Friday, April 27, 2007
This is one of my favourite ones. The toys are called diabolos -- they're a juggling toy, similar (in a lot of ways) to a yo-yo, but bigger, and cooler-looking when you're in Cirque du Soleil.
This is a clip of the contortionist in curtains I described earlier.
The skinship act--in my show, it was a little different than this, but amazing, absolutely amazing:
Thursday, April 26, 2007
To you, what would be the coolest "first thing people say when your name is mentioned" possible?
For example, when somebody says "Hey, do you know Rob?"
I wish people answered "Rob? That guy enjoys his life so much, it makes me enjoy my life more, too."
I don't know if that's ACTUALLY what people say, but I sure wish it were.
What about you? What do you wish people said at the mention of your name?
(My runner up: "Rob. Yeah, he sure is rich.")
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Now I am a sucker for circuses -- just to be clear. I saw a Chinese-style circus in North Korea, and as soon as the lady with the plate balanced on a stick balanced on another stick held in her jaw, started swinging through the air on a trapeze without losing grip of the stick in her jaw, or upsetting the long stick balanced on that stick, or the tea set balanced on top of that stick, well, I was sold. Heck, I wasn't just sold, I was six years old again.
Cirque Du Soleil takes that kind of "golly gee whiz" amazing-ness and adds cool costuming and choreography -- there was a part where the protagonist (the girl in orange below), and singer, sits, and groups of clowns in white run around her banging on progressively larger drums, perfectly evoking a thunderstorm, like rainy day at home, alone with one's imagination, transitioning into the next jaw-dropping set of acrobatics. That kind of stuff didn't show up in a regular circus, until Cirque du Soleil came along. They'd just throw some clowns on stage to distract people while they set up the trapeze. I liked this better. The music was all original, and. . . just wow. (*Plus, Cirque is a Canadian company, from Montreal, so that gave me bragging rights for a good, oh, three minutes!*)
The whole thing began with a girl putting on her imagination, in the form of a clown's purple hat. You can see her here, about to put the hat on.
Then, all the normal rules for the world, and her (totally) mundane house/nuclear family arrangement, fly toward the ceiling, and it's imagination time! (With the music, the way her whole house started to float when the hat touched her head, was an immediate entry into the world of awe. Just like that, I was, once again, six years old.
I loved it so much I bought the DVD, just so I could post a few pictures and show you an inkling of what I saw.
Disclaimer: I don't own Cirque du Soleil or the rights to these images, I'm posting them for pure fun and information, not for profit; if you like what you see, go see the show. Seriously. Go see the show. Hopefully that endorsement will cancel out my mild copyright infringement.
There were a bunch of elements in the show that involved so much speed and motion that to show pictures wouldn't do them justice, so I'll just say that you're only seeing a very small bit of what I saw.
This was probably my favorite element of the show. A woman, a contortionist, hung from the ceiling, wrapped in these two long pieces of red silk. At first, when she appeared, she was invisible, covered by the red cloths, in an image that struck me as primal -- almost foetal -- and then she came out dressed in a leotard exactly the colour of the cloth and the light, so that she seemed nude (in keeping with the sense of birth, and primal life), stretched between the sky and the earth in these fantastic, bent-around, straining shapes, moving between gorgeous frozen-ness and surprising tumbles up and down the red lifeline. It made me think of the old greek myth about the three sisters who cut each person's thread when their life is through, her twists and bends, moving up and down that blood-red line, slowly working her way down to the end.
When she finished her stretches, I felt like her journey had completed; she wrapped the silk into a noose and hung by her neck, and the silk cloth lowered her closer to the ground, until one of the lead clowns (the one in purple, helping the girl put on her hat above) took her and carried her away. She never touched the floor, and if she had, I don't know what I would have done, after seeing her stretched between the top and bottom of the silk cloth for such a perfect seven minutes.
Umm, self-explanatory. Just look at these guys!
These guys were tossing each other through the air like cheerleaders, except more intricate, more dangerous, and more wow. (Can wow be an adjective? Just for today?)
Then, when I watched the show, they were in a line, passing the light ones from one pair to the next one, with the light ones doing a flip in the air before coming down, head-first into the next pair's hands. One of them nearly fell -- he came down at the wrong angle, or misjudged where to place his hands, or something, and we watched the three performers scramble to stop the small one from landing, head-first, on the ground. The strangest thing is, seeing that wrinkle, that one imperfection, made the rest of the performance more exciting -- it reminded everyone in the room that these were humans, normal humans made of meat and bone, and not just costumed creatures made of air, imagination and wonder. If that guy fell, he might have broken his neck, and some of those performers did their acts three storeys above the ground, some without harnesses.
