The Eagle Has Landed: 8 Questions Answered

Introduction


Greetings, dear readers, and welcome back to A Day with J. I celebrated my first 4th of July weekend in a decade this year – friends, family, fireworks, fried chicken, the whole nine. So, while I’ve got America on the brain, I figure now would be a perfect time to drop a quick update about my new life here in the States.  If you read my last post, you’ll remember that I was right on the verge of leaving Korea and spending some time with my buddy Keith and his family in Hawaii. Let’s start there…

(1) How was Hawaii?

J in Tiki Restaurant

Looking mighty dapper in my aloha shirt.

I’m sure it will come as exactly zero surprise to anyone that Hawaii was friggin’ amazing. After a stressful year filled with curriculum planning and viral outbreaks, a few weeks of island hopping and tiki bar exploration were just what the doctor ordered. Some of you might have seen the awesomely smarmy videos I posted on Instagram along the way.

Unfortunately, just like my final year in Seoul, my time in Hawaii was cut short by covid-19. One morning Keith walked into the guest room where I was staying and said, “Dude, I hate to do this, but if we don’t get you out of here by tonight you might be stuck here for a while.” There are worse places to be stuck than Big Island, Hawaii, of course, but I understood where he was coming from. That night I boarded a plane and flew on home to Biloxi just before the virus put everything on lockdown.

Hawaii deserves its own post filled with pics, videos, and travel commentary, and I promise I’ll deliver it to you just as soon as the bullshit is over and I’m able to finish my trip.

doctor covidThere is a silver lining, though…

I managed to pick up a copy of Ulysses before I left the islands. 🙂

(2) Cool. So how does it feel to be home?

This is the question I get more than any other, and the short answer is that it feels very different. Apart from work-related stress, my life in Korea was relatively simple. Among other things, I didn’t have to worry about driving a car, being involved in any family drama, or paying much attention to national politics. Now that I’m home, all of those things are on the daily menu. You might not believe this, but just being able to understand what everyone around me is saying has been a bit of an adjustment for me. It’s kind of like those tear-jerking YouTube videos where people have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time.

On the plus side, it’s great to see my friends and family – and go to Wendy’s whenever I want! I had no intentions of being a teacher for the rest of my life, so now is a time to start putting new plans into motion. It’s exciting, but like I said, very different.

(3) How’s your family? 

With the possible exception of my grandmother (my mom’s mom, “Granny”), everyone seems to be doing pretty well at the time of this post. Granny – for those concerned – has been having some trouble with her eyesight for the past couple of months and recently moved into the Gardens in Ocean Springs for full-time care. Before she moved in, I spent many an afternoon sitting with her and recording her life story for posterity. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts:


By the way, I’m happy to report that the entire family is satisfied and impressed with her facilities and treatment at the Gardens (managed by my childhood friend and classmate Jody Stoddard). Granny says the food there is out of this world. 🙂

In other family news, I got my dad a mini Pac-Man arcade game for Father’s Day and damn near cried at how happy it made him.

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He sat and played with it at the kitchen table for almost 20 minutes straight before my mom finally told him his food was getting cold. He just looked at her like a little kid and said, “I’m having so much fun.” 🙂

Finally, a huge shout-out to my uncle Jimmy and aunt Jennifer for spotting me their old Yukon. It’s got a CD player in it, so I’ve been burning playlists to discs just like back in the day. (haha)


Seriously, though, it’s hard to overestimate the value of a reliable set of wheels. Much love, y’all.

(4) How’s Kimchi? Is he excited to have you home?

Good Kimchi smile

Doesn’t this face just say it all?

As you can probably imagine, my reunion with Kimchi involved a lot of happy dancing, spinning, bouncing, licking, and sounds of jubilation. (You can see the videos here.)

My parents had long harbored the delusion that after spending three years with them he wouldn’t recognize me and/or want me to come back. Wrong. He dropped them like hot potatoes and has resumed his role as my right-hand floof.

A sad story, however. One morning a couple of weeks after I got back, Kimchi stepped out of his pet carrier (where he sleeps), made a strange noise, and fell over on his side.

Kimchi on side

He’s sleeping in this pic, but his collapse was a lot like this.

He was perfectly still for about a minute, and – without being morbid – I honestly thought he had dropped dead. Then, as if nothing had happened, he just jumped right up and started moving around again.

I took him to the emergency hospital where the doctor said it could have been anything from a heat stroke to syncope to a seizure. He ran some bloodwork (everything was normal except for the BUN count, which might have been affected by dehydration) and then prescribed an anti-convulsant drug called Keppra, which Kimchi takes three times a day.

It’s heartbreaking when my little critter isn’t feeling well – more recently he’s been battling seasonal allergies and an ear infection – so I try to keep him as happy and active as I can with daily car rides, trips to the beach, and occasional afternoons at doggy day care. Anyone else ever go through a rough patch with your dog’s health? How did you handle it?

(5) Aww, that’s a bummer. Do you have any good news?

I do, actually. For starters, I’ve started spending more time than ever at Biloxi’s newly re-opened casinos. And, as luck would have it, I’ve developed a pretty good strategy for playing slots. I almost always come out a coupla hundred bucks ahead.

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I’ve also had the good fortune to spend some time with my friend Daniel Leavengood, who introduced me to Firehouse Subs, and Emmett Lawrence, who’s introduced me to several top-notch Vietnamese restaurants around town. Can’t put a price on friends like that.

(6) Spending time at the casinos, huh? That can be expensive. What’s your job situation?

Perhaps my luckiest break of all. After a couple of months in the States, I realized how stupid it would be for me to blow my entire savings on fast food and weekend road trips over the course of a year. So, I posted a notice on Facebook –

107700645_743405849768656_6100031101208966156_nand like a champ, my old gal-pal Danielle Sinopoli (now Danielle Miller) put me in touch with a friend of hers at MPS Grants.  I’ve been helping them put their new website together for a few weeks now and might eventually try my hand at becoming a grant writer. We shall see.

I also – finally! – have a new drivers license (don’t even get me started on what an ordeal that was), so I might start delivering for DoorDash or Grubhub as a side hustle.

side hustle

Boy, what I wouldn’t give to go back in time to my Domino’s delivery days at Ole Miss and put all my tips into a savings account. We didn’t know how good we had it back then.

