Monday, May 28, 2007

The Buddha's Birthday festival

Let it be known that I added pictures to this post, and a few more comments, and a few more jokes: go ahead and reread it. The jokes really are that good. Really. And if you'll believe that the jokes are that good, I have some riverfront property in Seoul to sell you!

Here's me (Superman) Robin (friend from Agassiz, in pink [come to think of it, I should have worn my Batman shirt. Har har har.]) and Matt (my best friend/brother), at the Buddha's Birthday Lantern Festival Parade.

I think I glowed in the dark last Sunday night when I went to bed, I was so happy.

Thursday the 24th was Buddha's birthday, a major holiday here in Korea (not as big as Christmas in North America, but definitely a bigger party than Easter).

According to legend, when baby Buddha was born, he took seven steps, including one in each direction (north, south, etc.), and then pointed with one hand at the sky and one at the earth. There were numerous images of the baby Buddha standing in the center of an opening lotus flower (don't know what happened to his mother, but there you have it), standing and pointing up with his right hand and down with his left.


But anyway, whether he sprang forth from a flower like Venus from a shell, or came from a mommy and a daddy like most other human beings, the fact remains that Buddhism, Protestant Christianity and Confucianism vie with eachother for status of most dominant cultural influence on the Korean mind (with Confucianism winning in a rout, in my opinion).

(Did you know Confucius is in the guinness book of world records for the man with the longest genealogy in the world? There are still people in China who can chart their ancestry to Confucius, named "K'ung Pu" in Chinese [yes, that K'ung Fu], something like eighty-five generations, and more than a million descendants later.)

Well, Sunday morning, I met my friend for a truckstop breakfast in Itaewon, at a bar called "The Rocky Mountain Tavern", where you can not only watch hockey games on tape delay, you can eat eggs and bacon, and hash-browns and toast, just like at Denny's, except, instead of going "Wow, this greasy-spoon coffee is awful," you go "Wow. This awful coffee is just like home!" (That's when I knew it was time to go back to Korea -- when even Tim Horton's coffee stopped being a joy, and started being commonplace to me.) Then, after a short interlude at home, I met my friend Robin from Agassiz, who now lives in a suburb south of Seoul (still accessible by subway -- YAY Korea!) and we went for a stomp around my neighbourhood to see the lantern festival.

We met up with two other friends, named Narae and Yunmi, two funny, smart ladies I meet at my school, and we wandered through downtown Seoul. Entire roads near the Jogyesa Temple (one of the most important temples in Seoul) had been closed for the festival, with stage shows, music performances, martial arts demonstartions, and some really good break-dancing, and also some really cute junior (kid-sized) break-dancing. There were booths demonstrating Buddhist and Korean culture, including food samples, painting and drawing, costume and outfits, and so forth. As the day wore on, we chatted and wandered around different neighbourhoods, ending up back at my favourite restaurant in all of Seoul (and it takes some doing to earn that status with me), to eat some sparkling (meaning delicious, not shiny) Indian food, then stepping out of the restaurant just in time to see the first parts of the parade pass at the next intersection up.

The parade was just like a western parade, except totally different. Take all the kilts and uniforms and change them into traditional korean robes and dresses, and switch the high school floats with people demonstrating Korean swordplay or old ladies carrying lotus flowers, and replace bagpipes with traditional Korean gongs, cymbals, drums and shrill double-reed instruments. And no shriners. Or church groups, seeing as it was Buddha's birthday. I guess the Christians stayed home that day. . . or maybe changed their stripe for an afternoon.

Well, with my friend Robin beside me, and amazing Indian food in my belly, and a day of walking around at my back, I found my best friend/brother Matt watching the parade near my house, and sat with him-- I don't know how the day could have gotten much better, short of random poeple walking up to me and saying "You seem like a nice guy. Here. Have some cash." I told Robin that if I were any happier, there'd be two of me; the whole downtown was full of celebration and people dressed in their finest Korean clothes.

