Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lions, Heroes, and soft-serve

It was a beautiful spring day today, so I opened all the windows and did a lot of much-needed housecleaning. I also meditated, ran down by the river, was actually present in the moment... well, most of the time... and, in the evening, went to another ballgame.

This time I got smart and sat on the first-base side, across from the chanting, singing, beating-those-dang-inflatable-plastic-sticks crowd. (However, at the last game, I salvaged two of the sticks that had been discarded... I gave one to Joanna and kept one, so as to be able to tap the little darlings gently on the noggin when they don't pay attention.) Apparently, when the visiting team doesn't fill the first-base side with their supporters, the knowledgeable baseball fans, the ones who actually want to pay attention to the game, sit there.

It was just lovely, in the low seventies Fahrenheit, with a light breeze, the moon overhead, and me on a peaceful high. On life, naturally. I was just calm, relaxed, happy. I strolled into the ballgame and sat down at the moment of the first pitch, and that fit how the day went, or how I felt all day, which I guess is the same thing. The game was a bust; the Lions ended up losing to the Heroes, 8-1, but that's okay.

It reminded me so much of August 26, 1965, sitting in the upper deck at Shea Stadium on my mom's 53rd birthday, watching 19-year-old Tug McGraw beat Sandy Koufax, as a light breeze wafted in from the bay and the moon hung overhead. It's funny how a ballgame and a breeze can instantly take you back 44 years. (It's also inconceivable that I'm older than my parents were then.)

Speaking of taking me back, on the way home I thought of a summer day in... 1960? Somewhere in there. Anyway, every day Dairy Dan the Ice Cream Man would pull up in his van with the little window, across the street from my house and I'd run over for a soft-serve cone. That day I bought the biggest swirly cone they had, took one lick, and dropped the cone in the gutter. I started to cry because I didn't have another 35 cents. Dairy Dan (or Dairy Bob, or Dairy Barry, whatever his name actually was) gave me another cone, even bigger, for free.

I know that it was nothing, it probably cost the company a dime, and the guy probably forgot about it by that night. But it meant a lot to me that day and I haven't forgotten. One minor act of benevolence to a little kid, almost fifty years ago, and it still lives on in my mind.

On the way home tonight, I stopped at the Lotteria burger joint, got a soft-serve cone, and said thank you to Dairy Dan, wherever he is.

It's amazing how kindness lingers.

Let the sunshine in

Here it is, the last day of April, and I just took all the plastic sheeting off my windows! I'd almost forgotten what outside sounds like; I can even hear a bird, one of the two dozen birds (not species, birds) in the city. I feel instantly 50 percent more alive.

The cats are reacting to all the new noises in ways that I could have predicted: Tug's up in the window, looking out, and Tiki's back under the couch.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Buddha, birthdays, bracelets, baseball

(This Buddha had the jewel in his forehead stolen sometime in the last TWELVE HUNDRED YEARS; the tiger's getting impatient, but they're not quite ready for the birthday party yet...)
Through a series of day-off swaps arranged at Heeduk's request and the big holiday this weekend ("It's Buddha's birthday, it's Buddha's birthday, and we would like to wish him all the very best..."), I ended up with yesterday (Tuesday), tomorrow (Thursday), either next Monday or Tuesday (not sure which yet) and next Thursday off. To tell the truth, working Saturdays, which all my non-LIKE friends have off, and Sundays, when absolutely everybody but me has the day off, is a pain. There's not a lot to do on the days I have off, when nobody I know is free. So I look for activities that will get me out of the apartment. I'm very fond of my furboys, but they're lousy conversationalists.

So yesterday, I went for a run outside! (I've always hated running on a treadmill, but that's where I do almost all my running now because it doesn't pound my knees.) Then I set of for Donghwasa Temple on Mt. Palgongsan.

