WE ARE LIVING IN A MATERIAL WORLD, AND I AM A MATERIAL GIRL

So, in my most recent blog post, I sort of obliquely discussed the philosophy of materialism.

I would have to do more research to confirm this, but the type of “materialism” I was referring to in that post most resembles dialectical materialism, but I am not confident that I would necessarily agree with everything in that particular philosophy.

In fact, what I am talking about might better be described as physicalism rather than materialism. I am honestly not sure.

At any rate, what I was (and am) talking about is the idea that everything in the universe is explainable through “material” or “physical” terms. And yes, that includes all types of “spiritual” and/or “supernatural” experiences.

My use of “quotation marks” there should not be misconstrued as reductive. I am not trying to delegitimize anyone’s subjective experiences, nor am I trying to say that things like religion and “spirituality” are useless.

On the contrary, I think both of those things can have an enormously positive effect on people at the individual level, and as long as religious people don’t try to force any of their views on other people, and as long as those views don’t oppress anyone within the religious group in any way, I have no problem whatsoever with anyone’s religious views.

Religion (and membership in any other sort of ideologically-based group) provides its adherents with a sense of community, a common set of values and beliefs, and so on. To repeat, I think that membership in such groups can have an enormously positive effect on people at the individual level. And heck, it can have an enormously positive effect at the group level, also…

Have you ever heard anyone say (or have you ever said), “I want to feel like I am part of something bigger than myself”?

That feeling, I would venture, is one that is common across all religious and/or ideologically-based groups. It’s also, I would venture, a feeling that is common to all (or at least most) human beings. The desire to feel connected to something or someone outside of and separate to one’s own physical self.

I certainly have this desire. And I have come to realize that my relatively recent (like in the past few years, I mean) attraction to various strains of materialism is a product of that desire.

This may not be immediately apparent — it wasn’t immediately apparent to me, at least — based on that last post I wrote. Someone could easily read that post as “human beings are just physical things, thoughts and emotions are just the result of physical processes, nothing means anything, we’re all gonna die” and not see anything more than that. That’s my fault; actually after publishing that post I remembered that I didn’t post it last July because it might be interpreted like that, and I didn’t quite know how to articulate how and why I didn’t intend for it to be interpreted that way.

I am not sure I can articulate it now, but I am gonna try:

I think it goes back to a phase I went through a decade or more ago when I was fascinated with transcendentalism, specifically its attempts to integrate/appropriate various spiritual traditions into one philosophy. This led me to Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, though only in a philosophical/intellectual sort of way. I never converted to anything — in “the anthropological sense,” I remain a Southern Baptist — but philosophically (and more importantly, politically), I have very little in common with most Southern Baptists, beyond “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Anyways, I have personal views and beliefs that prevent me from being able to honestly say that I adhere to 100% to any of the various philosophies and/or religions I have listed so far. I don’t quite “belong” in any of those groups.

That’s not me trying to prove I am special, or that the objections I have to various aspects of these philosophies and/or religions make me “unique” or something. I am just relating to you, the reader, that I don’t feel especially “connected” to any ideologically based group… although I am certainly “more connected” to some than I am to others.

So, what’s a person to do, once he (or she) has explored various philosophies, gone by various labels (I used to tell people I was a “Taoist,” for example), and subsequently found that he (or she) doesn’t quite “belong” in any of them completely?

Especially when this person acknowledges fully that he (or she) *wants* to belong to a group, because as mentioned above, group membership can have an enormously positive effect on one’s life?

Should he or she start (or join) a group of philosophical misfits, whose only reason for belonging to the group is that they don’t belong in any other group? Sure, one *could* do that…

Or, one could attempt to do what I am attempting to do, though I admittedly am not doing a very good job of explaining what I am trying to do: put every philosophy and every religion under one umbrella.

I wish I were able to articulate it better than that, but alas, I’m not. Let me try again:

The desire to feel connected to something larger than oneself can be satisfied (or perhaps “realized”) without even bothering to join any group. (And yes, I borrowed this idea from someone else.)

You *already are* part of something larger than yourself. You are part of the whole of humanity. You are a member of a species that inhabits the planet Earth, which is part of a solar system, which is part of a galaxy, which is part of the universe… which may be only one of many universes.

You are part of that. The process that produced lil’ ol’ you began around 13.8 billion years ago. It will keep going a looooooong time after you’re gone. After I’m gone; after everyone currently living is gone.

At any rate, that’s what sits at the heart of my own personal attraction to materialism: the desire to feel “connected.”

Does that make *any* sense whatsoever? Honest question.

A COMPLETELY NON-SCHOLARLY DISCUSSION OF MATERIALISM, WHICH, LIKE IT OR NOT, ACTUALLY CAN DESCRIBE PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS* IN THE UNIVERSE, FROM HERE TO GN-z11

*and what it can’t describe yet will probably be described at some point in the future, assuming humanity doesn’t destroy itself first.

Hi there.

If you’ve read my blog at all, like pretty much any post, you already know that my approach to blogging is haphazard at best.

And if you haven’t, i.e. if this is the first of my I don’t even know how many posts you’ve taken a gander at, well, you’re about to find that out.

Here is what is happening right now:

My brain is sending bioelectric impulses to my spinal cord, which provides a pathway through the muscles of my arms to my fingers.

These impulses compel my fingers to strike the keys on my keyboard.

The muscles in my hands and fingers have been trained by decades of interaction with QWERTY-arranged keyboards so that it is not strictly necessary for me to look at the keyboard while I am typing.

Most of that last sentence was typed without looking. I did have to fix a couple typos, but I did so without looking for the “backspace” button. And I did involuntarily glance at the keyboard a couple or three times, despite making a concerted effort not to.

Why? Because my eyes have become accustomed to glancing down at the keyboard.

That is to say, the muscles that control my eye movements have become accustomed thusly.

But back to the keyboard: after my fingertips strike the keys, the mechanism under each key sends a signal through my computer, and for every letter I type (and for every punctuation mark I type), the corresponding character appears on my screen.

When I click “save draft” (as I just did a few seconds ago), what I have typed is recorded onto a hard drive connected to the WordPress server, the exact location of which is unknown to me.

After I finish and publish this blog post, and you (whoever you are) read it, your computer, tablet, or smartphone will have sent a message the WordPress server requesting to access it, and the WordPress server will have replied by sending your device the data saved in the file on their server.

Forgive me if any of that is “off,” with regard to exact terms.

My point is that “blogging,” from the impulses that prompt my fingers to strike the keys on my keyboard to the light being focused by your eyes’ lenses (and the corrective lenses you may or may not have sitting in front of your eyes) on the retinas at the back of your eyes, to your brain interpreting the signals sent through your optic nerves (the awkward plurals here being a result of most humans having two eyes) to you having any sort of emotional reaction (from bored indifference to anger) to what you are reading is an entirely physical process.

Do I understand every detail of this process well enough to explain it? Unfortunately, no. Much to my chagrin, I do not in fact know everything.

I am quite limited in what I know. What I know is a result of what I have studied and what I have been taught, and the subjects I chose to focus on were largely a result of my environment and my own personal set of genes.

Which one of those two things (environment and genetics) played the bigger role is up for debate. And that’s a debate for a more knowledgeable person to comment on; my point in mentioning those two things is that they are both quite physical. Genes are actual physical things, I mean, and the environment one grows up in acts upon a person in an entirely physical way.

This includes the things that are said to one as a child. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a pretty positive environment (I have no complaints, really); I just want to state that before I continue.

Things that are said, like things that are typed, originate in the brain. The difference is that the muscles involved in speaking are a different set of muscles than the ones involved in typing. And also, of course, things that are said out loud are heard when sound waves strike the eardrums, and so on and so forth.

None of this is magical. None of this requires any sort of magical explanation.

At one point in human history, before far more intelligent and intuitive persons than I figured all of this stuff out, we believed things like this were magical.

They’re not magical.

My fingers striking the keyboard is not magical.

Your retinas sending images to your brain is not magical.

Your brain interpreting those images is not magical.

The emotions you feel or don’t feel are not magical.

Emotion. What a thing, huh? Despite all high-minded attempts to suppress them, they still dictate to us (to a degree) what we do or don’t do in any given situation.

But what are emotions?

They are neurochemical responses to external stimuli. And/or the result of our brains over- or under-producing this or that chemical, or various glands over- or under-producing this or that chemical, or the result of any number of physical occurrences within the body.

People who live with chronic pain, for example, may be more likely to suffer from depression than other people. And what causes any sort of pain? Either an external physical force (like getting punched in the face) or an internal malfunction of some bodily system.

Pain is a physical thing. And on the flipside, so is pleasure.

What is pleasure? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s a response to external stimuli. Etc.

It isn’t magical, any more than anything else is. It can certainly seem to be magical, but it’s the result of physical processes, just like everything else.

It’s unfortunate that I am not knowledgeable enough to explain all of these processes in detail. But if you’re reading this, you presumably have access to the internet, and you can look all this stuff up for yourself.

Thinking of yourself as a material thing, as an object that has been acted upon innumerable times, as an object that acts upon other objects, as an object that consists of various systems that interact with each other, etc. has its advantages. It allows you to look at yourself and your actions in a much more, well, for lack of a better term, non-magical way. That is to say, you can begin to understand why you do the things you do, and you can control those things to a much larger extent.

Don’t get me wrong: you’re still going to lose control of yourself sometimes. Sometimes you’re going to do things you regret. Sometimes you’re going to say things you wish you hadn’t said.

But instead of blaming some irrational thing like “the devil” or else just throwing your hands up and saying “well, that’s just the way I am,” you can take steps to correct yourself and prevent the same thing from happening again. Or at least reduce the probability of it happening again.

That’s not to say that “rational” is always preferable to “irrational.”

Have you ever been in love? You don’t have to tell me or anyone else, but have you?

Doesn’t it feel good to be in love with someone? Doesn’t it feel amazing to become emotionally attached to another person, someone who seems perfect in every single way, even though it’s objectively quite easy for a disinterested outsider to point out that person’s many flaws?

Doesn’t it piss you off when somebody points out your love’s flaws?

In a world of billions of people, there’s a pretty significant chance that there’s somebody else in the world that is even more physically attractive than your love (like to you personally, I mean), but here’s the thing:

Being physically close to another human being, especially one you find sexually attractive, causes neurochemicals to be released in your brain (oxytocin, for one) that cause you to feel attachment to that person.

That’s an oversimplification, to say the least. If you find that or anything else interesting, I hope you’ll look into those things more.

