Thursday, December 31, 2015
Saturday, November 28, 2015
My walk to work can sometimes be very strange. There was recently an article about the main streets I have to walk through to get to my train station, which, more specifically include 125th street and the walk between 1st and Lexington Ave. It’s not the worst walk in the world, being just at about a mile from my place, but the stretch between 2nd and Lexington on 125th has been offputting for about a year now.
It noticed one night when I was walking home, people who were just entirely spaced out on the street. I noticed one guy who was standing, drooling and half asleep. My first thinking was that this must be heroin, as that is what it looked like to me. Apparently it’s not heroin, per say, though that is also a possibility in this area. It’s more likely that it is people using some sort of synthetic pot that has become very popular lately with the cheap drug crowd. It’s cheap, and like meth can be mixed from household chemicals. Good times.
This means that sometimes on my walk to work I see really strange things. Sometimes these things are disturbing, like the zombie people falling off park benches, lying against the sidewalk, all fucked out of their mind on some messed up drug. It tries my compassion to walk by this every day, but I have the awareness that there really is nothing I can do, which is an important knowing. There comes a point where one has to realize that there aren’t words, nothing to say, nothing to do, to make things better or improve another person’s life. You just have to keep walking.
And so I do. I keep walking no matter what I see. There are nights when it’s too much to walk and I might skip it and take a cab, but most of the time I walk. I walk right through it, knowing what I’m signing up for as I navigate the streets and the alleys.
On my walk this morning I come towards the corner of 2nd and 125th street, where I turn to head towards the train I need to catch. As I am approaching, I see a dollar bill stuck on the edge of the sidewalk, somehow on the curb but not being blown away. The sort of things you can’t avoid, I walk up to it and pick up the dollar, thinking to myself I don’t need it.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a homeless man walking towards me, he is shuffling, moving slow. I think he may have seen the dollar. The reality is that of the two of us, he is more need of the money. I turn towards him, extending my hand, the dollar in my outstretched fingers. He smiles, toothless at me, and reaches out his hand to take the dollar. Clearly grateful for the kindness. As he reaches towards me he grasps the dollar in his knuckles, his fingers stopping at the knuckles making his hand look like a paw. He nods his head at me and shuffles on.
I turn back to my walk. It’s getting colder in New York and as I walk I wonder about this man, how he lost his fingers and teeth, how he came to live on the streets. I wonder how he will get through winter.
I wonder if I will see him again on my early morning walk to work on some future state.
My feet keep pounding the sidewalk, I keep walking through the oddity of it all, watching the mysteries that are unfolded before me, leaving me only occasionally with answer, but always with more questions and more mysteries to be explored.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Detroit was fun. Somehow, with all the flying that I do, I had managed to earn a medallion, which let me tell you, makes flying a LOT of fun. I also get special privileges for lounges. The last time I had a layover in Detroit it had been very painful. There is not a lot to do, not a lot of good places to eat, and basically I spent about three hours being bored. I skipped using the lounge privileges, even though I had them. This time, I was going to do that differently.
I looked up the lounges and realized there was one that included a shower and suddenly that seemed like a really good idea. I like showers and for some reason on my flight back I was sitting next to two people that basically never needed to move. This is all well and good, but my bladder was dying most of the flight and I didn’t want to touch myself anymore that feeling of being “unclean” was everywhere.
Having successfully navigated through security and the immigration, I found the location of the lounge and started walking that way. Lucky for me, this particular lounge was right at the end of the corridor that connected the international arrivals to the main airport. Perfect.
I went in and stated my request and was directed upstairs to talk to someone about getting a shower. The very nice lady behind the counter upstairs was only too happy to help me and before you knew it I had some luxury shower products and a nicely assorted private room to shower in.
I showered at the airport. It was glorious.
Some free booze and a little time waiting later and I was back in New York city, into the loving paws of a small dog and with an entire day off to recover from my trip.