I have become very fond of my wooden bead bracelet. It's actually a Buddhist prayer bracelet, it even has a little golden Buddha inside the capsule-shaped piece that comes apart to stretch the bracelet, but it isn't that for me. (Hey, if Madonna can shake her exoskeleton half-naked wearing a crucifix...) For me, it's a reminder of the serenity I feel when I'm out of Palgongsan, with the flowing water and the birdsong, and it helps me stay centered.

Anyway, I lost the bracelet on Monday, somehow. The fact that I lost it didn't upset me terribly, which is so unlike my old self. But I did determine to get another one, which involved a 20-minute bus ride downtown, a 40-minute ride to the mountain, and a steep 15-minute climb to the temple. That was worth it in itself for the quiet on the mountain. The bracelets themselves cost five bucks, so I bought a reserve too. By the way, it occurs to me that it might be a tad ironic that one of the things I've learned from Buddhism is a detachment from physical things, so I ran right out and got another bracelet... to quote good old Walt Whitman, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself." I've found that quote useful in innumerable ways. By the way, I'm sure that everyone's come to expect a parenthetical aside in every paragraph I write. (Here it is.)

I took the bus back to town and headed over to the ballpark. My first attempt to go to a game this year was not totally inerrant, as the game was in the sixth inning when we got there; this past Sunday, I showed up at 1:10 for an allegedly two o'clock start, entered a six-block-long ticket line that moved thirty feet in thirty minutes and gave up; the game was at five o'clock, at that! I don't get it.

So this time I got there at 5:15 for a 6:30 start, and it turned out I could have waltzed in at the time of the first pitch and picked any of 5,000 seats. The weather had been beautiful when I was at Palgongsan, but as the evening came, it got cool, windy, and intermittantly precipitatious.

So I sat and shivered a little in the sporadic rainage and watched three and a half hours' worth of sloooow baseball. The visiting team has the pathetic name of Heroes, and they're the only team in the league without a corporate identity. Perhaps depressed by this turn of events, their pitchers walked nine Samsung Lions and I swear to the ghost of Abner Doubleday they went to a full count on every single batter and threw over to first six times every time a runner got on. I was, however, filled with pride for the Lions (get it?! Gosh, I'm funny) when they won, 4-1.

I decided to sit in the midst of the rabid cheering section that is at every game, with the guy in the Lions uniform blowing his whistle, chatting up the crowd (that probably would have been more entertaining had I understood a single word), and leading cheers incessantly, the dancers, the guy beating the big Korean drum, and the fans constantly cheering, singing, chanting, and beating those inflated sticks together. Might as well get the full experience.

I realize that I just posted a couple of days ago about the status of women as shown by the dancers outside the stores, and it might seem a little hypocritical that I don't have a problem with the ones at the game. Do I contradict myself? Very well... ah, never mind. I do think that there's a difference between entertaining, and seeming to have a good time, when you're part of the attraction at a family event and endlessly gyrating in front of an eyewear store while nobody pays you the least attention. Maybe it's not a moral difference, but the dignity level somehow is higher. (And the little girls who got up that one time? Very cute.

By the way, I don't care if they fit Korean words to "Na na na na na na na na... hey, hey, goodbye" or Swanee River or Do Wah Diddy, but they could damn well leave This Land is Your Land alone.

After the crowd had performed each of those songs about eight times each, I decided that I preferred the American style of fandom, where you go, have a relaxed good time, talk to your neighbor, and actually pay attention to the game.

Does that make me a cultural imperialist? Very well, then...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Men and girls

Many times now, I've seen a pair of young women (not always the same young women) mindlessly dancing, to loud discoish music, on boxes in front of one or another store that's Grand Opening (quiet; I say that's proper usage) or having a sale. (See video below.) Obviously the idea is that they will attract attention, and thus business; however, I've never yet seen a pedestrian or automotive passenger pay the least notice. The women always seem bored or mechanical, or maybe just pretending that they're not there. If feels about one step up from stripping on the dignity ladder.

I think that they're probably all from the same company; they all have the same setup and the same type of outfit: bright, shiny miniskirt outfits in some primary color, complete with bell-bottom leggings that inexplicably remind me of Clydesdales' hooves, which look odd on the show-pony forms of the dancers.

