Saturday, April 26, 2008

diving deeper into seoul, on the town, in the streets

i recently dusted off a journal or something like it that i kept during this time in my life
i will share some of it with you - a few of its fragile pages holding fragile memories of a young man's fragile heart

a story, surreal fiction or surreal non-fiction
even i cant be sure
likely both

I was sitting somewhere in the dark - only an 80 watt bulb illuminating my solitude. I was alone and not lonely. I was tired and not sleepy. I was neither hungry nor satisfied. All I knew was my breathing and fragmented thoughts. It was neither late nor early, simply night, so dark and deep that it chased away all memory of day. I was as motionless as the time. My every movement, abstract.
I had been reading, it seemed, but the opened page in front of me was blank. I flipped forward a few pages but there was nothing. I searched the whole volume, beginning to end, but not a blot of ink could I find, as if it had been lifted off the paper without a trace.
The clock on the wall kept ticking and cars kept passing by outside, but the sound felt like only an echo, a reverberation, a fading scar left from the blade of time. Its undulation had now ceased and I was left imprisoned in this tomb of humming silence and non-living existence. All memories of an existence outside of this had faded into a dream - a mere magical illusion.
I flipped backwards through the pages of my mind, frantically searching for something concrete, but all slipped from my grasp.
I thought about her in her room, somehow knowing that she was studying for a test the next day. Was she too trapped in this endless night? Somehow, I could not conjure up even a small image of her. I could not remember the sound of her voice. Perhaps she, too, was a dream.
But, no, I had gone to the kitchen earlier for a cup of water, and I had seen the light glowing from her room. I had no guess as to how long ago that had been. It could have been minutes or years. But it was something, so I grabbed onto that lifeline and pulled, ever so delicately, taking care not to shatter this fractured notion of a memory from a real world.
All I could see in my mind was the light coming from her room. So I focused on that, slowing easing up to let a little more through. And it came flowing like an ocean, enveloping me and caressing me. A memory. Simple, but real and solid. It had no visual focus, and perhaps it was this attribute that transcended it above all other things from my hazy past. It was a memory of her eyes. Not so much what they had looked like, but how it had felt to look into them. I was certain this had not been a dream.
I remembered that at that moment I had been transported somewhere of infinite distance from the reality surrounding that moment. It was a place of pure light, perhaps not of pure understanding, but where there was no longer a need for questions. It was a place beyond my understanding of myself. It was an instant that lasted an entire existence – a fraction of time that neither began nor ended. It simply was, and then was not. Strange that such an abstraction would be the piece of my memory that would hold the strongest significance to me now, where I was – at the bottom of a well with only a shaft of daylight streaking down from the opening above.
I wondered if such a moment could happen again, and that if I was ready for it, in that instant, I could let myself go and exist there forever. I wanted to go to her room and knock on her door and bring her into this dead of night eternity – that we might escape together, forever to that place of no questions – where understanding did not need to be bridged by words or actions but simply was. I thought about the light coming from her room. I wondered if she was still awake.
The clock was ticking. A car passed by outside.
I went to bed.

the few words to a song i never finished
shared now in a way i never intended

i wanted to show you your face in my mind
i wanted to show you a photograph of mind mind
and i know
that it will change
and i welcome each day

and when the snapshot falls to the floor
it opens up a new door
and there, are you

it startled me slightly
as i flipped through these pages,
reading my own, blurred words from years past,
to realize that the scribblings were blurred
by my own tears
such a fragile heart i have at times

there is another poem
so very dear to me
written with words that held more emotion than i can remember ever letting flow through the tip of a pencil
but i think that one i must keep only for myself

a bench upon which i once and often sat
sometimes with another
sometimes alone
i left seoul for a few days
it was a welcome respite
i traveled to 청주 (cheongju) with the 심 family
we saw concert at this theater, here, before it has begun
definitely a different experience from what i expected - there was orchestral music, an opera singer, more than one old pop singer from days gone by, and this new-age rock group with three young women who played electric instruments (violin, cello, vibes)
when one of the oldies guys came on stage, nearly all the middle-aged women in the place (and there were quite a few) ran to the foot of the stage, no doubt remembering younger, wilder days

