The RKD Experience III: The Nature of Regret

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Riding the train in Seoul is not typically a communal experience. In fact, just the opposite. Unwitting foreigners making the ill-fated error of engaging in outbursts of revelry are frequently shushed by those who desire to return to the reverent hush that resides in Korean subway cars. It’s a rookie mistake that seems to happen to everyone at least once.

But sometimes, when the moon is full and the stars are aligned, you break through the invisible barrier between yourself and the hordes of somber commuters and actually engage someone. Sometimes it’s just a nod acknowledgment. Other times it’s a shared eye-roll over the antics of a particularly foul-spirited ajumma. Once, out of all the hundreds of train rides I took during my time in Korea, that brief, friendly glance transformed itself into a full blown conversation, and that moment has stuck with me ever since.

It happened in the early part of what would eventually prove to be a long and painful winter. It was morning, and I was on my way to see the doctor. I was halfway along my route, coasting quietly in the meditative silence of the early morning rush, when I was tapped on the shoulder by an elderly gentleman whom I was reasonably sure I had never seen in my life.

“Nice to meet you!” he said. “Are you American?”

Having grown up in the southern U.S. where casually polite conversation with strangers is modus operandi, I shouldn’t have been taken aback by this at all. Instead, I was caught completely off-guard and found myself in the unusual position of fumbling to find whichever set of words would politely end the conversation and allow me to slip back into the sanctity of the silent status quo.

Subway Introspection

Subway Introspection – Photo Credit: Julia Blond

My friend would have none of it, though, and he persisted unfazed by my obvious reluctance. He introduced himself as Yoon, and spoke at length of his memories of the war, of how much Korea had changed since his youth, and of the effect he feared the oncoming cold might have on his aging body. He asked me where I was going and I lied, although I’ve never been able to find a good excuse as to why. I told him I was going to work. I told him about my school, and he listened with rapt attention and great interest. He was kind, gentle, and polite, and for some reason that made me uncomfortable.

I was granted a reprieve as it came time for me to transfer trains, and Yoon asked me for my email. He said he wanted to be able to write to me. I hesitated inexplicably at his familiarity, but saw no way to politely refuse. I took Yoon’s earnestly offered paper scrap and pen, and wrote down my email address. As I stepped off the train and onto the platform, I honestly thought that would be the end of it.

It was not the end. Later that evening, I got an email from someone with a Korean name. The subject line said, “on yu way to hanam, in the subway ,, 추워요,,.” What I found inside wasn’t just an email. It was an interesting sort of existential, free-verse reflection on life. A simple introduction to what would become a series of weird and wonderful correspondences

(December 12, 2012)
on yu way to hanam, in the subway ,, 추워요,, (on yu way to hanam, in the subway ,, It’s cold,,)

Dear  Blake, ,

this is yoon in seoul
it is on afternoon,    shin pool of seoul.
who happen to bump into both  in the subay of today , thus leadign us  a lot of  discoursee,,    each other, ,
on yu way to  hanam,  can yu recal l  who i am and  what kindof viages, or bearing do we possess??
i beliver that  yu might be in there,  and   workign now,   in the middle of  teachign now, ,
outside,  too freezing  and  seems to  plunge into or headlong int o the   full scale  winte4rization , or hibernation ,
are yu all right ?  yet ,for me,   as  i have been told  , , this freezing one,   terrifes or scares  into me,   only     refrain myself to go out ,

nevertless.
this one,    gives rise to any alternation or midification  ,   ,  we appreciate over   the change of seasons ,
what with the  sultry  summer  and  this siber winds, or iniquiitous  or outragesou one ,
change , ,  that is  changes   in  reseraching one,   examination , differnt  exericse  or other discussion  in ou society , that  allows us to know  about , the value of  life,  why does we  maintain in existence, ?/   makeing any innovaiton , or other motive to subsist on

the conception of our life reliles on  ,  two differnt mode,,    the former,  birngs us out to making our life  as if  our  life  were immortal.
everlasting one,  that is why  we enjoy over easygoing  , tame  life,  while, ,  the  latter,   strive hard or work hard,   ,cut our way through all kind of  hinderance,
hardship as if today   should be last one, ,
which one is  do yu choice  ?/
depend on , ,

have a good day ,,

best regards
from Yoon

Not knowing exactly what to do with his message or how best to respond, I allowed it to fall by the wayside. One of the multitude of things I might get around to at some point in the distant, but never approaching horizon that I frequently call ‘Eventually.’

All of this was unusual, of course, but simple enough to be dismissible and certainly not story-worthy, had it not been for what happened next.

Two months later, Yoon wrote again, and it was extraordinary. He had moved from strange and interesting to beautiful and profound. Not only that, but he kept writing. He wrote again the next month, and again after that, never seeming to mind that I continually failed to answer his messages, each of which was more fascinating than the last. Looking back, I regret my failure to contact Yoon as much or more than I regret anything else from my time in Korea. I just never found words that seemed appropriate or interesting. Or maybe that’s all an excuse and I just feel guilty for lying to him in the subway, or for attempting to avoid his efforts to engage a complete stranger in an authentic way (which I still seem to be doing). I still look at his emails and hover my mouse over the reply icon, never quite working up the the forward momentum necessary to click it and start writing. I would welcome any advice on the best way to attempt such an undertaking.

Below are all messages that Yoon has sent me up to now. The dates and the title translations in parentheses were added by me.

(February 16, 2013)
토요일 아침. . 봄이 오네요,, (Saturday morning. . Here comes the spring,,)

Dear  Blake, ,

this is yoon in seoul
it is  on early moring of  saturday ,    spring is  beckoning to us , with allure   and decoyment, ,
or  over the window , or   exuding of  tree’s fragrance  , incense, ,
are u  sesnsing over this  sound   ??  on  weekend,     now, i am awaked from a long spell of  unconcsiouness,    at long  insilence,

that is blame for,   overnight   appreciatiing  in old music, ,  in which used to stir up my minds, , not to saying to my body condition
Bee Gees, ,    composed of  three brothers,  Robin,  andy and other,  now,   two  already to be defunt in our sight, ,
the song,,   still engraved   into my memeoy ,  titled,   by  dont forget  to rember, holidays, first of may  or  to love some body ,
and too much heaven , so and , ,
only  music  soothes us , or concillates  us into the  good recollection  or  our good minds,

now,  some says that   the influence of  our smart phone,  teleivision  do away with ,  take place of  the former one, called radion,
yet,  still  the effect of  Radio  have  survied  ,excelled  over    in spite of other updated  tools. or   miracle.
in factor,    this   has some benefits,   taht  others  never catch up iwth ,  good  fortes,
whenever we tried to listen to  and appreciate over the music,   the function of  radidon  is   more superlatative,    telivision ,or computer,
why dont  yu  muse yourslves  into this lyic of Radio  ..  when  climbing into the mountain , or   loitering alongside the brook, ,

best regards
from: yoon

(March 2, 2013)
잘 지냈어요 , 하남에 있나요,, spring is comming in , , (How you doing, Hanam is this,, spring is comming in , ,)

