Archive for the ‘Travel Vignettes and Advice’ Category

Do not go to the Dalat 244 Bar.

November 29, 2015

 

me and mia bui vien enhanced

About a month ago I got a call from my old pal, the artist otherwise known as Dewey. Dewey is a good guy. Probably too good. He’s the kind of guy that makes a lot of money and spends it on everyone. So of course he’s welcome at the Dalat 244. He invited me to that address for beers on him. Within fifteen minutes I was sitting next to him drinking my first Heineken.

On a normal Saturday night I am embarrassed to admit, I can drink about twenty beers and somehow make it home in one piece. But, I was broke, and didn’t want to be a complete mooch. I had five beers on Dewey then left for home.

That’s about as much as I remember.

I came to briefly, straddling my rent-a-motorbike. Somehow I called Rita to tell her I had no idea where I was. After listening to her screech a few brief seconds I realized I was right on Pham Ngu Lau, pointed in the direction of home. Yet somehow everything looked so different, a swirling black sky full of bouncing neon bubbles, motorbikes beeping and taxis swirling like so many snowflakes.

It was then I realized I was somewhat scraped. The bike was a bit bent.

I don’t remember the rest but assume I followed my customary actions, driving home very very slowly.

The next morning I woke up for work and noticed my pillow was wet. It was covered in blood. I went to the bathroom and realized I’d crashed my bike.

“How did this happen?” Rita asked.

I told her it was the beer but had a funny feeling it wasn’t.

“Dewey,” I asked him on the phone, “what do you usually do at Dalat 244?”

“They have a couch,” he explained, “I pass out on it, usually wake up just before dawn and head home.” He wasn’t about to admit they probably cleaned out his wallet on the daily, but knowing Dewey I assume they did.

“I think they roofied me. You know, rohypnol,” I told him, explaining what’d happened.

“You’re full of shit!” he said, “you were drunk! I fed you like twenty beers!”

“Five,” I told him, “I have my pride.”

“No you don’t!” He laughed. I did too.

But I knew something was up, and the realization that I could’ve crashed and died did not sit well with me. So to be certain of my suspicions I met Dewey there again a week later, this time walking, no motorcycle. I drank about five beers again.

Sure enough, it happened again.

When I came to I was face down on a floor behind the bar. Someone rolled me over, a woman. She stepped on my chest to pin me down.

“Baaaaa! Baaaa!” That’s about all I could say as she stood above me, straddling my limp figure and fondling my wallet, kicking me around lightly with her foam platforms.

I managed to get up and get my wallet back. I made it out to the parlor where poor Dewey lay drooling on the couch. I shook him. He smiled and blew spit bubbles. I left. Once again I got lost in the dancing whirl of light and shadow, though just a hundred yards from Mimosa, a place I’ve frequented for years.

Still, I got home in one piece. “Why are there foot prints on your chest?” Rita asked when she answered the door.

“Why is your head bleeding? Asked Josh and Caleb.

I declined to answer in specifics.

The fool that I am, I decided to confront the whores, and went there that night, hollering to the German tourists inside, “They put something in the beer! They made me pass out and emptied my wallet!

That didn’t sit well with the ladies. One of them ran out with a pipe and hit me in the ribs. I ran away to Mimosa, where for the next three hours we watched various groups of northern Europeans battle it out against whores with pipes.

Then not three days ago I was discussing the incidents with some of my drinking buddies and another guy spoke up, “They got me at that bar for three hundred American dollars in cash,” the guy said, “I’d just happened to’ve had a lot more cash than usual on me. But I’d hid it in my shoe, under the insole. They still got it!” he explained, “I went home in my socks.”

I’d seen that happen before on Bui Vien, white folks staggering along, stripped to their soiled underoos.

“You guys exaggerate!” Dewey scoffed.

“Easy for you to say,” said Canadian Phil, “You just happen to enjoy getting roofied by whores. We all know that. You’ve been doing it for years now.”

Dewey laughed, “They got some new girls there. Don’t mind if I do.”