i spent the nights in cheongju wandering the streets by myself
it was a pretty desolate time for me
but the darkness was refreshing
just a few steps out of cheongju is countryside
one day my good friend 정환 (jeonghuan) and i walked a few miles to a nearby cultural history museum he remembered from when he had been in cheongju before
i took this pic along the way

the museum entrance
inside were many artifacts giving evidence to the history and evolution of korea as a region and later a country

old kimchee pots (kimchee is buried underground for long periods of time - the longer, the better, in some cases)the return tripupon returning home to bundang, we spent a day making 만두 (mandoo)- dumplings that are very similar to gyoza or pot stickers
this is jeongeun and jeonghuan's mother, also 엄마 (eomma) - 'mommy', to me할머니 (harmeonee, like 'harmony') or 'grandma'
one of the best friends i made in seoul
despite me knowing only a little korean and her knowing even less english, we managed to get along super!
we often spent time in the house together, just the two of us, talking to each other without understanding a word, sharing stories all the same
many jokes :)trying my hand at making mandoo
i am sad to say that all of my future daughters have no chance at loveliness, as i learned that the prettiness of your daughters is reflected by the state of the dumplings you makeenjoying the spoils of our labor in the kitchen
excellent with beeri took every opportunity to swing on the swings when i was in korea (called 그내 - 'geunae')
these two kids were great swing buddies at a park in bundangjeongeun and 할아버지 (harabeoji) - grandpawe are at church after a service that was recognizing jeongeun's father's service to the churchi like harabeoji's hat kkk
and harmeoni looks like she's my bodyguard!with extended family

my second trip to insadong
jeongeun and i went to her university, 숙명여자대학교 (sookmyeong yeoja daehakgyo) sookmyeong woman's university, to meet two students who would be going to hilo for study abroad the next fall, 여진 (yeojin) and 현정 (hyeonjeong) who became my good friends then and the next year at school
the four of us spent the day together in insadong

