Monday, January 30, 2012

Waiting for a Train that Just Don't Come

I’d like to start with a little story to try and explain where some of this started so you can possibly see how my wheels turn. Yes it will sound menopausal and all over the place, but bear with me as I “go there.” 그래서 ~ I went to go find this hapkido school on wednesday, which had a great website and instructors with great English at a very reasonable price :D :D :D!. It is kinda far away, an hour by bus or subway, but I couldn’t find any schools in or around my district and my thought process went like this as I was sitting on the bus waiting to get there. If you want something bad enough, you may have to climb a few mountains to get to it. In some ways that makes it better because you were hard core enough to put up with those trials and tribulations. This could be like my ~ walking to school uphill both ways in the snow~ bragging rights. Before I ever got on the bus I recalled my first experience of getting into Seoul and not knowing how to get to my hotel and lugging around my bags for two hours... no thank you... i’d prefer not to repeat that again. SO ~ a week before I emailed the people at the dojang (Korean word for “dojo” ~ a word many of you will be more familiar with) and asked for directions. They replied as follows: Yes you can come to the gym on Wednesday. Take bus 6714. This bus is directly to come our gym. (about 50minute) Also you can take the subway from sin chon stn(line no.2) or take the bus 603, 602 near the sin chon stn.(about 45minute from sin chon stn) The bus stop is sin wol underpass. So I one upped that and checked it out on a google-map and wrote it down in my notebook etc. as I got myself ready to go. I had a cellphone which.. evidently had some issues with it and couldn’t make phone calls that day b/c the store registered it wrong (ㅠ..ㅠ) but thats a detail. I rode my hour-long bus thinking these thoughts and got off at Sinwol underpass just like I was supposed to and then.... looked up the street (like the directions on the website said) and realized that there was know way to know which way was “up the street.” The website also said the gym would be right after the Korean barbeque restaurant.... This is Seoul might I add... the capitol of Korea... talking in general terms about barbecue restaurants.... so I walked “up” one side of the street... until it stopped having things on it and became a “danger zone” and then I walked “up” the street in the other direction. I tried to call the cellphone number and found that my phone was not legit at the moment and then had a crushing realization that I probably wasn’t going to find the gym that night. So I started walking back the way I came from and where I knew (vaguely/hopefully) id finally find the 지하철역 or subway station, inspecting the multitudes of sign-printed windows as I walked towards the terminal (what a morbid word). Frustrated, but not destroyed b/c i’ve had much worse remember, I walked on. As I walked I began to think (dangerous) about how I would phrase the email to the dojang and ask for more sufficient directions. And then the thought started to creep up on me ~ if they’re not willing to think through some of these contingencies (what does 300meters “up” the road on the right past the “korean barbeque restaurant” mean?), do I really want to go to their school? is it a sign for me? Horse patooty ~ I shoved that to the back of my mind and kept walking. As I kept walking though ~ another thought crept in. Do I really need to walk up hill both ways in the snow to get to school or should I just scour the country side nearer me to try and find something? its a maybe.... And then the real Promethian eagle swooped out of nowhere to repeatedly tear out my liver for all of eternity (or at least that night and the next day and a half-ish). Why the hell am I always looking for signs and trying to find “the thing” that is going to happen if you are just flexible and obedient enough to follow it? And that is a bitter thought. A thought that I don’t have the capacity to push to the back of my head: because it deserves an answer - an answer that I don’t have (don’t/didn’t +/-). It’s bitter because, as one who believes in God, and that God loves and directs us, I have to refine my idea of what being directed means. Its bitter and creates bitterness because of how many times i’ve heard horse-shit Christians sitting in a sterile bubble say: God has a plan, you just need to be obedient. Just... I hate the word just. I use it a lot, but I think its a “sort of :D” lesser of two evils type word. It limits. That is what it does. It is there to say that the meaning of what I am saying “cannot” cross this line that I want to establish (even if it actually does cross the line you’re pretending to reign it in behind). Its not fair for me to take all of that context and marshall it as my army against God. I’m not Oprah. Once again, tears and anger are spilt out on account of Christian institution and culture though. Ironic as it may be, I just finished reading Job, so far be it for me to say that God doesn’t care. However this feels like the beginning of an avalanche of sorts. Why should I wade through rivers of my own blood to get to... to get to what? Why should I not seek my own happiness? I see no reason to spill my blood unless it is in service of something better ~ and that truth must be apparent at a foundational level. --- So my thoughts regarding school at the moment are as follows: If this program is not suited to my learning style (which it is not) and I need to spend monumental amounts of time out side of class restructuring my studying so that i am actually learning (which I do). Why am I paying so much? Why would I want to dig myself as big a hole as we are talking about when I can do essentially the same thing (or better) while teaching English and earning money somewhere else in Korea. From my six months (what i’ve paid in tuition so far) I will have established a fair foundation and will be able to grow with self-study from there. Working will provide me with another variety of advantages over my current situation. Access to real Korean people... right now all I have is international friends, and NO social circles that can connect me with the people of this country ~ not that I could speak with them if they dont speak one of my languages anyway... but its absolute murder to try and learn a target language if you have next to no stake in the lives of the people who speak it. Monetary benefits are obvious output becomes input... not to mention my housing would be provided for me as a normal part of a teaching ESL in asia contract (a very significant expense). A different, smaller city. Seoul is awesome in many ways, but I don’t get to access its heart because I don’t speak Korean. I’m not one of those international people that is content to feel like a big international important person just because I go romping around a city in a land far from my own. No. You only get those rights if you