(7) Okay, so you have reliable sources of transportation and income. Now, what are your goals? What are you ultimately trying to accomplish?

By May 25th of next year (my birthday), I will have completed a collection of 11 short stories and one novella, which I intend to have published or to publish myself. As of this post, three stories are finished and four others are in the deep draft/research phases. This has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember, and I believe I now have the time and resources to approach it properly. Several other creative projects are in the works as well.

Also, I’m trying to get in shape and improve my health.


(8) Good deal. Any goals for the near future?  

Just the daily processes of reconnecting with friends and family, expanding my social network, improving my writing through constant practice, and bringing my soul ever closer to God. You know, the usual.

Get in touch and let me know what’s up, dear readers. And ’til next time, be well.

– J.
7/6/20

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Quite Possibly My Last Post from Korea

Introduction

Before I begin, dear readers, I want you to get a good look at the following picture. Study it long and hard.

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This is one of many things that no one ever tells you about teaching. According to Hollywood, a teacher’s days are spent inspiring young people to reach for the stars, turning inner city kids away from gang violence with the help of poetry, and finding out that the student everyone else thought was stupid is actually a secret math and physics wizard. It would be nice if that were true, but alas, it usually isn’t. Truth is, as a teacher, you spend a lot of time planning lessons, designing worksheets, explaining things in one-on-one conferences, editing student work, and writing progress reports. Then, at the end of the school year, most of your students just turn around and throw every last bit of it away. It’s enough to drive a person to nihilism.

The last few weeks of this school year were especially chaotic. Just when we had gotten back from winter vacation and settled in for our final English presentations, the Wuhan coronavirus broke out in China (seen in red on the map below) and started making its way around the globe.

china korea map

Just across the border, authorities here in South Korea (seen in green) wasted no time putting everything on lockdown. One afternoon the students went home to practice their presentations. An hour later, they all received phone calls telling them not to come back for at least a week (we teachers still had to show up for work, though – haha). In the end, the presentations were cancelled, the graduation festivities became small classroom ceremonies (parents were told not to come), and the students were headed home after just one hour. An appropriately apocalyptic end to my time in Korea.

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As of today, it’s all over but the packing.

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The Next Step

Yes, it’s true. After 9 years in the Far East, I’ve paid off my debts and saved up enough money to go home and write for a while. I have a lot of projects on the back burner, but most of my time will be spent working on a collection of short stories that I hope to publish sometime in the next couple of years. (Interested in reading it? If so, please be sure to follow my progress on Facebook.)

sometimes

But before I do that, I’ll be going back to where it all began…

The Island Legend of J

hawaii

Some of you probably know the famous family story:
My mom and dad are on their second honeymoon in Hawaii. Mom turns to Dad with love in her eyes and says, “Tommy, let’s go for a walk on the beach and watch the sunset.”
Ever the romantic, Dad replies, “Hell no! I don’t wanna get sand in my shoes!”
Mom, slightly disappointed but still drunk on island vibes, sits on the edge of the bed and sighs. “Well,” she says, “what do you wanna do?”
Nine months later, I make my grand appearance on the world stage.

ozzy-hawai

Ozzy Osbourne in a Hawaiian grass skirt.

This time around I’ll be visiting my old friend and college radio co-host Keith, his wife Ashley, and their son Jack (one of several friends’ kids that I have yet to meet). Keith’s airline has been branching out into the islands and naturally he wants to show me around: Pearl Harbor, the lepers colony where Father Damien did his work, the road to Hana, Charles Lindbergh’s resting place, the Kona Brewers Festival, Volcano National Park, the birthplace of King Kamehamema, Turtle Bay, a Mai Tai tasting, a green sand beach, a Big Island luau, and of course a trip to Waikiki! Not a bad finale to this important chapter of my life. 🙂

Pour a Little Out

Sadly, my time in Hawaii won’t be all waterfalls and tiki parties. Keith and I will also be sharing our grief about the recent loss of our dear friend Jason Barnes. I know it’s customary to say only good things about someone after they pass, but anyone who knew Barnes knows that all the good things are true. He was one of the kindest, most positive people this world has ever been graced with.

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Rest in peace, old boy. Many tropical drinks will be spilled on the sand in your honor.

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I’ll also be pouring some out for my friend Rachael, one of my very favorite co-workers-turned-friends from my Barnes & Noble days. Rachael and I shared similar worldviews, senses of humor, and disdain for annoying customers. She will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, my beautiful friend.

A Big Chunk of Happiness

Even as I’m typing, I realize that this post might come across as a little bleak: a teacher’s work is meaningless, Wuhan coronavirus is spreading, I’ve lost two friends in the last month…But lest you think I’m going to leave you on a negative note, I have to introduce you to my new favorite Instagram and YouTube celeb – Chunk the Groundhog!

This video will explain everything. Seriously, watch it. It will make your day. 🙂

Conclusion

Anyway, I leave Korea in two weeks. This won’t be my last post about Korea (far from it), but it might be my last post from Korea. If you have questions that I haven’t answered, now would be a good time to message me. If not, I’ll see you soon with pics of Hawaii.

Aloha! And Kamsahamnida!

– J.
2/15/2020

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When Mom Visits Her Favorite: An Itinerary

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to my first blog post of 2020. Today is Thursday, January 9th, and for the first time in a week or so I’m actually up and about, trying to be productive. Before now, my vacation was mostly spent napping, sleeping, dozing, nodding off, and generally being exhausted. Why am I so tired? Because my mom came to Seoul on December 22nd and we kept ourselves busy. Here’s a look at our itinerary.

Day 1 – Sunday, December 22nd – Arrival

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Heading out on her maiden voyage. This pic was taken at the airport in Gulfport.

My mom’s plane touched down in Seoul right on time – no flight delays or hiccups.

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For at least a month I’d been telling her that she was staying at La Cucaracha Backpacker’s Paradise and Dirt Motel and a guy named Sunflower would be there to pick her up in his van, but of course I was only kidding. Like any good son, I was there to meet her at the airport and take her to her real lodgings at the Royal Hotel Seoul in Myeong-dong.

