Archive for September, 2009



Normally reserved,
She, with mic in hand, becomes
A soaring goddess.


Cabbies, Kimchi and Cancer ~ Part III

These tales notwithstanding, cab rides are normal affairs, just like they might be back home, with the exception perhaps that Ulsan cabbies drive as fast as – or rather just a bit faster –  than traffic, weather, speed traps and decorum will allow; ignoring traffic signals, creating and then squeezing into little nooks and crannies in the frenetic flow of traffic, and racing each other to the next fare. I get queasy in cabs here.

Perhaps this is because I am unaccustomed to being in the back of a car. All I see whizzing by I see from the side, instead of the front. And of course all that weaving and braking in rain and at high speeds catches me off guard, no matter how much I psychically prepare myself for it. I’d be better suited in the front seat, where at least I would have a semblance of control, but riding shot gun with a perfect stranger with whom I don’t even share the commonality of language feels uncomfortable to me. Besides that, upon entering a cab one often encounters the overpowering smell of kimchi. It’s a garlic-soaked, chili-laden, fermented smell that, once consumed, reasserts itself in the form of a slightly sweet, though more pungently sour, form of severe halitosis. If you happen into a cab shortly after a cabby has had his meal, you’re in for a nose full.

There is no food in the States I can think of that is so ubiquitously consumed as kimchi is consumed here. Virtually everybody eats it, usually several times a day. It’s a rare bird who will tell you its not their favorite food, a rarer bird still who claims not to like it and a bonafide Korean freak who will tell you they don’t eat it at all. Many Koreans won’t even leave their country without it. I remember boarding a plane in Hanoi that was destined for Busan. I couldn’t believe my nose. I had gone three weeks without seeing, hearing of, or catching a whiff of the stuff, as it is – to the best of my knowledge – not even available in Vietnam. I was still in Hanoi, but I may as well have been in Seoul, as the smell on the plane left no doubt as to what nation the bulk of the passengers hailed from. I don’t know how many of them brought kimchi with them, but I assume it was the majority.

Kimchi is not just their national food. It’s their national treasure. Without it I think the Koreans would lose a major part of their collective psyche. There’s even a museum in Seoul dedicated to nothing but kimchi. Eighty different types of it are on display. I can only imagine the smell. One of my students recently visited the museum. She loves kimchi, but even she said the smell was awful.

Personally, I like the stuff alright, though I only eat in occasionally, when I am dining out. I won’t have it in my refrigerator, as it coats everything with its puissant odor, and when I open the door the smell comes wafting out like some cooped-up, bloated ghost and proceeds to permeate my walls with its essence for some while thereafter. It’s bad enough getting on a bus or a train only to find myself enveloped with its fetid after-effects, but to have it in my house too is more than I can bear, despite whatever medicinal benefits it’s purported to have.

Speaking of which, it is a universally accepted fact here in Korea that not only does kimchi taste wonderful, but it is also extremely good for you. Three of its primary ingredients – garlic, chili peppers and cabbage –  are generally known to health experts around the world to be cancer fighting, vitamin laden superfoods. Of course, it’s other primary ingredient – salt – is not.

Garlic is, of course, thought of around the world as a cure-all for just about any disease or ailment. It is known to help boost your antioxidant enzymes; helps to prevent cardiovascular disease; it’s an anti-bacterial; can prevent or reduce skin clots and even help reduce the damaging effects of nicotine, which makes addicts like me breath just a little easier. It’s also said to be an aphrodisiac, which might explain why I have been so damned horney lately. I have been eating lots of garlic to help ward off any potential flu, as the Koreans are extremely wary of the swine bug and tend to look at foreigners as little more than potential carriers of the virus that might kill them.

But I digress.

Chili peppers are also considered, taken in small doses, to be very healthy. Some researchers have found that capsaicin can limit or even reduce the growth of prostate cancer cells. Also, chili peppers have a high dose of vitamins C and A, which are both immune system boosters. They also have antioxidant properties.

Cabbage is of course a super vegetable. Though many people, myself included, don’t care much for it’s taste, particularly when it’s had the snot boiled out of it, cabbage is nonetheless loaded with vitamin C. It is not only rich in vitamins A, B and E, but it also has a nitrogenous compound known as indoles. Apparently there is some recent research that indicates that indoles can lower the risk of various forms of cancer.

So, given all of this, why is it that Koreans, right after the Japanese, suffer the second highest rate of stomach cancer in the world? And why is it that many other forms of cancer, which have been relatively low in Korea, are on the rise? Could it be the kimchi isn’t as good for you as Koreans steadfastly maintain; or could it be simply that they eat too damned much of it? The typical breakfast in Korea: kimchi and rice with perhaps an egg. The typical lunch: kimchi and rice. Dinner can be a potpourri of wonderful food, but kimchi, along with many other salty, pickled foods, is always on the table too.

