Monday, December 18, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Don't Do It": The Economist and Iraq

When I opened my mailbox last Saturday morning I was deeply impacted by the message that confronted me on the cover of that week's Economist: "Don't Do It." Don't leave Iraq bloodied and broken and on the verge of more terror, fear, pain and inhumanity.

Don't walk away from the responsibility that you undertook four years ago.

Talking with a friend later about this image, I was quite surprised by his views on The Economist: "Oh, you read that rightist rag?"

Well, I guess that depends on your point of view. My bottom-line opinion of The Economist is that it is a consistently thoughtful and provocative publication. It is always balanced and reasoned in its clearly stated opinions , and it is up front and honest with its views.

Frankly, I do not believe The Economist to be a rightist rag in any sense other than the fact that it is not a "leftist rag." It does not look at current systems of politics and economics and posit their extreme opposites as potential prescriptions - you will never read in The Economist that all oil refineries should be shut down today or that people should start living on communes to grow and distribute foods in a manner that is less harmful to the earth.

I guess it is not all that "granola."

Rather, the Economist criticizes the US administration for its failings whether it be a Republican or Democrat in the White House, and posits well thought out and reasonable actions that can be taken within the current framework of politics and economics. It consistently comes forth with a reasoned approach to working within the current systems of our society to reach a positive result.

And that is respectable. Would it be nice if we became an oil-free country that didn't pollute and had no reason to overthrow sovereign states to meet the dictates of the political and economic powers that hold sway in our current power structure - be it nominally Republican or Democratic. Damn straight.

But it is not likely to happen, and I appreciate a voice that tells us how to work within the current system to achieve as positive a result as is possible.

And I, to be clear on my opinion, believe that for the US to turn its back on Iraq at this point would be a crime against humanity that would stain the conscience and reputation of the "western world" for generations. Find a new way forward - don't walk away and wash your hands of the long and bloody fight that would follow.

And no, I don't know for sure what that resolution should be or how to attain it - but I do know that it involves restoring sunshine to the lives of a populace living under a frightfully black sky.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

When I grow up...

How old were you when you decided what you want to be when you grow up?

Is that what you do now?

Are you "grown up"?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

“The brightest lights in the darkest night”

My mind is awash in feelings, thoughts, ideas and images right now, and I wonder if I can capture a few of them. I just got back from the film Babel, which profoundly affected me - and that is primarily what I want a film, or any piece of art, to do.

Make me cringe in my seat, grip the arm of my chair, throw my hands up to cover my eyes, grind my teeth in suspense and fear or shed tears in commiseration or even joy. Break my heart, make me laugh with barely restrained glee, illuminate me, edify me, lift me up and make me see and feel the world, if only for a moment, from a wider and more passionate perspective.

Babel: "For my children...the brightest lights in the darkest night." I expected to have children by this point in my life, or soon after, and this quote crystalizes the main reason as clearly as 유리. They must surely be the brightest stars, the centers of the deepest warmth and the focal point of the fiercest love, devotion, pride and pure, simple happiness.

Any love is like a star in the sky or even a feeble match in the deepest darkness. Both the star and the match can cease to burn and go icy cold in the core - leaving the chill of the dark night.

But from a child that love is perhaps the least corruptible and the most risilient - virtually unassailable and thus unmatched.

Electronica: A heavy bass beat, synth riffs, strobe lights, laser lights, chemical visions, heat, sweat and smoke. In Seoul we used to go to MI and dance our asses off. We would arrive at about 9 or 10:00pm, fuel up on liquid fire at "Route 66" and hit the floor by 11 or 12:00. And dance til 4, 5, 6:00 am.


Every freak in Seoul! And back then it really was. NBINB had just opened. Underground and Joker Red were electronica temples. Hod-gee Pod-gee was still in that little attic, with slanted ceiling that could hurt the head and collected the smoke at the apex like clouds shifting over the floor.

Man. The smile on that girl's face when she was dancing. Beads of sweat on sweltering skin and flushed cheeks in a halo of flying, long, sleek, jet black hair.

The whole crew: Blane, Laurie, Jamie, Dave, Alison, Unjena, Kelly....

Fragility: "Oh these little earthquakes / Doesn't take much to rip us into pieces." The stories of Babel sum it up very well - small moments that can instantly change your world or gradually add to change you as a person.

A woman felled by a sniper's bullet on a remote road in north Africa. A girl outside of the world we see and hear everyday, who feels like a monster for her seperation and isolation. A child who only knows to trust, and not to question that trust - beautiful and terrifyingly vulnerable.

Resilience: But equally little things can embolden the spirit, lift the heart and bring rays of sunshine down onto a face lifted to receive it. The kindness of a stranger. The taste of a soft persimmon or the indescribable comfort of a warm spoonful of Kimchi Jjigae slurped on a cold winter day. A picture captured at the right moment between light and dark. The strains of music or line of a poem that encapsulate a shared thought or feeling . The sensation of carressing the smooth skin of the one you love.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Newfoundland Biscuits

So all joking about the "real Canadian Thanksgiving" vs the "fake US Thanksgiving" aside, yesterday was the big day in Portland. I joined a crew of fellow out-of-towners for an "Orphan's Thanksgiving" at "K"risitie's place. She had a massive bird prepared - succulent, juicy and oh so perfectly done - along with cranberries and an old-fashioned pumpkin pie. Who could ask for more?

The rest of the crew pitched in with appetizers, mashed potatoes, vegetable, banana bread and liquor - decidedly a lot of the latter!

And I showed up with nothing less than Newfoundland biscuits. Food makes up a lot of our sensory memories when it comes to childhood, and I have, lamentably, never had too many of my Mom's recipes around to experiment with.

However, I was in Canada in October, and came across an old cookbook with a few gems in it - including, light, fluffy, slightly sweet and memory-laden Newfoundland biscuits. I highly recommend you all try these out and report back - for the celiac among you you might try a potato flour, while the vegan are well out of my area of expertise but I know you have tricks up your sleeves.

So with no further ado (cause, as you know by now, there is always "ado" on this page):
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup margarine
  • 1 egg (in measuring cup - fill to 1 cup with milk)
  • 5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
Combine all dry ingredients. Cut in margerine. Add egg and milk mixture and knead on a well-floured board. Roll to ~3/4" thick (experiment with this, I think thicker might even be better) and cut out desired shape with a biscuit cutter (or a water glass with the rim dipped in flour). Bake 20 minutes in a 400 degrees oven. Do not overbake - pay attention to your nose, it will be the best judge of when these are exactly ready to take out.

Enjoy the biscuits and leave me comments with your review.

Thank you a million for your hospitality Kristie!

Friday, November 10, 2006

"Baby Can I Hold You Tonight"

Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like sorry like sorry

Forgive me
Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like forgive me forgive me

But you can say baby
Baby can I hold you tonight
Maybe if I told you the right words
At the right time you'd be mine

I love you
Is all that you can't say
Years gone by and still
Words don't come easily
Like I love you I love you

But you can say baby
Baby can I hold you tonight
Maybe if I told you the right words
At the right time you'd be mine

Tracy Chapman

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Let it rain...

They are not kidding about this west coast rain thing, let me tell you. For the last two days solid it has rained - hard and steady. The two days before that, you guessed it, RAIN.

But that's no problem, that's all in the past. What might be a problem, however, is the three months of rain that is rumoured to be on its way.

Now what could make those three months a little more bearable?

