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 the curtain call 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 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 a child holding on to a new experience or discovery and being able to give that experience to someone priceless.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Oh warm hues and caffeinated dreams

Sundays have to be the best day of the week. There is just something about Sunday, that has a carefree feel to it. There is no sense of hurry or just flows like a quiet stream. Partitioned time just given to do as you will with it. Sundays are the fresh breath of air. That is how I feel about Sundays, however as I got into a taxi, I met the most anxious driver ever. I showed him my destination and a put out feeling absorbed the atmosphere. I saw him gesture to his red analogue clock and suddenly he let out a huge sigh and we set off on a series of long and winding backstreets. I distracted myself by retrieving my camera. I might as well take some shots like a tourist if I found something interesting in the background. It was his job, but he hated driving with a passion at that moment as we narrowly avoided two accidents (and me, not wearing that blessed seat belt) to arrive at literary mecca, Kyobo Bookstore in downtown Daegu.
There is more than the English language section that I come for. It is here that I feel at one with the espresso, the universal language of cafe, and their amazing wine selection. Yes, wine and espresso and literature. The perfect Sunday. Today, just the works of a few missed writers and the detoxification of the taxi ride as I swam in the layers of my coffee.
It felt wonderful to be a literate person again just molded to a chair and wondering if I should have picked up a few more books.
You would not have known this was late October. The leaves are finally turning, with no hint of a chill in the air. The kind of day that begged to be in a convertible with the top down and the wind blowing in your hair...carefree. Those moments that hug you when you replay them in your mind.
As I look up I smile...and remember why I love Sundays so damn much.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In pursuit of tolerance

Along a side street in Chilgok, the unmistakable image of one of the four guardians painted on the entry point to a Buddhist temple area greeted me. The fierce bulging eyes seems to dare the world to challenge those that pass by.
I looked up the stairs, and paused, kind of wondering if I should trespass for a few shots. The area seemed too calm, and there was no activity to speak of. So, I paused and took a look at the second guardian and captured the image. These guardians, with the perpetual frowns. Totally absent of the knowing smile of the Buddha. I always have liked the smile of the Buddha because it is more like a smirk, the way a teacher looks at a student that just doesn't quite get it.
Despite the glare of the guardians, I walked up the stairs to capture the courtyard area. I instinctively felt the sameness and inner knowing of what was concealed. The same altars would be set up, the same depictions, with the lotus flowers adorning the ceiling. The many prayers that are offered for the dead, and for the care of this present life...usually many tell me all they pray for is more money. Some pray for peace. Even fewer seek the enlightenment of past Buddhas. Others are frank with me about their beliefs, calling them myths. They are tolerant of others, more with an attitude of 'whatever' works for you. No different from those who are superstitious (and there are a lot of superstitions throughout the world that seem irrational). It is something to do for others, and still, for others, a way to network within the community. Yes, under it all, there are many reasons people play in the religion game.
It is estimated that about 25 percent of Koreans follow Buddhism. The only other major competing religion is Christianity. The churches with their neon crosses dot the city scape. I hesitated to post this one picture of these crosses. This doesn't represent peace for most in the world. More murders have been committed under the sign of the cross than any other symbol. I don't think I can ever recall a portrayal of Jesus ever smiling, or even looking peaceful. No, the image we are given is one of a man beaten, bloody, and hanging to rot on two cross beams.
Perhaps...just perhaps, I am guilty of being intolerant of intolerance.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

H1N1 Vaccinations Begin in Daegu

I awoke to the sound of a crowd under my window. I noticed the cue was milling about was all older, every single one of them. I ran out the door and finally saw the purpose of this new building that literally was built in about 6 months. They had finally opened for business. In Korea, they don't call this the H1N1 virus, they call it SI. And SI has been a huge scare for the population.
The parking lot overflowed, not with cars, but people.

The normally quite patience I had observed was filled with chatter and face masks.

These shots from my window.

This clinic is about a block away from where I live, the cues wrapping around to the front of the building. Again, only the elder population being vaccinated.
They were arriving by any means possible, congregating to get this vaccination.

I know there has been a lot said about this virus. Even more said about the vaccine.

What I do know is that the cue has come right to my door. Many questions that seem to surface. What seems to be stated is that there doesn't seem to be enough research into a good vaccination. Is this vaccination is truly needed for a flu that seems both mild, and not outside the norm of annual flu seasons to vaccinate populations all over the world? Are populations being forced against their will to take a vaccination that has not been thoroughly tested or is suspect?