Don’t mind if I don’t. And I recommend you don’t. Don’t visit the Dalat 244 Bar. Avoid this spot if you’re not into getting roofied for your cash, shoes and socks.

Advertisements

If You Like Korea So Much – Just Live There Then!

August 12, 2012
I admit, on Facebook I tend to rub in my fellow Americans’ faces the fact that I live in a country that is prospering, safe and with excellent medical. Part of me wants to stick my tongue out at all the idiots assuming that universal health care will bankrupt a country already bankrupt by pointless wars they supported and the banks they still support. But another part of me would like to think they might learn something from Korea.
Unfortunately most Americans don’t like the idea of learning things from other countries. Somehow their pride tells them that it’s more honorable to remain ignorant, to the point of risking their lives, than it is to learn something from another, more prosperous country. But that’s not all. Some of my old classmates back in the states have told me that they know for a fact that everyone in South Korea lives in mud huts, with nothing but coal to cook on!
I send them pictures of apartments, of the masses of people out spending their money on expensive shopping goods. They reply that I don’t know anything about Korea – they do – because they lived on an American military base in Korea for 3 months – and their captain told them – Korea is poor – and Korean food kills people.

The most entertaining reply I get is that if I love Korea so much then I should just live there! Well, okay, I can do that. They tell me they’d rather die for lack of pennicillin than leave their beloved country. Whereas I’m a traitor. I have no loyalty to my homeland.

It doesn’t bother me too much to hear this. In fact I find it amusing. I look at citizenship the same way I look at any relationship with a friend or lover. If I had a wife or friend that lied to me, stole from me, cheated on me and made a fool of me by leaving me with nothing and spending all my money on some other wealthy man who’d done nothing for me, would I stay with this person? No, I don’t think I would.

Thank You Park Tae Hwan For Ruining My Lap Swimming

August 12, 2012
 I’d forgotten about the small peculiarities in Korea that make life momentarily frustrating… how Koreans tend to see doorways as places to sit and relax, or to stack fragile glassware on the floor. How the Korean kids, though much better than American kids, are never taught not to snatch anything they want from anyone at all and then tear it to pieces.
But these are small things. The average Korean might run you over to get in a door before you, and then slam it in your face. But once inside that door he will give you the shirt off his back, feed you and give you his bed to sleep in for as many months as you like. Compare this to the average American, who will politely open a door for you but once you pass by jam a knife in your back, metaphorically and/or literally.
Recently I’ve gotten back into lap swimming. Korea has changed a lot when it comes to swimming. In 1997 I had every lap pool in Pusan all to myself. Koreans wouldn’t go near them. I asked my students what the problem was and they told me that Koreans are genetically incapable of swimming. I mentioned that the Japanese seemed to do pretty well in the pool and they said that it was because Japan is surrounded by water so Japanese need to swim.
I argued that Korea is surrounded by water and there are always ladies diving for clams off of Yong Do. They argued back that although Korea is surrounded by water, Koreans originally hail from the Ural-Altai, which is too cold for swimming, and that the women diving for clams were freaks of nature. I countered, then why do Koreans claim they are so genetically incapable of handling the cold, if they originally hail from Siberia? On and on it went, in the never-ending circles of every argument the world over.

Then in 2006, along came Park Tae Hwan, winning all kinds of swimming medals up and down the board. Now I can’t find a free lane anywhere. Thanks to Mr. Park, the Korean genome has mutated to allow for a more than capable capacity to swim. Every lane is packed with at least 9 people, day and night.

And they swim like they drive. Meaning that the right of way goes to the person bold enough to jump in front of the person who actually does have the right of way, and this person has to stop dead or get clobbered.  So much for keeping my heart rate up for thirty minutes.

The beach is an option but it’s too hot to swim mid-day at the beach. So occasionally I’ve attempted to swim after 6 p.m. Nowadays Korean beaches have lifeguards. According to the lifeguards, the physical qualities of Korean water change after 6 p.m.. Suddenly it becomes much more dangerous. So I get chased out of the water by lifeguards that likely swim a lot worse than I do, because in Korea swimming after 6 p.m. leads to mass drownings.