Dear  Blake, ,
this is yoon in seoul

it is on  early morning of  saturday ,    march ,  spring is  comming in , or  beckons to us,  with allure, inveglement
nature’s  lure, , blake,  is there any other  yellow sand from  china, ?/  on today
at any rate,   the hibernation is  gone now,    circuling  over and on

in factor, our body is  just like any machine,,     therefoer,  it  is required of  or necessatied with  energy , foods,  nurishments   whenever  to be  used up ,consumed out ,   engin oil.   how much   water is  entailed in ?/   they say that  the water ingrediment   is  necessary for us to be  75  percentage,     with out this one,  most of all  are lible to be sick or  die out ,
we dont  worry about it when in good conditon , or good health , yet  we have to set out  it when we are getting worse  or retrogress in  this diet or vitamine,  but the  moment  we have t ob remiss of heedul of  is to  be in time when  we are in paramount ,

what is the best thing  to  be in water,   ?/  or what are we slaked for this one, ?/    all we have to do is to seek after any water,
or fame,  wealth ,  other  satification  called  material one  or  emotional.   —  seeing in obscene magine,   amuse ourselves with  lewd one,  or  exposed one    or dissipaty or dessolute action ,

have a good time,
God blesses on  you

best regards
from:  yoon

(April 19, 2013)
금요일 아침.. 그리고 419 혁명, , (Friday morning.. And 419 revolutions, ,)

Dear  Blake, ,

this is yoon in seoul
it is on early morning of friday ,    weekend ,   and , the  student  uprising day ,  back to   50 years ago,,
many students were raising up aganit  the  elction corrupting , thus   enabling to overthrow  in  governmetn ,
in other say , that  was the emblem of   democratic  onset or outset ,  first of its kind to be ,

things   has jettions  or headlonged into the cherry blossom season ,  while,  man y irritaion has occurred into  us ,  on the side of our nerve,   as well our  body system,  scraching on my back ,  burst into side,   that  is the  outcome of my aging, ,  or seniar ages,
while,   any disturbance  and noise  next to my apartmetn or other  construction sites  has  beem more  and more hidous , clamouring   , that  is deduced from  the presnt of our construction  working place, ,   seoul or korea  is growing u pand  maturing to the , ,  on the other hands,   from north korea’s   incessant provaction ,   it   makes us more  irritation or fret    in our spiritul   growth, ,

when or  why does  they   threathen  to us  ?/ what is the real  request  to us ??
while,   the reality of all kind of construciton     is nothing but the development of our  future,  we cant be helped for  the plausible  sense, , ,  if any one who  has not  musical  talent to try to get any  song, ,  that of course  is but  any  continuous   annoyance,
or,    in the subwsay ,   any one  next to me,     who is keeping on  calling  by  smart phone,,    that is noting but  troublesome to me, or others,  now we are living in the  world all kind  of  squaild ,tiny dirty  is prevailign on ,   or   ravaging over,
how do we get any real  meditaion    and  survive  on this  heavy competitive socity ??
reading any book in the train or  subway    seems to be  old fashioned  one, , back to 20 years ago , or  other sluggished , easy going   life,

have  a good time,  God blesses on  u

bst regards
from:  yoon

(May 18, 2013)

주말 비가 오나요, , the retrogress of japan (Weekend rain might they come, , the retrogress of japan)

Dear  Blake, ,

this is yoon ki ,kim in seoul
it is on  early morning of saturday ,  keep on warmming now,
headlong into the  summer time,,   who says that   spring is fleeting , shortived and ephemal   ,nothing but ,  is it right ,?
take off winter attire,   displaced by  new, light , bright  one,  blake,
owing to yesterday’s hiking,    the body seems to be tardation , or slouth  ,     that is  why it  leads me to  the sweet sleep  in the long silence,,

what are yu doing in  weekend ?/ all kind of occasion   is  beckoning to yu , from  specail cermemony ,  river ,and  mountain, ,
is it rainning  on today , ?/   omen , or predication that is sure to meet with  spring rainning , ,
why dont  yu  take any incantation,  or spell  ??

from  bible   the first of king, ,    big conflict between  eljah and  other infedels   group ??
setting up the  respective  bull,,   on the alter,    pronounce over spell to heaven,
pls   giving us any fire,  thus  burnign  this one  up  soon , is it any other duel test ,  ?  rival  showdown,
in the recent ,  japan sounds to  be backward, or  retrosgress into the  before  secnd war, ,   1945
 rearmment of  weapon,  the nullificaiton of   peace law.  and   rushing into the reclaim of  lost land   at the second war,,
reconfernce  in north island, so and  so,    why  does japan  miss over the glory of  the past??
sometimes,   japan  minster  comments tht  during the war,  formidable  comfort  slaves  based on korea , china   was inevitable or  necessary ,  the evil of those ?

in the wake of japanes yen’s  depreciaiton ,  economy  seems to be revival or stagnant  now,  more brikskness and attative now,
from  Freidric  Hegal’s  maxium , our  mankind  is  forward to  be expansion of  freedom m  not in widrawal.
yet ,there is  any other cunning  in the trap.    now,   japan is  going to be example of   his  abridgement now,
only  god is knowing of what   it is moving  now, ,

best regards
from: yoon ki,kim

(July 9, 2013)
mug , stolid, too much sweatenes now,

Dear  Blake, ,

this is yoon ki ,kim in seoul
it is on early morning of  tuesday ,  keep on warmming and  hotter,
back  from a morning  hospital.   take any other  treatment ,,
now,  too much muggy and sweatness,    after a lot of rainfall.  ,  where is jangma gone now, ??
more than 100 millgram’s rainfalls.   on  yesterday , thus leading   kangnam station ,  subway  , to be inundated on,
oh ,kangnam style.  ,  where to go?

the quainty of  size of  raining  has transrformed  into the  new ,              from drizzle to  steady rain  into , down power,
now we  meet wih downpower season ,  pour out ,or  a lot of   this one,  when this seaosn  has come around us,
many commodation  after this one  hs  entailed into , ,  landslide,  submergement , flooded out , and  other electric transmission is tied up ,   many  household are blocked out by the way of  water or  light, ,
then  ,how do we  come over this one ?/     where is  my  umbrella in the street ?/  flimsy , infrail one,    wiped out ,
nothign but hiding in the shelter, ,  shelter,,  blake,

likewise, when we  counter  againt  this  life struggle   in our life?/ what shall do  i do ??
in the case of dismissing in  my job or  business,    what shal ldo i do ? when i hve to see the pay bill pile up  ?   my children  sick  in the hospital ?
what shall do i  do ?

best regards

from: yoon ki,kim

The RKD Experience Revisited: A Cautionary Tale

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He was hiking down Cheongyesan Mountain when I first encountered him. Stein was an elderly but energetic Korean man, eager to practice his English in preparation for an upcoming trip to The States. Thusly, he preferred me to use his self-bestowed English name instead of his given Korean name. He walked quickly, and in broken speech asked me questions about myself while relaying stories of his travels across the U.S., and of his newborn grandson whom he hoped to visit in Chicago very soon. He seemed friendly and fascinating, and after having walked me all the way to subway station, he asked ever so earnestly if I would go hiking with him next weekend. To refuse would have been unthinkable.

