My longtime buddy Tom, whom I met in 1994 at Seoul's Koryo Foreign Language Institute, a nasty-ass hagwon in the heart of the Chongno district, is turning 43 today, so he finally catches up with the rest of us grimy '69ers.
My first memory of Tom is of him stomping down the stairs of Koryo hagwon, dropping angrily onto a couch in our school's lobby, and barking to no one in particular, "Who the fuck is the dingleberry dickhead who wrote up that schedule?" I had a good chuckle at that expression. Dingleberry dickhead. Tom has almost always given his unvarnished opinion on all matters Korean, but he doesn't fit the stereotype of the angry, bitter expat: for Tom, Korea is his home, and he loves the country, warts and all.
Another memory I have of Tom involves a trip out to the campus of Yonsei University. Tom and I were walking along one of the hiking trails when he had a sudden urge to take a shit. "Got any paper?" he asked me quickly. I widened my eyes and shrugged. "Doesn't matter," Tom said. "I can go behind those rocks and pinch it off clean." Now, folks, that's something that I've never been able to do, so I was in awe. When shitting, my own anus gets as messy as a baby's mouth eating veggie mush. For God's sakes, my ass even makes chewing noises. If I'd been the one needing to shit, I'd definitely have carried along some toilet paper.
Yet another 1990s memory I have of Tom comes from when I was in the process of suing my boss at Koryo hagwon. I prank-called Tom, shouting into the phone something like, "Shit, man, they're here! They're coming to get m--" and then hanging up. Within two minutes, Tom and a friend of his were over at my tiny yeogwan (think: filthy love hotel, where I was paying monthly rent), baseball bats in hand, ready to go gangsta on whoever was kidnapping me. I felt guilty for having tested Tom's loyalty that way. Really guilty. But not so guilty that I didn't also have a good laugh.
Tom's a lifer, I think; at this point, he's probably been in Korea for about twenty years. He's married the Filipina love of his life, and is about to become a dad. He lives in a nice, roomy "officetel," a spacious downtown apartment that is surprisingly cheap, once you pay the enormous, $10,000 key-money deposit to secure the place. It's a far cry from those dirty old yeogwan days in the 90s. Tom's been an instructor at Sungkyunkwan University for the past four or five years-- the university I'd like to work at, if only those dingleberry dickheads in Human Resources would open their goddamn eyes and look at what I have to offer-- and he's bucking for the head-teacher position, from which vantage he's hoping to reel me in during the next round of hiring. We'll see how that goes.
In an interesting cosmic coincidence, Tom's birthday happens to be on December 12, which makes this 12/12/12 particularly special. I hope he celebrates Roman-orgy style, and I wish my buddy the best as he leaps into his 44th year of existence.
Happy Birthday, Tom-- talented photographer, lover of Korean baseball, experienced TV and radio personality, natural teacher, and my good, good friend.