I wish Park Tae Hwan were here to dissuade them, but alas, he’s in England right now, changing more Korean genomes.

Meanwhile Back in The States… The Gun Debate

August 6, 2012
 Meanwhile in America the gun debate runs rampant. Highly intelligent arguments exist on both sides with neither side able to detract from the fact that there are a lot of screwed up Americans able to get their hands on guns, legal or not. That’s why in the end it always comes down to cultural values. Written laws do little to stop people. What moves people is culture; a sophisticated word for peer pressure; in America it happens to be getting your arsenal ahead of the Jones‘s.
Peer pressure is supposedly something teens struggle with. But that’s not true. Every human struggles with it everyday, for life. The Japanese recognized this centuries ago and utilized it in creating a nation of seemingly brainless worker bees, unable to think outside the box, and that Americans tend to laugh at with our imaginary sense of independent thinking. We tell ourselves we’re free. But it’s all a silly illusion. There’s not one of us not brainwashed. Not you. Not me.
Trying to prevent Americans from owning guns is like trying to stop Asians from eating rice. Trying to debate opinions on gun ownership is like trying to convince Koreans that electrical fans don’t kill people. Or trying to convince a Mormon out of his magic underwear. Or trying to convince a Christian that come judgment day dead people won’t dig their way out of the ground and kill all us sinners. In the end rationality very rarely comes into the picture, for anybody, any of us. Rationality is a quality we all struggle to maintain and cultivate. Fear, superstition and scapegoating come as naturally as breathing. So the debate won’t end until America ends. This is not to say I want America to end. It just means that all things end in the end.

Back in Korea, Paid and (Almost) Pain Free

August 6, 2012
Remarkable things have happened since moving back to Korea. Just as remarkable things happened to me the first time I moved here. That’s not to say remarkable things didn’t happen when I moved back to America. Incredibly remarkable things happened when I returned to America. Only those things were remarkable in their vast degree of negativity and all-round calamity. Negative enough I don’t care to discuss my time back in America other than to say that that country, its society, its people and its customs brought me down to the lowest I’d been since first leaving the states in 1997. My self-esteem was nil not 3 months ago. I knew there was just one way to regain it. Move back to Korea.
It’s been less than 2 months since I’ve been back. Not only am I again employed, well paid and highly respected. Even more important the back pain that left me an invalid for 4 years is now gone. In 2008 I fell hard; did enough damage to my back that I couldn’t even swim without spasms. I couldn’t sleep except in a reclining chair, couldn’t get dressed without help and was denied what is considered by most to be the best ESL job in world – because of the anti-inflammatory medication I needed for the injury.
As soon as I got back to Korea my mother-in-law’s neighbor began chipping away at my back pain with her handy little kit full of suction cups. She poked holes in my back with a tiny razor pin and drained the water off my back the way athletes might drain torn ankles and knees. It strikes me as ironic that had I had this type of medical attention available back in America at the time of my job offer with that Middle Eastern oil company, I might now be in Saudi Arabia making huge amounts for a teacher, taking vacations to any country, with my whole family, for free, several times a year, for long intervals. But what can I do? Honesty is overrates. Lay down and let the neighbor keep on cupping. That’s about all I can do.
She does it for free. If I were to go and get it done by the doctor it’d be 30 bucks a suck minimum, and I wouldn’t get all the extra attention. Whenever my neighbor does work on my back she also employs the help of my mother-in-law, Rita, Caleb and Josh. They get to sit around my back fascinated by all the different colors and textures of liquid coming out. The first week or so all of the blood was really dark, what western doctors call sludge, half-coagulated dead blood cells from an old injury. It had lumps of stuff that looked like processed cheese. This, my neighbor said, is cholesterol. I should not eat anymore bacon.
Maybe the cheesy stuff actually is cholesterol. But I think the dark thick stuff is definitely coagulated dead blood cells left over from injuries possibly decades old, since she never really went to work on my back this hard when I was living here last. She used to just poke holes in my flesh and dab at me with a tissue. The suction cups are the latest element in my therapy. After a week or so the dark blood disappeared and I started getting what Rita says looks like foam. My take on it is that it’s probably more water on the back, so to speak. But my neighbor says that this is cholesterol, and I should quit eating bacon. The pricks in my back sting like hell, but the resultant regaining of youthful mobility and sound sleep prevents me from debating the topic of what exactly this foam might be.
The pain doesn’t disappear right away, not the way you might imagine, not like it would with a strong dose of those American fix-alls, codeine and all of it‘s addictive derivatives. At first there is just less pain and more mobility. Then there are new types of pain that replace the old. Sometimes it’s more severe but less debilitating. The second week I felt so good I decided to go for one of my old walks across the city. I walked  3 ½ hours before finally sitting down in a McDonald’s to use the toilet. I was contemplating how much younger I felt, how much more I planned to walk, when I got up and felt a sudden jerk of pain in my back, dead center, below the shoulder blades. It felt like the muscles were crumpling, like a crushed pop can, and it seized me for a minute so that I stood hunched about mid-way erect. But once I was straight it wasn’t so bad. My range of motion was good and I felt none of the guitar-string tightness I’ve had for countless years. Only, if I moved a certain way it hurt like hell.
 I came crawling back to my neighbor and she started at me right away, prodding around like a diviner looking for a wellspring of swelling in my back. She always finds one. Lately she’s getting perfectly clear liquid coming out of my back. This, she says, is cholesterol. I should stop eating so much bacon. I promised her I would. Then she invited me over for dinner. What’s she having? I asked. Bacon, she said..