We met, or were supposed to meet, in the early morning at a train station about 20 minutes from my neighborhood. My friend Julia, who was with me when I first met Stein, joined me in taking a cab to the station, a decision that was meant to make up for our slightly late start. Instead we found ourselves sitting on the edge of our seats desperately willing what proved to be the slowest cabbie in all of Seoul to go faster as slightly late turned into uncomfortably late. The cabbie, in turn, stoically ignored our attempts to convey the urgency of the situation at hand. Time inched by, and as the digital display on the taxi’s stereo slowly counted up, reminding us of our increasingly unforgivable tardiness, Stein began to call.

As best as I could, I apologized and assured him that we were on our way. Very close, even. Stein did not respond favorably to our excuses, however, and his voice pitched higher as he reminded us that we were behind schedule. His speech grew faster and his English more broken until it became hard to know what he was saying at all. Stein was losing his cool and already our day had taken a bad turn.

We jumped out of the car 15 minutes behind schedule and desperate to get the apologies over with. We, quite literally, ran to the agreed upon subway exit only to find no one there at all. He must have gone downstairs, we thought. We leapt down several steps at a time into the station and scanned the crowd for anyone that might be him. Nothing.

Stein

This isn’t Stein, but add some hiking gear and you’ve got a pretty good idea.

I called Stein again. In his fevered state it was difficult grasp what he was saying, other than that it was a high-volume attempt explain where he was. At this point his speech became totally undecipherable, and I began to deeply regret the series of events that had led me to this moment. We couldn’t find our climbing partner at all, we were 20 minutes behind schedule, and the mood had clearly gone sour. That’s when Stein rounded the corner, apparently having hidden himself near the train turnstiles, and saw us standing by the exit.

I braced myself for impact and a firm berating from our clearly unsettled companion. Still after the initial chastisements he seemed mostly glad to have finally found us. We tried to desperately to relay our apologies while he scolded us. Warning of the pitfalls of tardiness, he ushered us through the gates and onto the train. For better or worse, our day was beginning, and we would have to ride this thing out to the end.

We arrived at the mountain an hour later. Stein told us we were going to Bukhansan, which was exciting news as I had been there before and still consider it to be my favorite hiking trail in Korea. But something was different. Stein hadn’t taken us to the clearly marked, family-friendly route I remembered from my previous trip. Instead, he led us up an isolated, dusty path that seemed less taken and less welcoming than the one we were expecting.

In school, they teach you about foreshadowing. Dark hints at a doomed future that storytellers leave for their more attuned readers. If I had listened better in those classes, I would have known what to do when Stein, standing at the foot of an increasingly vertical trail, said, “There will be a little danger. It is ok?” Instead, I fell victim to the same misplaced sense bravado that protagonists in these types of stories so often do. “This man is well into his eighties,” I thought. “He probably means it’s dangerous for his obviously arthritic hips and brittle bones. Of course I can handles this.”

This is where Julia made the best decision of the day. Looking up the precarious path, hearing Stein’s warning, and being aware of the insane, mountain goat-like qualities exhibited by elderly Koreans, she decided to cut her losses and tap out. So far on our journey, Stein had had made an awkward show of avoiding any of her attempts to engage him in conversation, and had instead directed all of his attention on me. Thusly, any feelings of social obligation were easily overcome by a desire to avoid getting stuck halfway up a mountain and finding herself in the midst of “a little danger.” She went off to find more user-friendly paths, and I, ever the people pleaser, chose to try to make it work with Stein, and up the mountain we went.

Let’s take this moment to let the record show that I am an averagely fit person with no rock-climbing or bouldering experience and nothing that would be considered quality gear for a challenging hike. I had shown up in cheap sneakers and blue jeans, prepared for a jaunt in the woods. Instead, Stein had decided to take me on a survival trek. Still, I put on a brave face. I certainly couldn’t allow myself to be bested by an old man.

For hours, I followed Stein. We stayed mostly on narrow paths except for when we went off of them altogether. Looking back, I imagine it feeling something like Frodo’s ascent up a dark and craggy Mount Mordor, although that could be some outdoorsman’s variation of PTSD clouding my memory. Occasionally we would change things up, opting for steep, gravelly rock faces that I clambered, clutched and slid on while watching a shockingly nimble Stein bound effortlessly up to the next level. He was mostly patient with me, although I could tell he had expected more. I didn’t have much more to give, though. My $10 sneakers didn’t have the traction for this sort of thing, and a fine layer of loose rock and silt was slowly embedding itself into my palms.

What it felt like I was doing.

What it felt like I was doing.

I soldiered on bravely, pleased that I had managed to keep up as well as I had, in spite of everything. Sure, Stein’s warning of danger had proven more formidable than I had expected, but I was persevering and was beginning to feel hopeful that I would manage to see the end of this.

In the same school where they teach you about foreshadowing, they teach you about story structure. And if I had listened in those classes, I would have known that this is the exact point where the bottom usually falls right out from beneath the protagonist’s feet. To all of the English and Literature teachers I have ever had, I’m sorry.

Stein walked us off the path again, which at this point was nothing new. But this time, he led us right up to an even steeper and more winding hill than we had climbed so far. This hill was clearly marked with large illustrated signs warning of danger and death to any who might attempt to pass beyond them. My companion moved resolutely past the red and bold-lettered oracles of ill-fate, and I, for the first time that day, faltered.

I called my hiking companion down and explained to him that I didn’t think it was a good idea to move past the warning signs, and that, quite frankly, I didn’t think I was capable of doing anything much more dangerous than we had done so far. Stein scoffed and patted my shoulder reassuringly, if not a little condescendingly and said, “It is only a little danger.”

Much as we had done before, Stein climbed gracefully, and I skidded and slid behind him. I had agreed to follow him a little further, and at the moment was none too happy about it. I managed to find footholds and paths with just enough solid rock to keep moving up to the next level. Finally we made our way to a beautiful ridged peak. I stood with Stein at the top, taking in the view. I had to hand it to him, it was fantastic, made even more so by the feeling of having earned it. Maybe I had been too hard on Stein, I thought. Maybe he’s really on to something, and this is the happy ending to the story.

The view from Bukhansan Mountain

The view from Bukhansan Mountain

In school they teach you about tragedies, and if I had listened, even once, I would have known that no journey, at least no journey worth telling about, ends easily.

