we took the bus to hongnong, ate breakfast in the seven eleven, walked past my school where i used to teach, then did a three hour hike over the mountain, past the nuclear power plant, to the beach at gamami.
its always strange to come back to a place where one has lived and had intense experiences, after a long absence. walking around yeonggwang, where each street in this small, workaday city is still familiar, where most of the stores are unchanged, feels heavy with a kind of ambivalent nostalgia.
i had been a little worried about finding a decent place to stay – i always lived here, before – meaning i had an apartment – and never have returned as a tourist until now. but just a few blocks east of the bus station we found a more or less quaint motel called 귀빈장모텔 (gwibinjang motel = roughly "honored guest place motel" or maybe more loosely "VIP motel") for 30000원 per room per night (25 bucks), which is entirely reasonable for korea.
the tile work in my oddly shaped bathroom looks brand new, and had this kitchy but appealing artwork embedded (below).
actually, the town feels marginally more prosperous than it did in 2010 when i lived here – there are fewer abandoned storefronts, and more cafes – always an indicator of gentrification in korea. but the town is utterly dead on a saturday night, just as i remember. i think everyone goes to gwangju to have fun.
tomorrow i will show andrew and hollye hongnong and my favorite walks there – hopefully over the mountain to the beach and around to the waterfall south of town, then the odd "buddhist theme park" (my own made up designation for it) in beopseong.
Well, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was obligated to finish moving last night. My long, drawn-out transition from the Dongju apartment to the Urimbobo apartment is more-or-less complete – Andrew and Hollye can do the remainder on their own, this morning while I go off to work.
It was kind of tiring, and my new apartment is a chaotic mess, and I'm leaving my old apartment much messier than my conscience would dictate. I don't like doing things half-assed. But sigh. I feel a bit overwhelmed.
Andrew and Hollye have less than a week remaining here, and one trip I had promised to myself and to Andrew while he was visiting was a trip down to Hantucky. It's a pretty major undertaking, if only for the 4 hour bus ride, but I really wanted to do it. So despite my current less-than-optimal condition, we're going to try it this weekend.
After I finish work today, we'll go off to the Goyang bus terminal, where research indicates there is a direct bus now (a new thing) that stops in Yeonggwang on its way to Mokpo. I guess we'll find some inexpensive hotel or yeogwan once there, spend the night, and explore around Glory County during the day tomorrow. Then I will hurtle back tomorrow evening so as to be able to make it to radiation Monday morning, while Andrew and Hollye can retain the option to stay down there and explore more over the next day or two following.
It's Saturday, so no radiation today. That's good, I'm tired of it. Happy No Zappy day.
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
– Seamus Heaney (1939-2013 – he died today, a few hours ago)
i got here at my regular time, but the techs were ahead of schedule so as soon as i checked in at the automated computer station they called me back to the zap-o-room. i was still in a sweat from walking here and with the elevated pulse of the exertion. the session had a different quality to it – i felt more aware of the minor variations of the bed-tables orientation and position, its tiny stepwise movements through the fixed plane of the photon beam. the servo-motors of the raygun, ensconced behind its plastic torus, sounded like a mad scientists toy train, clackety clack always counterclockwise around my head. i wanted to cough, but i resisted. i visualized an old-timey steam train orbiting me and puffing out xray clouds, instead.
after the session, the kind and personable tech whose name i havent learned and whose english is execrable, said cheerily, "see you monday have a good thisweek." "thisweek" means "weekend" – i make the same kind of semantic-field mistakes in korean.
I guess the South Korean government, feeling jealous of all the fabulous anti-terror work being done in the US (see comic, below – it was sarcasm, OK?), decided they could play that game, too.
The South Korean government arrested some left-leaning parliamentarians from the UPP (members of the national legislature, i.e. Korean congresspeople!) on charges of plotting to destory infrastructure and collaborate with North Korea. This is way too reminiscent of the current president's father's dictatorial behaviors in the 1960's and 70's. Sigh.
Here is an interesting editorial on the subject.
Thanks to my friend Peter for pointing this out to me. I had a good visit with him yesterday, when he came out.
Here's a comic I ran across, unrelatedly, but that seemed oddly relevant in its USA-centric way.
My friend taught me this proverb yesterday, as we were discussing the habit of procrastination.
우선 먹기는 곶감이 달다
precedence eat-GER-TOPIC dried-persimmon-SUBJ be-sweet
[When] eaten first, the persimmons are sweet.
I don’t actually like dried persimmons (or even fresh ones) all that much. So maybe this particular proverb doesn’t work for me.
