Thursday, February 4, 2010

Like our Fathers

A dear friend of mine wrote this true story and shared it with me. I found it inspirational and hope you do to.


It had been a relatively mild winter, but every now and again frost would be on the windshield of my car in the mornings before I went to work. Usually, it was not much ice to speak of, generally nothing that my credit card couldn’t handle in a few minutes. On one of these frosty mornings in November, my next-door neighbor, an African American man in his late 30s, saw me scraping away again (his wind shield of his truck was strangely unfrozen) and asked, “Do you want to borrow a scraper?” I said my credit card as doing me just fine, “thank you though.”

In the year and a half we lived beside each other, I believe those were the only words we ever exchanged. Beside the time he tried to feed his dead gold fish to one of the stray cats, of course. And the “stray” didn’t come, because I had already “rescued” it and moved it into my home. I did hold up her bowl, however, and let him drop the fish in it, which she promptly devoured.

He was a hard-working man, if nothing else. Usually gone before I left in the mornings; usually home after me at night. I found out later that he was supporting his mother, paying her bills before paying his own rent. One time the late notice accidentally came to my door. A few days before he moved out in May this year, his mother dropped by, cursing him out so loud the entire block heard it. “You’re gonna turn out just like your daddy,” she yelled, among some other things I won’t repeat. Eventually, she got into her car and drove off.

A few days later, I saw a yellow piece of plastic on my stairs. I thought it had come off one of his pieces of furniture when he moved out. I scoffed, annoyed that he didn’t clean up after himself. The next day it still lay on my railing. I picked it up and gave it a closer look. “He couldn’t have,” I exclaimed. “He wouldn’t have!”

It was a window scraper; small, but sturdy. It didn’t have a handle like most scrapers do – but then, that would have been luxury for me anyway. It was just about three times the size of a credit card. And it was rubber-ducky yellow. The man I thought hardly knew who I was and who, I thought, cared about me even less, remembered (6 months later) that the girl next door didn’t have a window scraper. And when that next harsh North Carolina winter hits, she’ll probably need one.

It’s a good thing that man turned out just like his daddy.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More Urban Hiking


Here are some more pictures from a recent trip to Seoul Palace and Lantern Festival.   The duck is one of my favorite pictures.  I took it in Disney World last year, but I didn’t find it until I was organizing photo’s last week. 


Hope you all are having a great holiday season!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Urban Hiking


I like to plan a route on Google Earth and go hiking on Sunday afternoons.  Here are some photos from tonight’s walk.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Seoul Panorama

Here is a panoramic view of our city that I found online. The picture was taken by Roman Sobolenko. Thought you might enjoy it. It should enlarge if you click on it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Missing Teacher

Here is the final part of the missing teacher movie that my Pennsylvania class and I made. I lost one of my students after the swine flu scare, and the giant ninja finished his contract and left Korea, so I had to change the planned ending, but I'm still proud of my kids for their hard work.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Swine Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

“Steven… I’m very disappointed in you. I asked you several times not to get sick. I know the students and parents love you and you are doing good things for the school, but you let me down. You got the swine flu because your body is weak. You have not been responsible to the school and we are losing a lot of money now because of you.”

As the buzzing of the phone indicates a palpable absence of humanity I realize the line has been disconnected. Through the euphoric haze of the fevered mind, I’m left to question whether there was ever a human on the other side… although most certainly the conversation did unfold as described. And as certain as wet jeans will chafe thighs, that voice belonged to the manager of my school-- she who shall not be mentioned.

After nearly 3 years of professional work and study experience in Asia, I find myself back at ground zero, as perplexed by the Asian mentality as ever; perhaps more so, as I was just beginning to profess an elementary understanding of these fascinating lil’ enigmas. I suppose I should be grateful, for now that my eyes have been opened, I realize that being sick is a personal choice. (like being straight or male or tall or handsome or white -- I list this criteria because Asia, not unlike the rest of the planet, continues to place a disproportionally high social value on these personal choices)

It’s not the first time I’ve had my eyes opened by she who shall not be mentioned. But that’s a story for another blog… well.. wait.. I’m quarantined to my 10’ * 15’ apartment for the foreseeable future… I’ve got time… I’ll tell you now.