Day 2 – Monday, December 23rd – A Day of Rest

I had to work the next day, which gave my mom a full day of rest and recovery back at the hotel. It’s always nice to have a day like that after a long flight. Later that evening, we took a cab over to my neighborhood and sampled some of the local street food: fried vegetables, rice cake, and “sauce chicken” from my very favorite vendor.

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Within a couple of hours, Mom was kicked back in my chair with her feet on my bed, using my laptop, and eating Korean street food with a wooden skewer. I told her she was getting pretty good at this whole Korea thing.

Day 3 – Tuesday, December 24th – Back to School

The next day, I took my mom to work so she could meet my students and co-workers. My students this year have a bit of a reputation for rowdiness, but they seemed shocked to see my mom in the classroom and instinctively went into ultra-polite mode. I have to say, I was very proud of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures from her visit. It was a busy day (the last day before vacation) and I always feel a little creepy taking pictures of my students.

When work was over, we went to a nearby shopping street for Cookie Dogs – part cookie, part biscuit.

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Sounds good because it is.

Day 4 – Wednesday, December 25th – Joy to the World

The next day was Christmas, which means we were at Myeong-dong Cathedral bright and early to celebrate mass (in English) and pay our respects at the crypt of the Korean Martyrs.

Afterwards, we walked to nearby Shinsegae Department Store to eat lunch and look around at all the uppity luxury stores. As you can see, Mom made a friend at Louis Vuitton:

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That night we went to a movie (the theaters in Seoul brought Love Actually back for Christmas – ask me what I think about that movie) and then had Burger King in honor of my late great grandfather, the legendary Flash (my mom’s dad), who was a bona fide Whopper junkie.

A very simple, but very nice Christmas.  🙂

Day 5 – Thursday, December 26th – A Day Among Royalty

With the school year and Christmas now behind us, my mom’s visit to Seoul entered its second, more tourist-y phase. Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace, which we entered through the gate in Gwanghwamun.


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By sheer luck and coincidence, we got there just in time for the Changing of the Royal Guard:

Mom said it was amazing that we could see this traditional ceremony right in front of us, then turn to the right and see skyscrapers. Without realizing it, she’d just described Seoul in a nutshell.

In another section of the palace complex was a stone depiction of the Chinese zodiac. Unlike the western zodiac, which is divided up by months, the Chinese zodiac is divided by years. How old is my mom? Well, it’s not polite to tell someone’s age, but I’ll give you a hint…She was born in the Year of the Horse.

That evening we met some of my friends from work for Korean barbecue (samgyeopsal) and did some souvenir shopping in Insadong. It was a very Korean day.


Day 6 – Friday, December 27th – To Buddha or Not to Buddha? 

The next day Mom said she was in the mood for breakfast food, and I knew exactly what to do. Just a quick subway ride to Gangnam (made famous by the “Gangnam Style” craze all the way back in 2012) and we were chowing down at Butterfinger Pancakes.

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She’ll say it’s not a very good picture, but her smile was weird in the staged one.

Then, bellies full, we cabbed it over to Bongeunsa Temple.

Bongeunsa was the first big surprise of my mom’s visit. A lifelong devout Catholic (she was going to become a nun before my dad and his vintage Mustang “came along and wrecked everything” – her words), she had never been to a Buddhist temple before. Something about the calm and quiet of the place really did something for her, and she was very impressed by all the people she saw doing their devotional prostrations. She’s not converting or anything, but she really enjoyed the experience.


But here again is the great irony of Seoul. On one side of the street is Bongeunsa Temple, where people try to strip away their desire for earthly things. On the other side of the street (literally, directly across the street) is COEX Mall, where earthly desires and material possessions are the name of the game.

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We spent the afternoon there, snacking, shopping, and walking through the aquarium.

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Mom couldn’t stop laughing at this penguin watching television.

And this piranha looked like he wanted to say something:


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Good pizza for dinner and then early to bed. We had to be well-rested for the next day’s adventures.

Day 7 – Saturday, December 28th – North and South 

No trip to Korea is complete without a trip to the border between North and South, so on the seventh day of my mom’s visit we climbed into a tour bus and headed on up. The actual Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is currently closed due to an outbreak of swine flu, but we were still able to visit the Freedom Bridge and observation towers.

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Mommy Dearest with North Korea in the background.

My mom was extremely lucky to visit when she did. I’ve seen North Korea from both South Korea and China, but I have never seen it as clearly as I did when we were there. Take a look:


The tour ended at the War Memorial of Korea, which was the next big surprise of Mom’s visit to Seoul. Most Americans (self included) have no real understanding of the Korean War, its relationship to World War II, or the impact it’s had on all of East Asia. Everyone who comes to this museum walks away with a better grasp of history, and my mom was no exception. She really got a lot out of it.

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Next time you see her, ask her about “The Drop.”


Here she is in front of the Douglas MacArthur Tree.


And just for good measure, here’s Douglas MacArthur’s corncob pipe (all blurry for artistic effect):

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In the late afternoon we took a cab over to Sandwich House (one of my very favorite spots) so I could introduce my mom to the extremely friendly owner/proprietor. Great food, and an excellent end to a long day on the battlefield.

Day 8 – Sunday, December 29th –  Full of Grace

The next day took us to one of Seoul’s best-hidden gems: The Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Namyang.

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On more than one occasion I’ve described this place to friends as a sort-of Catholic Disneyland. The entire property is divided up into walking trails designed to resemble a large string of rosary beads.

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As you walk along the trails you’ll find devotional places for Our Lady of Fatima, the Divine Mercy, and just about any Catholic figure of note.


There’s also a small, but beautiful church where a young priest gave my mom a big hug and said a blessing over her.

Sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side, so we weren’t able to stay for very long. But, it was still a good experience.

Once we got back into the heart of Seoul, we had Chinese food, shopped a little, and took a look at the Pushkin Statue near Lotte Department Store. Fun fact: Vladimir Putin came from Moscow to dedicate this statue as a symbol of friendship between Russia and Korea.

It was a good day.