What are the consequences for exercising your free will and refusing? Here in Korea, they trust their government, they trust their health care system, and they are getting the vaccination en masse.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

English: It does the body good...

I have an odd way of noticing things. Like being on my way out to Mount Palgongsan to teach for part of the day under the shadow of the Buinsa temple and noticing a milk truck with ESL stamped on the side. I snap a picture and laugh at the irony.
It was just one of those mornings that felt like everything was just in time, where I was doing what I had to do, and reviewed the directions once again, trying to reconcile what I knew vice what I had been told. Often, there can be a huge gulf between the two. Often, sadly I have found the things a foreigner is told is often a huge estimation, not necessarily giving you all of the information. Perceptions of time and distance often vary, and many 'details' are presented with little time to make an informed decision. This has forced me to rely on my instincts on more than one occasion. Like the difference in commuting time. I went with my instincts over the information provided to me. 30 minutes was safer than 10 minutes. Also, the number of classes I was to teach swelled within 24 hours from 4, to 6, to eventually being 8 classes. Minor details...just minor...I still had a great time doing this event.
As I watched the children get pumped up for their experience I marvelled once again at how on a Saturday...children and their parents came out to spend an afternoon to interact in English and be excited about it. I saw parents beaming with pride about the performances their children gave over learning. They were giving it their all. They had as much excitement as if they were at a sporting event. At the end of this event, the student and the teachers all posed together for group photos, and out from every pocket, purse, or handbag...came the cameras. 10 - 15 minutes of being if the teachers were rock stars.
And it is very telling. This is a Saturday in Korea...and yes, they are serious about their future.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'll take just one please...

Open markets on the streets seem to swirl with a couple of things, a combination of both hope and desperation. Some people avoid shopping for produce along the streets, opting for the promised produce safety of a store. The fruits of their labor, along with the brightly coloured umbrellas trim this thoroughfare. There is just something about these markets that spring up on the sidewalks that I can't resist. It is beyond the carefully sectioned off bowls of fruit and vegetables that are put up for sale...all of it seems a little like some one's life on display. Often the produce you find out on the sidewalks is a higher quality that you find in the supermarkets at a fraction of the cost. I stopped by this older man's stand. Large bowls of apples and potatoes, with plastic green crates all around. The apples had a smell as if they had just been freshly picked. I hovered and picked up one apple, and laid down a note for the dear man. He was grabbing a bowl to wrap up for me, and I shook my head, "No, I don't need all of those apples. Just one apple please." I held up my index finger with the apple and smiled. He looked confused for a moment and then smiled. I was preparing to walk off, but turned and asked if I could take his picture. He nodded with a stoic nature that I found endearing, like he concealed a smile.
As I continued on, I saw this woman working away at her fish stand. I watched her cleaning a fish with her rusty knives. Right there on the sidewalk, working the blades as though they were the sharpest instruments on earth. I was kind of glad it wasn't summer.
The signs of a harvest, and the very real fight to continue to survive. There is this very real drama of life being played out in the streets of the world. making enough sales to support a family, to earn ones keep with what you have. There is no room for the fakes out here.
As those well heeled Koreans walk past, possibly thankful they are not peddling their wares, I watch and notice how many don't even look. This is background noise to them. They walked briskly by, perhaps one will slow down and stop if something catches their eye. Without shame the marketplace exists. They do what they can for so little. There is no shame in that at all. The very real drama of survival is a hard one to just ignore...rusty knives and all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Police Line - Do not cross...please

I have to say I have seen rallies, protests, around the world and it almost seems counter culture to really complain about anything in South Korea. Yes, in Seoul, they can have the large turn outs to voice their disputes publicly. Even when they do so, very little in the way of violence ever seems to happen. The crowds are not treated with excessive force, but this display of what I assume where workers on strike near the entrance of a department store was the first time I had witnessed any sort of public display. The thin orange police line tape seemed just obligatory, almost amusing.
A few police officers were posted, just primarily to ensure that traffic continued in an orderly fashion. The absence of riot gear and weapons was a stark contrast to what you see in other parts of the world. A total absence of emotion on both sides. Just one group of people that wanted the local community to know that they were not happy about their present situation.
A man sat passively with literature at a makeshift table, watching the crowd come together with orchestrated chants as some of the members in the crowd clashed their cymbals and raised and lowered signs in unison. To be honest, it sounded more like a pep rally than a strike or a protest. Key personnel would take turns leading the crowd, like a cheerleader, with such order and singularity of voice. What mob mentality? There was no mob to begin with.
Just a peaceful walk during a weekend, watching these voices of opposition, basically saying, "Please listen to us if it matters to you." Yes, it was just a touch surreal. Possibly more surreal to realize that my western eyes had been too used to people resorting to violence just to be heard.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Those Lines of Time