At any rate, you are a physical being. You act and react entirely in the physical world.

Is there anything beyond the physical world we live in?

If so, what would it consist of?

Would it have to consist of anything?

Can you even conceive of something that consists of nothing (physically speaking) without employing a physical process in your brain?

Let me remind you that reading this and thinking about what I have written is an entirely physical process.

Is the unknowable worth thinking about?

Why or why not?

🙂

WHY I (TEMPORARILY) QUIT FACEBOOK, IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING

The summer after my 10th grade year, when I was 16, I went on a trip to England with my grandma, her sister, her sister’s grandson, my grandma’s cousin (about my grandma’s age), and my grandma’s cousin’s grandson.

The traveling party was, basically, three teenage boys and their grandmothers.

We went on a bus tour around the south of England. It started in London, then went around to various touristy spots, then circled back to London. All in all the tour lasted around two weeks, and it was a lot of fun.

We went to Stonehenge on the tour. I remember thinking that it looked a lot bigger on TV.

There were New Age hippies there, like meditating in a circle or something. Which I guess was cool.

The other people on the tour were mostly other Americans. One older fellow, probably 80, maybe, approached me and asked if I knew how they got those big stones on top of the other ones.

“No,” I replied.

“Helicopters,” the old man said. His name was Blake.

I stood there kinda dumbfounded for a second before realizing that Blake was cracking a joke.

“I’ll be danged,” I may have said. “I never thought about that possibility.” I may not have said that at all, but at any rate I laughed and went along with the joke.

A few minutes later, I watched as Blake tried the joke on my cousin D____, the grandson of my grandma’s cousin. That makes D____ my third cousin? I honestly don’t know.

D____ didn’t quite get the joke, I don’t think. His reaction was different than mine, at any rate. He replied in more of a “humoring the old person” sort of way, as opposed to a “ha ha, that’s funny” sort of way.

“You sure are a nice young man,” Blake said to D____. “If you’re ever up around the Great Lakes, drop in.”

“I sure will,” D____ replied. “Thanks for the invitation.”

“And if you’re ever in the Rocky Mountains,” Blake continued, “fall off.”

Screenshot (143)

Do you recognize that fellow? That’s Alex Rogan, the hero of the 1980s sci-fi/adventure film “The Last Starfighter,” a film I am a pretty big fan of, mostly for sentimental-type reasons.

Actually, that might be Beta, the android sent to replace Alex while Alex was off in space, fighting the Ko-Dan Armada. Beta looks just like Alex, and his purpose was to cover up the fact that Alex was gone, so his family wouldn’t miss him.

It’s Lance Guest, I know that much.

If I hadn’t told you what film that screenshot was from, would you have known? I’m sure some of you would have… but honestly if I hadn’t been the person who took the screenshot, I’m not sure I would know, despite having watched “The Last Starfighter” about a hundred times growing up, and even after watching it again recently.

Now, if somebody had shown me a picture of a Gunstar, the type of spaceship Alex ends up flying around in, or of Grig, the lizard-y alien guy who pilots Alex’s Gunstar, or even a picture of Alex in his Starfighter uniform, I would probably have recognized it instantly.

But just going on that shot up there, no, I’m not sure I would recognize it.

***

Why must I spell it out for you?
All of the images you see
Are just a tiny part of me.
The images I see of you
Are just a fraction of what’s true.

***

I remember sitting with you under an umbrella. It was drizzling rain. We were sitting on the curb in front of that one convenience store on the opposite side of the block from Lotteria. We were drunk, as we often were.

You died nearly a decade ago.

***

I don’t remember the last novel I read. Which novel it was, I mean. I’ve started a couple in the past several months, but I haven’t had the attention span to finish them.

***

There was a barber shop a couple blocks away from my fraternity house in Fayetteville, years ago. I had happened to mention, among a group of fellows hanging out at the house, that I needed to get a haircut. Or quite possibly someone mentioned to me that I needed to get a haircut. At any rate the subject of haircuts came up.

A frat brother suggested I go to “Crazy Eric” to get a haircut. “Crazy Eric” was the barber at the aforementioned barber shop. Crazy Eric talked everyone’s ear off, I was told, and he had some pretty interesting ideas about the government, conspiracies, and things like that.

So I went. Crazy Eric’s barber shop doubled as sort of an antique shop, I think. There were all sorts of old antique-y things in there. Crazy Eric’s wife also worked there.

I got my hair cut by Crazy Eric several times. I tried to get him started on conspiracy theories the first couple of times, but he never really bit. He actually didn’t talk much at all while cutting my hair, which was kind of a disappointment.

***

Etc.

[INSERT CLEVER QUOTE ABOUT HOW A PERSON SHOULDN’T SIT STILL FOR TOO LONG]

So as I mentioned the other day, I am currently “on vacation” from my job. I didn’t actually go anywhere on vacation, I am just taking a few days off.

I am currently sitting in P.J.’s Coffee on the square in El Dorado, Arkansas. I just had a chicken fried steak, two hard-fried eggs, hash browns, a biscuit, and coffee for breakfast, from Johnny B.’s Grill just a couple blocks from here. It was fantastic.

I paid $2.48 for a 20 oz Dr. Pepper here at P.J.’s. “Good Lord” is exactly what I said when the woman rang it up.

“We do coffee here,” was her reply. Something along those lines, ha ha.

I sat in one of the comfy chairs and tried to get on the free WiFi, but the WiFi is apparently down today. I didn’t bother asking about it; I just activated my phone’s WiFi hotspot feature, put on my headphones, and started this up:

Yes, in the world of electronica and popular music in general, this particular video may be old hat by now. The Field has put out a newer album than this (“The Follower”) and anyways I hope he puts out another one soon. But in the meantime, his older stuff is still amazingly good, in my opinion.

There’s no point to this blog post, in case you were wondering. I am just typing whatever comes into my head.

“Philosophy” is pretty much my default category, in case you were wondering. I don’t exactly have any one idea or whatever that “informs” my outlook on life; it’s more of a mishmash of various things I have picked up over the years, from anything from religious and philosophical texts to novels I’ve read to movies I’ve seen (“Blade Runner” possibly being a bigger influence than, say, “Tao Te Ching,” for example, with “White Noise” by Don DeLillo out-influencing both of them) to Saturday morning cartoons (ask me about The Smurfs some time) to song lyrics to poetry to…

You get the idea, hopefully.

It looks like it might rain today. I hope it doesn’t; I am going to be on foot most of the day. When I’m not sitting in a comfy chair somewhere.

As I have mentioned, my current job requires me to do a lot of typing. And I am usually sitting when I type. I do the “standing desk” thing sometimes, but not as often as I should. I always get up and go for a walk after an hour or two of typing, but apparently I have not been getting up enough lately.

Pardon me if this is inappropriate to share, but I have developed what is apparently a “pressure sore” (a.k.a. a “bed sore”) on my ass, apparently from sitting too long in one position on hard surfaces. The chair at my normal work desk is an unpadded wooden chair, and my desk in my bedroom is one designed to be used while sitting on the floor.

To be fair, this pressure sore (no, it has not ruptured or anything) was first noticed by me after a long session of sitting at my work desk while “on vacation” watching TV on Hulu. I tend to shift my weight around as sort of a nervous habit while I am working, but I don’t necessarily do that while marathon watching “The X-Files” or “Rick And Morty” or “Twin Peaks” or “Peep Show” or what have you.

At any rate, yes, sitting in one position for too long on a hard surface can cause problems.

Hence my seeking comfy chairs today. 🙂

And yes, it’s disgusting of me to write about something like that. But that sort of illustrates (sort of) another aspect of my own “philosophy”: I find it’s best to be open and honest about most things, even unpleasant stuff like having a sore ass.

But I don’t share everything. Believe it or not. At least not publicly.

Sun’s coming out… wait, nope, covered by dark clouds again. I really hope it doesn’t rain today.

My academic advisor from college has told me many times that I should write every day. And I guess I have been writing most every weekday for the past… eight months? Writing for my job, of course, not writing on this blog, or fiction…

I wrote a novel, in case you didn’t know. 🙂

The main difference between writing for my job and writing blog posts and fiction and stuff is a pretty significant one: I make money writing for my job. I don’t make doodley-squat writing on this blog or writing fiction. At least not yet.

I don’t really expect to, actually. Make money from “creative writing.”

So why do it?

Good question.

I guess it acts as sort of a release valve for the constant internal dialogue going on in my brain. I guess.

I honestly don’t know why I like writing stuff like this. I guess I just do.

Etc. etc. etc. Blah blah blah.

I kinda have to pee. I think I will do that, then head on over to the liberry.

Thanks for reading.

***

So here I am at the liberry…

I had thought about writing a blog post about chess today, having something of a swollen head regarding that game, after finally beating a buddy from high school yesterday at online chess, following approximately 1,684 losses in a row to him…

Well, it hasn’t been that many, but he usually beats me. And I finally won again yesterday. I have beaten him I think… three times? Maybe four?

(Maybe two?)

We’ve been playing off and on for a couple years now. Plus, I like to play random people online.

It’s a hell of a game, I have to say. There are tons of openings and defenses and attacks and things that all have specific names… but I have to confess that I don’t know more than an opening or two by name.

Chess.com, at least when you play in desktop mode, shows the name of the opening you or your opponent is using, as well as defenses or whatever (you don’t see this if you play on a smartphone, at least not on my smartphone), and anyways here is the opening I used in my most recent victory against my buddy from high school:

After reviewing the game on my phone just now, this isn’t exactly the opening game we played… it must have been some variation on it. I played as white, my buddy played as black, and he moved his kingside knight to f6 on his third move, as opposed to moving his kingside bishop to c5 like the guy does in the video, as you can see:

InkedScreenshot_2017-05-26-10-57-18_LI

You’ll note that I drew over my friend’s username. There’s a reason for that:

While I am confident my friend would give literally less than half of a proverbial crap if I shared his chess.com username here, well, it isn’t my place to go sharing stuff here on my blog (or anywhere else online) about people other than myself.

Note that I didn’t draw over his rating, which is significantly higher than mine.

At any rate, stuff like that (the discrepancy between the video and the game screenshot) is why trying to study chess openings and defenses and things and memorize the names of all of them basically confuses the hell out of me. So I don’t really spend much time doing it, although I do scan Wikipedia articles about various openings that have cool names like “Giuoco Pianissimo” or something.

Which is what my dang comprooter said the game was. I couldn’t get the game to come back up on my computer, and I got tired of messing with it.

