Soi Min from Mizoram Part 1

I am unemployed, broke, in debt and dependent on my parents. I can’t to receive unemployment benefits for another six months. I have the flu, asthma, possibly a hernia –  and no Medicaid. I ’m not speaking to my brother, and don’t want to speak to my mother. Right now I am hiding in my parent’s basement hoping to get some time to myself. Man I could cry you a river all night if you wanted me to.

But instead I will tell you that this was the best Thanksgiving since my Josh was born!

What happened was that I started volunteering to teach English to Burmese refugees this year.

Soi (pronounced Soy) Min, his wife Sui (pronounced Swee), and their daughter May O Wee are Burmese refugees from Delhi. They’ve been in Battle Creek only months. They live on refugee status and cannot work until they have their green cards. They have no transportation, and only a few Burmese friends. So they’re isolated, confused and depressed.

I tell Soi Min I am also confused and depressed, and why, because America seems to me in shambles, because we are celebrating a nation that celebrates Genocide on Thanksgiving.

Soi Min smiles so that his whole face lights up, eyes twinkling. He says he knows about Columbus, and about Pocohantos and Squanto.

Then he says that he wants to tell me some of his stories about Burma, and I want to hear them…


Soi Min had been living in India since the eighties because right now a well-armed band of soulless thugs rule Burma.

Soi Min became a Student Leader, which means he spoke for democracy and education, which means he just about marked himself for murder.

He escaped to the jungles between India, China, Bangladesh and Burma and became a guerrilla freedom fighter.

He showed me a photo of him at a camp. He had the shaggy head of a professor, a fuzzy face, a Fu Manchu and the same mischievous, gentle smile. He was reed-thin, set against a background of ancient old-growth tree trunks, and I thought to myself,

“Wow! My Burmese student just made Walt Kowalski look like a pussy faggot Pollock!”


herniated disk and no insurance

I’ve been on ice since June with no medical insurance. I swim a lot and that helps, until it doesn’t. The meds are running out and so I went to my doctor for an MRI. I told him about tingling all over, radiating from the back through the arms and legs. He told me about calcium vitamins and glucosomine.

I insisted we take a look and he agreed to x-rays but not to an MRI, because they’re expensive.

There is a gel made from cock’s comb, that they can inject into the joints, that might actually be fairly cheap – and I don’t need an MRI to tell me I have a herniated disk. All signs say so. So I’d just as soon they oil my bearings, chains and sprockets with that stuff, each and every vertebra, the hips, knees, ankles and toes.

But for some reason it is not that easy. First I have to take the MRI. I have to do lot’s of other things promising to be too damn expensive for me to do, so instead I get ice and a calcium pill.

In Korea, right now, all of this bullshit would cost me about six dollars maximum. I’d be back working within the week.

If worse comes to worst I’ll fly over to Korea for a medical holiday because the round trip plane ticket would cost me a lot less than an MRI or surgery here in Battle Creek, and plus I’d get to visit Korea, maybe even teach some classes, working for cash money on the barrel head.

I miss that too, the feel of having money in my pocket. Of paying my way and paying for others, sharing the wealth.

And respect, not just because of the money but also because in that region of the world they venerate teachers, they pray to teachers just as they do the Buddha!

Here, as a substitute teacher, I’d get more respect shoveling shit.

Original Mother-In-Law Diary

Sometimes I look at the other expats here, living the wild single-guy lifestyles we westerners imagine so unique, edgy, cool. Booze and broads and late-night drunken motor-scooter adventures in our Korean-Western micro-culture here in Busan. Then I wonder if my lot is rather dull. I am not one, as much as I have tried at times, to enjoy the Gonzo, too-cool lifestyle. I‘m married, with two kids, and live with my mother-in-law. I work a hellish schedule, hoping to one day afford economic opportunities for my wife and boys, and of course for me. It‘s dull. I get sick of the brats and mothers, and college class-skippers and crying babies, day in and day out, a seemingly never-ending cycle.

But occasionally I slow down enough to really look around. I sit on the floor next to my mother-in-law and we nibble pickled pigs feet before bed. I do live with my mother-in-law. She‘s a dongdongju bootlegger for neighborhood oldies, brewing it in the kitchen with rice, molasses, barley and yeast. She checks her potion by holding a flame over the crock, watching how it burns. It is ready when, if the cap is on too tight, the wine bottle bursts from the pressure of excessive fermentation. I look into the unheated, brown honey-pot of rice wine. The potion is in motion, fermenting, churning as if the crock were still simmering on a low heat. Above the humid and sweet-smelling crock, swarms of tiny drunken fruit flies blissfully dance about.

Every morning at ten o‘clock the house is rocking with elderly drunk-junkies cheering on my son, who is center stage, dancing on the table among the butts and ashes, pork ribs and fish bones, and various Korean liquors. Holding a spoon in his hand for an impromptu microphone, he blurts out his new versions of mommy-daddy trot music and wiggles his butt as the drunken old women clap, howling in hysterics.

My neighbors get drunk two to three times a day after retirement, and seem the happier for it aside from the racking coughs and occasional rheumatic attacks. And of course there are those neighbors who should never touch alcohol. One neighbor binges once a week. He‘s nice until the dongdongju takes hold, then he is a sleepless, quarrelsome vandal for three days and forces all the neighbors to kick his ass or chase him out with a broom. Even my young son is allowed to hiss at this local wino. In a few days the man sobers up, disappearing for a week, preparing for his next humiliating episode.

On summer evenings, when all the neighbors sit outside drinking and barbecuing, perched upon homemade tables, avoiding the musty heat of their cramped little jutek houses, children, furtive and fearful, peak into our dusty old courtyard. It is a maze kimchi pots, ramyun boxes and massive spider webs within which roost goblin-black spiders big enough to gobble up a large roach. Occasionally in our bedroom, a seemingly arm‘s-length centipede treads up above us. We hear his feet softly click upon the wallpaper. The wife kills him with a hammer. She shows me its fangs before the bug disappears into a broth for dinner‘s stamina side dish.

Down the street is a gang of neighborhood thug dogs. Not the American gun-totin‘ thug dawgs, but a pack of half-wild heel nippers. There‘s even a burly miniature Doberman. But he‘s not the top shit-dog. The top shit-dog couldn‘t give a fuck about tough looks, papers and lineage registry. The top shit-dog is a young pup whose mom is in heat a lot. They all flock around this bitch‘s house, wiry, willin‘ and free, while the feral dingo-like Jindo dogs remain chained up and pacing in the courtyards. One neighbor has a tiger-striped Jindo that looks part wolf. We keep our fair distance, he and I.

In the morning on a cool spring day with a warm summer breeze, my wife kisses me goodbye, ties my oldest kid to my back and I step onto the side of our little mountain. The hills are terraced, blooming with kale and cabbage and soybeans. A small park sits on top. If I squint and avoid gazing too far into the smog; if I suck in deeply the pungent aromas of vegetation after a light rain, it seems I have found a tiny piece of Tibet or Nepal right here among the whirling racket of industrial Busan. I have no hangover and the boy on my back is singing his self-made family love song. Finally, I clearly recall what life as a young bachelor really was. Desperately, drunkenly crawling from pub to pub with loneliness and frustrated yearning churning within and without my self, a churning not dissimilar to the churning of my mom‘s freshly brewed dongdongju. Finally, I realize that dongdongju churning, bubbling and brewing beside me fits so much better inside me.