The Art of Getting Your Shit Together

It’s well past noon on a Saturday afternoon.

You could be anywhere right now. A patio with friends, or a brisk walk in the forest with your lifelong partner, your well-groomed dog, and a day full of instagrammable memories (except the only thing you own which even remotely resembles a smartphone is an iPod touch with an embarrassing 3 hours of battery life).

Instead, you’re at Ikea. You’re at Ikea on a Saturday. You’re at Ikea on a Saturday and you just got side-swiped by a plastic blue and yellow bag awkwardly stuffed with a neon green cheese grater and halogen light bulbs. Why, why are you here?

Well, simply put, your Dad assumed that with a promise of a Swedish-inspired cinnamon bun, you would help him transport boxes of JÄLLVIK or KLÖVSTA or really, anything else with those adorable double dots used phonetically above any and all vowels. Well played, Däd.

Just as you trace your fingers along the geometrical shapes of a rainbow of duvet covers, you admire a girl your age. Her jacket matches her boots, which also coordinates with everything in her cart and no doubt, it all fits perfectly into her well-maintained car which she flawlessly parallel-parked outside.

As you lose yourself in imagining what your own life would look like if your jacket and boots matched, let alone looked like they belong in the same era, you overhear her say, “I’m going to wait to buy that couch…just until I get my shit together.”

Just until I get my shit together.

Those words. That phrase. It all just echoed throughout the windowless arena of meatballs and BÖJAS.

This girl, with her matching boots and jackets, and a home to refurnish, and a mantle to decorate, and a desk to build independently thanks to Ikea’s easy instructions which almost always include that androgynous character’s simplistic ideology of furniture construction. All this girl wants is to have her shit together. Yet she doesn’t perceive it so.

One day she’ll look back on that day. That day in Ikea when she sighed too loudly and judged herself too harshly against an arbitrary idea of organized adulthood. And you will hear her sighs and the fill-in-the-blanks on her self-judgments and you’ll wish you said just this:

The secret to getting your shit together is a dangerous one. It most definitely includes a roundabout route to self-disappointment and a dump truck disaster of ill-defined phrases (such as, “getting shit together”) used out of context because of one’s relaxed vocabulary.  You’ll warn her about the dangers of phrases such as this. Words so vague, so unclear, that even though they are used at such feverish frequency, still remain so undefined. You’ll bring up examples like the 2002 surge of the word random, when we really just meant unpredictable. You’ll review the real definition of disinterested just to prove your point. You’ll want to talk about moronic descriptors like vegan cheese but you know that might lose her. You’ll tell her there is no act, no definition, no art to getting your shit together. You’ll tell her it’s harmful to use unqualified standards- standards like shit, and whether or not it is together- on her own accomplishments or those which she perceives she lacks.

You’ll encourage her to define her own shit. Whatever it is, in whatever context she’d like, her shit is hers. And not even Webster can prove her wrong. You’ll talk about how those leaps into being an adult are sometimes accompanied by an inner bully which makes us feel inadequate because we don’t have the same ________ as someone else. And we use such silly terms as “not having our shit together” to coerce ourselves into feeling lower than those who most likely feel/think/ act exactly the same. You’ll feel like Tom Cruise, substituting Oprah’s couch for a SVELVIK bed frame as you excitedly discuss the idea of eliminating the phrase altogether. And just as you feel like maybe you said something of value, your Däd gives you that look. That look which almost says, “You’ve taken this too far. It’s time to let go of the LJUSÅS UVÅS because you may not see it from way up there on that king-sized bed frame, but an employee in a banana-yellow polo is about two seconds away from kicking us both out and I don’t know about you, but I was really looking forward to that cinnamon bun.”

The girl will smirk at you and nod. She’ll know the secret, the act, the art of getting your shit together. And one day, she’ll go to Ikea. Probably not because her dad promised her a pastry. But she’ll be there. She’ll be there tracing her own hands along the new line of VANADINS. And she’ll see another. And she will tell them this:

Define your own shit.

Do it when you’re ready, and don’t worry if you never feel like you will be. But try. Try whatever you want with your shit. It’s yours for the taking.