The park near my house was all strung up with a latticework of lamps hanging from every high point to every other high point, all glowing with candles or electric light. The whole park, surrounded by walls to block light, was dark except these orange and green orbs hanging all around. From crashing cymbals and music outside, to this great quietness inside the park, and the peaceful spell of paper lanterns was a stunning contrast. The pictures didn't turn out, so to help you imagine how beautiful the park was, look at the picture below, and use your imagination to replace all the Audrey Hepburn with glowing, hanging paper lanterns.

Pretty lovely, wasn't it?

By the time Robin spotted the cotton candy she'd been seeking all afternoon, I was randomly grinning to split my face, and jumping up and down unprompted. It was all I could do to keep from dancing around like the crazy Dutch tourguide who accompanied Heyjin's tour group.

It's been a good time. Buddha's birthday itself was the 24th, but it rained that day, so I met Sally, the genius, and we went to see a circus. After the circus (which was, as before, amazing: see previous posts) I met the lady who gave me my dental work a month ago. You may hear more about her later, but we had a very nice time eating at the nicest sandwich restaurant I know in Seoul, and generally hanging out together, walking around in the rain, sharing an umbrella.

In July I'll return to Canada to see my Dad's wedding. That'll be nice. I miss my connections in Canada, but I'll tell you, Korea's sure amazing these days, too. It's been really good to me.

Recently, a few of my Korean friends have criticized me for having too many words and not enough pictures on my blog.

Sorry. Words are my medium and my passion, and my camera's nothing but a junky little cellphone digital. I just got a webcam, but I can't exactly carry that around town and take cool pictures with it. The cord isn't very long.

Yes, that's what I just said. I got a webcam! Now, you can meet me online, if you like! I can broadcast myself over MSN or whatever. . . but it's a little strange: partly, it's just like looking in a mirror, so I want to do the same things I usually do in a mirror: make funny faces, and see how it looks. But then, there's someone on the other end of the webcam watching, going "weirdo" plus, now I have to put on a shirt when I sit down to chat online. Sigh.

Oh well.

Here are some pictures from the day.

Historically, the swastika is a symbol meaning "well-being" -- Hitler and the Nazi party kind of took the image and wrecked its original meaning. In Asia, especially south asia and places with a strong Buddhist, Hindo or Jainist tradition, it's still used in its original meaning. My old apartment was near a mountain that had a temple on its slope, and the temple had a two storey high swastika wishing goodwill upon our neighbourhood. It's also often on the entrance of Chinese doctors' offices (where you can get traditional Asian treatments like accupuncture, pressure or heat treatments, etc.)

It was pretty dark, that's why the colours and contrast in this picture are a bit wacky.

Many floats from the parade.

The parade was shiny.

Of course, no Korean cultural experience is complete without a nod to asskicking robot warriors. I'm not sure how old the tradition of asskicking robot warriors is in Korea's culture, but it plays an important role in the entertainment industry now: at least as important as plastic surgery!

I'm pretty sure dragons go back farther than asskicking robot warriors. I'm not sure by how much though. They share one trait: both have humans inside them, controlling their movements. That's about all they share, though. Would YOU rather be a dragon, or a human with a cool mecha warrior suit? (Life's so full of difficult questions! Another one: would you rather have a time machine that can travel backward two minutes, so that you can always think of a good comeback, or a remote control that changes the channel/topic/person when somebody starts talking about something boring?)

These were impressive. One of the dragons on a different float actually breathed fire!

Below is what you see in a Korean parade instead of men and women wearing kilts or little shriners hats.

And this is what you see instead of "Community Local High School Class of 2007" and waving cheerleaders and jocks.

Heyjin's Dutch tour group all wore orange. When Dutch people wear orange, it's like Canadians wearing a maple leaf pin: if you know anything about the country, you'll know what it means. The colour orange is a nice marker: easy to spot, but not as overbearing as a stars and stripes cowboy hat. Helped keep the group together, too.