Downtown comes alive in the evenings, and there are invariably young women standing in front of cosmetic stores, dressed in cutesy little outfits: skirts that range from "If you don't change into something more modest, you'll spend the day in detention" to "Hello, officer", leg sheathes like the ones the dancers wear or pseudo-leg warmers puddled around the ankles, handing out coupons or samples and rattling off sales come-ons into microphones turned up way too loud.

At E-Mart, there is always a stunning number of short-skirted, pseudo-cheerleader-outfitted women standing around, practically at every aisle intersection, waiting to pounce on any customer who hesitates for a moment in front of a display.

I commented once to Heeduk about the loveliness of the flight attendants on my trip over, and he said that flight attendant is a very high-status job for Korean women, with a great deal of competition among the prettiest girls to get the position.

All of this is to say that the status of women in Korean society is about the same as it was in the US in... 1955? Some say it's because of the Confucian influence that's permeated Korean society for thousands of years, some that it's strengthened by the fact that every Korean man owes two years of hard military service (which allegedly creates a firm brotherhood) and no Korean woman owes any service at all. Either way, it's sad, though I admit I still look at the women's legs. In a purely cross-cultural analytical way, of course.

The more sinister side of this is that there is such a strong pro-male bias that it is illegal for parents to learn their babies' sex before birth. Why? Although abortion is against the law, it's extremely common, and couples have aborted so many female fetuses that there is a serious sex imbalance in society; there are many more young men looking for partners than young women who are available, and that can't be good for the young men's morale... and tens of thousands of dissatisfied citizens with testosterone overload is never a good thing for a society.

Korea is still a 21st-century society grappling with 19th-century thinking. Twenty-somethings can be divided into two groups; there are men, and there are girls.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rush out now in a feeding frenzy

This picture is in a restaurant's window. Does this make you want to eat there?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some animals are *not* more equal than others

I hope I don’t alienate any of you who read my blog; I didn’t feel I could put off writing something like this any longer.

On my way to work today, I saw that one of the ubiquitous fish tanks in the front of one of the ubiquitous mom-and-pop restaurants seemed to have a hose of some kind wrapped up near its top. As I came closer, I saw that the hose was moving and actually separated into individual strips. Then, as I got closer, I saw that what it actually was, was dozens of eels that had wrapped themselves around the heating element. Some eels were trying to wriggle their way in by forcing others off. I don’t know why they were doing this; maybe the heater was running on half power or had recently stopped working and the element still had some warmth. Be that as it may, I found it to be both repellant and sad.

I do my best to step back mentally and separate myself from my natural feelings when I unavoidably walk past all of the tanks in all of the restaurants holding all of the creatures: fish of all kinds, squid, eels, octopi, swimming and floating and sitting on the bottom and clinging to the glass, waiting all unknowingly to be netted, killed, and eaten (sometimes alive, in the case of the octopi). It’s the same trick I had to teach myself at supermarkets back home, walking past the lobster tanks. I’m secure in my beliefs and it doesn’t bother me that hardly anyone I know agrees with me, and I retreat into my “serenity to accept the things I cannot change” mode as best I can. It always saddens me a little bit, but I wall myself off pretty well, until I see a dead fish they haven’t removed or one swimming upside down or a tank where the fish are nose-to-tail for lack of space… or eels desperately clinging to a heating element.

In many ways, Korea is no worse than the West in this regard; just because we don’t see the slaughterhouses doesn’t mean that the cows and pigs are better off than these sea animals—in fact, in many ways I’m sure they have it much worse. I’m even almost resigned to the fact that some few Koreans eat dog; logically, if not emotionally, it’s the same thing. It’s the fact that so many people believe that the adrenaline that pumps through a dog’s system with terror and pain makes the meat taste better that I find hard to think about. I understand eating meat; I did it for 38 years myself. I don’t understand a mindset that making food taste better is worth torturing animals.

