Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 30

Jainism is finally done! I don't say that because I didn't like it. I did. In fact, I loved it. I say that because it was exhausting. Not knowing when the next meal is or where it's coming from is really eye-opening. I've lived a very pampered life and the whole time I never once realized the ease that has been provided for me. Sure, money has helped that, but how our civilization and modern society has evolved really created an environment for laziness, entitlement and avoidance. I can't say that I will always remember my physical pain from the month, but I will remember the lessons the taught me.

From what you experienced, what was the best part of Jainism?

Easy. My mind was re-framed this month in terms of my relationship with animal life and the environment. We always hear that we need to clean up and protect the environment and that result should be enough to motivate people to do something. However, leading someone with a carrot only lasts for so long. What I learned this month was an entirely new way to envision my role in the cosmos. I really visualized the vehicles in which our souls are carried and how important the decisions we make with them are. I have a newfound responsibility on earth and it's not simply for ascetic and health reasons. It's because I am of this earth and could perhaps have existed in a different capacity before this life.   

What improvements, if any, did you witness in yourself?

I don't know if I improved. I caved to temptation with alcohol and many times I got outwardly frustrated with Jainism, but if anything, I think I padded by increasingly bulky trove of patience. It's hard giving up things and it was even harder when people would ask, "What's the point?" It would be easy to give into that, but I didn't. Victory?

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

Not buying anything was really horrible. Well, maybe it was the constant need to rely on my wife for stuff. I don't know. I'm not a big-spender, but it's hard being a burden to the one you love. 
Did you find that people were receptive to Jainism?

Really receptive. In fact,  I was amazed by the curiosity that many people had. I know that they wouldn't necessarily start to follow the creed, but people really opened up to the idea. In fact, I caught some of my younger elementary school students with Jain information in their bags and "George = 자이나교 (Jainism)" written on their notebooks. All ages of Koreans were into it. 

Would you ever consider becoming a Jain?

Hmmm. Let's put it this way: I will always incorporate the lessons from this month into my life, my family and my future religion. But no, I don't think Jainism is the perfect fit for me. 

Any last comments?

If anything came from this month, it was my "Bridges to Beauty" project. Depending on August rain, I will keep it alive. My wife and I are planning on making it more inclusive to the community in September. We all need to do a better job taking care of this world. We are at the top of this karmic chain and have the gift of reason. We need to use it well.


Day 29

From what you saw and heard, what was the best part of Jainism for you? 

Jainism was a little out of my league. George and I spent many nights discussing different aspects of the religion, but I really had a hard time believing any of it. For me, the best part was George actually allowing his love for the earth materialize through his "Bridges to Beauty" project. I support his activism and passions, so this was great for me. Can I credit Jainism? Why not? 

What improvements, if any, did you witness in your husband?

Again with this one? Can someone else write questions? Alright, I'll play the game. He certainly became even more pensive this month. I know it was hard for him, but I'm proud of the thought he put into small things like taking care of our dog's smallest of emotions or even the spider that has now created a massive web in our bathroom window. Maybe it's this project or my training, but I'm starting to see a mature husband. That's a feat.

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

That's easy. He couldn't spend any money or buy anything. Guess who had to do all of that? Sure, he got some stuff from students, but I was behind most everything. It makes me happy that we live in a time where there is equality in marriages because this could not continue.

What do you think of the nudity, face masks and shaved hair?

The nudity is tiring. I mean, he sits on our furniture like that. On the bright side, I did get to force him to shower much more than usual, so I liked that. He only wore the face mask a few times and in Asia, that's not really unusual. Many people where masks when they get sick. When you live in a city of 20 million, bacteria and viruses spread fast. The short hair was nice, although it wasn't technically "shaved". Personally, I prefer his hair a little longer. There's no character in short hair. I was proud of him though. He's had hair issues forever.

Do you think Jainism looked different from Buddhism?

Sure. Jainism was very difficult, but honestly, I don't think George liked it as much. He says that he loves all of them, but I got the feeling that he was getting tired of the rules. With Buddhism, there were rules, but not as extreme.  

Would you ever consider becoming a Jain?

Nope. Not only is Jainism really hard to manage in any country besides India, but I don't believe a word of it. George was trying to get me all excited about the karmic levels and I liked learning about it, but there is no way that I could tell people I believe in that. It sounds too much like a movie plot. 

Next month is Islam. Are you excited?

Well, I'm ready. I wouldn't day excited, though. We're both a little curious about what's going on in the Itaewon mosque and considering what's happening in America with all this mosque drama, I'm curious about what they are thinking. 

Any last comments?

All of these religious adventures have been great for me. I didn't even know what Jainism was a month ago and now I at least have the background to understand who and what they are. I might not "feel" it like George claims, but I do "know" it and that has been great.


Day 28

I was talking to my sister yesterday. That's usually a fun time as I've always had an unmatched ability to make her laugh. I think it's a mixture of our genes, similar sense of humor and the fact that when our parents divorced we were teenagers and we ended up sticking together at a time when many siblings grow apart. And as much fun as we can have together, we have never had a hard time sitting down and having a deep conversation. Humor and drama tweak the emotions in a very profound way, so bridging the gap isn't all that difficult. 