I have been very tired lately. I think we all know why. I barely survived 2 hours at work today before I gave up and stumbled home. Helen asked me why I’m even coming; I said I need the structure and focus. It gives me a sense of purpose and is a bit of a distraction from this business of just being sick.
heavy rain. badly upset stomach (maybe due to bibimguksu yesterday rather than radiation per se). took taxi – thought that would never happen? taxis are hard to get in the rain in ilsan. . . but here on time.
good morning, anyway.
My student Jaeheon, in 6th grade, wrote the below in an essay written to the prompt "How can we make the world better for all humankind?" He gave three things we could do, also including his first thing – free healthcare for everyone in the world – and his third thing – unification of all the world's religions. Both those ideas are patently utopian, but his second thing was literally utopian. I quote (and, as always with student writing, I leave all mistakes and transcribe exactly as written as best I can):
Second, Change the earth to 유토피아 [yu-to-pi-a]. 유토피아 [yu-to-pi-a] is the world that work with self's ability and get the same payment. Think about it when all the people get the same payment their will be no poor and rich also there will no worry about tomorrow so all people can be happy.
If that isn't a rough round-trip-translation (English-Korean-English) of Marx's "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," I'm not sure what is.
When I pointed out to Jaeheon that this was part of the communist program, he seemed deeply disconcerted. He said he had to think about it.
I like students like Jaeheon a lot.
After my radiation treatment, Andrew, Hollye and I walked over the Jeongbal Hill to the subway entrance. I bid them farewell – they have decided to embark on a 2 or 3 day excursion to the northeast corner of South Korea, where they hope to go hiking in Seoraksan National Park. This is their thing – they are not city people, and for Andrew, especially, I often get the impression that his visiting me here in the suburbs of the world's fourth-largest metropolitan area is something of a psychological hardship for him. So I hope they have a good time.
I'm a bit jealous, because all I get to do is attend radiation treatments each morning and correct essays all afternoon. I've never visited the northeast – not Seoraksan, not Sokcho. I want to.
Walking over the hill, I stopped and photographed some flowers at this one clearing area that I like. Just because.
There's this weird bench thing made of rough-hewn fallen wood. There was a flower under it.
After dropping them at the subway station and telling them "safe travels," I walked the rest of the way home. But I stopped at the Ediya Coffee location near my building (Ediya is one of Korea's many Starbucks knockoff chains), because lately I have become rather addicted to a grapefruit-flavored blended-ice thing that they make, which they call in brilliant pseudo-starbuckian konglishy marketingese a 자몽플랫치노 [jamong "flatccino"]. It's not likely that healthy, but possibly healthier than ice cream, which is another post-radiation treat I've been getting myself on occasion.
last night i dreamed i was walking. just walking, along an infinite version of the sidewalk alongside the park that is the path to the hospital.
it was like that amnesiac protagonist at the beginning of the wim wenders movie "paris, texas." just walking and walking as if his life depended on it. but not knowing why.
an apt metaphor for life. and i walk, now, into treatment number 12.
I woke up from my midday nap (which is now a thing, I guess) feeling like I'd been punched in the face. Punched twice, even – once for each side of my jaw. My teeth hurt. My jaw hurt. My mouth felt numb and swollen inside. I think they must have zapped new territory, this time, or in a different way.
Argh. It's not really very pleasant.
Work was a bit frustrating, too. I'm supposed to be part time, right? Maybe I'm supposed to be doing something like 20% of full-time. I am, on paper: I only teach class on Saturdays.
But… they keep finding things for me to do – such that, in the last 6 days or so, I've worked closer to 50-75% of full-time: correcting things, making tests, etc. The hardest part is that these are all the tasks I like least about my job, regularly – it's like having to do all the annoying, tedious busywork surrounding teaching a class without the pleasure of actually getting to present the class.
OK. Calming down. Taking breaths. I will be fine. I'm just venting a little bit.
I'm pleased to have a job where I can feel useful and a boss that's flexible enough to let all this happen (although to be clear it's not pure generosity – there are financial adjustments that mean no sacrifices are being made). I will see this as further training in acquiring patience and equanimity.
i slept a lot more than usual the past 24 hrs. a 2 hr nap yesterday at midday, plus more than 8 hrs over night. im supposing this is the alleged fatigue setting in. i felt some definite fatigue at work yesterday too, along with the really burning mouth, so i left early.
but in the present moment i feel rested and energetic and in good, positive spirits. ive always liked that word in that usage: spirits. "spirit" just means breath, etymologically. so: "good, positive breathing."
nevertheless, i dont really like other, related usages. "spirituality" is overused and has become a vague catch-all. i actually prefer the term "religiosity," even as applied to my own buddhist atheism.
off to number 11. zzzap.
I was looking at my bloghost's pageviews data. It's kind of interesting, in a "meta" way. Here's a screencapture from earlier today.
