Friday, June 26, 2009

Images of the week....

News of Michael Jackson's death hit Korea early in the morning...but I admit, it didn't punch me in the gut as much as the death of John Lennon. Yet, as a the duties of my day unfolded, I really didn't have much time to think about how odd that he would die leaving so much unfinished business. As Mozart died, with his unfinished so many artists die with unfinished work...Michael Jackson was one, in a long line of artists that represented one thing to thing alone...and that was joy.

I never felt depressed listening to a Michael Jackson song...however I felt a certain sadness about his life above the masses. We, as a people, tend to deify celebrity...making them into images instead of people. The immortals...are not immortal...they die. There are those of us who remember, as I do, the life of Michael Jackson as a member of the Jackson 5 and watched with morbid fascination what he would do next in his surreal life. His death overshadowed the death of Farah Fawcett, who lost her brave fight with cancer. Oddly, this made her death more private, hounded by the press with their morbid death watch, the world was caught off guard. The blood was in the water...and people hungered for more information... and there will be as Michael Jackson will remain in the news, even now, not being allowed to rest.

So on this Friday...I started my afternoon classes a little differently...I didn't even have to search...I just turned on the radio...and Michael Jackson's music was playing on all of the Korean Radio stations...and I said to them in English..."This is American Music".

South Korea has their own icons now. They learned how to manufacture their own pop stars...and these children were just given an introduction to the "King of Pop", and they loved it. All through the streets of South Korea...I heard English, the music of Michael Jackson. Say what you will about him, but there was no denying the absolute brilliance of his work. My generation, just became older...realizing their own mortality...and if anything good comes of the death of an icon, well let me know...because I don't care much for what I have seen in the wings.
The girl pictured above, whose English name is 'Rachel', has been my teacher for the last 6 months. As June comes to a close, I realize this is a good time to look at mileposts...and Rachel has been one hell of a mile marker for me. I have learned a lot about manipulation, false tears, and pure evil from this one. However, what I have also seen in this little girl is a heart of gold...for now. The ultimate of drama queens, Rachel is one of the brightest 6 year old children I have seen...I am going to miss this girl...and not miss her at the same time.
As I was thinking about Paris...and how my trip is delayed...another student strolled by and had this t-shirt on...the "Be Cool!!" shouted out to killed me this week to restructure my plans. For now, I will have to be satisfied with the Eiffel cam.
In the morning we took out the kids to reap the potato crop we planted in March. It was another mile marker this week. Just six more months remain...the weather will be may or may not snow, but for now...the sun is high. If you really ever want to learn about a learn it through the children.
And a find, that I had to share...this bag...with messages that seem to at first make me laugh...and then I looked a little closer. Despite all of the typos, grammar errors...and words that were run together...I could not get over all of the little things I would find on this solitary bag that I found in a boutique. I wasn't even looking for a bag...I was looking for words...and there were words in Italian, French and English...of mock newspaper stories. Something about it...that I had to I saw my new favorite Korean usage "NO PROBLEM: sortoutyourfuture".
And I close with an image that shows a table covered in Korean graffiti with one English With all that is going on in the the North of me, in the West...and in the Middle East...the power of a smile is definitely something to consider.

Life is a beautiful thing. It can be...we just have to see how much of this drama we can get rid of, just to realize that not one person is not more important than another.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Of Intimate Matters....

There is one thing that struck me as kind of old fashioned. That was the unmentionables of female intimate wear in South Korea. The above picture was taken earlier this I was looking through store after store...seeking something 'sensual'. I snapped this picture as a reminder of how things were when I arrived in January of this year. I thought I would never see such modest displays. It kind of shocked me after all, in the West there is nothing is left to the imagination of men...but then...perhaps it has changed.

After all, I am in the most conservative city in all of South Korea...

Perhaps...not so conservative at all...or perhaps things need be cooler in the heat of summer days...
As I was out with one of my young Korean friends, Luna, I witnessed shock in her young face as we passed this window display. Shock is something the West is immune to. I think I should have taken a picture of her look...because if trend keeps up...then innocence is gone. It was like I had witnessed the loss of one of the last baby teeth of our global society.

Yet in the background...the panties hang...I wonder for how much longer they will remain.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Real Ice...For One Hot Strange Day

When ice in Korea has to be marketed as "real", it makes you pause. What is fake ice like? Sorry, the semantics sometimes gets in the way. The question I have asked all during this spring, about the famous Daegu heat has been answered this weekend. Yes, though I took this picture of real ice....I was pleasured by the freezer. The cold breeze. The absence of brutal air conditioning that I had despised in Miami (only because I froze), would actually be a welcome relief.

Still, instead of reclining inside. I decided to sit outdoors. Notebook in hand and camera at the ready, when two, shall we shall semi-intoxicated men were staring at me. All foreigners are stared at, but shall we say they had the excuse of intoxication to approach me...and asked to sit with me. I agreed. There was an attempt at conversation when suddenly one of the men was intensely fixated on my tattoo...I have only one...that was semi exposed.

Curiosity got the best of him, and with his lowered inhibitions he attempted to make a grab for my shirt in front of his horrified friend. Hastily, his friend said to me, "He's sorry!" The other man cut him off, "NO! I NOT SORRY!" and smiled...

