withdrawal

Shibuyacrossing

I woke up in an apartment on the outskirts of Tokyo at four-thirty in the morning today, and since then have spent almost eight hours on subways, busses, and one airplane. Consequently, I am very tired, and when I get tired I get sad and grouchy. I am lonely, too… withdrawal from four days spent in the company of an old friend, and occasionally a new friend.

I like Tokyo a whole lot, details and more pictures to come.

Suntori time.

I’m off to Tokyo in a bit, and I doubt I’ll be able to post until I get back on Tuesday. I’ll remember everything, and take pictures in case I don’t.

Miss me, and leave me comments.

Suntori time.

Elvis Costello

I’m going to Tokyo this weekend — four nights, four days (three and two halves). I plan to drink lots of Suntori and sing Elvis Costello songs in Karaoke rooms.

I started teaching a new student a couple weeks ago. She is a twenty-three year old college student, majoring in music with an emphasis on the gomungo (a traditional Korean instrument). She graduates in December, at which point she is moving to Seattle for a year to take intensive English courses at the University of Washington. On Friday of last week I asked her what her usual daily schedule was, and she told me that she usually sleeps for four hours a night and practices the gomungo for almost ten hours a day. After she graduates she wants nothing to do with the gomungo — she hopes to go to graduate school and get her masters degree in Economics.

sleeping

‘He’s just sleeping, I kept telling myself’ (The Guardian)

unusual protest

Here’s a short video I shot last week of a very unusual protest that I happened upon near the American Embassy. I have no idea what they are protesting, only that they appear to have spent quite a bit of time rehearsing:

choreographed protest

Again, if it won’t stream, right click, “Save Target As…,” and download it to your hard drive.

September 11th

On September 11th, 2001, I was working as a disgruntled editor at a law publishing house in Cleveland. I had worked there for about a year and a half at that point, and I was quickly nearing the limit of my capacity to endure long stretches of boredom. The job was just one of the many things that had made that summer the worst of my adult life — I won’t go into the sordid rest.

I had just gotten to work and was sitting in my cubicle drinking my coffee and checking my email when Howard Stern (who I listened to every morning through my headphones) interrupted a heated discussion about whether or not he had kissed Pamela Anderson to report that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The initial report was that it was an accident – a small plane had gotten lost somehow, or had been lost control of, and crashed into the north tower. I tried to log onto some news sites for information, but was unable to because of the high traffic volume from other people trying to do the same. Howard went back to the Pamela Anderson discussion, I went back to my email and coffee.

When the report came in of the second plane hitting the south tower, the mood on the Howard Stern show – and, gradually, in the office – changed. The gossip chain that is every corporate office began to work its magic, and soon enough most everyone was discussing or looking for news about what was going on in New York.

Soon after south tower was hit, a television was wheeled into the conference room, a room which quickly became standing room only. I was sitting at my desk when the south tower collapsed. Howard Stern was on a commercial break at the time, but I knew something had happened because of the gasps and screams that came from the conference room.

The rest of that day was spent standing around the television, emailing friends in Manhattan, getting hysterical phone calls from my ex-girlfriend, sitting in unproductive meetings that should have been cancelled, and mostly waiting to go home. My office was one of the few that didn’t close early on that day, apparently there was little concern that the terrorists were planning to destroy the American law book infrastructure next. American Greetings, on the other hand – the greeting card company – was closed by lunchtime.

. . .

Among the many emotions that I felt on that day and in the weeks and months after – sadness, confusion, loneliness, etc. – I had this distinct feeling of childlike giddiness at the unavoidable excitement of the whole thing. Something interesting was finally happening, history – real history – was being made, and I can’t deny the fact that a part of me really enjoyed being a witness to it.

. . .

Now three years have passed, three years that seem somehow more tangible than any other years of my life, easier to look back on and see vividly. It’s as if some dormant part of my brain was activated on that day — startled awake by some part of that event that screamed out “REMEMBER” — and now is so haunted by nightmares that it is unable to return to sleep.

Perhaps this is, in part, why I decided to move to South Korea, only to discover that being separated from one’s memories only makes those memories burn more brightly.

. . .

I am unable to capture myself today with words, so I will leave it to Auden…

“September 1, 1939”

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

-W.H. Auden

two bloody stumps

After being repeatedly told that this new job I was supposed to start this last Monday was “certain” and “definite,” this evening I was told that it was “gone.” Apparently only one student responded to the advertisement they placed for the class, requiring the school to cancel it. This makes sense, I understand why they needed to cancel the class, but don’t use words like “certain” and “definite” (which lead me to believe that I will have a job and therefore stop looking for other jobs) unless you have some STUDENTS! I rearranged my schedule for this class, I planned my next three months with it in mind… I wouldn’t have done this had words like “certain” and “definite” not been thrown around, but whatever.

If something seems even slightly too good to be true in South Korea, turn and run. Run until your feet are worn down to two bloody stumps.

Korea, Korea, Korea.

Ok, I am fed up.

This job that I mentioned I was hoping to get a week or two ago, this job that will pay me lots of money, well I was told a week or two ago that I got the job and that I would be starting today. I’ve been offered a few other jobs in the meantime, but I haven’t taken any of them because I assumed that my schedule is basically set for the next three months or so. Today, of course, the recruiter who found the job for me called to say that classes are cancelled this week so I will now be starting next week. I asked her if she was certain that classes would be starting next week, but I don’t think she understands what “certain” means. I am becoming more and more convinced that the concept of “certainty” doesn’t actually exist in Korea.

Korea, Korea, Korea.

Last night on my way home I stopped at a local fried chicken stand to buy some dinner. The man who I usually see working there wasn’t, instead there was a miserable looking woman. I walked up and indicated that I wanted one, which in the past meant one serving of chicken for 3,000 won, and she indicated that she understood. After waiting a bit for the oil to heat up, she took some chicken and dropped it in the frier. While my chicken was cooking, another man (a Korean) walked up and (I assume) placed an order for some chicken as well. She didn’t put any more chicken in the oil, however, but the man remained standing by the stand as if waiting. My chicken continued to fry.

While my chicken fried, the woman who was frying it crouched down behind the friers, took a plastic bag, and began to stick her finger down her throat in an apparent attempt to vomit. She started making these disturbing hacking and gagging sounds, followed closely by the sounds of labored spitting. She continued doing this for several minutes, while I stood at the stand trying to suppress the combination of laughter and disgust that this situation was inspiring. I looked to the man who was waiting with me, but his face reflected no indication that he was the slight bit bothered by what the chicken cook was doing. People walked by, seemingly obvivious to the disturbing sounds eminating from this fried chicken stand. I was losing my appetite.

Finally the woman stood up, put on a pair of dirty cotton gloves, and began to take my chicken out of the frier with a pair of tongs. There was a small piece of what appeared to be vomit stuck to the right side of her face. After letting the chicken cool for a few minutes, she took out a bag (with her bare hands) and put the chicken into it. I took out the 5000 won bill that I had and went to hand it to her, and she gestured at a small sign that had two prices: 5,500 and 3,000 — apparently she had made me the large order, instead of the small. I said “no” and pointed to the 3,000 on the sign, at which point the woman sighed loudly and slumped down again behind the frier. I waited a moment for her to take some chicken out of the bag or something, but she remained slumped behind the frier. Finally I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to eat the chicken anyway, so I shrugged and said “goodbye” and walked home.

I don’t think I’ll be buying chicken there again.