To imagine the street below in its normal state, replace EVERY SINGLE PERSON you can see with an automobile, and you'll know what rush hour looks like next to my school.

The contrast here: come around an alley corner narrow enough that two people would have to turn sideways to squeeze through at the same time, and look up at an eighteen storey building. I love Korea.

Here's the Tourguide Coby once again, for good measure. By the end of the night she was pulling old Korean gentlemen out of their chairs and forcing them to do some dancing turns with her. It was FAAAANTASTIC.

Everything I love about Korea in a single day, seriously. Days like this just keep piling up -- if I enjoy my life any more I might pop.

Hope you're all feeling the same way!


Oh yeah. This one again too.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My Neighbour Totoro: Movie time.

First, a mini-rant.

I hate, hate, hate, when all children's movies (and books, for that matter) must have a bad guy.

Sure, this is more dramatic -- Jafar (Aladdin), Gaston (Beauty and the Beast), Lord Farquaad (Shrek) were sure fun to despise -- there's no denying that. However, real life usually doesn't have such clean-cut good guys and bad guys, and it does a disservice to children to teach them to think in such "good/evil" terms. Most people who make your life miserable aren't being spiteful or evil; they're just not thinking about the consequences of their actions, or they have some other thing that's more important to them than your happiness. He didn't rip you off to make you unhappy; he ripped you off because he needs to put food on his kids' plates, and the loan collectors came by again last night. In movies for grown ups, I don't mind bad guys -- grown-ups have enough life experience to know this is fiction, while that over there is reality, and let's be honest -- a good bad guy makes a good movie, especially (mostly) in action films. (That's why Spiderman 2 was better than Spiderman 3, Batman 1 was better than Batman 4, why Hook was so much fun and Superman Returns was so lame. In each of those movies, the measure of the villain is the measure of the movie (to some extent). For a case in point, just look at which James Bond movies are memorable, and which ones are just limp. Everything else from one movie to the next is the same (other than the inventiveness of the chase scenes), so the villain is really the measure of the movie.) But with kids' movies. . . first of all, villains scare kids. Second of all, does it really help Billy to start thinking of Tommy in third grade as a villain, who's evil, and whom he must therefore vanquish (rather than just trying to make peace)? I don't think so.

That's why, especially for children's movies and stories, I really, really respect and admire the ones that have no bad guys. To me, Winnie the Pooh is the best example of this. Every character in Winnie the Pooh is unique, they're all friends, they usually get along, and they sometimes clash. The conflicts come out of their respective personalities -- Piglet gets scared on a windy night, Rabbit doesn't want to share his food with Pooh, Owl's tree blows down, Eeyore lost his tail, Piglet discovers a new game. There's no "snatcher" who comes out of the woods and kidnaps one of them from time to time, they just act like normal groups of friends in normal situations, like the ones their readers (kids) experience.

Well, I have another one.

Everybody, if you get the chance get your hands on Hayao Miyazaki's movie "My Neighbour Totoro" (Tonari no Totoro). Miyazaki is one of the best animators working right now -- his drawings and style and animation quality, as well as his sheer storytelling inventiveness and sense of wonder, all set wonderful standards for Japanese animation. Add to that the fact his stories are actually ABOUT stuff, rather than just being "evil alien robots (that are really well animated) invade earth, so humans have to invent new (really cool-looking) fighting styles, and wear (really neat) robot suits, to defeat them in really nifty fighting sequences with amazing explosions and dialogue shouted over kewl sound effects". A major theme in Princess Mononke was exploitation of the environment (rather than just cool mecha robot suits and schoolgirls in impossibly short skirts, common themes in some anime movies). All his movies are suitable for kids, though there are senses of whimsy and mystery that might be haunting, in the same way the book "Where the wild things are" haunted me, and stuck in my mind, when I was little.