How about good friends, a job you like and someone special to hold on those cold wet evening. You know what I mean, curl up into each other and hide from the real world - escape into an embrace that is warm and welcoming and accepts you just as you are.

Man, that could make you feel like rays of sunshine were beaming down into your life - you wouldn't even hear the rain drops or believe that a damp chill waited outside your pillow fort refuge.

I told a friend last night that I had never felt so alone in all my life as I do in Portland. I told them that sometimes I go whole weekends - days on end - without talking to another person in this city. I told them that I had often felt alone in my life, but that this experience was a new one.

And I managed to hide from it in the summer warmth - by hopping on a bike and feeling free, hitting a trail and meditating to the rise and fall of steady feet or paddling out into the running river and being part of something so much bigger than myself.

But then the shadows of this wet winter closed in...

And all I can say right now is thanks to that friend. Even if a chill breeze wafted into the corner of my mind now and then, it was good to spend an evening under rays of sunshine.

Celebrate we will
Because life is short but sweet for certain

Sunday, October 01, 2006

What Are You Gonna Dream Here?

Another beautiful Oregon weekend of brilliant sunshine, awe-inspiring mountains, deep greens and cool rivers running. Today was a return to Mount Hood to hit a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) - which my hiking companion, Rod Belshee, hiked in its entirety over a five-month period a few years ago.

We hiked in on the first half of a town-park-like trail leading to the gorgeous but over-trodden Ramona Falls - which even in low season was strikingly beautiful. From here we figured it was time to get serious, and struck out on the old PCT up to Yocum Ridge, which is about a 2500 foot elevation gain over 6 miles or so up to a stunning view of Mount Hood.

We didn't make it all the way, as we had to meet some people back at the bottom to ride-share home, but we did get in a bracing 15 miles or so in the most glorious country that must be known to man (not exaggerating here are we?). In truth, the terrain was in many ways indistinguishable from parts of Nova Scotia, even down to the massive boulders left in the wake of receding glaciers so many millennia ago.

And on that trail it was so easy to understand what was important in life, and where I could fit into it all.

Here we stand in a special place
What are you gonna do here?
Now we stand in a special place
What will you do here?

What show of soul

Are we gonna get from you
It could be deliverance
Or history under these skies
So blue

Could be something true...

I got to thinking about the Romantic poets - yet another area that I am woefully short of knowledge on, but apparently ready to venture opinions on. Well, I do know The Waterboys, and I do know that Mike Scott's verses are tributes to the truly awe-inspiring majesty of the savage earth heart that the Romantics held as deity above all.

And I know that the Romantics believed that human beings were truly a part of that glorious nature, and that we can feel the rhythms of the ebb and flow of its seasons and the crashing bangs of its storms flowing in our blood and stirring our souls.

Which means that we all share that true core of humanity - which could be called the soul - that is corrupted in the modern world by the layers of obfuscation we build over the top of it like asphalt over the earth under our feet. The jealousies and petty whims of material desire that blind us from our true nature.

Yes, I've had enough of the ways of men
His sordid games rape my brain

And that got me thinking, of all things, about Ayn Rand's novel/polemic "The Fountainhead," which my friend Scott turned me onto in first year university. I remember that I understood Rand's core tenet to be that selfishness is a positive force that can serve the good of mankind as a whole.

I think she was talking about the fact that we need to be selfish based on meeting the needs and desires of the "true core of humanity" espoused by the Romantics - if we are selfish in pursuing the desires that are truly in line with the essence of nature that we all share at that core, what we aspire to can only by extension edify others.

That's a tall order when walking down Northwest 23rd and peeking into the trendy shops and cafes, because we are surrounded by obfuscation. We are immersed in the artificial needs and desires that we have engineered into the fabric of our society and that have blinded us to our essential selves.

But 10 miles into the Yocum trail on Mount Hood it is a little easier to access and understand that essential core of humanity that we all share.

And that, my friends, is a meditation.

How do we take that awareness out of the woods and into our homes and offices?

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Sky is a Painful Blue

So I was out biking along the Willamette River yesterday, a stiff breeze behind my back and a beautiful panorama of water, trees and blue sky flashing past, and I thought: "I like Portland. It's a good place to be."

Today being a perfect example of the why. Seeger, "K"risty and I drove the 1.5 hours out to Mount Hood and spent five hours hiking the "Heather Canyon" portion of the "Timberline Trail."

The views were stunning and the air was so fresh it made you feel high! I was also elated to have an encounter with the creatures of the wild that far eclipses my squirrel rendevous of the other week.

As we rounded a switchback on our return hike, a group of five deer stepped out of the woods above the trail to the right - two does and three fawns, if appearance did not betray.

Over the next twenty minutes or so we were blessed with these beautiful creatures as hiking companions of a sort - as we wound our way along the meandering trail, our friends moved in and out of the foliage above, tracking our progress until at last they came prancing down a ravine as if to come and share a moment.

And then they vanished back into their forest home, leaving me wondering at the peaceful bliss that must make up their entire understanding of the world.

All told, my only lament is that I have finally gotten onto the mountain maybe one or two weeks before the rumoured rains of winter decend.

For now all I can do is marvel at the rugged beauty of it all.

"Where the earth shows its bones
Of wind broken stones
And the sea and the sky are one
I'm caught out of time
My blood sings of wine
And i'm running naked in the sun
There's God in the trees
I'm weak in the knees
And the sky is a painful blue."


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nooks and Crannies

I have a catalog of your smiles and laughs
A history of your thoughts, ideas and deeds
A reflection of the life that we lived
An image of me mirrored in your mind's eye

You are still there in every day of my life
In books full of you on my shelves
And boxes full in my cupboards
There are cards for birthdays and just because

I choose to sift through the albums and parcels
And I balance the smiles with the tears
That inevitably fall to blur your face
My fingers reach out to brush your cheek

But it is from the nooks and crannies of my life
That you jump like a playful lover
It's the smile that falls from between pages
That catches me unaware and unprepared

It's a life preserved, vibrant and virtually real
But always coming to the same tragic close
Ending with the magic moments
Truely past

Monday, September 18, 2006

Live Evil

According to a recent speech by George W, "Underestimating the words of evil and ambitious men is a terrible mistake....Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them."

I can't shake these words - and maybe it is just my ignorance, as I am far from conversant in many of the ideas and ideologies of of history. However, this doesn't seem right to me.

Despite personal opinions on Iraq, Afghanistan or the US position on the Israeli/Palestinian situation, it is hard to argue with an association of Osama bin Laden and terrorism - which makes the tie to evil far from tenuous to say the least. Having the blood of 3000 US citizens and untold numbers of other nationalities on your hands pretty much makes this a moot point.

And who but the "Christ child for the hopelessly naive" could argue against the assertion that Adolph Hitler is as close to a pure embodiment of evil as is possible to find in history - this may be a socio-cultural judgment to some degree, as I am aware that some cultures are less versed in the sins of the Third Reich than they are in the sins of the oppressors that their nations have suffered under directly.

Yet the third stymies me - and I would love to be educated on the matter if I am only showing my ignorance here. Karl Marx was an economic philosopher who espoused a theory of class struggle that underpinned a complex social and political ethos that included as one of its key tenets the idea of an oppressed people rising up and throwing off the chains of their oppressors.

From the French revolution to the American revolution to every struggle for liberation and freedom by any group that has felt oppressed, there have been thinkers and writers that have captured the feelings and ideas of the people and expressed them in a codified state via essays, poems, editorials, songs or even novels. Many of these writings have gone on to be the documents that are identified as the purest distillations of the wishes of the people.

