Mother-in-law Diaries March 2003
This month: The Dirty Diaries.
Sitting on a cold seat, in my cramped outhouse, staring at a wastebasket stuffed with stinky folded tissues reminds me of my first year in Korea. My housemates were an old single man rarely up before dinner and three college kids sharing a room. The bag of tissues next to the toilet never filled up. I‘d assumed my roomies changed it. I flushed mine.
One day the landlady came stomping at my door. On the floor of the bathroom, a massive pile of dirty wet tissues and a torn plastic bag. Someone had been dumping water in the waste bin to flatten out the tissues. She‘d assumed it was the foreigner that‘d never seen a bag of dirty tissues three months earlier.
One recollection leads to the next. The tissues I hold are from Texas Street, where a woman handed me a large packet with the name and address of her church, a picture of Jesus and two men holding hands pointing to a church. For the next three weeks I’ll think of Christ, the fellowship of man, before I wipe.
I’m sitting in a drinking establishment with Kiwi friends. We’re discussing nothing particular. Some Brits are in one corner. Some Koreans are with us. A Canadian man, age about 43, enters and sits with us. None of us know him so he introduces himself.
The conversation turns to American foreign policy. We voice agreement, disagreeing with unilateralism. I compliment the Kiwis for their country’s nuclear policy and say, “What’s the most dangerous weapon you can find in New Zealand, a baseball bat?” The Kiwis laugh. The Canadian shoots an angry look my way. I say, “Is it a bad thing? I think it’s great.” He says, “Your comment lacks tact.”
Later the subject turns to North Korea. An American explains that a missile from the North would take less than thirty minutes to reach Seoul. But here we are safer. I mention my wife and kids. What would happen to us? To them?
“No worries,” says the Canadian. “Your wife and children will burn up so quick, there will be no pain. You can always get another wife and have more kids.” I left soon after this comment, the Canadian‘s face still intact.
My wife’s student, a fifth grade girl, says she studies ten to fourteen hours each day. I asked about her schedule. Get up at five and practice brain exercises, a sort of cerebral meditation. For this she uses an electric gadget that looks like a plastic, battery operated brain. Then she reads literature for an hour, and then real meditation. She studies English for three to four hours on various days, Chinese calligraphy, arts and crafts, science, and Korean grammar. Foremost, three to four days a week she studies math for a six-hour stretch. They eat in class. The teacher eats as they work.
“Why would your mother enforce something like this?” I ask her. She says, “Because she loves me.” If this is love, my children will be loveless.
Whenever I meet expats who frequent Poetry Plus they mention my kid pissed in the bass drum. I don‘t mind. It was funny and I‘m not embarrassed. Kids piss. We all piss. Most men prefer pissing on a tree to a toilet. I admire a woman that knows how to use a squat toilet.
Those without children don‘t seem to understand that shit happens with kids. My neighbor kids eat boogers and offer to share them with me. When I was a child my mother occasionally found me munching on the neighbor‘s cat‘s turds in our sandbox. I recall having a collection of toe and fingernails in a jar as a kid. Something about them fascinated me.
Our second boy, Ben, is almost a year old now. This is an age when children scoot about quick as cockroaches, getting into anything that takes their fancy. My approach towards this is to clean the house thoroughly and let him loose. My wife and mother-in-law‘s policy is to leave the house filthy, leave everything out on the floor, and leash the child like a hound. Follow him, pull him back – restrain him. It all seems so much work. My way is simple. It takes ten minutes to clear a room, and then I can watch the news.
Sometimes our methods clash. Just last night I‘d cleaned up and let Ben loose. He scooted out to the living room, which I‘d cleaned thirty minutes earlier. I watched BBC. But Ben was quiet. Even that young, silence is an unspoken signal. Something was not right. I walked out.
In both hands Ben held Alex‘s turds. His shit-smeared face grinned up at me with brown fudge dripping from his teeth. My wife shrieked, “What did you do to him!” Me? My mother-in-law had left Alex‘s trainer toilet out, in the center of the room.
Last night I called my parents to tell them about my holiday in India. My mother was fascinated, but brusque. She asked some questions and handed the phone to dad. He was quiet, asked me very few questions and paused whenever I asked him something. His answers were low grunts at most. I asked him if he was okay and he said yes.
Today I got an email from him explaining to me, with apologies, that they, my sixty-year-old parents, were having sex when I called.
Tagged: asia, expat, expatriate, korea, Korean, poetry, vignette