Monday, December 29, 2008

christmas eve 2008 - empty train stations, unfamiliar streets, midnight bath house oasis

well it is officially Christmas day. 12:39am. I can’t say ive ever spent christmas quite like this before. but it isn’t without its own unique charm.

I missed the last train to incheon, where I was planning on spending the night (in the airport) waiting for hiuyan’s plane to arrive. as her plane will be arriving at 5 in the morning, I was left with few choices: it was either go to the airport the night before, or not meet her at the airport at all. my students made it clear that this was unacceptable and that it was my duty to see her arrive at the airport, no matter the cost, and eventually their reasoning had enough effect on me to make me acquiesce.

unfortunately, friendly christmas spirit ended up being my undoing. there were next to no students present for the last 10pm class on christmas eve, so all the teachers combined classes and I led a game of christmas charades. the game had the added effect of making all of us teachers real chummy, and as we closed up the school, the suggestion of a round of beers was non-refusable. I knew I didn’t have much time before the trains closed for the night, but that couldn’t dissuade me from making a ‘quick stop’. I shouldn’t have played that last song on jason’s guitar. I knew I was running short on time. when I finally did leave, it was nearly eleven and my bulging bladder seemed to bounce threateningly as I power-walked to the station.

I would have to change trains at guro station in order to get to incheon. I was anxious the whole way, the incessant urge to pee not helping to calm me down. I got to guro at about ten to twelve and as I got off the train, my heart swelled with hope (although not as much as my bladder) because there were loads of people waiting on the platform for the train to incheon. soon after I got into the queue, however, an announcement came on the loudspeaker informing everyone that there were no more trains for the night. people looked around at each other with confused and worried looks, and eventually everyone made their way up the stairs. i was at a loss. I asked several passerbyers if I had heard the announcement correctly. I had. eventually I took my consolation prize and relieved myself in the station restroom and exited to the street.

as the crowds dispersed, attacking taxi drivers split the streams of people like rocks in a flowing river, shouting out offers of rides to incheon. I ignored them, knowing the price would astronomical. just out of curiosity, however, I asked one guy who was pestering me, no doubt thinking me a potential sucker, what the price would be. he said $80. I said, how about thirty. he said, it’s christmas so how about fifty. I said no and kept walking. I wasn’t sure where I was going. I just heading kept down the same street, following a medium-sized crowd of people who had also just left guro station, and eventually we came to a dimly-lit bus stop. I tried to scan the posted schedules for any buses that might be going somewhere helpful to me; nothing. I was thinking about the possibility of sleeping in a PC-방 (computer ‘bang’ – room; you pay by the hour to use a computer), and when I called my buddy wonchul, he suggested this course of action. thinking that this would be an undesirable yet doable fallback way to spend christmas eve (although not any worse than sleeping at the airport, I suppose), I decided to walk around a bit more to see what I could see. if possible, I was considering staying up all night in a coffee shop or a bar (I did bring along my computer after all) since by now I had to wait only 4 hours or so until the station opened again.

the streets were pretty empty at 12:30. most businesses were closed; only a few places showed any lights glowing like islands among the silent skyscrapers towering in darkness. after wandering around for a while, I decided to pop in at solitary coffee shop that was still open for business. I ordered an americano and flipped on my computer to begin writing this entry. I made it as far as about a paragraph ago (now im finishing the rest at home) when the manager of the place came up to me to tell me the shop was closing. he looked apologetic. I hastily packed up my things, noticing that all the other patrons had indeed left already. it was starting to feel more like a lonely night as I pushed through the door out onto the cold, empty streets.

I walked on a little more, keeping my eyes peeled. I didn’t want to stay in a pc bang if I could help it. I passed a cheesy-looking bar whose only positive attribute was a sign saying it was open until 4am on christmas eve. I kept it in the back of my mind as I walked, looking for another potential refuge from the cold.

after a while I noticed a colorful glow in the sidewalk and looked up. there the bright green letters of a 24-hour 찜질방 (‘jjimjil-bang’ – bath/sauna house) shone down on me. as soon as I saw it, I knew that would be the perfect place to camp out until morning, and I wondered why I hadn’t thought to look for one earlier. it’s sort of hard to imagine such a large public bath on the 8th floor of a building, but once you get inside, it’s like an isolated world. trying to act as casual as everyone else (i.e. not like a foreigner) I put my clothes in a locker, washed myself at the deserted bathing stations, and soaked in the baths for an hour. going back and forth between hot and cold water really put the life back into me, while also refreshing me from the cold, windy outside and soothing my aching body. at around 2:30 I meandered down to the common area and scoped out a likely spot to close my eyes for a couple hours. I hadn’t expected the place to be so packed and noisy (although maybe I should have) on christmas eve (the bath had been virtually deserted, after all). it took me a few failed attempts choosing a place and laying down to finally be able to doze for a little bit. there were tons of young people in gender-segregated groups likely of single people, as christmas is a ‘couples’ day’ in korea. I drifted in and out of sleep in a creative position on a tiny sofa until I got up, groggy, at 4:30 and tiptoed through the maze of people sleeping everywhere to get back to my locker and head back onto the cold streets. when the ‘morning’ air hit me, it was more than a little hard not to go back inside to the cozy, moist bath house.

I made my way through the dark back to guro station and found I was early. a bit too early, in fact. on christmas day, the trains don’t start until about 5:30, so I had quite a bit of time to wait. with only a handful of people scattered across the whole station’s expanse, the numerous platforms looked like odd little islands in a sea of train tracks. it was cold, and with my body facing the direction of least exposure to the wind, I kept looking down the silent, dark tracks for the coming train to incheon. I listened to music (the first song randomly came up as a 15-minute long ambient trip and I just floated away) and waited as the platforms slowly began to attract more christmas-morning commuters. at 5:30 the train eventually came and I made my way to the incheon airport where my girl had likely already arrived and was waiting for me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

elusive sleep-balance & ajumma psychoanalysis

it seems like ill never figure out a balanced daily schedule while im working at this academy... for the first 1 1/2 months in korea, i felt pretty much exhausted all the time, and i couldnt break the habit of taking a nap every afternoon in between my morning and evening classes. once i finally did stop taking naps, it was only due to the combined assistance of a daily coffee (which i rarely drink normally) and exercise and a shower in the afternoon. okay, that worked for a while, but i cant live like a robot doing the exact same thing everyday - i need variety and spontaneity. and yet, as soon as i change things up a little, my precarious grip on controlling sleep and energy unravels.

im not normally this out-of-control. this unbalanced lifestyle is entirely the fault of my unbalanced work schedule which has me teaching at 7:30am and finishing at 10pm. okay, i dont work all day by any means. actually, i only teach a total of 6 hours a day. my morning classes finish at noon and evening classes begin again at 7. i have to admit that sometimes this schedule is nice - i have more motivation to do something more productive during those seven hours of break than i would have if my free time followed a full day of work. and the evenings aren't ever lonely since im teaching. but you can imagine how difficult it would be to split your work up like that. the worst part is definitely finding a stable sleeping schedule, but it also really sucks to have that 'oh shit i have to work in one hour'-feeling TWICE a day.

well yesterday i fell asleep at my computer in the afternoon and snored 3 of my afternoon hours away. i woke up like a zombie 1 hour before class, and believe me, i was NOT AT ALL pleased with the situation. screaming out R Kelly's 'i believe i can fly' in the shower helped my mood a bit, but i still had to exercise control on my grumpiness. luckily my evening students are super.

yesterday i also tried an interesting activity with some of my students. at 10am i have a 'free talking' class which i always refer to as my 'ajumma class' since nearly all of them are 30-something to middle-aged house-wives. it's a pretty fun class. on tuesday we talked all about tattoos and body piercings which many of them referred to as 'injuring the body' and a sin. you could say that they have some conservative leanings, but ive also been surprised with some of the stories they've shared from their 'younger days'.

well, yesterday i decided to give them a psychological test.
i asked them to draw a person, and, refusing to give any other instruction, set them to work (i borrowed this from the 'house-tree-person test' which is used to assess children's personalities for presence of abuse or derangement). i'll explain the interpretation through some examples from my class, with, of course, whatever explanations on korean society i can think of.
i also want to make it clear that these interpretations are merely the untrained guesses of a non-korean and so they could completely off.