Total and complete truth in those words. In a word REAL.

I burst into laughter. The heat of the day and a bag of real ice...and two drunken men...on a Sunday.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In the middle of the week, in the middle of the day...

It was in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day when I stepped away for a private moment in a place where few people go. It was a wonderful day when I found the sky garden, which isn't a garden, rather, an open deck area...of a failed restaurant. No one comes here, but I do...often nodding to the custodian that sweeps the area while I sit and write and imagine this is someplace else.

Today, I wasn't alone...there was the sound of a harmonica playing and a woman humming to the corresponding she massaged his feet. It was their moment, as I observed their sweet nature, not one of young lovers, but as a couple that complete comfort with the presence of each other. Displaying an intimacy of such tenderness, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, they had managed to carve out their own moment to be together.

The harmonica played and soothed my spirit and gave her joy. As I sat there and recorded the moment, documenting how they had not forgotten each other in the waves of life. As I jotted down a few more lines, silence fell and I turned to glance and saw they had fallen asleep.

A warm comfortable silence, with a cooling breeze...a gift for the present.

I saw the total peace in the moment and reached for my camera. It was the kind of peace you know when you see it. The emptiness of words are no longer required. Just a state of being that I would have missed had I been busy with my own thoughts as the dust of China sweeps over Daegu...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Search for hope...

I didn't think about how significant this work of art by a group of elementary school children would be...this massive rendering by small hands as a huge display of what is at risk right now in Korea. The potential for the loss of innocence...but it also is a picture of hopes and dreams. Brightly coloured dreams of rainbows, flowers, and images of love.

I am reminded, once again, that I am in the colourful city of hope. Daegu. Right now there is a lot of hopes that are being challenged with a world situation that is becoming harder and harder to push to the back of my mind. In a way I understand when I follow the timeline of world events how the North has stood up to the rest of the world.

Having lived here since January, you just don't challenge a Korean's reputation or honor. They will die defending it. Being held accountable for one's actions is akin to being treated like a child. They will resent you for it. This culture is also dominated by men. Now many women will reach positions of leadership or true equality. The Koreas...are not the United States, they are not westernized in their culture or thought processes.

For diplomacy to work, you must understand the culture and give the North a way to save face. If the Western world does not, I am wondering, deeply, if I am documenting the final months of the South's existence.

I have resisted greatly the urge to comment on the situation . Not wanting to draw attention to it, but I feel compelled to make the following points. Being right is overrated. We know what the North is doing is akin to suicide. However, what the West needs to know is that suicide is very much a part of this cultures in the Koreas. Their pride and reputation is very important to them. Anything that would bring shame to them, well, as we saw with the suicide of the former president of South Korea, this nation responded with intense mourning and praise in the east. He died to save his family. He died to stop an investigation. It was viewed as a death of honor.

The North is under incredible economic strain. Recently the border towns that have North Korean workers are asking for wages to be increased for them to four times their present salaries. What people may not realize is that publicly North Korea will not care about economic sanctions, but privately it is an incredible struggle. With China being the source of most of their material resources. They are a nation under siege and backed into a corner. They don't know how to ask for help. So now, they do what they have been doing...lashing out and vowing to weaponize their resources.

There is still time to avert this holocaust. You have a leader that wants to save face. He is a paranoid leader, who has run his country under a cult of personality. Like Jim Jones, Kim Jong il will lead his followers to death. Only this time he is making one silver bullet looking for any reason to pull the trigger. With his health in question over the recent years, I don't think a potentially dying man is too concerned about how he gets what he wants.

We can some how hope that the right solution comes...and quickly.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A conversation with strangers...

I admit I am an observer of people. A voyeur of sorts. A friendly smile, and a notebook and my dark sunglasses worn to protect my vision. I was sitting outside, enjoying the day when this young couple crossed my path. He was desperately trying to take his friend's picture. She was avoiding his lens, even resorting to hitting him. I laughed as I continued to watch this exchange.
So quietly I spoke up, "You should let him take the shot. It would be fabulous if you would allow him to focus in on your eyes." Oh, she protested, at first, but I finally convinced her that she needed to see the beauty he saw in her. Somehow, with those few words I was able to convince them both to pose for me while he took the picture.
I told them both, "With fear, nothing can be created, not even a picture."
When we parted company I was thanked with the following words, "Thank you for teaching us." I smiled and waved back...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

See the children...the art of playing

Last weekend I went for one of my walks in the neighborhood and it seemed like everyone as aching to be outside. I stopped and looked at this makeshift trampoline area...not visually appealing but the desire to jump and be propelled like these children was contagious. Children, just able to be children in the city.

I contemplated the comparisons of how a lot of urban areas in the US are full of fear. Someone might take your child...someone might do harm to them...they may get hurt...the thoughts only of what can go wrong and never of what can be right. As a child I was able to explore my neighborhood and have adventures of making my way back home. Somehow, seeing children walking off by themselves with their friends makes me smile.
This explorer caught by my camera running through this sculptured fountain area.
To seeing a group of children come together to harness the power of the sun's rays through a magnifying glass.