Captain Q

August 27, 2010

Their first date was at a local bar. Beers, soju, gas grilled squid, silkworm larvae, and what seemed spicy barnacle soup to Brian. Her teeth speckled with seaweed paper, she fed Brian stinky strings of squid jerky. Later she suggested a video bang, a small room with vinyl couches, VCR and TV, typically frequented by young Korean college couples needing intimacy. She immediately pulled a random video from the video library’s shelf and took him to the softly glowing room.

Before previews ended she was naked. Her yellow skin flickered blue with TV images. She looked just as he’d hoped, an absolutely flat Asian abdomen curving into to a thin strip of hair, standing straight up, like a mohawk. And brown beer bottle nipples, big enough to hang a coat on. “Sex okay?” she whispered in his ear with a flick of her tongue, pulling him closer still. “No condom – no problem!” She said.

He’d brought a pack of Trojans across the world anticipating this moment. “American boy very good. Good size,” she cooed, “slowly please.”

And that was how it was every Sunday afternoon. She’d leave a message on his pager at two. They would rendezvous at three. By four he’d have a proper beer buzz and by six-thirty be snoozing in a small local hotel room, preparing for one more sex. “What you want?” She’d ask as they walked towards the maze of game rooms and coffee shops behind Lotte Department Store.

He’d smile wide, embarrassed, and shrug, asking if she wanted to see a movie. But she always said the same thing, pulling him down by his neck and whispering sex in his ear. Then she’d lead him to a dark empty bar where she’d sit on his lap and spoon feed him, pour beers down his gullet, whispering, “beer good stamina. Drink.” Then she’d cackle loudly and breathe stinking kimchi breath in his face. He’d look at her smudged red lipstick and crooked teeth and drink more beer. She always paid.

Sometimes she’d buy bottles and bring them to the hotel with a box of chicken. She’d undress and straddle him, pushing knobby nipples into his neck, shoving a drumstick in his mouth. She’d have him on his back and pour the beers down his throat, grip his neck between her thighs, giggle and rotate her narrow Asian hips. Her crotch always smelled of expensive perfume.