have a deeper understanding of what that place is, and can operate on ITS terms within its territories. I cannot claim to do that, and with the financial situation of a student, it would be unwise to. Money for a student is only going out, not coming in, so it is in my best interest to limit how FAST it goes out... and that means restricting certain things, which is fine. However, it does mean that that cuts off how you can go about digging for what a city really is ~ because very few things are actually cheap (cost, not quality) in any major city. So, you tell me ~ does it look like an optimistic prospect to stay where I am? The biggest point in all of this is that ~ I am frustrated with the prospect of holding out further in the program because it seems to me that what i’d really be waiting for is some kind of big maybe. The possibility of having some sort of job opportunity around that time is essentially slim to none ~ a level 4 vs a level 6 ~ regardless of Chinese and Spanish language skills... im not in any sort of social circles that would make my unique abilities and potential stand out. Could it happen ~ of course. Anything can happen. Will it happen? Thats a shrunken malnourished maybe. Once i’ve got some development and more money (CA$Hola) I could do the upper levels if I feel so inclined ~ but for now I think the cost to benefit ratio is just not satisfying enough. Thoughts?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Idiot Savant

The idiot savant, front and center
 Why, oh why didn’t I learn Hangul (Korean alphabet) before I came to Korea!!! I’m an idiot savant. I like the term. Its respectful and degrading at the same time. Does that count as humility? Weird philosophical math I think. Pride + Humility = Moderation. Anyhow, I’ll tell you the answer to the first and kinda rhetorical question. I didn’t learn Hangul because I wanted to know what it was like to learn a language in an academic setting by starting from essentially scratch. I had a friend teach me some phrases and what not when I was in China, but that was nothing compared to what some of these other level ones have. My class is all essentially the same, but the other classes. Boy.... I tell you what. If my self esteem was wrapped up in how much Korean I could speak ~ i’d be the zit besotten hoodie-wearing teen-ager on the top-most bleachers forever! (awkwardly enough though, i’ve noticed a correlation between language capability in an immersion environment and self-esteem. Its a terrible feeling. I’d like to not do it again. Twice is enough.) I wanted to know... not just that I could do it ~ but also what it felt like to do it under pressure. Total glutton for punishment it seems. But i’d have to say im getting my fill of it. I’m building callouses and that makes me feel old. I am getting desensitized to the interest of getting dirty and becoming increasingly interested in clam shelling and weathering the hail storm from the inside of a rustic cabin rather than shirtless in the field. It truly is a harsh way of life. “I’m old Gandalf. I know i don’t look it, but I feel it in my heart. I feel stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Im 23 and no one believes me. Evidently thats 24 in Korean years.... weirdos (you’re born with 1 year... weirdos.... Gosh and I thought Asians were good at math.) --- What I don’t understand is this. I am homesick and feeling culture shock. I am homesick for China, and feeling culture shock from a Chinese perspective (or at least a foreigner who invested part of their heart in China). I don’t much care about the American side. I love my people, but my people have far too many advocates so they’re not interesting :D Why wasn’t I homesick when I went the first time? Why didn’t I feel so gangly and misplaced when I went there but I do here. I think in many ways my awkwardness and instability has come from once again being uprooted, and not being blessed with roots here. Its kind of funny ~ I got coffee today in the subway (weird I know... but it was actually a better coffee shop than the beautiful 5 floor ones on the city floor... and 1/3rd the price. How cool/ weird is that). But the thing that makes it funny is that I see the glimmer of hope for me bonding with this culture, but I have a few hills to go through in the mean time. Will my lungs hold out on this cross-country track? They’d better... or I might as well roll over and die now, because it’d be meaningless otherwise. No. I am old. There is magic (not just smog) in the air here, and I suspect, not just here. The thing that makes me old though is that I am recognizing it, and the bitterness of that truth is that I am increasingly polarized in the satisfaction I receive from my toil. I’ve become super interested in studying. I’m super un-fulfilled by casual drinking with... new... people. Whats the point in destroying tomorrow if today is meaningless. How disrespectful is that to the hope that might have come? How can you so casually toss away what might be on account of something that clearly isnt worth it NOW. -- I’m like... becoming a monk. Compelled to pursue meaning at the expense of nearly everything. Oh my. There’s some seriously fantastic monks though ~ Sir Francis Bacon for example (or is my history really horrendous? I don’t have google right now....) Inventor of gun-powder. That one guy who started “The Reformation”... you know... Martin Luther. Obsession. A wise man once said and, im sure Plato would agree with me, will continue to say as long as his words are in print.... “I know there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God. (Ecc. 12-13) I’ve got the eating and drinking part ~ but once again... im haunted by a need for satisfaction in my toil. This is yet a gift that God has be-Job’d me. (^_^) Eternity has been set in the heart of this man, and I mean to be a part of the field of conquest. Until I learn what field that is, I’m just going to have to continue burnishing my blade now won’t I. And no... that’s not a euphemism. --- Why Idiot Savant? I like the term because it shows an intuition for a field of conquest... but a lack of what other people would consider “common” sense. I have a degree in applied linguistics that i’ve tried by fire and annealed with long hours in the proverbial dirt. Try me out ~ I’ve done some bid’ness. But because of my experience (while it may not be as extensive as some), I have gained an interest in the how and why. Im not just interested in my car getting me from home to work in back, but I wanna know how it works, and have the intimate knowledge to be a part of making a better car, or at least making the car run as it should. (Motorist reference butchered on behalf of my brohakeem ~ the just “normal savant” of automotive technicians...) I want to know how and why. I epiphan’ied recently that I have a lingua-addiction because I felt cheated as an American raised in a monolingual society. I felt cheated because there was something else “good” out there that I was allegedly doomed to forever be unable to grasp... because EVERYBODY knows that after your like 4 and 1/2 years old you cant learn a language well.... but ALL those Europeans can speak like 5 languages. DUHHHH I saw something “good,” and I saw that good as something that would unlock more good in the world: good that I would be a part of. And why not?! Excellent question. I don’t there there is a good answer though.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The First Week ~ Into the Fray