They all could have been indoors, playing games on their computers...but they chose the better way. Play. Play everyday.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I just wanna bang on the drum all day...

There is just something about the way Koreans can surprise you, especially when it comes to drawing attention to their business. These two entertainers were out getting attention for one of MANY cell phone store that line the streets of Daegu. It's kind of like going to an intersection where you would see a Starbucks on every corner. Well in the major cities of South can see whole streets filled with cell phone shops...same brands...competing against each other with their neon and blasting music.
The normal quiet Korean culture seems to cover their ears if a sound is too loud. I had to laugh because when these fellows were performing I watched people cross over to the other side of the street to avoid they got louder and calling over to the other side of the street. This caused a sense of embarrassment for the unwilling patrons, as they averted their eyes and just kept on walking.

Me, and my not so shy ways walked across the street and interrupted their session by playing one of my favorite roles, "Tourist" and they smiled and posed for pictures. I think for a moment I provided a little relief in the neighborhood.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Eat your veggies....

I was writing a friend, making a sort of confession that related to my vanity about my eyes. For as long as I could remember I have never had the need of know those things that people wear that enable people to see. Well, it has hit this woman square in the eyes, this creeping reality that every once in a while (possibly more than I care to admit) that I actually need help...and the slight blurring of letters that makes me utter a few profane words as I reach for the gray cylinder that houses the smallest and weakest reading glasses I could find.

Clarity. Crisp and clear the images come through. Like a game, I raised and lowered the glasses...watching my vision alter. Damn. There is something to be said for my mostly vegan ways...I adore carrots. I just wonder if I can reverse this aging assault on my vision. After all carrots in South Korea are NOTHING like the carrots in the west. I snapped a shot...and I am rather disappointed...these are on the small side. One carrot could feed a family of 15...well perhaps 5 or 6. The first time I went to the produce section, I wanted to ask what these were. I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought these were rare, but what is rare are carrots that would be considered 'normal' size. Koreans would put them back into the earth.

This is like a fish story, the one that got away, no one ever really believes them, not without a picture, which this 'carrot story' does have. What we would consider mutant sized produce, is averaged sized here. I just wonder how many of these I will have to consume so I can throw away the damn gray cylinder I am carrying around?

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Intimate Viewing of Yongyeonsa Temple...

This weekend, I kept thinking about how I wanted to do something special. I not only was thinking about doing something unique and different...I was ready to do something. I was ready for the opportunity to present itself. I, along with a small group of other ex-patriot teachers, were given the honor of being granted an insider's look at temple life at Yongyeonsa Temple in Daegu, South Korea. It is a rare honor to provide you these images, since photographing the interiors of temples is rarely granted, and photographing ceremonies is usually frowned upon. Both the city of Daegu, and the temple staff extended us overwhelming hospitality that far exceeded our expectations. In fact, whenever you go to a temple area, it is best to go with an attitude of anything can happen.
The serene grounds of Yongyeonsa Temple are not only inviting, but there is a peaceful nature that you will find because the majority of South Korean temples are built in mountains, since Buddhism was driven out of urban areas. The use of natural stone to build their steps I found to be in total harmony with the natural surroundings.
We spent the day in the company of Monk Sang and the director of culture and arts for the city of Daegu, Mr. Dae Kwon Kim. During the 10 hours we spent on the temple grounds, we were exposed to all aspects of temple life. Even having brief teachings on proper bowing, meditation and an overview of basic Buddhist tenants on the path of enlightenment.
There is a beauty in the formality of the offerings that are presented, beginning with the tea ceremony where a woman, dressed in white walks on a white sheet towards the temple.
This imposing figure is one of the "four guardians", a representational figure to protect the religion of Buddhism. On this day, we were privileged to witness a rare ceremony that honors the four guardians.
This is the image of the Triad Buddha of the Geungnak-jean Hall. This relic is from the fourth reign of King Yeongio during the Joseon Dynasty.
This drum, which is sounded normally twice a day...the first time at 3 am, and the second time at 6 pm, is sounded for the lives of all who dwell on the land. A monk is given six months of training with a four-one count, as this monk demonstrated for us. The drum is housed in the Anyangnu Pavilion, along with a cloud shaped metal tablet that is played for all of the life in the air, a huge bell that is sounded for those who are being tortured in the after-life (it is said when the bell is sounded the tortured are allowed to rest while the bell is sounded...I rang it twice for them), and a fish tablet for all the life that is water born.
This visual display of two monks performing a dance was part of the ceremony for the guardians (or warriors).
The walk looked more fatiguing that it actually was. After sitting in a lotus position (or even a half-lotus position), you are thankful that you can get your blood circulating again.
If you want to know where the bones of Buddah are they are, in the Stone Gyedan Altar. A Gyedan is the ceremony of receiving Buddhist commandments is performed in the presence of the bones. According to the Buddhist calendar this altar was built in 2961. Modern Buddhists will walk around this stone three times to obtain a wish...and as the priest told us, 'three times, and you are too close to heaven.'
To the city of Daegu and the temple staff of Yongyeonsa Temple...thank you for this experience.