“Giuoco Pianissimo” is actually a variation of “Giuoco Piano,” I guess, and (I also guess) the particular game my friend and I was a variation of a variation, because every variation on Wikipedia shows black moving the kingside bishop to c5 on the third move…

And long story short, this is why I don’t even try to memorize the names of chess openings and whatnot.

Moving on… let’s listen to some more of The Field, shall we? Awesome…

Listen to that with headphones, not quite as loudly as possible, a few notches under “as loud as you can stand it.” Let it play in the background of whatever you’re doing.

Here’s an interview I watched/listened to the other day with The Field/Axel Willner:

He talks about how the human brain fills in the gaps, sometimes, when it expects to hear something, and how his music actually probably sounds different to different people because their brains fill in the gaps differently.

I love this dude’s stuff, at any rate.

Moving on…

I have actually recorded some low-fi electronica myself, if you can believe it. I say “low-fi” because I used a free drum machine app, inexpensive recording software, and a USB headset microphone to record it. Check it out:

“Sensory D” and “Chago” are both members of an imaginary band called Meander Kittens that is essentially me dicking around at home with guitars and whatnot. Sensory D is a rapper and producer, and Chago is a singer/songwriter.

They’re both actually me, of course.

Here’s a song Chago did a few years back:

The Chinese characters on the video mean “error” or “mistake,” and if you use their single-syllable Korean pronunciation (excluding the definition that often precedes Hanja readings [“Hanja” being the Korean term for “Chinese characters”]), they are pronounced, roughly, “cha-go.”

“Chago” means “mistake,” is what you should take away from this. Chago leaves mistakes in his recordings, partially because he thinks they add sort of a human element to them, partially because he’s flipping lazy.

Here’s Sensory D’s debut EP:

The video pic/”album cover” features every “instrument” used in the recording.

Meander Kittens have released quite a few recordings as a band on YouTube as well. The band members (all of whom are actually me, 99 percent of the time) tend to rotate, and so does the instrumentation.

Meander Kittens like to include at least one “cover” song on each of their albums and EPs, but they don’t always do so. Quality tends to vary on these “covers.” Sometimes they try to play covers as accurately as possible; sometimes they don’t.

Here’s an example of when they don’t:

Just in case you’re not familiar with the original version of this song, here it is:

The name “Meander Kittens” was made up by me many years ago, when I lived in Fayetteville, AR with a roommate, who also would probably give less than half of a proverbial crap if I gave his name here, but I’m not gonna.

We didn’t have a TV, and we had a computer in the apartment (it was his computer), but we didn’t have an internet connection. So, to amuse ourselves, we started creating fake album covers for fake bands using Microsoft Paint. “Meander Kittens” was one I came up with.

Here’s a song we recorded on his computer all those years ago, with fake album covers we both made as the video:

I’m playing guitar, bass, “drums” (beating on the computer desk with my bare hands), and singing, and he came in later and added extra vocals. The song sucks without his contribution, in my opinion.

Anyways, I am about typed out. It’s still kinda overcast outside, but I think I am gonna go grab a bite to eat somewhere.

Probly gonna try to find an umbrella first. Don’t want my laptop to get soaked.

I left my umbrella at home because Accuweather claimed it wasn’t going to rain today in El Dorado.

Time will tell, I guess.

***

It is now 3:13 p.m., and it hasn’t rained yet.

I spent most of the day just sort of walking around. Believe you me, I needed the exercise. When you sit still so long you get a bed sore on you your ass, you gotta get up and move around some.

Screenshot_2017-05-26-14-59-32

That route is from P.J.’s to La Villa and back, along with a short stretch where I walked the opposite way down NW Ave, thinking I was going to go bowling over at El Dorado lanes.

Luckily, I checked online. It was a little after 1 at the time, and I found out El Dorado Lanes doesn’t open until 4. So I guess it’s good I checked.

I turned around and walked the other way, up to the mostly empty mall.

LIGHT A ROMAN CANDLE AND HOLD IT IN YOUR HAND

So I haven’t updated my blog page in a while. You, Dear Readers (all three of you), will have to forgive me: I have a job which requires me to be on my computer typing most every weekday (a job I love and hope to keep a while), so after a long day of typing for my job, I simply don’t have the energy or gumption or wherewithal or whatever you want to call it to sit down and type even more.

My last few blog posts have been done after work (i.e. after devoting the biggest part of my quite limited brain power to doing the best job I can for the company I work for), and they came out even more haphazard and sloppy than these posts usually do.

I am on vacation from work at the moment, and since I am more or less in the routine of getting up, showering, eating some breakfast, then sitting down at my computer and typing, well, now seems to be the perfect time to write a new blog post.

Especially since something happened last week that I would like to write about.

I’m not one of those people who just flat-out abhors celebrity culture (q.v. this post from last year), but I’m not really all that into it, either.

Nonetheless, every now and again, I suppose I get a little emotionally attached to certain celebrities, sometimes without even realizing it… until they go and do something stupid, like asphyxiating themselves in a hotel bathroom or something.

Yes, you’ve figured it out: this is one of those “this is how Chris Cornell‘s suicide makes me feel” blog posts.

I’ve read a few of those, and the ones I read were really well done.

But this isn’t going to be like most of those. I didn’t know Chris Cornell personally, I don’t have any stories about “The Seattle Scene,” and I no longer harbor any delusions about “grunge” music being anything other than a fad, one where MTV helped a couple hundred mediocre nothing shit bands get famous by riding the coattails of the handful of “grunge” bands that were actually making music worth listening to.

Sorry if that upsets anyone. If I might digress, there’s a reason I don’t have a “music” section on this blog: the act of listening to and enjoying music is an intensely personal and subjective experience. I have often opined (at least to friends and on social media) that there are actually only two (2) genres of music. Those two genres are:

1. Music I Like

and

2. Music I Don’t Like.

And the “I” here is me, and it’s you, and it’s your significant other (if you have one), and it’s everyone you know.

For example, I can’t explain to you why actual literal tears have actually literally streamed down my cheeks at around the 4:30 mark of this song right here. I can’t.

There aren’t any lyrics. It doesn’t remind me of anything in particular. But something about the way the sounds are arranged makes my brain release a flood of neurochemicals that cause actual literal tears to actually literally well up in my actual literal eyes.

It’s happening as I type this.

This particular song may very well do nothing whatsoever for you. You may even be put off by it. This may actually literally be the worst thing you have actually literally ever heard.

That’s OK. I’m sorry if you don’t like it. I wish I could explain to you why I like it (and the album it’s from) so much… but I can’t.

I just do. It randomly popped up on YouTube one day while I was listening to The Field while working, and since “Fuck Buttons” sounded interesting, I listened to it. And I found that I liked it bunches and bunches.

If you’re one of those “that ain’t real music, that’s just a buncha comprooter noises” people, well, I used to be one of you. All I can say is that there’s lots of really cool comprooter noises out there that you haven’t heard, and you’re the only person missing out because of your, well… snobbery.

And sure, my characterization of most “grunge” bands being “mediocre nothing shit bands riding the coattails of a handful of good bands” or whatever I said also counts as “snobbery.” But it’s a slightly different sort of snobbery: I listened to those bands, I became obsessed with those bands, I bought CDs by those bands, I even learned how to halfway play a few songs by those bands on my guitar. I’m not just dismissing those bands outright; I am intimately familiar with the music those bands produced… and quite frankly I don’t like much of it any more.

You’ll notice I’m not naming any bands here. There’s a reason for that, and it should be obvious, but just in case it isn’t, here’s the reason:

Just because I, Michael Nathan Walker, don’t like this or that band anymore, that doesn’t mean that anyone else is “wrong” for still liking them. It just means that I don’t like them anymore.

That’s all.

That’s it.

The vast majority of “grunge” bands have shifted from “genre” 1:

“Music I Like”

to “genre” 2:

“Music I Don’t Like”

in my own personal brain. That’s all it means; it means precisely nothing else.

So relax, please.

But let me get back on track. Or, actually, let me rewind 20+ years to the mid-1990s, when “grunge” was in its heyday.

This was before I even owned a CD player, I am almost certain. I am almost certain that I ordered three cassette tapes from either Columbia House or BMG, and that they all three arrived in the mailbox on the same day, in the same package. The three tapes were “Nevermind” by Nirvana, “In Utero,” also by Nirvana…

And, you guessed it: “Superunknown” by the band Chris Cornell was most associated with, the band that made him famous, Soundgarden.

I had heard two songs from “Superunknown” on MTV, “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun.” And I liked both of those songs, “Black Hole Sun” especially.

I will now share a still shot from that video, just so there will be a Chris Cornell-associated pic that appears as a preview for this post. Hopefully, at least… I am not very good at coding, and I have no idea how to set the preview image for these blog posts. It seems like the one closest to the top of whichever post is what appears, even if the pic is from another post. Heck, once I re-shared a post on Facebook, and it showed a friend who commented on the post’s avatar in the preview. So I don’t know if this is going to appear correctly, but here’s hoping:

You member that video? I member…

There’s a link to the “Black Hole Sun” video just above the pic, in case you missed it. Click on the purplish “Black Hole Sun” text up there.

As you are undoubtedly aware, there are tons of videos on YouTube that are just images of album covers with the entire album in one big track. I was actually going to try and link full album videos to the titles of the three “grunge” albums I got on cassette, but I couldn’t find one for “Nevermind.” “Bigger name” acts like Nirvana (or at least the record companies that control all the rights to their stuff) often have people working for them that take videos like that down, and anyways I couldn’t find a full-album “Nevermind” video on YouTube, so I didn’t bother looking for “In Utero” or “Superunknown.” As you may already know, I just linked to the Wikpedia pages for each album.

But while I was looking, I found this video. It’s a video of a guy playing guitar along with every song on “Nevermind.” And if you want to learn how to play every song on “Nevermind,” maybe you should check it out.

If not… nevermind. 🙂

As is usually the case on these posts, I have yet again gone off track a bit. So let me back up:

When I got my first copy of “Superunknown,” well… other than “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun,” well…

The majority of the album fell squarely into Genre #2. I.e. I didn’t like it.

It was too complex. The songs were in weird tunings. There were weird time signatures. Etc. I was learning to play the guitar at the time (I am still learning, BTW)…

And there weren’t any songs on it that I could play. Or even wrap my head around how to go about start playing. Or even appreciate, really.

If that dude that played all of “Nevermind” made a video where he played all of “Superunknown,” even just the rhythm parts, I would be impressed, to say the least.

