11/30/09

Tiger Woods

"I don't care what people do as long as they don't do it in the streets and scare the horses."
--attributed to many people

* * *

And, I'll add, as long as you don't run over a fire hydrant and into a tree.

Wow, the Tiger Woods story is amazing. The speculation is even more amazing.

I might as well as jump in, too.

1) Should Tiger talk to the police? Just do what is legally mandated. If I were Tiger Woods I would just give my name, rank, and serial number.

2) I doubt that we'll ever get the real story. We might find out he is not the tiger in his own family.

3) A man running out of his house at 2 a.m. in the morning? If you heard about me running out of the house at 2 a.m. from a woman who just happened to have a baseball bat, wouldn't you think I was probably up to no good?

4) I don't care about Tiger Woods and his wife. They don't want to talk, there is no proof of abuse. But once you end up lying in the street after running over a fire hydrant and hitting a tree? Then suddenly I am very interested in your domestic life. If that happened to one of my neighbors then I would want the police to get an explanation to prevent that from happening again.

5) Of course, there is great irony in Tiger Woods possibly getting chased by his wife while she was armed with a golf club.

6) Whatever happened, Tiger needs to protect his image. As Mark Twain has been quoted as saying: "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt." In Tiger's case, it is better to let people speculate about what happened rather than to turn state's evidence.

CJL

11/29/09

Stop! Charleston time!

People who watch me dance (at clubs, parking lots in Korea, karaoke bars, anywhere there's enough space for me to turn) are often surprised to learn that I didn't know how to dance until I was a sophomore or junior in college. Up to then, I had been a reliable wallflower. If there was a wall that needed to be held up at a dance party so that it would not fall on the dancers then people could call on me.

I had the ability to stand with my back against a wall for hours without moving.

* * *

I still remember the day I learned how to dance. I had gone to a party but hadn't danced. I was incredibly shy then so that didn't help. I had never drunk alcohol and wasn't interested in starting. The music was so loud that I couldn't really talk. So, as I stood there, I thought to myself that it was really kind of pointless for me to be there if the wall was already secure.

I've always been an all-or-nothing person. I decided that I would learn to dance--or drop out of college until I learned. Thankfully, I didn't do that. I might still be a sophomore at Harvard.

I'm sure that my exit interview with my academic advisers would have been quite interesting:

Ms. Spreadbury: So, Casey, you're saying you're dropping out of college because you haven't learned how to dance yet?
Casey: That's right. There is really no point in me being here if I'm just holding up the walls during dances. It seems I should be getting paid for such labor. So I will go out and work for real.

* * *

After another party of not dancing, I remember being at home the next day. I turned on my boom box, got out my favorite music of that time (Prince, New Edition and Patrice Rushen), and danced for about four hours in front of a mirror. Like magic, I could dance. Even I thought I looked smooth as I danced at college parties. I even looked natural.

* * *

One of my favorite memories from this past summer in Seoul was one of the nights I had gone out singing and drinking with my American and Korean co-workers. One of the Korean employees, an assistant manager, clearly admired my ability to dance while I sang. After he had enough to drink that particular night he decided that he wanted to try. So I was teaching him various hip-hop moves (from the 1980s and early 1990s) as we cued up every hip-hop song.

He was dancing like it was 1989!

After our group finished drinking and singing, the assistant manager called a driver to drop me off and then to drive him and his wife home. As we waited, he was still in the mood to dance. So, in the parking lot, he insisted that we dance some more. So there we were, at a parking lot at 2 or 3 in the morning, doing variations of MC Hammer's Running Man.

We had a great time! After that, he constantly addressed me as "my master" whenever the topic of going out singing and dancing came up.

I enjoy that type of dancing and still do. But I'm reminded of something Ray Charles said about singing rap music: Man, I don't respect nothing I could do when I was 12 years old.

Okay, so I was 20 when I finally learned how to dance...

