Friday afternoon, Itaewon. I am wearing my pastel blue ostrich leather loafers with matching blue alligator skin belt. A pair of custom tailored Egyptian cotton dark blue dress pants with a 3/4 inch cuff. I’m not wearing socks, because only pussies wear socks in the winter. I am wearing a beige custom tailored Ferragamo cashmere duffle coat with a white Commes de Garcones texture-striped button down dress shirt underneath. I am wearing a DSQUARED silk printed scarf and a pair of viagra-blue Gucci calf skin leather driving gloves. I am fully accessorized, -no- I am accessorized the fuck out with silver bangles and charms up to my elbows and a rose gold Rolex Daytona on each wrist; one displaying Seoul time, and the other L.A. time (do any of the other time zones matter?). Physically I am in Seoul, but spiritually I am 5953 miles away, in my ancestral homeland of Los Angeles. I am breathing hard and shuffling with determination down the sidewalk of Itaewon’s magic mile. Persons and objects that would normally appear clear and interesting now appear vague and obscure as if I am seeing them through a rain soaked window. The Goldfish Bar is now more than a bar; it is the womb that I must crawl into to survive. It’s time to dig down.
By virtue of a triumphant cocktail of prescription medication and legal over-the-counter male enhancement products my mind is razor sharp and I have had an erection or an erection on command 24 hours a day for the last 10 days. My body is starting to crash. I have been through it all before so I know the warning signs and I know what I need to do. I need to STOP. I have to get to the other side of the street and into the warm comfort of the Goldfish Bar before it is too late, before various vital body systems start to collapse and fail and call attention to themselves. I’ve been busy these days, terribly busy. No time to write, no time for self improvement, no time for hobbies or socializing. Gotten loads of emails and Kakaotalk messages asking me why I’m not writing much. The emails started out as polite inquiries:
“Jake man, I’m starting to worry about you. First you write a Korean restaurant review, and then you stop posting. Is everything ok man? All the dudes at my hagwon have been waiting patiently for your next post. You’re the man, man!” -Seth in Sadang
The emails then escalated to panic level:
“JAKE!! You sonuvabitch~! What the FUCK BRO!? No post for over a month? What the fuck am I supposed to do during winter vacation next month? You just stop writing, just like that? That’s fucked brah! Super-fucked! You can’t just leave us hangin’ like that. I’ve never met you in person, but I’ve been to the Goldfish Bar in Itaewon several times, and every other place you’ve ever written about (Hallasan Burger is off the cheezy!) and I feel like we are bros, you know? You can’t just puss out on us like that. We’re supposed to, like, what…. read that Eatyourkimchi site or something? Fuck that bro, and fuck you if you stop writing!” -Bob in Bundang
The emails then became flat-out hysterical:
“Jake this is my last email to you. You haven’t replied to any of my messages. I’ve taken a bunch of aspirin to thin out my blood, and now I am sitting naked in my bathtub in Haebongcheon with a razor in one hand and my iPhone 5 in the other hand tapping out this message. I’m going to cut my wrists, Jake. Are you happy now? Your lack of writing is like a slap in the face, but you already knew that. I fucking DEPEND ON YOU. I moved to Korea and got a place in Itaewon because of your blog. I swear to god that I will cut myself if you don’t post something in the next 24 hours.” –Howard in Haebongcheon
And after the emails came the Kakaotalk messages, sprinkled with grains of desperation and making unfounded accusations:
Adding insult to injury came the taunting private messages on the Expat Hell Forums (my own website, for Christ’s sake!), like muffled cries for help from a piece of floating driftwood in the middle of a storm, almost daring me to come out of retirement:
So why haven’t I written much? The truth is, once you take a break from writing, it’s hard to get back on the literary horse and give it a kick in the ribs. To slide down the narrative embankment squeezing your groin muscles until they are about to tear. To ford the ice cold blustering, raging river while your four legged friend fights for footing on rolling sludge covered rocks. Then the gasp and the thrust and the howl and the prayer as you reach the other side only to see another identical embankment of mud and snakes and loose gravel and editing tweaks and grammatical errors and unresolved plot points that you have to climb up.