Day 9 – Monday, December 30th – Top of the World

Mom’s 9th day in Korea brought us to the 6th (some say 5th) tallest building in the world: Lotte World Tower. From the observation floors near the top, we were able to look out and see the city in all directions. This was a lot of fun for a couple of reasons: (1) because I’d never been there before, and (2) because it was really well put together. The elevator that took us to the top was a show in and of itself, and in true Korean fashion there were restaurants, cafes, and shops all over the place.

We wrapped up the afternoon by peeking into all the luxury stores and acting like we had money. Then we went to McDonald’s (haha).

Day 10 – Tuesday, December 31st – Steak and Bunions

New Year’s Eve. By Day 10 we were both showing signs of wear, so Mom decided to relax with a nice pedicure.

We spent the afternoon being lazy and snacking on street food, then at 7:00 we were off to VIPs for a New Year’s Eve steak dinner and buffet before watching the 2020 fireworks from Mom’s hotel room.

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Not a bad way to say goodbye to 2019.

Day 11 – Wednesday, January 1st – Galbi and Farewell

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and the following day was Mom’s last day in Korea. Before we got on the airport shuttle we headed out for one last round of Korean food: chicken rice galbi. You might think of it as Korean jambalaya.

Mom loved it.

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And then just a few hours later we were at the airport for a difficult goodbye.

Can you see why I’ve been so tired for the past week? 🙂

Much love, Mom. I hope you enjoyed your time in Seoul. You’re a good travel buddy, and I look forward to seeing you, Dad, and everyone else when I come home in the spring. 🙂

– J.

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The Official J. Wiltz Update (October 2019)

Introduction

speedy

Greetings, dear readers, and thanks for stopping by. It’s been quite a while since I last posted anything here at A Day With J., so I figured I’d take a few minutes out of a long weekend and write a quick update. The last few months have been productive but not terribly interesting, so I’ll try to make this as quick and painless as possible.

Head Start

My last post was written sometime in May, which means the logical thing to do would be to tell you about everything that’s happened since June. Unfortunately, I don’t remember very much about June – OR July – and that’s probably because I took a nasty blow to the head at the beginning of August. Here’s what happened. (Be forewarned: gruesome images are coming.)

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One rainy Sunday morning I was coming out of the 24-hour ATM service at my bank (pictured above). Next thing I knew, my head was bouncing off the ground like a basketball. It happened that quickly. Apparently the shoes I was wearing had exactly zero grip, and as soon as they touched down on the wet handicap accessibility ramp I fell straight back. BANG!

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A group of teenagers walking by thought it was hilarious (may they all have a slumber party on Elm Street or go camping at Crystal Lake), but an older woman was clearly horrified. She asked me, in Korean, if I was okay, and I assured her that I was. The fall shocked the hell out of me, but surprisingly it didn’t really hurt. I was able to laugh about it, brush myself off, and walk a block or two before the first warm trickle of blood went running down the back of my neck.

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Long story short, I ended up in the emergency room at Seoul National University Hospital where I was given a CT scan and five staples on the back of my head.

In true Korean fashion, the emergency room tech told me, “Your scan is okay. There is no fracture or bleeding…But maybe in two days you will have a concussion or your brain will start to swell. If that happens, come back here or maybe you will die.” Needless to say, I took everything really slowly for the next couple of days. I also wore a swimmers cap in the shower for five days so I wouldn’t get the staples wet (doctor’s orders).

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Ten days later, my staples were removed and I haven’t had a moment’s trouble since. Like I said, it never really hurt. It was just kind of a dumb thing that happened to start my summer vacation.

Follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

writing

The rest of my time off was spent working on my long-neglected novella. As always, the first week was wasted on false starts and crappy exposition (writing is like going to the gym – if you stop doing it, you have to struggle a little to get yourself back in shape), but after a while I finally got into a good rhythm and managed to finish a difficult chapter. Next year I’ll be moving back to the States to devote my full attention to it. Wish me luck.

In more recent writing news, I entered the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival‘s annual Lovecraftian Micro-Fiction Contest in September.

hpl

If you’re not familiar with Lovecraft, here’s what you need to know: he was a writer of pulp horror stories in the early 20th century. His stories are mainly concerned with indescribable cosmic beings living in the depths of the ocean or the vast reaches of space. These beings – Cthulhu being the most well-known – are often referred to as the Ancient Ones or the elder gods. The human characters in his stories usually go insane when exposed to knowledge about them. Lovecraft wrote in long sentences, used a ton of antiquated vocabulary terms (“eldritch” is a fan favourite), and was the true creator of the Necronomicon (sorry, edgy teenagers, it’s not really a book of arcane, wicked voodoo magic).

Anyway, I submitted my story (“Dol-hareubang”) and was thrilled to receive the following response a few weeks later –

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Fhtagn!

Time to Play Cowboys and Hippies

Speaking of stories, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood finally came out in Seoul a couple of weeks ago. I’ve already seen it twice.

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I could go on and on about the things I like in this movie, but I’ll save it unless somebody really wants to know. (Seriously, I can write a whole essay about this.) Suffice to say, it’s in my Tarantino Top 3. Who else has seen it?

I Won’t Be Home for Christmas…But… 

The last thing worth mentioning is that I’ve got big holiday plans this year. Am I going back to beautiful Mother Russia?

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Spending time on an island?

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Finally taking a trip to India?

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Nope. This year I’ll be opening my door to a very special guest.

Mom

That’s right. After eight years, my mom is coming to spend Christmas with me here in Seoul. (My dad can’t make it because of health reasons.) Her flights and hotel are already booked, and we’ve got a full itinerary. It’s gonna be fun to take her around and see her reactions to everything. Does anyone have suggestions for things I might not have thought about? If so, do tell.

Conclusion

That pretty much wraps it up for now, gang. Please don’t hold this lazy ending against me. It’s late, I’m getting tired, and I’ll consider it a small miracle if anyone’s read this far anyway. ‘Til next time, dear readers, be well.