* * *

Although I enjoy dancing to hip-hop, rap, top-40s, reggae, I've secretly wanted to learn how to dance to swing. That type of dancing--swing--has always looked cool to me. I loved the music before I was aware that there was a particular dance style attached to it. I wasn't aware that I could take classes to learn. It wasn't until graduate school that I actually tried to dance swing. But it seemed that I would need some help at learning swing, that I wouldn't be able to dance in front of a mirror to learn. Of course, at that time, I didn't realize that it would be almost two decades later before I would actually learn the basics, and that I would do so in Seoul, South Korea.

* * *

If you go dancing at a club you can dance by yourself, with a partner, with a group or with an imaginary friend. It doesn't really make a difference. You could be dancing with one person, then just completely move around the room and dance with no one in particular. Sometimes when people are dancing at a club it is hard to tell with whom they are dancing.

But swing dancing? You need someone to dance with. You could change partners, even during a dance, but you do need a partner. You and your partner must communicate with one another. If not, you could elbow her in the face or she could swing and hit you in a spot that would hurt a lot (probably on purpose to avenge the second or third elbow in the face).

When done right, swing dancing can be beautiful. Two people interacting. The leader leads, the follower follows. They become one.

But when done wrong? Read on.

* * *

After grad school I moved to Taiwan. I was young, free, and curious so I went. I couldn't find any swing dancing places. For all I know, I may have walked past them every day. I moved to Korea next. I couldn't find any swing dance places. My friends weren't helpful. At that time, swing dancing in Korea was dismissed as being a place for lonely housewives and playboys to meet. I didn't care who else wanted to dance that way. That is like telling me I should not vote for a particular candidate or believe in a certain idea because of others who support that candidate or idea. As it has been said, "An idea is not responsible for who believes in it." For me, an activity doesn't become bad because of the other people who also enjoy it. I can fit in with any crowd.

I moved back to America. By then I had moved on to other hobbies and didn't think about swing dancing until I was at an office party. A little guy was twirling his wife around the dance floor like he was moving his own hands in a puppet show. Ah, swing! My long-lost, I never really knew you friend!

As I was preparing to go to Seoul last summer, I e-mailed myself a to-do list. There were seven things I wanted to do in Seoul. Number 1 on the list: learn how to swing dance well enough that I wouldn't embarrass myself. I remember telling myself that if I had not learned the basic steps that I would leave Seoul after a month. I can just imagine the conversation with my bosses, explaining that I would leave early because I had not learned how to swing dance.

Perhaps I should I have told myself that I would never leave Seoul until I did learn how to swing dance.

* * *

Swing dancing is very tough for men who are beginners.

The man must lead when it comes to swing. Very often, he must physically PUSH the woman in the direction he wants her to move. I've never hit or pushed a woman who didn't ask for such things so it is kind of tough for me to push a woman when we're dancing. But it must be done or communication breaks down. I would really prefer to verbally inform her what I want her to do next, MC Hammer style: "Stop! Charleston Time!"

The man dancing is usually referred to as the leader. Guys who want to swing dance must get good, and do so fast. When you're a guy who is a beginner then you don't really have a suitable dance partner. The expert female dancers surely must be bored with a guy moving in slow-motion. The female dancers who are pretty good are probably looking to move to the next level; that means dancing with someone who can spin them around and lead them through difficult moves. Female swing partners who are also beginners? Then it is the blind being led by the blind.

There are some moves that I have now mastered. There are some moves that I'm in the process of mastering. And there are some moves that treat me like I'm their prison bitch.

This past summer, when I was moving in slow-motion through a step, one woman I was dancing with got impatient and spun herself through some moves. I was still looking at my feet. (I was being told in Korean not to look at my feet. I pretended I didn't understand.) That was the last time I mentioned swing dancing to her. Another woman, a beginner, danced with me a few times. Then she danced with a guy who looked like he should be on a dancing show. She came back to me, raving how well he had led her through moves and how great it was. We danced again, but I had less enthusiasm than before. I knew I was moving in slow motion for her.

