Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Elephant in the Room: Part 2

With the exception of Jesus himself, King Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived.  And even he made mistakes with women.  He had over 400 wives, and many of them being pagan gentiles who unwisely influenced King Solomon in decisions regarding the Kingdom of Israel.  Even the wisest man in the history of the world made unwise decisions regarding women, and suffered the consequences regarding them.  It says a lot about the power of a beautiful woman.

I decided to take Tae Hee out to dinner at a restaurant that serves Kalbi, deliciously grilled Korean pork, on a Friday night after work.  I had eaten at this restaurant before, and decided that it would be a great place to take a date.  I took Tae Hee there, and it went as well as it could have gone.  She looked amazing.  She wore this dress unique to the sense of style of Korean Women.  It was classy, modern, and looked good on her.  Most of the date consisted her making fun of the way I talk.  She showed me her sense of humor, as she is a hilarious mimic.   

Tae Hee and I live near each other, and both of our homes are roughly a kilometer from the restaurant.  It was a rainy night as it had been doing so all day.  She wouldn't allow me to see exactly where she lived, so during our walks home on every meeting, she would stop me at a certain point and say "I am near my home,"  and she would insist on going the rest of the way alone.  On the walk home that night, arm holding progressed to hand holding.  We came to the point where she would proceed to the house alone.  We stopped in the pouring down rain under my umbrella while holding hands.  I asked her, "Is it ok if I kissed you?"  She nodded, as the 'elephant' was still 'in the room.'

Every day, I finish work at around 10pm.  We sort of developed a habit of meeting at around 11.  We would meet at a particular place in our neighborhood, then proceed to Pungam Lake.  

On one particular meeting, she took me to a pagoda where we sat, and enjoyed the amazing view of the mountains, and high rise apartments on a full moon night.  She said to me, "Chrisu, I have known since I was young girl that American man think Korean girl are easy."

"I don't see you that way at all.  I see you as a beautiful, kind, intelligent lady with a great sense of humor.  I enjoy being with you."

She blushed, then took out her smart phone, and opened her translator app, entered various Korean characters, which were translated into the word, conservative.  "Chrisu, how do you pronounce?"


"I am conservative girl, and I wonder of your intention."

I reassured her in the best way that I possibly could.  I told her, "I am not like other guys.  You will see that when we get to know each other more."  

 "Chrisu, you are good man."

She mentioned in her broken English that she had been thinking about the future regarding the two of us, and while listening, I couldn't help but think of 'the elephant in the room.'  I felt like I was obligated to mention it to her.  I finally mustered the courage to bring it up.  "I have a concern."  I paused, then proceeded, "You are Buddhist, and I'm a Christian." 

She seemed almost surprised that I brought it up.  She forgot that she even mentioned it to me (If she didn't, she acted as if she did).  And I reminded her of the time she told me that she "trusted Buddha."  She, once again, took out her telephone, opened the translator app, entered various Korean characters, that translated into the word, barrier.

"Chrisu, we have two barrier."  She pronounced the word, barrier, incorrectly.  I smiled because of her endearing broken English, and corrected her mispronunciation.  We talked previously of the first barrier, communication, which was difficult, but we were able to overcome it, and still thoroughly enjoy each other's company.  The difference in religion was a considerably larger barrier.  

She said again,  "Chrisu, you are good man, but this must be last time we meet.  We have two barrier."

I didn't take what she said seriously, as our meeting proceeded as if the conversation didn't happen.  We were probably around two kilometers from her house.  As we walked home, we did so slowly.  When it came time for her to proceed to her home by herself, she stopped and said, "Chrisu, do you remember our conversation?"  I played dumb.  "We have two barrier.  This must be last time we meet."  

I don't know what came over me.  Despite the fact that I also knew that the difference in views was indeed a huge barrier, and especially knowing that one, or even both of the parties were adamant in their views, I protested.  "The chemistry that the two of us have is rare.  You can't simply turn it off like a switch."  She nodded, as I proceeded.  "It will be difficult…  for both of us."

While holding her, I protested once more.  "You can't simply turn it off.  It's going to be difficult."  We kissed one last time, and went our separate ways. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Elephant in the Room: Part 1

I realize that I told all of you that I would write more about my visit to Seoul, but something more interesting has happened to me over the course of these last several weeks.  I met somebody.  And an interesting factor, that probably happens more frequently than not in Korea, came between us.  It was sort of the "elephant in the room."  For the sake of protecting her identity, I will call her Tae Hee.  

