Well, I do apologize for my silence on this blog in the past couple months.
As many of your know, I have decided to take my leave from Jet Set Zero. Rehabilitation of my knee went well in Korea, but it wasn’t quite enough to fully heal it. Upon return to the U.S., a physical therapist explained that my patella had been slowly rotating and left to its own devices, would have dislocated again. I don’t fault the Korean medical system, which was superb; just turns out that having someone explain a medical problem in your native language is pretty important. Who knew?
So I am back in the U.S., rehabilitating my knee, looking for work in the Bay Area, and readjusting to a life not on the road.
It’s been a whirlwind of a year. As part of the Jet Set Zero lifestyle, I’ve ridden ostriches and mini-tank treads. I’ve dared the culinary gods of Vietnam and Thailand, and braved the cold streets of Tokyo. I’ve drunk with Vietnamese Bankers, Japanese salary men, and Korean University students. I was taught how to make sushi and how to fire dance from the same person. I jockeyed my way through Saigon traffic, navigated the rail systems in Tokyo and Seoul, and patiently endured being passed up by cabs because I was a foreigner. In Seoul, I dislocated my kneecap while dancing and wound my way through the Korean medical system. I lived in internet cafes for 3 weeks and a tiny box of a room for 3 months. I sang Karaoke (poorly) in every country we went to. Our friends abroad took us to clubs, restaurants, theme parks, gaming cafes and gaming tournaments, a wedding, a snow temple, a cherry blossom festival, and so much more. It was an adventure in friendship, budget living, cultural immersion, and discomfort zones.
At the Yongsan electronic market, there’s a professional gaming e-stadium where professional Starcraft teams battle in front of a live audience. I shit you not – these were the pro leagues, and we saw on the massive screen two professional paid players duking it out.
We’ll have more about this in video – it’s one of the most fascinating and unique subcultures we’ve encountered here in Korea.
I’m working an insanely demanding job, with a long commute spread across many buses and trains, which take me a 10-hour stint of intense concentration. Unfortunately, I’m still on our travel budget, which is still hobbling along after Japan. So what sees me through the day?
Starts with a 900 KRW ($.75) can of coffee. I like this brand because it’s not packed with sugar, which usually just leads to a sugar crash midday, always an awful experience at this job. Also, I ate some instant ramen: 600 KRW ($.50). Total: 1500 KRW ($1.25)
I apologize for my silence on the blog. The hours for my job are absolutely insane and I have a second (third?) job of rehabilitating my knee. My knee is regaining its range of motion degree by degree My primary physical therapist is a guy called “Cook,” and his regimen is intense, effective, and the opposite of gentle.
I was lucky enough to work near an orthopedic clinic famous for working on professional baseball players. So they don’t mess around.
Another favorite is the massive machine they call “The Biodex.”
We interrupt our seoul protest coverage to elaborate a little more on the life of an internet cafe refugee in Tokyo…
The one glaring financial flaw in my little scheme was food. At the guesthouse, I could enjoy our cheap diet of rice, eggs, bread, eggs, rice, and eggs. In the field, sorta speak, I couldn’t cook, and the cheapest available food sat in the convenience stores and 100 Yen fast food menus. But with what I was about to put my poor body through, I couldn’t justify living off corndogs, rice triangles, and McPork burgers, so I needed to get creative, which is to say, desperate.
Mochi balls were like a kind of dumpling made from rice instead of flour, and I dipped those into a bad of mixed fiber and Kinako, a super-cheap protein powder. I splurged on the banana – I think it was the only piece of fruit I ate in 2 weeks. This little meal had calories and some pathetic attempt at nutrition. It was definitely one of my favorite meals…because they did get worse.
