11/15/09

Random Thoughts from writing session

I’ve joined a writing and blogging support group. We get together once a week to WRITE for at least an hour. About any and everything. The following is what I did during the session.

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Ignorance is Power?

A commonly cited quote is Bacon's "knowledge is power."

Sometimes not understanding the world around you can be a benefit. When I was in Seoul, I went on a retreat with a swing dancing group. About 40 Koreans, me, and an Australian guy. I won’t go into detail about the mayhem and mischief we engaged in during the retreat. At one point, we played a game where a man from each of the 5 or 6 teams had to hold a woman in the air, while flat on his back, using his feet and hands.

Doesn’t sound challenging, I know. To add to the challenge, each woman had to take a drink of water before starting, and hold it in her mouth. Meaning, if she laughed that she would spit the water into the man's face. And while the men were holding the women up, members of the opposing teams did their best to make either the man or woman laugh.

I was at an advantage for several reasons:

1) The woman I had to hold up weighs about 90 pounds. So it didn’t take much effort.

2) I couldn’t understand what people around me were trying to say when they were speaking in Korean.

3) They weren’t fluent enough in English to crack any jokes funny enough to make me laugh. I would have had to ask them to repeat the joke a few times for me to understand it. So I closed my eyes and hummed a Prince song while they chatted around me in Korean and broken English.

When it was down to the final two teams, one of the organizers who could speak English told me that I had to hold my partner with just one leg. No problem. For once, not being able to understand Korean really came in handy as we easily won. I held her up a few extra seconds after the other team had dropped out, just to make the point that we were better, not just lucky.

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Dating--Mismatches and Bad Matches

H.L. Mencken once said that editorial writers must get out of the office at least once a week. Even though I usually drive to wherever I am going, it is still enjoyable to take the metro sometimes to watch people. Of course, women on dates probably don’t like to hear about the benefits of taking the metro or walking. As the old song goes, “I can be bad all by myself!” She can take the metro or walk by herself.

But then, I guess it depends on the woman. I saw a feature story on Yahoo earlier today about terrible dating experiences people have had. The teaser headline quoted one woman as saying she knew it was going to be a bad date when the guy asked whether if she liked McDonald's or Burger King. I hope she let the guy know so he wouldn’t waste time on her in the future. One problem with dating is that people aren't honest at the beginning of the process about what it is they want. They complain to friends or Yahoo instead of letting the other person know directly.
So many of the terrible dating stories that were told seemed to be about people with different priorities and values. Just like a job interview, people highlight what is great about themselves so they can get the job.

If the woman who didn't want McDonald's or Burger King had mentioned a place she wanted to go, then offered to pay for it, then cheapskate guy probably would be quoted on Yahoo one day as saying it was the best date he ever had.

Or, she could have done what I told a woman to do about a man who recently complained they had not sex after he bought her dinner. My advice? Send him a check to cover her portion of the evening. She can't give back the time he wasted but at least he'd have his money back. She did, and he seemed to be okay.

Some people can have fun on dates whether or not they spend money, other people aren't having fun unless they the receipts to prove they had a good time. I'm reminded of a date I went on. I recommended a couple of restaurants to her. She seemed interested. Then I asked her what she would like to eat. She said that she wanted to have Onion Rings at Burger King. I thought she was joking. She insisted that's what she wanted. I took her at her word. We pulled into Burger King, ordered the food, then ate in the car. She seemed to be happy with the meal. It wasn't the only time we ate like that. She seemed to be uncomfortable if I spent more than $20 on the date. So many people are so strategic when it comes to dating, it is always refreshing to meet people who are just themselves. She was frugal with her own money, she didn't expect me to spend a lot of money on her, either, in order for us to have a good time.

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Trains Not Running on Time

A few weeks ago, I was waiting at DC's Metro center when I looked at the message board about approaching trains. The next subway train would be there in about 16 minutes? Okay, so it was a Tuesday night. Still, 16 minutes? After being in Seoul, I got used to trains consistently arriving every couple of minutes. It seemed that a 5 minute gap was a delay. During 3 months of riding trains in Seoul, I don't recall a single train outage. But then, I may not have understood the message board announcing problems elsewhere...

