Caveat: The Japanese Aesthetic

I confess that I love the Japanese aesthetic. It’s my favorite design philosophy, in architecture, in the way gardens and spaces are arranged, in the visual impact of two-dimensional images. I spent part of yesterday taking way too many pictures. I don’t normally take a lot of pictures, but I kept trying to capture “postcard” images. I’m not sure how I did, but some of the pictures below seem like I did not-too-badly.
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Caveat: 빈집

pictureI saw the most remarkable movie last night.  It is a Korean movie from 2004, entitled 빈집 (bin-jip = empty house).  The “official” English title is 3-Iron (a golf reference) which is both unimaginative, and utterly fails to capture the primary symbolism embedded in the Korean Language title vis-a-vis the movie itself.

I found it on my hard drive last night.  I must have downloaded it at some point, and totally forgotten about it.  I`m glad to have found it again.

I think it will be my new favorite Korean movie, although the fact that it`s Korean is not really relevant to the plot, which is more universal, and the almost utter absence of dialog (and the relative irrelevance of what little dialog there is ) means that even if you don`t have subtitles, you will understand and enjoy this movie.  It`s pure moving image, with nevertheless deep and interesting characters and a complex plot.  It`s what movies can and should be.

Anyway, I`ll let others summarize the plot and provide a formal review.  But this was a great movie.

Caveat: Hello Kitty

When I went to the Sengan-en garden/estate (which was made many hundreds of years ago, and then expanded by one of the modernizing pre-Meiji Satsuma [sp?] lords in the 19th century, who built Japan`s first machine-based factory, first electric plant, and first telegraph, all here in Kagoshima). 

On the grounds of the garden there was a shrine to cats.  Some Japanese conqueror had taken some cats with him to Korea in the 16th century (where he no doubt worked on building that excellent rapport that exists to this day between Korea and Japan – this is a joke, OK?).  The cats came back with him, having provided excellent luck and service (what sort of sevice, exactly?) during the war.

I took some pictures of the cat shrine, and promptly spent 25 bucks in the inevitable giftshop nearby.  I will add the pictures when I get a chance and the appropriate bandwidth. 

What`s weird is that in the hours after my visit to the cat shrine, I started running into cats.  Cats in parking lots, cats in the forest climbing up the moutain.  I took some pictures of these cats, too.  I think it was a "hello cats" day.  Which is only right, in the land of Hello Kitty.

[here`s  some pics]

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Caveat: Kagoshima

I arrived in Kagoshima, checked into the guesthouse I`d made a reservation at, and went exploring.  There`s a volcano across the bay… somewhat active.  I walked around a little bit in the town that`s on the volcano island, but decided not to try to go up it – I was feeling tired, and you`re not allowed all the way to the top in any event, for safety reasons.  I took some pictures, which I`ll post later, since I`m on a public computer at the moment. 

Last night I slept longer than I have in a long time.  I guess I was tired – I`ve been feeling like I haven`t been getting enough sleep, lately, but unlike my normal self, I haven`t been simply sleeping more.  I had a lot of dreams last night.  Some were like being in a Korean drama – I`m still watching those, I carry around downloaded copies on my computer that I can watch in the evening or suchlike.  And the dream I woke up from was really strange…

I had several children, with me, and I was traveling in Japan.  The traveling in Japan part makes sense, of course, but why were these children with me?  Everything was perfectly natural, in the dream.  I had the kids with me for some logical reason – were they my kids?   There were 2 or 3 kids, in the dream.   The youngest was maybe 4, the oldest was 9 or 10.  I suppose this is an outcome of being an elementary teacher?  The last scene, before waking up, was where we were trying to get on board a bus to somewhere, and the youngest child had lost her hat, not paying attention, and we were going to miss the bus.  She was crying.  I efficiently chased after and scooped up the hat, and attached it to her head, picked her up carefully and jumped onto the bus with the others following.  It was a happy scene in the dream, not scary or unpleasant at all.  It was a kind of aimless domesticity, floating across my current landscape.  But weirdly vivid, the way dreams sometimes are.

Caveat: Sakurajima

Here are some pictures from my wandering around yesterday, to the volcano (Sakurajima) and around Kagoshima.

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The following is a "play volcano" that I saw in a school yard only a few kilometers from the real volcano.  Funny.

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There is a lot of fine black ash or sand on everything.  Here`s some piled on the sidewalk.

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[this is a back-post, completed 2010-03-31 18:00 JST]

Caveat: Absolute must-have information

I bought a book yesterday.  It's a Japanese phrase book – for Korean speakers.  I figured that would be a way to help me get around in Japan, without dropping the ball on the Korean Language thing.  

P1030585 Anyway, it's pretty handy, and if I want to know how to say something, I have to first figure out what the Korean means before I can jump on the Japanese phrase I might need – although at least some of the vocabulary is provided with English glosses, too.

On page 75, I found the most important information.  Namely, I need to know about オタク (otaku).  'Cept… I already knew that word.  Plus, if you'll notice, the Korean is the same.  Actually, the only time I've heard Koreans using that word is with reference to specifically Japanese cultural phenomenon.

