Chicken Soup for your Rainforest-Bulldozing Ass

Young-Li Kim was a very successful Korean businessman. His lumber company, headquartered in Seoul, was the second largest in Korea, and had recently struck a very profitable deal with the government of New Zealand in which they bought the rights to a stretch of dense rainforest in the south island, which had remained forested until this point because it was considered sacred by the Maori. Things looked very promising for Young-Li, and his company's only weakness, he felt, was its lassitude in becoming computerized. As an international business, Young-Li felt that there was room to improve the company's performance through more effective utilization of the Internet, electronic commerce, and teleconferencing.

To this end, he made his eldest son, Young-Li junior, study math and science very hard in school. As a result of his high marks, Young-Li was accepted into the University of Cincinnati as a computer science major. Young-Li junior was grateful, but apprehensive, as, in following his father's guidance, he had neglected his English classes in order to better focus on mathematics.

Young-Li's first semester was spent working as a part-time lab assistant in a research center—until he was fired—and studying fiercely. He had a roommate—a history major—who frequently stayed with his family, and so Young-Li met virtually nobody. There were other Koreans on campus, but he had never gone to the trouble to try to meet them. He had had no friends growing up in Seoul, due to his responsibilities.

He was also preoccupied with a far more urgent problem: he was not doing very well his first semester at the American university. He studied constantly, slept very little, and was passing none of his exams.

The language barrier was certainly a difficulty, but Young-Li's fear was that he simply was not smart enough. He did not understand why language should be an impediment to learning subject matter which consisted, ultimately, of only zeros and ones. He was required by the University to take classes he considered irrelevant, and he not mind failing them, but the University would not allow him to continue as a student with such poor grades. He could not bear the thought of being expelled from the University and having to return home to his father as a failed man.

As the semester neared its end, Young-Li began to feel that there was only one salvageable class on his schedule—Computer Science 101. He stayed up two nights in a row attempting to study, forcing himself to go without food, but the knowledge just seemed to get further away and more scattered and confused, the harder he tried to approach it. It was like trying to know a cloud.

During the exam, his mind went completely blank. Unable even to force himself to guess the answers, he did the only honorable thing, and handed in an exam that was blank except for his name.

Afterward he lost track of where he was and wandered the streets. As he walked, he watched his arms in front of him, gesturing wildly at the air, attempting to fill out an exam that wasn't there. Occasionally he could hear himself shouting, very loud and quickly, "zerozerozerozerozero..!"

The police apprehended him around midnight when they received a report of a suspicious Asian in a wealthy neighborhood. They handcuffed him and forced him into the back of the car. He struggled with them, trying to fill out the exam, and they had been forced to subdue him. He had lost his wallet in his wanderings. They kept trying to ask him who he was. All he could say, in English or Korean he could not tell, was "zero."


Chicken Soup for the Vegetarian Soul.