OK ~ Reporting in from the first week of class at Yonsei /tehakyo/ otherwise known as Yonsei University and what is now the tenth of my days being in Korea. There is not a flying rat’s chance in hell that in two weeks you could possibly grasp what goes on here. Me either. And that is a reassuring thing. There are many more things that happen in this world that we don’t even realize or take the time to look at. Thats part of what I find so invigorating about living in a new place. Culture shock is your friend. You know what they say, a wound from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.... is that evidence for biblical sadism? whatever. But back to the point, because im SURE you’re all so very interested in what is going on in my oh-so-exciting life. :D (I imagine that you can only mask arrogance as “charm” for so long.) --- Orientation on the first friday here was... interesting. There was a little bit of a chat about what the school was and then... you can go buy your books now. Not what i’d call the most essential of affairs. Whatever, i’ll attend anything if its part of my program. I was also pretty interested in finding a place to stay.... which to be fair, I did have some phone numbers to call from the research I had done prior to coming. However, not speaking Korean really made that a taxing affair. So what did I do? Found someone who could speak english and Korean to help me ask if there was still room at the places... hahaha... oh sadly insufficient in some ways. Eventually though (two phone numbers later and like five minutes of evidently not talking about all that much...), the English speaking attendant in the office placed a call and within 30 seconds, I get a response to the affect of, “wait five minutes, she’s gonna come her.” I was a little dumbfounded, but more than willing to go on this ride. Well... it must have been a latino five minutes because it was like 15-20 by the time she got there, and tooooootally worth it. She walks into the room and im pretty sure I saw bubbles floating in after her. By she, I mean this like 70 year old ajumma (aunti... the generic term for an older woman.) Trundles into the room all smiles and wrinkles in a fur coat that made her look three feet wide. She looks around the room and then looks at me and goes, “Miguk a%*@#^Djhese23?” all I got out of that was (miguk- american)? I spoke... no korean aside from the... “I dont speak korean”, “American”, 1-10 in both of the korean number systems.... oh! and where is the bathroom. She thought it was funny ~ but not in a derisive way. I knew as soon as I saw her that I was going to live in the right hasook-jib. Oh, and a word on that. A Hasook-jib is sort of like an apartment, but its a little bit more like a dorm than a traditional apartment. Separate room, shared bathroom and these sort of... shower room... things. Nice thing is! breakfast and dinner are included in the rent, and so I get to try homestyle korean food ~ which is an experience in itself. Im not gonna pretend that its the best food ever. Its not. Its simple ~ though it is also pretty good. Honestly though... It gets realllly really repetitive. The soups keep me sane though. The variety in these soups changes so that has been keeping me stable and brightening my interest in soups... they don’t NEED to be complicated evidently. Im lovin’ it. I’ve started to go through a simplification revolution in my cooking over the past few years. When I was cooking before, in university and what not, I would always dash dash sprinkle sprinkle.... pour pour pour. More flavours just ends up making your food all taste... the same. SO! simple is good. But back to the hasook-jib. Honestly it feels a bit like a hostel...but without the shared rooms. There are a lot of people around ~ I think about 30 people over 3 floors... something like that ~ and they’re from all over the place. Seriously... its Ajumma’s favourite conversation (monologue). “We’ve got people from America, Russia, China, Japan....uh... which others? oh yah BRAZIL, France, Malaysia, Canada.... ” It goes on like that for a while and then starts to sound like a broken record or the deja vu moment in the matrix. She’s simple... but really kind. And that makes up for a lot with me in this place. (so long as I don’t have to spend tons of time in the exact same area with her.) The bathrooms though... Clean yes ~ when freshly cleaned by the ajumma’s (there’s two). However, I live on a floor with all girls.... which is awkward for me and has made strategic bathroom trips a new angle on my life. It has also led to additional collateral education about female hygiene or lack there of. By the way girls... you’re not all as clean as you may think you are. Foul. I’ll with hold some of the more grisly details until some night when we’re all exchanging stories and I need my ace in the hole. Last tidbit ~ the stalls are really... economical (too short length wise... so not narrow or (not ?) not tall enough.. but when you enter the stall and the door closes... it becomes a serious task to get your pants down and then sit back down. Oh my goodness. It makes going to school to the huge like japanese hotel-sized toilet stalls (and my goodness are they impeccably clean.) Chinese has really come in handy for me! wow, I’ve met ooooooodles of people that I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with otherwise. Its also a great go-to when I need help figuring things out like... the washing machine, which is all in Korean. Dinner conversation~ another plus. Casting people like Ajumma into complete awe that I can speak Chinese (im on another plane to her now). Sneaking up on people in Coffee shops ^_^. It is good. (aside from the bathrooms) --- Monday was a jolt. Linguistics major on the fourth language... and im beginning to think that one will never get to the point where they can just “easily” learn a language. The idea is hokum. The first three days we essentially covered the entire korean alphabet ~ which was very sensibly designed, though I pity any poor dyslexic bastards out there that are interested in learning korean. The difference between “ah” and “aw” is a vertical mirror (flip the character from left to right).... “oh” and “oo” a horizontal mirror (flip it from up to down). “n” and “k” is a diagonal mirror... yeah... its a chore and no mistake... but once you get it, its really neat. Everything is organized in syllables... at least theoretically. Korean and Japanese evidently share very similar grammar, and I KNOW theres tons of loan word from Chinese, because