Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mastery of Violence

It was raining as we walked back towards the Irish's place.

"Want to watch me do my staff work?" was the question.


We walk through the rain, cool spring rain at night in Daegu. "I feel the energy from this kind of night." He says.

I say nothing, I walk silently. I am awash in my own thoughts. Rain like beads of memory pelting down on me. Drop, a city that I am not from, drop, a face I have not seen in too long, drop a voice that haunts my dreams, drop, beating water against flesh. My hair is full of wet by the time we get to our destination.

"We need to go back out." He says grabbing a long staff almost as high as he is.

"Do you have an umbrella?"

"My big gay umbrella, it's all yours."

So we walk outside and around into a courtyard area, a large, elegant wooden, a place to sit and read perhaps on a sunnier day. Tonight it is an open space in the city. A wooden deck surrounded by dark foliage. In the background are the lights of the city, twinkling on and off. Winking at us in tiny little sparkles, it makes the air feel full of mechanical magick. He spins his staff and steps away from me. I step back to give him room, pressing against spiny pine needles in the dark. The needles pick and stab at my flesh making me aware of myself in the moment. The rain continues to drop against the rainbow umbrella, louder now, the half silent rush white noise of evening rain.

He pulls the hood up on his pullover, hiding his face. Transformed then from a figure I know to a faceless form with a wooden staff standing silhouetted against the sparking blade-runner glimmer of Daegu at night. He kicks off the staff with his foot spinning it into the air. Grabbing it at the top, swinging it down. I watch quick thrust forward, feet moving, and then the sudden loud reverberating thwack of wood making contact with wood.

I cannot see it but I know that an impression has been left in the deck.

He spins again. I watch his body in motion, cool practiced motion, standing, kneeling, weaving a dance in water and wood against the neon moon. He is streaks of energy in the cool distance. He swings through his movements and I watch as small curls of steam begin to rise from his warm body.

He moves towards me with the staff, towards my face. I don't move. Transfixed by the motion and the control. The subtle shift of violence under his skin. I can see it in his hands, the way the muscles flex, feel violence floating in the air, violence forced to submit by the ritual of practice motions. He flicks the staff towards my face.

"Either I did that very badly and you saw it coming."

In my head thoughts, motion, violence, control, the interplay of slow night rain.

I didn't flinch.

"Let's go inside."

Monday, April 20, 2009

At the Coffee Shop

After a Saturday presentation I got a few phone calls and more than a few requests for coffee dates where people could further pick my brain about my areas of expertise. Being busy I've turned more than a few down but the ones who have kept coming begging me forced my hand so I finally relented to a coffee date slash assessment cram session.

Before leaving my apartment I made a hot pink t-shirt (when I say hot pink I mean not only to imply that I looked hot in said t-shirt, but that the color of the t-shirt was indeed hot pink) fancied myself up a bit for the day that was shaping up spring lovely and finally jaunted down the stairs, to the street and through the blooming park towards the Starbucks downtown.

I admit, I'm not a huge fan of Starbucks coffee. Indeed I think it's overcooked, overpriced, and overexposed. However it is at the same time a taste of America that I crave and so I tend to drink it a lot more than I probably would were I actually in the US. I waited outside with a book and an espresso frappuccino with the smallest amount of sugar possible for the coffee date to arrive. The cafe itself was so crowded with Koreans that there was not a table to be had inside. I'd rather not sit on the street as the staring tires me or angers me after a while but was left with no choice. I figure my sunglasses are dark enough that I don't have to worry about it.

Koreans hate dark sunglasses. There is almost a rule about sunglasses in Korea that if you are going to where them they must be dainty and lightly colored barely tinted discard-able little pieces of plastic. You must be able to see the eyes of the wearer. There are no mirrored glasses or dark lens here. No, instead you have a bunch of Bono inspired emasculating emulations that do little block sun. Fashion statements, you see. This is why I buy all my sunglasses in other countries and a prerequisite before purchase is not only that no one can see the whites of my eyes, but further when I put them on I should barely be able to see anything out of them. I want glasses so dark I walk into things on the street. Block out the sun is the least of my concerns, I want to block out supernovas and atomic explosions. If I go tomorrow I want the sunglasses to perserve my eyeballs so that future generations will think "Damn that was some pair of sunglasses."