In the case of the Soviet Union, the writings of Karl Marx formed a framework for the political and social struggle spearheaded by Vladimir Lenin. This struggle ultimately led to the Russian revolution, and the toppling of Tsarist Russia in the name of creating a socialist system in which the working man contributed what he was able and was rewarded with what he needed - a system in which there was an equitable distribution of wealth.

However, we all know that things did not work out quite as nicely as this sounds. We know that the theories of socialism that informed the birth of the communist state in the Soviet Union - as we know it by the virtue of hindsight - were warped and twisted almost beyond recognition by Stalin, and ended up being the instruments of oppression of those same working classes Lenin proposed to emancipate.

The fact that communist Russia ended up a totalitarian state of repression, however, does not seem to me to me to be a reason to impugn Vladimir Lenin as evil and a man of hatred - judge Stalin as evil for using the ideas of Lenin for nefarious ends.

Bush's comments strike me as the "victor" in the struggle between capitalism and communism choosing to make blanket statements that ignore the subtleties of the true situation.

Was Lenin in favor of a revolution again the established order? Yes. So were the Americans who set out to gain independence from the British crown. If Lenin was advocating the overthrow of a corrupt or repugnant government, he cannot be judged as evil if the state that arose from the ashes betrayed his vision.

Remember, Lenin was not arguing that the democracy that Bush trumpets was evil, he was merely stating that the contemporary system of governance in Russia was untenable and that it had to be replaced. He posited his ideas for a new system.

He is not, however, responsible for those who came after him and twisted his legacy for nefarious purposes. He is far from a prophet of evil - and far from a Hitler or a bin Laden.


I am a poster child for needing some form of mental dicipline, which is something that I know I am far from alone in not possessing. In our instant gratification culture I am, like so many of my fellow citizens, fully versed in the art of being a glutton in the moment and not thinking about the bigger picture of my life or the world at large.

When you look at people who are "successful", there are certain attributes that often stick out. There is, of course, a certain level of intelligence. There is usually confidence in one's ability and what one has to contribute. But these traits are worth nothing in and of themselves in the absence of dicipline. What good is intelligence alone, for example, if you don't have the dicipline to focus it and harness it for your own greater good and that of your community.

But we are not taught dicipline anymore in the western world, and, unfortunately, it does not seem innate. In fact, even if it proved innate, we would probably still medicate to override the natural impulse.

When I was young, I saved my allowance weekly for items that I really wanted and resisted the temptation to blow it on candy or knickknacks. If I got a chocolate bar from a visiting relative I would hide it away and savor it slowly over days and days until it was all gone.

Where is that kind of dicipline in my life now? Where is the dicipline that would allow me to:

  • Come home from work, put some music on instead of the television and prepare a nice to dinner to eat while reading a book or a magazine
  • Keep my house in clean order so that my environment mirrors the state of mind I want to foster
  • Write e-mails to my friends and loved ones so that they will know what is happening in my heart and my head and will be an active part of my life
  • Study skills that will make my job easier and more efficient and increase my value to my employer and advance me in the field of my choosing
  • Read books that will give me enjoyment and will make me a richer person.

So what does this have to do with meditation? Meditation is mental dicipline - which is the basis of what I am talking about. It is being able to control your impulses and urges - or if not to control them, at least to recognize them without being blown this way and that by every caprice that flits into your mind.

And it relates, because here I sit after an hour of trying to sleep. Having worked myself into a total panic and a cold sweat over the things that I have to do at work tomorrow, the things I have to do to prepare for my younger brother's wedding, the things I have to do to care for myself (including a dentist appointment, a doctor's appointment and a othamologist appointment), the things I have to do to put my finances in order. And the list goes on...

It relates because this panic will in no way make these things easier or better, and I should be able to recognixe this and exercise the dicipline to not allow these thoughts to drive me into hopelessness and sleeplessness.

It relates in a larger way to the general lack of spirituality in my life and a lack of awareness of the connection between my mind and body, and my mind and body and the larger world that I inhabit.

Does that make some sense? I am going to go and try to sleep again...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Oregon Liquid Sunshine

A good morning to hit the ol' blog site and shower some random thoughts and feelings on the world - its your choice whether to give this randomness a few moments of your life!

I got up at 7 this morning, prepared a bowl of cereal with nuts and raisins, realized that I had no milk, and quickly shifted gears. In the absence of eggs, I turned to some leftover rice and stir fried it with kimchi, onions and some sam-gyup-sal (maybe pork bellies?). Breakfast of champions!

I then hopped on my Gary Fisher Montare and headed up Thurman Street and into Forest Park. This is the US's largest metropolitan forest park, and I am loving it - there are about 26 miles of bike trails, if I remember correctly - and the views are stunning. On the google map below (click to view it larger), my house is the green arrow in the bottom right, and the huge green expanse to the left is a portion of Forest Park. My path covers most of what you see below, and has some stunning views!

I headed up Lief Ericson Drive, an old abandoned logging road, and climbed fairly steadily for ~5.5 miles. There is a look off at this point, where I pulled up for a few gulps of water and a handful of peanuts and almonds. The clean air, the trees, and the view are so rewarding the climb is worth it - and really it is so gradual that you are in your seat most of the time.

And at this lookoff I made a new friend. Coming from the urban jungle of Seoul to the true forests of Oregon, I still consider squirrels to be "wildlife" rather than the local opinion that they are pests.

This little guy was on the top of a post a little less than a meter away - and he was scared. Beady eyes on me at every moment as he jittered back and forth around the rim of the post to size up the situation. My heart was pumping from the climb - and his whole body was thumping along with the panicked beats of his own. After half a minute or so he turned to face me square on, stood on hind legs and dramatically clasped his left hand to his pounding heart - I almost laughed out loud at the tragi-comic idea of this poor fellow having a heart attack right there (I really would have felt like shit!).

Another 20 seconds or so of dancing around, and a few more heart clasps, and the little guy finally got up the courage to turn his back and run. Sure, its just a squirrel, but this was a beautiful meeting with the great wild for this city boy!

Back to the trail. Its another mile or so to Saltzman Dr, thankfully most of it is downhill in the lead up to the slogging climb up Saltzman to the head of firelane #5, which at points is wild enough to become barely single-track. This was an exploration for me, since I hadn't ventured off the main trails before. It was sweet to cruise down the hard pack instead of the gravel surface of Lief or Saltzman - but it ended too soon at an intersection with Lief again.

Another ~7 miles back along Saltzman - mostly downhill - took me back to Thurman, and into town, where I stopped in at my regular Starbucks for a well-deserved tall non-fat latte. (Yes, I have added an adjective to my coffee order, but am not yet at the point of rattling off a desire for a "tall non-fat, extra-hot, half-decaf soy latte with whip.")

And home to write to y'all before heading out to a barbecue in the sun that has miraculously peaked through despite the dire forecasts of the past few days!

You see, the season of Oregon Liquid Sunshine is upon us - which translates into rain.

It is interesting being in a new part of the world and not having a clear idea of climate - every day is a revelation, and I don't know what the winter or spring will be like yet. So far I have been blessed with bright sunshine virtually every day, and temperatures bordering on too hot. I think it is not a stretch to say that Portland averages around 28 or 30 degrees celsius in June/July - and I suppose a quick Google search could prove me right or wrong.

