Saturday, December 27, 2008

I didn't plan on not writing for two weeks, but it just happened. My addiction to late-night crime-based dramas intensified to the point that I was watching two episodes of Cold Case, which I hate, every night, just so I could experience the ups and downs of a murder investigations. Just two months ago, I had never heard of most of these shows save Law and Order, and now I watch about 4-5 hours a night. The result is that I have less time for everything else: running, sleeping, eating and, yes, even blogging.

Yes, you can look to the trusty Elliot Stabler for why I'm on track to run a fourth straight dismal marathon, haven't slept much of late and never manage to do all those little things like pay my bills (on days where I finish work early, I choose to go home to catch up on sleep instead of going to the bank). However, now I'm back in Canada for about two weeks, where I can't watch TV in bed. Clearly, there is a chance for a new beginning, one where I run everyday, sleep at reasonable hours and dramatically reduce my risk of bedsores.

It wasn't easy getting here. I've never been someone whose Christmas Day has been anything to envy, but even for the most hardcore Christmophile, my 40-hour-long Christmas Day was not something to envy, mostly because it was thoroughly devoid of anything even remotely enjoyable. It began like any other day, with a midnight episode of Without a Trace, but then I couldn't sleep until 3 am, which was bad because I had to wake up at 6 am.

Four countries, forty hours and one mystified Nepalese who had never left his country or been on a plane later, my day came to an end. The only person who had it worse was the Nepalese, and his day was far worse than mine. We met in Tokyo, but he had flown from Kathmandu via Bangkok, where he had spent about 8 hours waiting. There were about a dozen other Nepalese scattered on the plane, who formed part of the strangest corps of humanity I had ever seen: there were Koreans, massively obese Americans, Chinese, Canadians, Filipinos, Thais, and one American or Canadian with long hair and a massive beard who was wearing a tank top and shorts. Oddly enough for a flight originating from Japan, there were no more than a handful of Japanese.

Everything was new to the Nepalese I sat next to, who spoke the best English of the group. His story, though touching, was so bizarre that I just wanted to laugh. He was on a multiple-day plane trip through hell, which included lengthy stopovers in Bangkok, Tokyo and Minneapolis, with the end result of studying biology somewhere in North Dakota (seriously). During the entire 11-hour flight to Minneapolis, the Nepalese conferred among themselves constantly about how to fill in their arrival card for US customs, deliberating on each question (eg "have you been around livestock in the last two weeks?") as though it was a matter of life and death. They also talked endlessly about what they saw outside the window, choosing to ask me if it was really controversial.

Anyway, there's now a Nepalese student at an American university near you. Please be kind to them.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Any time you learn a language, there are bound to be some unfortunate misspeaks. When I was learning English in Canada, I had a hard time learning which words were swear words because the kids just swore so casually. I confused asshole with fossil, and didn't realize that "fuck you" was a really bad thing to say. Once a kid said the latter in front of me in class, though I didn't even notice it. Someone told the teacher and I got dragged in front of the teacher, unsure of what was going on.

"Tell Ms. Craft what Kyle said," I was asked. "Fuck you," I said. "Gee Adeel, you didn't have to actually say it," she said. As a result, I wasn't all that concerned at first about my 8-year-old students debating which finger corresponded with the strongest epithet in the English language, until they started saying it over and over, at which point I had to make them stop.

There were other curious moments. Another time, Ms. Craft told me to "apologize" to another teacher. I knew I was in trouble and that I should probably say I was sorry, but I didn't want to embarrass myself by saying the wrong thing, and I had no idea what apologize meant. As a result, I just stood there, not impressing anyone. As the poster in the classroom admonished, you'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

Given my enthusiasm for practising my Korean, I've made more than my share of unfortunate statements. Some of them, I'm not even sure about, but I think I'm wrong.

I'm starting to think that when I ask people to not put ham in my food, I'm actually telling them to sit down.

I once asked a friend about his makeup artist. I was actually wondering about his boss, however.

More than a few times, I've said "spinach?" instead of "now?".

I invited a friend for dinner by telling him that me and my friends had already eaten chicken for dinner.

I told a few waiters and waitresses that Riyaad was a desk. I was telling them about his vegetarianism.

I once told a friend that I couldn't meet him because I was Seoul.

I confused the word for dinosaur with the word for advertisement.

When the girl at the coffee shop told me to wait a little bit while she made my latte, I said sure, but I thought I was responding to the question of whether I had eaten lunch. When she said "here's your receipt", I said "no, can I get it to go, actually?"