The movie begins with a father and his two daughters moving into a quiet country house, a more relaxed place, where the girls can be a little more at ease than in the city. They need to do this because their mother is sick. She is in the hospital, with some unspecified but worrisome sickness that means she can't be with her daughters, and requires a lot of bedrest.

***spoiler warning*** I'm about to give away plot details, so if knowing a movie's plot points ruins the watching experience for you, then skip to the spot where it says ***spoiler warning over***

The younger sister wanders off one day and meets Totoro, a big, behemoth-sized creature of the woods, who happens to have magical powers. He has a huge, terrifyingly large mouth, but the teeth of an herbivore and a cute smile. He's a gentle, content monster, who often seems to smile like a Buddha. The little girl's first reaction, rather than abject terror at seeing this sleeping beast (we first meet him when he's asleep) is to fall asleep herself, right on his chest. Implicit trust.

The older sister meets him too, and, while they don't really have adventures per se, they have encounters with him that show he has a funny, quirky way, he has a few magical friends, and, most of all, he's looking out for them. During these girls' missing mother anxiety, a magical woodland beast happens to show up, to make them feel a little safer again.

The climax of the story, rather than being about a bully, a monster or some other such antagonist, comes with a letter from their mother's hospital, which brings the girls' anxiety about their missing mother to a head.

***spoiler warning over***

In all the situations, especially in the crisis at the end, both the girls' reactions are totally true to life, and show the storyteller's deep compassion for their anxiety, and the way Totoro and his magical friend resolve the crisis is sweet, gentle, and heart-breakingly true.

Sure, in part it's because I saw my own mother sick, so I intimately know and understand the anxiety these girls feel, but the ending, quite frankly, had me in a puddle, sobbing at the purity of the girls' love and concern for their mom. It's amazing that a filmmaker could catch such a primal emotion and strike right to the heart of it, in such a simple resolution.

And I thought, why ISN'T a child's love for its mother enough to be the main dramatic impetus for a movie? Why DON'T we see movies like this more often? That connection is so profound and deep, how shallow is it that we prefer watching a movie about some guys planning to rob a casino, where the main emotion and impulse is greed, rather than seeing tender films like this more often? How often are movies made about greed, revenge, or sheer survival, rather than being about love, loyalty, or commitment? Even when there's a "worthy cause" movie like Braveheart, where everybody's fighting for (let's all say it together) FREEEEEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!, they have to add his own, lower (clicheed) impulse (revenge: they killed his wife), and make it personal. (Have I ever mentioned how much I hate Braveheart? Another post. Another post.) Sure, there's nothing heroic or superhuman about the emotional journey these girls go through in "My Neighbour Totoro", but dammit, it's TRUE. The superhuman stuff highlights the human stuff, and draws it into sharper focus, rather than subsuming or even replacing it. The other problem, I suppose, is that it's so easy to take those emotions -- love, commitment, loyalty, dedication, doing right, redemption, etc., and make something sentimental and tawdry and manipulative with them, which sells real life short just as much as an oversimplified good guy/bad guy matrix.

Here's my favourite minute and a half in any animated film, ever. It perfectly shows Totoro's character, and the way he enjoys his life, and it made me think that Miyazaki must be a poet, to notice something like this, and then to put it into his movie.

He's roaring in delight. If you can find another ninety second clip that shows innocence and joy that purely, I wanna see it.

I'd rather read a book like that, I'd rather watch a movie like that. . .

Movies and books that are about those kinds of topics, that are compassionate and also true, that don't sell short their subjects, that respect their characters, that never lapse into sentimentality:

The Little Prince
A Complicated Kindness
Finding Nemo
Marvin's Room
again, Casablanca
(for its other flaws) Changing Lanes (with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson)

(if you look carefully enough)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf -- ugly behaviour, but there are diamonds in that mud!

