It was

  It was like a building that held The Blues, the synchronized groaning of agonized souls, set to a cadence beat out on the hollow desk-tops of inner-city schools across the country: Palm-palm-pencil! Palm-palm-pencil! “Boom-boom-clack! Boom-boom-clack!”

From the mouths of every student, stories of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunties and uncles murdered, dead or in prison. The stories varied, getting better, more spectacular, as they encouraged each other along in their telling, acting out, writing, rewriting, and rewriting, animating, adding detail, retelling, re-acting out, etc… I wish I could print those stories exactly how the students wrote them, themselves. But they were tossed in the trash, with everything else in my classroom, upon order of the school principal. I still have the memories though. Here are a few stories:

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Detroit Diary October 4

Abuse of all types were rampant in this school. Kids always seemed to come to school in a sort of post-traumatic haze. They rocked back and forth and moaned, or got angry at chairs and desks, broke them to pieces right there in the class. They stabbed each other will pencils for fun, stumbling across the room and tripping so as to make it look like an accident when Khalid or Shabazz received a pencil to the neck.

Fornication was the norm too. Girls liked to entice boys into closets for a quickie. One kindergarten student had been caught molesting his peers during nap time, not once, but three times. The school discussed these issues with the grandparents, but to no avail. Finally they requested that the grandparents find a new school, and the boy was moved. 

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Detroit Diary September 19

 Upon ending The Diaries back in 2005. I embarked on an elementary student-teaching experience at an American military base in Okinawa, Japan. Here I was teamed up with an angry and obese Catholic woman who immediately informed me that men should not be allowed to teach in elementary schools, and so I should remain three feet away from the children at all times. Then she introduced me to her teacher’s assistant, a young army brat, assigned by my mentor to the name Chocolate Swirl. Needless to say this young lady was, like my own children, an incredibly beautiful and highly intelligent, mutt.

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What is Jung?

“Teacher, do you know what is jung?”

“Yes, Jah Min, I’ve heard about jung. Roughly, it translates to a sort of sentimental obligation, loyalty to family and friends.”

“Actually, it is not easily translated into English because it does not exist outside of Korea. Only Koreans have this.”

“That’s not true. Loyalty; we all have our loyalties.”

“It’s more heartfelt in Korea.”


“Heartfelt responsibility.”

“An unending love for people close to them, hey Jah Min?”
“Yes, teacher.”

“Especially, Americans do not have this, huh Jah Min?”

“From my time in America, teacher, I would have to say especially Americans, yes. But in the west it really does not exist so much.”

“That’s silly. Of course it exists in every culture. Man is a pack animal. We couldn’t work together without loyalty. Because we don’t have a word for jung specifically, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

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Satruday Night Special

Saturday Night Special. Nine to eleven. Doctors kids. Nice kids. Hard workers. One girls a cutie. Up the elevator. Twelfth floor. Open door. Plate of apples. Sweet and seedy grapes. Korean pears are the best. Persimmons are too sweet. But I’ll eat. Eat eat eat. Sit in front of the air-con and dry my pits. Read a book. Watch the beach. Should be here any minute. It’s just now nine. Probably coming from another cram school too. Four hours of sleep per night for these kids. Some day they’ll rule the world. Already taking over America. Good for them. Lazy white bastards back home wanna do nothing and have it all. Need a good war for that though. Sacrifice your only son for a cheaper barrel of oil. Sacrifice your freedom for paranoia and political correction. Speaking of politics. I must shit. Got my last package of Jesus Wipes right here. But this house has class. Soft toilet paper, pink and scented. Hey! New toilet seat. Well whaddaya know? My first bidet. Kimchi cruds!

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Babelfish Translation

Babelfish Translation

Jee Hae: Oh! Is like my duty officials long time no see!

Hyung Tae: Both

Jee Hae: However Hyung Tae, is woman you coupled together on foot short time your girlfriend?

Hyun Tae: She is. Is second year in high school but now gathers in eyes but height is big but deliberate. She is live same village is ready front-door next door house. It is thinking of going together inside my girlfriend this school if she graduates. Do you have a girlfriend?

Mee Hyun: No. My ideals seems is types if sincere. However is not now. Seeming is ideal is first type this man. Met him when it is welcome freshman. Felt that he is strong did couple crab love but plays game of push-up, chicken leg fight. Felt warm down there. I like strong man however he be ordinary. So be unpopular. However, I popularity man who is any and occurs well hate. Anyway, my ideal occurred seemed to. If I understood my jot. You have a girlfriend Jee Hyun?

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Mother-in-law Diaries February 2003


Another old friend from back home stopped in Korea for holiday. He‘s on his third year as a high school English teacher in Japan. We all have our silly fantasies about living in Japan, and my friend confirmed most of them. But as a black man in Japan he‘s found personal intimacy close to impossible. Japanese girls, he says, want one thing from him. They don‘t need his name for this.

I took him out Saturday night. In the bars, college girls practiced English, asking questions about Japan, America, Korea and his opinions on each culture. He seemed relieved that none asked him to a hotel.

Honesty, personal intimacy and real friendship are not difficult to find in Korea. Getting into a Korean girl‘s pants, without the promise of love, usually is. Japan and Korea sometimes seem distant, not even in the same hemisphere. But in both countries foreign men find room for dissatisfaction.

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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.

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Mother-in-law Diaries Jan 2003

The Beat January 2003


This Saturday I follow Alex as he makes the rounds through our neighborhood. All up and down our street, ajummas sit gossiping, shucking garlic or picking persimmons off trees. Alex greets each group but is intent on a specific place. We reach a courtyard entrance and he clicks the ringer. The gate swings open and an old man pops his head out of the front door to greet us. Alex bows, takes off his flip-flops before leading me into a bedroom where a high school girl sleeps off last night‘s study session. Alex proceeds to shake the poor girl, and when that doesn‘t work he pulls her blanket off and grabs her hair, saying, “get up” in Korean.

Sometimes when I walk down in our local market strange men and women yell to me, “Alex Papa!”


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