When I say goodbye, I'm actually saying hello.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

There is a doll being sold in the United States, apparently, that promotes Islam. All I can say is subhanallah! Islam really is the light. Fat, stupid Americans such as the ones in the video really ought to heed the doll's message. Inshallah.

Fisher Price Doll Promotes Islam in the US. (must See) - Celebrity bloopers here

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's not often that South Korea looks like North Korea, but sometimes, under the right conditions, I feel like I'm in the North Korea I see in documentaries. In those films, the sky is perpetually gray and the people are dignified and well-dressed, but they can't hide the stress and the poverty in their lives. A massive but deserted public space made of concrete also makes me feel as though I'm in North Korea. Nearby there is a large park with long, wide concrete paths the size of a road, and a massive statue in the middle. On a cold day at dusk, it's almost completely empty and feels like one of the many perpetually empty monuments in Pyongyang. Whenever I pass a large, empty concrete space here, I try and imagine what it would be called in North Korea: the People's Liberation Bridge, the Shopping Plaza of Workers's Glory, the Kim Il Sung Jogging Track (not as funny as the John L. Davenport Track at the Varsity Centre at the University of Toronto), and so on.

I heard of a gray market at the massive Dongdaemun market in central Seoul, so off I went to try and find this ethereal location where you could find bizarre items of all sorts on sale. A gray market, of which I hadn't heard prior to yesterday, differs from a black market in that the goods themselves aren't illegal, but the way in which they're being sold probably is (eg France '98 hats). It started off ordinary: there were cameras, laptops, PDAs and other electronics for sale on tarps on the street. They looked to be used and/or stolen. It got a little stranger, as I saw piles and piles of badminton rackets and birdies, some of the rackets looking to be relics from the Korean War based on how rusty they were. Then I began to see audio tapes, video tapes, obviously used jewelry and, the strangest sight of the day, a store selling VHS copies of Forrest Gump and other '90s movies and various sexual lotions on the outside, and nothing but sex toys on the inside.

It got weirder still. I saw people selling whatever they could. Clothes that looked to be their own, single units of watches, jewelry, cell phones and computers that looked like they might not work. There were many sets of rusty golf clubs, a pair of skis and, by God, even a hockey stick. There were records (those round black things that play music) for 50 cents each, pornography from the Soviet Union, used power tools, a handful of video games or CDs of both Korean and Western next to unrelated items. The arbitrary nature of what was being sold reminded me of Third World countries with collapsed economies where people sell whatever they can to survive. At the end of the road, the stores behind the stalls weren't stores anymore, they were rocky, unfinished rooms with walls that resembled caves. Inside many of them was either nothing or frightening heaps of scrap metal the size of a house.

I never thought I would get scared anywhere in Seoul, but there was something about the panic and absurdity of the gray market that made me intensely uncomfortable and disgusted. After a while, I stopped taking pictures and when I was done, I walked into the nearest subway station and went far, far away.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Inviting myself to the wedding of my friend's cousin ranks up there as one of the most audacious things I have ever done. I showed up there with a friend as the only foreigner in a sea of hundreds of Koreans. The women wore hanboks, traditional Korean clothing, and the men wore yangboks, traditional Western clothing. The crowding and overwhelming secularism in Korea made for a genuine spectacle. This is so without mentioning that the wedding was held at the Suwon World Cup Stadium, concurrent with a highly-anticipated soccer game between the Suwon Blue Wings and Seoul FC.

Four weddings happened in the time I was there, each taking a little less than an hour. Each wedding has the same decorations and as you leave the hall with your new spouse, you'll see the next wedding party filing into the hall. Given that half of all Koreans have no religion, a favourite university professor or your boss will marry you. The food after, if the wedding I went to was any indication, will feature roughly 100 items on the menu, mostly Korean food, but without any chopsticks.

I have never felt so self-conscious as I did at this wedding. If this was a joke, no one missed a beat. The couple thanked us for coming, my friend said it was an honour for him to have me there, and the photographer even asked us to pose for a picture with the others. Wearing a dress shirt over a turtleneck and wearing a tuque indoors, he ensured that when they look back at their wedding pictures years later, and their grandchildren do the same, they will see two foreigners they didn't know and only invited because his cousin asked. I guess it's all about making your wedding day as memorable as possible.