The graph shows the last 120 days of my blog, with number of "pageviews" per day (people clicking through or navigating to my blog for whatever reason). The broad rise over most of July is what I've taken to calling my "cancer bump" – while I was in the hospital, a lot of people who don't regularly follow my blog began following it, and many people who do follow it, followed it more intensively or frequently. I was posting more, too, which may have increased the rate at which random strangers would have found it listed in google searches of various kinds.
But I'm much more curious about the other notable feature of the graph. What in the world happened on August 19th? That's the most pageviews in a single day that I've ever gotten, by far. It's such an outlier.
One of the assistants in the radiotherapy department did me a favor. Last week I gave him a USB flash drive, and he put a bunch of images on that drive of my various scans. I got the USB flash drive back this morning.
Mostly, I was curious. Now, I have a lot of images – 2 full CT series (before and after), my pre-surgery MRI, my pre-surgery PET, and a "plan" image from the radiotherapy planning software.
To be honest, my lack of training is quickly manifest. I have no idea what I'm looking at. I can't really even find my tumor in the "before" pictures. I have a guess, though. Here's image 49 from my June 28th CT. See the bulge on the left side of my tongue (right side of image because it's oriented "looking up the body")?
I added a red circle to where I think the tumor is. I could be totally wrong – I didn't talk to the doctor directly about these images. But that bulge is slightly lighter in color and missing on the other side of my tongue. It matches to where I understood the tumor to be.
Here is a picture from the pre-radiotherapy "plan." I think it's based on a pre-surgery scan, so you can see a red oblong encircled area on the left side of my tongue area, again, and a sort of dark spot which I wonder might be a false-color selection of the tumor area.
You can see where they've highlighted with lines and enclosing shapes the areas of soft tissue where they will go cancer-cell hunting with their ray-gun. It's all very interesting. I wish I could be looking over their shoulders in the control booth when they drive the zap-o-matic.
off to see the wizard. . .
watch out for flying monkeys.
Andrew, Hollye and I had an outing day in Seoul.
First we took the subway to Insadong, where we wandered the crowded streets and then had lunch at my favorite vegetarian restaurant.
After eating we were walking over to find a subway station, and we passed a restaurant with this sign in the window.
I thought it was quite funny: it says (or seems to say):
Chinese: meh. But we love you.
Then we headed over to 동묘 [dongmyo] is the site of a major flea market neighborhood. It just goes on and on. I've experienced many Korean fleamarkets, but only in rural areas – never in Seoul and never on this huge scale.
We walked around a lot.
I saw a box with an incomprehensible name (the English part, I mean).
But it turns out this is an actual thing – moxibustion [the 뜸 of the Korean name] is a folk remedy where you burn mugwort against accupressure points on a patient's skin. Perhaps I should have invested in it? Andrew is huge believer in mugwort, and my mom is a believer in accupuncture. This would combine both, and might therefore be doubly effective.
I decided to actively shop for one of my strange manias: I'm seeking a Korean manual typewriter. Not a made-in-Korea English (i.e. Latin) typewriter, but a manual typewriter made for typing Korean. This isn't as impossible as many people who don't know Korean might think – Korean is not like Chinese or Japanese, because the number of underlying symbols in the native Korean writing system (hangul) is quite small.
I love manual typewriters: I have several (Latin ones) in my storage unit in Minnesota. This one guy we visited had many, many typewriters – mostly Latin, but several hangul. He was honest, however: he told me none of them worked. So I didn't buy one.
Walking back to the subway, we saw a bicycle that looked Army-style.
And a peaceful, desolate collection of greenery in an urban wasteland.
Finally, we took the subway out to Bucheon, where we met my friend Peter. Peter is only a few weeks left from ending his teaching contract, and he intends to do some on-foot travel in Korea and then return to the US.
We ate at a 짬뽕 [jjambbong] joint near his apartment and then Andrew, Hollye and I came back to Ilsan.
our subway train broke so they threw us off at 삼송역 [samsong station]. andrew noticed this mural on the wall, which he immediately described as “multicolored abstract alligators hunting birds under the trees.” this caused me to need to take a picture of it.
Un trozo de azul tiene mayor
intensidad que todo el cielo,
yo siento que allí vive, a flor
del éxtasis feliz, mi anhelo.
Un viento de espíritus pasa
muy lejos, desde mi ventana,
dando un aire en que despedaza
su carne una angélical diana.
Y en la alegría de los Gestos,
ebrios de azur, que se derraman…
siento bullir locos pretextos,
que estando aquí !de allá me llaman!
– Alfonso Cortes (poeta nicaragüense, 1893-1969)
I found this in my Practical Dictionary of Korean-English Buddhist Terms.
온갖 사람들과 만나 무애자재 (無礙自在)하려고 하는 것이 변수행 (徧修行)이다. 철조망을 쳐놓고 수행하는 것만이 수승한 수행은 아닐 것이다. 몽매한 중생 제도를 위해 원효대사는 허리에 바가지를 차고 광대 흉내까지 내셨다.