(even Jonathan Livingston Seagull let me down at the end, by becoming too mystical, and losing its moorings)

Please tell me: what else should I be reading or seeing?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Getting old and staying young

I've completely forgotten all the reasons I gave for not going out dancing every weekend (yes, this may just be the afterglow, but so what if it is?)

DJ -- house, trance, d'n'b (drum and bass) -- these are instrumental styles of music built on recorded bits of music -- a rhythm, an instrument noise, played and layered on top of each other, to create (as one sub-genre is named,) a trance-like state. A good DJ doesn't so much perform, as creates a space where dancers can cut loose, and then pokes and prods that space, through shifts in dynamics and sounds, to raise the crowd into a completely different place. After a whole night of this, the sheer sense of community, of having danced myself silly for four or six or eight hours, of having poured sweat with these other people, creates a sense of community among the dancers who remain as the party wears on. Everybody is your friend. The whole world is a beautiful place. Music is enough.

There's something wonderful about really dancing with abandon. For a cerebral fella like myself, who thinks everything to death and then some, to do something so physical is a return to my senses, to my body, like exercise or yoga, it re-balances me. This, of course, is quite healthy. I'm glad I went: I almost didn't. I've had a few other nights recently where I've thought, "Hey, I should go dancing," and then thought, "Oh, it'll be so crowded," or "I never make new friends when I go dancing anyway; why should I bother?" or some other excuse, but the fact is, once I'm actually out there dancing, if I'm actually there just to dance, the rest of the world backs off pretty quick. As soon as my heart-rate goes up, really.

As we get older, it seems many/most of us become less inclined to go out and jump into some new experience. Sure, sometimes those things are uncomfortable. . . but are they actually uncomfortable, or just unfamiliar?

Young people accuse old people of being too conservative, of never trying new things, of thinking too readily in the set forms. At what age, at what point, do our minds close, and is that a natural/almost inevitable part of growing old, or is it a choice we each make? I don't think it happens at one clear watershed moment -- or some people would be sharp enough, and sensitive enough, to realise, "this is the point where I choose to continue learning new things, or choose to stay in my groove until it becomes a rut", and choose new, adventurous paths. In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare wrote, "Cowards die many times before their deaths" -- each time he chooses the easy way instead of the path of right, or the path of greatness. Might growing old be like that too? Is it those thousand little deaths, those thousand little "no"'s piled up on top of each other, until leaning into the familiar and shunning the unknown/uncomfortable becomes part of our nature? Is there anything wrong with that, or is that another (negative) way of describing the natural process of putting down roots?

On the other hand, part of it is our responsibilities. It's harder to go out and dance all night if one is committed to a 10am Men's breakfast, or church attendance, or family Saturdays. As your life gets more involved, more rooted, one must make cancellations, if one would do something spontaneous. And let's be honest -- some people go have adventures because their friends are, rather than because of any open-mindedness on their own part.

Might it be that we forget to break routine, that it simply stops occurring to us?

I don't know. Anyway, I've been thinking about what it means to grow up, the difference between growing up and growing old, and such things, lately, as I've met people who have told me I'm young-hearted, and other variations on that theme. It seems that usually when I'm called young-hearted, it's closely connected with my willingness to try new things, or to try and understand things on their own terms, rather than trying to force my own filters of understanding on them. Among the people I've spoken with, there seems to be some kind of implicit assumption that one of the divisions between youth and age is some kind of . . . I hate to say shutting of the mind, so let's say some kind of entrenchment in ones' own ways. Of course, this entrenchment can be caused by a lot of different things -- I think often it's dictated by the requirements of one's commitments -- the schedule required by work, by family, etc., that leads people to becoming "responsible adults". Sometimes the main determiner is sheer physical health, or budget -- some people stop drinking heavily simply because their bodies start taking three days to recover from one night on the town, or because they need to make their car payments.

I'd be interested to hear what some of you (my lovely readers) think about this. What do YOU think is the difference between growing up and growing old, and, especially, what changes inside a person when they become an "adult" -- is it something external, or internal, or a combination, or is it another of those frustrating things that's totally different for every person alive? (Probably, eh?)