As we sat, taking in our surroundings, Stein pointed to a long, snaking crest of steep, craggy ridges. Crumbling, vertical slopes on which you could see small figures, bedecked in helmets, ropes, and hiking boots, making their way carefully from one peak to the next. “Next, we go that way,” said Stein.

I gave a hearty and appreciative laugh at what obviously must have been a joke from my elderly cohort. Stein offered nothing but a confused stare in return. No smile to acknowledge the obvious doom that would have befallen us should we have followed his comically misguided suggestion, and no chuckling retort to put my mind at ease. No, Stein was serious.

This was officially my limit. I wouldn’t, and positively couldn’t do it. I had nearly bitten the dust more than once already, and I had no intention of finding myself impaled on any one of the series of sharp rocks that lay below the path ahead. Knowing that this news would deeply disappoint my new friend, I broke it to him as gently as I possibly could. Even so, he did not take it well.

I watched as Stein went through the 5 stages of grief before my eyes. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, all of it. He tried telling me that it only looks a little bad, but really it’s not very hard at all. He tried walking a little ways, hoping I would naturally follow. Finally, seeing that I could not be persuaded to join him, he settled on derisively calling me a grandma and storming off to the other side. This final insult did not, however, stop him from waving at me from the opposite hillside and yelling out to me that, perhaps, we should get together and do it all again next weekend.

Regarding the Virtuous Abolishment of Winter

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I have learned one thing with absolute, unfailing, and immeasurable certainty. The kind of knowledge that lives in the marrow of a man and comes to define his destiny. A conviction that could be deemed religious if it had anything to do with faith in the traditional sense, but still carries the assured and unyielding hold of the same sacred call that would cause a man to forsake all others and take up the cloth of his God. My truth is a simple one, and deep inside I have always known it to be so. Only the past few months have made it so inescapably clear to me that I can no longer hide behind the curtain of uncertainty that once sheltered me, but must instead stand boldly before the innumerable throngs of mankind and say, “I am not a cold weather person.”

Seoul’s winters are harsh and long. For months, the short stretch of sidewalk leading from my apartment to the front steps my school was an icy death trap. A one way ticket to a quick slip and a broken neck. The battering wind and nose-numbing temperature were frequently compared, by people who claimed to know about such things, to those experienced in the more soul crushing months of Chicago winters. I remember as a teenager watching reports of brutal blizzards in the Windy City and thinking to myself, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Well there I went, and I can assure you I have no intentions of going back

Igloo

Exposed to the elements and in mortal danger, I instruct students in the building of a winter shelter.

These months were mostly spent holed up indoors, watching films, reading books, staring out the windows, and wondering why anyone might willingly choose to live anywhere outside of a tropical zone. It was a dreadful and seemingly interminable time, and is at least partially to blame for my long absence from this blog. You see, if you’re not doing anything more interesting than… nothing, then it becomes terribly difficult to write a story that you could imagine any of your friends and family wanting to read. For that I apologize deeply, and assure you that I have taken steps to rectify the issue. As of almost a week ago, I’ve moved to Vietnam by way of a brief stop in Cambodia, and am assured that absolutely no winter-related phenomena whatsoever have ever occured in this part of the world. I certainly still have a great deal of love for Korea, and have a multitude of things about it that merit poetical waxing, but that is another blog post, which I assure you is coming.

In any case, you can imagine my excitement when winter came to a drawn-out, but eventual end. I’m convinced that only recently released, long-term inmates of Siberian internment camps must know the magnitude of pent up exuberance I felt, that cliched adages like ‘spring fever’ can only faintly begin to describe. As soon as it was at all reasonable to do so, I gathered a group of trusted friends and embarked on my favorite Korean outdoor outlet: beach camping!

See how much happier I am here?!

See how much happier I am here?!

These kinds of weekends typically begin with high hopes and the best of intentions. We arrive at our campsite in the early afternoon. Bright eyed and brimming with enthusiams, we begin rigorously applying sunscreen, arranging our tents, and gathering wood for the campsite. With all of this accomplished, a sense of pride begins to wash over our company as we revel in our obvious ingenuity and responsible nature. We stand like Ozymandias gazing out over our small sandy kingdom, “Look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Obviously, at this point celebration is in order, and we send out a scout contingent to relieve the local Qwik Mart of any supplies we might find useful during the night, which usually takes the form of ice cream and strong drink. Upon their triumphant return, the weekend begins in earnest.

As the day progresses, music and revelry give way to more drink. The sun sets, the fire is lit, and the quiet responsibility we hung our hubris on fades abruptly into the background. Sunscreen is applied less stringently, voices become more boisterous, and campfire songs less restrained. We become, well, silly. There’s an adage amongst writers that you should show and not tell. In accordance with that sentiment, and in the interest of illustration, I present to you this video from my very last camping trip on Muuido Island in South Korea. Watch, enjoy, and judge not lest ye be judged.

This video has PG13 language. You’ve been warned.

As the next day comes, the morning light is markedly less forgiving than our bonfire was the night before, and there are frequently one or two sore heads leftover as a warning of the dangers of excess. Still, it generally proves to be nothing that time, asprin, and a bowl of noodles won’t fix. We proceed to pack up our tents and talk about (or pointedly not talk about) the events of the preceding evening, and then wander towards the train back home, already planning the next big weekend.

The Demon Barber of Gangnam

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It was bound to happen eventually.

I had delayed the inevitiable far beyond the limits set by decent society. Excuses were made, procrastination set forth as a primary defense against my oncoming and imminent fate. I had been through all the necessary stages one must encounter in the face of such harsh realities: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I positively had to get my hair cut.

Finally, one fateful day, a fashion-forward coworker noticed my increasingly apparent state of aesthetic disrepair, and quickly offered up a suggestion. “Here’s the phone number for my guy, ” he said. “He’s the best.”

It seemed to be a sign, and deeply handicapped my ability to further put off what I knew was necessary. I called the number he gave me and set an appointment. I felt good. I had done a responsible, adult thing all on my own and without anyone making me. I was a bit nervous about my first cut in Korea, but what’s the worst that could happen?

I dragged my ragged-looking carcass in on the day of my appointment. It was immediately apparent that this was not my place, and these were not my people. If one were to shoot a salon scene for the Gangnam Style remake video, this would have been a prime location. Everyone, including the employees, were dressed extremely well, lattes and club sandwiches were being served to guests in the waiting area, and they were all so throughly put together that it was impossible to tell who had been cut, and who hadn’t. Artfully poised stylists buzzed throughout the polished glow of the main floor, hurriedly snipping here and gelling there, as was called for, whilst eager attendents rushed behind them with brooms and dustpans ensuring that there were no stray hairs to interfere with the reflective glory that emenated from every possible corner.

Swanky Hairplace

I didn’t take this picture and this wasn’t the place, but you get the idea.