Yesterday, we were discussing raising children. She has a head-start on me and already has two children. My wife and I are waiting for a few more years to start popping those guys out. Still, we like to gab about how we're going to raise them and this and that. Being a Jain this month, one of the biggest concerns I have had is the soul of insects and animals. This wasn't a big step for me since I already had a real concern for all creatures. My sister, on the other hand, has always loved animals but feared insects. Sometimes her fear translates to anger which, of course, can lead to dead insects. I mentioned this inconsistency to  her and suggested that I want to make sure that my children (as well as my niece and nephew) protect all forms of life. She agreed, but with a caveat.
"I know that they'll protect all lifeforms. I don't see them killing anything except mosquitoes I guess," she told me.
Mosquitoes have been my biggest challenge this month. When I feel an itch on my bare chest my first instinct in the summer is to swat rather than inspect. I had to change that a lot and when I did inspect and find a mosquito, I would generally push him away from my skin and on his way. No killing.  Even if he was loaded with my blood, I let him go on his merry way. Most people make the claim that mosquitoes do nothing for the earth, but that's not true. They are food sources for many insects and they also help pollinate flowers. What would the point be of letting the spider in my laundry room live is I made it a point to kill all of it's food? By killing mosquitoes, I'm potentially starving and killing other insects. 

The point is that people make exceptions to everything. We make exceptions to our own rules and our own morals. People break their rules when it comes to eating well and exercise just like they break their own marriage vows and promises to their family. We constantly allow gratuitous desire to overtake sound judgement and we do so by excusing small infractions because for some reason we dilute ourselves into thinking they are somehow less damning than full-blown violations. If we start making excuses to break one part of a promise to ourselves, then what's to stop us from adding another exception in there? How big does a lie have to get before we realize that we're living it?

I don't kill mosquitoes because they are on the karmic cycle with and therefore my responsibility to protect. They have been in the past, but will no longer be the exception to my rule. No more exceptions.


Day 27

As you know,  I could not attend any services this month, so I tried to participate in several discussion boards and Jain debates. I learned some stuff, but not as much as I wanted. I did, however, get involved with this fellow.
I did a bit of reading on the jains a few years ago, and it sounds like they're social parasites. They do no work, and wander around asking to be fed and cared for by others - a pretty nasty trick if you're in a very poor country. So, it's a typical religious social hack: "see me I'm all holy, feed me and care for me."
Calling 'em like you see 'em, huh? You can't really do that with religion, though. Simply "reading on" them "a few years ago" doesn't really allow you to make wise cracks either, but this reveals something deeper. I've followed this guys comments for awhile (he's not the author of the blog by the way) and it's very clear that he is a straight up atheist and has no real tolerance for any sort of religion. If he wants to be an atheist then I'm totally fine and accepting of his prerogative, however, he is dead wrong in reducing Jain monks to mere beggars too lazy to work and take care of themselves. He will probably call religious people unreasonable, irrational, stupid, blind, gullible, ignorant, weak, scared or something else that's equally offensive.

His intolerance towards the religious has crippled him and rendered him utterly blind to the fact that even though it might not make perfect sense to him, it does in fact make perfect sense to the devout.  Who is he to say otherwise? This is not a debate on the tangible. It's a debate of faith--that which cannot be seen--and while I also like to understand my life and most elements of this world through a scientific lens, it is beyond me to assert so sternly that someone else is doing it "wrong". 

There's more though. This guy opens up an interesting can of worms. Apparently, there are strong connections between liberalism, atheism, vegetarianism and intelligence. For the sake of this argument, let's assume that being religious doesn't mean you're unintelligent as many people (like the commenter above) assume. Judging by voting patterns and survey results, it's pretty clear that if you are in fact conservative in the US, you are probably a Christian of some sort and hold that belief system close to you. Good for you.

My problem with this fellow is that if he is in fact the atheist he has made himself out to be and the trends are in anyway accurate, he very well might fall under the banner of a progressive. Sure, some progressives have a smug sense of self-satisfaction, but one part of being progressive includes tolerance. In this case, however, tolerance for the religious is not a part of his political DNA. That, in my mind, makes his just as bad as people who don't tolerate marriage equality.


People are always going to believe what they want. Sometimes, however, we drift into areas where others might not feel comfortable challenging such strong postulations, but just because no one is there is defend the other side, doesn't meant its wrong. 


Day 26

Confession time. 

Yesterday, I went to the park with some friends. Going to the park, forest, woods, grassy fields, creek, river, lake, beach, ocean or mountains is my absolute favorite thing to do and I'm up for it almost anytime of the day or year. Well, I guess I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Before going to the park, my wife, one of her co-workers and I went to see Inception. Excellent film and even better score. In fact, I can only think of a few scores that I like better: The Mission-my personal favorite, Lawrence of ArabiaPsycho, Last of the Mohicans, Legends of the Fall, Rudy, Cape Fear, Born on the Fourth of July and, of course, Jaws. It made it into my top ten, so that's pretty good. 