Walking around, I saw more cherry blossoms.  I guess I picked the right time to come hang out in Kyushu.  Here's a view at the intersection half a block north from the little guesthouse I'm staying at.

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Caveat: Easy Japan

I won't say that I like Japan more than Korea.  But in a lot of ways, I find Japan easier to like than Korea.  I spent a long time yesterday trying to figure out why that is.  It might be something as simple as the fact that the Japanese character includes a level of cultural self-confidence that is comforting after constantly coping with the myriad minor insecurities embedded in contemporary South Korean cultural discourse:  the petty nationalisms, the linguistic deference … these things are mostly absent in my interactions with random Japanese and in my observations of cultural output, here.

Maybe if I spent more time in Japan, these perceptions would become more nuanced.  But superficial impressions count for a lot.   Still, there remain many reasons why I'm sticking with Korea, despite my fascination with (and liking for) Japan.

A picture.

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Caveat: Public Art

I love public art.  Probably, that's one reason I like walking around Ilsan.  And Fukuoka was interesting, this morning, too.  Here are some pictures of public art (and/or interesting architecture).

Walking around Ilsan, near Baekma area:

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Here is something tucked next to a building walking out the east end of the mall called "WesternDom" in Ilsan, on the way to Madu Station:

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Here is a picture I took this morning, here in Fukuoka, Japan.  It's a digital clock that changes to show the time.  But the pixels are made of little fountain spouts.  So it's an altogether new take on the "water clock" idea:

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Here is a weird frog-creature-arch-thing in the Tenjin area (downtown) of Fukuoka:

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Here is the somewhat famous ACROS cultural center in Fukuoka, with its rooftop gardens:

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For contrast, some blossoming cherry trees along the river:

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Lastly, some palm trees in the median of a major street near Hakata Station:

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Caveat: Japanese? No hablo…

Somehow, since I was here last September, I forgot what little Japanese I used to know.  I think it's part of having been so deeply immersed in learning Korean over the last several months.   So in that sense, it's a good sign.  But it's frustrating to be in Japan and functioning at an even lower level than I was 6 months ago.

Ah well.  Win some, lose some.  I'll go exploring in Fukuoka again tomorrow.

More later.

Caveat: 치즈라면

Yesterday, I zoomed out to Ilsan after signing my contract, because I wanted to thank two of the people who made the contract possible, which were my two former bosses who gave me such glowing recommendations.

I stopped by the hagwon where my friend Peter teaches, too, and we had a quick supper at a local hole-in-the-wall Korean fast-food joint (these are called 분식집: bun-shik-jip = minute-meal-house).

I ordered 치즈라면 (chi-jeu-ra-myeon = cheese ramen), which holds a special place in my heart.

Cheeese Cheese ramen is the first “Korean cuisine” meal that I ate in Korea.  I was stationed at Camp Edwards in 1990-91 while in the US Army, and I was out running some errand over to Camp Casey at Dongduchon with my sergeant.   We were zooming along in our humvee, on some twisting road (there were no expressways back then, yet, in northern Gyeonggi-do, like there are now), and the sergeant announced we were stopping for lunch.  We pulled up at some apparently random “next-to-some-US-base” ramen joint, that was set up at the intersection of two roads, and he ordered us cheese ramen from the ajumma that apparently knew him.

“Korean delicacy,” he explained, tersely.

“Yes, sergeant,” I nodded.  I was curious and excited to finally have an “off-post” cultural experience, having been on “lock-down” for my first 3 months in Korea (due to the gulf war going on in Kuwait, half a world away).

Being February, it was cold.  The warm, gooey mess of spicy ramen with a slab of plasticine american cheese melted into it was comforting – a perfect mix of the exotic and familiar.  I was hooked, and have been ever since.  Living in the US, I would simulate Korean cheese ramyeon by adding a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a slice or two of american cheese to bland, US-purchased Japanese-style ramen, such as Maruchan or Smack Ramen.

Yesterday’s cheese ramen was, as usual, unnaturally delicious and warmly nostalgic.

How is it that we later feel nostalgic for times in our lives that, at the time we were living them, were so difficult and unpleasant?

Caveat: Contract

I signed a contract today.  This means I have a job – unless the bureaucrats intervene:  I really have too little confidence in the Korean Immigration Authorities' objectivity (which is to say, in their capacity not to be arbitrary), but… I think I have a pretty good chance.  More than 90%.

So I will start in mid-April, presumably – as soon as I get my E2 Korean work visa.  I have to get this from an overseas consulate, so since I'm going to Japan this weekend, I'm just going to stay in Japan until I get my "authorization number" for my visa, which I can take to the Korean consulate there to get the actual visa pasted into my passport.  I may be in Japan a week or two.  Maybe I'll go somewhere interesting:  back to Nagasaki, or over to Tsushima, or something that's a fairly short trip from Fukuoka.