It has been said: "Sure [Fred Astaire] was great, but don't forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards . . . and in high heels!" Sure, Ginger Rogers did it backwards and in high heels, but would she have taught a beginner? I asked several women who were good dancers if they could teach me moves. They had no idea about the guy's role, they just knew how to follow. Whereas men are the leaders, women swing dancing are followers. There are always guys willing to guide them, especially when they see them dancing with a guy who clearly doesn't know what he is doing.

Even though men are leaders and are ostensibly in control, to the point we must push women through dance moves, there is a lot of pressure on us when we first start. It is kind of like one of the lessons from the book A Self-Made Man. In it, lesbian journalist Norah Vincent goes undercover as a man for 18 months. She joins a bowling team, goes through therapy sessions with men, even lives at a monastery. One thing she realizes: Dating is tough for men. They are expected to take the lead in asking a woman out. Of course, women have their own challenges, but they are in the position of waiting for guys in the club or bar to come to them. As Vincent told 20/20: "In fact, we sit there and we just with one word, 'no,' will crush someone," she said. "We don't have to do the part where you cross the room and you go up to a stranger that you've never met in the middle of a room full of people and say the first words. And those first words are so hard to say without sounding like a cheeseball or sounding like a jerk."

The great thing about swing dancing is that no one refuses to dance with anyone. But what if you aren't ready to lead?

* * *

By the way, I have yet to see any gay people swing dancing. Women dance together, but as far as I have noticed, it is only because there aren't enough men available. Men, and I am definitely including myself in this, would prefer to be wallflowers rather than dance with another man.

* * *

I would probably now be considered an advanced beginner. So I can lead beginners. In Seoul, after I had learned the basic steps, I went out dancing with a beginners' class. At last, I could kick sand in someone else's face! I remember dancing with a friend I had recruited for the beginners' class, watching her struggle with the beginning steps. She was looking to me to teach her. I did so with great enthusiasm. I danced with every woman in that beginners' class, happily telling them what they were doing wrong, confidently leading them.

I have now found a happy medium back in America. I can lead a friend of mine who is a beginner and wants to learn. I was ready to kidnap her when she told me that when she gets married that she will want to swing dance for an hour every night with her husband. I'm just one chapter ahead of her in the book of swing, but that is enough for now. I'm hoping she won't go out swing dancing without me. An expert dancer could probably teach her in one night what it will take me months to learn, and I'd have to find a new beginner to experiment with.

My main dance partner now is a friend who (1) happens to be a professional dancer (2) who is also incredibly patient. She is Ginger Rogers teaching a beginner. I don't underestimate the importance of a patient woman who can also dance well. She has taught me more dance moves than my brain or feet are ready to comprehend yet. A few weeks ago she showed me, no kidding, nine different dance steps that are connected. As I tried to "lead" her through the steps, I felt like I was dancing in front of the kind of mirror at an amusement park that distorts your shape. I knew what things were supposed to look like but the mirror in my brain made everything look distorted. I did my best to lead her, but I think she could see from the befuddled look on my face that I was trying to catch nine rabbits at the same time. My brain, eyes and feet just weren't communicating. They seemed to be sabotaging one another.

A few days ago she dumbed it down for me, teaching me fewer moves, going through the same steps until my brain and feet worked together. She insisted that she was having a good time and couldn't wait to go out again.

* * *

There is a video of me that I am doing my best to keep hidden, that thankfully only my Korean friends who don't speak much English have a copy of. I am wearing a t-shirt in Korean that reads "today is my birthday." It was actually the day after my birthday. I was dragged to the dance floor and had to dance for a few minutes with women while everyone else applauded and watched. The women would change every 15 to 30 seconds. It was tough, the music was fast. I remember being embarrassed because I didn't realize I would have to do that. I had only been swing dancing for about 6 weeks so I only knew a few moves.

Anyway, next time I'm in Seoul swing dancing, I may try to keep it a secret that is my birthday unless I'm actually good then.

