Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bonjour Ladies and Gentlemen! Comment allez vous??

This was my view for many hours. I am guessing that what you are looking at is Russia. As a former cold war era vet, I appreciate this picture more than you will ever know. Maybe, I hope we really can stop all of our global domination nonsense and actually live in peace. From Seoul to Munich Germany and then it was onwards to CDG. Travelers always have stories, because honestly, when you are traveling by yourself, you find a strange dependency on others that can make people feel uncomfortable, even fearful. It was a journey that began in a taxi, to a high speed train, to a couple of airplane rides, a bus ride, a metro ride or two...to staying with a Lt Col from Sri Lanka, to finally get to my flat. Oh there were numerous nameless, faceless people I never met before...who just didn't their jobs to get me where I am. However, there is one thing I am, and that is happy. Two days into my Paris journey...and I have slept little, my stomach is having a hell of a time adjusting to the French cuisine. However, it took me a microsecond to realize why I love Paris. It is a city that is alive.
I was able to make my appointment with Mr. Jim Haynes. Sunday dinners at his flat, which was a former sculpture studio, is always a must for me. I heard that Jim was featured on NPR, and smiled as one of his guests kept talking about how she just heard about it and decided to hop a plane to meet Jim, who has the world come to dinner. I adore Jim because he genuinely loves people, is a wonderful writer and author and one of the funniest libertines I have ever met in my life.
The Holiday lights are on display along the Champs Elysées. Here are a few of the scenes that people normally ask to look at while in Paris. Outside of these scenes...I hope to share with you some things that are more substantial. The world is hurting, and though I am in Paris, I came because I have missed being here and life is too short to say 'no'. I said 'yes' and figured out how to make it all come together one piece at a time.
The Eiffel tower still stands, and I gladly walked kilometers to get here at the end of a decade of excess, changing dreams, of endings and beginnings...to embrace life fully. I don't know how my journey will continue. I don't have all of the answers. No one does. However, you get up, breathe and choose to keep on going.
Hang in there. Believe in what you are doing...and try like hell to live your dreams. No one else can live them for you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Seeing the Wonder of a Fairytale

There is the famous story of Anne Sullivan, who was the storied teacher for Helen Keller. During my year in Korea, I have often referred back to Anne Sullivan's struggle to get through the mind of a blind and deaf child, to communicate with her. Keller was violent, striking out at the world and at her teacher because she couldn't understand a thing. Helen Keller is a student that would have challenged the heart and soul of many teachers. As a matter of record, her parents were desperate to find a single teacher that could work with Helen. I have often felt like Anne Sullivan during this year, and yes, it has been a year of miracles.

This is my final week in Korea, and it has caused this liquid salty substance, known as tears, to come to my eyes.
I watched the children perform, sing, tell stories, and participate in an open class that I taught for the parents to observe (ah, no time for stage fright) how I worked with their children on a daily basis. This was an audience you don't want to disappoint. I decided to tell the story of "The Little Fir Tree", which I had vaguely remembered as a child. I had the children come up, one by one to select an ornament and decorate the small artificial tree to transform it for the use of a story that on the surface seems so benign. These little beings would tell their parents what they had selected and would place the ornaments on the tree. I saw nods of approval, pride in their smiling eyes, and most of all the morale of the story is not to say, "I am too little", but to be perfectly content with who you are. The tree wanted to see life, to possibly be a part of a ship or a timber in a house. Instead, the tree was beautified for sick children in a hospital ward, and touched and loved by the children. Smiles began to mask the threatening tears, because it hit me in that moment what these children had meant to me.
I didn't have one Helen Keller, I had two of them. They did not want to be at school. They didn't want to learn English. They were violent, stubborn and fought with everyone. I thought of Anne Sullivan and thought to myself, 'at least they can hear and see'. It took a lot of work to reach them both. They both happened to be incredibly talented, and on this day, I was presented with this bouquet from the most violent student I have ever had. He achieved the most of all of the students, winning a city-wide art contest, a speech contest in Seoul, and he became one of the best students. The other 'Helen' also transformed during the year, she began to achieve her own greatness by being herself.

I have to apologize for the sound quality, it is horrible...but here is the first verse of "I Have a Dream" by Abba...sound totally out of tune...but with the bravado that only children have.
As we joined the students in the third verse, on that little stage, I saw the whole audience join us as we sang. This is going to sound totally like I am a wet blanket...I cried.

I saw the wonder of a fairy tale.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seven Seconds...The Art of Memory

Jorge Lizalde and Mathilde Lopez Gomez are the brilliant minds behind a unique project I ran across this year, called Mnemonic . I was drawn to it immediately, inspired by their process of taken images and tying them to memories of complete strangers. I queried Jorge and I submitted one of my turning point memories as a child.

This memory is now called, Memory Number 009.

Here is the script I provided and the work they produced.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother awakening us in the middle of the night, with her finger pressed to her lips in a shushing motion. “Let’s play a game of hide and seek.” , she began. Her hair was long and dark, her blue eyes penetrating mine. “But we must not make a sound.” I saw suitcases in the corner, and our clothes were put on in a hurry. Silent dressing of three children, as I was the oldest…I looked at my younger sister and put my finger to my lips as my mother had done to me. My baby brother with his sparse blonde hair peeking through the the crib rails.