After enduring the series of giggles I invoked in the receptionist by telling her that I was there for an appointment, I was led back to a series of lockers where I would be able store away my paltry belongings for the duration of my visit. Whether this was for my convenience or their image, I can’t be entirely sure, but before I could think too much about it, I was whisked away to a side room for a quick hair wash, and then off to the stylist.

What comes next has plagued me for the entirety of my hair growing existence. While I consider myself to be a decent conversationalist with vast array of things to say on a variety of topics, I am deeply and painfully awkward at conducting even the most basic social interactions while trapped in a barber chair. Small talk is my social Achilles’ heel, and unless you’re fortunate enough to know your stylist in a social setting, that’s pretty much what you’re stuck with. Add a language barrier to this, and I didn’t even stand a chance.

Still, I steeled myself for the onslaught of awkward mumbling and long pauses, and tried to remain hopeful that somehow I would be able to pull it off. Fortunately, my friend’s guy spoke pretty good English and I was determined to make the best of things. I began by showing him pictures of myself sporting the haircut that I was hoping he could replicate, to which he smiled and eventually responded, “I’m going to do something different.” Slightly annoyed, but not willing to argue with a man hovering over me with a pair of scissors, I produced a confusedly furrowed brow and begrudgingly acquiesced to what I hoped would be his better judgment.

As he began to labor in an effort to tame the unkempt mat of fur that had nested itself on my head over the past few months, I commenced to deal with the social problem at hand. I tried to get off to a solid start by firing off the standard series of questions one asks when attempting to pass the time with a person you know nothing about. This seemed to only confuse and distract him, which was the last thing I wanted to do in my compromised state of affairs, so I switched strategies and tried to go the route of comfortable silence. This didn’t work either, as he seemed just as uncomfortable with the silence as I had been and began to make his own attempts at casual conversation.

Stylist: Do you know how much this costs?
Me: (Confused by the question, but playing along) I guess I don’t. How much is it?
Stylist: (Pausing to translate the numbers in his head) $300.
Me: Ohhhhh. Uh. Ok.

At this point, I was halfway through the cut and there was no backing out. I was trying to make my best poker face, but I’ve always been remarkably bad at poker. He must have noticed something that looked panic in my eyes, because he quickly walked away from the chair and started playing with a calculator that he had retrieved from the front desk. As it turns out my haircut was only going to be about $30, and I tried desperately not to let loose a heavy sigh of relief.

Fortunately, the haircut was pretty much finished. He made some final adjustments and asked me what I thought. It wasn’t what I had asked for, but it certainly wasn’t bad. I nodded in an overenthusiastic show of approval, which seemed to please him enough to send me off to the hairwash girls where I received an unreasonably good scalp massage that felt like it lasted for about 10 minutes.

By now, I thought our exchange had reached a satisfactory conclusion and was getting ready to leave, but I could not have been prepared for what would happen next. To my surprise, I was abruptly extracted from my cozy, reclining massage chair and plopped directly back where I had been sitting during my haircut. I was left there for a moment to reflect on what could possibly happen next when the stylist appears behind me and said, forebodingly, “Do you want me to style it?”

I couldn’t think of any good reason to say no, and he quickly commenced the most complex hair arrangement procedure ever to be conducted outside the confines of Lady Gaga’s dressing room. Not just him, though. He assembled a team flashy Korean stylists who bustled around me like a pit crew at the Daytona 500. They hurriedly crimped, dried, moussed, and shaped as they painstakingly erected a delicately-assembled, high-fashion sculptural homage to a birds nest on top of my head.

A poorly photoshopped rendering of the offending hairdo.

A poorly photoshopped rendering of the offending hairdo.

They pulled back with a flourish and looked at me, eagerly anticipating my inevitable squeals of approval. I, unfortunately, was in shock. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this unholy altar to the dark gods of hair was not it. Not wanting to disappoint, though, I managed to conjur something between an enthusiastic smile and a befuddled grimace. They asked me a few follow up questions about it, and I began to wonder if I was the victim of innocently divergent fashion cultures or some elaborate prank reserved for unwitting foreign visitors.

No worries, though. I could just pay my bill, step out into the stairwell leading down to the street where I would surreptitiously snap a few pictures for posterity, and then pull down the Lovecraftian horror on my head before it managed to summon the second coming of Cthulhu. But the chance for such a graceful and humane end to this traumatic tale was not in the cards for me.

Either this establishment was so hospitable, or my hosts so devious as to escort me through the safely isolated stairwell and all the way onto the busy street outside. I was exposed, surrounded, and sporting the haircut equivalent of the cone of shame on my head. I panicked and, seeing no alternative, immediately moved to annihilate all traces of the unfortunate monstrosity.

I darted quickly down the nearest, narrowest alleyway I could find with two great emotions looming over my freshly profaned scalp: Regret at not having obtained photographic evidence of this harrowing crime, and fear for the inevitable day when I would once again find myself in an unfamiliar barber chair.

Manifold Homes for a Wandering Heart

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When my friend, Lindsay, asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I was honored. When she told me that the subject was home and what it meant to me, I was ecstatic. It was a subject I had thought about so much for so long, yet I had never really taken the time to put my mental meanderings into coherent words.

This post first appeared on her blog, which you should absolutely go check out. I’m very grateful to have been included on it. Also, please forgive me for the self-indulgent nostalgia you are about to read.

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Being a person who tends to move around a great deal, it has become a common occurance for people to ask me where I’m from. Despite being presented with a multitude of opportunites, I’ve yet to conjure what feels like a reasonable response to this seemingly simple question.

I always seem to sputter about for an uncomfortable period of time, naming off a few areas that seem like plausible answers before eventually resigning myself to saying something akin to, “The south, mostly.”

My inability to gracefully handle one of the most basic pillars of introductory small talk has led me to spend a great deal of time attempting to define for myself exactly what home is.

My birthplace might seem like an easy answer to default to. I was born in Memphis, and would eventually spend two beautiful years there. There are deeply good people who inhabit that strange and gritty city that I count amongst the very best that I know. It’s the beginning of what I have loosely categorized as my adult life, and the backdrop for most of my more significant professional achievements. However, those years were well after college, and hardly seem to qualify me for the exalted status of native son.

Then there are those elementary and middle school years in which I first began to awkwardly grasp at acheiving some understanding of who I was, and who I wanted to be as a person. Those years belong entirely to a small town in western Kentucky called Mayfield. Being a rather socially inept little person who had been shoehorned into a part of the world where families have lived for generations, and social structures are firmly cemented by the end of kindergarten, I didn’t have much in the way of friends. But I can thank a few good teachers and a great deal of spare time for this being the place in which I first developed a deeply instilled love for words and stories, without which I would be an entirely different person than I am today.