* * *

There's a Korean word, han, that explains the unfulfilled frustration that a person feels. There apparently isn't an English equivalent to the word. As it is explained here: "No foreign word can adequately translate it, for it includes such different nuances as are conveyed by the words rancor, grudge, hatred, lamentation, regret, grief, pathos, self-pity, fate, mortification, etc. Han's exact meaning can only be grasped experientially."

My experience with swing hasn't been that serious but I will be happy when I am a good swing dancer.

CJL


Hammer Time!


Charleston Time!

11/15/09

Random Thoughts from writing session

I’ve joined a writing and blogging support group. We get together once a week to WRITE for at least an hour. About any and everything. The following is what I did during the session.

* * *

Ignorance is Power?

A commonly cited quote is Bacon's "knowledge is power."

Sometimes not understanding the world around you can be a benefit. When I was in Seoul, I went on a retreat with a swing dancing group. About 40 Koreans, me, and an Australian guy. I won’t go into detail about the mayhem and mischief we engaged in during the retreat. At one point, we played a game where a man from each of the 5 or 6 teams had to hold a woman in the air, while flat on his back, using his feet and hands.

Doesn’t sound challenging, I know. To add to the challenge, each woman had to take a drink of water before starting, and hold it in her mouth. Meaning, if she laughed that she would spit the water into the man's face. And while the men were holding the women up, members of the opposing teams did their best to make either the man or woman laugh.

I was at an advantage for several reasons:

1) The woman I had to hold up weighs about 90 pounds. So it didn’t take much effort.

2) I couldn’t understand what people around me were trying to say when they were speaking in Korean.

3) They weren’t fluent enough in English to crack any jokes funny enough to make me laugh. I would have had to ask them to repeat the joke a few times for me to understand it. So I closed my eyes and hummed a Prince song while they chatted around me in Korean and broken English.

When it was down to the final two teams, one of the organizers who could speak English told me that I had to hold my partner with just one leg. No problem. For once, not being able to understand Korean really came in handy as we easily won. I held her up a few extra seconds after the other team had dropped out, just to make the point that we were better, not just lucky.

* * *

Dating--Mismatches and Bad Matches

H.L. Mencken once said that editorial writers must get out of the office at least once a week. Even though I usually drive to wherever I am going, it is still enjoyable to take the metro sometimes to watch people. Of course, women on dates probably don’t like to hear about the benefits of taking the metro or walking. As the old song goes, “I can be bad all by myself!” She can take the metro or walk by herself.

But then, I guess it depends on the woman. I saw a feature story on Yahoo earlier today about terrible dating experiences people have had. The teaser headline quoted one woman as saying she knew it was going to be a bad date when the guy asked whether if she liked McDonald's or Burger King. I hope she let the guy know so he wouldn’t waste time on her in the future. One problem with dating is that people aren't honest at the beginning of the process about what it is they want. They complain to friends or Yahoo instead of letting the other person know directly.
So many of the terrible dating stories that were told seemed to be about people with different priorities and values. Just like a job interview, people highlight what is great about themselves so they can get the job.

If the woman who didn't want McDonald's or Burger King had mentioned a place she wanted to go, then offered to pay for it, then cheapskate guy probably would be quoted on Yahoo one day as saying it was the best date he ever had.

Or, she could have done what I told a woman to do about a man who recently complained they had not sex after he bought her dinner. My advice? Send him a check to cover her portion of the evening. She can't give back the time he wasted but at least he'd have his money back. She did, and he seemed to be okay.

Some people can have fun on dates whether or not they spend money, other people aren't having fun unless they the receipts to prove they had a good time. I'm reminded of a date I went on. I recommended a couple of restaurants to her. She seemed interested. Then I asked her what she would like to eat. She said that she wanted to have Onion Rings at Burger King. I thought she was joking. She insisted that's what she wanted. I took her at her word. We pulled into Burger King, ordered the food, then ate in the car. She seemed to be happy with the meal. It wasn't the only time we ate like that. She seemed to be uncomfortable if I spent more than $20 on the date. So many people are so strategic when it comes to dating, it is always refreshing to meet people who are just themselves. She was frugal with her own money, she didn't expect me to spend a lot of money on her, either, in order for us to have a good time.