sunyoung and i met 혜진 (hyejin) - 'alison' - in 여이도 (yeoido) and ate at the outback where alison used to work
on this day, i was moving to stay with sunyoung for a few days
i remember struggling with my luggage
and such a hot day!
inside was so nice and coolthis is 'homeplus', a grocery store i visited with sunyoung and her mom
it was pretty impressive to me
so clean
and well serviced
i love going grocery shopping!
especially in another countrylater, sunyoung and i went tromping around her neighborhood
we found this building where a soon-to-be-constructed apartment building was showing off model rooms of the future apartments
they were pretty amazing, i must say
and really attractive despite their small, economic size
here, the bed was in a loft above the kitchenwalking around yeoidoi later sketched this picture for sunyoung :)me and sunyoung's mom
i remember her throwing my camera case which i forgot out of the apartment window down at us on the day i had to leave kkkme and sistersitting outside sunyoung's apartment
there was a nice garden path that wound around the buildings
it was good place to find solitude for writing
i wish i had more pictures from around here
i remember there was this one really cool park that had a lake and some ineresting artistic structures and some ducks
sunyoung and i went walking around there one eveningone day, when sunyoung and i were walking around a mall somewhere, perhaps COEX, we happened by a small music store
i saw a guitar and my hands turned to butter, hanging by my sides, aching to hold a guitar again (i had left my guitar in hawaii - a serious mistake, one i made sure not to make again when i went to tokyo the following summer)
we went inside and asked if i could play it
with the guitar in my hands, everything around me dissolved away as my fingers found old melodies
oh what joy!at one of countless coffee shops i patronedsunyoung and i met 윤선 (yunsun) in 대학로 (daehakro) - sort of an artsy part of seoul which i came to greatly love
we went to an underground theater (literally, like a basement) to see this comedy
despite my inability to comprehend the dialogue, i decifered the jist and heartily enjoyed itfrom what i remember, the play was about this guy who was having problems with his girlfriend and is later held prisoner in his own apartment by a theifme and yunsunat a restaurant where i ate a favorite of mine, 비빔밥 (bibimbap) - literally means 'mixed rice', it's like rice with sauted vegies, sprouts, mushrooms, kim, shredded beef, egg, and 고추장 (gochujang) - a pepper paste
all the ingredients are mixed together, and sort of fried in the bowl which is usually stone and very hot (the egg is raw but cooks as it touches the sides of the bowl)
a very satisfying dish with a little bit of everything you like in ityunsun, in all her gloryi decided a 'godfather' photo was appropriate for the way we were positioned in this picmy next place of residence was my friend 영민's (youngmin) house
one of the first days, youngmin and i, shine (her boyfriend whom she met in hawaii), and alison visited the 2006 korea international jewlery and watch fair
im not exactly sure how we got into this - i know there were tickets - i think youngmin's father worked in the jewlery business...
youngmin, if you read this, sorry i forgot... please remind me!
this is alison and me toting our jewlery bags (which never held any purchases, of course)looking out from inside the conventionsadly, i was forbidden from taking any pictures while inside
but my memory of the place matches up pretty well with what you would expect a convention to look like - lots of small cubicles and tables from different companies/designers
plus, i was able to get this smashing pic of me next to a sign of some sort
there were lots of pretty, shiny thingsshine, youngmin, alison on the subway backwe had to say goodbye to alison, but youngmin, shine, and i decided to go to a nearby street market where people sold their homemade crafts
youngmin herself loves to make crafts out of colored paper
they're really pretty awesome - i once helped her display and sell her creations at a craft fair in hilostreet musicians - they were freakin' sweet
and they played a song i recognized from cowboy bebop
the guy on the left was playing a pianica!
SWEEEEEEETTTTTone of my FAVORITE things to do in korea was to buy a bottle of beer at the convenience store and drink it outside one the street just when the day was turning into evening
it's the perfect thing for a long hot summer day
and it's so awesome to just drink a little beer in the street
here we are, enjoying one of the best moments in my summer trip to koreayoungmin and i visit daehakro again to meet 옥경 (okyoung) and aaron who was staying with her family
it was the perfect place for taking silly picturesthis was my favno! dont step in that!after dinner we went looking for this hill that has a great path and view of the city at eveningalthough i haven't really mentioned it before, i was actually doing a little work (illegal, yeah)
i was giving private tutor lessons in english
it took me some time to find students - first i tried posting fliers around universities, but these likely got torn down immediately as they did not have proper authorization and yielded no results
i eventually got a student by paying a small fee to post fliers at jeongeun's apartment complex and one through the help of my awesome friend chris (wonchul)
so, although i was no longer living in bundang, i had to travel to jeongeun's neighborhood once a week for a lesson, and i usually stayed there a little, sometimes for a night
i often wandered again around the park and friendly streets i had spent so much time around when i stayed therestrolling around somewhere in west seoul with sunyoung (sunyoung, where was this, please? was is yeoido?)we happened upon the filming of a drama show, i have no idea whichthe korean national assembly (국회 - gukhoe) building
sunyoung told me that the building was built during the japanese occupation and was made so as to look like the japanese flag from the sky
i sometimes cant believe some of the crazy things the japanese in korea did to try to crush korean spiritnational library - despite being interesting to visit it was actually pretty boring inside with only government documents and dry readingview of the national assembly building from inside the librarystopping for refreshmentanother one of my famous nostril/bookstore picsone day we saw a demonstration happening somewhere in the downtown
i dont know who the workers were or what they were protesting
but it was HUGE!more streets of seoulvisiting the largest church in the world
it was BIG man
there were headphones through which i could hear someone translating the preacher's words into english (actually many larger chruches in korea have these)