– J.
October 5, 2019

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Lotte Tower Fireworks

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My 30-Day Song Challenge

Sometime near the end of March I found this 30-day song challenge on Instagram and decided to give it a go. I’ve been posting my answers on Facebook for a month, and now, for the sake of convenience, I’ve collected all of them here. Enjoy. 🙂

30 days
Day 1: A song you like with a color in the title
“Blue Velvet” by Lana del Rey

Notes: As a general rule I don’t really care for pop music (except for some of those 80s pop songs that actually sound more like hard rock power ballads). I don’t know any of the new – or old – dances, and I doubt I would even recognize any singers who are currently in the top 10 if they were sitting next to me on the subway. But Lana del Rey is a different animal. She makes that weird/atmospheric kind of pop music that makes me think of movies from the 1960s and those records you always see at thrift stores. Dig it.

*
Day 2: A song you like with a number in the title
“The Big Three Killed My Baby” by the White Stripes

Notes: Oh, White Stripes. You and your long song titles. And your bluesy garage rock. And your raw recording quality. And your undying support of old country music and the Delta Blues. And your rabid minimalism. And your gimmickry that actually worked. And your courage to be truly counter-cultural…Damn it, I love this band.

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Day 3: A song that reminds you of summertime
“Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran

Notes: Yeah, I know, this one seems obvious because it has the word “summertime” in the title, but hear me out. Back when my sister Katie and I were kids, our mom used to dump us off at PACH Hall’s city-sponsored daytime abandonment camp every summer. Dirty Dancing, Stand By Me, and La Bamba were all popular movies back then, so the music of the 50s and 60s was very much a thing. All the kids were singing (and lip-syncing) those tunes. I hear this song and it really is summertime at PACH Hall all over again.

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Day 4: A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget
“Liar” by Henry Rollins

Note: Everyone I have ever completely written off has had one thing in common.

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Day 5: A song that needs to be played loudly
“Mass Hypnosis” by Sepultura

Note: A friend of mine is married to a guy from Argentina. The first time I met him I mentioned the fact that South America has produced a ton of great metal bands. As soon as I said it, he smiled, raised the horns, and said (in Spanish), “Sep-ul-TOO-ra.” Those first 4 albums are some of Brazil’s finest exports.

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Day 6: A song that makes you want to dance
“The Sails of Charon” by Scorpions

Note: Groove for days. Next time I strip for somebody’s birthday, it’ll be to this song.

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Day 7: A song to drive to
“Misirlou” by Dick Dale

Note: Yes, it’s “the Pulp Fiction song,” but it’s also a great tune to blast when you’re doing 30 over the speed limit with the windows down. My buddy Keith can attest, this was the soundtrack to almost all of our high school adventures. And on a related note, my friend Angelo once killed that trumpet solo during a show at the Jaycees Hall. Great times with this one.

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Day 8: A song about drugs or alcohol
“Snowblind” by Black Sabbath

Note: Something I’ve noticed about cocaine. In songs about other drugs, the artists try to speak in clever/coded metaphors (“Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” etc.) But in songs about cocaine (“Casey Jones” by the Grateful Dead, “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton, etc.) they just come right out and say it. Know why? ‘Cause cocaine is a hell of a drug.

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Day 9: A song that makes you happy
“In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room”

Note: There’s a special place in my heart for the tiki scene of the 1950s-60s. I like the neo-tiki/hulabilly scene too. An entire subculture devoted to the art of taking it easy? Yes please. I mean, where else are you gonna find a song performed by 4 international parrots?

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Day 10: A song that makes you sad
“Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail”

Note: True embarrassing-as-hell story. When An American Tail came out, my mom took me and Katie to see it at Surf Side Cinema. (And yes, we stuffed our pockets with candy from Eckerd beforehand.) I was really enjoying it right up until Fievel and his sister decided to look up at the moon and sing “Somewhere Out There.” I cried so hard and unrelentingly at this song that I drove my mom through all 5 stages of parental concern: (1) “Oh, baby, don’t cry. It’s gonna be alright;” (2) “Look! He found his family! See? Look how happy they are! You can quit crying now.” (3) “You STILL crying? Oh, I am not believing this. This is embarrassing.” (4) “Jason Michael, for gawd’s sake, he found his family! QUIT. CRYING!” (5) “What do you think your daddy’s gonna do when I tell him how much you cried over some singing mice?”

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Day 11: A song you never get tired of
“One by One” by Immortal

Note: It’s not the the trvest song Immortal ever recorded, but for my money it’s the perfect combination of black and thrash metal, peaks and valleys. Every time this song comes up in my gym mix, I go into Norwegian beast mode.

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Day 12: A song from your preteen years
“Turtle Power” by Partners in Kryme

Note: I know you remember Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap,” but do you remember the far superior “Turtle Power”? My only complaint about this song is that it says Raphael is the leader. Wrong. The TMNT theme song clearly states that “LEONARDO leads.” Nevertheless, it delivers an important message: “When you stand for what you believe in and find the strength to do what’s right – THAT’s Turtle Power!”

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Day 13: A song you like from the 70s
“Easy Livin'” by Uriah Heep

Note: This was a hard one, mainly because the 70s were loaded with great bands: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, KISS, Heart, The Allman Brothers Band – all that stuff is 70s music. When I was first getting into rock/metal, one of my dad’s radio friends turned me on to a lesser-known, but equally great band called Uriah Heep and their classic album “Demons and Wizards.” I found a copy in the used stacks at Ace Music, brought it home, and have been jamming to it ever since. This song is proto-thrash. Dig it.

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Day 14: A song you’d love to be played at your wedding
“My Funny Valentine”

Note: If I was getting married and my wife dedicated this song to me at our wedding, I would try extra hard not to cheat on her with her sister and/or lose our life savings in a pyramid scheme. Not because I’m a huge fan of the song itself, but because the lyrics really make a guy like me feel appreciated. This is the song you play when you fall in love with the class clown.

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Day 15: A song you like that’s a cover by another artist
“Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” by Stevie Ray Vaughan

Note: If you like guitar-driven music, you owe it to yourself to watch this. Most Jimi Hendrix songs don’t sound right when they’re covered by other artists, but – dare I say it? – SRV actually played this one better. Legend has it that his guitar smoked five cigarettes and made dinner for him after this performance. Seriously, watch his face during the solo at 1:55. Played it so well, even HE just had to close his eyes and shake his head. Spirit done got him, y’all.