The most appealing aspect of Buddhism as far as I’m concerned is its call for compassion toward all beings. I don’t, however, understand how apparently no Buddhists (at least here) except for the clergy practice it.

Another, more trivial, turnoff for me is marketing meat in a cutesy way, as if the animals are delighted to die. Many, many of the restaurants here have grinning cartoon animals on their signs, flashing the peace symbol, giving a thumbs-up, grinning ear-to-ear, practically gleeful in their invitation to come on in and “Eat me.” Sometimes I’d like to say that to the restaurant owners myself.

First in war, first in peace, and last to get to the ballgame

I had planned Sunday's baseball outing for several weeks: downloaded the Korean Baseball Organization's schedule (in English), found a date and time when a lot of people would be free, emailed and Facebooked 'most everyone I know in Daegu: Lions vs. Doosan Bears (who will, if my new job comes through as it should, be my team by the end of the season), Sunday, 5 p.m., be there. (Checked and rechecked the schedule just in case I'd had a mind flatulence; hadn't: 5:00.)

Several people busy with church stuff or out of town, Cliff (from Writer's Group) was going to come with several friends but couldn't because he got really sick, ended up with just me, Sandi from Samduk LIKE and Joelle from the Writer's Group. That's cool. We get to the ballpark an hour before gametime (ha!) Odd... nobody out in the area around the entrance but the hawkers (very aggressive; one guy holds out a cold beer and chatters at me, I shake my head, the woman next to him holds out a bottle of water, I pay her, he looks disgusted). Nobody buying tickets. Huh. I guess two weeks into the season we're really early because there won't be a big crowd? Weird.

But we buy tickets and go in... no plastic beat-together tubes for sale... we enter the stands; they're packed. No place to sit on the "home" side... oh, crap. It's the middle of the sixth inning.
We finally found seats and watched the final three innings: couple of exciting plays but no scoring; Lions win, 5-4. Pbpbpbpth.

In a way, it's just as well. Joelle doesn't like baseball much, but wanted to have a taste of the experience; Sandi's got a touch of flu. But it wasn't exactly what I'd looked forward to for the last six months. And if the Sunday games are at 3:00, I work till then, and that means that there will be no days in which my friends from work and I are free to go to games together. (Incidentally, I just found the official KBO website, and it also says that Sunday games are at 5:00. Meh.)

Sandi and Joelle caught a cab and I walked downtown. On the way, I found I had just missed a street festival; nothing was still going on except a breakdancing (!) exhibition. But I did come upon some odd metal animal art, so here are some pictures of something for you to look at. Live it up. :: sigh ::

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Once a triviot...

The Global Trivia team: me, Justin, Shaun.

It''s 3:13 in the a. of m. and I just got in the door from helping to run Global Trivia at Commune's bar downtown. The game starts at midnight, and trivia's about the only thing that would get me to spend nearly three hours in a dark bar full of smoking drinkers. Or drinking smokers. I feel so dirty. And not in a good, don't tell Mom kind of way. But you know I love me some trivia.

My friend Justin spent many hours putting together a really clever PowerPoint presentation for our questions. Shaun did eleven questions on "Arts and Crafts" (literary and artistic figures and their nonvocational quirks), then I did eleven on "War and Peace", followed by Justin with "Cities". Many of the questions had multiple parts, so it's quite a production. I may be a little thin-skinned for this; having a drunk or two boo every time they don't know an answer bugs me. But it went well.

I'm really pleased, frankly, with the questions I came up with. I tried to get a mix of easy and hard ones, from a number of countries.

Anyway, here are my questions.

1) Four individuals have won both the popular vote for United States President and the Nobel Peace Prize. For one point each, name them. For a bonus point on each, name the years each one won the Prize.

2) In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the Battle of Five Armies brought together forces from five races or species. For one point each, name them. For a bonus point, what sixth force arrived at the last moment to turn the tide for the good guys?