(For a really beautiful insight on growing up, watch the movie "Finding Neverland", one of the most touching, tender movies about growing up and staying young I've seen. It's so compassionate toward its characters, the movie loves its characters, which makes YOU love them, too. It's really wonderful.)

By the way: here are some of the movies I've seen that have made me love or care about their characters recently. They also double as some of my favourite movies of the last five years. (Go figure.) In my world, if you don't have compassion, why are you writing a screenplay, book, play, etc.?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- the truest look at how people love each other, and hurt the ones they love the most, I've seen. Might be the wisest love story ever to come out of Hollywood.
Million Dollar Baby
Finding Neverland
Leaving Las Vegas (so so sad, but also so respectful of both main characters.)

Going back a bit, you just gotta see Casablanca. Really.

k. love you all



(addendum:) I read a few comments on this blog, and I want to add. . . how terribly judgemental I sound here! I've thought again about what I said there, about those thousand little deaths, the thousand little no's -- there is much more than that. Maybe there's a difference between closing one's mind, and simply choosing to focus one's mind in a chosen direction. There must be. Some people choose "no" -- they choose to stay in a rut, rather than working to improve their lives. However, I think some people also simply commit to the choices they've already made, and by doing that, they open up new channels that can't be opened if you don't commit to them.

For example: marriage. If looked at one way, it's a way of saying "no" to every other potential mate in the world. How terribly narrow-minded! Why would anyone ever do that? Yet in another way, it's a way of saying "Yes!" to a future with a single person. The options and possiblities that can open up when one commits to that kind of future, are amazing, and beautiful, and praiseworthy. So maybe, a person isn't so much saying "no" to some kinds of new experiences, as saying "yes" to deepening and committing to another kind of experience. That's another kind of growing old/growing up, but it's good, as long as one doesn't start insisting others follow the same path, and judging others who choose a different way (that's where crotchety old men/women come from. . . maybe). Some people choose a path, and grow. Some people choose a path, and grow old. Maybe you don't really grow OLD until you've stopped growing on the path you've chosen. . . and I bet you start growing old much faster if you start regretting that chosen path, but do nothing to change your outlook.

There. Is that a more even-handed, less "young-and-single"-centric view of growing old?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

my most asinine post yet. (don't worry: the end is better than the beginning)

ok, dont bother watching, but hit play on this clip when you start reading this post: that way, you'll be listening to good music (well, good by MY measuring stick) while you read. More about the band at the end of the post. Push play, and then move down. Dont watch (unless you really, really want to). Just move on and read with music playing.

Frederica, by Do Make Say Think

I think I'm stealing somebodys wireless, but the fact remains, I have internet at home today. (Goodbye free time. Sigh)

The upshot of my loss of free time is that I can show you some of the pictures I've been taking.

I'm doing well -- even looking well.


Here's me giving the toast at my brother's wedding, July 2005. One of my girlfriends* looked at this picture and her first impression was "Wow. You're fat in this picture." Not long after that, she went away. Banished for life from the glorious land of Roboseyo.

(* now ex)

This next picture was me in September 2006, I think.

Work stress and things, yah yah yah. (In Korea, instead of saying "blah blah blah", Koreans say "shalah shalah shalah" - apparently THEY're the ones who put the Shalah in the Shamalama-ding-dong! (you may come over and shake their hands if you like; I still don't know who put the bop in the bop shabop shabop, but it may also have been Koreans, because bap means "rice" here, and Koreans put bap in almost everything.) Anyway, since starting my new job, I've been eating better, because my eating habits have been more intentional -- rather than eating a comfort food at the end of a tiring day, and vegging out, my new schedule helps me feel productive, so that I'm making intentional choices toward better health, rather than just choices that help me feel better (as a reaction to stress/exhaustion/boredom). I've been walking more, doing yoga more, eating fewer snacks between meals, and making healthier food choices. See the next picture: that's how I looked three weeks ago. (I also weighed myself: I'm lighter, too.) You may think I'm just sucking in better, but I assure you, I still havent learned how to suck in my forehead.