The point is, I didn’t like “Superunknown” the first time I heard it. I was a weird kid, one who prided himself on liking weird things… and it was too weird for me.

That changed over the years, though. It was an album I kept coming back to. I am pretty sure I also had a CD copy of it at some point. The more I listened to it, the more I was able to hear how those weird time signatures and weird tunings and weird vocals worked together, and maybe as long as a decade after I first heard it, it became one of my favorite albums.

To get back to being a music snob vis-à-vis “grunge” bands I used to like, and for that matter a whole slew of other bands I used to like when I was a teenager, “Superunknown” is still just as kick-ass and amazing now as it was the day it was released. It’s a high-water mark of ’90s guitar rock, all sub-genres included.

The album is simply amazing, from beginning to end. But now we’re getting back into subjective territory. I may as well tell you blue is the best color and then get pissed off when you disagree.

So I am going to stop with that sort of thing, and get back to the real reason I am writing this: to record for all the internet to read how Chris Cornell’s suicide affected me personally.

I found out the morning after it happened, before I started working. A Facebook friend shared a story about it.

It didn’t really bug me at first. I posted several Soundgarden songs on Facebook and Twitter, and I listened to all of “Superunknown” while I was working.

And it messed with me a little then, I guess. Chris Cornell’s lyrics were always sort of bleak, borderline nihilistic, etc., but there always seemed to be a hint of irony to them, sort of like “yeah, the world’s gonna end, bad stuff is going to happen…”

I don’t quite know how to articulate what I mean.

Let’s take “Black Hole Sun.” The song’s refrain goes

“Black hole sun, won’t you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun, won’t you come
Won’t you come?”

The chorus is basically expressing the hope that the sun will collapse into a black hole and bring the world to an end. But look at the video, with all the funny faces! It was all in fun, it seemed like. I mean, people joke about that sort of thing a lot. Surely you saw these bumper stickers last year in the run-up to the election:

I mean sure, there are probably a few people sporting bumper stickers or t-shirts or whatever with that slogan on them that actually literally want a giant meteor to actually literally destroy the Earth…

But most people don’t, I would venture.

And maybe Chris Cornell really didn’t want the whole world to end. I actually doubt that. I won’t get into dissecting lyrics or anything, do your own research. Start with “Superunknown.” You owe it to yourself.

I just mean… I mean…

I didn’t expect him to actually be suicidal, is what I mean. And it came as a bit of a shock to me.

And if that weren’t enough… this video eventually turned up on my news feed. It’s Chris Cornell playing the song that made Sinéad O’Connor famous, “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

And he did a hell of a good job at it, I must say.

It was around this point that Chris Cornell’s suicide really “hit home” for me. And it was for a reason that didn’t have anything to do with Chris Cornell or Soundgarden or Audioslave or Sinéad O’Connor or even Prince, who you probably know wrote the song in question.

See, I’ve sung that song before.

I taught ESL for a couple years, several years back, in a small city just outside of Seoul,
South Korea called Gimpo or sometimes “Kimpo,” depending on who you’re talking to. The reason the G and the K are pretty much interchangeable there has to do with how the Korean language is written, and let’s just leave it at that.

(Also, “Kimpo Airport” is mentioned several times on the classic T.V. series M*A*S*H, and I think Hawkeye and the gang actually go there at least a couple times. But I digress.)

At any rate, when I lived in Gimpo, I would often go out with friends to Noraebangs (“norae” means “singing” and bang [pronounced “bahng”] means “room”) to drink beer and sing.

It’s fun, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

And for a decent amount of the time I lived in Gimpo, I was seeing a young Korean woman I was pretty much crazy about.

And I sang “Nothing Compares 2 U” to her at least once or twice. I could pretty much nail the whole song, except for the “all the flowers that you planted, mama” part.

And long story short, she died pretty much the same way Chris Cornell did.

And I don’t want to write about this anymore.

Thanks for reading.

Here’s Norah Jones (someone whose music has helped me sleep many a night in the intervening years, incidentally) singing “Black Hole Sun.” Enjoy.

ETC. ETC. ETC., BLAH BLAH BLAH

So anyways, a while back, a Facebook friend suggested that I take a personality test.

Actually that’s not quite true…

My friend made the observation that I tended to make arguments based on feelings rather than purely on thinking, and that was reflective of my personality type, or something to that effect.

Admittedly — despite assurance from my friend that there was no reason to — I took a bit of umbrage at the observation. In retrospect that reaction may have been proof that my friend’s observation had some merit: this “umbrage” — my own “feelings” regarding my friend’s observation — prompted me to ask my friend where I might take a personality test to determine whether I actually have the personality type — the “Feelings” part, at least — that my friend claimed.

So my friend provided a link (I will find it later and add it; right now I am thumb typing in Gmail and I have a crap signal), and I took a short quiz, asking how I would behave in certain situations, what I think about this or that, etc. etc. etc., blah blah blah.

There are 4 main categories on this personality scale, and each category is split into 2 parts. For clarity’s sake — it may not be clear now, but it will be in a minute — I will list the 4 categories and their 2 parts.

Category 1 is whether a person is Introverted (I) or Extroverted  (E).

Category 2 is whether a person relies on Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N).

Category 3 (the one that made me needlessly take temporary umbrage) is between Thinking (T) and Feeling (F), and

Category 4 is between Judging (J) and Perceiving (P).

(Regrettably, I am not knowledgeable enough on this subject to go into any more detail on these categories. Search for “Briggs Myers Personality Types” for more detailed info.)

At any rate, I took the test. I answered each question as honestly as I could — including ones that asked about “feelings” — and this was my result:

From the four categories, this test determined that my personality type is

INTP:

I — Introverted
N — iNtuition
T — Thinking
P — Perceiving

My friend (who is ENTP) pointed out that my overall score on the “T/F” section was pretty close to 50%. Nonetheless, for no good reason whatsoever, I felt somewhat vindicated that “T” popped up in my quiz results over “F”.

The INTP personality description was pretty on-point, for the most part, and seeing as how the website listed “Albert Einstein” among the most famous INTPs from history, well, I can’t deny that I liked my test results.

Something else kinda stood out: INTP personalities are (I think) the most rare of the 16 types on the scale. Something like 3% of the population has the INTP type, I think I read.

Long story short, a couple weeks ago, after I took daytime cold medicine at night and couldn’t go to sleep, I got up and played around online, looking for entertainment.

I ended up taking the personality quiz again. And bear this in mind:

The first time I took the quiz was in the middle of a work day. My brain was geared up for thinking, acting rationally, doing what’s best for the company I work for, etc. And remember, I got “INTP” with the “T” just beating the “F”.

The second time I took the quiz (a couple months after the first time), my nose was running, I had a fever, I was loopy from cold medicine, and it was about 3 in the morning.

Long story short, this second time, the results were a little different. This time around, I got “INFP”, or

I — Introverted
N — iNtuition
F — Feeling
P — Perceiving

as my result. And again, the “T/F” section was pretty close to 50%. The other categories — like the first time I took the quiz — were all skewed heavily to one side.

So, based on these two tests, the “I” part is a definite yes, the “N” part is a definite yes, and the “P” part is a definite yes. The variable is “T/F”.

The description of the INFP personality type was also pretty on-point, vis-a-vis yours truly. There was only one thing I took issue with:

INFPs, according to the website that had the quiz and whatnot, always see the good in people. They believe that all people are good at heart, and so on and so forth.

I do not — do *not* — believe that. I believe that some people are just basically rotten. I believe — actually, I know — that some people wake up in the morning looking for a way to screw people over. I know that a great many people in the world screw people over every day that goes by and feel absolutely wonderful about it.

There are, in fact, terrible, terrible people in the world, people who absolutely salivate over the suffering of other people. People who thrive on that suffering, people who are even motivated by it.

But at the same time, I recognize that these people *must* have something fundamentally wrong with them. It may be something genetic that makes them be awful, maybe they’ve been hurt before and are now taking it out on others…

And etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah.

It isn’t exactly that I “see the good” in “bad” people…

It’s more like I pity them.

And I guess if you get right down to it, the difference there is merely semantics.

Again, though, something stood out about the INFP personality type as well:

It’s also pretty rare. 4% of the population, I think the website said. And the most famous INFP from history (which how they determined this is even more of a mystery than how they determined Einstein was INTP)?

Shakespeare. As in William.

And no, I ain’t no Shakespeare. But with my liberal arts background, and my abilities with verse and whatnot (I can iambic pentameter with the best of em), well, I am closer to Billy Shakes than I am to Allie E. any day of the week.

Either way, I’m somewhere in between two of the most uncommon personality types, INTP and INFP.

And I have to say… looking back on my nearly 37 years…

That explains a whole hell of a lot.

Etc. etc. etc., blah blah blah.

TL:DR

Something for Richard Dawkins fans to think about:

“Postmodernism” is a term for a branch of literary theory that questions the validity and certitude of every narrative and every assumption and pretty much everything there is, including itself.

One would think — at least I would think — that this sort of skepticism (skepticism of everything) would appeal to Dawkins’ followers, at least the ones who like Dawkins primarily for his writings on atheism and skepticism, but it doesn’t.

Why not?

Well, Dawkins, in his criticism of postmodernism — which postmodern theory pretty much requires that one question it — has not actually criticized the basic idea behind postmodernism. What he has done is criticize and lampoon one aspect of it, the aspect of it that questions modern science, that is to say the aspect of it that questions the way modern scientific concepts and assumptions are expressed through language.

Have I lost you? Let me attempt (yet again) to tell you what I mean:

Language itself — as in the words I am using to attempt to express what I mean here — is a product of whichever society or culture it arose from. The words I am choosing to use right now are not only the product of millennia of various cultures and societies developing and re-developing their medium of communication into modern American English, they are also a product of my own personal experiences with language and language use. There are a great many cultural artifacts metaphorically “buried” in every single word I am typing.

Postmodernism — as it applies to literary theory and criticism — is a way to “unearth” these bits of history and culture, and to examine why they are there and what assumptions were “buried” with them.

This is the basic premise of all literary theory: to examine the words we use and why we use them.

Literary theorists and critics use postmodernism and other theoretical frameworks to figuratively dissect a wide variety of texts, from novels to films to (the narcissist in me hopes) blog posts to — you guessed it: scientific writings.

That is to say, these texts — including scientific texts — are scrutinized regarding not necessarily *what* they say but *how* they say it.

To obliquely reference Marshall McLuhan, the “message” is not being criticized, but the “medium” is.