After the movie, my wife and her buddy decided to go to a wax museum. I'm not a fan of museums that don't include the names "history", "natural" or "national", so I decided to head to the park to meet some friends. We set up some shading tents, got the tunes roaring and started setting up some of the prepared food that we had brought. Before I knew it, I was tempted by my old friend, makgeolli

Unfortunately, I let it win. All day we sat there; from 12pm to well past 9pm, drinking, laughing and having a ball. By the time I made it home, I was plenty drunk and went straight to bed. Apparently, my tolerance for booze has weakened over the past few years and it has certainly sat out the past few months, so let's just say that I was a mess. My wife, however, wasn't too angry or anything and helped me into bed. 

Getting into bed wasn't the problem though. I woke up this morning at 2am and smiled a little because I thought that it was early Sunday morning. Of course, my alarm went off three hours later and the urgency of Monday landed heavily on my red crusted eyes. I was still smashed, but had no option but to go into work and teach. My first class doesn't have that many students in it and since it's the end of the term, they usually start to flake out. Not today. No, sir. All of them were in there and ready to learn. The problem was, I wasn't ready to teach. My hearing was all weird, my eyes were blurry and I felt like I had to poop every few minutes. I did in fact.

I taught my first two classes and then called it a day. I had to go home and sleep it off. Cancelling classes is easy in my position, so I didn't care about that and probably should have cancelled them all. I did care, however, that I had not only broken my Jain rules, but I did so in such an extreme way that I made my body sick which ended up interrupting my daily responsibilities. That was not very Jain-y of me. 

Or was it?

During my recovery yoga session and meditation this afternoon, I started to think about how sick I was early and how foolish it was for me to intentionally poison myself in the name of a cause--that being "fun". However, Jainism, to me, seems to be more of a punishment or mortification of my body and flesh than a beer. I'm certainly killing myself slowly by partaking in unhealthy habits and behaviors, but don't some of these rituals equate to violence against myself?

Regardless, I broke one of the rules and now am having to pay the price. 



Day 25

The very basis of Jainism is self-denial. Today is the start of my final week as a Jain and self-denial has been pretty darn hard. Denying myself the use of money, option of purchasing items, clothing, cooking, cursing, drinking, meat, fish and traveling have been pretty hard. In Korea, I'm  often duped into eating meat even when I ask for no meat. At many restaurants, the owners will toss my request to the side and instead tell me that "it's better with meat in it" rather than respecting my wishes. It's been hard, but following the Great Five Vows has been rewarding thus far. 

Self-denial is the act of denying things that the self wants. Denying the self is much different and just the other day, the queen of living in denial made her way into the headlines again.

Rather than moving on or admitting her mistake, she dug in.

This woman lives in clear denial of who she is and what she really stands for. She is asking us to celebrate dishonesty and manipulation whenever she gets caught in a lie or deception. The Five Great Vows of Jainism are simple. They are a renunciation of 1) killing living things, (2) lying, (3) greed, (4) sexual pleasure and (5) worldly attachments. Palin lives in violation of every single one of these. She kills animals unnecessarily; she lies; she's greedy; has conflicting ideas on sexuality; and doesn't shy away from flashing her material assets.

The danger with people like her is that her modus operandi is easy to mimic and even easier to follow. Take her Facebook page for instance.

Look at what Mark and Shirley said. They admire her "honest[y]" and what she "stands for". From a Jain perspective, she represents pure evil. From a Christian perspective, she represents the same. However, "representing" something and "standing for" something are much different. Palin claims to stand for a lot of things and that is what people like and attribute to her, but she actually doesn't represent any of those things. 

I think there's a lesson in here though. 

He who looks inwardly at the self revels in the self;
He who revels in the self looks inwardly at the self

I personally don't think Sarah Palin is evil. I do, however, think she's a dangerous leader insofar that she doesn't know her true self at all and that ignorance--whether it's willful or not--creates this faux-reality where she can represent some of the most evil and despicable ideals in this world, yet appear to be stand for what people think is admirable. 

Here's an example: A person can stand for the idea of marriage and since they perhaps have been "happily" married for over forty years, people believe that it's true and rarely seek any more information. However, if you were to ask that person why he is "happy" or even his wife about the details of their relationship, another story might emerge. In fact, he might turn out to be Larry Craig.

Sarah Palin claims that she stands for abstinence-only education. People see that and assume she stands for a more conservative approach to sexual education and some Christians might even believe that she is on their side. However, a closer look at that stance conflicts with the reality which is that she knew her teenage daughter was having sex in her own house and chose to do nothing about it until it was time to collect politically. 

Living in denial is pretty dangerous, Sarah.