But allow me a moment of relaxed laziness as I write this and sip my latte.

Back to the point, such as it is, the rain is not a problem so far, but I am a little trepidatious about what is to come in terms of drizzle and gloom. I need sunshine if I am not to slump into sadness and lethargy! Both Korea and Nova Scotia, being peninsulas, had bright, sunny winters that are the kind that keep your spirit buoyant.

Apparently Portland gets 6 inches of rainin December! That would be fine if it was Korea-style, and poured straight down on you for a few days and then returned to clear skies - but apparently this is 6 inches that drizzles and mists slowly and steadily through the month.

And that's today's weather report my friends. Drop in to Portland anytime and if we are blessed with sunshine instead of showers I will show you the slowly expanding boundaries of my life and world here.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Home Base: Who A U

In Korea, one of the jokes that followed me for 9 years was the more than a little long-winded dissection of my international character - and its no joke. I have a Russian first name (Yuri), a Greek middle name (Alexis), and a Dutch last name (van der Leest). I was born in Canada (English), but in the French part of the country (Quebec), and I lived in Korea for almost 9 years (Korean).

Add to this the fact that I have a Dutch passport in addition to my Canadian one - if I can add a green card, all the better - and you really do end up with a quintessentially international character.

But what am I really?

I guess I could spend my life answering that question (actually, I guess I have spent my whole life to date poking and prodding at that particular query).

In Korea I was asked often whether I felt Canadian or not. And, of course, I just assumed that I did feel Canadian despite the melange that my life path and moniker suggest.

Well, here I am in the USA adding one more spice to the flavour of my character, and that question has taken on more meaning as some of the last near-decade in Korea starts to percolate in hindsight rather :).

The fact of the matter is that Korea really was my home - and is the place that I call to mind now when I think of where my comfort-zone is. I learned the language fairly well, I know the city like the back of my hand, and it is the country where I learned the pleasures and pains of opening my mind and heart fully to the woman that I believed to be my life partner.

Now I have left Korea behind. For the first few weeks I wandered the streets of my favorite neighbourhoods in my mind, I searched the Internet for photos of vistas that I had viewed often in the routines of my life, and I reached out to friends and colleagues online to comfort my unsettled mind. I also listened to (and am still listening to) Korean pop music and watched (and am still watching) Korean movies. Just the sounds of the songs and the cadence of the language in the films calms me and makes me feel more at home.

And in the meantime I have watched the slow process of Korean words and phrases slipping from memory and making me feel I am losing a part of myself.

So tonight I had my first Korean language class in the USA - and I stayed after the class for more than an hour chatting with my teacher about my life in Korea and her life in the USA. It felt like I was on top of the world, conversing more or less freely in the language that not only defines part of my life, but also part of what I am as a person.

You see, Korea was almost 30% of my time on earth, and is really some unfathomable percentage of my character and identity. And it always will be. I don't know if I have the discipline to continue studying this language while here in this world of English speakers, but I hope that I do and that it grows to fluency and remains an integral part of my life.

Speaking the language enriched my life in Korea a great amount, and there is no reason why it can't continue to make life - and self - more rich, full and intriguing to me and the world at large.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Wide Endless Sky...

After almost a decade in Asia - vacationing in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, etc - I am firmly settled into the US of A and changing gears. My first vacation/trip from this side of the globe: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

And you know what they say is absolutely right: It's not where you are, it is who you are with that is important. By this measure Winnipeg is the equal of a beach in Bali or a mountain in Thailand: my trip reunited me with Julien Bedard, an old and dear friend with whom I whiled away many a Korean night over beer and Jja-Jjang Myeon (noodles in black bean paste - tastes MUCH better than it sounds)!

Julien and Annabel, his witty, intelligent, attractive and charming partner, put up with me for a full week in their cozy home. I can only imagine that Annabel must have thought SHE was in Seoul after the number of stories she heard during the week~!

Now before going any further let's get one thing straight for those who are a little lost geographically - Winnipeg is in the prairies of Canada, the bread basket of the British empire such as it was/is. We are talking flat land here. Period. I spent a fair amount of days in the desert while traveling Egypt, Jordan and Israel - and this is eerily similar but for the slight difference of vegetation!

But to quote Blue Rodeo, one of the greatest Canadian bands (fairly out of context but accurately) this is a land that makes you imagine you could go on forever "Into that never ending sky / Into wide and endless nite".

Well straight from the airport and into the breach! A quick stop at the liquor commission for 50 bottles of beer, a dash into the Superstore for sausages and buns, and within two hours flat a blazing fire was going in the back yard, and I was quaffing ales with a raucous band of French Canadians I had heard tales of for almost a decade: here were, among others, Christian, Eric, Remi, Annabel (of course), Marie Chantal, Michael - and of course the dog and two cats to boot!

What a party - its no wonder the hangovers the next morning kept us from leaving for breakfast and our planned camping trip until well after 4:00pm!

I had not been camping in at least 10-12 years - the last time was a trip to Kejimkujik in Nova Scotia with my brother Jan-Mark. Too long my friends, too long...

A fire under the dark sky that graced us with a showing of Aurora Borealis that was no polar region dance of colors and shapes, but was beautiful nonetheless - patterns of green sifting across the horizon in a display that I had hoped for but not expected. Friends dropped by with a guitar and many more beers to pass the evening with socialist songs of times past and stories of adventures from other days.

Riding Mountain National Park was beautiful, and I had a great time camping - but I have to tactfully inform the Manitoba public in this forum that despite its beauty and wonder, the park could be more appropriately named "Riding Hill National Park". I guess a mountain is a state of mind, however, and context remains king!

After three days of fires, hotdogs and swimming at Crystal Lake, we retired back to Winnipeg to relax, see the city a bit and eat some prairie-style Korean food. I also played my first ever round of Frolf, which is frisbee golf - they have official courses in the city and it is a totally rocking game that I recommend highly!

And around it all - the beers, the fires, the frolf and all - was the chance to settle back, relax completely and relive the past while discussing our lives as we find them today and th directions we are headed.

I am so happy to find one of my best friends settled with a wonderful woman he loves, into a job that challenges and rewards him, and a community of friends and family that care for him. This is really living the dream Julien - thank you, thank you Annabel, thank you Balzac (mong mong) and thanks to the purring furballs who also put up with my presence!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Pictures from the Road (Part II)

So I was castigated soundly the other day by a friend in Korea for the misleading nature of my "Pictures from the Road (by request)" post. It seems that the text bears me out as a total tease, with promises of adventures illustrated and exposed but no real juicy details to flesh things out.

Apologies, and perhaps a slight nod towards remedying the situation!

Angkor Wat. I wasn't joking when I said it leaves you at a loss for words. But there are intellectual and emotional touchstones that can be extracted from my memories to hopefully satisfy curiousities that may or may not abound. I could start in Bangkok to really tie this whole experience together, or I could include the long and jarring journey from the Thai border to Siam Reap and the amazing scenes we bounced and jounced past. But instead I will begin in the temple complex itself, picking up the narrative in midstream so to speak....

I think the words that I used in my last post on the subject remains the most apt - Angkor is an intensely personal encounter with the past, communing through so many senses.

There is the sight and touch of the rough weathered stone, pockmarked with the bullets of modern warfare and carved with testiments to acts of heroism in centuries past. Creeping with lichen and crumbling back into the dust beneath your feet. These senses become particularly engaged when one looks closely at the many female figures with breasts rubbed to a polish like glass by hands eager to commune with the essence of life - mother-earth through her stone surragates.

