Tag Archives: pearl jam

Word Choice

Recently went to the Korean War Memorial and Museum in Seoul. It is without a doubt the most thorough museum I have ever been to. The first exhibit starts with prehistoric war heads and the last exhibit ends with a piece-by-piece breakdown of the Korean Army’s most recent artillery shells. In between there are four floors full of tanks and jet fighters, recreated battle scenes, and massive relics devoted to seemingly every military engagement Korea has ever faced. Perhaps then it’s no surprised that in a place dedicated to war, there is what can only be called “information overkill.” If you want to feel what it’s like to be bludgeoned in the face by statistics and dates, then this is the place for you.

As I plodded my way the endless slog of battle recreations and strategic maps and old guns, one sight in particular managed to catch my eye, not because of what it looked like, but because of what it said. Located in the middle of one of the many rooms dedicated to the North/South Korean conflict, stood a statue of three massive bronze soldiers all holding grenades, their bodies charging ahead, their faces frozen in defiance. The plaque beneath them read, “Three Human Bombs at the White Horse Hill.”

I stood their thinking about that phrase for while. Three Human Bombs. The words seem hang around in the air after you say them, like black exhaust fumes spat out from a broken down semi truck. Three Human Bombs. What’s so human about a bomb? This phrase is of course a clumsy military euphemism for “suicide bombers,” but everyone knows that that phrase doesn’t sell entry tickets or mugs at the museum gift shop, so Three Human Bombs will have to do.

As I was looking at the statue, I couldn’t help but wonder about the back story for that trio of men. Did they choose to blow themselves up? Did they draw straws? Were they assigned the task by their superiors. If it’s the later I can just imagine how that conversation might have unfolded:

The commander calls three soldiers into his tent

COMMANDER: Remember when I told you men that if we wanted to win this war we were going to need more live ammunition?

SOLDIER: Yes, of course. But what does that have to do with us? [Long pause as reality slowly sets in]

COMMANDER with a somber, knowing look, hands the men a box of grenades, then walks out of the tent.

The three Soldiers stand together in silence…

[End Scene]

Regardless of how that night unfolded, I think it sets a low standard to celebrate people who blow themselves up to kill other people, regardless of how much “bravery” that must have required. The word “human” is really stripped of all meaning when placed next to the word “bomb.” The same type of thing happens when you put the words “vegetarian” and “hot dog” together, or “soft” and “rock.” It just doesn’t add up.  Anyway you slice it, the human race is in a sad state when we start exalting praise onto what amounts to little more than glorified weaponry.

In the end, it makes you question if we aren’t paying attention to the wrong thing entirely. I could easily do a quick Internet search and find thousands of museums dedicated to nothing but war, but the real question is: where are all the museums dedicated to peace?

Related Listening:

“Masters of War” – Pearl Jam

“Weapon of Choice” – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

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Rep Your City

Seosan’s one and only Seattle Lounge, or as it’s known to locals, The Seattle Rounge.

A group of about 8 or so teachers were sitting around at a restaurant when someone inquired about the best place to get cheap products from back home.  Another person came back quick with an answer: the Costco in Seoul. “You know it!” I shouted, beaming with pride upon hearing the answer. “I hope you all know that’s a Seattle company.” My exclamation was met with dull stares, and that’s when I realized: I just got excited over an international wholesale warehouse whose main claim to fame is that it sells 96 rolls of toilet paper in a single package – simply because the company is based in Seattle. A funny thing happens when you’re far from home: your appreciation for all things native to your city, no matter how big or small, becomes greatly exaggerated. I like to call this, “The Home Sweet Home Phenomenon.”

To borrow a page from Jeff Foxworthy, you might have a case of the Home Sweet Homes if:

– You find yourself proclaiming that your city’s sports franchises are superior to all others, regardless of the fact that they actually suck crap.

– That, in reference to a food item, you’ve recently used the sentence, “Nobody makes better (name of dish) than (name of restaurant) on (street name). Nobody!”

– Every time someone mentions the weather, you tell them that this heat/cold/rain/snow/humidity doesn’t even come close to the way it is back in your town.

– You inexplicably remember every movie or television show that was about or filmed in your city.

The Home Sweet Homes can manifest themselves in other ways too. Without even trying, I suddenly find myself telling more and more people about the glory of Starbucks (and did you know my family used to go the same synagogue as the Schultzes), or how Boeing 747’s revolutionized air travel. Lately I’ve taken to blasting increasing amounts of Pearl Jam and Nirvana songs on my iTunes, which is troubling because grunge was so 15 years ago. There are even times when I’m tempted to trade in my Mac for a good ol’ Windows machine, just because it’s got that homey Microsoft touch (actually I would never consider that, but for the purpose of this post please play along).

So what’s the reason for all this hometown-hype? The reason is simple. When you’re off on your own in a strange land, your home becomes your definition; your accent your calling card. It’s a security blanket of sorts – the thing you cling to out of sheer instinct. Here in Seosan there is a mash of foreigners from all over the world, each with their own slang, their own viewpoints, and their own tastes. Meeting other teachers from around the globe has been one of the unexpected bonuses of this trip, as is the good-natured jabs we take at each others’ hometowns. For instance, this past Fourth of July I took every opprtunity to remind my friend from England about awesomeness of the Revolutionary War. Not missing a beat, he politely reminded me that the British pound is worth almost twice as much as the U.S. dollar. Point taken, but seriously, red coats? What were you guys thinking?

And so it goes. A couple from New Zealand just moved in. The sheep jokes have already started.