Tae Hee is a woman that hung out with the same friends that I hung out with, but she was one of those shy girls that sort of kept her distance.  She had beautiful long jet black hair, and looked unmistakably Korean.  She was extremely attractive, as she was well dressed, and composed herself elegantly.  Her English is, quite honestly, not very good, and it was difficult to converse with her.  But I found her broken English to be extremely endearing.  

Whenever I would say anything to her, her face would turn red, she would cover her mouth, crack an enormous smile, laugh, compose herself, then reply.  I really enjoyed it whenever she did that, so my goal was to cause her do that as often as possible.  I asked her if she had a boyfriend, which is a completely normal and kosher question in Korea.  She said that she didn't.  I then asked for her number, and she gave it to me.

Initially, she played hard to get.  She didn't answer any of my texts or calls.  I eventually told her in the form of a text, "I understand that ladies in Korea don't answer if they are not interested.  If you want me to leave you alone, I will."  

She finally replied, "I like you as friend, but nothing can happen with us because you are foreigner." 

I answered, "I am half a foreigner."  And I left her alone.  I still saw her whenever our friends would get together.  And she would still cover her mouth, smile, laugh, compose herself, then reply whenever I would say anything to her.  So, again, I wanted to see her do that as often as possible, but this time, without calling or texting her.

On a random night, I had a dream about her.  I dreamed that she was standing in front of me, silent, and waiting for me to make a move.  And she was ready to move on.  I saw it all in her face.  Then I woke up.  

I saw her a few days later, and the manner in which she looked at me confirmed the validity of the dream that I had about her.  So that night, I called her, as her number was still saved in my telephone.  She answered after three rings.

"Yoboseyo,"  which is the Korean telephone greeting.

"Hey Tae Hee."

"Oh! Chrisu?!"  Koreans pronounce my name, Chrisu.  

"How are you?"  

"I am so-so,"  she replied in a very strong Korean accent, as I was able to hear her laughing.

"What are you doing?"

"I am watching drama on TV."  K-ladies love K-dramas.

"Come meet me at Tom n' Toms for coffee."  It was 10:45pm.

"When?!  Tomorrow?!"  

"Meet me tonight."  I knew she lived near Tom n' Toms, a popular destination for coffee in my neighborhood.  She paused.

"I'm not wearing makeup.  I'm wearing comfortable clothes."  She gave a textbook 'sales objection.'  Prior to teaching in Korea, I had a job in sales for two years.  Sales skills are quite useful in interactions with ladies. 

"Put on some makeup, change your clothes, and come meet me,"  was my confident reply to overcome the objection.  She paused again.

"Tom n' Tom?."

"Yes.  Meet me at 11:30."


With a language barrier present, conversations can be quite frank, and "matter of fact."  I made my way there when it came time to meet her.

"Chrisu?"  I heard her as I was walking on my way to Tom n' Toms.  It was Tae Hee.  As always, she was well dressed, but this time, she was not wearing makeup.  And it was the first time I saw her without it.
"You look better when you don't wear makeup,"  I told her honestly, because she did.  She looked down, and blushed.

We made our way to the coffee shop together, and had an incredible time.  There is no mistaking the chemistry when two people are strongly, and equally attracted to each other, even with the presence of a language barrier.  I found out she loved music, and had terrific taste.  She loved baseball, and vowed to take me to a game.  She told me about her family.  And I also found out that she was fluent in Chinese, as that was her major in College.   

I asked her, "Do you go to church?"

She paused before replying slowly and carefully in her broken English with a strong Korean accent, "I…  trust in Buddha."

"Hmm…"  I nodded, and changed the subject.  And the great night continued, but with the "elephant" now firmly imbedded "in the room."

Those who know me know that I am a practicing Christian.  And I am unwavering in my beliefs.  It is a huge factor in determining a partner because I strive to make pleasing Christ the highest priority in my life.

As I stated earlier, I would venture to state that this is probably a scenario that happens more often than not in Korea.  Christians and Buddhists coexist here, and do so remarkably peacefully.  According to Wikipedia, 29.4% of Koreans are Christian, while 22.8% are Buddhist. 