i’ve seen them just this week in the vocabulary we’re getting. Its a blessing in a curse, because things are easier to remember in some ways, but also easier to screw up by saying the word as I learned it in Chinese. Oh well... take it in stride ^_^. Korean is definitely a significantly more difficult language to pronounce than either Japanese or Mandarin (not counting tones...), but that also makes it really cool when you CAN pronounce it, because you had to work so hard to get there in the first place. Every time im in class, I think of the way that Leelu in “The Fifth Element” spoke English. I think its the vowels mostly which are typically more extreme than English vowels. They’re /o/, /u/ and /aw/ are all pronounced like they’re mouth is a tunnel: you kind of have to push out your lips more to say them “right.” Gosh its just adorable to listen to once you deal with the intonation issues that make Koreans (particularly girls) sound like they’re always complaining. So rather than teach you all the little bits of Korean that I know, which im sure would be just riveting, im gonna tell you about my class itself. Each class at the KLI (Korean Language Institute) at Yonsei tehakyo doesnt go above, i think 15 people, and most are 13 or less. So ~ nice small class sizes. My particular class has 2 Russians (1 with Korean parentage), 1 Mongolian who speaks Russian, 2 Chinese people, A German guy of Korean parentage, a Swiss girl, three Japanese girls, myself, and then a particularly unpleasant girl from Iran. --- Its REALLLY interesting to be in such a mix of different people again. There are people at my school from all over the place. Different faces, different races, different languages and a whole bunch of polyglots (multiple language speakers). And while frustrating, its also really nice to be getting back into the dirty of learning a language. No one in my class seems to think its easy, which is nice. Other classes even at the same technical level as us seem to think parts of it are easy... but those savages had evidently already studied the alphabet on their own and new a few things before coming and/or had korean parents and know a decent amount of Korean from their rearing, but not in a thorough enough way to make it to level 2 (particularly regarding how to write Korean). I may be “beneath” them now... but im not worried ~ hard work and effective studying practices win out over such things in the long run, and there are few things I can think of that are such a long run as language learning. There is always a tomorrow, and as long as you have done your best with today, tomorrow will be better ~ even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Its funny to me to look at my class and my school and look at how many languages are spoken ~ often times people already speak 2-3 languages with some degree of proficiency. Who else would be crazy enough to spend as much money as we do to pack up and go to Korea to study language without much more of an end goal than “I wanna.” Many of the people here will only be here for a semester or two, so I expect level 3 to be significantly thinner than the first two levels. Learning styles are also interesting, because people like myself don’t always completely groove with the repetition that is used for the initial teaching in class. You can hit me in the face with a dictionary a thousand times, and I may learn your words, but it doesnt mean i’ll be able to use those words, remember them for very long, and it will probably take the thousand times for it to stick period (and i’d really prefer to not be black and blue for such reasons.) My rote memory isn’t that great... in fact its kind of terrible. Thats part of why I don’t remember names very well, but i’ll remember extensive details about people after just a few moments talking with them. However, if I can find a way to grasp the meaning of a word and how it would be used in a context that relates to my sphere of influence! I might remember it after hearing it three times. Strange - but cool. much better than getting beaten black and blue with a dictionary. --- And we capped it all off by “going out” last night, which was a singularly difficult task to accomplish because we had about 23 people. Try to fit that in to any one given bar club or restaurant on the spur of a moment. It doesn’t work so well... Anyhow, I decided rather fully that there is no allure to clubs and bars for me. I would much rather consume alcohol in a home or at a park. It is far more agreeable and cost effective. The only reason I can see for myself to go to a bar at this point is if they are particularly good at mixing drinks. Otherwise... if your just looking to “get the job done” with a few good friends... institutions are more trouble than they’re worth. With the possible exception of karaoke places in China... but thats a different world entirely. Met some very interesting people... and realized that some other people were... not... that interesting, and further grew to love this herd of Brazilian Koreans that I have been spending time with. They’re even reversing my previous bias against the portuguese language. How bout that? Most interesting people of the night: A trio of Swedish girls... one with Chilean parents, another with Macedonian parents, and the other with startlingly blond hair and swedish parents (I believe...). Having only been in Korea for around two weeks, their thorough knowledge of K-pop (korean pop) songs was truly, in its purist form, amazing. They evidently listened to a lot of K-pop back home in Sweden on account of there being nothing to do there.... except probably knit fantastic sweaters and mittens I’m sure. A four foot nothin’ 18 year old japanese girl who evidently has the drinking capacity of three viking men and a passion for speaking korean and.... the ubiquitous K-pop. Could she scream it out... oh my. Otherwise, honestly, we spent a large part of that evening walking around in the frigid air trying to find either a restaurant or place to drink...or waiting for people to show up. The logistics for that size of group really are a nightmare. Also... that size of group usually has to splinter into factions just for the sake of having a decent conversation. Its not worth it. If you’re just going to do it to meet new people... i’d say house party would have to be the way to go ~ and who wants to offer up their dwelling to that kind of abuse? an excellent question indeed. Most interesting people of the week ~ the herd of Brazil born Koreans. What... and odd... mix. These super friendly folk, who didn’t really intentionally come together, but happened to come at the same time, are an absolute trip. They told me that Brazilian people anywhere in the world will most likely find each other in a random place and go party together. Its just what they do. --- It is good, and it is as simple as that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Seoul... and oddly enough my thoughts on suffering. BUT DONT WORRY :D im having a great time.

