Tharp On: Regret

It was not long ago that I found myself taking in the exploits of Rob Ford—Toronto’s train wreck of a mayor—with a mixture of fascination, horror and glee. Whoever said Canadians are boring? Such an utterance may have passed through my lips on one or two occasions, but I hereby eat my words. This guy is amazing—a combination of Marion Barry, Bill Clinton, and Chris Farley. What hasn’t he done? He’s smoked crack on camera; he’s admitted to blazing Rastafarian amounts of weed; he’s talked about eating pussy in statements to the press; on several occasions he’s shown up in public, catastrophically drunk; he’s probably been with a whole pack of hookers, and he recently body-checked a woman to the ground in the middle of a screaming match with another politician.

They have a famous saying in a politics: Don’t ever get caught with a dead girl or a live boy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Ford was discovered in a seedy motel room bed with both—one on top of him and the other underneath.

The thing that sets Ford apart from his fellow politicos is his utter lack of remorse. The worse things get, the more combative he becomes. Usually, once caught in a compromising situation (always after numerous denials), the public figure in question issues a teary mea culpa at a live press conference, promising to go to rehab or counseling and blubbering on about how he’s let down not only his supporters, but more importantly, his wife and kids. Ford offers up none of this new age claptrap: Cackling to himself, he holds aloft a defiant middle finger while a seismic fart rumbles forth between his ample, porcine buttocks. The man is totally unapologetic. He doesn’t regret a thing.

I regret studying theater instead of something more useful like contemporary philosophy or ancient Slavic languages.

I don’t see how he does it. Maybe he’s just too wasted to care, but I often grapple with the specter of regret. It all too often nips at my heels, claws into my back, and whispers its mantra of doubt into my ears: You really shouldn’t have done that. Perhaps this is a condition of middle age, where the channel in life you’ve carved out is now clearly visible. You see your walls and limitations for the first time and want to buck. You want to go back in time and get a redo. You can’t help wondering how things could have been different if only…

Some say regret is a useless emotion, but there really is no way to will it away, and the end of the year is when it tends to amplify itself. And if you’re a long-time expat in Korea, you probably carry plenty. Sure, we may enjoy adventure-filled lives abroad, but we’re essentially irrelevant back home. None of us, for example, were made multi-millionaires when Google went public. We’re not influencing squat. We don’t really count, and despite what we’d like to believe, we’re not on the cutting edge of anything, except maybe binge drinking and record visits to Thailand.

This is voluntary exile; we chose it, and most of us are fine with it. But we still can’t help regret the choices that lead us here, and then fear what we’re missing out on. To the seasoned expatriate, regret is a constant hairball to be reckoned with.

What do I regret?

I regret not writing this article last night like I promised my editor and him probably thinking me a skeevy liar. I regret waking up too late to go for a jog this morning and feeling like a fat idiot all day. I regret being in a grumpy, Hitlerian mood yesterday and treating my poor students like they all had Down Syndrome. I regret letting my puppy bite my nose, which left a big bloody scar that all the Koreans stare and point at, just as I regret letting my cat sit next to me and scratch up my neck after she saw the said puppy and panicked, leaving a bloodier and more horrible scar that garners even worse reactions. I regret pissing so much money away in Korea on shitty beer and third world travel, when I should have a hundred grand in the bank and a 70 pyung apaht-uh. I regret living the life of a minor character from Breaking Bad throughout much of my 20’s. I regret getting in a drunken fight with three Russians at the casino and punching the security guard in the neck. I regret not getting my master’s degree fifteen years ago and having to pretend to be a professor. I regret never getting my somewhat jumbly teeth fixed. I regret ever living in Los Angeles, that sprawling, smoking hellmouth of a city. I regret doing the Immigration Sketch in Babopalooza and nearly getting deported for it. I regret missing the boat and not buying tech stocks all those years back, along with all my computer-related retardation. I regret the time I pissed in the refrigerator. I regret studying theater instead of something more useful like the contemporary philosophy or ancient Slavic languages. I regret borrowing heaps of money to finance said useless degree and never paying it back, making me persona non grata back in America. I regret not kissing that black haired girl with the amazing rack by the lake when I was 15, before her father came and yanked her away…

This is just a start, but it’s probably enough. I really should stop. My New Year’s resolution is to never regret a thing. After all, it’s worked well for Rob Ford, right?

Editors note: I would unlikely use the word ‘skeevy’ to describe CT. And while I fear for my frozen foods, I certainly wouldn’t call what he’s accomplished (and will continue to accomplish) in print, anything remotely requiring regret. Write on. ~Bmc

You can get Chris Tharp’s book Dispatches from the Peninsula: Six Years in South Korea on Amazon or

Tharp’s Blog: Homely Planet

Illustration by Michael Roy. See more of his work at:

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