I know I blogged about this a bit while it was happening, but I slowly descended into a sort of sleep-deprived mania madness, and I lost the ability to compose coherent posts about it. So now I can explain in a little more depth and lucidity…
The Backstory: We were so broke in Tokyo, mid-April, 2.5 weeks away from departure, and one of our monthly leases was up. Renewal would be $500 we didn’t have. We were already living in poverty in one of the world’s most expensive cities, so why not go one extra step…Manga Kissas, Internet Cafes: Tokyo is peppered with internet/manga cafes, a cross between an internet cafe, a manga library, and a hotel that rented cubicles instead of rooms. You can rent by the hour or stay overnight. They seem to be used for 4 things, as far as I can tell.
First, people who have missed the last train home and who don’t want to pay the monstrous cab fees to go home. They’re either Japanese salarymen, stumbling out of a client dinner, or those damned denizens of Tokyo with money to enjoy the nightlife. In the cafes, you could hear them throwing up or snoring drunkenly.
Second, highschoolers who want some private time – they live with their parents and they can’t go to love hotels. In the cafes, you could hear them…well, you could hear them.
Third, manga lovers and gamers. I was actually surprised that people paid money to go to a manga library and read manga. What kind of manga people read or internet sites they browsed is anyone’s guess, although, in the cafes, they sometimes sounded like the highschoolers.
Fourth, the internet cafe refugees or “cyberhomeless” – people who can’t afford the outrageously expensive housing in Japan but who have enough money to afford a $10/night roof. They rove from cafe to cafe, catching 7 hours of peace at night to recharge for a part-time job during the day. It was in this fourth class that I fell. So instead of paying $500 for another 19 days, I’d pay around $12/night for sleep in Tokyo’s central districts. I’d save money on transit, because I wouldn’t need to travel out to exciting Kanagawa. I’d also still be tutoring, so I’d be making a decent amount of money. The cafes had free coffee and juice, and I’d enjoy internet speed we only wet-dreamed about back at our guesthouse. I’d sleep in the cafes when I could and then just huddle up on one of the trains and sleep as it wound its way around the city. So I packed my bags…
We live above a DVD-booth rental shop, so the stairways leading up to the 4th floor are papered with movie posters. One thing I’ve come to appreciate about movie posters is that the images are so intense – each scene is a powerful emotional message designed to capture and communicate something about the experience of watching the movie. Walking (or hobbling) through the stairway is like wandering through a gallery of intense emotional moments, and with over 100 posters, there’s a moment for every emotion. Whether I’m headed off to work or trudging back, I can find a movie to match my mood.One of my favorite movie posters is for “Midnight Meat Train.” A blurry image of a psychopath with a meat mallet, ready to brutally tenderize every part of your body. It’s a great movie poster for foul moods, and one can just imagine Seoul readying herself to maul us. Then there’s “The Wrestler,” for days when we feel beaten down and burned out. There’s also a movie (top right) with Shia Lebeouf, which really just fills us with rage because we think of Indiana Jones IV. On the bottom left, a beaming Ashton Couture with his beautiful girlfriend/wife Cameron Diaz…that is not quite a poster I’ve empathized with yet here…Finally, on the top middle, “The Transporter.” I’m just waiting for that day when I can walk down the stairs and feel like Jason Statholm ready to seriously kick some ass.
So I think mood forecasts are in order, based on those movies whose posters just seem to say, “I feel you man – here, let me show you exactly how you feel, but more so.” Expect such forecasts to follow…
Well, it’s probably not hard to guess that I didn’t check out the whirling lights of Club Eden or gallivant about with Tom and the Australian showgirls. I’m still in recovery, and I’m playing it cautious. One tumble down and my ligament rips free of its fledgling holds within my knee, and I will know pain unimaginable. No fucking thank you.
However, I have started a new physical therapy regimen…This kind of therapy was mistakenly translated as “radioactive therapy,” which was an unfortunate mistake. I had a brief fantasy that it was causing my knee to hyper-regenerate, but instead it’s just pulsing sound waves to encourage circulation…and hopefully hyper-regeneration.
Please, oh gods of orthopedic healing, please heal my knee! Also, it would be great if you could speedily remove the all the hideous bruises before I’m forced to wear shorts. Go ahead, keep reading, you know you want to see a picture…
Big surprise: I’m not teaching English. Hordes of screaming children would have overrun me and my feeble attempts to order them around or herd them with my crutches. So I had to find a new job that didn’t involve jeopardizing my knee.
