Tharp On Holidays

It’s that time of year again, when the temperature drops and Siberian winds slice down onto the Peninsula. Everywhere you go you hear a chorus of young women repeating the phrase Ah chew-eo! Chew-eo!, in that plaintive whine that only can be produced by the mouth of a shivering, 40 kilogram Korean girl.

Canadians, in defiance of Mother Nature, walk shirtless down the city’s sidewalks, gleefully bludgeoning anyone who complains about the cold with wooden hockey sticks. The rest of us seal our lips and simply endure, honored to pass the time in a country whose four seasons are not only famous, but the most distinct in the world!

The coming of winter also signals the holiday season, which is invariably a sad time for us lonely rejects here in Korea. While friends and families are feasting and celebrating at home, we’re sitting on the floors of our one-room apartments, drowning our sorrows in the watered-down rubbing alcohol, known better as soju, and contemplating thoughts of gouging out our own eyes with a broken spoke from the laundry rack. Happy times indeed.

When I think of winter I usually think of food. This may just be because I’m American, and we’re pretty much a race of bloated, waddling livestock who, when taking breaks from bombing people, can only think about how many patties we want on our next hamburger. But perhaps this increased urge to chow down is a genetic trigger we all carry. After all, aren’t the winter months the time to seriously gorge, to throw on that layer of fat that will ensure our survival through the toughest time of the year?

It is shocking how fat we Americans are becoming. I forget about it until each time I go home and walk off the plane. It’s as if I’m stepping onto the Serengeti during the March of the Wildebeasts. The people are seriously huge — and it’s getting worse.

A recent study stated that up to one-third of all Americans are officially obese. My best friend got so fat that he ended up getting gastric bypass surgery, where they basically put a rubber band around his whole stomach. If he eats more than six grains of rice, he dies. How desperate do you have to be to where you say: Screw diet. Screw exercise. I’m just going to completely stop eating.

When I asked him why he was getting the surgery, he told me this: You know, I just can’t live like this anymore. I just really want to be able to go the beach and take off my shirt.

Not only are Americans getting fatter, they are also getting dumber. How else could you explain the ascendancy of Sarah Palin and the popularity of shows like Dancing with the Stars?

If we have a surgery to make people thinner, why can’t we have one to make people smarter? What would the person getting that say? You know, I just can’t live like this anymore. I just really want to be able to locate Italy on a map.

Winter is Kimchi making time here in Korea, when millions of ajjummas congregate in their Lotte Castle apartments and mix together the pungent concoction. We foreigners are a split electorate when it comes to Kimchi, with about half of us savoring the stuff, and the other half holding the opinion that it smells and tastes like something we’d rather not ingest. I happen to belong to the former group: I love the hell out of Kimchi. I eat it every day. It gives me power and vitality and may have even once cured me of SARS (though it could have just been a nasty hangover).

I am of a different mind when it comes to deok (rice cake), however. I don’t like deok. I don’t hate deok either — it’s hard to have strong feelings either way, when it comes to deok. The stuff is like concentrated apathy – it doesn’t inspire any sort of deep emotion. I had some adult students who would bring me loads of deok to every class. I finally had to tell them that I wasn’t really into it, that perhaps they should save it for someone who would appreciate it more. They were shocked. As if they found my collection of barnyard porn or I had just farted on the elevator and gave it a name.

The worst thing about deok is that it’s always served up when you’re with your boss or at the home of a friend. They bring it out on a shining platter. It sits there, looking like a Nerf football sliced into eights. You choke it down and smile, while your host eyes you for the slightest sign that you indeed like the deok. You give a thumbs-up and they grin, declaring at once: You are almost Korean!

Happy Holidays. Stay warm.

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