The school where I've signed is in Yeonggwang County, in Jeollanam Province.  If Seoul is Korea's New York City and Washington DC and Los Angeles all rolled into one, and if Gyeonggi Province is Korea's Maryland and New Jersey and New York State all rolled into one, then Jeollanam is Korea's Kentucky, or Korea's Georgia.  It will definitely be a big change.  But I'm looking forward to it.

Caveat: The big f엌ing deal

I want to say something about Obama's healthcare reform.  And don't blame me for the title – that's what Joe Biden calls it, and he's probably right, too.

I was reading Andrew Sullivan's blog at The Atlantic, and he said something in passing about the fact that if Obamacare is successful, it will improve his overseas popularity.  This is exactly right.  In fact, I would hazard a guess that it will improve his popularity a great deal more in foreign countries than in the U.S.  If this healthcare reform passes, I would like to suggest that that single action will do more "cancel out" the bad image W's invasion of Iraq gave of the U.S. than any possible Iraq exit-strategy.

How is this possible?  It's because for the most part, in most parts of the developed world, the U.S.'s refusal to have comprehensive, universal healthcare is not only puzzling, it's downright weird.  I can only speak from the example of South Korea, where I am now, but I think it's same when looked at from Japan, Australia, Canada, or Europe, too.  No one in Korea, no matter how conservative, questions the government's important role in providing healthcare to citizens. It's part of being civilized.  So Koreans are often shocked and dismayed when I begin trying to explain the lack of universal coverage in the U.S., and even more disturbed by the notion that it's been a sufficiently unpopular idea that it still may not pass. 

So Obama, by passing healthcare, will give the U.S. a newfound patina of rationality in the eyes of foreigners like Koreans.  And that, in turn, can improve U.S. credibility, which has been so badly damaged by Bush's unilateralist tendencies in the area of foreign policy.  Thus a strictly domestic policy move on the part of Obama's administration will, I predict, actually have more impact in the area of foreign policy than anyone realizes.  And thus it is that Hillary Clinton still has a vested career interest in healthcare reform.

Caveat: Yo yo

I'm a yo-yo.  Up and down, like that. 

I'm referring to the job situation.  Latest:  the one on offer, from down in Jeollanam, is back on the plate – they stopped ignoring me.  I'm trying so hard to be zenlike and detached about this process.  It's hard.  And now, if I go for it, and it happens, and then later, I regret the decision, I'll have a chance to beat myself up for "going for it" even though I was unimpressed by the hiring process.

And here I am… feeling regrets over possible feelings of past regret in the context of future feelings of regret.  See how that works?  Ah um… just let go.

Caveat: 이번 토요일에 일본에 가려고 해요

This Saturday, I'm going to Japan.  My 90-day "tourist" visa for South Korea expires soon, so I need to exit the country.  Hopefully, they'll let me back in.  I've never heard of them NOT letting someone back in, but one can always find new ways to feel paranoid, right?

Korea has been getting increasingly meticulous and rigid about immigration matters, and for the most part, I don't resent this – it's no worse than what you see in the U.S. or Europe.  But it does make for a certain amount of stress, when one's status isn't "nailed down."

Caveat: Spring unsprung

I looked out at the sunny blue sky early this morning, and removed my gloves, hat and scarf from my knapsack.  I figured South Korea's winter was over. 

It was too soon.  This afternoon at 3 pm, it was dumping snow like gangbusters.  I was feeling very cold – I went out to Ilsan again to make use of my friend Curt's scanner to scan some documents so that I could apply to a new recruiter who wanted to have copies submitted online.  Since I've given up on the last recruiter. 

By the time I got back to Suwon this evening, there were piles of damp slush everywhere.  Melting, but not very springy.

Caveat: 황사

황사 (hwang-sa = yellow sand) is what they call the springtime storms of dust that roll in from the Chinese desert far to the west.  Korea’s always had these… but in recent years, because of Chinese industrial pollutants and deforestation in China and Mongolia, they’ve become more severe and much more of a health and environmental hazard.

Yesterday was heavily grey, overcast but with a vaguely brownish-yellow tinge.  It’s hard to capture on film, but here’s a picture I took, out wandering about randomly in Seoul – note that it’s about 3 in the afternoon – hardly sunsettime – but weirdly dark.  Today is blue and clear.  Huge contrast.

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Caveat: Hazard

It might be obvious to some, who know me well and can "read between the lines" – I'm not doing well, lately.  I'm frustrated and depressed on multiple fronts.   Foremost, the Korean language acquisition efforts aren't feeling successful.  Next, the job front is dispiriting:  the latest affront has been the fact that the recruiter who offered me a job in Jeollanam Province has completely ignored me since I responded with an acceptance.   It looked like a "firm" offer and that it was just a matter of paperwork.  But… nothing.  For over a week.  I even called the office, which is in Canada, and only got a "oh, he's out of the office at the moment."  I don't know what's going on.  And such blatant unprofessionalism merits a firm but depressing response on my part, which is to say:  "nevermind, thankyouverymuch."  And, it's time to find a new recruiter.  Again.   Lastly… well, lastly, I'm just feeling generally gloomy, uncreative, aimless, lonely, old. 

I really shouldn't even be complaining.  My life isn't so bad.  그냥…