Richard Dawkins — in what he would apparently have you believe is his infinite wisdom — has gotten this very basic premise of literary theory ass-backwards:

To hear him tell it — and to hear many of his followers tell it — “postmodernists” and other literary theorists are not merely questioning the language used by science and scientists, but the concepts and theories science and scientists promote.

He’s convinced thousands and thousands of people that “postmodernism” is “anti-science,” when in reality that simply isn’t the case at all.

The ultimate irony of this is that he is essentially doing the exact same thing many creationists do when they claim that evolution — a theory no “postmodernist” actually doubts, I would wager — means that our grandparents were apes and that sort of thing.

He is — and has been for years — misrepresenting a very basic concept that he feels (quite needlessly) threatened by in order to discredit it.

Creationists do that, also, just over a different type of theory.

To conclude, if you want to say literary theory is esoteric and of less practical value than science and scientific research, well, you may have a point. I would even — despite my fondness for language and words — agree with you, from a pragmatic perspective.

If, however, you really and truly believe that postmodernism and other branches of literary theory are “anti-science,” all I can tell you is that you have been misled, much in the same way creationists have been misled by misrepresentations of evolutionary theory.

Ironic, ain’t it?

LEAVE THE DRIVING TO US…OR MAYBE JUST DRIVE, MAYBE THAT WOULD BE LESS OF A HASSLE, ACTUALLY

As whoever reads this blog may or may not have noticed, I have not updated it in over a month. There’s a reason for that: I have been mulling over whether to write the post I am about to write. It’s been kicking around in my skull for over a month now.

Why the indecisiveness? Well, it’s sorta complicated.

Actually, it’s not complicated at all, I am just making it complicated by over-thinking it. It’s actually pretty simple:

My writing it entails a slight admission of racism on my part.

And that’s racism I am conscious of. There may be latent racism elsewhere in this post or other posts, and if so, feel free to point it out. Actually, I insist that you point it out, should you notice any. I can’t get rid of it if I don’t know it’s there.

But moving on, this long-delayed post has to do with a trip I took a little over a month ago. I went to visit my cousin and his family in the greater Dallas, TX area, a visit that was equal parts social and work-related: I built some shelves for their garage, and did some other minor handyman-type stuff around their house. And before you compliment me on my generosity or anything, you should know that I was paid for my work, and my transportation to and from Dallas was also paid for. And not only that, I ate for free the whole time I was there, and I also had free beer. So compliment my cousin on his generosity if you compliment anyone – as a matter of fact, he’s also the person who designed this website, and currently it’s piggybacking on his GoDaddy account, and all I have paid him for his services as of yet was a liter of Maker’s Mark.

But I digress.

My transportation there and about halfway back was on a Greyhound bus. Actually, the first leg of the trip was on a CADC bus (Central Arkansas Development Council, I think) that went from El Dorado to Malvern, making a few stops along the way. Greyhound buses don’t actually come to El Dorado any more, so I had to ride a shuttle to the Greyhound terminal in Malvern…which is essentially a CADC office with a covered bench and a Dr. Pepper machine out front.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

As I mentioned, my ticket was paid for by my cousin. I got an email with a confirmation number, and to be able to get on the bus, I had to take the confirmation number to the CADC/Greyhound office in El Dorado and have the ticket printed off.

The website said to arrive at the Greyhound station at least an hour before the bus left, to ensure that I’d have plenty of time to get my ticket and get on the bus. Being that the entire trip was going to take around ten hours, I didn’t want to spend any more time at the terminal in El Dorado than I had to, so I went the day before my trip and had my tickets printed off.

When I went into the office, a young black woman and her mom were talking to the white lady that worked there, planning a trip somewhere. While waiting for my turn to talk to her, I absentmindedly began reading various things posted to the wall, as I tend to do in such situations.

One thing caught my eye: it was a poster with a list of things that were banned on Greyhound buses, including a list of things that were illegal to carry in your checked luggage, the luggage they put in the compartment in the bottom of the bus.

One of the items was “laptop computers.” This struck me as exceedingly odd, especially since Greyhound offers free wifi on their buses.

The mother and daughter finished planning the trip, and they got up and started to leave. The woman behind the desk wasn’t finished printing their tickets, though, and I had to chase them down and tell them to come back in. I am including that detail not to make myself look chivalrous or something, but because I did essentially the same thing they did before my return trip at the Dallas terminal…but I am getting ahead of myself again.

I had been planning on bringing my laptop with me on the trip, in my trusty Targus laptop backpack, which I would use as a carry on, like I normally do in such situations. I asked the woman behind the desk about the backpack thing, and she said not to pay any attention to that poster, I could carry whatever I wanted, and a laptop was fine to carry on the bus, and so on. Which I thought was kinda weird; I mean why hang the poster on the wall if it’s not actually a valid list, but I didn’t say that out loud.

But the lady said something else about laptops, and this is where the trouble started regarding me and my slight slip into racism: she said something like “I think they were worried about bombs, is why they put laptops on that list.”

Which, well, if you know me personally, you know that I have a tendency toward paranoia. And long story short, I didn’t just forget what that lady said about bombs, the idea of the bus I was on exploding during the trip started bouncing around my skull, much like this post has been doing.

Anyways, the next day, I got to the terminal in El Dorado about 20 minutes before departure time. And even though there was a scale there in the office, I was not required to weigh my bags. I had already weighed them here at home, and they were well under the weight limit, but anyways I guess that’s another digression.

The shuttle to Malvern – incidentally Malvern is pretty much in the opposite direction from Dallas, with respect to El Dorado – was driven by an older white man wearing a cap that indicated he was a veteran of some sort. I don’t remember from when, but I am guessing it was from the Vietnam War era, based on his approximate age. Including him and me, there were only five people on this bus. There were two black women – one probably in her mid twenties, the other maybe in her thirties…the older one was a truck driver I think, going to meet up with a truck she would then drive – and one young white woman who was maybe around 19 or 20. Her boyfriend or perhaps husband was at the El Dorado terminal, and he made an impression on me because of the way he was protectively kissing her goodbye, as if to let me and every other male person there know that she was his girl, and nobody better get any ideas to the contrary. I have to say I found the whole performance both cute and somewhat gross…there seemed to be a bit of “I own this woman” about it, but anyways that’s none of my business.

It’s worth noting that this detail of the trip stood out to me, and I have planned to include it the entire time this post has been bouncing around my skull, but I only just now remembered that the older black woman’s husband (or maybe boyfriend) was also there in El Dorado to see her off, and he was also hugging her and telling her he hoped she had a safe trip, and so on, but his demeanor seemed to be more of a “I am sincerely going to miss you” sort of vibe happening, as opposed to whatever I may or may not have accurately detected from the younger white kid.

I am including basic racial descriptions of people in this post for a couple of reasons, for the record. One, I am not a racist, and I believe in treating everyone equally and fairly no matter their skin color, but at the same time, I do not consider myself to be “color blind” when it comes to skin color. As much as I would like to live in a world where skin color makes no difference, well, the world doesn’t actually work like that. A person’s skin color does, all too often, make a difference in the experiences they have in their lives. I don’t like that fact, and I want to do everything I can to change that fact, but pretending that everyone has the same life experiences no matter their skin color is not going to help the situation. But I guess I am digressing. There are many articles online discussing this issue, and I encourage you to read them.

Two, due to the fact that I had an arguably racist thought a little later in the trip, well, I feel that it’s necessary to list the skin color of various people I encountered on the trip.

Moving on, the CADC bus stopped at a couple other CADC offices on the way, but we didn’t pick anybody else up. We stopped at one gas station, and the driver advised us to go get something to eat while we were there, because there wasn’t going to be anywhere to eat near the terminal in Malvern. I took advantage of this and bought an order of fried chicken livers and a decent sized catfish fillet (YUMMY!) along with another Dr. Pepper. I had brought one to the El Dorado terminal to take on the trip, and had drank most of it by the time we got to this gas station.

There was no wifi on this bus, and I thought to myself that if the whole trip wasn’t going to be any more crowded than this, these ten hours wouldn’t be all that bad. I was in for a rude awakening a few hours later, but again, I am getting ahead of myself.

When we got to Malvern, the driver let us all off and wished us a safe trip. The older black woman almost immediately walked off somewhere, I am not sure where, and the two younger women sat in the covered bench area. I opted to stand off to the side, both because I didn’t want to be all up in their business (the covered bench thing had two benches facing each other, and they weren’t very far apart) and also because the white girl was smoking in there, essentially “hot-boxing” the thing, and if you aren’t familiar with that term, just think about it for a second.

I got to looking at my ticket, and I hadn’t really paid attention to this aspect of the itinerary, but the bus to Dallas wasn’t going to arrive in Malvern for a couple hours. It was around one pm, maybe a little after, and my bus wasn’t supposed to get there until 3:40. I showed my ticket to the two young women in the hot box (I waited for the smoke to clear) and asked them “Am I looking at this right?” And they looked at their tickets, and their bus was due in like half an hour or so…they were going to Little Rock. When the older black lady got back from wherever she went, she mentioned that she was going to Little Rock and on to Manchester, I guess the Manchester in Tennessee. At any rate, my three traveling companions from El Dorado to Malvern and I parted company, and I remained at the bus stop for a couple more hours.

There was one other passenger getting on the bus to Dallas, a woman probably in her fifties who was Hispanic or maybe Native American. She and I talked a little, but not much. Her destination was Tuscon, Arizona, I think she said, and the bus from Dallas to Tuscon left at like three in the morning, I think she said. She smoked what looked like a Black and Mild cigar, and I went through a brief phase in college where I smoked those things, and without trying to sound too snobby or whatever, I am really glad I quit them. Apparently they are not good for teeth, and that’s all I will say about that.
The bus was an hour late. It had been held up because of a wreck on I-30, the driver said. The driver of this bus was a black lady. And anyways, when I got on the bus, I was quite disappointed to find out that this bus – the bus I would be on for about six hours – was quite crowded. There weren’t any empty seats – the lady that smoked the Black and Milds got the last one – and I began scanning the bus for the optimal seating partner.

Everyone who wasn’t already sitting next to somebody had their carry-on in the seat next to them, and they avoided eye contact, so as to discourage anyone from sitting next to them. Which, yeah, I would probably have been doing the same thing.

I didn’t want to sit next to any of the women on the bus, because I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I am not an especially threatening-looking person or anything, but at the same time, I realize that a woman might not want to sit next to a strange man on a Greyhound bus for six hours. So I began looking for the optimal male seatmate: the physically smallest person I could find. This was simply to maximize my own personal space in the seat, you understand.