성인 (聖人)들의 길을 버린 다음 표주박을 허리춤에 차고
저자거리에 나가 술꾼 아니면 푸줏간 주인과 잘도 어울리네.
신선 (神仙)들의 신통력 필요 없으니
오호라! 그가 손을 대자 늙은 고목 (枯木)에서 꽃이 피네.
–십우도 (十牛圖), 入廛垂手–
Marketplace practice: The true practice must be among the common people in their daily lives not in isolation in the deep mountains.
A man abandons the ways of saints and enters the crowded marketplace
With a begging bowl by his side to join the bunch of drunkards and butchers.
Who said that only saints could perform miracles?
A man touches the old dead tree, and Lo! the flowers are blooming on the old dead tree.
–The last scene of the Ten Ox-herding Pictures–
I'm tired. I need to nap.
I was complaining about my hypochondria with respect to my radiation treatments to my brother, earlier this week (or maybe it was at the end of last week?). Something Andrew said struck me as the right perspective. I don't remember his exact phrasing, but he said, basically, that I need to remember not to make the radiation therapy the center of my life, and have other things going on, and it will be better that way.
And so… that's what I've been doing. After the late dinner last night, I really worked a very full day, today. I corrected essays and proctored a 3 hour exam with lots of annoying technical issues, and felt like a generally productive member of society. And before that, I'd spent over an hour scrubbing various as-yet-unscrubbed surfaces in me new apartment. Not to mention the 2 hour nap before that, and some blogreading, and, well, before that, there was that pesky radiation treatment. In the broader picture, it ends up being just a sort of chore I have to do each weekday morning, nothing more.
I feel very tired, but I feel pretty good. There's a throbbing pain in my mouth and my neck burns and I had nausea earlier but I don't care. I'm hungry and then I'm going to bed. I'll work tomorrow.
almost one third done. . .
last night i dreamed i was in the army again. . but with my current age / body / state-of-health. and i went to camp edwards with some random soldiers only to find it empty and abandoned. . in its current state. there was some kind of alert due to north korea but no one was paying attention. we were living in field tents and everyone wad sitting around playing games on smartphones, including my brother.
then suddenly we had to break camp. russians were making problems. my friend kristen showed up to explain that we had all been captured and would be transfered to a POW camp in siberia. i said what a bunch of bs, i was annoyed.
so with my friend nate and with my brother we staged an escape that seemed to involve mostly walking through various korean malls. we ended up back at the abandoned camp edwards, where we were recaptured by the russians. i told them, "we are only prisoners if we believe we are prisoners."
nobody listened. so i woke up.
Yesterday was kind of busy. I met Dr Jo after my radiation, and it seemed like it went well. He seemed surprised that so far I'm still not having any trouble eating, and he was mostly reassuring with respect to my other symptoms, hypochondriac or otherwise.
After that meeting, I walked home and ended up taking a long nap, and eating a lot. I had grapefruit, among other things, which I've been craving. That's not really anything new – I've been craving grapefruit pretty continuously for about 4 decades now – but grapefruit isn't always easy to run across in Korean supermarkets, so the craving matching up with availability was nice.
Then I went to work, and ended up working the longest of any time since coming out of the hospital, because I spent 3 hours proctoring a pseudo-TOEFL test for some advanced students. Rather than pay big bucks for a "real" (or realish) TOEFL test, Ken and I decided to try to piece together our own mini-TOEFL, including essay writing (by making them type on the computer using the notorious MS notepad – to avoid giving the students access to spellcheck and that type of thing) and speaking (by making them record onto the computer using some mp3-recording freeware). It was the first time we've tried this, but I think it went well – well enough that I think we can make it a routine. And as I've said elsewhere, I've long ago given up battling South Korea's testing obsession and come to embrace it as a means to quantify outcomes and stepwise progress, not just for students and parents but for us as teachers as well.
And then… after ending work at 10, we did 회식 [hweh-sik = business dinner]. We went to a "help-yourself" style meat-grilling place at La Festa (a local outdoor mall-type-thing). I intended to take some pictures, but I forgot. I ate a lot, though. I hope Andrew and Hollye felt comfortable – they got a chance to observe my workplace culture and dynamics. Curt remarked at one point to Andrew that I was quite changed, in his perception, from before my diagnosis and surgery. He said I had become a more positive person. I resist this stark division of my personality into before and after, as I don't think my fundamental outlook as been quite so transformed (despite some post-surgery epiphanies). What has changed is I have a much stronger commitment to projecting my positivity and gratitude to those around me.
Anyway, it ended up being a late night, because of that. I went to sleep around 1 AM – almost like my old, regular work schedule.
Except now I have to get up and go to radiation.