* * *

Trains Not Running on Time

A few weeks ago, I was waiting at DC's Metro center when I looked at the message board about approaching trains. The next subway train would be there in about 16 minutes? Okay, so it was a Tuesday night. Still, 16 minutes? After being in Seoul, I got used to trains consistently arriving every couple of minutes. It seemed that a 5 minute gap was a delay. During 3 months of riding trains in Seoul, I don't recall a single train outage. But then, I may not have understood the message board announcing problems elsewhere...

Not just the trains are a problem in D.C. There is ALWAYS at least one escalator out in a DC metro station whenever I pass through.

One thing is the same between the two metro systems. I can’t understand what the train conductors say. In Seoul, after listening numerous times, I finally caught onto the Korean phrases being used by the bilingual recorded voices. In DC, I still have trouble understanding which stop the conductor is announcing. Anyway, I can comfortably listen to my iPOD, whether if I’m in Seoul or D.C., as long as I look for the stop's name written on the wall.

In Seoul, many of the trains now have specific information, inside the subway car, on electronic boards, info such as the name of the stop, which side the doors will open. That's in English and Korean, and in areas where there are more Japanese or Chinese living or shopping, then the signs are in those languages, too.

* * *

Get mad, put it down on a pad...
I’ve been driving on a consistent basis since about 1996. When I was in Seoul during this past summer I didn’t even have an international driver’s license. I got used to taking the metro again. It was exciting for me because I was having a second look at Seoul. When I’m driving I’m too busy paying attention to the road and defending myself against other drivers to watch the world as it goes by. Getting a second look at Seoul was great, I may go back for a third look. At some point, I’ll be ready to write something more extensive about being there. But then, the more time I spend there, the less interested I am in writing about it. I remember reading once where a writer said that, after spending a day in China you want to write a book. After spending a month in China, you want to write an article. After spending a year in China, you just put your head down and mutter to yourself.

As Public Enemy said, “When I get mad. I put it down on a pad. Give ya somethin' that cha never had.” I’m not mad, I don’t have a pad, but I’ll blog or write an article at some point. Most of the time I think I don't really have things to say about Seoul that are worth the time to say them formally, then I will hear about something, and say, "I could have written that story."

* * *

NPR discovers Korean exam hell

A friend called me yesterday, quite excited about an NPR story he had just heard about South Korean kids going through exam hell. It was in reference to the college entrance exam students there take. He wanted to know if I had heard the report. No, I said. As he began to tell me the story, I stopped him. I then guessed what the story was about, guessed the outline of how they told it. He was amazed. He then reminded me that I had just said I hadn't heard the report. Oh, I said, I didn't hear the report you just heard, but I've read and heard that story so many times before. I'm pretty sure that I've even told him about Korea's exam hell, but I realize that some people don't listen until the New York Times or NPR says it. I then added some things they didn’t say. He told me that I should have written the story. I probably will, next year or the year after when the people at NPR or the New York Times (again) discover that Korean kids are going through exam hell.

* * *

A tourist in my own country

One great thing about living abroad: It is perfectly natural for me to take photos. As a traveler, tourist, or explorer, you are expected to be curious. When I was in Seoul I even took a photo of a McDonald's motorcycle used for making deliveries. I had never seen such a thing in America.

But back in my own country? Things I see now are so interesting. I suppose it could be a form of reverse culture shock.

Sometimes, I even want to take photos with people I meet for just a brief time. I've lived long enough to know that I won't see many of those people again and after a short time won't even remember what they look like. I wish I had taken more photos a few years ago when I was working at Cato, back when I was in Korea the first time around, the brief time I worked at Fight For Children. Everybody at Cato is now at least a decade ago, some are graying, some of the olden folks have retired, etc.