I settled on a skinny black dude – he kinda reminded me of Dave Chappelle, I guess – who was probably in his late twenties or early thirties, asked if he minded if I sat there, and he moved his bag from the seat and I sat down. He “manspreaded” a little into my territory, but I “manspreaded” out into the aisle to compensate, and all in all the seating arrangement wasn’t too uncomfortable.

It was at this point that I had my involuntary episode of mild racism. But it wasn’t against my seatmate, it was against the person sitting in front of us.

And let me remind the reader about the question I had asked the day before regarding laptops, and what the answer was: “Take anything you want,” pretty much was the answer, and “laptops are on that list because they’re worried about bombs” or something.

The guy sitting in front of me had light brown skin, curly black hair, and he had a goatee that was an inch or two long. I don’t actually know his ethnicity, but it could have been Egyptian, or maybe Cuban, or possibly part Hispanic and part African-American. I honestly don’t know.

His appearance regarding his ethnicity wasn’t exactly what set off the involuntary racism, though: he looked like he was pissed off. Like really, really, super-duper pissed off about something. And combined with his appearance, and combined with the mention of “bombs” the day before, especially since nobody even gave my bag a second look…well, I involuntarily went on a bit of a paranoid fantasy trip for about ten minutes where the bus pulled into the terminal in Dallas and exploded because this pissed-off looking fellow had planted a bomb in his suitcase.

As you have probably intuited, there was no bomb, outside of my paranoid and arguably racist little daydream. And I had only been on the bus for maybe ten minutes when I figured out why the fellow was pissed off:

I was sitting in the aisle seat, and he was sitting in the seat in front of me, next to the window. I could see the side of his face well enough to see his pissed-off expression, and anyways his phone went off – at least I think it went off, he might have initiated the call – and he began a video chat with who I assume was his girlfriend or wife. The face of a woman appeared on his cracked smartphone screen, and she was asking him where something was. She didn’t seem to want to take “I don’t know!” as a viable answer from him, and their conversation ended with him angrily tapping the “end call” button on his phone.

And I realized how much of a bigot I had been being, with my paranoid fantasy about him being an Islamist suicide bomber. He was pissed off over a squabble with his significant other, not at Western civilization. And right then and there is when I began mentally writing this post, and simultaneously, right then and there is where I began debating with myself over whether I wanted to write this down and publish it. It doesn’t exactly make me look good, I mean.

That morning, at the CADC office in El Dorado, I had been having a discussion on Facebook with another white dude over the concept of “white privilege.” He said it didn’t exist, I said it did…and my original angle for this post was that my racist reaction – which went on entirely in my head – to this pissed-off, vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow sitting in front of me on the Greyhound bus was, in my mind, proof that “white privilege” does in fact exist.

Nobody is ever going to accuse me, a white dude, of being a terrorist. Nobody is ever going to look at me while I am pissed off and wonder if I am pissed off at America. That’s never going to happen, at least not here in the USA.

I felt stupid, sitting there. I felt like a hypocrite. I call people out on racism all the time, and there I was, thinking a racist thought. I hesitate to say “Islamophobia” here, because for one, Islamophobia is to my view just one of many types of racism, and for two, I didn’t even notice the lady wearing a Hijab near the front of the bus until after I saw the angry “I don’t know where it is!” video chat conversation and realized how much of an idiot I had been.

I’m not perfect. I hope this isn’t reason enough for anybody to want to cut ties with me, but nonetheless there you have it.

Anyways, most of the rest of the trip was uneventful. Boring, yes, slightly uncomfortable, yes, and the wifi was weaker than my normal phone data connection. I got booted from a live chess game, and those games require practically nothing, from a data use perspective. I read a little, and eventually decided to take a nap.

On over in Texas somewhere, I don’t remember exactly where, two more passengers got on: a black dude who was probably in his fifties, and a white dude in his twenties who looked like Mac from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” with long hair who reminded me of Richard Linklater’s character from his first movie, “Slacker”: he was very talkative and enthusiastic, and he spoke with the unique east Texas drawl/surfer dude mixture that Linklater spoke in in that film. Without even asking, I and the rest of the people in the back half of the bus learned that he could play like fourteen musical instruments, that he had a bachelor’s degree in music but couldn’t find a music-related teaching job, and that he had just finished truck driving school and was on his way to his first trucking job. I can’t honestly say he was “annoying” or anything, but he did talk a whole lot.

The bus ride continued on uneventfully until we got to Greenville, which is just outside Dallas.

This is where things got weird.

The bus pulled into the stop, and the driver informed us that a sheriff would be boarding the bus. He was going to check everyone’s bags.
Several people asked if they could get off the bus to go smoke – we had skipped a couple stops because the bus was behind schedule – and the driver said that would be fine. So several people got up and started heading to the front of the bus, but before anybody got off, a sheriff – a black man in his forties or fifties, plain-clothed, wearing a baseball cap and a badge on a chain around his neck, got on the bus and somewhat angrily told everyone to sit back down, and that he was going to check our bags for “drugs, money…and bombs.”

Almost immediately, the fellow sitting in front of me was removed from the bus. As soon as he was taken off of the bus, a white woman – mid to late 20s, dressed slightly “hippie-ish” – got on the bus. She sat in the only open seat, the one vacated by the fellow sitting in front of me. Before she sat down – and this might be the weirdest part of the whole thing – she put a plain white cardboard box into the overhead compartment. The box was about the size of a small cake or maybe a pie, and it had clear plastic tape going around the middle of it, like around it in both directions, forming a cross on the top of the box. I almost offered to give her a hand – that is to say, I almost touched this box, which would leave a fingerprint on it – but something told me not to.

The sheriff went to the back of the bus and began looking through bags. He instructed us to have our bags open and ready by the time he got to us. I put my trusty Targus laptop backpack in my lap and opened all the zippers, staring straight ahead and remaining silent.

For the record, if you ever find yourself in a situation involving the police, do not – repeat, do NOT – take it upon yourself to smart off at them. This goes for everyone. It is not going to help the situation, and it could potentially get you into trouble. Or worse. Don’t talk back, and do what they ask you…as long as what they’re asking you to do is legal, of course.

Actually, I am not 100% sure that a sheriff boarding a Greyhound and demanding to look through everyone’s bags is actually legal, now that I think about it. That may or may not fall under “unreasonable search and seizure,” but I may be all wet on that. At any rate, if Greyhound actually bothered to look at anyone’s luggage the way airlines do, this sort of inconvenience would be totally unnecessary…but again, I digress.

The black man who had gotten on the bus a few stops back with Linklater, Jr. was approximately the same age as the black sheriff. And the sheriff accused him of being drunk, and demanded that he get off the bus, also.

The dude didn’t look the least bit drunk to me, when he got on the bus, for the record, and he didn’t act drunk at all when he got off the bus or back on it a few minutes later. At any rate, I had been thinking to myself just prior to this stop that this whole trip would actually kinda be fun if I had been hammered…but I suppose it’s fortunate I know you can get into trouble for that now, ha ha.

The sheriff also made a black woman – maybe 20, 21 – get off the bus. I think she looked at him funny, or maybe said something he didn’t like. As I said, I faced the front of the bus for most of this episode, keeping quiet.

There was a white couple – early 30s, I am guessing – in the seat next to mine. They had tattoos, and a slight “punk rock” aesthetic about them, and the sheriff looked through their bags quite a bit. He made the woman pat her belly, like to hold her shirt up against her skin, to prove she didn’t have anything taped to her.
Then he searched my seatmate’s bag. He told me to get up while he did, so he could search my seatmate’s bag more easily. I got up and put my bag in the seat in front of me.

I don’t remember for sure, but the white woman may have gotten back off the bus temporarily. Maybe not, I can’t remember. Her appearance at the scene seemed, I dunno, weird somehow.

Anyways, my seatmate seemed to share my philosophy regarding the police: stay quiet, do what they ask, and don’t do anything to piss them off. He didn’t do anything, he didn’t smart off, he did exactly what the sheriff asked him to – moving things out of the way in his bag, so the sheriff could see the bottom – and the sheriff gave him a hard time anyway. He accused him of smarting off, of not cooperating, that sort of thing. My seatmate didn’t smart off, and he did exactly what the sheriff asked, and when the sheriff didn’t find anything in his bag, he asked to see mine.

I placed it on my seat, still standing. The zippers were all unzipped.

“Well, open it,” the sheriff said.

I opened the bag about halfway, revealing the two or three books I had brought, and then my laptop. “Books, laptop computer,” I said, and he told me to sit down and he moved on to the next person.

I wasn’t carrying anything illegal in my bag. The thing is, though, I very easily could have been. I am not writing this to encourage anyone to try and smuggle contraband on Greyhound buses – you are an idiot if you think that’s a good idea – I am writing to report that my bag was not as thoroughly searched as my seatmate’s, or as thoroughly searched as many other people’s on the bus.

To be fair, my bag was not as cluttered as my seatmate’s, or as cluttered as the white couple next to me who got searched much more thoroughly. The sheriff made a point to see the bottom of their bags, but not mine.

After I sat back down, the guy in the seat next to me brought out a bag of chips and declared that he was exited, because now he had dinner and a show. The sheriff said something back to him, but he didn’t make him get off the bus or anything.

Eventually all the bags were searched, and everybody who was taken off the bus – the vaguely Middle Eastern-looking fellow, the middle aged black man, and the young black woman – got back on. The sheriffs didn’t find anything, despite taking the luggage out from under the bus and letting drug dogs sniff it.

The fellow in front of me told everyone about his experience off the bus. He said that the dogs went after his bag, but when the sheriffs opened it, they didn’t find anything. A white sheriff asked him, “Do you smoke weed?” and the guy said “Yeah.” The sheriff said that was probably why the dogs went after his bag. He went on to say that next time he went on a trip he was flying, that the only reason he went on Greyhound was because it was cheap, and he didn’t mind the long trip but the thing with the sheriffs was bullshit. I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.

Linklater, Jr. got off the bus a few stops later, and as we were about to pull into the Greyhound terminal in downtown Dallas, the driver came over the intercom and said that she was sorry the trip got delayed, but it couldn’t have been helped, and we should all be thankful that the accident that held the bus up originally didn’t involve the bus itself, and thanks for traveling with Greyhound.

Several people, including the fellow in front of me, said, “F**K GREYHOUND!”

Which I have to admit was kinda funny.