Exactly because of that imperfection, the Shanghai Circus, of the ones I saw, was the least perfect, but also the most exciting -- there were several spots where someone almost lost balance (while blindfolded, walking around the outside of a hoop-shaped cage set inside a large, rotating ring) and fell two storeys. People in the crowd shrieked, and for the rest of that act, and also while they had eight motorcycles whirling around inside a steel-mesh globe, everybody felt this terrifying, thrilling, "if anything goes wrong" tension.
These ones spun around in hoops. It was cool. I like this shot, because it hints at all the action and motion their act contained. Most of the circus was so dynamic and fast, or slapstick funny (which doesn't translate into written descriptions) that pictures or words can't do any justice to it at all. Sorry -- I'm totally incapable of describing a lot of this circus to you, but I still want to share it, kind of like when a four-year-old hears a joke.
"Why did the chicken cross the playground?"
"To get to the other slide."
Four year old says:
"So, there was a playground, and the chicken came in, and he saw, like playground things, and then, um, he's a chicken, and he saw a slide, so he went down the slide. ACROSS THE PLAYGROUND!!! HAAHAHAHAHA!!"
This next series of pictures was the achingly slow counterpoint to the rest of the show. Beautifully slow. These two are balanced on each other, using nothing but the traction of their own skin on skin. There's a word -- it originated in Japan -- called "skinship" -- it's a word for the kind of relationship that forms through touch, as well as the act of touch, as used to build intimacy and closeness. In this act, when I saw it, I was blown away by how aware the two performers were of each other's bodies -- the intimate, total trust that comes of performing this way together. I think it would be impossible to perform this act together without dearly loving your performing partner, at least on some level. It was incredibly powerful to see such intimacy expressed in feats of balance, strength and flexibility. I'm still kinda speechless (but not TOO speechless).
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
I discovered a great spaghetti restaurant this week. These days, a restaurant needs to have five our six great dishes I've tried, just to crack my top five favourite restaurants in the neighbourhood. Boy I love my life!
I'm also still writing regularly, making some friendships, and finding my way around. I'm studying Korean more than I was before (though still not as much as I should).
A girl just sat next to me in the PC room, and she smells EXACTLY like one of my ex-girlfriends. It's almost frightening how evocative smell can be -- brings back memories as quick as a brick.
The other day an old man, drunk and stinking of soju, and wearing the traditional, ancient Korean peasant field-worker's outfit, came up to me and my friend, shook my hand, tried all his English out, and then gave me an alcohol stinking hug. It was fantastic, in its own odd way. I've witnessed four car accidents since I moved to this neighbourhood, and about a dozen shouting matches.
I don't know why but, in keeping with my people-watching habit, for some reason, watching people argue always gives me a kick. I think it's a bemused curiousity with the way, here in the big city, there really is just no privacy anywhere, so anything that has to happen between two people, pretty much has to happen in public. Couples don't go to each other's houses, either because of cultural expectations about the appearance of virtue, or just because most young people live with their parents, and nobody wants dad coming out of the bedroom to interrupt the fight by saying "Could you two quit arguing out here? I'm balancing the checkbook!" And this means that, in dark corners of parks, on subway station steps, in coffee shop booths, you can spot people arguing, confronting each other, fighting outright, as well as getting together, falling in love, praying together, and making amends. Some of these, I've done myself.
I also, perversely, enjoy watching arguments between family members, in Korea and in Canada -- watching how people argue with the ones who know them best is just interesting to me, the way people go immediately into the usual modes (be that passive-aggressive, or sullen-silent, or loud and angry, or whatever), and especially, the way family members know exactly which buttons to push to get exactly the kind of visceral, emotional response that can only be stirred by a scratch on a raw nerve or a sensitive spot. (Saw a couple get into a fight on the sidewalk today; last week, saw two ancient hobos ready to take swings at each other. I have no idea why this is to fascinating to me, but I can't look away from the raw human-ness of it.)
Take care, all! Go see Cirque du Soleil if you get the chance. It'll be pricey, but worth it, so pony up, and be ready for a really wow afternoon!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
If I could make one law, this is it: Every high school student is required to spend one year in a different country, on a different continent (in a homestay).
Think about what kind of a young population we'd have if every young person in the country had a year's experience on a different continent, imagine how diverse the viewpoints and thinking styles would be! Imagine how impossible tribalism and bigotry would be to maintain! And I'm not just talking about first world countries -- every country. Wouldn't that be interesting? I like it.