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Having had my genius plan thwarted I went back down the street until I found an ajoshi running a newsstand and asked him in absolute Korean desperation to help me find Dongdaemun shijang. He pointed back the way I came and I almost wanted to scream. Instead I explained to him in what was becoming increasingly choppy Korean that I had already done that and I was totally lost and could you just PLEASE write directions for a tax and I will take a taxi.
He sort of raised an eyebrow like I’d lost my mind, but after buying a water and a few more minutes of cajoling he wrote directions on a sheet of paper. I walked to the next cross street, handed it to the taxi driver and told him that I know it looks stupid, but I’d pay him 5,000 won no matter what the fare. He just shrugged and finally, four minutes later I was climbing out of a cab at my destination. My heart was still racing, a part of my was rage angry, but after climbing up the steps, finding and escalator and going up, up, up into a fabric store that spans nearly three miles I felt much better.
Four hours, and about four hundred dollars later, I found my way out again. My backpack was full of fabric, I felt much better and in general a sense of being happy that I got to come to Korea if nothing else for this exact thing. This was what I wanted, and I was happy about it.
I walked from the fabric market towards the shopping mall that is Miglaore and had a quick snack of street chicken from a cartbar before finding a coffee shop to enjoy a coffee. Thinking about lunch I realized that I had no earthly idea how to get back to my hotel, but decided that with an internet connection I could probably fix that, so I grabbed a coffee and sat to bask in the free wifi. As I was trying to get online, I pulled out the card to my hotel, thinking it might have an address that I could use to get back to my hotel, and much to my surprise and happiness the card did one better with a map to the hotel being printed right there on the back.
I finished my coffee, carted my wares back to my room and spent the rest of my day chilling before the three days of wall to wall working would hit me. The work was work, I like my job so it was not so bad. Having no free time to myself sucked, but the entire trip was over so quickly that it was hard to lament it for long. Roughly 72 hours later I was back on a 15 hour flight and landing in Detroit before heading to New York.
Friday, November 20, 2015
I was near some sort of tourist attraction, the people’s park or some such and what I did see, to my surprise was a map. So, being ever the bold and undeterred tourist, I went to the map. I stood in front of the map determined to read the map. The map was in English and Korea which made it a bit easier to figure out. The buildings all jumped out and I recognized the names and the large skyscrapers in front of me. Good, I knew where I was. On the map as big as day was the market. Good, I knew where that was. It was just a simple matter of following the map until I got to where I was going. I figured that would be no problem.
With all the pep in the step that a hobbit might take into wandering a long road, I set out with purpose to find the market. I started walking in the direction indicated by the map. I crossed the large five lane highway to get to where I was going. Yes, I was going to find it.
This euphoria lasted for only a five more minutes when I realized I not only had not found it, but that I was now completely not sure where I was except that according to that map I should have been there by now. Fuck.
It’s 9 a.m. in Seoul Korea, the Koreans are sleeping, only the early morning ajoshis are at, and an ajjuma or two looking for cardboard. I don’t know where I am, I have not net signal, and I’m very turned around. Good times.
On the backstreets I stopped one of the cardboard collecting ajjumas and asked her if she knew where Dongdaemun-shjang was. She looked at me like I was stupid. This was not a good sign. Then she started saying something about it being on the other side of a hotel and pointing back the way I came. I figured okay and headed back towards the main street. I didn’t see a hotel. I did see a subway station. I knew that I was looking for Dongdaemun exit 8, so I headed into the subway and started walking towards exit 8. At this point I felt very smug with myself. Of course, the subway. Why hadn’t I thought of that first!
After walking what was at least a mile I found exit 8 and climbed to the top. Only to find that I was no closer to finding where I wanted to go, and if anything, I was even further away. The subway sign at the top of the stairs contained a map, and the map indicated that what I really wanted was exit number 8, which I happened to be standing in front of. Of course, this was a different exit 8, like an 8A, because of course.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
I woke up on Wednesday morning, did all the work that I had to do that morning, and then suited up to leave the little officetel I was staying in. The officetel came with Korean style buffet breakfast so I indulged in kim-chi and muyguk and coffee and kim before heading out to find a cab and work my way over to Dongdaemun. I had looked up where to go online, since again NOT Daegu, I was not going to be able to direct my cab out of a paper bag.