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Day 16: A song that’s a classic favorite
“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (performed by Jeff Buckley)

Note: It’s probably the most overplayed song ever written. You hear it in every singing competition. There are literally thousands of cover versions on YouTube. I’ve been to piano bars where the pianists wouldn’t even take $100 to play it. But don’t forget what Amanda Palmer said: “Some songs get covered a lot because they’re just that good.”

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Day 17: A song you’d sing as a duet with someone at karaoke
“A Whole New World” by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle

Note: So you might have heard this crazy rumor that my friend Keith and I spent an entire Drama Fest bus ride to Hattiesburg re-writing this song with more “grown up” lyrics. Well, the rumor is true. That was high school, but I still remember every word. And with the right singing partner, I can show you the world…

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Day 18: A song from the year you were born
“1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins

Note: Is this cheating? 🙂

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Day 19: A song that makes you think about life
“Parabol/Parabola” by Tool

Note: Whether you believe we were created by a divine being or simply won the cosmic evolution lottery, life as we know it IS a miracle. This song is a hymn to that fact. “Recognize this as a holy gift and celebrate this chance to be alive and breathing…Embrace this moment. Remember, we are eternal. All this pain is an illusion.”

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Day 20: A song that has many meanings to you
“Lightning Crashes” by Live

Note: I got your ’90s nostalgia RIGHT. HERE. This song has always sent my mind in a lot of different directions – life, death, angels, friends who’ve passed away, second chances, unseen forces, etc. It’s the feeling Robert Plant gets when he looks to the West. It’s chapter 7 of The Wind in the Willows. Much love to those who know what I’m saying.

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Day 21: A song you like with a person’s name in the title
“Jolene” by Dolly Parton

Note: It’s a little overwhelming how many great songs have people’s names in their titles – “Layla,” “Hey Jack Kerouac,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Jackie’s Strength,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Jeremy,” “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam,” etc. ad infinitum. A lot of great tunes, but I have to go with “Jolene” on this one. It takes me back to watching Hee Haw with my grandparents on Saturday nights, there’s no other song quite like it, and – I’ll just say it – I’m from the South. If I pick one of the other songs, I can’t go home again.

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Day 22: A song that moves you forward
“Curse You All Men” by Emperor

Note: I didn’t have to think about this one for even a second. Whenever I’m feeling down and defeated, this is the soundtrack to my rise from the ashes. It’s an acquired taste for sure – most people won’t make it past the vocals. But if you do, you’ll hear an anthem dedicated to seeing beyond the present moment, reclaiming what’s yours, and torturing your enemies for eternity. “Curse you, all men whose coil is strong / I recognize the sparrow’s heart beneath the theater of misery / Disbelievers shall, by dawn, be forced to forever mourn / Curse you, all men that resent my empire / As I have risen again / At war this time.” By the way, did I mention that I met these guys at the airport in Tokyo?

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Day 23: A song you think everybody should listen to
“Pig Fetus” by The Brass Tacks

Note: Why should everybody listen to this song? Well, mostly because I’m in the band that wrote it, performed it, and edited the video together. Also, because you should all subscribe to my YouTube channel (Gemini Hills). There’s no metaphor to this song, by the way. It’s about my old partner in crime, who really did keep a fetal pig named Babe in a jar. For more info, click here. Enjoy. Oh, and listen with headphones.

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Day 24: A song by a band you wish was still together
“Domination” by Pantera

Note: You HAVE seen this before, right? I mean, what are you doing with your life if you haven’t seen Pantera’s classic live performance of “Domination” in Moscow? I doubt they’d still be playing at this level if they were still together today, but it would be nice if Vinnie and Dime were still alive. They were good guys. Gone way too soon. Watch and learn, kids. A legend is born starting at about 3:05.

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Day 25: A song you like by an artist no longer living
“I’m Afraid of Americans” by David Bowie

Note: It might be different with rap and hip-hop, but when a rock or metal song features a special guest singer it usually sucks. Not so with this song, though. David Bowie and Trent Reznor did it right. By the way, when my gal-pal Wendy and I went around to the back of State Palace Theater to watch David Bowie get into his car (after standing front row for the concert), Trent Reznor was there and we stood right next to him. Not as exciting as getting an IG like from Billy Corgan, but hey, it was still a nice moment.

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Day 26: A song that makes you want to fall in love
“Crazy on You” by Heart

Note: I’m bending the rules a little bit on this one. “Crazy on You” doesn’t necessarily make ME want to fall in love, but it was the perfect song for my favorite movie scene about falling in love. Take two minutes out and watch it. Remember what love felt like at that age? Desperately wanting someone. Trying to reach out to them. All of your interactions are fumbly and awkward. You don’t know how you’ll ever manage to make it work. And then…

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Day 27: A song that breaks your heart
“Rattlesnakes” by Tori Amos

Note: I have a terrible history with Tori Amos’s Strange Little Girls album. First, it was released on September 18, 2001, exactly one week after 9/11. Just hearing it takes me back to a very bad time. On top of that, the songs all have a sad, rainy day, creepy hospital room vibe about them – like that “I Feel Fantastic” video on YouTube (don’t look it up). The only song I really liked was Tori’s cover of Lloyd Cole’s “Rattlesnakes,” but even that has totally depressing lyrics about a young woman who’s been dealt a bad hand. “She says, ‘Oh, it’s so hard to love when Love was your great disappointment.'” Talk about a mood killer.

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Day 28: A song by an artist whose voice you love
“City of New Orleans” by Johnny Cash

Note: It’s the quintessential old country song about trains. A lot of people have sung it, but Johnny’s version has always been my favorite.

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Day 29: A song you remember from your childhood
“Call Me” by Blondie

Note: Here’s another one I didn’t have to think about. “Call Me” was my first favorite song. My parents had it on a 45, and I wore that damn thing down. Still love it.

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Day 30: A song that reminds you of yourself
“Man on the Moon” by R.E.M.

Note: I keep thinking there’s gonna come a day when I wake up and find myself a wise, old, totally mature man who no longer loves pranks, surprises, and fart jokes. And yet every morning I wake up still loving all three. I guess this is just me. “If you believe there’s nothing up his sleeve…”

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And there you have it. Hope you found something worth listening to. Thanks for reading.