Here’s what’s weird about the white woman who put the box in the overhead compartment: she left it in the overhead compartment when she got off the bus. And this was the end of the line for this particular bus; i.e. nobody was getting back on, people going past Dallas had to get on different buses.

I started to mention it to her, but I decided not to.

I don’t know if that was the right decision; I was ready to be at my cousin’s house and I didn’t want to be involved in anything else Greyhound-related that night. I don’t know what was in that box, and for all I knew, she left it on the bus on purpose.

Wouldn’t that be something?

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY: I’M JUST A CAVEMAN

Just recently, there was a bit of a hullabaloo on social media regarding a paper written about glaciers. The paper was written by a history professor, I think. He wrote about different “glaciologies” or something like that, comparing the way Native people who live near glaciers see glaciers with how scientists see glaciers. The rationale was something to do with how modern science often overshadows all other perspectives, or something like that. It wasn’t a scientific paper, it was a paper about narratives and “different types of knowledge” and stuff like that.

This paper caused some controversy. The funding of the paper came from some entity having to do with climate change, I think, and articles were written with “your tax dollars at work” and whatnot as the theme. It was also believed that the paper was attempting to say that Native myths regarding glaciers were equally as valid (from a scientific perspective) as modern scientific knowledge about glaciers. Many believed the paper was an attack on science, even, like an attempt to de-legitimize science.

This, of course, was not actually the case. Writing about “different types of knowledge” does not imply that all “types of knowledge” are equal.

Think about it this way: one person has a completely irrational but sincerely held belief. Let’s say that somebody sincerely believes that the moon is made out of green cheese. It usually looks white because of a force field around Earth that is generated by the Great Pyramids of Giza, this person believes.

Another person knows this is all BS. From a scientific perspective, of course this person is correct: as everyone who is sane knows, the moon is actually a giant telephoto lens attached to an invisible camera that our alien ancestors from the Pleiades use to keep tabs on us.

Of course that was a joke. But regardless as to whether something a person sincerely believes is true is *actually* true, well, try convincing them it isn’t true. Try convincing someone who sincerely believes that the moon is made of green cheese, etc. that it isn’t.

For that matter, try convincing anyone who believes the glacier paper was an assault on science that it actually wasn’t. It’s not gonna be easy.

People believe what they believe and “know” what they “know” because of the culture they’re from. If a culture is modern and scientific, like ours mostly is, something like a glacier is going to look a lot different than it would from the perspective of a culture that is neither modern nor scientific.

Since we’re talking about glaciers, let’s imagine that a fully frozen and perfectly preserved adult Neanderthal man is found in a glacier somewhere. Let’s also assume that he is brought back to life by scientists, and that he has to adapt to modern life and integrate his prehistoric understanding of the world with everything in the modern world.

Assuming he is able to adapt at all, picture this guy trying to understand how a smartphone works.

Hell, I use a smartphone every day that goes by and I don’t actually have any idea how a smartphone works, from a scientific perspective. I have a vague, weakly articulated approximation of an idea, based on things I have read, but honestly I don’t have a clue.

I know that smartphones work, and I know how to use them. But I don’t know how they work. My approximation of an idea about how they work (which could potentially be embarrassing if I attempted to write it down) is a result of me being a product of a modern country like the USA. I learned about science in school, and I know modern devices like smartphones are a product of many years of scientific research.

The unfrozen Neanderthal guy doesn’t even know what science is. He could potentially be taught to read and write and use something like a smartphone, but how is he going to understand what is actually going on when he uses it?

If he’s like most people — including me — he isn’t going to think about that very much. But assuming he does, and assuming someone asks him how he thinks it works, how would he answer that question? Me, I would say “uhhh, errr, SCIENCE,” but what would he say?

To be sure, I am not comparing an unfrozen Neanderthal to Native people who live near glaciers. Neither am I comparing people who think the “glaciology” paper was an attack on science to unfrozen Neanderthals, hardy har. I am just trying to illustrate that there actually are “different types of knowledge”.

With regard to that paper, I would (and did) argue that Native myths regarding glaciers were worth studying, if only for their value as a part of cultural history.

So why I am only writing this now? Why didn’t I write this while the whole hullabaloo was going on about it? I will tell you:

I just watched part of a documentary about Easter Island. You know, that island with all the huge angular big-headed statues called moai. These statues are all carved from rock from one area on the island, but they are placed all over the island. Many people have questioned how the people who carved the moai moved them, because being that they’re huge stone statues, well, they’re pretty heavy.

Thor Heyerdahl (the Kon-Tiki guy) had a possible explanation. Heyerdahl theorized that the moai were moved by rolling them on logs. I think he may even have demonstrated that it could be done like that, but I am not sure.

Heyerdahl used his knowledge of science to “solve” the mystery of how the moai were moved all over Easter Island. And it’s definitely true that they could have been moved that way.

There’s another possibility, though: according to oral traditions of the Rapa Nui (the culture that produced the moai), the moai “walked” to their current positions.

I think I remember hearing or reading that years ago, in something else I saw or read about Easter Island. The way that’s usually presented is “these primitive people don’t know about science! They think stone statues walked! What a bunch of dumbasses!”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course. But this is the sort of thing that I think the author of the “glaciology” paper was talking about: Heyerdahl ignored local legends about how the moai got to their current positions and came up with his own ideas about how they got there. As Heyerdahl was a representative of mainstream Western science, most Westerners believe his theory about log rollers.

And Heyerdahl may be correct. I am not saying he isn’t. The fact is nobody knows for sure. Nobody who actually moved them is still alive, and they were moved centuries before video cameras were invented, so there’s no footage of them being moved when they were originally moved.

And the only historical record from the Rapa Nui is their oral tradition, which claims the moai “walked.”

Do I think the moai actually “walked” to their positions on Easter Island, like I will get up and walk outside when I finish writing this, so as to get a better phone signal while I am uploading this to my blog? Of course not. But I do think Heyerdahl may have done well to listen more closely to Rapa Nui oral traditions:

According to the fellow on the documentary, who I think was Rapa Nui, when Rapa Nui storytellers would say the moai “walked,” what they meant was that the moai were “walked” to their current position much in the same way somebody might “walk” a refrigerator to a different spot in the kitchen: by pushing or pulling one side forward a few inches, then pushing or pulling the other side forward a few inches, and so on. According to the fellow on the documentary, abrasions at the bases of many moai support this theory.

Was Heyerdahl’s log roller method more practical? Perhaps. I really don’t know; I imagine moving one of those things by any method (including with modern machinery) would be quite an undertaking. I wouldn’t want to try it.

Practicality isn’t really the point, though. As mentioned, nobody really knows for sure how the moai were moved.

One theory virtually ignores Rapa Nui oral traditions. The other doesn’t.

Which theory do you believe?

Getting back to the “glaciology” paper, whether any Native traditions regarding glaciers will be useful from a scientific perspective remains to be seen. The paper may indeed be completely useless, from a scientific perspective.

Even if it is, well, we’ll know. And we’ll have documentation of it.

Thank you for reading.

FROM THE WEST TO THE EAST AND BACK AGAIN — OR — OMURICE: A LOVE STORY

So, keeping somewhat with the “Korea” theme that has been running through my last two blog posts (this one and this one),  I will go ahead and make it a trilogy before moving on to something else. For today’s blog post, I will write about one of my all-time favorite foods, one I ate for the first time in Korea and have recently begun attempting to make at home, omurice. I will relate not only my personal recipe for omurice but also a brief history of the dish and an anecdote or two about the Korean restaurant where I first ate it. In keeping with the style and presentation of this blog, I will accomplish these things in the meandering, idiosyncratic fashion that the four or five people who actually read my blog have come to know and begrudgingly tolerate. For a more concise version of the history of this simple (and delicious, and nutritious) dish, refer to the Wikipedia article linked to above, and for undoubtedly better recipes, well, search the internet.

Anyone who has even glanced at the Wikipedia article now knows that omurice didn’t originate in Korea. It originated in Japan during the Meiji Restoration, a period spanning from 1868 to 1912 that restored imperial rule in Japan and contributed to its emergence as a modern nation at the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the way, the information I am giving about the history of Japan is taken directly from the Wikipedia pages I am providing links to. A week or two ago, after deciding to attempt to make my own omurice at home, I began to wonder if omurice had originated in Korea or Japan. I knew it was widely available in both countries, but I wasn’t sure where it appeared first. I consulted Wikipedia, and I found myself going down a rabbit hole of interesting articles, which I am now referencing and linking to here. So anyways, I will now continue:

There were many motivations behind the Meiji Restoration — and I invite the reader to investigate them if she or he wishes — but the one I feel is most relevant to the subject of this blog post is that Japan had begun to make contact with the western world, specifically the arrival of Commodore Matthew C. Perry in the 1850s. Perry went to Japan at the request of American President Millard Fillmore to force Japan into trading with the USA. According to Wikipedia, this expedition was authorized to use “gunboat diplomacy” if necessary, however, according at least to my very limited reading on the subject, the process was mostly peaceful.

At any rate, Japanese rulers recognized that Perry’s ships were superior to their own, and that in order to protect Japan from naval defeat (should the situation arise) and possible colonization, Japan had to modernize its navy as well as industry, which was a major motivation for the Meiji Restoration that officially began about a decade and a half after Perry came and forced open trade routes.

The Meiji Restoration was not limited to industrial and military advances, however. Japanese officials noted that not only were western ships bigger than Japanese ships, but westerners themselves were generally physically larger than Japanese people. It was believed at the time that this difference in size could be attributed to differences in diet. Westerners ate more meat (the consumption of red meat was banned in Japan, prior to the Meiji Restoration), and Japanese officials thought that shifting Japanese people to a more carnivorous diet might help them to catch up with the westerners in terms of size.

I have no idea if this actually worked. I encourage anyone who wants to research it further to do so and post their findings in the comments below. What I do know is that this plan was followed through with. Many western-influenced dishes began being made in Japan during the Meiji Restoration. These dishes were called “洋食” (pronounced “yōshoku”), which simply means “western food” or “western cuisine.”

As the reader may have intuited, omurice was originally considered to be yōshoku. It originated around the turn of the century in the Ginza district of Tokyo.

While it may or may not be clear whether eating western-inspired food ever made Japanese people physically larger, another aspect of the Meiji Restoration was most certainly successful: Japan’s navy and military made significant advances during the period, which made them (at least temporarily) militarily superior in their part of the world. This military superiority was possibly a motivating factor in Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula in 1910 and their subsequent colonization of Korea, which lasted until Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II.

