Monday, April 9, 2012

Living in living color

Last week, I wrote a post that was triggered by hearing the lyric "Nothing's gonna change my world" in a cover version of John Lennon's Across the Universe. Go ahead down a couple of entries and read it if you haven't; I've got time.

Okay? Back?

Well, a day or two later, I happened to show the delightful movie Pleasantville in class, as a suggestion of the conformist 50s society Holden rebels against in Catcher in the Rye, as well as a basis for analysis of satire and the extended metaphor. And what should come up on the soundtrack but the same recording, by Fiona Apple. Hollywood is striking it rich with sequels, so here's my sequel to the previous post.

In the movie, teen siblings Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, in a kind of Twilight Zone conceit, get visited by a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts!), who zaps them back into a 1950s Leave it to Father Knows Ozzie and Lucy TV show. The teen couples do nothing more than hold hands, there are no toilets or double beds, the fire department only rescues cats in trees (when you're in a rush, someone will ask, "Where's the cat?"), and the basketball team never misses a shot. And everything and everyone is in black and white.

Then Reese introduces a boy to the back seat of a car, and on the way home, he sees a rose. A red rose. Soon more things and then people are turning into color, which frightens everyone else. (At Tobey's trial for fomenting this un-American trend, the "colored" people have to sit in the balcony. Joan Allen, as the mom, puts on gray makeup to hide her shame.) It isn't sex that turns them; it's the ability to change and grow. For Reese, it's learning to enjoy reading. For Tobey, it's being brave and defending his mom. For the soda-shop guy, it's being introduced to art. And the soundtrack swells with Fiona Apple: "Nothing's gonna change my world."

And thus, finally, I get to my point. I generally do, eventually.

I have lived in black and white. I'm a very cautious guy, by upbringing and nature. I would never have dreamed of running cross country in high school, or joining the Peace Corps, or sneaking into a movie. I'm easily habituated, which is why I don't have a video-game console; I'd never leave the house. I don't like surprises. I wear the same type of clothes (if not literally the same clothes, although with some of my socks I can't be sure) that I wore 40 years ago.

When I came to Korea, it was one of the few Technicolor/widescreen moves I'd ever really made. I know nobody was more shocked than I; it was a monumental change for me.

That was living in color.

And I've had flashes of color here from time to time, such as hashing or taking the train to Busan on a whim because I missed the ocean, or sending a message to someone on a dating site. But mostly I'm still living on a 16-inch screen in grainy monotone.

I swear there will be more color! I'm never going bungee jumping (the thought makes my palms sweat), and I'm not going to take up macrame or the zither or ice climbing. But I'm going to live more.

I guess I should start by turning off the compu

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Well, excuuuuuuse me!

Three years or so ago, I wrote here that the Korean for "excuse me" is "shilleh hamnida", but that no Korean has ever actually said it.

I wish to apologize to the Korean people:

Actually, the Korean for "excuse me", as in "please let me get by you" is "chamshi manyo".

...but no Korean has ever actually said it.

...especially not the man who wanted to get by me at E-Mart, so he put the back of his hand on my butt and nudged me out of the way.

I was really offended, but then I calmed down. At my age, I accept even backhanded compliments. No, ifs, ands, or... ah, never mind. Shilleh hamnida.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Nothing's gonna change my world

As I came out of E-Mart this evening, the coffee shop in the front of the building was playing a cover of John Lennon's Across the Universe, which is a lovely song. And its chorus makes a perfectly ironic title for this blog post.

If you ever want a classic example of the Buddhist tenet that everything is impermanent, come to Yangjae-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea.

E-Mart itself has been massively renovated and expanded and gone upscale, so much that shopping on a Sunday afternoon, when nobody knows where anything is, is like playing bumper cars on the 405. Every single item in the store is someplace else from where it was last week; the store's aisles are now marked in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese; there's an international cuisine section (peanut butter and baked beans are the mainstays of US cuisine by the way); they've put in dozens of upright coolers (and have realized, finally, that people like their beer cold); they've moved the sporting goods to a separate room (The Sports Zone) with a rubberized fake running track underfoot; they've made the bakery into a Bread and Honey alcove; and they've turned one whole corner of the store into Molly's Pet Shop, complete with vet-only specialty food--and an actual vet's office, the only one within two miles of my house.

I asked a man in a white coat if any of the vets speak English and he--in somewhat limited English--said he does. Now I have to decide whether to turn Tug's care over to him. My current vet is wonderful; Dr. Choi, the boss, speaks perfect English, they have a cat specialist whose English is quite adequate, and their office has every bell and whistle of modern animal care. But it's a 40-minute cab ride, with a yowling cat in a carrier and for a ten-buck fare, each way. E-Mart is a five-minute walk. Is a puzzlement. At least now I don't have to take an hour and two subway fares to get Tug's bladder-care food.

A bit earlier, I scouted for a hash trail I'm going to lay in a few weeks. I got a closer look at the endless array of high-rise apartments they've put up just across the Yangjae Cheon (stream) from me. They've bulldozed acre after acre of trees and field (no doubt killing or forcing the relocation of thousands of animals) and erected building after soulless 30-story building, and they're calling the development "Nature Hill".

Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

How many people will be moving into my neighborhood? Forty thousand? A hundred thousand? Everybody in Korea? I don't know. I do know that I can't see the mountains anymore and the running path along the Cheon is going to be a lot more congested this summer.

Also, a hundred feet from my ramp down to the Cheon, a bulldozer is filling in 75 percent of the stream's width in one spot, raising the water level there and submerging several of the steppingstones across the creek. And they've put up a footbridge nearby to handle the expected extra foot traffic. I realize that I'm hypocritical on this subject; I know that every meter of the Cheon from Gwacheon City to the Han River that runs through the heart of Seoul has been groomed, fussed over, diverted, landscaped, and denatured. But I guess we all would like good things to stay the way they were the day we first discovered them.

Foreground: the world's newest bridge.
Background: steppingstones and inexplicable landfill project.

I miss seeing the mountains out my window. And I miss the steppingstones already.

But the change that is hardest to deal with is the constant shuffling of people in and out of my life. "So many people have come and gone/Their faces fade as the years go by", as Boston sang. (What a great record!) Most of the core group of hash veterans has left, or is leaving, this spring. It's weird, when it seems that so recently I was a newbie, to be one of the veterans who's supposed to know what he's doing. Currently I'm the hash chef (supplier of comestibles) and longevity archivist/treasurer. I like the responsibility, but it's strange that the people who have been the heart of the hash are gone. I miss my friends.

We are getting fresh, enthusiastic people coming in, though. With the approach of spring, we've had a lot of first-timers. We named two hashers yesterday and there's another one coming up next Saturday. In particular, I've gotten to be buddies with Kat, who's bright and vivacious, talks with me about books and movies, and actually likes my jokes (or is a talented actor).

So life, as it tends to do, goes on. But I don't care what they say...

The more things change, the more things change.