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 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.