Down the street from the officetel I landed a decent coffee, found an ajoshi, and told here where I needed to go.
“Yeah, sunsangnim, Dongdaemun jiachil yuk, pal bun, jusayeo.”
“Nah, pal bun?”
“Ooooohhhh…pal bun, molagesyao?”
“Dongdaemun shijung, jiachil, pal, pal chil?”
We were off. I also know from the conversation that we were off but I was screwed. Driver was going to take me to Dongdaemun, but he was not sure where the subway exit I wanted to be dropped at was. That meant I would either make it to my destination or make it near my destination, but which was going to happen was entirely unclear.
I sat back and watched Seoul crawl by outside my window. The air was hazy, the country had been dry for too long. It was warm, not the sweat and pleasant chill of early October, but a more hazy lingering final days of summer. The air was smoggy and clogged, but I didn’t mind it. Korea was being Korea with all its smells and emotions and feelings and for the moment I was alone and content to be by myself and just be.
Of course, twenty minutes later I was being let out on a corner in the middle of Dongdaemun without the slightest idea of where I was, but also knowing this was not where I wanted to be.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Somehow, in October, I managed to go to Korea and back so fast that I barely feel like it happened. Unlike my last visit to Korea, this trip was not for pleasure but for work. There was a realization on this trip as well, that everyone I knew and love in Korea had almost entirely moved on. Transitions in their life, their situations, their relationships, and time the great and ever driving force of change, had moved almost everyone I know on to some place that I really couldn’t reach anymore.
This is not to say that I haven’t also changed. Change happens to everyone, and two years no longer an expat have had an impact. I am very happy I live in an international city where I can still feel like I’m in a place far away and my travel adventures have not come to an end. If anything the world is bigger now than it has ever been before. My life is not locked between Korea and America. There is a freedom in that.
Work was the point of this trip and though I have written much about the trip for work, most of it is exactly that. The tedium and boredom of working with no free time for myself outside the confines of being on, being forced to perform. Sometimes my performance met expectations and other times it did not. These are the hazards of doing nothing but work with no time to do anything but perform.
The best day I had in Korea was Wednesday before the madness really started. I flew on a Monday, landed on a Tuesday and had barely any time to catch my breath before it was in fact a Wednesday. This was my jet lag recovery day and I had only and exactly one thing I wanted to do and that was to go fabric shopping. Since I didn’t have time to go to Daegu, and really didn’t want to lug the bags around were I to do that, I went instead to Dongdaemun in Seoul. The big sprawling fortress of a fabric city with all its fixtures and notions. I was really excited about it and quite looking forward to it.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Friday, October 16, 2015
Once, I was asked to find the story I wrote of how we met.
I never sent a link to the story.
Not because I'm an asshole, but because I never wrote it down. There were not words to describe it then, to understand that profound thing that had just happened to me, that would happen, the consequences of all of that.
The story of how we met was in my memories and the memories I built over the days and years. It reached epic proportions. It was a journey story.
The story of how we met was too important for me to try to capture it in words.
So I never wrote it down.
Sunday, August 09, 2015
I am a performer. This is something I know about myself and I am very good on a stage when I have to do what I have to do. What I'm really good at doing is explaining things I already know to be true.
I like truth. I'm good at it. I'm good at presenting it, breathing it, making it real.
Things I'm not good at are acting, though. I don't like to act, which seems like a contradiction, but I realize the truth in it. There are aspects of me that are just simply better at being who I am then being who I am not.
For my off-broadway premier I chose a piece that was me, speaking to me, speaking to my life, a past life. Somehow, in speaking to that past life I realized that there was a part of it that was just acting, holding onto something that I could not really hold onto.