A Country of Parentheses: Visiting Myanmar (Burma)

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In front of you is a stranger. Well, not exactly a stranger. It’s someone you briefly met through a friend of a friend two weekends prior. Recent enough to not be erased from your short-term memory. But just drunk enough to let his actual name slip from your mind faster than the grip of that shared introductory handshake.

Pulling up your scarf, you hope he doesn’t notice you. But he does. And COME ON, now he is engaging in conversation. He remembers everything about you. And although you can’t decide if he’s actually being genuine or just acting like a jerk (sometimes they are one in the same), he continues to use your name, at least once, in EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE.

You avoid the paralysis of awkwardness by steering clear of any conversational topics which might involve monikers, surnames, or even my beloved Twitter handles. Fortunately, this is actually quite easy. The English language empathizes with forgetful losers and utilizes pronouns like “he” and “she” in such a casual way.

With the ending of a half-decent conversation, you’re out of there before you have to reprogram his number into your phonebook as something other than “ddude.” And yes, of course a similar incident has happened before. This explains why the correctly spelt ‘dude’ is already occupied in your phone.

You exit the conversation with a sigh of relief.

But you will still never know what to call him.

A situation not at all comparable to this occurs in Myanmar (Burma). 

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A country of mixed curries, currencies, and colloquialism, Myanmar (Burma) is a toughie.

It gets internationally criticized by humanitarian officials. It gets geologically hit by massive earthquakes. It was once the richest country in Southeast Asia. It now has a massive number of people living below the poverty line. And the country’s most famous politician is endearingly referred to as “The Lady.”

But what do we call it?

What do we call a country still searching for its own name?

Burma?

Myanmar?

“Myanmar” (exaggerated by making those absolutely awful air quotation marks with your fingers)?

To be fair, you can’t really toss out any of these names without a little background.

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In 1989, the country officially changed its English name to “Myanmar.” (Probably banning the official use of air quotes, too.)

Good, done. Official is official. Myanmar, it is.

Well, not so fast, Le Monde Sans Italics.

There’s more to these parentheses than a late 80’s name change.

Much like other regions in the area, the Burmese language has clear differences between the spoken and written word. When speaking, the country is pronounced Bama. When written, it is Myanma.

Want to make things even more confusing? The word Bama actually refers to one of the largest ethnic group in the country. Regardless of size, it is really not all that inclusive.

Right.

And let’s just add to the mess.

Phonetically, Bama actually originated from Myanma. But of course, this only really considers nasal sounds and speech pathology. We haven’t even got to the part yet when the military regime changed the English name of the country without really considering the views of the citizens.

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Unlike the hide-and-seek behind my scarf with “ddude,” I seized opportunities to talk to locals in Myanmar (Burma). My impression was this:

People wanted to talk about their country.

Maybe they didn’t want to get into the historical (and political) intricacies of Myanmar (Burma). But they definitely wanted to converse. However they referred to the country, it was almost as if they were also addressing their own political views. It was Morse code…with words.

In press, Aung San Suu Kyi (“The Lady”) calls it Burma. So do the locals. But without any actual attachment to either, would I be a poseur for doing the same?

My passport states, “Republic of the Union of Myanmar.” This, along with the local currency of kyat, was my only way to identify with the country. So does that mean I should be calling it Myanmar? As a visitor, do I even know otherwise?

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Repeatedly, the country was referred to as Burma. It sounded cool. It sounded ancient. It sounded secretive and inviting. It sounded like it was supporting the people, rather than the parliament. It sounded exactly like my experience there.

But in the end, talking about the actual name of the country was actually rather difficult.

So naturally, I avoided it altogether.

Language (and more specifically, labels), can be both encouraging and restrictive. But sometimes, that’s all there really is. You take away the label, and it is like it no longer exists. Burma may be all that is left.

If you remove the name, the people of the country may have nothing to identify with. Myanmar is not where they grew up. Myanmar is not what their passport reads. Myanmar is no longer theirs.

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When I started writing this post, I wasn’t expecting it to end with such uncertainty. I figured by writing out my back-and-forths about Myanmar (Burma), the conclusion on what to call it would become a little more clear. And silly me, I actually thought that after writing this, I would become super motivated to finally ask “ddude” his real name when I inevitably ran into him again without the shield of my scarf.

But that’s actually not the point.