I am just a glutton for punishment arent I? Wow ~ Though there are some methods to my madness, and increasingly so (probably both regarding the methods and the madness(es) {I think madness is a count and a mass noun}) For example, I am getting better at packing for international moving of ones life. I have developed a three step program. Step one ~ the preliminary pack where you decide what all you really need and then what things are the excessories. This step should technically be done as quickly as possible because your fear of leaving something behind is what will really slow you down. The point of the stage is to lay bare the things that you actually need. Stage two is the real pack, where you essentially play tetris with your needs and then perform a delicate operation called shuffle shuffle stuff stuff with all the rest of the excessories you decided would come along with you. How wonderful So I did pretty well with relatively limited stress this morning. although.. I did forget to eat, which is not advisable on such a long trip. --- My dad took me to the airport this morning and we were mostly on time and as I was getting checked in I found that one of my bags was 3-4lbs over the weight limit... and the other was 10lbs...under ^_^ Yay im getting better at this. so shuffle shuffle stuff stuff ~ and in the melee however I managed to give myself a monster papercut under the nail of my left middle finger on one of the velcro adjustable dividers inside my bag. Wow was that unpleasant and somewhat bloody. This was after I got in the car to go to the airport and found out that I was bleeding from some orifice (I...after a moment of spazzing... realized that it was the cuticle of my right middle finger). I realized this because I noticed little paint mist sized dots of blood on my khaki pants. Yay.... But all that considered ~ not too bad, but definitely inconvenient. Bags all equalized out fair and square, the gate agent has the gaul to point out a potential issue with my korean visa (not to worry REALLY because Americans can be in Korea for 90 days with out so much as a how do you do). What a savage eh? ^_^ Said good-bye to my dad at that point, and made a note to myself of how much easier it was to leave this time (for probably all parties included in the good-bying aside from maybe the Vancouverites and my sister ~ in some capacities it never gets easier) Security was a beastly long line, but got through it and to the gate with just enough time to hand the agent my ticket and stroll to the waay back lastmost seat of the plane to Chicago. Maybe I should have opted for the legroom upgrade waaaaahahaha! Towards the end of the flight I asked the flight attendant for connecting gate information and if she had the time. To my immense joy, she turned towards the rear of the aircraft (remember im in the last seat) and shuffled in her pockets for her cellphone and turned it on to check the time for me. I have heard from a little bird (my father the pilot), that the “no wireless devices esp. during take off and landing” rule is essentially an old wives tale and that it is adhered to basically for the “just in case” contingency. Oh mirth. Well after a necessary stop off at starbucks on the way to my connecting gate to get a sammich and a cup of coffee ~ I was told that my debit card was declined. How incredibly unpleasant and disconcerting. Oh well, I have a stack on my person, so just breath. uhhhhh wheewwwwwwwww uhhhhhhhh wheeeeeeeew. I make it to the gate, once again, to just get on by the skin of my teeth. And what joy ~ I get seated next to a roughly 50yr-old couple of asians that imma go ahead and assume speaks mandarin because I wanna. Fortunately for my pride and convenience... they do ^_^ SO I got to spend the first few hours of the flight just chatting it up in Mandarin with a lovely couple who just happen to slather me with linguistic compliments. But enough of that, because this is a song that i’ve sung a thousand times. That flight was som’n else. The flight attendants for united were most definitely better than the ones on American airlines for the same route. More polite, younger and they had at least one to my knowledge that could speak Mandarin in the coach class. Food was kind of wretched, but what do you expect from a non-asian airline... Anyhow, we get settled into about 4 or so hours and on the route from Chicago to Beijing you fly almost directly north through Canada into Nunavut (the “newly” formed first nations territory of Canada) and a huge body of water (ice) that I believe is called Baffin Bay(?), Anyhow. Theres nothing there but ice and desolation and once in a very long while you might see a long cluster of lights... which I myself cant really explain aside from polar expeditions. In talking to my neighbors I think we established our guesses as ~ ships, because they were so long and separated by a reasonable space, and then there was a completely separated one WAAAAAY the bump over that way that i’ll assume had issues following, or was just being obstinate. Anyhow. A few hours later and then you truly do leave the cluster of ice-lands of northern Canada and are suspended over the north pole. The interesting thing is that as you hang over the northern edge of the world and start to go over the other side, the sun starts to fade out and your plane is there in a realm of half light and half dark. When you look down and the clouds actually part, you can see through to the enormous sheets of ice down below. If you’ve ever wondered how techtonic plates work, I think those glacial waters would give you a pretty good clue. Every so often, you can see where the sheets have shorn, leaving a huge fissure where the desolate freezing waters of that part of the world can be seen. I don’t know if i’ve personally ever seen anything that has ever looked as unforgiving. Its one of those scarily beautiful sorts of places. Northern Siberia is just about the same as the rest of the arctic region, and the word that comes to mind for me is.... Desolate. I think its terribly fascinating to see that sort of place, because it makes me wonder why God would create it. I like to think that it was just because ^_^. A great many people say that our entire existence was just because the environment was right AND SO! we sprang to life. I frankly think that is kind of lazy thinking, but I am not a scientist to argue the point. But I am a people person, and one thing I know about people is that people all have their own way. People have things that they do, just because it pleases them. It may seem arbitrary to everybody else, but whatever the action is, it seems to bring the doer some measure of pleasure or satisfaction. And I think those desolate places are in some way the same thing. He created them just because it pleases him. God does not need to cater everything to us. In that way, look at how much life NASA has been able to find so far in the bit of Universe they’ve been able to cover so far. Wait... none? Our Universe is so massive, but we’re the only rock that not only can, but does sustain life. So why the rest of it? Just because. It guess its like cosmic poetry. Some of my favourite pictures are of Nebula(eaeaiiiiauuuhhhhs?), but they are just as meaningless as a few gasses and other elements that happened to assemble in an