Those character lines, laugh lines, frown lines...lines of anger, or whatever you want to call them...are there looking back at you in sometimes unrecognizable ways. We say we want to be unchangeable, and part of me wonders if we can just be. The beauty of the creases in a lotus blossom are not as fresh and smooth as I noticed the angry lines that I felt somehow don't portray how I really feel inside. The brow that would furrow with my past life of verbal wranglings over policy, law, and determinations seemed to ask me if I needed this serious angry look anymore. I would rather have lines of laughter and joy imprinted rather than this hardened look that challenges those that would dare to battle me. I realized I had laid down my weapons and put those epic battles behind me. I had stared at two deep creases between my brow as though they were battle scars of deep thought.
And as if I had thought and place intersect, I happened to walk by Suibi Plastic Surgery Clinic, where I lingered. This was like dipping my toe into a pool where the water was extremely cold. No, I didn't just walk right in. I paced. I paced in such a contemplative way, because to me, aging is a part of life. I had an epic battle inside to confront my reasons for why I would entertain having any sort of bio-toxin to freeze my face, to rid myself from my expressive nature. Then there was the matter of the origins of those two lines and what they represented to me. Two crevices of moments in time of profound anger and rages...that no longer existed in my life. They hung there like reminders of a life that no longer served any purpose. I walked inside.
The receptionist did not speak a word of English, but did understand the universal language of one word, "Botox". I lifted my fringe, the camouflage I had been using on my forehead and pointed to the area that was right between my eyes. Her profuse nodding did not encourage me, more like the deep acknowledgement of a fatal flaw. I was quoted a price, and I nodded in agreement, and shown where I was to sit among the pillow laden seating.

I sat there in quiet thought, still pacing inside my brain as I waited for my consultation. I looked around at the use of circles in the office and the quiet little touches of perfection. The calm soothing music of Mozart played in the background, the light muted and neutrality of the colors, and the perfect faces of the staff flashed back at me.

One of the staff members ushered me into the doctor's office where we spoke. Her English was fair enough to discuss the crevices of anger that I wanted to battle with her useful needles. I succeeded in making her laugh, as I think it was wonderful that she did not talk about other areas that she could try to perfect for, those crevices could be attacked and she recommended a course of action.

Back to an area where I waited, had pictures taken and my forehead numbed. 15 minutes later I was laying on my back having my botox virginity taken from me in Daegu, South Korea. While I waited for the numbing to be complete, I thought of an episode of The Twilight Zone that I saw as a child called "The Trade Ins", written by Rod Serling. Vividly it came into my mind, the story of a elderly couple in the future who went to a clinic to inquire about the cost of trading in their bodies. Fifteen minutes passed in a flash.

Three strategically placed injections to deaden the furrows of anger and yet not remove all manner of expression on my face. I still have wrinkles and do not possess the unnatural smoothness that seems too unreal to look at. I was that way when I was young. However, this act was more symbolic for me. I don't want to try to be someone else. I only want to have what is inside of me, be more apparent to the world. I am...just me.

Watch 31. The Twilight Zone - The Trade-Ins in SciFi & Fantasy View More Free Videos Online at

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A sign post or two

I had meant to write about a friend of mine a couple of months ago when I met her, being newly repatriated to Korea. She has spent the last five years in France. She was originally studying at a University in a technical area. While in Paris, she found her passion and became a chef, eventually even working at the famed, Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris. My joy, of finally meeting a Korean who knows red wine is served at room temperature! All joking aside, I always find it a pleasure to meet someone who follows their passion in life. So it was an immense pleasure to find her working as a chef in Club That (one of my favorite expat haunts in Daegu). We sat down and spoke briefly during one of her breaks, and I listened as the French flowed with perfection. Five years she managed to stay, but the day came when the visas dried up and forced her return home.
So as I turn from the talk of wine and food, I happened to look up tonight at what appeared to me as the largest net work of spider webs I had ever seen produced. Usually you see the small web with a solitary territorial spider. Perhaps, it has been my state of mind, but I actually stopped and admired it. I observed how all of these spiders came together, linking their webs, not even having to compete with each other. There seemed to be an endless stream of activity generated by the lights. There was no lack or were there shortages that could be observed. On their own, I doubt that such a massive web could have been constructed by just one spider.

No dear people, no one ever achieves anything of greatness on their own...ever.