these two drawings were made by 50-ish student named soon.
the students are supposed to draw one person and then draw another person of the opposite gender. the first picture is typically of the same gender as the artist and reflects a more direct personal perspective on personality. the opposite gender represents also parts of the artist's personality, but aspects that are not directly acknowledged. soon drew a woman sitting down first, then a man standing.
the legs and feet represent the security, strength, and power of the artist, like the trunk and roots of trees, so really weak legs and small feet suggest insecurity (and so do really large feet).
we use our arms to engage the world and our hands to affect it. arms reaching out from the body suggest a willingness to interact with the world and open hands, confidence with such actions. closed arms and hidden or gloved hands could mean defensiveness, a lack of confidence, insecurity. so soon's woman sitting down in profile with one arm outstretched and one held in close gives a sort of mixed message. especially when compared to the man standing with more open arms and facing forward. it seems like soon sees herself as being more reserved with repressed feelings of wanting to engage the world more.
facial expressions suggest what they do on a real person's face. these drawings, and those of most of the other students, feature well-dressed and proper-looking men and women.
the next two drawings were done by a student whose english name is laura.
interestingly, the woman and the man both look nearly identical. i told laura that this might mean that she has fewer repressed feelings. this certainly would fit her personality in class - she often very openly describes her emotions, fears, even insecurities with us. for some people, listening to her talk about how she 'feels depressed today because she doesn't know how to be a mother to her boys who have different perspectives from her - whether she should badger them to study (as most parents are compelled to do in korea) or let them have some fun even though there is a constant stream of test and examinations (more on korean education system later)', they consider laura a confused and worrisome woman. i think this is a healthy way of facing the insecurities that trouble many housewives and it gives laura a unique strength. both of her drawings feature people with their arms open and fingered (a trait absent in all other students' drawings). they are also simple looking and well-dressed with pleasant expressions.
the next student's name is suhee.
despite being in her late twenties, her drawing style is like that of a adolescent girl. i have found this to be typical of most teenage - unmarried-20 year-olds. as details in these drawings are sparse, there's not much to interpret. the neck connects the body (needs and drives) with the head (thoughts - cognitive). no neck would mean no separation, and a really long neck might mean desire for disconnection. everyone drew pretty average-looking necks, and i would say in my opinion, women in korea have more of a balance between those two processes than men.
this last student's english name is grace; she is also 50-ish and quite nervously talkative.
her drawings deviated a little from the norm in some quite interesting ways. first of all, her woman appears by traditional perspectives more masculine and the male more feminine. her woman holds her arms in close and somewhat protectively. the feet are cut off (this could suggest a lack of security or merely that the drawing's size was not correctly anticipated). the woman appears quite formal and reserved. the man, on the other hand, has long hair, casual clothing, and is holding a guitar. i told grace that this perhaps means that she has some latent desire to express more creativity, but it is hard to say why she chose this image.

there's a lot more that i could say about this class, but i'll save that for another day (mostly because im hungry and it's dinnertime). i do want to mention, however, the strong sense of camaraderie that has developed in this class between the students. they often hang around and talk or get lunch together afterwards. i have a fun time playing along with them and i have to say ive made a pretty cool connection with them. maybe it's because of their higher english level, or maybe it's their personalities, but i think i've been able to share more of myself with them than most other students. they're great!

9:30 am - morning break

these days im working a slightly different class schedule with a break after my morning class at 7:30. thus far, ive been squandering the time with one or more of the following activities: cooking and chowing some break, mindless entertainment, reading, even studying some biology from an evolution textbook i bought a couple weeks ago. well, i finally got the bright idea to jump on my blog for few minutes to use this time to write a little something. i hope it carries over to subsequent days.
yesterday was a good day. i stayed at home and was therefore able to receive several calls on skype from my sister, mom, ginny, and even LUCAS SOKOL-OXMAN who i havent seen in months resulting in serious withdrawl symptoms. i was also able to finally write a blog entry on my experience last week with eunsoo's accidental passing away, and i was very glad to do that.
all of these things took my entire afternoon, however, and only after i started cooking a big pot of mashed potatoes (my comfort food), i noticed it was almost time for evening class. the potatoes went on the back burner (pun INTENDED) and i jogged to school with a grumbly tummy.
fortunately (or not?) i managed to grab a quick burger at a nearby KFC in between class to hold me over. the spuds became my after-work treat and my this-morning-bellyache. ug!
well, gotta run to class now!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


last tuesday night i got a late phone call from my friend wonchul. it was about an hour or so after i finished my last evening class, and i was still awake reading some of brothers karamazov before going to bed. after my enthusiastic 'heeeeello!', it didnt take long for me to figure out something was wrong.
'there's some bad news,' he said. 'you remember eunsoo from hilo? he's passed away.'
like suddenly muting all the noise from the world, everything in my mind dropped. what could i say? i never in a million years expected anything like this to happen. 'what happened?' i breathed out the words, and even those barely managed to shake themselves loose of grip around my voice. my words sounded grating in my ears nonetheless.
'it was a car accident,' wonchul said. 'we dont know anything else.'
he told me that there had been a memorial service that day and that he had been trying to get a hold of me. i felt like an idiot for not receiving his call, even though there was nothing i could do about my phone dying earlier that afternoon. he explained that korean memorial services last for two days and that i could go the next day with a couple other friends of ours who had also been unable to go that day.

eunsoo was a friend of ours from hawaii. although i can not say that we were very close, eunsoo and i shared many good times in hilo together, playing baseball together, weekend barbecues, and many late-night go stop binges. we also met a couple of times in seoul two years ago when i visited korea for the first time. myself and other friends joked often about eunsoo's apparent lack of success with girlfriends and his constant stream of overly-melodramatic screen names on instant messenger such as 'what the hell am i doing with my life' and so on. these jokes were never an expression of looking down on the guy, meerly expressions of affection.
i asked wonchul how he felt. 'confused,' was all he said. after i hung up and sent a message to another friend telling her that id call her in the morning to figure out when we could meet to visit eunsoo's family, i laid back in my bed and tried to understand how i felt myself. confused was the only word that seemed to fit me as well. staring restlessly off into space, sleep eluded me.
during my morning classes i managed to get a phone call off to my friend hyunsook who i would be meeting to visit eunsoo's family. we would have to go to the hospital which was located in 의정부 ('uijeongbu'), a town more than 2 hours from suwon where i live. since we'd be meeting in the evening, i would have no chance of being able to teach my evening classes. i braced myself for confronting my boss with this situation, but i was resolved to go, and i wouldn't take no for an answer, no matter the cost. surprisingly, in a breach of character, my boss yielded without much resistance. even so it would be an exhausting day, and hiuyan was flying into incheon international airport that night to visit me for a few days, so the timing would be tight.
i headed out in mid-afternoon for uijeongbu and managed to rendezvous with hyunsook along the way without much difficulty. there wasn't much we could say to each other for a while, but the reassurance of someone else's company was enough. with marginal success we chit-chatted in the train, asking idly about recent dealings in our lives and eventually broaching the issue of eunsoo's death. neither of us, it turned out, knew much about what happened, being certain only of our own determination to make this journey to see eunsoo's family and perhaps find some answers to the questions and uncertainties bouncing around in our own troubled hearts.
when we got out of the station, it already felt like night, and the air was cold and unfamiliar. neither of us had ever been this far north out of the city. we grabbed a cab to the hospital and eventually found the place where funerals were being held.
the atmosphere was quite different from what i expected. what had at first appeared to be a waiting room or cafeteria to me quickly materialized into the funeral hall itself, as realization dawned on me. along one wall were enclosures separated from one another, each housing a personal shrine for someone recently deceased. each displayed a large framed picture of someone, most of whom were elderly people. there was also a incense rack. next to these shrines stood pairs or groups of people adorned in solemn clothes and expressions patiently waiting or greeting arriving visitors. along the other side of this long, hallway-like room were low tables spread with a rich, many-coursed meal in the korean tradition. at many of these tables sat numerous visitors or family members, and their hushed chit-chat and occasional laughter permeated the otherwise sound-barren air.
i cautiously glanced at the pictures on my left, searching for the one familiar face i knew i would find in that place, still wondering if perhaps i had gotten things wrong, misheard somehow or something. we walked to the far end of the room and removed our shoes before greeting eunsoo's parents. and there his picture was. although i was uncertain about my every action in the unfamiliar setting, i allowed my eyes to linger on his face. hyunsook left my side to light a stick of incense and upon her return, hyunsook and i sank into the customary 5-point bow and prostrated ourselves before the shrine. turning our attention back toward eunsoo's parents who were standing patiently aside, hyunsook introduced us and explained our acquaintance to eunsoo. i shook his fathers hand and smiled and his mother. we signed the guest book and left our envelopes of money, a custom also practiced at weddings such as the one i had attended weeks before.
hyunsook and i decided to stay and partake of the meal offered us. i was glad we did. i needed to experience the comfort of the social atmosphere that was also around us. i immediately noticed with appreciation and wonder the balance and harmony of the korean funeral ceremony. there was the solemnity of respect for the deceased and their family and friends and an unmistakable mourning in the attitudes of everyone present. but there was also this undeniable life taking place all around - the sounds of living people, eating and talking. i could not help but feel peace from this balance and hope for the life still present everywhere, for my own, for hyunsook's, and for all the people around me and in my life. later i talked about this with lucas, listening to some of the similarities to malian funerals, and we agreed that western funerals are generally pretty skewed emotionally and screwed up in comparison.
before we left, eunsoo's father stopped me. 'thank you for your coming,' he said, and i could see it in his eyes.
making our way back to the station, hyunsook and i talked about what we had experienced, both this evening and over the last couple of days. i still felt confused, but i was much more comfortable with that. i realized how much the funeral was for me and everyone, how important coming had been to me, how much i couldn't help thinking of myself, and how much i had needed to not feel shame for that, but to listen to myself and my feelings. i told hyunsook how thankful i was that she had come with me, that i couldnt have come by myself (logistically and emotionally), and how much experiencing this had meant to me. 'that's just what i wanted to say!' she told me, and i went home on subway satisfied and waiting to greet my girl...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

