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....

1 comment:

  1. good Lord Peter!!! That sounds sooooo crazy. I'm glad you survived!