“Shhhhhh…we are going to hide, and now don’t make a sound.” The quiet whispers as we went down the stairs…with my little sister in tow. A low rumbling sound of an awaiting cab as we made it out the door, In the dead of night, with amber street lights…swishing by. Feeling the rocking motion of wanting to sleep, during this game of hide and seek, leading us to a bus terminal the crowds not so thick, and tired blinking eyes of flourescent blindness. Climbing the steps with toddler legs to feel the stiffness of false comfort of a seat…as I looked out the window to see the flashing of the streetlights as we drove out of Chicago that hyponitized me into a deep sleep.

That was the night my mother left my father when I was barely four years old.

7 seconds with Jorge and Mathilde
Mnemonic - The Art of Memories

Why have you focused on the early memories?

Both our work focuses on images and memory, Jorge as a principle of work as his pieces are always based on an inward investigation about memory, family and loss.

Whereas my work is often orientated towards our memory’s selection and deformation, and therefore its great potential of mythology.

As an image-maker, Jorge wanted to recreate his own first image-memory and became quickly conscious of the difficulty, confusion and eagerness it triggered and the impossibility of doing it on his own. Memories are not stored with more or less precision but recreated each time we remember. Early memories are even more so the results of multiple layers of invention, sometimes ours but also others, therefore any attempt to define them becomes an archeology-project of oneself. And as early memories are often remembered with and through disparate data, ours and other’s, they also should be recreated with others.

While working on The Motherland Project, a performance research with actors and dancers about images, origins and memory, we have experienced their re-creation with others but also discovered their common ground. Through out the rehearsals, however false, embellished or extremes, these deformed memories were highly personal and truthful while remaining very generic too, like tapping into some common fond.

In parallel to these projects we were both interested- and scared- by the enormous flow of images and videos living on the web. Scared as it does challenge your legitimacy as an artist, a photographer or theatre maker but also fascinated as the juxtaposition of this infinite amount of individuality/knowledge/beauty is incredibly exciting and hold huge potential.
We felt that something as intimate, sacred and defining as early memories could be created and live in that web format: A common memory database, very personal and generic at the same time, the compilation of all of us in its essence.

We looked for a format to open the process to people creativity and channel the multiple images and video available on flickr, you tube and other common database.

By extracting, re-cutting, re-shuffling online data we attempt to be as close as we can to the early memory written and offered by the authors.
There are many subjective people involved:
-Authors’, who recreate at the moment they remember, organise and shape their text.
-Ours, while we read the script, imagine it then find and choose online data-themselves infused with everyone’s particular image, look, grain, genre- then cut and shape the memory.

And this very fragile, secret, unformulated souvenirs, somehow come to light helped by everyone to stand on its feet.

Mathilde and Jorge provided brief biographies about their past work and present vision for themselves.

Jorge is a photographer and video maker. He is currently completing an MFA in Fine arts at UWIC, Cardiff, UK.

He previously trained at Universidad of Salamanca in Spain, where he obtained a Ba in Fine Arts and at EFTI in Madrid where he completed a professional course and master in photography.

Since 2005, he has been living in London and most recently Cardiff where he has been working as a freelance photographer for different companies (theatre, dance and marketing) and published on varied newspapers and website notably the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent and varied e-magazines.

His artistic practice is rooted in memory and stillness.
He has taken part in different group exhibitions in Spain (Alumni Master Exhibition at Photoespaña) Argentina (Festival de la Luz) and the Uk (Relics at Art Salons and Make it a good experience at Eight Club and Millar Rosenfalk) and also worked along actors and dancers creating stills, videos and searching live image system for The Motherland Project.

Mathilde is a theatre director and scenographer, currently Creative Associate at National Theatre Wales.

She trained at Central Saint Martins in Performance Design, worked as a designer for ITV, BBC, Channel 4, The Knitting Company, and Ex-Machina, assisting Carl Fillion on La Celestina and 1984, both show directed by Robert Lepage.

She founded The Knitting Company with actors from Jacques Lecoq and Philippe Gaulier Schools and directed Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy by Witold Gombrovitzc, Hotel Europa (La Suspension du Plongeur) by Lionel Spycher and Prometheus (extracts of Aeschylus Prometheus Bound) at the Cochrane Theatre and Hoxton Hall; Cien años (series of devised episodes based on One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) for theatre and non-theatre spaces in London and Prague.

From 2006-8 she completed Birkbeck’s MFA in theatre directing and assisted several productions at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Theatre Royal Stratford East in London.

She also worked as literary manager for Theatre Royal Stratford East, then devised Crosswired, a dance piece developed and presented by East London Dance and the Barbican Centre and started The Motherland Project, a performance project on image and memory.

Where do you hope you can garner an exposition?

We would definitely need more time, resources or/and recruit artists to work with us to generate enough material (maybe 100 memories) for the work to have the impact we want for an exhibition.

Also, we feel that the strength of this project is in the process and the making, therefore can only conceive it in the real world as an exhibition/performance, a working Mnemonic factory with script writing tables, data selection bureaus and montage ones.

More over, to legitimise its place in the real world and respond to the actual ground where it stands, the real exposition of this originally web project will need to create the memories of the actual people coming to the event or living in the area.