– J.

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Are You Watching the Vlogs?

Greetings dear readers. A few months back I decided to switch things up a little by putting my random thoughts into weekly vlogs instead of arbitrary blog posts. So far the response has been pretty positive. I’m not setting any records with my view counts or anything, but quite a few old friends have touched base with me after seeing them. I’ve even had a successful postcard project and gift giveaway. The question is: are you watching the vlogs? If not, head on over to my YouTube channel and subscribe.

Here’s my latest vid about my trip to Castle Dracula in Transylvania. Enjoy!


Which do you prefer, blogs or vlogs? Let me know.

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The Official J.Wiltz Update (November 2018)

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Here’s the business.

Introduction

Greetings, dear readers, and welcome to a completely arbitrary update about my life, interests, hobbies, and thoughts. As you’re aware, the holiday season is upon us once again. It’s cold outside, and it’s even snowed a little here in Seoul. So, I thought this would be a good time to bundle up, find a cozy spot indoors, and update this here blog. Nothing terribly exciting, but stick with me for a few minutes. I’ll try to make it worth your time.

A Disturbance in the Force

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There goes the gameplan.

For starters, there’s been a change in my plans for 2019. I had made arrangements to come back to the USA and write for a year, but those plans have unfortunately fallen through. (Long story short: trust no one.) I’m not exactly sure where that leaves me just yet, but I’ve got 2-3 months to figure it out. Wish me luck. I’ll update again when I know something more concrete.

Go East, Young Man

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“To be a sailor of the world, bound for all ports.”

In the meantime, here’s some better news. My winter vacation plans are fully green-lighted and ready to go. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this year’s adventures will take me to Bucharest, Romania, then over to Budapest (via train), up into Poland, and finally to Moscow and St.Petersburg. I’ve got an amazing itinerary mapped out, but I don’t want to say too much about it, because it might ruin the element of surprise when I post my daily vlogs from the road. Be sure to subscribe to my fledgling YouTube channel so you won’t miss anything. (No joke, I’ll send postcards to all my subscribers.)

When in Russia…

brown book page

On a related note, I’ve decided to end this year (and begin 2019) with something of a literary endurance test. Because I’ll be traveling in Russia and eastern Europe, I think now is as good a time as any to dive into Leo Tolstoy’s 1444-page magnum opus, War and Peace. My students were amazed at the size of this book when I brought it to class not long ago, so I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when I tell them that I’m actually going to read it. I’ll keep you updated on my progress in the aforementioned vlogs.

Today is the Greatest. Know Why?

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Speaking of great works of art, I’m extremely happy to report that the Smashing Pumpkins have just released a new album. It’s called Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol.1 and it’s pretty awesome. A lot of Pumpkins fans are happy that 3 of the 4 original members of the band are reunited on this album (and that is great!), but truthfully, I’ve enjoyed both incarnations of the band, so it doesn’t really make or break things for me one way or the other. I’m just happy to have new Pumpkins music in my ears.

If you’re one of those fans who tuned out after the Mellon Collie era, please allow me to suggest that you check out (if nothing else) Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, Oceania, and Billy Corgan’s solo album Ogilala. You can thank me later.

J-Jitsu: Legend of the White Belt

jiu jitsu

A couple of months back I mentioned something about starting jiu-jitsu lessons with one of my co-workers. I know it probably sounded like one of those crazy ideas I often play around with and then forget about, but nope: I have indeed started taking jiu-jitsu. I’ve only had five or six lessons thus far, so obviously I’m not what you’d call an expert. If anything, it’s only made me realize how clumsy and uncoordinated I am – and how I really need to get a better handle on my eating habits. (It’s no fun being the only guy who gets out of breath doing the warm-up exercises.) But I do enjoy it and a couple of people have told me they’re already seeing a little bit of progress in my technique. Honestly, it’s like a more disciplined version of the backyard wrestling I used to do with my buddy Jeff and the kids in my neighborhood growing up – minus the DDTs and elbow drops off the swingset, of course. I’ve had to sit it out for the past week or so due to a chest cold that started veering dangerously close to pneumonia (don’t need that sneaking up on me and ruining another vacation), but with any luck I’ll be back in the gi by the end of this week. We’ll see.

Taking it to the Next Level

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The last thing I have to mention this time around is, of all things, the Heaven’s Gate cult a.k.a. those people who killed themselves so they could ride on the UFO back in 1997. Of all the crazy news stories the Nineties gave us, Heaven’s Gate was the one I was most fascinated with. Some of you might remember that I framed two issues of Newsweek about them and had them hanging on my bedroom wall. Others might recall that time I got in trouble for pulling up their website in our high school library. A select few might even have read the short story I wrote based on their ideology. It went over very well in my junior college creative writing class.

Well anyway, after years of only seeing their materials in snippets and highlight reels I was surprised to discover that almost all of the Heaven’s Gate videos, including the farewells they recorded before they “exited their vehicles,” are now available in their entirety on YouTube. Open rabbit hole. Insert J.

 


Tell me I’m not the only one who gets lost in this crap and I’ll write a more detailed post about it later.

For now, this is J signing off. Like I said, this isn’t the most interesting or well-written update I’ve ever posted, but I’m heavily medicated right now. Thanks for bearing with me.

– J.

IG: @poms_are_metal / @sell_your_seoul (metal/horror page)
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My Winter Vacation Plans: Vampires and Nazis and Soviets, Oh My!

Friday, September 21st, 2018. 5:41 P.M.

I’ve just finished my workday and am now free to begin to my 5-day Chuseok weekend. But before I head off to the races, I thought I’d sit down and post a little reading material for you, dear reader. That’s what a nice guy I am. That’s how much I care about the 8 or 9 people who wander onto this blog every day. (Pretends to be humble. Holds for applause.)

Actually, my main reason for posting today is to share my winter travel plans. Yes, after going almost two years without a proper vacation (last year’s big event was basically just a weekend trip to Japan), I’ve officially signed the dotted line on a month-long trek around eastern Europe. Here’s my itinerary.