3) Now some questions for you fans of Trojans (one point each):
a. What animal did the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail build rather than a wooden horse?
b. To what island did Odysseus return, eventually, after the Trojan War?
c. In the final lines of Tennyson’s Ulysses, what four infinitive verbs (such as to run” and “to sleep”) does Ulysses (a.k.a. Odysseus) say he and his men are “strong in will” to do? (One half-point for each.)
d. In what city is the major American university whose teams are called the Trojans?

4)4 4) The semaphore signals for which two letters make up the peace symbol that became popular during anti-Viet Nam War protests in the 1960s? (You must get both for a point.)

5) The flag of Wales displays a mythological creature. For one point each, what color is it, what is the creature, and (according to Arthurian legend) who saw this creature battling another such beast (a symbol of England) in a dream?

6) What city changed hands four times between March 1950 and March 1951?

7) These songs all have titles that include the words “War” or “Peace” or variations of these words (such as “Wartime” or “Peaceable”). In each case, the song title immediately follows the quoted lyric. The number of words in the title is listed in parentheses. For one point each, name the song that has each set of lyrics.
a.“And each time I feel like this inside, there's one thing I wanna know…” (8)
b.“I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a million stars all around, ‘cause I get a…” (3)
c. "Everybody's talkin' 'bout Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, This-ism, That-ism, ism, ism, ism. All we are saying is... (4)
d.“Now I've been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is; why must we go on hating, why can't we live in bliss? ‘Cause out on the edge of darkness, there lies a…” (2)
e.“Good God, y’all, what is it good for? You tell me, say it, say it, say it…” (1)
f.“Make no mistake, for your very own sake, here’s a little word for now: take off your shoes and let your thoughts be kind, and have a little…” (3)

8) What three European countries remained neutral in both World Wars? (One point each)

9) The United Nations has recognized October 2 as the International Day of Nonviolence. Whose birthday was selected for this honor?

10) For one point each, in which book of the Bible is the origin of the dove as a symbol of peace, and which book of the Bible is the source of the Byrds’ ‘60s anti-war song Turn Turn Turn?

BONUS: For one point each, name the person who fits each description. Each person’s name has the letters w-a-r or p-e-a-c-e in that order.

a. Won more games than any other left-handed pitcher in major league history.
b. Wrote Vanity Fair.
c. Played “Puddy” on Seinfeld.
d. Pastor who gave the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration.
e. Played House's former lover Stacy.
f. In early 2008, was listed by Forbes magazine as the richest person in the world.
g. Starred in the movies Meatballs and My Bodyguard.
h. Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Full circle

Today being my day off, I planned on going to the Samsung Lions game, even though I expect to see a game Sunday. That may seem redundant, but there's no reruns in baseball.

Anyway, it's cool and damp and breezy today, the game wouldn't be over till 9:30 or so, and shivering alone isn't as much fun as it's cracked up to be, so I caved and went to a movie instead.

I saw "Duplicity" with Julia Roberts. That is, she didn't go with me; she was in the movie. Almost all American movies that are shown here just have their titles, in English pronunciation, transliterated into Korean. This one, though, was retitled "Dual Spies", then transliterated. Be that as it may, maybe I've gotten too critical-- I always enjoy going to the movies, alone or otherwise, but I sure have seen a bunch of movies lately (e.g. Valkyrie and He's Just Not That Into You) that I have to admit were pretty good, but I didn't especially like. This one is certainly well made, but not fun enough to be a caper movie, not romantic enough to be a romance, and not with a clear enough plot to be suspenseful.

I never did think that Julia Roberts was all that attractive, except on the poster for Pretty Woman, and that wasn't even her body. She's no "how the hell does anybody think she's attractive" case like Sarah Jessica Parker, but unlike me, she's not getting any more gorgeous with age.

Speaking of which, it didn't occur to me until I was on the way down the endless escalators through the empty store beneath the theater that in 1990, when I went to meet friends in Iowa, see the Field of Dreams and stop off for games at Tiger Stadium and Wrigley Field, that I had tickets to see a game at Comiskey Park before they tore it down, and just as I drove into Chicago, I heard on the radio that the game had been postponed, even though it hadn't rained for several hours.