The Mnemonic Factory could take place in commercial, private galleries or arts fair where the project will approach visitors and invite them to participate. We are also approaching an Alzheimer foundation in Cardiff as we thought of co-organizing workshops with Alzheimer patients to recreate their first memories and then create a projection/performance with and by them.

Another option is to keep it on the web where it originated and recruit more artists, memory makers and programmers to create a software that does what we do, encompassing its complexities, but quicker.

If anyone out there is open to the challenge, we are open to proposals.

How long is this project going to be in development?

Our first aim is to find the time and resources to cope with the demand as we are only 2 and the whole memory-making process takes 2 weeks which is much too long for the web pace and the patience of many subjects.

Jorge during his year at University of Wales (Institute Cardiff) will explore the possibilities of rooting the project in the real world and making it accessible to those who don’t have access nor inclination to the web. He is particularly thinking of direct mailings.

If you would like to participate in this project, I encourage you to be a part of this journey. I believe it is going to be something incredible and you can be a part of it too. Contact Jorge and Mathilde at memory landscape with a short script of one of your earliest memories. I will tell you, based on my own experience, they are an absolute pleasure to work with.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Making Wine out of Sour Grapes of Wrath

To start out this entry, I thought about today. It's December and we are experiencing a bit of rain today after no snow, and uncertainty about the seasons here in Daegu, South Korea. Technically, winter doesn't start until December 21st and I think Korea is one of the first places I have ever lived that sticks by that calendar, not a snow flake to be seen. I have always been amused (sometimes to the point of laughing) when I watch the fear of fear when a person is caught outside without an umbrella. The local populace here seems to believe that the rain will melt them. I have seen people go through great lengths to avoid getting wet, the shimmy walk, the courageous dash into a convenience store or coffee shop, or standing under an awning to avoid the water at all costs. Water is kryptonite.

Today, I forgot my umbrella. Today, I just walked with my hat and coat and smiled and the rain proceeded to fall in its steady stream. Everytime I spied a look of horror, my smile grew bigger. I just kept thinking about all of the things that could be worse and my damn smile was pasted on my face, maybe the rain affected my sensibilities and made me a bit snarky. It is OK and sometimes OK is a wonderful feeling. I people are going through a lot of things right now and I know it's not my job to fix others and try to tell them it will all go away. I have this problem, where I just want people to be happy. I really do. Sometimes get annoyed with my positive nature. Sometimes people get annoyed with my big picture focus. I can't help that about myself. Just as much as I can't control the reaction to rain that I see in South Korea.

Life is messy. You get wet sometimes, and if you appear like a drowned rat, it isn't the end of the world. I guess it doesn't bother me if my mascara runs down my face and I laugh a little too loud and I am soaked to the bone. What I have thought about were all of those little lists I would make.
This is not important to anyone, but it was for me. I was told about the scarcity factors in Korea and I was provided a list of what I would not find in South Korea. My goal was to find everything on the list, like a hunt to debunk the list. At the top of my list was French Wine....yes I adore it, in moderation of course. However, I rekindled this passion with a distinct snobbish attitude that I am almost not too proud of. Actually more in fun. I wanted to find as many French Wines as possible...and if I had a bathtub...I would have bathed in it, just to say I did it.
However, I did the intelligent thing, I drank Merlot, Cabernet, Bordeaux, and in a pinch just table red wine that was bottled in France. My chief complaint was about trying to have a campaign in Korea about red wine. I foot stomped my point in as many restaurants and bars as possible, even having to uncork some bottles myself for the wine stewards (yes, they asked for my help)...to please serve the wine at room temperature. I can get zealous about things...forgive me.
I did have the pleasure of going to a strange vineyard, in a tunnel...however, persimmons are not grapes...so does this count?
I have enjoyed the sounds and sights of music, the culture, and it reinforced for me...never, ever, let anyone tell you what is impossible. Impossible is a word for quitters...and maybe that is why I love to do things the hard way, the impossible way, because it never is impossible. I never said it had to be easy, just sweeter.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reflections along the way

I discovered during this journey how much I grew to love teaching. You hope to learn a lot about yourself through the eyes of your students. You see how fearful they can be when you first walk into that classroom, especially when you are not at all like them. It has been an amazing experience integrating with a culture that has just as many complexities as anywhere else.
The curtain is getting ready to close and I know I have less than three weeks in Daegu. There has been so much that I have seen and experienced here, much more than had I visited as a tourist. I have seen the beautiful heart that is present here. I have also seen closed minds with an air of superiority, just as you would see in any other part of the world. Sometimes a foreign view threatens the status quo. The stereotypes that hinge on cultural behavior can only be changed by individuals. I have learned to see through the appearances that are so carefully protected.
I have learned to be humoured by comparing the differences, like going to a movie theater and wanting to ask why all ticket holders receive assigned seats instead of being able to sit where you want. Then again, why ask why? Sometimes you just go with the flow and look at the seating chart to find your seat.
I have also been inspired by the creativity I have seen blossom. The creation of a space station out pieces of vegetation and apples from a six-year-old girl, named Kelly, made me realize I taught them more than English. I was also pleased to hear of one my students winning an art competition in the city. It is with these little touches on their lives, seeing their achievements, how much they have learned and have grown; I realized my own growth through them as well.
So as I watched kindergarten graduation pictures taken this week, for a graduation I won't be present for, I smiled for the camera as well. I was one of their first teachers. They were my first students. You really never forget your first teachers and I won't forget mine. It has been an honor to have been part of their lives.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time to Take Five - Egypt, Art, Wine, Vines, and Jazz and other observations