A Pastel Dandy

A Pastel Dandy

Niceville, Florida has a strong case for hometown status. It’s where I finally began to see the high tide of painful teen angst slowly recede, where I spent the entirety of my high school years, and where I would return to during breaks from college. It’s where I first liked a girl who liked me back, where I weathered my parents’ divorce, and where I first made the types of friends that you keep for the rest of your life. There are a harrowing host of memories dwelling in that small, beachside town and it’s always a bittersweet ordeal to see it again, but I will always want to see it again.

My last two years before leaving the US were spent in Austin, Texas, which, to date, possesses the highest concentration of people that I would trade all of my money to see and bear-hug into oblivion. It’s a weird, transient town where, looking back, it seems like I accomplished nothing and everything all at the same time. In a very short time, it changed me at a deep and core level which I truly believe was for the better, and the stories I left with might not even sound believable to anyone who doesn’t know first hand that anything is possible in Austin. If a place can become home in only two years, this would be the city that could do it.

Summer In Austin

Summer In Austin

Then there are those other pockets of the world that lay claim to little pieces of my life. Places where I’ve never applied for a library card or had my mail forwarded to, but still carry a significant weight on my person because there are people there that, by choice or by fate, I call family:

I will probably never overcome my fear of winter for long enough to set roots in Idaho, but nothing carries the calm weight of home like standing over the stove with a hot cup of coffee in my mother’s kitchen. Northeast Arkanasas is amongst the last places I would choose to move to, but it holds almost the entirety of my extended relatives, some of my childhood’s most fond memories, and, if you catch me in an unguarded moment, traces of the deeply southern accent I tried to kill for a good portion of my youth. And I may be a far, far cry from holding any sort of claim on Glasgow, but there are good hearts and kind faces there that I will be deeply proud to call family for the rest of my life.

Which leads this wandering tale to where I am now. Tucked away in my own beautiful little corner of one of the biggest, busiest cities our world has to offer. I think I won’t be able to know the impact that Seoul has had on my life until I’ve left it behind, but I can tell you that, right now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Every week is packed with as many new and bizarre experiences as some people achieve in a year. To be certain, I am a stranger in a strange land, but it has already taken on so many of those core elements that turn a destination into what can only be called a home.

People will continue to ask me where I am from, and I will continue to fumble awkwardly for the words with which to tell them. But a close examination of my life has left room for only one true answer. Home is the people we carry with us, however far we may be.

The Persistence of Vision

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The late night express bus finally hit Busan around 2am. Bleary eyed and disoriented, our confederacy of eager, young miscreants stumbled headlong off the shuttle and into the waiting city lights. We had only managed about 3 hours of fitful rest on the 4 hour bus ride, but the mortal dangers of sleep deprivation were miles from our minds.

Fueled by the same kind of anamalistic enthusiam reserved for children descending upon piles of unripped wrapping paper, we stormed into the city center, claiming our rightful place in the ticket line with a spirit of finality that fell just short of planting a star spangled flag into foreign soil.

We had brought the necessary supplies to last us through the night, but sleep was a solace for weaker mortals than we. Armed with a freshly foisted program guide, we set about the business of exploring the surrounding territory, and finalizing our early morning plan of attack. Battle plans fully-fledged and the lay of the land scouted and scoped, the last of us laid our heads down around 5am.

Urban Camping in Busan

Urban Camping

We woke early with a renewed sense of righteous self-assurance as we gazed down a winding line of wayward stragglers doomed to resign themselves to the celluloid scraps we left behind. Our diligence had proved fruitful, and soon we were each clutching a fistful of prime tickets.

After celebrating over sorely needed cups of coffee, we scattered to the coastal winds of Busan, and set upon the most glorious hodgepodge of language soup and cinematic nerdery that any of our fresh-faced, young wayfarers had yet experienced.

It being a truly international festival, watching the deeply frazzled organizers deal with the impossibly manifold language barriers was perhaps the most interesting part of the whole affair. There were films in Polish, French, Spanish, Italian, Farsi, English and Korean; and those are just the ones that we managed to see. Q&A’s with directors involved a whole squadron of translators, and always seemed to teeter just on the edge of being a magnificent tower-of-babelesque train wreck before being gently pulled back from the edge at the last possible moment.

The city’s streets were littered with uniformed assistants poised to spring eagerly to the rescue of any poor soul they caught looking more wild-eyed and bewildered than common decency allowed. Maps were everywhere, parts of the city had gone so far as to roll out literal red carpets for the teeming masses of film geeks and foreigners.

A Red Carpet Affair

A Red Carpet Affair

It was an absolute and beautiful chaos, and it was from this frenzied vantage point that, if you stepped outside of yourself for just a moment, you could see the common thread that tied the whole scattered mess together. Amidst the the frantic rush of attendees running like madmen to make their next film time, the obviously-exhausted-but-still-somehow-smiling volunteers, and the guady splendor that bedecked the city as if it were preparing for a belated Roman triumph, there was an underlying simplicity, a common denominator that underlined the disheveled affair with a perfect and unified sense.

In a world where we have created endless taxonomies with which to divide ourselves, a messy clash of cultures had assembled together for the love of a common medium. We were here because we loved movies.

Through the power of projected light patterns, we allowed ourselves to be opened up to unfamiliar cultures, experiences, and characters. Complex issues that would have drawn anything from criticism to gunfire in many other settings were discussed openly and sincerely through film.

Over an incredibly long/short day and a half, we found ourselves feeling the heavy depression of Italian prisoners, the feral strength of a neglected young girl, the soul-crushing sadness of a man imprisoned for his words, and host of other frames through which we empathized with experiences that were far removed from our own. It was an exalting and enlightening ride that left us feeling… tired.

Several hours and several films later, our bedraggled crew finally withdrew from the fray. We walked, dazed but happy, through the streets of Busan one last time before separating to catch our respective bus rides back. Our time had been brief but well spent, because, soap boxes and hyperbole aside, there’s nothing better than time spent doing something you love with people who will love it right along with you.

The RKD Experience and the Awkward Benevolence of Strangers

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Upon occasion, I find myself the unwitting beneficiary of strangers bearing strange gifts. There’s no discernible pattern as to where or when these moments will come, but the primary instigators (at least in my brief experience) seem to be older Korean men.

I’m not sure whether a propensity for drive-by benevolence is typical in Korean culture, or if this kindness is based more on my foreign apprearance and generally lost-looking demeanor. I do know that it’s at least common enough that my co-teachers have developed an acronym’d verb for the experience. RKD (Random Korean Dude), e.g. “Dude, we totally got RKD’d out in Gangnam last night.”

On one notable occasion, I was eating with a few friends in the park near my apartment. Having just finished off a great deal of pizza, I was laying face up on a park bench, passively enjoying the conversation around me. Suddenly, in a voice generally reserved for uncouth men in soiled trench coats offering discount watches on the street, I hear, “Handsome man!” Surprised at the use of English, but not wanting be presumptious, I chose not to respond. I heard it again, though, this time more insistently, “Handsome man!” When I sat up and turned to see the source, an elderly fellow clapped his hands, and smiled gleefully at me.