When I was sitting backstage with the troupe waiting for my term I was in my normal almost on stage place. I felt good, I felt strong. I felt fairly confident about what it was that I was doing. On that stage I would do what I needed to do and I would be fine.
The reality was different. The lights in my face were terrifying to me, somehow. I was nervous, edgy. The edgy came off in the performance. As I started to talk, working through what I rehearsed I realized that was part of the problem. I can do rehearsed but I'm much better off if I just speak it, roll with it, tell the story like a story.
So I allowed myself to embrace the story and went with it. I improved a little, I allowed the story to come through until the lights went down and I exited stage left.
"You're shaking like a leaf," says Hellion who catches me when I come off the stage.
He gives me a glass of wine and I sit, shaking, watching the rest of the performance and wondering to myself what the hell I was thinking.
My performance life is different. I prefer my reality to the unreality.
Still, I had my moment on stage and I don't regret it.
Saturday, August 08, 2015
New York was waiting for me, but not the dog. The dog was still off in Chicago and arrangements would have to be made. I missed the dog immensely and my place felt lonely without him. In the meantime I had something different to focus on because for no readily apparent reason I had decided before leaving for London that it would be a good idea to perform in a friend’s eclectic review in an off-Broadway show. I don’t always make great decisions about things, and considering, this seemed like a bad one.
I had selected a few pieces of writing and sent them along, and of the three, one was selected as a piece that would be totally appropriate for the show. I was asked to memorize it.
That should have been the first sign that I was in over my head, as memorizing things for a performance is practically my kryptonite. I’m good at hitting bullet points, or outlining a plan and staying on it, but memorization? Saying exact words in an exact order? Not so good at that. Fortunately I had a week to prepare, but unfortunately I didn’t really know if even a week would be enough. The fact that I had only a week was entirely my fault, of course. I had over am month to knuckle down and rehearse, but between my dog dying and going to London, it had gotten away from me.
I tried all sorts of things.
I tried writing it over and over again.
I tried reading it over and over again.
None of that was working very well. I asked Hellion to help.
“How do you memorize a script?”
“Did you read it?”
“Read it again.”
“Okay, after that?”
“That’s kinda it.”
Finally, I recorded the damn pieces and started listening to it over and over again on my walk to work in the morning. This worked better and after four days I had all of 1 minute of a 5 minute piece memorized.
At least the impending panic of performing in the show was distracting me from the quiet home with its lack of dog.
Friday, August 07, 2015
Thursday, August 06, 2015
I walked back a slightly different way, exiting them all for some stairs. I had a general sense of the direction I needed to go in, and fortunately Trafalger square was pretty well signposted from where I was. Another thing I noticed about London, even though my phone wanted to constantly fail me, there were maps on the street everywhere, which was very handy. I took the twisty turny route and walked by an archway that peeked my interest, and it had a sign on it. ‘
At this point, basically every building should have a sign on it. You feel you are rather constantly being hit over the head with history and some signs I stopped to read, and some I did not. This one I did stop to read as the sign interested me, as did the covered white and blue alleyway with windows just beyond. And what I had stumbled onto was a mall.
Actually it wasn’t just a mall, it was the mall, or arcade if you will, the first street aligned shopping mall that had ever been constructed. While it had been bombed during the war, part of the façade had managed to survive intact and, over time, had been restored into the pretty little covered mall I was looking at today. I walked down the alley and there was a wine shop, with tables outside.
This, to mine mind, seemed like the perfect sign that what I really needed to do was take a rest after my walk to Buckingham palace and have a glass of wine and some olives. So that is exactly what I did. The Spanish waiter was sweet. The tempernillo was good. The olives were spiced. The sun was setting and the evening was taking on a crisp quality that was pleasant, making me feel quite good that I had chosen adventure over staying in my room or simple exploring St. Martin’s Lane. The feeling of goodness lasted all the way back to my hotel, where I decided to pop into the French restaurant next door and get a nice low-carb dinner before finally retiring for the evening.