Stay tuned.  I'll tell you the rest of the story about Tae Hee and I in my next post.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Holiday Weekend

Allow me to start by stating that Seoul is now my favorite city in the world.  I love the fast paced energy.  It is similar to that of New York, and it both fuels and focuses me.  I love how you can get lost in the crowd.  Many people don't like that aspect, but I've never been turned down for help when I have asked for it.  I love the tall buildings, and I enjoy riding the subway.  I downloaded a map to my Ipod, and it was easy to figure out.  The Korean ladies dress differently, and well.  They wear modest tops, short skirts, and high heels.  I am amazed at how fast, and seemingly comfortable, that they are able to walk in them.

I didn't eat much Korean food there.  The first place I went after finding my hostel, and unloading my bags, was Itaewon, a district in Seoul where most of the westerners are.  A lot of western restaurants are in Itaewon.  I went there because I had a strong craving for a half pound homemade style hamburger with fries, and figured that that particular area would be the best place to find one.  I found a "hole in the wall" restaurant off of the main road, and I ordered a jalapeno ranch burger with fries, and a sprite.  It was delicious, filling, and hit the spot.

One of the only Korean meals that I ate in Seoul was a delicious noodle dish with dumplings, called kalguksu.  It was the most memorable meal that I ate in my previous visit, and I had to have it again.  The problem was that I had no clue as to where the exact restaurant was, but I knew it was famous among Seoulites.  So I stopped a random lady on the street, and asked her, "Kalguksu Odee eetseyo? (Where can I find kalguksu?)"

The lady replied, "Myeongdong."  And I had the feeling that she knew the exact restaurant that I had in mind, so I immediately made my way there.  Myeongdong is a shopping district in the heart of Seoul.  There is a North Face store, an Apple store, and a Lacoste store among seemingly thousands of others.  It was immensely crowded.  I walked around the district, and perused the stores, as I searched for the restaurant.  I knew there would be a long line in front of it, so I looked for that, and eventually found it.  There was a line of probably 75 people, but it moved fast.

The kalguksu, and the kimchi was just as I had remembered it.  I am a texture eater, and the texture of the noodles was amazing.  Every family, and restaurant that serves Korean food in Korea, makes Kimchi.  And no two recipes are the same.  I love tasting the differences in people's recipes.  Here is a picture of the kalguksu served at the restaurant in Myeongdong.

I have a confession to make.  I didn't take a single picture on this visit.  The pictures that I am using are from the previous trip, but I'll assure you, the kalguksu looked and tasted exactly the same.

Monday was Memorial day in Korea, so I made my way to Seoul National Cemetery to pay my respects to my Uncle, who is buried there.  He was killed in the Korean war when my mother was a young girl.  She speaks glowingly about him, as he was a great man, and is a huge reason why my mother is a christian today, as he was the first person to tell her about Jesus.  Both my mother, and my uncle in New Orleans are fantastic singers, and he taught them both how to do so.  

Seoul National Cemetery was extremely crowded on Monday, and I was the only foreigner there, among thousands of Koreans.  There were numerous venders selling flowers and food.  And the most interesting thing to see was how Korean families payed their respects.  Most brought food, and had picnics at the respective gravesite of the person that they were paying respects to.  It was beautiful.  Children were everywhere, and teenagers volunteered to help those who were unfamiliar with the area.  The teenagers were simply being teenagers, and were rambunctiously goofing off, while being helpful on the few occasions that people actually needed help.  I found it to be funny.  

I had pictures of my uncle's grave saved in my ipod, so I went to the information office, and showed them to the attendant.  He marked exactly where it was on a map of the cemetery, and I made my way there.  As I did so among all of the people, I couldn't help but feel proud, and emotional.  My uncle was among all of the fallen heroes that this holiday was dedicated to.  And not only that, I was proud because he was a wonderful man who had a profound effect on my mother, and thus our family.  

Again, I didn't take a single picture on this visit.  I forgot to bring my camera, and wasn't thinking about photo ops.  But to give you a frame of reference, here are a few pictures from my previous visit.  Just picture sunny weather, and the cemetery being a lot more crowded with people picnicking on various grave sites.

