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23 Feb

Have internet, will travel – Another long stretch has passed between entries here, but this time I have a good excuse. Oh boy do I have a good excuse—for the past week, I have been internetless. Yes, you read that correctly. For the last seven days, I was disconnected from the rest of the world. Cut off. Incommunicado.

“I’m having difficulty coping with the stuff that’s pouring out of my brain.”

It’s the type of experience I want to call “harrowing,” just to be hyperbolically humorous, but I don’t think I’m hip enough to pull it off. And besides, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really that harrowing. If I had to choose one word to describe it, it would be “frustrating.” There I was, disconnected, and it seemed as if all my pleas fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t function, but it was very obvious that something big was missing, and I had no idea when I would get it back.

I have a lot of thoughts bottled up inside me from this past week, but I suppose I should just start with the actual tale of woe and then take it from there. Last Tuesday, after extensive preparation, I began the process of installing a new hard drive and rebuilding my system. I figured since I was going to be taking things out of my computer and switching them around I might as well go the whole way, so I spent the morning taking my computer apart and cleaning it out with some canned air. I know it’s not called canned air, but that just sounds so much more dystopian than... um, whatever it is you call that stuff in English—the only English words on the can are “Air Spray. Dust Blow Away.” How nice—poetry with your canned air. The Korean product description translates to “powerful dust remover.” Eh, I think I’ll stick with canned air.

So anyway, I held the canned air in one hand and the vacuum cleaner in the other and sucked up the dust as it came flying out of my case. It kind of reminded me of Mr. Miyagi trying to catch flies with his chopsticks, except that I guess it would be more like catching iron flies with magnetic chopsticks. Ouch, this is getting painful. Sorry, I’ve just been creatively frustrated for the past week, and I’m having difficulty coping with the stuff that’s pouring out of my brain.

After catching all of the iron flies I pretty much had to remove all of the wires that plug into the motherboard so I could fit the new drive into the upper slot. I was a bit nervous about remembering where everything went, but not nervous enough to do something silly like label the wires. And it was pretty obvious where most of the wires went anyway. After taking out the old drive and putting in the new drive, I started up the computer and installed Windows on the new drive.

Everything was going smoothly—so smoothly, in fact, that I began to worry. Something always goes wrong when I blow my system away. This time, though, extensive preparation—and a suggestion by my wife that we keep all of our computer related CDs in a single CD book/wallet/whatever you call it—took care of most of the problems in advance. When I had the system up and running, I put the old drive back in as the secondary drive and began moving data over to the new drive. I had already backed up everything to CD, so I only moved the stuff I wanted to keep on the computer. Then I took a deep breath and completely wiped out the old drive. It was what everything had built up to—that one, cleansing moment. Everything was so new, so fresh, and so pure. It was beautiful.

With all of my drivers installed and all my data tucked away in my various drives (I partitioned the new 160GB drive into a boot drive, a drive for me, and a drive for my wife, and left the old 40GB as a single partition for media files like music and photos), I tried to set up my internet connection. And that, of course, was when the hammer fell.

I looked down at my modem and noticed that the light that was supposed to be steady was blinking (sorry for the technical jargon). I figured that I must have knocked a wire loose while cleaning up—I had pulled the whole desk and computer out to get at the area with the vacuum cleaner—so I checked all my connections. Still no dice. At that point I picked up the phone to call tech support and noticed that the line was dead. Fortunately, I had my cell phone (cell phones are so commonplace in Korea that babies come out of their mothers’ wombs with the latest models in their tiny hands), so I dialed up tech support and was told a technician would come by that evening.

The tech did arrive as promised, and he managed to sort of fix the phone. I say “sort of” because the noise on the line was so severe that the phone was pretty much unusable. That didn’t concern me, though, as I still had my aforementioned cell phone—anyone who has any business contacting me knows my cell phone number, so it was actually nice not having to deal with telemarketers for a week. What did concern me was that all the noise on the line meant no internet connection.

“I would try to fix that for you now,” the tech said, “but I’m too busy at the moment.”

‘Too busy?’ I thought. ‘What do you mean too busy? This is what you do! You fix the internet! My internet is still broken!’ I didn’t say any of this, of course. Instead, I furrowed my brows, pursed my lips, and nodded my head contemplatively. He promised me that he would return the next morning to straighten things out, so I figured I could manage. I still had to install a bunch of programs and do some cyber-housekeeping, which would keep me busy until the internet returned from holiday.