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As I said before, Myanmar (Burma) operates on two different currencies. It offers like, ten different cuisines. It probably has hundreds of communities which even the government, unable to complete a nation-wide Census, doesn’t really know about.

It’s a country still navigating itself as a whole. And as individuals.

In the end, does it really matter what we call it in our phone book?

How Gangnam Style Ruined My Summer

In the past, I have often tried to force a “summer song” upon myself. Be it a well-timed release date or a subliminal-yet-conscious (wait, what?) effort to listen to the same song on repeat while day-drinking in the sun, my summer song (or more generally speaking, my summer record) is of great importance.

Every time I hear Shake the Streets by Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Cheap Girl’s Find Me a Drink Home, or even anything by The Descendents, I am immediately brought back to a certain summer, a certain somewhere. A time when I couldn’t stop listening to that song, that record, that band.

My calendar has recently reminded me that Autumnal Equinox (which may be the most ridiculously romantic sounding season of them all) begins in a few short days. But because Korea seems to lack any sort of relationship to climate changes, summer could very well go on strong into November. Regardless, my summer in Korea sucked.

And I blame it all on PSY.

Yeah, that guy.

When it came to choosing a summer song or record, it’s like I didn’t even have a fighting chance this time around.

I tried to play Help by Thee Oh Sees at every available gathering. I opted to spend bike rides listening solely to the Japandroids’ newest release. I even tried to get back into The Promise Ring (I know, I know).  But these failed attempts were only mocked further by a man, sporting sunglasses indoors, and transporting himself through the streets of Seoul by means of uh, galloping.

When I didn’t have white headphones plugged into my ears, this song was everywhere. In my newsfeed, in my bakery, even in my favourite kindergarten class.

I mean, come on. Do you know how hard it is to teach ESL kiddies about equal halves and symmetry when they are all repeating “Oppan Gangnam seutail” to themselves?

Well, do you?

What began as a joke in the lunchroom among fellow teachers has morphed into a total game changer for the last four months here in Korea.

As a song, “Gangnam Style” lacks direction.

Consequently, so does my summer.

There’s really no need to get into specifics. No one wants to read about my summer of close calls (and some even bigger falls). (This is a probably an absolute lie. I can think of, like three people, who would totally feel positively affirmed after reading about a struggling Sarah.) But even if I was honest about my aimless summer, you and I both would never be able to discern if I was speaking figuratively or in relatives.

Or maybe that’s a total cop-out. And instead, I just can’t seem to concentrate on completing sentences when a song about a guy taking his coffee in one shot is making it onto CNN.

“Gangnam Style” is an image-heavy, completely unchallenging, disconnected look into one of Seoul’s wealthier districts with the exact same descriptors.

I hate that people appreciate this song.

And I hate that it, by no choice of my own, became the song of this summer.

It’s an uninspiring song which leaves no motivation to trace the rings of condensation on sun-bleached picnic tables. It’s an intolerable tune which I can’t listen to as I ride passenger to the farthest camping spot, the nearest ice cream shop, or the somewhere in-between cottage owned by your friend’s significant other’s dad’s business partner.

Both “Gangnam Style,” and the fact that parodies continue to pop up under the Recommended Videos tab on YouTube, has ruined my summer.

But as I mentioned before, Fall Autumnal Equinox is coming up.

And every season has a record.

And, appropriately so, I’ve recently rediscovered Jay Reatard’s Watch Me Fall.

It’s good.

How to Piss Off your Travel Buddies

I leave for the Philippines this week.

It will be my third time there in less than two years.

Now if it sounds like I’m bragging, that’s definitely not the case.

When I think about my time in the Philippines, I can’t help but just sort of shrug a little and talk about that one time I met a tout with 11 fingers. An occurrence which despite the weather, and the beaches, and the papaya-mango fruit shakes, remains my ultimate highlight of the country.

So, just to be clear, I’m visiting a country for the third time. A country which probably doesn’t even get a notable mention in my Cusack-inspired Top Ten Beaches of All Time. A country in which, when visited for a second time, I spent most days trying to decide how I was going to leave.  

So, why, with my mediocre opinion of the country, did I make the decision to go to the Philippines again?

Well, I guess the fact of the matter is, I didn’t.