exercise culture in korea: ajummas on bicycles

well it's 10:15am in suwon, winter's first snow is falling outside the dirty windows of my hagwon, and no students have come for my 10 o'clock class, which means i'm home free for the next 45 minutes. i'll take this time to update you on part of my daily life.

this month i started a membership at a local gym, as i was in desperate need of some physical activity. this seemingly small addition to my daily schedule has contributed a lot to my mental health as well, and my general satisfaction. i usually head to 홍익스포츠프라자 ('hongik supochu puraja' - hong-ik sports plaza) right after my last morning class finishes at 12pm. the place is rife with strongly 'korean' elements.


attempting to create a membership at hong-ik on my first visit to the place was an interesting encounter. unfortunately the receptionist did not understand my korean 'telegraphic speech', and it took quite a while for her to figure out just what i wanted. if only she could have slowed her speech down just a little, i might have been able to catch her words, but she instead talked to me at the speed of a native korean speaker with only a doubtful look on her face as a consolation prize. we eventually settled on a sort of game of charades and i was practically doing imaginary bench press on the countertop between us before we finally agreed on a membership plan.


so i began heading to that place everyday. it's actually pretty large, offering swimming lessons, dance lessons, even 검도 ('geomdo' - modern fencing, the korean kendo) and squash quarts, all of which i have yet to take advantage of due to the limitations of my membership plan. one curious feature of my gym is the basement shower room. the women's locker/shower room is on the main floor, but to get to the men's, you have to go down a dimly-lit flight of stairs and pass through what appears to be a storage place for old furniture and is likely a supposed 'amenity' (nobody, however, is seen lounging on the torn, 'fleather' couches and partaking of this comfort). every time i enter the locker room, i take off my shoes (as is the custom in korea as well as japan), place them in the little rack, and give a greeting to the old man who is always sitting in the same spot, day in, day out, and who i suppose to be the 'shower room manager', despite the lack of instances in which i have witnessed him 'at his duties'. the locker room itself is very cramped and low-ceilinged, but it's lighting coupled with the steam from the showers give it a friendly, dull glow that is quite relaxing. i meander through and nimbly tiptoe over the men and children lounging about (all of whom are comfortably naked) to get to my assigned locker and change into my 'workout clothes' which could be better termed: 'the clothes i wore yesterday'. i have yet to use the showers because i keep forgetting to bring a towel (no towels are provided due to the mysterious disappearance that befalls many of them). even though it's unnecessary due to the fact that i live just a few minutes away and usually shower at home after the gym, i still want to try a shower down there sometime.

the weight room itself is an otherworldly place as well. upon entering, i am immediately accosted by blasts of korean pop music ('k-pop'). these songs really dont match a workout atmosphere, but they are impossible to drown out even with my own i-pod. also distracting are the exercise videos displayed simultaneously on countless tv-monitors and featuring some korean work-out superstar who is actually a skinny, 30-ish woman wearing make-up and mini-shorts too small to blow your nose on. the videos (which play constantly on repeat) probably attract more viewers through this 'dumbbell madonna' (whose exercise poses are more than a little questionably erotic, no help from the camera man) than through the quality of their actual workout techniques.


nobody seems to pay any attention to the videos anyway, as the majority of the patrons to the weight room at 12pm are 아줌마 (ajummas - literally means 'aunt' and refers to all middle-aged women) on bicycles or stairmasters. this leaves me with relatively free-reign of the weights (except for the occasional 'hee-men' - slightly disgustingly muscular, short men who comprise the only male patrons). i usually take a short jog on the treadmill to warm up and do a few rounds on the weight machines before heading home, spending no longer than an hour and a half total.


Monday, November 10, 2008

an open window

despite my desire and assurances to keep this blog updated, i continue to fall seriously behind... there are a lot of pictures still to upload, and quickly, before my memories of them fade. it was my hope to write about things as they happened, but that has certainly turned out futile so far. nevertheless, some recent events require that i present them out of their true order, and it will take a bit of explanation.

the last week and a half has been quite a roller coaster ride for me. everything began with an emotional explosion, and ive been picking up the shrapnel ever since. but the explosion also knocked loose a few things that had gotten buried under all the excitement of the last few weeks/months of my life. and a few new discoveries were unearthed in the process as well. you can probably guess that all of what i have been describing is in reference to relationship things, for that is what it is precisely.

it wouldnt be accurate to ascribe all of ginny's and my problems to long-distance, because this isn't our first encounter with that dilemma. but it is our second, and that, itself, carries definitionally with it an entirely different experience. the heart of the matter, however, lies more in the nature of our situations, the intrinsic discrepancy that exists in attempting to pursue our own dreams as well as share one together, the conflict that has arisen from my being in korea specifically, and in the nature of our emotional responses and the mistakes we have made in attempting to deal with them.

hiuyan's decision about whether or not to come to korea this winter has been like a pendulum swinging back and forth, and not without striking it's toll on me. her indecision lies in the fact that she has a hard time viewing korea in a positive light, a prejudice that has been more difficult for me to bear than i thought it would. there are many possible explanations for what has caused hiuyan to develop such an opinion, and likely they are all somewhat responsible for the result, but the fact that i am here now, and have experienced something with korea that she can only imagine through my retelling, is a likely major cause to her trepidation (perhaps not unwarranted, but misplaced, all the same). these negative inclinations have fed off of her insecurities, which in turn have become so fearsome, it has become difficult for us to have a conversation without them finding their way into the topic of discussion.

i, in turn, have usually been able to find a way to remain patient, to put my needs on hold, to reach as tirelessly as i can for my hopes of unconditional love. as i described to my brother and sister a couple weeks ago, however, this act of putting my feelings on hold has the side-effect of making me entirely unemotional, and i feared that my feelings of my relationship with hiuyan were turning from 'intimate' to 'caring' or 'understanding' - not unimportant aspects of romance, but i better realize now how intimacy requires some 'selfishness' to function two ways.

instead of recounting my experiences from memory, i think it would be more revealing to share with you my own words from the last week and a half. some things i have written to ginny personally, and some things i am sharing with her here and now for the first time. if you feel uncomfortable reading about some of our very personal and emotional experiences, feel free to skip ahead. both of us believe, however, in the importance of being open and transparent, not just to one or a few people, but to anyone who cares enough to look.

this is something i wrote for myself just after the conversation that detinated the emotional 'time bomb' that had been building up inside of me since i came to korea, or possibly longer:

"as the webcam video blinked and refocused, she told me about how some of her Japanese friends had invited her to spend the Christmas holiday in japan with their families. she said it was something she really wanted to do. she said if she went to korea to spend the Christmas with me, she thinks that she’d feel like she’d lost an important opportunity. her voice was drumming in my ears but I couldn’t feel anything. it was hard to hear her over the sound of the blood rushing through my ears. words utterly failed me. I had no encouragement to give her. I couldn’t even reach out and touch her anymore. it was as if in the last few seconds a chasm had grown between us. if I strained my eyes I might be able to see her, but right now I was looking at my own reflection in the puddle at my feet. to reach her, i’d have to step in that puddle. my skin was sticky and clammy; I felt like I was soiled in my own cheap stink. if I washed off that smell now, I might have enough strength to turn toward the other side of the canyon, but I’d never smell like anything again. never like flowers, or like fresh rain, or like new paper. I was sinking deeper and deeper into my cheap leather chair which stuck to my skin like glue. I wanted to give in to my disappointment and let my tears pour out, but I couldn’t. I wanted to find some way to tell her it’s alright and go ahead and go to japan if it’s important to you and I’ll be fine but I couldn’t. it was as if my heart had suddenly awoken and flown into the air and turned out to be not one, but two birds flapping their wings, straining in opposite directions. the albatross’ confident voice called to me, ‘it’s alright; you’re strong; our love can soar under any conditions, rain or storm.’ but it could not drown out the plea of the ‘amakihi, a honeycreeper fluttering with all its tiny might, ‘if we travel too far away from the sweet ohia flowers that bloom in our heart and flow with the nectar that is just right for us, we will perish over the ocean, or worse, forget the sweet sustaining flavor that fills us with life.’ the two birds were tethered to each other at the neck, a chord long enough to give the albatross a considerable distance from the ‘amakihi, but the line was stretched to the limit. if I cut the albatross loose, it would take the little honeycreeper with it. perhaps those two birds’ voices were like the voices of my brother and sister. I called the albatross back, sat down in my puddle, and turned toward the video of my girl. she was crying, and I had let the first tear spill out. ‘I need to be alone for a while.’ I felt the puddle soaking into my jeans. ‘please don’t call me for a while,’ I told her. we looked at each other for a while and eventually hung up. suddenly the emotion started flowing out of me. I leaned over, clutching myself. I felt small and sick, soiled in my own reflection. but I held onto those birds with all my might. ‘what am i?’ I thought to myself. ‘who the fuck am i?’ I couldn’t figure out which way to turn, which bird to cut loose. and I felt utterly fake and pathetic in my confusion. ‘you’re weak,’ a voice like the albatross’ told me. ‘you’re valuable and beautiful,’ said a dull, shallow whine like an imitation of the ‘amakihi’s. I went into the bathroom to urinate, but when I entered, my reflection stared back at me. it was distorted with sadness. I sank to my knees with shame and disgust at the ugly, alien countenance that shone back at me. but I had known what I would see in the mirror, and I shook my head wondering when would I understand my reflection? when would I recognize the face looking back at me? and why did I have to always look for that person alone?"

i stayed alone for a while. the week progressed and i taught my classes, but it was like i was in a different reality when i was with my students, as if my problems were put on hold just for those few hours. coming home, i would sink back into self-reflection, but not despair. i felt confused, but i also felt satisfaction that i had not sacrificed something precious within me. i concentrated on caring for myself, something i had been unthinkingly holding back for too long. i took walks and explored suwon more. last sunday i went walking to paldalsan, a nearby mountain. i was anxious to see the autumn colors, and i wasnt disappointed. paldalsan is in the heart of suwon; it exists on the edge of hwaseong fortress:

that evening i decided to write to hiuyan, even though i didnt know how. somehow writing felt like the only natural thing i could do:

Sunday, November 09, 2008
"i dont know how to start writing about what i want to say...
there have been things that ive wanted to tell you over the last couple of days, things i want you to know, things i want you to realize about me
i could not just tell you about them, because you need to figure out how to love me the way i need
i can't just write out a user-guide to myself
i felt hurt that you dont see what i need, frustrated at this irrational part of myself that wont just talk about everything directly, and so so confused
the only thing that has given me the air i need to breathe is the knowledge that i am at least listening to this part of myself, as emotionally reckless and irrational as it may be
so i haven't wanted to talk to you, even though i want you to understand me
and now ive become a little trapped in this isolation, i dont know how to talk to you
even these words seem awkward and inexpressive
but i owe you an attempt at the very least, to give you an idea where i am now

you say that we just dont realize the ways we are caring for each other or see how we are trying to show it
ive been told this by girls before
perhaps there is some truth to that, but i cant ignore this nagging feeling that those words are just a lame excuse for our fear of vulnerability from sharing ourselves more fully

there are many things that i feel like im missing these days, holes in our relationship, things i am now realizing i need that are not there
my values and ideals have guided me in the past, whispering in my ear that i dont need much to be in a relationship, that my strength comes from within, strength that gives me the capacity for patience, selflessness, unconditional love
i still believe this
but i know also that i need people to value me the way i love myself, to understand my love for myself, to inspire that love for myself to grow in new ways, to be a part of that love
this is what i need you to realize
you say you love me
i believe those words, but i need to feel them
i feel like you dont know me, as i know myself
maybe you're afraid to see my love for myself
maybe you dont know how to love yourself that way, and so you cant understand how i do
maybe you cant understand why i feel this way now
you must figure it out to find me
i am an open book, i think
so i wonder how you cant see me, respond to me
perhaps this is all a figment of my immagination
perhaps i am the one who cant see your love
that may be, i cant deny the possibility
all i know is what i feel now and what i must do in response to that

maybe my patience and commitment has given you the impression that i am a solid rock that you can smash yourself against to examine the pieces of yourself and find their meaning for you
in many ways, i am able to function in this way
this is a part of my character
but there is another part, a fragile part, a precious part, that must be cherished gently as an irreplacable treasure
it is vulnerable
not anyone deserves to love that part of me or deserves to care for that part of me

im sorry ive suddenly become this way
i know there was no warning, even i didnt really see it coming
but i should have guessed that it would
it had been building up slowly, i had been waiting for you to see me and fulfill me
i should not have hoped for that without telling you
i feel that i have been slowly losing a lover
and the confident, understanding, gentleness i so desperately long for
you aren't the only one who needs that
you aren't the only one who feels the need for reassurance
you've had little to say to reassure me, and much to discourage me, whether or not you realize it
im in a dark place now, but it is not forlorn because i know im here with me
the choices ive made to distance myself from you tell me that im unwilling to sacrifice myself, and that gives me a kind of hope, and growing confidence in myself, despite the weaknesses i know are also there

if you take this to mean i dont need you anymore, that would be very sad interpretation
i am unable now, however, to stretch myself any farther
if i did so, i would be sacrificing a part of myself, which i am not prepared to do
in many ways, writing all of this is very confusing, because i am trying to express, rationally, something inside of me that is quite irrational and difficult for even myself to understand
reading my own words, i almost seem to be hypocritical with my expression
i dont really expect you to understand that which i can not completely grasp
perhaps this is the more femenine side of my emotions - i think a lot of the ways that ive learned to express these emotions is through experiencing some of the ways women see and care for themselves
there i go again...a rational attempt to explain something so bewildering - it's a contradiction inside of me
that's why this part of me frustrates me so much
as im sure it does to you too

i cant say anymore for now
i dont even want to post this, it doesnt feel right, but i will anyway
i'll hope that you receive it the right way"

all the next week we didnt say much to each other; i couldnt come back yet. i played a lot of guitar music, downloaded the muppet show, black adder, star trek voyager, and started studying more korean and reading more dostoyevsky. but yesterday we finally began chatting over instant messaging. after i left to buy some dinner, ginny stayed on and wrote more, to which i responed this morning with my own monologue. i'll put it here:

[11/15/2008 7:56:17 PM] yanyan says: ciao~
[11/15/2008 8:04:10 PM] yanyan says: just remembered something
[11/15/2008 8:05:16 PM] yanyan says: i told you that i've been watching a taiwanese show, a singing contest show ya?
[11/15/2008 8:05:43 PM] yanyan says: in the one that i've been watching these few days
[11/15/2008 8:06:39 PM] yanyan says: the singers were all very very very good at singing
[11/15/2008 8:07:34 PM] yanyan says: but they all had the some kind of weakness
[11/15/2008 8:07:39 PM] yanyan says: that was
[11/15/2008 8:08:29 PM] yanyan says: because they're all very good - they had good techniques and stuff
[11/15/2008 8:08:36 PM] yanyan says: because of that
[11/15/2008 8:09:19 PM] yanyan says: they became very careful when they're singing
[11/15/2008 8:11:27 PM] yanyan says: and that kinda became a barrier for them to paint their feelings and thoughts when singing a song
[11/15/2008 8:12:33 PM] yanyan says: i've been feeling like that this 2~3 months
[11/15/2008 8:12:54 PM] yanyan says: on our relationship
[11/15/2008 8:14:33 PM] yanyan says: i've always felt that i'm person who has more feelings to "sing" instead of techniques
[11/15/2008 8:15:04 PM] yanyan says: but once i started to become too careful
[11/15/2008 8:16:26 PM] yanyan says: the only thing i have the most would be lost, or covered up
[11/15/2008 8:18:14 PM] yanyan says: i think, my love for people is more like a "disffusion" (spelling?)
[11/15/2008 8:18:38 PM] yanyan says: slowly, slowly, deeper, deeper
[11/15/2008 8:19:55 PM] yanyan says: not like fireworks, which goes like "bang!", then "wow!"
[11/15/2008 8:20:54 PM] yanyan says: oh, diffusion
[1:32:01 PM] yakul85 says: does being careful cause this diffusion
[1:32:49 PM] yakul85 says: maybe being careful is what takes love longer to manifest
[1:33:42 PM] yakul85 says: you described yourself as being passionate, singing from your heart
[1:34:07 PM] yakul85 says: your passions are not like fireworks
[1:34:45 PM] yakul85 says: it is hard for me to understand how both of these things could be true
[1:35:05 PM] yakul85 says: passion takes me by storm
[1:35:18 PM] yakul85 says: it caries me far far far away
[1:36:17 PM] yakul85 says: to someplace so beyond the realms of reality, within its beauty lurks a danger of being caught, trapped, lost in that place
[1:36:31 PM] yakul85 says: but i must let myself reach out an touch it
[1:36:50 PM] yakul85 says: i have never really given myself a chance to slowly develop skills and techniques
[1:37:04 PM] yakul85 says: i can only reach beyond them to where my passion lies
[1:37:47 PM] yakul85 says: this fills me with excitement, hope, love for myself
[1:38:07 PM] yakul85 says: and it also means that without my passion i can not accomplish as much
[1:38:20 PM] yakul85 says: so it is a limitation in as much as it is a gift
[1:38:45 PM] yakul85 says: because i am this way, it is hard for me to understand a slowly deepening passion
[1:38:57 PM] yakul85 says: to me this is virtually a contradiction in terms
[1:39:56 PM] yakul85 says: i think what is clear is that we have different feelings of passion and different ways of expressing them
[1:40:15 PM] yakul85 says: and we are still exploring and learning about these feelings within ourselves and what they are capable of
[1:40:42 PM] yakul85 says: it will take time for us to be ready to explore each other's sense of passion
[1:40:46 PM] yakul85 says: and of love
[1:41:35 PM] yakul85 says: being apart, being forced to rely on our own passions for strength more so than before, brings out these differences between us more visibly
[1:42:10 PM] yakul85 says: and makes it harder for us to attempt learning about each other
[1:42:59 PM] yakul85 says: i think what we may need is a chance to share in each other's personal expression more
[1:43:25 PM] yakul85 says: when we talk directly, we may find it harder to share those things
[1:43:46 PM] yakul85 says: i want to do a better job of keeping an online journal
[1:43:52 PM] yakul85 says: that will help me listen to myself
[1:43:57 PM] yakul85 says: and help you listen to me too
[1:44:47 PM] yakul85 says: and what i want to hear most these days, is not your words to me as much as your words to yourself
[1:45:13 PM] yakul85 says: you have much within you that i know is inspirational to me
[1:45:29 PM] yakul85 says: but you cant choose what i may need from you
[1:45:50 PM] yakul85 says: and all i want to give you is myself, anyway
[1:45:57 PM] yakul85 says: i will only be me
[1:46:04 PM] yakul85 says: i never want to be anyone else
[1:46:19 PM] yakul85 says: even if changing myself can make you happier, i'll never do it
[1:46:29 PM] yakul85 says: that much i know
[1:46:31 PM] yakul85 says: but
[1:46:56 PM] yakul85 says: i am willing to give you everything that is really me
[1:47:50 PM] yakul85 says: and too, i must accept who you are, despite my disappointment
[1:48:51 PM] yakul85 says: maybe you can not be my 'princess charming' who sweeps me off my feet
[1:49:52 PM] yakul85 says: but you can be 'hiuyan'
[1:51:04 PM] yakul85 says: that's who i want in my life
[1:51:31 PM] yakul85 says: and i just want to share my life with you
[1:51:42 PM] yakul85 says: and i must tell you
[1:51:59 PM] yakul85 says: how much it hurt me to see that you didnt want to share in my life now
[1:52:03 PM] yakul85 says: you didnt say this
[1:53:46 PM] yakul85 says: but it felt like that to me everytime your uncertainty about korea became more important than my experience of it
[1:53:57 PM] yakul85 says: what is a place anyway?
[1:54:29 PM] yakul85 says: it's what is drawn out of you in a place, what you experience and learn about yourself, that makes a place significant or special
[1:55:23 PM] yakul85 says: to me it doesnt matter how good or bad korea is socially, economically, educationally
[1:55:53 PM] yakul85 says: all i know is what ive learned about myself through my interaction with it and its people
[1:56:24 PM] yakul85 says: and i love this place because i love the parts of myself that are drawn from this place
[1:57:24 PM] yakul85 says: perhaps this causes me to overreact by feeling you dont like me when you dont like korea, because all i know about korea is through this experience of discovering some of myself through discovering korea
[1:57:56 PM] yakul85 says: i wont say, 'if you love me, love korea'
[1:58:39 PM] yakul85 says: but i do wish you would put your hope and trust in the words i have to share about korea
[1:58:53 PM] yakul85 says: instead of in your fears and uncertainties about it
[1:59:53 PM] yakul85 says: i do love this place
[1:59:57 PM] yakul85 says: the people are so human
[2:01:13 PM] yakul85 says: with their struggles against screwed up education, professional, political, even familial and religious systems, they shine as passionate, sincere people
[2:01:48 PM] yakul85 says: at first, i honestly felt like many korean people reminded me of high school, with their emotional and sometimes almost transparent responses to situations
[2:02:51 PM] yakul85 says: but despite all the shit everywhere, they have a really, really inspirational perspective on unconditional love
[2:03:26 PM] yakul85 says: i cant begin to express how much ive experienced this
[2:04:12 PM] yakul85 says: i have to admit, it comes most clearly to me through the young-adult generation
[2:05:07 PM] yakul85 says: and i think a lot of my experience of it has to do with the fact that i am an 'outsider'
[2:06:06 PM] yakul85 says: for one thing, ive found that having a language barrier can facilitate honesty and a more dedicated attempt at expressing sincerity
[2:09:01 PM] yakul85 says: and it just occured to me that the closeness i feel to korea probably has a lot to do with the stage of my life that i was in when i began experiencing korea
[2:10:22 PM] yakul85 says: in a lot of ways, i was coming back to reality from a period of remote isolation and self-exploration
[2:11:12 PM] yakul85 says: my reunification with the world happened in hawaii, and subsequently with koreans
[2:11:57 PM] yakul85 says: anyway, although i have found such a strong sense of belonging here, it is not complete if i dont feel a sense of belonging with you
[2:13:20 PM] yakul85 says: but i cannot coexist with your insecurities
[2:13:31 PM] yakul85 says: yes, this word 'insecurities' again
[2:13:42 PM] yakul85 says: it is one that you have begun to fear
[2:14:07 PM] yakul85 says: and that is where it eats away at you and at our relationship
[2:14:13 PM] yakul85 says: through fear
[2:16:29 PM] yakul85 says: honestly, i often wonder how such a fear can reside inside such a person as yourself, someone who is so straightforward, honest, hopeful, unpreoccupied with the eyes of others, and fearlessly explorative
[2:16:58 PM] yakul85 says: at times i nearly think of you as two different people
[2:17:09 PM] yakul85 says: when your fear comes out, it's not you
[2:18:52 PM] yakul85 says: when i say these words, i say them as much to myself and my own worries and doubts: you must not fear your insecurity
[2:19:38 PM] yakul85 says: acknowledge your weakness and live with it, talk to it, talk to yourself
[2:19:53 PM] yakul85 says: speak out loud (that's what i do)
[2:20:17 PM] yakul85 says: dont cringe, but fight back
[2:21:05 PM] yakul85 says: you must shout to yourself, 'NO!'
[2:21:37 PM] yakul85 says: i can love you even through your struggle, i know that
[2:21:45 PM] yakul85 says: This message has been removed
[2:22:27 PM] yakul85 says: but it is hard for me to feel loved
[2:22:37 PM] yakul85 says: that is my weakness, i know
[2:22:52 PM] yakul85 says: if i were perfect, i would endure as long as you needed
[2:22:59 PM] yakul85 says: and i am enduring now
[2:23:13 PM] yakul85 says: but things like what has happened to me will happen sometimes
[2:24:05 PM] yakul85 says: my sense of self-preservation will kick in
[2:24:58 PM] yakul85 says: and i will need to be alone for a while to give my emotions the attention they need
[2:25:11 PM] yakul85 says: i tried to avoid this
[2:25:19 PM] yakul85 says: i thought i could keep holding on, remaining patient
[2:25:58 PM] yakul85 says: but this ended up just making my retreat more dramatic, more painful for us both
[2:26:18 PM] yakul85 says: now i realize that i needed you to see this about me
[2:26:35 PM] yakul85 says: to understand my needs
[2:26:58 PM] yakul85 says: by trying not to be selfish, i was even more so
[2:29:10 PM] yakul85 says: i now have a clearer understanding of my own needs
[2:29:21 PM] yakul85 says: and of my value
[2:29:48 PM] yakul85 says: i can not sacrifice my own value for you
[2:29:53 PM] yakul85 says: that would not be love
[2:29:59 PM] yakul85 says: only servitude
[2:30:05 PM] yakul85 says: not intimacy
[2:30:59 PM] yakul85 says: i think i tried to sacrifice my own value because i wanted you to express yours
[2:31:37 PM] yakul85 says: i wanted you to be selfish, so to speak, to tell me what you want, what you need
[2:32:04 PM] yakul85 says: because i dont want a servant either; i want an equal
[2:32:49 PM] yakul85 says: i did exactly what i didnt want you to do, ignoring my own needs
[2:33:55 PM] yakul85 says: well, i will leave you now (meaning i will stop writing)
[2:34:11 PM] yakul85 says: to think for yourself about these things
[2:34:51 PM] yakul85 says: if it's alright with you, id like to post some of this 'conversation' on my blog
[2:35:09 PM] yakul85 says: i think it really reflects a lot of my values and self-awareness
[2:36:11 PM] yakul85 says: despite all the hardships, i am learning about myself through this, being with you, and that's a very important thing
[2:36:19 PM] yakul85 says: so just that fact gives me a lot of hope
[2:36:25 PM] yakul85 says: i miss you