In three hours they’d have sex six, sometimes seven times. Ten minutes on, thirty minutes off, something like that. She had very effective methods, always practical, nothing more. She’d yodel, moan, whisper his name and praise his ability, do whatever, to keep him steady and ready. He couldn’t figure what kept them going, particularly him, for so many intervals. Sometimes he thought it beer and soju. Other times he assumed it was six days of hard work and loneliness. Maybe it was just being in a new country, in a new hotel room with an exotic girl that he could barely talk to. Maybe it was her size. She was tiny, in more than one way, and it made him feel powerful, manly. Probably it was all these things. Whichever it was, they both new it wasn’t love and neither wanted that. Neither asked for more than Sunday.

“You marry me okay?” She asked once, half joking, half serious.

“Umm… No.” He said, not wanting to explain.
“Why?”
“Uh… You marry me okay?”
“No! Mommy kill me!” She grimaced and pulled her finger along her throat. She said, “I marry Korean boy. But I keep you Sunday. Okay?”
“No. You marry, I go.”
“Why?” she said, then she pulled him onto her without expecting an answer.

This was the extent of intimacy. Sometimes he’d bring her flowers, but usually she forgot and left them in the hotel room. Sometimes they’d show each other photos. He had pictures of friends, his family and his dogs. She had high school pictures of picnics at the American military base next to her house. Most pictures of her were on base, picnicking or eating nachos in the on-base Taco Bell. Some pictures were cut up, a forgotten serviceman sliced out.

* * *

One Thursday night Brian went down to Texas Street. It was a Korean holiday, no Friday or Saturday classes. He sat in the pouring rain, outside his favorite pojang macha, ordered a beer and watched hookers and hostess girls walk by. Burly Russian hostesses with metal teeth, platinum blonde hair and green leopard-pattern stoles strolled stiffly down the street, their big white feet crammed into tiny platform shoes. Next to Brian sat Mike, a retired military man. Draped around Mike was his slender Phillipina lover, a hostess on coffee brake.

Fast or feast Brian.” Mike said. “Only way yer gonna get laid here, cause there’s only two kinds of Korean girls – one’s that fast and one’s that feast. Don’t expect to get some nice girl that aint a virgin. And don’t expect some Korean virgin won’t want to marry you after you violate her!” Mike’s lover poured drinks into his mouth and stroked his neck.

Brian watched this familiar scenario, finished his beer and headed to a Russian hostess club. The interior blinked in and out of sight. Strobe lights, mirrors and disco balls materialized and disappeared again to the rhythm of a sped-up Russian techno-ballad. On a small platform an Uzbek girl stiffly danced in a pink G-string bikini. On the dance floor drunken sailors groped at hostesses, grinding slowly to the fast music. Two men jerkily hopped about, glorious, vodka-induced passion. Lonely hostesses faced the wall, wriggling, making love to their mirror images.

In a dark corner on the right, Brian’s Sunday lover – what was her name? Sun-Jue – sat with two Korean women, two bottles of soju, a table full of empty beers and two bottles of Captain Q, a rotgut Korean whisky. All of them were smoking. One woman was rail thin, with bulging eyes and an uncommonly long, hooked nose. She reminded Brian of crack-heads back home. The other girl wore bright orange eyeliner, orange glossy lipstick, long fake eyelashes and red rouge on her cheeks. Her nose was also uncommon, oddly angled as if placed upon her face. The overall effect was of a colorful clown posing as a chubby raccoon. She had a big, kind smile and was staring at a wall.

Brian did not want to see Sun-Jue tonight. But then again, he did. He wanted something and didn’t want to pay. So he sat down with them. Sun-Jue grabbed him by the neck and took a shot of whisky. She pulled her mouth to Brian’s and spat whisky in it. She thought this romantic, but her breath stunk. Brian decided to hang out long enough to sober her up, then take her home, brush her teeth and shower her. Then they’d have sex. This would be her first time at his house. He could light up the room with candles. Let the storm winds gust through the curtains and over them. With enough liquor it might be romantic.

She spit in his mouth again and poured him a boilermaker, lit him a cigarette, placed it between his lips and sucked the smoke shotgun from his mouth. Lipstick smeared across her face. She forced him to the dance floor and ground herself on his thigh until it hurt. Then she whispered, “You dance with my friend. She lonely now.” He said no, but she insisted. So now this other woman was grinding painfully into his thigh. She was enjoying it, too much. He looked around. Nobody seemed to notice. In fact others were doing the same. He saw that Sun-Jue noticed, so was dragging an embarrassed Russian man into a corner couch.