Nothing personal, but the countries that need it most are the isolationist ones: America and Canada are too rarely exposed to a REAL paradigm shift in cultures. Island nations like Japan and England could benefit. Korea would benefit (Korea is functionally an island right now because North Korea is blocking it off from the mainland, and it's been known as isolationist all through its history: hence the nickname "The Hermit Kingdom"). Even countries like Belgium or Austria, which are surrounded on each side by different cultures and countries, would benefit from a trip to a whole other continent. It would also teach hospitality, and patience in the home countries, as each country played host to students from all over the world, even while it sent its students abroad. Students who travelled to third world countries would see the need, and it would be an immediate, urgent thing, rather than just a theoretical, distant, "Think of the kids in Africa" velleity.
There we go. That's MY way to fix the world. It would take some time to bear fruit, but wouldn't it be interesting to see how it played out?
(PS: velleity is the word of the day. Its definition is "a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it." -- a wish to do something that is not strong enough to take action. "oh. I should work out more often." "I should clean my room." "I should really organize my desk" "It would be nice to travel some time")
1. The stupid tax. People who do stupid things should get a stupid tax. Speeding on the highway is a ticket. Speeding in traffic, on a crowded highway, or being rude to the officer who pulls you over should be subject to a stupid tax at the officer's discretion. The stupid tax is also what you pay for things like forgetting to pay bills on time, not returning library books, etc. -- money you're paying that you shouldn't need to. SUV owners should be paying $20000/year of stupid taxes. Brand name items should have a stupid tax. . . or maybe a sheep tax . . . on them.
2. The smart bonus -- people who do things that make common sense should get the smart bonus -- people who consistently recycle, who put aside money for retirement, who buy used cars instead of new ones, etc., or avoid credit card debt, or write shopping lists to save making extra trips, should get a smart bonus.
3. The nice guy discount -- self explanatory. Just be polite, people. It's not really hard, and it makes everybody feel better. I just got a "nice guy discount" at my dentist, and managed to save a goodly bit of money! Maybe you should even be able to get "nice guy discount" vouchers for volunteering. . . but then it wouldn't be volunteering anymore, really.
4. The rude tax -- this is a big one. Rude people, if they won't care about other people because of pure human dignity, should learn to be polite because it'll hit their pocketbook if they keep pushing to get the empty seat on the bus, arguing with cashiers about prices (they don't set the prices, dumbass!), spitting in the street, and leering at young women wearing skirts.
5. The green bonus -- people who drive hybrid or low output cars, people who use public transportation, who recycle, carpool, use trash cans, conserve water and turn off lights, absolutely deserve a green bonus. SUV owners, people who drive everywhere, who buy over-packaged goods, may even need to pay a green tax. I think fossil fuels should be taxed right through the nose. As should cigarettes.
6. The sheep tax -- see "brand names" in point one. People who pay extra for brand names, people who buy celebrity gossip magazines, people who buy new clothes with each fashion season, who go to "trendy" places just to show that they're hip. Of all the taxes, this is the one that could have the most far-reaching implications, culturally (though the green bonus might be the most important one).
The sheep tax could even extend to counterculture people -- counterculture can be just as herd-ish as pop culture. If you shop at second hand stores because your friends do, if you hate certain singers or movies on principle, rather than because they suck, or get all your music or fashion choices from the "underground/indie" website/zine du jour, if you choose to dislike the Beatles or Shakespeare, for the pure sake of argument -- you're making choices based on other people's opinions, rather than focusing on what actually makes you happy, and that's just silly.
OK, now it's your turn. Post a behaviour that deserves one of these taxes or bonuses -- sound out! When you hit "post comment", I have to check it before it goes up, so you won't see it right away, but don't worry: it's there, waiting for me! Propose another tax or bonus I ought to add.
1. wow. Overwhelming. Sad. I don't know what to say about that kind of tragedy. For the families, I can't even imagine.
2. If the shooter had been a Spanish, Italian, German, British (that is, white) immigrant, his immigrant-ness wouldn't have mattered, wouldn't have been discussed.
3. Over here in Korea, there's a lot of shock and dismay at the fact the guy was Korean. A lot of head shaking, even some anxiety. I know if the guy had been Canadian, I would have just said, "wow. Some people in the world are messed up," and left it at that. Some of my Korean students are trying to figure out what aspect of Korean culture led to such an act. My answer has to be: none. There are fringe people in every culture; the only difference is that this guy had access to guns; sure, he fell through the cracks, but you also have to make choices, and I'd have to say, nobody but Cho himself is responsible for his making the choice to kill more than thirty people rather than to, say, take up vandalism as a hobby, or work his frustrations out on a punching bag.