Chuckling at his apparent triumph, he walked over from his bench brandishing a bottle of Korean rice wine, called makkgeolli. He poured some into a small paper cup, and shoved it reverently into my hand, at which point he produced a packet of fruit gummies which he enthusiastically poured into my other hand.

A close approximation of my experience.

A close approximation of my experience. Photo Credit: Marginal Way

This was the point where I steeled myself for what was I sure would come. My training with strangers in America had taught me that, beyond any reasonable doubt, this guy wanted something. Money, a favor, or at least a long conversation that I wasn’t eager to have. To put a fine point on it, if a stranger is being nice to me, it can only be for ulterior motives. I readily assumed the worst, and braced myself for it.

But, as he sat next to me silently filling his own cup, it became clear that this wasn’t a gift given with intrinsic expectations. It was just that, a gift. An invitation to share an experience. He didn’t ask me for anything. He didn’t even seem that set on talking. He just pulled his lips back into a wild and snaggle-toothed smile, and his raised his drink as if to say, “Geonbae,” (cheers).

I was fully aware at this point that by taking alcohol and candy from a strange old man in a park, I had broken every law of stranger-danger safety, but his visible excitement and our complete lack of communicative ability left me with no polite way to refuse. Plus, I was in a busy park during daytime hours, surrounded by friends. If this guy planned on being shady, he would have almost certainly picked a different setting in which to do so. So I smiled back at him, raised my crumpled dixie cup, and drank.

We briefly exchanged a few obligatory attempts at polite conversation, which quickly proved more than futile as it became apparent that his grasp on the English language was mostly limited to the phrase, ‘handsome man’, and my Korean was even more useless. But the evening was pleasant, the park was coming alive, and my new friend seemed perfectly content to sit peacefully as we shared our bizarre communion.

And if I’m honest, I was too.

Snap Shots and Holy Moments

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Sometimes, the rapidly expanding eternity that we inhabit chooses to distill all of its beauty in one place, on one person who is almost certainly undeserving of the universal benevolence that they find themselves the bewilderdly willing victim of.

I have, without question, been on the receiving end of this fortunate astral alignment more times than should reasonably be alotted for one man’s life. I frequently find myself caught up in moments where I am forcibly pulled away from the ego of my own thoughts to observe the simple holiness inherent in a room full of beloved friends, of the perfect song playing not a second too soon, of walking alone through streets crowded with beautiful people and unapologetic life, of the combinations of words that unexpectedly come to you, letting you know that you will always love and be loved.

These are the moments that I’ve come to live for, and they drive most of my pursuits, goals and daily decision making. They’re never what you expect, and they’re never where you expect them to be. But they thrive abundantly in the corner recesses of this, and every other great city or small town I’ve ever lived in.

These are the Holy Moments that I’ve so desperately wanted to share on this blog. The trouble is, that they’re just that; moments, snapshots, or images. Not so much stories that you could share with a sense of narrative, but simply a passing combination of light reflections and audible vibrations that raise the heart rate, and stir the soul. How can you possibly explain an experience that is entirely contained within the moment that carries it?

That being said, these sacred sound clips and still frames have been at the very core of what makes this place so very worthwhile. I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t try to relay to you at least what I am capable of communicating with words alone. Below are two such experiences. I may try to share more, eventually, if I end up feeling like I’ve managed to do these any justice at all. You’ll, please, pardon me as I spend the next few paragraphs grasping for superlatives:

#1 Summer in the City

Korean summers possess a special kind of heat. When combined with the inherent humidity associated with a monsoon season, it produces an effect not terribly dissimilar to walking through a large bowl of hot pea soup. But, in the evenings, the weather begins to cool, and people emerge from their shelters. Some nights after school, I visit the park near my apartment. From the vantage point of a strategically selected bench, I bear witness as badminton courts fill up with parents demonstrating the finer points of a backhand to their eager and captive audience, exercise machines become prime real estate for older Korean woman looking to stay in shape and swap stories amongst themselves, and young friends and couples take to the circuit of paths that course and wind through the middle of the park which seems to have suddenly breathed its way into a life of its very own.

Daecheong Park

Daecheong Park

Daecheong Park

Daecheong Park

#2 Cornerside Karaoke

Every morning, as I walk to school, I pass a corner shop. I think they do dry cleaning there, but I’ve never been able to tell with any certainty. The proprieter is a rather serious looking, middle-aged man with a proclivity for wearing brightly-colored windbreakers. He always props the doors to his shop wide open to both sides of the street. Whether this is to let the air in or sound out, I can’t be certain, but what I do know is that almost every day, around noon, he stops whatever work he was doing so that he can practice playing saxophone or, if he has the company of a friend, to perform earnestly rendered karaoke duets. The sound bleeds into the street with an unfettered enthusiasm, accompanied only by the MIDI stylings of an old Casio keyboard. Sometimes badly, sometimes well, always unabashedly, and always beautifully.

Corner Side Karaoke Store

Corner Side Karaoke Store

The Great and Noble Truths of Humma the Sven

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I have recently fallen into possession of a crumpled piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper, upon which is haphazardly scrawled what could very well be the foundation of all great literature in the near and distant future. The author is an unknown poet of Korean descent who, in all likelihood, is well under the age of 12. A free verse masterpiece, the poem reads with all the practiced surrealism of André Breton, and rhythmic sensitivity of the great Allen Ginsberg.

This priceless artifact came into my possession through a divinely wrought union of blind luck and providence. The artist abandoned their work in a small classroom in the Gangnam district of Seoul, where it was recovered by noted scholar and woman of letters, Lindsay McComb. Shortly thereafter, finding the piece briefly unguarded, I was able to purloin it for the purposes of transcribing and presenting it via this internet blog.

I have attempted, in this edition, to adhere very closely to the artist’s original intent. There were no adjustments for either spelling or punctuation. The only alterations made were the inclusion of stanzas, as well as some rudimentary translation work.

Without further delay, I present for your approval and eventual adoration, a work I have come to refer to simply as Humma the Sven.

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He’s the last of the novel penguin lace.
Hwo’s world coolest labbit case-ya.
power to fly is saving quest.

humma the sven!

huva hoomawmaw from his pretty lips his styly sweets and tipple flips.
I allone escape the pocalites.

humma the sven!

He jurned for of out of rest.
oow! hellow there?