so that's where i am now. i wanted to write about this, to help me look at things more objectively. this is sort of a first for me, writing so openly on a blog like this. but i want this to be more than a blog or a journal. i also want to make clear that everything ive written about hiuyan is from my own perspective which i certainly know by now to be considerably limited. please consider everything ive written as a window into my own life and thoughts. i cant presume to express hers.

if you've read all this, im impressed and pleased. i hope that your patience has been a benefit to you in some way. now i must go to see my friend's concert in seoul. remember hyunsook? i saw one of her company choir's performances already this fall. today is the grand finale. it is nice to be going out.

Monday, October 20, 2008

it's finally here! - the not-so-fresh, not-so-hot-off-the-press photos from my first month in korea!

the pictures you've been waiting for have arrived.
i now begin the laborious project of attempting to catalogue them all and write sufficient explanations for the events and moments they capture. this is going to take a long time. i know it. i should just stop complaining and do it. but im hungry and the water is boiling for my ramen... can't i do it later, after i eat? NO. now. get to it.


it took about four days for me to meet someone i knew after arriving in korea. those first few days felt long and kind of strange. i was in a place i knew and yet it seemed unfamiliar. i felt like i was coming home to korea, but it was as if i came home to an empty house. i didnt have much chance to inform my friends of my arrival due to how quickly i had to begin working once i arrived. i had no phone, so i used a payphone to call my friend 선영 (sunyoung), my korean sister. as soon as i saw her and heard her voice it was the atmosphere of korea completely changed, as i expected it would. i was back home. we met at 안양시장 ('anyang shijang' - anyang market), above.
me and sunyoung. she helped me by some 상추 ('sangchu' - lettuce), 김 ('kim' - dried, salted seaweed), and 김치 (kimchee - which ended up causing my fridge and thus apartment smell like kimchee for more than a month, until i finally threw away it away, a decision i later regretted after i learned from my students that kimchee lasts practically forever and that old kimchee is great for making 김치찌개 - 'kimchee jjigae' kimchee stew - one of my favorite home dishes)

that weekend i stayed with my good buddy and oldest korean friend (in terms of length of acquaintance, not age) 원츨 (wonchul - aka 'chris'). unfortunately i did not bring my camera to his home in anyang (foolish). nevertheless the weekend was a very welcome change of pace and escape from my less than desireable living conditions. wonchul's father works for the government as an executive in waste management. their family lives in a very beautiful part of anyang, next to a nice looking park with a gentle mountain overlooking the neighborhood in the near background. i promised myself that i would one day come back to visit one of the many nearby 찜질방 ('jjimjilbang' - public sauna/bath house). we grabbed some beers and fried chicken at a local joint, played go stop, and talked late. i remember noticing that wonchul's home seemed nearly exactly the same as other korean homes i had stayed in (i.e. same layout, arrangement, even furnishings, furniture, and appliances). so even though i had never had the chance to visit wonchul's home during my last stay in korea, it felt very familiar to me, not so much like an eerie deja vu, but just a comforting familiarity, much the same as wonchul and other koreans might feel about the reed roofs, lanais, and palm trees of hilo. after about a week and a half i was finally feeling more caught up in sleep and so i took some time to paint a little. i chose a familiar subject :) unfortunately, something was a little off in my sketching (possibly due to the wrinkled nature of the paper, post-unpacking) and my subjects nose turned out a centimeter or two longer than is commonly characteristic of humans. i cropped the picture to save you from nightmares. the following friday i was finally able to meet up with miri! we met at 한국외대 (hankuk university of foreign studies - a place from which many of my friends have come, but i never had a chance to visit last time i was in kroea). we were supposed to meet at the university entrance, and as i was waiting there looking for 미리 (miri), someone came up to me. i was even more startled when i realized it was miri! she had changed her hair and was wearing a different style of clothing than she normally did in hilo. i felt silly for not recognizing her right away and just a little disappointed that her style had changed a little, but then i should have expected as much. im sure i looked a little strange to her too with my military-length hair. anyway, as soon as we opened our mouths it was easy to recognize each other's old personalities. not much change there! it was just like old times. we grabbed some 회덮밥 ('hoedeopbap' - bibimbap with raw fish and lettuce) and took a look around the university. miri is living on campus now and she'll finish up school this winter. that means job-hunting-time and many stresses and sleepless nights for most koreans. i have learned that the process can be more than just challenging and stressful - for many it is isolating, exhausting, and even despairing. i have a lot of opinions and feelings about this aspect of korean culture (which i wont get into here, but, rest assured, will soon). for now, i'll just say that this is one area to which i feel especially called to share my perspective with koreans. i have really learned to trust things to work out in my life, despite failures, set backs, and the superficial judgement of people in decision-making positions. indeed, it is because of more than one supposed 'setback' that brought me to a place where i could learn about korea and later put me in a position to visit here two years ago. in short, i try to give as much support to my friends as i can - i know how much they need it. in that way, it is a real great thing to be here and give that personally again.