Day 24

It's my last Saturday as a Jain. My wife and I were going to go to a water park, but when the entire population of Seoul and the surrounding province also realizes that the rainy season is coming to an end, that makes for hellish traffic and even worse lines. I had a student who went to one of them last week and he said that he waited for two hours to take one of the slides. I asked him why he did that.
"I was with a girl and she wanted to ride it, so I had to wait," he told me.
Typical. I'd do the same thing for my wife, though. Part of becoming a Buddhist and Jain has been learning the value of patience. We have to embrace patience and its tests with enthusiasm, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm shocked adults actually wait that long for something as pointless as a slide or a roller coaster. As a child, we don't know the value of time, so wasting it didn't seem like it was much of a problem. And I'm very well aware that when I have children, my wife and I are going to have to endure hours and hours of mind-numbing queuing just so our children can feel excitement for thirty seconds. 

Still, why do adults do it? 

After all, you're not learning anything from it, nor is it a new experience that could change you in any profound way. Aside from masturbation, drugs and alcohol, I think the thrill people seek from roller coasters and water parks is one of the highest forms of self-gratification we can find. And in some respects, it's worse because we waste so much time in preparation. Jain take:
The self is known with difficulty; having known it, it is difficult to constantly bear it in mind; for the man who does so bear it in mind, it is difficult to refrain from sense gratification.
I know my self well enough to know that the thrill I get from riding a roller coaster does not outweigh the time lost waiting for it.
So long as a man does not know the self, he indulges in sense gratification; the yogi, averse from sense gratification, knows the self. 
Alright, but I know my self, yet would still go and waste all that time if my wife wanted to go. I won't lie and say that I am totally averse to sense gratification that I get from drop tower rides and even if I were, is it wrong that I want to allow my wife to enjoy it?
Some men knowing the self are forgetful of their true nature and wander about in the four states of existence; fools engrossed in sense-gratification.   
I guess this is me. I know my self and still choose to do my best for my wife which, in some way, is gratifyingly satisfying. 

What I'm getting at is that sometimes, we can't follow the path. Life presents itself in many different lights and creates all sorts of obstacles that are impossible to avoid. Next week, my wife's cousins are coming in town and they want to go to an amusement park. Next weekend also happens to be the start of the unofficial vacation week in Korea. Everyone will be at Lotte World and that includes me.

What are my options though? 

1) Complain that these children are being too sense gratifying and suggest we all do yoga instead?

2) Pay for them to go with my wife while I stay at home doing something less gratifying?

3) Go, but sit down and read scripture the whole time?

4) Wait in line with the kids, but skip out just before it's my turn so as to avoid gratification?

5) Go with the kids, wait in line with them and ride with them because that's what a good husband does for his wife and her family?

It's not a hard decision, but where does one draw the line between loyalty to others and the liberation of ones soul? My student ended up having a horrible time at that water park and he  now regrets going. Would he have regretted NOT going even more?


Day 23

It's around noon right now and I'm sitting quietly at my desk. The air is blowing in from the windows behind me and there's nothing that can upset me right now. About an hour ago, my wife and I went to the doctor. She needed a shot before our Vietnam trip in September and I was going to get my blood pressure checked. If you remember from a few months ago, I had somewhat elevated blood pressure. What I didn't tell you is just how high it was. 


That's high and while I could go over and over all the nasty and unhealthy food and life decisions I've made in my past, it doesn't change the fact that my pressure was high. Not only is my health one of those things that I like to pretend is always good, but it's also something that I have liked to avoid thinking about. For a solid month, my wife had been trying to get me to go in and get my blood pressure checked and for a solid month, I made up excuses. Today, I couldn't make anything up and together we took our pressure. I also visited a doctor, but first we decided to use one of those machines located in the waiting room. She went first.


That's good. She's always had pretty healthy flow throughout her veins and even though some might say that's she's a little on the low side of the spectrum, it's better than being on the high side. Blood pressure naturally rises with age. She'll be fine. 

Now, it was my turn. Since I have a problem with my blood pressure, I am a little embarrassed by it. I can joke about it because I'm self-deprecating, but when it actually comes down to it, I don't want my health problems to be a discussion topic for other people. As I've mentioned before, Koreans are food snobs, so if they see a foreigner with high blood pressure, they will use that as ammo to repeat their "All Western food is unhealthy" mantra. Of course, as I was slipping my arm into the hole, a man in his early forties decided to stand directly behind me. I glanced back at him and gave him a look, but he didn't budge. Koreans don't care for personal space.

Source: ROKetship

There was nothing I could do about it, so I turned back around, pushed the "start" button and waited as the air filled up the sleeve around my arm. I used to think I had a little trick for lowering my numbers. You see, I first noticed that my blood pressure was a little higher than normal back in college. My step-father has blood pressure issues and has a little tester at home, so one day while on vacation, I strapped it on. The results weren't great, so I started coming up with ways to cheat it. I thought that if I held my breath then the pressure of blood flowing would decrease and therefore lower my numbers. That was wrong and a doctor here in Korea told me that I was pretty dumb for trying that. 
"Why would you try to fool yourself?"
I couldn't answer that question. Why do I try to fool myself? It's my health and my life. Foolishness.

The pressure around my arm slowly started to release and the numbers on the counter started dropping. I was nervous, my wife was worried and the douche face behind me was entertained. Finally the number stopped. 