It's time for a trip around the world, and time to talk about time. It will be time for me to leave South Korea soon. Everything seemed to call attention to time for me. This time, I walked by one of my favorite stops, and a new collage made by young hands caught my eye. It has been an incredible year here in Korea. I have had an experience that has enriched me in so many ways. Though this blog, I have also had a voice to share my observations, my encounters with local populace, my explorations in the culture, and having the experience of being an outsider looking in. I have grown in my appreciation of what it means to be different. The superficial differences gave way to looking at what unifies us all. The ways we communicate, dress, our physical features do not make us who we are. I do hope I return one day, perhaps it may be sooner than we think. I have been enriched by the blogs I tend to read on days when I seem to want more of the world.
Ramona dropped by, author of Alone in Holy Land to let me know about this gift of appreciation for me. I really appreciate it when someone likes my work, so here, in this forum I say thank you Ramona. In turn, there are five blogs I am passing this award on to. Of the many blogs that I have read and looked at, these are just a sample of the ones I really enjoy. In no particular order I invite you to take a look at the following blogs.

1. Bernadette Simpson's Escapade through Egypt is a wonderful photoblog that goes from A-Z. I sometimes feel dusty when I look at her blog...the images are incredible and captures a complete range of life through her lens.
2. I was drawn to this blog because of my love for literature, the name caught my eye. The writing style is magic, and I see the genius in his words. Gertrude's Flat with Derek Osborne is a worthy blog to sit down and explore.
3. One of my passions in life is Jazz. I found someone who is absolutely more obsessed by this passion. The education, the stories, the factoids...not to mention the sounds this blog brings to me...a pleasure that makes me appreciate the art even more. On This Day in JAZZ! is a must for those who think they know everything to know about Jazz. Confetta you are brilliant!
4. Canadian Artist, Earthula Black, AKA Elaine Bergland, has a wonderful show room of art that is a reflection of all she desires in life. I just love her style and she will work at her craft as long as she breathes. The Glamorous Life is a must view for your own private showing.
5. This next blog is really a labor of love. There is a bed and breakfast in the South of France that I have been following. I have read their stories of struggles their vines, their animals, and the life that is just so wonderful, simple, rich, and full of well...love. The love of their life...all of it. Le Couvent, Roujon in Languedoc, France is captured by the wonderful and charming Lizzie Betts-Gosling. If anything I want to do in this life...I want to go their vineyards, put on some work gloves and get to work. Maybe I will some day soon. It would be worth it to delay some plans for this adventure, not to mention the wine.

The other place I would like to refer all lovers of art and established and emerging artists is a wonderful venture called discovered artists. An enterprising web site and blog for established and emerging artists to come together with lovers of art in a global venture; which everything is. I discovered this wonderful haven, a vehicle for artists, Discovered Artists.com which enables artists to sell their work directly to the public, and opportunities to share more about your projects.
This picture is proof that Koreans do have bathtubs. I laughed thinking about my shower sink, and thought for a moment if I should ask for one of these 'planters' to take home.
Another sign it is almost time to go is the tree that just went up near where I teach. Yes, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and almost time for tea.
More posts to follow...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Verse from the Book of Lena

In the name of the Mother, the Daughter and the Spirit that combines us all …

I’m not religious, but I will direct to you a prayer of thanks … I don’t usually pray but as days go by you will understand this also means how important the Mother has really been for me, my life, my existence, my solitude and my independence … she gave me freedom and a goodbye to all that was old. Some change doesn’t harm I think, as long as it is for the better.

For a person to whom I have all to thank for, who gave me life by giving hers, metaphorically. The Mother for the Daughter who stood up and fought, already tired after all of those years of combat, you still have to hand it to her. A prayer of gratitude for her kindness and sense of justice, for her battle as a proud woman protecting one of her children, doing everything she can … to be able to give me a life, worth being lived, a life of change, constant movement, true, but what was the alternative? Nothing worth to be called a life. And after all the spirit, that gave us synchronicity: the right events, the right time, the right place, … A necessity for my own development.

As such a woman gave birth to me, Lena, twice, short for Magdalena, and she would do it trice too. Magdalena, lover of the Son, fulfilling her role for a complete Holy Threesome. The Mother, The Father, The Daughter, The Son, the Holy Spirit and The One that combines us all … heretic but in this case for once to the point.