the next series of pictures are from my chuseok weekend; to hear a more detailed account of that, see previous posts. that very evening i was able to get out of my evening classes so that i could meet wonchul and his family who would be driving to 보성 ('boseong') to meet wonchul's grandparents and celebrate 추석 ('chuseok' - the korean mid-autumn festival). they happily agreed to allow me to come along and be a part of the family for the weekend. score! after 4 hours of driving, we stopped in 광주 ('kwangju') to spend the night. the following day we met wonchul's cousins, aunt, and ucle and went to the local market to pick up some fruit for the family gathering. as you can see, the market was like a warehouse full of people buying and selling local crops.onions
rural korea - soon i'd get my first up-close encounter
asleep in the car saturday morning. we have arrived in boseong. only a half hour left of driving to get to grandpa's village. 밤 ('bam') - chestnuts - we'd be picking a lot of these soon
wonchul's grandparents' home and where his father and uncles grew up. it lies on the slopes of what i called the 'park family mountain' where several previous generations had lived and many relations still lived. i later learned from wonchul that until recently there had been no toilet other than a hole in a shed and quite a few domesticated animals. red peppers (grown only a few meters away) drying in the sun. they will be used to make 고추장 ('gochujang' - korean red pepper paste, a staple ingredient to many dishes) among countless other culinary uses.
kimchee pots preserving homemade kimchee and other essential korean foods. traditionally these pots are buried underground and left sometimes for decades to achieve a truly remarkable (and a little sour) kimchee flavor.
wonchul's father (left) and uncle peeling for the imminent feast. wonchul's cousins (everyone is playing on their cellphones or one of the other mobile electronic devices that are so popular in korea) - they slept most of the weekend.
getting ready to eat my favorite korean food - 삼겹살 (''samgyeopsar' - pork belly meat). the meat is not cooked with any spices, simply grilled and wrapped in a leaf of lettuce or a sesame leaf with gochujang, marinated onions, garlic, and/or kimchee. alternatively, the meat is dipped in a dish of salt, pepper, and sesame oil (as in the picture). it is essential for this meal to be consumed with alcohol, preferably soju. and it's cheap. lovely.
the kitchen
on the way up the mountain in haraboji's tractor
i thought chris looked so silly in this hat haraboji - grandpa - at the chestnut orchard

it was a really beautiful afternoon - i cant imagine a lazier atmosphere
the waterfall where we washed our faces and took a nice long drink of fresh mountain water
the countryside around wonchul's grandparents' home
wonchul's distant cousins playing badminton (an extremely popular sport for all ages in korea)
after an afternoon siesta - it was hard work picking those chestnuts and digesting all that food.
haraboji found some old, forgotten bottles of soju which also preserved the remains of a snake haraboji had found, killed, stuffed in a bottle of soju, and burried over 10 years ago.
behind the house
persimmon tree
the side of the house - where apparently some relatives used to live and the site of the household toilet before a porceline one was installed me and 할머니 ('harmoni' - gramma)
me and 삼촌두명 ('samchon du-myeong' - two uncles)
me and 할아버지 ('haraboji' - grampa) and wonchul's parents
at the 녹차 ('nokcha' - greentea) farm

the smell was otherworldly, just as is your first taste of green tea
posing like haraboji
cute apples
much of the countryside right around here looked just like this. you could see green tea growing in rolls all over the slopes of hills and mountains, looking like fuzzy, green courodoy

we then drove to the southern coast and visited this beach house where wonchul's parents had once taken a vacation
with that ocean in the background, it almost looks just like old times in hilo...
no one was more surprised than i to discover this very life-like replica of my birth. also a pretty good resemblance of my brother on the left.
wonchul's father turns out to be a kindred spirit
a few days after returning to suwon, i took a train into seoul after finishing my morning classes and met my friend 민지 (minji). we walked around a cemetary park which housed the remains of countless soldiers who had died in the korean war (june 1950 - july 1953 - 1 million+ casualties). the park was unbelievably huge for being so near the center of seoul. it was a really beautiful day - one of my last summer days before the weather turned south.

meeting with minji is always a real delight for me. she's a quiet person, but deceivingly so - she does not conform to general korean expectations. she has a strong desire to make her life her own, instead of acquiescing to the trends of other young-adult koreans, and it's something which i feel uniquely honored to be able to lend an ear to, which i do from time to time. perhaps these choices don't seem extraordinary to most americans of the same age, but in korea, it is very difficult to make an unexpected decision, such as to move to america (a choice that is sometimes necessary for koreans in order to seek the opportunities they want). being able to listen to and share my support with friends who struggle with these choices and their seemingly socially-dissonant desires is one of the most important reasons for my choice to come to korea again. i have found that my voice and support can really mean a lot to some people, and this has led me to believe i have something valuable to give people here. and minji is special too cuz of how different we are. sometimes in hilo we had some pretty heated disagreements about religion, and even our personalities are pretty different, for that matter. maybe im imagining it, but i seem to remember some moment when we had been in complete disagreement about something and feeling like we dont understand each other at all and then thinking 'who cares?' we are friends anyway. so in a lot of ways, my friendship with minji really represents to me this kind of caring that doesnt require even understanding to function. i need friends like that too. and these days, anyway, we find ourselves agreeing a lot more. minji and i also studied japanese together in hilo. but she was 'tensai' - genious. my ability was nothing compared to hers. so in translation class, she helped me understand the japanese, and i helped her write the english correctly! :) hahaha

we saw some traffic-controllers taking a group picture and they asked me to take one for them. then i asked minji to take one of them and me. kkkk
all those little dots are graves. part of seoul in the background
that's minji
some old guy was being interviewed outside this building. we couldnt figure out who he was. or i just forgot.

inside the aforementioned building. dunno what those rooms on the side were for, but we went into that section straight ahead.
here housed the ashes of many other creamated people. a lot of these 'cabinets' were empty, as if the building had been very recently constructed.
these must have been for the general public, since the pictures showed lots of old guys.
looking down at the floor in the center of this building from above. a tradtional korean symbol. what is it called again?...
another view of seoul from the outside.

nice day for a picnic

that weekend i was abliged to visit my boss's church. he had asked me one time when i had no handy excuse. it's not that i didnt want to go to church in korea - i do often - but always with my friends; i dont usually go to church when im abroad unless im going to share something that is a part of my friends' lives (i.e. - not my boss's - he's not exactly very pleasant, but i dont really want to go into that here). anyway, i went, and it was fine. as it turned out, another new korean teacher was also abliged to go. the service was pretty characteristic of korean church. this church was the sister church of the world's largest which is located in seoul (in 여의도 - i actually went there 2 years ago). after church we bailed, crabbed some kimchee jiggye for lunch and afterwards i got my first look at 화성 ('hwaseong'), the famous rock wall that surrounds the historical city-limits of suwon (which has now greatly spread beyond its original borders). at one time, the emperor apparently wanted to relocate the capital city from seoul to suwon and so he built the impressive rock walls. later the transfer never happened. so the korean teacher and i (her english name is bekka - i dont know her korean one) decided to look around this part of suwon since it was a beautiful day and neither of us had seen it before (she is from 인천 - 'incheon', a coastal city west of seoul, home of a major fish market and the largest airport in korea). as we were looking around we noticed a reenactment of some kind. turned out to be a pretty big deal. below are some archers from ancient korea.
shooting at a wild boar
the emperor (possibly) or some other noble/prince
a procession
yeah archers! you rock!
화성 - the wall
children playing 'get the foreigner' - i was a little nervous seeing them run at me from a distance without slowing down
i got off this shot right before the fastest one tackeled me
yup. the wall is right in the middle of the city. pretty cool actually.
the next week i took a train into seoul for the afternoon and met my old friend 영민 (youngmin - we've been friends since my first year in hilo during which we played in the hilo orchestra and volunteered at the UHH women's center together; later i stayed in her home for almost a month while living in korea for the summer) in 용산 ('yongsan' - a part of seoul that has lots of foreigners due to a military base). we ate some vietnamese beef noodle soup. yummy!

we went to another korean war memorial park. this one had lots of war machinery and vehicles. i walked up to some kid and asked him 사진을찍어주세요 ('sajin-ul jjikeojuseyo' - please take a picture for me). i think he was extremely surprised. he suddenly stopped laughing with his buddy and very solemnly took the camera from me.
a group of kids seated under an immense bullet. this was apparently some secretly designated day for school field trips. many, many children everywhere.
the inside of a bomber plane
view of the park and some of the city beyond

that weekend was a meeting with chris (wonchul) and my friend daniel, who would soon be getting married. i was really excited about this meeting because there would be so many of my old friends there from my first year in hilo - many of my first korean friends. the evening was lots of fun. daniel was extravagent with his generosity and paid for everything (as is the custom in korea - oldest buys, usually, and especially on slightly formal occasions such as this one - daniel had us all get together to give us invitations to his wedding)
'mj', 'tall mikyoung', chris, and daniel (from left to right)
주현 (joo hyun - 'hong-joo'), 현숙 (hyunsook), 보경 (bokyoung - 'bobo'), 명주 (myoungjoo - 'mj'), 혜진 (hyejin - 'alison') (left to right)
left to right again - mj, tall mikyoung, chris, daniel, hong-joo, hyunsook, bobo, alison, me

i couldnt say enough. just kept talking the whole time. many different nostalgia floating in my head - many different times shared with everyone. and many times all together too. *sigh
better not get into now.. i wont be able to stop...