4. I'm glad I wasn't in North America when it happened because I hate, hate, hate, the way North American news networks cover stories like this. The same day of the 9/11 attack, I was already desensitized to the images of the buildings falling down, because they replayed on TV again and again and again, and that's just wrong. Somebody's sticking a camera and a microphone in the face of a family member or a student who ought to be left alone to grieve, and footage is being played and replayed beyond reasonable limits, because people will watch, and advertisers will pay. Lurid. Gratuitous. Wrong.
In other, less heart-breaking news:
Once again, my friend Tamie's blog is turning out to be a goldmine. "Every activity we neglect to do which could make an outsider an insider makes us poorer." Click on the quote to read the whole entry. It's a discussion of outsiders and integration and community that sure rings true for a guy living in Korea, where I AM a visible minority.
Cool student story: I was teaching my students the phrase "butting your head against a wall", the idea of fighting against something that one could never actually change. One of my students explained that the Korean equivalent phrase is "attacking a rock with an egg" -- I LOVE that. The other one was: I taught "the pot calls the kettle black" and he said the Korean equivalent is "the dog covered in shit scolds the dog covered in dust".
I'm still happy over here, doing well, having fun. I'm in the process of getting a root canal, so my tooth is a bit delicate until the process is finished, but I'm doing well, still writing, making friends, eating good (inexpensive) food, etc..
Interesting development: my interest in movies has almost totally waned since I started writing more consistently. I just feel like I don't need them: I've got better things to do. Sure, I'll still take time for something like West Side Story, I'll watch a movie with friends, but it's no longer what I want to do with my free time.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Today I went to the dentist, and got the first of three steps in a root canal treatment. Root canals are covered by medical insurance here, so they're fantastically cheap! (I paid 80000 won, which is about ninety dollars Canadian. . . depending on how strong the won is this week.) In other dentistry news, I now have a gold half-crown I've been running around and showing everybody I know.
Also, by being nice, and funny, and polite, I've won the affection of the entire dentist's office staff; they gave me a "nice guy discount" -- from 250-200 for the crown, and from 110-80 for the root canal. Nice.
I finished the first draft of my first novel last week, which means now I'm editing (and developing other projects). This makes me really happy.
I just watched a guy who might have been drunk, and had definitely just had his clock completely cleaned -- he was out of his mind and had bruises on his face -- get shooed off the bench in front of a restaurant. It was one of those funny situations with two loud ladies and a broom against a man who 1. didn't even know where he was, and 2. might just be extremely dangerous, if push came to shove. Fortunately, he eventually wandered off, making a butterfly-line (as opposed to a beeline) for the next nearest bench. Good thing there was a bench nearby: he was so out of his mind I wondered if he would wander right into traffic.
I opened up my old "Seoul Food Finder" food guide which, despite very poorly drawn maps, has all kinds of reccommendations for restaurants that serve up good stuff. The main drawback is simply that, as it was published in 2002, a good quarter of those restaurants have closed or moved since then. Oh well, it still has lots of great locations.
Still happy: this weekend, I just started feeling more alive again, despite never having noticed exactly when I stopped feeling alive all the time. Oh well: I'm glad it's back.
Have a vivid day.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
by Naomi Shihab Nye
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well -- one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew -- however poorly used -
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her -- southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies -- little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts -- out of her bag --
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers --
Non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American -- ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were holding hands --
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of confusion stopped
-- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.
I really love the sense of community in this poem, that community can still spring out in unexpected places.
I was walking home on Thursday night after posting this poem (I'm adding to the post now), and somehow my senses just switched "on" -- I've written about that sensation before. Suddenly I was just seeing everything around, and everyone was my friend. This was unexpected, because a friend had cancelled an appointment on me that night, and that usually bums me out, but tonight, the entire world was just glowing a little, as if wet, or catching sunlight on snow crystals. I walked home as slowly as possible.
Hope you all walk home slowly sometime soon.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Now, last time I did an Osaka visa run, I wandered around all evening by myself, ending up with nothing to show for it except sore feet. This time, things went much better. Personally, I don't like travelling unless it includeds 2 elements:
If I travel alone, I'm not a happy cat, and if I don't enjoy the food, I'll have a sour taste in my mouth when I get back (har har har). That's why malaysia was so great to me: I was travelling with Anthony and Amy, my awesome coworkers, and I was eating fantastic food like, every single meal. Well, my first time in Osaka, all I really knew was that a lot of Japanese noodle dishes include buckwheat, one of my two allergies. This meant, since I couldn't read Japanese, I had to wander around looking at the picture menus outside restaurants to try and find a restaurant where the dishes looked like they didn't have grey noodles, and wish for the best. Plus, I was travelling alone.