Now that I've started doing Yoga every day, you may notice a slight change, even from three weeks ago, to these pictures I took of myself this morning.

It's amazing what healthier lifestyles can do for us.

Enough self-congratulation, then. I have to admit some details of the last few paragraphs and pictures were slightly exaggerated or fictionalized; I haven't actually started doing yoga daily, for example.

Yesterday night, after my friend went home, I was wandering around Jongno, the party district, at about midnight, stone-cold sober, watching drunk people walk around and have fun, but not feeling like drinking myself. Then, this blonde fellow came up to the street food stand where I was eating (I was also eating street food), and started a chat. He was a Polish/German tourist named Raphael, who was on a one night layover between Australia and Germany, and he wanted to catch a sniff of Korean culture in the ten hours he had in Seoul. Little did he know he ran into exactly the right person. Anyone who's come out to Seoul to see me (that's two: Dad, and Mom, for all you keeping score) knows how much I love to give a tour, so I took him to eat one of the most traditional dishes (barbeque pork with soju, strange-tasting Korean liquor) (soju and samgyupsal is about eighty percent guaranteed to be the food and drink you'll have if you go out in a group with more than five Koreans -- it's like Pizza Hut, Earl's, White Spot, and Red Robin's all combined, and cheaper, in Korea -- the safe, inexpensive, inoffensive choice that nobody will disagree with, that eventually becomes the default "can't think of anywhere else to go" choice.)

So we had that, and it was fun, and I talked about Korea's culture and history a bit, and he talked about his desire to experience new cultures, and I talked about the odd sensation of being a white, visible minority in Korea, the unique solitude born of being in an ocean of people speaking a language one doesn't understand, etc.. Anyway, it was great meeting another world traveller, another culture-chaser. Much more interesting and edifying than getting half-hammed and sweaty in a dance club, just like a hundred other nights. This guy was really cool and open-minded, and if I'm ever in Germany, I'll definitely look him up, and he'll return the tour, and show me around his town.

These two sculptures were right next to each other in the park outside Seoul's city hall. I won't go into detail, but I think the symbolism is overt enough that I don't need to.

Konglish persists in Korea. Try and guess what this shirt means.

Once I saw a t-shirt whose caption actually was:

Ill gosdfsdfsdfsdf

It was awesome.

I want to be the one who writes the nonsense captions for Engrish t-shirts. I want to make up intentionally nonsensical phrases that seem to have just enough intention behind them to make people shake their heads and say "what are they ACTUALLY trying to say?" because the best ones ARE trying to say something, but get it wrong. I also want to invent captions for shirts where the main fun is trying to find letters that look cool together.

What do YOU think is the coolest word just to look at? My nomination is "ogopogo" -- so many circles (plus, it's really fun to say).

(The other best ones are the ones the people wear and have NO idea what it means. Innocent, sweet girls wearing t-shirts saying things like "Deep throat" (and a picture of a giraffe) -- this was a secretary at our school. She turned violent puce when I explained to her why she shouldn't wear that shirt to work again.

or "I like to get it on with guys who vote", or just ridiculous phrases, like the fifty-year old woman who walked by me with a shirt saying, "you be breakin' on me, I be breakin' on you")

Spring is here.

I like spring.

Here are some fantastic foods available for you in Korea: my old boss used to brag that Koreans used every part of the animal. Including. . .

The intestines. I found a special restaurant dedicated to eating cow intestines! You can also buy pig's feet here; it's said to be really good for your skin, so you'll see young women holding a big ugly pig's claw, trying to gnaw the meat off it (without getting grease on their cheeks), as if they were holding a corn dog that accidentally had bone in it. At the pig foot restaurants, sometimes you can also see the entire pigs face, set out to dry (for what purpose, I have no idea. Haven't gotten around to investigating yet. The day is so short, you know!)