And what did I do on that cool, damp, breezy spring day nineteen years ago in Schaumberg, Illinois in lieu of going to the ballgame? I went to see Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A(ir) Holes

This one time... at E-Mart... I saw a woman stick her little foofoo dog in a small locker out in front of the store. E-Mart has little lockers in which to store your stuff before you go in; you put in 100 Won (7.5 cents) and get it back when you reopen the locker. (Incidentally, a shopping cart also costs 7.5 cents, but you don’t get the money back, and a plastic shopping bag will cost you 3.75 cents. But all that has nothing to do with my point, so I won’t mention it.)

Anyway, I thought the woman was some kind of sadist to stick her dog in there, but another time I happened to look closer at that particular bank of lockers… they have air holes in the plastic windows; they’re dog lockers! Well, possibly infant lockers, too.

Koreans’ relationship with dogs is weird and sometimes awful. Little teeny tiny pop-‘em-in-your-purse pups are wildly popular; I hate walking past the grungy little pet shops near the big Banwoldang intersection; they always have puppies the size of my fist, alone or in pairs, in little plastic cubicles in the shop windows. I’m pretty sure (no kidding) I saw a couple of pups once that didn’t even have their eyes open yet. One of my friends told me he went to a restaurant here in Daegu that has dog on the menu; it’s technically illegal but apparently completely winked at. I’ve already written about how dogs are killed for food; I need to stop now.

Cats are, as I’ve written, generally despised. Stores that carry any cat supplies or food have five or ten percent as much of that as they do dog stuff, and it’s all wildly overpriced. I’ve found that human-grade mackerel costs about sixty percent less than canned cat food. And every couple of weeks I take the 40-minute roundtrip bus ride to Costco for a 30-pound jug of cat litter; otherwise, I’d go broke buying it. It’s not easy having two cats here, but it’s not easy being a vegetarian either, or being an Anglophone, or being green. Ask Kermit.


이-마트 (E-Mart)’s big competitor is 홈 플러스 (Home Plus), which is co-owned by Samsung and Britain’s Tesco supermarket chain. Just as at E-Mart, every time you walk in the door, an attendant bows from the waist and rattles off ten seconds of welcome; what a great job, doing that all day. Also just as at E-Mart, there is a huge number of attendants waiting to pounce on you and “help” you if you hesitate a moment to look at something, and the grocery floor is generally a cacophony as salespeople shout endless come-ons to buy their… whatever that stuff they’re pointing at is… what do you think it is? I’m sure I don’t know, but it’s not going in my mouth.

But once in awhile at Home Plus you get a little bonus, a plus if you will. I’ve been there a couple of times when 20 or 30 aproned, gloved, bonneted grocery employees line up with their backs to the walls and coolers, a jaunty tune (actually, the melody is “If You’re Happy and You Know it”) is piped in, and the poor schlemiels clap, twirl, and practically line-dance in unison, looking none too happy about it. They will keep customers waiting if need be to do their little dance. Said it before, say it again... everybody here crazy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Wester

(Above: Leo, Ray, Joanna, me, Luke, Lil' Buddha, the tragic micro encephalic duck, cherry trees. Remember: you can click on the pictures for nice enlargements.)

I'm writing this on Monday morning, sadly looking around at my floor, which is not strewn with plastic grass, halves of plastic eggs, and cellophane-fronted boxes bearing remnants of chocolate bunny ears. (Cat hair is a poor substitute for plastic grass.) It surprised me a great deal that there's no public recognition here of Easter. Christmas is certainly a pretty big deal, with trees, Santas, lights, and so on, and Christianity is the religion of the young and educated, but... nothin'. No bunnies, no eggs, no notice of special services, no little kids out on the streets in bonnets or bow ties.

However, Buddha's Birthday's coming up in three weeks, and that's already received public recognition, with colored lanterns and a giant inflatable pillar with an inflatable baby Buddha holding an inflatable lotus blossom. That's a national holiday, though, even though by all accounts there are as many practicing Christians as Buddhists here.