Many terrible things occurred during this colonization. The reader can use the provided link as a jumping off point for research if she or he wishes. The Japanese occupation of Korea was quite brutal, and resentments from this period still resonate among some Korean people.

For the purposes of this blog post, however, I will concentrate on a much more, well, “palatable” result of the occupation: the dishes that Japanese occupiers brought with them.

It should be obvious that omurice is one of these dishes. Gimbap is another.

The first time — or at least one of the first times — I ever ate omurice was at a gimbap restaurant near where I worked in Gimpo. This restaurant was part of a chain called “김밥나라” (“Gimbap Nara,” literally “Gimbap Country”), which was (I am guessing) the second-largest chain of gimbap restaurants behind “김밥천국” (“Gimbap Cheongook,” literally “Gimbap Heaven”). That was at least true in Gimpo when I lived there: there were more of the one restaurant than the other in my area.

Something else that was true regarding gimbap restaurants, at least when I lived in Korea: food quality varied quite a bit from restaurant to restaurant. All of the ones in Gimpo were pretty good, but some of them I went to in Seoul were, well, not as good. This was due to owners who used cheap ingredients, I imagine.

Anyways, the 김밥나라 I first ate omurice at (or I at least ate it there one of the first times, and then many times after) was also the first place I tried gimbap. I was brought there by a Canadian fellow who I was replacing at my school. This fellow seemed to be on friendly terms with the owner of the place (a Korean man, probably in his late 30s or early 40s at the time), and when I was first taken there, the Canadian fellow talked to him in Korean, and the owner smiled really big and pulled out a chair for him and nodded and bowed a little and everything, and anyways I enjoyed the gimbap and the friendly atmosphere and whatnot, so I resolved to eat there again after the Canadian fellow I was replacing went back to Canada or to wherever he was going.

Unfortunately, it took me a week or two to find the place again. I wandered around Gimpo looking for it, but I couldn’t find it. Most gimbap places look pretty much the same from the outside, you see, and long story short pretty much every one I passed by I went in, looking for the interior and the owner I would recognize.

Eventually I found it, and I went back. I didn’t know how to speak any Korean at the time, and maybe that’s why I never got the whole chair-pulling-out-welcome-to-my-restaurant-o-white-man-from-afar treatment the Canadian fellow got. Which didn’t honestly bother me much, honestly, but whatever.

I would go to this restaurant (and others similar to it) and try something random from the menu. Between doing this and staring blankly at screens on subway trains that showed the name of each station in both Hangeul and English, I was able to figure out how to phonetically read the Korean language. As an aside, it’s actually much easier to read than English is, no matter what you may think.

But I digress. While going to various gimbap places and ordering random dishes from the menu (pretty much all of which I came to love), I discovered two things: one, omurice is awesome, and two, the restaurant I went to with the Canadian fellow that one time charged about 500 won (roughly 50 cents) less for many menu items than other nearby restaurants did. Plus, in my opinion, the food tasted better, or at least better than the other gimbap place about a block away. So I started going there pretty regularly for lunch.

For one more quick digression, I think omurice cost either 2500 or 3000 won at this restaurant. Maybe 3500. And it came with two or three banchan, or side dishes (kimchi was always included, plus a couple others), which would be replenished free of charge if you ran out of them. Bearing in mind that 3000 won is roughly three dollars, it was possible for 200-something pound me to get really full at this place for five bucks.

So I started going there pretty regularly. And I never got the whole production the one Canadian guy got that one time, I just got the normal “오서오세요” (roughly “ohsohsayyo”; it means “welcome”) that everybody else got when they came in. Which was actually preferable to me: I didn’t want to be treated differently or anything because I wasn’t Korean.

One of the first things I learned to say in Korean was “감사합니다,” (pronounced, by syllable, “kam sa hab ni da” but usually sort of blended together in actual pronunciation to something like “kamsamnida”; it means “thank you”), and when my server would bring my food out, I would generally say my best approximation of “감사합니다” in response. It made sense for me to do so, from my point of view, because back here in the States, I would generally say “thank you” to the server. I was raised saying “please” and “thank you” and all that sort of stuff, and anyways I figured it’d be appropriate for me to continue that practice in Korea to the best of my ability.

Something I didn’t notice (at first) was that the Korean people who were in the restaurant when I was didn’t generally say “감사합니다” when the server brought their food to them. And one day, as I was sitting in the restaurant, at the seat next to the water cooler I preferred (many Korean foods are really spicy, do the math), as the owner of the place sat behind me and to my left, rolling gimbap, one of the servers brought him a cup of coffee.

When she handed it to him, he said “감사합니다!” in an animated fashion and bowed to her. She covered her mouth and giggled.

I hadn’t eaten one bite of kimchi yet, and I could feel my face turning red. Here I was, trying to bring my Southern version of “good manners” to Korea with me, in a show of fellowship and camaraderie and all that good stuff, and they were having a laugh over it!

So, when my food was brought out to me, what did I do? Did I sit silently, shamed at my well-intentioned but apparently hilarious series of faux pas? Nope. You know what I did?

When the server placed my food in front of me, I said “감사합니다” and ate it. And I came back a day or two later and did the same thing, and I came back many many times after that and did the same thing. The food was good, the food was cheap, and if they got a laugh out of me saying “thank you” then I am glad I brightened their day a little.

(Or whatever, I mainly kept coming back because their food was really good. And cheap.)

It may or may not be weird that I actually preferred being the butt of a harmless joke than being treated like I was a visiting dignitary or something. Nonetheless there you have it.

Anyways, on with the show:

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I have recently begun attempting to make omurice at home. Here is a picture of my most presentable omurice to date:

20160324_133051

 

…which, as you can see, is sorta busted on one side. I haven’t figured out how to flip the thing without tearing it just yet.

But let me back up and tell you first how I prepared the fried rice that’s in it. And bear in mind that I am no chef, or even a short-order cook, and my recipe was taken off of the internet and modified to suit both the ingredients available to me and my ineptitude in the kitchen.

First, I cook some plain white rice in my rice cooker. I use Imperial Dragon Jasmine Rice. I don’t add anything to it at this point but the appropriate amount of water. I am not sure exactly how much uncooked rice this is, but my rice cooker came with a measuring cup, and I used two cupfuls. I think they are about a cup apiece, but I am not sure. What can I say, I meant to check before I came to the library today to write this, but I forgot to.

After the rice is done, I usually have a little of it, maybe a small bowl or so, then I let the rest cool. After the rice is cooled, I’ll put it in the fridge overnight. The recipe I found for “fried rice” a few years ago recommended doing this; however this last time I didn’t put the rice in the fridge and it worked just fine.

What I do first is put a little canola oil in a pan and stir-fry whichever vegetables I am using. I have used leeks, green onions, purple onions, white onions, usually whichever type of onion or onion-y vegetable I had on hand. I didn’t use them all at once, of course. Many Chinese restaurants (buffets, especially) will put peas and carrots into their fried rice…I don’t really care for peas and carrots in that situation, but do whatever suits you. I mean, if you want “authentic” fried rice, go to a restaurant or something.

The  vegetables I used this time were, admittedly, a bit odd: I used about half of a zucchini, cut into strips, and three or four “celery hearts” from the middle of the stalk, ones that were a bit limp and on the verge of being thrown out. They happened to be in the fridge, and they weren’t brown or anything, so I chopped them up and stir-fried them with the zucchini, on medium heat with a little soy sauce.

After the zucchini started to get soft, I chopped them into smaller pieces with my spatula. And when I decided the veggies were cooked well enough, I added the cooked white rice, breaking up chunks of it with my fingers as I did so. I stirred it up and added more soy sauce, just enough to give the rice a brownish sort of color and a little flavor.

In my experience, it’s really easy to add too much soy sauce at this point, which will result in an inedible salty mess. I usually err on the side of caution here.

After that’s all been well-mixed and it’s mostly heated up, I push it all to one side of the pan. I drain a can of chicken breast and put it in the pan, smashing the chunks into smaller bits, and adding a tablespoon or so of teryaki sauce to it. I get the chicken (which is pre-cooked) warmed up before mixing it into the rice. The end result is what you see here, in the white container:

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Note the zucchini on the plate behind it. There’s bits of celery there, also. I sliced up the whole zucchini and began stir frying it before realizing that the pan wasn’t big enough for the rice.

(I also cleaned that electric skillet out before I took this pic, ha ha.)

As a sidenote, I have also used pan-fried chicken breast, stir-fried shrimp, and I really wouldn’t recommend it but also those canned “tiny shrimp” when making fried rice at home. The canned chicken is just simpler, and after reading the Wikipedia article saying omurice is typically filled with chicken flavored rice, I decided to use that this time. I am strongly considering shrimp for my next batch.

Anyways, when I have made “fried rice” (I use quotation marks because I cook my fried rice at a lower temperature than is usually done in restaurants; I have tried higher temps but I usually make a huge mess trying to stir the rice fast enough to keep it from scorching) in the past, I usually cook a couple scrambled eggs beforehand and set them aside, then return them to the pan at the end and chop them up. I left out that step here, obviously, because I want to keep the egg on the outside.

So, after the fried rice is ready (or re-heated in the microwave, whatever the case may be), I scramble two eggs, the “whisk in a coffee cup” method seems to work well:

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Then I set the pan or electric skillet to medium, let it get warm enough for a drop of water to sizzle when it hits it, then spray it down with Pam, apologies for the flash in the pic:

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Then I pour the eggs into the pan, making sure the entire bottom of the pan is coated with egg. I let the eggs cook for thirty seconds or so, until I can see that the egg is starting to solidify, then I scoop probably about a cup or a cup and a half of fried rice onto one side of the egg, spreading it evenly.

Then, and here’s the hard part, I carefully fold the other side of the egg up and over the fried rice, just like a regular omelette. Since this is a pretty big electric skillet (I use a regular pan/skillet about the same size, also), the egg is pretty thin. So I have to use the spatula to lift it up, and my fingers to kinda pull it on over and put it in place. I let it cook for another 30 seconds or so, then very carefully flip the whole thing over and let it cook another 30 seconds or so.

I am confident there is a better way to do this. If anybody knows what that is, please tell me in the comments section.

I haven’t been able to completely seal off the rice inside the layer of egg, like it often was in various Korean restaurants I ate at. I have seen pics online of some omurice that looks like maybe the rice was put in the center and both sides were folded up over it, like a burrito. I tried that a couple times and bungled it all up.

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It still tasted good, tho.

Anyways, thanks for reading.