Brian decided to go. He went to the table and sat next to the Russian man. The man apologized and moved away from Sun-Jue, suggesting Brian take her home. He pulled her up and they walked out to catch a taxi. In the taxi she rested her head on his shoulder. Neither talked.

When he got out of the taxi she slid down onto the seats and curled up. Sleeping. He pulled her up but she refused, slapping at him and shaking him off with a feminine snarl. So he dragged her out by the arms. She took a step and her ankle buckled. She smashed her knees on the ground and crawled through the gutter water. He tried to help her up, but she swayed with all her weight. So he picked her up, tossed her over his shoulder, and carried her through the streets. Korean neighbors sat in open doorways watching the rains, drinking soju, smoking and playing poker. Every head turned to watch the white man carrying home a poor, innocent-but-drunken Korean girl. All assumed and every mouth moved quietly as Brian passed.

He lit the candles and undressed her. He saw she was menstruating, so attempted to put her in his pajamas but she pulled at him and tried to straddle his face. She shoved herself at him and said “Kiss me down there, Captain.” He got away while she rolled around the vinyl covered, concrete floor, moaning as if in ecstasy. “Oh Captain,” she said, “kiss me there, very good, slowly..slowly. Yes. Yes. Aah, mmm. Captain.” Her body squirmed as if they were having sex and she kept crying out to captain. “I love you Captain. Push slow Captain!” He wrapped her up in a blanket and brought her some water. She took a drink and then spit it out on the floor. “Fucking! Motherfuck! Shit! Demmit fuck! Son of bitchie!” She slapped at his face and fell on the floor crying.

Brian felt a wet gust hit his face from the window and Sun-Jue shuttered. Her pale, swollen yellow face, smeared make-up and crooked teeth looked so wretched by candlelight. Another gust blew the curtains open and lightning crackled close outside lighting up this twisted scene with this wicked woman. His mind flashed with thoughts of menstrual blood, VD, AIDS. No condom, no problem, he thought.

Once more she pulled his face towards her open thighs and he got up to leave the room. She moaned again. For a while she called Brian’s name but then called for Captain. Finally she was quiet so he tried to cover her, but she crawled to him, pulled at him and begged for kisses down there. Finally he left. He closed the door and went to the living room. Soon she was quiet. He waited an hour and went in, dressed her in pajamas and covered her with a blanket. Then he took a pillow, went to the living room, lay down and closed his eyes.

Soi Min Part 3

December 11, 2009

The Karen clans, Soi Min tells me, fare the worst of all the clans in Burma. Some of Battle Creek’s refugees are Karen. Typically they have almost no education, and they’ve experienced unspeakable atrocities. Yet they’re kind, polite and hungry for education.

Having so much experience with well-adjusted Korean ESL students, I tend to approach my Burmese students with the same level of animation that Koreans have. So I’ve walked towards new Karen students ready to shake their hands and pat them on the shoulder.

But when a Karen sees you approach in this way, he has this look about him, this posture that says maybe you’d better slow down and back up a foot or two. Keep in mind most of these refugees are about five-foot tall. It doesn’t matter. You can sense that it’s best to tread lightly.

It’s like when a good, loyal, loving dog, (let’s say a Staffy-Bull since Staffies are loyal, affectionate and tough), has had to spend his life caged, starved and beaten so that he seems to despise everyone and everything.

And then he’s suddenly released into a new environment. He knows that things are different now, and yet he doesn’t know how to orient his thoughts in this new environment. Everything he knows is based on the abuse. And so you never know how he might interpret your actions or how he might respond.

It’s very sad, to meet Karen and realize how they’ve had it. But like I said, somehow they have this spirit, it seems to me intrinsic, that keeps them appearing positive, and definitely hard-working and caring; their values have not been destroyed by genocide, and they long for the American Dream.