The weather during my first visit was foggy, and rainy.  The weather on my memorial day visit was sunny and clear, and unlike the previous visit, I was able to see the Seoul skyline from this exact spot.  It was beautiful.


The Gravesite of my uncle, Choi Sung Gi

I'll have more on my visit to Seoul in my next post.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Pay or Not to Pay

I frequent espn.com to get my sports fix, and to remain up to date on current events in sports.  Among my favorite sports to follow is college football.  And the issue that rings prominent is "cheating" in the form of giving players extra benefits, which comes in various forms.  The NCAA, the governing body of intercollegiate athletics, is desperately clinging to the notion of amateurism.  They cling to the notion that these athletes are students first, and athletes second.  They cling to the notion that amateurism is the source of all the good associated with intercollegiate athletics.  One side note before I continue, by intercollegiate athletics, I am referring only to division 1 football, and men's basketball, the only two revenue generating sports for most division 1 universities.

Schools such as LSU, Ohio State, Alabama, North Carolina, and Kentucky generate millions of dollars from their football and basketball programs.  They pay their coaches millions.  Fans pay thousands for season tickets.  Companies pay schools millions for advertising and sponsorships.  Television networks pay the NCAA billions for the rights to air these football and basketball games.  Ridiculous amounts of dollars are being moved by the engine of NCAA intercollegiate athletics.  Millions of fans watch college football and basketball, and are passionate about their respective schools, and their teams.  They spend absurd amounts of money on merchandise to display the pride that they have in their respective schools.  Among the merchandise being bought are jerseys.  In particular, those that bear the number of their favorite player.

In intercollegiate athletics, the players are "amateurs," and are not allowed to receive compensation for their talents.  And the NCAA goes through extreme and ridiculous measures to protect the sanctity of amateurism.  The players are the most important aspect of intercollegiate athletics.  Without talented players, fans would not care, and money would not be generated.  These players generate millions of dollars for their respective schools, and merely receive "a free education" as compensation.  By free education, I mean hours spent on the practice field, and in the film room with coaches fine tuning their craft.  Their spare time is occupied by class, and tutoring sessions.  Make no mistake about it, the players are athletes first, and students second.  Why are they allowed by their respective universities to be athletes first?  Because of the money they generate.  In addition to their education, which, make no mistake about it, is the second priority, how much are the student athletes compensated by their respective universities for being athletes first?

Recruiting the top athletes is the lifeblood of all college football and basketball programs that consistently win.   We've all read about the "$500 handshakes," backpacks full of cash, the special deals on cars, the houses bought for the families of players, the tattoos in exchange for memorabilia, and etc.  (If you aren't familiar with it, simply google it, and you will get all the info that you could ever want.)  All of that is deemed "cheating" by the NCAA, because they are all forms of compensation for a player, and are a means of convincing a particular player to attend a university.  I compare the prevalence of "cheating" to Reagan's War on Drugs.  Much like the NCAA's efforts to protect the sanctity of amateurism, the War on Drugs has been a resounding failure.  Drug use in the U.S. has not gone down since it was declared, and millions of tax dollars are wasted everyday on this "war."  The NCAA will never be able to prevent a "$500 handshake" from ever happening.  Preventing payments to players by boosters is impossible.  Make no mistake about it, these athletes are not amateurs.  

It's hypocritical of these institutions to receive millions of dollars in revenue generated by the talents of these athletes, and to pay them nothing in addition to their second rate education.  Contrary to popular belief, amateurism is not the source of all that is good in intercollegiate athletics.  The source is excellence, and the pride associated with excellence.  Nothing is more beautiful than a well played college football game between two powerhouse programs.  I am a graduate of Louisiana State University, and very few things made me more proud than to witness the Tigers win two national championships.  Amateurism is not the source of the passion associated with intercollegiate athletics.  Most players view their respective sports as jobs.  The source of the passion is the students, alumni, and fans who are proud of their respective school colors, and their players.  The players are competitors who use that passion as fuel, whether they are payed or not.  Professionalism could never hinder the sanctity of intercollegiate athletics.  Players are competitive whether they are payed, or not.  And fans will always be passionate when their respective teams win consistently.  It's ridiculous to believe that professional players would cause a fanbase to be less passionate, or a game to be less competitive.  Losing causes passion to wane, not professionalism.