The smell of the musty corridors in the literal mazes of halls that criss-cross the temple complexes. An earthy scent that is moist and tinged by mosses and fragrant vegetation that thrives in the fine lines between stones and on the verges of the surrounding canals. This mixes with the incence burned by the faithful from worlds away that bow to say prayers in this place. But above and beyond all of this, I can convince myself, is the smell of stone itself.

The sounds of the huge complex, which are a blend of the modern shuffle of tourist feet with the attendant shutter clicks and the sounds that must have been heard even by the stonemasons as they worked. The shrill cry of the cicadas, which has been a regular part of my yearly cycle for so many years but has fallen silent this summer in Portland. The frogs in the ponds and moats and canals and the gleeful cries of the Cambodian children as they throw their near-naked bodies from the stones into these bodies of water.

And the bittersweet sound of those children that are working rather than playing - begging for the money to go to school, eat a decent dinner or just be welcomed home. And the attendent moral obligation to help that is often stymied by the suspicion that nothing will come of it than another night of sniffing glue or by the weight of the need to choose who among the throng is worthy of the handout.

And the taste of the cool fresh water that soothes your parched body after hours of exploring in the sun. Or the fresh fruit juices that give you the energy and drive to climb that next flight of stairs or cycle on to the next stop on the tour of ancient treasures - mango, watermelon, orange, papaya, pineapple, lychee. Or the steaming bowl of fish Amok that waits at the end of the day.

But where is the promised tale from the road? Where is the essence of the oft-hinted intimacy of the experience? I am not sure that I can give you that my friend - but I can try.

Have you read "Swimming to Cambodia" by Spalding Gray? If not I highly recommend it for a few great laughs and a lot of exploration of how we experience our lives on a moment-by-moment basis. The stream of conciousness of a man fighting mental demons that unfortunately led him to suicide in 2004.

Gray writes in "Swimming to Cambodia" about having a perfect moment. Something I have had the pleasure to experience on several identifiable occassions - one already chronicled in my story from the church steps and another coming at you from the temple complexes of Angkor Wat.

Cycling against time with Troy and Michelle - two truely wonderful people from New Minas, Nova Scotia - we raced to find Ta Preom before night fell and the park closed to the foreign occupiers we really were in one sense. Ta Preom was a must see not because of the fame brought to it by Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in the trash blockbuster "Tomb Raider", but because of the uneasy coexistence of this temple with the massive trees that are slowly ripping it to pieces.

Instead we ended up a Preah Kahn - fortuitously it would turn out, as the guard that attempted to usher us out for the 6:00 close finally relented and agreed to let us pedal our way around the complex to view a huge tree entangled with the rear of the structure. What a massive piece of ashen white, ossified timber! How could we resist coming closer to experience this site with all the intimacy explained at (too great?) length above?

And then, how were we to avoid entering a long stone hallway that turned out to bisect the entire massive structure from north to south and east to west, probably following some geomantric lines of energy divined by priests of another time. We were, after all, welcomed with open arms by the Apsaras dancing on the carved lintels above each opening.

And once the elation of being alone, in the rapidly darkening Cambodian jungle, in this piece of timeless significance, hit us, how were we to stop running at full-tilt back and forth, up and down those long corridors? How were we to stop from climbing to the top of those temple mounts and drinking in the sights and sounds of the mysterious area that we inhabited alone?

We came to the exact center of the complex as the darkness reached a particular poignancy, with the shadows cast at an artful angle across the geometric lines of the carefully wrought corridors and cubby-holes. There was a carved, round pillar of stone perhaps 8 feet tall marking that spot, and at that moment we fell silent - each with a hand outstretched to rest on what we could only imagine was the marker of a spot of great power and significance.

And we stood silent and let the sounds of the jungle wash over us and purge the rest of time and the world from our minds.

And it was a moment of pure, unadulterated perfection. There was nowhere else in the world I would rather be, and nothing about myself or the world that needed to be changed. The pure goodness that we hope is the core of humanity was plain and clear.

And then it was gone. Words were spoken, time resumed, and the deepening shadows and encroaching forest were suddenly stripped of perfection and imbued with a hint of fear. A shiver ran down my spine as we suddenly gave ourselves to what can be best described as a feeling of vulnerability. A counterpoint to the earlier peace coming in the realization of our foreigness in the verdant jungle of this strange land.

And Michelle's bicycle chain was jammed into the rear fork - and was not coming lose whether with my handy Swiss Army or the frustrated kicks of our sandle-clad feet. There was nothing to it but to get out of those deep woods and closer to some form of civilization.

Troy, a long-distance runner in another time in another land, took it upon himself to run that bicycle God knows how many thousands of meters until a crew of Cambodians on a motorbike stopped to do a quick repair job for us. I will never forget standing holding the light over those two toiling men as every bug in the jungle vectored in on my lamp - huge moths colliding with my face, mosquitos buzzing in my ears and fire ants biting my toes and feet.

The ride back to town was fairly uneventful. Maybe there was never any real danger, but that was irrelevant in the face of our perception of danger. Equally, there may never have been a "perfect moment," but if that's the case, I'll take the mistaken perception any day over the absence of that experience that the alternative would suggest.

I don't know if I have captured anything here that is accessible to you from your distant lands and different experiences. But I am not someone who often manages to anchor myself completely in the moment - and the value of those seconds of our perfect moment are truely indescribable if you have not experienced it yourself - albeit in your own place and time.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Pictures of You

Maybe photo albums should be edited to present only a happy picture of the past - or, to be more precise, pictures of the past that still elicit feelings of happiness in the present.

Maybe the painful memories that cut you like knives and draw tears are parts of your history that are better shed like old skin. Maybe the pain they cause is not edifying, and only erodes the pleasures of the present.

Maybe our ghosts should be vanquished to the thin nighttime chill.

Maybe our ties of communication to, and memories and mementos of, the painful past should be laid bare and then cut clean off - surgically excised.

Maybe we are not made to carry these pictures as burdensome reminders, instead giving into the gift of forgetfulness.

"I've been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they're real
I've been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are
All I can feel"

Maybe we have to pull the thorns of our days past before we can move on with courage and vigor to build our better tomorrows.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

벌서 일년 (2집)

Its amazing how amateur my translation of the song 벌서 일년 was! I spent more than 8 years in Korea, and learned the language well enough to manage most of my whole life independently. I negotiated my last work contract in Korean (talk about being at a disadvantage) and dealt with finding my last apartment, getting all of the utilities hooked up, and the reverse process of getting rid of it all. Every day I was praised by Koreans surprised and delighted at the level of interaction I could foster with them.

But in practical terms I just never reached the level to claim true proficiency. I couldn't sit in meetings and participate. I would generally know what was being talked about, but most of the specifics would be a total mystery to me! I can watch Korean movies with English subtitles and recognize that the words in English match the spoken Korean (or that they sometimes don't)- but am totally adrift without the subtitles.

Well, thankfully the Internet can fill in the blank spaces in my abilities. Here are the lyrics to 벌서 일년 (Already One Year) translated in their entirety.