Wednesday, August 05, 2015
Tuesday was rather less exciting, in that to find the location for my meeting was much easier as it was scheduled to be around the corner from the hotel. After five and a half hours of talking linguistic theory and learner development I was freed to finish my day at the hotel. I had a few meetings and at 5 o’clock decided I really needed to get out of my room and see something, anything else.
What to do in London now?
Fuck it, let’s walk to Buckingham Palace.
Taking the most unreliable monster that was my phone with me, I looked up directions and headed out again. I found the Mall easily enough and walked down the long, clear parkway. I could imagine what it must be like to stand as an observer on the Mall waiting and watching a hundred years ago to get a glimpse of a royal hand, what it might be like today during national holidays and large events to do the same. On this pleasant Tuesday afternoon it was uncrowded, with people playing up and down in the park, willow trees blowing in the wind, and children laughing and rolling on the ground and tourists groups full of school children on one hand and Koreans on the other, walked towards the palace.
From my hotel it was only about a mile to the palace and so it took me little time to walk out. It was, of course gorgeous, and the clouds behind it that afternoon made it look somewhat intimidating and fierce, with gold glit angels shining and sparkling in the occasional beams of sunshine that punched through crowds. I stood for a while, watching cars navigate the roundabout, listening to tourists and their chatter, and enjoying the pleasant mix of gloomy clouds and random sun, before I realized I was actually kind of hungry and now would be a good time for dinner.
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
Tuesday morning I got out of bed after sleeping in til 6:30. I showered and did some grading and prepared to head downstairs. Breakfast was on the job and I wanted to see what I could get for an early morning breakfast in London at a fancy place like this.
The boutique hotel reminded me of the IP Boutique in Korea, which is to say, that the IP Boutique had most likely copied this Boutique hotel. I was mildly amused.
The breakfast room downstairs was quiet and I got a little table by myself and looked over the menu but decided on the breakfast buffet.
“Would you like coffee?”
“Is there a god?”
“Cream and sugar?”
“Black is fine.”
While coffee made its way to me I made my way to breakfast which had breads and cheeses and fruits and yogurts. Nothing out of the ordinary or surprising. I had some cheese as it was low carb day and waited for the coffee.
A coworker came in while I was sitting and sat down, we chatted. The coffee arrived in a pretty little white porcelain cup on a saucer. I talked, allowing just enough time before having the coffee, which I turned towards me.
My co-worker talked as I raised a cup to my lips.
My co-worker talked as I took a sip.
“Oh, my that’s…that’s damn good coffee. Damn good coffee.”
My co-worker stopped and looked me.
Part of my wanted to apologize but I didn’t. I stand by my coffee exclamation. I had a second cup.
Monday, August 03, 2015
After a bit more indecisive wandering, without the heavy bag, I finally decided on the pub. I walked in and the place as absolutely packed but it advertised a downstairs dining area so I thought I was in luck. I was wrong, sadly, as it was closed so I ended up standing in the middle of a busy bar like a lump trying to figure out what to do.
I turned around.
“Whyntcha take this seat here, I’ll watch it for you while you order.”
The gent in question talking to me was an older bloke who had been leaning over a railing from a slightly elevated indoor bar deck. And just behind him was a small table tucked in the corner. I shrugged, knowing I’d have to sing for my seat but deciding it was worth it all the same.
And so I went and ordered fish and chips, because London, and a glass of red wine, because me, and asked if they would serve it or if I’d need to wait. It didn’t look like the waitstaff did much serving, so I waited, grabbed my food, and squeezed in past the bloke to the seat. Of course, since I had walked the whole of London I decided I could have fish and chips.
“Oh, that looks alright.”
“And what are you hear for?”
It was at that point that I think we both decided rather completely on anonymity, and while I understood that he was really hoping to get laid he caught on really quick that the best he was going to get was a conversation and that was something we could both live with. And so it was, he talked about construction and teaching business people, watching young executives waste money in London, and the prospect of retirement. I talked about Korea, about New York, travel, adventure, and life. After an hour, and a second glass of wine, I stood, we shook hands, and I saw myself back down the road to the hotel where I crashed fully exhausted from the long day, morning in-room workout, two mile walk and talking dinner.