Seoul to Bucharest


As my vacation begins, I’ll be flying from Seoul to Bucharest, Romania, to see the sights and tour the real Castle Dracula. (Stay tuned for scenes of me performing all my favorite scenes from various film adaptations.) I have a ton of love and respect for the Romanian people, mainly because they executed their former Communist leaders by firing squad on Christmas Day.

Dead Communists make great Christmas gifts.

Train to Krakow via Hungary

After wrapping up the Romanian leg of my vacation, I’ll take a train through Hungary, where I’ll probably spend a few days in Budapest (see video above). After that, it’s off to Poland to see Krakow and Warsaw, tour Auschwitz, and visit the Skull Chapel of Czermna.


Krakow to Moscow

The grand finale of this eastern European tour will begin when I fly from Krakow to Moscow to experience the fabled Russian winter firsthand.


I’ll be in Moscow for three days – already booked my Red Square/Kremlin/St.Basil’s tour – before hopping a train to St.Petersburg and visiting all the Catherine the Great/Alexander Pushkin hot-spots. Fingers crossed that I’ll meet and shake hands with Ivan Drago – assuming he wasn’t exiled to Siberia after his loss to Rocky Balboa.


I’m sure it’ll be hard to leave Mother Russia behind, but when the time comes I’ll be heading back to Seoul to finish out the current school year.

So there it is, comrades. My winter vacation itinerary. From Dracula’s castle to the Land of the Tsars.


Like my Facebook page and subscribe to my YouTube channel and I’ll add you to my postcard/souvenir list. 🙂

Off to the races now,
J.

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Here’s an Update (Because I’m Bored)

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Introduction 

Funny true story. Every summer the good doctors of Seoul find something new for everyone to panic about and get tested for. One year it was the flu. The following year, it was the bird flu. In 2015 it was MERS.  This year it’s tuberculosis (the doctors have apparently been reading Dickens), so today I went to a medical center to make sure I don’t have the consumption – a requirement from my employer, by the way, not something I did voluntarily.

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Look closely at my reflection and you’ll see my awesome H.L. Mencken t-shirt from libertariancountry.com.

Imagine how darkly I laughed when I realized there was an obesity clinic on the same floor as the tuberculosis office. First of all, obese Koreans? Where? That would be like spotting Bigfoot or the Chupacabra. Secondly, it’s funny that the clinic was only on the second floor. You couldn’t have these hypothetical fatties climbing too many stairs if the elevator ever gave out. And finally, the detail that damn near doubled my laughter – every stair in the stairwell had a calorie count that outlined how many calories had been burned by taking that step.

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That’s pretty savage, Korea. It’s like, Yeah, sure, we could staple your stomach no problem. But I mean, have you ever thought about – I don’t know – getting up and moving around a little? Might be cheaper.

Boredom Now in Exchange for Adventure Later

So what’s up, everybody? J here, bored as hell.

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I was supposed to be in India right now, but I decided to sit on my money and plan a more elaborate winter vacation in Russia instead. India is still on my bucket list, of course, but I just can’t pass this up.


In true book-nerd fashion, I’ve been preparing for my Russian trip by going back and reading the classics of Russian literature: Pushkin, Chekhov, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak, the whole bunch.


I’ll have more to say about Russia in a few days after I finalize a few details.

If Your Days Can’t be Exciting, At Least Make Them Productive

In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself busy with a few projects I’ve had on the back burner for a while. As always, I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing this summer (almost finished with something I’ve struggled to get right for years) as well as a fair amount of exercise and weight loss. I’ve also organized a lot of my old pictures and started a new YouTube channel where you can see cinematic masterpieces like this one (seriously, watch this – it’s great):


I’m thinking about adding a vlog component to this page too. Out of curiosity: how many of you would actually watch my vlog if I took time to edit it together? Let me know by subscribing to my channel. If I get 20 subscribers, I’ll start vlogging. I think it could be a lot of fun, but I don’t wanna be one of those guys talking into a webcam for like two or three people.

And while I’m on the subject of YouTube, here are a few channels and videos I’ve been watching a lot lately:

(1) Gabe the Dog

Gabe has been an internet legend for years now, but he’s become especially important to me in recent months thanks to my students. Of all the things I’ve introduced them to, Gabe is what they love they most. The formula is simple. People take popular songs, movies, TV shows, and games and translate them into Pomeranian barking (“borking”), yaps, sniffs, and grunts. Do a search for just about any song followed by the word “bork” and you’re bound to find it. It’s a great rabbit hole to fall into.

(2) HaHa Davis

I don’t remember how I discovered HaHa Davis’s videos, but I’m glad I did. Here’s another simple formula. HaHa begins most of his videos by describing a situation and confidently declaring that it’s “finna be a breeze!” And then of course the situation – usually involving jail and a cellmate – goes horribly wrong.

(3) Anthony Adams

I first came across Anthony Adams’s channel when I was watching boxing highlights (as I often do). He’s got a lot of funny material about family, sports, and social situations. Watch enough of his vids and you’ll start to notice some recurring characters, including the “Get on the Line” Coach and the never-seen but obviously hilarious Chuck. Really good stuff. This man needs his own show.

(4) Mista GG

Picture this. NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” with hilarious running commentary. Yeah. You know I’m watching this.

(5) Baby Laugh-a-Lot

This commercial from 1970 is internet-famous for having a creepy doll (and kids) in it, but I seriously can’t stop laughing at the narrator. “Just push the button and she starts to giggle (loses his shit)!” It reminds me of the fake laugh I do to taunt my friends when they say something that isn’t funny. Hard to believe somebody actually thought this was a good way to sell dolls.

The Near and Distant Future

I’m sure my boredom is super obvious in this post, but don’t pity me just yet. I’ll be heading back to work in a couple of weeks, and not long after that I’ll be starting (don’t laugh) jiu jitsu lessons. One of my co-workers has been studying for a while now and thinks I’d get a lot out of it. We’ll see.

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And finally we come to everybody’s favorite question: when are you coming home? Believe it or not, I might actually have an answer this time. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be coming home for a year starting next March or April. I want to devote some real time to my writing, and by then I should have the resources to do it. It’s not set in stone, but for now it’s the plan.

Let me know what plans you’re currently hatching, dear readers. I’d love to hear from you, and I hope everyone’s well.

J.

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