A couple weeks ago, a strange opportunity popped up in the classifieds section: an editing job helping rewrite translated text for an MMORPG (like World of Warcraft) being imported to the US from Korea. Flexing my nerd muscles, I threw together a creative cover letter that landed me an interview. I got the job on Monday and started Monday evening.
One of my first tasks was learning the game, so I spent some time playing the Korean version alongside my new boss. Much less exciting than it sounds – it really just amounted to a lot, “oh what’s this say?” “where should we go now?” “what is that we’re buying?” But it’s definitely a gaming environment. On my first day, my officemates challenged me to a Starcraft match over lunch to see who would go buy ice-cream (unfortunately, we had a deadline, so I had to postpone the inevitable ass-kicking that would ensue). Also, when I left the office on Friday at 7pm, 2 guys were questing together on another MMORPG. It felt like a caricature of a Korea, in office format. It should make for an interesting 7 weeks…
Let’s not confuse ourselves. I would change the soiled underwear of every kindergartner at Brian’s and Rob’s school if it would give me my knee back. If anything would undo the financial damage, physical pain, and the instability my knee will have for the rest of my life, I would do it. This job is a small luxury amidst disaster, maybe like winning a poker game during a shipwreck.
And actually, one unacknowledged tragedy of my knee dislocation is that I don’t get to teach alongside Brian and Rob. I mean, I’m not shedding tears here, given Brian’s horror stories, BUT if there was anyone among us who had a prayer of enjoying that job, it was me. I LOVE kids, and anyone who has seen me around them would quickly conclude I simply never grew up. I love to play with them, I love making them laugh, and when they don’t listen, I can just pick 2 or 3 of them up and relocate them, which usually gets all the children’s attention. Unfortunately, I never even got to try. So instead of playing roller coaster with kindergarteners, I’m leveling my Korean character…
Note: If you’re in Seoul and have a free bed or couch, let me know. One of these days, the wrath of Rob or Brian might just spill over…
I got my cast removed today and the doctor said I don’t *have* to use crutches anymore! Unfortunately, I can only bend my knee 15 degrees and it takes me a full 20 minutes to stumble-hop 200 yards. So the road to recovery apparently goes down before it goes up…
First, they sawed off the cast – and let me assure you that lying down and having someone you can’t communicate with whip out an electric saw to use around your infirm leg is NOT the best way to start the day. Then, I could try to bend my knee…and sweet mother of all things sacred, the pain was terrifying. It was physical and psychological, and two worked synergistically. Physical: At about 15 degrees of rotation, my knee feels like a rubber band stretched too far past the fraying point (painful). Psychological: My knee isn’t supposed to fucking feel like that at any degree of rotation, much less 15! (what the fuck!)
The doctor called it “spontaneous healing,” and today he finally explained it with enough clarity that I understood. My “medial ligament” completely ruptured when I fell, so it was something like 2 frayed ends of ligament floating around in a bunch of fluid (the source of swelling). In such cases, you can’t perform surgery because its difficult to locate and safely remove these ends to reattach them. However, sometimes, those frayed pieces sorta drift near each other and kinda start regrowing into each other, almost haphazardly. So, we put the knee in a cast so it doesn’t do much work, and see if those frayed ends of ligament can find each other again. That’s what has happened in my knee.
So what I have in my knee now is a huge lump of bodily tissue that is technically a ligament but didn’t exactly develop to support a functioning knee. And now I need to work on building up the muscle around it to support it, then stretching it so I can bend my knee more than 15 degrees.
In the meantime, pain and patience. The following is a list of creatures that can now beat me in walking race: cockroaches, gerbils, 3-legged dogs, pigeons hopping along the ground, and crawling babies. I think I have a decent shot against a slow turtle, and I can still beat a slug.
Soon, I will tell you what my work has been like, and hopefully I’ll have some pictures (believe me, you wouldn’t want to see any from today anyway).