If someone were to ask me to describe myself as a traveler (but let’s be real, everyone is too self-involved to do that sort of thing), I would probably say I am incredibly enthusiastic about overnight buses.  But if they prefer something vaguer, I would muster up a descriptor like “easy-going” and then go back to talking about nighttime bus rides.  

I generally go along with things. It’s the easiest thing to do. And as someone who struggles to apply myself in situations which do not require it (see: work, dating, separating my darks from my whites), I’m very eager to do what is easiest. To me, all possibilities seem absolutely fantastic and I never want to miss out on one by committing to another. 

When it comes down to it, I don’t have any real hardcore preferences about most topics. (Besides your standard stuff like say, the depleting ozone layer, The Replacements’ Let it Be album, and the Seoul Metro Subway System.)

Well, as it stands, this is absolutely without a doubt NOT the definition of “easy-going.”

Not even close.

All those carefree thoughts about wanting to try every single possibility before committing to just the god-awful lonely number of one?

Turns out, I’m indecisive.

Discovering and coming to terms with your own personality flaws is one of the most miserable things to do to oneself. 

And do you want to know the shittiest part of being indecisive?

No one likes it.

That’s right. Even your Mom will roll her eyes at you when she asks what you are thinking of doing in the future and you reply, “Not sure, Ma. Just see how this travel stuff goes.Well, either that or something else really really cool.”

And do you want to know what’s even shittier than having vague future goals like “something else really really cool” because of your inability to make a decision?

The indecisiveness is intensified when travelling.

From setting out on one route over another to deciding if you want the Dairy Queen employee in Chiang Mai to dip your cone in either chocolate or caramel sauce.

All of it- it’s so hard.

To avoid the complexity of decisions, I just limit all my choices. But when traveling, this just sort of translates into doing less research.

I’m pretty confident (only because others have blatantly told me) that when you travel with an indecisive floater like me, your patience is consistently tested. There have been countless times when I’ve told a travel buddy I will “look into” something and they find me, one hour later, with about 800 tabs open on my desktop- researching anything from to how to get cheap international flights with JetAbroad to the origin of chocolate milk (FYI: it’s Switzerland).

Travel pals in the past have complained about my unrealistic expectations to do absolutely everything instead of deciding what I would rather do. Consequently, they are left with a lot of the pressure that comes along with choice. The success of a plan becomes your responsibility. (Now I don’t mean you as in YOU specifically. I just mean you know, people other than me.)

I am travelling to the Philippines with two dudes from work. For the most part, they have taken care of destinations, accommodation, and looking up sweet stuff to do in a handful of cities.

But anything I have to decide independently? Well, I still haven’t actually got there yet.

It took me something like two months just to book my return flight to Korea. (Perhaps this isn’t really related to my indecisiveness and instead, speaks volumes about my lack of excitement to return to this country.) 

So if you need a reliable way to piss off your travel mates, refuse to make any decisions. “Hmm” and “haaa” over even the smallest of choices. Refuse to mask the hesitance in both your face and your voice when they ask you to commit to absolutely anything. Believe that flight times/ dates/ anything involving numbers, are all just rough estimates.

But since I’m all about things like personal growth, and you know, not pissing off my travel buddies, I’m going to try making some decisions.

I’m going to order the chocolate-dipped ice cream with confidence. I’m going to stop being utterly terrified in the finality of making a decision. Maybe I will realize that some decisions aren’t THAT big of deal. Maybe I will rid myself of this intense phobia of decisions (yeah. right). 

So I’ve decided to go to the Philippines for a third time.

Hopefully I don’t piss off my travel mates. But it’s okay. Because even if I do? Well, at least it was my decision. 

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Toothbrush Disclosure: This post was brought to you by JetAbroad . But don’t blame them if your travel buddies stop speaking to you. They had nothing to do with that.

This is the Story of 195 Kilometers

It’s 9:30 AM on a Wednesday Morning.

I’m sweating and absolutely starving. And depending on my coworkers’ aptitude to “just have one more,” I’m probably a little hung over.

I’ve almost gotten hit by both a commuter bus and an angry cab driver. Both of whom possess little forethought to glance in the review mirror before carelessly changing lanes.

I arrive at some generic coffee shop which features an overpriced Iced Americano with an atrociously off ice:americano ratio.

This is the best part of my day.