Image and verse by Lena Vanelslander. Editor in Chief of Gloom Cupboard,

This month was a pleasure, a time of gratitude; reminding me to be thankful for all of those who come into my life. I am thankful to have had my friends share with you their stories, their work, and their experiences so that you didn't just have the tunnel of my vision while I was in Korea. I have had this month to capture my moments, and while I was here, I had the pleasure of working with Lena Vanelslander on a work of our versions of poetic license. We achieved much more than an anthology of words, captured with our quills of fire (which is also the title of our anthology). Our collaboration spun a tapestry of a beautiful friendship, where we able to bear our souls to each other. She is an incredible young talent from Ghent, Belgium who will soar high with the eagles, and I can say I had the pleasure of writing with her. As I prepare to leave Korea next month, I wanted to remember in this travel log, the little things, the details, the pleasures, and the wonder of what is to be apart from a society that is really not so different. Thank you Korea for this experience. Life is always worth turning the page.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Half Finished Confessions of Craig Mason

I met Craig Mason, a young artist, and expatriate teacher in Daegu, at the launch party of Daegu Pockets, and of course I ran into him again at an International Art Show, at the Daegu EXCO, and later on when he was slaving away during Crap Art at Club That. When I asked Craig to contribute my blog, he quickly volunteered, and I was actually inspired his reply. I myself, was stuck in some sort of writer's stalemate, over thinking the direction where I was going. His email and contribution woke me up. Other friends of mine had given up, life events overtook their art, and for others, a simple, "ahhhhhhhhhhh, about that project" gave way. I know what I committed to, and this year, I have not had the luxury to agonize non-stop at my keyboard. So, with my notebooks strewn across the floor I went back to work and I will finish, because there is something good about keeping your commitments. THANK YOU CRAIG, your email came at the right time.


It's what we are in this place, or used to be,
Where we've been, where we come from, how we got here,
Who we know, what we have before us, how
The world on its own is here without us, how

Life is a mysterious fog we live in, how
Dreams go backwards, fix themselves in the form of
Beliefs grown over us here, us saying
We could have been struggling here, strangled even,

Said of we believe in ourselves at last,
Brought into focus by it being said we did
Cruise over the world here, in the air verily,
Believed in as this wide world we know, and shouting all the while.

Verse and Images by Craig Mason

Hey Marilyn,
I've been in a similar situation as Amber in trying to represent gratitude for Korea.
It reminds me of when I had to write a short paper about The Feminine Mystique for an American Studies class---eventually, after a year, I finally turned in a poem about a mother resting her eyes as dinner baked in the oven, a cat quizzically eying the cupboards every time his owner opened them, and a student eating peanut butter out of a jar in procrastination.
The professor admitted he didn't understand the poem, but granted me poetic license, and gave me a C for the course.

Maybe if I were to send you a segment of a poem, a picture of the girl I like, and a painting I've been working on, you would give me less than a C!---but it's better than nothing, right?!:

Yes Craig, It's alright. It's as real as life gets. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thankful Impact; the Personal Growth of Guest Blogger Justin Pierce Baldwin Gerald

What can I say about my four-named friend, Justin Pierce Baldwin Gerald? Justin is a dynamo, my favorite feminist, and he loves to stir the pot...but he doesn't run from the thoughts he stirs up in others. This brilliant young man has been a pleasure to get to know. From gatherings of trivia challenges to see how much our expatriate community knows while under the influence to crossing cultural boundaries of our in-the-box thinking...here is Justin Pierce Baldwin Gerald, a man of many talents.
What I am Grateful for
By: Justin Pierce Baldwin Gerald

What am I grateful for in Korea? Education.
I’m grateful for the chance to try and be a great educator for me 800 students, who still see me as something of an ambassador, a role I’ve done my best to fulfill adequately.

I’m grateful to see them grow and change, not only as students of English, but young adults of the world.

I’m grateful for the chance to educate myself. My job allows me a lot of free time, and while I certainly have my fun, I spend a lot of it reading and writing, and, as some know, trying to stir up discussion among interested parties. During my vacations, I’ve tried to stay away from purely party locales – which isn’t to say I was completely sober in, say, Saigon – and done my best to come away from my trips with a greater understand of the world I am a part of.
I’m grateful to be living in a country that, for all its flaws (and every country has them), tends to treat me with the respect I feel I deserve. I’m grateful to have had the chance to educate myself through the extremely varied people I’ve met over the last 21 months, people who speak every language and live in every corner of the globe. New York is diverse, but the grab bag of foreigners here is something I’ve been glad to dive into.

I’m grateful to have learned a sliver of a new language, even though I could have studied harder. And I’m glad I’ve used my time here productively, so I can return home truly saying I grew up just a little bit.

Before I left New York, I told myself that, no matter what happened, my time in Korea was going to be used to kickstart adulthood. The half-year or so before I came here I was a bum. I was broke, living on my dad’s couch, buying DVDs and watching them alone, eating and drinking and gaining weight, and being rightfully scolded for doing so. As I prepare to return home in February – after a few short trips abroad – I am grateful that I’ve done all the wallowing I’ll ever do, and from this day forward, it’s merely onward and upward.

And I’m grateful that I can say that at the age of 23, because most people aren’t lucky enough to have that chance at any age.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Helping Hand of a Stranger in a Strange Land - Guest Blogger Stephen Cornman

It is my pleasure to introduce Stephen Cornman. Stephen Cornman is an American expatriate teacher and writer in Daegu, South Korea. Atypical of the normal demographic of what we would find, Stephen has also served as a mentor, sage advisor, and friend to our wonderful fresh faced collegues; who realized there was life outside of the bottom of a soju bottle...Stephen Cornman, but you can call him Steve.