He did return the next day, but he obviously wasn’t able to fix the problem. As it turns out, the internal phone lines were the problem. The phone lines ran into the house upstairs, where my parents-in-law live, and then our line splits off and runs down through the walls to our place. Since we couldn’t very well tear up the walls, the only way was to run a separate line from outside around to the back and hook us up directly. And that would take more time than the tech had that day. As it turned out, it would take more time than the tech had the entire week.

My father-in-law apparently knows someone at the telephone office, and this guy pulled some strings to get the tech back out to our place on Sunday, sometime between two and three in the afternoon. We usually get home from church around half past three, but my wife and I skipped choir practice (there, you just learned something else about me—I sing in our church choir) and were home by two. We noticed a wire hanging from the roof of the house, but there was no tech in sight. With every tick of the clock I could feel my blood pressure rising.

To make a long story short, he didn’t come on Sunday afternoon (we later found out that he came Sunday morning while we were at church—thus the wire hanging from the roof). He didn’t come on Monday either. He did, however, come yesterday, and I was finally reconnected to the rest of the world. Somehow I managed to survive the week without going crazy and cannibalizing any members of the family (not necessarily in that order). I would say something trite like “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” but the fact is that I am constantly aware of how vital the internet is to me. For one, it plays an important role in my work, as I use a lot of online reference materials when I translate. It also allows me to keep in touch with friends and family on the other side of the world.

It was rough for that one week. I have a ritual I go through every day when my work day is over: I check my email, stop by a few sites, and then settle down to whatever it is I’m doing that evening (and more often than not that involves work on a website, be it Liminality, The Workshop, or some other sinister project). Without the internet, though, I can’t check my email, and I can’t visit the sites I visit on a daily basis (and if you think that affects just me, last week the readership of that David guy’s site decreased by one-third!). I felt empty, like a part of my life was missing.

In the end, though, it’s not really a very interesting story. After all, it was just a week of impotent frustration (no, not that kind of impotence). And what can I say about being without the internet for a week? Well, it sucked, and I hope I never have to go through it again. Not that I hope I will never be without the internet again, because I have actually gone for weeks at a time without internet access, but that was while traveling. Being stuck in my daily routine with no internet, however, is not in any way pleasant. All I can say at this point is that it’s good to be back.

Something’s been bugging me, though, and I’m not really sure how to work this in, but here goes. No sooner am I reconnected to the internet than I learn something that is all over every major Korean news/portal site. I know I don’t comment much on current events, especially Korean current events, primarily because there are many other sites that do a much better job of that than I ever could, but I just can’t get this out of my mind.

Yesterday, a popular Korean actress hung herself in her room. She was 24 years old. People end their lives every day, but of course it’s bigger news when someone famous does it. Besides, I think if we had to deal with the reality of just how many people end their lives in despair we would be overwhelmed with sorrow. At least I would.

I don’t really have that great of an interest in the Korean entertainment industry, and although I knew who this actress was, I wouldn’t by any means consider myself a fan. So why can’t I get this out of my head? Maybe it’s the portions of her suicide note that they published on the internet, things like “how could anyone understand how hard it is if they are not me?” and “when I think of my mom I want to live, but even if I live I’m not really living.” Or maybe it’s the messages left by her fans in cyberspace, hoping and praying that she is in a better place. Is she in a better place now? Is she watching over her mother, as she said she would in her suicide note? I don’t know. But was this the only way?

If I were to post these thoughts on this actress’s fan site, I would most likely be accused of being insensitive. In fact, I think the problem is that I’m too sensitive. I never met this girl and had no interest in her before yesterday, and yet I am affected by her suicide. I actually feel angry that she chose to give up. Why should I care, really? I don’t know, but somehow I do. To be brutally honest, I don’t think it’s that I care about her; it’s just the idea of suicide in general.

I have had suicidal thoughts in the past—I guess most people do at one point or another, even if they are only fleeting thoughts—but I never took them to the level where I would seriously consider acting on them. I suppose the most difficult time in my life was right after I came to Korea. I had no friends or family here, and I was fresh out of university and trying to adapt to and cope with a radically different culture from the one in which I had been raised. There were nights when I would sit in my room and have morbid thoughts about throwing myself off of bridges. I remember nights that were so long I thought the sun would never rise.

I had those thoughts, but deep down I never really considered acting on them. There was always a part of me that refused to give up, a little voice that told me to keep going, that things were going to be OK. I made it through that time, and I met my wife, and after a rough start in Mongolia things did get better. I have been depressed at times, but I have not had any suicidal thoughts since then.

I may not know exactly what this actress was going through, but one of the great truths of life is that the human experience, no matter what variations may occur in its individual manifestations, is ultimately the same. We all experience love, joy, sorrow, regret, pain, and fear. We are all crushed by rejection and uplifted by acceptance. We all struggle against the harsh and uncaring world, and we are all frail vessels on the violent sea of life. But we are not alone. At the very least, we have each other. In my case, my faith has helped me through difficult times, but even without a religious faith, there is a greater community of humanity that shares in these experiences. No matter what you are going through, I can guarantee that someone somewhere knows exactly how you feel.

In Christianity, suicide is considered a sin. However, I do not feel that it would do any good for me to talk about that right now. Even in the secular sense, I believe that suicide is a sin—a sin against the community of humanity. To give up on life is to say, “I am alone. No one understands me.” At the very least it is a sin of ignorance, and at the worst it is a sin of pride. How can one person remove themselves from the community of humanity and say that they are unique, that no one can relate to them? Yet people do this every day—people give up hope and end their lives every day. But at the same time, even more people keep going, no matter how rough the seas may get.

This may sound rather callous. Even as I write this, I recoil a bit at the apparent callousness of the thoughts coming to mind. Suicide is not an easy thing to talk about, and it is something that people generally have very strong feelings about. I know that people suffering from depression have a hard time seeing any other way out, but it breaks my heart that people think they are all alone and no one can understand them—and that they ultimately choose to cause unimaginable pain and grief to those they leave behind. On the other side of the coin, we are faced with the reality that either no one was able to get through to them—or that no one took the time to try.

There is something else that bothers me about this particular case, though, and that’s not the suicide itself but the public’s reaction to the suicide. Perhaps it is a desire not to speak ill of the dead. Perhaps it is a way of dealing with the shock, a way of expressing condolences. I can understand that. What I can’t understand is the subtle undercurrent that runs through some of the comments that I have seen—an undercurrent that glorifies suicide.

What is it about us that makes us believe that suicide is somehow romantic? Or that suicide is somehow “honorable?” Especially in Asia, there seems to be a tendency to glorify suicide. I’ve even heard of internet suicide communities that have sprung up where people talk about committing suicide—and some actually make plans with other people to commit suicide together. I cannot tell you how much this appalls me.

I just cannot understand the idea that ending one’s own life is somehow an acceptable way of solving life’s problems. I’m not talking about euthanasia here, where morality gets a bit fuzzy. I’m talking about people who have a lot to live for and just can’t see it. Giving up on life is not romantic. Giving up on life is not honorable. Giving up on life is tragic.

I have fortunately never had anyone close to me commit suicide, and so I suppose I am open to criticism from those who have had this experience. Perhaps I am being callous and insensitive. But I imagine that if (God forbid), anyone I was close to ever did commit suicide, I would be saddened and angry for the reasons I outlined above. These are just my thoughts on the matter, and I cannot judge anyone.

There’s not much more I can say about this—it was just something I needed to write down to get it out of my head. I don’t know who may read what I write here, though, so I will end today’s entry with a plea. My regular readers might think I’m a little loopy for saying this, but Google seems to like me, and I get people coming in through all sorts of queries. If you are reading this right now and you are thinking of giving up, know that someone loves you, and know that you are not alone in this world. No matter how dark and desperate things may seem, there is a light on the other side, and you can make it. I don’t know what help I could possibly offer, but even if it’s nothing more than to hear the tale of another sailor on the sea of life, I am here to listen.

Well, this is not what I expected to write, and I don’t know if this was what was expected of me. It’s what I’ve written, though. I was hoping to write something for The Workshop today as well, as that has been long neglected, but it looks like I’m going to have to save that for tomorrow.

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