Saturday, August 27, 2005

the man who terrorized a galaxy

You know him as the horribly disfigured warrior who turned to the dark side of the Force and served as the right hand of Emperor Palpatine, evil leader of the Galactic Empire. Feared for his fighting skills and towering temper, he is the second-biggest menace to all that is good and true:

...but do you think you know the real John Williamson?

Now you can know everything, because he finally started his own blog: here.

In all seriousness: John is a good friend of mine who hails from New Zealand. Along with being an excellent (and well-certified) English teacher, John is a history buff (I think he was a double-major, in fact; if I recall correctly, he graduated from the University of Otago, NZ's ass-kickingest university). I met him in Seoul in the mid-1990s; we worked two hagwons together before I quit early and he found love in the arms of a fantastic Korean lady. They've got two kids now (are they working on a third, Precious??).

John, who's also got a great head for business, has been back in NZ for the last several years, where he heads up his own English-language hagwon (the link has been on my sidebar for ages).

Like many Kiwis, John probably doesn't have much love for American foreign policy, but also like most of the cyber-acquaintances I have, no matter their political stripe, John is eminently reasonable and not a frother.

Back in the 1990s, John introduced me to the Kiwi film "Once Were Warriors" (fantastic flick, but definitely not for kids), a brutal commentary on the life of modern Maori families. The film stars Temuera Morrison, whom everybody today knows as Jango Fett (and the entire Clone Army). Thanks to John, I knew of Temuera before Temuera was a global name.

I hope John will forgive me, but I have to relate one embarrassing story about him. Back in 1996, when we were both working at a hagwon in the Kangnam area, John ate a bad hamburger at Lotteria (some would say that the phrase "bad hamburger at Lotteria" is redundant). The next day, I walked into the hagwon... and into a wall of vomit odor. I didn't put two and two together at first: when we were eating our burgers, we had no idea that John's had been cursed.

I asked the receptionists who had puked. They made sad faces and intoned, "John." Despite the vomit smell, I had a good laugh. John filled in the details later: he'd been nauseous and had tried to make a run for the restroom, but didn't quite make it. Hence the redecorated hallway.

I'd love to re-create that scene in slow motion-- the look of horror, the full-frontal shot of John sprinting down a corridor, and super-slomo as the vomit began to erupt out of his face, all accompanied by Adagio for Strings, the piece made famous in the movie "Platoon." John's a stoic guy: there would have been no scream of horror, no groans, no retching sounds. The mere fact of the vomit would have been dismaying enough for him and for those who had the misfortune to witness the Korean pizza's liquidy birth.

Wait, here's another embarrassing factoid about the John of the 1990s: he was a swinging single back then, and had the imperialist Western habit* of making jokes in English to uncomprehending Koreans (full disclosure: I've engaged in this myself, and if you're honest, you'll admit that you have, too). Two of my favorites:

1. Occasionally, as John and I would be walking down a sidewalk, we'd see a stooped old grandmother. John would cheerfully command, "On your back, woman!" I know, I know-- the "comfort woman" issue is highly sensitive in Korea. But I found it funny all the same.

2. Back when we were working at that hagwon in the Kangnam area, John would see a particularly beautiful young student and starting singing, "Show me the front of your bum!"

John's married now, so I'm sure he can no longer do either of the above, though I'll be interested to see whether he uses his blog to confess a secret lust for Korean grannies.

Anyway, John-- now's your chance for revenge! Go ahead and reveal all the awful, shitty stuff I did and said ten years aigo!

NB: Mike met John in March of 1995, when Mike, my mother, and my brother David all visited me in Seoul. We three guys did fondue at the Swissôtel for John's birthday (March 13, yes?). A good time had by all, I thought. Mike and John had the chance to talk about history, their mutual love. Would be nice if we could all get together again, but those two gents are married, and plane tickets to either Dunedin or Washington, DC are kind of expensive. Bah... we'll figure something out in future, I'm sure.

Now that you've been properly hazed, welcome to the blogosphere, John!

Go give John's blog, Just Another Human (Nur Ein Mensch, "only a [hu]man," as his URL claims), a read. Force him to write more.

UPDATE: Some uplifting facts about John:

1. The man's done his share of hunting. He demonstrated on numerous occasions that he can move in absolute silence, and despite being more Aryan than Pope Benedict, he could blend in with a crowd of Koreans and blindside a Kevin on the lookout for him. This was, in fact, the way John and I would sometimes meet up: we'd pick a crowded area to meet, I'd arrive a bit early, and John would do his best to get close enough to tap me on the shoulder from behind without my ever having spotted him. John's powers of invisibility were uncanny: had I been a New Zealand sheep, I'd have been raped multiple times.

John once made an incredible claim and then backed it up. His claim was something to the effect that "hunters in the woods have to know how to sharpen their knives on any surface." I said, "Can you sharpen my pocketknife on this formica table?" John said, "Sure," took my knife, then used the table as a whetstone.

I accept only one proof of a truly sharp knife: if you can use it to shave the hair off your fingers, it's sharp. I scraped my newly sharpened knife across the backs of two of my fingers... the hair came off as if it hadn't even been attached to my skin. I was humbled.

2. John's a mountain goat. While I like hiking, John treats mountains the way I treat level ground: as no big deal.

One particularly embarrassing hiking excursion involved John, a few of our Korean students, and yours truly. John was impatient with the switchbacking trail and elected to scale the mountain straight up when we found a rock face that had about a 40-degree grade. John loped up the side easily; the students followed suit.

Soon, I was the only sad sack left at the bottom. I screwed up my courage and charged upward... but my fat betrayed me, and I lost momentum about halfway up. The grade was too steep for me to restart the climb, and steep enough for me to worry about tumbling backward and breaking my neck. So I hung there, immobile, trying to figure out what to do next.

The students were laughing. One compassionate student, a guy with the nickname Dragon (his real name was Pak Yong-pil, "yong" meaning "dragon"), scampered down with the same ease as John, grabbed one of my wrists, then helped me up the rest of the way.

It was a humiliating experience for me, but there was one cool aspect to that day: when we'd started the hike, two old guys pointed at me and muttered that I wouldn't be able to scale the mountain (was this Gwanak-san, John?). Thanks to John's shortcut, we made it to the top in record time. The old men, who arrived much later, were astonished to see me up there with the group. I simply leered at them. That's what you get for judging the book by its blubberous cover, assholes.

*Yes, yes, I know it's not just Westerners who crack jokes in their native tongue while in foreign lands. Shut up and enjoy the damn humor.


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