The Helping Hand of a Stranger in a Strange Land
By: Stephen Cornman

Six weeks after I arrived in Korea, in the fall of 2008, I hiked up and down Palgongsan, the mountain just north of Daegu, without incident. It was after that, in the always dangerous boarding-the-bus process, that I broke my face.

Upon demountaining, I walked a quarter-mile to the first pick-up point for the bus. I stopped at the men's room, then resumed walking to the bus stop. I hadn’t gone far, hadn’t even put my daypack on my back, when I saw the bus pulling out of the parking lot and up to the bus stop.
I have a tip you won’t see in Lonely Planet Korea: don’t sprint for the bus in clunky hiking boots, on a broken sidewalk (which is the default for sidewalks in Daegu), carrying your pack in front of you. You will break your face.
Running as fast as I could, I caught my toe on a loose brick (which you can see in the photo) and pitched forward at an impressive velocity. I remember a split-second thought: this is going to be embarrassing, almost falling in front of the people waiting for the bus. My next thought was: look at all the blood.

I fell on the left side of my face, broke my glasses, cut my lip a little, scraped my hands, ripped and bled all over my t-shirt, broke my watch strap, and laid open my face next to my left eye. It was the second time in my life that I had driven my glasses into the left side of my face; the first time was 35 years before, in my first, and last, attempt to play ice hockey. If you have to fall on your head, I recommend doing it on ice; it’s cleaner.

I sat there, not in pain, but utterly stunned, feeling humiliated, disoriented (if in fact it’s proper to use that word in East Asia), helpless, and very far from home indeed.

Thankfully, I had an angel. A Korean man in full hiking regalia came over to see if I was okay, wiped off as much blood as possible, using paper towels and his drinking water, stayed with me, tried to tell me where I was bleeding from (though as he had no English...), let me call my boss on his cell phone, and called an ambulance. I got frustrated that I couldn't tell him how wonderful he was being to me. I just kept saying "kamsahamnida" a lot, and shook his hand and bowed from the waist when the ambulance came. He must have taken 45 minutes out of his day to help me.

At the hospital, the doctor determined I had only contused my shoulder (yeah, that's a word. It is now, anyway.) He sent me for x-rays in case I had broken my crown.

As Yogi Berra said, they x-rayed my head and found nothing.

Eventually, I healed, with no permanent scar and no drain bramage.
My point here, though, is my gratitude to the anonymous Korean angel who took a large chunk out of his day, after a hard hike on the mountain, to care for a total stranger, a foreigner with whom he couldn’t even talk. I was simply someone who desperately needed help, and he helped me, beyond what I had any right to expect. Sometimes the Korean people en masse seem unwelcoming to a waegook, but on a one-to-one basis I’ve usually found them to be warm and welcoming. I will always be thankful to the anonymous man who threw me a lifeline when I needed it most.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What's that banging sound outside my window?

A writer's worst enemy, besides procrastination, are distractions. Constantly throughout the day, I heard the hoots and hollering of the neighborhood. Try as I might, I tried to muffle the sound. That is until it seemed they demanded my attention. However, my neighborhood just seems to want me to participate, and as my friend Barbara wrote to me, you live in a bizarre neighborhood. I am thankful for this section of Daegu, that keeps me on my toes because the drummers were getting louder and decided to canvas the neighborhood today.

I grabbed my camera and sprinted to capture the moments only finding to my shock that I failed to load my memory card back in my camera. Sprinting back to my room, slamming the card into the camera, and dashing back down. I felt like a track star with hair flying about half in and out of clothes. I didn't care what I looked like as I watched the finale of the drummers in the middle of a parking lot less than a block from where I lived.

As they wrapped up and I was prepared to turn back towards home a kind familiar sound, crawled all over me and I spun around. Sweet as sugar the liquid notes of a saxophone pacified my disappointment. And I saw this old soul, who I had seen going through the refuse of our lives gathering the cardboard of our waste as she listened while she worked. Her aged frame bent and she continued on. With silent years, a stone face, and eyes that bore the hardness of her years.The sharp contrast to my experience last night in I'll Exhibition Hall, where I thought I heard the Jazz of life, only to realize it is all around us all of the time. What's banging outside your window, your door, your life...just trying to catch your attention?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Thankful Journey - Guest Blogger Shanavia Rivers

In the continuing spirit of gratitude, I have the pleasure of introducing a friend of mine, Shanavia Rivers from the United States. Shanavia Rivers is an expatriate teacher presently residing in Daegu, South Korea and graciously agreed to share a glimpse of what her time in Korea has meant to her.