Brown Eyes - Already One Year
Translated by: Sooki

already a year thinking that because it was the first time
it would be fine after a few days
memories I had made with you come to me

my uneasy shyness the first time I confessed my love for you
passing by the first day we met
the tears, lighting the cake, and congratulating you on your birthday

*I believe in you I believe in your mind
even though already a year has gone by
even after a year or a year after that I wait for you

I couldn't say I miss you come back to me
because of the warm gaze of that person
and your face which was brighter than the ring on your left hand

**I believe in you I believe in your mind
even though I know you've started over
even though you are making memories without me

I always remember bygone laughter, conversations, and hopes
and now only one new memory to make
only my waiting and tears for you

**I believe in you I believe in your mind
even though I know you've started over
even though you are making memories without me

*I believe in you I believe in your mind
even though already a year has gone by
even after a year or a year after that I wait for you

It turns out that he did tell her he loved her...and that love lived for a short time.

But its been a year since they went their separate way, and she has moved on to making new memories without him.

Meanwhile he is still living in his memories of her.

And still believes.....

Monday, July 10, 2006

Church Bells

Another Sunday has passed with church bells pealing through the calm morning and myself cocooned in my own life and paying no heed to the call. No confession, no penance, no praise and no prayers.

No humbling of myself before an eternal force that may or may not direct our lives for better or worse.

But today those deep tolling tones stirred a few thoughts in me. Thoughts of the days of youth, sitting in church whiling the minutes away sucking a peppermint as the preacher waxed poetic/didactic about the rewards of heaven/perils of hades.

But you know, I enjoyed the singing! I have never considered that before. At the evening service the pastor would call for requests and I would weekly attempt to have an anthemic psalm of gravity added to the playlist: "Lead on oh King Eternal" or "Amazing Grace". Something evocative of a mission or cause to march for....

And while sounding those words of high purpose and heavy import - despite my frightful inability to hold a tune or produce a sound that approaches pleasant - I think I felt 100% free and at one with the people around me. I felt integrated into a group with a common purpose and shared thoughts and feelings.

A feeling that occurs seldom in my life, to be certain.

This was even true in Korea, where my partner was a devoted church goer and a true Christian in the sense that she questioned her faith daily and challenged herself to make it relevant in her life. She wasn't someone who just went to church once a week for confirmation of her holiness and goodness.

And I sang in that Korean church. I understood nary of a word of the sermon presented nor the psalms sung in unison with a people of another land, culture and language. Those moments singing may have been some of the moments that I felt most at one in my chosen home country.

Again, a feeling hard to come by for a foreigner in a foreign land.

Which leaves me wondering where that feeling of belonging comes from at this point in my life. Where is the thing in my life that dials me into my community, makes me feel at one with those I walk among as a stranger?

It would be wrong to go to a church and recite creeds and receive communion simply to experience a sense of belonging - it would be akin to being an Ed Norton at a support group for cancer survivors. But now I think I understand his compulsion a little more...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Do you go to the movies?

In Korea I really got to enjoy going to the movies by myself. On Saturday mornings I would drop my partner off at work and head to the Megabox at Coex and catch a 9:30 or 10:00am showing of whatever was playing. I guess you could call it a guilty pleasure - buying a ticket, getting a latte and a bagel at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in front of the cinema, and reading my International Tribune til the show started.

In Portland I have little choice but to indulge in that old habit. The rep cinemas are fantastic. I have already seen some great films I would have had no chance to see in Seoul: Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (Tibet), Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (Korea) and most recently Russian Dolls (France).

These films have all been great in their own ways. Russian Dolls was a romance about a young French writer seeking love and being thwarted at every turn, often by his own desires/impulses. It was similar to Closer in this regard, except that Closer was a brilliant and unrelenting examination of the way that our basic impulses/desires are more often than not the things that stop us from achieving what we most want, whereas Russian Dolls was a romantic comedy that touched on the darker/deeper side of human relationships while always pushing towards redemption and the perfect love that tied everything together in the end.

But I am as much a sucker for the schlockly love story as I am for the dark investigation of human nature - as long as it is well done and not just Matthew McConaughey crap. So this film sent me back into my photo albums and a walk through the romance of another world and another life and time.

And this left me wondering about the editability of the past. We all know that memory can be fooled easily - some researchers believe that everytime we pull a memory to mind we store it by essentially writing over the most recent copy, meaning that it becomes contaminated by whatever we were thinking or feeling when we retrieved it.

And of course our physical record of the past is infinitely more revisable.

Have you ever gone back and read a journal years later and felt the desire to edit it? Cross a name out or "correct" a misapprehension? I recently found a journal from 1994, and was as interested to see what edits I had made at some moment of weakness as I was in the original contents.

And what about your photo albums? That's a big question.

A repository of your happiest and most blissful moments that can be recast as a house of broken dreams with a snap of the fingers. What do you do? Do you rearrange and reevaluate your photo albums everytime your life takes an unexpected turn?

Should a photo album remain a true repository of your history in images, or should it be reinterpreted ad nauseum to always reflect a positive and happy image of times past?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pictures from the Road (by request)

Last night I booted up Skype and gave my younger sister a ring for the first time in too long - she lives in Bosnia, which is not the easiest time zone to coordinate with from here in Portland.
Turns out lil sis had been perusing the present blog, and had come away wondering where the pictures are. Now, before you start to blame her for being uncharitable in her judgment - indignantly impugning her for not appreciating the artistry of my concrete church steps and the sublime shape of the Hershey's Kiss - you should know that for her "the" pictures are a specific set.

Before arriving in Portland I took two months to wend around the world and visit friends and drop in on sites I have always dreamed of seeing. This languid progress took me through Thailand, Cambodia, the UK, Egypt, Jordan & Israel - with Kristin, the aformentioned lil sis - joining me in Cairo to bring to a close four years in which we had not seen hide nor hair of each other.
If only there had been someone to photograph that meeting in front of the Egyptian museum!
Now the pictures are not going to appear here - there being 1500 or so - but a small sampling could possibly be brought to light. So without further ado (ado being what I seem most proficient at), let's take a whirlwind tour around the world:

Korea: Well, everything in my life still seems to start and end with Korea, and this particular trip most definitely did. The vast majority of my photos from Korea are either analog format or on a harddrive that I do not have access at the moment. Nonetheless, I did manage to dig up a shot of "The Old Tea Shop" in the Insa-dong area of Seoul, an idyllic spot that I visited in my first few weeks in Seoul back in 1997. It's traditional teas sooth the senses with an amazing array of flavors and aromas, and the decor is stunning, with birds flying freely around the cozy space.

To juxtapose that peaceful image, I dug out a shot of a subway rush hour - not an uncommon scene - and it actually can look as blurry in real life as this photo! I know it looks intense and unbearable, and I can only agree - but as I was discussing with a friend the other day over lunch, the crowds and noises of Seoul really became my element, as the city became more and more "home"

Thailand: Thailand was not the point of this trip. I love the country and the food, but I have been there many times, and was looking for new stomping grounds. However, I have always avoided Bangkok like the plague, heading to an island or a mountain the moment I arrive, so this time I took a couple of days to see the capital. I am glad I saw it, but really, what I love about Thailand is on the aforementioned islands and mountains - the hot, muggy, polluted and crowded city has its treasures I am sure, and the Royal Palace pictured is beautiful, but I have always traveled to get OUT of cities and away from crowds!