aesthetically pleasing way. Rat patootie. If it is beautiful, it should be recognized for its beauty, and that goes for everything, even down to the tragedies of life. Frik, we read Romeo and Juliette don’t we? Who should say that we don’t admire the desolate reaches? They don’t even count as hinterlands they’re so far away... but anyhow. Im starting to sound as tangential and repetitive as that forsaken “Catcher in the Rye”... I really am. Oh! right, beauty in tragedy. So my minor issues so far have been... slightly over weight bags, not a problem, slicing two of my fingers somehow, not a big issue aside from the bits of blood on my pants that only I notice, but make me feel disheveled and not “on the ball.” Well then there is this other thing that starts to worry me. So in my left earlobe for the past few months theres been this thing... that im not sure what it is. When I was in China, it kind of sprang into existence, which I thought was weird and unpleasant, but after a relatively short time it stopped being sensitive or even noticeable in any capacity so I just left it alone. I asked for some advice on the issue, and I was basically told... if it doesn’t hurt then don’t worry about it. Ok I still didn’t like the idea of there being some sort of mystery thing in my earlobe. What if I wanna get it pierced!?!!!?! hahahaha No seriously. (on the not wanting it there thing). So here I am on the plane... over the north pole, months after I stopped caring about it.... and my left earlobe decides to get hot and sensitive, so I feel it and realize that my earlobe is larger than it used to be.... hmmm. As the flight continues, it essentially doubles in size from what it was and stays sensitive... hmmmmmmmmm. I had a conversation with an australian friend a while back, who despite how many LONG flights he’s been on to and from China and Australia and the US, he went through a period of being afraid of flying. Not to the point where he wouldn’t fly, but just so that it made it uncomfortable. We talked about the idea of feeling stranded at the North pole, and essentially being beyond the reach of any kind of help for the next 7-8 hours even if you were on the verge of death. Theres literally nothing that anyone can do to help you in the event of an obscure emergency. So fancy that, Im hung over the north pole and my left ear decides to become a TICKING TIME BOMB! what do I do? the only reasonable thing to do... spazz out a little on the inside. OH WOE IS ME! i says to myself, I don’t speak korean and I need to worry about finding medical treatment like the first day getting there. WHAT the heck?? So I calmed myself down by going back to what I call my “kingpin” ~ the thing that everything else rests on. I can do anything as long as I have the love of my God. I understand there are probably HUNDREDS of you (yes I definitely have that many blog followers... definitely...) who think that is at least a little bit cheezy, and I probably would have too aside from the roads i’ve gone down particularly the past few months. But you can read about that in a previous blog (Re: Hate). But there is the start of another sort of beautiful tragedy. Now that Im writing this a few days later, I felt a need to look back at the story of Job because I might have something I could learn from his suffering. Now I by no means am as misfortunate as Job. He had all ten of his children die at the same time, his wealth disappear and his body completely covered in truly uncomfortable miscellany. I just have one ^_^. So im reading along and reading along and though i’ve read it before, there are a few things that hit me harder and deeper since I read it last. Thats one of the things I like about the bible, the more you live and the more you read it, the more it seems to make sense. It hardly made any sense as a child, but now that i’ve got some more life under my belt, I can associate with certain things like hate, and suffering in a substantial way. Back to the point though. For those of you who haven’t read it in a while, or haven’t read it at all ~ The story of Job goes something like this: ------- There once was a super-rich super blessed guy named Job (pronounced: jobe...) He had 7 sons (oh wow, how fortunate in a patriarchal society) and 3 daughters (gets the job done) and obscene wealth in the form of... livestock (surprised?). He was considered righteous because of the way he lived, and he gave sacrifices to atone for any other imperfections, both for himself, and for his party-lovin’ children. Well one day the Angels assemble before God in Heaven and Satan decides to come along too. (For those of you who don’t know... Satan was originally like chief angel before he got booted out of heaven for being a cosmic ass). God sees him and asks what he’s been up to ~ no doubt disturbing the proverbial shit. And what do you know, The Accuser (what “satan” means) responds that he’s essentially been globe trotting checking things out. God asks if he has seen or considered his servant Job (the super blessed one). Evidently God is pretty pleased with his righteousness and loyalty and says that there is no one else in the world like him. Well The Accuser is always pretty pessimistic about these things and says, “OH YAH?! but you’ve blessed his pants off and back on again, so why shouldn’t he be. If you take all that away, I bet he’ll curse you to your face... so there.” And God says..... OK. Give it a try, but you cant touch Job himself. So Satan goes in and smokes his kids, inspires some raiders in the area to go snatch up his goats and camels etc. and kill all his servants, pretty much at the same time. Oh yay. Job mourns the loss of his children and his wealth, but still holds on to his faith that God inherently is good. He says, naked i came into this world and naked must I leave it. He mourns the loss, but doesn’t pretend that it is his place to say that he deserved any of those things. He worked for them yes, but at the end of life.... you cannot deserve something so much as to be able to take it with you. Well... God and his Angels reassemble at a later date and Satan comes along too and God asks for a progress report and decides to rub a little salt in the Accuser’s wound to the pride. Hey... bye the way ~ my servant Job has not degraded his integrity and faith in my in the face of misfortune. So even though he lost the bet, Satan pipes up and says ~ “Yah ok maybe, but a man will do anything to save his own life.” And God says... have your way with him, but you have to spare his life. So Satan goes and covers Job’s body with super-herpes and other incredibly ugly and painful things. It says that these sores and whatnot went all the way from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. I don’t think there are too many things quite as frightening as things going wrong with your body that you don’t understand. I cant even begin to get inside that man’s head to experience what he experienced. His wife told him that he was ridiculous to still hold on to the belief that God is good... He should just curse God and die. Im sure Oprah would have said the same thing. His friends heard about all his kids dying and his wealth being destroyed/snatched up so they decided to pay a visit to him and console him. They didn’t even recognize him at first because he looked so mangled. For