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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stomping Around in the Snow

Today I went to two places: this temple, pictured above, where it had snowed and was extraordinarily beautiful.  This was also the first time in my life I have seen snow fall from the sky, and played in freshly fallen snow.  I went with my South African friend, Mario, and it was a first for him too.  So of course, we immediately had to act like children and stomp around, kick snow in the air, and throw it at each other.  This earned us quite a few stares from the local nuns (pictured below sweeping a bridge).
The temple was maintained by these ladies, and they were all very polite and sweet, eager to see people coming to visit their temple.  It was really surreal for me, with the wind coming off the mountain and raising up clouds of snow and having them whip around us like ghosts, rocks piled up in little cairns like countless stone soldiers, and the unearthly, but serene quiet of the place.  There was some kind of wellspring that visitors were encouraged to drink from.  It was damned cold, but easily some of the best water I've ever tasted.  It was like drinking liquid air off the top of a mountain.  Then again, maybe the nuns were having a laugh and it was just hose water they'd left out overnight.
It was easily in the top 5 of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.  Beautiful enough to make me forget the awful headcold I was battling before I got there.  While I was there I stopped sneezing, coughing, and generally feeling terrible.  when we left, it was back to snorting and swallowing phlegm by the bucketload and hacking up pieces of my throat and wanting to find the nearest bed.

But instead of that, we went out and ate a lot of meat:
 I do love the Korean practice of giving you a ton of side dishes.  God Bless Kimchi in all its many forms.  Kamsamnida, Kimchi.  After we were quite full of sausage and various pickled delights, we went to a lookout point, which lay past a rather macabre, but fascinating decoration of whale ribs (seriously) lining the path and took, what is quite possibly, the worst picture of me ever.
In my defense, the sun was in my face, it was windy, I had (have) a dreadful cold, and I was in the middle of asking Mario if the light was okay.  However, I think if I'd had a professional photography crew from GQ magazine, I'd still look like a bridge troll.

So now I'm going to bed, and hopefully when I wake up, I won't feel like somebody stuff jam up my nose, and glass down my throat.

Monday, December 20, 2010

South to North: "We double-dare you to attack us again :P "

So back on November 23rd (almost a month since I'd arrived in Korea), North Korea shelled a little island off the western coast of South Korea.  Several people were injured, a few were killed.  This sort of thing is apparently pretty standard over here.  The North occasionally bares its fangs, does something hostile, and then claims it was either an accident, or that they were provoked first.

This event came on the heels of the North sinking a South Korean sub and killing forty-something sailors aboard.  So, things are getting tense.

South Korea has decided to put on a show of force and run some military drills along the oceanic border with the North, after the North has declared that such actions would make them open fire again.  Well, the exercises concluded today, and no new shelling has occurred.  Yet.  I really hope it stays that way.

For a more detailed look at the goings on, check this out:


Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Which I am Offered a Part-Time Job as a Male Stripper

Now for something on a lighter note:

I was coming home from an English style pub when a very dapper Korean gentleman (who I suspect might have been part of the local mafia, as he was standing outside of their headquarters with some other suspicious and equally well-dressed fellows) approached me on the street.  After a round of charades and asking him to repeat some things in his broken English, I surmised the following:  this man had some investment in a local club where there was currently a substantial number of inebriated Korean women having some kind of celebration.  They had expressed an interest in Westerners, and the gentleman was asking me if I would come and dance and put on a "Strip-off" show for them, for which he would happily pay me some money ($100 up front, and more after).

Now, I think this gentleman just decided any waeguk would do, as I am not a handsome man.  Look at my profile picture.  Go on, take a gander.  Yeah.

So, fearing for the future of this gentleman's establishment and not wanting to give a bad impression of Westerners as hairy, misshapen globs of humanity, I politely declined and went on my way home.  Plus...being a stripper for the mob is not something I want to put on my resume.

...well, okay, that would look pretty awesome, but still, no thank you.

We'll Start With Death

Not exactly the greatest opener, I know, but it's been on my mind a bit recently and it's relevant to the title of this blog.

The title comes from a quote by Mr. Isaac Asimov (he of "I, Robot," fame, and I mean the very good story, not the questionable Will Smith film), in which he says, "If my doctor told me I only had six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster."  I think that's fairly good advice whether you're a writer or not.  We've only got so much time here, and we should use it doing what we love.  For me it's writing and learning about new things.

This point has recently been brought home in a very immediate way for me.  As of this writing, I live and work in Ulsan, South Korea.  A man I work with, Tom, died yesterday.  H was a good man: helpful and generous, if rough around the edges and prone to excessive, colorful language.  The last words I said to him were, "Have a good night Tom, see you tomorrow."

Now, Tom's gone.  I attended a sort of funeral service for him today in the depths of a Korean hospital.  There was a room I walked into after removing my shoes, lined with tables where food and drink had been laid out.  At one end of the room was a large alcove.  The alcove had been filled with flowers, cigarettes, books, a pair of Tom's glasses, letters from students, and in the center, a picture of Tom with a black ribbon across the top.

I'd only known Tom for six weeks, but that was long enough to make me sad that I wouldn't know him for any longer.  Tom's family sent a eulogy via e-mail from England.  But Korean funerals don't work like western ones, where everybody is assembled at once.  People come and go throughout the day, while the immediate family (or in this case, Tom's close friend) stay.  Sometimes, they even spend the night.

So I was handed Tom's eulogy to read: a man's life in summation on two pages of 8 x 11 paper.  It sounded like a good one.  Tom traveled all over the world, had an extended family, and a global community of friends.  It got me thinking about my life, and of course, my own mortality.  We (myself and other teachers and friends) talked about Tom, and laughed a lot, listened to stories about the old man and laughed some more.

I'm at home now (my cheesy, studio apartment where the bathroom sink doubles as the shower), and getting ready to go meet some people for a Christmas party.  After that, I'm going to visit some other friends at a pub, and we're going to drink, and eat and hopefully have a good time and get stared at by Korean for being a bunch of crazy waeguks.  And then I'm going to come back home, and try to type like I've got six minutes left.

I'm aware that this isn't the most uplifting beginning, but life (one of the many potential subjects of this blog), isn't always about the nice things.  Sometimes (and when I'm feeling pessimistic I'd say most times) life is about the things that suck and make you want to go back to bed.  Yesterday sucked.  Today was sad, but a little better.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be better than that.  We'll see.