Not just the trains are a problem in D.C. There is ALWAYS at least one escalator out in a DC metro station whenever I pass through.

One thing is the same between the two metro systems. I can’t understand what the train conductors say. In Seoul, after listening numerous times, I finally caught onto the Korean phrases being used by the bilingual recorded voices. In DC, I still have trouble understanding which stop the conductor is announcing. Anyway, I can comfortably listen to my iPOD, whether if I’m in Seoul or D.C., as long as I look for the stop's name written on the wall.

In Seoul, many of the trains now have specific information, inside the subway car, on electronic boards, info such as the name of the stop, which side the doors will open. That's in English and Korean, and in areas where there are more Japanese or Chinese living or shopping, then the signs are in those languages, too.

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Get mad, put it down on a pad...
I’ve been driving on a consistent basis since about 1996. When I was in Seoul during this past summer I didn’t even have an international driver’s license. I got used to taking the metro again. It was exciting for me because I was having a second look at Seoul. When I’m driving I’m too busy paying attention to the road and defending myself against other drivers to watch the world as it goes by. Getting a second look at Seoul was great, I may go back for a third look. At some point, I’ll be ready to write something more extensive about being there. But then, the more time I spend there, the less interested I am in writing about it. I remember reading once where a writer said that, after spending a day in China you want to write a book. After spending a month in China, you want to write an article. After spending a year in China, you just put your head down and mutter to yourself.

As Public Enemy said, “When I get mad. I put it down on a pad. Give ya somethin' that cha never had.” I’m not mad, I don’t have a pad, but I’ll blog or write an article at some point. Most of the time I think I don't really have things to say about Seoul that are worth the time to say them formally, then I will hear about something, and say, "I could have written that story."

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NPR discovers Korean exam hell

A friend called me yesterday, quite excited about an NPR story he had just heard about South Korean kids going through exam hell. It was in reference to the college entrance exam students there take. He wanted to know if I had heard the report. No, I said. As he began to tell me the story, I stopped him. I then guessed what the story was about, guessed the outline of how they told it. He was amazed. He then reminded me that I had just said I hadn't heard the report. Oh, I said, I didn't hear the report you just heard, but I've read and heard that story so many times before. I'm pretty sure that I've even told him about Korea's exam hell, but I realize that some people don't listen until the New York Times or NPR says it. I then added some things they didn’t say. He told me that I should have written the story. I probably will, next year or the year after when the people at NPR or the New York Times (again) discover that Korean kids are going through exam hell.

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A tourist in my own country

One great thing about living abroad: It is perfectly natural for me to take photos. As a traveler, tourist, or explorer, you are expected to be curious. When I was in Seoul I even took a photo of a McDonald's motorcycle used for making deliveries. I had never seen such a thing in America.

But back in my own country? Things I see now are so interesting. I suppose it could be a form of reverse culture shock.

Sometimes, I even want to take photos with people I meet for just a brief time. I've lived long enough to know that I won't see many of those people again and after a short time won't even remember what they look like. I wish I had taken more photos a few years ago when I was working at Cato, back when I was in Korea the first time around, the brief time I worked at Fight For Children. Everybody at Cato is now at least a decade ago, some are graying, some of the olden folks have retired, etc.

When I was on my way to the writing session I got out my camera when I saw a sign telling riders all of the things they couldn't do. No eating, no drinking, no loud music, etc. It didn't mention that I couldn't take photos! So I took a photo of the sign. I also video recorded part of it (click the "free user" option).

It reminded me of a few things...One, a 45-year old D.C. woman who got handcuffed and arrested for eating a candy bar in a D.C. metro station. Yes, she had been warned, but STILL! To quote Dickens, the law is a ass. Two, I remember one night shortly after I joined the swing dancing class that one of my classmates bought all of us ice cream cones in the subway station. We ate and talked on the train. I wish someone had taken a photo of us doing that.