seven days they sat with him and couldn’t even say anything because everyone felt so awkward. Then... to kind of round things out here, his friends essentially tell him that he has probably done something wrong, and God is probably doing this to punish him so he should apologize to God and get on with it. (At that time, the Jewish people believed that bad things happened because either you or your parents sinned. Good things happened because of God blessing your righteousness.) But Job is offended that they would suggest this because he has done everything that a man can do to serve God, and offered sacrifices to atone for everything else. In his heart he KNOWS that this isn’t because of something he did wrong. That doesn’t give him much reason for why it IS happening, but not knowing why is not enough of a reason for Job to abandon his hope in God’s goodness. Eventually after a lot of talking, the friends go away and God talks to Job. After that, God heals Job and he becomes even more rich than he was in the first place. What a happy Jewish ending. ------ But the point of me writing that (albeit abridged... though i’m sure it seemed long) down was because Job made a statement that really cut me to the quick and has become another sort of stabilizing phrase for me and there is no way you could possibly grasp it without having some idea of what the speaker of it was going through. (Job 13:15-16) “15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him...” The only way that I will be able to survive my own adventures is to trust that God is good and that regardless of how many mountains I need to cross, oceans to swim, friends to find and lose, it is at its deepest core because of the Love of my God. Nothing is more sustaining. It is said that perfect love drives out fear, because fear is connected to punishment or repercussions. But to the point that the worst possible repercussion and horror could be going without that love, even death and pain takes the back seat. So long diatribe over. If you survived it, you will have come a long way in understanding something very important to me. --- After Siberia comes Mongolia, and then Inner Mongolia (China) and finally the surrounding area near Beijing at the hinterlands of the middle kingdom (literal translation of China “zhong guo”). I don’t have much of a science background, but I think its just the bee’s knees to see how the earth changes from place to place. I’d love to see Siberia and Mongolia when its not... you know... “kill you cold”. If you want to see what I mean, I suggest watching “Mongol” ~ a movie about the childhood and rise of Ghengis Khan... the great khan (otherwise known as Temudgin). Beautiful place, haunting music, fearsome people. Naturally I loved it. But its cool to see how quickly the earth through these areas change. Once you get to Mongolia, and more so inner mongolia you start to see less snow and more earth and can see the different colours of soil that change every few miles. Gosh what a pleasure it is to speak Chinese. It really is (friggin Catcher in the Rye!!!). Landing in Beijing and being able to function smoothly was such a pleasant experience. I got coffee, I exchanged money, I got through security with 0 hitches etc. A pleasure. No trip wires or stumbling blocks. A stark contrast to what I would certainly be experiencing in just a few hours when I land in Korea. Waited at my gate for a little while, started this blog and tried to get my mind ready for the things I would need to do in just a short while. It was interesting hearing so many people speaking Korean on the phone at the gate, and that got me all jazzed to go study. One of the gate agents came over and gave me a new boarding pass... which i guess she figured out because I was like the only white dude in the area... I didn’t notice ^_^ I don’t pay attention to how I am different because I just expect that I am. For example In the last two years of Spanish class in university, I was the only male in a class of about 15. I didn’t notice until someone pointed it out. Gender difference is not a detail that is important to me. Unless we start talking about sharing public bathroom space... She asked for my passport and old boarding pass and while I fished out my wallet I asked her to wait a moment in Chinese. She lit up a little bit. She continued the process in Chinese and so did I. She then gave me my boarding pass and headed back to the counter. When boarding started and I gave her my ticket she went from business face to bright full face smile. That made me happy in turn :D I went down the jet-bridge and one of Asiana Air’s workers was there greeting people, “ Anyong-haseiyo (bow), Anyong-haseiyo (bow), Good afternoon sir, (bow). hahaha That was precious to me. I love sudden contrast. It amuses me to no end. On the 2 hour flight, which on a western airline will get you... a surly old lady and a can of coke if your lucky these days, Asiana Airlines had wonderful pleasant young and beautiful flight attendants and a “first class” meal with cute red and white dishes ^_^. I think the part I enjoyed most was probably my korean hot pepper paste in a travel sized toothpaste tube. Delicious though it was, I couldn’t finish the beef and rice thingamagum because I was feeling nauseous from United Air’s weird noodles at the end of my previous flight. Tragic shame that. We get close to landing in Incheon (one of the two airports in Seoul) and I have to say that the coastal area of Seoul looks pretty bangin’. There is this sort of organic maze of trails or roads or something that are all lit up at night. It wanders all over the place and looks like a phenominal place to clear your head on a cool night. Unfortunatley for me, this night wasnt cool... it was downright cold. -9*C in Seoul when we get there.. I said brrrrrr. its cold in here.. there must be some... well anyway I figure out which bus I need to take to get to Sinchon district, buy my ticket and get on. Im still feelin queasy so I let myself fall asleep on the bus rationalising that stops on busses from the airports are always really loudly broadcasted... and they were so no worries about sleeping through it. we get to my stop... and I pressed the button. He sort of slowed down near the stop, but didnt really stop stop... said some things in korean and we had a few awkward moments of me wondering if he was gonna stop or not and then he just kept going... so the next stop (not really that far) I pressed the button and got my butt out of the chair and into the isle to be a bit more assertive. This time it worked. I got off the bus and the driver helped me get my bags out. And WHAM! the cold and strangeness of a new city hit me like THAT. We were on a median bus stop between two lands of traffic on each side. Its dark, and about as heavily populated with neon lights and advertising as Hong Kong though not as tall and narrow as HK. So my next step was to try and figure out how to get a taxi, so I did what I do best and watched. I got myself over to one of the sides of the road eventually with my two rolling bags, violin case stacked over that and messenger bag full of... like everything, strapped sideways over my left shoulder and down to my opposite hip. Im bundled... but its still pretty chilly. I get out my hotel reservation and I realize its a