Originally drawn for a 2015 10 magazine article.
My weird co-teacher, Jay, invited me to what he described as a “technology conference” in Seoul. Having zero idea what that actually meant and it only being my first week in Korea, I acquiesced.
Jay picked me up at 7am sharp. There was an old woman riding shotgun. He would not introduce us, insisting she didn’t like foreigners, which was fine by me. She didn’t exactly strike me as a barrel full of monkeys.
The soundtrack of our trek was peppered with lurid descriptions of club-bound sexy twenty-somethings disrobing each other with their teeth. I doubt the old woman understood the lyrics, but she seemed to enjoy the beats.
The conference center was huge. A weird, beige device on a pedestal was being ogled by people in suits. I was woefully under-dressed. Before I got a chance to see the doohickey, we were escorted into a mammoth auditorium complete with jumbotrons and pyrotechnics. It must have seated thousands. It all felt vaguely cultish. Throw on a couple cloaks and mutter some Gregorian chants and you wouldn’t be surprised to glance to your left and spy a virgin girl being sacrificed to an ocelot-faced god with plesiosaur flippers on a throne made of spinal columns.
Jay tried to explain to me what was going on. Apparently we were about to hear from some American spokespeople. They would announce their future plans, present current financial holdings, award top sellers, and initiate new members. Jay told me that if I joined “his company” and worked for him I could make a profit if I hired sellers beneath me.
“So it’s a pyramid scheme,” I said flatly.
“What?” Jay was visibly disturbed. “No, no, no. See, we all work together to make a profit. You broaden your sales network so you move higher up and make more money.”
“That’s what a pyramid scheme is, Jay.”
“But isn’t that a negative term?” I realized I was meant to be his “in” into the American market and Jay was distraught at the prospect of losing me.
“Look, Jay, I’m not a salesman and it’s my first week at a new job in a new country.”
Jay went on about making money for a secure future and took me down to the front where I shook hands with a man who claimed to have been an ambassador to Israel before he started selling salesmen. “Right, pal,” I think I said, perhaps too audibly. All of the American speakers were like caricatures of sleazy businessmen from bad 80s movies. Yet the throng of eager followers filling the hall was completely taken in. The old lady from the car? She ate it all up. Miss Personality herself. I tried to imagine her sour puss calling her grandkids trying to peddle whatever techo-hokum this snake oil factory was barfing up.
“You know, Donald Trump used to own part of this company,” Jay said, still trying to entice me.
“I don’t really like Donald Trump.” I said.
“But…he is very rich. And he has a TV show. He is very famous. I don’t understand you, Jonny.” He called me Jonny. Jay hung his head, the dollar bill signs in his eyes fading, trying to decide if he was more confused or frustrated. He determined it was the latter.
The conference went on for—I shit you not—over eight hours. After the thirty-second sales award was bestowed to a dumpy middle-aged woman brought out on a palanquin covered in balloons paraded through a gauntlet of indoor fireworks, I left the hall and wandered the facility by myself. Jay was defeated. I found the pedestal that had been admired earlier. All this brouhaha over what looked like the world’s clunkiest answering machine.
“It’s a video caller,” a smartly dressed woman said.
“This is what they’re talking about in there?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “If you have this device you can see your friends when they call you.”
“So it’s like Skype?” Or Kakao or Facetime or any other of the hundreds of video chat apps already in use.
She began fidgeting. “In the future everyone will have one. This screen let’s you see your friends or family.”
The screen looked like a pixelated 1990 computer monitor compressed to about 3-inches. I eyed the hefty price-tag attached to the antiquated gimmick box.
“You do know this is 2012, right?”
Originally published for 10 Magazine August 2015 issue.
The article this illustration was for concerned the negative stigma faced by DPRK (North Korean) defectors after they make it to South Korea. It’s not always a graceful transition.
I derived inspiration for this picture from the famous line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Originally published for 10 Magazine February 2015 issue.
A gnat flew into my eye. The involuntarily blink that followed undoubtedly crushed her to bits. What must that final flight have seemed like? Such a delicately small insect crashing into the impossibly immense glass orb of my oblivious eyeball and then having two monstrous flesh panels slam closed from both above and below like giant, steel shutters of impossible weight. Perhaps she never saw the larger world around her. Perhaps it was too incomprehensibly vast to be taken in with her limited arthropod mind and her even more limited point of view. Perhaps, in seeing a gigantic eye so close, so fast, so grand, and so near the end she felt she was looking into eternity and seeing God at the other end.
Then I remembered that gnat’s eyes evolved in a completely different manner and so my human eye more probably was just some weird, reflective, kaleidoscopic alien landscape that came and went in, quite literally, the blink of an eye.
No, sir. I don’t think she got much out of it.
Originally published for 10 Magazine January 2015 issue.
Read the whole article here: http://www.10mag.com/the-national-korean-health-care/
As featured in 10 Magazine June 2014.
It is easy to see why nature might resist the evolutionary urge to festoon with fuzz the philtrums of a people who consume so much soup. I have found that Koreans tend to have a certain stigma concerning facial hair. I used to hear the words of Elwood P. Dowd (in affable, marbly-mouthed Jimmy Stewart tones) echoing in head, “That’s envy, my dear,” but it may be a bit more complex.
As a mustachioed American I was well aware of some of the cultural distinctions before I arrived on Asia’s kimchi-laden shores. Less fat people. Less bald people. Not much facial hair. Got it. But I hadn’t quite anticipated exactly how my own lip caterpillar would be received. I have had a mustache [off and on, but mostly on] for the past six years or so. It had become interwoven into my very personality. They grow on you, you know.
To present my mustache in a more flamboyant fashion, I usually waxed it up like an old-timey fisticuffs champion (or Rollie Fingers, if that helps). This bold Captain Hook-esque look was immediately discouraged and eventually curtailed entirely by my Korean employers. I did still maintain a fairly impressive cookie-duster, loss of the dandy waxen twists notwithstanding. Think Frank Zappa sans soul-patch.
My over 500 students called me Super Mario Teacher, which was superbly righteous. The kids loved it. I did, however, have one smart aleck kid say once, “Teacher! Teacher! You look [like] Hitler!” I get that all foreigners can look the same, but come on. If we were going for the tyrannical despot comparison I think Joseph Stalin might have been more apropos. And I told the boy so. And he made a quizzical face. I asked him, “Do you know who Joseph Stalin is?” and he said “no” to which I replied, “He’s the wise guy who invented North Korea.” Scared the jjigae out of him.
More and more often I find myself going naked these days. Mustache-wise, I mean. It is daily a tough decision that forces me to ask myself if I am denying being true to myself in paltry exchange for greater cultural approval. Strange how the wind blows across my exposed upper lip. Curious how the consumption of soup has reclaimed its former joys. Maddening how my coworkers compliment the perceived improvement. My students, crestfallen though they might be at the departure of Super Mario Teacher, must face facts: I like being able to get the occasional date with a Korean lady.
As featured in 10 Magazine May 2014.