So I sat under the small awning of Starbucks reading my book with my dark sunglasses perched up and waited for the fellow who practically groveled to get me to come out and consult with him about his program for free on Saturday. The outdoor table had not been cleaned so there were some left over magazines and a couple of open cans of drink but this did not overly bother me. Eventually the happy fellow showed up, procured a water and we commenced with the pleasant small talk that proceeds the consult.

As we were talking a Korean rolls past. From his coat, his unkempt hair, and his general smell I could tell he was a vagrant. I don't hold this against him at all, it's hard to be a vagrant in Korea. He stood at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Starbucks and stared at me and water drinker as we discussed the finer points of performance assessment. I put it out of my mind, letting my sunglasses do the work of blocking it out.

However he was not to be so easily dissuaded. Up the stairs he walked to stand over us, giving us an olfactory treat on the pleasantly warm spring afternoon.

"Ya ya." he says pointing at the magazines.

"An-day-yo." Nope, not ours, feel free to help yourself, so he thumbs through the small pamphlets on the table.

He then reaches for my coffee, but I get there before he does and manage to pull it away. He reaches for the water drinkers bottle, but also is thwarted by a fast move. So then he reaches for the open bottles on the table that had been sitting there when I came in. Shakes the first and finds it empty, shakes the second and finds it more then a little full, tosses it back, drinking happily, tosses the can onto the street, grabs a magazine, tips his coat hat to us and walks off.

We just kind of sat there in stunned silence at it. I pushed my sunglasses back and watched him wander down the streets, accosting passer byes for coins as he went. I sipped my coffee thoughtfully and finally decided that as an example performance to be assessed goes, that was certainly an Apull (in English A+).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Winter Lingers

Winter lingered on here much longer than usual. Well into mid-April we still had freezing temperatures.

It did not stop the Cheery Trees from blossoming in the park. The park is lined with cheery cheer trees that sit numb and brown and dead all winter, waiting for that just cool period of early spring where they can blossom out. I can imagine the fragile little buds there, waiting to explode pink early into the chilly pre-spring mornings.

As March turned into April the little pink and white buds exploded outwards, lighting up all the dull avenues of Korea with pink and white. Nothing green blooms yet, just the pink and white. It is almost spring. There is an almost silent moment of pre-fabricated enjoyment. The time betwixt when one waits for the elemental masters to turn on the light weather what will bring summer calling. The blossoms unfurl on those cold morning, snow drops on the trees overhead. Pass under them and feel the strange space that is both winter and spring simultaneously. And the blossoms will tell you when winter is fully over and spring is fully sprung.

So it was that last week I noticed that spring came to Korea. There was a small shift in the weather, and up-tick of the warmth to cold ratio but this was not the true indicator of the fast falling spring. What we have instead is the cherry snow. The small petals falling off the cherry trees for a period of six days when the whether is no longer frozen at night. Only during this time, that transition as it starts to warm, thats when the snow falls.

It's a pink snow, it coats the ground. It is light and romantic, it is new found warmth, the falling press of warm weather, the hopes and dreams for green, fresh, beauty, wonder, happy, soulful spring. The ground is covered in the soft fragrant snow accented by the blooming of lilac all around. The air is awash in pink and purple scents as the ground is covered in pink and white blossoms.

I revel in the loveliness that lasts only a moment, passing quickly into the torrid, pressing, dark and pulsating demands of the coming summer.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


It's changing into spring so quick that if you stop you will miss the changeover. The change is passing me by. Mostly a combination of the illness that never ends, the ennui that is just beginning and the terror of a future yet to come.

If I think about the future I get cold chills. I think about the past I get deep jagged scars of charred ground to run from.

So where am I in the middle of that.

