bassoon.  I play the bassoon!  That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but trust me, when most people don’t know what a bassoon even is, you get excited when it gets brought up in casual musical conversation.  We’re a rare breed.  And the song is just fun.

 

Autechre – “Basscadet (Bcdtmx)”

Autechre is a weird one.  I can’t decide if they fall into minimal techno, ambient techno, IDM, or what.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  Like Bear in Heaven, they attract the same breed of pretentious hipster scum.  I think their earlier stuff is more accessible than what they put out now, which ventures a bit too close to blatant percussive noise music for my liking.  Some of my friends find that sort of music “challenging.”  I find it “annoying.”  I guess I’m not quite evolved enough, but I like to be able to enjoy music while I’m thinking about it.

Autechre is a weird one at any rate.  I think this particular song, of which there are three or four versions, all good, is danceable, but for me, it would also be good for background music, be it for driving or… leisure activities.  Allowing myself a moment of candor, this kind of stuff reminds me of hard nights out and in with some of my more avant garde friends in college.  It’s trippy without being psychedelic.

 

Dispatch – “The General”

I have never really gotten into the so-called jam bands like Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Dispatch, Guster, OAR, and the rest of their ilk.  I tend to find that either the music is good or the lyrics are good, but rarely do the two coincide.  If one or the other is truly amazing (and they rarely are), I’ll forgive the rest of it.  This one happens to have both, although I wish he wouldn’t speak the lyrics so much.

I had a buddy in college who was on the MU rugby team.  He freaking loved this song, and he played it on repeat for ages, and every time I hear this song, I still think of him and him wearing a Natty Light box on his head with eye holes cut into it.  The Natty Light Knight.  Maybe you had to be there.  Anyway, the song is good.

 

John Butler – “River Song (Busk Version)”

Yeah, I wrote a whole damn post on John Butler’s song, “Ocean,” and you know what?  I have played that song, not including rollbacks to listen to certain parts, over 100 times in the last month just on my computer.  No fucking shame.  I’m going to buy a damn 12-string guitar, and if it takes me 20 years, I’m going to learn that song.  I’m pissed off right now that I sold my six-string right before the baby came.  I could’ve been finger picking away this whole time… I knew it was a mistake at the time, but that’s another story.  Point is that I’m obsessed with John Butler – not his band, so much.  I’m obsessed with great guitar playing, and he ranks among my favorite excellent guitar players, probably alongside Kottke, although I think Kottke is more talented, overall.

There’s a “lost” John Butler tape (only tape) called Searching for Heritage.  He made about 3,500 copies in his busking days to fund his first studio album.  They’re basically impossible to find and sell for about $400+ when you do find one.  Thank God for technology.  I found all of the songs on YouTube, except for “Chicken,” and I probably just haven’t looked hard enough.  You can convert YouTube files into MP3s (legally), and I am now the proud owner of Searching for Heritage.  I would highly recommend sniffing it out, if you love 12-string guitar songs that roll along and are beautiful and scenic.  I chose “River Song” not because I think it’s the best, but because I just chose it.  All of the songs from that album are excellent, but if you’re already a fan of JBT, don’t go into it expecting it sound like them.  It sounds like “Ocean,” but not as good because, honestly, what is?

 

Geordie Adams – “Warren’s Clean Slate” 

You’ve never heard of this guy.  I don’t know him from Adam.  I found him and his song quite by accident.  I was reading a forum about learning the 12-string guitar (You thought I was joking about learning to finger pick that bad boy?  I learned the bassoon, dammit, I can conquer a guitar.), and he linked a couple of his own songs that he’d uploaded to YouTube.  I really loved this one, and yes, I converted it and downloaded it to my computer.  I’ve had it on repeat for a few days now, and I just really like it.  It’s rather proof, I think, that you don’t have to be famous or getting paid.  Anyone, anywhere can make great music that other people will enjoy.  I read an excellent quote a few weeks ago about books being like magic because it allows the reader to see into the mind of the person who wrote it, even if that person has been dead for centuries.  I feel the same way about music – you can communicate with someone you’ve never met before and on a most primal level.

I’m sure he’ll never see this post, but if he does, I dig this song like crazy.  If I ever lick the 12-string well enough to start laying down my own stuff, I hope it sounds half this good.  I’ll settle for sitting out on my porch (because I will have a porch, at some point) and driving the neighbors nuts with my mad stylings (or lack thereof).

 

Leo Kottke – “Pamela Brown”

This is not Kottke’s most technical piece, nor is it my favorite, but it’s what I’m listening to right now.  It’s more accessible than some of his stuff.  I think maybe Tom T. Hall wrote it, though.  I would generally say that if you aren’t into crazy guitar playing, Kottke won’t float your boat.  The time for great folk singers seems to have passed.  My folks love the likes of Kottke, Gordon Lightfoot, Pete Seeger, and John Denver.  Sometimes I think I was born too late.  Anyway, there’s some fun slide work in this song, and the lyrics are good.