Victory. I was more than relieved and stood up immediately to share the excitement of my amazing results with my wife. The guy behind me sat down, so I made sure to stand directly behind him and watch his results. 


He needs to take medicine. 

You might be asking what this and Jainism have in common. Well, my diet this month has been healthy and minimal. I don't overeat, nor do I eat salty things. This diet and my Buddhist diet have been very healthy. I also weighed myself. 


That's down from 158. It's a big drop, sure, but not as big as during my Buddhist month where I dropped from 162 to 139. I need to be more aware of what I'm putting into my mouth and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who need to do the same.


Today was a normal day for me. I ate some tofu soup for lunch and then a piece of bread that one of my elementary school students offered me for dinner. It was some mocha bread or something average, but it was enough. I'm taking my vitamins and exercising a lot, so don't worry. I think I'm pretty healthy. I find out tomorrow at the doctor, so we'll see, huh? I know that my wallet is feeling pretty good since I haven't spent much of anything this month. I did have to spend a couple times, but I have reduced spending by over 90%. It's been pretty great not worrying about checking accounts and cash. I've never been good at that stuff. 

Today was one of the first totally clear days with no traces of rain that we've had in Seoul all month, so after work I headed to the park to clean up trash. I'm privately calling this clean-up effort "Bridges to Beauty" for the simple reason that my cleaning route weaves back-and-forth between the twenty-seven bridges that span the Han River. Here are some of them so you can get an idea of how much cleaning I have ahead of me.

I started between Banpo Bridge and Hannam Bridge today, but as I now know, it'll take days to clean it all up by my lonesome. Luckily, I have some time and don't really want to bother organizing a large group of people just yet. I have plans for that in the future, but not now. Now is just for me and the land. 

I rode my bike there and parked it in a nice little cove between some tall bushes and a line of ginkgoes. Aside from my backpack, all I had with me was a trash bag, some super cool gardening gloves, my sunglasses, tunes in my ears and a nice set of Korean made metallic tongs designed for the very purpose of picking up trash. I was pretty excited to do it also. It was about seven o'clock when I got out there, so I had about an hour of manageable light.

I slowly made my way from one side of the first field to the next. There was a fair amount of trash to collect, but most of it was cigarette butts and plastic bottles. I thought about my own careless behavior when it came to disposal of butts. For years and years I casually and thoughtlessly tossed my butts wherever I was standing without even the slightest concern for where they landed, how long they'd be there or who'd be picking them up. This is payback or karma even and as a Jain, a need to escape this cycle. If I ever smoke again (and just for regular trash also), I will never throw it on the ground again. Picking up old butts with metal tongs in the summer heat isn't all too fun and it's not fair to other people or the earth.

Cleaning the park was great, though. Doing something responsible for the environment is always a worthwhile endeavor and very important for a Jain (Bhogopbhog Pariman Vrata )...
This vow restricts them from unlimited consuming of natural resources
...but the real story was in the response that I was getting. As a foreigner in Korea, there is a certain level of expectation that most people have of us. Sometimes they're about non-teachers and others times they're all about us, but in the end, most Koreans see us as temporary "gap-yearers" looking for a good time, curious women and easy cash. Unfair sure, but that's the nature of the Korean beast. 

While I was picking up trash, I had my earphones and sunglasses on and was 100% focused on the task at hand while impossibly trying to avoid stepping on insects. After ten or so minutes, I started to feel the long stares. Soon those stares got closer and turned into sporadic rounds of applause from runners and other park-goers. Finally, an older woman who looked to be close to seventy approached me, rested her arm on my shoulder and said "Thank you" in English. After a solid hour of scrounging for trash, I had gotten over a dozen "thank yous" in both Korean and English, a handful of "whys", three helping hands and even an offering of water and chicken. I turned down the chicken.

The response was overwhelming and it made me think of a couple things. One,  I was astounded by the outpouring of appreciation and have decided that in August (after the rainy season subsides), I'm going to organize a very small but dedicated group of teachers and Koreans to tackle this project head-on. And two, why was I being thanked for cleaning the earth?

This concept baffles me in many ways. I understand Korean citizens were surprised that, as one of my students put it, "a foreigner would be cleaning something other than his motherland." I get that, but saying thanks to me for cleaning is odd. I did the same thing in the United States in college at Sequoyah Park in Knoxville and not a single soul said a word to me. Is it only because I'm a foreigner and doing something that other foreigners typically don't do or was it shocking for them to see someone who is clearly volunteering their own time to clean? "Thank you" is simply a verbal acknowledgement of appreciation and these Koreans clearly appreciated that I was cleaning up "their" land, but is it really theirs to thank for? Sure, political  borders dictate that it is, but shouldn't we be treating the entire earth as ours? 

I'm not cleaning the park for gratitude. I'm doing it because I love this earth and all the creatures on it. Beautifying a park is such an easy way to show appreciation for this world and to tell the truth, the thanks that I got certainly did inspire me to do more, so it was not in vain. Imagine if we all thanked each other for cleaning the earth and together, we all mutually felt the satisfaction of helping in some way or another? 