Those fighting titans were a hec of a case.
But even they even take him down,
because not coud mat the gots and gritt of sven~

sven-,
gots and gritt! gots and gritt!
He mat the alian that rules the seas.
They took a look and in a tell to the knees!
They restord him yea! They adbond him yea! They adbout hi~m!
then dlestany show it…

ooo.. I’m sory I’m sory
It’s ocie docie. don’t keep it inside.

sing it up! si~~ng destany showed its kindest face.
when I was lost in the darkest place,
before I do my final breaths…
He deleverd me. from the fake black death!!!

bake and faff all plesures dove,
But I don’t want to end it.
And they cover me to protective robes.
And I stood before him resplending~

sven! sven! sven! sven! sven! sven! sven! sven!
sven! sve
hu! hu! hu! hu! Erick! hu! hu! hu! hu! hu!
띠리리리 띠리리리리~. 띠~ 띠리리, 띠리리, 띠리리~ owa~w*

I was lerning the alian speack
What smells goffy dar goody?
Sven had a high truth too sneak.
ooooooo~

Hwo knows what is talk in mystri light?~
Ooh – !
띠리리 띠리리 띠리리 띠리리 띠~~~ 쩝쩝쩝띠 ~ 띡띡띡*
Ooh ~

Sven say!
A – I’ve seen our future Yeah?
Yeah it’s calling to me
E – it saids sven sven go that way! speedly! I’m with you!

Humma the sven.
oh my…
He flyed!

Humma the sven
He show it hear to the long-long-shore.
To shine his gives on us all~

What?
em-ehm
hu? what is it? It’s incredibal!
really you never seen this?
Yeah!!
This is green!
Green!!

Brothers and sisters!
look all the powers of sven!
get it out! getit out! getit out! get it out!

On that day I cucuval
I sven only promises to use my power on the goody!
Goody! Goody!
And I adecate to create knew adly land!!!~

*Editor’s Note – 띠리리 = TteeReeRee, 쩝 = Jjeob, 띡 = Tteeg

Humma the Sven (front)

Humma the Sven (front) – Courtesy: SLP Archival Library

Humma the Sven (back) - Courtesy: SLP Archival Library

Humma the Sven (back) – Courtesy: SLP Archival Library

Normalcy Creep and the Insidious Nature of Indolence

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A confession to my friends: Words have been difficult to come by in the last few weeks. I’ve allowed myself to fall into a sort of creative malaise that has proven difficult to pull away from. This absence of mental proactivity has made itself apparent in my lack dedication to this blog, as well as to all my other word-based endeavors.

But today is a quiet, rainy afternoon. It is also Korean Independence Day, which constitutes a respite from my usual role as a shaper of young minds. As such, I’ve spent my morning watching good films, writing to old friends, and punctuating both of these with the occasional, poorly-rendered cover of somebody else’s song making its way through the guitar that accompanied me to my new city.

Somehow the alchemy of these combined occurrences have left me feeling, once again, capable of stringing together a coherent sentence. Thusly, I shall present you with the slightly more grown up rendition of the classic 4th-grade writing assignment, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”

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One of my first disappointments upon arriving to Korea was the revelation that I would not be able to choose the timing of my vacation, and that my first holiday would be in just over a month’s time. Initially one might not think this to be bad news at all. After all, I took off work a month before leaving America, and in almost no time I would be enjoying yet another week filled with wild explorations of distant lands.

But I was disappointed, nonetheless. First, and foremost, because I felt that this didn’t give me nearly enough time to do the planning, saving, and research necessary to put together an acceptable expedition. But, secondly, because it didn’t give me much time to vet my newfound acquaintances in search of a good and worthy traveling companion. Anyone who has spent more than an hour with someone, outside of the comforts of familiar streets and a certain destination, will know that choosing the appropriate partner can prove either the saving grace of an otherwise worthless venture, or the dissonant note that makes the whole symphony sound flat.

As such, I elected to merely stay home for the week. I found myself alternately experiencing feelings of passable contentment and unreasonable mopiness at my situation. I came here with expectations of vacationing to once-distant, now-nearby lands, and armed with a list of potential destinations that was much longer than the weeks allotted for me to visit them. Now I was doomed to watch one of those precious weeks waste away whilst I was stuck in boring, old Seoul.

This was exactly where I caught myself realizing how ridiculous my morose sense of self-pity was. In almost no time at all, I had ceased to view my surroundings with the wonder-struck eyes that had been with me when I stepped off the plane and onto Korean soil for the first time. I had resigned myself, my life, and my home to become (Dare I say it?) normal. Suddenly, I found myself believing that a week of free time in one of the biggest cities in the world was a dreadfully disappointing, even boring, prospect. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I was/am determined to put a stop to it.

And so, with the help of a few trusted travelers who, like me, had opted for a quiet respite in the homeland, I set forth to have the best of all possible Korean staycations (I’m really not sure how I feel about that word). I have taken the liberty of assembling a list that covers the highlights of my week away from work.

I submit for your approval:

  • Made my way up one of the highest peaks in South Korea.
  • Visited the oldest Zen Buddhist temple in the world.
  • Saw a 43(ish)-foot-tall Buddha.
  • Ate a sausage encased in a squid (called sundae, and it was delicious).
  • Devoured a plate full of raw squid that moved when I dipped it in soy sauce.
  • Consumed the spiciest food I’ve ever had in my life.
  • Explored and photographed an abandoned Alice in Wonderland theme park.
  • Slept in the houses of two different old Korean ladies (ajummas).
  • Acquired a phone.
  • Ate some delicious sushi.
  • Visited a cat cafe.
  • Watched the new Batman movie.
  • Subjected myself to entirely too much TV.
  • Decided for the first time in my life that the weather was ‘too hot’.
  • Went to the beach.
  • Watched dozens of families shoot roman candles out over the ocean. (pretty)
  • Did a lot of walking.
  • Learned a new song on my guitar.
  • Watched people play volleyball with their feet better than I can play with my hands.
  • Learned some new Korean words.
  • Bought a new pair of shoes.
  • Saw some live music.
  • Went to the top of Korea’s equivalent of the Space Needle.
  • Found a place that makes hamburgers and ate one.
  • Watched dozens of Korean couples hang love-note-laden locks on a fence and throw away the keys.
  • Remembered that I had once planned on doing that.
  • Realized that the memory no longer made me sad.
  • Rode two different cable cars.
  • Had a couple of lazy days.
  • Made friends with the waitress at my favorite restaurant.
  • Wrote a multitude of messages and emails to my friends.
  • Shopped for a ukulele.
  • Found out that ukuleles are more expensive here.
  • Played music with a friend.
  • Had several long and insightful conversations.

Needless to say, I manage to find ways to spend my time other than languishing at home in front my TV. If you’re amongst my Facebook friends (And let’s be honest; No one else really reads this blog), then you can find pictures of all these events scattered throughout my various and sundry albums. In the meantime, I’ll include a few decent ones below for the purposes of your immediate gratification.

I shall leave you with all apologies for my neglectful communication, and the promise that I shall endeavor to not let so much time pass between now and my next update. Until then, here’s to rainy days and to shaking off the shackles of indolence.

Buddha at Seoraksan Mountain

Buddha at Seoraksan Mountain

The Valley Below Seoraksan

The Valley Below Seoraksan

 

Aliceland in Seoul, South Korea

Aliceland in Seoul, South Korea

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