Sunday, August 02, 2015
On the third turn around the station I had it, and I was off. London, at the this beautiful golden twilight hour, was a sparkling, glittering wonderland of buildings. You see this to some extent in New York, and even in Chicago. Walking next to a building built a hundred years ago, and then a building built maybe five years ago. But the sense of time is so oppressive in long. This is time lived in centuries more so than I had experienced before. It was breathtaking.
The way the old buildings mixed with new construction were of particular interest to me. I paused, taking pictures here and there, being amused by the randomness of it. I enjoyed that the streets constantly reminded you which way to look for oncoming traffic. The mind-boggling number of one way streets really would confuse people traveling in to site see from abroad. It started raining a bit, but I had an umbrella and just as I was approaching a turn I and trying to figure out where I was my phone died again.
So here is the challenge. I’m in a foreign country and relying on an electronic map, which would have been well and good had I been able to save that map to my phone, but I had not. Meaning, I’d have to restart my phone and pull the map back up, only I wouldn’t have wifi, so now I’m well and truly screwed, at least a mile out from King’s Cross and not exactly sure what direction I’m supposed to head in. What will I do?
I turn the phone back on. I pull up the wifi, and lo and behold I have a signal from the London Underground. This is when I learned that London is easily the single most wired city I have ever explored. No matter how many times I had to stop and restart my damnable phone, I was always able to get a signal and figure out which direction I should be heading in next. I walked across bridges and plaza, saw more churches, libraries and museums, restaurants and little castles than any human has a right to on a walk, and I found a Tesco, which really, truly did my Korean heart good. And in the end? I came out exactly where I expected to in St. Martin’s Lane, just down the corner from my hotel, which, having found it once was easier to find the next time.
Elated, I walked back to my room, dropped off my bags and decided I should have some food.
As St. Martin’s Lane is the Broadway of London, there is no lack of places to eat, the challenge more finding something I wanted to eat. It was close on 8 oclock. I walked up and down the street. There was a Jamie Oliver restaurant a few blocks up, some chic Indian place that had a line down a block and a half, several pubs, and of course Chinatown.
Saturday, August 01, 2015
Friday, July 31, 2015
Thursday, July 30, 2015
At this point the square was awake and moving with liveliness. The afternoon was quick approaching and I was fairly sure that soon I’d be able to check-in at my hotel and that would be good. I wondered down the way a bit more, aiming for the river, where I could see in the distance a great turning Ferris Wheel and a bridge. I wasn’t sure where I was but I was enjoy the walk, the architecture, the feeling of being in a city that felt as old as time itself, and yet, I knew it wasn’t quite that old. Traveling, though, I had missed it.
I was on one of the Jubilee Bridges, and from there I was able to look out over London and see Big Ben glittering in the afternoon. The waters of the river were pretty, and overall, I was feeling fairly good about my adventure so far. But tired, very tired.
On the way back to my hotel I passed several police boxes that theoretically offered wifi and found a theater that was doing a special showing of 1984. Had I had more time I would most certainly have tried to take that in, but as it was I was going to be pretty booked up for the rest of my stay.
I wandered about and finally, wandered up the hill to whatever was going to pass for home for the next few days. It turns out I had used my time well, and it was now after three in the afternoon and I could, indeed, get into my room. I grabbed my bags, went up, undressed and promptly slept for about two hours, which was much needed.
I woke around 7 and decided I should venture out for dinner, as I didn’t want to be in London and not see anything. Since the morning had taken me down the street, I decided to go up the street for the evening. What I discovered in that direction was London’s version of China town, where I decided that must be some kind of sign that I needed to eat Chinese food. I found a place that looked good enough, ordered some food and read a book while thinking. Afterwards I managed to get the few knickknacks I wanted to buy for gifts and was promptly in bed, and fairly exhausted by 10 p.m.