I bet we'd have a much cleaner and more beautiful world in which to raise our children. 

On a side note, I ended up collecting about 40 liters worth of trash from about two acres of land. It was a win. I have the doctors appointment tomorrow. Wish my blood pressure luck! 


Day 21

When I got to work this morning, it was nice and silent. No one was there yet which was a real treat. For the past two years, it's been just me in the office for a solid thirty minutes before the first soul walked though that door. I could quietly do some work and allow the morning to slowly take hold off me. I miss those days, but you can't stop the rain by complaining, so I enjoyed my time this morning. It's not that I like being alone all the time, it's just nice to have a moment to yourself outside of the house.

My routine changes every now and then, but it's safe to say that I'll get on Facebook at some point during the first few hours of my day to see what's cooking. Today, I saw that an old friend was getting ready for his bachelor party. I didn't even really know that he was getting married. I knew he was serious but that was it. In fact, several of my friends from college have also gotten married and each time I look at subsequent the pictures, I get a little sad. I've been in Korea longer than I was in college. I never saw that coming, but for some reason,  I knew back then that something was about to change. I wrote this before heading to Seoul.
I'll only post one time before I go, but I felt that a pre-Seoul update would be worth it.
I left Knoxville yesterday, July 6th, after a week with great friends and family. It was different though. Sure, I'm leaving for a year, but there seemed to more than just that on everyone's mind. We are all leaving (at least most of us) and although it was unspoken, we all knew that we would never hang out in Tennessee like that again, let alone Knoxville. Yeah, we'll meet for homecoming or some other function, but the days of 'good clean fun', as we playfully called all excessive behavior, are over.
Not to fret though. I sincerly believe that we will all continue to remain close, despite the distance. Of course, time will tell and we all have a journey ahead of us, but we must remember the simple joys we all bring to each other...
See you in Korea.
And I was right. Most of that crew has not hung out in Tennessee like that again. I remember driving away on July 5th with a tear in my eye wanting to turn around and say goodbye again, but I had to go. I had to start my journey and it has certainly turned out to be one hell of a great ride. Still, every once and while, when I hear a special song or smell a certain smell, the memories of my past friendships come rushing back and the feeling is still as fresh now as it was when I was here for only a week
I searched through my Ipod library. I cruised through AC/DC, Ah ha, Al Green, Allman Brothers, America, Beach Boys, Beatles, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Billy Joel, Billy Ocean, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and then I spotted my selection: Bob Seger. I knew what song I needed. It's a song that I hold so dear to my heart. It is probably the song that my college friends and I listened to more than any other. I selected it and the guitar started playing. I sat there for a second and waited for the lyrics to start.
The song continued and I didn't miss a beat. I wasn't walking alone during t hat song. I was walking with a wealth of memories of some of the greatest people I have ever met. I was walking with them and they were walking right along side of me; singing, playing, dancing and reminding me what is important and truly priceless in this world.
And to be honest, nothing has changed.  I still carry them and those times with me everywhere I go. My life now is much more complicated than it was then for sure, but even in their total absence for years, I have never really felt lonely. Again, I have a great wife, plenty of solid friends here and a ton of pre-college pals in addition to that early-aught crew, but I have always felt a pitted sensation when I think about the separation of our group. I know that Buddism and Jainism tell me that I should detach myself from people for they will only cause me pain, but I just can't do that totally. I'm a social creature. All humans are. 

Perhaps I'm a victim of "immigrant time warp" and my affection gauge is a little whacked. Maybe my friends have grown apart a lot since I left or maybe they've stayed the same; I don't know really. I do know that I still view them as warmly as I did years ago and plan on jumping right back into the scene (albeit in a married sort of way) once we return. 

I assumed all people were similar to me which is why I found a recent Psychology Today article titled,  "Are Americans Becoming More and More Isolated?" so surprising. It argues, among other things, that we are becoming more isolated from others because we have moved away from our hometowns, friends and family in search of work which leads to loneliness. I disagree with that, but my mother often tells me that she was surprised that I was able to stay in a University that was so far away from her. At that point, I never thought about it much thought. Same as being in Korea. It's been a bunch of years, but I still think the last time we saw each other was very recent (eight months). 

So, maybe I'm different. Maybe I have a greater ability to detach myself from people and in a way I agree. I've always been a roll-with-the-punches guy and able to move from one group of people to the next, but therein lies the problem. I'm not moving on and staying detached. I'm just reattaching myself somewhere else. 

The article started with two interesting questions:
1. Looking back over the last six months - who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?
2. How many friends outside of your household do you have that you see or speak to at least once a week?
I'm going to answer question #2 first.  I see maybe four or five a week (colleagues excluded) and talk to (SMS/Skype/Facebook/Email excluded) about the same each week. According to the stats, I'm pretty average. Adding in all the other mediums, I would increase to about nine to fifteen a week. Once I got married, I pretty much decided that my wife was going to be the one who I spent most of my time with. Isn't that the point?