I blame the girls. I suspect that somehow this is being lead astray. The desire to be there, to be perfect, to be right, to be interesting, to be wanted. To give.

I want to give.

But when do I get. I have no desire to get. The get seems selfish, self driven, uninspired, self obsessed even. I want to get but to visualize that want into a need, drive, desire, whim, fancy...ah, then I feel I am a horrible person.

Korea has been oppressive freedom lately. It's the freedom that I struggle with the most. To Be here. Ah, there is the problem with Korea. Korea does not care what any waygook visitor would care To Be. You can work To Be anyone and no one will pay attention.

Going back to the states though, where to be is to be among a million others trying to be, to do, to outdo, to outshine, to trod, to trample down. All equally perusing happiness with reckless disregard. It's not that I disagree, mind you. It's early refreshing to think of being noticed. But being noticed. To Be seen.

A frightening shock.

I just wish for a day my head would stop hurting.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Bright and Sunny Day

Because of the weather conditions it is almost certain that North Korea will launch sometime today. I'll be in a presentation for most of the afternoon. It hasn't stopped me from worrying.

At last check the rocket is pretty much ready to launch. What can I do? I go on, I live, and try not to hold my breath about it. I keep wondering why today's launch has me so worked up. I've been through these before, so why worry now?

I think it is because this may well be the last rocket I will live through on the rock. I'm worried that after all these years something will finally go wrong.

Hopefully the worst that happens today is that I fall on my face during the presentation. I'd rather that be the only catastrophe today.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What's on My Mind

Today is April 2nd.

This probably doesn't mean much. In the US people are still thinking of April Fool's and how exciting that is. Jokes are being made about oddly curious things. Someone will make up a news story. NPR broadcast the best story ever about KFC filling potholes in Chicago. There is lots of fun.

Indeed we were joking around in the teacher's lounge about the various odd stories that crop up around April Fool's. One of the best jokes that a teacher had heard was a friend from the US writing an emergency early morning text message "Dude, a missile just hit Tokyo." There was a small moment of weird tension before he followed the statement with "I was like 'What?!' and then he said 'April Fool's'". We then laughed and felt insane relief.

The relief comes from knowing that sometimes this week North Korea is going to launch a "satellite". This has pretty much been internationally recognized as a cover for a test launch of the Taepodong 2 missile; a missile North Korea claims could hit a target in the US, most notably somewhere in Alaska. Although the larger goal is to hit someplace in the West Coast. North Korea is not actually planning to hit the US, but the current launch will take the missile over Japan where it will either succeed orbit as a telecommunications satellite or nosedive into the ocean as a test missile launch.

Japan has been adamant that this will be seen as a threat
. They are threatening to shoot down any debris that might fall over the country though it is assumed that Japan will not try to take down the missile directly. Hilary Clinton was in country a few weeks ago urging North Korea to give up the plan to do so. The North is stomping it's feet and saying any attempt to shot down any part of this will be seen as an act of war. On that front North Korea recently kidnapped two Korean-American journalists who were reporting on NK. From all the reports I've seen these journalists were not in North Korea but on the Chinese side of the line. NK crossed the line, took them, and is currently putting them on trial for spying on North Korea. They have also been threating planes to the point where flights that crossed into North Korean airspace have been rerouted.

South Koreans, the ones on the ground, the ones I work with, say the same thing. North Korea does this all the time, don't worry about it. Indeed the story hardly gets any serious coverage from the South. The news reports that the government has current hard line policies, they don't intend to change those. Other than that most South Koreans don't really pay that much attention to it.

Which leave us. The foreigners who live here. We worry. We are the ones that wonder how this will affect our lives. We look at our families, our jobs, our bank accounts. We think of how we will get out of country should the worst happen. We know that in Daegu, where we live, we will have 30 minutes before a bomb launched from the North hits.

30 minutes.

We make the fantasy plans anyway. And we hang out with our South Korean friends hoping that their nonchalant attitude will rub off and hold us up through yet another jarring political time.

This is the fourth missile test I've lived through here. Each time though I worry just as much as the last time and will until the damn thing is over.