A Thankful Journey
By: Shanavia Rivers
“Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life”

I couldn’t, shouldn’t, and or wouldn’t forget Korea. There is so much I’m thankful for and I have experienced so much here. Stuff I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing. Years prior to venturing here I worked as a nursing assistant, customer service representative, and a bar tender. Once I graduated from college with my BS in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science, I was at an emotional standstill in my life. Not to mention the recession had taken a toll on recent grads. Of course, I was devastated, having spent a lot of money on books, and tuition over the past 5 ½ years. I sure wasn’t content with flipping vodka bottles and helping people into a state of inebriation. I HAD TO DO SOMETHING ELSE! So, I phoned a long time friend whom I deemed “insane “and out of her mind for teaching in Korea for two consecutive years. At the time I was just “inquiring” about what Korea had to offer but I will say by the end of the 23 minute conversation I was convinced that I was going. With the help of a recruiting agency, passport, and a clean criminal record I was on my way in a couple of weeks. On January 1, 2009 I said my “see you laters” to my friends and family (who didn’t take me serious) as I boarded my flight to South Korea. I was nervous as heck. However, once I landed in Seoul I was fortunate to meet Marilyn Campiz, seeing her was major relief. That moment assured me that I wasn’t the only person who thought outside of the box. To add, she was really nice and genuine. We talked for hours on the bus taxi. Only after being shushed by a Korean girl (hilarious). I really didn’t care, I was just thankful to have someone to talk to. Thankful for Marilyn.

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.”

A few months had past, and I felt like me and my four walls in my apartment were getting a little tired of talking to each other. So I jumped in taxi and said” Apsan Mountain Bali” I never intended on climbing it, I just wanted to takes pictures of it. After a few snaps, I was approached by a Korean couple, probably around 60 or 70 years old. I didn’t speak any Korean and they didn’t speak English but I knew they were insinuating that I climb the mountain. The old lady even grabbed my arm and proceeded to walk me toward the entrance of the climb. I knew that they meant business. I quickly phoned one of my friends that lived close by and told him to come join me. Of course they waited on him to arrive. So up Apsan Mountain I went. I have to admit, I wanted to quit after the first 10 steps. But the Korean couple made sure that I didn’t give up. It seemed like every 2 minutes they were patting me on my back and motioning for me to keep going. Wow, 4 miles of elevation.
The views of the city at different heights were breathtaking. They made my pictures that I took at the bottom of the mountain look like chop suey. I was in complete awe. Even though the couple made look like a piece of cake, I was determined to make to make it to the top. They were determined to get me to the top.. Once I made it to the highest peak (the top), I quickly phoned my mother (yeah, I couldn’t believe my phone actually worked way up there). She was ecstatic, almost in tears, and she was proud. The view was unexplainable, amazing, and most of all emotional. It gives me chills just thinking and typing about it. At that moment I was so grateful and thankful to have met that couple. I would have never climbed that mountain if it weren’t for them. After that, I started shark diving, paragliding, canoeing, rafting, and doing everything I could. Even though I didn’t understand what they were saying. I bet they were saying “you only live once so do as much as you can”. My stay here has been more than an experience. It has been a journey, a journey that I will never forget. I have met so many people from different countries, ethnicity, political backgrounds, and cultures. From the Korean cashier that helps me every time I come into their store to shop to my GRE math tutor, who tutors me for free; Korea has been more than good to me. I will be leaving soon, Feb 13th 2010 to be exact. Even though my body will be in America, a piece of my heart will remain in SOKO. Who knows I may even come back. We will see won't we!

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gratitude - Guest Blogger Amber Newton

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Amber Newton, an artist and expatriate teacher in South Korea. I can tell you that this woman has a heart of gold. As much as she can possibly do, she does. You can view more of her work here on her blog, Amber Coloured.
By Amber Newton

My friend, Marilyn sends me a facebook message inviting me to guest blog during November, writing about an experience in South Korea with the theme of ‘gratitude’. I agree, because I can’t say no. It’s that people-pleaser, sometimes asset, sometimes weakness part of my personality. Soon it got registered in the “things to do” segment of my consciousness. But what to write about? Over the past three years here I’ve become a different person three times over, and so I know I should have at least been grateful three times. But to narrow down an experience that I’ve had here. A moment? A day? A month? As I scanned my memory of students, friends, coworker, strange sightings on the subway, encounters on the streets and in night clubs, I drew a blank. So I stopped thinking about it, more because my days are busy and I usually need a list to remind me what I need to think about. Yesterday though, it all became obvious. What I already knew came to me in an email when I needed to be reminded of it the most.

I had just got home from Shinsegae department store, the one which is allegedly now the largest department store in the world. As I was leaving it looked as though they were about to do the lighting of the enormous Christmas tree they have set up out front. Carols were blasting, and a crowd was forming. I was hopping into a taxi trying to look the other way. It wasn’t always like this. As I child I loved Christmas more than anything, like most children around the world who reap the benefits of that holiday. As I grew older things became less merry, as Christmas with my family became as much about wondering if my schizophrenic uncle would be on or off his meds that day, or if my other uncle would bring over his girlfriend that no one liked. My family gradually grew apart, the party guest list smaller, and as I started working more retail jobs it was enough to make any teenager critical of consumerism in capitalistic societies.

After the age of eighteen I moved across the country, and there were no more Christmas’ at home. I either spent them alone, with friend’s families, or working as a servant in some rich family’s home for just enough money to spend on a night out as soon as I got back to my neighborhood. Then there was last Christmas, my first one home in 8 years, sitting only with my grandma in front of the TV, after having just spent weeks by my grandpa/dad’s side in hospitals as he died. He was who made Christmas when I was a kid, he loved it more than anyone I ever knew, and now I get tears streaming down my face at the sight of a department store Christmas tree?