The second question is where I bring in Jainism. Discussing important matters is, well, important, but defining that importance is the greater battle rather than simple finding a person to vent to. The concept of Jain detachment can be used in the real world. Lord Mahavir spent twelve years in the forest practicing 
Aparigraha. During that time he meditated deeply and tried to separate himself from his worldly desires. That's not really practical, but it can help us on two levels. 

First of all, we can mediate before bringing other people into our desirous world of problems. While meditating, things really do become very clear and lucid. The universe that dwells within each of us is an endless and largely untapped well of wisdom and guidance. Any problem that is properly meditated on (or thought-out), may prove to not be a problem at all or might in fact prove to be more easily solved than originally thought. 

The second part of this is that I don't think people need to use friends at sounding boards for venting frustrations. Friendship, to me, has more to do with mutual benevolence and shared experience than it does a cliff from which we loft complaints. I had a buddy in college that when I would ask how he was, he would respond, "I'm depressed." Burdening people with your problems is not what a friend does, especially since we have the capacity to solve them on our own. 

As for me, well, I love my wife, my family, my dog, my friends and all the people I have in my life. That's why they are still in my life. That said, I also have enjoyed the extreme nature in which Jainism has suggested that I severe ties with people. I know that sounds harsh, but it teaches you the value of yourself and the amazing capacity that we have within all of us to accept, evaluate and manage basic human problems. 

Rather than picking up the phone to whine, try sitting silently and thinking. 


Day 20

Marrying someone from another country has its ups and downs. And while the ups are much more pronounced, the downs must also be considered. Fortunately, the downs are pretty minor and are mostly centered around food issues. As an American, I prefer a more tomato-based diet insofar that I like tomato sauces, ketchup, BLT's and tomato soup. As a Korean, my wife prefers a more pepper-based diet. Most Korean food--and I mean almost every dish--is seasoned in a red chili powder which gives it a red shade. Sometimes these preferences lead us to disagree about what we want for dinner. I'm pretty tolerant of any sort of food, yet, whenever I'm really hungry, I want Western cuisine and similarly, she craves Korean. This month, however, I've pretty much had no choice. She's the boss. 

Luckily for me, my palate has grown quite accustomed to Korean  food, so it's not that big of a deal. Yesterday, however, was a special day in Korea. It's the day when everyone seeks out a specific dish to combat the heat.

There is a history behind this soup and some health benefits as well, but the amount of enthusiasm that Koreans have year after year for this dish is stunning. Since all of my food must be offered, I have very few options when my wife wants to eat at a certain restaurant. She would never force me to eat meat or something I didn't like (and I don't like this ginseng chicken dish by the way), but from the looks of the crowded restaurant we were in yesterday, I thought I might be alone on that one. But the more I think about it, I don't think I am.

As mentioned above, I have a very adventurous appetite. I've eaten every fruit and vegetable offered in Asia as well as live-octopus, whale, shark fin, crocodile, dog, pig face, cow intestines, kangaroo, ostrich, seal, eel, chicken heart, chicken feet, chicken gizzard, spiders, scorpions, silkworm pupae, cicadas and sea horses. Hell, I even tried this:

Each time I eat a new (and rather odd) dish here in Korea, it always is accompanied by a long lecture about how healthy it is and why it's probably the healthiest in the world (and certainly much better than whatever they believe American cuisine to be). I had a student yesterday claiming that Korean ginseng is superior to all other ginseng and while it might be true (I have no knowledge either way), he only offered a because-because argument.

Do Koreans like their food for health first and taste second? Or is it the other way around? Maybe it's just ingrained in their minds that three times a year, eating ginseng chicken is what is done. After all, Americans do the same thing at Thanksgiving. As my past blood pressure can attest to, I always preferred the tasty food rather than the health food and, to my detriment, my 27-year old clogged arteries paid the price. However, there is a lot of healthy AND tasty food in Korea. So why can't it be both?

One of the joys of doing these religions is that I get to participate in the actual worship. This was impossible for me this month as there aren't any Jain temples in Korea, but I did get to read about some of the rules while performing rituals in the temple. There are eight items to perform (paju). 
      Naivedya symbolizes tasty food. By doing this puja, one should
thrive to reduce or eliminate attachment to tasty food. Healthy
food is essential for survival, however one should not live for
tasty food. Ultimate aim in one's life is to attain a life where
no food is essential for survival. That is the life of a liberated
soul who lives in Moksha for ever in ultimate blissful state.
Liberating myself from food is something that I have tried to master this month. I've been at this for 20 days and I can say that my opinion of food has changed a lot. At first, I wanted it because I couldn't have it. That desirous stage lasted a few solid days where I would find myself positioning in hopes of being offered something. After I broke that cycle, food became a simple annoyance. I needed it, but since I could get it for myself, I just got irritated by the whole thing. Now, I'm starting to realize that food has lost a lot of it zing for me. Essentially, the immediate gratification that some food offers isn't something that I'm seeking out anymore. My palate has calmed a bit and I think that some food that I used to consider gross and bland (healthy) has actually proven itself to be pretty tasty. The very concept of what is and isn't tasty is learned from childhood. It's cultural and just like so many other aspects of our lives, we create barriers and stereotypes that limit our exposure with shallow demonetizations of what isn't "ours". I am not liberated from my desire to eat delicious food. That will take years and years of practice. What has happened, though, is that my palate has once again proven to me that it has an ability to change and adapt. Some food is both healthy and tasty and while I think it's foolish to write off something because it is delicious, the larger lesson here is that people should not be slaves to their own cultural palate. Liberation comes in many forms and the Jains have realized that. I have a doctors appointment on Thursday. Time to see if my diet has helped with my blood pressure. And even if it hasn't, at least I won't be worried when they tell me to eat more veggies and fruit.