All in all, Koreans eat an awful lot of pickled, fermented and very salty foods. In my brief research of stomach cancer, it turns out that the incidences of it in the West have been reduced drastically in main part due to the advent of the refrigerator and hence, the reduced reliance on fermented and salt-cured foods. Of course, everybody has a refrigerator in Korea, but that isn’t going to stop them from eating the food that defines their culture. Refrigerators also have nothing to do with the ubiquitous consumption of ramen, which is a fast food par excellence in Korea. Every super market and convenience store has half an aisle dedicated to nothing but the salt and MSG laden stuff. It’s tasty to be sure, and as simple and cheap a meal as you could want, but in the end,
it ain’t all that good for you.

So despite whatever health benefits that come with the ingredients that make kimchi what it is, there is clearly a point of diminishing returns, and that point is ironically proving to be the death of some of the people who love kimchi more than anything else in the world. Then again, something’s got to kill you, and just as I choose to continue to smoke because it aids me in many ways in the short term, you’ve gotta take the good with the bad. I suspect that Koreans would be quite hesitant to even acknowledge the adverse affects of too much kimchi, so I don’t bother to tell them. Then again, they’d probably not want to acknowledge the adverse affects of stress and the evidence that is out there to suggest that stress has an awful lot to do with cancer as well. This is probably the most stressful place I have ever been, full of people working like dogs, toeing the line, doing what they’re told and having little time to rest, reflect, relax and blow off steam in productive ways. And in the face of stress we tend to rely on things that make us feel good, be it sugar, alcohol, nicotine, shopping, drama, sex or kimchi. In the end we all get to choose our poison. We can only hope the poison has a good deal more positive attributes than it does negative ones.



There are a million reasons to stay the fuck out of Afghanistan, not that any of our “leaders” will entertain any of them. Hell, we can’t even trust that the reasons we are there have anything to do with what the politicians say. Smoke and mirrors if you ask me; not to mention a lot of useless death. But then, why build a shit pile of bombs if you don’t have a theater to explode them on. Yeah, it’s a cynical view, but it’s probably got a heavier dose of truth in it than you’ll get from any politician.

At any rate, I watched an interview between Lynn Sherr and Rory Stewart on the Bill Moyers Journal, and I have to say that this Stewart dude is one inspiring character. This is a guy who walked the entire length of Afghanistan alone, at the onset of the war while the Taliban was roaming around and Afghanistan had no government. And he did this because he knew that in order to get a sense for what the country was really about, he would have to hang out with the people in the small remote villages where most Afghans live. Talk about cahones!

What he has to say about Afghanistan and the advice he would give our leaders if only they would listen is well worth checking out. Besides that, he shares with us what I consider to be the political analogy of the year. They are talking about Mr. Stewart’s visit with Hillary Clinton, who sought his advice on Afghanistan. I’ll quote it for you:

LYNN SHERR: And again, their reaction? They listen politely, you say?

RORY STEWART: They listen politely, but in the end, of course, basically the policy decision is made. What they would like is little advice on some small bit. I mean, the analogy that one of my colleagues used recently is this: it’s as though they come to you and they say, “We’re planning to drive our car off a cliff. Do we wear a seatbelt or not?” And we say, “Don’t drive your car off the cliff.” And they say, “No, no, no. That decision’s already made. The question is should we wear our seatbelts?” And you say, “Why by all means wear a seatbelt.” And they say, “Okay, we consulted with policy expert, Rory Stewart,” et cetera.

Sometimes you wonder why we try.

Watch the interview here.


AN ~



Anger in us seethes;

Each ~ a sleeping volcano

Someday to erupt.


back in black

Well, September has faded into true autumn – the leaves turning, the nights nippy, the rain gentle, like a blanket against the skin. I have been away for almost the entirety of the month. My apologies to those who have come to expect something new every day or two. I moved at the end of August and have been out of the writing loop ever since. I am back now with renewed intent to keep this site fresh for the foreseeable future.

First up: my love for Lewis Black. There’s scarcely a better way to express your anger vicariously and humorously than to watch this guy go. His commentary on the rampaging anger in the U.S. these days is just hysterical; I mean, any guy whose first question to Serena Williams’ on court outburst of profanity is: “Am I the only one turned on by that?” gets my vote. That his second and third questions are: “Excuse me – is she single? Does she have a sister? (She does! Time for me to give a shit about tennis again.”) Well, let’s just say the man knows how to put things into perspective.

In response to the talking heads’ hyperbolic commentary of this newfound anger in America, Mr. Black welcomes us to this phenomenon quite appropriately:

“Hey America. Welcome to the dark side. What took you so long?”

I was in stitches from start to finish. I hope you are too.

Click here for The Daily Show. It’s the middle section.


AN ~



Back sore, knees aching,
Skull chatter battles silence:
Meditation sucks.