It is, however, manifestly spring. Cherry trees are abloom everywhere, the high has been around 80 Fahrenheit each day, it's been sunny, and the humidity's been very low; all of this, especially the latter, has kept my Florida-acclimated spirits soaring.

I had three days off and did my best to make the most of them.

I made the half-hour walk, including crossing the footbridge over the river, to the Home Plus department store/supermarket, admiring the duck boats and kayakers, and whistled while I didn't work. (The pedes emptor policy evident with every broken sidewalk-- remember how I broke my face?-- was on display on the rickety bridge, where some guy had wandered off to get some nails, leaving a gap where a plank was supposed to be, no signs, no nothin'. Good thing there were no drunken toddlers crossing the river, plunging to their watery demise... as far as I know.)

Another day, Ray, Luke, Joanna, Leo and I took the long subway ride and long walk to the Arboretum in order to take a long walk. It hadn't occurred to me that at this time of year there wouldn't be a gatrillion flowers on display as there were in the fall, but we had a nice hike. Any day you can hear a bird sing in this city is a good day. I was wearing my Korean flag t-shirt, which excited one local guy so much he insisted on having his photo taken with me, repeatedly.

The next day, I tried to arrange a late-in-the-day outing to paddle the duck boats and go to the little amusement park down by the river, but we had to postpone. The day after that, I walked downtown (three miles away) and around and around, just happy to be alive, I guess, and the girls sure are purty. (Maybe not as happy to be alive as I would have been had the Samsung Lions had a few home games, but pretty happy... and that leaves something for next weekend.)

We're just out of a windy winter and heading into what I'm told will be a brutal summer; I'm going to enjoy every moment I can of our ephemeral, glorious spring, with or without the Easter Bunny.

Hop Springs eternal.

(Below: the guy came back with some nails...)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The glass is already broken

I went to Mt. Palgongsan again today, this time with Joanna and Leo (rhymes with Mayo), a new arrival from Ontario at the Samduk school. The weather was glorious, aside from some serious smog that eventually burned off, and the cherry trees lining much of the route were gorgeous.

Donghwasa Temple, near the base of Palgongsan, reminds me of two tenets of Buddhism that resonate with me. The first is compassion for all beings, which is what I decided to seek 18 years ago when I went vegetarian. The average Buddhist (at least around here) doesn't try very hard, as only the priests pursue a vegetarian diet. But compassion is a natural companion to the knowledge that we are all one, that (as somebody said) "There's only one of us here." And that's what I (who for so long believed nothing, really) believe.

The other is detachment, of letting go of desire. This has been a hard lesson for me; I've always been a grasping person, and I've hated goodbyes worse than just about anything. A couple of years ago, I read somewhere "The glass is already broken," that is, that eventually we lose everything physical: our belongings, the people we love, even our own bodies. Loss is inevitable. But if we see everything as only on loan to us-- like a drinking glass we love that, because it will be broken sooner or later, is in its essence broken already-- then we can appreciate whatever or whoever it is while we have it and not grieve when it's gone. This concept has brought a great deal of peace of mind to me.

Ironically, it was tested today. First, my aluminum hiking stick fell apart. Longtime readers of this blog (that is, me) may remember that in September I said I couldn't see much difference between the eight-buck sticks and the eighty-buck sticks. I guess I see one now. Anyway, I survived the hike without it. But I took a couple dozen gorgeous pictures only to find when I got home that my camera was on permanent strike, nothing working but the on/off button and the display permanently stuck in op-art mode. So I lost all the photos and a good camera. Here's the point: rather than cursing and stomping around, I said "Huh." So Not the Drama, as my friend Kim Possible says.

I've already replaced the eight-buck hiking stick with a nine-buck hiking stick and I'll have to find a bargain on a new camera even though I don't want to spend any more money, but the thing is, I feel free. Freer, anyway. It's the end of the glass as we know it, and I feel fine.