Sound like fun? Sound easy? Sound like something you want to do on a Friday night? Ok, now do it 376 times. That’s how many posts I’ve made on this blog. And remember: you can never tell the same story twice, and you have to write straight from the heart, and you have to write from personal experience, and you can never lie. There come periods of time, perhaps for a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months when my brain can no longer send signals to my fingers to write anything. Literary lulls of unpredictable duration.
There come points in time where long term expats have to ask themselves what they are doing and why they are doing it and how much longer they’ll be doing it before they snap out of it and rejoin the “real world” with real responsibilities, and real contracts with real obligations and real consequences for not keeping one’s word. An expat will, from time to time, get stuck in a kind of cycle or routine where nothing seems new and every day seems like a carbon copy of the previous day. The wind is gone, the sails lay slack and the literary ship ain’t moving. No inspiration, and a general feeling of indifference make pouring another glass of rum more appealing than switching on the computer and typing out post number 377 for the benefit of everyone I know, and thousands of people I don’t know and will never meet. Signals from the brain to the hands to the fingers to the keyboard versus a glass of rum, a comfortable place on the sofa and a few hours of mindless television before I pass out only the repeat the same cycle the next day. It’s an easy choice to make. Too easy.
As I reach the Goldfish Bar, I turn off my cell phone. It is important to sometimes make yourself unavailable to others. Every minute you spend looking at your smartphone is a minute you won’t spend looking at other people, watching, observing, taking mental notes, learning, speaking, or making eye contact with another human being. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of being a long term expat in Korea is watching fellow western expats self-destruct. The Goldfish Bar and the Seoul Pub are grou7nd zero for the self-destruction show. It was nearly a decade ago that I witnessed my first and just recently that I witnessed the latest. And frankly some of them have been close enough to hurt. If Korea has taught me anything, it’s that there will be more. And once again, I’ve learned there isn’t much you can do at this point other than become an observer.
Truth be told, I can’t say for certain when I will get back into the habit of writing. Eventually, a day will come at the Expat Hell corporate office in Itaewon when all of the Expat Hell L.L.C. accountants, proofreaders, research staff, interns, expat experts, foreign correspondents, stringers, office machine maintenance people, support staff, lawyers, and large-breasted googly-eyed plastic surgery junkie secretaries will receive their last pay checks. The office cat will bail out, the company dog will boost himself up the window sill ready to jump, and the roaches will start to appear from their hiding places (god bless Itaewon). The heat will shut down, the fans will stop moving, and the phones will become plastic relics of a past I will never return to. I will take the mouse and the printer and the monitor and the desktop PC and the manuscripts and the speakers and the keyboard out to the middle of the street in front of the Hamilton Hotel and pump shotgun blast after shotgun blast into the heap until the white-hot barrel burns my hands, my ears are throbbing, my laughter has turned into a hyena shriek, and I lose all control of my bladder.
When I first started writing on this site, I was young and strong and handsome and healthy. But there have been some changes. My life and my physique and my mind have been mortar-and-pestled by the inhuman onus of writing Korean thoughts and experiences of a personal nature week after week after week, 376 times. At some point, the ceaseless relentless intractable ticking time bomb of mind-wrecking stress involved in staring at a blank computer screen every week and producing a masterpiece will visit upon me a horrific kind of reverse evolution. I will regress and become a hideous, hopeless shell of a man. Don’t pity me. It’s my lot. I wanted to write. That’s what I’ll get. Like Icarus with wings of wax flying towards the sun. I’ll have run my race. I’ll sit with my Viagra-blue ostrich skin loafers kicked up on the coffee table and wait to die. For now though, the lights shine reliably late into the night at Expat Hell headquarters in Itaewon. Cut off my fingers and I’ll type with my toes. Cut off my toes and I’ll slap keyboard keys with my dick. My words will outlive me. My name is Jake, and I’ve lived in Korea too long to go back.