Her dirty white sneakers would tread soundlessly across the marble floor, had there not been a poorly discarded bandage affixed to the left soul of her petite size 4’s. Stick, rip…. Stick, rip…. Stick, rip.. which, when combined with the cries of agony from the gentleman lying on an adjacent cot, cumulated in the sort of auditory harmony one might expect to find at a parlor offering discount bikini waxes. Stick, rip… aaaagh! Muhaha… the thought made me smile; or maybe it was the IV bag delivering it’s steady stream of sensory numbing deliciousness. Either way, I was amused.

I arrived at the hospital some thirty minutes earlier. This is not my preferred venue for mind numbing elixirs on a Friday night, but necessity is the mother of invention; and kidney stones are the mothers of necessity. I was immediately impressed with the speed and efficiency of the hospital’s services. (after the initial 15 minutes, when I realized I was the only person in the line who wasn’t pregnant and that I probably belonged somewhere else)

With no signature, affidavits or credit history reports necessary, the doctor came up to me. “What’s the problem?” “I have a kidney stone.” “How do you know? Did you have tests?” “How does an expecting Irish Catholic know she’s got the 10th bun in the oven?” (ok.. I didn’t say that, but you get the point…) “This way, sir.”

In a blur of motion, I was prone on an emergency room cot and an attractive nurse was standing over me with a large needle and a smile. Now I can’t say for sure that she’s never seen blue eyes before, but if she bothered to break eye contact, she might have realized that my vein was nowhere near the tip of her needle. Ah well… four “so sorry’s” later she managed to find the sweet spot… and a few moments later, I no longer cared.

After a routine x-ray and a 2 hour nap, the urologist showed up. The look of pity on his face frightened me more than anything. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t speak English, genuine empathy from a urologist transcends linguistics. The stone was about ½” in diameter and I needed surgery. I opted for Extra Corporal Lithotripsy, not because I knew what it was, but because it was the only picture he sketched on the pad that didn’t involve a direct violation of my body’s “exit only” policy. The procedure was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, we had open class day. This means my kid’s mothers sit in the class and watch me teach their little angels. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Twenty minutes prior to class I was still talking to the porcelain. I taught my morning classes and then collapsed in the library as soon as I was out of eyesight. A student found me there, and the manager was able to find another place that could do the surgery that afternoon.

Extra Corporal Lithotripsy is a treatment that sends shock waves of energy into your body, targeting the stone and attempts to break it into smaller, passable sizes. I didn’t really know what to expect; but as I lay on the machine with this inflated water balloon pushed firmly against my back, I imagined it would be like a vibrating massage chair of sorts. When the first shock wave scored a direct hit, my left leg shot straight up in the air, nearly bringing the machine crashing down around me. “Don’t Move!” cried the doctor. So for the next 40 minutes and 2,500 blasts, I didn’t move a muscle.

The doctor told me to come back next week to see if it worked and to get another treatment it if didn’t. (and it didn’t) On the day of my next scheduled procedure, she who shall not be mentioned called me into a private conference. I won’t quote this one, because I don’t remember verbatim, but for twenty minutes I sat and listened to her tell me about how much my kidney stone was inconveniencing the other teachers who had to sub for my classes and how I should be more considerate and be willing to make sacrifices. I asked her if coming in to teach classes when I could barely walk was considered a sacrifice. She said yeah, but now I have to miss a class for a second surgery and this is very inconvenient for everyone. She made a great show of pain as she filled out the substitute teacher form for the only remaining class I had after the surgery. I’ve never come so close to running from a job in my life. Being the stubborn fellow that I am; I made it back from surgery with 10 minutes to spare, taught my class, went home and passed out.

And so we’ve come full circle.

Lessons Learned:

Let’s scrap the h1n1 vaccine in favor of an educational campaign on why we should simply choose not to be infected by it.

Kidney stones are a state of mind. They needn’t interfere with the routines of daily living.

And strangely enough, I still like my insanely dysfunctional manager. I guess I'm learning the lesson I came here to learn. How to exercise patience, how to deal with humility and how to let things roll off the back. These are critical lessons if I hope to become a succesful businessman in Asia; and I suppose I should be grateful to have such a masterful professor.