It’s here where I meet her. A smaller than small woman with a rounder than round face. She doesn’t enjoy sports. She prefers Canadian boys to all other ethnicities. She hates the fact that coffee causes her to break out. She drinks it anyways. She hasn’t seen her parents or other family members for over five years. She speaks to them for less than 10 minutes only once a year or at least until “they cut the phone away.”

She is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea.

I volunteer with an organization called PSCORE. This is an NGO which strives for the successful reunification of North and South Korea.  In the process, PSCORE assists and supports North Koreans who have recently defected to Seoul and the surrounding area. They provide transitory support and things like 1:1 tutoring once they have “settled.” (A term which I’m using quite loosely because admittedly, I have no idea if this is possible.)

For the sake of confidentiality, and my own misunderstanding about the popularity of this blog, I’ll skip the identifying factors.

Regardless, twice a week I meet with her. I look forward to rearranging my sleeping patterns, skipping my morning yoga routine, and paying triple for an exceptionally shitty cup of coffee. It’s absolutely amazing.

Having defected well over five years ago, she’s no stranger to living in South Korea.

But attempting to learn a convoluted language based on countless exceptions and strange placements of the letter “h” when it is really not all that necessary?

Well, she’ll get there.

I’m “supposed to” be her English tutor. That’s technically my job. But technically, I’m not actually working or getting paid. So I’m taking the whole “supposed to” thing quite liberally. Besides, volunteers aren’t obligated to follow rules all of the time. It’s not in our contract. (Guys, that’s a total lie. But I really had you going for a second there…)

She brought a book of Tolstoy to our first English lesson. At the end of the session, its spine remained unopened.

Instead of talking about an anarcho-pacificist (which believe me, usually tops the list of things I like to discuss), we talked about ourselves. We talked about ourselves in that curious way you do when you assume that if you open up a little about yourself, then the other will too.

I complained that the antiperspirant in Korea needs to redefine their idea of “anti.” She complained that the humidity in Seoul makes her hair “sticky.” (Note: Add “frizzy” or better yet “an absolute rat’s nest” to the list of new vocabulary words to teach.)

She asked about my experiences dating in Korea. I asked her if she thinks she will ever get married.

Soon our sessions were more about her fights with her long-term boyfriend over a future with/ without children. Soon I started to rant about people always throwing their garbage in my bike basket.

We share an intense fascination with the other’s upbringing.

We translate funny things on her phone. Things like “athlete’s foot” and “precarious.”

Sometimes I see Tolstoy or another Let’s Learn English in the Most Impractical Way Possible textbook popping out of her oversized purse. But neither of us seems too worried about conjugating the word “go.”

Instead, it’s here where the distance of more than 190 kilometers, becomes the shortest route to friendship.

The Secret’s Out: I’m a Shit “Travel Blogger”

People can justify anything.

If you’re feeling creative enough; things like infidelity, cannibalism, and even littering can all seem pretty excusable.

Perhaps I’m purposefully confusing “justifications” with “imaginative explanations.”

I tend to do that sometimes. You know, mix up definitions. Mispronounce words. Mistake word-unions which I ingeniously created some night and have been using ever since, for actual established dictionary entries. (Read: the feeling of hanger, using the word “tops” to describe things other than a t-shirt, and occasionally spelling “your” with an “e” instead of those other two vowels.)

Admittedly, I also pause every single time I’m about to use “invisible” or “invincible” in a sentence. I will often do a quick Webster’s brain-check to make sure I’m using the correct one and then just kind of mumble one of them and hope for the best. And for some reason, these words come up A LOT in my daily vocabulary.

See? There I go again.

I just tried to justify my brainless mistakes by making myself seem all quirky and forgetful. But, seriously. I have never even bothered to look up invisible/ invincible in a dictionary.

I’m lazy.

And that, forgiving readers and those choosing to waste internet time on a blog like this, is exactly why this space has been dormant for the last month.

I’m lazy in the sense that sometimes, I would just rather be doing things than writing about them. (In actuality, that’s really not laziness at all, but I’ve got a theme going here and I don’t really want to waste it.)

Which is actually quite strange. Because next to the joy I experience from explaining why I don’t know how to pronounce “ambiguous,” I actually quite like writing.

So I got lazy. And for those who have never experienced the feeling of being lethargic (Tony Robbins, Carrot Top, Jimmy Fallon most days of the week), laziness can be a real dick.