Soi Min Part 2

December 1, 2009

I asked Soi Min where he was stationed, “Mizoram, Bangladesh and Chin State in Northern Burma.”

I asked what he ate, “Bamboo shoots and snails,” he smiled, like a fox, swallowing a mouthful of buttered yam. I asked about rice, “We carried only rice and matches. Sometimes only matches.”

He said that that the Mizoram, clans from Northeast India, supplied (and supply) medicine and beans. Sometimes his unit and other rebel units cultivated gourd and corn in the jungle. During seasonal Spring and Harvest they bought pigs and feasted with villagers. During monsoon they hid in bamboo thickets so thick that nobody bothered them except leaches and mosquitoes.

I told him that I know all about Himalayan leaches! How they stick like the worst kind of booger! Like sticky white rice, only sucking your blood at a magnificent rate, all brown and hard and swollen on the main vein of your thigh.

He said he had to carry netting with him at all times but had got malaria anyways. I told him I’d seen the clouds of mosquitoes but he just laughed at me, this guy!

He did this for three years, while his wife, also a Burmese refugee in India, snuck into Burma to hand out anti-government pamphlets.

This was in Mizoram State, a border-state full of jungles and no-man’s lands, one of the most beautiful places in the world. One of the poorest – and richest.

Burma has always been one of Asia’s richest countries in natural resources.

Rubies, lots. Oil and gas. Teak. Hydropower. Any gemstone or metal imaginable almost.

And the people in Burma, nothing but poverty, brutality and despair for 99% of the population.

The Junta Formerly Known as SLORC (as I like to call them in honor of the artist formerly known as Prince) uses the methods of George Orwell in 1984. Newspeak. Thoughtcrime.

Newspeak is a clever form of linguistic segregation. Although linguistic segregation exists everywhere around the world and in every culture, the Burmese Junta takes it to it to the extreme.

They use that shifting of words, changing definitions that Orwell wrote about. For example, SLORC or State Law and Order Council. Their actual mission is to break laws and create disorder.

The name SLORC changed after a bit, just as names do in Newspeak. They changed to SPDC, State Peace and Development Council, whose mission it is to be violent and destroy. Eventually this name will change, and then finally there will some man from 1984, beating you to death, until you finally understand his logic. He holds up three fingers and says, “How many?” You answer, “five,” and he tells you that your mind is getting healthier every day.

Understand?

This is Newspeak, and so we will speak new, today. That sort of thing.

Burma’s junta calls Burma The Union of Myanmar. Would you guess that it’s the same kind of union we have in America? No? No – and yes.

The Union of Burma is actually a bunch of warring clans. Each clan, each village, speaks a different language and has different customs. The communication difficulty creates culture shock and xenophobia, and so not only do the clans fight against one another, but each village hates the next village, each family hates the next family, and so on and so forth as it’s been since before written text, in them thar hills; Himalayan Hatfield and McCoy, Bloods and Crips, Blacks and Whites, so on and so forth.

On a national level the government promotes the kind of xenophobia that would make the folks at Fox News envious – with huge rallies against all outsiders at any level, whom they accuse of being, “democratic,” (which in Burma’s Newspeak, means to be a western colonial power like America or England).

Oh yes, the Burmese know all about Christopher Columbus.

The military leaders in the meantime do not allow any minority languages in the schools (like America’s English Only Laws).

This means each minority is bound to fail in school (like in America) because they only know the language that they spoke at home most of their lives, on some giant hill a three days walk from school. In each village the people have spoken nothing but clan languages for centuries and consider it a point of pride to maintain their identity (like minorities in America).

Language segregation has been used, successfully, by Burma’s rulers for centuries also, so it should be no wonder that George Orwell discovered his muse for three different novels, 1984, Animal Farm, and Burmese Days, in those jungly hill stations that Soi Min kept telling me me about.

To Be Continued…..

Soi Min from Mizoram Part 1

November 29, 2009

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!”

Original Mother-In-Law Diary

November 3, 2009

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.


%d bloggers like this: