Kim Jong-il: Horrible Dictator, Awesome Namesmith

Upon hearing of the death of Kim Jong-il – the Guiding Sun Ray, the Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander, the Count of Monte Fist-o[1] – I had some conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he was a despicable, egomaniacal dictator responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent Koreans. On the other hand…wait, there’s another hand? How can there possibly be another hand?

            I’d have to say that, of all the psychotic, marauding dictators of the world, Kim Jong-il was the one I could best identify with. If the Make-A-Wish Foundation could plumb the deepest, darkest depths of my id and ask it to live out its own fantasy for a day, I’m sure my id would jump at the chance to spend a day as Kim Jong-il. In his regime I can see some of my own most wretched fantasies and insecurities taken to their horrifying conclusion. That certainly doesn’t excuse his atrocities, but it does speak to the danger of a nation controlled by one man’s id run amok.

Each dictator rules his people through some mix of fear and adulation. Though they couldn’t long survive without a little of both, every despot seems to veer toward one particular side of the fear-love spectrum. On the fear side, you have the swarthy military strongman – a badass, made-for-Chuck-Norris super-villain, decked out in fatigues and aviators, sporting an AK-47 inone hand and his dick in the other. These are the James Dean dictators: the ones who couldn’t possibly care less what the world thinks of them; the ones who scream “come at me, bro” in their respective languages; the kind of guys who could get the girl even without threatening and torturing her parents, but who torture her parents anyway just for shits and giggles.

As for me, I just can’t identify personally with these jocks of the despot world. My man Kim, on the other hand, definitely tilted toward the other end of the spectrum: the Cult of Personality type – or C.O.P. for short.[2] Sure, Kim Jong-il never missed a chance to burn accused conspirators alive in his soccer stadium[3], but his government seemed to revel in leading the world in propaganda and hero worship. The man clearly had a desperate, neurotic need to be loved – like a despotic Woody Allen.[4]

So what will be the final legacy of Kim Jong-il? Will it be his acquisition of nuclear weapons? I sincerely doubt it: we in the West seem to be suffering from a bit of “Nuke Fatigue.” After all, we knew he was developing them for years, and we only kinda, sorta gave a shit. Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and we give even less of a shit about that – despite the fact that they suffer a military coup about every five years, a good portion of their territory is virtually ungovernable, Osama bin Laden hid out there undisturbed for a decade, and there’s a decent chance they start a full-on war with India by the time I finish typing this sentence.

Will he be remembered for the devastating famine of the 1990’s which killed an estimated 400,000 – 800,000 people? Doubtful. I don’t even remember that happening at all. I guess that, between O.J. and Monica Lewinsky, the media just didn’t have a lot of time to report on it. Also, the history of the 20th century has taught me that totalitarian government-driven famines are pretty easy to sweep under the rug. Hell, I hear they’re even rehabilitating Stalin in Russian history books. You thinkNorth Korea can’t pull that trick? Their government propaganda makes Russian government propaganda look like PBS.

Sadly, he won’t even be remembered best for his “mini-Elvis” style: jumpsuit and pompadour and what-have-you. That style already belonged to Oakland Raiders’ owner Al Davis. What he will be remembered for is his awesome and extensive list of titles:

Let’s break down down…and damn, are there a lot of them:

Center of the Party, Superior Person, Dear Leader, Respected Leader, Wise Leader, Brilliant Leader, Unique Leader, Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have, Commander-in-Chief, Great Leader, Father of the People, Sun of the Communist Future, Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Guiding Ray of Sun, Leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Guarantee of the Fatherland’s Unification, Symbol of the Fatherland’s Unification, Fate of the Nation, Beloved Father, Leader of the Party, of the country, and of the Army, Leader, General, Great Leader of our Party and of our Nation, Great General, Beloved and Respected General, Great Leader, Beloved and Respected Leader, Invincible and Iron-Willed Commander, Sun of Socialism, Sun of the Nation, The Great Sun of Life, Great Sun of The Nation, Father of the Nation, World’s Leader of The 21st Century, Peerless Leader, Bright Sun of the 21st Century, Great Sun of the 21st Century, Leader of the 21st Century, Amazing politician, Great Man Who Descended From Heaven, Glorious General Who Descended From Heaven, Supreme Leader of the Nation, Bright Sun of Juche, Leader of the Party and the People, Great Marshal, Invincible and All-triumphant General, Beloved and Respected Father, Guiding Star of the 21st Century, Great Man, Who Is a Man of Deeds, Great Defender, Savior, Mastermind of the Revolution, Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love, His Excellency

By official count, Kim Jong-il had more nicknames than all nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan combined. And, as the world’s foremost expert on North Koreaand the Wu-Tang, I can tell you that is no small feat! But what do all these names say about the man and his government?

Sure, obsessive nicknaming worked for the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but it isn’t necessarily a healthy habit for the leader of a modern nation-state. It seems to me one of the fundamental flaws in the communist ideology is that the development of any communist state will inexorably lead to authoritarian rule by some douche who spends an inordinate amount of time manufacturing new titles for himself. Over-titling is a serious character flaw for any leader: a leader whose claim to authority is weak will stack title upon title in a desperate reach for legitimacy. We’ve all played that stacking game before – it’s called “Jenga”, and it doesn’t end well.

This over-titling affects nations as well as leaders. What, after all, is in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Would a republic by any other name smell any less like bullshit? Many of us have become wary of nations who pile needless adjectives in front of the word “Republic” in their title. It is much the same sensation which leads you to clutch your wallet a little tighter when walking into “Honest Larry’s Discount Stereo.” Some adjectives are better left implied.

Do you really need to call your republic a People’s republic? I doubt the rest of the world will see your republic as decidedly more people-y. And let’s not forgot the country formerly known asZaire: their decision to change their name to the Democratic Republic of Congo heralded a new era of democracy and republicanism – if, by “democracy” you mean “genocide”, and by “republicanism” you mean “mass rape.”

Call me crazy, but the “Republic”-preceding adjective I find least annoying is “Islamic” – as in The Islamic Republic of Iran.” Say what you want aboutIran, but they don’t bullshit you with their name. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into: Islam, and lots of it!

As for my man Kim Jong-il, his nation managed the Double Whammy: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). You mean to tell me that there’s a republican government out there that is some kind of people democracy? Sign me up!

Some titles are clearly the byproduct of running a communist state (ex: Center of the Party), while others seem inappropriately passed down from his father, Kim Il-sung (Mastermind of the Revolution[5]). It’s helpful to remember that he inherited this cult from his father. He went to school with other North Korean children, and indoctrinated with the idea that Kim Il-sung – his father – was essentially a deity. Going through school as short, pudgy boy, like Kim Jong-il, can be no picnic; I know from experience. Now imagine for a moment that the short, pudgy boy was placed in a school where his classmates were taught every day that he was the son of God. That’s every short, pudgy boy’s dream! Forget my old fantasy of becoming captain of the football team; I’m the son of God…and nobody gets laid more than the son of God! It is believed that a young Kim Jong-il first garnered favor with his father by directing a movie…about his father. Clearly, this kid new how to play the game: first you make the propaganda, then you get the power, then you get the women.

As for some of the others, they are clearly the work of an insecure little boy with time on his hands and access to a platoon of title-scribes. I get the fact that these communist chairman will call themselves “Dear Leader”, but to keep on riffing with “Respected Leader”, “Wise Leader”, “Brilliant Leader”, “Unique Leader[6]”? And then we come to the piece de resistance: Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have.” Dude…overkill much? “Perfect incarnations” don’t have to wear platform shoes.

I must admit a certain jealous over all his military titles. I’ve always wanted to be a general…so long as I never had to start at any rank lower than general. I could never possibly do any of the things required in actually achieving the rank of general. On the other hand, being called a general without ever having done anything remotely military is my idea of heaven. And my man Kim did my fantasy one step better – he had the people call him “Invincible and All-triumphant General,” all the while sitting in one of his 17 mansions, drinking the world largest private collection of Hennessey. Take that, every rapper who ever lived!

The more extreme of his titles cross what Whalen Smithers once described as “that line between regular villainy and cartoonish super-villainy.” His gaggle of astrological titles – Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Great Sun of Life – reassure the world that, 2000 years since the last of the pharaohs, a leader can still think of himself as a sun god. And that’s a comforting thought…isn’t it? We live in a world of increasing religious fanaticism, with more and more countries bypassing the old-school dictatorship style in favor of full-on theocracy. I see this as a major problem going forward for two reasons:

  1. Fighting an army indoctrinated by a cult of personality is much easier than fighting a group of religious fanatics. Not that the C.O.P.’s  would be less fanatical – since the Japanese soldiers of WWII seemed more than happy to blow themselves up for the emperor – but that the faith of a religious army has no earthly focus to attack and control. Take, for example, our nation-building efforts in Japanafter WWII. To ensure total Japanese capitulation and cooperation, all we had to do was convince one man, Emperor Hirohito. The Japanese cult of personality, which had compelled Japanese soldiers to fly planes into our ships, eventually turned to our benefit. The Japanese situation was uniquely suited to our army’s occupation: even if the people hated the idea of a foreign army in their country – what country actually would appreciate a foreign occupation – their unflinching loyalty to the emperor paved the way for our successful rebuilding effort. Contrast this with, say, any of the Muslim countries we have occupied, are currently occupying, or soon hope to occupy. Our stated military strategy has been to invade with overwhelming force, remove the unfavorable government, and then…make them like us? How do we do that? With bribes. But who can we bribe? For every one mullah we bring over to our side, ten more mullahs will make their bones by denouncing us. There is no one focal point for their fanaticism, which leaves you with only three choices when it comes to an occupation: 1. don’t even try it. 2. kill absolutely everyone. 3. find a way to bribe God.
  2. Compared to a cult of personality, a theocracy is flat-out boring. Let’s say for a minute that you have the choice to rule as a theocrat or rule as a C.O.P dictator. First, you can obviously throw the needs of the people right out the window: they’ll suffer in either type of government. Instead, try to focus on which type of government would be more fun. In a theocracy, you’re nothing but a priest or a mullah. Sure, the Ayatollah might have absolute power, and he and his family might have billions stashed in some Swiss bank accounts, but he still must appear to be a humble servant of God. And what fun is it for someone with that my power to appear to be a humble servant of anyone? Why not simply declare yourself the sun god instead?

So goodbye, Kim Jong-il – Your Excellency, Peerless Leader, Last King of Scotland, Iron Lion of Zion. And may your awesome titles live much longer than your actual political influence on that poor country you so repeatedly violated.

           


[1] Try to guess which of those titles are real and which were taken from Apollo Creed.

[2] Don’t confuse this C.O.P. with the C.O.P. program from Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.

[3] …thereby creating the greatest home-field advantage in world soccer. Ever wonder howNorth Korea qualified for the last World Cup? Well, their home record was pretty damn good, playing in Rungrado Stadium – which holds up to 150,000 North Korean fans whose lives may-or-may-not depend on the game’s outcome, and people are burned alive in mass public executions.

[4] One more thing Kim Jong-il and Woody Allen had in common: a love of young Korean girls.  Burn, Woody Allen!

[5] Illogical titles such as this are the reason I wouldn’t have lasted two days as a North Korean. I don’t think I could’ve held back my incredulity: “How the hell was he the Mastermind of the Revolution? His father masterminded the revolution before he was even born! Was he masterminding the revolution as a sperm, plotting from within his father’s gonads?” I have the same feeling whenever I hear that nepotistic, no-talent ass clown Joe Buck pilfer his legendary father’s famous catchphrases on air. Yes, I’m equating Joe Buck with Kim Jong-il…and I’m surprised I didn’t do it sooner.

[6] Unique Leader certainly doesn’t translate well into English: sounds too much like “Special Leader.” Once the world finds out you’re a Special Leader, they’ll only let you participate in the Special UN.

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2012 and the Apocalypse Fetish

As anyone who has taught here knows, the Chinese are more-or-less obsessed with the 2012 prophecy. The movie was hugely popular over here, (there was a movie, right? I never saw it.) and the Chinese interwebs are bursting with fake Mayan doomsday prophecies.

Throughout the world the Mayans are celebrated as a quasi-mystical super-race, who used their superior knowledge of astronomy to predict the end of the world in the year 2012. Then, much like the people of Atlantis, they vanished into the mists of theYucatan, abandoning their great cities to be reclaimed by the jungle.

So the Mayans were clearly geniuses who could see into the future. That begs the question: why didn’t their visionary leaders avoid their own grisly fate? One can certainly see a sense of fatalism coming into play. Imagine yourself in a Mayan throne room, sometime in the 10th century:

Mayan General: My Lord, our worst fears have been realized: the peasants have revolted. They’ve stormed the palace. What can we do to save the city?

 

Mayan King: Eh, screw it…the world’s gonna end in 1200 years anyway. Quickly, fetch the time machine! Let’s get us some caveman hookers!

We’re all fascinated by these “mysterious” lost societies, the ones that left such impressive monuments and then seemingly vanished into thin air. It’s an offshoot of “Dead Rockstar Syndrome” – we love the Mayans because they lived fast, died young and left beautiful ruins. To use the Cobain Analogy of Pre-Columbian societies: they arrived on the scene, laid down some quality work (Tikal= In Utero,Chichen Itza= Unplugged inNew York), then were hip enough to shoot themselves in the face with a shotgun before grunge went out of style (i.e. the conquistadors arrived).

I’ve been guilty of my fair share of dead rocker hero worship over the years, and as I’ve grown older I’ve found it to be one the more disturbing patterns of human thinking: the kind of gross perversion of reason which makes people cringe at the sight of a bloated old Stevie Wonder. Sure, you think to yourself, he was great back in the day, but every record he’s made since70’s has been complete shit. And now he’s tarnishing his legacy every time he waddles on stage at the Grammy’s. How dare he look so happy and content with his family, his millions of dollars, and his lifetime of unsurpassed musical accomplishments?

Many people reserve similar judgment for pre-Colombian societies: the Mayans had the skills to pay the bills (architecture, science, writing, zero), and those other loser Indian societies have never done anything of consequence, unless you consider “surviving” to be anything to write home about.

What does this say about our collective values? Just as Stevie Wonder doesn’t owe us a fucking thing, just as Kurt Cobain wasn’t exactly a genius for blowing his brains out, so it is that any society’s first priority should be its own survival. So how could a society as complex as the Maya, with their science and writing and zeros, end up stuffing the shotgun in their collective mouths and pulling the trigger.

The biggest surprise concerning the downfall of the Mayans is how completely unsurprising it looks in hindsight, once all the facts are considered. Archaeologists and scientists have already discovered why their civilization collapsed: their population exceeded their agricultural capacity. The ruling class of Mayan city-states, the ones entrusted with ensuring the public welfare, instead squandered their precious remaining resources in fierce religious and military rivalries with their brother cities. Each city stripped its forests to make plaster for temples and various other dick-measuring projects.  Eventually man-made famine led to civil war, anarchy and societal collapse. The Maya abandoned their great temples – despite centuries of fanatical devotion, in the end they simply walked away. I would have liked to have been in a Mayan temple as the last priest in the city walked out for the last time, just so I could ask him his thoughts on the 2012 prophecy. Somehow I think he was probably more concerned with finding his next meal.

 

           

One thing we seem to hold in common with the Maya is a certain Apocalypse fetish. Our fascination with the Apocalypse is nothing new: Western Europe spent the better part of a millennium, from the fall ofRomeuntil the Renaissance, obsessing over the end of the world. That period was so delightful and constructive that we now refer to it as The Dark Ages.

In America, the trend seemed to pick up steam leading up to the year 2000(round number!), particularly with the success of Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” book series, essentially the Harry Potter of Armageddon. (former Growing Pains teen idol Kirk Cameron = Harry Potter, the  antichrist = Voldemort, God = Dumbledore…but wasn’t Dumbledore gay? ABORT ANALOGY! ABORT ANALOGY!)

I was hoping we would move past this morbid obsession once we passed that arbitrary year number in a calendar based on a since-refuted guess as to the year of Jesus’ birth, but boy howdy was I wrong. The past 11 years have been rife with apocalyptic talk. When I went home last year I was horrified to find that my beloved History Channel had been defiled, not only by reality shows about ice road truckers, but by a whole slew of documentary series concerning the End of Days.[1]

A fair number of people seem to think that we are living in the end times, and their reasons range anywhere from “absurd” to ludicrous. I’d like to cover a few of my personal favorites at present:

The War on Terror as a prelude to Armageddon: Look, I get it: a War on Terror sounds pretty apocalyptic. In 80 years we’ve gone from Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” to literally fighting a war against fear itself, gallivanting across the globe like a better-armed Don Quixote, bombing the ever-loving shit out of Terror wherever we find it. And yet Terror somehow endures…almost as if it cannot be killed, almost as if it were never really a killable entity in the first place. But if Terror cannot be killed with bombs, then wouldn’t the idea of declaring war on some ephemeral emotion seem ridiculous and self-defeating, kind of like declaring war on “a case of the Mondays” and shifting the work week from Tuesday to Saturday? Maybe so. It certainly seems to me that the threat of a ragtag-yet-well-funded fundamentalist criminal organization doesn’t call out for Armageddon. If anything, it called out for a SEAL team to find their leader, cap him in the head, and dump his body in the ocean.

Obama as the antichrist: The number of people who openly admit this to pollsters is staggering. You know who should be most insulted by this little pet theory? Lucifer. It’s his job to unleash the antichrist, and the antichrist is supposed to do his best to tempt and seduce you over to the dark side. So if you think that Lucifer chose Barack Obama to tempt you, then you must think Lucifer is pretty fucking stupid. You think Satan doesn’t know that you don’t trust black people? We all know you don’t trust black people, buddy. I would think that Satan knows enough about good ol’ fashioned American prejudice to realize the Bible Belt isn’t going to be seduced by an antichrist named Barrack Hussein Obama. I mean, seriously guys: a black antichrist? We’re talking about the Prince of Darkness recruiting a human army for his war against heaven, not Mel Brooks remaking Blazing Saddles.

 

            Most disturbingly, this kind of thinking has invaded the body politic. Take the case of US Representative John Shimkus, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Economy.[2] During a hearing on climate change, he basically admitted that the earth is getting warmer, the icecaps are melting, and that humans seem to be the ones responsible. He then proceeded to brush those facts aside as completely irrelevant, quoting the Biblical story of Noah and the gospel of Matthew:

“And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other.”

Long story short: climate change may be real, but it’s no biggie.

“The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a Flood,” Shimkus asserted. “I do believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.”

Is this worse than the textbook straight-up denial of climate change? It certainly seems, on face value, to be slightly more creative than sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and shouting “LALALALALA.” And it’s certainly in line with the traditional Judeo-Christian, “this whole town’s a pussy waiting to be fucked,” environmental paradox: namely that God created the Earth, but He doesn’t really give a shit about it. I for one love the idea that apocalyptic thought can so quickly pivot 180 degrees, from “you better mind your P’s and Q’s because Jesus is coming back” to “we can do whatever we want because Jesus is coming back to bail us out.”

But I’m about to raise an issue that would blow John Shimkus’ motherfucking mind: it might be possible for the climate to change and the oceans to rise without ever relating to the Apocalypse. Let’s say that God has no plans to destroy the world again by flood. OK, cool. That said, the oceans could still rise, the coastal areas of the world (which hold a disproportionately large segment of the world’s population) could be rendered useless, triggering a humanitarian disaster. The important thing to remember here, John Shimkus, is this is not the end of the world. Maybe billions would die. Maybe the United States – which had some pretty valuable seaside property, last I checked – would be thrown into anarchy and ruin. But humanity still limps along. The angels’ trumpets haven’t sounded yet. The end times haven’t come yet. John Shimkus is technically correct.

Some might argue, however, that John Shimkus, as a member of the United States Congress, has some kind of responsibility to prevent that not-quite-doomsday scenario from happening. Why bother working for the government if your answer to every problem is “God will/won’t let that happen?” You could just as easily find yourself an audience preaching on the street. Please leave the government jobs for people actually interested in real-world solutions.

Our nation is facing serious challenges on a variety of fronts – climate change, religious fundamentalism, the rise of China– and our knee-jerk response has been to pull the Apocalypse card. That, in the words of the late Bernie Mack, is like holding the ball and waiting for the clock to run out – a punk move. I’d like to believe we were once a nation of problem solvers. Try to imagine some of America’s greatest achievements, like the Space Race, being undertaken in this current environment. How would a modern-day Kennedy react to a rival country beating us into space? One can only image him standing before the cameras, ready to utter the immortal challenge:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of doing absolutely nothing…of waiting for Jesus Christ to return and smite our enemies.

The only thing left for us to do as a society is to set our own doomsday year – not 2012, of course, but some consensus, Mayan-style prediction of Armageddon. I’m just gonna start throwing numbers out there – 2276? 3862? Do you have any ideas? Perhaps, when future archaeologists are sifting through the ruins of our civilization, they might come across the date and get a kick out of it.

 


[1] A word to those at the History Channel: unless the End of Days you’re referring to have already Ended sometime in the past, then you are, in fact, speculating on the future…which is the exact opposite of History. Trust me guys, the future is literally as far from history as you can get. Do me a favor and stick to actual history…and stop with the reality shows!

[2] Why are those two lumped together?

My World Without Zinc

Note: as I set out to write this article, I made myself a promise: that I would use the word “zinc” as much as humanly possible. Before you start reading, try to guess how many times the word “zinc” appears…I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I’m not gonna lie: I’m high as a motherfucker, right this second, even as I’m writing this. I’m high on zinc.

I just popped a couple of zinc supplement pills – zincies, I call – them, and now I’m just chilling at my desk, grooving to some Wailing Souls, tripping zinc balls. I’m so fucking high on this trace metal right now that I’m thinking of starting my own zinc-a-farian religion with zinc pills as one and only sacrament. Zinc, after all, comes from Almighty Jah the most high – number 30 on his periodic table, but number one in his heart. After all, man made beer, but God made zinc…who do you trust?

My discovery of the wonders of zinc came from a rather surprising direction – one of the many lonely paths I’ve taken on my way out of depression. There was a time, not too long ago, when I wasn’t looking for zinc, or anything else, for that matter. When one has sunk to the deepest state of depression, no amount of sink – not even the bountiful zinc deposits of northern Saskatchewan– can lift one’s mind from despair. Every action is agonizing – in truth, it’s the thought of action which is agonizing, because every action has been stripped of meaning: What is the purpose of tying shoes? Flushing the toilet? Getting out of bed?

There was a time, not too long ago, when I operated on a kind of default setting, like a human Mitt Romney. My life was routine for the sake of routine. I ate, slept, worked and studied – not because I wanted to, because I knew I would break down completely the moment I stopped. The therapy and meds became part of my routine. I dutifully took my pill every day, and I respectfully listened to doctors tell me that therapy and medication take time and patience. And if these pills don’t work, there are more pills to try – more time and more patience. But there was no hope – only the lingering and nagging exhortations of the will, to make it to the next day.