Fortunately, if you don't like all that, you can buy a toothpaste that will kill your bad breath. . . and your calculus.

I have some packages that ought to be arriving soon. . . I hope they do. They seem a tad late. I hope I got my mailing address correct when I sent it out.

I went back to my old school the other day. That was nice -- to see the little ones. They were SO excited to see me! It was like being a Beatle. . . if the Beatles were twice as tall as ordinary humans. All the kids who knew me crowded around and tried to hold my hand, and they all tried to tell me -- something. Anything. Really, it wasn't important what, just that they were talking to their old teacher, of course. "Teacher! I have a loose tooth!" Basically means "I'm happy to see you again," in kid speak. I do miss those people. . . but not quite enough to go back. Caleb and Heather aren't there anyway.

As the blog goes, I'm thrilled that people have been commenting on my posts. It really helps me feel like people are reading it, and know what's going on. The site doesn't count how many people come and visit my blog (or at least, I don't know how to check), so if you leave your "footprints" as one person said, it helps me know that you've been here. And that warms my heart.

The problem is this: I now have a myspace page, a facebook page, and a blog, all of which have different people who check them, etc.. While facebook etc. is nice (if you want to put in the time) to create a "me" space more individualized than a mere e-mail address -- you can put links and lists of friends up and stuff -- it's starting to get harder to keep track again; instead of getting an e-mail from a friend which I can immediately open, read, and answer, I now get an e-mail from the facebook administrator, or the myspace administrator, saying "xxx sent you a message in Facebook" or "wrote on your wall" and I have to click a link and log on to read what I used to be able to read immediately. Just funny, is all. I'm not really complaining: I've heard from people I would never have gotten back in touch with otherwise -- including some grade school friends, and long-lost connections. That's neat, but I wish I didnt need five different logins and ids and passwords just to keep tabs -- it's sort of like having six different discount cards in your wallet, each for a different set of restaurants and shops, and having to sort through your wallet each time you make a purchase, for the right card to swipe. Time consuming.

I wish they could consolidate all those into a single swipe card (or just a thumb print), instead of making me wait in line for the person ahead of me who owns every discount card on the planet, and needs to know if she can save 18% by paying with her debit card, rather than just saving 15% by paying with her CocaCola Credit Card, along with the JLX Fast Food Alliance Membership Discount Card. Yug. So I want to consolidate all the "internet in touch" services, instead of having myspace, facebook, blogspot, and yahoo e-mail (as well as a g-mail address), I want to just have a "myblogface G-hoo mail account". With one password.

I just made a set of cds called my "joy of life trio" -- it's a collection of all the songs that put a big old smile on my face, whether from silly happiness, from some kind of reflective satisfied feeling, or from pure elevation. Music is so wonderful at taking us to another place. If you ask really nicely, I'll post the playlists, so you can find those songs and be cool like me. (And happy like me.)

One of my favourite bands for "elevation" these days is a Canadian instrumental group called "Do, Make, Say, Think". This is a live clip of one of their songs -- I highly, highly recommend their CDs "You, You're a History in Rust" and especially, "Winter Hymn, Country Hymn, Secret Hymn" Give them a try, if you like music that takes you on a journey. Really, seriously. You've been listening to a live clip of a song from "Winter Hymn Country Hymn, Secret Hymn" called "Frederica" that nicely shows how they play with dynamics and composition -- the sound quality's a bit poor (live recording), but the music is great.

Anyway, that's a little of what's been keeping a grin on my grill lately.

And here's one more music clip -- this might be the most beautiful live performance I've seen in my life. If you aren't into modern music, don't bother with "Do, Make, Say, Think", but if you love things of beauty at all, watch this one.

Landslide (Stevie Nicks) -- dead link. sorry.