little bit of a long-shot for a taxi because my printer didn’t have black ink, and the korean part was particularly hard to read. I decided to try it anyway. Didn’t work... So I got myself inside a sort of office building and decided to rewrite the korean part and phone number in large black letters as well as I could using Chinese stroke order... luckily its the same with Korean, so it came out more or less right. Think 9 year old English. Some of the E’s and N’s might be super big, but it makes sense. I get in the next taxi and he doesn’t recognize the address so we try to call the hotel for better directions... and there is some sort of call waiting sound. {ehhh ehhh ehhh ehhh} We try again... same thing. He says something in Korean and gesticulates at the phone. I smile nod and grunt because there is next to nothing else I can do. He puts the address in his GPS. We get to the end of the line on his GPS and I give him money and get out. He gesticulates some more and I go... uh huh uh huh uh huh. Then I start wandering. I figure I can try one of the gazillion 7/11’s to see if they know where it is. I have one korean phrase that might be able to make that happen. I know how to ask where the bathroom is, so I just amended the phrase for my hotel and showed them my directions. the 7/11 guy looked at me, looked at my address, gave it a funny look and then started flipping through the book i had written it down in to see if there was more information. He saw one of the other pages I had written Chinese on. Then he asked me in Chinese if I could speak, and thank my lucky stars... I can ;D. He helped me call the place again, and again... go the call waiting sound. I checked the original reservation email sent to me in my computer and confirmed the address and phone number... no dice. He then explained to me that that number wasn’t in operation anymore... and he had no clue where that address was supposed to be. Ok... maybe he’s not from around here.... maybe. So I thank him, go back outside grab my bags and decide to wander some more. I had seen a picture of the place before, so I decided to see what I could see see see... all the while dragging around my life in several quite heavy suitcases in -9* weather. After a while, even roller bags begin to wear on you. No dice. No dice. No dice. I see a gazillion bars, coffee shops and restaurants. ok. I’ll try a coffee shop to see if I can find a map on google using their wifi. Damn pay as you go hotspots! I bought a green tea latte so that I wouldn’t feel super subconscious about my gypsy caravan in the coffee shop and. Again, no dice. The pay as you go hotspot is one of those things like they have in starbucks, you have to sign up with a credit card... which I would have done if the information wasn’t ALL in Korean. I took an exasperated sip of my green tea latte and knew that was the only sip i’d be taking of that beverage on my queasy stomach. I took my computer up to the counter to try my luck and see if they maybe had a different connection that I could try... with a wholesome password I could finagle out of them. No dice. I went back to my bags and latte, threw the latte out and continued my oddessy. In total I walked around with those bags for almost two hours I think is what it came down to. At the end I decide that I wasn’t going to find the phantom hotel... which may or may not exist... and I had better find another hotel and set my exhausted self down. I stopped back in the 7/11 to see if my Chinese speaking friend maybe knew of any other hotels in the area. He didn’t. No dice... So I decided to wander in a new direction and perhaps i’d be fortunate enough to find SOMEPLACE that had the word hotel on the side of it. Went through the like mega 5 way intersection that forms the center of Sinchon and went in a new direction... up hill... and then 2/3rds of the way up the hill I saw a lit up sign on the side (not neon mind you... ) for Hotel Good Time. I was fully aware that I might be walking into a sleezy den... but as long as the rooms didn’t have prostitutes in there waiting for you... I really didn’t care at this point. I got in and went to the front desk and ventured a hopeful wish, “English?” “A little” was the response. Oh thank my precious plush rabbit foot. I got a room ~ for a reasonable price ^_^ got in the elevator and opened the door. I was immediately greeted with a wave of warm air flowing out on me from the dark and obscure interior. I put the room key in the slight that turned on the light and beheld the glories of my room. It was simple. But I loved it because it contained essential things like heat and a bed. The first thing inside the door at door level was a square area where one would take off their shoes. Somehow that made intuitive sense to me. Then to the left there was a step up into the main part of the room about 6-8inches high. I stepped up and noticed two things right away. My sock had gotten awfully bare in certain spots and I should think about getting rid of them... because while they are a wildly fashionable pair of argyle socks :D, no amount of awesome makes up for worn out soles... The second thing I noticed was that the floors were heated. Oh God YES! I also had a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom which you had to step down into from the elevated bedroom area. There were two computers over near the wall which I would later finagle the english writing option out of and look up a map to my other hotel... and there was also a gargantuan like 4 foot long tv on the wall adjacent the bed, but I didn’t care much about that. I laid down on the bed fully clothed and it took about all I had in me to not collapse right there and never wake up again. I decided that I was completely vulnerable where I was. If I were to for some reason go unconcious... no one would be able to find me and about the only possibility of any aid coming to me would be someone finding my passport and contacting the Embassy. Not good odds. I steeled my resolve and went over to the computers ~ turned one on and eventually figured out how to get to gmail and send an email to my parents and inform them of a few things before I was much to tired to do anything else but sleep and try and put the whole wretched experience behind me. Email sent, I lay back down on the bed and told myself, “Someday, somebody is going to benefit from my pain.” And then I was out. -- The next day I wandered around bagless :D for a while and eventually got up the gaul to ask for directions again, at my hotel none-the-less, though this concierge didn’t speak English or Chinese, but he looked up the address online and explained everything to me in Korean... of which I understood ..... Sinchon...... right.... 4 .... right. ok... So I only understood Sinchon.... because 4 and right were both gestured.... but still. After another 1.5 hours of wandering in the morning light and deciphering clues ... in one of the myriad of back-ally communities that cover the surface of Seoul between the major roads, I eventually found my hotel. I never would have found it at night with those bags. Not a chance. I wasn’t even that far away... but I never would have found it that way. If your booking a hotel in Seoul... book one that is definitely on a main road or has REAAAALY good directions and 3 phone numbers....