Being lazy can produce these ultimate moments of self-reflection. But because you can’t be bothered to internally reflect on anything in fear of exuding even a breath of effort, you consequently can get quite down on yourself.

Battling an internal dialogue of my intentions with this blog, coupled with the suffocating overtones of apathy, I questioned myself a lot.

If I really hated a place, would I accurately write about it?

If I pulled some stupid stunt with less than favourable outcomes (but makes for a generally amusing story), would I bare the wrath of judgmental commenters and post about it anyways?

I’m not sure.

And if I can’t be honest with my own, poorly-maintained WordPress site then really, who can I be honest with?*

I want to be honest.

I want to write about absolutely hating a lot of places which I had felt pressured to love.

I want to write about the things I’ve done which would cause most mothers to shake their head and say to themselves, “Shit. I’m so glad my own daughter didn’t turn out like that.”

I want to write stories in a similar fashion to my in-person demeanor. Slightly offensive. But with 3/4 good intentions. And throwing in descriptors like “tops” which are sort of catchy in the way that you will inevitably find yourself dropping them nonchalantly in conversations next week.

So I’m done pretending to enjoy certain parts of Thailand. I’m over keeping it a secret that I spent a week on an island in Indonesia stealing other people’s flip-flops because I had lost my own. I’m sick of trying to write about my travels in a chronological order for the sake of sequential organization.

The only thing I’m still really into are justifications.

Because those handy excuses?

Well, they’re pretty much tops.

*The truth is, LOADS of people. Turns out, I’m pretty open about my own achievements with the whole “think later” methodology. But I was trying to be dramatic. I think it worked.

A Diwali Story (minus Ralphie Parker and the Red Ryder BB Gun)

Diwali is the Christmas of India.

Except with a lot more fireworks.

And you know, probably a few less Ferrero Rochers.

And since most Christmas evenings end with me gripping my stomach and rolling around in hazelnut-overdose agony whilst simultaneously surrounded by gold tinfoil wrappers, this whole firework-Ferrero trade-off is completely fine by me.

I mean yes, most holidays get exponentially better when they include golf ball-sized servings of whipped chocolate. And yes, these chocolates only seem to taste that much better when arranged in pyramid formation to resemble a seasonal Evergreen tree….

But again, Diwali has fireworks.

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Traveling as a Veg and the Solution to Charades

There’s no denying that when you travel, you are very likely to acquire a new and extremely valuable skill set.

No, it’s not the ability to fall asleep just about anywhere. And no, it’s not an increased aptitude for knowing where the best drink specials are, or even the closest (but really, cleanest) toilet.

 And it’s definitely not a knack for always remembering to stuff every available pocket full of napkins and toilet paper at restaurants which just happen to provide these luxuries for uh, free of charge.

It’s a new set of skills which will only increase your confidence as a traveler, make conversations with the locals more enjoyable, and confirm without a shadow of a doubt that you are in fact, a foreigner in a land very unlike your own.

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The Time I Wasn’t Ready for India (and I Blame it All on Hockey)

Procrastination is a learned skill. A skill not to be undermined. A skill to be taken seriously.

Very seriously.

You should kind of trust me when I say this, too. I’m kind of like an all-star champion, banners-across-the-gymnasium-ceiling kind of pro at it.

But the thing is; procrastination tends to have some serious boundaries and limits.

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The Time with the Countdown, the Resolution, and Why Humans Love Both


Toothbrush Note: Initiating into the world of ESL teaching in South Korea, I believed it was standard practice to start an amateur blog.  This blog played host to riveting content like bragging about my chopstick skills, complaining about the unavailability of good cheese at grocery stores, and noting that middle school boys are internationally similar.

Perhaps it was an attempt to stay in contact with those at home. But to be honest, I probably just wanted a place to whine about the lack of gouda in my life.

Below is a post I wrote for this amateur blog. It was written while in Korea during the early hours of 2011. The tone is unforgiving (some may say “surly”) because I’m pretty sure all the pipes had frozen in my poor lil’ apartment. Beyond some actual editing and reformatting, everything remains unchanged.

I guess it’s kind of like when Michael Jordan donned the number 45 when he played for the White Soxs.

You know-numbers may change, but people don’t.

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