I was thinking about the irony of this when I got home and as I robotically turned on my computer to check my e-mails. In my mailbox was an e-mail from my friend’s mom in the Philippines, who I had just sent 5 huge boxes of relief clothing to, in assistance of her amazing efforts to support victims of the recent typhoons. The boxes had arrived, and her words were overflowing with love. She commended the fundraising I did from the bottom of her heart. This gratitude was rooted in her desire to help those in need, and likewise it spread to me because of my desire to help her do so.

Now, even though the religious undertones and commercial mania are lost on me, when I see a Christmas tree I can look through it rather than away, and remember to be grateful for those things I can still do.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

One Long Last Look - Bizet's Carmen at the Daegu Opera House

It's Halloween, a nearly full moon...a night with such warmth it could be mistaken for a different season. The perfect night to end Daegu's International Opera Festival with the very last performance of Carmen. The city of Daegu rolled out the red carpet as visitors came from all over Korea. I met quite a few expats that came in from Seoul just to come to this event. The grand piano building aglow with the promise of an incredible show.
The beauty of the area, nestled away in Daegu, now calling themselves a green city had flags of the city incorporated in the Opera's town scene. The audience laughed at the self promotion. A touch of local input on a classic to make it their own. Though there is the lingering concern over the SI virus (not called the H1N1 here), we were greeted with hand sanitizing at the door. A sign of the times with some patrons wearing face masks during the performance. Despite the concerns, it was a very well attended event.
It was also wonderful to see some of the cast members meet with the public.
Though cameras are not allowed...as the curtain call came...so did a multitude of cameras. A mass revolt of flashes that kind of shocked me...and made me smile. A Korean rebellion was happening right before my eyes and I joined in. "For love can never be held, it is as free as the wayward breeze"...Bizet.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Doggy Stroller Story

Often when you go for a walk, sounds are quickly identified. The clicking of heels, the ringing of a bell on a bicycle so that you wisely give way, or the steady sound of stroller wheels rubbing against the bricks. I am one of those people who just can get lost in my own mind, so I don't need to be plugged into anything. This week had left me with plenty to sort through, a list that seems to grow, and as it grows, the walks grow longer. The world at times seems to be a huge fear factory, largely because our own minds are trying to figure out how all of it comes down to our own private little existence.

To be honest, I was trying to think of something to put me in a positive mood. My little cheerleader wasn't at her mother's shop. So I left the little gift for her with her mother, who smiled broadly, but it wasn't the same. I continued to stroll, and suddenly behind me, I heard footfalls that echoed my own. The same pace, with the stray thought of how amazing it is when two strange lives intersect. An appreciation of a moment when you consider the odds of any two people meeting when you consider the population of the world. A monk once told me, that each encounter with another is often undervalued. It is often with presumption that people think they will see each other again. I walked around with the reminder of a friend today and the crushing thoughts that finally were allowed to flow.

The footfalls continued the same pace, and I finally decided to look at my unknown companion. The slight irritation sometimes can fall over people that feel they have been intruded upon, even though you are in a public space. A protective bubble, called personal space is quite small in Korea, I usually try to smile when I feel my western brain start to babble. A smile neutralizes my selfishness. However, this smile was a real gem of one. This was a first for me. I saw a woman pushing her two pampered pooches in a stroller. Walking the dogs, apparently is for the dogs. Even a baby who was strapped on her grandmother's back pointed at the sight. The grandmother stopped and stared. The pooches have trained their owner very well. They have evolved into clothing, ribbons, pedicures, and all of the adornments that these dog lovers will bestow upon their babies.

I kept pace, she went ahead of me, until she saw a little boutique and paused. I paused and produced my camera. A crippled woman walked by as the dogs refused to pose properly, and the owner came out and nodded with approval over the moment.The crippled woman asked the other woman for the dogs names...she hobbled over and called them...and finally this shot came.
A lot of people won't approve of working with dogs or children. They steal the show. Maybe they can steal a bad moment or two. Along the street...a woman pushing a stroller with her posh pups made a neighborhood forget any talk of what may be going on...had a crippled woman get out of her shell to help a foreign woman snap a shot. Not a single one of us knew each other, except in that moment. Just the exchange of real smiles.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pumpkin Guts...and other pleasant thoughts...

When I first arrived in Daegu, I spent a lot of time immersed in learning about the culture of South Korea. From food, to fashion, religion and to holidays...I was the student. Now as the teacher, I find that as I am preparing to leave the season has changed and I get to share some of my culture with my students. In teaching about Halloween, I was amazed how the children responded. Specifically to the telling of how children get to go from door to door to beg for candy, using the magical phrase, "Trick or Treat". Of course, some omissions about the pranking...which I am sure a lot of you may or may not admit to doing something to a house or two if said candy was sub par or even worse...the total absence of candy or occupants who had left their porch light on.
The ever popular jack-o-lanterns were carved, with pumpkin guts scooped by children that fought over whose turn it was. Sometimes this holiday just brings out the best in children...like greed and rotting teeth. However, what I loved about today, was watching the pure reaction as they oohed over the faces as they emerged. And then it hit me. This is the first time they have had anything to do with Halloween...and it may be the only time they celebrate it. I recalled the same reaction for me, as I have learned and experienced so many things here...like a child holding on to a new experience or discovery and being able to give that experience to someone else...is priceless.