Friday, December 05, 2008

I'm not a minor celebrity in my neighbourhood in the way of my blonde co-worker, but I'm definitely easy to remember as the one who's neither white nor Korean. True story: she once dropped some money at the grocery store, and the entire store tried to tell her about it when she came back. Still, I do attract a little bit of attention wherever I go, and what I lack in interesting or attractive looks, I make up for with amusing Korean. A foreigner who speaks Korean ranks very high on the amusement scale, and I don't need to say anything more than "what is this? Is it egg? Is it fish?" to make someone laugh.

A few days ago, some drunken men cornered me at the corner store down the street. "Where from?" asked one. "Kaynada," I replied. "Ahhhhh!" he replied, giving me a thumbs up. "Have you been?" I asked. He stared back at me. I asked him again in Korean. "Calgary. Olympics," he said. "Oh, wow, really? Was it cold?" He just grinned back. I asked him again in Korean, though I actually asked if it was hot. He smiled back at me. His friends had been watching this, and he told them I was from Canada. One of them got right up in my face and asked, "Quebec?" I smiled said "yes, yes, Quebec..." The first one got closer to me and grabbed me. "Handsome," he said, pointing to my face. Worrying that I'd managed to attract the unwanted attention of the only gay guys in Korea, I smiled and moved around the corner.

Everywhere I go, everyone wants to know where I'm from once they establish that I can talk to them a little bit. Somehow, I look American to most people, even if I'm not with any other foreigners. I don't know why that is, except for at the grocery store, where I purchase coffee, donuts, potato chips and Coke, like any red-white-and-blue-blooded American. There's a woman at the grocery store who sells baked goods. She's been pushing me on the cream donuts and when I told her in Korean that I didn't like the cream-filled ones, she thought it was adorable, like a small child who had just used a really big word.

Fortunately for me, she doesn't speak a word of English. Those are my favourite Koreans. At many places, they happen to speak English and they're both eager to practice and eager to serve me in my language. However, I really like to practice my Korean, even in situations when all I have at my disposal are pronouns and gestures ("this, that?"). I spent two weeks learning how to say "how long will it take" when I went to the dry cleaner's, and I didn't appreciate being preempted by a man who could tell me to come back on "Tuesday". With the donut lady, however, I can ask her to give me three donuts, explain that I don't like the ones with cream, and tell her that it's very cold today.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

My name is Adeel. Adeel is, to my understanding, an Urdu version of the Arabic Adil. Adeel sounds like you just agreed to something, Adil sounds like you just want a pickle. Koreans try and say my name the way it's said in English, but it comes out as "ah-dil" instead of "a-dee-yul". A Korean once asked me if they were saying it right. To be honest, I don't really care how you say my name, because you're going to say it wrong anyway unless you speak Urdu. I tried to explain this to them, but they insisted that it was my name and that they should say it the way I want it said. Exasperated, I said that they were trying to say, with a Korean accent, an English pronunciation of an Urdu version of an Arabic name. The person didn't really understand.

In some frustrating moments, I've thought about a name change. In my time here, I've acquired a Korean name, much as many Koreans acquire English names. Some put lots of thought into it. I know a Faye who gave a lot of thought to becoming a Violet, but in the end decided against it. Others don't give it much thought. I know a Jasmine, Cinderella, Snow White, Honey (a boy), McQueen, Euro, Hercules, Tiger, Celine, Mini and, yes, even a Hubert. My Korean name (given to me) is Cheol Su, which is a popular name for characters in children's books. No one really knows me by Cheol Su, but it's a wonderful icebreaker. I've told maybe 15-20 people my Korean name. Of those, only one has failed to laugh, and he had run the first 16 km of a half marathon.

Of course, you might think that it's no big deal how you pronounce my name. Adeel by any other name would be just as caustic and loquacious, you believe, and you're mostly right. Then there's that retort Kal Penn offered when playing a young terrorist named Ahmed on 24:

Scott: But Ahmed, we're friends!
Ahmed: What friends? You can't even pronounce my name.
So how did it go with the silver dollar last week? It went 7-8 with a missed bet on the Rams-Dolphins game. I think I'll stick with the coin for coming weeks. The coin got routed a few times, but its chief strengths lie in predicting games no one could possibly be interested in, such as the Texans-Jaguars, Chiefs-Raiders and Bears-Vikings.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In lieu of a real and boringly serious entry, and while I dig up the pointspreads on last week's games, I offer this video, which speaks to my own career aspirations.