Cambodia: Now Cambodia was the point of this trip. I had been dreaming of visiting Ankor Wat for years and years, and had had countless opportunities that I never took for one reason or the other. I have seen many amazing things in my travels and life, but I can honestly say that no manmade structure has ever come close to the impact that Ankor Wat had on me. This is ancient history spread over acres of lush forest and accessible in a very intimate way - you can touch the monuments or climb on them - you can camp out astride an ancient Naga head for a cool soda or watch the sun set from the pinnacle of a temple that has hosted supplicants since time immemorial. Needless to say the photo at the right is only the tip of the iceberg, and for sure not the best - but this is a taste afterall, not a full course meal.
God I could go on about Cambodia, as I haven't fallen in love with a country in quite this way in a long time - but it would be hard to encompass in a fair manner. This is true in terms of the places and the people, but is especially true of the darker side of Cambodia's history - encompassing Toul Sleng (S21, the Khmer torture prison in Phnom Penh) and the more well-known killing fields. I will not post pictures of this part of my trip, because I cannot put the images in their appropriate context.

Instead I add a photo of a youngster that was paddling a large clay pot in the lake district of Phnom Penh. My traveling companions and I were fairly certain that this little guy was skirting the verandah in hopes of catching a backpack too close to the edge - and while thwarting these (alleged) intentions, made sure that he had a full plate of food to paddle away with.

London: Believe it or not, I had never been in London before! It was long overdue, especially since two of my dearest friends in the world - Paul and Nicola - have been living there for years. I spent 7 days in their company, soaking in the warmth of their hospitality and absorbing the sights of the city. I didn't poke around more than a few of the great tourist attractions of London, but did walk by many as I wandered the downtown streets in the footprints of Charles Dickens, Dr. Johnson and their ilk!
I met (not for the first time in some cases) the intelligent, attractive and generally engaging circle of people that surround the Presler-Jones household, and joined this lively crew to see Jane Siberry and Goldfrapp in concert (the latter at Royal Albert Hall!), and was privileged to see Embers, starring the Mr. Jeremy Irons, and a chilling political play called My Name is Rachel Corrie.

Egypt: Touristed for longer than many current civilizations have existed: The land of the Nile. Pharoahs. The sphinx. Horus and the Scarab Beetle. Antiquity defined - its essence. But this all pales in comparison to seeing Kristin walk onto the grounds of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo from my perch at a window on the second floor. Rushing out without paying the bill - and having to rush back to pay before I could run out to end four years of estrangement. To the right is the ever cool Krazza looking as enigmatic as a hieroglyph in the temple of Luxor, and below is perhaps the most iconic structure that I have ever photographed - can you imagine the millions of minutely different pictures taken of the pyramids at Giza in any given day, week, month or year?

I won't go on at length, except to say that I have always wanted to see Egypt and am very glad that I have done so - our travels took us through Cairo and the Pyramids, down to Aswan and the Temple at Philae, and on to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. While a billion other great sites remain unseen, I do not need to go back! For all of its glory, it is just plain exhausting: hot, dirty, sandy, loud and a veritable gaggle of hawkers and would-be "guides" trying to get money out of you in anyway possible!

Hey, it can't all be wine and roses, right?

Jordan: Continuing our little tour of some of the world's oldest civilizations and the wonders left in their passage, Kristin and I passed through Sinai, narrowly avoiding a bombing in Dahab, and moved into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to walk in the footsteps of Dr. Indiana Jones (oh, and an amazing lost civilization that remains largely a mystery to us to this day - did I forget to mention that?). But yes, after a night gazing at the full moon in the midst of the desert dunes of Wadi Rum, and capturing yet another stunning shot of lil sis (left), we finally reached another of my dreams - Petra.

I don't think I have words for Petra, as it defies the imagination even as you climb through the sandstone caves that make up an ancient city carved into huge chasms left behind by tectonic shifts. Many of these structures are of indeterminate age and were crafted by a people that are virtually lost to us outside of the marvelous city they left behind. We spent 2 full days hiking solid for 8-10 hours, stopping only for picnic lunches atop rock outcroppings overlooking the expansive city of the past, moments of exasperation trying to chart the desert paths on the tourist map (in German), and for the time needed to catch one's breathe after having it knocked out of you by the beauty of yet another monument hewn at great effort from the sandblasted stone.

Our time in Jordan took us from south to north, stopping along the way in Wadi Rum, Petra, Karak, the Dead Sea, Madaba, the capital Amman and Jerash, an ancient Roman market town said to be the best preserved ruin of its kind in the world. Pictured at left is a large group of Jordanian schoolgirls that followed our progress through Jerash VERY enthusiastically!

Well. Three weeks and an odd day or two passes quickly, and the time had come for Kristin to return to her Balkan home and for me to strike out on my own yet again. I spent a relaxing last few days in Jordan scuba diving in Aquaba, before moving into the Promised Land to visit Stine, a young Danish woman that we had befriended in Dahab, Sinai - Thank you Stine!.

Israel: I spent 2 days in Jerusalem, visiting the old city, the dome of the rock (pic at right) and the church of the sepulcher.
It was interesting and perplexing - these sites are the foundation of the Judeo-Christian culture that I am a product of, and yet seemed so distant.

One reason could be that, far from being an intimate encounter with the foundations of western spirituality, I found myself in the midst of the throngs gathered for the orthodox Easter, and was thus crushed in a throng of zealous reverence that was disturbing.

At right is a pilgrim placing a memento on the stone slab Christ is said to have been laid on when dressing his body for burial - holy water seeps through the rock by some mechanism unknown to me, and is said to bless anything that touches it. I understand the significance of this experience for these people, I believe, but am still left stunned by the woman that pushes through the crowd to lay her child on this stone tablet.

Isn't this the same fervour that fuels wars the world over?

All roads must come to an end: And back to Seoul - via Larnaca, Athens, Bangkok, Taipei - and then on to Portland, Oregon - via Vancouver - to start a new life from scratch.

This trip was amazing - no better adjective has been invented - especially as I never imagined that I would have a chance to take two months at this age and indulge in the stuff that dreams are made of. The present sampling of experiences from the road is far from complete: it doesn't even touch on the amazing people that I met - Troy, Michelle, Raven, Pricilla, Juliet (safe travels Juliet), Mila, Adam, Stine, Brad - and the dozen or so that I feel horrible for omitting. Also, it is pretty solidly slanted towards the positive aspects of a long trip that had difficult and even unpleasant moments - c'est la vie, n'est pas?

And the photos! Please don't judge me for omitting beautiful sweeping vistas in favor of posed-Yuri and posed-Kristin in front of another monument (right Pud?). I chose these pictures with the perhaps vain thought that those visiting might be doing so more out of interest in my life than in National Geographic shots. Patience my friends - I will get some stunning shots (if I may say so myself) up on the web eventually!

Hopefully the path I tread at present will be as interesting and rewarding: I love you to death Kristin, thank you for treading the twisted paths of the globe with me. I value my friends and family above all else in the world. I have hurt some and pushed some beyond reclaim - to my loss - but I hope I learn from this and become a better and stronger person. I love you all.

One more posed pic from the road, and I am outta here!

Saturday, July 01, 2006


"And if I could make you turn around
To see how we were then
Just one look into my eyes
You'd fall in love again"

Tara McLean, "If You Could", Silence

Do I want to go back?
Not really.
I know better.
But at moments it is so tempting.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

벌서 일년

When I was teaching at the Lykeion Language school in Apkujong-dong I had a friend that was a true soul mate. Jaewon was an artist in the purest sense, interpreting her world in new and intriguing ways every day in words or images on paper for the world to see.

Once I lent her the Tori Amos album "Little Earthquakes" and she responded by writing a series of 3 or 4 essays that described her visceral response to the music and the voice that sang the words she couldn't understand.