Day 19

Lately I've been having the most vivid dreams and I'm not sure why. There doesn't appear to be any connection from one dream to the next, but this heavy amount of dreaming is taking a serious toll on my ability to wake up refreshed in the morning. Since I wake up quite early in the morning, I make a habit of changing my alarm sound every week so as not to allow my mind to subconsciously ignore the day's starting bell. It used to work well, but not so much anymore. My wife is actually having to jostle me from my slumber and I hate that. Today was no different. My alarm went off in the middle of a dream and it took me several minutes to even recognize that the music had blended in with the dream and changed its course. My wife, who is a pretty light sleeper, assisted with a firm push that basically sent me off the bed and onto the floor. I snapped out of it, but remained in a very groggy state until work, where I got a heavy dose of tragedy.

Luckily, nothing happened to my friends or family, but as I was reading the Korean news, I came across this photo.

A related article described what had happened. 
A 20-year-old Vietnamese woman in Busan was last week stabbed to death by her Korean husband, who had a history of mental illness. She had got married just eight days before her death in a wedding arranged by an international matchmaking firm. 
If you were to read the article, you'd get a better picture of the situation here in Korea. Due to  many circumstances (gender imbalance, income gap, poverty, discrimination, face, mental illness, familial pressure) Korean men who live in rural areas are finding it very hard to find a Korean bride and are instead seeking them in SE Asia by-way of privately owned matchmaking firms. Seeking marriage in this fashion isn't evil unto itself, but when one factors in the strong sense of superiority and nationalism within Asian ethnicities, a simple spat can turn into something much more grizzly. They all seem to think they are the best and most worthy of respect from the rest. Koreans are certainly no different and, following suit, some of these men with $10,000 who purchase their bride tend to think that they are quite the catch. So much in fact that the Korean government has started mandatory classes to teach these cross-continent bride-seekers...
... that it is wrong to think that they are buying a wife and to hide things about themselves.
The current case is an interesting one for sure and will probably require new government regulations designed to protect both the brides and grooms from fraudulent matchmaking firms. Still, this poor Vietnamese woman has lost her life and when it gets down to it, only the man is directly guilty. Or is he?
"I committed the murder after hearing a voice from a ghost," he told police during the investigation. "He told me to kill my wife." 
It's going to be hard to jail a man who has been in and out of mental institutions over fifty times in the past five years, but if there is no punishment, then the diplomatic ties between Vietnam and South Korea are certain to suffer. It highlights the fine line that we walk when we don't call a murder by its name. 

As a Jain, killing of any sort is wrong and while I was reading scripture today, I came across the concept of Santhara or "voluntary death by fasting." This, to me, seems to conflict with the very foundation of what Jainism is, but I am in fact wrong on that front.
Santhara is the Jain practice of voluntary and systematic fasting to death. Jain texts say it is the ultimate route to attaining moksha [liberation] and breaking free from the whirlpool of life and death [karma].
It's suicide and even though Jains call it by another name, there's no disputing that it's an intentional death. Personally, I've never really seen a problem with thoughtful people who have decided to end their life. Whether it be because of terminal illness or a similar situation that Hunter S. Thompson faced, I don't think it's my place to tell people what they can and can't do. Remember, live and let live? Or to quote Paul McCartney, "Live and Let Die". 
No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun -- for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -- This won't hurt. -Hunter S. Thompson
One of the things that I so love about some of these Indian philosophies is that they are practical and rarely engage in spiritual duality. This is a clear blurring of the lines which creates and almost excuses extreme behavior. They claim that normal depression-induced suicide is hasty and emotional and while I agree that only the weak commit suicide, I also believe that people who kill themselves in the name of a "cause" are less martyrs than they are convenient fishers of pity. Dying for a cause is noble. Killing yourself for a self-defined cause is an excuse for quitting.

We can dress up the word "suicide" all we want, but it boils down to a very simple fact that dying by your own hands for your own benefit is no more noble than killing a person for some sort of gain. I would never dream of condemning a religion for such an act as I believe "live and let live" is more powerful than my simple opinion ever will be, but sometimes we've caught to call 'em as we see 'em. The Korean man who saw a murderous ghost instructing him to kill is the same as the Jain who wants to believe that forced starving equates to liberation. It's lipstick on a pig to me.