But the fog lifts – not lifts, per se, but lightens. The affect is slow, often frustratingly imperceptible, until one day you have enough of your wits about you to form some kind of plan. This is when the average chump might be content to wait on modern medicine and therapy to finish the job. And, Lord knows, I’m a lazy bastard who usually makes the least possible effort at all times. However, the horror of my current mental state screamed out for an “any means necessary” course of action.

Firstly, I turned to my coworker – a certified doctor of Chinese medicine – for some acupressure treatment. And when I say “acupressure treatment,” I mean I sat in the break room and let her dig her bony, impossibly strong fingers into my skull. Even in single-handed lifting a bus off of my trapped first-born child I would not be able to muster to force to which she applied her adamantium claws to my pressure points.

“If you feel pain,” she warned, “then it’s the tension you carry up there.” I always had the suspicion I was carrying to much tension, and finally I had the proof – proof in the form of searing, cleansing pain.

Next, I listened to my shrink’s advice and took a blood test to check for hormone imbalance. I must admit to being disturbingly hopeful of testing positive. The subjects pf psychology and mental illness can feel frustratingly nebulous to someone like me, someone who just wants some fucking answers, goddammit! Finally, I would have something concrete – numbers on a test result sheet, arrows pointing up or down – facts I could really sink my teeth into. Like a child bounding down the stairs on Christmas morning, I practically glided on air to the lab for my test results. One of the arrows pointed up: 雌二醇 – literally: female 2 alcohol. Yes! I have too much estrogen! It made sense: perhaps I had the very same hormone imbalance that allowed Barry Bonds to achieve new peaks of excellence. I’ve never done any steroids, but I do feel more and more like a roid-era Barry Bonds: surly, moody, and insecure.

I went to the endocrinologist, expecting a prescription for…I dunno…anti-estrogen? Unfortunately, the doctor wasn’t much help. He merely brushed me aside and said my tests were fairly normal. I felt that old familiar surge of despair: Normal? How can that be true? I’m not a man. I’m a bitch.

Never being one to trust Chinese doctors, I turned next to the internet – combining through articles from legit medical sites to holistic hippie pages to douchebag weightlifter ads. Though not in total agreement, the general medical consensus is that elevated estrogen levels in men ain’t good, and can affect mood.

But how can one lower the level of estrogen in the body? The answer, from every source, was zinc.

I felt a bolt of inspiration from the heavens. Were it any other trace element – magnesium, or potassium, perhaps – I would have been skeptical. But zinc…precious zinc? I’ve had something of an unrequited love affair zinc ever since I first watched the “World Without Zinc” documentary on The Simpsons. To this day, I often find myself yelling “Come back, zinc!” for no apparent reason. And now it was possible – nee, probable – that I was living in a world without zinc. I’d find a handgun and shoot myself, but, as we all know, the firing pin for that handgun is made of…zinc.

I bolted toward the nearest upscale yuppie mall which might hold a supplement shop. Fortunately, I live in Beijing, and there are at least two upscale yuppie malls at every intersection. I soon found myself surrounded by bottles of trace metals. And there, tucked among the Fe’s and Mg’s and Ca’s, was the precious Zn – the one, true Holy Grail. Did you know that the Chinese word for zinc – 锌 (xin)- is pronounced exactly the same as the word for “new”? Coincidence – I think not.[1]

The sales woman could sense my enthusiasm: “If you buy two bottles, the third one is free!”

I could hardly contain my glee: “Hell yeah! Mo’ zinc! Mo’ zinc!” I walked out of the shop with three bottles of zinc…not to mention the complimentary Yao Ming calendar.

The zinc supplement is but one part of a recovery plan which includes medication, exercise and healthier living. Now that I’m a certified zinc junkie, the question remains: am I high of this zinc or merely the hope that I might be a step closer to finally emerging from this horrible depression? Whatever the case may be, it’s comforting to know that I charge headlong into the battle with zinc on my side.


[1] Actually, I think so…Chinese doesn’t have many different sounds.