It was stunning how well she caught the subtleties of the moods and feelings that swirl in deep and dark colors through the songs on that album. The power someone has over us when they can evoke our tears, how little tremors can show the fragility of the human psyche and rip it into pieces.

I never paid a lot of attention to the lyrics of the song 벌서 일년 (Already One Year), by the Korean R&B duo Brown Eyes. I always took it as an affirmation of the wonder of a love that has blossomed over one year and remains strong and true:

"I believe in you I believe in your mind / 벌서 일년이 지났지만"

Which translates loosely as:

"I believe in you I believe in your mind
Although one year has already passed."

It seemed to perfectly encapsulate a year of bliss before even a moment of doubt clouds a "new" love - or in this case a well-worn love that seems fresh and invigorating even as the months have gone by. This line seemed purely distilled and ever so bittersweet to me.

But it is never so simple! The mind plays tricks with us, not able to cope with how the tune has hit us directly in the heart and soul and totally bypassed the brain. I sat down with the lyrics to 벌서 일년 tonight and tried as best as I could to translate them - some lines stymied me even after I dug a dictionary out.

But the bottom line is that the sweet beauty of the song comes in pain, longing and doubt - as is so often the case. There is already a ring on her finger, but that doesn't make the songwriter nearly as sad as just looking into her warm eyes. I am not sure that he ever told her he loved her...if one year has passed then that is one year he has waited for her.

I wish so much that I could get the full picture of this song, to confirm my clumsy translation and know where the sad memories were birthed. In the words of another bard:

"It's gotta be here
In your spider-web alphabets
Did I read it all wrong?
Or have I just not gotten it yet?"

On June 26 I celebrated a birthday and an anniversary of loss - or at least one small but important increment in a long and painful process of loss. 벌서 일년. Already one year has passed, and my head keeps telling my heart not to believe in you, to give up on that belief in your mind, heart and soul.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Wings to fly....

My blog - almost purely self-referential as it may be to date - is but a fledgling bird so far. It has wings that are visible to all as its potential, but it can't yet fly on its own.

It has taken its first few gulps of air and has even been fed once or twice, but it is far from being able to fly on its own.

It hasn't had the attention paid to it that is necessary for it to develop its own identity and personality, for it to stand on its feet proudly secure in its knowledge of itself. No one knows yet if it will grow into a success or a failure - if it will leap from the nest and fall to the earth or soar in the sky.

It is barely an adolescent and must be fed much more if it is to thrive and grow. And even then, it could be a sullen and surly teen or a vibrant contributer to the community it inhabits.

Yet my journal is still jealous! Silbling rivalry is rampant between the two. My journal has been nourished for years through nervous steps into new worlds and the triumphs and set backs of my professional path. It has witnessed and revelled in the growth of love and it has empathized with the anguish of seperation.

But it need not fear - it is still equally cherished as a fellow traveller and a confidant - it still has its unique and special charm and is irreplaceable in those exact ways. It has been ignored before and it will be again, sadly, but it will always be remembered and returned to.

For the Internet, if it teaches us one thing, teaches us that there is a true need for separation between the public and the private. There are thoughts and ideas to be shared with the world at large and there are emotions and urges to be trusted to a close friend and confidant - like my journal or my closest friends in the world. Whereever they be.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

First kiss....

I finished a book moments ago - "69", by Murakami Ryu. I have been a great fan of Murakami Haruki (no relation) for a long time now, having been introduced to his writings in Korea, and many people who heard that I like Haruki suggested Ryu to me - I can only imagine they had more reason to do so than a shared surname!

Both write about Japan, and both share a wistfulness and even a sadness - but the keenness of Haruki's sense of the isolation of the individual is much more pronounced. This sense of isolation makes the moments of human connection all the more poignant.


"Jane..." My heart felt like it was going to burst, but I went ahead and said what I'd already decided to say, "Have you ever been kissed?"
She laughed. I was so embarrassed I turned red from my ears to my toenails. After a while she stopped and looked into my eyes and shook her head.
We both stopped swinging, and the angel closed her eyes. My heart was pounding, saying Go on go on go on go on go on go on go on. I got off my swing and stood in front of her. To say my knees were trembling would be a hopeless understatement; my entire body was shimmying like the moon on the river. It was hard to breathe. I wanted to run away. I crouched and looked at the angel's lips. They seemed like a wondrous, separate living being, like nothing I had seen before, a beautiful creature breathing pale pink in the dim light of the moon and the street lamps, quivering faintly. I didn't have the courage to touch them.


As you read the passage you start to tumble across the words, almost getting ahead of yourself in the rush to that magic moment - that never happens and crushes us with regret. We've all been there and are keen to reexperience the rush with this Japanese student in the summer of 1969.

It doesn't take me to my first kiss ever, but it takes me a first kiss of monumental proportion in the summer of '98.

Sitting on cool concrete church steps and holding hands. Feeling the closeness, feeling the desire...and the rush of giddy fear.

But its as unstoppable as the compulsion that led you to hold her hand for the first time that Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks earlier.

Did you keep your eyes open or were they closed?

Your heads tilted and moved towards each other in the still night air. And your lips brushed together softly and tenderly, hunger held in check for now so you can test the waters.

And then your teeth clash.
Embarrassed laughter.
Crimson cheeks.

Maybe a murmured apology, or something else, forgotten, mumbled to bridge the awkwardness before trying again. And again........

And the world is perfect, and each streetlight stands out more clearly and illuminates the nighttime urban landscape with a sharpness and clarity that makes even those city streets beautiful.

I revisited those concrete stairs before I left Seoul.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Opening the Window...

The other day I was online and I stumbled across a friend's blog. I hadn't been aware that he kept a blog, so I perused the contents and was quite surprised by what I read. Its not that there was anything shocking or outlandish, it was just that the blog postings painted a very different picture of him than I had in my mind - it was full of pieces of him that I've never seen.

This got me thinking about the whole blogging concept, and reminded me of a lyric from a 54-40 song: "I want you to know me only as what I believe I am." Its really a true statement, and one that often comes up in my mind. The Internet can hide who we are, and we read and hear about instances of this all the time, but it can also show a much more complete picture of who we are - or at the very least flesh that picture out and fill in the cracks.

I don't know what this blog will end up being. I can't say at this point whether it will become a confession of my innermost thoughts or a collection of sarcastic observations on the minutae of life, but hopefully the net result will be a window onto a true version of "me" for all of you who are scattered over the world - in Korea, Canada, Bosnia, France, Holland the UK, etc.

One thing I can be pretty sure of, as is already evidenced by this intro, a lot of song lyrics will show up. I have a knack for remembering lyrics and lines (or at least paraphrasing them more-or-less accurately), and I think that this is because words have always been my primary way of interacting with and understanding the world. Some people focus more on the rhythm and the tune or the day, getting the general tone and ambiance of the song or the world. However, I focus on the little details, with each word being mined for the many potential meanings it lends the whole.

And basically, it is more than often the case that someone else has said it better than I ever could: "I am worthless sounds compared to all your perfect words."

The original inspiration to start this internet version of me was to post pics from my recent travels through Cambodia, England, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. I still hope to do this, but I am not convinced that this is the proper forum/format for posting hundreds of pics (I took over 1500). Thus, I'll just add a pic that I like a lot to this post - I took it in May 2005 at Terance Bay in Nova Scotia.

Enjoy :)