hyunsook invited me to her choir's concert the next weekend. she is working for samsung as a secratary to the president of everland, a samsung-run theme park in 용인 ('yongin' - a town outside of seoul and not far from suwon). i met her boyfriend at 경기도문화의전당 (gyeonggi-do arts center) and we saw the performance together. it was pretty interesting. all of the singing groups were different sections of the samsung company. most sang a mixture of ballads and famous musical songs, with a couple of classical pieces thrown in. although it wasnt the kind of music i would normally choose to sing in a choir, it was pretty fun, and it reminded me of singing in the hilo choir. it was pretty entertaining to see some of the 'dance moves' a couple choirs tried to tackle.
hyunsook with her choir, in the middle. after this photo, someone came up to me and told me cameras were not allowed. lame.

after the concert, the three of us went out to eat some 갈비 ('kalbi' - beef rib meat) - a famous food of suwon.

the following friday, i went out to visit a nearby mountain in suwon and eat lunch with my last morning class. we took a short hike (15 min) and then gave it up pretty quickly due to unanimous support for eating.
my class, minus DK (who was taking the picture): kelly, jane, alice, me, april
that weekend i went to visit hyunsook on sunday. i asked her if i could come to mass with her since i had been to their church before when i was in korea two years ago and had stayed at their house in 방배 (bangbae - part of seoul). during that time i had been hanging out with hyunsook's brother a lot (who happens to be born on the same DAY as me); he's now serving his required 2 years of military duty. this has been the only catholic church that i've visited in korea, but it was amazing how similar mass was to the mass im used to in america (mostly at valley, my HS). just a different language. i especially love singing the old-style humns in korean :)
after mass we hung out at home for a little while, then hopped in the car with hyunsook's mom and drove to 부천 (bucheon - a developed area outside and to the west of seoul) where hyunsook's mom manages a korean-food restaraunt. we got the royal treatment: a private room, loads of delicious korean favorites: 비빔밥 (bibimbab - rice mixed with beef, veggies, egg, pepper sauce), 도토리묵무침 (dotorimuk-muchim - seasoned acorn jelly), and many delightful korean side dishes (including 생선전 'saengseonjeon' - pan-fried fish fillet!). we sat talking for a long time - it was a very peaceful setting. hyunsook is contemplating her lifestyle, or more precisely, her job which is effecting her lifestyle. her job is a desireable one, no doubt about it - working for samseong in any fashion is an accomplishment coveted by many aspiring young people - but it is also taxing, mundane, and isolating. hyunsook feels a calling to more meaningful things for her life and an awareness that her present job isn't fulfilling those aspirations. i could sense she was seeking some encouragement and a friendly ear and i was more than happy to park myself down for a while and fill those gaps as best i could.
after lunch, we walked around the mall (in which hyunsook's mother's restaurant is located) and then went up to the roof with our coffees.
on the roof: looked more like a park; i couldnt even tell we were on the 8th floor or whatever. we watched the children play around and chatted on more light-hearted topics. experiencing times like this and remembering similar conversations in hilo makes me feel both old and new things. i experience that a lot living in korea and meeting my old friends. i remembering this afternoon as being a very welcome escape for me - i was still uncomfortable living in my apartment in suwon and feeling trapped there. even though this spot was just the roof of a mall, it still felt a lot farther away and an isolated haven.
bridge over the street. no cameos.
hyunsook kindly helped me ask around looking for a good cell phone deal. we wandered around a department store (homeplus, i think) and at some point i was under the misimpression that hyunsook was looking for lamb meat, though i cant remember why. she bought me a pancake with an egg fried in it (i cant remember what those were called, but they were GOOD, yo) and we spent a while trying to figure out which bus would take me to the train station. although hyunsook apologized for the inconvenience, i thought it was really nice just wandering around aimlessly for a few hours.
the following friday i met my friend 시은 (sieun) at 한국외대 (hankuk university, at which she is also a student). sieun studies french (actually she recently was living in france) and is practically trilingual due to living in america for a while as well. so it's really great being able to share some american anecdotes with her, not to mention the fact that we're both PKs - her dad is a pastor in korea.
before i met her, i remember i had been thinking all day about 김치찌개 (kimchee jjigae - kimchee stew) - this was because a student of mine had taught me how to make it the previous night when we were sharing recipes. i had been craving the stuff. i didnt help either that while i was riding the train into seoul that day, some old guy was standing next to me with a huge bag full of kimchee. you can imagine how that smell filled the whole train... so as soon i met sieun and we hugged and got the necessary exclamations out of the way, she asked me if id eaten, i said no, what do you want, and what words should i hear but the very same that had been in my mind: kimchee jjigae! in no time flat, we located a suitable place and tucked in. heavenly.
we grabbed some coffees afterwards at a quaint, little place, were met up with by miri, and the following pictures were the result - the trio reunited! (we were just missing casey...) another family photo
me, miri, sieun
miri stopped by only for a short time; she was on her way to daejeon or someplace for her friend's birthday. of course, she hadn't gotten a gift yet, as everything she had encountered or thought of didnt seem special enough. so we made some hasty parousals of locals shops walking away from all of them empty-handed. lol

after miri left, we had a couple of hours left before i had to go. i made the timid suggestion of 노래방 (noraebang - singing room, just like karaoke) and sieun quickly jumped on the idea with whole-hearted approval. another craving fulfilled that day. i hadnt been to karaoke since japan. i sang my guts out and my voice was subsequently at 50% power for my evening classes. 100% worth it. just thinking about how much fun it was to impulsively go there on a late afternoon makes me want to get up and go right now... alas, only 2 hours until class... i gotta finish this up.
it was fun singing korean pop songs or ballads when there were slow enough for me.
singing 80s songs gets the most enthusiasm out of me.
okay. now it's really rockin. and we didnt even have anything to drink. i think we were singing 'way back into love' - a song from the popular-in-korea film 'music and lyrics'
that night was a going-away part for one of my students and friends: josee (i think she said she chose this name, wanting it to be pronounced joe-jae like in french). this was the night i wrote about earlier in my blog a while ago. see that entry for the details.
left to right, 9pm interchange 3 class: lucy, alicia, richard, josee's arm
my hagwon's secretary youngmin (left) and japanese language teacher (who i was able to communicate with in japanese surprisingly well, thanks largely to the soju, no doubt)
jason - the other native English teacher at Gukje (my school), and a good friend to me - pretending to be caesar, maybe? or dionysus?
me and alicia (just pretending to be sloshed)
at the hookah bar following dinner (most everyone is sloshed by now)
the next day i went into 여의도 (yeouido) to meet my friend mikyoung before going to daniel's wedding. the rest of this day i also included in my previous post, so forgive me for not going into much detail here. again, refer to the old post for more context and details on these pics.
it was a beautiful day for a festival in yeouido. many children.
mikyoung (aka: 'kate' or 'small mikyoung' - there were two mikyoungs in hilo the year she was there) a cool little garden path and a cute little family
alison paying respects to daniel and his parents at the wedding hall (actually a hotel)
alison in the wedding hall right before we sat down
daniel and his fiance bowing to each other at the beginning of the ceremony
the 'newly-hitched'
daniel surprises us all with a song for his wife
the gang: bobo, hyunsook, chris, alison, jiwoo, sophia, sookjeong, brian (who came to stay in suwon with me that night), long J
and me
the after reception gathering and drinking... good 'ol long J - as dapper as ever
can you believe it??
i made it!
through this batch at least. unfortunately it took me several weeks to get these photos up, and as a result, dozens more pictures and happenings have acrued in the meantime. i'll do my best to get those caught up by the end of the week. no promises. they'd be futile anyway. and i'd just make an ass out of myself again for not following through. ha.