This time, I was sitting in a Starbucks when a white dude swooped in on a seat as soon as a Japanese lady left. Turns out, his name is Paul and he is from Vancouver. He'd lived in Osaka for four years, so we had a nice, two-hour long conversation about living, as Western Canadians, in Korea and Japan. It was pretty fun. Then, before he left to meet his friend, I asked him the crucial question:
"Do you know any good places to eat around here?"
"Sure. Let me show you my favourite sushi place, and another place you gotta try."
So I went to a really delicious, inexpensive sushi place -- sushi can be two kinds. Pay a big price for "all you can eat" and they'll keep feeding you until you're stuffed, but you get what you pay for at a place like that. Low price = low quality and the worst cuts of the fish. There's also "all you can afford" sushi -- where it comes on revolving places that run around a track, and you can pick off different ones, and pay according to the colours of the plates you pick off. This adds up quickly, especially if you're hungry, and (like me) can eat sushi like candy. But Paul showed me a nicely priced place, and I ate fantastically my first night.
Then, later that night, I was wandering aimlessly again (a common practice among those who don't know the best places to hang out in a neighbourhood), and crossed paths with another fella whom I'd spotted several other times, on the flight, and then also at the Korean consulate. He was also living in Seoul, and doing a visa run. As we started chatting, it seemed like we had quite a lot in common. He and I both love writing, think along similar lines, and had similar upbringings.
Well, we just kept on chatting, about the people walking by, about Korea, about our life stories. We ate Japanese style ramen at a little place, spotted a hobo sleeping in a phone booth, and then, as we walked by an empty sort of plaza/courtyard, we spotted something fantastic.
Out there, in the middle of the courtyard, were about twenty-five kids -- teenaged or early twenties -- in mildly disorganized groups, dancing their hearts out! They didn't seem organized, there wasn't any instructor apparent; they just danced, practicing sequences, giving each other tips, some playing music and some moving to the rhythm in their heads. Some were extremely talented, others only moderately so.
I'm told there are, what amounts to street-dancing clubs, in some of the poorer countries in south Asia, too -- just dancing for the joy of it, for the fun, for the escape, maybe, but whyever they did it, there was this crowd of kids out there just doing something of pure joy. Especially, it was great to be watching such a thing of physical joy, with another lover of writing -- a different kind of expression of joy. We watched for about forty minutes, and still, they danced. Some tired and left, some stayed. Security guards from the building came by to watch, but instead of dispersing them or turning off the lights, just left them be.
The next day, I saw Mike again (the writer) -- we talked until late, and then went home. We met again at the consulate, and again, spent lunch and the afternoon walking around and chatting. He has an interesting history I'm still learning about, he's ALSO from British Columbia, Canada, and he's been in Korea for about five years, so we have a lot to talk about, and we both love going to cool restaurants.
Lunch that day, we went to the second place Paul had recommended to us. It was a dish called okonomi yaki, a cake made with a bit of horseradish and green onion with a nice flavour to it, topped with sauce, vegetables, and (at the specialty restaurant) anything else you wanted, pretty much. Here are the ones Mike, Steve and I ate.
This is probably in the top ten dishes I've eaten in the entire last five years. (And that's saying something, the last five years encompassing most areas of Seoul, trips to Malaysia Alberta and Tokyo/Yokohoma, but there you have it.) Ridiculously delicious! I don't know how to describe it, except to say, if you find a Japanese place that serves okonomi yaki, I won't guarantee it'll taste as good as what we had in Osaka (just like Kimchi in Canada doesn't even hold a match to Seoul Kimchi, much less a candle), but give it a try, I suppose. Here's what it looks like.
After that, we wandered around an underground shopping center, found a park and chased pigeons, tried to get lost but couldn't, and enjoyed the sheer variety of Osaka architecture.
Here in Seoul, I'm walking around finding new, cool neighbourhoods, and enjoying the hell out of my new job. The way Matt said (after a great, silly walk around his neighbourhood,) "at first, the job situation doesn't look that impressive, but then, on second glance, your current job fits you like a glove, Rob". I agree. I've been walking down the street and bursting into a silly grin at random intervals, just for pure joy of life. It's been nice.
More later everyone! Love you all.
also: thanks for posting comments! it lets me know who's been reading my blog, and that makes me happy. Feel free to add something.