When I was on my way to the writing session I got out my camera when I saw a sign telling riders all of the things they couldn't do. No eating, no drinking, no loud music, etc. It didn't mention that I couldn't take photos! So I took a photo of the sign. I also video recorded part of it (click the "free user" option).

It reminded me of a few things...One, a 45-year old D.C. woman who got handcuffed and arrested for eating a candy bar in a D.C. metro station. Yes, she had been warned, but STILL! To quote Dickens, the law is a ass. Two, I remember one night shortly after I joined the swing dancing class that one of my classmates bought all of us ice cream cones in the subway station. We ate and talked on the train. I wish someone had taken a photo of us doing that.








11/6/09

The courtship of Michelle Rhee

It was announced on the local DC news last night that former basketball star Kevin Johnson and DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee have gotten engaged.

I heard the rumor about them dating so long ago that I thought they were already married and on the verge of divorce...

* * *

A few months ago I testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. As I recall, I was on the second panel, Rhee was on the first panel. I thought about saying something to her in Korean but just greeted her in English.

From previous press reports she had always seemed a bit melancholy. That morning, she was upbeat, optimistic. She even SMILED during her testimony as she testified without any notes. I'm guessing that she enjoyed talking with the members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission more than she does dealing with local DC activists. Just like presidents are more popular when they go abroad, politicians and other government leaders are more popular with outsiders than insiders.

* * *

As soon as it was announced a few years ago that Rhee would be the Schools Chancellor, the local activists went into overdrive. They were still upset that Mayor Fenty had pulled a rope-a-dope. After being seen as a friend of the public schools when he was on the city council, he announced soon after he won the primary that would take over the schools. I was there on inauguration night when some of the activists walked around with their signs denouncing Fenty. A mayor getting denounced on inauguration night? I'm not surprised that his poll ratings are so low and that some (such as Council chairman Vincent Gray) are considering running against him.

Many people were still upset at the way Superintendent Janey had been dumped by Fenty. After leaving Janey twisting in the wind for a few months, Fenty suddenly fired him, cut off his email within minutes, then introduced Rhee as the new schools chancellor. It was a really cold thing to do...and just the way I would have done it, even though I met Janey a few times and liked his arrogance.

* * *

I just checked my email, the local disgruntled activists are as disgruntled as ever. As one said, Rhee is ambitious so she sees Johnson (currently mayor of Sacramento) one day being governor of California, so she'll be first lady of the state. Rhee, another says, is on her way out so this is her exit strategy, to be a consultant to the city while Fenty is still mayor of DC.

Once they find out what she had for breakfast this morning they will probably also complain about that.

* * *

So there was Rhee. Separated from her husband, as the Washington Post mentioned in just about every one of the stories about her for the first month. Getting attacked by activists questioning if an Asian woman could lead a school system with mostly black students. Others were upset she was getting paid so much ($275K annually). In just about every photo of her she seemed to be frowning.

I had read in the travel books that Koreans are taught not to smile in public. Politicians in Korea were notorious in the past for never smiling. I had guessed that Rhee was just being a good Korean city administrator.

* * *

Kevin Johnson was one of my favorite NBA players. So I was delighted a few years ago when he gave a great luncheon speech at the annual Black Alliance for Educational Options symposium. He had a great story, he was incredibly optimistic. The guy always seems to be smiling. I suspect his enthusiasm has rubbed off on Rhee. Or, at the least, he may have told her, "Honey, you gotta show some teeth when you're dealing with ya peeps." Another assist for the point guard!

After Johnson finished his remarks that day I tried to get to him to invite him to be on my radio show to talk about charter schools. But after seeing the herd of women lining up to talk to him, I thought better of it. I didn't want to get between him and those women...

I guess now that he is hitched with Rhee that the sisters may be less enthusiastic than before.

CJL

Update: Here's the Washington Post confirming the story